Thursday, June 19, 2014

For The First Time...

It's 2:11 AM and I'm sitting at my computer with freshly polished nails and the umpteenth Grey’s Anatomy re-run playing in the background.  I should be asleep but the urge to put my head full of swirling thoughts down on paper is much too pressing.  Since the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar a week ago, stress has taken on a life of its own. I try not to dwell on what may be happening to them, but tonight I realized that my emotions run far deeper and are more complex than I wanted to believe.  I have found myself self-medicating with food, having an extra glass of wine before bed, not getting enough sleep, feeling like I’m in a constant state of angst, and entirely too frustrated at news sites that don't give me the information I want, when I want it.  Where are the updates, I wonder.  Is it good that none have been published?  Is it bad?  Are any coming out today?  All that said, I get to experience these things within the confines of my home, my family, my stuff, and the place I deem safe. 

It's 2:11 AM for the IDF and the young men kidnapped out of seemingly thin air as well.  While I sit and type at my dining room table, the Israeli Air Force is bombing the hell out of Gaza.  Tonight's mission exposed a "terror infrastructure" and rocket launcher. Within the past week since the kidnapping, over a dozen rockets have torpedoed their way into Israel proper, hitting open fields, a home, and causing various levels of destruction. It’s almost laughable that the world is angry at us for wanting to defend ourselves but at least they're consistent, seeing as how they're usually angry at us for something!  Show restraint, the US says. There's no evidence the boys were actually kidnapped, the UN says.  At 2:11 AM in the US all those big talkers and policy makers will likely be in their comfy beds, on their comfy sheets, in the safety of their comfy homes.  Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad will be somewhere unspeakable, as yet unknowable, but not in the warmth of their parents’ arms.  The soldiers looking for them and defending us will be in caves, under rocks, hiking through deserts.  They too, will be anything less than comfortable. 

I attended a tehillim gathering earlier in the week with the hopes that my voice, along with the voices and tears of others, would pierce the Heavens.   As I walked towards the gathering of people my eyes fell upon a teen literally weeping on her mom.  One look at her and I was done for.  We exchanged knowing, tearful glances as if to say, "Let's hurt together."  At the gathering,  fliers with pictures of the three young men stolen off a roadside were distributed, and I couldn't help thinking that days earlier, HOURS earlier, they were living their lives, perhaps thinking about where they were going to hang out Erev Shabbat. Instead, they've become the symbol of a country at constant battle for its very survival, their survival.  These kids are in the middle of exams and determining the course of their army service, and now they are ... somewhere.  

I understood the reason for my tears at the prayer session because, well, this whole thing is sad.  Sad beyond words and inescapably painful.  And then it hit me.  Slowly at first, but then WHAM!  When I lived in the US and bad things happened in Israel, I hurt, I got angry, I reacted intensely, and sometimes I could feel the reactions in the pit of my stomach.  I remember watching the news, watching the gatherings of people who came together to pray for who- knows- what- victim as if they were crying into the cameras, for the cameras.  What made this week's gathering so different?  Well, it was the first time I was on the other side of the camera lens.  I wasn't watching a tearful face in the crowd; I was a tearful face in the crowd. There’s a different kind of visceral reaction to knowing not only of the place from where the boys were stolen, but having driven past it.  Everything happening in the Middle East is now metaphorically and sometimes literally in my backyard. No longer a spectator, a "tsk- tsk- er," a "wow I feel sad, but I'm all the way over here- er," I realize that for the first time,  I am an Israeli.  Not an Israeli who grew up here, has a coarsely melodic Hebrew accent and physical roots in the Land. But an Israeli, as in one who's lived here for three years, and is part of the fabric this Land is made of.  No longer an outsider to what the media blasts, I realize that I am now one of those tearful faces in the crowd, hoping and praying and begging G-D for them to come home.  

I looked around at the teens in the crowd and understood that the terrorists could have taken this kid, that kid, or any kid.  And then I thought about my kids, and couldn't so much as hear the thought through; If the Yifrach’s, Shaar’s, and Frenkel’s sons are ours, then mine are theirs too. What clicked and came together in my mind is that the problems in the Middle East somehow went from "stuff that happens over there" to "stuff that is happening HERE!” It's a frightening, humbling, downright crazy thought that is so very real.

For the first time, I get it.  Of course folks outside of Israel want these boys to come home. Of course they understand the terms being thrown around and how dangerous this all is.  What they cannot realize unless they are physically here is what it’s like to be PHYSICALLY HERE while this is happening.  Driving down a street, hoping no one throws a rock at your car.  Anticipating war updates that may or may not come.  Being in the same spots where attacks have taken place. Talking to strangers in any store in any city and being engaged in conversation about the current situation.  I could never have fully understood the experience until now. The feeling is profound and has stolen many an hour of sleep with nary an end in sight. The not knowing is hard, I mean really, really hard. That said, I get to "not know" with my dog asleep beside me, the whir of the fan nearby, and a set of pillows screaming my name. A set of comfortable, thank- G-D- I- know- where- my- kids- are pillows, screaming my name.

Its 2:45AM now.  It's time for me to go to sleep; it’s been time for a long time. Before I do though, I want to thank our soldiers for their bravery, expertise and dedication. Here's hoping that you too get some sleep. It's 2:45AM and we still don’t know where Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad are.  I wonder if they have beds, a place to sleep, each other.   G-D speed young men.  You are loved, you are missed, and I am so sorry this has happened to you.  We pray for your safe return for you, your families, and our people. Od lo avda tikvateinu, we have not lost hope.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Residual Aching....

My mom was alive a month ago today.  She was in a hospital bed with enough tubes to play Double Dutch with, but she was most definitely alive.  Her absence doesn’t feel real yet, but I know that it is.  And I know that at some point in time her non- presence is gonna hit me like a Mack truck.  The beauty of living 6,000 miles away from family is that distance can at times at least, make the heart grow fonder.  I’m not sure how many miles away her soul is now, but I am certain this greater distance between us is having a powerful effect.

Grief is a funny thing.  I am technically “grieving” but I am, in full disclosure truth, sitting at my computer with my chirping cell phone and hot cappuccino nearby.  Odds and ends of my life, my husband’s, and our kids’, are on the table at which I’m typing.   I’m surrounded by pale yellow walls, our son’s bright artwork, a blue bowl, my own multi colored nails, and a bright red Krav Maga T-shirt.  Nothing around me screams GRIEF.  Everything inside me does.

The last almost 6 months were so amazingly “mom- centric,” which is funny since so much of my life was, too.  Crisis after crisis turned my thoughts inside and out in a way I can only compare to that scene in The Exorcist. You know the one where Linda Blair’s head spins around and you wonder how her head hasn't actually fallen off? Yeah, that one. It seemed like every time I turned around, despite the brief periods of calm, a doctor was calling, I was authorizing a procedure, or something life threatening was happening- or was about to.  My mom’s blood pressure would frequently drop so low that doctors and nurses alike wondered how anyone with those numbers could be talking.  There was respiratory distress, necrotizing fasciitis, a strangulated hernia, a couple of rounds on a ventilator, a heart attack, infections with minds of their own, and a feeding tube that simply refused to stay put.  As always, mom kept me on my toes, making me wonder when the next “thing” would occur and when I’d be able to find a modicum of sanity.  I know now that no more “things” will happen but I’m still searching, more desperately now than before, for my sanity.

I am left with tears and a sadness that runs deeper than my soul.  My parents weren’t supposed to die and my parents were just going to get sick, and then better, like they’d always done.  Well, someone rewrote the script because my parents are now gone.  For a time I was fixated on the term “orphan” seeing as how it’s what I’ve become.  Yes, yes, I’m much more than that and I’ve accomplished things and have a beautiful family, but the brass tacks of it is that I’m parent-less and that stinks the big one.  In fact, it stinks the biggest one there is and I’m not too grown up to admit it.

So many times during the year people said, “Wow, it must be so much harder for you with you being here while she’s in New York.”  I tried to poo-poo that a lot and I think that there were indeed times when it was harder.  But in no one’s and everyone's defense I have to say, losing a parent isn’t easy no matter where you live, how close you live, or how many miles and oceans separate you.  The pain knows no boundaries, and my complicated grief seems to know how to find me.   What makes it really hard? The fact that my mom and I didn’t share a warm and fuzzy kind of relationship.  We enjoyed that when I was younger, but as life happened, and it does tend to do that, our differences became more evident and our sensitivities, ironically enough, worlds apart.  As I got older I learned to do a lot of “uh huh- ing” instead of asking her why she didn’t listen for my answer after she’d asked me something.  I learned to avoid as much confrontation as I could, listening to her tell me about what she had for dinner, the movies she’d seen, the work she did with a disabled boy she’d worked with for what seemed like forever, and all the things that existed in her universe.  I learned not to tell her about my ailments, all thankfully minor in the grand scheme of life, because I knew that hers were worse.  I stopped telling her when the kids got sick because she’d call day after day, sometimes more than once a day, as if what they really had was The Plague.  We often spoke around each other, though we occasionally enjoyed talking about family lore and silly stuff.  Her tone would change when we discussed easier times and I liked that.  I miss that.

My mother was not an ogre, but she was a frightened woman who let life break so much of her spirit.  I understand more of what happened and how she reacted to it, and I hurt differently than I used to; now I hurt for both of us. And I’m not talking about some drippy, self-indulgent, woe- is- me kinda’ pain, but a pain that lets me know that I see both of us as more human, more real, and more fragile than I did before.  My mother hid her torment in food, a habit that became a condition that became an illness that ultimately led to her demise.  She hid her fear in anger and her love in apathy and self- loathing.  She was abandoned by her dad when she was 10, verbally and emotionally abused by others, and her first husband beat the bejeebers out of her.  A survivor?  No doubt about it.  A confused little girl who wanted and deserved to be taken care of?  No doubt about that either.

My grandmother had a signature chuckle that I recognized as such only after I started to hear it from my mom.  I remember noticing it one day and telling her, “You have the laugh!  You do the laugh!”  She laughed again and said, “What laugh, Rachel??”  I tried to describe it, explain it even, but couldn’t until she did it again and heard it too.  I started to hear that chuckle within the past year, except it wasn’t from my grandmother or my mom- it was from me.  It’s a strange heirloom to describe, but I do like sharing it.  I feel like I’m the Keeper of The Laugh, and I like that.  When I hear it, I feel like the best parts of my mom and grandma are within me.  It’s one of the more comforting lessons I've been afforded. 

I’ve made an officially unofficial decision to let my grief take me wherever I need to go.  I’ve felt anger over missed opportunities, pain, jealousy, and fear.  That fear by the way, is a heartbreaking kind of thing.  When it strikes I feel like a lost little girl whose mommy and daddy are nowhere to be found.  As a parent, I feel terribly for that little girl and want her to understand that she’s not lost at all- but I can’t get to her to tell her that.  My grief is so different from what I experienced with my dad for many reasons.  Some of those reasons are obvious, and some are becoming more so as time moves on.  When I lost my dad 16 years ago, we had two kids and their biggest issues in life were being fed, clothed, and having clean diapers.  This time, there are four of ‘em and I have to remain cognizant of their grief, too.  I hate seeing them in pain and I hate that they’ve seen me in so much of mine.  It’s hard for them to understand, despite the fact that they’re not babies, that I’m still grieving.  Yes, grandma’s gone, Shiva is over, Shloshim is over, but I’m still grieving.  And while they won't generally find me huddled in a corner crying my eyes out,  I feel like I’m moving slower, listening slower, doing everything slower.  I find that grief hits at weird and unexpected moments; some days the fog’s there and some days it's not.  It’s a nagging, soul- sucking, draining feeling that has planted itself in every cell of my body.  Some days it physically hurts and others, it just hangs out and stays quiet.  I don’t know how else to explain the feeling especially since I'm certain my “Look, today’s she’s happy… Uh oh- now she’s not” shifts must be maddening.  For whatever its worth, I’m not a fan of them either.

Life will go on and I know that time and love really do help.  I know that I’ll think about my mother every day, just as I’ve  thought of my dad every day for the last 16 years, and that I’ll carry them within me always.  I'm grateful that the ability to forgive my mom has started so early on in this process and that I’m doing what I can to be kind to myself.   We are on the cusp of Sukkot and like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah before it, the holiday feels like it’s happening around me, at me.  The emotions are still too raw, the energy too lacking.  I have a year and a lifetime beyond it to process my grief. And when I’m ready, the residual aching will free itself so it too, can be healed. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day 2013

I'm sitting at my mother’s bedside in Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, not remotely liking Mother's Day or the fact that today *IS* Mother's Day, as she moans and makes noises while awaiting a nebulizer and chest X-ray. I'm not sure if this is worse or better than hearing her talk to folks that aren't in the room, including old neighbors and former relatives. She just prepared lox and bagels for someone and has been fixated on the laundry. Suffice it to say these moments are anything but 'Downy soft.'

My children have wished me a Happy Mother's Day from Israel, where we now live, and I so appreciate that. Truth is, Mother's Day is the penultimate Hallmark holiday which is why there is no such day, that I know of anyway, in Israel. I think my kids know that while I'm grateful for their Mother's Day greetings, it’s the care, concern, and devotion those greetings encapsulate that speak volumes to me. They know how much I am struggling and hurting and doing everything they can to keep me smiling. When we lived in America, I was not the day's biggest fan. It's nice to be celebrated, but that's what my birthday is for. I remember telling my husband awhile back that I didn't want to go out to eat on Mother's Day because sitting in a crowded restaurant listening to other families celebrate, while others pretended to celebrate, hardly made it a fun day for me.

Today's cards and greetings and Facebook posts are all about the positive; for the best moms in the world, the ones who would do anything for their kids, the ones who are amazing grandmothers and save the planet in a single bound, capeless. There are no celebrations or cards for moms who have been hurt or hurtful, moms who have been beaten down and never learned that they didn't have to relive the pain. Nobody gives flowers to the most stubborn mom or the one who hasn't always chosen her words carefully. Hallmark hasn't figured out how to celebrate those moms.

Life with my mother wasn't always a picnic. In the last few days and weeks though, I've acknowledged that there are things I will forever be grateful to her for. Her artistic rendition of a pigeon in the second grade, her ability to pull me onto dance floors at weddings to get me to boogie even when I thought I didn't want to. Her love of books and pretty jewelry, her strong sense of identity as a Jewish woman. Her advocacy when I was bullied in elementary school and her pride when I won an award, got a good grade, and became religious. Our relationship has very much been on her terms because she could not understand or even try to understand mine. Ours has not been a relationship of listening and sharing and respect. I have grieved that for years, but more so recently. We have argued and fought and I have often wondered if it was even worth it. Disagreements that result in little more than promises to never do "it" again leave one feeling truly unheard and disrespected. They leave you breathless in all the wrong ways.

Though I've been a mother for almost 18 years, today I feel very much like a daughter. Feeling like a daughter at this moment, in this place, hurts. My mother's roommate's amazingly loving and attendant daughter is primping over her as I type. She keeps telling her mom, who lay in bed contracted, with mitts on her hands and the inability to speak after suffering multiple strokes, that she's gonna get better. This adoring daughter is telling her mom that as soon as she gets better, they can go shopping again. That mom will be able to tell her what she likes and what she doesn't when they hit the stores the way they used to. This daughter is praying for her mom's strength, assuring her that she is right by her side. She is crying and telling mom not to worry and that all will be alright, though it is pretty clear that she is trying to convince herself of that. There are even moments when it seems she believes her own words. All of their moments, especially the ones I've been given access to, make me hurt for all of us. Two elderly, ill, frail moms, with their tired, emotional daughters at bedside. 

I guess I hate Mother's Day because I can't stand all those cards and flowers and balloons and sales that are seemingly in my face. I don't begrudge those who are happy, most of the time anyway. But the constant reminder that today is a day to celebrate moms seems almost cruel right now. It hurts because I can't celebrate my mother- celebrate that she's laid up in bed with an increasing amount of bed sores, congestion, confusion, and irritability? Celebrate the mom she was before her health went down the drain? Celebrate the mom in the next bed who is trying desperately to communicate with her children? I guess I don't have much celebration in me right now. 

I love being a mom. My husband and I have four children who make me cherish being a mom more than life itself; their birthdays are my real Mother's Day. Each celebration of their lives reminds me of when I became a mother for the first, second, third, and fourth time. They are my life and soul, beings who turned two young marrieds into two young marrieds- turned-parents. I adore watching them develop into the extraordinary individuals they're becoming. 

As for Mother's Day? I'm still not a big fan. Somehow though, I'm grateful my mother's here today, still breathing life that is celebrate-able. The fact that she is here despite the ailments that plague her is pretty miraculous. In that sense, I guess today is noteworthy. Any day where life is present is a good one. Any day where death is not ready to swoop in can be considered a good one. So mom, today, in some sense or another, is a happy day. Happy day to you, mom. Happy Mother's Day to you.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  My Facebook feed is teeming with sad, despair-filled, morbid images and writings about the Shoah.  There are also pictures that depict strength, both physical and mental, that are infrequently showcased in Holocaust collages.  This year I find myself focusing on both survival and strength, as opposed to the misery and pain.  Truth be told, there aren’t enough pages in enough books or Kindles to hold all the images of the death, destruction, darkness, and horror that occurred during that time. But sometimes, and may I not be struck by lightning for saying it, the pictures become too much for my weary head.  After a while, I feel like I’ve seen so much bad, that my brain tunes out, shuts off, and might as well announce, “Rachel is on standby.” This year I told myself I wouldn’t read every story or article featured, watch every movie shown, or immerse myself beyond reason in all things Holocaust.  Maybe that makes me selfish, but this year it feels like mental self-preservation. 

Let me clearly state that I am NOT, N-O-T, comparing my life to the Holocaust.  While I am certain that I lost relatives in the Shoah, I know of no survivors in my family personally.  But there is something about the collision of today and recent family events and discoveries that have made me feel like I survived something and have received way more than say, a lousy T-shirt.   

Families are very, very funny things.  They provide endless hours of amusement, entertainment, stories for upcoming wedding videos (kids, you have been forewarned), insanity, pain, incredulity of the highest order, and a ginormous mix thereof.  None of us, OK- most of us, do not come from cookie-cutter, sitcom-like families.  Don’t know about you, but my challenges growing up were never solved in 30 minute intervals accompanied by background music.  There was no laugh track, no scripted silences, and life continued without anyone ever reminding me that it was to be continued.  My childhood was not necessarily a nightmare, though there were times it looked a lot like a battlefield.  To quote one of my favorite people in the world, my awesome friend Orin Hahn, “I used to have a great deal of anger and resentment about the lack of normality and care I got. I realize now as I engage with so many people …. [that] I was receiving training. For how to be with myself and how to be there for others. To face the fires and frailty of being human. Sometimes we get a gift when we think we're cursed.” 

And yet, some of those gifts came with rather large price tags.  I thought I’d dealt with most of them, yet some seem to have recently cropped up like weeds.  I will not go into the minutiae of what’s going on, but I can best describe it as the makings of one heck of a reality show.  A reality show so unreal, that I presume ratings would be sky high and my family, millionaires.  Nothing screams business opportunities like family stories I suppose. I’ll try not to think of the money I could make off of our secrets, despair, fragmentation, and pain that sometimes feels like it could fill a bottomless gulf.  I have spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing about my mother’s health and, hopefully, short stay in a nursing home, family I’ve never met but hope to be able to one day, and the generations who have changed and I pray can change, their personal legacies.  I realize that I haven’t just cried, but mourned, grieved, over missed opportunities, relationships, and the things that could have been.  I came across a meme that reads, “Don’t look back.  You’re not going that way.”  Those are wise words, ones I must keep in the fore. 

I cannot change what has happened and anyone who judges me on the trials of my past has no place in my present or future.  Dwelling on why things happened, why they were orchestrated by the players involved, and why the stage was set for so much unnecessary grief,  does me no good.  As I reflect on these instances though, I find myself, sometimes despite myself, understanding that maybe the conditions I’ve rallied against weren’t unnecessary; perhaps there is a purpose to them.  And perhaps one day I’ll find out what that purpose is.  Or not.  Had my past been different, the foundation on which I’ve based my future would have been too.  I might’ve chosen a different husband, had different kids, lived in places I have not.  There is a price we pay for the things we hold dear.  Maybe I already know some of the why’s of my youth. 

All this remembering, reliving… it’s not easy.  Lots of feelings have been stirred and many have led me to a place of gratitude for being in Israel.  Living here not only connects me to my Judaism, but my personal, spiritual, and existential roots.  This is a powerful place. 

I came across a quote by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor.  His words speak to me deeply for reasons I think I understand. These words describe what I hope to accomplish in my personal life as well as a member of the Jewish People; to take responsibility for knowing what has happened so I can propel myself forward. The soul endures what G-d bestows upon it, even if the burden seems like more than we can bear.  Perhaps if G-D has that much faith in me, I should too. 

Here are his words…
“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—hourly and daily. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual.”

May the memory of the 6 million serve as a blessing and may we all go forward with the strength that has always lay within us.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Denial- It Ain’t Just a River South of the Border!

The joke used to go, “Denial- it ain’t just a river in Egypt!” but now that I live closer to it, I figure describing it as “south of the border” is in fact more accurate. Denial, related to the act of denying what is really happening, though perhaps the river as well, can be really comforting. 

When we moved I banked on a few things, which is what, in part, lead to my denial. When I worked for an American company, I was in denial about our finances.  Good money, for a (new) Israeli family anyway, was coming in and we didn’t have to worry too much.  My husband and I have three degrees between us so I figured we had our “smarts” to fall back on as well.  I mean, who wouldn’t want two adorable, stubborn, sharp tongued (mostly in a good way) Americans to work for them- who weren’t too shabby in the brains department, either?  And for a long time I was in denial about my health.  I’d been fat for so long, that another candy, treat, Shabbos meal, or half a cake couldn’t possibly do any damage. 

I have always been a dreamer, though sometimes to my detriment.  I occasionally find myself believing in things that even I think are crazy, but acknowledge that I need to believe because it’s what’ll get me through that moment, that crisis.  I think my religious and spiritual beliefs are pretty grounded, though on occasion they’ve been known to dance that fine line between TRUTH and Seriously Rach? Long story short, I believe in G-D, that He is guiding all of us, that things do not happen by coincidence, and that there is a purpose and a plan and a reason for everything, from birth and death to why the leaves on the trees blow in one direction vs. the other.  

Some of the things I once believed have proven to be less-than-true.  I cannot say that life has come crashing down, because in reality, it has not.  I believe strongly that living in Israel, having the merit to live here, raise my kids here, and be connected with everything that IS Judaism, is a far cry from a bad life.  But naiveté has worn thin and life’s realities have, in some significant ways, smacked me in the face and not-so-nicely told me to wake up. 

Financially, we’re not in a great spot.  Perhaps that’s not something one should say aloud, but there, I said it.  I mean, we’re not paupers, but we're not rakin' it in either.  My husband and I are trying hard to make our way here, to establish ourselves in fields that are new, as well as those that are familiar.  The trek to financial security is a tough one, particularly since financial security was perhaps taken for granted when we had it in the States.  And like Dorothy when she and Toto find themselves in Oz, I know that we are most definitely not in Kansas (or Chicago) anymore.  At this very moment, it simply is what it is, but it is our mission is to make it much more.  And not necessarily to be gazillionaires, but to get to a place where we don’t have to worry as much.  

And then there’s health.  I have, thank G-D, been in good health most of my life.  I have a string of chronic-but-not-terminal-or progressive conditions, but I’m pretty healthy.  Still, being in better health has become a family mission, especially since I learned that three of the six of us have high cholesterol, one has a fatty liver, and four of us need to lose weight.  I have reached that wonderful moment on the great journey we call aging where my body’s needs and my mind’s smugness can no longer afford to ignore each other.  My days of “just one bite, lick, nibble, taste, etc.” need to stop.  My focus has become, because it had to become, “choose what will keep me alive longer” vs. “this tastes good right now."  Is it a struggle?  Well, some days I dream about chocolate covered anything, but I feel better, my waist line has come back, and most of the time my spirit feels stronger, too. 

My health choices and need to keep making good ones have hit me like a ton of bricks,  much like the reality of my mom's poor health.  My mother is in the hospital as I write. When I called her room yesterday to find out how she was, I was met with a nurse who told me they were in the middle of an emergency, that the doctor was on his way, and that they’d call me back ASAP.  Nothing makes your heart sink quite as much as intercontinental panic.  After a small forever, I called the hospital back and learned that my mother’s blood pressure had dropped to an all- time low of 60/ 35.  Even if you don’t know what “good” or “bad” blood pressures are, trust me when I tell you that her numbers were BAD.  One of the reasons this happened?  My mother was retaining fluid and didn’t know it.  And why did she not know it?  Because she is morbidly obese and was unaware that the increased bigness in her tummy was anything different than the bigness she feels on any given day.  In short, her weight was starting to kill her.  The hospital staff did what they needed to remove the fluid and within a somewhat short amount of time, her blood pressure started to climb.  She went into the hospital because of back pain, but hasn’t walked or moved in nearly a week.  She now requires physical and occupational therapies as well monitoring for skin breakdown, range of motion, and cardiac function.   Nothing screams REALITY like this.  

I’m not sharing this to embarrass my mother, to make fun of her, or anything of the sort.   In a way, I hope this tale makes someone, anyone, really think about their health and the folks who depend on them.   See, denial is no longer an option.  My mother is a cautionary tale; being bigger than your body can maintain taxes your heart, your lungs, your digestive system, your urinary system, your skin, and every organ in between.  I can no longer afford to dream about losing weight “one day.”  I can dream about being a tall, blond, rich, stiletto’d model, but healthy and fit simply have to be my priorities, my realities.  I owe that much to myself, to my children, and to my husband.  

I can also no longer deny the need to hit the ground running -hard- when it comes to improving our financial situation.  It’s not like we’re getting massages and eating (low-fat, high fiber, miraculously tasty) bon-bons all day, but my anxieties have to give way to greater action, and ultimately greater success.  Yeah, yeah, Israeli society is tough and I already know this is gonna be yet another challenge to face.  But the point is that I need to put my big girl (but shrinking) undies on and move forward.

I will always be a dreamer.  Not an ethereal, life- is- like- the- wind- and–the-planets-now- light- some- candles- kum- baya- m’ lord, kind of dreamer, but a dreamer who tries desperately to stay positive and see things from others' perspectives.  Learning to choose hope over despair, humor over angst, progress over rumination generally serves me well.  And while these don’t always come easy they do eventually come, because I've decided that I'm gonna be happy even if it kills me!   

About 3 years ago, and I can’t believe it’s been that long, I dreamed of a life in Israel, a place where I knew I needed to be.  I liked, oh heck, I LOVED, the nice things we had in Chicago, but my kishkies kept asking me why I was waking up to the view of Sacramento Avenue instead of the Judean hills.  I’ve learned that you really shouldn’t fight your kishkies because they always win.  And if you try to pull a fast one on them and don’t listen, they'll torment you for the rest of your days.  Ultimately I decided that I didn’t want to be tormented and so eventually, my ego was told to shut up and listen to my heart, soul, and the dreamer inside. Once upon a time, I dreamed a dreamed in time gone by, but hope still remains high and life, certainly worth living.  I continue to dream that love, and hope, and goodness, and positivity will never die, and that is something, like the beauty of Les Miserables, that I simply cannot deny.

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!