Sunday, December 14, 2014


"Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship."

As difficult as it is, as much as it's changed the path of our lives, there is nothing I would give up about having the two precious souls entrusted to us on such a huge, part-time basis. We may be aunt & uncle, but having a little being's face light up because she's so happy to see you that she leaps up to throw her arms around you and shower you with kisses is an incredible blessing - and an enormous responsibility.

I can't help but think, nearly every time I am disciplining the kids, or reacting to something that I *know* is developmental, what would my sister be doing in this situation? My sister and I were very different people. We had different backgrounds (I was an Army brat until 13, she only until 7), different fathers (biologically the same, just military vs. civilian), different social stratas, even different levels of university (state school vs. ivy league). Would we raise our children the same? During the short period she had with her children, I think not. She was dedicated to Attachment Parenting. I don't think I would have been, if I had been blessed with children, although I supported her parenting decision.

I am so very much aware that I am the closest thing to a mother figure they have. Every thing I do or say is coloured by what I think my sister would do or say in the same situation. I make a very concentrated effort to respect what I think my sister's wishes would be in a given situation. Yet at the same time, I have to do what I think is right, recognizing that there might be a divergence.

Tonight, the kids were being little animals. They were wild (understandable, given they had to sit in a car for an hour at 5pm), insane, crazy, over the top, uncontrollable. Yet, they were giggling adorably, so happy and having so much fun, I couldn't bring myself to stop them.
Until I had to, and of course, there were tears and sulking. But within a few minutes, smiles and cuddles were back in play.

Out of the blue, one of the kids starts telling a story (he has SUCH an amazing imagination!), and a throw-away line in the story was that his Mommy died. It really didn't have anything to do with the story, but was important enough to him that he included it. And my heart stopped. As I put each of them to bed, with the kisses and the cuddles, and the love (she insists on holding my hand when I sing the Shema to her - tonight she demanded "No shema!" but I said, "Okay, I'll sing it for myself." I was one line in, when she turned over and grabbed my hand. *heart melted*), I felt my sister's influence stronger than ever before.

Some of her friends have mentioned having comforting dreams of her, dreams that they felt sent a message of peace, comfort and love. I haven't had anything like that. But I like to think she'd be happy with how I deal with her children. I'd like to think she'd be proud of the influence we've had. I truly hope my influence is strong enough that these two beautiful children grow into amazing adults who are everything she would hope for her children. I hope my love for my sister shows itself in two loving, caring, sensitive adults. Someday. For now, I'm okay with the wild children wreaking havoc. To a point. And as long as I've had coffee. Caffeinated, because my decaf days went the way of the do-do bird because, Children.

Parenting. It's not biological.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tisha B'Av is Hard

Well, it's supposed to be. But for me, it's especially hard because from the very first Tisha B'Av I spent in Israel, I spent it with Pamela. She and I, until she had children, would go together to Darche Noam. Then she got sick, and I spent Tisha B'Av that year taking care of her children while she was in the hospital. I went to hear Eicha at the Tayelet in Jerusalem, her stomping ground.

The next year, I was too engrossed in my mourning to do anything other than fast for Tisha B'Av.

This year, I am once again taking care of my sister's children when Tisha B'Av occurs. I have no sense of the Jewish history of this day this year. I have no feeling more than usual for the suffering of our ancestors this year. As a people, we have been living Tisha B'Av for 27 days. We are in mourning. We are living in fear. We are on edge. We fear for ourselves as Jews, not just as individuals. We have been trying to be strong, to protect our children, to protect ourselves, to put on a brave face for our soldiers - our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles.

Today, we get to put that brave face away and show our true face. We get to cry. We can tell ourselves that it's for the day, for the kinnot that we read, for the history. We can let others think that it's the emotion of the prayers. We can release everything we've been holding in, without embarrassment or shame.

I have been been living Tisha B'Av for two years. Every morning when my sister's children wake up and run to give me hugs, it is with mixed emotions that I squeeze them back. I love that they love me. I love that they want to hug me. I adore that they want to greet me every morning. But it shouldn't be me that they are running to. I should be listening to their mother tell me how much she loves the morning hugs she gets.

My sister didn't die because she was Jewish, despite the statistic that breast cancer affects the Jewish population in much higher numbers, but nonetheless, my Tisha B'Av has been forever affected and forever changed. I don't need kinnot to make me "feel" this day. I have enough feeling to last me a lifetime. But this year, so many families are joining me in this new reality.

I'd really rather this club not grow any more.

May those who are fasting have a meaningful fast, and may next year see Tisha B'Av be a day of rejoicing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Cost

We have lost 27 souls, last I read. 27 boys and men who should be planning their future, or in the case of a few them, men who should be going to work at a "normal" job and coming home to their wives and kids. People are starting to ask if we're paying too high a price.

Ask the soldiers. I think - and I don't know for sure - they would say they belong right where they are. In six years, we're on our third incursion into Gaza. Each time, we lose precious lives. Each time, there is a high toll in Gaza, as well.

Meanwhile, for the last nearly 10 years, rockets have fallen regularly on Israeli communities in the south. An entire generation is growing up with PTSD. An entire generation from multiple communities will be suffering the lasting effects of trauma for their entire lives.

What price is too high? A soldier who is trained, prepared for battle, properly (we hope!) equipped - is his life more valuable than the young adult who can't function, who can't concentrate, who starts at every noise? Or do we say, at least they're alive? Having three separate people in my life who suffered from PTSD who chose to end their lives at the end of gun, I wonder. They chose death over living with such severe trauma.

Any life lost - ours or theirs - is too much. But sometimes the price we have to pay in order to have a future is so high, we can't even comprehend it. We can't wrap our heads around it.

Avraham was willing to sacrifice his son for what he believed in. It is too great a thing to ask, and yet the question came anyway.

Are we willing to sacrifice our sons for what we believe in - the safety of our people, the security of our nation? I think we would not be like Avraham and we would say no, but the question is not ours to answer, it is our sons' and daughters'. And from what I've seen, I suspect their answer would be the same is Yitzchak's - lead me to the altar and pray Hashem stays the hand that wields the blade.

I am heartbroken with every report I hear, with every grieving parent, spouse, child, sibling, friend, I hear about. And I am forever grateful to be protected by those who go to battle for me.

And please God, may this time be the last time we have to ask our children to sacrifice for us.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


The most heartbreaking experience I have ever had was not the death of my sister. That was number two on the list. An enormous number two, but two nonetheless. Number one was my 2 year-old nephew wailing desperately for "Mommy" while my sister was in the hospital in the weeks before her death.

Every night of his very short life, he had fallen asleep cuddling with Mommy, until she was inexplicably gone. I cuddled with him, his Nana cuddled with him until he would eventually quiet down, calmed, but not consoled. Because there is no consolation for that. Not as an adult, and certainly not as a toddler who has no concept of illness or death, no way to comprehend what is happening.

When Pamela, z"l, died, I was gutted beyond belief, but I knew what was going on. I might not have understood the why, but I knew the what. I knew she wasn't coming back. I had no way of helping this tiny little being soothe his pain and terror. There are no words to explain. His suffering was solitary. I can at least talk to others who have lost a sibling, and know that they understand. A 2 year-old has no one to feel his fear, and his is the only pain that exists in the whole universe.

Today I had a doctor's appointment. While waiting, a little girl, maybe all of 3, was wailing her heart out. She was terrified, sobbing with everything she had, "Ima, Ima" while her father tried to calm her and console her (he was brilliant, by the way). Every time she cried "Ima" I felt it right in my heart. Because I heard "Mommy" with every cry. I heard a little 2 year-old boy in my arms, howling into my chest. This little girl may have only been crying over getting a shot, but her pain and fear were the same. She wanted the one and only person who was her core support. The one person she trusted most to protect her and keep her from harm. And that one person wasn't there at that moment. And for a child, that moment is the only one that exists. Thank God that little girl was going to be able to go home and be soothed by Ima.

And I was able to hold it together long enough to fall apart in the car, instead of in front of a hall full of strangers in the doctor's waiting room.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is It Time For A Self-Exam For The Breast Cancer Industry?

In honour of October aka breast cancer awareness month, a question for my survivor friends, if you don't mind my asking - and before you read on, please don't if reading about cancer will upset you or cause you stress. That is not my intention.

What do you all think about these kinds of videos, like the one below? I haven't personally experienced having cancer, thank God; I'm just a survivor of a non-survivor, so my perspective is probably different.

Personally, I hate them. I don't see the point. How is dancing around and wearing pink supposed to bring awareness? Or in this particular video, make the patient feel better? These videos seem to me to be self-serving, with the dual purpose of the participants having a great time, and feeling great because they believe they're contributing. Don't get me wrong - there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just don't pass it off as an awareness campaign (is there ANYONE who doesn't know about breast cancer at this point?). I resent the implication that if we would all just wear something pink and dance a flashmob, everything will be all better.

You want to do an awareness campaign? How about a campaign that lets people know that people STILL DIE from this disease?! The number of women who die every year from breast cancer, ovarian cancer and other cancers is unacceptable. The number of young women who leave behind children who have no understanding of what has happened to their mothers or fathers is deplorable. The number of families grieving their loss and struggling to carry on is offensive.

How about a campaign that forces companies like Susan G Komen to be completely transparent so we see how little of our donations is actually going to research for a cure*. How about a campaign to demand that our governments make finding affordable (dare I say free?) treatment a priority. How much money would the health care system save if we could just get a shot when that mammogram comes back showing a terrifying lump? How about we force those big-name pharmaceuticals to dedicate a set portion of their research towards certain diseases, in order to receive those government grants?

Do we need a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness? Really? Let's make October Breast Cancer PREVENTION Month. Or Breast Cancer Research Month. Or How To Do A Self-Exam Month. Or Stop Breast Cancer Month. I think we have enough awareness that there's something out there called breast cancer.**

The fact that so many people are shocked to hear of anyone dying from breast cancer ("You can still die from that?" and "I didn't know women still died from breast cancer" - actual quotes from someone upon hearing about my sister, z"l) means breast cancer research is not the priority it should be. No video with a bunch of people wearing pink gloves dancing to a catchy tune is going to change that.

*By Komen's own figures, about 21% of their total budget goes to research

** Edited to add: Male breast cancer could use an awareness campaign - Morey's family history includes his grandmother, two aunts and a great-uncle who died from breast cancer. A few years back, when Morey found a lump, he went to see his doctor, despite feeling embarrassed. He shared his feeling with the doctor, who reassured him saying Morey absolutely did the right thing, especially given his history. It turned out to be nothing, thank God, but in his case, it might not have been. (I have Morey's permission to share this story.) Men can, and do, also die from this disease. Thank you, Leah, and your cousin for reminding me that I needed to make that clearer.

In loving memory of Pamela;
the heartbreak will always be too great.

If you know of someone who is dealing with cancer, who has young children, this book, The Cancer That Wouldn't Go Away: A story for kids about metastatic cancer is a tremendous resource. Written and edited by two dear friends of mine who, with another sister, also lost a sister to cancer, it contains a guide by a child psychologist to help families talk to their children. May the day come that a book like this will no longer be needed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grateful and Gracious

The husband of a friend of ours is ill and in hospital. They have a subscription to the Israel Symphony, but with her husband ill, they are not able to use it. Even under the circumstances, my friends wanted to make sure the tickets didn't go to waste and that somebody was able to enjoy last night's concert in their place.

Due to their generosity and incredible thoughtfulness, we were able to have a fantastic experience last night. It was an evening of Tchaikovsky and Holst. I love Tchaikovsky, and Morey loves "The Planets" so it was a perfect match.

Some observations:

We never would have been able to experience if my friend wasn't so considerate. Sitting with her husband in a hospital room, she thinks of others.

We were doubly blessed - not only did we get to see a fantastic performance of the Israel Symphony Orchestra, the Tchaikovsky was performed by a mind-blowing 22-year-old prodigy named Daniil Trifonov. His fingers were like rubber spider legs; long, thin and moved like lightning (his whole body was long and thin, sort of stretched. He reminded me of Jack). His passion, timing and interpretation were brilliant. It was a true pleasure to witness. He was also the most gracious star performer I've ever seen: he hugged the conductor, shook hand with the first chair violin, bowed to the orchestra and only then did he turn to the audience and take his bow. And come back for an encore!

Which leads me to my next observation. Orchestral encores? I've never seen this, but within seconds, this very knowledgeable audience (every concert I've ever been to, there's always at least one person who is a first-timer and starts to applaud at the end of the first movement. Not one mis-timed clap in the bunch last night) started clapping as if at a rock concert - not applause, but clapping in unison. Trifonov came out for a few more bows, and then eventually sat down and played a cute little Chopin.

After the intermission, the full orchestra came on for The Planets. Throughout the Tchaikovsky piece (Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra in B-flat minor, Op. 23, for those who are wondering), I was observing the wonderful mosaic of the orchestra. There were older, stately men and women, a young woman with wildy violet hair, a male French horn player with gorgeous long, wavy hair. Blondes, brunettes, long, short, old, young, even an Asian violinist (which would not be at all unusual in any concert in the US, but she stood out here). We were wonderfully surprised to see not one, but two very obviously charedi musicians, long beards, black kippas and all. One was first chair cello (and magnificent. And for those who know him, the cellist reminded very much of Rabbi Dubrowsky z"l).

(And for the record, there were female musicians wearing pants, sleeveless outfits, and one of the movements has a female chorus. These two men did not get up and leave, fyi.)

This, by the way, is why I get upset when people say THE Charedi. Just like all Jews are not the same and do not believe exactly the same, so all Charedim are not the same. Obviously.

The conductor, Dan Ettinger, was probably the most calm, understated conductor I've ever seen. Morey gave names to some of his moves, one of which was a side-to-side sway ("rock the boat"). The other one isn't, erm, suitable for a family blog.

The concert was in Rishon LeZion, not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. High-calibre arts can be enjoyed all over this country. It probably doesn't hurt that a lot of the musicians are Russian ;) but there are plenty of very Israel names in the bunch.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, 20 minutes away, courtesy of two very big-hearted people. We are grateful.

Please daven for a complete and speedy healing for Avraham ben Ida.

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.