Thursday, February 17, 2011

Letter from Netanya: Jan's Israeli "Family"

Dear Friends,
While it has been a tumultuous week in this part of the world, I think I will tell you about the people here whom I love. Egypt, Iran, Libya- - - they can all wait until another time.

Let's start with my surrogate family, since my own is so far away in Spokane, WA. The father, Ilan, is Yemenite, 2nd generation. He comes from a huge traditional Yemenite family. I have the pleasure of being with all 100 plus of them both at the end of Pesach, and sometimes also at Purim. Ilan is a contractor, self-employed, fixes everything and works only with the Anglo community here. Plus a couple of embassies.

Karen is from the Zurich area of Switzerland. Raised Lutheran, one day in her teens she asked her father why there were almost no relatives on his side, whereupon her father informed her that he was born German Jewish. At that point Karen went through teen rebellion, ended up deciding to be Jewish, had an Orthodox conversion in Switzerland, then came here, met Ilan and made a new family- - -all Jewish!

They have 4 kids. Eden is almost 13 and is the big brother. He has trophies in Judo but also can change a diaper, cook for and feed his siblings, pick up his little sisters at kindergarten and fill the Daddy role very well. He fights all the time with Omri, almost 11, who plays the Recorder beautifully, snow boards in winter, surf boards in summer and also picks up his baby sitter at nursery school.

The two girls are AnaEl who is 6, and LiYam who is almost 4. Both girls are totally independent, often feed themselves if both parents are working , and are delightfully uninhibited as well as being crackerjacks on the computer.

That's my family. This week I watched the girls while Karen worked the late afternoon (4:00 - 7:00) shift at the travel agency. You haven;t lived until you've heard the Flintstones and Curious George in Hebrew. At least the "abba-dabba-doos" were the same language. But the girls are too creative to watch TV all afternoon. They paint, play computer games and play "Ima (that's LiYam) and Achot Gadol (that's big sister Jan) going to a birthday party. And I usually get in a good game of Monopoly with Omri, vying with him for Jerusalem and Netanya instead of Park Place and Boulevard. I think the train stops are the same.

They aren't especially solid financially, and they aren't the "beautiful people" of Tel Aviv. But I look to them as a snapshot of how a young Israeli family lives, how they think, how they vote, how they see the world.

Mostly they are too busy to think much about the outside world, but they do watch the Israeli news every night, they are center right politically although Ilan voted for Kadima in the last election. Ilan is a typical "secular" Israeli but one who observes Shabbat with singing and respect- - - - -yet won't go into a synagogue because it was forced down his throat at an early age.

Karen is the "keeper" of Judaism in the family. She would love to go to a Masoti synagogue if there were young families there but in the meantime she teaches her children the basics. And the males put on a kippa on Friday night. And there's no bread in the house on Pesach. And on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur Karen brings the boys to our Masorti shul which has no young people, just to make sure her boys have a taste. And I almost forgot. They always come for Purim, when we have a slew of young families from the neighborhood and with grandparents as members.

And what about Shabbat, Saturday? Look, both of them work a half day on Friday. Ilan is a sportsman and cyclist. Shabbat day is for outdoors; hiking, biking, and surfing at the beach in spring and summer. Every Shabbat they go with at least one other family on a picnic and hiking trip. While this is a small country, it has every type of climactic conditions that exist, as those of you who have been here know.

We usually go to the Galilee because it's closer and because there are nice hills and tracks for off road biking. It always seems as if the whole country is sharing the precious land with us because there are always traffic jams coming home.

How could I possibly urge my family to sit in synagogue from 9:30 -11:00? And miss this gorgeous country given to us 3000 years ago.

There are many ways to thank God. Can they be called "secular" ? I don't like those classifications of "religious or secular". There are too many variations.

But when I'm with my "family" in the midst of spring in the Galilee, I wouldn't trade it for the most gorgeous Shabbat morning service in the world. With one exception. To hear and sing with George, now that's another story.

Shabbat Shalom , Jan

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