Its my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

I’ve started to write a few blogs recently, but feel like its weird to just dive back in after my hiatus without saying hello and giving some closure. So, I figured what better day than my 32nd birthday to do just that!

I had a very difficult pregnancy, then a very intense labor and delivery, and then got to snuggle an adorable baby boy at the end of February. He is quite possibly the cutest giant tiny human on earth (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). At this point, I am planning on not posting his photo or many stories about him on the blog, though I do occasionally post it in semi-public places online, the blog is more public than I’m willing to make his life right now.

In June we left Israel as planned, just days before the kidnapping and the subsequent turmoil and war. It broke my heart to be in CA and not in Israel, but alas – it was what it was.

We mostly spent our summer in CA with my dad, learning Gemara, visiting people and places in San Diego, and getting ourselves reacclimated to life in America. After two years in Israel, it definitely took time to get used to customer service, not bagging our own groceries, and having to check for food being kosher.

Also this summer we had the unveiling of my mom’s tombstone and the whole family was together for that, which is always nice – though I hate it has to be for such sad reasons. We tried to balance the sadness of that by the joy of spending the time with the youngest member of the family and remembering the cycle of life.

We did take some time to sign our lease in NY and then visit our friends and family in Denver, reconnecting with a place that meant so much to us for so long. And we took some amazing family photos and new headshots (as seen above) with our beloved wedding photographer/friend.

Our first Shabbat in our new community was my mom’s first Yarthzeit and yesterday was my first real Yizkor, so I’m now in a new phase post-aveilut. I’m trying to embrace all the things which reminded me of her and were too hard to deal with last year as ways of honoring her memory in the coming years. (This includes recognizing and celebrating birthdays, hence my acknowledging that in this post.)

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What now, you ask?

Well, we are finally living the dream.

D (who is now going by his Hebrew name, so shall hence forth be N as in Nachum) is now a first year student at Yeshivat Chovevi Torah (YCT).

I am also a first year student – at Yeshivat Mahara’t! (Surprise! Only not, right?)

When Jessica and I started this blog, N going to rabbinical school was the goal but it seemed far off, and then as life happened it kept getting pushed back – so its crazy to think that its finally happening. And that I’m doing it too.

Not surprisingly, having a high-needs baby and being in my first year at Yeshivat Mahara’t already keep my plate quite full. Yet, I find writing cathartic and good for processing my thoughts – so I’m hoping to post semi-frequently both here and on the JOFA blog, “The Torch,” but I make no promises on frequency or remembering to cross post the ones from JOFA.

I hope you all had a wonderful year, and a rejuvenating Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. 🙂

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Getting to, and through, shloshim

You may have noticed the serious lack of posts from me over the past few months, and well, there is in fact a reason: I’ve been getting to and thus inevitably through shloshim. What follows is a bit of a recount of the past few months, more for myself than anyone else, but on the off chance anyone else can get solace from it now or in the future, I’m going to post it.

Post by Melissa – In memory of her beloved mommie, Joanne (Yocheved bat Yisrael v’Esther)

May was just a busy month, and then I got excited about the Israeli Presidential Conference and anticipated multiple posts afterwards. Unfortunately, right at that time (early June), I got the initial news that my mother, my best friend, and one of the most healthy and stoic women I know had become suddenly ill enough that she’d made multiple trips to the doctor, urgent care, and ER. That threw me for quite a loop. Then I started my summer learning and attempting to balance that, working, and dealing with the various life in Israel tasks at hand, and wishing I was in CA with my parents I didn’t have much time left for blogging – and amidst all that I got two more pieces of news (1) I was pregnant (still am, Thank God) and (2) my mom had a rare cancer. As time progressed they decided it wasn’t what they thought it was, it was maybe one of two other cancers, and then in early August (the same day as my 8 week ultrasound) my beloved mommie found out that she in fact had Stage 4 Metastatic Sarcomatoid Carcinoma, as identified by the National Cancer Institute. She was told there was no good treatment options as anything would cause more pain (this was also verified by a second opinion), that she would not recover from her paralysis (waist down), and that she should enjoy the next 6-12 months with her family while receiving hospice care to reduce the pain.

I spoke to her on the phone that day (Wednesday in America) and she was optimistic about enjoying this time and she and my dad told me about the various things in the works in order to make her life as good as possible for these last months. I called home a few times over the next few days and heard as her voice began to give out as the disease spread to her throat. I called home on Monday night, and she could only eek out a few phrases, but I did get a clear “I love you” and I’m so grateful for that, as it was one of (if not the) last thing/s she said.

Amidst all of this, we had booked a ticket for me to go out (my brother who was in TX at the time had been out already) in mid-August, however after the diagnosis, she began to deteriorate very quickly so we moved it up. A week after being told she was terminal and two days after I spoke with her for the last time, D and I arrived in CA to find her semi-comatose, not speaking, eyes closed, and finally accepting pain medication. I spent the last few days of her life by her bedside giving her her meds, holding her hand, and talking to her – alongside family and friends.

At Shabbat dinner, we said Kiddush and sang Shir Ha’maalot by her bedside as well, knowing those were things she always liked to participate in. I think in time, it will bring me some comfort that those were among the last sounds she heard, as she died roughly four hours later.

Birthday! (10/198?)

Birthday! (10/198?)

Two days later I stood amongst a large group of family and friends as we reminisced about her amazing life and shoveled dirt into her grave. For the week of shiva, my father, brother, and I were hardly ever alone. There was a constant stream of people visiting the house. However, I often found myself needing to get away from the crowd and hiding out in “my room” (not the room I ever actually lived in, but the room which possessed a few of my belongings over the years and where I stayed when I visited, though it now posses all of our books while we live in Israel). I leaned heavily upon a few friends who welcomed me into the dead parents society via email and in person to help me attempt to deal with this new reality I had no desire to engage in.

On Sunday morning when we walked around the block, my dad and I huddled together and cried. After everyone left, we looked at each other in awe — what did we do now? We tried to move on. Our worlds had been completely flipped upside down and we didnt really know what to do with ourselves. He did the mundane post-death tasks, and I stayed home and and tried to help do some stuff around the house. I couldn’t read, learn, or communicate with most people. I couldn’t clear my head or wrap my head around my new reality. Sitting at the house and watching TV, I waited for her commentary. My dad would do silly things and I expected her reactions. I kept waiting for her to walk in the door from work. By none of that happened. The hole in my heart remained wide open.

After a week, D and I came back to Israel and I had a new task: how to reintegrate into society and community when I was a fundamentally different person. Classes started right away, I had to put on a happy face, engage the new students, and reintegrate into my daily learning. I was completely overwhelmed by being in a communal space and forcing myself to “fake it til I make it.” Every time I walked out of my apartment, I knew I would have to face other people, and had a small panic attack.

The it was the chagim, and Rosh Hashana interrupted my shloshim a few days early. I couldn’t handle being in public still and only prayed in the minyan in the evenings, and we had small meals with friends. The liturgy was also particularly challenging, all the “who shall live and who shall die” stuff is pretty harsh when death is in the forefront of your mind.

Throughout those thirty days my dad and I spoke very often, both trying to figure out what life without “our person” looked like. For both of us, my mom was our best friend, our confidant, our go-to for life’s good and bad, she was our rock – having the person who is all of those things ripped from your life leaves you gasping for breath and unsure of your footing. But we both made it through, and are trying to take deep breaths and put one foot in front of each other, cherishing the days that are good and riding out the days that are bad.

Bat Mitzvah Weekend (07/1995)

I’m now another month later and I still don’t know how I actually make it through each day. I hope every night I will sleep and wake up at a normal hour, but often I wake up and cry in the middle of the night. I hope every day I will make it through the day without breaking down, but I often find myself very emotional. I say Kaddish at mincha daily, and sometimes I am able to say it all, and other days I lose my words and add to the tear stains on the pages of my siddur.

I tried to ignore my birthday recently because she always told me it was one of her favorite days of the year. I’m trying to ignore friends’ discussions of Halloween because it was her favorite holiday. I am unable to find words to write, despite people constantly encouraging me to do just that. I find myself drifting between activities, classes, and meetings trying to ignore the thoughts in my head. I periodically over schedule myself just so I don’t have to think, but then I can’t function the next day because thats simply not how I work. And every time I cry, I hear her words in my head “don’t cry baby, its just going to give you a headache and its not going to make anything better” – and she is so right.

MSW Graduation (12/2006)

MSW Graduation (12/2006)

One of my rabbis said to me recently that I am a human experiment, by experiencing both mourning and pregnancy simultaneously. My belated reaction is that I did not sign the consent form for this experiment and I want out. (Too bad it’s not an IRB approved study where that’s an option, huh?)

My mommie was my number one fan. I know she was so proud of all of my accomplishments thus far and only believed in the best for my future, so I’m going to do my best to be the woman she saw in me and to carry on some of her warmth, kindness, compassion, and generosity into my life. I know that her spirit lives in me and her smile shines out through mine.

Wedding Day (06/2009)

That said, this blog remains an important part of my life, but I will likely remain fairly silent on the blog for the rest of this year. I imagine there will be experiences which I will want to write about, but my primary focus needs to be on my personal journey through aveilut and pregnancy. (Which end in Elul/September and Adar II/March respectively.)

I appreciate all of the support and understanding which I know you will offer.

(I also apologize for any grammatical errors or typos, I’ve written this post in countless spurts and I just can’t proofread it.)

Around Our House

In honor of our new look, just some fun little tidbits from around our house:

After R talked about textual difficulties between versions of the Yerushalmi:

Jessica: There we go! We don’t argue, we have girsa issues!

At the beginning of the school year:

R: You know you’re going to the right school when you get cool points for having borrowed your wife’s Mishna Berura for class

At Shabbat dinner with R’s chevruta:

Me: I end up getting 30 minutes of backstory to explain the puns.
Chevruta: I feel your pain, I’m there when he makes the puns.

In my Medieval Jewry class:

Professor: I thought about bringing my [medieval] Kabbalistic sex manual, but decided that would be too much.
Student: Oh man, that sounds like fun!

A friend, after a management class:

Friend: I met my friend for coffee the other day, and she’s having trouble at her job. I was able to give her advice, and know what I was talking about. GRAD SCHOOL WORKS! *high five*

Advice Five (Plus) Years In

post by Jessica

post by Jessica

In honor of a friend’s engagement (mazal tov!), I decided to write a post that I have been thinking about for ages, even before our five year anniversary. That’s right, R and I have been married for five years (and 4 months), and it’s been kind of a wild ride. Another friend, when talking about our marriage so far, said, well, you haven’t had a chance to get bored!  I think part of my reservation about writing this is knowing that not all advice is useful in every situation, and that my situation and relationship is different from yours. Not only that, this is clearly formed with the understanding that we are, as a family, very involved Jewishly. So, basically, your mileage might vary, but maybe this will be useful.

Dating and Engagement

You never know where you will find your person. And that person might not be exactly what you expect. We met because we were both Jewish students at school, but on the surface, we were not particularly compatible. We saw things in common that seemed to enable us to overcome our differences – one of which was our commitment to Judaism, living a Jewish life and raising a Jewish family. When we met, our definitions of those were different, but we knew it was important so we dealt with it – many difficult conversations followed. And once we decided we were going to go for it, we sought experiences that would help us become more like one another. Beyond our story, how many stories do you know that begin with “I never thought I’d marry someone who/like/etc.”

That doesn’t mean don’t be looking. Just be aware that it might not look like what you were expecting. Life is exciting and surprising.

I’m not sure if you “just know” that he or she is your person. But I did. I get this question regularly, and while being confident seems to be the norm, it doesn’t seem to be the only answer. But truly, the only person who can answer the question about your relationship is you. And it is a leap of faith. Lots of things in life worth doing are.

Engagement means things are real. Expect that the relationship will suddenly be much different very quickly. The stakes are much higher (even if the relationship was serious beforehand) and it will strain your relationship. Not only that, but it is the first declaration to the world and your family – which brings a lot of stress. Don’t be surprised, and don’t let it shake the foundation of your relationship – even as you are working towards understanding each other better.

Marrying Young v. Marrying Later

There is no magic age. R and I met ten years ago, and started dating almost eight years ago. Because of that, we have become grown-ups together. And that has had it’s difficult moments – we grow and change and have to figure out what comes next, together. We literally don’t know what our lives would be like without each other. And we’re okay with that. People who met later have to figure out how to mesh established patterns together. There is no magic age – just different issues and problems.

Creating Traditions

Understand where you both come from. Things that seem obvious to you can cause problems. For my parents, birthdays and holidays are something special – whereas, R’s family generally was much more relaxed about celebrating. Therefore, it was important for R to know what I expected, because it was so different from his family. And knowing what it meant in each family made it easier to plan joint events as well – fewer surprises for everyone.

Don’t wait, but don’t be afraid to change. That is, start figuring out your ways of doing things. For us, in particular, this means how we do Shabbat and holidays. This has changed with every year and every new living situation, but figuring out what makes us happy has really helped create meaningful traditions.

The Day-to-Day

Make time for each other. And choose to, again and again. Part of this “not being bored” thing I mentioned above means that our life together has changed a lot since we first got married. Each time, we have had to make the conscious decision about spending time together – either when we were working at Hillel and it was about making sure we had personal time and professional time, even as we were working together, or now, when we struggle through the difficulties of both being full-time students. More than that, it’s about making that decision every day, as new things come up. It’s always a balancing act, but an important one.

A Year in New York

Post by Jessica

Time really, really flies. I still feel like a new New Yorker, and yet, here we are, just passed our one year anniversary of being here.

So, what have I learned about being a New Yorker? Partially, I feel like saying “Ask me again in another year.” Things move so quickly here that I feel like I hardly have a moment to think about it.

In any case, my somewhat stream-of-consciousness list of ten (plus 1) things. I reserve the right to add as I see fit.

1) I can tell the tourists from the regulars. This is harder than one might think when there is a throng of a hundred people around you, but its getting easier. Most of the time I can’t even say why, but then I overhear them talking about going back to the hotel.

2) I love subways and hate subway stations. Basically, trains are awesome, give or take the occasional crazy person, but the stations are loud and hot and unhappy. And I’m fascinated by subway history.

3) There are things we don’t do because they are inconvenient. In fact, the flight better be free to make it worth us flying out of any airport but LaGuardia. One trip to Newark convinced us of that fact. Or the Target in East Harlem might as well be on the moon. They’re not impossible – it’s just too much for us, right now.

4) I’m still kind of a homebody. Even living in this fantastic city hasn’t turned me into some kind of metropolitan goddess. In fact, I think being in the city makes me need my alone at home time even more.

5) People still aren’t that rude. Really. I wrote about it before – we haven’t had it that bad. Although, I am starting to suspect it might be the neighborhoods I find myself in the majority of the time.

6) Being a two-student couple totally shapes the way we view the city. We have school friends, book clubs and a big difference between what we’re doing during the summer and winter. We vacation with the school schedules and have all kinds of things going on as extra-curriculars. And the budget is everything.

7) I really like our smaller space. I hadn’t really thought about it until a friend posted about minimalism. We’re not really minimalists (the five bookcases in the apartment should tell you that), but I really enjoy that we have figured out how to put our space together so that it is cozy but not cramped, and that we have just enough. And there really is an amazing feeling when you get rid of something, even something small, when you live in a smaller place. Plus, it’s much easier to keep it clean when you realize that just one bowl and a cup will make the coffee table feel really full.

8) Related to “I’m a homebody” – I need to explore the city more. It’s like everywhere – if you live somewhere, you don’t do a lot of the touristy stuff. Not only that, I really need to find my favorite neighborhood coffee spot. It’s the problem with having an apartment that is so comfortable.

9) The sheer scale of the city is still crazy. We went home for a week this summer. I joked that LaGuardia probably had more people in it than the entire town we would end up in, if you include all the passengers and employees. I did a little research. I wasn’t wrong. I see more people between my apartment and the subway than I saw on our entire trip to Target when we were home. And on and on.

10) Yet sometimes, it feels like a small town. I keep running into people I know, often on the subway. Maybe we’re keeping similar schedules, but often it feels like serendipity wrapped in ridiculousness. I have, even, on occasion introduced myself to someone because I keep seeing them. So far, hasn’t turned into any serious friendships, but it has provided some funny conversations.

+1) I love this city and am proud to live here. Watching fireworks on the roof at a friends on the fourth of July – I realized that. Do we want to stay forever? Probably not. But don’t be talking smack about my city either!

Digital and Physical

I feel like rebelling against my elders. Seriously, stomping my feet and crossing my arms and shouting “You don’t understand!”

Why? People proclaiming that technology will eat us. We have been afraid of it, as the article that is prompting this blog post declares, since before there was barely any technology. Our Media, Ourselves: Are we Headed for a Matrix? points out that the first technological room that disconnects us and reconnects us was imagined at a time when there were barely electric lights. Some of what is mentioned has come to pass – we certainly can teleconference with family and friends, seemingly made easier every year. But – how will our lives really be effected by technology?

I think there is a clear expectation that there will come a point where in person interaction will be entirely replaced by interface through technology. This was clarified for me by a professor, who wanted us to talk about how we thought technology would shape the future. We talked about how it would probably change a lot of things, but that there would still be a need for face-to-face time. This was clearly not the response he expected. Weren’t we the generation that was so comfortable with technology? Didn’t we think it’d take over and be everything. I explained two things: first, we’re a generation that has been from tape decks to iPods. That has been our shaping technological experience. We have no idea how to predict the future, since what we have seems totally crazy if you look at what we started with. Second, we’re also a generation that has learned that meeting someone face-to-face is irreplaceable. If online-only were okay, wouldn’t the relationships that formed online just stay there? We use the net to meet, to stay in touch, but ultimately, I think we use it to get together in real life too.

Here’s the thing, and it’s happened before: we’re slowly learning how to not let the technology eat us. And we’re trying to get intentional about it (Google the phone stack if you’re looking for an example). We learn and we adapt and we figure out rules of etiquette. Remember the early days of cell phones? When everyone was stunningly stupid about turning off their ringer? About 95% of us have figured that out, and we’ll figure out etiquette of text and how to limit when we have to answer email. All sorts of things. Not that it’s not something to worry about and think about. But it’s not inevitable. All of this stuff is about how and when you use it (or don’t).

The NPR article added something my professor didn’t, but something that we hear a lot about in predictions for the future. Remember in Back to the Future II (which you should watch, because 2015 is HILARIOUS) how the house was all fancy futuristic (while still managing to look like 1985!)? Yeah. We somehow expect that houses of the future will immediately replace those that are in existence now. I’m currently sitting in a living room that is almost 100 years old, but even my friend who is moving into her new-construction house this week didn’t build a white box. And I don’t expect to see them either, unless we’re all boarding spaceships to find a new ‘Verse in which case, all best are off.

There’s the aspect that housing styles won’t change that dramatically, that quickly. Even if, as the story predicted, we’re losing the ability to learn about our friends from glancing at their bookshelves and their CD collections, I don’t think material culture is going to disappear that quickly. In fact, I think there’s been something of a revival in the last little while – Pinterest and Etsy being heralds and harbingers. That blank space where there was a bookshelf? Now covered in some DIY decor project or something great from an Etsy seller that your host is dying to tell you about. So no, I’m not worried, but I am aware.

And don’t worry too – if the books do disappear, I’m sure they’ll be retro again in another 15 or 20 years give or take.

Rules for Raising Girls

post by Jessica

Courtesy of Facebook (where I seem to get most of my news, sports updates, engagement, wedding and birth announcements, etc), I read a series of articles that I have really found interesting about rules for raising boys and girls. Given some of my previous posts, I’m sure none of our readers are particularly surprised by that.

In general, I thought her rules were really good. For instance, for boys “Relationships are important and he needs to be faithful and monogamous.” and “Teach your son laundry, vacuuming, dishes and dusting.” My personal favorite though, was teaching him to dance…and letting him dance in a pink tutu if he feels like it. Her reasoning was great “Either he’ll grow out of it or he’ll never struggle with his identity.”  And for girls, they’re all fabulous, until, of course, you get to number 19.

 19.  Don’t let your daughter marry young.  Encourage her to get out and see the world, live on her own and figure out who she is and what she wants in a partner before she settles down.

I don’t think she meant it as an attack, but I think she might be reacting to something else.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand her fears. In general, I think people unconsciously have some old fashioned expectations about marriage, left over, I suspect, from a time when you started having sex when you got married and there was no such thing as birth control. If you get married, you must immediately settle down, buy a house (or move into a bigger apartment), and start pumping out your 2.5 kids. Yesterday, if not sooner. No matter how old you are. So, this reasoning goes, if you get married young, you’ll be saddled with all of that immediately. I have friends who did that – and it’s particularly hard on the wife. Just out of school, small child in tow, very little work experience and struggling to establish themselves in any kind of profession. Possible, of course, just hard.

But that’s not the only model of marriage. I found my partner early, and we understand this part of our life as exploring together. Figuring out who we are and what we want out of our lives. And we made a commitment to do it together. Is it hard? Sure! Is it harder than figuring out all of that stuff and then trying to find someone who fits into your 1200 routines that you’ve developed? I don’t think so. My husband and I have talked about this a lot. When we got married, he hadn’t thought about being a rabbi very seriously. I had a vague idea that I wanted to go back to school. So, we’ve been working to figure all of that out together. And eventually, in a while, we’ll probably start looking for a slightly bigger apartment for a slightly bigger family. Are my experiences different than if I stayed single? Absolutely. But I do think it was the right thing for us. .

Getting married young isn’t for everyone. But I think age shouldn’t disqualify someone from marriage. So, my rule 19 would read something like this.

19. Don’t let your daughter get married before she’s out of college. And encourage her to see the world and find herself before she starts obsessively looking for a mate. But, if she finds someone in college (like lots of us do), make sure they plan on having time together as a couple to live their lives before they bring children into the picture. And for heaven’s sake, make sure they’ve been dating for at least a year before they get married!

So, what do you think? Other rules that need changed? Rules you’d add?