Monday, October 31, 2011


In the past year, when I had a bit of a crisis regarding my work as a Chiropractor and my desire to leave a more lasting imprint on the planet, I came up with the inspiration that single mothers by choice need to have a centralized resource center.  They need a place and an address that can answer questions regarding the technical and beurocratic aspects of the fertility treatments, pregnancy as a woman alone, and the government rights of a single parent in Israel.

I had contacted the American organization, Single Mothers by Choice and they said that they had a representative here in Israel, and I had to pass all my ideas through her; unfortunately, this person was not interested in the vision I presented to her.

Today, I received a flyer via email announcing a new non-profit organization called KayamaMoms, started by someone I know from my neighborhood, named Aviva Harbater.  KayamaMoms was founded to provide "tools and support for Jewish women reaching the eve of their fertility," and who are considering becoming a JSMBC.  The group targets the religious market, and will be hosting their opening event tomorrow evening in Jerusalem, with a series of lectures entitled, "JSMBC:  Halachic, Psychological and Medical Perspectives."

They have amassed quite an impressive set of speakers, including Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow and Dr. Miri Godin of Hadassah Hospital, among others.

Many people have forwarded me this flyer, and I am as yet unsure whether I will actually attend.  I don't need to hear that my daughter has validity within the Jewish community, two years after her birth.  I also don't wish to be "Exhibit A" in a room full of women who may or may not fulfill their own destiny of parenthood.

The end of the page states that women who have already taken the step of SMBC are welcome as well, in order to help them "integrate more easily" into the more conventional religious family environment both in Israel and the United States.  I find that statement almost insulting, except that I am sure the sentiment comes from a place of helping, rather than condescention.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tractor Mania

One of the unexpected side effects of parenting is their constant presence in your heart and mind, even when they are playing at Gan and you are living your life as a psuedo grown-up.

Raphaela loves tractors, she gets massively excited every time she sees a construction site and could watch them pushing around dirt all day.  I am currently assembling an A-B-C project for Raphaela and wanted a photo of a tractor;  unable to find a construction area, I settled on "T is for trees."

Yesterday, while driving home from the supermarket, I spotted some repairs on the road, and lo and behold, a tractor!  Without considering the implications for my own safety, I immediately pulled over my car, parked randomly and started snapping away with my handy digital camera.

At first, the workers came over to me and started shouting, thinking that I was some government authority.  I explained that I was collecting pictures for my daughter, and we all had a laugh.  The event left me smiling for the rest of the day.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Attempts at Socializing

A  friend of mine celebrated the anniversary of his aliyah yesterday, with a kiddush in synagogue.  I thought to myself, "What a great opportunity to get out of the house with Raphaela, and enjoy the event with friends with whom I have not socialized in far too long!"

I dressed up for the Shabbat, Raphaela wore an adorable flowered dress, we negotiated for ten minutes until she agreed to sit in the stroller.  We arrived at the synagogue at ten am, thinking that the kiddush would take place within the hour.  It was the first time that I had brought Raphaela into a sanctuary and attempted to sit there like an adult.  My mother always asks me when I plan on introducing my daughter to the Greater Jewish communal life, and this seemed like a good occasion.

Unfortunately, Raphaela has not yet perfected her quiet voice, and so within minutes, she was practically shouting and fidgeting, and we had to leave to go outside.  The services lasted an extra hour than usual, and the clock edged closer and closer to her nap time, and she did not have patience.  I briefly saw a few of friends (shout out to Sarah and Miriam!) and then returned home, feeling dejected and quite frankly, a bit angry.

Not at Raphaela of course, but simply wondering when I get to start going out with friends again, seeing movies or perusing the museum, and maybe even dating toward a long-term relationship, with all the benefits that connection provides, physical and emotional.  When do I get to do something for me, now that Raphaela walks and talks and seems to be more independent?

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Baby" Raphaela

At the magical age of two, Raphaela has truly turned the corner into "real people-hood," and it is not just me who feels that way;  I can see that she understands this as well.

When we play pretend games together, or if Raphaela wants that little bit of extra attention after a bath, she will put on a pout and pretend to cry, assuming the part of the baby she once was.  I will humor her, and say, "Oh Baby Raphaela, would you like your Mommy to kiss you?"  And she immediately smiles and brings me one of her blankets, gets her extra snuggles, and then becomes the opinionated and chatty toddler again.

That leap of comprehension, and her assertion of her self and personality, that's an amazing evolution to watch in any child, not just my own.  

Over the Succot vacation, at a playdate with a Gan friend who is one year older than Raphaela, her friend chose to play the part of the baby while Raphaela was designated the mother in the game of pretend.  Raphaela immediately started tucking in her "baby", and cooking a pretend meal, lavinshing her "baby" with kisses.

It is Raphaela's sense of compassion and generosity that overwhelms me, and I love her more and more every day, for who she is becoming on the inside.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Night Time Ritual

Raphaela and I have spent the last two weeks together, in between holidays and play dates.  I love the time we have spent , even when it felt frustrating or tiring at times, because it gave me the opportunity to appreciate her growth; mentally, emotionally and physically.  On vacation, we snuggled in bed in the morning and had a comfortable start to the day, rather than rushing into the schedule for the standard week day.

I have not, however, enjoyed planning and preparing all these meals. At least when she goes to Gan during the week, they feed her a full lunch and two healthful 'snacks', so all I need to think about is dinner.

She now added a new wrinkle to our night time ritual, in which she calls out my name as many times as possible, from the time I tuck her in and give her a kiss to the closing of her bedroom door. It's a competative game for her, those ten to fifteen seconds. She then calls my name several times more after I close the door, to make sure I answer her even if she cannot see me.

"I love you, good night!  See you in the morning." (Laughter)
"I love you, good night! See you in the morning."  (Laughter) And so on.

Raphaela has changed so much since her surgery in July, and becomes more of a "real person" every day.  I hardly remember her as a baby, and that's normal, the natural progression of our mother-daughter relationship.

Now that the chunk of holidays has ended, I can look forward to the great en masse toilet training experiment that the Gan has planned.  I just may have a child out of diapers within the next month...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How I Spent My Chol Hamoed Vacation

By Raphaela Rivka Danzig Leeder

Friday (Day One):  Mommy and Olga could not have ordered better weather from the catalog, and after much worry left over from the rejection of the teen years, all our guests arrived for mine and Mika's private birthday party.  We even managed to snag picnic tables right next to the playground, and we children spent close to three hours eating mostly unhealthy fun food and the parents talking to each other in between chasing after the collective group of two year olds.  It felt so wonderful to see Mommy with her friends, and to celebrate our birth will some of my friends, a full charter member of the Mommies Club.

Sunday (Day Three):  Mommy managed to fill the morning with fun errands, and when we arrived at the park, my friend Avigayil from Gan happened to be there as well, and so we played together for two hours.

Mommy got a great offer from a friend, who at the last minute was able to secure a space in a B and B for the rest of Chol Hamoed, but we could not make all the arrangements, including finding a sitter for Harry.

The mosquitos have enjoyed quite a feast on my arms and legs, and I am trying not to scratch. It kinda takes the fun out of sitting in the Succah.   Mommy was surprised that they went after me and not her, as they usually eat her as well.

Monday (Day Four):  Another morning of fun errands, art projects and outdoor play, and after a decent nap, we played with Olga and Mika for several hours.  Our birth preparation class during the pregnancy lacked content and quality, the best thing that came out of it was our friendship with Mika and her family.

Tuesday (Day Five):  Mommy and I participated this morning in the Trek through Jerusalem, which is to say that I sat in the stroller and Mommy pushed me all along the route throughout the city.  We arrived at the finish line at Gan Sacher, where the organizers had arranged Gymboree and concerts and games for the children and the adults.  During one of the dance performances, around 11:10 am, they interrupted the broadcast on the large screen with a live feed featuring Gilad Shalit, and announced that he was officially on Israeli soil.  All the crowd clapped and cheered, and Mommy started crying out of joy for Gilad's parents;  she simply could not help herself.

When the various groups arrived in parade formation, with their costumes and flags and songs about Jerusalem, Mommy picked me up and we danced and sang along with them.  She loves being part of large group, sharing in celebration and remembering our amazing heritage.  I feel very lucky to have been born in Jerusalem, the first Danzig in three generations.

Tonight, as usual, Mommy and I went to our swim lesson; I get more and more confident in the water every week, and soon I will be swimming on my own.

Wednesday (Day Six and Erev Chag, again):  My best friend had a birthday party this morning, Mommy and I went over early to help them set up.  Many of my other Gan friends were there, and the general concensus among the parents was relief that we return to our regular schedule next Sunday.  After a round of playground and snacks and ice cream, and after getting a 'manicure' with sparkly stars, we went home and both took a badly-needed nap. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Welcome Home Gilad Shalit

"I regret the fact that the bereaved families were not with us...not implementing the deal will not return the murdered loved ones and would sentence Gilad to death."  Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit

As an Israeli and as a mother, I rejoice with the Shalit family, may Gilad return safe and sound, mentally and physically.

A small-scale prisoner exchange in 1985 resulted in the deaths of 178 Israelis.

"I don't know whether more soldiers will be abducted...but so long as Palestinian prisoners continue to suffer in prisons, there will be an incentive to free them via any available means. I urge the government of Israel to release [all] the prisoners to put an end to this whole issue."  Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the leaders of Hamas

The majority of the terrorists being released have serious blood on their hands, and having spent time in prison has only strengthened their resolve to continue violent and deadly activity against Israel.  Those that remain in jail got there legitimately, by choice and because of their own actions against innocent human beings, and hardly represent 'victims' of the Zionist entity.

"Hamas:  Shalit deal includes ending Gaza blockade"
"IDF to troops:  Don't become another Shalit; Army tells soliders to do anything necessary, including endangering comrades, to avoid abduction." Various Haaretz headlines, Tuesday 18/10/11

As an Israeli and as a mother of a future Israeli soldier, I will have a lot more trouble sleeping after today's events.

"We [human beings] are not an endangered species ourselves yet, but this is not for lack of trying."  Douglas Adams

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drawing a line, in Quicksand

Raphaela has no problem with the word or the concept of "Thank you."  She has been saying and using that word with regular frequency of her initiative for the last year or so.

"Please" is another story altogether.  She will demand something, and I will say, "How about 'please'?  Can you say 'please'?"  Raphaela then gets a mysterious smile on her face, and answers my question with a clear "Yes."  That magic word has yet to exit her mouth, in Hebrew or in English.

In fact, she would rather give up the item or the request rather than say "Please," like it represents some moral imperative, a line she refuses to cross on principle.

Having moved to Israel from the United States, I vowed that I and my children would not lose pleasant manners and that basic consideration with which I was raised.  I am not sure how to break this impasse with Raphaela, who seems to be about pig-headed and stubborn as her mother.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Bilingual Brain

This week's Science Times posted an article entitled "The bilingual brain from early infancy on," by Dr. Perri Klass.  Not that I truly fear for Raphaela's communications skills, but this piece certainly put my mind at ease.

Essentially, Klass relates research which states that a monolingual child loses the brain's plasticity for language between 10-12 months, whereas a baby at the same age, exposed to two languages, was able to continue to  discriminate nuances in both languages.  This skill applies both to the spoken word, and the ability to discern a difference in speech simply by observing body language and facial expression.

Bilingual babies are more cognitively flexible, and have an easier time multi-tasking as they get older, because their brains are more activated and cooperative from lobe to lobe.

While it may be true that at the moment, Raphaela seems less able to construct complex sentences in Hebrew compared to her peers at Gan, in one year she will have two full languages, and her English will serve her well as an adult on an English-dominated planet.

Grandma Elaine

Because of the somewhat unusual elements of my childhood, several cousins by marriage adopted us, and turned us into one large, close extended family.

Grandma Elaine, the mother of my mother's sister's husband (did you follow that) was one such woman, as were her parents, Papa Teddy and Nanny.  Papa was the great-grandfather I always wished I'd had, and died a painless death when I was already an adult;  Nanny lived two years after Papa died. 

I admired Grandma Elaine for her zest for life.  A more aggressive New York driver than any taxi on the road.  A person who once a year went to Atlantic City with the sole purpose of blowing money and having fun doing so.  A woman who lost her husband early on due to a tragic accident, and dedicated her life to her children and grandchildren, both biological and acquired. As a college student at Barnard in The City, she took care of me when I got sick, and I cannot remember how many times we would simply sit together while we treated ourselves to a spontaneous manicure.

The last time I saw Grandma Elaine, she attended Raphaela's Simchat Bat,  and though not at the peak of her health, I felt glad and honored that she could be there and meet my daughter.  She had gotten quite ill in the last year, and while her death was not unexpected, it was relatively sudden.

Here's where Judaism makes me squeamish:  her son (my uncle by marriage) died at the age of 52 from a rare cancer.  Her only son-in-law, and by extension his sons, are Cohanim and could not go to the cemetery to attend the funeral.  Relatives who live outside the Metropolitan area could not afford to be on the road when the holiday started, and could not come as well.  Because she died Erev Succot, there will be no official Shiva, and I feel like that is a cheat, and a dishonor to her memory.  Grandma Elaine deserves to be remembered, and her family deserves to be visited by those who loved her.  We human beings are not machines,  and you cannot go to a funeral, sit Shiva for ten minutes before chag, and then go into Succot and not have a sense of supreme loss and mourning.

Right before I made aliyah, my father's father (my grandfather) died on Erev Purim.  The funeral took place on Purim morning, and because my father's side of the family is Ultra Orthodox and follow the rules to the letter, the whole entourage trouped back to my parents house (100 plus people) and immediately sat down for a festive Purim feast, as the law of the day requires.  I remember feeling uncomfortable, awkward and sad, that my grandmother, my father and his siblings had to put their grief on hold in order to perform that mitzvah.

Tonight, after Succot ended, I tucked Raphaela into bed and started cooking preparations for Shabbat. With a chicken soup on the stove and birthday cake in the oven, I had to fight the image in my head of the "house frau," the woman stuck in the kitchen, always serving her family's needs.  Then I remembered Grandma Elaine, and felt proud to be in the category of mother and care taker.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1935 Days

Hi, this is Raphaela at the computer.

When I was inside my Mommy's stomach, we went to the commemoration of the 1000 days that Gilad Shalit was held in captivity.  It was a very moving ceremony, Mommy felt the highs and lows and inspiration, similar to Yom Kippur.  For the last five years, Mommy has had a Gilad Shalit flag flying from our porch, wherever we lived.

This afternoon, Mommy and I took a walk to the Gilad Shalit tent and Succah across from the Prime Minister's house, because today is a very special day for the Shalit family:  it seems that PM Netanyahu has arranged a deal to finally bring Gilad home to his Mommy and Daddy.  I am glad this happened on my Hebrew birthday.

To quote Ariel Sharon, Israel never leaves a man behind.

Mommy has very mixed emotions and worries that Israel is trading Gilad Shalit for 1000 terrorists.  She  wonders what these bad people will do now that they are out of jail;  Mommy says that rewarding very bad behaviour is not very good parenting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Private Party

Tomorrow, the 14th of Tishrei, marks Raphaela's Hebrew birthday, and tomorrow, Raphaela and I, and Olga and Mika will go shopping for supplies for the private birthday party that we (Olga and I) are throwing for our daughters during Succot, inviting a select group of close friends and the few family we have in the country.

If the weather cooperates, we will stage the event in the Nayot Park down the street, a relatively clean and modern park in Jerusalem compared to others, with plenty of grass and picnic area, and close to home.

I hope to look back many years from now and observe a friendship that started when both girls were swimming around inside, one that grew deeper and more satisfying for us grown-ups and the children from year to year.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I normally do not use this forum to express explicit political opinions, but today I cannot help myself.  An article appeared in the English Haaretz, written by the famous Israeli writer, AB Yehoshua.  You know that automatically, with a headliner author, his piece will be give more credance than usual.

Manipulating biblical quotes and using the history of the Jews' wandering throughout the globe throughout history, Yehoshua essentially claims that in fact we Israelis have no given right to the territory that is the modern State of Israel. The Israelis/Jews, he claims, have no actual basis for a homeland experience, the Palestinans posess a greater so-called right of return. Of course once all of us stubborn crazies on the Right acquiesce, it will be much easier to find a successful two-state solution with the Palestinians, a people who have actively declared their intention to wipe every Zionist off the face of the planet.

He concludes by saying, "In this period of political despair, which is spilling over into the new year, is it not worth trying to clarify old concepts and thereby look for a new breakthrough?"

All my personal politics aside, this is by far the biggest DumbAss move I have ever seen from the Israeli Left.  It is one thing to naively believe that the Palestinians want genuine peace, it is quite another to stand in your own living room, hand over the master keys, and say, essentially, "Please, kick me and my family out of my home and out of my land."

I have said it before, and it is worth repeating:  If Israel falls, no Jew anywhere in the world will be safe.

I am raising my daughter in Israel because I believe in the value of the country, and of the heritage and traditions it represents.  Who needs enemies from the outside when we do a perfectly good job of shooting ourselves in the foot?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Book of Wonderful Moments

I hope this finds all of us after a fulfilling and introspective Yom Kippur, however you spent the last 25 hours.  I will always remember what one of my patients, a 90 year old Shoah Survivor once told me:  she said that life is never all bad or all good, and when we have that brief wonderful moment, we should cherish it, and hold onto that feeling of happiness.

At one point during the fast today, I was reading some inspirational writings from Fred McFeely Rogers - ie the beloved children's advocate Mr. Rogers - and came across an idea about forgiveness that spoke to me on this day.  And so I share his thoughts with you; please forgive me if I have caused you harm,  and  I wish that we all be sealed into the Book of Wonderful Moments:

Forgiving and forgetting are often paired together, but the one certainly doesn't necessarily follow the other. Some injuries, real or imagined, we may never be able to forget, even though we say we've forgiven them.  Other injuries we may never even be able to say that we forgive.  Those are the ones, it seems to me, most likely involve people we've loved, and so I'm inclided to look at what our experiences of forgiveness may have been like from the first people who loved us.

The first time we required forgiveness, we probably did something we shouldn't have when our closest grown-ups thought we should have known better. We made someone angry.  We were to blame. What did the first brush with blame begin to teach us?

If we were fortunate, we began to learn that "to err is human."  Even good people sometimes do bad things.  Errors might mean corrections, apologies, repairs, but they didn't mean that we, as a person, were a bad person in the sight of those we loved.  The second thing we learned (if we were fortunate) was that having someone we loved get mad at us did not mean that person had stopped loving us;  we had their unconditional love, and that meant we would have their forgiveness too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Time for Change

I have never looked forward to my own birthday, and generally found their celebration a let-down.  I cannot remember more than one or two parties out of the 40 plus years of my life that left me feeling happy about turning one year older.  This past year, I did not even remember my birthday, because it was the day after Raphaela's surgery.

I want that to be different for Raphaela, and today represented a fantastic start. I dressed up for the occasion, as the mother of birthday child;  fancy dress, jewelry and make-up, the works.   The cake my friend made was stunning and tasty, a pink Barbie Princess chocolate cake creation;  the kids danced and sang, played with balloons and colored.  Although it took Raphaela a little time to get used to being the center of attention, she quickly adapted, and then feigned shyness every time one of the other parents came over and wished her a "Happy Birthday."

After Gan, Raphaela and I, and two other parents and their children went to the nearby Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and fed the swans and enjoyed a light dinner.

Before tucking Raphaela into bed this evening, I showed her some of the photos from her busy day, and we talked about all the kids in her class, and I sang her the birthday song one more time, as she grinned from ear to ear.

Now that's what I call a positive birthday experience.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gan Party Checklist

Raphaela's Gan birthday party will be G-d Willing in two days, on the last day of school before Yom Kippur.  I invoke G-d in particular because Raphaela has the beginning of some version of a cold or allergies, and I would hate to have all this build-up (in my own head, mostly) for this party and then have her get full-fledged sick on that day.

I am a competent cook but a lousy baker, and so my friend Galia, whose talent in creating child birthday cake masterpieces, will be helping me with the birthday cake.

Being a Montissouri Gan, they ask the parents to bring a worthwhile art project for the event, so it is not simply a few songs and some junk food for the class.  I had ordered some great stuff off the internet, but alas, it will not arrive in time for the party.  Instead, I downloaded various coloring pages along the theme of Succot, and created 18 personalized coloring books for each of the children.  The coloring book will also include a page of Succot-related stickers, for use in creating the pictures, or to take home and stick on inappropriate pieces of grown-up furniture.

I have enough balloons, and a somewhat healthy snack bag for each of the kids in Raphaela's class.

This party has kicked my Type-A personality into high gear, and is causing me more stress than I believe it should.  Ironically, for an 'educational system' that encourages free expression and personal growth, the competition among parents regarding birthdays feels most inproportionate.  For G-d's sake, Raphaela is turning two, not going into the army or getting married.  And yet, I feel that I must show the other parents that I can put together a slamming celebration.

All this, and I am trying to plan a more intimate family birthday gathering during Chol Hamoed Succot.  I need the letter "M" on my shirt, for masochist.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Raphaela

This morning I dropped Raphaela off at Gan, but waited until the clock read 7:50 am, so I could officially give Raphaela her birthday kiss, two years and at the exact minute to the (English) day that she was born and I got to hold her for the first time.

Of course then I started tearing up, overwhelmed by the flood of the memory of her birth, so I quickly wiped my eyes and left her happily playing at Gan.  My emotions will usually get the best of me, and though I am not ashamed of that aspect of personality, I did not want anyone to think that this was anything other than the best of events. 

Free to Be...You and Me

On the occasion of Raphaela's second birthday, I have decided to introduce her to the CD (I suppose then it was a record) that changed my life:  Free to Be...You and Me.  The collection of hippie-like stories and music taught the values of self empowerment, of non-conforming, and exposed me to the idea that almost everything is possible.  ("Mommies can be almost anything they want to be...they can't be Grandpas, or Daddies....")

I especially relate, now more than ever, to the story of the wise and outspoken Atalanta, who defies convention and chooses to explore the world before settling down and getting married.  The one man whom she considers for marriage is the person who treats her with consideration and respect, as his equal.  That in fact is my Jewish New Year's resolution:  now that Raphaela is more independent, I open myself to dating and to doing for myself as a woman, as well as a mother of a child.  Perhaps the standard of man and relationship, set up as a template in my head by Free to Be...You and Me, that of my best friend, my lover, my husband and equal partner, and the loving father to Raphaela, sounds unattainable or unrealistic.

To quote one of the men I most admire, Christopher Reeve, "Nothing is impossible," and since I am now effectively both Mother and Father, I am happy to share that responsibility, and that joy with the right man in our lives.

Gmar Chatima Tovah.