Sunday, March 01, 2015

I Should Have Known…The Joys of the Unknown

I should have known that the bar mitzvah wouldn’t look exactly as we had envisioned, and that I would be tested in all sorts of ways. I should have known. It’s surprising that, after 13 years with this glorious child, I haven’t yet learned my lessons.

On the day that Yehuda was born, we woke our babysitter at about 6:30am to tell her that it would be a long day and that we would be bringing our 22 month old, Matan, early. She very apologetically told Josh that she had strep and that she wouldn’t be coming in today – for the first time since Matan started daycare at the age of three months.

It was a day of improvising and creative thinking.

And I should have known when my birth plan appeared to go up in smoke, as my water broke and my doctor (who was a friend) gently reminded me that they would have to induce with petocin, and that it would probably mean that I would need an epidural and would not have the natural birth that I envisioned. I got through without the epidural, but it was still the birth that was the most different from all the others and the one that challenged me the most. Yehuda taught me that the body can do incredible things even when others say it might not be possible.

So the creativity needed for the bar mitzvah, the flexibility and change of plans shouldn’t have surprised me in quite the way that it did.

All of our children teach us – they all help us to grow, to see our shortcomings, to learn flexibility. But somehow this child, of all of my children, helps me to grow and to really understand how much we are not in charge.

You know the expression that we plan and Gd laughs? Well, this appears to be the theme song of Yehuda’s bar mitzvah.

And we were taught over and over again that our plan is simply not the one that ends up happening sometimes – and to let go.

So I should have known that our meticulously made plans to go to Leket, to do a charity project in honor of Yehuda’s bar mitzvah, would be cancelled due to rain. And that the adventurous trip to Jerusalem with the family would be as well on account of snow.

And I should have known that the snow would start to fall exactly as predicted at 5pm on Thursday, leaving my dad and brother to make a decision in New York about continuing with their flight to us or turning around and going back to Sunny LA. (We missed you!)
Here are my brother and dad waving from the airport in New York.

And I should have known not to be surprised when I woke up Friday morning with a foot of snow on the ground to realize we had no water in the house. (Fortunately Josh figured that one out).

And I shouldn’t have been surprised Friday night as we sat around the beautifully decorated table celebrating Shabbat while thunder and lightning flashed and roared across the blankets of snow and hail crashed against the windows.

And then, the electricity shut off a number of times during the night, teasing me into believing that I would be serving cold food to our 22 guests the next day for lunch.

But then by the next morning, I was ready to roll with it when the eight of us packed up our bag on Shabbat morning and hiked through the snow and slushy roads to shul. It was quite cute, actually, watching all of us hiking together and making our way to Yehuda’s big day. Matan had a huge backpack on his back filled with our dress shoes, books, a ton of candies and baskets for handing out the candies.

And I managed to roll with it when we arrived at shul and discovered that my safety net was filled with snow. I had been worried for weeks about how I would keep the two little brothers quiet while Yehuda davened and layned his parsha (read from the Torah) and I was reassured knowing that they would play in the kids’ toy room (Midrash Chanan) set up for this purpose and that they could always go outside to play. As we arrived in shul, I realized that the toy room was locked and that the path leading to it was blocked by a thick blanket of snow. And that they would obviously not be going outside to play. Deep breaths. But it brought me right back to Yehuda’s birth and the call to his nanny with strep. And I had to simply put up my hands and laugh, once again.

Yehuda did a beautiful job in shul, the grandparents who were with us all managed to hike through the mounds of snow to hear Yehuda, and our food was even warm.

And then, Saturday night, I should have known it would happen when Eliav came down with a fever and what appeared to be strep. I hustled to find him a strep test, to get him medicine and to tuck him quickly into bed and pray that the morning would be better. (Thankfully, his meds kicked in and he was fine.)

And then, I should have known Sunday morning, the day of the party, that Yehuda would come in at 5am complaining of a sore throat. NO! I thought.


But it was.

And while Yehuda’s rapid strep test showed he didn’t have strep and the doctor was sure he was fine, the more accurate, overnight test the next day showed that he most certainly did have strep during his party.

And yet, he was composed and beautiful, spirited and joyous at his party as he toughed it out throughout the entire evening. He held it together, crashing the next day in a heap of strep-induced fever and chills – but not until the party was over.

The first of the bar mitzvah pictures...we are waiting for the rest!

Life isn’t always what we plan. That’s for sure. And truly, what I have learned from this child over and over again is that what really defines you in life isn’t what you plan and hope and assume.

It’s what you do with what you’re given.

It’s how you handle the stress of a foot of snow the day before the bar mitzvah and how you handle the water issues, electricity issues, grandparent arrivals and more. It’s how you handle yourself at  your party, pumped up on Advil but fighting through the strep to have as good a time as you can, and to even say “Thanks Mom and Dad” at the end.

And that, really, is the blessing and the lesson that I appear to be given throughout Yehuda’s life.

And I am grateful to learn these lessons through smachot (joyous occasions) because we are typically plagued with such challenges through painful moments instead. I gratefully approach each joyous moment with this mystical and magical child, ready for the next adventure and the next change that life appears to bring.

Mazal Tov Yehuda.

You were awesome.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Glimpse of the Snow-Mitzvah Fun!

It's the morning after the party and we are all still on a high. Pictures coming soon. But here is my speech from last night. I would share Yehuda's speech, but it's in Hebrew! Enjoy mine...

We feel very fortunate to find ourselves, ten and a half years after Aliyah, in a place filled with people with a love of Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.  We thank our family and friends for being here to celebrate as our cotton-ball carrying, thumb-sucking, chubby-cheeked Yehuda takes his place among his people.   We thank all of our dear family and friends for their friendship, support, love and for serving as such wonderful role models both for us and for our kids.  A few stand out for special thanks.  

Rav Matanya, for the love and caring that you show to the children of Neve Daniel.  We have laughed for years as our boys argue about whose Rav you are and we try to explain that you are the Rav of ALL the children.  To Yehuda’s hevruta, Rav Pinchas Langer…how amazing it is for us to have someone willing to spend part of his Shabbat afternoons to learn with Yehuda every week.  Rav Eldad Zamir who prepared Yehuda for his bar mitzvah, but more importantly, has served as a wonderful role model for our boys over the years. Netanel Kasovitz for learning Yehuda’s parsha with him and for being a great model of enthusiasm in everything that you do. We also want to say thank you to our families for schlepping, quite literally, around the world to be here with us and for all you do!  And we are sorry that Papa Rogie and Uncle Gary got stuck in New York and aren't with us here today. We miss you. Thank you as well, of course, to Josh for bringing us to this day, in this place, and for always being there for the boys and for me. Last, and certainly not least, we want to thank HaKadosh Baruch-hu for bringing us to this day…Shechiyanu V’Kiyamanu v’Higiyanu lazman ha’zeh.

In December of 2001, we had a few bachurim from Israel who were part of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Washington at our house for Shabbat dinner. We were in the midst of trying to figure out names for our second child.  We grilled them about Israeli names and had a great time asking them what they thought about this name and that. None of the names resonated particularly with us – but one of the boys was named Yehuda. And his respect, love of Israel and dignity resonated. Ironically, on the cusp of Yehuda’s bar mitzvah 13 years later, we ran into one of these bachurim when we realized that he was our dentist in Beitar  - and that he lives in Neve Daniel. What an experience that was – who could have imagined as we were playing around with names in Potomac, Maryland 13 years ago that we would meet up with one of those boys again in the dentist’s chair.

Then, the following week, Daddy came home from shul with a twinkle in his eye. “I found it,” he said. “The name. I’ve got it.” We had guests for lunch so he didn’t get a chance to tell me what it was that he had found, and I was burning with curiosity all through lunch. When our guests left he explained that it was parsha Vayigash and that while he was reading the parsha in shul, he realized that we had found our son’s name. In this parsha, one of the brothers stepped forward to confront the all-powerful Egyptian ruler, who he did not yet know was his brother Yosef, to beg for Binyamin’s safety and return to their father. His words were simple yet eloquent; controlled yet emotional; respectful yet firm.  What perfect traits! He refused to return to their father without his brother and he stood there waiting for Yosef to agree.

As we all know, this bold man’s name was Yehuda.

It amazes me how you can give an unborn child a name, how you can have an idea in your head of what your child should be, and find that he perfectly fits the bill. When explaining your name at your brit, Daddy quoted the same line that I just mentioned above.  We hoped then, EXACTLY 13 years ago today, that you would one day live up to those lofty expectations. We are thrilled to see that you are well on your way! Because you are, indeed, Yehuda. You are one of many brothers, and yet you are always the one looking out for the others.

In Parsha Vayetze, the parsha when your namesake is born, there is an explanation of the name Yehuda. When Leah names her fourth son “Yehuda” she explains that it means (haapa’am odeh et Hashem) “This time I will thank Gd." Interestingly, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai comments about this naming. He says that, since the day that Gd created the world, no one thanked Him until Leah came and did so. Could it be that no one had yet thanked Gd? What he meant by this was that Leah, through the bitterness and difficulties of her life, was able to see the beauty and joy with her son’s birth – she was able to appreciate the good in every situation, and the name Yehuda embodies this type of gratitude. And no one in the Torah, had shown this layered understanding of gratitude towards Hashem.

In your parsha, Terumah, which you read so beautifully yesterday, there is a focus on Gd’s instructions to Moshe Rabbenu about building the Mishkan and all of the ritual objects that it contains. At the beginning of the parsha every person is called on to donate his possessions. The language here is quite interesting as it says that Moshe should “speak unto the children of Israel that they take for Me an offering.” Normally, we would say that they should GIVE to me an offering – rather than TAKE FOR ME. The people are being asked to give and not to take. So why this choice of words?

This language is beautifully fitting for your personality, Yehuda, as it shows that the act of giving really enables the one who gives to take. The Torah is showing us that when you give – you really get. Your life becomes richer through your act of giving whether you are giving to Hashem, your community, your family, your friends or your school. If you think about it, as well, Hashem doesn’t really need us to bring all of our objects to build the Mishkan. He really is perfectly capable of building it himself. So why the list, over and over again, of what we should bring? Because by being part of something larger than yourself – by giving of yourself to your community and to Hashem – you help to build something special and you truly get in return. And this is the message of your parsha.

And we see this, Yehuda, in you already. In the ways that you give. You’ve run in the Jerusalem marathon for Shalva, raising thousands of shekels to help children with special needs. You worked hard to raise money for Sharei Tzedek hospital when Stella was sick. You and your brothers regularly collect food on behalf of Yad Eliezer. And with your bar mitzvah money, we’ve discussed ways that you plan to give of it, including being part of the Sefer Torah that the Sivans are having written in memory of your dear friend, Chanan.

We certainly hope that you will remember to give of yourself always – your time, your money, your energy – to the things that are important to you and to Israel.

As we started to talk about the painting that you would create for your invitation, I mentioned to you that the parsha is overflowing with color. It says over and over again that the people should bring gold, silver and copper. That they should come with blue, purple and crimson yarns. I love how alive and vibrant the parsha is through its descriptions. It is bursting with anticipation, with an explosion of colors, with promise. And you certainly captured this beautifully in the painting that you made for your invitation and your bencher.

Our wish to you, dear beautiful Yehuda, is that you should paint your life with these colors. That every moment should be captured with blue, purple and crimson and that you should light up the world with the colors that express your neshama as you continue to grow into the special man you are becoming each and every day.

You are a light to us. A light of vibrancy, color, energy and depth of character. May you show that vibrancy to the world in hues of blue, purple, crimson, gold, silver and copper as you continue to become the amazing Yehuda that we know you will be.