December 21 has passed, and I am happy to say that the world as we know it has not come to an end. And now, nine days later, almost another calendar year has passed, which makes me pause. We have been in Raanana for 16 months, and, as to be expected, our move has been wrought with ups and downs. Since the start of 2012, a lot has happened.
January: The girls get their first semester report cards and we are stunned. After only a few months in the country, they each receive high marks and glowing words of encouragement from their teachers. I am awed by their ability to read from right to left with a different alphabet and solve math problems with strange symbols.
Philippe and I attend a school fundraiser to see the movie War Horse before it is released in theaters. We buy one raffle ticket and win two tickets for Cinema City VIP movie and consider ourselves lucky.
February: Simone and I celebrate Aviva’s Hurvitz’s second bat mitzvah with her family where we run into old friends from White Plains, including Rabbi Marder and Ayelet, David, Leah and Eliana Worenklein.
We see our cousin Sam Rosen and our friend Meira Gilbert in Israel with their 8th grade class trips.
Philippe and I become a Great Aunt and Great Uncle to my brother and sister-in-law’s first granddaughter, Yael, born to our 20-year-old nephew Zalman and his wife Rivi.
March: We host our first party in our new house along with my brother and his family to celebrate our dad’s belated 75th birthday, our mom’s belated 74th and their belated 54-year wedding anniversary. Our extended Israeli family, my Great Aunt Bruria and her three boys along with their wives and children, join us.
After months of interviews and filling out forms and mastering army-related administrative setbacks, Benjamin enters the Israeli Defense Forces. He starts five weeks of basic training while he awaits security clearance for a specific unit in Intelligence.
The girls and I fly to San Francisco to celebrate our cousin Sofia’s bat mitzvah. When we land in JFK to change plans, we each notice how odd and good it feels to hear English everywhere.
April: We stay in California for Pessach/Passover and reunite with family and friends. Daniella turns 15 and we celebrate with sushi.
Upon our return to Raanana, we are entrenched in holidays: Holocaust Remembrance Day followed by Memorial Day, which ends at sundown when Israel Independence Day begins. If you’re thinking of visiting this country, aim for these secular holidays when the country remembers, mourns and celebrates as one.
May: Benjamin is told to take time off while he waits for his security clearance.
It might only be spring, but the weather indicates otherwise. Summer sun shines daily; sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses are a must. The rain is on hiatus until September or October so we change our closets and put away our coats.
June: Simone turns 13 and I throw her a surprise birthday party while Philippe is away. We are officially outnumbered by teenagers in our house.
I start teaching my first writing class in Israel thanks to the help of AACI, Americans and Canadians in Israel, who do the marketing for me. Six people enroll in “From Memory to Memoir”, and I am on a high.
After the girls left for their summer in NY and while Philippe was away on business, I turn on Netflix in search of a movie. Instead, I find the first three seasons of Parenthood, a good old American TV drama that had never caught my attention. I check it out on imdb, our faithful online rating system. It scores 7.8/10, higher than Glee (7.1), and I make myself comfortable on our sage green leather sofa to watch. Over the next 18 days, I binge, watching 53 episodes, sometimes three and four in a sitting. The writing is brilliant, the story line is very real and the characters are lovable and flawed.
July: Benjamin’s security has cleared, and he gets the go-ahead to report to his unit. We know he likes the people and the work, but nothing more. The orders are clear and befitting for him; he is not allowed to tell us anything.
I leave for NY where I meet my girls and live with Ella. Ella is a cute, small, tan and white dog who belongs to my friends Susan and Dan Van Doren. The day after I arrive, they leave on a trip so I move in and become Ella’s new besty. Much to everyone’s surprise, she and I bond.
For two weeks, I visit with friends, do laundry and errands, drive my girls around town and teach yoga at Sage, Destination Maternity and in friends’ living rooms. Conversation is easy and it feels as if nothing has changed, like I never left.
August: I spend six days in Paris, three with Daniella and three with Philippe while the girls spend time with my in-laws. From there, Philippe and I travel south to Toulouse, where we rent a car and drive west. We stop at Lourdes, where miracles happen, and visit the church and drink the holy water. Then we hike for three days in Les Pyrennees, eat gourmet dinners and bathe in source water at a thermal bathhouse. We continue west to Orthez, where we take a three-day alternative cooking class, preparing and dining on poached eggs with basil and tomato sauce, zucchini carpaccio and gluten-free apple tart. Not once do I feel hungry between meals or crave sweets. From there, we drive west for our last weekend in St. Jean de Luz in the Pays Basque. On our second to last day, I slip on algae and you know the rest…
Philippe and I each turn 47.
I pair up with a holistic nutritionist and we teach a three-week cleanse and yoga workshop in my studio. Twelve people sign up and the energy takes my mind off my broken bones.
After 10 months of filling out papers and collecting signatures and reporting to the City Hall, we finally break ground to start building a pool in our backyard.
September: Surgery #2 at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, a place I never want to re-visit in this lifetime.
Family and friends shower us with love, bringing us meals and good cheer, while I am unable to shop, cook, clean and care for my family. Many invite us for the holidays too.
A few days later, while we are sleeping, we are robbed. The thieves take an old laptop, our oversized 3D TV from Costco along with my new purse, wallet, Ray Ban’s, cell phone and all my ID cards.
Benjamin turns 19 on our 22nd-wedding anniversary. We feel beaten but manage to celebrate with take-away sushi at our dining room table.
October: The cast and pins are removed and I plunge into physical and occupational therapy. In our Raanana healthcare building, there are hand and wrist specialists in each field. Thanks to socialized medicine, I am entitled to two visits with the PT and two with the OT each week. The total for all the doctor and therapy visits for the month was 87nis or $23.
The doctor commands me to swim, to move my wrists in the water, and assures me it will feel good. I listen and buy a 10-pass card to the local pool and dive in, one lap at a time. The biggest treat is the Jacuzzi, where I put my wrist in front of the jet and smile with pleasure.
I teach my second writing course at my dining room table: “Creative Nonfiction Up Close and Personal”. There are seven students, three returnees from the first class and four new faces.
November: Our second round of parent-teacher conferences. In this country, kids are encouraged to attend too. Last year, the girls were too embarrassed and this time, we made them come. Their homeroom teachers praise their hard work and pass us on to math, English, biology, science, Hebrew and other subjects, where every teacher says the same thing: they cannot believe they’ve only been here a year. Their comprehension, writing and reading in Hebrew is excellent. Their greatest weakness is vocabulary and oral, which means they need to read and speak as much as possible. Since they are new immigrants, they are entitled to 10 extra points on all their tests except for math and English. But since they are so diligent, they score high enough that they don’t even need them. Philippe and I are proud and take them out to dinner to celebrate.
I get behind the wheel of the car tentatively, with Philippe at my side, and slowly drive around town. First time since August.
My parents are in the country and we spend two weekends with them, one in Jerusalem and the other at our house.
My in-laws arrive from France. They invite all of us (Philippe’s brother, wife and six kids live here too) away for a weekend to celebrate their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.
Operation Pillar of Defense begins.
I take three walks on the beach in Herziliya, two with friends and one with Philippe. We are a few miles north of the action but hear, notice, feel nothing except for the beauty. Surreal is the only way to describe it.
Eight days later, Operation Pillar of Defense ends.
On a cold Saturday night, we bundle up and head to the Raanana Mall theater to see Fill the Void, an Israeli movie that is up for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars. For a half hour before the film, we gorge ourselves on quiche, salad, crackers and dips and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream—all part of the VIP package—with our friends Caroline and Adam, who also won two VIP movie tickets at our school fundraiser last January. A small room, there are only four rows with eight huge, plush, soft leather seats that recline above and have a footrest below. Blankets are available for warmth. Giddy like teenagers, we settle into our seats with our popcorn and hot tea, ready to watch. After the film ends and the lights go on, two employees pass around chocolate. We are so comfortable and entertained that we don’t want to leave.
I do my first downward facing dog since early August.
December: The girls and I meet my mom in Barcelona for the week of Chanukkah vacation. Aside from the fabulous and famous Antoni Gaudi buildings and other museums , we spend a day outside of the city with a guide visiting the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, his home in Cadaques on the Costa Brava and the Jewish Museum in Girona. My mom treats us to an evening of Flamenco and the Alabama Gospel Choir at the Palau de la Musica where she and Simone sing praise to Jesus with the thousands of other spectators.
After our week on the Cote d’Azur last December, I was convinced I wanted to retire in Antibes, but now Figueres has made me reconsider. Situated 90 minutes from Barcelona to the south and from Montpellier, France to the north, it offers the best of French and Spanish culture. All I need to do is learn Catalon, a supposed mix between French and Spanish, but it seems much more complicated than that.
I go to my first yoga class and do my first chaturanga or push up pose since early August. The effort makes my face contort.
The pool is three-quarters of the way finished, but workers don’t show up consistently. In fact, we never know if or when they’re coming. If it’s a Jewish holiday they don’t come; if it’s a Muslim holiday they don’t come; if it’s a Christian holiday they don’t come. They don’t come when it rains, and many days, they don’t come when the sun shines. Last week, they didn’t come because the contractor got stopped for speeding and his license was revoked. All we know for sure is we will have a pool for summer ’13 and you are welcome to come for a swim.
We are inundated by visitors. My aunt and uncle from Rochester, NY, the Seltzers of Mamaroneck, NY and my cousins from Philly. We host them for dinner and celebrate their kids’ bar/bat mitzvahs in Jerusalem.
We are robbed again. This time they take our new laptop that Philippe just bought to replace the one that was stolen in September, my laptop and the girls’ backpacks with Daniella’s cellphone. We are running low on spares and feel beaten.
Simone and I start volunteering on an every-other-Sunday-morning basis. Through Israel’s largest food bank, Leket, we, along with a handful of women, help make sandwiches for school children who don’t have. At 7:15am at Leket’s warehouse in the industrial zone of Raanana, we form an assembly line to make and bag cheese sandwiches. Since we finish early enough, I take Simone out for breakfast and then drop her off at school. We have only been once, but as soon as we got in the car to leave, she says, “That was nice.” And it was.
Here’s to 2013; may it be a better year, a year of peace and quiet, without war and extreme weather, free of theft, accidents and illness.
From my heart to yours.