Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mama's Envelopes

Yom revi'i, 23 Sivan 5775.

Debt kills. Increasing debt weighs you down, dragging you toward a grave in the End of Hope Cemetery. I think it must be like heroin addiction. In the moment of the "fix," you're flying high, feeling no pain. But when you crash, when you smash face first back into reality, the pain is exquisite and debilitating.

The greater the debt, the less likely it feels that it will ever end. And since you're already up to your eyeballs in seemingly unpayable debt, what's another fifty bucks, right? And so the cycle continues.

My mother was a woman of uncommon native genius. Even though she never finished high school and lacked positive role models as a child, she came up with many of her own chunks of life wisdom.

One of her particularly wise recommendations was to set aside cash in little labeled envelopes each month, until the desired item or service could be paid for outright. This was just another of the great ideas that we ignored, as children often do.

Until crisis strikes.

Without going into gory details, I'll admit that we had a lot of debt to unload years ago. Once it was finally gone, we vowed never to have another credit card -- and we've kept that commitment for the last eight years. While we do have debit cards to facilitate payments directly from our bank accounts, and we have a monthly grocery account at our makolet, we no longer go into debt to purchase stuff, or worst of all, to pay off another month of interest on our debt.

Now, we tuck a little money each week into Mama's Envelopes. They are labeled as needed: "Emergency Fund," "Dental Work," "Vacation Fund," and so on. There are envelopes for the fun purchases such as musical instruments, and for educational pursuits, such as my beloved writing class.

There is so much pride afforded by not being in debt, by having the self-restraint to wait to make a purchase until the money is collected.

And then there is the sweetness of keeping my dear Mama in the world, just a little bit, by finally living a little more of her wisdom.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Save This Baby's Life!

Yom revi'i, 26 Nisan 5775, Erev Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day.

On this Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day, consider helping to save the life of a Jewish baby as a fitting observation. Thank you, and may we share joyful news, for long, healthy, happy years.

​Hadas Osnat Chanukah, who is just shy of her second birthday, suffers from an exceedingly rare liver disease, one which has required her to undergo surgery at six weeks of age and regularly consume vast quantities of life-saving medications.

So far, this disease (bilary atresia)  has proven itself to be insurmountable, and a liver transplant operation will be required.

The healthy donor liver will be supplied by either Israel or Eliana, Hadas’ parents, in accordance with the doctors’ recommendations. Both parents have been found to be acceptable matches for this donation.

<<<<[Note details for donating in the photo.]

The Goal: To Raise 300,000 Euros (approx. $319,000/₪1,265,820) by the beginning of May 2015

It is imperative that surgery be performed by specialists with expertise in operations of this type.

The operation and its related foreign-travel expenses will require tremendous financial resources, in the realm of 300,000 Euros.

A committee has been established to oversee collection of these funds, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Development of Gush Etzion.

Several tens of thousands of Euros have been collected over the past two weeks, contributed by donors from Israel and abroad.

Do you know someone who perhaps can assist with funding? Please pass this on to them! Please speak to them to ask for help in saving this baby's life.

Contributions may be made directly to the Gush Etzion Foundation or in one of the other ways listed in the attachment titled the “Hadas Foundation.”

Checks should be made out to the “Foundation for the Development of Gush Etzion,” noting that this is “For the Keren Le’refuat Hadas.” 

The donor’s return address should be indicated as well, so a tax receipt can be sent.​

Tizku l'mitzvot! 

Adapted from a letter sent to Elazar residents by Rav Chaim Iram, Rav of Elazar, Gush Etzion

Sunday, April 12, 2015

God's Lost and Found

Yom rishon, 23 Nisan 5775, Pesach Isru Chag.

I imagine sometimes that at the End of Days, we get back all our lost or stolen stuff.

It gives me comfort, for the wedding band I didn't know how much I adored until it was lost somewhere in the big old house. It calms my rage when I think of the heirloom ring and necklace and single earring the drug addict stole in Germany when he was packing us out the last time. I like to imagine that when he sold my stuff for his drugs, it eventually found its way to long-lost European relatives I didn't even know existed, but who recognized it from family photos.

But better than that, I imagine us at the End of Days getting this cardboard box handed to us; and when we open it, every single thing we ever lost and missed, everything stolen, would be in that box. I'd see the ring and the necklace. I'd pair up that earring with its mate that I never had the heart to get rid of. All the other earrings I'd lost would be in there, too, plus the zipper decoration from Tzanchanim that my son gave me, more precious than a golden bracelet because it honored his IDF service. Every lost coin or piece of paper currency -- even money short-changed or cheated -- would be in that box.

Caryn's box would include the nearly valueless but irreplaceable charm bracelet stolen from her, one of the charms a gift from my own dear mother. Dovid's would have the favorite sefer he loaned out to the friend he couldn't remember, after the book went out of print. Your box would have everything in it you remember losing. All and any treasures lost or stolen from my friends and family would suddenly simply be there in their very own designated cardboard boxes.

And I'd breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the tiny doll I stole as a child would find its way home, too, and the child I'd inadvertently hurt and had carried all those years in my guilt-pocket would be joyful again at its rediscovery.

In each box also would be a glowing silver star-ball, looking too hot to touch, but totally benign, for every lost thing we took the time to return to someone else during our lifetimes. The diamond ring I found in the restroom and turned in to the police instead of pocketing. The ruby earring we all looked for at the bus stop for the elderly lady, and could not find. She would get the earring back, in her cardboard box; and we would each receive the glowing silver star-ball of merit.

More glowing star-balls would be distributed. For the wallet full of money and ID someone returned to my son. For his wedding ring, lost among the shells on their tiyul to the sea near Ashkelon six months after their wedding, that his wife valiantly climbed yet another mountain in my esteem reassuring him it was all okay, even when that ring belonged to her father's family. Because in my imaginings, some soul found it, some poor fellow who couldn't afford a ring and had been asking God for a sign that he, unworthy he, should take the gamble and ask his lady love for her hand in marriage. And there he was, diving in that clear water, when among the shells gold glistened to him and beckoned and called his name, and a bat kol said "Marry her and make her happy. Don't worry so much about money." And instead of keeping the ring, he turned it in to the local police. They never could find the owner, and the ring stayed in their lost and found until the End of Days’ angels came to gather it among their booty for the box my son would receive.

And of course, the boy married the girl, and they still tell the story to their incredulous great-grandchildren, who have decided that Saba is a one of the hidden tzadikim...

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb shares that the Klausenberger Rebbe taught the value of using our ko’ach hadimyon (power of imagination) in such matters as truly feeling as if we had personally endured and escaped from the slavery of Egypt. Imagination has long been my weapon of choice against the depression of property loss, missed opportunities, infuriating life challenges.

There is much comfort in believing that all will one day be righted, and that there is no loss without a reason.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Duct Tape, Super Glue, and Other Medical Tools

Yom sheni, 17 Nisan 5775, Chol HaMoed Pesach.

Happily, the Leventhals never had a break to deal with.
I was chatting on Facebook with my friend and fellow "Boy Mom" Romi about childhood injuries and remedies for same. Romi had just had yet another of her crop of boys stitched back together again... only weeks after one was put into a cast, if I'm not mistaken. And so it goes.

Our conversation reminded me of all the times Avi and I relied on our good friends Dr. and Dr. Leventhal back in Baltimore to glue, staple, stitch and duct tape our boys back together. He was a urologist and she was a pediatrician -- just not our pediatrician. But they were fellow congregants, as well as being neighbors and friends. So very many interesting things happened to Eastman boys on Shabbat -- not an easy time to transport them to the long-suffering Dr. Ruth Ashman. The Doctors Leventhal were always just a short (and sometimes terrified) sprint away.

Let's see... There was the time Aryeh was playing Superman and "flew" into the corner of the metal bookcase with his head... the time Dovid's chin got a lovely cut and wouldn't stop bleeding... the time Aryeh fell 30 feet from a tree... I'm sure there were more such Shabbat events. The other boys seem to have had the sense to have their injuries on weekdays. And I know there were events they never shared with their mother, and "doctored" themselves.

This post isn't about anything in particular, except gratitude to our dear physician friends, gratitude to God that my kids lived through their childhoods, and respect for some of the common tools of the construction worker's trade.

Important tools for every mother-of-boys medicine chest. To be used under the supervision of a competent medical expert. (That was for you, Dr. David Zlotnick, who has been there for our boys since aliya.)
As I always say, "Children's main job is to terrify us from before they're born until we die. Everything else is frosting." Refua shelaima, Dovid and to any and all injured Sussman lads, and to all y'all other kids I didn't mention in this post. Everybody else -- stay healthy. I'm getting too old for this!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

20-20 Vision

Yom rishon, 9 Nisan 5775.

Photo credit Coby Raz
That moment at Thursday night's 2014-2015 Championship game when the score is 18 to 10 in the last few minutes of a hard-fought but clean game -- on both sides of the field AND in the stands -- when you think: "Gosh, it would be nice if our boys make the extra two points."

Not just because a larger lead will allow the Judean Rebels' mamas in the stands to breathe for the first time in two hours. But because there would be a certain poetry in the winning score of the championship game being 20, in honor of Number 20.

And then it happens.

I choose not to thank God for the score, because the mamas on the Tel Aviv Pioneers' side were praying, too.

Rather, I'll thank Him that this game's injuries weren't too terrible, that my boys can still walk, that somehow even our hotheads didn't lose theirs. That people in the very packed stands -- maybe around seven hundred fans! -- were nice to each other for the most part, had fun with each other, enjoyed a great game together without forgetting that we're ultimately all on the same team.

This is the biggest deal I'll make of it, because you don't like to make a show of this stuff. But I'm really happy for you, Number 20, that the final score sang your song. Well done, MVP.

It was quite a game, ALL of my boys. Those who made headlines, those who made the headlines possible by doing your jobs, and those who were just there with your hearts when your bodies let you down.

I'm proud of each and every one of you.

Now -- go home and heal. See you next season -- on the gridiron or in the stands.

Coach Eastman, photo credit Walla

Special mention to my friend Keren Baht Heyn for being the friendliest and most helpful door- and elevator-person Kraft has ever seen. Good on ya, girlfriend!

Most photos used taken by Naomi Molly Eastman. Stills captured from video of game, which will hopefully be available soon!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Leonard Nimoy and My Summer Vacation

Yom rishon, 10 Adar 5775.

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Coming from a small town in the western United States, I can't drop too many names. But in my youth, I was privileged to meet and work briefly with Leonard Nimoy in a community theater production of the musical Oliver!

The local theater group worked for several weeks perfecting our production of the famous 1968 musical. As fearful of the stage then as I am now, I didn't try out for the show. Rather, I had the fun of working backstage with the makeup crew, learning everything I know (and would use for many plays and Purims after that) from one of Lon Chaney Jr.'s theatrical makeup students (and whose name I have sadly forgotten). The play backstage was as fascinating as the one onstage -- and had the added benefit of changing every night!

My makeup teacher at work

That's me, aging one of our young actors for his part as Mr. Brownlow.

He seemed happy with the final results. :-)

Much work was done before Leonard Nimoy arrived to play the role of Fagin.

I was very impressed with all of the talent and work that went into the production, and waited anxiously with everyone else for the two weeks before the performance when we would finally get to meet Leonard Nimoy.

Some of the ladies in the cast whose natural beauty was enhanced by our staff

Mr. and Mrs. Bumble and Co. getting into character

Our Artful Dodger really got into his role!

"Letting our hair down" at a cast party. Yes, children, we really did dress and dance like that.

When he joined the cast, Mr. Nimoy brought a few subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that completely changed the small-town community play into a very professional extravaganza. He recommended, for example, that instead of the "Who Will Buy" scene being confined to the stage, the various merchants should enter the theater from the rear doors, and parade down the aisles, "offering" their wares to the audience. Each enhancement was welcomed by the cast and crew, and we really gave the audience a wonderful show! Mr. Nimoy even took a few moments to give me some tips about makeup, as well as complimenting me on my work, with his trademark smile.

One of my high school "besties" posing with the great man for posterity

I grew up with everyone else in my generation with Mr. Spock as the conflicted "mixed-breed" son of a normal emotional Earthling mother and a logic-is-everything seemingly emotionless Vulcan father, and all of the interesting scenarios that character created for the Star Trek TV and movie series. Leonard Nimoy was a poet and a singer, and probably a very fine man. He was one of my Jewish brothers.

And for a few weeks during a summer between high school grades, my life was made a little more interesting by his presence.

Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy.

All photos taken by the writer or with her camera and her permission.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 2a

Yom rishon, 6 Tevet 5775.

These lovely gloves borrowed from the blog Wonderland Soup.
Okay. Rivkah Lambert Adler and I have expressed, with varying degrees of angst, our shul and siddur experience as women. Some women have shared their positive experiences, either in reframing the davening to suit them, or in minyanim tailored to the needs of women.

Others have expressed the experience of being marginalized, or even mistreated. Still others expressed an empathy with Rivkah's and my feelings of being outside of the shul experience, except as receivers or mirrors of the male experience -- which works as long as you have male family members.

If you as a woman are fully satisfied with your part in the shul ritual and with your portions davening in the prayerbook (and I know at least one very spiritual woman who not only davens nearly everything the men daven, but is constantly looking for more prayers to add to her daily davening ritual!) -- this series of posts may not interest you. But if you have questions or answers about how you express yourself Jewishly, this conversation may be for you. Please feel free to participate!

In Part 2 of our exploration, Rivkah has thrown down her lovely kid gloves to challenge us to think outside the shul. (I could say "think outside the Box," but only Neve Daniel residents will get it.)

How do we Jewish women define ourselves spiritually, apart from the shul experience? How do we speak with God when we're not using a siddur (which even if you are not upset by it, a woman must to a certain degree cherry-pick for prayers that resonate)?

I'll start. I am so overjoyed to be a Jewish woman! There is no moment in the life of a Jew that doesn't count. No such thing as "dead time." Every moment is fraught with meaning, and with opportunity.

I have a running conversation with God, that starts with thanking Him, when I arise in the morning, for giving me life yet again, for being there for me, for listening to my monologue. I try my best to really think about the morning brachot, and what they mean for me each day. I am grateful for the way Michael Haruni has expressed them in his Nehalel Shabbat siddur, and cannot wait until he adds a weekday version, as he has planned. Unlike most other siddurim, Haruni has added specifically female translations to the morning blessings: "You are blessed... Sovereign of the Universe, Who did not make me a goya (a female non-Jew)... Who did not make me a shifcha (a female slave)..."

Haruni's photographic montages are delightful and prayer-inspiring!
The conversation with God is a day-long process. I think this is one of the advantages of being "made in accordance with His will (the blessing said by women in contrast to the male version)." Rather than wasting time being upset that men say a prayer thanking God for not having made them women, I feel a bit sorry for them for their burden, and do not wish it. (My husband has offered several plausible explanations about why men might be very happy not to be women, and my friend Sarah Lipman has offered a few others.) I like that my God-created nature inspires me to a free-association conversation with my Creator, all day long.

More important than this conversation, in my opinion, is that Judaism is an action-based religion. Study is part of this -- and I schedule time during my week and on Shabbat to study Jewish texts that are of interest to me and my friends. (Thank God we aren't expected to go daf by daf through the Gemara, as many men try to do!) I am an aural learner, so the increasing number of teachers who record shiurim is a wonderful blessing. Rabbis and rebbetzins and other learned people come into my kitchen (so to speak) to lecture me on a variety of topics that I find fascinating.

But beyond study is the need to do. What does it look like to strive to be a light unto the nations? How do you attempt to live the action of your Judaism?  And what if you, like me, are not a terribly spiritual person? I know that many women find spiritual joy in visiting with and praying with other women at Kever Rachel, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, or at the Kotel. Many participate in the davening for women each Rosh Chodesh at Shilo. I have participated in many of these opportunities, and have found them to be lovely experiences. But these visits are not a required part of my connection with God and His people.

I try to focus on the aspects of the Jewish experience that I think are the most relevant to me. One aspect: it is important to me to try to bring peace between my fellow Jews.

I live in a wonderful Jewish community which -- like any wonderful Jewish community in the world -- believes that individuals have a responsibility to feed and care for other Jews who are going through life cycle events. Without stressing out my own family, I try to participate in these opportunities to take care of my larger Jewish family.

We are enjoined to help the widow and the orphan. It breaks my heart that Israel still has such a high rate of poor, hungry, disenfranchised, broken Jews. One can donate not just money but time.

Speaking well of Israel and her Jewish citizens may help in bringing Jews to populate Eretz Yisrael, which may help to bring the Final Redemption. So I write about my experience here, and speak about it to friends. Not with rose-colored glasses, but with honest love. Having put in more than a half-century on the planet, I have a few learning experiences under my belt, and I try to share these in writing, when I think that my Father in Heaven would expect me to share.

Now -- one thing you may notice about the above list. There is nothing I am doing that is not part of the average Jewish woman's day to day experience, with a few variations. The point is that our lives are devoted to this fulfillment of our responsibilities to other Jews (and ultimately to God's entire world). I argue that this IS spiritual fulfillment. Remember the story of the fellow who dreamed of a great treasure buried in another man's yard halfway across the world? He travels to the location, at great expense and difficulty, to unearth it... only to find that this other fellow dreamed that the treasure was in our hero's home, under his floorboards. The first dreamer goes home... and digs up the treasure in his own home.

Our lives are so spiritually rich -- as long as we don't think the treasure is actually buried in some other guy's yard.

This is my experience of being a Jewish woman, and truly feeling actualized in the process. It will not work for everyone. But if we share enough of our positive Jewess experiences, perhaps we can create a tapestry that may benefit others. Your thoughts, please!