Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

The first and last time that I gave blood was in 1989. I was a senior in high school and I remember that I gave blood and then went to sit outside with some friends before our next class started. The next thing that I knew, there was a pole very inconveniently behind my head that I had apparently smacked into as I passed out.


And that was it. I tend to faint easily – quite easily – and I’m prone to a number of weird fears. So, giving blood joined that list and I crossed it off as one of those things that just wasn’t for me.

And life continued.

And then, recently, 24 years later, Stella needed a blood transfusion. And from the experience, Yarden posted on Facebook that people should give blood whenever they are able to do so; it allows people who need it, like Stella, to have it available.


That certainly resonated. And I realized that I’ve been delinquent. Josh gives blood religiously every three months and he has for decades. For years, I've been patting him on the back and waving as he headed out to do so. And then I've stayed in the house. But then I started thinking, who cares about a little fainting when you might be helping to keep someone alive? Who cares about feeling queasy when a chemo patient might be battling these feelings for months?

And so, tonight, as I was sitting at my computer, someone posted that they were giving blood.

“Josh,” I yelled across the family room, “Is there a blood drive in the yishuv tonight?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Let’s go. Now.”

And so we did.

And we found friends there, and laughed, and got in line.

Josh, Romi and Laura Ben-David

And I was sort of secretly hoping to get rejected - to have hemoglobin too low, or a weird glitch in the system, or I don't know what. But I kept reminding myself that people who are sick don't get an out, and those who need blood don't get to pass.

And I knew that I needed to do it, but I was still nervous..very nervous.

My cheerleading squad backed me up, and Laura snapped this hysterical picture which was dubbed "Date Night" on Facebook. Yep, that's about as good as it gets around the Sussman house these days.

We are powerless over so many things in this world.

But we have the ability to do a few things.

And giving blood is one of them.

So, Stella, I gave in your honor tonight.

How about that?

And I plan to continue doing so every three months, for as long as they'll have me.

And I was thinking what a wonderful thing it would be if everyone we know stepped out of their comfort zone and did one unexpected thing for Stella's recovery.

Wouldn't that be amazing?

As I learned tonight, while we are powerless over so much, there are times when we can choose to do something, and to do it right.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


When I arrived at work today, my first reaction was, "I did it."

I actually survived the summer.

That's not to say that I don't love summer vacation or love having time off with my kids. I do.

What I don't love is juggling work with my kids' non-existent summer camp, creating many days when my 11 year old was in charge of "Camp Sussman." And Camp Sussman often looked more like camp television and camp computer than it did anything else.

But we did it. We all survived and even enjoyed ourselves, and now it's time for new beginnings. Here was the first one this morning.

And as the first day of school rolls around, I get nostalgic, of course.

I don't recall the beginning to every single school year, but I vividly remember the few days before our first school year in Israel. It was August of 2004 and we had just arrived. The night before school started, we went to meet with some members of the Neve Daniel yishuv to talk about the community. I remember that they had their kids' backpacks all lined up against the wall by their front door. We only had a four year old, a two year old and a baby on the way at the time and no backpacks to speak of; and their organization and excitement struck me as so cute.

The next morning, we awoke to our upstairs neighbor and landlord calling out in a sing-song voice, "School! School! It's the first day of school! Good morning everyone."

It was so sweet to hear him getting his house ready, but I didn't quite understand, at that moment, just what the first day of school in Israel is like. The entire country starts day care, nursery school and elementary school on the same day. High schools tend to start a few days earlier, but the entire rest of the country mobilizes at the same moment.

So today, at 6:30 am, the entire country woke up and started getting their kids ready for that first day of school. They were snapping pictures, fixing clothing, calming nerves and sending the kids on their way.

It's hard to describe how pervasive the Jewish holidays are here - how much the rhythm of the country pulsates to the same tune. 

And the beginning of the school year is exactly the same.

The country is in it together, sending our kids off to school with a wave and a smile, and hoping for another wonderful year. The streets are packed with kid-filled cars; the commotion in front of the schools can be heard from blocks away; and work environments almost all start late, as the parents come rushing in after drop off. Facebook, of course, is abuzz with every first-day picture and parents are all breathing a collective sigh of relief while nervously awaiting the moment when the kids walk in the door with the first report.

It is hard to believe how fast the passage of time happens; and this is brought home when I go searching for those back-to-school pictures. And then we discussed last night that today's picture is the last that they will all take together, since Matan will head out to high school a few days before the other boys begin next year. Yes, there is always Photoshop, but it's not quite the same.

May this year bring the boys great school experiences, growth, self-awareness, self-confidence and health. And may it be a truly special year for all of us as we enter again into the school year and get ready for Rosh Hashanah next week.

A trip down memory lane:

2004..ready for our first school year in Israel!
September 2005
September 2006
September 2007
September 2008
September 2009
September 2010
September 2011

August 2012


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Part of the Team

In 1993, when I was on a program in Israel called Project Otzma, we went to the Dead Sea and to Ein Gedi. And I believe that this is the last time that I've been to Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi, for those who don't know, is a nature reserve right along the coast of the Dead Sea. It has two natural springs that flow with water year round and create incredible opportunities to enjoy in the heat of the day. While hiking through the area, there are many plants, birds and animals to admire, and a lot of water to enjoy.

Josh has been to Ein Gedi too many times to count since we made Aliyah 9 years ago. He's brought his father there with the kids; he's gone with our friends, the Shermans, at least three times; he's taken the kids by himself; and he's enjoyed the spot with other visitors.We even stayed right by Ein Gedi two years ago on a very last minute vacation where we enjoyed the Ein Gedi Guest House. And he took the kids through the springs twice.

Me? Well, I've been home pregnant, with a nursing baby or with a toddler for all of these years. I haven't stepped foot in Ein Gedi once the entire time.

So, when we were discussing various ideas for our staycation this week, Josh and I both thought of Ein Gedi at the same time. "Oh my gosh," Josh said, "We can finally do it!"

And so we did.

We invited the Shermans along for another adventure, packed everyone into the two cars and headed out. Within five minutes of entering the park, Yakir tripped, cried, and yelled "Pick me up." I looked at Josh and said, "You've got to be kidding."

So, I took a deep breath, pictured myself entertaining him at the park entrance for the next three hours, scooped him up and keep moving. Fortunately, the first waterfall and swimming area wasn't too far away, and when we got there, Yakir couldn't get out of my arms fast enough.

We had a fantastic day, basking in the fun of the falls, swimming around each pool of water and hiking through the beautiful park. It was a perfect day and I giggled each step of the way, realizing that we were reaching a new era for our family.

Zeli loves that waterfall!

Zeli and Sara

We finally made it together!

And it would be hard to say who had the most fun today.

But you can bet that I was at the top of the list.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Hockey-Stick Wielding Heroine

Yarden was telling me recently about the amazing emails that have been pouring in about Stella. About her never-ending chesed (charity) work, about her friendship, and about her positive attitude and desire to help others.

Yes, all of these are true.

But I've been privy to another side of Stella's personality that few people know, and I wanted to share it with others. You may have had a glimpse of this side in the last two years, during unfortunate times.

For me, this side of her personality always brings a wide smile to my face, because it appears so incongruous and surprising.

And she exhibited this side on one of my favorite days in our friendship. Stella is one tough mama when pulled into action, showing a fearlessness, a protectiveness and an energy that most of us don’t possess.

Here we are all dressed up, but don't let that soft side fool you!

Stella, I know you remember the day well, and we’ve reminisced about it and laughed over it for at least 9 years now. It was the Spring of 2003 or maybe 2004 and our neighborhood had been plagued by these enormous, absolutely disgusting black snakes who had decided that Potomac was a pretty nice place to take up residence.

The problem was that it was also our home, and we were often coming face to face with them. Blech.

One afternoon, and I really don’t remember the details too well, we were hanging outside of our cul-de-sac as we so often did. A snake has been spotted somewhere near the Frankl’s house, and then lost. Backing away from their house, we all studied the neighborhood, trying desperately to find that snake. And then suddenly, Matan (3 or 4 at the time) yelled, “It’s there! It’s right there!” And indeed, it was slithering up a pipe on the side of the Frankl house.

Screaming in horror, we all ran farther away.

But not Stella.

No, as we ran, we suddenly heard a charging noise. Yielding a hockey stick, Stella went charging for the snake, running across the parking lot and launching herself at the drain pipe. We didn’t know whether to scream, laugh or run, but Stella was having none of that. She was going to rid her home of that snake, if she had to take it into her own hands to do so.

Believe it or not, I don’t actually remember the ending. I don’t believe that she caught the snake in some dramatic display and bashed its brains in, although that would have made for great entertainment. For us, the end result really wasn’t as important as the image of Stella running towards the site of danger with her look of determination and concentration.

The snake got away, I believe. And we all ended up on the ground, laughing and then re-enacting Stella’s charge that day…and for years to come.


In the last two plus years, Stella has, unfortunately, been plagued with other snakes. This time they were even more fierce, powerful and menacing. But in perfect Stella fashion, she has wielded that hockey stick, charging at those snakes and swinging at every opportunity. We have stood on the sidelines, in awe just as we were that day in 2003 or 2004, amazed by her determination, power and will.

And just as Stella showed when she did battle against the black snakes of Potomac, it is the actions that she has taken along the way, the valiant fight, and the incredible courage that we admire. You, Stella my dear, are a hockey stick wielding, determined heroine. And your fight has been, and continues to be, such an example to so many.  Through this process, you have shown such determination, grace and courage. I wish to Gd, we all wish, that you could have been given the opportunity to show such characteristics while facing down much more innocuous black snakes. But there is certainly no one who has lived with her lot or dealt with her demons with more beauty and courage.

And I will forever have that image in my head of you charging towards that snake – showing a strength that the rest of us admired from afar. Yes, you're full of chesed, love and friendship. But you're also the strongest, most fearless and determined person I have the privilege to know.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Kol Hakavod to Vacation!

Last week we had a fantastically wonderful vacation in Zippori. Zippori is a National Park that is filled with archeological finds, amazing mosaics and a rich history of our people.  Next door, Moshav Zippori  is filled with delightful cabins, a goat farm where they produce and sell goat cheese and goat milk, 

an exotic bird store, horseback riding and much more. We stayed in a beautiful cabin for three nights in Zippori Village enjoying the unique fresh water pool there, the trampoline, the tether ball and the playground.  A slice of heaven.

We toured around, visiting the archaeological finds at Zippori, the honey  and silk  farm 

and marzipan museum in Kfar Tavor,

the detention center and the dark history of the British Mandate at Atlit, the sea, and the water tunnels at Park Alona that were part of the water tunnel system that ran to Ceasarea.  It was all fantastic and an amazing opportunity to show our children more beautiful aspects of our country. We were able to introduce them to honey making techniques, to Jewish life thousands of years ago, to the British Mandate and its consequences for Jews after the Holocaust, natural beauty of our land and more.

But the best part of the trip? The best part of the trip for me occurred in that fresh water pool. My kids don’t have the opportunity to swim often and we were able to enjoy one hour a day in the pool by ourselves. It was a delight, and the older boys loved swinging from the rope swing they had set up over the pool. Zeli put on an inner tube and simply hung out in the water.

And then there was Yakir. Yakir hasn’t been in the water yet this season and we weren’t sure what he would do. But we were sure, knowing his personality, that it would be crazy and unexpected. And it was. We put floaties on him and he simply took off. None of our kids have ever trusted floaties. They have them on their arms and then they still cling to us and hold on to the side of the pool until we give them swim lessons and get them going.

But not Yakir. The first day he was jumping in, dunking his head under the water, and coming up to do it again. By the second day, he had figured out how to get in and out of the water on his own and he was swimming the entire length of the pool. And this was when my favorite moment occurred.

While swimming along with nothing but his cute little head peeking out over the water he started clapping and saying something. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, and then I realized that he was yelling, “Kol Hakavod to Yakiroosh!” He was congratulating himself, yelling, “Way to go Yakir! Way to go Yakir!” as he swam the length of the pool.

Aside from the fact that it was simply adorable, Yakir’s actions really hit a chord with me. How amazing would it be if we all exclaimed, “Way to go Romi!” or “You're Awesome Josh!” to ourselves when we did something great. We certainly beat ourselves up enough when we fail or make a mistake, but do we also serve as our own cheerleaders? Do we pat ourselves on the back when we are proud of ourselves and acknowledge the achievement? What a wonderful sense of self confidence little people have. If only they could hold onto that quality as they age, allowing us to focus on the positive things that we do and the milestones that we reach.

Kol Hakavod to Yakiroosh for embracing the pool and for teaching the rest of us a lesson. And Kol Hakavod to the Sussmans for trying a new vacation spot and exposing the kids to more of the wealth of experience that Eretz Yisrael has to offer.