Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sibs Reunion - Check!

And a miracle happened there....well, sorta.  For the first time in over five years, my three kids and their families are in one place.  Our son and his family arrived last week for three weeks, and it has mostly been non-stop since then, with minor breaks for water/food/resting.

Since the girls came to Israel in September 2008, all of us have anguished over the fact that the whole family did not get together. As happy as we are with our move, it never seems right, somehow.  Something huge is missing  - the rest of the family. Even before, it was a rarity that we would all be in one place at the same time.

I know, I know, they grow up, they move away, blah blah blah.  But a parent's heart aches to have everyone together.

Every child is a miracle - nothing less.  You only truly realize that as you raise one.  The fact that they grow physically, learn to walk, talk, read, etc. - every single step is a gift from God.  You wonder at it, no matter how many children you have, with each passing day.

When I am here in Israel with my daughters, I think - if only our son was here too, with his family, life would be perfect.  Not to mention how his sisters miss him - every Whatsapp conversation, every phone conversation, is reported and gushed over.  The connection is powerful and does not wane with the years.

As parents of adults, we know (ok, this is morbid) that we will be gone and they will carry on.  What any parent wants is for their children to be close, to be in touch, to take care of each other.  Because, as all parents say to their kids at one time or another, "One day that will be all you have!" meaning we'll have kicked the bucket.

This three weeks is the most time my kids have spent together since my oldest graduated high school in 1997.  And guess what?  They are still crazy, silly, and make each other laugh uncontrollably, and still tease and make fun of each other. I am watching this in complete wonder, and trying to record it in my mind.

Yes, they are all religious and have raised gorgeous, smart, respectful children.  But it's the caring and the laughing that matter to me more than anything.  They are there for each other in the most important ways possible. 

When,you think back to all of the steps it took you to get here, all you can do is be grateful to God for the chance to be part of the lives of such wondrous souls.  And you remind yourself, watching all of them interact lovingly, that you have to appreciate what you have every single day, and thank God for it - it's His gifts, after all, that make anything possible. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Customer is Always....Never....Oh, Forget It

OK, now full disclosure - my parents had their own store ("Weintraub's" -  I know, catchy name), and sold meat, fish, and chicken to the denizens of Baltimore for many decades.  I grew up with parents who had a butcher shop. That meant that:

  • We NEVER had a vacation because (HORRORS!!!) you could not leave the customers to go to another butcher shop - they may never come back!
  • I thought everyone's mother had fish scales in her hair, like mine did.
  • I thought everyone's underwear had sawdust in it, because didn't everyone's mom do laundry in the back of the store, and isn't the floor of the store always covered in sawdust?
  • I knew what sawdust was before I could talk, since you had to put it on the floor of the store for safety reasons (parts of meat and chicken can make for slippery walking).
  • I still remember vividly the smell and sight of my mother holding a fresh chicken over the flame to sear off the last of the feathers.
  • I hated Tuesdays, which was when the slaughterhouse delivered a cow's head so that my parents could take the brain out (delicacy! Gross!)
  • Before Rosh Hashana and Pesach we three girls helped with order delivery, and our parents were so bone tired by the time the holiday came around that they could hardly move.
  • My father's car always, always, always, smelled like fish.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY.....I grew up knowing that the customer is always right, and it is the job of the merchant to make the customer happy, to provide excellent service above and beyond.

Then we moved to Israel. 

Here are some choice customer service moments from the past 18 months:

  • Go to purchase a hose in the hardware store.  Merchant stands there and stares at me.  I tell him what I want.  I point to what I want.  He says he doesn't have it.
  • Air conditioning guys come to my house, make a HUGE mess, smile, and leave.
  • Dry cleaner - says the clothes that have been there for 2 weeks aren't ready yet.
  • Cashier in home improvement store, who looks like she is still recovering from last Thursday night's drinking binge, is too lazy to give me a bag to put my purchases in.
  • Cashiers who glare at you when you don't want the "bargain" that is advertised at the cash register - like why don't you want the car smelly thing that you hang on the mirror for only 5 shekel?  It's 5 shekel!  Buy it!
  • Movers who criticized my furniture - your furniture is too big, why did you bring it to this small country?
  • Government ministry workers who speak rapid Hebrew, even though you asked for them to speak to you in English, and hang up (yes, it's true) when you ask them to speak more slowly.
  • Stores that close up at random times on random days.  

And so on, and so on.

Needless to say, I'm horrified each time because for me customer service is defined as doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy because: 1) you want them to come back, and 2) it's the right thing to do, people.

You know you're getting used to this when, the one time that you happen upon someone who is actually nice and helpful, you feel so grateful you practically kiss them.  And when you start laughing the minute you walk out the door because you can't wait to record this in your blog.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What My Father Taught Me

Today marks my father's 18th yahrzeit.  Ironically, his "chai" yahrzeit.

My father was smart, funny, and kind.  He abandoned his dream of becoming a pharmacist when his father became ill and could no longer run his grocery store and support the family.  My father took over the store and the rest is history.

But he loved that store - mostly he loved the people.  Making people happy made him happy. While my mother was the business brains of the operation, he and she together made it a place people felt at home and cared about.  Now that's a skill that one doesn't see very often anymore.

My father gave me his flat feet, his facial features, his sense of humor, and most importantly, his passion.  And his passion for Torah and for being a Jew most of all.

When I joined the Jewish Defense League in the late 1960s, he was proud - he was worried, but he was proud because I was standing up and fighting for something.

As my father got older, I was the only child in the house, and this was the time he became more and more devoted to religion - he started attending a Daf Yomi shiur, for example.

I figured I'd use this space (haha, I can write about whatever I want!) to remind myself and everyone else of what he taught me:
  • Always let guests know that they are doing you a favor by being a guest in your home - you get to honor them and make them comfortable.
  • If you get invited to a simcha, it's sinful not to go.  We have to enjoy these things and make the people who have something to celebrate know we are happy for them.
  • Never take anything that doesn't belong to you - he berated me once for using a pen that I had taken from my office.
  • Smile at everyone - you never know whose day you can improve by giving them a warm smile.
  • Be passionate - fight for what you believe in and don't give up.
  • Sing [we are Leviim] - and let music move you.
  • Honor your parents - do whatever it takes to care for them.
There's much more, but that's enough goop for now. One of my strongest memories is of him standing in the kitchen in the evening davening Maariv.  He'd be so tired after waking up at 4 am to go to the store, that he'd sometimes fall asleep on his feet.  It would take him 30 minutes to finish davening.  My mother would ask me to sit there and watch him and make sure he didn't fall over.

 Needless to say, I miss him every day and think of his smile and warmth often.  I think how sad it is that he didn't get to see all of his great-grandchildren and enjoy the accomplishments of his grandkids.  He died at age 75, and I think it was, more than anything, of a broken heart after losing my mother 5 years earlier.

Miss you, Dad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

18 Months!

That's right, folks, we have been Israeli citizens for 18 months.  Thank you, thank you, please send money.  No, just kidding. 

This is how I can tell that we have adjusted:

  • At stoplights, I start going when the light begins to consider turning from red to yellow+green
  • The bills in my wallet no longer reminds me of Monopoly.
  • I can feel the coins and know which one is a 10 and which is a 5 and which is a 1 - without staring at them for 5 minutes.
  • I know that when it is time for my prescription refills, it is a 10 step process - none of that calling up and giving someone the prescription number that you wimpy Americans can do - and then having it delivered!  Nonsense!
  • We no longer have to have an IV drip of Valium every time we drive somewhere - we have learned to depend on Waze
  • I stopped trying to identify people's religiosity by what they look like 
  • I have resigned myself to buying clothing that costs 3 times as much as in America, and has one tenth of the quality
  • Cheaply made Israeli products don't seem so cheap to me anymore - like "Hmmm, that thinner than air plastic cup seems SO sturdy!"
  • We turn the a/c off every day, keep the trisim down and the ceiling fans running.  It feels like we live in a cave but it's pretty comfy.
  • We go out on our mirpeset every evening because it is cool and lovely - who in Baltimore wants to sit outside at night with the mugginess and the bugs?
  • I make Hebrew mistakes that are beyond embarrassing, but got used to asking whether I've used the right word or not, and it doesn't bother me as much.

This is how I know we have a ways to go:
  • We have identified 2 stores within a 25 minute drive where we can purchase white tuna
  • I still panic before interacting with an Israeli
  • The Hebrew sentences in my head, which are oh so perfect, have nothing whatsoever to do with the drivel that comes out of my mouth
  • I still hate the Israeli potatoes and long for Idahos, [but I have discovered the wonders of Pireh - the boxed instant mashed potatoes]
  • I cannot bring myself to buy Israeli cereals - it just doesn't feel right - I need to see that General Mills or Kellogg's or Post logo somehow - and hey, it only costs 3 times as much as Israeli cereal!
  • I still cringe a little when there are sales ads that tell people that the sale is on "Shabbat only!" since there is no word for Saturday here. 
  • I still make Hebrew mistakes that are beyond embarrassing.

And then here are the things that I still wonder at:
  • We can go to Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, whenever we want
  • The scenery here is literally breathtaking - I can't believe I get to look at the Judean hills every single day - they are majestic and stark 
  • The entire country prepares for chagim and other important days - there are even billboards that refer to the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av
  • The image of a guy with a kippah and tzitzit driving a truck/pumping gas/delivering mail - for some reason it makes me teary 
  • My husband is planning to go on a trip to Har HaBayit (aka The Temple Mount) on Sunday - I think that's one of the coolest things ever.
  • I love that the Israeli cartoons start having Shabbat music and cartoons about Shabbat on Friday afternoons
  • When you drive around you suddenly see an archaeological dig on the side of the road near a construction site - oops, don't build that apartment building until we dig up the ancient artifacts!
  • I am actually living in the land that God gave us to live in.  
  • I know I live in a country surrounded by enemies that want to see us annihilated, and instead of being fearful, I'm fiercely proud.
  • Will I ever stop embarrassing myself with Hebrew?
So there's a bit of a rundown.  All in all, the best decision our daughters ever made was to make aliyah, because that sort of made the decision for us.  18 months ago I could not have imagined what our new life would be like.

And now I can not imagine myself living anywhere else .