Best 6th birthday party idea ever: Go take a hike!

tiyul partyWe brought you superhero explorers… we brought you dinosaur adventures… this year, it was a birthday party on a hike. And this was by far the easiest and best and most all-around enjoyable birthday party that we’ve done so far.

We are fortunate to live within a nature area, and in our town itself, right in the center, is a valley with a hiking path through it and a beautiful park at the top. So we planned that Koala could pick 3-4 friends, and, along with his sisters and parents, do a hike from the bottom – starting with lunch at the horse farm – up to the top, ending with cake at the flower park.

Turns out I prepared more activities than were necessary, which I’m more than happy to not have done. The central focus was on the scavenger hunt and the hike itself. Here’s what I prepped:

  • Equipment: Each kid brought their own hat and empty backpack, and I filled them with a bottle of water, a packet of homemade trail mix, and a magnifying glass. 
  • Scavenger hunt: Everyone got a ‘guide’ with pictures of things to find on the way. Bugs, birds, flowers, other bits and pieces. Each kid also got stickers, so they could mark each item they found. Turns out we found those items, and more, and this was the most engaging bit. 
  • S’mores! Since we weren’t building a fire, and we’re also not in s’more country, I hacked it by bringing tea biscuits, marshmallows, and chocolate spread. I explained to the kids about s’mores, they all stared at me, and stuffed their faces. 
  • Nature tape bracelets: I had actually prepared for two ‘artsy’ projects for the end of the trail, but the ‘rubbing tree bark’ with crayons and paper didn’t really work out. What was cool was the nature tape bracelets – we stuck packing tape around the kids’ wrists, with the sticky side up, and they went around collecting flower pedals, small rocks, dirt, and let’s face it, hilarious forms of garbage, to stick on their ‘bracelet’. 

The best part about a format like this is to leave room for surprises along the way –

I think the keys to this for us were:

  • Keep it small. Realizing over the years my son has a harder time being the center of attention in large groups, letting him choose 3-4 friends created a situation with good chemistry and less pressure. Also, for a hike with two adults, the amount of kids to look after was perfect.
  • Keep it comfortable. Everyone had their own water and trail mix for whenever they needed, and we made plenty of water stops. The s’mores were the biggest stop on the way, and light enough not to ruin the mood for cake at the very end.
  • Keep it simple. I worried we’d speed through the trail and get to the park too quickly, but I must have completely forgotten that kids age 4-6 years old will stop and stare at EVERYTHING. It was a great amount of time to be out.

We had a great time, and came home to no mess in the house (well, except the usual). I highly recommend the same for your own spring/fall babies!

Visiting and storytelling at Har Herzl on Israel’s Memorial Day

A colleague who visits children of friends and neighbors, acquaintances and others at Har Herzl every year invited some of us to join him today on Israeli Memorial Day. I had never been there on Yom HaZicaron itself, so the experience was new.

There’s a lot to see and hear. High school students. Scouts. Foreign students. Next generation soldiers. Career soldiers.

And family, family, and more family.

We’re getting to the point where there aren’t going to be many people left who remember fighting in 1948. Their gravesites are slightly less occupied by visitors.

I had never really given much thought to the last olim pre-independence; they escaped from Hitler’s Europe, came off the boats in 1947, and stepped straight into ‘uniform’. And of course, many many fell in 1948, fighting for the right to freedom they had lacked only a year before:

Below, this Nissim was a runner for the Jewish army, based in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 – locked in and fighting to bridge the sides.

He was show by an enemy sniper, who found a hole in the sandbags – shot right in his own home.

He was also ten years old.

In this pool rest the memories of 140 soldiers who fell to the sea.

And then – this happened.

Mrs. Aharoni comes every year to visit her brother-in-law’s grave. He fell in 1948. She worries about who will visit when she’s gone.

My colleague met her here one year; he had brought his son to show him who came before him in fighting for this land; they asked her for her story. And promised to visit Yehuda Aharoni’s grave every year, so she wouldn’t have to worry that no one would come after her. He started coming ever since.

Last year she didn’t show and he assumed, perhaps, the worst.

As we started walking from the site, we saw a woman being lifted in her wheelchair towards our direction.

Mrs. Aharoni appeared. And my colleague was there. And so were we. So now we’ve heard her story from her.

And we are here, too.

 

No better Israel education than the one from your sabra kids

Things I love about Independence Day season in Israel:

  • Every year – without fail – I manage to learn something new from my kids.
  • This morning, all dressed up for the gan celebration, on the way to the car, my gan-aged kids broke out into song together.
  • I asked them to teach it to me.
  • By the time we got to gan, we were all three singing it together.
  • The song – Eretz Yisrael Sheli Yaffa v’Gam Porachat – was stuck in my head by the time I pulled away from gan.

 ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת 
מילים ולחן: דתיה בן דור

ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת
מי בנה ומי נטע
כולנו ביחד
אני בניתי בית בארץ ישראל
אז יש לנו ארץ
ויש לנו בית בארץ ישראל

ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת
מי בנה ומי נטע
כולנו ביחד
אני נטעתי עץ בארץ ישראל
אז יש לנו ארץ
ויש לנו בית
ויש לנו עץ בארץ ישראל

ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת
מי בנה ומי נטע
כולנו ביחד
אני סללתי כביש בארץ ישראל
אז יש לנו ארץ
ויש לנו בית
ויש לנו עץ
ויש לנו כביש בארץ ישראל

ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת
מי בנה ומי נטע
כולנו ביחד
אני בניתי גשר בארץ ישראל
אז יש לנו ארץ
ויש לנו בית
ויש לנו עץ
ויש לנו כביש
ויש לנו גשר בארץ ישראל

ארץ ישראל שלי יפה וגם פורחת
מי בנה ומי נטע
כולנו ביחד
אני חיברתי שיר בארץ ישראל
אז יש לנו ארץ
ויש לנו בית
ויש לנו עץ
ויש לנו כביש
ויש לנו גשר
ויש לנו שיר על ארץ ישראל

Local Holocaust remembrance in 2015 and beyond

Since becoming a mom, everything has gotten harder to swallow. I don’t read the news as much. Especially local evening news from New York. I can’t stomach certain facts of life. And I’ve distanced myself from my cultural ties with Holocaust education and remembrance.

Which is getting easier to do – less voices, more distance from 1945. In Israel, there is a debate over what it all means for the next generation. Can you really expect a generation born into relative national freedom to identify with this historical chapter?

I pushed myself to come out tonight to Tzur Hadassah’s beit ha’am to listen to a local resident and Terezin survivor tell his story. Reuven Fisherman was born and raised in Denmark. Though the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic is the one place I have visited, I hadn’t known the Danish angle. And I hadn’t heard as personal a telling as I heard here.

And I hadn’t heard an Israeli survivor in a long time. Nor one that lives in my community. And has a lot more in common with me as an oleh than many of my other native neighbors.

Like a lot of other survivors, he hadn’t really started telling his story publicly until relatively recently. He published a book in Danish, which was used in a documentary, which is set for release on May 5, which is the exact date he was liberated from Terezin. The book should be coming out in Hebrew by the end of the year he hopes.

There were local scouts in the audience. There were a few other grade school kids. I wondered if my kids will hear a ניצול שואה telling their story, live, in person. I was in first grade when this was all revealed to me in the open. I guess in Israeli standards, they are not too far off from the live, survivor reveal.

Especially since in Israel, Holocaust education starts in pre-kindergarten.

A day in the life

7:50 Find out about the breaking news from a friend on Whatsapp

8:05 Make sure to give huz and kid #3 a solid goodbye

8:10 Have sinking feeling about letting your kids go for the day

9:45 Pick up kid #2 for speech therapy, feel excited because it’s bonus kid time

10:45 Drop kid #2 off at gan again, sneak a tighter hug in before they open gate

12:20 Find out one of the men killed is your former workmate’s father

12:20-13:30 Wonder how to get through the day while waiting for funeral details

14:20 Get in your ride to the funeral

15:00-15:50 Congregate with other former colleagues, lament the day

15:50-16:50 Tehillim, eulogies, tears, cries, thoughts

17:00 Back to the office

19:40 Arrive home, kids #1 and #2 still awake in your bed, excited to see you

19:50 Cuddles, good nights, tuckings-in

20:00 Kid #1 is still asking questions, making comments, engaging you in conversation, tracing your glasses, wondering aloud, asking for you to stay and answer, pulling you in for a hug, caressing your face,

because he knows, he just knows.

What do Palestinians think this month? A public opinion poll

A friend of mine at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Jerusalem sent me these findings of a new Palestinian public opinion poll (conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, September 25-27, 2014). Coming a month after the end of the latest Gaza war, and a couple months after pondering what war life was like for Gazans, I thought it might be interesting for all of us to take a look:  

Quick summary – one month after the end of the Gaza War:

  • a drop is found in the level of satisfaction with war achievements, in support for Hamas and Ismail Haniyeh, and in support for an armed intifada;
  • but the public still favors Hamas’ “way” over negotiations,
  • and Hamas and Haniyeh are still more popular than Fatah and Mahmud Abbas

A note for anyone who is already revving to roll their eyes: I took a class in college on polls. A whole semester on polls. Which is basically to say how inaccurate, by their very nature, they mostly are. But that there are whole grains of truth. And we shouldn’t throw out information based on what we think ought to have come out from the survey.

Now on to some of the most interesting numbers:

  • Haniyeh would win a majority of votes if elections were held today; that said, don’t be surprised if it happens tomorrow. A majority of 69% wants elections to take place within few to six months from today.
  • I found this unexpected: 29% of the Palestinian public say people in the West Bank can criticize the authority in the West Bank without fear. By contrast, a larger percentage of 35% say people in the Gaza Strip can criticize the authorities in Gaza without fear.
  • Peace process: 53% support the two-state solution and 46% oppose it. A month ago, 49% supported it and 50% opposed it.

Nothing in the following list is surprising, in the sense that Gazans care more about their own lives than West Bank residents care about Gazans’ lives:

  • Percentage of satisfaction with war achievements compared to the human and material losses sustained by the Gaza Strip drops from 59% a month ago to 49% in this poll. 50% [overall] are currently dissatisfied with the achievements. In the Gaza Strip, 59% are dissatisfied with war achievements.  
  • Despite that, an overwhelming majority of 80% supports the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel if the siege and blockade are not ended. Support for launching rockets drops in the Gaza Strip to 72%.
  • A majority of 57% believes that launching rockets from populated areas in the Gaza Strip is justified and 39% say it is unjustified. Among Gazans, belief that it is justified to launch rockets from populated areas drops to 48% while increasing in the West Bank to 62%.
  • And because life is eternally confusing, 57% believe that massive popular demonstrations could contribute to ending the Israeli occupation, while…
  • A larger majority of 81% favors Hamas way of resisting occupation.

And finally: Palestinians – they’re just like us! edition:

  • “Finally, findings show that a majority of the public has not heard about Abbas’ plan to seek a deadline for ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. A majority of those who have heard about it do support it despite the fact that a majority expects the plan to fail.”

There’re more info to check out in the original document. Go for it.

Video marketing: so you *can* teach an old man new tricks

I watched a lot of videos tonight. And they all made me happy. But none so happy as this: Ex-President of Israel (and ex-every other job) Shimon Peres goes job hunting.

I’m extra happy there are subtitles so you can enjoy if you’re not from around here.

Welcome to the wartime TMI challenge

Is there a word for the despair one feels at no longer knowing who or what to believe?

It gets worse with every conflict: social media. A platform initially designed for sharing college memories and life milestones became a place for arresting my sense of truth.

Over the years, I’ve come to follow more and more people with worldviews and backgrounds that drastically differ from mine. I like it; it keeps me centered. It makes me feel just uncomfortable enough to keep on my toes, just insecure enough that I’m constantly sharpening my own truth.

At the beginning of this latest Gaza conflict I ditched traditional news sources, opting for scanning headlines with an occasional click, and instead followed dozens of new people on social media: Gazans, Arabs from around the world, journalists from a spectrum of news sources (mostly based in Gaza), and others. I had already been following extreme right and left wing Israeli voices for years.

Problem #1: It turns out, when you’re reading everything with a grain of salt, you end up absorbing some pretty bad-tasting discomfort.

The discomfort has turned into pain over the last weeks. And its sting gets sharper as I’ve watched a sudden rise in non-political friends fill my Facebook newsfeed with urgent, sensationalist, pleading headline after headline after headline (which I made a policy a couple weeks back to never ever click).

Problem #2: Everyone is sharing the same thing, regurgitating it to the same audience.

And people get fed their own homegrown-grade of bombastic propaganda. There seems to be no place to go to seek facts if you are following remotely. We can’t trust anyone else, so we can only continue to share our own hearsay.

Problem #3: Everything… but everything… sounds like propaganda now.

Every time I open Twitter – which is less often these days – I’m greeted with DEAD CHILDREN and antisemitic cartoons and RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF and NOWHERE TO GO and digit-heavy infographics and HUMAN SHIELDS and so on.

And no matter how much of a basis in truth and experience and fact each piece of content contains, whether you’d tag it ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Gazan’ or ‘pro-human’, the wrapping and the sharing and the repeating ends up downgrading its meaning.

A lot of talking, less listening.

I can only imagine how all this leads to misunderstandings of other realities for people not actively seeking truths outside their own.

Clearly, I asked for it. Maybe I’m listening too hard. And clearly, I live one of many many angles of truth here. So when seeking understanding of other truths, how far do I go? How sick do I make myself in the process? How morally compromised do I become? How depressed do I let it make me? The actions taken to erase my name, the actions taken in my name to save my name, the danger, the sadness, the collateral damage, the short term strategy, the long term goals…

Problem #4: Because each of our experiences is by definition one-of-a-kind, every person reading this will read it differently, to his/her own tune, to his/her own meaning.

Are we ever really hearing each other then?

All I have left to say is… if being a member of a population at war doesn’t enable me to learn anything new, to think harder, I consider myself a failed human.