Friday, September 1, 2017

5 Years as Israelis!

It's been 5 years since we boarded the plane to Israel and a lot has changed (and some things haven't):

1. When we made aliyah we were 2 people. We are now 5 people. Despite the growth, we live in the same (small) apartment. 

2. Our Hebrew vocabulary has greatly improved. Most recently with pre-school/gan related words. Not long ago, we proudly reached the milestone of learning a new Hebrew word from our kids. It won't be long before their Hebrew is fully better than ours. No doubt they already have better accents.

3. We are continually exploring our country. We love finding new/off-the-beaten-path sites and try to use our National Parks membership as much as possible. With three little ones in tow, the nature of our adventures has changed a bit, but I can confidently say that our kids have been to more archaeological sites than most adults. 

4. Matt is nearing the end of his student career (one more year 'til PhD, we hope!) and after almost 5 years at the same job, Stef is on the job search again. We're looking ahead to some good professional changes for us both in the near future.

5. We are happy here. Life in Israel isn't always easy (that's true for most places though, right?), but we have never regretted our decision to move here and make our family here. Every day/week/year has brought new excitement and new challenges and we look forward to what Life as Israelis will continue to bring us. 

Stef, Matt, Lev, Hila and Aviv

Monday, December 1, 2014

Celebrating a First Birthday as Israelis

It sounds cliche, but it's really hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since Lev and Hila were born. On the one hand, we can't imagine our family without them, but on the other hand, it's like they were just born yesterday!

As Israelis, the big question was: will we celebrate their Hebrew or civil (Gregorian) birthday?  Growing up in the US, both Matt and I feel more connected to our civil birth dates, so it seemed natural to us to want to celebrate on November 24th. However, many of our friends here in Israel, especially in our religious community, celebrate birthdays on the Hebrew date (for those of you unfamiliar with the Hebrew calendar, it is a modified lunar calendar with it's own set of month names. It is through this calendar that the Jewish holidays are set, which is why they fall out on different civil dates every year). 

One of the nice things about our kids' Hebrew birthday, the 21st of Kislev, is that it falls out a few days before Chanukah (this year, it coincides with the 13th of December). Last year, if you can remember, Chanukah fell in November and overlapped with Thanksgiving, an extremely rare occurrence. Chanukah usually falls in December. This means that for most years, Lev and Hila's civil and Hebrew birthday will be many weeks apart. Which is exactly where we find ourselves today - between the birthdays, or as I like to call it "Chol HaMoed Birthday". 

The Hebrew phrase "Chol HaMoed" means "the weekdays of a festival" and refers to the intermediate days of the holidays of Sukkot and Passover, aka the days in between the first and last day(s), the Yom Tov days. Where the first and last day(s) are the "actual" holiday, the Chol HaMoed days combine features of both the weekday (chol) and the festival (moed). So too for "Chol HaMoed Birthday". We will celebrate both birthdays with birthday festivities and we will enjoy the intermediate days with a heightened sense of celebration, but still go about our daily business. Lucky for our kids, they basically get a full month of birthday!

For their November 24th birthday, we were thrilled to have my (Stef's) parents visiting from the US. We were also joined by some of our closest friends here in Israel and various other family members via Skype. Lev and Hila got dressed up, enjoyed their very first cupcake (a carob zucchini cupcake with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting) and opened presents. We also sang them a special birthday song we wrote just for them (Be forewarned, it is very catchy, here's the link: It was a pretty awesome evening!  Now on to planning how we will celebrate their upcoming Hebrew birthday! 

I'm in a writing mood these days, so check your inbox for more updates to come!

Have a great week and enjoy Lev and Hila's Chol HaMoed Birthday!

Stef, Matt, Lev and Hila

Friday, July 11, 2014

Our first "Code Red" Siren as Israelis

When the "Code Red" siren wails just before 3:30 am in the middle of a hot summer night, the first thing you do is grab your kids. The second thing you do is realize that you're in your underwear and the safest place in your building is the stairwell where all your neighbors will also be gathering. So you use the 60 seconds you know you have until the rocket is able to hit to throw on whatever clothes you can find, re-grab your kids and shuffle out, barefoot and half-dressed into the hallway. 

For those of you closely following the escalating conflict here in Israel, you will know that Haifa (where we live) is quite far from Gaza. The one rocket warning we got last night is nothing compared to the barrage of rockets raining down on the south of the country. The experience we had last night only allowed us to scratch the surface of what daily life is like for so many people here. 

As we head into Shabbat, we hope that this conflict reaches a quick and peaceful end, that no more lives are lost on either side and that we can find time to get to know our neighbors while fully dressed and not fearing for our safety.

Shabbat SHALOM and have a great weekend,
Stef, Matt, Lev and Hila

Friday, May 23, 2014

6 Months of Being Parents as Israelis

It all started in mid-November when Matt suggested we have a "hodesh ivrit" / "Hebrew month" during which we would only speak Hebrew to each other. Knowing that once the twins were born we would only speak English at home so they would learn it, we figured we had at least a month (I wasn't due until the beginning of January) to focus on our Hebrew.

Then my water broke. 

I was only 33.5 weeks along and we were wholly unprepared. We had no plan of how we were getting to the hospital, no bag packed and nothing set up in the house. So, at 11pm we called our neighbor to ask for a ride to the hospital. And this is when "hodesh ivrit" really began.

We arrived at the hospital only to find out they had no room in their NICU and would need to transfer us to another hospital on the other side of the city. Despite this news, I was feeling pretty great because I had just recently learned the word for NICU in Hebrew (pagiah), so I knew exactly what they were talking about!

When we got in the ambulance, they got me all strapped in and then the driver informed us that the engine wouldn't start. That's ok, I because I had learned the word for engine (manoa) in Ulpan. While we waited  for the new ambulance, the EMT was concerned about timing my contractions (tzirim). I knew this word too, so I was feeling pretty confident when my contractions starting to be between 3 and 5 minutes apart.  

We finally got to the hospital and in a string of miracles, the doula (who we had decided not to call because we had just met her the day before) was assisting the women in the room next door. She agreed to be present at my birth, too. Somehow we navigated labor and delivery all in Hebrew and I even yelled at a few doctors and nurses in my adopted tongue. As soon as the babies were born, they were whisked away to the NICU, both coming in at under 2 kilo (one just under and one just over 4 lbs). It would be hours until we would get to see them. In the meantime, I was asked a number of times by doctors and nurses about my height and weight. This is where my success with Hebrew broke down. I only knew my details in feet and pounds, they wanted centimeters and kilos. I kept apologizing that I didn't know my height and weight in the right units and I was too exhausted to do the math, but they would just walk away, frustrated. It took a Canadian medical student to actually pull out his phone and do the conversion for me. Thank you random Canadian med student. 

We spent the next month in the Children's Hospital NICU watching our healthy (thank God), but tiny babies grow big and strong enough to come home. For the majority of our time there, we shared our room with two other sets of twins and their parents. One couple we became particularly close with, whose identical twin boys were born at just about the same time and the same amount premature as our babies, was from an Arab village about an hour from Haifa. Our amazing nurses were from all over the world - Russia, Uzbekistan, Argentina, and of course, Israel. The one language we all had in common was Hebrew, so that is what we spoke and in the end, we succeeded in getting our "hodesh ivrit" (Hebrew month).

All of that now seems so long ago as we gear up to celebrate Lev and Hila's 1/2 birthday this weekend. It's hard to believe that 6 months have gone by, but we can hardly remember life before parenthood. Besides learning how to be parents, we have also had to learn how to be parents of twins. On top of that we had to learn how to be Israeli parents. Here are a few things we've learned:

1. Everyone and their mother will tell you how to raise your children. Smile, nod and ignore. Countless Israeli women, including complete strangers, have commented that our kids are too hot, too cold, not wearing a hat when they should be or have sun in their eyes. I know their intentions are good, so I usually throw a hat on them when they say something. We live in a country full of Jewish mothers.

2. Strangers stare at your children and this is not considered creepy. On the bus, on the street, people may come up to the stroller and peer in. When the babies are being carried in carriers, our personal space is often violated. This is only magnified by the fact that we have twins.

3. Everybody has a sister's friend's cousin's daughter's babysitter's barber's nephew who has twins and they want to tell us about them. Every time we go out to a restaurant with the kids, someone comes up to our table to tell us about the twins they know. There have been times we have needed to avert our eyes and break eye contact to get our visitors to go away. 

4. Two babies may be double the work, but they are also double the fun. Especially now that they can play together. And by play together, I mean, stick their fingers in the other one's eye and/or mouth and/or ear. Watching them interact with each other has been one of the most awesome things of all time, especially when they hold hands.

5. Twins can (and are encouraged) to share a crib, until they can't. How do you know when they can't? When you wake up in the middle of the night to see one babbling to himself with the other, who has rolled on top of him, screaming in his face. 

6. Double strollers are great, but also a huge pain in the butt when you live in an apartment on the third floor of a walk-up in a city built on a mountain. You therefore learn to love baby-wearing. We have worn our kids in baby-carrying wraps every week to shul, day trips to Tel Aviv, quick grocery store runs, to archaeological sites and on hikes - all without a stroller.

7. You have skills you didn't even know were skills. For example: getting a double stroller onto a city bus by yourself, changing a poopy diaper in the dark, carrying two infants at the same time while answering the door, cutting fingernails that are microscopically small, not sleeping through the night and somehow still being responsibly functional by daylight, nursing two babies at the same time while writing this...

8. It is possible, albeit exhausting, to be a full-time working (from home) mother and a full-time student father and still raise your kids at home - with the help of friends and neighbors turned babysitters.  

9. It is amazing how different two babies can be. We can easily differentiate between their cries, laughs and babbles. They have opposite personalities. They are developing at completely different rates - which is totally normal. We have been told not to compare them, which is hard, but we try.  

10. Being immigrants far from your family is challenging at times, but the network of other olim (immigrants) is powerful, endlessly helpful and inspiring. 

There are so many more things to say, but this is long enough. We are thoroughly loving being parents, parents of twins, and of course, Israeli parents. It may be another 6 months until I write again (my time is precious, I spend most of it doing laundry), so please feel free to be in touch if you want any intermittent updates.

Enjoy these gratuitous baby pictures!

Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

From 10 Shekel Movie Night to Babyland as Israelis

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I wrote an update - so here is just a quick general overview of what's been going on in our lives lately.

I am not working (and no one is willing to hire a pregnant lady), so I spend everyday trying to figure out ways not to be bored. Matt is a couple weeks deep into the semester after spending 3 weeks working on an archaeological dig. He is actually taking some coursework in Hebrew this semester which will be a great challenge and an excellent boost to his Hebrew. He spends the rest of his time writing articles with (read: for) his advisor and working on his dissertation. 

As the babies (yes, we are having twins for those who haven't heard yet) are due to arrive in just about 2 months, we have also been taking advantage of our last months of couplehood to travel around the country, see friends and go out on an occasional date. This led us to be motivated to take advantage of "Cinema Day" where most major movie theaters in the country were offering all movies for the discounted price of 10 shekels (about $2.50). The cheap tickets drew us in as well as, it seemed, every other person in Haifa. Granted, I don't know what the mall and movie theater are like on an average Thursday evening, but it was like someone was giving away free iphones with all the people and crowding and pushing. I was acutely aware of the lack of personal space with my new ginormous size and had to fight my way through the crowds blocking strangers from inadvertently groping my belly.

Since we waiting a little bit too long to order our tickets, it meant that our first choice movies (that were showing at reasonable hours) were sold out. We ended up getting tickets to see "Behind the Candelabra" / "חיי עם ליברצ'ה" (which turned out to be and HBO special, but was playing in theaters over here) about the last 10 years of Liberace's life and his secret affair with a young man. We knew very well what we were getting into when we decided to see this movie: explicit sexual content, vulgar language and "adult" themes, which is why we were particularly surprised to see so many young teenagers when we got into the theater. The film was rated 14+, lower than the possible 16+, and there seemed to be a lot of people who just squeaked in past that 14 year old cut off. These kids were particularly noticeable since movie theaters in Israel have assigned seating and many adults coming in (including us) had to ask these teens to get out of their seats. This lead us to believe that maybe these kids bought tickets to another movie and sneaked into ours. The most annoying thing about teenage Israeli kids is that they talk to each other in loud voices as if they were in their friend's bedroom, some of them even talking on the cell phones, WHILE THE MOVIE IS PLAYING! And all the shushing from people around them doesn't make it any quieter. However, after a few sexually explicit scenes between Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, teenagers could be seen hurrying down the aisle as if they couldn't get out fast enough. I guess they didn't read up on what the movie was about before they sneaked in. 

Early the next morning I found my self back in the exact same movie theater, but this time for a pregnancy convention put on by Rambam hospital, the largest hospital in Haifa. Replace crowds of loud, obnoxious teenagers with large, round pregnant ladies pushing their way to get free samples of diaper rash creme and formula. A completely different scene, but no less terrifying. Don't get me wrong, I love a free sample of stretch-mark preventative lotion as much as the next woman, but I refuse to push my way through a 10-belly-deep crowd to get it. This put me in the minority, although I still left with quite the booty of baby related sample items I may or may not ever use. The convention also hosted a series of speakers, doctors and midwives, from Rambam hospital who spoke about topics ranging from labor and delivery to post-natal care. In the stadium seating movie theater full of pregnant women (another terrifying/hilarious scene) I found the woman from my birthing class who had invited me to this event in the first place. It was good for me to sit next to her during the lectures so I could ask her questions when Hebrew words I didn't know were used. This happens fairly frequently in our birthing class also, where new words are constantly coming up. This is mainly due to discussions of body parts that don't commonly get discussed in ulpan or anywhere outside of birthing classes for that matter. Thankfully, the people in our class are very forgiving and don't judge me for asking what פטמות / p'tamot are (they are nipples) when discussing עיסוי פטמות / eesui p'tamot (nipple massage) in the context of stimulating labor.  

Later in the week I found myself again at another baby convention, this time in Tel Aviv, accompanying a friend who wanted to hand out surveys there as part of her Master's thesis research on the impact of disposable diapers on the environment. Unlike the previous convention, this one had no education content and was just a massive convention center packed with vendors giving away free samples and trying to sell their baby-related wares. Oh, did I mention that this convention was called "Babyland"? If the Haifa convention which filled a couple hundred seats in a movie theater seemed overwhelming, this place was teeming with thousands of parents (mainly mothers) pushing their super fancy strollers and chasing after toddlers while still pushing their way through crowds to collect their free samples. Again, I left with tons of free stuff, which I can't complain about, but I think I have had enough baby-related consumer stimulation to last me until our babies are born. No more baby conventions for this mama-to-be. 

This weekend we are off to Matt's aunt and uncle's kibbutz with some friends to spend Shabbat in the desert before it gets too hard for me to travel and my only mode of transportation will be getting rolled around like Violet, the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. Thank God, at this time, I am still walking around and feeling great!

Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend,
Stef and Matt

P.S. Here is the magnet I received as a gift for my participation in the Rambam convention (29 weeks pregnant).

Monday, September 2, 2013

One Year as Israelis!

Well, we made it folks. An entire year as Israelis! 

A few days ago, on Friday, August 30, we touched down at Ben Gurion Airport and celebrated our 1 year "aliyah-versary".  When we booked our tickets to the States months ago we didn't plan on returning from our vacation exactly one year to the date of the day we made aliyah, but when we realized the coincidence (about a month after booking) we thought it seemed appropriate. 

Making Aliyah - August 2012

One Year Later - August 2013

Visiting our families in the US the past month, we all agreed that it hardly seemed as though a full year had gone by. Stopping to think about the past year, however, reveals how much (and in some ways how little) has changed. Some things are obvious: a year ago, we were living in a tiny temporary apartment, frantically apartment searching and trying to decide what neighborhood we would ultimately live in. This year, we came home from the airport to our comfortable (albeit unairconditioned), fully furnished, familiar abode. Last year at this time we knew no one in our new city. Now, we have friends and a community that support us in innumerable ways. Over the course of the past year we have learned the ins and outs of the Israeli bureaucratic system, our Hebrew has significantly improved, and we can navigate freely around Haifa. We have come to love our new city, continue to love our new country and are fully happy with our decision to make aliyah.

At the same time, some things are still the same. I am again job searching and am still trying to figure out what my new career path is. While I was gainfully employed for much of this past year and the program I worked for was highly successful, I will not be continuing with that job as I am due to give birth (oh yeah, that's new too!) just shortly before the main part of the workload picks up. In the meantime, I am looking for part time gigs and am again being pushed in the direction of teaching English, something I shied away from a year ago, but am trying to be more open to now. Matt is still a student, and although he completed a HUGE feat by submitting a 361 page thesis this year, is now starting over having just submitted his official dissertation proposal and registered as a full doctoral student. 

While in many ways we feel as though we've settled in and fully acclimated to our lives as Israelis, we know that there is still a lot we haven't encountered and a ton we will continue to learn as we come upon new experiences and new challenges. Surely our second year as Israelis will be completely different than our first - mainly navigating our expanding family - but we feel equipped to deal with whatever comes our way. 

The year came to a nice close as we sat with our friends at their Shabbat table, the same friends (who were then barely acquaintances) who hosted us the very first night we arrived in Haifa. It is nice when life comes full circle. 

Last but not least, thank you to all the dedicated readers who have been following our journey over the past year. Whether you read just a few posts here and there when you could find the time or if you religiously followed us week by week, we appreciate all the support, encouragement and shared anecdotes we received from you. The process of writing and reflecting on our experiences each week has been an invaluable part of our aliyah process and for the first time in my life, I have succeeded in keeping a "journal," something I have attempted (and failed at) many times. My initial intention was to write once a week for our first year as Israelis (which I nearly accomplished, missing just a couple weeks when things got busy). Many people have encouraged us to keep writing and we might, but maybe not as frequently, or maybe just when really major or interesting events come up. 

Have a great week, Shana Tova U'Metukah (to those celebrating the upcoming Jewish New Year) and Happy 1 Year Aliyah-versary to us!
Stef and Matt

Sunday, August 25, 2013

American Shopping Adventures as Israelis

Part of being in the US means the inevitable shopping trips to get those items that are impossible and/or challenging and/or expensive to get in Israel. On our shopping list this trip included such big ticket items as a new laptop (my old one decided it didn't want to turn on any more) from which I am writing right now, some new clothes and shoes - which tend to be less expensive here, a stroller and other baby related items (yes, for those who haven't heard, we are expecting!), and English books.

Matt had a particular list of books that he needed/wanted for this upcoming school year and, as he did when living in the US, ordered them used from Amazon. For those who are familiar with this form of shopping, you know that there are sometimes ridiculous deals where books costs just a few cents and all you're basically paying for is shipping. Matt luckily found one of the research books he needed, that costs over $50 when new, for just 1 cent used. In retrospect, he could have found this suspicious, but this was not the first time he ordered something like this. 

When the books arrived, Matt opened up the first two and they were just what he was expecting. I opened up the third one for him, and to my surprise, did not see what I expected to see. "Did you order this?" I asked, mostly out of confusion. The book I opened was called "California Screaming," an steamy novel of gay sex-capades in Los Angeles. 

It just didn't seem like a book Matt would need for school. When we turned the book over, however, we saw that the company had placed a bar-code sticker on the back with the proper ISBN and title: "Kingdom of the Hittites." Now that seems more like it. 

We are still in the process of figuring out how to the return the book and hopefully get the correct one before we head back to Israel on Thursday. Wish us luck.  

Have a great week!
Stef and Matt