Monday, March 18, 2013

Dreams Do Come True

Dreams do come true. And it is so lovely to see when it occurs – whether they come true for us or for those we love.

There are so many areas in life where we see that things are not always fair – or equal. And this theme has occurred over and over again in my life as I have watched my friends go through their child bearing years.

One of my oldest friends has struggled for years to have a baby. She has a healthy 9 year old. Then she miscarried. Then she became pregnant, to her and her husband’s great joy. Around the 20 week mark, they were informed that the developing baby had a diaphragmatic hernia and would have a 30% chance of long term survival. But they could hear the heartbeat already, and she felt the baby kicking. She couldn’t give it up.

And so, they valiantly continued the pregnancy, gave birth to the baby, and watched her fight. And baby “T” fought like a champion, through a surgery and many procedures. And she appeared to be doing well..until she wasn’t. She died in their arms the day before my 5th son was born.  They went on to try to conceive again and had a very difficult time doing so. Finally, with the help of medical intervention, she conceived twins. They were ecstatic until she lost one at 10 weeks and had to deliver the other around 18 weeks.

As I’ve moved through my childbearing years, it has been very difficult to watch my friends struggle in this way. Why does one woman have such an easy time getting pregnant and keeping a baby, while another struggles and struggles and struggles? Why are some women made to look with hungry, painful eyes at the rounding stomach of a neighbor?

These questions are as old as our history; as old as Rachel Emanu crying before Hashem to become fertile. As old as Sara Emanu, who had given up hope of ever having a child, when Hashem told her that she would finally conceive in old age.

On Wednesday, I opened my Facebook to find a message. It was a picture of a beautiful boy. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sent my friend a message, begging her to tell me what I thought I knew. And yes, she was, indeed, letting me know that they were finally, finally being given the chance to love a baby again. They had adopted a beautiful child who needed a family as much as they wanted a baby.

And with tears streaming down my face, I thanked Hashem for righting this situation and for allowing this family-hungry couple and their beautiful daughter to finally welcome another member into their family.

Sometimes the world helps people to fulfill their dreams. It may not always be the story that we intended to tell, or the way that we thought we would tell it. But it ends happily, nonetheless.

Welcome to your new family, baby. Boy, are you in for a lot of loving! May the rest of my friends still struggling with these issues find their dreams coming true in the near future and may their stories unfold to happy endings.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

We're All In It Together

It's hard to explain to people who don't live here what it means to live in a community like this. And I don't just mean the community of Neve Daniel, the town of 450 families where I live.

I mean the larger community of Gush Etzion that has upwards of 50,000 people.

A few weeks ago, my appliance repair man (who I don't know outside of the work that he does) came to the house to fix a few things. He was enamored of our new Honda and spent quite a long time discussing the car with me. He has had a similar Honda since 2004, and he was singing the praises of the car. He was telling me about where he takes it for repairs and how he has ensured the best maintenance.

Yesterday, while I was hanging out at Stella's, the phone rang. I looked down and didn't recognize the number. Maybe I would ignore it and keep talking? The little voice in my head said that maybe it was a school, or one of my kids borrowing a phone and needing I picked it up.

And there was my appliance repair man.

"Romi," he said. "I don't really know what your husband looks like, but I'm in town and I see someone with your car who might be your husband. And he's buying roof racks right now. But he's not buying good ones, and I know a place to get much better ones."

"Wow - thanks! But Josh is in Montreal right now."

"Oh!" he continued, sounding relieved. "I didn't know what to do. I really didn't want to interrupt the sale and be mean to the salesman, but I was worried that you were getting something for the car that wasn't the best thing."

Shaking my head in amazement and giggling I said, "You are too much. Thanks! I can't believe you took the time to call for this. But you don't have to worry because it's not Josh."

"Ok good. I just didn't want you to get something that wasn't great quality. Well, let me know if you need anything for the car. I know where to get everything so you won't get ripped off and you'll get the best quality."

Hanging up, I looked at Stella and said, "You're not going to believe this one!"

Life in the Gush. Simply Amazing.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Get On Your Running Shoes

Matan picked up running as a hobby last year and he's run a few 5k races. He came to us a few months ago, explaining that he wanted to run a 10k in the Jerusalem marathon and raise money for Shalva. I don't know where this kid comes up with these ideas...but we went with it. And so, he spent months running up and down the hills of Neve Daniel and battling cramps, while we spent months posting on Facebook that he was raising money and helping him to compose solicitation emails to friends and family. As part of the bar mitzvah runners, he needed to raise 1000 shekel. He ended up raising almost 4500.

He received donations from near and far, all of which were very touching. Someone with whom I went to high school, who has never met Matan, donated to his race. Someone made an anonymous donation to close the gap from 3700 shekel to 4000 shekel - and we still haven't figured out who this beautiful person is.

And then the race approached, and it was time for the pre-race pasta party put on by Shalva. Now, I have definitive comfort zones, and driving into Jerusalem to neighborhoods that I really don't know, and driving through massive crowds to find parking, are not within that zone.

But Josh had to leave for the States two days before the race, and I found myself propelled into the position of race-caretaker. So, while Matan left his comfort zone to run his first 10k, I was leaving mine as well. Driving into Jerusalem for the pasta party, I think that the kid in the backseat thought I was a lunatic. Every time that I made a correct turn, according to my Google Map directions, I yelled out, "Oh yeah, we did it! Oh yeah, I rock."  We arrived at the dinner in record time without a single moment of getting lost, and enjoyed a lovely party.

There were three moving speakers, all of whom are worth mentioning. The first speaker was a woman with a Down Syndrome child. She explained how much her world was sent off-center when the baby was born and they realized the challenges that were ahead. Someone told her about Shalva and encouraged her to go there. Shalva was located in a religious neighborhood, and as a Christian woman living in Israel, she was sure that they wouldn't take her in.

They didn't even bat an eye.

Then, when she saw the incredible services and the beautiful facilities, she was terrified to ask about the price. And she said she nearly collapsed when she learned that it was all free - and all taken care of by donations. As you climb the mountains tomorrow, she said, think about the mountains that our children who are otherwise-abled climb every day and realize that you, too, will get to the peak.

The second speaker explained that he tried to run the 10k last year and the year before, but that he was severely overweight for both of those races and barely managed to walk most of the way. He felt like a cheater, and vowed that for the 2013 race, he would surmount his obstacle just as the children of Shalva were asked to do every day. And he is now 80 pounds lighter and 6 pants sizes less, and ready to run tomorrow.

Finally, Shalva's founder, Kalman Samuels, told the story of a concert given once by the famous violinist Yitzchak Pearlman  (or as we call him in our family ‘Cousin Yitzchak', since he is married to Josh’s dad’s first cousin). As he was about to begin the concert, one of the strings on his violin broke. The audience knew what it would mean for him to get up, with his disabilities, get another string and fix the instrument. And as they were holding their breath to see what he would do, he simply began playing the breathtaking tunes with three strings instead of four. Kalman Samuels explained that we can all make beautiful music, whether we have been given the full set of life's strings, or whether we are required to make certain adaptations along the way.


We left the event that night feeling uplifted and energized. The next morning, Matan went on a bus with Shalva to Jerusalem while I had plans to drive. I was all worked up about finding parking and figuring out where to go. Yes, there were many postings online about which roads were closed and which areas were open for parking, but none of it means anything to me. I know how to get around Jerusalem, but I don't know road names and I can't navigate if there is a road block sending me in another direction. So, I took a DEEP breath and headed out with Yehuda at 7:45 in the morning. There was absolutely no traffic and we managed to get to an area that was relatively close to the marathon starting line. Yes! We arrived at the marathon start well before Matan did, and started looking for other Shalva participants. The atmosphere at the starting line was much more playful and festive than what I had expected. The city had hired stilt walkers and clowns who were dancing around, there was an MC and there was music. The Shalva group quickly formed and started yelling Shalva chants and getting the Shalva kids excited.


I actually had no idea what was going on, since I hadn't paid attention to anything other than the directives to find my way to Jerusalem and to be ready for Matan's 10k run. It soon became apparent to me that Shalva, and a number of other groups, were about to participate in an 800 meter run with the disabled kids. Fighting back tears, I posed with the Shalva group for pictures and then Yehuda and I ran alongside the kids and enjoyed the 800 meter run. It brought me to tears to watch the Shalva counselors encouraging the kids who were running and enjoying their moment in the sun. There was also a cancer group running alongside us (sorry, I didn't get their name) and there were many kids in wheelchairs.

It was touching beyond words.

We eventually found Matan and enjoyed hanging out in the festive atmosphere with the rest of the Shalva participants. We saw the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and, yes, I was willing to swallow my pride and ask them for pictures. The kids were very excited afterwards even if they were mortified when I asked!
Matan gets ready!

Matan and Yehuda with a Beitar Jerusalem player whose name I'm sure I'm supposed to know.

Then, we got ready for the 10k run. We ran into a number of friends along the way, and enjoyed seeing that so many people were out for the run.
Mark and Binyamin Sloman join in for the 10K

The entire Admoni family comes out (with tshirts they made just for their family!)
There were approximately 8000 10k runners from what we understood, and when they actually started the run we couldn't find Matan! Yehuda and I both hoped that he hadn't gotten swallowed up by the crowd or lost on the way, but we assumed that all was well and we headed to Gan Sacher where the end of the race would be.

And they're off...can't find Matan, but here are other runners starting the 10k
and here's why we couldn't find many runners!

There were all sorts of funny and goofy runners joining in!

Once we entered Gan Sacher, it was like a huge party was going on! There were tons of kiosks for food, for buying sports equipment and for other items. There were also grand stands set up where people were playing drums and encouraging the audience to do so, where they had set up trampolines for audience members to jump on and enjoy and more. We ran into Yarden, who had just finished the marathon, and had a great time giving him kudos for that accomplishment!

Then, we went over to wait for Matan. When the 10k runners came pouring in, I started to panic just a little that we weren't going to find Matan. But, eventually, there he was, smiling from ear to ear. He finished in one hour and three minutes, got his medal and felt very proud of himself.

I don't think he could possibly have felt as proud of himself as was his mother, beaming next to him, or his father, waiting eagerly in a hotel in Toronto to hear how it went.

Way to go Matan, and way to go Shalva for creating such an incredible experience, and a way to support a beautiful organization.

Yehuda, Josh and I are all getting out the running shoes to join in next year.