Saturday, July 21, 2007

the Godfather and other newborn tales

I didn't realize this before when I was a young mother living in Toronto - but there's so much superstition revolving around newborn babies here in Israel - particularly when your family and neighbors are from Sephardic background, as is the case with my daughter.

From the moment they took their son out of the hospital, they put a little hamsa with blue stones over his stroller. A gold hamsa is pinned onto the mosquito net in his crib. Their neighbors advised them not to leave baby clothing out at night or to take the baby out at night for 30 days "because of spirits". When I heard that, I was aghast.

I told my daughter "do you really think I stayed in at night for 30 days with you?" I distinctly remember taking her to the movies one evening when she was 3 weeks old. She was sleeping most of the time and I had my portable boobie for her to nurse on if she dared make a peep during the flick.

I laughed when the neighbors came in to "oohh and aaah" over the baby saying repeatedly "Ben Porat Yosef, Ben Porat Yosef" which is the sephardic equivalent of warding off the evil eye (the first time it is translated as 'fruitful son,' and the second time, 'a fruitful vine' ).

Tomorrow their week old baby gets his brit (circumcision) according to Jewish tradition. I don't know whether this is superstition or tradition, but "they say" that it is an honor for a person to be a sandek (godfather) at the brit. This is the person that holds the baby while he is being circumcized. "They also say" that you should pick your sandek wisely, because the baby will have the sandek's personality traits.

I know my hubby wanted to be given the honor of sandek - but the parents had much higher aspirations for their baby than to have someone who smokes alot of pot, farts all the time, curses like a truck driver and is generally very grumpy be the kid's godfather. The sandek will be no other than the colorful former chief sephardic rabbi, Harav Ovadia Yosef which is the ultimate thrill for my son-in-law's family.

Some of my friends were stunned. "This isn't you" they remarked. Of course it isn't. Who would I have chosen as godfather if it were my kid? Probably Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights. I would have loved for my sons to have his brave and compassionate traits, if transmitting traits from godfather to godson is actually true. But he is my grandson, not my son, and the ceremony will be in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in an ultra-orthodox synagogue, which prompted me to buy a top with sleeves covering my elbow and a head covering. The name of the boy will then be revealed after the brit to everyone. Usually the boy is named after a deceased close relative like a grandfather (however sephardim name their children after living relatives too).

to be continued in a day or two...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


"Is this normal?" - this is the question put to me every 5 seconds by the new parents whether it was the baby's lower lip quivering while it cried, or as his face turned beet red when it cried, or whether it was the black poo on his diaper. Among other questions I had to field from them are...

"Why is he crying?"
"Why isn't he crying?"

And my years and years of parenting experience comes in really handy at this time and I finally feel really appreciated by my daughter. For once I have done something right in her eyes.

Sunday morning I got a call from my son-in-law. It was a call I had been preparing for - for a couple of weeks now.

"We're on the way to the hospital."

"Wow! Great! So pick me up on your way there." I'm a five minute walk from their house.

"We're nearly at the hospital." son-in-law explained.

I hung up the phone. "Damn" I complained to Hubby. "Why didn't they stop by to pick me up?"

I figured they must have been rushing badly and this wasn't a false alarm. Turns out the happy couple's car had a flat tire on the way (that's for NOT picking up the mother :-) ) and had to ambulance it to the hospital. I got there an hour later and acted as her labor coach, who also wasn't around at that early hour. Labor coaching wasn't bad. In fact, I think I was a kick-ass labor coach. We figured out good positions for my daughter during her labor and helped her throughout her ordeal so she didn't need an epidural, and she told me to "shut up" only twice. A couple of hours later, this adorable little baby boy was born into this world.

Relatives from overseas called up to give congratulations and my daughter hadn't a clue who they all were.

Her hubby's relatives all showed up that evening. I took all their flowers and put them in plastic canisters I saw on the countertop. The room began to stink of pee after a while, until we realized that those plastic canisters were not really for flowers after all. Oops.

My brother showed up the next day with his wife, sharing with us their birth and labor stories.

"This kid has it easy now. Too bad he's gonna have to grow up in THIS country." brother chuckled.

My daughter's roommate was a Palestinian mother which we figured out as soon as we heard them speak Arabic. My kids laughed at me knowing I was going to make a special effort to introduce the two new mothers to each other. I think in many cases like this, the "roommates" pretend the other doesn't exist and no effort is made to speak to one another. Sad. But of course, you know me. I offered her roomie chocolates, food, etc. and it turns out she is a nurse in another hospital. I pondered over the fact that these two little boys will be growing up so differently. And wished that perhaps one day, their lives will be more or less the same - for the better of course.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Jerusalem International Film Festival

"I think you're some kind of Genie" my friend said to me after we had taken our seats at Sultan's Pool outside the old city walls of Jerusalem, which had been turned into a makeshift giant outdoor movie theater for the Jerusalem International Film Festival opening. This was not a drive-in, mind you, but a sit-in for several thousand of us.

It seemed whatever I wanted or asked for that day, voicing it to her, got given to us. Like getting free tickets to the sold-out film festival opening, which featured the animated film "Ratatouille". I had stood at one of the entrances to the place and simply asked passers-bye if they had any extra tickets. I do it every year. This year, some off-duty cops gave us their extras, which were complementary. I called my friend that afternoon, telling her that last year, it got terribly cold and sweaters weren't enough. Could she please bring a blanket. She didn't have anything light to bring and I hoped for the best. But when we got in, the cellphone company, Orange, were giving out free blankets.

"OK - if that's how it's gonna be for us tonight, then the gates of heaven are open. What do you want?"

"A normal man for me to marry with a good job" was her wish. I wish her wish was my command. We'll see in 6 months if I have genie power.

Too bad I had that Carlsberg because even though the movie was fun, liquor and I don't mix well and I felt myself dozing off a few minutes at a time during the middle of the movie.

No big name US/European screen stars or directors were there. Last year Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger showed up. This year? Nada.

My friend and I continued our tradition of spending a bit of Friday and all day Saturday pasted to the Cinemateque seats.

I saw: Citizen Nawi - a movie about a gay Israeli man, Ezra Nawi, who had a Palestinian partner, who lives in West Jerusalem. He is a tireless activitist for Palestinian human rights, working mostly in the South Hebron hills, who speaks fluent Arabic and is there for their every need - whether it's to get an ambulance over to their village, whether it's to try and stop house demolitions, whether it's to help build a medical clinic in the poor town of Twane, or to escort children to their school, because of settler harrassment. He also faces constant police harrassment in his neighborhood.

I don't know Ezra personally but I have gone olive picking a number of times and he was there. I remember one frightening moment, near the settlement of Avigail in South Hebron hills, where the settlers pointed guns at us. We were only going to help Palestinians plow the land, not invade their settlement. A soldier followed behind Nawi as he walked away from the now-swelling crowd and followed him for a good 7 minute walk across the hills, where Ezra simply took a whiz against a wall. We all saw this and had a great laugh. His sense of humor showed throughout the film.

Saturday I saw Yoga, Inc. - a documentary about how commercial Yoga has become. The funniest moment was the interview of the head Fuck Yoga, Inc, who started his company when his wife was just going to Yoga, morning, noon and night. And he just said - Fuck this. Fuck Yoga.

"They walk around with their yoga mats, like it's a fucking goddam Torah"

His Fuck Yoga t-shirts and bottled water and slippers and god-knows-what-else are selling like hotcakes.

The movie - The Good German - was showed afterwards. A good black&white Hollywood mystery, set in post-world war II Berlin.

DEUX JOURS A PARIS was the next film starring Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg. I don't think there was a minute in that film where I wasn't laughing my ass off. An American in Paris could be really frickin' funny.

For a more serious movie - RED WITHOUT BLUE - a documentary about male identical twins growing up in Montana and the difficulties they faced. Talk about challenges. Outwardly they looked like your typical white, Christian, American apple pie family. But as they years went on - one turned out to be gay, and the other changed his gender.

The last one we saw that day was "Killer of Sheep", a film made in 1977 by Charles Burnett but only released now because of music rights difficulties. It was a slow-moving film, but it was an interesting insight to an African-American slum and the people who live inside it - specifically the Watts section of Los Angeles. The music was great and I would have loved to have bought the soundtrack - but I don't think there'll be a soundtrack.

My kids and Hubby would have rathered I'd have been home all day with them, listening to them complain all day, instead of enjoying myself. Tough decision.

Monday, July 02, 2007


My daughter is due any day now. She's miserable, anxious, nervous, happy, worried, and feels like a blimp even though she has a cute bubble belly. She keeps on calling me up with an update on her contractions which are the Braxton Hicks ones. I tell her not to go to the hospital unless she has pain that she can't walk, stand, sit, etc. It's nervewracking when you've never been through it before.

Her labor coach and my friends and me are all telling her to have sex to bring on the real contractions, but she doesn't want to hear about it. It's always "MOM!" when I bring the subject up, that I was glad when her British midwife brought it up.

Yesterday, she carried home 7 bottles of sodas which is HER idea of bringing on real labor. Like mother, like daughter. She'd rather lug heavy items for miles in hot weather than have sex.

I've bought tickets for the Jerusalem Film Festival later on this week - I look forward to this event all year. And who knows if she'll ruin all my plans by bringing my grandkid into the world during the festival. But nevertheless, however the wind blows will be totally welcome.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Home Sweet Home

After 12 years of living in rental hell, with landlords who made us nervous, who threatened us with letters, who made us move when we were comfortable in their place, who wanted to sell, who wanted to renovate - we are finally in our own place. It's far from finished, but because Hubby wanted to do it "his way", much of the place is not done. We do not have any doors, nor kitchen, nor a window in the bathrooms - but the floor is tiled and we have 2 working toilets and 1 sink. It feels as though we're camping out. Once we got the keys to the apartment,we scooted in like we won a million bucks. Others didn't want to move in. Israelis like their homes spotless first, with everything in working order. Most kitchens don't have ovens and cooktops yet, so most tenants are waiting it out. But we were tired of waiting and went in to this untamed apartment very happily.

I'm cooking meals at my daughter's place, and she doesn't mind, because she was only too happy to get rid of our boxes, plastic bags and other shit we had lying around her house, cluttering up her life.

And the neighbors across in the next building can watch us pee if they really look hard enough, but if you're nimble, you can quickly stand up and pull those pants up real fast before they can catch a quick glance. I've got it down to a tee.

Here's some pics of how the place looks - without doors, and a finished toilet - but we're in love, nonetheless....

Main bathroom

Dining area - bare kitchen