Kai’s Pride Post

Hey, it’s Kai. I know you guys have probably been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for another one of my amazing, comedic, grand blog posts. Here it is, but it isn’t a funny one this time. I’m going to talk about some pretty serious stuff in this post. This is one I was looking forward to writing though, and you will see why at the end. Happy Pride!

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but there was always some sort of pride related something during the month of June in Colorado. Whether it was learning about different sexualities at school, or seeing flags on the streets, you knew people were cool with it. Last year, we didn’t have school in person during June, so, obviously, I didn’t expect them to do anything. This year, I had absolutely no clue what would happen.

A lot of kids and teachers at my school are not exactly in favor of the LGBTQ community. There’s a lot of homophobia coming from lots of the kids, and sometimes even the teachers. I have heard, and been told some pretty bad stuff. Even so, I expected people to at least mention the fact that it was pride month. I thought maybe they would use it as a learning opportunity or something. 

A week of June went by and nothing happened, so a few of my friends and I made little pride flags and decided to tape them around the school. We kept seeing videos and pictures of people doing the same thing at their own schools, and because it was pride month, we figured people would be okay with it. 

One second after we had finished taping up the first one, a group of teachers ran over to us yelling and screaming, telling us to take them down. They told us we would get in huge trouble for doing stuff like that, but we didn’t want to give up there. Instead of putting flags around the school, we went around to some of the classes and asked if any of the students wanted to tape one onto their shirts. Most of the seventh grade loved the idea, took pride flags, and were super awesome about it. Most of the eighth grade was not. 

We had people taking handfuls of mini flags and throwing them into the trash. We had people ripping flags off of other people’s shirts. We had people ripping flags in half and throwing each piece into the water fountain. No teachers stepped in to tell them it wasn’t okay. In fact, most of the teachers also refused to wear pride flags. They said, “We aren’t allowed to share our political beliefs with the students”

The first and only school provided mention of anything LGBTQ related was yesterday. The whole grade went on a hiking field trip to the Carmel mountains. Nearby, there is this memorial for people who died in the 2010 Mt. Carmel forest fire. Our guide told us that on the bus of police and firefighters going to save people from the fire, there were three women. Each of them had families of their own, and they were told to get off the bus so they wouldn’t die and leave their family without a mother.

Memorial to the victims of the Carmel fire

He said that two out of the three women got off the bus and were able to get home safely, while the third woman insisted on staying. “She had a wife and kids at home,” the guide told us. “I wanted to give her an honorable mention because of pride month and everything.” That was it. That’s the only thing we’ve heard in school about the LGBTQ community this pride month. 

Anyway, aside from that crazy drama, I’ve been having a pretty good couple months. I made some good friends. Those friends and I have taken the train to Tel Aviv a couple times on our own. We hang out a lot. The first time in Tel Aviv was incredibly fun until I fell down on an escalator. The metal teeth things went into my knee, and I had to go to the hospital at midnight. It healed fine. I’m completely okay now.

On the train to Tel Aviv

I also signed up for this overnight seminar for trans youth in Israel through IGY. I had to get a corona test in order to attend, but the results kept not coming in and my mom and I spent the entire day at a mall waiting for the results. Finally, at about 5pm, we decided to just leave and go home. It sucked, but since the results didn’t come in, I wasn’t allowed to go to the seminar. But the minute we walked through the door, after driving all the way home, the results came, and we turned around and went back. I arrived at the seminar seven hours late, but in the end, I was so glad I went. There were more than 75 trans kids from all over Israel together at the seminar, and it was the first time I ever felt like I didn’t have to explain myself to others.

Waiting at the mall for the coronavirus test results before the trans seminar

Here’s the main point of this blog post. I hear (from my mom) that a lot of you are confused about my pronouns. If you weren’t, you probably are now, so you’re welcome. The truth is that I am actually not non-binary. Truthfully, I’ve always had a problem with inconveniencing people. I don’t like it when someone has to go out of their way to do something for me. I’ve known I was transgender for a while, but I thought coming out as non-binary would be easier for others. Then they wouldn’t have to deal with hormones and paperwork and maybe even surgery. 

So instead, I came out as somebody who just didn’t want to be put in a box, and someone who wasn’t really a girl or a boy, but that wasn’t true. It hurt because I knew everyone was trying really hard to respect my new pronouns and name, while at the same time, they/them was still not correct. It sucks because I’m always scared people won’t take me seriously for coming out again so soon after coming out the first time, but I was wrong the first time. Non-binary is a super valid identity, just not for me. 

My pronouns are he/him. I identify as FTM (female to male) transgender.

Trans flag purchased in Tel Aviv

If anybody has any questions about me or the different topics in the blog post, ask them. I think people should be more educated than ignorant, and if you’re unclear about something, feel free to ask me about it.  

Ananda

We signed a lease for a new rental (sigh of relief)! I had a few requirements when I was searching for a place to live. I wanted a house that was filled with light – one of the things I love about our current place is that it has almost an entire wall of sliding glass doors. It was also important to me that we stay in the same area so the kids can continue walking to and from school, and to their after-school activities. Lastly, I was hoping for good neighbors and a kind landlord. People laughed at me when I told them all of the things we wanted. The sentiment around town is that there are almost no places for rent, and you will have to pay a lot for whatever is available. As luck would have it, we are paying the same amount next year that we pay now, the new house is filled with windows, it is even closer to the school than our current house, and the landlady (who lives right next to the house) is one of Kai’s favorite teachers from school.

Our new place is towards the back

I put a lot of energy into trying to find us a place to rent, but in the end, we found this place through a friend. I mentioned to her that we had to move this summer, and she called a realtor she knows to ask if she had anything available. The realtor told me that she only had one place to offer, but it turned out to be just what we wanted. As usual, I let the stress of searching for a place overwhelm me even though I knew, deep down, that something would work out with minimal effort. Now, we need to find a reliable moving company, and someone to paint our current place before our lease ends. All recommendations are welcome…I will try not to worry about it too much!

Last week, I felt a lot of anger in my body. Reading the news from the US about the rise in antisemitism actually gave me a terrible pain in my jaw. Friends and family reached out to us asking for help answering questions about Israel and Gaza. When I arrived at my yoga class last week, everyone was discussing the situation with growing concern. Sivan, our teacher, could see that we were getting ourselves worked up. She began our meditation by explaining the four parts of the mind using the Sanskrit terms according to the yogic tradition. Vitarka, intellectual thought, vicara, reflective thought or memory, asmita, identity or ego, and ananda, state of bliss. Sivan connected those concepts with the frontal lobe, back of the brain, top of the head, and deep center section of the brain. During our practice, we tried the same pose four times, each time focusing on a different part of the brain. I felt a difference not just in my posture, but also in my emotions when I directed energy towards each part of the brain. 

When explaining the deep, emotional part of the mind, ananda, I immediately paid closer attention. There is a South Indian street food restaurant that I love in Pardes Channah called Ananda. It is a perfect name for a restaurant in the hippiest place in Israel. I have spent many happy afternoons sitting outside on their patio drinking local kombucha while enjoying a masala dosa. When we were focused on ananda, Sivan instructed us to keep our heart up and head down. Releasing the ego to let the emotional center be our guide. Ananda can be found when we release the mind and feel with the body.

Pretty blissed out restaurant

Ananda showed up again for me the next day in the form of the mantra “Sat Chit Ananda” offered by Deepak Chopra in his new 21-day meditation challenge onActivating the Divine Feminine. Sat means absolute, non-changing truth, being, or reality. Chit is consciousness. Absolute bliss consciousness or “I am pure existence, knowledge, and joy” as Deepak Chopra translates the mantra. My mom has always talked about letting go, releasing expectations, and allowing the universe to provide you what you need. I recognize that there is so much joy to be found in spontaneity. I have been a diligent planner all of my life. In America, I had to think and plan ahead if I wanted to get anything accomplished. I was always at least a year ahead of myself in terms of knowing what was coming next.

Here in Israel, we lead a much less structured life. Part of it is definitely not having strong roots here – we have no extended family obligations or local work schedules to keep. There is likely also some flux due to the pandemic, and our not knowing what comes next because no one knows what is happening at this point. In general though, people plan things last minute here. You never know what will happen, so there is no point in planning things too far ahead when the details will likely change anyway. Sarit has an invitation for a friend’s birthday this month, and the date and time of the party has already changed three times! That would very rarely happen in the US. People have a calendar to keep. When I allow for spontaneity, I feel a relaxed enjoyment that I don’t get from my typically busy schedule. Last week, I was able to have an unscheduled video call with a friend in the US, to hike and have lunch with friends in town, participate in an amazing painting workshop with a friend who recently opened her own art studio, and attend a live, in-person lecture by my favorite Israeli author. All I need now is a spontaneous dance party. Pure ananda.

Hiking with friends at Nahal Sfunim
Working on my abstract painting
Author talk by Etgar Keret

Living with Uncertainty

I can hear fighter jets soaring above our town throughout the day and night. Here in Zichron, that is as close as the war has come. Many of our friends are hosting families from the south, especially friends or family who live in a home without a mamad (safe room). One mother told me that they had to sleep in the shelter at her daughter’s school for two nights in a row, but since the sirens kept going off during the day, it didn’t make sense for them to stay at home. Their cousin in Zichron invited them to stay for the weekend, so they packed their bags and left to give the kids a better sense of security. The swimming pool in town opened this weekend, and anyone who was fleeing the rockets in the south was invited to enjoy the opening party free of charge.

Enjoying the pool party on Tuesday

There is nothing I can say about the politics of the situation. We went to a private pool party on Monday afternoon, and the discussion turned to the war. Even in a relatively homogeneous group of white, Jewish, educated, wealthy immigrants who made the choice as adults to move to Israel, there was no agreement on the way to end the conflict. Someone eventually changed the subject, and everyone silently agreed to disagree. If no common ground can be found among friends, how can we attempt to reconcile with our enemies?

I haven’t known what to post on social media since the rockets began falling all over central Israel. Our daily life here has been pretty normal, despite an underlying sense of worry about what is happening in other parts of the country. My friends in Tel Aviv have been on high alert, day and night. Last Thursday, at the height of tension, friends invited me and Danny to join them at one of the local wineries in town. They were supposed to take their first overnight trip since coronavirus without their kids, and it was all cancelled due to the war. Instead, they decided to have a day-date here in Zichron. The outdoor area at the Carmel Winery was lovely. Perfect blue sky, light breeze, warm spring temperature, fresh flowers in every color growing outside in the garden. Danny and I each had a glass of wine, and when we tried to pay, the owner wouldn’t take our money. That same day, Sarit went to the bakery to pick out a treat, and the baker refused to let her pay for her chocolate croissant.

Despite feeling trapped in our bubble, we were able to enjoy the Shavuot holiday. On Sunday, the Purim event that was cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions was held as a Shavuot event. The teenagers in Maccabi Tzair, the most popular youth group in Zichron, built a giant festival with hand-built rides made out of wood, and carnival games all painted and created by hand. Reuben is a member of this youth group. He loves it because each activity is like a party with no adults. We had guests over for dinner on Sunday evening on erev Shavuot. The kids left the house after eating to play at the park, and no one was worried about their safety. Danny went out to all-night learning sessions until 5:30am, and he said there were people out and about throughout the night.

Sarit enjoying one of the rides at the festival
Getting ready for Shavuot dinner

School started again today after Shavuot break from Sunday – Tuesday. Unfortunately, Kai and Reuben’s field trips were both cancelled due to security concerns. Last year it was coronavirus, this year it is rocket attacks. Some things are continuing as usual despite the general sense of fear. This afternoon we had about 15 people come to see our house (remember, the landlady wants to sell it?). Last week we had multiple showings during the week. It is taking a lot of my time and energy to organize the showings, keep the house clean, and be home to show the house. I don’t think our landlady understands the amount of work I am doing to help her with this. It is counterproductive for me since I would rather continue renting it, but I suppose I believe in karma and I am hoping something positive will come out of all this effort. We still don’t have a contract for a new rental, so nothing to report on our plans for the summer as of yet.

It is unsettling to live with constant uncertainty. We are grateful to be in a town that has been spared the constant barrage of rocket attacks, but it is impossible to know what will happen next. I hope there will be a cease-fire soon followed by a peaceful path towards coexistence.

Pressure on Fear

I felt scared last night. The escalating violence in Jerusalem last week was upsetting, but seemed entirely separate from my existence here in Zichron. My friends who live there told me they were wary about going to certain parts of Jerusalem, and that they anticipated a “rough few days ahead”. When the rockets started falling, I still didn’t pay much attention. Someone wrote a post in a popular travel Facebook group here in Israel asking about cancelling a villa in Ashdod for last night. The owner was reluctant to give a refund or to change the date, but the family traveling there didn’t want to bring their children on vacation to an area under rocket fire. The 70 comments varied from “I think go. For sure, it will be memorable” to “don’t go, the situation is getting worse.” He hasn’t posted an update to say whether or not he decided to keep the reservation.

Yesterday evening, Reuben went to his youth movement activity at the park, Sarit was at a playdate with a friend, and Danny, Kai, and I went to see another house for rent. Everything felt completely normal here in town. After dinner, I went out to a lecture at 8pm by Rabbi Shalom Hammer on Identifying Warning Signs for Suicide and Depression. His 18 year old daughter tragically died by suicide in December 2019, and Rabbi Hammer has made it his mission to educate Israeli society on the importance of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. He emphasized that more people take their own lives in Israel (about 500 per year) than are killed in car accidents annually (349 deaths in 2019).

Towards the end of the lecture, the organizer interrupted the speaker to inform the group that rockets were falling in central Israel. I took a peek at my phone to find several missed calls from Shlomi, my neighbor. I quickly wrote to him that I was in a lecture. He wrote back, “it’s better to prepare your mamad (safe room) and brief the children to go relaxed, just in case. Already, Netanya in the range.” Considering Shlomi is extremely calm under stressful circumstances, I was suddenly very worried. I realized that I was shaking a little. I forwarded his message to Danny, and started getting ready to leave during the Q&A part of the lecture.

I asked a friend sitting near me what to do if I heard a siren while driving. She told me to get out of my car, lie down on the ground, and place my arms over the back of my head and neck. I called a friend in Boulder, and she kept me calm on my way home. When I got back, Danny was working on a puzzle in the living room, and the kids were all sleeping. He hadn’t bothered telling them about the rockets because he wanted them to sleep without feeling anxiety.

A helpful image – stay close to the ground if a rocket is falling from the sky

I was still shaking a bit as we got ready for bed. I asked Danny to lie down on top of me (no, it isn’t that kind of post). This is a technique we learned from Christie, our play therapist in Boulder. She taught us to push when we feel mad (you can do a push up or push against a counter if you are alone), cry when you feel sad, and to lie down with heavy pressure on top of you when you are scared. It sounded strange when she first explained it, but if you can’t calm down the fear in your body, the pressure can help your nervous system relax. Christie warned us that I would feel like I was being suffocated and try to push Danny off me. He should stay and breathe calmly until I start to calm down. I was skeptical at first, but it works amazingly well. The person on top has to stay there until the person feeling scared physically calms down. Once that happens, the weight no longer feels oppressive or constricting. The shift is really remarkable.

We left our phones on throughout the night just in case there was an emergency. Luckily, no rockets reached our area, and we never had to use our mamad. This morning, school happened as usual. We received an email from the school, prepared by the Ministry of Education, with suggestions for how to talk with kids about traumatic events. I went to the park for Sivan’s beautiful outdoor yoga class followed by brunch at a nearby cafe to celebrate Sivan’s birthday. Everyone remarked on how strange it was to be out at a restaurant on a lovely spring day after a night when so many rockets fell on central Israel. After school, I walked Sarit over to a friend’s house, and the mother told me they had been on the highway the previous evening on their way home from Tel Aviv when the attacks reached central Israel. They had lie on the ground on the side of the road as they watched the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome. Pieces of the exploded rockets were falling from the sky.

Celebrating Sivan’s birthday after yoga in the park

At the moment, Reuben is playing a soccer game nearby at Kibbutz Maagan Michael. Many of the parents did not want to send their kids. The coach sent a message to the WhatsApp group assuring parents that the kids were briefed on where to take shelter if, chas v’chalila (God forbid), rockets reach this far north. The rumor is that Hamas is planning to start firing rockets again at 6pm tonight. The soccer coach just notified the parents to pick up the kids at 5:35pm, after originally saying the game would end at 6:40pm. Kai’s youth group meeting was cancelled for tonight. The Ministry of Aliyah and Integration just sent me a text message to inform us that there is a “wellbeing call center” with experienced professionals who can provide support in English during this difficult time. Hopefully it will be a quiet night, and the violence will end.

Reuben’s team posing for a post-game picture sent by the coach

Women of Valor

First, an update. The car is back in my possession with a new catalytic converter (I picked it up on the Friday morning after the Monday theft). I paid a deductible, and insurance covered the rest. I was nervous when I went to my Qi Gong class to teach my routine last Monday – butterflies in my stomach about getting in front of the class and also worries about my car – my teacher allowed me to park inside of his driveway behind a gate to calm my anxiety. We have been fine while Danny was away, busy with all of the logistics of life. The biggest stressor is looking for a house to rent for next year. I have seen a few places over the past two weeks, but nothing perfect yet.

Perhaps because Danny was in the US (he returns tonight) I felt a pull towards feminine energy. A desire for me to explore my own femininity emerged through the work I did last year with Mitten at Journey to Wellness. It struck me as significant when Kai started their gender journey because I had never put much focus on my identity as a woman. Suddenly, I was thinking about the masculine and feminine energy that exists in each of us, and reconciling that with non-binary identification. When I needed support to handle all of the stress last week, I sought out female friends, and realized with gratitude how many talented, intelligent, strong women I have in my life.

Hiking with Mitten, my mom, and friends in Boulder in 2018

After I wrote about my Qi Gong teacher training, many friends reached out expressing interest, and volunteered to try out my routine. I had several zoom sessions with friends from the US, and felt so lucky to be able to reach out to community even from far away. At one point, all three of my kids were somehow out of the house at the same time in the afternoon. I reached out to a friend, and even though she was dressed and ready for work, she got on zoom for a spontaneous practice session. My mom joined the call as we started, and I felt a rush of love and deep appreciation that they were willing to meet my needs at that moment. The routine I taught for my course was a success, and I received lots of positive feedback from my teacher and classmates.

For the last few months, I have been studying Iyengar yoga with a remarkable teacher here in Zichron. I wasn’t particularly interested in this precision-focused practice, but after meeting the teacher, Sivan, I was intrigued. Not only does she have all of my favorite women’s health books on her shelf, she is deeply committed to helping women feel their best throughout all stages of life. Shortly after meeting her, Sivan launched her Women’s Nurture program using yoga to support and educate woman about the physical and hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause. Studying with Sivan has been truly enriching. My body feels stronger, my parasympathetic nervous system more robust, and my understanding of anatomy vastly expanded. I used her yoga routines as often as I could to help me stay grounded while I was solo parenting. Her work is a gift, and I hope many women will have the benefit of learning with her.

Outside in Sivan’s backyard after yoga class

I’ve written before about my obsession with the Hiking in the Holyland blog. Susannah’s posts are impeccable, and I follow her guidance every time I go out to take a new hike. Not only does she write comprehensive guides to many of Israel’s hiking trails, she also includes pictures to help understand the trail’s landmarks, and a Waze link for parking. It is priceless. After the last lockdown, Susannah started advertising group hikes with a guide. Most of them were near Jerusalem, so I wrote to her and said I would be interested if she planned one in the north. Of course, while Danny was out of town, she sent an email with information on a hike in the Carmel Mountains, about 40 minutes away from Zichron. I don’t usually pay a guide to go on a hike, but I really wanted to meet Susannah (yes, I was the crazy groupie that day). My friend, Ken, who recently made aliyah from Colorado, joined me. Even though it wasn’t the most exercise I have had on a hike (the group was a bit older than expected), it was so much fun to meet Susannah, talk to her about her blog, and thank her for all of the wonderful work she has done to make Israel’s nature and trails accessible to English speakers.

Hiking with Susannah in the Carmel Mountains

The idea to write this blog highlighting a few of the incredible woman who have supported me here in Israel came when I was sitting in a weekly Talmud class taught by the brilliant Rabbanit Ilana Fodiman-Silverman. When Danny, Kai, and I attended the siyum hashas in Jerusalem in January 2020, we had 2 extra tickets. Ilana and her daughter joined us for the event, and it was as if we entered the conference center with a true celebrity. We couldn’t walk two feet without someone running over to greet her. I now have the privilege of studying talmud with her in Zichron. Not only do we meet on a gorgeous balcony overlooking the nature reserve that surrounds our town, but we have a lively discussion filled with detail, analysis, and historical context to begin our Tuesday morning. Her teaching is filled with knowledge, but also caring and a desire to build connection.

Talmud class on the balcony

Catalytic Converter

This is not how I want to spend my time, but reality always prevails. Yesterday, as I was leaving my qi gong class on the hottest day of the year (98 degrees F), I had a problem with my car. I had driven Danny to the airport the previous night, and arrived to class in the morning without any issues. Nothing was wrong with the car when I went inside at 9:30am, but when I left at 1:15pm, the car made a terrible noise as I tried to start it and wouldn’t move. I had an extremely busy day scheduled yesterday. I was supposed to drive Kai and a friend to theater rehearsal at 2:15pm, and then return home to take Sarit to her exam for the gifted and talented class for next year. Reuben had an extra soccer practice starting at 5pm, and then we had 2 zoom calls scheduled for the evening.

Luckily, the one person in my qi gong class who lives in Zichron, Mira, was still in the studio. I left my car key with my teacher, and caught a ride home with Mira. She helped me call the towing company on the way back to Zichron, but since we didn’t know which garage would be covered by my insurance, we couldn’t tell them where to tow the car. I sat on hold waiting to speak with an insurance agent, but all I heard was the recorded message over and over again that the wait times were longer than usual. I wasn’t able to reach them at all yesterday. Maybe it was the heat?

I called my friend to ask if she could take the kids to theater. She was on the way to Tel Aviv, but her husband was at home, and he was able to drive them. Next, I called my neighbor, Shlomi. He is my go-to helper here in Israel. I seriously need help finding a way to thank him. He comes to our rescue all the time. If I were writing a book, you would say it is contrived because anytime something happens, we just call Shlomi and he takes care of it. He was in and out of meetings all afternoon, but stepped in to help as soon as he had a break. We decided to have the car taken to the Toyota dealership where I have gone for service in the past. The tower was set to come in the evening, and I had to interrupt my Hebrew class on zoom to take a call from the tow truck driver.

The car was parked on a residential street in a nice neighborhood, but the tower claimed that he couldn’t access the car. My qi gong instructor had my car key, but he was in class, so I had to call his wife to help. I felt bad involving her too, and somehow she and the tow truck driver got into a fight. Shlomi had to calm the tow truck driver down over the phone. In the end, the car couldn’t be towed last night. The tow truck driver explained that a part had likely been stolen from the car. I doubted that, considering the car was parked right outside of the studio in broad daylight in a nice neighborhood where I go every week. Either way, I went to sleep a little shaken, and had to do a relaxation meditation on my app before I could fall asleep.

Instead of attending my regular Tuesday morning Talmud class, Shlomi drove me back to Pardes Channah to try to push the car into a better spot to be towed. We found the key on my qi gong instructor’s porch, and I turned on the car. It still made that loud roar it made the previous day. Since the tower had mentioned theft, we looked up pictures of stolen parts from the Prius, and unfortunately found a lot of information. Shlomi got under the car and not only saw a missing piece, but also saw four bricks that someone had placed under the car in order to take the piece out. When my instructor came outside, he saw that 4 bricks were missing from his front entryway. The thieves must have taken the bricks, placed them under my car, stolen the part, and left without anyone seeing anything. Shlomi used the jack in my car to lift the tire and remove the bricks. We didn’t even have to push the car – I was able to reverse and park the car in an easier spot for the tow truck to access once the bricks were removed.

The bricks that we found under the car

Next, we called the police. Instead of filing a report for us, they told us to drive to the police station in Zichron. Shlomi had a work call scheduled, so we were short on time. We were on hold with the insurance company for the entire 20 minute drive to the police station. The insurance company said we did need a police report, and that we should take the car to their preferred garage. I guess it was lucky that the car wasn’t towed last night. When we arrived at the police station, the officer at the front desk was in the bathroom. We waited for a few minutes, and then he returned only to ask us to wait inside the waiting room. No one came to help us for 10 minutes, and Shlomi had to get back for his meeting. As we left, Shlomi asked if we could file the police report online. Of course! Information that would have been useful when we first called the police station.

Waiting at the police station

We arrived home not much closer to figuring out what to do. I waited on hold for the towing company, and finally talked to them right before Shlomi’s meeting started. They will arrive within 4 hours to tow the car. Meanwhile, I called the garage in Hadera. They will not even look at the car until the insurance adjuster arrives. I called the insurance adjuster, and he had just left Hadera and won’t return until 8am tomorrow morning. Apparently, my insurance will cover a rental car, but I can’t receive any benefits until the adjuster assess the situation. The new tow truck driver just called me and went on and on about how expensive a new catalytic convertor will be. I’m attempting to fill out a police report online, in Hebrew. It isn’t working so far. To be continued…

Attempting to file the police report online

Qi Gong Teacher Training

Many of you might not know that I am in a course here in Israel to become a Qi Gong instructor. I started practicing qi gong outside in the garden at Ramat Hanadiv soon after we moved to Zichron. I have done so many different types of exercise over the years, but somehow I felt immediately connected to the practice of qi gong. It was impossible not to feel inspired, surrounded by all of the natural beauty, doing energy exercises and moving meditations with a crowd of friendly locals. Years ago, I studied Kripalu yoga with a couple of friends at the Boulder Rec Center. We continued to take the beginners class again and again because we loved the slow-paced, meditation in motion that the instructor taught. I always felt compelled though to do something high impact as my “real exercise”. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that all of the running, weight lifting, and sweating wasn’t actually changing anything about my life. Qi Gong is strengthening and introspective. I feel free of pain after practicing, and calmer in my interactions throughout my day.

Outdoor Qi Gong pre-pandemic

When coronavirus hit, our outdoor qi gong sessions were moved to zoom, and I began practicing from home. It was actually nice to be able to play the recorded sessions anytime I wanted. I also found teachers on YouTube who I followed, and was able to learn different styles and exercises in English. When we were able to meet in person again, the instructor handed out cards advertising his teacher training course. I took one, out of curiosity, and thought about it a lot. My main fear, aside from more lockdowns shutting down the program, was that my Hebrew wasn’t fluent enough to understand. When I randomly ran into the teacher a few weeks later, I mustered the courage to talk to him, and he immediately said we should meet to discuss the course.

When we met, he was very excited to speak English (like most Israelis are) and it turns out that he was in the army with an Israeli friend of mine from Boulder (of course). We spoke in Hebrew for a few minutes, and he said I should be fine in terms of understanding the content of the course. Most of the class is movement based anyway, so it is easy to follow along without specialized vocabulary. He also invited me to an open house the following week where I could hear more about the program and meet some of the other students who were considering joining the class.

Visiting the studio for the open house, I felt comfortable and relaxed in the space. The other prospective students were welcoming. The instructor said he would be inviting 8 people to join the course so that with the student teacher, we would only have 10 people in the studio (in keeping with the coronavirus restrictions at the time). The course was set to begin right after the high holidays, in October, but our start date was pushed back by a few weeks due to the second national lockdown here in Israel.

We are now almost halfway through our second semester of the program. We moved to zoom for several weeks during the third lockdown, which wasn’t ideal, but at least we had the technology to continue in that way. In February, we had our end of semester day-long seminar. I was so nervous because each of us had to teach 4-6 exercises to our classmates. I practiced for Danny and the kids, and even went through the routine with a friend on zoom in New Zealand!

Practicing at the Red Canyon near Eilat

When it was my turn to teach the class, I asked in Hebrew if the group would mind if I taught in English. They were SO excited – they said they felt like they were on vacation abroad. What I thought of as a cop-out, they saw as a huge benefit. When I had to teach the second time, the class was looking forward to hearing me in English. My next challenge, coming up next Monday, is to put together a 40 minute routine to teach an entire session. Anyone who is interested in helping me practice, please let me know. I’m happy to plan some online zoom sessions for friends around the world!

Class in the garden this spring

Sitting in Two Chairs

A friend lent me the book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life by Edith Eger, author of The Choice. Eger writes that there is an expression in Hungarian, roughly translated, “If you sit with one butt on two chairs, you become half-assed.” In the context of her book, she is referring to people who lead a double life through deceit. I am not trying to fool anyone. We know we are leading a kind of double life. Our hearts are split between our life in Boulder, and our life here in Zichron.

Celebrating Israeli Independence Day in Tel Aviv with friends from Boulder

We recently made the decision to stay in Israel for another year. We found a lovely family to rent our house in Colorado this August, and we hope to visit Boulder this summer before they move in. Meanwhile, our landlord here in Zichron has decided to sell the house we are renting. We love this house, and the kids are devastated to move. The bigger issue is that nothing is available to rent at the moment. Friends in town have assured us that we won’t be homeless. I am confident that something suitable will become available in the next few months. It does feel scary not knowing where we will find a place. The kids absolutely love the freedom to walk to school and to shops and restaurants in town. We have a great location now, so we are hopeful that we can find something close by.

We returned from our early spring break vacation in Eilat on the day that spring break officially began. Our trip was a welcome reprieve from all of the decisions and planning consuming us. The kids had two weeks off of school, which felt unnecessary considering they had only been in school for a few days per week and on zoom the rest of the time. There wasn’t much to do in preparation for Passover. We were lucky to be invited out to seder with friends, and shopping for kosher for Passover items is very simple in a country where any food that isn’t kosher for Passover is basically hidden away. The kids helped clean everything in preparation for the holiday. It all felt relatively stress-free after years of complete chaos leading up to the seder night.

Cereals and snacks covered up during Passover
Cleaning everything for Passover

Israel normally gets chaotic during the holidays. This year felt even more congested since no one could travel abroad. Of course, we don’t actually know what it usually feels like since last year we were on complete lockdown during Passover. Every highway was packed, and trails and parks were overcrowded. It felt as though all the local tourists descended upon our town overnight. I tried to take a hike one morning on one of the normally empty trails near town, but it was so packed with families that I turned around after about 20 minutes. We did a fun glass blowing workshop with friends in Caesarea, and visited with friends at their homes. The kids were happy to have playdates, and keep things low-key. We ate out at a lot of restaurants that were all kosher for Passover – I think McDonald’s was their favorite.

Making our glass vase in Caesarea
Hiking with friends in Adullam Grove Nature Reserve
Kosher for Passover McDonald’s

Now that we have decided to stay for another year, much of the urgency we felt before our impromptu trip to Eilat has dissipated. It feels like the decisions now have to do with figuring out the logistics of “normal” life. All of the kids after-school activities have resumed, and we have a regular schedule to keep. Israel lifted the outdoor mask requirement as of today. Many believe this will make wearing masks indoors less effective, but the timing is a relief as we have a major heat wave at the moment (The forecast high for tomorrow is 96 degrees Fahrenheit). The kids might be a bit uncomfortable this week – they finally return to full time, in-person school, but apparently the a/c is not yet turned on in their classrooms.

Very happy to be back at swimming class

This evening, Danny is flying to the US on his first trip abroad since we arrived in Israel in 2019. He will be visiting family, and attending his brother’s wedding. The kids are very jealous and wish they could go, but they would be required to quarantine for 2 weeks after returning from the trip. Aside from my fear about him being gone, there is the anxiety of taking international flights during a pandemic, and all of the added requirements for travelers these days (corona test, even though he is vaccinated, traveler’s insurance, health declarations, masks, and hand sanitizers). I hope, for his sake, that he can have his butt in two chairs, or even a whole row to himself, on the flight.

Turkey Testicles and Camel Riding

I’m sure you saw the title and are now wondering, what in the world is this blog post going to be about? (I’m wondering that too. I mean, we didn’t even ride camels!) Well, this week was a bit of a rollercoaster. We spent Monday afternoon packing for our trip to Eilat. My mom wanted us to go before the Passover holiday crowds, and we got to miss a few days of school (nice!). It was about five and a half hours to get there in a car, so we were planning to leave at about eight-thirty in the morning. To avoid traffic, Reuben, Sarit, and I wanted to leave at four in the morning. We left at six-fifteen. Good compromise, right? I think it was. Anyway, we drove for about thirty minutes, and then Sarit and Reuben started getting bored, and let me tell you, it is not fun to be stuck in the backseat of the car with them when they’re bored. 

We only stopped five times during the trip. Our first stop, just after 8am, was a place called Tel Be’er Sheva. The tel was supposedly 15 layers deep. They had only dug down to layer three or something which was already from way before year zero. We got to go down into some ancient cisterns and see the ruins of an ancient city. It was pretty cool and we were the only visitors in the entire place. Our second stop was at David Ben-Gurion’s desert house which they had converted into a museum about his life. The information that I paid attention to was actually pretty interesting. They had a lot of videos and interactive exhibits and there were only a few other people there.

Balancing on the ruins at Tel Be’ersheva
Creepy child with Aba’s face holding David Ben Gurion’s hand

If you scroll way down my mom’s blog post history, you’ll find one that my mom wrote about our trip to Mitzpe Ramon. I do not recommend trying to scroll to it because it’s from June 2020. Almost a whole year ago. I’m only pointing this out because our third stop was in Mitzpe Ramon. We got lunch at this little shopping center where we’d eaten last time we’d visited the crater. My mom was in heaven eating her favorite food (vegan soup), and the rest of us had better food than that. We drove straight through the crater to get to our final two stops. The first one was Kibbutz Yotvata. If you’ve ever been to an Israeli grocery store, all the chocolate milk comes from Yotvata. Everyone told us to go there and get ice cream because apparently it’s really good. But I WOULDN’T KNOW! My mom refused to buy us any! Crazy, I know.

Sarit drinking straight from the tap

Our fifth and final stop was super amazing. We went to Chai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve where we drove along this path, and looked at cool animals. Basically a safari where you stay in your car. I took nine pictures of nine different ostriches. That’s nine more ostrich pictures than I’ve ever had on my phone. It was very exciting. We also saw some other animals, but the ostriches were by far the coolest. I mean, that’s definitely not the first animal I would have expected to find in the deserts of Israel.

The ostrich pictures!!!

We arrived in Eilat about a half an hour later. It was pretty packed full of shopping malls and diving stores and restaurants for almost every type of cuisine. The second we got to the hotel, Reuben and Sarit ran to the pool to swim. I didn’t want to, so I explored the hotel, and ended up finding a video game room full of Xboxes and PlayStations. Basically, while everyone else was out getting exercise at the pool, I was playing video games. Fun, I know. We had dinner at this meat restaurant where I had a burger, Reuben and Sarit had schnitzel, and my mom got obsessed over a brand of beer they were selling at the restaurant because it had a picture of an adorable red fox on the label. Before we went back to the hotel, we walked around at the IceMall. All the shopping in Eilat is tax free, so people go crazy shopping there. We wanted to go ice skating, but we were too tired that night.

Our happy place
Arava Brewery Beer

Wednesday was the best day of the trip. We did three main things that day. The first thing was diving. I went scuba diving for the first time in my life, and I loved it. It was so much fun. We had to wear these thick wetsuits that were so tight you needed to pour water into them to get them on. We had huge air tanks, and weights strapped to our backs. We had to hold hands with our instructors the whole time. There were so many cool fish and coral. We heard dolphins, but the water was pretty murky and we didn’t end up seeing any. Only my dad and I were on that dive, and the rest of our family went to scuba dive with dolphins. They had diving gear also. Just their dive was with dolphins and our dive was with fish and coral. It was super fun.

Relaxing at the dolphin reef
Scuba diving in the Red Sea!

The second thing we did was actually just me and my mom. We went to this National Park across the street from our hotel that was actually underwater. So you can rent a snorkel and goggles and flippers, and you swim right next to the coral, and get to see it close up. It is called the Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve. Instead of hiking, which is usually what we do at national parks, you can swim with fish. It was super fun, super cool. Some of the fish were really colorful. 

The third thing we did on Wednesday is the part of this post you all have been waiting for. The first part of the title. Yes, turkey testicles. So there was this restaurant by our hotel. It was, at first glance, your average steak house. We were there with a friend of my mom’s from elementary school. So we walked into the restaurant and got our menus, and I see on the menu that one of their dishes is Turkey testicles. That’s all it said. Turkey testicles. I was confused, as anyone would be. So I asked my mom’s friend about it, and he said he actually had eaten them at this very restaurant before and they were ok. They weren’t his favorite food ever, but they were alright. I was curious. I ate three weird foods that night and I’m going to give my honest opinions on them.

  1. Turkey testicles: 7-8/10. They were actually not bad. The texture was a little weird, but the overall flavor was pretty good (I feel so weird writing this).
  2. Chicken hearts: 6/10. I think these are more common than turkey balls, but I actually didn’t like them as much. They kinda tasted like undercooked burgers.
  3. Fish eyes: 7/10: The flavor was really good. They’re kind of sweet. The texture was really weird though. There were these hard bits that got stuck in my teeth, and that was gross.
Getting ready to try the turkey testicles with Avi

Okay, now that that’s over we can get back to more normal stuff. I apologize. If any of you need to stop reading for a moment and throw up, feel free. I do recommend trying those foods if you aren’t a picky eater though. I think you get cool bragging rights from it. Let’s move on, shall we? Great.

Thursday was our last full day in Eilat, so we decided to hike the Red Canyon. The hike itself was amazing, 10/10, would go again. It was also pretty surreal to drive along the border of Egypt. Knowing that the Jews might have hiked through there on their way to Israel was cool too. I mean, maybe we had a complementary qi gong lesson (taught by my mom) at the same spot that Moses used to teach the Jews qi gong. Who knows, right? After hiking the Red Canyon, I went back to the underwater national park with my dad, while my mom and siblings swam in the pool. My dad had to teach a class in Colorado on zoom, so my mom took us back to the IceMall to ice skate, get haircuts, and go shopping. For dinner, after we picked up my dad, we went back to Omer’s, the same place we went the first night in Eilat.

Beautiful scenery at the Red Canyon
We pretty much had the whole ice skating rink to ourselves

On Friday morning, after eating another huge buffet Israeli breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we went to a camel ranch to see if we could ride camels. While they weren’t open for camel riding when we got there, they were selling kosher catering for shabbat. That’s Israel, I guess. The drive back to Zichron was less eventful than the one to Eilat, but the scenery was beautiful. We ate lunch at a gas station, and stopped at this little brewery where they made that brand of beer my mom had at Omer’s restaurant in Eilat. That one my mom was obsessed with. Remember? After that, we didn’t stop anywhere else. We got home at around six pm, and ate frozen fish schnitzel and gas station challah for shabbat dinner.

Touring the one-room Arava Brewery

All in all, I loved our trip to Eilat. It was fun. My favorite part was… uh… you get three guesses…

Anyway, that’s what we did last week! Thanks for reading!

Second Tour of Duty

Guest blog post by Danny

Last week, I had my second opportunity to volunteer with the Israeli Defense Force as part of the Sar-El program. This time, I was one of 14 immigrants to Israel, including men and women originally from Brazil, Panama, Spain, and the U.S. The youngest was a woman in her early 30s, and the oldest was my roommate, a very lively 84-year-old man (He showed me his “p’tor m’tor,” “exempt from the line,” a special wallet card issued by the Israeli government to individuals over 80 that allows them to skip to the front of any line in the country – I was cracking up!). There was no single language that worked well for everyone, so instructions and conversations were a fantastic mash-up of Hebrew, English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Our three madrichot (female counsellors) are all leading Sar-El groups as their military service in the Logistics Corps: One an idealistic native Israeli who grew up on a religious kibbutz in the north; another a native Israeli who had lived with her family in India for the past number of years and returned to enlist as a lone solder; and the other a U.S. native whose family made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel a couple of years ago.

P’tor M’tor” card for individuals over 80 years old in Israel

We were stationed on a large base in the Judea and Samaria region of the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem, among troops from infantry units, military engineering units, military police units, and others. The base is right in the middle of Israeli-Jewish villages (read: settlements), Israeli-Arab villages, Palestinian villages, and Bedouin camps. As one of the officers on the base told me: “If war will break out, this is where it will happen. We have borders with Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan. But here, it is just us.” Even while we were there, minor provocations broke out nearby, and a patrol was sent out to distribute flyers to both sides to quiet things down.

My base lodgings with sheets from home

Among other things, the base maintains and manages tons of equipment in ready condition so that, if war breaks out, and reserve soldiers are called up, they will be able to grab what they need and go. As it is only a couple of weeks before Passover, I saw them dealing with huge pallets full of kosher for Passover מנו”ק (manot krav, field rations). One day, as a very cool break from work, one of the Majors taught us about and showed us around a huge hangar full of incredible נגמ”שים (armored personnel vehicles) tailored for different types of missions and troops.

Field rations labeled “Kasher L’Pesach” Kosher for Passover
Checking out the armored vehicles up close

As the youngest male in the group by far, I was assigned any job involving lifting or moving heavy things. Most of the time, I was tasked with carrying hundreds of kitbags (large duffels filled with uniforms and equipment for the field) and boxes out of large storage sheds, so they could be unpacked, checked, and updated; then carrying them all back into storage. The rest of my time was spent cleaning and organizing hundreds of equipment vests, bullet-proof vests, helmets, gun cases, and other equipment. I was thankful for COVID, as the mandatory mask-wearing saved me from breathing in mountains of dust and fumes from animal droppings. It was not the most exciting work, but it felt very good to do some manual labor for a few days.

Lots of organizing and cleaning equipment

During my time on the base, I often felt conflicted. On one hand, the base is right in the center of an area considered by most of the world to be illegally occupied territory, and the base and many of the surrounding Israeli settlements are of tremendous political and strategic importance to Israel for that very reason. Maintaining control by Israel of the corridor between Jerusalem and the now-sprawling Israeli city of Ma’ale Adumim effectively cuts the West Bank in two, cutting off Ramallah, Hebron, and other major West Bank cities from East Jerusalem, and effectively throwing a wrench into any realistic two-state solution. I would have loved to hear about some real in-the-field experiences and opinions from the soldiers, but Sar-El has a strict no-talking-politics-or-religion policy. That’s probably for the best, but it still left me feeling that much of the information we received there was sugar-coated. 

On the other hand, many stories I heard from soldiers and officers on the base made me feel deeply proud and Zionistic. They were stories of the Holy Land as the fulfillment of a dream; of Israel as a lighthouse in a storm of rampant anti-Semitism and hardship; of the Israeli Army as the defender of democracy in the region; and of Army service as an opportunity to make deep connections with people of many races and backgrounds, levels of religiosity, levels of wealth, and levels of education. While working one day, one of the higher-ups told me the story of his daily childhood battles with anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and how, even decades later, he was proud every day to be in his homeland. Another day, a young soldier born into relatively poor conditions in Mexico related that his Zionist parents found a way to get him to Israel alone at age 16, in hopes of a better life. After arriving alone with almost no money or clothing and no knowledge of Hebrew, he was taken in by a kibbutz, later enrolled in a Yeshiva for a few months, eventually got his enlistment papers, joined a fighting unit of the Israeli Army, progressed, and recently won the Presidential Medal of Honor for his service to the country. 

I was as excited to be on base this time as I was during my first “tour of duty” in November 2019, and it proved again to be such a meaningful opportunity to learn and experience. I look forward to the next chance to go back for more. In the meantime, I brought the kids some kumta’ot (berets) from a few of the units there as a memento.

Berets from Kfir combat unit, Military Police, and Border Patrol
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