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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Last day!

And as of 12:00 midnight, summer vacation is....OVER! Hurray! Yochi and Margalit return to school tomorrow, and Hagai has until Sunday, which he's pleased about, except that at some point, he'll have to make up these 2 days, and he won't be so happy then. But in the meantime, life can get back to normal, at least for a little while!

Of course, I still have a lot of work to do to get Ariella back into her school for her 12th grade. She was asked to leave at the end of last year, rightly so -- she kept leaving without permission, and the staff was simply not ready to put up with it any more. So I'm trying to work with some local people to demonstrate that she's on a different path this year, that she is, as they say, "in a different place", and hopefully....cos I don't know what I'll do if she's home all year!

I was speaking to a friend last night, whose husband committed suicide 4 years ago, leaving her with 8 children, the youngest one being a month old. This woman is so strong, and is so focused on meeting each individual child's needs -- the right school for the each child, the right words of support for each child, a different direction of parenting for each child....I may be good at this parenting business when my grandchildren come along, but in the meantime, I'm winging it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

THIS week

Having made it through most of summer vacation, we are now faced with Klezmer week in Tzfat, and then, thankfully, the last 1/2 week before school starts again. This is my busiest time of the year, not only because I'm trying to maintain my calm throughout this absolutely crazy crowded week, when all sorts of personalities stream through here, but in addition, I have to make sure that my Visitors Center is fully staffed from 9:00a.m. through 11:00p.m., and stocked with maps, booklets, advertisements for all the places that want their advertisements put out, etc.

Nothing raises my blood pressure as much as when families come in, and the kids grab up all the advertising cards like they're collecting baseball cards -- I guess that I feel bad for the business people who pay a lot of money for these cards to be printed up. But it REALLY drives me nuts when adults do that -- they take one of each card, knowing full well that they have no intention of going to any of these places. (How do I know? Because these are inevitably the same families who balk at paying 3 shekels per person to see the 10-minute movie that I have on Tzfat, so how are they going to pay 20 shekels per person for their family to go kayaking, or jeeping, or horseback riding, or whatever?)

I finally decided that I'm going to post a sign saying "3 free cards per family...after that, 1 shekel per card". I hope that some of these guys can read!

I have my extra room rented out for 3 nights this week, and I hope that I can get some more rentals between then and the time that Ariella returns home next week...it wouldn't be nice to rent out her room when she's just coming home! Though I did promise her that each time we rent it out, it would cover one drivers' lesson for her, so she may decide that she's prepared to move in with her sisters for a few nights and reap some driving lessons in return. We'll see.

In the meantime, Yochi is in Bay Ayin with her friend, and Margalit has been sleeping with her friend for a few nights, so it's been me and Hagai for a couple of nights. Quiet, but kind of restful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stress Test


Here's the latest Internet stress test:

The picture to the left has 2 identical dolphins in it. It was used in a case study on stress level at St. Mary's Hospital.Look at both dolphins jumping out of the water. The dolphins are identical. A closely monitored, scientific study of a group revealed that in spite of the fact that the dolphins are identical; a person under stress would find differences in the two dolphins. If there are many differences found between both dolphins, it means that the person is experiencing a great amount of stress.Look at the photograph and if you find more than one or two differences you may want to take a vacation.

Personal note: Yup, proves to me that I need a vacation. Good to have independent affirmation of this! I'm off to the Kinneret this afternoon with Margalit, Hagai, and as many friends as will fit in our van. By tomorrow, I should be seeing this picture differently.

Tisha B'Av

In the Jewish calendar, there are many examples of periods of great sadness/reflection/somberness, and within 24 hours, the Jews are celebrating!

This is exemplified by the proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day/Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers to Independence day (Memorial day ends, and an hour later,the fireworks are blasting!), Yom Kippur and Succot (5 days difference), and most startingly, Tisha B'Av, which is the finale of 3 weeks of intense mourning over the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and the next 3 weeks, which are, basically, summer vacation.

Tisha B'Av fell this year on Sunday, and I went with Avishai,Yochi and Hagai up to a local synagogue where they read Echa (Lamantations) in the courtyard, while everyone sits on the ground outside and follows the reading on a screen which is projected on the stones of the building. During the daytime, while the kids tried to sleep off the fast, I went to a neighbor who was hosting a "workshop seminar" for local women. The goal was to do some introspective work on oneself, building one's own "Temple" (self) in a a healthy way.

The seminar facilitator was very adept at maintaining the atmosphere of Tisha B'Av, and concentrating on what we are supposed to be concentrating on, while encouraging everyone to think about themselves and their own inner work.

The first exercise involved making outlines of our bodies on large pieces of paper,and then using colors to graphically describe ourselves, both to ourselves and others. One woman filled in her body with all sorts of colors and strokes, leaving an area in her center, her womb, empty. Little need for explanation.

Another woman used words to describe her striving to become more spiritually connected, while maintaining connections with her irreligious daughters.

A third found ways to use colors to show her longing for physical contact with a partner, and so on. Very interesting.

I, fairly "artistically-challenged", couldn't quite figure out what to do with my outline, and when asked to take my turn and show my outline, I explained "I outlined my hands, because I feel like I'm always busy, always doing something. I outlined my feet because I feel like I'm always running. I colored in my brain, because I feel like I'm always thinking about what to do about situations, problems, issues, etc. And I colored in my heart because, well, I think that it's working."

"Last Yom Kippur, I particiapted in a similar exercise with another group, when we were asked to go around and say what we hoped for for the coming year. When my turn came, I said that I hope that God grants me the strength to accept what I cannot change, and 'make lemonade from lemons'. When I look at my outline today, 10 months later, I feel like I've reached that place -- life is challenging, and it has its frustrations and places of sadness. But all in all, I'm doing OK, and I think that I'm doing a good job of raising my children, which is my ultimate goal. So looking at my outline today, I feel that, maybe I haven't reached the point of total acceptance of what God has given me, but I'm on my way."

The second exercise that we did was to write a letter to our mothers. When we shared our letters, I was quite astounded to see how many women had some difficult things to say to their mothers. I'm always suprised to find out how many people I know, who seem to be perfectly balanced and "normal" , and who are, in reality, struggling with some major issues related to their childhoods and relationships to their families. So many people who, from the outside, seem to be in a "good emotional space" in their lives are, in reality, still trying to overcome childhood abuse, both mental and physical, tensions with family members, anger at the past, etc.

I've actually come to the conclusion that those of us who were raised in stable loving families are a minority. I'm not exaggerating. After I became a "single mother", and it became public, it was actually frightening how many people, both men and women, began to open up to me, telling me about their pain and struggles. Abusive marriages, strained relationships with parents and siblings, fury at childhood wrongs...and somehow, these people succeed in being loving parents and supportive neighbors and friends.

So, my letter to my mother? A couple of years ago, someone accused me of doing something that I didn't do. I was accused of erasing an e-mail, and from that, the accusations continued...I ALWAYS erased this person's e-mails, I was trying to drive a wedge between this person and the rest of the family, I had withheld information that this person had wanted to pass on, etc.

What can I say? The accusation was so totally untrue that it still astounds me when I think about it. I had accidently deleted the e-mail, but had not even been aware that I had deleted it...it was only when I told someone else to take a look at it, and saw that it wasn't there anymore, that I realized that I had deleted it. As to the other accusations, they couldn't have been more untrue -- in fact, it was to prevent a wedge from being driven between the accuser and the rest of the family that I hadn't told the accuser that I had always passed on her information, but the person that she had expected to respond hadn't wanted to.

Anyway, I mentioned this whole incident to my mother. My mother told me that things like that had happened to her in the past -- she had been taken to task for something or other by family members. She told me, "I always say 'I'm sorry'. Then, I go ahead and do what I think is right. But it doesn't cost me anything to say 'I'm sorry', and it keeps the peace."

Anyway, in my letter to my mother, I wrote that I want to be like my mother when I grow up, because I think that that's probably one of the wisest things that I've ever heard. My mother may take the mitzva of not speaking "lashon hara" a bit to the extreme -- in fact, she could write the book! But when I look at my family, and see that we all get along, don't criticize each other, and are pretty supportive of each other, I see that that comes from my mother, and I hope that I can impart that to the next generation.

No, I never said "I'm sorry" to my accuser. I couldn't. But I admire my mother for being able to overcome the kind of anger that I feel over an issue like this and just doing what needs to be done to keep peace.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Peek-a-boo

I read a book yesterday, "Hide and Seek" which is an anthology of women talking about their decision to cover their hair after marriage. The book offered various rabbinic (Orthodox) opinions, a few saying that hair coverings were not necessary, but most saying that Jewish law obligates women to cover their hair, and giving the textual sources and past rabbinic decisions which support them.

Most of the book, however, was devoted to different women talking about their personal decision -- whether to cover their hair, and if so, how (all hair, partial, wig, kerchief, cool scarf, etc).

It was definitely interesting to read about how many women struggle with this decision, and how many take it for granted, and enjoy their head-covering and the status that it affords them (as a married, or once-married, woman). Women wrote who shave their heads upon marriage and don head-coverings, and who are pleased that they do so. One woman wrote about her decision to remove her hat, but to be honest, from what she wrote, it seemed that she was never comfortable with her decision to wear it anyway, and removed it more as a political statement (removing herself from right-wing Orthodox circles) than any true understanding of what the halacha was.

A lot of women did write that they had come to their decision to cover their hair after reading and learning the halachas of hair-coverings, but again, these are women who are committed to halacha, and wouldn't disregard halacha, no matter what their own personal feelings/struggles were.

I started wearing a hair-covering after Ariella was born, and it was never much of a struggle for me, though I do uncover my hair in my own house, which many authorities agree is permissible (though to be honest, not desirable...it must be admitted that sometimes, strangers walk in while I'm bare-headed).

My decision of how much hair to cover has mostly been determined by the community that I affiliate with (religious zionist), which allows for some hair to show, but the scalp to be covered.

As to why I chose hats and scarves over wigs, well, my reason is one that I didn't see covered in the book -- in my wildest dreams, I could have never afforded a wig, while all my berets and scarves were actually given to me. I have a large collection, and I don't think that I bought more than a few. I guess that that's as good a reason as any theoretical or philosophical one.

I have started to color my hair recently, so what sticks out is no longer gray, it's a nice brown, which, I guess, is almost as nice as a nice wig. At any rate, I barely have time to pluck my eyebrows once in awhile...how I would ever take proper care of a wig, not to mention the expense of restyling it periodically, is beyond me.

At any rate, at this point, the berets are my "style", and I'm not quite ready to change it.

And no matter what happens with my marriage, I'm not going to forgo my hair-covering...my committment to Jewish Law, I have realized, is not dependent on anyone around me, but comes from within me, and the example of that that I provide for my children is worth the periodic discomfort and extra effort involved in keeping that particular mitzva.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I ran into a lady who I know in the supermarket yesterday. She's a nurse in the local "Tipat Chalav", mother & baby clinic, and I used to know her years ago when I worked in these clinics, doing "hadracha" (guidance) to new mothers and checking children for possible developmental delays.

This lady, Yaffa, told me cheerfully that she'd just received notification that she's going to be travelling for the Jewish Agency and the Health Ministry to Addis Abbaba, to take care of the Ethopian Jews who are awaiting their immigration permits, and are, in the meantime, camped around the Israeli Embassy in Addis Abbaba. They might, Yaffa told me, even be going to Gondor, where an even more rudimentary encampment exists, to start a clinic there.

What an experience! To be able to help these people as they begin their immigration paths! Yaffa doesn't take her job for granted either...she's thrilled to have been chosen (she worked with the Ethopian immigrants in Israel for many years, speaks some Amharic and understands the cultural differences and sensitivities).

How different from my experience, and that of any Western Jew. While our biggest challenge was to fill out forms and deal with the buraucracy of Israel, these people are preparing for their aliyah by being vaccinated against a myriad of diseases that the developed world has never heard of, being taught what running water and doorknobs are, and being prepared to be thrust several hundred years into the future which is just a plane ride away.

Once here, their lives are more secure, in one sense, but more bewildering in another. A gentleman who lives in Tsfat, Yehoshua Sivan, has, on his own initiative, been running a tzdekka fund to help local Ethopian immigrants for over 20 years. This week, I gave a donation to his fund (thanks to some of my terrific relatives who have been helping me!), and he gave me a sheet that lists some of the projects that his fund helps with....subsidizing child care for families where the mothers are studying at a vocational school, helping with dental care, helping with eyeglass expenses, aiding people who need the funds to buy school supplies for their kids...the list is endless. These are people who have known poverty and hunger on a level that we can never imagine, and it's true...they now have money to buy adequate food and maintain an apartment.

But Yehoshua quietly makes sure that they can continue to grow and thrive...a fund to send high school graduates on to the local nursing school to study nursing is a pet project of theirs, as are all sorts of "help with emergency funds", and I am awed by the generosity of time and resources that he and all his little elves put into their work.

My list "who I want to be when I grow up" starts and ends with such people. (Ah well, maybe when I retire....Edyth Geiger, our 85-year-old library-manager/fund-raiser/organizer/policewoman/setter-upper/volunteer coordinator/..., once asked me "what is this town going to do when I kick off?". I promised her that, when I retire....)