Oh Chanukah, oh Chanukah, come… on, diaspora mama.

Well here’s a first.

Last week the kids and I were in the kitchen making latkes (that was also a first, and it was kinda obvious). Playing in the background: a Chanukah songs cd my mom had brought from the States. So, you know, some kind of boy’s choir-esque English-Hebrew mix.

We were singing along; when the songs were in Hebrew, we all sang. When they were in English and still familiar, we all sang. And when they were in English but also have identical Hebrew versions, my kids got annoyed.

“What? No!”

(Yes, they have a point.)

Anyway, after a while I had trailed off alone, singing ‘Sivivon Sov Sov Sov…’ Bebe, who was miraculously still tolerating me in the kitchen, suddenly turned to me and loudly stated,

“Lo sham, po!

I looked at her, confused.

And then I realized – she’s right.

That’s the only truth she knows.

 

Koala update: You have an American mom.

I grew up with this perception of the Israeli kids in school being pretty laid back, coming to school with their lunch packed casually in plastic bags. I thought it was really cool… because I was a kid, and anything I didn’t get to do was cool. Even if every year my mom took me to pick out whatever Hello Kitty, Lisa Frank, or My Little Pony lunchbox I wanted.

Fast forward to 2012. My son is three years old and starting his first year of official gan (gan trom trom). It’s the first year I’ll have to pack an ‘aruchat eser’ for him every day. That’s the 10am meal 3-5 year olds eat at gan because they don’t get a lunch until they leave at 2pm. I know right? I wouldn’t make it that long, either.

In so many ways, I’m already ‘that American mom’ since my kid always comes to gan dressed in clothes some of my neighbors go to work in. I make my kid say ‘please’ all the time. And I plan to send him in with peanut butter and jelly at least half the time.

Anyway, despite Koala’s abba bringing it up several times, I forewent the lunchbox option because I knew in my bones he’d only be starting out at the extreme end of Americanness. And any day now, that would start to matter more. And I remembered those chilled out Israeli kids with their plastic bags.

So I sent Koala to his first day with his Emek cheese sandwich and apple slices packed in a plastic Mister Zol bag.

When I went to pick him up, I was thrilled to hear he had a great time (!איזה בוגר). I was less thrilled that he was munching on a piece of sour apple taffy, his teeth highlighter green. But he was happy to show me around, and where he had eaten his aruchat eser.

“One thing though, Ima…” started his ganenet. “It’s not good to keep the lunch in a plastic bag, tied so tight… the food starts to go bad… So maybe tomorrow,” she added reluctantly, “keep it open?”

“Oh, sure…” And then I followed the ganenet to where she was taking his plastic lunch leftovers off the coat rack, where it had hung between a dozen… tiny backpacks.

“So… everyone brought tikim?”

“…yes.” She smiled kindly. Of course they did. And I immediately understood I’d be sending my kid with a backpack tomorrow, too.

As I took Koala’s hand and led him to the car, my mind wandered to the fact that, despite  my ability to be adaptable and flexible – after all, I attribute my aliyah success to that – despite it, when we get home, the first thing I would do – as a proud American – would be to brush his neon green teeth.

I was never an Israeli child so I’ll likely never get this.

Lag B’Omer. I’m leveling with you: as an adult olah, I will probably never ever understand fully the appeal and utter dismissal for environmental health and safety that is this 33rd day of the counting of the Omer… in Israel.

Until this morning I couldn’t for the life of me remember what we Americanos did as kids in school on Lag Ba’Omer. It’s like the memories just weren’t important enough to hold on to. Maybe that’s sad in itself. But after being reminded, it flooded back: the whole school going to a big nature reserve nearby, to sprawl out with packed lunches, frisbees, kickballs, hula hoops, general running around and being kids enjoying the grass, trees, blue skies… Turning it into some kind of Jewishly-oriented environmental appreciation day.

FYI, I have some fond memories and a healthy dose of reality in remembering my rabbis and Lakewood-y teachers getting down with nature.

Here, perhaps it’s more memorable – as the kids seem to have a blast – but at what cost? Why does everyone need to make their own bonfires? Couldn’t it be communal? Why must we do it at all? Why isn’t better fire safety taught? Where’s the environmental appreciation in burning anything you can find and watching your yishuv from under a smoky haze?

Why is it a day off from school instead of a learning opportunity? Couldn’t our kids be brought to local nature reserves? Gather inside a cave, simulate the religious-historical  experience? Hell, learn about cave survival?

Point is, the odd/mystical/violent/depressing background to the holiday may be a lot for kids. Then let’s reframe it. Make it educational… and fun. Not destructive.

Because I gotta say, whatever the religious significance of Lag B’Omer – and it’s been totally lost on me from under this insulting black cloud – it can’t possibly be to disregard our beloved surroundings, the land we’ve yearned for, for so long.

That said… Sigh. Here’s my own little Israeli child enjoying his gan’s celebration the day before.

Another one bites the smoke.