Thursday, October 30, 2014

Only Two Degrees of Separation

This morning, when we awoke to the shocking news of the assassination attempt against Rabbi Yehuda Glick, I had to wonder if my babysitter would be coming to our house as scheduled, tonight.

And then I had to stop, pause, and shake my head at the incongruity of our lives, and the preposterous and seemingly insurmountable tasks put before us, the Jewish people in Israel. And the inability, living here, to ever be more than two degrees of separation away from most events.

How many times have you had to wonder if your babysitter, whose uncle was nearly killed by an assassination attempt, would be able to make it? How many times have you had to explain to your 3 year old that his best friend’s uncle was shot last night by bad people and that he should be extra nice to his friend? Then, when dropping off our beautiful 3 year old at school, had to explain to the teacher that the rabbi who was shot was the uncle of a sweet little boy in her class? I hope, for your sake, that you have not had to do such things.

Is that really the world in which we live?

Midmorning, after davening for Yehuda Yehoshua ben Itta Breina to have a complete recovery, and after checking my Facebook feed twelve thousand times, and after writing to my dear friend and neighbor, Haya Shames (Yehuda’s brother), I checked with my babysitter. I wanted to reassure her that she didn’t have to come – that she could deal with the things in her life that were larger than my babysitting needs.

But in perfect fashion to her upbringing, in exactly the style to which the Glicks have raised their six children, and my friend Haya has raised hers, my babysitter said that she would still be coming. That she would follow through on her commitment.

With that behind us, we spent the day learning more about Rabbi Glick. Haya reports that her brother has a gentle soul, that he is the father to six of his own children and to EIGHT foster children. The news reports that Rabbi Glick founded and heads Haliba Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount. He wants the Temple Mount to be free for people of all religions to come to and pray.

It was here, at the Temple Mount, where we believe Gd brought Adam to life, that Avraham almost sacrificed Isaac and that King David bought the rights to build the Temple. The first Temple stood here in 957 BCE and the Second Temple rose here in 518 BCE. It is our holiest site on Earth.

And yet, Rabbi Glick doesn’t deny that it’s also holy to Muslims and to Christians, as this video illustrates.

And he doesn’t say that the Temple Mount should be only for Jews – but that all people, of all faiths, should have fair and equal access.

And last night, he was shot three times at point blank range for his opinions – for his beliefs – for his desires – for his commitments.

And while he recovers (please Gd) in Jerusalem, the Arab riots continue. As of late they have been rioting on the Temple Mount, rioting in East Jerusalem, destroying our new light rail system wherever they can, throwing Molotov cocktails at passing cars and people and calling (yet again and again and again) for Israel’s destruction.

Where, shall I ask yet again, are our “partners” for peace? Today, when the Temple Mount was closed to all for security and safety reasons, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.” Trying to murder a Jewish citizen isn’t, but closing the mosque as a result of his attempted murder, by an Arab, is considered a declaration of war. And now, tomorrow, they are calling for a “Day of Rage.”

Where, oh where, are our partners for peace? Where are those who would sit down at the table with Rabbi Glick and with so many others like him and listen to his ideas, his ways of creating coexistence, of following through on dreams and commitments?

Silly me - they are preparing their arsenal for tomorrow.

Please pray for a speedy and complete recovery for Yehuda Yehoshua ben Itta Breina. May he and his family know no more sorrow and may we find a way to live in peace, in our Homeland, some day.

Romi Sussman
Neve Daniel, Israel

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Scarlet Letter I

Yes, ten years later I understand full well that I’m still an immigrant – and that I will always, always, be one. Most of the time, my immigrant status doesn’t really come into play. I live in a wonderful yishuv where I know almost everyone. Many of my friends are English speakers and those who aren’t know that I’m not the most fluent Hebrew speaker in the world – but that I get by. I’m comfortable. I read the emails from my kids’ schools, I help them with their homework (well, some of it) and I read the notes the teachers send home. I get the bills paid in Hebrew, the gas balloons refilled and everything accomplished.

But it’s when I have to step out of the bubble that I’ve created for myself, out of my comfortable American-living-in-Israel world, that I realize just how brightly I wear the SCARLET "I."

On Thursday night, we had a lovely evening at Matan’s yeshiva high school, Sussya. The evening was for all of the parents with boys in the school and included davening (praying), learning Torah, dinner and a discussion with Matan’s teacher. It was a perfect night and we were very much looking forward to hearing about the school and getting to know his teacher better.

Josh dropping Matan at Sussya for his first day of high school.

When we got to the school the men went to daven with the boys while the women milled about a bit. And I have quite a number of friends from Neve Daniel whose children are also in the school, but they hadn’t yet arrived. So I stood there, in the periphery of a number of women who were chatting, hoping that no one would talk to me. Yes, I wrote that correctly. I’m really quite social and I enjoy learning about people, but the thought of starting conversations with strange women in Hebrew was a bit overwhelming for me. I looked around and realized, both with pride and trepidation, that this is REALLY an Israeli school.

There are a handful of parents who speak English, and therefore a handful of boys – but really only a handful. In fact, Matan is the only pure native English speaker in his grade. We are incredibly proud to see where Matan has gotten himself, and how comfortable he feels in this environment – but boy is it new for us!

So I shuffled over to the bathroom and got in line (after all, it is a boys yeshiva, and there is only one bathroom for women on the whole campus). And the woman in front of me said “Hi” and I had a feeling that she spoke English. I asked her, and when she replied that she was, indeed, American, I actually said to her, “Will you be my friend?”

I still can’t believe I said that, and she definitely looked around, seeing if perhaps she was the victim of some weird practical joke. I laughed, unable to believe that I had really said that, and then explained that I felt awash in a sea of Hebrew, of Israeliness, of life outside my bubble.

So we started to talk and she was very sweet. And then many of my friends arrived and the night carried on. But a few times during the evening, Josh and I turned to each other and said, “Man, we are out of our element!”

And we both agreed that we felt more like immigrants during the course of the evening than either of us remembers feeling in years.

We understood every lecture and every discussion – that wasn’t the problem. We just both felt like people were looking at us and thinking, “Wow, what are those Americans doing here?”

The school is absolutely amazing. They have a framework at Sussya within which the boys will learn about and explore the entire country from top to bottom. They go on 8 one-week trips in the course of their four years to every corner of the country in addition to their weekly trips every Friday. But they don’t go as tourists.

Picture taken by a Sussya boy from the website.

They are leaving for their first trip in two weeks to Masada and the surrounding areas. Matan showed us his packet of information that he has to study and complete which includes history assignments, geology, geography, map reading, archeology and more. The boys turn the packets in before the trip and then take a test. And if they fail the test – the bus leaves without them. Period. And during the trip they hike, learn, explore, and sleep in sleeping bags on the ground…no tents. No frills here.

Dinner in the fields - picture taken by a Sussya student.

Matan’s Rabbi (who teaches most of his Judaic subjects) explained that his phone is always on for the boys and that his home is always open (within reason of course). He has an evening every other Tuesday night for the boys to come to his house, eat his wife’s cooking, sit on their couches and hang out. They discuss all sorts of life issues and enjoy an evening away from the school while being mentored.

The school is magical and we are so proud of Matan for fitting in where we see ourselves so sorely lacking. I always knew that making Aliyah would mean that I was an immigrant, and that I would probably feel like one off and on for the rest of my life. It’s just funny to see myself so out of my element and out of place while watching a child of mine who is so clearly in his.

And this, after all, was our goal of Aliyah. To have children who feel completely Israeli, who love their country and love the idea of exploring every inch of it in the language of their ancestors.

Just because I feel like I wear the Scarlet “I” doesn’t mean that my eyes don’t glisten with the tears of joy at watching that my children most definitely don’t – and won’t – ever.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dancing Through the Wrinkles

I’m always amazed by the tapes that play in my head. This morning, I was taking pictures of Yakir to show Josh (who was already at work) the funny bed head Yakir had (yes, this is what we do to fill our time). 

So darn cute...bed head and all

And while I was taking these pictures, Yakir and I started having fun and ended up with some delicious pictures. After I got the kid to school and was able to look through the pictures, I thought I might post a few to Facebook.

They were, after all, so darn cute.

But then I saw them.

My wrinkles.

So many wrinkles.

Where did those wrinkles come from? Maybe, my tapes said, I shouldn’t post the pictures because then people will, you know, see that I have wrinkles.

Fortunately, I turned to those tapes and said to them, “Really? Has it come to this?”

And I threw them out the window (the tapes in my head, not the pictures) and posted the pictures. I wanted to put a disclaimer on the pictures (“Ignore the wrinkles!”) and then I realized just how insanely ridiculous the idea was.

I find that we, women, are so darn critical of ourselves. I’m sure not all women are – and I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who beat themselves up – but it appears that women have perfected this skill.

Rather than looking at the love, the adorableness of my bubbly 3 year old, I see my wrinkles in these pictures. And I realize that I do this a lot.

We’ll be on vacation with the boys and we’ll take pictures. And as soon as I see the pictures, I’m looking to see if I was caught at a bad angle. If I look fat in the picture. If all is ok.

Instead of seeing the crazy joy my kids are showing or the exciting thing we are doing, I’m looking for fat rolls and double chins.

I read this article yesterday about what people most regret when they are about to die. I’ve read articles of this sort before and I assumed that it was going to say the same cliché things we’ve all heard. But this article was different and fascinating.

It said that people regret how they’ve treated their bodies and how mean they’ve been to themselves.

One interviewee from the article said, “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through the world.”

And then she continued, “And I’m going to have to leave it. I don’t have a choice. And to think I spent all those years criticizing how it looked and never noticing how good it felt – until now when it never feels good.”


Obviously it’s important to maintain a decent weight and to eat as well as possible. But the tapes in my head go beyond this need. And try to ruin the great moments that life offers.

Why, anyway, is fat seen as shameful? Why am I embarrassed by the extra weight I’ve gained this year? Frustrated...fine. Hoping to lose the weight to fit more comfortably in my clothes…fine. But embarrassed? Why? Of what?

So I’m going to continue working on throwing those tapes out the window. Even when the tapes remind me that I don’t look like a model and that I’m no longer 25…I’m going to keep chucking them.

And dancing to the music of my life made by six adorable, loving, rambunctious boys and their father.

Romi Sussman

Neve Daniel

Monday, October 06, 2014

A First in 14 Years

At the very beginning of the summer, I wrote a blog about a very special evening and a very special community. But I never posted it. See, we took three of our boys as a big well-earned reward to Jerusalem to the Sound and Light Show. It's a glorious show and we were all looking forward to dinner and a night out. But after I wrote the blog in the morning, we realized that while we were gazing at the beautiful lights and enjoying ourselves with three of our boys - three of our country's boys were being kidnapped...and murdered.

And suddenly my blog post didn't seem all that important.

But now, I'm revisiting a sliver of what I wrote in the first blog with recent events this week to offer a picture of our lives and the truly holy people who are in it. 

On this evening in June, the hurdles began as we arrived for dinner in Jerusalem. We got a phone call from our very sweet and very capable babysitter. It’s never a good thing when you hear, “Hi Romi. Um. Did you leave the yishuv already?”

Oh boy. So Zeli cut himself near his eye and she wasn’t sure whether or not he needed stitches. Stitches? But there we were with three eager faces in Jerusalem, already sitting down to dinner and about to enjoy a great night. We called in the amazing Neve Daniel team. We called around to all of the doctors that we know to see if someone could evaluate Zeli. After all, if it ended up just needing a butterfly bandage or something little, then we didn’t really need to drive all the way home. Right?

We managed to get him evaluated but the person was a volunteer medic and didn’t want to make the final decision. More phone calls. Suffice it to say that we live in an absolutely AMAZING place. We had our always-on-call favorite dentist (who does stitches in his home) dashing back from Jerusalem to see Zeli at the same time that our always-on-call favorite ER doctor arrived at home. Our great friends picked Zeli, the babysitter and the other two kids up and brought them to their house. The doctor came over, saw Zeli and determined that he just needed a butterfly bandage. And our friends delivered the gang back to our house for the night. Phew.

Fun evening saved and kid safe.

Our night wasn’t ruined over a butterfly bandage and we proceeded to dinner and then to the amazing Light Show

Fast forward....yesterday I took Zeli to the doctor since he fell at Judo three days prior and seemed to be holding his left hand funny. Neither Josh nor I could see anything particularly swollen on his hand, he could move his fingers, and he only really complained when he fell (which he managed to do four times between the judo fall and yesterday). Oy. As soon as we saw the doctor, he turned Zeli's hand in just the right way and said, "Yep. I'm almost positive it's broken."

Broken? Gulp. Believe it or not (should I even say it?) in the 14 years that we've been parenting these guys, we have never had a broken bone. Not one. So this was a new experience for me.  Pfew...Pfew...Pfew...

And new experiences always require me to take a deep breath, have confidence in my ability to get through the system, and offer prayers that everything will get done.

First step - Zeli gets a sling so he can stop holding his hand up

We were able to get an x-ray right here in Gush Etzion (so convenient!), to bring it back to the doctor, and to be informed that the best place to go was Terem Romema. 

Now, I hate driving myself to new places and I'm always a bit nervous finding my way around unfamiliar parts of Jerusalem. 

But I had a job to do. 

And of course Waze wasn't working.

I took a big gulp, got Zeli into the car, and we were off. Josh directed me over the phone while also talking to our favorite Terem doctor to smooth our entry at the emergency center. Zeli was seen quickly, examined and casted, all while smiling that amazing smile of his. And all for free, of course.

He was actually in such a good mood that the doctor went back to the xray to confirm it was really broken. Why we giggled our way through the casting, I don't really know. But that's Zeli for you.

Terem poster child?

Then, it was time to go home. We were both exhausted, having been out for seven hours, but we stopped for some pizza as a treat, and then went home to bed.

Terem told us that we needed to see an orthopedic surgeon soon...but with Sukkot coming in only a few days we were worried about how that was going to happen.

Every Monday (we now know) there is a delightful orthopedic surgeon who comes to Efrat, and they squeezed Zeli into the schedule. Zeli actually played in the waiting room while awaiting his appointment.

When we got into the doctor, he removed the rather heavy and cumbersome first cast and casted it with something lighter and more fun (since everyone can now draw on it!).

This afternoon, friends who saw us at the doctor's office dropped off a treat for Zeli, other friends called to check in with him, and his judo teacher actually came to the house to pay him a call and bring him treats (and be the second person to sign his cast)!

These experiences allow me to marvel at the amazing place where we live. Our friends are ready at the drop of a hat to help with any and all expertise that they have. They will bend over backwards to make sure that we are taken care of medically, emotionally and physically.

And of course Facebook allows us to enjoy sympathy and encouragement from our families far away (thanks for the calls and encouragement guys!), friends nearby and everyone in between.

It's been a long week.

And it's Monday.

Let's hope for a bit of rest with Sukkot arriving in two days.

And no more new experiences - at least not the type that require us to call in our team.