February 19, 2012 – Ezra’s 10th birthday. The birthday season began the day before Ezra’s birthday with a sleepover at our home by Erza’s good friend Ilan Sandlar, formerly of Vancouver but now living in the north Efrata neighbourhood of Zayit. The two of them had a great time being loud, crazy, and out of control. As for the rest of us – we put up with them in recognition of Ezra’s birthday. Sunday, Ezra’s actually birthday, was a regular school day for Ezra though he did have two bonus events at the school; an official basketball game in which he played hard and he “kalah sal” (scored a basket), followed by a floor hockey game that replaced his regular roller hockey game due to the stormy weather we’ve been enjoying (in arid draught stricken Israel people celebrate the rain).
Then it was a quick supper and we were off to see Jerusalem’s professional basketball team - Hapoel Migdal Yerushalayim - play the perennial national champions (including this year) Maccabee Tel Aviv. The local indoor stadium only seats
about 3000 people so tickets were hard to come by and the game was sold out, with scalpers active outside the building. Because of the relatively small size of the venue most tickets are owned by subscribers. So we were lucky to get tickets. The approaches to the stadium in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Kiryat Ha’Yuvel were socked in with approaching cars. I dropped Aimee and the boys off and snaked my way through the grid lock in search of a parking spot. The parking lot at the stadium could only accommodate a fraction of the cars and we had arrived far too late to get a spot. Much to my shock I found a spot within a few blocks, right on the main road leading back to our neighbourhood. I’m never sure I’m parking legally in this country, but hoped for the best. The fact that there were cars parked all along that stretch of road gave me some comfort - but not too much - given our experience earlier in the year in front of Merkaz HaFalafel HaTemanie (the Yemenite Falafel Place). But the game was about to start and I took a leap of faith and hurried
I’m not a “Telephone Na’yad” (cell phone) person, but have come to recognize their usefulness. Without a Na’yad, finding the boys and Aimee would have proved difficult – and they had the tickets which Aimee picked up from the will-call. But with our phones Aimee led me through the throng right to them.
Security was tight. The guards even frisked Ezra and Adin, requiring the boys to hold their arms straight out sideways for the pat down. Jokingly, I asked Ezra in Hebrew “Ha-eem attah chamush?” (Are you armed?) Which, is about the stupidest thing you can say when a security guard is conducting a search. Fortunately, he let it go. The female guard searching Aimee demanded that Aimee discard her empty, clear plastic water bottle. In the end she succumbed to Aimee’s entreaties, “Ani lo ra-eetee klum” (“I didn’t see anything”).
The stadium was a sea of red, with almost all the fans dressed in Hapoel Yerushalayim’s team colours. Many were waving
Hapoel scarves and flags. All except those in the section reserved for Maccabee Tel Aviv fans, who were similarly dressed and equipped – except in yellow. The audience was in continuous motion, chanting, singing, yelling, swaying, waving. The sound level remained constant – and very loud. The mood, however, was positive, and even when Hapoel lost by 4 points in overtime, the crowd went away happy after a tightly fought match against the best team in the country. We had “seats” in the “mirpasot” (balconies), but because the railing in front of us was so high we ended up standing for the whole game. Me with Adin, and Aimee with Ezra – separated by two fans in between. Though in the balconies, the view was great because of the relatively small size of the venue.
The experience was very small-town and old-time. And kind of charming. The team merchandise on sale was limited to a small variety of items, which were all displayed on folding tables. Ezra bought a team bracelet for seven shekels – about a dollar fifty. Popcorn was selling by the bag. The boys ate hotdogs
during the intermission. No alcohol on site. Cheerleaders in short skirts did old style cheerleading routines. Aimee noticed that one ultra-orthodox fan stared intensely into his cell phone every time the cheerleaders came out. During breaks in play fans selected from the audience – half from Hapoel, half from Maccabee – shot baskets to win modest prizes.
The game remained close throughout. Finally, Maccabee went ahead with minutes to go. As the final seconds ticked down, Hapoel trailed by three points. With one second on the clock a Hapoel player, an American black guy (about 1/3 of the players are American blacks), made a desperation shot from inches outside the three-point line. The shot clanged off the backboard, wide, as the game clock expired. But wait … the ref called a "fow-el" (foul). Which meant that Hapoel had three foul shots. If the Jerusalem player sank a basket on every shot, Hapoel would tie the score and send the game into overtime. And he did, with the crowd going crazier and getting louder with each shot. Ezra was leaping up and down, clapping, and shouting “We tied it! We
tied it!” No one seemed to mind much that Hapoel ultimately lost since the game was such a thriller and the home team did way better than anyone could have reasonably expected. In Canadian terms, a Hapoel Jerusalem win against Maccabee Tel Aviv would be like an expansion team in the NHL knocking off the Stanley Cup Champions during a regular season game.
Thankfully when we returned to our parking spot the car was still there and there was no ticket on the windshield. By parking on the road facing in the direction of our neighbourhood we managed to avoid the post-game traffic and made it home in minutes. Which was a good thing since the game went so late, the boys were exhausted, and the next day was a regular school day.
The next installment of Ezra’s birthday came last Friday when we headed up to Kibbutz Ma’aleh Gilboa (just south of the Sea of Galilee) to spend Shabbat with the Singer family – formerly of Vancouver. We held off telling the boys that we’d be taking
them out of school for the day until we were sure the weather would be nice enough to spend the day outside en route to Ma’aleh Gilboa. The weather remained iffy, but the forecast looked just good enough to go for it. So when we woke the boys on Friday we told them they’d be missing school and going on an adventure. We dropped Rosie off at a neighbourhood dog sitter and headed north.
Our destination – Gan (park in Hebrew) – Garoo; a zoo dedicated to the animals of Australia. Which turned out to be much more fun than any of us expected. A great place to visit for families with kids between five and ten and, as they say, children of all ages. After checking out most of the exhibits we converged on an open area where kangaroos wander freely amongst humans but have a roped off area to which they can retreat when they've had enough of people, and enough food. In the area there’s a food dispenser where kangaroo food – little pellets – can be purchased for a modest price. The kangaroos are remarkably
comfortable with humans, and are gentle and soft. They happily eat from one’s hand. Adin, as always, was comfortable with the animals from the start. Ezra, as always, was scared to get too close at first, but once he saw how friendly the kangaroos were, warmed up quickly to them, and wooped with excitement when the kangaroo keeper gave him a heaping supply of free food.
From there we entered the bird compound where the custodian provided chunks of apple on skewers to feed the birds. Adin loved having the birds – lorikeets all - land on his head and walk up and down his arms and peck at his ears. Ezra, not so much. Having a lorikeet stick its tongue in one’s ear is something worth experiencing - once in a lifetime.
Finally, we saw the koala feeding and learned many interesting facts about koala’s and their unique life-style. The word “koala” means “animal that doesn’t consume water” in the local aborigine language. The aborigines gave the koalas this name because the koalas receive virtually all their
water from eating eucalyptus leaves, which is also their sole source of food. There is, however, almost no nutrition in eucalyptus leaves, which means the koalas have little energy. Which means they sleep 19 hours at day, rest three hours, and eat the rest of the time, except for five minutes when they move from one place to another. They find mates by sound – they snore and follow the sound to each other. They can hear the snores from up to two kilometers away. And the strangest fact; every year 300,000 koalas are killed on the roads of Australia when the animals cross in search of mates and lay down in the middle of the road to sleep off the exhaustion that results from walking part way across the road.
Once we arrived at Ma’aleh Gilboa the Ezra and Adin disappeared immediately, playing with the Singer boys, Abaya and Shai. We saw them at meals, and for seconds here and there over the course of our time there. Late Saturday afternoon Aimee and I took a walk with Emily Singer around the kibbutz and out in the fields.
With the winter rains, the entire country is a deep green, with splashes of red, yellow, white, and blue flowers. The fields of Ma’aleh Gilboa, covered in long grass (which I assume is intended as feed for livestock) were so richly green that, with the mountain winds blowing waves across the fields, it felt as if one could dive in.
We drove home after dark; the boys slept the entire way, and crawled straight into bed upon our return. Rosie, to say the least, was beside herself with relief, joy and love when she rejoined us.
Shifting back in time to the middle of last week, I did a “siyur” (guided trip) with my course at Yad Ben Tzvi to the northwestern Negev to visit communities established in the 1950s by immigrants - primarily from North Africa. Though not part of the theme of the siyur, we also visited a nature preserve in the area which is famous for its wild flowers at this time of year.
And now, for some more general observations and events of the last few weeks ….
We’ve now passed the half-way point in our year in Israel, and the clock feels like it’s accelerating rapidly. Instead of thinking of the endless number of things we’ll be able to do during the year, we’ve starting to think about making sure we at least do the must-do things before time runs out; hiking in Ein Gedi, snorkeling in Eilat, doing a multi-day camel trek, exploring the Golan …
Aimee and I recently finished our ulpan (intensive Hebrew language program) terms. Aimee studied hard for her final exam and passed with flying colours - and 3 points to spare - enabling Aimee to move up to the level “hey.” Hey is the 5th level and one below the highest level – “vav”. Aimee’s now started level hey, and is quickly gaining on me. I started in hey, did vav, but there’s nothing above vav, and although I would have done vav again, there were not enough people signed up to do another term of vav. So as for
me and my Hebrew, I’ve got my course at Yad Ben Tzvi, I’m trying to read more – newspapers and perhaps I’ll start a novel – lots of radio listening when I’m out for a run, and conversations whenever the opportunity arises. Aimee’s become addicted to a television series called “Serugim” (knitted) which is set in our neighbourhood, is available on-line, and has similarities with the American shows "Friends" and "Sex in the City." There’s a second series we’ll check out on-line called “Avodah Aravite” (“Arab Labour”) written by our favorite columnist, Israeli Arab Sa’id Kashu’ah.
The boys continue to like school, though Adin and Ezra are having a very different experience. Adin’s thriving, doing well in class and with Hebrew. We discontinued his private Hebrew tutor a couple of months back when his regular teacher said he didn’t need it and “Haval al ha’kesef” (don't waste your money). But most important, Adin’s doing well socially and has about a dozen friends, most of whom speak only Hebrew. Whenever we see Adin at school it’s clear that he’s completely part of the gang. Him and his buddies are always
joking around with each other, pushing and play fighting. And on those few occasions when the pushing gets a little more aggressive and serious, Adin pushes back at least as hard as he’s pushed - an important survival skill, especially in this country. Adin has established that he won’t back off, and has earned the respect, and affection, of his peers as a consequence. We’ve also noticed that Adin’s drawn to the nice boys in his class and steers clear of the others.
Ezra almost always goes to school with a smile on his face and, likewise, returns home smiling. Which is remarkable, and a testament to his resiliency, since life for Ezra at school hasn't been smooth or easy. Recently Ezra said to Aimee, “For you and Baba this year is like a long road-trip, but for me it’s really hard.” There are many reasons for this. For one, in contrast with Adin’s class, Ezra is in a rougher tougher class, with some boys who are just plain not nice. We refer to one “knufia” (gang) as Malfoy Crabbe and Goyle. We’ve spoken to Ezra’s teacher Hana, who
herself has struggled in dealing with Malfoy and company. As a result it seems that Ezra spends much of his recess time with a little buddy Arie (who is also an English speaker), or alone. Last week I was at school during recess to drop off Adin’s violin and saw Ezra standing, alone, in the school yard watching the whirl of activity around him. As soon as he saw me he lit up with a smile. We chatted for a few moments and I continued on my way, leaving Ezra, alone, but with a smile still on his face. Ezra wasn’t sad, but I could not help but feel sad for him. At the end of the day, I think Ezra just takes more time to adjust, and I can’t help but feel that with another year here he’d be thriving. Ezra has a number of kids he’s friendly with but the relationships need more time to take hold and grow. Ezra’s Hebrew continues to improve but the distance he needs to travel to catch up to his grade level is much greater than the distance for Adin.
boys recently had their first official basketball games after months of twice-weekly practices. Both boys did well considering this is their first year of organized basketball. Most of the other kids have already been playing organized ball for a few years. Again, Ezra appeared a little lonely on the bench, but played his heart out when he got the chance. He even got a few “touches” (handled the ball) and got off a pretty good shot on the basket. Both boys have really connected with basketball here, and play it constantly in their bedrooms with a foam ball.
Ezra also had his first official hockey game against another roller hockey club in the nearby neighbourhood of Baka. And on the hockey court Ezra is King, both in how he plays the game, and in how his teammates and opponents view him. Hockey has proven to be a blessing for both boys – but especially Ezra who really needs it – and has provided them with two of their best friends here, the twins Ido and Roi. According to their dad, Ido and Roi have already been talking about how
For the last month or so Ezra’s been with a new Hebrew tutor, which appears to be working out well. Ezra and Lital meet twice a week for one hour after school and, to date, have been reading Israeli comics together while keeping a list of new words that Ezra learns from the comics. Lital, who recently finished her army service, lived in the States for a while and speaks near-perfect English - a fact that we’ve conspired to keep from Ezra so he won’t revert to English when speaking to Lital. Last week I gave Lital a ride after their lesson. Ezra starting speaking to me in English. I replied in Hebrew that it was not polite to speak English in the company of someone who doesn’t speak English – a total lie but “L’shame Ha’Shamayim” (‘for the sake of Heaven – i.e. for a higher purpose). Lital smiled, but Ezra obliged and switched to Hebrew. I don’t know how long we can maintain the deception – Lital inadvertently spoke English to Aimee recently in Ezra’s presence, but
A few days back I started speaking to the boys, especially Ezra, pretty much entirely in Hebrew. I didn’t tell the boys I would be doing this. And they didn’t seem to notice. I’m hoping that this lack of awareness of the switch is an indication that they’ve reached a point at which, at least for everyday conversation, they’re just as comfortable in either language. They still respond to us in English, but don’t seem to care which language we speak to them in.
Ezra’s tenure in Tsofim (scouts) appears to have come to an end. It’s not clear to us what happened, but since joining Tsofim at the start of September, Ezra’s steadily become more and more unhappy about attending. At first we allowed him to go once a week instead of twice, but that only meant that he was unhappy about going once a week rather than twice. While neither Aimee nor I are keen on letting the boys quit something they’ve started, there are so many things that Ezra has to
do here that are challenging enough. And since Tsofim isn’t one of the must-do things, we decided to let this one go. It would have been nice if Tsofim had become a highlight of his week, something fun like roller hockey. But clearly that was not happening.
Tu B’Shvat – the new year of the trees - on February 8th was special. As many have seen already, Adin performed a Tu B’Shvat song – “Ha Shkadia Poruchut” (The Almond Tree is Blooming”) on his violin before a packed auditorium at school. The performance was near flawless. And Adin never flinched about performing to such a large gathering - a contrast to his classroom performance during Chanukah when Adin took a few minutes to get up his nerve to play. The videoed Tu B’Shvat performance on Youtube has 284 visits so far. Adin’s currently working on a Haydn minuet which we may post on Youtube when it’s ready for the listening public.
The Sunday before Tu B’Shvat Ezra did a daylong outing with Tsofim to plant trees.
Ezra professed to have enjoyed the event, but did not change his mind about wanting to quit Tsofim. So the outing will likely prove to be Ezra’s last day of Tsofim. At least he had a good one. I can’t be critical – I only lasted one day in cub scouts myself.
On Tu B’Shvat itself the four of us did a short road trip to a nearby National Park called Ein Hemed to see actual almond trees in bloom. Sure enough, in Israel the almond trees do bloom during Tu B’Shvat just like the song says, as well as for a couple of weeks before and after. My running routes around the perimeter of Jerusalem also take me by many almond trees, some under cultivation but many growing wild.
Aimee’s glass work continues to improve, some of which is, in my opinion already sellable. With all the profits Aimee’ll be pulling in I’ll soon be able to retire.
spending some time at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Centre in Jerusalem over the last few weeks. Tibi Ram, an old friend of the family who worked in Vancouver in the 1970s as the Israeli representative of the kibbutz movement (among other things) is currently giving regular talks to soldiers about his life experience during the Holocaust and as the longest serving combat soldier in the Israeli army. Tibi is one of only two soldiers who served in seven of Israel’s wars. At 81, he is still officially in the army, and his army job is to give these talks. I’ve sat in on three of his talks so far and videoed one of them. I’m hoping to use this as the basis for a very amateur documentary on Tibi’s life. Speilberg and Yad Vashem both interviewed Tibi, but they recorded primarily his Holocaust experiences. I’d like to include a broader picture of Tibi’s life, which in many significant ways both reflects and epitomizes the best of the Zionist and Jewish experience over the last few generations. I have a general sense of where I’d like to go with this little project, but as a neophyte amateur I’m definitely figuring this
Bakery update. I sense my tenure at the bakery is drawing to a close. Challah sales are down and, as a result, the bakery’s reduced the Thursday night staff from six workers to two. There are a number of factors that could explain this. Here's one: My bakery, Magdaniat Pe’er, has two outlets, the bakery itself where I work, and a branch in the Machaneh Yehuda outdoor market. The market outlet counts for a significant proportion of sales. Several months back “Teller” Bakery set up shop in Machaneh Yehuda directly across the lane from Pe’er. There was an immediate drop in Pe’er sales. Not, I think, a coincidence. Teller is an artisan style bakery with lots for specialty breads, all packaged and presented attractively. Then, in a related development, a store in the nearby neighbourhood of Baka, called “Beth Lechem” (House of Bread), reduced its previously large order of Pe’er challot. Aimee and I were recently in Beth Lechem after having lunch next door at our favorite café, Makom Shel Itzik (Itzik’s Place). Beth Lechem has two suppliers; Pe’er, and you guessed it –
Teller. Leaving me to wonder whether Teller has eaten into Pe'ers market share at Beth Lechem as well. But whatever the reasons, Pe'er challah sales are down in two major outlets. On the positive side, I've slept well the last couple of Thursday nights.
So as things appear to be drawing to a close for me at the bakery, I’ve registered for a new course at Yad Ben Tzvi that takes place Friday mornings. So I’m sure it’s all for the good, and couldn’t possibly be any better.
Following World War II, the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine, and the UN partitioned the area into Arab and Jewish states, an arrangement rejected by the Arabs. Subsequently, the Israelis defeated the Arabs in a series of wars without...more history