The Schwarzkopf-Vardi family
The Schwarzkopf-Vardi family. Photo by Kobu Kalmanovitz
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The cast: Orit (‏44‏), makes and sells ice cream to restaurants in Jerusalem and operates her own ice cream shop, Mousseline, in the Mahane Yehuda market; Yossi (41‏), software engineer at a high-tech company; Harel (15‏); Yuval (12‏); Alma (9 and a half‏); Yishai (7‏), Avshalom (2 and a half‏).

How many siblings did the parents grow up with? Orit and Yossi both come from a religious background and each has three siblings.

The house: A stone structure in the Katamonim neighborhood that is divided into four apartments and has a pleasant, well-tended yard. The entrance on the left leads to the mother’s ice cream-making business. After sampling a few delicious flavors, we head into the house. The closed porch at the end of the living room is used as a bedroom by Alma, the only girl in the family. Harel, Yuval and Yishai all share one room. A large room nearby is used only by Avshalom, the youngest. The older boys explain: “We’d rather crowd together in one room than sleep with him. He’s wild and gets up in the middle of the night and doesn’t let anyone sleep.”

Combining motherhood with running her own business: Orit: “I make less than I did in high-tech, but I’m my own master. The household burden differs according to the ice cream-eating season. In the winter it’s a lot calmer and in the summer it’s total madness – there isn’t a minute to breathe. Because the plant is right next to the house I’m still always home for the kids.”

Did they plan on having so many kids? Orit nods. Yossi: “She always said she wanted a lot of kids. When I thought about a family I thought about what I knew from growing up. Four children seemed about right to me.”
Will they have more kids? Yossi: “I’m not interested.” Orit: “I’d be happy to have more.”

What other people say: Orit: “Both of our mothers were surprised when we had more than four kids. They think two is enough.”

Yossi: “When I used to work at a start-up in the center of the country, I was considered unique. For the past four and a half years I’ve been working in Jerusalem and here I’m considered below the average. There are a lot of employees at the company who have a larger number of children, like eight.”

Daily routine: Orit gets up first ‏(“In the summer I get up at 6 and in the winter I let myself stay in bed until 7”‏) and wakes up the others. She puts the sandwiches she made the night before into their schoolbags. By 8 the whole family disperses. Orit: “We used to have to ferry the kids around everywhere, but now they go themselves. Their schools are close so they walk there.”

Every morning, Yossi takes little Avshalom to Genia’s preschool by car. The kids return home from school around lunchtime.

Orit: “They do what they want − homework, extracurricular activities, get together with friends.”

Yossi gets home at 8 after a short run (he runs 15-25 kilometers every day). Yossi: “I usually leave work at 6 and go to run in the stadium.”

Household chores: Orit: “I do the cleaning myself. My mother also comes once a week and we’ve taught the children to keep the house clean and neat. The older children hang laundry and take out the trash, and some of them help bathe Avshalom.”

Yossi does the grocery shopping and is in charge of the cooking. “It comes from my upbringing. My mother is a fine cook; she often sends us wonderful French food.”

Dinner: Yossi: “We don’t have dinner in the sense that everyone sits together. Everyone eats when and what they want. We ask officially at 7 or 8 and whoever wants to eat answers and whoever doesn’t answer eats later.”
Sleep: Orit: “Avshalom goes to bed at 8, the other kids by 10. Harel goes to bed when he wants, and then we read from 10 until midnight.”

Vacations: Orit: “All of our trips revolve around food.” Yossi: “We recently got back from an 11-day trip to Japan without the children.” Orit: “My wonderful mother looked after the kids. It’s only in the past year that we’ve been able to get away a little. When the kids were younger it wasn’t possible.” Yossi: “A year and a half ago we traveled with all the children to Provence, but it was hard because Avshalom didn’t sleep.”

Entertainment: Orit: “Last night we saw a production of ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ But it’s hard to find the time to go out. We don’t go out as much as other couples do.”

Food expenses: Yossi is in charge of the shopping. He does most of it at the Mahane Yehuda market and supplements it a bit in the supermarket. Yossi: “Despite our culinary interests we’re not big eaters. By the end of the week, we barely spend NIS 400 on meat and vegetables.”

Quantities: Two chickens every week; 12 chicken breasts ‏(schnitzel‏) every week. They don’t buy any beef.

Saving money: Orit: “We’re a thrifty family. The children don’t have cell phones, we haven’t had a television in the house for eight years, there are no sweets, we eat food and not junk ‏(ice cream is permitted once a week‏). We buy loaves of bread and not rolls.”

Yossi: “The only junk is at weekends − we buy mocha milk for the kids and a bottle of Pepsi.” Orit: “I wear the same old clothes all the time. I don’t spend on new clothes. I don’t go shopping or to the cosmetician or the hairdresser.” Yossi: “We’re not thrifty, though, when it comes to education. All the kids are in extracurricular activities. I’m ready to go down in our standard of living as long as they can still have their enrichment activities.”

Clothing: At the end of each season, Orit goes through the closets, throws out worn-out items and sorts everything else into bags marked with the child’s age and size, and stores it until it can be passed to the next child. “We try not to buy. Once in a while I send my mother with my credit card to the mall to find everyday clothes for the kids when there’s a good sale. Yossi’s mother brings good coats for the kids from France and we buy things for Alma. She also gets things from a friend who has a daughter the same size.”

Line for the shower: Orit: “There’s a bathtub and a shower, and there’s no line. Around 5 or 6 in the afternoon all the kids go in one after the other. They don’t linger too long, so we don’t need to try to hurry them. One of them always takes Avshalom with him. It saves water and it also saves me work. I get half an hour to myself.”

Education: Yossi: “There’s an atmosphere of learning in the house.” Orit: “We don’t sit down with them to study, but we’re always learning. Right now I’m teaching myself Japanese and also learning math. Yossi is taking courses at the Open University and we read a lot of quality prose and books on the Holocaust. It’s important to us to raise the children to be good people who want to help others.”

Advice for new parents: Yossi: “It’s good to start early with kids because it’s tiring.” Orit: “It takes a lot of patience and self-discipline. You have to instill discipline in yourself before you can instill it in them.” Yossi: “And it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of money, because children are an expensive hobby.”

The children speak: Harel: “Up to the fourth kid it felt natural to me. When Avshalom was born, I was 12 and I was really unsettled by the thought of how big our family was getting. But he’s such a cutie that I really have no complaints. But I have to admit that as a big brother it can sometimes be annoying.” Alma: “Sometimes it’s a little annoying when I fight with my brothers, but we always make up in the end.” Yishai: “It’s not so much fun. I’d like a small family where I would get more attention and not always have to be looking after little Avshalom.”

Do children equal happiness? Orit: “Definitely, no question. What more is there? What else is there? It’s great to see a play, hear a concert or go on a trip abroad, but then it’s over. A baby that you kiss and hug when he’s born, with his scent, there’s nothing else like it. And then when they grow up and become your friends, there’s nothing like it, either.” Suddenly softening, Yossi adds: “If we had another kid, I’d be happy.”