Family, Letting Go

Random mouth running on a Thursday aka blogging

As we all know by now but never admit, there are no original ideas.

So when I think back to the beginning of January 2011 when I got the “brilliant” idea to chronicle my Aliyah experience on a personal blog, I giggle in minor embarrassment.

Did I really think that no one else was already blogging about the culture shock and the emotional upheaval that accompanies moving to a foreign country?

Did I really think I was the first non-observant, mostly secular Jewish mom to move to a kibbutz?

Did I really think I was the only self-described hipster mom observing local moms with a foreign-made lens?

Did I really think I was the only wellness bitch blogging for an English speaking Israeli audience?

There are no original ideas.

When I started blogging about my life in Israel, about motherhood here, and about making friends, it was an exercise in maintaining sanity. Truly, the way I process life’s ever stimulating handouts is through writing.

Sometimes, of course, this practice gets me into trouble. Especially when I want to make and keep friends, or get good grades, or convince people to pay me a high salary.

“Running my mouth off” before thinking — a phrase I used to hear a lot from my mother and my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Levin, and my 8th grade teacher Mrs. Lingo — isn’t necessarily wise. Luckily, as an immigrant who still can’t carry on a conversation with a 3rd grader, I’m not as much at risk of mouth running as I used to be.

That said, my fingers inevitably find their way to the laptop and my previously diagnosed diarrhea of the mouth expresses itself through the raised cavities of my keyboard.

It’s all part of the ever elusive “process” we writers apparently possess. A process that for me, basically looks like this:

Driving/pooping/singing my daughter to sleep for an hour ==>

Thought ==>

A-ha moment ==>

Aggravating pause in between deciding I want to write and having the time to write ==>

Bitter and ugly resentment at all the people in my life who keep me from writing when I want to write ==>


Hiding in the bathroom with my laptop pretending to poop ==>

Writing…ahhh ==>

Wishing I had time to edit my post before publishing ==>

Deciding I don’t ==>

Pressing the PUBLISH button anyway ==>

Smiling with pleasure and relief, while simultaneously cringing with concern.

It looks something like this.

Yes, my friends. That is my process.

Maybe if I had a cartoon dog, things would be different.

I could run ideas by him before I wrote them down, before they ever reached another person’s pair of eyes. Before they reached my mother, my husband, my neighbor, my boss.

He could help me identify which ideas were good, and which better belonged in my journal/rant notebook.

He could warn me when I was likely going to piss someone off.

He could surreptitiously serve me cocktails so I do it anyway.

And then he could hug me all the way back to self-assuredness.

In real life, this person is called an editor. But sadly, in the imaginary world that is blogging while working full time and raising children, good editors are rare.

As is ample time to think twice before hitting publish.

[Cut to finger]

Community, Family, Letting Go, Mindfulness, Parenting

Believing your inner rock star

Tonight my son was the student of a lesson I’ve been actively trying to learn all week all my life.

How to keep thinking you’re a rock star when the world hands you proof otherwise.

The setting? My son’s soccer ceremony. The kick in the gut?  Instead of being awarded the “best player” trophy at his soccer ceremony tonight, it was presented to one of his friends.

Props to my kid in that instead of losing his shit like one of the younger kids who screamed and stormed off at the end of the presentations, mine actually held back tears long enough to mutter a mom-forced congratulations to his friend, and pose for a picture with him. But as soon as possible, he grabbed my hand to walk far enough away to break down.

“It’s not fair,” he cried. “Everyone knows I’m the best player! The coach favors H. and everyone knows it! I should have gotten that trophy, not him.”

I nodded sympathetically. Maybe I agreed with him. But even if I didn’t, I couldn’t help but relate to how much it sucks when you know you’ve done something really great and people aren’t recognizing you adequately.

I feel this way at least once a day.

What I found truly amazing, however, as my son was lamenting his coach’s bias is that he never once said:

“I suck at soccer. I’ll never get the trophy.” Or,

“I’m not good enough. If I was, my coach would have given me the trophy!”

Instead, he insisted time and again some version of “It’s not fair. I’m the best. Everyone knows it. I deserved that trophy.”

So why the agony?

What stops us from just believing our inner rock star?

Like my son, I’ve always been moderately confident. And in a chicken or the egg sort of puzzle, I’ve never been able to figure out if I’m confident thanks to my successes or if my success is linked directly to my confidence.   But as confident as I often appear (to myself and others), there’s always a moment when cocksure turns to doubt.

Like my son, I want the trophy. I want the recognition. I want people to understand how great I am and tell me. Over and over and over again.

If the key opinion leaders in my life — the people I’ve deemed smart, successful, funny, cute, sexy, or otherwise worthy of my worship and/or attention — praise me for my work, I’m on cloud 9. “People really get me,” I think.  I have proof I am great.

But if the KOLs don’t agree with my own personal assessment of me (that I’m great/working hard/ trying to be kind), or they don’t shout it out loud, my confidence slowly begins to dissolve.

I like the applause. I like it when people think I’m special.

But is it possible to like it without believing it?

The recognition has clearly become an addiction, and I don’t like being dependent on it. As with any dependency, I suffer when I go through withdrawal. On the other hand, what happens to our greatness when no one notices? Or when someone else sees your greatness as mediocrity at best?

Philosophers, Buddhist monks, and fans of the Matrix still debate whether or not an object exists if someone is not around to perceive it.

How on earth do I evaluate my performance without counting on a grade/raise/applause/pat on the back/book deal?

*     *     *

My son and I both simultaneously live in two different realities. The one in which “I am great and I know it.” And the one in which “I am great and nobody knows it.”

In fact, most of us are constantly perched at the center of a seesaw, one foot on the side of certain and the other on the side of afraid.  It’s up to each of us, in every moment, to choose where to place our weight. This much I know.

But is believing our inner rock star really as simple as deciding to?

Can we simply choose to live the reality in which we are great? Instead of the reality in which we’re waiting for others to notice?

Is it possible to be the rock star without the audience?

Middle East Conflict, Politics

Getting at the heart of a heady conflict

In another lifetime, I was a budding talking head.

I arrived in Washington, DC, as an undergrad with the intention of studying political communications. But one boring “History of Journalism” class later I switched to archaeology. And one boring “Introduction to Archaeology” class after that I switched to international politics. It was in politics I stayed – mostly because I’m a rule follower, and the rule was you needed to choose a major by sophomore year.

The placement suited me, though, since the summer before I had traveled to Israel for the first time on a program organized by what was then ZOA/Masada and returned home armed with a love of Israel and firm ideas about how to keep her safe.

I wrote a term paper freshman year — practically copied straight from the 8 x 10 black paperback handbook I had received on my Israel trip — on why it was imperative that Israel never give up any of the West Bank. (I think I may have even used exclamation points in the title.) My TA, who would later go on to become a founding member of MEMRI, gave me an A+.

The following year, I landed a highly sought-after public affairs internship at the Embassy of Israel. This was in 1993, probably one of the most exciting times to be working at the Embassy of Israel, in the days leading up to Oslo and handshakes on the White House lawn. As I painfully tried to translate newspaper articles fresh off the fax machines, I reconsidered my stance on Arab-Israel relations. I started reading Amos Oz.

In my senior year of college, I applied for and got a research internship at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank where one of my professors was working at the time, and an organization which was, at the time, generally regarded as a melting pot of opinion. But when my more right-leaning professor left the Washington Institute to head up a very right-leaning think tank, I left with him. I liked him better than the institute and this time, more important, I was offered a paying job, as an executive assistant. My ticket to adult freedom was only a few blocks away.

In this position, I was lucky enough to both observe history in the making, and not have my name attached to it. I proofread and formatted a very famous paper, written by brilliant lovers of Israel who would later become key decision-makers in a Republican government. I knew these “neocons” as real people, not as “foreign policy hard-liners” or strategists. These individuals were my professional mentors — no matter what their position was on Israel or Iraq or Iran — and they encouraged me to continue in the field, to go back to get a higher degree, to educate myself, and to be part of the continuing dialogue.

I didn’t, though. I quit before I even started. Only a handful of internships and two jobs into it, I was already frustrated, exhausted, and uninterested in working in a career where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. As a thinker and a writer, I love dialogue. But I couldn’t see how we were ever going to solve the conflict with just dialogue. Educate, perhaps. Enlighten, maybe. But to solve this thing, we would need action. And I wasn’t convinced that either side would ever be interested in acting. In the summer of 1997, I left Washington, moved to New York, and started a career in publishing.

It’s only now, almost 15 years later, that I understand that my experience in DC at that time was not just educational, but truly formative as it relates to my stance on Israel. Accidentally, I became a centrist. And more specially, it was then I decided I preferred to be an observer of the region rather than a policy maker. A student of human relations rather than international relations.

*      *      *

Two days ago, I sat in an auditorium in Jerusalem with a thousand other attendees of the 2012 Israeli Presidential Conference, all passionate in one way or another about Israel. The strength of their convictions alone could fill the room. The energy was uplifting, but a voice nagged in the back of my head. “Words, words, words…” it said.

The VIP bloggers sit for a photo opp with President Shimon Peres (I’m sitting on the right)

As the conference continued, I sat and listened to well-renowned, content producing opinion makers debate whether Americans have the right to interfere in Israel’s national security policies (applause!) or whether Israel alone knows what’s best for herself (applause!). During the few politically inspired panels I sat in I thought to myself, “Have I traveled back in time? Either it’s 1997 or these guys have been talking in circles for the last 15 years.”

In all the political back and forth during the conference — back and forth that often felt more back than forth — two people I heard made me feel grounded in 2012: Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism, and Ayaan Hirsu-Ali, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the writer of Submission, a film about the oppression of women in conservative Islamic cultures.

It wasn’t their forward thinking strategies or their bright visions for the future that captured my attention. In fact, each of them possesses potentially dark visions of the future. Futures in which Israel may not exist, or in which our children are still carrying on the same back and forth we carry on today (as long as we avoid a nuclear war with Iran and survive the end of the Mayan calendar).

It was because when they spoke, they moved me. I felt the heart inside his and her words. I felt their love for humanity, their hopes for our children, and their desire to see change in our time, or at least in our children’s time. I didn’t hear talking heads when I sat in front of them. I heard human beings.

And while, admittedly, my experience at the conference was limited to a handful of panels and speakers, and my reasoning was based not on critical thinking, but on feeling, I move forward today, post-conference, with a firm belief that was planted almost 15 years ago.

It’s we, the students of human relations — not international relations — who will one day help guide this region to a solution. Humans, through their need for one another and their true, deep desire to connect and to love — not just survive — are the only true hope for peace.

*      *      *

My husband and I are growing passionfruit in our backyard in northern Israel. Passionfruit vines are known for their strength and their ability to grab hold of and flourish on fences. They’re stubborn plants, but susceptible to the blustery afternoon wind we get from the west.

We planted four next to our fence, but only one survived. For a time, I couldn’t understand how this one made it while the others didn’t. We watered them the same. They receive the same amount of sun and shade, and presumably the same quality of soil.

But one day, I saw peeking through our neighbors fence another passionfruit vine. Slowly but surely this vine has extended itself toward ours, and our vine reaches for it. One day soon they will connect – without any help from me. Why? Because they want to. One dared to reach across the fence.

Time passes slowly as I wait patiently for their two hands to grab hold of one another. Good days and bad days pass. My children grow. The weather changes. World opinion shifts.

But it’s coming. My heart tells me so.

(This was originally posted on The Times of Israel.)

Family, Learning Hebrew

Want you come?

Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

Okay. Wink your left eye for yes, your right eye for no.

No, wait.

Really. I don’t know want to know. Don’t tell me.

I think I already know, and it’s making me squint and squirm.

Okay, fine. I’ll ask:

Your kids are scared of me, right?

Stop denying it over forced uncomfortable astonishment and laughter. I can see right through you.

Be honest: When I invite your kids over to my house in my broken backwards Hebrew, they’re not just being shy when they hide between your legs and refuse to answer me no matter how sickly sweet I make over my voice. They are trembling with fear. Right?

They’re thinking:

There is no way you can get me to go anywhere with that thing.

They don’t see a kind-hearted, fun-loving lady in front of them – they see stranger danger. Massive stranger danger.  Forked tongue kind of stranger danger.

I might as well live in the abandoned house with the broken shutters.

I might as well be the old Russian lady handing out dusty-wrapped sucking candy at the entrance to the new $1 store.

I might as well be the hungover clown handing out balloons outside Foot Locker.

I might as well be this leperous hag from The Princess Bride.

I told you I didn’t want to know.

It makes me cry a little inside. And laugh a little inside.


Look, I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t begrudge your kids their worry.

It’s hard enough for an adult, let alone a four year old, to summon up the courage to go to a friend’s house alone, where she will be assaulted by the sounds and smells of someone else’s life.  It’s hard enough for an adult, let alone a four year old, not to know immediately where the cleanest bathroom is or what kind of snacks are in the pantry.

So I understand her resistance to going alone to a stranger’s house where the mommy is a gibberish-speaking freak. Where she can’t be sure if I’ll understand what she’s asking for when she wants to leave or when she wants marshmallows and wafflim…together…as a sandwich…for dinner.

It doesn’t matter if her BFF actually seems to love that gibberish-speaking freak. And sometimes even wants to kiss it. (ich!) Your kid can clearly see how different I am from the other mommies.

Different mommies are scary.

Which is why we hardly ever seem to have playdates at our house.

Not necessarily a bad thing. It means our house is often quiet at 6:30 pm and we can actually attempt a reasonable dinner and bedtime routine – something I long for from the States more than grass-fed beef and Bounty paper towels.  Back in the days when my kids were fed by 5 and in bed by 7, as opposed to falling asleep on the couch while my husband and I try to sneak in an episode of Mad Men.

Every once in a while, however, I do come home from work to find my daughter playing princesses with a friend from preschool. Someone brave who accepted an invitation from my husband, who speaks perfect Hebrew and therefore is presumably a lot less scary.

I’ll put my bags down and move to hug my daughter who is thrilled to see me. Then I’ll notice the little girl hiding behind the couch wearing a pink Sleeping Beauty gown and clip-on earrings. Don’t worry, I say with my eyes, I only eat little boys.

Out loud, however, in my broken Hebrew, in my sugary sweetest voice,  I say to her, “Want you come eat my house?”

Culture, Letting Go

Putting the sexy in immigrant

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.

(This was originally posted on The Times of Israel.)
Family, Love, Mindfulness, Parenting

Taking a picture in my mind

Back when this little guy was a tad bit younger than he is today, he used to “take pictures with his mind.” He’d put his pointer fingers up to his temples, lean down towards the object he wanted to focus on (typically a kitten or a flower), and snap his eyes shut for a moment. He would soon open his eyes with a satisfied look on his face and later return home to sketch and color what he observed.

A boy with his homemade sun scope, after observing the Transit of Venus in 2012

When I was his age (or a little bit older), I used to call this practice “making memories.”

I read it in a book once.

It sounded romantic. The idea that every moment was an opportunity to make a memory if only we stopped to notice it.

I would sometimes walk home from the bus stop, forcing myself to quit counting steps and skipping over sidewalk cracks, and look around instead at the scene on my street: The sun shining through the oaks and birch trees that lined the sidewalks. The children coloring chalk figures in their driveways. The woman opening and shutting the mailbox.

I’d stop and make a memory.

It was an experiment. Something that made me feel exotic and older. Only now do I realize that this was my first attempt at practicing mindfulness, of being in the present moment.

Now, as a mother, I realize that there is indeed something very romantic about being in the moment, and it’s not the making of the memory. It is the moment itself that is romantic — for it’s the space in which you truly experience love and joy. But, recognizing this in the moment itself is one of the greatest challenges of parenthood.

Oftentimes, instead of embracing the love and joy of being with my child, I get caught up in the awareness that I’m already a memory.

A reflection. A reverberation. A remnant.

And sometimes I panic that I’m not making enough good memories of me. Or that the memory of me will land him on the analyst’s couch or on the streets shooting up.

But this morning, hours after my picture-in-his-mind-taking son woke me up at 3 am to ask “Is it time to watch Venus?,”  I found myself immersed in the 100% pure extract of love that comes only from being in the moment when it happens… and being aware of it.

There was a moment or two when my excitement almost got squashed by the unexpected falling boulders that often overwhelm us — the scope wasn’t working, the clouds were blocking the sun. And it’s a real challenge, to say the least, not to let them completely derail our original intentions.

But then suddenly the sun broke through from the clouds and lined up just as it should through the pinpoint of a dot at the top of the homemade cardboard box viewing scope and I shouted with delight, “There it is!”

There it is.

It is.



Love. Joy.

Right now.

Did we see Venus?

No, not really. But we saw something. And more important, we all felt something. Together. In the moment. Exactly in that moment.

Proving the experiment a success.

Education, Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion

Perspectives you don’t get from a degree…or a subscription

There is so much I didn’t know or understand about Israel until I lived here.

That may sound obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me.

After all, I had visited this country six times before I lived here.

I majored in International Politics with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies.

I studied the Hebrew language for three years at a University level.

I interned at the Embassy of Israel. And worked at three other Israel-related organizations all before I was 24.

I was an assistant editor of a Jewish newspaper in the United States.

And then a freelance journalist covering Jewish news.

I shepherded 20 teenagers on a teen tour through the country.

I married an Israeli.

I thought this qualified me as an expert.

And perhaps I am more expert than some…at reading and writing about Israel.

But not at living here.

Which is okay. Because, now I know so.

A lot of people outside of Israel don’t. And they write about this country, and they flaunt an expert bio and CV they’ve earned through study and degrees and guest spots on political commentary shows.

I don’t begrudge them their bios and CVs. I respect them for their dedication and commitment to the topic of Israel.

However, I do think what’s missing from the bios and CVs of experts on Israel is detailed information about how long they’ve lived here. About what it was like for them to live as a community member among Israelis. To share the roads and the air and the land with Arabs. To walk among us.

Today, on the drive to work, the same I drive five days a week, I found myself passing through Kfar Manda again. It’s the Arab village right next to Hannaton. I pass it every morning on my way to work.

Some mornings I’m listening to the news, and concentrating so hard, I hardly notice the details around me. Some mornings I’m singing Michelle Shocked at the top of my lungs (or the soundtrack from Miss Saigon) and I just give Kfar Manda a nod as I pass through. Some mornings there’s a mix playing, and Kfar Manda is a backdrop for the wistful melodies.

Some mornings, like today, the village comes alive and poetry is born. And in that moment I am far from an expert. Just a student of life. Exploring the world around me. Understanding what I think after writing it all down and seeing what turns up.

I’ve gone back to school. And it’s opening up a world of discovery unlike any I’ve known.

I wish it was a prerequisite to being an expert.

Mindfulness, Spirituality

Star gazing

I’m a minor space geek.

Minor because I’ve never fully engaged in studying the skies above me; rather remained content to swim in the magical mystery of it all:

Glow-in-the dark constellations arranged haphazardly on my bedroom ceiling

“Star light star bright first star I see tonight”

Scanning the skies for falling streaks of light

Romantic summer nights

sprawled out on a blanket

Space is humbling. It’s a reminder of how much we have yet to discover.

And it’s awe-inspiring. When I allow myself to be swallowed up in space, I’ve suddenly accessed the wonder of a child.

Everything else slips away. Work. Mortgages. Car payments. Doctor’s appointments. The drama of the day-to-day.

It’s just me and space.

= = =

Since moving out to the countryside, far away from the city glare, I am no longer able to simply walk anywhere at night. I can only stroll, with my neck craning back, my eyes on countless stars, seeking understanding, succumbing to not.

I so easily get lost up there.

And so, for weeks I’ve been anticipating the transit of Venus.  Transits of Venus “occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.” As if the mysteries of our solar system and what lies beyond isn’t enough of a draw, the idea of witnessing something that won’t again appear in my lifetime — or sharing this experience with my children — is simply irresistible. (We’ve created an “eclipse” scope to view the event together at sunrise on June 6 in Israel.)

Venus last passed in between Earth and the sun on June 8, 2004. I missed it. I was too busy parenting a toddler in his terrible twos, building a career in freelance writing, making mommy friends, navigating the precarious curves and junctions of “married with a kid.”

So much has happened in my life in the eight years between when Venus last transited and today. But my milestones can easily be squashed when you consider what’s become of humanity since Venus’ slow march across the glare of the sun in 1882 — back in the days of Billy the Kid and the OK Corral. Before the Brooklyn Bridge was built. Before George Eastmen created the modern camera.  Before the moon landing. Before we glimpsed the Earth from above.

Before me. Before you.

And the mind can get lost in curiosity or despair when she imagines what might transpire between now and when Venus is scheduled for another transit  105 years from now.

After me. After you. After my children, too.


Mind bending.


As I said, I’m a minor space geek — more a magician’s apprentice than student. Content mostly to revel in the experience of being puzzled without having to actually solve anything. Content to point out a planet to my son. Content to scan the skies for a shooting star with my daughter. Content to share a bottle of wine with my husband on a blanket in the middle of a field under the romance-inducing canopy that is the vast night sky.

And content to stand in my backyard as the sun rises on June 6 staring into a cardboard box, eyes wide open — a child among my children. Dazzled and bewildered by space. Content to swim in the magical mystery of it all.

Our homemade eclipse scope for viewing Venus’ transit

Learning Hebrew, Letting Go

Pay attention

New language acquisition is a journey that is part concentration, part commitment, and part willingness to look stupid.

Do not move to a non-English speaking country if you are proud. Because until you master the native language, you will spend most of your interactions with locals either looking or acting like the village idiot.

This is particularly challenging for individuals who are serial blushers, easily mortified, or folks who would rather die than be singled out in a crowd.

Now, since I have gotten used to being singled out in a crowd (for being blonde, short or for possessing an inherited impulse to say whatever is on my mind), I’m probably more qualified than most for the inevitable humiliation that comes with not understanding what’s being said to me or accidentally cursing someone when I meant to ask for water.

At the very least, since moving to Israel and opening my mouth for the first time, I have built up a tolerance for shame.

There are days in Israel when I feel like an A+ student. Days when I navigate the train system without any assistance. Days where I manage to tell an EMT which of my veins usually works the best. Days where I manage to set up playdates on the right day and at the right time.

Then there are days when I’m the kid who needs the 504 plan.

Sometimes Hebrew is just too hard for me to pay attention to. Sometimes I just want a government-funded translator to accompany me through life.

Recently, I started taking my friend Tamar’s Pilates class. Now, Tamar is great. Once she finally realized how bad my Hebrew truly is (for months, she thought I was exaggerating), she started breaking her teeth to speak more English to me. She works really hard during Pilates class to make sure I understand what’s going on — when to squeeze my stretched out post-pregnancies pelvic floor. When to release.  When to breathe in. When to fall to the floor in agony.

Despite my petite and seemingly flexible frame, I’m not one of these dancer types. I hide my lack of coordination very well … until you get to know me better, or walk anywhere with me and discover how clumsy I am. So Pilates, even when taught to me in English, is a challenge for me. I’m the girl in the class that never knows whether I’m meant to mirror the teacher or do the opposite — because, after all, her right is my left. Right?

I’m the girl who always does repetitions to her own beat even when the instructor indicates otherwise. Not because I’m a rebel, but because I didn’t get it.

I’m the girl who works really hard to pay attention when the teacher is looking at me because I know chances are I’ve been doing it wrong. Otherwise, I would have actually felt it when the teacher shouted, “Ladies, do you feel it?!” I did not, however, feel it. Not in my thighs nor in my lower abdomen, only in that place you feel embarrassment and reproach.

So taking a Pilates class that is offered in Hebrew is a real sign of courage on my part. Or desperation. My belly is getting too flabby for a woman who is not having any more children.

I need something. And I’m willing to suck up the shame to look better in a bathing suit this summer.

The problem is I have to concentrate 100% of the time during Pilates class. I can’t let my guard down at all. This is not unique to exercise class in Israel. It was true also in the U.S. whenever I took yoga or Pilates because of the above-mentioned lack of coordination and confusion. But it’s more of a challenge here because when Tamar calls my name and asks kindly in Hebrew, “Jen, do you understand?” I can’t say yes or no because, truth is, I wasn’t listening.

Instead of actively listening, I was off in la-la land wondering if people liked my Facebook post; or if anyone retweeted my zombie apocalypse article (or if the zombie apocalypse article was too over the top for my “target audience.”) When you don’t fully understand the language you don’t possess the ability for instant recovery. You can’t do two things at one time.

You probably haven’t realized how adept your brain is, have you? Think about the last time you weren’t paying attention to your spouse or your child. They asked you a question and you either gave a half-assed nod or didn’t answer at all. As soon as they get pissed off at you or, in the case of my youngest child, stole your smartphone out of your hand and tugged on your left breast, what did you do? You quickly put “recall mode” into action, right? And somehow, you managed to recall some or most of what the person just asked you.

This does not happen when you are not listening to someone speaking your non-native language.

Recall mode fails.

But, while I’ll never be the dancer, I’m a bit of an actress. I got the chops.

And when I’m caught by surprise, woken up from my mind’s wandering, I play the role of dumb immigrant really well.

Of course, I’ve had a lot of practice.

(This was originally posted on the Aliyah blog section of The Jerusalem Post.)

Climate Changes, Culture, Terrorism

Experts say Israel safer than most

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.