Elite Academy Website

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mom's-Eye View

So what was all this like from the parental side? Umm, very stressful, but we made it through in one piece :). Since part of the reason for this blog is to help others considering applying for the program have a better understanding about what it's actually like to participate, I'll throw in my $.02 about the preparations.

It has definitely been....different.....dealing with an Israeli administration rather than, say, an American summer camp. We kept waiting and waiting for the packing list and when it came is said things like, "bring clothes". This was quite a bit different than the American camp lists that specify exactly what type of clothes (Shabbat, everyday, "adventure") to bring, and how much of everything, right down to how many washchloths, which is always a "pause" moment for camp-bound child and myself since we tend to never use washcloths in our family once past the early years. Being a rule-following kind of family, we usually pack one, even though they tend to ask for 3 or 4, so we have at least followed the spirit of the law, if not the letter!

Anyway: the program made kind of a big deal about the send-off party for the kids at JFK, and encouraged families to come en masse to it. If Batsheva goes back next year, we will not be doing this. It would have been so much calmer and nicer to say our good-byes here at home and just have one parent drive down with her (and Chana, if she chose to go). Shlepping a 7 year-old and 4 year-old for 9.5 hours in the car (round-trip) only to deal with the dirty, noisy insanity of JFK was, well, dumb, to say the least. Other families had it harder than us, though--our friends were there with their 9 kids (and they have, I think, 4 kids under age 5), and another family brought their three young children, both parents, a grandma and an aunt. OY! There was a lot of shlepping back-and-forth between terminals, and then several of the speakers at the party were late, so the "official" part of the party was about 10 minutes long.....The organization tried, I'll give them that, but now we know better than to do this again!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Beginning...

[Note: Yes, I know this is being posted quite a bit after it was written. What can I say; once I got to Israel there was a lot to do! Chana, you can stop bugging me now.]

I’m currently sitting on a mildly comfortable seat in an aircraft flying over Italy. (A few minutes ago, a woman looked out the window and said excitedly, “I can see the boot!”) The time is now 4:20 AM for all you in the US but I’m wide-awake, sick of the plane, and more than ready to eat breakfast! (There’s a very persistent smell of toast wafting through the air, which doesn’t really help.) In Israel right now, it’s 11 A.M. We have about two more hours left until we touch down at approximately 1:17 P.M. (Fun fact: the air temperature outside is -50 degrees Fahrenheit!)

Now that you have all that essential information, why don’t I work forwards and start with the beginning of today? (Okay, technically yesterday, but whatever.) I woke up at 5-something when my mother very quietly walked down the hall. Does anyone else ever wake up really easily when they’re excited or nervous for something happening that day? :) I jumped out of bed and started to get really nervous, so I read through the gorgeous scrapbook people put together at my goodbye party on Sunday. While my mother very kindly straightened my hair I read the scrapbook out loud to her and made her guess who each page was from.

Before very long, everybody else in the house had woken up and crowded into our upstairs bathroom where my mother was doing my hair. I took a lot of random pictures of my sisters sitting on the edge of the tub, making funny faces, smiling nicely (well, for the most part…I guess it was a little early to not expect a few grimaces.) I had to finish up a last minute project, so that took me until around 7:30, at which point I called my friend Eliana and asked if I could run over to her house with said last minute project. She said yes, which resulted in a mad dash across Malden to where she lives. (It was worth it, though.)

After I got back home, I ate breakfast, packed a few remaining items, and proceeded to panic about anything and everything. Our goal was to leave at 8:30 for the four/five hour drive to New York; we managed to get everything and everyone in the car somewhere around 9. The drive was (mostly) uneventful, which isn’t to say it was quiet. But thanks to the magic of portable DVD players, the noise level was generally kept to a dull roar.

Because we didn’t have to be at the airport until around 3:30, we stopped to visit my great-aunt Sunny and great-uncle Sydney. They have two giant poodles, both of which are bigger than Ilana. :) After spending some time at her house, we drove to JFK.

Now, the thing about JFK is that it’s HUGE. And it’s not particularly simple to navigate, either. In the line for curbside luggage drop-off (what a blessing to not have to shlep my luggage all around the airport…) we ran into the Werners, my mother’s long-time homeschool buddies from Maryland. Their daughter, Tehila, is also going to Ulpana Segula! (If we get to choose our roommates, and I hope we do, then we’ve already agreed we’ll room together along with another girl Tehila knows.)  Between our seventeen heads (they have nine children!) we somehow managed to get to the “International Synagogue Party Room” where a departure ceremony was being held for all the Elite Academy students and their parents. (In case you didn’t know, the Elite Academy/Na’aleh program has four different schools associated with it. Ulpana Segula is just one.) There were a few short speeches and some yummy things to eat. Then they took a group picture of all the students and almost everyone (parents included) started off for Terminal 3, where our flight would leave.

I said goodbye to my family in the security line. But as hard as that part was, getting through security was even worse. Because I packed jewelers pliers in my backpack and then forgot to take them out, it set off something in their machine and the airport people had to search the entire thing. And of course once they took everything out, it wouldn’t fit back in again! I ended up walking around the airport holding my stuffed animal because that was the one item that absolutely refused to be squashed back in. I eventually made my way to the right gate and waited for what seemed like a looooong time before being able to board.

Guess what? Apparently in some airports they also have X-ray machines for bags and stuff right before you’re about to board the plane in addition to the regular X-ray machines you have to pass through at the beginning. This, of course, was one such airport. By then, I had forgotten about the pliers (again), which set off the machine (again) and resulted in my bag being searched (AGAIN). Sigh. At least the woman looking through was very nice about everything. I finally managed to sit down and read through my new Cricket magazine.

The flight was unremarkable. Unremarkably long, at least. I calculated—waking up at 5-something + taking off at 8:30 (an hour later than scheduled) and then arriving in Israel almost 10 hours later meant that I was awake for somewhere around 30 hours. (It's so hard to sleep on planes!)

Once we actually got to Ben Gurion, there were still passport control and customs to go through. When we finally made it through, there was a group of girls waiting for us with two of them holding a big banner saying "ULPANA SEGULA" on it. Everybody filed onto a bus and we drove the two hours back to the school. 

When we arrived at the school, it was time for everyone to give their arm muscles a workout. Dragging over 100 pounds of luggage up five flights of stairs to my room was…an experience, to say the least. I found out that I was sharing a room with three other girls, although one is only coming after Succot—Shaina from LA, Rochel from I-forget-where (New York, maybe?), and Miryam from Spain (the absentee). This was a bit of a disappointment (no offense to my roommates!) because I thought we would get to pick our roommates. Hopefully, it will all work out.

Then there was dinner and a LOT of introductions and unpacking and bedtime. I guess that's all for tonight, I'll write more when I have more time. I'm really glad to finally be in Israel!! :)