“we are looking for friends in tzfat and/or rosh pinna area. tall man and baby available for playdates daily. 3.5 year old tags on in the afternoons. cute and lovable family. enquire within.”
This was my joking but-not-really-joking facebook status a few weeks ago.
It’s sort of strange, going away for four months. It feels like a long time when you are telling, say, your family members and friends back home. Or if you’re Nava. Little Nava has had all sorts of monumental changes since arriving here (sprouting teeth, crawling, signing). But it doesn’t sound like a very long time when you are meeting people locally and trying to build relationships.
When coordinating all the details of our temporary move here while back home in Toronto, we had to imagine what our lives would be like without really knowing. Even though we’ve both visited many times (even with Yona a year and a half ago) and Mike has lived here in the past, this was a new kind of trip.
We’re here short term. Way longer than a usual visit or tour but much shorter than other people who come for a year or more, or who decide to move to Israel. In the latter case, it might take longer to transition and more time to make friends. In our case, we were hoping to transition kind of quickly and establish some sort of “real life” here for our family. For us, real life includes a good neighbourhood, daily routines, friends, school for Yona, good food, fun outings.
The good food and fun outings part have been easy. The neighbourhood part has been the first challenge. We rented a place unseen from Toronto because we felt that we needed to have the security of a place to live right away. There’s a cute little town called Rosh Pinna where we wanted to live which is at the bottom of the mountain, and the city of Tsfat (where I am working), located at the top of the mountain. Tsfat is a religious city and has its charms, but I didn’t want to live there. So we found, online, a nice looking apartment that is rented out as a zimmer in the high season (zimmers are a big thing in northern israel, sort of like little holiday apartments for tourists) in a neighbourhood that is in the middle of Tsfat and Rosh Pinna called Nof Kinneret (View of the Kinneret).
As the name suggests, the neighbourhood does offer beautiful views of the Galil and Lake Kinneret. On a clear day, we can even see the beautiful snow-capped Mount Hermon. Its gorgeous. The apartment is nice too. That’s the good part. The annoying part is that Nof Kinneret itself is a very isolated neighbourhood with very little to walk to. Nary a coffee shop in sight. A few playgrounds that no kids seem to hang out in except ours. The only convenient thing about the neighbourhood is Yona’s gan, which is nearby. Nof is very hilly (the one time I walked Yona to her gan felt like my workout of the century). Young families seem to live on our street but pretty much none of them (except for one awesome family a few doors down) have introduced themselves and in fact, barely seem to notice us except when they are nearly running us over while speeding down the street in their cars, flicking their cigarettes onto our front porch or stealing Yona’s stuff (see previous post). And there is really infrequent bus service so Mike has had to drive me to work almost every morning, and ends up spending a lot of time driving each day.
The house is owned by a guy who lives in the center of the country, and the rental of the apartment is brokered through a woman (who I connected with through the internet) who works in a gallery in tsfat. When we lost our key, it turned out that no one else had a copy. Mercifully, we eventually found it and then the broker told us we should make a copy for ourselves. The apartment is supposed to have laundry but because they never brought over a washing machine, our upstairs neighbour (a surly chainsmoking woman named Shoo Shoo) does our laundry. She also seems to have other unofficial roles, like acting cranky, collecting the rent money and bringing us extra clothing hangers.
Because we are considered “holiday renters” we are charged way more for rent because a lot of people here don’t consider it worthwhile to rent out places short term.
Yona actually really likes Nof Kinneret, which she called Knuffle Kinneret (shout out to Knuffle Bunny, our beloved book which we left back in Toronto). Our porch has daily visitors, including some neighbourhood cats and Rocky the Rock Rabbit (a strange oversized rodent who likes to hang out by our house).
So, the neighbourhood has not been a winner. we had committed to this place until mid-March, but have found that we spend most of our time in Rosh Pinna, and have been meeting other young families who all live in Rosh Pinna as well. We’ve spent weeks wavering back and forth about whether it is worthwhile to move, Mike even met with the broker to see if she would cut us a break (she wouldn’t) and finally decided to carpe diem- or at least carpe a new apartment. So we found a place with lovely landlords in Rosh Pinna and are moving in a couple of weeks. Yona is consoled by the fact that we will be able to walk to her favourite playgrounds, to playdates, to the grocery store, and to the neighbourhood farm where just last week she hung out with its fourteen new baby goats and ate fresh cinammon buns.
The other thing we committed to early on was Yona’s gan. Its a little…different than what we are used to. firstly, there are a ton of kids (over 30, I think) and 3 teachers. They let the kids watch TV and give them candy every day. No one speaks any English. We didn’t know much about gans in the area before we came and tried to do some last minute research before committing to her current school. We were told that it would be hard to get Yona into a city-run gan because we aren’t permanent residents here, and her current school had no problems accepting her. We did find one gan in Rosh Pinna that we heard was great and run by an American woman, but she didn’t have space for Yona. So when we heard about this gan, we checked it out. It has a good reputation, was close by, Yona seemed ok with it, the teachers were sweet, so we decided to go for it. They say kids learn fast and maybe Yona is learning more Hebrew than we think, but I think she is mostly just spending her time playing and wondering what the heck is going on. Every time we meet another parent they tells us that their kid comes home talking about Yona- she seems to be some kind of a rock star there. But it is hard for her to break through, friends-wise. She knows some of the kids’ names, but not all. When something happens, like Yona getting bitten by another kid, we find that our not-so-great language skills means we can’t have a satisfying conversation with her teacher. On the plus side, they say these kinds of experiences build character, and she’s only there half a day. Not to mention that fact that she goes completely willingly and has fun there, which is the most important. And Mike gets a little down time with Nava in the morning, which is important too.
So after a week or two of the isolated Nof neighbourhood and the Hebrew gan, we decided that we really needed to find friends. This is where having kids is extremely helpful. Kind of like having a dog helps you meet people in your neighbourhood, having kids is a great excuse for meeting adults who also have kids under the guise of a playdate. I started to explicitly ask all the people here at the Faculty where I am working (and even some people I ‘know’ through email that I don’t even know personally) to help find us friends. Slowly but surely my small but loyal local network started trawling their address books and came back to me with suggestions:
“try michal, a phD student at the faculty. she lives in rosh pinna, has 3 kids, 2 of them are the same age as Yona and Nava”. We called her and had a lovely playdate on Saturday afternoon. We’re going back tonight for dinner (make your own pizzas).
“try liron, he has 3 kids, really nice guy”. Mike called. Liron thought it was hilarious. We had a playdate yesterday and met his lovely wife. It turns out they are friends with a couple, one of whom went to university with me. I got her number too.
We even called the cousins of the cousins of the cousin of our uncles cousins, who live in Tsfat. They had us over for lunch. Their daughter is married to someone whose family operates one of the oldest dairies in Tsfat and they and their 3 kids live in Rosh Pinna.
I picked up a very nice older man out for a power walk in Rosh Pinna who subsequently had us over for tea, let us pick grapefruit off his backyard tree and let Yona jump on the big trampouline he keeps for his 18 grandchildren.
I also knocked on the door of one of our neighbours in Nof who had once said hi to us and casually mentioned that we should come over to play. We came over the next day and then again this past weekend.
Colleagues are starting to have us over. My supervisor and her lovely husband. The Associate Dean of the Faculty and his lovely wife. Another one of my advisors.
I reconnected with an old friend from high school who lives about an hour away with her family. It was lovely. We played on the beach, ate good food, watched each other’s amazing kids play.
Its both a lot of work and exhilarating, this process of finding new friends. You have to really put yourself out there. But fortunately, we have found, with help, some lovely folks. And we have also found that people are willing to reach out. They offer to have us over and they mean it- even calling to set dates. Now that we are beginning to have some community, it feels great. Its so nice to have a social life. Its nice to have playdates.
Mike got in touch with a local planning professor and might do some research and attend a conference while here. I’ve been offered the potential opportunity of publishing some of my research. Its nice to feel like we are learning and growing professionally and academically.
we miss our friends and family back home. Its amazing how much we rely on our networks in so many ways! You realize that when suddenly they aren’t there anymore. One of our friends had the awesome suggestion of facilitating a pen-pal relationship between their daughter and Yona. They’ve already exchanged their first set of “letters” and send out little photos and movies depicting each other mailing and receiving their notes. So cute.
We’ve been skyping with our family and some friends too. That’s been fun. Yona had a skype call with her best little friend named Eva and she was flying high for days afterwards. You should skype with us too. its fun and easy.
So we are almost at our midway point. It goes by so fast. Four months. Not a long time. Now that we have moved beyond some of the rocky transitions of our first weeks, we are looking forward to hanging out with new friends, exploring this beautiful area, making the most of our time here.