My older kids had siddur parties. Maybe yours did, too?
It’s very cute.
Once first graders are reading well enough, they have a big ceremony and make a huge deal about handing over their Very First Siddur. For my big kids, that took about an hour, with refreshments following.
Here in Kiryat Shmuel, in the boys’ school, at least, things get a little more involved. Like, “involved” as in a 12-hour shlep to Yerushalayim.
And while you’re shlepping, you’d better not just hand over the siddur. At least not without a ceremony. And pizza. And a Chief Rabbi. And a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall).
Yup, 12 hours. Fun, fun, fun.
We just got home, and I decided to write down the highlights of the day while they’re still fresh in my memory.
The main celebration (see blurry photo above) was in the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Har Nof, where last November, two Arabs walked in and started stabbing Jews.
Why was that a good highlight? Because we shook the floorboards with laughter, singing and pizza. Because Jews support Jews and Israelis support Israelis. Kiryat Shmuel is the same as Har Nof as far as the bad guys are concerned. And yet our vibrant Jewish lives here go on and children grow up and receive siddurs.
Two other stops on the action-packed agenda were the Machon HaMikdash (the Temple Institute), where we learned all about the Bais (Beit!) HaMikdash, including grinding our own incense, and then on to the Kotel (Western Wall).
So… what were some of the outstanding moments from today’s long, long journey?
- Discovery. Like the kid behind me on the bus shouting out "Abba, abba, hinei!" (look!) whenever he saw anything. It doesn't matter what. Police, hills, trees; this kid has clearly lived in a box his whole life.
- Snow, Part 1. Seeing snow from the bus! (Not what I or any Canadian would call snow.)
- Snow, Part 2. Touching snow! (Despite 30 parents shrieking not to touch the filthy clods of snow half-smooshed into the ground.)
- Pride. Outing my kid (to his great shame) as a Canadian to his classmates. They had no idea and thought he'd been born here. Maybe they figured his accent was from Kiryat Yam, where he went to school last year?
- My last siddur-party kid. Seeing Elisheva. Not joking about that one. I love having as many of my kids as possible in this country.
- Surprise! What NOT to hand out to a bus load full of sugar-OD'ing 6-year-olds as you head out on a 12-hour journey? Whistles. Don’t try to argue with me. The only way it could be worse is if the whistle was secretly hiding a little candy inside to up the sugar levels… oh, wait, they were. There was a little candy lipstick tucked inside each and every one of 60 whistles.
- History. The kid on the bus who wisely (and noisily, braggingly) explained to his friend that the stone-fronted apartment buildings we were driving past in Jerusalem were so dirty because they'd stood from the time of the Second Temple.
- Sugar, sugar, sugar. The kids were supposed to bring a sandwich and a fruit; everything else would be provided. And if "provided" means a non-stop flow of wafer bars, hard candies, soft candies, cake, cookies, lollipops, gum and pizza for lunch followed by six hours of more candy, then yes, it certainly was.
- Sanctity vs cynicism (sanctity won). The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem who started to speak, then cleared his throat and suggested that the "imahot" (mommies) would be far more comfortable on one side of the room while the "avot" (daddies) would be happier on the other. I was thus primed to be all snarky and cynical but it turned out that what he had to say to the boys was utterly simple, holy and perfect – every single word. Sometimes, cynics like me just need to shut up and take a lesson from the holy people of this world.
- Lamination, lamination, lamination. At every single one of the numerous stops, the children received a whole great big plastic-wrapped wad of mementoes, with a holy laminated tag attached to each one, ranging from a few inches to a big foam-mounted full-page deal (a blessing to be said for the occasion at the Kotel). These include various suitable poems for the occasion along with blessings (in addition to the siddur, he received a laminated bentscher and tefillas haderech). I figure we must have collected about 30 miscellaneous Laminated Things today. I really, really, really wish I was joking.
- Aspirations. Helping GZ write the note he was supposed to slip into the Wall, I said he could ask for anything he wanted in his life as long as it couldn’t be bought in a store (I said if we can buy it in a store, Hashem expects us to get it for ourselves). So we wrote his little wish paper and stuck it in. Later, on the bus, some of the other boys shared their incredibly noble wishes for all of bnei Yisrael, like peace and prosperity… while my kid (smartly) decided not to tell anyone what he’d written.
- Language Skills. Feeling glad that I finally know enough Hebrew to convince the boy across the aisle that we hadn't left Jerusalem yet. Unfortunately, he would only STAY convinced for 3 or 4 minutes at a time... throughout the 45 minutes that we were stuck in traffic trying to leave the city.
Right. So, like I said… the whole ordeal was 12 hours, start to finish... and utterly, utterly priceless.
Is this a common thing here in Israel, shlepping little kids across vast distances for an experience they’ll never forget? Are you envious and want to let me know I should appreciate every moment in this incredible country? Let me know in the comments!