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.


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


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.  


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.


Ode to a Blizzard

In a quaint little town

On top of a hill,

The residents planned

For winter’s deep chill.

They relished the thought

Of a cozy ‘snow day’,

A respite from work,

A chance just to play.

It seemed so ideal,

So calm and serene –

Who knew that the storm,

Would turn terribly mean?

3 days without power,

6 days without school,

And suddenly nature

Seems horribly cruel.

Businesses halted,

The laundry in piles,

Thousands are stranded,

For miles and miles.

Our ‘startup nation’,

So thoughtful and so bold,

Has been brought to its knees,

By the snow and the cold.

Roads remain closed

During morning rush hours,

For some- no hot water,

For critical showers.

Kids are in heaven,

But parents are not,

We’re somehow ungrateful

For what we just got.

The people of Israel,

Praying daily for rain,

Are now nearly flooded,

And going insane.

It’s time for some snow plows,

And more 4 wheel drive,

So that when the snow hits,

We can still thrive.

It won’t be as fun,

Nor nearly as ‘cool’,

We won’t have a snow week-

But at least we’ll have school.

Snow in Israel

It started off beautifully!

Day 6, school buses got stuck in the snow and ice. Kids were all sent back home.

Sunset over Snow
Day 6, night – so calm, you can almost forget the hectic day

photo credits: Mordecai Holtz



Breakdown in the Shoe Store

Even as I write this post, I can’t decide if I’m writing it with pride, humiliation, or both. You see, I’ve been living in Israel for nearly

Itiel summer 2013

It's a good thing he's cute, or I might consider selling him to buy a new pair of shoes!

10 years now, and I’ve never purchased shoes in this country. I know that sounds somewhat awful, like I’m eerily dependent on DSW and Target, despite the fact that they’re 6,000 miles away. I know it sounds like I’m snobbish and materialistic – but that’s not actually it at all.

For starters, I seldom buy shoes for myself at all, unless some that I own happen to break (which only happens about once every 2-3 years). Secondly, I’m a very overt anti-shopper, and avoid stores like the plague. As it is, my own wardrobe comes nearly entirely from hand-me downs from my sisters-in-law and gifts from my generous mother and mother-in-law who both know that I have basically no fashion sense as well as a pathological anxiety related to spending money on things that aren’t 150% necessary. It’s an illness, I know…certainly one that deserves an entire blog post in its own right. But that’s for another time.

I do have less trouble buying things for the kids, but since I work full time, I find that I barely have time to get to the grocery store or the doctor, let alone the shoe store or clothing store, or seamstress or bank, or anywhere else. It seems much easier to ask my very helpful (and devoted) mother to just swing by the children’s shoe section at Target next time she passes by, and to bring next season’s shoes next time she comes (yes, I do pay for them…most of the time). Co-dependent? Definitely. Convenient? Absolutely!

But though we just spent two months in New York and I managed to buy shoes for the four big kids, the one thing I didn’t get was shoes for Itiel, who wasn’t quite walking when we left. He does walk now, however, and I thought it might be a good idea to get him some shoes. So, for the first time in my parenting career, I packed him up into the car and took my child for a shoe fitting. (Yes, I know you’re theoretically supposed to do that for every kid. But don’t worry, the older four seem to have survived just fine despite the fact that they didn’t have proper shoe fittings).

Since I’ve never been to a shoe store around here, I figured that I’d head over to the local store, where I’ve heard a lot of people shop. It’s called the Naot outlet, and outlets are supposed to be affordable, right? RIGHT?!

I got some help from a salesman who looked about 12, who informed me that the cheapest first baby shoes are 200 NIS, and the most are 260 NIS. That’s about $56-$72. But they didn’t have any of the 200 NIS shoes in Itiel’s size, so the best he could give me was some for 240 NIS. I don’t think I have a single pair of shoes in my closet that costs that much. Who pays that much for shoes for little, tiny people whose feet are growing quicker than their hair is?! And we’re not even talking about designer shoes here. Just plain old baby shoes, very similar to these that cost a mere $19.99.

How many nights have I held my babies close, whispering in their ears that I’d do anything for them? If that’s really true, why on earth couldn’t I bring myself to buy my baby shoes for $70? I just said, I’d do anything! And so, the breakdown began. It involved a serious amount of deep breaths, a few tears as I called Mordecai in a panic and then an overzealous scroll through my phone book trying to figure out who would be the next commuter I know coming from the US who could potentially bring back some baby shoes. All while Itiel cried in my arms, traumatized at having to stick his feet in these strange, uncomfortable new shoes. It was certainly not the highlight of my day.

I left the store feeling defeated as a mother but proud as a price-conscious shopper (not to mention extremely grateful that I have a way to get the things that I need without selling my firstborn). I was (IE, am) also rather baffled as to what regular Israelis do when they can’t just run to a discount store? A few friends have subsequently told me that there are some bargain basement options around here – there’s even a Payless now…but that the quality isn’t worth even the discounted price, and that you’re still paying more – way more – than a comparable store abroad.

An hour after I left the shoe store empty handed and entirely bereft, I got a call from a woman I know from around town, who happened to be in the store at the same time as we were. She said that the store was having a sale – buy one pair, get the second for 50% off. So for 180 NIS, or a paltry $50, I could have the shoes for Itiel, and she could save on the shoes for her daughter…was I interested in going in with her?

And so, this is how I agreed to overpay for shoes while still managing to ‘save’ $20. I’m not going to lie – I still feel like a sucker. But on some level maybe I’m more Israeli now. Or maybe only Itiel is, as he’ll be sporting the latest in Israeli shoe fashion while I’ll still be wearing American sale rack fashion from 2009. Either way, I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and I hope nobody will judge me if it takes another 10 years for me to head to an Israeli shoe store.



New Challenges and New Perspectives in the New Year

For a change, it’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, but not for lack of ideas – as usual, lack of time is the culprit. I have tons of things that I want to say/write, and hopefully I will one day. About motherhood. About daughterhood (which doesn’t come up on spellcheck so I assume is a word?). About some really divine things that have happened to us in the past few months. About living in Israel, and living in a ‘faraway place’ which isn’t always as fantastic as the fairytales would make it seem. But those posts are not for now.

Now it’s a new year, and even though the year is less than a week old, I’ve learned a lot in the past few days. A lot. About my making peace with the challenges of daily life, and trying to see the good in every situation. And Lord knows, that is hard. But I guess it’s part of life. And so, without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of the challenges (aka crises) we’ve been facing lately, and the flip sides to these potential disasters. I certainly don’t mean to speak from a soapbox or to make my challenges seem worse than someone else’s – I just hope that these slightly odd perspectives will encourage you to find new perspectives during the tough times. Even when that seems nearly impossible.

Challenge #1 – Two beloved family members in the hospital at the same time. On a different continent.

My first response – Panic, fear, frustration at being so far away.

My new perspective – Well, at least I’ll know that they’ll be near the phone when I call! What a great captive audience for all of my other sob stories! Or cute-child stories! And, perhaps a bit more seriously, what a great opportunity to take the 10 days of teshuva a bit more seriously. After all, we pray about health, life and death constantly during the High Holidays, but how many of us actually internalize it? Now I’ve had a real chance to think about these prayers and to mean them when I say them, even if it’s one I’d have been happy to live without.

Challenge #2 – My cell phone simply stopped working one day.

My first response – How will I call everyone before the holidays? And why, oh why, do I have to pay for another phone when I just replaced it a year ago? And where can I store all of the numbers that seem to fly around at the beginning of a new school year (will I have to actually find a pen and paper? Do those things still exist?)

My new perspective – Instead of calling everyone in my address book, I can enjoy the quiet in the hectic pre-holiday days (and I am, though I’m still happy if you want to call).

Challenge #3 – Two broken ovens at once. In the days preceding a week-long holiday that generally includes hosting lots of hungry guests.

My first response – Crap, I really didn’t feel like paying for new ovens this year (which is why I didn’t fix the first one when it broke a few months ago). I REALLY REALLY don’t feel like paying overinflated Israeli prices to replace my American ovens. Oh, and how on earth am I going to cook normally for the upcoming holiday? (Perhaps) worse, how can I replenish my rapidly-depleting cookie supply?! Should I suck it up and get a tiny Israeli oven instead? Then I’ll also have to replace all my pans, since none of them fit in there. Did I mention I’m not very good at making decisions when it comes to spending money? Especially when I’m cookie-deprived?

My new perspective – Firstly, I feel grateful for my fantastic friends who invited the family for the upcoming holiday, so that I don’t have to rush into a decision quite as quickly. Though I always appreciate our wonderful community, I have another opportunity to be especially grateful now. And hey, maybe it’s not so bad if I can’t bake cookies. My thighs (and cholesterol) might thank me later. That is, if I survive the withdrawal (which is slowly setting in). Also, now I finally have the opportunity to try out all of those crock pot recipes that I’ve been hoarding for the one-day that hadn’t yet arrived…until now.

Challenge #4 – Azi lost his hearing again (no, just because this is last doesn’t mean it’s the least important).

My first response – My poor baby…he hears a fraction of what everyone else is hearing, and is slowly going insane from frustration (so are his parents). It’s no wonder all he says all day is WHAT? WHAT? And that he doesn’t respond to over half of the questions directed his way. It’s no wonder he cries so much more than he did before this problem returned, and that he screams at the dinner table instead of speaking in an indoor voice. (Boy, have these things been difficult for us all).

A simultaneous first response – OMG, a third surgery in 3 years?! And when it takes so long to get appointments for everything, it’ll take forever to get to the doctor, get a confirmation for the hearing test, take the hearing test, go back to the doctor, get on the surgical schedule, get another confirmation for the surgery and then do the surgery…and then go back for more hearing tests and follow ups. (Gosh, just reading it all is exhausting!).

My new perspective – Well, at least his brother’s coughing and crying in the night isn’t waking him up! And, at least he doesn’t hear when I kvetch about his newly aggressive behavior on the phone…This challenge, though hopefully temporary, also provides an excellent opportunity to connect with my son on a closer level, to take him on my lap and to speak directly into his ear, allowing me to sneak in some extra snuggling.

Are these things the normal stressors of life? Probably. Am I one of the few that freaks out quickly rather than remaining level-headed? Likely. Maybe by next year I’ll be able to get over this ‘personality quirk’ (there’s a good new year’s resolution!). But until then, I’m satisfied with just the ability to find a new perspective and hopefully to learn something from each experience. And I’m continuing to look forward to the day when these simultaneous nightmares will be something to laugh about, rather than to stress about.



Leaving Good Enough Alone

You know those days where everything seems to be going right? The sun seems a bit brighter, the kids seem slightly less cranky, and maybe you’re even feeling that much skinner? I’ve been having an entire week like that – but for some reason, my ecstasy is

Cute Holtzes

Yup, like I said, 'darn cute'

tempered by this horrible nagging feeling.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a pessimist (at all!), but for some reason, I just feel too skeptical that I could be ‘just that’ lucky. I mean, I’m already lucky enough to have a fantastic family, a beautiful house and great friends in a wonderful neighborhood. But to also have so many unbelievable opportunities presented at once seems almost entirely unbelievable. Because I’m also inexplicably superstitious, I’m afraid to say anything about what’s going on. And it’s nearly irrelevant. I felt fantastically blessed yesterday when I managed to get rides with two strangers from the train station practically to my door. And that’s not even such a big deal (or maybe it is?).

I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with me, that I can’t seem to relax or to enjoy the ride when so many things seem to be falling suddenly into place. Is it normal to be so uptight for no rational reason? I have no reason to think that anything will go wrong, or that my good fortune will suddenly reverse. But I also have no reason to think I deserve any of the miracles that have recently come my way.

I’m really not looking for any pats on the back, or anyone to say that of course I deserve good things. I don’t doubt that I’m a relatively decent person, and that I always mean well (even if it doesn’t come out that way). And I think I’d really be fine if everything just continued on its merry way of being good, instead of great. It’s not that I’m aiming for mediocrity, but rather that I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with good. I’m cool with having a job I love, even if it won’t make me a millionaire (yet). I’m ok if my kids aren’t the best athletes on the baseball team, or the best singers in the choir, or the absolute smartest kids in the class. As long as they are generally happy and well-adjusted (and also, darn cute). I can live with my totally scratched and mangled glasses that survived being toasted and run over by a car, as long as I can continue to see out of them (and don’t have to waste time or money going to replace them). For me, good really is good.

So why is it then that when a few really wonderful things start to happen all at once, I start to feel tense and more than a little bit panicked? Why is it that I start to wonder when something terrible will happen when there’s no reason to think so? Is this a normal behavior or some sort of psychotic paranoia? And how on earth can I learn to just let go and relax a teeny, tiny bit? For my own sanity, if nothing else?




Where I Come From

Where I come from, school is cancelled when snow is falling.

Where I live now, school is cancelled when it’s raining rockets.

Where I come from, children beg for iPods, video games and scooters.

Where I live now, children beg for a full night’s sleep, one without nightmares or running to a safe room.

Where I come from, people stock up on water, canned goods and batteries in the event of a natural disaster.

Where I live now, please stock up on water, canned goods, batteries and gas masks, in the event of an unnatural act of terror.

Where I come from, the sound of a siren is a signal for the fire department to mobilize.

Where I live now, the sound of a siren is the dreaded cue for civilians to run for shelter.

Where I come from, people volunteered for cleanup efforts, to haul away garbage and to clean up decimated areas.

Where I live now, people volunteer for government-sanctioned hasbara efforts, to ensure that accurate information is shared widely and that those littering the internet with lies will be thwarted.

Where I come from, the country is large, and there are rarely specific targets.

Where I live now, the land is tiny, and everyone is a target.

Where I come from, my family and friends opened their homes to Hurricane victims without power or heat.

Where I live now, my family and friends are opening their doors to those feeling the heat of rocket fire, who have no power to protect themselves.

Where I come from, war is fought overseas; in Afghanistan.

Where I live now, war is within our own borders; in Be’er Sheva, in Kiryat Malachi, and even near Tel Aviv.

Where I come from, a light in the sky is a shooting star, a miracle from G-d.

Where I live now, a light in the sky is the Iron Dome – a completely different type of miracle.

Where I come from, soldiers are faceless, nameless men in green.*

Where I live now, they are our neighbors, brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons.

(*Except for you Michael!)



Feeling Numb

It seems that lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the struggles of others, whether it’s from their own illness, the illness of a loved one, the loss of a house in a flood (or a storm), the loss of a job, the loss of a pregnancy, and even the loss of life. I’ve been listening and reading about how others deal with their fear, grief and disappointment. Most people talk (or write) about their anger, their feeling of helplessness, and in contrast, their desire to do something, anything. I’ve seen many people turn to prayer, to challah baking and to tzedaka campaigns, and to the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people fall into severe depression, paralyzed with the inability to move forward following a trauma. And, of course, I’ve seen many of my blogger friends turn to the pen or keyboard, expressing their tears verbally, perhaps as a mirror to a physical phenomenon.

Yesterday our neighborhood buried a child, a young boy about to join the army, whose life was cut brutally short in a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy. I didn’t know him, but it doesn’t matter. I heard the sirens of the ambulance, so loud as if it had arrived at my own home. In a panic, I called my neighbors to check if everyone was ok. Oddly, when everyone confirmed that they were fine, I didn’t feel that pervasive sense of relief. Perhaps it was because subconsciously I knew that something was still wrong, or perhaps it’s because I’m just numb.

I wish I could feel that strong torrent of emotions described by so many of my peers, or to accept G-d’s decisions with that calm understanding beheld by my friends who are truly of pure heart. And yet, it’s not that I reject the events of the world, it’s that I simply fail to understand them, no matter how hard I try. I do pursue some sort of tikkun, through my daily prayers, through my challah baking, through my offers of kindness to those in need – anything that will, perhaps, reverse the horrible fates that seems to have been already set in motion, or to cement the good ones on their noble trajectory. But I think I am doing these things because of the numbness. Because of the lack of alternatives. Because crying or staying in bed just doesn’t help.

I find it hard to relate to my own struggles and happy times, as I’ve noticed that I continually put my personal circumstances into the context of those around me. Yes, it’s annoying to have a sick child home on day that I should be working. But how can I complain, when so many of my friends are begging for children? It’s not fun to shlep 3 hours each way to work, but how can I complain when so many people that I know are searching for a new position? I’m too tired to clean the house at the end of the day, but hey, at least our house is still standing, and it’s dry, right?

My wise husband recently pointed out that just because others are struggling more than we are, doesn’t mean our personal trials aren’t important. And he was right. But one of my friends wrote yesterday about how in our neighborhood, a neighbor’s struggles become your own, their happiness becomes yours. And that is right as well.

And so it is that I find myself struggling with burdens that aren’t truly my own, feeling numb from all that’s going on, bone-tired from working hard, volunteering hard, and raising children, and yet, feeling inadequate because no matter what I do, it’s just not enough. I can’t stop the plague of illness, I can’t prevent my friends’ car troubles, children’s behavioral issues or financial troubles. I’m lucky I can manage my own. And yet, somehow, this small victory doesn’t make me feel better, it just makes me feel numb.