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...

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 quite sudden whereas Sharon has been in a coma for the last eight years so it was hardly unexpected.  The actual loss though, is making me very sad and teary.
An era is over.
While the miracle of the State of Israel is well known; the almost overnight growth, wealth, international reputation in the hi -tech and innovation markets, its personality, too, has changed.  This is a fairly normal occurrence. Don’t they say that famous people “overnight” become different? So it follows that the personality of this tiny, unique and miraculous country has changed as well. 
Not necessarily for the good, in my humble opinion, although I will not delve into that discussion.
It isn’t lost on me that the Ariks were 75 and 85 years old upon their demise, the same generation as my parents.  Sharon was five years older than my dad.  Lately, I am somewhat obsessed with my parents’ immortality.  No, it’s not a typo. I am fully aware that my inability to acknowledge this eventuality is problematic.  Today I was with someone who is only a few years older than I.  She mentioned that her mother died seven years ago and her dad this year.  I was amazed that she was still coping and functioning.  I think the time has come to figure out how to separate.  These people are still my rocks and I simply cannot imagine life without them in it.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I do think that the absence of a life partner makes the connection of parent and child seem stronger.  There is no other person to help balance out the equation. But more than that, is my hope that my parents will be around to enjoy my girls and that my girls will have the wonderful magical addition of grandparents in their lives.
Grandparents: Those wonderful people who spoil you and cuddle you and sneak you treats even after your mom TELLS them not to.  Grandparents: those warm cuddly older people who take you to breakfast and let you eat the sugar from the bags and scoop jelly out of the little container.  This is what I remember about my grandparents. No matter how much my mom and my grandma would fight, my grandma would turn to jelly and smiley for me.

Don’t my kids deserve this? Need this? Even without knowing it, crave it? So I tell my mother in the midst of some rant about how she isn’t feeling well ten more years.  I don’t tell it to my dad but in my heart and mind every day I pray for at least ten more years. At least then the girls will have had their childhood with them and will remember them.  But in my heart of hearts I know that it is completely selfish.  Maybe in ten more years I can finally accept the reality that my life WILL go on without them no matter how difficult and sad that thought is.  Shira, it’s the circle of life.