Sunday, June 16, 2013


With a little less than two weeks remaining, we've started to pack up and are getting ready to go home.

As we begin the process, there are a myriad of emotions that I feel. I am excited to be going home. I miss family, friends and our community and I miss the predictability of our usual lives.

At the same time, I am feeling sad to be leaving Jerusalem. My family has had an amazing time here. We will all miss our new friends and we will miss the unique experience of living in a place where Judaism is everyone's norm.

And, I am feeling overwhelmed. You can imagine how much we have acquired in the past six months. How we are going to fit it in the suitcases that will also be filled with everything we brought we do not yet know. And, as wonderful as it will be for life to go back to normal, we will quickly get caught up with the hustle and bustle of our lives at home, losing the flexibility and fluidity we established in these last six months.

But even with all these emotions, I find that the one closest to the surface is gratitude. I am so grateful for these last six months. We have had so much wonderful family time, allowing for all kinds of adventure and learning together. The fact that we got to spend it in Israel meant that we could experience living a very different kind of Jewish life. We have picked up new traditions and rituals that we are thrilled to continue at home. And,  most importantly, our kids have made a strong connection to Israel and to Israelis. The next time they come, they won't be strangers. This will always feel like their home, too.

I am grateful for my community, for their generosity and immense support. I am grateful that many have contacted me just to say hello and to let me know that I was missed.

I am grateful for my brothers, brother-in-law, and sisters-in-law who went out of their way to help us with the tasks necessary to maintain our lives at home. I am grateful to neighbors who helped to keep an eye on things.

I am grateful for my colleagues, who have shouldered far more than their share to allow me to have this time with my family.

I am grateful for my children's principal and teachers at home, who were so supportive of us taking our kids on this adventure, and who went out of their way to help us with materials and ideas to keep the kids up to date. And, I'm grateful for the parents in our school community who did all they could to reach out to us here to include our kids from a far.

I am grateful for the schools here in Israel, who embraced our kids and made them a part of the community. I am grateful for the ulpan who allowed our kids to jump into their year even though it was going to be hard. I am grateful for the Tali school, who ensured our kids felt loved and that they belong. I am grateful for the gan, the preschool here, whose love, care and warmth for our child has been overwhelming, and rivaled only by the affection we have from and for our Temple preschool at home. And, we are grateful for all the parents who reached out to us, who made special calls to be sure we knew what was happening, and who invited us to their homes so that we wouldn't feel alone. The goodness that you have given to my family is immeasurable.

I am grateful for my parents-in-law, for my sister and brother-in-law, my nieces, aunts, uncle, friends and colleagues who came to visit.

And, I am so grateful for my parents who courageously shared this time with us.

Most of all, I am grateful for my husband whose sense of adventure allowed him to enthusiastically agree that this would be a wonderful opportunity for our family. And, I am grateful for our children who bravely tried every new thing offered, and always found a way to enjoy it.

Finally, I am grateful to all of you who have joined in this experience with me through reading this blog. Thank you for helping me to reflect and to express what this time has meant to me.

I have more blessings in my life than could ever be deserved. Thank you to everyone who made this Sabbatical not only possible, but truly life changing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Getting a Visa in Israel

I wrote a few posts ago that we were having trouble renewing our tourist visas. Thankfully, all of the paperwork came through and we are perfectly legal now. 
Upon entry to Israel, we received a three month tourist visa. We tried to obtain a visa for all six months before we left for Israel, but were assured that it is a simple process that can be done from Israel. In our case, not so simple. 

Ultimately, the big problem was that we didn't know our options. We had two choices: to pay for the extensions on the spot, or take the time to prove that we are Jewish through the Jewish Agency and then the fees would be waived. But, they didn't tell us that. Instead, the Ministry of the Interior clerks looked at us and said that the fact we wanted to stay in Israel for another three months so that our kids could learn Hebrew and build a connection with Israel made no sense whatsoever...unless of course we are Jewish. So, they said, or at least we heard, you don't get your visas until you prove you are Jewish. 

We were clearly upset with this news. Like, yelling upset. One might think that at least one of the three people we spoke with in the office that morning might have mentioned that we could just pay for it and be done. Alas, for some reason, they insisted we prove our Jewish status.

Proof comes in the form of a letter from a rabbi who lives abroad and who can verify one's Jewishness. Unfortunately, a rabbi cannot vouch for herself. Fortunately, the East Bay Federation Mission to Israel was in town. I called Rabbi Chester to find out that he was at Yad Vashem, but was about to leave. With a half hour to get his signature, we quickly printed a letter and raced to the museum before he left Jerusalem. Thanks, Rabbi Chester, for attesting to our Jewishness!
As it turns out, once you prove you are Jewish, you actually have some rights. Everything having to do with visas is much easier. That may be why the Ministry bureaucrats assume that everyone would want to go through the process; especially a rabbi. Truth be told, if we had the option, we might well have chosen the "prove you are Jewish route" anyway. Yet, had we chosen it, we wouldn't have had the stress of thinking we had no way of rectifying our illegal presence in Israel. 

100% Kosher!
In the end, we are certified Jews, and I have learned enough about the process to help others not go crazy with stress when they deal with the Israeli government. Well, at least not on this issue. Below is a link to the document I put together for IRAC. It will be on their website. IRAC, being the social action arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, works on behalf of those for whom obtaining verification of Jewish status can prove difficult. They are fantastic. Though I did not have contact with Nicole Maor, the attorney who handles these cases, until after our process was complete, she was amazingly helpful in putting the puzzle pieces together so we could  understand what happened with our process. One more reason to appreciate the institution and the people who work on behalf of Reform Judaism here in Israel.  
If you know anyone planning an extended to trip to Israel any time soon, please feel free to forward this guideline. Hopefully, it will help reduce the stress.