Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Challah, Health & The Bat Mitzvah Girl

I am often struck by the ways that so many people’s lives intertwine.

Last night we were honored to attend the bat mitzvah of our dear friends’ daughter at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi (two hours from our home). Moshe and Chaviva Speter were part of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Washington D.C. while we lived there. We spent countless nights learning in their home, enjoying time with them, and discussing the possibility of Aliyah.

Hallel was a little girl when they arrived in Washington – and here she was becoming a bat mitzvah. As part of her bat mitzvah, she took on a new mitzvah, the mitzvah of making challah.

And, on top of that, she dedicated her challah making last night to someone who is sick.

That’s where the intersection of our lives comes into play.

There is an idea in Jewish tradition that, while making the blessing during the challah-making, you can add the name of someone who is sick. If 40 challah-makers all do this on the same day, it is considered a segula (a good omen) to help with the sick person’s recovery.

At Josh’s work, one of the men’s wives, Libbie, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while pregnant with her second child. After starting chemo treatments, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and is now undergoing even more aggressive treatments for her recovery. Sending around an email request to many people that she knows, Libbie wrote,

“During the course of my pregnancy and treatments, my family and I organized 3 worldwide projects of Challah taking ("הפרשת חלה") on Erev Shabbat (or earlier) when making Challot, to pray for my full recovery and easy birth. Each time we had hundreds of women (and some men too) from all over the world participating in this beautiful Mitzva. I was full of joy on those shabbatot and I felt physically better, stronger, happier and healthier thank G-d! On the 28th of September, in honor of “Rosh Hashana” (the New Year), we are organizing our fourth “Hafrashat Challah operation" for my full recovery and a healthy New Year IY”H.”

Sitting in Tirat Tzvi, Hallel and Chaviva read Libbie’s email. Chaviva decided that this would be the perfect project for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. She would take challah and make the blessing for a complete recovery for Libbie – someone that she did not know and had never met.

Enter the Sussmans.

While signing me up to make challah as well a few days ago, Josh noticed someone from Tirat Tzvi was signed up on the list. Then, he noticed that it wasn’t just ‘someone,’ but that it was Hallel. He couldn’t believe that she was on the list, and pledged that he would ask her about it at the bat mitzvah.

So, last night at the bat mitzvah, we approached Hallel and Chaviva about it. We asked them how they knew Libbie. Chaviva explained the situation and couldn’t believe that we knew this woman, for whom her daughter was focusing on her mitzvah. Chaviva said that she was actually stressed because Hallel was about to make the blessing for Libbie, but that they couldn’t remember her full name (having misplaced the piece of paper with her name on it).

Not to worry, Josh and I both said in disbelief. We certainly know that. We offered her the name, Hallel made the blessing while Josh took pictures, and Josh ran out of the room to call Libbie’s husband and tell him what had just happened.


May Libbie have a complete and speedy recovery and may HaShem continue to put us in the right place, at the right time for the coming year.

If you want to be part of the Hafrashat Challah project for Libbie, follow this link:

Click here: Hafrashat Challah 4# for Libbie Bat Esther Leah

Please remember Stella Frankl (Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara) as well when taking challah and making the blessing.

May these women have complete recoveries in the coming year and may we all be blessed for the year ahead with health, prosperity, family and blessings.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Pickled Tomatoes & My Nana

Today, when I went to the kitchen at work to make lunch, I leaned into the refrigerator and broke into a huge smile. I pulled out a jar of green pickled tomatoes, and found myself instantly transported into my Nana’s kitchen.

It was 1977 again in Los Angeles, and there I was, sitting at Nana and Papa's warm, inviting kitchen. I was wearing pigtails with curly cues and munching on cookies while Nana relished in her green pickled tomatoes. She was teaching me to play Rummikube, and we were gabbing about school, about clothes, about sculpting and playing. Now, she was teaching me the multiplication tables, and helping me to do my math homework.

Standing in the kitchen of my Gush Etzion workplace in the year 2011, that one jar of tomatoes threw me back to Monte Mar Drive, to warm summer nights, to the laughter and love of one Nana and Papa, to the constant stream of family visits and playful days, to “ladies” nights when Nana and I would pretend to talk in fancy language and to pamper ourselves, to slumber parties, warm hugs and constant laughter.

I stared at those tomatoes, marveling that I hadn’t seen a jar of this sort in 25 years. And marveling at how quickly one squishy green tomato with its sour scent can bring back an entire childhood in one glimpse.

And as I ate my salad, sprinkled with green pickled tomatoes, I thought about Nana, about how quickly the years fly, and about the impact that loved ones continue to have on us far after they have left our side.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flying Chickens and the Lessons They Teach

Last night I had the opportunity to enjoy a special parenting moment – and a great reminder for myself. After heating up a piece of chicken for dinner that had gotten cold, Matan exited the pantry exactly as Zeli was walking by.

In what appeared to me as a comedy of errors (but wasn’t funny at all to Matan), Zeli pushed on the pantry door and sent Matan and his chicken flying.

Matan was not pleased.

He stormed downstairs, leaving the chicken and all of the mess on the floor.

It was time for a parenting moment.

Requesting that he come back upstairs, I explained that I wasn’t mad about the mess. He wasn’t in trouble. What he was, however, was seeing the incident the wrong way.

Life, I told him, isn’t about the flying chicken.

It’s about how we react to the flying chicken.

As I explained this to Matan, I think I was trying to remind myself of this vitally-important message.

Life’s chickens are going to fly; at times, doors are going to slam in our faces.

The question isn’t how to avoid the flying chicken; the question is how to react to the poultry.

People get sick; bikes get stolen; homework gets misplaced (or not done at all); friends can be mean.

Life is full of so many small and terribly big moments where the chicken goes flying and where we seem to have absolutely no control over the incidents and events in our lives.

It’s not our place to control those events.

It’s our place to shape, control and manage our reaction to the flying chicken.

And that is what distinguishes us in life, and allows us to either live a full, interactive and pleasurable life or to be grumpy, frustrated and self-pitying.

Lesson learned for one 11 year old boy and a great reminder for his mom.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Ago Today...

I’m sure most of us remember where we were 10 years ago today. I was teaching in Potomac, Maryland and had gone into the teachers’ lounge during my free period to get some work done. The first reports of the towers being hit were just being heard, and someone had dragged a grainy T.V. into the lounge. When I heard that planes had flown into the World Trade Center, my first insanely naïve thought was, wow – where do they steal empty planes from? How did they get planes off the ground without anyone noticing? It had never in my wildest dreams crossed my mind that 19 terrorists had hijacked planes full of people to use as missiles.

One of the women in the teachers’ lounge was panicking. Her daughter’s fiancé worked at the World Trade Center. I reassured her that he was certainly late for work that day and that he couldn’t possibly have been in the midst of all of this.

Inaccuracies, of course, I would only learn later.

We continued to receive more information during the morning, but my surprisingly poorly managed school didn’t offer us any guidance about how to deal with the students. This was before the age when every kid had an internet-enabled device on his lap, and I taught my third period class without saying a word to them. Living right outside of Washington, D.C. in an area filled with diplomats, congressman and the like, I was sure that some of these children would be deeply and personally affected.

And then fourth period rolled around and there was no longer any way to keep the secret. While holding back tears, I told the students what was going on, and tried to reassure them that their parents couldn’t possibly have been at the Pentagon that morning and that their uncles were probably late to work at the World Trade Center.

Mercifully, in the middle of that class period, they sent the kids home.

I sat down at my desk and cried and cried and cried.

I cried for the terror that had entered our world; for feeling completely exposed and unsafe as a U.S. citizen for the first time; and for the unborn baby that I was carrying that would know such a different reality.

Today, I cry for how unbelievably unresolved all of these issues are. Today, we are battling the same terrorists who are plotting their evil in the same, even more sophisticated, ways.

I live half way around the world now, in a world that is even more attuned to the terror we live with each day. And we watch as the extremists ready their arsenal for the next attack – whether it will be here, in Paris, in Washington D.C. or down the street from you.

We wonder what the governments of the world are doing to stop the insanity.

And when regular citizens will say that it's enough already.

You know, in East Jerusalem they danced in the street when they heard about 9/11. They danced in the streets with glee. They weren't dancing at the killing of Israelis or of Jews - they were dancing at the killing of Americans. And these are our supposed "peace partners"; these are the very people that Obama and America and much of the world are demanding that we sit down and negotiate with - for "peace".

I cry today tears of frustration, wondering when the rest of the world will understand that events like 9/11 are a constant reality for us here in Israel, and that in all corners of the world we do not have to live like this.

And that the way to remember the people who lost their lives on 9/11 is to say that we don't stand for terror - and to make that statement a reality around the world.