Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Scarlet Letter I

Yes, ten years later I understand full well that I’m still an immigrant – and that I will always, always, be one. Most of the time, my immigrant status doesn’t really come into play. I live in a wonderful yishuv where I know almost everyone. Many of my friends are English speakers and those who aren’t know that I’m not the most fluent Hebrew speaker in the world – but that I get by. I’m comfortable. I read the emails from my kids’ schools, I help them with their homework (well, some of it) and I read the notes the teachers send home. I get the bills paid in Hebrew, the gas balloons refilled and everything accomplished.

But it’s when I have to step out of the bubble that I’ve created for myself, out of my comfortable American-living-in-Israel world, that I realize just how brightly I wear the SCARLET "I."

On Thursday night, we had a lovely evening at Matan’s yeshiva high school, Sussya. The evening was for all of the parents with boys in the school and included davening (praying), learning Torah, dinner and a discussion with Matan’s teacher. It was a perfect night and we were very much looking forward to hearing about the school and getting to know his teacher better.

Josh dropping Matan at Sussya for his first day of high school.

When we got to the school the men went to daven with the boys while the women milled about a bit. And I have quite a number of friends from Neve Daniel whose children are also in the school, but they hadn’t yet arrived. So I stood there, in the periphery of a number of women who were chatting, hoping that no one would talk to me. Yes, I wrote that correctly. I’m really quite social and I enjoy learning about people, but the thought of starting conversations with strange women in Hebrew was a bit overwhelming for me. I looked around and realized, both with pride and trepidation, that this is REALLY an Israeli school.

There are a handful of parents who speak English, and therefore a handful of boys – but really only a handful. In fact, Matan is the only pure native English speaker in his grade. We are incredibly proud to see where Matan has gotten himself, and how comfortable he feels in this environment – but boy is it new for us!

So I shuffled over to the bathroom and got in line (after all, it is a boys yeshiva, and there is only one bathroom for women on the whole campus). And the woman in front of me said “Hi” and I had a feeling that she spoke English. I asked her, and when she replied that she was, indeed, American, I actually said to her, “Will you be my friend?”

I still can’t believe I said that, and she definitely looked around, seeing if perhaps she was the victim of some weird practical joke. I laughed, unable to believe that I had really said that, and then explained that I felt awash in a sea of Hebrew, of Israeliness, of life outside my bubble.

So we started to talk and she was very sweet. And then many of my friends arrived and the night carried on. But a few times during the evening, Josh and I turned to each other and said, “Man, we are out of our element!”

And we both agreed that we felt more like immigrants during the course of the evening than either of us remembers feeling in years.

We understood every lecture and every discussion – that wasn’t the problem. We just both felt like people were looking at us and thinking, “Wow, what are those Americans doing here?”

The school is absolutely amazing. They have a framework at Sussya within which the boys will learn about and explore the entire country from top to bottom. They go on 8 one-week trips in the course of their four years to every corner of the country in addition to their weekly trips every Friday. But they don’t go as tourists.

Picture taken by a Sussya boy from the website.

They are leaving for their first trip in two weeks to Masada and the surrounding areas. Matan showed us his packet of information that he has to study and complete which includes history assignments, geology, geography, map reading, archeology and more. The boys turn the packets in before the trip and then take a test. And if they fail the test – the bus leaves without them. Period. And during the trip they hike, learn, explore, and sleep in sleeping bags on the ground…no tents. No frills here.

Dinner in the fields - picture taken by a Sussya student.

Matan’s Rabbi (who teaches most of his Judaic subjects) explained that his phone is always on for the boys and that his home is always open (within reason of course). He has an evening every other Tuesday night for the boys to come to his house, eat his wife’s cooking, sit on their couches and hang out. They discuss all sorts of life issues and enjoy an evening away from the school while being mentored.

The school is magical and we are so proud of Matan for fitting in where we see ourselves so sorely lacking. I always knew that making Aliyah would mean that I was an immigrant, and that I would probably feel like one off and on for the rest of my life. It’s just funny to see myself so out of my element and out of place while watching a child of mine who is so clearly in his.

And this, after all, was our goal of Aliyah. To have children who feel completely Israeli, who love their country and love the idea of exploring every inch of it in the language of their ancestors.

Just because I feel like I wear the Scarlet “I” doesn’t mean that my eyes don’t glisten with the tears of joy at watching that my children most definitely don’t – and won’t – ever.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dancing Through the Wrinkles

I’m always amazed by the tapes that play in my head. This morning, I was taking pictures of Yakir to show Josh (who was already at work) the funny bed head Yakir had (yes, this is what we do to fill our time). 

So darn cute...bed head and all

And while I was taking these pictures, Yakir and I started having fun and ended up with some delicious pictures. After I got the kid to school and was able to look through the pictures, I thought I might post a few to Facebook.

They were, after all, so darn cute.

But then I saw them.

My wrinkles.

So many wrinkles.

Where did those wrinkles come from? Maybe, my tapes said, I shouldn’t post the pictures because then people will, you know, see that I have wrinkles.

Fortunately, I turned to those tapes and said to them, “Really? Has it come to this?”

And I threw them out the window (the tapes in my head, not the pictures) and posted the pictures. I wanted to put a disclaimer on the pictures (“Ignore the wrinkles!”) and then I realized just how insanely ridiculous the idea was.

I find that we, women, are so darn critical of ourselves. I’m sure not all women are – and I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who beat themselves up – but it appears that women have perfected this skill.

Rather than looking at the love, the adorableness of my bubbly 3 year old, I see my wrinkles in these pictures. And I realize that I do this a lot.

We’ll be on vacation with the boys and we’ll take pictures. And as soon as I see the pictures, I’m looking to see if I was caught at a bad angle. If I look fat in the picture. If all is ok.

Instead of seeing the crazy joy my kids are showing or the exciting thing we are doing, I’m looking for fat rolls and double chins.

I read this article yesterday about what people most regret when they are about to die. I’ve read articles of this sort before and I assumed that it was going to say the same cliché things we’ve all heard. But this article was different and fascinating.

It said that people regret how they’ve treated their bodies and how mean they’ve been to themselves.

One interviewee from the article said, “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through the world.”

And then she continued, “And I’m going to have to leave it. I don’t have a choice. And to think I spent all those years criticizing how it looked and never noticing how good it felt – until now when it never feels good.”


Obviously it’s important to maintain a decent weight and to eat as well as possible. But the tapes in my head go beyond this need. And try to ruin the great moments that life offers.

Why, anyway, is fat seen as shameful? Why am I embarrassed by the extra weight I’ve gained this year? Frustrated...fine. Hoping to lose the weight to fit more comfortably in my clothes…fine. But embarrassed? Why? Of what?

So I’m going to continue working on throwing those tapes out the window. Even when the tapes remind me that I don’t look like a model and that I’m no longer 25…I’m going to keep chucking them.

And dancing to the music of my life made by six adorable, loving, rambunctious boys and their father.

Romi Sussman

Neve Daniel