Monday, February 26, 2007

Be Happy It's Adar

This is the month of Adar. For those not in the know, it means that Purim is rapidly approaching. Purim is the story of the wicked Haman who sought to destroy the Jews (it's always tales of destroying the Jews) and was stopped by the beateous (of course) Queen Esther, aided by her Cousin Mordechai (but it's a close relationship...), and only inadvertently assisted by the buffoonish King Achash'vey'rosh, who really is a party animal and not interested in his kingdom but is helped to see the light by the aforementioned Queen Esther - she having been made queen after he deposed the previous Queen Vashti. The Jews are given the right to fight back against Haman's decree to kill them off. They are victorious and in the city of Shushan there is happiness and celebration. Celebration in Jewish terms means food of course and in this case, one is supposed to drink until they don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai in the story.

Israelis like Purim. They really like Purim. At the beginning of the Jewish month of Adar, they begin the celebration. Stores open selling costumes (you're supposed to dress up and party) and other silly party paraphernalia from feather boas to silly hats to prank gifts and gags. Akiva came home last week on 2 separate occasions with indications of having had his face painted in school. The boys told of other celebratory shenanigans that they encountered during their respective days at school and ulpan. Parties are scheduled and plans made for Purim day. Here in J'lem, we are doubly blessed. We get to celebrate 2x. Basically, Purim is celebrated country wide on Sunday BUT because J'lem is a walled city - even though most don't live within the walls, J'lemites celebrate a day later on what is called Shushan Purim (the day that the Shushanites celebrated in Persia because the fighting took longer in Shushan and Shushan was a walled city - get that? whew).

Today, the big boys and I went downtown to look at Purim paraphernalia. We made some choices and then headed back to Emek Refaim (after a long stop at a local piano store but again, Natan wasn't knocked out by any of the pianos but I like the owner, who makes excellent turkish coffee each time I've gone by) for Natan's piano lesson. Gabe and I had hot chocolate (really hot choc, none of this powdered stuff for us) and a machiato respectively while waiting for Natan. Pleasantly souped up by all this caffeine, I went and picked up Natan (Gabe headed home on his own) and we walked home, stopping by a store on Derekh Beit Lehem for some gifts for my upcoming trip (assuming there's no Gen'l Strike on Wed and I actually get out of Dodge on Thurs but that's a separate problem). Hunger loomed for Natan. Our luck was with us and we stopped by Felafel Ovad (best local shack in the 'hood) for a sandwich. I wasn't eating, just picking. Natan ordered felafel with all the fixings and we stood waiting while our felafel was freshly fried. We discussed the name of the special spring operated felafel shaping tool that our guy was using but for the life of me I can't remember the name of it anymore (either could he, his cohort knew what it was called) and we enjoyed the dance of his hands as they shaped the little guys and dropped them into the sizzling oil. The 2 counter guys were in a very good mood and I noted they were pouring some wine and toasting each other. Why? Well, Guy 1 tells me that he's having a wine tasting ever since the month started. He's determining what to drink at his Purim Seudah/Festive Meal, next week. He pours for me. I taste and tell him that it's lovely and it was, but it was also rainy and cold and anything vaguely warming would have worked for me. He tells me about the winery and lets me know that if I come by tomorrow, he'll have, please g-d he adds, 24 bottles that he'll be selling at discount. I tell him that I'll send Ira for a tasting as he likes a good red as well (it was a cab blend). He makes up Natan's felafel - it's a work of art; a smear of humous, a smear of garlic spread, dab of hot sauce, a few felafel balls at the base, mid level of chopped salad and pickles and fried eggplant, more felafel, upper level of pickled onions, cabbage and chips (french fries), blob of tahini and you're good to go. Natan scarfs it down as I pay and he gives me a plastic cup of wine, covered in foil to bring home (in the rain) for Ira. Only in Israel. Only during the month of Adar.

Beer Man Here

Walking home from shul with Alan Abbey from Moreshet Avraham - Conservative shul in East Talpiyot. We went because Henoch's were staying right there and coming for lunch and why walk forever to other locations as we all did the night before (Shira Hadasha, dinner in the Baka area - Henoch's at Alan and Lisa and us at Nir-David's). Alan and I were talking about beer. Turns out that he loves beer, in addition to baseball and scotch. This is not a bad combination in a person and he is a very likeable guy, as is his wife, Cheryl. Of course, Jess knows them, they are both fellow writers. I had found an article about a brewer he had featured a few months earlier. Not just any brewer, the first microbrewer here in Israel (it's a developing area). Of course, he knows the guy, a David Cohen who used to live in Park Slope (wife, Sue) and is friends with Alan and Lisa. I had already established email contact with his wife and was in the process of getting in touch with David. Alan had just been out drinking David's beer, Dancing Camel, the other night at a bar in town.

Yesterday, finally spoke to the beer man. You could tell right off the bat that this man lives, sleeps and thinks beer. He's been in Israel for 3 1/2 years and right away planned his retirement from accounting in order to take up beer making. He's still doing a bit of accounting as he doesn't imagine he'll clear a profit for some time. The beer's been in process since last year, when he opened the brewery but his first beer was only released this past August. Even so, he's gotten some good press and his beer is being poured at a variety of good bars in Tel Aviv and in other parts of the country.

He has a special etrog beer coming out. Yes, it's Sukkot influenced but as David says, it takes a few months to make the beer so we'll enjoy it in the spring. As well, they have a special Purim release coming out - high alcohol content in an Ice Beer (I learned all about the first Ice Beers, ask me if you are really interested), for all those really looking to enjoy their Purim. David and I have plans to meet and taste some beers, discuss scotch and why he likes the Red Sox.

Friday Excitement

On the way home from a family Bat Mitzvah at the Binyamina Winery with Natan as our representative child, we got a call from my friend Karyn. "Where are you?" she inquired. We told her. "Don't come near Tzomet Ha'bankim," the corner of Rivka and Derekh Hevron, about 2 min by car from our house. "Why?" we ask. She tells us that they've closed off the streets entirely, due to a suspected terrorist/bomber at the Bank Bin'leumi (Ira's branch). Karyn is stuck at the grocery store a block away - she lives on the other side of Derekh Hevron, on Eyn Gedi, literally 3 minutes on foot but now, she can't get home and it is Friday and there is much to be done. She tells us that the area is closed to all traffic, pedestrian and vehicular on all sides and that there are police officers out in force as well as helicoptors flying overhead.

We turn the news on to find out what's up but we're a few minutes past the hour and catch the latter part of the news and something seems to be about what's happening in J'lem (we're about an hour or so out of town at this point, not far from sister Sarah) but it passes quickly and we're still not sure of the whole story. We call Jess and Daniel, in the car with my parents, and tell them to drive the long way back to their house, through East Talpiyot. Ira is pleased to discover that Jess doesn't immediatly know how to do this, even though he, Ira that is, does. We call Mona and Robert Henoch, our Brooklyn visitors of the week and tell them the same driving information. They'd already run into the traffic tieup on their way to the zoo and instead diverted to a park in a different part of town. Robert, in his military way, absorbs the information unflappably and knows the route we're describing (they're staying in East Talpiyot at friends of ours who rent out an apartment. No we didn't arrange it, they found it themselves and then we realized).

How to pick up the necessary stuff that we still need for Shabbat. It is after two and time's awasting and we've got to pick up some salads and veggies before stores close. Should we drive through town and go to the shuk and then find a way back to the house or venture closer in to Emek Refaim and Baka and hope that things will eventually clear up. We notice that the roadblock on the way out of J'lem into the territories is backed up with traffic and that the soldiers are examining each car as it leaves the city. We hear that they're looking for the drivers and coordinators of the bomb/bomber. We drive and analyze and spend a few minutes trying to find Galei Tzahal, the Army Radio station. I consider calling newphew Benjy who always knows what's up but remember that his Gen'l doesn't handle J'lem.

20 minutes or so later, Karyn calls back. Things have reopened. The story she heard is that a would be bomber entered the bank and somehow backed out of his/her action but until the bomb was detonated and things were cleared up safely, nobody could get through. We breathe a sigh of relief and head for Derekh Beit Lehem and do our shopping and go home.

Everyone talks about the event over Shabbat. Sometime late in the day, or maybe it was after Shabbat, the true story emerges. Can't remember the source. Would be bank robber tried to rob the bank. Just looked on Jpost for the story but can't find it and didn't bother with Ha'aretz. Just a little bit of local excitement.

Friday, February 16, 2007

What's New

Realize that I've been woefully out of touch from a blog persective. I think that I went through a period of feeling that I had nothing new to report. Kids were coping, Ira respiratory health had improved, even if his back had not, I was feeling at odd ends. I have more free time here than I am normally accustomed to and while I was filling it with household related activities of the ordinary sort - shopping, cooking, knitting (when I can), reading (when I don't fall into a narcoleptic haze), working on my hebrew (watching stupid tv while folding laundry), doing some writing, planning our business (which should be launching mid March if we get our act together) - I felt my time had become most unstructured. I have time to do my yoga, get to the pool, drink coffee on occasion with people, shop with Jess at different moments - all things that I did in NYC but with greater difficulty. While I confess to missing some of the things that kept me busy in NYC, I haven't missed them that much - directing my theater group, volunteering on any number of projects for the homeschooling world or the Kane St world or whatever else came my way. Here, I retain my anonymity and consequently, my world has been alot smaller.

Ira went to the US for his 2nd trip and while I was jealous, I was happy that he was going in, if for no other reason than to take care of the buildup of boxes at Iris and Steve's and 409 Pacific. Oh, all sorts of things from Amazon orders of books, to new shoes and whatever else has seemed important to get from the US. Truthfully, you can get everything here. What we are still bringing here are the familiar - certain toiletries (things are much too scented here which I can't stand), shoes for my achy feet (just easier to get what works for me), the odd (real vanilla which I can get here but b'koshi/with difficulty and Danny picked up for me with ease at Costco), the esoteric (ski mags and books), and then there's always stuff like Lands End or whatever else just seems so easy to order off of the internet. Again, shopping's fine here but one likes what one is used to, whether it's clothes or home stuff. Ira shlepped home lots of good stuff and new bottles of scotch (always critical, thanks Meyer) and we enjoyed Hannukah in February.

A few amusing things. An interesting breakfast with a friend last Friday at Pundak Elvis. Shockingly, I'd never noticed this place. One drives down the road from J'lem towards Tel Aviv and gets off at Neve Ilan. Suddenly, a gold statue of The King, and there, in the middle of nowhere, next to a gas station (that's how it always is here, the best places are next to gas stations, like the humus place in Rosh Pina) is this diner. I'm talking diner, just like American diner, silver Airstream look, circa 1965 - red vinyl booths, pics and posters of Elvis all over. I'm feeling good and enjoying the look. We sit in the booth and take our menus and open up and there it is, Shakshuka and the standard Israeli breakfast - eggs, veggies, cheese, bread, eggplant salad (or humus), olives (no diner would ever serve olives) and tahina. I mean, where were the home fries, the pancakes and french toast? Oh well, Israeli's wouldn't really know what to do with a real diner menu. They've never gone into a diner at 3:00am and paged through the 10 page menu, eyeing such delicacies as surf and turf, and veal medalions a la something and burgers of all varieties and types and wondered, can they really produce this at 3:00am? Meaning, I didn't eat all those things (this for my mother reading this post) but I always wanted to order filet mignon just to see. Of course, to me, diners meant really good white tuna sandwiches (hey, we were 4 kids and my father's a rabbi, we ate light tuna) with mayo and bits of celery on rye toast or whole wheat. Diners meant that covered revolving stand with fancy desserts that always looked outrageously exciting to a kid - lemon meringue pie (I'm sure my mother's was better but it didn't look 10 feet tall), layer cakes of all flavors, ideally iced with white icing and flaked coconut, crumb cakes (2 inches of cake and 4 inches of crumb) and those big, really big cookies. Diner breakfasts were a later discovery in life, and one that I've since given up because the smell of bacon really does interfere with my enjoyment of the meal. Still, the feeling of sitting in the booth was a pleasantly familiar one and it was nice to be with my friend, Barbara, and talk about our lives.

Hermon #2. Went back to the Hermon this week. Intended to have a sleepover but talked my way into a voucher for a 3 person ski pass for another day as there was a storm coming in and it was likely that they wouldn't be open the next day and the boys and I just wanted to go home and see Ira who was returning that night and Jess and D were no longer coming up because of the storm. We all lost money because we didn't sleep over but that's life I decided, as we drove home, down from the North, with the Kinneret on our right, glowing in the evening light and the sky striped with pale orange and grey. We headed through the Jordan Vaalley this time, as green as one will find it in Israel, the hills covered in green, wildflowers sprouting everywhere. Israelis are terrible litterers but after a campaign to save the wildflowers, the gov't managed to educate people not to pick wildflowers and consequently they have a vast variety of wildflowers in spring and it's just fabulous to go and see them. Indeed there are books dedicated to flower hikes (I should know, I just bought one, in Hebrew no less) and what time of the year is good for what flora and fauna. We headed down into the desert section of the Beka Valley once it was dark but I looked at the scenery with familiarity despite the darkness - the sandy humps and oddly majestic brown mountains in the distance, with the Dead Sea coming up on our left, to the East. What a drive. We went from J'lem in the morning, heading to 300meters below sea level where it was sunny and warm, to sea level along the Jordan River and then making a steep climb up to Route 98 in the Western Galilee, which we traveled all the way up to the Hermon, where it was intensely foggy. Wild to go through such different terrain and weather conditions on a 3 hour drive. Skiing was blind in the fog - not a 10 in terms of conditions but we persevered. Gabe and I are just itching for our planned ski gig in Northern VT in March, where it just snowed about 3-4 feet in some places this past week. Ah.

Today, celebrated my mother's birthday. Went to sister Sarah's for breakfast. Saw niece, Elisheva, the newest soldier of the crowd, for the first time in months. She looks great and spoke of her job and training, which has been interesting and hard - she's in Doveyr Tzahal - Army Spokespeople. Essentially, the Army's spin doctors. Benjy was there and spoke of being at Dan Halutz's retirement from the army ceremony. Interesting and Idan Reichel, a great Israeli musician who plays Ethiopian influenced music, was there and played. Gabe Wasserman, has been staying by us this week. He's arrived for a few months in Israel, looking for work as a translator and as an aspiring Sofer/Jewish scribe. Looks like he found a place to live in the Jewish Quarter, which is a cool place to live - perhaps not forever but for a few months, certainly. He's off in Ramot, visiting a family and an interesting shul this weekend. Believe it or not, Natan is off for Shabbat on his own, at a family that he met during the play period. A homeschooling family with 7 kids - with 1 Natan's age, as well as many others, from the US. Actually, we were all invited and would have considered it more strongly - they live on a moshav, complete with peacocks and other animals, but Ira's just returned and it was too much for this weekend.

Need to run and take care of last minute Shabbat details. Weather is cloudy and rainy for Shabbat but hopefully, it won't pour tomorrow. Dinner with Jess and Daniel and lunch with Alan and Lisa. I already talked enough of food, so I won't bore your further.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Evaluations, evaluations

Guess what, Akiva is retarded. Perhaps this sounds a bit baldfaced but we've had to go through a couple of evaluations with him since we arrived. The first one was for Bituach L'eumi - Nat'l Soc'l Security programs. The good news is that he received the full 100% disabled designation. This means he receives a monthly stipend from the gov't. Sort of like the program that he was enrolled in back in the US - Medicaid Waiver. We always say that Akiva knows what to ace and what not to ace. Actually, that eval was a simple one. We didn't know that in advance of course, and came armed with bro-in-law, Michael, whom we felt would be the right advocate. He's nice, he's smart, he used to work in the spec'l needs world (you may not have known that) and he speaks Hebrew. Unfortunately, he shlepped for nothing as they wouldn't let him into the room. So, while he cooled his heels outside, ready to jump in and help us, we managed the exam nicely with the lovely doctor who asked different questions and asked Akiva various things. Akiva had one nice moment where he got up and washed his hands with soap - all by himself. We were pleased. Interestingly enough, as a person with Down Syndrome, he gets 50% automatically, unless he proves to need more.

Eval #2 was for Social Services through the local municipality - for lack of a better way to describe it. First there was the visit and intake at the local office, followed by a home visit by a lovely social worker and then, this scheduled eval at their offices - mercifully, right next to Akiva's school. We arrived and waited and availed ourselves of the often available instant coffee and hot choc and tea. You have to live here to have an appreciation for instant coffee, despite the ever avail coffee hafuch, Israelis lived on instant coffee for years in the early period of the state. We waited and let Akiva climb up to see the cars outside - we were alongside a main drag and Akiva is currently wild for viewing cars, in particular off of the pedestrian bridge on Derech Hevron near our house. We saw the doctor. We talked about epilepsy. He said, "did Akiva ever have an MRI or CT for his diagnosis of epilepsy as an infant?" We said, "no, don't think so." He said, "impossible." We said, "He was in a special epilepsy wing and was carefully monitored but don't think he had that done." He begged to differ. Ira said later that he would have remembered because we paid the bills and would have noticed it and it was in the years before Akiva had Medicaid covereage. But really, who remembers. We finished with Dr. #1 and waited for #2. Looked at cars again. #2 was an evaluator. Again, any of you who are familiar with Akiva's testing history know that he's no slamn dunk when it comes to being tested. Of course, now, time has passed. It's almost 10 and it's time for "aruchat esser"/the 10:00 meal, or what they call in Britain "elevenses," except they get up so early around here that one needs another snack by 10. Akiva is hungry. We feed him pretzels, 1/2 a sandwich and he tries to answer what she's asking but as would be with all testing situations, he's not comfortable (she's across the desk), no chair that fits him well and that has his feet touching the bottom, he's been there since 8:45am and he doesn't see why he should draw a circle with a too big pencil and stack boxes, etc. Meanwhile, the cars call and we take a break to look at the cars outside while standing on a window. We all decide to take him across the way to his class - it was great. We walked into the main meeting area - big kids to the right and little to the left. Akiva is greeted by the big kids - Hey, Akiva. Music is playing, children are dancing in that great, spastic way of the retarded. (this is said lovingly.) I especially love the big kids, the teens and young adults, chatting with each other or not, jumping up and down or not and being kids and nobody cares that they're different. I should add here that Akiva is being asked for a playdate by another boy from horseback riding, Nuriel, who I must say has the most beautiful smile I've ever seen. When he smiles, the whole world is happy. He just loves Akiva, talks about Akiva (we're told) and it's tough to understand him (he's got serious speech issues) but he comes over to Akiva, hand outstretched, smile stretched across his face and life is good. Anyway, I'm willing to try a playdate - maybe the park, with cookies (as the father suggested, a lovely Argentinian named Jorge), and we'll wait for some sun which will be shining more and more over the next month or so. I digress. We leave Akiva in class for an hour, awaiting the final appt, with the psychiatrist as they've decided that Akiva needs another diagnosis. We've known this for a while having already analyzed Akiva's autistic tendancies with his geneticist in New York. We now talk with the Soc'l Worker. I must add that Ira and I are starved and tired. I know he's retarded, the evaluator knows he's retarded, the doctor knows he's retarded, we need coffee, lunch and a shot of scotch. I don't need another diagnosis but I'm told it's good for receiving services. Far be it for me to turn down services at this point - no knowing really what they might be as we're told that budgets aren't what they use to be (are they ever?)

The Pysch is ready. Ira walks back across to pick up Akiva, who's not happy to return. We sit in the Psych's office and he ignores most of her questions but does enjoy working on a puzzle for a while. We answer some questions and we all agree that we can call him PDD/Pervasive Dev Delay, in addition to the Down Syndrome. Just for info sake, kids with DS can have autism but Akiva's issues probably stem from his seizure history - or, as the neuro said years ago, the underlying brain abnormality that led to the seizures, or the poisonous medicine that he took for 6 weeks (since even she admits that nobody understands how it works), or the seizures themselves that essentially fried brain cells for 4 mos. That's the bare facts of the matter but hey, Akiva beat the nasty diagnoses that could have really ruined his life and stopped having seizures and really came back to the world that he had left behind when they started. Not bad for 10 mos old.

What might we get? Special therapies, altho we're told there's not much money around for that. But still, that means sensory therapy which would be great for him. We could be eligible for tza'ha'ron/afternoon programs, which would be great as there's a good place in the area that has great special services and therapies and could be a great place to be a few days a week, esp if it means feeling like he's part of a community. The last thing he could be eligible for is nofshon, which I would translate to respite services, potentially 15-20 days that might include overnight stays at nice places in the area that accomodate people with special needs. We could try 1 night, and then maybe 2 nights. This could mean a chance for Ira and I to have a weekend or a few days on our own, and the boys could have a break too, and Akiva could be checked on by Jess or others and it could be ok. We'll see.

The eval team meets and then we get called in, unfortunately with Akiva, to hear the final sum up of what he'll receive. Let's hope they don't evaluate too often. I can't stand these things and no matter how nice everyone is, always feel it's just grueling for the parents, the child and that it never really sees things as they are. As always, it never sees the child for what he really can do in his own environment - that's not entirely true, as their whole purpose, these guys that is, do want to see what they can do to facilitate proper placement and offer support to the family. It's just that I'm so tired of these things. It was good day for our Hebrew though, we both did well altho I confess that I did alot of the talking but Ira also added his parts when he wished.