Who needs a pool when you’ve got a full fridge?

I don’t mean to sound corny, really I don’t. It’s just that I’m thankful.

In America I was thankful as well. I appreciated my large, comfortable house and my close friends, many of whom were also my neighbors.  I was grateful that I rarely had to put in a load of laundry, or run the vacuum. I had a housekeeper to do that for me. Not one, but two cars graced our garage, a Chevy Suburban and a classic Jaguar. My husband ran for local office and won. He was next in line to be mayor, they said. Being pulled over by a cop was followed by a friendly slap on the wrist once the officer read the name on my license. Weekly get-togethers with friends that were more like family recharged everyone’s batteries. While the adults talked and joked, our kids fell into the natural pattern of friendship. Life was good.

Don’t hate me; I was not always happy, shameful as that may sound.  Life wasn’t perfect, as life never is. In fact, my last years there could be downright awful. Pressures from various sources beyond our control were wearing us thin. Besides that came the normal jealousies; my house was big, but my friends had pools. My husband had a successful business, but our money went to pay for doctors that my friends’ kids didn’t need. You get the idea. To quote a term I learned from my sister-in-law, “first world problems.”

Aliyah was more than an eye opener. It was more akin to a scene from the classic “A Clockwork Orange” in which a person’s eyes were propped open by mechanical means. As much as I adored my new country, I longed for my old way of life, when I rolled out of bed at 7:30 and saw each of my kids off to school every half an hour, doting on them with three course breakfasts complete with a supply of the daily recommended vitamins and minerals. I reflected on American evenings, when my husband would arrive home at 6:15, and after a leisurely dinner the family would retire to the third floor, while my blessed housekeeper would clean up downstairs. By 7 pm I was done for the night.

Compare that to my morning chaos today, which begins promptly at 6:20 each morning. Throw in the nightly scramble to coordinate dinner against my husband’s conference calls at work, his “lunch break” during his American office hours, and his rush to get our youngest “Shema’d” and tucked in for the night before heading back to work, which goes until well after 2 am. Toto, we are not in America anymore.

Six years and five months have passed. Once again my children have eaten us out of house and home. It is all I can do to keep from pumping them up for “create your own dinner” night.

“Hey kids, let’s have a contest. Put together the tastiest meal you can from canned pumpkin, pine nuts, frozen spinach, malawah, and whole wheat crackers. The winner gets to go grocery shopping!!  Ready, set…….GO!!”

I knew the contest idea wouldn’t cut it, so I raided the store and arrived home with 1400 shekels worth of groceries. I pride myself in not being a “pizza and corn schnitzel” mom. Our dinners are lentil stews and homemade cornbread, tuna quiches and gourmet salads topped with craisins and almonds. Best of all, my kids actually love to eat this stuff.

Perhaps my dive into my family’s culinary habits has not been lost on you. If it seems a bit odd, well, that is my point. What is even odder is the euphoria I experienced upon returning from the market. I was not holding a winning lottery ticket, nor was I the recipient of a lifetime supply of Gap clothes. A much needed basement dug under my modest home was not in the works, nor was there a check in the mail. My pure desire to offer a korban to the One Above was from nothing more than gratitude for the fact that my cupboards were now overflowing.

In a country and in a world whose poverty rates are 23.5% and 12.5% respectively, I know enough to count my blessings. When my children can complain that we have no good cereals in the house, but we do have cereal, it’s a great day. In my house, by those standards, every day is a great day, thank G-d.

Just yesterday, the Jerusalem Post published the results of the annual survey on poverty in Israel. In 2012 there were 1,754,700 individuals living below the poverty line, 817,200 of them children. Poverty amongst seniors is on the rise, up 3% from 2011; 186,700 seniors must choose between food and medication. And while party leaders have pushed for child allowance cuts in order to force employment and reduce poverty, there’s a big hole in that theory: some 50,700 families containing two or more employed members are living below the poverty line. “Curing” poverty with these cuts just won’t cut it when poverty-stricken citizens are employed and doing the best they can. Punishing working families is ineffective at best and cruel at worst. Ignoring the plight of hundreds of thousands of children who go to bed hungry at night is acceptable?? Is it really wise to cut allowances that provide necessities for working families? Or would efforts be better directed toward increasing wages and job opportunities, and controlling the unleashed housing prices that are crushing young Israeli families? Perhaps it would be more prudent to reward and not punish those who are contributing to Israeli society.

Sadly, Americans are only faring slightly better. 47 million people live below the poverty line there, and that’s with benefits. That’s 16% of America’s population. Unfortunately for many, their pools have dried up and so have their job prospects. Simple pleasures like eating have gone from recreational to means of survival. For those to whom this has happened, there is a blessing in itself when daily needs are met. We spend less time wanting and more time appreciating.

Old dreams die hard. Does it border the inane to say that having everything you need rather than everything you once dreamed of is enough to make you happy? Apparently not for me, and not for many.  Were the built-in American closets really the be-all, end-all? Can I be happy without my American kitchen, the one my current living/dining room could fit into?

I can’t explain, but can only describe the sheer joy I felt, arriving home one cold day, transforming my nest into a bastion of nourishment, while my husband hunted out our sustenance thousands of miles from home.  Perhaps it’s just the Jewish mother in me. Or perhaps I have finally become Israeli. Perhaps I am finally real.

Yesterday I cleaned out the fridge and cleaned up the kitchen. I have no one to do that for me these days, but it’s okay. I’ve filled it up and that’s good enough for me.  It’s good enough for my kids too. We have no need to fill our lives with pools or large homes when we are filling our bellies with hot homemade delights on a cold winter night. We’ve got something better – we have everything we need in Eretz Yisrael.

About the Author
Miri Gantshar is a mother, psychologist and freelance writer who immigrated to Israel from New York in 2007. She is currently writing a book on her experiences in Israel.
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