Friday, May 31, 2013

A Night to Sing for the Love of a Mother

Last night I was honored to be part of a glorious event and a testament to one family's love. I've worked for the last three years with Betzalel. Off and on, while making lunch in the kitchen or grabbing a coffee, we've chatted about our families, our backgrounds and our passions. Betzalel has often asked how Stella is doing and has followed Yarden and Stella's story closely.

A number of months ago, while in the kitchen, Betzalel very quickly mentioned that his mother's cancer had returned. Tiptoeing around the topic, I asked a few questions, asked for her Hebrew name and told him that they would all be in my prayers. Awhile later, beaming, Betzalel said to me, "Romi, you know how Yarden has done these bike races in honor of Stella's recovery? Well, we are doing our bike race in May. But we don't bike. We sing."

And he explained that he and his five siblings would be putting on a musical performance in honor of their mother's recovery. He invited me to attend and I promised I would. While I knew that I would only know two people in the entire room and the performance would be over an hour away in Petach Tikva....and that it would conclude much past my bedtime...there was no decision to be made. I would be there.

The performance was last night, and it far exceeded any expectations that I could have had. First of all, this family can sing. And I mean really sing. I can't imagine what their Shabbat table is like. They selected a medley of songs that included Disney, Hebrew music, playful selections, and more. There were solo numbers by Betzalel, his 3 year old son (how adorable was that?), his sisters and even his father.

Now these six siblings are all grown. They all have their own lives, their own children, jobs and obligations. But they got together weekly to practice and prepare, to get ready to show their outpouring of love for their mother.

And they put everything they had into the performances. They filled the 300 seat auditorium with family, friends and co-workers and had everything from lighting and sound equipment to tickets, playbills and professional videography. 

At the beginning of the performance, Betzalel's brother explained to the audience that their family motto while growing up was to stick together. Family, they were taught, needs to be there for each other no matter what.

And they certainly learned that lesson. As the evening drew to a close, Betzalel's father sang a love ballad to his mother. And I believe we all cried.

And as the evening ending with an incredible rendition of "One Day More" from Les Miserables, I was left stunned, uplifted and awed. I have, unfortunately, been surrounded by quite a good deal of cancer stories in the last few years, and particularly in the last few months. And while the cancer is overwhelmingly devastating and certainly leaves the victim and those who love her feeling helpless, I have been truly overwhelmed and inspired to see what people DO in these situations. And how they show their expression of love and how they take control of the aspects of their lives that they can to do good and to bring positive results.

The evening, by the way, raised over 20,000 shekels for two organizations that help breast cancer patients and others in need. As Betzalel's mom said during the evening, the focus on charity, prayer and good deeds are supposed to help to bring about a complete recovery.

Certainly, this night encompassed all three. May Hashem hear this family's prayers, see their charity and witness their incredible good deeds in the merit of a compete recovery for their elegant and beautiful mother.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Being Gracious and Grateful...One Note at a Time

Before Matan’s bar mitzvah, we ordered thank you notes to go along with his bar mitzvah invitations. We explained to Matan that there would be rules surrounding his bar mitzvah gifts.

1. No gift would be used, enjoyed, or spent until a thank you note was written. Period.

2. And he would be writing three thank you notes a day.


There was no arguing or complaining. No bargaining or sneaking out of the commitment. And within a few weeks of his bar mitzvah, all of his gifts were his to enjoy, and all of the thank you notes had been written.

Now, some of you reading this think….um? So what? What’s the big deal? Obviously he wrote thank you notes and obviously they were sent out quickly.

Unfortunately, I have been surprised to find that things aren’t quite so obvious. I’ve actually been shocked by the reaction that Matan has received to his thank you note writing, and it propelled me to write this blog. 

Most people who have received a thank you note from Matan have said something to the ring of, “Ah! You’re so American.”

Now, I don’t know if Americans across the country are all being taught to write thank you notes, but if they are, they are getting something right.

I just don’t understand the lack of thank you note writing that I see around me or the missed opportunity to teach such an important lesson.

The recipient of the thank you note doesn’t necessarily need the note. He knows that he sent a nice gift and that the kid probably enjoys it.

For whom, then, are the notes written?

They are written for Matan.

Matan is learning how to graciously acknowledge kindness and how to respond appropriately when someone is thoughtful, generous and gracious with him. He’s learning that he gets to enjoy the gifts he’s been given only after he says thank you for them. He’s learning that tasks can be accomplished methodically and slowly.

Three thank you notes a day really isn’t that much. They’ve taken him a total of 10 minutes a day - let’s go all out and say even 20. But those three add up and allow him to quickly accomplish the task in front of him.

Have his thank you notes been works of art? Are they beautifully, grammatically correct and flowing with superlatives? No.

The notes he’s written in English have been quite brief and have had some cross-outs and spelling mistakes. I’ve sent them exactly as they are and have not asked him to rewrite them or to make them look prettier. The notes he’s written in Hebrew…well…I didn’t actually read them over after he wrote them, so I’m hoping they were appropriate.

The message and the presentation were completely beside the point to me.

It was the process that mattered.

It was the process from which he learned the value of saying thank you and of acknowledging others.

We teach him all the time to say thank you to Hashem. Thank you for allowing me to wake up this morning. Thank you for the rainbow in the sky. Thank you for this delicious meal. Thank you thank you thank you.

Shouldn’t we be teaching him to thank his neighbor? his grandparents? his cousins? his friends?

And it has truly shocked me how shocked people here have been receiving one of his cards. Even many of the Americans have said, “Oh! You’re acting so American. Come on. We don’t do thank you notes here.”

Really? We don’t thank people here for being thoughtful enough to think of a lovely gift and to give it to our son for his bar mitzvah? We don’t thank people who struggle financially, and yet who were sweet enough to find money for our son’s gift?

It’s not about being formal or tight. It’s not about making sure that Aunt Mildred knows that you got the check.

It’s about teaching my kids how to say thank you and how to be gracious, one note at a time.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Perfect Reminder

I saw the sweetest scene this morning. I was on my way to Curves, and was grumbling to myself because I was behind schedule and was going to get to work late. And I was plotting how I could get the kids to move faster in the morning and how I was going to get Yakir to go to sleep earlier and stop sleeping in my bed and stop climbing on the counter and...... And then I saw a scene that I just loved.

There is a pick-up point for soldiers in Efrat on Sunday mornings and I saw a kid in uniform getting out of his mom’s car. As he walked away with his big bag slung over his shoulder, his mom jumped from the car and said, “Wait!”

He turned around, expecting that he had forgotten something important.

Running after him, she yelled, “I have to get a picture before you go!” Of course, he turned in his tracks and doubled over in embarrassment, but she was not to be deterred. She grabbed one of his friends, had them pose, and captured that moment as her son took off for one of his first weeks in the army.

As I turned down the stairs towards Curves, grinning and giggling, I thanked Hashem for putting me exactly where I needed to be at that moment.

It is so hard, in the moment, to always make sure to appreciate every stage that our children experience. I know, as I watch my insomniac-devilish two year old get into everything in the universe, that this stage will pass and I will actually miss it. I know, already, that my 13 year old doesn’t shower me with hugs and that my 11 year old can’t be bothered.

And yet, when Yakir asks for a cuddle moment and I’m in the middle of making dinner, I don’t always make the right choice. And when I run down the stairs to get dressed and return to find Yakir sitting on the kitchen counter eating the bag of pretzels that I purposefully hid from him, I don’t always remember to laugh.

I know that these are moments to cherish. I know that they will be gone in an instant, and I will be left running after the boys for that picture as they climb onto the bus and go off to the army.

The trick is to remember how quickly time passes and to try – to try so very hard – to enjoy the ride and the absolute chaos of toddlerhood now. Even in those moments when I can’t believe, yet again, what he’s just gotten into or done.

And that was the reminder that I was blessed to receive this morning.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

43 Thoughts on Gratitude

Today, on my 42nd birthday, I set out to write a list of 43 things for which I am grateful. Yes, my English birthday is just a few weeks away (for those of you who will be confused when it comes up on Facebook! We celebrate my Hebrew birthday in the house, but then I have fun getting my Facebook messages and calls from family on the 27th). Anyway…here are some of the things I’m grateful for as I turn 42.

1.  The wrinkles around my eyes that show I laugh a lot.
2. The age spots on my hands that remind me of my many years, well lived.
3.  My make-up bag that sits in the drawer and is almost never used. I always assumed that I would start wearing daily make-up when I grew up….hmmmm…wonder when that will be.
4. My ability to bring fresh cakes each month to soldiers who protect us each day.
5. The yells of “Mommy!” that greet me each morning from Yakir’s crib….
6. And the deliciously warm cuddles I receive when I bring him into my bed.
7. The surprise birthday sign with all of its spelling mistakes, made by two of my children and proudly presented by four.

8. Matan’s recent bar mitzvah and the amazing job that he did reading, giving his speech and enjoying his simcha.
9.The thank you notes that Matan has been writing methodically and beautifully (blog coming on this topic soon).
10. My family near and far and the love I receive from all of them.
11. My 92 year old grandmother who still loves to talk with me about books.

12. My ability to wish my mom, my mother in law and my grandmother a Happy Mother’s Day!
13. Our families in America who came all the way to Matan’s bar mitzvah and celebrated such joy with us.

14.   Yehuda’s confidence as he plays basketball on the community team.
15.   Eliav’s certificate of excellence that he received on Friday for his good character. And that adorable toothless grin that he shows in the picture.

16.   Eliav’s front tooth that is finally coming in, 4 years after it was pulled as a result of an accident he had. Won’t he look funny with one front tooth in and one still to grow!
17.   Zeli’s sweet nature (most of the time).
18.   The ritual I have with Zeli when I drop him at his class. He needs a hug and a kiss before I can leave….
19.   And then he yells “I wuv you!” the whole way into his class as I walk away.
20.   Amichai’s question last night, “Mommy, are you going to make yourself a cake?”
21.   Amichai’s desire to snuggle still, even though he’s eight and a half.
22.   The pleasure that the boys all get out of Yakir and the way they make him giggle.

23.   The omelet that Josh made me for breakfast today, breaking his neck to get everything done before his 6:30 am bus.
24.   Josh’s present, my iPhone 5, that I vehemently insisted I didn’t need or want…and that I absolutely love. How does he always know?
25.   My job and the wonderful people with whom I work each day.
26.   Our car that works each day, saves us money on gas and lets me feel like a sports-car driving Mama.
27.   The Hebrew skills that I DO have (which are quite poor) and my ability to get everything done (eventually) that has to be done in the house.
28.   Curves. Yeah for exercise!
29.   My ability to exercise almost every day and to squeeze this important activity into my life.
30.   My Curves friends who all wanted to know about Matan’s bar mitzvah and whether or not the weather held (they said they were all thinking about us on the day and worrying for us). So cute!
31.   My beautiful home that stays dry (most of the time), keeps us warm and has room for all of us.
32.   My friends near and far who listen to my complaints, laugh with me (particularly about our kids) and are always there when I need them.
33.   My amazing best friend who keeps fighting and reminding me what real strength looks like.
34.   My morning coffee at work…I love that machine.
35.   My Kindle…let me count the ways that I love that device.
36.   The book club that I have with my dad and the beautiful books that I read each day.
37.   The blankets from Auntie Janie that are all around the house, and that allow us to cuddle up all the time.

38.   The convenience of my life which is lived within a 5 mile radius (less?) for my work needs, shopping needs, groceries, after school activities for the kids and all else.
39.   The seven weddings that we will be attending this summer. Can’t wait to celebrate!
40.   The fact that we live in Eretz Yisrael and can enjoy things like the official national ceremony for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) that Josh attended with four of our boys at Ammunition Hill.

41.   The 50 day commitment that Josh and four boys made to go to shul together every single night to count the Omer. They have one more day.
42.   The beautiful paintings that fill my home made by Matan and Yehuda and the anticipation that I get after each painting class to see what they bring home next.

43.   The ability to look forward to yet another year filled with beauty, health, family and Hashem’s grace.