Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I fell through a big hole...

Baruch Hashem, I am blessed with much intelligence, and a reasonableness that enables me to weather the vicissitudes of Israeli life, both socially and professionally, and most importantly in my dealings with any or all of the bureaucratic “systems” in place here.  I place the word “systems” in quotes, because quite honestly, I do not see any real system.  The words “streamlined processes” are not heard here, and have no meaning here.  

I was prepared to accept all this.  But my most recent experience tells me that there is much change needed.  I think a Patient’s Rights should also be about being treated with dignity and respect and about there being open lines of communication between the various “parts” of the “system” which the  Patient is required to navigate when in need of medical care.  Perhaps my having grown up in the US where processes are streamlined, where everything seems happen smoothly and seamlessly has spoiled me.  The health care system in the US, while unaffordable and unattainable for many (Obamacare notwithstanding), is at least streamlined and patients are treated carefully, and lines of communication appear to be more open and used. 

Here is my story:  (it is long, but please read to the end.  The issues I raise have to do with both the bureaucracy of the financial aspects (Sharap/Kupah) and with the lines of communications between doctors.)

I made aliyah in August 2011.  About six months ago I began a search for an orthopedic surgeon who could correctly diagnose and treat a leg deformity of mine that was causing me pain.   The first two doctors I saw, with hafnayot from my family doctor, were unable to do this.  I then, on my own, searched out a top notch doctor – by looking through the Hadassah profiles of medical personnel.  I found Professor Meir Liebergall, who is the head of Orthopedic Surgery in Hadassah.  I contacted him and described my problem. He then put me in touch with Dr. Vladimir Goldman. Dr. Goldman is the head of Limb Lengthening and Deformities.  Within two weeks I had an appointment with Dr. Goldman.  He was very thorough in his examination of me, even accompanying me to the X-ray department to provide oversight for the x-rays he requested – he wanted to be sure they x-rayed exactly to his specifications.   His diagnosis was spot on and he then requested a CT scan.  For that I needed a hitchayvut.  A request was sent to Maccabi via my family doctor for the hitchayvut.  It was initially denied, requiring my family doctor to supply more information, and then it was approved.  I took the hafnaya and hitchayvut and went for the CT scan.  Even though I had gone to the wrong Hadassah center, the personnel there were nice and arranged for me to have the CT scan there – right then and there!  I was , as you can imagine, quite impressed with this. 

I then made an appt. with Dr. Goldman for a follow up to review the CT Scan.  It was at that time that I met Professor Meir Liebergall who was providing oversight for Dr. Goldman.  Together, the three of us looked at the CT scans and Dr. Goldman explained everything to me and then described the surgery to correct the deformity.  I remember being a bit shocked initially as I learned the  scope of the surgery – it would involve making two cuts to the bone – one long vertical cut and one short horizontal one.  The bone(s) would be moved into the correct place, and pins inserted to hold them together which would then be screwed to an external device – a Taylor Spatial Frame.  I would wear this frame on my right lower leg for three months.  I agreed to have the surgery.

About a month later I was given a date for the surgery:  December 25, 2012.  That was four months out at that point.   I immediately was in touch with the Sharap office of Hadassah Medical Center, as I knew that since I had chosen a private doctor, I would need to make my arrangements for payment through Sharap.  It was my understanding that if I chose a private doctor, my kupah (Maccabi Magen Zahav) would cover a portion of it (less than if I chose a non-private doctor) and I would have to pay the balance out of pocket.  Sharap informed me that everything would happen a few days before the surgery.  I then explained to them that I needed to know sooner the amount my share would be as I would need to make arrangements to get that money in hand to pay it.  They understood and told me they would be in contact with my kupah to ascertain what that amount would be and they would be in touch with me.  BTW, I wear hearing aids and using the phone is VERY difficult for me, in English which is my native language, and impossible in Hebrew which is not.  Throughout all this I succeeded in requesting and receiving all communications via email.  In this, the service was good.  Shortly thereafter, Sharap informed me that they had been in touch with Maccabi, and that my share of the payment would be 5,491 NIS.   At this point Maccabi was now aware, that I , Rachel Stern, a participant in their Magen Zahav supplemental coverage, was scheduled to have surgery on December 25, 2012, with Dr. Vladimir Goldman, as the primary surgeon.   There were no secrets here. 

I made the arrangements necessary to ensure I would have the money available to pay for my share of the surgery.  I put all the wheels in motion arranging things in both my personal and professional life to accommodate up to three weeks of being “out of commission”.   And then I waited.

About three months before the surgery, I took ill.  It started as a cold, turned into a sinus infection, and then wound up as bronchitis.  This has been a normal pattern for me with regard to upper respiratory infections/illness.  For about 25 years of my life I was exposed to second hand smoke by my mother who was and still is a heavy smoker.  I have always felt that it is this that made me susceptible to upper respiratory infection.  I usually wind up with bronchitis, and a cough that lingers.  Only this time, it lingered far longer.  I saw that the cough would likely be with me at the time of the surgery.  I was very concerned. I felt that it could be dangerous for me, with regard to general anesthesia. 

EVERY DOCTOR I saw on my way to the date of the surgery was informed by me that I would be having this surgery.  I asked every doctor about this issue.  Every doctor informed me that it would not be a problem.   I emailed my surgeon and told him about my cough.  He, too, assured me this would not be a problem.  My family doctor, the pulmonologist, the ENT, my surgeon, all knew about my coughing.  I had done bloodwork, x-rays, eeg, ekg, spirometry, and other bedikot – all either as routine in preparation for the surgery, or in effort to cure the cough (or both).   On Monday, December 17th I went to Hadassah to the pre-op clinic for a pre-op workup.  There I met a nurse, an anesthesiologist, and an orthopedic doctor.  I told EACH one about the cough and asked if it would pose a problem.   Each one assured me that it should not.  I saw them writing things down in my charts and forms (albeit in Hebrew) and I assumed they were making notes about the cough as well.  I still am not sure if they did so or not. 

The day before I went to the pre-op clinic I was informed by Sharap that Maccabi would NOT cover my surgery. They were claiming that on the day of my surgery I would be six days shy of one year of participation in Magen Zahav.   I immediately understood what had happened.  When I arrived in Israel, at the airport I chose Maccabi as my kupah.  About a week later, I attended a NBN klita fair in Jerusalem.  Maccabi had a booth at the fair and I went over to it and sat down with a Maccabi representative.  She and I discussed the options for supplemental health insurance and I ultimately choose to sign on for Magen Zahav.  I filled out the forms and went home, feeling secure in the knowledge that I was “covered”.   A couple of months later I was sick and needed some medication. I had gone to the Maccabi pharmacy to purchase the needed medication (prescription).  When the price was stated to me I was taken aback at the cost and said as much to the pharmacist.  His reply to me was, “Well, if you participated in Magen Zahav, it would be less expensive”.  I explained to him that I was indeed a participant and he double checked and said, “No you are not, according to the computer”.  I then went to the Maccabi office to check this out.  I was told that I had never been signed up.  The woman who helped me signed me up right then and there. I erroneously thought I was signed up “retroactively”.  Hence, by my reckoning I was in my second year of participation for the surgery, but by Maccabi’s I was six days shy.  Sharap told me I would have to go into the Maccabi office and request a “kitzur” of my account.  This I did and was told I would need to write a letter to Magen Surgery to ask for this.  This I did (in Hebrew with the help of two friends).   On December 18th I sent the letter to Magen Surgery.  This was just 7 days before my surgery!  Two days later, I received the response from Magen Surgery that they would forgive me the six days and would cover the surgery.  

That same day, I received a call from Sharap, again telling me that Maccabi would not cover the surgery.   This time the reason give was that Dr. Goldman was a “private doctor” and they would not cover him. I would have to choose a different doctor.  I argued, unsuccessfully, that they had known this since FOUR MONTHS AGO, I was given an amount based on them covering him, and that at the last minute they should not be changing their tune.  Finally, I turned to Dr. Goldman and explained what was going on.  Dr. Goldman then told me to give Maccabi the name of the doctor who would be assisting him in the surgery, Dr. Naum Simanovsky. This I did, and Maccabi agreed to cover him.   By the time I got this resolved it was Thursday afternoon, just four days before the surgery.  Now suddenly, the amount of my share rose by 2000 NIS.  As you can imagine I was none too pleased to discover this.  However, I decided to suck it up and just pay it.  I had been told I could pay it the day of my surgery.  (I had also explained to them that I was paying in CASH (mezumanim).  (Let’s leave out of this story WHY I was doing that).

On Monday, the day before the surgery, at 4 PM I get a call from Sharap that I have to come in right away and pay.  Well, even though I have a car, I could NOT just drop everything (my grandchildren whom I was babysitting) to go to Sharap.  So Sharap tells me that if I am paying that day, then my surgery is being moved from first thing in the morning, to the third slot.  Of course I was not happy about this. I wanted to have my surgery early, when my surgeon would be alert, fresh and awake.  Again, I turned directly to my surgeon (he is a real mensch, by the way) and informed him of what was happening.  He assured me my surgery would take place on time.  I should show up at 6:30 am as planned.  This I did, and my sister came and met me there. First I was sent down to the Miyun Kabbalat Cholim where I paid for my surgery – 5,491 NIS in cash!  Then I returned to the fifth floor.  Everything happened very quickly. I was given gowns to change into, placed on a gurney and wheeled to the OR.  I was in the prep room in front of the OR and already hooked up to an IV.   We were waiting for the anesthesiologist.

Now before I tell you what happened next I want to refer to my state of mind.  I was very nervous, very anxious, and scared.  I was about to go under anesthesia which can be dangerous under the best of conditions, and my leg was about to be cut open, cut in the bone, and metal screws inserted into me.  I would wake up in pain, and on PCA Morphine (Patient controlled analgesia, morphine).  In the days that led up to this point I was stressed to the max in my dealings with Sharap and Maccabi – dealings which to my mind could have been taken care of MONTHS in advance.   All the information that Maccabi need to process my coverage, they had from the very beginning.  None of it was hidden or secret.  But they chose to deal with my account only days before the surgery, needlessly stressing me out when I was already stressing with worry over the actual upcoming surgery.   Now, I was sitting on a gurney, a black mark on my leg (courtesy of my surgeon), a white bracelet on my right wrist, and a catheter and IV hooked into my left hand. 

The anesthesiologist arrived.  He was none other than Dr. Alex Avidan, Senior Anesthesiologist.  I coughed.  And then I coughed some more.   He questioned me about the cough.  He was frowning. This was not good.  I told him everything about the cough that I had told all the other doctors I had seen on my way to that point!   He then went and had a  conversation with Dr. Goldman.  He came back to talk to me.  He told me “he is very worried about that cough”. He told me that he did want to put me under General Anesthesia.  It was too dangerous with that cough.  I asked about regional anesthesia.  He said it was an option but not a good one. Why?  Because if, G-d forbid, anything were to happen, he might have to administer General Anesthesia, and again, that would not be good.  So, long story short, the surgery was not performed. 

But I did ask, ALL the doctors that were there – WHY was this not addressed sooner?  My coughing was not a secret. I told everyone about it. I asked if it were a problem.  Why did it have to wait until I was sitting on the gurney, butt naked except for a flimsy hospital gown, already hooked up to an IV, just minutes away from having the surgery to learn that it was NOT okay?? From beginning to end the lack of communication along all lines from Sharap to Maccabi, from doctor to doctor, FAILED.

This is no way for a patient to be treated.  Patients are already stressed out, worrying about their health and trying to take care of themselves.  I had wanted to spend most of the week before my surgery relaxing and calming myself down so I could go into surgery, and under anesthesia in a good state of mind.  I know how crucial this is to healing.  It is one of the great intangibles of health care, that costs nothing, is for patients to be able to “self heal” using various methods of positive imagery, calming and de-stressing, and of course, laughter. 

Throughout this entire ordeal I tried to remain calm.  I tried not to stress too much.   But by the time I was on that gurney, I was stressed to the max.  And then,  MY concerns were confirmed and the surgery did not take place.  I now have to figure out how to get rid of this cough – which to date has stymied everyone – my family doctor, my ENT, and the pulmonologist.  I will be seeing an allergist soon.  Dr. Avidan says I must be 8 weeks cough free to have the surgery.  I will have to go through this process  ALL OVER again, needlessly!  I will once again have to make accommodations in both my personal and professional life to accommodate a new surgery date.  I have plans to move this summer, and now I have no idea if and how all this will happen. (I HAVE to move, I will no longer be able to afford to remain where I have been living for the past year and a half.)

I do not know if sharing my story will have any impact whatsoever. I do not even know with whom I could or should share it that it would make an impact.  But what I just went through is something that NO PATIENT should have to go through.

I think my doctors are terrific doctors.  I have asked for and received the promise that Dr. Alex Avidan will be my anesthesiologist when my surgery is re-scheduled.  He is a doctor who CARES.  I was blessed to have him come to me. Dr. Goldman is a mensch of the highest sort, an amazing person.  Everyone I dealt with – doctors, nurses, people in Sharap, people at my kupah, were all wonderful.  But that does not make up for the huge gap, the huge canyon, through which I fell.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jumping through the hoops of the health care system in Israel...

I go in for my surgery on Tuesday and I am nervous as hell.  The process of getting my surgery to be paid for by my insurance, here in Israel, has been rather daunting.  Just so you all understand:  I am from the US and I moved to Israel just over a year ago.   In the US even though health insurance is ridiculously expensive, and does not cover enough of costs, it is a remarkably streamlined process which can be effectuated months in advance and can take a few days to get set.  Here the process is NOT streamlined in the least and everything takes place at the "last minute".  That can be quite hairy for someone who may not have enough moolah to cover anything that may not be covered.   So here is how it panned out for me.

It was about six months ago that I initiated the process of diagnosis and getting recommendations for correcting the issue.  As soon as I learned it would take surgical intervention, I agreed to the surgery and began to put the wheels into motion to enable it.  First, I had to wait to receive a date for the surgery.  That took about a month of waiting and it was scheduled for December 25th - four months out from the time I received the date.  I immediately asked what the procedure was for getting it covered by my kupah (health insurance).  I was told that since my surgeon is a "private practitioner" I would need to contact the "Sharap" office at Hadassah Hospital, where my surgery would take place, and the Sharap office would be in touch with my kupah and then they would contact me.  But, I was told I would not know anything until a few days before the surgery!!!  At that point I explained that I needed to know at the very least how much my share of the cost would be, due to the fact that my funds are tied up in the States and it would take me some time to arrange for the release of the funds to pay for it.  So Sharap understood and contacted my kupah and got me the info.  In effect, they "neogiated" with my kupah about this.  Ok, fine. 

Last week, I was contacted by Sharap and told that my kupah was refusing to cover the surgery because I was not a participant in their Gold plan for a full year -- I would be shy by SIX DAYS on the day of the surgery!  That is by THEIR reckoning, not by MY reckoning – what happened is this:  when I arrived in Israel, just off the plane, I was met by an agent from the Jewish Agency and told to choose a health insurance provider.  I had done some research before I arrived and I chose Maccabi.  Then, a week later I attended the NBN Klita Fair in Jerusalem.  I knew there would be a booth there for Maccabi and I would be able to select a supplemental health coverage plan.  I went to the Maccabi booth, sat with a Maccabi representative and chose Maccabi Magen Zahav. I filled out the forms, and then went about my way, feeling secure in the knowledge that I was covered. I had been assured that all my info would be “put into the system” the very next day. 

A couple of months later, I was ill and needed prescription medicine.  I went to the Maccabi Pharmacy to fill the prescription.  The price seemed rather steep and I said as much to the pharmacist.  His reply to me was “If you were a Magen Zahav participant it would not be so expensive”.  I told him that I am indeed a participant in Magen Zahav. He double checked and no I was not. So I went down to the Maccabi office to find out what was going on.   There, I spoke to a lovely woman named Nochi (just so you know, I have found EVERYONE in the Maccabi office in Modi’in to be exceedingly nice and helpful).  She confirmed that I was NOT a participant and there was no indication that I had ever signed up.  But she signed me up right then and there.  I erroneously thought my participation would be counted as retroactive from when I signed up. 

So, back to Sharap informing me that Maccabi would not cover it due to my being six days shy of a full year of participation in Magen Zahav.  The Sharap office suggested that I needed to go into the Maccabi office and ask them for a “kitzur” of my account (shortening of it) to allow me to have the surgery and for them to cover it.  This I did, that very evening. (Yes, they have evening hours!)  There, I was told I needed to write a letter explaining all this and requesting the kitzur. 

With the help of friends I wrote a letter which I then sent to Maccabi Surgery.  It was an excellent letter, even my surgeon said so when I shared it with him.   It did the trick and Maccabi agreed to cover the surgery.  Great! Or so I thought.  That same day, I was contacted by Maccabi and told that they will NOT cover the surgery because the doctor I chose is a “private practitioner”.  I was kind of surprised (although not so much because now, I was used to expecting the other shoe to drop!).  I told them that I had addressed that issue by dealing the Sharap office which had already been in touch with Maccabi and had already negotiated the fees.  It was to no avail.  So, I explained this to my surgeon, not knowing what else to do.  Maccabi wanted me to choose another doctor – and I would NOT do that.  My surgeon is the top doctor in the field and I trust him implicitly.  I would not choose any other doctor. 

Well, he came to my rescue.  He told me that another doctor who will be assisting him would be the name we would give to Maccabi.  Maccabi would cover him.  So, I did give that name to Maccabi and sure enough they agreed to cover him.  I suspect this is a game that is routinely played by the doctors and insurance companies here.  

But now, Maccabi requires a new hafnaya (referral) naming the new doctor.  Again, I turned to my surgeon who told me “No problem, we will get a hafnaya to them on Sunday.”  Mind you, my surgery is now four days away and on Sunday will be two days.  When I was told initially that everything gets arranged at the last minute, I realize now that was the honest truth!!

Personally, I think it is a very bad way of doing things.  An individual who is facing major surgery, scary and painful surgery is already stressed out about that and working hard to be calm, relaxed, and positive – which is crucial when one is about to undergo anesthesia and surgery – does not need the added stress of worrying about whether or not the surgery will be covered by their kupah at the very last minute!  It is something that should be worked out WELL in advance of any surgery that is PLANNED.

In any case, it appears that everything is working out as it should and as always I give my thanks to Hashem for His hand in it.  I know he is orchestrating much of this for me! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fitting In

Last night I went to a Bar Mitzvah.  It was lovely and I truly enjoyed myself, with the exception of the thirty minutes I spent coughing!!

It is interesting.  When I lived in ---, I wanted so desperately to "fit in" and to be accepted. I have had trouble "fitting in" most of my life.  It is due, in part, to my hearing loss which rendered me at times "socially inept".  Speaking out of turn, or out of context, mis-communications or simply missing communications would do that to me.  But one would think that as an adult I would not have such problems. 

But --- is a suburb of NY and thus, in a way, part of the greater NY metropolitan area.  People in that area of NY and NJ tend to be more snobby, more clique-y.  Barry and I were very active in our community, we were founding members, literally of our shul and involved in many of the shul efforts and activities.  But, that did not buy my acceptance into that society. For the most part, I was snubbed by many of the members of the shul, in particular the "rich" people.  I saw it, felt it, but for the most part, I ignored it.  To my way of thinking, if I ignored it, I would not give it any validity or credence.  But, that did not mean I did not feel it, that did not mean I was not hurt by it. I was.  Deeply.  My late husband also saw it.  For himself he did not really care.  He had never really concerned himself with fitting in, because growing up he DID fit in, easily.  He did not have the social issues that I had growing up which later made social acceptance so important for me.   He and I did not speak of it much, he had the same attitude about validating it as I did.  But he did speak of it with his sister, Karen. She told me, after his death, that he told her how much he loved me and how it pained him to see me treated with disrespect by the snobby members of our shul.  Since Barry died and since I moved away from ---, I actually became closer to one woman there, who, like me, has been "shunned" by the snobby members of the "rich elite".  Barry and she were close when he was alive but she and I were like oil and water back then.  But now we are close. We are very alike in many ways.  I have spoken with her about this issue of my "fitting in" in ---, and she agreed with me that we have been snubbed.  So I know I am not imagining it, I have not imagined that I have been slighted. 

I moved to --- not knowing a soul and I had talked myself into "not caring" if I would be accepted or not.  Of course, it was a lie to myself because of course, I did want to be accepted. But I needed not to have worried -- I was welcomed with open arms by everyone, without reservation, without judgment, and without care for my socio-economic status. It was a totally new experience for me and I enjoyed it.  But I also considered it to be anomalous within the religious Jewish community at large.  

After living in --- for 14 months, I made aliyah to Israel and went to live in Hashmonaim.  For most of my first year here, I have not really felt a "part of the community", but just living in the midst of one.  I did not feel snubbed, I did not feel disrespected.  At times I felt disconnected or even forgotten, but not snubbed, and not disrespected.  However, I am now in my second year here and I have been noticing that I am feeling more a part of the community, in a way I had not felt before.  I find that people come up to me to converse with me and include me in their discussions.  It is very nice. 

Last night I went to the Bar Mitzvah with a certain amount of trepidation.  I knew it would be a big, fancy affair and that many of the attendees to the event would be from the wealthier people on the Yishuv.  I wondered if I would experience the same snobbery I experienced when I would attend these type events back in ---.  In ---, I would find that women would either ignore me, or talk over or around me, or more directly, titter at me.  I remember the despair I would feel when I was in those situations, especially if there were separate seating.   I knew that last night's affair would not be separate seating, but then I was also going it alone, without a spouse, so it really made no real difference to me.  In --- I would find that I would be seated with people who were the "odd ones out" rather than with my true peers.  It was very hurtful for me. 

Well, last night I arrived at the event, and the host of the party was very happy that I showed up.  There was at first a sumptuous smorgasbord and the inevitable mingling and schmoozing. I used to keep to myself during the mingling and schmoozing parts of these events.  Last night, I could not have done that had I wanted to. I found myself mingling and schmoozing, and WELCOMED into the little discussion groups that sprang up here and there throughout the hall.  It was a very nice sensation, to know that I was not being snubbed.  Then it came time to be seated at our tables. I was assigned to Table Five and wondered who I would be seated with.  I found myself seated with people I know, amongst couples rather than amongst the "odd ones out".  I was included in all the conversations, and in fact, asked to tell the story of my "amazing reunion" with Judy M - I had attended ulpan in 1977 with her and her twin sister -- I believe I wrote about this.   I was invited to sit at other tables to schmooze in between courses.  When I went through my thirty minute long bout of coughing, I was made to feel the concern of others -- for ME, and not for themselves.  A high point of the  night was when I returned to the table from the ladies room and suddenly all the women got flustered. Why?  Because they all thought I had left for the night and had given my shawl which I had left on the chair to another woman to take back home with her to give to me the next day!  It was very funny and it turned out that she had not left after all and one of the women went sprinting after her (in HEELS) to get my shawl.  I followed her and we all had a good laugh about it.  It was a laugh of inclusion and it felt SO GOOD TO ME!!

I know I am going on a bit about something that is really much ado about nothing.  But for me, after YEARS of trying to fit in and finally feeling like I do, it is not nothing, but very much a lot of something!! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Powerful Women

This morning I participated in a meeting of a group of women.  It is a group of 

women formed originally on Facebook.  The group was formed to allow the women in the group to enjoy morning and afternoon chats with friends around a nice, warm cup of coffee.  (The idea being that we are each enjoying a cup of coffee while we are chatting on Facebook!).

This meeting was to take the virtual concept out of the group and to make it into reality.  We would all be able to meet one another face to face and get a better sense of with whom we were interacting online.  It was a success!

We are all English speaking olim, some who have been living in Israel for many years, others  (myself) who have been here just over a year, various ages, from various places in the US, and different backgrounds.  We are all religious Zionist Jews.  The one thing that did come out, that I found rather interesting, is that many of us, if not most of us, write. We write either professionally, or for fun.  It should not actually be all that surprising, since after all, the main (only?) mode of communication on Facebook is TYPING (the modern day form of writing – I no longer do longhand writing – due to lack of practice it has been rendered ILLEGIBLE!). 

Each woman in turn introduced herself to the group and told her “life story” – or at least the salient points of her life, those which were apparently important enough to her to warrant sharing with the group.   I learned so much this morning. 

Several “salient points” were drilled home in this meeting to me. Most are concepts which I have already formed and this morning’s meeting simply lent more credence to those concepts. 

Everyone has a story.  For many years I have often believed in the “first impression is a lasting impression” credo.  There is truth to it, and it has guided my choices in dress and appearance, in particular for job interviews or first dates.  It still guides me somewhat.  However, I no longer use it to judge OTHERS.  These days, I (try) to make no judgments about other individuals until I have heard their story.  I must have become pretty good at listening, or at getting others to open up to me, because these days I seem to COLLECT stories.  I can point to nearly every person I know and say, “that person has a story.  It is sad”, or “it is amazing”, or “it is inspiring”, or “it is laughable”.  And, knowing these stories, each person is very real to me, very dear to me, and I am able to thus empathize and to CARE. 

Miracles do happen.  But we cannot just sit back and ask for a miracle.  We have to do our part, our hishtadlus.  Then, Hashem will shower miracles on us. 

Hashgacha Pratis, closely related to miracles is evident in nearly every facet of our lives.  One of the participants in the meeting described a particularly amazing piece of Hashgacha Pratis which she experienced.   I too, have had NUMEROUS amazing experiences of Hashgacha Pratis in my life.  There are no coincidences, unless by coincidence one means “an act of G-d”! (My list of Hashgacha Pratis can be a blog entry in itself (or several!)). 

The last concept that I felt was strongly supported by this meeting is the concept of “powerful women”. Let me explain:

Back in the 80’s and 90’s I had my own business.  It was a “woman owned” 
business which was a “thing” back then.  I remember I surrounded myself with other women who either owned businesses or held positions of power – whether in business, politics, or in civic organizations. 

I would attend meetings with these women and always came away from these 
meetings feeling rejuvenated, alive, energetic, powerful, and just plain happy.  I felt validated both as a woman and as an individual.

After I sold my business and I returned to frumkeit, all of that kind of changed.  Maybe it was because I was not in the right place at the right time, I was not exposed to women, and the kind of women I call “women’s women”.  I think I might have thought they did not exist in the frum world. 

I joined the sisterhood at my parent’s shul.  Every year the sisterhood would put on a performance – a “musical” in honor of the kallot and banot mitzvah. The performance used well known songs from well known musicals, only we changed the words to suit our needs.  I had a lot of fun doing that.  I also designed props and décor for the annual dinner for Chessed of New Square.  I worked exclusively with women in that effort.  But it was not the same.  It was enjoyable but very limited and limiting.

When I married Barry I felt like I had something to prove.  I needed to prove that I could manage a kosher home – keep it organized, clean, cook healthy and delicious meals, and work full time as well.  I would be a great mother, a great wife, and involved in our community.  And, I DID all those things.  Initially, I worked as the registrar for the Bnei Akiva Mach Hach B’Aretz program, I was involved in our shul, I chauffeured the kids to and from after school programs, and I cooked healthy meals for dinner (we sat down as a family at the dinner table every day!).  As far as the cleaning goes, I hired a cleaning woman.  I loved my job.  Even when I left Bnei Akiva and went to work for American Friends of Shalva I continued with all aforementioned activities and I enjoyed my work.  

But in the last two years before Barry died, something changed for me.  I no longer was enjoying the job.  I felt like I was burnt out, I was listless, I had no energy and I had no relationship with G-d.  Something was wrong, and I knew it.  I remember spending some time looking for what I was missing – trying to daven with more kavanah, reading books that were supposed to be inspirational, wanting to sign up for some shiurim (only all the shiurim which I really wanted to sign up for were in the middle of my work day!).  

None of this helped.  I went to my doctor to be tested for I do not know what but nothing showed up. He gave me a Vitamin B shot.  It did not really help much.  By the time Barry died I felt wrung out.  (A year after his death I would be even more wrung out from the litigation to which I was unwillingly subjected.) 

Not once during my marriage to Barry was I able to find and be part of a group of “women’s women”.   It certainly did not exist within the religious community in Teaneck.  Most of the women in my age group, in my community, or rather in my shul, did not work. They stayed home. They raised their kids. They fixed up their houses. They remodeled their kitchens.  They cooked fabulous (and costly) meals.  They went shopping at Riverside Square Mall which is the opposite of a discount mall.   I felt I had to compete with these women.  The difference was, I worked.   I never felt like I really fit in. 

After Barry died, and I moved to Baltimore, I encountered a completely different group of people.  There, I was accepted – immediately and without needing to prove to anyone who or what I was!  There, I met several women, “women’s women”, with whom I struck up close friendships.  It so happens that several of those women made aliyah and so I am thus able to continue my close friendship with them without geography in the way!

Since making aliyah I have been growing my network of friends, acquaintances, co-workers, colleagues and even family, by leaps and bounds.  Through this network I was invited to join a special group of women.  Meeting some of them this morning awakened in me some of the spirit and energy that I find being with other women opens up. 

It was my birthday recently and I invited a group of women to help me celebrate at a restaurant one evening.  There were ten of us at that celebration.  Near the end of the evening one woman remarked to me that “all the women here are ‘powerful’ women”!  That is how I felt at the meeting this morning:  we are all ‘powerful’ women.

Thank you all for being there with me.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Facebook and Linked In, Useful Social Media

Usually when I meet a new person with whom I wish to stay in touch I will ask for their email address, and I will ask if they are on Facebook or Linked In.  Responses to these requests/questions will run along the lines of “I will give you my phone number” or “I hardly use my email” or “Facebook?  I have no time for Facebook” or “Linked In?  What is that?”.

These responses are a cause for anguish for me.  Let me explain.

Remember the big “networking” fad of the eighties?   I do.  Huge “networking fairs” were organized.  I was invited to many at the time – I had my own business and it was a “thing” to be a female business owner.  I went to ONE such event.  Only one.  Why?  Because it was a NOISY affair.  I was in a room with some 100 or more participants, everyone was talking, and I simply could not hear what was being said to me.  Due to my hearing impairment I could not network.  I remember despairing of the ability to be even more successful than I already was.  It was a bit of a blow to my self esteem.  I considered myself rather socially adept despite the disability.  But in that environment – forget it.  And so I considered myself a lousy networker.   That is factor one in my explanation.  Read on.  You will get the point eventually.

 Growing up I used the phone with the same ease as a hearing person.  I was a regular chatterbox, talking to my friends on the phone as a teenager.  I used the phone both socially and professionally.  I had no hesitation when faced with having to pick up the phone and place a call.  Then, in the mid-90’s all that changed.  No, my hearing had not changed.  But technology did.  Cordless, wireless, digital, cellular technologies invaded the telecommunications industry.   Phones were no longer all analog. In fact, analog phones were going the way of dinosaurs.   Hearing aid technology was also changing.  HA’s were also using the same technologies as telecommunications.  BUT – the changes were not occurring in tandem or with any kind of cooperation.  Thus compatibility between hearing aids and telephones, which were 100% between analog phones and analog aids, dropped to nearly nil.  Since then, it has gotten better, but nowhere near the previous 100% rate.   Not only that.  Clarity of sound in analog technology is far better than in digital technology.   The result of all this was that I lost the ability to use the phone with ease.  I became MORE disabled as a result of technological advances, not less disabled!  That is factor two in my explanation. 

Along with the technological advances in telecommunications came the internet explosion.  Back in 1995 the internet was still raw, the wild west of the technoworld.  But I recognized in it the possibility of replacement – I realized that instant messaging and email could replace for me somewhat what I lost in using the phone.  It was then that I began using email and IM as a replacement.  Of course, it was a limited replacement – many people still did not have email, and were not using Instant Messaging (IM).  However, over the years, the usage of email and IM has grown exponentially.  Now, nearly everyone I know has an email address, and most people use IM some of the time.  

Then along came Linked In and Facebook.  I joined Linked In first, since in the beginning Facebook was not open to everyone.  I did not see any immediate benefit to joining Linked In but I stuck with it.  As soon as Facebook opened up to me, I joined.  Facebook gave me an immediate benefit. Suddenly, I was better able to network socially.  All the stuff I missed in social interactions, the subtleties such as “overhearing” someone say this or that, was right there in front of me, in print, in black and white!  As Facebook improved over time, and as I grew my social network on Facebook, my social ability also grew.  It was quite amazing and gratifying for me! After all these years of struggling socially, I suddenly felt as if I had finally “come into my own”.  In the meantime, I was also quietly growing my Linked In network, and fine tuning my professional profile on Linked In.  I was not finding it particularly useful and so long gaps of time would go by between the times I would check in on my Linked In profile or network.

After moving to Israel, and spending some time fine tuning my Linked In profile further, I found that suddenly, I was receiving more invitations to connect on Linked In and also was invited to interview for jobs or invited to consult.  It was quite amazing how Linked In has done so much work for me since I am living in Israel. 

Much of this is all thanks to Hashem’s Hashgacha Pratis – but it is said that He helps those who help themselves.  I do my hishtadlus, and then He helps me along. 

But I digress.  Back to my introductory paragraph, wherein which I describe encountering people who tell me they do not use Facebook or Linked In.  Not only that they tell me they do not use those services, but many of them tell me this with a disparaging tone, and say they “don’t have time for that kind of stuff” and seem to indicate to me that Facebook in particular is a “waste of time”. 

What I have attempted to do with this little essay of mine is to explain to my readers why Facebook, for ME is NOT a waste of time, and how Facebook (and Linked In) have improved my life, both socially and professionally. 

Both have provided me with a network of friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, employers or potential employers, and professional relationships.  Those networks have allowed me to read and learn about what is going on in the world, in my neighborhood, in my town, in my country, in other countries, amongst my friends and family.  Those networks have allowed me post questions, requests, and information that may be beneficial to those who read my posts.  Those networks have provided the ability for conversational discourse on an infinite number of topics. While I know that the printed word cannot always adequately convey the sense or context of a person’s emotions that the human voice can,  it is still a great substitute for someone like myself. 

There are those who state that these new social media are loaded with lies, lashon hora, and have great potential be hurtful.   They are correct.  But that has been true of all media, for MILLENIUM.  The big difference is, I will acknowledge, is that social media is immediate, explosive (exponential growth or propagation of posts), and far more easily exploited.  But just as one does not throw out the baby with the bathwater, we should not dismiss the positive benefits of social media.  I believe Facebook and Linked In have been extremely beneficial, not only to me and others like me, but to all who use them.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My pending surgery

This is the story about the pending surgery on my right leg.  Since my mid-20's I have experienced pain in my right hip, and later in my knees, but the right knee has always been worse than the left knee.  However, I was able, for the most part, to remain active.

In my mid-30's I began to find a need to curtail my activity due to the pain.  I was not happy about it.  It got worse as I got older and I found myself continually reducing the amount of activity I engaged in, with continuing unhappiness about it.

Over the years, I saw various doctors about this -- chiropractors, rheumatologists, orthopedists -- with no real positive results. I was told it was "growing pains", "hip bursitis" and even that it was "probably arthritis" -- even though no arthritis showed up in the x-rays of my hips!

Then, in 2010 I went to an orthopedic surgeon at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Dr. Janet Conway.  She did a thorough examination and ordered x-rays.   She then diagnosed me with an externally rotated tibia.  It was the first time I had a diagnosis that actually fit and that I felt was correct.

She suggested surgery to correct it but also suggested I try PT first.  I did the PT for three months, and was very good about doing the exercises at home as well.  It was to no avail.  I did not do the surgery with her, because by the time it would have been scheduled I would already be in Israel, as per my aliyah plans.  So, I decided to shelve the surgery until after I was settled in Israel and to pursue it there.   Besides, in the States I was paying $500 per month for health insurance that would not have covered even most of the cost of the surgery -- I doubt I could have afforded it there!

After being in Israel for several months I put out requests for recommendations for orthopedic surgeons.  The first one I saw told me that surgery could not fix my problems.  The second one I saw told me I was "too old" to fix this problem!  Finally, I was in touch with Professor Liebergall. He heads up the orthopedic surgery dept. at Hadassah hospital.  He told me to see Dr. Vladimir Goldman - he heads up the deformities and limb lengthening unit of the Orthopedic surgery department.

I made an appt. with Dr. Goldman and on my first visit with him I was very impressed. Like Dr. Conway, he was very thorough, and even came with me and provided oversight for the x-rays he ordered.  Then he ordered a CT scan.  

After I had the results of the CT scan, I went back to see Dr. Goldman, and this time with Prof. Liebergall as well.  They showed me the pictures from the CT scan and I was so amazed. So detailed!   Anyway, it showed a definite rotational deformity of the tibia as well as a minute bowing out of my leg.  Additionally, due to the arthritis in my knee, caused by the rotation of the tibia, my right leg is definitely shorter than my left one.

Dr. Goldman suggested surgery.  He told me it will require two cuts to the tibial bones, one lateral and one vertical. Then screws will be inserted and I will wear a halo type thing on my right leg, around the upper shin bones.  I will wear it for three months, during which time I will have to make "adjustments" to the frame myself.  I will be mobile, it allows for weight bearing, and I can walk -- but I will be unable to drive.

So, it is really happening.  Dr. Goldman wrote the letter and the hafnaya (referral/prescription).  Now, I wait for a date - he said likely to be after January.  Once I get the date, I go to my kupah and request a hitchayvut, which is like a combo isshur (permission) and havtacha (promise (to pay)).   I may have to fight for it but I am not worried about that right now.  I will deal with it as it happens.

I am nervous -- not so much about the surgery itself as much as about the pain involved.  I am scared of that.   I hope I will not be too much of a bitch during my recovery...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Nine Days

 I have a good life, really and truly I do.  But a few things "went wrong" for me during these past couple of weeks. One thing that went wrong is that my kupah (health insurance) for some reason initially rejected a request made for a "hitchayvut" (permission, guarantee of coverage) for a CT scan ordered by my orthopedic surgeon.  It was later corrected.  I have yet to make the appointment though, and the procrastination is yet another thing that "went wrong".

I made the mistake too, of scheduling my driving test during these two weeks.  Sure enough, I failed -- 525 NIS down the drain.  I failed not because I had done anything wrong.  I failed because the tester failed to inform me in time to make a left turn and I was continuing straight as we are supposed to do unless told to turn.  He, of course, is not owning up to the mistake and well, just another thing that "went wrong".

I was supposed to participate in a Shabbaton this Shabbat with another person.  She sent me an email at 2 pm in which she wrote she is "rethinking her plans..." and she "decided not to go".  But she was referring to a different plan, not the plan we made to attend the Shabbaton.  But I completely misunderstood her, since there was no explicit reference, and I thought she was cancelling attending the Shabbaton.  I shot off an angry email to her, and then she called me.  After some heated discussion, we straightened out the misunderstanding but I had already made alternative plans, so I am not going with her. She is not happy going alone.  But I had already "psyched" myself into the change of plans being for the better - saving me 300 NIS which I will now have to use for the next driving test.  Either way we look at this it is something else that "went wrong".

It is the Nine Days, folks!  Nine Days of things going wrong, of tragic events, of misunderstandings leading to  "sinas chinam" - usually translated as "baseless hatred".  We need to be on our guard, on our best behavior during this time.  Hashem is sending us all form of nisayonot (trials).  We must be aware, on high alert!

And we are supposed to be sad, very sad. After all, it was due to all these things that we lost a gift, a treasure, the Temple was destroyed, twice - on Tisha B'Av, which technically falls on Shabbat, and thus is observed on Sunday, the day after Shabbat.

May we all have an easy and meaningful fast and may we all be zocheh to witness the coming of Moshiach, in OUR day!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Acceptance with grace

I have been told by many people upon hearing my stories of my life and all that I have experienced that I should write a book about my life.  I have always shrugged them off, with the thinking that yes, it is nice to be validated in this way, but no, I do not have what it takes to write a book. Besides, to my mind, a book a person writes about their own life should have a point - a conclusion, a lesson to share with readers.  My life is far from over (I hope), and I have been hard pressed to know what the lesson is that I must share.

More recently, it was suggested to me that my story is a "cautionary tale" for other women either entering into, or considering entering into, or even already entered into marriage with a man for whom it is his second marriage, a man who has an ex-wife with an ax to grind and children from a first marriage who believe their lives are "a priori" for their father.  However,  I shook my head and said that I could not do that.  My reason now was that so doing would be to negate Hashem's plan for me, for my life.

I have come to conclusion, albeit not easily and not happily, that where I am in my life is where Hashem wanted me to be. I had to endure some nasty moments in my life to get here. I am living a good life. Is it perfect?  No.  Perfect, if such a thing exists, would to my mind, mean I was married, that I had a husband.  But I am living in Eretz Yisrael.  I am close to my daughter, son in law, grandchildren, sister, nieces and nephews, and friends  -- all here.

Apparently, I merited to come to Israel and to live here.  I get chills when I think about this.

I have frequently said that I have witnessed G-d's hand in my life - every time some amazingly good thing happens, every time events appear to be fortuitous, every time a seemingly random happenstance that makes everything work out just perfect, I say it was "hashgacha pratis" - divine providence, the hand of G-d, orchestrating my life.  But when the bad things happen I have not said that, I have gotten angry, upset, resentful.      Perhaps because I believe in a G-d that is good, that is benevolent, I have problems attributing to Him even the bad stuff that happens in my life.  Additionally, if I were to admit that it comes from Him, then I would also have to admit a shortcoming in myself - because G-d would not give me "bad gifts" if I did not deserve them.  Although, there is a fallacy in that thinking as well.  Perhaps G-d "shakes up my world" at times, to force me to pay attention, or to learn a lesson, or to change one or some of my ways.  Lately, however, I am trying to change my attitude and the way I view these things.  EVERYTHING is from Hashem, the good and the bad, and I have to learn to accept ALL of them with grace.  THAT is the lesson I am taking from my life thus far.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In pursuit of pain-free activity...

I have something called "external tibial torsion" in my right leg. That means the tibia of my right leg is rotated externally.  In my 20's it was noticed and pointed out to me that my gait was with my right foot pointing rather noticeably to the right rather than in front of me.  I became self conscious of it and self corrected my gait.  Over time it became natural.

However, it has had another effect:  it has put stress on the muscles in my right hip, causing me pain. The pain only occurs DURING activity: walking for more than 15 or 20 minutes, dancing, hiking, biking.  When I stop the activity, the pain also stops.  The pain started occurring when I was in my mid 30's -- but periods of rest seemed to help.  Then I hit my 40's -- periods of rest did not help.

I tried analgesics, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, even strong pain killers -- to no avail.  No doctor had yet diagnosed me correctly.  I was told I had "hip bursitis", or "probably arthritis" -- even though no arthritis showed up in any x-rays!  

In December 2010 I found a doctor in Baltimore who diagnosed it correctly. She told me that before we consider surgery as an option I should try physical therapy.  I spent three months, three days a week, plus exercising at home, doing physical therapy. Some of it was painful.  It did not help.   Surgery appeared to be what I needed. BUT... even with the health insurance I had (for which I was paying $500 per month!), I would not be able to afford it.  Additionally,  if I were to undertake to have the surgery, I would have had to postpone my aliyah yet another year. That last was most definitely unpalatable to me.

I decided to make aliyah, and place my bets on being able to get the surgery in Israel, and also to have it covered by the very good health care system here.

Today, I had my first meeting with an orthopedist.  It was a dismal disappointment.  He was discouraging me:  he intimated that I should "live with it".  He suggested that surgery would not help me.  He suggested I take drugs to manage the pain.   I was really dismayed. But, I insisted that I am ONLY 52, that I wish to remain active - to go hiking, to dance, to do many of the things I had always done.  I am too young to spend the rest of my life sitting!!

He finally conceded and gave me a hafnaya (referral) to an orthopedic surgeon.  Let's hope this doctor is more optimistic for me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Better Late Than Never…

Rabbi Barry Stern a"h
But for the intervention of parental authority and the increasing obligations of life, I would have made aliyah thirty two years ago.   It was not until I met and married my late husband, Rabbi Barry Stern (a”h) a decade ago that my dream of aliyah was given free reign and allowed to flourish.  Our longing to live in Israel was palpable, and while many of our conversations were peppered with discussions of how, when and where, our fears and familial obligations kept that dream at bay.

I made aliyah six months ago.  It has been an entirely wonderful and positive experience.  However, in reading of other’s aliyah experiences it was all too easy to come away with a bad impression of life in Israel and to be frightened away from the prospect of making aliyah.  And so, In the face of the many negative experiences that others have experienced and written about, and disseminated to the public - particularly via the internet - I feel compelled to step in and offer my experiences as an antidote.

For many years before coming home, I trolled email lists, blogs, online forums and the like for any tidbits of information that could aid our planned aliyah.  In reflection, I lived vicariously through other people’s aliyah experiences.

I read about the food in Israel, how we would not be able to find our favorite brands and how we should be ready to learn to appreciate the local fare, or expect to spend a fortune of money at the checkout for the American cuisine we would crave.  I learned about cars – owning vs. leasing vs. renting vs. using public transportation and tremping (hitchhiking). I was mostly told was that we would not want a car because it would be very expensive and we would, eventually, wind up doing what everyone else does: getting around by tremping, buses, trains, and taxis.  I learned about banking in Israel – and was drilled expect to be robbed at the counter because “all the banks in Israel are about taking one’s money, not helping one to save it!”

I also read tales of olim who underwent nightmarish experiences with shippers and customs.  Either the shipper would tack on humongous unexpected fees at the destination and hold their belongings for ransom, or customs would charge exorbitant customs fees and taxes.   Whole shipments would disappear or show up completely damaged and the insurance which ostensibly was to cover replacement value would be something one could wind up fighting for months to receive. There was the story of the refrigerator that was damaged—just the door was damaged but without the door the refrigerator could not be used - and the insurance company was insisting it was only “25% damaged”. 

Additionally, I heard and read many horror stories of the unwieldy bureaucracy of Israel – of corrupt clerks, or of being shuttled back and forth between desks or offices with no one actually helping the individual accomplish the task they had set out to do.   I read stories of olim reduced to tears by uncaring and rude agency officials, having to pay more than their fare share of fees, and so on. 

Did these tales of woe frighten me?  Yes, at least a little bit.  I also have the additional “burden” of being severely hard of hearing and I require hearing aids.  Even though I had learned to speak Hebrew in an Ulpan in Israel some thirty years prior to my aliyah, my ability and fluency declined in the intervening years; as they say, “Use it or lose it” and  I feared I had lost it.  Being that much older did not help – learning a new language (or rather RE-learning it) is harder for us “older folk”. 
Then, several years into my aliyah research, tragedy struck when my beloved husband died suddenly and tragically. He had slipped and fallen on icy pavement, struck his head on the ground, and suffered a major subdural hematoma. He was brain dead upon arrival at the emergency room. We buried him six days later.

After a week of shiva, in which possibly a thousand people traipsed through my house making condolence calls, I was alone – incredibly, irrevocably alone.  It was only then, in going through my late husband’s affairs, that I came to realize that my life had been terribly altered, and the change of circumstances would be more than just a loss of my husband. Also involved was a huge change in my financial status – one that would pit me against his family and ex-wife in a litigious affair that lasted most of the two and a half years prior to my aliyah.  In the end, my losses included not only my husband, but his family, my house and home, my community (I had to move to a more affordable community), my car, and my job.   

None of this stopped me, however, from pursuing my dream of making aliyah. I even continued to read the horror stories (while living one of my own).  In retrospect, I realize now that I was trying to internally “prepare for the worst”.  So, in a bid to avert disaster, I then went to work:  I researched everything: cars, banks, finance issues in Israel, places to live, cost of living, health care, housing, employment, services for the hearing impaired; you name it, I researched it.   I accumulated all the pertinent documents and articles and information and compiled all the information into a binder, organized by topic.  I discovered organizations that offer personal grants to Jews making aliyah.  I sold some of my possessions to help finance my aliyah, in addition to the grants which I received.   I reached out to my friends who were already living in Israel and told them of my plans and asked for their help.  

So here I am, living in Israel.

I made aliyah and shipped all my worldly possessions to Israel.  My interactions with the shipper in the States, the shipper in Israel and with customs was very smooth.  A few boxes initially went missing, and a few items sustained minor damage.  Ultimately four out of the five missing boxes were returned to me, and the damages were repaired or minor enough to leave alone.  I was insured for the missing fifth box.  My possessions were not held ransom and there were no surprises like additional fees in store for me. The workers who came and packed me up and loaded the truck and those who unloaded and unpacked my belongings were extremely respectful to me and of my possessions.  I would describe this as a positive experience. 

I eat the food that I can afford to buy and I am not starving nor missing “American” delicacies.  Much of what I ate while in the US is readily available here, and it is not all exorbitantly priced.  I drive a car, and yes, it is quite expensive to drive in Israel.  But I had made the decision before I came to Israel that I would have a car and would be willing to give up other “creature comforts” for that mobility.  It was a decision based in the reality of whom and what I am:  a fifty-two year old woman with arthritis in her knees and ankles and a congenital hip deformity.  Walking to the trempiada, or bus stop, or train station, dealing with a multitude of weather changes, schlepping bags of groceries or whatever I had need of schlepping – well, it just was not going to be do-able for me anymore.   A car was (and is), to my mind, a necessity.

I have a US bank account which does not charge me foreign transaction fees, a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, an Israeli bank account that does NOT charge fees for every standard transaction, health insurance with Maccabi Zahav that is quite amazing (I can make appointments with my doctors online!) and have had no problems dealing with any of the bureaucrats I have had to do my business with.  It is true that many of the bureaucrats working within Israel’s extremely hierarchical infrastructure lack a true sense of customer service and are oftentimes rather abrupt in their interactions with the public, and sometimes even downright rude.  However, I learned a valuable lesson from my mother:  honey catches more flies than vinegar.  Translated, this means to always smile and be nice to those you are dealing with, even if they are not – trust me, it never fails, to at the very least, to soften them up.  I have found it usually changes their demeanor to downright sunny!

I have retained enough Hebrew to manage my life (although holding a deep, profound philosophical discussion in Hebrew remains beyond my abilities), and I am living in a lovely community in a beautiful house.  I have a blossoming social life and am close to my family here which includes my married daughter, two grandsons, my sister and her family, several nieces and nephews, and my mechutenet.  I am close to many of my friends who made aliyah from Monsey, Teaneck and Baltimore – all the communities in which I lived at one time or another. I have made many new friends as well. 

It never occurred to me that I could not do this.  It still does not.  I am here.  In the face of many trials and tribulations I made aliyah in August 2011.  I did so with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, The Cyrus Foundation, Ebenezer, and the Jewish Agency and with the help of my wonderful family and amazing friends.   I did so by being resourceful and never taking no for an answer, but mostly, I did it with the help of Hashem – to whom I spoke and prayed on a daily basis – asking for the zechut to make aliyah and to live in the Holy Land, Eretz HaKodesh.  Apparently He said “yes”.  I have so much to be thankful for and I bless and thank Hashem every day for the miracles He has allowed me to witness. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Forgotten Single

I recently posted a rant on my Facebook.  Then, I deleted it.  But not before it went live and many of my friends likely saw it.  I regret posting the rant but I do not divorce myself from the feelings expressed.

I am single and I truly dislike it.  For most of the two and a half years after my husband died, I was alone.  Oh, my brother and his family lived nearby for some of that time, and my parents are both (B"H) still around.  I am pretty close to them all, too.  I also have a number of good friends who would invite me to their homes for Shabbat meals and Chagim.  But some of those invitations came by way of me reverse engineering them...

For the most part, married couples with families tend to forget about us singles.  I was once told, when I mentioned this to my Rabbi, that of course I was not forgotten.  But he was wrong. I WAS forgotten.  It is actually normal:  people get very busy and involved in their lives - thus they forget that there are others who do not have such busy lives.

I tried to arrange my life in such a way as to alleviate this "aloneness" and loneliness.  I made aliyah, and joined forces with my daughter and her husband in setting up a new home. We are living together under one roof and sharing our resources.  This would accomplish a number of things for all of us.  It would enable us to live a higher standard of living and to be able to afford it.  It would allow me to be a part of my children and grandchildren's lives and I would not be alone.  It would afford Chloe some help at home with my presence.

To be sure, this is not an ideal situation.  But, for the most part, we all get along, with some minor disagreements.  But then, that is also normal.  I know of no family unit that has no disagreements.  In that we are a normative family unit.  Historically, families used to be comprised of multiple generations living under one roof, for all the same reasons described above.

But, for me, the issue of loneliness still exists.  Why?  As is both expected and normal, my daughter and her husband have their own set of friends -- age appropriate and dealing with the same issues as they are.  While I am, of course, friendly to their friends -- and they exhibit the same reciprocal feelings -- they are not MY friends and I am not theirs.  In short, it is not MY social circle.

When I was married I had a large social circle of married couples.  We were friendly with many couples with whom we socialized -- inviting them to Shabbat meals, going to their homes for Shabbat meals, and so on. With the death of my husband, I lost this social circle.  Over time, and rather quickly, not gradually, the invitations stopped coming, and people no longer accepted my invitations to them to come to my home for a meal.   Over time, I stopped asking.  Over time, I stopped begging for invites.

Now, my daughter and her husband would like to go away for a Shabbat or Chag and be with their friends. But that leaves me out in the cold, once again alone.  I want them to be able to go, and not feel guilty about leaving me.  But I also do not wish to be alone.

I find that more and more the only people with whom I can be are also single women like myself.  While I truly enjoy their company, it gets old, fast.  I need the variety of socializing with many people, both men and women and also their children.

I am not one to call people and invite myself over. It feels rude, it feels demeaning, it feels like begging.  Additionally, it is very uncomfortable when I do that and the response has to be no.  It is uncomfortable for the people whom I am asking and for me.  The best would be if someone would remember me, and invite me to their home for a meal or two.  I would accept -- gladly.

I am just as guilty as others of the crime of forgetting those who are single and alone.  I rarely, if ever, thought to call those whom I knew were single and invite them to join me and my family for meals.  So, in a sense, this is payback.

But it does not have to be this way. I just do not know what to do to change it.

Those are my thoughts.  I needed to share them in a nicer way than the rant I should not have posted.

If I offended anyone with that prior rant, please accept my apologies...

Friday, January 27, 2012

I am flexible...

I started my career in the fashion and retail industries (In 1982). I started in retail sales.  I became a buyer.  I then did visual merchandising management (presentation of merchandise through displays (interior and window) and the arrangement of the merchandise).  I have designed, produced and sold my own creations:  costume jewelry and 3D collages made from beads, buttons, bows, rhinestones, watch parts, charms and the like.  I  was a partner in a cottage industry – we designed, produced and sold a modular line of women’s knitwear  -- I was in charge of marketing and sales, and my partner did design and production.  I had my own business in which I designed, produced and installed major seasonal and holiday themes for shopping centers and malls. An offshoot of this was that I also did events production and management, fashion shows, pageants, and the like.  When I hurt my back in 1996, I took a job as a merchandising manager for Lee Jeans (wholesale side now) and Gloria Vanderbilt.  It was easy work for me. While I was doing that, I purchased my first computer system and taught myself how to use computers, how to use Microsoft Office (word, outlook, excel, access, publisher, and powerpoint), I taught myself how to use the internet, and then I taught myself how to set up and design webpages (using HTML, CSS, and Javascript).   I got a job as a content manager editor for an online Jewish singles website, and then I became a content manager for an online fashion website (to the trade).  The dot com bubble burst and I was out of work for about a year and a half.  Then I began working for Bnei Akiva of the US and Canada as the registrar for their Mach Hach B’Aretz program – it was there that I cut my teeth learning about nonprofits.  I stayed there for five years.  I then went to work for American Friends of Shalva and that is where I learned all about fundraising.  When I moved to Baltimore I went to work for the Jewish Museum of Baltimore and learned how to write grants (literally by the seat of my pants!).  All that has brought me to where I am now!  I am doing a bit of grant writing and some nonprofit consulting….

Monday, January 23, 2012

From my files

The other day I was going through my files, looking for information pertaining to some contact information I could not locate.  In so doing, I had to browse through many of the old files pertaining to the death of my husband including all the many "letters" I wrote and never sent.  Below is a revised "letter".  The changes I made to it have to do with tense -- at the time I wrote it, it was written in the present tense.  I have simply changed all that to the past tense, since all this is now in the past.  But it is one of my "finer" letters, detailing  what I was going through, what I went through, and its impact on me.  I am posting it here for posterity...


After the death of my late husband in January 2009, I was reeling – with all the emotions attendant to losing my husband – and will all the issues I had to contend with.

My first order of business had been to get organized – no mean feat – as I still had to continue to work full time. At the same time I tried to make my life as ‘normal’ as possible and to keep my relationship with Barry’s family – his daughters, his parents and his sisters.

Two weeks after Barry died, my daughter gave birth to her first child, and my first grandson. I went to Israel, where she lived, for the bris of my grandson but stayed only for three days.  I barely remember that visit, I was still in a grief and shock induced fog.  While I was still sitting shiva I was offered the opportunity for a new job and I took it.  I took it despite knowing that it was not a good idea to undertake large changes to one’s life after an unchosen and life altering event such as the loss of a spouse.   I felt I had no choice:  I knew that the new job about doubled my the job I had at the time, and I also knew that I was going to NEED the additional income.  It was a risk I felt I had to take.

I had to meet with a number of attorneys – for the estate, for the wrongful death lawsuit that I had hoped to file, but which, in the end I was unable to file – no attorney would take the case as there was little to no forensic evidence to prove any wrongdoing in the death of my husband.   I had to meet with accountants, a psychiatrist, and a grief counselor. Most of this continued for the better part of the next two and half years!

It took nearly two months for the life insurance money to arrive – and during those two months I had to figure out how to deal with the mortgage and home equity loan. I learned later that my name had somehow been removed from the deed to the house and thus I really should have had zero obligations to either the mortgage or the HELOC.  In the end, I was released of the responsibility.  However, upon the bad advice of my attorney, I continued to pay the mortgage and heloc for the entire year of 2009!  It was lost money in the end! He thought I would get it back in negotiations with the substitute administrator of the estate.  He thought wrong!

Every day, I came home to an empty house, and a pile of mail – from creditors, doctors, letters from the insurance company, from the accountants, the lawyers, etc. After a full day of work, I then spent more time working at home on making sense of everything, scanning, and filing and emailing and making sure the bills were paid.    Every day, I checked my budget, and checked my bank account and looked to see if there was yet something else I may not have thought of that I have to take care of. I cut out all non necessities – and, even doing that, I still had a financial burden meant to be shouldered by a larger income (the combined incomes of myself and Barry). The total expenses I faced per year were greater than my gross income.  I had no choice but to dip into some of the life insurance money to help me stay afloat. 

Had Barry taken care of things as he should have, I too would have been in better shape—there should have been at least 350k in life insurance for me and Chloe, and 375k for his daughters. There should have been a will.  But this was not the case, and so I tried to make the best of a bad situation. 

After Pesach 2009 I received a call from Barry’s mother.  She demanded that I give the life insurance money to her granddaughters.  I tried to explain to her why I could not do that.  I was in a very precarious situation financially and was extremely unsure of where I stood legally with regard to everything else- the estate, the retirement accounts, etc.  I also simply had not even had time to catch my breath, and to feel normal. I was being hounded by everyone – doctors, lawyers, creditors, banks, and then, my in-laws.   I was under the care of a psychiatrist and a grief counselor. I was on medication to help me deal with the anxiety produced by this state of affairs. His mother refused to understand my position, called me immoral and unethical and then went on to tell me that, “by the way, everyone is coming to us for Shavuot”.  It was very clear to me that she was telling me “and you are not welcome”.   It was a very painful moment in my life.

On top of losing the one person who made me feel cared for and loved, my husband, I also lost those I had considered to be my family.  Barry’s mother was truly stunning in her cruelty, with her remarks about the family’s Shavuot plans. She should be very proud of herself. She was determined to hurt me, and she was successful. I applaud her cruelty.

I gave each of Barry’s daughters the sum of $1800 (for a total of $7200).  It was both a gift and a good faith portion of the life insurance – good faith that I will take care of them as best as I am able – once I was able to ascertain exactly where I stood with regard to the estate and retirement funds.

I was truly sorry for Barry’s parent’s loss – no parent should ever have to bury a child – and while it is not for me to say who has a greater loss than another - I am the one who has had to bear the brunt of it far more than anyone else. After all, I am the one who came home to an empty house every night and I am the one who had to deal with the detritus of his life and of his death.  I am the one who was homeless every Shabbat and every Chag and went from one person’s home to another so I should not sit and eat alone.   Barry’s family certainly did nothing to alleviate that for me. Not once did any member of Barry’s family reach out to me to ask me how I am managing, to invite me to their Shabbat table, to be with the family as a member of the family. NOT ONCE.  (My sister in law Karen did, but belatedly, when she came around to the understanding that I was being treated very shabbily by Barry’s ex-wife, his daughters, and my in-laws.)

I am also the one who made Barry happy in the last nine plus years of his life. I gave him the life he wanted – with the Shabbatot, with the family, enabling him to sit and learn so he could receive semicha. I was the one to whom he turned when he came home after being beaten down by his nasty boss at IDT. I was the one to whom he turned when he could not win an argument with his ex wife. I was the one to whom he turned in the middle of the night when he woke with night fears or with leg cramps. I was the one to whom he cried when he felt that his parents did not think he was “good enough”.  I was the one with whom he shared his elation at working for IBM and at how well he was treated there. I also was the one he turned to when he felt that his daughters did not love him, or even respect him.  As they each “came of age” and were no longer obligated by the terms of the divorce child custody arrangement to spend half their time with us, they no longer came to us – EVER.  Barry was VERY hurt by this.  Once in a blue moon one or the other of them would deign to give him 15 minutes of their time over a cup of coffee at the Lazy Bean Café (which, btw, was where he fell and died, on his way to meet two of them for the aforementioned 15 minutes of grudgingly given “quality time”).

Barry had been my rock, my support, my strength, he was the one to whom I turned. We had a wonderful marriage and were very much in love. In the last several months of his life he was the happiest he had ever been.  Barry gave me so much, and one of the things he gave me was a beautiful family. However, that was simply an illusion – I learned after his death that his “beautiful family” was not so beautiful after all, and it certainly was not “mine”.  They did not love me as much as I had loved them.