Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just for Laughs

The kids had some fun with Azriel yesterday. Enjoy! You know Purim is coming find your baby wearing a clown wig!

The Tie

Just a quick, cute anecdote. The dress code in Israel is MUCH more casual than it is in America. It's strange to see a groom wearing a tie - really. So, we were going to a bat mitzvah the other night and Josh was putting on his clothes. The father of the bat mitzvah girl always dresses up more than other members of the community. So, in honor of him, and as a bit of a joke, Josh wore a coat and tie to the bat mitzvah. Amichai was standing there and all of a sudden, he turned to Josh and said, "What is THAT?" We couldn't figure out what he was talking about, until we saw that he was pointing at Josh's tie! He honestly had no idea what it was!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Purim - a Month Long Holiday

When I woke up and came up the stairs this morning, I found a clown eating breakfast. "What is that?" I said to myself...and then I remembered - Adar has arrived. Today is Rosh Hodesh Adar. That means that it's the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar - the month where Purim falls. And that means...that it's time to party!

When we lived in the States, Purim was certainly fun. The kids dressed up and we enjoyed the day of Purim. Here, Purim is literally two to three weeks long for the one day holiday. Rosh Hodesh Adar is a very festive day - as it's the day when the month begins. Yehuda was told in school yesterday that he should bring a funny hat to school today, and during the day they will have all sorts of fun activities. When I first taught in an Israeli school, I was warned that I wouldn't get anything done on this day, but I had no idea what that warning would mean. While teaching my first class, a line of 10 boys suddenly burst into class singing a song about Purim. They proceeded to circle through the entire class and then to leave. This must have occured another 20 times during the day. Then, for the entire two weeks leading up to Purim, there were all sorts of activities in school and other distractions.

And that, really, is life in Israel. Purim isn't a one day holiday - it's a month. It's something the kids eat and breathe and talk about for weeks and weeks on end before it arrives. The stores are already bursting with Purim costumes. My kids have all decided what they will be for Purim. And keep in mind that they need to be three different things - because they dress up in school, at home for a parade, and then as part of our family costume (it's a secret!) for delivering Misloach Manot and having the Seudah. Josh said, jokingly, this morning, "Well, I guess the school year is over now." And while it's sort of a joke, Rosh Hodesh Adar does mark the beginning of Purim, then Pesach, and then the winding down of the school year.

As is also so typical in Israel, today is also tinged with sadness. Last year, on this evening, an Arab opened fire at Mirkaz HaRav Yeshiva while the students were preparing for a Rosh Hodesh party. He killed 8 innocent students - including a 15 year old boy from Neve Daniel - Segev Avichail. The night that it happened, we all knew that this event had occured, of course. What we didn't know were the names of the students who had been killed. I woke up the next morning to find an SMS on my phone from the Yishuv. When I called a friend to ask if he could translate it for me, there was complete silence, and then tears on the other end of the line. We all awoke that morning to the message that Segev's funeral would be that afternoon. "Segev's funeral?" everyone said. "What funeral?" And that's how we found out that one of our own community members had been killed. Killed in the library of his Yeshiva was trying to cram in a few more minutes to learn before the festivities for Rosh Hodesh Adar began. A few days ago, his family opened a beautiful garden in the yishuv in his memory. I can't imagine - and I hope I'll never be able to imagine - what they have endured this year.

And so, it is with great anticipation and excitement, and yet with a slightly heavy heart, that we enter the month of Adar. May it be a fun, peaceful, and entirely gay one for us this year and may we remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live and enjoy in this crazy country of ours.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Send Them Out Well...We Hope

I've been thinking all morning about the strange juxtaposition that we have with our school-age children. When kids are young, we are able to protect them a good deal. We are with them more hours of the day, and generally have them nearby even when they are in daycare or nursery school. Once they get into school, however, they start to have two separate lives. There is the kid that you know at home - and the one that is out there in his solitary day.

I vividly remember hearing this from Rabbi Seth Mandell while I was still in Potomac. Rabbi Mandell made aliyah with his family years ago from Silver Spring and settled in a beautiful area not far from us called Tekoa. He came back to Silver Spring five weeks after his son, Coby Mandell, was brutally and unspeakably murdered by Arabs while hiking near his home with a friend. Rabbi Mandell explained that at the shiva, they kept hearing stories of a kid that they didn't recognize. They were amazed to hear about this boy - their son - who had so many different experiences at school and who seemed to be such a different child when he wasn't with them. He urged us to try, as much as possible, to know what is going on with our children in their schools and to be aware of what type of kid they are when they aren't at home.

I am begin to see this in my own life, and it's certainly a struggle, as a parent, to realize that we have to let go. When I hear that Yehuda wasn't able to play soccer because the other kids "wouldn't let him" or that Matan watched a fight in school, it makes me feel completely helpless. I know that my kids need to develop their own skills and learn to cope in their school environments by themselves, but it sure is hard to adjust to this reality as the parent.

Two days ago there was a terrible bike accident near Efrat about five minutes before Matan's bus drove by. A biker was hit by a car and was severely hurt. I knew about it in the morning but I didn't say anything to the kids when they came home, of course. Matan, however, came home informing me of all of the details. He didn't bother to mention how he knew these details, nor did he tell me that he had witnessed the entire thing.

Later that night, when I was driving with Matan, he pointed out the spot where it occurred. "Wait a minute," I said, getting nervous. "Why do you know where it occurred?" And then the whole story unraveled. He explained that they had been driving by exactly after it happened and that he saw a quick glimpse of the biker's arm. Trying to keep my voice from shaking, I said, "Just the arm?" Matan replied, "Yeah. I saw his arm and then quickly looked away. I didn't think that it was my place to see more."

Breathe out. I was so impressed with his answer and so relieved that he hadn't, by choice, seen more. While it's very difficult to reconcile these two worlds that our children live in, I'm coming to see that the best we can do is to teach them well and fortify them before we send them out there.

Then, we just have to hope that they have an easy time and that they make the right choices.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Goosebumps and the Israeli Flag

I get goosebumps every time that I see a picture of my kids with an Israeli flag.

On Friday, Matan's school had a great fieldtrip for Tu'Bshvat. Tu'Bshvat is the holiday that marks the new year of the trees and it's a day when people go out and plant trees all over Israel. On Friday, the parents were invited to Matan's school to plant trees with the kids. There is something so special and holy about using your own hands to dig into Israeli soil and to plant a new tree - a new piece of Eretz Yisrael.

Josh took this picture of Matan at the planting, and I was trying to figure out why the picture makes me want to cry. And then I remembered.

When Josh and I were backpacking through Europe years ago, we went to Auschwitz. I assumed that visiting a concentration camp was going to be a difficult experience, but I could never have guessed what it was that set me off. Just as we walked into the camp, I saw in front of us a huge group of Israeli kids. They had wrapped themselves in Israeli flags, they were waving huge flags over their heads, and they were walking through Auschwitz singing "Hatikva." I was so incredibly overcome at the sight of them that I was unable to stop bawling or to continue. Josh asked me if I needed to leave. "No," I said, "I just need to cry."

I had certainly learned about and read about Auschwitz a great deal. I knew what I was going to see there. What I hadn't read about - and what I hadn't expected - was this incredibly powerful image. These kids were shouting at Hitler. They were declaring - with their hearts, their flags, their bodies and their voices - that we will not be defeated. We will rise from the ashes and from the agonizing torture that we've endured to build a country. We will give birth to the future in this country, again and again and again, continuing the Jewish people in our homeland.

Could the victims of the Holocaust have envisioned that kids - free Jewish kids who live in a Jewish country - would come marching through Auschwitz with their heads held high and their flags waving?

And so, to this day, when I see one of my kids - my Israeli kids - next to an Israeli flag, it gives me the chills. My children are part of the answer to the Holocaust. My children are learning to use their hearts and their bodies to continue the Jewish people and to stand proudly and free next to their flag.

And today, we plant trees in this beautiful country so that it may continue to grow and to be strong for all of us.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Birthday Sentimentality

Today, we sent Yehuda off to school with an amazing cake that Josh made for Huda's 7th birthday. It was of an Israeli soccer shirt, and Yehuda was so excited to show it to his friends at school. Josh makes incredible cakes for the kids for their birthdays, but they are really time consuming. Therefore, we made a cut-off. Each kid is allowed to pick a crazy-elaborate cake until his 7th birthday. After that, he has to settle for a boring cake from me, his mom, or something of the sort. : )

I always find myself sentimental around the kids' birthdays, and reflecting back on their birth. I particularly marvel at all of the things that I've learned from the child since he came into my life.

Yehuda was born on a Friday morning, five days after my due date. His birth was the most different from the others. When I think back on his birth, it's definitely the one that has taught me the most and that continues to remind me of my strength and of the power of words. After arriving at the hospital since my water had broken, I proceeded to pass out in the delivery room for two hours. I remember thinking, how in the world do I plan to give birth if I can't stop passing out? Finally, it stopped and the nurse was ready to start pitocin. I did natural childbirth with our first, Matan, and I was completely set on doing it again. My worst fear was that I would be given pitocin, and that I would, therefore, not be able to do natural childbirth. Just the week before delivering Yehuda, someone had said to me, "You know, you can actually still do natural childbirth on pitocin." I looked at her like she was crazy at the time. From what I understood - it wasn't an option. Pitocin meant intervention, unending pain and the need for an epidural. Period. This one sentence, coming from Marci, changed my entire birth.

The power of the mind and of determination is an amazing thing. With my fifth birth recently, I was completely terrified and got myself into a frenzy about the delivery. With the birth with Yehuda, however, I was simply determined to do it naturally. Period. And so I did. It was a beautiful birth and I worked my way through it without any drugs or intervention whatsoever. It's truly amazing what we can do when we decide on something - and simply don't take "no" for an answer. It's also amazing to reflect on the power of words. Marci's one sentence changed my attitude and my understanding. She didn't realize, at the time, how transformative her words were. So often, we say things and don't know the power that those words may convey. Yehuda's birth taught me this, and it's a lesson that I continue to learn from him.

I feel so grateful to reach this point with Yehuda. He is growing into such a beautiful, confident, happy kid and it's such a blessing to be along for the ride with him.

It's hard to face Yehuda's birthday without some sadness, however, since his friend, Chanan, would have turned 7 two days before Yehuda. I think of Chanan often, and all that he has missed and my heart goes out to his parents. Life is an amazing gift, and I thank Hashem every single day that I've been given the opportunity to watch Yehuda grow and to be here to guide him.

May he have a beautiful 7th birthday.