Thursday, March 15, 2012

On twenty years

I'm kinda rusty with the writing thing, so please bear with me.

On Shabbat, Isaac and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary.

I've been thinking about this milestone. Alot. I have so much I want to say churning inside of me, and I'm not sure I can express it properly. At least in a way that is private, and graceful.

Truth is, I've been thinking about how I'm going to wish Isaac a happy anniversary on Facebook, that place I abandoned this blog for. Last year I wished him a Happy St. Patrick's day. I thought about going down the "you are the love of my life, my best friend" route, but that just doesn't cut it.

In twenty years of living with someone day-in-day-out you get to see the good, the bad and yes, the ugly. I could tell you all that Isaac and I have the most wonderful, harmonious relationship and that we cherish each other every single moment. I could announce to the world how happy the last twenty years have been and how I am so grateful to have found my soulmate.

The thing is, I wouldn't be being completely honest with you. Or with myself.

I'm not gonna lie; in twenty years of marriage, some of the arguments have been doozies. We are a couple that cheerfully ignores the classic, stupid marital advice of never going to bed angry with each other. We need time to resolve issues, and sometimes issues are just not resolved and come back at a later time to rear their ugly heads. When we have those issues, I have a tendency to think about how he behaved, but the truth is I share responsibility here as well. Both of us know what buttons to push and on bad days enjoy pushing those buttons.

To much information? I'm trying to be honest here about what twenty years of marriage is like. At least my twenty years.

And honestly, it's not always easy. I think Isaac would agree.

And yet here we are. Together. Intact. There are bumps and bruises to be sure. And maybe even some scars. But we're together.

The thing is, I know I married a really good man. No, he doesn't complete household projects that I've asked him to. Yes, he has a tendency to crack his sunflower seeds really loudly. Still, Isaac and I are a team. Sometimes the team works great together and sometimes we could really use some improving (and corporate sponsors!). But he's 50% of my team. Without him, my team doesn't exist. And I like my team. I root for it. I hope it is victorious.

And dare I say I'm really grateful and proud to have found my soul teammate.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tell the world he's coming home

Many years ago, on July 4 1976 an elite commando unit of the Israeli Defense Forces stormed the Entebbe, Uganda airport and freed the 102 Israeli hostages held there after they were hijacked on an Air France Flight by terrorist palestinian organizations. It was a bold and daring raid by the Israelis, indeed a national victory that the entire country celebrated.

But of course, as always, the joy felt was tempered somewhat by tragedy: some of the hostages were killed in the crossfire of the raid; one hostage, Dora Bloch, was brutally murdered by the Ugandans in the aftermath; and Yonatan Netanyahu, a commander of the raid was killed in the firefight between the commandos and the terrorists.

After the raid, Yehoram Gaon came out with a song that became very popular at the time and now is considered an Israeli classic (Lyrics by Telma Eligon Rose, music by Dovi Seltzer). There is a line in the song that to me describes perfectly life in this little country of mine. Living here in Israel, it is a line I think of often. On this historical day, I especially feel it. The line goes like this:

"עצבונה וששונה הם שתי וערב בבגד יומה"

"[a country whose]...sadness and happiness
are interwoven into the fabric of her daily life".


I don't think I need to review for you all that is happening here today. That our soldier, Gilad Shalit, "everybody's child", is coming home. That the Israeli government decided to pay a very heavy price for his release. That out of the 1027 prisoners that are being released in exchange for one Gilad, about 400 of them are true murderers and masterminds of horrific terrorist attacks. That since the deal has been announced families of the victims of these murderers have appealed to the supreme court to take the murderers off the list. That the supreme court said, no. That there are people who say the price is to heavy for one soldier. That the deal emboldens the terrorists. And that there are others who say we are a country who can't leave our soldiers behind. That we are a country with values and that human life is valuable. That we are the only country in this neighborhood of the world that values life, whereas our neighbors value death. That our soldiers serving and being drafted today need to know that we will do anything to get them back should, G-d forbid, another soldier be kidnapped.

I read it all. The papers, the blogs, the opinions. And I go back and forth. When I see the families of victims of terror in so much pain today, my heart goes out to them. One of the masterminds being released today was responsible for the Sbarro terror attack in August, 2001, in which Liat's teacher, Morah Shoshana Greenbaum was slaughtered. She was an only child, pregnant with her first child and this deal likely pours salt on a wound that has never, that will never close for her parents.

But yet, Gilad. How can we leave him there any longer? He needs to come home, to be held by his parents and embraced by his people.

Today is one of those quintessential Israeli days: exhilaration and heartbreak, tears of both joy and sadness intermingling for all that Gilad has been through, all that our nation and our country has been through.

Gilad, you have been "everybody's child" for five long years. We have cherished and missed you without even really knowing you. Now that you are coming back, we will give you back to your parents, Noam and Aviva. You belong to them.

I for one, give you back wholeheartedly and with love.




********

(Here are the words to the song Eretz Tzvi, along with an accompanying video I found on You Tube. All the words are appropriate today).

בחצי הלילה הם קמו
והיכו בקצה העולם
כבני רשף חשו הרחיקו עוף
להשיב את כבוד האדם

אל ארץ צבי
אל דבש שדותיה
אל הכרמל והמדבר
אל עם אשר לא יחשה
שאת בניו לא יפקיר לזר,
אל ארץ צבי שבהריה
פועמת עיר מדור לדור
אל ארץ אם לטבורה
קשורים בניה בטוב וברע.

בחצי הלילה עוברת
בשדותינו רוח שרב
ערבה אילמת תרכין אז ראש
על אשר עם שחר לא שב

אל ארץ צבי
אל דבש שדותיה
אל הכרמל והמדבר
אל עם אשר לא יחשה
שאת בניו לא יפקיר לזר,
אל ארץ צבי שדמעותיה
נושרות על שדה חמניות
שעצבונה וששונה
הם שתי וערב בבגד יומה.
At midnight they arose
and struck at the edge of the world
like sons of ghosts they hurried to take flight
to return the honor of humanity

To the land of the deer (Israel)
to the honey of her fields
to the Carmel and the desert
to a nation who will not be silent/still
who will not abandon its sons to a foreigner
to the land of deer, in whose mountains
a city beats from generation to generation
to the motherland to whose navel
her children are bound in good and in bad

At midnight passes
in its/our fields a blistering wind
a willow then bows her head for those who
with the dawn did not come back

To the land of the deer (Israel)
to the honey of her fields
to the Carmel and the desert
to a nation who will not be silent/still
who will not abandon its sons to a foreigner
to the land of deer, whose tears
fall on a field of sunflowers
whose sadness and happiness
are interwoven in the fabric of her daily life.







Saturday, September 10, 2011

The little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd., ten years later

At 321 Woodmere Blvd., in the Five Towns of Long Island, New York, there stands a mansion-like building. It is an attractive, red bricked edifice with a large circular driveway leading up to its doors. On either side of the entrance are some bushes that flower in the spring, but are rather boring the rest of the year. As you face the building, all the way to the left stands a small cherry tree. I haven't seen the tree in years and I have no idea if it has grown or if it is one of those dwarf trees, meant to stay small forever. But I am sure the tree is still there and I am sure there is a group of people who think of that tree every year on September 11.

I was there when the tree was planted.

On September 11, 2001 I was at my job at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC). Many of us saw the second plane hit the twin tower and watched in horror as the towers fell. The only work that got done that day was arranging for the children to go home early, making sure there would be someone home for them when they arrived. Many staff members frantically tried to contact loved ones who worked in or near the towers before leaving for home. One of my colleagues left and did not return for months as she mourned her husband who perished in the towers and began raising her two young daughters without him.

I went home to a silent house as I waited for the girls to come home. They were 7, 5 and 4 years old. Today I asked Liat what she remembered about September 11 and it was minimal. Tali and Orli don't remember the day at all. Liat said she remembered that Isaac was home that day. He wasn't. He came home very, very late as he had to walk to Queens from Manhattan. From Queens he caught a ride home with his friend Nahum. There were no subways or railroads running. He did stay home the next day. We all did. The whole city did. That is, except for the search-and-rescue people, the firefighters, the policemen, the volunteers...and the men and women who never returned home from work the previous day. The next few days were quiet, the skies were blue. No planes were flying and it seemed as if a hush had fallen over the entire world. I remember being relieved when it rained a few days later. "What took so long for G-d's tears to fall?", I thought. The rain was more in keeping with our collective mood.

Over at HASC, we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. Several of our own had experienced close calls on that day, but one of ours had lost her world in those towers. One morning months later our principal, Clare, gathered us together outside. I don't remember what she said, but I'm sure we cried as we watched her plant that tree. The tree was in honor of Megan's husband and all the others, in honor of all the people that rushed into those buildings to save others, in honor of all the people that volunteered in the aftermath of that day and in honor of our beloved New York City, so wounded and yet so proud.

Megan came back a few weeks later, bearing a huge basket of chocolate kisses to thank us for our prayers and support. She got right back to the business of doing her job. We all took our cues from her and did the same and pretended that life was normal. But it wasn't.

My life changed on that cloudless day and in those hours of silence that followed. I felt fear. Though the fear has receded, there are times it comes back to me. In the weeks and months that followed, everytime I would drive through the tunnel at the end of the LIE that emerges out onto the Gowanis before the BQE, I would look at the skyline and search for the gap of where the towers were and I would wonder, I still wonder, how could those buildings not be there. Gone. Vaporized. "Take nothing for granted", I would tell myself as I drove down that road. And then would come the question--"What am I doing here? In New York, the city I love, but I have a home somewhere else."--a question that I answered six years later when I boarded a plane for my one-way flight to Israel.

Some of you have been kind enough to share your memories with me:

One Tired Ema had this to say on Facebook: The documentaries have begun. Honestly watching the video of the towers falling looks like movie special effects--still completely beyond belief.

I remember some things so clearly, what the weather was like, who I was with, that we could see smoke up by Yankee Stadium. But I was at work--and I can't remember how I got home. But I remember that I invited colleagues who lived in Queens and Brooklyn to come home with me.


Hadassah visits Ground Zero and remembers.

Mrs. S. expresses dismay that little has changed since that day.

Contrary to the title of her post, I thought Lisa was pretty good at recalling the day's events.

A Mother in Israel also recalled on Facebook: My husband called me from work and told me to turn on the TV. I had a baby who was 2 months old. That was the summer of the Sbarro bombings and others here in Israel.

Shari is no longer afraid.

Tomorrow I will go to work and I will ask everyone where they were on that day. I will tell them where I was and what I experienced and what New York City was like before and after. I will them about the people I was with, people of different faiths and color and how we mourned together for all that was lost. And I will describe that little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd., sure that it is thriving and cared for and in its own way, honoring and remembering.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where were you when....?

I've been thinking alot, since the beginning of the month about 9/11. I can't wrap my head around the fact that ten years have passed. I have half a mind to take this Sunday off from work so I can stay home and watch the memorials and just feel, rather than the day being lost in the hustle-and-bustle of life.

This year, to honor and remember the day and those who perished, I'd like to try a round-up of sorts.

I'd like you to answer some questions:

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Who were you with, what were you doing? What is your most vivid memory? What did you feel?

Did your life change in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Did it change in any way later or is your life affected now, ten years later, by the events of that day?

If you blog, you can put it there and send me a link in the comments and I will post it. If you just want to write in the comments, that's great as well. I'll put something together on 9/11 to mark the day.

Thanks, everyone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I learned from my summer vacation and yeah, we're celebrating an anniversary

The Chofesh HaGadol has come and gone and I thought I would blog about it every week, but well, you see how that worked out. Truth be told, there wasn't much to write about. Sure we did have our arguments about curfews and the like, but nothing out of the norm. The kids spent alot of time on the computer, but, hey so did I, and they did do other worthwhile, and even at times, productive things over the long summer.

And I had an epiphany of sorts this summer. I know some people reach this conclusion early in their parenting careers, but me, well I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Here it is:

Our kids are not computers, or robots to be programmed to be the way we want them to be. Or, to put it mildly, they are not us and maybe, just maybe, they want different things for themselves than we want for ourselves/them, think different thoughts and feel different feelings.

I know, sometimes I also surprise myself with my brilliance.

Case in point:

One of the things I very much looked forward about living in Israel was involvement in the Bnei Akiva youth movement. I was very active in the movement in the states during my college years and loved the philosophy, which believed in, among other things, Jews living in Israel. When we arrived here I very much forced encouraged the girls to join. I felt it would help them integrate, learn the language and make friends. It didn't work for Liat--she came in the ninth grade and it was a bit late for her to start. But I thought it would be good for Tali and Orli. Orli jumped right in, made friends, and started speaking Hebrew like a native. Tali also attended, but wasn't as enthusiastic. She has a really good friend who went with her and mostly stuck to this friend and other English speakers. Over the years she went on hikes and camped with BA and seemed to enjoy it, although never with passion. This summer, Tali did not go to camp, she worked and played and I really wanted her to go to the BA camp which was over a Shabbat (weekend). I just felt it would really be good for her and I signed her up even though she expressed to me that she didn't want to go. I didn't care. I wanted her to hang out with the girls who were going. A few days before the trip she finally had it out with me, telling me, "Mommy, I go to Bnei Akiva because I want to make you happy, not because it makes me happy."

When she said that, she looked so sad and all of a sudden I knew it was true. She never really loved going, but I always pushed her. Maybe, when she was younger it was okay to push. But she's 15 now. Her own person. She knows what she likes and she certainly knows what she doesn't like. How could I force her to go on a trip that she really didn't want to go on?

Why am forcing her to be more Israeli??? She has plenty of friends, most of whom do not attend Bnei Akiva, and she is happy with them. Yes they are anglo, but that's who she's comfortable with. They're nice kids. She speaks hebrew and does nicely in school. She seems to have found her place here. Why am I pushing her so much to be somewhere else?

So I've taken a step back with both her and sisters. Given them a bit more leeway in making decisions. It's hard to find the line between being a controlling parent and setting appropriate limits; I admit I struggle with this all the time. But there is a change in Tali, a tension that doesn't seem to be there anymore. She seems relieved. I only wish I had figured this out sooner.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the fourth anniversary of our arrival here in Israel. In some ways my life in the states seems further and further away and in others I still feel so strongly connected to the US. I came with three children, and four years later they are young women, each with their own individual personality, trying to figure things out for themselves. They are different here than they would have been had we stayed in the states. How could they not be? They still need me, but not necessarily for the things I think they need me for. And that's okay. Because at every stage of the game, whether here or there, they teach me, and make me a better parent and indeed a better person.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogging the chofesh hagadol (Big, huge, no-end-in-sight, looong vacation) Week 1

The "Chofesh HaGadol", or "long vacation" is the term given for the summer vacation that Israeli school children have every year. All elementary schools here finish on June 30 and begin on September 1st, thus leaving two full months for vacation. The teenagers (yes, that would be my kids), finish about June 20, giving them an added bonus of ten days.

In America, the bulk of the summers were nearly as structured as the school year. When they were younger the kids went to day camp and were out of the house from about 7:30 in the morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon. As they got older they started going to sleepaway camps and could go for four or seven weeks. The summer we made Aliya all three were in sleepaway camp for a month. I would have sent them for the entire summer had we not moved here.

In Israel the younger kids also attend day camp, for a shorter day and a shorter period of time. Older kids (over 16, I think) can get working papers and find jobs, but there are alot of kids competing and it's not easy to find summer work at that age.

The toughest ages to deal with in the dog days of summer are the kids who consider themselves to old for day camp (and there really aren't programs in place for this age anyway) and are too young to work. I have two such children, and well, it's going to be a long summer. (My oldest, Liat, found a job working in Camp Moshava, [IO], so she is not part of this discussion).

Both will be attending their Bnei Akiva (youth movement) camps for about a week, and Orli is signed up for a two-week camp that combines volunteering in the morning, with trips and activities in the afternoons, and Tali has a two week job in a day camp. Which leaves 7 additional weeks with not much planned.

When we first arrived here in Israel, I arranged my work schedule so that I was home by 1 and then we'd pile into the car and go to the beach. Good times, those. Now my girls make it abundantly clear that they want to go places with their friends and they want to go alone.

I need to point out here (and I plan to write more about this in follow-up posts) that parenting teens is much more.....difficult, annoying, complex challenging than parenting the little ones. Yeah, I know some of you reading this with kids, say 9 and under, don't believe me. And that's okay, we all have to go through what we have to go through, but I'm telling you it's true (parents of teens, help me out here, wouldya?). I was a confident parent of little ones. I knew how to handle them, how to set limits, how to talk so they would listen and listen so they would talk. I am having a much more difficult time now with them as teens. I second-guess myself all the time. Sometimes, well, it's not pretty.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by some parents of the 8th grade who wanted to set up some guidelines for the long vacation. Things like curfews, making sure the kids have a parent to accompany them when they leave the city. I went to a couple of the meetings, agreed with some of what the parents said, but was also turned off by some of the parents saying things like "my son/daughter is a good kid". Hey, let's agree that all our kids are good kids. Sure some of them are rebellious, some of them are starting to do things that are not good for them, but let's just assume they are all good. I couldn't quite put a finger on what else bothered me until Carol clarified it for me. She noted that there are always parents who are willing to abdicate their parental responsibility to the group. "I don't want my kid traveling to the mall by himself, so let's set up a rule that none of the kids can go unless a parent accompanies them and then I don't have to be the bad guy to my kid".

But here's the thing. We all have different views about what is permissible for our kids. You might think I'm to permissive, I might think you're to controlling and the other guy is waaaay to permissive. As a parent, I have to decide what is the red line for my child and then stick to that. I'm not going to let other parents decide what is right for me. Sometimes I struggle with what the right limits are, but in the end I have to do it on my own and not rely on some committee to establish rules for me.

Tali and Orli started their vacation last Tuesday. Since then, they've been to the mall, to the pool, to the beach. Both have babysat and done some "mother's helping", they have hung out with friends. We've argued discussed curfews and bedtimes, and I see that it's not going to be easy. Hopefully, we'll come through this in one piece. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

That was week 1 of the chofesh hagadol. Looking forward to telling you about week 2. Not.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How I met my husband, or the story of our Aliyah

I was definitely a late bloomer when it came to men.

I knew alot of guys through Bnei Akiva, which I became active in after high school. And they were all great friends, but that's where it ended. All around me my friends were dating seriously, but not me.

I didn't mind that much because I was having fun with the single girls. I traveled a great deal, to Israel, to Europe and all over the states. I had a great apartment, first with one friend, who got married, and then with another, who got married.

Through all this I contemplated moving to Israel. After my year in Israel on a kibbutz through the Hachshara Bnei Akiva program, I vowed that I would return here to live as soon as I got my act together. I became part of a "garin", a group of like-minded people who would make Aliya together, to the same place. Those were exciting, fun times.

But then a few things happened that pushed off my move. First, I got cancer. Big downer, but thank G-d, I got the "good" kind and after about a year of treatment I found myself in remission.

Next my friends started coupling off and the garin was made up of mostly married people. There were a few singles and a couple of the guys did go to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim single, but I wasn't relishing making Aliya as a single person, let alone to a kibbutz.

All my bravado and talk about Israel being the place where we belong, and honestly?--I was scared to do it on my own.

And then I found that I was 26-years-old. I was going on singles weekends and blind dating, and well, those of you who have done that scene know it's not fun. My good friends were all leaving for Israel. I was feeling it was time to put my money where my mouth was and book a flight.

And then the Persian Gulf War of 1991. When the scuds started hitting Tel-Aviv, I couldn't stand it that I was in Brooklyn when I wanted to be here in Israel. So I started the Aliya process. Got in touch with a shaliach--the person at the Jewish Agency who facilitated the process at the time. Started stocking up on things like toothpaste and shavers. Told my friend Marta of my plans and she said, "what the hell. I'll join you even though I'm not a zionist."

I booked the flight for July 28, 1991. Was given a good-bye party in which my aunt bought me a beautiful set of linens and Suzanne bought me a beautiful gold heart with an inscription that said "friends forever".

And then, in early June a woman I worked with told me about her tenant, Isaac. Another blind date. I accepted, thinking that nothing would come of it, because nothing ever came of those dates.

Isaac picked me up promptly. He was charming and talkative, taking the pressure off of me to converse. He took me to a great restaurant. He told me that he had been very active in Bnei Akiva in Venezuela and that he also dreamed of making Aliyah. He talked and talked and eventually I felt relaxed and I started talking, and well, it was a really. good. date.

And then there was a second date. And a third one. And so on and so on. And then it was July and I was in a panic. I was leaving in 4 weeks, but I really liked this guy.

(Note: I went up to find my old diary where I wrote everything down about how I was feeling. I was going to quote, but I found myself blushing from all the mushy-gushy stuff. So you'll have to trust me when I say I was a mess).

Should I stay or should I go? We had only been dating weeks, neither one of us was 100% ready to commit. But the chemistry was certainly there. I don't think I slept for weeks.

And then one night, clarity. I woke in the middle of the night with this thought: ISRAEL WILL STILL BE THERE IN SIX MONTHS. If things don't work out with Isaac, I'll leave then.

Slept like a baby that night.

We got engaged three months later, promising ourselves that we would make Aliyah in two to three years.

Life happened. Babies. Jobs. We bought the house. We fixed it up. School. Community obligations. Liat's illness, which brought home the fact that life is so precious and short and if you have a dream, you need to try to achieve it.

Sixteen years after I postponed my Aliyah for a man, we stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport as a family of six (five humans + one canine). I don't regret those sixteen years in America for one moment, just as I don't regret our decision to move our family here either.

By the way, Marta did make Aliya without me. She's still a bit grumpy that I left her high-and-dry. Until I got here, she used to say, "How is it that I, who am not a zionist live here in Israel, and you, who are, live on Long Island??"

Life is full of twists and turns. We try to enjoy the ride.