Friday, February 22, 2013

Tears On Purim - Again!

Well that went well - NOT. I'm beginning to see a pattern though. The festival of Purim is this weekend. It's the story of the Persian Queen Esther and the Wicked Haman. Just google it, I'm in no mood to elaborate except to say that it's Carnivale, Mardi Gras, a massive costume party and loads of fun. You'd think.

Just to bring you up to speed, this is what happened two years ago which ended in tears. Then this episode which ended in more tears. However, last year was fine and you can see how much fun we had here. So how did it all fall apart again this year just when I thought we were growing up?

DD has already worn her Minnie Mouse costume to kindergarten this week (and I forgot to take a photo) so for the Purim Party today  she chose to be Queen Esther. The choice was Minnie Mouse again, Queen Esther, a fairy (from last year) or a ladybird (we still have the costume from two years ago). She chose Queen Esther.

We've been talking about it all week. She could hardly wait to go to bed last night so she could get up and be Queen Esther this morning. And this morning she ripped off her pjs as I got the fabulous dress out. She stepped into it and POW! "ICKSA I DON'T LIKE THIS DRESS! I DON'T WANT TO BE QUEEN ESTHER! TAKE IT OFF ME!!!

Ok, lets do one of the others. She chose the ladybird. We put it on.
"The gloves have long sleeves."
"Ok, just the dress and the wings. Now let me take a photo."

I took out my camera anyway. It's a lot of work this festival - you prepare food parcels, have a big festive meal, provide costumes, have the children at home for three days.... And I didn't get a photo of the ladybird two years ago, or Minnie Mouse last week. I wanted my photo. I had accidently left the camera on movie mode so I actually got this:

So then I switched to portrait and got a photo of her running away down the corridor:

Then she came back in a temper and hit me hard on the boobs. It really hurt. So then I burst into tears, obviously, and we both left the house with red eyes and faces.
Me: "No me neither at the moment."

As I write this there are joyful songs blaring out from the school opposite like a Communist era park in Eastern Europe. My fb feed is full of photos of everyone's children dressed up and looking happily at the camera. I am trying not to grind my teeth. I used to love Purim.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Status Dishonesty

There are a lot of things in this life that give you status - academic qualifications, speaking a foreign language, being married, being a parent, number of children, your job or career, wealth, your house, your car, your smart phone (tablet, etc), beauty, who you know (admit it), outstanding talent, popularity, being funny, being well-read or widely knowledgeable (or being able to fake it), playing a musical instrument (smart phones don't count), playing sport (not wii sport, real sport) or doing athletics of any kind, being slim (sad but true), etc, etc. I'm sure you can think of more.

I am not married but I have a few of the other status markers you see above. I won't list them but they are enough for me to feel confident and worthwhile among my peers, colleagues and students. Or so I thought.

In Israel, in order to get any first Degree you need to reach a certain level in English. This includes reading academic articles. Reading academic articles in a foreign language!? Unless it's about a subject you have a passion for, reading academic articles in your first language is tough enough. For many students, English is the thing they most fear in higher education. It is the biggest obstacle to graduating for them. Obviously they hate it.

I teach in an all women's Teacher Training College which largely caters to the religiously orthodox. Not ultra-orthodox but very traditionally orthodox nonetheless. For example, most of the students get engaged and married during the first year of studies. In the second year most of the students have their hair covered and many are pregnant. By the third year there are babies in childcare or being quietly fed at the back of the classroom.

Today I met with a student who had to present her final project to me in order to pass the final course in English. She isn't even a student anymore. She finished all her courses last year and was given an additional semester to complete the English requirement. And she fought it all the way. I won't go into details but as the personification of her suffering, I was not her favourite teacher in the college.

As I was rushing out of my apartment to get to college on time for our meeting, I suddenly stopped at the door. Then I ran back into my bedroom, grabbed my late aunt's wedding ring (which my cousin gave me for DD as she is the only girl in the family among the male cousins of her generation), and placed it firmly on my left ring finger. Then I ran off to meet my student.

I knew exactly what I was doing. I was feeling nervous - not so much of the student but of my ability to leave my ego at the door and be generous in my assessment. What I'm not sure about is why I did this.

The meeting went much better than expected. The student was more relaxed for having got to the end of the course requirements and we chatted a bit first to establish a nice atmosphere. I even enjoyed it. She passed and went away overjoyed.

I don't know if she noticed my 'wedding ring' at all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 2

DD: When there's lots of sunshine it's summer, you're right?
Me: You're right.
DD: Then it will be hot, you're right?
Me: You're right.
DD: And then we can have an ice-cream, you're right?
Me: You're right.
DD: Yes, you're right.

Babysitter: Close your eyes and go to sleep.
DD: I can't go to sleep, my eyes keep popping open.

DD: I'm hungry.
Me: You can have an apple.
DD: No I'm hungry for something else.
Me: A sandwich?
DD: No I'm just only hungry for some chocolate.

DD: Cold me.
Me: I'm cold, not cold me.
DD: No, you're not cold, cold me.
Me: I know, so you say I'm cold, not cold me.
DD: Why you keep saying that?
Me: Never mind.
DD: Cold me.
*Cold me is a direct translation from the Hebrew.

DD: Can I have that? (pointing to anything in any shop)
Me: No.
DD: When I'm bigger can I have that?
Me: When you're bigger.
DD: I am can I have it? I'm already bigger.
Me: No.

DD: I want a big cuddle on your lap.
Me: Come on then..... Oooh I love you. You're my best girl in the world.
DD: You're my best girl in the world.

Friday, February 15, 2013

DD Got Married!

Today we celebrated Family Day at DD's kindergarten - Israel's more sensitive and politically correct answer to Mothers' and Fathers' Days. All the girls were asked to come in white dresses as they would be dressing up as the brides, while the boys, in their white shirts, were the grooms.

They started off by filing in like a Chinese mass wedding. The couples walked under a large wedding canopy held up by four of the fathers and that was the ceremony over with. Then there was dancing of course. DD had a bit of trouble with her tiara but her betrothed - a real mensch - helped her fix it back in place. A better son-in-law I couldn't wish for. Having said that, I didn't think this would happen quite so soon.

Afterwards there was a slap up wedding breakfast that did us all proud. And finally, all the brides and grooms went home with their own Mummies and Daddies. The perfect wedding(s) wouldn't you say?

One sign of the times that always makes me laugh is how the parents no longer sit and and watch a performance of any sort. As soon as the music starts they all turn into paparazzi, jump up and view the whole thing through their tech devices - LOL.

Mazal Tov DD and DS-I-L

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rabbi David Hartman Z"L - I Popped In

I say I popped in because it can hardly be called a shiva call - I was only there 10 minutes. You don't go to a shiva for 10 minutes. This is how it usually works:

You go in. You take a moment to assess the mood. If the family are drowning in grief and the mood is sombre you proceed in comfort and commiseration mode. If the family are cheering themselves up with amusing stories and anecdotes about the deceased you smile and add your stories to the collection. If there are a number of mourners they are often spread around the room to be able to talk to their own visitors. You join the circle of chairs around your friend, say a few nice words on entering the group and then go with the flow of conversation. It's not that hard despite the potential awkwardness of the situation. You stay for at least half an hour but not more than an hour unless it's an extremely close friend in which case you might stay all day.

Yesterday's shiva was a bit different. Three of the mourners live in my neighbourhood, I taught some of their children many years ago, I've been to their homes and we chat when we meet in the street. That's enough to warrant a shiva call. However, I also wanted to go because their late father was Rabbi David Hartman. A modern Jewish philosopher (The modern Jewish philosopher) and the most inspiring speaker I've ever had the honour of hearing in person. For me, the most inspiring figure in the modern Jewish world.

Rabbi David Hartman Z"L
In an age when religious fundamentalism is commandeering Jewish life and taking it out of the comfort zone of many many Jews who also want to live in the real world, David Hartman fought to get it back for us.  His friend, colleague and study partner Charlie Buckholtz wrote this description in The Rabbi Who hated Lies, an article in The Tablet:

"His Orthodox critics never understood that his criticism and creative reinterpretations of the tradition were not offered out of religious spite, or a desire to lead their adherents astray, but to protect Judaism and the Jewish people from them—from Orthodoxy’s corrupting distortions of the tradition, from their claims to exclusive authenticity. He knew the Orthodox leadership’s perpetual constrictions, prohibitions, and negative pronouncements left precious little room for modern Jews to find or create a meaningful Judaism for themselves. In that sense, he saw the Orthodox establishment as robbing the majority of the world’s Jews of access to their birthright.
‘I’m fighting a war,’ Hartman told me, ‘on the monopoly of certain people on truth, on the understanding of what Judaism is.’
“I’m fighting a war,” he told me, “on the monopoly of certain people on truth, on the understanding of what Judaism is.”
Ultimately, his war was over whether “authority”—whose obsessive focus among the Orthodox, particularly haredi fundamentalists he saw as a function of anxiety rather than piety—would be allowed to become the dominant Jewish religious category of the modern era. He felt tortured by the fact that the tradition had become the jurisdiction of fundamentalists, on whom it was mostly lost. He favored a more open-ended approach to religious life in which Jewish practice is treated as an open-ended field of experimentation. “I don’t want order!” I can remember him shouting. “I want vibrancy, passion, people to have a stake in it, lay claim to it, feel it’s theirs, it doesn’t belong to anybody else. There’s plenty of order in a graveyard.”"

I've long had similar thoughts that I've ranted in a very ineffectual manner to a few like-minded friends. I don't have what it takes to change the [Jewish] world or even make any waves. For that you need an intellectual powerhouse like David Hartman Z"L. I wanted, maybe even needed, to pay my respects.

I went to the shiva and it was packed. Each of the mourners I know had a circle of 10, 15, 20 people around them and they were deep in conversation. I went round to each one and, interrupting as one does, said how much I admired their father. I found a chair and sat for a couple of minutes but I wasn't really helping any so I decided to leave. I went to the son, Donniel, first...
"I'm going to go. There are so many people here and I don't really know what to do with myself."
Donniel answered with a chuckle, "yes I see that."
"Mumble mumble mumble Yerushalayim" (It's something you say in Hebrew meaning: May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem - I know the words but I can never get my tongue around it so I just mumble.)

I went and mumbled again to two of the sisters, interrupting them again. On my way out I mumbled to Mrs Hartman who doesn't know me from Adam but I thought it the polite thing to do. I probably should have mumbled to the other sister and brother who I don't know but I didn't - sorry about that.

Not my most successful shiva visit but I'm glad I went. The Jewish world lost a great man this week and I, a lapsed worshiper who doesn't study or learn religious stuff and who is very flexible with the rules, I feel the loss.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

House Of Mourning

This morning I paid a shiva call. That's how we say it for some reason. In Jewish families, when someone dies the funeral is held as soon as possible - same day if it can be arranged. There is dignity in this. The Muslims do it too. I will always remember how Dodi Al-Fayed was laid to rest while Princess Diana's body was shlepped up and down the country from place to place while a million people came out to watch and even (why oh why?) to look at the body.

Then the spouse, children and siblings (and parents if necessary - God forbid) sit at home for seven days on low chairs while anyone who knows them or the deceased pays a condolence visit. This is called shiva which means seven and also sitting.

Apparently it's an exhausting week but it serves many purposes and is a comforting process. Obviously there is the spiritual side of honouring and remembering the deceased, reciting special prayers, lighting a candle, making a symbolic rip in your clothing and wearing that item all week, and eating certain foods on returning from the funeral.

There is also the worldly side. For a week the family stays together and are surrounded by friends. There is much talking about the loved one, the family, the past, the recent past, how you feel, anything else, everything else. Talking is good. And the whole thing is so exhausting, apparently, that you don't have too much time to dwell and get too depressed. Before you know it a week has gone by that possibly could have been the hardest week to bear.

Every shiva is different. The best case scenario is a bunch of middle aged siblings celebrating their parent's long and happy life. Other shivas are  more sombre. And some are downright tragic. A friend who had to sit shiva for her father with a mother she didn't get on with, in her mother's home a continent away from any other family and friends remarked wryly, "You don't always get the shiva you wanted."

Sometimes the family imposes visiting times to give themselves a rest and space to eat. Sometimes people come late and overstay their welcome too far into the night. When my father was sitting for my 89yo grandfather, one of the great-aunts started looking purposefully at her watch as the clock struck 10. It had been a very long day, she was in her 80s herself, and she'd had enough. When that didn't deter the few die-hard talkers, she went and got her coat and hat, put them on and returned to her chair. That did it, within a minute the room was miraculously cleared.
"I'll drive you home Aunty," said my cousin.
"Not yet," she replied removing her coat, "Let's have a cup of tea first."

I meant to write about today's shiva but I don't want to add it on to the end of a post that has already rambled on for too long. I'll write about it tomorrow. I have things to say.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits

Young pupil: Where's DD's daddy?
Me: She hasn't got one.
YS: Oh, you can do that?
Me: Yes.
YS: You can't have a boy though, right? Only a girl.
Me: Ask your parents how it works.

Me: DD who did this drawing on the wall?
DD: It wasn't me. No, it was my little children.
Me: I don't want to hear about your little children.
DD: I didn't do it! My little children did it.
Me: DD?
DD: Well some of them are very naughty.

Me: There are a lot of clouds. Do you think there's going to be another storm.
DD: No, God promised there won't be any more storms.

Me: Here's your supper.
DD: Yuk! I don't like THIS at all!

DD: What means an ogre?
Me: Shrek is an ogre.
DD: But what is it?
Me: Well, they're green and ugly and they live in a swamp.
DD: Oh how very a shame for them.

Me: Time for bed.
DD: I don't want to go to bed. I'm not tired.
Me: I'm sorry darling but it's time to go to bed.
DD: I'm sorry darling but no.