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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Full Circle

In a beautiful symmetry, on the evening before her Hebrew birthday,  I took Raphaela tonight for her ballet lesson at the same youth center that once served as a school for recent immigrants to Israel, the place where I took my Hebrew lessons 17 years ago.

Now We are Five

Before Yom Kippur, my allergies stood at a low almost negligible status, but then the 25 hour fast changed all that.  I woke up the morning afterwards feeling beyond lousy, and with barely a voice, a problem given that I had three straight days of work before all shuts down again for the next great holiday of Succot.

Raphaela has on the one hand been totally sympathetic, asking me how I am feeling and informing any stranger on the street or in the store that her "Mommy has a sore throat and terrible allergies."

On the other hand, she takes it personally if I do not give her lengthy answers to her questions, or if I find it difficult to read her bed time stories because it hurts my throat.  She has taken my temporary silence mode personally, proving her five year old logic that Mommies don't get to be sick, ever.

When I do cough, Raphaela uses a phrase that she 'invented'' specifically for the occasion:  "Cough Ghezunt, Mommy."