Where Jew come from? (The Wandering Jew)

I met a lady on the Northern Line home to Edgware today. She stared at me for quite a while without saying anything, and then (as so often is the case) she took my lifting my son out of his stroller and onto my lap as a cue to start a conversation. (See Whatever the blog was called where I talked about kids making you approachable)

“So, ” she asked, “Are you from Golders Green or Edgware?

Already I didn’t like her. Annoyed at having to agree with one of her correct yet stereotypical locations for me, and gutted for the first time in my life that I don’t live in Hendon, I answered briefly,

“Edgware.”

“I dont suppose you would be able to tell me how to get to Dynasty (a clothing shop) from Golders Green station?”

I gave her quick directions, (Straight.) and she excitedly told me, with the enthusiasm of a tourist on a strange voyage, that she wasn’t from round here. Her English being impeccable I was vaguely interested and asked her from whence she came.

“Stamford Hill.”

Of course she did. I had lost interest already, until her next sentence.

“I’ve never been here before, but I’ve always wanted to. I’d like to go to Edgware one day too, but I’ve only ever been in Stamford Hill.”

Sorry? Is the train affecting my hearing? This lady, from half an hour away, has NEVER been to North West London, and despite all the available Jewish society and food, has never entered into two of the most highly Jewish populated areas in London. And she WANTS to. So go! It isnt Cuba. My goodness you’re venturing all the way out of your comfort zone to Golders Green, live a little and take an extra ten minutes to visit the station 5 stops later, then your entire bucket list will be complete and you can live the remainder of your days knowing you’ve seen it all.

This exchange was shocking enough as it was, but then she followed it up with probably the most small-minded and insular comment I’ve ever heard from an adult.

“It’s really not difficult, I went from Manor House to Kings Cross and then to Golders Green. Is this all new?”
“Is what new?”
“This train system.”

The underground. That is seriously what she meant. Yes, quite new, circa 1863, making it the oldest underground system in the world. I can see how you might have missed it. What have you been doing? Does your husband know you’ve gone out by yourself?

Genuinely, it was the most surprising conversation I’ve had in a really long time. I know that these kind of Jews exist, I know they are out there somewhere making us all look bad, but to be caught so off guard and unprepared was a real shock to the system.

We were already approaching Hampstead. I had little time, and yet so much to say. Should I encourage her to treat this small step as the beginning of a vast journey into the unknown? Forget GG and Edgware, believe it or not there are even greater places to go. Have you ever heard the word ‘Museum’? ‘Gallery’? Screw it-‘Theme Park’? I could hand her a tube map with circles around all the best places to visit, and pat myself on the back for bringing culture to at least a small area of barren land.

Or would this scare her off. Perhaps a different tactic was in order. I could get off with her at Golders Green, point out all the restaurants and the people who look just like her, show her that it’s really not that scary after all.

I could kidnap her. Force read her the classics, put on Mean Girls and watch her fail not to laugh. Show her that hiding yourself under a bridge cannot possibly be worth it when there is Haagen Daaz and Novels, Starbucks and Travel and Smartphones in the world.

All these possibilities raced through my head as the train raced out from the tunnel. And I knew that was the only way in which she was going to be enlightened that day. I agreed that it was lovely to meet her, as she stepped off her first ever train, to walk 10 minutes down a straight road she has never walked before, no doubt only to walk right back up it 5 minutes later, onto the very same train, and back to Stamford Hill, and her life, so similar and yet so different from mine.

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The usual suspects

I don’t know how many of you have had the misfortune to take your kids to hospital appointments. My guess would be most. Whether its routine check ups, short term problems, or something more serious, we all find ourselves sitting in doctors waiting rooms from time to time.

With R’s nystagmus, we have settled into a twice yearly bundle of appointments which last about one month. Tiring and stress inducing, yes. But also lots of time for people watching.

I give you, The usual suspects of the paediatric clinic.

1. The attention seeking child.
He decides you are the most likely people in the waiting room to appreciate his genius humour, and therefore spends the waiting time trying out jokes, funny faces, stories and limitless attention grabbing poses. Although annoying, and certainly not funny, he alone generally doesnt take up too much of your time before he is removed, unless he is disasterously paired with #2.

2. The overly doting mother.
An exaggerated version of most mothers, this mum doesnt only think her kid is adorable, (which we all are guilty of) but she is certain that the rest of the world must think it also. Generally brought on by whatever reason they are also at the child clinic, I cant blame her for her doting attention on her child, but I can blame her for inflicting it on the rest of us. When paired with the kid above, you have no hope of the child being removed from your immediate vicinity, as why wouldnt we want to listen to a 2 hour stand up performance from her little angel? Why, we should be thanking her for the entertainment. Isn’t he just precious? Isn’t he just hysterical? Cue tight forced smiles until your name has been called.

3. The germy kid.
Unlike in a regular doctors office, where you always take your life in your own hands to see a GP, in a specialist clinic, you shouldnt generally need to come armed with hand gel and face masks. However, (and I really do feel for the parents, as one day no doubt it will be my turn) we all wait up to a year for some of these appointments, and no gosh darn cough or cold is going to make us miss it. So I see you bundle the child in question up, take them to the appointment anyway, and try to ignore the other mothers evil stares while your spluttering wheezing child fingers all the books and toys and coughs on any unsuspecting kid in their vicinity. I presume you know they should be in bed, so I dont judge you, only pity you. Because on behalf of all the other mothers in that waiting room, we all hate you.

4. The uncomfortable dad.
I can see it written all over your face. You shouldn’t be here. You should be in your important job attending an important meeting about important stuff. Due to some crazy twist of the natural order, your wife actually had something more important than you to do today, (is that even possible?) and so you have taken over chaperone duty. You dont know where you should be going, you don’t know where to hand this form into, your kid is coaching you on the names of the doctors, and you have a list of questions in your wife’s handwriting that you keep fingering nervously in your pocket. The sooner this whole thing is over, the better.

5. The Jew that is making us all look bad.
Do they keep a chassidish man with no social skills in the closet at every hospital to take out when an ordinary modern orthodox couple come along to make us feel like we want to die? He barely speaks a language that isnt yiddish, (I would imagine the secretary doesnt really understand your ‘nu’ing.) he brings with about 7 books to learn, all of which are giant, (ever heard of a pocket mishnayot?) he entirely ignores the child he has come with, having to be shaken to attention by the kid when her name is called, and talks loudly and unintelligibly on his phone for the duration of his visit. (then why bring the books?) And the very worst thing? He keeps looking at us. Stop it, it’s going to make people think we associate with you. Oh no wait, it’s so obvious you’re glaring at us, people will probably think we’re mortal enemies. Much better.

Feel free to add yours to the list, I’m off to another of November’s people watching sessions. I suppose I’m fairly earning the tag of ‘The eavesdropping starer’.

Gilad Shalit

I havent blogged this last week. Not because I dont have plenty of witty anecdotes about Succot fun, or trips to Manchester, or my funny little one year old.

Mainly because the entire Jewish world has been taken hold of by the Gilad debate, and I dont really know how to feel. That isnt to say I dont know how I do feel, because I have a fairly strong opinion. But maybe I have no right to voice it, or perhaps I will be verbally abused for my standpoint. But as it’s on my mind quite heavily, the relief of which was the very purpose for this blog, here we go.

I am against the deal. I’ve said it. I’ve even written it down now, no going back.

Of course we want Gilad home with his family. Of course we have been praying for his safe return for 6 years, and in some ways, just the fact that he is still alive is truly miraculous. But I cant see any good coming out of this swap.

1000 soldiers for 1 jewish life. A problem in itself, even without the nature of these men. By agreeing to this, surely we are agreeing to that comparison of worth. We are telling the Palestinians that we believe that this is a fair swap. And while we may be looking at this from a loftier perspective, ie: that one jewish life is more important than many non jewish, I can guarantee you that they have no such understanding. Surely all they can see is that the kidnapping of one innocent was enough to retrieve a thousand of their own? How can this possibly bode well for the future?

Now think about the nature of the men being released. They are terrorists. Simple as. I have heard people arguing lately that they are not ‘serious’ terrorists. I truly think this is laughable. You’re right, most of the ‘serious’ terrorists are dead. That tends to be what happens to suicide bombers. They are being judged by a far greater power than us. We are talking about the men that transported them, the men who brought the weaponry and explosives into our country. The men who plotted and planned and laughed and celebrated over Jewish blood being split. Above all, the men whom our soldiers risked their lives to capture and keep locked away. How can we ever justify taking them out of prison and saying to our soldiers that all their work and service was for nothing?

I havent had this conversation many times. Those who know me know I am not a great one for voicing my political opinions in public. But the few times I have read or been involved in a debate on this matter, I am always met with the same question. What if he were your son? Wouldnt you do anything you could to bring him home?

This is not, and should not be, an emotional decision. The government should not be acting as a parent would. Their job is to act for the greater good of the country and the people in it. And the question posed is too horrific to consider, and my heart truly goes out to Gilad’s family, who will no doubt-never be the same again. However. I will say that I would not want my son growing up with the guilt of any Jewish blood on his hands, let alone the kind of horror that these men can and have unleashed on us in the past. I wouldnt want him to feel that he had divided the country into ‘for’ and ‘against’, and I certainly wouldnt want him turned into the media spectacle that Gilad Shalit has become this week.

The man coming home to his family, is almost certainly not the man who left them all those years ago. While it is truly a bracha that he has managed to survive his years in captivity, we cannot even imagine what he has been through, and his ordeal in terms of mental scarring and moving on with his life I’m sure is far from over. Is this the profile of a man who wants such a decision resting on his life? Would any of us want to be faced with this kind of debate on our shoulders, and if we were, I think deep down, don’t we all know the choice we would make?

As the Torah has a mixed opinion on this matter, with great gedolim on either side, we are stuck as a people in the middle. One side argues that we are told not to give into ransom at any cost, while the other says anything we can do to save a jewish life is worth the cost. So we are left without a clear answer.

To me however, with no learned status and not even a large amount of political knowledge on the matter, the answer is clear. If faced with the same dilemma, I have little doubt the Palestinians would simply start killing their Jewish prisoners until their son was home. And it wouldnt take too long either.

We have made the decision to compromise, a far greater compromise than seems fair or necessary. I can only pray that Hashem proves me wrong, and a corner has not been turned from which there is no going back.

I’d love to hear your opinions if you want to give them, my mind is most definitely open. Hoping for a Chag Sameach for us all!

Playground swings and Mood swings

What happens to us between babydom and adulthood?

When R is happy, he is completely entirely happy. He will laugh with no inhibitions, flash a huge grin at strangers and family alike, and spread joy to everyone around with the sheer simplicity of his own. Similarly, when he is miserable, regardless of the source of his sadness, (generally food being removed from his vicinity) it is the worst calamity to befall any person ever in the history of the world. His entire face will scrunch up with the force of his misery, and his cries can be truly pitiful to hear.

So why do we hide our emotions behind a ‘brave face?’ I dont mean pretending to be fine. That’s a different story, and there are many occasions where full throttle screaming or uncontrollable giggling are socially unacceptable, and rightly squashed. I mean the people (and we all know a few) who are desperate for you to know how irritated/angry or conversely how happy/excited they are. But they cant tell you. Oh no, they have to sit in a corner with a face on. And it’s just as annoying whether it is a badly suppressed scowl or a barely hidden smirk. Just say what you want to say!

It makes life so much more complicated when people feel the need to hint towards their hidden emotions, or to give you a sliver of what they’re thinking, but hold the rest back and make you dig for it. In this respect, I think babies have it right. I am left with no doubt that R is slightly displeased that I’m putting him down for a nap. I dont question for a minute that he is enjoying his chumus sandwiches, and the look on his face when I walk into his room in the morning,.. well lets just say I think he may be pleased to see me. 🙂

Additionally, once a situation is over, it’s over. While a person can hold a grudge for weeks or months, a baby forgets in the time it takes to hand them a breadstick. Really? You took away my scrunched up piece of foil? I dont remember that at all.. and equally, You have always been mean to me and never let me do anything fun, thats why you wont let me climb that bookshelf…

A grin can turn into a wail, and a scream can turn into a smile, all in seconds. While adults are left wondering how to awkwardly break the silence, or what words to use for an apology, or even how to show someone that they are not okay, a baby has either got over it or made it obvious in the blink of an eye.

At this time of year, when we are all trying to find ways to build bridges and speak from our hearts, I think we could take a leaf out of these mini people’s book, and just say what we’re feeling, both good and bad, and try to start this new year with a clean and honest slate.

 

Fasting..

Euch.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about fast days. It’s not even the not eating/drinking. (Although waking up at 6.30am with what feels like a dehydration headache already was a fun surprise.) It’s boring isnt it? And there is nothing more boring than Tisha B’Av. Admit it. Fine if you wont, I will. I dont want to sit at home on the floor all day mourning the Beit Hamikdash. Not becuase I’m not sad about it, and not because I’m anti Mashiach. Just because it’s a really long, hot, tiring day even without all that added misery. I get it, I’m miserable. You would be also if your ten month old was stuffing in fistfuls of cheerios like popcorn and making his new favourite ‘eeee’ sound while you clutch an aching head and your husband waves out the door to work and distraction and adult company. So do I need to pop in Schindlers List on top of that? No not really.

Instead I’ll give you some fast day memories of mine. Kind of apt for this week as I used to spend every fast day with my Dad due to his not fasting b/c of his diabetes.

I remember the first fast day I ever tried. I must have been about 10 or 11. It was definitety Tisha B’Av because I know we went to Shul in the evening. So by this point I’ve been fasting for oh I dont know, 2 hours? And the novelty of feeling grown up has kind of worn off. And I’m pretty thirsty. So while I’m lying in bed, and the lights are about to go out, ten year old me tries to make a bargain between me and my Dad that Hashem really doesnt have to know about.

“How about if I just have a quick drink of water and thats it?”
“Thats it, you’ve broken the fast?”
“No, I dont want to break the fast…”
“Ok then, night night sweetie”
“But I really AM thirsty… ”
“Should I get you some water”
“And then what?”
“And then you can try again on Yom Kippur”

If I remember rightly this went on for a while without him getting my ‘clever loophole’.. (just one drink!) and I must have fallen asleep eventually. I think I lasted until about midday. Looking back, it makes me remember him fondly. You either do something properly, or not at all. I like that.

One thing I know I can never forget is how he felt the first time he had to be at the hospital for dialysis on Yom Kippur. Up until then he had been there a few times on yomtov, which was hard enough, but I knew that the idea of not being in shul on YK morning broke his heart.

I wish I could have told him then what I realise now, that while the rest of us were standing in shul, praying for life, he was experiencing the biggest blessing of all, the miracle of life physically given to him. And Hashem couldnt have and wouldnt have wanted it any other way.