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

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

Taking a Stand for Sarah Tuttle-Singer

This is a sacred space.

It is my quiet – where my thoughts flow across a clean, white screen with no smudges and smears.

It is a private space with a door opening to the outside allowing others to peek in within the safety of words drawing boundaries with their intimacy.

I write boldly about my feelings in the most cautious way.

I use words that make it clear I am in control, and you have no place here.

I don’t get many comments or likes.

I get viewers…readers who peek into my soul and know that they belong on their side of the glass…watching and listening while minding the signs.

KEEP OFF

PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH

DO NOT CROSS RED LINE.

I drew the lines carefully and consciously when I first began finding myself in this sacred space. I was afraid of any response – afraid someone else would enter and rip me apart. I wrote deeply always from a place of feeling…of individual perception…of no judgment.

I feel…I am…my heart…my soul…

Rarely you…you don’t belong here in my innermost feels.

It was a good strategy, even though it isolated me in the blogosphere and kept me under the radar.

But I need to shatter the walls for a moment to talk about Sarah Tuttle-Singer.

For years I read her words with an eagerness pulling at my heart.

Her sentences painted pictures I could immerse in; her thoughts turned me inside out and forced me to re-examine where I thought I fit in.

And I watched her sacred space fall prey to hate.

Vicous, horrifying hate.

But I’m a coward, so I continued lurking and quietly congratulating myself for keeping my little corner here empty.

I don’t want to be a coward.

I want to stand up and say how much I respect her as a writer, how much I admire her courage to face off against all the assholes. I want to stand beside her and swing at each jerky fastball heading her way. I want to claim how little of a shit I give about our differences and how much I connect to our similarities.

The thing is, I’m scared of you.

Here’s the biggest secret I hide beneath my broken past…

In my here and now, with all the pain and suffering behind me, I am what you some of you would call a liberal fucktard. I am so open-minded my brains sometimes fall out. I lean wildly to the left even as my roots try to pull me towards the center. I fight for equality and understanding and acceptance. I’m not always articulate, and I don’t have an academic background to lean against. But I’m a severe empath, and I get ravaged by other people’s feelings.

I’m also deathly afraid of you yelling at me.

I retreat and retreat until my head is deeply embedded in any sand it can find just so I don’t have to defend the thoughts I can barely control.

And then I read words I recognize as my truth, and I have to stand up and join the fight.

I don’t know if I can do more than this.

I don’t know how much my heart can take.

I may go back to bleeding all over this space the way I always have.

I may seal myself in and curl into the ball on the floor you don’t have to address.

But for this one moment, I am standing up and screaming out to the world from inside my warm, safe cave.

Just shut up.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer should be able to pour herself out onto blank pages without you telling her to die, or that she should be raped, or that she is evil.

You don’t have to like what she says, or who she is if you want to make it personal.

You can disagree with her and try to debate whatever you want with her.

Enough with the hate I can feel sizzling through my screen.

Maybe try to listen.

To open up and see her soul. It’s right there in front of you.

It’s beautiful.

 

 

 

Dry eyes

My grandmother ran out of Poland towards Russia with only the summer clothes she was wearing and spent the next five years seeking warmth in a world that had frozen over.

I was raised on her story, as well as all the stories of my generation’s grandparents. We were their proof that it had been worth it and we were reminded of that as often as possible.

Black and white images of striped prisoners dominated my youth and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my life was a living testimony to six million corpses.

I devoured memoirs and drew black and white sketches of emaciated Jews melting in pools of blood. My drawings hung on the walls as trophies, as though they meant we had won.

I knew what gas chambers were before I had ever watched a Disney movie. I scoffed at Socialism before I learned about Democracy. I could recognize Hitler and Stalin and swastikas before I ever saw a picture of JFK. I wasn’t brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, I was brought up in the tangible fear and hope and pain and joy of a generation who went through something they either couldn’t stop talking about or never mentioned at all.

I didn’t think death and destruction could faze me; I was basically a survivor.

Almost 11 months ago, my ninety-something-year-old grandmother walked across the green grass leading up to the hole they were lowering my 17-year-old sister into. She stood as tall as possible for a 4 foot-something woman and looked straight ahead. “Dayeinu,” she stated. She remained stoic and unmoving throughout the week, solid as a rock. When someone told my father that we don’t ask questions; we just cry, she marched over and made another statement. “We ask questions,” she said, “we don’t cry.”

At one point I escaped the crowds and went upstairs to the room with the candle where we watched my sister die. I took out her paints and brushes and covered one of the canvases she never got to use in the colors of my pain. The release was more powerful than a thousand tears. I brought it down to share with my family and someone said, “show Bubby.” I sat down at her feet and held up the painting. She stared at it and patted my hand. “Bubby, I can’t share any other way,” I said. I wanted her to know that my eyes dry up when it hurts, but the words caught in my throat. “I know,” she said, “I see you crying.”

My grandmother survived more than the Holocaust. She survived immigration, she survived the loss of her mother, she survived the loss of her son, she survived the loss of her husband and she just survived the loss of her granddaughter. Dayeinu.

For two years I held my breath as I waited for my sister to die. Then she died and I stopped breathing. For almost a year I have built up a tolerance to air filling my lungs. I can learn to live.

The siren blared yesterday and rang in my head all day. I wanted to think of the lives lost…I really tried…but I have carried their memories in my essence since the day I was born and yesterday I suddenly felt like I wanted to break away.

I turned on the TV and the images of my youth jumped out at me on every channel. Nothing made my soul churn, it was like flipping through a worn out photo album and knowing each picture before getting to the next page.

Without warning, images of Syrian children flew across the room at me and slammed against my chest.

I thought of a child running for the border with just the clothes on her back towards a future she could never be certain of. I thought of her grandchildren, raised on her losses. I thought of her eyes drying up.

The ringing of the siren subsided. I took a deep breath and I reached for those paints and brushes.

My grandmother’s story was told. It is time to tell the ones that are screaming out at us from behind our screens.

Source: Dry eyes

When There Is Nothing Left To Say

There is so much I could say…so much to write about…

I could write about my sister…and her cancer…and what it feels like to be so far away…to be torn between my children and the baby I held in my arms at 14 years old…whispering my secrets to one of my only family members who couldn’t be angry at me…who I knew would never judge me.

I could write about my daughter…and how she has blossomed and regressed at the same time…how third grade is revealing what the course of her school life will look like…how she reminds me of me…at my most vulnerable age…and why that scares me.

I could write about my oldest brother and his grief…his mother-in-law and her table full of guests…how she battled another type of cancer…and lost.

I could write about my other sister…who is taking one day at a time…and trying her best…and how proud I am of her…and how much I wish I believed in prayer so I could get on my knees each day and pray to keep her going.

I could write about yet another sister…who is changing her life…is making emotional sacrifices she never thought she could make…so that she can become the big sister who swoops in and gets things done…perfectly each time…and how I wish I could speak to her every day.

I could write about my sister who is most like me…and so could never be written about…because it would not do justice to who she is…and I could never express how much I miss her anyway.

I could write about my parents…and how I almost lost them…and how I thought that whatever progress was made was never going to be actualized…until cancer came along and changed the direction of the path we had embarked on.

I could write about Israel…and the blood that is spilled…and the daily attacks.

I could write about Europe…and Paris…and Belgium and the United States and Obama and the outrages and the silences and the hypocrisies and double standards.

I could write about it all.

I should.

But I won’t.

Because tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Pain is flowing out of my eyes.

Sorrow is stopping my heart.

This broken world is spinning too fast.

And I can no longer feel enough to breathe.

All I can do is spill it out…through my fingers…onto the keys that form the letters to write…that I have nothing left to say.