Saturday, April 23, 2016

Deep Thoughts, the Pessach Edition

Every year Raphaela asks more advanced questions at the Seder, as her worldview widens.  Here are the top four issues addressed this weekend:

1. " I see they have the four boys, when do they address the four girls?"

Mommy thinks to herself:  I see I have a budding feminist in the house, though I can't say I am surprised.  I copped out on this one, simply saying that the language of the text addresses the subject in masculine, but the four sons really represent four different kind of children, boys and girls.

2.  "How does the evil son come about, if he was raised in a good family?"

What followed was a discussion about personal choice, and about how eventually a person makes their own path outside their family, and then has to take responsibility for their actions.  "A good person come out of a troubled family, and a bad person can come out of a perfectly beautiful childhood.  Not every Egyptian was bad to the Jews when they were slaves, just like not every Arab wants to hurt us because we are Israelis.  That's why we take away some of the wine when we recite the plagues, because all human beings are God's creations."

3.  "The animals, like the cows and sheep and goats, and the horses at the splitting of the Sea, why did they have to get punished when it was Pharaoh who was not letting the Jews leave?"  Asked Raphaela, the vegetarian.

My daughter had asked this question several years ago, and I admit that I didn't have a great answer then, nor did I have one last night.  Her current food choices only made this more concerning to her.  Someone else at the table explained to Raphaela that animals "exist to serve man and God" and that they were doing God's work by participating in the miracle of the ten plagues.  Secretly, I didn't buy that explanation.

4.  "How does the Prophet Elijah get all around the world in one night?  Does he actually visit everyone who is doing a Seder with their family, like even in France and America?"

I briefly explained the miraculous circumstances of the Elijah's non-death, and that God has given him the job of doing special assigments.  In a fun twist, my cousin (with whom we celebrated the Seder) had left a note from the Prophet Elijah at the doorway, so when Raphaela opened the door to invite him in, she received a pleasant and unexpected surprise. 

To me, the Seder should be about transmitting personal and communal values to the next generation, and I appreciated that all the adults at the table made the night a dramatic and almost magical adventure, geared toward the children.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Time of Memory Making

Pessach in Israel feels very much like Christmas  or Thanksgiving did in the United States:  it is impossible to find parking at any store or mall, there is way too much preoccupation with food; and people need extra sessions with their therapists, because of the emotional trauma of the Seder and the week long vacation IE lots of family time.

This time of the year I find myself becoming nostalgic, thinking about my grandparents who not only led Seder for many years, but also hosted the whole family (25 people, one shower, two toilets) in their New England home.  The boy cousins slept in army beds in the basement, the adults got actual bedrooms, and the few girl grandchildren were scattered on various floors.  Along with the usual dysfunctional family dynamics, it allowed me to know my cousins well, well enough that we are still in contact and still friends.

So many small things bring back the memories of those relatives, some now passed on and most of us scattered around the globe.

Yesterday was the last day of English Camp, and Raphaela came home tired and sad, already missing her teacher and the other children, including her "boyfriend."  Raphaela started crying, and as I comforted her, I couldn't help but think about my grandmother, for whom my daughter is named.  My Bubby hated saying good-bye, and I have this image in my head of boarding a train some time in college; as the train pulled away I could see my grandmother waving and crying, as if we would never see each other again.

Later in the evening, I had a dentist appointment at the mall to repair a cracked tooth; no Matza for me this year, yay!  Since Raphaela was officially on  vacation, she came with me.  It took 20 minutes to find a parking spot, we stalked shoppers leaving the building and practically ran them over, staking our claim.  I never like to arrive late, so we rushed straight to the doctor's office, but on the way out, we had to walk through the mall and the bustle of the pre-Pessach customers.

I have never liked shopping, especially during the holiday season, and wanted to just get to the car and leave. My daughter the Fashionista was fascinated by every store window, and insisted several times that we go into the store and find me a new dress for Pessach.  We failed in our mission, but her enthusiasm was running at a high, and let me tell you, she has very good (read: expensive) taste.

"My mother would love to shop with Raphaela, " I thought. "Too bad we live on different continents."  Because I spent most of my childhood and high school years moaning and groaning while my mother made me window shop with her.

Today, after I finished working, Raphaela and I went shopping, again.  (Have I mentioned that I dislike shopping?)  Our first stop was the shoe store, toward the purpose of getting Raphaela new socks for Spring/Summer.  Well, Raphaela saw a pair of the coolest, most fashionable sandals in the store and had to have them.  And yes, they look great on her and she has excellent taste.

Then we went to find me a new outfit for the holiday, and Raphaela became my style consultant.  "No, Mommy, that dress makes your tush look big." "Mommy, that dress is so boring, you need something with color, something light and fun."  "How about this shirt, Mommy, it would look beautiful on you!"  Today I did find something to spruce up my wardrobe and my mood.

It hit me that I have a real person with me, someone I love because she is my girl, but also because she is genuinely fun to have around.

Our last stop was the supermarket, the final food run before Pessach starts on Friday. Once again we waited 20 minutes for parking, and another 15 minutes to nab an available shopping cart.  We went through our list, adding extras only slightly, and when we came home, Raphaela helped me unpack the groceries.

I do feel truly blessed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Emergency Call

This morning while packing her lunchbox for camp, Raphaela was unable to find her water bottle. In fact I was unable to find a travel water bottle, anywhere in the house; I could've sworn that yesterday we had at least four.

Raphaela conjectured, "Maybe the nasty security people from the airport snuck into our house and took them all. You know how much they are afraid of water."

Then Raphaela picked up her imaginary phone and put it to her ear.  "Mommy, I am going to call the Water Bottle Police. Don't worry, I know their number. And if they don't pick up the phone, we can always Skype them."

(Different generation, different world...)

Thursday, April 14, 2016


This morning Raphaela and I went to the bakery and then walked around the neighborhood, as she has no school (since Tuesday) and no camp on Fridays.

I challenged her to an impromptu photo competition, she played around with my camera, and here is her final submission:

She has a good eye, and as she practices, I have no doubt she will only improve.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Tooth Fairy vs. The Prophet Elijah

Last night while I was brushing Raphaela's hair, her first tooth fell out.

It was a cause for great celebration and "happy tears" in our house, as this meant that she was really getting big and more important, it meant that the Tooth Fairy would be visiting our house in the night, after Raphaela fell asleep.

First thing Raphaela did was call her current BFF "N", upon which she got a five minute lecture from her friend that it is stupid to believe in the Tooth Fairy and that the real culprit is our mother or father.  Six and a half years old, and already so jaded...

Undaunted, Raphaela carefully wrapped her tooth and put it under her pillow.  Lo and Behold, when she woke up this morning her tooth had magically disappeared, and in its place, a note from the Tooth Fairy and a gift of ten New Israeli Shequel. (It was the smallest change the Tooth Fairy had on such short notice...)

"AHA!" Raphaela showed me, in triumph. "I guess N was wrong about the Tooth Fairy."

I took a picture of the new gap in her row of teeth, this milestone recorded for all posterity. 

I also noticed that she has another tooth pushing in quite aggressively already, I see that Raphaela inherited my compressed jaw.  Time to start saving for braces, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Raphaela is already anticipating the visit of our next mysterious and magical visitor, The Prophet Elijah, who will visit us the night of Seder and drink some wine while we are sleeping.  He might also leave Raphaela a gift and a note, if she finds the Afikoman, the hidden matza at Seder.

I just hope that Raphaela doesn't do a handwriting comparison between the Tooth Fairy and the Prophet Elijah.

As an afterthought, Santa Clause has his own song, don't you think the Tooth Fairy and the Prophet Elijah deserves one as well?

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Tree Grows in Jerusalem, A Metaphor

Every year shortly before Pessach, Raphaela and I sort through her clothing and toys, and decide what she has outgrown.  Then, while Raphaela is in school (so as to avoid needless trauma), I donate the items to worthy places in the neighborhood.

The puzzles and books go to Raphaela's former nursery school, because at age three they helped my daughter recover remarkably quickly from her previous damaging child care environment.  Within a week of starting this new nursery, Raphaela had transitioned from a quiet mouse to a talkative, happy and glowingly positive toddler, and I will never be able to thank them sufficiently for that.

When I walked up to this building yesterday, I could not help but smile.  There in the upper courtyard grew a strong and healthy tree, a sapling that had been planted on Tu BiShvat the year that Raphaela attended nursery there, over three years ago.

I snuck inside the classroom and embraced her two teachers, and they inquired about Raphaela, the girl she is today:  "Does she still tell stories all the time?"  "Does she still radiate love and give hugs?"  "Does she have a beautiful group of friends?"  "How is she enjoying first grade?"

Like that tree, Raphaela has become a complete personality, with strong roots and opinions, and constantly amazing me every day with her warmth and insight.  And I am grateful every day.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thicker Skin

This past Friday when I went to pick up my daughter from school, I was standing with a mother whose child has been in the same class as Raphaela for the last few years.  When the girls came out, I gave Raphaela a hug and then a quick hug also to her friend.

"I love these girls," I said to the mother, "especially the ones I have known since they were little."

Raphaela's friend interjected, "That's right, when Raphaela started in nursery and she didn't have any friends, I played with her anyway."

In the past, I have been accused of being too sensitive or quick to get my feelings hurt.  Living in Israel has given me a thicker skin.  Being a Mom has given me a whole new set of life lessons in coping.

So instead of taking this very honest little girl personally, I processed in my head:  "I am not a bad mother," I assured myself. "Raphaela did have social anxiety issues when she was younger.  We have moved beyond that now. Yay!"

Once I finished my internal dialogue, I turned to Raphaela's friend and said, "But we're bigger now, right? And now we are past that whole shyness thing, right?"

Both girls nodded their heads enthusiastically, and we all walked home together.