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."