Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Being Humbled...

We have been here for a little over a year and I still love this Land.  I still love the fact that I don't have to explain "being Jewish." I love the fact that Shabbat is not just Saturday, but a holy and blessed day that is recognized as such.  I'm quite aware that while Israel is not a panacea for Judaism (some might say its the exact opposite), I know that this is where I am supposed to be and that it is through G-d's miraculous grace that I get to live my history and be part of its continued existence.  And I say all of that with my feet planted on the ground, and my head nowhere near the clouds.

Mostly.  I've decided to embrace my "inner dreamer" rather than fight it 'cause it usually wins anyway.  Leaving the States took a lot of dreaming, so I've simply decided to run with it. But dreams need a firm foundation from which to grow... and ours is still being nourished and cared for.  The seeds have taken root and an occasional leaf or bud have been spotted, but I realize that we have kilometers and kilometers to go before we sleep.  And the fact  that I didn't write "miles and miles" took a level of restraint you cannot even imagine.

I left the States with a secured telecommuting job.  For reasons that are not important here, I am no longer employed.  I was with the company for almost 10 years, so not being there caused me to feel grief, sadness, and yes, to mourn; all ironic feelings considering I worked for a hospice.  I am grateful for everything I learned and the people I worked with.  But alas, I was no longer meant to be where I was, and though sad, I am grateful for what lies ahead.  See, I knew "it" was coming and believe that "it" was G-D's way of saying, "Rachel, you weren't gonna leave, so I made it happen!"  A clever One, indeed.

Though my job was not what I'd call an easy one (Entertaining?  Often... but not always easy), I feel now like I took the easy way out.  I had a job, I had a paycheck, I had familiarity in the face of tremendous change, and I stuck with what and whom I knew.  You may agree, or not, but I know myself and that not being professionally challenged was not always the wisest choice.   I also know that the somewhat faux sense of security I allowed myself was not so smart either.  I am *now* taking care of getting my social work credentials recognized by the State of Israel, which is something I should've done months ago.  I've also officially joined the Israeli job search market, to which I can only say, "oh goodie."

Folks don't choose social work because they think they'll get rich.  That's sort of like saying teachers go into their profession for the respect, and garbage men for the unique fragrance.  I do not think that all poorly paid professions are full of 'angels on earth' though. I've met some mean social workers who give all of us a REALLY bad name, nurses who don't care about patients in pain, and teachers who should never be allowed near children.  The vast majority of folks though *are* good people with good intentions, good skills and a true desire to fulfill a professional and personal mission.  I chose social work because I was kind of born into it.  Assorted life events shaped my desire to want to help others and I can't think of anything that speaks to me as strongly.  I love, LOVE, to sing and crochet (and might I add have become one heckuva snood maker), but my passion is in working with people.  Israel better look out, 'cause I'm gonna help you process your feelings till the flock-of-the-season comes home.  Now how does THAT make ya' feel!

I have learned that social workers in Israel make even less money than they do in the States.  That makes me want to cry, laugh, and shake my head in that "Oh dear G-D...Are you SERIOUS??" kind of way.  But I knew going into social work anywhere wasn't about the bucks, er... shekels.  Still, the notion that once you reach a "certain age (and I'm not all that sure what that age is)," you shouldn't have to start from scratch or prove yourself, lingers in my mind.  I grew up with old school notions about work, work ethics, and establishing oneself with a "good job."  But what comes to mind as I type that is the image of the 60+ year old woman who enrolled in graduate school the same year as I.  While everyone 'poo-poo'd' her and how amazing it was that she was starting a new career at "her age," she treated it as her time to grow.  She'd raised 9 kids, had a multitude of grandkids, and though she'd given so much to the world, she wanted professionally to give that much more.  She might have thought she was no big deal, but to many of us she was. 

I am, I guess one could say, in the midst of getting over myself.  I rely heavily on my ability to communicate and am still restricted by my ability to do so in Hebrew.  I am "the mom" and believe that my job as an "educator" to my kids is crucial.  And yet, it was my 17 year old who taught me how to say "traffic light" and "bubble" this weekend.  Basic, basic things that I still have yet to learn. And though I'm pretty sure no one's life has ever hung in the balance because of those two words, it was humbling to learn them from one of my children nonetheless. I love hospice social work and dare I say, I think I'm pretty good at it.  I know that I can command a team of professionals in serving a patient's needs, coordinate with the best of 'em, and walk away knowing I did the very best I could.  As I enter the world of Israeli social work, I'll have to assess feelings and pain in Hebrew and pray that I do so in a way that doesn't alienate folks who can hear my American accent even before I open my mouth.  Quite humbling indeed.

I'm up for the challenges of re-establishing myself, or more aptly, re-re-establishing myself.  Truth be told, I don't have much of a choice, but that's because I refuse to pack my life up again and move it across the water;  I think having my couches in a crate on the Mediterranean once is more than enough! I cannot work off the professional reputation I built in Chicago, and must create one anew.  I cannot rely, yet, at least, upon my ability to articulate my thoughts with the urgency they deserve.  This process isn't only about learning to adapt to change, but digging deeper into who I am and who I am supposed to be here

 I am excited, I am nervous, and I'm working hard at pushing all the "what-ifs" aside.  Because what if I make an even better life for myself and my family here?  And what if I contribute to a part of the world that needs compassion and understanding?  And what if I learn to love all this uncharted territory and become healthier for it?  Time will tell for sure, but as I journey forward I know that I'll continue to be greatly humbled by the challenges I face.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This One's For the Kids...

There were a gazillion things, at least, to consider and plan for when we made Aliyah.  One of those things, or four of those things to be specific, were our kids.  We visited schools, discussed special needs issues, medical stuff, where they'd be able to, hopefully, make friends, and then went for it.  There's only so much you can plan for and only so much you can hope and pray will fall into place before you just close your eyes, leap into the great unknown, and live your new life. 

We're 7+ months
in now and it dawned on me that we have 3 and a half teens (Our 10 year old has his days, thus the half) whose lives were in flux BEFORE they ever got on that plane!  All the ups, downs and sideways' adolescence brings are enough to make anyone wonder if, on some days, they can actually flush their head in the nearest toilet.  The highs are higher than the moon, and the lows supersede even the worst Kinneret water levels.  Yet, here they are, all four traipsing through our dream and doing so at the most change-filled periods of their lives.  If they haven't already thought it I'll just say it.  Guys, your parents are NUTS!

When I go back to the grand time that was my adolescence, I'm brought back
to a statement my dad, Z"L, made many times over; "[Your teen years] will be some of the best and some of the worst in your life."  'Twas a lovely sentiment at times, but bore itself out as truth more times than I can count.  While my children's teen years are not fraught with the same types of drama mine were, they are drama-filled still.  From rumor mills, to untimely deaths, to fizzled friendships, to expected transitions, each experience they've gone through is meaningful in some way.  I always hated, and still do, when people told me that what I was feeling was 'no big deal,' or that I'd simply 'get over it.'  That may have ultimately happened, but acknowledging the feeling in that moment would've been far more appropriate.  That said, I can't help but wonder how my kids are dealing with each of those types of moments- and Aliyah.

We've tried passionately to teach them about
what Israel means to us as Jews, individuals, a family and a people.  I think, and pray, that we've done a fairly good job there. But let's be real, OK?  If one of the kids had said "I'm not going," would we have actually left them in Chicago with sufficient food, clothing and stamps?  Would we have actually left them and said we'd call when we got here?  Of course not!  And I know this for fact because a certain then 12 year old needed to be pushed down the foyer to the El Al plane in New York after he, quite literally, dug his heels into the ground, shook his head no, and said he wasn't moving.  Yeah, he's sitting in school in Ramat Beit Shemesh right now, so clearly that was a battle he wasn't going to win.

Through thick, thin, and everything in between, we have tried to demonstrate
 to our kids that they are valuable simply because they breathe.  They don't have to be the best at any thing because they're being on the planet speaks for itself.  They are each imperfectly perfect, unique, and really, quite awesome.  That doesn't mean that they don't have particular skills we're proud of them for and others that they need to develop, but our love is not contingent on either. 

So my valuable little ones, who are all as tall if not taller than me, I offer these words to you.  Yes, we're proud of you, and yes, we love you more than it is
possible to ever adequately describe.  But we are also in true awe of you.  I don't know how you do it, really.  You're in a different country, a different culture with rules that often defy logic, or at least the logic we were all used to, and yet, I see each of you smile at least once a day.  I see you grow and mature (yes, EACH of you!) consistently.  I see you grabbing a hold of a language that scares some of us (me and Abba included), and I see you persevere every single day.  You know it hasn't been sunshine and roses all the time and that we have many more mountains to climb before our lives here feel normal, or as close as possible.  I respect you for your ability to express your homesickness (guess who gets it too...), your ability to tell us what you love and what you can't stand about Israel, and above all, that you're willing to stick it out for the long haul.

I don't think I could have withstood the challenge
of Aliyah when I was 10, 13, 15 or 16, but then again, I wasn't given the opportunity to know.  I was given lots of other opportunities, but learning how to live in the Middle East was not part of my bouquet of teen experiences.  You have each demonstrated a level of courage, appropriate chutzpah, and growing pains.  Folks give Abba and I a ton of credit for making Aliyah, for leaving the comforts of Chicago, our family, our friends, and the lives we worked hard to create.  But we're the grown ups (on most days anyway...) and while change is hard, we're old enough to pull on past experiences to help us navigate the waters.  You guys are so blessedly young and have trusted us through out the process.  While I'll admit that getting credit for making Aliyah feels nice, I think that you guys ought to get a lot of credit too.  Being a kid at any age can be tough, but you're imperfectly perfecting the ability to do so in this Holiest of Lands.  In short, I am in awe- simple, unrequited awe, of your willingness to adapt.  Of course I'm also blown away by the amazing inheritabilty of our tenacity.  Perhaps your ability to make your parents look not-so-stubborn at all has finally found its place!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I am Woman- HEAR ME!

No matter where you look, what you read, and or what website you happen upon, Beit Shemesh is just everywhere!  I really like this town, but I'm reasonably sure I never read about Chicago or NYC as much as I read about this place!  Honestly, the reports are starting to meld in my brain and it amazes me how self-righteous indignation can twist and turn the same narrative.  Such an "easy" fix, y'know- you respect me, I'll respect you, you don't shove your version of Judaism down my throat, and I won't shove my version down yours.  See?  Simple!  Its a good thing the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale because it looks like I'm gonna finally get to cash in...

The issues surrounding Orot
 Banot and bus service have received a lot of very well deserved, MUCH needed air time.  I could talk about those issues here, but it's not like you don't know where I firmly stand in regards to both.  I participated in the Beit Shemesh flash mob a few days ago, which was an act both of protestation and solidarity.  It hit me, as I watched the amazing variety of women gathered for dance practice, that the "we" that's been spoken about for months and months is so much larger than I properly tended to.  All these "women's issues" are not about secular or religious women- they're about WOMEN.  GIRLS.  FEMALES.  Those carrying a double X chromosome.  I fancy myself a relatively enlightened gal, but I must admit I felt naive when I realized that I was not enlightened enough.  One of the coolest, nicest things about being part of the mob (I will NEVER be able to say THAT again) was that women from every walk of Jewish religiosity (yes, I just made that up) were there. There were heads covered, heads not covered, heads relatively covered, pants, skirts, gauchos, jeans, sleeveless tops, turtlenecks, and so many other flavors of what make up our dress code diversity.  Participation wasn't just about Beit Shemesh or our collective desire not to be bullied.  We stood, and danced, together as proud Jewish women.  And it ROCKED!

I've overheard, read, and been part of conversations where folks have debated and discussed with whom we, as the Dati Leumi community, are closest to- the Chareidim or the Chilonim.  Frankly, I am not a fan of the question.  My husband and I discussed the issue this past Shabbat and we agreed that we don't want to be a part of any group who professes disgust of another- and yes, it really is that simple.  See, I was once part of a different "we" and spent the first 15 or so years of my life as "them."  No, I was not born an alien, but I was born into a non-religious family.  I was the chick in the pants and sleeveless shirt.  I was the "chiloni" who was looked at sometimes disparagingly because I looked "other."  I joined the wild and wacky ranks of the religious world only after meeting people who were more interested in speaking with me about Judaism versus all the ways I was messing mine up.  When I was truly accepted for the questioning, persistent bugger of a teen that I was, I was able to say, "OK- I'll hear what you have to say."  One husband, four babies, several snoods, multiple treifed up pieces of cutlery, and an Aliyah later, I credit that turning point in my life to folks who gave a dang and really meant it- folks who saw me as Jewish and not less-than because of how I dressed, what I ate, or the music I liked.

I know first hand that being looked at as an 'other' hurts in a visceral way.  I also know that being accepted into the fold feels right.  I know that dancing with women who shared a common purpose felt right because none of us was 'other' though an entire group of misguided individuals sees us collectively as such.  There was something amazingly girl power-y about dancing in a public square.  And I will admit that I was concerned about that public-ness but ultimately determined it was OK to be a part of.  See, there is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of awesomeness that goes into being a religious Jewish woman.  I love lighting Shabbat candles.  I enjoy covering my hair on most days (though good hair days are just a nasty, nasty tease). I relish being a Jewish mommy, with all the Yiddishisms, Shabbos soup, and deliciousness that it comes with.  And I bet that every single woman at that dance has perhaps the same, or different, things she loves as much.  Being part of something that vital, that empowering, and that example- setting, resonated deeply.  And apart of my love of dance and self-expression, I was profoundly struck, in that 'I could've had a V-8' kinda' way, by this: if I don't stand up for my rights as a Jewish woman, then my daughter and daughters-in-law will have to fight the same, ugly battle.  Why *not* stand up for my rights as a Jewish woman, in my homeland no less, only to leave the dirty work for the next generation? 

I participated in the flash mob for me and for the women who've been made to feel less-than because they are women.  If I'm not for myself -and my progeny- then who will be?  And if I can't show solidarity with all types of women seeking nothing more than the respect the Torah Itself affords us, then I can be sure that this battle will linger well into my children's and their children's lives.