celebrations

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

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.

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.

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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Definitely in the cards by Susie Lubell


I'm sure by now the Christmas season is in full swing back in America. Here we're all still kind of recovering from a dizzying fall holiday schedule and since Hanukkah is not as commercial in Israel as it is in the States, we are kind of resting on our laurels until it's time for Passover in April. But America is never far from my heart, especially when there are so many hilarious presidential campaign videos to watch on Facebook. So to get in the (holiday) spirit, I made some holiday cards! And by some I mean very few so grab a little box of eight while I still have stock. You can even order a combo set with some of each. Shipping is free but keep in mind, shipping from here takes about three weeks, so if you want your Hanukkah cards in time for an early Hanukkah (December 8th!) best to order quickly!





I'm gonna git you sukkah by Susie Lubell

Mi tabernacle es su tabernacle.

This post has nothing to do the 1988 Wayans Brothers movie I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. It does have to do with the fact that it's two weeks after Sukkot and our sukkah is still standing. We are like that family next door who has their Christmas lights up well into February. I totally get it now. It's like one part lazy and three parts "but it's so pretty". And our sukkah is particularly bright and cheery with the strawberry punch pink curtains which really compliment the bougainvillea (not shown in picture). But it has to come down. Plus, if my sources are correct, it is very slowly getting cooler around here. Like it might even get down to 78 degrees by this Saturday and by next Saturday...73! And by November? It might actually feel like Fall. Or some middle eastern approximation. Which means it might even RAIN.* My sweaters are on standby.

* I don't know what you're talking about. I have no memory of the bitter cold and wet winter.

A Raisin Celery by Susie Lubell

My sister in law's vegetarian gefilte fish on apple slices!

Happy New Year! Last night we had family over to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and my mother-in-law brought along a delightful little service to accompany what I can only describe as the most delicious Jewish New Year meal I've ever had. Just like with Passover we had a seder plate filled with the season's offerings: beets, dates, cabbage, pumpkin, carrots, figs, pomegranate, apple, honey, celery and raisins. And each fruit came with it's own blessing for the New Year. The family favorite this year was "lettuce have a raisin celery". Mr. Rosen accompanied on guitar. The kids were squirrely, as with anything new, but it was a lovely way to begin the evening. And then came the food. Everyone brought their best game and each dish featured some traditional elements. I made a spinach salad with goat cheese and figs, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, sweet noodle kugel and cabbage salad with carrots, beets, raisins and apples. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law brought a lentil salad with fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds, baked quinoa stuffed onions, vegetarian gefilte fish on sliced apple with fresh horse radish. Mr. Rosen made his green beans and onions. My mother-in-law brought seven vegie and seven herb soup and her famous plum cake for desert.  It was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the tongue. It got us talking about whether beautiful food tastes better than unattractive food. The answer is probably yes for reasons both scientific and psychological. Although I had a steak and eggs this summer at a cafe in Tel Aviv that looked like a dead jellyfish (the waitress warned me) and it was unbelievably delicious. I guess there are exceptions. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, said the jellyfish. Wishing everyone a sweet new year!



Mmmm... Spinach, fig and goat cheese salad. 

Rosh hashanah Seder featuring the new blessing: lettuce have a raisin celery. Shanah Tovah! 

The picture I wanted by Susie Lubell

Birthday Boy

This is the picture I wanted. Well not exactly but pretty close. I wanted a picture of my little boy with his crown of flowers, next to his cake, with his one candle, surrounded by adoring friends and family with their mouths in various states of half open singing Happy Birthday to him. I wouldn't have minded a smile too. But this picture is close enough. And it almost didn't happen.

I hit a low point last week right around the baby's birthday. On the actual day of his birthday we didn't really do anything. By the time Mr. Rosen came home from work (which was pretty early actually) and made the cake with the big kids, it was already nearing bed time and darkness. I hadn't had time to make his crown. We barely put up some construction paper garlands. And it was just us. No other family or friends. Entirely my fault. It was midweek and everyone was busy and anyway we thought of having family over on the weekend so I just let it go. Then on the weekend the plans got miscommunicated and suddenly there was no party. Not even family. And I started feeling very sad to be far away from my family knowing that had we still been in California I would have just gone to Michael's, picked out some streamers and napkins and whatever, some cake decorations and made him a little party with our closest friends and cousins and everyone would have found a way to come.

Mr. Rosen felt partially responsible for having downplayed the importance of this event. Indeed I downplayed it myself. But I was secretly wishing the party would plan itself because I have really reached the upper limit on sleep deprivation and plus there's no Michael's here so I don't know where to buy party supplies.  So Mr. Rosen made some calls and in fact a few of our closest friends planned to drop everything and come.

Except they didn't come because the next day Mr. Rosen contracted some nasty stomach bug and spent most of the day throwing up. So I cancelled the party. But the baby's aunt and uncle still popped over with some treats including the blackberries from their garden which I used to decorate his cake. The kids had all spent the night at their grandparents so I actually slept eight hours and finally had the time and brain functioning to make his crown out of the bougainvillea in our yard.

So in the late afternoon Mr. Rosen's parents arrived with the kids and we celebrated our little boy's first birthday feeling grateful for all of the people in our lives and everything they have done and continue to do to make us feel at home here.

And I got the pictures I wanted.

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A year in the life by Susie Lubell



Dear Smiley McPoint and Whimper,

Where did the time go sweet cheeks? I turned around to get you a new diaper and you turned one! How'd you do that? I'm petty sure this has been your BEST. YEAR. EVER. I mean, what with the canon shot delivery, the road trip we took for your entire third month of life, the moving to a new house, the moving to a NEW COUNTRY, the moving to another new house, the seven day rash that looked like measles, the sleep training and retraining and retraining and giving up, the babysitter that I loved but you hated, the freezing winter when we never bathed you because that would mean exposing you to the elements, all of the handling by well-intentioned siblings, the baby album I never made you because you're the third and anyway I haven't even finished your sister's and she's five? I'd say it was a pretty awesome year. And you were a champ.

It's hard to believe that a year ago we were signing the papers on our house sale and bringing you home from the hospital. You were supposed to be the charm. The third one and last and easiest. You were supposed to take a pacifier and a bottle. You were supposed to sleep through the night at three weeks. Or three months, MAX. You were supposed to be the one who happily went to anyone's arms. You were the one who would sense my mood swings and behave accordingly.

Turns out you were not easy. You neither took a pacifier nor a bottle nor do you suck your thumb. You've been "sleep trained" so many times it is unclear who is the trainer and who is the trainee. We're hoping you sleep through the night by three YEARS at this rate. You prefer the arms of Mommy and Aba with very few exceptions. You cry all the time no matter if I'm tired and having a bad day or deliriously energetic and mother-of-the-year. You're kind of a piece of work.

But you make up for it in countless ways. Like how when you hear music, you conduct! And you nestle your head into my lap while we're sitting on the carpet and stay there while I'm on the phone. So considerate! And how you speed crawl over to Aba when he comes home from work screaming ADA ADA! Ada likes that a lot. You also eat olives. And just about everything else. And you do tricks for Grandma on skype. That makes her feel great. And how you play peek a boo from behind my back. And behind the door. And behind anything. And how you like to climb on the dishwasher and pull out the knives. Why just the knives?

Yours is a different kind of charm, Chicken Legs. You were the one that finally convinced me to start letting it all go. All of my notions of what a mother should and should not do. All of my expectations. All of my judgements. All of my guilt. All of my type A-ness. You were the one who finally got me to accept that cereal can be fine for dinner, it's just as easy to find what you want to wear from a clean laundry pile on the floor as it is from the inside of your closet and a back-to-back Disney movie marathon can be a great way to restore quiet to crazy house.

Anyway, this year has been unforgettable for so many reasons but none of them hold a candle to you sunshine. You completed our family.

love,
Mommy

Jerusalem Tour by Susie Lubell

Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem
Window, Armenian Quarter

We had a day off from school yesterday for a holiday called Lag B'Omer which at its best is an occasion to have a bonfire and sing songs and roast hot dogs and marshmallows (at its worst its pyromaniacs and thieves wreaking environmental havoc). It celebrates the 33rd day of the Omer, a period of time between Passover, liberation from Egypt, and Shavuot, receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It's treated as a period of mourning when religious men don't shave and you can't get married etc. Except on the 33rd day, which was yesterday, when you can get married and many people do, including Mr. Rosen's parents (in fact, once we went to three weddings in two days. No joke).

The 33rd day is the day that Jewish mystics say the Kabballah was revealed (apropos Madonna's upcoming concert in Tel Aviv) and also commemorates the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire when a bunch of Jews fought for an independent states which lasted two years until they were eventually crushed. Anyway, we light big fires now to remember how Bar Kokhba and his warriors communicated back in the day and kids also make bows and arrows and homemade pita on the taboon. I wrote about it a few years ago here.

So I met up with some friends in Jerusalem for the day and we soaked up the magic. We did our usual walkabout through Jaffa Gate to the Arab market, the Christian quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Armenia quarter and the Tower of David, stopping for lunch at Lina's, my favorite hole in the wall humus restaurant. It was a beautiful day and the kids were only a little bit bored and cranky. They tried to stage their own Bar Kokhba style revolt but we squashed it with ice-cream, Roman army style and order was restored in the land. It got a little tricky explaining about Jesus and the cross as depicted in the gory mosaic inside the church. That's kind of the stuff of nightmares. But the kids took it in and were soon distracted by stuffed camels and belly dancer costumes.

Ceramics, Armenia Quarter
Ceramic dishes at Elie's, the only seller who posts his prices.

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Mosaic, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Christian Quarter, Jerusalem
Prayer beads, Christian Quarter

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Seventh Station on the Via Dolorosa

Bedouin textiles, Arab market
Bedouin textiles, Muslim Quarter

Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock, View from the Jewish Quarter

Direction of Mecca, 16th century
Incription at the Tower of David pointing to Mecca, 16th century

Western Wall, taken by my son
Western Wall prayers, taken by my son.

Ice cream break, Jewish quarter
Ice-cream break, troops replenished.



When your sixty-four by Susie Lubell

Israel Independence Day
 Flags for Independence Day

We got back yesterday from a long weekend in northern Israel. It was Memorial Day on Thursday and Independence Day on Friday so Mr. Rosen and the kids had a few days off. Memorial Day here is very different than it is in America. There are no door-buster sales, for one. Nor does it mark the season for wearing white pants. It's kind of a serious day. None of the cable television stations broadcast and network TV is all either interviews with high up veterans or patriotic performances. There's even a nationwide moment of silence for two minutes in the morning. An air-raid siren goes off and everyone stops what they're doing. Even cars stop in the middle of traffic (though that's an everyday occurrence also). And then at sundown, the Independence Day fireworks begin and the country is happy once more.

Anyway, we headed up north and spent a few days based in Tiberius exploring the upper Galil and Golan Heights. We hiked up to the top of the Arbel, a beautiful cliff above the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). We had lunch in a banana grove above a cave with open tombs and bats (for real!). We found a great little restaurant at Yehudia junction that's open 24 hours, 365 days a year, even Yom Kipur and serves a tasty roast beef sandwich. We hiked up a stream to a very old water milling station and the kids got soaked. We visited a friend of the family and spent the day swimming at her community pool. The next day we drove home along the eastern border with Jordan and watched the green fields of the North fade to the crispy tan of arid land. We made one final stop for lunch in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town outside of Jerusalem, and enjoyed some grilled chicken skewers and middle eastern salads.

To be honest, when we got home I was wrecked. For the obvious reasons - kids fighting in the car, baby up at 5:00 am, packing and unpacking and daypacking and repacking. But also I think my brain is just completely saturated. It's so much to absorb! And more than just the sites. It's the constant juxtaposition of old and new. Glittery and gritty. Orchards and desert. New construction and demolition. Poverty and wealth. Sea and sand. It's one minute we're mourning and then next we're celebrating. It's our own brand of extremism and it's exhausting.

But never mind all that. Happy 64th birthday Israel, you crazy spring chicken. I hope I'm as feisty as you are when I'm your age. Something tells me you won't be retiring next year...

Memorial Day, Israel
 Memorial Day wreaths

The Arbel
 View of Lower Galilee from the Arbel

Banana blossom
 Banana blossom

Secret cave under banana grove with tombs and bats.
 Secret cave under banana grove with tombs and bats

Hike in the Golan
 Water mill hike in the Golan

Pretty weeds
 Pretty weeds in the Golan

Garden gnomes near the dead sea
 Garden gnomes near the Dead Sea

Camel
 Camel in finery

Abu Ghosh 
Graffiti in Abu Ghosh

This year in Jerusalem by Susie Lubell

Staples of Passover
Religious Jews hoarding Passover staples

Psst. I'm still alive over here. We are coming off a nearly three week Passover school holiday break and I have been remiss about posting blog entries. I have however been posting lots of pics on Instagram and I invite you to follow my meanderings over there. I'll follow you right back. It's quite fun! A billion dollars worth of fun, so says Facebook.

I wasn't prepared for such a long break in the middle of the year. But we threw together a pretty fun itinerary packed with visits with friends, travels north, south, east  and west, a trip to some enchanted caves, a fantastic seder, a surprise and mysterious visit from Elijah the Prophet and camping in the desert. We even had lunch one day with Mr. Rosen at his work in Jerusalem.

I will say that spending Passover in Israel is a very rich experience. Between the meticulous nation-wide spring cleaning (removal of all bread and crumbs from the home), hoarding of eggs, potatoes, onions and matzah, and the throngs of Israelis hiking about the country, it's really a lot to absorb. Never mind that we personally experienced no less than five out of the ten plagues (blood, lice, boils, hail, and darkness). Let's just say it's enough blog material to last forty years wandering in the desert, if only I'd had the energy to write it all down. Dayenu. Maybe I'll be more on the (matzah) ball next year.

For now's here's a smattering of pics from those three weeks. Enjoy!

Dead Sea with view of Jordan
Dead sea and view of Jordan

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Saba grating the bitter herb with traditional protective eyewear.

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Seder table including rice cake "matzah" cover for our glutton free guests

Saba carrying his weight
Elder carrying small Israelite during the exodus.

Passover hike in the Negev
Obeying the voice of God, Moses and Miriam put their arms around each other.

Camel helping us reenact the exodus
Biblical ride

Stalactite/mite awesome
Enchanted stalactite cave

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Not bear proof, but hyena proof.

I found an oompa loompa from the tv room up on this ridge! Doopadee do!
The oompa loompa I found on top of Tzin Wilderness

Descent to Nahal Gov
Descent to Gov River Valley

Escaping the burning sun
Respite from heat.

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Desert in bloom

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At Kibbutz Sde Boker

Purim in Israel by Susie Lubell

Purim in Tel Aviv

My mom and I have been busy touring about the country and spending time with the kids. We survived the week of rain and snow and now we're thawing out to temperatures in the seventies. Feels good to get some vitamin D. The kids have been on vacation the last few days for Purim, our drunken version of April Fools. It's just a one day holiday celebrating the Jewish victory over the Persians circa 400 b.c.e  but I feel like it's been going on for months. It started with pajama day last Friday at school and then make-up day and then dress up like a street sign day and then wear your costume to school day and then three days off of school, only one of which is the actual holiday. We have plenty of eight day holidays, what with Hanukkah and Passover and Sukkot. How about keeping the one day holidays to one day and give all the parents a break. Between the costumes and making the kids' mishloah manot (goodie packages to swap with friends at school) and baking hamentaschen, and the parades and the carnivals, I am wiped out. Because I am the Purim Bitch. That's me in the sign. Just kidding. That's a sign for some rave in Tel Aviv where incredibly stylish people with no kids party all night. No, I was not in attendance.

I will say that I have rather enjoyed seeing everyone dressed up over these last few days. I saw a little religious boy from one sect of Orthodoxy dressed as a grown man from another sect. Pretty funny. Today, in Ein Kerem, coming out of the Church of John the Baptist, I saw a young man dressed as Jesus, cross and all. He was the spitting image. He said he'd been growing his hair for two years for this costume. People go balls out for Purim. The scouts troupe in our town built a carnival that was unbelievable including actual rides they made out of wood and rope. Two-story rides built from scratch! Only in Israel. In America you'd have to sign a waiver to let your kids ride on one of these things. But the kids had a great time and no one died.

And now I shall hang up my pirate costume until next year. Ahoy.

Five by Susie Lubell

Love

Dear Sugar Bee,

You're five today and I can hardly believe I just typed that. What a year it has been for you, for all of us. We started off on the wrong foot with pneumonia and you are still talking about the shot of antibiotics you got in your butt. You might never forget that one. And then you got a baby brother. And then you went on a month long road trip. And then you moved to a new house. And then to a new country! Talk about resilience and an almost heroic flexibility. It hasn't always been easy. And you've had some rough spells. But you have an understanding of yourself that frankly startles me sometimes. You get upset; we all do. And then you remove yourself, set up your dolls and clear your head. That's your process. And soon you are back to your shining spunky self. And then you like to talk about what all just happened. How you were mad and crazy, how you calmed down and got back in control. How we can talk about it after and still love each other. I appreciate processing these outbursts together. I hope we can always communicate like that.

Probably the biggest event for you this year, even bigger than moving to Israel, was becoming a big sister. Even though I know you'd prefer to still be the baby, as you have made clear in words and actions, you are a fantastic big sister. And that little boy is bonzo about you. Everything you do makes him giggle and you know it. He gets flooded with joy when he sees you. I admit, I feel that way too sometimes. What a lucky boy he is to have a sister as animated and intuitive as you. And as much as you and your older brother make each other nuts, I know there is a closeness between you too. Not every brother would take the time to pick out his sister's birthday outfit for preschool. Thankfully he can put together an outfit.

Your Aba continues to think the sun shines from your tush. He's right. You are a lovely, lovely girl and we are so lucky to have you as our daughter. Watching you grow has been one of the universe's greatest gifts to me.

many many kisses,
Mommy

Pay it forward by Susie Lubell

Fruitful

In these last few weeks I have been especially enamored by the view over here - miles of terraced olive groves with their short stone retaining walls and the picturesque hillside villages they surround. But views here are often colored by the conflict. I try not to think about it too much.

Next week is Tu B'Shvat, a minor Jewish holiday to celebrate the trees and we've been gearing up by eating a lot of dried fruit and reading the Lorax. This new painting, called Fruitful, was inspired by a little passage from the Talmud (that has made its way into the Jewish summer camp storytelling canon. I don't actually read the Talmud regularly. Or ever, come to think of it). Has me thinking about the kind of legacy I want to leave for my own kids. Heavy stuff.

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him: “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?” The man answered that it would require 70 years. Honi asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. So, too, will I plant for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

Available here.

Light-filled by Susie Lubell

Hanukkah
Notice the light  dancing around in little heart-shapes over my son's head. Like a tiara.

Well we are coming off of our eight day Hanukkah vacation. The kids are back in school tomorrow. Our second, smaller container, the one with all of the bookcases, storage units and hangers, the one that will help contain the piles of books, toys and clothes, is coming tomorrow. We've lit a total of 135 candles over the last eight days and the world seems a little brighter. I was happy to have this time off with the kids to be with family and friends. Trying to see everyone we know with only Saturdays to do it (six day school week here...) meant we might not get to everyone before we moved to some other country, so it was nice to have a little extra time for visiting. There were a lot of reunions. We saw friends who had moved to Israel three years ago who we hadn't seen since. And maybe for even a year before they left. The last time we lit candles together our oldest was two months old and their three girls (now nearly teenagers) took turns smothering him with love. We visited a family who we last saw in London seven years ago when our oldest kids were babies. Their daughter and our son are only two weeks apart and hadn't seen each other since. It didn't seem to matter. And of course we saw our son's betrothed, the little girl he's known since they were both a month old. Our families have grown at the same pace so get-togethers are especially easy and enjoyable.

It's hard to believe it was exactly a year ago that we told our parents about our plans to move back to Israel. Before they were even plans really. Just ideas. And now we're here a year later. We're eating sufganiyot. We're cleaning the floors with a squeegee. We're drinking coffee at 4pm. We're driving through check-points. We're paying bills at the post office. We're texting in Hebrew. We're parking on curbs. We're eating a lot of olives.

We're definitely here and we're starting to feel settled.

Lumpy birthday to me by Susie Lubell

Happy birthday

Yes, today is my birthday. And my adorable southpaw baby boy gave me mastitis in my right boob. He prefers the left. Good times.

For my birthday I also reopened my shop and restocked it with all of your favorite prints and cards and for TODAY ONLY (possibly tomorrow if I can unplug these milk ducts) I'm offering 38% off (maybe you can guess why). Go here and use this code: BIRTHDAY38 and get those new baby and wedding gifts off your back, get all of your Jewish New Year cards and gifts out of the way and then reward yourself for being so on top of your gift giving obligations. Go crazy!

If you need me, I'll be alternating warm and cold compresses between pumping, massaging and nursing.

Namesakes by Susie Lubell

Namesakes
Grammy Edythe Kutlow and Grandma Helen Sachs

As read at his bris...

Dear Idan,
You’ve only been in our family a little over a week and already I can’t imagine my life without you in it. You are so tiny and yet your arrival on the 49th day of the Omer, the period of great anticipation before God gave us the Torah on Mt. Sinai, has profound meaning for our family. Like your brother Shalev, you showed up a day early for the big party. He was born a day before Simchat Torah and you, the day before Shavuot. I guess that’s how you get the best seats. Nonetheless your birthdate appears to be very auspicious. You were born on 6.6.11 at 10 to 10 at night. And I’m no gematria expert but when you multiply six and six you get 36 or double chai. It’s no wonder that you are a Gemini, the sun sign of the twins.

Your arrival is really the beginning of the next chapter in our lives, the one that’s set in Israel, and your name, Idan – meaning “era” in Hebrew – is meant to signify this new adventure. You are also named to honor two important women in our family. Idan is for my Grammy Edythe Kutlow. Your second name, Hillel is to honor your Aba’s Grandma Helen Sachs. Both were incredibly strong women who faced significant challenges in their younger lives but both lived to be well into their nineties. Edythe Kutlow, born in New York City, would have been 101 years old this year. She lived for several years in an orphanage when her own mother was unable to provide for her financially. A resourceful and beautiful girl she lived to find a life partner in Benjamin Kutlow, have three terrific children, nine fantastic grandchildren (I'm the ninth) and now her eighteenth great grandchild. She was incredibly gifted with her hands and made beautiful heirloom baby blankets, kippot, needlepoints and afghans. She even crocheted the kippah that your Aba is wearing today for our wedding nine years ago. She was 92. Aba’s Grandma Helen Sachs was born in Leipzig, Germany and managed to escape the Nazis with the help of her brother in 1939 to resettle in America. Many of her family members could not fathom the evil of the Shoah and stayed behind, including her mother who died in Auschwitz. Helen resettled in Worcester, Massachusetts and along with her husband Julius, had two wonderful daughters and three incredible grandchildren – one of whom was your Aba. You would be her sixth great grandchild Idan. Her lineage was meant to perish in the holocaust and yet here we are, celebrating your new branch on a family tree that only continues to flourish.

The name Hillel also honors the great rabbinic sage who is known for having said,
Im ein ani li mi li. If I am not for myself, who will be for me.
Uch sh’ani l’atmzi ma ani. If I am only for myself who am I.
V’im lo achshav, ematai. And if not now, when.

He is also known for his ethic of reciprocity, or "Golden Rule":
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

You’ve come into a world with many challenges and you belong to a people, both Jewish and Israeli, that has faced and continues to face some of the greatest manifestations of hatred the world has known. And yet we are hopeful that you and your generation will be the ones to usher in peace, acceptance, compromise and love. That yours will be the “Idan Hillel” – the era of mutual respect. That is our greatest wish for you, for our family and friends and for the whole world. So you have a lot of work ahead little guy.

One last bit. Idan, you are our third and, it’s safe to say, our last child. Like you, I am also a third child. It’s not always easy Idan. The older two will be in cahoots a lot of the time and you’ll have to make up your own games and use your imagination a lot. You’ll make up for it with very close friends though and when you’re older the age gap between you and your siblings will fade and you’ll forget about how your big brother and sister teased you. Well you won’t forget, but you’ll forgive. Mostly.

And so today we welcome you into a family and a community that already loves you very very much. And we wish you a long and wonderful life shared with the ones you love.