Thursday, April 22, 2010

Note to Self

In ten years, taking care of five kids, I had never before managed the fantastically stupid feat that I did last night.

Note to self - when taking a baby to the doctor, where they will definitely check the baby's throat with that wooden stick, do not, and I repeat DO NOT, give your child an entire sippy cup of chocolate milk right before the check up.

Yes, indeed....lessons learned from a mortified mother covered in chocolate milk throw-up.

Another day...another parenting adventure.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mother of 5 Future Soldiers

We just finished hearing the siren for Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. As I stood in my office, looking out at the many Israeli flags flapping in the wind, I thought to myself, I am the mother of five future Israeli soldiers.

I’m not just the mother of five beautiful little boys.

I’m the mother of five soldiers.

Can you imagine?

We picked up our lives from Washington and moved to Israel knowing that we were bringing our two boys into a country where they would serve. Sure, everyone jokes that maybe by the time they have to serve we won’t need an army, but we all know, unfortunately, that it’s only a joke.

It’s interesting to see how the kids here are taught about the army from the earliest of ages. Yesterday, my three year old and five year old had a ceremony for the soldiers and two soldiers came to be part of it with them. The kids had all brought a special treat for the soldiers and had written notes to them.

Last night, what was Yehuda’s homework? He was to work his way through a paper that asked him what the letters of the Israeli army stood for, what the name of the head of the army was, and what a number of the emblems were. He and Matan sat there, identifying unit insignia and discussing what they know about the army. They are 8 and 10.

I remember three years ago going to a performance that Matan’s class did on Memorial Day. They were all dressed as soldiers and they re-enacted a battle scene. I had a very hard time watching the show; these were first graders dressed as Israeli soldiers. In America, the show would have been cute. Here, it was a little close to home for me – and it wasn’t dress up, but the future.

And that’s life here. I’m raising five soldiers who I will, someday, hand over to the State of Israel. And then they’ll belong to their country and to their people. And I’ll spend 10 or more sleepless years hoping that they are doing their job well and defending the homeland that we love, and that we’ve voluntarily brought them to in order to reach that moment.

As I listened to the siren today, my prayer to Hashem was that he should never let that siren be piercingly personal for me. Quite a selfish prayer. And at the same time, I thanked all of the families who have had to make that ultimate sacrifice.

It’s a confusing life we lead here – and one that is full of sacrifice, potential sacrifice, and an ever-present understanding of the realities around us.

Today, I feel like the weighted-down mother of five future soldiers.

But tonight, when the fireworks go off and we all move into a fantastically festive Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day)… Tonight – I’ll be the mother of five beautiful little boys again who have been brought to live in their homeland to celebrate THEIR freedom and their Judaism in a way that no children in the rest of the entire world are able to do so.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Remembering Our Soldiers

Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day)isn't like Memorial Day in America. I can't even say whether Memorial Day is in September or May in America - one of those holidays is Memorial Day and the other one is Labor Day, right? But what does Memorial Day mean to me in America? Certainly, I appreciate the soldiers who fell fighting for America, and I know the holiday is close to many people's hearts. But for me, and for most people that I know? It's an extra day off of school and work - and a chance to enjoy some good sales.

Not in Israel. Unfortunately, many people say that you've really become an Israeli and you've really adjusted from your Aliyah when you have someone to think about on Memorial Day. Memorial Day in Israel is raw, painful, and on-the-surface. Almost everyone in this country knows someone who has died defending it - whether it was in the Six Day War or last week.

We, too, became truly "Israeli" in this way, if you will, a few years ago when a family that we know in Efrat lost their son. Ann and Mordechai Goodman made aliyah with two boys, and then had 7 more children. They settled in Efrat and started a pizza store that has been very popular, and ever-present, over the years. I was teaching their daughters English the year that they lost Yosef, one of their sons.

What is so remarkable about families like the Goodmans is the decisions that they make after such a tragedy. Last year, when we went to Jeff's swearing in ceremony for the army at the Kotel, I saw the Goodmans from far away. I said to Josh at the time, "Oh my gosh - what are they doing here? They must be filled with memories. Do they really have another son going into Yosef's unit?"

To which Josh replied, "Of course they do."

And that, really, is the essence of what amazes me about these families.

Of course they do.

Of course they've allowed their many other sons to follow in their deceased son's footsteps and to join combat units.

Of course they have.

In Israel, once you've lost a child in the army, the army only allows a future child to be in a combat unit with the parents' permission. Can you imagine being given that decision? Read the latest article about the Goodman family, and join me in marveling at their resilience, Zionism, heroism and fortitude.

These people are truly what our country is all about - they are the reason that we've won so many wars, survived so much hardships and created this incredible country. I can only hope that we are raising our boys to show the valor and determination that the Goodman boys express in this article.

We remember these soldiers today who have fallen so that we may live here and be a testament to their memories.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yom Hashoah

We just heard the siren for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I am, understandably, having a hard time going right back to work. So, I turned to my blog to see what I wrote last year. I really don't have a better way to sum up my feelings - so I'm going to publish last year's blog here again.

Just two brief additions, if I may.

1. I went to a bris this morning, and it struck me how awesome it was to be at a bris on Yom Hashoah. These children are our future - they are the answer to Hitler and to the Jewish future - and to the future of Israel. A bris on Holocaust Memorial Day. A bris, no less, in Israel. What a sweet living testament to those who perished.

2. I'm always enthralled by Holocaust stories and by amazing people who seem to have survived the unimaginable. Even more so, I love to hear about huge families. Someone in Israel recently wrote a photo book about Holocaust survivors who are living in Israel and she took pictures of their amazing families. One picture is of the great grandmother and survivor, holding her 140th great grandchild. Then, there is a picture of the enormous - and I mean absolutely enormous - family that she created from the ashes of the Holocaust and that thrives here in the Jewish homeland. I read the article on Friday night and marveled at the story. Little did I realize when I read the story that they are our neighbors! One of the grandsons of this woman is a neighbor and friend of ours. I sat with the granddaughter over shabbat and got some of the story from her of this woman's amazing journey from Germany to Israel - where she now has something like 150 great grandchildren. Now, that's a great response to Hitler, don't you think?

Last Year's Blog:

We just experienced the annual siren for Holocaust Remembrance Day. There are few things as powerful in the world as knowing that your entire country is standing still - literally stopping whatever they are doing - in unison, at the same moment, to remember. Today, as I took my walk, I was thinking about Holocaust Remembrance Day, about what it means to me and about my life today. Josh and I are both lucky, and I think a bit unusual, to have no family that went through the Holocaust. All of my grandparents were born in America, or came to America shortly after birth. This means that I have to find other ways to think about the Holocaust and to honor the people who lived - and died - in this unbelievable time. While I was walking today, this is what came to mind.

I am the answer to the Holocaust.

The very fact that I was walking on Jewish soil - in my Jewish homeland - is the answer to the Holocaust.

My Jewish children are the answer.

My Israeli adopted soldier, and the many, many like him, is the answer.

We are the living, breathing answer to this atrocity.

How powerful it is to realize that the sheer fact that I live here, in Israel, screams out to Hitler that he didn't win.

It doesn't erase what happened, and it doesn't stave the incredible wounds that the people who went through this atrocity endured - but it is a living, breathing proof of the strength and dream of the Jewish people. And to be part of that gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

I was reading an interesting article last week about an older man who came here after the Holocaust. He said that Holocaust Memorial Day had an incredible impact on him a few years ago when his son rose in the ranks to be the head of the Israeli army. This is the answer to the Holocaust - this shocking contrast between the unspeakable horrors that our people endured and the building of a country to ensure that such atrocities never reoccur.

Today, it's truly mind boggling how necessary these reminders are with the events like the Durban conference and the hate-filled words from Ahmadinejad and those like him.

I often reflect on a survivor that I knew when Holocaust Remembrance Day returns each year. When we lived in Israel after college, Josh and I befriended a lovely woman in Kiryat Shmona named Esther. We would go to her house to talk to her and to keep her company. Esther was housebond and struggling with diabetes and other issues. Her husband, Eliezer, was often there as well, and they were sweet, gentle people. They had both survived the Holocaust and had shown up in pre-State Israel by themselves, completely alone and bereft of family. They built a life, had children and lived in a nice, small house in Kiryat Shmona.

One day, we arrived at their house and there was a feeling of intense and oppressive mourning. It was as if someone had died. I couldn't figure out what was going on at first, and then I remembered that it was Holocaust Remembrance Day. The house was filled with their ghosts and with their memories. I will never forget that experience or the feeling of being with Esther and Eliezer on that day.

While life here in Israel isn't always easy, and we are constantly reminded of those who hate us and want to see us obliterated near and far - it is amazing to feel that your life - the simple act of breathing and waking up in the morning - is an answer to history.

We are the answer.

The fact that I have five beautiful boys who are living and learning in Israel is the answer.

We aren't going away - and our lives are a living testament to the continuation of the Jewish people, in the homeland of our ancestors - in the homeland that those who perished in the Holocaust dreamed of having, and never got to see.

We are here as a testament to them, and we're staying.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Such a Cute Moment

I wrote here recently about how I'm trying to enjoy the brief moments with my kids in the morning on the way to school. Rather than trying to get them into the classrooms as fast as possible, and feeling stressed the whole time, I'm trying to enjoy their cute little hugs and walk them into class patiently.

Today was such a great reminder of how fast our kids grow. Every day, Amichai (5) and Eliav (3) escort Zeli to daycare with me. We then bring Eliav to his class, where he always gives me a huge hug and kiss. Then, I walk Amichai to class (or I bargain with him that he can walk alone and I escort him part of the way).

So, today, when we left Eliav, Amichai said, "Ew! Gross!" as Eliav kissed me goodbye. "Ew, gross?" I said to him in response. He's never said anything like that before and I was shocked! My heart fluttered - was this it? Was he really growing so fast that the hug and kiss days before school were over?

I was curious to see what would happen as I brought him to his class. I convinced him today to go down the stairs and part of the way to class by himself. So, as we parted, I could see his mind in conflict. Should he give me a hug in public? Should he just walk away? It was such a cute moment - but one that definitely reminded me how quickly they are growing!

So, after giggling and sort of dancing around, Amichai gave me a bear hug, but not a kiss, and skipped off to school.

Hugs and kisses from our kids are fleeting - we've got to grab them while we can.

Another lesson learned today by a busy mom juggling it all.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Another Great Stay-cation

It's an interesting thing - this religious vacationing. Most people plan out their vacation time and go somewhere with their families when they take time off. Since we center our vacation time around holidays, and we want to spend those holidays with friends in our yishuv, we tend to spend most of our vacation time at home. I think this is a very unusual way to spend vacation time, and one that poses a challenge at times.

And yet, when our vacation ends, I'm always amazed by how much fun we had at home and how much the kids got out of their time - without going away.

During Pesach, we were busy every single day and had a wonderful time. The first day after seder and chag, Josh took the three older boys on a camping trip.

This was the first time that Amichai, at 5, was invited along, and he was very excited to be part of the mix. They camped in a beautiful location right on the beach and enjoyed some great hikes.

While they were gone, I took the two little guys, and my in-laws, to the petting zoo in the yishuv next to our house. They provide guided tours there where they show the children all of the animals and talk about interesting things about the various camels, horses, turtles, rabbits, birds and more. Eliav wanted to go horseback riding while we were there. At three, he isn't the most adventurous child, and I was positive that he was going to put the riding hat on, climb on top of the horse, and scream to get him off! I was all prepared - but he actually went ahead and rode around the stable a few times. We were all so proud of him - and he talked about the horseback riding the entire week.

Another day we all went to the zoo and we spent a third day at a great park. A different day the boys had a great time riding bikes with their grandfather, especially since Matan and Amichai both got new bikes recently.

We learned of an incredible bird sanctuary right in the heart of Jerusalem across the street from the Knesset and went there one day to learn about and watch bird tagging. Finally, on the last day, everyone went to the beach and had a blast swimming, sunning and playing.

On the chag days, we were invited out to many different houses and we had a great time seeing our friends, enjoying meals together, and watching the kids play in the streets all afternoon.

Each night, the boys would stay up late watching a new movie with their grandparents or playing a game and enjoying the chance to be night owls. And then they'd wake up late (well, a few of them would anyway) and ask what the day's adventures would be.

I was sad to see everyone go back to school, and not only because I had to return to work. I enjoy giving the kids a chance to relax and to stay up late. With school six days a week, there is very little time to relax and enjoy their evenings without worrying about homework, deadlines, karate lessons, and more.

What a gift to have the chance to relax - and to learn to do so right in our very own home together!