We had a very cousin-filled 36 hours. On erev Sukkot, we stopped by Donny's cousin Racheli, who lives with her family in Modi'in. Of course, we do not live within walking distance of them, no, no, but it was nice to see them anyway. They have 2 little boys who only speak Hebrew, (well, one's only 2 months, so he speaks the universal language of "Wahh"). The older one was, I think, a little frightened of these large, blond, English-speaking children who marched in and took over his toys. But we all had a nice time and hopefully we will see them again.
For the first day (how I love to write that! Day!) we went to Alon Shvut, where my cousins live. (We have had the Month of Endless Packing. First Bet Shemesh, then Bet Shemesh, then Gush, and coming up: Jerusalem for this Shabbos. There are definite advantages over the Month of Endless Cooking, but our poor overnight bags are like, "Not again! They're packing! Hide! Oh boy - here it comes: the deoderant, diapers, toys, underwear, ponytails, outfits, and "just in case" outfits. Why can't these people just stay put?!") Anyway, when I was in Israel for the year, I spent a significant amount of time with the Gush Leibtags. I haven't really spent time with them since then, which was about 10 years ago. So this was my first time spending more than five minutes with everyone. I found out something very interesting - while I was busy getting older and married and having kids and stuff, my cousins were getting bigger, too! Who knew? My little cousin, Avigayil, who I used to play with and entertain on Shabbos, is now in high school and spent the day entertaining my kids. And Sheve is no longer a scrawny little eight year old. He is quite big. He is probably about 10 little Sheves stacked on top of each other. Then there's Leah, who I left around bat mitzvah age and now she has a kid of her own. I'm not sure why I found it so weird that they all got big and grew up in my absence. But I did. Unfortunately, for me at least, the rest of the Leibtag children were not home for Sukkot. They were off in various exotic locales, such as Chile, Singapore, and Chashmonaim.
So the chag was really nice (I can't call it "yom tov" because "Yom tov" is what people say to you at stores or in the elevator during the week.) After lighting candles, we took a little walk around the yishuv. The kids were having a blast running in the streets, which are closed off on Shabbat and chag. Thea said, "They can't do that in America!" They can't do that in Modi'in, either, unless they are they are thrill-seekers with a death wish. But that's besides the point. We stopped by more cousins, the Rothners, on the way to shul. Another thing that happened in Alon Shvut while I was gone is that they built a huge, beautiful shul. It's actually 2 shuls - one Ashkenaz and one Sfard, and they are right next to each other with this little playground next to it. The kids enjoyed playing in the park in the dark, until it was time to go home. After dinner, the kids went to bed and we hung out for a while, watching Menachem entertain groups of kids who came by to the sukkah. In Israel, they do Sukkah hops as well, but they do it at night. As Sheve said, "You think the reason they change the clocks when they do is because of Yom Kippur - but it's actually so there's more time for sukkah hopping." Luckily, Yaakov is still at a stage we call Mostly Clueless, and even Ariella only had a vague recollection of what sukkah hopping is, and anyway decided that she is not so good at hopping yet, so we didn't have to schlep them around in the pitch black, stuffing them with sugar. But we saw as other people fulfilled the time-honored tradition of the Sukkah Hop.
In the morning, we went to meet the men at shul (a different shul, but also with a playground. The kind of playground where you might want to come equipped with a tetanus shot and tweezers, but fun nonetheless) and the kids played for around 45 minutes while davening was finishing. It was very pleasant - unlike Modi'in, Alon Shvut understands the dual concepts of "trees" and "shade" so I was able to sit on a shady bench while the kids ran around. I actually did a little praying of my own - I had broken one of my cardinal rules, which is Never Leave the House Without Sustenance and Drink, so every time one of them came running to me, I prayed, "Please don't be thirsty, please don't be thirsty, please don't be thirsty." Luckily, they played really nicely the whole time. We had lunch, and a friend of Donny's from yeshiva, Dov Karoll, was there. After lunch, Ariella attached herself to Avigayil. They did puzzles, played games, read books and all sorts of fun stuff. Yaakov played quietly in his room until he fell asleep, in a kneeling position, with his knees on the floor and his head on the mattress. You can just imagine him playing with his cars, la la la, zoom zoom zoom, and then - CRASH! Then, I let Donny have the unpleasant task of waking him up and dealing with the PNM (post-nap misery). Ariella and I played endless rounds of Mastermind (the "junior" way - when you tell the person which colors are right. Takes a lot of the work out of it!) After minchah, we walked over to Leah's apartment to see her sukkah. When the chag was over, it was time to pack up ("Oh boy - the stuff's coming back in - but you know, this time they don't even bother to fold anything - it just gets shoved in.") Ariella was actually really cute, because as we pulled out of Menachem and Thea's driveway, she started to cry, "I like these cousins! I don't want to leave!" It was nice that they got a chance to bond and we will definitely go back. Also, we really liked Alon Shvut. Even though I had spent a lot of time there in the past, I saw it in a very different way this time. It's a really nice community, the way that shuls are the center of the community, everyone hangs out there, people going to visit each other all day, very warm and open and friendly. Too bad it is very far away from Haifa. Anyway, on the way back from Alon Shvut we went to see more cousins, Rena and Paul and their kids, in Efrat. We ate some excellent cake (I mean, you have to say a layshayv, right?) and talked for a while, until Ariella and Yaakov decided to go wandering and got lost. Finally, Cousin Time was over, for now. Time to go home.
Other chag news: An Israeli Food Update
The children were introduced to Krembo on Sukkot. For those of you who don't know, it's this chocolate shell filled will marshmallow cream and has a little cookie at the bottom. This is worshipped by Israeli children. Ariella decided to eat hers in a bowl with a spoon, because it was so messy. Avigayil's jaw dropped - "I've never seen anyone do that before." - and then halfway through, she decided it was too sweet. Yaakov, similarly, only ate a few bites. For those of you keeping track:
Chocolate spread: Yaakov loves it, Ariella hates it
Chummus: Ariella loves it, Yaakov hates it
Falafel: Ariella loves it, Yaakov is indifferent because he just eats the cheeeps
Bamba: No for both
Bissli: Yes for both