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Flawed Memories

Image: My Bubby and me, August 8, 2013

There’s nothing romantic about death.

You say goodbye to someone you love, or someone you’ve known or someone you didn’t know so well or someone you wish you’d known better, or someone you liked a little or liked a lot or really didn’t like very much at all. And when there is no life left in their body, when, in an instant, it becomes a temporary mass of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, you are slapped with the reality that our bodies are only vessels and that’s one thing that is completely clear.

And where does the person go? Where is she now? Moments after her death? Days, years, centuries afterwards? Some have no idea, some have theories, others think they know.

I woke up 20 minutes after my grandmother died. It’s one of the things I’m struggling with, as though I should have been awake, even if I was thousands of miles away. Either my soul should have sensed it or I should have been told she was leaving so I could cry about it while she was still here. I am laden with guilt following my grandmother’s death, almost as though it is a way to hold on to something, instead of letting her become simply a memory. She is a weight on my shoulders, as though that will give me some control, an occupation, as though, if I feel guilty enough, maybe she’ll come back to let me finish the job of good granddaughter.

But I keep thinking about how Bubby herself dealt with death. The death of her beloved parents. The death of her beloved husband and her best friend in one year. The death of her second beloved husband. The death of her son in law which left her daughter a widow, just one month after she had become one for the second time. The death of other close friends and relatives…

And I think that that thing that takes me fully into a task, into a moment, the great joy I feel in my accomplishments, my laughs with good friends, my good times with my family… That thing which makes me revel in life and my heart burst with love… I can feel it moving me onto this next stage in my life and I think it is what kept my Bubby moving on, time and again.

The one time I heard my Bubby curse was the day I called to tell her I don’t keep Shabbat. I didn’t want to lie to her about my shabbatot in Vancouver and so I told her that I drive to synagogue on Shabbat and she got so angry at me. She said, “That’s bullshit!” and then she asked me to write her a letter explaining my choice.

And then we continued on in our relationship. She took immense pride in her personal, authentic relationships with her grandchildren and I took immense pride in my part in that.

And with all the realness, she cherished me. I was a far from perfect granddaughter but she just loved me.

It often felt as though Bubby possessed some kind of deeper understanding of the world than I do. Her “simple faith,” something I observed with awe, respect and envy from the other side of the chasm, gave her an aura of romance and beauty that made her very attractive.

And I think that her “simple faith” was one of the things that kept her consistently determined to put one step in front of the other with a smile.

Bubby wasn’t always easy. I think most of us who were close to her had many times that we felt frustrated with her. But I’m not upset with her today because those memories fall away and I just recall her love for us, her beauty, her constant singing, her great pride and her contagious enthusiasm. I suppose, if she’s also thinking about me, she will be thinking of the good, which is what she always did. She’ll be remembering our conversations, going out shopping together, eating together, praying on the High Holidays together… And she’ll be feeling great pride for the person I am, as she always did.

It’s hard to let go of the guilt. There is no one to blame my shortcomings on but myself. There is no one to apologize to. And I don’t want to kid myself into thinking I would have been different given a second chance. Saying that would mean disregarding the complexity of what was and the reasons behind how I am.

Life is a great balancing act and it’s full of stumbles, falls, scraped knees and scraped hearts.

But it’s also full of getting back up, of hugs and kisses and singing together and holding hands and laughing and reveling in life’s experiences together, and I’d like to think that if I were to say, “Bubby, I’m sorry for the times I got upset at you. I’m sorry for not calling more often during the last year of your life,” she might say, “I don’t remember you getting upset at me. And that last year was hard on us all. But Deena, why are you thinking about that? Don’t you remember all the times we laughed together? And you looked hysterical in those curlers. And you’re the best.”

The symbolic act of a walk

Today my Uncle Avrum got up from shiva, the seven day mourning period when the immediate relatives of the deceased sit on low chairs as friends, family and acquaintances pay respects. As his shiva came to an end, we stood by him and gave him our condolences for the passing of his mother, my grandmother. He then stood up, put on his outdoor shoes, put on his jacket and went for a walk around the block by himself.

Avrum’s first reventuring out into the world seemed almost like a rebirth as a new person into an altered world. He has spent the last week embraced by those who love him and now he’s begun his reintegration into the world.

On the one hand it is so sad to see my uncle take his first steps. On the other hand, the post-shiva walk symbolizes the inner strength of the individual, especially the strength of which we are unaware.

I know those steps were only the first of many which will sometimes feel heavy, sometimes empty and sometimes full of potential. When Avrum came back, I gave him a hug and we all sat back down with our loved ones to have breakfast and to talk. Because thankfully he the cocoon of the home and family will continue to be there, waiting for his return.

חזק ואמץ.

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The buzz killer

I’m currently participating in the JCC Association’s Innovation Lab: Jerusalem. I’m meeting dozens of dedicated JCC leaders from the United States who’ve come to Jerusalem to be inspired by local talent and initiatives and I’ve had the opportunity to get an up-close look at so much of Jerusalem’s innovation.

During these days I’ve thought a lot about what I do, shared my ideas with participants and it has helped me realize more than ever the importance of my work – both my social-cultural events and my Jerusalem events listing. I’ve also understood how these projects could probably be beautifully extrapolated to JCCs as well as other settings.

But this is not all as rose-colored as you might think.

I just spent the last two hours lying on my bed, staring at my Facebook newsfeed, and refreshing it repeatedly; anything not to deal with “reality.” Actually, even yesterday, as I was enthusiastically talking to people about what I do, I wasn’t actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. Namely, I was supposed to finalize dates for my upcoming events but I didn’t. I pushed it off yesterday and I didn’t take care of it today. Because for all the excitement and understanding, my cold feet remain. You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to set the date for my next event when I’m in the zone of feeling like my work is nothing less than a personal mission. And yet instead, just like every time before this, actually doing it, is feeling like a huge leap and yet again I need to work hard to muster up the courage to take it, which sometimes works and other times doesn’t.

It almost seems that there is a downside to dreaming big and feeling inspired. Over the last couple of days we’ve talked about great successes and grand dreams. But in the end, every success and dream is laden with that nitty-gritty work and that frustrating up-hill battle. And that’s not to mention the not-so-grand dreams, well, projects, that simply still need to get done. And yes, there are some people who consistently push through their challenges with their goals always in the forefront of their minds. But many others – myself included – get scared, wondering if it’s worth it, forget why we’re doing it.

The transition from inspired to mundane is painful. Inspiration is created by looking at the big picture. The grand picture. The meaningful picture. And getting things done is about the hours of wording a Facebook event, finding the right person for a job, managing said person, figuring out financing, trying to sell your idea to others, etc. etc.

And so after the conference is over and we settle back into our regular lives, I guess we’ll all sit back down at our (messy) desks, and along with our limitations, concerns, struggles and fears, we’ll put our noses to the grind and get back to the good ol’ mundane stuff, awaiting there patiently for us inspired souls, with the hope that something has shifted towards at least one of our grand dreams.

art and music event 2

What it’s really like in Jerusalem these days

With the precarious and terrorizing situation in Jerusalem currently what it is, if you aren’t here, you can’t really know what it’s like. And so, while sitting on my balcony at 2AM, listening to the stillness of a seemingly peaceful city, with sporadic sounds of people still out having fun, I’m going to tell you what it’s like in Jerusalem these days from the perspective of one Jerusalemite – yours truly.

Too much news

I’m  tapped into the news almost constantly. I look at it before I go to sleep and when I wake up. I try not to but end up doing it anyway. When I forget about it for a while, I feel a mix of relief and panic, happy for the break but wondering what might have happened since the last time I checked.

Listening for sirens

I am tuned into the sound of sirens. I can tell the difference between a regular emergency and a terrorist attack. I’ve heard the response of emergency vehicles to at least one attack. The cacaphony of sirens is unmistakable and it’s very traumatizing sitting in your house imagining what is going on right then, really very close by.

How safe I feel

How vulnerable or safe I feel fluctuates on a regular basis. Every time I am indoors, it is nerve wracking going out again. And the more I am aware of the news, the more I fear for my own safety.

Still safer than Canada?

Tonight I walked through the park to an event. Yes, tonight I walked through a park by myself. I wondered if it was a bad idea but found a couple of girls sitting eating sushi by the playground (when they turned around to make sure I wasn’t a terrorist, I told them not to worry, I don’t have a knife – we all laughed), others were exercising and still others were sitting quietly on the grass with their arms around each other. I thought, even at the best of times in Toronto I’d never walk through a park by myself at night.

Giving moral support to each other

Many people are creating initiatives to give moral support to each other. One day a family walked around the Mamilla Mall giving out notes with a candy attached. The other day a few women stood in the German Colony and handed out flowers and cookies to put a smile on people’s faces:

Women hand out flowers and cookies to cheer people up (photo by Marian Morgan)
Women hand out flowers and cookies to cheer people up (photo by Marian Morgan)

And tonight I went to an amazing music and art event created especially to give people strength:

art and music event
Art and music event at the Open Studio

Appreciating each other that much more

I keep thinking how lucky I am to be with my family and my friends. I keep thinking, “Thank you. Thank you.” And I wonder superstitiously if the more I say thank you, the more we’re protected.

Facebook for laughs and cries

My Facebook newsfeed is to a large extent about the situation and it has me infuriated one moment and laughing out loud the next.

Still alive and well

A colleague created a Facebook event in order to encourage people to post photos of themselves out, continuing on with their lives. The hashtag: #enjoyjerusalem in English and “now in Jerusalem” in Hebrew (#עכשיובירושלים). People were doing it and it was heartwarming and fun. Until the two terrible attacks in Jerusalem the following day when the businesses emptied out and people felt the need to stay home.

Empty restaurants

Seeing empty restaurants, cafes and bars open, all the tables out and welcoming, with almost no one, or literally no one, sitting in them, is absolutely heartbreaking. Jerusalem’s businesses are hit repeatedly over the years by the security situation here and it’s hard to imagine how they get through it.

empty streets
Hillel Street, a central street in downtown Jerusalem, empty on Tuesday night

Supporting businesses

A friend decided to organize a trip to the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market for drinks in order to support the businesses there. Afterwards he estimated that we spent around 800 NIS that night which was probably a large percentage of the transactions made in the normally bustling shuk bars.

empty shuk
Tahrir, normally hopping Middle Eastern style bar in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk sits empty besides for us.

A sad day in the city

The only reason I could get myself to go to the shuk that night was because I was already out. That day I’d already heard the sirens of the attack in Armon Hanatziv, I’d stood at a bus stop with other people, wishing we weren’t such a good target, traveled on the bus looking carefully around at the other passengers who were looking carefully at me, walked through a quiet downtown Jerusalem and spent the afternoon in Tmol Shilshom, a Jerusalem restaurant, where barely anyone showed up besides a handful of European tourists who, I figured, don’t have to worry about being targeted because they don’t look Jewish. I then walked around town, taking pictures of the empty restaurants and then walked to the shuk. I know that if I’d just been at home, I’d have been too afraid to venture out in the dark of the night.

Looking Jewish

I think about how looking Jewish is a liability right now and it’s so hard to see Jews, yet again, being targeted especially if they look Jewish, aka, ultra Orthodox. I jokingly write on Facebook that I want to walk around with a Canadian flag draped around my shoulders, the way I saw a tourist doing with a British flag, and a Facebook friend points out the irony and tragedy that I’m even toying with the idea of hiding my Jewish identity in the Jewish state.

Shabbat conversations about self defense

Friday night, after dinner at my friends’ home, they demonstrate stabbing each other with a fake plastic knife in a myriad of different ways and show me self defense moves for each scenario. We talk about whether or not we’d have the presence of mind to actually do something productive in such a terrifying situation and my friend, an aikido expert, explains that fear is our worst enemy because it doesn’t let us do what we’re capable of doing. He says that running away is dangerous for you because the terrorist could just run after you and stab you some more and it’s dangerous for those around you because he’s still not neutralized. He says that the last thing the terrorist expects is for you to make a move and so it’ll catch him by surprise and if you’re already stabbed, that’s also OK because a person doesn’t feel pain right away after being injured.

And for the millionth time I remember what a Holocaust survivor once said to me – that every Jew should learn krav maga – an Israeli-developed self defense system.

New walking style

Whenever out I use the new Israeli walking style implemented by many of us here – walk, look behind, no earphones, listening around us, look behind again and keep on walking.

Trying to keep track

I try to keep up with who’s been injured and killed even though it’s really hard both technically and emotionally. I look at pictures of the people who have been in the attacks, read what they have to say and hope for their full recovery.

Israeli humor

Just like during the Gulf War (which happened our first year in Israel), terrible situations bring out some serious humor among Israelis. And many of us revel in it for comic relief. For example, people are laughing about all the random items being used to fight off the terrorists – like umbrellas, selfie sticks and even nunchucks. Someone also wrote a parody song about one of the female terrorists: “She only wants to stab.” Humor maybe only Israelis can appreciate.

Pride and frustration

I fluctuate between great pride for not “being like them” and great frustration for not being stronger.

The park

It’s 2AM and I’m sitting on my balcony. Over the last hour I’ve heard teenagers hanging out in the park and now a group of bikers (seriously) chilling. There was also a biker who rode by a few minutes ago. You almost wouldn’t know that anything is wrong.

So hard to concentrate

I know I have two meetings and lots of work to do tomorrow but in general it’s so hard to concentrate while we all wait with bated breath, hoping there are no more attacks and wondering what’s going to be.

Tomorrow

Now I’m going to go to sleep and then wake up, check my phone, nervously leave for work, pray nothing happens to any of us, knowing full well we just don’t know what’s going to be. I’ll go to my meetings, talk about the situation with people, check the news and try to concentrate on my business.

And meanwhile I’ll keep saying, “Thank you. Thank you.” And I’ll keep laughing and crying and feeling infuriated and hopeful and I’ll keep holding my breath that little bit I keep holding it, hoping we’ll all be OK.

Shavua tov.

Non-violent deterrents against Arab attacks on Jews

I am not a pacifist.

It’s very possible it’s time for a serious IDF operation in Yehuda, Shomron, Gaza and in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. It’s very possible Arabs who attack Jews should not afterwards be cared for in Israeli hospitals. Many things are very possible.

But meanwhile, non-violent actions, alongside letting the army and police force do their work, can contribute towards Israel’s complex fight against terror.

There are many ways to deter Arabs from attacking Jews without an ounce of violence on our part. I think that any and all of those methods should be implemented in the Israeli fight against terror immediately.

For example:

  1. The bodies of the dead terrorists should be treated in a way that prevents the people’s souls from going to heaven according to Islam.
  2. No matter how the bodies are treated, they definitely shouldn’t be given back to the families.
  3. If someone is inciting violence against Jews and Israelis at all, they shouldn’t be allowed to continue studying in Israeli universities or working in our midst. (In the latest attacks we keep hearing about the terrorists’ backgrounds – some are students in Israeli universities and today’s terrorists include a Bezeq worker and another who works in the Jerusalem municipality.)
  4. Terrorists’ incarceration should be for life and should cost the country as little as possible.
  5. The terrorists and their families should receive no rights whatsoever as Israeli citizens or residents such as National Insurance (ביטוח לאומי) and health coverage.
  6. Serious legal action should be taken against incitement against Jews in the Arab schools and mosques.

Honestly, there are probably way more deterrents than I’m even aware of. As long as they feed into the terrorists’ belief system, sense of security and their horrifying, deadly tantrums, it seems like a no-brainer decision – come up with a list of non-violent deterrents and implement them, starting retroactively with the perpetrators of all the latest attacks.

What other non-violent deterrents have you thought or heard of?

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How to listen – a lesson by a Jerusalemite

  1. Go about your day.
  2. Partially acknowledge the helicopter flying overhead.
  3. Hear a scream from afar and register that it is in jest, not in pain.
  4. Listen to the emergency vehicle’s siren in the distance. Stop what you’re doing and see if there is more than one.
  5. There is. Sit helplessly as you hear dozens of emergency vehicles rushing to another attack against Jews.
  6. Open up your regular news source and refresh it until it starts reporting what you’re already imagining.

That’s how a Jerusalemite listens.

Yesterday was a beautiful day

Yesterday was a beautiful day.

I went to the festive Jerusalem March with my sister and gave out candy to the Christians who are here to show their support to Israel. I was choked up almost every time I shouted, “Thank you for coming to Israel. Thank you for supporting us.”

jerusalem march 2015

And yesterday evening I went with another sister to a refreshing concert by the new Israeli band A-WA – three sisters of Jewish Yemenite decent have revived old traditional melodies in hip-hop style. People were legitimately holding hands in circles while doing the “tza’ad Teimani” dance step at this rock concert.

a-wa concert oct 2015

Yesterday was a beautiful day for Erica Chernofsky and her family until the incident that could have made them front page news. “They could have killed us today,” Erica writes – when Arab school children took the opportunity while walking home from school to throw boulders at her car with Erica, her husband and her children all inside.

And yesterday was most probably a beautiful day for Eitam and Na’ama Henkin but the end was the worst nightmare – them and their family became the front page news as Eitam and Na’ama were murdered in a drive-by shooting in Israel last night, leaving behind four children under the age of ten.

eitam and naama henkin

I actually heard about the incident (that two were badly injured – only afterwards did I hear that they’d died) minutes before the A-WA concert began. My feelings inside did not correlate with my surroundings but that is often the case in life, and in particular in Israel, and so I decided to push through it and revel in the talent and innovation of Israeli culture and society as much as I could.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Israel. Tomorrow will probably be a beautiful day too. Because so many Israelis of different origins, nationalities and races, work tirelessly to make Israel the special Jewish country we envision with its unparalleled strength, morality and innovation.

The beauty is that the local Arabs have an open invitation to be a part of this. They can get a useful and productive education instead of learning to hate Jews, they can get excellent jobs in Israel, as many do already, and they can be part of building a just society.

Yesterday could have been a beautiful day for the Arab school kids who stoned Erica’s family and the murderers who killed Eitam and Na’ama. Most of the Israeli people I know seem to have a ceaseless desire to partner with our neighbors and help them strive for something more than they’re used to. All they need to do is say the word, stop the violence, and we’re there. But meanwhile, we will continue to do what Jews have always yearned to do – protect ourselves without being at the mercy of anyone and their fickle feelings towards Jews and Israel. Because we have a beautiful vision in mind and we’re well on our way to fulfilling it.

Photo by Mokra

My resolution not to pursue happiness (or meaning)

Happiness – both its definition and the actual thing – eludes us. There are moments when I could practically swear that I’m happy but they are interspersed with many more complex experiences and feelings, not to mention that the happy moment itself is strewn with a complex mix of emotions.

Pursuing happiness is one of those things that someone somewhere came up with and everyone has run with it like our lives depend on it. And yet I would guess that Thomas Jefferson had no idea how unhappy pursuing happiness in its most general sense would make (hundreds of) millions of people.

Mainly, I think more than anything, it creates a feeling of entitlement for those who take it seriously. Most basically, “I deserve to be happy.” But beyond that, whatever every person or society thinks is that thing that ultimately makes people happy, is the thing they think they deserve.

There are many things in life that we cannot see or grasp if we look right at them. It almost seems as though they don’t exist when given too much attention – and maybe the truth is that they do disappear when directly looked at.

I think happiness is one of those things.

I, for one, am sick of the head space wasted on asking myself, “Am I happy? Am I content? Am I really doing what I want to be doing?” All these questions are good and to a large extent they really keep me on track, helping me make good decisions, but this is only the case as long as they aren’t visited too often and with me, they really are taking up too much head space. And too much of this meta thinking is pulling me down.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t exactly happiness that I’m pursuing. In my opinion, meaning = happiness. And meaning, a seemingly deeper goal than happiness, is of utmost importance to me, and that is what I’m in the pursuit of. The irony, like with the pursuit of happiness, is that I don’t give things a chance to be meaningful before I get scared that, alas, truly my life is meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong; I do belief that the real path to “happiness” – whatever that actually is – is through meaning, possibly more than anything else. But meaning needs its space and time. In other words, like happiness, it should not be given too much attention.

And so this year I want to say to myself: Deena, choose your path and go. Use your common sense and deal. Things don’t have to be working out “perfectly” in order to prove you’re headed in the right direction. Do what you want and need to do and let things happen. When life is hard, annoying, upsetting, frustrating, remember that that doesn’t necessarily prove anything is wrong. And so, don’t dwell on these difficulties which make you second guess yourself all the time. And, maybe most importantly, if things today feel mundane, don’t jump to the conclusion that your life lacks meaning.

Make decisions, make mistakes, make whatever you want and then continue on.

Because ultimately it will be perseverance, integrity and common sense that will lead to that content feeling – happiness? – we have when we see that what we did brought meaning to ourselves and to the world.

Photo by mokra

whistling

The first time my nephew whistled

Every chance he’d get, my now-9-year-old nephew B would try to whistle. From the age of 5, on the way to school, lying in bed at night, wherever he was, whatever he was doing, was an opportunity to try to whistle.

Including, apparently, in the classroom. But one day, a few months ago, while sitting in class, an innocent activity – trying to whistle in class – suddenly became a disruptive one.

“A strange noise came out of my mouth and so my teacher kicked me out.”

“Wait, so the first time you finally whistled,” I asked him, sitting in my parents’ – his grandparents’ – living room on Yom Kippur, “was that day in class? And you got kicked out for it?”

“Yup.”

“Well, I think you should have been invited to the front of the class and given a standing ovation for persevering to learn how to whistle for years and finally succeeding!”

And so he whistled a tune for us all.

B gave me permission to share this story.

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert