La Sandia or How Art Fosters Connection by Susie Lubell

The flattening process before framing. 

The flattening process before framing. 

This story is at once a simple telling of how I ended up with a poster from La Sebastiana Museum House in Valparaiso Chile, the home of legendary poet Pablo Neruda, and a sweeping narrative of connectivity that defies borders and time to make found what was once lost.

In 1996 I traveled alone to Chile. I had just graduated from college and I had a bee in my bonnet to learn Spanish. I hadn't managed to find the time to study abroad during school but I had taken a year of Spanish and wanted to practice. I did some research using the newly discovered interwebs and found several Jewish organizations in Central and South America. Then I started writing letters. Hand written letters to whatever contact person I found. One such letter landed in the hands of a woman who worked at La Comunidad Israelita de Santiago. After we spoke on the phone to make sure I wasn't loca, she offered me to stay with her family in Santiago for however long I wanted. Which I did. I became an honorary hermanita to her four young girls, ages 7, 9, 12 and 16. It was a wonderful experience and we are in touch until this day. I have made ketubahs for two out of the four girls so far...

During that time I traveled the length of Chile with a cast of traveling companions both random and entirely sent by a higher power. One of those companions even eventually led me to Mr. Rosen in a circumvention that only the universe could have concocted. At one point I was visiting Valparaiso, the seaside town where Neruda built a home overlooking the Pacific to spend his days writing poetry in peace. While I was there I bought a poster. On it was a screenprint of a watermelon on a cake stand with an excerpt from Neruda's poem, Oda a La Sandia, Ode to the Watermelon, inscribed around the edges. 

…the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.
It’s a fruit from the thirst-tree.
It’s the green whale of the summer.
— Pablo Neruda

I can't tell you how much I loved that poster. We all have things that we've collected which hold more value than the small sums paid for them. Some originally belonging to a relative. Some reminding us of our childhood. And some that just dive right under our skin and lodge themselves there for no reason at all or not one we can understand at least. Or at first. I took the poster home with me, along with a few advertising posters I'd lifted from Metro stations, some Pomaire pottery, a woven purse, a brass chicken wall hanging, a carpet and a few CDs. 

At this time I was still in my twenties so the idea of spending money to frame something, even something as beloved as a watermelon poster from 6000 miles south on Pacific Coast Highway, was never even a consideration. I also moved around a lot at that time. Four years in Israel. A year around the world. Two years in North Carolina. Finally, in 2003, we settled in Northern California for a stretch and I found my watermelon rolled up in a tube. Still unwilling to spend money on framing, I attached it to some foam core board with spray glue. Over the years it became warped and wrinkled and dirty. I attempted to remove it from the foam core and it tore. Finally I said Vaya con Dios to my watermelon and heavy-heartedly put it in the recycling. I made a few attempts over the next few years to find another copy, all in vain.

Fast forward to March 2017. A friend of mine is now traveling in South America and I'm following her journey with her husband via Facebook. I have never met this friend. We have only connected online and via email. She is a graphic designer and ketubah artist from Vancouver named Naomi Broudo and in 2010 she contact me while she was setting up her ETSY shop. Over the years we have sent each other clients, asked for advice, offered advice, encouraged one another and generally supported one another's growth as artists and business owners. We even share a common trajectory. She and her husband lived in Israel for a stint. Her son was born here and then they moved back to Canada when he was nine. When I was going through the horrors of our first weeks in country, she read my words and deeply understood my suffering. But we have never met. 

Since I have a special place for Chile in my heart, I commented on a few of her posts. Around the same time an issue came up for me about licensing my work to an online ketubah re-seller with whom I knew she was at one point involved so I sent her a message. And from across the globe, she replied immediately. She also mentioned that their next stop was Santiago and then on to Valpo. In half jest I typed, ...if you happen to be at Neruda's house and see a poster with a watermelon, please get it for me and I'll pay you back... 

A week later she messaged me that she had indeed found the poster and had purchased it for me. Just at that time my inlaws were visiting in North America and they would overlap a few days when Naomi returned. A week ago they brought it home with them on the plane.

Oda a La Sandia is mine again. A gift from my friend Naomi. 

It turns out that is just the beginning of the story of La Sandia.  Just this morning I was perusing a weekly newsletter I subscribe to called Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. It is masterful, in case you feel like subscribing to something. In it she mentions a children's book about Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the world's first computer programmer, a book she has added to her list of other children's books about important figures in art and science, including one about Pablo Neruda himself. With Neruda on my mind and my new poster unfurling in my studio, I clicked on the link which uncovered an article about how a childhood encounter taught him about the unity of all beings and why we make art.

One time, investigating in the backyard of our house in Temuco the tiny objects and minuscule beings of my world, I came upon a hole in one of the boards of the fence. I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared — a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white sheep. 

The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole, but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
— Pablo Neruda

Maria writes that the great poet never saw the hand nor the boy it belonged to again but that the brief encounter, with its childhood simplicity, impressed upon him a lifelong lesson about the longing for commonality that compels us to create:

To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things. That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together…
— Pablo Neruda

This is the power of art and the creative spark. Countless times it has helped me forge connections that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. So I continue to put my gifts out into the world and I wait for them to return to me under a new guise. Art, in its most general and expansive definition to include all works created from our imaginations, functions like a magnet, bringing people, ideas, energy, stories, and inspiration directly to us, along its own divine frequency, only to  leave us again as new work which, in turn, moves along to touch the next person in an endless, unbreakable circle of creation and connection. Viva la sandia.

 

Free Lunch by Susie Lubell

This might seem like a very ordinary picture but it is actually the culmination of years of dreaming and growing and building and working and leaping, eyes open, into the scary unknown. There is nothing staged about this photograph. It is not especially beautiful. This is my desk in the middle of my work day. A dirty palette. A bunch of paint markers in a Paw Patrol cup. A sketch I was working on yesterday. A water bottle. And lunch, made and delivered by my husband in the middle of the day. Why is Mr. Rosen home in the middle of the day, you may ask...?

He's home because he quit his job. He's been a medical device engineer since he graduated from university in 2000. He's an outstanding medical device engineer. Since leaving his company a month ago, several other companies have approached him. But he's not going back to work just yet. He's taking a break. And why is he able to take this break, mid-career, with our mortgage and our three kids and their activities and our travel commitments and bills? Because I now earn enough to support us for a while. 

I earn enough money as an artist to support my family.

Can we just delight in that for a sec?

This did not happen over night. I wasn't discovered. I don't have a huge social media following. No one asked me to write a book. I'm just a regular person who pays attention, makes calculated decisions, and is not afraid. Me supporting the family may not be sustainable for the long term. We will re-evaluate as we go. But for the next six months to a year, I earn enough money for my husband to take a break, follow his own curiousity, spend WAY more time with his kids and explore his uncommon gifts. He gave me this opportunity seven years ago when I left my corporate job to pursue life as a working artist. Now I can return the favor.

These days you can find Mr. Rosen rennovating our attic to be his home office. He has also completed a bee keeping course and will soon bring our hive home. He is playing in a band in Tel Aviv. He is dancing in Jerusalem. He is DANCING people. And he is schlepping our kids around to hockey and piano and scouts and dance and making lunch and dinner and straightening up and sometimes doing the laundry. And he's not doing all the things the way that I do all the things, but he's doing them nonetheless and it's fine. 

And he brings me lunch on most days. And then he spends his afternoons with his kids, doing projects, helping with homework, going on bike rides. BECAUSE HE CAN. He has the time. And I don't have to wrap up my work day at 1 pm, which has, as my business has grown, been the source of much anxiety. I get the whole day to work, something I have craved for a long time. 

The kids still come up to my studio to chat and ask questions. Things that their father could certainly help with. But it's a transition for them too and I try hard not to shoo them away. Nor do I expect my husband to handle everything. We work a lot more together. Life is far less stressful. We support each other and enjoy the support of our friends and family. We also put up with people's comments and confusion and assumptions. Their remarks about starving artists and about Mr. Rosen's early retirement. We don't care anymore. There's simply no time to waste one second of this life feeling stuck or burnt out or fearful.  

I never thought this was possible and neither did he. But here we are, moving forward, enjoying the challenges and the process and the time together as a family. And the lunches. 

TEN by Susie Lubell

Dearest Sugar Bee,

Ten years ago at this moment I was lying in bed next to your Aba, breathing and meditating my way through contractions. He was snoring. For hours I lay there on my side moaning quietly while the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Aba had a bad cold, I recall. When you're older I'll tell you about Man Flu. At around 5 am I woke him up because it was show time. Grandma stayed with your brother and we drove to the hospital. And three hours later you were out. All yellow and furry.

And now look at you. Ten years old. No longer yellow and no longer furry. Confident and beautiful and generous and loving. And funny! The other day when your brother wouldn't give you something you asked for you said, without missing a beat, that your heart was a dark and stormy night. We all fell over laughing.

Indeed the days of dark and stormy have relented for the time being. No more tantrums over ponytails. Or outfits. Or homework. Maybe a little drama still surrounding homework. And piano. No one is perfect. 

This year judo is out and dance has pas de bourreed itself centerstage. Every night the musical stylings of Taylor Swift inspire a frenzied display of cartwheel split combos to make any dance mom proud. In fact I am not a dance mom but you get your fill just watching Dance Moms and cheering for Maddie or Mackenzie or Ashleigh or Chloe or whoever it is. I don't even mind it really since it seems to be helping to improve your English vocabulary. Although you sometimes sound like you're narrating your own sitcom. Bam! What?! Cue: arm fold and million dollar smile.

If only you could get your brother to start filming you, and your mother wasn't such a disaster at baking, I think you might have a future in YouTubing. So far we have tried and failed at macaroons, lollipops, chocolate covered popcorn, frosting, fondant and meringue. I have other redeeming qualities.

In other big news, this year we were finally able to give you the sister you never had. Far furrier than you were, even at your furriest, Muna has your big brown eyes and shares your love of dancing. She's also a natural runner, like you, and loves to have her hair brushed. And eat salami. I'm afraid Muna the Mutt is the best we can do at this late stage my dear. The good news is that she will never borrow your favorite sweater and wreck it or steal your boyfriend. 

Tomorrow Grandma and I are taking you to get your ears pierced. Finally! You've been waiting for this day for as long as you could talk. Begging me to pierce your ears. Well the day has finally arrived. I'm considering getting a nose ring myself or maybe a second hole in one ear. I actually have two extra holes in one ear, that I did myself when I was fifteen, but have since closed up. A story for another time. When Grandma goes home. Grandma says she's getting her tongue pierced. She's pretty hilarious. After piercing we'll have brunch and go to your favorite stationery store, because you are my daughter after all. School supplies are in our DNA. Gotta stay organized too. Ten minutes after Grandma arrived you were already organizing her purse. Everything has its place girl, amirite? (cue: mother daughter handshake).

I wish you another outstanding year. I wish you continued intuition to skillfully navigate your relationships with friends and family. I wish you utter confidence to express yourself in dance and music. I wish you a year without lice. A lifetime even. And I wish your feet would grow so we could share shoes finally.

Love you mieces to pieces, my Sugar Bee.
Mommy

Stronger Together by Susie Lubell

Making shopping awesome since 2011.

Making shopping awesome since 2011.

I hate grocery shopping in Israel. I've lived here nearly five years and I thought it would get better and I guess it has a little. I don't feel intimidated to order cheese at the cheese counter. I understand grams. That part has definitely improved. But everything else still stinks. When I visit the US in the summer and I get to go to Trader Joe's, you know what I like the best about it, besides the way food is packaged such that it takes me half the time to cook meals, or how cheap the cereal is, or the fact that coconut water exists, or the pretty chalk drawings on the end caps, or the fresh flowers, or all the chocolate covered things you can buy (I would buy packaged fingernails if Trader Joe's dipped them in chocolate. Wow, a parenthetical INSIDE a run-on sentence. You're welcome Mrs. Fletcher, 9th grade English), or the fact that I can just take a cart without searching for a coin to use as a down payment for cart usage, which, by the way, is so dumb because if I wanted to own a shopping cart, then five or ten shekels is really not a deterrent...? What was I talking about? Yes, what I love about Trader Joe's. It's the CHECKOUT. 

I love that the checker places the food items on the conveyor belt and also bags my groceries. I LOVE THAT. I can't even describe to you the stress I feel while trying to load my groceries and then bag them while the checker has now moved on to the person behind me to the point where I erroneously end up with her anchovies and cat food. Wait, let me try to describe it. It's like a tiny vice on your eyeball. It's like taking your driver's exam in Burmese. It's like reading Danny and the Dinosaur to your son every night forever. It's just not fun. I'm bagging as fast as I can, and I know how to bag my friends. I worked at the Tustin Farmers Market for a year in high school! My brother worked there before me. I come from a long line of grocery baggers. But still, it's impossible to keep the pace. And some days are extra tense, like Thursdays before Shabbat when the place is PACKED and everyone is cooking for seven hundred of their closest family members. There just has to be a better way. 

In fact there is a better way. A few weeks ago I did an experiment. I was at Rami Levy, a popular super market chain in Israel, and it was a busy morning. I needed to pick up my kids from school soon, which adds an additional layer of checkout stress. The man in front of me was doing his best to load his items onto the belt, but it was slow going. So I say to him, "Why don't you start bagging your groceries and I'll put the rest of your stuff on the belt for you." Well he loved that idea and thanked me wholeheartedly. And you know what happened? Soon enough it was my turn. And then you know what happened next? The guy behind me says, "I got your groceries. You go bag." And so I did! It was beautiful! So smooth and simple. I thanked him as I was leaving and noticed the woman after him starting to put his groceries on the belt for him too. And so on and so on. It was a grocery revolution.

Now I try this trick every time I grocery shop and not only has it worked almost every time, it has made shopping so much less stressful and oddly more meaningful! One time there was a middle aged Russian woman who looked at me suspiciously as if to say, "Communism is dead, comrade." But otherwise everyone has happily pitched in. Because you know why? Life is better when we work together. We share the burden; shit gets done; we make a connection. We're stronger together. 

See what I did there? Little Hillary pitch I slipped in while you were enthralled by my story...
#strongertogether #imwithher #traderjoesforever

Think Different by Susie Lubell

In December of 1997 I started working at a company called ATI Systems in Tel Aviv which was essentially the Israeli branch office for the Japanese trading house Tomen Corporation. I was 24. I walked there everyday from my apartment on Epstein Street near Ibn Gvirol through Kikar HaMedina and all of the Gucci and Prada stores, past the Tel Aviv museum of Art to Kaplan where I sat for 8 hours everyday in a basement office next to Berlitz and across from a licensed Apple retailer and tech support store. 

I hated that job. I only took it because the first job I took in Tel Aviv working for a psychologically unstable American woman promoting green building materials imploded after three months and the second job as a buyer for an Israeli tile company sucked the soul out of me and I quit after three days. I was running out of money and, as you might expect, living in Tel Aviv without money is depressing. 

So I took this random job. The two men I worked with treated me like their little geisha. Something cute to look at and yell at, apropos all of the stories of harassment in the media these days. There was another man, Mr. Shabuya, from Tokyo, who sat in his office and did nothing all day, as far as I could tell. I was there a year when I told them I was taking my three weeks vacation to go to Turkey with my boyfriend. Then they fired me. 

Anyway, while I was working there I befriended some of the techies from the Apple store across the hall. They had these amazing posters from the 1997 Think Different campaign and I'd had my eye on the Picasso one. The day I was fired I went to say goodbye to those guys and they rolled it up for me as a parting gift.

Over the last twenty years it has spent much time hanging in various apartments and much time rolled up in a tube in the attic so as not to scare the children. But I found it the other day and decided it was time to hang it once more with the hope that it will indeed scare the children so they will bother me less in my studio. Now every morning Pablo and I have a heart to heart, corazon a corazon. I tell him my creative hopes and fears and he keeps his big misogynist mouth shut and just looks right at me with his big genius eyes as if to say, You got this cha cha. Bring it.

Gone 'Til November by Susie Lubell

November.jpg

I finished this painting yesterday. It has been hanging in my stairwell since June. Untouched. I don't get a lot of painting done between June and November. It's the end of school. It's summer. It's Jewish high holidays. It's a lot vacation and a lot of obligation and a lot of time off school for the kids and it's hot as hell. It's like I have Seasonal Affective Disorder except not when it's cold and dark. I have it when it's hot and bright. So this morning I was telling Mr. Rosen how it's almost November! When I come back to life! When I know I have five months of winter to look forward to. When I know I'll soon be wearing my high boots and my sweaters. When I can make a pot of tea and be cozy and close my eyes and smile and paint. Because there are no school holidays for two months! And all I have is time! Then I told him I would just need to find a way to be gone til November every year. Which made me start to sing the song by Wyclef Jean. AND THEN PEOPLE, I swear to you no more than five minutes later, that song came on the radio...

Twelfth Year by Susie Lubell

Hi again.

It's me. Your mommy. Here to wish you another happy birthday. You have grown up so much this year. It seems that all of those trying times managing your obsession du jour - electricity, phones, raspberry pi, lego, Rubiks cube, magic, programming -  are finally paying off. I took you with me to the Apple store this summer to see what was wrong with my 2011 Macbook Pro. The guy at the genius bar practically offered you a job. I went ahead and bought myself a new Macbook Pro and gave you my old one. Not only did you help me transfer all of my files to the new machine, you installed my new operating system and new software, made sure all was working well and then completely overhauled my old laptop so that it runs like new. Whatever is broken can be fixed by looking at a YouTube video. All those years trying to undo whatever damage you unleashed by fearlessly using my computer in ways unintended was a solid investment in my future technology needs. In-house tech support is finally here and I am loving it.

It was just about that time when I was trying to figure out how to hire someone to help me with my ketubah orders. They had been piling up while we were on vacation in the US and I knew that if I wanted to grow my business I would have to find someone who was bilingual, adept at using graphic design software, and happy to work only about 5 hour a week. And someone nearby. That's when it occurred to me that you were my perfect intern! And I was right! You are an exemplary employee, tracking your hours on toggl.com, asking the right questions, learning from your mistakes, taking on more responsibility little by little. What a pleasure for me to have you by my side in the studio! 

This was also the year that Boris entered your life. Boris the piano czar. I'll never forget the look on your face after you and Boris crushed Grieg's Norwegian Dance duet at your final concert in June. It was magnificent. The look, not the piece. The piece was amazing, but that look of total astonishment and satisfaction that you had was priceless. I hope you come to feel that way about everything you do and that you always have inspiring mentors to encourage your progress. Like your hockey coach and your robotics camp counselors. And your homeroom teacher. Even your cousin who became a bar mitzvah this year and totally inspired all of us. 

Indeed your passions for whatever it is and your total dedication to accomplishing your goals is an inspiration to your family. Like when you declared yourself a vegetarian this year - not an easy endeavor for someone who doesn't love vegetables. But you made up your mind about six months ago and, lentil by lentil, it looks like we're all headed in that direction. If only you'd make up your mind to keep your room tidy. Or love your siblings in a more outward manner. A mommy can dream.

Love you mieces to pieces.
Mommy

 

 

 

A Shortcut to Peace by Susie Lubell

A video about Road to Recovery. Keep a box of tissues nearby.

Yesterday I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and drove an hour to a crossing between Israel and Palestine. I called a Palestinian man named Nayim and let him know I had arrived there a little early and that I would wait. It was 7 a.m. and the crossing was teeming with Palestinian men waiting for rides to their places of work in Israel. I stayed on the Israeli side, parked in a dirt lot. Vans and trucks came and went picking up groups of men. While the men waited they chatted and swiped their cell phones. A few were smoking, though not many. Ramadan. After about 15 minutes, a tall man with a broad smile approached my car. I opened the window.

"Are you Susie?" he asked in accented Hebrew.

"Yes, I'm Susie. Nice to meet you." I replied.

He walked around to the other side where he and a female companion entered my car. 

"May I sit in the front?"

"Of course! Whatever is comfortable for you."

He introduced himself as Raafat. The woman sitting in back was his mom. She wore traditional clothing. He wore jeans and a tee-shirt. His short sleeves did not quite cover the port taped to his right bicep. His mom smiled and spoke a few pleasantries in Arabic. I smiled back and wished her a Ramadan kareem. Everyone buckled and we started our drive to Hadassah Ein Karem, an Israeli hospital outside of Jerusalem. A one hour drive from Eyal Crossing, near the city of Kalkiliya on the Palestinian side, Kfar Saba on the Israeli side. Raafat and his family live in Kalkiliya, a few minutes walk from the border. This was to be his second treatment at Hadassah Hospital. Raafat has Lymphoma. 

Last time it took him and his mom four hours to get to his appointment and 500 shekels ($125) in cab fair. One way. His treatment protocol is two days of treatment every twenty days, but it's outpatient. He doesn't stay at the hospital. Last week a friend of his mentioned an organization called Road to Recovery that provides rides to Palestinian patients who are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Raafat made a phone call to Nayim, the coordinator on the Palestinian side, and now here he was in my car.

About a year ago I had read an article about Road to Recovery in Tablet Magazine It was started by a man named Yuval Roth whose brother had been kidnapped by Hamas in 1993 hitchhiking home from reserve duty. During his grieving process Yuval joined a bereavement group of Israelis and Palestinians who had each lost family members because of the conflict and there he befriended a man named Mohammad who had also lost a brother. The story goes that Mohammad once asked Yuval if he could drive another brother to the hospital, just as a favor between friends. That ride turned into more rides. Word spread and Yuval received many calls from families who desperately needed rides, mostly for their children, to receive treatments at Israeli hospitals. Now Yuval and his team coordinate 600 volunteer Israeli drivers who provide 10,000 rides a year to sick Palestinians. Mostly children. Many Palestinian patients receive permission to receive treatment in Israel, paid for by the Palestinian Authority, but they cannot make the trip in their own cars, if they even have cars. So they rely on taxis which are often prohibitively expensive. Driving on Israeli roads in an Israeli car with an Israeli driver cuts out all the checkpoints and the waiting and the transfers and the hassle. It's a direct route. A much needed short-cut.

I believe it's possible for Palestinians and Israelis to live amicably as neighbors. Who knows when our politicians will be able to sign a peace agreement. I'm not holding my breath. But when we have the opportunity to connect as individuals, it's not difficult. There is a lot of common ground. Unfortunately opportunities are scarce because we live segregated lives. As citizens we also need a more direct route to interact and engage. I have wanted for some time to show my support of a lasting, peaceable solution but I'm not much of an activist. The public, sign-holding kind, anyway. So the idea of helping people directly with just a few hours of my time and maybe having a chance to talk and connect as human beings and not nationals from either side of a wall, appealed to me immensely. The road to peace, reconciliation and recovery, just like the road to Hadassah Hospital, need not be so convoluted and fraught with checkpoints.  

A few weeks ago I finally sent Yuval an email asking if he needed more drivers. He put me on the list and that was that. On Sunday this week, his rides coordinator for the central region called and asked if I could get to Kfar Saba on Monday morning. There was a 40 year old man who needed a ride to Hadassah. I said yes. The next day I was driving Raafat and his mom to chemotherapy.

We chatted the whole drive. His Hebrew is very good. Before the cancer he worked in flooring installation. He'd been working in Israel since he was 16 when he obtained a work permit. His father had worked in a factory in Israel for many years also. He had three kids, 15, 12 and 10. He told me his doctor said he wouldn't be able to have any more kids after the treatment but he said that he and his wife made that decision 10 years ago, even before the cancer. We agreed that three kids is plenty. 

His wife is a hairdresser. She has a salon and he's thinking of importing cosmetics to help grow her business. He can't work in flooring anymore. He hasn't worked in more than a year, he said. But his brother is helping with his bills. His whole family is pitching in. He was open with me about his cancer. How he hadn't been feeling well and his doctor had given him medication but nothing was working. Finally he had a blood test and went to see a specialist in Ramallah. It was Lymphoma. And had he been diagnosed earlier, his treatment would have been easier and shorter. This is apparently his second round of treatment, something new, so he's hoping for the best. He said that he once spent a week at Rambam Hospital and a group of musicians came and played for the patients in Oncology. He showed me a clip on his phone. He had recorded it to show his family and friends back home. He couldn't believe that volunteers actually come to the hospital just to cheer up patients. We agreed that there are a lot of good people in the world. 

We arrived after exactly an hour and found our way to Oncology. I dropped off Raafat and his mom and wished them well and good luck and until next time. I'm Raafat's driver now. Every twenty days, two mornings back to back. I'm also one more person praying for his recovery. 

Please take a minute and click on this link to the online fundraiser for Road to Recovery. Yuval and his volunteer staff are raising money to cover the cost of gas/petrol for drivers like me. With the cost of gas covered, Yuval can recruit even more drivers. If you live in Israel and you have a reliable car, you can sign up to be a driver too. 

High Five by Susie Lubell

Hi beautiful boy.

It's hard to believe but today you are no longer four and a half. You are five. All the fingers on one hand including your thumb even though it looks like a half finger. You are big.  No nap big. Booster big. Bike riding big. Sleepover big. Big enough to wipe yourself. Effective immediately. 

Sometimes I watch you interact with your older brother and sister and it's like a window into my own early childhood. I see your frustration when you can't get a word in at the dinner table. I see your sadness when we all appear to be (or actually are) ignoring you. But mostly I see your pure joy when you all play together. It must have been that way with us too. Me and my brothers. We must have played together when I was a little girl. It was so long ago and my memories are fuzzy but I like to think that five year old me was once adored by 9 year old and 11 year old siblings, the same way you are adored by yours. Gets me right in the feels.

This year you started a new preschool and it is the perfect place for you. You have so many good friends, all of whom were just at our house for your first ever birthday party rager. Your birthday is so close to Shavuot that we've managed until now to pass off our holiday gatherings as your birthday party. Stick a few candles in that cheesecake and call it a birthday, am I right? I guess not anymore. Indeed the party was a great success but I feel quite certain that we will never be doing that again. 

But because of you and your gan, I finally feel like a real part of this community. Because of you and all of your friends, I've made some friends of my own. When we first moved here, the parents of your brother and sister's friends had all known each other for years - since their kids were in daycare. Relationships were formed. Alliances made. I was always odd mom out. But with you, I'm in on the ground floor. Its a good place to be. 

Your favorite food group continues to be ketchup. You love dinosaurs and Curious George. Every morning you collect your morning hug from your brother. You have been known to produce elaborate performance art pieces that incorporate dance elements, synthesized music and storytelling. You like to bring all of your plastic animals into the bath with you although you are careful to only bring sea creatures into the water. The rest you place around the rim of the tub like some kind of blessing-way ceremony.

For your birthday you asked for only two things: a big bean bag for your room, like your brother and sister both have, and a doll. And not a baby doll or a Barbie doll. You wanted a doll like your sister's. A big girl doll with her own clothes. So I got you an American Girl knock-off. And now I do believe it's time to introduce you to Free to Be You and Me so we can sing William's Doll together. I'll do the Alan Alda part and your can be Marlo Thomas. 

If I had to describe you in one word it would be earnest. Everything about you in on the up and up. No manipulation. No cunning. It's what you see is what you get. Utter sincerity. That said, there have been a few times when you've claimed you won't be my best fwend anymore unless I give you an Oreo. And I admit, it hurts. Cuts to the core. Which is why I often hand over the Oreo because I just can't risk it. Best fwends fowevo. 

Love you mieces,
Mommy

I am the King!

I am the King!

Creative Cross Training by Susie Lubell

Work in progress. Like everything else.

Work in progress. Like everything else.

Three weeks ago I was scrolling around in Facebook, which I do far too often and which I generally find to be a total waste of time. But during this particular session I came across an invitation to a workshop on Voice and Space held by a fantastically gifted Israeli vocal artist named Victoria Hanna. I signed up immediately. For those of you who know me, you know this is highly uncharacteristic as I usually spend weeks researching the crap out of something until it has lost all of its original appeal. But something told me this was an opportunity not to be missed. 

I came across this video by Victoria Hanna about a year ago and was completely mesmerized. I had never heard of her before. Honestly I couldn't even figure out if she was speaking Hebrew. Or Arabic. Or Aramaic! It's obvious to me now that she's singing the alphabet and an acrostic prayer spoken during the festival of Sukkot called Hoshana. But during that first time listening and seeing this spectacle I could only hear tones, linguistic explosives and fricatives and nasals; I could only see someone absolutely embodying her own power. The images and sounds stayed with me for a long time.

And here she was offering a workshop on Voice and Space, whatever that meant, in Ein Kerem, a quaint artist's colony only 20 minutes from my house. It's like if Eric Clapton was having a workshop called Chords and Cords at the local YMCA, and you happened to find out about it, you would put on your favorite pair of corduroys and go for it. Figure out why later. Which is exactly what I did. The very next day.

And good thing it was the next day because had I had any more time to think about it I would have backed out. But I didn't back out and suddenly I was standing in a circle with 15 other women, in a small compound off the main road in charming Ein Kerem. A chef, a rabbi, a psychologist, a retired architect, a high school senior... indeed we were a wide range of ages and experiences. And for the next five hours we did exercises in opening up. We did a lot of humming. A lot of moaning. We talked about the body as a vessel. A space within a space. A container with holes. An instrument. Like a flute. And before I knew it I was bearing down and chanting next to Victoria Hanna while she made reference explicitly to her mouth and implicitly to her vagina, mentioning in the same breath, Talmud, childbirth and poetry. It was kind of exhilarating. She talked about how vibrations move through us. The whole world full of frequencies finding their way through each person. In as air. Out as sound. Thinking of it in this way removes all ego, that pesky thing that berates us for not doing it right. Whatever IT might be. Because when you're just the vessel, the sound comes through you, but it's not YOU. If you let the vibrations move through you at your most open, that's when the magic happens.

And suddenly I understood why I was there and what her words meant for my own practice. I'm not a singer, though I have been known to sing in Yiddish on occasion. I am a painter and my best work, the work that I feel most connected to and delighted by, comes when I get out of my head and let the vibrations move through me and onto the canvas in wild, juicy color. Mine is a constant process of letting go. Opening up. Revealing to myself and the world my own singular gifts. Because no one sees exactly how I see or processes the grand space outside of me the way I do. So the more I open up, the more clearly I can translate those gifts onto my canvas.  

This is the kind of experience I call Creative Cross Training. Doing something creative, that's not your regular thing, to unclog the openings. It can be anything. Voice. Movement. Photography. Even that class I took last year in screen printing which was, for me, a completely new way to work in color and layering. Creative Cross Training also allows me to take risks and fail miserably without damaging my ego. Because I'm just the vessel. Whatever comes in moves through my space. In as inspiration. Out as creation. I just have to make sure the path is wide open and marvel at whatever emerges.

My Name is Susie by Susie Lubell

a selfie with my translator

a selfie with my translator

My name is Susie. 

That's all I knew how to say but it turned out to be enough to get us started.

We went on a hike on Saturday with a small group of Israeli families from the area where we live. Joining us were three Palestinian families from the same area, but the other side of the checkpoint. We all met at a gas station that's in a kind of no man zone and together we crossed the road and headed down a path toward the springs in the village of Hussan. I found out about the walk via Facebook and some activist friends of mine who are involved in a group called Path of Hope and Peace. I had met one of the organizers at this same gas station a few months before. We have a common friend. And another organizer belongs to our synagogue. 

Fewer Palestinian families joined than expected because on this particular Saturday there were ten weddings in Hussan. The walk was beautiful and I struck up a few conversations with our hosts/guides. Ali is a gardener and works for several families in our town. He has a permit to work anywhere in Israel, he told me. He also told me that Israelis tell him he looks like Israeli singer Eyal Golan, which he kind of does. We laughed about that. Ameen also joined and brought his two girls Meervat and Mayeece, ages 10 and 7. He is a tour guide from Tekoa and speaks English very well. 

When we finally got down to the spring, I noticed other families there, not part of our group. The adults kept to themselves but the kids seemed curious. There were about eight kids who all looked to be between nine and eleven years old. Spindly bodies, dripping wet with spring water. Frenetic conversations. Animated gestures. The teasing tone of fifth graders, universally understood despite any language barriers. I can spot fifth graders a mile away. It's my favorite age. They noticed me too and shouted HELLO! GOODBYE! SHALOM! 

I turned around and walked right up to them and said, Isme Susie. My name is Susie. Sadly it's about the only thing I know how to say in Arabic. I pointed to myself and repeated, Isme Susie. 

The boys went crazy. Shrieking their own names. Laughing. 

Shwe shwe, I said. Slow down. Isme Susie. Then I pointed to each one. 

Isme Mustafa
Isme Osama
Isme Mohamad...

I had their attention now so I started to say ONE, TWO, THREE in English. Soon all the boys were shouting the numbers in English up to ten. Then they waited for my next move.

ECHAD, SHTAYIM, SHALOSH...

They all chimed in on the Hebrew numbers too.

Then I said, Arabiya?

Immediately they started screaming the numbers in Arabic.

Shwe shwe, I said. Then the boys counted slowly from one to ten so that I could count with them. At that point my nine-year-old daughter joined in. She knows the numbers in Arabic too. The conversation continued. I understood they wanted to know how old is my daughter and her grade in school. Most of the boys were indeed in fifth grade. I told them my son is in fifth grade and motioned for him to join us. I introduced him and the boys were careful to repeat his name. Ameen's daughter Meervat knew a little English and helped with some translation. They asked where I was from. AMRIKA!!!! I also managed to convey that I live in Tsur Hadassah. They know it's close by. Then one by one they wanted me to watch as they ran and jumped in the spring again. SUSIE!! SUSIE!! I hooted and hollered for them and gave them my hearty approval. 

As we were leaving I said goodbye to my young friends and passed out high fives and fist bumps. My son asked how I could talk to them if I don't know any Arabic. I just told them my name, I said. That's all it took. 

The Girl is Nine... by Susie Lubell

Dear Sugar Bee,

For as long as I live I will never forget a moment that happened this year. We were on the plane flying from the United States back to Israel. About an hour into the flight you suddenly started sobbing. I was already trying to remember where I'd stowed the children's tylenol, sure you'd burst another ear drum, when, between sobs, you told me you were worried that your kids wouldn't know your Grandma. All I could do was stare at you and cry myself. 

We had just had another great visit with her and goodbyes are always hard for you. They're hard for me too. And I thought my God, you are a spectacular child. Thoughtful and considerate. So expressive. So full of love. We cried together for a little while until the flight attendant ended our moment. "Something to drink?" Make mine a double.

And today you are nine which hardly seems possible. I watch with utter astonishment how you courageously navigate your relationships, especially with your friends at school. With this one not talking to that one and that one telling everyone else not to talk to this one. And you in the middle of all of it telling everyone to be friends. Standing up for the bullied. Sitting next to the outcast. Negotiating peace between battling girl tribes. 

Unfortunately you often leave your peacemaker hat at school to come home and wage war. Brothers are not always easy. I know that. And you have them coming at you from all sides. But those two boys love you very much. Especially your little brother whose greatest joy is playing dolls with you, setting up playmobile, building forts, making tea parties, dressing up with you and basically spending every moment he can with you. And while sometimes you lose your last shred of patience for him and then I want to hurl both of you off the roof, you are largely two for the road. You even willingly offered to sleep with him in his room on a semi-permanent basis so that he wouldn't feel lonely in a room by himself. You are the kind of big sister that I had always dreamed of having for myself. 

What else? It looks like your days as a pixie ninja may be numbered. You've already announced this is your last year in judo, which I respect. It was a good run. Hopefully you'll find something equally awesome to do next year. Maybe you'll join your brother on the roller hockey team. And then we can accessorize with some striped tube socks, a terrycloth headband and a unicorn tee shirt and casually segue into roller DERBY. Then you can really get out some of that signature Sugar Bee aggression. How can someone so sweet and cuddly one minute be so terrifying the next? Wait, I think one of your rolled eyes got stuck. Nope, it's back. Glad these episodes are short-lived.

My birthday wisdom is more of the same stuff I always tell you. Always try your best. We were just talking about this a few weeks ago when you had some tests coming up at school and you were complaining about how everything is so hard for you. I know that can be frustrating, especially when it seems like things come so easily for others. All I can tell you is that training yourself to do the hard work will serve you best in the long run. The ones who seem to breeze through reading and times tables will eventually come across a subject or skill that does not come naturally. And they won't know what to do next.  But you, who have always had to work hard, will rise gracefully to meet every challenge. 

All my love and mieces to pieces,

Mommy

Timing is Everything. Part III. Or How I Battle Imposter Syndrome and Prevail! by Susie Lubell

After I submit my final painting, I leave for the rest of the summer and that is that. I don't talk about the project much. I don't check in to see if the curatorial committee has accepted my final work. I just put it out of my mind. It's like when you don't talk about your pregnancy until 12 weeks. You just tell your mom. That's the model I went with and I think it's because I didn't want to jinx it and I didn't want to get my hopes up too high. So I just lived with my anxiety. 

As the opening gets closer and I receive emails from the organizers asking for photos of my work in process, a short video, to sign up to speak during the opening week, it starts to become real. And I do as I am told. But still, even up to the week before the event, when I see pictures on Facebook of the art being hung and my piece not among them, a part of me worries that the committee has decided not to include it at the last moment. My fears are completely baseless and yet they worm their way into my thoughts like a little biblical plague. It is the same old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly face. By now the website is revamped and all of the works are available to preview. They are all stunning. Mine still is not on the website.

A few days before the opening, my mom flies in. She wasn't planning to come but decided to use up her airline miles at the last minute. She comes to the opening event along with my family, in-laws and closest friends. I show up early and a wave of relief washes over me as I see my girlie donkey hanging between Chukat and Pinchas. Before the actual opening I speak to a group of 20-30 people about my interpretation of Balak. A few minutes into it I finally relax. We go out for dinner nearby and return an hour later for the actual opening. By then the gallery is packed. The Director of the Israel Museum spoke about the project along with the Founder of the Jerusalem Biennale and of course, Shoshana, who started Women of the Book so many years ago. I feel incredibly relieved and proud. I can only imagine how Shoshana is feeling. She is beaming.

In the next few days my mom and I return to the gallery and I give my talk twice more. At one of the talks an older British man comes up to me with a younger woman, his daughter, and asks if my painting is for sale. I explain that only the entire collection, as a whole, is for sale, but not the individual paintings. But that he was welcome to buy a limited edition print. He wants original work and asks if I had other paintings for sale. I give him my card. It seems that they have just bought a house in a beautiful old neighborhood of Jerusalem, just outside of the Old City, and need to decorate the great white bare walls! I tell him I am happy to bring over a selection of paintings for him to choose. A few days later he sends an email with a list of the ones he wants to see and we set a date. 

I spend the whole morning at their house moving paintings around, drinking coffee, chatting about this and that. They are so lovely. The daughter, who is about my age, is enamored by one of my goats. And her parents purchase two other original paintings. And they want to see more when they return from London in December. 

I literally haven't stopped painting since that day. I feel inspired and supported. Validated enough to feel confident but still vulnerable enough to create work that is accessible and authentic. My older styles, which I'd all but abandoned, have found their way into my new pieces, like old friends. Reminders that nothing is wasted. No experience nor experiment. No phase nor fear. It's all coming out in the work as a true reflection of who I am today. 

For you art collectors: limited edition prints of Balak are available now on my ETSY site. I'm offering them at about 30% less than what the Jerusalem Publishing Atelier is charging. That's because I love you. 

Timing is Everything. Part II. Or How I Came to Paint a Donkey in a Pink Housecoat. by Susie Lubell

Once the initial excitement of being selected to participate in the Women of the Book project wears off, the panic sets in. What in the hell was I going to paint? How would I interpret this wacko chapter with a talking donkey. I had managed to wiggle my way into the project without fully realizing that these women were all highly accomplished, highly trained, widely exhibited contemporary artists. I had told the curatorial committee to trust my process. Like I have any kind of process at all! I finger paint! And the kicker is I have three weeks to get it done including a round of critique by the curatorial committee. I was leaving for August so it had to be done before then. Did I mention I had just broken my toe?

So I start to do research. I read whatever sources I could find on Balak. My mother in law brings over books and sends articles. I spend that whole first weekend reading Torah. And interpretation after interpretation. All the while I just keep having visions in my head of Bilam standing together with his donkey like in that American Gothic portrait by Grant Wood (see above). Except the woman is a donkey. I start doing some sketches. And there's one with Bilam riding the donkey and one with the donkey riding Bilam and one with Bilam and Donkey sitting at a dinner table together. 

Then finally I meet Shoshana, the founder of the project, to get my piece of parchment. She drops off the tube with the parchment inside and gives me a bunch of scraps too for experimenting. She is lovely and encouraging. The parchment feels weird. Like a lamp shade. How am I going to paint on this stuff? I take it home and immediately start painting in acrylic on the scraps. I experiment with gesso, without gesso, I spray water on it. I glue some paper to it. It seems pretty sturdy. I can totally do this. No problem.  It dries all curled up. Damnation. I lay books on it overnight and it flattens out. Salvation. 

Without knowing exactly what I'm doing and without a full understanding of the material I'm working with (both the story and the parchment), I decide to start painting. I just need to put paint down because I'm running out of time and the blank parchment is giving me anxiety which is making my toe hurt. I spend an hour making marks and strokes, mainly finger painting. Every few minutes I read the text again. I start to pray. I'm not kidding. I tell God that I need a little vision on this thing. I ask God how it all ties together. The paranoid king, the blind prophet, the talking she-ass, the blessings, the curses, the rage, the beat-down, the orgies with Midionite women, the plague, that horrid impaling scene at the end. What. On earth. Does. It. Mean. God? 

When God doesn't answer I call Sharone. She was a religious studies major and even considered the rabbinate at one point and we chat for a long time about what it all means. I tell her about my American Gothic vision and she can see it too. We talk about the master and servant relationship, about the powerful ruler archetype. We talk about disobedience and how it plays out over and over in the parasha. We talk about how Bilam disappoints Balak and the donkey disappoints Bilam and the Israelites disappoint God. Again. We talk about the context of this chapter. The Israelites have been traveling for nearly all of their forty years in the desert and God is still trying to get them to behave so they can enter the promised land. And they are still totally blowing it, And we talk about the divine feminine - that feral, creative, subversive spirit and makes our donkey heroine open her mouth and tell her master what's what. 

And with all that in my head I go to work. And as I paint and pray and meditate, the parts of the story unfold onto the parchment. You can read about my interpretation here. I send Shoshana a preview and after presenting it to the committee she comes back with some critique. I make some changes, hand off the final piece and hope for the best. 

He Didn't Say Sorry by Susie Lubell

Dear Babu,

I know it's not your birthday. I'm writing because something bad happened. Your friend in preschool lost her Saba. She came to preschool yesterday, the day after it happened, and told your teacher that her Saba died. That he was killed and the man didn't say he was sorry. Your Aba came home and told me what your brave little friend told your teacher and we both just sobbed because we thought about your Saba and how close you are to him. And how he picks you up all the way to the sky. And how you laugh and sing together. Saba is your best friend. And it seems right now like he'll always be with us. But I guess we never know. Your friend's saba just got on a bus in his neighborhood in Jerusalem, like a regular saba, and a bad guy killed him just like that. And now he's gone. And her savta is in the hospital because she got hurt too. It's all so hard to understand. Even for grown-ups. 

Your Aba and I do what we can to keep you safe but bad things happen all the time, all over the world. Now seems extra scary because it's harder to know when we are safe and when we are not. So for now, you can feel safe knowing that you are loved. We love you. Saba and Savta love you. Grandma loves you. Our whole family loves you and all of our friends. And they all love their own families too. And so it goes like that on and on. In spite of everything, there's still so much love in this world.

Mieces to pieces,
Mommy

Timing is Everything. Part I by Susie Lubell

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

Three and a half years ago my father-in-law calls to tell me about an article he has read in the Jerusalem Report about an American woman in Israel who has initiated a community art project called Women of the Book. She has gathered dozens of Jewish women artists from around the world to each create a visual interpretation of the 54 weekly chapters of the Torah. There's an urgency in his voice which is rare. He thinks the project might interest me and he's right. I do some research on the woman and it turns out that she is about my age and we have some friends in common. And she lives about 20 minutes from me. It also turns out that according to the project website, they are still accepting new artists. So I send her an email. 

She replies. Turns out the selection committee is meeting in a few days and she invites me to submit an application. So I spend some time looking at the available chapters and am not inspired. It is a lot of tedious laws and not the good kind, like don't kill anyone. They are regarding genital discharge and marrying your brother's wife if he dies in battle. In short, the nasty laws and laws about doing the nasty. I know. I'm very mature. The only thing half way interesting to me is the bit about stoning of the wayward son but that hits a little too close to home. I tell her I'll take a pass.

A week later, after further research, I settle on parashat Terumah. It talks about instructions on how to build the alter for God while traveling in the desert and I feel like there might be some good imagery there to work with. Also my mom is coming for her first visit since we have made Aliya so I'm in the process of setting up the spare room for her to feel comfortable and I'm seeing some parallels there. It's kind of a stretch. I write a short essay about my ideas and send in a sketch and images of my latest paintings. 

She sends an email that she has just had a baby and so the process has been put on hold in the interim. That is fine with me. I am in no rush. I never hear from her again. I never followed up either. Something isn't right and I know it. I forget about the project.

Fast forward three years and I get an email from the same woman. She's cleaning out her inbox and is very sorry for never having responded after my submission. She wants to know if I am still interested in the project. There are still chapters available and they are listed on the website. I can't decide if I am disgusted or delighted that she would get in touch after all this time. I decide to go with delight and reply to her that the website is not up to date and I can't figure out which chapters are still available. Weeks pass and she doesn't reply. I am not surprised. This was March 2015.

In June 2015 I get a call from her. She's seen my latest work and thinks I am a good fit for the project. Where have you been cha cha?  She goes on to explain that while my previous work, the watercolor landscapes, are lovely, the medium doesn't work with the project. The paintings are meant to be done on parchment, like a real Torah scroll, and eventually stitched together for display. She tells me that the project is going to be featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale at the gallery at the the old train station in Jerusalem. It's all finally coming together but she's still missing a few chapters. I tell her that frankly I am not interested in any of the available chapters and she mentions that a new one has just become available since another artist decided to leave the project. She thinks it's perfect for me. The chapter is Balak. 

Now I am not a Torah scholar. I can count on one hand the chapters that I know by name. But I know Balak because it's the one with the talking donkey. THE TALKING FEMALE DONKEY. It's the one where Bilam the prophet goes to curse the Israelites at the request of the Moab ruler Balak and instead God fills his mouth with words of praise: How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel. I have won the Torah lottery. 

So I submit another application with some ideas and a collection of my recent works. I come to understand from the updated website that it's a longshot since the artists involved in the project are leading contemporary Jewish artists who have exhibited in all the big museums around the world. To make a baseball reference, this is the Show. I set my expectations low. And anyway chances are good that I'll never hear from her again. A week later I get an email that the curatorial committee has met and they want to invite me to participate in the project and when can she drop off the parchment...That was a Thursday. The next evening is Shabbat and the portion of the week is Balak. Timing is everything. 

Eleven by Susie Lubell

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Hello kiddo.

Happy birthday. It's that time of year again. When we look back at what a year we've had. The ups. The downs. The completely inexplicable. The truth is I can't remember much past last week but I'll try to review some highlights. 

You won. We bought you a phone. We said we wouldn't and we did. We explained that you didn't need it. That it wasn't necessary. That it would only cause problems. You listened. You agreed. But you kept asking anyway and we just couldn't take it anymore. You broke us. High persistence. Low distractibility. Well done my boy. You will go far in this life. I gave you the choice of having my old iPhone 4 for free or a $100 toward the phone of your choice. After days of searching eBay and Amazon you took the $100 and upgraded to a shiny refurbished iPhone 5c, paying the rest off from your own savings. And that was that. Aba and I worried that it would be a disaster. That you would lose it or break it or spend all your time on it, but I'm happy to report that it's been fine and now I don't have to get a zillion Whatsapp messages from your classmates. And that rechargeable case you insisted on buying has come in handy when my phone has died on occasion. It's nice to have one early adapter in the family. Now you just need to get a job to support your habit.

But we didn't just get you a phone. This was the year that we went balls out. We said, sure, all the research points to handheld devices as the singular factor causing the deterioration of verbal culture, handwritten expression and empathy. True, the radiation these things emit is enough to pop corn, cause a blood moon and melt the ice caps. But why stop at one device? Why not throw caution to the wind and TURN. THIS. MOTHER. OUT. You know what I mean? So we bought you a Kindle and a Raspberry Pi too. And a drone. 

The Kindle is just plain genius parenting. English age appropriate books are expensive as hell in Israel and generally hard to come by. You can't just pick up Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at the library. The only English books at our library are the Fifty Shades trilogy that I donated last year. But on the Kindle you can get whatever you want and sometimes it's even free. Plus I can use it too. Win. Win. Win. 

The Raspberry Pi is sadly also a device and not an actual pie. It's like a bitty motherboard with ports whose operating system you load on an SD card depending on what you want to do. I don't even know what I just said. All I know is that the whole thing cost me like $30 and whatever you did to it made it turn our television into the Internet. 

But electronics aside, it's been a great year for a lot of other reasons. You kicked it up a notch in piano. You joined the local roller hockey team. Your first friend in Israel who moved to Canada two years ago moved back and now he's basically Canadian. We should send all Israeli kids to Canada for a makeover. He was a great kid to begin with but now he's a Canadian level great kid. And speaking of great kids, you and your sister have found some common ground in your plight to grow up in the same house. Turns out the only thing you can't stand more than each other is listening to your little bother yammer away all day long. That child does not shut up even for a second. Like if he's awake, then he's talking and it drives you and the rest of us mad hatter. Wait, I think I hear him now. He's saying stop widing on da compuda because I'm tawking. Only God can save us my dear. And earplugs. 

Beautiful boy, I wish you another kickass year. I wish you patience and empathy. Such difficult skills but you are getting there slowly. I wish you endless curiousity and wonder. I wish you would clean up your room. You are a shining light. A shining, rechargeable, solar powered LED light.

I love you,
Mommy

 

This Many by Susie Lubell

Hello gorgeous.

You've told me not to call you Babu anymore or even Idan because your name is now Aba of the Animals and, alternatively, Aba of Spiderman. Sounds like someone just turned four.

Happy birthday! It has been a stellar year. One for the books. We started off by starting preschool! You and your best friend Omer bid farewell to the idyllic toddler oasis of your dear Yulia and entered the whirling, chaotic, vertigo-inducing cacophony that is municipal preschool. After six weeks I had a meeting with your teacher to discuss your progress and she said, well he's not especially social. Or verbal. Or coordinated. So I added that he is also likely color-blind! She didn't think that was as funny as I did. But, as expected, in time you have opened up to your teachers and classmates. You speak a seamless mix of Hebrew English so consistent it might qualify as an official creole. And you are coordinated enough to get yourself dressed in the morning so I don't really give a crap if you can hold a pencil. Yet.

This year has been an interesting one in your development. On the one hand you are so much more independent and everything that was once so exhausting, like getting you ready in the morning or getting you in and out of the car, or putting you to bed, is totally manageable now. I'll never forget when you decided after one Shabbat dinner that you were going home with Saba and Savta to spend the night. They actually had plans the next day but you weren't having any of that. You declared that you were sleeping over, went upstairs and packed your bag, put on your pajamas, came downstairs and waited for them by the door. How could they say no?

On the other hand, you regularly point out that you are still a baby. And when you're not Aba of the Animals, you are a baby animal. It can be confusing to the untrained eye. There's a lot of back and forth. A lot of I can do it myself! Followed by you do it! I'm a baby! You could see how that would be sort of hard to follow or predict or understand or decipher.  This stage made me want to strangle your brother. But not now. Not with you. Because you are still my baby. Even as I see that you've become quite long and skinny and the eyes that once took up half your head are now fairly proportionate to the rest of you, I like that you are still little. 

You know what else I like? I like that the whole week you wait for Friday night dinner so you can play your ukulele with Aba and sing Shabbat songs. I like when you and your sister set up the whole downstairs with pillows and stuffed animals. I like when you get out your tools and do work on the house. I like that you still don't notice when your shoes are on backwards. I like when you put on your favorite songs and do capoeira-esque cartwheels on the carpet in the entryway. I like when you ask your brother to read you stories.

I hope next year brings you much joy and maybe a dog. I hope your nose stops running. I hope you agree to eat something besides yogurt. I hope all the animals and Spidermans realize how much they lucked out with you as their aba. I hope we can put your afternoon nap behind us. I hope I manage to make some family albums this year like I did before you were born so that you don't have to keep looking at baby pictures of your brother and ask if they are of you. They're not. Sorry. 

Mieces to pieces,
Mommy

On Saying Yes by Susie Lubell

A week ago I was on a camping trip with a few families and I got a phone call from the director of my choir. I sing in a choir. I like to sing. I've always liked to sing. In college I sang in an a capella group which might have been the best thing about college. We rehearsed twice a week and performed around campus. It was good fun. But once I graduated, I stopped singing. Anyway, this year the director of the music school in our town (the guy who built it from nothing) announced that he was starting a new adult choir and even though I preferred to sing Annie Lennox and Led Zeppelin rather than Mendelsohn and Psalms, I decided to try it. Turns out it doesn't much matter what I'm singing. I like it all the same.

But back to the phone call. He called to ask if I wanted to sing a song in Yiddish at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in our community. I let out an incredulous chuckle. Are you kidding me?You want me to sing in public? In Yiddish? Next week?  He said No, not kidding. Yes, Yiddish song. In front of people. Next week. Isn't there anyone else you can ask? I mean I barely speak Hebrew and you want me to sing in Yiddish? Gevalt! He said, I want you to do it. It's a beautiful song. It fits your voice. I told him I'd think about it. He said he'd send me the music and a recording of him singing the song. He sent both immediately after we hung up. He was serious. 

We returned from camping and I ran into him at the supermarket. Ugh. Are we doing the song? he asked. I still hadn't said yes. Sensing I was on the verge of saying no, he said, "listen, let's practice it a few times and then you decide." I didn't want to disappoint him but I also really didn't want to learn a new song in another language and sing it at a public ceremony four days from now.

You see I get nervous doing anything live in front of other people. Even just talking. This is why I like blogging. Because I can edit. If something doesn't come out right, I can go back. I can even unpublish. I can SHUT. IT. DOWN. Performing is not like that. Once you hit the wrong note or screw up the words, you're done. I mean, your life is not over, but it's still a bummer. An irreversible bummer. And I tend to hold onto bummers for a long time. I wasn't always like this though. I used to perform all the time in a children's theater company. I used to play piano in recitals and in front of judges. Even in college, performing with my group was a rush. I loved it. I sang solos in front of hundreds of people. I regularly made a total ass of myself on stage. It was awesome. But in the twenty years since the last time I was on a stage, a kind of performance anxiety had taken hold. We can even call it fear because that's what it really is. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of getting in over my head. And it's kind of pervasive. I felt it in graduate school. I felt in my various positions in my various careers. This fear that I'm just not qualified. 

Plus there's this thing about knowing when to say no. People are always talking about being skilled at saying no. Knowing when to forego opportunities because they are not worthy of your time or energy. Understanding your priorities. Not getting roped into someone else's circus. I'm all for that. And in my quest to slow down and stay focused on my family and my work and my own happiness, I've gotten pretty good at saying no. Maybe too good. Some days it's more or less the only thing I say all day. Just ask my kids.

But then I recalled what he said on the phone. I want you to sing it, he said. That's when I had my Moses on the Mountain moment. If the director of the music school asks you to sing a song, no matter what language or key or day of the year, you sing it. You go learn the music and sing the song. Because he knows you can and your job is to trust him. If you get the call (and in this case it literally was a call) you answer it. Had he asked my son or daughter to play piano at the ceremony, I would have encouraged them to do it because the only reason not to is the fear and that's not a good enough reason. And all this without mentioning what an honor it would be to sing this particular song in rememberance of those who had perished in the camps and fighting in the resistance. And those who lived to share their horrors.

So I said YES. And I practiced and we worked on it together and I practiced more. I practiced a lot. I even recorded myself singing and we all know how painful it is to listen to a recording of yourself. But I said YES. I let go of my fear. I got up on stage in front of 500 people and I sang my heart out. I said YES.

The Salt Water by Susie Lubell

I'm peeling the shallots and crying. I'm crying because I'm not with my whole family on Passover. But reminders of them are here with me. I'm setting the table for sixteen with a mix of plates (does anyone have setting for sixteen?). Half are the blue Calico china that my mom bought when I was three. Half are from the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem which I bought when I decided I was old enough to have my own plates. I'm setting out the silver candle sticks for Shabbat that belonged to my grandmother. 

I'm crying because I'm remembering all of the Passover seders over the last forty years. I remember seders with the Sitzman family. I remember wearing my green velour jumpsuit, the one I wore every day for two years. I remember looking for the Afikomen in their twenty acre backyard. It might have only been half an acre. It might have just been a large patio. It seemed to me like a giant space to find a tiny cracker.

I'm crying because I'm no longer at the kids table. I remember seders at my parents' house, the house smelling of tsimmes and chopped liver and matsoh ball soup. I was always the youngest. I remember singing the four questions and reading about the son who was too young to ask. My brother always read about the wicked son. I remember thinking that was awesome. I remember drawing the hagaddah covers and my mom having them laminated and then using them for the next twenty years. I remember seders as a teenager when my Uncle Herb had to read about the bitter herbs. I remember hiding the afikomen and making the adults looks for it. 

I'm crying because I am so grateful for the family I married into. I remember the huge, wild seders at the Rosen house in Beer Sheva when my brother-in-law used to invite half his medical school class. It was one long kids table. I remember attempting to make matsoh egg rolls and vowing to never do that again. I no longer had to read the four questions because Mr. Rosen had a little sister!

I'm crying remembering a time when I felt more free. Before marriage, before mortgage, before kids. I remember trekking along the Anapurna trail in Nepal and realizing it was seder night. We ran into some other Israelis and asked if they wanted to have seder with us and they told us the seder was the night before. Oops. So Mr. Rosen and I improvised. We rolled a joint for our bitter herb, ate some dried fruit and nuts and called it charoset and then lay in bed freezing at 14,000 feet singing Who Knows One until we passed out. 

I'm crying because this year none of the kids at the kids table need my help eating. We've spent the last ten seders making memories for little kids. I remember the first year that Eliyahu came to our seder. I convinced Uncle Aaron to dress in a sheet, a rasta hat and sunglasses and swirl in at just the right moment sending small children into terrified hysterics. I remember when the older cousins couldn't find the afikomen until we noticed my one year old daughter sitting on the floor next to the hiding spot eating it. 

I'm crying because of the damn shallots. I'm preparing the chicken, roasting the vegetables, putting the hametz in the back room, unfolding the tablecloths that belonged to my husband's grandmother who passed away a year ago. I'm handling her silver too, amazed by how it feels different than our regular "silver"ware. I'm dusting off the Delftware seder plate that my cousins bought us at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam for our wedding. I'm hauling down the extra chairs. I'm cutting flowers for the table. I'm covering the matsoh. I'm finding the hagadot. I'm preparing the bowls of salt water for the table so we can dip the parsley like we've always done. The salt water seems especially symbolic. I'm crying and I'm letting in the holiday and the memories and the flavors and the traditions and the love.