Himmelman family 88 298.
(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
The Himmelmans: Tzvi, 49;, Ruth, 35; Ezri, 9; Hadassah, 41â„2; Bracha, 31â„2; Noam, 2, and Rachel, 3 MONTHS.
Tzvi Himmelman spends his mornings running, training for the upcoming Israel Marathon. But he's a fast mover in a lot of things - like expanding the family by four kids in something approaching record time.
"Ruth and I were just married in 2001. I bought a 7-seater family van, and it's already full. Can you believe it?"
Ruth and Tzvi came from very different worlds - Ruth from an Iranian/Turkish/Israeli family in Los Angeles, Tzvi from Chicago, but once they met in Israel, everything meshed.
"Ten minutes into our first date, if you'd asked me, I would have said Ruth was my wife," Tzvi says. "Not that she would be my wife, but that she was."
Ruth smiles. She was a young widow with a baby, and Tzvi almost overwhelmed her.
"I knew I was probably going to marry the guy, but Tzvi was so much like my first husband, it made me nervous."
Tzvi came to Jerusalem in 1996, but didn't make aliya until 2001. Born in Minneapolis and educated as a lawyer, Tzvi spent 16 years in Chicago, making his living trading stock options on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Ruth's father moved from Iran to Israel, where he met her Israeli mother, whose family had come from Turkey. The couple later moved to North America, and was living in Los Angeles when Ruth was born. In 1991, Ruth came to Israel to study for a year, and loved it, but returned to live in the US with her first husband after they married in 1995.
"Right after our baby Ezri was born, my husband was diagnosed with leukemia," she says. "He passed away eight months later. I was lost. I knew I wasn't going to live in New York, and Los Angles didn't appeal to me either. Israel was the only place that seemed like home, so when Ezri was 10 months old, we came by ourselves."
"I have wonderful friends here," she says of her community in Har Nof. "So many people helped me. But I'll tell you, there were days we survived only through tears and prayer."
Indeed, Tzvi and Ruth's first husband were amazingly alike.
"They looked alike, they sounded alike," Ruth says. The two men also knew each other, shared best friends and studied at the same yeshiva. Both had also been active in Livnot U'lehibanot, the Safed "build and be built" organization. But Tzvi hadn't known Ruth until after she was widowed.
"I fell in love with her son first," Tzvi says. "Ezri was the cutest little kid, with a blond pony tail down his back. The truth is, I dated the son for a year before I saw Ruth as a person - as someone other than as Ezri's mother." Then, it was love at first date.
It finally took a Rosh Yeshiva acting as matchmaker to put the two together. The first date - a coffee date that lasted almost three hours - was perfect, from Tzvi's perspective -"I knew she was mine," he says.
But Ruth says, "I cried for 3 days. The whole thing brought back so many memories. But I finally agreed to a second date."
The two married six months later.
"For me, making aliya was just a technicality," Tzvi says. "Israel is the only place I could live. But after we were married, having babies, there was no question at all. For Jewish kids, Israel is the only place."
"I get up at about 5:30 for a 6:15 minyan," Tzvi says. "By 7, I'm home, helping everyone get breakfast and ready."
Ruth gets up at about 7 a.m. By 8:30 everyone is out the door - Ezri to school, the others to gan. Tzvi now spends mornings training for the marathon, running anywhere from five to 20 miles a day.
"Yesterday, I did 20 miles in three hours and 10 minutes," he says. Ruth spends mornings at classes, working out and taking care of the house.
Tzvi spends his afternoons learning. The days vary, but children begin coming home at 1 p.m., and all are home by 4:00. Dinner is at 6:15, and by 8:00 the kids are in bed. That's when Tzvi goes to work, now trading by Internet and telephone, not in person.
"It's part time work, I admit," he says. "Some nights I work longer than others."
At the moment, the Himmelmans live in a large, four-bedroom rented apartment in Har Nof. The rooms are open and spacious, and there's a large eat-in kitchen in addition to a dining room. But the Himmelmans longed for a home that was theirs, so just a few weeks ago they purchased a larger home in the same area.
"It needs some renovation, things we want changed," Tzvi says. "We want a larger balcony, for example. It'll probably be late spring before we're in. It has five bedrooms, which we'll probably fill. But it will be modest, something that's important to us both. Having 'things' isn't our priority."
"We've been very blessed," Tzvi says. "But I always saved, and we live simply. We don't spend a lot on anything - our expenses are pretty minimal. We like to do other things with money, like sponsoring a 3-day learning seminar at a yeshiva, where 200 people came and learned. That was in memory of my mother, Bracha. Those are the things that are important to both of us."
"We're so busy with the children we don't have time to socialize very much, except on Shabbat. Then we almost always have guests. Ruth's entire family - her mother and two older sisters - have now all moved back to Israel, so they are frequent visitors" Tzvi says. "Probably 99 percent of our friends are English speakers."
"We try to take the best of Israel and the best of America," Ruth says. "Even in cooking, I make mostly California-style foods, healthy eating. There's only one Sephardic dish I make very often - a rice and potato dish."
"We're Jewish," says Tzvi, who grew up in a mostly secular home. "I was first attracted to Jewish living through two religious couples I knew. I used to watch them - I saw how they interacted with each other, how they treated their children. There was something very special in the way they lived. I wanted that kind of life for myself, so I gradually set about finding it. Now, it's hard to put us in a pigeon hole. We're observant. We're not Haredi. We're not national religious. We're just Jews doing the best we can to do things right."
"I speak better Hebrew than I understand," Tzvi says.
"When I was a kid, my parents wanted to learn English, so I spoke to them in English. Now Ezri speaks Hebrew in school, and when he brings friends home, they're all speaking Hebrew," Ruth says.
First, there's the Israeli Marathon.
"I'm importing an American custom," Tzvi says. "I'm seeking pledges, per kilometer I run. Then Ruth and I will add money, and donate the whole amount to charity. I've been raising money for charity through the marathon for several years," Tzvi says. "Last year, I raised $7,000, and then Ruth and I added a thousand. This year my goal is $10,000. When I find myself getting tired, it helps to know that every kilometer I run will help my charities. "
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