Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bathtub Bands

My kids are constantly reminding me that there is life outside of today’s news. My big boys can’t be sheltered. They follow the news more closely than do I (for better or for worse) and they know through Whatsapp, Facebook and everywhere else what’s happening every second.

We check in with them and make sure they are doing as well as can be expected. We try to process together and to keep their fears at bay as much as is realistic.

But the little guys.

Well, the little guys don’t have a clue that anything is happening in Israel right now. And that’s the way I hope it remains.

I remember when we first made Aliyah 11 years ago and were fresh to Israeli culture. A terrorist attack occurred one morning and we went back and forth about whether or not to discuss it with the kids when they came home from school. But before we could even open our mouths, they were already telling us about it and had already talked about it in class.

We could spend hours discussing what the right psychological stance is here. Do you tell 4 year olds about the things going on around them? Do you clue in 7 year olds in if no one else is? Do you get mad at the school for taking that choice away from you? (Not really…they usually know what they are doing better than do I in terms of these things.)

Certainly, the kids who can understand it need to know to be vigilant and aware.

But, there are times when it’s fun to live in ignorant bliss, and when it’s even more fun to be part of it with the kids.

Recently, my 7 year old drew this…

…and I stared at it, holding back my tears. Because it’s so gloriously innocent, so refreshingly happy at a time when the rest of us are having trouble getting through the day.

And of course, as we so, so often do in Israel, I found myself flipping from the happy to the sad.

I looked at his picture and wondered if the Henkin children will ever draw pictures of this wonder and naiveté again. And I wondered if the many, many other orphans and victims of terror will as well.

As I put the picture up on the refrigerator, one of my kids was getting ready for the bath. “Mommy,” he said, “Can I bring music down to the bath tub?”

“Um, I guess,” I said thinking it was a bit funny since no one had every suggested such a thing before.

While I was wrapping up dinner with the littler guys, I vaguely heard the music turn on. By the time I came downstairs, I simply stood by the bathroom laughing and admiring. One of my kids was in the bath, with a hairbrush as a microphone, belting out the songs at the top of his lungs. He was the bathroom performer, all wet and singing his heart out to his fans.

I smiled, loving his spontaneity and his ability to be so free in the middle of so much chaos. And I quickly gathered the other little brothers together in the tub with their own hairbrushes and watched their band form and perform.

These are the moments that get us through. The ones that give us the strength for another day and the magical belief that things will turn out OK. 

Or at least that they are OK for that brief moment.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

No Time for a Torah High Five

Simchat Torah has ended, with all of the fun and dancing that accompanies it. We said goodbye to the sukkah, we danced with the Torah scrolls and we listened as the congregation finished the entire Torah.

And then we started again.

And herein lies one of the most important moments that I experience every year – and one of the most important lessons to learn in life.

We stand in shul, after having listened for the entire year to parsha after parsha after parsha of the Torah. We’ve done our work. 

We’ve completed all Five Books of the Torah. And as we finish, I think it’s human nature to give a collective and very loud high five. And then to go home for some cake and ice cream. We did it! Yahooo! What an accomplishment!

But this isn’t what we do.

Far from it.

Rather, we roll up those Torah scrolls and turn almost immediately – almost in the same breathe – and start reading from the very beginning of the Torah again. There we are all over again at Beresheit, listening to what Hashem created and in what order he did so.

Wait! You almost want to yell. Hang on. Can’t we celebrate? Can’t we have just one minute to relax? To gloat? To step away from the Torah?

The answer we get back is a resounding NO. Good job, we did it, and now let’s do it all over again.

Why is this such an amazing lesson? Why is this probably one of the greatest lessons that my children learn all year?

There are so many answers to this question.

Moving directly and seamlessly from the end of such a great accomplishment right back to the beginning again shows that we never stop learning. Even when we have accomplished something awesome, there is more to learn. Always.  

And not only do we always have more to learn in life, but we can even learn from the exact same material we just learned.

Life is a spiral rather than a circle or a line and we are always moving.
So even when we accomplish something and we think we’ve got this one in the bag, we can always learn more, even from the material we just finished. It’s not the material, per se, from which we are learning. It’s our interpretation of the material. It’s how we approach it. It’s with whom we select to approach it.

The material is fluid and kinetic in our hands.

So yes, we finished the Five Books of the Torah and we can celebrate and relish in our accomplishment. But darn it, you’re about to hear Beresheit right now – again. 

One of the best lessons to learn here is that you always have the opportunity for improvement and for more chances.

I hope that son #1 learns from this that learning never ends. And that what he's learning in school builds on itself and changes as he changes and grows with the material.

I hope that son #2 realizes, as he practices that basketball shot for the thousandth time, and yet misses it in the game, to simply pick up the ball and practice for the 1001st time, knowing that eventually he'll get it right.

And that when Son #3 draws that not-so-perfect picture that he’s learning on YouTube, that he puts aside the picture and immediately picks up a clear page to start again.

And that when Son #6 falls off of the bike that he’s learning to ride, he’ll get right back on and try it again.

And so on.

These are the lessons to be learned at Simchat Torah. What a glorious message to receive as the new year starts.

We are ready to be better people than we were last year and to work on ourselves each day.

Let’s hope we continue to be given the opportunity to do so and to learn this important lesson.

Shana Tova.

Here’s to a peaceful, productive and magical year ahead.