Friday, January 31, 2014

Bezalel Danzig Z"L

On this day, when Israel celebrates families, I am saddened to announce the sudden passing of my Great Uncle Bitzi, my grandmother's younger brother. He is survived by his wife Esther, his two sons  Micha and Dani, and a beautiful group of grandchildren.

A paratrooper and personal guard of David Ben Gurion after the founding of the State of Israel, Bitzi continued to serve his country all the days of his life.  A straight-talking man like his father, Bitzi found success as a business man, but always putting family first.

One of the few blood relatives I had in this country, Bitzi and Esther were adoptive grandparents for Raphaela, and we will miss him deeply.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You are Invited

Abraham and Sarah, and Laban happily invite you to the wedding of our children, Issac the Righteous and Rebbecca the Beautiful and the Brilliant


Raphaela's teacher utilizes an experiential model, involving the children in recreations of Biblical events in order to fully absorb the stories and the messages.  In introducing the first forefather, Abraham, they constructed a giant Bedouin-style tent in one corner of the classroom, including sheep and goats standing outside, and with a complete set of dishes so that the children could invite in "guests", just like Abraham.  For the birth and circumcision of Issac, they hosted a Brit Milah party in the aforementioned tent, and they had the Gan children help in the food preparation.

Now, for Issac and Rebbecca's wedding, they have asked the children to design a wedding invitation.  Raphaela and I sat together last night, with me helping write some of the more complicated Hebrew words and Raphaela decorating the invitation accordingly.

I thought I would be clever, and at the bottom of the invitation I wrote, "Time of Ceremony:  Jewish Time.  Ashkenazim, 5 pm and Sephardim 3:30 pm." (Referring to the fact that weddings in Israel begin chronically late, and that Sephardi weddings more so that Ashkenazi family weddings tend to be delayed by three hours or more.)

I have received actual wedding invitations that specify different times for the various relatives in the family.

Ha ha!  Except that it started to niggle at me; what if a parent or staff person at the Gan read it and became offended, which is something I certainly did not intend?

The more the thought settled into the back of my brain, the more I realized I could not ignore my gut feeling.  I had Raphaela cover over that bit of text with stickers and drawings, and started breathing normally again.

I have learned in life that if my Inner Voice is screaming, there's a reason, and I will only get into more trouble and regret if I ignore it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cosmic Connections

At around noon today, as I was walking through the supermarket, I quite literally left my body.  I suddenly felt sad and spacey, my body may have been in the store in Talpiyot but my soul was somewhere else.  The feeling was heavy, and even a bit scary, because it came out of nowhere and made me feel like I was choking.

Unpacking my groceries at home, I stared at half the items, having not remembered taking them off the shelves or paying for them.

As my anxiety mounted, the phone rang and the caller ID said, "Gan Hila."  A call from the school in the middle of the day is never good, any parent will tell you that your stomach drops and you stop breathing until you have heard the words, "Don't panic!"

Turns out, around the same time I went into my psychic trance, Raphaela had fallen in school and hurt herself, of course around the area on her chin where her stitches are still healing.  The teacher assured me that there was no real bleeding, only "scuffing and redness," and that Raphaela did not cry or express any real pain.

I have previously reported in this blog the discovery that when children are born, they leave a small cellular piece of themselves in their mother's brain, so that they are actually both emotionally and physically connected to their incubator and primary care giver. 

Amen, I believe!

Monday, January 27, 2014

We have gotten to the age of noticing "the bigger half" of the cookie.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Small Slice of Heaven

This morning when we arrived at Gan, Raphaela said "Wait, Mommy!" Then she dashed off to the drawing corner and quickly whipped up a picture for me to take home with me, to keep me company during the day while I worked:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Willy Wonka Fantasy

With friends and family visiting from the United States this week, Raphaela and I have truly enjoyed reconnecting with my former life in America, and eating out in restaurants that we would normally not frequent. I admit that I like the food I cook at home, and honestly, I could pass on the dining experience with an active curious can't-sit-still-for-more-than-five-minutes four and a half year old.

Last night I met up with my best friend from college and her husband at the Waffle Factory on Emek Rephaim, the cool street in Jerusalem.  Raphaela ordered a waffle bathed in chocolate cream, with a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the side, and decorated with bits of white and milk chocolate.

Yes, she is her mother's daughter, but even I could not imagine finishing that whole plate.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crazy Neighbor Lady

The elderly woman who lives below us and 'adopted' me and Raphaela, the former opera singer with severe dementia, has been hospitalized for the last two weeks.  I have been in contact with her daughter who lives in Tel Aviv, and they asked me for my personal and medical opinion regarding the steps that should be taken once she returns home.

I gently described my own observations and the degradation of her health over the last six months, and suggested that she not live alone anymore.  Her family thanked me, and another neighbor who watches over their mother as well, and told me that she speaks of Raphaela often, as if she were her own grandchild.

I do not fear death, but rather traumatic aging.  What is the point of breaking records and living "until 120" (as per the classic Jewish blessing) if it entails suffering?

With Good Will Toward All

Within the Israeli "public" school system, there are three major streams:  Secular, Religious Zionist and Ultra-orthodox.  There also exists another option, a classroom in which children with special needs or learning issues are integrated into the mainstream.  A close friend of mine has sent all three of her children to these integrated schools, and has never regretted her decision.

Since Raphaela was old enough to walk through the streets of Jerusalem with me, she has frequently and not so tactfully pointed to pedestrians in wheel chairs, with crutches or with obvious physical deformities.  Children speak straight and ask exactly what they are thinking, and I would explain to her that these people are like anyone else, except sometimes they need help walking or doing errands.

If we pass by another Jerusalemite, we will both smile and say, "Good morning," a non-judgmental acknowledgement of their being.  I have never used derogatory terms to describe someone with a physical or mental handicap, and have tried to teach Raphaela that each person deserves respect.

This week Raphaela had a personal encounter with another child with severe ADHD; though this child was clearly attempting to show my daughter affection and get her attention, it expressed itself as aggressive and uncontrolled violent behavior.

As Raphaela has a particular sensitivity regarding bullying, she at first became quite angry and defensive.  "That's not good deeds!" she yelled at him in Hebrew.

So I explained to her that she mustn't think this boy to be mean, but rather that he cannot control himself  and that he was just trying to make friends with her.  Amazingly, her demeanor changed almost immediately, switching from angry and ranting, to compassionate.  "Poor boy," she said, "I hope that he feels better soon."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Baby Boom

The Israeli television Channel 10 premiered a new reality show last night called "Baby Boom."  The premise is simple actually, it follows a woman from the time they enter the hospital until they give birth and hold their son or daughter in their arms for the first time.  There are minimal reality type show shots of the people talking directly into the camera, which makes it easier to watch.

I cried last night along with the mothers and the fathers and the mothers-in-law and the midwives and the official birth videographers, and I am fairly sure that most of the viewers did the same.  One of my close friends who also watched the program texted me, saying, "I am predicting lots of births nine months from tonight."

It got me thinking:  when I was pregnant, I did not get all hormonal or obnoxious and demanding, but I do remember crying every time I saw a commercial on television of some version of a happy family.  Father playing with son, mother holding baby, family on vacation etc., they all made me bawl. 

But when it came to Raphaela's birth, I don't remember crying at all.  Not during labor - although there was lots of "Get me an epidural, for the love of G-d!" - not after I held her for the first time and not for two days afterward.  I had had in the end a totally natural birth, and was high from the adrenaline of the event, not to mention flooded with the joy of this beautiful new life.

Three days after the birth I cried for the first time, when I said her name aloud.  Hearing "Raphaela" come out of my mouth, the name I had chosen when I was five months pregnant, it made it all real. 

I am looking forward to the next installment of Baby Boom, and will have my box of tissues at the ready. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Magical Mystery Playdough

Recently at a play date, Raphaela and her friend were watching some videos on YouTube, and they sat there like zombies, totally transfixed by the content.  Curious as to what could possibly have that narcotic effect, I looked over their shoulder: a woman with a Spanish accent and sparkly nails was opening play dough activity packages and playing with the set.

That's right, she opens the box and says deep thoughts like, "I see that this set has four canisters of play dough, one red, one blue, one purple and one brown."  Then this mystery woman (you don't see her face ever) uses the set and explains the complexity of the project:  "You take a ball of play dough and press.  And you do the same thing with all the other pieces."  The videos last almost ten minutes each, and she has posted a whole series of them on YouTube.

I don't get it, and have come to the conclusion that (a) some people have way too much time on their hands and (b) if you play the video backwards it says, "Barney is Dead" or some other subliminal message.  Raphaela and her friends could watch these idiotic videos all day, so there must be something that my grown up mind is missing.

The other video that has captured Raphaela's imagination and hypnotized her is similar, a mysterious man with a German accent opening up those chocolate toy eggs and checking out which prizes hide inside.  Then he ranks them according to his scale of  coolness, with brilliant comments like, "This egg has a Disney Princess ring. I don't like it because it doesn't fit my hand so I am going to put it in the uncool pile."  Or, "This Angry Bird eraser can go on top of a pencil, like this, and now you will be cool in school."

I just want to know what he does with all that chocolate...

The "L" Word

No, not "liberal," or "lesbian," or "linoleum." 

Two weeks ago there was a rather severe plague of the buggers running around Gan, and I continued my vigilance to check Raphaela's hair every evening after her bath.  But I myself am horrified at even the possibility, so I took extreme measures:  today I called in Penina the Lice Lady.  A former nursery teacher who makes house calls all over Israel, she came highly recommended to me as the infestation professional, and I need her to Lice-proof my sweet girl.

When I was growing up in America, only "dirty people" got lice, and if a child came to camp or school with bugs in their hair, the rest of the mothers would gossip about those neglected children and their terrible parents.  Israel, on the other hand, has gotten so used to the idea that many of the Gan parents don't even bother checking, and if they find lice, they will send their kid to school anyway, because it is too much trouble to take a day off work and fumigate.

Armed with serious bribery (a Playmobil Unicorn and Fairy Princess Set), we welcomed the lovely Lice Lady into our home.  Comb in hand and a coal miner's light hat atop her head, she set about her work and for three quarters of the time, Raphaela sat quietly and obediently, allowing Penina to check and clean every part of her hair;  when the Lice Lady got to the last and most important bits, Raphaela decided she had had enough and advanced quickly to uncooperative mode.

It took the promise of a large chocolate cookie and YouTube viewing to finish the job, and after a day's worth of preventative laundry - every bed sheet, pillow case, blanket and hooded article of clothing - and a personal inspection by the Lice Lady, Penina declared, "This house is clean."

Let me tell you, this woman was worth every penny.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Connecting to my Past

Yesterday at work, during an initial visit for a client, we both got very excited when we realized that we had started life on a similar route;  same high school and same college.  Then I asked her for her birthday (for my records) and guess when she was born?  In 1991, the same year that I actually graduated from college. I felt mighty ancient and was hit with the scary realization that I am, in fact, a grown-up.  When the hell did that happen?!

Until Raphaela was born, if you had asked me what part of my life I would gladly repeat, I would have answered my college years, without hesitation.  18 years old, living on my own in a dormitory in the middle of Manhattan rather than under the supervision of my parents in boring Boston, choosing my class schedule and making new friends.  Essentially, figuring out for the first time who I wanted to be, and loving myself inside and out for the first time in my life.

Now that I am a mother to a beautiful, intelligent and stubborn four year old,  I would answer that question differently;  I would not miss a moment of the time I have with my daughter, though the joy and the happiness represent a completely different animal than my loveliest memories from my Barnard College years.

Spurred on by these thoughts, I posted a shout-out to my Columbia/Barnard Facebook friends, and was rewarded beyond expectation:  one of my contacts answered by posting a photo from our Freshperson* year, all of us bright eyed and oh so young, eating in Kosher Kitchen.

(Photo credit:  Cindy Kosowsky Mann, Columbia Class of 1991)

I kept returning to that photo all day in between patients, it was phenomenally distracting and brought so many smiles to my face, I could hardly contain myself.

Later that day at a play date, speaking to the mother of Raphaela's friend while the girls played;  Turns out we went to Eagle Day Camp together, THE Jewish Summer Day Camp for anyone who was anyone living in the Tri-State Megalopolis.  We sang the song of the head of the pool, Chief Takazees, and yes, he did walk around camp with a full complement of Native American feathers in his head;  I can still see myself in that blue and white Eagle Day Camp shirt and blue shorts, and I remember enjoying it from start to finish. 

This morning I received a special delivery from my Great Aunt, the youngest and only sister of my Bubby Z"L:  my aunt Ida sent me a copy of her short stories, a memoir she had written several years ago which includes accounts of my grandmother's difficult childhood spent in British Palestine and later in an orphanage.  At 86 years old, this woman so closely resembles my grandmother, she corresponds with me regularly via email, and seems to be living a fulfilling and active life, pthoo pthoo.  I nearly cried reading about my grandmother and her three siblings, finding it almost impossible to imagine her as a despondent serious child, because that is not the grandmother I knew and loved as a second mother.

Once an acupuncturist friend of mine told me that I could not fly until I had solid roots in the ground of Gaea, and now I understand her more than ever.  After spending two days rediscovering the child in me and learning about my family, I find myself bouncing around the house, smiling with wild abandon, and dreaming of a beautiful future.

* "FreshMAN" is apparently misogynist, and so we called ourselves (in cynicism and mockery of Fascist Feminism) Freshpeople.  Someone on our floor crossed out the word "Women" from the bathroom door, and rewrote it as "Womyn," because G-d Forbid we want to imply that Woman is derived from Man, and therefore secondary in the evolutionary chain.  Seriously.  True Story.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy Monday

This morning as I was getting dressed, Raphaela stood there and watched me, eyes sparkling and this big grin on her face.  When I asked what she was thinking at that moment, she answered, "I make you so happy!"  Then she leaned over and kissed me and walked out of the room.

As I was getting Raphaela dressed, I started to examine the state of her mosquito bites, they had been so inflamed and terrible last week.  Raphaela pushed my hand away and said, "Mommy, don't touch my boo-boos.  My body knows how to heal itself and it doesn't need any help from you right now."

Clearly she has absorbed the message of my chosen profession, Chiropractic, and that approach toward her body makes me happy and proud indeed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Now for the feature show at Gan, the spectacular play of Super Tomato!  It even has it's own theme song:  "Mr. Tomato, Mr. Tomato... I'm happy and helpful, I'm Mr. Tomato."

Apparently, this valiant super hero wears a tomato as an eye patch.

(A friend of Raphaela's comes to Gan each morning wearing a red cape and calls himself Super Tomato.  Raphaela can't wait to go to school every morning, to see what adventures await this brave vegetable and his friends.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


As a high school student, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered without hesitation: a photojournalist.  I saw myself traveling the world, taking fantastic photos that would appear on the cover of magazines like National Geographic and newspapers like the Boston Globe and the New York Times.  I was going to make a difference in the world by exposing the truth of our existence through the lens of my Minolta camera.

In college I took photography courses to counter-balance the difficulty and the intensity of the pre-med studies, in art I found my joy.  I enjoyed the challenge of each week's assignment, and welcomed the critique that helped me grow as an artist.  Once a week, usually on a Monday, I would take two rolls of black and white film and walk through Central Park and other parts of The City, and was not allowed to go home until I had 72 photos;  if two or three were decent out of the lot, I had had a good afternoon.

Since moving to Israel, the extent to which I have indulged my creative side and the dedication to photography has waned, put on the back burner for starting my career and getting pregnant, raising that child and sleeping every once in a while.

Recently, a friend told me about an online international project called 52Frames, a collaborative effort with both professional and amateur photographers; each week a new mission is posted on the site, to be fulfilled and exhibited and critiqued by the group.

I should have jumped for joy when I heard about this, immediately turned on my computer and applied to be a part of this beautiful initiative.  Surprisingly, the only thing I felt was ambivalence, and a pervasive hesitation about even thinking about joining.  I felt sad, and it confused me actually.

Am I afraid of the competition, that I am not good enough to show my work?  Have I been so focused for so long on other endeavors that I have lost that spark of the Inner Artist and that competitive edge?  Is this a fear of commitment masking itself as, "I don't have the time..."

Whatever it is, it concerns me and I must figure it out before it has greater repercussions in my life.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Chain of Command

Immediately after Raphaela almost died from an anaphylactic reaction to the simple surgery of stitches on her chin two months ago, a new imaginary friend joined the ranks, the one she calls "Ach." [brother in Hebrew]  Since Ach seemed to help Raphaela survive both the physical trauma and the emotional earthquake of the event, I accepted him into the family.

Several times a day, I hear, "Ach taught me how to do this." "Ach says it's time to eat something." "Ach is coming to Gan with me today." Etc.

This past Shabbat, Raphaela said to me, "From now on, I am not going to listen to you, I am going to listen to Ach instead."

I got down to her eye level, and in a totally calm and quiet voice said the following:  "Ach is wonderful, but in this house I am Mommy and I am the boss.  You can accept my authority and keep Ach, or you can find another Mommy."

Raphaela seemed shocked, and after yelling at me for hurting "Ach's feelings," she apologized and behaved beautifully for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I, a sworn Luddite, put my faith in technology today.  With the help of a most excellent friend, I registered Raphaela to Gan Chovah next year online, rather than presenting myself in person to the Municipality bureaucracy.

It feels somehow freeing, asking for help and trusting the system, one small step toward change.  Baby steps of course.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pre1A, The Gan Chovah Journey Begins

With the deadline for registering Raphaela for Pre IA (Gan Chovah in Hebrew) approaching faster than the speed of light, I met with her current Head Gan Teacher for a consultation.  Here is a women with vast experience teaching this age and with personal knowledge of my child; Raphaela spends nine hours outside the house each day within the educational context, and I know there are things I don't know.

As a Chiropractor, I find it easy to look at a client and the elements of his/her life and diagnose the need for changes, in the physical and emotional realms.  It is one million times harder to look at yourself and your child as a family unit and assess the strengths and weaknesses in an objective way.  It is one billion times harder as a Jewish mother with Jewish guilt not to take responsibility and blame for something that ultimately you cannot control.

Here is what I learned about my daughter today:

She is warm and gentle and physically affectionate, and she carries herself with grace.
She has "wrapped herself around the hearts of everyone on staff."
She is methodical and diligent about assignments, and completes tasks well.
She needs improvement holding scissors, as she is a lefty.
She is both self-aware and communicative of her feelings, as well as being sensitive to how others relate to her, and she reacts accordingly.
She has become much more social and less shy since the beginning of the year, and interacts easily with her friends.

She is "ever so slightly stubborn."
["Really?" I said.  "Ever so slightly? I think you are understating the truth..."  Then both I and the teacher laughed for five minutes.]
Her stubborn-ness results in Raphaela sometimes acting slowly to follow instructions, as she gets lost in her wide world of Fantastic Imagination.

Language acquisition was Rapheala's teacher's largest concern:  while my daughter speaks in Hebrew, she sometimes struggles to find certain words in a complex sentence and then reverts to English.  Her Hebrew should "flow more," according to her teacher, a factor which could negatively influence her social life as she gets older within the Israeli system of education.  As well, Raphaela seems to be the kid who could benefit from an extra year of what her teacher called "unadulterated play."

With that in mind, Raphaela's teacher recommended that I add more Hebrew movies and television programs to her day, not the advice I expected to hear.  She also recommended that I monitor Raphaela closely next year, because it might benefit to repeat Gan Chovah.  That way, my daughter goes into the more rigid framework of First Grade as one of the oldest children, with an extra year of play time, affectionate teaching and with absolute confidence in her Hebrew speaking skills.

I also mentioned that Raphaela has begun to ask about the identity of her biological father/sperm donor, and the teacher offered me wonderful parenting and phrasing possibilities.

G-d bless this woman, who closed our discussion with a hug and the assurance I needed to hear as a single parent, "You are a great mother and an amazing woman."