Shelter

Sitting at home listening to the rain quite literally pounding against my window-pane, like tiny fists desperately begging for entrance. Angry sounds of rain against glass, of the wind whistling through the swaying trees, the silence and darkness of cars parked in driveways, not a night to be out and about.

But some people are.

This time of year is not only one for repentance and forgiveness, but also for being grateful. Talking to God has never been something I struggle with, but recently it feels almost overwhelming to imagine asking God to let me keep the people I’ve learned to build my life around. Horrible things happen every day, people I know lose seemingly everything in a split second. I cant let myself think about the possibility of that happening, or I wouldn’t be able to let those I love out of the door every morning. But what I can do, is be grateful that they are mine, and tell God that, as honestly and meaningfully as possible.

But tonight, during the ten days of penitence, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness in equal measure, but not over any person in my life or missed from it. Simply having a roof over my head, something we all take for granted, isn’t an obvious truth for everyone. I’ve always had what you could call a soft spot for the homeless, giving where I can, signing up to Shelter and other charities similar to it. But still, no matter how involved I try and become, I cant fathom the idea of someone not having anywhere to lie their head at night.

Maybe it’s about being part of a community. Even if you discount family and friends, I cant imagine a situation where there would be absolutely no one I could turn to to ask to stay for a few days, a week or two. And if there was? All I would need is courage to go and ask the local Rabbi for some hospitality from somewhere in the community.

So to me, who could list off the top of my head, fifty people who would open up their spare rooms for the night before I was turned onto the streets, and thank God, could afford to be in a bed-sit, a hotel, or a studio for quite a while even if there was no-one to call, I shudder to imagine the bodies wrapped in soggy newspapers lying rough tonight.

The small taster we are about to receive, no doubt sitting in the rain in our ‘temporary dwellings’ this Succot, should be enough to remind us all how much we have. As we go into Yom Kippur, for me at least it helps to go back to the very basics, and remember how lucky we are to be able to complain about the cold and the rain from the inside looking out.

Advertisements

Rosh Hashana 2012

Hopes and thoughts for the year ahead

  • My little once baby boy is now a toddler. I am so proud of C and myself for everything we have managed to give him in the last year, and he is a confident and happy little boy. However, I am hoping that this year will give him the communication skills to speak to us and to others, and make himself verbally understood. By this time next year he will be starting his third term of nursery, and I can only leave it in Gods hands to make sure he is ready for this huge step in interaction and social understanding. (Gulp.) He hasn’t ever let his eyes hold him back until now, long may it continue! I get frustrated and worried when people ask me ignorantly “is he really partially sighted?” I suppose my greatest hope is that people always continue to ask me that question!
  • I could never have imagined coming this far in my relationship as a daughter this time last year. My mother and I no longer argue, (although we drive each other mad sometimes) and in many ways our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. I can say without doubt that I understand her more than I ever have done, and that I no longer worry that she doesn’t really want the relationship to start with. I hope that this year we can begin to enjoy each others company the way we sometimes used to during the manic bipolar nature of our time together during my teenage years. I also hope I can show her that she can trust that I’ll always be in her life, she isn’t alone, even while I cant soothe her loneliness. If I’m really honest, my fear is being sucked back into the craziness, and losing myself in it, in trying to help what can’t ever be changed. I think only heaven can show me a way to balance love with self-preservation. It’s certainly not something I’ve ever had much luck with in the past.
  • I could never have imagined that the biggest challenge of adulthood would be friendship. While my old friendships hold strong for the most part, it seems to be a well known but un-discussed fact of being a grown up that it is about 50 times more difficult to make lasting relationships. While in high school, all it took was a few shared classes or break times, nowadays things are so much more complicated. Play dates, Shabbat lunches, chats at the library… when do acquaintances become real friends? I finally feel like we have a community to be a part of, and have met some lovely people with kids similar ages to R, and a similar lifestyle to C and me. I hope that this year will bring us closer in a deeper way, and they will move from being people to pass time with, to being people we call in times of joy or need.

Reconnecting with old friends and family, finding peace with things which cannot be changed. Making the next steps towards goals both old and new, treating ourselves to much needed “me-time” and “family-time” alike. Success in our careers and family life and personal aspirations. The ability to give and accept, in equal measure.

I want to wish all this and more to all my friends and family, along with a huge thank-you to everyone who continues to read and support me, I cant say how much it means to me. To everyone who celebrates in one way or another, a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a healthy, happy and sweet new year.

When Superman isn’t available

Today was Purim, a Jewish festival where it has become customary to masquerade in fancy dress. I say become customary, it became customary at the end of the 15th Century. Nowadays it is more social law, especially when kids are involved.

C and I have never had any trouble getting in the festival spirit, and since we got married, as well as since we had R, we have always dressed up as a team. This year, we became superheroes.

Surely you mean you dressed up as superheroes? (I hear you ask.) No no, we actually were superheroes. We spent the afternoon with our parents, and from start to finish it was pretty difficult. We used our super human strength not to cause an almighty row, and our superhuman patience not to walk out. Next to the powers we displayed today, spidey senses are pretty tame.

Why can family holidays only go one of the two extremes? You either have the best time ever, and wonder why you dont see your family more often, or you leave wondering if you can possibly get out of next year already.

Today was the latter. And it was nothing new really. Nothing we couldnt have anticipated. Certainly nothing that we havent discussed to death after many trips to see the generation above us. And maybe our expectations are too high. People say that you either go one of two ways when it comes to being parents. You either repeat your own parents mistakes, or you are so aware of them that you make the huge effort to escape them and do the opposite.

Well, with God’s help, I would like to be able to promise my son the following:

  1. If you tell me something in confidence, I won’t announce it at the dinner table /  secretly tell the rest of the family and make them swear not to mention it. Until they do anyway.
  2. If we’re annoyed at each other, we will always try to discuss it calmly and out of your hearing.
  3. I wont volunteer you to do a million expensive or timewasting errands which you are capable of offering to do yourself if you so choose.
  4. I wont whisper childish jibes about you, just loud enough for you to hear, and then get angry when you ask me to stop.
  5. I wont ignore what you tell me, and then blame you for the results.

Do I really think my expectations were too high? No. Not really. And like I said, it was nothing we didnt expect, and with or without our costumes, the two of us have built up a fairly great arsenal of super-powered weaponry to deal with these battles. What makes me nervous is, there are now three of us.

And just as our little man has no idea he is in a costume today, he has no idea that today is anything different from any other. He doesnt expect any difference from the normal cloud of love and respect that he is constantly enveloped in. Spiderman or otherwise, he hasnt learned to find his superpowers, and I kind of hoped he wouldnt have to, at least not yet. Watching him today, disappearing into his Baby Einstein programme, and whining almost constantly to go home, I was so glad that he had no real understanding of what was going on around him. Most of all, I was thankful that we had the super-power he needed, the one we both have waited for for so many years, to be able to fly him back to a happy home.

Do you remember?

Waking up each morning, with purpose in your smile,
Feeling that hand picked for you, was every twist and trial.
Knowing that you’d taken time, out of your own routine-
To grow and change and learn it all, while you were still a teen.

To move with friends out of our youth, and into being grown,
To contemplate and sometimes change, which seeds had then been sown.
Standing in the sunlight, just talking, me and Him,
I’d never been so open, simply letting prayer in.

Hours of our days went by, we’d argue, talk, debate,
Discuss the meanings of our lives, the love, despair and hate.
That feeling when it came together, we knew our world was true,
I miss those bursts of energy, do you miss them too?

The passion and the zeal to learn, the way we had to grow,
It sometimes seems a distant me, a life from long ago.
Now, going through the motions, I long to be inspired
But life gets in the way somehow, and I just end up tired.

In some ways I have so much more than ‘six years ago me’ had,
A home, marriage, my baby boy, so much to make me glad.
But still sometimes I glance behind, and hope I’ve not forgot,
The girl I knew back then who felt, so strongly, at Orot.

Tree? Check. Santa? Check. Presents? Check. Let’s light those Chanukah Lights.

I have nothing against Christmas. Why would I? As an orthodox Jew, It’s basically a non-event for me. Some years I don’t even remember what day it is until I try to go buy something and realise the outisde world looks like a better version of 28 days later. I even have lots of favourite things about the Christmas period; Starbucks gets all red and white and makes up new and delicious drinks, people seem to get a whole lot friendlier, and I’d never complain about having some time off work. Above all, I’m glad that the non Jewish world has a time of year where they can spend some quality time with their famillies, and I think the spirit of goodwill to all men and being generous to others is a lovely sentiment, especially when done well.

But it isnt for us. We’re Jewish, we have more than enough of our own holidays to celebrate. With incredible opportunities for fun and enjoyment for kids of all ages. Why are so many Jewish people encroaching on a Christian festival?

I’m not talking about famillies who have one Jewish parent and one Christian. That’s a whole other topic, one I’m certainly not venturing into any time soon! I mean famillies, who range from entirely irreligious to what I would call orthodox, who seem to indulge in what’s being dubbed Chrismukkuh, (Thank you OC.) and which is more and more frequently being glorified by Hollywood and TV characters alike.

You know you’re Jewish, you’re proud to be Jewish, your kids may or may not go to religious schools, they certainly have religious friends, you’re often seen at synagogue, and yet somehow, you are proudly displaying a xmas tree in your living room. You’re looking for the least busy time to take your kids to see Santa, and you’re ‘stocking’ up on stocking fillers and crackers.

I probably have a strong opposition here, but I think this is at best unnecessary, and at worst, extremely dangerous.

Unnecessary, because however much you argue that Christmas is not a religious festival anymore, and that it has been secularised to the point where it can do no harm, our kids just dont need it. Judiasm is such a rich culture with so many festivals and celebrations, and Chanukah is at the same time of year! They dont need to feel left out from their non jewish friends, they have something just as wonderful to talk about and look forward to. You want to spoil them with gifts? Great-no need to put them under a tree. You want to take them on a fun outing? Use your bank holidays wisely and have Chanukah outings to wherever you please. Even if you do use the queuing time for Father Xmas to explain to your kids that this is for Christians and not for Jews, but you’re indulging as a special treat, the very best you’re going to come away with is a child who thinks you do things that you arent supposed to do. Then spend the remainder of their childhood telling them what they should  and shouldnt be doing, and see if those mixed messages get you very far.

On the other hand, if you dont tell them that Santa and all the trimmings aren’t meant for Jewish people, then what are you saying? That it’s ok to celebrate both? That you believe in both? Or that it’s fine to celebrate something even if you dont believe in it?

Increasingly, I see parents mxing the two holidays in the oddest ways imaginable. I had a kid who I teach tell me that he has to be as good as possible, otherwise “the Maccabee Soldiers wont leave any presents under my Xmas tree.” I’ve heard people who dub their holiday props “Chanukah Bushes,” call Santa “Chanukah Chaim” and there is even a tree ornament called “Happy Bagel.”

Genuinely, I don’t get it. Unless you dont care if your children remain religious and committed to your faith or not, how can you dangle something like Xmas in front of them at their most vulnerable age and not expect them to come away at best confused.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories of those of you who had trees and stockings and maybe even a full Christmas dinner and have come away faith unscathed. But whatever your arguments for this odd mash-up of religious observance, you cant say it isnt risky.