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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The singing piano

I want to take a break from talking about Israel to make a note of just how much fun I'm having with my little lady these days.  I looked at baby photos of her recently and it's so odd how well I DON'T remember those days. I know I thought it couldn't possibly get any better and I longed to freeze her in the stage she was in then but I've felt that with her at every age.  

And now, she is SO MUCH fun!  She can also be a real handful at times but the good times now are so great, I just can't imagine it getting any better.  

Yesterday, after tumbling class, I took Eliza to the fountain at city hall for a little snack time.  It was an incredibly humid day with a thunderstorm in the forecast.  The clouds rolled in like the tide and the wind kicked in with swirling gusts.  I told Eliza that rain was coming and we had to go home and she said, "It's not raining.  It's bootful out."  I could see a light rain in the pools at the base of the fountain so I scooped her up and ran across the street so as not to miss the traffic light.

Safe from the rain under scaffolding (is anyone safe under scaffolding?), I started to walk.  "No Mama, run," Eliza said, apparently excited by our sprint across Park Row.  I asked her if she'd run with me and I set her on the ground.  Hand-in-hand, we ran through the streets of lower Manhattan while she giggled with glee and said "we have to run.  The rain's coming."

We didn't get caught in the rain.  In fact, I don't think the forecasted heavy storms even happened.  We had a lovely evening of leftovers and singing.  Eliza been singing this new tune she made up "You are my best friend in the world."  Last night I sounded it out on the piano.  Don't get me wrong, I got the keyboard as a gift several years ago and still can only play two pieces.  Eliza wanted me to play it on her little piano and when I sat at the big keyboard, she moved her little piano next to mine and hammered on it while we sang "You are my best friend in the world."  

She's been using the crank from my also unused pasta machine as a microphone.  Last night, she slid it into the slot created to hold sheet music and stood at the piano, singing into her microphone.  I marveled at her ingenuity.  

She's up and singing now so I gotta go.  I just wanted to record another wonderful day in the life of my girl.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Israel, the Bar Mitvah

I don't have the greatest luck uploading photos onto this website so I'll just write a bit about our trip to Israel and post some photos later.  As always, I have so much more to write than my limited time will allow.  
Our first week in Ramat Bet Shemesh was a little bumpy, but as I wrote before, in retrospect, I should have enjoyed it.  The town had playgrounds on practically every corner and we managed to buy enough food to keep us going.  C arrived on Friday and seemed pleased with the place when I took him to the market square (called the Meercaz) for lunch.  He ordered a falafel and was charmed when he had to illustrate his order for the non-English speaking worker by pointing to the vegetables he wanted in the pita.  We got a big container of fresh strawberries from a teenager who looked Arabic to me.  On Friday night, in celebration of the Sabbath and the out-of-town guests, Meredith and David hosted a catered dinner at the community center where Rafi would be Bar Mitzvahed the following day.  I realized as I looked around the table at Meredith's mom, David's Mom, Meredith's cousin Becky and David's good friend Ira, that I'd spent so much time at Meredith's house, these people were like my own family.  There was only one couple present, who currently live in Jerusalem, that I'd never met before.  It was a great reunion.  
Eliza had a great time wrecking havoc in the community center with her "cousins."  Meredith's daughter, I must say, seems to be a bit of a trouble maker.  She taunted a group of kids outside the locked community center door.  
When we left the dinner that night, the streets were alive with people.  Kids of all ages roamed the streets in packs with no adult present.  It all felt a bit surreal.  Upon arrival in our apartment, we felt a little self-conscious turning on the lights (on the Sabbath, it's forbidden to flick switches, seal envelopes, rip tape, etc.)  Our apartment faced a big park that was well-populated.  We worried that people hanging out in the park below would see our lights come on and hurl rocks.  But no such thing happened.
The following day Rafi was Bar Mitzvahed but I had to listen to this service behind the cloth screen that separated the men from the women.  I was mildly annoyed, having flown 6,000 miles for this event but Rafi's angelic voice from the other side of the curtain nullified my irritation.  I spent most of the morning physically restraining Eliza from the long trays of cakes, cookies, chips and breads set up for after the service.  By the time the locals left and it was just Meredith's closest friends and family settled in for the catered lunch, Eliza bounced and writhed in a manic state of over-stimulation and exhaustion.  C and I made a quick exit and I'm happy to say I missed a speech that David detailing why Christians and Jews shouldn't intermarry.  I know this has always been his view and I've no feelings on the subject one way or the other.  I'd flown a long distance and already felt out of place.  I didn't need to be reminded that in this crowd, in this country as a matter of fact, I was an outcast.
We returned to the community center for dinner leftovers that night.  Meredith's cousin Leanore called the "meal" deja food.  It was nice to gather with my friends in a less informal atmosphere with most of the activities behind us.  Rafi asked me if he could take Eliza to a small playground and I said yes, then panicked after they left and I had no idea where this playground was.  Meredith and I found the two of them in a playground and broke up the nice moment the two kids were having.  I wish I'd trusted him enough that night to let it go.  But Meredith and I had a nice time, perhaps the first real moment we had together without other people around.  
But I definitely felt out of element and the childish, paranoid part of me was concerned.  Now that my friends had made this big leap in celebration of their faith, would their world no longer include me, a non-Jew?
Orthodox Jewish law prevents picture taking so this photo of Eliza and myself on the day of Rafi's Bar Mitzvah taken on our apartment patio is one of the few records from that day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ramat Bet Shemesh

If you read my past entry, then you know Ramat Bet Shemesh is the town my friend lives in.  The apartment we rented was a lovely two bedroom with a large patio that overlooked a grassy park.  Each day started with cereal, yogurt and juice on the patio.  Although I felt out of place in Ramat Bet Shemesh, I loved the quiet solitude of the apartment Eliza and I shared.  We had the apartment to ourselves from Monday through Thursday.  C arrived on Friday morning and while I was happy to have a travel companion, on Thursday night I mourned the loss of the quiet time with my daughter.
In retrospect, I should have enjoyed the time more than I did.  Eliza and I both slept late on Tuesday and then set out to the patio for our breakfast.  Looking down on the park, Eliza saw a playground with blue slides.  We ventured down there but I quickly noticed that only small boys were currently using the playground.  A group of girls played further up the hill on a grassy area.  I wondered if the Orthodox law of separating females and males had brought about this demographic and wondered if I should take Eliza from the playground.  Eliza happily climbed the ladders and walked across a large covered bridge but she didn't care for the covered blue "tunnel" slides.  She stood at the top and cried for rescue.  The loud voices of the boys speaking Hebrew seemed to intimidate her as well.  After only a few moments, she asks to go to Meredith's.  
On the way to Meredith's we stopped by a local market Meredith had pointed out.  I noticed few fresh items (Meredith told me this year in their religion they have to "let the land rest" so there's not a lot of produce available) and containers of food marked with Hebrew lettering.  Photos indicated frozen carrots, green beans, corn.  I picked up a box of Trix cereal because it was the one cereal I recognized.  
Later that day, Meredith and I took the kids to a big playground near her apartment.  There are playgrounds on every block in Meredith's neighborhood which is a wonderful thing.  However, they are different from American playgrounds.  Instead of grass or a soft, padded surface, the playgrounds are floored by small rocks which the kids enjoy throwing at each other or using to coat the slides.  Most of the slides are tunnel slides and there are few swings.  Eliza had fun playing with Meredith's kids who she'd cowered from the day we arrived.  The following day, we took the kids into town and while Meredith's mom and the older kids ate hamburgers, I chased the other kids through the streets of the town.  At the market district's town center, there's a small grassy hill.  Eliza and Meredith's two little boys, Simmy and Doniel, loved running "up the mountain."
Still, the upcoming Bar Mitzvah allowed Meredith little time with me.  Although I understood this, I longed for some quality time with her.  I've always felt that Meredith is my sanity and without her I was losing my sanity.  I longed to venture into Jerusalem and could have done so, leaving Eliza with Meredith.  But I was afraid of taking the bus and never finding my way back to Ramat Bet Shemesh.  So I felt a little trapped, stripped of my independence, and somewhat alone.  I should have trusted that once the Bar Mizvah ended, Meredith would make time for me but I started to get angry.  I had to be careful with what I wore, I couldn't understand the language, and kids who all looked like virtual clones of each other, threw rocks at the playground.  Had Meredith really chosen to leave me, a very close friend, for this desolate and suffocating place?
I then made up my mind to dislike Israel.  I'm glad to say in a few days, that wonderfully changed.  The photo to the right is of Meredith's two youngest boys, Doniel and Simmy, sitting in the window of Meredith's apartment.  On the left is a photo of Eliza playing piano in Meredith's living room.  These photos are from the first few days when it was just Eliza and myself hanging out at Meredith's apartment like the good old days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Israel, a magical place

I could tell you so much about my trip to Israel and why it took me over a week to fall in love with the place.  But Eliza's awake and there's so much to tell in so little time.  I could tell you about the hills of Ramat Bet Shemesh, the town where Meredith lives.  Driving through the desert and passing camels along the side of the road.  The makeshift bedouin villages built from tin walls and cloth.  The unlevel, winding, narrow streets of the Old City in Jerusalem that feel like no other place I've been to in the world.  My favorite place was Caesarea, a beautiful town of Roman ruins along the Mediterranean Sea.  I also loved the Dead Sea and a dinner we had one night in Netanya.  Netanya sounded familiar to me for some reason.  While we had dinner along the Mediterranean Sea that night, David told me the hotel next door had been bombed a few years ago.  Hence, it's familiar name.  
The apartment we rented had a patio that overlooked a small park with a playground.  Almost every morning, Eliza and I had breakfast on that patio.  On days when we couldn't because we had to pick up her father at the airport or report to the community center early for Rafi's (Meredith's oldest son) Bar Mitzvah, Eliza repeatedly asked for cereal on the patio.  Upon our return, when her brother asked her what she did in Israel, Eliza said "I had cereal on the patio."
It was an emotional journey, the pain of my friend's departure some how magnified in seeing her again.  Ramat Bet Shemesh, the town she lives in, is much more religious than I expected.  Signs in every window along the commercial district urge women to wear skirts to their ankles, shirts to their wrists, clothing that is loose and baggy.  Shops close early, by 6 or 7pm to encourage a more religious atmosphere.  Even though I brought every conservative clothing item I own, I still felt like people stared at my modernity.  While I was thrilled to see my friend, I felt suffocated by the sheer monotony of every person I saw.  As a New Yorker accustomed to diversity, I truly felt like a stranger in a strange land.  Add all signs in Hebrew and businesses in Hebrew and for a while, I completely felt lost.  
But I had a wonderful time, taking Eliza and some of Meredith's kids to the playground and chasing them one afternoon through the streets of the town after hamburgers.  On the Sabbath, everything shut down, no cars were driven through the town and we walked in the streets completely unafraid of traffic.  It was not uncommon to see a five-year-old walking hand-in-hand with a two-year-old and no adult in sight.  While I felt a bit oppressed, my daughter ran up the sidewalks from playground to playground with the glee of the truly free.
Going in chronological order, let me present you with a photo of the sunset over Ramat Bet Shemesh taken on the second day of our journey from Meredith's upstairs patio.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Back to the Real World

Israel was a feast of history, geographical beauty and political ideology.  It was also a very emotional trip for me.  Being with Meredith and her family was truly wonderful but throughout the trip there was the hidden voice reminding me I didn't know when we'd all be together again.

Denial, anger, acceptance--these are some of the phases of death I believe a psychologist documented for terminally ill people.  People have gone on to apply then to the grieving process.  I think I've been in denial that Meredith and her family left for the past year.  During my first week in Israel, I hit the anger phase.  I didn't like Israel at first, found the area she lived in suffocating and couldn't understand why she'd leave the people she loves for some kind religious ideal.  

Now I've entered the acceptance phase.  Meredith is not coming back and as much as phone calls and email can keep us in touch, the distance is very painful.  But our friendship is wonderfully sturdy and strong and no matter how deep her commitment to her faith runs, I am still a person she can best confide in.  

Unfortunately, before I left I'd put a security deposit down on an apartment that I loved but the current tenant decided to renew their lease.  So I'm back at square, a woman with no job and no home.  Oh sure, I can probably stay with C indefinitely and live comfortably but why would I choose to live so unhappily.  The market in the area I've chosen to live in is extremely competitive and I'm not sure I'll find a place that has everything I want in the location I want.  It's so difficult breaking up a family that I felt good about doing it with this apartment.  No matter what, I was convinced Eliza and I would be happy there.  Now, I have to start all over again in an extremely competitive rental market.  

It's 2am New York time, 9am Israeli time.  Eliza is happily sleeping, hopefully ready to jump back into this world and I sit here staring at my computer screen, wide awake and lost.