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Friday, August 24, 2012

Making Amends

Sitting in Hadassah Ein Kerem right now is a lovely and dignified mother who, like me and countless other Jewish women, was on her way to the Rami Levy supermarket to buy food for her family’s holiday celebrations. I can imagine her bringing her husband and small children, enjoying the outing as a family, anticipating the feast but like all of us concerned about rising costs of food…the kind of shopping day most Jewish women face on the eve of any holy day.

On her way to the grocery store in a taxi driven by another relative, they were fire bombed by a Jewish terrorist who appears to have deliberately targeted her taxi because of its obvious Palestinian origin (license plates and color). An initial IDF investigation indicated that Israelis were behind the attack. Shin Bet has taken over the investigation and is hunting the terrorist. The army raided Bat Ayin in the early hours of the morning following the attack.

I went to visit her at the hospital. Why? I’m not an “activist” or a “peacenik” or even a liberal….I’m a fairly conservative, religious Jewish woman with children and grandchildren. But I cannot describe the horror and outrage I felt at the news of this attack. Jamila Hassan is only 25 years old, the mother of two small children also burned horribly in this attack. She could be my daughter. Her children could be my grandchildren. What happened to her should never happen to any human being.

I went because I wanted her to know how sorry I am that this happened, and more so, how sorry I am that a Jew did this to her and her family.

I went because I am ashamed.

I am not ashamed of being Jewish, of being Israeli, or the choices I have made in my life. I am ashamed that one of my People has by this act of barbarism perpetrated חילול השם‎--a desecration of G-d’s name.

I went because I needed to do teshuvah.

We are all responsible for each other, the Sages teach. Thus, while I would never in my life throw a cinderblock or a Molotov cocktail at a passing motorist, I am filled with horror that a Jew did so, and in doing so, destroyed a man’s livelihood, a woman’s face, another man’s body, burned two small children and traumatized not only an entire family but the community in which they live. I personally didn’t throw that Molotov, but if we are all responsible for one another, it behooves me to do teshuvah for the merciless acts of terror committed by a member of the Jewish community.

I went to the hospital with great trepidation. My Arabic is so rudimentary as to be nearly non-existent and my Hebrew is at a basic street-level. 
Jamila and a few family members were sitting and talking. They looked a bit askance as I entered—that “are you lost?” look. One young man spoke Hebrew and translated for me. Jamila and her family did not react with anger, or scorn, or hatred or any of the feelings such a horrific attack could engender. She is a beautiful young woman, full of grace and dignity, and she greeted me with that grace and dignity. She accepted my paltry gifts with thanks, my sorrow with acceptance, and at that point, about a dozen more relatives arrived en masse. One of the women offered me a cookie and a smile when I stopped talking; the elders thanked me for my concern. A young man, a teen, had great anger in his eyes, but heard me, I hope, when I said how sorry I was, and that I am angry also.

I have a request of my fellow Jews in the Jerusalem area.

Visit Jamila.  According to Jewish tradition, bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, is an essential mitzvah,  a religious and ethical obligation.  This is not an easy visit--not only is it not someone you know, but it is a human injured by another Jew. It is not easy, but it is the right thing to do.

Go there. It is easy to condemn the actions of a terrorist while sitting at a table with friends or family, but your action is what is needed now.  If you also feel complete outrage at a terrorist attack on an innocent family, then tell her to her burned face you are sorry for what happened, that you are ashamed a Jew would do this, and ask her forgiveness. Jews from Bat Ayin, near the site of the attack, doubtless with the same trepidation I felt, have already gone there and done this. It is not only the moral thing to do in this month of Elul, this time of repentence, it is the kind thing to do—let her know that she is valued as a human being and mother who should never have been subjected to such terror. Act with kindness and compassion to a young woman grievously injured by one of our own.

Otherwise, how can you stand on Yom Kippur and petition HaShem for forgiveness without having asked Jamila for hers?

Jamila Hassan is in the new building across from the Mall, 7th floor, room 6.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Special Needs and the Marin Culture of Intolerance

Now and then, something happens to make my mind run down a particular track. This week, it was spending an evening reading some of the blogs of other parents who themselves have had to deal with special needs issues.

It made me reflect on the challenges we've dealt with, and are still dealing with, with Josh, now 21.

We were told endlessly how fortunate we were to live in Marin County, Califoria, where Josh was born. Fortunate because it had better special need services and education than any other Bay Area county, and certainly better than out in the Wilderness of the Central Valley.

All I can say in retrospect is that if Marin is the best,then Heaven help all the other people in California who don't live in that county.

There were many talented and committed medical and educational specialists with whom we were fortunate to work.

There were also down-right idiots, a few of them with advanced degrees.

But worst of all was the Marin Culture. Marin is a very expensive neighborhood, a suburb of San Francisco, and largely unspoiled. Little teeney houses built in 1946 can go for millions of dollars. Multiple millions if the house has a view of the Bay or is in a top-notch high school district. People live in Marin because of its beauty, its proximity to San Francisco jobs and restaurants and other perks. And they pay a lot for this privilege.

Because they paid a lot to live in their idea of Paradise-on-Earth, they also had great expectations. One of those expectations was that their lives would now be perfect, as would the lives of their children. After all, that's why we moved here, right?

This often translates into an intolerance of imperfection on the horizen as well as demands for immediate gratification. For all of it's vaunted Liberalism, Marinites were some of the most intolerant, selfish people I had ever met. You could rename it NIMBY County, and you'd be spot on. It was the only place I have ever worked where the complaints about homeless people in public were framed in terms of their presence bringing down a homeowner's property values rather than concern for their exposure to the elements. This intolerance carried over into the special needs realm as well.

My sense, after living in Marin for a number of years, was that special needs children fell into the same category as alcoholic homeless persons --a population needing assistance but one that we'd rather not see in our Paradise. Homeless people were thus herded into out-of-sight shelters, and special needs children were herded into programs where they couldn't "contaminate" the other Perfect Offspring of Marin County.

Where this was most apparent was in social interactions. Josh had a preschool classmate who suffered from severe CP. One afternoon, her grandmother was pushing the child's wheelchair through Safeway. Her grandaughter's CP was severe and obvious, as the child could not hold her head up, and had little control over her limbs. Another compassionate Marin citizen stormed up to the grandmother, and sternly announced, "THIS is what happens when you have children at your age! What's the matter with you? WHAT were you thinking?!"

What was SHE thinking? First, why would you treat the child as if she's not there at all? Why would you condemn the putative parent when you don't know her or her circumstances? Why would you assume you have the right to any comment at all, for that matter?

We belonged to the Jewish Community Center. We took Josh there to learn to swim and to enjoy time in the pool with his best friend, Christopher.

Because Josh was subject to seizures, had extemely limited eyesight and very poor fine motor control, he changed in the locker room with me. This entailed entering a curtained area or a closet-like space, and changing, so there was a modicum of privacy. However,this also meant walking through the women's dressing room. I was accosted one day by another member while Josh stood right next to me.

"How old is your son?!" she demanded angrily. At no time did she acknowledge that a living, breathing, thinking, feeling child was right there, hearing her words.

"He's four and a half," I said, wondering what she was so overwrought about.

"He's too old to be in here. The limit is three years old!" (It wasn't--there was no official limit, I found out.)

"Well, he has some physical problems and needs to be with a parent," I tried to explain.

"Then he needs to come with his father. I don't want him in here!" she snapped.

"His father is working today. I'm the only parent who can take him," I said.

"I'm going to file a complaint," she trumpeted. "I don't want your retarded kid in here looking at me!"

Never mind that Josh is severely vision impaired and near-sighted in his one working eye. Without his glasses, I doubt he could have seen Godzilla in the locker room. So I gave her my nicest smile. "Then buy a fucking burka, you bitch. Because he's NOT leaving."

We ran into a similar display of compassion and understanding at a community dinner one night. We were there for some function I no longer recall, but Josh was with us. He was five, and because his physical problems taxed him, he worked harder to get through a day than most of his peers. He became tired, and a bit overwhelmed by all the adult babble and the strange setting, and found the dim lighting and noise a bit frightening, so he climbed into my lap. The woman across the table gave me her Evil Eye stare all night long, clearly disapproving of bringing Josh to this glorious function where he didn't measure up to all the other Perfect Offspring on display. "He's much too old to be sitting in your lap," she hissed at me as we left.

Unfortunately, this carried over into grade school. Josh's school had a rule that no one could be excluded from birthday parties -- if one child was invited, everyone had to be invited. With the brave exceptions of a couple of parents in his class, Josh was somehow excluded anyway. The excuses varied: "Oh, it was very last minute and we just called a couple of close friends," (right--all 14 other class members); or "Oh, didn't you get the invitation? Maybe I have the wrong address?" (this one got really old); or "Gee, it was a sleepover so we only invited girls," (true--the sleepover was all girls but the party itself was everyone but my son).

The educators were great. The parents sucked, with a few notable exceptions. The kids themselves, like all kids, were at first prone to teasing or mocking Josh out of sight of the adults, but in time, even that stopped as they matured. They began to understand him, and as their understanding grew, so did their tolerance for his being so different. One girl told me she now understood why Josh kept bumping her when she was on his left: at first, she thought he was being deliberately annoying, but now she understood he was blind on his left side and just didn't see her. His classmates had more compassion and sympathy for Josh than their parents did. The kids saw Josh as a kid like themselves, but one who had a lot of problems; the parents acted both uncomfortable and embarassed by this kid with a limp, with poor vision and coke-bottle glasses, with a speech impediment, with a brace on his leg. I became adept at interpreting some of the looks the parents gave each other on meeting Josh: "Omigosh! What if what he has is catching?!"

By Middle School, we were in public school. His grade school had been a great place, but it was a college prep setting, and the academic demands on Josh starting in 6th grade were only setting him up for failure. One consequence of his medical condition is that his executive function simply wasn't at the level of his peers, so organizing his binder was a challenge--organizing and prioritizing multiple assignments from multiple teachers in 6th grade with gargantuan homework assignments to boot was going to be impossible.

We moved. It put us in a different and better school district, where we arranged for an hour of resource daily, and accomodations. This school was made aware of our concerns about bullying, and since we showed up at every placement and IEP with a thick binder of notes and reports and a tape recorder, they took us very seriously.

Bullying happened, but on a smaller scale. At the same time, nice things happened also. Some jerks thought it was funny to smear buggers on Josh's locker's lock, because he couldn't see them. When his classmates found out, one of the most popular boys in class told Josh and his teacher not to worry--from that date forward, this boy accompanied Josh to his locker and checked to make sure it was clean. He also found out who the bugger-jerks were and snitched them off to the principal, every bit as offended by this harassment as Josh's parents were.

Girls in particular were very nice to Josh. He wasn't full of himself; he could be charming and funny, and he listened to them, unlike some of the testosterone-fueled egos on campus. I don't know if they knew he was painfully shy. One day I saw him watching a group of girls talking together. "Why don't you go over and say hello? You can't talk to them standing here." He just muttered something while turning bright red.

We checked out the high school program for Josh and decided instead to opt for an alternative charter school which was excellent. After checking out the local high school in our district, we found that special needs students might as well be on the moon. There was no apparent interaction between students in special ed or resource and the mainstream students. (OTOH, given that two daughters had already attended this high school and we were singularly unimpressed with either the quality of the students or the teachers, this perhaps wasn't such a bad thing.) In short, the special needs population was warehoused.

This led to the charter school, which gave Josh two resource periods and a staff of caring, motivated teachers. Even there, it was becoming a struggle socially, but Josh was learning to stand up for himself. However, no one really was a close friend; no one really wanted to be friends. The social attitudes of the Marin Culture were by now entrenched in the Marin teens--why be friends with a "loser" who clearly wasn't going to MIT or Stanford. (The fact that half of Marin's teens go to junior college, and very few to MIT or Stanford is irrelevant--it's all about appearance.)

To this day, I have a special place in my heart for Josh's best friend, Christopher. Chris and Josh ended up at different schools but stayed friends. Chris is an exceptionally smart guy and ended up studying science at U.C. Davis. Even though he was a football star, busy with practices, homework and the near-incestuous social scene of Redwood High School, he never abandoned Josh or dropped his friendship. Now 10,000 miles apart, they're still in touch on Facebook, and we follow Chris's progress as proudly as if he were Josh's brother instead of his friend. Chris is the outstanding exception to the Marin Culture Rule--a boy whose values placed friendship and compassion and understanding above being seen as "cool" and who was never embarassed to have a friend with glasses, a stutter and a brace on his leg. Bless you, Christopher! And the parents who raised you to be mensch!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012--the Age of Resurgent Racism

I grew up in the post-Civil-Rights era; the era of Martin Luther King Jr., when Ghandi was quoted along with poet Khalil Gibran and the Desiderata, and we sang about The Impossible Dream. To my generation, racism, bigotry, discrimination and stereotypes were a part of history, a lesson from which we learned, and if the future could not be one of harmony and peace (even we conceded this was unlikely)it would at least be a better future for everyone, with all of us working together to the best of our abilities. It was the Era of The Peace Corps, of VISTA, and other organizations which in turn birthed Habitat for Humanity.

No one would ever again be forced to ride at the back of the bus; no one would ever again live in "restricted" neighborhoods; no one would ever be deprived of a decent education by a segregated school system. We would never again be judged by the color of our skins, but by the content of our characters.

This was no Age of Innocence. We were children of the Cold War and Viet Nam. We knew the cost of nuclear brinksmanship, saw the concrete walls through the heart of Europe, the dehumanization of state fascism in Eastern Europe, the brutality of "proxy wars" from Africa to Southeast Asia. We were not blind to American support of dictatorships which served American interests either. We saw children like ourselves needing a military escort to an American school because they were the "wrong" color. We saw race riots and police brutality. We saw a nation in the throes of change and the fear that those changes wrought.

But we also believed in progress; if freed from oppression and given a choice, we believed people would cherish the values of western humanism, freedom of choice and could find a way to live together in mutual respect. We thought we saw harbingers of this in the Velvet Revolution, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, advances in science, medicine and technology that fed and cured and educated an ever-growing world populace.

Now it appears that the Impossible Dream is fading. Today a man is running for President of the United States as a "Libertarian" but on a platform supported by racism, isolationism and hate.

Bigotry is going mainstream. This resurgence of racism comes from the political Right as Paul is a self-described "Republican" candidate, but the hate is equally vocal on the Left in political and academic discourse.

Alan Dershowitz, the one-time darling of the Left for his defense of the individual against the state, has expressed his own alarm at the beating drums of antisemitism in the halls of academia. When prominent academics endorse a rabidly antisemitic book published by a self-acknowledged antisemite, it's 1935 Germany all over again.

When a candidate for U.S. President refuses to disavow the enthusiastic support of neo-Nazis, antisemites and other racist fringe groups, then the future world we hoped for in 1970 is dead. The Ron Paul Survival Reports spewed bigoted statements throughout the 1990s without a single denial by their purported author. Now that national attention is focused on the candidate of the Fringe Right, suddenly these statements were authored by "ghostwriters" and he wasn't aware of them. Any attempt to discuss these writings are dismissed as 'hysterical smears aimed at political enemies.'

"Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities."

"Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day."

The candidate doesn't disagree with these statements. He doesn't condemn them, object to them or say that they are wrong. He simply says he didn't write them. I'm appalled at the chutzpah of a man who can make such statements then dismiss them as "smears" while running for the highest office in the land. Not surprisingly, he is opposed to affirmative action, characterizes the Civil Rights Act as a mistake, and is opposed to abortion under any circumstances.

You don't think antisemitism is going mainstream in America? Guess again: David Duke, one-time Grand Wizard of the white racist terror group "Ku Klux Klan" interviewed an African American teacher on his radio show recently.

Why would a hate-monger who is a white supremicist interview an African American, the KKK's victim-of-choice? Why would a white racist seek out the opinion of an African-American whose ancestors were routinely terrorized and murdered by the KKK?

More to the point, why would an African American teacher, a supporter of the Left-wing Occupy movement, agree to join a notorious white racist whose organization was responsible for pogroms against her people and actively maintained the disenfranchisement and segregation of Black Americans?

Because of their mutual hatred of Jews.

You can find their discussion under the title "Dr. David Duke and Patricia McAllister Discuss Wall Street Zionist Criminals."

Love the title! First, the hate-monger is a "doctor" by virtue of his Ph.D. Who bestowed that Ph.D.? None other than the infamous institution nicknamed "The University of Hate" in the Ukraine, the Ukrainian Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP), an institute notorious for being the main source of antisemitic activity and publishing in Ukraine. "Doktor" Duke's thesis was titled "Zionism as a Form of Ethnic Supremacism."

Then there's the reflexive connection between "Wall Street" and "Zionist Criminals." This harkens back to the "Jews-control-the-world-through-control-of-all-the-world's-banks" canard that became fashionable in Europe following the publication of the Russian antisemitic forgery, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." That work, designed by the Russian secret police to incite the populace against Russia's Jewish minority, blamed everything from crop failures to inflation on a mythical Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Duke and McAllister simply put the same nutty conspiracy hatred into modern form, substituting "Zionist" for "Jew" and "Wall Street" for "world banking."

But the podcast itself is a study in stereotyped hate tropes. McAllister blithely submits that Jews were kicked out of 109 countries because of "the evilness of their acts" and that the United States should become the 110th country to expell us. People have lost their jobs and homes because of the Jews: they were "tricked" out of their homes by Zionist Jews on Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. Jews seek control "of wherever they can make an extra dollar, they don’t care about this country, and they're taking our jobs over, paying those people pennies, and they make all the extra money." She recounts that Jews "...continue to rape this country..and around the world..." She characterizes Jews as traitors, stating that "…they control the money..they’re squeezing us, they're known to pull off things like lying, refusing to deal, illegal interest rates on loans, product bundling, boycotts,frequent bankruptcies in countries" to control currency rates. White-Black conflicts in the United States are all due to Jewish manipulation. She asserts that Hitler was a "victim" of a Jewish economic war against Germany and that the Rothschilds financed Hitler's killing of the Jews of Germany.

Her solution to the current economic problem: "I want them (Jews) banned from this country, put out of this nation, take their passports..they can take their relatives and families;...it may not be easy, there may have to be some bloodshed…"

A shorter, more succinct videotape of only McAllister's comments, without Duke's, but complete with antisemitic images, appears at Unite Against Zionism which comes with a cute graphic of a black figure arm-in-arm with a white figure under the title.

McAllister was confronted about her statements by a KTLA reporter in a broadcast interview:

REPORTER: Your remarks are racist.

PATRICIA McALLISTER: It is not racist. It's been telling the truth. Anyone who speaks against the Jews are called racist nowadays.

REPORTER: If somebody said the same thing about African Americans, it would be considered racist.

McALLISTER: If we were destroying this nation, you better say something, and take us down with it.

According to racists like McAllister and Duke, the Jews are destroying the United States. In the KTLA exchange, you see the disconnect between her earlier use of "Zionist" to disguise her bigotry and her angry, outright use of "Jew" in her defensive interview.

She is a star on Stormfront, the Nazi hate site, and Rense, another virulently antisemitic site.

A Stormfront talkback opines: Patricia McAllister is an impressive black woman -- speaking out against the oppressive criminal jewish establishment regardless of personal consequences. She's an excellent example for us all of speaking truth to power. I think we will be hearing more of her. Interestingly, this black woman, in this interview, called David Duke a great man. We know how true this is. As honest and honorable White men and women, we must give credit where it is due...I'm even beginning to think an alliance of some type may be possible among the enlightened of the various races against the common enemy of the world, the jews.

Nothing underlines the collapse of the Left-Right paradigm as much as these developments. The alliance of a Far Right National Socialist party member and leader of the KKK with a Left-wing Occupy movement African American is the Perfect Storm of rising racism in American political discourse and society. Now that antisemitism is getting academic imprimatur as well, I submit American Jews have reason to worry.

Aliyah, anyone?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vetting The Dogs

We became dog owners by accident. I had lived with dogs as a child; my earliest doggie memory was someone about my height whose stubby tail wagged and who I liked. Her name was Ginger, and she was really my mother's dog, but I was too young to know that. To me, Ginger was just the other kid in the house, albeit sort of funny looking. Ginger was, as her name implied, a red-gold Cocker Spaniel back in the days when Cocker Spaniels hadn't had all the brains bred out of them.

My parents told me years later that Ginger was "practice" for having a child: learn to care for the demands of an animal, and you're on the right path to child-rearing.

My father was transferred to the north-east, to Boston. Ginger wasn't there. I don't recall if she left before we moved or because we moved, but since shortly thereafter my mother acquired another animal, this time a baby brother, I was more fascinated by the new arrival than cognizant of my loss.

I don't remember this, but my parents often told me that Ginger was the best baby-sitter: I would play in the front yard in our 1940s-era rental home (something no child dares to do today) with no front fence. Ginger, no doubt relying on some ancient instinct, would always herd me away from that fascinating thing called "the Road" with all the shiny cars moving on it.

Again at 11, I had another dog. Scamp was a puppy from our cousins' bitch, and a lovely blend of German Shepherd and retriever. In retrospect, I wasn't mature enough to deserve her. First, I couldn't believe it when my father really held me to my promise that I would walk her. "But it's dark!" I whined as he woke me, the leash in hand. It was dark--it was right after Thanksgiving and there was snow on the Rhode Island fields all around us. The sun was a hint of light beneath the eastern horizon. I walked her. I cared about her. But I was also turning 12 and hanging out with girlfriends; sneaking cigarettes, listening to the Beatles and memorizing the lyrics of every popular song and playing, dreadfully, with make-up took up much to much of my time, and poor Scamp spent a lot of time alone in our yard.

We moved from rural Rhode Island to suburban Virginia. My parents, without telling me, gave Scamp away to a retired gentleman who wanted a companion and had the time and the loneliness to give to a sweet dog. Still.....I almost ran away with Scamp when she came back, having escaped her new owner. I reasoned that we were both unhappy with the arrangement, but I couldn't figure out for the life of me how I would take care of her on the road. I didn't care if I didn't eat, but I cared if Scamp didn't eat. There is a part of me that never forgave my parents for giving her away without telling me, without giving me the peace of mind of meeting her new owner, seeing where he lived, seeing that she was happy.

So I never had a dog after that....too much attachment, too much pain. I told myself they were slobbery, demanding, they shed, they smelled bad - in short, I made up reasons not to get a dog. Cats were another story. Cats can take care of themselves in disasters, or if I go away for the weekend. The cat doesn't care as long as I leave ample food and water.

Then my oldest daughter got divorced. They had three dogs. One dog went to a friend; another dog went to his parents. She was heart-broken over giving up and finding a placement for her long-haired Shepard-Husky mix, especially in Florida where a non-hunting, high-maintenance dog is considered more of a nuisance than a working member of the family. Daughter came to California while her Ex disposed of the dogs. She showed me a picture of this last, unplaceable dog---and my heart stopped!

She looked exactly like Scamp.

Divorce was bad enough--frosting that cake with the loss of a beloved dog, one nursed back from near drowning in a hurricane, one that was not a 'good fit' in rural Florida, one about whom she would always wonder....naw, her dog came to live with us. There was no other answer. [So did her cats, who made themselves highly unwelcome, but that's another story.]

Her name was PAX--no, not "Pax" as in "peace" but as in military jargon for "passenger" since she went everywhere in the car with them. By this time we were in a real house with a fenced backyard amid moderate northern California temperatures. Perfect for this dog, who also loved long walks in the neighboring hills with her mistress.

But then, the daughter changed careers, went back to school full-time, worked part-time and ultimately departed to Arizona. Pax stayed with us. The daughter would have taken her but we said, "No." An Arizona apartment was no place for a mid-sized dog alone all day while the daughter worked two jobs to cover rent and school loans.

So when it came time to make aliyah, Pax came with us. Of course. Her crate had a large sign on it, "Aliyah Dog" in English and Hebrew, which garnered a lot of sympathy and good will from the El Al crew.

We found a great landlord who was agreeable to us having a dog in his garden apartment, and we had a huge park in front of our building, so Pax was perfectly happy. The daughter, who had made aliyah herself a couple of months before us, came over often enough to make Pax happy and content as well.

We lived in this rental while waiting for our condo to be finished. Like every condo in Jerusalem, it is part of a multi-story building on a street full of multi-story buildings. I made frequent treks out there and found a 6-week old puppy amid the building debris one day.

Dog number two thus came to live with us. I would have liked to have named her "Biscuit" but since giving my husband a stake in unasked-for-ownership was a must, he named her "Hobbit" for her small size, insatiable appetite and furry feet. We were told she would be a Jack Russell terrier, something we still laugh about today as our mid-sized Kanaani leaps over the couch to chase her sister.

Not really her "sister" -- but another Kanaani, abandoned at the Malcha Shopping Center, no doubt by an owner who either found dog ownership too onerous, or who simply could no longer afford to feed both his kids and his dog following the 2008 financial collapse. We weren't going to take her, or keep her. We saw her and went inside. When we came back outside an hour later, she was still there, looking hopefully from man to man with that lost-dog-look that says, "Are you my person?" It broke my heart. She was sweet, gentle and clearly distraught.

I proposed that we take her to the SPCA shelter. "The last time we did this, we ended up with a dog," my husband pointed out, correctly. No, no, I assured him--we'll just take her to the shelter because she'll be road kill if we leave her here where the Mall traffic, technology park and freeway all come together. He agreed.

Man plans, and G-d laughs.

The shelter was full. Our choice was to take her to the pound or take her home. "How long will the pound keep her?" I asked hopefully. "Two weeks and then they'll put her down -- there's no demand for a six-month-old brown dog."

So she came home with us.

Dogs need food. Dogs need shots. Dogs need companionship and love. Dogs need grooming. Dogs need exercise, especially if one has large dogs in a small condo. But they're worth it, because they pay it back ten times over in love and protection. I used to tell people, only half-joking, that I loved coming home from work because I was greeted with enthusiastic, unconditional love. "Ahhhh, your son?" or "your husband?" they would ask.

No, my dogs. No matter how bad the day, no matter how late the hour, my dogs are always thrilled to see me. Much pack-style greetings, nudges, affection and bright happy eyes. My son? Glued to his computer. My husband? Glued to the television. The dogs always make a big deal out of my home-coming. The rest of the family hardly notices.

This week's adventure was the trip to the vet. We like the SPCA in part because it's close, but also because it's reliable and all the money goes to its programs and no-kill shelter.

However, three dogs in one trip is a challenge. Pax likes riding in the car, but whines. Pax is the Queen of Whiners. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm....all the way there. Anxious, high-pitched whining. Car rides are rare these days, so she knows something is up.

Kinnimon, our abandoned brown Kanaani, was hesitant about getting into the car this time, a first, but once inside settled down and did her best to be comfortable while gazing out the window and ocassionally leaning forward to lick my husband's ear while he drove.

Hobbit, the brave, the unflinching, the guard dog extraordinaire -- terrified! She hates anything with wheels (perhaps a nightmare from puppyhood, dodging them as she sought shelter on our truck-and-tractor busy street during construction?). The husband had to lift her into the back seat. I sat between Hobbit and Kinnamon and spent the entire trip holding both so they didn't slide or fall as we rounded corners. We have roundabouts in Jerusalem--slows down the traffic but also makes for lots of centrifugal force on three dogs.

Hobbit spent most of the trip to the vet trying to climb out of the car through the back window. When she finally figured out that it wasn't going to open, she literally climbed on my shoulders in fear. I moved forward a bit, and she huddled behind me, trembling.

It was a 10 minute drive to the vet. It felt like an hour.

They were champs with the shots and meds. Just getting them to the vet was the challenge. They were a bit tired and anxious going home, but no one was climbing on my shoulders or whining like a bad violin.

On the other hand, I noticed not one of them had a nice thing to say to us for the rest of the day.

Sorry, girls. It's only once a year (thank G-d!).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders - The End of an Era

There is an old saying, "You can't go home again."

Nonsense. Of course you can go home again. But it won't be the same home as last year, or five years ago, or twenty years ago. Home is home, but time moves on.

I opened the newspaper today and saw that, indeed, a mainstay of my life is going the way of the buggy-whip-factory.

Borders Books & Music is closing.

I remember when Borders opened. It was reviled and condemned by some for putting small book-sellers and stores out of business; castigated as a monolithic corporate entity designed to drive the small sellers out of the competition. Others, like me, enjoyed the broad, well-stocked aisles, the vast selections of every subject imaginable, the well-chosen children's books, the great sales and the fact that the next wing also carried music. It was one of the first stores where I could go and actually listen to selections from a CD before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I like strolling through a book-store. I like to hold the book in my hand and riffle through the pages before deciding to buy or not. Most of my purchase decisions have been made by skipping through the actual book and getting a feel for the writing style, the voice, the intricacy of the text.

I also liked the easy access and good parking. Where others would spend an hour in Nordstrom's, I'd rather spend an hour browsing in Borders.

Now Borders is the victim of progress. Walking into a bookstore is being replaced by ordering on-line.

I'm heart-broken. It's not the same. Going to Borders was a treat, an hour away from the hurley-burley demands of everyday life. It was a place to consider the future (science fiction) or the past (history) or current events (politics) or beauty (art and architecture) or a myriad of other interests. It was a place where I could easily pick up foreign language tapes while also picking up travel books. It was a place to step out of time and consider something other than the immediate mundane demands of work, children, grocery shopping, bill paying and getting the car serviced.

Sorry, ordering on-line from Amazon or Barnes & Noble just doesn't do it for me. An e-book is not a book any more than a Facebook friend is a friend. Amazon is not a bookstore, it is a web portal.

I work all day on a computer. There is nothing fun, restful or relaxing about "browsing" on-line through pages of internet offerings. Nor do I want to wait 2 days to hold my book in my hand. Book, you will notice--not digital download. When I find something (more often, a half-dozen somethings) I want to take it to the check-out stand, pay for it, and be holding it in my hand, reading it that night after work.

Ah, the pity of it all. I will miss Borders, and I am sorry to see my favorite bookstore bite the dust.

I can take some comfort in Tzomet and Steimatsky's, however. I can browse through the English-language selections in bookstores here, but it's just not the same. The stores are smaller, the selections more limited whereas at Borders I always had the feeling of being a kid let loose in a gigantic candy store.

So many books, so little time! Good-bye, Borders. I, for one, will miss you.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Agalah Conundrum

In the Old Country, it was a given that whenever you put one sock of a matched pair in the dryer, you would inevitably not get it back. You might lose it altogether; you might receive one sock of the original pair back but not the other, so end up with a mismatched pair; you might get two separate socks neither of which were in the original matched pair.

It was a sort of Murphy's Law of Sock Drying.

Israel seems to have a similar conundrum, or else I am similarly blessed, with the Agalah Conundrum.

Last week I needed chicken. Super Deal was having a sale: 5 packages of chicken for 70 NIS. Such a deal. I bought staples: chicken, wine, yogurts, milk, vegetables, coffee, beer (yes, in my husband's eyes, beer is a staple in the summer) a LOT of cheese, fruit and cereal, plus humus and tehina and sugar.

This plus some other odds and ends came to around 850 NIS.

Okay, that's not bad for a week's shopping for a family....but oddly familiar to the week before when I bought NO meat, half as much cheese, no energy bars for the lunch bunch, but did get applesauce and fruit cups for lunches, real fruit, lots of vegetables, no chips, no beer, no humus and no tehina. Still right around 850 NIS.

Oh, well.

But then I shopped again today. No meat, yes beer, very little cheese, no vegetables, but more cereal, fruit, yogurts, soft drinks, chips, but then no applesauce or fruit cup snacks, but yes, energy bars. Plus some odds and ends, like Kleenex and deodorant.

Again, a tad over 850 NIS.

I'm not complaining. I'm just puzzled. I am not doing anything consciously to reach this amount--I'm not talented enough with math to keep an accurate running total of the groceries, nor am I making an assessment based on how full the cart is, since every week if has been different.

So maybe I am simply blessed with agalah luck--my cart is full whenever I reach this shekel amount and dayenu! It's enough for the week!

It's just puzzling.....like wondering where all those socks went?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five Years On....

This coming week, we celebrate our 5th year in HaAretz.

Why do we leave our homes, the comfort of the familiar, the solace of whatever high-paying job we have, to settle in Israel?

Whether secular kibbutznik, chareidim, or masorti, everyone I've talked with boiled it down to one common denominator: our children.

Some are fleeing antiSemitism; some are leaving the American Dream-cum-Nightmare of assimilation; some simply believe that raising Jewish children in a free Jewish state is better than being a minority on sufferance.

Conventional wisdom isn't always right. "Don't take your cats," we were warned, with dire tales about the 50,000 cats already in Jerusalem. Apart from displaying angry indignation over being cooped up in an airplane for 20+ hours, our cats adapted just fine. Food bowl-check. Litter box-check. Water dish - check. No problem!

"Don't take teenagers," we were warned. Teens, we were told, were especially problematic, and even more so in our case since we had a boy with special needs. We had, with foresight attributable to the teen in question, made a pilot tour to find an appropriate school. Having already spent one year in a charter high school with fabulous teachers in the Bay Area, we had a sense of what challenges he had. College was not an option in California, which had just passed a bill requiring a high school exit exam, which exam did not permit accommodations to children who need them. No exam, no diploma.

Israel has the bagrut system. No bagriot, no college. On the other hand, it also has a large portion of the population which works in good jobs without needing a college education....something that California seems to be revisiting in light of high tuitions and high unemployment.

What Israel does have are special education schools. Many people dislike this, thinking children should be mainstreamed. Having come from a system where there was no option except mainstreaming, I can tell you that Israel's system is better. In California, special needs children are "mainstreamed" in that they get to go to some of the same classes with their peers -- but are socially excluded, mocked, often subjected to mean tricks, because frankly, teenagers are cruel. The Boy was good at holding his own, but struggling to keep up academically while also dealing with the sheer meanness of a minority of kids, made middle school and high school more than challenging.

I think we knew we'd made the correct decision for our son when he found, among a selection of special ed and regular schools, a school he liked. It's a special education school for kids who have normal intelligence but often severe physical handicaps.

I wondered how he would react. He had an entire year of being highly frustrated because he had trouble understanding the Hebrew. But then his best buddy, fluent in both Hebrew and English, convinced their classmates that they would all benefit from teaching our son Hebrew--and the tide then turned. Like on kibbutz, kids spent all day talking to the new oleh in Hebrew and correcting his Hebrew as well.

I knew it was all good the day he said to me, "I LIKE my school, Ima. It's nice to be someplace where everyone has problems and I'm not the only one who is "different."

Israel also has an extensive social worker system for special needs children and adults. He had a social worker and counselor at the school; he received vision therapy in addition to math and Torah and history. His confidence grew and his maturity blossomed. He's transitioning into the adult social worker system, where he won't be left alone to fall through the cracks. He will receive job placement assistance, or if he wants it, more vocational training. His social worker will be his advocate at his place of employment, and if he is mistreated, she is his back-up. The work day and tasks will be tailored to meet his medical needs.

In California, his option was that of working as a bag boy at Safeway the rest of his life.

So this week, he finishes high school and transitions into adult life. We don't know yet what that will entail. He would like to do Sherut Leumi (the army won't take a child who is low-vision and subject to seizures) but that may be foreclosed because of his shortened work day. Or he could work on kibbutz where special needs children are welcome and cherished....although given his distaste for the smell of stables, I'm not sure this is the option he would choose.

What we do know is that his options here are greater than in the Old Country. There are programs here that aren't merely "placement" but are also "social" -- groups for drama, for music, for playing pool or going bowling, for judo--all geared to creating a social life for special needs adults.

During our time in Jerusalem, two motivated moms who wanted summer camps for their own special needs children, but couldn't find any, started their own. Josh has been a junior camp counselor at Camp Shutaf for four years now, and loves it. It has taught him patience, never his strong suit; it has allowed him to show compassion and care for kids he truly identifies with, although he admits that now and then a couple of them can drive him crazy.

During our time in Jerusalem, he also received the best medical attention and we found neurologists who brought his seizures under control with new and more advanced medication.

Being a young Jewish adult in a free Jewish state where the college entrance exams aren't given on Yom Kippur, where the homecoming dance isn't held on Shabbat, where one is free to live a Jewish lifestyle without needing to compromise in order to be "accepted" on the football team or gossip girl clique would have been enough, dayenu!

But we have all that and more in the many options available to our son. We will always be the old immigrant parents--but so what? What is your life for if not for your children?

There is nothing here to be afraid of; there are nothing but opportunities for your children. And if not now, when?

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