Thursday, January 31, 2013

One Mom's Plea: We All Matter, A Lot

I've written a few times about how social media helped in our Aliyah process with Nefesh B'Nefesh. I was nervous and stewing over a number of issues, and I sent an email to a contact in Israel to pour out my heart. She, in turn, forwarded the email to a number of email groups in Israel and I was flooded with encouragement, answers and reassurance.

Sometimes social media is just silliness. Sometimes, it can change the course of your life.

And we are going to pray and hope that the later will be true for Noah.

A few days ago while I was checking out Facebook, my friend's post caught my eye. One of her friends was having an incredibly difficult situation and was crying out for help.

As Karen explains on the Facebook page that she built for her son, Noah, "My son Noah is 12 years old. On February 8 he will be 13. A teenager at last. This past weekend he posted on his Instagram account that he was planning to commit suicide on his birthday. He also posted images of his arm where he has been cutting himself for the past two months.

Noah has been dealing with bullying for the past year. He has been feeling alone and left out, ostracized from old friends and a misfit among new kids. Things begin to get better, and then another setback. He was once the life of the party among his friends; big man on campus at his first elementary school. Now his self esteem has disappeared.

Noah has been in therapy. I have been doing my very best. But he is in pain. I can't do this alone.

Noah is getting treatment in a hospital now. But it is still not enough."

And in a beautiful act, she turned to her social media outlets to make a difference for her son. Karen has created a page called "Letters for Noah" where she describes her goal. "He needs people to rally. Which is why I've created this page, Letters for Noah. I thought of it last night in the ER when I couldn't sleep. Noah needs to know that He Matters and that It Does Get Better. So many people have been asking me how they can help. Well, this is how:

Today I opened a P.O. Box. I am asking you and your kids to send Noah letters with a message of hope, telliing him not to give up. Help him see that He Matters and that It Does Get Better. Please send your letters to:

Letters for Noah P.O. Box 444 Simpsonville, Maryland 21150"

Karen's plea has started to receive some great attention. This article was just in Parenting magazine and she reports that the first of the letters have started pouring in. A blog was just created as well.

I cry every time that I look at Karen's Facebook page and every time that she reports on the latest developments. Our children are so fragile, and their lives and emotions can change so quickly.

What a powerful plan Karen has put into place. She can tell her son that he matters until she's blue in the face; or, she can show him hundreds - maybe thousands - of letters from people who say he matters and who show it with their actions and their words.

Let's use social media to shower Noah with letters of encouragement and love. She's hoping to get most of the mail by his birthday, February 8th. And even if you live far away, as I do, and don't think you can mail a letter the old-fashioned way, you can always re-blog this, join her Facebook page, follow Noah's progress and write a note to him from Facebook.

Because we all matter, a lot.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Beloved Neighbor

My neighbor just won a seat in the Knesset. While this may not seem like a big deal to many, it's completely astounding to me.

Until a few months ago, I'd only thought of Shuli as a fellow mom. With kids in nursery school together, we've often talked at the drop-off or pick-up from school. Shuli always - and I mean always - has a smile on her face and a sweet word for those around her. She's been very involved in the schooling within the yishuv for the years that I've known her, and my main interaction with her has been when I've needed to bug her about summer camp, Pesach camp and the like.

Little did I know when I was asking Shuli what discount I would get if I put two kids into summer camp, that I was discussing this with a future Member of Knesset.

It's enough to make you laugh. And enough to make you absolutely marvel at life in Israel and at the people with whom we live.

The woman behind this sparkling smile has had a life that would bring many to their knees. And instead, she's about to take the 12th, and final seat, with the Bayit Yehudi party and join the Israeli government.

Let me take you back.

Shuli, 47, was married to Lieutenant Colonel Moshe Mualem, commander of the Beaufort Battalion. He was killed in the twin helicopter crash over Sha'ar Yishuv in February 1997 along with 72 other Israeli soldiers. Shuli was left with two tiny girls to raise by herself after this tragedy. Starting on the day after the disaster for years until May of 2000, Shuli wrote letters to her deceased husband that she eventually compiled into a book entitled "My Beloved Mualem."

She did not, however, let her life continue on a dark path. She remarried a lovely, joyful man who also had children and together they created a life together, and had even more children.

She is also the vice-president of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization and she works tirelessly for their rights and needs.

And then, just a few years ago, Shuli was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent dramatic, invasive surgery and had a long recovery process.

From the outside, in the years that I didn't know anything about Shuli, she was simply one of the very friendly and sweet Israeli women that I've gotten to know.

And now, with all of the knowledge that I have about her, I marvel at the smile that is always on her face, as sincere and loving as could be. I marvel at the countless hours that she has spent over the years on petty details with the nursery school. And I marvel at the hope, energy and enthusiasm that she always seems to convey for life.

And now, I marvel that my sweet, unassuming and delightful neighbor is about to be a Member of Knesset.

I am deeply honored to live amongst people like Shuli Mualem Rafaeli. People who are continually showing me how to get the most from life, and how to move on and succeed despite the odds. Mazal Tov Shuli!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Wordless Connection

We went to a beautiful wedding on Thursday and had the great pleasure of sharing with our friends as they married off their son. These are people who are constantly teaching me about parenting by example.

And their wedding was certainly another example of how they parent and connect with their children. Escorted to the Chuppah by his parents, Dovid stood straight and tall and davened. Now, this is a very common practice in our circles. The groom, awaiting the biggest moment of his life, connects with Hashem for a few moments and tries to focus.

What was less common was watching his mother. Ruti, standing on Dovid’s side and looking directly at him, wasn’t adjusting her hat or smoothing out her clothing. She wasn’t checking out the audience and smiling at friendly faces; she wasn’t making sure that the last minute preparations were all in place. No, Ruti was standing directly facing her son and was wordlessly and motionlessly staring at him. She wasn’t trying to get into his space; she wasn’t speaking to him; she was simply standing there, looking right at him and smiling.

Someone leaned over to me and said, “What are they doing? Are they posing for pictures?”

To which I said, “No, you’re missing it. No pictures. Ruti is simply pouring her heart and soul into Dovid and his future.”

And indeed, that’s what it looked like she was doing. She was staring directly at her dear son, as he was about to transform his life, his status and his future. She appeared to be pouring every last bit of learning into him, reminding him without words of her love, of her faith in him, of her undying belief in the beautiful future he was starting. It was a breathtaking - absolutely breathtaking - scene that showed two people who were so present – so connected without having to verbally connect – so “in the moment” that everything else appeared to evaporate around them.

As a mother who has so much to learn from the mothers-of-boys leading the way, it was a stunning moment of faith, of pure love and of unbridled joy. May this be the beginning of a beautiful life for the bride and groom, and may their parents continue to inspire and teach me along the way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Enjoying the Llama Named Shampoo

January 20th is always a hard day for me. 26 years ago, on this day, I was sitting in a podiatrist’s office getting a cast off, when he asked if we’d heard the news. No, we hadn’t. That morning, while crossing the street in front of their school bus, a group of children had been hit by an oncoming car. And one had been killed – Donna, my childhood best friend.

It’s amazing how memory works. I remember those days as if they were yesterday. Going to their home; being there when her brothers returned from college and entered the house, praying that it was a misunderstanding; standing in her room by myself and looking around at everything that would eternally remain in its place; visiting for the shiva; sitting in the Rabbi’s office with the other kids from our class while one of her friends clutched a picture that had been taken just a few days before.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve had 26 years of life that Donna never had. It’s hard to think about the wealth of experience that she missed out on – the massive amount of activity that she wasn’t given the privilege to complete.

I’ve learned a few things from Donna’s death and have tried to incorporate those lessons into my own life. It’s strange to move from being a teenager who mourns for her friend to becoming an adult who mourns for her parents and the profound lose that they endured.

I look back at this picture of us and think of the sheer joy given to little people. That’s me on the far right, and that’s Donna on the far left. It’s impossibly hard to imagine that this picture was taken 38 years ago. I feel like I was just holding my first baby in my arms yesterday, and he’s about to have his bar mitzvah. How much more so must my parents feel confused by the passage of time? Where does it go? And how do we make sure to hold on to the moments as they are with us, even when we struggle with frustrations, fears, complications and more each day?

This, really, is the lesson for me on January 20th. Today, I get to cuddle with my baby when he wakes, sleepy-eyed from his crib, clutching his llama named Shampoo. Yes, there are lunches to make and big kids to get off to school, but those cuddle moments won’t come back. And I’m privileged to have been given them.

One thing that gave Donna’s mom peace of mind when she died was also quite an important lesson. Donna was a healthy 15 year old girl, and that meant that she often fought with her parents. She was growing and changing daily and her mom said that they often had conflict. That morning, however, as Donna headed out the door to school, they had not fought. She said that it had been an aberration – an unusually calm and peaceful morning and that this gave her great solace afterwards.

We never, ever know what is around the next corner. When I send Zeli off to school with a kiss, when I wish the big boys a great day as they walk out the door, I try very hard to make each parting a peaceful and joyful one.

Am I expecting tragedy at every turn?

Certainly not.

Do I always succeed with this goal?

Good lord, no.

But I’m trying to ensure that they separate from me with each parting in a way that builds their confidence and that gives them a good feeling. And that I can carry Donna’s memory with me through my parenting today, as I carried her memory through my adolescence and young adult years.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Show Me The Money!

I remember sitting in a shiur (lecture) a number of years ago and hearing an idea that I’d never heard before about money. There is a concept that Hashem figures out at the beginning of each year how much money you’ll be making for that year. So, should you lose a sum of money at some point, it’s not something to worry about or to fret over, per se, because it’s part of the larger picture of your year. And you’ll be provided for.

Nice in theory. In practice? A bit hard to swallow.

However, I had the strangest and most amazing experience this month along these lines, and it was the first time in my life that I’d ever felt this concept so directly.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we had a nasty situation with our last car lease, and we ended up losing quite a lot of money when we returned the car. I fought it, I cried, I called in the big guns – but nothing changed the situation.

Move on.

So, we did. We scrounged up money for a down payment on our fantastic new car and we chalked up the loss to living and learning.

About a week after we returned the car, I got a letter in the mail from the Israeli school system. Now, I taught elementary and high school for a few brief years when we first made Aliyah. It’s been many years, and when I get these letters, I usually ignore them since they make me look like this.

But I opened this one. And I read it, and then reread it, and then tilted my head to the side and said, “HMMMMMMM…”

And when I brought it to work and showed it to my co-worker who helps me with all of my Hebrew paperwork, he confirmed my suspicion. There is a program in Israel where many employers will put away money for employees each month. The money accumulates and can be accessed by the worker every six years. It's not intended as part of a pension plan - but as a way to have a lovely surprise every 6 years. It’s called “Keren Histalmut” and it’s the way that many people suddenly are able to go on a trip you thought they couldn’t afford, add on to their home, buy a car, or pay for a simcha. The amount of money varies a great deal depending on how much you make – but any way that you look at it, it’s a lovely perk.

So, apparently I had one of these when I was teaching. I thought I rolled it into my current package at my job, but apparently I didn’t. The fund started in 2006, and it was now 2012. The money was due – and it was all mine to take.

And – ready for this – it was exactly EXACTLY the amount of money that we lost on the car.

I had to laugh.

I decided that it couldn’t possibly be true, so I didn’t tell anyone about this interesting event. I went to the bank in Jerusalem where they told me that it was, indeed, my money and that I just needed to do X,Y and Z to claim it. By the next week, I had accomplished X, Y and Z and was back at the bank to file the paperwork. She told me I should see the money in my account within 10 days.

And yesterday – well, there it was.

I spent hours – literally hours...if not days – stewing over this lost money, wondering how we were going to afford a down payment on another car, how we were going to afford Matan’s bar mitzvah, how we were going to etc. etc. etc.

And while I stewed, a savings account that I had long forgotten about came due, and plopped the exact amount in my lap.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Orange Lunch Bag

Here is the culprit.

He stands accused of keeping Amichai from taking his ADHD medicine daily.

And apparently he's already been tried and convicted.

No one told me raising kids was going to be quite this complicated...or require quite this much detective work.

Let me take you back to the scene of the crime...


So, Amichai takes medicine to help him (and the rest of us) with his ADHD (emphasis on the H). He takes it three times a day, and there are no nurses in our schools like there are in the schools in the States. No one is handing him his meds or reminding him to take them. So, we bought him this cute little medicine container and he's been remembering to take it most of the time this year.

Until about 2 weeks ago. And then he stopped cold turkey.

Every day he would come home from school with those little pills still jangling around in their case, and every day I would ask him what happened.

"I don't know," he would say.

Wow - thanks Amichai.

But I started noticing that he wasn't eating all of his food either (and that is definitely NOT like Amichai), and then I got suspicious. So I prodded and poked, asked questions while standing on my head, and danced around every issue I could think of.

Finally, finally, finally, he told me that he doesn't actually take his lunch bag out of his backpack. He just reaches in each day and grabs whatever he can latch onto to eat. So, he doesn't see the medicine container calling to him.

"Okkkkkk" I said, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

"But why do you do that Amichai?"

"Because the kids laugh."

And my heart just fell out of my chest. These must be some of the hardest words in the history of the language for a parent. "Because the kids laugh."

Really, who cares what the issue is. When we, as parents, hear those words, we have an immediate need to find human size bubble wrap and to get to work wrapping our kids up forever.

And after many more questions, I got to the bottom of the situation. And then when I still couldn't possibly believe what Amichai was saying - his older brothers confirmed his story, although this particular thing hadn't seemed to bother either of them for the last 8+ years.

Apparently, according to these guys at least, Israeli kids don't have lunch bags. They just toss a sandwich into their bag, throw in some pretzels and add an apple. And they let the whole thing bang around in their bags, and become one with their books.

Don't ask.

So, Amichai, with his section-dividers and his cold pack and his cute little lunch tote, has been getting laughed at for....well...for having a lunch bag.

You can't make this stuff up folks.

Now, his lunch bag is bright orange and quite large. So, I decided to do an experiment. The next day I gave him a smaller, dark blue lunch bag like this one.


No jiggling - no jangling - no pills were left in the bag when he got home from school.

I held my breath. I didn't really want to get into the hornet's nest. But I asked Amichai if everything had gone ok at school today and if he had taken his pills.

"Yep, Mommy," he said, pointing to the new bag. "That was much better."

Sherlock Holmes is signing off..and hoping today brings another day of small lunch bags with pills that get taken on time.