Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.

We included this pithy quote in the program guide we created for our wedding. We wanted something that would explain all the Jewish ritual to our many non-Jewish relatives and friends who honoured us by being at our wedding. It being a wedding, I was feeling shmooey, and so, on each page of the program, I included a soppy romantic quote.

Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.

This quote is meant to convey moments of awe. Moments of profound awareness of being with your "other." Moments of appreciating how much you have and how great your life is.

I've since come to realize that it has another side to it.

Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.

Moments where you are crying so hard that you can't breathe. Moments where you are hit with such profound sadness, you feel a crushing weight in your chest that keeps you from taking in air. Moments where you feel, no matter how hard you try, that emptiness will never go away, never be filled, never fade. Moments of feeling a loneliness so profound, there aren't words to describe it.

Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.

One breath taken away took my breath away. I haven't breathed normally since.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A moment in the life

Today is the birthday of the sister z"l of friends of mine. She died last year after a long battle with breast cancer.

Today is the birthday of a friend of my sister's. My sister z"l died two months ago after a stunningly short battle with breast cancer.

My friends created a book to help their sister's children cope with their mother's ongoing illness. That book went to press today, on their sister's birthday.

 My sister's friend posted a picture of a beautiful card her daughter hand-wrote and gave her for her birthday. I don't have to tell her to cherish that.

It breaks my heart that there are children who will, God forbid, need the book written by Hadassah Field and edited by Sarak Mosak Saiger, "The Cancer That Wouldn't Go Away" (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cancer-That-Wouldnt-Go-Away-a-story-for-kids-about-metastatic-cancer/358690442097).

 It breaks my heart that my niece and nephew will never be able to see the pride and tears in their Mommy's eyes when they would have given her a birthday card written in a child's love-filled scrawl.

Today is just a heart broken day.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Kaddish and Cohanim

Saying Kaddish - the prayer that those in mourning say - has been hard. But not just for the reasons you think. I plan, eventually, to write a blog post about my experiences of my first week saying Kaddish for my sister z"l* after shiva**.  In the meantime, I had an experience this morning that affected me very deeply and was so very special.

For two years, one of our dearest friends was fighting his own cancer. Things looked up, then they looked grim. We cried a lot; we prayed even more. We were fiercely davening (praying), saying tehillim (psalms) and desperately trying to provide assistance to his far-too-competent wife (also a beloved friend). Last year, thank God, he finally received a clean bill of health, notice of remission, and gave me the go ahead to remove his name from my tehillim list for a refuah shlema (a full healing, basically). I continued davening to express my gratitude that this friend would remain in our lives, and go on to continue getting back to "normal."

This friend is also a Cohen***. While he was in the midst of his struggle, he could not perform  his Cohen duties, which include saying a special blessing during morning services. At the same time, we moved apartments. It was only a few blocks away, but too far from our shul (synagogue) to go regularly.

This morning, I went to services to say Kaddish for my sister. As is usual during the week, I  was the only woman present. The chairs are stacked up, so it's just me, in my one chair, on my side of the mechitza (divider). Without realizing it, I had positioned myself on the other side of the mechitza from this very same friend. When it came time for the Cohanim (plural) to make their blessing, I suddenly realized that I hadn't heard him doing his Cohen duties in a very, very long time. The Cohen blessing is one of my very favourite parts of the service, and to see my friend going up to the front of the room made me smile.

Then I realized: here I am, saying Kaddish for my beloved sister who never even really had a chance to fight her cancer, while being given a blessing from a beloved friend who struggled so long and hard to come through his battle with this devastating disease. We were so scared for so long, and, Baruch Hashem, there he was, standing where he belonged, looking healthy and serene, sending out God's blessing to us all.

I was so grateful and so moved. I simply don't know how to put into words how beautiful a moment that was for me. To receive such a blessing at the moment of such devastation fills my heart. I tried to explain this to my friend, and he got it. I know Pamela would get it, too.

May the neshama of Ayala Pamela bat Avraham v'Leah be elevated.

* Zichrona Livracha - may her memory be a blessing
** Shiva - seven days of mourning
*** Cohen - priestly class.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tisha B'Av: Now it's Personal

We're told to find ways to make Tisha B'Av, our day of fasting for the destruction of the Temple, personal to us. The Beit HaMikdash is so far removed from our experiences as Jews today, that it is sometimes hard to relate to the Kinot of Eicha.

While we think of Tisha B'av as being the memorialization of a national tragedy - the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash - we are also recalling a million personal tragedies. We try hard to identify, then, not only with the destruction of walls, but rather the upheaval of lives. Thinking about it, I realized the Jews of the time must have had their entire worlds turned upside down when the Temple was destroyed. Daily sacrifices, Cohanim, the festivals where Jews travel to reach the Temple - these were things that were an integral part of every Jew's life. We are told Hashem dwelt among the people in the Temple, and we lost that Presence when the we lost the Temple. The lives of the Jews must have been shattered.

My sister's diagnosis of cancer has turned our world upside down. Her life as a mother, her excitement in a new job, is now all completely focused on healing, caring for herself and learning how to accept each new limitation. Her husband's world is all about her - he rarely leaves the hospital, his existence revolves around doctors, radiation appointments, making her comfortable.

Her young children - an infant and a toddler - haven't seen their mother for more than a few minutes in two weeks. And when they did see her, she was too tired to do more than sleepily cuddle. They were thrust into full-time daycare, are temporarily living in their grandparent's rental apartment. Her parents, those same grandparents, have left their retirement life, dropped everything to come to Israel to help out however they can. Her father, who likes a clean, quiet home, is doing his best to contend with the chaos that children bring into a home - toys, diapers, clothes, bottles everywhere. Her mother spends a good part of the day tending to the baby.

Her sister - me - hasn't slept in her own bed in over a week. I haven't been to my own home in that time, aside from a quick 2-hour trip, where I spent lots of time snuggling with my animals, who seemed surprised to see me. Along with my niece and nephew, I have also temporarily moved into my parent's rental apartment. Shabbat was the first day my husband and I have spent together in a week, and the night was shared with the kids. I sleep with the kids, and get up with the baby every 2 or so hours. I have no children of my own, so this is very new to me.

Her brother-in-law- my husband - is basically holding down our household alone, and spending a good amount of time driving back and forth from Modi'in to Jerusalem to see me for an hour or so, and always helps with the kids.

We're not complaining; we all do these things willingly, with hearts full of love, without hesitation, and will do them as long as necessary, until my sister, please God, is well enough to take care of them again herself. But one person's diagnosis of cancer is not just one person's diagnosis - it turns whole worlds upside down, shatters expectations, and sets people adrift. No. I have no problem relating to Tisha B'Av this year. May we only hear good news.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Airing Dirty Laundry

There's a battle going on in my town that is hurting my heart. I don't know what to do about it. I know if I speak up on the maillist (which has been going nuts over this), I will get stomped on. But this is weighing on my mind. How can I not speak up? But what do I say? No one will listen if I start jumping up and down, yelling, "but we're all the same!!" I'll get my head slammed if I even try anything religious. I've found a number of quotes, just in davening that address the hate that is flying. But no quotes like that would fly. I'm stumped. And heartbroken. Considering the last time I commented on a thread on the maillist, about dog poop, I had my head bitten off. So since I suspect anything I could post to the Modi'in list would be dismissed out of hand, I'll post it here. Hardly anyone will read it, but at least I will have spoken up somewhere.

The background: According to nearly everyone involved, at a recent Chol HaMoed event in Modi'in, a Charedi woman went up to to a man performing a clown/juggling act and asked if the female volunteer he was using could be switched to a man. The performer stated the woman asked "very politely." He agree to switch, the audience protested, the female volunteer was reinstated and that should have been the end of it.

Except the Modi'inites are now out for blood. The email list for the town has become a basket for vitriol, for anti-Charedi rants to be spewed without limit. The few times someone has spoken up about the hate language being used, they have been viciously shot down. People have requested that the moderators stop this topic already, but nothing has been done except the posters writing back to say stop asking that the topic be stopped. If I hear the term "free speech" one more time, I may scream. Everything has been claimed from Holocaust comparisons, to keeping women from performing is illegal, to who does this woman think she is, to keep them out of our town. The whole situation makes me very sad to think that we can hate each other so much. How we feel about ultra-Orthodoxy's marginalization of women is a valid issue, but not one that is being discussed here.

We should appreciate that this woman approached the performer and spoke "very politely" to him. There were no rocks thrown, no demands made, no names called, just a quiet request. We, as a community, reject that request. We reject the beliefs that are behind that request. That is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with making a request.

The performer chose to honour her request. We, as a community, disagree with his choice. What was behind his response, we can't know. Was he just trying to be nice? Did he think that's what the majority wanted? Did he just want to avoid an argument? Did he not even think about it, because he was focused on his act, so he just said yes because it was easier? Who knows.

We, as a community, rejected that request. We do not believe that women cannot be on stage. We do not believe that men and women should be separated in public. We do not believe that women have no place in mixed public events. We made that very clear, very loudly.

We should proud of that. Instead, we are using terms like "Modiinistan" "those Charedi people" "keep them out." We are generalizing, we are making them the "other."

We are being hateful.

There are no two ways about it. We are secular and Orthodox, we are left-wing and right-wing. We are business executives, blue collar workers, military officers, mothers and fathers. We are respectable, and we speak of respecting each other.

But that is not what we are doing right now. And what we are doing right now, as a community, makes my heart hurt. Generalizations, rumours and negative talk have no place here. We spoke up, we put our collective foot down. No one is saying we were wrong.

Let us be the example of community. Let us turn this around and stop talking about what didn't happen, and instead talk about what did. And this is what did:

1. Someone politely made a request that was objectionable to our community.
2. We said no, that is unacceptable to us. And we were heard.

Please, let us be proud that we spoke as a community. Let us take comfort in the knowledge that as a community, be us secular, orthodox or somewhere in between, we have essentially the same values and the same goals for our community. To live together, peacefully and with respect for each other.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Defining Freedom

One of the most common gripes heard just before Pesach (usually from me) is, how the heck can you call Passover the Festival of Freedom when we are slaves to our kitchens the week before? Many of us start preparing immediately after the holiday of Purim, cleaning rooms and closets, emptying our refrigerators and cupboards of anything that remotely resembles Chametz, checking our couches for those sneaky little Cheerios that get down into the cushions (or in my case, stuck to the back of the couch).

Then we spend days scrubbing our kitchens, emptying our cabinets, boiling, burning, buying new to prepare for this seven- (eight if you live outside of Israel) day holiday with its strict rules. If we’re cooking for the first night, the Seder, then we have to “turn over” our kitchens at least a day before. All the regular dishes and cookware has to be stored away, and all the special Passover pots and pans brought out. So we spend a day living in limbo – the kitchen is cleaned for Pesach, but we don’t have the Pesach supplies out yet, so we can’t cook anything. Therefore, we go out for pizza.

With all this preparation and hard work, how could this possibly be freedom? And then, when the physical work is completed, we have the psychological work of having to figure out how to cook food without the ingredients we’re used to having. Want Passover noodles in tomato sauce? You can’t reach for that jar stored in your pantry, remember? It’s Chametz, forbidden during Pesach. Want to make some Passover brownies? Uh-uh-uh, don’t touch that vanilla. You need that special Passover vanilla. I baked a few times this year for the first time during Passover and realized I don’t have Pesach measuring cups. I did a pretty good job of guessing, but that went on the list for next year.

So where, exactly, does this freedom thing come in?

I have a couple of thoughts on this. The first Seder was celebrated when we were still slaves in Egypt. We didn’t know freedom yet. Now when we hold Seders, we’re too exhausted from all the preparing to think about freedom. Okay, so that connection makes sense. So we’re not meant to be free the first night of Pesach. Now, define freedom. We left Egypt and left slavery behind, but did that mean we were free from work? Heck no, we were on the first day of a 40-year journey through the desert. We still had to get across the Sea of Reeds yet! Not to mention all the stuff we were carrying; y’know, all the goodies that the Egyptians so kindly gave us to wish us well on our desert trek. We had battles to fight, doubts to overcome, Golden Cows to build, terror to feel, Torah to learn, an Ark to shlep*, a Mishkan to build, a law-abiding society to create... Makes kashering my oven look like a day in the park.

Freedom is not an absence of hard work. It’s not an absence of rules. Shabbat, with all its rules and restrictions, gives me such a sense of freedom: I may have piles of laundry to do, but they’ll have to wait, I can’t do laundry on Shabbat. I need to enter bills into the family budget? After Shabbat. I feel not one whit of guilt for sitting around for hours straight reading (my guilt is reserved for when I sleep through the alarm and miss shul).

My second, more light-hearted thought was that Pesach is a little more free in Israel, where it started. Yes, it’s easier to get kitniyot-free products outside of Israel, but where I lived, if you didn’t get your Pesach goods two weeks before the holiday, you didn’t get your Pesach goods, period. The stores ran out and didn’t resupply (although, unsurprisingly, mayonnaise and Kedem grape juice were plentiful throughout the holiday week). Unless you have small children, you’re really not supposed to go out and buy milk or eggs during the holiday; stock up before. Here in Israel, we do our Passover shopping the day or two before, with few exceptions. Here, when we decided in the middle of the week to make matzo-lasagna (trust me, it’s better than it sounds), we ran to the local market to get Passover pasta sauce. Eggs? No problem. Milk? Sure. It’s just easier here. It takes less planning. And much less stress.

It’s a hard holiday, to be sure. And I’m still trying to put my kitchen back together and find all the non-Pesach things I stashed away at the last minute. But I’ve once more celebrated our Exodus and been forced to think about what that means. And now I’m free to think about what I’m going to do with all that leftover matzoh...

*Forgive my artistic hyperbole. Carring the Ark was a mitzvah, it was not a shlep.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ulpan: To do or not to do

(yeah, yeah, it's been a long time.)

Someone on LinkedIn posted this question, I felt like answering it, and then realized it would make a good blog post. So here ya go!

Question: When first making Aliyah should you work or study Hebrew full time be fluent? Some say yes, and some say no! what is the best ideal answer?

Answer: My own opinion (and it is my own :) ) is it's best to do Ulpan first. It won't make you fluent, but it will give you a good foundation. More importantly, ulpan is where you will make lifelong friends. Your ulpan classmates will be your social environment for the first few months (assuming you don't already have an existing one, of course. Some people do when they make aliyah) and, since nearly everyone - if you're taking Ulpan Aleph (the first level) - will have recently made aliyah, it will give you moral support. You'll have people who will truly understand you when you are frustrated with the bank, when you keep buying tomato paste at the supermarket when you really want tomato sauce, when you are unbelievably thrilled with yourself the first time you manage to order pizza to be delivered ALL IN HEBREW and your pizza showed up exactly how you ordered it!

This will also be the only time you really get to freely travel around the country and explore. Once you start working, if you're lucky, you will have Friday off, which is a crazy day for most people preparing for Shabbat and hard to do tourist-y stuff. Some ulpans arrange day trips for their students, as well.

Fluency with Hebrew will come when you start working (unless you're in an all-Anglo environment) and making Hebrew-speaking friends and forcing yourself to speak Hebrew when you're out. Don't be afraid to say you're an oleh and that you really want to speak Hebrew; nearly everyone will accommodate you - to a certain extent. :)

On the other hand, if you get offered a great job that seems stable that you really want and will be happy in for a long time - how do you say no to that? You can take a night ulpan class (be prepared to be exhausted!), you can get private tutoring, you can throw yourself headlong into Hebrew seminars, lectures, movies, etc and try to learn that way.

So you see, there is no best ideal answer. You have to decide what works for you, based on your situation and your needs. B'hatzlacha!! May you be successful in your aliyah!