If you are taking out time from your busy Pesach prep to read this, well, I am honored.
It seems that our family ends up with all kinds of interesting hospital visits around Pesach time. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Springtime + school vacation can equal broken legs, noses, bumps, scrapes, etc….. not to mention the fact that 6/8 of our children are Pesach babies! Thank G-d, so far this year all are healthy in our home this year, ptfu ptfu; so far, so good.
My son went for an MRI last night. This is not due to some recent malady, but rather a stubborn pitcher’s elbow that doesn’t seem to want to go away. The prescribed treatments so far haven’t seemed to work. He has been eager to have the MRI, and impatient with the process that is Israel’s socialized medicine. The MRI for him symbolizes our increasing attention and management of his problem, taking it seriously, and an intensified effort to get whatever treatment is going to help him make it “to the majors” in baseball someday.
There were two noteworthy aspects to the MRI. The first is that it was scheduled for 6.30 pm and happened closer to 11 pm. Not noteworthy at all, but sadly typical, right? The administrator at the hospital in the MRI department called us four separate times, each to alert us of the delay and to tell us to come later (and later, and later) to spare our waiting around in the hospital. A true Pesach miracle: the hospital went out of their way to be sensitive to us and reduce our wait time! What I love most about this is that the first time I told this kind man on the other line how busy we are getting ready for the holiday and how much I appreciated the heads up, so he took it upon himself to keep updating me. That Pesach informs hospital procedure is one of those little “only in Israel” moments that just never get old in this amazing country.
My son was shocked to learn that the procedure wasn’t simple, and that the IV he had to have for it hurt. He wasn’t being treated, and he had been looking forward to getting more information about his injury and closer to recovery. So to find out it was going to be annoying and painful was a big shock. He was upset, uncomfortable and scared. I did what I could to reassure him, and now that it is over, he is relieved and smiling (although exhausted).
But I see in this a true Pesach lesson, and the MRI is going to be my “teachable moment” at the Seder this year.
Very often in life when Hashem gives us something wonderful and special, we have to experience a great deal of discomfort first. Childbirth is an example that naturally comes to mind for me. But it is true for many other times in life too. For some, an excrutiatingly difficult divorce is the necessary pain before finding the love of one’s life, and many years of marital bliss. I had to have a procedure on my toe this week (you don’t want the details, I promise), and it hurt so much to have it done that I put it off for at least a month. And after a month of suffering and one day of pain, everything feels great now. The process can be true for a move, getting a PhD, or losing weight.
To heal, we often go through a great deal of pain, and it has to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if the reason is, as the Rabbis teach us, that we need difficult transitions to strengthen us enough to cope with a new reality. Or if it is a test and then a reward. Or, if it is simply the truism that change means coming out of ones “comfort zone” - and doing that is almost always painful. It is probably all three.
Leaving Egypt was painful and difficult. We weren’t zapped and then just left. We had to learn mitzvot, follow commands, get out of our slave mentality, stand up to our former masters, pack up in a hurry and run away (I can’t even pack up my kids quickly to run to the corner store, never mind out into the desert) .. and then choose between what must have seemed like certain death by drowning or certain death by oncoming Egyptians.
Lehavdil*, sometimes preparation for the Seder and the holiday is painful and difficult. I hope it isn’t for you! But Hashem is there in the pain, in the transitions. Our natural world is constructed that way to help us learn about our spiritual world. I think that leil haseder is about choosing to relive the pain and the transition of yetziat mitrayim in order to better appreciate the redemption and healing that followed. I think this is obvious to most, but I wonder if the MRI’s, toe procedures and childbirths in our lives can help us truly empathize and experience that process on an emotional level.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach. May you have an uplifting and transformational Pesach.
*Lehavdil is an expression that is hard to translate. My best effort is to say “Similarly, but of course not the same!”
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I have had some interest from Kveller to possibly blog there. Which is a big honor. Since I currently don’t have time to blog here, I assume taking that on just now would be a supremely bad idea. It’s nice to be asked… maybe one day. Kveller asked me to submit a sample piece, perhaps on how the 8th child is different.
The answer is, of course, that they are all different. Bringing a baby home to no children is just as unique a circumstance as bringing home a baby to four children (under the age of 5) or bringing home a baby to a house full of pre-teens that talk back and lecture you. I didn’t say they were all the same, I said they are all consistently unique.
… But when it is baby #8, one stark difference is that Ima is only sitting down now that he is 4 months old (!!!) (coincidentally when I should be Pesach cleaning and not procrastinating) to finally explain the baby’s name, Yehuda Chaim.
Rav Chaim Lifshitz, z”l, was a tzaddik, and an important Rav and teacher in my husband’s life. He passed away last year. He was a brilliant man, studied directly with Piaget, and was a renowned handwriting analyst who had questions sent to him from around the world. He was also the father of our Rav, about whom I have written here. I never met him personally, which is quite sad. But he read our handwriting while we were dating and was astonishingly accurate in terms of how and why we would be a good match and what our primary challenge would be if we got married.
I am blessed that the majority of our small family’s members that would have a baby named for them have been memorialized by family already, or are alive and well. Remembering Rav Lifshitz in this way was important to my husband, so this is what we did. We were honored to have his son, our Rav, present at the brit milah to talk about his father and his amazing qualities.
I knew I was having a Chanukah baby, and a boy. I still didn’t think Matityahu was a good idea. Looooots of name for a very tiny person.
Yehuda was also a Maccabee, and that was one reason I thought of naming this little boy Yehuda. And that was before I knew he would be a headstrong and fierce fighter even during pregnancy and delivery.
The real reason I was set on Yehuda comes from Leah’s words in the Torah when her 4th son is born. She says “HaPaam Odeh Li Et Hashem” (Parashat Vayetze). It says directly in the Torah that this is the reason she named him Yehuda. Rashi explains to us that Leah knew that Yaacov was to have 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes, and therefore the future of Israel. She also knew Yaacov had 4 wives. Doing the math (apparently Leah was taught math ) she reasoned that her fourth son meant she got more than her “fair share” of Yaacov’s legacy.
I don’t think Leah felt like she got much of any fair share in the marriage/love department. But when it came to having kids, she recognized blessing – the special blessing that feels like it goes beyond destiny, or logic, or even-handedness by the creator. Just a blessing. So his name expressed her gratitude.
In some irrational recesses of my brain and heart, I used to feel at many times that I was blessed with easy fertility and a stepson and such a house-full of children as some time of “consolation” for the twelve hard years I had to be exiled from Israel and living in New Jersey.
No, I am not comparing Leah’s “My husband meant to marry my sister not me and now I have to live with him adoring her as his new wife” hard to my “Stuck in suburbia with a Target 10 minutes away” hard. Everyone’s hard is different, and for me, twelve years forced to live outside of Israel because of a decision my husband’s ex wife made was hard.
We finally came home, returned to Israel, and chose to settle in our favorite place outside of Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, which is the hills of Judea, “Harei Yehuda“. This place means so much to me. The hills of “Yehuda” are an ever present gift outside my window, one I appreciate ten-fold precisely because of the time I couldn’t be here.
After being blessed with our return, I feel “dayenu moments”, as we refer to them, every single week, if not every day. Singular moments that in and of themselves would each be enough to say “dayenu” – to make all of the struggles of aliyah – twice – totally worth it, just for that one moment.
So when we finally made it home, and the kids are finally settling into life here, and I can finally feel like we are really here, really home…. Hashem blessed us with another healthy, happy baby. And he feels like that “extra portion” that was just a gift from Hashem. Of course they are all gifts. Yet, at 41, with a full house, my youngest already 5 1/2 and a busy, heaping full plate of noise and hugs and love and mess and holy holy chaos… “Hapam Odeh li at Hashem”.
This time is just “Thank you”… hence, the name “Yehuda“.
The Judean Hills, or “Harei Yehuda”
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I have once again been failing you. The baby is 5 weeks, Chanukah vacation and Israel’s crazy snowstorms are over, but with our chayal boded home from the army and my stepson here, I am feeling a little like “ima2nine” and trying to love the insanity.
I hope to have a post up next week about the baby’s name and then a post up about how things are different this time around. I don’t think anyone needs to read posts about how “I am not perfect” or “we all have our mommy days” or even the funny/stupid/messy things my kids got into today…. I think everyone already knows that.
So while you wait
for the baby to give me more than one second to myself for me to get my act together, please enjoy the following educational guest post about Irene Sendler. Being a Chanukah baby, we named him after a hero; please enjoy Laurie Rappoport‘s piece about one of the heroes don’t often hear about:
Irena Sendler — Recognizing Unsung Heroes
In recent years it’s become popular to encourage children to adopt projects that will allow them to impact on their own educational experience above and beyond traditional schoolwork. Such projects traditionally take the form of genealogical research or a study of a particular individual whose life can serve as an inspiration to the student as well as to his or her family and friends.
One such assignment turned out to have implications above and beyond the lifetime of the project itself and has, to date, impacted on thousands of people worldwide.
In 1999 a group of Uniontown Kansas students were presented with an assignment that directed them to research and report on a historical episode of interest. None of the girls were Jewish but they decided to examine the Holocaust. A chance remark about a Polish woman who had saved over 3000 lives launched the girls on a long-term project that would, in the end, result in a website, a book and an award-winning performance.
Irena Sendler lived in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded in 1939. She joined the Zagota underground and, together with other Zagota members, devoted herself to helping Jews escape the Nazi dragnet.
In 1940 the Nazis constructed the Warsaw ghetto and interned over 400,000 Jewish in the small area. As a social worker employed by the Warsaw municipality Sendler was able to obtain documents that enabled her to freely enter the ghetto and she ferried in food and medicines to help the desperate Jewish residents.
Sendler quickly realized that the small amounts of food that she was able to bring in were not making a big enough impact on the situation and she decided to smuggle children out of the ghetto and find them hiding places where they could live out the war. With the help of other Zagota members Sendler sedated young children and smuggled them out in bags, toolboxes and even under garbage in garbage carts. She led older children out through tunnels and hidden passageways.
When Sendler began her work she concentrated on bringing out street children and orphans but as time passed she began to work to convince parents to allow her to take their children out of the ghetto. These decisions were nightmarish for the parents who had to decide whether their children had a better chance of survival with them, in the ghetto, or with strangers on the other side of the ghetto walls.
Sendler and her comrades from the underground located hiding places for the children who had been smuggled out of the ghetto — in convents, orphanages and with sympathetic Polish families. Sendler carefully recorded these names on pieces of tissue paper and placed them in glass jars which she buried in her neighbor’s yard. All together it is estimated that Sendler helped save over 2500 children.
In October of 1943 Sendler was captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned. She was tortured but she didn’t reveal any information about the children’s whereabouts or about her Zagota friends. The Germans scheduled Sendler to be executed but Zagota members bribed a German guard and secured her release.
Sendler was honored by Yad VaShem in 1965 but after she returned to Warsaw her story was forgotten. It was only when the schoolgirls in Kansas began to investigate the story that Sendler’s actions became widely recognized. The Irena Sendler project, Life in a Jar, led to the creation of the Lowell Milken Center that has propelled other students to research “unsung heroes.” It serves as an inspiration to parents and teachers who want to motivate young students to stretch themselves and take responsibility for their own meaningful educational experience.
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We are finishing up the storm of the century here in Neve Daniel, our little mountain in the Judean Hills (Har HaBloggerim)… it has been one more experience of many that is a window into how true community can transform a place, and transform people. The trading of goods, offers of heaters, and of all kinds of help of all kinds shows the power of this place as people see each other’s problems as their own and opportunities for chessed.
The coordinator of youth programs in Neve Daniel has been advertising that she has a cadre of teens ready and willing to help today. Someone organized some Torah learning for kids this afternoon, the librarian decided to open up for the bored, and those who managed to get out by car today have offered rides to others before leaving the yishuv.
As the social being and true extrovert that I am, all of this community sharing is like a dream for me. At the same time, as a part of any community, you invite upon yourself to share in the pain and loss of others, just as much as their happiness. Just as others share in your problems, their sadness becomes yours.
Like most of us, I am a part of different communities, like circles on a Venn Diagram of my life. One is my beloved mountain here… but another is my [Jewish] blogging community.
Both communities have been rocked by the loss of Stella Frankl, wife of our own Yarden of both Neve Daniel and of his blog “Crossing the Yarden.” It hurts all of us, and many of us have written about his loss – and his heroism.
So it makes the pain even worse to learn of Phyllis Sommer’s loss of Superman Sam. Of the world‘s loss of Superman Sam. Phyllis, you have shared your life with us on line, and you have shared your families struggle and pain. And now we share your pain, too. Phyllis and I have never met, nor do we have that much in common. But through her blog her heartache hurts me too; her Sam has touched my heart, her loss is shared, and her tears are mine.
It would be so much easier if bloggers could drop off a cup of sugar or update a fellow writer on the roads or electricity, like a neighborhood community in a snowstorm can.
But what we can do is spread the word and pay tribute to those loved ones so dearly missed. Please visit Phyllis’ blog and lend your support however you can.
Baruch Dayan Haemet, and Goodbye, Superman Sam.
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“This is your seventh baby? This one is going to just pop right out, you will see…”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that over the past few months.
My youngest is 5 1/2 – which means it has been a while since I have been pregnant. I was younger, fitter, and while I had my hands much more full with a house full of little ones, I also had more energy.
This pregnancy was harder. Much harder…… but it was nothing compared to the labor/delivery.
None of my other deliveries were easy, but they were pretty straightforward. I have shared with just about any woman who will listen that I proudly delivered twins without an epidural or surgery at 40 weeks – and 6.5 and 8 pounds.
This labor was more than a day, on no sleep, with a “failure to progress”. I was spared a c-section, but at the price of tremendous amounts of strain on my body, the likes of which I have just never experienced.
… I don’t know if it is my age, the hormones, the difficult labor, the very full house or a grand combination of them all, but this time post-partum hit me BIG TIME.
I found myself just crying for what seemed like no good reason. I felt overwhelmed, and mostly I resented every single person that tried to check in with me, asked me what I was doing, expected me to be chipper, friendly, happy, open or affectionate. Including my own children.
“Can’t they see I am trying to recover?”
“What is wrong with them? Why are they calling me? ”
“How can they possibly ask me for a hug.”
“Just stopped by? Seriously?”
More than anything else, my moodiness, touchiness and lack of ability to be a charming friend and hostess to others seemed to be met with consternation at best, horror at worst, rather than compassion.
I am in week two now, and what an amazing difference a week makes! My milk is flowing, my child is occasionally sleeping for a whole couple of hours not in someone’s arms. I am no longer taking pain medication round the clock, feeling achy and weak the minute it starts to wear off. I can put on my own shoes. There is a rush of relief that the Shalom Zachor and the Brit are both over. The trauma of the birth doesn’t come to me in flashes like it did last week. Neither do the unexplained bouts of tears. I am able to smile when someone walks in the door, and you might, just might occasionally find me answering the telephone.
The help, advice and meals I have received have been just amazing.I think that religious Jews who have a community that takes turns at lifecycle events being there for each other, are the luckiest people on earth. And I count myself as one of the most blessed because I live in Neve Daniel. The love and support expressed from around the world has been so touching, so wonderful.
The most positive experience has been the communal celebration of this birth by our neighborhood, family and friends.
Why write such a negative post during this weekend of thanks??? Why bother writing this? Because I think that when we are truly happy for people we want to connect to them. To reach out and let them know. I also think that 9 times out of 10 a new mother, at least for that first week, needs exactly the opposite. Sometimes love means giving someone space.
I have always dropped off donated dinners to new moms with a note and a delivery person, and I have never thought to make a visit or a phone call in the first week. But I also doubt I have ever been sensitive enough to avoiding asking “how are you” for a week, or assuming that maybe a hug for the new mom is not in order at a bris. I never knew that difficult sleeping when your baby sleeps is a primary symptom of post-partum baby blues, but I have always known that lack of sleep makes everything else harder.
I have had many friends who suffered from post-partum depression, but I didn’t see it – that is part of what I am describing, which is a desire to shut everyone out during such a dark time. I heard about it after the fact. Until now, I never understood why it was traumatic enough to cause some of them to think twice before having another child.
I haven’t enjoyed the experience, but I do hope it is going to make me a better friend, relative, neighbor and eventually mother to new moms. That I will have a newfound appreciation for that space.
If you ever give birth and I seem aloof during your first week, please don’t be offended, I will just be giving you your space, whether you need it or not. My guess is that if you are a brand new mom, you will be FAR too busy to notice, no matter how you are feeling.
One last note: our beautiful new baby’s name is Yehuda Chaim, and I will post our thoughts and words on the baby and his name just as soon as this little newborn will grant me the time. In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and Chanukah!!!
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Our special community of Neve Daniel lost an amazing, unique, kind, wonderful tzadeket of a person today, while she was still only a young mother.
The cancer that took her life was aggressive and everyone here watched a fight that was nothing short of miraculous. It is hard to describe an entire community in mourning; an entire neighborhood grieving and sad. It is remarkable to see this family hugged and held up by that same entire community and even more so to see how much they are aware of it and grateful for it, even in their dark, dark hour.
I was blessed to get to know Stella’s incredible journey and story before moving here, through the Jewish blogging community, and her husband, Yarden’s blog. I davened for her with my students in New Jersey, and her struggles transformed my 8 year old daughter into someone who understand real davening, with someone specific in mind, with real intention.
But as newcomers to the yishuv, the loss is hardly as personal one for me as it is for her closest, dearest friends that live here. And I defer to them.
Please read Cheri and Romi’s moving words about Stella here
Please say thank you to someone today. Tell someone you love them today. Do something that makes you feel like a “rock star”… and think of Stella, z’l.
It was an honor to know you.
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I once had the honor of enjoying a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Green from Jerusalem who was visiting New Jersey. He said that everyone has “that person”; ” That person that drives you up a wall, that you simply cannot stand. That every little thing they do is so annoying it is like fingers on the blackboard – just for you…. but don’t worry he went on; you are undoubtedly that person to someone else!”
I burst out in the laughter of surprise and recognition. I am a second wife who has been dealing with a first wife, who hates my guts, for many years. Enough said, but far be it from me to assume I am only “that person” to her. I may be that person to a lot more people.
I also think, however, that the flip side is true. Many of us have “that person” that has made some huge, life-changing impact on our lives.
And quite often, I believe that “those people – ” the angels that appear as humans to us – don’t think of their own actions or behavior as anything much at all. Just as the people who seem to have no raison d’etre other than annoying us often aren’t even considering us for one instant, those that have a hugely positive impact on our lives aren’t trying to change us, or our lives, or even inspire us. They are just living.
My now 8-year old daughter had to go through the difficult process of aliyah only 15 months ago. She went from a small school, 5 minutes from home, where the staff were also members of her shul and community, were her Ima’s friends, gave her hugs, and were her extended family, to a huge public school with 30+ kids in a class, over 200 to a grade, and not a lot of personal interactions between individual students and staff…. all in a new language, of course.
Idit is one of the secretaries in the office, and I very much doubt that she realizes just how much she is “that person” for my daughter.
Shira began last year surprising Idit with hugs. While it certainly wasn’t the norm in her big Israeli public school, it was definitely my daughter’s norm from New Jersey. Idit responded with cookies. She didn’t realize that we don’t give our children cookies, except on Shabbat. It was most definitely the way to my daughter’s heart, as well as the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The cookies have stopped, but the daily hellos – and hugs - have remained. Shira knows she has a friend, a go-to person, a safe harbor in the storm that is aliyah.
I had to drop off a forgotten assignment this week, and since I couldn’t find Shira, I gave it to Idit who assured me that she and Shira would find each other before the next class. She called me in before I could leave to tell me how much she loves my spunky daughter. She also wanted to add that Shira often comes to the office during recess, or stays inside, saying that she doesn’t know who to play with.
One of the hardest parts of aliyah is getting past kids being friendly to really making friends. (It’s true for the adults making aliyah too – a different blog post…) Idit suggested that I send Shira to school with a toy from home for the playground or something new that she can share with friends – or potential friends – that will both give her something to do and attract her peers. What a simple, easy idea. The next day Shira went to school with some sidewalk chalk in her bag and I am already hearing reports of improvement in her social life at school.
The teachers are busy, dealing with 30+ kids throughout the day, and they are not assigned to monitor the playground every day. When they do, they are literally watching hundreds of children. They are watching out for fights and violence (I am not confident they even catch most of that) but certainly are not on the lookout for the lone immigrant child that quietly opted to stay inside. Idit noticed. And her quiet, quick word to me was all that it took to bring a little more sunshine into my daughter’s life.
I will continue to try to convey to Idit how much more of an impact on my daughter she is having than she realizes, and I hope there is a point in her life where she comes to understand that by doing what must be a relatively thankless office job in a public school, she is meriting being an angel on earth for at least one little girl, and by extension her family.
… So what does that mean for me? It means yet one more reminder that I need to live my own life consciously, trying to be “that person” in the lives of others, rather than “that [other] person”….
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Welcome to the August 9, 2013 edition of jewish-israel blog carnival aka havel havalim .
The Jewish blog carnival is a weekly digest of several Jewish blogs from around Israel and the world. Please feel free to join us and submit your blog posts. Make sure to comment at each of these wonderful sites, and tell them I sent you! To be a host, you can contact us at the blog carnival index page, and/or join us on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/283537885020583/
Since my last blog post my family and I have reached our 1 year aliyah anniversary. I had expected this to be commemorated with a meaningful and reflective blog post. While I still hope to write one about being in year two, the reality is that every single one of us has been too busy LIVING life in Israel to stop and do much celebrating, reflecting – or blogging. This is a tremendous mark of aliyah success in my book, and while I am sorry for the lack of blog, I am happy about the reason.
I participated today in a wonderful Elul tradition on my yishuv. A diverse group of women get together Shabbat afternoon, Rosh Chodesh Elul, for singing, food, and words of Torah and inspiration for the month. One participant, Yael of Yaelle Yells… Softly* mentioned that she enters Elul with trepidation but her father, z’l, always did so with excitement. (*This is Neve Daniel, after all, “Har Habloggerim”….. )
What about you? Do you enter this month feeling fear? Excitement? Or both? I am feeling the weight of my very heavy to do list – work, school supplies, bus schedules… and spiritual cheshbon.
Whatever your feeling about the month, Chodesh Tov and enjoy all of these posts:
If you have never checked it out before, take a peek at Jewels of Elul, a project where different writers / bloggers contribute for and about Elul. This recent post “Elul 4: Choose, Don’t Refuse” is from my friend and all-around brilliant superwoman, Yael Untermann.
Ima on and off the Bima, tries to blog all of Elul… a better blogger/woman than I. Her first post in the series is Blog Elul 1, “Prepare”
Esav Exposed gives us some insights into one of Tommy Wallers teachers in an ongoing effort to expose Christian Missionaries proseltysing specifically to Jews in Who Are Tommy Wallers Teachers Part 1
Jacob Richman of Good News from Israel bring us his own digest of cool stuff to help us prepare this Elul in Educational Resources, Cool Videos, Games and Greeting Cards for Rosh Hashanah.
… Good News from Israel also posted his photo album from Jerusalem’s current Model Train Exhibit. I would love to make it over there, but am at least going to share the pics with my kids.
Sharon of the Real Jerusalem Streets blogs to say Thank you, Women of the Wall. Regardless of personal feelings or opinions on this controversial issue, I am so happy to hear that she has had a positive experience!!!
My Parnasa tell us How to Make a Million Blogging for Times of Israel. One could argue that the Haveil Havalim Carnival is for those looking for the non-TOI blogs, so what do you think?
Batya of Shiloh Musings has brought us a variety of different kinds of posts, in
Loni Books presents Making Challah posted at Small Thoughts, saying, “I’m a college student by day, a writer by night. I love to write about those small moments that inspire me all day long.”
… Before I leave, I would like to ask all of our readers to make a quick stop off at Crossing the Yarden, and leave a little note, blessing, prayer, or token of love for Yarden and his “Rock Star”. Just tell him how many of us are out there with their amazing family in our thoughts and prayers. Thanks.
I hope this is an inspiring and uplifting Elul for you, and that you blog about it!
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of jewish-israel blog carnival aka havel ha using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.
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While most people have written and filed their experiences and impressions from the President’s Conference in Jerusalem two weeks ago, I am only getting this published now. While it may only be an excuse, I doubt from what I saw that most of the participants, especially writers, at the conference were leaving behind 6 children finishing up their first year of school in Israel. For me, there has been a lot of “pay back” for that precious two day absence, so I hope this interview comes better late than never.
Of the many fantastic moments for me at the President’s Conference, meeting Rita definitely stands out as the highlight. This was for me a rare, unforgettable life-moment. There is the rush of fandom, of meeting a star, but this was something else.
Meeting someone for the first time that has left a fingerprint on your soul and having the chance to tell them personally is truly incredible, and something I do not take for granted. The fact that Rita was personable, charming, beautiful, interesting and kind is really icing on the cake.
For those of you that do not know, “Rita”, Rita Yahan-Farouz is an Iranian--born Israeli pop singer and the most famous female singer in Israel. She has had an unprecedented career in Israel in film and on stage, and has sold countless albums and sold-out concerts.
In 2011, she also became popular in Iran as an underground singing sensation after the release of various pop records which she sings in her native Persian language. In 2012, her album “All My Joys,” also sung in Persian, was popular in both Israel and Iran, going gold in Israel after three weeks. She has since been referred to as a cultural ambassador between Israeli and Iranian citizens. You can learn a lot more about Rita, her stardom and her career here.
When I was 17 years old, I came to Israel for the first time on what was then a brand new program called “USY High”. Although it has since changed, at the time it was a Conservative Movement form of the standard AMHSI two-month high school in Israel program based in Hod Hasharon.
My teacher, Yossi Katz, who still teaches at AMHSI, could see right away that I was one of those kids that was falling in love, very quickly and deeply with the country. Yossi is the author of “A Voice Called” and is someone I have always described as someone who creates zionists for a living. The number of Yossi’s former students that have made aliyah is staggering.
As early as my first week in Israel I explained to Yossi emphatically that Israel could never be home for me. It would of course conflict with the long, successful stage career as a singer that was waiting for me back in the United States. Yossi reacted by creating a mantra that I could be the “next Rita in Israel” over and over, and backed this up by giving me my first taste of Israeli music, a Rita cassette.
I spent the remainder of those 8 life-transforming weeks on a bus, learning the history of the land of Israel from the time of Avraham until today almost entirely on tiyul. And every minute we were on that bus, I was looking out the window wearing a walkman and listening to Rita.
She was the background music for my burgeoning love affair with Eretz Yisroel. 24 years later, as I drive to work on a mundane commute, I still feel pangs of fierce, passionate love. And I still hear the background music.
…. and in Binyanei Hauma, I got to tell Rita herself.
I tried to assure the true (well-earned) Diva that I wanted to talk to her about HER and not me, but opened with the personal connection anyway. She responded by gasping, telling me that I gave her the chills and giving me a big hug. I know she has a successful long-standing career as an actress so perhaps I should be cynical about the reception, but it certainly felt amazing.
We spoke first and foremost about motherhood. Since I explained that this is the subject of much of my blog, we both talked about being musical moms raising musical kids. As if we are “both” in any category. But when she stopped her manager in her tracks to exclaim in shock the number of kids I have, insisting that it is impossible because I look 26 years old, she had me even more hooked than ever.
She explained to me that motherhood didn’t change her as a musician, it just changed the centrality of her very successful career in her life. “Being a mother just instantly became the most important thing in my life, and remained so.” She spoke about the challenges of finding the right balance of (stellar) career and motherhood. She had a neighbor that would needle her incessantly about not being home for her children, as this neighbor of course was. She was so irritated by the constant badgering that she wound up going to a family psychologist who asked her one simple question. “When your daughter grows up, gets married and has a family. Will you tell her that you think she should drop her life-passion and stay home to be with her family? Will you tell her to table her own happiness for the sake of her children?”. Rita didn’t need any more information and went home empowered to find that balance every one of us struggles with.
How telling – and familiar – that the the social pressure to please others’ is at least as much a part of that struggle as the personal balance we each have to find.
We talked about the most significant influence on her as a musician. It was not a particular band or favorite album… but the rich singing and dancing her Persian mother did around the house.
She described very, very early memories of resting on her mother’s legs as she sang constantly to her children. It wasn’t appropriate for a Persian woman to publicly dance and sing, she explained, so she would perform with flair around the house for her entranced daughters. And these are the sounds that have informed and influenced Rita throughout her career. I restrained myself – with effort – from launching into my background as a Music Together teacher. Music Together teaches us through science and study the profound impact that this kind of musical behavior by any mother has on every child and their love of music. Rita knew through her gut and didn’t need my affirmation. (And it wasn’t about me. I wasn’t going to make this a two way conversation of “sharing” no matter how much it is my inclination. This was an interview.)
It made so much sense when she later talked about her 2012 album, All My Joys, which is sung in Persian, as a deeply personal “return home”. The fact that it has seen unprecedented international success and has turned into a surprising bridge-builder between Israeli and Iranian people has been a wonderful unintended outcome. I now understood how despite meteoric success and international attention she could still describe the effort as a deeply personal one.
We discussed the raising of her musical kids. Both of her daughters are very musical which is even less surprising when you know that their father, her ex-husband, is Rami Kleinstein a hugely successful Israeli artist in his own right.
Meshi is 21 and very well may pursue a career in music,” Rita told me, “I don’t think she can run away from it. She is so talented… She sings in English, Davka.”
Her younger daughter, Noam, is 12, is also an incredibly creative musician. Rita tells me she is “so talented at so many different instruments. And she seems to have rhythm and blues down in her kishkes. It is amazing. But she very well may decide not pursue music as a profession…. she knows very deeply first hand the price that one pays to be in this business, and isn’t sure she wants to pay it.”
I asked Rita if she had any message for my very musical 13 year old daughter who also has the “bug” and wants a lifetime of singing. With the added challenge of being Orthodox and all that that means in Israel today. I didn’t know how Rita would react, and how careful she would want to be to veer away from religion or politics. I didn’t know if it would be an opportunity to criticize the limitations of religion on musical expression (particularly for women). She didn’t go there at all, and impressed me yet again.
“Tell her that singing is mentioned even the Kabbalah – that music has a vibration that is like a prayer. It is the strongest way to connect to Heaven, to G-d. Like a straight cable to connect directly to G-d. You can’t tell someone to run away from such a love. She has to find her own destiny.” She said. “And tell her to never, ever stop singing.”
She had described for me her earliest memory of being asked to stand up at a large family gathering when she was only 4, to stand on a chair and sing for everyone. The world stopped, and she felt this incredible “oneness”. A moment of pure joy and clarity that has always stayed with her, and was the defining moment in which she knew this is what she had to do for the rest of her life.
I asked Rita for her proudest career moments. She said that the two peaks for her were singing “Hatikvah” at the Knesset for Israel’s 50th birthday celebration, and her recent performance at the UN General Assembly in March as a representative of Israel, where she sang in Persian, English and Hebrew. She explained that three of the tickets were taken somehow by the Iranian delegation, but they will never know how or by whom.
When I pointed out that these are both moments of national representation as opposed to commercial success, she explained that her 8-year-old immigrant self is still inside her, remembering her move to Israel, being mocked and feeling “different” . That that little girl jumps for joy when she has these moments as the representative of Israel.
Once again, I restrained myself and didn’t talk about how much I can relate, as I watch my children struggle through their first year of aliyah. I pushed down tears of emotion and made a mental note to simply share this insight with my own little immigrants as soon as I got home. (Which I did.)
These were the highlights for me of what felt like a too-short intimate conversation between two people who live in different worlds but could so easily be friends. I wondered then, and still do, if she just has an amazing gift of making everyone feel that way, and it really has nothing to do with me?
I hope Rita will get an opportunity to read this, and that she feels it has done justice to our conversation. She had so many fans approach her on that one day alone, and it must go on throughout the year. But if she does see it then she will know that she left a second fingerprint during our conversation and there is a strange part of me that is absolutely convinced that it will not be our last.
If you missed Rita at the President’s Conference, you can watch her on the panel here.
For more information about Rita’s amazing career, her latest album, or how to order any of her music, be sure to visit her website.
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I have a President’s Conference to blog about, and a meeting with the most fantastic Rita.
But while I finish churning those posts, albeit far too late, enjoy the following amazing recipe. It comes directly from Joy of Kosher / Bitayavon Magazine, which is definitely worth buying!
Please follow @joyofkosher on twitter if you use it and you enjoy the recipe!
“Classic Chocolate Sandwich Cookie with Vanilla Filling”, courtesy of Joy of Kosher Magazine. Please do me a favor and like their Facebook page or send Jamie Geller a shout-out on twitter .
Makes 3 dozen cookies – unless you use a big glass to cut them, like I did. Then you might want to double the recipe, like I did.
1 c. unsalted margarine, room temp.
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
They might not look as gorgeous as Jamie’s photographs in her magazine and web site, but they looked good enough for us and taste great.
1/4 c. unsalted marg, room temp.
1/4 c. veg. shortening (I just used 1/2 of marg. and skipped shortening)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1. Begin by preparing the cookies. Combine the margarine and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat on med. speed until light and fluffy, around 2 min.s Add the egg & vanilla and beat until well incorporated.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed margarine mixture, beating on low speed. Continue to mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
3. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. (in our case overnight.)
4. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside
5. Take one portion of dough out of the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out the cookies using a round cookie cutter (app. 2 inches in diameter).
6. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes.
7. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
8. While the cookies are cooling, prepare the filling. Combine the margarine, veg. shortening and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar until the filling comes together.
9. Transfer the filling to a piping bag or plastic sandwich bag with a corner cut off. Once the cookies have cooled, pipe the filling onto half of the cookies and top with the remaining cookies.
**I spread it with a knife and it worked just great.
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