Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Stranger in a Strange Land

What time is it? Where am I? Where is home? When will I be home?

What time is it? My phone lists a few of them, and the time zone keeps jumping back to Jonesport, ME (I haven't been there since May--what is happening?!). The weather report says 'Dreary' and my head feels as foggy as the skies on the other sides of these windows.

Where am I? I wake up on a train, heading north, heading home. Where is home? I think for a moment. After 26 moves, my home is Tzfat. But it doesn't feel like home...not the way it did a year ago. Did it feel like home then? Well, I swore I'd never move again. I'm just so tired of moving.

I arrived to this mythological place know as 'home' on the Friday before Rosh Hashana, kicking off the marathon of Shabbat and holidays. Dust has settled heavily on my surroundings, giving an eerie feeling. Then I turn my phone on for the first time in two days, and my heart crumbles as I read the news. Couldn't sleep the whole night. Picked up and pen and let the words flow out along with the tears:

I will never feel at home
Anywhere on this earth
Born too soon, or too late
On the wrong side of the ocean
I don't belong
I'm more soul than body
Don't understand how anybody
Can take the life of another
My heart is broken
Aching for the pain
Of the family
That will never hold him again

May the family of Alexander Levlovich be comforted along with the mourners of Zion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My father had blue eyes

I met him for the first time two months ago, and on Friday he passed away.

Ok, I'll back up a bit...about 35 years or so, actually.

My mother was a street musician in Mexico and met my birth father there, who was from France. They moved to Virginia, where Deborah and I were born, but split up before I made my grand arrival to the world.

My mom remarried when I was three years-old, and for the most part my past was erased. There was little to no mention of him, and it felt as though we were expected to pretend that that part of life had never happened.

At the ripe age of 17, I insisted on some answers finally. While searching for anyone with his last name in online French phone directories, I found my grandparents. They put me in touch with him, around the time that I was moving to Israel.

Ten years of marriage, four kids, and a divorce later, I still hadn't been able to meet him...though we talked on the phone irregularly. We tossed around the idea of meeting in person, but Deborah and I lived on different continents for most of that time, and I never really got to travel anywhere.

Then we found out he had cancer. It was advanced when he discovered it, and another two months passed before his last ex-wife, Carol, delivered the news.

Through an intensive crowdfunding campaign, we managed to raise enough to fly out and visit him at the nursing home in Maine. I was praying each day that we would make it there in time.

He was in poor conditioned when we arrived, after nearly three days of driving, flying, bus rides, and hitchhiking. While there, he improved some and we even got him out in the car one day to visit his cabin. That was when he gave me one of his guitars, a beautiful black Washburn with ornate wood carvings.

The week passed way too fast, and the time came to return to my children, who were in the care of my awesome nanny, Juliana. More driving, flying, etc., returning to Israel the day before my brother's wedding.

The trip was hard to digest. I didn't even know where to start when people asked me 'how was it?' Where do you start? I met my birth father, 30 years later than one should. Intense. Exciting. Disappointing. Fulfilling. Complicated. 

His eyes looked like Purieli's, a clear and mellow blue. His voice was deep and calming, though most of our time there he spoke of how frustrated he was. I came to some very difficult realizations with him. I married a man a lot like him. It scared me. Honestly I connected more to my ex-stepmother than to him, and felt like I gained more family with her. Is that too weird?

I enjoyed hearing his take on spirituality. He had a very large and useful mind, though being very wrapped up in himself seems to have prevented him from having many close relationships with family and community. I saw the good, the bad, and everything in between, but only a tiny glimpse really. And now he is gone.

I don't know how to mourn this complicated relationship. Reached out to two rabbis, who both gave good advice and comfort, but still in shock and unsure of what to do. Because he wasn't Jewish, there is no requirement for the seven days of mourning, with all of their detailed directions. Sometimes there is safety in the details, and the fences can feel like nets to catch you when you don't know how to proceed. Although I 'get to' do any mourning customs, it's not the same. It seemed that G-d/The Universe responded by helping me along, for example: I planned to tear a ribbon and pin it to my shirt, like I did when my grandparents passed away. A grandchild isn't 'obligated' in the seven days, but it's still the loss of a dear family member and this is a meaningful way to express that loss. I forgot, in my haste to get the kids out to camp that morning, but my skirt got caught on a sharp piece of metal and ripped. So I wore a torn garment in the end, and felt connected in that way.

I also didn't know how to tell people around me what happened. A regular old Facebook post just didn't seem to cut it, and when I told a couple of people in real life there was mostly awkward silence, some much-needed hugs, and then the feeling of people avoiding me so they wouldn't have to act sad around me. So I left it mostly unsaid, and just went along with my days...

When my grandparents died, I was faced with a heavy sense of mortality, and motivated to make the most of every day because you never know when the end will come. Now my dad, only 67 years-old, and the feeling is so much stronger. May my mother live to 120, but after her I'm the last line left standing. The loss of a parent shakes your very core.

Still don't know where I'm headed from here. I want to commemorate him in some special way, but haven't got a clue as to how. One uncle recorded a song as part of his goodbye: view it here. He is a physics teacher, but also very musical. Follow the link and check out his YouTube channel for a song he composed, and is playing on a dulcimer that he crafted. Another uncle made a painting shortly before his brother left this world.

I want to learn from his mistakes, to find more of the good that was in him and preserve it. I want to go to France to meet my aunts, uncles, and bundles of cousins. I want to find my older half-brother in the Netherlands. I hope it can all be done. I hope it can help fill this hole that has always been in my heart and only recently started becoming smaller, before widening again this week. I hope...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dear Facebook Friends

Some of us known for decades, while others I've never met.

You are my community.

You brighten my days with silly memes and meaningful quotes, pictures of your growing little ones or landscapes of countries around the world.

You never forget my birthday.

I don't substitute my time with you for time with real, live human beings. First of all, you are real, live human beings just as I am. And secondly, I don't hide bedind the computer but get out to meet with you in person. And we have pictures posted on our walls to prove it.

I've moved around a lot in life and enjoy keeping in touch with all of you.

I'm glad I wasn't born a decade later or there would be a lot more embarrassing pictures of me floating around. Those poor kids nowadays, can't get away with anything. ;)

Sending love and hugs to all of you! xoxo

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Because of religion

Over and over on prime-time TV, this was my stated reason for not singing until now. How do you sum up in one simple sentence, in front of hundreds of people, the repression that has choked your voice away?

On this path to healing, I've become better at expressing how religion and freedom are intertwined, and explaining their impact on me. This is my conclusion:

What I seek is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. When we can separate between those who misuse religion to...

Posted by Shayna Rehberg on Saturday, January 10, 2015

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to make friends

My eight year-old recently confided in me his newly-gained insights into the world of friendship, after striking up a conversation with a boy in a neighbor's sukkah.

"I used to think it was really hard to make friends with new people, but now I know that it's really easy," Puriel tells me, barely above a whisper.

And now I shall pass on this wisdom, because he's actually really smart and right about the whole thing:

1. "First I ask what his name is." Pretty simple so far...
2. "Next I ask how old he is, what grade he's in." Leave this part out if you're talking to a woman over 20.
3. "Then I ask what things he likes to do, games he likes to play. And then I see if we like any of the same things and then we do them or talk about them together."

It works. Go on, try it out on someone new today and see if you don't make a friend...

Friday, June 20, 2014


Picking up the pieces of myself
Trying to rebuild myself
Some pieces are missing
I think you took those with you
No matter, I'll make new ones
This tower will be taller and stronger
No more looking over my shoulder
Life isn't easy, but it's better now

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Worth It

I stood in the kitchen this morning and broke into tears.

Some days I'm really on top of everything, and some days I'm just not.  It was 8 o'clock in the morning and, despite being up for 2.5 hours already, you couldn't tell by looking.

I had someone's spilled milk on my pajama pants, and someone else's snot on my shirt.  One kid lost their shoes, and another lost my keys.  The lunches were made and two kids were out the door to school.  Two down, two to go.
Getting ready for Shavuot
with flower crowns and fruit baskets

My keys.  Where were they?  Puriel had taken them to unlock the storage shed and pump up his soccer ball.  But his bus came and went.  He went.  Where are my keys?

I turned the house upside down and inside out.  It was actually already upside down and inside out, but it certainly didn't get turned right side up and out in the process.  Twenty frantic minutes passed.  The baby was randomly shrieking as she toddled after me through the house and my preschooler still refused to get dressed in his nice clothes for the Shavuot festivities at school.

I'll be late for work again...  Where are my keys?! My hair isn't even brushed yet and I'm still in those nasty pajamas.  [Sniff]  What's that?  Time out from searching for a diaper change.

Snap the snaps, wash my hands, straighten baby's clothes and she gives me a surprise. Shalva wraps her arms around my neck and says, "Ima. Pretty."  She plants a kiss on my cheek.

Right there, in that that precious, sweet's all worth it.  There could be an earthquake, or a tornado, or anything(!) happening and I wouldn't notice.  At 21 months, she somehow magically knows what it takes to make my day.  In that moment I find the strength and fuel to smile, finish dressing everyone, finally find my keys (they were in the boys' room), get everyone out the door, put in my hours at the office, take my elderly neighbor shopping, make dinner, get the kids to and from soccer practice, bathe them all, then tuck them in with a kiss and the bedtime Shema.

It just takes one little special moment, to see once again that it's all worth it.