Yom Kippur

It seems a bit absurd to write about how Yom Kippur was for me this year, yet I cannot help but write.  As a child, I only remember this about Yom Kippur:  My parents would buy tickets for services.  In those years, the synagogue was still small and there was not enough room inside for everyone who wanted high holiday tickets, so they would erect a huge tent that seated maybe 200 people, maybe more, and my parents would attend good chunks of the service leaving us outside to our own devices.  I didn’t want to enter because I didn’t understand anything anyway and inside the tent, it was invariably boiling hot.

Late in the afternoon, my parents and I would ride about a half hour to my grandparents’ synagogue and arrive just in time for Neila, the last service of the day.  My mother would walk with us up the stairs of the synagogue into the women’s section.  The women’s section was populated with women of my grandmother’s age, all elderly (in their 50’s!) immigrant women who spoke with heavy Eastern European accents.  My grandmother was always really happy to see us when we showed up.  My cousins and their mothers too would arrive and always there was discussion as to which of the huge flower arrangements my mother and her siblings had bought for the synagogue in honor of their mother.

After the service, we would return to my grandparents’ home with the flowers.  They always consisted of  a large percentage of chrysanthemums and the smell of chrysanthemums usually reminds me of my grandmother.

I am now older than my grandmother ever was.

I am lucky enough to be living in Israel where on Yom Kippur, the entire country stops.  There are no Israeli television channels broadcasting and no radio.  Aside from one police car, I saw no cars on the roads.  In the evening, the park was filled with adults and children.  It is amazing!

This year, at services in our bursting-at-the-seams synagogue, I was privileged to have 16 of my grandchildren.  I pretty much was bursting with happiness seeing all of their beautiful faces.  The older ones, serious about their prayers, remained inside for large parts of the services and some, notably, for all of them.  The younger children, happily wandered in and out.  The youngest were held in their mothers’ or fathers’ or siblings’ arms.  The language we prayed in was the language they live.  The synagogue held familiar people.  The melodies were ones the older children had sung many times before.

And the service…  I don’t think it was my imagination.  Our congregation has been going  for about 13 years.  I think it has come of age.  The singing of large parts of the service was no less than inspiring.  Just as we repented in group fashion as one people, we sang in one voice and if the heavens were open, I can’t imagine more sincere petitions or more beautiful sounds of praise entering the holy gates.

The family, unretouched, missing three children

The family, unretouched, missing three children

Missing: Amiel Michelson, Elazar Michelson, Shlomo Goodman

May all of you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

Musings on the first day of school

It’s the first day of school for most of the schools here in Israel. It set me to thinking about my oldest child’s first day. Here is the album page– the photos are so glued as to be destroyed if removed. The middle two pictures are from the first day of school. The upper picture is of one of his building projects. The lower picture is with his sister, Rachel.

Benjy's first day

Benjy's first day

I remember his first day of nursery school. His teacher was a gentle, kind, woman who believed in reason and calm discussion. His nursery school was located in the synagogue where my husband served as rabbi, and so it was not very worrisome to have him away since I knew his father was close by.

He was the kind of child who played his cards close to his chest. Introverted. He didn’t tell me a word about what was going on at school. I would hear from the other parents about the visits of musicians and of fantastic art projects and incredibly creative activities. He told me nothing. But it wasn’t worrisome, because I knew his father was nearby and that he was safe.

Well, kind of safe.

I remember the first time the teacher called to tell me that Benjy had run away from school. The school was the equivalent of close to a mile by car or across a number of parking lots and down the side of a steep hill from our house. This was not good news. Benjy was found within about a half hour, but I was shaking for a lot longer.

The second time he ran away from school, he was a bit smarter. He took a little girl with him and before the teacher noticed, they had already traversed the hill and the parking lots, I suppose, because she couldn’t find them. She called and asked me to go out and look for them. I was at home with three little children, ages 3, 17 months, and one month. I was not able to go and look. I was able to panic. Fortunately, the two showed up at my back door not long afterwards.

As the other children grew up and started school, the first day was a happy day for them and for me. The others were not nearly as adventurous as their big brother, (although just as mischievous, each in his/her own way).

It was only when the youngest went to nursery school for the first time that I was swept away by the feeling that I was not just relinquishing control of her, but that I was trusting the world to take good care of her. I knew too much about the world to feel confident that others would treat her the way I wanted her treated– with kindness and gentleness. As I sat in the room with her the first day and the teacher distributed the juice in tiny cups, I saw her take her cup and put it to her lips. I thought, “she is going to drink what is given to her. Please let the world serve her only good things.”

Today most of my grandchildren start school once again. A few are going to day care for the first time. I pray that the world treats all of these precious children as they deserve to be treated. I pray that they will become the kind of people who will make the world a better place.

Some smiles

Here’s a photo of the children and their Saba on the Greek Island of Kos. It was a beautiful sunny day and the children loved walking through the colorful market area and exploring.

Six of our grandchildren and their Saba (grandfather)

Six of our grandchildren and their Saba (grandfather)

The cruise was a wonderful adventure.

The threes

The other night when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I began to think about how old I am and how impossible it was for me to believe that I am not still in my thirties. And then I did a little exercise with myself that I found interesting. I imagined myself and my situation at every age that ended in 3.

3– At three years old I lived in Philadelphia with my parents. We lived in an apartment over a store space where my father fashioned items out of plastic. He made plexiglass forms that he painted and mounted on wooden platforms and wired as lamps. In a little over a year, he would be convinced that there was no future in plastics and to join my mother’s family in the floor covering business.

13– This was the year of my bat mitzvah. How happy I was! I had waited a long time and finally it was here. My parents and grandparents were excited too. I remember standing on the pulpit wearing a white robe over the totally inappropraite dress my mother had gotten me and little satin kippah with a tassel that my grandfather had made for me and taking part in the service. I remember when everyone turned around with the last verse of L’cha Dodi, my parents who were sitting in the front row and hadn’t been to shul much, didn’t know to turn around. I never mentioned it to them.

23– By now I was married and had a sweet little boy. In the just over two years my husband and I were married at that point, we had moved three times. I was now living in Somerset New Jersey on Sweetbriar Lane. The address itself seemed idyllic. The congregation he served there was not. Just before Rosh HaShana, I found out that I was pregnant and we called our parents to wish them a happy new year and to tell them that we had a wonderful surprise in store.

33 — We were now living in Germany and there were five children, the youngest born there, now 5 months old and just getting over her colic. We had done some traveling in the country, some volksmarches, and generally enjoyed living there. We had just returned from a month-long visit to Israel!

43– After living in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma, we finally moved about an hour and a half from Philadelphia. By then, my father had already passed away and he was not able to enjoy our proximity. Our oldest son was in the Israel Army and our older daughter was also in Israel. A son who was studying in the US was away at Yeshiva in Israel for the year, another son was studying in New York and we had only our youngest at home with us. I was studying at the University of Pennsylvania for a doctorate in social work even though I had been trained, licensed, credentialed, and working as a marriage and family therapist. It felt like I was squandering the family fortune on tuition. Well, actually, I was.

53– I had moved to Israel 3 years earlier and I had moved into our current home, the 18th since we got married, about three months earlier. What a joy it was to be in Israel, close to all of my children and grandchildren (there were 9 by then) and waiting with great anticipation for the day when my husband would join me.

63 — Now there are 29 grandchildren, my home is just about the way I want it to be (OK, we could use cleaning help), and I get a special thrill out of tour guiding to China and Vietnam/Cambodia! Who knew how many turns my life would take, how much would happen over the years. Stay tuned for more updates!

On cell phones, facebook, skype and why you should book a tour to China for you and your grandchild

I have often thought of my life as somewhat unbelievable. The world has changed enormously from even the time when my children were teens. In those days the average person did not have a cell phone. Computers had text interfaces and so seeking information was possible, but photos and movies were not even considered a possibility.

I have come to know and cherish (yes, and sometimes curse) the new technologies. Cell phones have made it easier for people to meet, to decide on the basis of current conditions where and when to meet. Missing husbands can be found just by pressing the appropriate speed dial.

Facebook is a phenomenon that is amazing. I have found friends I’d lost touch with and relatives that I didn’t know existed. I can catch snippets of my friends’ and relatives’ lives without intruding. I can see their pictures the day they are taken, and all in the comfort of my home.

Blogs allow us to get to know people in an even deeper way. We can know what they are thinking, what they are doing, how they process their daily experiences, what they like to do, and what their dreams are. In fact, the internet, in some ways, is like having a big window through which you can watch the world go by.

But this morning, I felt I had entered some sort of new reality when I sat down to my computer, just before 8 a.m. and had a skype call (complete with video) from two of my grandsons who are currently visiting the other side of the family in Los Angeles. It was amazing to see them and talk to them and know that it they would soon be going to sleep while I was just starting my day. I could hear their younger siblings in the background. And best of all, it wasn’t costing anyone a penny! It’s the type of technology that my parents would have given anything to have.

It once again set me to thinking about the whole issue of how grandparents and grandchildren relate to one another. For me, having now been on vacation with a total of 7 grandchildren, it seems clear that spending leisure time together, unmediated by their parents, seems to forge the strongest and most affectionate ties. I feel now that I really know these children in a way I hadn’t known them before and we share now adventures and memories that are only ours. The better I get to know them, the more I appreciate them, and hopefully we are together creating memories that will last a lifetime. Try it, you’ll like it!

This week

It’s been a busy, but good week this week. On Sunday, the people who had been renting our second apartment moved out and I went upstairs to find it almost perfectly clean! So, instead of the hours of cleaning I anticipated, I did some laundry and washed the bathrooms and counters, and the apartment was ready for its new inhabitants.

My sister arrived early Monday morning. It was really good to see her and so far, it’s been a very nice visit.

Our new olim arrrived yesterday- mother, father, and 5 children. Wow! It’s got to be really hard to make aliya with 5 kids of school age. The whole family seems very excited and happy and we, of course, wish them an easy klita (adjustment to Israel).

At lunch yesterday, I had the wonderful experience of being slimed by my youngest grandson (heretofore to be known as “Cookie”). He had spouted onto my left shoulder earlier in the meal, but when I switched him to my right shoulder, he became a veritable fountain soaking my shoulder, arm, skirt, and the floor. It’s the first time I’ve had a real milk bath. However, Cookie is as lovable as they get and all of us just laughed and laughed and he smiled as we continued giving him smiles and kisses.

Today my sister and I took my husband’s computer monitor (Dell, purchased in November from Notebook Club in Kiryat Matalon, Petach Tikva, who refused to assist us in having it fixed/replaced despite our having taken it into Tel Aviv and having it “fixed” — only to conk out again a week later) back to Tel Aviv for repair/replacement. We were told they would replace it with a new one. We just want one that WORKS!!!

We then walked through Shenkin Street, through the Carmel Market, through Neve Tzedek, over to the walk by the sea, and then headed back to Azrieli Center, finally hailing a taxi at the corner of Melech George and Dizengoff. It was a long long walk. I think she had fun. I know I did.

A Party of 8 / Anniversary 43

If I had been smart, 43 years ago today, I would have prayed that my marriage would be happy. I would have prayed that it be fruitful and yield us a houseful of healthy, beautiful, bright children. I would have prayed that we would live to see them have children of their own.

I didn’t. I was so young and naive and trusting, I just believed that I was walking into a new and wonderful life. I never thought about the details.

And now here I sit with all of those prayers more than answered.

This past week we took six of the oldest grandchildren on a four day cruise on the Mediterranean to celebrate their having reached the age of bar/bat mitzvah (two of them well before the event). I roomed with the three girls and my husband was with the three boys. The children were wonderful. We had only happy times with all of them. They loved exploring the ship, watching the sunset, feeling the strong headwinds while on deck one night, and eating from the buffet. Most of all they enjoyed the land excursions to Marmaris (Turkey), Kos (Greece), and Limassol (Cyprus). They loved shopping and bargaining. They loved interacting with the people on shore.

What I loved was the time to get to know them when no one had to think about preparing meals or washing dishes or cleaning up afterwards. It was just pure pleasure to be with them.

The whole crew in Marmaris

The whole crew in Marmaris

Grandparents: Don’t miss an opportunity to do this for your grandchildren! (and I have a great tour to China that would be just perfect…)

Seeds and seafaring

This is a week of anticipation. On Sunday we will be taking 6 of our grandchildren on a cruise. This is not only a very exciting adventure, but it is a lesson in what we therapists call “seeding.”

Our grandson Daniel had his Bar Mitzvah a couple of months ago. Like his father, Daniel has a good sense of humor, and as he spoke about himself and his family, he mentioned something to the effect of our being tour guides and traveling and joked that for our information, he’s free to travel at the end of June.

We came home that night and the seed that he planted in my mind began to grow. Two years ago I had the opportunity to take my oldest grandchild with me on one of the tours I guided to China. We spent 11 days in Beijing and it was a completely wonderful experience. I was lucky enough to have some other young girls on the tour. The girls were 12, 13, 17, 22, & 24 — and amazingly, they really enjoyed being together and formed a little subgroup. Staying in the same hotel gave them an opportunity to get to know the neighborhood and feel at home there. We saw some magnificent sights such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City- which I talk about here and here and here , and the Summer Palace– a place where the group had a lot of fun! My granddaughter learned to bargain (she’s much better than I am) and she learned some Chinese words, and best of all, we now have a shared experience that was very very special.

It seemed to me that Daniel’s joking about a trip made sense and that there had to be a way that we could treat him to something special. My first thought was that my husband could take him somewhere. Unfortunately, an opportunity like the Beijing trip doesn’t come along very often– perhaps never again since it was pre-Olympics and now everything is much more expensive. Then I began to think, “why should he have all the fun!” and the idea began to form in my head. Finally we decided that we could go on a cruise and take advantage of the fact that the 3rd and 4th passengers in a room were half-price. So we decided that my husband would room with three boys and I with three girls. Our oldest grandson was unable to come with us because he has a bagrut, a Regents- type of exam on Sunday, the day the cruise leaves. So, we looked for the next younger grandson. Unfortunately, he had an end of the year celebration during the time we will be away, so we went for the next one. In the end, we will have three 13 year olds, one 12 year old, and two 11 year olds. We will have two brothers, two sisters, and boy/girl twins with us.

We will be visiting for a couple of hours each in Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus. We think it will be wonderful!

And the most amazing part is that the whole idea came from a little seed that Daniel planted in my brain. See how powerful offhanded jokes can be?

Training parents– Part 1

Well, since you asked….

Many people have the same concern: Why can’t my/my spouse’s parents understand that we are adults who are caring for our own children? Why do they think we can’t make healthy decisions on our own? Why do they think they have to tell us what to do?

The simple answer is that for some reason, these grandparents/ parents of adults forgot that their children grew up. They don’t know how to offer support without imposing control. The tighter they attempt to hold on to control, the stronger the adult child’s need to put some distance between him/herself and the parent.

Often, this creates friction in the younger couple. In general, people want to be kind and loving toward their parents, but the parents’ actions can make that difficult.

Let’s take David and Donna, two fictional people who we are meeting for the first time today. David’s parents live at a great distance from them, but they maintain telephone contact and most of the time the interactions with them are pleasant, if not extremely close. Donna, on the other hand, lives only a few blocks away from her parents. Donna’s mother calls her several times a day. She asks her what she is feeding her children for each meal, what clothing size the baby is, how much weight Donna has lost since the baby’s birth. In addition, Donna’s father needs to know how much money Donna and David are putting into savings each month and whether David has found a good financial analyst. He also asks Donna questions about David’s work that even she doesn’t know the answers to. On their frequent, unplanned visits, Donna’s mother checks out the amount of dust under the sofa and comments on the dirty dishes in the sink. Donna’s father suggests that the houseplants need to be fertilized and they are being under-watered.

Is it any wonder that David blows his top after every interaction with Donna’s parents? He resents not only their interference in his life, but also their interference in Donna’s. Donna too resents her parents badgering, but she feels angry when David points it out. She even sometimes says things like, “Oh, so your parents are so perfect– like if we all died they wouldn’t know until a week from Tuesday when they get around to calling again.” David, of course, then responds with something like, “Well at least they aren’t always in my face; your parents are suffocating me!” Donna, feeling defensive then responds with something like, “Well, at least they care!”

And so on.

The truth is that the problem is not with David and Donna. It is that Donna’s parents have not yet figured out that she grew up. She no longer asks them for money and she has made good decisions. But somehow, they haven’t gotten it that she grew up! Perhaps they are so used to being in control that they don’t know how to give it up. Perhaps they don’t know another way to be close to their adult daughter. And perhaps their life lacks other sources of connection and satisfaction.

Think of it… It take a lot of energy to be controlling. When would one have time to have fun?

Clearly, Donna’s parents are not going to change on their own. The change in the relationship has to come from both David and Donna. They need to redefine the problem as inappropriate boundaries. Simply put, Donna’s parents have been breaching the marital fence that David and Donna have constructed. Somehow or other, the “no trespassing” signs have not been seen or taken seriously. David and Donna need to strengthen that fence. Depending on the types of intrusion, there are several strategies.

Today let’s start with time boundaries


There should be clear “call” and “no call” hours. Donna’s parents should be informed that because of their family activities and Donna’s need for things like sleep and a shower and feeding the baby and cleaning and straightening and cooking, it is not a good idea to call before x hour in the morning or after x hour at night. If a phone call does come in at those hours, then David or Donna needs to politely say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time; can you call me at [and supply a time within the call hours]?” If they persist, say, “I really do want to hear what you have to say, but I need to put down the phone now. ‘Talk to you later. Goodbye.”

I know it sounds harsh, but it is necessary to be clear and consistent. Hints won’t make it! They need to know that there is no talking or listening outside of normal talk/listening hours.

Next time: Visiting time boundaries


One of the most amazing things about fulfilling a dream is that once fulfilled, one is again and again reminded of how it looked from far off and once again one can feel the joy of its having been accomplished.

One way in which I experience this is in my feelings for living in Israel. My first consciousness of Eretz Yisrael came when as a child I heard my maternal grandmother at the end of the seder tell the family that it was her intention to take the whole family to Israel next Pesach. I believed then and still believe today that that is what she truly wanted to do and probably would have, had she lived long enough.

In Sunday School and Hebrew School, we talked about Israel, but it wasn’t until I saw the movie Exodus that my longing to visit Israel began. It was only after a broken engagement that I got to see the land for the first time in 1965, and only after twelve years of marriage and five children that I returned in 1978. The real longing to live in Israel started then and intensified when our oldest son left the US to study at Hebrew University in 1984 and finally, after each child had come to live in Israel on his or her own, I joined them. My father-in-law and husband were the last of the family to arrive.

And you would think that after ten years in Israel, seven of them living in our own home, I would just take living here for granted. But you would be wrong.

Every morning waking up to the sweet smells of our garden, I am reminded of the beautiful place that I live. Each trip to Jerusalem makes me love her ancient stones more intensely. Our trip to Sde Boker and Ein Avdat brought me the awe of desert landscapes with colored sands and rich wadis and waterfalls. And last weekend, our shabbat at Karei Deshe allowed me to hear the gentle lapping of the waters of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) at night and to watch the sun shimmering in its waters in the day.

These places are not just places. They are spiritual landmarks, places where I meet God’s works face to face and experience a closeness to Him and a feeling of serenity and completeness.

And I think about what I hoped I would find when I got here, and I am awed that I have found so infinitely more.