Monday, October 13, 2014

Local Entertainment -- Sukkot 5775

So far this Chol HaMoed we have stuck with local entertainment. Yesterday we went to see the circus at the local mall (Big Fashion). Today we went to the Biblical Museum of Natural History which opened yesterday by Rabbi Slifkin.

Every evening over Chol HaMoed, Big Fashion is having a circus show. The theme yesterday was African Circus. In the middle of the mall on the main floor they section off a section for the show. We got there early enough to get a spot upstairs with a great view.  The area around the performance was fairly crowded (at least 7 people deep) and kids kept creeping further and further inside the circled off area as the show went on.

Waiting for the Circus to Begin

4 guys did all kinds of different acrobatics to different African themed music.  They jumped through hoops, balanced on each other and unbalanced chairs as well as each other. These guys would make awesome wedding shtick.  The show was an hour and we had a great time.

Rabbi Slifkin "Zoo Rabbi" opened up his new museum for tours yesterday. There are still a few exhibits that have not been completed but it did not take away from the tour (except of the fact I would have loved to see the Hyrax which is one of the delayed exhibits).

The tour started with Rabbi Slifkin explaining the purpose of the museum and how he defines what type of animals fall under the scope of the museum.  He then showed a 10 minute video about lions and how they are treated in Tenach. 

When the video ended the curtain was pulled back to reveal the rest of the museum. Rabbi Slifkin then lead the tour through the musuem. There was a mix animals (live and stuffed), other artifacts that you would expect to see in a museum including eggs, animal horns and bones. He brought in a live python for the day to enhance the tour. It was cool as it was the first time I had ever touched a snake. Peri was having a great time with all of the live animals including (turtles, mina birds, gekkos, salamander, rats and albino hedgehog)

He covered the topic of animal names in Tanach including how and why they have changed. For example a 'Tzvi' is usually translated as a deer. It makes more sense if it refferred to a gazelle. He also covered different aspects of kosher animals.


There was also an extensive section on shofars. I didn't know it wasn't possible to make a shofar from a non-kosher animal because they are not hollow. The narwhal horn was also a nice touch.

Overall we enjoyed the museum with only 2 criticisms. The hour long tour cost 110 NIS for the 3 of us. It is a lot of money for only an hour. The Israel Museum would have only cost us 125 NIS.  The Biblical Zoo would have cost us 140 NIS for the day. We wanted to stay longer when the tour was over to look around. We didn't have the opportunity because a new group was coming in and we were hurried out.  Channah also noticed that at points it felt like the tour was being rushed because they were worried about time.

Overall the museum was a nice way to spend an hour, but was on the pricey side in terms of value for your money.  Based on the what was advertised this was the discounted price until the museum is fully functional.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Turning Back the Clock

Last Monday marked the end of summer as Channah returned to school. Wednesday was another marker that we have moved out of the summer season as I returned to the hockey rink. A hand injury is limiting me to that one game until after the chagim. It is a good time to reflect on what had been a very busy summer.

The war in Gaza did dominate our lives to some degree.  A dozen scrambles to the Mamad (sealed room) and the sound of jet planes, helicopters and occasionally being able to hear artillery fire in the distance made the war much more real then just following the news. With some adjustments day to day life continued mostly as normal. It was disappointing that the war did cancel our trip to the beach in Ashdod that I had been looking forward to at the beginning of summer.

For the first time Channah was in camp for the whole summer.  The first 3 weeks she went to camp in the Rama. She walked there every morning and we picked her up in the afternoon. She really came out of her shell in interacting with other kids. She also fell in love with gymnastics which is going to be her chug for the year. When the 3 weeks were up she went to another camp a little bit farther away. Channah discovered she had natural talent in archery, learned to play baseball and was exposed to Tae Kwon Doe. There were regular reports from the staff about what a great camper she was. We also continued our regular home work routine through the summer. The combination has really paid off as Channah has been absolutely thriving in her first week and a half of school.

The summer was not quite as happy a time for our car Snowflake. The air conditioner finally kicked out and wasn't worth fixing.  Despite the relatively cool summer (most of the summer was in the mid 30s instead of low 40s), we decided that Snowflake could no longer take the heat. We purchased Zoom Zoom which was a slightly newer car that could handle the heat. It was a real upgrade for us. Aside from a working air conditioner it also came with a bigger trunk, working stereo, remote key entry and sensors when you are backing up. I went from trying to avoid driving whenever possible to enjoying driving.

Zoom Zoom

Our original plan for the summer was to find a new place to live. After a lot of searching we finally accepted that it was not economically feasible with skyrocketing rent in the neighbourhood. Instead we met with the owner of the apartment to negotiate a long term lease and some improvements to the apartment. Fixing up the apartment became the project of the summer.  Plumbing and electrical was fixed and our bedroom no longer has carpet. We painted the entire apartment. Changes have been made with rearranging or replacing some of the existing furniture.  It was a huge step for Peri and I to set up our new home together. We celebrated by having a Chanukat HaBayit at the end of the summer. Our apartment was filled with people who are extremely important in my life. Even my Rosh Yeshiva attended.

Earlier this year I started to have a tough time battling PTSD and depression. Having the safety and security of a stable home environment left me face to face with deep painful memories and fears. Through therapy and medication, I have come leaps and bounds in this battle. For the first time in a very long time I have been able to allow my self to have wants, hopes and dreams. More and more I am uncovering who I am and who I want to be. It is tremendously refreshing to once again see life as full of potential instead of just struggling with whatever is sent my way. 

Rachel and I were once on our way to wedding. One of the people in the car was talking about the recent birth of a child. They had thought they had been done having children and that their timeline for when certain life events that happen as children grow up had been set. Instead they had turned back the clock by a number of years, as they will not hit those milestones until their youngest child grew up.  We didn't know it at the time but Rachel was already pregnant with Gabi during the conversation.

This summer has been all about turning back the clock. I have an opportunity to start again and build a life for myself that I thought had been lost forever.  This summer was a glimpse at what potential my life has. It is refreshing to have so much to look forward to.    

Friday, February 28, 2014

It Happened at Midnight

The candle is lit to mark 'The Day We Wished Never Happened'. It has been 3 years since Gabi our miracle baby was taken from us before she had a chance to take her first breath. As I wrote 3 years ago 'She taught us that even the impossible can come true, for both good and bad.' I never knew how bad life would get. Even today I am still learning how bad the darkest most grim days were. Sometimes I have flashbacks or memories that leave me paralyzed to face the world. Somehow I have been able to move forward and clean up the pieces. 

Halacha didn't recognize Gabi's life or death. As such any mourning or remembering is purely on a voluntary basis. She died on the 24th of Adar 1. This is the first year her Hebrew Yahrziet falls out before Purim. A quirk in the calendar and Halacha towards remembering made keeping the Gregorian date more logical.  

As I lit the candle a little while ago I was overcome with the symbolism of that decision. Normally a Yahrziet candle would be lit as the sun was setting. Instead I stayed up and waited until midnight. How fitting for the daughter who never generated any memories of her own to be remembered at midnight. Midnight, the time where the world is dark and people are sleeping. For most her memory is like a dream. For many like a dream that is forgotten when you wake up in the morning. 

In the darkness of the night a small candle can shine even brighter. This week I have had an outpouring from people who were touched by my little girl. Those who took the time to reach out really touched me, encouraged me and gave me new strength. New books are being added to the library in her memory. 

When candle lighting time comes in for Shabbat, Channah will get to light her candle next to the one remembering her little sister.  For the first time on the Anniversary, Gabi will have her Eema to look after her in the next world while Channah has a Mom to look after her here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tshuva with a Mehadrin Fridge

When we made Aliyah in 2008 we wanted to invest in ourselves to make our new life better. We put a lot of our very limited financial resources into making sure Rachel's studio went from home made student equipment to professional grade equipment fit for a serious business.

Our biggest mistake was our decision to draw the line at the fridge. Not only did we buy the one that was absolutely the cheapest but it wasn't even frost free. We didn't even know that it was possible to buy a fridge that wasn't frost free.

Today I finally did tshuva for our mistake as we replaced our super tiny, energy inefficient fridge with a large, hybrid, energy efficient MEHADRIN fridge.We are looking forward to enjoying our new fridge for many years.



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year Has Passed

Everyone knew today would be a hard day. Peri made sure that I would take today to myself as a time for reflection, contemplation and reliving my nightmares.

I took Channah to therapy this morning. After I dropped her off at school, I went to the cemetery. Each trip to the cemetery is a different experience. Aside from the reason I am there, I watch the different people that are there. I take note at the changes I have noticed since my last visit. It is humbling watching the cemetery grow.

Today I took note of the surroundings. The Superbus depot, the apartment buildings, a ringing school bell,  the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains that are in full green this time of year. The bench which can be used as a landmark to find Rachel's spot blew over. She has some new neighbours and some new grave stones are being made.

I spent a good chunk of today just listening to music and even took a much needed nap. I have appreciated the people who have been able to reach out and let me know that they are also feeling the pain of today. There is a reason I included the word 'friend' on her gravestone. That is exactly who she was for so many people, even if they never met in real life.

In the last little while I have started looking at Rachel's death from a different angle. Perhaps Gabi's death had nothing to do with Rachel's. Maybe her time to pass had already been determined. In some bizarre way our loss of Gabi and Rachel's battle with depression were to provide me with the tools to raise Channah after Rachel was gone. At the very end of her life this became clear. If I look further back there are hints to it much earlier.

As I stood staring at Rachel's grave a thought occurred to me. The life of Rochel Emeinu has in many ways been someone my life could relate to with my life with Rachel. From her battle with infertility, her deeply ingrained midot of chessed, to the words Shavu Banim that are sung to new olim. Today I saw her in a different light.

She died giving birth to Benyamin. Her death was so sudden that she was buried on the side of the road. Why couldn't she live longer to help raise her son? Why couldn't she live long enough to be buried in the family burial plot in Hevron? A standard answer is that she needed to be at the side of the road in Beit Lechem, where the Jews passed her on their way to exile. That thought brought comfort to the people facing the fear of exile. It was her pleading to God that was accepted with the promise that her children would return to their land. I see a big hole in that explanation. The other Avot had a chance to plead for salvation. It was an act of kindness to her sister that brought about the acceptance of Rochel's request and not her location. Why did she have to die at that moment.

Rochel's mission in life was to do her part to bring about the 12 sons Yaakov needed to complete the Jewish nation. Her sister Leah delivered 6 children without much difficulty. Rochel brought a servant into her marriage that was already split with her sister just to get two. When her nephew brought home fertility medication she sought it for herself. Rochel tells Yaakov "Give me children or I am dead."  The birth of Benyamin was the completion of her lifelong mission. Once that was complete her time was up.

Between the depression and migraines Rachel's life had become a living hell that I would not wish upon anyone. She worked really hard to manage as best as she could to provide the best for Channah and I; at the same time helping hundreds if not thousands of people deal with the pain she suffered in her life. She gave herself a tremendous two week push to accomplish as much as she could until the onset of one last migraine. She died peacefully in her bed, with me by her side, her last words "Thank You, Jason".

I don't know why that moment was the point where her life could be considered complete. I do know what tools she left behind to help Channah and I. I also have a taste of the impact she has had on the world and how many people are hurting today because of her loss. Even if I don't fully understand, I have to at least try to take some comfort from that.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

God's Practicle Joke

Since Rachel's Yahrziet last Shabbat my mind has been drifting all over the place. I have become very much aware of the dates of where they fall out on the Gregorian calendar. As I think back to this time last year, I realize that Rachel was still alive for those events.

A bunch of memories seem to come up over and over again from December 31st of last year:

- The disconnect from the world as I sat on my couch. At that moment, no decisions needed to be made as I waited to find out what time we were going to court and people were all over my apartment doing different things to help out.

- A friend telling me it was time to eat so he was going to make me a sandwich. Again the disconnect of not being able to make a bracha.

- Watching friends post both openly and discreetly about Rachel's passing that day.

- As midnight approached sitting with a friend, preparing the Mishnayot signup and watching big chunks of it fill within minutes.

Last week, we read Parsha Vaeira where the first 7 of the 10 plagues were cast upon Egypt; the last being the plague of hail. The Egyptian people received a warning that the hail was coming. Those who 'fear God' were to bring their animals inside and protect themselves. The rest chose not to pay attention and face the consequences. Pharaoh watched his empire crumble before his eyes and agreed to let the Jews go. As the ice melted and the hydro workers finish restoring power he saw that not all was lost. The flax and barley crops have been destroyed but the wheat and spelt survived. Despite all of the destruction, there would still be food to eat in Egypt. In Pharaoh's eyes, God had failed to destroy Egypt.

When I realized that this week is Parshat Bo, I was realized that it matched up perfectly for where I am going to be emotionally this week.

Without wasting any time God instructs Moshe to tell Pharaoh it is time for the next plague. He uses the term התעללתי which Rashi explains as making a mockery of Egypt. It could also be read as a prank or practical joke. So what is the joke? Just as Pharaoh thinks that his crops have been saved, in come the locusts to finish the job. He is no better off then if the hail had destroyed the wheat and spelt.

When I was in Yeshiva on December 31st we got the shiur with the Gemara that if someone was born on December 25th the Bris would be on January 1st. Those are the only dates on the secular calendar that the celebrations begin at night, proving their religious nature. I can't remember if a curfew was imposed that night but a handful of us watched two videos supplied by the Yeshiva for after night seder. One was the BBC version of ’The Disputation' and a 6 Day War Documentary.

That night made an impression on me and for years Rachel and I pulled hairs on how to handle New Year's (aka Sylvester). In the end we would not celebrate but if our friends happen to be getting together or there was an Arrogant Worms concert in Bradford we would go. In the beginning, I would even leave the room shortly before midnight in order to not be directly partaking in celebrations.

I planned my life and God played the practical jokes. When Rachel and I got married we agreed we would never celebrate Valentine's Day. However we would always mark Tu B'Av. I picked up her family’s custom of giving the mother flowers on the child's birthday. When Rachel's water broke at 27 weeks, Channah blocked the hole with her head for another 5.5 weeks until finally going into fetal distress and being born on February 14th.

Last year, I spent December 31st preparing for a funeral/shiva and struggling to survive as a single parent. I think it is safe to say that although Rachel's Yahrziet is the 18th of Tevet, I think it is safe to assume I will never want to participate in a New Year's Eve celebration no matter how I feel hashkafically.

When this idea first came to me, I looked at it as a slap in the face. However, Rachel and I had discussions about death where we agreed that to some degree you get to choose the moment when you die. If we put that together with the mesorah that Tzaddikim get some kind of warning that their end is near, perhaps it was not such a far fetched idea. Maybe, just maybe Rachel would choose that moment in order to make sure I would never have that conflict again.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The First Auf Roof

This morning was the beginning of the official wedding celebrations. My Auf Roof is the only event that will be taking place in Israel. (We are hoping to have something when we get home).  It was really important to share my joy with the community that has meant so much to me in the past 5+ years.

Friday night the excitement was already starting to build. When I got to shul in the morning, people just coming up to wish me mazel tov. I noticed one person who walked up from a neighbourhood that I consider to be too far to go on Shabbat. If I did I would choose to do the downhill walk there and get a ride home after Shabbat. If I had to choose someone to daven today it would have been them. Apparently the Gabai thought the same thing and gave him Shacharit. For Kedushah he used the tune when you are passing around the cup during Sheva brachot. It was amazing.

Then the Gabai asked me who I wanted to give kibudim. I was incredible looking around the room seeing all the people who are so meaningful to me. I made my choices. We had to make some revisions, but it all went smoothly.

I had my aliyah. The dancing and singing were really heartfelt as what seemed like an endless supply of candy flew through the air. Then it was time to make a Bracha that I hadn't made in 23 years. I did the brachot for the Haftorah, while the Gabbai's son leined it.

The Rabbi's drasha was about how could Yaakov be scared if he had God's promise not to worry. The answer was along the lines that he realized he made decisions without a clear answer and he was afraid if he made the wrong decision it would negate God's promise. He said that I have had challenges in life that would make most people throw in the towel and give up. It didn't matter if it was because of or in-spite of my experiences I have continued to grow as a person.  I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish. From time to time it is nice to know that others see it too.

People from various walks of my life were at the kiddush. Two people came in from Jerusalem. People who normally daven at other shuls, some close, some far and people who are just ordinary people in the kehillah. People are just so happy and it just adds to the excitement I am already feeling. 

When I walked into shul, I stopped for a moment at the library in Gabi's memory. Also the Yahzeit board had one black spot exposed. That is Rachel's spot as her plaque is currently being engraved. Of course Rochel dying in the parsha also jumped out at me. One of Rachel's good friends made it a point to tell me she knows Rachel is happy.

The scar will always be on my heart. I am really looking forward to enjoying all the events around the wedding and building my life with Peri.