Sunday, June 12, 2011

The First Invitation...A Beginning

Many peoples’ lives take a linear path, like a non-stop, domestic flight. They know where they started and they know where they will end. They are born and raised in one location – and they remain in that place physically and spiritually as they age.

My life, on the other hand, has been more like an around-the-world ticket with many stops along the way. I know where I started, but have made many changes and stops along the way.

And sometimes when I stop to think about something from the past, it’s simply hard to imagine where I’ve been…or where I am today.

Shavuot is always a time for introspection for me – and a time to marvel at where the plane has landed.

15 years ago, Josh and I were newlyweds, starting out in Maryland. We had stumbled into a modern orthodox shul a few times, but we hadn’t yet really connected with anyone there or decided if we fit.

After trying out the shul a few times, I ran into one of the members at the JCC and she invited me to come for Shavuot. Josh was away for three weeks on a graduate school trip to Russia and Israel and I was all alone in our new apartment in Rockville.

I tentatively told her that I would come for Shavuot, and then I started to look into what this Shavuot thing entailed.

I went by the shul to speak with the assistant Rabbi, and I asked him to give me more information about Shavuot. I remember, when hearing that it was a two day holiday and that people took off work for it, thinking that this was simply beyond anything I was ready for.

So, I told my acquaintance that I couldn't come for Shavuot, and I was kind of hoping it would end there. Then, she invited me for Shabbat instead. I assumed that she meant for lunch, and I accepted.

Then, she said, “Ok. We have an extra bedroom. That would be great.”

An extra bedroom? What the heck would I need a bedroom for if I was driving over to their house for lunch?

And then I realized that she was inviting me for ALL of Shabbat – to come and stay with them.

Oh boy.

I was really nervous. Here I was, just beginning to put my toes into the waters of religious observance while Josh was thousands of miles away, and I was going to stay at some random couple’s house for 25 hours by myself while they had Shabbat.

Deep breaths…but I decided to say yes.

We had a lovely Shabbat and I got to know both her and her husband and to learn a lot about Shabbat. For dinner, we were joined by their neighbors and their two young sons.

After Shabbat, I wrote a long letter to Josh trying to convey to him the sense of community that I felt with them; the love that my hosts showed towards their neighbors' kids; the energy and enthusiasm that the young boys showed towards Shabbat; and the joy that I felt while I was with all of them. I told him that we had to find a community where we could raise children of this sort and that we needed to be part of a larger group.

Little did I know that we would, within two years of that letter, move into the cul de sac where all of these families lived and become part of their community and their family of close friends.

And, they would all be part of our journey towards becoming Torah observant Jews; they would greet Matan and Yehuda as they were born (and would even host the Shalom Zachor for Yehuda); they would become our closest friends; and they would encourage our path and enthusiastically support our eventual Aliyah.

And they would be there with Israeli flags waving, years later, on that early morning on July 13,2004 as we drove up the hill to our home one last time to say goodbye before heading to the airport for our Nefesh B’Nefesh flight.

You really never know where life is going to lead and you never know who is going to gently guide you on that journey to self discovery.

And you certainly never know whose invitation might just make all the difference in the world to a young couple starting out.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Noach at 40

I feel like Noach after the flood. Fortunately, rather than surviving a real flood, I have had the privilege of experiencing a flood of love and affection that I’ve been showered with over the last 40 days.

41 days ago, I was sitting in the family room, when the boys suddenly started singing “Happy Birthday to You!” I looked at them like they were crazy. It was, after all, nowhere near my birthday, and I couldn’t imagine what had gotten into them. Then, Josh with a sparkle in his eye, explained that this was the beginning of a 40 day bonanza leading up to my 40th birthday.

And, indeed, it has been.

While I have loved – and I mean LOVED – each of my gifts, the real gift has been in the sentiment. Watching Josh’s creativity and thoughtfulness has really been a gift all on its own. As has the amazing outpouring of assistance and love that others have shown to help him complete his mission. Josh asked for many favors along the way, and our friends were so giving and ready to assist. Whether it was Laura frantically running to our house after her incredibly long day to do my make-up for a wedding, Avi spending countless hours on the final graphic design project, Stella showing up at my office with a surprise lunch or Devora and Isha taking us in for Shabbat meals, everyone showed boundless energy and a genuine desire to assist.

In addition, Josh gave himself a budget of about…nothing…since he knows how stressed I always am about money. Had he bought me anything expensive, I would, undoubtedly, have gotten mad at him and ruined the surprise for the day. So, his creativity was even that much more appreciated – knowing that each gift came from the heart, rather than from the pocketbook.

It was also a great lesson for the kids. Each day, they asked, with obvious excitement, "What's the gift today? What's the gift today?" and they were often tasked with delivering the latest item to me with a birthday kiss.

For those who weren’t following our 40 day enjoyment on Facebook…or just for a great recap, here is a rundown o f the many gifts that I received. They were all perfectly thought-out, tailor-made for me and my needs, and full of unending creativity and love.

You are simply the best, Josh. What more can I say?

The gifts included: a rice cooker for the rice-burner (me), an apron for the messy chef, a pedicure, 2 rose soaps, bath moisturizer, body cream, movie night, dinner during the week cooked by Josh, Eshet Chayal song sung Shabbat day by all the kids, a Shabbat skit on the parsha, an entire Shabbat weekend that Josh cooked, two weeks of Shabbat meals out (thank you Levins, Levines and Esses families), portraits at the Shermans (thanks Mendel and the Shermans), a challah cover, a plata cover, a new outfit (that I didn’t buy yet), a picture mouse pad, a canteen covered with pictures, a flip book for me to brag about the kids, a tasting night for Jeff’s wedding (thanks Jeff), the full first season of Big Love (thanks Sarah), make-up done for a wedding (thanks Laura!), a necklace, a breakfast meal, a pita making afternoon, teas from the Shuk (thanks Sharon!), lunch delivery at work (thanks Stella!), flowers twice, new pajamas, shopping at the shuk, a shiur about Shavuot (thanks Sally) and of course, the final, amazing, photo collage (hats off to Avi).

With all of the excitement each day, I haven’t had time to focus on the impending wrinkles or on what it means to actually be 40. Hopefully, I’ll remain distracted by the love and attention I’ve received for a few more months, before I have to wake-up to the inevitable signs of aging.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Hope and Promise for the Future

It all started with an Israeli wedding.

In the year 2002, Josh arrived in Israel for a visit.

And, while he was here, he attended the wedding of the brother of our close friend, Itay Ziman. He called me after the wedding to say that he had never experienced anything like it in the world - and that it was almost impossible to describe an Israeli wedding.

And that it made him want to make Aliyah.

Years later, when we arrived on Aliyah and I attended my first Israeli wedding, it left me speechless as well. Weddings here are so full of simcha and joy, so enthusiastic and giving that they are hard to explain. There is no formality; just raw energy and unbridled enthusiasm.

So, we felt like we had come full circle as we watched our chayal boded's (lonely soldier's) wedding, an Israeli wedding that was now for our own soldier.

Jeff made Aliyah as a single 19 year old from Cleveland, after studying here for a year. He is a sweet, genuine and giving young man and we've had the joy of watching him grow and change through his army experience.

He and his bride, Devra, chose to get married on Yom Yerushalayim, the day that Jerusalem was reunited for the first time in 2000 years in 1967.

And they got married, of course, in Jerusalem.

At one point, Jeff stood under the chuppah, seemingly by himself. His parents were standing there in the background, but they were far enough back that he looked alone. It was such a poignant moment that it made me cry, watching this young boy, so full of promise and expectation, awaiting the arrival of his bride.

The sun was starting to set behind him and the band played a romantic tune of hope and promise; and there he stood with the outline of Jerusalem behind him and his future before him.

And it made me think about what an incredible statement of hope and continuity a wedding is. Jeff stood there, a soldier, a yeshiva student, a soon-to-be-husband, moving to the next stage of his life in Jerusalem, the eternal city of our people. And he did so on the day when we won back that eternal city and showed our incredible might and faith in ourselves.

He stood under the chuppah in Jerusalem, connected to thousands of years of his heritage; to boys who only dreamed of having such an opportunity during the Holocaust and to those who made it come true in the Six Day War.

It was a moment that I was honored to be part of, and one that I hope and pray to see fulfilled by my boys someday in Jerusalem as well.

(Jeff imparts words of wisdom to my two oldest - Matan and Yehuda - as he gives them a Bracha for their future.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

When a Mailbox Can Make You Smile

It’s certainly a funny thing when a mailbox can make you smile.

For a few weeks now, there has been construction in the center of the Yishuv by our mailboxes. And I’ve been wondering what they were doing, but I hadn’t taken the time to actually stop and look.

For those who don’t live here – we don’t get mail delivered to our homes. Rather, we have small mailboxes that are centrally located next to the Yishuv office and we go there with our keys to retrieve our mail.

So, the other day, I ventured over to the construction to see what was going on.

And it stopped me in my tracks…and made me smile.

The workers are busy adding hundreds of mailbox spots to our mail room.

That’s right. Our little Yishuv in the middle of Gush Etzion is growing by leaps and bounds.

We’re growing so much that we’re outgrowing our mailbox space.

And that, on this beautiful Yom Yerushalayim, when we reclaimed so much of our holy land 44 years ago, is as good a reason as any to smile.