Crossing the Jordan

My mother died the same day all the international airlines cancelled their flights to and from Israel. To get to the funeral in Cleveland, I imagined swimming across the Jordan River, hailing a cab to Amman, flying to Istanbul with Royal Jordanian, then to New York with Turkish Air. It would take less than three days. But before packing my swimsuit for crossing the Jordan, I took the advice of Sherri, my loyal travel agent at Ophir Tours, and drove to Ben-Gurion Airport to stand in line at the only airline still flying to and from Israel: El Al. Never did the national airline look so good. I used my pushy skills honed over the past forty-seven years and in no time reached the front of the line. The conscientious clerk went into emergency mode when she heard me say, “My mother died.” She stood up, raced to the back room and initiated Protocol 077 or whatever code they use for Mourner. I got the last seat on the El Al flight to JFK the next afternoon.

In Hebrew the time between death and burial—that liminal zone when everyday life is suspended for mourners—is called anninut. According to the laws of Jewish mourning one starts to mourn after the funeral.    But the psyche has its own laws. According to these laws, as I experienced them between July 22nd and 25th , I reciprocated any act of kindness towards me with tears. This is why, when the lovely welcoming stewardess on El Al told me I had a seat by the door with enough leg room for a person six feet tall, I cried. And when a fatherly steward, who looked like Santa Claus on vacation, brought me a warm fuzzy blanket to counter the freezing air conditioning, I again shed tears. I dared tell yet another beautiful Jewess that I was a vegan and she brought me a fruit salad from first class. Was that not worthy of a cry? By the time we flew over Rhodes, I felt guilty for having deserted El Al years ago, choosing Continental, because of its Cleveland hub. Guilt  seemed appropriate on a Jewish airline.

The morning after arriving at JFK, I waited for four hours at La Guardia for a flight to Cleveland. Nobody knew or cared that my mother had died. I tried to make the most of this situation by talking Death to the gentleman sitting next to me. Fortunately, he had flown from Cleveland to his own mother’s funeral in Jamaica several months earlier. We compared  mourning customs and concluded there is no one way to mourn. Not only is it individual, as I once learned from Prof. Gerald Kaplan when he came to Israel in 1973 to train us social workers caring for bereaved families from the Yom Kippur War, but it is also determined by culture, geography and religion.

During my week in Cleveland all I wanted to read were obituaries, so it came as no surprise that on my way to the airport on the last day, when my loving son from California and I visited Loganberry Used Bookstore on Larchmere Road, I bought The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering Practical and Compassionate Advice On Coping with All Aspects of Death and Dying by Helen Fitzgerald. Firzgerald

Given the working title of my (in progress) hybrid memoir, The Mourning After, it’s amazing I had never heard of Fitzgerald’s 1995 book. Timing is everything, to simplify Ecclesiastes. I bought the book on the exact day I needed it. Here was the whole galaxy of mourning in one easily scrunchable paperback that fit into my purse and that would enable me to survive five hours at JFK, ten more on El Al and a year of mourning.

Now, I have been home for a month. Having buried my mother and sat Shiva in Cleveland and observed the Shloshim in Jerusalem, in my periodic visions of grandeur, I morph into a grief entrepreneur. I imagine leading workshops on Unresolved Childhood Grief (Fitzgerald, p. 217), starting at The Writing Pad in Beit Zayit and then taking the show on the road. I now see The Mourning After as a hybrid collection of writings that helped me deal with unresolved childhood grief.WritingPad

There is nothing like a Death in the family—throwing a shovelful of dirt on your mother’s open grave—to transport you from Fantasy Land to Reality. The dramatic transition feels like crossing the chilly Jordan . . . or some Jordan.

Though ritually I have left anninut and am planted firmly in the mourning year, the psyche still hovers in some liminal, transitional zone. Call it Elul. Call it Orphan-hood. Or Maturity. Whatever it’s called, I want to thank El Al for carrying me in my hour of need from one side to the other and I want to thank Helen Fitzgerald for giving my obsession a name and I especially want to thank my late Mother, Mom, Rita Faye (nee Grossman) Stonehill, a beautiful Jewess who carried me in this world with milk and honey, even as she told me to get the hair out of my eyes and the thumb out of my mouth, and whose memory is . . . and will forever be . . . a blessing.

Rita Stonehill z"l 1920 - 2014

Rita Stonehill z”l
1920 – 2014

 

Posted in Grief and Mourning, Unresolved Childhood Grief | 30 Comments

A Protected Room of Our Own

Only yesterday during the siren did I realize my room of my own is not protected: no metal shutters on the bathroom window, no metal doors on the  sliding glass doors. The room of my own was so open to the surrounding Judean hills over which missiles were flying on their way to Jerusalem that I felt uncomfortably vulnerable.  The Home Front  Command had instructed citizens in a building with neither a protected room, a stairwell nor a bomb shelter, to lie on the floor, face down, arms covering the head.

When the siren sounded I looked at the smooth white pseudo-marble tiles on the floor. I was happy they were not dotted with ants, spiders or dirt from the plant nursery below. Only a  film of dust. Though the tiles did not  beckon me to rest my anxious cheek, I gave in to the force of gravity and stretched out on the cool floor, grateful this war was not transpiring in winter, when the floor is freezing and damp. Nose into the floor, arms over the head and expecting the worst,  I soon realized there was no way I would maintain this position for the recommended ten minutes.

To my right was the fridge, empty but buzzing.  If the rocket fell nearby and caused large objects  to move, I reasoned, waiting for the faraway boom to indicate I was still alive, the fridge might fall on me. I did not want to be squished by a fridge, so without waiting for any more signals from outside, I took my fate into my own hands and crawled backwards on my stomach, a militant civilian. My clean white shirt and white slacks enabled me to imagine I was in camouflage. Surely no sniper nor  missile with eyes would see me on the white floor.

Now my prone body “hid”  opposite the  sliding glass doors. Even though I’ve never served in the army, I knew this was not a safe position.  Flying glass could easily cut my face. glassdoors I turned towards the wall. But as soon as my hands were covering my brain, I realized this too was not safe. Shrapnel from the missile could easily enter my unprotected writing room of my own and lodge in my back. Didn’t Yossi carry shrapnel in his head from the Battle of Jerusalem in ’48, causing him headaches until his death three years ago?  At various times during my long life, the beginning of which I am “celebrating” today,  I have  suffered from low back, upper back, hip and neck pain. I had no desire to incur any injury to  any part of my back, especially the day before my birthday, granted not a big one, but a birthday nonetheless.

It was at this moment that I started thinking about the man, the Hamas man in Gaza, who was pulling the string or pushing the button or covering his ears while another crony was pushing the button or pulling the string. This man, I understood while lying on the pseudo marble floor, vulnerable as the  geraniums below me in the plant nursery, would be very happy to see me dead. Why else was he firing these missiles and rockets all the way from Gaza to the Judaean hills?

I was angry at this man, his organization, ideology, his state of terror that he was spreading like a virus into Israel.  I wanted the Israeli army to fire back and hoped one of  Israel’s  missiles would hit him on the run and neutralize him from  trying to kill me.

And then I thought of Virgina Woolf, the woman writer who in 1928 verbalized a woman’s   need for freedom, peace and a room of one’s own in order to write.  She was addressing the women at Newnham and Girton Colleges at the University of Cambridge and probably could not have imagined that some woman in the maniacal Middle East would take her seriously eighty-six years later. And then I wondered if some woman in Gaza who was crouching under a table or next to a glass door, totally vulnerable, also felt from an early age the need to write. How could there not be such a woman there?  Or many? And how much more difficult was it for her to achieve her dream.

The boom came indicating the missile had been downed by Iron Dome and in those few seconds after the boom  when I stood up and took deep breaths I realized that only when we both inhabited a secure and safe space would we have the freedom and the peace to write. We both needed, not only a protected room of our own, but a protected land.

Upright, I was still angry, but now not only at Hamas who fired the missile. Now I was angry at the stiff, pompous, self-righteous, over-weight,  macho Israeli male leaders and all the men on both sides whose imaginations were so narrow, fixed and frozen that they hadn’t been able to come up with a better solution to this conflict over a shared piece of land that demanded we live like neighbors, not enemies, no better solution than this tiresome old game they had been playing for generations like little boys who never grew up, never learned how to respect the other and to share their common ground.

Posted in Israel, Uncategorized | Tagged | 19 Comments

Letter from Camp

Dear mom and dab,

I’m writing you from book camp. I haven’t been able to write you sooner because I’ve been working on my book all the time. Even when I leave the cabin/cell/room cellfromoutdoorswhere I actually sit to write the book and go to my bunk even there my head is still in the cabin/cell/room and I’m thinking if paragraf three should become paragraf seven and if chapter five should switch places with chapter six. It’s like building a mall with lego. Too bad I never played with lego.

I know there’s a lot going on in the world – the milkman delivers news every now and then – but I can’t be bothered, not only because I stopped drinking milk. “The world will always offer reasons not to focus on your book.” This is what the senior counselors here say, so they encourage us, i mean me, to stick to what they call GOAL. I know it’s a term used in soccer and football, but I never payed attention back then, so it’s like a new term for me. It’s more than a word. It’s a way to get you to sit in the chair even if you want to jump on the trampolene or paint the peeling wall yellowneedspainting or plant lettuce or anything else that demands getting up from the chair. Thinking GOAL seems to work, at least at camp. I’m sticking to getting the book ready for an editor if not by the end of camp (august 24th) then by the end of sukkot (oct. 17th)

Book camp isn’t anything like forest acres where you sent me in 1958. At book camp I’m the camper counselor and cleaner. I have to wake myself up in the morning, make my own breakfast, go to the retreat room/cabin/cell for writing, print out a chapter in the print cabin, make lunch, dinner, snacks etc etc. it might sound hard, but climbing mount Washington was hard too. (Did I ever tell you about the blisters that got infected and the mean nurse who opened them and told me I was a cry baby??) At boot camp, I mean book camp, there are other activities too. Everyday I can choose among yoga, tai chi, fold-unfold, swimming, biking, walking, shiatsu and dancing. I try to do at least one of those every day to counter all the sitting. The chief counselor believes in staying healthy while you write your book, because if you get sick then the sickness becomes another reason not to focus. (Sometimes I wish I had mono . . . )

We also have field trips. We?? I’m the only one at this camp, though a friend named Ruthie visited and thought it was “a slice of heaven” and signed up for a few days.

My favorite field trips are to tel aviv and Haifa. In tel aviv I pick up A. from her babysitter and we stroll down ben gurion avenue. A twenty-minute walk takes us two hours because we look at everything from up in the sky: clouds, birds, airplanes, helicopters, moon, kites, etc., to everything down on the ground: cars, cats, dogs, skooters, bicycles, tables, fruit shakes, buses, trucks, ambulances, steam shovels, fork lifts, policemen, babies, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, paintings,painting2 sculptures, red lights, green lights, stop signs, sand, dirt, stones, flowers, trees, dead leaves, fences, slides and swings. By the time we reach rabin square with its fountains, I’m wiped out, but I also appreciate all the many words I still have to describe all the wonders we see on ben gurion avenue. Do you remember that dogs come in all shapes sizes and colors, as do trees and flowers? Who needs kindergarten and school with a street like this??dogs

My other favorite field trip is when I go to Haifa and visit my three little munchkins. We swing in the park and eat ice cream and try to figure out how to handle strong jealous feelings without killing each other like the brothers in the bible. It’s not easy, but it’s still easier than sitting down and writing the book. I have to go now because I’ve already spent too much time writing to you and I’m losing my focus. The senior counselor says “Never take your eye off the GOAL. Focus!!” It’s kinda like softball, I think, where you always have to watch the ball so it won’t hit you in the face. Fortunately, there’s no softball at  book camp.

So thanks mom and dab for enabling me to spend this summer at camp. deskAfter the book comes out and I return from my workwide tour—I mean worldwide tour—I’m thinking of becoming a nursery school teacher. The babysitter says I have talent.

Love ya,

your daughter, JUDY

PS – Say hi to tweetie and spot. Don’t forget to pick me up on august 24th, the earlier the better.

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My Israeli Skin

I spent an hour waiting in the hall at the Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of Interior last week. I held number  138; 98 was being serviced upon my arrival. I hadn’t been in this hall for a decade and I was happy to see that somebody at the Ministry of Interior cared about Israel’s citizens. The chairs were comfortable, the place clean.  In large signs with no spelling mistakes we meandering citizens who valued every active minute of the day were informed, If you’re late, you lose your turn.

MisradHapanim.jpg

Large numbers flashed from all directions inviting 100 to go to clerk number 5 and 101 to clerk number 3. There were enough chairs for the sixty or seventy waiting individuals and even a water fountain that worked on the day that Jerusalemites were told to boil their water two minutes before drinking. The clerks wore clean white t-shirts over their clothes with the logo of the Population and Immigration Authority stamped over the heart.  Some even smiled to the citizens they served. They didn’t eat croissants and drink coffee in your face. You could tell that someone with a Masters in Branding and Service had won a tender and devoted at least nine months, if not years, of interior design and personnel training  to accomplish the makeover of the Population and Immigration Authority.

Nonetheless, an Ethiopian man left one clerk in a fit of fury and frustration. A Rumanian worker looked confused and shook his head rapidly as the clerk rattled out instructions in speed Hebrew. Miraculously, a security guard gently walked a blind Indian woman dressed in a sari to the head of a line to receive her ID card. Those waiting in the same line did not complain and the woman sitting next to me said, “There are still good people in the world.”

The waiting room was abuzz with babies crying, men speaking to women in Russian, women speaking to children in Arabic, husbands speaking to wives in Yiddish, a father talking to a son in sign language, children screaming with delight as if they were at an amusement park, people eating apples, felafels, chocolate bars, while their eyes went back and forth to the numbers above us, in the hall of changing status.

A twenty-year old American guy in a Hard Rock Café t-shirt swaggered around looking ebullient, but confused. He reminded me of my first visit to this office on Shlomzion Hamalka Street in downtown Jerusalem. I was twenty-two and I had just decided to change my status from student to new immigrant. Delete “decided.” That sounds like I made a mature rational decision. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The year was 1967. I was swept into a flurry of Zionistic zeal, my head bursting with expectations of salvation and desire to enter Jewish history through the Zionist narrative. Rather than sit on the sidelines in Baltimore or Cleveland, I wanted to stay in Israel and, well, just stay in Israel. At twenty-two that seemed enough of a plan for the next twelve months.

Aren’t all “decisions” of twenty-two year olds motivated by passion?
I wanted to belong to the State of Israel, to create a new identity and this was the hall where I got my belonging papers. Easily I received immigrant status and then citizenship, as if I had never stood with tears in my eyes at the Lincoln Memorial, never pledged allegiance at Mount Vernon and Monticello, never fantasized living in a log cabin, walking the Oregon Trail, never fallen in love with Walt Whitman. I was a fickle young American, easily swayed and thus, easy bait for the State of the Jews.
When 124 flashed, a young mother bent over a carriage to kiss her crying baby. I recalled my visits to the Population and Immigration Authority after the birth of each of my three children to apply for their birth certificates and to make sure their names and Hebrew birth dates appeared on the flimsy paper of my ID card. I was so proud that my children were born in Israel.
The longer I sat in that hall, watched and waited, the more Israeli decades passed before my inner eye as though I was watching This Is Your Life and the surprised guest was me. By the time 138 flashed from all corners, I felt comfortable in my Israeli skin. This was the county in which I had forged myself a la Whitman, Neitzche and A.D. Gordon and this was the hall where I received my confirmation papers. I had foregone the PhD in American history. Instead of waving my cap above my head in a medieval  graduation ceremony, I glued my Certificate of Immigration above my bed. I would always be an immigrant.

By 2014 I was not afraid anyone would steal my identity again. Nonetheless, to be perfectly safe, I opted for a smart biometric passport and ID card. The clerk encouraged me to do so, knowing my middle name was Suggestible. I knew some Israelis were opposed to the State knowing the exact location and size of their facial wrinkles and sunspots, the labyrinths on their  fingers, but I didn’t care. In 1967 I had surrendered to the State, body and soul. She could keep my data in her secure or insecure database now, forty-seven years later.  Within ten working days when I would receive my biometric documents—the Passport through registered mail, the ID in a short visit to this hall—my identity would be thoroughly mine, only mine, immune to theft. It was worth the 280 New Israeli Shekels.

Also the memories were mine, the adventure, the leap into the unknown, the living on the edge of the stage of history. These too could never be stolen, though the Ministry of Interior didn’t care about these kishkes. These were solely mine, as were the loss of innocence, the disappointments, lies, shame, fences, frustration and grief. They were all mine. They would always be mine, as would the love of a twenty-two-year old, a love pure and passionate, a love that still flickered, like the soft light one sees after the sun sets into the Mediterranean, those pink and golden wisps of  clouds, light shields against heavy  darkness.

Posted in Identity, Zionism | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Have to Create a Buzz

April is bee season in Moshav Beit Zayit. The little black and yellow furry things with wings are busy sucking the nectar from our obese pink roses. roses
Whenever a bee buzzes near me, I run the other way, but I understand that as an author with a new book I will have to create a buzz. Not to worry. My new book is neither completed, nor has it found a home. Nonetheless, I have to work myself up to creating a buzz, a mode of communication that does not come naturally.
One can’t launch a buzz until one has a title copyrighted and settled.
I’ve narrowed down the list of twenty-four possible titles to two: Possibility One: The Mourning After: A Hybrid Memoir of Delayed Grief . Possibility Two: The Kitchen Sink: A  Hybrid Memoir of Delayed Grief. I’ve copyrighted both names, just in case this post reaches the eyes and ears of a writer who wants to steal one of them. I don’t think anyone would want to steal one of these names, though, since writing a hybrid memoir about delayed grief could take you forty years. I’m sure you have better things to do with your time.

I know it could take forty years because that’s about how long it’s taken me to reach this  current version. Each decade I rewrote it, but this decade’s revision seems to be the best. I forced myself to listen only to my still, small voice and focus  on the story.

You won’t learn much about Jerusalem’s history  or the Cuyahoga River from my memoir. Pick up my book (in 2015 or after) only if you’re interested in one woman’s experience with delayed grief. You’ll see how an information vacuum  causes the imagination to go berserk. You’ll also laugh a little, because it’s important to laugh when a book deals with grief.

During my current revision I mention  a gun in Part One. Maybe by the time my book is published (I’m feeling confident it will find a small publisher who adores the hybrid memoir, some starving person between Buffalo and Taos.) the gun will go off in Part III. I too can’t wait to see how I figure that one out. It’s a memoir, after all.
The main difference between this version of my memoir and versions from the eighties, nineties and the first decade of this century is that then I was an emerging writer and now I am a mature writer. At a workshop in Wales in 1990 or so, a published writer told me, “Judy, you’re trying to do something very difficult.” This was her way of saying, It doesn’t work. She was right. But now, as a mature writer and a teacher, no less, now I can handle the difficulties and even enjoy them.

Is this enough of a buzz? Bee Are you waiting breathlessly for me to finish the effing book so I can find a publisher and you can download it onto your Kindle or buy the paper version for your nightstand? I am. Meanwhile, I shall buzz. Better I should get sick of the buzzing than of the book.

 

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Jewish writing, Persistence, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Such a rich life and I haven’t even gotten out of bed.

Ten per cent of the human population needs ten hours of sleep or more a night. I am proud to  be part of that exclusive Holy Order of Sleepers. I love to sleep. Over the years I’ve perfected my sleeping, so that what started out as a basic human need has become an art. On nights when I only get six or seven hours, due to some argument with the sleep goddess, I am ornery, mean and what did Hobbes call us? Wretched? Only if I get nine, ten, eleven or dare I admit it – twelve hours of the magic dust, do I wake with a smile, stretch my arms to the heavens and skip to the kitchen for my cup of warm water.

Many people have trouble falling asleep, but not I. First I lie on my back and give a good stretch. Since I have become a vegan, when I lie down I can trace the contours of all my bones. I like that. It pleases me to know everything is in mechanical working order, all set for a night’s sleep. But being open to the world on my back is not good for sleeping, so I flip over onto my stomach. I release into the mattress all obsessive thoughts about the day that has ended and the day that will come, directing them down into China where they belong, as my ankles, knees, pelvis, stomach and chest sink towards China as well. It is at this time that I place my Rolls Royce of a pillow on top of my head where it will shade me from the morning light that penetrates the shudder’s slats.slats

Sometimes, if I cover my head with two pillows, I hear Nikita Khrushchev yell, We will bury you.

The Jewish sages of blessed memory said sleeping is a 60th of death. The main difference of course is that we awake from sleep, but supposedly do not awake from death. Like the poet Theodore Roethke, I take my waking slow. This is the sweetest part of the night, dawn, when I dream, review the dream and then float slowly back up into semi-consciousness. I still see the tail of the dream and I chase it, wanting to grasp that other world where everything I create is brilliant. Once I catch  the tail, I try to remember the other parts of the slippery dream. Sometimes I succeed. I leap over the Grand Canyon, drive semi-trailers, lecture to a room of five hundred people, nurse my babies. Such a rich life and I haven’t even gotten out of bed. Once, when I was nineteen, I saw young boys chasing greased pigs at a fair in Quaker City, Ohio. That’s what I do every morning in bed.

Gradually, I leave the dream world and enter full consciousness. The first thing I do is look at the clock.    clock    Did I set any records? No. Only ten hours tonight. I flip my feet down to the floor, sit on the edge of the bed for a few minutes to make sure the breathing works and then lift up slowly into a standing position, ready for take-off. Ahh, to be an upright homo sapiens in the 21st century. Or is it the 22nd already?

Overcome by height, I lower my discs one by one to touch my toes. Straightening up, I assess the pain in my lower back. Fair to middlin’. All systems go. Slippered, I walk to the living room, open the screen, count the number of pigeon droppings on the porch and celebrate the Sun, that grand patron of time, who has agreed, yet again, to rise.

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Managing a Writing Life in Beit Zayit

Writing is hard, even on a moshav in Israel. You need all the help and support you can get. This winter I’ve managed to organize a whole team to support my writing life. First, I have a landlord who rents me a room next to a horse stable so I’m always promised the strong smell of horse pee. This is excellent for inspiration.

Inspiration

Inspiration

When I get tired of writing in my room, let’s say after thirty minutes, I jump on the landlord’s trampoline. This is excellent for the circulatory system, as long as you don’t get a heart attack in mid-air. I have my landlord to thank for an endless supply of lemons, as well as apathetic dogs, curious cats and silence.

To deal with the damp and cold in my writing room, I have contracted the services of a local master of Shiatsu, who is also studying So Juk. This woman of the magic hands warms my kidneys, locates stoppages of chi in my intestinal track and gets the chi flowing again. When her hands are not enough, she supplements her treatments with Moxa, putting small dried leaves that look like incense on key points on my hands and lighting them (the leaves). When the fires are not enough, she painlessly inserts needles into certain blocked passages in my meridians, as reflected in points on my hands, and within minutes, I am not only physically warm, but flooded with warmth toward my fellow human beings, starting with her. All this attention to my hands is excellent for writing, since I use my fingers.

To keep the chi flowing through the week I attend two Chi Quong classes, both in the morning before my writing sessions. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I go to my writing room calm, open, flexible, balanced and energized.

But this is not all, no this is not all, to quote the cat in the hat.  Recently, after I heard that my mother is again in hospice care in Cleveland for the third time, I hired a woman who is an expert in treating trauma victims through short-term NLP.  NLP stands for neuro linguistic processing, I think, unless it’s neo-Lacanian psychobabble.  After the first session, I had a week of rich dreams that kept me in bed until 9 a.m. Mmmmm. I look forward to NLP helping me cope with writing about the mother I had when I was five while my current mother is dying.

A friend who is a professional choreographer tops off my support staff. She comes to Beit Zayit once a week and dances with me and my friend Sarita, who is partially disabled from juvenile arthritis. After the first week of dancing together, I realized I was partially disabled too, so this intimate class held in Sarita’s living room nurtures all three of us.

With all these professional helpers behind me, I am able to write my memoir on delayed grief for 10-15 hours a week. I am not interested in writing any more than that, because I believe in leading a balanced life and, truth be told, I am a little sick of the book.

To balance my life, I frolic with my grandchildren in Tel Aviv and Haifa at least twice a week, do a little cooking of grains pulses and grasses, a bissel gardening, and take a short walk in the wadi below my house, where, recently, I happened upon these anemones.b

Though some writers do, I rarely go to movies, plays or any kind of entertainment. With such a heavy schedule of writing and the caregivers who support it, I am wiped out by 10 PM and enjoy retiring early. I neither volunteer, nor participate in demonstrations. I could be living in Vermont, for all my involvement in Israel.

If you are interested in becoming a serious writer, I am sure there are a zillion models you could follow, but however you live your writing life, I cannot recommend highly enough the addition of horse pee for inspiration.

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Wizards of Immigration

On Monday I took my two eldest grand kids, five and seven, to see a Hebrew production of The Wizard of Oz at the Abba Hushi Auditorium in Haifa, because I wanted to introduce my Israeli grand kids to the beloved melodies of my American youth. Any resemblance to the 1939 MGM movie was coincidental. The only authentic melody in this Haifa version was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” All the other songs sounded like Hebrew entries to the Eurovision Song Contest for Children, circa 1980.

Brick Road I kept my disappointment to myself because the grand kids didn’t know better and were enjoying the show. At least there were no pyrotechnics, typical in many Israeli children’s shows. The set and the costumes were simple and colorful. The basics were there – a storm, a lost girl wanting to find home, two witches, a brick road, three friends, red shoes and a wizard. This production was The Wizard of Oz for beginners. Indeed, the average age was three.

The wizard was played by a man with a paunch (too many kubeh) wearing a red and black dress. Also playing the role of the bad witch, he preferred to make the children laugh rather than shiver in their seats. The many wizards I’ve consulted during my forty-seven years in Israel usually made me cry. The first was a Yekke. He was a psychiatrist and an analyst, or so I thought. Later I learned that he had dropped out of the analytic training at the Israeli Institute of Psychoanalysis. This did not prevent him, though, from using his couch, where I lay many afternoons. He was not your typical psychiatrist-analyst. Once during a session he called his wife in their apartment upstairs and asked her how to make brisket in a pressure cooker. (The man who would become my husband was coming for dinner that night.) From that time on, I suspected this wizard was getting a kickback from The Jewish Agency or the Ministry of Immigration. Many of his clients were new immigrants like me, lost, and looking for the way home.

My next wizard was a female social worker, religious, the mother and grandmother of thousands. I figured she could give me advice for mothering only three. Her best piece of advice was to have me write about my own nuclear family. From there it was a short move  to a movement wizard. In her home  I spent two years of ecstasy crawling around a living room with wall to wall carpet. It was in that safe room with cushions and scarves that I gave birth to myself.

For the next decade I chose a man who got into wizardry from the field of translation. That was an excellent preparation, I figured, and enjoyed another four years of interpretations  and tears. When I learned that he also served as the psychologist for Jerusalem’s basketball team, my love for him increased ten thousandfold. But alas, he left the Holy City for the Emerald City of Ra’anana.

After participating in a psychodrama class for a year, I decided I wanted the teacher all to myself. I signed up for private wizardry. Since her English was not good, I agreed to speak in Hebrew. For fifty minutes a week I poured my heart out in Hebrew. No matter what the content, I always felt good afterwards because I was speaking the holy tongue, surely the tongue of the one and only original Wizard.

Today the only wizard I consult on a regular basis uses Shiatsu. Original tzurris begins in the body and this is the arena where, with the help of gentle hands that press here and push there, that tzurris will be relieved. When my new wizard combines Shiatsu with So Juk and Moxa, I know I have finally come home.

After the production in Haifa my grand kids and I got into a cab. All the way home the driver spoke about fishing for buri (flathead mullet) at Bat Galim. He was daft and confused, not unlike the original wizard of Oz.  I wasn’t worried, though, because finally, I was wearing my red shoes.

Grandma's Red Shoes

Grandma’s Red Shoes

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Room for Hope

The word Peace has invaded Israel over the past months like a flight of dangerous birds from a far-away land. Half the country busies itself with figuring out how to get rid of these pests and the other half wants to learn how to live with them.  “Security”—that’s a word everyone knows how to live with, what it looks like, what its absence breeds. But Peace? This is a strange bird.

Strange Bird

Strange Bird

During the snow storm that attacked Israel in mid-December, I had the good fortune to see what Peace looks like. Spending two days in the Emergency Room of Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem as a “healthy” person accompanying a “sick” person, I witnessed the possible face of a peaceful Jerusalem.

The first sign that Peace was present was that the hundreds of people filling the rooms and corridors of the ER wore a fierce variety of costumes. Some wore white or green matching  pants and shirts. Men wore baseball caps, kippot of all sizes and colors, black furry hats and ear muffs. Women wrapped their heads with turbans from all the colors in the rainbow. Some girls wore skirts to their ankles and others tight leather pants that hugged their legs with violence. All had eyes, ears, noses and mouths. From these mouths a cluster of languages burst forth like grapes in summer: Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, Russian, Amharic, Yiddish, Japanese, Tourist, Worry (scrunched nose and cheeks, eyes half-closed) and Hand (“Help!”)

Religious symbols and names dangled from necks and name tags from shirts. The men and women racing around with the name tags were the helpers—people like you and me who suffer tzurris, fears and maybe bad dreams at night, but who can function during the day. These helpers were multi-taskers who never lost their focus. They worked as a team and I never heard any shouting, not once, except from a needy woman who was new in the ER and didn’t understand that the helper answering her question as best as she could was also taking care of 30-50 other people with similar questions. The needy woman’s loud outburst did not last long. Someone with a large name tag knew how to calm her.

All these helpers had jobs, from the floor washer to the professor, and they all carried out their roles as best they could under the circumstances. The circumstances were the hundreds of needy people who had slipped on the ice in Jerusalem and broken a bone or suffered kidney failure or couldn’t pass urine or a thousand other complications that the human body offers on the cold days, as it does on the hot. The needy were easy to identify: Pain written on their foreheads, an IV stand next to them like a shadow, moans coming from deep in their chests or a scary silence from their depths.

Hovering over around and through the bustle were a band of angels. Some wore the uniform of Beit Yaakov high school girls and they offered free sandwiches from Ezer m’Zion.  Others were volunteers from all walks of life who gave hot soup even to people like me who were only keeping a needy man company while he waited.

A bizarre calm reigned in the bustling room and by the 9th or 10th hour, I realized that this calm in the midst of bustle was what Peace might look like. It was really a marvelous sight to see, this microcosm of what I called Peace. Nobody’s vision of God or two states or one state got in the way. What mattered was the water accumulating in someone’s lungs, the clogged heart, broken wrist, fainting spell, sore knee.

Everyone in the ER waited, sometimes for two hours and sometimes for two days. It was that kind of place. You had to wait because there were so many people crowded into such a small space. Either you could kill each other or wait patiently together. There were drugs to help those writhing in pain and once the writhers were Optalginned into feeling no pain, they too waited their turn for a verdict: Go home; take pills; sleep in the ER; wait for CT; advance to Surgery; Hospice.

In the ER of the frozen City of Peace everyone waited, some for the angel of death and some for the angelic nurse or doctor who asked kindly what kind of pain it was, how often it came, how long it lasted and then felt the liver or spleen or leg with delicate intentional fingers.

During this waiting and watching, I realized that the secret to achieving Peace in this frantic cold piece of geography is to realize we are all needy, wounded and in pain, some more than others, everyone at various times.  What unites us all, no matter what language we speak, are bodies that betray us.

When I want to relax, I will not return to the ER, but I will go there again when I need hope. I will go back to the room for hope to see people who look so different on the outside, wearing their symbols around their necks, on their heads or under their shirts, sitting together, sharing their stories, supporting each other while waiting.

Peace, like a strange bird, is loud as a scream, soft as a moan, crazy and painful as pishing through a plastic tube. Peace hurts. But Peace is the only cure for what ails us.

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Report from the Boonies

November 27th was a sad day and a happy day. The sad part was because Arik Einstein died and listening to all his beautiful songs on the radio made me feel like a part of me had died, the part that longed for the imaginary Israel with a longing that only 20-somethings can muster. It was a happy day because I celebrated my daughter’s 35th birthday with her. We went to a relatively new restaurant in Jerusalem near the shuk, HaMotzi, which is so popular you need a reservation. It was started by a chef who won the local Master Chef competition after he stopped taking drugs. Since we didn’t have a reservation we got to sit at the bar and watch the staff run around and  work like crazy and make themselves sandwiches in between orders. The North African food was delicious, though the deserts were dry. Can you imagine eating chicken balls in strawberries? That’s what my daughter ordered and it was amazing. I had stuffed veggies. Intriguing. Then we walked over to the relatively new design center on Bezalel Street. (Nocturna Beit Café is in the entrance and on the sidewalk.) We did the rounds of the workshops, admired the art and schmoozed with the artists and I felt somewhat guilty that we did not buy anything from them. Everyone had only praise for Jerusalem. It felt like a holiday  in a quieter version of Tel Aviv, much quieter.  We shopped in a store where a woman with blue hair gave me her card should I want an hour of styling. I put on my blue hat with the wide rim for her and asked her if this gave me style. She didn’t reply and I don’t think I’ll be contacting her. For style, I believe in forty years of therapy. Then you can find your own style, if you still have any energy left.

Jerusalem Hand

Jerusalem Hand

Since our upstairs neighbors left in August and took the cable connection with them, we have been without tv. It’s been a quiet four months. I’ve done more reading than I’ve done in the past few years. Today we hooked up David’s laptop to the tv and now we can access movies, music and old tv programs. I was delighted to see Barenboim conduct Mahler’s Fifth at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. David opted for Beethoven’s Pastoral. The sound is much better than on our CD and I have a feeling that the possibilities are limitless. I know that for most of the advanced world, attaching your computer to a tv screen is no big deal, but for a woman who still remembers the first TV in 1949  that had three channels in orange dots and lots of snow, this is a big deal. I am determined to keep up with modern technology, though I do not have WAZE on my cellphone, despite the fact that our dear friends are the CEO’s parents. When I had to go to Ashdod today, I asked my son for directions and his directions were perfect. I enjoyed seeing the new roads, also not so new for most people, but I get out so rarely, living in the boonies, that to me it’s a big deal to see the road that crosses the country south of  Gedera. And all the work near the entrance to Ashdod. Soon our country will be one large road, but a nice modern road, nothing like the roads in America that are falling apart after fifty years. I’m even getting used to the idea that from our living room we will be able to see the new hi-rise road at the Motza curve. It will provide exciting viewing when we sit in the living room reading Albert Camus and listening to pre-Renaissance music.

I’m wondering how to tie all these threads together and I think it might be the tv- that’s where we listen to Arik Einstein, (don’t) watch Master Chef and will probably spend many hours (not) watching American sit-coms.  Happy Chanukah! To all those who still get excited by candles. And Happy Turkey to all those who relish a good bird.

One more thing. I must boast about my nomination for a Pushcart Prize, because if I don’t boast for myself, who will do it for me? By April I will know if I won, so I am going to enjoy the coming four months to the hilt, wherever that is. The nominated essay is about the day I spent in the Israel Defense Forces, checking it out for my daughter, before she was inducted. It will appear in Brain, Child: A Literary Magazine for Thinking Mothers online in the beginning of December. I must say, when I received notification that my essay was nominated, I cried a few deep cries from satisfaction. All my sitting in front of the screen may bring rewards yet. But even if they don’t, I will continue sitting in front of the screen or holding a pen, because that is what I love to do and apparently, I’m getting better at it. Also, it’s gratifying to know I am a thinking mother. That sure took a long time, too.

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