Thursday, October 30, 2014

Banning Dr. Phil

With about five minutes to spare before I had to pick up Raphaela from kindergarten, I turned on the television and literally, out of approximately 400 channels, there was nothing on worth watching.  And so I was stuck with Dr. Phil, whom I have boycotted since I watched one of his programs in which he made a mockery of modern Judaism, with the help of the self-promoting sex Rabbi, Shmuly Boteach.

On this particular program today, a married couple sat with the doctor, explaining that recently their two older children had begun torturing the family cat on a regular basis.  The mother, with a stone face that betrayed little human emotion, admitted that she felt slightly concerned at this development, since historically speaking, animal mutilation represents the first step toward a successful career in the psycho serial killer industry.

The father shrugged his shoulders, saying that he was not particularly concerned since "Kids will be kids...and besides, at least they are not running around the house breaking things."

Because apparently in 2014 in the United States, breaking stuff would be more worrisome to parents than the mistreatment of  vulnerable living beings.

The ban on Dr. Phil has just been reinstated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Snacking

Israeli nursery schools have this wonderful concept of "Aruchat Eser," roughly translated from the Hebrew as the "10:00 morning meal," a snack to get the kids through the arduous task of playing and learning and paying attention.

Most parents happily pack a sandwich and a fruit, and maybe a granola bar and the job is done.  Except that my daughter has never and continues to not eat sandwiches, and so I must become creative.  Yogurt and rice cakes instead of bread, cut up vegetables as a side dish, and no granola bars allowed, since one of the girls in her class is deathly allergic to almost everything.

Yesterday when I was packing Raphaela's lunch, she told me that her teachers had instructed me to pack bread and "something different than the usual."  First of all, getting a message from the kindergarten teacher via kids is like playing broken telephone, and I am skeptical that they would actively criticize my parenting skills to my child.

But Raphaela insisted, until I glared down at her [because I had nothing better to do in the morning than fight with her] and said, "Who is your Mommy?  Who has been feeding you these past five years, plus the time you were in my stomach?"

No reaction.

I continued, "My dear, if I give you a sandwich in your lunch box, what is the likelihood that it will come home untouched at the end of the day?  Do you even like sandwiches?"

"No Mommy."

"OK then, how about then you tell your teachers, very politely of course, that you do not eat bread and sandwiches because you just don't like it. If you say it nicely and yet firmly, they will hear you and stop bothering me."

Sure enough, this morning while getting her Aruchat Eser ready, Raphaela quietly informed me that there was no need to think about packing bread.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Raphaela Book Club

Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Summary:  after an odd home invasion by Sam I Am, Mr. Hat runs to the end of the Earth to avoid a new culinary experience.  After surviving a car/plane/boat crash, he decides that he should not have had an objection to the odd colored protein offerings of Sam I Am.

"Mommy, why doesn't he want to eat it?"
"Because he is afraid of trying new things.  You don't get very far in life if you never take risks."
"If I eat green eggs and ham, will I get a sticker?"
"Well, yes and no, you see ham isn't kosher because it's made of pig."
"But I can eat the eggs, right?"
"Yes, eggs are kosher, so are giraffes.  Though I am not sure what makes the eggs green.  I am not sure that green eggs are healthy for us."
"Mommy, I wouldn't want to eat giraffes, they are our friends."

Good Night, Good Knight (Shelley Moore Thomas)

Summary:  starring three small dragons, left alone in their dark cave in the middle of the forest.  They summon a good Knight from the neighboring castle to put them to sleep, as the Knight resists the urge to slay them with his sword.  Not because they are dragons, but because they will not go to sleep, damnit!

"Mommy, where are the Mommy and Daddy of the dragons?"
"I don't know, maybe they went out for date night and left the oldest brother in charge."
"But did the Mommy and Daddy plan on coming home and tucking their children into bed?"
"If you are asking if these children are all alone, I don't think so.  See, they each have clean jammies, toys and all the pictures on the wall of their deep dark cave in the middle of the forest are happy drawings.  It would seem to indicate that they lead a safe and joyful dragon life."
"When are the Mommy and the Daddy going to come home already?"
"When the dragons are already sleeping.  Don't worry, the Good Knight will tuck them in, and read them stories, and get them a drink of water, and sing them lullabies."

"Look Mommy, the Good Knight was so tired after taking care of the three baby dragons that he fell asleep in his chain mail and his special Knight's helmet."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aversion Therapy

If you ask Raphaela when she will get her first haircut, she replies, "When I turn 26 years old!"

In an attempt to change that decision, my hair dresser and I have come up with a plan to slowly expose her to the salon, explaining each time that hair is magical; it grows but it doesn't feel pain if you trim it with scissors.

Every time we visit for only a few minutes, and remind Raphaela that if she wants to have really long princess hair, she should actually get a trim, that her hair will grow faster afterwards.

Thus far, she remains unconvinced.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Landing the Helicopter

There has been much talk and debate regarding Helicopter or "Tiger" parents, and I for one have always been grateful that Israeli society seems to foster more independence in children than in the United States.

In the past 24 hours I have come to understand that I still have room for improvement.

Yesterday Raphaela tried out an after-school activity at the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History, where she had previously experienced one of the her most memorable summer camps.  The 90 minute animal workshop was led by the same woman who managed the summer camp, a kindergarten teacher with miles of experience and a teaching philosophy that I have always admired.

The teacher suggested that if the parents were to remain in the room, we could participate gladly but not minimize the effect for the children.  Personally I would have been happy to meet with a friend for a cup of coffee and return for pick-up, but Raphaela wanted me to stay and meet her favorite bunny.  Throughout the play time, I found myself trying to "help" the instructor and Raphaela by re-explaining or modifying the teacher's instructions.  At a certain point, Maya Papaya Pickle [that's her name at work...] pulled me aside and explained that in her many years of dealing with children and their parents, she knows that all I have done comes from a positive place, with the intention of making my daughter's life "easier."  Maya Papaya then continued, encouraging me to consider how much more it would help Raphaela if I stepped aside and allowed her to work things out for herself, gain the confidence of knowing that she figured it out and conquered her own territory.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner drinking tea, joining in only when Maya Papaya and Raphaela gave me their permission.

This morning I took Raphaela to speech therapy, where we have finished proper Hebrew pronunciation and have moved onto building the bridge of vocabulary between her fluent English and her fluent Hebrew, both of which get just a bit lost when Raphaela is trying to form complex sentences. I tried to observe quietly, and again, found myself several times trying to give Raphaela hints as to how to find a solution or a word faster, or at least quicker than her own mind was capable of at the time.  Yvonne, her most excellent speech therapist and kind person, gently advised me to generate the patience and give Raphaela the time she truly needed, because if she solved a linguistic issue herself, she would own it and be that much more proud of herself.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner playing on my iPhone and only interacted in the game and evaluation when invited to do so.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I went to the Chiropractic clinic and began my work for the day, and that's when whatsapp starting pinging.  First a message from Raphaela's kindergarten teacher, announcing that on Friday the CHILDREN would be celebrating the start of a series of teachings about the Torah.  Deborah asked that the parents send their kids to school that day in fine clothing and with celebratory Torah items, like a flag.  Deborah, the head teacher also requested that four of the parents IE fathers volunteer to read the opening chapter of Genesis, in various ethnic tunes and styles, as part of the celebration. 

PING!  Mother 1:  Well, I am coming to the celebration and I will be making a cake for the party.
PING!  Mother 2:  Me too, I will also be bring a cake.
PING! Mother 3:  I will be bringing a cake that is gluten free, for the children who may have allergic sensitivities.
(Here I am, thinking that the teacher did not want to turn this into a major parent-child event, that I really really want my Fridays free so I can relax from the whole week, and what the hell do parents gain by kissing up to the staff at the kindergarten?!  Didn't the teacher promise that parents would have only three parties the whole year? I  am willing to embrace the lasseiz faire approach...)
PING!  Deborah:  I think we have enough cakes.   Can someone bring some drinks?
PING! PING! PING! PING! (Twenty times over)  Parents 4-20:  I will bring drinks.
PING! Father 1:  I will be able to read the Torah in the Ashkenazi style.
PING!  Father 2:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi style.
PING!  Father 3:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi Israeli style.
PING!  Father 4:  I feel so bad, I am working on Friday and I can't help you by reading the Torah in any style.  But I just wanted to say how bad I feel about not being able to come.
PING!  Deborah:  Wow, you parents are amazing, really. Can any of the fathers read the Torah in Teimani style?  And do any of the other mothers or fathers want to open the party with a blessing for all the children of the class?
PING!  Mother21:  Wait, don't we need throw away plates and cups for the party as well?
PING!  Deborah:  Sure, why not.
PING!  Mother 22:  Hey, I wanted to bring cutlery and plates and cups and napkins!
PING! Deborah:  Please, by all means.  Now we are missing other snack foods like potato chips and such, who will volunteer for that?
PING! Mother 23:  I am going to bring the biggest bag of potato chips you have ever seen.
PING!  Mother 24:  Me too, my bag of chips will be just as big.
(Rearranging my work schedule for Friday and wondering if I am going to have to wear full synagogue regalia for this supposed minor religious gathering.)
PING!  Deborah:  Parents, by the way, you should remember that is just the first session of a full year of parent-child activities every Friday.  I think it is so important that you mothers and fathers fully encourage your children as they get closer and closer to First Grade and to their awareness as proud Jewish children.
(Every Friday?  And you know that there will be repercussions  on some level for parents who can't attend on a regular basis, because of work or Shabbat preparations, or G-d Forbid some grown up time at the end of the week.  I mean, I love my daughter and would do anything for her, but have a little mercy on a single mother...)
PING! Mother 25:  Hey, are you sure we don't need another cake?

Distracted and exasperated, I shut off my phone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In a spontaneous act of initiative and accomplishment, Raphaela showed me (and strangers on the street, all day) that she now can zip her jackets and sweatshirts all by herself, beginning to end.

Next skill set:  tying a bow on non-Velcro shoes, and telling time on a non-digital clock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Girl Power

Raphaela's stance on feminism is apparently based upon an event-by-event analysis, rather than a unified philosophy.  After previously asserting that Jewish ritual is man's work, an example reinforced in her classroom, she had a problem with the celebration of Simchat Torah in our local synagogue.

Before the last day of the holiday of Succot, I had spoken to friends of ours who attend our synagogue and have a boy in Raphaela's class.  I asked that my daughter be allowed to join their family in the men's section during the dancing, because at the end of the day, the men seem to have most of the fun.  When I encouraged Raphaela to find her friend, she refused, stating that if I couldn't go into the men's section, than neither would she.  Despite my explaining that I was fine with the arrangement, an indignant Raphaela would not budge.

Not wanting to deprive my daughter of the Simchat Torah experience, I and another Israeli woman convinced the men to give one of the scrolls - full size and quite heavy - to the women's section upstairs.  It was with pride that I was the first to stand in the middle of the circle, my daughter beside me, dancing with a Torah scroll.  It brought me back to my most fond memories of this particular holiday, spent in the beautiful Jewish community on the Columbia/Barnard campus.

 The tsk-tsk and sideways looks of the much older Orthodox women did not stop me or our small group of dancers today.  One woman came up to me and said, "You know, there is a reform synagogue in Jerusalem."  Another woman came over, or rather snuck over afterwards, kissed the Torah scroll I was holding and quietly thanked me for my initiative.

Once Raphaela was in the groove, she eagerly went downstairs into the men's section during the special blessing of the children, squished between almost 100 local kids of the synagogue, with the promise afterwards of a Simchat Torah goodie bag,  loaded with toys and diabetes inducing treats.

If a child is meant to feel a sense of joy and community within the synagogue, this was a great place to start, with candy.  Lots of candy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


This week, we have already gone to the Biblical Zoo and flown a kite at the International Kite Festival at the Israel Museum.

Today I took a walk down memory lane, in more ways than one.  Every year during the interim period of Succot IE the 11 day vacation that Raphaela has from school, Jerusalem hosts an international 15K march and parade, featuring groups from all over Israel and Righteous pro-Israel Christians from all over the world, including China, Germany and United States.

The walkathon terminates in Gan Saccher, right near our house, and features a free Carnival, with rides and clowns and bouncy castles and games; as well as the tastes of adventure and fun that brought me back to my childhood, mainly cotton candy and candied apples.  I forced my daughter to inhale the joy that is cotton candy, so that she too may become hyper on sugar and fond memories.

There were also two staging areas with a ten hour flow of entertainment of groups from Israel, including dancers and martial arts and singing.  Many of the dancing groups excited Raphaela, my Prima Ballerina.  However, I can say with certainty that I now have a new favorite Boy Band, KINDERLACH*, a religious choir group made of six boys with great voices and all the moves of Justin Timberlake.  They reek of charisma and sang a full range, moving between hip hop and Israeli rock, rap and classic religious Jewish ritual music.  They captured my heart and I am even going to buy their newest album, the audience (religious and secular) demanded several encores. 

There are people out there who know me well and they are laughing their asses off: I grew up resenting the limitations and misogyny of my Ultra-Orthodox community in New York.  The presentation and tone of this group represents in a certain way everything that I rejected about my upbringing.  And yet, hearing and watching them perform today, it made me warm inside, grinning from ear to ear.

Ironically, the Jerusalem March is based upon the Biblical concept of "Aliyah LaRegel," the trek that ancient Jews made during this set of holidays in the time of the Temple.  Today it translates to Israelis from all parts of Israel walking through their capital, camping out in a park together and embracing all that makes us one nation, accepting of others despite our differences.  Much like the four species that we combine for a blessing on Succot.

Plus the free activities for children who are going stir crazy without the structure of the regular school day.

Now THAT deserves a celebration.

* KINDERLACH, translates into "children" in Yiddish.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creating Awareness and Opening Worlds

I grew up within a New York Ultra-Orthodox community, though our house adhered to a slightly less stringent more "Modern Orthodox" lifestyle.  In practical terms, it meant that while we were fully committed to the principles of Judaism and the Torah, we also functioned in and enjoyed the real secular world.  My father and mother worked, television and movies were a given,  my mother did not cover her hair except to go to synagogue or perhaps a religious event, we took family vacations which included playing tennis (in shorts) and mixed swimming, and a college education would never be sacrificed for any reason.

As I grew up, in an attempt to define themselves more clearly, American Jewry moved to the right and I remained in the same place, I felt comfortable in myself, essentially proclaiming myself de facto as less religious, more in the realm of "Conservadox" (or Masorti in Israel), more open minded and tolerant than some in my family.

But I decry boxes of any kind, and try not to apply labels under any circumstance.  Every religion on the planet seems to be veering towards the extremes, and I find that both sad and terrifying.

In deciding upon the education of Raphaela, I wanted her to be exposed to the traditions, ritual and values in which I was raised, and so I have chosen to send her to the Nationalist Zionist Religious stream of kindergartens and schools.  She can always create a course for herself when she matures and does not live in my house.  At the same time, I take great pains to point out the importance of acceptance without judgment, teaching her that there is always more than one opinion and more than one way to interpret the word of law.  God is a being of love and mercy, he/she is not waiting with a box of fresh lightning bolts to punish us at every mere thought or mis-step.

This mis-match between our home and her school came to a head this weekend, when Raphaela was helping me set the table for Shabbat.  She put out three chairs, one for me, one for her and one for "the father," whose stand in was her favorite spotted leopard doll.  When it was time to cook, and make the blessing on the candles, it was clear that this is a woman's job, and when it came time to make the blessing on the wine and the bread, the fire works started.  My daughter, the child of a single mother and feminist, insisted that it was preferable for the imaginary father/leopard to take charge, because it was "the man's job."

I explained that in many families, Orthodox or otherwise, a wider and more fulfilling role has been found for the woman, and that God would not mind at all if Mommy made the blessings, considering that we have a special arrangement IE in that at the moment, there is not father actively living with us.  Raphaela did not buy it, unfortunately, and it will be my responsibility to open her eyes; treading that very fine and dangerous line without saying outright that her teachers are not infallible. 

My girl child must know that the only real limits on her life and her personal growth are the ones she places on herself.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Almost three years ago, Raphaela and I traveled to the United States and bounced around various peoples' houses, where my daughter and I at the very least shared a bedroom, if not a bed.  When we got home to Jerusalem, Raphaela decided that she quite enjoyed the arrangement and since then has ended up in my bed at some point during the night, every night.

I have tried various methods of bribery to change this situation, to no avail; but perhaps this year the holiday of Succot will be my savior!

With encouragement from her teacher in kindergarten, Raphaela had expressed an interest in sleeping outside in the Succah.   Because we don't have our own booth this year, I set up instead a sleeping bag on the floor of my room, which Raphaela garnished with her favorite dolls and books and various pillows.  Since last Wednesday, she has also slept on the floor in my clinic office and the living room, and I am slowly edging her out of my bedroom altogether.

To my delight, the game of playing camping on Succot lasts all night and into the next morning, and I get my leg room, pillows and blankets all to myself.   I am hoping to suggest that the floor of her bedroom (or even her bed) works just as well, once the Jewish holiday vacation ends next week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Full Circle

In a beautiful symmetry, on the evening before her Hebrew birthday,  I took Raphaela tonight for her ballet lesson at the same youth center that once served as a school for recent immigrants to Israel, the place where I took my Hebrew lessons 17 years ago.

Now We are Five

Before Yom Kippur, my allergies stood at a low almost negligible status, but then the 25 hour fast changed all that.  I woke up the morning afterwards feeling beyond lousy, and with barely a voice, a problem given that I had three straight days of work before all shuts down again for the next great holiday of Succot.

Raphaela has on the one hand been totally sympathetic, asking me how I am feeling and informing any stranger on the street or in the store that her "Mommy has a sore throat and terrible allergies."

On the other hand, she takes it personally if I do not give her lengthy answers to her questions, or if I find it difficult to read her bed time stories because it hurts my throat.  She has taken my temporary silence mode personally, proving her five year old logic that Mommies don't get to be sick, ever.

When I do cough, Raphaela uses a phrase that she 'invented'' specifically for the occasion:  "Cough Ghezunt, Mommy."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Like Riding a Bike

On that marvelous evening of Yom Kippur, the streets all over the country become our play ground.  Except for an occasional ambulance or security vehicle, bikes and scooters and strollers and roller blades take over, and the radios and televisions go dead silent.

Every year Raphaela take a late evening stroll down to the usually hazardous main road near our house and meet up with friends.  The children get bigger every year and there is a particular thrill being able to tell a five year old, "It's OK, why don't you go running in the street?"

One of our friends who is himself non-religious, but Yom Kippur observant, told me that he "loves that there is a complete day of rest for 25 hours, that there is so much good with the country shutting down, and that we should do it more often."

Another friend said that she feels like for one night, the streets and city belong to her, being able to see friends and not even have a think about traffic accidents or cable tv or work the next day; it makes you wonder to whom the country belongs the other 364 days of the year.

One of our friends brought an adult bike, and on a whim I asked if I could try it out, ride around a little.  The last time I actively rode was almost 20 years ago, when I biked to Chiropractic school on a regular basis, and so I assumed (foolishly) that it would come back to me in an instant.  At first I felt totally unstable and frightened, and saw myself blacking out in a heap on the pavement.  Then after encouragement I got back on and managed a few blocks, but still felt shaky.

I realized that I probably should get both of us - me and Raphaela - lessons before we head out on the open road on our bicycles.

But that is Yom Kippur, is it not?  Testing our limits and praying and setting new goals.

Today Raphaela and I sat and prayed together, and when I was finished I told Raphaela to take the opportunity of the day to thank G-d for the gifts of our daily life, putting in requests and asking for forgiveness.  My beautiful daughter opened the session with, "Thank you G-d for giving me a good Mommy."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Birth Day!

6:15 am

Raphaela:  Mommy, am I five years old yet?
Mommy:  Yes you are.
Raphaela:  Wow, when I went to sleep last night I was only four, and now I am five!
(Notices that entire house is decorated in Disney Princess and Dora birthday theme)
Raphaela: What a beautiful job the princesses and Dora did while I was sleeping, I will have to write them a thank you note.
Mommy:  (grumbling under my breath)  Someday, my dear, we are going to have serious discussion about the identity of the Tooth Fairy.

7:00 am

Raphaela: Mommy, may I have a special birthday breakfast today?
Mommy:  Does Cheerios with milk count as special?
Raphaela:  (look of death)
Mommy:  How about Cheerios with CHOCOLATE MILK?
Raphaela:  Hooray!

7:30 am

Raphaela:  Mommy, I want to give tzedakah [Hebrew for charity] today in school.
Mommy:  Wonderful idea!
Raphaela:  Can you give me five coins, because now I am five years old?

1:30 pm

After a morning of working, the preparation of the cupcake platter for Raphaela's mini-birthday party at her English group.
3 pm
Party time!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Labour Day

Five years ago on this day, October 1, I went into labour in the evening, after being told that I was not open AT ALL (true), and that I was two weeks over due (which I was not); the doctor threatened that I would have to be induced if he didn't see some action by the end of the weekend.

Twelve hours later, and after a completely natural (painful) birth, my darling amazing light-filled daughter came into the world, and quite literally, my life has never been the same.  All that happened before, all I learned and experienced BR ("Before Raphaela") started me on the journey of motherhood. AR ("After Raphaela") I cannot imagine who I would be and where I would find such joy and frustration and wonderment on a daily basis, if not for Raphaela.

My sweetest dearest girl, may you continue to be blessed with health and happiness, growth and wisdom, and may I continue to be able to help you along the path of becoming a fulfilled and completely realized human being.

I can't wait to see what comes next.