Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pluralism in Israel?

Rabbi Michael Marmur, the Reform Rabbi who gave the d'var torah the Shabbat that we were in Jerusalem, has some interesting comments on the issue of pluralism in Israel in a Thursday, July 30th blog for the Jerusalem Post. One of the key paragraphs is as follows:
In one session, a panel comprising principals from four Israeli schools discussed dilemmas of pluralism as they encounter them every day in the field. It is interesting to note that this discussion included important figures from the Modern Orthodox community, as well as the "usual suspects." Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the divisions in Israeli society are not between those who belong to one team and those who belong to another - the Sharks against the Jets, Middle East Side Story. Rather, the conflict is between those who insist on imposing their will exclusively on the rest of us, and those of us who prefer to live in the midst of difference and diversity.
Read the whole thing and tell me what you think!

Thanks, Neal, for sending the link!

"Put It on Pause!"

That's what my kids used to shout when they needed to take a short break from what they were involved with in order to attend to life-details.

And that's what I've had to do this week: put this blog on pause.

Between jet lag and resulting brain- and body-fog, trying to get back into the swing of work and meetings, and just "life stuff" -- the time to write simply hasn't been available.

Hopefully, I'll be back in the swing of things shortly: I still have a few more things I'd like to share about our experiences in Israel.

In the meantime - I'd welcome your thoughts and reactions to any of the posts I've written. I'll try to respond and maybe we all can get a dialogue going! Wouldn't that be fun/interesting?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

S'derot: The City That Survives

“Israelis say that Haifa is the city that works,” our guide on the coastal tour said last Tuesday, “Tel Aviv is that city that dances. Jerusalem is the city that prays.” We were in Haifa at the time, and everyone on the bus smiled appreciatively.

The following day, Neal and I went to S’derot, with Karyn London from Atzum. Karyn, as I’ve written before, is the Social Worker for the Roberta Project for Survivors of Terror.

How would one describe S’derot?

It’s very different from the other Israeli cities Neal and I have stayed in, toured in, or been driven through. The other cities are teeming with activity: people walking and talking, automobile traffic, kids playing in parks, people shopping, horns blaring.

S’derot (on the day we were there) was quiet, with few people on the sidewalks, and less automobile traffic. That may have been partially because we were in primarily residential areas, and the open-air market was not operating that day. Or it may have been because many of the residents of S’derot have lived for the last 10 years with regular bombardments of kassam missiles by terrorists from the Gaza strip- approximately 2 miles away. As a result of Operation Lead Cast (from December 2008 – January 2009), the missiles have been almost silenced, at least temporarily.

One might think, with the danger set aside, that residents of S’derot would be out and about – enjoying the freedom to roam their city. Unfortunately, although the attacks have ceased, the fear resulting from them remains unabated for many.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder that many of us are unfamiliar with. It generally results from a traumatic event – physical or psychological – and manifests itself in a variety of ways. Paralyzing fear is triggered by sights, smells, sounds, or memories of the traumatic event. These triggers often occur randomly, with no prior warning. The fear causes the body to react as if it were in extreme danger and to seek to protect itself as best it can. Self-protection becomes the primary goal, frequently resulting in regression from previously-attained competencies. For example, a child (or adult) may begin bedwetting at night. Sleep disturbances are common. Clinging to a safe person in a safe place is critical.

Most of us don’t really understand the complex dynamic between fear, triggers, physiological reactions, and the body’s natural reaction to protect itself. We frequently offer well-meaning advice: “Just push through the fear” or “You can’t let the past event rule your present and future” or “Everyone’s afraid of something: just pull yourself together.” In our society, fear is often seen as a weakness, a lapse of moral fiber, something that can be conquered with just a little willpower.

If only it were that easy.

It’s not.

I can’t begin to envision what it must be like to live through attack after attack; to see my children injured; to experience such profound fear myself and yet know I must find a way to help my child heal. This in addition to the physical injuries resulting from such attacks and the loss of property – and the sense of violation that comes with those losses.

These are the people that Karyn works with. Atzum helps by providing direct services – money for therapeutic swimming lessons or tutoring for a child who’s missed too much school because fear keeps him/her glued to a mother’s side. Atzum also helps provide indirect services – helps survivors navigate the bureaucracy in order to obtain necessary disability payments or home repairs or career training for a life that’s been altered.

Neal and I had the privilege of making three home visits with Karyn on Wednesday.

The first family – mom, 15 year-old daughter, and 9 year old son – still struggle with the aftereffects of a rocket hitting their home. And, oh yes, Mom’s mother who’s had a severe stroke lives with them – lying on a bed in the living room. Mom suffers from mental illness resulting from earlier attacks; also, the son’s vision is impaired and he lost almost a year of schooling because he was unable to leave the house due to fear. The daughter has participated in leadership programs in England and New Jersey – and behind her bright sunny smile, one can see the fear in her eyes when she talks about hearing the missile hit their home. Atzum is paying for the son’s tutoring in hopes that he will be able to re-join his class in September. Karyn’s encouraging both children to participate in after-school chuggim/clubs this coming school year, but a final decision has not yet been made. It’s a testament to how safe the son feels with Karyn that he’s willing to leave the apartment to show us the reinforced, “safe” outdoor playground. He demonstrates the apparatus for us, climbs through the caterpillar and generally acts like a giggly, nine year old boy who’s loving the attention. But the playground is a short car ride away – there’s no place near his apartment for him to play outside safely. So most of his time is spent indoors. It seems safer.

The second family is fairly new on Karyn’s caseload: two children, a mom and a dad. The dad’s PTSD first manifested itself in the early 1980’s as a result of his army duty in the late 1970’s. Mom’s PTSD is of more recent inception. She used to support her family by cleaning houses. Now, neither she nor dad is able to leave their apartment. Recently they needed to make a choice – tutoring for the almost-bar mitzvah aged son? Or shoes for him? … They chose shoes. It’s hard to envision needing to make such a basic choice.

The last family we visit is a more financially stable family. The first attack destroyed their roof; the second one hit the front room of their house. Mom relayed that after the attacks her now-ten year old son began to wet the bed, refuses to leave the house without her, and sleeps with her at night. She quit her job because he was unable to function without her physically near him. He’s agreed just this summer to attend camp each morning, allowing Mom to work four hours a day, but refuses to go on field trips to the swimming pool with his camp group. Mom’s working on establishing support groups for others in their situation and has a proposal pending for an afterschool program/ curriculum to be introduced in S'derot to help the children understand what’s happening to them, and empower them. And by the way, did I mention that when he was eight, he wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert which was published in Maariv newspaper asking for him to protect his school?

Karyn works with approximately 15 such families in S’derot (in addition to families across the entire State of Israel who are survivors of other terror attacks). Most of the families she works with are people who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Historically, many families in S’derot lived a marginal existence even before the rockets began to fall. There’s no industry in S’derot. The train from Tel Aviv doesn’t go that far.

It would be easy to think of the families Karyn works with as “victims.” She – and we – prefer to think of them as “survivors” whose daily lives demonstrate great courage.

I was in error by saying "There's no industry in S'derot." From my friend and colleague, Arnie Draiman, comes the following: "There is a LOT of industry in S'derot. a big industrial park with some of the biggest names in Israel there - Osem, for example."

Todah rabah, Arnie: thanks for the info.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shabbat Shalom - from Home

Neal and I arrived back home late last night. The trip was not easy, but eventually we arrived in the middle of a fantastic thunder and lightning storm, and awoke to the sound of rain this morning.

More to come on Israel in the week ahead:
Our trip to S'derot
JNF's New Blue Box
The Miracle Maker
Odds & Ends and an Afterword

Wishing you a sense of peace this Shabbat -

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New State in an Ancient Land

The Palmach Museum, which Neal and I visited on Monday, July 21st, had been on several "must-see/do" lists we got from friends while planning our travels. Our son actually said, "If you don't do anything else, you have to go to the Palmach." Pretty high praise indeed.

So a few words of context:

The Palmach was one of the groups that formed during the British Mandate to begin to prepare an Army to fight for Israel's independence. (A couple of other names that might be familiar: the Irgun, the Hagannah, the Stern Gang). All of these organizations fell somewhere along the spectrum of independence fighters. Some were more radical than others and functioned along the lines of the Sons of Liberty (from America's pre-Independence War Days).

The Museum itself requires admission tickets for a specific time of day; the tour lasts for 90 minutes; group size is limited; and the visitors receive a recorded translation of the Hebrew keyed to the specific information at each given display or exhibit.

Much like the American Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Daniel's Story," the Palmach Museum uses a group of individuals to represent the living history of the time period under discussion. This story focuses on a group of approximately 8-10 older teens or 20-somethings who become a small unit in the late 1930's or early 40's. The exhibit traces their growth and development both as individuals and as a unit, representing the hundreds of young men and women who had similar experiences during these years.

Each display area included life-sized models, usually behind a black transparent curtain, arranged in a "typical" staging; with black and white videos of the characters shown either behind the scene or on an adjacent background. The area in which the museum visitors stand also has props and scenery which evoke the setting. One of the scenes actually has a model whose facial features (and mouth!) move in response to the audio recording.

The entry point and exit point are through the same room: a dimly lit room, with the names of all the Palmach soldiers who died in the fight for Israel's freedom etched into a glass counter-high display that is parallel to three of the four sides of the room. The counter is uplit in green. Each name is provided, without rank or other destinguishing feature, so that each individual's contribution (his/her life) is equal to every other individual's contribution.

On the wall, in white, lit-up Hebrew and English letters are the words of the Israeli poet, Nathan Alterman:

Are the silver platter
On which the Jews' state
Was presented today
It was a "nice, thematic, expression" as we walked into the exhibit area. As we came out, we read those words again, which had become more heavily charged with meaning as a result of what we had experienced.


Reactions? Many, deeply felt; interwoven typically with my own experiential filters through which I (we all?) try to make sense of new information.

I am 56 years years old. Although we lived for a short time in Madison (from 9/65-2/69), most of my formative years were spent in the small towns and farmlands of midstate Wisconsin.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress in August 1964, giving LBJ the authority to wage war in Vietnam. I was 11 and a half. A scant two years later, a family friend was on the front lines in DaNang and Hue. Although we were terrified for him, he was convinced that being an American meant being willing to be part of her armed services. Dennis was followed by Tim a few years later (in 1971).

Tim's unit was adopted by my dormitory floor -- and we wrote regularly to let them know of our support. Many of them, by that time, had questions about whether the US should be in Vietnam. Tim felt - more than anything - that we were blessed to have a country where freedom played such a primary role and that he had an individual responsibility to try to help straighten out the corruption in South Vietnam so that her people could have the same right to freedom that we have. We corresponded for the entire two years he was overseas and remained in touch until I moved east in 1976.

When I moved to the East Coast, I discovered that the pervasive expression on the War was that the US government was evil, that the soldiers that fought in her army were all baby-killers and that any American who was really patriotic should have rioted in protest or gone to Canada.

It seemed to me then, as it does now, that that's a far too simplistic response. Many of the young men I knew - Dennis, Tim, Chuck, Dan and others - had a deep and abiding love for this country: her physical land, the principles upon which she was built; and the freedoms they inherited as a result of sacrifices made by earlier Americans. They didn't necessarily agree with the politics or the implementation of the war. They were dehumanized by the protestors and paid a price for that demonization when they returned from their service.

What does that filter have to do with our experience at the Palmach Museum?

The young actors depicted in the exhibts were roughly the ages of my young friends who served in 'Nam roughly 40 years ago. The discussions they had about the "rightness" of what they were doing - the desire to establish a homeland where all Jews could be free to be Jewish - included echoes from the dialogues I participated in with my friends slightly more than a generation ago.

One of the exchanges from the movie that particularly resonnated with me was this one:

Soldier: Sir, we find ourselves in control of several hostages. What should we do with them?"
Commander (pauses, then says quietly): Whatever you think you should do.
Some of the activities shown in this exhibit include blowing up bridges and train tracks; bombing hotels; attacking villages to protect farmers living near by. I can't help but wonder whether the label "terrorist" depends in part on where one is sitting: some of these actions are similar to ones the Palestinians engage in these days.

As I was trying to sort through these memories and impressions, Neal helped me put some of it in perspective. He reminded me that every group, every country, every civilization has its own "creation story:" stories of heroism and decision that describe "how they came to be." In time, those stories become part of the shared memories and help bind the group together.

Ultimately, his comment made me realize how "detached" in many ways I am from our American experience of grasping freedom. The re-enactors at Williamsburg seem "quaint" to me. Our Israeli experience is so new, that it jars and has an immediacy that our American experience no longer has. Our "creation story" has already been codified. Israel's is still being written.

Sometimes I think we forget that although eretz Israel / the land of Israel is an ancient one, Medinat Israel / the State of Israel is still in the process of becoming.

Postscript: I just discovered this summer, while home for my mother's funeral, that Tim committed suicide within the last several years. He never quite "got over" his Vietnam experiences. Had his service been more recent, I think he might have been able to get treatment for his PTSD. May his memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Our Last Day

Today was our last full day in Israel and it was a very full day, indeed.

We took the train to Ashkelon this morning to be picked up by Karyn London, of Atzum. Karyn had invited us to go to S'derot with her as she made some client visits. We met with three clients - all families of survivors of terror - and saw a remarkable one-man miracle maker who as a volunteer, and ONLY WITH VOLUNTEER ASSISTANCE

  • provides food for 600 people a day;
  • feeds an additional 150 in their soup kitchen;
  • runs a parent room for families to borrow books and toys (also providing families with diapers and food);
  • and runs a clothing center where people who need new or extremely-gently-used clothing can pay a few shekels and have something clean and in good condition to wear.

From there, we went to an indoor playground. Opened after the war and funded totally by JNF and the municipality of S'derot, this "Blue Box" is a reinforced bomb shelter which provides a wide variety of indoor recreational activities for children of all ages. A few of the activities include DDR stations, a half-size soccer field, basketball hoops and a climbing wall; foam climbing and tumbling mats for the younger set and a pre-school-sized house for the little ones to cook, clean, have tea parties, and put their "babies" to bed. It's only been opened since March, but it's a safe place for both current survivors of terror and will be available in the future, as needs arise.

That's the short version - so many impressions/feelings/thoughts rolling around. They'll need to settle before I can write more. So that's now two pieces I "owe" you - on the Palmach Museum and on S'derot.

Back at our hotel in Tel Aviv - getting ready to go out for an early dinner. Then it's packing and early to bed for a nap before the desk calls us at 2:00 am for our 2:30 pickup for Ben Gurion Airport. Our flight's at 6:10 am (Israel time); with a 6 hour layover in Madrid, we hope to land at Dulles at about 7:30 tomorrow night (EDT).

And here, I thought today was a long day!

L'hitraot / See you soon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

History - and Making History!

Today was a very long, full day. From the beginning, Neal and I had talked about doing a one-day guided trip once we got to Tel Aviv. When we arrived, we looked at the brochures in the lobby - talked about options and decided to take a one-day trip up the northern coast of Israel. Today was the day.

We left the hotel at 7:15 am. That's right: 7:15 In. The. Morning. (Those of you that know me really well can quit smirking now - or your face just might freeze with that expression!).

Our group was small - about 11 people on a huge charter/tour bus. We actually got sorted out and on the road about 8:00 am and headed north of Tel Aviv to Caesarea, site of ancient Roman ruins (built during the time of Herod) and Byzantine ruins. The tour itself was an hour - we saw Herod's palace, an excavated market place along the Cardo (generic name, we learned, for the main north-south road of any town the Romans built), an ampitheater, a hippodrome (used for races) and a whole bunch of other stuff. The mosaics were still in pretty good shape in many places - Neal got some great pictures. The views of the Mediterranean from different points were absolutely gorgeous. It was a lot of walking - all out in the hot sun on sandy, gritty paths.

After an hour of walking, it was a relief to get back to the bus. It was air conditioned and the a/c worked great!

From Caesarea, we went north through the Carmel vineyards and fields to Acco (aka "Acre"), site of Crusader and, later, Turkish ruins. This was a longer walk - almost two hours - and included both interior and exterior segments. Perhaps the most interesting was seeing examples of where more recent builders had built on top of the Turkish ruins which were built on top of the Crusader ruins. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to get any written materials, so I'm rapidly forgetting what we "learned" earlier: I'm not an auditory learner.

By this time, it was 1:00 and really, really, really hot. Did I mention that the bus had a great a/c system? And that it worked really, really well?

After Acco, we had a quick lunch and then drove north to Rosh HaNikra - at the Israel/Lebanon border. Our guide explained that there were 120 km between the boarder and Beirut -- and that between the two was "no man's land" where there was no government authority to let people cross the board. We couldn't actually see into Lebanon (I remember when Neal's mom and dad went to Israel many years ago, they were able to go into the Golan Heights and look down on Lebanon), but we did see a guard at the security station.

The other part of this stop was a trip through the grottos formed by the Mediterranean Sea pounding against the land and rock outcroppings for thousands of years.

That was actually my least favorite part of the whole tour - it was hot, very humid, loud, the stones were slippery and I was afraid of falling, and there were parts where I got really claustrophobic (a phobia that seems to have developed since I moved away from the wide, open spaces of Wisconsin). It took about 45 minutes to go through the grottos - next time, I'll sit in the coffee bar and wait for the group to rejoin me!

By this time, it was after 3:00 and the heat was really getting to me. Did I mention that the bus had a great a/c system? And that it worked really, really well?

On our way back to Tel Aviv - we stopped all too briefly in Haifa. We drove to the top of Mount Carmel, got out of the bus for about 10 minutes to look down on the Baha'i Temple and the German Quarter and then were rushed back into the bus. I didn't even really have a chance to get hot!

Got back to Tel Aviv about 6:30 - hot, exhausted, thirsty (despite the water we kept guzzling all afternoon). After a quick shower and brief rest - we headed to the Port of Tel Aviv for a wonderful dinner of kabobs and a great assortment of salads.


So that was the "history" part of the day.

There actually was a "history in the making" piece as well.

One of the couples on the tour that we gravitated towards was Susan and Steve Grad, from LA. Steve is actually here in Israel on business and they were able to get away for the first time since around the 7th or 8th of July, I think they said, to spend a day just touring.

Steve Grad, you see, is a sports reporter, here in Israel for the 18th Maccabiah Games. The Games provide a chance for Jewish athletes from around the world to compete against each other. Like the Olympics, they're held every four years.

Steve's reporting for the Jewish Life TV . Okay, that's cool enough - but what's REALLY awesome is that this is the first time that the games have been broadcast outside of Israel.

I looked at him and said, "You mean this has never been done before?" He said it hadn't and talked about some of the logistics that went into having all the pieces come together so that it could be done this year. I looked at him, stunned, and said very slowly, "You're making history." And I thought of all the kids I've taught throughout the years who would have been absolutely thrilled to have been in my shoes today and have a chance to talk to Steve about what he's doing.

What struck me profoundly was the juxtaposition - we spent the day together, exploring antiquities - ruins and mosaics and grottos and stones - while at the same time one of the participants was a part of history being made: the land is ancient, but the state is still so relatively young.

Amazing... simply amazing.

So here's to Susan and Steve - thanks for letting us share in your special time this week. When you come to the DC area, please look us up.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Museums + Shopping + Beach = Tel Aviv!

Today was the most "tourist-y" day we've had so far.

After a breakfast provided by our hotel this morning, Neal and I were off to change money (a most necessary exercise!), and wander down Dizengoff Street to look at the shops. The humidity in Tel Aviv is much higher than in Jerusalem, but the terrain is much flatter and the sidewalk (stones) are not as slippery. Consequently, I found myself bopping along at a good pace instead of picking my way gingerly up and down the hills. I'd felt old and more infirm in Jerusalem - Tel Aviv makes me feel like maybe I haven't quite lost "it" yet.

Dizengoff was shady and the sidewalks were wide, so we ambled along for a while.... And then of course, I saw a Crocs store and I was gone! (Others go for jewelry and other adornments. Me, I go for Crocs - hmm, not quite sure what that says about me.) It's actually all Barb's fault - she introduced me to them in Atlanta!

I got a great pair of one of the newer styles. Not really on sale, but probably a little cheaper than I would have been able to get them in Maryland, if I'd been able to find them.

Neal pointed us in the direction of Ben Gurion's home. No cost to get in and a chance to see the house kept as it was when he died. Neal called it "Israel's Mount Vernon" -- and although it was a fraction of the size, the significance is probably pretty similar.

What amazed me was that in the four upstairs rooms, plus one room on the first level, there were over 20,000 books - floor to ceiling in most cases. Subjects ranged from Greek and Latin classics to Jewish law to Kabbalah to American history, French history and more. Not just one or two volumes of each, but shelves and shelves and shelves. It was humbling to think about how well-read he was - even as he was busy building a county - and how narrow and liminted my own reading is in comparison.

We went back to Benedict's for lunch (shakshuka again for me; something different for Neal) and saw our "new friend," Renee - the head wait person, who we'd met last evening. Renee is an interesting person: she's just returned to Israel about a year ago after having spent 8 years in the United States - living in Pittsburg, Chicago, New York and Baltimore. It was fun to compare memories of some of the same places! Lunch time is much busier at Benedict's than early evening is, so Renee had just a few moments to talk in between seating customers, clearing tables, and helping to serve customers. When I told her that I'd blogged about Benedict's, she beamed and then said teasingly, "Make sure you tell your friends how great the service is, too!" So, here's to Renee and her co-workers - all of whom know the meaning of the phrase "service with a smile."

After a brief rest, we headed out to the Palmach Museum. When our son visited Israel two summers ago, he said that if there was no other museum we visited, we had to go to the Palmach. He couldn't quite articulate why we had to go - just that we did.

It was a very moving experience. I understand why our son found it so difficult to articulate.... I need to let things roll around for a while before they become clearer.

After a "happy hour snack" provided by our hotel, we (again) rested for a bit and then headed across the street to the Hilton beach. Although it's next to the Hilton Hotel, all beaches in Israel, our front-desk person told us proudly, are public beaches. The Hilton Beach is lovely, the sand was cool underfoot and the water was tepid. Neal snagged two chaise lounges and I plopped down (he went swimming). We'd hoped to get there in time for sunset, but it was hazy and not very picturesque.

But the breeze was pleasant. It was quiet. A wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on a very busy day.

Although it's only 10:30 pm here, we'll be turning in soon - tomorrow morning, we're leaving at 7:15 for a day trip!

Lailah tov /good night & pleasant dreams from Tel Aviv!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

*NOW* I Understand....

...why, when my students and I were studying about Israeli diversity several years ago, Morah Val had the cooking chug make "shakshuka"... and why the Rabbi paused in his departure from the building that evening to enjoy a small taste of the leftovers....and why the dish brought back such pleasant memories of trips each had taken to Israel in the past.

Today, within two hours of arriving in Tel Aviv (after checking into our hotel, visiting the roof-top terrace for a view of the Mediterranean, and walking down to Ben Yehuda street -- this time in Tel Aviv, instead of Jerusalem), we found what I'm sure will be our favorite Tel Aviv restaurant, Benedict.

I have a new favorite food... actually two new... no! make that three new favorite foods.

To describe shakshuka as "fried vegetables and eggs in a tomato sauce" doesn't do justice to the combination of herbs used to flavor the sauce. I suspect the sauce may also have been fresh, instead of canned or from a jar - the tomato flavor was much more robust than preserved tomatoes usually are. The meal was accompanied by a huge Israeli salad, with a wonderful touch of lemon (it's all too easy to have too much lemon or not enough). The "bread basket" was a basket of six freshly made, hot-from-the-oven, rolls .... and I learned about chocolate syrup to spread on the rolls. My formerly favorite spread for rolls (apricot preserves) doesn't hold a candle to chocolate syrup. And the fruit salad - a complimentary gift as a result of showing our hotel ID - was to die for. I'm not sure exactly what fruits were in it, but they were fresh, not mushy and with a slight orange taste. My guess is orange juice to prevent the oxidation - but if so, this was orange juice like I've never had before. (That may be more than 3 foods, but at this point, I've lost count!)

::sigh:: Pure, unadulterated bliss.....

So next time (if there is one) that Morah Val teaches the kids how to make "shakshuksa," I'm gonna be right there, in the kitchen, breathing deeply!


This morning, before we left Jerusalem, Neal took a walk down to the Artists' Colony near our hotel (the Eldan - they were lovely and we recommend them highly); and Steve and I met for one last time this trip to discuss the Mitzvah heroes we'd seen earlier in our visit; our individual "transformative" experiences (more about those later); and to sketch out some of the tasks ahead of us in the next couple of months. I treasure the opportunity to share these experiences this past week.

We left Jerusalem at 2:00 - our wonderful guide/driver Taki had many insights on some of the issues shared by Americans and Israelis - the inflation of real estate values; the issue of illegal immigration; education that's inadequate to prepare kids for the world ahead of them. He talked a little about his own army service, and some of his concerns for his son, who's now in the army. After the slightly more than two hours we spent with him, I think it's fair to say that we have a better idea of what some of the issues are that Israelis grapple with - at least what this individual Israeli grapples with. It's certainly a deeper understanding... and a more nuanced one than the media is able to provide.

As we drove down Rehov Hayarkon (the street that our hotel is on) in Tel Aviv, Neal and I looked at each other and grinned. After we got out of the cab, he said to me, "This reminds me of Collins Avenue in North Miami Beach, a block or so over from where Grandma Fannie lived."

Although I don't know Collins Avenue, this area does remind of me places in Florida that we've visited together - the palm trees; the beach, the humidity in the air; the sun umbrellas wherever you look - and the high rises along the beach front.

The next few days offer opportunities for different experiences than we had in Jerusalem - and all I can say is "Bring 'em on!"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shabbat - A Time for Reflection

We slept in Saturday morning (and loved every minute of it). Having decided to participate in the Reconstructionist minyan meeting at HUC (Hebrew Union College) just a block away from our hotel (the Eldan), we got up in time for a quick breakfast here at the hotel before we left.

As we entered the gate at HUC, we could hear the singing wafting out into the entrance courtyard. A gentleman noticed our hesitation as we tried to figure out where the sound was coming from and asked if we were looking for the services. We answered affirmatively and he directed us in through a door and up a flight of steps.

As we approached, the sound of voices raised in song and joy swelled. We were greeted at the door and quickly found two adjacent seats on the right in the almost-filled room. As we settled in, I looked around and discovered - much to my delight - that a rabbi I'd worked with in the Washington area was davening just a couple of rows ahead! Ever since we'd planned this trip, friends had said to us - "You'll run into people you know, even if you don't think you'll know anyone in Jerusalem." Last night, it was Mark - today it was Rabbi Steve. It is truly a small world we live in!

In short order, I realized that the service was not the Reconstructionist one we'd hoped to attend, but rather a Reform one. Although initially disappointed (we'd hoped to connect with Charlie and Marilyn and a couple of others we thought might be there), we found ourselves absolutely uplifted by the singing, the communal participation and interaction, and the drash/words of Torah.

The drash was given by someone who's name we never quite caught. Obviously knowledgeable, he also had the gift of being a magnificent speaker. In short, his message for the day was threefold: 1) Don't look for the short cuts in your journeys (metaphorical or actual); 2) Stuff happens when you don't expect it to; and 3) It's not all about me.

Woven into his talk were references to the three weeks of mourning leading up to Tisha B'Av; Israeli current events [he cited the part from the Torah portion that delinates the Israelites' 42 stops from Egypt to Canaan and referenced the "pauses" to parking lots: a hot issue among the Haredi in Jerusalem these weeks]; some discussion of repetitions of specific words and inversions - and the interpretation he took from them; and allusions to the science fiction classic "The Fantastic Voyage" (made into a movie in 1966 starring Raquel Welch) to both begin and end his remarks.

Our experience with this community was absolutely what we needed this morning - and a good example of the "stuff happens when you don't expect it to!"

We caught the tail end of our hotel's brunch for our lunch and then came up to the room. After a nap, Neal went out to explore some more - I decided to stay in (in the a/c) and process some of the thoughts rolling around in my head after our visit to the Old City yesterday.


It's taken me a bit of time to be able to articulate some of the thoughts and feelings rolling around in my head as we walked through parts of the Old City yesterday - especially our visit to the Kotel.

When Neal and Arnie joined me near the women's section, Arnie mentioned that he's observed over time that the impact of being in the Old City and at the Kotel doesn't always arrive instantaneously - and it's not always a religious impact. For some, he said, the impact is historical; for some it's religious; for some it's a sense of connection among people. I appreciated his comments immensely, because

[Deep breath here]

being at the Kotel left me cold.

My ability to participate fully in our people's "people-ness" is denied to me by the ultra-Orthodox who refuse to accept the signatures on my conversion papers.

Despite my attempts to undergo an "acceptable conversion," one of the rabbis who partipated in my bet din did not sign my papers before he left the mikvah that day. My papers instead include two "acceptable" signatures and the third is of my converting rabbi, Rabbi Eugene J. Lipman, z"l. I knew the instant I saw the papers, that my conversion would not be accepted. Neal and I subsequently arranged for our children to undergo a ritual immersion and conversion with acceptable signatores. I was proud that Gene's signature is on my certificate, but at the same time I didn't want to deprive my children of their Right of Return.

So here we are, 28 years later. Without boasting, I think I can honestly own that I've made signification contributions to our Jewish communal life, through my work as an educator, an administrator, a Jewish parent, a role model and a participant in the work of trying to bring repair to the world around us.

As I participated in the IEI (Israel Educators Institute) program these past 15 months, I've struggled with how I am perceived by segments of our people. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It hurts.

But most of all, I don't understand why "the rest of us" - Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal - and all other Jews who don't choose to affilitate - allow a numerically small number of people to define who we are and how we are.

When did we cede the right to self-identification?

Or do we subconsciously agree that we "are not Jewish enough" -- allowing others to define the "enough?"

Prejudice and bigotry are ugly - even more so when practiced by one group of Jews against others and done in the name of the Eternal.

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya-aseh shalom. Aleinu v'al kol Israel. V'imru: Amen.

Our Friday Experiences

Friday morning, Neal and I were fortunate to get a personal tour of the Old City by Arnie Draiman. Among other things, Arnie is the Mitzvah Heroes Fund’s Israeli agent. He identifies worthwhile recipients of tzedakah funds, does the due diligence critical to ensure that monies are spent wisely and efficiently, and – in general – helps us keep on top of things. His participation in Mitvah Heroes is critical in helping us achieve our goal of getting the funds people donate to us to beneficiaries in the most timely manner possible. Arnie’s also the guru who designed and maintains our website. So here’s a huge shout-out to Arnie: You rock!

Arnie met us at our hotel at 8:00 am and we cabbed to the Jaffa Gate. At that time, it was still fairly quiet in the Old City. Arnie pointed out some of the defensive characteristics built into the walls – the slits between the stones that enabled the watchmen to see who was approaching; the stone wall behind the wood gates, which necessitated a sharp right turn in order to enter the city – defenders could easily pick off their attackers before the latter were able to completely enter the city.

We began our tour in the Christian Quarter – the streets were narrow; the stone paths the original ones laid so many years ago. In many of the streets, the sun didn’t penetrate. While that made it dark – it also made it much cooler. Arnie took us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – which encompasses the last three of the twelve Stations of the Cross, the burial site of Jesus, and where the shroud of Turin was laid to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The church is currently maintained by a number of Catholic orders (I think six, but now can’t remember exactly), each one of which has responsibility for the upkeep and care of a specific portion of the Church grounds.

We walked into one nook where a priest was reciting Mass in English – and I unexpectedly found myself mentally responding as he recited some of the call-and-response prayers. Arnie said it was unusual to hear the Mass in English – I assured him had the prayers been in Latin, I would have also been able to respond. (It’s funny what memories get burned into one’s psyche from an early age.) As we were leaving the Christian Quarter, we saw a man carrying a cross, re-enacting the last steps of Jesus. Just a few steps later, we bought our first souvenirs in the old city from a vendor who gave us a special blessing for being his first customers of the day!

We walked along the outside of the Armenian Quarter next, with Arnie explaining that since the Armenians were the first nation of people to accept Jesus, they were granted their own quarter in the Old City as a reward.

The Cardo is along the “border” between the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter. It’s an excavation site originally uncovered after a Syrian farmer discovered an ancient map in his field. The map was so detailed that the authorities were certain that under the then-current layer of the city was the Cardo, with its pillars and its original shop stalls still remaining. The Cardo was a main street, running from north to south from the Roman and Byzantine eras. Arnie explained, “In Jerusalem, people don’t own the land beneath their houses, they only own their houses.” We got to meet a wine shop owner, who Arnie knows, who has done some mitzvah work in the past.

Arnie had a mitzvah stop to make along the way – and we were glad to be able to accompany him: delivering hearing aid batteries to an elderly, blind holocaust survivor living in the Jewish Quarter.

One of the most striking differences between the Christian and Armenian Quarters and the Jewish Quarter, to me, was that the Jewish Quarter was more open, less closed in (less claustrophobic?) and consequently, brighter/sunnier than the other two. I asked Arnie why that was. He responded that when Jerusalem was reunified in 1967, the Jewish Quarter needed to be rebuilt from scratch.

Our next stop was the Kotel – the Eastern Wall. It’s the only remaining wall from the Second Temple (expanded by Herod in 20 BCE) and built on the site of the First Temple, built by King Solomon. It’s been a sacred site for Jews throughout the millennia – a place to worship, to ask for special favors from the Almighty, and the destination for Jews who promise each other at the end of the Passover Seder/meal: “Next year, in Jerusalem.”

Although we didn’t go into the Muslim Quarter, Arnie pointed out the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome designed to protect the rock from which Muhammad left the earth. This same rock is believed to be the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac.

Arnie also pointed out the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with its silver dome, where Anwar Sadat worshipped in his ground-breaking visit to Israel to meet with Menachem Begin in November 1977; the Mount of Olives and the cemetery there; and the Arab homes outside the Old City.

We left about 11:00, just as it was beginning to get warmer and busier and returned to our hotel.

After a short rest, and a quick lunch at the Village Green (our second visit in two days – the food is THAT good), we hiked up to Ben Yehuda street to take in the sights and buy some souvenirs (t-shirts and Ahava cream). Much to our delight, we ran into Charlie and Marilyn Bernhardt! We’d known they were going to be here at the same time we were, so it wasn’t a total surprise, but it was great fun anyway.

We ambled back to our hotel, rested some more, and then took a cab to Steve Kerbel’s for a yummy Shabbat dinner with Steve, a friend of Steve’s daughter, and Mark Novak – a talented musician, studying for the rabbinate through the Renewal movement, who happens to be in Jerusalem for several weeks. Mark and his wife Renee (who’s a storyteller extraordinaire) are old friends – they played at our children’s b’nai mitzvah celebrations over 14 and 12 years ago, respectively. An evening filled with energizing conversation, music, good friends and delicious food – a fitting beginning to our day of rest.

Needless to say, we slept well Friday night!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday Afternoon

Did you ever have something happen in the middle of the day (or week or whatever) where you thought, "This was so wonderful, nothing can match it or even top it?"

It often seems to me that bad/difficult/sad things come in twos or threes (or sometimes more), but good things seem to come as single events. I once asked a rabbinic colleague why that might be and he supposed that the bad things are an abberation and once they begin, we seem to be more attuned to additional ones. Haven't yet decided if I agree with him or not.....

Anyhow, I digress.

Thursday afternoon was just as rich and mind-bending as Thursday morning was.

After we left the Rabbanit, Steve, Neal and I went with a group from Congregation Olam Tikvah in Faifax, Virginia to visit Meled. Founded in 1997 by Dr. Menachem Gottesman, Meled is an Alternative Dati (Religious) High School for New Beginnings. Dr. Gottesman says, "Our students have dropped out or have been ejected from traditional educational settings due to a variety of reasons; some of our students have had difficulty in dealing with the academic rigors of high school while others have issues of substance abuse, anti-social behavior, have been abused or come from dysfunctional home settings." Meled students learn to "drop in" and, when they are ready, they learn to value learning for its own sake, not for the ability to pass the exit exams.

Menachem describes his school as a "cardiac care unit" - he and his staff teach the students that they are loved and valued and trusted. In turn, that helps the students learn to love and value and trust again. Until the hearts are mended, the kids aren't available for learning.

He talked about the difference between Meled and other high schools in Israel: at Meled, the program and curriculum are "child-centered:"

At Meled we convey acceptance, continuously, of youths who have experienced alienation at school and, possibly, at home. We provide choice: each student decides what he or she can realistically undertake to learn, under the guidance of the school's professional staff. We encourage being part without forcing the issue. We reward with love each student's showing up. We respect differences. We affirm Jewish values.

As Menachem spoke, my eyes filled with tears. As he shared his students' individual stories, I saw pictures in my mind's eye of kids I've known. From my earliest years as a social worker (where my caseload consisted of abused and neglected children), through my years as a teacher and then a director - there have been children I've worked with at each of those points, who hungered for acceptance and sometimes who had learned to push people away before they could be pushed away.

I've seen the pain in their eyes as we've tried to make these "square pegs" fit into our "round holes." In order to fit, they must "shave off" parts of who they are - and, in doing so, begin to doubt their worth. "If they really knew what I was like," the thinking goes, "they wouldn't like me."

Menachem Gottesman and his staff refuse to allow kids to be thrown away.


When Menachem heard where Steve and I were going next, he smiled. "Do you know Caryn?" one of us asked. "Do I know Caryn?" he repeated. "Of course I know Caryn - we work with some of the same kids!"

"Caryn" is Caryn Green. Eight years ago, Caryn started Crossroads. Crossroads works with English-speaking kids who are in trouble. Some are abused, some are runaways, some use drugs. Many are kids who were just not able to make the transition from the English-speaking communities they were born into and the Hebrew-speaking communities they found themselves in when their parents made aliyah. Almost all the Crossroads kids are from traditionally observant families.

Where did Caryn meet these kids? On the street, where they hang out. How does she get the to come to Crossroads? She doesn't "get them to come" - she offers help: a place to hang out, to listen to music, to eat, to talk to someone, to be. Because they've gotten to know her and trust her on the streets, they feel safe in asking for help.

Crossroads opens at 3 pm each day and stays open well into the night. Between 700 and 1000 kids pass through its doors each year. They take art classes and cooking classes-- or hip-hop, a new offering this summer. They work on resumes, and brush up their job skills. They learn how to fill out applications - for university, for the army. They hang out, in a place that feels safe to them.

With Caryn's help - and that of her staff of four and a half social workers - they learn to put the pieces of their lives back together, to find a safe place to live, to learn that while it's good to set their achievement bar high - it's even better to have options.

We had the privilege of visiting with a "graduate" of both Meled and Crossroads while we were visiting Caryn. He is a young man from a troubled family who has completed his army service and is ready to go to University. He's not quite sure where - but he has goals, skills he's learned along the way, and a keen sense of self-awareness. His biggest concern now? His younger brother, who's struggling with some of the same issues he struggled with. "I keep telling him I believe in him," my new friend said. We talked at length and I could assure him that the belief of an older sibling could be pivotal in helping a younger sib find his/her way.

Going through my mind, as I listened to Menachem and Caryn and my new friend was something that was written in my 9th grade yearbook (1968, Edgewood High School, Madison WI) by Molly McGuire - one of those very popular but incredibly nice people that you're sometimes lucky enough to meet.

Molly wrote: Our lives are shaped by those who love us and by those who refuse to love us. Molly - if you're out there - your thought has echoed in my mind many times in the last 41 years.

Caryn and Menachem exemplify "those who love" who "shape our lives."
A full day indeed.

Meled and Crossroads are two projects supported by the Mitzvah Heroes Fund.

Thursday Morning

Our first meeting on Thursday morning (Neal, Steve Kerbel and I) was with Karyn London of Atzum. Karyn is a social worker and the coordinator of the Survivors of Terror Project. This Project, which is one of three that Atzum gives its attention to, focuses on those individuals and families whose lives have been irreparably shattered by terrorist actions – especially when the individual is the main provider for the family.

Karyn spoke knowledgeably and compassionately about the difficulties facing many of these families. Physical injuries are only part of the damage done: PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is often a by-product as well. What makes PTSD particularly difficult (for those who’ve never seen a loved one experience it) is that the flashbacks can be caused by any one of a number of triggers: sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes. Triggers are not only difficult to identify, but they may affect an individual at random and unexpected times. Just telling people “it’s done, put it behind you and move on with your life” doesn’t work (would that it could).

So Karyn and her team of people provide assistance to survivors of terrorism and their families through such supports as tuition assistance for retraining; taxi rides to and from schools for children who were injured in a bus bombing between their home and school; and orthopedic household equipment for those suffering from chronic pain as a result of their injuries. This support allows the survivors to regain the sense of dignity necessary to each individual and (in my opinion) changes people from "victims" to "survivors."

[Note: Atzum also works with the Righteous Among Nations and has a Task Force on Human Trafficking.]


Our second meeting of the morning was with the Rabbanit Bracha Kappach.

The Rabbanit has been doing tzedakah work for over 45 years. She got her start by helping a sick neighbor – cleaning for her, caring for her, and cooking for her. She hasn’t stopped caring for people since then! In 1964, she began distributing packages of food for Pesach/Passover. In the intervening years, she has distributed packages to over thousands and thousands of people.

During the hour and a half we were there, her phone never stopped ringing – people calling for help; people offering to help. We peeked into her “warehouse” area – a partially closed-in balcony where there were stacks of flour, sugar, oil, and other staples. It looked like a lot of food to me, but Steve whispered that her stores were more depleted than he’d seen before.

In addition to her annual Pesach food distribution, the Rabbanit also provides food for many people each week for Shabbat. Early on Friday morning, people who have no other resources show up at her door for staples, a chicken, some challah and perhaps some juice. She gets prepared foods from Moshe Kot of the Lev Ramot Organization. Lev Ramot picks up uneaten food from catered affairs and delivers it anonymously to people who are hungry. He calls the Rabbanit when he has food he knows she can use.

So often we think that there’s little that one individual can do to “make a difference.”

I once had the privilege of being in the first row when Margaret Mead was speaking at my college, a few short years before her death in 1978. I remember clearly her message to us that day: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

As I was with the Rabbanit yesterday, I kept remembering Margaret Mead, and realizing that I was in the presence of someone who has, indeed, changed the world.

[One of the things that brought joy to the Rabbanit’s face was when she told us that she and her husband, Rav Kappach, were the only husband and wife to have both won the Israel Prize: he for his scholarship work; and she for tzedakah work. Tzedakah, she told us, is not a choice; it’s an obligation/a mitvah/something we are commanded to do.]

A morning spent with people intent on repairing the world is a morning rich with experiences and memories.

These are two of the many tzedakah opportunities the Mitzvah Heroes Fund supports.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're Here!

We’re in Israel. We arrived last evening at about 7:00 pm Israel time (12 noon EDT), to be greeted at our hotel by Steve Kerbel and Danny Siegel. Steve had a “welcome basket” for us – almonds, chocolates, and plums. It was nice to see a familiar face so soon!

The trip over was, well, a “trip.” Suffice it to say I broke my previous record by logging 32 hours of wakefulness. When I was young – and foolish??? – all-nighters were a part of the routine periodically. That was a LONG time ago.

First impressions of Israel?

The airport was big (so was Madrid’s, for that matter). Security lines moved quickly; everything was clearly marked, even for a non-Hebrew speaker. We were actually in and out of the airport in less than an hour. We were met by our pre-arranged taxi driver right on the other side of the gate, who reached for our luggage and got us on our way to Jerusalem in short order.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was interesting. Taki pointed things out and gave us a mini-tour as we drove. We were both delighted to see directional signs to places we’d only read about – Petah Tikva, and Mod’in, to name just a couple.

We saw fences around Arab settlements, a prison holding Palestinians, and a demonstration in a Haredi neighborhood with a huge police presence. The reason for the demonstration? A woman who is a member of that community was arrested for child abuse. The community maintains that they have the right to discipline their own members – it’s not the police’s job to do that. From what Taki told us, however, the abuse had been sustained over a number of years, with hospitalizations along the way.

The situation was evidently well-known within the community. The resentment (and subsequent protests) resulted from the perceived interference of the “outsiders” (the State).

I wonder: who speaks for the children, who cannot speak for themselves? Isn’t it the obligation of the community to protect those who are defenseless?

Sometimes I wonder which is the group that presents the greatest danger to Israeli society: the Palestinians (who are a threat from without) or those Haredim (who are a threat from within)? Both are situations that are much more nuanced than I’ve presented here, I know, and yet…..

I also was curious about how I’d respond to the actual “land” of Israel. Full disclosure: I grew up in the lush farmlands of the State of Wisconsin, where the green is a treat for the eyes three-fourths of the year. The sky is “big” there, too – not as big as the Dakotas, but far bigger than Maryland. Heat makes me itch – brown, I interpret as “barren” and depressing. I’d read Walking the Bible, and seen lots of videos, movies and pictures of the land. With the exception of Ein Gedi and the Galilee, there didn’t appear to be a lot of what my psyche has had imprinted on it as “beautiful.” How would I respond to the “real thing?”

It is brown. Some parts are very barren. In some areas, there’s been reforestation – with trees I don’t recognize, but nonetheless, green spaces to gaze upon. In some areas (outside a couple of the Arab settlements) the hills leading up to the settlements were covered by olive trees. Not big – more what I would call “shrubs” in size instead of trees. Taki explained that olives are a vital crop in the Arab economy in those areas.

The land has a kind of grandeur to it. It’s hard and dry-looking with what appear to be terraced areas carved into many of the hills outside Jerusalem. It almost looks tired, if land can be described in human characteristics. Tired, but undefeated – it has seen much in the millennia – and has survived.

Jerusalem is busy – crazy traffic (people park on the sidewalks in some places), horns blaring, much construction. Our hotel is on King David Street, at the top of a hill. Walking downhill is a joy (winding around the construction and the sidewalk parking). Returning uphill is an experience best taken slowly – at least by this out-of-shape fifty-six year old.

But the breeze is a delight! And the evening cooled off nicely.

Today’s been a busy one – many impressions rolling through my mind. I’ll try to process them today and post them either later today or tomorrow.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It WAS a Busy Week


What a week...

I finished and submitted an article for publication....

My colleague and I finished over-arching school goals, individual grade goals (accompanied by some strategies for implementation), and a Scope and Sequence for the coming year. Still many pieces to pull together, but the framework appears to be solid. I'll put it aside for a couple of days and then look at it with fresh eyes.

Our kitchen, dining area and adjacent hallway were painted this past week. Alison of Alacrity Consulting and Design did a superb job. Here's her description of what the job entailed. I'm still trying to find new "stashing" places for the stuff we need (which is actually a lot less than the stuff we had). And as you'll see from her to do list at the bottom of her posting, we've still got some finishing touches to add. But it's a clean, warm look and the space has become much more restful than it was previously.

And did I mention that we're leaving for Israel in less than 3 days? I haven't really begun to pack yet (although I've given it lots and lots of thought!)...

It's the first trip for both my husband and me - both of our adult kids also took their first trips (individually) within the last two years.

We decided not to do a tour - neither of us likes to be told to "hurry up and let's go." Since it's a short trip, we decided to spend four days in Jerusalem and four in Tel Aviv. We've had a lot of fun planning our trip - my husband does a superb job of tracking details and researching options.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • Arrive Wednesday evening
  • Mitzvah Heroes work Thursday
  • Ben Yehuda market and shops on Friday
  • Shabbat dinner with a friend
  • Shabbat morning with other friends - maybe services with the Reconstructionist minyan
  • A walking tour of the Old City
  • Tel Aviv on Sunday
  • Some museums - Independence Hall, the Palmach
  • Maybe a day trip
  • Some beach time
  • Some shopping and wandering
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? I purchased a new netbook and plan to take it along with us to blog, email, and perhaps watch a movie on the flight over or back. With my knitting needles and some yarn, I'll be ready to go!

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Usually the Summer is Quiet....

...but all of a sudden things have gotten "crazy-busy" here!

I'm doing a lot of writing (other than on this blog, obviously):
  • lesson plans for a regional Madrichim/Teacher Aide program to be held August 30th
  • some material I hope will be published on Madrichim training
  • thank you notes for donations and kindnesses received after my mother died
I've got the pleasure of working with a colleague on a major curriculum review. She's doing it right, in my opinion, by starting with the goals for each grade and then trying to figure out how to teach them and what materials to use. We're also trying to build in some assessment pieces as we go along, so she'll be able to determine at the end of the year where the strengths and weaknesses are in her new curriculum.

I'm working with another colleague on modifying her family education program.

We're having our kitchen, dining area, and adjacent hallway painted this coming week.... which means the decluttering needs to happen NOW.

We're getting ready to leave on our first-ever trip to Israel in 11 days. I'll definitely be blogging from Israel!

And then there's just the odds and ends of summer - doctors' appointments that are difficult to schedule in the winter; office files and materials that need to be reorganized and culled; new books and other materials that need to be reviewed in order to prepare for the coming year; and my website to review and update.

On the back burner: my year-end review and the year-long madrichim course I'll be teaching in the fall (I've got a syllabus done, but need to prepare lessons and activities).

Whatever happened to "those lazy, hazy days of summer????" NOTE: I'm NOT complaining - I like being busy - am just surprised at the sudden influx of things on my "to-do" list!