Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Teruma and Corona

Corona. It is a nasty word. Covid-19 another word we do not want to mention often. This virus has held us captive…in our conversations, in our homes, from the workplace, and from normal social behavior. 
               My family is not immune to the nature of the beast. We had all of our family home for Shabbat, and my IDF soldier was told to report to the base. An hour later, he was told not to report to the base. This directive was then followed by an urgent message that he was reporting to the base for a month…which means his Passover Seder will now be on an IDF base. He was upset for a moment but eager to serve his country in this time of need. He took an oath to serve the State of Israel, even if it puts his needs last.
               I myself am currently teaching English in two different schools. We had received a directive that all schools are closed until after the Passover holiday.  Keeping schools open was a risk to our health, our students’ health, and the health of the many other workers in the schools. A preventative measure, and a good one at that.
               On this past Shabbat, we were limited to praying at our local synagogue in groups of 100 people. We signed up for different locations in order to pray for the Shabbat services.  And then, we received the directive of only 10 people…This was shocking, but not surprising. Limiting the amount of social interaction appears to be the only way to keep the Corona virus at bay.  It is not happenstance that the choice of people allowed is 10…the amount of men needed for a quorum of men to create a proper prayer group.  If there is a quorum of 10 people, men can lead a proper prayer service complete with Kaddish (the Mourner’s Prayer), repetition of the Shmona Esreh (the Amida Prayer), and the daily recitation of the Priestly Blessing by a Cohen (mandated in Israel).
               But, where would these minyanim be? They could not appear in people’s homes…too risky. The synagogues are closed. Where would these people make make-shift prayer groups. And, then…I was walking my dog near my favorite park. Park Odeliah, a park created in memory of a young mother who tragically lost her life in a car accident several years ago.  Odeliah Tourgeman was a teacher, a young mother, a daughter, and a friend to many. Her special park is a beacon of light in her memory. I often stop in this park, with my dog on our morning walk. We sit in a swing, and I find the quiet space a place for personal prayer.
I was about to stop at our usual spot, and( that is where I saw a small group of men praying, with a Sefer Torah held on a small table in front of a park slide…and I stopped in my tracks. I heard the words of the Torah being read. For, it was Monday, and the Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays during the week.  My dog and I listened…bewildered by the sight.  We stood and listened to the Parsha Vayakel and Pekudei, and contemplated its significance.
               And we listened to the words being read “Take for yourselves a portion for God, everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it…”(Exodus 35, 5). It is a directive for the Jewish people to take upon themselves the privilege of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of prayer used in the desert. Everyone was to contribute to this holy, and magnificent place. But the word “portion” in Hebrew is “Terumah”. Today, modern Hebrew uses this word synonymously with a “charitable contribution”. How apropos to this time.
               On my Facebook feed, LinkedIn, Twitter, and WhatsApp there are a continuous stream of ways to help people in need. Some are taking to singing in their courtyards with neighbors. Others are shopping for food items for elderly neighbors. People are creating care packages for soldiers who are with limited laundry options for 30 days. Zumba instructors are giving free online classes. Teachers are creating online platforms to teach their students through various online websites.  And, others are spending family time, enjoying games and nature with their families. We are all GIVING to others in ways we previously rushed past. We are stopping, taking hold of our own needs and putting others before our own. 
               Yes, Corona is a pandemic, it is evil, and it lurks in its wake and hits many with a vengeance. Yet, it has given us all a wake-up call to be GIVERS. It has taught us how to STOP, take stalk in what is truly IMPORTANT.  And, to realize that perhaps we did not appreciate the opportunities to truly connect, give and contribute to a better future.  As it says in Psalms, “Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your house, continually they will praise You...Praiseworthy is the man whose strength is in You, those whose hearts focus on upward paths” (Psalms 84, 5-6).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Good Test

Sometimes we feel as if we are being tested. Often, it is a challenge to our current reality that makes us uncomfortable, or uneasy. At times, we may be "tested" by something that is a recurrent theme in our lives. Perhaps it is a situation with a loved one, or another instance with a team member at work, or even the local green grocer in one's neighborhood. The test often is similar, but the end result is usually the same: Will I make the same mistake I always do? Or, will I challenge myself to rise above the challenge and conquer the demon that awaits me.

My youngest daughter is suffering in school with a reading disability that the school has convinced itself is ADD. I had been summoned by the school administration to a forum meeting between the psychologist, the social worker, the teachers, and the principal on the last day of the school year regarding her needs.  Yes, the LAST day of the school year.  Already that, in itself, is so wrong on so many levels, but I digress.

At this meeting, it was clear that the staff was convinced my child was ADD and needed ritalin...and pronto.  So, I stopped their yammering about her, and I said "Look, I see where you are all coming from. I disagree that she is ADD, but I will bring her to a neurologist to see what he thinks, are we done here?"  After they discussed amongst themselves, the principal chimed in "That sounds like a great idea, and while you are at it, get her a T.O.V.A. test!"  I said "O.K." and left.  I had no idea what that test was, but I figured that we would go to the neurologist first. I did know that it was a play on words because the word "Tova" in Hebrew means "Good."

So, off we went to the neurologist. A lovely British fellow, who was not convinced that my daughter had ADD at all. He thought the T.O.V.A. (Test of Variables of Attention) test may be a good idea, but he was sure that the results would be the same as he had noted. This child's needs are not for ADD, there is something else that is preventing her reading acquisition needs. 

I made an appointment for the test, and two days ago, I received a phone call from the psychologist administering the test.  

The conversation proceeded as follows:

Psychologist: Hi, Ariel, this is Shira. Your daughter has a T.O.V.A. test tomorrow with me at 11:30.
Me: Yes, thank you for the reminder, I will be there.
Psychologist: Please remember that she needs to bring her Ritalin for the test.
Me: But, I am coming to  you to see if she needs Ritalin!
Psychologist: Well, this test is administered in two parts. The first part is without the Ritalin, the second part is with the Ritaliin. So, we can see what happens when the child is titrating the drug.
Me: But, again, my daughter has never taken Ritalin. How will this really show anything?
Psychologist: Go to your doctor, and get one dose, just for the test.
Me:(unconvinced) OK, I will do so.
Psychologist: Great! See you tomorrow.

                I hung up the phone, and I felt terrible. I am an English teacher, and a licensed Social Worker, and I have never felt so dirty and deceptive in my life.  This was not my client I was dealing with....it was my daughter. And, I was being told to actively push a medication upon a child who had never taken it before.  It felt so wrong...but I was desperate. I needed to have her take the test. I had already twisted the arm of my office to allow me to take her to the test during office hours.  I felt like I was about to sell our souls to the devil. But, if this was the only way to help my dear daughter, I would bite the bullet.

                So, I went to my best friend, and asked her for one pill of Ritalin. I knew that her son takes the medication. And, I knew that one less pill would not affect his care. In truth, she told me that her son was changing his medication anyway, and the Ritalin was irrelevant.  There was a newer drug he needed, something that is longer lasting, with fewer side effects.

                I walked out of my friend's house, with the Ritalin in my pocket, and I felt like I had done a drug deal.  It felt so dirty, and wrong.  Taking a drug for my little girl's test....it felt like the classic Ethical Dilemma by Konigsberg that I had learnt in college many years ago. There is a classic story of a man who knows his child needs a medication that he cannot afford. He knows that the pharmacist has it, and that if he steals it from the pharmacist, he can save his child's life. But, if he does not steal it, his child will suffer a very painful death. The father must make a judgment call that will affect his son's life, and his own within minutes. The ethical dilemma is debated amongst college students of what shall this father do? Shall he save his son, and end up in jail for life? Or, shall he go home to watch his son die the most painful death of all. 

                Although my child is not dying, my child is suffering a "death" of sorts in school. She cannot read or write at grade level. And, she feels as if she is stuck in a quagmire of meaningless nonsense at school. Her speaking ability is way beyond her years. So, she makes sure that her opinions are heard loud and clear. She can debate my oldest children until they are blue with envy. But, she cannot properly read or write.

                And so, I decided to take the Ritalin, place it in my pocket, and hoped that her taking one single dose would not break her spirit for the day.  It was a tough call, but Konigsberg may have been proud of my volition to do so!

                My daughter entered the test with curiosity and alacrity.  As I sat outside, she played a computer game that monitered her attention and impulsivity issues on the screen. Then, the door opened and the psychologist told me that she has done well for the first half of the test and we need to give her the Ritalin, wait an hour, and return for the second half.  So, we gave her the pill, and went off for lunch.  I decided to treat her for pancakes at a local restaurant.  God knows, that little peanut deserved it!

                We returned to the testing site, and my daughter returned to the test. She completed the tasks set on the screen, and the psychologist invited me back into the room for a discussion of the results. It had appeared that my daughter did not have ADD, and that the Ritalin actually made her MORE impulsive on the test. 

                I began to secretly smile to myself. "Yes," I thought," Mother always knows best!"  My child did not have ADD.  The school wanted to prescribe the medication just to make her disappear into the walls, and to quiet her in the classroom.  Ritalin, they thought, is the magic elixir. Alas, it is not the elixir for this child.

                After the test, I talked to my child about what the drug felt like.  She replied "Mommy, I felt like I was floating on the side of the chair, like it was in mid-air."  "Oh, God,"  I thought, "I have given my daughter the equivalent of L.S.D. for her little brain!"  She was tripping as if she was a character in Alice In Wonderland! A nine year old, floating in an alternate reality just for her to pay attention in school. 

                "Well, honey" I said, "You will never have to feel that way again! You will never have to take that pill.  The test shows that you do not need it!"
                "Good!" my daughter replied, with her bright dimpled smile, and her cheery attitude.  "Now, can we just go home?" she begged.
                "Yes, honey, the GOOD TEST is now over!" I replied.  And, I flipped on the radio and listened to the following Gloria Gaynor song on the radio:

Oh no, not I, I will survive,
As long as I know how to live
I know I will survive
I've got all my life to live, I've got all my life to give,
And, I'll survive
I will survive
I will survive

Yes, sweet child. Your strength is greater than any Good Test can grasp.  You are a fighter. Keep fighting that good fight. Because, I will be there for you always.  You will always show me the strength of how to live and how to survive.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Shofar Calls

I have been waking up at the crack of dawn, or thereabouts. I am always an early riser. It suits my personality. I am eager to get up, and get and go conquer the commitments of the day. Even on vacation, I find myself rising before the rest of the family to peruse the schedule of the day, plan additional stops with my guide books, etc.

Now, I am waking up not only to do my own preparations for the day, but to care for our new dog, Panda. She is a Black Laborador and Husky mix.  She has one blue eye, and one brown eye, and she is the newest addition to our family. I have already begun to call her one of the children!  Although her "siblings" help her with walks, and feeding, if I am the one up earliest, then I am the one who will walk her.

On my early morning walks, I am often out before the sun rises.  No one is on the street. Well, not exactly.  I see the newspaper guy.  (Boy, does he drive fast!) I see some joggers. I see a couple of wlking buddies, too.  And, I also have bumped into a herd of wild boar. Yes, that was terrifying, but Panda and I survived.

Usually, I am just walking quietly with Panda, and trying for our walk to not be one of those sit-com lines from Seinfeld of "Who is walking whom?"  It is a time for silence and reflection.  I usually plan out my day of lessons, the rest of the day's errands, and just life. I mean, really, who has time to do that anymore? We are all so busy with work, social media, and family. Do we ever just take time to walk, breathe, and reflect? Not many of us do, unless the Mindfullness bug has caught you already!

But, lately, I have seen a lot of cars at 5:30 bounding down the street. They are all heading towards the Sefardic synagogues in our yishuv.  For, during the entire month of Elul (the Hebrew Calendar Month before Rosh Hashana), the Sefardic synagogue has a selichot service in which a special book of prayers of forgiveness is read aloud, and a shofar is blown.

As the sound of the shofar wafts through the early dawn air, both Panda and I jump a bit. It is a shocking sound...one of wailing, and despair.  Panda often looks at me in a quizzical manner, as if to say "What was that? Are we O.K?"  And, I look down at her and smile. I encourage her to keep moving.  For, isn't that what the shofar is all about? Stop. Reflect. Grow. Act. Live. Repent. Keep moving.

The shofar beckons us all to reflect upon the last year, and to think of the New Year's potential.  I know this will be a good year, one of progress, growth, and attained goals.  What will this year be for you? Let the shofar lead the way.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pain in the Epicenter of Entertainment

Orlando...we have all been there, or want to visit there with our children.  It is best known for Disney World, Universal Studios, and other attractions. Dare I mention Alligator Land?(As they say in Hebrew, Hamavin Mavin, those who understand, really understand).  And, now it will be forever remembered as the site of the September 11th.

"How" and "Why" are the obvious questions we are all asking. And, honestly, there are no good answers. Evil has shown its roaring head in the epicenter of all goodness.  It is like a roaring tornado in a sleepy hollow of a town, shaking the homes, and spitting out the contents.

It does not really matter where the tragedy happened.  Yes, it was a nightclub catering to the gay and lesbian community, so what?  It was a crime against innocent people, who were just out to have a good time.  And, a fundamentalist decided to take it upon himself to rid his world of what he judged as evil.

Welcome to the world of terror, America.  No, it does not make sense.  We in Israel have been living this reality on a daily basis.  The Dolphinarim Club massacre was Israel's first massive terrorist attack in a dance club almost 15 years ago.  Survivors are still nursing their mental and physical wounds. Innocent people's lives destroyed while just being out to listen to some good music, dance and have a good time.

We just experienced the attack at the Sarona market in Tel Aviv.  Sarona is one of the most unique outdoor shopping experiences in the country.  It is best known for its amazing restaurants and its green lawns.  Often, passersby can be seen dining on the grass with picnic baskets from a local restaurant that prides itself as giving a picnic lunch or dinner to share on the grass with friends.  Quaint, normal, and calm.  What could be more serene than a picnic lunch or dinner?

But, terrorism has roared its face in our midst.  Calm is not our reality.  The terrorists want to instill fear and control.  Ruining the serene is their modus opperendi. We, in Israel, are tough, and we can take it and fight back.  Will America be able to do so? Will your leaders take control and fight against the terrorists in your midst?  Are you ready for the  battle ahead?  This appears to be only the beginning of the taunting season.

My first visit to Disney World included a trip to the Snow White ride.  It was the scariest ride of my life, I screamed the whole way as the evil Queen kept popping up on the walls saying "I will get you my pretty."  I held onto my sister for dear life, terrified of the evil in our midst.  As we exited the ride, tears falling from my face, and visibly upset, my mother gave me a big hug and tried to calm me down.  I don't think I could ever watch Snow White again, but the experience hardened me...the ride made me realize that I had to deal with my fears and fight with the evil, tooth and nail, even if it included screams and tears along the way.

Dear Western World, I hope you can fight the Evil Queen of terror in our midst.  Yes, there will be tears, but it must be done.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jerusalem I Will Not Forget You

Last week, I received a phone call from an old friend.  She had planned to visit us in Israel, and now, with the violent upswing, she was wondering if she would be crazy for coming.  "Will I be able to do anything?"she asked. I answered that I cannot vouch for peaceful streets everywhere, at this time, but I can attest to the fact that violence does not stop us from living here.  We continue to move on, perhaps at a slightly anxious pace, but we go to work, to school, and to the market-- and we continue to thrive on the fact that today, we are OK.

So, after my conversation with my friend, she informed me that she will definitely be coming to Israel.  I made plans to pick her up at the airport at 6:00am, and bring her back to my home to relax while I went to work for a while.  I told her that when I would return, we would figure out what she could do for the rest of the day--depending upon the current news reports.

When I returned, I had a plan...we would go to the beach.  What terrorist would choose a beach that is near an IDF base? It seemed like a foolproof plan.  No terrorists, just fun near the sea and sand.

Ah, but my friend had different plans.  She said "I really just want to go to Jerusalem--to the Wailing Wall." The "Wailing Wall?" I thought.  There were four violent attacks in tandem the day before in Jerusalem...how could we go THERE?  But, I collected my thoughts and said "Let's check the news, and see if it is safe, if it appears safe, then we will go." Sure enough, reports were released that the police and IDF were heavily guarding the Western Wall, and Old City. It appeared to be safe.  No, we were not going to the beach, we were going to the Kotel (Western Wall).

Throughout the ride, I told myself that we were going to pray, and that somehow, prayer trumps all else.  We would pray, and "What could be wrong with that?" I kept asking myself as I made chit-chat with my friend along the way.  Sure, my anxiety levels were through the roof, and I was in shock that my friend did not grill me about the cement barricades on either side of 443 as we travelled in peace towards Jerusalem.  I figured the less she knew, the better.  Was I crazy?  Was I putting ourselves in harms way?  I tried for my thoughts to not go that way.

We made it to the Old City in record time.  No one was going there.  The parking lot was empty.  As we made our way towards the Jaffa gate, we noticed tons of policemen and IDF soldiers manning the area.  There were not many tourists, but an occasional smattering of young girls coming back from afternoon prayers at the Wailing Wall.  All smiling, and chatting, as if it was a normal day.

Then, as we walked down St. James street, my friend slowed down, and said "Oh...this is amazing, I cannot believe I am here...the stones...the history!" For, it was my friend's first time visiting Israel, and her first time ever walking down towards the Old City, and the Western Wall.  It was all so new for her...and so old and familiar to me.  I was hoping for some of her new "rookie" fervor to rub off on me.  I feel somewhat jaded, experienced, and bruised by war and violence.   But, then I became mindful of the moment, just as my friend was.  I just began to breathe in the fact that I was there...walking towards the holiest prayer site I know.  And, despite the hatred, violence and pain, I was not fearing for my life at that moment.  For, I felt a Higher Power present.

As we entered the Western Wall plaza, the eerie quiet was an invitation for us to pray.  I then opened myself to the fact that prayers for my family, and for the Nation of Israel were why I had decided to go to the Western Wall.  And as I looked up at the amazing wall, with my awe-struck friend in tow, I knew that this is the place I had to be.

We prayed for a long time. Silently, we said our own individual prayers, and heard others praying nearby...religious, non-religious, families, and individuals; some praying in Hebrew, others in other languages. Yet, we were all doing the same exact thing-- praying.  Crying. Hoping for a miracle to stop the violence.  My anxiety dissipated.  G-d was there, there was no reason to be in fear of the unknown.  As I touched the wall, I was entirely conscious of the fact that הכותל בידינו (the Wall is in our hands).  No violence, war, terror or other misfortunes will ever let us think otherwise, הכותל בידינו לעולם! (The Wailing Wall is in our hands forever!).

Now I am back home...reflecting.....wondering was I crazy for going there? No, I did the right thing. I needed to remind myself of what is so important, and what it is we are fighting for. Jerusalem I will not forget you.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Half Time

    Yesterday we observed the Tisha BÁv fast in memory of the destruction of the ancient Holy Temple.  It is a very somber day, one of self-reflection, of abstinence, and of repent. As I prayed, and fasted, I began to reflect upon the timing of the fast.
     This year, the fast was pushed off a day, because the 9th day of Av actually was on Shabbat, the Sabbath day.  According to Jewish law, this fast was therefore pushed off a day, so we could properly observe the Sabbath, and the fast in their own merit, and at their own proper times.
      The timing of this mourning period during the Gregorian calendar this year is quite unique.  It is exactly a month since the last days of the school year.  Exactly a month ago we began summer vacation. (Yes, I can hardly believe it myself!)
      As my mind began to wander through my list of summer to-do's-that-were-not-done in July, I stopped myself and said "What have I done, and what can I still do this month?" And, once I spun it in this light, it all made sense.  I have spent time with family visiting from abroad.  I have stopped to do fun arts and crafts projects with the kids.  I have baked cookies, cakes and other concoctions with the kids.  I have just taken a few minutes of each day for myself to stop, think, and reflect about my day.
      So, as we began this new part of summer, I decided to take a nature walk in our neighborhood with my youngest daughter.  She in her jammies, me in my sneakers and workout clothing.  I skipped running to the gym, and just enjoyed spending a few precious minutes of walking and enjoying my daughter's company. Soon, we began to listen to the various sounds around us.  We found birds chirping in a palm tree, cicadas singing in a tree trunk, we heard crickets singing a song, children laughing, neighbors eating dinner, and everyone enjoying a peaceful summer eve.
     It was a perfect way to enjoy the new month ahead.  A perfect way to stop, reflect, and look forward to another month of family, good times, and summer bliss.  And, I only realized this as I held onto my daughter's hand, and watched her delight at the simple pleasures of summer.This was a Half-Time show that rocked my world more than any concert could do.  I am looking forward to the second half of the season!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fall Pain

I woke up this morning to hearing my kids getting ready for school, arguing about what cartoon they would be watching if they get ready for school on time, and the usual kitchen banter.  I randomly checked my facebook feed. Bad idea.  My friend posted the most recent tragedy...a Har Nof synagogue had been attacked by terrorists.  She was shaken by the tragedy.  It was minutes from her own parents' home.  Although her parents were not there, it means that the tragedy came awfully close to loved ones.
Entering a house of worship brings the terror to a different level.  These victims were praying; they were not protesting, rioting, or raising politically charged ideas.  They were merely praying to G-d.  Where is the logic in attacking them?  How does this help the terrorists' cause?  Is it a message that "even when you pray you are not safe?"  How have we come to this?
Are we all supposed to fear going to houses of worship now?  I hope that the terrorists realize that it is an unlikely scenario.  Most religious men and women pray three times a day.  And, most attend synagogues, shtiblach, or makeshift quorums for those prayer times.  Terror cannot end prayer.  If anything, it will only increase the need for prayer.
The Fall rainy season has just begun here.  Fall in the US or Europe is a time of leaves changing colors, and trees baring their empty branches. Here, in Israel, the Fall is a time of rain, and new growth.  The fields, mountains, and hills are full of greenery, new flowers, and fauna.  It is actually a time for change and rebirth.
Perhaps, during this painful Fall season, we can reflect upon our surroundings and realize that we need to make a change.  We need to stop the violence. We need to be reborn.  This country cannot remain a hot-bed of terror and violence. We owe it to our children, and to future generations, to end the pain.  It is time to begin to heal.  Now, it is up to us to figure out how to make this dream a reality.