Sunday, September 26, 2010

All Roads Lead to Jerusalem

Since I’ve never been to Israel before the moment we landed nearly a month ago, each trip we take is brand new, exciting and emotional. Even my first trip to IKEA was pretty exhilarating. I mean, it was my first trip to IKEA and my first trip to Netanya. Okay okay, maybe comparing IKEA and Jerusalem is a bit exaggerated…alright maybe even a bit sacrilege, but you get the point.

I’ve been looking forward to going to Jerusalem since…well, since I was a little girl in Sunday school actually. It has only existed in my Bible and in the news. This city, one I’ve never stepped foot in, means so much to me in ways I could never explain. An odd feeling, but I’m certain I'm not isolated in that sentiment. Only a city so rich in history, so sacred to many, so rife with conflict could engender such emotion.

DH, his brothers and I got on the road early towards Jerusalem. Not that I minded getting up early though, because I couldn’t sleep anyway. We made a stop at Latrun, a memorial to the Israeli Armed Corps. That’s what I get for sightseeing with three boys. After the boys got their fill of playing with tanks...that’s right ladies, they never grow out of it…we finally get back on the road to Jerusalem.

Boys and their toys.

Jerusalem is nestled in the Judean Hills and the flat coastal land gently climbs higher as we make our way east near the Holy City. We park in the uber luxurious Mamilla Mall. Even the Mamilla Mall, with its Rolex store and 5-star hotel, hides tiny reminders of its place in history. Mamilla was a Jewish/Arab business district that was nearly destroyed and was literally a no-man’s land after the 1948 War of Independence. Blue numbers are etched into the bricks of some buildings. These numbers were carefully marked during reconstruction so that each brick could go back to its rightful place.
The Walls of the Old City from Mamilla.

We entered the walls of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and walked through the Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter towards The Kotel, or the Western Wall. I separated from DH and his brothers and slowly made my way towards the last remnant of the Second Temple. I was almost too overwhelmed to pray. Thoughts fumbled, words failed. But I’m sure He knows my heart anyway.

Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock
We then toured through the Temple Mount and the excavations of the sites surrounding it. I stood in the presence of where Jesus overturned tables of the moneychangers, overlooked where Abraham bound Isaac and saw the Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to Heaven.

My first trip of many to Jerusalem was truly an emotional journey. I was exhausted and eager to get back home to Tel Aviv. DH and I decided to head home early and made our way to the central bus station. As we settled into our seats for the 45 minute trip back to Tel Aviv, we noticed the air conditioning wasn’t on. Surely the bus driver wasn’t going to make us ride in this heat. Yep, he had the full intention of letting us ride in this heat.

It didn’t take long for the sweltering 95 degree heat to unnerve the natives. After each and every passenger yelled at the bus driver to turn on the air conditioner, he finally caved and grudgingly blasted the icy air on us. Calm once again settled over the bus. As we drove up the steep hills of Jerusalem, I noted how slowly we were going and that half the population of Israel were passing us in their cars. I wasn’t the only one. The natives once again yelled at the bus driver to driver faster. He ignored their requests until again each and every one of the 40 passengers yelled at him to go faster.

“I can’t go faster,” he said. “The bus is tired.”

The yelling continued.

40 angry Israelis, 2 exhausted Americans and 1 tired bus pulled into the Tel Aviv station exactly 2 hours later. Apparently all roads do lead to Jerusalem, but the ride back is a little bumpy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our First Yom Kippur in Israel

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of Judaism’s holiest days. During the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, one is not permitted to work, refrains from any form of entertainment and must abstain from eating and drinking throughout the entire day.

My husband has opened the doors to his faith to me and shared with me the traditions and personal connections he has to Judaism. As I have shared my connections to my faith with him. We are in this strange dance of faiths that is impossibly in perfect step with another. Although Judaism is not my religion and doesn’t feed my own spiritual needs, I find beauty in her traditions and comfort in her presence.

As a non-Jew, living in a Jewish household, I have observed Yom Kippur with my husband during the past few years. I attend services, fast and refrain from work out of respect for my Jewish husband and our Jewish household. Well, if we are being completely honest here, half out of respect and half out of avoiding the peril of eating a juicy double hamburger with a side of fries and a large milkshake in front of a famished man who feels guilty about all his past regressions. I mean, come on, I don’t enjoy torturing my loved ones. Unless it is the dog and I’m putting her in ridiculous outfits and then it’s just downright funny.

I do not, however, enjoy the experience of Yom Kippur. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to. I mean repenting, in general, isn’t the most fun task one can partake in. And fasting? Oh the fasting. As a rule, fasting must be taxing or else you certainly aren’t doing it right. So fasting and repenting, repenting and fasting all the live long day.

Oh and lest I forget the services at temple. Where I wish I could turn off the giant neon Non-Jew sign that appears over my head the instant I walk through the synagogue doors. Its incessant blinking only annoys the other congregants. I am like a child playing Simon Says except Simon is giving directions in ancient Hebraic prayers. I watch my husband for the cues when to stand, when to sit, when to do the hokey pokey and turn myself around.

As an American, it is ingrained in my psyche to always do. Do something at all times. Multitask. Be relevant. Move your ass. Entertainment and work are America’s biggest exports. No wonder we cannot relax.

Yom Kippur defies every instinct to constantly be on the move. I don’t know how to not do. I don’t know how to take pleasure in the nothing. It has always been difficult for me to not focus on when Yom Kippur is ending and rather take this each minute of the day for what it ought to be. Reflecting on my life. The year ahead, the year past, my blessings, my faults. God’s infinite love.

This has been my experience with Yom Kippur.

Our first Yom Kippur in Israel, I expected no different. But here, in a country where Yom Kippur is everyone’s holy day, where every store is closed, every television station is off, every street empty of cars, the guilt of not doing faded away. Almost intrinsically, I forgot about my grumbling tummy and what I could be doing and instead focused on enjoying the silence. I took pleasure in time to myself and to reflect on God’s presence in my everyday.

Late on the eve of Yom Kippur, DH and I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood. We expected a quiet walk on an empty street, instead we were met with peals of laughter from neighborhood children and the screeching of their bicycle tires.

As we turned the corner to the main street, we witnessed hundreds of kids playing in the middle of the street, old couples walking hand in hand, young parents with their new shiny babies in their new shiny strollers. It was an experience to behold. The entire neighborhood, the entire country it seemed had come out to take time to enjoy the life and family God has blessed them with. Not an experience one would witness in the States.

Halfway through our walk, DH asked me if I was happy. “Happy?, Yes, I am very happy,” I told him. But I do hope this happiness turns to contentment. I feel happiness is fleeting. One cannot be happy all the time. Maybe a good percent of the time, but not all the time. Other feelings, sadness, anger, loneliness can come in and steal your happiness away. Take its place, set up residence and live there for as long as it likes. You can sink into contentment, make a home, make a life. Other emotions may stop in for a visit, but you live there in contentment.

Our first Yom Kippur in Israel was as it should be. It reminded me that I am happy and grateful for this experience and God’s blessings.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hebrew: The Bane of My Existence

If I were to take a leisurely stroll along the exquisite Mediterranean and happen upon a magic lamp, my first wish would not be two large shipping vessels full of size 6 Manolo Blahniks nor would it be for Paris Hilton to have never been born (although they would be my second and third wishes respectively). No, my dears, my very first wish would be to immediately speak, read and write perfect Hebrew.

“You’ll pick it up so quickly,” they say. “In six months, you’ll be able to converse with ease,” they say. I know! I know! Be patient. Rome was not built in a day and I certainly cannot learn a entire language, as good as Rosetta Stone may be, in one day. So in light of this fact, you will have to continue to be entertained by my language mishaps.

Mishap 1: Learning the hard way...

I bravely head to Shufersal , our neighborhood supermarket, by myself to pick up some bottles of water. Easy task, no? DH and I have been in Israel for 2 weeks and cannot find anything to drink in this desert of a country. We don’t drink a lot of colas and have subsisted on the only drinks we find familiar, Sprite and Coke. We’ve tried the Israeli juices…way too sweet for our taste. Crystal Light, our drink of choice, doesn’t exist. And water from the tap tastes like you stuck a metal rod in your mouth. Bottled water is our saving grace.

The trek to the store is a brief 2 or 3 block walk, but in the heat it feels more like 2 miles uphill both ways backwards on your knees. I walk into the store, see an aisle of bottled water, look for the largest bottles I could manage to lug back and look for the word ma’im written in Hebrew. Yep, there it is...a whole shelf of ma'im…water! I pull out my shekels and pay for my ma’im and walk out the door head held high. Success!! I have confronted the scary grocery store by myself and was handsomely rewarded with two deliciously cold bottles of water.

After the 2 mile hike uphill both ways backwards and on my knees I finally reach home. I deserve a tall icy glass of water. I break out our brand new glasses, throw in some ice…clink clink…and pour. The satisfying swig of water in my mouth is suddenly disrupted by a strange taste swirling around my tastebuds. Wait…what is that? My mouth curls in disgust. I spit out the water and take another gulp. Ugh! What is that? It tastes like cough syrup flavored watered…like grape cough syrup flavored water. Yep, folks, apparently I didn’t know the word for grape in Hebrew. Now I do.

Also available in lemon, apricot, grapfruit and Robatussin Cough flavors. 

Mishap 2: Marilyn and the Menace

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t picked up already…Marilyn, our precious pup, has quite a few quirks. One of these quirks is that she is a rule follower. I’m telling you…this dog is the tattle tale in grade school, the annoying HR manager who refuses to bend the rules, the police officer who pulls you over going 57 in a 55. She hates hates hates dogs without their leashes on. She stands on the balcony and barks at dogs without their leashes. She picks up her leash and walks herself if we let it drag behind her. And although I completely agree with her on this one, Israelis do not. Israeli dog owners are infamously non-leashers.

This morning, I had a relaxing walk with Marilyn around the neighborhood. I am getting comfortable in my bubble, straying a bit further each day, exploring my tiny piece of the Holy Land. We are entering our building and walking up the second flight of stairs when I hear a dog barking wildly above me. Usually, I am not nervous around dogs at all. But this bark was menacing

I wrap Marilyn’s leash a bit tighter around my hand and take another step. Again the barking, but louder and getting closer. All of a sudden I see a huge dog barreling down the staircase towards us, without a leash and barking. Marilyn goes wild. A frenzy of snarling ensues. I see a tornado of teeth and fur in my future. I’m yelling Stop! Stay! No! Go Away! to this strange dog, while holding Marilyn back and balancing myself on the narrow stairs. I realize this dog doesn’t know commands in English and I don’t know any commands in Hebrew!!

The owner of this devil dog strolls down the stairs slowly and rapid fires Hebrew to me. I yell at him back in English to control his dog. He says something again in Hebrew and motions me to go back down the stairs. He finally grabs his dog by the neck and moves him past us. DH shows up at the door 3 seconds later, half-asleep and freaking out. Great timing. I now know the word for sit, stop and stay in Hebrew. And a few more curse words.

Marilyn's best impression of the Devil Dog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rosh Hashanah in the Holy Land! Happy New Year!

Rosh Hashana is finally over! Thank God! I can’t eat any more. Seriously I think I may have stored enough food to last me through the sweltering Israeli summer. Have I mentioned it is freaking hot here? It is. The kind of hot that makes you want to jump off a high rise just so you can feel the breeze on the way down. We’re currently in the dry and hot season..up next rainy and hot season…oh joy.

The holiday season in Israel is in full swing. Our holiday season begins on the eve of Rosh Hashanah Sept. 8-10, through Yom Kippur Sept. 17-18 and ends with Sukkot Sept. 22-29. There are a couple of other holidays thrown in between too, but I have no idea what there are. I even forgot about Labor Day back in the States (does that make me a real Israeli yet?).

We spent Rosh Hashana with DH’s family. All of them. Have I mentioned DH has a huge family? He does. They are very warm and inviting and funny…even in Hebrew. I have spent many a Rosh Hashanah in the States, but had no idea there was more to this Jewish New Year other than eating apples and honey. Apparently there are tons of symbolic foods to stuff yourself silly. Since the entire seder was in Hebrew I didn’t catch all the symbolism, but here’s just a few of the traditions:

  • Wine (blessing for the fruit of the vine)
  • Figs
  • Green beans
  • Squash 
  • Pomegranate (for as many blessings as the seeds of the pomegranate) 
  • Apples and honey (for a sweet new year)
  • Challah
  • Fish head (yes, you read that right-so that we’re always the head and not the tail)
  • Spinach
  • Leeks
  • Who knew?  Not this shiksa.
Then there’s dinner. And breakfast. And lunch. And dinner again. And another lunch. These aren’t small meals either (think all out holiday feasts for each meal for two and a half days). It was a gastrointestinal adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. Now if I could only find a gym.

We’ve also taken quite a few trips around this tiny nation and spent some time bonding with DH’s cousins. We took a day trip to Caesarea, an ancient Roman port city, and lunched with a fellow expat amongst the Roman ruins.

DH and I are definitely heading back there to go snorkeling for 45 shekels (about $12!).
 We also went to Dimona in the Negev desert to see my brother-in-law graduate from commander’s course. And boy was it a desert…complete with camels and nomadic Arabs on horseback.

That wasn't a speed hump you just drove over.
We had a late night in the company of a few pints at a pub named The Hobbit in Zikhron Ya’acov. Apparently they only had 5 songs in English and kept playing them over and over again. We even took a quick dip in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea at Herzliya beach.  I saw more naked children and half-naked adults than I ever wanted to see in 2 hours.

And of course, last but not least, we finally moved into our own apartment this week. Life is beginning to take form. We live right in between DH’s school and my ulpan and a short walk to the supermarket, the dog park and the best mall in Israel (uh oh). Life is really different, but exciting. We’ve become a walking family, we’ve learned which stores have the best prices, learned how to haggle prices at the shuk, learned how to pay our bills, learned the train system.

We still have a long way to go. Our apartment is just a shadow of what we want it to be, we have to figure out how to transition to life without a car, we still have tons of trips to the government offices in the next month, ulpan and school begins in a few weeks and we’re still settling in our new world. I am even getting a little more comfortable doing a few things on my own. I’m trying to give myself time, but when life is coming at you full speed and in a different language it is hard to get on fast enough.

Oh and the dog is back to normal (i.e. charging at cats and other small animals, getting into the trash and thinking everyone in the world is in love with her). She can’t handle the heat very well yet and takes a long nap after just a 30 minute walk. She even has a new vet near our apartment building.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making Israel Home

So our first full day in the Holy Land didn’t go quite as expected, but in the days following we have gotten much more accomplished. We have DH’s teudat oleh and teudat zeut, we opened a bank account and we have an apartment sof sof (finally)! Israel is feeling a little more like home every day.

I won’t sugarcoat it though, it’s been hard. I miss my family and friends like crazy. It’s hard not knowing what is going on around you a good 75% of the time and everything in Israel is just a bit harder than it was in the United States. In the States, I lived so very well with many comforts I didn’t even realize I had. The lack of water here makes one think about leaving that faucet on while you brush your teeth or take that extra minute for the shower to heat up.

Dud Shmesh...funny name for an important piece of the Israeli home.  Solar powered water heater on every roof in Israel.

Your safety is always somewhere lurking in the back of your mind. Security is tight, but relatively quick and easy. Most everywhere you go during a normal day—the mall, the grocery store, the train station—means you’ll go through a metal detector and get your bags checked (Israelis, fortunately and unfortunately, have become experts at keeping maximum security with minimum disturbance to one’s life) . And it will be a while before I don’t do a double take at seeing a soldier’s assault rifle slung around his body while I stand behind him in line at McDonald’s.

The language barrier is the most daunting. But small victories like asking where is the bathroom and actually understanding the response or buying an iced coffee by myself does wonders for my confidence. I’m not a math whiz or computer genius, but luckily language is my forte. Everyone told me before I arrived in Israel that it would become natural to pick up the language once immersed in it. I couldn’t imagine what they meant until I actually got here. I am compelled to speak Hebrew and am amazed by how quickly it comes to me.

Both DH and I have had some hilarious language missteps in the past week though. A security guard was very confused why my husband was asking him the location of the world (olam) instead of meeting hall (ulam). His sarcastic Israeli response? Yoo are here. Zis is ze world. Welcome.

DH’s family had a good laugh when he said he said he went fishing all the time in my dad’s pot (sir) instead of his boat (sira).

The couple walking by us on the street in Tel Aviv probably wondered why I told DH I wanted to live near the monkey (kof) instead of the beach (chof).

Apartment hunting in Israel was a…umm…new event to undertake. To get the overall experience of the apartment search in Tel Aviv, please follow these directions:

Open the front door to your standard 2 bedroom American apartment. Walk inside. Look around for the bedroom door. Open the bedroom door and walk inside. Look for the closet door and walk inside. Shut the closet door. Throw your clothes around the closet. You are now in your Israeli apartment. Rent is due: take out your wallet and set it on fire. Oven, refrigerator and closet space not included.

Israeli apartment building: Shown in actual size.

We looked at 6 apartments in different areas of the city before deciding on our lovely 2 bedroom near Tel Aviv University. During our search, we made several phone calls throughout the day to see a particular apartment we were very interested in. The owner, Shiri, posted the apartment on Craigslist and asked that interested parties call Moses, the current renter to schedule an appointment. Moses was working all day, so we hung around the local mall waiting for a few hours. Finally he said we could come see it at 8:30 that night.

Moses invited us in and sheepishly told us he wasn’t planning on moving out. He was totally shocked and confused why we wanted to look at his apartment. His lease was ending in a couple of days and although he told Shiri he planned to stay another year, she hadn’t made time to meet him to renew the contract. Instead of driving all the way to see him, Shiri posted the apartment he is still living in on Craigslist to be rented without his knowledge.

We apologized profusely and felt terrible to imposing on him. Instead of shooing us out the door so he could get back to dinner and his own life, Moses showed two complete strangers around his apartment to compare to others we’ve seen, gave us advice on how to negotiate the rent and how much we should pay in property taxes, provided a guided tour of the area and gave us a ride to the train. Only in Israel.

Our living room of our new apartment.  Beautiful, huh?

There are things that I have encountered in Israel that drive me three types of crazy and other events that warm my heart and let me know I really have made the right decision. I have learned from bright olim (immigrants to Israel) who have come before me to take it one day at a time, give myself a little leeway and make the best of the journey that lies ahead. I think I’ll take that sage advice.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Incomplete Complete Day: First Day in Israel

Lesson one: jetlag is a good form of torture. I am almost certain you could get me to spill state secrets for just one night of normal sleep. But since I am not privy to state secrets, you’ll have to settle for my old email password which doesn’t work anymore since I forgot it once and had to replace it with a simpler password. If you know any easier way to get over jetlag, you can be the proud owner of an invalid password.

After falling asleep at 6 this morning and waking up at the ass crack of noon, DH and I remembered we actually are in Israel. It was like a little extra gift left over from Christmas morning. Re-energized, we quickly made a list of the most important things to get accomplished on our first day in Israel.

  1. Open a bank account. Money doesn’t grow on trees here in Israel, only citrus and sarcasm.
  2. Get our Israeli cell phones. Or pelephones—fun Hebrish word of the day. 
  3. Go look at a few apartments, so I can feel like less of a homeless drifter.
  4. Buy dog food.

This list is painless enough to accomplish in one day. We decide to make our first day as uncomplicated as possible as not to overwhelm ourselves. Lesson two: uncomplicated doesn't translate well in Hebrew.

First we call Bank HaPoalim. They aren’t open. What?! It’s 1pm on a Thursday. Why isn’t the bank open at 1pm? Lesson two: Israelis have the equivalent of a siesta time from 1pm until 3pm. Man, I’m loving Israel already. So, we wait around the house until 3 and head to the bank.

We’re told to put DH’s teudat zeut number (Israeli social security number) into this an ATM type machine and in return it gives us a number. When our number pops up on the screen, someone at a window will help us. DH and I patiently wait for 2 to flash across the screen and when it does, we excitedly jump from our seats. We then realize the screen doesn’t say which of the 20 windows to go to and every window is already full. We ask a woman behind the counter and she sends us to Mr. Cohen, the director of the bank. We wait for Mr. Cohen for 15 minutes and Mr. Cohen tells us to go to Hanna in the 3rd window. Hanna asks us to sit at her desk while she finishes up the last bit of paperwork from her previous customer. When Hanna comes back after another 15 minutes, she kicks us out of her office and tells us to go see Ayala.

Ayala takes our passports, marriage certificate and DH’s aliyah documents to make copies. She tells us it will only take about half an hour to finish the paperwork and get our bank account open. Half an hour later, Ayala comes back with the copies and asks for DH’s teudat zeut. DH writes down his number and hands it to her. No, no, no!! Ayala needs his actual teudat zeut card. Which we, of course, don’t have. Ayala informs us she cannot help us without a teudat zeut card.  DH, of course, doesn't want to be a typical American frier (pushover) and tries to talk his way out of it.  No luck this time.

We have to go to Ministry of Immigration to get his teudat oleh then go to the Ministry of Interior to get his teudat zeut in Tel Aviv. And the Ministry is closed on Friday and Saturday. We can’t get cell phones without money, we can’t rent an apartment without a bank account. Our first day is over exactly where we started. Oh, we did manage to buy dog food thanks to my amazing fellow expat friend, Blondini, who emailed me the address of the closest pet store in Hadera. Thank you Blondini! So we did get one thing accomplished!

The first and maybe most important phrase I learned today is yi’yeh beseder. If you were a fan of Disney’s The Lion King, it is sort of the Israeli version of hakuna matata and it is a salve for any affliction. This is not the first or last time we will run into roadblocks. This is not the last of the frustrating bureaucracy.

We head to DH’s Aunt and Uncle S's house for café and oogah (coffee and cake). It is quite something to watch DH relive his childhood. He says everything in Israel smells the exact same as he remembered, a mixture of onions and spices and lemons. But everything is much smaller than he remembered. Probably because he is much bigger than he was 15 years ago. The cliff in the front yard is really only a few steps high. The giant stone wall in the kitchen is only a few feet across.

After Shimon’s house, we then head to his Safta’s (grandmother’s) house. Her house is perfectly cared for and white. Everything is white. The walls, the furniture, the floors. The backyard is filled with exceptionally tended to plants and trees of every kind. My mother in law cuts off a piece of aloe vera from the yard to put on the massive mosquito bite on my arm (apparently Israeli mosquitoes only have a taste for blonde American blood because no one else was bitten).

Safta kisses me on both cheeks (the customary greeting in Israel) and is embarrassed she doesn’t have any gifts for us. She is upset with my mother in law for surprising her. She would have had a feast prepared if she knew we were coming. In any case, she brings out 3 heaping plates of nuts and fruit with 3 different types of juice to choose from. Everything tastes a bit different here. The fruit and nuts are more flavorful. The juice is sweeter. Eighty seven years have carved Safta’s face. I marvel over this small woman and am a little intimidated by the matriarch of this huge Israeli family I have been thrust into. She welcomes me with open arms and says “No English, motek (sweetie).” I can’t figure out if she doesn’t want me to speak English or she is apologizing for her inability to speak English. Either way, she’s accepted me and that is one less hurdle to cross.

I’m introduced to another aunt and uncle and one of 30 more cousins I have to meet. I hope there isn’t a family tree quiz after this. Most of the family doesn’t speak English well enough to feel comfortable talking with me, but I am amazed by how much Hebrew I picked up already and DH and my mother in law are wonderful translators.

We didn’t achieve much on the official to-do list, but I got so much more out of spending hours with DH’s family.

I can’t explain the culture shock, the moments of absolute fear and joy I feel during small moments like these. The weird and wonderful feeling when I once again remember that this is now home. It will take time to get used to, but in the end...yi’yeh beseder.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beginning the Adventure: NYC to Tel Aviv

Since our flight from JFK Airport to Tel Aviv didn’t leave until 7pm, we spent the next morning eating pancakes in bed, snuggling with the puppy and watching American tv. This day also happened to be our second wedding anniversary. I can’t wait to see how DH tops this anniversary gift.

On our way to the airport, the butterflies started up again. I am a worrier by nature so I did what worriers do best. I worried about the dog in the airport, I worried about dragging our luggage around the airport, I worried about missing our flight, I worried about the dog on the plane, I worried about us on the plane. DH parked me, our mountain of luggage and the dog near the El Al counter and did what he does best…get things done. While he ran around like a madman telling every El Al captain, co-captain, flight attendant, ticket agent and even a few random people he passed that the dog was going to be on the flight, Marilyn did what she does best…be the belle of the ball.

As the only dog in the airport, she caused quite the to-do and as I mentioned before, this was no ordinary Marilyn, but her alter ego, Super Marilyn, the most obedient dog on the planet. She sat patiently at my feet letting everyone pet her or ignore her as they saw fit. She never once barked or jumped or pulled on her leash. She simply sat quietly the entire time and never once bothered another soul. One lady, who passed by our docking station several times in the course of a few hours, exclaimed, “That is the most well-behaved dog I have ever seen!”. What? Where? I searched the airport for the amazing dog she was talking about. No other dog was to be found. Wow, someone actually used Marilyn and well behaved in the same sentence. The devil is surely freezing his ass off in his humble abode at this very moment.

Missing Dog: A hyperactive husky too big for her britches. 

Because of the dog, we were able to skip all 400 passengers in line to check our bags (let me tell you that made us a lot of friends on the plane and was a really fun walk from all the way from the back of the line). We then tried to get someone, anyone to tell us where we should drop off the dog. No one had a clue what we were talking about. No one could tell us where to go or who to see. Everyone had different suggestions. My uneasiness grew from a flicker of worry to a blaze of anxiety.

After nearly 2 hours of yelling, we finally found out where to drop her off leaving us only 30 minutes to go through security and catch our flight at the last gate on the furthest terminal. We again were ushered ahead of the 400 other people waiting in the security line. We again made tons of friends on the way.

We rush through security, sprint to the gate and are nearly the last to board the plane.

Finally we are seated in the very middle two seats in the very middle of the plane--perfect. DH once again reminds the flight attendant that a dog is on the plane. He knew exactly who we were and called us by first and last name. I guess we made enough of an uproar for the airline. That was precisely the plan.

The 10 hour plane flight is nothing short of miserable. Like any 10 hour flight, sleep was intermittent, food was unrecognizable and every screaming baby ever born seemed to be sitting right behind my ear. And only the Messiah himself (during either the first or second coming—whichever you prefer) could get me to watch “Remember the Titans” again. I used to love that movie, but when it is the only thing playing in English for the fourth time…you decide it is the worst movie ever made. But the second before landing in Israel is worth every bite of airline chicken (at least I think it was chicken), every flight attendant waking you up with a cheery “Ma’im?” (Water? No thank you.  Lukewarm water is not worth being woken up for) and every crick in my neck and knees.

The next two hours were spent picking up lugguage, anxiously waiting on Marilyn and packing up our 12 passenger van my mother-in-law rented to pick us up from the airport. During the 40 minute drive to my mother-in-law’s house, I was off in my own world. DH, his mother and Herzl, our driver, were babbling in Hebrew while I stared out the window in awe. We are actually here. After a four hour nap and four course meal, DH and I spent the next 6 hours unsuccessfully trying to go to sleep.

Checking where to pick up the dog at Ben Gurion Aiport.  We're here!

Tomorrow is our first full day in Israel.

Beginning the Adventure: Atlanta to NYC

Yes, we all know time flies when you’re having fun…but who knew it would travel at break neck speeds when you are moving abroad. Eight months ago I posted my first blog. Eight months ago, the idea of moving to Israel was just that…an idea.

And so it began. As we leave Atlanta on Monday morning, we pass through the city one last time to say our goodbyes. Our bags are packed and puppy is stowed safely in our rented mini-van or “the green monster” as DH has so lovingly named it. Don’t let him fool you though, he was in love at first drive. My darling self-professed badass, cooed over the smooth drive and great handling. I got the impression he was this close to turning that van around on I-85, quitting his job, adopting a small brood of youngin’s and declaring he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad simply for the perk of this great wonder he's discovered.

Our entire world fits into 5 suitcases, 2 carry-on's and a dog crate.

We drop off Marilyn at Continental PetSafe Cargo , but not without a few tears shed. Poor pup clearly has no idea what is coming and I feel like a terrible puppy mom. The flight to New York is a typical flight to New York, including but not limited to a take-off, the normal amount of time spent in the air, and a landing. We realize we are actually moving to Israel about halfway through the 2 hour flight. And almost at the same exact moment. We give each other a sideways glance and laugh only the way two people who have gone through so much and waited so long to get to where they are now can laugh. We don't stop laughing until wheels touched down. No turning back now.

Somewhere in the air over these great United States between Georgia and New York, probably somewhere near Delaware, a great and monumental change occurred. Why Delaware? I don’t know. Delaware just sounds like a place where great and monumental changes occur. I mean, it was the very first state, so it just makes sense, right?

This epic conversion, though we’re still unsure of its permanence, materialized in a dog named Marilyn. Since picking her up in LaGuardia, Marilyn has been miraculously transformed into a well-behaved dog. Either she’s too exhausted to cause her normal ruckus or someone switched out our precious precocious pup with a normal dog. Only time will tell.

By the way, top 3 things that confuse Marilyn in New York City: maneuvering through revolving doors (hands down funniest event I’ve ever witnessed), where to pee when there is no grass (she insisted on holding it as long as possible instead), orthodox Jewish men with black wool hats and long bushy beards (first time in her life Marilyn has ever refused a belly rub. This one may be an issue in the Holy Land).

Checking in to the hotel in NYC
Finally settled in to our posh NYC hotel and after much cajoling of Marilyn to actually pee outside, eat a little food and convince her that no, we weren't putting her in the giant bird again today...DH and I realize we have a long day ahead of us, order room service, watch Craig Ferguson and promptly go to sleep.

Marilyn's face says it all...we're so tired!
When people asked me if I was excited about moving to Israel my usual response was that it was hard to be excited. With all the work ahead of us to get there, I couldn’t imagine sitting on the plane when everything was said and done. As I sat on the plane and everything is said and done. I could catch my breath. I’m no longer thinking about the next chapter, but living the story.

Surreal doesn’t accurately describe it.

I’m sure the next year will fly by too. I have 52 weeks to take it all in, to live with no regrets, to experience all Israel has to offer. I promised myself I would put no expectations on the year ahead. I will not assume I will love it or hate it. I will not assume it will be difficult or easy. Wrong or right. Whatever the year in Israel brings me, I will try my best to see it as a memory in the making. Etching each individual moment in my mind and keeping them close to my heart so that so that someday in the near or not-so-near future I can dig them out and take pleasure in the time I had.

Only God knows His plans for me and I trust in Him completely.

I take comfort in knowing no matter how much I miss my family and friends, no matter how misplaced I feel, I have taken a leap of faith and am making the best of it. And I can be proud of that.

Next stop Israel.