Vietnam & Cambodia

If you would like to see these pictures at your own pace and larger and with captions, you can see them here

A typical day

Every six months we drive into Jerusalem (about 30 kilometers/ 18 miles from here) to get our routine checkup on our car. Modi’in still does not have car dealerships, although they are on their way within a few months (of course the people who told us this were the same ones who told us that the train to Tel Aviv would be running from the center of Modi’in in 2005 (it started on April 1, 2008) and that the mall would also be open in 2005 (it has still not opened.)) The dealership we use seems to be honest and to do good work, so we enjoy taking the car there and using the day to walk around in Jerusalem.

Yesterday my husband and I and our younger daughter and her baby all set out for Jerusalem. We left the car and started walking in the direction of the center of the city. We stopped at the 2 sheqel store (a sheqel now is about $.29) where our granddaughter finally got her own cellphone. Seems her mother is pretty stingy about the use of hers. The rest of the day, the cellphone was a beloved companion.

As we walked down Jaffa Road, past all of the renovated area, we were on a street teeming with life- people of all sizes and shapes and colors dressed in all sorts of outfits– and everyone seemed to be having good time.

We passed by Machane Yehuda market, one of the most colorful areas of the city. We passed a row of jewelry stores. We found a new huge variety store and bought an Israeli flag to affix to our car in honor of Independence Day. We walked a little further and it was then I saw my husband’s cousin.

She didn’t expect to see us and so it took her a while to realize who we were, but then she was all smiles and she asked about our family and we asked about hers. We found out that a granddaughter of hers will be getting married soon and another is due to have a baby (they currently have 4 married granddaughters and one great-grandchild, a boy.) All, of course, is not perfect- and so there was talk about a grandson who was badly injured in an auto accident in the summer or early fall who is slowly recovering, but will probably not have a full recovery. There was talk about an immigrant woman from the US who she is trying to help, but who, alas, seems to engage in self-defeating behavior.

And then we walked on. We walked past the shoe stores and the cheap clothing stores and finally got to Cafe Rimon where we had lunch. After lunch we shopped some more and then I went to the place where we had bought the replacement remote for our TV a while back. The remote stopped working and I wanted to buy another one, but first I wanted to ask the man if he thought the problem was the remote or if it was the TV. So here is that conversation (although the original was in Hebrew)
Me: A year or two ago….
He: Or three or four
Me: I bought a remote for my JVC TV and I think it is broken
He: So give it to me.
Me: It’s at home.
He: So bring it in.
Me: I thought it would be really nervy for me to bring it in when I don’t even know when I bought it.
He: Bring it in.
Me: But I have no proof when I bought it.
He: It will take me a minute to check it out.
Me: I just want to buy a new one.
He: Nonsense! Bring it in and we’ll see.

Now to my American ear, this was a really strange encounter, but for people who live in Israel, it is not as rare. There is a feeling here among a lot of people that we are all in this together and we need to help each other. And it happens that storekeepers, bus drivers, virtually anyone who meets the public often will go so far beyond what they are required to do that you almost can feel yourself tearing up.

When people in the US think of aliya, they think of what they will be losing. I will tell you: nothing. It’s all gain. The houses are smaller, the cars are more expensive, and the people drive like maniacs, but from every other point of view, this life is far superior to anything I experienced in any of the 16 homes I had in the US and Germany. The weather is beautiful large parts of the year, the flowers bloom all year long. People know their neighbors and help them. Parents spend time with their children. Family recreation is a value here and on vacation days there are tons of activities at reduced cost and often at no cost.

And a typical day will always yield at least one encounter that will make you smile!

Decisions, decisions

There are times in people’s lives when they feel compelled to make a decision that in some way will lead them to variate from the norm. Some times these are decisions that come about because a person feels that he/she has principles or standards that are important to him/her. He or she may demonstrate for a cause, go on a march, distribute circulars, or wear clothing or buttons that indicate his/her support of an issue. Sometimes he/she will be restrained or arrested by police and yet the price seems worth it if the point is made. Assuming that the principle the person is fighting for is important, his/her stepping away from the norm is an educational experience for their children, showing them that the parent is willing to sacrifice for the sake of something important. Such an example would be the people who demonstrated against the expulsion of the Jewish population from Gush Katif. Although their parent may have chosen a path that led to suffering and inconvenience, the children knew what the parents’ values were and they saw them hold onto those values despite hardships.

Sometimes people step out of the norms of society for other reasons. Some such reasons are personal pleasure (like some elected officials who were caught frequenting places they shouldn’t have been), compulsion (like buying, using, and selling drugs), and obsessions taken to their logical conclusions (I hesitate to give an example but hopefully you will supply your own).

I believe that as human beings we have choices and we choose the behaviors we engage in. Pleasure can be had many ways. Of course we can spend pleasant time with our families. In an affluent society we have leisure time to take walks in nature, to people-watch, to sit and talk with a friend, to engage in sports, to see a play or a concert or a film, to draw, to take photographs, to join a dance class or a choir. The possibilities of healthy pleasurable pursuits are limitless.

When people have compulsive behaviors like using or drugs or alcohol that are or lead to illegal activities, there is help available. Often people need outside help to overcome their compulsive behaviors, but it is available. Large supportive communities exist to nurture people with these problems. Having the problem does not excuse one of responsibility for one’s actions.

In terms of obsessions, the individual is also responsible for his/her behavior. When I was a child my mother used to talk about people who claimed certain types of disabilities or patterns of behavior as having an “eingereteh zach” which I understood to be an issue that they convinced themselves into.

All of us have experienced inner dialogues that go something like this:

“I would like some ice cream, It sure would taste good. I think that mint chocolate chip would be delicious. Yes, that’s what I need. I sure would like it now. I really can’t wait. Yes, I think I’m going out to get it now.”

Sooner or later, that type of thought process leads to a store and some ice cream. But alas, they have chocolate and chocolate chip and strawberry, but no mint chocolate chip. Think about it enough and the quest is on. Until the mint chocolate chip ice cream is found, purchased, and eaten, there will be no peace.

Now let’s look at this logically: Ice cream is darned good food, but we don’t *have* to have it. If we allow it to be a stray thought, we can let it go and go on with our lives. But if we focus on it, it becomes an obsession.

I think that is true of some of the lifestyle changes people make that separate themselves from mainstream society. It is something that ranks a stray thought, but if one is a parent, after a short amount of consideration, it needs to be let go. And here is why:

Children, as I have said more than once or twice before, are people under construction. They are building their foundation, figuring out what their lives are going to look like, how they will fit into the environment. When a parent deviates from the norm, in general, it is the children who will be the most strongly affected. They become caught between the norms of society and their loyalty to their parents. The negative feedback they get from friends, teachers, neighbors about their parent’s lifestyle is something they are not equipped to defend and something they feel uncomfortable sharing with their parent. Children protect their parents from negative things and therefore they carry the burden of the societal displeasure on their shoulders.

When we have children we need to think about our choices and about how they will affect our children. Sometimes that means sacrificing something that seems like it would be fun. Sometimes that means giving up on a fantasy.

Remember, our children are our responsibility. They need to feel loved and secure and protected. They need us to put them first.

In the moment

Last night we drove north to a place called Shuni, a fortress located between Binyamina and Zichron Yaakov. There was a concert in the Roman amphitheater of the music of Shlomo Carlebach. We met friends there– a woman we had been friendly with almost 40 years ago and her daughter who had attended nursery school with our son and her daughter who we have watched grow up in time-lapse as we get together about once a year. Since our friend who lives in the US visits her daughter who lives in the North, we always have to find a location that isn’t difficult for either of us.

In addition to spending time with really delightful people, we were in a setting that was remarkable. The beauty of the ancient walls, the texture of the stones, the clear, cooling night air, the beautiful lighting of the walls and the sparkling lights in the trees only added to the wonderful music which was spirited and and lively and sincere and moving– if all a bit loud. But the event was lovely.

As I sat there, I couldn’t miss the tens, if not hundreds, of cellphones that were glowing in the dark. I didn’t hear any of them ring (although with the music as loud as it was, I am not sure I could have heard even if they were ringing) but what I did see was people sending and receiving SMS messages and playing games like “Bejeweled” and “Tetris.” These people were involved in their leisure activity while all around them there was an amazing performance with spiritual overtones in a setting that was very special.

As I looked around, some of these people were parents and some were children and I begin to think about the fact that these people were unable to fully experience what they were in the middle of– unable to fully enjoy a concert that they had chosen to attend and had paid for. And they didn’t leave, they stayed there and allowed the concert to be background noise for their messaging or game playing.

I begin to think of how sad that is. With all the tumult of the world, with all we have to deal with on a daily basis, with concerns of daily life and of global issues, why is it that we can’t just enter an experience and experience it? Why can’t we be fully there, especially when we are in a place we’ve chosen to be?

It is a wonderful thing to just be. It is a glorious thing to sit and watch talented people perform and to watch them enjoy what they are doing. It is wonderful to allow the music to take you away to new thoughts, to plans, to happy memories. I think that when we don’t allow ourselves to do that we are robbing ourselves of the ability to fully experience life.

My father taught me the most important things I know about life. One of them is that you should treasure every moment. Every moment is full of possibilities. Each moment provides food for our senses and food for our mind. Each moment enables us to make new connections, find new insights, think of new possibilities. But that doesn’t happen if we dilute the experiences. By only being partly there, we rob ourselves of some of the most meaningful moments of our lives.

She got in!

Two postings today…. for a very special reason…

Hadas was accepted to IASA – Israel Arts and Science Academy!

(This is the same Hadas who is my oldest granddaughter and my travel partner to China this past summer)

I am so very proud to be related to her. Kol HaKavod, Hadas!!!!!

You can see some pictures of her here.

That was the seder that was

The setting:
A non-descript three-story building of Jerusalem stone facing a mountain that was planted with trees last summer and instead has as most of its vegetation ugly brown and green weeds, oh yes, and those sticks (some sporting leaves) that are suspended between other sticks that are holding them up.
The time:
Saturday night after the stars had come out and at a time when little children are usually snuggled in their beds.
The characters:
My oldest son and his friend and her daughter; my older daughter, her husband, and her 6 children ranging in age from 14 years to 6 weeks; my youngest son, his wife, and their 5 children, ranging in age from 10.5 to 1.5; my younger daughter, her husband and their 9 month old daughter; and our “adopted” children who made aliya last summer. If you were counting, you would have come up with approximately 12 adults and 13 children. Of those 13 children, 5 were 3 and under.
The room:
Imagine a room that can comfortably accommodate about 8 people sitting on sofas and chairs adjoining a room that can comfortably accommodate about 8 people sitting around a table and try to figure out how that space will accommodate 25 people eating. Yeah. Well, part of the preparations for Pesach included taking the living room furniture out to the glassed-in room behind the house, so we had a place for the little children to sleep and for moms to attend to their children.
Facts about grandchildren:
If there is any time of the year that they will get sick, it is that exact time when they are visiting your house. From nosebleeds to teething pain to earaches and general states of discomfort, our house seems to bring out the best in them.
The seder itself:
Well, like every other observant family, we too started our seder exceedingly late. This was after a day with 5 of the grandchildren staying with us and the stress of the logistics of the seder itself. Naturally, the children were tired and some of us adults were a bit stressed, but once the singing began and we heard the four questions and saw the smiling faces around the table, it actually was nice. I had lots of help serving and except for the under-done turkey (I think this was the largest turkey I ever attempted to cook) the food was pretty good. We decided that we need a wall-stretcher for next year or some other plan…
Special thanks:
To our son Ben for the beautiful story he told at the seder and the extremely delicious charoset.
To our daughter Rachel and her husband Ohad for the exquisite flower arrangement that looks as fresh today as it did when it was delivered and PERFECTLY matched the table settings.
To our son Akiva and his wife Nurit for the cool veggie chopper that I am certain my husband will cherish for as many years as the one he got in Wiesbaden before our younger daughter was born.
to our daughter Leah and her husband Yaakov for a Pesach food processor that made preparing for 25 people infinitely easier. I blessed them about a hundred times as I was making the kugels, the coleslaw etc.
To our wonderful guests who lent us their brute strength and object placement skills to help us move the furniture and who lent us the all important folding chairs.
and most of all to our brilliant, gorgeous, and delightful grandchildren who bring us no end of happiness. And a special thanks to Ayala whose questions kicked off all of the explanations.

Children and the truth

Recently I have been thinking about the whole issue of children and how their parents deal with issues that are difficult. No one ever said that being a parent was easy, but when it comes to dealing with difficult issues, parents have two obligations to their children that often require exactly opposite behavior. As parents we need to protect our children. That means that we have to keep them away from things that might hurt or harm them. We do NOT allow our children the freedom to run into the street, ingest toxic substances, or use dangerous implements.

As parents, we also have an obligation to mediate events for our children. By that I mean that when children are exposed to new situations, we must prepare them the best we can so that they are not traumatized (for example if we are moving homes, we need to tell the child in advance so that he/she doesn’t one day wake up to see his/her room being packed up.) Since we mediate events and experiences both future ones and events that are taking place “in real time” for our children, they must be able to trust us. If we say, “when we go to the doctor today you are going to get an injection, but it won’t hurt,” then we are risking our children not being able ever to trust that when we say something won’t hurt, it won’t. We have to be honest with them. If we are not honest with them, then they will not rely on our take on reality and will instead choose others to mediate it for them. This kind of trust is very important. For example, if they see someone smoking and they trust their parent, then when the parent tells them that smoking can be harmful to one’s health, the child will accept that. Lying to children is with very few exceptions, a very bad choice.

But what does a parent do when those two obligations collide? What happens when telling the truth will hurt the child?

Sometimes it is not necessary to say anything. If, for example, a distant acquaintance of yours was killed in a car accident, it is probably not a wise idea to discuss it in front of a young child.

Sometimes it is not necessary to tell all of the truth. If someone the child knows well was killed in the auto accident, it is not advisable to describe the accident or the injury in detail. A simple explanation (“they car went off the road”; “the car was hit by another car”) is sufficient for the young child. Telling the truth does NOT mean telling all of the gory details.

When the event is something that directly affects the child, the parent needs to share the information to the extent the child is able to understand, carefully choosing words and choosing a time and place that allows for discussion, questions, and whatever emotional support that may be needed.

Sometimes it seems to me that parents tell their children too much too soon. Children’s brains are not just miniature adult brains. They actually work differently. They process information differently. They form images to remember information and sometimes those inaccurate images can stay with them and disturb them for a long time.

When sharing heavy, difficult things with your children make sure that you check to see if they understood what you told them. Have them tell you what they heard you say, but in different words so that you know that they haven’t misunderstood. Give them plenty of emotional support and don’t lie to them– but you don’t have to tell them everything.

Pesach cleaning makes me want to sing

(to the tune of “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by***“)

Barefoot in the garden spraying my black oven racks.
Barefoot in the garden knowing that I must make tracks.
’cause you can’t get to Pesach by just wishing
or by sending in a fax
You’ve got to stand there in the garden spraying your sweet oven
spraying your sweet oven racks.

To “Clementine”

On a counter in a kitchen excavating for some grime
Were razor and a toothpick and a tired hand of mine
Oh my darlin’,
oh my darlin’,
oh my darlin’ it’s just fine
For together we’ll destroy it and be Pesachdik in time

To “Everything’s coming up roses”

Grab the bowl
Get the knife
We are having the time of our life
Now it starts, almost done
and then we’ll have a bowl of charoses

Apples first,
Walnuts next
Wine and cinnamon round out the text
Almost done, gee what fun
and we have our sweet bowl of charoses
********************************
What some people do to justify a break! The kitchen’s almost done, only 6 hours behind my estimate. It’s going to feel good to put my feet up and relax!

The state of the house

Oven: Done
Fridge: Done
Microwave: Done
Packaged Passover foods: In great profusion
Frozen gefilte fish: A virtual sea of mutated fish
Hallway obstacle course: More extensive than anticipated
Freezer: Clean and overfull– enough poultry to feed several African countries
Tablecloth inventory: Large, but virtually unnecessary as G-d has seen fit to endow us with clear plastic to put over fabric tablecloths.
Paper goods: Number of individual items approaching infinity

Still to be done:
Lining the shelves and fridge
Covering the counters
Purchasing fruits and vegetables
Purchasing dairy products
Making the kugels
Cooking the meal
Moving the furniture out of the living room
Taking a vacation

Second PPC Post

PPC= Pre-Peach Cleaning.

Assuming that I have now finished cleaning my fridge (I did), not yet done the freezer (I plead guilty) and only in a couple of minutes will turn on the self-cleaning oven, now I am officiallly at the point that I arrive at before every Pesach: panic.

No no. It’s not that I think that things won’t get done. It’s just that my house is starting to look unfamiliar to me. Suddenly there are newspapers around (waiting to line things), piles of packaged food items in the hall, paper towels strategically placed for drying the things I’ve cleaned and a general sense of disorder. At this point I begin to think that life as I knew it will never return. Of course the truth is that it will and that it won’t even take so much energy to make it happen, but the visuals on this one are hard to take. Add in the issue of shabbat and it becomes worrisome since all I want on shabbat is (strangely) a feeling of peace and order.

So today, in addition to cleaning the freezer and buying shabbat food, I will be doing a little self-cleansing of my mind by sitting quietly and consciously relaxing and picturing the beauty of the seder that I am privileged to be making.