Knowing we were heading straight to bidud (quarantine) upon our move to Israel earlier this year, we crammed as many toys and crafts into our luggage as we could. But, as Israel’s lockdowns continued long after we arrived, we quickly found ourselves in crisis mode: My kids were really, really bored.
Hoping to teach my son some Hebrew and keep him entertained, we searched for some Hebrew programming. Many popular American cartoons, like Fireman Sam (or Sammy HaCabai), are available in Hebrew. However, these shows failed to hold his attention as their plots are a bit juvenile for him, and the Hebrew was beyond him.
Luckily, our shul introduced us to Ratzim L’Mishnah (Mishnah Run), a video series that quickly became my son’s favorite. This series is produced under the guidance of Rabbi Tzvi Rimon and Rabbi Meir Fachler and features fascinating storylines filled with time travel, magical books, and bumbling bad guys (who always remember to say “Baruch Hashem”) while setting forth halachic debates from various meschot of mishnayot.
While the videos are all in Hebrew, with my husband’s help (and English subtitles), it wasn’t long before my then five-year-old son was debating the merits of various rabbinic arguments. (Check out the videos at https://mishnarun.org.)
Ratzim L’Mishnah is actually not the only such program here in Israel. Another popular program is Talmud Yisraeli, which was produced by Machon Meir Institute. It presents the studious Tuvia, the fun-loving Asi, and a stuffed chicken puppet facing everyday dilemmas that can be solved by reviewing relevant portions of Gemara. The videos thus amazingly turn complicated halachic debates into relatable and practical lessons for kids. (These videos don’t have English subtitles, but are worth checking out anyway at https://www.talmudisraeli.co.il.)
While I certainly don’t love giving my Adi too much screen time, I must admit that I found myself easily caving whenever he begged me to allow him to “review” the videos just one more time.
Meanwhile, our friendly Israeli neighbor, Liat, a teacher in a local school, provided my daughter with all the entertainment she needed for the lockdown in the form of classic Israeli kids’ books. My daughter’s favorite by far is Eliezer v’Hagezer (Eliezer and the Carrot). The book recounts the story of Saba (Grandpa) Eliezer who finds himself unable to pull a carrot out of his garden.
One by one, the members of his household – his wife, granddaughter, dog, cat, and even mouse – come outside to help. They pull left, they pull right… and eventually – heydad! (hurray!) – successfully unroot the gigantic carrot. The family then celebrates by making a giant bowl of tzimmes for all their neighbors to share together. Without fail, this simple story always leaves my daughter giggling away uncontrollably.
Other popular choices of hers are M’asseh b’Chamisha Balonim (A Tale of Five Balloons), about five children who cope with the loss of their popping balloons, and Tiras Cham (Hot Corn), which tells of a troupe of children who sing about their excitement for an anticipated treat of hot corn.
Thankfully, we have been blessed with outdoor spaces to enjoy during the lockdowns. A favorite outdoor toy we discovered here is bimba juke. While I am not sure exactly how to translate those words, this popular toy is essentially a small tricycle without pedals and can be purchased at any toy store for less than $10. While these tricycles are generally geared toward two- to three-year-olds, even my six-year-old enjoys zooming about on them.
My son’s favorite outdoor toy is another popular Israeli item – the soccer ball. In America, Adi was always playing baseball or hockey. Here in Israel, soccer is king and my son’s hours of practice with this sport since we’ve arrived have clearly paid off.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be invited to an outdoor Shabbat kiddush with some new friends here in Modi’in. While not all the children at the kiddush spoke English, my son was able to quickly bond with some of the boys over a fierce game of soccer. Apparently, the word for goal is the same in English and Hebrew!
Before making aliyah, my husband and I imagined we would spend lots of time with the kids exploring our new homeland. We never expected that instead we would be spending countless hours climbing the walls of our own home. While we have found ways to stay relatively entertained, we can’t wait to see what more we can discover once we can properly go about Israel.