Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Countdown

It is now Sunday, August 31, exactly one week until our flight. We've now entered the "next week at this time" stage. The packing is going strong. We got those great push-the-air-out-of-your-clothes bags, because after packing one suitcase full, it was only 30 pounds. Since we're allowed 70 pounds per bag, we figured we'd better pack more tightly to get more bang for our...suitcase, or something like that. Donny is the expert air pusher-outer. I've also started collecting all of our belongings from around my parents' apartment. We have things strewn in every corner! Donny and I conducted a walkabout aroundthe apartment. We have made good progress today - there are about 4 suitcases stuffed to the brim. One glitch: we need our original proof of Judaism letter for the flight, and we sent it to the Jewish Agency when we opened our tik aliyah. Haha! Now we are hoping that either the JA can send it back, or our rabbi can write us a new one. No worry! There's plenty of time left for these mistakes! Don't panic!
In other news, Ariella has become an expert bowler this summer. We went once with the family and Savta, and she had a great time. (Yaakov got bored after about the fifth frame.) Last Sunday, Savta took Ariella on a bowling date. Today, during Yaakov's nap, she went out with Zaidy. This way, he (Yaakov) was busy napping and Ariella was busy bowling, so Donny and Gila could be busy packing. She had a fantastic time! She played 2 games with Zaidy, scoring 110 on her second game, and beating Zaidy by 30 points! (Yes, they played with bumpers, but still impressive.)
On Shabbos (going backwards a bit) Momz and Dadz (aka Bubby and Zaidy) sponsored a kiddush for us at Hertzberg's, their shul in Baltimore. A few of their friends walked in, as did Sabba and Sarah. Donny gave an amazing speech about our process of going from "not aliyah people" to becoming "aliyah people." It was very inspirational (at least I thought it was) and hopefully he will contribute to the blog and summarize it here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yaakov got his tubes

Not much to say about that. We left the house in the dead of night (6:00 AM - Yaakov had a very conspiratorial grin on his face because he was going someplace special with Mommy all by himself!) We returned home 3 hours later with tubes in place and Dunkin' Donuts in hand. Let us all pray that the ear infections lessen (I'm not so foolish as to think they would disappear) this winter!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Donny working from Haifa!

Donny told his manager he was moving to Israel. And... they asked Donny to work remotely for his current team from Israel, until the end of November! This is very exciting! This means that he will be employed for the first 2 months of our aliyah! We are very happy about this - there's still a chance for crisis later, but I'm optimistic that a transfer will work out for the long run.
In other (less exciting) news, Ariella got the first of her two Hep A shots. We spent a LOT of money at Target buying some toiletries. Partly because our lift had no room anyway, but mostly because it's not our mentality, we did not stock up on "American" toiletries to last us well into the next century. Basically, we believe that it's not worth doing something that doesn't scale well. I mean, eventually you will run out of your American supplies, and then what? We figured we'll just get used to Israeli-style everything - soap, diapers, shampoo, food, etc etc etc. So no, we are not planning on importing oatmeal packets until we're 90. (I think the one exception to this get-used-to-it-rule might be clothing. We'll see.) However, we did want to have enough stuff in our luggage to at least be able to shower when we get there without having to run to the nearest supermarket. So I bought enough stuff to last us a month or two.
Another thought: People who are supposed to "help" olim. Discuss. I have been in touch with some people, here and in America, who are the contact people for olim. We were told to email them with our questions and they will help us out. Now that we are nearing our aliyah date, I'm starting to focus less on the "leaving" and more on the "coming." I had very practical questions, like where, exactly, is the bank located where I should open a bank account? On what street is the famous "iriyah" where I need to register Ariella for school? And can we get some information about the various kupat cholim and pros and cons of each, as well as where they are located? Basically, the answers from these "helpful" people are as follows:
Which bank should I chose?
Which ever you want!
Which one?
The one that is the best.
Which one is that?
The one that has the best options for olim.
How do I know?
You can ask people when you arrive!
Let me be clear, Aliyah Helpers: this does not qualify as help! I already know I can ask people who live in Modi'in, but I'm asking you!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Caught up

So now I have caught up on our lives up to date. Camp has ended, the lift has left, and the shopping is winding down (but not finished yet, don't worry.) I got a membership at the JCC, and last week took the kids every afternoon to the pool and playground. They had a blast there. There were still 3 weeks between camp and aliyah. We are finished Week One and in the middle of Week Two. Last Friday, Donny, Dadz and I took the kids to Dutch Wonderland, a favorite childhood haunt of mine. It was nice to do something on a Friday besides shop. The kids had a blast, as did Dadz and I. (That's where the pics are from.) This week is Ariella's Hep A shot (at Yaakov's checkup back in April, we were still going to Israel, so he got his shot. At Ariella's checkup in May, we had canceled the plans, so I never got her shot.) Wednesday is Yaakov's tubes, Thursday is Fun with Sabba, and Friday is pictures. We also started the packing process last night, using those fun suck the air out of your clothes bags. We got our temporary cell phones, our American Vonage number, our visas, and ordered the final piece of luggage. We STILL have not signed the lease, but that is hopefully happening very soon. I am also starting to plan for our arrival and trying to find out where to get all the things done in Modi'in. The list includes registering Ariella for school, finding something for Yaakov, phones, internet, health insurance a bank, buying a fridge, etc etc etc.

The Kids

In case you were wondering, Ariella and Yaakov were having a fantastic time in their respective camps, Smiley and Giggles. Ariella basically did art projects all day with similar-minded girls, so she was in 7th heaven. Even though she came back talking about "Bunk Bais" and saying "al netilas yadayim" after 3 years of a solid SAR education (and talking with a New York accent - go figure), she was having a blast. One of Ariella's morahs even ran a camp on Tisha B'Av! How awesome is that? The past 2 summers Ariella had gone to Gan Izzy in Riverdale - which she also loved, but was about 4 times the price. They had pony rides, trips, baby yoga, concerts, etc, which was amazing, but as I realized this summer, unnecessary. If you have incredible, sweet, creative morahs, and LOTS of fuse beads, what more do you really need? She was beyond thrilled. The only part I wasn't thrilled about was making LUNCHES for the first time in my life. We went through a lot of peanut butter (Ariella) and jelly (Yaakov). Yaakov was also having a good time at camp, although if you ask him what he did all he said was "Cars" and "Bubbles." Every so often he would burst into song as well, so I assume they did something else.

The lift leaves

The week after Tisha b'Av was momentous for the Leibtag children. On Monday, my brother and family moved out to Chicago. On Tuesday, Leezy and Elie's lift was packed up. And on Thursday, our lift was packed. In the end, there were some items that had to be cut. The saddest ones were the relatively new art table my mother had bought for Ariella, and the glider and ottoman which I LOVE. We decided it would be cheaper to rebuy that stuff than pay the extra money to ship it. Donny said when he saw the container, he panicked and thought there was no way everything would fit. Basically, when they unpack it in Israel, our mattreses are going to fall on someone's head. It is really stuffed. He showed me what a 20-ft container looks like, and I think if I had been there I would have passed out on the spot, because it looks like it can fit a few boxes of books and maybe a tea kettle. Somehow, though, they packed up our 3-bedroom home, complete with a new washer/dryer, 2 aronot, and new beds for the kids.

Packing the lift, and Gila goes shopping

In New York, Donny had to pack up our things for the lift. Every night after work, Donny went to our cell to go through all of the boxes to really weed out which stuff was coming on aliyah and which was not. (The conversation we had - Are we really going to make aliyah straight from our cell? - kept coming back to me.) He scheduled our lift. The choices were a 20-ft container or a 40-ft container. We figured our stuff was now in a container a little larger than 20 feet - if we got rid of some items, even if we had to buy some more stuff, everything should more or less fit. In the meantime, I spent almost every day shopping, with that pre-aliyah panic of ohmigodiwillneverbeabletobuyclothingagain. Whoo-hoo! Charge it, please! The credit card company actually called us to make sure there was no fraud because we had been using it so much. (Ironically, there was some fraud on the card - but it wasn't the reason they had called. Luckily it was caught early and we got a new credit card.)

A place to sleep when get off the plane

In Aliyah Rishon, everything was centered around having a job in Haifa - where we would live, the house we would buy, where our kids went to school, etc. Now, we weren't tied down to a particular community, we just needed to find something in the next 7 weeks. We also weren't interested in finding the "perfect" community - just a place to sleep. We focused our search on 2 communities where we had friends on the ground to scout out places for us. One was Hashmonaim, and Modi'in by extension, where the incomparable Lisa (and the more comparable, Nafi) live. The other was Bet Shemesh, where Leezy's in-laws lived. We ended up narrowing the search to Modi'in. Much as we would love to live near the Balsam clan, Hashmonaim was pretty difficult to get into, real-estatewise, much like the classes with the easy teachers in Stern. There were very few rental opportunities, and nothing to email home about. In addition, it would be difficult to live there without a car, which we would not have in Aliyah Bet, due to the fact that there was no guarantee of job. Bet Shemesh also had the problem of being a little less easy to commute from. Modi'in had the amenities of the city, plus a train that would go to wherever Donny would end up working. In the end, we almost signed a lease on one apartment in Givat C in Modi''n, but it fell through at the last second. Lisa saved the day - someone she knew from Chicago had an apartment in a new complex called Dimri Towers and he was looking to rent it out. It was brand new and across the street from the train and the mall, important for us foot-bound people.

Thanks but no thanks

Finally, in the third week of July, we got our answer. The YIOP-ers decided go to with another couple. (We had a feeling they really wanted this to be a "couple" job rather than just one person, which is how I would have done it.) I had a feeling this was going to be the answer, but I was kind of surprised - I'd never been rejected from a job! I sat there at the computer, open-mouthed. Were we really going to have to make good on our plan to make aliyah if the job didn't come through? I called Donny and my mother, but of course neither of them was at their desk. Luckily, Leezy was on g-chat, so she was the first one to know. We were now going to be on the same NBN flight as Leezy and Family. For those of you who know my sister, to say she was excited is like saying Ben & Jerry have a passing interest in ice cream. So she screamed over g-chat, because she was at work. Finally, I got in touch with the other necessary parties (i.e. Donny and Momz) and we set the wheels in motion. Now that the decision was in, I was excited. We tried to be rational and sane, but clearly, that didn't work. It was time to jump in, people.

We make a decision, and I don't sleep

So we were narrowing it down. "Youth director at YIOP or aliyah without a job"? What would we choose...?
Every other scenario involved too many compromises and changes, especially if our goal really was living in Israel. If I got the YD position, it was a good compromise of saving money for a year, not having to work too hard, and being able to plan aliyah for the following summer. For our 8th anniversary, I met Donny in NY for dinner and a show, and that was when we made this decision. (For the summer, Donny was with us in Baltimore on the weekends and flying to LI work during the week.) So now we had to wait. Of course, the 2 weeks became 3, and at this point we were wondering if maybe the job wasn't so much in the bag. I kept going back and forth between which outcome I wanted. If I get the job, we'll save money, have time to buy all the things we wanted to get before we go, have more time to regroup. But then we're basically pushing off our life and having this weird year of waiting. And what if I was unhappy in the job? It can be hard living and working in the same Jewish community. But if I don't get the job, then we are totally insane, doing everything we said we would never do, we'll have no money, we could totally combust and fail. But, we would be following our proverbial dream, and the sooner we go, the easier for the kids. Once again, we were waiting - unlike the first time, when our aliyah depended on Donny getting a job, this time, it depended on me NOT getting a job. Sort of ironic. All the while, Donny continued to be in touch with the recruiters in Israel, but there were no changes.

Summer and Job Offers

Before I left NY, I had another interview with the YI of Plainview for the youth director job. They didn't really ask many questions, and wanted to make sure the house was ok. So it sounded to me like they were ready to offer me the job. They said they would get back to me in 2 weeks. In the meantime, the kids were both set up in backyard camps in Baltimore - Ariella in Camp Smiley and Yaakov in Camp Giggles. I had free mornings to myself! And I was getting a lot of job offers considering I hadn't applied anywhere. HANC of Plainview, where we put down a deposit for Ariella, offered me 2 jobs - first a 4th grade Hebrew position, then a 6th grade General Studies. I decided that the work entailed in teaching an entirely new grade in a new school would be a lot, especially if it was only for a year, or two at the very most. HIR, who was also looking for a youth director, called me. But it seemed like a lot of work, plus it would mean moving back to Riverdale, probably to a small aparment, so we could be near HIR on Shabbos. Then a former SAR teacher who became a principal of a school in Teaneck called and offered me a first grade position. That was the most interesting proposition. We always joked that if aliyah didn't work out, we'd end up in Teaneck. Maybe it was worth it? I would get a foot in the door of a great school, and even though 1st grade is not my ideal grade, it would be a worthwhile investment. However, it would mean a serious lifestyle change. Donny would have to look for a new job, since commuting from NJ to LI would be only slightly better than, let's say, having to eat soggy, sticky Cheerios off your child's high chair for breakfast for the rest of your life. Also, it had the same problem as HANC - it's hard to invest in a school if you are only going to be there for a year. So we had to make a decision: "Teaneck with a job for Gila, or aliyah with a job for no one?" And (pleasant surprise!) we chose: "aliyah without a job for anyone" and I chose not to pursue the offer.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Packing up

So the end of school approached, with all that craziness - I had to finish my anecodtals and clean out my stuff, plus we had to pack up our house. We planned to put our stuff into storage, at a self-storage place in Hauppague. We had really done all the weeding before, when we thought we were making aliyah, so it was just the physical packing we had to do, not the "Are we keeping this?" stuff. We donated what we could - our old dressers (which were my brother's and sister's from when they were little), an old computer desk, clothes, books, etc etc etc. As we were packing up boxes, Donny was labeling certain boxes with items that were not going to make aliyah. There was always the possibility that MS would come up with a job for Donny over the summer and if we hadn't finalized anything for next year, we would go. I asked Donny if he thought it was really possible that we would go straight from our "cell" to aliyah. He thought it was a small possibility, so we planned accordingly. I, ever the doubter, did not see how that would possibly happen.
We packed up the car with everything we would need for the summer - suitcases of clothes and many boxes of odds and ends, like medicines, toys, cookbooks, a beach towel, and an umbrella. On Thursday, June 26th, I drove with the kids down to Baltimore and Donny moved us into the cell. We were now officially homeless!

Plan B

We had 2 very miserable weeks, when we had to pull back all of our plans and look into what exactly we would be doing next year. I asked for some sort of job at SAR, but there was nothing really available. We decided that LI was actually our best bet. We would go there for a year, and replan our aliyah for summer 2009, perhaps. We went to Plainview for Shabbos. Plainview was close to Donny's office (a 20 minute commute each way), we knew the Rabbi and his wife, who were friends of ours, and it seemed like a nice, warm community. Over Shabbos, Ariella hit it off with the rabbi's daughter and was very excited to move to "Tiferet's." As a bonus, the shul was looking for a youth director. It seemed like the perfect combination - the job didn't pay much, but came with a nice-sized 3 bedroom aparment (above the mikvah.) I could do the youth director job, we would live rent-free for a year, have Donny home more often, put Ariella and Yaakov in HANC, and regroup while we planned for Israel. I had a quasi-interview for the YD job while we were there for Shabbos. I thought, (modestly), that the job was in the bag - I was an experienced teacher, and would be devoting all my time to it (as opposed to the past YD, who had done it in addition to a full-time job.) We even went to see the "mikvah house" Saturday night. Although Ariella said, "This is a baby house - it's too small!" it would definitely be livable for a year.

Go anyway? ... uh, no.

That day, we both briefly considered going through with aliyah anyway. We had gotten to be more "aliyah people" since the whole process started, and we were looking foward not only to the better life that we were going to, but also to living in Israel. We discussed the pros and cons. Pros - we wanted to go, I had already given up my job at SAR and we were leaving our house anyway, we were pretty far into the process, and we wanted to go! Plus, I had already posted that we were going on my Facebook status.
Cons - no job is scary enough in America, but worse in Israel. We would eat through our savings. Going and failing was worse than not going at all. We would have to pay all the moving expenses ourselves.
Over the next two days, we decided to cancel aliyah. (I even amended my Facebook status.) I wished for the time when my biggest concern was another trip to Israel. Haha on me.

Aliyah Cancelled?

By Yom Ha'atzmaut Donny still did not have an offer. I had thought for sure by mid-May everything would be finalized. I took a while to get through to the right people in Herziliyah that Donny needed to talk to. Finally, the Sunday before Memorial Day, Donny had a phone interview. The phone interview went well, but they had a local candidate with more industry experience. When he got off the phone, Donny basically knew that it was unlikely they were going to offer him a job. Our plans had completely fallen through. I cried (a lot).

Pesach; Or, Things start to go downhill

By Pesach, about a month after Donny's trip, he still did not have a official offer from MS. The builder was starting to get anxious and putting pressure on us. On the trip down to Baltimore for Pesach, we said that if Donny didn't get a firm offer from Haifa after Pesach, we wouldn't buy the house and look instead at working in the Herziliyah office.
After Pesach, it was clear that there would not be a job in Haifa.
We were disappointed that our dream job, house, and commute combusted. But we started looking into the communities around Herziliyah and re-planning our aliyah.

Buying the house

People couldn't believe how unbelievably successful Donny had been in Israel. Even though he didn't have an official offer yet, I told SAR that we were going. We took a morning off work to go to the Israeli embassy in Manhattan and sign a yipuy koach (power of attorney) to our lawyer in Israel to do all the house-buying things for us. We got out of our 2 year lease on our house in N. Riverdale and told the landlord we'd be leaving June 30th. (The story of the lease on the house will be feature in its own blog, "Leasing by Accident". It is a 6-month long story of a basement full of mold and legal battle.) The plan was to send the lift in early July, and the kids and I would be in Baltimore at my parents for the summer. We planned to go on NBN's August 12th flight. Donny talked to the real estate broker and ironed out some details. At this point, one of my biggest worries was that we would need another trip to Israel, probably around Memorial Day, to sign the mortgage papers. I was worried about taking more time off school and having to leave the kids again. But overall, everything was going well. Microsoft would provide a relocation package which would be unbelievable helpful, including pay for the lift and cash for housing assistance and a rental car.

The Big Week

Motzei Shabbos, right after Purim, Donny left for the week of Interviews and Real Estate. He had spoken to his managers at work and they were very supportive of the transfer.
His week was beyond successful. In his own words, "On Monday, I got a job in Haifa. On Tuesday, I got a job in Herziliyah. On Wednesday, I found a house to buy. On Thursday, I opened a bank account and signed a power of attorney with a lawyer. On Friday, I got an accepted bid on the house. On Saturday, I rested." Donny spent Shabbos in ZY, where our potential new house was. He even had a chance to meet with the principal of the school there. The house was brand new, and we were buying directly from the builder. It had pretty much everything we wanted, and having it new but not having to go through the painful process of actually building it was fantastic.
The job transfer was bright and positive. The Haifa team was in the same division working on sister products to what he was already doing in LI. They didn't have a position for him yet, but we were hopeful something would work out. In Herziliyah, there were more openings, but location was not as good to ZY, so we put that one on the back burner.

The Winter

We began the lengthy process of filling out paperwork for the Jewish Agency and NBN, as well as weeding through all of our belongings. The attic took about 4 months, going through all of our papers and documents, shreddings things, thinking we shredded Ariella's birth certificate by accident and buying a new one for $67, then finding it two months later...stuff like that.
Meanwhile, I told SAR that I would have a final answer for them in March, since they needed to know whether to replace me and whether Ariella would be in the kindergarten class.

The Pilot Trip

In November, we scheduled a pilot trip to Israel. My parents came up to NY for a week to take care of the kids. We left on Sunday evening before Thanksgiving, right after PT conferences at SAR. Donny scheduled "informationals" at the 2 Microsoft offices (in Haifa and Herziliyah). It was too early for interviews, since we wouldn't make aliyah until the summer. We had a very successful week. Donny had great meetings with the people he met at MS, and we spent some time in Zichron Yaacov, which was 20 minutes from Haifa. We spent Shabbos in Ranaana.
On Thursday (Thanksgiving) we had some free time, so we bought presents in Jerusalem and had Thanksgiving dinner with Donny's family. On Friday we headed out to Hashmonaim to see Nafi and Lisa, and we went to some stores in Modi'in.
We arrived back in America on Sunday, very excited that the first phase of our planning had gone so well.

How we came to make aliyah by accident

The story really begins when we moved to North Riverdale in February of 2007. Over Pesach,we got invited out to lunch and the husband worked at Microsoft. At the time, Donny was not so happy with his job in Stamford, CT, so he asked our host, Mike, to pass along his resume at Microsoft. Yadda yadda yadda, at the beginning of July, Donny started working at Microsoft. Good: Discounted software! Bad: 1.5 hour commute (each way) to Hauppague, Long Island from Riverdale. (Directions: Go out to the middle of nowhere. When you think you can't go any further, drive another half hour and you are there.)
Donny was great fit for Microsoft and loved the job, and we, like so many other young families in Riverdale, were starting to look for the place we were really going to "live." We lived in Central Riverdale for 7 years, and loved it there, but since we lacked the proverbial rich, dead uncle, we could not afford to make it our permanent home. We were never "aliyah people" because we would never consider going somewhere where the job prospects were iffy. But now, Israel became a possibility. Microsoft had development centers there, so Donny could theoretically transfer there and we could make a home for ourselves. Maybe it would be better to wait and gain more Microsoft-experience... but "if you're going to do it, you should really do it now. Your kids are young; now's the time." So we put the plans in motion.