The Real Israel

When I lived in Oklahoma in the 1980s and talked about visiting Israel, the people I knew would urge me to be careful when I was in Beirut. I would explain to them that Beirut was in Lebanon, a country that I had no plans to visit. They would respond with something like, “Well, you need to be careful anyway” as if they didn’t buy a word of what I was saying.

Recently I met with people who were visiting Israel for the first time. They were surprised at how modern and Western it is. They talked about the friendly people and the clean rest room facilities and water that can be drunk and modern hotels and skyscrapers and delicious foods of all ethnic varieties. They had expected the ancient ruins and the historical monuments, and of course, the breathtaking vistas, but they were stunned with the modernity and the cosmopolitan feeling that pervades.

So it didn’t surprise me when another family we met recently reported hearing from someone in their Midwest American city the following about Israel, “We’re talking sand. We’re talking camels. We’re talking burkas.”

All I can say to that is come and visit our little piece of paradise. See it for yourself! From the mountains of the Hermon, covered with snow in the winter to the sparkling gulf at Eilat to the wooded trails of the Galilee to calm waters of the Kinneret to the bustle of Tel Aviv to the breathtakingly beautiful city of Jerusalem—Israel will wow you! And come and see our hi-tech industries, setting world standards. Enjoy sitting in a sidewalk café. And most of all, enjoy our most precious products—the bright-eyed, smiling children. Israel will lift your heart and your soul.

Pictures

As we gear up for our trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) I felt compelled to get a few of the pictures we took in Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary onto a site where they could be viewed. Google-owned Picasa has a beta version of a web picture interface to which I posted my pictures.

These are but a few of the 800+ pictures I took, so feel free to ask for more.

And just wait until I return from Russia!!!!

Grandparents

Next week I am going to be talking to a group about making memories for your grandchildren. I have asked my children to collect stories about grandparents from their children and to share any memories they might have as well. I would welcome anyone’s input. Specifically, what are some memories you have of your grandparents? What things did they do with you or for you or say to you that were important to you? If you have a story you would like to share, please do.

Oh, and HAPPY FATHERS DAY to all of those loving and terrific men who mean so much to their children and grandchildren! Check out today’s Writer’s Almanac for a special Father’s Day edition. Make sure you bring your handkerchief.

Loyalty

My first awareness of the Holocaust was, probably like most children who grew up in the 50s, the story of Anne Frank. I didn’t even need to read her diary; the story was being told everywhere—in school, at home, on television. What I understood was that Anne, a girl like me, had had the misfortune to live in the wrong place at the wrong time and had died all too young as a result of the evil perpetrated by the Nazis.

The story touched me on a very deep level. I had lived while she had died. She had deserved to live as much as I had, but I was alive and she was not. And therefore, in some way, I had to make it up to her. I had to fulfill the wishes and hopes she might have had. I had to do all of the good that Anne and other girls like her had not been able to do themselves. I owed it to them. I owed it to their memories.

It was a burden, however, it was necessary. And it didn’t feel like a burden that could be shared with other Jewish girls my age. It felt like a personal obligation that I myself had to fulfill.

As time went on, I took on more obligations. I felt obligated to make my parents and grandparents proud of me. My maternal grandmother became so close to me that her suggesting that Hebrew school was important was enough to make me continue on through Hebrew college long after she passed away. It was to honor her and to pay her back for the warmth and love she showed me. I adopted the obligation toward my maternal great-grandmother, a woman for whom I was named and about whom I know very little. I learned that she was hospitable and it was to her that all of the new immigrant relatives would come when they reached the US. They would stay with her until they found themselves employment and homes. And so being hospitable was a way of paying back my obligation to this woman I had never met, but who gave birth to my grandmother who bore my mother to whom I owe loyalty as well.

So it comes with such pain to me when I see young people throwing aside their ties with their past. It pains me not only in a cosmic sense in which kindnesses of the past deserve loyalty in the present, but it pains me because what they throw away is precisely what helps to make life significant.

Many years ago, I took a course called “General Semantics.” Our professor spoke of the major difference between humans and animals being that people are “effective time-binders”—that we are able to transmit experience from one person and from one generation to another. When people reject the good that has come before them, are they not diminishing themselves as humans? Isn’t preserving what was best in those who came before us not only the just and right and good thing to do, but exactly what makes life significant and helps us find meaning in a seemingly random world?

I wonder.

Friendships and Patience

After our trip to Austria and Hungary, it’s been nice to settle in and be at home for a while and enjoy the fact that nothing much exciting is happening.

Actually, my detached feeling is not all that different from what I have experienced most of my adult life. Having moved 800 miles away from home with my marriage and never having returned to live in the city I grew up in, I have been detached from my earliest years and the people who were part of them.

In our travels, we lived a number of places (I am currently living in my 18th home since I got married) and through the years we have met some wonderful people who have been like family to us and with whom we still correspond. However, every once in a while, when I receive a note from one of my oldest friends in the States, a classmate from when I was about 14 years old, as I did today, there is a special warm feeling of affirmation that I get that makes me smile even to think of it.

It reminded me once again of how important we are to the people we have met and how little we realize it. In supervision last week, one of the therapists said that she was afraid she wasn’t helping her clients. She wasn’t getting any positive feedback from many of her clients. I tried to explain to her that the impact we have on others is not always apparent, and certainly not immediately apparent. It is only through the lens of weeks, months, and sometimes years, that the interactions we have had with people come to be seen as having been helpful and precious. –Which is why it made sense to me once when a client I had ended the session by saying, “thank you… I think.”

So here’s to friendships and patience. May they increase!

From the trenches…

After I posted my last article, “Friendly Persuasion,” I received a comment from my son Ben. Not only is it well written and well reasoned, but he is down there in the trenches now… raising with his wife 6 fabulous children. His comment follows my posting. It’s worth reading.

Friendly Persuasion

One of the hardest things about being a mother was, for me, the fact that my children would argue with each other. These were often not calm disagreements, rather interchanges that escalated in tone and volume until finally I would have to intervene to save my own sanity. Sometimes I would send the children to their rooms. Sometimes I would send them outside. Sometimes we would discuss what was happening and try to problem solve by clarifying who did what and how some resolution could come about. What I didn’t do was give them any clues as to how to resolve disputes in a more productive way,

What I should have done is to sit individually with them and ask them to tell me how they saw the situation and then how they thought their sibling saw it. If they were unable to supply the sibling’s point of view, I should have tried to guess what it was and then ask the child to rephrase it to ensure that the child had heard and understood. Next, I should have asked the child to try and think of what he or she could have done differently in light of what their sibling was thinking and feeling. Could he or she have found some common ground, a compromise, a trade-off?

I should have taught my children that the least likely way to get what you want is by name-calling, yelling, screaming, hitting, kicking, and threats. I should have taught them that a smile, a nod, a real concern for the other and their point of view all go a long way toward resolving a conflict. I should have taught them to find out what the other one really wanted and to see if there was a way that both of them could get what they wanted. I should have taught them that respecting the other person is a prerequisite for coming to a satisfactory resolution. I should have done that not only for my sanity’s sake, but to help facilitate their effectiveness as adults.

I like to think that they learned those skills in part by watching what their parents did. Sometimes, if we are lucky, the message gets through even if we are not consciously transmitting it. However, with all of the anger and pain and violence in the world, actively teaching children the art of conflict resolution might just be a priority.

Blogs…

Some women like to brag about their children. I suppose I am one of them, but for reasons of non-embarrassment, I restrain myself. I would brag about my grandchildren, but don’t, for the same reason. However, today, I am unable to restrain myself any longer. For today, my grand-dog Poofy, has begun to write his very own blog. I have always appreciated his soft white fur, his uncanny ability to tell the bad guys from the good ones, and, of course, his gentleness with my grandchildren. But today I am truly proud of his groundbreaking achievement of writing a blog. You can catch up with him at: giveadogablog.blogspot.com

I Remember Mama

When we say yizkor and remember our deceased relatives, I always find it important to think of my parents and my relationship with them. Some times I focus on the good times and sometimes I think about what I wish might have been. Sometimes I feel bad about the missed opportunities that were, and, more frequently, of what they are missing now.

However this time I had a very different experience. Although my mother and I were not as close as we could have been and although she often did not understand the decisions I made, it suddenly struck me that I was, to a great extent, living a life based on things that she taught me, things that she found important.

For example, my mother had a sense of what was appropriate—in behavior, in dress, in speech. I realized that to a very great extent, I have adopted those standards as my own. My mother taught me to be polite and to not be self-promoting and those too are things I try to remember. She valued education and family. Certainly I share that with her.

So it came to me that despite all of the negatives in our interactions, she was an effective teacher. Not only did I learn what she taught me, but I value it and there is a small feeling of satisfaction in acting as she might want me to act.

Someone once wrote that mothers have no idea of the strength of the impact they have on their children. I suppose that is so. But I am willing to bet that in many cases neither the mother nor the children are aware of how strong the messages mothers give are and how much children take them to heart.

note: title refers to 1950s TV show http://www.fiftiesweb.com/tv/i-remember-mama.htm