Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A GROUP OF CHILDREN FROM WHOM WE CAN LEARN SO MUCH

Our daughter Rachie called me one night a while ago and asked what I remembered about Israel and the various conflicts that confronted it in the early 1990’s. I love how our children and I can speak freely and often about important issues and she just simply needed some information – since she was a toddler through five years of age during the time she was asking about and just did not remember…. (Silly Rachie!) I then shared various stories of wonderful interactions between Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and Israelis; Jews, Christians and Arabs and so on.

One particularly funny memory was when Rachie and Talie were approaching their fifth birthday and we were in Israel along with Yoella, my eldest daughter at the age of nine. The four of us were walking through the shuk and I realized all of a sudden that Rachie and Talie were not with us but had gone ahead and that we were in the Arab shuk which had reopened recently. I was not worried because in the earliest part of the 90s people did not feel a need to do so generally. Anyway, we kept walking and about ten stalls in Rachie and Talie were playing with two little boys under the watchful eye of their grandfather, who explained to me that he thought we should marry them off to each other. We all had a good laugh. Now this seems implausible today for so many reasons beginning with what type of horrible mother would not keep a careful eye on her young daughters in the Arab shuk, much less go there to begin with…. But such were the times of the early 90s in Israel.

In the meantime, my husband Ken brought the following article from The Forward to my attention within hours of this conversation. It is a revisiting twenty years later of seven children who were the stars of the series “The Children of Jerusalem” produced by the Canadian National Board of Film, about their lives now that two decades have passed. You can see this article here:

http://forward.com/culture/338071/what-ever-became-of-the-children-of-jerusalem/

After reading this article, go to this site to see the actual documentary segments about their lives. I have done so and the three and a half hours you will spend meeting these children will be so worthwhile; I promise.

http://search.tb.ask.com/search/GGmain.jhtml?st=kwd&ptb=23BA20D9-4BD0-455E-80AE-93D2DB702005&n=780c711e&ind=2014081310&p2=^UX^xdm787^YYA^us&searchfor=Beverly+Shaffer%27s+Children+of+Jerusalem

You will meet Ibrahim, Yehuda, Tamar, Gesho, Asya, Yakoub, and Neveen. Through their eyes and walking with them through their streets and garnering insights into their days, we are reminded of the reality of life in the early nineties. Yes, there were concerns but it was a time when parents sent children on buses with their pelephones and they were to call when they arrived at their grandparents. Children (including mine) would wander the Ben Yehuda area all hours of the night on Motzei Shabbat or Thursday nights while their parents (including me) would sit and chat at Atara (remember that?). It was a different time and it was a time when so many people in all of these different groups thought that if we retained our relationships and told people about our friendships and our respect and regard for each other, maybe, just maybe, the threatening storm of divisiveness and fear would not get worse but would be obliterated.

As we know all too well now, this is exactly what did not happen. There are too many conflicts, too much anger and hurt and too many loose cannons amongst our people and all groups in Israel as well as elsewhere that cause this threat to indeed be so much more a matter of concern today, twenty years later. How sad!

This is particularly evident in the sad story of Neveen. To amplify her pain, I just read another chilling article about the Shuafat Refugee Camp in The Jerusalem Report. Too much has indeed gone wrong. While Yaakoub talks about his hopes that when he gets older he will ride his bicycle in the streets and just in circles in his courtyard, we see that things did not improve. Then there are Yehuda and Tamar, both of whom have their own story about their religious journeys that took them away from so much of their childhoods as observant Jews.

There is too much to be sad about and mourn here. Yet, I continue to think of the large numbers of people in all of these groups who are still working together to continue to build important bridges. The growth of the Yad b’Yad schools make me hopeful; the continuing successes of the Galilee Palestinian-Israeli Circus, the sports leagues and so much else I have written about here all allow me to hold onto the hope today that so many in the early 90s had but have sadly lost. There is too much at stake to not work together and to continue to hope that the threat of all that can destroy does not do so.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teapots are not forever and family trees last a long time!



One of my most distinct ongoing daily memories of growing up in my mom and dad’s house was that of the teapot whistling in their kitchen. I remember hearing it and feeling it in the whole house. It appeared to me that it was always the same teapot and the same whistle – kind of timeless to the eyes of a child and what I remember from that perspective. Mom or Dad were always boiling water either to salt/kasher the meat (remember those days?) or more regularly and often to have a cup of tea or coffee, and I have wonderful memories of us all sitting with our boiling water and Lipton tea bags in front of us. This of course was BWU (Before Water Urns)! So until this day, there is something about always having a teapot on my stovetop even though our water does indeed come from the urn and the teapot is mostly for effect, to tell the truth – think kitchen jewelry! Clearly this has not made the same impact on our children and family!

As Ken and I were shopping for Pesach this year and replenishing what needed to be bought in addition to food, I realized that our teapot for the year (as opposed to the blue and red signature one we take out for Pesach) was looking rather sad and worn and quite unexpectedly I found a beautiful sparkling purple teapot on our shopping expedition! I suggested that we send ours to teapot heaven and splurge on this beautiful new piece of “kitchen art.” We did just that! I was quite pleased with my new teapot though I must admit I take it as a personal affront when something breaks or wears out because I am so good at taking care of things. But of course, it happens! So home we went with some dish brushes, a few other things and the new purple teapot which we would use for Pesach and after that during the year – my new “forever (or NOT) teapot”!

Pesach was wonderful and of course, the teapot did not make an impression on anyone. Nor did we ever hear it whistle because the urn just did its thing! The only real use was for pouring boiling water over our sink and surfaces we would be using for the coming holiday observance.

Then the day after Pesach ended, our family had the unveiling for my mom and dad, both of whom finished their work and journey on this earth this past fall. Children, grandchildren who could be there, great-grandchildren, and assorted cousins and best friends gathered at the cemetery where their bodies lie in Baltimore as we thought about Mom and Dad and what they left for us as their “forever people” to continue their legacy. My sister, Pam, is an artist and presented us with a beautiful book of the legacy and history of Ken and Hannah, our parents. It was so clear in that book, as in the many pictures and books we have already assembled to honor this legacy and in the many stories we tell that my parents and the generations before them are definitely continuing in all of us in concrete and visceral ways. This was also evident in the stories we continue to tell and share and the teachings that our generation instills in OUR children and grandchildren (or children’s children, in my personal case!) as well as the cousins (second, third and fourth, whatever that means!) daily through example as well as and more than through word.

I have always admired the Native Americans and their story telling traditions in which the teachings and wisdom of the elders are passed on and maintained through the generations, keeping the thread of connection to one’s past intact while simultaneously setting the roots of the future in place. I often asked my parents for their stories. I know that each of us did so and as a result have a different lens on their lives, depending on what and how they shared at different times. During most of their lives, my father was much more forthcoming in talking about his past (even about the Navajo Indian Chief who was part of his family’s experience long ago and whose picture we all saw many times in my parents’ house). As I have written earlier, through the last years of my mom’s life, specifically the last year itself, I learned many of these stories that she shared with me through the fog of her dementia, but I am grateful that I have this legacy to pass on to others. I am confident that my brother, sister, and cousins will all continue to do the same.

We read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) about how life is ephemeral and how it comes and goes while the earth on which it plays out remains. While we often worry about that earth – our planet – given what is going on in our reality today, the point is that things do take on a life of their own. I have learned this as I now often wear my “legacy jewelry” – that is jewelry from my mom (as well as my mother-in-law and her sister) – I feel the connection to my mom’s soul and her being in so many ways as I do towards my dad. I still hear their voices and their wisdom as well as their pain and their challenges and I continue to carry all of this with me every day. My children know this and their children will come to know that this is part of who I am as well. As for my new teapot – maybe I will boil up some water every now and then and give the urn a rest, and think of my parents’ kitchen and the life that once was there.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Simple Thought About Questions and Our Sedarim

It is a bit after noon on Friday, April 22, 2016 (14 Nissan 5776)and the last things to do for Seder preps cannot be done until later – matzah balls in the soup, set the table (always done later just for fun) and the green vegetables for tonight and tomorrow. So, my thoughts turn to the Seder itself. What is the most important part of the Seder itself? Okay so those of you who know the script will answer PASCHAL LAMB, MATZAH and MAROR. But, wait that is not really what I mean – so allow me to illustrate. Our five-year old Kindergarten students (daughters of my daughter, my husband calls them grandchildren, go figure!) informed me yesterday that everyone was put on buses at their day school and taken to a synagogue for their model Seder. So today, when we were just hanging out with the first of the Boston segment of the family who is back for Seders, our daughter and their most lovely and intelligent Aunt Rachie, we asked them why this was done? (My question to them.) They did not know how to respond. So then I asked them the following questions: How big was the room where they had their entire school come together for their Model Seder? Do they have a room that is that big at their school? They got it! Then I went back to the original question – Why did you all get on buses and go to a synagogue? Answer? Because we did not have a room big enough at our school to hold everyone and the parents who also came!

This is the lesson of Pesach. How do we ask questions and what are the answers that the questions yield? What are the pre-questions (think pre-quel, which everyone is so into these days!)? In this way, everyone is heard, we get to clarify what we mean to say and we achieve meaningful conversation. Too often and too sadly, this is a lost art. With presidential candidates interrupting each other and shouting each other down, people in the workplace not listening to the other but so focused on getting their point across, what happened to meaningful conversation.

Tonight (and tomorrow night for those of us not in Israel) we will be going through scripted conversations. WATCH how the Rabbis speak with – NOT TO OR AT – each other, really try to get to the root of their questions and watch what each learns in the ensuing dialogue. This is precisely why our seders go on until two or three o’clock in the morning – because we discuss, explore, think about each others’ thoughts and truly and intentionally listen to each other.

How I wish we could all do exactly this in our daily lives. It may take a bit longer to get through a conversation but imagine what it would mean in terms of how we relate to each other. If we do not understand or agree with the question or comment at hand, let us not shout down the other with our view so intent on making OUR point. Rather, let us remember that listening to the other is more important in communication than anything we say. Or to think about this in another way, there is a sign in Neli and Neima’s (the children in this conversation) classroom that reminds all that LISTEN AND SILENT ARE MADE UP OF THE SAME LETTERS. Now there is a lesson for us all to learn.

So here is my question for now: What is the most important part of your Seder itself? Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Parshat Metzora, Shabbat HaGadol 2016/5776 April 16, 2016/ 8 Nissan 5776



If you love Divrei Torah, you have Rabbi Isaac Bernays, the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century to thank! Originally Divrei Torah were only given on Shabbat HaGadol (today) and Shabbat Shuvah during the Aseret Yimai Teshuvah in the Jewish community. The sermon as such was an import from the outside and other religious traditions. Bernays wanted to stem the tide of the religiously observant Jews not becoming the outsiders and maintaining their place in the larger German social and secular community and adopted this practice (along with others such as the wearing of canonicals) from the Christian world, bringing it into the Jewish community as an established practice. In every way, he was a social reformer – bringing general education, often only available to the wealthier classes, into his Talmud Torah schooling system in 1822. In so many ways, while the name Samson Raphael Hirsch is credited with the beginning of neo-Orthodoxy, it was his teacher, Bernays who set the tone for the integration of religious and general life that we know so well today.

So here we are on Shabbat HaGadol, preparing for Pesach, and talking about outsiders in Parshat Metzora. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz writes as follows regarding how we think about Shabbat HaGadol:

The source for this name, mentioned in Halachic sources for over one thousand years, is not known. Various theories have been offered, one of which is the desire to connect this Shabbat to Passover. Indeed, different traditions in Jewish communities point to this. For example, there is a tradition to read the Passover Haggada on this Shabbat as preparation for the Seder. There is also a tradition for the rabbi of the community to deliver a sermon on this Shabbat regarding the halachot and significance of the holiday.

It seems not to be coincidental that Shabbat was chosen as the day on which to prepare for Passover. Shabbat is closely linked to the Exodus from Egypt, and therefore to Passover. As we say in kiddush on Friday evening, “... and with love and favor gave us His holy Shabbat as a heritage, a remembrance of Creation. [For that day is] the prologue to the holy convocations, a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.”

As we think about this event of Yitziat Mitzrayim, it is so important to remember that ALL members of B’nai Yisrael were included in this event. In fact, we say this as part of our Seder when we enjoin all to remember that WE WERE all involved in this seminal event, NOT JUST the generations from long ago. We invite all those who need to do so, to come and join our Seder in our words. Do we do this in our deeds? We say the words about every generation remembering the taste of servitude to a human master and the freedom of that servitude; do we act in our deeds with such a remembering mindset? In short are we welcoming to all, and inclusive to the degree that all are insiders or are there still outsiders in our lives and in our communities today?

So, now we turn to our Parsha. First of all, look at the word Metzora - מצרע. Notice the various words incorporated in it – narrow straits - צר (as in Mitzrayim); then there is root for sorrow or distress - צער; and finally the root for STOP - עצר. Let us think about various forms of distress associated with this topic and how we have the power to stop it – by reintroducing all of us into the total collective of our community. We learn in Parshat Metzora about the purification process of the one who is afflicted with Tzara’at. Many of the steps of this process are similar to that of the Karban Pesach – perhaps precisely because this applied to all members of the community and was focused on their full inclusion in the religious ritual of the collective. Further, while there is concern about purity and the need for isolation, which can indeed serve purposes medically and psychologically, we are more wrapped up with the details of re-entry – that is insuring that the person afflicted with Tza’ra’at is NOT excluded from the community permanently. Do we take this process to heart today?

In the Gemara, there are so many comparisons between the Metzora, the Ovel and the Menudeh, along with others who might be “thought to be excluded” for one reason or another. Why do we compare these three types of people? How do we see them as connected to each other? What are they each experiencing, as they are “outside the camp,” so to speak? They are experiencing loss of companionship, of inclusion and of ability to participate fully in the ongoing life of community, with its rituals, Mitzvot and ongoing life of observance and celebration. This notion of potential “outsiders” is expressed time and again in the Gemara – Masechet Pesachim, Yevamot, Hagiga, Moed Katan, Megilah, and so on. Within this myriad of discussions, the focus is consistently on enabling and insuring the fullest participation possible of all potentially marginalized members and groupings of our communal society.

Consider the following amazing teaching from Masechet Pesachim: In Perek Shvii, there is an extensive examination of how we insure that all members of the B’nai Yisrael can indeed participate in the Karban Pesach. It is in this context that the differentiation of those who are Tahor/pure and those who have some Tum’ah/impurity is articulated in how it is insured that ALL members of the community can participate. Percentages of groups with varying tum’ot are mentioned and the Rabbis present different options of how to insure group inclusion. At one point it is actually suggested that if just less than half of a group have Tum’ot and just more than half of a group are not so impaired, how do we insure that the group can participate in the Karban Pesach. One solution given is to provide a “sheretz” – some unclean thing to just enough, even one person, members of the group to make more than ½ of the group in the Tum’ah category and thus able to participate as a group with the Korban Pesach. What a concept!

Within this discussion on 80a, we read:

בצייבור דחויה טומאה עלמא דכולי Everyone agrees that Tum’ah is overridden by community

In other words, it was so important to facilitate the participation of everyone and not to render anyone as an “outsider” that various elements of Tum’ah were set aside to facilitate everyone being considered an insider. This is also evident in discussions about obligations to hear Shofar, to be in a Sukkah, hear Megillah, offer the Hagiga offering, and participate in Jewish community in so many other facets.

Tza’ra’at, so associated with Miriam and her experience in speaking against Moshe as we are often taught, becomes a moment for learning for all as Moshe indicates they will not move on without his sister and Miriam herself is healed, both on the surface, and perhaps internally as she may come to the realization that when one uses speech to render someone an outsider, the speaker in this instance becomes the outsider – the one excluded – and is brought in by the compassion and the “stepping up” of the one they may have wronged. What an important lesson to be applied in our lives today when we think of our community and who is included!

There is another important lesson here. Our lives as human beings are all about living on the continuum of pure and impure – these are not static points, but rather moving parts of the ongoing reality of our lives. Our Law gives us approaches to deal with them, through participation in the community and coming together, need for reflection and sometimes a measured dose of isolation, and then full inclusion. Is this about outsiders and insiders, or rather about how each of us fall into all stated categories at some point. That is to say, any of us who has a visible physical deficit or a skin affliction (think poison ivy, eczema, allergic rashes, etc.) knows the feeling of being looked at differently. As suggested by a second grader many years ago when I was teaching this Parsha, maybe the purpose of the isolation is NOT for the community but for the individual to not be hurt or embarrassed but to focus on their own healing. Now that is a sobering thought.

As the Parsha continues, we come across Nidah, Zav, Zavah, Ba’al Keri – amplifying the point that all of these experiences are just part of being human as are the various differentiations in our lives. While there are lengthy discussions about how we separate from the individual in question – whether an ovel, a metzora or a menudeh – the real goal of the discussion is how we include as many people as possible as often as possible and while the law scripts that inclusion, it is up to us as people of compassion, following G-d as Rachmana, to insure that it happens fully and completely.

Maybe just maybe when we read the words: מטמאצם ישראל בני את והזרתם And you shall separate the B’nai Yisrael from their Tum’ah

at the end of our Parsha, this lack of understanding that does not put community first and show compassion to each individual is the most profound Tum’ah of all!

Is this not the message of Pesach with our reading about our Aramean beginnings, our different types of children, the lengthy discussions of our learned forebearers and their different approaches, the many different foods and what they represent and so on. None of these discussions are about US and THEM -- the insiders and the outsiders -- but rather how to insure that we all remain insiders to the greatest degree possible so that when an individual is rendered what could potentially be considered an “outsider,” pause is taken and law is remembered. This was clearly the concern of our teachers from long ago; let our teachers today and all of us remember this as we prepare for this Pesach. I do believe Rabbi Bernays would find this an appropriate Shabbat HaGadol lesson to consider.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Oh the people we meet….

No this is not about Dr. Seuss, as much as we have all enjoyed his oh so valuable contribution to our individual and collective literary development. What this is about is – the wonderful people who have been part of my life in different chapters with whom I have reconnected recently. A college roommate whom I hope to see in a few months when Ken and I are in Atlanta, a best friend from college with whom I have promised myself to have a phone conversation soon simply ecause I have mentioned him to so many people recently, a wonderful friend whom I met in my twenties who just spent Shabbat with Ken and me and her husband, some Orthodox Rabbis whom I have always liked best as a result of some work I am presently doing for ESHEL, two friends from separate parts of my high school life who ended up marrying each other not so long ago and with whom I had a wonderful dinner a few months ago, and so it goes.

I have truly been blessed with so many people in my life and so many different venues and communities of which I have been part. I never separate easily and remember such sadness when it was the last day at a school I was leaving, or the end of a work assignment or when I realized I was not going to an annual retreat called CAJE any longer after 28 years of consistent attendance. So, imagine, how excited when these wonderful people circle back in my life. It definitely gives me a sense of the many places I have been (thanks again for the reference, Dr. Seuss!)

My eldest daughter has friends in her life from high school and even earlier, all the way back to her earliest years as a very young child. I really love that. It is even more meaningful to me when I myself have various degrees of friendship with the parents of these thirty-somethings! And now their children – the third generation – are friends. This is one of the profound blessings I have in my life for which I am so grateful. It is the friendships that I have had consistently for decades that truly make me feel grounded. How much fun it is to be in a room with people I have known so long and to realize that my husband of 22 years is one of my “newer friends,” which does still happen from time to time.

Years ago, someone I know was so distraught when a member of her community, an occasional friend, died suddenly. I distinctly remember her saying that they were going to get together and it never happened. Oh yes, I definitely have those friends with whom I play phone tag trying to arrange time together and of course, we are all busy. Nonetheless, it is so wonderful and so grounding to know that these people are in my life and that I can reach out to them, whether it is a childhood friend who lives in Nevada and talk on the phone while decades can just vanish as do the miles that separate us geographically.

I love pretty and well decorated environments and do indeed take pride in the beautiful home that my husband and I have created along with our four children and now two spouses and three members of the next generation – Yoella’s (that eldest daughter) girls. That being said, I have always claimed that I would rather be judged or thought of not for the materials in my environment but for the people there. And it is clear that these people I have met in so many chapters of my life are still here…. And this gives me so much hope for continued chapters of sharing and growing for all of us. And yes, I will call my friend from college soon!!!! Why don’t we all think about those people in our lives and do the same?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Another Cyber Siyyum: Masechet Moed Katan



Several days ago I completed my learning (this time around, as we all hope to return and learn more at a later date from all of the texts we explore and interact with) of Masechet Moed Katan. This ended up being particularly meaningful for me for very personal reasons.

Those of us who are Halachically observant (living according to Jewish law) are often asked if there are things that bother us about this system as it is articulated and in how it developed. Even as we look at where we are presently in the Jewish calendar, there are those who have issues with Purim, which we just celebrated with great merriment, due to the mass killing that is carried out at the end of the narrative by the Jews and its sometimes troubling message of destroying Amalek and who Amalek may be taken to be in various generations. Further, as we are presently learning Parshat Shemini (the third portion of Torah reading of the book of BaYikra/Leviticus) and read the narrative about Aaron’s sons who are killed for showing their love for G-d in an original and unscripted manner as well as laws of dietary restrictions that too many people do not understand, this quandary is clear and present.

I am reasonably sure that most, if not all religiously observant Jews must have some area of law that troubles them, usually connected to personal experiences, where perhaps, if I can be so bold, they feel let down by this system that dictates our lives. For me it has always been in the area of the laws of Avelut, or mourning. I remember many years ago, when I had just lost a pregnancy a bit more than mid-way into gestation, I did not listen to the rules about bed rest and went with my husband to a class given by an area Rabbi. I will always remember his reference to the teaching that “to mourn is public and can be dictated; to grieve is private and one has to do what is needed for themselves.” This always stuck with me and the more I engage in my learning of Talmud, the more I see that this kindness and compassion is clearly present.

As I have learned in Moed Katan, there is a great deal to be taught and learned about mourning and what we do when we lose someone in our lives. So one of the set of rules and regulations about mourning is that if you lose one of your primary relatives (parent, spouse, child, sibling and assorted associated others according to some of the voices in the Talmud and elsewhere), the seven days of staying at home to be consoled by others is canceled if the death occurs within a set period before a Yom Tov/Holiday. Further, if such a death occurs within a certain window, say before Yom Kippur and thus a set number of days before Sukkot which occurs five days later, then the Sheloshim – the thirty days of restrictive practices that the mourner observes is also cancelled. I just lived through this with the death of my mother on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat immediately before Yom Kippur. When my dad died on Rosh Hodesh Elul, just five weeks before, we observed all of the various periods of restrictions, coming slowly out into full public life. It made sense. When my mom died, I had a hard time making sense out of the loss of these periods of time to share with others, to think and just adjust, especially having lost both parents in five weeks. I ended up doing most of my processing by myself and with one cousin with whom I am particularly close. It felt more solitary and at times that was challenging for me.

Enter my study of Moed Katan and the explanations. Why does the observance of these community celebrations trump the restrictive isolation of the mourner? Is this fair? As I continued to go through the arguments and the back and forth discussion so characteristic of the Talmud and the many voices it contains, I finally and slowly got it. The community comes to the mourner to console the one who is bereft of a loved one. However, the public festivals are important for all to follow and to rejoice together. The thinking is suggested that perhaps the mourner will actually be helped along in their process more by being part of the public than continuing their isolation while everyone else observes these special holidays. Before Sukkot, we had a lot of scheduled guests for all of our meals, as is always our practice. I had indicated to my husband, Ken, that I did not think I would feel up to it this time around and perhaps we should cancel all of our plans. He promised to do all of the work to make these meals happen if I could not do so and that it would be better for me to participate in these celebrations as I always do. I am always the planner and just did not want to have to disinvite people at the last minute if I could not handle being with people. Lo and behold, a mere eight days after burying my mom, people were in our home – lots of people. Yes, actually it was quite okay and I did feel better. I may very well have felt worse if I had been isolated from all of this community interaction.

The more I engage in my daily learning of Gemara (Talmud), the more I appreciate the principles that guide our lives and provide for a consistency that may (and often does) elude us when looking at various practices in isolation. I always teach that Halacha and life as informed by it is a giant jigsaw puzzle in which there is an interdependence and interfacing between the various pieces and in which the sum total is so much greater than the arithmetric sum of the parts. Here my own teaching was put to the test as I was a bit lost in the intersection of the coming of Sukkot after Yom Kippur, so close to my mom’s death, coming a mere 30 days after my dad could no longer stay in this world. But as I often teach, in driver’s education, you are taught that when the car skids, DO NOT turn against the direction of the skid, but into it and you have a better chance of a good result. I guess I sort of turned into the skid of Halacha and let it guide me, and it did! Thank you for the explanation, Moed Katan. I will return to learn from you again at some future point.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Who’s in your family?

I am truly one of those truly fortunate people who thank G-d every day for my amazing family. I get to live with my favorite people in the world and that is pretty cool. To the outside world who does not know us so well, we look like a close nuclear family – a dad and a mom, four children, two of whom are married and three cute little girls whom I call my daughter’s daughters, while my husband refers to them as grandchildren. (I do not use the G word!) We talk to each other all of the time, continue to make amazing family vacations happen, are so close to each other and genuinely love as well as like the people we each are. This is truly a blessing.

So how did this family come together? I will preface this part by sharing one of my very familiar quotes – “I think I am a really together person and how my life turned into a soap opera is so NOT my fault.” Those of you who kow me well have heard that one many times – I know. Here goes! Yoella, my eldest daughter is from my first marriage to her father. Our middle daughters, Rachie and Talie are identical twins and were the product of my second marriage to their father. They also have another sister and brother who are the children of their father from a previous marriage. Then, there is Ora, another parent figure in the family who is now the third ex-wife of their father and we have all kept her as part of our own family constellation. Ken and I married twenty-two years ago (our anniversary is actually in three days!) and Brian is our adopted son, brother to Yoella and Rachie and Talie. This was so confusing and head spinning to people, that Rachie, being the kind person she is, prepared a lovely flow chart explaining our family to everyone who needed to reference it on her dorm door in Israel. Eight and a half years ago, Yoella married her high school boyfriend, Jeremy, who has his own family tree to explain and now they have Neli, Neima and Adel. Rachie, our second married child, is with the love of her life, Liz. As we always tell Jeremy, he is definitely my favorite son-in-law; he now informs me that he does not feel there will be much competition.

This all resonates in a particularly humorous manner when we are out and about and people say, oh, you all look alike. Rachie and Brian look like Ken and Talie and Yoella look like me. Little do they know that this would not be due to genetics, not where Ken is concerned and certainly not where Brian is concerned. So we got it!!!!! This is our amazing, interconnected to other people, family!

Then the last week happened. Brian, who was adopted from Karelia, supposedly a type of territory of the FSR, though no one can quite pin down what the relationship is, was brought into our family close to nineteen years ago. At that time, we were told that there were no relatives who had been looking for him and we were given information regarding his birth mother’s name and the name of a brother and sister, who were aged 12 and 11 respectively. We knew that his brother and sister were actually raised by the grandmother and that the mother was out of the picture. That was it! He had no connections where he lived in The Childrens’ Home in Petrosovodsz and we would be his first family when he was 2 ½ years of age. Further, we were informed that we should never try to find out about his birth family because there was no way to get the information and that the members of that family would never be able to locate him.

Fast forward three months shy of nineteen years and what has changed remarkably in our world? SOCIAL MEDIA!!!! Lo and behold, Brian listed his identifying information on an adoption web site and within a few days a wonderful young lady from Spain named Caroline contacted him and asked if he wanted her help. We were just a bit skeptical given the many scams and dishonest things that do happen in the reality in which we live, but we took a leap of faith and Brian responded. We are truly grateful to Caroline, who we hope will forgive us for any hesitation in just accepting this lovely gift she was about to bestow upon us! Within another 36 hours, we had so much information about Brian’s birth family. Brian was nervous and overwhelmed; I was just really excited. Between finding out that Brian did in fact have a birth family that had been searching for him, specifically his birth sister, Zina on Saturday night and Tuesday night of this week, Brian and Zina became Facebook friends, chatted extensively on that medium, and Brian had pictures of Zina, her daughter, and his brother Dmitry. Zina had just joined Facebook about two months ago incidentally, so talk about timing! On Tuesday night, Brian and Zina skyped for over an hour with the help of Zina’s wonderful husband who was the only one who could speak and understand both Russian and English and could serve as translator. Brian introduced Zina to me, to Ken, to Yoella and Jeremy and the three girls and we also told her about Rachie and Talie. She was rather impressed (overwhelmed!) by our large family! It turns out that Zina did see Brian when he was four days old (and named originally Victor Alexandrovitch Chingin) and did try to find him on numerous occasions – but apparently regulations and protocol took over and she was not allowed to be in contact. And now here we were -- It was an amazing experience. Zina confirmed what I could see in the picture – Brian and his birth brother Dmitry look alike. Zina asked if Brian likes to draw. Why, because while Zina did not know that much about their birth mother, she knew she drew well. Brian draws beautifully, by the way. He appears to have real talent. It turns out that his birth family includes an uncle as well as the maternal grandmother that raised his birth siblings. And then there is this funny coincidence that no one could make up.

Zina’s birth date is September 11, 1987, the very same date of birth as Rachie and Talie! Funny enough, apparently, Rachie and Talie used to joke with people that they had a third sister (triplet) in the attic… Who knew? So, we have not even begun with the cousins and aunts and uncles in our family…. But I imagine, Rachie, it might be a really good idea to go and update that Family Tree Flow Chart some time soon!

I am often asked why I maintain and encourage maintaining all of the family connections we have. After all, don’t I have enough people to be concerned about and keep track of…. So, here is my answer. I know that Ora ADORES Rachie and Talie and I adore her for doing so. Yoella benefits from the love of her dad’s family and I love how everyone keeps in contact with all sides of each of these nuclear units. All of those aunts and uncles and cousins that are part of my children’s lives … I think it is wonderful to have so many people in your life who love you and whom you love. This is truly a gift that enriches the lives of all who benefit from it. And now, my dear Brian, you too, have a whole other family to include in your life. We hope you will share them with all of us and that one day we can move past Skype and actually meet your sister Zina, brother Dmitry and other family members. More blessings have just appeared in our lives! I am again so very grateful!