Travels with my grandchildren

My husband and I travel a lot as tour managers, mostly to exotic places, but it is a different kind of tour that I want to tell you about…

When we first started traveling, our tours were almost exclusively to China. By the second trip, our oldest granddaughter started asking me if I could pack her in my suitcase and take her with me. Imagine her surprise when in 2007, a year before the Olympics in Beijing, there was a tour that was ridiculously inexpensive, and I decided to take her along.

We were fortunate that on the tour were several other girls in her generation- one a year younger and the others a couple of years older.

We spent 11 fun-filled days in Beijing. We learned together, laughed together, and had all sorts of adventures. It was a trip of a lifetime for me (and maybe for her…)

A couple of years later, a grandson mentioned in his Bar Mitzvah speech that he liked the fact we traveled all over and, by the way, he was available at the end of June. He planted a seed in our heads and we couldn’t ignore it. What about taking him somewhere? At that time there was a kosher cruise company with reliable kashrut supervision and so we took him, his brother, a boy cousin, the cousin’s twin sister, and two other girl cousins on a short cruise on the Mediterranean. I shared a room with the 3 girls and my husband shared a room with the 3 boys. We traveled to Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus. Both we and the children had a great time. The children enjoyed being with their cousins and discovering new places. They loved bargaining in local shops and realized that one of the boys was an expert bargainer and he became spokesman for all of them. They climbed on statues, took photos, shopped and laughed the entire time.

One grandson did not have a passport when it was his turn, so my husband took him on a tour through northern Israel while I was away on a group tour.

Well, now that we had established the practice of taking the children on tours after Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we took two boys, brothers, to Barcelona; three girls, cousins, to Amsterdam; three girls, cousins, to Venice; two boys, cousins, to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands; and two boys, cousins, to India.

All of these tours had one thing in common- we got to spend real quality time with our grandchildren. We enjoyed traveling with them, watching them learn and experience new things, and just listening to them and learning who they were in an atmosphere of zero pressure. When else could I learn of random thoughts and ideas or hear stories that lasted an hour or more? But as we walked along a shoreline or across a desert island or through a mountain village, there was plenty of time and no interruptions.

After each trip we make a photo book for the travelers that will help cement the experience. I would say that these experiences are wonderful for the children and surely they enjoy them and talk about them, they connect on a new level with their cousins, and the tours give us a common frame of reference, but the most important aspect of it for me is to really get to know and appreciate these precious grandchildren. If you’re a grandparent, treat the grandchildren; you’ll end up treating yourself!

I’m offended

Do you want to know what offends me? People who are offended. By pretty much everything they don’t agree with. And people who therefore want to tell me what I may and may not say.

In the olden days, if someone found something offensive he/she might deal with it directly by informing the person that it was hurtful and having an honest exchange with the other person. If the “offender” were not someone who was open to speaking about it, then the alternative was to remove one’s self from the area.

For a couple of seasons, I watched a TV show that I felt was intelligent and entertaining. And then, it began putting forth political dogma that I didn’t agree with. When I realized that watching it was making me feel agitated, I stopped watching. I did NOT write the network and insist it be taken off the air. I am certain that many people enjoy the show and many people agree with the point of view it is advocating. And that’s fine with me. I don’t need people to be silenced because I don’t agree with them.

Years ago I was with a group that did the NASA exercise https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/nasa-exercise . Like most groups, what we found was that a free and open discussion led to decisions by consensus that were superior to decisions made by any individual. Open exchange of thoughts and opinions strengthens groups and societies.

When any point of view is shut down, it impoverishes discussion and limits knowledge. With the exception of calls for panic or violence, all speech should be permitted and if one finds it offensive, one can take responsibility for one’s self and remove one’s self from the situation.

Oh, and if you don’t like what I said, please ignore it (once you’ve considered it.)

Israel Independence Day- The defining of Israel’s unity and values

I am not fond of crowds. I also am not fond of cold- and last night it was cold. So, as we have done now for many years, we watched the official Independence Day celebrations on TV, at home.

We are not connected to a cable company and have no television, so I took my laptop and connected it to our projector and found the ceremony being broadcast over the internet and we had an instant wide-screen TV on the back wall of our living room.

As I watched the ceremony, particularly the lighting of the 12 torches, for me the highlight each year, I became acutely aware of the fact that this ceremony is not just about honoring the people who light the torches-through surely we do- and not just about honoring our country- though surely we do- but about defining what are the values that lie at the core of who we are in this country.

Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, former Soviet prisoner, now chairman of the Knesset, our parliament, spoke about aspiring to goals and not giving up, achieving the impossible (something which he personally has done) and exhorting Israelis to keep going, keep working, keep dreaming.

And, as one by one the torches were lit we saw examples of people who faced huge personal challenges who not only survived, but transformed themselves as a result- doing deeds of kindness for others, dedicating themselves to working to make the country and the world a better place for everyone.

My dear cousins visiting the Kotel, July 2017

We heard about the unity of the people, sharing generously with each other. We saw the recognition of all of our citizens, Jews and non-Jews – all of whom work to make our lives better. We saw respect for others as the audience was with those who went off-script and saw how the audience smiled and cheered and stood to applaud.

I watched in awe. This amazing little country has achieved so much in such a short time in the face of such enmity. We have lost precious sons and daughters and fathers and mothers to war and terror, and yet we continue to strive and work and help each other like one big family.

I realized that this ceremony is a yearly public affirmation of what the country’s values are, what unites us. I feel so proud and privileged to be a part of this beautiful country. And I am happy that each year on Independence Day we publicly affirm our values and renew our devotion to our fellow citizens and our country and to making the world a better place.

Old City, Jerusalem

Welcome, little one!

Yesterday we entered a new phase of life. Our exquisite granddaughter, Elisheva, and her wonderful husband, Elad, became the parents of a darling baby boy.

When I think of the changes this birth brought about, it’s almost staggering. For the baby, of course, it’s the beginning of what we pray will be a beautiful life- filled with love and warmth and devotion- filled with happiness and light, filled with exploring and learning. For his parents, it is a step into a totally new life- of being a parent, of having the joy, and yes, the responsibility, of caring for a small helpless person who will provide them with surprises on a daily basis as he grows and develops and forms his own personality. (I always think of babies as surprise packages that we never fully know until close to adulthood.) For the new grandparents, they too are moving into a new phase of having a new person to love, to spoil, to smile at and play with. And for us, becoming great-grandparents- oh my goodness- how frighteningly awesome is that!!!

We pray that this new little one and his parents, grandparents, and yes, we and his other great-grandparents too will share many many warm and loving experiences and that we all value the miracle that we have been granted.

No secrets!

This post will not make you cry. It will not make you laugh. It could, however, save a life.

Ask anyone about me and they will mention any number of things- positive and maybe negative- but they will not mention anything about my state of health. Aside from heightened cholesterol like a large percentage of people my age, I have no other medical conditions.

Or so I thought- until one day in July when my husband and I were walking in the mall and I suddenly got dizzy. I continued walking and didn’t think much of it, but then a week or two later, it happened again and seemed a bit more severe.

I made an appointment with my doctor (previously known as Dr. Nonchalant) and he suggested that I have an echo-under-stress test. Taking him seriously and because I had just a week before I was leaving for Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, I was able to schedule a test for later that day and had the results in hand by about 4 that afternoon. The doctor called me and said that what they had found was completely unexpected- my valves were fine, but now I needed an echo cardiogram to confirm the diagnosis. I scheduled that for 3 days later.

It confirmed the diagnosis. I have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.
In most cases, an affected person has one parent with the condition.

Fortunately, this is a treatable condition. It is, however, often the cause of sudden death in young people after exertion. Think of the runners, football players, basketball players, etc. who suddenly keel over and die. These articles suggest screening young athletes for the condition. (Please don;t stop reading here- there’s more important information…)

Screening athletes for heart disease
Screening for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Young Athletes
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy screening program in the athlete

The doctor suggested that all of my children be tested and if any were affected, their children be tested. We are going through that process in an attempt to identify if any of them are at risk. My children who are not affected do not have to test their children because it being a dominant gene, if the parent doesn’t have it, the children won’t.

I spent a lot of time thinking about whether there were any deaths of young people in my family and remembered that I had two cousins, brothers, who died of heart attacks- one at 31 and one at 39 (I may be off by a couple of years, but I think it’s accurate). These are the sons of my father’s sister. That would mean that my father and his sister both carried this gene. There are other family members who could be affected- at least five young people- and I hope their parent/grandparent who is a possible carrier will choose to be tested.

So why am I writing this? People sometimes like to hide unpleasant things from their family members- but secrets, particularly those that could affect someone else’s health, are rarely a wise thing. What my children or grandchildren may have gotten from me genetically is not something I had any control over, but I can do whatever I can to make sure they are protected, don’t over-exert themselves, and make sure to have regular medical follow up. I hope that my cousins will take the same responsibility with their children and grandchildren.

May we all have a healthy, happy new year.

1976/2018

1976- we are in the Army. Well, actually, Aaron is in the Army, but the rest of the family is right there with him. We were getting close to 4 years in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Our children enjoyed playing in the swamp near our house, enjoyed the “Mother Nature Tree,” loved the freedom of running around the neighborhood with no fears. The Army base was a safe place. It had everything- an indoor swimming pool within easy walking distance, even a small convenience store a 5 minute walk away.

Like all Army families in our position, we were awaiting “orders” because 4 years in a place was a long time and the Army likes to move people around and we were expecting that soon we would be told where we were moving to.

This was the only home the children really knew. Our children were 8.5, 7, 5.5, and 4 years old. Moving was venturing into the unknown.

Word finally came. We were moving to Wiesbaden, Germany. We had only about 3 months to prepare. We would be leaving behind most of our furniture (furniture was supplied to Army families since it was cheaper than transporting it across the ocean twice- we would see it again when we returned), all of our friends, and yes, our family- our parents and my sister.

There were so many unknowns, so many fears- we had no idea what our neighborhood would be like, what our city would look like, how German people would treat us as Americans, as Jews, how much German would we need to use on a daily basis- in short, we were bewildered. And as much as we tried to reassure our children that everything would be fine, we ourselves were not all that certain about what life would be like for us and for them.

Our parents lived far from us- in New York and Philadelphia. We didn’t see them more than once or twice a year, but we could call them on the telephone and we knew that we could always get in a car and visit. Now we would be across an ocean and the price of telephone calls was outrageous and letters took days to arrive. I know they must have been upset, but they didn’t try to influence us to stay since it was not our choice.

Our time in Germany was pleasant. In some ways, almost idyllic. Anti-Semitism at the time was completely forbidden and when people asked us what language we were speaking to our children and we answered “Hebrew,” we never got anything but positive reactions. We were cushioned by the huge American military community which comprised at that time about 10% of the inhabitants of Wiesbaden. Our children went to US operated schools and had German enrichment classes. They learned rudimentary German and felt comfortable buying candies and sweets in local shops. Their schools took them on day trips to places in Germany. The country was beautiful and we enjoyed exploring it and participating in the recreational “Volksmarches” that were held in different locations where people would walk a circular 10-12 kilometer path that could wind through woods, vineyards, fields, and villages and end in a square with an “oompah” band! The German people were friendly and the landscapes enchanting.

Our parents, Aaron’s dad and my parents, (his mother had passed away in December of 1975) were still relatively young and healthy and they were able to come and visit us.

But now I am the parent and I am feeling sad because my daughter and her family are leaving for their adventure. They tell me that they will return from Austria in 3 years.

In some ways, their transition may be easier because they have seen where they will be living and they have rented a home they chose. Communication with family members here in Israel will be much easier. We are as close as the nearest wifi. The flight is shorter than a trek across the Atlantic and less expensive. In other ways, it will be more difficult. They will not have the cushion of a ready-made community with all of the support and structure it offers.

As I look at the next 3 years, I feel as if I can’t wait for them to pass, but I am conflicted because at this time of life, each day is so precious that each one must be treasured.

I wish for my daughter and her husband and the 3 children who are leaving with them (3 are already adults and will not be accompanying them) a wonderful adventure. We hope to visit you, Rachel, and we look forward to your visits with us. I will be very happy to reminisce with you about your adventure when you finally return home.

I’m going to the Temple Mount and I’m bringing…

Twenty years ago, exactly, my husband and I had our חנוכת הבית, the dedication of our new home in Israel. At that time, we realized that we ourselves were not fully responsible for the achievement of this dream nor should we claim it as our own. Generations before us longed to return to Zion. In their modest dwellings a vision of returning to the land gave their lives meaning and hope. We recognized that despite the hardships and dangers, our ancestors literally kept the faith and transmitted Jewish teachings, values, and customs to generation after generation. And so when we dedicated our home, we remembered by name our great grandparents, our grandparents, and our parents who all were part of the fulfillment of our dream.

Tomorrow, twenty years later, we plan to ascend the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. the point from which the holiness of the world emanates. Our ancestors have prayed for generations for the rebuilding of the Temple and we will not see the Temple rebuilt tomorrow, but we will stand on the holy mountain where it stood. And because the keys of the Temple Mount are still in the hands of the Muslim Wakf, we are prohibited from taking any religious articles with us. No prayerbooks, no talit, no tfilin, – even kippot (skullcaps) must be worn under hats that conceal them. But tomorrow, I will be taking something very special with me. I will be taking the names of my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, and my aunts and uncles. They will symbolically ascend the mountain with me.

I will not be taking the names of my children or grandchildren, because not only may they visit the Temple Mount themselves, but I pray that they will be present to rejoice at the dedication of the Third Temple. May it be G-d’s will.

Idan Raichel Concert

Last night I went with my son, his wife, and one of their daughters to an Idan Raichel concert at Live Park in Rishon LeTzion. I have always enjoyed Idan Raichel’s music. The lyrics, the melodies, the fusion of cultures- songs in many languages, so when my son and his wife invited me, I was very happy.

It was a perfect evening. the weather was perfect, the amphitheater was perfect, and the audience was filled with the full range of ages, colors, religious persuasions – you name it. In the moments when the audience was asked to sing, it seemed that every single one of the thousands of people knew every single word of the song.

Raichel’s conversation with the audience was gentle, amusing, self-effacing, and lovable.

But what was going through my head the entire time was the human aspect of creating something so powerful, so entertaining, so perfectly timed and executed. I thought about how amazing it must be for him to heard thousands of people singing his songs, how he had assembled an extraordinary group of singers and musicians, how the entire performance was choreographed and timed to perfection how the lights, the video clips, the special effects, the photography were all perfect. I thought about the processes involved in creating such an experience, the thousands of details, the teamwork it required, the rehearsing, the mutual respect.

I thought this was such an awesome metaphor of what the world could be. How if the creative parts of us could work very hard, harmonize with others, abandon pettiness and work together- all of the pain and suffering that could be alleviated, and what an amazing creation we could all be part of.

It is not a perfect world. There are still those who prefer destruction to building and still those who excuse that as just a different culture.

I thank Idan Raichel and his entire team for giving us a taste of what could be and wish all of them success in the future.

Remembering my Dad

Mom and Dad at my wedding

Mom and dad at my wedding

Be sure to click the link below:

If my father were alive, he would be celebrating his 100th birthday on December 21. Sadly, he was taken from us much too soon.

My father was a kind and gentle man. He was friendly and optimistic and he enjoyed being in the world. He saw beauty everywhere and he had an insatiable curiosity which led him to be constantly reading and learning. Deprived by poverty of an education, he became self-educated and took great pride in seeing me, my sister, and even later, my mother, graduate from college.

His grandchildren were a special blessing and he prized the time he spent with them- flying kites, telling stories, taking walks, and slapping high-five with the youngest. I am not sure he ever stopped smiling when he was with them.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine him embracing and interacting with the great-grandchildren he never got to see. I know how proud he would be of each of them. I can see him getting out his camera and taking endless photographs, freed from the cost of film!

I see his handsome face in my children and grandchildren and I see the kindness, the optimism, the love of beauty in them. He lives on in our hearts and his essence is part of us always.

Jerusalem

 

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Can it possibly be 50 years?

I was a newly married college student. We were living in Valley Station, KY, about 1/2 hour from Fort Knox where my husband served as a chaplain. We were awaiting the birth of our first child.

The tense days of May had us anxious and nervous. The Straits of Tiran were closed and Arab armies were massed on all of Israel’s borders.

We flew to a conference in Washington DC and listened to reassuring words from Hubert Humphry. But we did not feel confident. Meanwhile, inside, a new little life stirred, growing every more energetic as the days passed.

I flew to Philadelphia, My senior year of college was done at the University of Louisville- with the acquiescence of Temple University that granted my degree in philosophy, but in order to finish my degree in Hebrew Literature at Gratz College, I had to study with a local rabbi, with my husband, and on my own the same curriculum as my classmates and return to Philadelphia to take final exams.

June 5, 1967, I was sitting in the Gratz library taking my first exam when the librarian turned on the radio. I thought it was rude for her to do that while I was trying to write an exam, but then another person entered the library and they exchanged the information that the war had started.

What could I do? I wrote my exams while listening to the same news over and over again on the radio when suddenly the lights went out as did the radio and the air conditioning. Later we found out that there was a major power outage along the east coast and some wondered if it could have been related to the war.

News coverage was weak. The same news rehashed and rehashed. The Egyptians reported that they had shot down more planes than Israel had. They reported great victories. The Israel news stayed silent. None of  us knew what was happening.

After two days of exams, I sat in my parents’ house with the TV on embroidering a challah cover. I worked on it very slowly and carefully. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be an heirloom- something the little baby I was waiting for would treasure.

And then the word finally came. “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” I still get tears in my eyes thinking about that most miraculous day when finally Jews could enter the city that for 19 years they had only seen from afar. I felt such a feeling of completeness. The world was being repaired. The pain was being alleviated. The scars were soon to be healed.

Days later we watched on TV the thousands and thousands of people streaming into the Old City to celebrate Shavuot. What elation I felt! My baby would only know an Israel that was whole and strong.

I returned to Fort Knox at the end of June with the challah cover and the baby mostly completed. About 6 weeks later, our son was born. My heart was full. Here was a new beginning, the embodiment of a prayer for peace.