Pesach 2018

This Pesach is our third in Israel. We hosted the seder and had friends over. It was a good evening, and amazing food that Gina prepared. We also have leftovers that will keep us going for most of the rest of Pesach!

Here are a couple more scenes from our evening:

Married For 12 Years

Today Gina and I have been married for 12 years. I’ve had the opportunity to wake up next to her almost every morning in those years (well, and a year or two before that too 😁).  I’ve loved my wife since our second date. I’ve driven her crazy in all that time. We’ve raised two amazing kids over the years, and I have her to thank for that.

I hope I have many more opportunities to pay tribute to my long-suffering, immensely patient, and beautiful partner. She and the kids are the loves of my life, and I am a better person with them in my life.

Our last two anniversaries:

Being a parent gives you superpowers

Parents often tell their kids they have superpowers of some sort. My favourite myth (which may actually be true) is that mothers can see through walls and whatever our kids are doing on the other side of those walls.

Fortunately kids believe this long enough to give us time to come up with something more plausible (and similarly effective) as they grow older.

Leaving aside the myths, there are times I think we really do develop some kinds of superpowers as parents.

One of my superpowers is the ability to hear a crying child over some background noise (in my case a fan in our bedroom) in the middle of the night and be on my feet and in my child’s bedroom before my conscious mind has even realised that I’m awake.

That sort of thing still amazes me after more than 9 years.

Image credit: Chris Barbalis

Celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary. It really doesn’t feel like Gina and I have been married for 11 years.

Jac 105.jpg

It feels like we stood under that chuppah just a few short years ago but then I realise we have a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter. Then there was also the conversation I had with our kids this morning over breakfast where they pointed out that I was just 30 when we were married.

So, ok, I’ll concede it has been 11 years. Still, it doesn’t feel that long, especially when I look at my wife and how young she still seems.

I won’t go into our story and reminisce about the last decade or so in this post. I did that last year so I’ll just point you to that post if you are curious about how we met and how we grew as a family since then.

I realized that I omitted one little detail in that 10th wedding anniversary post. I knew from the start that Gina would become my wife. I knew it from around the time of our second date.

What I have been thinking about this morning is just how much Gina has taught me about being a better husband, friend and father to our children.

I can’t say I have always listened to the wisdom that she has shared over the years. At the same time, those times when I do pay attention leave me a better person for having done so.

Gina is a wonderful mother and a very patient and understanding wife. I have probably driven her completely crazy many times in our 13 years together (we met in November 2003) and she has still stuck by me and supported me through many tough times.

We are slowly building a new life here in Israel and I can’t think of anyone else I would want to do that with. We have two amazing children who are the embodiment of so many of our qualities. Just as Gina helps me become a better husband and friend to her, our children challenge us to be better parents to them.

For my part, I am really glad she said yes all those years ago and that she remains my partner in this crazy adventure.

Happy anniversary, angel. Love you tons, with much!

Becoming Israeli is the hard part

Becoming an Israeli citizen was easy. Becoming Israeli is the hard part.

I feel like I am going through a rough patch in my relationship with Israel and my Israeli friends, neighbours, colleagues and fellow inhabitants of this little strip of hotly contested land. It has been almost a year and a half since we left Ben Gurion Airport as newly minted Olim Hadashim (“fresh meat” as my former Ulpan put it, with a smile).

Finally home in Israel where we belong

When I wake up in the mornings and head out the door, I’m usually thinking about whether I’ll make the bus rather than the fact that I have woken up in our new home in Israel. It’s not to say I don’t have that thrill anymore. It’s just that it doesn’t happen as often in my typical day. The daily routine has a tendency to take over and sideline the sense of wonder that seemed like it would never subside when we first arrived.

We could communicate better

I also feel like we don’t talk much, Israel and me. More specifically, it feels like I just don’t know what to say. I literally don’t have the words and that leaves me feeling like an outsider. Sure, people still try help me (most of them anyway) but the last month or so have definitely been Very Bad Hebrew Months for me.

On top of this communication issue, routine stuff seems to take up a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth. Consider your day-to-day pressures and stresses and add a factor of partial knowledge of the language it is all expressed and handled in. It can be more than a little intimidating at times.

Thankfully, my recent staycation with my mother gave me a break from my daily routine and much needed perspective on what living in Israel means to me.

Connecting with Israeli life

On the third day of our mini-break during Chol Hamoed Pesach, we all took a trip to Jaffa and walked around the market. It was my first time there and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pretty pleasantly surprised. The market stretched across a few streets and felt so typically Israeli. In one section people sold just about anything that wasn’t biological and breathing. Some sold old cameras, coins and other antiques. Others, usually next door, sold old fax machines and other junk that probably hadn’t served a useful function for about a decade.

We had terrific Shakshuka in a little Greek restaurant across from stores selling old fashioned film lighting equipment and an eclectic collection of vinyl LPs, only some of which I recognised.

This man sitting outside his store fascinated me. I love his old lights.
This man sitting outside his store fascinated me. I love his old lights.

We decided to head for the Jaffa/Yafo port and were given directions from a shop owner in typical Israeli fashion. He dismissively told us not to bother with “this Waze” and to just walk straight ahead over a couple roads. It was the sort of direct, helpful and somewhat no-time-for-nonsense advice I have come to identify as typically Israeli: direct, somewhat arrogant but motivated by a desire to help. That short conversation was a highlight of the day for me because it seemed to epitomise what it is to be Israeli for me.

Going back to where it all began

From Yafo, we took a bus to the Palmach Museum for a tour. If you haven’t been to the Palmach Museum and you’re interested in the early years of what became the IDF, you can’t miss it.

Near the entrance to the Palmach Museum
Near the entrance to the Palmach Museum

The museum is experiential and follows the journey of a group of immigrants to Israel as they join the forerunner of what became the IDF; battle the British and, later, Arab armies to secure Israel’s independence. The exhibits are a combination of themed rooms, video footage and reimagined conversations between the group as the conflict progresses.

Unlike most Israelis who have lived here for some time, I haven’t had the experience of fighting in a conflict or losing people I care about to a war. Just the same, following the story in the museum affected me profoundly. I could never compare what I felt going through the museum to what millions of Israelis have and continue to experience but, at its essence, I felt a connection of some kind to the tragedy that unfolded before us.

Watching the group’s story progress and remembering what I have learned about the conflicts leading up to the War of Independence left me with the strong sense that this is also a part of my history even though much of it predates me and my family has no direct connection to it.

I left the museum feeling a stronger connection to Israel’s history than I ever did to South Africa’s history. Israel’s history is the latest chapter of my people’s history.

Part of our reality

Now that we are here and living here, we face the same threats that our neighbours and friends do. Israel’s enemies don’t draw distinctions between new immigrants and born Israelis. We’re all Jews, we’re all Israelis.

We watched one of the memorial services for Yom HaZikaron one night this last week and one of the speakers mentioned how military service and speaking Hebrew are integral to Israeli life.

Our children may well serve in the IDF when they are old enough. I hope it won’t be necessary for them to serve but if the history of our people is any indication; one day they will be drafted and we will add the experience of seeing our children step into the harm’s way. I don’t look forward to that at all. I don’t think any parent does. At the same time, were it not for the young men and women who have done that, and continue to do it, we wouldn’t live in the only Jewish state.

For now, our kids’ biggest challenges are improving their Hebrew, doing their homework and finding time for all their friends.

Becoming Israeli

When I think about them, Israelis feel a lot like an extended family, most of whom I don’t know and may never meet (some, I probably don’t want to meet). You have all sorts here. Many, like our friends, are hard-working, family-oriented people who continuously help us out and smile on the rare occasion I break out some Hebrew in my very Anglo accent.

I have also come across the Sabras with their tough exterior (mostly when dealing with me) and that sensitive, inner warmth (mostly when interacting with our kids). There are the Haredi who look like they have trundled out of the 18th century and who most other Israelis tend to leave pretty much to themselves. When I think about the personalities I have encountered, it’s a lot like taking your extended family of mixed nuts and expanding it into a population of millions with multi-faceted cultural and linguistic quirks to keep things interesting.

I sometimes think about how few Jews there are in the world and how much energy other groups spend trying to keep us down and push us around. It probably explains a lot of why Israelis tend to be so, well, Israeli. When you are a nation that waited thousands of years to be re-established and has had to fight every day since then not just to survive, but to thrive, you can understand why Israelis can be a little challenging at times. Becoming Israeli is also a lot to do with internalising that history at a visceral level.

Finding my Israeli identity in Hebrew

Still, becoming Israeli doesn’t come naturally for me. I enjoy how Israelis tend to be pretty frank with each other. On the other hand, my limited Hebrew remains a stumbling block for me. I understand more than I did before but not knowing pretty basic words can be extremely frustrating, depressing even. I feel like I am missing some vital “Israeliness” ingredient. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.

There is so much to love about Israel and, like any family, it can drive you absolutely crazy more often than you may like. On the other hand, I have had so many experiences that leave me amazed that we live amongst such compassionate and engaged people.

I have so much to learn about being Israeli. A lot of that will come as my Hebrew improves (לאט לאט). As for the rest of it, becoming Israeli, maybe it comes more naturally the longer we live here and experience more of what it means to be part of this feisty nation.

Postscript: A few words from my wife

My wife recently published a related post on her blog simply titled “Home” that is worth reading too:

Home

Spare a thought for working Dads

Some fine print to save myself from being beaten by hard-working Moms

This post is about working Dads. Before I get to that, here is a quick disclaimer: Moms don’t receive nearly enough credit and, thankfully, there is a wealth of stuff being shared online highlighting just how much mothers actually do. The term “stay at home Mom” should be banned and replaced with “Mom who works a double shift at home because she doesn’t get the day off at the office”.

That said, Dads are often portrayed as goofballs whose primary contribution to being parents was that disappointing, drunken performance that one night about 9 months before the child arrived.

The next disclaimer is that my wife did most of what I describe in my typical day last year when I was doing evening ulpan classes.

Sure, there are fathers who fit that cliche but there are plenty of working Dads who do so much more and they don’t receive nearly as much attention as they should. I thought I’d share a typical day in my life, not to brag (I always think I could do more for our kids) but to point out that working Dads really work for their families! I’ve touched on this before, so feel free to pause this post and read my earlier one:

Something for the awesome Dads

A typical day in my life as a working Dad

Out the door by 5:30am

I have two alarms set. The first goes off at 05:00 and the second at 05:10. The reason for this early start is that I start work at around 6:30 (7:00 at the latest) so I can log enough time to return home for my second shift (more about that below). My routine is pretty much the following:

  • Dress fairly quickly;
  • Pack my breakfast to eat at the office;
  • Do teeth and hair (nothing fancy – just making sure it doesn’t stand up);
  • Leave notes for our kids;
  • Kiss my wife goodbye; and
  • Head out the door between 05:20 and 05:30 (usually closer to 05:30).

I usually walk to the train station (15 minute walk, more or less) but sometimes take the bus if I catch it in time. My train leaves at 05:48 and I arrive in Tel-Aviv in time to start work at about 06:30 (if I miss my usual train, I start work just before 07:00).

I don’t have time to eat breakfast so I do that when I arrive at work while orienting myself for the day. If our babysitter can fetch the kids 3–4 four days a week, I wind up working over 10 hours a day to make sure I accumulate enough time to compensate for the days I have to leave earlier to fetch the kids from aftercare. It mostly works out although I am still working out a few kinks.

Changing shift after work

Ideally, I work till about 4:30pm to 4:40pm when I leave to catch a 5pm train back to Modi’in. I arrive home at about 6pm to take over from our babysitter who would have fetched our kids from aftercare earlier that afternoon. On days she can’t fetch the kids, I finish work in time to catch a 3:30pm train and then hustle to fetch the kids from aftercare when it finishes.

Gina is doing ulpan (Hebrew classes) two evenings a week in Tel-Aviv so on those nights (or when she has something on at night after work), I am generally pretty busy with –

  • taking the kids to the park for a little play time after school when the weather is ok;
  • making sure homework is done;
  • bathing the kids;
  • making supper (I enjoy this part although it sometimes means we eat a bit late, depending on what time I arrive home and whether the kids have playdates);
  • helping Aaron make sure his bag is packed for the next day (I’ve been slacking off a bit with this lately and often leave the actual check for Gina);
  • putting the kids to sleep;
  • washing dishes;
  • making school lunches and my breakfast for the next day; and
  • some or other home task like cleaning, laundry or something along those lines.

I have a deal with our kids to leave a note of some description for them in the mornings when I leave because I usually leave for work before they wake up. This is usually the last thing I do before getting into bed and passing out (I am aim to be asleep by 10:30pm at the latest or I can’t function the next day).

I tried waking them to say goodbye but it was a bit of a disaster because they didn’t go back to sleep and the whole family was up way too early.

Weekends are a little easier

Friday is the start of our weekend and I get to sleep late … till 6am, at least. The kids still have school so I’m usually up around 6:15am to get them out of bed, dressed and packed for school.

Gina and/or I then get them to school and spend the morning cleaning, shopping for the weekend (shops generally close early afternoon on Friday) and we then fetch the kids late morning from school.

Friday afternoons and Saturdays are mostly focused on the kids. Now that the weather is warming up it is great park weather and the kids love riding their bikes so I spend a big chunk of the weekend fighting my urge to hide in a man-cave after the week and spend time with them instead.

Oh, Gina and I also try really hard to spend some time together but kids tend to want to override that.

What’s the point of this?

There are many working Dads in our community and elsewhere who work even harder than I do. The point of this post is to give some insight into what my typical day is because I suspect many of the Dads we know have similar days.

So, yes, working Moms (and even so-called “stay at home” but really “work even harder” Moms) have a lot on their plates between work and family life. No question about that. My wife had my typical day all of last year while I was doing ulpan classes and this year is my turn.

As much as we want to celebrate the work Moms do, don’t forget the working Dads who also work really hard and make sacrifices for their families every day. Maybe swing an infographic or something along those lines our way now and then? Just a thought.

The best “hug it out” technique

I heard about the “hug it out” technique a few years ago and thought it was about hugging your hysterical child until s/he finally calms down. I tried that a couple times and it didn’t really work. I should have tried this one:

Hug it out technique
The best “hug it out” technique I’ve read about.

One of the things I love about this technique is that is a great way to be honest with your hysterical child about how you feel in the face of his or her tantrum. It is certainly better than losing your temper and you both get the hugs you both need.

You can read a bit more in the post ‘Why “hugging it out during tantrums” works‘.

Being a dad, learning and teaching

I just read another great post about lessons learned from a dad. Kate Hudson‘s post “Things I learned from my dad, in chronological order” is one of those posts I love reading as a father.

Things I learned from my dad, in chronological order

These sorts of posts help me understand the lessons I am teaching our kids every day, often just by how I interact with them and what they observe about my behavior and my relationships with their mom and other people we come across.

19.  Don’t wait for the right moment to say I love you. Now is that moment.

At the same time, these posts also take me back to my relationship with my dad who passed away almost 12 years ago (coincidentally, also from pancreatic cancer). I think back to the things I learned from him, his experiences and how much more I understand them now that I have children of my own.

I think I make mistakes far more often than I get it right (whatever that is) but I hope that even when I make mistakes, our kids learn something positive from how I handle those mistakes. Sometimes that is the best we can do as parents, I think. That missing “How to be an awesome parent” manual still hasn’t been published so we’re all mostly figuring it out as we go.

Being a dad is a full-time, contact sport except its most about making sure your kids always win (or as much as possible) in this little game we call “Life”.