Oh Chanukah, oh Chanukah, come… on, diaspora mama.

Well here’s a first.

Last week the kids and I were in the kitchen making latkes (that was also a first, and it was kinda obvious). Playing in the background: a Chanukah songs cd my mom had brought from the States. So, you know, some kind of boy’s choir-esque English-Hebrew mix.

We were singing along; when the songs were in Hebrew, we all sang. When they were in English and still familiar, we all sang. And when they were in English but also have identical Hebrew versions, my kids got annoyed.

“What? No!”

(Yes, they have a point.)

Anyway, after a while I had trailed off alone, singing ‘Sivivon Sov Sov Sov…’ Bebe, who was miraculously still tolerating me in the kitchen, suddenly turned to me and loudly stated,

“Lo sham, po!

I looked at her, confused.

And then I realized – she’s right.

That’s the only truth she knows.

 

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Yeah, it’s a plane.

Israeli crop duster plane? probably?Universe, if you know how liable I am to get distracted, why would you send low-flying planes buzzing past my window, across the street from my house… for two hours?!

First, I was all, go go go WARPLANE!

Then I was all, go go go FIREPLANE!

Finally, I concluded, it’s really probably just go go go crop duster.

Still, it’s fun to get really close up views of bright, loud airplanes right outside your window. When they’re not bombing you, of course.

Hey, remember when they were WARPLANES?!

Getting your feet (ritually) wet: An American-Israeli’s mikvah story

Perhaps, for a taharat-mishpacha-keeping American-Israeli olah (female American immigrant to Israel who keeps laws of family purity), nothing else can quite epitomize the cultural differences of here and there better than… the mikvah.

Because I got married in Israel, my mikva knowledge and experiences have been molded here. The closest I got in the States before emigrating was a very swanky, fancy Sephardic mikvah in Brooklyn, that my high school class was taken to on a school trip while learning the halachot (laws) in our senior year. A gorgeous facility, including pre- and post- manicure, robes, blow driers, and made-up balaniyot.

The idea to me seemed, pretty clearly, to make the practice more attractive.

Fast forward to 2006, when I became engaged in the monthly ritual in an old, very ‘Jerusalem’ mikva facility tucked into a shoddy building behind a meat market in Katamonim.

Out of any of the mikvot I’ve been to, I came to love it the most.

I hated going, but I loved coming out. I loved the sound of Kaaaaasherrrr rolling off the tongue of the elderly Mizrachi balanit. Deep, warm, the rrrrrr is what made me really feel purified. I loved that she wished me the best of luck, speedy pregnancies, a million children, a good life. I loved believing her, that it would all come true this month, even though the next set of birth control pills were somewhere in the depths of my handbag.

To contrast that, there were the few times I’ve gone in New York during visits. It was my hometown mikva, a place I had passed a billion times during childhood, the heavy red door shut tight during the day. I had known what it was, but I had never been inside.

It was classy enough, comfortable, even kind of PC.

And it was home. Imagine my delight when the first time I lifted my head out of the water, the middle-aged New Yawka balanit was shrilly calling, KOH-shuuuh!

I’ve even been to the mikvah in Melbourne, Australia. This was by far the most comfortable, beautiful facility I’ve dunked in yet. Everything was provided; everything was just right.

Later, when I moved to Tzur Hadassah, I experimented before settling on a permanent mikvah. I tried what seemed like a tiny pre-1967 free-standing stone room in Bar Giora. I visited Efrat, where I felt I had entered an alternative universe (we spoke in English of course). I’ve been to the small but equipped mikvah in Nes Harim.

But where I’ve mostly settled, and returned to every month, are the mega-mikvot in Beitar Illit.

Israeli mikvah: Beitar Illit

These are free-standing buildings with their own identities; secret entrances shield visitors from publicity. A reception desk greets you. Corridors of prep rooms are available. Two mikvot are rotated inside, available depending on your tradition.

And the pre-check questions, oh, the questions.

It’s a personal challenge. I don’t love it like I was able to come to love my elderly Sephardi balanit in Jerusalem. I’ve had to make the experience completely separate and personal so as not to claw at the kisui rosh of an unassuming ‘just doing my charedi job’ Beitar Illit balanit, who to her credit, as she checks the length of my too-long nails, never fails to ask,

‘So, are you from around here?’

 

P.S. I have it on good faith that I’ll be able to report on the ever-in progress Tzur Hadassah mikvah very soon. It’s been completed and waiting for electricity, so they say. Stay tuned…

 

 

Organ donation in Israel: the good, the bad, the depressing, the options

Helping hand(s)So… what happens after we die?

One thing we know for sure – (ok, two things, for starters, our bodies decompose after some awkward nail and hair growth) – one sure thing is that we leave behind the living.

The healthy living. The barely living. The newly living. The next in line.

Organ donation is not a glamorous topic. The word organ: ugh. Way to reduce the miracle of human physiology to such a crude-sounding word. org-un.

But it is truly miraculous that we humans have figured out how to take the heart, liver, kidney, womb from one body and place it in another, so that the latter human can continue to beat, think, thrive.

Consider that.

This week I heard of a tragic scenario in which an immigrant-Israeli needs a transplant to survive, but is battling the complications she’s encountering due to the priority criteria in this country. It’s consumed me since I started researching (48 hours ago) how organ donation works in Israel, why it’s complicated, and the preparatory options available.

The situation

As we’re all painfully aware, Israel is a tiny country with a tiny population. We’ve got around 7.7 million residents. That’s not ideal news for those in need of organ transplants. Less people, less possibility. Drill down further, and there are significant sectors of the demographics committed to theology that doesn’t jive with organ donation.

So when it comes to ‘homegrown’ organ donation, not every person waiting makes it to seeing the other side of living.

As a country and culture and people that place life as sacred over all else, it’s a hard pill to swallow – according to the numbers, not everyone in need of a life-saving transplant can or will be saved.

I found this to be a painful revelation. It’s obvious-sounding. But take into account: what if you’re the one in the middle of the waiting list, with the clock ticking? How many more visits from your kids do you have left? Will the support system in place pick up where you left off?

How do you even begin to grapple with that?

And does it need to be the story’s ending as much as it is?

How it works here

I don’t know how organ donation law works abroad; I can only assume that in a place as populous as the States, it’s based on urgency, matching, survival chances, location, and other factors, probably including financial implications. Way more people, way more potential donors, way more organs to go around.

Here’s how the allocation of organs works in Israel, according to ADI, the National Transplant Center.

Since 2008, a priority law has been set to encourage people to sign up as potential donors and help prioritize who receives organs, when. Considering the gaping lack of organs for the necessity, this seems like a bold (and positive?) move:

The Organ Transplant Law was formulated after comprehensive and in-depth discussions by a forum of ethicists, philosophers, jurists, clergymen, psychologists, and physicians. The Law grants priority on the waiting list to the organ transplant candidate holder of a donor card before other candidates with similar medical data who do not hold such a card.

Then, the next part, where the donor priority details get broken down:

The new Law grants priority on the transplant waiting list in the following cases:

  • To a transplant candidate whose first degree relative (parents, siblings, children or spouse) has signed the donor card.
  • To a transplant candidate whose first degree relative died (in Israel) and his/her organs were donated for life saving.
  • To a transplant candidate who has donated, or whose first degree relative has donated an organ (kidney, liver lobe or lung lobe) to a non-specified recipient, i.e. to a stranger, from the transplant waiting list.

Here’s more on donor rights in Israel. Law nerds: You can read the organ donation details here. And the numbers… how many have signed ADI cards in Israel:

Halacha

There was this rite of passage, growing up in the Modern Orthodox day school world, when we high school students entered drivers license age and were told organ donation is against Jewish law. Then again, I also heard from teachers and rabbis that it was pikuach nefesh, or saving a life, which is pretty much the most sacred Jewish value.

Mixed messages, yes. ADI lays out the Jewish take on organ donation on a page broken down into much-appreciated detail.

Even further, the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS) is an organization campaigning for more Jews to get involved. Their mission: “To save lives by increasing organ donations from Jews to the general population (Jews and non-Jews alike).” 

I promised depressing (and uplifting) so here’s the people-side testimonial.

Do what you need to do
Read more. Talk to your partner. Make your call. Sign the card.

Another extremely important (and of course, possibly life-saving) option to consider if you’re an Israeli resident: private health insurance.

Israelis are all entitled to the national (socialized) health insurance agencies. Going further, many people decide to add a layer of protection and security by opting in to private health insurance plans. They can add a basic layer of extra coverage, or go the whole way.

The option here is to adopt a plan where after obtaining the medical sign off that you need a transplant, you contact the insurance company to make a claim. From there, you’re traveling the private route, with no Israeli national (and highly limited) organ wait list. In that case, the organs are typically flown in from abroad, or patient is flown abroad (depends on your plan); it’s a completely independent system, where the insurance company is a player.

For more on private health insurance options in Israel, start here (disclaimer: I live with the guy who wrote this).

Yeah. So. It’s an uncomfortable, depressing topic. But just like setting up a Will, it’s something you just have to consider. For myself I view it as some kind of parenthood rite of passage.

Do you know more about organ donation in Israel? Please leave comments and share your info… Still so curious.

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.

 

Speaking up.

It won’t be long before Jewish parents of school-age children no longer remember the point. The memory becomes a faded square of yellow fabric, eventually disintegrating under museum lighting. The pictures, cliche. The speeches, routine.

It’s probably already true to some degree, but most of us are young enough to remember the first time we met a Holocaust a survivor. Really met.

Who will remember those who remember?

We’re going to have to preserve the message, the memory, the moment somehow.

Linking the past to the present, the moral to our future.

What about teaching our kids to speak up?

Speak up the way some of our grandparents didn’t. Speak up when everyone else would rather speak about something else.

Speak up against intolerance. Speak up against misunderstanding. Speak up against baseless hatred.

Speak up for healing. Speak up for moving forward. Speak up for the people who can’t.

Who am I kidding, we’re Jews <insert stereotype>, Israelis <insert stereotype>, Middle Easterners <insert stereotype> – we don’t know how to speak up?

Psst.

Constructively.

I see what you did there, Anwar Sadat…

Oh, you know, just minding my own Zionist business at the IDF museum in מתחם התחנה in Tel Aviv (gorgeous area, go sometime), when in a room about Israel’s generals I notice a photograph symbolizing hope, future, and cold peace…

Ho hum, just having a grand time with my ex-arch enemy.

BFF forever

What’s that? The pattern on my tie?

It's flashy!

WHY, DOES IT BOTHER YOU???

SWASTIKA TIE at a peace conference FTW!

 

Gun violence, mental illness, school shootings: Is my paranoia justified, then?

NYTimes: A flag at half-staff on Main Street in downtown Newtown on Saturday morning.So I guess I’m not as paranoid as I thought… Or the world has become a more realistic place for people with morbid imaginations like myself…

Set your mind back eight years. Remember the Beslan school hostage crisis? The massacre in September 2004, erupting from a local school hostage crisis that lasted a whole three days, including the capture of over 1,100 people (including 777 children) and ended with over 380 children and adults murdered.

That horrible terrorist tragedy really shook me. Violently. To my core. Something inside me was never replaced after that. Back in 2004, I didn’t have my own children yet. I was single, about to make aliyah, and absolutely horrified as I read every single detail while my eyes stung and my face soaked in tears.

I didn’t have kids yet, but it stuck with me, somewhere deep, dormant. Years later, when I started sending my oldest to a maon, a local kindergarten here in Israel, the Beslan massacre edged back into my consciousness.

One of the safest places in the world for a child, invaded. A schoolhouse raped by violence. Death in a classroom door. If it could happen because of terrorism there, surely it could happen here, in Israel. Even right here, in suburban Tzur Hadassah. In fact, it has happened, in the very beds of sleeping babes.

Surely there are troubled, evil spirits everywhere.

And so it’s been, for the last few years of every morning splitting my soul into two, and then three, as I send my kids into their gans, my mind wanders to an ugly place. Two to three times a week, it creeps into the outskirt of my typically rational lobe, whispering to me, what if. And so, if the gate is ajar, I make sure it’s locked when I leave. If I see a stranger loitering outside, I wait until I can suss out their purpose. And as I drive off, each time, I spend a couple microseconds pushing these thoughts out of my way.

And I’ve assumed I am paranoid. Morbid.

Did the parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut ever feel that way?

From reading up since the massacre, I learned the Sandy Hook school seems to be pretty tight with their security. And not in an inner-New York City way. Visitors must be buzzed in (on a typical day). The teachers held occasional drills to be prepared for ‘lockdown’ which apparently happened quite liberally. I found that shocking, actually. Security drills are the new fire drills in today’s America, perhaps.

Can it happen in Israel? Absolutely. This is a mental health care issue as much as, if not way more, than it is a gun accessibility/control/rights issue. And Israel’s gun control (yes, it’s actual gun control policy) is not an acceptable model for the U.S. of a “gun-toting utopia” as some would like to claim.

But mental health care – that’s another challenge.

In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating that ‘gun control’ is trending everywhere while ‘mental health care’ or ‘mental illness’ is still the untouched, ugly, misunderstood American elephant. I do hope President Obama is serious about taking “meaningful action” after this latest in an entire series of deadly shooting attacks in the second half of 2012 alone.

But meaningful action is not just centered around gun control, please. We Americans don’t have an encouraging health care system in place – and beyond that, a welfare management system for the mentally ill – in order to make serious changes regarding how these individuals are functioning (or not) in society. Forget Obamacare. As we all know, health care – and mental health care structure – are broken in the United States.

And Israel – well, it’s just as bad on that side of things. Kupot (the national insurance companies) barely cover therapy sessions, let along drugs related to mental illness, conditions, disorders. Even private insurance here isn’t inclusive.

From the classroom, I’ve heard from teacher-friends that learning disabilities are routinely denied in the classroom, or staff don’t have the education or tools for coping with it. For children with special needs, there are resources here and there, but until what point? And that doesn’t even touch the issue of what happens after the school system… Or way beyond learning disorders – serious mental illness.

This morning, after dropping the kids off, I did my morning walk routine. It includes a chance to peep through the fence that surrounds Tzur Hadassah and see from the outside of the yishuv the building where I send my son every day. Part of my crazy is that I often look to make sure everything is peaceful on the outside. No one strange lurking. That the gate is closed.

I wondered, as I approached today, what I could possibly see there. What kind of wide range of events is possible in such a twisted, ill world.

Who hasn’t been dreading the names of the 20 Newtown children being released. Who can  handle their names, their ages. Their pictures. There’s really nothing to say.

As an American, a parent, a human, I hope “meaningful action” means something, on the part of all of us operating in society.

RIP Vicki Soto, a hero with no other choice to make than the right one… 

Must-watch: What teachers do: Kaitlin Roig, first grade teacher, shares her account of how she protected her class… “I wanted them to know someone loved them… I wanted that to be the last thing they heard…”