Archives for April 2005

How to be a winner

This past week, Elisheva, Avital, and Dina visited us. They are three young sisters who are very close in age. There was at least one occasion upon which one of the sisters said something to another that made the other feel bad.

When the injured sister told me about it, purely for informational purposes, I am certain, I explained to her that I was not really in a position to make the remark not have been said. In fact, I was powerless to change the past. There are some things we just have to live with. My response was not terribly satisfying to my granddaughter, but it did trigger some thoughts on my part.

Many people believe that when someone has said something thoughtless or insulting or hurtful, there needs to be some resolution of the situation. Of course, in civilized society there often is. “I am sorry, Mr. Durante, that was a thoughtless remark I made about noses” or “Sorry, Mr. Clinton, I meant to ask you if you would like a peach, not an impeachment.” But there are more times that no apology is given and other times that even the apology is not satisfactory. “I’m sorry I said I only tripped because you have big feet; your feet aren’t really that big.”

At times like these, it is important for people to understand that sometimes you just need to live with it and go on. There are rude and impolite people in the world. Sometimes you will have the experience of being hurt or insulted by total strangers, but that doesn’t mean that you are any less of a person.

Things that other people say do not necessarily represent a truth about you. Often what people say about others only gives one a clue as to their own character. It is a wise practice not to become friendly with someone who is unkind to others. Someday, you might end up being that other!

I believe that a person has an inner core, a part of himself that is his essence. No one can touch that.

One of my heroes in this world devoid of heroes is Natan Sharansky. In his book, Fear No Evil, he writes of being held in the Russian gulag in a tiny dark cell, in solitary confinement. Yet, he always knew he was a free man. He never gave himself up. He recited memorized passages from the Bible. He played out chess games in his mind. He devised tricks to play on the guards. They had his body, but they never got close to his soul.

That is how he triumphed. That is how all of us can triumph over the negative people in our lives. We need to hold onto that inner core and know that it is strong and will always remain with us, no matter what others may say or do. That’s how to be a winner.

The seder is ended but the grandchildren linger on

This year we had just one extended family of our children with us for seder. Since the seder was over after midnight, my daughter’s three older children stayed over with us. I had forgotten how nice it was to have smiling happy faces greet me in the morning- to see people for whom the world is still full of surprises and possibilities. It was a pleasure to take them to services with me and to have the girls with us the whole rest of the day. They are bright and clever as well as beautiful.

However, we were not prepared for the next installment of the grandchild saga…. Yesterday we received a call from our son that his wife had fallen and hurt herself. We went to watch the children while they went to the hospital. When they returned, our daughter-in-law had a cast that immobilized her knee and her husband had to carry her into the house.

After some talking and consideration, we took their three daughters home with us until further notice. These three girls are very special not only for their own qualities, but because they sing and dance together. This morning at breakfast, we had a complete concert including solos. When I asked them if I could use their names, Elisheva and Avital said I could and Dina said it didn’t matter. All of them are quick and witty and clever and adorable.

So today, I am back 25 years, wondering what to do with these girls for this vacation day just as I had wondered what to do with my children on vacation when they were young.

But for my children, there was no Passover vacation. Their childhoods were spent in Army posts in the US and in Germany. My concern then was how I could pack a kosher for Passover lunch for them to take to school. When they were asking the four questions, they were among a handful in the places we lived. We were strangers in a strange land. Our family possessed a rhythm that was unlike that of our neighbors. People would try and guess what we were doing because our practices were so different from theirs.

Once we had gone to a kosher restaurant in Philadelphia that was run by Israelis and they were selling hats like those worn on a kibbutz. We bought four- two for us and one for each of the children we had then. Our neighbor remarked to me a couple of weeks later that her son had noticed the hats we all were wearing for that holiday we had had a couple of weeks ago. I wracked my brain trying to understand what she was talking about and realized that we had all worn our hats one day. The neighbors were sure it was a custom of some odd Jewish holiday!

We spoke Hebrew in our home and our children never forgot who they were, but when we were able to bring them to Israel for a family vacation, they finally found a place where they belonged.

One by one, they found their way home, and so now, they and their children share the rhythms of our people with the rest of our country, and we are blessed to have all sorts of holiday activities to choose from to entertain our grandchildren.

But to tell the truth, just being with them is enough of a treat for me!

Passover thoughts

All this week I have been preparing for Passover. Cleaning is a fairly solitary activity and although I did have the TV and radio as companions for some of the work, it gave me some time to think.

I thought about all of the sdarim we have had over the years. Passover has always been a very special holiday for us. It was during my visit to my husband’s Army post on Passover in 1966 that we decided to get married.

He was the Jewish chaplain at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and that year was the first of our 40 years of sdarim. The next year, as newlyweds, we had a community seder on the first night of Passover. On the second night, we were to have had seder together and with two or three soldiers who had not been able to leave for the holiday. My husband had gone to the chapel for services. As I was waiting for him, three young soldiers knocked on the door and asked where services were. I told them, and as they began to leave, one said, “And this is where we have our seder?” I answered “Yes.” That year we had thirteen unexpected guests. Fortunately, we had plenty of food as I had cooked for the whole holiday.

As the years passed, we had our first child and then our second and then a third smiling face at the seder. One year I was very pregnant. One year I had delivered a baby two days earlier. Some years my husband conducted a community seder for one night. Some years my parents or sister joined us.

Over the years we have had guests who were close friends, guests who were professional acquaintances, and guests from foreign countries. Every year we ended the seder saying “next year in Jerusalem.”

And as I prepared this week, I felt happy and content that we had so many happy memories and that in these years, when finally we are living in Israel, we are continuing to build memories as our grandchildren now help fill our seder table.

Guest article: Breasts

This is an article written by Rachel Inbar Fertility Stories

For me to be writing about breasts is at least as surprising as it would be for me to write about cars. I’ve had them for a while and I know how they work, but mine were never anything special.

The first time I ever noticed a change (except for their early growth that made it painful for me to walk down stairs) was when I was pregnant with my first child. I had gone from an “almost A” teenager to a “barely B” young woman, when in my fifth month I zipped past “close to C”, “definitely D” and found myself ever-nearing E. You wouldn’t believe the stretch marks… or the sag (they say it’s genetic, but would it really have happened if they’d never grown so much?).

If you’re going to have breasts that sag at age 25, they may as well be small ones that are easy to hide… It was also good that mine hadn’t been the kind to show off before the sagging began, so it wasn’t nearly as disappointing as it might have been otherwise.

I breastfed my daughter until she was 6 months old. It was convenient and I loved the power of being the only one with the magic of being able to calm her at any moment.

I later breastfed my twin son and daughter (though rarely simultaneously) until they were almost 9 months old. I once pumped 2 quarts of milk in a day and calculated how much money I was saving on formula… OK, so if they weren’t good for show, at least they were low maintenance and economical.

My youngest daughter was born recently and again I found myself remarkably close to “ever-nearing E”. As we were leaving the house for a party in her honor, my middle daughter commented, “Aren’t your breasts too big?” to which I responded, “Yes, but I don’t have time to change them now, so let’s go!”

And of course she was right, I feel like such a fake… It was just a few years ago that my sister and another good friend asked me (after a very successful diet) if I still needed a bra… They thought it was funny… (It wasn’t that funny.) So for now I’m checking out how dresses look when there’s something to put in the top part. My bathing suit top doesn’t fit (!) and I even have cleavage (me, cleavage?!?). Mostly, I think it’s funny and I’m trying to remember to enjoy it while it lasts.

If there’s one thing I will remember about my breasts after all their ups and downs, this is it: there’s nothing sweeter than seeing your baby’s sleeping face resting peacefully on your bare breast.


I grew up in the 1950s in Philadelphia. My family was, what seemed at the time, a typical Jewish family. We would look forward to Passover as the beginning of the spring. In its honor, my mother would take my sister and me out shopping so that we would have fancy new clothing to wear to the two “seders” that we went to . One night, we would attend the seder at my mother’s parents’ home and the other night, we would have seder at my father’s parents’ home. Through some unknown mathematical wizardry despite the fact that all of the married couples had obligations to both sides of their families, each seder included all of my aunts, uncles and cousins on that side of the family, so in two nights, we saw all of our close relatives.

Of course our new clothing was always spring clothing and we wore it no matter what. I can remember one cold rainy afternoon being all dressed up in a sleeveless white linen dress and wondering how strange it would be to cover it with a heavy winter coat in order to go to my grandparents’ home.

Each year, my sister and I would enjoy the contrast between the two seders. At Grandmom and Grandpop Mager’s, there was a full seder. Grandpop would sit at the end of the table with a big black satin skullcap and start with the very first word in the hagada and except for the meal, would not stop until the last. My sister and I and our cousin Ada always used to listen for the first fifteen minutes or so because they were interesting. They included the Kiddush and the parsley and the four questions and singing “avadim hayyinu,” but after that, we settled into counting the pages until the meal. One year, Ada and I surprised our grandfather by singing the songs with enthusiasm and even getting up to dance with each other in the middle of the meal. I can still see the broad smile and the tears in his eyes.

At Grandmom and Grandpop Tizer’s. there was less formality. The seder at their house was abbreviated. We only hit the high spots, but we all were there together. They used to order seltzer in bottles that could squirt and they would usually have a case of seltzer bottles at the back of their store which was just at the threshold of their living room. My cousin Murray loved to take those bottles and squirt people. My grandparents usually served flavored sodas when we visited, but on Passover, they didn’t have any because there wasn’t any kosher for Passover flavored soda available in Philadelphia. Each year they would tell us that if we poured a little wine in our glasses and then filled them with seltzer, it would taste just like grape soda. Every year, we fell for it and every year we were disappointed. Every year, Murray would try to show us how he could eat a whole teaspoon of horseradish and every year he would turn bright red and beg for water. At the end of the seder each year, my grandmother would say, “we should live and be well—next year I will take you all to Israel for seder.” I knew that she really meant it.

This year we will be having seder in Israel as we have for the last five years. Joining us will be four of our grandchildren and throughout Israel the other sixteen of my grandchildren will also be sitting at seders. I like to think it is because of the effort of my grandparents. I know they would be proud.

Transitions- Part II

In the first article, I focused on family moves, but there are other transitions that give people difficulty. This piece is designed to deal with children’s transitions and how parents can help ease them.

Think back to that first day in the new job. People were outwardly friendly and welcoming, but everyone else looked like they belonged and you didn’t. What did you do? Well, what most people do is they bring items from their home that are familiar—a picture of family members, a special coffee mug, a favorite pen. You come in each day, work, and after a while, the office begins to look and feel familiar. As adults, we have learned that change is difficult and that we need to be patient with ourselves and that we will eventually be comfortable once again.

Yet, knowing this, the very same people have no idea why their child is disturbed by the first day of school. “You’ll be meeting lots of new friends” “You will be learning all sorts of new things.” These reassurances are not helpful in that they are telling him or her to expect exactly what they are worried about. They don’t want new friends. They don’t want to learn new things. They want life as they knew it to go on and this school thing is looking a lot like it’s going to get in the way.

It is helpful to listen to your child’s fears and his or her images of what will happen in unknown territory. He or she needs to know that his or her feelings are valid and that you understand. It is also helpful to provide your child with objects that ease the transition, just as adults use objects to give their office a taste of home. Coincidentally, these are called, “transitional objects.” They can be small items that no one would notice, but would help the child bridge the gap between home (life as they know it) and school (life as they fear it.) Such objects could include a special home baked cookie for snack, wearing something that belongs to mother or father, a small object that has meaning for the child, or a favorite book.

The amazing thing about people is that it takes us a very short time to acclimate to a new environment. We can teach our children to use the same tactics as we use to ease their transitions. Most people are born with an ability to be resilient and your child’s resilience can be cultivated with patience, understanding, and support.

Transitions- Part I

What does that word mean to you? Well, if you ever gave birth to a baby, you might remember those last few minutes before they told you that you could push. You remember it… It was that time that you realized that death isn’t such a bad alternative to pain. It was the time that is euphemistically called transition.

If you never have experienced it, have no fear. I can really describe it to you. Think of the worst pain you ever felt in your life and multiply it by 10.

It didn’t get its name by chance. Transitions are difficult. When people experience a major transition, they often feel disoriented, fearful, worried and out of control,.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, human beings really do enjoy routine. We enjoy stability. We like knowing where things are. We like knowing what to expect. Research has shown that people will even remain loyal to their brands of foods, cleaning supplies, and toiletries.

Listen to someone who has moved far from “home” and you will hear him or her talking about where to find the bagels that taste like “Bubba’s” or where to get all-beef hotdogs. Foods and other products that remind us of home make our transitions easier.

One of the most common changes that families go through is a move from one house to another. Within the same city, it can be upsetting and difficult. The greater the distance, the more difficult and if one moves from one culture to another, it is all the more so.

Typically, during transitions nerves are frayed, children act up, and marriages are strained. The good news is that there are ways to deal with transition that are helpful.

During the years that my husband was in the Army, he and I and our children went through many transitions as we moved from place to place, changing homes, schools, friends, and lifestyles. Each change challenged us in a new way. We developed some coping mechanisms. Here are a few:

1. Developing a “we’re all in this together” attitude: As much as it may seem that the burden is not being shared equally, everyone in the family is going through a difficult time. The transition is something that everyone will weather better if the family works together.

2. Giving up the illusion of control: It was very clear that there were a large number of things over which we had no control. We were on a galloping horse. Instead of fighting to stay in control, we just had faith that it would go where it needed to and we held on for dear life.

3. Gathering information: We found out as much as we possibly could about each place we were moving. We read about the new post or city and we spoke with people who had lived there or visited there. We particularly focused in information about schools for the children. We shared the information with the children, showing them pictures when there were pictures available. In the days of the internet, all of this has become so much easier.

4. Accentuating the positive: We also explored what attractions there were in the area- lakes, beaches, historical landmarks, and recreational activities. It helped the children form images of a happy future in the new place.

5. Seeing it as an adventure: We tried to cultivate in the children an excitement about the adventure we were embarking upon. There were times when we would leave the old home for the new one and as we piled into the car, we would sing “On the road again.”

Transitions can be very difficult, but the changes they involve challenge us to grow and learn.

Pre-Pesach Cleaning Disorder (PPCD)

New diagnostic category added to DSM-IV-R
PPCD: Pre-Pesach Cleaning Disorder

This is a recently discovered disorder, recognized as a seasonal disorder, usually coming in early spring. It is characterized by obsessive thinking about cleanliness, far out of normal proportions. It is distinguished from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 300.3 by several symptoms.

1. Obsessive focusing on small particles of food throughout the house to the extent of climbing onto bookshelves and behind toilets to ferret out particles smaller than the eye can see.

2. Compulsive washing of objects that are ostensibly clean (e.g., one patient was found putting her children’s Legos into a sock bag and washing them. This was discovered by a disturbed neighbor who couldn’t figure out what could possibly be banging so loudly and incessantly in the dryer. The patient, when confronted said, “Well, what did you expect– for me to put them in the toy box wet!”)

3. Incessant moving of common objects from their normal places (e.g., dishes, silverware, etc. are wrapped up and/or banished from their normal shelves and drawers.)

4. Talking with friends and acquaintances about topics formerly of no interest (e.g., effectiveness of different oven cleaners, location of most pungent horseradish.)

This disorder seems to occur in a social context. Frequently groups of women become pre-occupied with cleaning simultaneously.

Presumptive symptoms:
1. Spring time frame.
2. Patient is a woman.
3. Patient reports insomnia.
4. Patient has red hands.
5. Patient has a heavy odor of cleaning substances.
6. Patient does not have time to talk about it.

This disorder has a guarded prognosis. Although patients uniformly recover within several weeks, they tend to relapse around the same time each year.

There are reports of cessation of symptoms if they are taken away for a week to a hotel each year.

Okey Dokey

I had the good fortune to have known all of my grandparents. Each one of them occupies a special place in my heart. Just thinking of each of them opens a medley of images. I remember things they used to say to me. Those phrases told me what they thought of the world, how they saw life, what their aspirations were.

Being a grandmother myself, sometimes I wonder what it is that my grandchildren will remember of me. Because of my intense curiosity about my grandparents, I have been writing an autobiography for those of my grandchildren, if any, who might want to know something about my life. However, I am fairly certain that most of them will never look at it and so they will be left only with the memories we make together.

A while back we were with one of our granddaughters and she started laughing after I said something. I asked her what she was laughing about and she said, “You always say ‘okey dokey.’” Within the next week or two I heard a grandson from another family saying, “Like you say, Savta—okey dokey.” For a few months after that we heard echoes of “Savta says ‘okey dokey.’”

Well, it’s true. I do say “okey dokey.” To me, it means that things are not just OK, but really OK—fine, fun, happy. If that’s what they remember about me, well, that’s okey dokey!

The Pope and I

All week I have been preoccupied like most of the world, with the death of the Pope. Watching the ritual and ceremony, the dignity and respect that are being expressed, I am stunned. The Catholic Church has provided a beautiful tribute to the Pope. It is not a Hollywood production, but a ritual prescribed by their history. It is authentic and majestic at the same time as being restrained and respectful.

Ritual appeals to people on a deep level. It transcends words and travels directly to the soul. People crave ritual from their earliest days. A child wants to know what to expect of his world. He or she wants to know that in the morning there is getting washed and dressed and eating and then he or she is off to play or to school. Bedtime rituals allow the child to wind down from the day. Rituals provide a structure for life. They provide regularity and emotional safety. It is within the structure of ritual that a person can feel free. I like to think of ritual in the way I used to think of a playpen for my children. In the confines of the playpen, there were only safe toys and everything that happened inside that structure was safe and healthy. Likewise, in our lives we need that structure which is provided by ritual.

Families naturally create their own rituals. Family members may kiss hello and goodbye. The husband may bring coffee to his wife each morning. Children might show their parents schoolwork each evening after supper. The family might go out to eat every Sunday evening. Regularity and predictability are hard-wired needs.

Cultures and civilizations also create rituals. Holidays are ritual observances. Preparing for holidays, special table settings, linens, decorations are all part of the excitement of the holiday.

Rituals are not just actions performed on a regular basis, but on a spiritual level, they are specific symbolic actions. Immersion in a baptismal font or a mikva is not just a physical cleansing, but a spiritual cleansing. Lighting candles for mood is not the same as lighting candles for a holy day. The connection of action and meaning, the connection of past and present, the connection with others throughout the world along with regularity are all parts of what makes ritual so powerful.

Years ago, my husband and I took care of two little children, aged five and six for a couple of weeks. These were not Jewish children, but in our house, they experienced shabbat- the candle lighting, the kiddush and wine, the formal table settings, the prayers and songs. Of course they dressed up in their nicest clothes as did the rest of us. About three days later, one of the children asked, “Is tonight shabbat again?” She told me that shabbat was special. This child was not sophisticated. She had no understanding of the meaning. It was the ritual that spoke to her without words.

So often, people want to throw away things that are old and outdated. Modern, educated clients have come to me. They are successful in business, they have satisfying home-lives, but they are unsatisfied, and depressed. They feel their life is devoid of meaning. Ritual does not provide answers. It is instead, the spiritual home that helps us feel connected to other people, to the world, and to ourselves.

The Pope and I—we had that belief in common. May he rest in peace.