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!

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.

Tzur Hadassah update: small town, big plans, lots of drama

Oh, hi. To say it’s ‘been a while’ is an understatement. Yes, I still live in Tzur Hadassah. Yes, I’m still the mayor (what?).

To say ‘a lot’ has been going on here is an understatement, and also, an overstatement, because let’s face it – we are still a small town and content to sit and wonder if that proposed gym will really open or not (no. UPDATE: yes!).

But there has been much talk on several topics, so here is a breakdown.

1. Tzur Hadassah is being annexed by Jerusalem (!!!?!?!!)

Here I am, all ready to start making protest signs out of ‘saki kaki’. The word spread around a few months ago that an evil plan has been hatched by Jerusalem (ahem, Nir Barkat?) to annex Tzur Hadassah for secular votes. Maybe a potential 3,000 votes to save a city so far gone. Or maybe it is to gain a double-digit arnona tax increase for a city so far gone. It seems laughable. Except that, well, maybe it would happen and it isn’t funny.

(And not so laughable when you see #2 below).

Oh how we get screwed, let me count the ways:

  1. No one will pay for anything we need anymore – like roads between us and Jerusalem – being fixed, never mind being built.
  2. This does zero for us. There are no benefits for us being considered a suburb of Jerusalem. Except maybe some kind of club card.
  3. Seriously, the arnona is high enough. We are suburbia. We moved out of Jerusalem for a reason.
  4. Politically this makes me want to vomit. Politically I have a hard time with being considered Jerusalem.
  5. Who you callin’ a pawn?
  6. Just in case that wasn’t clear, EVERY SINGLE SOUL IN TZUR HADASSAH MOVED AWAY FROM JERUSALEM FOR A REASON.

We were assured by Matte Yehuda Regional Counsel leader Moshe Dadon, our current ‘owner’, that he’d never let that happen. Unless he gets to drop his most expensive asset onto someone to make his numbers look better?

I don’t know who to believe anymore but I know that being flippant about it is totally keeping me calm for the time being.

 2. They’re gonna turn Tzur Hadassah into a GIANT METROPOLIS

This has been a rumor/plan/thorn for a while. Tzur Hadassah: the Modiin of the Jerusalem Hills (with character).

The plan, 15 years ago, was that Tzur Hadassah would eventually be developed as a 20,000-unit mega-town/minor city, eventually reaching 100,000 residents, independent of a regional counsel. Think Beitar Illit and grander.

It keeps being brought up, and subsequently fought, by our Va’ad. Apparently where it stands now is that the town should be no more than 20,000 residents (as opposed to units). It’s even an official national plan – תמ”א 35. This is still hella more than we have now – which is lower single digits.

This was also not in my personal game plan, and for years we have been having a town-level conversation about the small-town character we all bought in to. Unfortunately, we may not have much choice here. The 20,000 residents part is coming into effect.

As our Va’ad head, Shlomo Magnezi, said himself in the bulletin where I got this info (translated) –

“In both cases (#1 and #2), residents of the community and its representatives do not share the decision-making process, which is done in the dark and does not reflect the planning and democratic decision-making.”

3. Another construction site in the forest between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit

There are another 1,000 units planned for the forest area between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit, presumably on the Tzur side of the machsom (checkpoint), presumably yet another corner of the land encroaching on Wadi Fukin, the tiny Arab farming village in the valley between the two towns.

(Note: Tzur Hadassah is within the Green Line).

The Va’ad and environmental groups are very much against this move, but it seems it is already in the works on a national level. Not shocking, and very disappointing.

What I have heard recently is this is slated for a specific demographic – namely, people who served in the army or got their degree – something to that effect. I assume to combat the inevitable outlook that this is just a way for Beitar Illit hopefuls to gain property close enough.

4. Oh, wait – EVEN MORE MESSY HOUSING PLANNED

On top of all that is the 1500-unit plan that’s been fought about for years – the Makbat housing plan west of Mavo Beitar, across the road from Tzur Hadassah. This is completely unorganized, taking into account not traffic needs, nor traffic dangers, nor lack of resources for such a population increase, nor the marketing of these units as idea for, let’s just say, Beitar Illit hopefuls, who are increasingly locked out of the charedi utopia which can’t build fast enough and because of demand, awards applications for housing ownership based on lottery.

In fact, there is a potential housing grab here ripe for conflict. While we’d like to think we can all get along, it seems fairly clear based on, oh, Jerusalem, that this just is not the case in practice. The quiet towns of the ‘mazleg’ region of the Jerusalem Hills operate very well – personally, I’d include Beitar Illit in this equation – we are friendly, we are peaceful, we are live and let live because for the most part, no one is trying to force anyone else into a lifestyle.

5. Advertising of all these units

Maybe this isn’t PC, I don’t know. But I’m not a huge fan of the way new housing units are being advertised – namely within and to the Gush Etsion communities.

I always told people who asked about Tzur Hadassah – if you’re considering between Tzur and a Gush Etsion town, you probably don’t understand the lifestyle and character of Tzur Hadassah.

It’s bad enough a lot of people assume it’s a ‘settlement’ over the Green Line.

We are so so proud to be apolitical, pluralistic, relaxed, laid back, non-denominational, mostly non-religious-in-nature town. We do respect each other, even if some of us don’t agree with others of us sending to the Chabad gan or using the mikva. And others of us understand the source of that disagreement fully, even if we do it.

People here generally don’t want to feel like they can’t be who they are, comfortably, out in the open. People here are generally comfortable being non-inflammatory, being open minded with each other, being totally different on the outside, cherishing particular values on the inside.

Maybe when I say ‘people’ I mean me. And my circle. But that’s the character of this place I cherish. That’s why ads catering to a certain kind of family make me think twice about what’s going on and where we are going.

I know change is a part of life. And change moves at an even faster pace here in Israel. And people need to live somewhere.

But it’s still hard to watch forests go down, even knowing they went down for me to. And it’s hard to know the fate of your town is not in your hands, and not even in your representatives’ hands because the state is controlling it. Especially the demographics, different than your own, to who it markets.

Perhaps the next post I write will be a positive look at how we’ve grown – at our desired pace – and what’s to come for us on a small town-level.

Please, if you have more info, or notice an inaccuracy here, let me know and I will fix. This is based on correspondence by the Va’ad, past conversations with people considered ‘in the know’, and what I’ve seen.

So that controversial Tzur Hadassah mikvah grand opening happened.

So many mixed feelings.

We moved here knowing there was no working mikva, and it may or may not get fixed one day. I’d say the same of most of the people who will end up using the now open-to-public-but-still-waiting-on-a-few-details Tzur Hadassah mikva. And it’s a pretty diverse but reasonable bunch – I’m guessing mostly traditional sephardi women, plenty of dati lights like myself, the dati leumis like much of my shul, and others.

It’s not half of Tzur Hadassah women. It might be a quarter. Very possibly less. I guess we’ll know more later on. But it’s a decent part of our so-called pluralistic community.

And apparently this fact is tearing us apart.

Let’s be honest – whether you believe it’s paranoia or fair concern, the bottom line of what’s causing the mikva drama is the perceived end-game – the mikva is one more (possibly the most powerful) step towards being able to advertise the NINE HUNDRED new units being built as ‘religious-friendly – – sukkot mirpeset-friendly – in a yishuv with dati kindergardens, dati schools, and a mikvah!’ #truestory

(Seriously. I mean, NINE HUNDRED UNITS – if you think – without religion as a factor – the yishuv won’t change in character from nearly doubling, you’re as naive as people who think ‘charediazation’ is not a thing. Shouldn’t we be complaining about nine hundred units as the bigger picture here?)

The end-game being that Tzur Hadassah goes the way of Beit Shemesh. Ramat Eshkol. And so many other once-moderate communities that are now predominantly or completely charedi.

It’s a valid fear, then, since we’ve seen/are seeing it happen. On the other hand, we do live here now, have certain needs, and it would be nice to live in peace in a truly pluralistic yishuv.

Do we pay in advance for a potential problem?

Or do all of us in Tzur Hadassah say, screw it, this is who we are – we accept one another in tolerance – we’re proud of our character – and we will stand strong to continue that way?

That’s what Matte Yehuda regional councilman Moshe Dadon said in his opening ceremony speech.

“I drive on shabbat. My wife drives on shabbat. But she goes to the mikvah.”

Why can’t that be an acceptable form of Jew? Why can’t we keep working to make the middle road the main road?

Fifty-Two Frames: Books

Recently, our town added a completely cute new feature to our bus stops: book shelves!

 

I started to read random books to my kids while killing time after gan. What a lovely example.

Week 21: Books

“A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. An old book smells like ancient Egypt.” – Ray Bradbury 

Fifty-Two Frames: In the beginning

I’m not one for cheesy Zionism, but with my aliyah anniversary passing a week ago, and Ariel Sharon passing yesterday, and my submission down to the wire at 5:45pm, I decided, why not. This would be the week for that.

I had spotted this scene every day and neglected to take a photo until Thursday. It’s the newly empty lot (former forest) where building is planned in Tzur Hadassah.

This wagon is constantly parked there, forest or no forest.

So is the flag.

Week 2: In the beginning

In the beginning… there were rumors. Hopes. Posters. A flag.