A date with Haifa

Yesterday I took my husband to the ER for symptoms he has been suffering for over a week. Fortunately he was released at the end of a very long day and evening with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Serious, but not as serious as we thought, and treatable with antibiotics. And so … relief.

We both hate the hospital. I suppose most people do. Worse than the fear of germs for me, though, is the overwhelm I experience in the middle of all that humanity.

I’m a Real Emotional Girl.

As much as my sensitivity allows me to understand and connect deeply to people, it also is able to submerge me beneath a deluge of compassion.

I may drown there.

The ill. The ones who are afraid for the ill. The ones who care for the ill. The ones who pray for the ill. The ones who clean the toilets, the floors. The ones who secure the entrances. The ones who drive the ambulances. The ones who are too young to be there. Too old to be there. The ones who moan in pain. The ones who moan with grief. The ones too weak to moan.

Through an invisible intravenous line, they enter me.

It’s rough.

For a while there in curtained off section #17, I wrote poems and jotted down notes for story ideas. Tried to read a few pages of the book I brought with me. Scrolled social media for updates on the three kidnapped boys. Then my husband told me to leave.

“Go get lunch,” he said. But he meant, “Leave here since you are able.”

I never walk around Haifa. Never; except from my parked car to the ER or from my parked car to a doctor’s office and once from my parked car to get my Israeli driver’s license.

In fact, I have never walked around Haifa for fun. Even though I live only a short drive away, I end up in Israel’s city by the bay for appointments or by surprise. And not the kind of surprise you look forward to.

I’ve never explored Haifa even though the views are known to be incredible.

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Without much hesitation, I did as my husband instructed. I knew I could use some fresh air, especially since an orderly had just rolled in a new elderly patient who looked as if she was on her way to meet the Maker.

I walked down quiet Smolenskin Street where I had parked the car, past old-school Israeli apartment buildings, some with beautiful gardens.

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

and momentarily felt uplifted. I traveled by foot up to Horev Street where I got an hafooch and a cheese croissant at Roladin. I hadn’t had much of an appetite all day. I think the worry finally hit my belly.

I wandered in and out of a few shops, met a Tarot teacher, spotted a Tibetan bowl I liked (hint hint: possibly a birthday present for me!), discovered the Rabbi Yosef Dana steps

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

And, most unexpectedly, stumbled upon a small shop inside a mall on the corner of Horev and Gat, a small corner of which was stocked with used books. A whole shelf full of English titles! From Umberto Eco to VC Andrews.

used book store in haifa

I was in the middle of debating whether or not to buy Paul Auster’s Oracle Night when my husband called asking me to return to the hospital. I quickly paid for the book based solely on the jacket cover copy and the title (I’m a sucker that way for marketing). Only when I got back to his bedside did I read the first line of the book in a bit of astonishment:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore.”

It stopped me. Compelled me to look over at my husband with a bit of concern. I’m susceptible to coincidence that way in the same way I’m sensitive to the swarm of human emotions.

But he looked okay. Better, even. I wrote a note to myself: Sometimes all is well. Sometimes all is now. Sometimes all is here.

What I meant was: Sometimes if it looks like it’s going to be okay, it actually is.  No matter what upset is happening inside the region of your heart.

My husband further allayed my concerns by sitting up and chatting a bit with a me for the first time in a week.

When the doctor came by with a diagnosis (not as severe as we feared) and with a release form to leave the ER, I turned with relief to my husband and smirked, “Thanks, hun. That was the best date I’ve been on in a long time.”  My husband gave me a half smile. He knew what I meant. He’s sensitive that way.

 

 

 

Let the summer of 40 begin

When I was a younger girl, I never imagined I’d marry a guy my own age.

It’s not that I was into older guys.

Mamash, LO, as we say in Hebrew. Definitely NOT.

Older guys scared me. I typically dated guys who were maximum two years older.  This was my boyfriend demographic for many years.

Guys my own age were my friends; little brothers. Guys older than me by more than two years also landed in the friend zone; as the older brother type.

An older guy liked me once. He was in his late twenties. I was still in college. The difference between 28 and 20 at the time seemed immeasurable. He was also British. He drank premium beer from a bottle because he liked the taste. I was still a 25 cent pitcher, chug it to get drunk sorta girl. When I was drunk, I didn’t understand what he was saying. Something about football, something that rhymed.

A younger guy liked me once. I went on one date with him. I was worried about kissing him because I had eaten garlic pizza earlier in the day and the taste would not leave my mouth. But kissing him was the closest I ever came to kissing my brother. It was like that scene in Back to the Future where Marty kisses his mom in the car. We did not go on a second date. But we’re Facebook friends.

Once, just after I graduated college a much older guy liked me. He was a television reporter. Even though that held significant appeal to me, I was still too afraid of the age difference to do anything but flirt and giggle, flirt and giggle. When he called me on the phone to ask me out the next day, I screened his call on my answering machine. Multiple times.  Later, it came out that I was just one of many young co-eds this reporter asked out over many, many years of being married and on the news.

All that happened many years ago and is really the long way of getting to the fact that in the end I married a guy born less than two months before I was. And this summer, we both turn 40.

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And while I never imagined I’d marry a guy my age, I have to say there’s something comfortably fun about reaching this milestone together. And definitely about celebrating it — slowly and extended over an entire summer.  We kick it off in June with his (I’ve already planned a birthday weekend spectacular in Tel Aviv at the Dan Panorama hotel) and finish it at the end of August with mine (still a surprise hanging over my husband’s head).

In the middle? A summer of celebrating the unexpected pleasures and surprises 40 brings … because I am determined to manifest a magical summer. Let’s consider it an advance on my birthday candle wish.

Stay tuned and so will I.

 

 

 

 

My little Garden of Eden in Israel

There is a place I idealize here in Israel:

Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee, an anthroposophic community with a unique approach to intentional living, and Israel’s largest producer of organic food.

Before we made Aliyah I first learned of Harduf  from my (now) friend Haviva’s article in Zeek about local, organic living in the Galilee.  At the time, I was running my own consulting business in New Jersey, the main focus of which was on educational and marketing efforts in the area of holistic health and green living. When we started researching communities in which to live I looked into the possibility of moving to Harduf.

I reached out via their Hebrew web site, but received no response. And when I asked our Nefesh B’ Nefesh regional Aliyah consultant her opinion on whether she thought Harduf was a good fit for our family, she advised against it, indicating it wasn’t the best place for new immigrants unless we were all very focused on living the “hardcore anthroposophic” life.

This was wise advice.

It wouldn’t have been a good fit for our family.

But, wow, it would have been a good fit for me — in another life. And sometimes I wish we lived there.

The beautiful campus is set upon a hill which overlooks in the distance the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean sea. The residents, in the 30 or so years they have built up the kibbutz have put obvious effort into making the explorer’s experience of their home one peppered with wonder and teeming with vitality.

Harduf is itself alive.

I don’t live there, but I am lucky enough to live very close — just a 15 minute drive away. Recently, I joined the health clinic there (the physician, an M.D., is trained in both conventional medicine and anthroposophic medicine, which emphasizes homeopathy over medication.) So I’ve been spending more time there and try to build in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to wander every time I have to go there.

This morning, I brought my two youngest children over to Harduf to walk through the gardens, smell and touch the fruit trees, wander through shaded paths that lead to unexpected structures, and play on their gorgeous playground, a wonderland of thoughtful planning and handiwork.

yellow house

It was a two-hour slice of heaven.

Only after playing on the playground for an hour and on our way out to the restaurant and store that is open on Shabbat did I see this sign:

harduf sign

The sign basically says, “Entrance to the park is forbidden to non-residents of Harduf. The use of the playground is for children supervised by parents.”

The sign was new. It wasn’t there the last time we visited.

Still the new immigrant, I couldn’t pass by the sign without a thought, leaving the rule following to others.  I’m still very American, and I felt bad for a minute that we had unknowingly defied the sign.

But only for a minute.

Soon after, I was angry. Insulted.

Confused.

Harduf?

Telling non-residents to “Keep Out!”

How could this be?

I quickly snapped a photo of the sign and ushered my kids out.

I silently generated all sorts of indignant responses to this sign:

“Oh, they’re happy to have my business at the organic vegetable market or at the restaurant, but they aren’t willing to open their playground to me and my kids?”

“What if I was a tourist? Or a visitor to one of the families who lived here? How rude!”

“Would we ever put up a sign in Hannaton telling people who didn’t live there that our playground was off limits?”

I took the kids to the restaurant, which has a quaint little gift shop inside and we browsed for a bit.

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

As I approached the cash register to pay, I saw the owner of the restaurant and a long time Harduf resident, Jutka, there. I don’t know Jutka well: I’ve just had a few conversations with her a couple of times that I’ve been in the restaurant. (Jutka is also the author of this family-friendly vegetarian cookbook.)

I asked her in Hebrew about the sign at the playground, “Why is the playground off-limits to outsiders?”

She grumbled in response, “It’s for security reasons.”

She didn’t mean security in the traditional Israeli way, I quickly learned. The signs weren’t a warning to unfriendly neighbors, people who might want to hurt us. Those “security risks” don’t pay attention to signs.

What I understood from her was the signs were to protect Harduf from lawsuits. They were placed there to inform people of their personal liability.

She didn’t mention specifics, but I wondered if something had happened to spark this decision.

I told her I was disappointed and a little hurt to come upon the sign. I told her that I consider Harduf a paradise, and was taken aback to see such a harsh statement at the entrance to a park I love so much.

She sighed. I understood from this and her from eyes that she’s proud of the paradise she’s helped built, but she said,

“Even in this paradise, there are reasons to be concerned. Even in Gan Eden, there was the serpent,”

Jutka said this with a sly smile. (Jutka is someone I’d like to get to know better some day.)

I breathed in deeply and nodded, her words hitting me. Even in paradise there are problems to solve; hard decisions to be made. And Harduf is no exception.

Suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore — it helped that Jutka invited us to be her guest at the playground, should anyone ask — but I was a bit disheartened:  Reality bursting my bubble once again.

I shook it off — and instead accessed the gratitude I had felt for the few hours on Harduf before I discovered the sign.

“You can sense the spirit here, can’t you?” Jutka asked.

I nodded again.

“Come back here whenever you want,” she told me.

And I agreed that I would.

Life is hard work and other things that make me feel tired, but alive

I am struck by the pictures my friend Holly is sending back to us from Hong Kong and Vietnam.

She’s feeding her wanderlust with banana pancakes, dim sum, and gorgeous panoramas, while feeding our desire for travel photography “porn.”

I love instagram.

Almost in the same moment that the drool drips down my chin,  while mesmerized by the lush green mountain ranges and Buddha statues, I long for the eyes through which I saw Israel in the first months I lived here.

The virgin immigrant eyes.

The virgin immigrant heart that burst with joy each and every day…at the beauty of this land; in curious awe of her people.

Cochav Hayarden, March 2012

Cochav Hayarden, March 2012

When we first made Aliyah,  every drive was emotionally equivalent to a stroll through an art museum; every hike through a national park was a new adventure in a foreign land.

Every day I would find myself saying out loud: “Do I really live here?”

And I meant it in the same way a mother whispers over her newborn baby, “Are you really mine?”

Two years after making Aliyah, I find that my eyes and my heart are still capable of wonder.

But  it’s an experience that does not come as naturally and as automatic as before.

I need, instead, to make those moments happen.

And that takes a lot of work on my part.

I need to see the trash fire in Kfar Manda

smoke in kfar manda

— and turn my anger into compassion, and then activism.

And that’s really hard.

It’s much easier to be angry.  To rant. To shake my head.

I need to remember, in a moment I feel frustrated by my community, when I am outraged by their seeming indifference to the trash that peppers our fields

how grateful I am for my community.

How my community supports me.

How my community allows me the freedom to be a Jew in Progress. To be curious. To be a novice at living in this country.

Acknowledging my community as a gift, however, is really hard work when I am stuck in a moment of discontent.

It’s much easier for me to assume. To judge. To wish myself away from here.

It’s really hard work — and a huge emotional commitment — to be present in your life all the time.

To notice. To stop. To redirect. To be who you want to be, not your raw-emotion-of-the-moment.

It’s exhausting — living your best life.

It’s much easier to feel alive when you are on vacation — separate from the drudgery that often clouds your intentions.

It’s much easier to feel alive when you are first in love; experiencing a newness; your senses overwhelmed by glorious colors and smells.

I recognize this.

And I acknowledge that some days I am too tired to live my best life.

But on the alternate days — the ones in which I work hard for happiness, the ones in which I allow my heart to be open and my mind to be free — I find beauty that surpasses any landscape, any painting, any colorful market scene.

A vacation awaits me.

In my regular boring life.

And yours.