Saturday, January 18, 2014

Caretakers, singers and others

My married-to-a-Morroccan daughter was instructing me on how to roast chicken:

"Ashkenazim roast at 165 c but Sephardim roast chicken for 2 hours at 200 c."

I thought I had heard it all and knew all the differences between our communities, but this is definitely a new one for the books.

And then it gotme to thinking about other communities, the non-Jews working here as caregivers.

You see, my next door neighbor has Alzheimers, and I had no idea of this until about 2 years ago when she buzzed my door and said she didn't know how to get into her apartment. Hubby and I instructed her step by step to look into her purse for her keys and then we took the keys from her to open her door. She thanked us profusely as if we were rocket scientists and did the impossible for her. We got ahold of her son who told us tearfully that she had Alzheimers and it wasn't long before she had a young caretaker from the Philippines living with her.

I didn't really have much contact with the new caregiver. Just a few smiles and thank you's when we borrowed stuff from each other. When the typhoon hit the Philippines earlier this past year, I was worried about her family, but they lived far away from the disaster. I was relieved.

This past week, I heard my doorbell ring 10 times, like someone was agitated. I thought it was the ultra-Orthodox beggars coming to ask for money again. But when I looked through the peephole, I saw it was Donna, my neighbor's caregiver.

"Can you please fix my television? I really want to see the X-Factor and it doesn't work by me."

Of course, she needed to see the Israeli version of that show. From the Philippines, Rose Fontanes was the finalist in the Israeli X-Factor, who had a deeply beautiful voice. She hadn't been living in the best of circumstances. With Jewish immigrants to Israel, it's difficult enough, so imagine the difficulty 10-fold for non-Jews. She was living in a cramped apartment in Tel Aviv with 7 other people. But she instilled a sense of pride in other caregivers like her and everyone from the Philippines was rooting for her.

So there I was in her living room, the remote control was in Hebrew so I changed it to English, but the channel itself was not working, much to her dismay. I definitely understood her angst. I remember as a teenager, my dad not letting me watch the Beatles or any one of them on a show if it was on the Sabbath, which made me sneak out to a neighbor during on a Friday night to watch, because I had to. I just had to.

So with her charge sleeping blissfully, I invited her across the hall to my apartment where we could watch it together. She was so delighted and I felt like I was saving her life. "Are you sure? Don't you need to go to sleep? Are you sure?"

Sure I'm sure.

We munched on chips and drinks and heard Rose sing a couple of songs but Donna wouldn't stay for the results, and said she would find it on the internet later on. So I hung on to watch it for her and celebrated Rose's victory in Donna's absence.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Wise Woman of Jerusalem

There I am just sitting in a crowd. It could be anywhere, for a happy occasion, a sad occasion - doesn't matter. All I have to do is just sit there and people who know what I've experienced in the 18 years that I've been in Israel come over to me for advice. I'm actually quite flattered by the attention. Even social workers and psychologists have been consulting with me, for free I might add, about kids, in particular.

Woman #1: My son just got engaged to a girl whose parents are Moroccan. Any advice you can give us?

Me: Yes. Of course. Good luck. First of all, if they invite you over for dinner, you better not leave right afterwards. Plan to stay at least 2-3 hours minimum afterwards, or they'll think you're rude Americans.

Her husband mentioned they were going to meet them for the first time and were bringing wine for dinner.

Me: Oy vey. If you bring only wine, they'll take you for cheap Americans.You must go to a nice gift shop snd get them something nice for the house, even if it will end up in their daughter's home after she marries your son.

I based this on the times when my daughters' in-laws would show up at our house for dinner with microwaves, expensive flowers and chocolate baskets, good quality housewares, etc. Just wine and flowers won't do.

I also told her that they may try to lasso you in for an expensive glitzy wedding. They'll have 700 guests and you'll have 50-100. So tell them what you can/can't afford up front. They'll surely bitch about it but they'll get over it eventually.

Woman #2: How did you cope with the demands your teenage daughters have? Could you afford everything they asked for? How were you able to with 4 daughters?

She proudly introduced me to her daughter who was wearing a sweater she had gotten for her. I could see her daughter thinking - yeah, so you bought me one friggin' sweater.

Me: I couldn't and wouldn't. Between tampons, makeup, hair stuff for 4, it was impossible to clothe them in the stylish trendy manner they wanted, so I sent them to work when they were 15. Yes, I know about child labor. Instead of helping them with their homework, I steered them in the direction of working after school, so they could buy all the shoes and clothing their teenage hearts desired. All the ugly designer sports training pants and jackets with numbers on them were finally theirs.

Woman #3: How did you cope with their insolence? I'm fighting terribly with one of my daughters.

Me: When you have 4 daughters, the fighting is between them usually. Then I would retreat to my room and ignore them totally. I'd give them free rein and pretty much let them go and do whatever they wanted to do, except hitchhike all over the country. I'd go work overtime whenever I could and I then put locks on each of my daughters' closets, so the fighting would be kept to a minimum - even though they still managed to steal clothing from each other when the clothes were hanging out to dry or if they forgot to lock up their nail polish or eyeshadow and left it on their dresser.

Woman #4: How did your kids all marry Sephardim?

Me: Must have been all that Moroccan music I was playing when they were little kids, and all those Shabbat afternoon teas with old Mrs. Bouganim before I moved to Israel. They seemed to have copped the attitude that American boys were nerdy and wanted to be more Israeli than the Israelis.

Meanwhile, some of my kids are expecting kids themselves and since I'd been there 5 times myself, I could answer their questions and worries, like telling them I won't let their mother-in-laws in the delivery room, even though they are begging them to see the birth. I, for one, would not want to see my daughter-in-law giving birth. Feh. It's one thing to be with your own daughters, another your son's wife. But my son has got a few years to go until he brings me home a daughter-in-law. And, yes, they can have sex throughout their pregnancy if they're having a normal pregnancy and even though they laugh and are horrified at me for telling them this, I'm equally as horrified at them telling me they're too scared to have sex while pregnant! How did my kids become so Third World? I worry that they'll take epidurals and won't nurse.

But while I helped another pregnant kid move from one apartment to another, she called me up afterwards to thank me and to tell me her hubby wanted to shower with her in their new flat after they finished unpacking at 1 in the morning. I hope you did, kid.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Learning Reiki in Beit Jala

It was bad enough that I was taking Reiki. It was even worse that it was in a Palestinian neighborhood, although legally allowable for Israelis to enter. I had wanted to take this course for quite some time. I sometimes "lay hands" on my kids and they either feel heat, or electric shocks or some other vibration, but it does zap my energy. My friend, a Reiki Master, told me that without Reiki training, I lose my energy, but the attunements will let me give treatments to whoever needs it without losing any of my own energy . That did sound tempting as my 8 month old granddaughter is chronically congested, and 2 pregnant and very uncomfortable daughters - and wouldn't it be amazing if I could treat them all with the energy of the universe!

My family, especially Hubby, wouldn't let up that entire week before though. My hubby was muttering to everyone the entire time at Friday night dinner that Beit Jala was where the second intifada started. My daughter, who was staying over for the weekend, said to me as I was leaving the next morning, "Why are you going there? You know they hate us." I sighed. I had been going to dialogue groups for 11 years now and nothing....absolutely nothing had rubbed off on any of my kids. I had even taken them when they were younger to some enjoyable events, like parties, weekends and joint Tu-B'shvat tree planting. They enjoyed it at the moment, but then whatever it is that takes over their minds, took over and I was just left sighing at her statement.

I decided to nix the plan of hitchhiking on Saturday morning to Jerusalem, as buses don't run on Saturday, and then take a bus that services Palestinians and that does run on Saturdays - to Beit Jala. But that apparently aggravated Hubby even more so I had to splurge on a taxi to take me directly there. No shortage of Arab drivers on the Sabbath. My driver happened to be a cousin of my friend Ibrahim who lived on the Mt. of Olives and was probably amused that I was traipsing off to Beit Jala. I told him he could turn up the lively Arabic music, which was barely audible when I got into the car. He told me it was Lebanese music he was getting from an Israeli station. I was happy to hear Israeli stations that play Lebanese music and wondered to myself whether Lebanese stations played Israeli artists at all - perhaps Zehava Ben or Sarit Hadad?

I got to the private home and quickly called Hubby so he should know I was safe. The Reiki instructor, much to Hubby's horror was taking away our cellphones for the duration of the 10 hour course, so he would be out of touch with me until the evening. The Facebook/Candy Crush addict in me pined a bit for my phone during the day, but it really was ok to be without it.

There were 6 students - 2 Jews - me and an English guy who now lives in Israel and 3 Palestinian women and 1 guy from Bethlehem, Hebron area and Ramallah. There was a nice immediate bond between us all and it was especially nice to meet someone from Ramallah since meeting is not so easy to come by.

The first stage of the course went by quite quickly. We brought food to share for lunch. I was amazed that I didn't freak out during my attunements and felt trippy as I saw - with eyes closed - energy in various colors, especially purple, during the attunements.

During the last bit, while practicing Reiki treatments on ourselves, and the two of us - a Palestinian young woman and myself - lying there on the beds chatting about life. And the water shortages. She told me she based renting this home on the fact that it had an underground water cistern. Because if it didn't there would be severe water shortages. Most villages do not get enough water - even big places with thousands of residents like this one. They could be 3 days without enough water to bathe and wash dishes. This was awful. I live 1/2 hour drive from her and never experienced anything like this. Once in a few years, when the building is fixing something, we go without water for 6 hours, but never for days on end. But she seemed resigned to this - it is a way of life and it's been a way of life for years.

So besides learning about Reiki, I had learned that something as simple as water, which I take for granted, is not taken for granted by my neighbors and wished that I could "heal" as well the inequal standard of living that not everyone knows about....

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Candy Crush Anonymous

I don't know about the rest of the world, but certainly in Israel there needs to be a Candy Crush Anonymous 12-step group, and I have to day at a time. But as I'm only on game 78, and lord knows how many games there are, those meetings will have to take a back seat.

I see people playing the friggin' game everywhere - on buses, at work, at ticket sales offices (where I wouldn't get served because she was doing "something" on her iPhone). But even I have a problem. My daughter took me out for dinner the other day and we sat outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and instead of deep conversation, we both took out our phones to play Candy Crush. Quality time, indeed. We were looking for pointers from each other but she is way ahead of me.

Talking to another friend one day, I pleaded with her never to touch Candy Crush. Never. I see her a week later and she's telling me she's at level 14 and can't stop, and do I buy extra game time. That's where they can't get me, thankfully. If there was real food involved, like buy 4 and they'll give me free breakfast at a local restaurant, I might go for it, but I won't buy crushers, boosters, hammers or the like. I know other people have less will power than I do, and the people who created this monster of a game are definitely raking it in.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Syrian Babies

Now that most of my kids are out of the house, I had to fill a void. So I rescued a street kitten who met me at a Jerusalem bus stop and began licking my toes. We were definitely meant for each other. And now my heart and soul have adopted several Syrian young adults over the past couple of years - all fans of Israeli metal band Orphaned Land. I mean, like the kitten who kissed my feet, I couldn't help loving this young crowd. Despite our countries being officially "at war", these young people were intelligent enough to recognize their government's hate propaganda against Israel and the Israeli people and maybe even Jews themselves. Yes, they all said they wanted to get to know Israelis and were so happy to expand their circle of friends to include us, quite a few Israelis, including the band themselves.

I'm not a big fan of heavy metal music. That and improv jazz gives me headaches. But because of the band's oriental bent and publicity in the Israeli press that they have an unusually large following of fans from Arab countries, this piqued my interest.

But getting back to my Syrian babies, and the crisis in that country, I was worried sick over them on a daily basis and wished there was a way to whisk them from there to here. There were wounded Syrians being treated in Israel, so why can't a few healthy ones be let in? Besides, the Islamist extremists most probably hate them because of the music they like and the way they look. So isn't an enemy of an enemy a friend?

I felt great relief as one of them safely made his way to the US in the midst of heavy fighting and another one, more dramatically, made her way into Turkey. But are they happy? They miss their family terribly and I seem to think they feel quite isolated in their strange surroundings. Safe but lonely and empty. It's a tough choice, to flee to safety and feel horrible or to be chronically in fear of your life.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Updates from an empty nester

From the age of 50, I have felt a surge of happiness over newly-felt freedom. My kids were all still living with me at the time, but they were teens and not in need of me as much as they were when they were younger. I was able to hang out with friends more and finally do alot of things for myself.

These days, while only my son is living at home with us, the food bills have gone down slightly - as he eats vast amounts of whatever crap it is that he eats - cereal, tuna fish, chicken, rice, pasta with tomato sauce, deli, huge amounts of chocolate, and that's about it. He sticks up his nose at anything else I seem to be making that day. Fresh salmon? Spaghetti with garlic and assorted veggies? Chicken in wine sauce? Smoothies? It's all "disgusting" to him.

One of my married daughters just rented a lovely apartment in Beit Hakerem. She constantly invites us over for dinner and I am only too happy to have a Friday evening off cooking and entertaining or to have a place to crash during the week between the time I finish work and a party or a concert later on in the evening. This is what you call "nachas" - deriving pleasure from the kids.

And my daughters are floating back to me on occasion - some are pregnant and are in need of advice. They seem to know nothing. One did her ultrasound last week and had no idea what it was. When the technician asked if she wanted to see the baby in the monitor, my daughter freaked out. Seriously. And then calmed down once she saw the almond size fetus on the screen. "I don't know if I'm feeling the baby move" is another often-put question to me by another one. One kid wants to stay with us every other weekend for 4 nights. She's the noisy one and we always ask her to just please, PLEASE come for one evening only. We'd love to have dinner with you on Friday night, but to have you over for 4 days every 2 weeks is like having 10 extra people - with the energy and noise level and complaints. She even wants to come with her baby once he's born and wants us to buy a porta-crib and change table and what-have-you-not. She wants our cat declawed too. I don't understand my eldest daughter's mother-in-law who wants all her 7 kids around her with their family, every Friday night, in her cramped apartment. I am so not Middle Eastern.

We thought of downsizing and moving to Jerusalem, but I think Hubby is quite frightened he'd never see me at all - with all the lectures, funky things going on, restaurants, cinemateque, friends. He's probably right. We'd also have to move to a much smaller place like 60 meters instead of our current 140 meters. And we could only afford a 60 meter place that would be run down and one that Hubby would have to renovate. The good thing is that we wouldn't have space for any of our kids to sleep over, but we wouldn't have room for an office, nor would we have that magnificent view of the Judean desert and the distant Jordanian mountains. Tough choice.

Now getting back to having them all out of the house, at least the daughters, I can now safely display my good quality makeup and perfumes on my shelves without worrying that I'll never see them again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dance cliques

One Saturday afternoon in Central Park, when I was in my early 20s and living on the Upper West Side, I came across a group of dancers dancing to this incredible ethnic music. I stood there transfixed for hours and asked where I could learn these dances. The dancers told me of a couple of places where international folk dancing was taught, and I remember learning the dances in a large loft somewhere in Manhattan. I became part of the "in group" of dancers, even progressing to a point where I was going to join a Yugoslavian dance troupe that would dance in the 1984 Olympics - until marriage in 1983 and a move to Toronto put a stop to those plans.

But I loved dancing and even in Canada I danced Israeli dance three times a week. It was enjoyable, though not as diverse music-wise as the international dance scene. I remember, being Orthodox at the time, when one of the male dancers, during the couples' dances (the Orthodox women usually had other women as partners), pulled me over to dance with him, and I heard gasps from the other dancers..."but she's religious!" I felt like I was one of the characters in Fiddler on the Roof, when one of the secular son-in-laws of Tevye's daughters pulls the mother or the wife in to dance with him at a wedding amid gasps from the others.

When I moved to Israel, in my 40s, my neck wouldn't cooperate with me and the osteopath told me the impact of my dancing is probably what caused the pain.

So I was quite happy to be invited by a friend to Greek dancing in Jerusalem. The evenings are cool and I know from international dancing that there is not quite as much running and jumping in Greek dance. I told my friend who had been dancing for 5 years that I'll figure out the steps quite easily. There's much repetition and I know the rhythms of Greek/Balkan music. I pretty much followed along, not stepping on anyone's toes, and felt so happy to be dancing again, feeling that my legs were getting a good workout. It was someone's birthday and there was a huge spread of salads, pita, wine and ouzo, even eclairs, which were tempting but what is the point of a workout when you stuff yourself with those things!

One guy came over to me. "You need to come at 6:30 to learn the dances, this way you can be part of the circle and won't throw people off."


"I wasn't throwing anyone off. Didn't you see that I knew the steps to the last dance?"

I had seen the same guy dancing next to another new woman who didn't know the steps at all, but he held onto her anyway. Did he tell her the same thing?

"This way, no one will be under pressure," he continued.

Greek dancing puts people under pressure?

"I wasn't under any pressure!" I told him. The guy was pissing me off.

There were about 5 dances that had more intricate steps and I followed in back of the circle, just to be polite, but people can get really antsy about newcomers. Even my friend remarked that she even thought she had been dancing 5 years already, no one ever bothered to celebrate her birthday there.

"They can get pretty cliquey here," she informed me.

Well, I can remedy that and invited another friend to join me next time, and maybe she'll invite one of her friends. And we'll make our own clique of newcomers.