beauty

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. 

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.

Growing Up by Susie Lubell

I had a conversation last night with my son and while I was having it I was very conscious of it being one of those big conversations that you have some times as a kid and you keep with you for a long time. He's ten now so things stick. Everything gets filed away as experience and later drawn upon or discarded.

I had put the other kids to bed and he was reading in his room. And then he came into my room and told me that at his scouts meeting, his counselor, who is a sixteen year old kid and the son of our old neighbors, told the boys, who apparently had been fighting, that getting a bump on the head or a bruise from a fight with a friend goes away after a few days. But words stay with us forever. If you say mean things to someone, my son told me, that person keeps those words inside them forever. He sat on my bed and we spoke about it for a good fifteen minutes. He was so earnest. He suddenly seemed like a rational human.

There are problems with the kids in his class, the boys and the girls, and those are the same kids in his scouts troop. I don't know why they did it that way but if I questioned every single thing here that made no sense to me I'd be in a constant state of inquiry and that gets exhausting. Someone must have had a reason. But his class in particular is known to be problematic. They've been together since first grade and it's gotten worse every year. And a lot of the kids now have smart phones now so there are chat groups and bullying goes on there. We have steered clear of that nonsense although my son has not been entirely unaffected.

I asked if anyone was making fun of him or calling him names and he said no. But that some of his friends had been made fun of and that hurt his feelings too. I told him that was called empathy. It's a concept I have been trying to convey to him for years with little success. He's a first born. The sun and the moon dance around him for his sole entertainment. In fact just a day before, literally a day before this conversation, he was fighting with his sister about something (ridiculous) and he huffed off to his room. A few minutes later I joined him and we talked about the pattern that he and his sister always fall into. She wants to play with him, he's not interested, she tries to get his attention any way she can and starts bothering him, he gets annoyed and they start yelling at each other, one of them spits, the other hits. Crying. Game over.

I asked him if he could imagine what it's like to be his sister, which I have asked a million times. Imagine that you have an older brother and you want to play with him but he mostly ignores you. And for the first time he told me directly, I can't imagine that because it's not real. I don't have an older brother so I don't know what that is like for her. He didn't know and he couldn't imagine. Problem. I was staring at a future narcissistic megalomaniac.

But then the very next day he understood. Well he understood in the context of his friends, but I saw a tiny pinhole in our conversation and wormed in the bit about his sister. And then he understood that also.

I am sure there are a zillion terra bytes of research on why kids are mean to each other. It must be something about our society; about the way we raise them to look out for number one. And I know it will only get worse. On the other hand, I marvel at my son'scounselor who is all of sixteen and a kid himself, who, despite having to deal with a toxic group of boys, managed to impart a positive message to my son that struck him so deeply that he needed to have a bedside sit down to process it. There is still hope.