Archives for October 2006


There are certain words and combinations of words that strike fear and loathing in people’s hearts. They are, of course, mere words but sometimes their implications can be frightening.

Take the example of one of my granddaughters who today got her hands on her mother’s credit card and until she was caught, she probably was making plans as to what to do with it. Since she is 19 months old, we are assuming that she couldn’t have done much harm unless her older siblings have taught her that most dangerous of phrases: “charge it.”

And take that most horrid word, worse than any of the smarmy four letter words who only aspire to the fear and disgust this one invokes: overweight.

“It can’t be! I tried so hard. I sat and planned and worried and deprived myself and I am still overweight. I can’t believe it! This can’t be happening!”

“Don’t get excited,” I am told, “You aren’t the only one.”

“Of course not, but still…”

“You can pay extra and it will be all right.”


“You can pay extra for your suitcase and we will allow it on the plane.”

“Oh! My SUITCASE! …..I guess I can cancel my nervous breakdown”


We are getting ready for our second trip to China.

Before the first trip, China was, for us, a place far off, so completely removed from our experience as to be a source of endless speculation as to what it would feel like to be there and what types of experiences we would have.

When we finally got there, we were completely captivated. Everything was so unbelievably beautiful! The people are beautiful. The architecture, the temples and gardens, the music, the shows, the minority people, the ethnic art– they were all exquisite. When we got home from China we could speak of nothing else for weeks. (If you don’t believe me, ask my children!)

And now we are returning and if anything the anticipation is even greater because we know what beauty awaits us. The more we read and study about China, the more amazing it becomes. Stay tuned for stories of our adventures!


A thousand years ago. when I was newly pregnant with my first child, I was all too aware of everything that could go wrong with a pregnancy. Many of the people we saw socially were physicians and pretty much all of them had at least one horror story to tell me about a tragic pregnancy or a severely deformed baby. Within a week or two of telling people I was pregnant, I was convinced that no one ever survived a pregnancy or had delivered a normal baby. So I worried…

But I told myself that once I got through the first trimester, I wouldn’t have to worry since most miscarriages happen before that point. Of course I soon came to realize that that wasn’t the end of the worrying, because prematurity too was a danger and so if the pregnancy lasted 27 weeks, there was an outside chance that the baby would survive (since that was the earliest gestational age at which a baby had survived at that time in history). But then I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to stop worrying until the baby was born. Because only then would I know that he or she was whole and healthy (this was long before the days of ultrasound imaging in pregnancy).

But when my beautiful perfect son was born and I began to attach to him and feel overwhelming love, I realized that I didn’t know that he would develop normally. After all, there was no guarantee. So I worried. I worried about his vision. He must have known Iwas concerned because I can recall being awed by that fact that as I held him in the hospital, he focused on a light in the ceiling of the corridor, and as I swayed with him, his eyes held the light, compensating for my movements. Then my concern changed to his growing normally. Again, my child was enormously reassuring, gaining well. I worried about his hearing, but the noise of my dropping things in the house eventually caught his attention. I worried about whether he would turn over, crawl, walk, and talk, and as each of these milestones was reached, I focused my worry on the next one. Would he be able to learn to read? to write? to add and subtract? Would have friends?

As the school years passed, I still wasn’t out of the woods. I worried. Would he be able to succeeed in high school? Will he be able to resist the temptation of smoking, alcohol, and drugs? Will he learn to become appropriately independent and still stay close to me emotionally?

I kept looking for an end to the worry, but every stage that passed only opened up a new set of worries.

When he left for college far far away from me, over the sea, in a time before there were cell phones, before dorm rooms had telephones, before there even were pay phones in the hallways, I worried. We exchanged letters regularly, but even good mail service made any turnaround ten days long. If I wrote a question to him, it would take a minimum of 5 days for him to receive it and if he wrote an answer the same day, it took a minimum of 5 days to get back to me. So any word from him was precious and the distance did not help my feelings of worry subside.

Once he finished university, a whole new source of worries arose. He was going to the Army. Hostile people who want to kill him with lethal weapons will get a chance to do that. I didn’t like that one bit.

And then there was the question of who he would marry. The day I met his bride to be, that worry was over. She was lovely. I could stop worrying. I even told her that with their marriage, he becomes hers. Their wedding was a very happy occasion. I thought that was the end of the worrying.

But then there was my daughter-in-law’s first pregnancy when she became ill and I feared for her. I worried about the baby she was carrying. Blessedly, she recovered and he was perfect.

But finally I understood. Once you’re a mom, the worrying never stops. First it is about the child and later, one worries too about his/her spouse and later, if we are particularly blessed, it is about the grandchildren. The joy, the pride, the love, the warmth, the caring, the kindness, all make it more than worthwhile, but you can’t help but worry.

Oh my soul!

I don’t know how much other people think about their souls. I am not even aware of when I first began thinking of mine. It might have started that summer at camp when each morning, before we began our prayers, one of the counselors would talk in depth about one of the prayers we were about to recite. The prayer I remember is one that began, “my G-d, the soul you have given me is pure…”

I was overwhelmed with the thought of the gift I had been given. Imagine! All of us were given a pure soul as a gift at birth. Realizing that, I understood that I had an obligation to keep it pure.

I began to think of what fouls the soul. Surely hatred, clearly hurtful acts, jealousy, insensitivity, and deceit. All of those are products of our own making– all things we can teach ourselves to avoid. We can reason, plan, understand, and choose how we act. As we change our behavior, our thoughts and feelings also change.

But what of outside influences? How do we ensure that the soul is not polluted?

Portrayals of violence pollute the soul. They reduce human beings to mere flesh and blood, as dispensible as an old newspaper. Sensational news with details of violence, injury, sadistic acts, and murder pollute the soul. Details of torture, graphic pictures pollute the soul.

Just thinking about all this makes me want to flee to the safety of things that enrich and nourish my soul. And the world is full of so many:

The closeness of my husband, the warmth of my children, the sweetness of my grandchildren, the kindness of my friends and relatives, the warmth of the sun, the blueness of the sky, the garden glistening with dew, the trees, heavy with fruit, the aroma of jasmine and lemon and roses, the sparkling of the night sky, the smile of a stranger, the ability to walk hand in hand…

And memories- of people I loved, of beautiful places, of Shubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” in St. Marco’s Square in Venice and of “Aida” at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and of “The Nutcracker” at the St. Petersburg Conservatory- and earlier in Lawton, Oklahoma. Memories of my wedding and the early days of marriage, of giving birth to each of the children and the triumphant arrival home…

There are so many.

Sometimes as the days and weeks go by, we forget that our soul needs maintenance. We need to keep ourselves free of hatred and unkindness and insensitivity, guard ourselves from the assault of pollution from the outside world, and nourish our souls with the healthy elements of our life and experience.

The Day After

It’s the day after Simchat Torah, at least here in Israel. We had a wonderful holiday season this year. The weather was perfect for eating in the sukkah. It was neither too warm nor too cool. On Thursday, we had the briefest drizzle here in Modi’in with the sun shining brightly and no clouds overhead. Today, as we were taking down our sukkah and packing it up for next year, a heavy rain came along, the first of the season, and our whole garden became a wonderland. Now in the bright sunshine, the leaves glisten.

You see, the last rain was sometime in the Spring. It was likely in March or April, and the desert sands have been blowing past ever since, so that even though we irrigate, the drips of water that land on the soil beneath the plants does not serve to free them of their dusty coating.

But today, everything is fresh and new.

And the rain really feels like a blessing.

May our blessings increase.

The Grapes and a Bath

Sukkot in Israel is one of the many highpoints of the year. Holidays, especially those with intermediate days, turn into reasons to have activities for adults and children that are enjoyable, colorful, and reasonably priced throughout the country.

Yesterday we went to a grape-stomping event at the winery in Gush Etzion– “we” meaning my husband and I and our granddaughter Hadas who is spending some of her vacation with us and our daughter-in-law and 5 of her 6 children and two friends of her oldest son’s.

We walked through the vineyards, cut some grapes from the vines, put them in a big wagon, and then the collected grapes were brought to another location where the children were able to take off their shoes, wash their feet, and step into a container where they stomped the grapes. For a modest price, empty labelled bottles were sold into which the strained grape juice was poured.

At the end of the day, we all were tired, warm, and spotted with grape juice. However, it was an experience to remember. You can see the pictures here. Yael’s face says it all!

China anyone?

We will be returning to China for another 17 day tour with Shai Bar Ilan Geographical Tours. This is a tour organized in Israel for English speakers from Israel and the US and other English speaking countries. It promises to be an unforgettable experience. The food is kosher and shabbat is observed, but even on shabbat there are walking tours and interesting activities. And the rest of the time we will be moving from one fabulous place to another. Anyone interested in joining the tour (and DrSavta and DrSaba) needs to be in touch with me in the next couple of days since we will be leaving within the month. (I do not receive a commission for this).

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach, and (hopefully) see you soon!

Why I love beauty pageants

The other day I was preparing for Yom Kippur. One of the things I had to do was to iron the clothes I was going to wear that evening. Since I am physiologically incapable of ironing without having a television on in the room, I turned on the TV and up came channel 2. Someone was talking to some political figure about the recent war and its political implications. SWITCH. Channel 1 had another person talking with another political figure about the recent war and its political implications. SWITCH. On channel 4 cars were racing through the streets, driving up on curbs, and bursting into flames. SWITCH. Oh my soul…. here I am ironing white in the hopes that my sins will be forgiven and everywhere I step, there is dirt!

And then I went to Star World and they were showing the Miss World contest. Arrayed on the stage were a hundred beautiful young women, all with the blush of good health, youth, and wholesomeness. Not only that, but these young women had spent a significant amount of time interacting with each other, smiling, posing, and looking beautiful. They weren’t debating nuclear armaments or territorial issues. They were fixing their hair and adjusting their makeup and pushing up their attributes to make more appealing decollatages. They were thinking about curing the sick and educating the illiterate and giving food to the needy and bringing world peace. And as hokey as it always seemed to me in the past, that day, it seemed perfect. I saw good will, kindness, optimism, and hope. It was a wonderful way to approach the holiest of days.

“I’m depraved because I’m deprived”

When I was very young, one of the shows I loved was “West Side Story,” whose music was written by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The music was magnificent and the dancing was wonderful and the songs were memorable. One of the most memorable songs was “Gee, Officer Krupke.” “ACTION” is one of the characters.

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re very upset;
We never had the love that ev’ry child oughta get.
We ain’t no delinquents,
We’re misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

There is good!

There is good, there is good,
There is untapped good!
Like inside, the worst of us is good!

SNOWBOY: (Spoken) That’s a touchin’ good story.

ACTION: (Spoken) Lemme tell it to the world!

SNOWBOY: Just tell it to the judge.

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
My parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana,
They won’t give me a puff.
They didn’t wanna have me,
But somehow I was had.
Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!

DIESEL: (As Judge) Right!

Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed.
He’s psychologic’ly disturbed!

I’m disturbed!

We’re disturbed, we’re disturbed,
We’re the most disturbed,
Like we’re psychologic’ly disturbed.

DIESEL: (Spoken, as Judge) In the opinion on this court, this child is depraved on account he ain’t had a normal home.

ACTION: (Spoken) Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.

DIESEL: So take him to a headshrinker.

ACTION (Sings)
My father is a bastard,
My ma’s an S.O.B.
My grandpa’s always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!

A-RAB: (As Psychiatrist) Yes!
Officer Krupke, you’re really a slob.
This boy don’t need a doctor, just a good honest job.
Society’s played him a terrible trick,
And sociologic’ly he’s sick!

I am sick!

We are sick, we are sick,
We are sick, sick, sick,
Like we’re sociologically sick!

A-RAB: In my opinion, this child don’t need to have his head shrunk at all. Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease!

ACTION: Hey, I got a social disease!

A-RAB: So take him to a social worker!

Dear kindly social worker,
They say go earn a buck.
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schumck.
It’s not I’m anti-social,
I’m only anti-work.
Gloryosky! That’s why I’m a jerk!

BABY JOHN: (As Female Social Worker)
Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again.
This boy don’t need a job, he needs a year in the pen.
It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;
Deep down inside him, he’s no good!

I’m no good!

We’re no good, we’re no good!
We’re no earthly good,
Like the best of us is no damn good!

DIESEL (As Judge)
The trouble is he’s crazy.

A-RAB (As Psychiatrist)
The trouble is he drinks.

BABY JOHN (As Female Social Worker)
The trouble is he’s lazy.

The trouble is he stinks.

The trouble is he’s growing.

The trouble is he’s grown.

Krupke, we got troubles of our own!

Gee, Officer Krupke,
We’re down on our knees,
‘Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease.
Gee, Officer Krupke,
What are we to do?
Gee, Officer Krupke,
Krup you!

Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.

Bernstein and Sondheim in the fifties were poking fun at the inability of some people to understand that people are responsible for their actions. How we are brought up surely affects us, but ultimately, what we do with our lives is our choice. All of us have met people who bemoan their fate. No matter where they go and what they do, it seems to them that they are unappreciated, treated with disdain, and hurt. They are 50 years old and still blaming their parents for how their lives turned out.

Likewise, we have all met people who suffered terrible traumas in their lives– people who survived the Holocaust, people who suffered the loss of a parent when young or serious injury or extreme poverty and they have nonetheless created for themselves good lives. In addition, many of them devote their lives to helping others, remembering how they themselves felt during their hard times.

One of my favorite examples of the latter is Natan Sharansky who in his book “Fear No Evil” talks about his time in the Soviet prisons and how he decided that the Soviets may have control over his body, but they would never take control of his mind– who he was as a person. He describes in detail how he kept his sanity, by drilling himself on Biblical verses he remembered and playing mental chess. He was imprisoned, but he was always free. When he was finally released, he was a whole human being, ready to resume life with optimism.

When I hear people trying to “understand” terrorists, I cringe. Terrorists are evil people. They want to kill innocent people, men, women, and children– the more, the better. They are not that way because they are poor (Bin Laden, for example, is a multi-millionaire). They are not that way because they are humiliated (ever try showering in jr. high school after gym class as an underdeveloped 13 year old girl?– I never even thought of putting on an explosive belt and murdering the girls who were mocking me.) Terrorists are humanoid (having human form) beings whose entire reason for living is to kill and destroy. Otherwise, they would not be willing– anxious to kill themselves in the act. The more we try to “understand” them, the more we mock the goodness in the world.

I don’t want to “understand” a cancer cell for any other reason than to figure out how to destroy it. I don’t want to nurture it and see if maybe it will learn to behave. I want to be rid of it.

I fear that our liberal thinking has in it the seed of our destruction and it is time to see things as they are and not as we wish them to be.