Reflections and Gratitude

As those of you who have been reading our blog for some time know, we have all had pretty winding journeys. While we haven’t been nearly as prolific as we once were, this blog has been a great source of support on these journeys, and its still an important part of our lives.

Recently, Jessica and I were sitting together (I should have taken a picture!) at a panel discussion with rebbetzins in the field. They spoke so beautifully and touched on many things we have thought about and discussed over the years, and it profoundly reminded me of just how blessed we are to have the community which this blog has generated.

I am eternally grateful to all of you for reading along and for reaching out. Even if no one was reading, I would still write because its how I like to deal with my world, but knowing you are reading encourages me to actually post my musings.

(I keep making plans to post more, and it keeps not happening, but hopefully soon I’ll find a balance again.)

The First Day

Apparently the roller coaster of the pregnant avel continues after the pregnancy ends….

 

Today is my *first* Mother’s Day.

My first as a mother.

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My first without my mother. 

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I have been having anxiety about today for weeks – ever since the first “Mother’s Day is coming!” email arrived in my inbox. I cringed every time I deleted another one. I cried as I entered giveaways on Facebook. I smiled as I looked at the little guy in my arms.

I read this moving piece from my dear friend Esther and thought of all the ways I could honor my mommie. I had grand ideas of what to write and say and do. I thought of the things both big and small that we we used to do together and how to incorporate them into a special ceremonial remembrance.

Then last night I got a text from my dad that said in part “you had a great example of what to do, now just love your child like she did” and I realized that I honor her every day. Every time I tell my son I love him. I every time I snuggle him close. Every time he wraps his tiny little hand around her necklace. Every day, in every moment, just by being the mom which comes naturally after having such an amazing woman as mine.

I realized that I am lucky to have had such an amazing mommie, who without being here to celebrate my first Mother’s Day as an Eema, is no doubt with me in everything I do as a mom every day.

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.)

Mel’s (not-so) Quarterly Reflections – Take 2 and 3 combined

May 1st marked 9 months of living in Israel. I’m not totally sure how that happened, but it did! So, since I missed the 6 month recap, here is one that covers both my second and third quarter here.

Living:

We adapted to our small space but are looking at apartments to move closer to Pardes and the synagogues we have found we liked and others we are told we will like.

Learning:

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing about our Israel experience. We have both been amazed at how much we have been able to learn in these past few months and how far we have come in our skills. Needless to say, we are also aware of how much more we have to go!

We will both be Fellows at Pardes next year, so there for sure another year of solid learning in our future.

Exploring:

Ya, we still haven’t really done that. *crosses fingers* Hoooopefully while we have some down time this summer we will be able to do more of this!

Community:

We have embraced that the reality of our experience is that our learning communities are really our primary community and we have made some amazing friends. Also, the sense of community here is much different than in the US.

We have found two synagogues which we really enjoy and hope to move closer to them, as well as some others in that area which we here will help us feel more connected.

Food:

So, apparently, I do actually like hummus and tahina. Thats probably the biggest thing to share food wise. We are trying to get back to a simpler and cleaner diet, with the abundance of fresh produce its really quite silly not to!

We have also deduced that the secret to Marzipan’s deliciousness must be crack. It is the only explanation for their addictive tendencies. 😉

Safety:

Amud Annan (Operation Pillar of Defense) rocked our world for a few weeks with its tensions, sirens, and uncertainty. However, the cease fire came quickly and lasted solidly for a few months. Even now as it has been violated and the rock-throwing, stabbing, etc incidents of terror have risen in the areas near the borders, there is still a sense of calm.

As such, our largest safety concern has again become the simple act of being pedestrians.

Surprising realizations:

There are only two season in Israel: Rainy season from Sukkot to Pesach, and mosquito season from Pesach – Sukkot.

Kitniyot on Pesach is awesome. (See the post about that for details.)

The “settlements” don’t feel like settlements so much as suburbs…..

We think about being homesick much less often, but when it does come it is just as intense.

Rak b’yisrael (Only in Israel):

Rockets fall across the country and people continue on about their daily lives, but snow is imminent and the entire city shuts down.

National holidays which should fall Saturday night/Sunday get pushed back a day so that people do not begin their preparations on Shabbat.

Busses wish you happy holidays.

There is no customer service and people are rude, but in a moment of need someone is always available to help.

Do you have other things you want to know about? Feel free to ask in the comments! 🙂

Living History

I am still in shock over these experience, but knew that I needed to find a moment to actually write about it, so I am going to attempt to encapsulate two of the most amazing experiences of my life in words.

1) Maccabean Mikvah!

The 8th day of Chanukah, the women of Tochnit Alisa (the English language college and beyond program at Nishmat) had a lovely tiyul. One of our instructors live in Modi’in, just down the road from a relatively recently discovered archaeological site – a Hashmonean era site for Jewish ritual life. For those of you who might not be making the connection, the Maccabean revolt was in the Hashmonean era, so visiting the site on the last day of Chanukah was a pretty amazing way of connecting to history, both religiously and physically.

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

As we approached the site, it became clear that this was a unique find. The group gravitated towards the large space that was once the Beit Knesset (area where they prayed), however I was distracted by a series of steps leading into a hole in the ground. Could it be? Was I really seeing an ancient mikvah? Our guide began to speak about the space and referenced the mikvah and as quickly as I could, I scurried away from the group and back over towards the mikvah to investigate. I walked down the steps and just stood there – soaking up the moment. Here I was, standing the space where women (and men) had immersed thousands of years ago, in an era where ritual impurity had a meaning beyond what we can imagine.

I have a personal tradition to always think about my ancestors upholding the laws of taharat hamishpacha and immersing in the mikvah around the time of my own immersion. I always take some time in the waters to reflect upon their living nature and that of the history which they inherently tie me to. Now, that will take on a whole new meaning. I can connect to this phyiscal space as well and the emotions of really feeling that connection.

2) Holy of Holies!

Last week, Tochnit Alisa again had an outing. This time, we went to the Generations Center and on a Kotel Tunnel tour. (It was a nice touch that our guide for the latter was my Nach teacher!) One of the first things we saw on the tour was another ancient mikvah! Though this one was through a piece of glass on the floor because it was so very deep compared to where the “floor” of the tunnels is, it was still an amazing thing to see.

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

As we walked along and stopped to learn about the history I kept noticing religious women bustling past. At one point, we looked at the various archways and discovered that just ahead of us was an archway, directly underneath Wilson’s Arch – which is the closest place that men can pray to the Kodesh Kodeshim, the holy of holies from the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the ancient temple in Jerusalem. It turns out, there is a place directly under that in the tunnels where women can also pray. However, unlike the men’s area – there are always women there and anyone who knows how to get there can go at almost any time they want. We stopped in this place and our guide/my teacher allowed us some time to daven (pray) there. I stood in place and sung my favorite meditative line to myself and was almost in tears. I felt so connected to the history of the Jewish people and the plight of the temple eras and its destruction.

While I am the first to say that living in Israel is not an idyllic thing, these moments of being a part of the living history of the Jewish people is what makes the experience so important and profound. I am not going to start saying everyone needs to move here or make aliyah, but I do think it is important to take some time to get to experience the places which connect us all on a deeper level than we can cognitively undertand or expect.

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!