The Adventure Continues…
December 16, 2007

It’s been a year since I last wrote one of these updates.   You’d think, therefore, that life had settled into a boring routine and there wasn’t much to write about.   You’d be wrong!

Ironically, the very day I sent the last update, Chanukah Eve, Friday, December 15th turned out to be a day of quite major significance for us.  Around noon that day I emailed you all an update titled, “Welcome to the Club”.  The main event I wrote about was that of Etana having a baby and the adjustment of our becoming grandparents.  Though, we felt quite young to be grandparents we were looking forward to our new role.  Well, apparently we were younger than we imagined.

That evening as I was getting dressed for Shabbat and preparing to enter both Shabbat and the first night of Chanukah, Randi said she had an early present to give me.  Somehow, as she reached in the vanity drawer in the bathroom to retrieve my “present”, I knew what she was about to hand me; a positive pregnancy test.  All I could do was laugh, giggle actually.  How many times, earlier in our marriage, had we prayed to see that pink line and now here we were on the precipice of the “next phase” being, not so subtly reminded, that we can plan all we want to, but G-d gets the last laugh.

Over the next few months we would experience quite a range of emotions.  Being a “guy” it was much easier for me.  I would get the virtual, and sometimes actual, slaps on the back with that “way to go” attitude.  Randi, on the other hand, had to deal with not only the perception of being a pregnant grandma, but also the physical reality of being a pregnant grandma.  We also had to deal with the concerns of pregnancy in general for Randi, given her history, combined with the added fear for her and the baby given her age.  But, for the time being this was going to be our “little” secret as there were other things going on.

Back around Pesach of 2006 when Elisheva was still an 18-year-old seminary student she tentatively approached us with the idea of starting to date.   Now, “starting to date” can mean different things to different people.  In Elisheva’s world it meant that she was ready to be fixed up with the real possibility that after just a few weeks of dating she could become engaged.  Truthfully, many of her peers would start dating within 6-12 months anyway, so it wasn’t really all that early.  Elisheva tried to make the point that she was at a competitive disadvantage dating in Israel.  (Something, which we all later realized, may actually have been an advantage for her.)  Still, we were hesitant, she just seemed so young.  That Randi was 19 when she got engaged didn’t seem to matter, since everyone knows that things were different “back then”.   Nevertheless, we gave the go-ahead knowing that it would take some time just to get the ball rolling.

And indeed, her first date was not until the following September.  As I mentioned, it’s not uncommon for people in Elisheva’s circles to date for just a few weeks.  Well, being Mr. Modern Orthodox, I was going to have none of that! I told Elisheva that she had to date for at least two months.  She dated a couple of guys unsuccessfully during the fall.  Soon after Chanuka, while our heads were still spinning from our own new situation, Elisheva’s seminary principal called to recommend a young man she thought would be perfect for Elisheva.

The preliminary investigations went very quickly.  (Usually, there’s a CIA level inquiry completed before the two sides agree to go out.) Elisheva had her first date with Shlomo Storch in the beginning of January.  He impressed us immediately by renting a car to come pick her up.  In a scene out of “Father Knows Best” he sat and schmoozed with us for a while as Elisheva put the finishing touches on.  To make a short story shorter, after just 3 weeks (it was really 2 weeks but they let me say 3 publicly to save face) Elisheva and Shloimie decided they wanted to get married and Mr. Big-Shot-At-Least-Two-Months over here caved like a cheap deck of cards.  (Whatever does that really mean?)

In order to accommodate Shloimie’s parents, who are both in education and would be flying in from New Jersey, we decided to have the wedding close to Pesach so they could maximize their visit by combining it with their Pesach vacation.  This gave us just eight weeks to put everything together.  Randi’s pregnancy was also a factor in this decision, as we didn’t want a wedding anywhere near her due date in August.  Of course, add to the list for Randi the idea of finding a maternity gown in which to walk down at your daughter’s wedding!

Sometime in between the engagement and the wedding we decided to tell the kids about Randi’s delicate condition.  I used a reference to the movie “Father of the Bride II” to break it to them.  (In that movie the mother and daughter are pregnant at the same time.)  Etana, was just so Etana.  She got very excited at the thought of she and Randi doing all sorts of fun things together with their babies.  Elisheva, was excited, supportive and couldn’t wait to tell her new fiancé.  Raanan in classic Raanan style just said, “Do you guys KNOW how old you are?”

We waited a little longer to tell our “baby” Meira.  One Friday night the whole family was eating dinner at Etana and Zev’s and we tentatively sprung it on her.  She was not initially all that excited.  Right away she realized that she was going to lose the coveted “baby” position in the family.  She even said, “I thought that I’d always be your baby.” Well Etana lost it, sobbing away, and the rest of us were a little teary.  After some discussion Meira asked me if I would still call her “baby”.  Once I agreed to that condition the excitement of it all began to take over and she just wanted to tell everyone.

Elisheva’s wedding was in March and it was beautiful.  (If you haven’t seen the short video of the wedding you can do so by clicking here.)  Elisheva looked magnificent and we got ourselves yet another son-in-law who seems to be hand picked for our daughter.  Shloimie quickly became an integral part of our family and in this short time we already can’t remember what is was like before he was around.

Once again we are very fortunate that Elisheva, like Etana, married into a wonderful family with true “Yichus” (important lineage).  Shloimie’s family, like Zev’s, spent time in Cleveland and both of his parents are in education. Shloimie, taking after his mom, is quite musically talented.  We now know that we’ll have it easy when Raanan is ready to get married.  We’ll just go to Cleveland and find a nice girl whose father is a school principal!

Officially, on the day of Elisheva’s wedding our Chayal Boded, Tonny, moved into Elisheva’s room.  I think we gave her a couple days grace time, but basically, as if she had been living in a hotel, we were telling Elisheva to clear out as we had a reservation for the next guest.

Ah, so some of you might be asking, “What is a Chayal Boded”?  Literally it means a “single soldier”.   The army arranges residences for boys in the army who have no family here in Israel.  It gives the boys a sense of “home”; a place to keep their stuff, to receive mail, to come to when they are off duty, to do their laundry, etc.    We actually have known Tonny for a few years.  He attended a local Yeshiva before joining the army and had been at our home for many Shabbat meals.  As it turns out, he’s also the step-son of a friend who we’ve known for 30 years.  Apparently, that bedroom is a real charm, as Tonny got engaged this summer and plans to get married in February.

Shortly after Elisehva’s wedding, Randi had a detailed ultrasound to check the baby.  Theoretically this test can detect physical abnormalities that are indicators for certain genetic defects.  Our main concern was that of Down syndrome, the odds of which increase dramatically with maternal age.  (And as Randi reminded me, studies are showing with paternal age as well!) Then again, for some reason, Randi worried about Down syndrome with all of our children, even when she was a young spring chicken!  An Obstetric Radiologist performed this type of special ultrasound so we didn’t have to wait for results.  Right away he said, “Hakol B’sedar”, everything looks fine.

We actually relaxed a little.  Even though Randi was once again suffering from gestational diabetes, the diet she needed to be on as a result had her looking terrific.  Etana and Zev were living around the corner, so we got to see them and Donniel Moshe nearly on a daily basis.  Like his mom and dad, Donniel is a bundle of energy and such a joy to spend time with.  Elisheva and Shloimie were settling into their new life in their fourth floor walk-up in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood of Jerusalem.  Raanan was doing well in school and Meira couldn’t wait to start Kita Alef (first grade).

Because of her age and history Randi was switched to a high-risk obstetrician.  (This is something she can’t blame in MY age!)  He recommended, and we were glad he did, that for several reasons it would be wise for Randi to have a scheduled c-section.  As a result her appointments and ultrasounds became more frequent.

Etana, Zev, and Donniel’s sojourn in Beit Shemesh came to abrupt end in June.  Zev had taken a new job as sales manager with a company that sells moving services in the U.S. Since Zev was working until well past midnight in Jerusalem, they felt it would be better for them to move to the Holy City.  So, like the Tasmanian whirlwind that IS Zev and Etana, within in a week or so they had found an apartment and moved.

Randi was having routine ultrasounds every two weeks.  At an ultrasound around a month before the baby was due, the technician pointed out to us the baby’s femur was starting to measure shorter than normal.  Of course we did what all good patients today do.  We ran right to the internet.  What we learned was that this short femur could mean anything from Down syndrome to dwarfism.  Of course after digging a bit, I discovered what it mostly meant was nothing, i.e. most fetuses with short femurs are born perfectly normal.  Subsequent ultrasounds and conversations with the doctor proved to be totally confusing so we decided to stop the ultrasounds as, at this point, there was really nothing they could do but worry us.  Faced with the idea of having a child with dwarfism Randi was beginning to think that Down syndrome didn’t look all that bad.

The c-section was scheduled for July 16th, Rosh Chodesh Av.  (No choice to do it earlier or much later.)  We had hired an obstetrician privately (not uncommon) to handle the surgery.  Though we were told to be at the hospital at 8:00 a.m., like a backed up runway at JFK, we waited in “line” for hours as about 10 scheduled and unscheduled c-sections preceded us.

Finally, Randi was prepped for surgery with a local anesthetic. She remained awake, if not woozy. I was seated safely next to Randi’s head behind a divider that prevented me from seeing her guts on display as I nervously waited to hear that first cry.  After a few minutes of jostling and suctioning sounds the doctor held up my new son, still attached to his umbilical cord.  He looked pretty gross, as do most babies who are covered with blood and guts, and yet beautiful at the same time.

Right away I noticed that they appeared to be doing a little more with him than the typical apgar testing. (His apgar was 9/9!) Specifically, the pediatrician seemed to be checking his muscle tone by flopping him around like a rag doll.  At the same time the nurse quietly said to me, “did your wife have a skira”.  (That’s the Hebrew word for the detailed ultrasound she had several months earlier.)   Well I didn’t have to be Sherlock Holms to figure out what was going on.  When I went over to look at the baby, the doctor asked me, pointing to his beautiful almond-shaped eyes, “Do your other children look like this?”  Being the nice guy I am I didn’t say out loud what I was thinking, which was, “No, moron, my other kids don’t have Down syndrome!”  I immediately looked at his palm and sure enough he had a simian crease, an almost certain marker for Down syndrome.

Even though I knew the answer, I asked this Russian pediatrician if he thought that my son had Down syndrome.  His reply was, “Well he’s not going to be the smartest kid in the class.”  (I guess it’s all relative, we’ll just see about that!)  I went over to Randi and whispered to her, “He has Downs.” She said, “OK” as if she had known all along.

As soon as he was cleaned up I asked to hold him.  The moment I held him, I felt my prior expectations shift to accommodate this new reality. That seemed to surprise the staff!  Before being whisked off to recovery, Randi gave our son a kiss and told him she loved him.  They really didn’t know what to do with us.  It seems that their standard protocol is to say as little as possible so as not to upset the parents.  But we weren’t upset.  We had discussed this possibility.  We loved him just as we had loved each of our newborn children. We were fine, we were going to be fine, and we wanted to make sure everyone knew that from day one.

For reasons unknown to us, we believe, at this stage in our lives G-d chose to give us this gift, which will require some special care on our part.  We just pray we are up to the challenge.

The timing of the birth couldn’t have been better for us.  I was off from Yeshiva for a month.  And there was a lot to do!  Since the surgery was on Monday, Randi was able to be home for the Shalom Zachor, which I think she wouldn’t have missed even if the baby had been born on Friday afternoon!  Since Raanan was born during the week of a Shabbos Yom Kippur, this was going to be our first Shalom Zachor.  And it didn’t disappoint.  It was a beautiful symphony of friends, family, singing and divrei Torah.

After a little concern about jaundice, the bris was done on time.  There are pictures and video on the lipkinfamily.com web site.  We named him Yisrael Simcha.  We chose the name Yisrael because he is the only one of our children to have the honor of being born in Israel.  Also, there was a great Rabbi who lived in the 1800’s who was known as Yisrael Salanter.   He’s called Salanter because he was from Salant, but his real last name was Lipkin.  Though we are not descended from him, we thought it would be a special merit for our son to carry his name.  We chose the second name Simcha, meaning Joy or Happiness, so that he will always know that he brought Simcha into our lives.

After a month focused mainly on Yisrael it was time for me and Raanan to go back to Yeshiva and for Meira to begin Kita Alef.  She was so excited.  We chose a school located in Ramat Beit Shemesh called Ahavat Yisrael (Rappaport).  It is a religious public school which we feel has a good blend of Religious Zionist philosophy and strict adherence to religious values.  From Meira’s point of view it’s a lot of fun.

Unbelievably, Raanan began his Senior year.  We are very proud of how he’s grown and adapted to our new environment.  As the year progresses he will be faced with a major life decision in what to do next year.   Does he go to a religiously right-wing Yeshiva where army service is shunned or does he go to a Hesder Yeshiva were army is integrated into the program?  This is truly his decision and I suggest you not ask him what he’s decided if you know what’s good for you.  Regardless of what he chooses next year he still had to go through the army induction process when he turned 17.  He went down to the draft center, had his physical and took various tests.  I guess he did ok as he now receives an endless stream of recruitment mail from various army-related institutions.

Elisheva completed her course in computer graphics in June and, after spending several months looking for that all-important “first job”, decided to settle for a job working as an office manager for a PC repair business.  The good news for us is that her new job is located right down the street from us here in Beit Shemesh.  So we get to see her quite often.

In yet another flash Etana and Zev have moved yet again.  Though their last apartment was well located in Jerusalem, there really was no community for them in the neighborhood they were in.  That, combined with having a landlord from hell (so much so that it got to the point where Etana was afraid to be in the apartment without Zev being there) prompted them to look elsewhere.  About a month ago they moved into a very nice apartment in the town of Neve Daniel which is located in the Gush region.  Zev’s sister lives next door. It’s about 25 minutes from us and about 15 minutes from Jerusalem.

Randi decided not to go back to work this year.  It basically came down to doing therapy for other people’s special kids (for not so much money) or giving Yisrael Simcha her full attention, which as it turns out is a full time job.

The services provided here are excellent. When Yisrael was 6 weeks old he began a program at Shalva.  Shalva is a privately funded organization with a facility in Har Nof, Jerusalem that provides a range of services for special needs children.  In the “Me and My Mommy” program that Yisrael attends once a week he receives massage therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and hydro therapy.  He occasionally spends time in the Cheder Lavan (literally white room, also known as a Snoezelen room) which is a really cool room that provides him with multi-sensory stimulation.  In a short time he will also begin occupational therapy and computer therapy (I think they’ll be teaching .NET programming.) This will continue, free of charge, until he is two years old.  In addition our Kupa (health insurance company) provides him with physical and speech therapy.  And just in case you thought he wasn’t busy enough, Randi also brings Yisrael to an occupational therapist who is trained in a unique and innovative therapy known as “Medek”.

As you’ve read and heard, we really have had so much blessing since we moved here; weddings, grandchild, children, a great community with wonderful friends, and the special merit of living in Eretz Yisrael.

This is a “Shmita” year in Israel.  The Torah mandates that every seven years the land is to lie fallow and not be cultivated.  The produce that does grow during this year is considered ownerless.  Of course being a country full of Jews there are many opinions on exactly how this law is to be observed in today’s modern world where the Temple is not yet the center of Jewish life here.  There is rarely a Shabbos meal that goes by that this is not a hot topic of discussion. This, of course is a great thing as at least it guarantees that we’re talking about a Torah topic.

Without getting too into the details, the way we’ve chosen to observe Shmita results in some of the produce we eat being classified as having “Kedushat Shviit” (holiness of the seventh year).  Practically, since this food is considered holy, it means that we cannot treat it degradingly by throwing it directly into the garbage. We must first set it aside to decay on its own for a few days, and then we can wrap it separately and throw it away.

The reason I’m giving you this Shmita lesson is to share with you the wonderful feeling as a parent to see your child actualize the performance of Mitzvot unique to Israel. Earlier in the year Meira came home from school and excitedly handed me a ball of tin foil.  Inside, were the remnants of her tomato sandwich. She immediately informed me that I must be careful to put the tomatoes in our special “Pach Shmitta” (a container we designated for this produce).  Also, Randi recently poured some water into a potted plant we have outside the front door.  Meira saw this and started questioning Randi as to whether or not she should have been watering the plant during Shmita.  A kid in America may learn about Shmita in school, but the kids here are, like so many mitzvot unique to our Homeland, actually living it!

Hoping more of you come and join us soon.

Check out our website for new pictures.

Menachem