Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Hey! You Speak My Language!"

While waiting for the bus to take us home from Thanksgiving shopping from my husband's work at Giant Eagle, my husband and I took advantage of the twenty minutes or so to watch the rainpour and chat in our language...Hebrew.

Suddenly, an African American guy turned to us and asked, "What language are you speaking?"

"Hebrew," we replied.

"Shalom," he said.

"Shalom," we said back.

"Mah zeh? - what's this?" he said. "Mah zeh!"

I couldn't help but laugh. "You're laughing," he said. [That was something my dad would of course, have said....]

Little did he know that I was really laughing because I was surprised to find myself utterly connected with a stranger through language at that very moment.

I swear that the fact that he spoke just those few words in HEBREW lit the way during that stormy night. The light gave me "voice" - my language was recognized. I wasn't melting with all the other voices.

It would be one thing to "blend" with all the other voices. "It would be another thing to blend with all the other voices and still stick to my own voice and story.

But because I tend to shrink under my own light, I don't even get to the part where I allow my voice be woven in those colorful and rich strands of diversity.

So that moment allowed for some inter-cultural exchange and communication that also just happened to be grounded in a diverse setting.

That I wasn't alone. That I wasn't emotionally isolated. And that it is possible to find a connection. Somebody was actually speaking our language. OUR language. MY language.

"I know just a few words from when I worked with Israelis in New York City. They would always say, "Mah-zeh, mah-zeh, all the time."

"Yep," I said. "I can see that happening."

"What kind of business were they in?" My husband asked. "Clothing or electronics."

"Uh, clothing," he said thoughtfully.

"Shloshim v'shalosh. Shloshim v'taysha," - Thirty-three, thirty-nine.

I laughed again.

Ivry, my son said, "Shloshim v'shalosh."

"I was working at the store in 1995," he said. "I was a security guy."

"Oh man," my husband said.

"I was making $4.20 cents an hours and lived out in Queens."

"And you travelled two hours by train each way."

"Yep. That's right."

"And I was paying 85 dollars a week for renting this room," he said.

"A room?" I asked.

"Yeah, a room. That's all I needed at the time."

"How old were you, 18?" Ivry asked.

"Smart boy," he said. "Give me five."

As they high-fived, he said, "19. I was nineteen and that was all I needed."

Haim and I went back to our chat, but the moment wasn't the same. We knew that even though other people like this African-American gentleman couldn't understand our conversation, he was, at the very least, privy to a connection that also brought him connected to his past and memory and who he was.

"You're a good man," Haim said. "I can tell."

"Thank you - TODA."

And on the bus ride home, just before he finished up his cell phone conversation and exited the bus, he turned to me and said with a smile for all the people on the bus to hear, "SHALOM."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Voicing Smallness and Bigness and Other Mangeable Emotional "Chunks"

Smallness and Bigness seem to be the two US themes that emerge in my writing. And they are often part of the darkness of my being.

Let me share with you an anecdote:

To avoid sinking small and letting the size overwhelm and distract and get in the way of relationship building, I have made it my intention to connect with that element or elements that are approachable and "digestable." By "digestable," I mean, I don't look at the pain of the scenario, but I bring my awareness to the more subtle things that could potentially uplift the situation as I look past the pain.

For example, at yesterday's ELI Pre-Thanksgiving potluck, despite the fact that there wer so many nationalities, there was something about the BIGNESS of that room that made me feel uncomfortable. The combination of a familiar cultural context and huge spatiality (that is so typical of US architecture and infrastructure) completely disoriented me.

One of the main reasons why I am still having a difficult time coping is because of this physical and cultural BIGNESS. Towards the last few years of living on the most beautiful kibbutz in Israel, (our kibbutz, Sde Nehemiya) the scope of my world was within a 360 degree radius and I would bike the 1 kilometer to school every day alongside the Jordan River. I never needed to venture beyond what was emotionally and physically unmanageable and life became quite routine and comfortable and I felt good in my own American-Israeli skin.

However, with that said...

Too much unfamiliar sometimes creates the familiar.

At an event for all students at the English Language Institute at the University of Pittsburgh where I work, I sat around a big round table and in a big and tall hall with chandeliers and pink painted walls with golden mirrors - something like a palace.

And in that big room, I quickly found comfrot in the voices of children - Ivry's age. Children don't need to be reminded to have fun and they find pleasure in the most amazing things. Within seconds literally, these three Chinese boys and Ivry were already making paper airplanes and wizzing them with glee. Of course, they managed to throw them up into corners and nooks and cranies of huge columns that were unreachable without climbing a long ladder.

Ivry, my son, quickly made friends with Chou-Chou, a sweet Chinese boy who is also in first grade. Although his English is quite good, I was quickly transported to that "other BIG cultural context of language learning" of what it felt to feel "SMALL." And although manageable is desireable, feeling "small" equates to me nowadays, the "silent voice."

We run into a medium sized hall where I can still keep eye contact on the boys. And miraculously, in this clean, well-lighted hall, I am "home."

And it is at this medium sized hall, where I suddenly catch the sight of a young woman who has joined us - probably 23 or 24 years old. She seems to stand out from the parent-kid scenario as she leans against a column and texts. She looks at us constantly and when our gazes lock, she smiles as if she tries to fit in. Her smile is specifically directed at me. Why? And why is she here and not with the hoards of people inside eating yummy ethnic foods?

When we move into the next adjoining hall, she follows us again. In fact, she continues to follow our movements as if we are a flock of birds migrating south for the winter. And all the while, she looks at us. At one point, she disappears entirely and when I remember her, I am already on the bus back home with Ivry - planning already the routine in my head for the upcoming week as we both muster a yawn or two.

So this is the voice of myself echoing "smallNess" from the BigNess. At the end of the day, we are all the same size no matter where we come from.

In fact, this nondescript young woman reminds me of myself many years ago - perhaps at one of the Israeli army bases I served on - and I tried to connect to different peoples of different units. And how quickly I wanted to avoid feeling small by fitting in. And how quickkly I wanted to grow up. Only this woman is to me "quite big" because she stands out from the crowd.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

She Would Have Been Born Today

It's hard to believe that I would have been a mother for the second time had I not have to go through that awful procedure back in May. In fact, that is a part of me I cannot believe actually happened. It seems so surreal and so not a part of who I am today despite the fact that it happened six months ago.

But now I realize that all happens for the higher good. Maybe my job right now is to concentrate on my writing and the "birthing" of two books while giving my son everything he needs.

This creation of this loved baby girl came from a place of "VOICE" - of confidence, trust and courage in this universe knowing that in spite of being far away from home, I was at "home" with my decision. And I felt loved and had a strong enough support system in the United States to believe I was strong enough to expand our family.

When I first got the terrible news, I felt that VOICE was gone. I did not have words to convey the pain of what I felt. I wanted to scream, but couldn't. I wanted to cry, but couldn't. I even wanted to write, but couldn't. Our intentions to expand our brood were honorable, so why this terrible dooming fate? It was the unlucky experience we had to deal with that drove that "voice" away.

I also have to remember though that life for us is complete right now, too. With just the three of us and my many other "babies." And we need to give thanks for those things too.

I often wonder however when I'm not occupied with other stuff, how that baby girl's voice would sound. She never had a chance to cry in this world, be held or feel loved. How Ivry would respond to being a bigger brother.

She was part of my voice of helplessness and compassion. Our voices strung together like a melodic heartbeat.

Our grief has eased but I know it will last a lifetime because she is gone - she was the product of love between my husband and I.

The decision we made to terminate the pregnancy came from our own hearts, but in essence, she is "voiceless" because she never got a chance for her to make her "mark."

I can only imagine what it would have been like to hear her cry and dress and feed her - but at least I have the voice of this blog to share what this experience means to me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why the Birthday Project is More than Just a Project

Many of you have commented on my facebook page and "liked" some of the status updates associated with "The Birthday Project," which I discovered recently. This woman is a walking "lamplighter" and mitzvah maker. However, it is clear though that the concept of doing 41 random acts on my birthday, there is much more significance for me beyond the random concept of giving.

It is when we give, we truly have the potential to make the greatest impact. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we get so caught up in our busy lives that we lose sight of the moment and the infinite possibilities.

I took on the Birthday Gift project from a place where I finally felt comfortable with my surroundings. That I could say I belong to a community. But it hasn't always been this way.

In a small community such as ours, you need to grow roots. Redefine connection – not be afraid to ask for help. But it's not always easy, especially when you feel the strong relationships of other younger women to their mothers.

Through giving, I am creating a "new archetype" for motherhood. I can't rely on a mother figure because that's just not going to happen. And not rely on other people to fill in the gaps. By giving, I create my own "new reality" - my own catalyst for change.

Having a reason to give makes it also easier to bond with strangers. But when you have a reliable support system, you don't always need to think outside the box, because "the box" is always there.

In a new community, your friends are your family.

By helping the blind person cross the street this afternoon or taping coins to the vending machine or mailbox, I am sending a message to myself that the "unfamiliar" is slightly less "unfamiliar."

That it IS possible to find a connection.

That it IS possible to feel less of a "stranger."

That there ARE other options to this "strangerhood" to help me cope with the isolation.

That I CAN find my tribe after many years of living in Israel where I HAD my own tribe and support system.

Through giving, my world view is shifting. My attitude used to be: “people pay more attention to you when you put up an emotional, needy or suffering mode."

Not anymore.

I was determined to put away those voices that made me feel “small.” And in a diverse setting, this can be tricky. It’s so easy to feel isolated and unappreciated. The streets are wide and lonely. Everybody has their own culture, language, TV and SUV.

But not me. I'm part of a universal dimension that goes beyond the computer screen.

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I knew full well, that I had a big challenge of emotional and social isolation to overcome, but I didn't realize how HARD it would be.

When I go for example, to someone else’s house here – they speak so much more “connectedly.” The families that hosted us in the beginning wanted us to feel at home so badly, but they didn't realize (and still don't) how isolated I felt. I still feel lost, empty, sad. Even though we were blessed with abundance the minute we arrived, I still thought "lack" or "empty” thoughts.

There was one thing I needed to build that was missing from my environment – trust.

So today, I put outside two BIG bags of canned and boxed goods. Since we don't have a car to bring it anywhere, that was the only viable soltuion. So I just grabbed the two bags and brought them downstairs. We weren't using them anyhow. When I came back an hour later from reading stories to my son's classroom, the bags were gone.

I saw one man carrying the clear through plastic bag with some perishables. The ones I just left on the street. I quickly passed him, and said nothing. I sized him up. He spoke Russian.

And for a moment, I felt "the community" just spoke to me.

It was the first time that my presence rubbed off me and unto somebody else in such a short and fleeting moment. Could it be some kind of impact?

"It seems," I thought. "People are hungry all over. People need to be nourished. People need a voice - not just food."

I know I can get excited when I see something I want and it's free.

But I also can appreciate the feeling that there is somebody outside who is "thinking of me."

Now it's MY Turn.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

HOW I Serve and Support My Current Life Theme of Emotional Isolation

Just the other day, I realized that a major life theme running through my life right now is "finding a home - a center" and "building connections with those people" who energetically center me.

After years of building roots in Israel, I found myself suddenly "uprooted," when we came back to the States in 2007. As two professionals, we experienced the "brain drain" and needed to leave.

It took me four years of living in the States to get to the point where I felt safe enough to reconnect with like-minded people, who have diverse backgrounds, think in diverse ways. Facebook is a good place to start - only it is hard to ascertain who is real and who isn't. Our busy world doesn't allow for much more than casual conversation than that that often comes across as "impersonal" because it's so "virtual."

Once I started writing about this emotional disconnect and loneliness as I found myself trying to find a "center" again after living so many years on a beautiful kibbutz where I had everything including a support system, I realized it was time to "heal" myself in ways I had never even considered.

What's working right now in my life to support this need to build "a healing center in a world of diversity?

Diversity at the core of its universal meaning, is a beautiful and wondrous thing - language, culture, mentalities, traditions, values, attitudes. In Israel, this concept played out wonderfully. Because I was unique and special as an Anglo Saxon immigrant, I was able to bring something unique to the cultural and linguistic rural landscape of the Upper Galilee. For example, I taught English to Israeli schoolchildren and university students.

As one who is deeply drawn to the diversity of this world, I found it threatening and sometimes still do when I came back full-circle to my US roots as a mom and a wife. How could I build a support system in a community of people I hardly even know? How can I trust a complete stranger? How do I get out of my comfort zone - taking into account that on a kibbutz, you don't have to venture beyond the 360 degree radius; work to school was a 1 kilometer bike ride away, and visiting my parents were a mere 30 minutes drive away down a comforting and familiar road - in-laws were another hour.

I started to write "meaningful stories" that started as "rambles" and "observation snippets" about things that were working in my life. If I went on a Pittsburgh city bus for example and I was feeling isolated and lonely, I would describe how the bus experience felt. I'd observe the faces, what struck me about lonely and isolating in that moment of time. Over time, this way of recording experiences first as a ramble and then in a more organized form, helped me overcome the silence and isolation.

Through writing, I felt more connected.

Through meditation, I felt more connected.

By becoming a part of Christine Kloser's Author Mastermind Program, I found my tribe.

All these "pieces" when together, helped me find my own voice in a world of diversity.

Through writing, I was able to poinpoint also what areas of my thinking and feeling were keeping me "stuck."

Writing these stories not only gave me greater clarity, but also allowed me to FEEL the transition and vision. What is still needed in order to serve my vision? (support it)?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What I Learned from the Transformative Process of Writing: Feeling to Write and Writing to Speak

Since signing up for the Transformation Authors and Mastermind Program, I knew I was in store for something good that would change my life. What I didn't know was exactly how my life would change.

Perhaps that is why the transformative process is so damn exciting - you go "in" expecting one thing or "thinking" one thing and then something else completely happens... and with different life forces!

In my case, as I wrote, everything I experienced whether it was meditation and connecting in stillness and quiet or recalling the silent "voice" of living in Israel, became the threads of the story. As I lived it, I was evolving and writing it - pretty cool, if you think about it.

This is what exactly happened when I wrote "The Best Time to Get in My Way," for the Anthology to be published in May 2012, "Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time." By the time I finished the 20th draft version, I was transformed by the writing process - I was committed to the process.

And I noticed that many different levels peel and unfold at every stage. These levels didn't evolve sequentially, but sometimes all together. So I will identify those levels as a way to share with you what happened.

Level 1 - I start writing about transformation at the story level - how it feels to be an outsider living in Pittsbugh. My own story. I'm coming out. I share the "pieces" of my story that in turn, shape the reasons why I want to encourage other people to write their "pain stories."

Level 2 - I write my "story" through the eyes of a reader "pebble" - how writing our own "truths" and "pain stories" bring us closer to that "voice." At this stage of writing, the "concept of "voice" is a bit nebulous. I know it has something to do with finding a deeper connection, but it's more than that. It's up to me to find out so I write some more. As I'm deepening my message, I think more clearly, "What is it about finding my voice in a voiceless world" that brings a stronger connection. I ponder some of these answers in my meditations each morning waiting for the answers to sink in.

Level 3 of Transformation: I make the subtle but powerful connection to meditation and weave this into "part of my own story of transformation." I write that one needs to emotionally heal before moving forward. There are many nights and days that I cry. I cry for the "voiceless child" and I cry for the emotional and social isolation I feel as an outsider coming to Pittsburgh. I still feel this way. A lot.

Level 4 of Transformation: I'm intent on answering the questions for my beautiful "pebble reader" - How can the "voice of my story" serve you? How can I guide you dear "pebble" reader? How can I encourage you to write the voice of your own pain story?

On our last masterheart call, Christine Kloser, my transformative mentor and catalyst of this journey, gave us important tips for connecting to the reader. I go one step further and write letters to the reader - telling him/her how much I appreciate the journey and understand the process and I ask him/her questions and this helps me get "into his/her head."


For the last few weeks as I'm writing, I try to not get too bogged with recording the details, and I'm really make sure I'm honoring the story and my message of what needs to be shared. But there are so many elements of the story that are part of "ONE STORY," that it's hard to honor them all at one go.

By the last week of October 2011, I have written almost 25 drafts for a 1500 word chapter. But still, I feel like something's still missing. I am determined to find the piece I need to truly connect to my reader and myself.

And then, on Thursday, October 27th, I listen to a meditation about emotional healing presented by DavidJi from the Chopra Center as part of a meditation bundle I had purchased after completing the summer 2011 meditation challenge.

I am feeling worn-out with mid-semester blues. I don't want to look at another student's essay. I am particularly in need of love and self-care. I'm in need of face-to-face friendships. (This is my new goal) I cannot sustain myself with just online ones anymore especially when I'm in that "dark" moment. I'm beginning to think that finding a Kindred Spirit in my area is hard because of how busy I am and have become. I begin to open my heart for answers.

So in the middle of my morning at the university where I work, I listen to this meditation. I had never done anything like that before. Something about it strongly grabs my heart:

David Ji says that the reason why we have been emotionally hurt is because as a result of the pain, we haven't been expressed our needs and desires adequately enough to those around us. He gives a few guiding questions which I quickly write down.

1.Is there a need that is important to me that I have not expressed? (very conscious way)
2.How do you feel? What's that emotion inside?
3. Then state that need that is the cause of that feeling.
4. We make a request for a specific action.

On the afternoon walk all the way home from the bus stop, I think about the people who have hurt me and who I may hurt in return. I write to the one closest to me, a letter. I realize that there is probably not a lot that I can do to change this person, but after a good cry and some words, I feel much better. I remember what Christine Kloser says about "having a good cry" in one of the mindset emails I get.

I connect deeply (more cries) and realize that the voice of my heart needs acknowledgement. That's it! All my life, I've walked through life with a "thinking mind." I've made decisions entirely in this way nd not from a "feeling heart."

So what do I want the reader to know after reading this chapter. And how is this part of my transformation?

I write at the top of the page:

What the reader will get from reading this chapter: Listen to the voice that will allow you to feel.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

By the time I pick up my son, I am so tired from teaching, meditating, grading and writing and thinking - I just want to disappear - wisk myself away to an island and a beautiful sunset but I feel empowered by this new "finding" that I just go on. I grab my beautiful but tired son and we head for the neighborhood bus to take us to a hospital to use the gift certificates my husband got when he donated blood the past few times to buy dinner at the cafeteria. We get our hamburgers and french fries and grilled chicken burgers, which is not my husband's or my way. Daddy is the cook at home and we hardly eat french fries. But it's comfort food for both of us, and my son likes it. He's happy, so I give in.

With these new "heartfelt eyes," I weave into the story the very next day, the part of the heart and revise. I read it just once, twice and three times more send it happily off to the editor.

Yes! I finally now understand the "voice that has allowed me to feel." This awareness in itself, is life-changing/shaping. I am on a high because I know that from this place, I will always be able to reach higher levels of transformation and connect more deeply with my reader/myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Silent Voice of Disconnect - From Kibbutz Life to Pittsburgh

I finally figured out a BIG piece about readjusting to life in the States after years of living on kibbutz in Israel that has been SO HARD. And why that difficulty has often created stress and anxiety.

On the kibbutz, everything was within a 360 degree mile radius - well, almost everything - mailpost, doctor, (not for emergencies), supermarket, laundry and dry cleaners, garage and mechanics, bike store and babyhouse, secretary offices (important for paying bills), dentist, haircutting. Well, you can see how convenient! And when we last visited in 2011, we were amazed at the number of businesses had "popped up."

However, when we realized we both couldn't be professionally fulfilled - we knew we would have to sacrifice something. Something BIG. That something was the superbly convenient lifestyle of living on a kibbutz we had come to know for many years.

The fact that we are surrounded by concrete and live above a computer store and art supply store and next to a dry cleaners and across the street from a synagogue and a block away (a long block) from Murray Avenue complete with supermarkets is probably the best compromise for the USA and the best in Pittsburgh lifestyle. But every now and then, something in me feels the DISCONNECT and wants to feel more connected.

Everything here is complicated with decisions - from the small to the large.

So let me share with you a simple scenario of grocery shopping. Even though the store is just a few blocks (long city blocks) away, here's what I end up thinking:

Should we take our white shopping cart to carry the groceries or should we take our tot bag?

Oh and don't forget to take the correct key set with the bar code so you can benefit from the fuel perks at Giant Eagle!

And our shopping list.

And of course, our decisions change with the weather - right?

If we forget these things, then we have to walk back three long city blocks. On a kibbutz, I would bike - zip - zap -zoop and in 1 minute I was home.

Now you may be feeling I'm still not quite settled here....

Well, I'll have to save that for another post.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Discovering Emotional Freedom - The Voice of the Voiceless

So the other day, I was reading Tina Games's responses to me in the Moonlight Mom's cafe as I was trying to connect the dots regarding my unique gifts and talents and how can I serve the universe. Back in March 2011, Tina was the one who formerly introduced me to Christine.

Here's what she initially wrote:

Through your gift of words (language), you are like Moses. You speak to those who are feeling disconnected (the outsiders) - and you speak to their "need to be free" of this prison - and you connect with them through the power of emotion."

I truly believe your gift is wrapped up in the beautiful way you tell your "pain stories" - your "stories of darkness, trying to find the light" - your "stories around feeling disconnected" -- there's so much richness in your storytelling.

When I first read this, my response was like, "oh yeah, well, pain stories. Yeah, what's a story without a lot of pain!"

But on my way to work last Monday, it suddeny hit me. My mission here on earth isn't about helping people write just any old "life story," but "pain stories!" No wonder I was getting stuck!

Duh, duh, duh! Why didn't I connect with this earlier!

Part of my business vision of giving a voice to the voiceless has to do with allowing them to share their "pain stories" - their "stories of darkness, trying to find the light" and "stories around feeling disconnected."

For months I have been focused on the genre of "life stories" but what I want to do serves a moment in time - not to just fulfill a chapter for a memoir. In this fast paced world, we want to do anything to avoid the "pain" - but we are not always aware of it. And in our own way, we slip into those pain stories without fully healing ourselves.

The premise of the book and my chapter for the anthology "Pebbles in the Pond," (to be published in the spring 2012) has to do I believe, with transforming these pain stories. While we write these pain stories, we begin to understand the message and truth of why this situation/feeling/event is happening.

When we are in pain, we struggle emotionally.

We feel like outsiders. We become wrapped up with our words, thoughts and actions.

But deep down inside, we want to be "FREE" of this prison.

This is where I help connect my tribe through the "power of emotion."

We can truly claim our voices when we are able to connect with the power of emotion and transform ourselves.

How can we turn the power of our emotions into something life-changing?

It begins with how we express those stories.

Someone who is reading this might think this is just a bunch of nonsense - What can these "pain stories" offer me in addition to just sharing more pain?

Giving a Voice begins with...

allowing ourselves to trust the power of our pain stories - that everything is happening for the highest good


We may want to find the light, yet we are feeling so disconnected that all we feel is the intensity of the emotion and how stuck we feel.

The power lies in how we are able to explore these pain stories in such a way that we also keep true to our own voice within.

This is also where I will share snippets of my own "pain stories" as a returning "immigrant" coming full circle with my American roots after living years in Israel as I show exactly the relationship between our reality and writing.

We are the driving force of our deepest darkest desires.

Voice comes from a place that is deepr and darker still.

By zooming in on a moment of time, (of pain) we take the time to analyze our own emotional disconnect.

Writing helps transform all the pain into something bigger, much more beautiful.

We don't need to see the pain as an enemy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

That Kind of Voice and Those Kinds of Lines

In Israel, I did a series of tests to determine my personality and which careers were best suited for me. One of the questions required to continue the line pattern depending if the pattern was squiggly, zig-zaggy or whatever. Later the counselor explained that my lines were the exact angle, width, line and shape.

"You need to fit in..." she had said.

That was more than seven years ago.

I'm wondering what those lines would look like now.... of course, I could do this at home, but it's different when you complete it under test conditions and in a different country....

This morning, I woke up with the voice and soul of a 15th year old LaGuardia high school student of Music and Arts.

It was...

scared but unbeknowst to others
"I know what I want voice but, I am
afraid to admit it
because I might truly be
that... kind of voice."

In Geometry, the right angles had to perfectly right.
In Voice, the notes had to be technically on key.
In Theory, the beats had to be carefully measured.

Well, all those things ARE important, but in retrospect, that gave me comfort, defines me at the time and we all know what adolescence means. There was only ONE problem - NO SOUL in those angles. NO UNCONDITIONAL LOVE in those songs.

Today, I am happy when I check off my "to-do list" - the mere sensation of seeing check marks gratifies me. Ah, the life of a mother-teacher-writer....

But I've come a long way since those lines.....

You've come a long way baby....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Write from the Voice of a Silent Witness

Today, I'm the silent witness. As I write one paragraph, one page for my book, under contract for Pearson on teacher collaboration for the sake of English Language Learners, (in addition to the transformative book) I've made a conscious decision to remain a silent witness.

As Davidji says:
"The witness is another aspect of who we are . . . the silent observer who can participate in every experience without becoming identified with it. When we are able to witness each moment with detached involvement, we can become more deeply aware of who we are, how we are, and why we are. It is in that moment that we can process our behaviors, see the consequences of our actions, and "feel" whether a choice is right. As Deepak Chopra suggests in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, when we have a decision to make, we can place our hand on our heart and feel whether it is telling us to proceed or to draw back and reconsider."

But this process doesn't happen automatically.

First, I must detach. Meditation helps. Gives me empowerment. Gives me emotional healing.
I sometimes need to hear a human voice. So that's why Davidji's meditations give me that extra guidance.
But then I may also need to hear the voice that also "reports" that has an educational value. So I listened Adam Davidson's beautiful footage report, "An Optimist in Haiti."
Then I begin to write.
As I've suggested, if you're really stuck with any book writing project, try writing a letter to the person whose is the subject of the book. To whom the book will have the greatest impact on his/her life.

For example, I write from the point of view of that lonely teacher. Or that teacher who needs more help and support.
The more detached I am. The more I am able to nail "the voice."

And this is of course, true for all areas of life, as well.

Try it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Healing Wish (for the Jewish New Year)

Dear Healing:

So you just can't imagine how I felt this morning after yesterday's teaching and writing marathon. Although I had spent my time productively, there was something about the day that didn't quite fit. A busy unrestful state. Not totally present in the here and now. Responding to other people, things and events from a reactionary not responsive state. This is what I have done for most of my waking life.

I think now, I know better - much better. DavidJi is right - we need to choose our friends and our supporters (he calls them our "backers" which I like better) consciously and wisely. Energy feeds energy. For example, not everyone whom we think is a friend, truly meets that criteria. So yesterday, I made a nice long list of my "ideal friend." I'd like to think of this step as the first towards achieving emotional healing. How can we think BIG - global peace, for instance, when we still need to heal parts or ourselves and being? The choices we make aren't conscious choices? The friends we choose don't nourish/satisfy us on emotional, professional and social levels?

As I wrote my list, I thought of Depeche Mode's "Somebody" - you can watch the clip here.

And from this process, I acquired something - the gift of "clarity." In one word, it was the way I expressed at the moment a state of profound love. First the circles of energy that guide me to love first my son, husband and the outer circles family and those friends with whom we speak the same beautiful guided soul language.

And then I saw my tribe emerging - it was clear that I need a tribe who can connect with me in words - a creative language. And I saw that beautifully coming to me too. I think it had to do with the fact that I am now a "transformative author" for the Mastermind series. Yesterday on our first call, I connected with the energy of the most amazing people on this planet. I'm still writing my transformative story to be published in this anthology next spring - here is the cover. I'm so excited. I can hardly wait. I'm a "pebble." I make ripples. When we are together, we can also make "waves." So I honor those voices that also make up part of my HEALING.

So my healing affirmation for today: I will make conscious nourishing choices by bringing out the best in myself as I work calmly and effortlessly.

And this is my healing wish. For today, for Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year and eternally.

We transform the world by transforming ourselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Speak as if You Found Your Tribe

In just a few moments, you'll be walking up that familiar hill to your son's school. You have waited so long for this moment to spend time with him, and you know he's looking forward to it too.

All the way up the hill, you'll be people observing as if you've lived in Pittsburgh all your life. You call it, "quiet meditating." I call it, "craziness." But .. why not? The weather's in your favor, and you got a little time....just a little...

And then, there's a stranger of a man approaching you, who chats on his cell-phone oblivious of anybody - just like you have become. He thinks probably nobody understands his Hebrew. Nobody!

But you do... only it takes a few seconds to figure it out. He has to listen first and then talk. After all, this IS America. Not everybody is an Israeli - but of course you knew that, didn't you. But that doesn't mean anything for this Israeli - so what if he listens? He talks loudly, but the thing that is most important for you is... well, you UNDERSTAND every single word!

Well, you understand that this flicker of a common language between you and this stranger of a man, is a homey moment. In your hometown of NYC, people just don't have time and don't care if you speak Hebrew because everybody speaks Hebrew, but here's the thing... Pittsburgh, as you are finding out still, is not like NYC. People have time and patience. They also speak as if they found their tribe - that the other person understands even BEFORE they say something back.

You spend a few moments waiting for your son's class to show up from gym. And as you wait, you notice the children from the other first grade class. One skips, one runs to class. The teacher reprimands those that do not conform, and tells them to go back and they walk again... this time quietly. But because they know you are watching them, they walk with a "twinkle" in their step. Maybe two. But you didn't see that - did you?

And in your son's first grade class, you find the-child-in-me-tribe. Children just need to know you are part of their tribe; you can never fake having fun playing a board game. My son proudly joined me and our moment was ours to enjoy. In your game sharing tribe, we learn to share, take turns, "pick an apple," and have a few laughs. The child next to me says, "I like your son. He has red hair." You smile.

And back outside, the sun beats on the dirty sidewalks. You reach the corner of Murray and Forward and wait on the corner for the bus to take you up yet another hill. You've decided to make it easier for yourself by not making yet another trek up ANOTHER hill. A bus is a perfect place for "people watching."

There was this man on the bus who said to me, "bless you," when I sneezed. I had just pulled my nose away from my sleeve. And there was another man catching his breath with a walker. The older man had just a few hairs left on his shiny bald head and it looked as if they were soaked in sweat. It had to be because it wasn't raining. The young man with the walker said something that made the older man go into deeper in thought; the older man chatted with the bus driver as if they had lived in the same town all their lives.

"Now I remember when you could smoke on those T's going up that hill," the bus driver said.

"Yeah - that was another era," the older man said with a nonchalant expression. "So ...these are coach seats?" (referring to the seats, you know, the serpentine bus with an accordion stretcher in the middle that gracefully opens and closes when the bus makes a turn) I had never thought of the seats on a 61D city bus in Pittsburgh as "coach seats." Wait... did he said, "Coach seats?"

I keep a glittery artificial smile to calm the stressed lady across from me. As long as I'm wearing shades - it won't be hard to pull this smile off.

So speak as if you know and found your tribe.

Your tribe is waiting for you. I'm sure you know that by now. If you don't, well, I can tell you that everybody has a tribe. Only it took me words and years of those words to find out my voice through that tribe....


When I hear Hebrew on a Pittsburgh street in Squirrel Hill, I know there isn't this foreign language acting as a barrier between me and the speaker as it was before I left for Israel. I can play the role of the "silent one." Or I can respond in Hebrew. Whatever. I. Choose.

And now, that I've joined a tribe, I can be part of several - for instance, a "bus tribe," or, at "the-corner-waiting-for-the-bus tribe," a "bagel factory" tribe - everything that is language and everything else that isn't - food included. Because a tribe that is universal is also understood.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Israeli "Sunday" State of Mind

You know you are not in Israel, when you don't have to start thinking of Sunday as a workday. As Saturday evening creeped along yesterday, I began thinking, "I got to get my lessons organized to prepare myself for the energy of Sunday..." Then I stopped myself silly...

"Wait, this is one of the great perks of living in the States." You get an EXTRA day to sink into the energy of the weekend. While I was teaching in Israel and a Jewish holiday would happen to fall on a Sunday, I would immediately think, "This is the "holy" weekend that I miss.

Shabbat in Israel, which begins on sundown on Friday and ends on sundown on Saturday, goes in and out with the flash of light.

Having an extra day really does the soul an extra ounce of good. Sundays in the States are...

the "anything-you-want-to-do-day,"
so you can

You can be:

But truthfully, it's been a journey to find myself with "Sunday energy" ever since returning to live in the States in 2007.

Daddy usually works on a Sunday and it's time for me to catch-up on a lot of writing projects and time to spend with my son. But it's a different kind of energy. I prefer this energy truthfully.

After meditating earlier this morning, I had to make a wonderfully bureaucratic call to Israel for a pending issue and the skype call I have scheduled with my folks in Israel and our upcoming visit to NYC for Rosh Hashana put me in a Israeli "Sunday" state of mind.

That's when I dipped into the energies of Sundays past...

walking through Bryant park after eating Sunday Israeli brunches at my father's apartment right across
doing the NYT crossword puzzle,
bagels, lox and cream cheese.

Well,this Jewish/Israeli can have it all... right?

I prefer the laziness of the American Sunday, but just for now, I'll settle with the energy of writing about all this past energy vicariously.

My son however, has a Sunday energy that's all his own...but, that's another story....

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Memory Writing for The Last Garin Girl (WIP - Memoir)

The Last Garin Girl - memory writing for memoir, WIP (very rough)

If you're looking by the way for a good intro on how to get started with memoir writing, here's a great article by Zinsser.

I ended up staying in Danielle's room that night. Something I never thought I would find myself doing. You see, Danielle was one of those stout, annoying little twit guys in our garin (a group of young people serving in the Israeli army together for an extended period of time and serving on settlements and on kibbutzim – plural for kibbutz) who would speak Hebrew in the most annoying way, but I never said anything directly. The girls made fun of him especially when he said, "basar" and he trilled on the "r" for meat.

Or he would say, "ein ba'ayah," for no problem and elongate the 'a' syllable that was so expressive and comical. Each time he would elicit from us an uproarious barrel of laughter.

Truthfully, I don't know what made me want to poke fun at poor Danielle's accent when mine was terribly American as if I was chewing on my own cud.

Now that I think about it, he had the most lyrical and calmest accent.

He would walk bowl legged everywhere and the two Uzis or M-16's he slung across his shoulder from either side dwarfed him even further into the Gaza strip sand, but he was strong and sturdy.

When he told us that he had a [health profile] "profil tishim vsheva - 97" - I knew he would be one of those soldiers who wouldn't complain.

The kind of tenderness I tried to find in Danielle – was like finding a needle in a haystake. He was good friends with the two Gustavos – one who left the army and one who stayed – also bowl legged. The other nineteen year old Gustavo was Danielle's best friend – they both spoke a mile a minute in Spanish…

Danielle loved picking on and teasing the Russian girls. They got into water fights and he was good at pushing them into the pool when they least expected it. I can hear Eina now screaming, "Danielle, azov oti – leave me alone!" in her high pitched screech.

But yet, he never seemed to do any of these things to me. In fact, none of the guys in our garin did. I didn't come across as a tease. I was the classy New Yorker. At least I tried to be. A New Yorker with whom he had eyed forever and I could never see myself being intimate with...let alone with any of the others...

Jake from Canada who thought he was in Vietnam every time he had a gun in his hands. "I'm gonna kill those mother fuckin' Arabs!"

Or Robin from England who was constantly sneezing in everyone's faces

Or Andy who served in England's navy

Or David from the USA who always spoke to me in Hebrew

Or Doug also from the USA who was hardly to be found

Or Akiva from the former Soviet Union who complained all the time

Or Igal, his secretary who smoked all the time

Or Luis, from Spain who had an expansive imagination and predicted I would have seven children.

Or Raul from South Africa who married Geraldine, from France.

Or Darren, from England who wanted to throw all the girls from our garin including me.

Or the two Gustavos….sweet guys from Argentina

Or Larry, who lived with Indian tribes in Arizona for years, the soft-spoken one.

But Danielle.. why get intimate with Danielle? He was a hard worker – both at the base and at the kibbutz.

His forehead always lit brilliantly in the hot sun – shone until the sun burnt it one day to a pulp. I thought hey, this much be what it is to fry an egg on this guy's poor head.

When he told me he came from Uruguay and I immediately envisioned, runaway tunnels, and paradise of coves and islands. Don't know why....

But when he wasn't a soldier or working on the kibbutz, he was a flirt. And when he wasn't a flirt, he was trying to be helpful. Helpful in bed that is. It annoyed me so to see how he would stick his tongue out and rub it all around his teeth when he was around the other girls. Some sick joke. He was crass. He always walked with his boots pointed outwards – he looked like Bozo the clown with his bowl legged walk and his shirts never fully tucked in. I couldn't stand him and kept my distance. He would always miss at least one belt strap – the opposite of Andy from England who served as a fashion stylist for the guys. As once a former captain in the English navy he had always said that it was important to dress "clean" and "proper."

He thought he was sexy especially on Friday nights when we went to the disco; I thought he was putrid. Everything about him repulsed me....but once day I found myself following him to his room on a dimly lit path. That night would change me forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Forty Eight Hours Later

When we finally found we were pregnant on March 25, 2011, the time couldn't have been riper - what joy it would be for our six year old son to finally have a baby sister! But from the moment we received the genetic results on May 16th 2011, it seemed I was doomed.

Our baby girl had Trisomy 18. An extra chromosome. Three of the #18 chromosome instead of two. It turned out that one little #18 chromosome has more power than all the others put together. It is a tiny tornado, packing a destructive force stronger than life itself.

We quickly learned that half of all babies born with this condition die in the first week of life. 90% of them have heart defects. Most of them have other defects as well, including spina bifida, cleft palate, deafness, joint contractures, and mental retardation. Only an unlucky few survive beyond a matter of weeks, and those don't last much longer. The term that is branded in my brain from our meeting with my OBGYN is "incompatible with life". I was carrying a child that was incompatible with life. How could it be?? As soon as it hit the outside air, it would begin to die. She. "It" was a she. We could tell that from the genetic analysis too, of course. She was doomed.

My husband and I quickly signed the abortion papers. We both knew we couldn't face the thought of birthing a baby girl only to watch her die in agony. This was the right decision. We had no doubt in our minds. I was not the typical abortion patient, and yet this was an atypical situation for us.

From week six to week thirteen, I had fallen in love with the sonograms. Our baby girl was very much a real person despite that -- MY person. I loved her. I love her still.

The two days we had preceding the surgery didn't give us any time to contemplate what was going on. There were papers to sign and I had to get mentally ready by fasting and resting.

The thoughts of the moments prior to the operation room are still so clear. I remember the anesthesiologist saying, "Here is some happy medicine," and then wheeled me off. They then rolled me unto the surgery table and I said, "Please g-d, make everything okay. Please take good care of me and my child." And they said, "We will." I let them do what they had to do by putting my feeble body in their control and care.

I woke up from the general sedation as they moved me into the recovery room. Without my glasses, I tried to make out the dimly lit room. I heard buzzes and beeps, and a monitor took my blood pressure every 7 minutes or so. I thought, "Yes! I'm alive!" The doctor came in and said everything went okay and that I did great. I was so grateful for that since I really did not know what to expect.

But two days later, I have found myself online again grieving a baby girl that I never got to hold. I hope she knows how much she is loved and that one day I will get to be the Mom I never got to be… for her.

I want her to know that we wanted her with all our hearts, but we didn’t want her to have the pain and suffering that went with Trisomy 18. Not at all.

However, it's hard to still move forward when I read terms like,

"Only an unlucky few survive"

"She was doomed"

"what was left of their defective baby girl"

"this ruined life"

"the mutant child"

My baby girl was not doomed. She was not a defective baby. She was not a ruined life. She was definitely not a mutant child.

She was my daughter.

I am still in the grieving process and I don't know how long it will last. It is funny, but I feel like I love her even more after our decision to have the abortion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just Thirteen Weeks

I knew something was terribly wrong when my OBGYN called me at 8am yesterday morning and asked, "When would you be available to come into the office?"

Not good news. Not good at all.

I had already entered our second trimester. Much of the morning sickness and fatigue had subsided. All that was left was worry. And lots of it.

My husband's face was full of consternation when he arrived from the Chabad across the street following his morning prayer. I looked at the poor man's face - what could be worse for him - knowing or not knowing? For me however, I had enjoyed the two weeks of silence from not hearing the results from the genetics testing. Maybe it was because I gone through so many genetic tests in Israel with my first, that I was all tested out. Maybe it was I was still indulging in the pregnancy feeling that I didn't want anything to wave me over... who knows?

My husband's fear however, quickly caught up with me and I started to join the "panic and worry" club. The weather too, put a dampen on everything with its endless grey, rain and overcast that Pittsburgh is known for.

On the bus ride to the hospital, I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn't tear up unless it was absolutely necessary. After all, I had work-for-hire packets to send out, proposals for presentations to write, blog posts to write...After all, the week had just started and we were away in Florida the previous week for the International Reading Conference and Disneyworld....

Once at the doctor's office, I realized that I hadn't brought anything to read and being I am not one to waste time, I started making "to-do" lists for our trip to Israel. I was constantly asking Haim questions about this and that making sure that not one detail was left untouched. I heard the doctor's undulating voice in the hall and looked at my watch. We had been waiting exactly 30 minutes. For my husband, it was 30 minutes too long - for me, it had become to be a waste of time.

But it turned out that it wasn't a complete waste. In those thirty minutes, I had set my intention that I would react peacefully to whatever the doctor had to say. In a ritual of simple list making, I was already thinking ahead, planning myself for what may be in what was just an ordinary moment.

"The news isn't good," the doctor said when he finally came in. And at that moment, I knew all of our dreams were gone including the 13 weeks of the seed of life.

Then, there was a litny of words that I would much rather not hear uttered again in this lifetime.... an extra chromosome, the worst abnormality, severe abnormality, little chance of survival, at-risk of the mother's life, brain damage. At this point, my husband put his hand to his face and shuddered....I can't go on....

But one major thing hit me yesterday that will change me (us) forever...

People can never EVER understand what it means to go through an abortion or any life changing event (medical or something else) unless it (G-d forbid) happens to them.

For me personally, (and I think for dh, too) this news was like a "curse" as if someone had sponged up a chorus of broken and awful and evil energies and squeezed them out on us leaving us broken and in pain, left to pick up the words and emotions where we started from....

We are Jewish and for both of us, this news was earth shattering. As Jews whose influences were predominantly traditional and secular, we perhaps go the opposite in some halachic (laws) areas but, believe still in pursuing these kinds of tests due to my advanced maternal age. We believe in life and perpetuating its continuity. What perhaps distinguishes us from non-Jews, is that we don't believe in 'rocking the boat'. It was shall I say, "expected" that I would deliver to full-term and we would not talk about the pregnancy unless I started showing and people started asking. For this simple reason, we don't believe in having baby showers.

"It's G-d will," my husband said as we signed the consent for abortion to go through. "It's G-d will. What will be, will be."

"This has to be done, like, soon," I said with urgency, determination and confidence that I had never known could penetrate through my weak voice. "We're going to Israel in three weeks and this must be done way before that." Yes, let's get this over, let's clean it up, let's forget about it and hope that it would never ever return.

The amicable and amiable doctor said, "We could have you in the earliest by this Thursday. That is really the earliest we can do."

And the doctor in charge of surgery said at the end of reading all the things we needed to know as far as the law in Pennslyvania goes, "you can take the tissue home and have a private funeral."

Private funeral? Are you crazy? We are Jewish - why would we want to do that?

"No," I said. "We're giving it to the hospital for research. Maybe you can save another baby's life..."

I noticed the doctor made a note of that. "So are there any questions? Anything you want to know?"

"Yeah," my husband said. "What was it... a boy or a girl?"

She said tenderly and thoughtfully, "It was a girl," as if the procedure had been done with and there would be no more.

And that's when the tears came streaming down my face. Against everything I wanted, I cried for the crushed dreams for MY baby girl I would never see, never dress up in girly clothes and never have deep serious mother-daughter talks who, at just thirteen weeks old, would be just a remnant of a memory.

But when there's a will, there's hope. It would still take me time though to figure it out...


By the next day, (today) I realized what I would be going through and a good friend from Ivry's class called me. Her voice was so good and so thoughtful, I couldn't help but cry. For 24 hours, I had blocked out everything just to not worry and cry, but now it seemed, I couldn't help it.

"Don't worry, Dorit," she said. I will go with you."

It was a voice from G-d. Suddenly, I felt it was now or never. I would need to arm myself with my tribe in order to go through with this ordeal.

And I'm still calling out to that tribe now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Building Roots – New York City – Israel - Pittsburgh

When we first moved to the United States in August 2007, we were inundated with possibilities. Where would we go? Where would we live? Part of me wanted to live on the East coast, so I could be closer to my mom.

As a returning American with a brother on the west coast, I wanted to build roots. But not having lived in the States for the previous 17 years challenged our decision. We didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh, and moving back to New York City to stay with my mom who had Alzheimer's for the last 13 years was out of the question. Plus, who in their right mind, would build roots at the expense of going into debt?

The arduous task of uprooting and replanting required the gift of time. Time to get to know what it was like to live outside of Israel as a American Jew, not an Israeli. And this meant leaving the small kibbutz comfort zone and getting to know an American mentality that I had so quickly forgotten.

But one thing was for sure – I had no idea what to expect from Pittsburgh. I had never been that far out west before except to visit my brother in San Diego and the farthest I had ever been up north was New Hampshire. One sultry August afternoon in 2007, while trying to keep cool in my Mother's New York City apartment, I had learned our shipping containers had finally arrived from Israel. I called the New York City office and requested to reroute our shipping from New York City to Pittsburgh. The clerk had asked, "Pittsburgh? You're moving to Pittsburgh? Where's that?"

I tried to stay composed and not let the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity enter my voice. I said, "Oh, Pittsburgh? You've never been to Pittsburgh?"
"No." She had a pure New York City accent - only that reminded me of my childhood. "Nope, I'm a Queens girl."

After hearing that, part of me wanted to stay in New York City. It was easy and comfortable and anything else but daunting. Now at a crossroads, the decision to stay in New York City was looming over me as if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.

Weeks later, when we finally settled into our two room apartment in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a multicultural community, people started asking, "Pittsburgh? Why did you come to Pittsburgh?"

And like I had done years before when Israelis would ask me, "Why did you leave New York City?" I decided to mentally "tape record" my answers. I would say, Pittsburgh = a family friendly city, Squirrel Hill = Jewish community as if I had been living in Squirrel Hill all my life.

And then there were other tag along words I call the "itys" I would use such as affordability, proximity to New York City, accessibility…

All of these answers at the time however, seemed squeamish even for a returning American. The only difference was the way I had successfully convinced everyone (even myself) of our decision using just the right body language and eye contact, as I tried to feel like a special American all over again. All those years surviving as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher in an Israeli cultural classroom made me realize that I could survive anything including the feeling of living with uncertainity as a returning American trying innocuously to build roots.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Night of Concrete on Wightman Street

Maya took tiny steps towards the apartment building on the corner of Hobart and Wightman Street. It was in a small residental but busy neighborhood in Squirrel Hill of Pittsburgh quieted by the lull of last August rain that she had not anticipated.

She needed an apartment to bring her husband and two year old son from New York City right away knowing full well they couldn't live with her mother-in-law any longer. Not having an umbrella, she climbed the first then second level of stairs to the entrance, the size of a bathroom. She had to get used to the fact that there was no competition in building height - after all, this was not Greenwich Village where every inch of realtor space was fought over and carefully planned out.

As she waited for the real estate agent in the foyer and shook her umbrella, she survyed up and down Wightman Street. Nothing more than a corner apartment building, she thought. But then she saw something that changed her mind. From nowhere, black hatted men scurried like mice across the street to the Yeshiva school. In Israel, they were always rushing to get somewhere which was part of the scene, but here in the Diaspora, they didn't have to prove anything. She continued to observe more men and women entering and leaving shul until she finally made the connection - today was Tisha B'av, the destruction of the temple.

In Israel, living on a secular kibbutz near the Jordan River, she never observed the holiday despite the fact that she knew the name, but never knew its significance. Maybe, one day, I'll understand. Maybe, I'll even go to synagogue. She knew she wasn't part of the amcha, the Israeli people anymore so long as she did yirida, leaving Israel. That's the way it was in the Diaspora. Here, you were first Jewish and then Israeli. (That was even a bonus!) But now, she didn't seem to care so much.

When the realtor finally came twenty minutes late with no advance call to Maya's cell, Maya wondered if she was really in America again, her homeland, after all these years?

"Oh, are you Maya?" the realtor asked. She was wearing high pink heels that clacked when she walked and Maya decided already she looked very cheezy.

Maya offered her a dry cold hand. They shook gingerly.

"I'm so sorry that you've been waiting. I would have been on time, had I not had last minute car trouble and my cell phone battery died."

She fished in her green mountain purse that looked ike a burlap bag.
"Now where are those keys?"

Once in, the only thing that appealed to Maya about the apartment was the glass doorknobs, and arches that separated one room from another and carpet on the floor. In all her years on living on kibbutz, Maya had forgotten the nicety of carpeted floor. Definitely pre-World War Two, she thought.

She quickly surveyed the apartment. Aside from the fact that the ceilings were very low, and the rooms were slightly smaller even for Israeli standards, she thought it was by far, the best apartment she had seen in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. She had compromised getting a house with French doors that opened to a garden. Her flight back to New York City was just in a couple of hours and she needed to make a decision.

After a short series of cell phone calls, Maya and Yoav settled on a date for the first month's deposit and filling in forms, before Maya took the keys when they first settled in.

On the first night in their new place, the water was shut off due to a main water pipe that had blasted in Pittsburgh and no matter how long she turned on the air-conditioning, Maya couldn't get cool enough. She tossed and turned on the borrowed mattress where the spring poked into her sides until Maya finally gave up and rolled unto the synthetic carpet.

Her husband's lukewarm hug was no consolation either.

"We'll get some furniture soon, baby. Our shipping will come in through. Kitzat savlanoot, some patience."

"It's not the furniture," Maya blurted outloud. "But the concrete. There's no nature; we face a bunch of concrete buildings - a dry cleaners, an old age home - what kind of consolation is that?" Despite her fear, Maya hushed the panic part of her voice and even startled herself. She had a feeling that the walls were as thin as paper and didn't want to mar the start of what would be a hopeful future.

"It won't be as bad as you think - just give it time," Yoav had said.

For that first night, Maya forced to give into hope and optimisim she didn't know existed. It fortured her to know that Yoav didn't think much of trees, flowers and the Jordan River, the very things she had sacrificed to come to the States and leave a piece of heaven in Israel. The ironic part was at age eighteen, she had left New York City, a world that championed itself on high rise concrete of materialism.

She never knew though how much she would miss it, and how she would ever get used to noisy buses, thin papery walls.... and concrete!

She turned her back as she usually did when she felt she could not be consoled, and could feel the ears welling up in her eyes.

He slowly touched her back, and showered her with kisses just like on their wedding day, until she mewed and then rolled into his arms. "You won't need to worry so much about concrete, dear Mayaleh," like he did on the day when they first renovated their kibbutz house and when he wheeled her first born son into the nursery.

"I've found a job!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Somebody Special + Non-Fiction Piece

In all the years I lived in Israel, I thought I was a special social-cultural "groupie" because I was an American, former Manhattanite, (ex "Greenwich Villager) AND I was teaching English as a foreign language, which was a much in demand profession. (It still is!)

Those early years of teaching English to elementary students in the development town of Beit-Shean brought me even closer to that special cultural place because I had never taught English to Moroccan Jews before. I had a lot of "goodwill" and support from the Ministry of Education as a new teacher-immigrant, but I often felt a certain cultural disconnect. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't feel "at home" in the cultural EFL classroom.

I was dealing with families, some of whom had a very different world and cultural concept/experience/expectation of what it meant to learn English. For some of them, it was exclusively limited to pop and cultural media of the time. For others, it was met with frequent antagonism to study English and I was met with all kinds of discipline problems and unruly students.

And, in many ways, I felt silenced at the expense of a cultural/social/linguistic disconnect.

This is the conflict that "traps" every immigrant. The journey for coming to live in another country is rich and special, but the emotional and social transitions are not always clear-cut.

What I Tried to Do


I didn't listen to many pop international culture songs (and especially in English) when I lived in Israel, but the one that brought me closer to the concept of "special" to my Anglo-Saxon world was Depeche Mode's "Somebody"

When I was in a state of "not here nor there" and "trying to figure it out," I listened to the melody of this song and after all those years, I felt "quieted" and "at peace" even with the silence voice that I had and that was okay.


The other outlet I had was writing. After a full day's work teaching 4th, 5th and 6th graders, I would record the events, the feelings I had (past and present) and how I tried to make a connection with teachers who weren't the most friendly/sympathetic to me - maybe due to a cultural disconnect, I don't know and students.

Those early voices shaped a piece of a recent piece entitled, "In the Principal's Office" (note: this is still a piece in transition)

"In the Principal's Office"

The bare white principal's office is now a place of confrontation. The fact that I am a newly arrived English elementary teacher at a development town in Israel hasn't sensitized loud-mouthed teacher to collaborate with me. When I finally told Tziona, our mentor, the real deal of our collaboration, I knew that I would have to work even harder to make my silent "teacher" voice heard. The voice I perhaps didn't know existed.

The aggressive principal speaks. (I can still hear Lina's voice) "Yael," Lina says. "Dorit's a new teacher. If you're both teaching the same classes, I don't understand why you are both working separately. So, ma koreh, what's going on?" Lina asks. I have to wonder what looks tighter: Lina's intent expression or her bun.

Yael, the other teacher who prefers to teach English "her way," doesn't say anything. Tziona sustains our eye contact long enough just to reassure what she has said to me before, Yehiyeh besder, "it will be okay." But we both know it will be a long way. She leans forward, crosses her legs a bit and says, "We need to find a way to work things out together. You both can't continue working in isolation. It makes no sense."

Yael looks at me. I nod.

Okay, it's time to make my silence heard.

There's more that Lina and loud-mouthed teacher need to know. Much more.

For example, what about the time when I introduced myself to her classes and all I got was a Mona-Lisa smile …from one student?

Or when I tried to "socialize" with loud-mouthed teacher and all I heard was the noise of crunching carrots.

There is no cultural-linguistic shield to protect me now. (it's a confrontation – how do you rely on your Israeli smarts)

I try to discern the "loud-mouthed" teacher's eyes from her thick rimmed glasses but the light refracts what appears to be a stare. I know she's thinking "go home you American. I take no prisoners. I'm better than you and you're not going to change the way I work."

Since the beginning of school, I've honored the Israeli teaching motto of "don't smile before Chanukah," and so perhaps I've received Lina's goodwill. But now I have to find the right Hebrew voice. To articulate Hebrew assertively. To undo my silence. But between Lina's tight fisted bun and zippered mouth and Tziona's fidgety look, I'm hoping I won't need to talk.

Loud mouth teacher is the first to speak. She's of course the one with "kfiyoot" – the seniority. She moves her hands in and out as if to open an oven. "Tziona," she says raising her voice. "It's close to impossible. We teach at different hours in different places."

Loud-mouthed teacher now points to me. "She teaches small groups. I teach the large classes."

"Yael, you don't have to work together on everything. There's no point if you have the same book and grades and you're both working in isolation." Tziona says. Lina nods affirmatively.

Loud-mouthed teacher looks at me. The words don't come.

"How about if Dorit pulled out some of the lower-performing students from your group and worked with them?" Tziona suggests.

"Ze lo ya'avod, it won't work," loud-mouthed teacher says.


"Because …they are at different levels."

What does that have to do with anything?

I say something that I hope will turn the discourse around. Even though I am still figuring out which word to say, I speak anyhow.

"I think the students I teach are at a lower performing level. They cause problems." I am both nervous and relieved that I've got now everyone's attention.
"Exactly. That's why I don't think it's good to take my students out." Loud mouthed teacher says. Her words rise like huge hot air balloons in this small office.

"Aval achav hadivarim nirgeo, but now I feel things have settled down." I say in a calm Hebrew voice.

"Ze lo yishaney kloom, it still won't make a difference," loud-mouthed teacher says. "It's too difficult of a situation." She still won't look at me so I look to Tziona for support.

"And if Dorit takes the hours she has with the non-readers and works individually with one or two students?" Tziona suggests.

"Still won't work."

""Yael, you've got to be flexible here." Tziona now speaks more emphatically. "This is a very difficult situation."

"Yael, I don't understand you. We're talking about the students here." The aggressive principal says something I didn't expect to hear. "Give it a chance."

"Okay, I'll give it a try, but I still don't think it will be successful." Yael says.

All I hear is the "ani" for "I."

Tziona looks at me, "How do you feel about that, Dorit?"

"That's fine. I have worksheets prepared for their level and everything."

Tziona nods in approval. "That's a good start."

"But it's a difficult group. A harder group." Yael says.

"Is there anything you want to say Dorit?" Lina asks.


We talk it out - in their language.

Not mine.

We don't really find a solution in their language.

Not mine.

When we leave Lina's office, I whisper to Tziona, "That wasn't easy. With Yael, I mean."

Tziona says, "I know. She's difficult."


"It's not going to be easy."


Monday, April 18, 2011

A Faith Filled Passover Edition - My/Our Four Years of Freedom

On the last full day in Israel before leaving for the States in 2007, I made sure my last day would be a peaceful one by visiting my parents. I was all jumpy not only from all the preparations, but from the emotional and mental exhaustion of it all.

Because I/we made the conscious decision to leave my family, friends and kibbutz home for greater professional opportunities in the States, I thought to myself, "There is just no way that move is going to be wrong. If it's the States, then, it's got to be good!" (Sounds like a commericial, right?)

At that very moment, I felt I had transformed my life in a precision of dualities.

I had "traded" the feeling of being dried up like a prune, to touching an oasis for the first time and what opportunities would lie on the other side of that oasis. I wanted to make my own life choices that reflected the person I had become. After all, I had moved to Israel fresh out of High School, and I was now married and had a two year old; My soul was craving for other opportunities beyond just an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher of Israeli schoolchildren, which I had done for already 12+ years.

In front of my father, I felt a mountain of crushed dreams fell over me.

He came to Israel for us, for me and my younger brother, to give us a better quality of life, to help us get away from my controlling and aging mother who was afraid of many things from me smoking, to walking around in a sweater in 80 degree heat. But I felt I had outgrown those phobias and I had acquired a stronger sense of self. It was time now to move on.

As much as I believed in the power of the American dream, for some reason, I came across to my father that I didn't "need" Israel, his support or my life there.

He took this as real snobbery and self-righteousness on my part.

I remember one of his last lines to me well, "You act as if you're not coming back."

Now, I don't know if where that reaction came from - all I knew was that I wanted to be in some "green" place on the other side of the Atlantic ocean so I could prove to myself, the "little ol' me from Greenwich Village, NYC" that I could put the wheels of the American Dream into motion and that it truly would be a better choice for me...for Haim, and little Ivry.

Well, I'll tell you that finding my heart to professional freedom was not the rosy garden as I thought it was on that last sunny day in Israel.

In fact, walking down picturesque streets in Pittsburgh's Jewishy Squirrel Hill on a hot sultry August afternoon in 2007, triggered off a strange kind of "freedom" - one that made me feel even more uneasy.

I felt very vulnerable walking down these beautiful streets alone. During those very early days, I would meet my husband after his job search and "attack" this poor man with my fears - "when are we/you going to get a job?" "When is your social security card going to come?"

Lots of "What if's."

I didn't think that nudging was such a problem; but, it was the way I had put a "time limit" on when things should happen (first with him, then with me) that scared me. In Israel, I did not think this waiting would be issue. All I needed to do was jump head first into the oasis, and try to float with the hope and knowledge that we would thrive and fast.

Similarly to the Passover story we know well, Moshe led the Jewish people out of Egypt, but even after their ordeals and struggles and pain from Pharoah's blows, they still questioned whether they would be "saved" and whether they should still put their faith in just one man, and in G-d. All they could do was have a "leap of faith." Obviously, they did not have a choice, but I did and I chose to not to develop faith in times of uncertainty. I just thought of the "path."

You see, I had this warped building freedom for opportunity mindset that things had to come easy if I worried. Of course, these were old words, thought patterns and beliefs, but I was in transition and with all the newness, I stuck to what I knew. So I followed my own smell to worry and fear.

In the meantime, my husband got a job within a week at one of the local food chains and within a year, was promoted to full-time with benefits.

During my sabbatical, I started a book journey that would lead me to market myself as a speaker to present at both universities and colleges and schools and eventually, an offer from a K-12 book publisher came in through. It was only through my writing, I found there were other opportunities and other identities that awaited me.

And now, just now, I'm realizing at age 40, that I need to ride a spiritual journey. That is one ingredient that I never really thought I needed. Until now.

And that was just the beginning of finding my tribe. My spiritual one, that is.

Monday, April 11, 2011

If Only....Oy. Oy.

Because I see Passover cleaning (and cleaning in general) as a major hassle, both emotionally and physically, this is the time of year is when I get into what I call, "high comparison mode" especially when it comes to comparing celebrating Passover in Israel and Passover in the States.

And of course the "Next year in Jerusalem!" doesn't make me feel better.

The thick film of dirt on my window reminds me that if I can't see clearly, my vision will be myopic. Thus, I especially, need to remind myself what we came here - for all the professional opportunities we have here in the States.

Truthfully, we can go back to Israel like that. And I know that many people will ask us back home when we visit this June if we are planning to.

If only we could go back knowing that Haim and myself wouldn't be jobless. Haim is over 51 and jobs in israel are scarce for people in this age bracket. I myself am another issue.

So this year will be the fifth year we won't be celebrating Passover with our family and friends.

For me, these are wistful reminders that...

1) The Diaspora can be a lonely place for an Israeli Jew on Passover
2) I don't have Passover holidays off since I work for non-Jewish institutions
3) Pesach in Israel sounds so much celebratory that Passover in Pittsburgh
4) Even with the friends and colleagues I know here, there is nothing like family and friends back home
5) As a teacher in Israel, I had a full week before Passover to clean for Passover. Here I can barely make an hour! Okay, okay, now I'm kvetching!
6) Post Passover is spent visiting friends, traveling and taking time to be with families. Every year, I work hard at strengthening my support system - it comes and goes and we spend Passover shopping.
7) In Israel, I'd take a big bucket of water and splash it around the floor. That's the norm for cleaning. Here's people would think I'm meshugana. The carpet in the States is a drag.
8) Pesach in Israel = eating my MIL's OKRA.
9) Kitniyot (beans, legumes) in Israel are considered to be kosher for Passover as opposed to the Ashkenazic kosher. Here, they are not Kosher.
10) Passover is a time for relaxing - taking store and looking ahead. Haim and I both have to work.

So instead of looking at the cup half empty, I'll look at what we do have.

When you've lived in another country for so long, you just can't help but to compare, wonder and reflect.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Sex, Love and Other Drugs" = Movie with an "Outsider" and Universal Theme

In the critically acclaimed movie, "Sex, Love and Other Drugs," Maggie (Anne Hathaway) has a terminal illness (Parkinson's). She relies on sex as her ticket in with spontaneous and flirty male relationships. Drugs are the answer for prolonging her life.

She knows that because she's sick, the chances of men committing to her is less than none. (thus the sex part)

Until Jaimie (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) comes along and tells her that she is the first person who has ever cared about him and he is willing to be THAT one who will "carry her." (Thus the love)

All three of these issues came together on a plot level when I thought "is there really hope for Maggie? I wasn't too worried about Jaimie, because it was clear he was on the mend. It was Maggie who was weak, vulnerable and in a very precarious position.

Will she ever find love despite her feelings that she is not good enough for someone? And will Jaimie listen to the voice inside that tells him that this women is truly for him and to go beyond the "lip-service and call of duty?"

What resonated with me so strongly with Maggie's character was her feeling as an outsider which seemed to be inked all over her throughout the movie.

1.She was deeply misunderstood.

2.She coped with her illness by putting on a bravado front - especially with men.

3.She didn't want people to feel sorry for her, so she coped with her fears, insecurities and isolation alone ...silently. (For me, this part reached its climax when she struggled opening one of her pill bottles, only to find that it was empty.)

She especially didn't want men to be privy to her pain. That's got to be a difficult thing for anyone... Afraid to let someone in for the sake of showing what is really there and maybe that person won't love him/her.

Well, if you can't tell by now, I fell in love with this movie and not just on a plot level, but, because I could see 'pieces' or 'slivers' of my own life as a returning immigrant. Maggie's journey reflected that.

Here's How

At the very beginning

I came to Pittsburgh in 2007 straight from Israel. I felt I was making a grave mistake. I spent the first hour of my arrival crying in front of Ivry's new teacher. I was scared to death. When the feeling of newness finally simmered down, I kept a bravado front to both Israelis and Americans (even to those who tried to understand me) by keeping a distance, not sharing too many details about motivations for leaving - Israelis like to get into these things and I gave just the facts.


After one year of working on my book, (sabbatical) I started to teach English to ESL community college students. During that first semester, I announced to the dean of the department, “I love teaching these ESL students. I feel as if I found my home in the cultural classroom.” In Israel, I was special because I was a native English speaking teacher teaching English to Israeli schoolchildren who mainly spoke Hebrew. But in Pittsburgh, none of this mattered. I had to now find a different kind of cultural classroom.

Again, I felt like a stranger to teaching even though I had been teaching for 13 years.

**I was on my way to NOT becoming a stranger.**


When I would first describe in English certain teaching and educational concepts and objects enmeshed in Israeli emotion and imagination, I became more aware of how the “right” word would resonate in both Hebrew and English even in simplest written and verbal expressions. The words “authentic” and “educational” seem to be simple enough for a native English speaker. Yet, unless an American had heard these words in an Israeli context, his or her cultural understanding of the sentence would be different. Even when I read email responses in English, I imagined how the words would sound and look in Hebrew.

Social Interactions

In daily conversations with people, I felt something uniquely missing. New friends would sympathize with my loneliness and isolation. Still, that didn't compensate for the connection with "Israel" that deeply missing from the emotional, social, and political landscape of Pittsburgh. And it wasn't enough to want to go back to Israel.

Again, I felt like a stranger to English even though English is my mother tongue. I can't imagine what an immigrant to America must feel trying to learn English...

Family Life

On the weekends, I would go to Steelers and Pirates games with my then, three year old son to feel connected with the "Americana" I had missed for the last 19 years. In-between lessons at the community college during the week, I would talk with other professors, and from our conversations, I could see that between their Pittsburgh upbringing and my New York City and Israeli roots, we had very little in common.

**Even though this is still true, I no longer feel vulnerable by it...**

So as you can see, Maggie and I are both on the mend even if we felt and still feel like an outsider from time to time...