Thursday, December 29, 2011


Too much, much too much, time has passed since I last wrote.  Of course much too much stuff has happened since my last entry, but that's life no matter where you live.  I've written blog entries (in my head, anyway) about the immigrant experience, how everything, down to where to buy toilet paper, has changed, and the love I feel for this land, but for reasons I'm not sure of, the words in my head never made it to my laptop.  Clearly, that changed today.

Life has certainly been exciting 'round here.  I live in this great little city (when you're from NY and Chicago, 80,000 people makes it a 'little' city) that has managed to get air time in Switzerland, Iran, India, New Zealand, across the US, and I'm certain everywhere else on the map- maybe even Antarctica!  I so don't want to belabor the issues (and they seem to keep growing like a fungus) about my new home of Beit Shemesh, since anyone who can read knows a little something about the insanity that's unfolded here. 

So I was thinking.  The "I do Judaism better than you" war re-broke out at the same time my youngest contracted pneumonia, my puppy contracted tick fever, I started taking a more intense interest in my health, we had our first Chanukah in Israel, and I visited an army base with a group that seeks to remind our beloved soldiers that they are valued and not forgotten.  I tried to see if there was any common denominator amongst these things and came up flat as a pancake.  If I got really creative I suppose I could link the pneumonia and tick fever; I mean they both looked like crud, both became very needy, and both need medicine, but that doesn't cut it.  And I suppose I could connect visiting an army base to Chanukah and our perseverance over the Greeks who tried to destroy us and anything Jewish.  And then I could probably make a case for the yin yang-ness of fighting for Judaism while watching others unintentionally- or not- seek to destroy it.  But none of these connections worked for me. 

Until, I realized, they're ALL about connectedness.  We all want to feel valued, loved.  We all want to know that we have something to look forward to when we open our eyes in the morning, and that opening our eyes is in and of itself a very hopeful thing.  We all want to be held, to be cared for, to be pampered occasionally, to be part of a cause that is much bigger than us.  Maybe "all" of us don't feel "all" those things, but I do.  Stroking my son's cheek and making him his umpteenth cup of hot cocoa, holding my shivering puppy and calling the vet- those are things that made me feel quite connected.  No parent relishes seeing their child sick (or making so much cocoa that I'm convinced I should just grow cocoa beans in the backyard), crying in pain, or coughing uncontrollably.  And no matter how much of a pain-in-the-rear that fluff ball can be, seeing our pup shiver and crawl into spots we didn't know she could crawl in to while doing her best impersonation (indogination?) of a catatonic patient, connected my ability to love and nurture.  Lighting Chanukah candles for the first time as a family in this beautiful Land connected us to our history- geographically, religiously, spiritually.  Taking greater interest in my health reminds me that I'm connected to my husband and children and that if I don't take care of myself, exactly who do I expect will?  And while I know that my family would, they don't deserve extra burdens that I could have prevented.  Like that old New York telephone commercial reminds us, we are ALL connected.

And what of the trip to the army base and the religion wars taking place in what is otherwise the lovely city of Beit Shemesh.  The army base visit on the last day of Chanukah allowed me to realize that the young men and women of the IDF are one of the reasons I can sleep soundly at night.  They risk their lives on a daily basis to ensure the safety and security of this Land and the people fortunate to live within.  It was clear that the soldiers valued our desire to connect with them and in turn, each other.  They strengthened me and us, them.  That connectedness is something I feel seeping through my pores and energizing my soul.  And that connection will help me in my self-care journey and G-D willing, help create a domino effect of kindness and giving.

And the religion wars.  What is there to say, seeing as how every news outlet has an opinion, every resident of Beit Shemesh has an opinion, and Jews round the world are formulating theirs.   I think that somewhere along the way, connections were lost, broken.  We forgot that we are all one people who were given one Torah by one G-d.  We also forgot that there are so many different ways to be Jewish and that despite those differences, we're still one people.  Tzniut (modesty) is seen as one of the key issues of the war in our city and dare I say, in the Jewish and secular worlds.  Tzniut is a driving force of how we dress, how we interact with the opposite gender, and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.  Our sexuality is closely tied to all these things and in the proper settings, connects us with our spouses and in turn the generations G-D allows us to create.  I think that greater connectedness in the proper realms is one of the issues that lay at the heart of the matter.  And, I think, the focus on women and girls as provocateurs on buses and ads and on our way to school and work, highlights the lack of intimate connectedness in the proper, Torah sanctioned, settings.  Connecting with your spouse and being physically present are hugely important matters that I believe play a significant behind-the-scenes part in the recent goings on.

I also believe that there's been a tremendous internal disconnect.  When I'm happy with who I am and what I represent to myself and the world, I have no need to prove who I am.  That positive energy will radiate from my smile, my stance, my presence.  When I know who I am I don't need to tell anyone else who (I think) they are.  And when I'm connected to myself and my true essence, I'm that much more connected to my family, puppy included, and the world at large.  When we know who we are, we don't have to hurl insults, or assault people in the name of what we've determined is the "right" way.  We don't have to hide behind cloaks, real and imagined, or yell and scream at others who don't believe I am who I purport to be. 

Our connection to our true G-Dliness needs repair.  If I respect you and you respect me, we connect and that brings us closer to each other, to our community, and to G-D.  Get a whole lot of that connection stuff going and the world really becomes a better place.  I don't live in a fantasy world, though I've been told often that I do.  I am choosing to be positive and see a future for myself and my family.  And when I encounter folks, and I know that I will in many forms as not everyone will get my little "get connected" memo, who seek to tell me I'm less- than because I'm a Jew, a woman, a Zionist, an American, a Social Worker, or anything else I strongly identify with, I must remember that under it all, I know who I am.  That's not to say I won't get angry and that's not to say that my abilities to reign in my own upset will be at their max. But it also doesn't mean that I need to try to prove to them who I am.  And for better or worse, I am connected to them, and them, me. 

I choose to stay positive but I will also choose to defend my children and others should attacks become violent or exploitative.  Hell hath no fury like this momma when her babies are threatened or harmed.  And frankly, hell hath no fury like a community who feels attacked and abused because they look, act, or practice differently.  Perhaps we can take that energy and invest it into actual respect and zero tolerance for anything less.  We must always stand up for what we believe in and who we are- no doormats allowed!  But I believe in my heart of hearts that we have to remember that we are ALL connected; and that if we don't see it, those who seek to destroy the Jewish people surely will.  When the Jew haters of the world unite, they won't care who's yelling about Tzniut or women's issues, how any of us are dressed or what we think of each other.  A little connectedness and recognition of the ties that bind could go miles... if we let them. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Israel's Allure....

There's something very 'Billy Joel' about this Land.  I have a feeling we all know why She goes to extremes and like the lyricist sings, there seem to be no in-betweens.  I told someone earlier that Israel can be the most amazing place on the planet or make me wanna kill myself; the timing is the only thing that separates the two!  Enigmatic, seductive, full of profundity, simplicity, and sometimes Itself, Israel is in so many ways, a place unto its own.

I said once before that I don't know how a physical space can be so utterly magnetic.  Living here is sometimes akin to being a religious voyeur or a masochist
.  There's always a fight or a struggle, always something to keep us entertained and give us reason to grab our chests.  We're always in the news, whether its because of another political tragedy, technological advancement, or latest holy battle.  New York may think It's the city that never sleeps, but this li'l country gives NYC some stiff competition for that title.

A few people have told me they think I'm sad, upset about
being here.  I like to think I'm insightful, but no, I'm not sad.  If there are those who wear their hearts on their sleeve, I tend to wear mine as a full outfit; anyone who knows me well knows that's my standard modus operandi.  So when I share my thoughts and feelings, even admit that I cry like a big 'ol baby, it doesn't always indicate sadness. 

Before we moved, many asked me why.  Why now, why there, why, given how established you are, the friends and family you'll leave behind, yadda
, yadda, yadda.  I was, frankly, embarrassed that I could never seem to articulate THE reason for our move.  I wondered, "Am I faking it?  Do I not *have* a real reason?  Am I being pretentious?  Do I even know why we're leaving?  Should we just be committed, medicated, and call it a day?" And particularly for someone as ever-so-slightly verbose as I (Oh, I can hear the laughter from here...), not being able to tell someone THE REASON was a little scary.

In discussing this with one of my trusted and beloved co-workers, for whom moving to Israel is probably as likely as say, moving to Timbuktu, I learned why I was leaving. She listened as I spoke dreamily and said, "Its because you want to live an authentic [Jewish] life."  And there it was.  Boom! No fuss, no muss, no need for a thesaurus
(I wasn't planning on making that rhyme, but I like the Dr. Seuss flow).  I'm going to live in Israel so I can live my life as an authentic Jewish woman, mother, and wife.  Ta-da!  The reason was born.

There have been moments since we landed at Ben Gurion
that I have loved beyond words, as well as those I loathe to give voice to.  But let me clear, THIS is where I belong, where my family belongs, where my soul and heart belong.  When you're at peace within yourself, everything, and I do mean everything, falls into place.  They may not fall where you thought they would, or land in the spot you prepared, but when your kishkies ('guts') are at peace, so is the rest of you and all you're a part of.  Living in Israel, as an old time Olah (someone who made Aliyah) told me all of 5 days after our arrival, is a privilege.  Seems funny to think about living in a place where you can find Jews who hate other Jews and Arabs who insist we stole their land in this way.  But to be a part of our authentic history, to be able to go on a tour of biblical sights that make the Torah come alive, to be in a Land where you're wished a Happy New Year on soda bottles, where the words "holiday season" do not mean "we're trying to be PC but you know we're talking about Christmas," IS a privilege.  There's no panacea here or in the States or Timbuktu (I should tell my friend in case she somehow does decide to head there).  But Israel is as close as I can get to G-D and with that, I offer a prayer, a very Rachel-esque prayer.

Dearest G-D in the heavens, my heart, my soul and my home....

Please watch over all Your people, no matter where they live, the name they give You, the color of their skin, their past, their present, or their future.  Please help us keep our intentions pure as we interact with the world You've allowed us to be a part of, so that we may know You in the most blessed of senses.  Please watch over our children and our spouses and help each of us be the best 'us' we can be for all of them.  Please allow us to flourish and not flounder, to seek You and find You even when we don't know how much we need You.  Please help us unite for causes
that are good and not destroy ourselves from within.  Please encourage us to use the brains You've given us so we may think for ourselves but also know when we simply can't do it alone.  On this Rosh Hashanah, please help us get over ourselves so we can do what is right in Your eyes and not everyone else's.  Please help us be a Light unto to the nations- including our own.  Please help us be the 'stand up' people we have the potential to be and let all egos, power trips, hatred, and sheer stupidity be alleviated from this world.  Thank You for all that You are and all that You continue to do for us, including giving us the ability to create tangible peace and true respect.  Dear G-D, thank You for being in my life and holding the lantern by my side particularly when it feels a bit heavy.  Thank You for being You and encouraging me to do the same."

May we all have a Shanah
 Tova (a Good Year) in all the ways we hope and pray it to be.  Chag Sameach L'Kulam (Happy Holiday to all)!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Evolution of a Dream...

In the past few days I've asked myself why I'm here.  I came to this country with a whole lot of dreams, some wishful thinking, and tremendous intent.  But its hard to live day in and day out missing your loved ones, your creature comforts, and not, say, wake up to this week's version of "As the Hafganah (protest) Turns."  Factor in the energy it takes to communicate in Hebrew (Oh, how I long for the day when I can skim an article and understand it), and you've got yourself a fairly large, international headache.

I do a fair share of crying.  I'm lying; I do *everybody's* fair share of crying.  I'm a mush on a good day, so the taxing ones, difficult ones, and downright painful ones pry open the flood gates like Niagara
Falls.  I find myself crying about different things-  missing Chicago, missing my friends, missing walls with colors other than the very safe yellow and eggshell the kablan (builder) used on our rented home. Then there's the sheer volume of everything going on in my life, not to mention the amount of Goliath-like strength we need to raise 4 children, 3 of whom are teenagers.  The phrase "G-D give me strength" is uttered quite often 'round here.

But as I sat on our mirpeset
(porch) this past Shabbat reading a rather good book about a murderous child (how's that for relaxing content?), I realized that the lines that divide my life before and after Aliyah are blurring in a big, and relatively surprising, way. I'm a big believer in boundaries, as in, please respect my space and I'll respect yours, but this is one of those rare times when blurry lines are not a bad thing.  There are times I find myself pining for the things I miss (my kingdom for a car!), but I find myself kind of enjoying the life we're creating here.  I don't relish the reenactment of the bumpy bus rides of my youth, I'm still not entirely sure why skim milk, in a land working towards a cure for Alzheimer's, is such a big deal, and I have a hard time wrapping my head around why every surface needs to be on a slant.  Does no one else in Israel enjoy walking on flat surfaces?  Geez....

Ironically, I can't necessarily say I love this, that, or the other thing, about Israel.  I find that I'm back to that rather comfortable place of simply knowing and sensing the intangible. Israel is, I believe with my heart and soul, a sensory playground
.  I feel it, I see it, I hear it- but please don't ask me to explain it.  Though I really get, now that I'm no longer in the States, just how connected and attached I was to the customs of my youth and the routines of my adulthood, what I understand more is that, for me at least, the US contained a tangible absence of everything I feel here.  My cup overfloweth with the amount of spiritual fulfillment I have here.

Tonight's unity rally in Beit
Shemesh, despite the fact that we've had rally after rally, after protest after rally, strengthened me in ways that I needed.   Being here for not even 3 months is, in my estimation, way too soon to feel the passion burn out.  But dealing with folks who protest the existence of the Jews I most identify with, gets really old really fast.   I credit this group of extremists with raining on my Aliyah parade and frankly, resent them for it.  Perhaps they didn't get the memo, but the first year post-move involves backbreaking labor and thusly, does not need additional junk added to it.  I mean, what's a little misguided hatred in the name of G-D added to the adjustment to a new country, new schools, and a new language?

So you can understand then why I was a little surprised (OK, a lot surprised) to find myself, while still in the midst of resentment and feelings of disgust that follow me like a puppy, a bit grateful to these zealots for the ways in which they've left "the other side" no choice BUT to unify.  Trust me, I'm not going to send out personal thank you cards and would have been just fine if they hadn't done some of the despicable things they have.  Still, being part of a crowd singing HaTikva
(Israel's national anthem about hope), Am Yisrael Chai (The Nation of Israel Lives), and being privileged to hear representatives from assorted parts of our community, made me feel that "Od Lo Avadeti Tikvateinu,"  *I* have still not lost (our) hope."  I know why I came to this Land.  It is, and dare I sound hokey and American, my Land and was made for (you and) me.  It is a gift to all Jews, no matter how they dress, what they look like, or the language they speak.  My intentions are to establish myself as a contributing member of the national and religious communities, no- to the JEWISH community.  My dream, and when I dream I dream big, is to be part of something that unifies Jews of every shape and color. Real life and I have, once again, become intimately acquainted, but I simply refuse to stop dreaming.  I came to Israel to live an authentic Jewish life where shofar (ram's horn) blowing is the norm, where you have to go out of your way to find non-kosher food, and where Good Shabbos can be heard from bus drivers and grandmas alike.

Something crystallized for me tonight.  See, Beit Shemesh's fight is MY fight.  We all want to be heard and acknowledged and respected, even though sometimes the means to that end are about as backwards as they come.  But I can really understand now that  I'm part of something so much bigger than myself and my family.  I am truly a piece of a very old and very meaningful puzzle.  My dreams are no longer just in my head, but what I live every single day. There are more dreams from whence the original batch came, and I'm choosing to savor each one. My blurry lined dreams now lend themselves to a very real, integrated way of living.  They helped me get to Israel and will help me ultimately grow into who and what I have the potential to be. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I think I'm gonna like it here....

I'd be lying if I said there haven't been moments that make me wonder what in the world I got myself into.  I've seen some pretty ugly things in these parts, and not from the places or people I thought I would.  I'd read about some of the stuff I've seen and experienced, but witnessing them always brings me back to the phrase, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."  Frankly, I sometimes think we're not even on the same planet anymore! Some folks are able to bring animus and acrimony to new heights.  Said folks really need new hobbies.

I maintain that G-D is the best comic around.  When I'm feeling like I've landed on Planet of the Apes, somehow, some thing or someone shows up to prove me wrong.  After this week's "Get to the back, Rosa" experience, I found myself in a store whose clerk was playing, "Just One Shabbos," a song about Jewish unity at its best.  Earlier this week, my husband and I went into a sporting good store in hot pursuit of an American-style football (we got the last one!) where the cashier welcomed us to Israel.  A few weeks ago, while sitting on a bus that's usually crowded but emptied before I'm used to, the Ethiopian bus driver assured me that I was on the right bus and that I'd get more comfortable with the bus lines in time.  Today, a phone company representative wished me an easy klita (absorption into Israeli society).  Its funny, 'cause I don't ever remember the phone company in the States doing much more than telling me that 9AM-5PM really was a realistic time frame to wait for a tech.  Often, no one seemed to care that real people with real phone problems can't just sit home and pander to the phone company's will-I-or-won't-I-show-up-today tactics.  The techs were often rather pleasant, but none ever welcomed me to the 'hood.

I've seen a great many instances of what I call 'Jews behaving badly,' a sitcom idea I hope no one ever picks up.  But I've been welcomed in the oddest ways and in the oddest places.  I mean really, why did the bank clerk care that I use the Hebrew she could tell I was struggling with? She cared about my linguistic skills as well as where I put my money?  Two of my sons encountered a public bus driver who wanted to know why they weren't speaking Hebrew, only to tell them that he's from New Jersey after learning they were right off the boat (er, plane).  The cell phone company gal agreed, during what I can only imagine was a relatively painful conversation all the way around, that she'd go easy on us in Hebrew if we agreed to go easy on her in English.  A rental car guy, after seeing our not-so-hidden disappointment about not being able to rent a car without our passports (Do you carry your passport everywhere?  We don't!), drove Josh home so he could get our passports, and then drove him back so we could rent a car.  When I was on an undeniably overcrowded bus, literally laying on a Charedi woman because there was no where else to go, I knew she had every right to tell me to get off.  Instead, she told me that they really need to add more buses to the fleet during school dismissal time so that we don't have children bouncing off the interior like uniformed ping pong balls.  I agreed with her, she told me its been like this forever, and we wished each other a good day. Israelis are very particular about having photographs taken in their stores (Really, I don't think I'm gonna start a war because I have a picture of your merchandise, but hey, its your store, so...), but when I asked a grocery store worker if I could take pictures of a table set for Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) to show friends in the States, he responded with the world's biggest "Betach (Absolutely)!!!" Even our ulpan teacher, whose job it is to shove as much Hebrew into our tired American heads as possible, has shared bits and pieces of her own immigration to Israel.

Honestly, I just gotta ask... What's with these people??? Why do they care so much?  Why have they welcomed us so warmly?  And why do they want *us* to teach *them* English?  Perhaps, just perhaps, its because this is really how folks are supposed to act.  At this moment in our lives, we are very strange strangers in a beyond-description strange land.  A friend of ours said once that she believes the possibilities for evil are greater here because the realities of holiness are, too.  I suppose its that "you can't hate till you love" or "you don't know what you've got till its gone" kind of thinking.  I'm bowled over by the dichotomy in approaches and the full force with which both ways of being come at you here.  

I crave consistency, which makes the whole move-out-of-your-literal-comfort-zone a wee bit difficult sometimes.  But I'm learning new levels of comfort and that I'll need to employ them when new levels of discomfort rear their head.  I'm not on an "Israel's perfect" kick, but I am giving myself permission to appreciate the good that is here, that is evident, and that doesn't require a search party or magnifying glass.  I've been called naive, a dreamer, and unrealistic.  Ironically, the folks that have used those terms have done so, I think,  in the hopes of getting my feet to meet the pavement.  I often say that I understand *how* things happen, but can't understand why they really do.  I don't get how a people who've gone through every horrific social ill imaginable (and I know that there are other groups and societies and cultures who have as well), can so viciously turn on itself.  I think fear of the unknown and worry about what'll happen next drive a lot of that venom.  I think a lack of education, a lack of exploration, and the absence of critical thought intensifies those fears.  None of these reasons are excuses, but I think they are very real forces to be reckoned with. 

And yet, you have some of the most opinionated taxi drivers, who I'm convinced would make great politicians in this itty bitty plot of land, that will fearlessly tell you where its at while helping you unpack your  groceries, utility company representatives who are glad you're here, and neighbors who often don't know what to do next to help you get adjusted and stay that way.  I'm starting to think that the Israeli flag is only two colors as a metaphor for the country's divergent paths.  And being Jews, I'm impressed we were even able to agree on which two colors!   

I'm determined to do my fair share of making this work.  And not just our aliyah, but being Jews in this wacky little place we call home.  I think of the Kotel, the Western Wall, as the great equalizer.  Everyone who stands there stands before G-D.  You can agree, disagree, wear a skirt, slacks, have a keepah or not, and think whatever you want.  But when you're at that Wall you're in the presence of G-D Himself.  No one's bigger nor is anyone better, even if they think they are.  Everyone stands as one in the presence of He who is One.  Its the most subtle but undeniable way of putting us in our place. We all need to know where we stand within ourselves, our communities, and on this planet.  Mordechai Ben David sings, "We’ll sing and dance to the sky, With our spirits so high, We’ll show them all it’s true, Let them come and join us too." May those who welcome, those who isolate, and those who don't even know who they are, join in all that is good.  I'm determined to continue making that leap and hope that others join, because you know what? The water's nice and warm on this side of the world.  

Just One Shabbos, song:

Just One Shabbos, lyrics:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rosa Parksenstein has arrived...

There wasn't much I could really do after learning of my father’s death on a Shabbos (Sabbath) 14 years ago; he died in New York and we lived in Chicago.  I wandered aimlessly through our apartment, to the front steps, back and forth, and then back and forth some more, all day long. During one of my "stare into space on the stoop" sessions, I saw what seemed to be the world's largest and slowest caterpillar.  That little thing chugged away, centimeter by centimeter and I thought that at some point, it would probably turn into a really large, and hopefully beautiful butterfly.  Since that day, I've associated butterflies with my father.  I'm not sure when I made the connection, but there is something very special, comforting, and real to me about them.  Today I saw two butterflies and I haven't seen many in Israel thus far. I’ve experienced my fair share of infuriatingly persistent buzzing flies, but not butterflies. I’ve also never in my entire life experienced the kind of traumatic morning I did today.  I've suffered through trauma, but this, this was beyond belief.  And if I allow myself to relive it, it proves to be as traumatic and unbelievable now as it was then.  I suppose the first of the two butterflies I saw today was my father's way of saying, "I'm right here and I have your back."  

We live in Beit Shemesh, an area that is populated by both Dati-Leumi (religious-national) and Chareidi ("ultra orthodox") Jews.  Within the Charedi group of  not so merry men and women, is a belief that the genders should be separated whenever they can be- during food shopping, eating pizza, or riding a public bus.  I'd heard and read about "Mehadrin" buses (loosely translated as the ‘best of the best’) and told myself that I would never take one. One might think that description refers to the bus' navigational system or road handling,  but it doesn’t.  Some how, someone came up with this nutty idea to have women sit in the back of the bus and men in front, for the purposes of modesty.  I don't know whether to laugh or throw up because it's simply unreal.  But I learned first hand today that it is very real. And if you know me, and for what its worth, I talk how I type, you know that I don't "do"  disrespect, prejudice, or inhumane behavior very well at all. 

My husband and I had no clue that the bus we boarded this morning was a "mehadrin" bus.  Bus segregation for the record, is entirely ILLEGAL in Israel, but still practiced by some… my luck! As I scanned the front of the bus for an available spot after paying my fare, a seated gentleman in Charedi garb told my husband that I had to go to the back of the bus. My answer was simple: NO. He told us it was a Mehadrin bus, as if that would make me skip to my 'rightful' place in the back, but his statement was quickly met with, "Lo bishvili (Not for me)!" A woman sitting in the back of the bus threw in her two shekels and INSISTED loudly, and eventually up close and personally while yelling at me in front of the other straphangers, that I move to the back out of "kavod (respect)." She told me, "This isn't the US... [you]can't just do what [you] want," and then proceeded to call me "chiloni (secular)." Understand that in Israel, being called 'chiloni' is the equivalent of telling someone they're not even Jewish. 

But these folks were messing with the wrong Jewish lady. I stood my ground and told her that she could be a slave but that I choose not to be.  I continued to sit in the front of the bus for the very brief period of time we were even on the dang thing, and maintained my not-so-subtle stance: the back of the bus my foot! It was, indeed, my "Rosa Parksenstein" moment, but I made it very clear to myself and the others on the bus, that I will, frankly, be damned if anyone's going to tell me where I can sit or treat me like a second class citizen. There was no way on this planet that I was going to be made to feel like anything OTHER THAN a proud Jewish woman. I had my kubaton in hand in case things got physical, as I wasn't convinced they wouldn't.  Proud I am, stupid I'm not.

After exiting the bus, kubaton in hand and religious litany in ear, the tears started to flow  from a visceral place deep inside.  I cover my hair, I wear skirts, I wear sleeved shirts, and maintain that my most important jobs in this world are that of being a mother and wife.  I know where it’s "at" and I know that public embarrassment and shame are not.  When someone asked me why I was crying, a woman who was dressed much like me, she asked if I was told to move to the back because of how I'm dressed.  I told her it wasn't because of my dress, but because I have a uterus.  I learned, once again,  just how important it is to stand up for what I am.  Moments earlier I was able to calm myself briefly by acknowledging that this was just a test.  Of what you ask?  Perhaps, of seeing how much I believe the phrase, "Don't judge Judaism by its Jews."  Perhaps, of seeing how much insanity I'll put up with before I say, "we are OUTTA here!" 

I've had my mettle tested before and I don't give up easily.  My passion in what I believe in is both my strongest and weakest suits. But today it was the best weapon I had. I know who I am and that being a Jewish woman is something I am extremely proud of.  For crying out loud, my kids are Jewish because of ME.   I've no intentions of hiding from someone who finds the scent of my estrogen too strong.   I will not hide behind my femininity nor, use it destructively. Ironically, I actually LIKE covering my hair (it's like dress-up for grown ups) and clothing myself in a way that speaks to my integrity.  One might've thought I was dressed like a... or not dressed at all from the reactions I received today.  I even find it a bit amazing that the woman yelling at me was upset enough to enter (cue the Star Wars music) "The Verboten Spot" just to give me a piece of her mind- one that she clearly needs to keep to herself. Perhaps passion is her yin-yang, too.

I cried from what seemed like the depths of my soul. The assault hurt in a way that I still can't entirely explain but feel in the pit of my stomach, core of my being, and fabric of my soul.  In my opinion at least, I’m one of the most respectful people I know; its part of who I am personally, religiously, and professionally.  So to not be given the same due, particularly by a hair covering, skirt wearing, Jewish woman, boggles my mind.  Our Torah contains stories about women who led the way, navigated uncharted territory, and still made it home for dinner. Women who dressed modestly but were alluring when they needed to be. Women who stood by their men and stood up for themselves.  See, I don't want to be as innovative as much as be like them.

I don't want to fight, I don't want to argue, and I don't want to contribute to the divisiveness that is trying to consume us.  I don't want to be part of the reason, as my 10 year old so poignantly said, we'll have another Tisha B'Av.  I felt undeniably vindicated after sharing this tale with my 16 year old daughter when she said "Good for you!" To me, that means I'm doing something right.  It means that my daughter has self respect and like her Mom, won't take these things lying down, or forcefully seated in the back of a bus.  I take solace in having done what I feel was the absolute right thing to do, as well as from the butterfly that flew past and then perched itself near me as I cried. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Emotional Overload...

Some days are fantabulous, some make me wanna stick my head in the toilet, and others leave me feeling both.  Sometimes it feels like so much is going on, as though events are swirling in tornado-like winds with no end in sight.  Sometimes, I just need my Auntie M!

Let’s see.  The kids have all started school, making this our very first experience with the Israeli school system.  I’m grateful that none of them are entering pivotal school years (like senior year) so there’s an ounce less pressure there.  We saw our 8th and 10th graders off yesterday, our 11th grader today, and by the time the hubby and I left our youngest’s 5th grade class this morning, I was in tears.  Not hysterics, but tears of, well, I don’t know what. My baby is no longer a baby.  That cute, curious, dirty blond, curly haired child is taller than I and in the 5th grade.  By the time we left his class I think the newness of everything had run up and bit me.  It was a mother moment I imagine many can relate to.

Things have settled down some since the protest insanity, but emotions are still running high.  We attended the opening ceremony, if you will, of the girls’ school (around the corner from our youngest) today and watched as things remained largely uneventful.  I have never seen the military on the first day of school, nor as many little girls it’s-the-first-day-of-school-do-you-like-my-new-shoes giddy faces.  A member of the Knesset spoke as well as the Rosh Yeshiva of Shaalei Torah (the head rabbi of this particular school system).  There were brief speeches, encouraging words, and an emphasis on venturing through the school year with G-D, Torah, Ahavat Yisrael (respect and love for other Jews), modesty, and faith.  It was a beautiful morning topped off by the singing of HaTikva (Israel’s National Anthem) and positive energy.  It still sickens me that all the hoopla happened and that so much reparation continues to be needed, but at least it was a good first day.

And then my work machinery freaked out!  The printer it seems, didn’t make it as successfully to Israel as say, the couches, and that makes me so very sad.  And frustrated.  And like I need a drink and a truck load of chocolate.  The phone keeps losing its VOIP connection and is taking my mind with it.  My e-mail receives messages from outside the network but can’t reciprocate.  Some times I think the computer gods have a vendetta against me.  And sometimes, I lose the energy to fight them.  Can I have some more chocolate now?

Oh yeah, a little more 'bout the kids.  Two of four think they like their schools, and the other two think their school is for ‘whack jobs.’  How quaint.  They are in a school for kids with ADHD, but not everyone ‘does’ their diagnosis quite the same.  And not every parent of children with said diagnosis will demand, despite gender, medication, and very real neuronal issues, that they best act like human beings if they want to enjoy the finer things in life.  I don’t do the ‘boys will be boys’ nonsense.  My boys will be big boys if they want to continue to be boys in this house, ADHD be damned!  I know that some days are really hard for them and that impulse control is not always a barrel of laughs.  But it pains me to hear that one of them was mooned today, that the other allowed the worst of his lack of impulse control to run amuck, and that everybody’s favorite four letter word can be heard ad nauseum.  Before you say, “But it’s Israel!  But it’s a religious school!”  remember that impulse control and bad manners don’t care what religion you are or where you live.  I wonder, if our problems can ignore boundaries, perhaps those at the heart of our protests can too?  

And then I realized that 9/11 is around the corner.  Like so many, I remember where I was when I heard the news, how I panicked about loved ones, and how I frantically called the East Coast to make sure they were all OK.  Occassional bouts of homesickness are now mixed with a pseudo desire to be in the States on 9/11/11, though I’m not at all sure what I think I’m going to miss by being here.  I felt the attacks far more as a Jew then an American, but seeing the American flag in the breeze touched my heart immeasurably.  I know that Israel will have footage and its own memorial programming; She certainly understands, all too well in fact, what it’s like to be attacked and exposed in naked vulnerability.  I suppose it all reminds me of my personal beliefs about where ’home’ is.  My home was “there” for so many years but I always knew that my HOME was ‘here.’ Sometimes my heart cries out for home while my soul convincingly reminds me that the US was but a path to this Land.  

I heard a song a few days ago by Carrie Underwood (WOW, can that girl sing!!) that spoke to (or sang to…) my thoughts about ‘home.’ I think I’ve always known where my home was, but was too afraid to acknowledge it.  Now I know… and that gives all the other stresses reasons to suffer through them.  There’s no place like HOME.  Take a listen....

Monday, August 29, 2011

A nice day for a protest...

Really, is there EVER a nice day for a protest?  Ironically or not, it was atypically cloudy in Beit Shemesh today so perhaps that was our first clue.  I have had blog entries swirling in my head for about a week, but nothing crystallized or brought me to that "I MUST tell the world" place.  Today's events have. 

The very short version of the story is this.  Orot Banot (an elementary girls school) is slated to move into a new building this week.  Plans for the girls to move into the building adjacent to the boys' school up our block have been contractually agreed upon, given mayoral blessing, and received oodles of supporter money.  The Chareidi community near by (Chareidim are what many people refer to as the "ultra Orthodox") has been accepting of this endeavor which is a great step forward in the struggle for Jewish unity, at least 'round here.  There are however, a group of Chareidim who have decided to protest the opening of the school by vandalizing it and surrounding property.   After the school was broken into this week, the mayor told school reps that he is rescinding his approval for the girls to attend the school because he cannot guarantee their safety. explains it like this:

The girls at the national religious “Orot” school had been due to start the new school year at the site, but were relocated due to the protest. Last week, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul sent a letter to the parents’ association, warning that he had received serious threats from ultra-Orthodox residents of the city, who vowed to cause physical harm to both to the mayor and the students should the school open as planned. Abutbul told the parents that in light of the threats, he could not guarantee the safety of the girls, and had decided not to open the school for the start of the academic year.”

I was at the first of the protests this morning.  I’m an emotional gal by nature, but it takes a lot to make my stomach LITERALLY turn.  Standing in the courtyard of the school though, I took in the image of men in long black coats with banana-curled payot (side burns) exit the school with their tallitot (prayer shawls) covering their faces and later, engaging in prayer in a football huddle.  I watched as they told one woman that she is like a “dead body” and “piece of trash.”  I watched as they debated what hatred really means with a gentleman from “the other side” who, G-D bless him, tried so beautifully to engage meaningful discourse.  I watched angry Dati-Leumi (religious-nationalist) Jews yell in disgust.  One woman, a physician, yelled “We take care of your wives and your children and you try to take away our school?”  Other people said that they simply couldn’t understand how these men could ask for tzedaka (charity) at one moment and then pull a stunt like this.  One person said ‘if you don’t like it, go to Gaza,’ while another said, “Go join the army!”

There aren’t enough words to describe how nuts this is.  There are not enough ways to describe how wrong this is, how divisive, how foolish, how logic-defying.  There was dancing, singing, flag waving, and an amazing display of Jewish and Zionistic pride by Dati-Leumi children and teens who let the Chareidi protesters know that they were both appalled and ready to explain the importance of this school and the Torah education our daughters all deserve.  But there were also guards, policemen, the media, border and riot patrol with machine guns, hand guns, and riot gear.  My family saw stink bombs thrown and balloons filled with sewer water tossed at the protesters. I was present for a war of words that started with a shove and a push.  At one point a wall of women formed after a Chareidi man pushed one of them, and the police told the Chareidim to leave for their own safety when fists, not so surprisingly, flew.

All of these details almost don’t matter though.  That anyone would want little girls out of a school because of the potential for salacious behavior or sexual allure is criminal.  That anyone would publicly state that 6-12 year old girls have the potential to sexually sway ANYBODY is sick, perverse, and pedophilia, plain and simple.  That a political official who was hired (or paid) to equally and loyally represent his ENTIRE constituency would out and out lie is, well, crazy!  The whole situation is insane, reinforces a divide between us and them, creates horrific animosity, makes coexistence painful, and hurts not only us and our children, but I’m guessing, G-D too.

And here’s what really kills me.  We are ALL Jews.  We were ALL at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) when G-D gave ALL of us the ONLY version of His Torah.  Riot gear against other Jews?  Jews calling each other Nazis and coming to blows over women’s education? Why would anyone want to deny these girls, or torture them in the process, when they are our future mothers, wives, teachers, and respected, contributing members of the entire world?  We’ve had enough dealings with people who want to kill us.  Heck, we have that going on now as rockets blast through the skies from Gaza to Be’er Sheva and runaway cars attempt to plow teens in Tel Aviv.  Do we need to turn on ourselves?  Do we need to virulently try to kill the spark of Judaism that I squarely believe cannot go out?  How do we get this to stop so that we unify for the good and not because some of our own have clear done lost their minds?  

We don’t have to love each other and sing Kumbaya, but we do have to respect the space we each take up on this earth, and here, in this G-D given country that embodies what Judaism REALLY is.  I don’t have to understand why someone wears layers of black in the dead of summer in the desert just as no one has to understand why I like to wear funky mitpachot (head scarves) and sport the world’s ugliest ankle brace. Perhaps I’m naïve; no, I know I’m naïve.  But I also know that I am now left with the task of carefully discussing this with my kids who have already formed opinions on the matter.  I must remind them that not everyone of ANY group is all bad, and that the men in the black hats and coats are not “always” this or that.  I must now re-explain that some of the stuff done by “our side” was wrong, too.  There are no guidebooks for dealing with stuff like this, though.  I’d grab the first copy of “How to cope when your own are out to get you” or, “How not to hate people who sound like you but are nothing like you at all” if I could.

I’ve turned and twisted and mulled this over all day and am left with a heart wrenching inner struggle.  It sickens me, devastates me, and makes me wonder why we use some of our best skills- negotiating, advocacy, and passion, to destroy who we are.  It simply makes no sense and if it doesn’t end, we will.

Post script:  News reports now state that the school will open this week as originally planned. While this is surely a success we still have so much to do.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wherever I go, there I am...

I have had moments, hours, even days, where homesickness has bitten me fiercely.  Today for example, I dried my hands in a public bathroom under a hot air dryer, read the company address under the manufacturer’s logo, and started to cry- it was made in Bartlett, IL.  I’ll be the first to admit that that's ridiculous for a variety of reasons. Let’s see, there are probably 15 Jews in all of Bartlett, I have no connections to Bartlett, and I've never BEEN to Bartlett!  But seeing a zip code that started with ‘60’ and an area code of 708 made me mushy.  I’m guessing the moral of the story then is that I should’ve used paper to dry my hands.  Sigh...

Things are moving along though and some are starting to feel OK.  Milk in a bag is just fine, as are 10 shekel coins vs. 10 dollar bills, the occasional iguana that graces my path, liter and a half bottles of soda, mailmen in shorts, T-shirts, keepah and tzitzit (the four cornered garment with strings worn by men), and kosher Doritos.  Hiking to the grocery store, the lack of closets, the inability to understand the writing on my shampoo bottle (I can only assume it says something like ‘hair will grow in thicker, fuller, and just like it was when you were 20’), and Splenda that can be purchased for the low, low sum of half a leg, are things I’m certainly less enamored with.

I try hard to be realistic though I know I can do my fair share of idolizing when I need and want to.  Honestly though, Israel, the hum-drum, everyday, go-about-your-business Israel, is a place, to a degree, like every other place. People here buy food, clothing, go to appointments, spend money on non-necessities, like their neighbors but dislike that one guy down the block- just like they do everywhere.  So while this is the holiest place on the planet, G-D is not literally standing in aisle 5 of your favorite grocery store ready to wait on you.  What I do feel though is a connection to physical land that I don’t think I’ve felt before.  It’s weird, but I know its there. 

But while there are things that are indeed new BECAUSE of Israel, some would’ve happened here, there, or anywhere. Take my children, for example, all Henny Youngman jokes aside.  I have been blessed with four bright, feisty, independent, stubborn, creative, thinking children.  Two are teens, one’s an almost-teen, one’s got a few years until he’s a teen, and I’m applying for sainthood now.  I love my children with my heart and soul, and every cell of my being, even when it feels like I have nothing left to give, or on bad days, like they've taken all I have.  Their job is to push boundaries and envelopes and my sanity to the brink and on certain karmic days, I get to do the same to them.  Still, I don’t envy them for having to recreate themselves at this stage of their lives because I realize that adolescence mixed with Aliyah can be ever so slightly mind-blowing.   Its daunting to witness, let alone go through I’m sure.

The days that feel like good ones, where things are steadily progressing, where I’m not completely overwhelmed by school forms, and where I feel at peace with who I am, give me the courage to wake up the next day.  Days that are less-than, make me sad, make me wonder why things don’t seem easier, or feel right.  Those are the days I now realize that not only have to give me the courage to wake up, but throw myself on the floor and say, “Get up dang it!  Life’s not gonna wait for you!”  The days I let other people’s bad behavior get to me, like the man who reached across my face to get a pen in a store that was 5 inches wide at its maximum, are the days I have to remember that people are, as corny as it sounds, people.  There are wonderful people in Chicago as well as Israel (I’ll give Mr. Pen-grabber credit for at least wearing deodorant when his armpit came dangerously close).  There are rude people in Israel as well as New York.  There are religious people, people who aren’t religious but dress the part, and people who couldn’t care less about religion, everywhere.  People in most places would do anything to protect their kids, are often in a rush to get somewhere, and hate traffic.  People are who they are no matter where they are and that, quite frankly, also includes me.  At the end of the day, or any part of the day for that matter, it really isn’t about bags of milk or the lack of closet space.  It’s about how I handle where I am and what I’m doing.  Only I can decide when the honeymoon’s over, where reality and imagination converge.  And for now, I’ve decided that I’m not so sure I want to separate them or at the least, determine they have to be separate at all.

I realize, now that I’m old enough to say I’ve been around the block, that I’ve learned a couple of things about myself.  New York is where I grew up and will always have a special place in my heart.  I accepted being in Chicago like a cat to water, but eventually, it grew on me and is really where I grew as a person and human being. Israel, this land of mountains that continue to take my breath away, is the keeper of my roots.  If you think about those plant projects we all did in elementary school, where you planted a lima bean or whatever was in your parents’ kitchen, you may recall a soggy, soil-filled, messy mush.  The bean smelled funny, it looked weird, cracked in half and seemed downright icky before it became what our teacher insisted it would.  And then it happened.  Our weird looking bean sprouted… and grew.  Like Mr. Pen-grabber, I will continue to take the path less-smelly.  But much like that lima bean, I’m sure I look a little funny to the natives, and I know that sometimes I feel torn apart, not terribly whole, and like a soggy mush.  But G-D promised us this Land and It’s where I belong.  This time I’m planting myself so that I can be more than that bean and let the roots take hold.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Honeymoon's Over...

I'm tired of bourekas for breakfast, I don't understand the all-in-Hebrew e-mail I received from school, I miss my weekly People magazine fix, it freaks me out when cheese labels say "28% fat," and even iced coffee gets old.  I don't have a set of wheels and probably won't for the foreseeable future, have to rack my brains to get a full thought out in Hebrew nearly every time I open my mouth, stare intently when people speak so I can understand what they're saying, don't have a cell phone that consistently works (I'll take credit for dropping mine to its death, but the screen suddenly dying on my Droid is a sick trick Verizon saved just for arrival), and wanna know why the heck skim milk is non existent in this country!! Its my dang pity party and I'll cry if I want to... and I have.  A lot.

I love Israel.  I love what it means, what it stands for, that actual ancient ruins and holy sites are just 4 short bus rides away.  I feel like I belong, and that's not to say that I didn't in the States.  The difference is I don't just feel like I belong- I know I do.  And I also knew going into this full steam ahead, as I do with most things in life, that it was going to be hard.  All that talk about leaving everyone and everything? I get it now.  At this very moment as I digest my gazillionth boureka, stare out into a field that is yelping for water, and watch the dog sleep in the sunlight, I really get it.

I spent all of last year living in two worlds.  I always knew what time it was in Israel because our daughter spent the year here. My confusion is magnified now, in a reverse parallel universe kind of way,  because I'm working American hours. Add to that the fact that sometimes I really don't know where I am! I keep using the wrong words to describe America and Israel; America was always 'here,' Israel always 'there.'  But I'm not 3rd generation American HERE, nor am I going to live OVER THERE.  I am here, I'm from there and now I need more iced coffee!

I find myself struggling immensely with the world in which I now live, or more aptly, how my world view is shaping me and how I'm choosing to shape it.  I never believed myself to be a terribly materialistic person, and I still don't know if missing my purple carpet and view of the yard makes me a hypocrite.  There are things I can live without, no question, but at this very moment, I miss them.  I used to be part of a world where I was different because my hair was covered, because I took off on a bunch of holidays few were familiar with, and because I said it like it was.  That last part really put a damper on the whole ladylike thing;  much like Popeye, I am who I am.  Here though, I'm one of seemingly a million head scarf wearers who say it like it is and that's kinda' cool.  I don't have to get ideas about how to wrap my mitpachat (head scarf) from a You tube video any more- I can get them from the lady on the bus or the cashier at the grocery store.  I don't have to worry (as much) about kosher food availability or where I can purchase religious items either- they sell kippot (yamulkas) in the grocery store for crying out loud! 

But I also lived in a world where people view each other within the scope of color, race, and religion, both as a statement of what simply is as well as judgmentally.  Black, White, Latina, Asian, Jewish, non-Jewish, and the list goes on and on and on.  Israel is sadly not above that, but by and large, everyone here, no matter the color of their skin, country of origin, or length of their skirt or payot (side burns/ curls) is Jewish.  What I'm not used to in the full throttle way I'm experiencing it now, is the amazingly, painfully, and really sad ways the lines between Jews are drawn.  There are disparaging feelings shared between the Modern Orthodox, 'regular' Orthodox, and Chareidim (what many describe as the Ultra Orthodox or Chasidic); its a pathetic mutual non-admiration society.  Why on heavens we're debating amongst ourselves who "does" Torah or Judaism right-er, better, or more WITHIN the Orthodox camp boggles my mind.  That just means that there's more to get used to and in time, address.

I haven't had too many breakdown's since the Aliyah ball got rolling.  I've cried, L-rd knows I've cried, but actually feeling like I'm going to fall on my face from homesickness has only happened a few times.  I understand that my life is no longer about when I move- it's about where to get milk in a bag.  It's no longer about how good my Hebrew is or isn't, but how much I'm going to push myself to communicate and understand my environment.  And its not about saying goodbye anymore, but embracing every darned new thing in my path.  To quote a neighbor and others who've said this, "If [Aliyah] was easy, everybody would do it!" Well, it ain't easy by any stretch of the imagination.  

I'm trying to accept that the kinds of things I miss most are knowing where the post office is, how to get aluminum pans at a good price, and fully understanding the words I overhear in any given public place.  The honeymoon, wonderful albeit brief, is really over but I'm not leaving the marriage.  And as with my husband, who, on occasion makes me ponder how far he'd fly if I threw him out a window, I will weather the storm of marital discord with Israel.  There is no question that this is my homeland and that of my people.  But I'm not quite at the point where my physical abode feels like home and that's one of the things driving me batty. Being patient when you are naturally impatient makes for even more fun on this joyride.  My seatbelt's on tight though and the ride continues...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'd like a word with G-D...

In an attempt to make sure, or at least try to ensure, that each of our kids feels appreciated, I like to spend time with them, one on one, when I can.  We've spent time in the mall, sometimes we spend time without spending money, and sometimes we hang out on the couch watching mind-numbing TV.  It’s important I think, to spend quality time with your progeny while coming up with new ideas for reality shows we've yet to see- Are You Smarter Than a Multi-Tasking, Harried, Working Mother?  Lifestyles of the Distracted and BUNNY, or The Real Housewives of Aliyah.  The possibilities are endless!

Yesterday was Reuven-Mommy day and Roo chose the Old City in Jerusalem as our hang out/ destination.  We ate lunch at the Central Bus Station (where the image of religious girls eating kosher McDonald's burgers enclosed in Kung Fu Panda wrappers is a trip and a half), went to Ben Yehudah street, a hot spot of tourist traps and cool stuff, walked through the Jerusalem Municipality grounds, and then headed to the Old City.  A religious experience of note as we walked through the holy grounds included our trip to Zislik, an ice cream/ frozen yogurt/ bakery store that makes our Aliyah worth it all on its own.  But fear not, we continued to aspire ever higher. 

We walked towards the Kotel (Western Wall), readied ourselves to walk through security, and I realized that we were spending our "Mommy and me time" at *THE* holiest site on the planet.  I mean, I love a good mani/ pedi with Esti, movie with Tzvika, all around drive with Roo, and trip to the sporting good store with YaYa, but we were hanging out at the Kotel!!  It seemed that the significance of being there was not lost on Roo either, as he kept asking for a pen and paper so he could write, and then place, a note in the Wall.  I assured him that while I only had a pen, G-D was a pretty good mind reader and overall communicator.  One of the many things I like about G-D is that, much like a far holier E.F. Hutton, when you talk, He really listens.

Roo and I took pictures in the Kotel plaza and he headed towards the Wall.  I was going to head over to the women's side, but instead, chose to observe him as he entered the Site. I watched as my 12 year old, wearing a black Dave and Buster's T-shirt, khaki shorts, knitted keepah, blue Converse sneakers, and overly folded white socks that he’d borrowed from someone's drawer, walked over to the Wall, took in everything around him, placed his hands on the stones, and spoke to G-D.  I don't know what he said nor does it matter.  But I watched as he seemed to let the holiness of the place and the serenity of where he stood seep into his pores.  I watched as he borrowed a siddur (prayer book) from a stand nearby, and prayed.  I watched, and stood, and cried.  I closed my eyes, thanked G-D for the gift of being in His presence, bringing us Home, and listening to my son.  I too, let the holiness seep in as my son stood at the Wall and shared his thoughts.  I watched my son, who is named for my father, connect intimately with who and what he really is.  And then I cried a little more. 

The Wall has this uncanny ability to equalize everyone and everything in Its presence. No one is more or less religious and it doesn't matter how much or how little, within reason, is covered.  We all stand before G-D when we stand at the Wall, which is perhaps why I felt so at peace when we were there.  More than that though, I felt a sweetness, a joy, as I watched my son, the one who I'm certain will one day make me pull my hair out, the one who I think may very well drive me to drink, and the one to whom I often contemplate yelling, "DO IT 'CAUSE I SAID SOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" He was a sight to behold as he and G-D shared their moment.
I went to the women's side to say Mincha, afternoon prayers, & had many a word with G-D.  Thank you is overused and often uttered meaninglessly, but I said it anyway.  I thanked G-D for His love,  compassion, strength, and understanding.  I thanked Him for opening my heart and that of my son's and giving us the ability to share our words with Him.