Who Is the Author of My Memoir?

Forget the thirty-nine titles for the memoir I’m currently submitting to independent publishers, I can’t even settle on the author’s name.

Ahhhhrr. That’s me, dressed up as the MGM lion, saying I’m confused.

My father told the officiating rabbi thirty minutes before my chuppa that I was “christened” Judy Stonehill.

For twenty-six years Stonehill tailed my Judy. One of the reasons I came to Israel fifty-one years ago was to find a nice Jewish name.

Labensohn works in English, but Israeli clerks invariably turn me into a Levinsin or a Lavinson by inserting yuds in various syllables and deleting the dot from the bet.

After I divorced twenty years ago, I was free to change my name, but didn’t. There were enough changes to deal with and bureaucratic issues to settle.  I was not about to add another challenge. “It’s bad enough you abandoned us,” said my daughter. “At least keep the same name.”

Eventually,  she got married and changed her name.  Years later my first-born cut and Hebraicized his name to Lavi. National brit as rite of passage.

My first option for a pseudonym is Judy Steinberg. My father’s name was Steinberg until 1927, when he Americanized it to Stonehill.  But Steinberg was a name his own father had picked up  from some nice Jew in Hamburg who helped Joseph Gyshinsky board a trans-Atlantic boat.

Judy Gyshinsky, my second option. I’ve been rolling that around my tongue for several years, but it still feels too Ukranian for me.

When I’m in a heavily mother-loving mode I think about adapting my beautiful late-mother’s maiden name. Judy Grossman, option three. I could live with that Hungarian name, though I have too much antipathy towards Hungary lately.

Since I’ve been living in Israel for half a century, maybe it’s time to Hebraicize my name. (No, Word Check, not Herbicide).  Throw out Stonehill and Labensohn and become Har Evan. This is a Hebrew translation of Stonehill and Steinberg.  But then I am confronted with the contradiction in having an American first name and a Hebrew last name. “Judy?” Israelis say, looking at me as if I’ve made a mistake. “You mean Yehudit,” they declare, everyone a know-it-all.

It’s probably time to own that contradiction of identities and rename it. Plurality of identities. Wealth of identities. Acceptance of multiple and porous identities. Judy Har Evan. Or Judy Lev. I rather like that last option. It would look good in 16 pt. white Calibri print, boldly covering the bottom third of my memoir’s front cover.

Who’s she? Never heard of her, publicists will say. Not one item on Google. No Facebook. No platform.  Nada. Must be a new Israeli upstart.

No worries. I’m used to being an unknown entity. When I had my winning essay anthologized in In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (Norton, 2005) and two other college writing texts, I published under the pseudonym Judyth Har-Even (sic).  The publishing world has never heard from her since.

In small print on the back cover of In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, the publisher describes the book as “A cross section of the famous and those bound to become so . . .”

If you haven’t heard of me yet, wait and wonder if, when Yudit Buckeye’s memoir hits the bookstores, it’s not the same old confused Judy from writeinisrael.com, bound for glory and fame, wearing a new dress.

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Growth Spurt, Not Writer’s Block

I seem to be the kind of person who is open to adventures. Over Pesach my partner and I slept in a converted vegetable growing hut. I’m sure this structure has a name but I can barely describe it and don’t know where to begin to look for its name. Thousands of them are covered with plastic in agricultural fields. It is made from iron ribs that bend and it’s like walking into a cave, but this cave had white muslin walls and a few beds. The bathroom was 25 meters away, as was the kitchen. My inner camper liked this upscale camping experience offered by air b&b at Moshava Kinneret. The olive grove offered a canopy of gentle shade and the hammock connected to two trees wanted me to stay longer. I hear it still, calling my name.

But I am back at my screen in Tel Aviv  trying to remember who wrote what I read about not having everything you write be perfect. So I am allowing myself to write straight onto the blog page without setting myself up for five to ten drafts. I am going to let my inner imperfections shine through in all their normality. When I ask myself why I haven’t posted in so long, it could be because of my loss of memory. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some of my best friends can’t remember what they read an hour earlier. It comes with  age, so beware and eat lots of kale and Vitamin K. Those k’s may help you remember why you’re reading this right now instead of going outside to smell the jasmine.

So what I wanted to write about is my adventurous spirit. I am owning my need for adventure. I did a hair cutting course for ten months – big adventure. Now I am taking private singing lessons – another big adventure. This morning I inquired about taking a song-writing course at Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon that starts in two weeks. I think I’ll do it. It’s only once a week for fourteen weeks and the author of “Geula,” Hemi Rodner, teaches it. Ever since I heard the song again last week at the Tel Aviv demonstration at Kikar Rabin against the deportation of asylum seekers, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Maybe I’ll write a simple but glorious song based on one word, as well. What will that word be? Maybe the same word I don’t yet know to describe the housing option in Moshava Kinneret. Maybe Kinneret. Maybe MatzahBrie. Or possibly dogfood. Yesterday I wrote a song between my daughter’s apt. where I picked up her dog and my own apt. called “Gone Home”. It was a good song, the melody as well. The singer starts being depressed as she roams a  19th century cemetery in Quaker City, Ohio. She comes across a few tombstones that say Gone Home, thinks suicidal thoughts, but eventually goes home to her family in Cleveland. One of many songs probably that will never be written or sung. There should be a button to a cloud I could push to record all the songs I write as I walk.

I remember when cellular phones first came out. I saw a woman walking and talking along Lake Michigan.  I thought she was a crazy lady talking to herself, but she was talking on a phone outside in public, where others could hear and see. It was as strange as if she had been walking naked. Now I  walk down the street, fully clothed and  sometimes talk on the phone and other times sing to myself, but only loud enough for the dog to hear. Too bad the dog can’t sing back the words and the melody.

Adventure

I am holed up in my Tel Aviv apartment avoiding the crowded roads, enjoying not being in a traffic jam on a crowded bus heading north.  Happy Intermittent Days of Pesach to everyone. I didn’t wish anyone a Happy Pesach on any social media before the holiday for reasons unbeknownst to me, so consider this a personal blessing that affirms spring, sunshine, birdsong, love, peace and memory.  Yours forever, Judy

PS -I promise not to stay unwriting for such a long time, if you promise to accept imperfection for no more than 764 words.  Thank you to all my loyal readers who have asked me over the past months why I’m not writing. If the above does not answer your question, we will just assume that it’s because I’ve been in an adventurous growth spurt.

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Curb Your Kvetch

Curb Your Kvetch      parking lots for the short and sour

Home Page

Welcome! If you’re like me, sometimes something in Israel riles you. If we were activists, we would do something to right the wrong, change the wording, protest the incompetence. But as people prone to kvetching, we just get it off our chests.

At www.Curb Your Kvetch you can park your kvetch in a safe lot.

Submission Guidelines:  Email your 250-word kvetch in the body of an email to administrator@CurbYourKvetch.com Anything over 250 words (including title) will be deleted unread.  In the Subject line of your email, designate one of the following parking lots for your kvetch:  Business, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Governance, Religion or Relationships.

As Chief Administrator I will upload your kvetch to the appropriate lot where other kvetchers can commiserate. We at Curb Your Kvetch see both sides,  or all seven, of every incident, misspelled sign, undemocratic law, insensitive doctor, racist rabbi, sexist member of Knesset or corrupt prime minister.

Rules of ConductCYK is not a platform for lashon hara, which, according to our sages, is akin to murder. Posts on Curb Your Kvetch do not blaspheme any named individual. Rather, your posts should point out deficiencies, incongruities, incompetencies and stupidities.  We prefer writing to killing.

FAQs

What is a kvetch? A kvetch is a complainer and/or the complaint. A kvetch has more to do with the kvetcher than the kvetched or kvetchee. It cannot be used as evidence in legal proceedings. You cannot lose your citizenship due to a kvetch. Kvetch derives from the Yiddish kvetshn, which means to gripe or mutter, as the Israelites did in the Sinai during the forty-year trek. We are continuing this ancient tradition.    Antonym: praise, celebrate

Why Curb Your Kvetch?  I live with a noble man who hates complaining. His motto is, Don’t complain unless you plan to change the situation. For ten years I have been trying to curb my kvetch. Enough! No more. I now open the gates to legitimize kvetching for those who are not going to change the world.

Do you have to be short to submit?  No. Only the submission must be short.

Do you have to be sour to submit?  No. Only the submission has to express a passing or chronic sour thought.

Do you pay? No. Your reward will be in freeing yourself to go on to kvetch about other things.

Can people who don’t live in Israel submit? Yes, but the object of the kvetch must be Israel.

Can anyone comment on the kvetch: Yes, but the Rules of Conduct (see above) must be followed or the Chief Administrator will delete your comment, affording you something else about which to kvetch.

Do you have to sign your real name? Yes. No fake names.

Ideas for how to begin a post:

Start with an I statement, i.e. I can’t stand greasy shwarma . . .

Start with a question, i.e. Have you ever seen the stupid sign on Highway One that directs you to the airport?

Start with something positive, i.e. I love Tel Aviv, but . . .

Start with a fact, i.e. Horns are made for honking . . .

Start with history, i.e. During the Middle Ages a tradition grew up that King David was buried on Mount Zion.

Start with description, dialogue or setting. Be creative, but don’t make up the facts and don’t fabricate your kvetch. CYK only accepts real life gripes that can be corroborated.

At the beginning of this new year, the whole staff at Curb Your Kvetch wishes you a sweet and sour year of kvetching. If, during the coming months, you find yourself losing your spouse, friends, neighbors,  country . . . , know you will always find an enormous parking lot here at www.CurbYourKvetch.

With blessings,  

Judy L.

Chief Administrator, Curb Your Kvetch

 

(Ooof. This is not what I meant at all…)

 

 

 

 

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Stuck in May 1967

In May  1967 my American parents, together with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley led me to believe that the State of Israel might not exist by the summer.  On May 14th there were reports of Egyptian troop movements into Sinai. On May 16th Radio Cairo announced, “The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” On May 18th Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force to leave Sinai. On May 23rd he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.  Iraqi President Abdur Rahman Aref said, on May 31st, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified . . . Our goal is clear–to wipe Israel off the map.”

Another Holocaust was about to transpire, it seemed, but this time it would be easier. Close to two and a half million Jews lived in a narrow strip of land surrounded by Arab enemies, whose powerful armies vowed to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.

As a twenty-one year old Jew in Cleveland, I was horrified that such a disaster could befall my people again, so soon after the initial Holocaust. Had nobody learned anything from that epic trauma? As a recent college graduate planning to embark on a one-year study program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I was also scared that if the dot known as Israel disappeared from the map, I would have to stay in Cleveland with no Plan B. Suddenly my own insignificant, post-university life aligned with the survival of the Jewish State.

On the morning of June 5th, 1967 my mother entered my frilly suburban bedroom to let me know the war had begun. I cried into my pillow. They can’t destroy Israel, I sobbed to the sheets. My Jewish identity and study plan would be wrecked. It was too late to get accepted to graduate school. Granted, I was fed up with studying. My signing up for the one-year  program was actually a front to get to Israel in a legitimate way. What I really wanted to do was gather chicken eggs at Kibbutz Ginosar, where I had fallen in love with Israel during the summer of ’66.

Nasser was ruining my plans.  Would I have to waitress at Stouffer’s and live with my parents? I dropped out of bed, my face blotched with tears.

 

By the time I walked downstairs and sat in front of the TV, Israel was winning the war. Her air force had destroyed Egypt’s planes while still on the ground. I would not have to waitress in Cleveland. Even if the one-year program was cancelled, I could fly to Israel as a volunteer.

Israel’s stunning victory gave my father the pride of being a Jew that sixty-four years in America and nineteen years of the Jewish State had not instilled. Before June 1967 my father, raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa, among six other  Jewish families, was not a proud Jew. As a child he had been accused of killing Jesus. He didn’t defend the Jewish People when his classmates called him a kike. By the time he was in his twenties, he had changed his name from Steinberg to Stonehill. Selling butter and eggs was easier as a Stonehill. But after the Six Day War, my father sprinkled his corn-fed English with his latent Yiddish. He stood taller. Of course he would send his daughter to Jerusalem on August 1st, when the group  would leave for the one-year program.

Fifty years later I am still here, albeit in Tel Aviv. Often, I feel like May 1967 has never passed.  Our “leaders” still portray us as being vulnerable victims of a hateful neighborhood. They speak as if our stunning military victory never happened, as if we don’t have the power to occupy and oppress another people.  They deny that we are experts at mass oppression and that we export this expertise to police forces and armies throughout the world.

If you live in a country that wants to subdue a particular local population, Israel is your go-to country of expertise. We know how to limit freedom in legal ways, steal land legally and push people like cattle through iron tunnels.

Ours is a benign occupation, we were told in the first decades after 1967, but should you really want to see what the occupation looks like in 2017 or hear what the soldiers have to do to keep the local Arab population scared, you will be called a traitor, or worse, and you may not even be allowed to visit the country.

Yes, we won an astounding military victory in June of 1967, but we lost so much more that the heart breaks. It breaks to remember one’s adolescent innocence in the belief of the righteous Jewish State and it breaks at the entrenchment of the messianic Jews in the seat of power; it breaks reading of the pomposity and cruelty of Jews in Hebron and it breaks to realize the institutionalization of Jewish superiority; it breaks witnessing the dearth of humane and upright Jewish leaders, infused with prophetic wisdom, who could reach out to our Arab neighbors in brotherhood, humility and respect.

Today, in May 2017, Israel is an abnormal place. A certain dimension of time stands still. The nation’s clock is stuck in May 1967. Our “leaders” assume we are still victims. We are still  waiting for the war to begin. If not Egypt, then the bombs will come from Iran. If not Iran, then Hezbollah in Lebanon, or ISIS or BDS or the anti-semites in France, England, the US.  Though it is strong militarily, Israel acts like a scared bully.

Now, just as in May 1967, I am afraid. Fifty years after those months that brought a tectonic change, I fear that the state I loved will be destroyed from within.

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Ah Spring

One of the best ways to get back to writing is spending 2-6 hours roaming the internet reading stupid short articles about Melania and Baron and looking at pictures of Michelle O. when she was in high school and then going to bed feeling like you are wasting your life on what your ex-husband would call narashkeit. At 6 a.m. you have a dream that while you are walking down a calm street four men drive up to you in a car and ask for directions, but before you can give them, one man takes out a knife with a silver blade –maybe it is a letter opener – and just as he lifts his arm over your chest, aiming for your heart, you wake up and say to yourself, I better submit my book right away.

Ah Spring, when sicknesses vanish, at least for a month, and you have new energy to direct towards achieving goals you once set or re-set every season. Yes, I will write a new synopsis for the old-new memoir. Yes, I will write a 250-word query letter. Yes, I will sign up for a 2-day improv workshop at the home of Vertigo Dance Co. in beautiful Kibbutz HaLamed Hey, a place I’ve never been. Yes, I will carry my almost two-year old grandson down the stairs without pain. Yes, I will get back on my bike and dive into the treacherous streets of Tel Aviv, each car a dragon, each rider a shark.

Summer’s humidity is still a few months away. I have managed to forget how awful it is just as one forgets the pain of childbirth. Now the air, though full of dust, is comfortable, demanding layers of clothing that can be shed or added as the moment demands. My floors are clean, thanks to my vacuuming every day. What a difference cleanliness makes!

Geraniums bloom in other people’s flower boxes along Arlozorov and on Be’eri, my street, one purple iris is poking its crown through the dirt of a flower pot. Soon my son will be forty-two and my grandson two.

I am growing faith in growing old. As long as I don’t fall, slip, faint or get stabbed by the man in my dream; as long as the Prime Minister does not lock me up for boycotting eggs from Itamar and the Chief Rabbi does not de-Jew me for being born Reform and the Police Chief does not  imprison me for supporting Breaking the Silence and I do not become immobilized from guilt about how the IDF herds  Palestinians like cattle through the checkpoints and how Israel strangles and starves the people in Gaza, all legally, and how my country steals land, all legally, and empties the land of The Other, just like America emptied the land of what we called Indians, methodically, if I can overcome this guilt and figure out how to live with these facts, then all will be, as the Hebrew teachers say,  בסדר b’seder, in order.

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New Post, New Life

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post since  October 2016. What Happened? Where have I been? My writing mind was tied up getting used to a new apartment.  There were days when I contemplated stopping to write altogether. I had nothing to say. Though I did write a few  first drafts, none of them seemed urgent enough to make me want to share them,  especially when the world was falling apart in Europe, England and then America.

January and February came with their drafts and colds and continual phlegm and exhausting bouts of coughing and finally a flu, a fall and a minor operation. Now all that is behind me and I’m feeling my oats, which is to say I haven’t had a nap in two days and I want to start dancing lessons, so I must be getting better. Being over seventy, though, I have  succumbed to the tendency to be obsessed about bodily processes. I can discuss Trump, the Occupation, and Co-housing, but my speech usually reverts to my newly discovered dust allergy, my newly discovered vasovagal syncope, my excised infiltrating basal cell carcinoma, and my day at Ichilov Hospital when the skin on my nose was anesthetized into a brick and then cut and stretched, flapped and sewn.

Despite the world’s ills and woes, the most dramatic change in my own small life is due to  the dust allergy. I’ve always had a high tolerance for dirt. Obsessive cleaning was not a card dealt me at birth. But ever since I was diagnosed with a dust allergy three weeks ago I have been cleaning my floor with a new electric broom everyday. I also brought back my cleaning person after a six month hiatus, after realizing my own cleaning, or lack thereof, might kill me. I could collapse from coughing due to the excrement of dust motes.

I think my late mother is pleased that I am cleaning my house on a regular basis. When I told her that I have this allergy and I bought an electric broom and use it everyday, she smiled and I could tell she was thinking I told you so, but was too kind to say the words out loud.

Taking Root

Before the shit hit the fan in January-February, I planted an avocado pit in a glass of water. The root is showing. I take this as a sign that 2017 may yet become a year of growth,  as opposed to one of continual decay.

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Some Commentary from a Common Hairdresser

You can repeat a verse from the liturgy for years without understanding it. This was my relationship to  v’tahair libenu וטהר לבנו, purify our hearts. What does this mean, I asked myself in the sanctuary on the first day of Rosh Hashana?  What is purification of the heart? I  had a glimpse of open-heart surgery from the waiting room when David underwent a triple bypass, but purify our hearts?, as if God can do this without cardiologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and aides?

Having spent hours cleaning my own home, I immediately thought of clutter. Yes. Purifying the heart is our getting rid of clutter that surrounds and invades the heart. This is not dust or grease, old shoes or torn purses. Rather, it’s old selves, worn out beliefs, stale ideas, bad books and bad feelings. Clutter can be people we have outgrown and rubble, such as bad food that clogs arteries. We want our hearts to pump freely. Ker plunk, ker-plunk.  Ahhh, a pure heart, free of obsessions and other poisons, a strong heart, flexible as a reed.

The liturgy says we want pure hearts for a reason. That reason is to worship God truly or in truth. L’avdcha b’emet לעבדך באמת.  If we have a cluttered heart, we can’t truly worship God. We can go through the motions, sure, and mouth the words, but they won’t come from the deepest parts of our souls, that part which is beyond words.  Our hearts are so wound up in children and grandchildren, spouses and neighbors, friends and work associates, doctors and sales people, Face Book and Twitter, clerks, drivers, hairdressers and trainers, garbage collectors, bankers, lawyers and accountants, teachers, taxmen, waitresses and rabbis, writers, yogis and meditation teachers.

To get to that place beyond words we have to let go of all these. We must kick them all out of our heads, albeit gently, so we can worship God truly. Or even communicate with a human Other.

Which is why cleaning the floors, windows, toilets and sinks is a healthy thing to do before every holiday that demands a pure heart, even if all this work means you don’t have time to bake a honey cake.  You understand that all this physical cleaning is a metaphor for the inner purification of the heart. You know what it means to unclutter a space, a hallway, say, so that light shines into the darkness within and illuminates, truly, the whole day.

Every dust mote has meaning and is on its journey and you become so open and fragile and vulnerable at this season that even a small feather swept into the dust pan makes you feel guilty and brings you to tears and you stop and wonder about being part of a neighborhood much larger than the one on your map.

This vulnerability has been with you for days, even before Shimon Peres died, along with memories of  Zionist history that played such a pivotal role in your own peregrinations. It started at the beginning of  Elul and you wondered why you were always so close to tears, on the verge of falling.

Now it is clear. This fragility is the body’s way of adjusting to the Days of Remembrance, Judgement and Atonement. The universe is in an especially precarious place in Elul. From the fifteenth the days get shorter. Seasons are changing. Good-bye humidity, hello air. This brings great joy, but with it, the reminder that everything is fleeting. Nothing is stable and solid. Your friend is dying. Another friend’s father is dying. Your mother is not here to make chicken soup, your grandmother her fruit soup.

The earth is shifting and you’re losing balance – the eternal changing of the seasons from violent, fiery summer to blessed rain. Soon rain will pound the windows of your new apartment and you wonder which window will give in, which wall open its crack to the wind and you pray that your heating bills (you like to be warm) will not eat up your pension. Even one chill can send you to bed for two weeks. Call it flu or pneumonia. You don’t want to torture your body that way every year.  Your name is on the list and you want to be sure it stays at the bottom. You’re a sheep walking through a gate with a herd. You don’t want to fall or draw attention.

Hopefully, the vulnerability will vanish by Shmini Atzeret and you will be ready to face a new season with a new chair.

New Chair at Just Cuts

New Chair at Just Cuts

You love this season of a million holidays, depending what you count: meals, gifts, words, prayers, stories. Sara and Isaac. Hagar and Sara. Hagar and Ishmael. Avraham and Avimelech. Avraham and Yitschak. Hineni. Hineni. Angel and Ram. Chana and Elkana. Eli and Shmuel. Father God the winnower and shepherd and first son Ephraim and Rachel crying for her children and Compassion and Mercy. All these characters and stories at the changing of the seasons in Beersheba, Shilo and Mount Moriah and the grand promise of all the sons returning from afar to their land, to their borders. The end of tears. Jeremiah promises God will transform our sorrow to joy. Poof.

That which is beyond words comes to the sanctuary at 11:15 when the children pile in.  Seven people from sixtysomething to thirteen, men and women, equal in wearing the special prayer garments, stand on the bima holding their shofars, some horns modest and others with twists. They sound the one hundred blasts in memory of the one hundred gasps of Sisera’s mother when she heard that her son was killed. This too has meaning that I will read about later in a beautiful talk by Rabbi Yehuda Amital z”l (link below), but now I am blown away by the sound of the shofars.

Blown away, though cliché, is the right verb, because this is pure magnified breadth coming out of the wide end of the shofar.  The author of the Kuzari claimed that an over-abundance of words causes the truth to be covered.

That is another reason we listen to the shofar.  No words.  Tekiahh (x 17)     Pure breadth. Shevarim (x 6)      Pushed through an animal horn.   Teruah (x 6)        Pure heart.   Tekiah Gadola (1)

No clutter.

Straight to Heaven.

Silence.

The uncluttered, bald heart breaks. The body doesn’t know how to react, so it walks downstairs to the street, unlocks the bike and rides home to warm up the chicken soup for coming generations.

***

For a beautiful Rosh Hashana talk by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, z”l, in Hebrew, please click here.

Shana Tova u’Metuka to all my wonderful and loyal readers.

 

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Letter from Home

That’s a joke.

Home is an ongoing, changing environment. After 11 ½ months in one apartment on Feivel in Tel Aviv, we are moving to another apartment three blocks away on Be’eri, named after Berl Katzenelson. This will be my seventh move since 1998. For a sense of stability, I imagine the ghosts of these Zionist thinkers and writers watching over me. Fortunately, the apartment on Be’eri sits on the corner of Henrietta Szold, so the mother of all mothers, who was never a biological mother, will be spreading her wings over my fate, as well.

Two weeks after the move to Be’eri I’m going to visit another Home, the original one–Cleveland, LeBron James, Ohio. Apparently, for short, LeBron calls the city we share The Land.  I will be leaving one The Land to go to the other The Land.

“Wherever I go, I am going to The Land of Israel (Jerusalem),” said Rebbe Nachman.

floor1

The latest image that comforts me in times of stress is a turtle. Like a turtle, I am slow. For example, my last five baby teeth had to be pulled out when I was fourteen, because they had no intention of falling out on their own. Menstruation began at fifteen. Married two months before 27, which back  in the ‘60’s with Shaker Heights values, felt late. First child at thirty, also latish in those days in Jerusalem. Started a small business late. Found my calling as a teacher and mentor late. Made peace with myself at 70. Published a book late – maybe by 80, if at all. Found stability and love late. Learned how to express my love for my children late.

My mantra is from the children’s story The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow and steady wins the race. I don’t know which race I’m in, or who the competitors are, but I know I am slow and not necessarily steady, but persistent. These traits I inherited from my late father, who at 87 described himself as a Late Bloomer. He married at 38, had his last child when he was 48,  started making money in his 70’s and moved to Florida at 87.

On the eve of my 71st birthday, I’m looking ahead to a blooming great decade . . . or four, with at least five more moves, the first four vertical.

Like a turtle, not only am I slow, but I carry Home on my back.  I have learned to lessen the load by getting rid of casserole dishes, Norton anthologies and uncomfortable shoes. Each successive move is easier. No joke. I’m always moving closer to Home.

 

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The Place Is What Will Happen

Last night I dreamt of a stone house. Yes, the house had a door and I walked in, startled by the stark emptiness, neither a table for clutter, nor a chair for sitting, just thick stone walls, stone floor and stone ceiling. “How important is place/ setting?” Ron Carlson asks in Ron Carlson Writes A Story. “It is essential.  As we know, nothing happens nowhere. The place many times is what will happen.”

house

This empty place in my dream was like a blank piece of paper, ready for story, but I, the dreamer, was not yet ready. I walked into one room in the house where learning was going on, but I did not know who these people were and what I wanted to learn.

The house reminded me of those I photographed on the renovated 1908 founder’s street at Kvutzat Kinneret, several weeks ago. In a space with little clutter at the southern tip of the Kinneret, pioneers in their twenties founded the beginnings of the organizations that would grow into the State of Israel.

1908

What was this house with one open door from last night’s dream? I expected closure from age seventy, but instead I am open and wandering, empty and wondering. The house is waiting for something to happen, or maybe this is what will happen. I will enter an old/ new space and learn something old/ new.

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Going to the alternative memorial service on Erev Yom Hazikaron was also like falling into a dream. The event was organized by Combatants for Peace—an NGO of former IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants who realized that peace will not come through the barrels of guns—and the Forum-Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace—an NGO made up of Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians who realized that the conflict between us will not end until we talk to each other ( זה לא יגמר עד שנדבר   Zeh lo yigamer ad sh’nedaber.).  The event took place at Heicahl Kvutzot Shlomo, a new sports stadium in north Tel Aviv that seats 3,600 spectators.

To a packed house bereaved mothers and sisters, brothers and fathers shared their stories of grief and renewal. The silence was intense, the pain palpable. Song and poetry, dance and rap followed each personal story. There were no ideological pronouncements or nationalistic slogans, no flags and no anthems. There were only true stories of love and loss, and the recognition that tears are tears, blood is blood and pain is pain.

Being in that stadium where Hebrew and Arabic were spoken and sung and translated simultaneously was such a relief after so many years of national bullying and empty slogans (i.e. One People, One Nation). There was no blame and nobody argued about who shot first. There was only compassion for our shared fate that does not necessarily have to be our fate, perhaps, if more of us learn to listen and talk to each other. For the first time in years, I felt hope.

Hope is empowering, so much so that even the right wing screamers outside the stadium after the event yelling You should be ashamed of yourselves seemed totally inappropriate. They were the ones missing the point. They should be ashamed for not listening to their neighbors and for using always the same word to describe them: Enemy. They should be ashamed for demonizing.

Worse than Israel’s Separation Fence, and maybe a result of it, are the separation walls inside us all.  Most of us have allowed these inner walls to cut us off from our neighbors and thus, from ourselves. Even when the concrete Separation Fence comes down—for it will and it must—years will pass before our inner separation walls disappear.

The bereaved parents and siblings who shared their personal stories on Erev Yom Hazikaron in the alternative ceremony are our reconnaissance mission.  Over the years their walls of hatred have fallen. They persisted in talking to each other, because they knew there was no other way to go on living. Now, ten and twenty years later, Jews and Arabs stand side by side to share their message and their stories.

These are the people who inspire me.  They teach that when we share our personal stories, rather than spout the frozen national narratives, something melts within. The voice of compassion and pain can be heard, chipping away at inner walls. A door opens.  A space reveals itself, waiting and ready for new life. This is the place that will happen.

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Goal

Housing

I’ve joined a co-housing group and through a democratic process was elected Chair of the Site & Design Committee. This position forces me to talk to real estate agents, architects, developers, and lawyers as we search for a site to create the first co-housing in Israel.  A retired architect-developer told me that, before you settle on a particular site,  it’s important to ask yourself what your goal is for the next ten or twenty years. “Then you have to position yourself in a place,” he explained, “so that you can achieve your goal.” My head knew this made sense, but the rest of my body rebelled against the G word  like a Pavlovian dog.

“Goal” gained prominence in the ’70’s beyond the meaning of a pair of posts.  Therapists started using the word in the ’80’s and ’90’s, but I never went to those kinds of therapists. I preferred the kind that just let me talk and interrupted only once to tell me the hour was up. My new partner David introduced the G word early in our courtship, but he is an organizational consultant, so I forgave him.

The word was never part of my vocabulary, probably because I never set goals, unless wanting to leave the United States during the Viet Nam War and after the Six Day War for Israel  was a goal or leaving my husband after twenty-seven  years of marriage and moving to my own apartment was a goal or leaving Beit Zayit after ten years of country living and moving to Tel Aviv was a goal. These transitions sprung from strong desires, their roots mainly unconscious. What they all have in common was that I never knew what I was going towards.  Sure, I knew the name of the place where I would land, but I had no idea of the nature of that place. Each one could have been called The Great Unknown. The moves felt more like inner necessities, obsessions, rather than  goals.

(Becoming a writer was never a goal. It was simply a way of being that came naturally to me.)

But now this architect-developer’s  question which I shunned during the conversation keeps haunting me. Now that I am 70 and work independently, it makes sense to ask  what my goals are for my 70’s and 80’s, beyond staying healthy and fit. Do I want to relearn Canasta in Ra’anana or join a mixed-income community in Lod? Do I want to take cruises to Sardinia or cut hair in the women’s prison in Ramla? Do I want to jog along the Yarkon  or hang out in South Tel Aviv with the refugees? Do I want to turn my back on the world or throw myself into it?

I’m treading water, because I can’t decide and the writing that used to come naturally is not coming at all.  Meanwhile, I love riding my two wheeler bike on the level paths in Tel Aviv. Could this be a goal for the next ten years, or until I fall and break a wrist? I love playing with my grandchildren, but will they want to play hide ‘n seek  when I’m eighty-five?

I think of the first Jewish fisherman on the Sea of Galilee since the time of Jesus. I met him in 1966 when he was working as a guard on the shores of Kibbutz Ginosar and I was a volunteer (Sex, Sun and Zionist Dreams). I wanted to find out what it was like being the first Jewish fisherman on the Sea of Galilee since Jesus, but all this lanky, sun-tanned seventy-year-old man talked about and all he dreamed about was his father’s shoe repair shop on a little street in Pinsk.

My little street in Pinsk is close to Shaker Square in Cleveland, Ohio. As I age I too think about it often. One of my dreams is to go back there, ride my two wheeler to the Colony Drug Store and buy an Archie Comic Book for a quarter.  If this is a goal, I may be exploring co-housing options in the wrong country.

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