Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Beasts & Bounty

I very often learn my lessons with my foot in my mouth. 

I was at the park this week with a few other women. We were discussing the usual pre-Pesach gripes.

Who has cleaned the kitchen, who did their shopping already, who found interesting treasures behind the couch.

The usual.

One woman said that her parents are coming for the entire holiday and taking them away to a hotel. I gushed about how lucky she is – how amazing it is that she doesn’t have to clean the house, how she gets to spend time with family and on and on. I asked her a few questions about her parents, her background, etc. and I could tell that something was off.

And after gushing for a bit and telling her how jealous I was that she was going away – she quietly told us that her father is dying. And that this is a last vacation together.


You know, we really and truly never know what anyone else is going through. Jealousy and envy are such funny beasts. They come from our own desires – from what we perceive others to have. They don’t come from a reality, from what is really happening with that other person.

And once in a while we are given that wake up call.

I was speechless, as you can imagine, as she described her father’s sudden illness and their plans.

And she turned to me and said, “I bet you’re looking forward to getting back to cleaning that kitchen now, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said quietly with tears in my eyes. “I really am.”

And I was reminded, yet again, about appreciating each and every day of my life and about appreciating each of the people who are in it. And who are healthy.

And about appreciating where I am in the world, and what I have, without having to compare my bounty to others. Or their bounty to mine.

Because you simply never know what is behind their bounty or what they have going on in their lives.

May we all approach Pesach with gratitude and joy for where we are in our lives and what we have to fill our hearts and our homes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Safe Rooms, Sirens and Fires

This article was first published here: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/safe-rooms-sirens-and-fires/

I'm putting it on my blog just so that I have it as part of my records of personal writing.


I’ve had a few sleepless nights this week thinking about the Sassoon family and the unbelievable tragedy they have experienced. And, of course, like most people, I’ve tried to picture what I would do in a similar situation. Where would we run? How would we get out? Are my kids aware of what to do in the event of a fire? As many others have written, if nothing else, the deaths of these seven beautiful children should, hopefully, help to save other lives; the lives of families that might otherwise not have put in smoke detectors or not have considered escape routes.

Many Israeli homes don’t have smoke detectors. Do we think we are immune to house fires? I really don’t know. I think, instead, that many people think that our stone homes won’t go up in smoke the way that wood houses will; that the fire won’t have the opportunity to lick and bend and move about as it does in a house built in another way. Is this true? I have no idea (but a few recent articles this week have said that it’s not). But we haven’t, until now, had smoke detectors or really thought too much about fires.

That all changed this week. I know there are a million types of accidents that can occur, and this is simply what’s on my mind this week. But as long as it’s on my mind, I figured that I should follow through and ensure as much safety in this department as we can. So, we installed the smoke detectors today. We have always had a fire extinguisher. And we started to talk about how we would escape should there be a fire. Typically, if you’re awake during a fire, you’ll be able to make it out. But it’s when you’re asleep that you may not have the time, the wherewithal, the presence of mind.

We are considering what we need to do to make our bedroom floor safer in the event of fires. 

Ironically, we can’t get out of any of our windows since they have bars on them to keep terrorists out. We have a door which goes outside, but it has to be unlocked with a key and then the second door with bars has to be unlocked. Not great options. We are probably going to replace the double door with a single, keyless entry option. The ironies are not lost on me. The bars may keep us safe from one potentially deadly situation, only to be a detriment should a different deadly situation arise.
How far do you take your safety measures? How do you balance one against the other?

As we contemplate these issues, we decided at dinner tonight to bring up the topic of fire safety. I was curious to see if any of the kids had heard about the Sassoon tragedy. They had not. And I was curious to see what they know already about fire safety. I decided not to share the tragedy with them for two reasons. I didn’t want to scare them more than necessary. Talking about fire safety is one thing. Giving them a picture in their minds of seven trapped children who died in their beds is another. And secondly, my kids have enough to worry about. Seriously. Their lives are complicated, convoluted, tense. I don’t need to add to that list. While some parents were surprised and upset that the schools didn’t talk about the Sassoon tragedy, I was a bit relieved. Ok – we will teach them about fire safety. But give them a bit of a break with too much tangible fear – with too many pictures of children their ages.

As we sat at the dinner table discussing fire safety, the kids offered all sorts of tips that they already knew. Stay close to the ground and go for a door. Try to get out of the house as fast as possible. Sleep with a phone nearby so you can call for help. And so on. The schools are doing a good job of teaching them fire safety, road safety…they have fire drills, earthquake drills, general national emergency drills, etc.

But, as I described the sound of the smoke detector when it goes off, Zeli said to us, “So when I hear it I should go to the safe room?”

And I stopped breathing.

And my heart shattered.

And I wanted to cry.

Had we not had this discussion, my precious son might have ended up in the safe room when he heard the smoke detector scream.  In the safe room. Trapped while a fire raged, and a fire detector blared for him to run outside.

Because that’s the world we live in.

My children know war and bombs and safe rooms. Only in Israel does the discussion of fire safety have to include the differentiation between the sirens for when bombs fall (go the safe room!) and the sirens for when fire erupts (go outside!).

How many other children wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a smoke alarm and a bomb siren? I would never have thought of this nuance, this confusion for little children had this situation not arisen.

I hope and pray that we never hear the sound of the piercing siren we’ve just installed. But I am certainly grateful to have had the discussion with my children and to have ensured that they will not run to the safe room in the event of a fire.

The ever-complicated life and times of keeping kids safe in Israel – and everywhere.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Nap That Wasn't

I barely slept on Saturday night and only managed to get about four hours of sleep. Some people can function on that little – I can’t.

So Sunday morning when I woke up groggy and kvetchy Josh said, “So maybe you’ll take a nap this afternoon.”

And I had to laugh. Who has time for a nap in the afternoon?

But little did I know JUST how little time I would have for one.

I arrived at home in the early afternoon after work, opened the door, and was greeted by seven 15 year old boys. 

Um….what? And then I remembered that Matan had told us that their teacher had arranged for six groups of kids to meet up at various houses to work on a project until their bus arrived to bring that back to Sussya at 8:00pm.

But I had forgotten that we were one of the hubs. “Um, Matan, do these guys need to eat?”

And so began a hysterically funny, insanely loud and lively afternoon.

Before picking Yakir up from school, I raced to the grocery store and bought three bags of pasta, sodas and some cookies. I whipped up a meal for the kids while greeting my own kids at the door as they came in from school.

Yakir was in heaven eating lunch with the 'big guys'.

I regret not taking more pictures of the day’s events, but I knew that Matan would be mortified if I were snapping left and right, so I refrained.

But let me try to set the scene:

There were another seven boys working at a house up the block, so at times we had 14 Sussya boys around. And yeah, they got about a half hour of work done together. But that left approximately four hours for Nerf gun fights, electronic helicopter flying, soccer game watching on the computer and jump roping in the house. The kids had planned that they were going to take a hike together, but the weather was quite cold, so they ended up entertaining themselves all afternoon in our house.

This guy wasn't shy about having his picture taken.

At one point, one of Matan’s friends joined in a coalition with Yakir, and the two tore through the house aiming their Nerf guns at another two kids. “Yakir! Yakir!” you could hear the 15 year old calling from behind a wall. “Come quick!” And Yakir would fly behind the wall as well to take cover before popping out to riddle their opponents with bullets.

Yes, it was one of those days. All I could do was laugh. The kids were all so sweet and well behaved. I did think it was funny when I put out plastic cups for lunch that Matan went into the cupboard to find real cups instead. They are being taught about conservation and the school is incredibly green – I love being one-upped by my son on the environmental front.

At 6:30 we finally had to leave because we were driving Matan back to school ahead of the 8pm bus pick-up for a basketball game. It was my first time watching him play on the Sussya team and it was great fun. They won, and then we took him for pizza to the ever-so-elegant tiny little hole in the wall (which may be giving it more credit than it deserves) they have in Sussya. I forced the kids to get together for a picture, before leaving them with the two pizzas we bought for the team and big grins all around.

Josh kept saying “I hope Matan realizes how cool his mom is, putting up with having a house filled to overflowing with Nerf-gun battling teenagers.”

I’m sure my coolness factor doesn’t weigh heavily in his teenage list of priorities at the moment. But it was a joy to watch him interacting with his friends, to see him so happy in his new high school environment, and to fill the stomachs and hearts of his friends for an afternoon.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sussman Superheroes & A Day of Simcha

We love Purim. 

It's so much fun to think of a family costume and to get everyone involved. This year, when we came up with the idea of being footie-pajama'd superheroes, we got very excited. Of course, no one realized just how much work it was going to be to find 8 different character footie-pajamas in the right sizes (hours and hours on Amazon and Ebay later), but we finally figured it out. And the pajamas arrived from Papa Rogie, Grandma and even from one of Josh's co-workers who picked up some of them in England. Thanks guys!

Then it was time to come up with a mishloach manot idea. Purim rests on four mitzvot that you are supposed to do in the course of the 24 hour holiday (part of why I love it so much). You are supposed to hear the Megilla twice (which recounts the story of how we were almost massacred and how we were saved). You are supposed to give money to the poor. You are supposed to have a festive meal and you are supposed to give gifts to two people. So, the gift part has gotten a bit out of hand, and most people run around the yishuv giving out to all of their friends.

We always try to have a mishloach manot that goes with our theme. So we had to consider what Wonder Woman, Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Wolverines, a Ninja Turtle, the Incredible Hulk and Ironman could serve to their friends. After much consideration, we found Superman and Batman cookie cutters. AND....we found kosher green colored jello in Potomac, which we had a friend buy, mail to South Carolina and then bring to us. Whew!

The Kryptonite arrived and we were ready to get to work on our gifts. Now, I'm not sure what I was thinking when I purchased the cookie cutters, since I can't bake my way out of a paper bag. When it came time to start the cookies, I took a deeeep breath and tried out a recipe. The batter looked right but the cookies turned into shapeless blobs. Where had Superman gone?

So, I turned to my co-worker who is always bringing in amazing baked goods. "No problem!" she said, getting excited about the challenge. She sent me a great recipe and told me to get on my way.

Little did she know with whom she was dealing. I made the first batch but when they weren't working out I added a ton of extra oil. I baked them. They were gross...and I emailed her with an SOS! 

So, in her infinitely patient way, she actually stayed up late that night and made the cookies herself. With a play-by-play set of directions for me! And she brought in the perfectly shaped sheep cookies the next day to prove to me that I, too, could achieve this success. Look how cute her directions are! I printed them out and posted them in the kitchen command center.

I decided to actually listen to the directions and to place each item in at the right time (how boring!). And low and behold...the cookies turned out! After making a few regular batches, I asked Miriam about adding colors, and we ended up with awesome red Superman cookies and black Batman ones.

We packed up our goodies in bags, using our superheroes as packers and we were ready to go.

And then, it was time for the Kryptonite.

Today, the kids woke quite early in the morning, of course, and we got everyone set up with their costumes. It was a great choice, as we were all very comfortable and the kids enjoyed getting into character (case in point).

Matan spent the evening at his school, so we waited this morning for him to get home to complete the picture, and we were ready for our great day.

Batman and Wolverine

Wonder Woman and Ironman

The day was a blast. Most Israelis did not know what the heck kryptonite was, and they looked at me like I was crazy when I started on my long explanation. And the jello was, um....let's say less than tasty (it was diet green jello!). But, the day was wonderful. The children had a blast. The gifts went out and others came in from all of the kids' friends and from ours. We had a lovely meal with friends and happiness all around.

And most of all, we enjoyed another year of creating great memories and of sharing in the joy of a wonderful holiday with our friends in the yishuv. 

Life can be very stressful. 

Life in Israel, perhaps even more so.

It is such a joy to be superheroes for a day, to blow away all worries and concerns and just to have a blast as a family while bringing joy to those around us, sharing with them, and donating to those in need.

And that, truly, is the magic of Purim.

And now, while I launder the footie-pajamas and try to figure out what to do with the dozens of extra cookies (cookie anyone?), it's time to think about next year's costume. 


Sunday, March 01, 2015

I Should Have Known…The Joys of the Unknown

I should have known that the bar mitzvah wouldn’t look exactly as we had envisioned, and that I would be tested in all sorts of ways. I should have known. It’s surprising that, after 13 years with this glorious child, I haven’t yet learned my lessons.

On the day that Yehuda was born, we woke our babysitter at about 6:30am to tell her that it would be a long day and that we would be bringing our 22 month old, Matan, early. She very apologetically told Josh that she had strep and that she wouldn’t be coming in today – for the first time since Matan started daycare at the age of three months.

It was a day of improvising and creative thinking.

And I should have known when my birth plan appeared to go up in smoke, as my water broke and my doctor (who was a friend) gently reminded me that they would have to induce with petocin, and that it would probably mean that I would need an epidural and would not have the natural birth that I envisioned. I got through without the epidural, but it was still the birth that was the most different from all the others and the one that challenged me the most. Yehuda taught me that the body can do incredible things even when others say it might not be possible.

So the creativity needed for the bar mitzvah, the flexibility and change of plans shouldn’t have surprised me in quite the way that it did.

All of our children teach us – they all help us to grow, to see our shortcomings, to learn flexibility. But somehow this child, of all of my children, helps me to grow and to really understand how much we are not in charge.

You know the expression that we plan and Gd laughs? Well, this appears to be the theme song of Yehuda’s bar mitzvah.

And we were taught over and over again that our plan is simply not the one that ends up happening sometimes – and to let go.

So I should have known that our meticulously made plans to go to Leket, to do a charity project in honor of Yehuda’s bar mitzvah, would be cancelled due to rain. And that the adventurous trip to Jerusalem with the family would be as well on account of snow.

And I should have known that the snow would start to fall exactly as predicted at 5pm on Thursday, leaving my dad and brother to make a decision in New York about continuing with their flight to us or turning around and going back to Sunny LA. (We missed you!)
Here are my brother and dad waving from the airport in New York.

And I should have known not to be surprised when I woke up Friday morning with a foot of snow on the ground to realize we had no water in the house. (Fortunately Josh figured that one out).

And I shouldn’t have been surprised Friday night as we sat around the beautifully decorated table celebrating Shabbat while thunder and lightning flashed and roared across the blankets of snow and hail crashed against the windows.

And then, the electricity shut off a number of times during the night, teasing me into believing that I would be serving cold food to our 22 guests the next day for lunch.

But then by the next morning, I was ready to roll with it when the eight of us packed up our bag on Shabbat morning and hiked through the snow and slushy roads to shul. It was quite cute, actually, watching all of us hiking together and making our way to Yehuda’s big day. Matan had a huge backpack on his back filled with our dress shoes, books, a ton of candies and baskets for handing out the candies.

And I managed to roll with it when we arrived at shul and discovered that my safety net was filled with snow. I had been worried for weeks about how I would keep the two little brothers quiet while Yehuda davened and layned his parsha (read from the Torah) and I was reassured knowing that they would play in the kids’ toy room (Midrash Chanan) set up for this purpose and that they could always go outside to play. As we arrived in shul, I realized that the toy room was locked and that the path leading to it was blocked by a thick blanket of snow. And that they would obviously not be going outside to play. Deep breaths. But it brought me right back to Yehuda’s birth and the call to his nanny with strep. And I had to simply put up my hands and laugh, once again.

Yehuda did a beautiful job in shul, the grandparents who were with us all managed to hike through the mounds of snow to hear Yehuda, and our food was even warm.

And then, Saturday night, I should have known it would happen when Eliav came down with a fever and what appeared to be strep. I hustled to find him a strep test, to get him medicine and to tuck him quickly into bed and pray that the morning would be better. (Thankfully, his meds kicked in and he was fine.)

And then, I should have known Sunday morning, the day of the party, that Yehuda would come in at 5am complaining of a sore throat. NO! I thought.


But it was.

And while Yehuda’s rapid strep test showed he didn’t have strep and the doctor was sure he was fine, the more accurate, overnight test the next day showed that he most certainly did have strep during his party.

And yet, he was composed and beautiful, spirited and joyous at his party as he toughed it out throughout the entire evening. He held it together, crashing the next day in a heap of strep-induced fever and chills – but not until the party was over.

The first of the bar mitzvah pictures...we are waiting for the rest!

Life isn’t always what we plan. That’s for sure. And truly, what I have learned from this child over and over again is that what really defines you in life isn’t what you plan and hope and assume.

It’s what you do with what you’re given.

It’s how you handle the stress of a foot of snow the day before the bar mitzvah and how you handle the water issues, electricity issues, grandparent arrivals and more. It’s how you handle yourself at  your party, pumped up on Advil but fighting through the strep to have as good a time as you can, and to even say “Thanks Mom and Dad” at the end.

And that, really, is the blessing and the lesson that I appear to be given throughout Yehuda’s life.

And I am grateful to learn these lessons through smachot (joyous occasions) because we are typically plagued with such challenges through painful moments instead. I gratefully approach each joyous moment with this mystical and magical child, ready for the next adventure and the next change that life appears to bring.

Mazal Tov Yehuda.

You were awesome.