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A Mother’s Love. Too many Questions, no Answers.

boyz

Summer in our house means that the kids in my family get a break from their usual surroundings and, though we will miss them, we the parents take a short break from parenting.

I know that sounds bad to some, that we need a break from parenting so we ship them off to camp. But a wise woman, a mother of five boys, once told me when my children were very young, that one day I will understand: summer is a good time for everyone in the family to have some time on their own in a different place.

Last Friday night, our family of five had our last Shabbat dinner together before we headed to the separate destinations of camp and Israel. And New York. And Italy.

I lit three more Shabbat candles than usual and said an extra prayer.

Eyal, Naftali, Gilad, where are you? Who is watching over you? Who is feeding you? Who is clothing you? Gd in Heaven please give them strength and keep them safe until they are rescued. Please. 

My husband and I held hands with our three children and sang the blessings. We blessed our children. I now have to rise up on my toes to kiss the top of my fifteen-year-old son’s forehead. He has to bend down to put his head on my shoulder when he hugs me. I can feel his shoulders getting broader. Looking down, I wonder how those feet which were once so tiny got to be the size of a mans, with no signs that they have stopped growing.

As much of a man he is turning out to be, I still dote on, and nudge my teen-aged son. A son who can’t seem to eat enough though he remains thin as a bean pole. A son who plays guitar, has formed a band, and has introduced me to a lot of cool music

The kids that night ate heartily. They enjoyed the last homemade challah they would have until the end of August.

We are not Shabbat observant. After dinner, Broadway show tunes played on the Sonos. My children sang and danced loudly together around the family room.

I tried to soak it all in and be joyful, but having the knowledge that across the sea, there were empty places at the Shabbat tables of three families in Israel, my joy was tinged.

We are going on the third Shabbat in which these families will not have their sons home. Kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal have not been heard or seen since in spite of a vigorous search and investigation from the Israel Defense Forces.

I don’t know what is sustaining these families.  Think about when you lose sight of your kid in a shopping mall or at a carnival. Those few moments are agony. For two weeks, every moment for these families has been agony. Every night their beds are empty must be agony.

I have so many questions.

Where are they being held?

Why is there NO coverage of the kidnapping of these boys in the US media, even though one of the boys has dual US-Israel citizenship?

Why has our President been so silent in this matter?

How could the United Nations be so cruel as to mock the pain of the three mothers, who went to Geneva to testify and plead on behalf of their sons, only to get a response from the UN that there is no evidence of an abduction, that perhaps these “settlers” went on holiday and didn’t tell their parents?

 

Where are they?

Where are they?

And, what can I do?

What else can I do?

I follow every bit of news coming out of Israel on my Facebook feed, sites like the Times of Israel and Israel365

I say special Psalms

Ribbons tied to my tree for the boys? Check.

Create a sign with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys? Check.

There is one woman I know who is doing more to help the boys more than anyone else I know.

Remember the woman with the five boys? Almost a decade ago, she and her husband and five boys made aliyah. Now, she works as an educational psychologist and is on the ground in the very town from where the boys families live and is helping schoolchildren there cope with this crisis that has taken away their friends or their siblings. You can listen to her being interviewed on a local Israeli radio show.

Therein lies the difference between one side and the other.

We as Jews when it comes down to it, we really care for each other and will support each other because we are responsible for each other. All of Israel is responsible for each other. In the end, it is something we must stand by to know that it will be all right in the end because we care for each other, and we place the value of life of any living human in the highest regard.

It is sad to say that on the other side, that is clearly not the case.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

You Kiss your Mutha with that foul mouth?? A Few Words on Bad Words

badwords

badwordsEvery now and then, you’ve got to let some expletives fly.

Like, over this winter, when in March, the thermometer in my car reached below zero for the umpteenth time this winter, I cursed to myself “I’m so f#%#ing sick of being F@#king cold!!”

When one drops a 28 oz. can of crushed organic tomatoes from the fourth shelf of one’s food pantry onto a bare foot, oh yeah, it feels so good to curse away the pain.

Where I grew up, in Staten Island, blending the F word in all its forms of speech, often combined with the S word and the A word, is considered an art form.

But there is a time and a place for cursing, and knowing that time and place is a lesson in growing up.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from my son’s high school. It was a man. He was a dean. I knew this wasn’t going to be good.

“I had an interesting conversation with your son today, he is a very intelligent fellow with a lot to say.”

Yeah, yeah, I know that, but why are you calling me? What did he do?

The official report from the hallway incident: My son was shouting curses at girls in the hallway as he left the cafeteria on his lunch period. A teacher, who did not teach my son and didn’t know him from a hole in the wall, was not pleased with his salty language.

Being the writer and parent of a kid with special needs that I am, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and listened.

“Your son was caught by a teacher loudly calling some girls “Hey you b%#$%ches,  hey you m*^%*rf$@$$rs!”

I was calm, I was not defensive. He continued.

“We don’t tolerate language like that in our school.” Meaning, I derived, that, “your family is new to town, I don’t know what went down in your schools in New York, but this is not tolerated here. “

What could I do? I apologized for his foul-mouthed behavior and said, “of course he will” when the dean explained he would have to sit in detention for two days after school.

But there had to be another side. My son is a sociable guy trying to make his way in a new school in a new town. At 15, he likes the ladies. In fact, he gravitates to girls as close friends more than boys, because girls can be more intuitive.

They just get him more at this phase of his life.

The dean continued, saying that my son said this had something to do with an exchange that started the night before on Facebook.

Facebook? Really? Was he reacting then to being bullied on Facebook to a point where he lashed out in school?

My mind quickly thought of ending Facebook privileges may be a fitting punishment.

But I took a deep breath and decided to listen to my son’s side of the story. So glad I did.

It turns out that the two girls happened to be friendly with my son.  The  girls and my son have a little game at night on Facebook on creating little nicknames for each other that happen to include very bad naughty words. To my son’s defense, it was the girls writing the foul words on each other’s Facebook walls, not my son.

So, in my son’s mind, why not continue this friendly jousting exchange at school? How many times in adolescence did we add foul language to our vocabulary to look cool, to fit in, to feel a kinship with others?

The girls were cursing at my son in that hallway just as much he. But he is taller. And louder. And wears a dapper fedora. So of course, he was the one to get caught.

Overall, I think we send our children mixed messages on cursing.

Come on, Mr. Dean, as adolescents, we all cursed.  Even as an adult, adults curse. A lot.

  • In the 1990′s, I worked on an account for IBM.  My account team – my supervisor, my client, my co-w0rkers, were mostly men. If I had a quarter for every F bomb dropped in a routine conference call between my boss and our client, a marketing director at IBM, I could have paid for that day’s round trip commuter ticket from Manhattan back to my house in New Jersey.
  • I landed a job interview for the public radio/TV station in Rocheter. I don’t know if he was fooling, but a station manager asked me how I feel about cursing in the workplace, because during stressful fundraising weeks, they curse a lot.

Even now, when out with new groups of women, there is a certain feeling of trust and intimacy when you can let your guard down and let some curse words fly!

Look at the words and expressions which are now socially acceptable in general company and in the media which were not a generation ago.  I don’t need to foul up this post, you know which ones they are.

Just last month, child star Jason Bateman released the subversive comedy Bad Words in his directorial debut.  It stars Bateman as an antisocial 40 year old who finds a loophole allowing him to enter a spelling bee. There, he befriends an adolescent boy and they share all sorts of conversations which involve curse words.

I did not see this movie. What I did see, with my 10 year old younger son the other night, was a stand-up routine by Ellen Degeneres on HBO. It was side-splitting funny. And completely clean. Not a single foul word.

In the end, I am glad my son’s cursing was not malicious and was not a result of the fact that what I feared, that he was being bullied. It was just all in good fun. I don’t condone the potty mouth, but it was all in good fun.

Is there a proper time to curse? Do we send our kids mixed messages about cursing? What do you think? And, keep it clean. 

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How to go to the ER as a Transplant

ER

Thankfully. I seemed to be the only patient in the ER at Henry Ford that night.

If you live in the same town where you’ve lived all your life, chances are you have big pool of people to pull from when, upon filling out the many forms one fills out in life,  you have to list an emergency contact. There are parents, siblings, your best friend from the sixth grade who you still live near enough to make power walk dates every Wednesday morning after the kids get on the bus.

By the time I left Rochester, after living there for 14 years, I finally had two friends I could count on to list in the event of an emergency. Besides my husband.

The other night, I woke up from a dream screaming. I cannot recall the dream, which is unusual for me, but I do remember thinking that I hope I didn’t wake the kids because I screamed pretty loudly. Perhaps the nightmare was my body’s defense system kicking in, because upon being awake, I noticed a strange stabbing pain in my mid back.

At this point, I was on antibiotics for a bad bladder infection.  You know, the kind that makes you feel like you have to run to the bathroom every ten minutes.

(Was that TMI? If so I apologize but this detail had to be added to frame this story and my frame of mind that night.) 

I tried to relax. I tried to stretch out my back with some yoga on the floor. That did nothing. The stabbing came back and it was traveling from one side to the other.

I tried to relax some more, but the pain kept coming back. It was around 2:30 a.m. Scary thoughts kept going through my mind. Like how my grandfather, at the end of his life, needed dialysis. Was I going into kidney failure? Like how my mom has a history of kidney stones. Would kidney stones be my inheritance?

And that night, I had no one to wake and share my troubles with. Because the only person you should wake with such pains and thoughts in the middle of the night is your husband.

And my husband just left for a two-week business trip to Japan.

And I had three sleeping children who had to wake in a few hours to catch the school bus.

So, what does a transplant in an emergency situation do?

They try to diagnose themselves online. THIS is bad advice, because when you try to self diagnose online, the Internet proclaims that you may die within eight hours if you do not seek medical attention.

So, I called my new medical practice, the one that has known me all the way since … last month.

Contrast this to the OBGYN my mom went to: one doc, who delivered both my brother and I. My mom was his patient for decades until the day he retired.

A sleepy doctor called me up, listened to me list my symptoms over the phone, and told me it was not out of the realm of possibility that I might have a kidney stone, and if I did, I might soon be in excruciating pain and I needed to immediately head to the nearest Emergency Room.

“Feel better,” she said as she hung up her line and went back to sleep.

Trying to find some humor in this, I thought to the Seinfeld episode where Kramer passed a kidney stone.

Once again, my life is mirroring that of Cosmo Kramer. On a sit-com, kidney stones are hilarious. In real life, even the possibility of one is no joke.

So, at this point, I really had no choice but to drive myself, in the middle of the night, to the ER.

So here is what I did, and what I can recommend to you, if you are out there somewhere in a new city and find yourself in a similar bind:

  • Go with your gut. Don’t feel stupid or think you are a hypochondriac if you think you are really in need of medical attention. When you are a new transplant, you are  all you have for your family. Get help.
  • Use Facebook – In the months I have moved here, indeed I have met some great people. Of course, nothing substitutes the comfort level from a lifelong friendship, but I already have a feel of who would reach out to me in a crisis. I wrote a FB message to some select new and local friends telling them of my situation. I gave them my cell phone number and that of my 16-year-old daughter and asked to please keep in touch.
  • Keep using Facebook. When I was waiting for test results in the ER, I had no signal for my cell phone, but I could still use Facebook to see the flood of people who responded to my first message, who called to check in on my kids, who offered me whatever I might need. Including one of my new friends who visited me at 6:15 in the morning at the hospital. Say what you want about our addiction to social media, but in a situation like this, it gave me peace of mind.
  • Teach your kids to be independent – This is something you can start doing right now. So when the time comes and you have to kiss and wake your teens at 3:30 a.m. to say “Mommy has to check in to the emergency room now, please wake yourselves up, take care of yourselves and make the bus on time,” they will give you a half-awake hug and say “Don’t worry mom, we’ve got this.” I don’t know if it was those summers at sleep-away camp, or all my years of nagging, but something worked.
  • Pray. Seriously. The whole ride to the ER, I talked to God and asked Him to please watch over me and my kids. Please help me get through what ever I have to get through.

When I got to the ER, I felt like my prayers were somewhat answered. The ER was EMPTY. No one in the waiting room. I got triaged by a very nice nurse, was whisked into my own room,  examined by a nurse and a doctor, had a CT and the results  from my CT, all in the span of 4 hours. If you have ever been treated at an ER, you know this is neck-breaking fast.

So?

In the end, my pain was NOT a kidney stone, but just residual pain from my bladder infection. But the doctor said I did the right thing by listening to the signals my body was giving me.

In the end, my friends here asked me why. Why didn’t I call them to take me to the ER? Why didn’t I call to have someone stay with my kids? Why? Because I know you are busy with lives of your own: kids, jobs. Because, maybe I’m not yet ready to try the strength of these limbs on these sapling friendships just planted two months ago.

In the end, I got home to see my kids out the door for school. They were dressed, brushed, fed, and packed their lunches. Their world went on without me. The sky did not fall because I wasn’t there one morning of their lives.

I hope you never have to go through the same scare I did when you are the new person in town. But know you can get through it too.

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A Blessing and a Curse: Israeli advocacy though Social Networking

How do you connect to a country that is oceans and languages away? In the 21st Century, where can you go to have conversations with or show positive visual images of a country that has been dear to the Jewish soul for more than 2,000 years but the mainstream media continues to portray it as a human rights violator?  

The best way to connect with Israel and meet Israelis is to make a visit.  Or maybe two. Or live there for a while. Or, maybe move there. But, in the meantime, there is the blessing and the curse of connecting with Israelis and standing up for Israel through social networking.

There are about 13.5 million Jews in the world, give or take depending on who you ask. About half live in the United States, and 6.5 million live in Israel. Both these countries embrace democracy, diversity, religious freedom.  In spite of these similarities, time, distance, and language barriers keep the world’s largest Jewish populations from feeling truly connected.  Most Jewish Americans know little about modern Israeli life, history or politics. And Israeli counterparts, only know of America from what they see in their media.

Last summer, the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Jewish Studies at Brandeis University published a study called “Still Connected: American Jewish Attitudes About Israel,”   The study, conducted in response to media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident, found that participants aged 45 and under had less of a connected feeling to Israel.

If the Jewish people want to see continuity into future generations and a strong connection to Israel, it’s time that Jews in Israel and Jews in America start talking to each other and the best way is social networking.   

In the 1980′s connecting with Israel seemed like a no-brainer. Many Jewish families during this time took a trip to Israel the year a child became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. You toured the country with your family and had a ceremony either at the Western Wall or at the top of Masada. These were moments in Jewish family life that forged strong Jewish identities.  If you couldn’t make it the year of your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, perhaps a trip during high school was in your plans, or a semester or year abroad in Israel.

Then came the intifadas of 1989 and 2000. Along with the death and the terror came the fear and doubt among American Jews how they felt connected to Israel based on what they saw on the news.  Reports of terrorist attacks within Israel in 2000 saw tourism to the Jewish state plummet.

I taught Hebrew school to sixth graders that year who told me you had to be “crazy” to want to visit Israel. I asked parents during a family education program if they had anything to share with the students on how they felt about Israel or if they had memories of trips to Israel and I was met with blank stares.

So how to you teach Israel to children who may see Israel as nothing more than a tiny spec on the worldwide map? Again, the answer is through social networking.

I have been a Hebrew School teacher for almost 10 years and have used sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to teach kids young and old about the daily ongoings of Israeli citizens.  I have shown my littlest students on YouTube how families in Israel celebrate Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the Trees by singing the same songs we sang in our classroom. For my older students, I downloaded a video on the many faces and places of Israel set to pop song “New Soul” by Israeli singer Yael Naim.

The Internet provides a podium – to stand up for Israel but also provides an equal podium for those to wish to delegitimize the Jewish state. The flotilla that attempted to breach Israel’s blockade around the Gaza Strip launched hundreds of anti and pro Israel Facebook groups, including one I joined, called The Truth about Israel’s Defensive Actions Against the Flotilla The group aims to be online ambassadors to Israel, where supporters of Israel around the world, Jewish or not, can start discussions or point out the way Israel is being covered in the media.

In recent years, I had the opportunity to develop partnerships with Israeli teachers by both visiting and living with Israelis and hosting Israeli visitors to America.

I documented my trip  in this video set to the background music of popular Israeli musicians such as The Idan Raichel Project and Shlomo Artzi, who also have Facebook pages.  I wanted to show my students and members of my local Jewish community the beauty of Israel and everyday life in this tiny, diverse country. Take a look below:

Another time I empowered social networking to support Israel was during Operation Cast Lead, or Israel’s war on Gaza. During this time, many hateful comments were posted to the photos I posted from Israel on Facebook’s pro-Israel groups. I used discussion boards to request that a typical Israeli write back to me to explain to my 7th grade students what it was like to be in Israel during this time. I got a response from a young man living in Ashdod, not far from the Gaza strip. He was discharged from serving in the IDF from an ankle injury and was happy to help out my cause. In perfect English, he composed a letter to my seventh graders what it was like for he and  his family to live under a daily barrage of missiles from Gaza. The email put a personal touch to the headlines that winter and sparked my students desire to make cards for Israeli soldiers.

These are just a few of the many ways ordinary people can stand up for Israel. What can you do?

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