And I'm playing in Israel.
I hope you join us.
And I'm playing in Israel.
I hope you join us.
I love TED talks.
I love the concept.
I love the execution.
As a marketing professional, I think TED talks are often brilliant examples of storytelling and I often share them with my clients to show how delivery can reel a person into a topic that might be dense or unfamiliar.
I have watched TED talks that seem to have nothing to do with my life — that are by people so foreign to me or about ideas that are a million miles away from what I think or care about.
And yet, by the end, I’m crying. Or nodding. Or shaking my head in stunned disbelief.
That’s what a good story does to you.
As a human being, I think TED talks enrich my life.
I love learning about problems I never knew existed.
And being surprised by how the solutions to those problems end up applying to my own life.
I have the TED app downloaded on my smartphone and when I remember, I will often listen to a TED talk on the drive home from work.
I hardly ever spend time browsing the videos. I choose one of the top three recommended.
Today I chose “Phil Hansen: Embrace the shake.”
I had no idea who Phil Hansen was before I watched his talk, nor did I understand the reference to the word, “shake” in the title.
But I love the word “embrace.”
And this word alone in the title was enough to pique my curiosity and press play.
I’m very much into embracing. (And tips on how to do it better…)
Embracing my uncertainty.
Embracing my fear.
Embracing the new and unfamiliar.
Embracing …so that you may let go.
What Hansen suggests in his talk is that embracing our limitations actually opens us up to limitless possibilities.
I agree with him.
I won’t spoil the 10 minute talk.
Enjoy it for yourself, but be prepared to be surprised.
And to let go … of your expectations.
About the speaker.
About the talk.
“As I destroyed each project, I was learning to let go,” Hansen says. “Let go of outcomes. Let go of failures. And let go of imperfections…”
See what happened, when he did.
Do you ever notice how easy and acceptable it is to stereotype your own?
And how easy and acceptable is it to find yourself up in arms when “outsiders” stereotype us?
Of course, this is human nature and true of most ethnic, religious and gender groups.
It’s the classic rule: I can talk smack about my momma, but don’t you even think about it.
I stereotype Israelis. Especially since I moved here 2 1/2 years ago.
But what’s funny is the type of stereotyping I find myself responsible for is not your classic Israel bashing.
They’re so rude/impatient/loud/demanding. They’re always up-your-butt in lines. They all carry uzis.
Those aren’t stereotypes. They’re truths! Israelis will be the first to admit (loudly, and rudely) that lines are for friarim. Pushing your way to the front is why God gave us two hands. The third one is for our uzi.
I stereotype Israelis from a place of love, like one does when making fun of one’s brother…or oneself. But I also stereotype Israelis as a study, from a place of still feeling like an “inside outter.” Like someone who thinks she is supposed to fit in, but doesn’t quite yet. And perhaps never will.
This was very obvious to me while traveling last week in the U.S. with 8 Israeli born colleagues. Though working insanely hard, we had a great time. My colleagues, experienced travelers, still counted on me to lead them, inform them, and give them a bit of a navigation in a foreign country. So for me, the trip was an opportunity to finally feel like a grown up again — like someone who knows her way around. Someone who can order for herself in a restaurant; find her way around airport security.
Traveling in America with a group of Israelis, however, also made me feel very American. So much so, I began to question my own identity. Who am I when I am in America? Am I American or Israeli? Or some strange hybrid better suited for a third independent country? (Uganda? Atlantis?)
I loved the cafes we lunched in; while they frowned at menus filled with burgers and sandwiches.
I sipped rootbeer satisfied, while they longed for tea with nana.
I spoke quietly and respectfully to our waiters. They demanded extra salad dressing in Hebrew.
They laughed at me. At my American-ness. And I at them. At their complete and utter Israeli-ness.
And then we laughed at ourselves
Since I moved to Israel 2 1/2 years ago, I constantly wonder where I fit in.
But then I remind myself that this is a question I’ve been asking for as long as I’ve been asking questions.
And for as long as I’ve been asking questions, I’ve been carefully observing myself and others.
Comparing myself to them. Comparing their behavior to mine.
Searching for the differences and the similarities.
Seeking harmonies. Identifying irritations.
This is what we do.
With ease, we assign the harmonies to people who look and act like us, and the irritations to people who look and act different from us.
Until something happens to shatter the reliability of our stereotypes.
For me, this happened when I made Aliyah.
As I live among Israelis; and more so, as I become an Israeli, I’m busting my own stereotypes, and creating new ones.
But always defending Israel like she was my momma.
I can talk smack about her, but don’t you even think about it.
Not short mini skirt and red lipstick kinda fast.
The kind of fast that shows up 15 minutes early no matter how hard she tries to be late. The kind of fast that needs you to get to the point…now. The kind that grits her teeth when people here in Israel say to her, “L’at l’at.” (slowly, slowly)
It’s kind of ironic — when Israelis tell me “slowly slowly.”
Most of them are trying to be kind; encouraging.
But is this really authentic?
Israelis, stereotypically, are the last people with patience for doing anything slowly.
Israeli drivers, notoriously, are maniacs.
“Yes, we know,” you say. Maybe you follow it up with the “Ain Ma La’sot?” shrug.
What can we do about it other than drive defensively? you ask.
It’s a good question.
The other day a man was killed during the afternoon rush hour in a car accident on the road I take to and from work.
It was raining. There was oil on the road.
It could have been me.
I don’t know if recklessness was involved or not. But I wouldn’t be surprised.
Every day I drive like my life depends on it. Not because it does. But because all of my fellow drivers seem to be so focused on getting somewhere fast, they are unaware of the fact that I want to live.
Every time I am on the road, driving the speed limit or a reasonable level over — drivers pass me at lightning speed. They take over the opposite lane so they can pass the tractor trailer. They drive up my rear as if there is a free gift in my trunk.
What are they rushing to?
In my humble opinion, there are only three non-life-or-death reasons to rush anywhere in your car — and they all involve an orifice.
You need to pee. You need to poop. Or you need to push a baby out.
Not in that order.
Yes, Israeli drivers as a rule drive dangerously, but there IS something we can do.
Be one less dangerous Israeli driver on the road.
Be mindful of how you perceive your deadline.
Do you really need to get to work exactly on time?
Will the world end if you are late to that meeting?
No, it won’t. So keep your rage at bay, your phone in your purse, and your eyes on the prize — living.
And — slowly slowly: be the change you want to see on Israeli roads.
When do you decidedly fit into a nation?
Is it when you feel confident in a voting booth?
Is it when you feel the urge to buy cotton harem pants that drop just below the knee?
Is it when you recognize the country’s top celebs?
If so, I’m not there yet.
Yesterday, on my drive into Tel Aviv for a meeting, I noticed a billboard for The Voice staring down at me from high above the freeway. Four faces: And none were remotely recognizable to me.
I couldn’t relate to the dress or hairstyle on any of the four. None looked like my friend, my father, or even someone I’d choose to be on of my top 5 list “freebies.”
Where am I? I thought.
Tel Aviv, my self answered.
And I live here? I thought.
No, not in Tel Aviv. And that’s part of the problem.
I live in the outskirts. I live a sheltered life.
But what happens when you live a quiet, sheltered life on purpose is this feeling of complete and utter disconnect. It takes a lot longer, presumably, to feel like an “Israeli” among Israelis.
Of course, part of the problem is I have a nice big fat crutch called “English.”
I work mostly in English. Many of my friends speak in English.
I stick to my English books on my Kindle and the little TV I watch is in English.
At some point in the last six months or so, I stopped trying so hard to fit in.
Which on the one hand makes my life a lot easier, but on the other hand keeps me stuck feeling like a tourist in this country. A foreigner. An outsider.
I’m a lot less lost than I was two years ago, but I’m not quite found yet either.
Which is okay.
Think about it, I told myself as I parked the car in Ramat Gan.
You spent 30-something years in New Jersey, and you never quite found yourself there either.
Nor could I relate to the celebrities plastered on billboards. Nor were any of those celebs on my “top 5 freebie list.”
If you’re going to blog on Election Day, you better blog about the election, right?
It’s what’s trending. It’s what people are talking about. It’s what’s relevant.
No one wants to read blogs about somebody’s else’s kid on Election Day.
But just in case you’re someone who, like I am, is still in denial about the fact that today Americans vote to re-elect or elect a new president, here is a light and fluffy election-related, but unrelated post from your favorite (or second favorite) Israeli immigrant blogger.
A few weeks ago, my 9 year old immigrant son did something extraordinary. He ran for class representative in the 4th grade.
This would have been only somewhat extraordinary when we lived in the U.S. — my oldest has always been a friendly and confident kid, but nonetheless, I would have been impressed with any one of my children placing their names on a ballot, the results of which would label him a winner or a loser (at least among his peers).
Who does that? Who sets themselves up for that?
But, even more extraordinary is that my kid, the nine year old who has been in this country and part of this school communuity not quite two years, decided to run.
Part of the requirements included a speech in front of the class on why they should elect him.
I am so amazed by my children sometimes.
The kid didn’t even tell us he gave a speech until after the fact. He worked the speech up himself and gave it — off the cuff.
(I think he promised them a really fun year… and maybe some candy.)
People often ask me about the impacts of aliyah on my children. I know much of our happiness here has to do with how happy our kids are, so I often feel very grateful when I tell them our kids are doing beautifully.
They’ve learned the language. They’ve made friends. They even dare to throw their hats into rings.
My son — who ran against 7 other kids — did not win one of the two representative seats from his class.
He was disappointed. And, honestly, so were we.
My immediate thoughts were panic and guilt — “Wait! He was so popular when we lived in America. Did we drastically hurt his popularity by dragging him to Israel? Did we screw him up forever?!?”
Then I realized, “That’s not the point.”
The biggest accomplishment would not have been in winning. We already know this kid makes friends easily.
The accomplishment was that he ran at all.
And, for the first time ever, I felt the truth in the classic, yet typically ineffective cliche, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”
Is it possible to move to the Jewish State and feel less Jewish?
Yes. Yes, it is.
Even when you’re acting a lot more Jewish than you did when you lived in the Non-Jewish Jewish state. (Not, no the Vatican. New Jersey.)
Even though I moved to Israel and live in a community that is considered (by secular and pluralistic Jews here, at least) to be religious, I still often feel as goyish as a ham sandwich on white.
Take my Halloween post on the Times of Israel yesterday, for instance.
Of course, I knew I might ruffle a feather or two. Religious Jews don’t celebrate Halloween, not even in America. And I knew the Times of Israel attracts readers that tend to be a little on the, let’s just say, fervent side.
But I didn’t expect the commenters to go all Esmerelda on me.
On the one hand, I’m curious about it. In the same way I might be curious about a colorful school of clownfish swimming in a tank at the pet store.
I knew that observant Jews in America didn’t let their kids participate in Halloween festivities, though I never really understood why. Not the historical reason why; but the “why is it still relevant today” kinda why.
Halloween in America today is far, far away from idol worshipping. Unless, of course, you consider Smarties to be idolic. Why be so vigilant about keeping your kids off the streets and out of costume on October 31?
But of course, I fall into the camp that thinks kashrut as a means of humane slaughter is also outdated…especially when you take into consideration inhumane mass slaughterhouses like agriprocessor. Tells you what kind of Jew I am, and also shows you very clearly my stand on taking a more modern approach to tradition.
So, naturally, I wasn’t really prepared for the harsh admonishment on the first run of commenting on my post.
Yikes! I just wanted my kids to enjoy some cake and candy. I just wanted them to be amused and impressed by my polished witch cackle.
Heck, I just wanted a reason to be able to work my polished witch cackle into a sentence.
Is that so wrong?
Look: Halloween has nothing to do with my “traditions or values or way of life.”
Kids get dressed up and go beg for candy. When they get older, they throw eggs at my house.
Who would claim that this “holiday” has anything to do with their “traditions or values or way of life?”
Not even satan worshippers or pagans, I imagine.
And yet, somehow in her tone, this commenter implies that by recognizing a secularized American tradition I am somehow passing on bad values to my Jewish children. My Jewish children who go to Beit Knesset every Friday night for kabbalat Shabbat; my children who go to a Tali school and learn Tanakh; my children who — during play amongst themselves — will sometimes sit on the couch and daven with their dolls.
I’m not kidding.
I have video to prove it.
Maybe, the commenter is right. Maybe someday my kids will grow up to be idol worshipping pagans who dance naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge.
Personally, I think Halloween is more likely to turn kids into toothless fat old people than pagans.
And dancing naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge? Sounds fun.
But then again, I’m that kinda Jew.
I’m writing this while it’s still very fresh.
Because I feel like I need to process it all.
Earlier this week I was engaged in a heated discussion in the comments section of a fellow blogger and fellow mom of food allergic kids about how Israel doesn’t take food allergies seriously.
Earlier this morning, I blogged about how frustrated I feel with the Israel medical care system.
And then, like a freak thunderstorm that knocks down the tree that just misses your house, the Universe decided it wanted to tell me something.
I think. Or else it’s all a very very strange coincidence.
Around lunch time, I got a call from my husband. He was on his way home with the boys from school. The 9 year old had just thrown up all over the car. My husband then told me that my son had eaten a candy at school and started feeling sick after. He was afraid it had nuts in it.
But he wasn’t sure. My son hadn’t read the ingredients.
Our smart son; our careful son; the one who has had now 7 years of experience living with food allergies… he slipped up.
Of course, one can understand. It was a sucking candy. Not a chocolate bar. Not a cake or a cookie or a brownie. An orange-flavored hard candy. At least that’s what it looked like and even tasted like to him.
In all our years of reading ingredients, we have never once ever come upon a hard sucking candy with nuts in it (save for coconut oil, which he is not allergic to.)
I think he got complacent. And, like any 9 year old boy, careless.
Maybe we got complacent. We stopped nudging him.
Either way, today, after years of wondering what it would be like to look anaphylaxis in the face, I did. Smack dab.
This wasn’t my son’s first allergic reaction. He’s had three reactions in the past — one last Spring even to a new food he wasn’t allergic to in the past — but all have been treated successfully with Benadryl, an antihistamine. It’s the first course of treatment according to our allergists, unless his lips swell or he can’t breathe.
Today, his lips weren’t swollen and he could still breathe, but yet, he was not right. I could tell. Kinda. But not for certain.
As soon as he got home, I could see he was pale. He also couldn’t breathe from his nose. And while he could still breathe from his mouth, his throat hurt and his voice sounded like he had something stuck in there.
I wasn’t quite sure he “needed” the epipen. But I held on to it as I evaluated him. I looked in his throat. It looked swollen.
I had just given myself the epipen a few months before for what I had thought was allergy but turned out to be food poisoning. At the time, I told myself, “It was good you did. Now you know it doesn’t really hurt. Now you will really give it to the kids if they need it and not worry about it hurting.” (Ask any parent of kids with food allergies and most will tell you they worry about having to give the epipen to their kid. “I don’t want to give him the shot. It will hurt.”)
I looked at my son and asked, “Do you feel I should give you the epipen?”
He was scared. He hesitated. He didn’t say, No. But he couldn’t say, Yes.
I said yes for him.
I reminded him that it wouldn’t hurt. It would help.
He was brave. Very brave, as I stuck the epipen in his thigh.
Thank goodness, I did. Later, after we took him to the doctor; after the doctor checked his vitals; after he gave him steroids as a follow up treatment; he told us, we did the right thing.
And it was only after that, my husband pulled out one of the wrapped candies the teacher had given us to show us what he ate. Another child had handed them out during recess when the teacher wasn’t there.
The candy said Praline on the wrapper.
Pralines are not nuts, themselves. They are a nut-flavored candy or cookie. It wasn’t part of our vocabulary … the one we’ve always used when training him on what to do around food. My son didn’t know what a praline was. Because it’s a nut candy, he’s never eaten it. Also, it’s not something children generally eat in anywhere in America I’ve ever been (except Georgia, now that I think about it). My son has never seen anything like that.
Of course, if he had read the ingredients written in teeny tiny crumpled up type on the wrapper, he would have seen the word “peanut.” We did.
I can’t be angry at my son. I am too thankful right now he is alive.
I am thankful he trusted his body and got help right away.
I’m thankful that his teacher called us immediately as soon as she heard he had eaten the candy.
I’m thankful my husband happened to be nearby with the car and could get him from school.
I’m thankful I had the courage to give him the epipen even though I wasn’t sure he “needed” it.
I’m thankful there was a clinic open to see my child (even though the first two ones we called were closed and no one available to answer the phones).
I’m thankful we had friends around to help us with our other kids.
I’m thankful traffic on the one lane road to the clinic wasn’t extraordinarily slow as it often can be.
I’m thankful the doctor on call at the clinic happened to be our pediatrician, who knew us, and who we felt comfortable with.
I’m happy he took us seriously. I’m happy the nurse and the receptionist at the clinic also took us very seriously. I’m happy the teacher (who called us later to check on him and express her concern) and the children in my son’s class all took it seriously.
Of course, I am most thankful he is sitting next to me right now bugging me to get off the computer and get him a popsicle.
He is ok.
He is ok.
And, perhaps, there are Israelis who take food allergies seriously.
After today, I imagine some of them will likely take them more seriously than they did before.
I’m not suggesting the turn of events was all the work of something supernatural or magical. Or that someone or something was really trying to send me a message.
(They do take it seriously.)
(He is in safe hands.)
(You will know what to do.)
(He will be okay.)
But, one way or another?
Do you celebrate Rosh Hashana like your parents did? What do you borrow from the High Holiday celebrations of your youth?
This is what I am thinking today on Rosh Hashana 5773, Day Two.
It occurred to me this morning, the second day of the new Jewish Year that we didn’t go to services the day before.
Even writing that statement feels funny. It occurred to me. I’m a little embarrassed; a little ashamed, even.
I accidentally forgot to go to services.
This is particularly ironic since, when I was a kid, Rosh Hashana was one of two days during the year when you could be sure to find me inside a synagogue (or at the very least, on the playground of a synagogue, or in a crowded hallway of a synagogue among other hormonal teenage girls spying on well-groomed oblivious teenaged boys.)
It’s ironic because now I am an adult living on a fairly traditional kibbutz in Northern Israel; now, I go to Friday night services at least twice a month; now, I speak Hebrew and think about God:
Now, is when I forgot to go to services.
Instead of going to synagogue on the morning of Rosh Hashana — and I write “instead” very loosely since there really was no active choice involved; I simply forgot — I hung around my in-laws’ house, enjoyed a nice breakfast with my family, and played with the baby kitten my son befriended in the yard.
It’s not that I forgot it was Rosh Hashana. Certainly not. It’s a state holiday. I dipped apples in honey. I thought about the people I had hurt the year before and made a silent intention to right wrongs. I sent New Year’s greetings to loved ones and blessed my children. I kissed my husband with gratitude. I ate brisket.
But I didn’t go to services.
It only occurred to me once we returned to Hannaton later that evening that we really should go to synagogue. It was Rosh Hashana after all.
I thought back to the High Holidays of my youth. I thought about my young parents; and my childhood home. I thought about sweet kugel at my Bubbi’s house. I thought about the new dress from Botwinick’s my mom and I would shop for and the fresh pair of itchy tights we’d break out of the package on the morning of Rosh Hashana. I thought about my brother struggling into a suit from Fleet’s and my dad in a black nylon kippah. I thought about my mom in high heels. My mom hardly ever wore high heels.
I thought about posed family photographs in the front driveway. Plastic smiles, but pretty pictures.
I thought about making it to synagogue early enough to hear the Torah, but not so early that we were the first ones there (10:15 am). I thought about the challenge to find parking in the neighborhood behind Beth El. And worse yet, on the years it would rain.
I thought about parting with my parents as they made their way to their assigned seats in the auditorium…and in later years to the Main Sanctuary. I thought about the classrooms turned into babysitting rooms; and the small chapel I dutifully spent ten minutes inside.
As I recall the Rosh Hashanas of my youth, I don’t recall prayer. This is certain.
But I recall tradition.
Intentional or accidental, our family had a Rosh Hashana tradition. A custom practiced year upon year and, in some little way, passed down to generations. Customs out of the ordinary that I only associate with the High Holidays.
Last night, when it occurred to me that we didn’t go to services, I suggested to my husband that we take the kids the next morning and he agreed.
Not because I felt compelled to pray. Not for fear of the wrath of God. Not even because I thought it was “the right thing to do.”
I took my kids to synagogue because remembering the boring, overdressed, agitated, sometimes hormonal, often drama-filled High Holidays of my youth opens up my heart.
It’s like playing an 80s video on YouTube.
It’s like reading an old journal entry.
It’s like running into an ex-boyfriend on the street.
It’s like smelling your grandmother’s perfume.
It’s like looking at the pictures of your baby’s birth on his 6th birthday.
This is the nature — and the merits — of tradition.
And I want my children to experience the overwhelm of their hearts opening.
They can’t possibly know it today as they argue over who got a bigger glass of grape juice; as they complain about having to pin the kippah to their heads; as they moan and groan as we walk up the hill to the Beit Knesset underneath the hot sun.
But someday they will remember.
And their hearts will burst with feeling.
And they will welcome in the New Year.
You wouldn’t know it from the digits on the thermometer but we’re a few breaths away from Fall.
Evidence mounts, instead, on friends’ Facebook photos and in the mess of backpacks and lunchboxes thrown haphazardly in my hallway.
A new year of school has begun and our second Israeli summer is almost behind us.
I know I’m adjusting to life in Israel because I inhale the faint smells of Fall with desire and relief. As opposed to how I’ve always associated summer; here, Fall is the season in which we get to play outside and explore.
The summer heat is oppressive, as are the masses at public beaches and parks. In the fall, on the other hand, the weather and the tourists taper off, and the locals get to play a little. Especially with the Jewish High Holidays smack dab in the middle of our transition back into our “regular schedules.” Government and school holidays from Rosh Hashana thru Sukkot provide many of us with a veritable Indian Summer. Mandatory days off from work. An excuse to slack a little.
While I’ve always been a summer lovin’ kinda girl, Israel — and perhaps age –have created a rift between me and my childhood steady, the Summer Sun. I no longer crave his touch as much as I used to, and when we spend too much time together I bristle from it instead. For the the first time ever, I don’t think I will have a hard time bidding him goodbye.
And with a more mature, but just as selfish abandon, I beckon Fall instead.
Hours ago I was at the computer giggling, putting the finishing touches on a post explaining why I want to be like comedienne Sarah Silverman.
I was feeling very bold and brave as I pressed “publish;” even daring with my mind anonymous internet lunatics to post crazy biblically-inspired apocalyptic remarks in the comments section.
This was going to be fun.
Agitated a bit by the screaming headlines on the Times of Israel home page about the unrest in Syria, I secretly hoped the news would drive more traffic to my latest post, featured as a “Top Op” a few scrolls down. I know that makes me sound like an insensitive bitch. I’m not. I suffer over how helpless I feel about the situation in Syria. But the headlines were about bad guys being killed. It allowed me to embrace the numb.
I’m numb still.
But for different reasons.
My “top op” seems so frivolous now in comparison to the tragic news coming from Bulgaria, where three Israeli tourist buses were apparently targeted in a terrorist attack this afternoon.
Hours ago I was feeling clever, confident… and now
I feel sick to my stomach.
If you had told me a year ago or two I would feel this way following a planned attack on Israelis travelling abroad, I’m not sure I would have believed you.
When I read the news an hour ago, I didn’t feel the same type of composed sympathy I used to feel when I read about horrific terrorist attacks in Israel before I made Aliyah. Back then, when I worked at the Jewish newspaper for instance, and we would get word from JTA that something terrible happened to Israelis (like the 2002 Passover massacre in Netanya), I would sigh with sadness and I’d shudder over the list of names.
But I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have that sensation that I just barely missed something terrible happening to someone I love.
Or to me.
Now, I feel a tiny bit terrified.
The way you do when you narrowly miss the car accident on the highway. Like it could’ve been you.
In April, my husband and I purchased one of those package vacation deals. If you’ve been to Israel, you may know what I’m talking about. It’s really easy to get a great last minute deal to other Mediterranean countries — Greece, Cyprus, and formerly, Turkey. Since relations with Turkey have soured in recent months, Israelis have been going to Bulgaria instead. In fact, one of my coworkers was there last summer and another has a vacation planned for this summer.
To be honest, I don’t know if he was on that flight. I really don’t know. I didn’t see him at the office today.
When I saw the headline, I felt in my gut like I narrowly missed a personal tragedy.
And yet, that somehow the tragedy still belongs to me.
When I saw the headline, I felt Israeli.
When I was a girl, I was a motor mouth.
How do I know this? Because Ms. Levin, my second grade teacher told me so. Seriously, my nickname in second grade was Motor Mouth, a moniker craftily created by my teacher at the time, who occasionally relented to my excessive hand-raising by saying, “Yes, M.M.?”
As borderline abusive as this practice was, there was some truth in the designation. I talked a lot. All the time, in fact. I talked to my neighbors at my table. I talked to my friends across the room. Often I would mutter to myself. I was a social creature. I still am.
My poor husband, not a social creature by nature, now carries the burden of Ms. Levin. But unfortunately for him, he has not only my incessant chatter to contend with, but also our oldest son’s and daughter’s. They inherited the Motor Mouth gene.
My chatter tends to run over into my writing. I’ve said often in the past that I “write in order to know what I think.” I didn’t make that up. Author Stephen King has said it. Historian Daniel Boorstin is claimed to have said a version of it. I wonder if those guys were motor mouths, too. Probably.
The best part about blogging is that it’s almost acceptable to be a motor mouth. Not so with traditional, published writing. In magazines, books, and newspapers — the kind of publications people still pay money to read on a regular basis — our motoring is required to be more thoughtful and refined. I respect this. I think it’s a sensible, if often boring, practice — carefully choosing your words and paying fastidious detail to grammar and punctuation.
Which is why, when I have a more thoughtful and potentially refined idea for a story, I don’t blog it. I save it.
I have one right now, in fact.
It’s been percolating inside of me for about two weeks, ever since I first started saving books from the recycling bin.
As you know, I live on a kibbutz in northern Israel. It’s a kibbutz that was established about 30 years ago by the Masorti movement in Israel; Masorti being the equivalent of Conservative Judaism in America. Many of the new residents of the kibbutz were from English speaking countries: the U.S., South Africa, England. When they came to Hannaton, they also brought with them their English language books, which presumably went into the communal library once they landed at Hannaton.
Recently, the library at Hannaton, like the kibbutz itself, underwent a huge renewal project. A volunteer committee sorted through the books to determine which ones would remain in the new library and which ones were either duplicates or in an unsuitable condition. There were thousands of books to sort — and since we’re in a Hebrew speaking country, there weren’t many nearby options for donating. The committee decided to put the unsuitable books in the recycling pile.
But, as we know, one person’s trash — or in this case, reusable waste — is another person’s treasure.
And this is how I came to spend a week and a half trash surfing for treasure; embarking on what I call the “Orphaned Book Project.”
When the books were finally hauled away by the recycling truck, I had saved about 30 books and 15 magazines, including Highlights from the 1980s with “Hidden Puzzles” left untouched for my 5 year old to explore; and a Cricket magazine from the year I was born, 1974. I saved a Scholastic paperback from 1981 written by Ann Reit, an author and editor I had the privilege of briefly working with, and who has since passed away from cancer. I saved a much older Scholastic paperback whose jacket cover previews a young adult fiction story that centers on racial integration in the 1950s. I saved a few ChildCraft How-to science books that are surprisingly still reasonably current, and a few history books that aren’t, but are still fun for my 9 year old to leaf through over a bowl of cereal in the morning.
There were Hebrew books, too, but I didn’t save any. The only Hebrew language publication I saved was a pamphlet printed by a professor in 1944 that documented all the agricultural settlements and their products up until that time.
On the title page, in English, are written the words:
Printed in Palestine.
They say an oleh is truly settled here when he starts buying Israeli deodorant instead of importing American roll-on via generous relatives, or when he finally settles for chunk light tuna instead of white albacore.
For sure, a girl’s showing signs of improvement when she commits to an Israeli hairdresser.
I walked into Effi’s Tiberias salon the other day looking for a cleanup. Since it’s summer, the season in which I let my hair grow long to remind myself of the blonde I used to be, I told him I didn’t want him to take too much off. Just enough to remind myself I’m a hot mama, not a Hanson brother.
I hadn’t had a haircut in more than six months; the last time was during an unexpected visit to New Jersey in December for my grandmother’s funeral. The day before the funeral, my mom treated me to a cut and blow (the words of which alone transform me from kibbutznik to suburban chic). Since then, however, I’ve been letting my hair grow out, compensating for the split ends with ponytails and braids. Until the other day, when a co-worker chuckled and asked me, “So? You’re going for the Princess Leia look now, huh?” At which point, I realized it was time for action.
I had tried out Effi once before, a few months after we made Aliya. He’s the regular hairdresser for both of my husband’s parents, and, get this, once employed Israeli celeb pop singer Moshe Peretz in his salon. I should have been really excited when Effi told me Moshe Peretz was due into his salon any minute to give Effi himself a cut.
Had I known who Moshe Peretz was, and had I not been reeling from what Effi had told me only minutes before, maybe I would have giggled. Instead, I was distracted and tingly in a way a woman approaching 40 can only be when a man who is not her husband or her five year old son gives her an accidental compliment.
As I sat down in his chair, I had told Effi I wanted to keep my hair long, but other than that he had free reign. Effi looked me up and down through the reflection in the mirror, paused, and told me what a big change he could see in me since the last time I was in.
“Really?” I asked. “How?”
“You don’t look so American anymore,” he said, working on his English. “When you were here last, I thought to myself, ‘This woman is so stiff. So square.’ You wouldn’t let me do anything. Now, look at you.”
A year ago, I would have been insulted. Instead, I took inventory. I looked at myself in the mirror. What was he talking about? I was wearing my standard pair of Old Navy Jeans, sporting the wannabe adorkable red glasses I bought at Cohen’s Fashion Optical right before we made Aliya, and my hair was growing in Zac Hanson circa 1997. True, I was wearing the new lemony top I had bought on sale from Azrieli’s Forever 21 store, but I can’t imagine one shirt made in China sold at a Tel Aviv chain store geared for teenagers and hookers could really make much of a difference.
What did he see in the mirror?
“I see it happen to people all the time,” he said. “They come to me fresh off the boat. And then a year or two later you can see Israel all over them. Their hair gets lighter. They buy funky clothes. This country gets into them. It…”
He struggled for the English.
“It makes them more alive?” I asked.
“Something like that,” he answered.
I sat with it for a bit. The old me – the one fresh off the boat – would probably have ruminated about his comments the entire time he cut my hair. But the me in the chair, the new me (apparently), could only shiver with delight as he snipped away the 12 year old Zac Hanson and created a haircut suitable to the Israeli woman he saw in the mirror.
I felt sexy in that chair…and, I guess, more alive.
After he finished his work, I paid and took the sexy Israeli with me out the door, along with a bag full of new hair products. I strut my stuff down the Tiberias boulevard, flipped my hair from side to side, and with my eyes, dared anyone to try, just try to speak English to me.
I’m no tourist, my eyes said sparkling. I’m no square immigrant.
I’m alive. Israeli style.
So I was thinking about the zombie apocalypse the other day afterreading the story about the Florida man who was shot while attempting to eat another man’s face. I was tweeting about it with comedian Rachel Dratch (okay fine, I was retweeting Rachel Dratch, who doesn’t know I exist…yet), and felt once again a sense of security in the belief that if the apocalypse were to happen, Israel would be the last sucker to go.
Since moving to Israel 18 months ago from New Jersey, I have slowly let down my anxiety-induced guard. Now it’s actually possible for me to walk into a Café Aroma and not worry about being blown up, especially at the Café Aroma in Karmiel, where I eat lunch every now and again and where I feel somewhat irrationally appeased by the fact that half the patrons are local Arabs and would make this particular Café Aroma a poor terrorist target.
Terrorism is no joke. I know this. Sarcasm is my crutch. Along with meditation. And 70% dark chocolate.
But just as some of you worry about terrorist attacks and the possibility of a nuclear attack from Iran, I worry about the zombie apocalypse.
Or the pole shift phenomenon as dramatized in the 2009 Roland Emmerich film, “2012.” Or snakes crawling up my toilet and biting my privates when I pee in the middle of the night.
While there’s certainly a lot about living in Israel that exacerbates my anxiety, you might be surprised to know I actually feel safer living in a country that is prepared for the shit to hit the fan.
Israel is the place you want to be when Michael Crichton books start coming true. We have loads of creative scientists who can immediately turn their focus from investigating testes in a test-tube to finding the magical antidote for the zombie virus.
If an asteroid really does come super close to earth, enough to cause danger to human civilization, Israel can come to the rescue. Gather up all the engineers working secretly behind Rafael’s secured gates and hole them up inside Israel’s Space Agency until they come up with a plan for as asteroid destroyer, one that puts the “Armageddon“ nuke to shame. (Did you know that Israel is the “smallest country with indigenous launch capabilities?”)
I feel comfort in the fact that I don’t have to be a crazy prepper survivalistwith my own YouTube channel in order to feel comfortable saying out loud that I actually have my very own secured, hideout bunker stocked with canned sardines and a month’s supply of toilet paper. My MAMADcame standard with my house. So there, haters!
I may still get nervous boarding public buses, and watch my back on the windy Galilee roads I drive to and from work. Yeah, I still feel jittery about the end of the Mayan calendar, and notice with interest the billboards about the Rapture that occasionally pop up even here in Israel. But in a nutshell, I have faith that unless an advanced alien civilization (the one that secretly runs the New World Order) shows up on December 21, 2012, and tells us our time is up and that we need to be pulverized into dust for messing up this planet beyond repair — well, I actually believe that living in Israel is as safe as living anywhere else.
If not safer. (Or so claim the imaginary expert voices in my brain.)
This was originally published (with a lot of fun zombie pics) on The Times of Israel.
I have a theory about Israeli men.
The reason they’re so secure in their masculinity is not due to months of paratrooper training or mandatory military exercises out in the desert.
It’s because, from a very young age, boys are formally taught and encouraged to dance.
And wear leafy crowns.
And carry flowery baskets.
And hold hands.
And revel in the beauty of their own bodies.
Very subtly, the women of Israel (and in modern times, men as well) have taught our male children that moving their bodies in rhythm and wearing beautiful crowns are not signs of femininity. They are expressions of joy.
I was tickled pink the week I accompanied my then four-year-old son to gan when we first made Aliya last year. In addition to the culture shock I got as a mother – kids climbing on top of chairs to build block castles and digging through trash to find treasures in what seemed like a junkyard turned playground out back – I remarked at how integral both singing and dancing were to the preschool program.
Every day, the children would learn a new song, either about the approaching season or an upcoming holiday celebration, and most Fridays, I would arrive at pickup to find my son in the middle of a dance circle, made up only of boys, carrying and waving brightly-colored scarves and stepping in tune to the music.
Not a one stood outside the circle – ashamed to be holding a purple scarf or embarrassed to be moving his body and holding hands with other boys.
Instead, they threw themselves fully into the act – even the ones wearing cargo pants; even the ones who prefer toy trucks to dolls; even the ones who might grow up to be tough guys. They all danced.
And, today, as our community celebrates the harvest festival of Shavuout, the young boys all arrived at school wearing olive crowns and carrying harvest baskets, decorated with white linen and flowers.
As a woman, but particularly as a mother of boys, it’s magnificent to witness – my son and his peers expressing their joy through movement and song without reserve.
But it’s also puzzling. What happens to these boys as they grow up? I wonder. How do they move from dancing to disrespecting and speaking harshly to each other on the soccer field? What happens to these boys who used to hold hands and dance? Who used to wear flowers in their hair and sing songs about the harvest?
I’m still so new in this country. And still so new as a mother, despite almost a decade of parenting. It’s true, I don’t know yet of the heartache that hardens our sons. The burdens they think they bear. The walls they think they need to put up to protect themselves once they leave the safety of the garden.
I am also still naïve enough, however, to think that there must be something innocent that remains once they leave the gan – something that helps carry our boys through adolescence in a country where men often have to act like “MEN.” Where boys mock each other on the playground and fathers hurl insults at each other from their car windows. Where men, in particular, but all of us need often to operate in a “shuk mentality,” as my husband refers to it. Keep up your guard. Be wary of those who might want to cheat you or steal from you. Yell first, think later.
Something must remain. Something beyond the images the mothers hold dear to their hearts, images of young boys wearing white shirts and flowers in their hair.
It’s been told to me that men grow close to each other during the army. That bonds are formed there. Perhaps, this is true. It’s certainly the obvious answer.
But part of me thinks the bond starts earlier, and then is sidetracked by life. The bonds are built on top of foundations made from purple scarves and olive crowns.
The bonds begin with a dance.