Wednesday, December 27, 2006


My husband just phoned me to tell me it is snowing where he works!

It has been very cold all day and has rained a lot here in Shlomi. My children actually wore hats and scarves to school this morning as well as taking their umbrellas and thick coats.

My husband works in a factory in Tefen a modern industrial park. It is on top of a small mountain and colder than here due to the elevation. He has been enjoying the cold all week and regaling me daily with stories of the fog.

I just told him to keep an eye on the bus driver as the descent from Tefen is quite steep on a deceptively curvy road where everyone drives too fast. (I once worked in Tefen and depending on the driver the descent from work could easily become a white knuckle-ride in addition to the ear-popping altitude changes)

My children have just arrived home with a friend. The friend had gloveless, and therefore frozen, hands so I have already supplied them with mugs of hot tea. (Not proper English tea, mind you. This is the weak Israeli stuff, hardly distinguishable from coloured water as far as I am concerned but the preferred liquid warming agent for Israeli children. Personally I prefer Earl Grey)

Seems my children spent playtime dodging hailstones and my daughter claims one nearly hit her in the eye.
In England I think I only once experienced hail and the stones were tiny - just larger than rice grains. In Israel we have hail at least once every winter and last year my daughter and I got caught out in a storm where the stones were the size of golf balls. We had to take shelter under a canvas awing and it was quite terrifying.
It started off as a normal hail storm but the torrent got stronger and stronger and the hailstones got larger and lager. Every time we thought the downpour was weakening it gained renewed strength and the force of the storm increased. It about half an hour and by the time it was safe to venture out the pavement was so thoroughly covered in hailstones we have to cautiously skate along on the top. We couldn't push our feet through to the pavement and just trying caused us to loose our balanced on the hard, slippery hail.

My husband says that the snow near him isn't settling but the news reports say there should be snow on the Golan at the weeked (Did you know Israel actually has a skiing resort?) so maybe we will be making a trip.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Karate Kid

Sunday was my son's karate competition. It is the fourth year he has participated.

The Sensei doesn't allow parents to sit in on lessons as they present an obvious distraction (especially with the Israeli obsession with cell phones) so the first year I really have no idea how my son was progressing and was extremely surprised when he came second in the 'kata' (a set form of different karate moves – with a different set for each level).

The second year he was suffering from a lack of concentration and enthusiasm. I began to wonder if he wanted to continue with karate at all. As the tournament approached he began to practice everyday and came third in the kata. He had gained his yellow belt at the end of the first year which meant he participated in the sparring as well as the kata. Although he loves the forms of the kata he doesn't like to attack in the sparring which I suppose is a blessing but caused him to be eliminated in the first round.

Even so that year was my favourite as instead of going up through the belts they started with the black belts and we were treated to an exhibition of the best in local karate. It was particularly interesting as the young national champ was participating as a judge.

By last year my son was already an orange belt but although he was still practising eagerly at home it was not for the competition but in order to gain his green belt. He was out of both the kata and the sparring in the first round but didn't seem that worried.

Despite his relaxed attitude to competing he seemed to be extremely focused on other aspects of his karate. Not only did he gain his green belt in winter, by the end of the summer term he had also gained his blue belt. At first his sensei felt that at 71/2 he was too young for a blue belt but when she discussed it with the other sensei and they took into account how long he has been studying karate they changed their minds and let him try out.

This year he is the youngest blue belt in his class, and at the competition, by more than a year but I think he enjoys the challenge. The problem is finding an opponent his size for the sparring. I have no worry about his safety because discipline is strict but on one occasion my father watched a class and was laughing at the fact that my son's kicks had improved because his opponent was so much taller than him the only way he could touch him was by kicking!

What I particularly like about Karate is the community. For the students, especially the older ones it is not just a class - they are also expected to help instructing, leading the warm up and 'organizing' the younger children.

This is particularly noticeable at the competition. According to the Sensei there were 200 children, and 300 spectators, at the competition last year. By the look of it there were even more this year. That is an awful lot of children to herd around.

The sports hall is divided into three competition areas so all the instructors are occupied in judging the various events. As a result the organization of the children, both to keep the children in their groups and then getting them queued up in order to compete, is dealt with by the older students. All the students are pre-army, even the judges are in their early twenties and at least two thirds are males. It is charming to see these strong, athletic young adults gently directing a slightly confused six year old or soothing a child that that has been on the wrong end of a misplaced spar, subtly shielding them from the crowd and their competitors so there is no loss of 'face' should a few tears be shed.

All this organization is made slightly more difficult by the language barrier. Karate is very popular in the Arab sector and about two thirds of the children competing are Arabs or Druze, from villages and towns between here and Haifa. Arabic and Hebrew as second languages are not taught until the children are in their teens and many of the female relatives do not understand Hebrew so all announcements are made in both Hebrew and Arabic. Because the winter competition is held in Shlomi about half the older students are Hebrew speakers with only a smattering of Arabic so they have to direct the younger children with hand signals, body language and a gentle 'hands-on' approach.

But back to this year's competition. It started at 16:30 with all the students to be there by 16:00. This meant my son had to go straight from school. The competition lasted a long while and by the time my son competed it was after 19:00 so he was a little bored and extremely hungry (for my son no snack compensates for supper).

The problem was that they started with the older black belts at one end and the younger white belts on the other then worked towards the middle grades. The green and blue belts, grouped together to give a good range of ages, were some of the last to compete.

Anyway my son didn't do anything spectacular though he has made a noticeable improvement in the sparring and he enjoyed himself.

Monday, November 06, 2006


So I decided to take the plunge and sign up for
I always write better with the pressure of a goal and a 50,000 word novel seems like one heck of a goal with a large dollop of pressure on top.
November is hardly an ideal month for me with my son's birthday right at the beginning - I was bound to get off to a bad start. But even if I only manage a few thousand words it is ,as my grandmother would have said, better than a kick in the teeth.

I am known as a bit of a daydreamer many because as an only child I often had to find ways to occupy myself.
Sometimes I would pretend that I had to give an accurate description of some passerby to the police. Instead of a generic "She had nice eyes" I would use the words to draw their exact shape and colour and position in her face.
Other times I would examine a political or philosophical point of view, discussing it , in my head, taking first one side then the other, trying to set forth a reasonable logical, argument so I could understand my own opinion on the subject.
Due to travel sickness I can't read or knit while travelling so I examine the people around me or create stories to wile away the time.

As I got older I tried to focus my thoughts rather than leaving nebulous impressions and vague stories floating around inside my head - I began to put my thoughts into words.
At first when I managed to write down my musings I would incorporate them into letters for friends and relatives. As the letters got longer and longer people began to say I should write a book.

But a whole book takes a much more concerted effort than scribbling down a few impressions on the back of an envelope. And I am so used to translating my thoughts into indecipherable handwriting on a rough piece of paper that sat in front of a keyboard and screen my mind freezes or becomes banal, describing the world in ways that would send a chronic insomniac into a coma.
But practice makes perfect and even if this first attempt at a novel turns out crass and boring it will be a start. I can always edit it afterwards and at least I won't have to contemplate that petrifyingly blank screen.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The High Holidays - Yom Kippur

For all the holidays in the Jewish calendar and on Shabbat there are restrictions on working and kindling fire. Among other things this means no driving and no electricity. But in Israel the majority of people are secular and with a 6-day working week the only time for family trips is Shabbat. So although certain religious areas block the roads to motor vehicles most streets have light traffic.

Yom Kippur is the exception. The streets in all residential areas, except in the Arab villages, are empty of traffic and the vehicles on the main roads are scarce.
As people go back and forth to synagogue or just stroll around to pass the time they walk fearlessly down the middle of the street. Traditionally children congregate on the streets to ride their bikes.

It is a remarkable experience but for us it presents a problem – our synagogue is a 15 minute drive away. People living in less traditional areas might risk a short drive but in Shlomi, though most of the good citizens are resting at home or praying dutifully in synagogue, there is always a couple of extremist hooligans who throw stones at passing motorists.
We have tried to visit the local synagogues for the closing service but my husband isn’t interested in praying with a group of strangers while I am stuck up in the women’s gallery hardly able to hear the prayers and too distracted by gossiping women and whining children to be able to follow the service.
Thankfully this year a generous friend from our congregation invited us to spend the fast at her home.

I am always a little nervous about fasting due to the fact that I have low blood pressure and low blood sugar, in addition to a tendency to dehydrate. One year I fainted on the way to synagogue so my husband now insists that I drink some water and tries to get me to eat if he thinks I am looking faint.
I chose a couple of books that I think will be both interesting and easy to read, while still suitable for such a serious day. And my lightest, most comfortable clothes. It is still summer in Israel and getting heat stroke does not make the fasting any easier, though this year was a little cooler, not the usual Yom Kippur heat wave.
In England it was already autumn by the time Yom Kippur came around and as we travelled to the synagogue light rain would be falling. I would resist my thirsty urge to stick out my tongue and catch a few drops but I felt a guilty pleasure as the refreshingly cold moisture cooled my skin. It seemed to renew my strength for the long closing service.

We arrived at our friends’ house an hour or so before the fast in order to join them and another guest in the pre-fast meal and then before Yom Kippur started we drove round to the synagogue.
Normally the congregation is about 70 strong on Friday evening, which causes no seating problems. However from previous experience we knew many more people would turn up during the High Holidays and especially on Yom Kippur.
To cope with this and other Holiday requirements the seating was rearranged with the first five rows reserved for members and ushers to assist the visitors.

Even though we arrived early, because my husband had been volunteered as an usher, there was already quite a large group of people waiting outside.
Among this group were some people from Nes Ammim, a local village populated by young Christians from Germany and Holland.
They like to join our congregation to experience Jewish holidays. Because most of them don’t stay here for a long time only a few speak Hebrew so my husband’s English came in particularly useful.

While my husband was ushering I rushed around greeting all our friends and then sat saving seats for the rest of our family. After a while it became obvious that even if my children didn’t join in the organised activities they would be playing outside with their friends so I gave their seats to an older couple. I moved over to give the couple the aisle seats mistakenly thinking this would be more convenient, forgetting that our children like to pop in and check on us during the service. The next day I ensured we had aisle seats.

Once the service started I was naturally engrossed in the prayers and didn’t look round until we were about halfway through. I was stunned. Many people had arrived after the start of services and the place was packed. We estimated it at about 250.

After services we greeted other members in the congregation with wishes for an easy fast. There were so many in the congregation that it took quite a while to get out then we rounded up the children and walked home. Despite the serious nature of Yom Kippur it is also very sociable. All the major TV and radio stations close down, even those on cable, so people take to the streets, wandering round town, meeting with friends. It was surreal to stand idly chatting in the middle of a large junction.
The children take advantage of the traffic-less streets to joyride on their bikes; this year rollerblading was also popular. We arranged a play date with some friends so that our children would be occupied while we were attending synagogue and then we retired to bed.

As a teenager I always slept my way through most of Yom Kippur. Nowadays I am not so lucky and I woke just after 6am with the children. They were sleeping in the room used by our host’s grandchildren so had plenty of toys and games to occupy them. I read to pass the time until my husband was ready to get up.
We dressed, gave the children something to eat and then left for the play date. We discussed where we would me up after morning service because although my husband had his mobile for emergencies I didn’t really want to phone him unless absolutely necessary. We stood in the middle of a roundabout discussing this, which was definitely surreal, and then I walked to synagogue while he went to supervise the children.
The anarchist in me felt the urge to walk down the middle of the road but the sun was becoming stronger and the pavement was in shade.

There were several dozen people already in synagogue, most of them draped in talitot. I felt silly for not having brought my own decorative tallit from my bat mitzvah. I wasn’t sure whether I would felt comfortable wearing it and whether the decoration would be too colourful for the solemnity of Yom Kippur. My memory of Kippur in England is of dark blues and greys and other muted shades, though that was probably more due to the English Autumn than anything else. I will wear my own tallit next year.

Due to transportation issues I have never been to the opening service or morning service of Yom Kippur and it was a special experience to look round at so many friendly faces. Many people were surprised to see we were able to attend.

I walked home with my hosts. At home we found my husband alone. The children had joined with their friends and gone to another friend’s house. It seems they were biking and rollerblading all over town, pit stops kindly provided by the other friend’s mother. I felt a little guilty letting someone else entertain my children but I could hardly start cooking for a whole gaggle of children in my host’s house and I was starting to feel a little weak so I was glad to rest.

We set off to closing services a little early so my husband could do his duty as an usher. Going by previous years we could expect around 300 people to turn up.
We met the children and their friends outside. My daughter was on rollerblades and doing quite well even though we walked up a slight incline. Our son was trundling up and down the street on a corquinette (scooter in English, I think!). They accompanied us to the synagogue and then stayed to play outside, later joining the other children in the organised activities.

I settled into my seat preparing myself for the long closing service. I always remember it as a sort of endurance test with much of the service spent standing just at the end of 25 hours of fasting when you are at your weakest.
Now that I can follow the service the standing seemed more bearable though of course I could have sat down if I needed to.
The Memorial Service was quite emotional with several members of the congregation in tears and then there was excitement as we starting the closing service and could feel the fast drawing to an end. Finally the lights were dimmed and the children processed from the back of the synagogue waving around small torches, the shadows reflected on the walls and ceiling. Then they joined with the cantoress calling out to the Rabbi as he blew the Shofar!

Some people rushed straight out, others stayed for a few announcements and comments by the Rabbi. I was in no state to rush anywhere and after the elation of the Shofar realised I was feeling a bit faint and dizzy.
We had left the car near the synagogue so we could drive home quickly at the end of the fast but I think it was a mistake as my dizziness was augmented by the car ride and I began to feel rather strange.

Back at our host’s house I had a drink and sat down and began to feel a little better. The meal was delicious and there were other guests so there was interesting conversation but by the end of the meal my body was not dealing well with the sudden spike in blood sugar and I had to lay down for a while.I recovered a little after a while but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay and be sociable.

The journey home wasn’t a lot of fun as feeling faint always exacerbates my travel sickness but I was able to roll down my window and enjoy the cool air.
Once home I went to lay down and after a night’s rest I was fully recovered.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The High Holidays - Holiday Services

This year Rosh HaShanah was on a Friday so we went to services as usual and after a Shabbat of rest it wasn’t too difficult to convince my husband to wake up for the 9 am service on the second morning. The service is longer than the usual, at just over 3 hours, and by the end we were more than ready for our lunch. However our patience was rewarded with the sounding of the Shofar (Ram’s Horn).

For me the songs of Rosh HaShanah have a vague childhood familiarity. This is not the comfortable familiarity I have with the prayers from Kabalat Shabbat, where I find the tunes gliding into my mind during mid-week daydreams.

My remembrance of the High Holiday tunes comes from when we lived in England, too far from the synagogue to visit every Friday - an ordinary working day.
Although I attended Sunday school and understood the elements and history of the holidays I had little grasp of the order of the ceremonies and prayers. During services I often felt lost and alone – my father in the man’s section, my mother at home and my few Sunday school friends with their families. As I struggled to follow the text the heartrending harmonies of ‘Avinu Malkenu’ and 'Adon Haslichot’ were a beautiful mirage in a desert of confusion.

Now I speak fluent Hebrew and regular synagogue attendance has made following the service second nature. The biblical Hebrew that still confounds me is explained by my Israeli husband and the lovely voice of our cantoress guides us through the Holiday harmonies with pleasure and confidence.
When I look around I am surrounded not only by my family but also by familiar faces many of them belonging to my closest friends.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The High Holidays - A Festive Meal

This year I decided to host our Rosh Hashanah meal.

My brother–in-law and his roomate have taken to celebrating holidays at least in so far as they join with various family members for the festive meal. They have also discovered, after recent birthday meals, a sincere appreciation of my cooking. So this year we decided that the family they would celebrate with would be ours.
Of course it was also given that my parents would join us for a meal. As usual I left it to the last minute to inform them and they had already invited a friend. This was great news as she was also a friend of ours.
However there were now nine people to seat round our table that comfortable accommodates six.
Problem solved – I would cook the meal but the venue was moved to my parents’s house or rather their patio. This also meant I could waste less time on my least favourite occupation (housecleaning) and devote more hours to the pleasures of cooking.

Although I cook a meal most days and can create a decent dish from whatever I find in the cupboards, for celebratory meals I indulge in ‘extreme cooking’. Just when most is at stake I try new and totally untested recipes.

In this meal I wanted to include pomegranate, apple and honey – the three main culinary elements of a Jewish New Year.

For once I was organised and started to make the dessert on Thursday. The honey is normally eaten in the form of a honey cake but despite my fondness for spices I find traditional honey cake boring to eat and even duller to make. Fortunately a previous year’s googling had uncovered a spiceless apple cake flavoured with honey that is light to eat and easy to make.
Naturally in the spirit of ‘extreme cooking’ I also tried two new recipes – for appleflap jacks and honey biscuits.
The flapjacks were a little disappointing, though nobody else seemed to mind. I think it might have been the quality of the oats that let me down.
In contrast the honey biscuits were just as I desired. A golden ball of a biscuit that crumbled in the mouth with an explosion of honey aroma.

Our family doesn't indulge in the traditional gefilte fish because my husband is allergic to fish, my mother hates gefilte and my father is from Algeria so it isn’t actually our tradition.
I eliminated the first course altogether as I surmised, correctly, that after the Rosh HaShanah service we would all be ravenous and eager to tuck in.

For the main course I stuck to the Israel classic chicken. To provide for nine people required two chickens and as my father doesn’t like sweet sauces I decided to make two dishes – both newly discovered.

One set of chicken pieces I decided to roast in a honey mustard sauce. On my shelves I had a choice of frankfurter mustard which is only edible when drowned in ketchup or Colman’s English mustard powder which is liable to permanently damage the tongue cells of those not used to its strength. I opted to purchase a decent Dijon.
The honey resident in my cupboard was produced by bees fed on avocado flowers, which gives it a surprisingly strong taste. Insread my festive foray to the supermarket provided a more neutrally flavoured honey.

The second chicken I casseroled in pomegranate juice. I countered the sharpness of the juice with spices and some wine rather then add more honey.
Luckily for me both recipes turned out well, the honey mustard sauce was quite delicious and the meal was a success.
The weather had cooled pleasantly but there wasn’t the blustery wind that so often signals the start of the Israeli Winter and causes havoc in my parent’s garden. Everyone joined in the blessings over the honey, pomegranates and other symbolic foods and partook of the meal while the wine and conversation flowed until we realised with a shock that it was past midnight and time to go home.


The High Holidays – intro

End of the Holidays

Sukkot is over and the children are back to school. I finally have time to play ‘catch up’ and post my thoughts on the High Holidays.
Please excuse the delay.


Saturday, September 30, 2006


We spent yesterday trapped in the house with all the windows shut. However this time we were not sheltering from katyushas but from the weather.
Outside there was a sharav (a heat wave) heralding the change of seasons, the harsh death rattle of summer as it yields to winter.

As the heat inside became intolerable I turned on the air conditioning but after a while it was unequal to the challenge so I turned it off again.
When I ventured out of doors the heat smacked straight into me. The thin, brittle air roasted my skin and a gentle breezed was transformed into an oven blast.
After only a couple of minutes outdoors the house felt refreshingly cool, a sanctuary from the torment outside.

By nightfall our swollen skin was aching and we were nagged by a constant thirst. The darkness didn’t bring a respite from the heat rather humidity which stuck to us as we walked from synagogue.

Sleeping was a trial as we tossed and turned trying to find a cool patch on the sheets and the most effective angle from the ventilator. Eventually it was too tiring trying to sleep so I got up to read and potter round the house. The children were also restless, taking turns in our bed, on the sofa and even on the floor.

Eventually about 9am we felt a cool breeze through the window and we opened it wider to take full advantage. By 10am the breeze had gained force and was jiggling the pictures on the wall, cooling our feverish skin.
We turned our faces to enjoy it before the strengthening sun warmed the air again towards midday.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

First Rain

On Friday morning as I was preparing the Rosh Hashanah meal my daughter yelled ‘It’s raining!’
I dashed outside but the few drops had already fallen and had hardly left their mark on the parched pavement. I returned to the kitchen.

A couple of minutes later my daughter was yelling again. ‘It’s raining – really raining’.
She was right, it was really raining. Not the usual first sprinkle of water – a few fat, dusty drops that splash on the ground and evaporate again before we can register their presence. It was raining, raining hard, pouring with rain.

I stood outside and my daughter joined me as I held out my arms to experience the liquid blessing on my bare skin.
I phoned my husband and held the phone skywards for him to hear the rain.

After only a minute I was actually wet and went to stand under the roof of our entrance ocasionally poking out my head to feel the rain on my scalp. My daughter rushed back into the flat for an umbrella and Wellingtons then she paraded up and down our road.

Soon there were puddles on the ground and after just a few minutes our whole roadwas an inch-deep puddle such that we had to step back from the pavement as a car past incautiously fast throwing up a spectacular spray.

Our neighbour came home with his holiday groceries and smiled indulgently at our wild antics and when the wind and pushed the rain cloud from over our heads I too continued preparing for the New Year holiday.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Preparing For School

Since the day after the ceasefire my son has been concerned about when I was going to buy all the school supplies. We are lucky that we don’t need to purchase textbooks, instead we pay the school a set amount and they provide everything.
Even so we have an A4 long list of exercise books, pencils and other various equipment. I stalled for a while until, as I had suspected, a representative of the parents’ committee phoned to inform med that a school bag filled with supplies had been donated for every child in the north.

The last week of the holidays the Matnas had organised a proper summer camp for the children with trips and plenty of group leaders. After dropping them off I went to the school to collect the bags. They were piled up relatively neatly on the floor but there was a bit of a scrum as parents swapped items between bags to ensure that their son didn’t get a Bratz pencil and their daughter didn’t get a motor racing diary.

When I got home I checked through the contents of the bags. There were squared exercise books, which are useful though I think they gave us enough to last to the end of the decade. Unfortunately the lined books were with wide lines which the children haven’t used since first grade. They hardly cost a fortune but the pure waste pains me especially when you consider that thousands of these bags were donated. What really astounds me is that most people don’t understand why I even care. They just throw the useless books in the rubbish and buy replacements.
What shocked me most was the diary. It centred on a popular teenage star and was definitely targeted at teenage girls. Apart from the pages of coupons for feminine products the diary was liberally decorated with pictures of this girl in a bikini and other skimpy clothing. In addition the pages were peppered with boxes of beauty and dieting advice and there where whole page inserts with advice about relationships and other teenage concerns a in a that superficial ‘pop’ tone. And don’t get me started on all the advertising.
I would imagine it could be quite useful for a girl aged 14 but whomever thought it was suitable for primary school girls (grade 1-6) needs their head examined.
My daughter took a quick look at the diary and handed it back to me in bemused disgust remarking that it was no use because there was too much rubbish cluttering up the pages. She much preferred the Bratz diary I’d bought her. So did I.

Although the bags contained many useful items there was still a long list to buy.
On Friday I made a determined effort to get organised and we actually got out to the mall quite early. All the sales were in full swing and my children were very patient as I tried on some clothes and indulged in some successful retail therapy.
Next we went to the cinema to get tickets for Over the Hedge. The thought of being stuck in a cinema with hordes of chatty fidgety children gives me the heebie jeebies, which is why I don’t take my children to the cinema so often. I guessed the Friday morning show would be pretty quiet.

We had an hour left to brandish our school supplies list at the poor assistant in the stationery shop.
By the time we had finished I had a pain in the credit card and two heavy bags full of goodies.
I hauled it all back up to cinema where we had only a few minutes to wait. We were the only people in the cinema. At first my children sat in their assigned seats, eager for the film to start but in the break they ran up and down the stairs and between the seats in an effort to discover the optimal viewing position.
The film was fun, not a masterpiece but very enjoyable and when we emerged from the darkness my husband was just walking towards the cinema.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

So What Did You Do During The Ceasefire?

(Sorry this is late. I forgot to post it)

So now there is no background noise of artillery fire and we can walk freely outside.

On the first Sunday of the ceasefire my son’s classmate had a birthday. Her mother wanted to hold the party at the local beach. I thought it was a great idea but warned that other parents might still be nervous of an outside event.
The party was held in a local burger joint.
It was a surprise party and for once most people turned up in time and the birthday girl was truly surprised.

Of course just burgers are not enough, every party must have an entertainer. This guy introduced himself by explaining how pleased he was to be back working at children’s parties – he had spent the last month as an infantry solider in Lebanon.
He was a small, wiry guy with an animated expression and the birthday girl’s parents towered head and shoulders above him, the Dad was almost twice as broad.
It made for great comical effect when he asked the parents to help him blow up the balloons. They huffed and puffed to no avail then he bounced over and in a couple of quick breaths inflated each balloon. An opening gambit that had us all laughing.

After more balloons and some games he told the children of a night he’d spent in Lebanon. In the middle of nowhere carrying heavy equipment they had crouched under some bushes for cover while Israeli and Hizbollah fire crisscrossed the night sky above them. The blazing colours had, he claimed, inspired him to create a new game. The children liked the story and loved the game.

My children were quite tired when they got home. They have got out of the habit of socializing and find it quite tiring.

The Matnas (local community centre) arranged an activity program for the children in the morning of the first full week after the ceasefire. Sunday they just met up with their friends and on Monday there was a trip to Kfar Maccabbiah (home of the Jewish Olympics). Because the activity program was organised informally parents had to accompany the children for safety reasons. Oh the sacrifices we make for our children!

It was nice for once to be with my husband and not just alone with the children, especially as I showed my usual aptitude for choosing the bus with the slowest driver and the trip took forever.

Kfar Maccabbiah had invited groups from several towns in the north as well as from Sderot (main target for Qassams from Gaza) in the south. They were very organised. As we walked through the entrance they handed us a snack breakfast and the lead us to the area reserved for Shlomi. Our friends were already there (different bus) and had saved us seats. We also received Kfar Maccabiah T-shirts and caps in a Kfar Maccabiah bag.

There were hot and cold drinks on tap. We were supposed to received coupons for the snack but somehow that didn’t work out. It didn’t matter as there was a plentiful supply and the servers were easygoing. When the children rested between dashing around all the different pools they refreshed themselves with iced lollies and candyfloss.

We accompanied the children to couple of the pools but mostly we lazed around chatting with friends. There was a Jacuzzi which we were too hot to try but the Olympic pools was ‘adults only’ so we escaped to the calm and quiet and swam a few lengths in company of a large group of pensioners.

Lunch was also well organised. They arranged shifts called each town to eat by name. The food was laid out on tables buffet style with staff serving at the hot platters. There was a wide choice of food and it was tasty. Even though we piled our plates high we went back for seconds. After a month of bland army food my husband really enjoyed the spicy stir-fry noodles.

In the afternoon there was a performance by the stars of the children’s channel and a couple of pop stars. There was some highly amplified singing and an insane amount of bouncing around on stage.

Meanwhile the parents had a heated discussion about the failures and corruption of local government during the war. Stories communal to all of the inability to obtain food parcels while warehouses were packed full, trips to 5 star hotels that nobody knew about except those close to the Mayor, donated electronic goods that had never been distributed and the total disregard for the majority of the population stuck in security rooms. The more you hear the worse it gets. Children with special needs or health problems who were told that there was no relocation of any sort while donor organisations tell a totally different story of trips and relocations.

I thank everyone for being so generous but I think from now on organizations will have to supervise their assistance programs much more closely.

After the children’s show we all made our way to the buses. Again it was very organised with staff holding signs to direct us to those buses parked further away.

Once on the bus we received ‘supper’ – a fresh, delicious sandwich. They also distributed a goody-bag of sweets and snacks for each child.

I always prefer travelling in the dark but cannot understand why drivers insist on going through Yokeneam rather than straight through Haifa. Haifa traffic is heavy but only congested at rush hour and even on the new roads if you get stuck behind a semi-trailer in Yokeneam the journey can seem endless.

My mother claims it’s the scenic route but what is so scenic about flat, dusty fields, scrubby Arab villages and the occasional quarry or industrial area. The Haifa road parallels the coast and then winds through the shabby chic of the downtown port area. Even the shortcut my husband takes that leads through what was once the city landfill has now been beautifully landscaped.

Tuesday we had our congregation board meeting. We spent half the time discussing various initiatives to help members of our congregation deal with the aftermath of the war.

First order of business was to confirm that we had made the necessary repairs to the Matnas where we meet for Friday services. A katyusha had fallen in the yard damaging an aircon unit and some railings as well as shattering the windows. The Matnas is a government building but we had decided that the bureaucratic red tape would tie us up forever and so we took on responsibility for repairs. This ensures a quick return to normal services for us and we hope will build goodwill for the future.

The other half of the meeting was spent discussion preparations for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) which was, as usual, mildly contentious. There are also questions concerning whether we should relocate to accommodate the extra people. The rental of most locations answers that question for us.

We are again feeling the need for a building of our own but we need somewhere central with ground floor access and a central room big enough for services. Not so easy in Naharia.

On Thursday I picked up the children at 13:00 and we had just finished lunch when my friend phoned, “When do you think you will be here?”

It had totally skipped my mind that we had a project-funding meeting with the Director of the Reform Movement. Thankfully my friend had phoned early so I still had an hour to get ready before we needed to leave. We had arranged that my children would stay home with hers.

The meeting went reasonably well.

When we returned to my friend’s house we fed the children then my friend’s husband offered to drive us home; my friend’s daughter came with us as an overnight guest for my daughter.

My husband got home about 5 minutes before we did, the guys chatted while the children settled in and I watched a great Sci-Fi program.

My husband was at home for most of the week as the army had given him extra days to catch up on sleep before he returned to work. At work they were desperate for him to go back and he was greeted with great celebration when he returned on Thursday.

You would think that with the children at the Matnas and my husband at home to run errands I would have had plenty of time to work. But husbands, however pleasant they maybe, are time-consuming. They needing feeding and clothing and occasionally you have to talk with them and pay them some attention!

By the end of the week I had mountains of laundry. All I seemed to be doing was cooking and washing dishes, eating and keeping my hubby company as he consumed the news.

On Friday I had planned to take the children out but they were happily occupied with their guest and I was absolutely exhausted from doing nothing all week.

In the evening we went to services in the Matnas, through the newly repaired windows we could see the children playing in the courtyard and the shrapnel marks peppering the walls.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Back In The Heart Of My Congregation

On Friday, for the first time in six weeks, we drove to Naharia for Friday night services.

We parked in the street and looking round saw the scars of the war; chunks gouged from walls and pockmarks sprayed across concrete from the ball bearings in the warheads, broken shutters, shattered windows and black singe marks where the explosions had caused a fire.

It seemed illicit to be outside, vaguely reprehensible to allow my children to wander so freely.

The community centre where we normally hold services had suffered blast damage: Windows had shattered showering glass all over the hall and damaging the air conditioners. Instead we held services in Wizo.

We arrived early and the room was already packed. Even those congregants who attend less regularly had responded to hurried phone calls that had occupied most of our morning as we tried to inform every one of the renewal of services and the change of venue.

For most of us this was the first time we had been together for more than a month and for many it was an affirmation of their return home. We greeted one another with hugs and smiles and a few tears.

As we joined together in celebration of the end of the war we sang songs of peace and friendship and prayed for the dead and bereaved, the injured and the kidnapped and most especially for those personally affected within our community.

This loss was most symbolically represented by the two youth members who assist the Rabbi in leading services. One of them had just returned from a host family because their home had been destroyed in an attack and the other young member had lost his aunt in the first attack on Naharia.

Suddenly the prayers for peace that we say routinely every Friday held a more personal significance.

When it came time for the Drash and the congregation notices the Chairman and the Rabbi thanked the members of the congregation who had helped keep people informed and in contact with one another.

Deepest thanks was for our community coordinator who spent so much time and effort organising for people to leave the North and find host families. In his ‘free-time’ he gave many interviews to the Spanish-speaking media explaining Israel’s side of the conflict and showing them what was really happening in the North.

As the service drew to a close we all joined hands and sang the Tikva.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

It’s So Quiet

This week I have been as quiet as my surroundings.

On Sunday we went to sleep wondering what we would wake up to. The booming continued throughout the night and then just before 8am Monday morning there was quiet.
By midmorning the ceasefire seemed to be holding so I braved the outside world and took my children along the road to the shelter.
There were dome female soldiers running the activities for the children. One was demonstrating origami, which kept us occupied for quite a while.

An older lady who had spent the whole month in the shelter started to prepare lunch for all of us. The children were more than happy to stay.
After lunch the soldiers packed up and said they would be back at 5:30pm.
We cleaned the room and the children lay down on mattresses while we watched the news.
We discussed the abysmal organisation of the municipality. A couple of mothers phoned to inquire whether the next day’s trip had been cancelled. It had not been cancelled but there were shouted conversations as the women insisted they had signed up and the municipality insisted their names did not appear on the lists.
At 5:30pm the soldiers returned. They read a story out loud and then the children drew pictures. At 6:30 we all went home. It felt so strange to walk freely along the peaceful street.

Since then life has gradually returned to normal.
Tuesday my father-in-law picked us up and we spent an evening at their house.

Thursday I decided it was time for a trip out. The sheroot taxis (service taxis that run like a bus) were back in business and we bumped into Naharia. The town was slowly coming back to life with the shops and restaurant opening again. It was hot so we dived into the aircon in Hamashbir (an Israeli style department store). After sniffing the perfumes we made our way up to the children’s department where they were having a sale. With Israel’s 6 day week I normally can’t get to the sales accompanied by the children so I took full advantage and got the children some clothes they needed.

Opposite Hamashbir was a fancy children’s shoe shop. I had only planned on window-shopping but they too had a sale. A 1+1 deal, in fact. I bought some pretty, sparkly sandals for my daughter to wear on Shabbat and a practical pair for my son. He doesn’t need any sandals at the moment but knowing his track record he will by the time he’s been back at school a month.

Next we looked in a curio shop where my daughter discovered another fairy statuette she had to add to her collection.

After that we were hungry and had falafel and swarma at Lusky’s, the best falafel in Naharia.

The first time I eat here was years ago when I was in the army and a group of us ended up hungry and in Naharia. I was, as usual, the lone girl with a group of boys from the ‘fighter’ artillery base where I met my husband. In fact my husband was in the group and coming from Acco he is a bit of a connoisseur of falafel so the guy who recommended Lusky’s was trying to impress him. We were impressed; the falafel is excellent as is the swarma.

We arrived home tired and happy. I tidied up the house in preparation for the imminent arrival home of our family warrior. At about 9:30pm the door pushed open and there he stood. Tired and tanned he was demobilized and again a civilian.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Not a Lazy Sunday Morning

After the quiet of Saturday my husband was allowed a few extra hours at home, which we utilized to go shopping.

We travelled to Naharia in hopes of finding fresh meat. Several shops had their windows boarded up especially those near the bus station and none of them seemed to be open. However Naharia was showing signs of life with a few cars on the road and people walking around in particular near the clinic, which was open.

There were lights on in the large supermarket but the doors were padlocked and a young man working inside signalled that they weren’t open for business.

We headed in the direction of the ‘Arab’ shop. What had been a run down fruit and vegetable stall behind a petrol station tehn expanded into a dingy supermarket and had recently been refurbished into a modern supermarket with a delicatessen though they still kept to the unusual hours and low prices. It had stayed open through the conflict despite the fact that a katyusha had fallen nearby.

For one I had made a list and I managed not to forget anything.

They had no fresh meat but plenty of fruit. I didn’t hesitate to buy what I needed and then some. Who knew if the cease-fire would hold out?

As we got to the car with a trolley full of shopping the sirens started wailing. I herded the children back to the shop but the skies were clear so we loaded the shopping into the car.

My husband had taken the beach chairs with him to the army so they wouldn’t have to sit on the dirt but they took up a lot of space in the boot and it required some arranging to get all the shopping packed in.

About 5 mins had passed from the sirens sounding and we had heard no booms so we put the children in the car and raced home.

As we came up the hill to Shlomi we heard a loud pop behind us and then saw a group of soldiers beside their cars craning their necks to search the sky. We heard another pop and something like a flare dropped through the sky. As we created the hill we heard a third pop. And then the sound of helicopters.

At home we rushed the children straight into the security room and dragged the shopping inside as quickly as possible. Whatever had happened we had no electricity again. Not only could we not check the news the lack of electricity presented quite a problem for putting away the shopping as I had bought frozen items and other foodstuff that needed refrigeration.

I went through all the bags of shopping and sorted it into dry goods, fridge and frozen. I put away all the dry goods put the electricity still hadn’t returned. So my husband stood by to hand me the items and I opened the freezer for about 20 seconds and shoved everything inside. Then we did the same with the fridge.

I had left out the food for our lunch: fresh pita with humus and some delicious cherry tomatoes and the children didn’t object to lukewarm cola.

While we were eating I realised the standby light on the TV was winking at me: the electricity had returned. We turned on the news and they talked of sirens but made no mention of Shlomi.

We were about halfway through our lunch when the sirens started up again. The children marched to the security room pita in hand. We heard the loud ratat of helicopters firing and booms as katyusha fell in Naharia.

Swishswoosh BANG. A katyusha flew just over our heads and landed in the field nearby.

Several katyushas have landed in banana fields at either end of the valley but this is the first time it was so close.

My daughter gave a yell and I dashed in to the security room to find her crouched underneath the table cola in one hand, pita in the other and still chewing. She knows that the security room is safe but still feels the urge to dive for cover whenever there is a loud bang.

She climbed onto my lap for quick hug and them her maternal instinct kicked in and she had to hug all her dolls and teddies so they wouldn’t feel afraid.

My son stood beside us flexing his muscles to demonstrate why he wasn’t afraid. Then he climbed up to his bed and threw down more teddies to his sister so they could all participate in the group hug.

I returned to my husband in the sitting room and realised just how close the landing was.

The TV news still made no mentioned of Shlomi but the Internet told me that one man was killed.

After that it calmed down again and then my husband packed up his bag and returned to the army.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

I woke at 6am even though there were no booms.
I checked the news, tidied up a bit, hung out some washing and played with the children.

My father-in-law phoned from Tel Aviv. He had given up on work on Thursday because, just like at my husband’s work, people turned up and then spent 8am to 5pm in the shelter.

With so many sirens we remarked on how difficult it is to get a shower. My father said that as he was about to get in the shower the sirens had gone off so he had run, stark naked, to stand in their entrance (closest to the stairwell so the safest part of the flat.). When he told his wife she had laughed that he should at least put on some clean underwear ‘just in case’. We joked that even though we are stuck in the house all day, wearing night gowns and house clothes, as soon as the siren goes off we make sure we are wearing clean underwear ‘just in case.’

I started the washing-up from the night before. Because we had eaten meat my daughter didn’t offer to help me although on Friday afternoon she had insisted I show her how to wash-up properly. She stood on the stool-steps and did most of the dishes, with me on hand for quality control and water rationing.
As I hung up the dishcloth I heard the sounds I had been waiting for. I dried my hands, rubbed in some hand lotion and opened the door.

After a few seconds my soldier-husband appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He had been put top of the list to receive a pass because of his birthday.

His hair had grown even longer and he looked less exhausted even though they hadn’t slept in the previous 24hrs. I kissed him ‘Happy Birthday’ and he handed me his dirty laundry. Then he stripped off his uniform so I could do all the laundry while he showered.

Once he was clean I sat him down with cheesecake and coffee and he told me about the wonderful Shabbat meal they had eaten. The parents of a girl in their unit had cooked for them all: carrots, cabbage, schnitzel, oven-cooked potatoes and chicken drumsticks – “All perfectly cooked and spiced. Just like you do.”

While my husband rested I watched an interesting war film with Natalie Woods, Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis and a friend from Italy phoned to check how we are.
Then we enjoyed a black&white Agatha Christie film, which for once was quite close to the book. My husband doesn’t generally like black&white films but he particularly liked Charles Laughton.
Then I introduced him to the joys of Steven Sondheim with ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’. I couldn’t believe he had never seen it before. I still remember the first time I saw it I was about ten. It was late because we had come back after a day trip to London. Frankie Howerd was playing the lead.

The whole day was quite quiet with no booms from us, no bangs from them. In the evening I noticed there were quite a few people outside, walking around. There were even some children playing and on bikes. SO I called to my children and letter them run around on the street. There were almost no cars to disturb them and I kept them within eyesight. It is the first time they have played outside in Shlomi for a month.