יום שני, 21 בספטמבר 2015

The Day of Awe


So it is here. Tomorrow. The day of days. The Big One. The marathon of fasts.
Twenty five hours of fasting, praying, klopping, and if the weather forecast is accurate, sweating. At least to and from shul.
Yom kippur is one of my favorite days of the year. I know, it is weird, but I love it. While I’m not a fan of the bike fest it has become, at least here in tel aviv, I am a huge fan of the sanctity, the fasting, praying and klopping.  I also love that even the non- fasters, prayers and kloppers, at least here, still respect and at least to some extent appreciate the unique quality of the day.  The number one pictures on facebook after yom kippur are always of the שyalon or the Begin Highway being photographed empty.  After all these years and ymei kippur in Israel, I still tingle when I walk to shul for kol nidre and see so many people in white, the streets empty and the stillness that ensues. Even with the bikers there is a stillness and awesome quality to the day.
I even love the pre yom kippur warm ups and drills; Those who abstain completely from caffeine in the days leading up to the fast. Those who partially abstain or don’t at all.  It is a true test of stamina and belief that so many of us fast. Today, while chatting with a colleague, we were discussing the pre YK drills.  How nervous the day makes us. In a split second I realized we were looking at it from a skewed perspective. In that split second I felt like the bride who is so wrapped up in the wedding that she forgets to realize that she needs to be a wife. ( men too, just a figure of speech). So many of us are so concerned with the preparation and surviving the fast that we don’t spend enough time thinking about the DAY itself and the MEANING.
Who will live and who will die? Do many of us stop and think about that? Do we all take it as a given that if we fast, pray and klop we’ll make it through. Or maybe we don’t even really need to do that at all.  Ive been told that I have a childish view of Gd; Maybe I do. Maybe there is no direct correlation between action and consequence. Maybe actions and what happens after said action have no correlation whatsoever.
I don’t know. Personally, I believe they do but who is to say I am right?

I do know that I am thinking about the meaning of YK to me, to my family and friends and to Klal Yisrael.  I am thinking about those that are still here and those that tragically aren’t here this year.  I am thinking about who I was last year and if I am exactly the same or hopefully changed in some small way. I am thinking about what I had hoped to accomplish in this last year where I succeeded and where I failed.
I am thanking Hashem for my blessings. For my parents, family and friends. For my amazing girls. For my health and theirs.  For the zchut to live in Eretz Yisrael and be part of the miracle. I am praying for the continued strength and willpower to become a better person or at least a more patient tolerant one.
So on this day before THE BIG YK 5776, while I am nervous about fasting and the heat and being around my kids eating I am also trying to keep the big picture in mind; the why we do it and what we hope to gain.
Wishing each and every one of you a gmar chatima tova, an easy fast, and most importantly a meaningful yom kippur.

יום שישי, 13 במרץ 2015

The Barrier

I remember sitting at my grandfather’s shiva with my mom and aunt, sometime in 1995, surrounded by friends and loved ones. Suddenly, I had a horrible thought. It occurred to me, that the barrier had been diminished.  I had never thought about it until that moment, sitting on my parents’ living room couch, looking at my mom on her low chair and my aunt being comforted by others that there even was a barrier. You know what I’m talking about?  That BARRIER, the one that separates you and protects you from the END.
 As kids we are usually blessed with a thick barrier of four grandparents and two parents. As we get older though, the barrier weakens.  Sitting on my mother’s taupe sofa that day, I suddenly realized that not only did it exist but that in that moment of my grandfather’s passing it had been weakened.  It was a terrifying thought.
Many of you that know me know that since my kids were born my parents come every year for around 5 months.  My friends (and my mom) have told me I don’t appreciate it enough. They say I take it for granted.  That isn’t true.  I have appreciated it and them and the older I get the more I appreciate them and realize how blessed I have been.
My mom usually comes a little before purim and is joined by my dad a week or so before pesach. They usually stay through yom haatzmaut.  The routine, in the last five years that has developed is that my mother tells everyone what to do and we do it.  My dad goes to the shuk daily, I go to the supermarket and she organizes it all. That is not to say I am incapable or unwilling to do it myself.  I mean I am a pretty independent person and manage quite well on my own, but it is nice to have someone in charge other than me.  She makes the food, rearranges the cabinets and drawers and offers Helpful Heloise tips.
Every year my dad and I rent a car and drive to Bnei Brak for a day of bonding in the non kitniyot grocery store.  Arranging for the seder  also is laden with routines; my mom polishes the silver, I set the table and make the charoset; my pre-pesach chores since childhood.
This year my parents are not coming. I know my mom is going to say I shouldn’t write this post because it makes her feel bad but I can’t help it. I am devastated Mommy.  I am so afraid you will never be here again and that I will have to do it alone.  At the same time, I think, having her here is a pain in the ass. We annoy each other, get on each other’s nerves and if she tells me one more time her “suggestion” I might scream. Yet still, I want her here. For all the selfish reasons.  I want her here for me, and for the kids, and because even though I love my friends and we’ve spent all these holidays together for years, it’s not quite the same as your biological family.
I have been thinking lately about my aunts and uncles.  The next row of the barrier.  I spoke to my aunt today and while talking about the family I just kept thinking back to all those Sunday dinners with all of us; my family and hers, our grandparents and their siblings and I  realized that, once the barrier breaks down again, who will I share those memories with?  My sister was too little too remember.  My cousins might not either, they were pretty small themselves.  These memories, which I never really think about but all of a sudden seem hugely important to me.
I look at myself in the mirror and lately I do NOT see a girl, or a young woman .  I see older; much much older.  I think of how young people look at me and realize they think I’m old.  I’m part of a different demographic.  I keep thinking that in 25 years I will be the same age as my mom and that my girls will only be thirty.  Isn’t that too young to have such an old mom?  Then, of course, I think about the (additional) disservice I’ve done them.
I don’t have some witty or pithy ending. I’m just really sad.  The circle of life is NOT always pleasant or happy.  I’m trying to take it one day at a time but most days I wind up crying.  For what was, for what isn’t and for what I hope will not happen for a very long time.

יום ראשון, 25 בינואר 2015

Rosa Parks or Go to the Back of the Bus


A lot of stuff happens in this little country of ours around buses.
First they were the subject of great debate since many were “gifts” of the German government as remuneration for the crimes and atrocities of the Nazis.
Then there was the endless social debate over the ability to last an entire bus ride, in August, on a non –air conditioned bus amongst non- deodorized, smoking Israelis amidst the “oh so odiferous scent “of diesel fuel.
Then, of course there were the horrors of the Intifada and random buses being blown up with school children, soldiers, women and grandparents just wanting to go about their daily life.
Things had been fairly quiet surrounding our beloved public transport system….and now, again.
In all my many years in Israel, I have never been fearful of the people in my midst.  Of course the harrowing sounds of the sirens all summer long were stress inducing and havoc wreaking on one’s nerves. When walking down the street, especially with my kids, I made sure to know where I could go if a siren blasted, but I never actually feared for my life.
While I wasn’t in Israel during most of the Intifada, the look that we all gave one another was of mutual fear, tension, and camaraderie. I don’t recall looking at people suspiciously.  Maybe I was young and in that place and time I felt invincible. Maybe when you aren’t a parent it is easier to still continue to get on the bus. Whatever the reason, I didn’t suspect anyone who was with me of wanting to hurt me.
In my heyday, walking the streets of Tel Aviv, at all hours of the night I was not ever suspicious or on alert. I have never felt at risk or insecure. 
Until now. Now I am.  I am a public commuter. I take the bus daily, in the mornings with my girls to gan and then to and from all the places I need to be.  I happen to love the bus.  I like not having to deal with traffic, parking, and the stress of not being on my phone. It is the only time during the day that I can just be quiet with myself and one of the few occasions in my life where I can depend on someone else to do the work. 
Since these random stabbings have begun, though, I am not the relaxed and passive passenger.  I am suspicious; I look at the people surrounding me. I try to sit alone, or stand at a distance.  The other day, the day of the most recent attack, not two kilometers from my house, a man got on the bus and sat next to me.  An Arab man.  A working class Arab man. I got up. I moved seats, to a row where I was alone.  And I felt guilty, bad, racist, and very un-politically correct.  He turned around and looked at me, or rather, glared at me.  Then I felt guilty for feeling guilty. I started to justify my action and to rationalize my behavior.  I know my more moderate or non-Israeli friends are probably rolling their eyes at me. “That Ellie, so right wing.”
 Maybe, or maybe finally adult and responsible enough to realize that I have just this one life and my children have just one mother. These random acts put everyone at risk and under suspicion. 

I am sorry dear cousins for suspecting one of you even though I know not all of you feel as these murderers do. I am sorry for generalizing.  I am sorry for doubting you and your personal value systems.  I need to protect myself and my kids and my friends and family and countrymen. So yes, I am going to get up and generalize and judge and continue to be suspicious and racially profile, and I am going to sit at the back of the bus if that is what it takes to feel safe…r.

יום שבת, 29 בנובמבר 2014


As a child, I, like most of you, assumed that when we grew up we would get married, have a family and live happily ever after.
Along the way, most of us found out that Prince/Princess Charming doesn’t exist nor does happily ever after.  Most of us learned that if we can tolerate our mates, accept their annoying habits, idiosyncrasies and still manage to love them, laugh with them and grow old together that was good enough.  That happiness ebbs and flows and mostly, we are all trying to get through our lives surrounded by our loved ones, health, maybe a little money, and some fun.
I don’t think any of us, ever, thought that we’d grow up and after having been disappointed enough times by love opt to have a child on our own.  I don’t think any of the gay men or women who were kids in the 60’s 70’s or even possibly the 80’s imagined that they would grow up, marry a partner of the same sex and have a woman, of third world country origin, be a surrogate or an egg donor.  I don’t think many of us who were kids then, imagined a possibility where a male friend, often gay, could be in a relationship of his own and yet, still be the father of our children.
Fast forward 2014. Tel Aviv. Although it could be New York or LA.  I go to an orthodox synagogue.  Many of our members are gay.  Many of our gay members are married. Many of our gay married members have children.  We also have straight members, many of whom are married and have kids.  Some of the members, like I, are single mothers.  I think I might be the only single mother of twins.  Even in my shul I feel alone and lonely though it is a very warm and welcoming place.  I joke that no matter where I go to shul there are couples everywhere and no single straight men.  It’s not a very comforting joke…but I digress.
The other day, many of us went to a simcha of a friend and a member of our synagogue.  The whiskey was single malt, double digit years and very smooth.  I had a little more than I should.  Loose tongues and all.  I began chatting with a man who I know casually from synagogue.  A gay married father.  Anyway, he said that had we met some years before he would’ve liked to have had a child with me.  It was meant as a compliment.  It’s the first time this type of conversation took place in my world.  I responded with a thank you but that I would not have wanted a partner unless it was a love partner. He responded with surprise saying he had never heard a woman say that before.

Truth.  One assumes it is universal and all-encompassing but in reality it is quite subjective.  That is not to say that there aren’t universal truths but this parenting thing has become so varied and so diverse that pretty much anything is possible and anything goes…but not for me.  I accept it and respect it in others but for me, having a child on my own wasn’t a choice it was a must.  I had no time left to wait so I did it.  I have never given it a second thought…and then last night, out of nowhere.

My baby says to me” Ima why don’t I have an abba?” and my heart breaks.  When I ask her why she wants an abba she tells me to carry her on his shoulders and I say that I can.  She points out that I can’t do it all the way home. And I tell her that I want her to have an abba but a really good one that theyre hard to find and I've been looking and will keep looking.

And I wonder…did I do it the wrong way? Did I do my kids a disservice? Was I selfish?
I don’t know.

יום חמישי, 11 בספטמבר 2014


יום רביעי, 5 בפברואר 2014

Erin (Ellie) Brokovich

Many of you know the obstacle I faced when trying to obtain US citizenship for my girls.  At the time, exactly four years ago, I excitedly dressed my infants, navigated the diaper bags, stroller, car seats and paperwork, got into a cab with my mom headed to the US embassy, and sure that an hour or so later my kids would get what I assumed was their natural born right, dual citizenship.  This was not to be that day in February 2010.
If you want the story in all its humiliating detail, feel free to google me and get the facts, the distortions, the pictures and the news reels. Most of the time over the course of these last years I haven’t thought about it. I have kids to raise, a job to do, a house to care for and a life to lead. However, during this time we have travelled to the United States four times and before each trip, when I pull out the passports and see one American and three Israeli, the pang of pain returns.  When I try and decide which line to stand in for customs and passport control in Chicago I think about it and when I think about telling all these officials what I think and realize I’m travelling with foreigners I shut my mouth. I remember that they are guests in the United States and as guests, especially from this region; they are not so warmly welcomed. The pang of pain returns.
I have been trying to figure out these last two days, since I found out that my children will be getting their US citizenship, what about it is so emotional for me.  I don’t consider myself to be a gung ho American. I don’t cry when I hear the national anthem, I don’t see the fourth of July as more than a day to barbeque, hang with friends and see fireworks.
However, it is part of my identity and it is very important for me from a practical standpoint that they are citizens.  The women I’ve talked to in the last four years who are in a similar situation to mine have all told me their reasons why it is important to them that their kids get citizenship, because to me, it is an interesting question and I'm always curious.  The answers have been interesting, thought provoking, and valid.  None of them match my reason.
It is simple.  Magiya li. My very Israeli mentality that I deserve it is the very reason I want them to be American. Yes I want them to be able to travel freely worldwide, and have the option of going to university as residents and not foreigners, and the ability to work without a special visa. But bottom line, what has bothered me is that I have been singled out and discriminated against which are, at their core, the essence of American values.
But still it doesn’t explain why I am so emotional about it.  I don’t know. I think part of it is that although he never said it in words, my immigrant father has instilled in me the idea that you can do, be and have anything.  Isn’t that the American dream?
Years in the real estate business, attending seminars have reinforced my drive and belief that if you wish it you can make it yours. 
My childhood hero, Scarlett O’Hara standing on that hill with her world burning down around her saying “I will never be hungry again”…These are my core beliefs.  I already tell my girls that they can do and be anything they want.  I truly believe it.
When I was approached to go public with my story I didn’t think about it too much.  I didn’t realize what was going to happen, that my phone would ring off the hook, that CNN, FOX, NBC, and more would do stories on me.  When it started to take on a life of its own I stopped it.  I then had a lawyer friend in NY offer to write a letter to the ACLU. When that was declined she drafted a letter to Hilary Clinton.  I had little faith that anything would happen imminenetly but I always believed the law would change before they were 18 when all the advantages I mentioned above would become more relevant. So it didn’t really matter…until we flew to America and again I had that pang. 
 I found out the law changed and I got an email from a government official saying this:
I did see that the law has changed and I thought of you immediately!! I am so happy and I want to thank you for pushing the issue to the powers that be in DC.  I believe that if it hadn’t been for you, the law would have been stuck behind the times for much much longer…..”
And then I became emotional.
Today, when the official said "Congratulations Shira and Maya on becoming US citizens", I cried. It was very emotional.
So I don’t know, maybe I’m more of a patriot than I thought. At the end of the day the reason doesn’t matter. I am so happy and moved and thrilled that their rights have been upheld and their freedom maintained. So Gd bless America.

יום חמישי, 16 בינואר 2014

singlehood to motherhood: The Ariks

singlehood to motherhood: The Ariks: Two giants of Israeli life died recently. Arik Einstein and Arik Sharon. Both of their deaths hit me hard. Arik Einstein’s death was qui...