Thursday, April 9, 2009


Last night we celebrated the Passover seder. I had been carefully prepping Ari for a few weeks. We had a few books we read and a soft seder set, complete with springy matzah and a purple kiddish cup that Ari loved to have me "fill" and then glug down the wine--after the brucha, of course. He kept saying, "More wine, mama!" He learned some of the Four Questions, filling me with parental pride, and also learned "Eliyahu" and "Dayenu." I was thrilled and couldn't wait to show him off.

The day of the seder came and Ari had been sick for several days--with fevers of over 104. He was better, of course, but he was tired and not at his best. He refused to wear a kippah, wrestled with me and with Andi at the table, several times whacked our hosts and drowned out the seder leader during the seder. In other words, he acted like a 2 year old. Okay. Fine. Eventually we took him away from the table, bringing him in every now and again to listen to the songs. He wouldn't participate at all, except to raise his soggy stuffed kiddish up and say, "A'hayim" ("L'chayim!")

Our hosts seemed to be charmed.

Today was going to be a day off for me, to go to services. But since Ari had been sick, I had mounds of work to catch up on--I still do. Taxes and papers and job applications. I have been getting emails from peers asking me what I am up to next year. As if I know!--I seethe with silent mortification and do not answer.

I took a little break during the writing of one paper to peruse a book that I had pulled out for Ari for Passover but that he shunned--it was a little long for him, anyway. It was called "Make a Wish, Molly" and it was about a little girl who emigrates to the U.S. around the turn of the century and whose parents only speak Yiddish. She is only accepted by one girl at her school and when she is invited to this girl's birthday party during Passover she has to wrestle with her decision whether or not to eat beautiful American birthday cake--and what the consequences will be, either way. It is a lovely little story and as I read it I mused over Molly's point in time. We Jews have a tendency to locate ourselves in the past--in our heritage of remembrance. We keep a compact with our ancestors to remember them and what they went through. We ask our children to remember too. It means everything to us--to pass along these memories.

I thought about how, for many American Jews, there is a clinging to the point in time that Molly inhabits. The time when everyone spoke Yiddish and when to be a Jew was a clear cut thing. Americans may have hated and feared us, but we had each other and our own eternal wisdom to guide us. We were a people. Now American Jews aren't quite sure what we are. Many go to services and don't know the words of the Hebrew prayers. We are an isolated people.

Molly is remembering the more distant past, her ancestors who left Egypt. We remember her, our ancestors who left Russia. Yet we dignify that history with a glossy nostalgia. We forget how hard and sad and tormenting it was to be different then, to be alone, to struggle on. We are only proud that we did, that we maintained ourselves, that we are still Jews.

I realized as I looked through that book that there is a part of me living in and in service of the past. Not just my Jewish past but my Armenian past. I am trying to serve my ancestors, trying to remember them, trying to make certain that they live on in me. And I want Ari to do the same thing.

That isn't so bad. But what happens when in living for the past--or for the future--we forget about the present moment?

Here I am, a Jew blogging on Passover. Is that so bad?

This is the present day truth and where we are in time. I feel so blessed to have reached this moment. I'll take my son anyway he is--cranky, rude, and oblivious to his heritage, drinking pretend wine from a pretend cup.

Let's start a new Jewish tradition--of being in this present moment, exactly how it is. It does not mean we are absolved from our responsibilities in this world. But neither must we cling to a reality that is not our own. Somewhere, we can forge ahead, inhabiting things as they are.


Thursday, February 19, 2009


So the little mind goes around and around on its personal wheel of topics it revisits. Right now--as I do all sorts of other things, like take care of a cranky and sick little boy, and struggle through statistics in social work school, write papers for my other classes, rant about budget cuts and dwell rhapsodic on stimulus packages and worry about the international crises in the Middle East and elsewhere, and in the middle of all that try to look for a job and continue to become a halfway decent therapist--I am musing and muddling around the issue of reactivity. Reactivity--when we are responding without any pause to what is at hand, when we are kneejerk in our responses, when we are caught up without even knowing it. That's what I am thinking about.

Last night, in the middle of the night, Ari felt as though he was getting a little warmer. He sleeps with me, in case you didn't know that, and he had had a temperature of 103.7 the night before last. Andi had kindly gotten the ibuprofin ready for me in case Ari did develop a temperature in the night, so when, in my sleep, I felt Ari's little feet and they seemed warmed, I whispered to him that he would have to get some medicine and turned on the light. He immediately responded with tears and protests, but they availed him none--I jammed the syringe with the ibuprofin right into his mouth and pushed the plunger, giving him half of the medicine. He sobbed and then he vomited. Poor little guy. He threw up all over himself and me and I thought, geez, I don't even know if he had a temperature to start with and here I am, making him sick.

OK, I am not being hard on myself. But it was interesting, after we were all cleaned up again, to think about what it means to react so swiftly--with an anxiety that it MUST be done, and right away, or else--what? This was an extreme example, but it is reminiscent of many times throughout the day when I just leap to something--with such desire to prevent harm--and perhaps create a problem without even realizing it.

I guess all I am saying is that it reminds me, over and over, of why we practice, or why I practice any way. Why I must. Because otherwise, this mindless reactivity just nibbles away at me. My life because food, fodder and pray for its noiseless little jaws. I want to learn how to take a breath, take a pause, and respond. Oh, and I learning. It just takes so much time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


How could this subject not be on my mind? How could it not be on yours? Well, I understand why it might not be on yours. You are thinking about a hundred other things, and they don't all have to be personal. But they might be. Personal could range from your family, your job (will you still have it?) your money, your friends, your nosehairs, for G-d's sake. Adam Smith once said (I am going to mangle this quote) that we care more about our little pinkie than we do about 10,000 people dying in China (this assuming we don't live in China or don't have loved ones who do). But the gist being, if we lost our little pinky in an accident one day, and there is an earthquake in China the next that kills 10,000 people, our little pinky is going to loom larger to us--of course. I do think that's human nature.

But say it isn't your little pinky. Say you are thinking about other things. The Congo, perhaps, or Mogadishu, or Obama's inaugeration, or New Orleans, or your own local town council. Perhaps you are thinking about global warming or global economic collapse. There are many reasons that Gaza may not be always on your mind.

It isn't always on my mind either. Far from it. I think more about Ari, about my other loved ones, about my placement, about school, about money, about the cold weather, about what kind of job I might be getting in this wretched economy and how I'll pay back my student loans if my job is more wretched than I ever thought it would be. And I think about you. But behind so many of those things, I think about Gaza. It is always sort of trembling there, hauntingly. This is most definitely because I am Jewish. Because I love Israel. Because I am teaching Ari Hebrew, because I love my heritage. (I love all parts of it, the WASP and the Armenian parts too.) As some of you know, I've started a (relatively new) facebook account and through that, I have reconnected with people I never get a chance to hear from otherwise. I have friends who are so pro Israel that during this conflict they are featuring an Israeli flag as their profile picture and are posting videos of the rockets falling on Sderot as to counter what they consider to be anti-Israeli propaganda in the media. And I have friends who feature "Boycott Israeli products" with a picture of an orange bleeding as their profile photo, to indicate that Israelis have blood on their hands. I have friends who pass around photos of gory victims in Gaza with comments underneath them saying "God will soon kill all Israelis" as some of the mild comments. I am always amazed at the progressive people in my community who hate Bush but who seem to feel comfortable with organizations (if one can use that term) like Hamas, many of whose members would gladly line them up against a wall and shoot them if they could for being Americans or queer or whatever.

At times like these, I feel like a character in a Dykes to Watch Out for Strip at the outset of the U.S. intervention in Kosovo. I'll try to post that link, if I can get to it. In the strip, the main character Mo starts off by reading the news and saying, of course, we've got to go in and stop Milosevic, the man is a maniac. Her partner says, "That's what the media wants you to think. Makes you wonder what you are not seeing." During the course of the day she talks to her friends, each of whom has a different take on the conflict, until by the end she comes home saying she is back to her pacifist roots. By that time, her partner is watching T.V. footage of the refugees and is saying of Milosevic, "Someone's gotta take this man out!"

I am obviously an insane Alison Bechdel fan that I have this strip memorized, but I feel so jerked around by my own feelings and perceptions of this conflict. I really know nothing about this situation. I know enough to know I know NOTHING and I feel my ignorance profoundly. I've been to Israel, obviously, but I've never been to Gaza. I have been to the West Bank, more than once, and seen bombed out houses and held the hands of Palestinian mothers who had lost so much and with whom I could not communicate any other way except to look into their eyes and just see the endless grief there. If I was inside Israel right now I'd know a little more about what was happening but probably just enough to feel hopelessly, helplessly uninformed.

You see, I really hate Hamas. I think they are yucky. Not evil, I won't go there. (For so many reasons.) I'll stick with yucky. If it isn't too patronizing, I hate them on behalf of the Palestinian people. I hate that they have taking the people hostage, but that is like saying Putin has taken the Russians hostage. Some Palestinians feel very loyal to Hamas, and one can easily see why: Hamas provides the services that no one else does, as limited as they are.

There are so many things to say here, and I am not the person to say them: about the lack of aid given to Palestinians by their own people who use them as bargaining chips, about the way Hamas uses innocent civilians, including children, as protection to ensure that they can keep doing whatever they want. One can go on and on and other people already have. But all of that isn't really the point.

The point is that this conflict is on my mind every day and every night. I think about those mothers and those children. I think about it because I am a Jew and as a Jew I feel complicit and responsible. I think about it because I am an Armenian and as an Armenian I still remember, as if it happened to me, in my bones, how it felt to be slaughtered, to be trapped, to be burned in my own home or in a church. And that happened over 100 years ago. And still I remember.

Even more, though, it is because I love my son. I love him so much. You know how much, because you love yours that much too, or will love one someday, or love another little one who is partly yours through some other means. It is pervasive and frightening, this love. It hurts to see him hurt in even the smallest ways. And this is a very robust child--healthy in every sense. He falls down and bonks his head, and half of the time he just gets up and says cheerfully, "Bonk!" He gets a cold, he plows right through it so happily you forget to take his temperature. Yet I fret if gets even the smallest scratch or bruise.

How then can I not be thinking about how mothers in the Gaza strip, crowded together already under the most miserable circumstances, in poverty, in desperation, who are facing these bombs and cannot get away. Cannot go anywhere. Are totally trapped, with their babies in their arms. And are getting killed and wounded not only by mainstream weaponry but by weaponry we could easily characterize as torture: phosperus weaponry, which burns and burns sometimes right into the bone, so that mothers are watching their children writhe and shriek and sometimes lose a limb and sometimes die, and when the wounds are dressed sometimes they are still smoking and doctors can do nothing about it. That's not Hamas propaganda. It's true.

And even if the doctors could do something about it, there might not be enough supplies and medicine to do anything, so that even for more conventional wounds sometimes doctors have to sit back helplessly and watch someone die who they might have otherwise saved. And despite all of this, there are Palestinians in Gaza who are practicing mindfulness, who are trying to calm each other, and children, and mothers, and find something that we could call happiness and freedom.

Every night, I sing Ari the Sh'ma. I sing, "Sh'ma, Yisrael, Yah Eloheinu, Yah Ehad." And then I translate that into English, my own unique interpretation: "We all on this earth are connected to each other. Listen, we are one."

And I think about Gaza, about the other mothers, and what they are singing to their children as they put them to sleep. And I think, G-d, if I did believe that, that we were all one, what would I do? Wouldn't I protect those children and mothers--those parents--everyone--the way I would my own child, my beloved boy?

Why not? What on this earth stops me?