The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

On Open Houses and Choice in a Foreign Tongue

It is early in the morning.

She rests her head against my shoulder, twisting her body around in an attempt to find a comfortable position. I sit as still as I can, knowing she will turn again and again until we finally get there. I’ve learned to be the rock she circles; forever keeping me at her center.

She lets out the air she’s been holding in all night and squeezes my hand.

“I’m nervous.”

I stroke her hair gently.

“Don’t worry sweetie. Today is just about the options. We don’t have to decide anything yet.”

She settles into another position against me and scrolls through my phone, willing the music she loves to soothe her churning stomach, and I am left alone with anxious thoughts thundering through my still body like a silent hurricane.

We are heading to an open house at a high school in Jerusalem. We are trying to find a place for her to learn and grow and be herself and be valued and shine and become. She is going to love this place, I know. She will see the art on the walls and a set stage. She will hear the music playing, and the dancers will be ready, and she will imagine herself right in the center of it all with a microphone and a million hopes and dreams.

I will listen to the principal speak about math and science and expectations. I will look around at the students and watch where their heads sit between their shoulders. I will find the stories hidden in the walls and the corners and the bathrooms of this place that wants to hold my child. I will not understand all the nuances said in a language I process through a tight layer of plastic wrap that suffocates the message and makes me choke on words. I will feel bewildered and lost and alone as I walk through an option that feels the same as every other one I’m given and points me in a direction I don’t recognize.

I wonder what other parents feel, as they stroll through their choices with an ease that comes from knowing what your options are. Do they lose sleep at night fighting demons the unknown conjures? Do they live with the regret that comes with retrospect only gained once experience shines a light on the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t come with the box?

She reaches out for me again, and I hold her close and kiss her cheek and wish away the fear.

I remember how it felt when I walked off the plane, down the stairs, and onto the ground that held my future. I remember the loneliness and the ache of rising panic as I realized I was in a land that was a birthright but not a birthplace. I remember the struggle of becoming caught between two worlds and the pressing weight of conflicting cultures that forced me on this ledge where I have been balancing as I built my home and found my footing.

I am tired of feeling incompetent. I am tired of not fitting in. I am tired of having to rely on advice from strangers every time I need to decide the future of my children. I am tired of never knowing the full picture. I am tired of these moments where I feel like I am crawling through a stampede, trampled under the assumption that my independence means I don’t need a herd.

It is paralyzing, change. It is a rising wave of feelings that require a mountain of sandbags to hold together strong.

I wrap my baby girl in my arms as she rides her wave heavily against me.

As we climb the mountain towards the center of a choice I made when I didn’t know what it means to choose for someone else, I wonder who will pack around me as wave after wave crashes into my ever changing life.

For now, I still the part of me that is brave and strong and circle it, knowing that somewhere in my mixed up mind is the girl who flew across the world all by herself, found a path full of heartache and joy, followed it to this moment where my beautiful growing-up girl is getting ready to fly.

I don’t know if I chose this land or if this land chose me.

All I know for sure is that the sky above me is the only one blue enough to be the backdrop against my daughter’s brilliant wings.

Mourning my Son with no Name

The flutters intensify every year as we light the last candle. Eight flames burning is the signal; the moment we start counting down the week until our baby’s birthday, three days before his death.

This year, my womb contracted wildly with the news of another boy torn from his mother too early… too violently.

I held my breath for as long as he was fighting.

I could see him in that same place, under the loving watch of angels of mercy who call themselves nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit of Shaarei Zedek.

And my soul ripped apart when I knew they had taken all the tubes and wires out, cleaned his translucent skin, and wrapped him in a blanket gently so that his parents could hold him and say goodbye.

The cries that came out of me that night 13 years ago echoed through time and shot me where the bullets made another 21-year-old a mother, a mourner, and a broken soul.

The entire country is mourning a life cut short, mourning for his family and for the children we continue to bury who are always too young. Their names are etched in stone, dotting this land with reminders of who they were and who they could have been.

My sorrow, deeply embedded in this tragedy, greased and separated slowly, as this feeling I could not escape bubbled to the surface, as the funeral procession choked through the night air and heaved.

When my firstborn died, there was no funeral. The Chevra Kadisha took his body, gave him a quiet brit and an obscure name of an angel that I won’t ever know, and waited for someone else to die so that they could walk along the procession and bury him in the mass grave set aside for fetuses adjacent to the cemetery on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives). There was no other option, halachically and legally.

They’ve changed the law since and given people a choice.

Our nation’s baby boy was buried, having spent the same amount of time in the same NICU as the son I wanted to name Betzalel because of his long fingers I knew belonged to an artist.

They named him Amiad Yisrael and eulogized him and cried for him and marked his little grave and left me feeling shattered and lost and ugly because, as much as I want to cry for them, I can’t help but cry for me as I wait for my son’s 13th birthday to come on Sunday so that I can count three days and the light a candle for the 13 years that never were.

And I think I am crazy, and I think I am jealous and resentful and incredibly selfish, but I am not sorry or embarrassed, because if you are nodding your head right now and crying with me, then these words needed to be said so that you know you are not alone.

Burial is a grounding act.

It allows pain to dig a hole and create a space to exist — a space that can be visited or left alone, a space that contains all the complexities of broken hearts and loss.

Without the act of burial, the pain, having nowhere else to go, becomes the air all around you. The only way to escape it is to stop breathing.

I am breathing the pain of my son with no grave and feeling the jagged shards of children wrapped discreetly and taken from empty wombs and incubators. I am with them on their last journey, alone, as they tag along with another death, and I am with them as they are placed in concrete tombs with other limbs they won’t call whole. I am unmarked and unmourned, and I am decomposing as though I have never been. I am the cold breeze and the heavy cloud and the sun that can never shine as bright. I am scraped from the inside and left to watch the funeral procession create a space to mourn that doesn’t belong to me.

I am angry and hurt and afraid to tell the world how it feels because I know you might squirm and hesitate and maybe even call me selfish when you are confronted by these thoughts I’m not supposed to say out loud.

I say them anyway because I know the only way to brush this away is to hold my breath until I die.

And I don’t want to die.

My son, Betzalel son of Bracha, son of Naftali, is somewhere on that mountain together with the sons and daughters who never got a name.

And maybe Amiad Yisrael’s tiny grave is big enough and deep enough to hold the lifelong loss of parents throughout this country and tether us to the ground.

Yehi Zichronam Livracha.

*Please read the updated law regarding burial after a loss of pregnancy to be sure no one ever has to feel like they have no choice.

Source: Times of Israel

A Million Shades of Green

I’m like Garfield, just different, she says as she pulls on Freddie Mercury’s orange fur, baiting him.

I like lasagna, but I hate Sundays.

She laughs as Freddie pounces. I don’t bother disciplining her about the cat again. Their love is wild and free-spirited. Plus, she likes the way he makes her look like a warrior.

Get it Ima? Cause Sunday here is like Monday and I hate going back to school.

I’m half smiling as I settle into my seat on the bus.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

I didn’t tell her how I relish these quiet mornings at the start of my week, how I put my best foot forward and make commitments to myself I know I won’t keep. I didn’t tell her how I hate Fridays and the crippling disappointment I feel when I realize I didn’t change the world since Sunday. I also didn’t tell her to withhold her love from the cat so he’ll stop biting her.

There doesn’t seem to be a point in full disclosure here.

I like the way my brain races along with me just outside the window. I think thoughts I know will become words I’m going to have to release.

My thoughts are green now.

It’s so lush outside. Just a few small downpours and the fields came alive. They’re dancing with shades of green; bursting with something so natural it aches.

I breathe deep. When the earth is resurrected, I become more alive.

The bus rolls up to a stop. My forehead is pressed to the cool glass. I am calm, and the kind of thoughtful that means overflowing with thoughts that pull me in every direction.

The green is still flashing by. Now it is tinged with olive and adorned with red, black, brown and metal.

The kids are heading back to base.

This green is freshly laundered and smells like home. This green is hulking bags full of more clean green slung over slight frames, tiny young frames, supported by laced up boots. This green boards the bus again for a week, two, maybe six. This green is going back to serve.

My thoughts are muddled green and Sunday, tossed with fresh blades of grass and topped with goodbyes.

…I hate Sundays…Separation Sundays…green plastic soldiers…blowing in the wind…grass is greener…on which side?…teenage warriors…mutant green turtles…samurai swords and M-16s…turning tween, then green, ya’alla gever…crisp slacks and burlap sacks…holding on a moment longer…sending out a teenage soldier…see you on the flip side…don’t forget to tell the world I tried…

Green churns through me as I head to Jerusalem to make something of my life. Green gathers at the Central Bus Station, showing up to serve all over this sprouting country.

Don’t forget to pick up candles.

Colored candles, bright and bold and full of light. We’ll light them one by one and talk about gratitude.

When the yellow and white and orange and drops of blue dancing flames flicker in my windowsill, I’ll be thinking of green-clad children saying goodbye.

Source: Times of Israel

Doing Something

For 515 days, my sister and I shared my Facebook profile picture, smiling to the world from a little circle above my name. My cover photo was taken that time we went to Jerusalem and she posed with my children on Yoel Solomon Street.

515 days ago I sat down and looked through all my pictures to find one of her actively living after 22 months of watching her actively dying.

 

Now, I update the images.

Update.

My heart trembling, I write:

Changing my profile and cover picture feels like a betrayal. As if Hudis should be everywhere I am, leading me with every interaction I have online the way she walks ahead of me wherever I go. But it’s also relieving in a way like I’ve let her be my little sister again and no longer hold her above me. She’s plastered on my heart, etched on the inside of my skin…her image, a collage of the face I met when she was born, the face I kissed when she died, and every moment I saw her in between, is bright and beautiful and tucked away in the drawer of my soul where the most precious parts of me go.

My daughter is watching me closely, reading over my shoulder.

“Ima, your words…”

She kisses me gently and wipes the tear that formed when I saw that she gets me.

The night my sister died I couldn’t sleep. Words were marching across the inside of my brain, demanding I let them out. I sat up in bed and wrote my goodbye.

“I figured it out,” you said.

“I know what death is.”

It was last August, at the end of an epic summer, and you were saying goodbye.

It was in the living room – on the couches you hated and in typical fashion, you spoke bluntly and decisively about the topic most people avoided around you.

“It’s just my body.  That’s all it is.  And I am not just my body.  My body is sick…my body will die…but I am so much more than that.  I am everything else that I am, and that will never die.”

Oh, Hudis…

You are right.

You will never die.

Your body is here now – finally pain-free…finally unhooked and untethered from everything that you are…

And Hudis you are everything.

You are the strength of a thousand people…

You are the courage of one lone soldier against a mighty army.

You are the love that binds hearts together….

You are the innocence of a million children

You are the joy and laughter of uninhibited play…

You are the song that rises from the brokenhearted…

You are the notes teased from ivory keys, rising and falling with every breath you no longer need to take as you write the lyrics to the greatest song on earth…

Hudis – we will play that song…

We will add notes and harmonies and a baseline that keeps us moving forward.

We will write the stories of our heavy hearts and weave them through your lines.

We will create a bridge that connects it all and we will sing it…

And we will surely sing it too loud and too intrusively and off-key – the only way you can possibly sing a song that can never die.

Achrona, achrona chaviva Hudis.

Save the best for last.

You’ll always be the best.

It was read to her body before we took her to a hole in the ground and covered her with dirt.

We sat.

We sat in our puddles of grief and people came and tried to comfort us.

But I am not comforted by words spoken at me.

The words that comfort me fly from my fingertips, race across the screen and scream with intensity as my lips close and my heart slows and I can feel my lungs fill with life.

Still, I have to do something.

My father set up a table with a box.

Chai Lifeline.

People dropped their dollars in as they left the weeping house. Death makes you want to do something.

I sat at her computer and wrote again.

A lifeline is a rope…a chain…a ladder
thrown into the depths of hell
pulled back into a safety net
where there is air to breathe.
A lifeline is strong…sturdy…unbreakable.
A lifeline is a last hope…an only chance…a leap of faith.
A lifeline comes at a moment of despair
a moment of panic
a moment of confusion
and slows down time
so the path can be seen.
It is a painful path
a broken path
a path full of pitfalls and craters hidden under beds of green
but all along the way
the lifeline is there
ready to jump in
ready to provide a hand
ready to descend into the pit
and pull.
That is a lifeline.
Then there is Chai Lifeline.
And suddenly
there is a way to be more than
the only possible way.

I sent it to myself and printed it out.

Her name was on the top like she had written it.

from: Hudis Storch
to: Bracha Goldstein

We made copies and put it on the table with the box of money. When we got up and walked around the block we had done something.

We started living again.

But we still wanted to do something.

Hudis was determined to run the Miami Marathon for Chai Lifeline. The day she was supposed to fly out, she woke up with a fever. She took her suitcase with her to the hospital. She never made it to Miami. She made her own finish line in the pediatric oncology ward in Robert Wood Johnson and crossed it with a smile that tricked us all. She looked so alive. We couldn’t have known she only had four months left.

Two of my sisters decided to finish it for her. They started raising money before we even go up off those chairs and they ran and walked and pushed themselves harder than they ever thought they could.

I watched them and felt something stir.

I wanted to do something.

I crossed the ocean when it was a year and kissed the slab my sister lies beneath. I wrote again because I don’t know how to do anything else. This time I read it out loud and my voice shook.

I can’t fly to Miami and run. I can’t keep the picture of my baby sister in front of me always. I can’t get my revenge on cancer. I can’t dig up the dead and force the world to stop and remember my sister and all the people actively dying while we passively live on.

My older sister is running the marathon again.

I can do something.

I can write.

And I can tell you about this life and this world and the bits and pieces of who we are as we pass through. I can string words around so that you get how it feels to want to do something as you watch people who have more courage than you can imagine walk into hospital rooms, look cancer in the eye and ready their weapons to fight, no matter how many battles they may have lost.

Chai Lifeline does something.

You can too.

Support my oldest sister as she runs for my baby sister.

Please. 

Click here and donate.

“Ima, you’re writing again?”

I look up at her, knowing she will read my words one day.

“I’m doing something,” I say.

Source

Ceasefire

In between war and peace, there is a space where words like ceasefire float around as though they mean something more than pause.

For me, a ceasefire is like a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. You know it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. You just don’t know how long you have to brace yourself for whatever this ultimately means.

I remember the pit in my stomach that formed when we knew my sister was full of colon cancer. For 22 months, it sat and grew thorns that jabbed at me incessantly. When she died, the mass inside me emptied so fast that I was left with a gaping hole I didn’t know how to live with. It took me a long time to replace it with things that brought me pleasure and comfort.

I’ve been here through intifadas and wars. I’ve seen the cycle enough to know what it means to be given a ceasefire. And the pit is growing again. This time, I feel the entire country twisting around with me in discomfort. I don’t know the answer. I wonder if there even is one. But I know that we cannot go on much longer like this.

This is what Ceasefire means to me.

* * *

I have been here before.

So many times before.

Words depicting bloodshed and war shot from the only weapon I’ve ever held comfortably in my hands exploded in empty fields of papers no one will ever read.

I wrote of pain and suffering and heartache and confusion and the humanity inside me that is ripped apart by my need for safety and my need for peace.

I am flesh and bone, so I duck and cover, but I am heart and soul, so I rise and resist.

I don’t understand any of it.

I don’t know why I am chained to my history and my people any more than I understand why I am sympathetic to mothers on the other side of the wall I hate but hide behind as I teach my children tolerance and love and how to communicate effectively to end conflict.

This region at the center of turmoil and battles in the name of gods who don’t have the decency to show up and put a stop to this endless loop of hatred and fear eats me alive and sustains me at once.

Sinatra croons in my head as I watch my country flirt with war.

“Bang bang, she shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang bang, my baby shot me down”

Bang bang.

Ceasefire.

Bury the dead. Bandage the wounds. Build another wall and burn another bridge.

Ceasefire.

Regroup, reload, relaunch.

Cease.

Cease to what? Hate? Exist? Believe?

This land has hooked me, reined me in and entangled me in her torment. I cannot pry myself away from her now.

Ceasefire.

Simmering in the quiet air, raging deep beneath broken trust, our fire holds still another day.

Ceasefire.

Hanging for a moment in time, it is too heavy to remain suspended between hope and reality and will come crashing to the broken ground.

And I…

I am here, planted in a land that was buried alive in a shallow grave. She is slowly decomposing, her stench cannot be masked. I can’t describe how her wretchedness roils my insides yet fills me with a yearning hunger never satiated. This is not prose – it can’t be written from imaginative thoughts. It is a vivid description of the land I feel beneath my feet. It is more real than I will ever be.

This land cannot cease to fire; it is the only way she knows how to breathe.

Originally published on The Times of Israel

Meet Me Where You Left Me

Watching the news one night, my husband raised the feminist flag. Four women awkwardly crossed their bare legs on the couch. One man, his legs spread wide to accommodate his shrinking masculinity, sat in the center. On our side of the screen, my husband squirmed and called it out. And I rolled my eyes.

We talked about it. He blamed his background and thanked me for helping him see the reality but didn’t appreciate that I don’t allow him into the conversation. I said I spent too many lonely years screaming to now pat him on the back when he sees misogyny. I’d rather he fight where it makes a difference, calling men out when they say that stupid joke or comment or gesture from an upright position as it happens, not as casual commentary when we’re alone.

We didn’t do a good job validating each other and went to bed upset.

The painful conversation the next morning covered my loneliness and the fact that for years I was convinced I would lose him.

I knew he had to find his way on his own but I didn’t know if it would end up at my side. He explored every aspect of Judaism; the cracks and corners where the grey turns vibrant and the black and white pages of his youth. When the walls caved in and he saw his truth, I stood next to him while he found his footing. When he did, it was solid and purposeful. And he walked ahead, leaving me where I had been waiting, exploring a world of ideas that excited him and broadened his mind in a way that overwhelmed me.

I was still lonely.

We cried, and we talked, and we promised to find a blank page we could write in together.

Then, because he was searching for something to help understand me better, he found a path that led straight to my open wounds.

Our relationship is not strengthened by what we have been through together. Those experiences, the cycles of life and love, have shaped who we are as people. What draws the outline of who we are together are the things we overcame as we circled around each other desperately trying to wrap our arms tight around the individual experiences the other had without us, soothing the loneliness we carry in our hearts.

This is how the love of my life discovered the crater between us and, without bothering to build a bridge, leaped over to my side and made us more than we ever were.

* * *

The panel is comprised of Orthodox women actively fighting the status quo. They are strong and intelligent and hell-bent on being heard. They talk about women disappearing and how it is not their Torah. They speak of holiness and femininity and their right to learn and teach and participate in the halachic discussion.

Then they open the floor to questions.

“How do you explain the halacha that states when a man and woman are drowning, you must save the man first?”

There is a moment where I, sitting on the other end of the couch reading about the different ways humanity is working to abolish hatred from the world we share, raise my head in mild hope to hear what wisdom the women my husband is trying to learn from can possibly have that I have not heard before.

I’ve learned to lower my expectations so I’m not that disappointed when the answers fall where they have always gathered, exposed on the ground shamefully.

But his eyes are widening and he is turning to me in shock. He can’t believe the way they have walked around the question, claiming to have accepted the bad with the good because it was different then. He can’t believe they dismiss the inconsistencies and ignore the way their bad answers leave more questions in their wake. He is bothered by it, bothered by my eyes rolling up in response because these, and more sophisticated pacifistic answers I have spent my life combating, are just a drop in the vast bucket of inadequacies I have been made to feel as a woman made from the ribs of a man.

He is racing through it all now; hearing the ways I have been explained since I realized my vagina made me less than. He is learning the tones and nuances of words falling flat against an ever-expanding sense of worthlessness. He is walking in the imprints my shoes made as I wandered around and around in my loneliness and he is gutted by the pain I never could describe.

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I mean, you told me…but I didn’t really get it. I never heard these words said these ways…I never looked and looked and couldn’t find a way to make it feel right…I never walked a second in your path, and I didn’t know how lonely you were.”

I thank him. He is sorry it is so late.

But I am grateful because he gets it.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me that I am valued to you, not only as your friend and partner but as a woman who faced this alone my whole life.”

I pause as I think of the weight we carry when we walk along our destiny.

“To have you take my hand and stand with me makes it all feel a little lighter.”

I remember how years ago, I stood at a crossroad and watched him walk down a path that didn’t suit me. Watching him disappear, I wrote.

I walk the lonely road…

twisting…turning…forever changing…

and as I wander…

I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.

He walks…on a different road…

twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…

with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearning…a want…so different from mine.

Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.

He goes right…I go left…

our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…

as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.

We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.

And I smile because there is a place in my little corner of the universe where I have finally been given the strength to fly farther than that road ever could have taken me.