Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Witness to a Birth

While taking my first real walk this morning since the birth, I realized that there are a few interesting observations from Yakir's birth that I haven't shared yet. While I was in labor, an Arab woman walked into the delivery room. I was pretty far along already, and was using all of my energy to focus and concentrate.

Time for a side note here already: When I was in labor with Yehuda 8 years ago, a clown walked into the delivery room to entertain me. Yes folks - you read this correctly. I guess women who have epidurals like to be entertained. But, those who don't have epidurals definitely do NOT want to be entertained and I almost killed the clown. It was all Josh could do to get him to leave the room before I found something to throw at him.

So, with that experience under my belt, I was wondering what this Arab woman wanted. My doula had warned me that there might be students coming through the delivery rooms at Hadassah and that I should think about whether or not I wanted to accept them in. This woman explained that she was a medical student and that she was hoping to watch a birth for the first time. I'm not sure why I immediately said yes, but I told her that it was fine if she stayed, as long as she didn't talk to me.

She stayed completely out of the way, and I really didn't notice her again, until after the birth. Right after giving birth, when the midwife put Yakir on my stomach, I looked up to find the woman crying. It was an amazingly powerful moment and one that I won't soon forget.

For a brief moment, in a delivery room at Hadassah Ein Kerem, we became simply people witnessing an amazing miracle of birth, rather than an Arab woman and a Jewish woman standing on opposite sides of thousands of years of fighting and differences.

She stood there crying at the birth of my Jewish baby - at the birth of a baby - and I marveled at how nice it was to be crying tears of joy together, rather than tears of hatred, strife and death.

If only it were always this easy.

But for one brief moment, at 5:11 pm on November 8th, it was.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome Yakir Yaakov: In Memory of Papa Jerry

The Brit of Yakir Yaakov ben Yehoshua Raion v'Reuma Michal Sussman

As many of you know, and have been reminding me for four years now, at Eliav’s brit in 2006 Josh closed by inviting you to the britot that we would be having in 2008 and 2010. While I hate to admit that the man seems to have navua – the facts are certainly on the ground…And so today I welcome you with incredible gratitude to Hashem to the Sussman brit of 2010.

As you probably know, we struggled a bit to decide on a name for this little guy. I had heard the name Yakir a while ago and put it in the back of my mind as a possibility. No matter what else we considered (suggestions from friends, the Facebook challenge or ideas from our kids) I kept coming back to Yakir...my dear or beloved one. While many will see him as 'the sixth son' or 'one of six' or 'WOW...SIX BOYS?!?!?', I view him as one of a kind original and a miracle from Hashem, just like every one of his five big brothers. In giving him this name, Yakir, it is our hope that he will always know how special and unique he is to us.

When we went to the sonogram where we found out the sex of the baby, I have to admit that I was a bit shocked. Could it really be possible that I was producing yet another boy? (One of Josh's former interns has since pointed out that the likelihood of having a family composition like ours is 1.5%!!) As we walked out of the appointment, with me in shock, Josh said, “Well, of course it’s a boy Romi. It has to be – this baby is, after all, Papa Jerry’s neshama.”

And indeed it is. My grandfather, Jerry Weinhouse, whose Hebrew name was Yaakov Yosef ben Birtie, died about 2 weeks before we found out that we were pregnant. I was raised around the block from my nana and papa and grew up in their home, and in their warm embrace, as much as I did in my own.

In so many ways, I feel an incredible sense of coming full circle with this brit and with the naming of our son, Yakir Yaakov and I’d like to share these thoughts with you.

10 years ago, Papa Jerry flew to Washington, D.C. to be able to hold his first great-grandchild during his brit. We were all a bit worried at Matan’s brit that Papa would drop the baby, as he stood there crying and rocking Matan in his arms, but Papa couldn’t have had a prouder moment in his life. Today, I feel like we are holding Papa in our arms as we name our sixth son in his memory.

My papa earned two purple hearts during World War II as part of the American army. He was shot in the leg and bombed out of a tank…and certainly could never in his wildest dreams have imagined the creation of the State of Israel – let alone have imagined that one of his grandchildren would someday call this place our home. Today, as we come full circle, I feel a sense of astonishment and pride, considering that Papa’s 11th great grandchild, being named in his honor – will someday serve our country, but as part of a Jewish army, and in OUR Jewish nation.

As the birth grew closer, and I started to look ahead to see which Parsha the baby would probably be born during, I was, once again, stunned. The baby was scheduled to be born, according to his due date, during Parsha Toldot – when we first meet Yaakov in the Torah. And, of course, he was born right after this Parsha, and during Parsha Vayeitzei, when we first meet Yosef. Could Hashem be speaking more clearly to me? At the beginning of parsha Vayeitzei, Yaakov sees Hashem in a dream. Hashem explains to Yaakov that the ground upon which Yaakov lies will be given to Yaakov and to his descendents and that his offspring will spread out in all directions. He promises to guard Yaakov wherever he goes and that he won't forsake him. Here we are, thousands of years later, on the very ground that Hashem promised to the Jewish people - creating the descendents that he promised to give to Yaakov- and the descendents of my own Yaakov, my grandfather.

Finally, a last example of coming full circle. When Papa died, Josh took it upon himself to commit to saying Kaddish for him for the entire year. It has not been an easy commitment. While traveling for work, juggling family life each night, and dealing with a complaining wife who was often heard saying, “It’s time for minyan again? Already?” he has said Kaddish with compassion and grace all year for my grandfather. I want to publicly thank Josh for taking on this commitment for me and for Papa. As Josh finishes saying Kaddish in the next 10 days, I have, yet again, a profound sense of coming full circle. While moving away from the ritual of saying Kaddish, we will continue remembering my grandfather now, through the very existence of our son Yakir. Thank you Josh for the incredible commitment that you’ve shown to me and for keeping Papa’s memory alive all year.

And so, today, we welcome Yakir Yaakov ben Yehoshua Raion into our family, our incredible community here in Neve Daniel, and our greater community as part of Am Israel. My Papa was fiercely loyal to family and madly in love with his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was a man of dreams, picking up his family from Chicago for a better life in Los Angeles and a man who adapted remarkably well to change, remarrying in his 70s when my grandmother suddenly died, and then finding love in his late 80s again in his senior home. Our bracha for our son is that he follow in his namesake’s footsteps, as a courageous, loving, devoted and adaptable part of Am Israel and Eretz Israel.

Thank you all for being with us today. We feel overwhelmingly blessed in our professional lives, in our family life, in our community life and in our life here in Israel and we appreciate the part that each and every one of you plays in our lives today. Mazal Tov!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning Through the Fear

It’s over. Thank Gd.

And at the same time, I know it’s just begun.

It’s hard, with the fear of the birth looming over your head, to think about too much else. And so, I was hoping that when I got to the other side of that fear and that reality, that I’d have a few minutes to look back and reflect.

Last week was, to say the least, quite stressful. By the time I delivered “6” (his temporary name) yesterday, I was 10 days overdue and felt like a 100 days over. During the last two weeks, while I was definitely miserable and nervous, I was also able to appreciate some wonderful moments and some great experiences. Here are a few of these observations.

1. I felt, particularly once my due date arrived and passed, like the Sussman family was being held in a warm embrace by just about everyone we knew. Yes, by the time we actually delivered, we were tired of hearing people say, “NU???” (which means, “So? News?”) but I definitely felt that the entire community of Neve Daniel, our work environments, and our families were all holding their breaths and waiting for that exciting moment to arrive. I felt like they were in it with us, if you will, and that so many people were encouraging, hoping and counting the minutes to hear the good news. It felt very supportive and also reminded me just how much our children are not just part of our small families – but part of our larger families, our Neve Daniel family, and Am Israel. We were delivering a baby for ourselves and our family – but it was being welcomed into so many other communities that were beyond our immediate family.

2. Reflexology – Getting desperate for the baby’s arrival, I went to a friend in the yishuv on Friday for reflexology. Now, I’m not a big proponent of alternative medicine. I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t work – I’m just saying that I have no experience with it and don’t usually turn to alternative sources for help. I am, however, quite open to the possibilities of these methods working, and I was willing to give it a try to see if it would work. While the reflexologist was working on my feet, I was suddenly overcome by so much pressure in my uterus, that I thought my water would break on the spot. She had not been telling me what area of the foot she was working on, or what this area connected to – I was just feeling intense pain and pressure. After a few minutes of this incredible pressure, she said, “Do you feel that? I’m working on your uterus right now.” I could not believe it! She worked on many areas of my body during the 45 minute session – but the only thing that felt a dramatic change was my uterus. It was really an incredibly powerful experience and one that has given me more reason to explore alternative medicine of this sort.

3. Kever Rachel – Rachel Imanu is buried only about 15 minutes from our home, and I’ve never been to her kever. Rachel was unable to have children for many years and she prayed a great deal to Hashem to allow her to have children. For this reason, her kever is known as a place where people go to in order to pray to conceive, to have a healthy baby, etc. Josh suggested last week that, after going out to brunch on Friday, we take a trip to Kever Rachel. In my usual fashion, I really didn’t feel like going and I wasn’t feeling well….but Josh convinced me that it would be a great experience and a good opportunity. When we got there, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been before. It’s literally 15 minutes from our home. It was a very moving experience. As I was in Kever Rachel, praying for an easy birth and a healthy baby, I realized all of the connections that I had at that moment to this place. We are planning to name the baby for my Papa Jerry, who died 10 months ago. Papa’s Hebrew name was Yaakov Yosef. Here we were at Rachel’s Tomb, praying for a healthy baby. Rachel was praying to give birth to a healthy baby with her husband – Yaakov. And, of course, when she finally did have a baby it was….of course, Yosef. The irony of the moment and the significance of my prayers were not lost on me as I prayed there, tying together thousands of years of history.

As I prepared mentally for the birth and tried to deal with my fear (yes, even a sixth birth can illicit massive fear), I kept thinking about how often we have to move through something difficult to get to something wonderful. I understood (at least conceptually) that the pain of the birth would lead to a beautiful, amazing birth and to a baby. How true is that in life in general. We are often forced to deal with things that are uncomfortable, scary, and even debilitating, only to find joy and fulfillment once we move through that difficult stage.

And now that the difficulty of the birth is behind me, I look forward to the many, many years ahead with our beautiful new baby – who will, Gd willing, be brought into the covenant of his people, under the protection of his community and within his very own homeland.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Many things about this pregnancy and eventual (Gd willing!) birth have made me feel like I've come full circle. Most of these thoughts will be shared after the baby is born. There is one, however, that struck me recently and that I wanted to share.

When we first arrived in Israel 6 years ago, I was pregnant with our third boy, Amichai. We obviously knew nothing about the birthing procedures in Israel, about the hospitals, about finding a doula - or even about the vocabulary of birth. How do you say "Push!" or "epidural" or "contractions" in Hebrew? Hmmmmm.....

So, one day we were sitting at Pizzaria Efrat when the owner, Ann Goodman, sat down with us. We had never met her before, and she suddenly started telling me about giving birth in Israel. With nine children, Ann was certainly an experienced mother and the perfect person from whom to gleam advice. She was so cute. She took out one of those boards that you use to put your pizza on, and she created a glossary of necessary birthing terms for my use. We carried that pizza board to the hospital with us and actually checked the terms at times through the birthing process. I certainly won't forget her enthusiasm, kindness or help!

So, last Friday, Josh and I were at the mall in Talpiot when we stumbled into the Body Shop to buy some creams. Rather than allowing me to look at the creams, the young, clearly pregnant sales girl started firing questions my way. She was 8 months pregnant with her first, and when she found out from Josh that this was going to be our 6th, she simply couldn't stop asking questions. Was I happy at Hadassah, Ein Kerem? Would she be ok at Sharei Tzedek Hospital instead? Had I hired a doula? What was natural childbirth like? How long was the recovery after birth? and on and on and on....

I enjoyed the conversation, and really felt like I had come full circle. Four births in Israel later, I was standing there as the "expert" rather than the "novice" and offering my advice while using the extensive birthing vocabulary that Ann had started for me six long years ago.

So often, we simply go through our day without the time or energy to evaluate where we've been and how far we've come. It is moments like these that remind me of the incredible journey of aliyah that we've been on - and of the progress and changes that we've undergone in our six plus years here. Soon to be four births in Israel later, I can't wait to welcome another sabra into our family, our community, and our country and to sit back, for even a brief moment, and marvel at the length of the journey we are traveling and the process of growth and change we have experienced.