Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Rhythm of Jewish Living

My kids have no idea that Christmas is in three days. No idea. Come to think of it, I'm not sure they even know what Christmas is! Why do I say this with glee? Because growing up in a minority culture and religion, we, as Jews in America, are inundated with Christian holidays and Christmas spirit our entire lives. The moment that Thanksgiving ends (or maybe Halloween?) you can't get to a mall without hearing Christmas music and seeing Santa Claus. And Chanukah becomes a holiday that competes with Christmas. We are told that we don't need to celebrate Christmas - not because we have our own amazingly unique and rich culture and heritage - but because we've also got a holiday with presents. So, don't worry little kids because you won't be left out.

The beauty of living in Israel, as I see it, is that my kids are never left out! Rather than be the minority - they are IT. They are the main attraction. Chanukah is THE holiday - not the holiday that comes around Christmas time and allows Jewish kids to feel like they aren't missing out.

And so, this year, I relished in enjoying Chanukah with hundreds of our fellow Jews in Eilat. Eilat is the place do go to in the winter, since the weather is so mild. We delighted in celebrating together on a speed boat, a banana boat, at the aquarium, at the waterfront, and more. And, we loved being accompanied by Josh's parents for all of our adventures! (Yes, they are still recovering from our rambunctious children with their never-ending energy levels...not to mention from the lack of one sleep machine that took a beating from my darling children).

One evening, when I went to retrieve our pizza from the front of the hotel, I was completely struck by the Chanukah atmosphere. The hotel was all on one level, with large open areas outside of each room. With Chanukah candles, you are supposed to light them to project out into the world to publicize the miracle. As I walked down the open, outdoor corridor, there were Chanukiot lining the walkways and large groups of people hanging out around their Chanukiot and chatting.

Through the ages, Jews have hidden their Chanukiot and faced persecution for trying to light them; even in modern times, we hear an isolated story here and there each year about a family that endured taunting when they placed their Chanukia in a public location. What a beautiful and powerful display to be in a public hotel - and to see Chanukiot everywhere and people enjoy their chag together in peace and freedom! Here's to another great holiday in Israel!

Going to the Dermatologist...or so I Thought!

It’s the small incidents in our lives that remind us that we are, indeed, still immigrants – and that we are destined to be so forever.
Deep sigh….

Matan and Yehuda both needed to see a dermatologist. So, two months ago, I called to make appointments. I was told by one office that a dermatologist on our health plan no longer works in Gush Etzion, but was then told by the next place that there is still a doctor around.

What luck! So, I booked two appointments ages in advance so that the boys could be taken to the dermatologist.

Last night was the date for their appointments. Josh rushed home from work…I rushed out to get them out of karate class early. I had to switch carpools for the karate pick-up with another parent…and we dashed over to the doctor’s office. I had a bad feeling from the start, since I couldn’t quite remember which office we were supposed to go to, or how to find the dermatologist. When we got there, we did see a dermatologist’s name on the door, but no one was in the office.

Fortunately, the secretary was still in the back, although she wasn’t technically working anymore that evening.

I peered in to talk to her and begged her to look up their appointments and to help me to understand where we were supposed to be.

“There’s no dermatologist in the building tonight,” she replied.

“Um,” I mumbled, feeling more stupid by the second, “there has to be.
I have an appointment for these boys!”

She looked up the appointment and announced that I had, indeed, made an appointment – with a Rheumatologist! A what?! I tried to explain that it just wasn’t possible, shaking my head and trying not to cry the entire time. Of course, my complaints grew quieter and quieter as I realized that I was definitely having an immigrant moment – and not one that was going to turn out well!

Well, I've learned to call the day ahead of time to confirm my appointments. I've learned what a Rheumatologist is. And...I've learned that I am, indeed, still very much an immigrant.

Just another day in a foreign country we call home.

Now, how exactly do I find a dermatologist and make the right appointment?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My Papa Jerry

My Papa Jerry just started receiving hospice care. I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised. He’s 91 after all, and it’s certainly inevitable that he would deteriorate at some point. But, somehow that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

I’ve been trying, for the last few days, to figure out how to sum up what a grandfather’s life means to his granddaughter. Words simply don’t do his life justice.

The main theme that I keep returning to, however, is adaptability. My Papa certainly knew how to adapt, and this lesson is one that I believe will be very important for me during my lifetime. I, for one, always assume that the life I have now is the one I’m going to continue to lead. Papa learned adaptability in so many ways throughout his life, and I’ve been so impressed watching how he’s adapted to the curve balls that I’ve seen him deal with during my lifetime.

Born and raised in Chicago, he was busy fighting in World War II and earning two Purple Hearts when my dad was born. He returned to Chicago for a few more years, having two more sons and trying to make it financially. Eventually, around 1950, he decided that opportunities awaited in California, and they packed up for what must have been a terrifying, life-altering journey away from everything that they knew and away from all of their family.

Flash forward many years...Papa has managed to outlive three wives/significant others - certainly not what most statistics for male life expectancy usually show. I remember vividly when my Nana died 23 years ago. Papa spent many - many - lonely days sitting on our reclining chair in the family room staring into space. What would he do with himself now? I would return home from school each day and cry for his loneliness and his void.

And then...one day he picked himself up and moved on. He met Lil and got remarried. At his second wedding, on Pebble Beach, we stood outside in the beautiful scenery as the bride and groom were about to appear. I couldn't help but laugh, watching strangers await the beautiful young bride and the handsome groom - only to then see a couple in their 70s appear to get married! What a statement of hope and longevity to remarry at that stage.

Papa spent a number of happy years recreating a life for himself with Lil, first in Palm Springs, then in Northern California. Eventually, his heart led him back to L.A. to be near his family. He adapted, once again, at Westwood Horizons and quickly made friends in his new surroundings. To all of our amazement, he managed to find another great woman with whom he enjoined companionship and comfort. Freya was a vibrant, incredible woman and it was a joy to watch the two of them together.

Through it all, Papa has continually shown the ability to adapt to his surroundings and to change with the changes in his life. He used to smoke cigars, and he claims that he simply stopped one day when I refused to kiss his stinky breath. This is my Papa - adaptable...fiercely in love with his grandchildren....passionately proud of his three successful sons....and truly devoted to his family.

Living far away from family means constantly having to say goodbye. For the last fifteen years, I’ve cried every single time that I’ve walked out of his house or his senior home room, knowing that it very well might be the last time that I would see him. And then, of course, he’d be there the next time to greet me with his warm smile and the sparkle in his eye. And I’d always feel a little silly that I had cried when saying goodbye the last time. Because, of course, Papa would always be there.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel silly anymore.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Talent That Skips Generations

I love seeing how artistic Matan and Yehuda are. And I'm not just saying that because I'm their mom. I am incredibly - depressingly - ridiculously - NOT talented when it comes to drawing, painting, clay work, etc. and I'm amazed when they can draw a bird in two seconds, or create an elephant out of clay, or paint Har Sinai with the flick of a wrist.

I love it even more because both of my grandmothers were artists in their day. Neither one, actually, was particularly artistic as a child, but somehow they both became more artistic as they aged. Both of my Nanas were amazing with clay, sculpting masterpieces that they displayed around their homes, and that my Nana Lee still has all over her house. Nana Shirley was also an artist with watercolors and paints, and we all have her work around our homes.

And here come my little boys - replicating their talents in an innate, incredible way. Matan had to make a Chanukiah to bring to school and he whipped up this one in less than an hour. I find it truly puzzling and intriguing how talents skip generations and then suddenly reappear.

May my boys continue exploring their many talents and expressing their creativity as they grow and change. And may we all enjoy a beautiful, peaceful and festive Chanukah this year.