Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aversion Therapy

If you ask Raphaela when she will get her first haircut, she replies, "When I turn 26 years old!"

In an attempt to change that decision, my hair dresser and I have come up with a plan to slowly expose her to the salon, explaining each time that hair is magical; it grows but it doesn't feel pain if you trim it with scissors.

Every time we visit for only a few minutes, and remind Raphaela that if she wants to have really long princess hair, she should actually get a trim, that her hair will grow faster afterwards.

Thus far, she remains unconvinced.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Landing the Helicopter

There has been much talk and debate regarding Helicopter or "Tiger" parents, and I for one have always been grateful that Israeli society seems to foster more independence in children than in the United States.

In the past 24 hours I have come to understand that I still have room for improvement.

Yesterday Raphaela tried out an after-school activity at the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History, where she had previously experienced one of the her most memorable summer camps.  The 90 minute animal workshop was led by the same woman who managed the summer camp, a kindergarten teacher with miles of experience and a teaching philosophy that I have always admired.

The teacher suggested that if the parents were to remain in the room, we could participate gladly but not minimize the effect for the children.  Personally I would have been happy to meet with a friend for a cup of coffee and return for pick-up, but Raphaela wanted me to stay and meet her favorite bunny.  Throughout the play time, I found myself trying to "help" the instructor and Raphaela by re-explaining or modifying the teacher's instructions.  At a certain point, Maya Papaya Pickle [that's her name at work...] pulled me aside and explained that in her many years of dealing with children and their parents, she knows that all I have done comes from a positive place, with the intention of making my daughter's life "easier."  Maya Papaya then continued, encouraging me to consider how much more it would help Raphaela if I stepped aside and allowed her to work things out for herself, gain the confidence of knowing that she figured it out and conquered her own territory.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner drinking tea, joining in only when Maya Papaya and Raphaela gave me their permission.

This morning I took Raphaela to speech therapy, where we have finished proper Hebrew pronunciation and have moved onto building the bridge of vocabulary between her fluent English and her fluent Hebrew, both of which get just a bit lost when Raphaela is trying to form complex sentences. I tried to observe quietly, and again, found myself several times trying to give Raphaela hints as to how to find a solution or a word faster, or at least quicker than her own mind was capable of at the time.  Yvonne, her most excellent speech therapist and kind person, gently advised me to generate the patience and give Raphaela the time she truly needed, because if she solved a linguistic issue herself, she would own it and be that much more proud of herself.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner playing on my iPhone and only interacted in the game and evaluation when invited to do so.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I went to the Chiropractic clinic and began my work for the day, and that's when whatsapp starting pinging.  First a message from Raphaela's kindergarten teacher, announcing that on Friday the CHILDREN would be celebrating the start of a series of teachings about the Torah.  Deborah asked that the parents send their kids to school that day in fine clothing and with celebratory Torah items, like a flag.  Deborah, the head teacher also requested that four of the parents IE fathers volunteer to read the opening chapter of Genesis, in various ethnic tunes and styles, as part of the celebration. 

PING!  Mother 1:  Well, I am coming to the celebration and I will be making a cake for the party.
PING!  Mother 2:  Me too, I will also be bring a cake.
PING! Mother 3:  I will be bringing a cake that is gluten free, for the children who may have allergic sensitivities.
(Here I am, thinking that the teacher did not want to turn this into a major parent-child event, that I really really want my Fridays free so I can relax from the whole week, and what the hell do parents gain by kissing up to the staff at the kindergarten?!  Didn't the teacher promise that parents would have only three parties the whole year? I  am willing to embrace the lasseiz faire approach...)
PING!  Deborah:  I think we have enough cakes.   Can someone bring some drinks?
PING! PING! PING! PING! (Twenty times over)  Parents 4-20:  I will bring drinks.
PING! Father 1:  I will be able to read the Torah in the Ashkenazi style.
PING!  Father 2:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi style.
PING!  Father 3:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi Israeli style.
PING!  Father 4:  I feel so bad, I am working on Friday and I can't help you by reading the Torah in any style.  But I just wanted to say how bad I feel about not being able to come.
PING!  Deborah:  Wow, you parents are amazing, really. Can any of the fathers read the Torah in Teimani style?  And do any of the other mothers or fathers want to open the party with a blessing for all the children of the class?
PING!  Mother21:  Wait, don't we need throw away plates and cups for the party as well?
PING!  Deborah:  Sure, why not.
PING!  Mother 22:  Hey, I wanted to bring cutlery and plates and cups and napkins!
PING! Deborah:  Please, by all means.  Now we are missing other snack foods like potato chips and such, who will volunteer for that?
PING! Mother 23:  I am going to bring the biggest bag of potato chips you have ever seen.
PING!  Mother 24:  Me too, my bag of chips will be just as big.
(Rearranging my work schedule for Friday and wondering if I am going to have to wear full synagogue regalia for this supposed minor religious gathering.)
PING!  Deborah:  Parents, by the way, you should remember that is just the first session of a full year of parent-child activities every Friday.  I think it is so important that you mothers and fathers fully encourage your children as they get closer and closer to First Grade and to their awareness as proud Jewish children.
(Every Friday?  And you know that there will be repercussions  on some level for parents who can't attend on a regular basis, because of work or Shabbat preparations, or G-d Forbid some grown up time at the end of the week.  I mean, I love my daughter and would do anything for her, but have a little mercy on a single mother...)
PING! Mother 25:  Hey, are you sure we don't need another cake?

Distracted and exasperated, I shut off my phone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In a spontaneous act of initiative and accomplishment, Raphaela showed me (and strangers on the street, all day) that she now can zip her jackets and sweatshirts all by herself, beginning to end.

Next skill set:  tying a bow on non-Velcro shoes, and telling time on a non-digital clock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Girl Power

Raphaela's stance on feminism is apparently based upon an event-by-event analysis, rather than a unified philosophy.  After previously asserting that Jewish ritual is man's work, an example reinforced in her classroom, she had a problem with the celebration of Simchat Torah in our local synagogue.

Before the last day of the holiday of Succot, I had spoken to friends of ours who attend our synagogue and have a boy in Raphaela's class.  I asked that my daughter be allowed to join their family in the men's section during the dancing, because at the end of the day, the men seem to have most of the fun.  When I encouraged Raphaela to find her friend, she refused, stating that if I couldn't go into the men's section, than neither would she.  Despite my explaining that I was fine with the arrangement, an indignant Raphaela would not budge.

Not wanting to deprive my daughter of the Simchat Torah experience, I and another Israeli woman convinced the men to give one of the scrolls - full size and quite heavy - to the women's section upstairs.  It was with pride that I was the first to stand in the middle of the circle, my daughter beside me, dancing with a Torah scroll.  It brought me back to my most fond memories of this particular holiday, spent in the beautiful Jewish community on the Columbia/Barnard campus.

 The tsk-tsk and sideways looks of the much older Orthodox women did not stop me or our small group of dancers today.  One woman came up to me and said, "You know, there is a reform synagogue in Jerusalem."  Another woman came over, or rather snuck over afterwards, kissed the Torah scroll I was holding and quietly thanked me for my initiative.

Once Raphaela was in the groove, she eagerly went downstairs into the men's section during the special blessing of the children, squished between almost 100 local kids of the synagogue, with the promise afterwards of a Simchat Torah goodie bag,  loaded with toys and diabetes inducing treats.

If a child is meant to feel a sense of joy and community within the synagogue, this was a great place to start, with candy.  Lots of candy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


This week, we have already gone to the Biblical Zoo and flown a kite at the International Kite Festival at the Israel Museum.

Today I took a walk down memory lane, in more ways than one.  Every year during the interim period of Succot IE the 11 day vacation that Raphaela has from school, Jerusalem hosts an international 15K march and parade, featuring groups from all over Israel and Righteous pro-Israel Christians from all over the world, including China, Germany and United States.

The walkathon terminates in Gan Saccher, right near our house, and features a free Carnival, with rides and clowns and bouncy castles and games; as well as the tastes of adventure and fun that brought me back to my childhood, mainly cotton candy and candied apples.  I forced my daughter to inhale the joy that is cotton candy, so that she too may become hyper on sugar and fond memories.

There were also two staging areas with a ten hour flow of entertainment of groups from Israel, including dancers and martial arts and singing.  Many of the dancing groups excited Raphaela, my Prima Ballerina.  However, I can say with certainty that I now have a new favorite Boy Band, KINDERLACH*, a religious choir group made of six boys with great voices and all the moves of Justin Timberlake.  They reek of charisma and sang a full range, moving between hip hop and Israeli rock, rap and classic religious Jewish ritual music.  They captured my heart and I am even going to buy their newest album, the audience (religious and secular) demanded several encores. 

There are people out there who know me well and they are laughing their asses off: I grew up resenting the limitations and misogyny of my Ultra-Orthodox community in New York.  The presentation and tone of this group represents in a certain way everything that I rejected about my upbringing.  And yet, hearing and watching them perform today, it made me warm inside, grinning from ear to ear.

Ironically, the Jerusalem March is based upon the Biblical concept of "Aliyah LaRegel," the trek that ancient Jews made during this set of holidays in the time of the Temple.  Today it translates to Israelis from all parts of Israel walking through their capital, camping out in a park together and embracing all that makes us one nation, accepting of others despite our differences.  Much like the four species that we combine for a blessing on Succot.

Plus the free activities for children who are going stir crazy without the structure of the regular school day.

Now THAT deserves a celebration.

* KINDERLACH, translates into "children" in Yiddish.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creating Awareness and Opening Worlds

I grew up within a New York Ultra-Orthodox community, though our house adhered to a slightly less stringent more "Modern Orthodox" lifestyle.  In practical terms, it meant that while we were fully committed to the principles of Judaism and the Torah, we also functioned in and enjoyed the real secular world.  My father and mother worked, television and movies were a given,  my mother did not cover her hair except to go to synagogue or perhaps a religious event, we took family vacations which included playing tennis (in shorts) and mixed swimming, and a college education would never be sacrificed for any reason.

As I grew up, in an attempt to define themselves more clearly, American Jewry moved to the right and I remained in the same place, I felt comfortable in myself, essentially proclaiming myself de facto as less religious, more in the realm of "Conservadox" (or Masorti in Israel), more open minded and tolerant than some in my family.

But I decry boxes of any kind, and try not to apply labels under any circumstance.  Every religion on the planet seems to be veering towards the extremes, and I find that both sad and terrifying.

In deciding upon the education of Raphaela, I wanted her to be exposed to the traditions, ritual and values in which I was raised, and so I have chosen to send her to the Nationalist Zionist Religious stream of kindergartens and schools.  She can always create a course for herself when she matures and does not live in my house.  At the same time, I take great pains to point out the importance of acceptance without judgment, teaching her that there is always more than one opinion and more than one way to interpret the word of law.  God is a being of love and mercy, he/she is not waiting with a box of fresh lightning bolts to punish us at every mere thought or mis-step.

This mis-match between our home and her school came to a head this weekend, when Raphaela was helping me set the table for Shabbat.  She put out three chairs, one for me, one for her and one for "the father," whose stand in was her favorite spotted leopard doll.  When it was time to cook, and make the blessing on the candles, it was clear that this is a woman's job, and when it came time to make the blessing on the wine and the bread, the fire works started.  My daughter, the child of a single mother and feminist, insisted that it was preferable for the imaginary father/leopard to take charge, because it was "the man's job."

I explained that in many families, Orthodox or otherwise, a wider and more fulfilling role has been found for the woman, and that God would not mind at all if Mommy made the blessings, considering that we have a special arrangement IE in that at the moment, there is not father actively living with us.  Raphaela did not buy it, unfortunately, and it will be my responsibility to open her eyes; treading that very fine and dangerous line without saying outright that her teachers are not infallible. 

My girl child must know that the only real limits on her life and her personal growth are the ones she places on herself.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Almost three years ago, Raphaela and I traveled to the United States and bounced around various peoples' houses, where my daughter and I at the very least shared a bedroom, if not a bed.  When we got home to Jerusalem, Raphaela decided that she quite enjoyed the arrangement and since then has ended up in my bed at some point during the night, every night.

I have tried various methods of bribery to change this situation, to no avail; but perhaps this year the holiday of Succot will be my savior!

With encouragement from her teacher in kindergarten, Raphaela had expressed an interest in sleeping outside in the Succah.   Because we don't have our own booth this year, I set up instead a sleeping bag on the floor of my room, which Raphaela garnished with her favorite dolls and books and various pillows.  Since last Wednesday, she has also slept on the floor in my clinic office and the living room, and I am slowly edging her out of my bedroom altogether.

To my delight, the game of playing camping on Succot lasts all night and into the next morning, and I get my leg room, pillows and blankets all to myself.   I am hoping to suggest that the floor of her bedroom (or even her bed) works just as well, once the Jewish holiday vacation ends next week.