Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jerusalem Week 3--School Starts

First, the slide show thus far set to Doug Cotler's beautiful "Shir Hamalot."  I also just bought a new camera, because my pictures were getting worse and worse.  That should improve for the next slideshow, whenever that may be.
The new "normal" began today, with all of us attending the schools we will attend through late June.  All of us are in Ulpan, which is intensive Hebrew school  in Hebrew.  Micah and Jonah call it "school-pan," because that's actually what it is.  There is no Math or Social Studies or Current Events--just Hebrew.

School for Micah and Jonah
Micah and Jonah are in a school called "Ulpan for Youth Olim."  Not a fancy name, but it is a school subsidized by the Israeli government to prepare new immigrants to eventually move on to regular schools.  This provides a unique experiment in integration and culture clash, as the students come from America, Russia, Ethiopia, France, and Australia.  They accept tourists, though they have to pay twice as much.  In our case, they made us pay the whole year's fee for only two months, but it's still a bargain--less than $200 per kid.  That's about 3 hours of a private tutor, so we don't care.  It was no easy task finding the Ulpan for them; this was the only school that would accept them!
The boys jumping for joy at their new school.
Micah is in a class of middle schoolers, which just began, so he is comfortable and learning.  Jonah is in a class of 2nd graders that began in the Fall, so he can barely follow.  They initially didn't want to take him, but after they saw our determination and his smile, he was in.  He also has a friend in the class, Benjamin Greyber, son of Camp Ramah Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber, who has been very helpful.  The biggest challenge for both of them is that everything is in cursive, and while they read well in block, this is a whole new ballgame.  Jonah doesn't even write in English cursive yet, but he's adapting as he always does.   We'll see how much conversational Hebrew they learn (so far, the results are not great), but they're so happy to be around other kids and in a routine, it doesn't really matter all that much to us.  It's also less than a 15 minute walk from our house.

Grown Up Ulpan
It wasn't easy to find one for us either that started on our timetable.  The most heavily advertised one is called "Ulpan Or," Ulpan at the speed of light.  But it's mega-expensive and lasts for only 10 days.  We found one for all six weeks, though it only meets for one hour a day.  It is called "Ulpan l'inyan,"  (Ulpan l'Inyan), which means straight to the point.  I'm in Level 3 out of 5, and Karen is in Level 1. Both of us know more words than anyone in our classes, but understanding when Israelis speak is a huge challenge, so we are in the correct levels.  And while we might have preferred more hours per day, this gives us even more time to enjoy Jerusalem as well as take care of the kids.

End of Passover
We had two kinds of Pizza on Emek Refaim Street (Big Apple Pizza and Pizza Sababa) in the hour after Pesach as well as Chametz candy bars.  A pleasure and one day earlier than in the diaspora.  This was the easiest Passover ever!
Israel Museum
This is the most extensive museum in all of Israel.  Great exhibits on ancient Near Eastern History, Jewish life, and the "Shrine of the Book," which contains fragments of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the Aleppo Codex .  We did some advance scouting work and set the kids up on a treasure hunt looking for certain objects (thanks for the suggestion Eric Friedman).  It was a big hit, though we managed to turn a 30 minute walk into a 90 minute walk with one wrong turn.
The Shrine of the Book at the Israel
Museum, which contains parts of
the Dead Sea Scrolls and Aleppo Codex
Shuls of the Week
We went to another neighborhood modern Orthodox synagogue for the 8th day of Pesach, once again just following the people.  This one was called Ezrat Yisrael ("Help of Israel").  It was very similar to the other one, "Har Horeb," except that Karen could see better from this mechitza, and I was given Galila (Torah dresser and roller) rather than Hagbah, and I did a very poor job.  There was no slit in the cover, and it had writing on both sides, so I put it on backwards, and we had to change it, plus there was an extra piece with the word Pesach on it that kept flipping around).  It was still a very nice, enjoyable morning with lots of people davening with Kavanah (intentionality).  The best part was that there were kids playing outside in the courtyard the game called "Chayei Sarah," a sort of Israeli dodgeball, so Micah and Jonah were happy.

On Shabbat we went to Moreshet Yisrael, the "Inheritance of Israel," (, which is the synagogue attached to the Conservative movement/USCJ facility in the center of Jerusalem.  We were welcomed warmly by Rabbi Adam Frank, the brother-in-law of TBA member Debbie Weinstein.  The service feels just like a Conservative synagogue in the U.S.  They use Sim Shalom and Etz Chayim, and give the sermon in English.  We also saw many other people we knew, including Kayla Ship, who is in charge of the congregational Israel trip through Keshet, Rabbi Jerry Epstein, past Executive VP of United Synagogue, Rabbi Danny Schiff, who is a rabbi I have known in both Pittsburgh and Australia and, a man named Yehiel, who used to frequent TBA but now lives in Israel  (he wears white and looks very Chasidic; many of you would recognize him).  I was roped into doing Haftarah, which I don't mind, and it was a very comfortable place to be.  When we arrived 5 minutes after the service started, we were literally the only people in the room besides the person leading and the Rabbi), but the place eventually filled up with regulars (mostly elderly) and Day School groups from Florida and Connecticut.  With all of the visitors, it's virtually a different shul every week.    This was our week, as next week, I think we'll try the more Israeli Conservative synagogue.

Wine of the Week.
This week's Shiraz comes from the Tzuba Winery (Tzuba Winery Story), which is in the Judean Hills West of Jerusalem.  All the other wines so far have come from the Galilee Region, where the majority of Israel's wines are grown and bottled.  It is made on a Kibbutz where they have found the remains of 3000 year old wine presses.  They are not in use today, but the idea that this wine is made in the same place that our ancestors were making wine is a spiritual experience in itself,
The actual wine was not quite as cool as the idea.  It was full-bodied, which I liked, and it was even flavorful (think /black cherryish with a little pepper), but it was a bit syrupy, almost like a Port Wine, and I am not a fan of port wine,  The alcohol content seemed a bit higher than usual, as Karen reported feeling tipsy after just a couple of sips and wanted to go to sleep immediately.

Another great week, and for the next several weeks, we get to experience a "normal" routine.


  1. Looking forward to the better pix!
    When you write about the wine, it would be great to know if it is imported in the USA or not.

  2. Since our daughter, Emily, is also in Israel until summer, It is nice to hear stories from familiar voices. I think Emily and the Rabbi and family were able to get together this past Shabbat.