So I was in middle of washing the dishes when this blogpost came to me and I burst out laughing. Y'know how it is: "We interrupt this regular programming for some good, old-fashioned humor". The dishes certainly don't mind me abandoning them! Here goes...
A CNN news story announced that Mr. Gadhafi, the tenuous leader of anarchy-ridden Libya, had a wonderful way to elicit support: among other things, he was promising university students free Masters degrees if they would protest in the streets on his behalf. Now, I've heard of monetary incentives, candy, toys, even free cars or liquor, but...Masters degrees? I thought that was simply hilarious. Which led to my mid-dishwashing musings. Imagine the following scenario:
"Hello, have a seat. I see you've come to apply for a position in our company."
"Your resume says you're an electrical engineer."
"Hmmm...must have been a challenge to work all those years for this Masters degree, huh?"
"Absolutely. My arms are sore from sign-waving; my throat's been hoarse for a week from all that chanting."
"Er, sign-waving? Chanting? Is that part of the electrical engineering coursework nowadays?"
"Oh yes. It's a rigorous program, sir, but worth it in the end."
"I see. Now, I'd like to look over your transcripts, if I may. Our company is seeking the best, the brightest, the very cream of the Libyan crop..." Peruses a single sheet of paper. "Strange. I see only the grades for one semester here."
"Yes, sir. That's all I have."
"Now hold on just one moment, young man. You say you graduated with a Masters in Electrical Engineering. But you attended only one semester of Libya University?"
"B-but how can that be? You must be a genius...a wonderchild!"
Interviewee smiles modestly and blushes.
"Oh no, sir. I protest..."
Forget Touro and other fast-track vocational training programs--we can just send our seminary girls over to Libya! :-) I hear Gadhafi's offering free pilot licenses next.
Kids really DO say the darndest things, y'know? And it's always EXACTLY what you need to hear! Let me give you this little anecdote.
We're sitting at the Shabbos table on Friday night, just shmoozing. That's me and my kids, mind you; hubby's flat out on the couch for a post-chicken soup snooze. And it's one of those lazy, delicious conversations where everyone's chilled and just chatting, when suddenly...DEATH strikes!
Don't you love it? Kids and death. There's this fascination, this macabre romance children have with morbidity and beyond--not unlike us adults, only we suppress it. Here's the way the convo unfolds:
Child: It's so sad that So-and-So died. She'll never see her grandchildren and great grand-children...
Me: Yes she will. People who leave this world aren't gone--they're still living, just in another world.
Another child: Really?
Child: Then why is it sad when people die?
Me: It's sad for US because we miss them here. But it's happy for THEM because they're in the Next World, in Gan Eden (literally: the Garden of Eden, commonly referred to as "Heaven").
Child thinks for awhile.
Child: Mommy, do you think I'm going to Gan Eden?
Me: Of course!
Child: Yeah. Well, I'm just getting started doing mitzvos (good deeds). I think I'm going to go to Gan Eden after 120.
Me: Uh huh.
Child: Mommy, do you think YOU'RE going to Gan Eden?
Me: Hmmmm... Well, I never really thought about it. I sure hope so. Some days are better, some days are harder, but I'm definitely trying.
Child: Well, I hope you go to Gan Eden because I want to see you there!
Now tell me something. Where, in the world, would I be without my kids? Certainly not wondering about whether I'm going to Heaven! :-) But seriously--have YOU ever thought about whether you're going to Gan Eden before?
I met a woman who recently delivered at a natural birthing center, in a pastoral setting (ie. not a hospital), who went home three hours after giving birth to bond with her other children, and she described her experience as serene and immensely spiritual. She also does yoga.
I gave birth in a hospital--albeit naturally--where I stayed for three days wonderibg how in the world I would manage when I got home. I've endured a total of one yoga class my entire life.
I met a woman who wears blazers, pencil skirts, and silk scarves everyday, and patent leather shoes. And it's not a job requirement.
The only blazers I own are collecting dust in my closet and if I wore a scarf it would be of the woolen, outerwear variety.
I met a woman whose house is prepetually clean and she loves spending all afternoon playing with her children.
My house is perpetually messy and I never feel like I've played with my kids enough.
I just finished watching a sixty-minute video called Iranium, a very well-done production advertised through Aish.com that brings to light the development of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the true threat it poses to the entire world. The movie, featuring some very intelligent interviewees, some very gory footage, and a chilling script, is really quite frightening. But honestly, the conclusions offered at the end of the screening are even more frightening.
What can we do to derail Iran's nuclear program and thus prevent the possible annihilation of millions of people? throbbed the message throughout the movie. I sat through sixty minutes, expectantly, waiting for the million-dollar answer to the billion-dollar question. And yet, when it was over, the "What Can I Do to Help" link gave several options: Stop supporting Iran's nuclear program, Sign the petition, Circulate the movie, Write a letter, and Support the Iranian people (I am approximating here, but I think I'm being pretty accurate).
If you're a politically correct human being with fairly Western views on life, you may be surprised to hear that I was disappointed and frightened to see this litany of "helpful actions". Let me explain.
The Iranian threat is not a new idea; it was prophesied centuries ago and recorded in several places in Tanach (the Bible). In fact, Judaism is never surprised by the rise of new terrorists; we expect it. It's just one of the facts of life-after-Eden: Esau despises Jacob, and he will do so until the end of time. Yishmael (Ismael, the father of Islam) plays an enormous role in the Final Redemption and, indeed, we know that the Geulah (coming of the Messiah) will be preceded by Yishmael and Esau fighting each other over the Jews. So Iran is perfectly punctual, right on time for world events. But that's just the background. The really important thing in all this nuclear weapons stuff is this: we are told the panacea to all the world's ills. It's teshuvah, return, recommitting ourselves to Torah and mitzvos. All the evils and torments of world history have only one purpose for the Jew: to goad us into re-connecting with G-d. He is waiting for us.
But signing petitions is so much easier, so much more doable and REAL than, say, reciting Psalms or making up with an estranged sibling, or whatever other spiritual step needs to be taken. It may seem counterintuitive to be standing in solem prayer instead of writing letters to Obama to pretty-please put more sanctions on Iran. Yet in looking at the hard facts, there's almost no one who will deny that it will take a miracle to derail the Iranians from their devious machinations.
I'm not advocating complete passivity; Judaism has always encouraged action. Indeed, Jacob's first encounter with his nefarious brother, Esau, exemplifies this principle. He prepared in three ways--first with prayer (y'hear that? FIRST with prayer!), second, by sending a gift (pacification), and third, by preparing for war. In doing so, he taught us an eternal lesson in how to confront an enemy.
Well, applying this biblical lesson to current affairs, and especially where Iran is concerned, it's pretty clear we've got the pacification part down pat! And, at times, we've done the war thing, too. But what about the prayer? When does that come in?
I speak not to you, dear readers; I speak to my own dormant heart.
The house is peacefully, slumberingly quiet, and before I give myself the luxury of a (relatively) early night, I thought I'd write this blog while it's still fresh. (Cuz when they're stale they're so...stale, y'know?) I just came home from my precious daughter's school bat mitzvah celebration. It was, in a word, magical.
The girls sang, they danced; their costumes, sewn specially for the occasion, glittered in the stage lights. The teachers produced a stunning video featuring the girls, shot in various places all across Israel--so professional you could plotz! (And I am one of the biggest critics I know!)
It's so euphoric, so moving, to see all these girls--nearly one hundred of them--up on stage, singing their hearts out; to hear the principal's inspirational words; to embrace that girl who once, not so long ago, was an infant, and who now stands at the threshold of adulthood.
At the same time, it's sobering. Next week, my daughter will become a "bat mitzvah", obligated in performing mitzvos (commandments). Have I prepared her well enough for the task? Is there even a way to properly prepare anyone for it? (Is that second question the real answer to the first question?!)
What has until now been a whisper, roars tonight: Will I be a good role model for her as she takes on her new responsibilities? It's a frightening, soul-searching thought. Those are the best kinds.
Well, today I got hate mail.
Not exactly HATE mail; more like, STRONGLY DISLIKE mail, as in "Your serial story, Charades, stinks." It's par for the course, and I've, sniff, dried my tears and will, sob, carry on with my life as best as I, hiccup, possibly can under the circumstances. Okay, seriously, though, it's fine; everyone's entitled to their opinion and this is what writers contend with all the time. The reason I raise this is not to complain about negative feedback; it's to point out a really fascinating observation I've made lately.
There's a psychology to everything--to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the things we say and think. It's nifty being married to a psychologist because my husband often shares with me the psychological side to things, but my mind tends to gravitate to psychology as well.
When I set out to write Charades, I wanted to explore a new genre: mystery. I've never written a mystery before and I thought it would be really neat. Aside from the fact that I needed to have my main character disappear in order to deflect attention away from a very sensitive topic, abuse, I thought it would be fun and intriguing for people to be kept wondering, as the story developed, Where is Mottie Schneider?
Yet the mystery was a very side-plot to the story; the real bricks-and-mortar of Charades is the exploration of a family looking perfect on the outside but struggling on the inside; of a therapist who can save the world but cannot save herself and her children; of turning to food to stuff down emotion; of the balance in female friendships. All these threads are woven into Charades in what I feel is a fascinating, very authentic way. And yet, today's letter-writer and some others have complained about the story saying it is dragging out, it has no action, it's "disappointing."
Well, I think I've pin-pointed why. I think I've discovered that mysteries don't work well in serialized stories the way they work in a contiguous book. Why? Because a certain type of reader will be unable to focus on the rest of the plot, honing in ONLY on the mystery. She will flip to the end of every chapter without even reading the whole story, intent only on knowing, Where is Mottie Schneider? She loses the forest for the one, suspenseful tree! And that's truly unfortunate, considering the fact that it's a wonderful, complex, interesting forest!
Anyway, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. What say you?
Well, at least I have a plausible excuse for neglecting this site for a looooong time. The newest addition to the Pomerantz family is adorable Moshe Yona, born December 18th which makes him about a month old now, baruch Hashem!
It's amazing how many emotions a new baby can spawn. Awe. Joy. Fear. Stress. Love. Pride. Dozens more that can't be named. I'm happy to report that, slowly but surely, we're all getting used to a new rhythm and a new reality. Every time we add a new member to the clan it takes a lot of reshuffling and realignment as everyone--young and old alike--struggles to reclaim their place, to see how the new addition fits into their own world. I remember reading somewhere that introducing a new baby to older siblings is akin to one's husband coming home one day with a new wife. "Hey, honey, I brought home a younger, cuter model. But don't worry--I love you JUST THE SAME!" :-) That analogy definitely helps me hold on to empathy as I go through the sometimes tumultuous fall-out from the other kids who are bravely trying to make it work with a new baby brother.
But it's all good!
One thing that has been hitting me so deeply these days is the absolute trust that only an infant can display. He cries and cries and doesn't give up until changed, fed, or held, and there is something completely peaceful in my baby's demeanor, a deep certainty that his needs will be taken care of. He doesn't wonder where his next bottle will come from, or who will make sure his sleepers are laundered. It's beautiful, this tranquil faith. A full-fledged microcosm of bitachon vs. hishtadlus. Definitely something that even me, in my sleep-deprived state, feels stirred to emulate.
Always wanted to title a blogpost with something Italian! Pass the pasta.
Anyway, I'm working on a really interesting article right now which involved my interviewing a few mothers. And let me tell you, I am blown away. The best part about my job is that I actually get PAID to be inspired and to learn new things. Imagine that!
These are not mothers in the classical sense; they are, as one woman put it, PROFESSIONAL mothers. Mothers who take their job seriously, who invest time and effort in thinking about their parenting decisions, who subdue their own inclinations, needs, and desires because they know all they've got is one shot and it's make it or break it.
I long to be like them.
One woman described how much she invests in bedtime. Now, I don't know about you, but bedtime in our house is more of a chore than anything resembling a bonding experience. But this wonderful woman utilized bedtime as an opportunity to shmooze with her kids, play games with them, spend quality time with them--she regards it as a precious time of the day. In fact, she explained to me that her philosophy (as taught by very respected educators and rabbis) is that when parents and children enjoy a close, beautiful relationship, things like discipline and complaining and hostility fall away as non-issues because mutual respect, communication, and love are the order of the day.
I love it. Now I need to implement it.
There are times, numerous times, in my life, where I have been hit with a new idea that challenges several old ideas I have previously presumed true and correct. Today is one of those times. I thought I'd share this latest experience with you and see, well, you'll see what I want you to see :-) in a moment!
It began rather innocently as I chatted with my housekeeper (a fancy way of saying "cleaning lady", no? To me, "housekeeper" conjures up images of a live-in maid in a starched apron who keeps my house spic 'n span 24/7. Reality check: think older Moroccan woman whom I love dearly, swishing around a sponja rag for a few hours a week in a vain attempt at keeping my house clean for a scant day if we're lucky!) this morning about, y'know, the things you chat about when one of you is wiping countertops and the other one is attempting to finish a chapter of her serial story (!).
And then we got onto The Subject, which means that I asked her what the custom is amongst her family and friends regarding gift-giving at simchas (happy occasions). That's when she let the bomb drop--but let me preface this a bit. My cleaner is, as I mentioned before, a wonderful middle-aged Israeli woman of Moroccan descent, which means she is Sefardic, extremely family-oriented, and probably a wonderful cook. It also means that her culture is very different than mine, just by virtue of the fact that I'm Ashkenazic, North American born-and-bred, family-oriented in a very different way (she spends Shabbos with her parents, for example, EVERY SINGLE WEEK!). In fact, the only strong similarity between the two of us is that I'm also a great cook :-). Oh--and we're both sweet (another smiley face would go here if I hadn't already used up my quota for this blogpost!).
So what's up with gift-giving in her family? I wondered. She's making a bar mitzvah in a month, so the question wasn't exactly from left-field. I just wanted to know what the expectation was as far as a gift goes since I'll be showing up and I want to be socially correct. Pretty suave, I thought. Well, let me just preface this by saying that I am accustomed to giving actual gifts, rather than money, for a few reasons. Firstly, I think it's more intimate and thoughtful. Secondly, I'm always uncomfortable with price-point; if I give 100 shekels, the recipient knows I gave 100 shekels. If they consider 100 shekels a nice amount, then I'm fine, generous, and may even be invited back to the next simcha! But if they think 100 shekels is kind of measly, then, well, it doesn't really reflect very well on me, does it?
On the other hand, if I buy a beautiful crystal dish for 100 shekels and have it wrapped gorgeously, then it has definite eye appeal and the recipient isn't thinking about the price tag and the economics of the gift. At least that's the way I look at it.
Well, here's Dahlia's take: they give money. Cash. And lots of it. Not only that, but they write down exactly what amount everyone gave--and then MATCH it when they're invited to the other guy's simcha. That means that if you give me 400 shekels for my daughter's bat mitzvah (hint, hint), I will then give you 400 shekels when you invite me to your son's bar mitzvah. It's just that simple.
"And if you don't have the money, you give it anyway!" she tells me, leaning on the sponja stick.
I was really kind of, well, between being blown away and stymied (a relatively tumultuous place to be, as you might imagine!). Is that really what a simcha is? Giving a gift that is really just a credit note--an IOU until you can "pay back"? And, she informed me, even if you don't attend the simcha, you send the money by hook or by crook. In my perspective, this system would make me regard every incoming invitation like it's a bill. Can I really afford to be friends with so many people, when 4-600 shekels is considered the normal gift to give?
I realize my lovely cleaning woman's world may be a bit extreme to myself and many of you readers, but pray tell, what do you give as a gift, and how do you feel about it?
Check out my latest article on aish.com, a piece sparked by an inspiration I had on my recent trip back from the States. It's a thought that really intrigues me. Let me know what you think!
Here's the link:
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.