Monday, April 24, 2017

Carrying the Torch of our Futures

I created a new file today for the file cabinet. It says “Army Stuff” on it. And as I filed it away, with the first of my first son’s army papers in it, I just couldn’t believe that we had come to this stage.

Tonight, I stood in the Neve Daniel hall with hundreds of my community members and watched the Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) ceremony.

I couldn’t help but marvel, with the typical tears meeting beneath my chin to drop and pool on my sweater, at the juxtaposition.

Today, this son who will be the first of my many to enter the army, stood in as a substitute basketball coach for his younger brothers. They played and laughed on the court in Neve Daniel, in the mountains of Judea, here in Israel.

Tonight, I watched as the kids putting on the event came on stage dressed in clothes from the 1940s, with stars ablaze on their garments. They posed, as if they were part of a picture from long ago; and it hit me that the six million people that we think about in a massive, unimaginable number, were each someone’s friends. They were Arbel and Stav, Yehuda and Amichai. The faces of the faceless, nameless 6 million became real to me as I saw them on stage. And of course we all know that they were real people, but they are so hard to conceptualize and to fathom. Here, standing in front of me, were 8 teenagers who I know and love – and I could suddenly visualize the horror, the terror and the reality.

Today, my children burst in the door, making arrangements to gather wood to get ready for Lag B’Omer.

Tonight, I listened as one of our yishuv members recreated the last Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto. He sang a piercing melody of longing, of fear and of hope at their dining room table, sitting across from his eight year old who wondered who would sing “Ma Nishtana” next year, and who would remember.

Today, my children sat at the dining room table doing their math homework and their science homework in Hebrew; in the language in which they are most comfortable; the language of their people, their nation and their country. They sat at the dining room table where just last week my six year old belted out “Ma Nishtana” and my eight year old shared a Dvar Torah about our escape from Egypt.

We remembered.

Tonight, we stood for Kaddish, and then we sang Hatikva as the same teenagers who had been dressed as Holocaust victims changed into blue and white and waved the Israeli flag.

And I thought about that new file sitting in my file cabinet. I can’t bring back the six million who died; I can’t make up for the pain of those who lived and remembered and carried on.

But I can create this file.

And I can sign the papers that allow my son to try out for the units of his dreams, and to envision himself as part of the future.

Our Future.

That file is our future.

It’s a future where a Jewish child, wearing a green uniform and not a yellow star, will strap a gun over his shoulder and not a sack with his worldly belongings, and defend his people. In his Homeland.

We can’t bring them back. But we can use our minds to remember, and we can use our bodies firmly planted here in Israel, or supporting the country from wherever we may be, to declare Never Again.

We can watch our children, our confident, bold, Zionistic children take up the torch of our future with their files.

This post first appeared last night on the Times of Israel blog.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Pausing to Remember Elhai Teharlev

It’s four days before Passover and I’ve been busy juggling work, housework, watching the kids…all the things we are all doing this week. So when I heard this morning that there was yet another car ramming — a ramming outside of Ofra — and that someone was killed, my heart sank. Because my heart always sinks when I hear this. 

And I thought, Oh dear Gd, not again.

But there isn’t much information for hours as they process and tell loved ones and arrange and deal and…I don’t really know what else they do (thank Gd).

So I went back to my work and my cleaning and my watching my kids destroy the house while I work and clean.

Then around lunchtime, I glanced at Facebook. I saw a picture of a beautiful, strong young man rappelling. My oldest son is out rappelling today. So I thought — hey, I don’t know that kid, but I guess Matan sent me a picture of the fun they are having today. 
What a gorgeous kid. They look happy.

And then I realized that the picture was from Moshe Saville, the head of the community council of Gush Etzion. It took me a minute to jump from my son, who is currently rappelling down a mountain, to this son.

This son, who is rappelling in the picture.

But isn’t rappelling right now in real life.

Because he was murdered today.

And then my day fell apart, as well it should. Because while Matan is rappelling and enjoying his life with his gorgeous friends on a beautiful day, Elhai Teharlev isn’t.

They both set out this morning. One is gone for no reason other than a terrorist woke up this morning and decided to target that bus stop, at that moment. He decided to kill that Jew, that soldier, that son.

Now I can’t get Elhai’s parents, Rav Ohad and Avital, out of my mind. What was Avital doing this morning when she heard about the car ramming? How many lists did she have in her head of things she had to do to get ready for Passover? How many chores had she sent her other six children to do? Who was coming over for seder? How close were they to turning over the kitchen? Did they plan to take a trip during Chol Hamoed?

These tapes run and run and run in my mind. And as I try to get back to my cleaning, I think about them dressing for their son’s funeral.

The only reason that they are dressing for a funeral for their gorgeous, strapping young son who was rappelling not long ago, and I am not doing so for my gorgeous, strapping young son who is currently rappelling is because…of nothing.


And I have to get back to my cleaning; I don’t have the time to write this, just as you probably don’t have the time to be reading it.

But I don’t have the ability not to write it.

Elhai must be remembered; we must pause from what we are doing to scream and write and question and cry. We must pause to help his family in any way that we may be able to do so. And to think about the never-ending question about how the hell to move forward. Again.

May Elhai’s memory be a blessing, always. May his family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. The seemingly never-ending list of mourners.

This piece was first published at Times of Israel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Romi's Reading Round-Up for February and March 2017

Since I wrote my last reading round-up in January, I have read some amazing books – and some really bad ones. As you get ready for Spring Break, Easter, or Passover, I figured it would be great to have a new book to enjoy! Here is the rundown of my latest finds.

Books I Loved

When last we chatted in January, I had just started The Sleepwalker from Chris Bohjalian. This book was a bit different than many of his others, but it was a fascinating look at sleepwalking and the havoc it can create…and it had a great surprise ending.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue was incredibly appropriate in the Trump world. It’s a story of American immigrants who have overstayed their welcome and what happens to them. Beautifully portrayed. 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is an excellent, short read about an aging man in 1870 who rides around Texas reading the news to people, and is tasked with getting a white girl captured by Indians back to her family. Really good read.   

Another fantastic book is Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Now, I don’t like magical realism much, and I don’t know what possessed me to buy this book. With that said, wow was this a trip! It’s a beautifully written tale filled with magic, but it’s also a story about family and finding where you belong. 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson was a really nice surprise. It’s the story of a high-powered divorce lawyer whose whole life goes for a tailspin when someone shows up on her doorstep. The main character was very believable.

Books I Enjoyed
There are always those books that you don’t absolutely love, but that you enjoy while you’re reading. So, Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh was one of those. It was an interesting look at three women who were all married to the same man at different points in his life and what became of them. 

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy was hysterical and adorable. It wasn’t the best book ever, which is why it’s not in the section above, but it was definitely fun. America's West Coast is about to be obliterated when a massive meteor hits the Earth, and the 17 year old Russian boy-wonder is brought in to save the day. Certainly not the typical read for me, but it was adorable and creative. 

Pennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay isn’t a book I would recommend lightly. It was the very sad story of a 12 year old homeless girl and what she does when she realizes her mom has disappeared. It was quite gory, which was the main thing that turned me off, but her character was well-developed and I cared about what happened to her. 

The Rage of Plum Blossoms by Christine Whitehead was a mystery and I don’t usually read this genre. Now, it was highly, highly entertaining but so incredibly far-fetched and ridiculously drawn that I was shocked by the high ratings on Goodreads when I finished it. As long as you suspend all disbelief and just enjoy a fun ride – it’s entertaining. 

I could have enjoyed The Book of Moon by George Crowder more. It was slow reading at times, but it was a nice coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in LA dealing with his parent’s divorce and his own development.

Books I Threw Across the Room
Let’s start with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Seriously. If you’re going to describe your book as one that is body positive and that celebrates every woman where she is – then maybe you should write a book where the main character likes herself and her body. Hmmmmm. I finished about 10% before I threw it down. 

Judy Blume – Oh Judy...I expect so much more from you than Smart Women had to offer, since none of the women in the book appeared to be smart. Rather, they were whinny, annoying middle-aged women and at about 40% I realized that I didn’t care what happened to a single one of them. Shame. 

I love Wally Lamb, so when Yakir found a copy of She’s Come Undone next to the trash and brought it to me with a huge grin on his face (how cute is that?), I figured I’d read it again. I rooted for the heroine the whole book and kept hoping she was going to pull her life together, but when she did so about 92% of the way into the book, did Lamb really think we would still care what happened to her?

I was also disappointed by Fannie Flagg with The Whole Town’s Talking. I’d love for the whole town to be talking if Flagg is on her game with her endearing characters and funny mishaps. But the town seemed to be talking about nothing…absolutely nothing. 

I’m never sure whether to bother with Anne Tyler, and when it comes to Back When We Were Grownups, I know the answer. Wow, this was boring. I finally let myself put it down at page 100. 

Finally, sometimes I don’t know what to do when Goodreads gives a book a 4.16 rating and I give it a 1. Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan definitely proved the point that forever feels like the worst time when you’re reading this book. Enough said!

Next Up
I’m currently juggling a few books. I’m in the middle of The Handling and Care of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway which I love so far. I’ve started Following Atticus: Forty: Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog and an Extraordinary Friendship which is very sweet. 

I’m putting Atticus down, however, for the library book that just came off the waiting list, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m not sure how I’ll do with this book because I can’t keep track of tons of characters and centuries of history…so I’ll let you know how that goes!
And what are you reading?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cyprus You Say? Well, Yes, We've Got Advice to Offer

I’ve been asked five times in the last week about the trip that we took last summer to Cyprus. I don’t know if there is something in the air…or people are just looking for some creative ideas for this summer…but I realized that I uncharacteristically didn’t write about our adventure last summer. The horror!

And, of course, if I had written about it, I could have just sent the link to the blog and helped others to plan their trips. So, I’m here to rectify the wrong and to help all of you antsy souls looking for somewhere great to go for an amazing trip.

We loved Cyprus.

We thought it would be fun to take the kids somewhere new and different and to explore another country. But we didn’t realize just how great this little place, so close to home, could be.

The flight was all of 37 minutes long, which cracked us all up. It took us longer to check our bags and go through security than it did to fly.

We arrived in Limassol to our 8 seater van (driven on the other side of the road!) and started our journey to our rental house. We wove up into the mountains higher and higher until we arrived at a tiny village called Eptogonia. As we drove through the village I had that feeling of “Uh oh...what have I done?” There were mud and straw homes that looked like they were a hundred years old. I had royally messed up with our Airbnb reservation.

And then we arrived, and Nikkos, the young homeowner, was there to welcome us to his gorgeous three bedroom home. There were original antiques everywhere from his family’s history (yes, we told the kids to stay in the backyard the entire trip)! The house was equipped with a fully modern kitchen and we had a large, comfortable pool and yard all to ourselves.

In addition to basking in the sun by the pool and enjoying time in the house, we had many activities. 

We went on a 3 or 4 kilometer hike at Caledonia Falls. It was a lovely hike, although we weren’t so sure how we were going to get to our car at the end; turns out you could ask someone to call you a cab at the bottom and they would drive you back to your car. 

From the end of the Caledonia Falls there was an amazing ropes course nearby called the Sparti Adventure Park. It was an incredibly well organized course where each kid was able to challenge himself at his own level for 2-3 hours of adventure.

Another day we went to Ayia Napa where we surprised the kids with a boat ride on the Yellow Submarine. There are a lot of British people living in Cyprus who own water-related businesses. In Ayia Napa we had a blast on their boat which navigated the sparkling blue water to a snorkeling destination in the sea caves. The boat also had a slide attached to the side of it and three diving platforms, so when we stopped at the sea caves, everyone had a blast sliding down and jump off of a diving board. Kid heaven!

We went to Aphrodite’s Rock which was a gorgeous little alcove where the waves crashed around us and people came to learn about the myth of Aphrodite.

Next up was jet skiing in Pissouri. A sweet British family owns a water activity center there and we had a half day of fun. There were beautiful, unusual rocks along the water and we collected them and enjoyed the beach. We jet skied and the kids enjoyed being pulled by a jet ski on floating sofas and boats. 

Pissouri, by the way, has a large concentration of British people and the neighborhood grocery store was filled with British, kosher treats. 


About an hour from our house were the Troodos Mountains where there were loads and loads of gorgeous and well-marked trails. We hiked on two different days here, including around Mount Olympus, admiring the beauty and having a great time. They had a quaint town center that was fun to walk around.

Another day it was time to enjoy some mall fun. But the mall in Limassol isn’t just any mall. It has a full size, virtually empty skating rink in it and brand new bowling alleys.

We spent one day, as well, on the ancient activities including the Kourion, Limassol Castle, and the Kolossi Castle.

We had so much fun in Cyprus that we actually ran out of time. There is an entire, less traveled section of the country in the western area called Paphos. There are half day and full day tours that can take you to all of the sites…and there are many things you could do there on your own as well.

It was such a beautiful get-away and such a great way to spend time with our kids. We love showing them Israel and enjoying trips together here, but it was also fun to go somewhere new and different! Everything was incredible inexpensive, by the way, and we found many great kosher selections at the local grocery store from a list that Chabad puts out.

 Say hi to Nikkos if you go and have a great time!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eliav's Soldier

Before Purim, my ten year old told me that they had a project to do at school. The school put together care packages to deliver to soldiers on their bases before Purim, and his class was in charge of writing notes to accompany the packages. Eliav wrote his note to his soldier with his full name and email in case the soldier wanted to get in touch.

That was the end of the story.

Until it wasn't.

I thought it was a very sweet activity. And as kids do around the world, our children were saying thank you to soldiers for all that they do.

Eliav didn’t hear from the soldier, but he didn’t really expect to.

Then, right before Shabbat, our neighbor and close friend's son, Zvi, showed up at the door with his wife. “We have a message for Eliav,” they said, and he hand delivered a note from a soldier.

“What??” we all said in unison. “What’s going on? How could this be?"

Turns out that Eliav got assigned to a soldier whose family lives in Efrat (the next town over) and that the soldier is friends with Zvi. He was with Zvi recently and said, “You know I got this adorable note from someone in Neve Daniel. Do you happen to know Eliav Sussman?”

Zvi proceeded to laugh, and to explain that our families have been friends for almost 20 years and that we are neighbors.

The soldier wrote the sweetest note to Eliav, explaining how the army is often hard and it’s difficult to keep your focus on what’s important; he said that with Eliav’s note it reminded him that he’s working hard to protect kids like Eliav and to work for our nation.

Kids around the world send packages and notes to soldiers. Sometimes the soldiers write back and sometimes the kids never hear from them. 

When we deliver food to the Pinat Chama (the Warm Corner for soldiers) near our home, I see the notes that kids from other countries send to the soldiers. The notes are so sweet, but there is a certain feeling of disconnect, of thanking the soldiers for what they do there, in another country

It’s so indicative of our lives here in Israel that Eliav should get a hand-delivered note in a situation of this sort. There are simply no degrees of separation here, and when a little fifth grader writes a note to that nameless, faceless big soldier, it just might be that the soldier lives nearby and is friends with a family down the street.

Thank you, sweet soldier, for your service, for taking the time to write back to and inspire a 5th grade boy down the street, and for all you do for our nation.

Monday, March 06, 2017

An Only-In-Israel Purim Emergency

As many of my friends know, we’ve had a unique opportunity this year to reconnect with a student of mine from Churchill High School. It just so happens that he’s a professional basketball player for Hapoel Jerusalem. Yeah, it’s been wild.

So, of course, as Purim started to roll around, my two little guys decided that they had to be Jerome Dyson. We went to the Hapoel website with plenty of time before Purim and ordered up two jerseys.
This is what the jersey looks like. But this one is mine - hands off little people!

And then the waiting began.

As the date for them to dress up approaches, they are getting more and more nervous that those jerseys just aren’t going to make it in time. We’ve had a few meltdowns about it already, but there isn’t much that I can do except to keep calling the Hapoel office and keep begging the post guy in Neve Daniel to miraculously find those jerseys.

We aren’t known for having the best post office on the planet, and when I go back each day (during the one hour that the post office is open) the guy keeps laughing. Still looking for those jerseys, huh? And I would laugh with him, if it weren’t getting to be a dire situation and if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that those jerseys are buried beneath the 12000 boxes of Better World Books and other packages that he has in that disorganized, tiny space.

So, today, with four days left before the grand meltdown, I called the Hapoel office and sent them an email. I got a quick reply to my email, with Uri explaining that they mailed the jerseys six days ago. He gave me the tracking number and he told me that they should definitely be in our post office.

I was impressed with his quick reply, and sure that the blame now sits squarely on the shoulder of our postman.

Then, this afternoon, I received a phone call.

“Romi? It’s Uri from Hapoel. Did you check your post office?”

“Well, Hi Uri!” I said, giggling just a bit in surprise that he had called. “I can’t check until tomorrow, because, well, you see, the post office was open from 7-8 this morning and then they aren’t open again until tomorrow night at 6. So I’ll be there tomorrow to check.”

“Are these jerseys for Purim,” he asked.

“Yes. Yes, they are Uri.”

“Ok,” he said, as he became a man with a plan. “When do they want to wear them?”

“So, the kids want to wear them to school on Friday.”

“Ok Romi. Here is the plan. When you check the post office tomorrow night, if they aren’t there, then you call me Wednesday morning. I’m going to get two more jerseys in the right sizes and I’ll have them waiting for you in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Can you get here for them?”

“Uri,” I said. “I’ll go just about anywhere if you’ve got those jerseys for me.”

We both had a good laugh about that and the lengths that we will go for Purim, and our kids.

“Ok Romi. Call me either way on Wednesday morning. We will make sure those kids have Hapoel jerseys. Ok? Ok!”

I hung up smiling from ear to ear. While this was great customer service, I knew that his call wasn’t about looking good or about customer service. It was about Purim and about the absolute joy, almost zeal, with which Israelis approach this holiday. And how precious they understand that it is to the children in our tiny country.

I’ll let you know how our “Only In Israel” story ends in a few days. But I'm guessing that it's going to end with a few happy little Jerome Dysons.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Why I Had a Book Party for My 1st Grade Son

We just had a little party for my first grade son. It wasn’t a birthday party or a welcome home party or any other type of party with which you might be familiar.

It was a book party.

I’m not sure where I first heard this idea, but I assume that I didn’t just come up with it myself. When each of my early-readers finished his first real book all by himself, we threw him a party. My youngest guy started reading this year and about a month ago he picked up a 50-60 page book and declared that he was going to get through it himself. We watched him meticulously sound out word after word, and we watched as the reading became smoother and more decipherable.

Then he finished the book.

And we were so excited for him. To convey our excitement, we invited six friends from his first grade class to his book party. They came to our house, just for an hour, and made bookmarks, had lunch, and played a game about books to celebrate with my son.

There is a tradition that many Jewish schools have kept for generations: to give honey to children on the first day that they are introduced to the Aleph-Bet, the Hebrew alphabet. My boys have all experienced this tradition and have dipped their spoons (or their fingers) into that honey, mingling the sweet taste with the sweet sound of their first letters. I’ve always loved this idea.

I want to cultivate this type of love for reading, this thirst for knowledge, and this understanding of the sweet taste of literacy in my children. It’s not always easy to convey a love for reading. I’ve tried to implement ideas like the book party to try to impart this love and this feeling of the celebration of literacy to my boys.

I did find it interesting that I was hesitant this time when I called the parents of the kids we were inviting. In the back of my mind was the worry that some would see competition in the invite. Oh, they might think looking down on my son’s progress, MY son has been reading for ages. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, they might think, Well, my son hasn’t read a full book yet. They are bragging about their son’s accomplishments. But I quickly disregarded this fear, reminding myself that parenting isn’t a competitive sport. My son is reaching this milestone now, in his own time and in his own way. And that’s cause for celebration.

This is just one of the many ways that I can convey to my children that reading, literacy, and the thirst for knowledge are so important. They are important enough that they get their own party—their own celebration. In the digital age, when we are so quickly losing our footing in the face of electronic temptations, we need all the reinforcement and celebration of education that we can get.

This article first appeared on Kveller.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Romi's Reading Round-Up: January 2017

This year, I’m going to try to write a book review at the end of each month. That’s assuming, of course, that I’ve read enough books in the month to make it worthwhile. I’ve noticed a pattern in my reading. I’ve developed quite an affinity for the older-man-who-struggles-and-overcomes-odds type of book. Is that a genre? It seems to be one since all of these delightful and touching books fit into the category: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye, A Man Called Ove and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. I recently stumbled upon another similarly-themed book, Norwegian By Night by Derek Miller, and I was sure, before I even started it, that I would love it.
My, oh my. Love it I did. I can’t tell you how beautiful this book was. It’s the unlikely journey of an older, Jewish man and the way that he grapples with his life’s regrets and tries to put them right. It was incredible. And I found myself laughing out loud while rooting for him and the boy he helps.

Another go-to favorite of mine is Catherine Ryan Hyde. This woman can do no wrong. Her books are also about the struggles of broken souls and the ways that their friendships and loves help to patch their wounds. Her latest is called Say Goodbye for Now and it is full of grace and love, hardship and racism.

This month I read Gold by Chris Cleave. (Cleave wrote the incredible book Everyone Brave is Forgiven about London during World War II.) Gold was about three Olympic gold medal contenders and their pursuit of excellence. It was powerful and I felt like the characters stuck with me even after I finished the book. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan was another surprisingly good book. It started a bit cliché, with the unhappy girl picking up to find a new life for herself. But it was done quite well and I found myself rooting for Nina until the very end.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter was a nice mystery. Nothing earth-shattering, but a well-drawn story (well, until the end when the author appeared to get tired and wrapped everything up before you could blink!). The Mothers by Brit Bennett dragged at times, and I wish it had given more play to the voice of the mothers. In general, it was well written and an interesting look at the choices we make.

In a very different vein, I read An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur.  This was a real surprise read and very different from the types of books I usually read. I loved it and couldn’t put it down, but speak with me privately if you’re thinking of reading it. There are certain themes you’ll want to know about beforehand so that I don’t steer you wrong in your book selections!

This leaves the books I hated. There have to be a few of these each month, don’t there? First of all, I have to admit that I put down A Gentleman in Moscow after reading about 10% of it. This book has received some of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen on Goodreads and I think I’m embarrassed that I abandoned it. I found the book very dry and I don’t know enough Russian history to enjoy it. But everyone else in the world seems to be loving it – so please let me know if you have enjoyed it!

The two worst books on my list this month were Faultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel and Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken. Faultlines' characters were as flat as pancakes and its conflicts were never-ending and begged for me to care about them. I raced through the pages just because I was curious about how she would wrap it up and put me out of my misery. And so she did. And Life After Coffee is hysterically pathetic. It had a nice premise of the workaholic mom who works in the coffee industry (which I thought would be fun to learn about) who finds herself unemployed and in charge of her children. But how impossibly pathetic can you be in raising your kids and how ridiculously implausible a story line can you create?
Enjoy your coffee. Forget about this book!

I’m currently reading The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (who can do no wrong in my eyes) and Back When We Were Grown-Ups by Anne Tyler (because I found it in Amy’s lending library). I also bought myself a gift and ordered three books from Better World Books that should be here soon. They are: Love in the Present Tense, The Healing and The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. If you’ve never ordered from Better World Books, you should just to get their email. The email was written "by my books" and was all about how they can’t wait to meet me. I’d like to meet their marketing manager. Adorable.

Happy Reading!!