Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Turkey-Free Thanksgiving

Normally we get together with three other families to celebrate Thanksgiving in Jerusalem; this year did not work out, and so Raphaela and I had to come up with an alternative plan.

For the past few months, Raphaela has chosen vegetarianism, not out of ideology or philosophy, but rather as an active protest against the Jewish laws of milk and meat.  Raphaela resents that she must wait three hours after eating a meat meal, that an outside authority is preventing her from having, let's say, a piece of milk chocolate as dessert.

Thus her refusal to eat anything but dairy products and fish and salads, and my need to become quite creative when it comes to her school lunches, and our dinners at home.

Thus for Thanksgiving we had sushi instead of turkey and stuffing, leaving plenty of yummy dairy options for dessert.  Then we got into pajamas, settled in front of a video with a big bowl of popcorn, and started our Israeli non-meat version of Thanksgiving festivities.

Despite her having school tomorrow, we will stay up late and enjoy our holiday, because hey, it's Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude and family.

(We will attend in spirit the wedding of Sara Litman, the daughter of a recent terror victim.  She and her fiancĂ© Ariel Beigel have invited the entire country of Israel, actually any Jew from all over the world, to attend the dancing at their wedding celebration, which was postponed when she had to sit shiva for her father and her brother.  The event will take place at one of the largest convention centers in Jerusalem, so that all can join them at this joyous event.  A company in Israel has bought the couple a car as a surprise gift, and people from around the world have contributed to a fund in their name.  Gotta love how Jews come together when it matters.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Double Victory

Yesterday, when I picked Raphaela up from school, her cheeks were flushed and she seemed incredibly energetic.  Her teacher explained to me that today in her art class she had been one of the first to finish the project, and so overwhelmed by the accomplishment, she began crying.  Her teacher continued, "All the girls and I went over to her and said 'What's wrong, why are you crying?' and Raphaela answered that she was crying 'happy tears.'"

The teacher told me that she had never seen such deep emotion expressed in such a way by a girl that age.

I am proud of Raphaela:  though she does not relate much to the concept of competition with others, she demands much of herself.  Her happy crying shows me that she has mastered some level of self-awareness, that she knows when she has surpassed her previous records, and that she is worth celebration.

As a bonus, when we got home and I was cleaning out her backpack, I saw that for the first time since the beginning of the school year, her lunch box was totally empty, all her food completely eaten.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ezra Schwartz Z"L

Yesterday, after school and ballet and bath time.  After I had watched a live stream video of the funeral of Ezra Schwartz Z"L, the 18 year old boy from Sharon, MA who was murdered last Thursday by a Palestinian terrorist spewing bullets from an automatic weapon.  Ezra had been volunteering with Israeli soldiers, and was killed in an instant along with one other Jew and an Arab just standing on the side of the road.

I listened as the Rabbi, Ezra's father and mother and siblings, his grandparents and baseball coach and friends,  all talked about this boy who will not get the chance to become a man. This potential adult who has become a symbol for the growing cost of terror here in Israel and around the world.

I did not know him or his family, despite having attended the same high school as Ezra Schwartz in Boston (some odd 30 years ago).  But as an Israeli and a mother I feel the pain of the loss, and I cannot imagine (nor do I EVER want to imagine) how it feels for a parent to bury their child.

Ezra was apparently a mega sports fan and tonight, the New England Patriots will hold a moment of silence;  to remember a boy, a Jew, a brother and a son and a cousin, an innocent lost.

Good for them and shame on the ineffectual President Barack Hussein Obama.  A man who has insisted that he is "practically Jewish" and Israel's good friend;  a leader who decried the act of terror in Paris as a global call to arms. He has yet to personally acknowledge, in the international forum, that an American died on his watch.  Obama has yet to admit that terror is terror, and that the life of a Jew has the same value as the life of a Parisian, an African, a Syrian or a victim of the Beirut bombings, or the recent tragedy in Mali. The silence in the face of daily senseless death in the Middle East is deafening.

And just one day later, a 21 year old Israeli named Hadar Buchris was stabbed to death in the exact same location.  The New York Times reported "One Israel and three Palestinians killed in Attacks," thus equating the victim with her murderers.

Last night Raphaela wanted to sleep in bed with me and I did not refuse. I wanted to hold her close to me, to feel the warmth of her body, to watch her breathe and to play with her wisps of curly hair.

I needed to hold her tight.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Universe Speaks

Every morning for many years now, I have been feeding the street cats that gather near our building.  When they see me coming in the morning, they race to a wall within the garden and they know the drill; I set out little piles of food for each of them, and very rarely do they fight, as they know there is enough for everyone.

Over the years there have been a few regulars, I have seen them grow from kittens to adult cats, and they know they can trust me.  Rarely however do they allow me to pick them up, they will tolerate a quick petting.

Isabella - a beautiful soft long-hair calico-will demand her food and even a little bit of personal attention, but she has never let me hold her.

This morning I was on my way home from doing errands.  I was holding several bags, my mind full of heavy thoughts.  About an 18 year old boy who attended the same high school as me in Boston, a boy who was murdered yesterday while doing volunteer work with Israeli soldiers.  About my work, and the fact that I could be busier next week, and all the concerns about my finances that go along with it.

As I neared the wall near our building, I saw Isabella. She came over to me and before I knew it, she had stood up on her back legs and was hugging me.  After a minute of an incredible hug, she carefully climbed over my arms and my bags and my pocket book and settled in on my shoulder, purring loudly and resting her head.  A woman passed by and stood there transfixed, because Isabella looked like a baby, perfectly relaxed and happy to be nestled in my arms.

I don't know if I was comforting her, or if she had felt the need to comfort me.

Isabella would not let me put her down or return home for ten minutes, and I was not complaining.  

I felt as if the Universe itself was hugging me.

Monday, November 16, 2015

In the Early Hours of the Morning

At six am, prompted by a song on the radio, while snuggling:

Mom:  You should always be true to yourself.
Raphaela:  So why did Yaakov pretend to be Esau?
Mom:  To get his father's blessing.
Raphaela:  But he was wearing a costume really.  Like when I put on my Elsa costume, I'm not really Elsa.

Ballet Stories

Raphaela, for the second year, has a ballet lesson every Sunday night for 50 minutes, during which time I put in my earphones and listen to music, and/or bring a good book; I rarely have that amount of time to myself just to read.

This week, as I sat trying to read, a little girl was there with her teenage brother. 

She wanted ice cream.

Her brother called their mother and asked if he was allowed to buy her the treat, and the answer was no.

The little girl started screeching at the top of her lungs.  I moved further down the hall, trying to find a slightly quieter place to enjoy my book, but I could not escape the horrendous noise coming out of her mouth.

The screaming went on for five minutes, and her brother thought it was funny.  The screaming went on for another five minutes and despite all my proper New England upbringing, I walked over to this spoiled child and her big brother, I went down to the floor where she was flailing and looked her straight in the eyes and said in a kind and yet forceful tone:  "Sweetheart, you are not getting the ice cream. You are NOT getting what you want just because you are throwing a tantrum."

Then I got up from the floor, looked at this teenage boy and said, "I think it is time to take her home, don't you?"  He had to physically lift her off the floor and carry her out of the doors of the dance school, as she continued to wail.

I have said before that there is a certain level of tolerable rudeness in Israel, the One-Big-Family Approach that says that a stranger feels absolutely free to tell you how to parent your child.  In the past I have resented it, and yet last night I could not help myself.  Several other parents sitting in the area thanked me afterwards.

Post script:  I have also said before that I am giving Raphaela the things that bring her joy and help her fulfill her potential, without the pressure to live up to unreasonable expectations.

At the end of her lesson, they invited the parents into the studio to watch a little dance number, and of the large group, four girls were singled out as having done better/more coordinated/more graceful work.  Raphaela was not one of them, and I must admit that it made me a little sad, though I did not express any disappointment to Raphaela.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


There is something absolutely magical when your child reads to you.
There is something fascinating as you can almost see the gears turning inside the brain to sound out a word.
The fact that Raphaela is doing it in Hebrew and English humbles me.