Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars for the New Generation

After a treacherous battle to find a baby sitter for Raphaela, I finally got out of the house and met up with a friend to see the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

It took me back to the nine year old girl who saw George Lucas special effects, it was overall a thrilling and satisfying experience.


I have two gripes with the story, one:  if you may recall from the first three movies (Episodes IV-VI), no matter how much Force Luke inherited from his father, he was a crappy Jedi for a long time, and only really confronted the Emperor and Darth Vader properly in the third movie.

In this movie, the two main young leads (Rey and Finn) find Luke's special light saber, pick it up, and not only do they connect immediately IE the light saber decides to turn on at all, but they are master swordswoman and man. In the first film of this series, with no apparent training at all, they are fighting with the light saber against Kylo Ren, the Big Bad, and Rey almost succeeds in killing him on her first go.

WTF. Or as Han Solo says in this movie, "That's not how the Force works!"

I think it is because this generation has no patience, and they expect that everything will work out for them right away, without any practice or any struggle to succeed. Or their parents will take care of it for them.  Harry Potter, Wonder Boy Wizard, is the "Boy that Lived."  So with all that magic inside him he is automatically prepared to travel around with Dumbledore and smite Voldemort, or become a vigilante Wizard with his friends Ron and Hermione.  And Harry isn't even aware of all the strings that are being pulled for him in the background by the adults around him.

We are raising a generation of lazy and entitled children, woe unto us.

My second gripe is derived more from a feminist stand point.  Rey is clearly being groomed to become a Class A Jedi, despite the fact that in the horrible prequel movies they made it clear that women are not capable of controlling the Force.  But Princess/General Leia ("There is another!") seems to have completely ignored her innate gift of the Force, using it only to sense that something bad has happened to someone she loves.  Why couldn't she have become a General and a Jedi Master, and why can she not find her brother, with whom she is telepathically linked via the Force, and their father Darth Vader?

It's almost 2016, and just because they have a woman and a black man as the new generation of Jedi, doesn't mean that they have done enough to restore the honor of all potential female Jedi warriors who came before them.

Oh, and as a bonus gripe, why can't they come up with a version of the Death Star that does not have a small but fatal structural flaw? Just saying...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Don't allow Busy to replace Lonely in your life.

It eventually catches up to you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Children's Bedtime Tale

As in most houses in Jerusalem, our apartment becomes frigid, igloo-like, fairly early in the Israeli winter season.  Even the space heaters in each room don't seem to help, and we have gotten used to bundling up inside.

Last night I tucked Raphaela into bed with her heavy quilt.

" Mommy," teeth chattering for effect, "I am still cold."
And so I gave her a second, pink fleece blanket.
"Mommy, I am still cold, I will not fall asleep."
And so I placed a third grey blanket that we usually use  on picnics.
" Mommy, it's not working!" Said Raphaela, clearly enjoying the game.
And so I gave her our camping sleeping bag, and suggested she sleep inside the sleeping bag, under the other covers.
"Mommy, but there's my head sticking out and it's cold. And what about my hands, if they come out of the blanket?"
And so Raphaela put on a wool hat and gloves.
Kisses all around, about a minute passes and I hear a muffled, "Mommy, I am getting a little sweaty and I can't fall asleep."

This morning Raphaela had me re-tell this story several times on the way to school, laughing each time.

"This would make a great children's book." I mused.
" And here is how it ends, Mommy: 'And then Mommy was so exhausted trying to put Raphaela to bed.'"

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brush with Fame

About a week ago, I got a call from a casting director for Warner Brothers, they were looking for:
A girl aged 6-9
Brown hair, brown eyes
English speaker, specifically with an Israeli accent
No particular acting experience required.

The casting director wanted to know if Raphaela would audition for them at their office in Tel Aviv, as she fit the bill, perfectly.  I answered a tentative yes, but told them that if she was quite determined not to participate, I would cancel our meeting, so as not to waste their time.

Warner Brothers sent me a page of script for Raphaela to memorize, as well as certain requests, including that the child not wear make-up for the audition.  ("Make-up?!" I thought, "At age six?")  They specifically set the audition for the Chanukah holiday, during school vacation.

When I told Raphaela about the opportunity, she couldn't have cared less.  When I told her it was about a brave girl, a heroine who is good at a bow and arrow and protects her family, she was worried because she does not know how to shoot a bow and arrow.  When I did a read-through on the script and it mentioned a bear, Raphaela decided that she did not want to come face-to-face with a bear.  Explaining modern movie-making and CGI technology did not help.

So I let it go.  Over the week I read the script to her/with her and she remained completely ambivalent.  Today, the day of our appointment, a cold and rainy day in Jerusalem, Raphaela made her resistance clear, she was not leaving the house for anything, and I canceled the audition.

I have learned (since she was 20 weeks old in the womb) that Raphaela does what she wants when she wants, and when the answer is "No," it is not worth the fight and the trauma.  Walking, toilet training, ballet lessons, reading, selective vegetarianism,  it all came when it came, when she decided that she could commit fully.

She does not want to be in the movies right now, and fame does not motivate her in the least. And I have no intention of becoming that reality star monster, Kris Kardashian. Even if my daughter is the next Gal Gadot or Natalie Portman.

I would have liked to go, just for the experience of it, but as the mother of this child- this warm, dramatic, stubborn, opinionated and social child -I have to know what is best for her.  I trust the Universe that if this is indeed Raphaela's path, another opportunity will arise, when she is ready.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The True Spirit of Chanukah

Yesterday I received a call from friends of my parents, visiting Jerusalem for the holiday of Chanukah.  They told me that parents had sent a bunch of presents for my daughter and her four cousins;  we went to pick them up, as we had plans to meet with my brother and his family yesterday evening.

Amongst the presents for the children was a small gift for me from my parents, a unexpected and pleasant surprise.  Raphaela asked me if I felt badly that she had a large box from her grandparents, and mine was much smaller.  I replied that since I had not expected anything at all, I was quite pleased actually.  Raphaela responded, "Because we are happy with what we have."

Later on in the day, Raphaela asked me why in fact my parents had sent presents for Chanukah at all, and I could not have been more pleased that my daughter was not connected into the materialism that typically characterizes this time of the year.  I asked her, "What does Chanukah mean to you?"

"Well, we get vacation from school and go on great day trips.  We light beautiful candles each night and eat delicious snacks, like doughnuts and chocolate coins and pizza.  We get to count menorahs in the windows and on the street and on top of cars, I already found more than 200!   And we get to have lots of parties, spending time with our Mommy and our friends and our cousins."

"But it is nice to get presents, every once in a while, right?" 
"Yeah, sure!" Raphaela answered with a broad smile.

And this is one of the most huge benefits of living in Israel.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Life without Cher

My car, Cher, is almost 16 years old, but because I don't have much of a commute to work, she has less than 55,000 km on her speedometer.

Two weeks ago, I took Cher to the garage for her annual routine Winter Check Up, and she passed.  I mentioned to the mechanic that I had a suspicion that there was an electrical issue somewhere, one that only manifested intermittently;  they did a diagnostic and found nothing.

This past Friday, I decided to drive Raphaela to school rather than walk, because I had several errands - a doctor's appointment, the supermarket, the bakery etc.- during the morning, all in different parts of town.  Cher would not start up, dead in the water except for the horrid blinking light that said "SERVICE." I did whatever I could by foot, and the rest, whatever. It was the day before Shabbat and it didn't pay to take care of it, when she could just sit in the parking space anyway over the weekend.

This morning I called a tow truck and at this moment, my baby is on it's way to what Raphaela calls the Car Doctor.  I don't know how much the repair will cost, but it will most certainly take a chunk out of my budget; believe me, if I could afford it, I would buy a new car.

I am ashamed and sad to admit that I have become dependent on Cher, my life and my daughter's even busier life demands wheels.  This morning was so cold outside that I could not imagine having to walk to school, and asked a friend from the class to take Raphaela in their car.

As a sample week, here are the thing that will become much more difficult if we must depend on public transportation, not to mention the added danger of bus stops with the Third Intifada in full swing:

Ballet Lesson (tonight)
School in the cold-inside-your-bones weather (today, tomorrow)
Camp (Tuesday, Wednesday)
Day trips for Chanukah (Thursday, next Sunday and Monday)
Supermarket (At some point, we have to eat)
Family Chanukah party (Thursday)
Long weekend of vacation that I am desperate for, that we have both been looking forward to for such a long time (Friday through Sunday)

I did not know how much I counted on Cher until she died.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Beautiful Lights

Last night, the First Grade girls in Evelyna held their Chanukah party, and considering the 31 children plus parents in the room, it went more or less smoothly.

Their teacher talked about the creation of the world, and how God created a special light, but then didn't know where to put it.  Upon consultation with the angels, God placed a piece of this special light into each person, deep inside so that only those who were actively searching for it would find it;  "because many people don't bother to look and examine deep inside themselves," said the teacher.  Then she thanked each of the girls in her class for manifesting that truly special light.

The Principal also spoke, and pointed out that while gravity on Earth will pull most things down (as he dropped his iPhone to the floor, ouch!), the flame of a fire defies these basic rules of physics and reaches upward, toward the heavens.  Then he as well said that each of these girls are lights, always reaching upward and always lighting the way with their camaraderie.

And indeed, I saw it with my own eyes.  At one point the teacher was leading an activity in which she sang a (very long) song about all the Chesed [good deeds in Hebrew] that we can do for each other, and every time she tapped a child on the head, they were meant to open a little flash light and wave it around.  It was dark in the room and she was not utilizing any particular system of order, patting heads haphazardly,  and ultimately she skipped over Raphaela.

Raphaela said nothing.

After putting on the lights of the classroom and starting to move on, one of the other girls in the class got up and pulled on the teachers shirt and said, "You forgot Raphaela!"  Whereupon  the teacher immediately shut off the lights, made special notice of my daughter and had all the children wave their flash lights together.

Afterwards I was talking to the teacher and she told me that Raphaela thanks her every day, for the lessons and the affection and the effort put into guiding these girls.  The teacher told me how impressed she was that Raphaela can say "thank you" and can make others feel genuinely appreciated.

Thank you, Raphaela, for making me proud.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Menorah Contest

Raphaela's school announced a contest for all the grades (one through six), to create a menorah out of recycled items.  All the participants will be displayed, and prizes will be awarded.

This afternoon I surveyed the submissions thus far, some were clearly age-appropriate and some were clearly created start to finish by the parents, who must be professional artists, or architects.  One menorah in particular could be sold in stores, or at the Israel Museum shop.

Here is our submission, I would accurately state that Raphaela did most of the work, and I served as an artistic and logistical consultant.

(Materials include a pine cone, the "hats" of acorns, paper, pipe cleaners and an aluminum foil tin. Oh, and googly eyes.)

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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Field Trip

This morning started on a sad note, with a brief poignant goldfish funeral.

Raphaela did not seem so disturbed by it, because she was too excited about the field trip to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo today from school.  Three hours of non-classroom romping in her second home, but instead with her teacher and her classmates.

Of course the best part is that they are allowed to pack two treats with their picnic lunch, a practice normally banned during school hours.

When I dropped Raphaela off in her classroom this morning, I watched as each child brought out their field trip backpack, and opened with the question, "So what snacks did you bring?"

(Somehow, I believe that if the teacher took the girls to the park near the school and said, "Now you can eat your candy during the school day," they would have not have noticed that they never made it to the zoo.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Casualties of Divorce

In stealth, while her soon to be ex-husband was at work, the mother took her four children, and most of the furniture of the house, and moved away to another city.  She registered her children in a new school, told her children that their father was not to be trusted, that they would not see their friends again, and did not allow them to make contact with him once they had resettled.  When the father came home from work, he returned to a quiet empty house, totally bewildered as to what the hell had happened to his life.

Sounds like a soap opera, or an appeal for some foundation, right?  Well, these are my neighbors, and what makes the story even harder is this:  the mother is extremely abusive to her children, and the father has never prevented it, because he has been afraid of his soon to be ex-wife.  Anyone who knows the background of this family would agree that the children would still be better off with the father than the mother.

Before I am accused of slander or gossip, let me say that I have seen this abuse with my own eyes on several occasions, and have been this family's neighbor for over 12 years.  And the walls between apartments are thinner than one would believe.

The two older children have declared that they do not want to live with their mother, and have begged their father to take them away from her.  The only way they speak to their father was by sneaking in a phone call when their mother isn't paying attention.  The two younger children do not know their father's cell phone number, nor have they been able to reach their father in any way, though they too have expressed a desire to live with their father rather than their mother.

In Israeli (Draconian) divorce law, the mother always gets custody, and the father has to work very hard and spend lots of money on lawyers to even get partial custody.  In recent week, there have been several attempts in the Knesset to change that law, to put some of the responsibility of custody decisions on the social workers as well.   An attempt to objectively as possible asses the situation and do what is best for the children.

The amendment to the law was shut down last week, in a disappointing vote.

If I am being truly honest, over the past 12 years I have contemplated many times calling the police and reporting this family, but never did, as I was advised by my Israeli neighbors that it would not help the situation in the end.  Now I am wishing that the father's lawyer would start knocking on doors and asking all of us who live in the building to testify on his behalf,  Because I would.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Parenting 2.0

My daughter is a good kid, and I say that objectively.  She is thoughtful and helpful and compassionate, and usually listens to me and follows instructions.

Hence, those infrequent bursts of defiance, totally normal for her age and bound to increase exponentially during the teenage years, completely surprise me.  Every time.

This morning while I was in the shower, she had apparently gone through my jewelry box, and chosen one of my necklaces to wear to school today.  A real piece of jewelry, not one of her sophisticated looking plastic accessories.

I told her "No," and asked her to return the necklace where she had found it.  She made her pouty face, stomped around for a minute or two and then walked away.  When I started to get dressed, I decided to make sure she had put the jewelry away in its proper place; not so surprisingly, the necklace was nowhere to be seen.

I asked Raphaela where she had put it, or lost it as the case may be, and she shrugged her shoulder (in the way that Israeli children do from age zero) and ignored my question.  I told her to look for it with me, and she refused.

So I told her that I would take one of her favorite toys away until we found the necklace.  "If you cannot take care of nice things, you will lose something you like." I said, firmly.  And showed her that her electronic story board was going deep in the back of a closet, way up high in the kitchen.

"I don't care Mommy," she said, with the pouty defiance face, "I find that toy annoying anyway."

So I went into her room and took her favorite doll and placed it next to the electronic toy, and then I saw panic in her face.

"I love you, Raphaela. I will always love you no matter what you do and how you behave." I explained. "At the same time, I have every right to get angry and punish you if you behave very badly and disrespect me."

"I know Mommy.  Because you're my Mommy." She said quietly.  "Sorry Mommy."

I know that she must learn that her actions have consequences;  and yet, I now will spend the whole morning feeling guilty that I sent her off to school in a less than optimal emotional state.

(That's the pouty face, same as it has been since she was born.  Here she seems to be disturbed that she was removed from the safe haven of the womb...)

The Cookie Fairy

When I picked Raphaela up from school yesterday, she told me excitedly about the greatest mystery and adventure of the day.  Apparently, when she opened her lunch, she found two Oreo cookies that had not been there when I packed the meals in the morning.  She had no idea who snuck them in there, and because she got two of them, she shared one with a friend.

I for one would not mind if the Swiss Chocolate Fairy paid me a visit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy Holidays

Today I started planning our Thanksgiving dinner, and I couldn't be more excited.  Thanksgiving stands as one of my favorite holidays, American, Israeli, Jewish and otherwise.  In my mind it represents all those family gatherings at my grandmother's Z"L, the amazing smell when you walked in the door, the annual fight over which movie to see, the Macy's Day parade and the time spent bonding with cousins.

Living in Israel, we mostly ignore the American and the non-Jewish holidays, New Year's comes and goes without notice, except that I know that I will have to prepare my annual taxes around that time.  This year, however, Raphaela seems to have taken more notice of the global community.

She asked me why we don't celebrate Halloween, and I told her that we have Purim instead; I didn't mention that Halloween commemorates pogroms against Jews.  I remember, growing up in New York as a child how we spent that night:  we locked all the doors and windows, and closed the shades.  When the door bell rang, we ignored it, and the next morning, we hoped that the area where we lived had not been vandalized in any major way.  It was the one night out of the year that our quietly anti-Semitic neighbors had full reign.

It has apparently changed, evidenced by the huge amount of friends on Facebook - those of the Jewish faith and of all levels of religiosity- who posted pictures of their family fully costumed and celebrating Halloween on some level.

As far as Christmas, Raphaela thinks that Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny are fast friends of Diego and Dora, as they appear on the (Hebrew translated) cartoon to deliver presents and rescue animals.  Every year I go to a Christmas classic music/carols concert at the International YMCA in Jerusalem, but have not taken Raphaela because she cannot stay up that late into the night.  When she gets older, I may give her the option of coming with me instead of staying home with a baby sitter, though I doubt she will know the words to any of the Christmas carols or Handel's Messiah.

(The Tooth Fairy, however, is real.)

Our Chanukah rituals revolve around candle lighting with friends and family, eating doughnuts and taking day trips, rather than the rampant materialism that characterizes the season.  I am grateful to raise my daughter that way.

Ask any parent of children in Israel and they will say that there is far too much vacation from school for Jewish holidays as it is, we don't need to add in the other religions to the mix.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Raphaela is Punny

"Mommy, I can speak English, Hebrew, Sepharadit [Hebrew for Spanish] and Ashkenazit!"

The State of Education

When I attended elementary school in the United States, Teacher was God and the Principal was Uber-God.  The idea of questioning a statement or a decision was out of bounds, we all assumed that our teacher, being a Meta-Human, didn't need to go to the bathroom.

I hated missing a day of school because I thought that every day a crucial piece of information was being transmitted to the class, and I don't remember taking more that two or three sick days.  Leaving for family vacation a day or two early before Winter Break? Never.  It would go on your "permanent record."

Flash forward to the 21rst century, in Jerusalem, Israel.  Every week Raphaela's first grade teacher chooses four girls to be her assistants, and at the end of the week these four girls host a festive breakfast.  My daughter was chosen this week, and when she told me, she expressed excitement mixed with concern.

"Mommy, is something wrong with my teacher? Isn't she supposed to know how to do everything? Why does she need six year old assistants?"

Holding back a smirk, I explained that it is most important in life to learn how to ask for help, even if you can do everything by yourself.  I also stressed that now that she is in first grade, a big girl, it is so great that she and her friends are old enough to take responsibility for some part of the class room experience.

And yet, every time I see the Principal of Raphaela's school, I say good morning and smile.  Because I haven't let go of all the awe and picture of infallibility of educators, and a little kissing up doesn't hurt anyone.


Raphaela has a school-sponsored activity in Art on Wednesdays.  She generally loves doing projects of all kinds, and there is a fair amount of these displayed on a shelf in our kitchen.

Last week, Raphaela told me that the noise level and the smell of the glue bothered her, and that she was having a hard time enjoying the art lesson.  We came to an agreement that she would try to adapt, and I gave her a few suggestions to get through the hour.

"But I want to learn drawing from a real artist, like you Mommy."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Get Your Hot Dogs Here!

For several years now, if you ask Raphaela for the list of her favorite foods, hot dogs and olives appear first and foremost.  I have often given her the speech about hot dogs, how there are higher quality meats out there, and I have failed to get through;  we instituted a rule in the house that she is not allowed to have them more than twice a week.

Now that I have to pack lunches every day of the week for school, hot dogs make my life a little easier. Once a week, I put them in a heat-able container, and I know she will eat food that day.  Since she is not a sandwich person, I have to get creative with my menus.

This afternoon, when I picked up Raphaela from school, she told me that when she took out her lunch today, she was barraged by commentary from her class mates.

"One of my friends told me that hot dogs aren't healthy, because they are made out of melted chicken feathers.  Then another friend said that hot dogs are made out of pig meat, and that isn't Kosher!  I looked hard and I didn't see any feathers."

I couldn't help but laugh, because in one lunch the girls in her class had managed to turn her against her favorite food. I explained that hot dogs every once in a while will not hurt her, and that at the very least her hot dogs are kosher, so one can hope that they don't contain too much questionable material.

"From now on my favorite foods are pizza and chicken fingers."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Raphaela knows Murphy's Law, as it specifically applies to the rain IE if you take your umbrella outside the house, it will not rain upon you.  I learned that the hard way, when it poured on top of me for five minutes as I walked out of the supermarket this week, cart fully loaded, no umbrella in my hand.

This morning we left the house for school, holding recyclables and lunch box and back pack and pocket book and her art portfolio, and we forgot the umbrella.  About half way through, I realized our fatal error and Raphaela insisted that we go back home.

Instead, I suggested that we trick the looming rain clouds and tell them that the portfolio was actually hiding our umbrella.  What ensued was a little play in which we bluffed the grey skies, Raphaela felt very proud of herself when we got to school safe, and dry.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why and How

Lately, Raphaela is in this beautiful place intellectually where her curiosity factor seems to have expanded exponentially.  She wants to know how and why everything works, she wants to understand where everything fits into the larger picture. And she has started asking questions about my life in a detailed and interested way.

We spent an hour yesterday exploring every icon on the desktop, pressing every button to see what it did to the screen. It was as much an adventure for me as it was for her, as I am technologically challenged.

She asked me a series of questions about my medical degree and education.  How much homework did I do? How many years did it take to become a doctor?  Where are all my notebooks and school books, "are there more than one hundred"? After perusing my library, she chose a book about how to make natural herbal medicine from food in the house, and decided that we should mix up a batch of something.

Raphaela also wanted a play-by-play of every moment from my first labour pains and until I held her in my arms for the first time.

In the bath last night, in between splashing and playing, we did linguistic comparisons between English, Hebrew, French and Spanish;  Raphaela counted to ten in all four languages and noted that many of the words sound the same, because they share the same root.

This morning while I was packing her lunch box, she followed the electrical cords of all the appliances in the kitchen to their source, to understand where they plugged in.  Then she showed me how to use the microwave, a skill she picked up in school where they warm up their meals if need be.  "You just set the time and press this button, Mommy, easy peasy.  Why don't we use the microwave oven at home more often?"

When Raphaela was a baby, I could chart her progress through visible and substantial achievements, like walking or adding words to her vocabulary, or telling me that she wanted to walk into her nursery classroom by herself, because she was a "big girl now."

Her accomplishments these days are more subtle but no less exciting and impressive.

Right now, Raphaela has decided that when she grows up she wants to be an artist, a Zoo Keeper/Veterinarian, a dancer and a Mommy.  Nothing wrong with a little ambition, and I will surely be proud of her as long as she finds a path that brings her joy and satisfaction, and changes the world just a little.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Alarm radio in the background, it is not yet six am, and Raphaela wakes me up this morning:

"Mommy, the radio said that there are bad guys and Israeli soldiers, and that the Israeli soldiers will not get killed when they shoot the bad guys.  Maybe when all the bad guys are gone, my father can come home to us. I miss him and I want to show him how much I have grown."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

For the past few days, Raphaela and I have been trying to save a new black and white kitten in our garden, obviously abandoned by the mother.  We have been largely unsuccessful in teaching this kitten to do anything that would insure survival, like eating or drinking or bathing itself.

But we keep going, hoping the situation will change, and I know that this exercise is teaching Raphaela compassion.

Until this morning that is, when I went outside and found the kitten dead.  I don't know what I am going to tell Raphaela when she gets home from school today.  I am seriously waffling between sugar coating the whole story - "He went home to his Mommy." - or telling her the truth.

At some point in the relatively near future, we will have to deal with the death of a pet head on, as our cat Harry "The Highlander" is 13 and a half years old.

If I decide to tell her the truth, it will be a good lesson I suppose, though a harsh one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ear Piercing Adventures

In our family, it is a tradition to wait until the age of 12, until Bat Mitzvah, to get pierced ears.  That is what I tell Raphaela when she asks to get them pierced sooner, that it must be when you are aware enough and responsible enough to take care of the post-piercing procedures, by yourself.

My grandmother took me to get my ears pierced right before my Bat Mitzvah, at a jewelry store in Providence, Rhode Island.  My ten year old brother came with us and he was going through his "gun stage." He stood next to me and set the scene which left me crying, "They're using this cool gun and they are going to shoot your ear off and there is going to be blood  and body parts EVERYWHERE!"

Actually, this brother never outgrew his gun stage:  after years as a successful investment banker he became a beat cop, so he could legally carry guns and threaten people as an office of the law.  Not counting the 12 or so hunting rifles he keeps in his house.  He remembers that day because not long after we left the jewelry store, it got robbed.  My brother thinks that is really cool.

After I made aliyah, I decided that I needed to do a "Tikun" [a Hebrew Kabbalah term for spiritual repair] of that original experience.  So I went and got a third hole, which eventually closed up.  I remember when my mother saw the third earring, she started to hyperventilate and point, barely speaking, "Why you...you...have a third ear....ring!"

"Don't freak out Mom," I told her. "This has nothing to do with my sexuality, I still like boys. It's just a fashion statement in Israel, nothing more.  And I promise there are no earrings hiding on my belly button or my tongue or anywhere else. I am too afraid of pain to do something stupid like that."

Flash forward to this past September, when inexplicably, one of my earring holes closed up, in my right ear.  Confident it was just a minor glitch, I tried to push an earring through to reopen it, and there was lots of blood (but thankfully not body parts) everywhere.  So today I am going to get my ear re-pierced, as well as reopening the third piercing.

I am going to try to be brave.  Wish me luck.

Next Step for my Favorite Foodie

This morning I was running late, and I pushed both myself and Raphaela out of the house;  I don't like being late anywhere, and certainly I want Raphaela to arrive in a timely way to school.

About half way through our walk, I remembered that I had set aside part of Raphaela's lunch on the counter, and that I had not put it in her lunch box.  Turns out, my daughter took care of it all by herself.

I told Raphaela how proud I felt that she was taking responsibility, how amazed I was at how much she had grown and how aware she had become of her surroundings.  "At this rate", I exclaimed, "you will be making your own lunches every morning."

Raphaela smiled broadly and straightened her back, so pleased to be offered a 'Mommy job' and truly feeling her grown-up First Grade-ness.  "Amazing," she mused. "I will get to decide what kind of lunch I eat, if it's dairy or meat, if it needs to be heated up or not."

I could already hear her menu planning in her head.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Caught in the Middle of a War and my Profession

I have several Arab/Palestinian patients, though they don't come in for treatment on a regular basis.

During this time in Israel where any Arab could potentially pull a knife on any Jew, anywhere in Israel,  I had not thought about the implications on my work, until this morning.  A Palestinian patient of mine who works for the United Nations called and said that he needed an emergency appointment.

I know him.  I have treated him over the years, and in the sense that I am mostly a good judge of character, he has in the past not seemed like the kind of person who would stab his Jewish doctor.

(NOTE:  Most of the Palestinians who have been actively involved in terror attacks have come from East Jerusalem, they are Israeli-Arabs with a fair amount of wealth and are gainfully employed, fully enjoying the benefits the Israeli life has to offer.)

On the other hand, when I am taking all sorts of precautions in my life, and in the life of my daughter, a part of me went into a panic when he asked to schedule.  I have sworn an oath as a doctor to help all humans, regardless of race, religion or color.  But what good am I to anyone, especially my own child, if I let this person into the office and he ends up hurting me, or killing me?

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Reality from Jerusalem, Israel

I am not going to delve into the political, historical and religious underpinnings of the current Blood Libel/Pogrom/Intifada that is currently taking place all over Israel, compounded by the irresponsible and frankly, ridiculously biased treatment of Israel by the American administration, the United Nations and the international media.

I am not going to describe how I feel as a parent, dropping my daughter off at school every day, terrified and wondering if the one armed security guard is actually capable of protecting anyone, as he cannot be in all places at the same time.

Today I spoke to Raphaela's First Grade teacher and asked her if the girls seem to be affected in terms of focus or fears by the events of the past two weeks.  She explained that they had a brief discussion in class, in which they clarified that there are good people and bad people in the world;  they talked about how parents might be asking them to be more aware and more careful, and how maybe it is not the best time to ride on your bike alone and far away from the house these days.

Her teacher explained that she purposely held this forum right before the morning prayers, to emphasize that there is only so much that we can control, only so much that their parents can do to be extra-careful, and that through prayer we put our faith in a higher power, one that is meant to protect us and bring us comfort in the bigger picture.  Thankfully, Raphaela's teacher reported that most of the girls seem to be clueless and as happy-go-lucky as ever.

For my own part, I have not shared the gory and scary details with Raphaela.  She knows that there are people out there today who do not want what is best for Jews, just as there has been throughout our history:  Nimrod (who tried to kill Abraham), Pharaoh (who enslaved and tried to kill the Jewish people), Haman (who tried to wipe out all the Jews under the rule of Persia), Babylon (who destroyed the Temple and exiled most of the Jews from Israel),  Hitler (The Shoah, six million Jews and several other million non-Jews), Idi Amin (Raphaela learned the story of Operation Entebbe), Arabs etc.

As far as Raphaela is concerned, this current state of undeclared war is just a continuation of history, "so let's go to the zoo." Except that the zoo is a wide open space and full of potential targets, so I as a parent do not feel comfortable taking her there. Instead, we have scheduled lots of indoor play dates.  These days we don't dally before and after errands, we do what we must and get home as quickly as possible. 

These days, the streets of Jerusalem are pretty empty, and there is a small canister of pepper spray hiding inside my pocket book.

On the way back from the supermarket this week, five police vans zoomed past us in the other direction of traffic toward one of the multiple attacks of the day, sirens blazing, and my heart sank. I sighed visibly, and Raphaela asked me what was wrong.  I replied that there was lots of traffic, and that I just wanted to get home safely.

The other day, picking up Raphaela from school, a little girl from her class and her older sister seemed to be scared and confused, because the building was closing for the day and their parents were not there yet.  "Don't worry," said her older sister, "we will just walk home by ourselves." I would not allow it, I called their mother and told her that they were coming with me, and that they could stay with us as long as they needed to.

Last night, as Raphaela sat in the bath tub, we could hear the endless stream of helicopters and police and ambulances outside.  Raphaela said, "Oh, so many sirens! Maybe someone is really really sick.  Or maybe a woman is about to give birth and she has to get to the hospital really quickly."

I am OK with that level of denial for now, she's only six years old.  One of us has to sleep at night.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Overheard and observed, while Raphaela was playing and having a conversation with her imaginary brother:

"I wish I could be as smart as you, Raphaela!"
"My brother, unfortunately you're just not that bright."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Who's on First...Grade

As we were getting ready for school this morning, while I was putting on make up and getting dressed, and Raphaela was packing her back pack.  So, I wasn't really paying attention, as we were in separate rooms in the house, and I wanted to stay on schedule.

Then came a call from far away, which made my Mommy Spidey Senses tingle:

"Mommy, I forgot because I wasn't really paying attention in class yesterday and no one wrote it down for us, but we need two new notebooks.  I think one for art and one for, um, something else."

"You mean besides the notebooks and the art pad that we already bought at the beginning of the year?"

"I don't really remember what they look like."

"Well how can I buy them for you if you don't remember and cannot give me any reasonable explanation of what you need?"

"The teacher said, that those who have it 'Good job' and those who don't, have to get it."

"Are you one of the children who has it?  And again, what is 'it'?"

"I don't think so.  It's two notebooks, you know, notebooks!"

"Raphaela, did you know that there are 20 different types of notebooks, all shapes and sizes, in the store? If you actually need something, you and your teacher are going to have to be more specific.  I can't work this way."

"The kids who didn't have them yesterday, need to bring them in today."

"Bring it WHAT?"

"I don't know."

(I think, in addition to losing my voice, I gained a few gray hairs this morning.)

One hour later, after clarification with other parents on whatsapp, I finally understood that I needed to send in two new workbooks, that were in fact sitting at home. After hastily applying plastic covers and name tags, I drove them over to her school before my work day began.

Furthermore, in my asking about this confusion on the whatsapp group, I seem to have sparked a revolution of sorts, with various other parents replying that the system needs to be revised, as their girls forgot as well.  At least I wasn't the only one, it makes me feel,better about my parenting skills.

Deep Thoughts with RR

Today's Topic:  Friendships

RR:  Mommy, are the friends that I have now going to be my friends for the rest of my life?
Mom:  Not necessarily.  People go to different schools or move to a different town or even a different country.  You lose touch with your friends even if you don't want to.
RR:  So you can keep some old friends and make some new ones.
Mom:  Definitely, it is the natural evolution of people and relationships.
RR:  Mommy, who are your friends?
Mom:  Some of my older friends live in America, and some of my friends are here in Israel.  I have only one friend whom I have known since we were babies, and she lives here in Jerusalem.  My best friend when I lived in New York was a girl named Beth, and I don't know what she is doing now or where she lives.
RR:  No, what I mean is, who are your friends besides ME?
Mom:  You're right, I am your Mommy and I love you and I am also your friend.  But first I am your Mommy.
RR:  When did we first become friends?
Mom:  When you were growing in my tummy.  As you know, I chose to have you, and I loved you as soon as you became an idea in my head.
RR:  What did we do together as friends, when I was inside your tummy?
Mom:  Well, I used to play you music, and read you stories, and talk to you, a lot.  You went where ever I went, since you were inside me.
RR:  What stories did I like?
Mom:  I read you Dr. Seuss "Green Eggs and Ham," and the poem Jabberwocky. I had them both memorized by the time you were born.
RR:  And we will be friends forever and ever?
Mom: I will always love you.

Post script:  It must be said that until I graduated from high school, I saw it as some kind of personal failure if a friendship de-evolved;  I am glad to have had this conversation with my daughter at a younger age.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Observing the World At Six

One of the most amazing and more subtle elements of parenting is watching your child understand the world in a deeper, wider and more abstract way.

Raphaela and I had a conversation about Oscar the Grouch, from Sesame Street.  She asked me how he can walk if he is stuck in a garbage can, and where does he keep all his things.  And most important, how does Oscar go to the bathroom?

I explained that Oscar the Grouch's garbage can utilizes Time Lord technology, IE that it is "bigger on the inside." Just like the Doctor has bedrooms and a swimming pool in his TARDIS, Oscar has all the room he needs in his garbage pail home.  The explanation sat perfectly with Raphaela.

Later that day, we were reading the children's classic, "Go Dog Go," a work of literature that talks about Geopolitics, diversity and Dating Protocol underneath its simple exterior.  Raphaela asked me why the girl dog always seems to be angry at the boy dog, after he says, "I do not like that hat...Goodbye!"

Raphaela observed, "I mean, it's just a hat. Who cares if he doesn't like it?"

I explained that when the girl dog asks the boy dog if he likes her hat, what she is really asking is, "Do you like me?" And when the boy dog says he does not like the hat, but then takes a souvenir from said hat, the girl dog gets angry because the boy dog does not have enough courage to say he likes her.  And it doesn't seem to matter if these dogs meet on the street, at the ski Chalet, or at the Big Dog Party.

I also take the opportunity to point out that it is OK and in fact laudable that the girl dog takes the initiative in talking to (and asking out) the boy dog.

Of course at the end of the book, at the Big Dog Party, the girl dog is wearing the most fancy and beautiful and tempting hat the boy dog has ever seen.  Then the boy dog can say with gusto, "Oh yes, I do like that hat. I like that party hat."

When Raphaela asked me why the girl dog got into the boy dog's car and they drove away together after his enthusiastic response, I told her they were having a "hmm...play date." 

It's a little early for the sex talk, I think.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Future Astronaut

Because I will never get to fulfill my desire to become an astronaut, I remain a proud space geek.  When signs of water were recently discovered on Mars, I excitedly explained this scientific news to Raphaela; where there is water, there is life, and it makes the place practically suitable for humans.

RR:  Why would we want to live on Mars?
Mom:  At the rate that we are going, we are going to need to move to another planet.
RR:  [basically unfazed] Why?
Mom:  We pollute the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the earth in which we grow our food.   Lots of Israelis throw litter on the street. We inject our meat with hormones and then we wonder why we have to work harder to stay healthy.  Al Gore says the planet will be uninhabitable in the year 2050.
RR:  But I love Israel and planet Earth!
Mom:  So do I, but human beings are not treating it so nicely.
RR:  Very well then, we will have to use the water on Mars, and build a house there, and bring a lulav and etrog.  And maybe some of our books and toys.  We need to build a synagogue as well, even though we can talk to God anywhere we like.
Mom:  Sounds like a plan.
RR:  But wait [here comes the panic], does Mars have volcanoes like Earth?
Mom:  I am sure there are some, as Mars is a rock and soil planet like Earth, just with lesser gravity and less access to sunlight.
RR:  Oh, that's not good at all...they are going to have clear out those volcanoes before we go to live there.  Not good at all!
Mom:  Volcanoes are somewhat unpredictable, they don't know exactly when it will erupt.
RR:  Well then, we should invent a cap that we can put on top of all the volcanoes, so the magma will stay inside and not become lava and destroy our colony.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Happy Tears

Though I am not usually one to praise organized religion, I must give credit to the local custom for Simchat Torah [literally translated as "The Joy of the Torah"].

We went to the synagogue down the road from our house, and half her class was there;  she immediately ran off with some of her friends and had me hold the Torah plush toy, which she and many other children in the building had brought to the festivities.

This day of the last day of the Succot holiday specifically celebrates endings and beginnings, the end of the Five Books and the beginning of the cycle with the reading of Genesis.  At a certain point, all the children in the synagogue are invited to stand under the tallit [prayer shawl] and get a blessing, and a prominent gentleman of the synagogue reads from the Torah.

I watched these proceedings from the Women's Section upstairs, and the view made me gasp:  you could not see the floor of the Men's Section as children covered every square inch.  (Like ants at a picnic.)  They sat in chairs and next to the reader and on the stage next at the front of the synagogue, almost 200 little people.

Before you praise their maturity and piety, let me add that they had been promised that if they behaved nicely, they would all receive a three-foot high bag of candies and treats, so these beautiful children had much incentive.

It took five men's tallit to cover the area and the heads of all the children, they said the blessing as a group and listened to the Torah reading, and then the parents sang a special prayer asking G-d and the angels to lead, guide and protect their offspring.

It moved me to tears, this idea of community and continuity, seeing a whole generation before my eyes, the next generation of Israeli children who will lead the way and change the world.

When Raphaela received the ginormous bag of candy as promised, she was moved to tears, "happy tears," as well.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Brief Comment on Middle East Politics

There are terrible things happening in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas right now, with three different terrorist attacks occurring in the last 24 hours.  Senseless violence that has left 14 children orphaned, while Abbas stands at the United Nations and declares that Israel will pay in blood.

Then media outlets like the BBC have the most absurd headlines, implying that the Israelis killed a Palestinian for no good reason, while coincidentally at the same exact time two Jewish men were stabbed to death in the same location in the Old City of Jerusalem by a mysterious someone. Barney the Dinosaur perhaps?  But certainly not the Arab holding the knife right next to their bodies and the body of a small Jewish baby.

The New York Times barely covered the murders, making vague reference within the context of the poor suffering Palestinians.  Wouldn't it have been rational to point out that after Oregon, there were no groups celebrating death and terror in the streets? Do the Americans remember the Palestinian festivities after 9/11?

When the Iranian regime screams "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" in front of the cameras, when they promise to use their first nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, we Israelis are told that they "don't really mean it."  We, apparently, who live in daily fear for our land and our children, are "over-reacting," and have no right to defend ourselves against an existential threat.

These Arabs are not terrorist, they say, they are "freedom fighters." They deserve to have a flag fly at the United Nations, and they deserve to voice their solid commitment to slaughtering Jews in Israel, because they have suffered so.  No one mentions that there are 22 other Arab states in the region, and NONE OF THEM have offered to take them in or assist them.  No one mentions that most of the Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli rule, rather their own people, because they know that Israel would not put missiles in their living rooms and their schools and their hospitals, and use their families as human shields.

I am not a politician, I am an American and I am an Israeli,  who chose to raise a family here, build a life here.  Personally I am tired of the rest of world telling us to roll over and play dead, no actually, be dead, because it makes it more convenient for the rest of them.

It is time we took care of our own without being afraid of the rest of world, because the rest of world wants us gone.
One of the nice aspects of Raphaela's class at Evelyna is the fact that many of her friends live quite literally down the street.

Yesterday, we met one of her friends on a walk, and the girls ran off together to play. Next thing I know she is inviting her self over to their house (Succah) for Shabbat lunch, and several hours later, she returned home, accompanied by her friend's father.  I was involved in approximately zero of these arrangements for a play date.

As well, Raphaela went on and on about the delicious lasagna she ate, and how from now on when I make the same dish she will not reject it.  Lasagna is her new favorite food, and she made particular notice of the fact that she did not "give up" easily and was willing to try something new.  At someone else's house.

I think we experienced an important milestone while I wasn't paying attention.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Random Day on Vacation in Jerusalem

On the bus this morning, to get Raphaela's new eye glasses, from the center of town

"Mommy, when you were pregnant, did you wish for a boy or a girl baby?"
"Actually I wanted a girl."
"Because I think that girls have more options:  they can be strong and compassionate.  They can be an astronaut or a ballet dancer, without getting judged by society."
"And look at that Mommy, you got your wish, G-d gave you a girl." [Pause for dramatic effect] "Look who is sitting next to you!" [Another pause] "And I am funny too."


On the way back from town, I suggested that instead of taking the bus home, we should walk, because I felt the need to move, and the swerving of the busses on Jerusalem roads make me nauseous.  I assured Raphaela that it would be easy, because it was downhill all the way home.

We played the Jewish version of "punch buggy," calling out Succot as passed them.

Then we happened to pass by the President's House, and there happened to be a Succot Open House.  Since we didn't have firm vacation plans until the afternoon, we went in and toured the grounds, made a decoration for the President's Succah, drank blue slushies and hung out on his extensive lawn. 

To top it all off, Raphaela got to shake President Ruby Rivlin's hand.

The best times happen when you are not planning or paying attention.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Big Question

"Mommy, you know everything, don't you?"
"No, I don't!"
"Well, what don't you know?"
[Pause, while I decide whether to go into the psychological aspect of growth and change, that I could do better in personal relationships or in setting priorities in my life, or in aiming higher and dreaming bigger.]
"Well, I have no idea how to diagnose or repair problems in the car. I always wanted to learn that."
"What else don't you know?"
[Pause, deciding whether to make this a deep moment in Raphaela's life.]
"I can cook well, but I am not skilled at baking.  Cookies and cakes and things like that, they just don't turn out right."
[Opportunity missed.]

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Blood Moon Eclipse

This morning, at five am, I woke Raphaela and we went outside for an unobstructed view of the Super Blood Moon Eclipse, an astronomical event that will only repeat in the year 2033.  Together we watched the moon transition from full and bright to obscured and grey, with only the faintest hint of light somewhere in the sky.

Succot is one of my favorite of Jewish holidays, because it opens the possibilities of reconnecting with family and friends, and with nature.  Raphaela and I certainly had quality time as we watched the eclipse, and I enjoyed her inquisitive mind as we shivered slightly in the chill of early morning Jerusalem air.

We also learned something new and vaguely alarming about wild life in Jerusalem:  a large jackal walked around the streets in our area, hunting several street cats as we watched,  and completely unafraid of our human presence.

On a completely different note, who thinks that "Super Blood Moon Eclipse" would be a fabulous title for a terrible science fiction movie?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oh Unto Us a Child is Born

Happy sixth birthday my beautiful girl.  May you be blessed in all that you are, may you always experience health and joy and love, and I can't wait to see how you change the world.

Let the festivities begin with her Hebrew birthday, continuing into next week with her English birthday; the more celebration of life and its wonderment, the better.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids

When I was in the supermarket this week, I was hungry.  Never go food shopping when you are hungry. 

As a result, I brought home a sugar cereal instead of the healthier option of corn flakes.  Just looking at the box brought back all sorts of lovely childhood memories, as well as memories of Sunday morning breakfasts in college, one of the best periods in my life.

When I offered it to Raphaela this morning, her eyes went wide, her smile went even wider, and she said, "I must have been very good to deserve this!"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Good Vibrations

This morning while walking to school, a middle-aged Russian woman gave Raphaela and me a huge smile.  She proceeded to come over to Raphaela and hug her and kiss her on the head, exclaiming what a grown-up beautiful girl she is, and blessing her for the new year.

I have no idea who this woman is, but thank you. (I hasten to add that this would only happen in Israel.)

Later in the morning while I was doing local errands before work, a random elderly gentleman asked me why my "little girl" wasn't with me.  I explained that she had started first grade and was in fact in school.  "Oh my," exclaimed the man, "I remember her when she was just a baby!" And he too proceeded to heap wonderful blessings upon my daughter.

Raphaela has her Hebrew birthday on Sunday, and she has been announcing it to the world.  Apparently the Universe is joining the celebrations, and sending all these angels to add to joy of the day and the event.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Princess Charlotte and the Duchess

In May, when Princess Charlotte was born to Kate Middleton, Raphaela insisted upon writing her a letter and drawing her a picture.  Raphaela dictated to me, "Mazal tov! I hope that George and Charlotte will play nicely together."

I immediately mailed it out, and actually did not expect any sort of response;  I assumed that the Duchess of Cambridge would be receiving letters and  good wishes from all over the globe, and would not bother to respond to each individually.

I was wrong, and today Raphaela received a letter from the Duchess (her personal secretary) along with a photo of the happy family after Princess Charlotte's christening.  My daughter of course was thrilled, because Kate is our personal princess, the woman who is the sole reason that Raphaela will agree to wear warm weather clothing when it is cold outside.

Color me impressed.

(Compare this experience to Disney, the supposed experts in Princess marketing:  Raphaela wrote a letter to Elsa and Anna, and didn't even get a generic post card in return.)
When I was in fourth grade, the boys in the class wanted to torture the girls, and told us that Judy Blume was dead.  Our favorite author at the time, we girls immediately wrote to her publisher and asked if this was true.  I remember to this day receiving a letter from Judy Blume, in which she reassured us that she was not dead, and that she would be continuing to write for many years to come.  The author also sent us (just the girls) an autographed photo, and I still have it in my keepsake box.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This morning Raphaela put on a necklace to wear to school, and she informed me that it was "magical."

When I asked her to explain the magic, she said that magic helps people be kind to each other.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Don't Go to Bed Angry

Yesterday was one of THOSE days.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I worked straight through the next eight hours, with no break for lunch.  Some of my clients were charming as usual, and some were...difficult.  My final patient said she wanted to give me "constructive advice," explaining that she felt she would better get her money's worth if she paid me by the minute instead of my standard fee.  After admitting that in fact I had helped her tremendously and that my services were worthwhile, she could not understand why I would take some offence at her suggestion.  I told her that if she wanted to try out another practitioner that was more "frugal," she was more than welcome, and I showed her the door; she finally understood the implications, and lay quietly on the table while I treated her, and paid the full price.

But I was not happy.

Straight from school, Raphaela and I drove to the supermarket, sitting in the traffic of the Thursday afternoon shoppers, only to find that we did not have a parking space once we got to the store, and that the supplies had been ravaged by the holiday shoppers for Rosh HaShanah.

In Raphaela's enthusiasm to press the elevator button, she practically trampled a little old lady.  Startled, this woman started shrieking at my daughter; I instructed Raphaela to apologize, explaining that even if it was an accident, she needed to help this elderly woman calm down.  As soon as the elevator opened, Raphaela dashed into the parking lot and almost got run over by a car.

I was not happy.

When we got home, we went to the library and then looked at her homework assignments.  Which she didn't take seriously at all, scribbling on the pages and covering over the words.  I tried my best to explain that she needed to sit down and focus.  More stress between us and meanwhile, I had not eaten breakfast or lunch, and had reached my limit.

I was not happy.

The evening only degenerated from there, to the point that Raphaela went to bed angry at me, because I was angry at the world.  I had a small glass of red wine, and instead of helping me rest, it somehow woke up my brain and all those hostilities that had accumulated from the day.  So I started cleaning the house for Shabbat, watched a terrible movie on cable and finally fell asleep at midnight.

This morning, at six am, some random person yelled at me for feeding the street cats.

Then the great search for the weekend newspaper began. On a hunch, I knocked on the door of the neighbor with severe dementia, and indeed, she had scooped up all the papers for every resident in the building ( five in all) and was reading them happily.  Having sorted out the pile of crumpled sheets, I delivered each paper to its rightful owner in the building.

Of course, because Raphaela wanted to show me that we had not resolved the issues from the day before, she said to me, "I don't like your kisses and I will never snuggle with you again. Ever again."  She will say much worse as she gets older, I know.

On a normal day, I would deal with this rationally, understanding where the intentions originated.  Today it struck deep, and I told her that she had hurt my feelings and made me sad, and that I needed alone time.  Raphaela brought me a tissue but did not apologize.

Neither of us were happy, and that mood lasted all the way on our walk to school; whereupon I felt guilty because this fight would affect her focus in her classes.

I had planned on exercising today, but instead did the ten or so errands that I did not manage to finish yesterday.  All before school pick-up at 11:50.    I saw a friend on the street, she told me with admiration  that it must be challenging to be  be a single mother;  that every day is what she called a Zero Sum Game.

I replied that I wish it were Zero Sum, I am way in the Negative End Zone at the moment.

I  am not happy and would also like to cry, and get this out of my body and out of my system, but my schedule will not allow it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rosh HaShanah

This year we attended synagogue both days, for the sounding of the shofar and because so many of Raphaela's friends from school seem to attend this particular place of worship. (Instant play date, yay!)  Additionally, it is located oh so conveniently three doors away from our building.

Before the blowing of the shofar, they lay out several tables of all the most classic/salty/unhealthy Israeli junk food that exists in the market.  Plus cakes and lollipops and Coca Cola, in case you didn't have enough variations of bisli, bamba and wafers.

On the first day, Raphaela filled her cup, and went back for second and fourths and sixth helpings.  I was almost embarrassed at a certain point, I could feel the disapproving stares of the other mothers who I am sure thought that I never feed my daughter. Anything.

At one point one woman came over to me and said, "I am guessing that you don't stock up on these things at home." Relieved that I was receiving the benefit of the doubt, I replied, "We have some basic treats, like chocolate and cookies, but nothing this unhealthy crosses the threshold into our house."

"Don't worry," this woman continued. "She seems like a self-assured and happy child, and when it comes to the Jewish holidays, give up any control you think you have over the engorging of junk food."

She continued, "As my saintly father of blessed memory used to say, 'Better a visit to the dentist than a stint on the psychologist's couch.'""

And to add to the party, the youth group also awarded the kids lollipops and marshmallows.  I prayed (in the spirit of the season) that Raphaela would come to her own conclusions, with a little help from a stomach ache.

Needless to say, on the second day in synagogue Raphaela showed a little more restraint, without any encouragement from me.  She even chose to eat dates over toffee.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

For a Good Year

Today Raphaela and I went to the Old City of Jerusalem for our annual pilgrimage before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.  As always, it did not disappoint.

On the way into the Jewish Quarter, we passed a man bearing the cross, quite literally.  He held a seven foot high cross over his shoulder, as part of a Christian group visiting Jerusalem.

Every time a tourist group from China passed us (and there were many), Raphaela would shout out one of the three words we know in Chinese - Grandfather, Snow, Thank You - and kept showing disappointment when they did not respond to her attempts to communicate in their native tongue.

Along the way, Raphaela was put in charge of distributing the charity coins to all who asked, and she performed enthusiastically.

At the Kotel [Wailing Wall] we saw a group Native American women, in full regalia of feathers and ceremonial drums, praying together, amongst the other women. 

When I asked Raphaela about her private prayers at the Wall, she said she only needed a short time to put in her requests, because she asked for a father.  Then she looked at me and said in an almost otherworldly voice, "Surely there are good men out there who deserve a chance for your love?" I have come to the conclusion that in that moment, she was channeling my grandmother, for whom she was named.  Because magical things happen at this time of the Jewish calendar.

We met up with some cousins and ate ice cream, and on our journey out of the Old City, we saw a lone man carrying an abnormally large blue flag, demanding the return of the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

Raphaela and I wish everyone a year of light and blessings, a year of adventure and variety, a year of building beautiful memories.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This One's On Me

Raphaela has now officially had two weeks of First Grade, and overall, seems to be enjoying the experience.  She has not quite grasped the idea that she does not want too much homework, and has been purposely not completing tasks during class time, so we can have that quality (stressful) time together at home.  I am trying to communicate to her that homework is not good for our relationship.

The only task she found frustrating this week was computer class:  they had time to draw a picture on screen and she told me that it "did not come out right" because she couldn't control the mouse.

Well of course, because I perhaps spend all of ten minutes on the computer every day, and when we are home together, we do play;  with dolls or art projects or reading books, but the computer never gets turned on.  Part of this has been an active choice, I believe in old-fashioned play, and part of it probably stems from the fact that I am a Luddite by nature.

Watching her frustration, however, I must get beyond my own issues with modern technology and admit that her generation was born with an iPhone in their hands; and that without proper comfort and training in computers, I am leaving my daughter at a disadvantage.

It hit me more a few days ago when she had a play date, and the first thing her new friend asked was whether we had any good computer games.

So now, every day, I set aside a half hour every day for computer play time. I have found two good free sites with games and coloring pages (nickjr and pbskids/Dr Suess) and I am forcing Raphaela to get comfortable with the mouse.  Forcing in a fun kind of way, because it is good for her.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Money Game

When you hear the phrase, "Education in Israel is Free," don't drink the Kool Aid.

Yes, it is most definitely true that compared to equivalent Jewish educational options in the United States, the system here is practically free.  But there is always the fee to cover the extra activities that the city budget does not supply, plus the extra payment for the glorified baby sitting [Tzaharon] to keep your child in school until four pm, and the fees for extra-curricular classes that take place on the school premises or elsewhere during the year.  And school books and uniforms and extra-special class trips...you get the idea.

Since Raphaela has started First Grade, I have had more homework than she;  they send home a new form daily for the parents to fill out, because it would have made no sense to give us all this paperwork at once, in a single package.  In addition, they have included the requisite requests for donations, toward the recent refurbishing of the playground area, or for the scholarship fund for needy families within the school population.

If I had several million dollars at my disposal, I would be happy and eager to sponsor an entire wing of the school.  I can remember from my own elementary and high school experience that the parents who had "real money" and not only built new classrooms but also served on the board, their children got special treatment.  It was obvious to me then that money talks, even when the intention comes solely from a place of good,  and giving purely for the sake of giving.

However, I am a single parent with no trust fund (that I know of), and most months of the year I can stay on budget.  Some months of the year, for example the upcoming period of Jewish holidays at the beginning of the Hebrew calendar, I barely work, and I put much effort into not going into a tailspin of panic.  Myself, and in fact most parents in Israel, married single or otherwise.

I will give when I can, because I actually do want to invest in my child's future, and I am truly impressed with the investment this staff and this school has already made into my daughter.  I hope that it is not held against me that I do not at the moment have as deep pockets as I would like.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Thar She Blows

Probably because of early exposure to the concept through Dora the Explorer, Raphaela has a fascination/fear with the phenomenon of volcanoes.  She has asked the question more times than I can count, "Do we or anyone we love live near an active volcano?" In response I found a current map of active volcanoes online, printed it out for her, and we reference it often.

To our friends in Singapore, she asked me to write them an email, clarifying the issue, to which they graciously responded, "We do not live near an active volcano.  Don't worry Raphaela, we will stay safe."

While I have not ridiculed her mild obsession, I try to down play the potential ripple;  I want Raphaela living in joy in the present, not worrying about what natural disasters could afflict us in the future.  Living in Israel, the life-and-death cloud hangs over us, a constant reminder that we are surrounded by 22 Arab states that want to wipe us off the map. My daughter doesn't need another potential enemy from Mother Nature or the Mayan Armageddon.

However, the teacher has become the student.

Yesterday I had a new patient, a visiting scientist from southern Italy.  In the process of the medical intake interview, I found this question slipping out of my mouth:  "Do you live near an active volcano?" (According to our volcano map, Italy is chock full of potential lava danger.)

I know that Raphaela would have been proud of me in that moment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

And So It Came To Be

Monday Night

8:00 pm,  Raphaela goes to sleep, leaving her back pack right next to her pillow
11:45 pm, After watching a movie, reading a few chapters of my book and drinking a small glass of wine, I fall asleep.

Tuesday, First Day of School

2:00 am,  Raphaela comes into my bedroom, wide awake, and asks, "What are you doing?" I answer, "I am sleeping."
5:30 am, Raphaela wakes me up, gets dressed by herself, and puts on her back pack.  The back pack does not come off.
6:00 am, Rapheala informs me that her sport shoes are too small for her, and indeed she is correct; her toes can be felt at the tip of the sneakers. Because of my background in the Jewish Girl Scouts, I have a pair for her that is the next size up, and some lucky person will basically be getting a new pair of girl's shoes.
7:30 am, We feed the street cats and I throw out the garbage, and we head out for the first day of First Grade.  I show Raphaela various markers along the route (a big rock, twin trees, a small forest, a tunnel) so that when she is older, she will have no problem walking to school with her friends.
7:45 am, We are greeted by the principal at the front gate, and see lots of different families we know from the neighborhood and from previous incarnations of Gan.  Raphaela goes to her classroom and sits in the front row.
Then another little girl comes and sits next to her, and her parents explain that she is an English speaker, and that her name is Elsa.  This is starting out well, thank you G-d for small and large miracles.  Of note, there are three angel-like names in the class - Raphaela, Michaela and Gabriella - so there will lots of divine energy in the room.
8:00 am, Raphaela's teacher arrives and my daughter kicks me out the door. I join a group of parents staying right outside the classroom and all of lamenting, "I am so emotional.  I don't want to go."
8:20 am, I drop off all the charitable donation items at Raphaela's Gan from last year. Several of the parents look at me funny and say, "Didn't your daughter move on?" Yes she did.
Walking home to get ready for work, I realize that I am exceptionally sweaty and it is not all that hot in Jerusalem.  It must be the nervous excitement.
12:45, Early pick up from school as it is the first day.  The teacher is running a little late, which causes the next cascade of homework issues.
13:15 pm, We get home and Raphaela takes out her folder, with one page for the parents to fill out, and a letter for the parents from the principal.  When I ask Raphaela if she has any other homework, she says that she has forgotten, and then gets impatient with me for asking. 
We are going to have to come up with a system for this.
So I call the mother of one of the girls in her class, who was also in her Gan class last year.  She laughs and explains that this teacher purposely does not tell the parents about assignments, because she wants the girls to take responsibility for themselves.  The teacher is fully cognizant that it means that some homework will be forgotten at the beginning of the year.  But apparently tonight there is no problem, nothing more to do.
As soon as I hung up, the phone rang and it was another mother who had the exact same discussion /argument with her daughter, and was unclear as to whether there was more homework.  We laughed at our situation as newbies, and decided that we need to set up a whatsapp group to support each other and ask stupid questions.

With the last little bit of vacation remaining, Raphaela and I ate a quick lunch and went to the pool.
Tomorrow it's really real.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Final Countdown to First Grade

Last night, Raphaela and I went to Evelyna to meet her teachers and her classmates, making this transition all the more real. I was pleased with her Head Teacher (a woman who has a stellar reputation) and the fact that Raphaela knows 7/31 girls in her class,  from her previous years in Gan and from her English sessions.

Raphaela came home jazzed and motivated, and woke up at five am this morning because she wanted to "watch the sun rise."

[Trumpets and fanfare]  Today is officially Raphaela Day, a day during which I will not work, a day of preparation and celebration toward First Grade.

We started with a special breakfast at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens of pancakes and French toast with all the fixins, followed by the Farewell Tour of the Dinosaurs who have lived there all summer.  At the cafĂ©, I asked them privately to make Raphaela's breakfast "festive" and they slightly misunderstood;  they brought out her plate with a candle and started singing "Happy Birthday."

On the way home, we noticed that a new pet store had very recently replaced the video store on Herzog Street.  Animal lovers that we are, we had to check out this new business, and it turned into a full blown petting zoo experience.  The green parrot named Mitzi sat on our hand; we pet the rabbits; and observed the gerbil with her new babies,  these small red things the size of Bamba.  Then Raphaela and I had our intermittent discussion about when our 13 year old cat Harry might die, where we might get a new kitten and what kind of kitten toys we might buy for him/her.

Onto home, where we spent about 20 minutes organizing her backpack and school supplies, and covering her school workbooks with plastic covers.  We spent about an hour switching over her clothing dresser to school mode, adding in her uniform and weeding out clothing to be given to charity.  On the one hand, I am relieved that the routine of dressing in the morning has been infinitely simplified; on the other hand, she has some beautiful dresses and shirts that may never be worn again.

Then, almost inexplicably, my mind switched to Spring Cleaning mania.  Almost every drawer in the house was opened and emptied, the pile of charity donations grew, as well as several garbage runs.  I discovered in the process that I am more of a pack rat than I remembered, finding way many more bags, pillows, bathrobes and baseball caps than a normal human needs.

Though we had planned to go the pool this afternoon, instead we took a walk locally, running various small errands.  With everything packed and ready to go, other than her lunch which I will make in the morning, Raphaela eagerly took her bath and went to sleep on time.

Every time she said, "I am so excited for tomorrow," I simply smiled.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Idiot Box Baby Sitter and School Jitters

When I was pregnant, I swore that I would never use the television as a baby sitter, that only irresponsible and lazy parents stuck their kid in front of the Boob Tube instead of investing in one-on-one time with their children.

Most rules are made to be broken, and until now (in Raphaela's almost six years) I have used this tool sparingly.  That is until this past Great Summer Vacation.

Often, when we got back from the pool and we were both exhausted, it was easier to give her a snack and let her watch educational videos.  Worse, in the past week our baby sitter has canceled at the last minute several times on days when I needed her to keep Raphaela entertained while I worked with patients. (I know, time to get a new sitter.)

Given the ten minutes warning, I could not find a replacement, and so the Idiot Box did the job of keeping her sedated while I worked.  This morning, on the last day that the sitter was supposed to arrive, she canceled again.  I tried to arrange some version of a play date, but that failed.

So Raphaela came with me to my business meeting.  (Yup, that's real professional...)  And Raphaela stayed home in front of the television while I worked, with only minor interruptions to change the DVD or feed her.  (Feeling so professional and non-distracted now...)

To add to all this stress, I seem to be much more excited and nervous about First Grade than Raphaela.  I am manifesting all my classic signs of stress, the same ones that appeared in the past whenever I had a major exam (SATs, Chiropractic boards, pregnancy ultrasounds). I tossed and turned all last night, waking up every few hours. I have lost my appetite because of stomach cramps.  I have less serenity and more impatience running through me, not great for taking care of my daughter or my clients.

And I have shifted into major list-making mode.

It is times like this when I wish I had a spouse, or siblings, or parents with whom I could share this momentous occasion, someone who could perform some of the errands that need doing, someone who could tell me that it will all work out in the end.

Or at least a responsible adult who could watch Raphaela while I worked.  But as I have learned, even when others say they will help lessen my burden as a single parent, no matter how good their intentions, I am alone in the good, the bad and the ugly.