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Monday, October 29, 2007

Good News

Just heard from my oncologist:

"CT looks great--major improvement, especially in the liver"

Thank you for all your davening! Please keep it up! God is listening!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Barnard Reunion 2007

I LOVED Barnard. It was everything a college should be, with intellectually stimulating classes, dynamic professors, an active student life, a diverse student population, small and personal administrators (who knew me by name), an amazing Judo club (didn't know that about me, did ya'?) and, of course, a vibrant Jewish community.

Was it perfect? No. Did I experience anti-semitism? Yes. Did I have to "fight" for Israel? Absolutely.

But I grew there in every dimension: Jewishly, religiously, intellectually, etc. I was an activist and I was going to change the world! And I wasn't going to do it alone, because at Barnard & Columbia I met people who were going to change the world with me! Together we could do anything!

Well, a few years have passed since then. My love and appreciation for my college hasn't dwindled, but I've become a bit more critical. Since my daughters were little, I dreamed of sending them to Barnard. But recent events have changed my heart. Not once, despite a number of distressing incidents, has Barnard taken a serious stand against anti-semitism or anti-Zionism.

I am extremely disturbed by Barnard's recent decision to grant tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. El-Haj denies the existence of ancient Israelite kingdoms in an attempt to delegitimize the modern State of Israel. She dismisses historical and archeological evidence. Her research is not credible and her conclusions are politically motivated.

I am disappointed by the many professors who were silent throughout her tenure process. In an article in the Columbia Spectator, Prof. Alan Segal, who finally spoke out, articulately expresses the academic justification for denying her tenure. But his protests are too little, too late.

If Columbia University approves her tenure, the academic integrity of both Barnard and Columbia will be diminished.

It was against this background, that I planned a reunion for Barnard alumnae in Israel.

Dean Dorothy Denburg (Barnard class of 1970), who was my dean during my first and second years at Barnard, came to Israel on a short personal visit. She graciously made time in her schedule to meet with alumnae, and we were thrilled to host her.

We had a week to plan a reunion and we did it! My friend and fellow alumna, N, gathered a team of volunteers. Together we contacted hundreds of alumnae throughout Israel. The response was incredible. Many alumnae knew the dean from when they were at college. And everyone was excited about reuniting with college friends and meeting other alumnae.

Not surprisingly, a number of alumnae saw this as an opportunity to express opposition to El-Haj's tenure.

I was torn. I wanted this to be a positive event. Yet I didn't want to ignore this pressing issue, especially since El-Haj's tenure hasn't yet been approved by Columbia.

I spoke with Dean Denburg, who agreed that she would address this issue, in addition to sharing with us the many wonderful changes that have happened, and are happening, at Barnard.

The evening went beautifully. We kept to our schedule and there was plenty of opportunity to socialize and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere.

Dean Denburg spoke about many facets of Barnard, the new curriculum, the new buildings, etc. I was swept up by her enthusiasm for the college I love so much.

Somehow, the issue of El-Haj was addressed, and yet not addressed.

As we stood for our group photo, I could tell that there were alumnae who were dissatisfied.

After the photo, I asked everyone to wait a minute so that Paula Stern, who has devoted the last year to publicizing the campaign against granting tenure to El-Haj, could say a few words. But I had opened Pandora's Box and another alumna jumped in.

I had tried to balance the evening, to allow for this important topic to be raised while ensuring that the overall tone of the evening would remain positive. But I felt the warm atmosphere slipping through my fingers as the alumna passionately addressed the group, even as people were walking away.

The evening was drawing to a close and most alumnae clearly wanted to spend the last few minutes socializing. Thankfully, I was able to redirect everyone to the delicious dessert. The brief moment of chaos & discomfort faded into the background. Yet I didn’t want this issue to fade into the background.

I am dissatisfied that the tenure case wasn't presented properly. Alumnae, many of whom are unfamiliar with the issues, were not presented with a clear picture of what is going on. Alumnae need to be informed, in order to get more involved at this crucial time. We need to make our voices heard by Barnard and Columbia; to let them know that we are not just offended -- we are outraged by this travesty.

This isn't about "politics", this is about Barnard and the direction our college is taking both academically and morally.

I love Barnard. But I could not imagine sending my daughters to an institution that considers political correctness a higher value than intellectual honesty and academic integrity. I will always treasure the education I received at Barnard. I hope that one day Barnard will regain that standard of excellence.

Because building new buildings is important, but building a just and true society is an imperative.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Friday, October 26, 2007

Calm Down....

"Why didn't you write about the course on your blog?" Y asked me.....

"I guess I could...." I answered.

But, the truth is that the course was a little "crunchy", so I was a little embarrassed..... But... well... here goes....

About a month ago, I saw a flyer for a week-long course (The Art of Living), to help reduce stress and anxiety. The course was for women who had breast cancer within the last five years. And it was free. The only condition: participants have to commit to attending the course for the entire week, plus once a week for the next five weeks. (OK)

Well, you all know that I could definitely benefit from reduced stress. And the price was right. So I registered. I was told that the course would teach us breathing techniques that were derived from yoga. (OK) And, if we were lucky, an instructor would be coming in from India to teach us. (A little "out there", but still cool).

So, we arrived, 14 of us, all survivors, and a little wary of our surroundings.....

Then we discovered that there were more "suggestions". Since we would be undergoing a cleansing process, we were encouraged to abstain from a number of things for the duration of the course (including the Shabbat in middle). NO: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, coffee, tea, alcohol, or cigarettes. You might think that, for someone who was a strict vegetarian for a long time, this would not pose a challenge. But I had planned chicken for dinner!

Not to worry. As my mom always says: "in for a penny; in for a pound" (I think I got that right...) -- meaning: if you are going to do something, do it all the way. (100%)

So, I came home and announced my dietary plans for the week (reassuring my carnivorous husband that I was not imposing my restrictions on our family).

The week was filled with group activities designed to heighten our awareness about how we are living our lives and, of course, exercises to teach us breathing techniques developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

As the course progressed, some women experienced an emotional cartharsis. I didn't.

I did feel extremely tired. And I took a nap every afternoon during the first three days of the course. (which was a little frustrating, because I had things I needed to do, and I just couldn't do any of them).

Then, on day four, before I lay down for my nap, I needed to "close" the venue for our Barnard reunion (more on that later). I intended to make a quick call, finalize a few details, and go to sleep. But, when I called the restaurant, I discovered that there had been a misunderstanding, and the place was no longer available.

I called my friend, who was helping me organize the event, to inform her about this distressing development. She wasn't feeling well, so I told her not to worry -- I would make some calls to find a new location.

"How can you be so calm" She asked me.

I hadn't realized it, but I really was feeling calm.

"Maybe it's the course," I said, only half joking.

I spent the next hour calling different venues. Each place I called was either not available or out of our budget. I wasn't sure what to do. But, somehow, I managed to stay calm and focused.

And then, just as I was wondering how long it would take to find another venue, the events planner from the restaurant called me back. "You can have your event here," she informed me.

All of a sudden, harmony was restored to the universe.

It was a catharsis of a different sort, but a catharsis nonetheless. Because I experienced a stressful situation in a different way.

Of course, now that the course is over, it is hard to set aside the time to practice the breathing techniques. I don't feel particularly calmer. (and I am certainly not any more disciplined)

But I'm going to practice for the next few weeks and see what happens.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Unusual Shabbat

I was looking forward to our first quiet Shabbat in a while. I was eager to spend some quality time with my children, now that everyone but my mother has returned to the States.

When Y came to ask if she could spend Shabbat at a friend's home, I was disappointed. I wanted all of my kids to be with me. I was looking forward to reading (Harry Potter 4) to them on Shabbat -- but I don't read if any of the kids are missing (even MD, who has read through HP 6 in Hebrew). And I was eager to catch a few moments to talk with Y alone, just the two of us.

"Perhaps you'd like to invite your friend to stay with us?", I ventured.

"Not this time," was Y's thoughtful response.

Though I wanted to keep her to myself, I knew that I had to let her go.

Y had been so helpful during the chaos of my family's visit. And, since my mother is still sleeping in A's room, A is still sleeping in Y's room. So Y doesn't even have her own space.

I knew that Y deserved a little space of her own. So I smiled and let her go.

One door closes, and another opens......

When Y is home, she sets the tone. She is often the social director, and serves as a buffer between MD and A, who can fight like two little puppies, nipping and baiting each other -- not to mention barking and whining, and the inevitable whimpering and crying.

But this Shabbat.... something magical happened.

A & MD were like two little puppies.... but in a good way. The were giddy with playing with each other. They were scampering about and conspiring together, with giggles and secret glances.

And then there was that unexpected mantra.....

"Shituf Pe'ulah, Shituf Pe'ulah, Shituf Pe'ulah...." (cooperation, cooperation, cooperation....)

Every time something needed to be done, they both popped up, started chanting in unison, marching to the rhythm, and doing everything.... together!

They were a real team! And they worked well together!

As the evening wore on, they created another version. They quietly counted backwards "3....2....1...." and got all "sleepy" and "woozy". Then, they would count forward "1....2....3...." and BOOM, energy and... "shituf pe'ulah, shituf pe'ulah....." and off they went....

Somewhere along the way, they opened up one of the couches and set up a bed. When they pretended to be asleep, they really looked like two cute little puppies, all tangled up together.

They were sweet and thoughtful and MD was very much in the "big brother" mode. He even said Sh'ma (evening prayers) and sang to A to help her sleep.

It was one of those precious evenings that we try to impress in our minds. A moment in time to savor, and treasure.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

The Masses Have Departed

In a small village, a simple man, with many children, was bothered by the constant mess and noise in his home. So, he went to his Rabbi for help. The Rabbi's advice was strange: "Tonight, don't keep your chicken in the coop; bring your chicken inside your house." The next day, the simple man went to the Rabbi again: "The mess and the noise are even worse!" he complained. The Rabbi told him: "Tonight, don't keep your goat in the barn; let the goat sleep in your house." The next day, the Rabbi advised: "Bring your cow into your home." And so it went, until all the livestock was living in the poor man's home. In desperation, the man again approached his Rabbi. This time, the Rabbi said: "Take all the animals out of your home." The next day, the man came to thank the Rabbi: "My house is so clean and so quiet with only my children!"

A classic parable and the simple story of these past few weeks.

It was so wonderful to have everyone stay with me. But there were a lot of people and a lot of noise. And everyone had different needs. And it was a challenge for us all.

So, though there is nothing better than having my family with me. And, though everyone helped a lot and did their best to be patient and understanding. My house is suddenly a lot quieter...

Of course, I miss my family very much. And I would have been quite happy if they could have stayed longer.

Still, as the Israeli's like to say: "Haya Tov, V'Tov She'Hayah" -- It was good, and it is good that is was (but we are glad that it is over now!) :-)

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Friday, October 5, 2007

Simchat Torah (2007)

I LOVE Simchat Torah. It is probably my favorite holiday. Despite coming at the end of a long holiday season, I look forward to the celebrations every year. I know where I want to daven (pray), and where I will have the experiences that I am looking for.

Unfortunately, the places I like to daven on this particular holiday are not in walking distance from my home (for me*). Usually, this is not a problem, since we welcome the opportunity to stay with friends. But, with my entire family here from the US, I didn't see how I would manage to find appropriate housing for everyone.

The thought of missing out on this special davening made me sad. I decided that I had to at least make the effort. If it didn't work out, then I did my hishtadlut (part in the effort). But I had to try and give God the opportunity to help me out. He did.

As soon as I mentioned that I was looking for accomodations, friends offered to host. Some lived far away, some offers were tentative, but there were offers and there were options. As Simchat Torah approached, I discovered that I was able to find hosts for everyone in a close radius to my sister's home, where we would all be having lunch, and to the shul (synagogue), where we would all be davening at night. (It would have worked out perfectly had I informed my brother, or his host, at which shul we would be davening. Ooops.)

I couldn't believe it. Even with all my guests, I would be able to daven in the places that uplift me spiritually. I would get my spiritual "booster shot." I was so excited and grateful to God -- and to my hosts!

At the last minute, we discovered that both Y & A had strept-throat. Even though A tested positive, she seemed totally healthy. However Y was really sick and could barely get out of bed. In the end, Y stayed with my sister. Y was disappointed to miss out on all the fun, but it was a treat for her to stay with her aunt. We hoped that by the next day (24 hours after starting antibiotics) she would at least feel well enough to join us for lunch. She did.

At night, we davened at Shir Hadash, a "Carlebach" minyan, with lots of ruach (spirit). Before we moved, that was our shul and I loved it -- I still do. I love the community, which is warm and welcoming, and I love the singing, which is strong and melodious. On Simchat Torah, there is LOTS of dancing, on both sides of the mechitzah (divider). And it is muvan me'alav (a given) that the women are also dancing, with a Sefer Torah. I especially love watching the women who are dancing with the Sefer Torah for the first time. It is a wonderful and inspiring experience.

In the past, I would dance and dance, without stopping. I didn't understand why women would stand around chatting, when they had the opportunity to sing and dance and celebrate the Torah.

This year, I knew things would be different. I wasn't able to really dance (no high-impact activity allowed -- due to the cancer in my bones, particularly in my hip). So, I had to be very careful. Still, A was with me and she wouldn't dance if I didn't. So, we danced together, in the slower parts of the circles.

I might have skipped dancing with a Sefer Torah if it hadn't been for A. In her sweet, quiet way, she let me know that she really wanted to dance with a Sefer Torah. She couldn't do that without me; she's still little. So I made sure to get the Sefer Torah during the second Hakafah, since I didn't know for how long I would be able to dance. I helped A to hold the Sefer Torah -- she wanted to hold it on her own, but it was large and heavy, so I also held on to it -- and we danced together. When she was done, I took the Sefer Torah and lifted it high into the air. I danced with it for a short while longer, then passed it on to the next woman, who was waiting.

I was able to dance for the rest of that Hakafah and one more. But by the fourth Hakafah, I had to sit down. It was a bit humbling for me to join the ranks of the "talkers" (rather than the "dancers"). And I did join in the singing occasionally (though it felt strange to be singing "from the outside"). Admittedly, I enjoyed talking with friends. And I am grateful to the friends who sat with me and kept me company! But it is difficult to accept that I can't dance the way I used to.

Moshe and I had the distinct honor of being hosted by the Rabbi and his family. It was a nice opportunity for us to get to know them better. In addition to being interesting people and wonderful hosts, they have a phenomenal assortment of books. Moshe looked around the library and stated: If I was locked in here for five years, I wouldn't get bored!!

In the morning, we (my mother, sister-in-law, and I) davened at Shirat Sarah, a unique women's tefillah group. For me, it was like coming home. I felt embraced by my friends and community. Before we moved, I used to daven there regularly (tefillot are approximately once every 6 weeks). My girls "grew up" there, and that's where Y had her Bat Mitzvah. (more on that another time)

During the year, the tefillot at Shirat Sarah are very traditional (sans d'varim she'bikedusha). But on Simchat Torah, the women can be as creative as they want with their Hakafot. This year, most of the Hakafot were unconventional, but not very radical -- instead of singing and dancing, there were many different divrei Torah. Though I really love dancing, it was gam zu l'tovah (all for the best), since I was able to sit for most of it. Still, I would have liked more dancing. Since the make-up of the Hakafot is determined by who volunteers to lead them, I volunteered to lead a more traditional Hakafah next year (b'li neder).

There was some dancing during one of the Hakafot, and A really wanted to dance with a Sefer Torah. There were three Sifrei Torah, and one was quite little (and light). I gave that one to A, and she was able to hold it by herself. She looked up at me with the sweetest smile and said "this is why I like coming to the women's tefillah". I thought my heart would burst with joy and love.

I read "V'Zot HaB'racha" in the main room, and A was by my side for much of the time. Earlier, on the way to shul, she asked if she could stand with me and told me that she likes hearing me read Torah. It was very special for me.

It was harder than usual to stay standing for so long. But I love reading and I love enabling other women to read and to get so close to the Sefer Torah and to HaShem. I was "called up" for the last "aliyah", with all the children. It was a real honor and very meaningful to me.

That moment, under the canopy of a tallit, immediately surrounded by all the children, and within a larger circle of women who I know daven for my refuah (recovery), I felt so close to God.

If I was a more learned person, I would quote a pasuk (Torah passage) here. Suffice it to say that I am grateful to everyone who helped make it possible for me to celebrate the way I wanted. And I am grateful to God, for all the gifts He gives me every day.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

* There are young madrichim (youth group counselors) who walk to Homat Shmuel from Kagtamon (and farther) every week. And we've had friends who have walked over on Shabbat. But I can't walk that far -- certainly not in time for shul! :-}

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Chemo Day: Kids' Day at the Chemo Ward

"no rest for the weary"
(my mom always says this, so it seems like it must be a quote from somewhere)

Radiation ends and chemo resumes.... no breaks for the holidays....

At least, not for Chol HaMoed... (the Oncology Day Ward is closed on Chag & Erev Chag)

Tuesday was a marathon day for me: all three drugs (bone drug, vanilla-bean, and Herceptin) plus hydro-cortizone (to prevent/minimize an allergic reaction to the Herceptin).

I knew I would be there for a long time...

A few weeks ago, the social worker in the Oncology Day Ward suggested that it might be helpful to my children to see what chemo day is like. Chemo day on Chol HaMoed seemed like the right time... the kids wouldn't miss school and they could come for just part of the morning.

We had planned Tuesday to be a "down-time" day, so I figured that someone would bring the kids home and someone else would hang out with me for the day. After all, my home is filled with family members...

But, since we did double-duty at Ir David the previous day, we didn't go to the Southern Wall Excavations as planned. So I suggested that the family go to the Southern Wall Excavations Tuesday instead. I didn't mind missing this, as I've been there many times.

Moshe worried about leaving me alone for chemo, but I assured him that I would be able to entertain myself. I'd bring a good book, watch some TV, chat with other patients.... I'd be fine.

However, when Y heard that I wasn't going to be going to the Southern Wall Excavations, she announced that she didn't want to go either (she's also been there many times). After some discussion, Y chose to spend the day with me. We both appreciated the opportunity to have time together.

So, I packed my bag for the day and included games, snacks and treats for all. I wanted it to be a positive experience (as much as possible).

When we got there, the kids prompty began playing cards. When something interesting finally happened, it was hard to get them to stop playing and pay attention. During the few times that I wanted them to see something, they were barely interested. Part of me was happy that they weren't phased by what was going on, but the other part was hurt that they barely seemed to care...

Of course, whenever I pulled out snacks, they all put away their game....

What can I say? Despite all attempts to raise angels, I have normal, healthy kids. (ThankGod)

I am just grateful that they enjoy each others' company so much and are so happy playing together.

The doctor, though busy as usual, was very friendly when he passed by and noticed my kids. He asked each to introduce him/herself. Later, I discovered that MD would have like to ask the doctor some questions. It hadn't occured to me that my kids would actually have questions for the doctor. Next time, I will have to arrange for them to have a real meeting with the doctor. Live and learn...

Over a few hours, the kids got to see each stage until I was all set up on a comfy-chair with my IV. Then there was nothing else to see, so Moshe took MD and A home to go touring with the family.

As soon as everyone left, Y and I set up backgammon and began to play. We played for a while, until my friend K came by. Then Y pulled out her book to read, while K and I chatted. When K left, Y had enough backgammon, so we played Scrabble. Somewhere in the middle, we ate Greek salads for lunch. Our lunch options were limited since there was no Succah. Luckily, we both love salads.

The Herceptin went slowly, since I still have a reaction to it, but we finished just before 4:00. Luckily, another woman with whom I have become friendly, was ready to leave at the same time. So we got a ride to the train station with her and her husband.

Maybe tomorrow I'll tell you about the train ride.....

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Touring with the Clan

With only two days of Chol HaMoed available (since Tuesday is chemo day), it was a challenge to decide what to do with my family.

Remember: we are talking about my ENTIRE extended family: my kids, who have seen almost everything in and around Jerusalem; my sister, who has seen a lot; my parents, who have been here a lot, but haven't done much touring; my brother who has been here once or twice, done a fair bit of touring, but still hasn't seen much; and my brother's wife, who is in Israel for the first time!

And, don't forget, my brother's two little kids, who aren't yet interested in hearing about our fascinating history and amazing archaeology.....

Well, we packed it in!

DAY ONE: (Sunday)

Our shul went to Herodion, and we joined the group.

It was fun to be on tiyul with members of the community. It was a spontaneous trip -- put together on Friday and announced in shul on Shabbat. About 25 families participated. It is so nice to be part of an active and cohesive community!

My kids and I had visited Herodion this past Chanukkah (we had a great tour from one of the on-site guides) but Moshe and everyone else had never been there. Plus we were interested in viewing the recent discovery of what might be Herod's tomb...

We travelled in convoy on the new road (open to Jews only during certain hours). It was cool to be part of such a long convoy! The drive took only 10 minutes, instead of the 35 minutes, round-a-bout route that we took during Chanukah.

Before visiting Herodion, we drove another 5 minutes to visit members of our community who, about two years ago, moved to Ma'aleh Rechav'am.* They wanted to actively support the fledgeling community that the government was (and is) threatening to destroy. They live half-time in Homat Shmuel and half-time in Ma'aleh Rechav'am (sort of like families who live half in Israel, half in the US -- but with a shorter commute!)

Then on to Herodion.... A member of our community, who works for the Antiquities Dept., and is a serious Jewish History buff, was our guide.

It was a challenge translating in real time for my family, but I think I did an okay job. I enjoyed the tour and learned a few new things too.

Nonetheless, I am forced to admit that my father was correct: I should have been our guide. Between the language barrier and running after my cute, 3 year old nephew, it would have been better for everyone (except, perhaps, for Moshe) to have a less academic tour that was more geared to our families' needs.

Apparently, though it would take another day to learn that lesson....

DAY TWO: (Monday)

Moshe and I both wanted to visit Ir David (The City of David). Over the past two years, there have been some amazing new archaeological discoveries (in addition to the discoveries of 15 years ago), which we both wanted to see. Moshe had never been there and I hadn't been there in a number of years.

A few months ago, I missed the special enrichment day organized by Migdal David (The Tower of David Museum) for its tour guides. I have been a guide at Migdal David for over 15 years (on and off). Migdal David always gets the best guides to guide us, and I was disappointed to miss the day at Ir David.

My father wanted me to guide our family. Despite the previous day's adventures, I again thought it would be better to join an English tour with one of the on-site guides.

When we arrived at Ir David (on Succot, this is an adventure in itself), we discovered that there were two seperate tours, one for "first-timers" and one for people who are already familiar with the site.

In deference to my parents and my brother's family, we chose the first tour, but that didn't include the new excavations. So, after the first 2 1/2 hour tour, we joined the second tour! (paying twice!)

Well, the second tour was well-worth it. Our guide, A, (who, coincidentally, is the husband of Moshe's cousin), was excellent. It was a real treat to have him as our guide.

After returning home, exhausted, my father and brother both told me that the second tour would have sufficed.

My father was correct... again.

There was about 70% overlap in material and I could have guided the sites that the second tour didn't cover.

One of these days I'm going to learn to listen to my parents.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

* Ma'aleh Rechav'am, named after Rechav'am ("Gandhi") Ze'evi, was founded on three principles: Jewish Labor (our friends built everything themselves, including the back-breaking work of moving stones for their large, and beautifully, cultivated garden), No Fence around the Yishuv (artificial border, placing the community in a cage), and Co-Existance between religious and secular Jews (we are all part of one nation and need to live together as part of a unified community).