On hope, afterlife, dreaming.

A couple months ago Koala and I had a ‘yom kef’ together and visited the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, where a central feature is Ancient Egypt and of course, everyone’s favorite – the mummy.

We read the signs. the child-friendly materials, we saw the coffin, we saw pictures.

For a few weeks after that, Koala kept asking about it – how they died, why they stay like that, who are they.

 

And what’s up with afterlife?

For a few weeks he had been bringing up the possibility of afterlife again. He had thrown in bits and pieces about mashiach since school ended in June. When he does, I smile, I nod, I ignore, and I always – always – tighten up.

Why does it bother me so much? So many personal issues. So many specific peeves, built just for me, by me. Nearly 34 years in the making and still moving and making and coming to life.

Soon after, the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice happened. I woke up and saw the headline and felt ill, like everyone else. The details rolled in and at some point, I didn’t want to know any more. It’s too much. Families going to celebrate. Families mowed down.

That same day, he asked again – what happens in the afterlife? Is it real? Will we ever know? I tightened up as always but I loosened up just as quickly. It hit me, strong, like coffee – this is his time. His time to dream and wonder and think and, eventually, conclude. At seven years old, I also worshiped the thought of messiah, of afterlife. Who better than a child to dream and fantasize and hold on to eternal hope?

It felt better for me, and he held on to his questions, laid them out on the table, and we both wondered, together.

 

 

What’s next for my girls in Judaism?

The following is a note I jotted down and posted for opinions on Facebook. I plan to follow up with further thoughts after a discussion was started and I had time to think deeper. 

need to talk this out somewhere.

sometimes I hear friends say how nervous or worried they are about raising girls because it comes with so much *teaching* and complications – because there’s so much work to do for girls to keep up with society’s expectations or breaking the expectations. ok I dunno if friends say it, but I say it.

and for me a lot of that comes out in ‘establishment judaism’ – expectations built in either on purpose or as a byproduct of the way establishment defines jewish tradition and standards. now that I have two daughters in the ‘system’ – which is pretty much society itself – I’m reliving all these feelings of being put down, jewishly-speaking, while growing up in the ‘system’. wearing skirts five days a week while boys wear pants limits you – it limits how you are portrayed and it limits your definition of yourself. it tells you what you are and what you are not. being expected to bring the challah ingredients or the snack for ima shel shabbat on Friday while boys are expected to bring grapejuice – limits. handing out the tzitzit to the boys, as the toranit, limits. it limits and it sends a very strong message – my place is here to give and give and give. give the boys what they need to be chazan and lead. and then take a step back and follow.

there was a week back there when my four year old wanted to wear tzitzit every day. who could blame her? I remember standing to the side on simchat torah watching the boys and men dance and make a show and be the center of the universe. me, and my mom, and my friends’ moms.

I’m raising two girls and every other day something pops up to remind me that things don’t change easily. or at all. and I moved across the world to a jewish country embedded with traditional jewish establishment. and I live in a *mixed* community, but when applicable, the judaism standards are set for the mainstream and everyone expects it.

it’s unfortunate that I don’t want to send my girls to the same school my son is in. he’s having a great time – it’s beautiful. I’m so happy for him. but I know it won’t be the same for them. the expectations will be different. the dress will be different. the language will be different. the way they are spoken to will be different. and so it goes, on and on.

and that’s what put me down in jewish day school. that’s what I think failed me. and I went to a relatively progressive one! and I’m still working on my self, more than three decades in the making, and I don’t even know where to start with my daughters. ‘just being myself and showing them’ is not the answer – I’m jaded and traumatized and damaged.

and the sad thing is, at 4.5 and 1.5, my daughters are already on that path.

The State of Jerusalem Pride 2015: lovers love, haters hate

‘Why do we have parades?’ My 6yo kept puzzling over that one.

‘We have parades to say something.’

He wanted to know what we’re saying now.

‘We’re saying that love is good, everyone can love whoever they want.’

‘Why are there rainbows?’

‘Because there are so many kinds of love.’

The kids will probably remember it most as ‘ugh, mom walking us all over Jerusalem while we were already tired.’ But I believe a good education can be subtle, and take place over the course of an entire childhood.

And the reason to be there, more than anything else, was to be there.

Because teenagers need to see other people like them.

Because people need to know they are not alone.

Because families have a right to be, despite shape and size and sex.

Because a violent hater can be released from prison and a decade later repeat his crime six times over.

One day it will click.

Also, rainbows.

Local Holocaust remembrance in 2015 and beyond

Since becoming a mom, everything has gotten harder to swallow. I don’t read the news as much. Especially local evening news from New York. I can’t stomach certain facts of life. And I’ve distanced myself from my cultural ties with Holocaust education and remembrance.

Which is getting easier to do – less voices, more distance from 1945. In Israel, there is a debate over what it all means for the next generation. Can you really expect a generation born into relative national freedom to identify with this historical chapter?

I pushed myself to come out tonight to Tzur Hadassah’s beit ha’am to listen to a local resident and Terezin survivor tell his story. Reuven Fisherman was born and raised in Denmark. Though the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic is the one place I have visited, I hadn’t known the Danish angle. And I hadn’t heard as personal a telling as I heard here.

And I hadn’t heard an Israeli survivor in a long time. Nor one that lives in my community. And has a lot more in common with me as an oleh than many of my other native neighbors.

Like a lot of other survivors, he hadn’t really started telling his story publicly until relatively recently. He published a book in Danish, which was used in a documentary, which is set for release on May 5, which is the exact date he was liberated from Terezin. The book should be coming out in Hebrew by the end of the year he hopes.

There were local scouts in the audience. There were a few other grade school kids. I wondered if my kids will hear a ניצול שואה telling their story, live, in person. I was in first grade when this was all revealed to me in the open. I guess in Israeli standards, they are not too far off from the live, survivor reveal.

Especially since in Israel, Holocaust education starts in pre-kindergarten.

Is it possible to raise modern kids with a less gendered tone? And other thoughts on my tzitzit-wearing daughter

Here’s how my kids tell it:

This morning, Koala offered Bebe a pair of tzitzit to wear today. Note that this on the heels of last week’s Bebe deciding to wear a kippa to gan (and actually doing it the whole day – I was more impressed hair-wise!).

So Bebe accepted his offer. I walked into their bedroom and found her putting them on, over an undershirt, before her sweatshirt. She looked up, beaming.

“I’m wearing tzitzit!”

And I was beaming too, and kinda chuckling, and before I could say anything, she was blessing them. Correctly. Standing there, shuckling, holding the strings in both hands.

I dutifully replied, “Amen!”

The rest of the morning I waited for her to ask to take them off. When we got downstairs she was only emboldened. She took out one of Koala’s old kippot and put it on. She repeated the blessing for the tzitzit and danced around the room. Somewhere between walking Koala to gan and following Bebe to hers, the kippa came off – it was too big and bothersome. But I watched Bebe stride into her gan, greet her teachers, and walk off to see her friends. Confidently.

Later, I asked her – very delicately – if during gan prayers she had said the bracha on the tzitzit. This orthodox-religious gan is located in a very secular-traditional town, with a generally pluralistic (for national religious lite) religious community. The staff are either dati leumi or traditional mizrahi.

I was trying not to put a spin on her experience. She reported matter-of-factly that she had said the bracha – and proceeded to recite it again. I asked, “with the boys?” She replied, “the boys said [insert mumble mumble ‘mitzvat tzitzit’] and then the girls said [insert mumble mumble ‘k’riztono’] and I said the bracha on the tzitzit.”

So let’s get this out right here: This is way less about religion for me than it is about gendered experiences. I don’t wear a talit, I don’t wear a kippa, hell, I barely pray and when I do it’s not to who you might think.

My three-year-old daughter, any way you slice it, is not considering God’s law when she is trying out new things. She’s curious about clothing and ritual. She’s testing out what other kids do. She’s figuring out boys and girls. She wants to be like her older brother. She’s heard me say boys can have ponytails and girls can have short haircuts.

She wants to be involved.

So she’s feeling it out.

That’s how I see it. Is it a sign that my attempts at toning down gender expectations are working?

I mean, there is so much to beat back. So much, it hurts. The colors, from birth. The clothing that reads ‘Daddy’s little girl!’ or ‘Boys get dirty!’ The behavior expectations. The princesses and ninjas. The kinds of activities on offer. The words directed at them. The way we praise. The way we criticize.

Involvement. Involvement in ritual, in activities, in anything we desire to try.

How much of kids is who they were born as, and how much is the way we’ve sorted them into genderized compartments?

I don’t think we should ban princesses or force boys to take ballet. I wouldn’t deny my son the opportunity to be a Ninja Turtle on Purim and, gulp, my daughter to try her hand at princessing any given year. Turns out, of all the chugim I offered them for the year, Koala wanted soccer and Bebe absolutely loves her ballet class.

So it’s in the little things – the things they ask about, the things they want to try, the questions they ask – that I try my hardest to leave it objective. So they can choose their involvement.

And are my tiny efforts going to make a difference?

Perhaps now that I have children – or perhaps the times I’m parenting in – probably both – I can’t help but see instances, trends, expectations in my childhood that molded me to be a certain way. They were everywhere then. And they are everywhere now.

Sometimes it makes me sick.

So while maybe my son’s ‘black velvet kippa’ phase was more about religion (for adults) than anything else, I really believe Bebe’s tzitzit-wearing is more about gender. And for her, it’s more about being involved. She’s asked to wear them on shabbat for tefillot.

I don’t know where it will go religiously. It’s actually more shocking that my son still wears his tzitzit than that my daughter is interested in being involved in a daily activity.

But this should be about gender expectations. We should talk about gender expectations. When applicable, there are actions to take to break down some gender expectations.

And, c’mon, little girls in tzitzit is just as freakin cute as little boys in tzitzit.

So that controversial Tzur Hadassah mikvah grand opening happened.

So many mixed feelings.

We moved here knowing there was no working mikva, and it may or may not get fixed one day. I’d say the same of most of the people who will end up using the now open-to-public-but-still-waiting-on-a-few-details Tzur Hadassah mikva. And it’s a pretty diverse but reasonable bunch – I’m guessing mostly traditional sephardi women, plenty of dati lights like myself, the dati leumis like much of my shul, and others.

It’s not half of Tzur Hadassah women. It might be a quarter. Very possibly less. I guess we’ll know more later on. But it’s a decent part of our so-called pluralistic community.

And apparently this fact is tearing us apart.

Let’s be honest – whether you believe it’s paranoia or fair concern, the bottom line of what’s causing the mikva drama is the perceived end-game – the mikva is one more (possibly the most powerful) step towards being able to advertise the NINE HUNDRED new units being built as ‘religious-friendly – – sukkot mirpeset-friendly – in a yishuv with dati kindergardens, dati schools, and a mikvah!’ #truestory

(Seriously. I mean, NINE HUNDRED UNITS – if you think – without religion as a factor – the yishuv won’t change in character from nearly doubling, you’re as naive as people who think ‘charediazation’ is not a thing. Shouldn’t we be complaining about nine hundred units as the bigger picture here?)

The end-game being that Tzur Hadassah goes the way of Beit Shemesh. Ramat Eshkol. And so many other once-moderate communities that are now predominantly or completely charedi.

It’s a valid fear, then, since we’ve seen/are seeing it happen. On the other hand, we do live here now, have certain needs, and it would be nice to live in peace in a truly pluralistic yishuv.

Do we pay in advance for a potential problem?

Or do all of us in Tzur Hadassah say, screw it, this is who we are – we accept one another in tolerance – we’re proud of our character – and we will stand strong to continue that way?

That’s what Matte Yehuda regional councilman Moshe Dadon said in his opening ceremony speech.

“I drive on shabbat. My wife drives on shabbat. But she goes to the mikvah.”

Why can’t that be an acceptable form of Jew? Why can’t we keep working to make the middle road the main road?

A peek at Tzur Hadassah’s first and only mikvah [PHOTOS]

It’s been nearly a decade, I believe, but here it is – started with allotted government funds, ended with a generous donation – the long-despised, the long-awaited, Tzur Hadassah mikvah.

The ‘grand opening’ ceremony was earlier this evening. I was totally surprised to find a facility on par with American/Australian counterparts:

The reception:

The bridal mikvah – with its own personal mikvah in the room. Where was this when I was getting married and went to Katamon’s shteiblach?!

The outside is fancy too:

Some important details:

Did I personally desire a swanky mikvah? I’m just happy to not have to go to Beitar Illit anymore. Am I a bit of a mikvah apologist because of how it’s making the wider community feel? Perhaps. Is it nice for good people to get something they felt they needed for so long, despite the controversy? Sure, I think a true pluralistic community would feel that way.

Mazal tov and תתחדשו!

 

Baking ‘hamantaschen’ with your Israeli children.

Ears of a guy we’re meant to love to hate. Jews: still rocking weird drama since 3338.

First time making hamantaschen with my kids. Or as an adult. FYI: as you and the diaspora-born father of your kids keep talking about ‘hamentashen,’ your Israeli-born kids are bound to, at some point, look at you oddly.

“Oh. Right. Oznei Haman… it’s, uh, Yiddish to say ‘hamantaschen.’ Haman + taschen.”

Stares.

I had this thing baking hamantaschen. It wasn’t as bad as I thought… Here’s the recipe we used, nothing fancy. Obviously we traded fruit jam for chocolate.