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.   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Polling Daas Torah Style

Tonight I received my first phone call to make sure I was voting for the right candidate in the election. I was in the mood for toying but not arguing. I didn't have the creative juices flowing, so the conversation went something like this.

Caller: I am sure that you have seen the signs around the neighbourhood that one has to vote for Chen. Your Rav signed it.
Me: Yes.
Caller: How many voters are there?
Me: One (The answered seem to have thrown him)
Caller: So I can put you down for voting Chen?
Me: No.
Caller: You are going to be voting for Abutbol?
Me: No.
Caller: You know that Abutbol supports the Yeshivas and the other guys don't?
Me: That's nice.

Some back and forth where he said that Abutbol supports the Yeshivas and I basically said I am well aware of what Abutbol does.

Caller: Do you know who Chaim Kanievsky is?
Me: Yes.
Caller: He would want you to vote for Abutbol.

He basically took that track that in 120 years, if I Abutbol, Kanievsky would be there to greet me as I would have earned Olam HaBa, if not ......

He didn't ask me how I was going to vote or what my concerns might be. Anyone who thinks that election is that simple, there isn't really anything to discuss.

Right now my vote for Mayor is firmly with Eli Cohen.
My vote for City Council is strongly leaning towards Tov.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Yom Tov Wrap Up

The chagim are over. The kids are in the middle of their first full school week of the year. Here is a quick summary of the passed month.

Rosh HaShannha/Yom Kippor 

I found these days provided a lot of peace and closure for me.


Peri was here for Sukkot. It was a chance for her to meet the community she will be joining. We got to experience together what it is going to be like to be living together as a family.

As with most visitors she was blown away by the caring and warmness of the community. Of course she was also bombarded by a whole lot of people in a short period of time. Some started talking to her as if she should know who they are. Parking Lot Guy, Dairy Section Guy, Elevator Girl, Girl with the Short Husband, Girl with the Tall Husband, Hyper Guy, Guy with the Beard, Girl I only know by name, Elevator Girl's Parents, Guy Who's Dad I Know are just but a few of the people she met. 

Good friends hosted a Vort. It was wonderful to see so many incredible friends.

It was the first time sleeping in the Sukkah since Rachel was pregnant with Gabi. I missed two nights. Once due to rain and once I fell asleep getting ready for bed.

Shmini Ezert/Simchat Torah

It was the first Yom Tov meal I had at home since losing Rachel. It was just the three of us as a family.

One of Rachel's teffilot, that I would not get Kol Nearim this year came true.

It was the 10th Simchat Torah that I sung this song to myself.

Channah knows she is my Sefer Torah. When Rachel was pregnant with Gabi, Channah decided she was too old to come into the men's section. She told Peri the story and asked if Peri would give me a Sefer Torah.

Shabbat Bereshit

Friday night was my first Shabbat at home. (I have no idea who wins the pool.) Again it was a chance to be family. Lunch was with the hosts where Peri were staying. They finally had an opportunity to get to know her.

Life Returns to Normal (Sort Of)

In the next few weeks life falls back into some sort of routine, while wedding prep continues. Mid November it is off to Canada before returning to start my new life back home in Israel.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Erev Yom Kippor at the Cemetery

Normally, when I go the cemetery it is just me and the construction workers. As the keep adding new sections, I sometimes wonder if I am going to have trouble finding Rachel's spot. They added in a bench with shade near her that I am now need to use as a landmark.

The parking lot was full and there were a lot of people coming and going.  People from all walks of life connected by the reality that none of us can escape. There was a kid running through the cemetery collecting for something or other. People were lighting Yizkor candles. (Note to self: I should look into if I should be following this custom, which I am not really familiar with). One of Rachel's newer neighbours had a really tall stone. The height was perfect for putting her head down and weeping. There were people with sponges and water washing the stones. It felt like I was surrounded by people who have had this ritual for who knows how long, all doing their all thing, all united in the understanding that we know what it is like to experience death.

I took care of the outstanding balance that I had withheld until the spelling mistake had been corrected. I walked in and he knew exactly how much money I owed him. He forgot his receipt book, so I ended up getting the receipt on a scrap piece of paper.

There were also tables set up. There were tables collecting tzedakah, someone selling Yahrziet candles and matches. There were at least 3 tables set up for Kaparot (2 chicken options an a non-chicken option).

Yom Kippor is going to be a lot more complicated than I would like this year. At least I have a lot to be proud of and a lot of good things to be looking forward to.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Was Your Mechila Form Letter Accepted

Rabbi Orlofsky contrasts the difference between how bochrim act on Purim and going into Yom Kippor.

On Purim the drunk bachrim at the seduah tend to be very emotional and talk about their relationship with their Rebbe, Hashem and all kinds of other stuff. They ask for forgiveness and express their love for Torah and their Rebbe. There is lots of hugging and crying and true display of emotion.

Going into Yom Kippor things tend to go along these lines:

Bachur 1: Do you forgive me?
Bachur 2: No.
Bachur 1: Do you forgive me?
Bachur 2: No.
Bachur 1: Do you forgive me?
Bachur 2: No.
Bachur 1: Ha, Ha. You didn't forgive me. You are going to hell.

I even once saw this conversation go a step further.
Bachur 2: You missed Zman Kriyat Shema. You can't daven for me to go to hell.

As you can see the Achdut is just so beautiful.

In recent years, there has been a trend to post a general request for forgiveness, placing the onus on the person that may have been hurt or offended to bring feelings of ill will to the attention of the one seeking forgiveness.

There is still a major problem. After having heart warming, sincere apology seen by 2000 of your closest Facebook and Twitter friends you have only heard responses from maybe a handful of people. How do you know much 'mechila capital' you have on your side of the scale as you stand before Hashem seeking atonement. Perhaps there are relationships that were not fixed by your form letter that you are not aware of.

I have come up with a form letter that allows the requestee to know that their request has been received.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for sending your genuine and heartfelt request for mechila. Your request had been forwarded to my lawyer for review before I can evaluate your request. Normally processing time is 7 - 10 day business days. Due to privacy concerns details of the processing and outcome of your request cannot be disclosed. Please note: The processing of a mechila request has no affect on any legal disputes. If such a dispute does exist I encourage us to work it out together (if necessary with the assistance of a Rabbi or Beit Din)

I also request (although not incumbent on you) that you agree to a reciprocal agreement where I will be forgiven for any ill will or harm that I may have caused you, with or without the knowledge of either one of us.

Should you feel that this case needs to be processed faster or requires more personal attention, please feel free to contact me directly.

Thank You
Shana Tov
Gmar Chatima Tova
Chag Kasher Sameach

Please feel free to use your own modified version of this request to help with your spiritual growth and to improve the relationships with those people who are important in your life.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What Time is It?

This morning many Israeli's woke up very confused. Over night some cell phone providers and my computer turned the clocks back. As we rely more and more on clocks that change automatically this caused a lot of confusion.

In previous years we would turn our clocks back after Shabbat Shuva. This was to appease the Haredi parties as it would allow the Yom Kippor fast to be shorter. A few years ago some Israelis realized that the fast was still the same 25 hours. They began protesting that it wasn't fair that we were on DST shorter than other countries in the world. There was even a petition to boycott changing our clocks back. There were no reports of the effect of the boycott on the protesters. In July the Government passed a law extending Daylight Savings Time until the end of October.

This presented a major challenge for cell phone companies. The cell phone networks were built in 1948 which means they can never be changed. Some cell phone providers had a work around solution by notifying their customers to set their phones to Athens time. Others decided to take the economical approach and let their customers figure out on their own. My iPhone on the Cellcom network was able to make the adjustment. Although my computer on Windows 7 did not.

It will be interesting to see what happens to all the customers who changed there phones to Athens time when it is time to move forward. Israel turns their clocks ahead on Friday March 28th, while in Athens they will move ahead on Sunday March 30th. Once again Israelis will be waking up in the morning asking what time it is.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hoping to Dip a Sweet Apple in the Honey

As Rosh HaShannah quickly approaches I look back on my thoughts going into Rosh HaShannah 2011.

I have less merits than last year, to plead to over turn the evil decree. The only thing I can ask, is that "time served" is enough punishment for my family and that we will have the strength to get back on our feet.

As much as we try to improve and grow our lives still run full circle. That is why we need to go through the whole Rosh HaShannah/Yom Kippor cycle all over again. We may been inspired to grow and improve but moving forward also means sometimes slipping backwards. We need to take another giant leap forward to once again make sure we are moving in the right direction. 

Once again, I have found my comfort in music. This time it is the Fountainheads Rosh HaShannah song from 2011.

You’ve made mistakes- you feel it  --  Definitely
You’ve got what it takes – believe it --  I am trying

So many new hopes, Waiting to find you, Open your eyes, The dreams you prize are all around you
(see below)

Make up your mind, go out and find, That simple blessing -- I did
This is your time – you feel it,  How sweet it is – believe it  -- Yes I do

Without question this was the year of the rotten apple. Apples are supposed to be sweet. Either way we still dip it in honey which is always sweet. Bittersweet is still better than bitter. (I am sure their is a connection to Haroset here). The last two Rosh Hashannahs were over shadowed by sadness and pain.  This year the pain is there.  However the clouds are starting to clear and there is actually hope.

Over the summer Channah turned back into just being a kid. I have found a platform to remember Gabi and help others through the pain of child loss. I have fought an uphill battle to put together a life for myself and Channah. Not only would Rachel be proud of me but she knew I could do it. I believe that trust allowed her to go do what she needed to do in peace.

In 3 months I will be taking the next big leap forward to move forward in my life. Peri and I compliment each other on so many levels. We will be able to build a strong marriage and family for the rest of our days. My hope is that this year all of the pieces will continue to fall into place.

Thank you to everyone who has been supportive over the past year, whether it was a big role or a small role, I really appreciate it. I hold no ill feelings towards anyone for how they acted towards me over the year.

I wish that both the apple and the honey are both sweet for you in the coming year.

Shannah Tova
Gmar Ktiva V'Chatima Tova
Chag Kasher Sameach
Whatever other blessings you are supposed to say this time of year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Like the Gold in the hands of a Goldsmith

In life everything has intrinsic value.  Some of that value is based on what that person or object is producing and some of it is based on potential.  Our efforts to realize that potential will determine how much of that potential value is turned into true value.

Since getting home last month the major project as been organizing and cleaning up the studio. After many, many hours the hardest stage has finally been completed.  I have maximized the space available for Channah's play room. 

The studio was Rachel's special place. It was filled with all kinds of tools, raw materials, chemicals, how to magazines, guidebooks and items that she could turn into beautiful objects. The loss of Gabi significantly drained Rachel's potential and what she was able to transform in that room. However, it was still there. Then  in an instant it was gone.

Over the last month (with the help of a really amazing profession organizer) every single item in that room was evaluated. Does it have sentimental value to me? Does it have sentimental value to Channah? Is this a repair that belongs to someone else? Does it have potential value to anyone else? How do I safely dispose of Nitric Acid? (Home Front Command has not given orders to open our gas masks. Based on what I read it would be necessary to dispose of it safely).  If only Rachel was here she could make use of this.

As I was working the song 'Through Heaven's Eyes' kept popping up in my head. After fleeing from Egypt, Moses feels that he has no value. His future father-in-law Shlomo Carlebach. I mean Yitro. (Rachel always felt the character was modelled off of Carlebach) He sings about how to evaluate the value of a person.

A number of the versus have been incorporated in my life over the last 16 years or are particularly insightful today. Lyrics

The next step in the studio is going to be a lot slower. I am looking for buyers for professional equipment that deserve to be used as they were meant to. There are finished pieces to be put away for Channah's future enjoyment and sold off so other can enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship of her work. There are items that I know deep down inside had potential when Rachel was alive but no longer have any value. I will eventually need to part with those items.

The flip side is my life is still full of potential. I have a 9 year old girl who doesn't have to give a second thought to doing what our ancestors could only dream of doing. She is an incredible kid, full of potential to change the world. She is going to once again have a mother who will help develop her potential in a way that only a mother can.  I am going to have a wife. A life partner, where we can be happy raising our family in the land of Israel.

I have had enough grief and sorrow thrown at me that would destroy most people.My Grandmother lost her husband and son in the Holocaust. My Grandfather liberated her from her concentration camp. She picked up the pieces and rebuilt her life.  I am also ready to pick up the pieces and build a life for me and my family. A life  where I can be happy and we can all grow to maximize our potential. I know that is what Rachel would have wanted me to do.

I find it interesting that my favourite piyut from Yom Kippor is  כי הנה כחומר  It still bothers me that our shul doesn't use the tune I look.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Call of the Shofar

The Shofar has sounded to awaken our hearts. Those who eat kitniyot on Pesach have started saying Slichot. We are less then 3 weeks away from when Ashkanazim will be joining them. Shortly afterwards we sit in in judgement followed by a last chance of atonement. The edict of who will live and who will die will be set and sealed. We then take comfort in the progress we have made working to improve ourselves. We then shift to celebrating in pure joy.

The last week or two the early stages of depression have tried to get hold of me. I am fighting back trying to not let the sadness retake my life. Keeping Channah busy while, Peri is so far away has not made the battle easy. Some battles I have lost and some battles I have won but overall I am now holding my ground and starting to get back to where I want to be.

My thoughts have turned to my life this time last year and what Gabi's death did while living under the shadow of Rachel's depression. This will be the 3rd Rosh Hashanah since we accepted that our family would remain just the three of us. Then before Yom Kippor we found out the impossible would happen. Then our world shattered when Gabi died.

Life continued as a broken mess and this time of year came around again. That year as usual I went to Slichot at our shul on the Motzie Shabbat. I came home. Rachel was furious and yelled at me. How could I say Slichot. We had nothing to ask forgiveness for. It should be the other way around. I have not said Slichot since that night.

Last year Rachel had spent an entire year working on being a better person by letting go of grudges and repairing relationships that had broken down. The whole point of these days of introspection are to become a better person and she felt proud and confident of what she had accomplished. I was proud of her too. There were many days that the depression had won but she put up a good fight and there were definitely days where she came out the winner. After holding off for many years, she decided to by new matching machzorim for her and Channah.

On Yom Kippor, Rachel didn't stay until the end of davening and took Channah home to go to bed. Our Rabbi decided to walk up to the top of the hill because he had not had the opportunity to greet her in shul. We joked about what bad hosts we were by not offering even a glass water. I cannot begin to express how much that act of pure chesed meant to Rachel.  Sometimes something that may seem insignificant can make a huge difference in someone else's life. Perhaps that is the meaning of the idea of not taking 'small' mitzvot lightly. They also have the power to change the world without even realizing it.

Sukkot rolled around. The previous year sleeping in the Sukkah wasn't an option as Rachel needed me. We both agreed that I should try again. I think I may have even lasted an hour before Rachel realized I couldn't handle it. I don't know if I will ever gain back the "Hey Cool" feeling that I had sleeping in the Sukkah the first two years we were here.

On Simchat Torah I was given Kol HaNearim for the second year in a row. Rachel prayed that a chazakah would not be established by getting it again this year. She also yelled at me for not saying Yizkor for Gabi as per the psak our Rabbi had given the year before. How could my Mom light a Yarzeit candle and say Yizkor for Gabi and not me? Rachel got her wish as the next time Yizkor came up I said it for Rachel and for Gabi.

Many other memories have bouncing through my head. My bed had become my primary office so that Rachel would not be alone on the days she couldn't get out of bed. There were the countless trips to the hospitals, doctors offices and pharmacies. There were the times she tried to throw me out but I would refuse to leave. I only left once just to let off some steam. I was so angry. I was mid-throw when I realized that no matter where my release point was the phone was going to hit concrete or Jerusalem stone. It is the only time I was so angry that I broke something. Whenever I was upset Rachel would take the opportunity to remind me of that day.

There were some suicide attempts and many other times trying to figure out if she was suicidal or not. If I called for emergency psychiatric intervention my marriage would be over. If I didn't her life could be in danger. On those nights I would stay awake until I knew that she was safely asleep. At least the final two weeks of her life were on an upswing. Rachel passed away the way she would have wanted. In her bed away from medical professionals, with the knowledge the Channah and I would be well taken care of, having told Channah and I how important we were to her.  Rachel and I had a lot of challenges during our many years together. We were always committed to wanting what was best for each other and most of all Channah. 

I have learned a lot about myself in the pass year. I have learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be. I have learned about my strengths and weaknesses. Rachel made me a better person and gave me Channah. I am ready to rebuild my life with my new family. I hope that Hashem will that rebuilding to take place with happiness and comfort. If not for my sake for Channah's.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

If Only I Knew

One of the weddings I was at this summer, they did something that I had never heard of before.  I asked a friend who is far more well versed in current wedding trends than I am.  He said if he knew then what he knows now they would have done things very differently.

Here I am now 4 months away from my wedding.  There is one thing I definitely want to change but I don't know what I want to do instead. I am just having trouble figuring out in practical terms what that means. There is another question being discussed that for me it was a no brainer. With all the variables involved I am starting to doubt my ability to make the decision that will make me happy on the night of the wedding.

I agree with my friend 100%. Aside from these two things I have no idea in practise what it means.

If you could do your wedding over again, what would you do differently?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Wolfe Island Ferry is a Very Fine Place to Get Engaged

We have just completed a period of mourning which finishes with the intense day of mourning on Tish B'Av. Losing Gabi, being the support as Rachel fought depression from Gabi's loss and then facing a world where Channah needed to be able to count on me as a single parent. I don't need any reminders to know what emotional pain is like.

I have always been intrigued by a minhag I have heard about but never seen. Apparently on Tish B'Av afternoon some people sweep their homes in order to prepare for Mashiach.  This Shabbat is Parshat Nachamu (Shabbat of Comfort). The last 3 weeks the Haftorah has offered rebuke for the Jewish people. We switch to the 7 weeks of comfort leading up to Rosh HaShannah. Through the worst of the worst the Jewish people have always picked ourselves up ready to rebuild and start again.

When Peri went back home to Montreal a week and a half ago we thought that would be it until she came to visit us in Israel. On the Jewish Calendar we have 4 intense weeks of Chagim starting with Rosh HaShannah through Yom Kippor and Sukkot. Right at the end Hashem wants just one more day to be with the Jewish People. Shmeni Ezeret is just one more day in spiritual mode. There are no specific rules or rituals to go along with the day. Just one more day.

Peri and I just wanted one more day to be together. It didn't matter where we went or what we did. We just wanted to be together.  The most logical meeting point was Kingston around the halfway point between Toronto and Montreal.  My parents agreed to come to allow Peri and Channah to see each other and still allowing for us to have alone time for our 'second' date.

It is funny how people measure relationships in number of dates. Rachel and I were friends for about a year before I realized there was more. Peri has been a friend for about as long as I have known Rachel. She has been the person I spoke with multiple times a day since the shiva. We have spent a lot of time talking on Skype and Facetime. Friendships develop and grow if you decide to pay attention or not. While our First date was the Blue Jay game, the three of us went to Marineland the week before. That was the moment Channah transformed back into being just a kid. The weight of the last two years had finally been lifted. We started functioning like a family irrelevant of the titles or official dates.

Peri suggested going to the Thousand Islands because she had always wanted to go there.  I suggested we go to Wolfe Island because the Arrogant Worms have a song about the Wolfe Island Ferry. The fact she agreed to that logic demonstrates both how much she loves me and what a great match we are for each other.

Once we met up, we went to get on the Ferry. We missed the first one because there were too many cars in front of us. Instead we parked #5 in line for the next ferry and went for a walk. We stumbled upon a Buskerfest that was taking place that weekend. We eventually went back to the car and took the ferry across.

It was a gorgeous 20 minute 'cruise'. We both love being on the water. I love watching the sail boats. It has been many years since I have gone sailing. It was also cool to see how many wind mills the island has. We went to the corner store, general store and a couple of rooms where crafts and paintings were being sold. We then headed out to the Big Sandy Bay. It is a 1.2 km nature walk from the entrance until you get to the beach. Along the way there are some random plants and trees labelled with what they are called.

We had a nice walk along the beach before heading back. Once again we missed our turn on the fairy settling for a guaranteed spot on the next run. While we waited on a bench nearby we talked about the future and the fears in my life. I have come a long way on this trip in discovering the monsters under the bed not only didn't need to be feared but didn't exist at all.  I had conquered the fears and have been able to pick up my pieces and build momentum moving forward. It was then time to go back to the car to catch the ferry.

We ended up in a spot where there was nobody around. The water was calm in the late afternoon sun. The sailboats had all turned in for the day. Nothing but the water, trees and the person I love. I am famous for sucking in the romance department. Somehow I managed to find the perfect moment. As Peri turned around to face me, I asked her to Marry Me. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.

Peri, Channah and I are a family. I am looking forward to getting married and having our family grow and flourish in Israel.

Monday, July 8, 2013

My Life's Best Secret

Ever since Rachel passed away I have picked up a tiny piece of the need to be surrounded by music similar but not quite to the same extent Rachel did.  This particular song has been on my mind over the last little while.

Here is a link to the complete lyrics. I was going to cut and paste the applicable lyrics but I would end up posting the entire song.

Around Pesach time I happened to be at a meal with a single mother. The topic of dating came up with all the people trying to set her up even though it was clear that she was not in a position to move forward in her life. My hosts insisted that people were backing off because it was too soon for me. About a week later I was with a different family and they asked me about my future. I repeated the story about this other person. They were really offended anyone would try to set her up. In the next sentence they asked me if I had considered dating her.

Since then I have had some very interesting conversations with various people on where they saw my life going.  I decided not to go with one particular therapist because she was more interested in getting me married than dealing with the problems at hand.

My parents went home before Shloshim was over. I was surprised to learn they had been approached by various people about my future. Apparently I was considered a good catch and people were just waiting for me to get through the grieving process.   

I got married after my first year of university. I had never really lived on my own in an environment where I was completely responsible for myself. I needed the last 6 months to learn what it was like to live and depend on me. I needed to learn who I am because for the last 15+ years my life has always been about 'we'. I needed to grow, develop and become a better stronger person before I could ever look for the right person to be with me and raise Channah. I needed time to learn how to be a single parent. I needed time to grieve and figure out how to pick up the pieces. I needed to take huge scary steps in order to move forward. I am very proud of what I have accomplished.  I am also grateful to all of the outside help that has made it possible.

Throughout the entire time there has been one person who has been my anchor on the darkest days and my sunshine that let me know that the dark days would give way to less dark days. She has shown me that I am allowed to be happy, even though there will always be a part of my heart that will always miss Rachel. She has invigorated Channah with a special energy that has allowed her to act and feel like a kid again. It is something that I haven't seen in a very long time.

When your wife is going through major depression, you have conversations that go to dark places that are often not found in a marriage. Rachel told me who I would end up with, if anything happened to her. She spent the Friday before she died agonizing over the question of who's Channah's guardians should be. I firmly believe she had the piece of mind knowing that I had what I needed to look after Channah before she began the journey that she had longed for to go and look after Gabi.

Peri was Rachel's best friend from the time they were little kids. She has been my close friend for 20 years. She has always been someone with all of the attributes of a true friend. Last week we saw the Tigers show the Blue Jays why they are in first place and the Blue Jays are in last place. We also saw a bench clearing brawl and Colby Rasmus sending Omar Infante on a trip to the DL. It was our first date and yes we did have hot dogs. Channah understands what is going on and is absolutely thrilled.

I have learned the hard way that life doesn't go as planned.  Right now I am grateful and thrilled that Peri is in my life and we have decided to take this step so our relationship to grow even more.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Colliding Worlds

'We Didn't Start the Fire' is running through my head as I make this list. I am tone deaf so you can decide for yourself if this works. 

Blue Jays Lose, Blue Jays Win, Wedding, Wedding Reception, Wedding still to come, Stomach Flu, Hockey, Cottage, Stanley Cup on CBC, Shabbats with Family, Shabbat with Friends, Camp for Channah, Marineland, Anniversary, BBQ, 'Canadian Donuts', New Shoes, Broken down Erev Shabbat near Cornwall, Star Trek into Darkness, Man of Steel with D-Box, The Great and Powerful Oz, The Devil Wears Prada, Dave and Busters, Bowling, Mount Royal, Kiddush for friends who waited 14 years to adopt baby girl, Channah's insomnia is back again, JFK, Flight Delay, 'There's a Cow in My Soup', Trading tickets with Ticket Master, Tov Li again and again, Sushi Delight, Sheva Brochot, Pre-Sheva Brachot, Harbourfront, Schedule Juggling, Raising money, Brand new dryer waiting for my return home, Living with my parents, time with family and friends (including the Israeli ones), 2nd Still Standing Magazine Article, Slurpees, Free baby sitting, Chauffeur service, Science Centre and Oink Oink for Channah, lots of crafts, dollar store, Walmart, 2L bottles look huge, tons of new stuffed animal friends.

That is a brief summary of why I have been mostly tuning out the world over the last few weeks. The trip to Toronto has been a mass of worlds colliding. The past with the future as I continue to pick up the broken pieces and figure out which ones to take with me, which ones to keep in a safe place and which ones are not as significant as they seemed before I picked them up to examine them.

When I moved to Israel some of my life in Toronto became left in my passed. When Gabi died some walked back into my life and many more walked out. When Rachel died I had a flood of support from my new community and a lot from the old country. It was such a blur I can't say with any degree of certainty if an individual person didn't. The family in Toronto was flooded with even more support. While they were flooded with hundreds of condolence cards I received 4 or 5. It does not bother me in anyway how people choose to or not to show there grief. It is only to help understand what I am about to write.

On a number of times I have run into people that I know that I don't think I have heard from since Rachel's passing and possibly much, much longer. I am sure it is 1000 times more awkward for them as it is or me. We exchange greetings and sometimes even make small talk. I walk away with two questions on my head 1.Did they know about Rachel? 2. If they did, why didn't they say anything? (even in a round about way to let me decide if it is a topic I want to discuss). The end result is instead of taking another tiny step forward, I feel confused as the questions turn over in my head.

I am proud of how in the last few months, I have gotten myself back on my feet at home. I am now confident I can provide the an environment to allow Channah to continue to grow and prosper. I also believe Rachel would not have left me to take care of Gabi if she didn't have full faith in me. This trip has taught me to face the fears of my colliding fears and remind me the world is not as big and scary of a place that it appears to be. I love my family. I know that I can take care of it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Finding Inner Strength

It was not that long ago that I found myself in a downward spiral that lasted for about a month. No matter what I did, I just couldn't break the spiral. Anytime I took a positive step forward, an even bigger challenge or mistake would immediately follow. All of the emotions that went with the fall just added to perpetuating the cycle.

I managed to find a way to catch myself just enough to end the free fall. Then something strange happened. I kept getting compliments about how strong I was and what a great job I was doing. Those comments helped give me the strength to help pull myself back up again. The comments about being strong kept coming. After receiving this compliment I turned to a friend and told them they were crazy. I couldn't understand why anyone was telling me I was strong. I responded that anything I have done has been because a) I don't have a choice b) I am drawing my strength from the people who care about me. They insisted that my strength is only coming from within. Most people know they would crumble if they had to live the last 2.5 years of my life.

Since then my thoughts have been drifting to the day we lost Gabi.  That night I came home, so I could go in to speak to the school first thing in the morning. I was home alone all night for the first time in probably 7 years. I sat down and cried, calling out the words of Yirmiyahu that the Jewish people have been crying out for almost 2000 years. איכה -- How could it be? How could this possibly happen? At that point I decided I would need to be strong for Rachel and Channah. Everything else was secondary.

Rachel questioned God and her beliefs from every angle. She battled with concepts that God is simply not fair to trying to make herself a better person that maybe this time she would finally fulfill her dreams of leaving a hospital with a new born baby in her arms. On Rosh Ha Shannah/Yom Kippor this year she stood in judgment with complete confidence. She had spent an entire year working on putting aside grudges and making herself a better person.

From time to time Rachel would ask why I wasn't questioning my beliefs. Sometimes it was meant to be criticism. Sometimes it was intended as admiration or even envy. My answer was always the same. My beliefs are all I have and if I question them, I will end up falling apart. I needed to be strong and hold my family together.

In the last almost 5 months my head has gone to some very scary places. I have had plenty of time to come face to face with the big philosophical questions. There is no doubt I have been less enthusiastic or even 2nd guessing the value of various Mitzvot. Then a funny thing happens. Something I learn or remember learning or just seeing something in practise helps me reconnect my thoughts and I once again feel like I am in sync with my belief system. It just needs to be redefined and understood on a deeper level to appreciate the nuances.

We live in an age where there is a tremendous amount of nevuah in the world. Everywhere you turn, there are people who can explain why various things happened.  There have been some real shameful ones this month. Every month, new segulas are coming out all the time, all you need to do to get what you want, is hang this piece of clothing from a particular tree or say a particular prayer in a particular spot while hopping on one foot and doing the hokey pokey. Of course these things are hard so we don't even need to do them ourselves. At the end of Shiva I even had someone suggest I should get my Mezzuzahs checked as if somehow a little bit of ink could have prevented me from losing half of my immediate family in less than 2 years.

We learn that if we keep the Mitzvot God will take care of us. Yet, we find poor people. We learn that nothing bad can happen from you on your way and on your return home. Yet, we were once in a car accident on our way home from a wedding because we decided to stay longer to be Sameach the Chattan & Kallah. One time I was given Kvatter, the father could have spit in my face and it would have been less humiliating then how I was treated. I will never forget the look on Rachel's face when she realized that the raw ruby Rachel had worn from the moment she found out she was pregnant did not save Gabi's life.

Where do I get my strength? My religion, my beliefs, my faith, are not about doing good things and your life will be great. It is about living your life, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Life is going to have ups and downs. We break a glass at a wedding, so that the joy of the celebrations to not get too far out of hand. When we deal with tragedy we still have to pick ourselves up if not for ourselves but for those around us. I could not come along as far as I have without my family, friends and community that have helped along the way.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stay Up All Night, For Tommorow We Sleep

Every mile stone on the calendar is an emotional struggle.  I was bracing myself for a very difficult Shavuot. The pasuk on Rachel's headstone is from Megilat Rut. Shavuot has many great memories for me both for my personal growth but time with Rachel. I started doing the all night learning before I became Shomer Shabbat and I have been doing it most years with few exceptions. There were times where times as a teenager the learning was diverted to spend time with Rachel. Last year, I kept running back and forth from shul to home to check on Rachel to make sure she was OK.

I know many people do not stay up all night for various reasons, which is fine with me. This is the first year that I can recall people being actively critical of the minhag.  As usual, I surrounded myself with good people for the meals. I didn't have the heart to try to make sleeping arrangements, so I could go learn.  10 minutes before the Rabbi's shiur started my hostess for dinner offered to take Channah for the night. I was thrilled to be able to learn.

The shul was a lot more full than in previous years. I went to my usual learning marathon with the Rabbi. He covers 6 topics (one from each seder of Mishnah/Gemara). As always there is not enough time to cover all of them so as the night goes on there is less time to cover the later topics. This year's topics were: Minhag of Tearing Kriya, Minhag of Staying up all night and learning, When does a Kallah cover her hair, lifnei iver,  glatt kosher, and another one that is escaping my memory.  Basically the first 3 were in depth and the last 3 were done in 45 minutes. Of course the 15 minute each allocation didn't work leaving 5 minutes for the Glatt topic.

Tearing Kriya-  It was interesting going over the source for breaking a glass under Chuppah as well as the people who tried to overdo mourning the Mikdash. The halacha seems clear that if you do not go to the Kotel for 30 days you tear Kriyah. However, there is a minhag that Jerusalemites don't. The main source cited for the minhag is from the ridbaz who condemns the minhag. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach has some very interesting comments, including justifying the minhag by saying those who live in Jerusalem and don't go to the Kotel every 30 days, don't deserve to tear Kriyah because they don't feel the mourning. Considering how often I go to the cemetery to visit Rachel it was interesting to think about how we should be internalizing the pain of the loss of the Mikdash.

Staying Up All Night -- Staying up and learning really is problematic because of the effect it has on the next day. I have friends who did back to back all nighters so they could watch the Leaf's blow Game 7 against Boston. The Rabbi was relying on the minhag (which is not well sourced), accepting the Rambam half day learning can take place in the afternoon instead of the morning.  He personally goes home before Kriyat HaTorah so he can get some sleep so that he can have Kavanah for the rest of devaning.

Kallah covering her hair after Chuppah -- A married woman covers her hair. There are very opinions on to how early the 'married' status kicks in. Rav Ovadiah pulls in 4 factors that allows her to wait until she goes home, most importantly the lack of Yichud room at Sephardi weddings. The Rabbi was still struggling to figure out how to justify the common practise of waiting until the next morning.  Through the shiur he mad some interesting distinctions between minimum halachic standards and what one should do depending on an individual circumstances.

I can't remember that last time I had that much energy during learning and davening Shavuot night.. Between eating, sleeping and learning,  I didn't have an opportunity to stop and think. Nor even during Yizkor as they were even calling people back in before I finished struggling my way through what I needed to say.

The end result was I made it through Shavuot OK. Today I had a much harder day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Day of Solitude

I knew today was going to be tough. I planned my day out to basically be by myself with no expectations. Channah had even decided to go to a friend's house straight from school, so I didn't even see her until dinner time. When I first woke up my reaction was that it felt just like an ordinary day.  Then I stopped for a moment and realized my heart was feeling numb, as my head wondered to the first of many memories that filled up my day.

May 7th, 1998. It was Rachel's last birthday before our wedding. As the night went on I started running a fever that kept going up and up. Eventually, I ended up in the ER, where they kept me in a cold room for a number of hours until my temperature started to go down and they sent me home.  For 2 nights Rachel slept in a chair in my room, so she could look after me.  For my parents it was the changing of the guard as Rachel would be the primary person for watching out for my well being for the rest of her life. Over the years birthdays (along with other special occasions) were always hit and miss for me. Sometimes, I would find the perfect gift and find the perfect way to celebrate.  More often than not I would fail miserably. How I wish I could have one more birthday.

I went to the cemetery this morning. When people come visit, there is often a point about how much construction and building is going on.  The same thing happens every time I go to the cemetery.  The new section is pretty big and it looks like they have dug up a few hundred plots. At least there has been some progress on the spelling mistake.  The "I" has been chiselled into a "Y". They did a pretty good job doing it. All they need to do is fill in the black and I can pay the balance I have been withholding.

For so long since Gabi couldn't be with Rachel, Rachel wanted to be with Gabi or at the very least have someone else to help fill the hole in her heart. It just gives me something to think about as I battle through the emunah and bitachon questions, looking for some type of consolation. I told Rachel that at some point down the road there would be some perspective and her loss would make sense.  I was clearly wrong on that one. I spoke to her for a little while. It was kind of eerie being just me and the construction workers. It was also the first time I cried that my eye didn't hurt. My doctor was impressed by how well it is healing.  Although it did hurt when I started crying later in the day.

I watched two movies today. Anastasia was always our movie. I would have proposed the night we saw it, if Rachel hadn't decided last minute to invite a friend along who was feeling lonely. I watched Les Miserables, which Rachel had really been looking forward to seeing. There were a couple of phone calls. The rest of the day was nothing special.  Just time to for reflection and getting lost in my thoughts.

Channah hasn't really been expressing her feelings towards Rachel's loss. She did ask her teacher to stop Halacha Yomit class today.  Apparently they were learning Avelut. Her request was denied but apparently she wasn't paying attention in class.  Not sure if that was with or without the teachers approval.

I knew today would be hard and I think I found the right way to deal with it. As the clock ticks closer and closer to midnight and another day, I am starting to feel like I am ready to face the world once again.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hockey Night in Holon

The final piece in convincing me to make Aliayah was that I would be able keep playing hockey. At the time we left I was playing at least three times every two weeks. I fell for information about an arena that was supposed to be completed shortly after we arrived near Petach Tikva. When I inquired about it after we landed, the same organization that had information about the arena basically told me it was a figment of my imagination.  Our original plans to move to Haifa was greatly motivated by the desire to be near the only hockey rink in Metulah.

With a 3 hour drive to Metulah I ended up not playing as often as I liked. I did not play any hockey from the Tournament (in February) last year until the Thursday before Rachel passed away. 

To compensate I have been playing softball for the local team. The league is more competitive than what I am used to in the Shul league in Toronto. There are only 9 batters and 9 fielders in a game and using the bench means making line up substitutions.  In my first two seasons we would generally field 9 guys, so playing time was never an issue.  This year has been different. We have had at least 10 - 12 players for any given game. They like when I play catcher because the ball doesn't end up at the backstop. I don't really have an arm to throw runners out. If there is no other catcher they like me to play defence. There isn't even room to have me play my preferred position at 2nd base. I was only getting token at bats for showing up, which doesn't allow me to improve as the season moves along. I decided to skip this weeks game even though I had babysitting in place because I was tired of feeling inconsequential to the team I am paying money to be on.

I was really excited for the new hockey rink. Today was the first chance to play. I made sure that I was slotted in between the pipes for the first game. I need to put together a babysitting/sleepover schedule as they will use that to help set the goalie rotation.  It is all real exciting.

The rink is basically a skating rink that they have adapted with a scoreboard, benches and glass in order to allow hockey to be played. While they have a couple of party rooms with big open windows they don't have any change rooms. The benches on the bottom left is where we got changed. The rink is small, so we had to play 4 on 4 hockey.  It meant we had a really fast paced game with the major drawback being if you were not careful a missed centring pass could end up in your own net. 

I was dressed ready to go as the Zamboni was busy clearing the ice.  I was literally bouncing up and down with excitement.  The quality of the ice was good. It took me some time to really get warmed up, which is much faster than I expected given I haven't skated in 3 months. I made a ton of really quality saves including a sliding toe save to what the shooter had thought was an empty net. There were rushes where I made 5, 6, 7 or more saves in a row before freezing the puck or having it cleared.  Of course I always love when a player swears because you just messed him up and then congratulates me for making the play. After almost 100 minutes on the ice I was still pumped and having a great time.

Hockey is fun and a great stress release for me. Rachel knew that and was very supportive as long as I didn't take it to extremes.  I am so happy that I can bring hockey back into my life on a regular basis. I hope I will be able to make it to the hockey tournament in Metulah next year. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Yizkor for the First Time

Simchat Torah is supposed to be a time of pure joy. We have gone through the Tshuva process of Elul followed by Rosh HaShannah & Yom Kippor.  We then have the joyous days of Sukkot. Hashem turns to the Jewish people and says I want just one more day to be with my people. Aliyah gave extra significance to the meaning of 'just one more day' as family and friends would visit for short periods of time.

Simchat Torah is not a time of joy for everyone. We stop so those missing loved ones can say Yizkor. The pain of infertility hits hard with a child centric holiday.  When Channah was born I thought I would never feel that pain again. I had Channah (my 'Sefer Torah') to dance with. The last two years I had 'Kol HaNearim' and good friends to help cover the pain of Gabi's loss. Last time my 'Sefer Torah' was too old to come dance with me. We prayed there would be another to take that roll.

For the last 3 months I have been haunted by another memory from Simchat Torah. Rachel had begun saying Yizkor when her father died (Our Rabbi holds you should say Yizkor in the first year). Channah was always by her side to give her the strength she needed to get through it. While our Rabbi gave us a lot of leeway in terms of mourning for Gabi, Yizkor and Kaddish were not permitted. Rachel walked out of shul furious at me. She could say Yizkor for Gabi.  My Mom says Yizkor and lights a candle for Gabi.  How could I not say Yizkor for my own daughter.  I promised I would ask the Rabbi before it was time to say Yizkor again.

The one on the left is for Gabi. The one on the right is for Rachel.
I spent Yom Tov with some really close friends.  It gave me someone to say Yizkor with. It also gave me a sound board for my hopes, fears and to do list over the coming weeks, months and year. After everyone went to bed I sat in front of the candles and cried.

As expected Yizkor was emotional and anti-climactic at the same time. They don't do the long introduction here so it is fairly short.  I did have a panic moment, as I had Hagbah today.  When Yizkor was announced there was confusion as someone got up to say something that is supposed to be said at the end.

Channah had a really good day with a lot of moments that I was very happy about. As life returns to 'normal' I feel the weight of the world returning to my shoulders. I am scared of the challenges I need to face. I am excited that I will be able to play hockey close to home. I am hopeful for the future. I take comfort knowing that the people I trust have told me I am not crazy. I believe I have the strength to get through the next stages of picking up the pieces and rebuilding a life for Channah and myself.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pesach, Matzah, Maror

I knew the week leading into Pesach was going to be the most difficult of the year.  The entire country shuts down in order to prepare.  Channah was home from school. My friends were focused on their own homes with their own families, they didn't have as much time as usual for me. Between work, softball and a trip to Monkey Park with Channah's best friend and her best friend's sister in many ways, I managed to hold things together better than I expected.

Pesach took a lot more work than I was able to put in.  Somehow I managed to make it to the point where I was able to say good enough, even though it was well short of the low bar I set for myself this year. The hardest part was when I found this during Bedikah Chamezt:

Rachel had bought it for me many years ago for when I was having a hard time at work.  Of course that brought back memories of the smile card that lives in my wallet. It was not so long ago, Rachel found out I still had it.  She thought it had been lost a long time ago.

Thinking about these two items took everything out of me.  I sat down and started to cry. Channah hates when I cry and always tries to get me to stop. I try not to cry too much because it really hurts because of the problem with my eye.  She managed to calm me down with a hug. I was ready to call it a night unable to face kashering and the kitchen.  A friend told me to take deep breaths and get back to cleaning which would keep me busy.  I decided to get the Pesach boxes out of storage.  As I was moving the boxes, I was having trouble breathing.  It was not from the lifting but the emotional sting of missing Rachel. Which of course made me think of this song: 

Somehow I managed to make it through. I made sure I got to the shul because I am a bachor.  I accidentally attended a Bris.  The Rabbi wanted to talk to me and I knew if I had left it for later in the day it probably would not happen.

We spent the Seder with cousins who we went to for our first 2 years in Israel before, they moved outside of walking distance. I thought it was a brilliant choice when Channah came up with the idea.  It was very comforting being in a familiar environment with family. There were two defining moments that really struck a chord of encouragement that I hope will stay with me in terms of what I am facing in the coming weeks, months and hopefully longer.

As intro to the Seder the host talked about the importance of reliving the story of Pesach every year.  It is a way of establishing that we are the Jewish People. He drew the parallel to the Holocaust and the importance of remembering and retelling the story, so it doesn't lose it's meaning.

It made me think about my Grandmother who had everything taken from her including her husband and 3 year old son.  My Grandfather liberated her from the camps, helped her back to health and were married in 3 weeks. My Mom was born in a DP camp and his good friend (who died shortly before Rachel) gave his milk rations to my Mom so that she could be healthy.  They rebuilt their lives but she always kept a picture of her son on the wall.

The Seder isn't complete until we discuss the Symbolism of Pesach, Matzah and Maror. Pesach is to remember the korban that we are no longer able to bring because of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.  Every year we remember that destruction through the stages of mourning the same way we remember a loved one.  When I go to the Kotel I tear kriyah to remember the destruction. Food is an integral part of Jewish identity.  Matzah represents both poverty and freedom while Maror represents the bitterness of the suffering we endured. We bring these foods together right after declaring Dayenu followed by Hallel.  The Hallel combined with the 2nd cup of wine was described as a toast to Hashem.  We offer a toast of thanks and immediately remember how hard it was to reach this point.

The concept of 'moving on' has been a frequent topic as of late. Am I going to fast?  Am I going too slow? Am I doing it right?  I always thought that 'moving on' meant putting the tragedies of the last two years behind me.  I now realize that is not the case.  Moving on means rebuilding again but taking those tragedies with me into whatever new direction my life will take. I have the opportunity to build on the dreams of my ancestors to raise a Jewish family in the land that was promised to our forefathers so many generations ago. Rachel and Gabi will always play an upfront roll in that process, even if they are not physically here to do it with me.  This idea has brought confidence and comfort towards some of the challenges I am about to face.

The 2nd moment came form the hostess.  There have those who have been concerned and in some cases critical in my ability to be a parent. The entire night there were two moments where Channah's handling of herself would not have met their approval. One of those moments our hostess turned to be me and said "Don't worry my kids do the exact same thing."  There was nothing particularly insightful in the statement. I have been around a lot of different families in the last few months to see different types of kids and parenting styles.  My response was that the behaviour did not bother me.  The truth is the validation did mean a lot to me, even if it is not the first time I have heard it.  The confident I am in my parenting the better prepared I am to make decisions of what is in Channah's best interest even if those decisions are not popular.

Pesach is about remembering the passed to bring hope for the future.  At least that is the lesson I am walking away with this year.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Please Don't Stop the Music

I have been trying to sit down and write this post for almost 2 months. With Journey's IV playing in the background and the alternative to go back to Pesach preparations perhaps I am now ready. Journey's IV was one of the main CDs playing in my car on the many trips to the hospital when Rachel was in the hospital before Channah was born and the weeks Channah was in the NICU after she was born.

Music played a huge role in Rachel's life. Whether it was playing or teaching the piano or listening to her eclectic range of music it was something that she always needed around her.  Music reflected her life. It was part of her.

The last month of her life shared the same roller coaster/yo yo qualities of her life since losing Gabi.  It started with the harshest migrane she had to deal with.  The extra medication to break it fuelled a horrible depression that resulted with the police showing up at my door at 3am. Over Channukah she surrounded herself with the right people and activities that helped pull her out of the depression. Taking stock of what happened Rachel and I had a conversation that lasted all night. Every issue that we had in our lives together was discussed and put to rest. Rachel lived her last two weeks with a determination to reclaim her life was a tremendous gift that I am grateful for.

First night Channukah, Channah had a sleep over and we had our first night out together in a very long time. Depression took it's grip on what we had hoped to be an enjoyable evening.  When Rachel wanted to just call it a night and let depression win, I refused to let her.  We saw the movie Pitch Perfect. Rachel was so shocked that I told her that I liked the song 'Titanium' that she bought it as well as the rest of the album on the way home.  It was played a lot over those two weeks.

About 3 weeks into Shloshim, the silence in the apartment was starting to get to me. This was something that had never happened to me before.  As soon as Shloshim was over, I had myself surrounded by Rachel's music all the time. The Soundtrack from Pitch Perfect still speaks to me and I often have it cycling through for hours at a time.  I am going to share a few songs from the soundtrack and how they speak to me.

Don't Stop the Music --  The music of Rachel's life was turned off way to early.  When I surround myself and appreciate music, it not only helps me feel that she is part of me but also putting into practise of what she taught me the power music has.

Titanium --

You shout it loud, but I can't hear a word you say I'm talking loud, not saying much I'm criticized, but all your bullets ricochet you shoot me down, but I get up
I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose fire away, fire away ricochet, you take your aim fire away, fire away you shoot me down, but I won't fall I am titanium you shoot me down, but I won't fall I am titanium

Rachel really lived her last two weeks like she was invincible. She wanted to rebuild her life and was determined that nothing would stop her. Now my job is to protect Channah at all costs in order to grow into the wonderful person, Rachel and I always knew she was going to be. 
Cups -- 

When I’m gone, When I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me by my hair
You’re gonna miss me everywhere, oh
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

This song makes me think about how much I miss Rachel, but also the cup game was very popular during our time together in NCSY.  It reminds me of the time, at the beginning of our relationship.

I Saw the Sign --  This was one of the popular songs that to me defines a summer as a CIT at camp. At camp I decided to daven 3 times a day. The 2nd Shabbat after I came home, I decided to "Keep Shabbat until hockey season starts."  That was the year of the first NHL lockout. It was the best chance I ever had of making the Select team. I walked off of a number of tryouts because they fell on Friday night or conflicted with an NCSY Shabbaton. Those decisions paved the way for Rachel to enter my life and setting the path for where I am today. Decisions I have never regretted.

Just the Way You Are  --
She's so beautiful, and I tell her every day
(I was thinking bout her, thinkin bout me)
I know, I know
(Thinkin bout us, what we gon' be)
when I compliment her she won't believe me

My nickname for Rachel was 'Beautiful'.  There were times she got upset with me because I used it so much that she accused me of forgetting her name.  A name is the essence of who a person is. It probably around her last 6 months that she started to believe me that I loved her for who she was. She often felt that others saw her as not good enough and if they would abandon her if she didn't have give them what they wanted.

Bright Lights/Magic Medley --
I've got the magic in me
Every time I touch that track it turns into gold
know everybody knows I've got the magic in me

Rachel's creative talent was incredible. She could do whatever she put her mind to.The same applied for various challenges and repairs for Channah.

Rachel had one friend that used to love buying bangle bracelets from Rachel.  The friend would ask her how come after years they didn't need polishing.   She would say "It's Magic".  Shortly after Rachel passed away that friend contacted me.  They had started to tarnish.  The 'magic' had worn off.

Price Tag/Don't You Forget About Me/Give it Everything Tonight --

Seems like everybody's got a price,
I wonder how they sleep at night,
When the sale comes first and the truth comes second,
Just stop for a minute and smile,
Everybody look to the left,
Everybody look to the right,
Can you feel that yeah,
We're payin with love tonight,
It's not about the money, money, money,
We don't need your money, money, money,
We just want to make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag,

Rachel was always about doing what was right. She would never care about the toll it would take on her.

Give me everything tonight,
For all we know we might not get tomorrow,

Rabbi Orlofsky told me at the Shiva that Tzadikim get a nevuah that there time is up. Rachel's last night she had gone to the Kuppah for medication and was supposed to go home to sleep off the migraine.  She was determined to keep a promise to Channah to make a minor purchase for her.  She did the very best to make the most of her very last day.  Something I am grateful for.

Music was Rachel's life. No matter which direction my life takes, I hope that music can be a part of my life, the way Rachel taught me it should. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Putting the Pieces in the Right Places

Every woman has a spot where they keep all of the jewellery they will never wear. It could be in a drawer of a jewellery box, but it is always separate. They could be family heir looms, pieces with precious metals, pieces with sentimental value or simply broken pieces that will be repaired "one day".

The most common request Rachel would receive was people who asked if they could melt down their gold. Gold becomes brittle when it is melted and reformed, this is not an option on a small scale. Instead she would either repair the piece or design something completely new that incorporated the original with new material to create something beautiful and wearable.  The client could once again wear with pride a piece that had been destined to relegated to storage forever.

Rachel and I spent more than half of our lives together, moulding and shaping ourselves and our lives as best we could. We were on the verge of as close to perfection as life could get until it all shattered on February 28th, 2011. We were sent a jewel that we were told we could never have.  In an instant, at the most painful moment it was gone. Then the morning of December 31st came and my life was shattered to pieces.  The only difference was I don't have Rachel to help me pick up the pieces and Channah is counting on me to rebuild the life she needs.

There are so many shattered little pieces. My first reaction was the I needed to fix everything all at once. A task that is not only impossible but quickly lead to burning myself out. I need to sift and sort through the pieces.  Some are usable in rebuilding for the future. Some have no value in the piece I am rebuilding but I want to keep them anyways.  Some forever and some until I am ready to let go.  Handling new situations and challenges will be the new material that holds it all together.

There are a lot of people who want to help. I am finding that there are to varying degrees to philosophies of how to move forward.  There are those who are helping me sift through the old and the new. They recognize that it is up to me to decide which pieces go where. They are there to advise or even help set the pieces in place. At the end of the day the decisions are mine and whatever I decide is the correct decision.  That doesn't mean I won't make mistakes. They believe I have the right to make my own mistakes.

There are others, who know exactly how I need to rebuild and exactly how long it should take. Each decision that does not fit in with the schedule needs to be challenged and justified. If I make a mistake there will be negative consequences that will lead to destroyed lives and possibly mixed dancing. They need to make sure I am prevented from making those tragic mistakes.

When Channah was a baby in the NICU, she had a problem that she was blowing through IV lines and running out of veins. The solution was to insert a long line (pic line) that are supposed to last a week.  The problem was they couldn't get one in.  The hospital wanted to undergo a 'simple' solution to transfer her to another hospital and have it inserted with the help of radiology. Rachel and I refused to authorize the treatment forcing the hospital to look for another solution.  We entered Channah into a study about long lines. The doctor heading up the study, spent his day inserting long lines. He was successful with Channah. The long line was supposed to last for a week, which was more than enough time for it not to be needed. 

That evening the long line broke. Ben Herr was the doctor on staff and tried to reinsert it. After his first attempt failed I had a huge argument with him and told him to stop. I knew he didn't have the skill to get the job done. Rachel was convinced I was going to punch the doctor to get him to stop.  The administrative staff stepped in to talk with us.  After a number of attempts the doctor gave up unable to perform the procedure.

I granted permission to let them shave Channah's hair so that they could put an IV into her head. The little bit of beautiful blonde hair that covered the only part of her body that had been untouched in the battle for her life was going to be taken from her. That night they had the two best nurses on staff for putting in IVs. They managed to find one last vein without having to cut her hair.  The IV lasted the couple of days we needed until it wasn't necessary anymore.  Around the same time we had friends faced with the same solution to a similar problem. They agreed to the procedure and which had many complications leading to a prolonged hospital stay.

The most important thing in my life right now is looking out for Channah. I have and will continue to make mistakes along the way.  Being a good parent is not about being perfect.  It is about providing an environment, where they know they are loved unconditionally, they can make mistakes and grow from them, they know the communication is open where they can express their feelings without being judged.

I do not fear making mistakes.  I fear that I will make the popular choice instead of trusting myself to do what I believe is right. Even worse, I fear I will not be able to tell the difference between the two. I need to treat myself as me and not anyone else.  I must insist others do the same.  There are many struggles ahead.  For Channah's sake I can't fail.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Counter Terrorism Training

My MIL & SIL, recently visited from Toronto.  We went to Caliber 3 to do their 2 hour counter terrorism course. As an Israeli, it would have been difficult for me to participate. However, with a Canadian passport it was no problem. 

They taught us the basics of counter-terrorism, as well as how to shoot a handgun and a rifle. Aside from entertaining tourists these guys train the counter-terrorism specialist who are the front line responders in case of an attack. There was a lot of emphasis on how you need to be able to think on your feet while carrying a deadly weapon in your hand.  I also thought it was amusing of how proud they were of the "Israeli invention" to increase a soldiers ammo by sticking to ammo magazines together.  I have seen it done with tape and velcro.

I discovered that I am terrible with a handgun. I would naturally try to resist recoil causing me to completely list the shooting target.  I was much better with the rifle with the scope.

During Defensive Shield, I felt a tinge of guilt as my friends were called up by the Army. A son of one family we are close to was in an armoured personal carrier, the engine running, prepared to go into hand to hand combat when Hillary came in to stop the war.  I no longer feel that guilt.

The task seemed simple. Each family had a balloon the target for a member of the team. You would do a short run, and then use the rifle to shoot at the balloons from long range. You hit a balloon you shoot again.  You miss and the next person on your team starts to run.   

While the rules were being explained, a couple of balloon blew away.  It was amazing how the experts had such a difficult time figuring out which team gets which balloon and which balloons needed replacing.  We eventually got it all sorted out.

I was first for my team and started by tripping over my own feet scrapping up my hands and my knee pretty badly.  I picked myself up and finished the short run and managed to hit the two balloons.  My SIL was next and was able to hit the last target to secure the victory for our team.  I then went to get first aid, while they finished up talking to the group about gun control here vs. the US.

Counter-Terrorism Demonstration

My MIL with a handgun. She hit a bullseye.

My Sister-in-law with a rifle

I was a much better shot with the rifle
It was a really great experience.  It has changed the way I watch the crime shows I enjoy.