13 life lessons my kids taught me in 2013

Though I’m not really one for the Gregorian calendar’s drunken marking of a new set of 365 days, I am one for lists.

(They are a relatively inexpensive way to help keep me sane.)

As far as this list goes: Whether they mean to or not, my kids have plenty of life lessons to offer me. If you’re out there listening, children, know that either of you can easily fall back on ‘teacher’ if the astronaut/fireman/princess/brown soldier thing doesn’t work out.

13 life lessons my kids taught me in 2013

  1. I may not actually finish this list. And it’ll be ok if I don’t.
  2. You can’t possibly tell someone too often that you love them.
  3. Ask more questions. Keep on asking questions. Relentlessly. (Why?)
  4. Sometimes a fake laugh is worth it… sometimes it leads to real laughter.
  5. Give more compliments.
  6. The right kind of soft touch at the right moment can change everything.
  7. Cuddle in the morning. Make it the first thing you do.
  8. Eye contact is important (or, in other words, put the phone down).
  9. Trust your gut to know when it’s truly ok to say no.
  10. It really is sometimes all about having a good cry.
  11. I wield some pretty heavy power. Must use it responsibly.
  12. Just do it – just chase your creativity. Stop overthinking.
  13. Every breath is a gift, even while I’m staring at you creepily while you sleep.

As always, I’m looking forward to every single day to come. Especially the ones when I can ‘why?’ right back atchya.

Why is it still ok to call yourself retarded? To call your friends gay?

Are you, indeed, retarded? Are you “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual” for your age? Do you have a mental handicap that requires you to be treated with a different sort of care? That makes certain life tasks more difficult?

Are your friends being silly/dumb/foolish/loving actually gay? Are they attracted to the same gender as themselves? When you say they are being ‘gay together’ are they engaging in a form of same sex activity (safely, I hope)? Are they simply “lighthearted and carefree,” uninhibited, giddy and happy, maybe back in the ’50s?

Why are we still using meaningful terms like ‘retarded‘ and ‘gay‘ as derogatory ways to refer to ourselves, our friends, our actions, strangers we’re mad at?

Here are some alternatives:

  • I can’t believe that ass parked in two handicap spots (oh, sorry donkeys)
  • My cheesy friends are laying in bed on top of each other screeching over old Seventeen magazines (my apologies, Swiss and Cheddar!)
  • Ugh, another selfie! What a douche! (forgive us, watery cleansing method!)

Feel free to add your own.

No matter what we mean when we speak, and I’m reaching back into a linguistics course from my conflict management days, there are the speakers and the recipients, and between both, with words, we create something when we open our mouths and ears. We create meaning, we create being, and often, we create possibility, for better or worse.

I don’t think the donkeys or cheese care all that much.

 

 

Of life in the shtetl; Tevye had a point

A fiddler on the roof…
it sounds crazy.
But here,
in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say every one of us…
is a fiddler on the roof.

Before I lived here in Israel, I lived in a tight-knit Jewish shtetl called New York.

Trying to scratch out
a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.

To narrow that down, I was part of a small Jewish community within a small section of a small New York City borough. Maybe this would all be different if I had actually grown up in Brooklyn.

We were a mish mash of lost and found souls – who has never been lost, who doesn’t desire to be found? – and one thing we all had in common was, I suppose, a sense of Jewish tradition. It’s how we got there and it’s why most of us stayed as long as we did.

And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word:
Tradition.

A friend randomly sent me the Fiddler on the Roof clip today; I suppose you’ve guessed which one by now. It must be a decade and a half since I last watched the movie or heard the soundtrack, but while I was a kid, my family was kind of obsessed with it. For a family growing into some new traditions of its own, I guess it really spoke to us. Or maybe that’s looking at it too deeply; maybe it was just another exciting part of being a minority finding pop culture that fit so perfectly.

Maybe it was because we also totally had the butcher; the mikvah; the Judaica shop.

But after I watched the Tradition scene today, I felt something I haven’t felt in nearly nine years of living here, in Israel, in a paradise Tevye only dreamed about, if he could dream past becoming a wealthy man.

I felt nostalgia and longing for Diaspora. A sense of loss, a sense of missing out.

The strong sense that living as an outsider is the ultimate way to stay true on your inside.

Halacha and tradition came easier there, in the shtetl, surrounded by the majority. Ok, we’re talking about New York, not pre (or post) World War Russia here, and I haven’t forgotten the end of the play.

But… still. In our kind of modern, safe shtetl, explaining holiday schedules to your boss was a pain; declining edible treats from college classmates was awkward; never quite understanding Christmas while watching TV was odd.

We don’t bother them,
and they don’t bother us.

But it made everything else so much more… inclusive. We belonged, to ourselves.

Yes, of course, there were major downsides to the ‘shtetl mentality’ – why do you think I left?

However, Israel is the biggest shtetl there is, surrounded by the largest majority that could be. Together, all seven-something million of us, we certainly have moments when we laugh, we cry, we bicker, we build, we live.

As intimate as it can get here, it’s not as intimate as the shtetl I knew, the outsider’s shtetl, based on local traditions, based on the narrowed-down group of insiders you cast your lot with.

Traditions, traditions.
Without our traditions,
Our lives would be as shaky as…
as…
as…
as a fiddler on the roof!

Simply put, I kind of miss it.

 

lizrael update: the expat-makes-a-visit edition

Living in Israel (and probably many other countries as an American expat) is an exercise in being happy with what you have, and I feel lucky to have even scratched the surface of that sentiment.

Occasionally the conversation comes up with fellow expats here and I’m no longer surprised to admit that I’m happier here than I imagine I would be in the States.

Last week I returned with the kids from a trip to the US where we mainly visited with family, which is actually the sole serious issue I have with living far away from the place I grew up. The family aspect was lovely. It’s soaking in as much familiarity and nostalgia and new memories as I can in as little time as two weeks out of the year.

Each time I go back for a visit, I feel a certainty that I made the right choice, which I think is so incredibly valuable when you’ve made a life-altering decision. This time, it barely even crossed my mind to contemplate it; it was a given.

Some of the time, I view America the way lots of people who don’t live there view it. The politics creep me out. The culture shocks me. The values confuse me.

And when I’m in New York, I’m overwhelmed. The supermarkets are heavy. The malls are filled with stuff for sale that makes me sad. The maternity and daycare situation is dismal. The nightly news is frightening. I’m looking over my shoulder. I’m filled with mistrust.

I think maybe I was always overwhelmed until I left. Surely not every born New Yorker has a New York soul. Not every American feels at home. A lot of the reasons people cite for what’s great about living in the States don’t compel me.

I’m happy to be lucky to be happy with what I have.

A different time, a different line.

do not crossThat first year I interned at my first paper, there was a day that always stuck with me for some reason, even after I quit journalism.

We were sitting around the conference table, a bunch of us young students, listening to our seasoned head editor. She was talking emphatically about the Line. That included photos you may or may not publish on the cover.

Back then, in the late 90s or so, it was a man’s successful suicide, midair while jumping off the Verrazanno Bridge.

It was a different time.

RIP, Line.

The outsiders inside

peekingLast week, I was driving through the machsom, or checkpoint, between Beitar Illit and Tzur Hadassah. When I say ‘driving through,’ I mean that literally: I slowed for the speed bumps, waved at the soldiers on duty, and sped up to get home.

But not before noticing the driver in front of me, who had also slowed at the speed bumps. And then stopped next to the soldiers. Rolled down his window, stuck out his arm, passed his blue-coated (Israeli) identity card. And drove on a few meters to pull over at the side lane. I caught the sight of him stepping out of his car, deep blue button down shirt, neat hair, honest face.

Speeding up past him in the main lane, I was swept with a sadness. It’s unfair. It’s unfair it has to be that way. That a normal guy has to do that every time he passes through. It’s unfair that the reason is complicated. It’s unfair that there are way too many people exclusive to making it not unfair. That those people are all so different. That it mostly seems there’s no chance.

I’ve been thinking about that guy since. I’ve been doing that drive over five years and something about this guy struck me. I’ve thought about him a lot.

Yesterday, I was at Hadassah hospital for a low-key follow-up with my son. The doctor was beyond late, and everyone in the waiting area – which could be broken down to charedi, Arab, and me – was growing impatient.

More impatient than the kids, who were content to stare at each other with curiosity, were the parents. I was unwillingly pulled into a threesome of speculation with two other mothers. They didn’t hide their displeasure at the waiting period, which happened to take place in a modern first-world hospital where in the scheme of everything, the doctor was an hour and a half late.

When the patient before me went in, the other two mothers looked at me with an urgent excitement – you’re next, their stares implied. You better be ready and you better be quick. 

When my predecessor came down the hall, I hustled my son to get ready, but the doctor never came to call our name; instead a nurse gestured at a mother and son in the corner. The older teenage boy was on crutches, and they passed between us to make their way into the office.

“We’re next after them,” I said, eye level to my son.

“What happened?” One of the other mothers cried. “Why aren’t you in? You’re NEXT!”

I looked up at her.

“They were first.”

“What do you mean, who?” said this mother #1. “You were after that woman before.”

“The Arabs,” said mother #2. “They went in.”

“They were first,” I said from my son’s eye level.

“Oh,” mother #1 replied to the other woman, giving her a knowing look. “They just slip right in.

“They were before us,” I said again, standing up.

“No, YOU were next.”

“They were before any of us, and got called back in. We’ll go in soon.” I bent back down to my son’s height. His was the only company I could stand.

His, and the boy of mother #1, who was chasing after my son like a puppy, his soft, yellow payot bouncing up and down the hospital corridor.

 

 

An expat’s view: How joining Vine helps me celebrate humankind

Have you tried Vine yet? It’s the video answer to Instagram and Twitter. And in the tradition of most starting-out social media platforms, when I heard all the buzz about it, I could only react with, why?

Vine was iOS-only for a while, and this week joined the Android world. So yesterday I downloaded it.

First I scrolled through ten or so of the videos in my feed. Some were actually kinda moving; others were just lame. Kinda like Instagram. Or Twitter.

Hours later, I saw an opportunity to video something. Within 6 seconds of my half-Australian two-year-old daughter singing Waltzing Matilda, I uploaded my first Vine.

That evening, in a fit of boredom, I went back to Vine. I scrolled through my newsfeed, and then ventured out via hashtags. I saw everything – from the creatively executed #loop, to cheesy #magic, to the requisite #selfie.

I found myself fascinated in a way I’ve never felt through a social media experience before: I felt… connected, instantly, deeply, to total strangers. It must be something about video; Instagram makes photos of anything beautiful. Twitter makes joining conversations easier.

But video accomplishes something else. Even if it’s 6 seconds. There’s something about Vine, where you actually feel the person behind the camera. You hear them. In many cases, you see them or their friends. You view the animated world through their eyes. You see how people look, hear how they sound, take in their surroundings.

And taking it a little further… I’ll admit. The lonely expat it in me felt… connected. Opened to the rest of the world. Even if, to be honest, it’s mostly Americans I was watching on Vine. It was familiar. It was foreign. It was, for a second, like I could imagine being there, involved in the culture again.

After seeing dozens of 6 second clips, I started to imagine the possibilities once this spreads further around the world… After reading up on some of Coke’s global Happiness campaign, you really get this powerful feeling the world can be connected. It is, but it can be even more. We can have access to people we never dreamed of ever understanding.

In my conflict management degree, one of my biggest takeaways was contact theory. To interact with The Other is to begin to break down walls.

I find that to be true in every aspect of life.

Imagine all that from a ‘superficial’ social media platform.

On Jews, Jerusalem, Women and Walls

Note: Reflections based on my rare February and March 2013 trips to the Kotel. Based on today’s news, I figured today’s as good as any to post. 

I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall, way too many times in the past year. Previously, I had a comfortable average of maybe once every two or three years. Maybe less. It felt long enough between trips. And the trips are always for the sake and pleasure of other people.

But throughout the last year, I’ve accompanied various visiting family members through the Old City, the pathway inevitably leading to the token Kotel visit. Some pray, some don’t. I never do.

The Kotel, the Old City, and even Jerusalem for that matter have come to symbolize discomfort, pain, ambivalence, shame, conflict. I don’t want to pray in those places. I don’t want to pray alongside people I can’t trust. I don’t want to reach deep into myself and summon a spiritual presence in such a political place.

You know where it’s lovely to pray? In a forest. There’s plenty of forest around Jerusalem. I live in it. I think it’s a not-so-big-secret that many other ancient sects of humanity get that we don’t. Man-made holiness hurts. Holiness existed before we did. Why wouldn’t we jump over each other to access that?

By all means, if the Kotel means something to you, enjoy it. Women of the Wall, Women for the Wall, women who wear falls, women who wear shawls. Men who throw garbage, men who who wear jeans, men who think learning is working, men who think working is earning.

When I’m standing in the Kotel plaza, I’m filled with anger and pain. So please, count me out. Take my spot. I hope though that between me and you and everyone else, some kind of spirituality will eventually solve our crisis.

——-

Things I can’t handle #745873: Beit Shemesh Taliban mother and daughters. Visiting the Kotel in March 2013.