Rachel Rona Barcelona

A while back, my daughter Rachel suggested that she and I might go away for a mother/daughter vacation. Not only do I love traveling, but I love traveling with people who are fun and interesting and she fills the bill. Rachel did all of the leg work including finding us a good travel deal. For those of you who do not live in Israel, one of the unexpected perks of living in Israel is that there are fantastic travel packages available to Israelis- which is one reason why on a typical day in any European city of interest, you will see more Israeli tourists on the streets than American tourists. Rachel chose a trip to Barcelona.

And what a adventure! Her husband also had quite an adventure. He held down the fort while she was away– meaning he had to contend with the rearing of six children on his own. He’s a very generous (and brave) man.

Our first challenge was the lava cloud that closed the Barcelona Airport the night before we were to take off. Fortunately, the airport opened and we were able to take off close to on time. We flew Sun D’Or which is an El Al subsidiary and both flights were pleasant with the crew doing as much as they could to make us comfortable. Upon arrival in Barcelona, we opted to not take the transfer to the hotel that came with our package because we thought it would delay us. Instead, we bought a multi-ride pass and took the train to town.

Airport train to Barcelona

Airport train to Barcelona

As you can see, the train was clean and modern. Each stop appeared on a screen that estimated arrival time and showed us what the next few stops would be.

But the incredible surprise came when we emerged from the subway about 2 blocks from our hotel. As we came up the stairs and turned right, this is what we saw

Our Barcelona welcome

Our Barcelona welcome

A little closer

A little closer

Even more detail

Even more detail

The top!

The top!

What a beginning to a most fantastic trip!

The architecture in Barcelona is not to be believed. Everywhere we looked there was beauty.

And I haven’t even mentioned the shopping! Rachel is a shopping superstar. And we did, literally, shop ’til I dropped.

But we didn’t miss seeing a great deal of Barcelona- from the tourist areas, to the parks, to lots of places that I will post about next time.

Best of all, I had a great time being with my daughter. She is terrific!!!

Hello People!*

There actually has been a lot going on…

I had had a little minor surgery for a bump on my nose a few weeks ago. I had shown it to my dermatologist and he had filled out a referral to the plastic surgery clinic at the hospital. When the lab results came back, they suggested I return because the biopsy contained only fragments and there could be more of the nasty cells around. Before the surgery I had read of a surgical technique called “Moh’s Surgery” that involved removing some cells, staining and freezing them, looking under a microscope, and then determining if there was anything more to be removed and then continuing the surgery at the suspicious area until they were sure everything looked clean. I had asked the surgeon and he didn’t actually know what I was talking about.

So, when I arrived to have the procedure done a second time, I had two concerns 1. that they wouldn’t get everything this time either and 2. that they would cut me more than necessary. The surgeon looked at me and said that he didn’t think he could do the surgery. He called his associate. They both agreed that because they couldn’t see anything at all that needed to be removed, they could not do the operation. They said I needed a technique called “Moh’s.”

They sent me to the dermatology clinic and they in turn gave me the name of one of the three doctors in all of Israel who is trained in the procedure. I thought I was pretty relaxed prior to my appointment with him, but at one point, on the way to his office, we sat down on a park bench and I could feel my heart beating rapidly. I took my pulse and it was at 120. I was nervous.

We waited well beyond our appointment time, but the doctor who greeted us seemed competent and was easy to talk to. He told us that the dermatologist should not have referred me to a plastic surgeon in the first place. He also told me that the first surgeon should not have operated. We made an appointment and late in June, I will have the Moh’s surgery done. Having set up the appointment for the surgery, I became much more relaxed.

Other things this week…

On Sunday we bid farewell to our shabbat guests. All three of our sons and their families (combined, that yields 19 children) came to Modi’in to take part in the bat and bar mitzvah celebration of our older daughter’s children, the oldest of our boy/girl twin grandchildren. It was a fabulous shabbat. Our daughter and her husband set up their garden to accommodate feeding the assembled masses of people and that included putting in lighting for Shabbat evening and making sure there was adequate shade for shabbat during the day. Aside from three older boys who stayed with friends of ours, we had everyone in our family who was visiting staying at our house and amazingly enough, we were able to give everyone a soft place to sleep.

The garden looked lovely, the food was good, the singing was beautiful, and having a shabbat with the whole family in a place where the noise did not reverberate was amazing. After all, when you have more than 25 children, most of them 12 and under, there is some noise.

We were very proud of both Matan and Lilach for their accomplishments and for being terrific young people. Lilach did research on how women feel about lighting shabbat candles and together with her mother, wrote a book that also contains pictures of candles and pictures of her family. It is fabulous! Matan read his haftarah beautifully. Kol HaKavod to both of them.

Sunday morning we took our car in for its annual test. Talk about nerves! The day we were at the doctor, we had the car serviced at the Toyota dealer in preparation for the test. On Sunday we took our registration (fee paid at the post office) and our compulsory insurance card (fee paid at the post office) and went off to Lod to have the car inspected. At the end of the inspection process the woman who I paid for the inspection said that there was a problem and if I wanted to know what it was I could ask the inspector. I went to ask the inspector. He said, “do you want to become a car mechanic?” I said that I only wanted to know what was wrong with the car. He said, “I can give you the name of a school that teaches you to be a car mechanic.” When I returned to my husband who was having a new back license plate made for the car (the reflective qualities had diminished over the last 11 years) the man waiting on him asked me why I was upset. I repeated what the inspector had told me. He said, “Come with me to my boss.” I didn’t go. There were two reasons. 1. I am really bad at remembering faces and can’t be sure which of the men it was who said it and 2. I didn’t think it was wise to lodge a complaint against someone who could make sure we failed the inspection again when we returned from getting the car repaired.

We decided to take the car to a nearby garage. The man there looked at the car and told us that we actually didn’t have a problem. A little oil in one place made it look as if we had a leak, but we didn’t. That cost us 100 sheqels. Then we went back to the inspection station.

We waited in the shorter line and then they began to do the inspection. The man who made us the license plate came over and told them that we were fine and so they let us go through. We paid an additional 66 sheqels for a retest, but in the end, it was done. We have a year until the next test. It will take that long for me to feel relaxed again.

And this week… I am working on the information packet on the June tour (information about the locations we will be visiting) and of course preparing for a fabulous trip to BARCELONA with my older daughter!

*to understand the reference, you will have to see an amazing act of unparalleled talent performed my members of my family.

Families and honesty

As if I really have to tell you…

The basis of any close loving relationship is honesty. Family members should know that they can count on each other to tell the truth. Children must be able to trust their parents in order for them to feel secure. One way that parents can teach this is to let the children know that even if it means getting into trouble with mom and dad, it is always better to tell the truth. Sometimes we would explain it to our children like this: Suppose I told you that if you act nicely now I will give you ice cream after dinner and then after dinner I say I didn’t really mean it, how would you act the next time I promised a reward? How would it feel if you couldn’t trust me?

My own children were, by and large, pretty honest growing up. I am certain there were some lies and deceptions, but if so, they were not of consequence. I knew I could count on them to tell me the truth and they knew they could count on me to take them seriously.

In fact, once we had a babysitter that one of my children didn’t like. The child asked me not to have that babysitter again, but wouldn’t tell me why– and I did not call that babysitter again. Only months later did I learn the reason, and it was good that the sitter did not return. Similarly, when there was a problem at school, I always asked the child first to tell me what had happened. I always got a straight story and I always advocated for my children when appropriate.

When our oldest son left for college in Israel, we all still were living in the US. Before he left, he asked me to promise to let him know if anything happened to anyone in the family– illness or other important things he should know. I told him that I would because I knew that if I didn’t assure him that he would know, he could be in a constant state of tension- wondering if everything is OK at home. After all, back then, before mobile telephones and before the university dorms even had hall telephones in them, communications consisted of letters that took between 5 and 10 days to arrive from the US. But it was only because he knew that he could trust me that my answer was reassuring.

Some families are not honest about things like illnesses and other unpleasant information because they want to protect either themselves or others. That can create big problems.

Once we knew a family where a somewhat distant family member died suddenly at 92 years of age. Members of the family decided not to tell one of the older people to spare her feelings. However, a few weeks later there was a wedding to which both would have been invited. How to explain the absence of the deceased family member? Their solution : a trip to Europe. In our family, from then on, “going to Europe” took on a sinister connotation.

In my own family, my mother hid information about my father’s illness that was essential to my sister’s and my health. My mother hid her own illness from her friends, many of whom were like sisters to her. It robbed them of their ability to support her and it robbed her of the support they could have provided.

Bad news is hard to share, but secrets and lies separate people and doing that at a time when love and support are needed is simply a very bad choice.

Avital’s Bat Mitzvah

I have had a request to talk a little about the simcha that we celebrated a little over a week ago. Avital, the second daughter and third child of my oldest son, is a very special young lady. From the time she was a baby, it was easy to see that she would be quick and clever and have a great sense of humor. She is able to be serious and study hard and achieve and she is able to stop and enjoy life. She has a wonderful smile and in infectious giggle. Here is a formal picture of Avital.

Avital

Avital

And below is the way we usually see Avital– with her glasses on and raptly attentive to what’s going on around her.

Avital

Avital

Here she is with her siblings:

Left to right: Elihu, Tzvi, Avital, Amiel, Elisheva, Dina

Left to right: Elihu, Tzvi, Avital, Amiel, Elisheva, Dina

In addition to her siblings, she celebrated with her father and mother and both sets of grandparents and lots of lots of cousins. It was a very happy evening that we all will remember.

We all wish her a life filled with wonder. She should know great happiness, do things that are meaningful, give and receive love, and be blessed with a long, healthy life.

Mazal tov, Avital! We love you.

A Fictional Tale

Remember all those word problems we had to figure out in school? John is twice as old as his sister Mary will be when John’s younger brother, Christopher has his bar mitzvah- how old is his mother? OK, John and Mary are not likely to have a brother who is having a a bar mitzvah, much less “Christopher” but that’s beside the point. It’s also a lot easier than the word problem I’ve been trying to solve in the last 24 hours.

Let’s say a fictional woman has 5 fictional children. Two of them live within walking distance and the others live less than an hour’s drive away. (I’m giving you irrelevant information, akin to the names above, but you have to figure out which information *is* relevant– you will be tested on this.) Now let’s say that there’s a fictional holiday coming up at the beginning of next week (end of this week for John, Mary, and Christopher). For this fictional holiday, this fictional woman has been inviting all of her fictional children and her fictional grandchildren (an ever-increasing number) for the last, let’s see, maybe 10 years. At first, they would meet in the morning to hear the (fictional) megilla. Then, after a few years (maybe 7 or so), they would meet in the evening. Bagels and lox would have been a component of this fictional adventure. OK, so now you have the fictional history up to a couple of weeks ago.

At that time the fictional woman wrote an email to all five of the children suggesting they meet in the morning since the evening was after shabbat and therefore it would of necessity start late and the grandchildren would be tired etc. No one seemed to object. Let’s call the fictional children living close by the fictional woman A, B, & C (yes, I am aware I had said two lived close by; A, B, & C are the names of all three of the two of them, but that’s another story). A,B, & C all were fine with the plan. Let’s call the three who live within an hour’s driving distance X, Y, & Z (this fictional woman was not very creative at name-giving. Poor children… imagine the looks they got in school when they introduced themselves. I’ll bet though, no teacher asked them what they were called “for short.”)

The first sign of trouble was when X said, “Remember, we must leave by 9:30 a.m.” Not that it was trouble, but combined with the next statement, it presented problems. It was when Y said “It’s unrealistic to think that we can get there before 9:30 a.m.” What to do? One is arriving when the other is leaving and the whole point is for everyone to be there at the same time. It became a problem especially since the fictional woman does not want to upset or hurt any of her fictional children and pretty much is waiting with bated breath to see all of her totally adorable fictional grandchildren in their fabulous (fictional) costumes.

The fictional woman consulted with A,B,C, & Z. There were a number of suggestions including Skyping the X family in, meeting on Monday, buying Y a new alarm clock (threw that one in to fool you– no one actually (or fictionally) said that), etc. The fictional woman tried several different tactics from “Work it out yourselves” to “Let the disinterested parties work it out and we’ll abide by their decision” to “Let’s talk about interests rather than solutions.” At one point X suggested that X & Y work it out over a steak. The fictional woman was pretty sure who would be called upon to pay for the steaks.

No fewer than 32 emails were sent and several telephone calls were made. In the end, the X family sent its chief negotiator to settle the matter, more or less to everyone’s satisfaction.

Stay tuned for the fictional pictures sometime next week.

Tiberias today

Actually, this posting has very little to do with Tiberias. We are traveling up there this afternoon with our son and three of his children. This is the third year in a row that he will be running the marathon there and the third year in a row that we are accompanying him. The marathon is tomorrow morning.

There’s a real excitement about the whole event with athletes from all over Israel and all over the world. Each year there is a good representation of African runners, many of whom come in with amazing times.

Of course, the change of pace is fun and spending quality time with three of the grandchildren is always a treat.

Last year we left under a cloud of worry. Our brand new grandson had just been identified as having a health problem and we were uncertain as to what would happen. Now, a day after his first birthday, I am happy to report that he is a healthy, cuddly, adorable child whose development has been completely normal.

So today we leave with happy anticipation!

(And we may have some other exciting events in our future… more about that when things are definite.)

Savta, Grandma, Bubby, Nana

If new parents have a complaint “no one prepared me for parenthood” and parents of newly married children realize there is no road map to being a mother/father-in-law, there is another path that is far more uncharted. How does one be a grandparent?

You see, most people have been around new babies. They have watched friends or siblings or cousins be new parents. They observe comforting techniques, clever holds, and parent-initiated play. But being a parent-in-law and being a grandparent are far harder skills to learn.

We may have learned that in-laws were outlaws. Comedians told us that mixed feelings were what happened when you saw your mother-in-law driving off a cliff in your new Cadillac. Our own parents may have complained of in-laws’ meddling or of their disinterest. It seems that very few families hit a good balance.

But perhaps, even more problematic is how to define ourselves in the roles of grandparents. For many of us, our own grandparents seemed ancient when we were young, and seeing them as people separate from their grandparent role was so very difficult. They were obviously created only for our comfort, the real purveyors of unconditional positive regard.

At first, it’s not that hard. We coo and we smile and we hold and rock the infants. They are so lovable. I never really understood the word “delicious” until I looked at my first grandchild and now the youngest is just as delicious. But what do we do as they grow older?

Early on I decided that I was not into buying their love. First of all, Israeli homes are small. Secondly, my children buy their children everything they need and much of what they want. They lack for nothing. I didn’t want my grandchildren to look forward to my visits as a gift extravaganza. I also didn’t want to force hugs or kisses on them, as much as they were so very appealing. I remember as a child feeling smothered in my grandmother’s ample bosom. I didn’t want my grandchildren to feel that.

So how do we build healthy relationships with them? How do we let these precious young people know that we love them?

I decided that my home should have interesting things for the children to do when they come. Boxes of Legos, wooden blocks, small cars, little plastic people, and hand puppets are available. We have checkers and chess and playing cards. We have childrens’ videos and books. We sometimes show them home videos of interesting places we’ve been. We placed in the garden little figures in both ceramic and plastic of animals and gnomes that the children enjoy identifying, visiting, and often moving around from one place to another in the garden. Some of the figures are on the ground, some are hanging from trees, and one gorilla is climbing up a large pottery urn. As the seasonal fruits ripen on our trees and vines, together we pick plums, pomegranates, clementines, and lemons. We harvest grapes. We are growing kumquats and in another couple of years, when the fruit may be eaten, they will join the cycle. And we usually have an ample supply of pretzels and chocolate milk. In fact, when the children visit, often they home in on the chocolate milk as if it is a ritual. Of course the other thing we have done is the special trips that by now we have taken 7 of the grandchildren on.

We, of course, talk with them, listen to them, tell them stories about when their parents were young and tell them of our own adventures.

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren 1955


My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973

My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973


My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

What do you/your parents do as grandparents to foster close relationships with your/their grandchildren?

Yom Kippur

It seems a bit absurd to write about how Yom Kippur was for me this year, yet I cannot help but write.  As a child, I only remember this about Yom Kippur:  My parents would buy tickets for services.  In those years, the synagogue was still small and there was not enough room inside for everyone who wanted high holiday tickets, so they would erect a huge tent that seated maybe 200 people, maybe more, and my parents would attend good chunks of the service leaving us outside to our own devices.  I didn’t want to enter because I didn’t understand anything anyway and inside the tent, it was invariably boiling hot.

Late in the afternoon, my parents and I would ride about a half hour to my grandparents’ synagogue and arrive just in time for Neila, the last service of the day.  My mother would walk with us up the stairs of the synagogue into the women’s section.  The women’s section was populated with women of my grandmother’s age, all elderly (in their 50’s!) immigrant women who spoke with heavy Eastern European accents.  My grandmother was always really happy to see us when we showed up.  My cousins and their mothers too would arrive and always there was discussion as to which of the huge flower arrangements my mother and her siblings had bought for the synagogue in honor of their mother.

After the service, we would return to my grandparents’ home with the flowers.  They always consisted of  a large percentage of chrysanthemums and the smell of chrysanthemums usually reminds me of my grandmother.

I am now older than my grandmother ever was.

I am lucky enough to be living in Israel where on Yom Kippur, the entire country stops.  There are no Israeli television channels broadcasting and no radio.  Aside from one police car, I saw no cars on the roads.  In the evening, the park was filled with adults and children.  It is amazing!

This year, at services in our bursting-at-the-seams synagogue, I was privileged to have 16 of my grandchildren.  I pretty much was bursting with happiness seeing all of their beautiful faces.  The older ones, serious about their prayers, remained inside for large parts of the services and some, notably, for all of them.  The younger children, happily wandered in and out.  The youngest were held in their mothers’ or fathers’ or siblings’ arms.  The language we prayed in was the language they live.  The synagogue held familiar people.  The melodies were ones the older children had sung many times before.

And the service…  I don’t think it was my imagination.  Our congregation has been going  for about 13 years.  I think it has come of age.  The singing of large parts of the service was no less than inspiring.  Just as we repented in group fashion as one people, we sang in one voice and if the heavens were open, I can’t imagine more sincere petitions or more beautiful sounds of praise entering the holy gates.

The family, unretouched, missing three children

The family, unretouched, missing three children

Missing: Amiel Michelson, Elazar Michelson, Shlomo Goodman

May all of you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

Back from Bulgaria

We are back, tired and happy, from our vacation to Bulgaria. The purpose was a change of pace– to get away from it all, and we did. We didn’t see very much of Bulgaria and we didn’t learn very much about the people, but we did have a nice time. I couldn’t help but compare it to the type of tours we provide at Shai Bar Ilan— where we give our travelers the history, culture, folkways, legends, customs– the richness of the people we visit and we fill every minute with amazing experiences. This was not that type of trip.

Our first full day it rained. We traveled to Balchik where we visited the palace of the Romanian Queen, Marie, and the gardens that surround it. Her unpretentious home was built on a hillside by the Black Sea. It had a tower, but aside from its location on a bluff by the sea, it was not very noteworthy.

Palace of Queen Marie of Romania

Palace of Queen Marie of Romania

Romania extended into Bulgaria at the time she ruled and Marie so loved Balchik that in 1921 she decided to have her summer palace built there. She called the complex she had built Tenha Yuva, or the Quiet Nest. When she died, in accordance with her will her heart was buried there until 1940 when it was reclaimed and reburied in Romania.

Adjoining her palace are lovely gardens. She was the first monarch to declare herself of the Bahai faith and her gardens are reminiscent of the Bahai gardens in Haifa. Here are two pictures:

Garden in Balchik

Garden in Balchik

Queen Marie's Garden, Balchik

Queen Marie's Garden, Balchik

Over to the left of the garden was a garden of cacti. I wanted to photograph them too, but I was not thinking too clearly and tried to get there by walking across a cement drainage ditch. The problem wasn’t the water; it was the algae that were growing in it that were very slippery. As I lost my balance and fell hitting one- two – three parts of my body, another woman tried to help me and she too fell. Neither of us could get up because there was nothing to hold onto and I was pretty sure that I would be there until the sun came out and dried the place up in a few days or longer. Fortunately a very brave and apparently very strong man appeared out of nowhere and was able to help both of us onto our feet. We were bruised and shaken, but otherwise just wet. The pictures of the cacti? … well, I think I would have done better had I thought of this

More Bulgarian adventures next time…

Pomegranates 2

I had so many lovely comments about the pomegranates that I was stunned. A few people commented that they had never seen what they look like growing on a tree. Since we harvested only some of them, I have included some pictures of the fruit laden tree in our garden.

Here is a view of the garden:

A view of the garden

A view of the garden

When we bought our house, I never realized how much pleasure I would get from that garden. We have only a small patch of grass, but yesterday it served as a base for the inflatable swimming pool I bought before I moved into the house. Yesterday was the first time I used it. Kinneret, 2 years old, enjoyed playing in the pool, emptying water from cup to cup and having my husband and me and her pouring the cups of water on her back, her head, and her chest. She giggled and laughed and splashed. It was idyllic– and it took place in the shade of the pomegranate tree.

The tree arching over the path

The tree arching over the path

And here are a couple of the growing pomegranates

Still ripening

Still ripening