Saturday, December 22, 2012


On Friday, I shared this photo on Facebook and wrote: Three hours before candle lighting and this is what my table looks like.  Still haven't made lunch, working on tonight's dinner.
I wasn't expecting the responses that came back.

Looks like a home full of love and joy!
I'm gonna paint paint paint with you!

What?!  No, no, no, got it all wrong.  I'm frustrated that my kids took the paint out, without permission, and made a giant mess while I'm trying to clean the house and get ready for Shabbat.  Or maybe...just got it right.

It really got me thinking (after they hung their pictures to dry and wiped down the table) about perspectives.  In everything that happens, there is a chance to focus on the good or the bad.  Either way we look at it, the situation exists just the same.  The only difference is whether or not my blood pressure will spike.

So, in this new week that we are entering now, I'm going to make a special effort to see my kids' activities through the eyes of my Facebook friends.  Let's see how it goes...

Monday, December 10, 2012


It's time to kiss Kislev goodbye; this transitional month when winter creeps onstage for its debut. Wet and dreary, dark and cold, then suddenly illuminated by the celebration of a miracle. Kislev embodies the opposing forces of fire and water, which collide to form Keshet (a rainbow, the mazal of the month).

All the darkness in the world
cannot conquer the tiniest of flames
It may have seemed dark already, but we have not yet reached the depths of this year's darkness. That moment lies in wait for us still, in the month of Tevet.

Each Hebrew month is a treasure chest of connected ideas and symbols. I love how you can pick Tevet's color blue, letter ayin (ע), mazal Gedi (goat, or Capricorn), feeling of anger, tribe of Dan, etc. and run with it for miles to learn a million things about where we're standing right now in the yearly cycle. We can, for example, start with the meaning behind the name Tevet.

Tevet (טבת) is derived from the word tov (good). I've already got a post on the meaning of good and bad, so we'll just jump over to Dan for a moment. There's a very famous character from this tribe named Samson. He certainly wasn't the most upright man to ever judge the nation of Israel, but G-d saw (ayin is a letter but also a body part: the eye) the good in his heart and let him have one last fit of holy rage (attribute of anger, which Samson had plenty of) to destroy his enemies. Pretty cool, right? You know what else is interesting? Tov (טוב) equals 17 in gematria and so does Gedi (גדי).  Let's see what else we can connect...

Goats were made for climbing. You can see them around Israel, perched on a steep slope, munching away at the wild winter growth that is sprouting out between the rocks like the nose hairs on Israel's 89 year-old president, Shimon Peres. Goats are tough and sturdy...unless you get 'em around four months and then they're really tender and taste great barbecued.

Who says goats are ugly?  Ok, some are...
A beautiful Yael at Ein Gedi - photo by Yuval Rosenberg
In the darkest days of the year, cornered into the recesses of your home by rain and snow, goats are a great image to meditate on. Imagine yourself out on those rocky hills, making the best of what nature has to offer, confidently jumping higher and higher, and you don't have to worry about what might come your way because your pals are all around and the shepherd is nearby watching over all of you.  When the deep, dark blues of winter overcome us, we need positive and bright imagery to help us see the good in life and give hope until the heavy hibernation lifts itself from nature in the springtime.

You know what sounds like Dan?  Dinah.  It's the feminine form of the same word; judgement.  We just read about Dinah on the Shabbat before last in parashat Vayishlach; how she was abducted by Shechem.  Her brothers were very angry and, even though one could say they were justified, their father became angry too as a result of their actions (namely, killing all the males in the kingdom).  Yeah, I guess they overdid it.

Speaking of goats, Yael is the Hebrew word for a Nubian Ibex, a desert-dwelling goat native to Israel.  A mother of four, named Yael, was recently attacked by a Palestinian (not related, but named themselves after the Philistines who pestered the Israelites during the days of Samson).  Her husband wasn't home that night when the Arab man broke into her house armed with a knife.  Thankfully, she knew Krav Maga and cornered him into the bathroom. After wedging him in there with furniture, she called for help and he escaped out the window.  Lesson to take from this?  Every woman should take self-defense classes.  Tevet seems like a "good" month to start them.

What do you like about this time of year?  Which symbols and hidden meanings speak to you?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Little monster

I don't know how it happened.  My first two kids are so calm and well-behaved.  Even baby #4, at a mere three months, has a pretty good routine and doesn't fuss much.  So how did I end up with such a monster for kid #3?

So sweet...sometimes
In his defense, he has his wonderfully sweet side too and at times I just want to cover him in kisses.  But really, he's had the same upbringing and discipline as the others, so why can't I take him out in public without him making a scene?  My oldest is also strong-willed, but she doesn't hold a candle to this one.

Today my "sin" was helping him into the car when I picked him up from preschool.  He was climbing in and I gave him a little boost...and then his world came crashing down.  I didn't have time to deal with his drama there, so I just fastened his seat belt and started driving home.  He screamed the whole way.  He threw his backpack at me while I was driving.  I yelled, that's naughty and you could make me crash the car!  He threw whatever else he could get his hands on.  I pulled over and spanked him.  He didn't care.

Once we were home he refused to leave the car.  Sometimes in this situation I haul him in, kicking and screaming, and dump him in his bed until he calms down.  But I'm sick right now and so tired, so I thought I'd try a more passive approach.  Fine, I told him, I'm going inside and you'll be here all alone.  After a minute, when I could see he wasn't going to join me, I ran out to check on him.  He had climbed into the driver's seat where he was simultaneously releasing the hand break while trying to light a match.  Little monster.

I cut his hair before he even turned three, contrary to the popular Jewish custom.  Hoped and prayed the change would help calm him down a little...and it has.  This is him being calmer now.  I would wish on him that he should have children just the same, but that would be unfair to his wife.  I still love the little booger to pieces and wouldn't trade him for the world...most days.

I'm reminded of a story, told by Rebbitzen Heller, of a mother whose child was playing on the roof and knocked down the solar hot-water tank.  She could have screamed and freaked out, but she kept her cool by asking herself in ten years, is this something he'll have grown out of or is it a serious character flaw?  He'll grow out of it, of course.  There were still consequences for the trouble he caused, but she didn't have to stress about it beyond that.  I'm trying to get to that level...but what can I do in the meantime until he finally does grow out of it?

Do you have a strong-willed child?  How do you deal with differences in your children's temperaments?  What do you do when they throw a twenty-minute fit in public?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunshine in my frying pan

It's raining.  Here in Israel we're ever so happy for it, but it does get a bit gloomy by the third day in a row.  Went out to my favorite spot in the forest today; stood in the rain and hugged a tree, hoping that no one could see me making a fool out of myself.  Its bark was rough and wet, but it felt good.  The dying foliage, still clinging to the branches, hung heavy with precipitation.  Suddenly the sun broke through; drops of rain turned to crystals and new growth glistened beneath the old.  It never looks quite the same, but it does grow back.

I've started swimming again.  It's been 15 years since I raced with the Castle Hills Forest Eels and my strokes don't have the same form or speed that they used to, but no one is judging me now.  Still, the lack of competition can get...well, a little boring.  So when my husband said that he swam ten consecutive laps of breaststroke last week, I had to one-up him and do twelve before switching strokes.  My new neighbor, also a mother of four, passed along a few tips for isolating certain abdominal muscles.  I've got a grand canyon running down my middle, so I tried them out today.

After a long swim, my stomach is growling and so is Yahli Tiferet's.  Once her marathon nursing session comes to an end, I light a fire on the stove.

My mother wasn't famous for her cooking, but I always loved her egg-in-the-island...just had to scrape the black parts off.  It's an easy meal that works for breakfast, lunch or dinner, making it the best friend of every mother and college student alike.

use a glass to make a hole for the egg
save the circles and toast them in the pan afterwards

crack an egg into each slice
stare at the bright yellow until you start smiling
opt: pinch each yolk to break if you don't like them runny

serve with sliced veggies and cottage cheese for a well-rounded meal

Friday, November 9, 2012

Baby blues

This has been difficult for me to write about.  In general, blogging has stretched me beyond my limits of being open with my feelings and experiences.  I'm normally a very private person, but I hope that this post can help anyone going through the same thing--not to feel so alone as I do now.

About 80% of new mothers get the "baby blues" so it shouldn't come as a surprise if I feel it too, right?  Of course, it's supposed to be an overwhelmingly happy time in life-- enjoying those precious moments of motherhood with your new little bundle of joy.  Sometimes though, due to hormones, stress, lack of sleep, body changes, family dynamics, or other circumstances, you loose sight of that happy part and it's just plain overwhelming.

Most of the time, it quickly fades and you find your new rhythm within a few weeks.  I would say you return to normal, but it's not the same normal you knew before the baby--even if it's not your first.

But it's not going away and I can't stop crying.  Then I feel guilty for being unhappy and cry again.  Then I yell at my son not to squish the baby, then I feel guilty, then...well, you get the point.  Some days it's hard to get out of bed.  I have lost interest in the activities that I used to enjoy.

Of course, if we physically break something in our bodies, we don't hesitate to seek the help we need to fix it.  But mental health has a bit of a stigma to it.  And in the absence of physical symptoms, it can be harder to realize that there is a problem.  After all, it's just in your head.

I'll admit to being a bit of a perfectionist.  It has it's perks, but there are downsides to it as well.  Perfectionism has driven me to accomplishments beyond my years.  I mean, how many 28 year-olds have visited thirteen countries, lived in four different ones on three continents, are approaching their ten-year anniversary with four children, have a good career that they love, run a charity shop, etc.  But it's also crippling when I don't/can't live up to my own high expectations.  If I don't manage to also bake bread from scratch, read bedtime stories and put away all the laundry before the day ends, I feel like a failure.

I've been through this before, I thought, it'll get better soon.  And then, there I was, sitting across from the nurse at the two-month Tipat Chalav checkup, crying like crazy for no reason.  She pulled out a self-test for new mothers (similar to this one) created by the Health Ministry.  If you circle too many answers a certain way, do they take your kids away?  I cheated a little, but still ended up with a high enough score that she gave me the phone number of a clinic in Tzfat.

It took me a couple of days, but I finally called for an appointment.  We'll send you some forms in the mail, said the voice on the phone, fill them out, mail them back, and we'll get in touch with you.  Israeli bureaucracy strikes again!  Luckily, the other nurse who works there is my neighbor.  Told her what happened and in less than 90 seconds I had an appointment.  Finally, I've lived here long enough to have a little protexia.

So, there, I've taken the first step.  I'm a little nervous about my appointment on Sunday.  Will I like the doctor?  Will I freeze up?  Does she speak any English?  Will I spend the whole time crying?

I'll find out soon...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Be Prepared

My first memory in life is of a hurricane, so I never needed the Boy Scouts or Disney's Scar to teach me this lesson.

I had just turned two years-old the month before Hurricane Charley whipped through Virginia Beach.  We lived in a small apartment, my mother, my sister and I.  Huddled in the narrow hallway, the only space without windows, she told us stories and let us hold the flashlights to keep us calm.  My thoughts and prayers go out to every family and individual in the path of this week's crazy storm.

Two year-old Shayna in Virginia Beach
Aside from the lasting impression of that first memory, being prepared is something that I inherited genetically through my mother.  We, her five children, always joke that she thinks the world is going to end next Tuesday at four o'clock.  Y2K was a big deal in our house; the only thing missing from my mother's stockpiling was a gun (or at least we never saw one in the cupboards).  While I don't think the world is going to end anytime soon, I've found that being prepared isn't just about surviving in a rare, extreme can also make your everyday life a little easier.

As Hurricane Sandy was approaching and stores had already run out of bottled water, I'm sure that somebody somewhere was asking themselves "how can I make sure that I will have clean water in a potential emergency?"  The answer is simple, buy and store it when everything is just fine...well before there is a storm on the horizon.

While hurricanes are somewhat predictable, there are many other emergencies where having even a modest stock of consumables can keep life from being interrupted by a less-foreseeable crisis.  Whether it's (G-d forbid) a death in the family, loss of job or sudden illness, a little bit of preparation now can ease your troubles later.  As a bonus, remember the phrase "if you have it, you'll never need it?"  It's not guaranteed, but the chances are usually pretty good that if you put in the effort it'll just go to waste (we should be so fortunate).

In a country where war is always a possibility, and in the phase of life where our family has grown every two years or so, here are a few things I've learned about being prepared:

Water.  Water is without a doubt the most important thing.  Keep a few bottles in your car, stash some in the back of your laundry room cabinets, stuff it in every corner possible.  I've experienced small water shortages and have been able to continue washing hands and dishes while keeping everyone hydrated until it's restored.  Like I said, a major ideal of preparedness is to eliminate the stress of life being interrupted.

Food.  I'm not a fan of canned food, so it stays in storage where it belongs for that "rainy day."  While the Homefront Command just recommends tuna, we also have peas and corn, applesauce, pickles and olives.  The salty foods help you retain water in case of rationing, while fruits and veggies keep the kids happy and snacking.  When you have little rumbling tummies in your midst, everyone gets cranky and irritable.
Living outside of the city, we try to plan our shopping trips in sync with other errands to save time and gas.  Aside from preparing for disaster, we stock up on certain non-perishables and keep extra bread, cheese, etc. in the freezer so that we're not desperate for a shopping trip (in case of a power-outage, eat this first before opening your cans).  This way, if something prevents us from a regularly scheduled outing, we'll still have enough to hold us over without wasting gas on a "single-mission" trip.

Clothing.  Being prepared means keeping up with the laundry, for one thing.  If you loose water and electricity, do you have enough clean clothes to get by on?  Additionally, especially if you have kids, it helps to keep a backpack in your trunk with spare shirts, pants, socks, diapers and wipes.  Stuff a water bottle and a few granola bars in there too and you'll be ready for almost anything.

Money.  Most people say you should have savings for three months' worth of expenses.  I say, whoever wrote that probably doesn't have young children...probably weren't paying rent in Israel either.  But set a reasonable goal to stash away a little bit of emergency cash and then pretend that money doesn't exist.  Seriously, don't touch it!
You can keep a bit of not-quite-emergency money around too just to get by in a pinch.  If your wallet is stolen and you have no credit/debit cards, if the watermelon peddler comes through your neighborhood Friday afternoon as your kids have just devoured the last of your fresh produce, if you run out milk and your local grocer only accepts cash, if your car breaks down and you need to buy a bus ticket...  All of these things have actually happened to me and our nearest ATM is in another city, so it was incredibly helpful to have a small cash reserve available for when I needed it.  Don't forget: after you use your stash, remember to replenish it for next time...and then pretend that money doesn't exist again in the meantime.

Fuel.  Never let your car's gas meter go all the way to E.  If you have an old car, this is doubly true because it throws gunk into your fuel filter when the tank is that low.  Fill up when you get down to a quarter of a tank so that if you ever need to evacuate you'll be able to get a reasonable distance away to safety.

What is your first memory?  How has it influenced your life?  Tell me about it in the comments below...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Last but not least

The girl of my dreams
When Hemdiya was about a year old, I had a dream about my baby girl...and she was not Teneya.  I wasn't ready at that moment, but I knew she would come when I would be.  You see, Hemdiya is worth about three children in the amount of time and energy is takes to lovingly parent him.  But enough about the other kids, this post is about that baby girl in my dream.

In her first week of life, I saw the movie What to Expect When You're Expecting.  I felt like Wendy this pregnancy; all the way from the "where is my glow?" to the "no dear, the baby farted."

I'm not gonna lie, it was tough.  And though it was the fourth time, there were a lot of firsts.  It was that first time that I was...
  • working full time through the whole pregnancy
  • making it through the last trimester in the middle of summer
  • "single" parenting for six weeks while my husband was in Central America
  • experiencing premature contractions
  • induced with pitocin

Pitocin is so nasty.  And I discovered that most doctors don't really know how to use least most of the ones at the hospital in Tzfat.

After a pregnancy that seemed to drag on for years, I had another (surprise!) breech baby.  She was head-down the whole time until 39 weeks.  I went in for a check-up and the doctor saw that my placenta was also very low and may even be blocking the exit path.  She referred me to the hospital where two doctors, three midwives and a couple of nurses crowded around to see such an usual case.

They weren't used to the request for ECV (turning the baby from the outside) which I knew about from having it done with Hemdiya at 38 weeks.  In fact, a neighbor who gave birth in Tzfat a few years ago was sent straight away for a c-section because her doctor said that ECV is "dangerous" (and surgery isn't?!).  There were a few differences this time though:
  • with him, I had too much water which meant plenty of space to turn
  • with her, my water was very low and they didn't think it would work
  • with him, I went to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem which is one of the best in the world and had several doctors who could do the procedure
  • with her, I went to Ziv Hospital in Tzfat where one doctor who was only there on Tuesdays could do the procedure

It was Thursday, so they sent me home.

Tuesday finally came after what seemed like a few more years.  I was sent around to so many desks to get this letter, and get that stamped, and see this person who sends you to next.  Israeli bureaucracy strikes again.  Despite arriving at eight o'clock in the morning, I didn't get the pre-ECV ultrasound until over four hours later.  At some point, between checking in and lunchtime, my baby had flipped head-down again.  Ultrasound showed that the low-lying placenta wouldn't be in the way.  Hurray!

Because ECV could only be done on Tuesdays, plus the fact that I had passed my due date and had very little water left (2.7), the medical staff were all in agreement that I should be induced and get the baby out while she's still head-down.  The thought of a c-section had been hanging over my head since the week before and threatened its ugly head again if she turned bottom-down and I went into labor on any other day of the week.  Let's get this baby outta here, I thought, and went along with the plan.

So, the very first thing they did was hook me up to pitocin.  BAD IDEA.  Aside from my incredible need to walk during labor, plus the fact that all the delivery rooms in the usually sleepy hospital were full because the Klezmer Festival was in town, tying me into the wall with tubes in a tiny pre-delivery room was a bad idea for medical reasons too.

After five hours of absolutely nothing happening, I was practically clawing at the walls and insisted on stopping the induction.  Because we had already started inducing labor, they didn't want to let me go home and said I should get some sleep and we'd try again in the morning.  I needed the sleep.

In the meantime, I read up on the drug online.  Apparently, it's well-published (in English anyways) that synthetic oxytocin (aka pitocin) will aid in the onset of labor ONLY if the cervix is already ripe.  In the morning, after being told that I would be given pitocin again, I found a really nice Arab doctor who took the time to answer my questions and brainstorm for alternatives.  Aside from the prostoglandin hormone cream, there is a small balloon (like this one) that can be inserted and filled with water to open the cervix.  It also slightly, gently separates the amniotic sac from the cervix which stimulates the production of prostoglandins.  At the end of the day I made it to 3.5 cm, but the next morning was back to 2 cm and the new doctors on duty were only interested in pushing pitocin.  My plug came out that morning and contractions were coming every 20 minutes, but I knew my body wasn't going to plunge into labor...even with hormonal help.

At the end of my third day in the hospital, I had enough.  The staff on that Thursday were particularly green and unhelpful.  Pitocin, pitocin, pitocin--it was like a mantra for them.  I missed my kids.  I missed my home.  I signed out again doctor's advice and went home for Shabbat, promising to come back afterwards for a check-up and monitoring.

It was honestly more nerve-racking than I though it would be, stepping away from the baby monitors for those two days.  I had a spinning sometimes-breech baby with low water over 40 weeks and in the middle of being induced.  It was hard to sleep.  Contractions came randomly; three in an hour, then none for three hours.  At one point, I hadn't felt movement for some hours and started to panic.  Even laying down on my left side or playing with my belly didn't stimulate anything.  I was about to run back to the hospital when she finally kicked Aaron's ear and he listened for signs of life.

By the time Sunday came around the corner, my gut was screaming get this baby out NOW!  The staff on duty that day were so much better than a few days before and I had made it 4 cm on my own over the weekend.  I agreed to go ahead with pitocin this time.

Like I said earlier, pitocin is nasty.  It actually made me have contractions on this try, but they were so unnatural.  I was used to the way that contractions start gradually and increase in intensity while getting slowly closer together.  A little while in, I was having contractions every two minutes but--even though they were so close that I felt like I should have been at 9 cm and almost ready to push--I had only made it to 4.5 cm after five hours.

Hearing that news broke my willpower.  I don't know if I have ever felt so close to my end.  They'll have to cut me open anyways now to get this baby out, I thought, I just can't go on.

I, the natural-birthing-doesn't-even-take-painkiller-for-headaches-or-PMS lady, asked for an epidural.  In the meantime, I said, get me off this stupid pitocin until the anesthesiologist arrives.

I got up to stretch my legs and use the bathroom.  The contractions didn't stop once I was unhooked, but became stronger.  After half an hour, right before the doctor showed up, the midwife checked me again.  Seven centimeters.  That's when I got my second wind.  I also got laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide is a beautiful thing.  It's like being drunk, but kicks in quicker and will wear off just as fast if you need it to.  In between contractions, which were now completely being made by my body and become longer and more effective, I kept the mask on and breathed in the delightful gusts of intoxicating air.

Nine hours after labor began, I was a new mother all over again.  Yet another pair of bright, blue eyes was staring up at me as feelings of pride and joy flooded my entire being.

I roomed with two other new mothers, one of whom had an epidural.  Overheard her asking the doctor about how long the residual back pain would last.  Maybe a week or more, she said, could take a month even.  They should really warn you of that possibility before giving it to you.

Another woman down the hall had been induced with pitocin after her water broke a day before.  She finally begged for an epidural after hours of the same terrible contractions.  Thirty minutes of sweet relief were followed by contractions again.  The needle wasn't placed well and had slipped out of the right spot.  She ended up with a c-section and developed an infection requiring IV antibiotics.

Thank G-d I missed out on the epidural, I thought after hearing and reading more.  My whole pregnancy, I had felt so tired and weak.  I worried about if I would be able to push another baby out.  I'm not 19 anymore, I told my husband while I was on bed rest at 26 weeks.  But afterwards, I realized how incredibly empowering it is to have accomplished a natural birth.  I felt sad thinking about how some women may enter motherhood without this belief in themselves, that they are strong enough to bring a baby into the world.  This is one of the pitfalls of a so-called gender equality where being like a man is what it takes to make a women not feel inferior.  After all, I don't believe that a man could endure childbirth without being drugged up.  No offense guys, you just don't have what it takes...and that's ok, you've got other things going for you.

My feelings of inadequacy and weakness were replaced by a new inspiration to conquer my fears and achieve whatever I set my mind to. And as all mothers know, we need a lot of physical and mental stamina to survive what our kids will end up putting us through.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Things don't always go as planned

In fact, they usually don't.  I had planned for another home birth.  I had also planned for the trip back to America to only last a year.  Let me back up a little...

We lived a simple, quiet life out in the wild, wild West Bank--as some liked to call it.  Felt like the last place in Israel where one could be a "pioneer" and farm a piece of land without spending three lifetimes' worth of savings to do so.  Even though the generator broke down rather often, no one had air conditioning, and the few scraggly trees kept getting eaten by an absent-minded neighbor's animals...we were out of the rat-race, unplugged, living off the land.

There was a sense of satisfaction that came from such a life.  One that had absolutely nothing to do with politics, but you can't run or hide from them.  In 2005, the 8,000 Israeli residents of Gaza were uprooted from their homes for the simple reason that they were Jewish.  Violent clashes, wounding hundreds of people in Amona, followed in the same month that Puriel was born.  We kept hearing rumors that our town was "on the chopping block."  After all, we were on the "wrong side" of the fence that was going up.

Around that time, my husband had finished his seventh year in yeshiva and mastered the practice of shechita (kosher animal slaughter).  He started talking with the school's founder, Rav Adin Steinsaltz, for guidance on how to best put his education to use.  Since he is a descendant of benei anusim, we set out for the American Southwest to help others in that same boat who are reconnecting to their heritage.

It wasn't your typical shlichut.  There was no house, job or car waiting for us; no cohesive community.  Just scattered pockets of a dozen or two people here and there, greatly lacking local educational resources.  We planted ourselves in San Antonio quite by accident after a visit that was only going to last a couple of weeks.  One year passed, then another.  I found a great job and my husband taught classes.  We bought our first-ever new car and had a nice house that sometimes slept guests in the double digits.  Gone were the days of clothes made from old bedsheets; we shopped at outlet malls now.  We had air conditioning.  The plumbing and electricity always worked.  It was quite comfortable.  A third year began.

Happy third birthday!
Puriel had his first haircut.  My baby was growing up and was already the same shoe size as his sister.  I stopped preventing pregnancy, unsure of when the next one would come but very sure that I wanted another at some point.  Within a month I had a bun in the oven.

We're going to get stuck here forever, I thought...not altogether dreading the idea.  Many Israelis go to the US for a season and stay until retirement.  The cushy life was nice, although the thought of paying $10,000 for my daughter to attend Jewish kindergarten in the coming year was not so appealing.  Ultimately, I wanted my kids to grow up in a Jewish environment with a good education and friends who share our lifestyle.  Israel still seemed like the best place to make that happen.

We're moving back--now, we decided...and started packing up the house.  A container was too expensive, even to split the cost was out of our reach since we needed some funds to land with while looking for work and settling in.  Whatever couldn't fit in our suitcases had to be sold or given away.  This would be my seventh time moving overseas and starting from scratch.  I promised myself it would be the last.

I had the worst morning sickness ever this time and subsisted off little more than soda water and matza for the entire first trimester.  Got in touch with my midwife, who warned me so severely to avoid sugar (because my last baby was big) that she said I shouldn't even eat fruit.  Something didn't feel right about that but I tried to obey, hoping this baby wouldn't top Puriel's 3.9 kg birth weight.  I dropped from full-time employment and lost my medical benefits.  Aaron became a taxi driver for the summer while I packed with two little ones underfoot.

By the time we arrived in Israel, I was finishing up my second trimester.  We lived in two temporary apartments before settling into a third.  Ended up back in Tekoa, but in the main part of the town with a few hundred other families instead of out on the edge like before.  We rented the upper floor from old friends and our kids played together everyday after school.

Back in Tekoa
In the meantime, I had no health care.  We had filled out the proper forms before leaving to suspend our national insurance payments and should have been eligible to pay the hefty fee of NIS 9,000 to get back into the system.  This law exists to keep people from leaving the country and only coming back in cases of severe illness to receive expensive medical procedures at little to no cost.  Because I had a midwife and planned for a home birth, I wasn't so worried--at first.

But something felt very different about this pregnancy.  Felt very wrong.  I hadn't been able to do any of the usual screenings or tests and started looking for a place to do basic blood work and an ultrasound.  When you give birth at home, I believe it's a good idea to make sure that there are no surprises.

Private health care was too expensive.  It would cost NIS 800 (over $200) just to get an appointment with a doctor who could order the tests (which, of course, each test had its own high price tag).  With a lot of help from my mother, I finally found a Catholic hospital in East Jerusalem, where an Arab doctor who works at Hadassah hospital runs a clinic one day each week.  His fee is a quarter of the going rate and the tests are done in-house, also at a much lower cost.

Surprise!  At 32 weeks I learned that my baby was already over 3 kg and breech, and that the reason it looked like I had twins from the outside was because of an abnormally large amount of amniotic fluid.  That ruled out a home birth for me.  But a hospital birth without insurance costs upwards of NIS 15,000 for a natural, uncomplicated birth.  If a cesarean was needed, it could end up being double that amount.  Suddenly the "redemption fee" for the insurance didn't look too bad.  But they wouldn't even let me pay it.

One trip after another to Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute) left me with a different answer every time.  I kept going back, hoping for a miracle.  And one day the first of miracles came.

"Your husband is out of the waiting period," said the middle-aged woman with reddish-purple hair.  The waiting period is six months from when you return from a 2+ year absence, but almost three months after my due date.  "Did you leave and come back at different times?" she wondered.  No, we were on the very same flight as each other.  "Do you want me to fix the problem?" she asked with half a smile and the first hint of sweetness.  No, no thank you.  She even moved the kids, from being listed under my name, to being with my husband.  Now everyone in the family had health insurance again...except me.

A follow-up visit to the doctor--right after we moved into our third apartment--revealed that my tush-down breech had become a 36-week, 3.5 kg, footling breech.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I kept telling myself.  But I still cried everyday from the stress of it all.  My husband was working a night-shift in Jerusalem even after our car broke down.  Then he found a local job, but they never paid on time.  Puriel was getting bullied in preschool.  Teneya was the only one who was settling in well.

The next trip to Bituach Leumi yielded a new development.  They would finally let me pay the redemption fee and come out of the waiting period early.  Better late than never, I sighed with a fair amount of relief.  But by then our savings were all used up.  We would have to use our credit card.

Bituach Leumi accepts foreign credit cards, but their payment system was down that day.  Try again after the weekend, they told me.  First thing Sunday morning, I was on the phone.  Sorry, it's still down--do you have an Israeli card?  We had just opened a new account upon returning to the country and the card had a NIS 500 limit.  Nope.  First thing Monday morning, I was on the phone again.  That's when the next miracle happened.

"What are you trying to pay for?" the lady asked me, with no amount of patience in her tone.  "You're not in the waiting period anymore."  Another glitch.  Another wondrous computer error.  I went that very same day to the clinic to get my insurance card printed.  "But you're in the waiting period," came the conclusion after nearly an hour of unsuccessful attempts to register me.  An hour more of phone calls to the main office of Maccabi and Bitach Leumi finally cleared things up.

It was official.  I had health insurance.  Slept better than ever that night and woke up the next day with a bit of spring in my step...something that had been missing for a long time.  I scheduled an appointment, curious about external cephalic version (ECV) and eager to avoid a c-section, but it would take a week to see the doctor.  A friend who had high-risk pregnancies took me in person the next day to her doctor in Jerusalem, who worked out of a clinic attached to the hospital.  He was over-booked already, but had some great advice for how to get a checkup without waiting for an appointment.

"Go upstairs to the maternity ward and tell them you're having contractions.  They'll take good care of you right away."  So that's what I did.  Turned out that baby had flipped head-down on his own and that's why walking was suddenly easier.  Hurray!  But by my checkup later that week he was breech again.  ECV was scheduled for 38 weeks and he stayed that way until the very end.

Bundle of miracles
My little bundle of miracles was born on a Shabbat morning, after 7.5 hours of labor, at the end of Hanukah.  He weighed in at 4.08 kg and had loads of strawberry blonde hair down his shoulders and back.  From all the excess water and freedom of movement, his muscles were developing ahead of schedule and he was holding up his head from that first hour.  It was like he skipped the newborn phase.  I had given birth to a month-old baby.

The land of Israel is often described as eretz hemda, a desirable land; a land that we returned to when we did because of this little boy.  We named him Hemdiya (G-d is my desire).  I added Imanuel (G-d is with us), in gratitude for the miracles that were done for us in our days, at that season.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Free health care?

Since the ruling of the Supreme Court this summer, to uphold the health care overhaul, there has been a mix of cheers and concerns from the US population.  With it being an election year in the US, the subject is being heavily discussed and a friend asked me to expound on how the universal health care is working for us here.

I've been with and without health insurance in both the United States and Israel, as well as having been a member of three out of four of the HMO's in Israel (basic-only and supplemental plans).  Many people hear that health care is free in Israel.  Well, it's not.  But it certainly costs a lot less...

A mish-mosh of cultures and languages collided in this little corner of the world as millions of refugees flooded in from every direction with only the clothes on their backs, greatly outnumbering the local Jewish population.  The first public health fund was established by farmers during the times of the British Mandate and eventually taken over by the labor union.  Since becoming a modern country in 1948, Israel has always placed a lot of thought and effort into health care and by the early 50's the Health Ministry managed most hospitalization services while smaller clinics were expanded by "sick funds."  Membership dues were paid on a sliding scale.

The National Health Insurance Law went into effect in 1995, making health insurance coverage mandatory.  This law established the responsibility of the state to provide health services for all residents.  A standardized "basket" of health services were to be managed by the sick funds with funding from the government, the employers' health tax, employee deductions and modest co-payments (currently around $2 for the first visit to your primary doctor [$6-7 for a nutritionist or physical therapist] in each quarter of the calendar year, but there are discounts and exemptions available for welfare-based or medical grounds).

Equal status was given to each of the four sick funds and they may not bar membership for any reason, including age or health condition.  Every resident, from the age of 18, must register with one of these four funds and make monthly payments based on wages and status (for example: students pay less, the unemployed have a low flat rate, a married woman who doesn't work is covered by her husband's payment, etc.--for more details see the NII website).  Some people choose to purchase additional coverage through private insurance companies or the supplemental insurance offered through their sick fund.  With this optional additional coverage, vision and dental are heavily discounted in addition to other health services.  Annual preventative dental care for all children is free in Israel (recently extended up to age 12).

At the dentist: kids free, adults half price with Maccabi Gold
While looking deeper into the differences between health care in the US and Israel, I've come across some interesting statistics (per capita, taken from the OECD):

Total health expenditure:
Israel $2,165; US $8,233
Public expenditure:
Israel $1,254; US $3,967
Physicians per 1,000 people:
Israel 3.5; US 2.4
Annual doctor consultations:
Israel 6.2; US 3.9

Much of the health care savings in Israel are attributed to preventative health care.  Because everyone has affordable access to it, illness are prevented or treated in the early stages.  No one goes bankrupt from getting sick or looses coverage along with their job; the words "pre-existing condition" are never uttered. 

If such a young country, with such a disorganized and fractured government, can pull off a universal health care system then I'd say there is hope for the US to do the same.  Affordable preventative health care doesn't just save money, but adds years of quality life to each of us.  Israel is #4 in life expectancy in the world, with the United States trailing behind at #38.  I think the coming health care reforms will eventually help the US climb further up the list.

When I was back in the US for a while, my children were enrolled in CHIP and received vaccinations, regular checkups, preventative care and medical treatment for illnesses.  It was a relief to know that at least they were covered, but my husband and I weren't for a year and a half when we were each working part-time.  When I started working full-time, I finally had insurance but he still didn't.  I worried a lot during that time about what would happen if we/he needed serious medical care.

Don't expect the new system to be perfect though--remember that there is always waste and disorganization, in both the government and private sectors.  When we came back to Israel, we found ourselves in a "waiting period" before our health care would resume.  I was six months pregnant with baby #3 (story coming soon!) at the time and should have had the ability to "redeem" the waiting period with a payment of NIS 9,000 but was denied the chance to even do that and ended up without prenatal care.

In answer to the whole "is it constitutional to require health care payments" I have this to say:  Governments levy taxes to provide social services to the general population.  If you own a house or piece of land, you will owe taxes that go toward paying for public schools in your area.  What if you don't have school-aged children, or you send them to private school?  That's fine, but you still pay into the system so that every child can have access to at least a basic education.  From what I see, with both educational and health services, the issue is not about "robbing the rich to care for the poor", it's about ensuring "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  After all, if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything really.

Do you have questions about public health care in Israel?  Let me know in the comments section below:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Oh boy, it's a boy!

[continued from Tales of a teenaged mother] ...and in the month immediately following Teneya's first birthday, my cycle failed to make an appearance.

This second pregnancy was a breeze.  No morning sickness, high energy, a bit of experience under my belt already.  Teneya was always clingy and started walking late, so I carried her in a side sling halfway into my third trimester.

I planned for another home birth, and that's what I had.  Still did all the regular tests at the clinic to monitor iron levels, rule out diabetes in me or abnormalities in my baby's growing organs, etc.  Contractions started on a Thursday, a mere 3 days after my due date, but were rather irregular.

Towards sundown the midwife came.  A neighbor's teenaged daughter was interested in future career as a midwife and asked if she could attend the birth for more experience.  I had no objections, but there was a strong personality clash between her and my midwife.  Had to send her home in the middle of the night when my labor abruptly stopped, probably at least in part because of the negative "vibes." The midwife left in the early morning after several hours of inactivity, but had to come back before lunchtime.

It was a chilly day but clear and sunny, mid-February, between Tu B'Shvat and Purim.  We lived on a dusty hilltop facing the Judean Desert, in a run-down caravan like our seven neighbors, with majestic views in all directions.  The surrounding hills were still tinted green by the winter shrubbery and a sliver of the Dead Sea sparkled in the distance.  I slipped on shoes and a light coat before heading out the door and walked in circles around out little village on the rough, rocky road.  Stopped inside frequently for the a snack or the bathroom, not fully realizing what precious freedom of movement I had until birth #3.

A few hours before Shabbat, a dear friend brought us food and ended up staying for the rest of the birth--which came about an hour before candlelighting.  She held the baby before I even did, as the midwife quickly passed him off to stop the heavy bleeding that was causing me to shake and fade out of conciousness.  Orange slices helped bring me back to reality.  This little one weighed in at 3.9 kg.

It took us until the next Thursday to decide on a name for our son.  During the Hebrew month of Shvat, Moshe gave his farewell speech to people of Israel.  Therein came the command to divide the land they were about to enter by lots once it was conquered, according to tribe and family.  Today, most Jews aren't 100% sure of which tribe they come from and the ancestral inheritance is more of a collective sense of belonging to this land that G-d made a covenant over with our father Avraham.

The name Puriel means G-d is my lot, and I added a second name: Tuvya, G-d is good.  There have been so many struggles over this tiny strip of earth, its size growing and shrinking throughout both ancient and modern history.  In all the changes, exiles and returns, there has been only one constant: that G-d is watching out for us, keeping us together as a people even without a land at times.  Puriel Tuvya, in essence, means my lot is good and he is a content and easy-going kid with the biggest heart I've ever seen.

So I had my girl and my boy, two babies under two years and both in cloth diapers.  Their need for my attention was an incredible challenge and my heart hurt whenever they would both cry at once, forcing me to choose who to run to first.

We lived a simple, old-fashioned life out there and managed to feed, clothe, house, etc. our family of four on NIS 1500-2000 per month.  Bought bulk, organic raw food materials and grew a large garden.  Bartered raisins and rice for milk and yogurt from one neighbor's cow.  Traded kale leaves and calendula flowers for another neighbor's cucumbers.  Harvested wild mustard and milk thistle for spring salads, baked all of our bread from scratch, sewed clothes from second-hand bed linens, reused and recycled everything possible.

I had multiplied.  Maybe that was enough.

But a few years later, the baby itch got to me again...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tales of a teenaged mother

I was 19 when my oldest was born; just a month after my first wedding anniversary.  Every pregnancy and birth is incredibly unique, though mine have all been in Israel. The final days of this one (my fourth) have inspired me to write about some of these experiences.

Ah, that first time...the "princess" pregnancy, as some refer to it.  If you're tired, you rest.  Your husband can fend for himself in the kitchen and will run out at 10 o'clock at night to fetch whatever you're craving.  No toddlers to run after, minimal laundry to keep up with.  You spend most of this pregnancy reading books on what to expect and making friends with new or other soon-to-be mothers.

When I came to Israel in 2003, I knew only one person in the entire country: my future husband.  I hoped for a companion, a little girl to drink tea with and sew dresses for.  In my mind, she had her father's blue eyes and the blond hair that was mine when I was a child.

Made it through the first three months without any signs of morning sickness and was enjoying ulpan, even with the hour-long bus ride each way.  The second trimester hit and I celebrated, thinking I had missed it completely...and then I started throwing up.  It only lasted for that entire fourth month, but that was the end of ulpan.

Had been a vegetarian for some years, but sudden cravings for chicken threw my eating habits in a new direction.  The second trimester had me craving pasta and corn.  What I desired most of all was watermelon and anything sour.

I registered at three different hospitals but didn't feel right about any of them.  Being a new immigrant, I was worried about communication with the staff, what could happen if there was sudden shift-switching in the middle of the birth, getting stuck with a grumpy midwife, babies getting mixed up in the nursery, and a million other things--realistic or not.  In my last trimester, a neighbor gave birth at home and when I went to bring her a meal we talked about this option.

Home births were not foreign to me; four of my mother's five were born at home.  The hospital was nearly an hour away, but this midwife only 15 minutes...and she was a native English-speaker.  I was sold.  In Israel, you get paid to give birth in a hospital.  Private midwives and home births are not really encouraged and must be paid for out of pocket.

On Shabbat afternoon, a full week after my due date, contractions started.  I had only been off crutches for three days after spraining my foot while walking over a rain gutter in the street, so I took some Tylenol for the growing pain in my foot about halfway through.  Discovered later that I had "back labor" and that it's not normal for your back to hurt more than the contractions.  Between the pains in my foot and back, the contractions didn't seem so bad.  At the break of dawn on Sunday, after 14 hours, 1.5 of which were pushing, I held my baby for the first time.

"It's a girl!" were my first words.  "It's not a watermelon!" were my husband's.

Her name was taken from Parashat Ki Tavo, which I had read about halfway through this pregnancy.  In a passage describing entry into the Promised Land, initial planting and settling, came a decree to take the first fruits and put them in a special basket to be taken to the priest in Jerusalem.  Normally the word for basket in Hebrew is sal, but here it was called tene.  Teneya was our first after coming to Israel and her birth was less than two week before Shavuot, the feast of first fruits.  Her middle name, Havatzelet is in memory of my grandmother, Lillian (Bernstein) Margolin.

Large heads run in both sides of the family and I needed stitches.  My recovery was slow, having inherited poor circulation and in general taking forever to heal from even the smallest of scratches or bruises.  I asked G-d for a year.  A year to enjoy just this little one, a year to regain my strength.  This sweet girl of mine was just lovely.  I hoped for a boy next...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why so many wives?

I've been home more than usual lately, on account of being halfway through these 12 days of doctor-prescribed bed rest.  At 26 weeks, it's just too early to have contractions.  Sure, I've got a touch of cabin fever and an itch to get out there into the wide world again...but I'm also enjoying this brief stint as a SAHM.  It's a role that's very familiar to me, having spent more than half of my nine years of marriage in it.  But it's hard to really fit into it when I can't be cooking, gardening, or running out to the park in the afternoon with the kids.  It's also hard to fit into it because I know it's only temporary.

I'm rediscovering what funny and creative kids I have, now that our interactions have stretched back beyond mealtimes and bedtimes.  My main role in their lives, outside of Shabbat, has been telling them: chew with your mouth closed, stop telling fart jokes at the table, get in the tub, brush your teeth, hold still while I'm changing your diaper, finish your homework, get in bed, stay in bed, etc.

I've crafted finger puppets with Puriel, helped Teneya with a school project, and applauded in amazement as Hemdiya made his own sandwich so I wouldn't have to get up (he'll be 2.5 next month).  What I'm really enjoying the most though is hearing each of my children express themselves in words, through questions and observations.  They say the most hilarious things, and I've been too busy washing dishes, getting ready for work, or folding clothes to hear most of it.

They grow up so fast...
Teneya washed the dishes last night and I paid her for it afterwards. The boys had also helped with some of the rinsing, so I gave each of them a small coin too. Hemdiya picked at his and finally gave it back to me. "Not working!" he complained, once he realized there was no chocolate inside.

Some questions are easier to answer than others...
Puriel: Aba, why did some of the avot (patriarchs) have more than one wife?
Aba: Because they were tzadikim (righteous) and their wives wanted to bring more of their children into the world.  Sarah, Rachel and Leah all gave their servants to their husbands to take as wives so they could have bigger families.
Puriel: If you're a tzadik, will Ima give you another wife?
Ima: We'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

And some of the verbal exchange is just learning more about how their day was and what's been on their minds.  In the way-before-dinner-rush calm of this afternoon, the bigger kids took turns telling me how they each lost a tooth at school today while the little one grabbed at my face to shower it with kisses.

I know it won't last, but I'm really trying to make the most of these moments.  In fact, it's probably because this is a limited-time deal that they seem so precious.  I've never been very good at living in the moment; usually too busy scrutinizing my past or worrying about the future.  I'm catching a glimpse of a slower-paced life, which will hopefully stick with me beyond this bed rest and inspire me to sit still every once in a while--without a doctor ordering me to--so that I don't miss out on more of the present than I have to.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How babies are made

Purieli, age 2, already in a hurry to grow up
Puriel: I want to marry Sarah from school.
Aba: You're a little young still.
P: But I want to get married!
A: Do you know why people get married?
Ima: To start a family and have babies.
A: Do you know how babies are made?
P: They're made from dirt! Adam harishon (the first man).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chametz, se'or, matzah--and the best Passover cookies ever

Photo credit: C. Gonzales - Challah credit: yours truly
Chametz.  Se'or.  These are words that strike fear in the hearts of many women after the almond trees have blossomed in spring.  But what are they exactly?  In the English translations of the Torah, they are both referred to as "leavening," a vague term that has confused many over the years.

Chametz is the noun form of the verb "l'hachmitz" which means to ferment/sour and refers specifically to a fermented grain product.  To get even more detailed, the grains are wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats and fermentation occurs when water and the natural yeasts in the air come in contact with one of the five grains and sits for 18+ minutes.

Before freeze-dried yeast packets existed, people used se'or, which is what is known today as sourdough starter.  Baking soda and baking powder are not chametz, but beer, pasta and vinegar made from any of the five grains are.

Matzah.  Flour and water mixed quickly and cooked into a flat bread.  Yeminite matzah is like a cross between a tortilla and a pita.  Ashkenazim seem to have invented the motto "no pain, no gain"--their matzah is full of holes and is cooked to a crisp.  If you are from Eastern Europe, stock up on laxatives before the holiday…kosher for Pesach ones, of course.  Ashkenazim also avoid all beans, seeds and grain-like vegetables (collectively referred to as kitniyot), although many who have made aliyah have adopted the local custom of not avoiding everything that was ever sold together with grains in the markets and find that—while chametz is still missed—no one feels like they are starving for the week.  Oriental and Sephardic Jews check through their beans and rice before Pesach (although Moroccans and some others avoid a few specific kitniyot) to make sure that no stray wheat berries landed in the wrong sack.  It's also worth mentioning that Chabadnikim don't eat matzah that has become wet.

So what do you make if you live in a mixed family of a million traditions, or none at all?  I'll share a really easy recipe with you that always comes out tasty and is a real crowd pleaser.  It's so hard to screw up, in fact, that it doesn't even have exact measurements.  I didn't have cookbooks or measuring cups when I got married, so this is honestly how most of my recipes look:

Chocolate chip coconut Passover cookies

2-3 egg whites
bag of finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
2 packets of vanilla sugar (if you're in the US, use real vanilla and couple spoonfuls of sugar)
optional: up to 1/2 c. more sugar, depending on your family's taste buds
very much not optional: a whole bag of chocolate chips

Beat the egg whites.  Add the vanilla sugar (and other sugar, if that's how you like it) and really beat the heck out of them until they're standing in peaks.  Go ahead, take out all your frustration here.  Doesn't that feel good?

Now get out a flexible spatula and gently fold in a generous amount of coconut (amount will depend on the size of your eggs and how many you use) and all of the chocolate chips.  Be gentle here--there's a time and place for every kind of action.

Drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with baking paper.  Bake in your oven on some temperature or another.  Most of my ovens over the years have been barely limping along and who knows if yours is too, so just try a moderate heat until they are golden on the bottom and not mushy in the middle.  You'll quickly find what works best in your oven.  These don't stick around long enough to photograph.

Have a really happy, kosher, amazing and meaningful Passover!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Here, have some free birth control

Rehberg IV, coming this August to a theater near you
Just to clarify, I am a religious Jew who is very family-oriented.  I have three amazing children that I love with every speck my existence and am joyfully awaiting the arrival of the next.  And I am in support of birth control being included in public health care plans.

The fight over this issue has been nasty and politics have gotten way too far into it.  Does using birth control make you a liberal?...a democrat?  Does avoiding it make you G-d fearing?  I had to laugh when my cousin shared a picture of this lady holding a sign that said "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd [hmhm] a senator."

Judaism has also had some birth control debates.  You know what we did?  We found balance.  There is a beautiful mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply.  It was the first command ever given by the Creator, who also instilled desires in us to make sure that we would follow the instruction.  I think it's important to point out that there are two parts here: being fruitful, and multiplying.

Before my third wedding anniversary, I had already been blessed with two children.  This was a big leap, but I felt ready for each one.  Adjusting to life with two kids in diapers, I wasn't sure I needed more than two...ever.  Only a few years into the whole Torah-observant scene, I also wasn't sure what my options were.  My husband was very supportive and explained that we had fulfilled the mitzvah, and if that was enough for me than it was enough.  There are some Jews who hold slightly stricter or more lenient opinions on this matter, but the woman's needs are respected.  Of course he really did want more, and nearly four years later so did I, but G-d has given us the wisdom and tools to decide what we can handle and then act on it.  It's my choice, it's your choice, it's her choice--not to be challenged by any employer or elected official.

Multiplying is pretty easy.  Just about any girl and guy can multiply all they want.  But what about the fruitful part?  I think that's telling us that there is more to reproducing than having someone around to do it with.

What would you say a fruitful person is?  I could think of a few words: healthy, emotionally balanced, spiritually grounded, caring, sensitive.  Creating a life is the truest way of representing that "image of G-d" that we were created in.  If a person feels the need to work on being fruitful a little longer, then maybe that's what they should do before running ahead to multiply.

Oh, you can say "well don't have sex then" 'til you're blue in the face, but I know a woman who was recovering from a third miscarriage and needed time to heal before conceiving again.  She's married.  Is she really supposed to just wait a year before acting like it?

Now I'm not a fan of any of the millions of little colorful pills that people take, but I can see how some people feel that they help those seeking treatment to lead a longer or better quality life.  Each person has to make their own choices about these things.  If a healthcare package is going to include pills to make your blood change consistency, your hot flashes subside, your sneezing go away, and so on--then it might as well include these ones too.  To allow religious conviction or sexual bias to dictate public health care rulings would be so very un-American.

Maybe a woman who has ovarian cysts, which can permanently damage her future ability to procreate, should be able to use the pill to get herself through this horribly painful condition and back on schedule.  Maybe there are people in the government who think that fewer orphanages, abortions, or WIC funds will be a good thing for a sexually active teen who should really finish high school.  Maybe a woman who was raped needs emotional healing more than forced motherhood.  Maybe a devoted wife who is a mother to several little ones deserves some time to let her body and spirit find peace.  Who are we to judge?

So calm down, everybody.  The "moral fabric of society" isn't ripping apart.  Women's health care needs are simply being assessed, and everyone is realizing that they are different from men's.  It's no surprise that they are only now receiving that recognition.  After all, it took until 1978 for US Congress to pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  We live in an era with so much freedom and progression in certain countries, we can easily forget that some of the ugly parts of our collective past are not so far behind us and that they still run wild in many other corners of the world.  Life moves slowly, but we are still moving forward.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


A beautiful bouquet of almond blossoms sits on my kitchen table.  I just love the delicate white and pink flowers that herald the beginning of spring in Israel.  They are in full bloom now, even though we had a bit of snow in Tzfat today.  But sometimes when I see the almond blossoms, a less pleasant memory is sparked...

When Teneya was in preschool, I attended her class Tu B'Shevat party.  The table was charmingly decorated with almond blossoms and booklets, colored by each of our children, with songs and stories inside.  But at the table I shared with four other parents, someone else had joined the party.  It was a louse.

"It's one of the seven species of Israel," joked the teacher, blushing.  Lice are a problem in Israel, where a no-nit policy hasn't yet been adopted by the schools.  Though the lice problem is not unique to Israel, and in the US alone there are 6 to 12 million cases every year.  The best the teacher here can do is send notes home to the parents of children with long-standing infestations.  It doesn't end after preschool either.  In elementary school, with girls especially, your child is bound to get them at least once a year but it gets worse as they get older and share scrunchies, cuddle together in group hugs and lay side-by-side on the grass to watch the clouds go by.

Lice are such a part of Israeli culture that they have been featured in an art exhibit.  I don't need to pay to see that, because I get my own show every winter on Teneya's head.  Although now that I am prepared and know what to keep an eye out for, it's a very brief exhibit.  Here are a few things I've learned over the years...

By Hanukah the lice reach their peak season; check your child's head for lice often from the beginning of December because they multiply quickly.  If you can catch them early on, it's a lot less work to get rid of them.  The kids are cooped up inside of school six days a week and when one gets it badly, the whole class does.  The frequency of bathing drops slightly at this time of year because it's just so cold and that also aids in the spread of these nasty little pests.  Israelis don't seem to understand that houses need insulation, not just missile protection, so the walls are made of concrete...and more concrete.  If it's hard to heat your house, and if your bathrooms have windows that won't close all the way, then it's very difficult to convince your kids to get wet more often.

No amount of chemicals will help you.  This will kill the already-hatched lice but you'll still have to comb out the eggs for a week or two.  Then your child brings it home from school again.  Do you really want to poison your kid's head every couple of weeks?

There is a comb called (I'm not joking) Assy2000.  It has a rounded grip area and long, spiraled teeth.  It's the best lice comb ever.  Spend the 50 shekels each year to buy a new one; the teeth get stretched out after that long and it looses effectiveness.  Comb once a week when you don't have lice and after every bath when you do.  You heard me: comb your child's hair once a week...for the rest of the school year.  Welcome to Israel.

I was told that essential oils in your conditioner can help ward off lice.  Apparently they are especially annoyed by peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree oils.  If you have essential oils at home, just add a few drops to your children's conditioner bottle.  No need to buy a special brand, and it does seem to help.

Do you have any great tips for getting rid of lice or keeping them away?  Please share below in the comment box.  Thanks!