Usually this blog is filled with fantastical travel adventures and interesting tidbits about our South American home. Today it’s filled with family and Judasim, so if you’re not related to me, you are free to wander on to other posts. (Try “Terror in the Cajas.”)
Still here? Well okay, then. After eight wonderfully decompressing days in Egypt, we headed off to Israel to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. Since my mother lives in Zichron Yaakov in the north of Israel (about two hours from Jerusalem), we opted to stay with my sister, Rochelle, and her family (which includes six kids, one rabbi/husband, and usually one nanny).
My sister and family are what you might call uber-religious, and there are many rules they follow. Since we stayed with them, we had to follow some too; for example, Stephanie had to cover her elbows, knees, shoulders and collarbone. We also found out (a little too late, when we were showing the kids an old video of one of them) that electronics don’t have a place in the little ones’ lives. I was a bit concerned that my nieces and nephews wouldn’t be able to relate to me, but it took all of five minutes before I was swinging the boys around, and they were climbing all over me. I could tell that the girls wanted in on the fun, but at their Orthodox level, men and women do not have physical contact. They had to settle for Aunt Stephanie, the jungle gym. Good thing she’s pretty strong!
My mom’s party went off without a hitch. Since Rochelle had a full car, we took the bus up to Zichron Yaakov for the celebration. For the occasion, a restaurant was rented out, and half of Israel turned up to wish my mom well. Actually, over 150 people came out to show my mom how much she was loved. As a side benefit, this was the first time in many years that my mother, brother, sister and I were all together in the same place. We hitched a ride back to Jerusalem with my cousin, Sharon, whom we don’t see often enough, and it was great to catch up.
The following weekend, the whole family went to a glatt (read: super) kosher hotel for two days where all of us could be together without all that pesky messing around in the kitchen for meals. This is the part I was most concerned about. As I may have let on, I’m not the most practicing Jew you’ll ever run across, and I was a little nervous about being surrounded by the ultra-Orthodox. They did their best not to stare, but I definitely felt like a showpiece at times. (I did get to explain to my inquisitive, nine-year-old nephew all about tattoos and why it was not a good idea for him to get one like his uncle. No one else in the pool asked me, but I’m pretty sure it caught some of them off guard!)
That Sunday was my mom’s actual birthday, and so we gathered at breakfast for the ceremonial presentation of the gifts. For my part, I cross-stitched a nice large piece for her. (Technically, it’s Blackwork, but only you and I know the difference.) This project was as much from Stephanie as it was from me, because in order to put in the 300 or so hours necessary to get it done in time, Stephanie had to take over absolutely everything else in our lives and leave me the time to stitch for 6-9 hours per day.
After the family weekend, we had another couple of days with Rochelle (who never seems to sleep) and company. We played with and got to know our nieces and nephews a little better, and before we knew it, we were bidding farewell to Israel once again, heading back to Philly. We really enjoyed this time with my far-away family, and I felt good knowing how happy we all made my mom on her special day.