Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tell It Like It Is

This weekend, I hosted my parents visiting from overseas, as well as my brother and his family who live in another (more religious) neighborhood in Jerusalem, not within walking distance of our house.  I had the following conversation with my seven year old niece, who went straight for the jugular, as children often do.

Niece:  Raphaela is really lucky, if you get married, she can go to the wedding!
Me:  Uh huh.
N:  Are you even anywhere near finding a husband?
Me:  Not yet.
N:  You know you are the oldest of all your brothers and sisters, and the rest are all married.
Me:  Uh huh.  (Feeling the unintended knife twisting in my back.) So, who wants some more Thanksgiving turkey?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Holidays

This morning, with terrific excitement, I reminded Raphaela that today we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday left over from my American experience and yet shall be cherished every year, no matter where I live.  Raphaela asked if she was allowed to join in the Turkey Day festivities, as she was born in Israel and not the United States.  I told her that as she has an American passport and a mother born in the US, she is also a dual citizen and should enjoy all rights as such.

Later in the day, an Israeli patient asked me if I had commemorated Christmas in my house, as a child growing up in America.  After all, it has even become accepted among some observant American Jews to take their child Trick-or-Treating;  forgetting all historical background to the holiday IE pogroms and the slaughtering of Jews, kids get to wear costumes and collect free candy.  Harmless, right?

I laughed and pointed out that since my father is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi, it was never an option  to visit Santa at the mall or have a "Chanukah Bush" in our house.  Christmas is all about Saint Nick and Jesus and trampling a stranger to get a cheap X-Box, clearly religious in nature, as opposed to Thanksgiving.  My parents actually did a good job of giving the Jewish holidays throughout the year beauty and significance, without envy or wistfulness for the more Christian and pagan holidays.

That being said, I do have a secret indulgence:  Christmas carols.  They bring me some joy as it reminds me of the warm atmosphere of New York City that month before the holiday, where New Yorkers seemed less cut-throat and more friendly, "Happy Holidays!" wherever you went, skating at Rockefeller Center, the MET tree and the window decorations.

Ahh, nostalgia!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This morning, Raphaela's first mumbled words after she woke up:  "I am going to make a good Mommy some day."

And on the way to school, with the Jerusalem morning traffic of cars on their way to work and school and life, "We have to find another place to live, this pollution is awful.  Maybe we will go find the Lorax and live there, where the air is clean."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Every Day Heroes

As we move onto the next Jewish holiday, Chanukah, Raphaela's teacher asked the parents to prepare a project about family history, and about heroism.  The teacher explained that heroes come in small and large packages, and that each story would be read to open their mind to the idea that you don't have to lead an army against the Greeks to be considered brave.

A bit at a loss, because I don't see anything in particular that I have done in my life as especially heroic,  and I can't fall back on the Israeli soldier stories.  So I asked Raphaela if she thought that I was brave.  She responded with a resounding "Yes!"  When I asked Raphaela to elaborate on what actions in particular she admired, she answered, "Well, you dance and sing, you ran in the Marathon, and you eat and you read me stories."

Then it hit me, that the one thing I have done in my 46 years for which I can say I am proud and I feel quite in fact, Raphaela!  I made a choice to bring an amazing little girl into the world, to be pregnant and give birth and raise her every day, for the rest of my days.

Of course, I cannot write about being a single mother and about my fertility treatments to a group of five year olds; I have pledged to never allow Raphaela to feel from me that she and our family are too unusual,  and I will certainly not allow it to become a topic of general discussion among her friends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Life, Death and Politics

My parents are arriving today for a two and a half week visit, and after recent events, I feel like locking them inside their vacation apartment the entire time.

Because it is now unsafe to stand at a bus stop or a train station, or to even pray in a synagogue.

My brother, who stood less than ten minutes away from the site of the brazen horrific massacre in Har Nof, Jerusalem, kept his children home from school yesterday.

For all who blame Israel for this 3,000 year old situation in the Middle East, think again.  The Palestinians strap bombs to their children and rejoice in their holy sacrifice, PM Abbas proclaims that more Jewish blood must be spilled on the streets of Jerusalem, and Arabs around the world celebrate every time there is a terror attack anywhere in the world that takes the lives of Jews.  Watch the video of them dancing on the streets after 9/11, if you don't believe me.

During the war this past summer in Gaza, Israel sent text messages, emails and flyers to innocent citizens in Gaza, warning them to leave areas that would soon come under attack.  Hamas, an equal partner in the so-called legitimate Palestinian government, shot anyone who tried to leave to safety with their families, put missile launching sites in living rooms and hospitals and schools, and tunneled under Israeli soil with the intent of slaughtering Israelis while they slept.

In his heyday, Yassir Arafat had the opportunity to receive 98% of the demands of his people from the Israeli government, and he refused.  Because 100% would have been Judenrein, a Palestinian State with no Jews in sight.  Anyone remember the Nazis?

Golda Meir said that there will not be peace until the Arabs love their own children as much as they hate ours.

This is not a way to live, or die, for either side.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shabbat Shalom, Hey!

The more Raphaela becomes aware of her surroundings, the more sure I must be of the rules and guidelines and consistent messages that are in place in our home.  On Friday night Raphaela informed me that her teacher told her that it is forbidden to watch television on Shabbat.  It's nice to detach from the world of bad news and technology for 24 hours.

On Shabbat day, Raphaela and I packed a picnic lunch and some sports equipment, to meet up with friends in the park near our house, a large playground and grassy area usually full of religious families and Arabs on this, our only day of supposed rest during the week for the citizens of Israel.

As we started walking down the hill, a lone car drove by.

Raphaela:  Mommy, my teacher told us that you are not allowed to drive on Shabbat.
Mommy:  That's true honey, and though our car rests on Shabbat, some people drive.  Everyone makes their own choices.
Raphaela:  Some people use elevators on Shabbat and some don't.
Mommy:  That's right, and like I said, it is up to each one of us to decide what we do, and to accept the consequences of that choice.
Raphaela:  Aha!  Like the fact that you are wearing running shoes to the park and I am wearing Shabbat shoes.
Mommy:  That's right (trying to suppress my smile), and we are both dressed just fine.
Raphaela:  We are both OK.

When we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a political group wishing to encourage a Shabbat-for-All environment had set up a concert area, along with various art projects, clowns, and mats on the grass.  In fact, to show that Jerusalem can become as open and tolerant a city as any other, Israelis came from all over the city to our little park, and we grown-ups sat for several hours while the children played together.

Ironically, because the park was so over-run by people attending the festival, the regular crowd of religious and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Arabs doing BBQ fled the scene.  Score Zero for openness and the inter-mingling on a lovely sunny Shabbat day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gan Birthday Party, The Main Event

Today, loaded with bags of costumes (for the re-enactment of the classic Israeli children's book, Grandfather Eliezer and the Giant Carrot) and enough food to feed the Israeli army, four proud parents celebrated the fifth birthday, the first official party of the year.

The excitement could not be contained, and not just for the honorees but for all 35 of the students of Gan Devorah.  The Head Teacher first led the class in the normal morning routine of singing and Jewish prayer; then she formally invited the parents to join in, and dance. Lots of joyous dancing! There was the perfect balance between involving all the kids, and making special notice of the three birthday girls and the birthday boy.

At one point, each child was asked to choose three friends to give them a personal blessing, and surprisingly, my daughter chose three of the boys in her class.  Even the teacher could be seen shaking her head and smiling in the unexpected move.

Following the "Mother's Dance," the teacher invited the men of the family to play a modified game of Marco Polo.  Amazingly, both Raphaela and I were blessed with the presence of my brother, who moved to Israel with his family this past August.  Raphaela was overwhelmed with joy that she was surrounded by family and could participate equally, that she was not left out of anything, for obvious lack of a father.

Then the four parents stepped and engineered a play that included all 35 children in the class, all in various costumes gathered from the Purim closets in all our houses.  Wildly successful, and we are thinking of taking the act to Broadway next.

On a final note, the teacher had said at the beginning of the year that this was a special group of kids, more intelligent and thus more " a good way" than she has seen in previous years.  I can attest to that personally. 

Firstly, when I first took Raphaela to school today, one of the boys for no real reason started making fun of my daughter's dress, a step-up in fancy than the usual.  Before I even had a chance to open my mouth and defend my offspring, one of her girl friends said loud and clear, in front of the whole group seated there, "That's not nice, making fun of someone and hurting their feelings!"

[ I believe that mothers carry so much guilt at what we perceive we are not doing right, and we are not told often enough that our efforts have paid off.  So I immediately called this girl's mother and told her that she had raised a wise and brave and wonderful child.] 

Later, before the party, a group of  8-9 girls of Raphaela's friends, told me that I was the "Cool Mom," and they insisted that I play with them, sharing their stories and their feelings with me as we sat in a large circle.  I felt a happiness that I cannot express adequately, knowing that Raphaela is part of this beautiful group. Today as in all days,  I was proud to be (as the Israelis say) "The Mother of  Raphaela."

All parents want for their children is to know that they are loved and secure in all their relationships.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gan Birthday Party II

For the last two weeks, four parents (including myself) have been communicating and shopping towards the birthday party of these four children, tomorrow at Gan.

To clarify, the four parents who have dedicated their free time to making this celebration memorable and joyful are the MOTHERS.  Three of these four mothers (including myself)  hold full time jobs, and as far as I know, the fathers are satisfied that we women have got it covered.  The fathers will certainly show up with their video cameras and their smiles and take partial credit for the party, since they helped bring their five year old into the world.

For all the so-called progress women have made in the twenty-first century, we have a long way to go, baby. 

Just saying.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Anglo Saxon? Duh!

One would think that after living in a country for almost 18 years, the blatantly American mannerisms would become dull and fade. Despite the American tinge to my Hebrew accent that will never vanish, I know that my approach to politics and life and child-rearing are Israeli to the core.

A prime example:  even after I made aliyah and before I gave birth, the idea of hitting back was abhorrent to me. I spent many an occasion berating the Israeli educational system for allowing such active physical bullying, accepting it as the norm.  Today, if Raphaela tells me that a child in her class was bothering her and hitting her, I instruct my daughter to defend herself first, and then tell the teacher.  For better or for worse, and especially in these days of terrible escalating violence all over the country, a child growing up here must have superlative awareness to their surroundings and not become a victim.

And yet, yesterday as I walked around the whole city of Jerusalem doing errands, several people addressed me in English, from the start.  As if it was obvious that English was my mother tongue and that I am an Israeli wanna-be.

It bothered me, and so I started taking a poll among my Israeli friends, asking what subtle signs gave away my land of birth.  No one could exactly put their finger on it, one person suggesting it was the way I wore running shoes all the time, many others saying that it was just "obvious."  Even Raphaela, born here in Jerusalem and possessing the most authentic Hebrew accent, along with the Israeli chutzpah, apparently shows some anglo markers, inherited and observed over time in her mother.

One of my Israeli friends assured me that my mixed past made me a more interesting person, and that all the elements of my upbringing gave me certain advantages.  "Take it as a compliment that you don't come off as an obnoxious Israeli.  Besides, you are more Tel Aviv than Jerusalem."

Who knew?

Love and Marriage

"Mommy, I am going to marry E from my kindergarten!"

"What is it that you like about him?"

"Well, he's silly, and he teases the girl in my class who hurts my feelings, and then I feel better."

"Being married is great Raphaela, when you find the right person to be the Daddy, and when you both love each other and treat each other nicely.  A sense of humor is important as well. "

"What if you don't find the right person to marry?  How do you get to have babies?"

"The same way I had you, when I could not find the right person to be the Daddy."

"Oh, right.  You went to the hospital and the doctor helped you."

"That's right, and maybe even some day I will get married to the right person, and you will have a Daddy who loves you and lives in the house."

"Hooray!  That would be wonderful, Mommy."

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gan Birthday Party I

Since the very beginning of the school year, possibly even starting in August while she was still in Nature Camp, Raphaela asks the question almost daily, "When am I going to have my Gan birthday party?"  I had answered her consistently, after the set of Jewish holidays.  (It's the period known by all in Israel as "Acharei HaChagim," when suddenly people become productive, until the Chanukah vacation in December.)

The day after Succot ended, Raphaela made a very reasonable and reasoned demand, "Mommy, my birthday was one week ago, and now the holidays are over, for real.  Did you arrange the date for my Gan birthday party?"

And so, after nagging the Head Kindergarten Teacher Devorah, the main event was set for this coming Friday.  That was, until Gannenet Deborah injured her arm last night.

Now the party has been pushed off one more week, and I dreaded breaking the news to my birthday-obsessed daughter.

This morning I sat Raphaela down, looked her straight in the eye and explained that her teacher hurt her arm very badly last night and now she is wearing a cast.  I told Raphaela that I spoke to her teacher, and Devorah said that she really wants to be able to dance properly at the party, and so it will not be this week after all, but rather soon, in fact next Friday.

I expected sadness and disappointment, possibly a welling-up of tears. Instead, Raphaela immediately ran to the play room, took out markers and scissors and drawing paper, and of her own initiative, created a beautiful "Get Well" card.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

First Haircut, Ever

Today, for the first day since her birth, Raphaela got a haircut.  Or rather, a trim, since a Princess is expected to have long flowing locks of hair.

The smile never left her face, as she got her hair washed and brushed and snipped and blown dry, and she handled it so maturely;  she loves the "girl" stuff.

At one point my stylist asked Raphaela if she would like a cup of coffee, and my daughter responded just as politely, "No, thank you!"

When we left, Raphaela informed me that when she would be older, she might consider taking off more than just the frizzy edges.

The few pieces of baby hair that were cut are now saved safely, as a keepsake for Raphaela's silly  sentimental Mommy.