Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fight the Power...Oops, Too Late

For Kindergarten and grades one and two, the city has a program called the "Eleventh Month," whereby the school year is extended one more month, it is called camp instead of school, and parents have to pay extra for it.

The theory behind this option is solid:  kids they know, the place they know, and staff they know, with a more relaxed environment.  Raphaela had a wonderful and full experience last Summer, even though there is no pool or amusement park on the program.

This year, the responsibility for organizing and funding was transferred from the Jerusalem Municipality, to local authorities instead.  In a letter that one of the parents only chose to share one day before camp is meant to begin, it states that the local authorities cut the budget, making it next to impossible for the staff to have enough supplies to keep the children busy in a meaningful and deep way. "Glorified babysitting," the letter called it. Instead, they are apparently skimming off the top to cover their annual budget, and asking parents to kick in extra money;  because they know that working parents have no other options, and that we want the best possible experience for our children.

To add insult to injury, the Ultra-Orthodox camps are almost fully subsidized by the taxes that we regular citizens pay.  So the group of people that as a whole takes advantage of the Israeli government, their kids will have a better camp that our kids, and we are paying for it.  I personally know several families who have a difficult time paying for two months of camp for their multiple children, and they are not Ultra-Orthodox.

Who is to blame here?  The City, for outsourcing to a corrupt organization.
No, the corrupt organization, for taking advantage of desperate parents.
No, the state government, that continually gives into the demands of the Ultra-Orthodox.
Or perhaps the parents committee can take some of the blame, having informed the rest of us when it was too late to choose another camp, or protest the current situation.

Who suffers here? Our kids.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Edging Closer to the End

Next week Gan officially ends and camp begins, the end of Kindergarten and the transition towards First Grade.  Already this week, both mine and Raphaela's schedule feels stuffed to the gills, though this is normal for this time of the year.

On Monday Raphaela had an eye doctor's appointment, she was very eager to know if/when she will no longer need glasses for her astigmatism, even while she doesn't seem to mind wearing them.  We don't yet have that answer, and will have to wait for her follow-up appointment in August.

On Tuesday, Raphaela perfomed in the end-of-the-year ballet recital.  The final number was a tribute to Frozen, every little girl's obsession, and the teacher had the brilliant idea to bring in sparkly glitter as a snow substitute.  She obviously didn't think it through to its most obvious conclusion:  after the dance, when the girls were expected to be cute and composed and disciplined ballerinas, they began rolling around and generally frolicking in the glitter, recycling it as many times as they could to throw it onto their teacher and the parents. As a parent I loved watching the sheer uncontained joy of these children, but I can understand why the teacher may have felt differently, as she held her head in her hands and sighed loudly.

On Wednesday I attended the semi-annual meeting of the Israeli Chiropractors, with attendance breaking all sorts of records.  The program had substance (it rocked!), we all got to network, learn new skills and refresh old ones, and celebrate the rebirth of our professional society.  Thankfully I was able to arrange an after-school play date for Raphaela, so I did not have to rush home or feel guilty for engaging in an adult conference.

On Thursday evening, Raphaela graduated from Kindergarten after a play based upon the concept of "Small Gifts," a famous Israeli song by Rami Kleinstein.  Each song said thank you for some small but beautiful aspect of life, like the Shabbat and the blessing of a Jewish country, and the gift of friendship.  What struck me the most was the tableau of these 34 children standing in front of the parents, looking so grown up and so big;  wondering how that happened and where the time went.

At one point the Head Teacher addressed the children, and quite frankly, scared the parents with an apocalyptic picture of real school, saying "No more fun, no more sand boxes and playgrounds...I wish you children luck!"

On Friday, the 18th anniversary of my Aliyah to Israel, Raphaela won third place in a photo contest sponsored by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, in a group of beautifully crafted pictures taken by 11-14 year olds, and my daughter.  What better way to celebrate my life in Israel, and what better way to go into the weekend and collapse...

On the Way to Gan...

Mommy, did you cry when I was born?

Yes, I did, but it was happy tears.

Because you were excited to have a new baby, right?


But you don't cry anymore, because I am a big girl.

Not true!  I am always proud of you and the things that you do, and you do amazing things.  So I will cry happy tears for a long time, and that's OK.

You know Mommy, I am very excited about going into First Grade, I just may cry.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The American-Israel Divide

In less than one week, I will celebrate my 18th year anniversary of moving to Israel.  There are days where I feel fully integrated into Israeli culture and society, and days where I question my sanity of staying in this country another day.

For example, on Shabbat Raphaela took our weekly walk to the Valley of Gazelle's near our house, for our weekly Shabbat picnic lunch.  Sitting quite close to our picnic spot were two families, and one mother was discussing - actually shouting loudly, a crime we Americans are often accused of - her son's upcoming birthday party.  She proudly declared that her son would "hit the jackpot with stupid presents," and that he would never get the chance to use any of them.  This mother had planned on exchanging all the gifts toward the purchase of school back packs for next Fall.

When the boy heard this (obviously for the first time), he complained loudly that they were his gifts for his birthday, and that she didn't have a right to confiscate them for something as practical as school supplies.

The mother replied that he has no choice in the matter, that she planned on earning back her investment in the party, and he had better suck it up for the good of the family.

At that moment I felt more Israeli than American, in the sense that it is a practical approach, and realistically, this boy would not play with most of the presents he would receive for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, the birthday-hater in me sympathized with him.

And now for the American experience.

A decision had to be made in Raphaela's Gan by all the parents, except that no one  - including the teachers or the Parents Committee - would take responsibility for the project.  Naturally I, being a political science major, enthusiastic facilitator (I should get therapy for that trait) and the token blunt American, took on the job of polling all 34 families toward coming to a decision.

The parents had from Friday through the end of Sunday to text a simple "yes" or "no" to my phone, so that only I would know their opinion, without retribution from the Kindergarten staff.  By the end of the voting period, less than half the Gan population had voted, and even getting that result was like pulling teeth.  I suppose this echoes the nature of real national elections, so I shouldn't be disappointed or surprised.

The American in me, that proactive person who believes that you get involved and defend the cause in which you believe, just doesn't understand why no one seems to care, why humans are content to allow others to make decisions for them.  You could argue that Israelis live life-and-death decisions almost daily, and are therefore willing to take a back seat on the smaller things, like their children's education.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Botanical Gardens Photo Exhibit.

Raphaela is normally not competitive about much of anything, she goes at her own pace and remains mostly unaffected by peer pressure; at least at the moment, at age "almost six."

On Pessach we went to the Botanical Gardens and they were sponsoring a children's photo contest.  Raphaela, quite excited to join in, was quite disappointed when she was told that "children" is defined as age 11-18, for the purposes of this particular competition.  After speaking to the woman in charge, she agreed to allow Raphaela to participate, if only for Raphaela to feel considered, with no guarantees past that.

Well, yesterday I received an email from the Botanical Gardens that Raphaela is a finalist in the competition, and that she and I are cordially invited this coming Friday to a reception and showing of the various photographic works of art;  after which there will be an awards ceremony.  I have no idea if Raphaela will qualify for a specific award, and as they say, "it's an honor just to be nominated."

As well, Raphaela's photo will be displayed in London, England, at the school that is paired with the Botanical Gardens for this event.

The photograph accurately describes Raphaela's world view, in that she is very detail-specific and almost egotistical (in a positive way), because she gets 100% attention from me and has all the attributes of a classic first born/only child.

When I told Raphaela that her art would be displayed and that we would be attending this reception next week, she said, "I hope I get a prize, like one of those jumping frogs." (The tiny plastic toys that cost all of $.05 to manufacture in China. A cheesy little toy that she gets when she goes to the dentist.)

Ah to be young again, and have the most simple and beautiful dreams.

Needless to say, I couldn't be any more proud.  After all, isn't it my job to help her fulfill her potential, whatever that may be?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Raphaela in Wonderland

When I picked up Raphaela from school yesterday, she handed me a birthday card, and all the staff of the Kindergarten wished me a "Mazal tov!"  The Head Teacher came over to me and said that a "little bird" had told her that I was celebrating my birthday.

"Yes," I replied, "one month from now..."

Quick on the recovery, Raphaela jumped in and said, "Very well then Mommy, Happy Un-birthday! It will be your un-birthday every day until we get to the real one."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I Like it Here in America

Eight years ago, I received a phone call from my third cousin -our great-grandfathers were brothers - who happened to find me after he had done extensive genealogical research.  Bonus, we happened to be neighbors in the same area in Jerusalem, and when my daughter was born, she had a slew of  built -in cousins. He became a big brother, and his wife was my doula during Raphaela's birth; she was the second person in the world to hold my daughter after the birth.

This past weekend, this family celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of their eldest son, and Raphaela and I happily attended this event.  Raphaela immediately clicked with a cousin who is a bit younger than her, thrilled that she was finally able to play "Elsa and Anna" and be in charge.  In fact, Raphaela spent the whole weekend speaking a beautiful English to relatives from the United States who barely speak Hebrew.

At one point during Shabbat lunch, Raphaela came over to me and whispered in my ear, "I have such a big family!" Then she ran off and I barely saw her the whole day.  Truly a Win-Win situation.

Given that I treasure the life I have built here in Israel, and I believe in the value system here, I would not actually consider moving back to America any time soon.  However, this weekend reminded me how close I am to my first cousins, mostly to the credit of my grandmother who hosted the whole family several times a year on major holidays.  My grandmother also put effort into reminding us to stay in touch and strengthen our connections throughout the cycle of the year.

I am sad for my own daughter, who knows that theoretically there is a big wide world of aunts and uncles and cousins, and that she has only met and spent time with a handful of them.  I am also sad for her that she automatically accepts that many of them may visit us in Israel for a short period of time, and will then return to their life overseas.

At one point during Shabbat, Raphaela told me that she wishes we could live in the United States, if it meant seeing more of our family.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Body Math

This morning I had my annual gynecological check-up.

Don't worry, I am not going to go all Kim Kardashian and include every detail of the visit.  My stylist, make up person and camera crew have the day off.

As with every visit to the doctor, just to torture myself a little, I stepped on the scale to see how much I weighed.  Here are the abstract numbers:

Today, I weigh four kilo over the weight that I was at the height of my pregnancy.
I verified with my doctor that during my pregnancy, I gained a total of six kilo, and Raphaela's body represented half that amount.
The week after I gave birth, I weighed two kilo less than I had at the beginning of my pregnancy.

Of course, until two weeks before I gave birth I was running four to five times per week.  Ever since the great heat wave started in Jerusalem last month, I have basically stopped running and exercising, because I am having difficulties dealing with the weather.

So here's my commitment to weight loss and exercise, for myself:  phase one entails getting to my pregnancy weight, phase two to my pre-pregnancy weight, and phase three (those last two kilo are the hardest) to my post-birth weight.

All encouragement will be accepted and appreciated.

Friday, June 5, 2015

This is a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System

This week, the army held a country-wide test of their capability, and that of us citizens, to deal with an attack on our soil.  The first siren went off at 11 am; Raphaela was at school ("We didn't do anything, Mommy.") and I was working.  Together with a client and a few neighbors, we went downstairs to the bomb shelter.

Which was locked tight, and as far as we knew, no one in the building holds the key.  Luckily, a little sticker on the door informed us that the shelter had been inspected at noon, an hour after the siren that had just occurred in that moment.  We marveled at Israel's apparent ability to use time travel to dodge beaurocracy.


The second siren took place at seven pm, while Raphaela was in the bath.  Calmly, she asked me if "this was where we stand like a statue out of respect, or run and hide."


As the kindergarten school year comes to an end, the frequency of multi-child birthday parties has increased as well.  Raphaela asked if there was another party today, and when I answered in the negative, she sighed in relief.  "Mommy, I just can't eat any more birthday cake."


With time to spare before Shabbat, Raphaela and I took a walk to the park down the street from our house.  At some point, I and another father happened to notice a little boy, no more than four years old, frozen with fear and clinging for dear life on a ledge about ten feet off the ground on the playground equipment.  Lord knows how he managed to climb there by himself.

I asked him where his parents were, and he pointed to a BBQ picnic on the grassy area nearby.  I told the parents that they needed to rescue their son, and the boy's father immediately ran over and tried to get to his son, but was unable to reach him.  Another father, a young Israeli in great shape, immediately ran over and scaled the wall, catching the boy before he fell.  Then, with help from the boy's father, they lowered him down to the ground.

An obviously adventurous child, as soon as his legs hit solid ground, he started crying.


On the way out of the park, we happened upon a guitar circle, six older Israeli men singing classic songs from the 60's and 70's.  We joined them for a bit, and after a great version of some Beatle's hits, we head home to start Shabbat.

Now that's a nice way to transition into the weekend.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Light Festival 2015

Last year, I hired a sitter to watch Raphaela while I attended the Light Festival in the Old City of Jerusalem.  I regretted not taking her with me, because there were so many activities geared toward children, in addition to the performances and the beautiful displays.

This year I decided that despite it being a school night, and though I was not sure if Raphaela could handle the late night trip, we journeyed to the Old City.   As we get closer to the Summer vacation and further away from Kindergarten, an exception here and there of staying up late seems harmless enough.   I brought an entire picnic just in case my daughter needed to refuel.

Raphaela ended up surprising me, walking around for almost three hours with no complaints of fatigue or sore legs.  There was something magical, very Alice in Wonderland, with all four quarters (Arab, Christian, Jewish, Armenian) lit up and decorated, and with pockets of live music in almost every corner.  I told her that because she had dealt so well with this outing, I would schedule the late-night safari at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo for later during the Summer.

Raphaela is growing up so fast.

Ironically, the most spectacular vision of the night was wholly natural, and put the rest of the man-made exhibits to shame:  an astounding moon-rise over Jerusalem,  a full yellow moon that filled the sky for over three minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Here's how clueless I am about trending topics in the infotainment industry:  the news on the Israeli radio announced this morning that a "Caitlyn Jenner" had broken the record for the most Twitter followers in the first 24 hours, beating the previous record set by President Barack Obama.  My first thought was this, "Oh no, another Kardashian sister crawling out of the wood-work for their 15 minutes of fame.  Haven't we had enough of that family?"