Shvitote ve oad, ma la’a sote?

(shvitote and more, what to do?)

So, what does shvitote mean you ask? It is a simple answer that has a very long and frustrating explanation. A shvita (singular for shvitote) is usually for a good cause, but also produces much anguish for parents and at the same time, much excitement for kids (see picture for emotional value). Yes, you may have guessed it already; we are talking about the dreaded school strikes. The Israeli school teachers are very poorly paid and have been for long enough to insure that the lower education in Israel is not of the highest caliber. We knew this before we came to live here and left what was supposed to be one of the best school systems in the United States. But we still made the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. This was in part because we knew that education is more then just book learning. We knew that to get a proper education for our children we would really need to step up to the plate and do something extraordinary. We needed to make sure that our children didn’t get ground out from the North American puppy mill of education, with the real danger of having little personal knowledge of the greater world around us. Having come to that conclusion, the only real way of doing that was to make a drastic change.

So we did it. We came to Israel and have been here for a year plus. Our family has adjusted nicely. I am doing great, and have loved it here from the moment I arrived. Adele has had her ups and downs but now she feels very much at home. Zach has been growing steadily, both physically and emotionally and really seems to love it here too. And Josh… he is really just now starting to fall into his new being. We knew that there was this dreaded threat of the shvitote and had some small experiences with it last year however, I don’t think we were really prepared for what seems to be developing this year. At the end of the summer I was so happy to get back on schedule with the school thing. Just to have some structure is so important to a parent’s sanity. So, when the Chagim (Holidays) came around about 2 weeks later we were just relying on pure faith that we would make it through the onslaught of the kids free time. Ok, we made it, mostly unscathed by all this and then 2 weeks into the real school year we were informed of the eminent shvita by very exited children. “Mom, Dad, this one is going to be 2 months long!”

“Yah right, 2 months… sure. Neereh (we’ll see).”

They have had 3 days off now and we don’t know what is happening yet. The kids have made there own schedules about how they are going to use the time (you should see Joshes, you know… math from 11 to 12, right after breakfast and a break. Lunch from 12 to 1 and then another break from 1 to 3. Help with some house cleaning from 3 to 4 and after that another ‘well deserved break.’ Nintendo, cartoons, playing with his new friend Alon until 1:00 in the morning, and get up and do it again the next day!

We are gong to have to work on that one a bit. Welcome to one of the stranger parts of the Brave New Land.

And, speaking of strange, (ooh, what a segway) I had a strange few days at work a few weeks ago. I haven’t written anything about it because we have been having so many holidays that there was so much else to write about and very little time to do it. It is a minor story in this little life of mine, however it seems to be haunting me a bit. It all started when one of the German guys at work got sick and couldn’t work on a really fun project making a Bimah (Stage) for a Synagogue in a town near Jennin called Magan Shaul. The Bemah was a gift to them and had to be done before Yom Kippur so, at the time, we were in a real time crunch to get it done. The job fell to me and with a little help; the African Mahogany Bimah was delivered on time and looked beautiful.

But I am getting ahead of myself. About two days before we needed to be finished with the Bemah a hushed little meeting occurred first thing in the morning. An apprentice that was working with me stopped and looked at the little meeting going on at the next bench over and told me something big had happened. This is a very unusual thing in the miphal (factory) and he waited to see if he could find out what it was. We didn’t actually find out what had occurred until after the morning break. There had been a terrible tragedy the night before and a 5 year old girl had died. She was very sick and evidently asphyxiated on her own vomit. I was very shocked, as was everyone in the nagariah and a weird thing about it is that because it is a self sufficient kibbutz, another coworker needed to spend that day building a little coffin for her out of the same materials that we use to make kitchens out of. He spent all day, in a dark corner, building this little white melamine box to bury the little girl in and then, one of her uncles, another nagar (carpenter) that builds roofing systems, came and hoisted the coffin on his back and left with it.

Nobody talked about what happened for the next week. It was just like it didn’t happen at all, on the surface. The nagar that had hurt his knee eventually came back and I asked him about his knee. His answer was enlightening, in more ways than one, to say the least. I asked him what the doctor had said and he told me that he doesn’t go to the doctor if he can help it. He only prays to heal himself. Somehow, I also found out that this same nagar is another uncle of the little girl that died. I asked around in my Hebrew speaking community here in Zichron and found out that there is also an ongoing investigation into the death of this little girl. In the mean time, the uncle with the knee trouble left work again and when I ask about him, I get a lot of I don’t knows. Crazy… what a world. What a wild ride… I never met the little girl, but maybe I saw her once or twice. Who knows? I don’t really know how to feel about it. I feel bad for her, her family, and her community, but it is conflicting for me. I guess, at the end of the day, I just…lo yodea… ma la’asote…

Shavua Tov Kulam.

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