Living on the “Front Lines”

I took my 3-year-old grocery shopping today. You probably don’t think it’s that big of a deal. But I do. You see, if you live where we do, grocery shopping is actually a death-defying stunt. And that’s because around here, people die at the grocery store all too frequently. Actually, come to think of it, even one death at the grocery store is one too many.

If I sound a bit cynical it’s because I am. And I’m not proud of that. I am proud, however, that I didn’t let fear keep me indoors this afternoon. That I didn’t teach my children to live in fear, or to eschew our ‘mixed’ grocery store in favor of a segregated one (and yes, there are several in our area).

Grocery stores have become the new front lines of this struggle that has become our everyday life. This struggle that requires mothers of 3 year olds to arm themselves before they head to work or to the grocery store…or to preschool pickup. You know, just in case.  I first wrote about this topic nine months ago when three others were killed, and the issue wasn’t new then.  It seems that little has changed, except perhaps that stabbings have replaced vehicular murder as the method of choice.  I can’t help but question where our government is in all of this.  The very body that is supposed to be protecting us has done little more than offer condolences and dispatch additional soldiers who are, unfortunately, not able to prevent attacks carried out by unassuming teenagers.

My personal struggle is not only with the daily threat of terror. It’s with the deeply-rooted belief that not all ‘others’ are bad people. And yet, as long as teenagers continue to kill us on our own streets and in our own grocery stores, it is so incredibly difficult to remain unbiased and unafraid.

And yet, I try. And I will continue to do so; to go about my regular activities and to believe that most people in the world are decent and that it’s the few that are ruining things for the many. Because the alternative would require me to become a paranoid racist. And I’m pretty sure there are enough of those out there already.

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In Defense of Men

I just came back from a weekend in London, where I had the same conversation repeatedly.  Considering that I was at a professional conference, you’d think that the conversation would have revolved around my work in some way.  And while I did have plenty of those conversations too, what really struck me was the number of times the topic evolved this way:

Stranger: So, do you have kids?

Me: Yup, five.

Stranger: WOW!  Who is watching them?

Me: Their father OR my husband. (Sometimes I even answered “my husband, their father”, just to spice things up.)

Stranger: WOW!  How can he manage all that?

Me: Umm…..I’d like to think he’s just as capable as I am….

Why is it that it’s so natural for people to think that men physically can’t take care of children and the house (especially their own children and house)?  Why is it easier to believe that men can be successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, financiers, but that they can’t figure out how to load the dishwasher or boil a bag of pasta for dinner (or heck, order pizza if absolutely necessary)?  Why do people assume that men can dress themselves appropriately on a daily basis but laugh endlessly at the thought of a man dressing his children?

Such stereotypes not only endorse the notion that men are incompetent child-minders, but give them an opportunity to shrug off their responsibility when the need arises.  Why would we want to open that can of worms?  These questions are not coming from a place of feminism – I do believe in the notion of separate but equal when it comes to structuring a family (after all, it would be really inefficient if both husband and wife undertook the exact same tasks at all times).  I also understand that if we want our children to be raised by their parents (and not by a babysitter), one of the parents must be home when school is over.  I am comfortable with the fact that in our case that person is me four days a week and my husband one day a week.  That may not be an equitable division of home labor, but it works for us and it gives our children a solid understanding that both Mom and Dad can run the ship independently – and can have a serious career.

I’d like to suggest that for the most part, raising children is just as difficult for women as it is for men – it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world (and is certainly harder for some parents and in some family circumstances than in others).  But (I would hope), we don’t mock our colleagues when they struggle with work.   Why should we do so for our spouses (or exes who are co-parenting)?  Instead of poking fun at men who can’t make ponytails, why not teach them how?  Or offer alternatives?  Instead of assuming that fathers won’t be able to bathe the kids or keep the house clean, let’s assume they can, and give them an opportunity to do so by taking a women’s night out (or, gasp, a small vacation by yourself or with some girlfriends?!) Let’s empower men instead of putting them down – I am pretty sure that being positive will not only create more cohesive families but more capable fathers both in this generation and in the ones that come.

Father-daughter day out (unsupervised by Mom!)

Father-daughter day out (unsupervised by Mom!)

 

DH painting with the kids while I was sick in bed (for a week) - and they did great!

DH painting with the kids while I was sick in bed (for a week) – and they did great!

 

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On Loss and Living

Azi had his first sleepover tonight.  He’s six years old, and we’d promised him that he could have one when he turned seven.  But things don’t always have a way of working out as you plan, and in this instance nothing could be more true.  The boy sleeping over is in Azi’s first grade class.  He lives in a different neighborhood, and three months ago they’d never crossed paths.  I’d never met this boy before today.  And he’d never met me

I was extremely impressed how this boy didn’t once cry for his mother.  Nor did he cry for his father, which was, to me, a new type of Chanuka miracle, as his father died suddenly less than one week ago

Perhaps this child is too young to comprehend the course that his life is about to take.  But I am certainly not.  And if I could, I would cry out for his father.  I’d tell him what a wonderful, friendly, well-mannered son he has.  I’d tell him how his son eschewed cake in deference to corn pizza and peppers, something I’ve never seen before with my own children.  I’d mention how his son related beautifully to boys and girls of all ages who were present in our home, something which shouldn’t be taken for granted.  If I could, I would tell this man whom I never met how impressed I was that his son seemed so comfortable in a home where he didn’t Can you spot the extra menorah?speak the language.  I’d tell him not to worry, that there are people, both strangers and friends, looking out for his family

.But I can’t

Instead, I will set another menorah with candles, another place at the dinner table and another bed in the boys’ room.  I will hug my own children and my husband a little bit tighter, and pray for a family that I’ve never met and may never have the chance to meet.  I will appreciate my own challenges and embrace the joys of life in a new way, and I will write this post to encourage others to do the same.  And, when all of that is done, I will go to sleep with a prayer for a better tomorrow.  Because what I’ve learned today is that we may not be able to plan all of life’s experiences on exactly the schedule we want, but we most certainly do have the ability to make each life event as positive as possible – not just for ourselves but for those around us

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Going to Work at Gunpoint

I’ve been writing this post in my mind for a few days now, but it never seems to have made it onto paper.  I’m not sure now is the right time either…but then again, perhaps there’s never a good time.  It’s just that now I’m mad.  Infuriated. Livid. Irate…and a few things in between.  And sometimes when I’m mad, I need to vent.  So vent I will.  Because earlier this afternoon at least three Jewish travelers were run down by a Palenstinian driver just a few kilometers away from my house.

I’m mad for the victims whose injuries are so fresh that their names haven’t yet been released. I’m angry for their parents and siblings, neighbors and friends who will surely be traumatized for weeks, if not months or years. I’m incensed that our children are growing up in a place and time where standing at the wrong bus stop can be a fatal mistake.

But I’m upset for another reason as well.  I’m furious for the thousands of Palestinian workers who go to work every day in Jewish settlements and cities…at gunpoint.  Call me a sympathizer, call me naïve, call me anything you want – but until you’ve been the one standing guard with that gun, shepherding hardworking men to demanding physical jobs where they’re lucky if they earn minimum wage, you don’t know what it’s like.  I’ve been that guard. And it’s awful.

This is not a prison.  These workers have not committed heinous crimes.  Their only offence is that they are members of a nation where other people commit heinous crimes.  And let’s be honest – my fellow Americans shoot each other all the time.  Just this week two students were shot on their college campus in California. And this is just one of dozens of school shootings that occur each year (there have been 10 US school shootings so far in 2015 alone, not to mention hundreds of other random shootings nationwide). And yet, I don’t see anyone shepherding students to school at gunpoint to make sure that they don’t kill anyone.

I understand this example is a bit extreme, but the point is a serious one.  I don’t want to be judged based on the actions of Baruch Goldstein or Bernie Madoff…why should we do the same to others or any race or religion?

On the most rational level, I understand why our security measures are in force and why we need to be constantly on guard.  But it pains me that the few have to spoil the world for the many and that we are perpetuating a society filled with racism and fear. It tears at my soul to see hardworking men being herded like animals and to know they’d rather work under these circumstances than not work at all. It breaks me to know that many of the people who read this post will still not see the bigger picture and will continue their discrimination. And it absolutely kills me to know that beyond the scope of those who read this post, thousands of people within my own country will continue to go to work every single day at gunpoint.

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Dear Crazy-Haired Child

Dear Crazy-Haired Child,

You’ve got some mighty crazy-looking hair.  It’s half-blond, half-brunette, and intensely curly, while having a nice balance of frizz and a dash of rattiness (fortunately only at the end of the day).  Of course, if your parents were different, we might consider abandoning family tradition and cutting it off so that you could look a bit more kempt and slightly less “mad scientist”.  But as luck would have it, you’ve gotten us as parents along with the custom to grow a boy’s hair until he’s three – and you’ve also gotten some pretty unique genes that have given you hair that’s MUCH different than your siblings had.

itiel

But there are a few upsides to the madness: firstly, you don’t have to wear a ponytail like your older brother did, and as a result, people rarely confuse you for a girl.  Secondly, you don’t have to worry about anyone confusing you for a sibling.  EVER.  Thirdly, there have been some extremely awesome people who have had your type of hair.

Like Art Garfunkel.  And Richard Simmons.  And Will Ferrell.  And a whole bunch of other people (ahem, Michael Jackson) that one day you’ll tell me were so old-fashioned.  And maybe they are/were.  But it just goes to show you that your crazy hair doesn’t have to hold you back, nor should it be a cause of embarrassment.

I wish someone had told me when I was younger that having bad hair wasn’t a curse for all eternity.  I wish someone had told me that instead of spending hours trying to tame the frizz, I should embrace it.  Maybe someone did mention that…but I was too vain to hear it.  I grew up in the era of the Japanese hair relax, the flat iron and the invention of Frizz-Ease (which doesn’t work, by the way), and I wanted to try ALL of them.

My promise to you, as your mother, is that I will always encourage you to feel confident and comfortable with your natural beauty (or in this case, handsomeness).  To be proud of your crazy hair, and to spend your time trying to improve more important things (like the state of our government or the illnesses ravaging the world).  After all, you don’t likely have the baldness gene, so hopefully you’ll be stuck with this hair for quite a while.

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Today We Are All Veterans

Today, November 11th, marks the American ‘holiday’ of Veteran’s Day.  The day was meant to celebrate the brave servicemen who risked their lives for America and were lucky enough to come home alive.  Sadly, the day has largely become an excuse for sales and shopping, as well as dreaded bank holiday and day of school closures that is cursed because most parents still have to work.

But things are totally different when you’re forced to fight for your existence on a daily basis.  When the war is literally in your backyard, at your train station or on your local highway, everyone becomes a soldier, and just making it home at night makes you a veteran in the war that is everyday life.  I want to say that it’s not always like this, but I think that thousands of years of Jewish history prove otherwise.  There are times when we civilians are not on the front lines – and there are times that we are, every minute of every day.  This is one of those times.

In every army, each soldier has a specific job.  There are those that fight in combat, and those who support the combat units.  There are those who build the camps, and those who counsel the injured.  In the army of life, everyone too has a job…most times, more than one.  These days, it is my job to protect those in my “unit”.  I am the counselor required to explain the grim realities of war, and to dry the tears when nightmares inevitably come.  I am the captain who decides whether to take my kids into the battlefield or to keep them safe at home under lock and key.  I am the search and rescue team who goes out looking for my kids the minute they are late, always wondering deep down if something terrible happened.

I write this all with a touch of cynicism.  Most days I have no reason to leave my neighborhood, which means I’m seldom on the front lines.  But my friends and neighbors do.  My husband does…and my kids do.  And so, today, on Veteran’s Day, I salute everyone who ever donned a uniform to serve their country…and the thousands of others who are just brave enough to go out and fight the war of Jewish existence with every ounce of bravery they have.  Today, you are all veterans.

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Honey, I’m Home

I am home.  I know this isn’t the type of announcement that normally requires a blog post.  Most people get home from work every day, usually without fanfare.  Except, of course, when they don’t.  And today is one of those days, one of too many days recently, where people on my route didn’t make it home.  Two stabbings today, on the one day of the week where I venture out of my house, both of which were in places I directly pass by.  What are the chances?  If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have told you they were slim.  The optimist in me wanted to believe that following this summer’s gruesome kidnapping and murders only a few short miles from my home, lightning wouldn’t strike twice in the same place.  My naïve self was convinced that only a week after a terrorist drove over three soldiers in my area, we were in the clear.  After all…lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, does it?  Or is that it doesn’t strike twice, but it does strike three times?  Because today a girl was killed right along my bus route.  An hour before I was scheduled to be there.  The third terrorist attack in our area in recent memory.  And more – a soldier was stabbed in the heart of Tel Aviv, in broad daylight, just because a terrorist had access to a knife…and because he could.

This isn’t a political blog, and I won’t make it into one now.  It’s about providing a glimpse into the life of an ordinary woman who sometimes makes slightly unordinary choices.  Choices that include working at a job located 3 hours away.  Choices that include leaving my family to build a new family, thousands of miles away.  Choices that include giving up the voluntary draft for a mandatory one for my children.  But oddly, in the face of recent threats to our people and to our lives, I don’t feel the need to defend my choices.  I feel the need to live life.  Without fear, (or at least with the façade of bravery).  To remember that life isn’t always about making the easiest choice – it’s about making the one you’ve chosen work out, no matter what.

I couldn’t be happier to come home to six delicious hugs and kisses…and to some of the most delicious fried chicken ever (made by my kids in cooking chug…insert shameless plug for the best after school lessons ever!).  There’s nowhere else I’d rather be – not in Europe, where anti-Semitism is rampant, not in the US, where psychos shoot up movie theaters, malls and elementary schools.

Today, more than other days, I’m both relieved and proud to say that I didn’t just arrive at my house.  I’m HOME.  And this is where I intend to stay…no matter what.

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A Mother’s “Prayer”

For most Jews the High Holiday period is one filled with family togetherness, apples and honey, and prayer.  Lots and lots of prayer – even for those who don’t utter a single supplication the rest of the year.  In my youth, I didn’t quite enjoy the prayer part of the holiday, and like many of my fellow tribesmen, I grew to fear the boredom, the over air-conditioned rooms and the long hours without a snack or ample legroom.  Things changed drastically as I got older, and I grew to realize that (1) the world can be a really scary place filled with some pretty nasty stuff and some pretty evil people, (2) I’m not in control of everything (though I often pretend that I am), (3) good intentions aren’t always enough, and (4) it never hurts to get a little bit of help from the powers that be. 

And so, there were a few years where my prayers were seriously fervent.  In fact, there were years when I returned home from shul exhausted from all that focus, concentration, praising and begging.  And then things changed again.  This year, I realized, I returned home exhausted, but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s a glimpse into how it went:

I gratefully thank you, living and eternal King, for You have

-          Yes, yes, of course you can have a yogurt, your sister will help you with it

Returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness!

How goodly are your

-          We’re on page 5, honey, it’s still the same prayers that you say every day (don’t you recognize them?)

Tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.

-          Of course it’s ok that you spilled yogurt on your pants, and your hands, and got it in your hair. Don’t worry, I’m coming to clean you.  Don’t cry, my love, I’m not (too) mad.

Insert a few paragraphs of prayer here.

-          Of course I’ll take you to the bathroom.

Shema Yisrael…

-          We’re on page 87.  There are 124 more pages to go.  That’s probably about 3 more hours.  Maybe a bit less.

-          Of course I’ll take you to the bathroom.

Shofar blowing

-          No, you can’t go to your father, he’s blowing the shofar and isn’t allowed to speak.  You’re right, I’m not supposed speak either, but I don’t think you’d be happy if I just used hand motions for the next two hours.

Insert Amidah for Mussaf, complete with the aforementioned (and despised) hand motions

-          Of course I’ll take you to the bathroom.

Who is like You, Merciful Father, Who recalls His creatures mercifully for life!

-          No, there’s, only about a half hour left, you may not leave now.  Unless you want to take your brother to the bathroom…again…

And so, I find myself here, on the day after Rosh Hashana, with the kids back in school and the quiet restored, uttering a truly personal post-holiday prayer:

Please, dear G-d, recognize my disjoined, unfocused and incomplete High Holiday prayers not as a fault or sin, but as a blessing in disguise.  Fortunate are those who are able to tend to their children and to put the needs of others above their own.  I may not be perfect – in prayer or otherwise, but I can say with certainty that I’m trying my best.  And in this time of judgment, I deeply pray that this is enough.  

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I Can’t…But I Will

A lot has been said and written in the past few days about the kidnapping of 3 teenagers in our area.  And while there’s no reason to recount the actual events, it’s worth taking a look at some of the things I’ve seen repeatedly online.  “I can’t sleep.  I can’t work.  I can’t focus.  I can’t eat.  I can’t stop thinking about those boys.  I can’t stop thinking about their parents.  I can’t believe this happened.”

I can’t either.  But I will.  I will sleep…even if I have to run myself ragged until my body shuts itself down.  I will work…and I will make every moment count.  I will focus… on my family, my friends, my prayers and my faith.  I will eat…and I will make sure that the soldiers in our area are well-fed as well.

I will continue to hitchhike and to pick up hitchhikers.  Not because I need to, but because I can.  Because ‘tremping’ in this country is not an act of foolishness or a way to be cheap – it’s show of the nation’s magnanimity, of faith in others, of our people’s perpetual willingness to help those in need.

I will plan family gatherings that will not be tarnished by sadness, because doing so let’s ‘them’ in – and it lets ‘them’ win.  I will look for every opportunity to be happy instead of focusing on the black cloud overhead.   I will avoid petty arguments over hashtags, humanitarianism and private healthcare in Israel, disputes that divide our nation at the very time we should be entirely united.  And when doing these things, I will continue to think of “our boys”, and to remind myself that celebrating life isn’t an act of callousness, but an act of bravery in the face of adversity.

Finally, I will continue to believe in peace, not because I’m naïve, but because I’m human.  And because without hope, we truly have nothing.

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347 Days

Dear Poppy,

There’s so much I want to tell you about – things that have happened in the last 347 days since you’ve been gone, and things that I’m planning for the next 347 days, that I’d love to hear your thoughts about. Mundane things, like how I made a new recipe I thought you’d like. How Itiel learned to walk, speak, and most recently, to sing. How I continue to navigate the Israeli healthcare system, despite dozens of setbacks, to ensure that the kids get everything they need. I know you’d be proud, since you did the same. I want to share with you the kids’ great report cards, and to celebrate their accomplishments over drippy Israeli ice cream, just the way we’ve done for the past five years. I wish you could revel in Hollie’s recent hair donation, and to crack your jokes about how you could have really used that hair. I want to tell you about the restaurant where we celebrated our recent anniversary, a celebration we’ve done together for the past decade, since your birthday was the day before. (They served some great veal, and I know you would have loved it.)

This would have looked so great on you!

It’s funny, but sometimes I even yearn to sit by your hospital bed and to have your undivided attention and complete candor. Those weren’t fun days, but they were certainly branded with their own sort of specialness. Of course, I also miss the days when we lived 50 yards away from each other, and I could come over at any time of day or night to drop off something that I’d just baked, or to share some of your expensive orange juice (or wine!). Most often though, I long for the days where you didn’t have time for a visit because you were too busy changing the world of Torah learning. Even then, when you were so busy working tirelessly through your retirement years, you always had time for a call, even about matters that weren’t all that important.

I’d give anything to make you a peanut butter and cheese sandwich, or, even better, something gooey and chocolaty that wouldn’t be good for you but would surely taste amazing. And mostly, I’d love to have just one more “Poppy talk.” I’d ask you to help me understand the cycle of grief and loss, and how to deal with such immense emptiness. I suspect you’d tell me how you didn’t merit to know your grandparents like I knew you, but that you’ve counseled hundreds of people going through it, and how you don’t know how, but somehow, at some time, it gets easier. To be honest, I thought it would be easier by now. But here I am, 347 days later, crying onto my keyboard.

In just a few days we’ll mark the end of the Jewish year of mourning. But despite this ritual milestone, I’m not quite there yet. Part of me really wants to be, but the other part of me isn’t quite ready to let go. I’m not sure I’ll ever be. But since I don’t really have a choice, I guess I’ll keep trying, and hoping that in 347 days from now, things will be easier – not just for me, but for the many people in our family who continue to love and miss you. I know that’s what you’d want…and you know that I aim to please. May your memory be blessed.

Your last family simcha - It's just not the same without you

 

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