Monday, May 28, 2007

Natan's Big Adventure

I dropped Natan and Ira off downtown yesterday morning at about 8:30am. I was on my way to Rosh Ha'ayin for a day with Sarah and they were off to find the 'lishkat gee'yoos' or local draft office. They found it and Ira abandoned Natan, our firstborn, to his biggest adventure yet here - the start of his potential initiation into the army. Don't get too worried yet. They have to meet him, talk to him, decide his status physically and such. As well, nothing happens until after he graduates high school and is 18 and even then, there are all sorts of ways that kids defer and do volunteer work for a year or sometimes are offered opps to study in college as a pre-army function and then they go in when they are older. (We've studied the colored brochure and have determined such as this. We've also asked around and spoken to cousins and other kids who've just finished in order to understand some of the process.)

Natan should tell the story but I will relate some of his adventures. First he tried to figure out what the first soldier, who was a mumbler (never good when you're not fluent in the mumbled language) was saying. Eventually, the guy yelled at him that he should enter the first door on the left. Natan did so. He sat down upon seeing other guys and girls around. Then he figured out that he needed to show his teudat zehut (id card) to get the process moving. He did so and received the all important swipe card for the day. He swiped his way through the next few stations - the first interview station (a bit of social history). What does this mean 'you were homeschooled?' This took some time and bureaucratic confusion as Israel is a place that loves certificates and ratings. Natan eventually offered that he'd taken the SAT last year before we left - they liked this and we will send the scores although I'd rather he would have offered to take a GED and send them the scores since all they seemed to care about was something that would suggest that he can finish HS since he can't do a full set of bagruyot (the sort of matric exams that you do here at the end of high school - he's doing some but too hard to do all given language and newness). She tested out his hebrew which Natan said was relatively successful until they got to the dictation section.

Next, the physical exams. Height, weight - all that jazz. When Natan was explained the day by various cousins and extended cousins (Daniel's sisters kids), everyone quickly says, 'and then, you have to drop your pants for the doctor.' As promised, he survived the experience. There was some discussion about his eyesight but we don't really understand it all - just that he has some sort of rating because of his correction (can't be a pilot - oh well).

After that, some sort of test administered on the computer. Sort of a logic and spatial thinking test. Thankfully, one could choose which language to take it in. He took it in Eng and said that the first half was unpleasant but the second was better. He thinks that the Hebrew lang takers had a longer test.

Finally (I think this was the final thing), the big army interview. Natan said this was quite thorough. Your background, family life, sibs and such (Akiva and responsibilities to him - how do you feel about that?), school again (or lack thereof). Army 'what would you do in the army?' Natan, 'I don't really know as I don't know enough about what I can do. I would like to be able to use my English skills as they are good and I like computers and I like to sing (there is an army choir of course).' 'Do you want combat?' Natan, good boy, answered, 'no.' 'If you got combat, how would you feel?' Natan, 'I would make the best of it because it's 3 years and might as well make it work but would prefer not.' Army, 'overal any problems?' Natan, 'when my parents decided to move, I knew it would mean the army an didn't know how I felt about it. I wish that Israel didn't have to have an army but as it does, I am prepared to give service to the country - leet'rom shey'rut la'medinah.'

Here's the kicker. He did it all in Hebrew except for the doctor who spoke to him in Eng and Natan decided that if that's what he wanted...
Natan was supposed to have a soldier who's attached to his school (this, painstakingly arranged by his cousin, Leut. Dena, recently out of the army but this was her job in the army) accompany him and help him thru the day, especially language-wise but he didn't show and as Natan said, 'I would have called Yuval if I really needed him.'

I think that I'm most pleased about that. He was able to understand and be understood and advocate himself and answer pleasantly and honestly how he felt and hopefully they saw him for who he is - a good and responsible lad, who's unsure about the whole thing but reasonably open and positive. And don't think that's so unusual. Many kids feel unsure about the whole thing, even if they've grown up here. Natan was lucky that on Shabbat afternoon, he got some good advice from Eliav and Adin Laufer (Daniel's nephews), about how to handle the day. 'Be positive,' they said, 'don't give one word answers,' and 'tell them a bit about yourself, so they see you're normal, that's what they're looking to see.'

In the end, we don't know Natan's number - meaning, what his physical profile is which does affect where he might end up. Not sure if he was told it and missed it or if he'll find that out later. I guess we'll have to ask around.

That the whole thing is wierd and disturbing is a separate matter. That it might make sense to do something in your life between high achool and college is a good idea, I think. That it needs to be something like this? A different problem entirely. That the world is crazy, that the politics here are lunatic, that Gaza is imploding and nothing else seems that great - all true. Do I want my kid out in that mess? Not particularly. Don't want my kid to be fodder for the next incompetent war that the gov't decides to wage as they did last summer. Don't want my kid to be lost to a kidnapping in Lebanon or Gaza. That's a pain that I can't imagine.

I definitely have a more cynical attitude to the whole army thing then my father that is, but you can't deny the fact that these overgrown children are sacrificing alot in order to do this and that is something to think about. Will try not to think about it too much over the next year or so.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hello out there

I know it's been ages since I've blogged ...
Lunch today was an 'Ashkenazic picnic,' or as Iris and Steve Katzner would put it, 'Jewish camping'. That is, first we decided to have a picnic. It was Jessica's idea and it was in order to remove the onus of more cooking and preparing after having just cooked and prepared for Shavuot. I agreed with alacrity. We'd all show up with some salads and stuff in tow and there we'd have it a meal. Ten minutes later, Jess called back. It will be too hot to picnic - the hunt for a suitably shady spot that wasn't too far a walking distance for all included - Jess and Daniel, Miriam and Peretz and kids (Daniel's sister and family), Elise Bernhardt (visiting dignitary from Bklyn) and Lisa and Alan and small children. We discuss various places to picnic and I suggest 'picnicking' on our mirpeset/porch, which is generally shady in the afternoon. This idea is immediately seized upon as the perfect idea. Noa, Miriam and Peretz's youngest, decides to actually have a picnic with friends on real grass and doesn't join us and the rest come to eat on plastic by us. Too many desserts but altogether a good meal.

Daniel told a good story today. He just finished the month or 'shloshim' - the 30 days of initial morning after the death of his father, Leo. He's been looking kind of 'bivak'sin,' or unkempt, that is, in need of a haircut and beard trim. He read that while he's allowed to get a cut after shloshim, he should wait until someone tells him that he should get a cut. He bumps into his regular haircutter in the neighborhood and proceeds to tell him this story. Eitan, the haircutter, said, "Daniel, you must get a haircut immediately." Daniel, wanting to make sure he hasn't too overstretched his bounds, responds that he really has to mean it. Eitan answers, "And I've made you an appointment for tomorrow at 8:30am." Daniel thanks Eitan and arrives the following day for his much anticipated haircut. Eitan cuts his hair and when Daniel goes to pay him, refuses him and said, "I invited you...we're a nation of customs." This from the secular hairdresser. One of those Israeli moments.

Watched Gabe play baseball on his team on Friday. Drove a bunch of boys out to Givat Zeev, a bit outside Jerusalem, sat in the blazing sun for 2, almost 3 hours, reading, watching, commenting (I did take on break to walk into town and get a cold drink and find a place to go the bathroom) and enjoying the chitchat in Hebrew and English between the boys as they alternately supported and occasionally berated each other, in good humored fashion, throughout the afternoon.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lag Ba'omer Prep

Urchins walking through the neighborhood, pushing grocery wagons laden with debris, bits of wood probably illegally purveyed. Heard in the elevator of Super Sol Deal today - "Yeah, the kids take the wagons and turn them over and use it for mangal/barbecue." Kids arriving in the Super Sol to buy potatoes (traditionally roasted and eaten) and marshmallows (later addition) and whatever else they need for making a bonfire, staying up all night (you need blankets and sleeping bags) and not going hungry of course.

On Yom Ha'atzmaut, the country smells of mangal, on Lag Ba'omer, of smoke. Natan, much to his surprise, has been invited to a bonfire locally, with his group of lady friends (there are guys too). One girl asked him if he knew any hot guys and could he bring some along? Natan invited his friend, Natan from school but unclear if he's coming. Gabe will hang with cousin Noam and we'll check out some of the local action together and Elisheva, who's off for the evening will come to hang out and eat ice cream.

I'll give the full report when everyone wakes up on Sunday, which is of course a day off from school, except for Akiva.

Acid Rain

It's not acid rain but it's dirty rain. First, the weather gets heavy feeling. Sort of humid but not quite because there's this dryness to the air, an intense heaviness mixed with a sense of dirt particles floating in front of you. The sky is grey with a hint of yellow. You drink and drink and drink and your eyes are dry and your nose is dry and your skin feels papery dry. It's May, so you're not expecting rain but then it comes, 3 minutes or in my case, on the way down the hill from Jerusalem, it pours for about 5-7 minutes, big raindrops, that leave the windowshields and the car and my nice, clean laundry drying out on the mirpeset, sort of spotted with brown dirt.

Then it dries up in a minute, the earth takes a quick drink, and all returns to normal dry state - except you need to go to the car wash.