Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Plot Resolved

I've waited three months to write this post. I've had the title ready since writing the first post about the building of our new kindergarten. You can read the back-story via these links:

An Empty Plot
The Plot Unravels
The Plot Thickens
The Plot Is Abandoned

LSS, the caravans weren't caravans at all but pre-fab buildings that are plastered on the outside and set into the ground. Each one (there are two kindergartens on the plot) has it's own reinforced concrete room (a.k.a. bomb shelter) attached and a playground at the front with climbing equipment and a sandpit.

Inside, they are enormous, with cloakrooms, toilets, a kitchen, a stockroom, shelter cum office, and enough space for all those essential kindy-corners (playhouse, library/reading, art, etc...) as well as a huge activity area. We lucked out. It was certainly worth the wait.

In the end they started building right at the end of September and it took them exactly two months. Below is a photo-diary of the progress at each stage, taken from my balcony.

Meanwhile, today at 08.30 the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat (possibly the best looking mayor in the world - eat your heart out Boris!) is coming to an official opening. The children will be performing the songs and dances they did at the Genesis Party last week. We are all invited but after DD's non-cooperative attitude it's probably best if I don't go - I know she joins in better when I'm not there. So I'll try and catch Nir arriving from the balcony and keep away.

The original playground (don't worry they have two more playgrounds in the school).

The playground was dug up in August.

I got very excited when they started digging but then nothing happened for a month.

At the beginning of October they laid the foundations for the reinforced rooms.

The reinforced concrete rooms were built first.

Then the pre-fab unit arrived.

I thought it would be small but nice.

But they added another unit.

Ok, this is a good size I thought.

And then more units arrived. 

It was cool to see it put together. 

Wow, it's enormous!

The climbing toys arrive!

And here it is all plastered and finished. 

Nir Barakat, Mayor of Jerusalem, arrives for the opening. 

Nir Barakat
Right he's better looking than Boris Johnson?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wonderful Volunteers To Israel

Diann with a young assistant next to a drab wall.

I was taking DD into Tali Geulim school one day - about three weeks ago actually but this post got delayed because of the war - and I noticed a group of people with American accents, walking around with paint pots and building tools. Being a nosy blogger I had to stop and find out what was going on. 

Jack and his crew starting on the pergola

Led by Diann Mullins, who oversees all the travel arrangements and administration, and Jack Bowen, the project manager and ex-professional builder, were a group of volunteers from all over America. They are a part of Ministry To Israel, an Evangelical organisation (though they don't evangelize here) that runs support projects for new immigrants and lone soldiers, new mums and pensioners. Among other things they provide food vouchers and baby items for those in need. And twice a year (November and March) they send up to 15 volunteers to work on a project in Israel.

Things are looking up
Hard at work
The volunteer programme started in 2003. Diann and Jack have both been here many times. They come for about 12 days. Half of that time is spent working on a building or landscaping project and the other half is spent touring the country, sightseeing and visiting places of interest. So far they have decorated shelters in the north, worked in Bnei Brak among the ultra-Orthodox community there, and in schools and hospitals around the country.

And Fabber
In Tali Geulim they painted areas around a formally drab looking basketball court, painted the school guard's hut, and built a fabulous pergola where a whole class can sit outside in the shade in the summer. All with a lively sense of fun and humour. I was amazed that such an organisation exists and, having met them, I am glad they do. It was a joy and an honour to meet such selfless good-hearted people who give their holiday time (and money) to helping us here in Israel.
Thank you!!!

And that beautiful pergola...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Genesis Party

It was indeed an extravaganza. Held in the sports hall at the local community centre with music, dancing, performance and a sumptuous lunch afterwards. I've been to Bar Mitzvas with less food and the cakes could have been served at the best weddings.

The children, dressed in white, sang songs and danced their way through the creation. It was all very impressive.

All the children that is, except DD. DD sat firmly planted on her chair and refused to join in with anything. I tried to persuade her. The teacher tried to persuade her. The music lady tried. In the end we gave up. This is the face we got for our trouble... I was so proud - not.

The other children had a great time.

I didn't manage to photo record much from the party as I was busy sitting with one sulky child on my lap and trying to look proud. Meanwhile, every time I pointed the camera, Sulky Child pulled my arm down so the picture was ruined. So here are the displays of the some of the different days of creation that were made at the Bayit Me'arayach dates.

On the seventh day God rested and so did we.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Organised Playdates

In Hebrew it's called Bayit Me'arayach which translates as hosting home. It's actually a lovely idea. The class teacher, usually in Kindergarten or the first two years of school, arranges the class into 5 or 6 sets of 5 or 6 children. One parent from each group agrees to host the others for a playdate one day after school.

Done at the beginning of the year, it's a way for the children to get to know a few children a bit better and for the mothers to get together with at least four other mums. I think they may do it a few times during the year with different children hosting. I'm not sure about that but I'll let you know.

Our organised playdates had a theme. The children had been learning about the Book of Genesis and we had a Genesis Party last Friday morning (another post). At the playdates, each group was given a day of the creation to make into a display for the party.

Our day was Day Five. On the fifth day God created the fish and the birds. We were given a plastic display board and walked it home to M's house.

We cut out fish and the children painted them.

Birds were a little more complicated but M found a box of feathers and we made do.

Then two of the children painted the display board with blue for the sky and a slightly more greeny blue for the sea.

At some point the children went off to play and the mothers took over.

I have to admit that I lucked out with the other mothers in the group. M comes from a household with not only a whole supply of arts and crafts materials, paints and markers, but they also own a hot-glue gun. Who owns a hot-glue gun? Reader I was impressed.

I also must confess that by the time it was all being assembled (with the hot-glue gun) I had relegated myself to the role of clean-up crew and was busy tidying up in the background. Yes, there are things I need to work on if we're going to make it successfully through primary school.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sirens Over Jerusalem

Today the sirens sounded over Jerusalem for the second time. It was at 14:20 and I was at home. I rushed down to our recently cleared bomb shelter and waited with a few of the neighbours who also happened to be at home. Reader, we heard the boom. However, we waited the full 10 minutes just in case there were more.

There was an email from the kindergarten: Just to let you know that we are all safe and got to the shelter in good time. Luckily they, along with all schools in Jerusalem, had bomb shelter drill on Sunday and so they knew what to do.

I was glad they had talked about it at the Kindergarten with the children. I wasn't happy with my explanation to DD that it was a game. I kept thinking of that tragic film Life Is Beautiful - God forbid! The talk went right over her head. She has no idea what a war or a rocket is. I don't think she even knows what a soldier is. All she understands is that when there's a big noise everyone has to go to the shelter quickly.

News reports announced that the rocket hit open ground but not that far away from us. It actually hit closest to two Arab villages just outside Jerusalem. Just shows, you gotta be very careful with lethal missiles. Don't try this at home.

This evening I showed DD this picture from Ofakim in the south of Israel. It has been going round on facebook. I told her that if we are ever outside and not near a shelter when the sirens go off, this is what we have to do.

Hoping and praying we never need to.

Meanwhile I'm still sleeping in DD's bed with her, with my big cardigan on over my pjs for a bit of modesty if we have to leave the privacy of our own home, and with thick socks for DD in my pocket as she won't wear socks in bed. I expect this will be the arrangement for the duration.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Reply To Comments On The War

I have dedicated the past three posts on this blog to the situation in Israel at the moment. Most of the comments written have offered me their love, best wishes, and hopes that things will not escalate into a full blown war. I thank you all for this, it really does help.

Many comments have also expressed sadness for those suffering on the other side, i.e. in Gaza. You are right to be sad for the Gazans. The fact is that most of the 1.17 million residents of Gaza are innocent civilians who would be extremely happy to have Hamas leave them to get on with living their lives productively in peace and safety. I and all of Israel feel desperately sad for these people caught up under a regime they neither asked for nor want.

I just want you all to know that we know about the poor souls who are suffering on the other side. Believe me, we know. That is one of the reasons, as well as world pressure, that we have not retaliated on such a big scale until now. However, a million of our citizens are at breaking point already and when over 300 missiles were fired at them in the space of a few days last week, we could see no alternative but to fight back.

Israel has dropped leaflets, made thousands of phone calls and loud broadcasts trying to warn the innocent in Gaza to stay away from known weapons supplies and military centres. This is not easy because some of them are in schools and hospitals. And we continue to let in medical supplies and other essentials including continuing to provide clean water, gas and electricity.

We pray for those suffering in Gaza as well and if anyone could tell us how to defend our children in a better way we would do it. Obviously no other way has been found.

If the rocket attacks from Gaza stopped we would stop retaliating immediately.

Meanwhile Israel is preparing for a war on the ground. This is the last thing we want - the casualties on both sides will be enormous.

However, the bottom line is that we cannot sacrifice a million citizens (more now as the rockets are reaching Tel Aviv and beyond) even when we know that innocents on the other side will also die.

Tragically this is the nature of war. Militants do not attack from deserted islands but from the midst of civilian lives.

So please know that we are not oblivious to anyone's suffering, just desperately trying to defend ourselves against a rain of rockets on our towns and villages.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thoughts From The War

Here is a photograph of some of my friends' children on Thursday night. They look happy enough for the camera but they are in fact sheltering from an incoming rocket from Gaza. They spent much of that night, and every night,  in this glorified coat and broom cupboard which is their safest room.

Where they live, on a kibbutz in Southern Israel is a place I've visited many times. Twice I've written about caught up in a rocket attack. Here with DD and here when I was pregnant. Since writing these posts the kibbutz has suffered a direct hit.

And on Wednesday, before Israel went into action, I posted a heartbreaking  video clip of a children's party in the park that turns into horror and panic as the CODE RED is sounded. That clip was from four years ago so you can see that this is not something recent. Obviously it wasn't a recent video as parties in the park, or even a quick swing and a go in the slide, are a thing of the past for these children - far too risky as it involves being more than 15 seconds away from a bomb shelter.

Over 12000 missiles have been fired on Israeli civilians in the past 12 years. Seven years ago Israel left the whole area of Gaza. We have no military presence in Gaza. 21 communities left their homes, farms, green houses and factories to help the Gazans achieve a thriving economy. Israel continued supplying water, gas and electricity to the region and work permits for Gazans who have jobs in Israel. For their part they continued firing the rockets at Israeli civilians.

This week the rocket fire was escalated once again and the people in the south were at breaking point - which is why I published my post on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening we fought back. By Wednesday night I am reading and hearing on the BBC and CNN about Israeli aggression.

The footage of the assassination of terrorist Ahmed Jabari clearly shows that the IDF waited until his car was clear of other cars and isolated before they shot. At other times it's more difficult to isolate the targets as missiles are fired from residential buildings and the stores of explosives are often hidden near schools and hospitals. Nevertheless leaflets like this (in Arabic) have been dropped by the IDF and loud warnings are broadcast before buildings are targeted. I read on the BBC that Israel are firing on Gaza "with scant regard for civilian life." Ask the residents of Southern Israel what that feels like!

Our Prime Minister, who is accused of cynically starting a war to enhance his chances in the January general election, rather chose not to prolong the suffering of the southern residents until after the election that he pretty much had in the bag - but that may change if this all goes horribly wrong.

Bibi Netanyahu is quoted this week saying: If Israel lay down its arms it would be destroyed and its citizens murdered. If the Arab States lay down their arms there would be peace in the Middle East. I've heard this quote before but could anyone argue against it?

Last evening the siren went off for the first time in Jerusalem. I quickly turned off the oven, grabbed my front door keys and my 4yo daughter (who wasn't wearing any shoes or socks) and we rushed out to shelter under the stairs in the communal stairwell. There we met my neighbour with her 3yo and baby. Her husband and older son were in the shower. When the siren stopped after about 2 minutes we went back inside. Later she came down to tell me that instructions are to stay in the shelters for 10 minutes after the sirens.

Last night I told DD that she was sleeping with me. She insisted that we both sleep in her bed - my bed is better as my bedroom is largely internal and recessed except for the 5ft of wall with the window in it and her room has three external walls. But I gave in. She also wouldn't wear socks in bed so I slept in a big cardigan over my pyjamas (for a bit of modesty if were to meet the neighbours under the stairs again) and a pair of thick socks for DD in my pocket. I also hung the front door key on the front door handle for easy grabbing.

All evening I thought twice before going the the loo and I didn't dare shower. I also went a bit manic with 'sharing' information on fb and twitter. And I stuffed my face with all manner of unhealthy food. I may be a little stressed.

DD keeps asking me about that 'game' when we had to run outside. "But why did we play that game?" and "Are we doing it again? When?"

There are supporters of Israel who understand the situation. I ask myself what is the rest of the world thinking? Do they want us to take the slack so as not to inflame the situation in the Middle East and possibly drag in the rest of the world? Well we allowed our civilians to be fired on for 7 years after we pulled out of Gaza. Enough is enough.

I ask myself why we just don't turn off the water, electric and gas supply to Gaza until they stop firing missiles into Israel. But I know that we won't make the entire civilian population of Gaza suffer like that because of Hamas. At the moment we are targeting the enemy only.

There have been casualties and fatalities, on both sides, including children. There is no difference on either side to a mother who has lost a child. There is a difference between aggression and defense however. There is a difference between constant attack and retaliation delayed until it was just unbearable.

And if anyone is still unsure what it's all about, just watch this 5 minute course on the Middle East Conflict.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life In 15 Second Timeslots Is Terrifying

This week more than 100 rocket missiles were fired at Southern Israel. Whole towns - Sderot, Netivot and Ashkelon; and scores of villages are under constant attack. When the alert goes (a siren and a loud "TSEVA ADOM!" - Code Red!) you have 15 seconds to get to a shelter before the bomb hits.

Imagine trying to teach a class of children when they (and you) are on the edge of their seats waiting to run at any moment. Every sound makes you jump. Forget concentrating on your work and school is often cancelled anyway because it's too dangerous to leave your house.

Even at home you think, can I risk having a shower? What if I have to run out in the middle? Can I grab a towel and make it to the shelter in 15 seconds? No popping out to the shops unless it's absolutely necessary. Children can only play 15 seconds from their front door.

This is what it looks like. The 2 minute video starts with a children's party in the park and a child being interviewed... suddenly everything changes. This is what is it like every day for thousands of men, women and children.

You don't see it a lot on the news because it's only Israel. Try to imagine Britain's response if, say, France were dropping bombs on Dover and Kent like this. Or what would America do if Mexico were firing rockets across the border? I could have looked up the numbers and given you a whole load of statistics but instead I'm just writing from my heart and for my many friends who live in this war zone. May God keep you all safe.

Monday, November 12, 2012

When Emotions Cause Social Forum Abuse

This isn't the post I was planning to write today. However, I was shocked and saddened earlier to read that my doctor, Dr. Yuval Bdolah from the IVF clinic at Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus in Jerusalem, has been slammed in an Israeli fertility forum and accused of professional negligence. A man who always treated me with respect as an intelligent and full partner in the fertility process. Who went out of his way to solve each complication as it arose, and there were certainly many complications over my four years of treatment. He looked into new solutions for every possible problem, took advice from his colleagues and left no stone unturned in order that I may fulfill my dream of being a mother.

At my first consultation at the IVF clinic, I was a single woman in my 40s who just desperately wanted to be a mother. At my age (42 at the time) I would say I was probably at my all time most vulnerable and entirely at the mercy of strangers to save my life from being meaningless. Before you all jump down my throat, for me life without a child was meaningless. Maybe I would have found some other meaning if it didn't work - who knows. This is my personal story and true for me. It also serves to illustrate the delicate position of the staff in such a place. They hold so many women's hopes and dreams in their hands. That's a huge role to take on.

From the moment I stepped thought he door of the clinic until I brought home my beautiful baby girl, now four years old, everyone involved from the Head of Department, to the doctors, the nurses, the ultrasound technicians, the receptionist, the porters, and even the cleaner showed me the utmost sensitivity and kindness throughout. You can imagine that during four years of treatment a lot of sensitivity and kindness was called for - and gratefully received.

Every time a decision had to be made Dr. Bdolah took the time to explain it to me with all the implications and risks. He gently guided me towards sensible choices but never forgot that I also had a say in my treatment. When my instincts were wrong he told me so. He would not allow any action that was too dangerous for my health or that of the baby. I was given the option to reduce to one foetus when I was carrying twins but he accepted my choice not to. Sadly I lost those babies to miscarriage at 5 months. When I resumed treatment he made it very clear that he would be against another twin pregnancy for me and made me sign an agreement that I would have a reductive procedure if there were triplets.

I won't go into the details of the accusation against him but basically, a woman had her treatment stopped because of suspected medical complications in her reproductive organs and she's not happy about the way it was handled. I feel for this woman and her loss. I could cry for the women who have to come to terms with not being a mother - as I almost did myself. But I cannot in any way believe that Dr Bdolah did anything other than his best to help this woman as long as it was medically viable.

My first early miscarriage was in the days when the 12-week ultrasound had to be done at a private clinic. A doctor I didn't know from Adam told me, "There's nothing there to see. Looks like it stopped at about 7 weeks. You need to have a D&C immediately. And don't forget to get a refund for the lab work as we won't be processing your blood test." With that, he abruptly left the room.

I walked out in a daze and and tried to phone my health fund clinic where I was seeing one of their gynecologists. It was closed for the weekend. I called the IVF clinic as I didn't know where else to turn. Dr. Bdolah kept me talking on the phone while he had a nurse make all the arrangements for a D&C on Monday morning.

When I 'graduated' from IVF I chose Dr. Bdolah to be my physician for the pregnancy (twice). He gave me his mobile phone number to use not just in an emergency but whenever I had a question. I tried to be considerate of his private life but I disturbed him in concerts, on holiday, at weekends, and in the middle of the night. He was always ready to listen and give me answers (incredibly without any hint of irritation - ever).

It saddens me that such a good doctor and a good man should be hauled over the coals like this. It's natural to want to find someone to blame when your world has fallen apart through no fault of your own. But I know, sure as eggs is eggs (pun unintended but noted), that Dr. Bdolah is not the man to go for.

More generally, this has made me aware that in such highly emotional situations, there's a danger of ruining a good person's reputation on social forums before all the facts have been investigated. And that's just not fair.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Than Just A Mum

This is a meme started by Kate (Kate Takes 5) for every mother who's stood helplessly while her screaming child had a tantrum in the supermarket. For every mother who's turned up for an event with smudges of chocolate on her clothes. For the times you have to leave early because the babysitter has a curfew. For the times you need a nap in the middle of the day because of a string of broken nights. For these and a hundred more instances in which you want to announce (loudly): I'M MORE THAN JUST A MUM YOU KNOW!

In a spectacular effort to fight back, Kate suggested we all post pictures of who we are/were when we are/were not being mums. This proved extraordinarily difficult for me. I've never been a big photographer as my efforts were all so disappointing. I got my digital camera as a new baby  present when DD was born so there's a strange pattern to my before pics.

I thought of showing how I used to love to travel. However, whilst I have pictures of the Pyramids,  Sydney Opera House, The Kremlin, The NYC skyline, The Parthenon, etc... I am not in any of them. In fact, in order to be sure of a good photo I often bought postcards to fill my albums.

On the other hand I have a load of photos of me dressed up as natives of various distant lands. This reminder of my active social life is extremely timely as only this week I declined an invitation to a friend's 40th as it's scheduled for a 9.30pm start. 9.30? I'd have to set my alarm clock to make sure I got up on time. These days my idea of a night out is to take my cup of tea onto the balcony.

So here is me in the days when we went to great lengths to plan parties and took it all very seriously.

Here I am not in India

Here I am not in Japan

And here I am not in Ancient Rome
I did find me in a couple of pictures from Paris 10 years ago. I wrote about this before, how four friends from primary school went to Paris for four days for our 40th birthdays. We were the same people we had been at 14 - and we still are.

The Three Muses
Nicola who took most of the photos isn't in these - sorry Nicola.