These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Parents Come to Town

Posted on January 26, 2014 by Naomi Bilmes

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From my blog:

naobilI have been living in Israel for 10 months, and everyone knows what happens after 10 months in a foreign country: you go broke and finally start paying attention to the foreign country’s politics. In addition to that, your parents come to visit!

It had been five months since I had physically been in the same room as my parents (I say “physically” because Skype allows us to be “virtually” in the same room whenever we want). It had been a great five months, but what had made it even better was sharing with my parents everything I had been up to (thanks to weekly phone calls and emails). And now, I was going to get to talk to them face to face. And maybe even give them hugs.

That first evening (Thursday) after dinner at a trendy cafe on Emek Refaim (with my brothers, too), my dad and I went for a short father-daughter walk. In a span of about 20 minutes, I showed him my apartment, my favorite synagogue, my grocery store of choice, and my school, Pardes. It was at this point that he decided I needed pepper spray.

And so the quest began. My parents would not be leaving Israel until I had obtained a sufficient amount of the precious liquid. And perhaps a reflector vest, as well.

Our first Shabbat together passed without incident. My brothers were available to walk me home after dinner, so the yet-to-be-found pepper spray was not needed. During dinner, we had feasted on meaty take-out fare (who wants to cook on vacation?) and revived numerous family jokes from the graveyard of humor past. Many times I looked around the table and noted happily to myself: one, two, three, four, and me. Just like it should be.

During Shabbat day, after my mom and I had selected one shul and the my dad and brothers had selected another, we had another take-out buffet – this time, with someone else at the table. Gulp – a stranger! But I haven’t bought my pepper spray yet!

Not to worry. A gulp is in order, but not because the guest is a stranger. A gulp is in order because the guest is, gulp, my boyfriend.

Don’t worry, he survived. I think.

So how did my parents entertain themselves during their stay? Contrary to what some students of Torah do when their parents come to visit, us siblings did not skip school and spend every minute with Mom and Pop. I did not want that, my little brother did not want that, and goodness know my dad not want that. My older brother, well, he was out-voted. As a result,
Sunday was “Uri Day,”
Monday was “Eli Day,”
Tuesday was “Naomi Day,” and
Wednesday was “Tel Aviv, Old Friends, and Fancy Hotel Day.” (I have to admit, though, that Naomi did get to see her parents on Uri Day and Eli Day. And Eli got in on Naomi Day. So it was all kind of mashed potatoes. With pepper.)
On Thursday, I got some special mom time, in which we went grocery shopping and cooked for Shabbat – in the same exhausting fashion in which we once conducted these same rituals all the way back in West Hartford. Meanwhile, the boys bought, um, things in Mea Shearim (which my dad fondly calls “Mea”). Then we were sick of going to restaurants, so we bought bread, cheese, veggies and salatim at the grocery store for a light Mediterranean dinner. I also received a special gift that night, but I will only reveal its identity once I describe “Naomi Day.”

“Naomi Day”: Let’s just say the Bilmes family invaded Pardes and conquered it. My dad, shying away from a three-and-a-half hour Talmud class, opted for afternoon-only classes, but my mom met me at Pardes at 8:15 am and the fun began. We got her the appropriate books from the beit midrash and got all settled and ready for school. (I couldn’t help but stride around the halls with her on my arm, showing off my really cool mom who is awesome enough to penetrate the hallowed the learning chambers of this great institution).

She completely followed the snaking logic of my Talmud class, and we even learned together in hevruta (tractate Kiddushin, about the rabbinic laws of betrothal). My dad joined us at noon for a lecture on Jewish treatment of refugees, and then the head of Pardes whisked both of my parents into his office for a short, impromptu parent-teacher conference.

Don’t worry, they survived. I think.

After a short lunch break and some sunshine, we attended my afternoon class on the Book of Samuel. My dad asked a great question about Islam (it was relevant, I promise) and then we learned in a small group until… Eli came to join us! Then we learned in a bigger group. My mom and I wanted to read the text and focus on the assignment sheet, while my dad wanted to jump from commentator to commentator without really understanding any of them. Eli followed along in a different book and kept the peace. Sort of. Then we all trucked back to class and listened with awe.

When the school day was over, my mom said,

“I can see why this takes some getting used to. My brain is totally fried.”

Welcome to Pardes.

When I think about all the Pardes students I’ve met thus far, a minority of them have parents who

  1. understand them Jewishly
  2. understand what they are doing at Pardes
  3. can insert themselves into class for a day and and experience everything along with their kid.

Wow, do I feel lucky. And when I was cooking with my mom on Thursday afternoon, she said meekly while cutting vegetables:

“I loved Pardes. I want to go back.”

And now back to my special gift. Yep, you guessed it: pepper spray! My dad found it in a camping store near Mea Shearim, and as he carefully handed it over to me, he said with a Dumbledore look in his eye, peering over his half-moon spectacles:

“Use it well, Harry.”

Well, he didn’t really say that. And he has circular spectacles, not half-moons. But he did instruct me on how to keep the nozzle in the safety position and how to flick it open should the need arise. I am to have it in my hand whenever walking alone after dark in Jerusalem. Or anywhere, for that matter. West Hartford, watch out.

The week ended on a wonderfully high note. My boyfriend came for Shabbat lunch again (gulp), and my mom observed that he seemed more comfortable with us now:

“He ate more, that’s how I know.”

We all sang raucously and gave even more raucous divrei Torah. We had all attended the same shul on Shabbat morning (hey, it happens) and no one had hated the service, so we pondered the rabbi’s speech over lunch with enjoyment. Relishing a combination of take-out and home-cooked food, Shabbat was definitely in full swing.

We completed the afternoon with a family walk, the Jerusalem Post, challah rolls, mincha, and havdalah. We then ran around the apartment for ten minutes cleaning it up, packing my parents’ stuff, and claiming the leftovers they were leaving behind. Then we sat around for an hour waiting for the taxi to arrive.

And then, as soon as they had come, they were gone.

Saying good bye was hard, as I knew it would be. On Friday, I’d had a little meltdown, crying to my boyfriend about God-knows-what, but ultimately coming out with,

“It’s been so fun having my family all together and I don’t know when it’s gonna happen again and I don’t want them to leave.”

“Don’t be sad that they’re leaving,” he said. “Be happy that they came.”

And I am. So happy. And every time I use my pepper spray I will think fondly of this wonderful visit.

* * *

(Pictures to come!! I decided not to put the usual Google Images into this post because there is nothing like photos of the family. Once my parents go through the camera and delete all the pictures of stray cats, I’ll post some here.)