Monthly Archives: May 2012

A worthwhile read

Our friend Moshe Krakowski sent me a link to this famous 1977 Rolling Stone article by a woman whose brother had become a ba’al teshuvah back in the early days of Aish HaTorah. I’d read it before, but couldn’t help reading it again. Such an amazingly honest and open piece.

Anyway, it isn’t directly about our present trip – we’re well past the point of deciding to commit to an observant Jewish lifestyle – but since it is about another journey to Jerusalem, it seems to make sense to share it here.

Our house is rented.

We’ve had a number of inquiries about whether our house is available for rent while we’re gone. Given the slow pace of our other preparations, it would be reasonable to assume no progress there as well, but B”H, this part has worked out.

Our place is going to be rented by a friend of a friend, who is a professor of Jewish History at the College of Charleston. He’s taking a yearlong sabbatical himself to ease his daughter into high school here in Chicago, and needed a place for the same timetable we’re going to be gone, so it was truly hashgacha pratis.

Surprising psak

I recently got answers to a few sheilos (Jewish law questions) I asked our Rav (rabbi) relating to our trip. The principal one was how many days of Yom Tov we should keep when we’re in Israel.

[Background explanation, for those who need it: Part or all of any given Jewish holiday may consist of “Yom Tov” (Heb.) or “Yontiff” (Yiddish), which are treated essentially like Shabbos in that we don’t do any “work” (a poor translation, but that’s another topic). The remaining days of the holiday are “chol hamoyed,” with relatively minor restrictions on “work”-type activities. For reasons that are a little too involved for even one of my digressions, in Israel one generally keeps just one day of Yom Tov, as specified in the written Torah, while outside of Israel one keeps two. For example, the Torah designates the 15th of Nisan as the first day of Passover, when we do no “work,” and have a seder. In America, we keep two straight “workless” days and have two sederim. In Israel, there is one initial “workless” day and one seder.]

The question of whether to keep one day of Yom Tov or two actually turns not on where you are, but where you live. People from abroad visiting Israel still keep two days, even though they’re in Israel. (People from Israel visiting abroad still keep one day, although it is more complicated because they can’t openly do “work” so as to avoid confusing people.) When students from abroad go to learn in Israel, even though they live there the entire year (or more), they still keep two days, because their homes are still abroad.

So, I was surprised to learn that we will keep one day of Yom Tov in Israel. I believe it has to do with the fact that our entire family is going there, which is apparently more significant than the fact that we intend to return. (Disclaimer: do not rely on this blog for any halacha l’ma’aseh! CYLOR!)

I can’t totally explain why this utterly delights me. It isn’t like I dislike the second day of Yom Tov – quite the contrary. I guess it makes it feel more like we’re going to be living in Israel.

It’s also just a major change to the rhythm of our Jewish life – another way that things will be different. Disruptions to the “normal” way we do things are an opportunity to change ourselves. They’re a reminder not to get complacent. This is the point of the Jewish calendar altogether – the “disruption” created by holidays and other times of note are supposed to be tools for growth. Maybe I’m excited that we’re going to get even more “disruption,” and thus even more opportunity for growth.

Or maybe I just want more chol hamoyed.

Cat update

For those of you waiting breathlessly for news of our cats, there is an update. The vet’s assistant who was going to take them has had a change of circumstance, and can no longer do so. Another vet’s assistant may be willing to take Nemo (who needs the extra maintenance), but not both.

Yes, it looks like our cats will be going to separate homes.

I know this is traumatic news, and I’m sorry to spring it on you like this. We’re all just going to have to find a way to get through it.

Anyway, this means we’re back to looking for a foster home for Shpilkes. On the upside, he’s the low-maintenance one. No medications or special needs. He is not so shy, and loves to play. Not really a cuddler, though. He’s also magnificently beautiful. And knows it. And would prefer that you know it as well. Full disclosure: he does have his front claws (we would spring for occasional clipping), and also has a bad habit of chewing on the cord you use to pull up blinds. We keep ours tucked up out of reach.

If you know of any leads, please let me know.

Should we be concerned?

No apartment prospects currently in sight, and our realtor has not been returning my emails or phone calls…

On the other hand, we were talking on Shabbos to a friend who is moving her family to Jerusalem next month… and has no apartment yet (and is not concerned)! We were so excited to hear it that we nearly high-fived in front of her.

Seriously, by Israeli standards, we are far from late. Everything will be okay, IY”H (G-d willing).


Okay, the cats.

There seems to be a lot of interest in what’s going to be with Shpilkes and Nemo while we’re gone. True, most of the interest is from Tzvi Bider. Okay, all of the interest is from Tzvi Bider. Still, I aim to please. Like everything else, we’ve given careful consideration and solicited advice. Rejected suggestions include:

  • Take them with us, where they can study under the tutelage of the famed street cats of Jerusalem. (Ours are pampered, indoor American cats. They would stand no chance. And what if they get Jerusalem Syndrome and think they’re some sort of cat messiahs? We can’t take that chance.)
  • Let them stay at home with our renter. (We’re already asking him for flexibility in certain areas. Watching our high-maintenance cats, including giving Nemo his allergy (!) shot is just too much. We’d have to pay him to stay here.)
  • A return to the Albin’s house. (Rejected by the Albins.)
  • Move them in with the Biders. (Actually, this hasn’t really been rejected. I’m still pushing for it.)

Instead, it looks like we are going to hire our vet’s assistant to take the cats. The sad thing is that he’ll probably take better care of them than we do. Here, I’m talking mostly about Nemo, who – yes, it is true – has allergies. I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but we take our cat to a pet dermatologist. I never thought I’d be that person. He was getting bare spots, with nasty sores. We had no choice. Really, we didn’t. Stop looking at me like that!

It would be poetic if Nemo were allergic to us; even more so if to himself. But, no. He’s allergic to a whole laundry list of stuff: wool, various kinds of pollen, dust mites, minding his own business…

So Nemo has to get shpritzed with a steroid spray, which he hates. He has to take pills, which he hates even more. And every few weeks, he gets a shot. Which he hates.

But he is very sweet.

So, the cats will be fine. Do you feel better now?

Where are the kids going to school?

Assuming we find a place in the Old City, as we hope, it appears the boys will go to Yeshivat Aderet Eliyahu, more commonly known as “Zilberman’s.” It will be entirely in Hebrew, which will certainly be a challenge for them. But there are enough Anglos around to help ease the transition, we hope. We’ve been told by others who went through this that it takes anywhere from 6 weeks to a few months, and then the kids are sufficiently proficient in Hebrew to do fine. The bigger challenge for us is that none of the administrators speak English, so Debbie & I won’t be able to communicate with them so easily.

This is an area where the difference between the American mindset and the Israeli one is dramatic. We had an intermediary mention our situation to someone at Zliberman’s, and their response was essentially, “fine, we’ll expect them.” I can only imagine what you would have to do, and how long in advance, were the direction reversed.