Israel

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. 

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. 

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

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.

Allowing for Failure in the Creative Process by Susie Lubell

Imagine how different our professional lives would be if we allowed more time for ourselves to play. Tinker. Mess around. Daydream. And not just "creative" professions. Isn't it Google that allows their employees to spend 20% of their time developing pet projects. They've done pretty well for themselves, I'd say. I think probably the best ideas come out that way. They certainly don't come out from telling ourselves to come up with them.

A few days ago I got to hear an incredible speaker in our tiny community library. World renowned collage artist and illustrator Hanoch Piven came to speak on the topic of communication, creativity and play.  Maybe you don't know his name but you've seen his collages on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire and Time Magazine. He's kind of a big deal. And yet his genius sort of evolved from a place of failure. A little background:

Hanoch Piven always liked to draw as a kid. He loved cartoons and caricatures but instead of pursuing this passion he found himself studying software design and math after his army service.  Safer choices. But dissatisfied with this path he applied to Israel's premiere art school, Bezalel, and was not accepted. So he applied to other schools and ended up studying illustration at the New York School of Visual Arts. At some point he began to feel that his drawing skills just were not at the same level as his classmates and he hit a wall. He tells the story of how he came across an old poster advertisement for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and the image was simply the contour of the face, a black block for a mustache and a wisp of black bang on top. But it was so obvious that not only was it Hitler, it was Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. He was astounded by how such little visual information could convey so much. Soon after he was trying to draw a caricature of Saddam Hussein (this was around the time of the Gulf War) and nothing was working. He saw a box of matches near his drawing table (his girlfriend at the time was a smoker) and by simply placing the matches as Hussein's exaggerated mustache, not much else was needed to convey the persona. 

And so began a 25 year career of creating collages, mainly celebrity portraits, out of everyday items, food and garbage. Every portrait he showed was immediately obvious. He also talked about how the process of creation for him is more about playing than anything else. His studio has boxes and boxes of items and he simply plays with pieces again and again, switching and reconfiguring, until something works. And up until it finally works, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. He says, "there is a lot of inspiration in the process itself. To start the process with failure. To allow yourself to fail. But once you are there, the failures lead to success". 

I love the idea that he creates by playing. He accesses that curiosity that we all have as children but often lose as adults. It reminded me of that quote by Picasso "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." He even showed a picture of Picasso, one of my favorites, one that I have hanging in my own studio, sitting at a table with rolls at the edge where his fingers would be. Silly Picasso. 

This is exactly where I'm at. I'm letting myself play. I'm painting layer over layer until I like what I see. When something isn't working, I let it dry and let it go. I glue some paper on top, make some new marks and move forward. I look at the those marks and see what emerges. A woman, a monkey, a giraffe. Whatever it is, I let it in. Hearing Hanoch speak about his own similar process was like getting a little nod and pat on the back. You got this girl. Keep at it.

And I should also mention that for someone so accomplished, he comes across as a lovely man. A mensch really. He holds creativity workshops all over the world for children and adults and lectures on the topics of creativity, communication, innovation and education. Here are a few snippets to enjoy. The Ted Talk especially contains much of the material he shared with us in the library.

And the Sea Parted by Susie Lubell

Sometimes connections and messages present themselves and I happen to have my eyes open and then I get to witness something extraordinary.

Last week was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and my Facebook feed was full of Never Again sentiment with all of the horrifying imagery that, together with chicken soup, Sabbath candles, Fiddler on the Roof and standing under the chuppah, forms the core of my Jewish soul. I clicked on a few links and managed to see images I had never seen before which I didn't think possible. One link in particular focused on the children of the holocaust and I stared at the tiny, terrified, malnourished faces and I thought of my own children and the world we live in today. This year the anniversary of liberation coincided with the Torah portion Beshalach, the splitting of the Red Sea. And just as the Israelites were released from bondage and crossed over to redemption, so did the survivors of Auschwitz. Except even now, after so much time has passed, nothing much has changed. Humans around the world are still enslaved and broken. European Jews live in fear again. Humanity hasn't learned. Let's just say I was not in a good place. 

The next day, on Thursday, I went to a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. In fact I just went to drop off a print that the mother of bat mitzvah girl had bought from me as a gift for her daughter. This was a client of mine from Sweden who had flown to Israel with her family to celebrate the occasion as they had done for their three older sons. She invited me to join them for the ceremony but I had a doctor's appointment and anyway wasn't sure I would want to spend my morning at a bat mitzvah service for a family I didn't even know. 

That morning I looked up the address and discovered the ceremony was at Congregation Har El in Jerusalem, the founding congregation of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. And it turns out the rabbi there was the first rabbi of our Reform congregation in the little town where we live. I had a feeling I'd be canceling my doctor's appointment.

When I entered the modest sanctuary my client Anneka walked over and welcomed me with a big hug. I gave the print to her daughter Hannah and when she saw Magic Girl with her name inscribed in Hebrew she actually squealed and bounced on her tiptoes. I spoke with Anneka and her husband for a few minutes while we waited for the other guests to arrive. In fact they were German but had moved to Sweden many years ago because of a real estate opportunity. They lived an active, progressive Jewish life in Sweden but were thrilled to be able to celebrate the bnei mitzvah of her children in Jerusalem. Their daughter had learned her Torah portion by studying via Skype with Congregation Har El's cantor.

Once all of the guests arrived (we were only about 25) Rabbi Ada welcomed everyone in English and invited Hannah to the bima to read the poem "I am a Jew", written in 1927 by Jewish French writer, poet, translator and playwright Edmond Fleg. Je suis Juif. But Hannah read it in her native German. And to hear this beautiful twelve year old girl, with the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen, read and affirm again and again, in German, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, felt like redemption itself.

Together we chanted the prayers of the morning service, the same ones I read when I became bat mitzvah almost thirty years ago. And when it was time for Hannah to read her portion from the Torah, which was passed to her from her father to her mother to her older sister and three brothers, the rabbi mentioned that the breast plate decorating and protecting this holy book was donated by Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father and sole surviving family member, when he visited the synagogue in the 1960s. On it, in large Hebrew letters, is engraved In Memory of Anna. Both names, Hannah and Anna, are derived from the Hebrew word for grace. And indeed Hannah was the essence of grace as she chanted her Torah portion, before family and friends, seventy years after the ovens at Auschwitz and only a few weeks after the horrific violence in a changing Europe. Her voice was brave, almost defiant, as she affirmed her sacred place in the history of the Jewish people. And with belief and hope restored, she walked us through the parted waters to the other side.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys by Susie Lubell

My painting process is evolving. For this piece I started out by making a big background mess full of color and marks. And then to quiet it down I added some paper layers, the bits I found at the Jaffa flea market last week. And then I looked at the painting upside down and I saw a mouth. I saw a wide opened mouth with teeth which became the face of the little dancing guy. And those two circles under him became balls or color wheels or I don't know what. And then I saw the eyes of the woman next to him so I fleshed her out. I drew his body and at first she was holding him in her right hand but that was weird so I just left him jumping in mid-air. And then I saw the monkey. It was just his nose and eyes at first and then I sketched all of him. And the clown and the monkey were kind of on the same plane so I put them on a high wire. And then I understood what was going on.

Have you heard this Polish expression? Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Which is to say that not all of the crap and drama that's swirling around me is actually mine. Some of the crazy belongs to me, but not all of it.

This is true even about my own kids. I mean, I do feel the need to be aware of what's happening in their respective circuses but in some cases I actively step away and remember that it is not happening to me. For instance and totally hypothetically, it is not my place to tell another mom in my son's class that her kid sucks because he excludes my son, as much as it would give me great satisfaction to do this. It's not my circus. Sure, my son is kind of like my monkey, but he is not an extension of me. He is his own person. And my job is to equip him with what he needs to ringlead his own circus.

This is also true of our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. It's important to listen and support and care and be available but it's also important to have boundaries. It's not my job to fix everything or everyone. In fact, when I do that it might suggest I don't have a lot of confidence in the other person's ability to manage their monkeys. And that is not a message I want to relay at all, especially to my kids. I want to empower, not undermine or underestimate. But supporting without interfering is a tightrope act all by itself.

A+ in Comprehension by Susie Lubell

Our daughter radiates love. She is a professional snuggler. She likes to get close. She loves to laugh. She has an unbelievable intuition. She understands people and situations. The other day I was watching a video an old friend had sent me from Peter Gabriel's Secret World tour, a concert we had seen together. My daughter snuggles in close to watch together on my phone and then she whispers to me, is he getting divorced? In fact the whole album has mostly to do with his devastating divorce. How does she know these things? Her emotional intelligence is magnificent. She can probably talk to the dead. I'll keep you posted.

The rest of this post is on the Times of Israel.

 

Especially Outstanding by Susie Lubell

Three years ago, when we moved to Israel, I met with a counselor from the Ministry of Absorption (Immigration) and she "registered" me as a new immigrant artist and told me that I could present my work in front a committee and potentially be selected as an "outstanding" artist and receive some money from the state to help establish my studio in Israel. This sounded somewhat terrifying but I figured what the hell. She said I would get a letter in the mail the next time one of these committees was meeting.

Many months passed and I never got a letter, so I called. And called. Like twenty times. And finally someone knew something about what I was talking about and said, oh yes, the committee is meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem and you should bring your portfolio.

Wednesday was tomorrow.

I mean, what if I hadn't called so many times? What if still no one knew what I was talking about? Did everyone else get the formal invitation? WHY DOES NOTHING IN THIS COUNTRY EVER WORK BESIDES IRON DOME? So after I finish ranting to Mr. Rosen about how completely idiotic is the Ministry of Absorption I pull together whatever original work I can find, a few new canvases I have just completed and my laptop and hope this will sufficiently impress the committee.

The next morning I park downtown in Jerusalem and schlep all of my stuff to a nondescript building and notice about 50 other people sitting around waiting to present in front of the panel. So I sign in and wait. And wait. I wait for three hours. When it is finally my turn I set up my laptop and show the four people my website and then in Hebrew I explain to them about what I do and my business and what I've been working on lately. And then one woman says, thank you, that is all. I had been in there five minutes. I was second to last and it was past lunchtime.

I leave feeling furious. Why does the government of Israel even have these programs to help professionals when really they should put the money toward some management consulting or something because for starters they could have assigned us individual times so that we didn't have to hang around forever and even my seven year old could have come up with that one! Crimey!

I get in the car and drive home, still fuming and I think of all the things I could have articulated better. And I think about how much I hate my website. The next day I just can't take it anymore and I call up the Ministry and find my way to the coordinator for the artist panel and give her a piece of my mind. I tell her that we waited for hours and that we should have had time slots and then when I was finally seen at the end it was only for five minutes and the committee wasn't friendly at all and it was a total waste of my time. And she says, what, was your name again?

Susan. Susan Lubell Rosen.

There is a pause.

Were you the one with the watercolors and Judaica and the website? You were one of the last ones?

Yes, I say, bracing for a total shredding of my work.

You were selected as Especially Outstanding. You were the only one. Out of everybody. It's interesting that you left feeling totally discouraged because we thought your work was wonderful and that you have a big future ahead of you. 

Huh?

In a million years I couldn't have guessed that one. Note to self: see yourself how others see you and tell your self doubt to take a hike (I might use a different phrase if it was just me and self-doubt having a chat. Something that rhymes with pluck cough). So I take back some of the mean things I said and the coordinator says that next year they'll use time slots. She tells me to wait for the official letter and then submit a proposal for how to spend the stipend and then wait for approval and then buy the stuff and then wait to be reimbursed. All in good time.

And that is also how I came to be on an official list from the Ministry of Absorption as an Especially Outstanding new immigrant artist and how I came to find out about a gallery in Jaffa that was receiving submissions from new immigrant artists for an exhibition and how I came to participate in my first group exhibit in a gallery in Israel.

Now that's what I call Especially Outstanding.

Aliyanniversary by Susie Lubell

We moved to Israel three years ago today. It's our aliyanniversary. Sometimes I think back on that period in our lives and I don't know how we did it. We had a baby, sold our house, moved to a temporary house, packed everything we could fit into a 20 foot container, sold everything else, boarded a flight with TEN pieces of luggage, three car seats, a stroller, a porta-crib and four carry-ons, said goodbye to our family, friends and lives in America and landed in Israel. Eyes wide shut. What were we thinking? I'm still not 100% sure. I do know that despite the two wars, the endless bureaucracy, the heat, the snow, the giant void in mentalities that I encounter daily, the inability to follow all the PTA emails in Hebrew, the absence of Trader Joe's, the financial struggle, the DRIVERS, the feeling that no one knows what I'm saying, the littering, the constant tension between Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews, Secular Jews and Orthodox Jews, my eldest and his sister, we're pretty happy. I can't explain it. Here, I'll try.

All of these things make me feel incredibly grateful that I have a partner like Mr. Rosen. And three healthy, well-adjusted kids. A group of sister-friends (not to be confused with sister-wives). Family who support and love us, both here and in America. Plus strikingly beautiful nature and spectacularly gritty cities for inspiration. Nothing is easy here. For me anyway. The intensity is relentless. I always feel like I'm fighting and it's exhausting. But I feel alive. I take nothing for granted. It could all be gone tomorrow. Or the next day. Or after the chagim.

How the Sukkah and My Mental State Came Apart by Susie Lubell

It's safe to say that by the end of sukkot this year I was holding it together about as well as this sukkah, which is to say completely falling apart. I don't know why it's so challenging but it is. It's a solid three weeks of festive meals, and going to synagogue, and planning to go to synagogue and then not going because it's too hectic or hot or far away to walk, and hosting friends and family or being hosted or feeling like you have to host or be hosted because that's what we do and if you don't then you're a high holidays loser. Listen, we did our best. We gave it all we had. We dipped apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah. We ate a round challah. We sang songs about sitting on our porch counting birds. We fasted on Yom Kipur. The kids rode bikes as is tradition in this part of the world (it's the one day of the year the roads are empty. Like literally no vehicles. At all). We built a lovely sukkah. The kids and I made toilet paper roll creatures to hang from the sukkah as is commanded in the Torah after thous shalt not murder. We shook our fuzzy stuffed toy lulav and etrog and said blessings. We ate in the sukkah. We went camping and endured a thunder and lightening storm the likes of which has not been seen in these parts since Noah and the Ark. And we danced around with a stuffed Torah (we like our religious items to be fuzzy and huggable) for Simchat Torah. We even managed to celebrate my son's tenth birthday amidst all the holiday madness. It's enough!

And that is why, come Friday afternoon, the home stretch in a never-ending slough of festivies, I had a total come apart. I just needed to have a Friday night that wasn't a shabbat. I needed my old life where I could have a nice dinner with my family and then go to the movies with a friend. I needed to be American for one evening. And it wasn't possible. Because there's no one here to be American with. Everyone's home with their families, whether or not they are observant and that's just how it is. And most days I like it just fine. I like how the Sabbath provides a wonderful rhythm to the week and then forces you to slow down for a day. But after moving and the summer and the war and holiday after holiday after holiday, I just wanted it all to go away.

In the end I got my wish. Mr. Rosen took the kids out all day on Saturday for a long walk and picnic with friends while I got my studio in order (which paid off because I've started painting again and it's fabulous!) and then went out to Jerusalem with a friend to see a movie and eat a hamburger. Just us. No kids. And it was a total reboot.

We live here with such intensity, day in and day out, that I frankly don't even notice anymore on most days. But then it catches up with me and hoo-boy it starts to look a lot like a nervous breakdown. And then it is a nervous breakdown. But all that is in the past. The sukkah is down and my spirits are back up. The future is holiday free for at least two months. And together we say, Amen.

Art Garfunkel is Not Dead by Susie Lubell

The view from our town after the biggest storm since Noah and the Ark

On the day before the storm I actually didn't even believe the weather report. I mean how could the weather drop thirty degrees in three days.  It would take an act of God to make it snow tomorrow, I think. But that's exactly how it played out. In EPIC. BIBLICAL. PROPORTION. As usual.

On the first day of the storm which was Thursday morning, we wake up to a foot of snow on the ground. I think, ok, it'll be like last year when it snowed for a day and melted by the next day. We get notice that school is canceled and Mr. Rosen gets the call that roads to Jerusalem are closed so we hunker down for a snow day, a novelty in this part of the world.

I take out all the old ski clothes but the kids don't want to put on that crazy stuff. They head outside in their sneakers and jeans until they are freezing. Then they put on the snow clothes. The baby is excited to see the snow from behind the sliding glass doors within the comforts of our warm and dry living room. We bundle him up and take him outside for a few pictures and he makes it known that he hates us and snow.

My mom is visiting and is less delighted by the snow. She puts on three more layers and goes outside to frolic with her grandkids. They build a mini-snowman on the roof of the car. I make chicken soup. The kids watch a movie. We read books. The snow is pretty and still coming down. Snow is fun.

On the second day of the storm we lose power around 2 AM. My mom wakes me up at 4 AM because she is freezing. I go downstairs to see if any circuits have popped. It looks like the neighborhood is out. I crawl back into bed and pray to the Electric Company.

By 7 AM everyone is up and freezing. We put on more layers. I make oatmeal. We get on our phones to see if anyone on Facebook knows what's going on. No one else in town has power either. No school again. Another foot of snow has fallen. I start making onion soup. It's looking like another long day. The kids can't figure out what to do with themselves. My son can't work on his lego project because he can't feel his fingers. The baby is barefoot.

Why is the baby barefoot?

Everyone wants to play cards with Grandma. Grandma wants to go home. The kids take food coloring outside and make snow cones. I do dishes. Grandma reads her book as the steam rises from her nose.

By 4 PM the electricity is back on in our house. Mr. Rosen's parents have arrived from down south to see the snow as has his sister and her family. We make tea and enjoy the heat. We think the worst is over. Maybe we'll go to the museum on Saturday, we think. By 5:30 PM it is snowing again. Everyone drives home for fear of being stuck here. We prepare Shabbat dinner. Shnitzel, butternut squash soup and beet salad. We hear a knock at the door and it's our house cleaner who lives in an apartment down the street. He asks to borrow a heater because he doesn't have one. We give him a heater and invite him to stay for dinner. The lights flicker a little and we worry about the power. We light Shabbat candles and a few extra just in case. After dinner I run the dishwasher, do a load of laundry and charge all of the laptops and phones. I have a bad feeling. Everyone goes to bed early. The three kids sleep on the floor in our room since we gave their heater to the housekeeper.

On the third day of the storm, the baby wakes up at 6:30 AM and wants Cheerios. We go downstairs and I see the power is out again. I make oatmeal and boil water for tea. I put on my down jacket and ski hat. The tea warms my hands. The kids watch a movie. The baby stares out the window and talks about the snow. The snow is on the car. The snow is in the tree. Aba is in the snow. The doggie is in the snow. I make more chicken soup. Facebook friends report that Israelis are hosing down their driveways to get rid of the snow. I wonder how Israelis manage to win all kinds of Nobel prizes andnot know that when water freezes it makes ice.

By 3 PM the kids are annoying each other. The kids are annoying everyone. The baby is sleeping under six blankets. I try to summon up my inner home schooling super mom to think of crafts to do with the kids. I can't feel my fingers and decide that crafts are stupid. We are checking our phones for weather and Facebook updates. The snowfall has abated. Phone reception is spotty. Grandma announces that Art Garfunkle died.

What?

She remembers meeting him at her senior prom. He was her best friend's funny looking date. 

So sad to lose him.

I ask where she heard he'd died and she says she saw a picture of him on an Israeli website but it was in Hebrew so she couldn't read what it said. My phone has no internet connection so we are left to mourn Art Garfunkel for another hour. We sing Feeling Groovy and Sounds of Silence. Grandma finds Mr. Rosen's harmonica and plays Oh Susanna for the kids. Internet is restored and I google Art Garfunkel and it turns out he'll be recording a new album. We are relieved. There is still no heat. Grandma is starting to lose it. I make carrot soup. Snow sucks.

On the day after the storm, electricity is restored. We are elated. School is canceled.  We are destroyed. No one can get to school because the roads are too icy. Can we not salt the roads here people? Is there no spare salt in this country? Did Lot's wife not turn into a PILLAR of salt? Isn't Jerusalem like less than an hour from the Dead Sea, or as I like to call it: THE SALTIEST PLACE ON EARTH?  For the love of ginger, three feet of snow has fallen and the country has completely shut down. Grandma goes to read like her fifth book in four days. We are happy to have heat and hot water. Everyone showers for the first time in five days. I make tomato soup. I have now made every fucking soup I know how to make. I make grilled cheese sandwiches. I go for a walk down the street and see a car has plowed through our neighbor's gate and nearly into his house. Serves him right for hosing down his street. I come home to find an enormous snowman near our walkway. He is wearing my scarf and has on a cowboy hat. He is outstanding. Leftover soups for dinner. We read stories and go to sleep all five of us in the same room again. I admit, it's cozy.

On the second day after the storm, we wake up and school has been canceled again. Some of us moms decide to burn down the school. Instead we drop off the baby and head toward Tel Aviv. Chunks of snow fly off our car as we descend from Switzerland. By the time we park in Jaffa, the last chunk slides down our windshield. We have coffee and snacks in a cafe and walk around the flea market for an hour or so. By 3:30 it's time to head home.

On the third day after the storm, school starts at 9:30. Mr. Rosen goes to work. Grandma and I meet a friend in Jerusalem. The sky is blue. The drivers are cautious. Art Garfunkel is not dead. Life is good.

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An Immigrant Mom Learns Israeli Persistence by Susie Lubell

Nerd Street

Being an immigrant mother means a lot of things. It means struggling to instill your native language in your kids while they slowly start to speak to their siblings in their new language. It means your kids become hyper conscientious about the school supplies they need and their homework assignments because they know mom struggles to read the daily emails. And it means you can’t be the parent who was once on top of everything, which usually doesn’t matter much (I have missed a few bake sales) but sometimes it matters a lot.

The rest of this post can be found on The Times of Israel.

Something Between Trophies for Everyone and You Suck by Susie Lubell

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My daughter started elementary school this year which in Israel is the first grade. My husband and I attended a “Back to School” meeting where the principal addressed the parents of the three first grade classes and spoke about the school’s mission and policies. It wasn’t especially inspirational and she didn’t have a microphone so I only heard about 30% of what she said and, of what I heard, I only understood about half so that left me feeling very bored and annoyed. My husband promised I wasn’t missing much. One thing I did hear sounded something like, “if a student is good at something we encourage him to further pursue that direction. But if he is not very good, then we say, this activity is not for you, and we encourage him to do something else.”

The rest of this post can be found on The Times of Israel.

My Montefiordieth by Susie Lubell

Yesterday I turned 40. I had been telling Mr. Rosen for the months leading up to my birthday that all I really wanted for my 40th was to be chilly and wear a nice woolly sweater. Because by the time it's September I have had enough of summer and yet I know that there are still at least six weeks left of hot weather but my Polish skin just cannot take it for one more moment let alone six more weeks of moments, all of which leaves me feeling depressed and miserable. So we started thinking about getting out of the Middle East. My first choice was Norway. I would spend my 40th in the fjords. It would be my Fjordieth. Alas, those tickets were too expensive. We also looked into Berlin, Warsaw, Northern Italy. I would have flown to Greenland if I could have found a cheap ticket. But then with my birthday falling this year during the Days of Awe, that reflective week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur, and with the kids off of school and our bank account depleted from our very recent trip to America, we decided to rent a hotel/flat in Tel Aviv for a long weekend and turn up the air-conditioning really high so I could live out my birthday fantasy and, wait for it, sleep under the covers.

As it happens we found a lovely rental on Montifiore Street which is walking distance to just about everything. We arrived Friday evening and made our way to Jaffa Port where we had dinner at The Container. On a Friday night where we live you could hear a pin drop and even then it makes only a very dull thud. But at the port in Jaffa, it is a frenzy of diners and revelers. There were no tables at the restaurant so we sat at the bar which was a charming stack of shipping pallets. Port chic. I had salmon sashimi and smoked beets on arugula salad and Mr. Rosen had the lamb kabobs. DELISH. Then we took an evening stroll down the boardwalk and up through the twinkly lights of Jaffa's old city.

The next morning, despite our best efforts, we could only sleep in until 7:00. We walked to Rotschild Avenue and had a cup of coffee with the other early risers (moms and runners) before we slowly made our way toward Dizengoff and settled on a cute cafe called Streetz where we had an Israeli breakfast for two. Let's give it up for Israeli breakfast because it is damn good. Eggs any way you like them, chopped salad, fresh bread with all manner of cheesy spreads, jams, tuna, shredded halva...with coffee and fresh squeezed juice. It's the breakfast of champions. By the time we were finished it was getting hot so we decided to walk to the Cinemateque and get out of the mid afternoon sun. We saw an Italian documentary called Caesar Must Die about a group of felons (murderers, mafia kingpins, drug traffickers and the like) in a Rome prison who put on a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Powerful stuff.

After the movie we walked back to Montefiore and took a nap. Around 5 PM we drove to north Tel Aviv port and had an early dinner at the marketplace in one of the hangers. Steak sandwiches, crispy potato wedges and apricot soda. A foot volleyball tournement was happening on the boardwalk so we watched that for a while and then watched the sun set. At that point we decided to walk back to our car and head over to a nearby restaurant with live music only to find that our car had been towed. Though Mr. Rosen had taken such care to perfectly parallel park at the bus station cum parking lot by the port, we both failed to remember that after sundown, the parking lot returns to its former self as a functioning bus station. So we took the number 4 bus back to our hotel and decided to leave our car with the Tel Aviv municipality until we drove home the next day realizing that was the only way to guarantee "free parking" for the rest of our trip.

On the morning of the 8th we celebrated my Montefiordieth first with breakfast at the eclectic brunch favorite Puah in the Jaffa flea market and then spent a few hours doing one of my favorite activities in the world, delighting in treasures, old and new, in south Tel Aviv. We dreamed of one day buying a fixer upper apartment and living in this funky, gritty part of the city and filling it with flea market furnishings and having an art studio or a gallery or a cabinet making workshop under our beautifully renovated home. By 2 PM that dream melted as the afternoon sun drilled down upon us. So we refueled with fresh carrot, beet, apple, ginger juice and decided it was time to start heading home to the Jerusalem hills where cooler weather trumps south Tel Aviv charms. Mr. Rosen went to pick up the car at the tow lot and I checked out of our flat and right before we got on the highway we stopped at my favorite hole in the wall for stuffed pizza.  My cousin introduced me to HaTanor (the Oven) in Ramat Gan fifteen years ago and there is nothing like it. Imagine a puffy pizza crust stuffed with cheese and sauce, boiled egg and zaatar (mideastern spice). And nothing beats the ambiance of this little nook near the Tel Aviv stock exchange where ultra-orthodox diamond dealers, suited stock brokers, scruffy software engineers, Russian mafia and scantily clad persons of questionable profession share the one thing they have in common. Their love of good pizza.

We got home in time to spend dinner and the rest of the evening with the kids and Mr. Rosen's parents who graciously babysat for three days so we could live it up in the big city. By 7 PM Mr. Rosen had to go to a school meeting and it was time to get the kids in the bath. Funny how quickly life returns to normal. As great as it was to stroll around the big city for a birthday weekend, soaping up my two year old is it's own kind of birthday gift.

Thanks to all for your birthday wishes.

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Tel Aviv Cinemateque
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Only in Israel by Susie Lubell

Interpretive dance on top of biblical well.

A lot of things happen here in Israel that are so ridiculous that I just have to roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I start to sound very holier than thou and we already have more than enough of that sentiment around here. The other day I went to pick up my kids from their playdate at a girl's house whose mom is incidentally the woman who runs their aftercare program. She's a lovely woman and the kids enjoy the two hours they spend with her after school every day. And they happen to be good friends with her daughter. So I came over at around 6:30 pm with the baby in tow. Two minutes after I arrive, this woman gives my one year old a krembo. Now for those of you who do not know what a krembo is, I bet you can guess from the name that it's not health food. In fact it's a sticky puff of synthetic cream wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate flavored wax sitting on a cookie base, the size of my fist. It need not be refrigerated. In fact I guess they started making these many years ago in the ice-cream factories since no one wanted ice-cream in the winter. So November 1st is National Krembo Day. Well, not officially. But that's when they return to stores. It's like when the Cadbury eggs finally come out in time for Easter. Kids go crazy. My deprived baby shoved that thing in his mouth and all over his face faster than I could politely decline on his behalf. Only in Israel.

But I'll tell you the same week this happened we headed down south to see the amazing red wild anemones in bloom. Carpets of red flowers in the desert! The southern regional arts council made it into a big event over four weekends and had stations set up for enthusiastic flower seekers like us. Music, performances, arts and crafts, food tastings, storytelling. After picnicking with friends behind one of these stations we walked over to find two young women with elaborate flowery head dresses, Chiquita Banana style, doing an interpretive dance above a biblical well in the middle of nowhere. They had rigged haunting music to play from seemingly inside the well and a crowd of thirty or forty people stood around in awe. It was magnificent.

Only in Israel.

 Well dancer Well dancers

Mohammad and Me by Susie Lubell

I met Mohammad about a year ago. Maybe more. It wasn't long after we moved into our house that he showed up claiming to have worked for the previous tenants. A few others showed up and made the same claim. One was a painter. One was a handyman. They all live in neighboring villages and walk into our town every morning through the holes in the fence. Mohammad says he walks right in the front gate because everyone knows him. He's been working here for years. I've even seen him buying cigarettes at our grocery store.

Last year we had him pull out all the weeds in our yard that, over the rainy season, had grown two or three feet high. You could lose a toddler in there. And Mohammad mentioned that snakes like to hide in those tall grasses. 

When can you start?

So he spent three days yanking weeds and trimming trees and generally cleaning up a very overgrown yard. And I learned that employers are meant to provide the gardener with many cups of strong, sweet coffee, in a small glass, no milk. He also showed up in the fall to pick our olives. We paid him in olives.

He works for our neighbors too. Knows everyone by name. He's a hard worker and a sweet man. He speaks a little Hebrew but it's mostly Hebrew words wrapped in Arabic sentences. And he uses a lot of hand gestures like he's telling a campfire tale. I work from home so we chat throughout the day. Yesterday he asked if he could bother me for a little hummus for his lunch. So I put some hummus on a plate along with a sliced tomato in olive oil and two slices of yummy walnut toast we had in the freezer. He was grateful. He apologized for not eating the toast. He has no teeth. I hadn't noticed. 

He's also missing his left eye. Apparently a family member took it out over a money issue. I think he said 70 shekels but that can't be right. It happened eight years ago. And he was supposed to go to court over this matter but the court date was postponed. But he can wait because he's planning his revenge, which means he will take his cousin's eye.

It says that in the Koran, he told me.

Yes, I'm familiar with the passage. We have one like that too in the Torah, I think.

He told me this same family cut his son and then he motioned to his abdomen for which there was some retaliation, though like all of Mohammad's stories, I only caught about 40%.  Mohammad has five sons and five daughters. He married off the last one six months ago. I told him I thought it was crazy to plan revenge for his eye and that the man who did this needs to pay him money and sit in jail for his crime. Because with all due respect to the Koran, an eye for an eye only leads to more violence.

You're a smart girl, he said.

Maybe you can help me plan my revenge. 

I think I saw his good eye wink.

Today I gave him a bag of old toys for his grand kids and he was delighted.  He asked my name.

It's Susie. Like ex-President Mubarak's wife.

He nodded.

Mubarak was taken down, he said.

He has three tons of gold sitting in Tunis but he lost his power. Same will happen to Assad. Maybe not tomorrow. Or next week. But it will happen. The big men always have power and we starve. It won't last.

Then he turned his foot in the dirt he'd just cleared like he was squashing a bug. When he asked if I had any lunch for him today I said we were out of hummus so I would ride up to the grocery store and get some more. He asked if I could get some softer bread too. I smiled. So did he.

Yep. No teeth.

Perspective by Susie Lubell

Ancient Mama
She hasn't had her coffee yet either.
The Americas Wing, Israel Museum


I was having one of those mornings. First day of the week. House still wrecked from the weekend. Kids lunchboxes still packed (and stinky) from two days ago. Dishes piled high. Frowny McSnotFaucet indecisive about breakfast. That is, until he decidedly poured the soup crackers still on the table from last night's dinner into his bowl of cereal. All of them. My son and daughter are tormenting each other in the way only they know how. My daughter can't find her favorite shirt. Head is pounding. I ask tell everyone to be quiet. My daughter shouts back that if she has to be quiet then so do I. I tell her to "be careful of me". That's a real phrase in Hebrew that parents use and I'm glad I'm allowed to use it too. It means "don't fuck with mommy." The other phrase I like is "I forbid it". Very direct and culturally sanctioned. I get the baby dressed and go to tackle the dishes and lunches. The baby pours a bag of almonds on the floor. Mr. Rosen takes the baby far away from mommy to daycare. The little girl is still mad that she has to be careful of me. The boy is singing. He has not stopped singing since yesterday. We get in the car and drop him off. Little girl says sorry and feels better. We hug and walk to school Lavern and Shirley style. I get home feeling dizzy which can mean only one thing. I have not yet had coffee. I see my neighbor friend walking her dog and she can tell I am having a morning. And she giggles because she remembers those mornings. Her boys are teenagers now and she looks back on soup crackers in the cereal with an aching fondness. Her oldest son who is sixteen just got his first draft letter. I guess kids start getting the letters two years ahead of time. And there are many meetings and placement tests and physical exams leading up to the day we all dread. The day that even coffee can't wash away. And I think, you know what? I will happily endure many more years of piled dishes and morning tantrums and snotty toddlers and teasing siblings and spilled almonds and the kinds of things easily fixed by a little coffee and a little perspective.

Arrivals by Susie Lubell

Artwork by Lori Portka
I love airports. Some more than others. I especially love when I'm going somewhere, although after traveling half way around the world and back again this summer with my three kids (and without Mr. Rosen), I was perfectly happy just to be picking up on my trip to the Tel Aviv airport last Thursday. Especially because Grandma is here! For three whole weeks! So we'll be doing a lot of exploring and coffee drinking and shopping while the kiddos are in school.

But back to those airports. I was standing just outside of customs in the arrivals terminal waiting for her to pass through and watching while people from all over the world arrived, greeted by loved ones and friends. It was pretty moving, I must say. I saw a man about forty-five or fifty greeted by his eighty year old father and oh how they kissed and hugged on each other. I imagined that he's been living in the United States for the last thirty years and how life just happens that way but it's a little bit heartbreaking when it does. Because now his father is older and the travel is harder. And the kids are in college. And money's tight...

I saw three kids run to greet their dad, the oldest son jumping into his arms with such affection that his kippah flew off. It was like watching a dog, no longer a puppy, jump into his person's lap and bowling him straight out of his chair. I imagined that this aba had been in Rome or Moscow on business for the last two weeks. He was obviously missed.

I saw tourists arrive. Bleary eyed from the long flight but excited to see a place they had until now only read about. Maybe dreamed about. Israel is that kind of place. Many of them are shocked by how modern it all looks. They were expecting white robes and camels maybe.

And then I saw Grandma. With that look like, I am too old for this, but actually appearing her stylish and put together self, twenty hours of travel and all things considered.

So much joy and love and anticipation at the airport. I was reminded of this incredible painting I was gifted earlier this year from an artist friend who inspires me so. Maybe you know her. Almost two years ago Lori Portka embarked on A Hundred Thank Yous project and created a hundred paintings for a hundred people in her life for whom she is grateful. And by some miracle I am one of them. This is my painting. She painted it before we left for Israel, wishing me ease, sweetness, beauty, joy, love and abundance on our journey. I couldn't have conjured a better or more appropriate blessing for this wandering Jew. Now it hangs happily in my studio across the world.

You need something of Lori's to brighten your house too. Visit her shop where she has a new 2013 calendar that is HUGE and gorgeous and features more than a dozen of her wonderfully uplifting works of art. She also has an amazing Month of Thank Yous Gratitude Pack which includes 30 frame-able postcards and stamps she designed to send them off to the people you love (who can then frame them).  She also has prayer flags and posters and prints and cards and it's all just so overwhelmingly beautiful.

Just like at arrivals.