Friday, September 21, 2012

The Check-Out Lady Checks In

It's not easy to describe to someone who doesn't live here what life is like. Today, I had one of those moments that helps to illuminate what is hard to put into words.

The same woman worked at the check-out counter at our grocery store for years. About a year ago, the store changed ownership and she went to work at a store in Efrat, one town over.

I haven't seen her since she left. Today, for the first time, Josh and I went into that store, and I was excited to spot Shulamit. We caught up a bit, talking about her job, about Neve Daniel and about the new year.

Then she said, "And how is Stella?"

And I had to laugh.

She's the grocery check-out clerk. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that most people around the world don't know the check-out clerk at their grocery store.

And here she was, having not been in the community for a year, having not once seen me or Stella, asking me how Stella was doing.

When I laughed, she looked at me like I was crazy. Of course she was asking me about Stella - why wouldn't she be?

And that, in a nutshell, is what daily life is like for us.

Yes, even the check-out lady knows who needs extra prayers during the year in our community in Neve Daniel.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cultivating the Spirit

Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner, and I always start to feel like I haven't prepared myself for the holiday ahead. I don't go to shul in the morning every day like Josh does; I don't say slichot; I don't learn every day like many people I know; I don't have (or make?) the time for much personal reflection.

And as the chag approaches, there is so much pressure to get the mundane errands done and to complete tasks.

When I was feeling frustrated about my lack of spirituality today, I decided to stop for a few minutes and reflect on the ways that I AM getting ready for the chag spiritually. And here is what I realized.

Last night, Josh and I wanted to get out of the house for a bit. We've had a crazy few weeks with the start of the school year and felt the need to just get away and be together. We debated for about two minutes where we should go, and then it hit both of us - the Kotel (the Western Wall).

And while we were there, with floods of people from all walks of life, it hit me how truly special our choice was. We could have gone to a movie; we could have gone out to dinner; we might have gone to the mall and done errands and shopping. Instead, we went to one of the holiest sites in the entire world to daven (pray) for a beautiful year ahead. I davened for our family near and far, and also for a number of special women in my life who have been dealt very difficult health cards in the last year. And I thanked Hashem for the bounty that I've received in my life, while asking for it to continue for me and for it to be offered to those dear to me. It was a beautiful night.

Then, as I walked home with Yakir today, I spent the entire walk talking to Hashem and thanking him for the moment that I was experiencing. I felt the squishy, deliciously fat skin on my baby's hand as I cradled it in my own; his pudgy little fingers were grasping mine and his cheeks were gently bouncing as he stepped. And I thanked Hashem for giving me moments of this sort, and for allowing me to recognize how precious a simple walk home can be.

Later in the day, I ran into a friend at the grocery store who was recounting how stressful her grocery shopping was that day. As she said, "I took the day off of work and I said to myself that I had all day. I had no kids with me, no hurry to worry about, and a grocery list. But it was crazy! The store was packed and other people's kids were screaming and I felt rushed and tense."

Laughing at her description (laughing with her, that is), I said, "Yep. But you know what I decided? Things aren't this crazy when we prepare for the holidays in America because not everyone is celebrating. It's just a regular Thursday there. But here? You're feeling crazy and crowded because the whole country is crazy and crowded and on edge! What a blessing! We've chosen to come to a place where we are all celebrating the same holidays together at the same time. It's such a blessing. Crazy, yes. But still a blessing."

And we both giggled as we walked out of the store saying, "I'm so stressed. What a blessing! There's so much to do. What a blessing!"

Then, this afternoon, Josh and Zeli went to a nursery and picked two beautiful trees for our yard. We have dreamed for a number of years now of growing our own fruit, in our own backyard, in Eretz Yisrael and we are finally doing so. We have a pomegranate tree and grapes already. Now, we will have a cherry tree and a mulberry tree (yes, the song is wrong). The boys helped out as Josh dug the holes and planted the trees and we all stood around with anticipation and excitement, remarking at how little they look now and how grand they will (hopefully) be someday.

And tonight, I've been flooded with deliveries from yishuv members, dropping off their delicious and beautiful cakes for the Pinat Chama. This little house in Gush Etzion is a location where soldiers can come throughout the day for a drink and a slice of cake. Each month, groups throughout the Gush bake for them and tomorrow I'll be delivering loads of fresh baked cakes from my group and wishing the soldiers a Shana Tova as we thank them for all they do for us here.

So, no, I haven't gotten ready for Rosh Hashanah in some of the traditional ways. But as I reflect on what I have been doing, I see that my heart is in the right place and that I look forward to the beauty of the year ahead. And I pray that Hashem will allow me to continue noticing these less-noticed moments and to appreciate their worth for the year ahead.

Monday, September 10, 2012

11 Years Later

I remember exactly where I was when I learned that the first plane had hit the Twin Towers. I was a teacher at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland and I was on a break during second period. When I walked into the English department office, someone was talking about what had happened and a grainy television was showing strange images. Smoke...loud noises...chaos.

When I first heard that a plane had crashed into one of the towers, I, in my eternally naive thought-process, said out loud, "Well, how in the world did they get a plane and steal it without anyone in it? Where did they get it from?"

In my wildest dreams it never occurred to me that they would use a plane full of innocent lives as a weapon.

One of the teachers was distraught beyond what the rest of us were experiencing. Her daughter's fiance worked at the Twin Towers. I kept reassuring her that the plane had crashed early enough that he probably wasn't at work yet. Surely it would be ok.

It wasn't.

And then, I was tasked with the job of starting third period, and of telling the teenage children what was going on. I couldn't lie and continue with business as usual - they had already heard the buzz. And so, in the most plain terms, I tried to explain what I knew. I had very little information, because the internet was completely jammed - there was no way to go online or to get more information.

"But my dad's at the Pentagon," one said, with eyes that were filling with tears.

"My dad's in New York."

"My mom's flying home today from up north somewhere."

And on and on it went. And I stood there, pretending to be the strong teacher, reassuring the students that everything would be alright.

But it wouldn't, not for a long time, if ever.

Finally, finally the principal came on the loud speaker and told everyone that they needed to go home.

With great relief, I told them to go right home and I made sure that all of my students were safely out of the building.

And then I sat down at my desk, and I cried.

And I don't think I stopped for days. Yes, I was hormonal, carrying Yehuda during my second pregnancy. But I know I wasn't alone in my grief.

I cried for the injustice of the world, for all of the innocent people whose lives were ripped away from them, for the families left behind, for the hatred the murderers showed, for the heroes who were flooding the news.

And for myself.

I cried, feeling completely exposed, and wondering how I was supposed to be a strong teacher and a strong mother; how I was supposed to protect those in my care when such events are able to occur.

Certainly, I'm still looking for the answers to some of those questions.

And I've moved to a place in the world that knows this type of pain only too well, and only too often.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, may it be one of renewal, and not pain; one of strength, and not agony; one of hope, and not fear. May we have no more times when we can pinpoint exactly where we were on a given day and recount every small detail - unless it's the result of a simcha (a joyous moment).