Conflicting emotions

Last week we moved into our new apartment in the US.  In case you haven’t heard, because of my new job’s location and a combination of other factors, we decided to move back to the same town, West Hartford, we left two years ago.  Our new apartment is now about 1/2 mile from where our old apartment was located.  We also spent our first shabbat back in West Hartford in two years.  The combination of moving into the apartment and spending shabbat in West Hartford brought home the realization that we’re not on vacation; we actually live here now.  For me, this meant that I experienced a flood of conflicting emotions.

I miss Israel.  I miss hearing Hebrew spoken all around me.  I miss seeing signs in Hebrew and I miss seeing the Israeli flag.  I miss our friends and our family that still live in Israel.  It is weird coming back to the country I grew up and, even more so, a town that I lived in for 5 years and not feel like it is home anymore.  It is weird to feel like as nice as it is to live here, and there are many things that make it easy to live here, that I just don’t belong here.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my new job and it’s been great being so close to family, but I can’t shake this feeling that our time in the US is only temporary.  Of course, when I say our time here is temporary, I mean an indefinite number of years, but the goal is to make aliyah at some point down the road or at least that’s what’s in my heart.  Until then, we’re here and I’m finding it hard to be wholeheartedly happy about it.  Why?  More than ever before, I feel like Israel is my homeland, the homeland of the Jewish people.  After having lived in Israel, where the culture/religion is palpable on the street, where the dream of Jewish sovereignty in our own land isn’t a dream anymore, but a reality, everything else seems like a pale imitation of the vibrancy of Jewish life in Israel.  Just like I now feel Israeli in my heart and have a goal of making that a reality one day, I want our daughter to feel the same way.

Looking around, I see that while there are challenges of living in Israel, there are in some sense even greater challenges living here.  What challenges am I talking about?  The challenges of maintaining and strengthening our identification with Israel, of living a Jewish life, of raising our daughter to feel a part of the Jewish nation and identify with it.  I’m sure that over time, and I can already start to feel it happening a little, some of these feelings will dull as I get used to, for example, everything being in English.  I’m also sure that some of these feelings are deeply lodged inside of me and will not go away.  In fact, I don’t want them to go away.  Because of this, I decided to do certain things to keep these feelings alive.  First, unconsciously, since we came back, I’ve found myself wearing blue and white a lot more than usual.  Second, we want to introduce more Israeli cuisine to our diet here.  Third, we want to make frequent trips to Israel, if not every summer then every other.  Fourth, I have decided to try to speak only in Hebrew with Adina.  This last has been the most frustrating because there are times when I’ve been having trouble expressing myself, but after one week of doing this, it’s getting easier.  When we were in Israel, many people spoke Hebrew with her.  Now that we’re here, I’m feeling the weight of the responsibility to speak Hebrew with her fall completely (or almost completely) on my shoulders.  So friends out there who know Hebrew and are reading this blog, I encourage you to help me in this venture and speak Hebrew with Adina.

Living in Israel has shown me that there are many places in the world where we can choose to live.  We don’t have to just choose which town or state to live in, but we can also choose which country to live in.  If we lived in an ideal world, I would live in Israel with all of our family close by, but this is not reality.  The reality is that our family is here in the US and Israel is 7,000 miles away.  Therefore, for now, we are here with our family, but my eyes and heart will always be turned towards Israel and our eventual return.

Adam

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New Beginning

After a long deliberation, Adam and I have decided to continue this blog for the first year that we are back in the United States. Why the debate? Well, it seemed a bit weird to continue blogging under the Fulbright name since Adam’s grant was completed in May. Also, we are no longer in Israel, so what is there to say really. It turns out there is still plenty to talk about.

Since we landed in the US, things have been crazy getting things set up for our move to West Hartford. Whenever you move there are lots of details to take care of, but when you switch countries it always seems more difficult. The best part of this move is that everything is done in English, so I feel like I can be an active and helpful participant in the process. Also, things just seem easier because we have done a lot of this before when we first set up a home when we got married.

Throughout the process of setting up our new home, we find ourselves comparing everything we do to how it was back in Israel. We don’t find that we are experiencing culture shock, but rather the differences are more noticeable when you first arrive in a new place. If you remember, some of our first blog posts when we arrived in Israel were about some of these differences. As we settle back into life in America, we feel that it is important to share more of the differences we have discovered.

In addition, since we are returning to the area where we lived before we left, we are not just settling in, but rather we are reestablishing relationships with companies that we once did business with. In doing so, the question of why we left them in the first place arises, and we begin to explain what we have been doing over the past two years. As soon as people hear that we have been living in Israel, their curiosity is sparked, and they begin to ask questions about what it is like to live there. From these interactions, we have learned that most people here have no idea what it is like in Israel and that they would like to learn more. It is our job to help them get a correct sense of what it is like including painting a correct picture of what is happening in conflicts like the one occurring as we speak. We are appalled by how biased the news is here, so more and more it feels like our duty to help educate those around us and to help foster a more positive relationship between Americans and Israel. Interestingly, that is the true mission of Fulbright. It is not just to visit another country and do academic research, but rather it is to build stronger relationships between countries. As part of the Fulbright Fellowship, we are good-will ambassadors and we feel like our job is not yet done. So we plan to write more about our interactions and how well we feel that things are going as we spend our first year back in America.

Until next time…
Allison

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TRYing To Connect

Before we came to Israel, I didn’t really feel like I had a connection with it. Don’t get me wrong…I was always concerned about its existence, but other than that I didn’t think about it much. It wasn’t until we lived in Israel that I connected to it, and I owe Ramah’s TRY program a great deal for helping me build that connection.

TRY LogoWhen I was first hired by TRY, I recognized that the students on the program were going through a similar experience as I was. They were picking up their lives and moving to Israel, without their families, to live and connect with the land. I could recognize that the students were building a connection as they learned about Israel through hikes and visits to historic and religious sites, but I didn’t always see that the same thing was happening to me. Being in Israel, seeing the land and visiting the places of our ancestors, makes you feel a sense of belonging and a love that you can’t necessarily have from America.

This year, I really found my place at TRY. Not only was I a teacher like I was our first year, but I was hired as the academic liaison. Essentially I was the assistant to the director of general studies. I was in touch with the students’ schools to gather important academic information, and I helped set up the student schedules. This job began in the fall semester when the students are not on campus. I went into the office 2-3 days a week, and Adina came with me. She was introduced to the TRY staff at two months old at which point she mostly just slept and ate while I was working. Being behind the scenes at TRY gave me a greater sense of belonging at the school. I became more connected to the staff, and the stronger my connection with Ramah became, the more connected I felt with Israel. After all, TRY gave me a sense of place, which helps you settle in and put down roots.

My final semester with students on TRY also strengthened my sense of belonging. Because I was teaching Chemistry, my classes accounted for 50% of the student body. Therefore, I had a chance to get to know most of the students this semester. If you add my AP Physics student and my Canadian science student, then I taught 26 out of the 51 students on TRY this year. A few of these students and one that wasn’t one of my own joined us for Shabbat. We impressed them with our Settlers of Catan skills and educated them in the ways of Pandemic. I will miss having the opportunity to host students for Shabbat.

As the students prepared to leave at the end of the semester, I once again felt the parallel between the TRY experience and our Fulbright one. All good things come to an end, and it is emotionally difficult to say goodbye to all the great people that you have met and to the place that has been home for so long. The students find it very challenging to leave after four months, so it is no surprise that we found it difficult to leave after 2 years.

Leaving our friends and our community were very challenging, but for me, leaving TRY was one of the toughest parts of leaving Israel. I really enjoyed working for TRY, and I especially loved the people I worked with. I really developed a great relationship with my boss. Not only did we efficiently take care of all things TRY, but we talked about life and about basketball. He is a great friend, so it was very hard to say good-bye. We chose to say “see you soon” instead, not just because I wanted to avoid good-bye but because we hope that we will see him in America or when we visit Israel. Thank you for everything Jonathan!

While Adina was also a Jonathan fan, I think that she will miss Nicole and Elinor the most. Not only did they give her treats of Cheerios and bread, but they gave her lots of hugs and attention whenever she was in the office. In return, Adina gave smiles and played with them. I really appreciated how much they loved Adina, and that they would take care of her a bit while I was working. It helped a lot when Adam was away for 10 days at a conference. She always had a great time at TRY. We miss you Elinor and Nicole!

Living in Israel is difficult, especially when you are so far from family and you struggle with the language. When we left for Israel, I thought I wouldn’t be teaching for 2 years. I’m glad I was wrong. TRY helped me feel like I belong in Israel and that I can be successful there. Actually, it helped me feel like I can be successful no matter where we finally settle. As the students always say, TRY is an amazing experience. I feel so blessed for having the opportunity to be a part of it.

I hope with all my heart that I can stay connected with everyone there while we are living in America.

Until next time…
Allison

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Back in the US

After two amazing years in Israel, Alli and I have returned with our wonderful baby girl to the US.  We left Israel last Sunday, July 6 amidst an increasingly volatile situation.  For those who are unaware of what has been happening over the last few months, here is a brief sketch.  As the latest round of talks arranged by John Kerry broke down, there has been a slow increase in the number of rockets sent from Gaza into Israel.  For a while it was “only” a few per week, especially after Hamas (the terrorist organization running Gaza) formed a “unity government” with the Palestinian Authority.  Then after three (Jewish) Israeli boys (aged 16, 16, and 19) were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists, the rocket attacks increased.  Unfortunately, tragically, shamefully it now appears that some number of Jewish Israelis carried out a heinous and disgusting retaliatory attack against a 15 year old Arab Israeli boy, kidnapping and brutally murdering him the day after the funeral for the three Jewish boys who were kidnapped and murdered.  The response from the Jewish Israeli public has been one of sorrow and empathy for the family of the Arab Israeli boy’s family, shame and a resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice.  (The investigation is on-going, but the police has several suspects in custody and three confessions.)  There have also been demands made by many people to increase and improve anti-racism education in the country.  Despite all of this, riots by Arab Israelis increased in frequency and intensity in the days leading up to the eventual arrest of the suspects for this terrible crime and peaked after it was confirmed that the Arab boy was murdered as a response to the murder of the three Jewish boys.  Since then the number and size of the rockets sent at Israel grew to its current state which saw 80 rockets shot at Israel during a one hour period a couple nights ago.  I don’t have the exact statistics for last night’s barrage, but they are shooting larger rockets with longer ranges now towards Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and even Haifa (though actually hitting Haifa still seems to be out of range for now).  These are just a few of the metropolitan areas that Hamas is trying to hit.  As in the past, the Israeli response has been to try to target and eliminate rocket launchers, destroy tunnels built for smuggling or terrorist activities (or both), hit ammunition caches and now they are starting to hit the home of Hamas commanders.  In order to try to eliminate civilian casualties, Israel sends leaflets and text messages to the people in Gaza in the vicinity of where they are going to strike in advance so that the civilians have a chance to evacuate first.  In order to keep the riots under control, Israel has limited protests to gatherings of no more than 300 people.

This is the situation that we left.  We should be celebrating our good fortune to be out of harms way, safe and sound in the US, right?  Wrong.  Although we certainly appreciate not having to constantly be on alert and aware of security updates, warning sirens and heading for shelter, we feel like in times of need, our place is beside our neighbors, friends, family and really all of Israel. We lived through one of these escalations before (an all too short 20 months ago), so we know what’s it’s like – though this time is worse than the last time by our judgement.  To our family and friends – our hearts ache for you.  To all of Israel – our hearts ache for you.  Though we may be thousands of miles away, know that we are with you with all of our hearts, minds and souls.

When we started this Fulbright adventure, we had many dreams and aspirations for these 22 months.  These included professional success, personal growth and having a baby.  I’m happy to say that God has fulfilled every one one of these hopes and prayers (except becoming almost fluent in Hebrew – though that was a long shot from the beginning due to the time constraints of work).  The number one goal for us during this adventure, however, was to become connected to Israel and to the Israeli people.  I am happy to say that this has been an astounding success.  We feel as though we have forever become intertwined with Israel, its people and its destiny, wherever that may lead.  The official first part of our Fulbright adventure is over.  Now the unofficial second part of using our experience to draw Israel and the US closer together begins.

Thank you Fulbright program and the United States-Israel Education Foundation for having given us this opportunity.

Signing off,

Adam

PS – I think Alli has a couple more posts planned before she’s through.

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My life as a postdoc here…

A common question that I get is, what is mathematics research like?  Or other variations of this such as, what do you do as a postdoc, teach or take classes?  Or, oh you’re a postdoc, so which degree is this for?  Or, oh, so you want to be a teacher?  So let me fill you in as to what exactly I did with most of my time here as a postdoc at Hebrew University.

While many postdoctoral positions in the US have some minimal teaching responsibilities (one to three courses per year), the postdocs here (or at least the foreign ones) have no teaching responsibilities.  This means that for the first time in my life I had the luxury of spending all of my working hours on research.  (My PhD granting institution only gave stipends for teaching except for some rare exceptions.)  It was as if a whole new world had opened up to me.  What did I do with my time?  Most of it I spent reading various articles and books.  In some cases, I read material relating to areas of mathematics where I felt that I needed to strengthen my background, while in others, I read because I’m drawn to the topics and want to actively contribute to the field.  After several days of reading, I would often have a list of questions that I wanted to answer.  Most of these questions were “basic” in the sense that I needed to answer them in order to feel like I understood what I read.  Some of the questions, however, turned into research problems that I have either turned into papers, I am currently working on them or I am planning on addressing them in the near future.  Answering these questions involved some combination of devising a strategy of proof, more reading, working out specific details of the strategy, consulting with other mathematicians (especially those that are more senior to me) and possibly modifying the strategy or the question and then, eventually, after several iterations, a complete answer to my question (or a variation of my original question).  You might ask why modifying the question be appropriate?  Well, when trying to prove something new, sometimes we have to settle for something less or different than our original goal.  For example, the question I wanted to investigate for my Fulbright project was whether or not certain types of universal deformation rings are unobstructed for all but finitely many primes.  (The conjecture was that these rings are unobstructed for all but finitely many primes.)  After spending several weeks on this project, however, I realized that in general there are obstructions coming from lifting the determinant of the residual representation of interest.  I then spent several more weeks trying to get a precise handle on when exactly these obstructions occurred and so on.  Meanwhile, I simultaneously forged ahead on other fronts of the project, exploring other aspects of my original strategy.  Happily, every other part of my strategy seemed to be falling into place.  This left me confused as to what I should be trying to prove or where exactly I should take this project.  Eventually, I consulted with my postdoctoral adviser about the progress that I had made.  He told me that since everything else was working out so beautifully, I should get around this issue of lifting the determinant by looking at universal deformation rings with fixed determinant instead of the original problem that I had proposed.  In hindsight, this was the obvious answer, but I feel very fortunate that he kept me from spinning my wheels for too long on this issue.

Let me just stress again, that most of these questions were what are known as “exercises” and so usually consisted of just unwinding definitions or using a definition plus one or two bigger theorems.  In these cases, I didn’t have to go through the whole process I just described.  It just took me a matter of anywhere between 5-10 minutes or perhaps 2 – 3 hours to work out what I didn’t understand.

The other part of research that I have yet to mention is attending seminars, classes and conferences.  All three play a role in expanding our knowledge base, exposing us to new ideas, giving us inspiration for our own work and providing a venue for networking and collaboration.  Hebrew University ran numerous research seminars almost every week.  During these seminars researchers from around the world would come to present their work.  I often went to at least one of these per week and sometimes as many as 4 or 5.  The department also offered several high level courses or mini-courses on topics for which no standard text has been written or which are of current research interest.  I also attended some of these courses and tried to learn a few new tricks and see how my research related to them.  Finally, one of the nice things about being at a research hub is that conferences are often held at your home university.  This was definitely the case with Hebrew University and I definitely took advantage of this by attending parts of about seven different conferences at the university.  I also traveled to participate (speak at and attend) another three conferences.  I often find that the most productive part of attending these conferences is the opportunity to talk with other mathematicians informally.  By doing this, we can test out ideas for new projects, get advice from experts and form relationships that might potentially lead to a collaborative project down the road or perhaps just a friendly ear when we’re faced with a difficult situation.

Let me conclude by addressing the questions that I posed at the beginning more directly.  While I occasionally attended selected classes, I did not teach any classes during this postdoc.  A postdoctoral position is just that, a first job after finishing a Ph.D. (according to academic standards – which differs from the ministry of the interior who calls me a student).  Yes, I do want to teach.  In fact, I really enjoy sharing this passion that I have for mathematics with my students.  I also want to continue to be an active researcher.  I hope that one day I will have tenure at a college or university where I don’t feel like I have to sacrifice one for the other.  Finally, I hope I’ve at least given you a glimpse of what I did with a large chunk of my time here and what it’s like to do mathematics research.

The following are some photos of me in my “natural” habitat taken my dad on his visit in February of 2013.

In "my" office that I shared with 4 others

In “my” office that I shared with 4 others

A mathematical quilt

A mathematical quilt

At the entrance to the Manchester bulding (i.e., the math department)

At the entrance to the Manchester bulding (i.e., the math department)

Only a few more days (and posts) left on this adventure…

Adam

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Regrets?

As we reach our last two weeks, people have begun to ask us how we feel about our time in Israel. These questions have made both Adam and I reflect on our time here and assess how we feel about the past two years. Thinking about all the things we have done, we have very few regrets.

In terms of Adam’s position, things were successful. He has two papers that were accepted for publication, and a third one in progress that he is working on with a colleague. He has met some amazing mathematicians, one of which he is working with on another project. We are also great friends with this colleague’s wife, so the working relationship will help us maintain our friendship as well.

In terms of my work, I really loved what I did while in Israel. For someone who came to Israel expecting to sit on the couch counting down the 22 months until we left, I didn’t have too much downtime. Babysitting was wonderful, not only because I got to play with two amazing and adorable children, but because we formed a deep connection with the family. Even though I stopped babysitting when Adina was born, we still have visited with them for Shabbat and Passover. One of my regrets is that we won’t get to see them more before we leave Israel. Life is busy for every one, but we hope to see them whenever they visit the US and whenever we visit Israel. Plus with technology, we will hopefully get to see each other despite the distance.

And then there is TRY…there is too much to say about how much TRY has meant to me and how much it has changed my life for this post. It is special enough to get its own…so stay tuned.

Other successes…I have a connection to Israel that I never really felt before. It is part of my life now and always will be. While in Israel, missing my family has always made me feel like my heart is in two places. When we first arrived, I assumed that when we returned to the US, my heart would feel whole again. That just won’t be the case, however. Leaving behind this amazing country and all the wonderful people that we have met, my heart will always be divided.

We also feel successful in our Fulbright mission to interact with people in Israel. We have made so many friends here and our presence has obviously affected their lives a small bit since there is a constant feeling of guilt for leaving. We are thankful that so many people were willing to get to know us even though they knew we were temporary. With Facebook, Skype, visits to the US for them, and visits to Israel for us, we hope to continue strengthening these relationships. 🙂

And of course, our greatest success is Adina. She is growing well and has made even more friends than we have. How can anyone resist her adorable face? Not only have we been able to be decent parents without the help of our families, but we were able to get through pregnancy, birth, and the first year of our baby’s life in a foreign country. Even though Israel is so comfortable for us, it is still difficult to navigate the health care system, especially when you are not a citizen on the national health plan.

So what about our regrets? Both Adam and I have the same regret, which is that we did not learn Hebrew as well as we wanted. Both of us have improved greatly from when we arrived, but there are many days were it seems so challenging because we don’t have a strong command of the language. We had to make a choice between our work and studying Hebrew. Studying a new language takes a large amount of time and if you don’t make aliyah, it is pretty expensive. Neither of us regret our decision to put work ahead of ulpan, but we wish we could have spent more time learning Hebrew. We hope to use free time and future visits to improve since it is important to us to learn the language better.

We feel so blessed to leave Israel with so few regrets.

Until next time…
Allison

 

 

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Unity

As you hopefully have heard, three high school students were kidnapped this past Thursday on their way home from school. It is an act of terror that has shaken the country to the core. While there is plenty of anger and hate that has arisen from this terrorist attack, more visible, especially through social media, is the banding together of Israelis and Jews from all over the world to pray for the safe return of these students. Hopefully, these collective prayers will assist them in a safe return home.

On Sunday night, Adam attended a prayer service at the Kotel. Over 10,000 people were in attendance. He said that after everyone said tehillim for the boys, people broke out in song. Tens of thousands of voices together as one, demonstrating how important the life of a person is. Only in Israel.

10373734_485841364895770_2755583713867889528_nThe kidnapping isn’t the first time since we have been in Israel that we have noticed that the value and love for Israel runs deep in the hearts of those that live here. On festive occasions, such as Yom Yerushalayim, people take to the streets dancing and singing. People dress in white and blue and dance with the Israeli flag. As we walked the streets on Yom Yerushalayim, I felt a sadness that nothing like this ever happens in America. It doesn’t ever seem that people are truly proud to be American these days. Why is that?

IMG_3312 IMG_3317It is always amazing to me that there is such national pride and unity in good times and bad.

While the civilian population has banded together in prayer, the IDF has been doing everything in its power to find the boys. Feeling that prayer is not enough, groups of people have been organizing food drives for the soldiers who have been working nonstop to bring the boys home safely. You can feel the restlessness of the population to actively help in the search. Even I feel guilty trying to sell our things for the move and go about my daily business while they remain in the hands of terrorists. But we do what we have to while we constantly pray for their safe return. If we stop living, then the terrorists win, and we can’t let that happen.

I wish I could end this post by saying that the boys have been found and returned to their families, but no such news yet. So we must wait and see. Hashem willing soon…

Until next time…
Allison

P.S. If you haven’t heard, there have been a number of rockets fired on Israel from Gaza while the IDF searches for the boys.

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