Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And baby makes?

The babies are born as most of you know. Jess had her twins Erev Sukkot - 34.5 weeks, by section, because of concern over the smaller one. Bigger guy, who we're convinced will be eclipsed in size by Littler guy, who's being fattened up in the NICU like a goose (he's fed every 2 hours, mostly thru a GTube/'zonda' with a hookup for attaching a syringe with milk) came home after 10 days and the 'settle in' continues. It's not easy to have preemies - they don't really know what to do, or as Ellen Shaw put it, 'they're barely sentient at 40 weeks, let alone at 34 weeks.' So, there you have it.

I'm reminded that Akiva was himself quite 'par-boiled' at 40 weeks. Jessica is working hard at getting Bigger guy to nurse and settle in at home while getting milk up to Little guy in the hospital. I stop in, hold him and offer nursing advice, and try to promise her that life will improve - I remember what Mickey Green said to us after Akiva was born. Ira asked Mickey and Rob, 'when will we be normal?' This after finding out that Akiva had Down Syndrome - who knew what it would mean, how our lives would be, etc - and they said, 'you'll be'll be better than normal.'

And they have been right. Sometimes we think we're too normal. So too for Jess and Daniel who will surely struggle over the next year or so until they adapt to this enormous change. So too for Amira and Aiden, Daniel's girls, aged 17 and 11, who while excited will have to get used to having these small people around who will demand time and attention. But it's good and exciting and it will be a good adventure for all of them.

Ira and I've have been up to the hospital a few times now to hold Little guy in the evening. We both enjoy it tremendously. He's very alert and despite his smallness (currently weighing in at 1.55k) he seems feisty to us and determined to make it here in this world, crazy as it is. He should be home within another 2 weeks. While it's almost painful to think of him alone in the hospital for 3 weeks now, after having been next to his brother for 34.5, there is that other side of technology and it's seems almost certain that without it we might not be able to continue to enjoy him and watch him grow. Complicated for sure.

The two pictures of Little guy are from Sunday evening at the hospital and the pic of Akiva and Ira from Sunday afternoon - Akiva was home sick with a stomach bug and we all took an afternoon walk late in the day, Akiva leading the way. I apologize for no pic of Bigger guy but don't have a current one. Will remedy that. He's quite sweet and they look very much alike but it's amazing what another 2lbs does for you. Big guy weighs about 2.3k at the moment - not big but certainly more 'babylike' and his cry has gotten quite lusty. Little guy peeps more when he cries but that will change too.

Twins - sheesh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Night Before

Well, here I am at the computer. Yomtov has been over about 2.5 hours already, and you guys over there in the Diaspora are just sitting down to lunch and you still have another day and endless hours in shul left. Boggles the mind. I should add that I barely survived this final day, so tired I was of shul, cooking and eating. The good thing is that courtesy of our new grill, we grilled (Gabe grilled actually) a fast and easy meal last night of veggies and tofu which we ate in the sukkah, along with spreads and bread (ate the spreads out of the containers!). Today, lunch was courtesy of Bourekas Ima - lasagna and quiches and salad which were enjoyed along with Don & Judy, Michael and Miriam and Gabe's posse of Adin Ner-David and friend Hallel, visiting from Kibbutz Ketura for hag.

Akiva's in bed. Gabe's at the movies with the friends. Ira's at the pharmacy agonizing over the long list of toiletries, etc (but he wanted to go out) and Natan is out with the cousins. Natan is having the equivalent of a bachelor party, I'd say. He's having the pre-army sendoff, where the coz's will tell him what to do say, do, how to handle this, that and the other thing, in addition to advising him as to what he needs to pack - not very much, we're told, as they give you just about everything. Yes, tomorrow, we ship the boy off at 7:30am from Givat Ha'tachmoshet/Ammunition Hill. I'm told it's an organized and chilled sendoff and that the mood will be pleasant and not frenetic. I'm also told that it's a bit like sending a kid off to camp for the first time. I recall that first year at Ramah Berkshires and sitting on the bus nervously until Saul Finkelstein, bless him, took pity and befriended me. Of course, it was in English. I think that we're all ready for this - that is, we've known the date is coming and while we had hoped for a bit of a deferrment, we knew that it might be Oct 22nd. Part of me says, better off get it started then keep waiting for something so huge and unknown that waiting for so long would have been an agony. It's hard to know. I don't know if we were really prepared for this aspect of moving to Israel but is anyone? I guess it will be a seminal moment for all of us in terms of the experience of living here. Hopefully, it will be positive, even with the negatives, for Natan. He's still such a kid - every 18 year old is, right? He's a good boy, though, a very good boy and hopefully, they'll see his worth and he'll meet nice people and do worthwhile things.

On a lighter note, big boy comes home from the hospital tomorrow. He looks great, sort of like a glow-worm doll - little head with bright eyes and small 'swee pea' like body. Pip is doing nicely as well - weighted 1.25 today which is a nice jump for him and his color is good and overall he seems more chilled and no more lights for jaundice. Progress for all. Jess is recovering nicely and has ankles and toes again.

Wish us luck tomorrow!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Ridiculous the amounts of list it takes to manage life this time of year. There's the To-do list for everyday life, the To-do list for Shutaf life, the To-do list for Akiva - doctor visits, toileting followup and the To-do list for Natan - army doctor appts, letters to write, hands to wring. Add to this the Shopping List for constant food replenishment for holiday/shabbat cooking. Just finished Shabbat and already have to think/plan lists for Monday night/Tuesday. Then, there's the visits to the Sukkah which mean meals with sister Sarah on Thursday night - we're thinking of finally firing up the new grill, and that's followed by Shabbat again, and then there's Sunday night with Jess & Daniel and my parents and then it's get ready for Simhat Torah!

This morning, after our usual wakeup call with Akiva at 5AM (he tends to wake up even earlier on Shabbat and days off), we laid in bed attempting to ignore him. At 7AM, I got up and went out for a run because I couldn't lay in bed anymore thinking about my lists. Then, I got dressed and went to shul on the early shift to Sharon and Nathan Laufer's son, Motti's BarM. Motti, is the charming youngest son of their brood of 4, the olders being triplets. It was a lovely service and everyone enjoyed hearing Motti leyn/read Torah and teach a new song to the crowd (in lieu of a speech). Even better, were the ice cream cones for Kiddush - Akiva and I shared one. It was crowded but we managed but I can't wait to get back to the ICCY, Shira Hadasha's roomier permanent home.

So, what are you guys eating over Yomtov? Any new ideas for me? Have to look at my cookbooks. Need some new inspiration. Have honored guests, Don and Judy arriving, in addition to local faces. Need to show off my new pressure cooker and my new stove. Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gemara Class and Yom Kippur Thoughts

Since I'm on a roll, might as well go with it especially when I have things to say/write. You, my friends, know I always have something to say but making time to blog is a separate affair.

I take an excellent Gemara class on Tuesday mornings with Gilla Rosen, wife of Mickey Rosen, founder of the Yakar Center in J'lem (as well as London and more recently, Tel Aviv). Gilla is a known and respected scholar in her own right, one of a generation of women making waves in Orthodo circles - that is to say, unafraid to demand their right to learn and share that learning with others, mainly women. She's originally from the US - brother Jon traveled through Europe with her brother Charlie a billion years ago - but lived for many years in London before moving to Israel. Yakar was at the forefront of the spiritual, what many might call, Carlebach style approach to tefilla/prayer and well before Shira Hadasha was ever founded, provided a place where one could sing, daven and take their time with tefilla. I remember that when I would visit Israel, I would accompany Jess and even my father sometimes on a Friday night for Kabbalat Shabbat. My mother would groan because she knew Shabbat dinner would be a late affair on such evenings.

One of my favorite Gemara teachers of all time is Debra Reed Blank, who led a group of faithful followers in various study of Mishna and some other texts, many years ago at Kane Street. Debra (here's an article of hers about liturgy) had this great way of bringing the ancient texts to life with her straightforward approach to the translation and understanding of whatever it was the Rabbi's were discussing. It had been some years since I have had the chance to delve back in but I was recommended the class by local, Linda Gradstein and I started during a quiet time, when I even had chance to prepare each week, which I needed given that it had been years since I had engaged in such a serious class, taught in Hebrew, with experienced classmates. It's a nice group of women - all quite focused and some quite talented at Gemara study as well. I confess that I don't think I'm one of the talented ones but nonetheless, enjoy the 'pilpul.' Last year, we worked on the sixth chapter of B'rachot, studying all sorts of things related to tefilla/prayer. I even gave a little presentation (we all did) at the end of the year. It's been a good thing. This year, we're moving on to the 7th chaper, which we'll start addressing after the holidays. Up until then, we're looking at some stuff in Yomah related to Yom Kippur - fasting, making t'shuva/repentence, stuff like that.

We were discussing the call to saying prayers of Vidui - things like the 'Al Cheyt/I have sinned' or Ashamnu/that long list of all those things we've done/said/thought. Why are we called to say these thing - historical references like the sin of the golden calf. We looked at source material in the Torah - Vayikra - Acharei Mot - that refer to Vidui as something important, in addition to making the appropriate sacrifices for wrongdoing. I liked one section that discussed that your issues with G-d and repentence and forgiveness are different then what you need to do to be forgiven by friends for wrongdoing. I hereby ask forgiveness at the juncture from all my friends and family, near and far, for anything I may have done (and I'm sure I did) that upset or offended or hurt you in some way this past year. I hope to do better in the year(s) to come.

I got to thinking about Akiva and Ira and I this past year. We struggle these days, trying not to feel resentment at the daily drudgery - the endless trips to the bathroom to attempt to learn toileting, the cleanup and the laundry, the morning wakeups (now at 5:15AM since when you change the clocks, it just means an hour earlier), the endless pieces of bread to toast and lunches and 'elevenses' (10:00 break meal here) to prepare, and the knowledge that it ain't changing or ending anytime soon. I talked with my mother about this very topic today with regard to my father - the drudgery is different but the fatigue, petty humiliations and grief that feels is quite real with regard to his dementia. It's hard to make your peace and not get angry and yet, you always have to remind yourself, as we do with regard to Akiva, 'what's so bad about being retarded?' It's not his fault, indeed it's how the Creator determined whom he would be. It's not our fault that we get tired but we do him a disservice in needing/wanting him to be different and yet, how can we not? No good answer here but acceptence is the overall theme that we work at on a regular basis. But - I found it hard at 5:15 this morning, when he came downstairs all bright eyed and chipper and then again at 6:00 when he arrived again for a cuddle and then eventually, prepared him french toast at 7:15 (he's off today for erev YK). He's so easy to please - I'm the harder one to please, I guess, caught up more in the existential nature of life. So, on this erev YK, I ask Akiva's slicha u'mechila/forgiveness or as Barbara said to me on the phone today as only a Boro Pk/Flatbush girl could, 'do you mochel me?'

צום קל - An easy fast to all those fasting.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Duchening at the Wall

Since I've been so remiss in blogging, I neglected to report about my seminal davening moment since arriving here. Our friends, Haviva and Jacob Ner-David, celebrated their 2nd child, Adin's BarM in late August. The Ner-David's are an idiosyncratic clan - they daven in many different places of varying practice and religious style. Haviva, who has an Orthodox ordination that is controversial to some, is also the author of a great book on women's issues, feminism and Orthodoxy. Jacob, a successful business guy and local venture capitalist, went to high school with Jessica (of course, there is the Jessica connection) back in the old country. They have 6 great kids and Gabe goes to school with many of them at the Democratic School. What makes both Jacob and Haviva even more interesting is their absolute devotion to the environment, co-existence projects locally and generally, things that are good for the world, both from a Jewish and non-religious perspective.

The BarM was at the Southern Wall, right by Robinson's Arch. For those of you who haven't been, think of it as the Kotel, extended. It's a great site, with wonderful historical high points, from the staircase that the Kohanim ascended to reach the Temple Mount to the ancient grafitti near the arch, which essentially says, 'we'll be back.' The area has been designated for the 'non-Orthodox' to have services without offending anyone. The BarM was called for 8am and as we arrived, we were pleased to note the varying areas of men and women. There was the men's area (loosely defined by an obvious group of guys but this grew to later include a mixed group nearby as well), the women's area, and in the middle mixed seating. Davening was led in an a somewhat central area - I should add that davening took a long time, as Haviva and Jacob are afficianados of the Leeder Minyan, which is known for it's looooong and spiritual services. It was Rosh Hodesh as well, meaning lots more to do before eating brunch.

I had been asked to lead Mussaf Rosh Hodesh and I was uptight. What would it be like to get up and lead Mussaf in this very mixed crowd? I worried about this for a while and then reminded myself that Haviva wouldn't have asked me without thinking through this matter and moreover, anybody who knows Jacob and Haviva and came today, might expect that leadership could be either men or women. Then, I realized that I'd be leading duchening/Kohanic blessing as well. This was a wild concept as I'd be doing it in Jerusalem, in mixed company, at the Wall! I must admit that even I, the cynical, 'oh it's just the kotel' was somewhat pleased. I had to rush my repetition as time was short, which was fine with me, but as I got to the blessings, I enjoyed the moment and the rush.

Pretty cool.

Shana Tova

Fall came suddenly to these parts and there I found myself, deep in a pile of menus, recipe books, shopping lists and general 'things to do' before Rosh Hashana stuff. I determined to get myself in the mood and did - we shopped, cooked together (Moroccan veg stew with saffron, salads, spreads, desserts (these amazing, spicy, think Jacques Torres's spicy hot chocolate, Brownies), I really can't remember anymore, and ultimately enjoyed the 2 days of holidaying. We davened at Mayanot after weeks of agonizing over where to go. We actually agonized for so long over where to go - Beit Boyer (boring but delightfully Ashkenazic and great shofar blower), Shira Hadasha (long but spiritual but lousy shofar blower), or, Mayanot (small, not enthusiastic enough at times but egal, some decent shofar blowing and nice davening...most of the time). But I'm being unkind because Mayanot was nice - crowd was pleasantly filled out by 65 Nativnikim (one-year post HS USY program), and other locals. Davening was pleasant - Ira the first night, Daniel for Musaf day one, I read Torah day 2, Natan haftorah day 2, and other locals filling in the other parts doing a nice and spirited job of making the Tefila enjoyable.

Ira and I split Akiva duties, each of us coming late one day - in time for shofar blowing during Mussaf and some of Akiva's favorite local tunes. A funny moment Day 2 was had during Mussaf when the Ba'al Tefila, Aryeh, sang thru two choral pieces (Lewandowski, of course) and the community sang along in all parts. Laurie Yorr would have laughed, we all smiled, chuckled and did our part, albeit with imperfect timing but lots of gusto.

Ate meals with a nice mix of family - Jess and Daniel (he was home this year for the first time in forever - usually he has a high holiday pulpit job but with Jess due soon, he didn't go) and the girls, homeschooling family with lots of lovely boys, Mona and Robert, Blass family and 2 Nativnikim.

I missed Ray and I missed Rena and all the rest of youz.
Shana Tova.