Wednesday, August 12, 2009

And now for a rousing chorus of "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

This morning, the family rose bright and early in order to be ready to leave the house at 6:45 to head to Tel Aviv, to the American Embassy. The kids and I had to renew our passports, on the off-chance we ever go anywhere. We managed to leave by ten to seven, though I was so tired I initially forgot to take the envelope with EVERYTHING in it. Quick run back into the house, a few more sips of coffee, and we were good to go. Traffic was not bad, though there is the usual "Omes T'nua" on the highway (it was much worse when we were heading back, luckily not in our direction). We made it with ten minutes to spare, checked in our bags and cell phones, and went through security. There was only one family ahead of us, so we had literally no wait time to go to the counter, where they go through your forms, which I had filled out ahead of time, and check your documents. After that, you pay, have a seat, and wait. We sat for about half an hour, while the room filled up. David and I were kind of amazed to see the variety of people who have US citizenship - we seemed to be the only native English speakers in the room. One family even asked the clerk if they should fill out the United States passport forms - that's United States people, official language ENGLISH! - in Hebrew or English - though they seemed that they would have been more comfortable in Yiddish in any case. Most of the people there had some kind of story, were missing papers, documents, photos, or a parent for the minor they brought along, or were generally farblunged. We agreed that working at the counter must be very frustrating - one of the clerks was rather testy dealing with admittedly confused and ridiculous people and their problems, but our clerk was absolutely fine. She must have had her morning coffee! As we sat and waited some more, and some people who had arrived after us were called to the consular officer counter before us, we agreed that it would only be fair if people were required to sing "My Country, 'tis of Thee" if they were to be allowed to stay and receive service. "God Blesss America," "America the Beautiful," a stanza of "The Star-Spangled Banner" would suffice - heck, they could hum a few bars of "New York, New York" - take a run at "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for all we cared - just something American!!

When we were called up (it really wasn't that long, considering they were processing the applications for FIVE of us), the consular officer at the desk looks very seriously at us and says, "Now there's a rumor going around that you all made five appointments for five people, showed up on time, had all your documents and paperwork ready, and you were nice. Is that true?" And she breaks out into a lovely smile. She was a delight to deal with - she went through our papers quickly, let Dani and even Ariella take a turn trying to sign their names even though it wasn't necessary, and politely asked us what our view on the kashrut of Disney princesses is before offering Ariella a Little Mermaid sticker. It reminded me of the story the Joels told about flying to Israel on Continental, soon after the airline started its Israel service. The staff and passengers all looked askance at them at boarding time - surely six children were going to make the flight a misery for everyone. By the time the flight landed, the crew offered them a bottle of wine as a thank you for how well behaved their children were. Now I can't say that our kids could be charming for 11 hours, but it was nice to be commended - even if it was just for doing what we were supposed to.

And that was that. We were all done and it wasn't even 9 am! So we decided to head directly home and get a jump start on some things that had to get done - like taking Shana and Ayelet shopping for some school clothes. That is done for Dani and Lola already; we went to the local Mom and Pop store and bought their school uniform t-shirts. 14 shekel a pop and we were good to go. They are not the greatest quality and we may have been able to save a little by driving off the yishuv (while burning up the savings on gas), but I like to give the business to a local family who have been nothing but friendly to us.

Some musings from vacation:
I love living in Israel. I really, really do. I hope my kids get that, too, and appreciate how lucky we are to be here, in the land Hashem promised us. It always feels like home, even when cultural or language differences make things challenging. I am always sad when adults bemoan the state of the state. Teach your kids to love this country and appreciate all that is good in it! Yes, customer service is not the greatest, but it has definitely improved. Yes, many people, especially on the road, think their time is more valuable than anyone else's. Dan l'kaf z'chut - maybe it is. Just sit back, maintain a sense of humor, and enjoy life. We found on our trip that people, especially service, were unfailingly polite. The most unfortunate experience we had in Tel Aviv was a rude parking lot attendant. We laughed it off and moved on. Maybe he was having a really bad day. Maybe no one taught him better. His loss. What would be gained by getting into screaming match? Should that color every experience in this country?

We live in a bubble. We saw so much city in Haifa - industry, poverty, luxury, lots of treif restaurants - that we realized how lucky we are to live in a really amazing yishuv. When in Haifa, except for the Hebrew and the knowledge that you are in Israel, you could be in any metropolitan area. In Chashmonaim, you feel yishuv ha'aretz. We live in and are part of a community that is full of Torah and chesed. We have friends moving in today - no doubt that they will be welcomed by their buddy family, be brought dinner by volunteers, have Shabbat meal arranged for them, open the door to find us and others who will stop by to say hello and introduce future classmates to their likely overwhelmed and overtired children. And that's the way it should be. I have a pile of invitations to smachot that boggles the mind. I love our bubble.

And now on to the real business of this blog - I have to start baking prep for this week. We have a friend from Passaic and his son visiting us for Shabbat, and a new family to the yishuv coming for Shabbat lunch. We also have a cousin of our neighbors' and her baby staying here for Shabbat for the bar mitzvah of the neighbors' oldest son. The party will be on Sunday - Bar Mitzvah-palooza has commenced!


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