Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gilad Shalit is home...

Gilad Shalit is home.  I AM happy for him, for his family, for us.  But I am worried.  I am worried about the repercussions  -- we freed ONE THOUSAND murderers in exchange for his safe return – FIVE years after his abduction.  Many of those whom we freed, WILL kill again.  These are not random killings. These are targeted, terroristic, anti-semitic killings in the name of a religion that tolerates none other but its own – and that targets Jews in particular for horrific deaths.

What will happen in the mind of Gilad Shalit, the first time one of those whom we freed kills again?  What will happen when he realizes his life was traded for the life of those killed?  For that, in essence, is what has happened, or rather, will happen.   There is no way that one cannot extrapolate such reasoning.  And in the mind of a young man, who has endured five years of torture and little to no communication with anyone who was at all sympathetic to him, who was obviously not treated with great care (to wit: his appearance, pale, thin, nearly emaciated, obviously emotionally traumatized) it would not be a great stretch for him to encounter this turn of logic.   It is thus I fear for him, for his psyche, for his well being – and by extension for the well being of his family. 

What is happening now, in the minds of the families of those who were killed by those whom we freed?  How do they reconcile the welcoming home of this young man, who is being hailed as a hero, with the unending void left by those who were torn from them by those whom we freed?   There is a deep-seated need in the minds of most of us, for some sort of vengeance against anyone who violently removes from our midst those whom we love.  Incarceration is the response that we generally take to resolve that, to lock these people up so they cannot do more harm.  It is also considered more humane, than torture, or punishment by physical harm or death.  But, the release of a child’s murderer is pure torture for those already experiencing the worst torture of their lives – the permanent loss of their child.

I am not stating that the trade was wrong or right.  I am stating that I am concerned.  This trade, in my eyes was a “lose/lose” proposition.   It has been said that Bibi Netanyahu made a hard decision.  Perhaps.  I recently attended an event at which Uzi Arad spoke.  Uzi Arad is the former chief deputy of the Mossad.   He said, he felt that the harder decision for Netanyahu to make would have been to say NO.  No trade.  Can you imagine?  Telling Gilad Shalit’s parents, “No, we are not bringing your boy back. The price is too high.”   How could one do that? 

A friend of mine pointed out that in Tehillim, for the day that Gilad was released, both Sukkot and Gilad are mentioned.  Gilad’s release came about in the midst of the festival of Sukkot.  From this she wishes to extrapolate that it was meant to be, that there is some hashgacha pratis, divine providence, in this happening, now, at this time.  I pray that she is right. 
No, there are no easy decisions. We lose anyway we look at it, no matter how we play it.  For, in the eyes of the world, we Jews are always wrong.  We are wrong.  We have no rights. We are considered usurpers (formerly that was usurers).  On the one hand we hear the cry, “Go back where you came from”, from anti-semites across the world.  Well, we did, we are continuing to do that and what do we get for that?  We are told, “You have no rights to be in Israel”.   But that is where we came from?

So, world, which is it?  I think the answer is simple:  as far as the world is concerned Jewish blood is cheap.  It is acceptable for us to free one thousand murderers in exchange for one young and vulnerable soldier.  It is acceptable to do this knowing that those murderers will turn around and DO IT AGAIN.  But Jewish blood is cheap so it is okay. 

But we have a secret. The Jews will never go away. We will never disappear.  G-d promised us that we will always be here. 
We are a nation.  We are mighty and great because we have the hand of G-d over us, protecting us.   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too much drama...

There is too much drama in my life. I really, truly want a dull, uneventful life...

Before my husband died, when I would hear or read stories of people dying suddenly due to accidents or freak occurrences, I would wonder how their loved ones - spouses, parents, children, siblings - reacted initially to the news.  I would wonder how they got on with their lives.  I would then wonder, what if that happened to me?  How would I react?  Would I cry buckets of tears?  Would I pray to Hashem for a different verdict?  Would I be angry? Calm?  Numb?  Then, I would pray that I would never have to find out how I would react.

Unfortunately, the answer to that prayer was no.  I would find out.  On January 14, 2009 I received the phone call that would change my life, the call in which I was informed that my husband had fallen and seriously injured himself.  A second call, made by myself, to the hospital, confirmed that he'd been brought in with a "major brain bleed".  It was then that I knew, I would never see him again, not alive and well.  So, even though, when the surgeon came out and told me he had no hopes for Mr. Stern's recovery, and even though I took it hard, it was a very brief cry.  Except for that, I cried very little and I was calm.  All the way through the first week while he languished in the hospital and through the second week in which I and his whole family sat shiva, I was calm.  I smiled and talked with my visitors. I ate, slept, and talked. I talked, a lot, about Barry.  But I was calm.  No tears.  At night, the loneliness was very heavy on me.  Right from the first night...I was lonely. The aloneness and the loneliness were very, very heavy on me. 

But I always felt somewhat guilty.  I felt guilty that I had not dropped to my knees and prayed with all my might to Hashem to change the verdict.  I felt that my faith in Hashem was not strong enough and so I was thus unable to do that. 

Since Barry died though, I have felt Hashem's presence.  Even through the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad two years in which I was treated so terribly by his family, I felt Hashem's presence in my life and the Hashgacha Pratis which defined so much of my life then. I still feel His presence and I am still benefitting greatly from His Hashgacha Pratis.  My faith in Hashem, since Barry's death, has grown. 

This past Chag that faith was again tested.  And once again, I had an opportunity to learn how I would respond.  Before I continue with this story, let me reassure my readers that no one died, and B"H, everyone is just fine, 100% fine!  Here is what happened:

It was about one hour before Chag.  We (me and Chloe and Jonathan and Gavriel) were in Nof Ayalon, staying at my mechutenet's home.  Everyone was there, including Jonathan's married brother David and his wife, Ruchel, and their baby Tzvi.  I was just heading upstairs to get dressed when I heard a scream.  I paused a moment on the stairs wondering if I should investigate.  I decided to go down and just check on what had happened.  I went downstairs and saw everyone in the dining room.  My daughter Chloe had Gavriel in her arms.  Everyone was sort of crowded around her and him. I went closer. This is what I saw:  I saw Gavriel's face was blue, his eyes were closed, and he was floppy and nonresponsive.  I perceived somehow that he had fallen and hit his head (on the floor? I was not sure of that). I jumped to the conclusion that the knock on his head had been hard enough to knock him out cold.  

Now, knowing that was how my husband died, that was a terrible thing for me to see.  Chloe screamed "Breathe!" at him, and he did! He breathed, but looked totally out of it and his eyes were hooded.  I screamed, "Oh My G-d!" at which point Chloe yelled at me, "Get away from me!"  (my reaction had made her more frightened) and then she ran with Gavriel to the pediatrician who lived across the street.  

I, in shock, just fell to my knees, screaming, crying, and....praying.  I was praying aloud, like I had never prayed before.  I was begging, pleading with Hashem.  

After a while, I calmed myself a bit (still ROILING inside, with adrenaline still pumping through me) and managed to go over to the doctor too.  Chloe still did not want me there, my presence made her nervous and she wanted to be calm.  Finally, though, as we were leaving, with the doctor telling us he was fine, I asked what had actually happened. 

Well, what had happened was far different from what I had imagined.   Gavriel was running around the kitchen.  The oven door was opened, and it was at the same height as his head. Chloe saw he was about to run right into it, so she reached out to push him out of harms way.  She was able to reach him and do so, but he hit the oven door anyway -- and that knocked him down and he hit his head a second time, on the floor.  

He started to cry, mouth open, but no sound.  In his shock from pain he forgot to breathe.  After a bit he passed out, but seconds later revived.  A nurse friend of mine explained what had happened thus:  "It is very very frightening when they hit their heads-but it was a very normal physiological reaction for him to pass out momentarily-basically it is a way for his body to re-set ....he was so scared that he couldn't breathe for a few second, but of course he has to breathe and his body knows this and so he loses conciousness momentarily so that his fear is bypassed and he can start breathing again."

This was such a traumatic event -- both for me and for my daughter.  We both agreed we hope NEVER to experience this again.  However, we were told that some babies do this a lot.  I hope Gavriel is NOT one of poor heart can't take it! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Post Yom Kippur Musings...

Yom Kippur this year was not the YK I had envisioned, nor even typical of YK for me at all.  Typically, I spend the entire day in shul, davening, emoting, feeling, singing, crying, and I feel good doing it and I feel good about it.

This year two things happened:  the first and most devastating was that I woke up with a headache.  This is truly unusual as I tend to be a good fast-er. I have always controlled my intake of substances that can cause headaches during a fast prior to the fast but I no longer have to do that since I hardly ever eat/drink those things anymore anyway.  But I got up, got dressed in my all white outfit for YK, and went to shul.  I was quite early, but 15 minutes late, as per the printed schedule, but it did not matter.  Davening did NOT begin on time. There were so few people in attendance, we did not have a minyan.  In fact, I was in shul a good 20 minutes before davening started.  This NEVER happened in Ch"L.  It was fine, just a point of reference for me.

The second thing that happened was that I COULD NOT HEAR the Ba'al Koreh (cantor) -- either for Pesukei D'Zimra (preliminary prayers) or for Shacharit.  So, there I was with a HEADACHE and I was STRAINING to hear so I could follow along.  There were pitiful few women in attendance, as the bulk did not, would not arrive until well into Chazarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemoneh Esrei aka Amidah). By the time we reached the end of the Chazarat HaShatz my head was pounding.  I left shul and went home.

I did not know what I was going to do.  My daughter was home with Gavriel.  I lay down for a bit on the sofa in the salon -- which was where she was sitting and Gavriel was playing. He came over to kiss my keppy (forehead) and he played by me for a while too. It was fine, he was not so noisy, just happy.  After a while, I decided to lie down in my bed, where I drew the shades, closed the door, and the overhead fan was on too.  I did fall asleep, but when I woke up, I still had the headeache.  It has been a fact for me that if I fall asleep with a headache I will wake up with one.  After an hour or so, I finally agreed to take a shiur (a small measurement) of electrolyte infused lemonade with 2 headache pills.  It took a couple of hours but it did help quiet the headache for me.  By now, though, I felt distinctly uncomfortable about returning to shul and having to struggle to find where in the davening we are, and to try and make what was left meaningful to me.   So I decided to daven at home.  My head was not pounding and I felt able to do so.  And so, I found myself davening in the middle of my salon.  It was nice on the one hand to know I had as much time as I needed to daven, I had plenty of space to move around and I could actually think about what I was saying.  And this I did.  G-d knows, literally, that I asked for so much, and yet so little.  

I had agreed, before YK, that I would babysit my grandson for Neilah to enable my daughter to attend.  She is able to attend so little, being pregnant and having Gavriel. She and Jonathan try to take turns but it can still be quite difficult for them.  Neither they, nor I, can afford to hire someone to care for him.  Unlike in the US, Beit Rimon, where we were davening, does not offer child care services for his age.  So I stayed with Gavriel and we only went to shul together toward the end so we could hear the Shofar.  We arrived as they were doing Avinu Malkenu. I was gratified to be able to hear that, even from the back where we were hanging out because it was easier with Gavriel.

I just read a post by a friend ( in which she describes her angst at being relegated to sitting where she cannot hear the davening well, where she is essentially unable to fully participate in the davening, sitting amongst women who are mostly silent as they daven, or daven distractedly, while being able to understand that the men are davening aloud, in unison, and swaying, dancing, stamping feet, and are fully participating in the experience.  This is a woman who does NOT have a hearing problem, as I do.   And, her issues mimic mine.  I, too, feel somewhat resentful of not being able to fully participate. I love to sing, I love to dance, and I too, find, my soul yearns to express itself in this manner.  I have long thought that not only should be there be a mechitza separating men from women, but that WOMEN SHOULD HAVE THEIR OWN MINYAN.  And yes, I know it is done in some places.  But this should be COMMONPLACE.   It should be a communal effort (kehillati) to create a space for the children to be cared for and to hire people to care for them and there should be two minyanim: one for men and one for women.  The only time we would be together would be for the Torah reading, which would be done as a precise time and would be planned for togetherness. I do not advocate a separate minyan ALL THE TIME.  Just for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah.  That's it.

And women should be encouraged to learn to sing, to dance and to be able to let THEIR souls express themselves in the same way that men do -- and to develop their own womanly ways of expressing themselves.  I do not understand why this has not developed.   I totally empathize with Rivkah in what she expressed in her post.  I know my suggestion will be considered controversial.  But why?  Why should it be?  Why shouldn't it simply be looked at as a solution to providing a nice environment for women to daven in?  Today's women, while still usually the primary caregiver for the children, and still the primary household organizers, generally have so much more "free time" on their hands than their predecessors, thanks to all the modern conveniences of life.  Providing women with their own space to daven will not cause them to suddenly stop doing all those tasks (mitzvot, actually) to which they accustomed to doing.

Rivkah, you are not alone.  There ARE other women who feel as you do.  I too, find myself wondering why sections are being skipped, or struggle with alternating nusach in a mixed shul, and struggle, even more so than you, with hearing the davening.  I too, long to be surrounded by women SINGING so I can sing along and not feel too inhibited to sing aloud because if I did everyone would hear only me...(and I have the world's worst singing voice!).

Perhaps we will make this happen for us, somehow.

And now, with a smile, I face the year to come.  I pray, and have prayed, that it will be a good year, for ALL of Klal Yisrael, men and women and children.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Deeper into RH...

In my last post I described my Rosh Hashanah, but not my observations of my own tefilla.  Two posts ago I wrote of my expectations for feeling and emoting during davening.  

This year I missed attending shul for davening Erev RH.  This was extremely unusual for me.  Even in all the years in which I prepared ALL the RH meals at home, for more than 24 people most of the time -- and without ANY help (see explanation below for that), I ALWAYS got to shul for Erev RH davening.  But this year I simply was unable to go, there was still much to be done in preparation for the meals.  I am not up to my old standards -- I move more slowly and tire more easily.  Even with my daughter sharing the work, and even with my son-in-law pitching in and even with my mechutenet bringing some cooked foodstuffs, I found we were "behind" in our prep.  Chloe is pregnant and we have a 2.5 year old rambunctious little boy underfoot.  I am still feeling the physical after effects of spending nearly two years under tremendous stress.  So I guess it was par for the course...

But in the morning, I was able to get to shul, 10 minutes early, to secure an ideal seat for myself (albeit not ideal for Chloe), and to stay for the entire davening.  (We HAD done ALL our cooking ahead of time after all, just so this could happen!)  

As anticipated I DID emote, I did feel all those intense feelings that come over me every RH and YK. Some of the tunes were familiar to me and helped to evoke the feelings and others were new to me and beautiful and also brought about the same feelings.  Best of all, I was paying more attention to the actual liturgy, in Hebrew, and really understanding it.  It reminded me how I did the same when I was in Israel thirty years ago.  Even though I have not learned a huge amount of NEW things in Hebrew at this point, what I have done is regained my familiarity with it and ability to pull out meanings by seeing the shoresh (root) of the words.  

I will write more about my ulpan experiences in a future post, but before I close this post a word of explanation about the lack of help in my past preparations for chagim.  When Barry was alive, we hosted many of the meals for all the chagim in our house and with immediate and extended family alone that could mean feeding up to 24 people!  We frequently added to that by inviting friends as well.  Both Barry and I worked full time, both of us had to commute to and from work, both of us were also VERY active in our shul/community.   When we married, I initially attempted to encourage all the girls to join us in our Shabbat and Chag preparations - cleaning, cooking, other preparations.  But his daughters were extremely resistant to helping us, and downright resentful.  My daughter had been used to helping out but I found I could not hold her to a different standard than his daughters.  When I was unsuccessful in receiving any help from his kids, after two years, I gave up.  I also let my own daughter slide with them.  I hired a cleaning woman who came in every week and cleaned the house.  But I was still left with doing all the shopping and cooking by myself for the most part. Barry helped by doing all the non-cooking prep, and with doing dishes and sweeping, and putting things away.  I was like a tornado -- I moved with lightening speed doing my cooking, and cooking multiple things simultaneously.  I rarely burned or ruined a dish.  I no longer can do this.  It is too much for me.  So, anyway, that is why I had no help. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shehechayanu V'kimanu V'higiyanu L'Azman HaZeh...

There were many firsts for me this year.  First time as an Olah Chadashah making Rosh Hashanah in Israel. First time really making RH in my own home since Barry died.  First time having RH with my MARRIED daughter, her husband, my grandson.  First time having my mechutenet come stay in my home and join us for RH.  First time planning, preparing, cooking, etc for RH WITH my daughter.  And of course, there were the first fruits, in my case it was first time ever eating FRESH Tamarim (dates), the Rimonim (which grow here on the Yishuv in ABUNDANCE), some starfruit, and Passi-Flora (aka Passion Fruit), which I just LOVE.  

I davened, for the very first time ever, at Beit Rimon, which is a shul just around the corner from my home.  Up until now, I had gone to Glenwood to daven - which is a HUGE American shul in the Yishuv. I chose to daven there because of its inherent familiarity for me.  I already know many of the members, the davening is familiar, the tunes used are those I know, it is Nusach Ashkenaz, and so on.  But upon inquiry about seats there for the Yomim Noraim I was dismayed to learn that they cost money, there is an expectation of membership, and eventually of building fund support as well.  Additionally, I could not be guaranteed a place to sit where I would be able to both seen and hear, and thus be able to participate in the davening. I was told I would likely be seated downstairs -- meaning sitting on cheap plastic chairs which would aggravate yet another of my conditions, namely, my bad back (from a back injury sustained in n1996), and compounded by arthritis in my hips, knees, and ankles.  Furthermore, there was no way that my very pregnant daughter would be able to tolerate sitting for very long on such a seat.  Then, when we decided that my mechutenet and her teenage daughter and son would be joining us, I knew that there was no way we could arrange seating that would be acceptable for all of us.  So, I somewhat reluctantly abandoned all thoughts of davening at Glenwood.  We then inquired into the situation at Beit Rimon.  We were informed that there is no charge for seats, and it is set up on a first come, first served basis.  For me, that worked.  I am a morning person and I knew that I would arrive at the shul before anyone else and thus would be guaranteed an appropriate seat.   

It worked out rather nicely for the most part. The downside to the seat I chose is that it is far from the entrance and not ideal for Chloe. She did not stay very long anyway stemming from needs associated with Gavriel.  So she chose, for the most part, to sit right near the entrance, albeit on a plastic chair.  But both Yael (my mechutenet) and Liora (her daughter) were able to sit near me.  To be sure, the woman who usually sat where I was did ask me to move but I explained to her my reason and need to sit there.  She was still a bit (obvious to me) annoyed, but after a few minutes she felt badly that she let me know she was annoyed and she said "Shana Tova" to me in an apologetic tone.  It WAS an inconvenience to her and her family as they could not all sit in the same row.  But even if I had moved elsewhere, and I could have, I would have been asked to move by others.  So, I chose to stick to where I was sitting.  

I did meet a number of people at Beit Rimon, some whom I knew already, and others whom I just met.  All were very welcoming of me. In fact, I felt more welcomed there than at Glenwood.  It could simply be that the place is smaller. 

Beit Rimon turned out to be PERFECT for me. I can see and I can hear and I can participate in the davening.  I learned some new (and beautiful) tunes, and Nusach Sefard is only slightly different from Nusach Ashkenaz and I can get used to it.  I am so glad that we went there and I plan to daven there from now on. 

We ate several of our meals at home and several of our meals out.  It seems that we cooked a humongous amount of food, and we did -- but it was not for all meals.  Between me and Chloe and Jonathan we made the following: Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Chicken, Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes, Roasted Orange Root Veggies, Balsamic and Honey Glazed Carrots, Banana Cake, Vanilla Plum Cake, 2 trays Eggplant Parmigiana, String Beans with Honey Mustard Sauce, 7 Challot, gefilte fish, cheesecake, pasta salad, bruschetta, garlic bread, cranberry apple crumble, sephardic honey nut cake, asian cabbage salad and flourless chocolate cake with 
whipped cream, schnitzels, mango salsa, lemonana and iced tea.

We still have some leftovers: eggplant parmigiana and chicken. We have at least 2 meals in leftovers. 

Anyway, that was my RH...