Fun at the MRI clinic…

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Last night I went to Assaf HaRofeh Medical Center for a scheduled MRI. My knee doc had given me a referral for an MRI WITH CONTRAST. I have a suspected torn meniscus, Baker’s Cyst, and Lipoma all in the left knee and he wanted to be able to see exactly what was going on with all of that. But when I received the hitchayvut from my kuppah (a hitchayvut is the kuppah’s promise to pay for the procedure) it listed that it would cover an MRI WITHOUT CONTRAST. 

I knew that was wrong. So, first I contacted my doctor about it. He said he would write a supporting letter to explain why it needed to be changed. He did that. No result. So he told me I would have to go to the Maccabi office and handle it myself. Ok, that was fine, but by now it was the day of the scheduled MRI. 

So yesterday afternoon I went to the Maccabi office. I explained to them that they had made an error and that the hitchayvut was incorrect. They were very nice, and upon reviewing the hafnaya (referral from doctor), agreed that it was indeed, incorrect. But it took the woman 20 minutes to figure out HOW to change it, and then I had to wait another 40 minutes while the system “generated” the new hitchayvut. Ok. Fine. 

My MRI was not until later that night. It was scheduled for 10:30 PM. I was told to get there at 10 PM so they could inject me with the dye before the procedure. I arrived at the MRI clinic at 10 PM as told. I handed over both the hafnaya and the hitchayvut to the young woman working in reception. She gave me a form to fill out, and she opened a new “tik” (file) for me. She returned the hafnaya to me, but kept the hitchayvut. I then was told to wait. 

I waited for an HOUR AND A HALF before finally being called in. (I had anticipated this and brought a book with me, I am re-reading “East of Eden“). The technician shows me where to stow my belongings and then was taking for the MRI. I asked, “Aren’t you going to inject me with dye first?” to which he responded, “No, you do not need an MRI with contrast.” At that point I stopped moving and turned and confronted him and said, “Yes, I do, please check the hitchayvut”. He brings it out and shows me. 

It was obvious that it was NOT the hitchayvut that I brought but one which they had printed out of THEIR system and that it was the OLD and incorrect hitchayvut. I explained this to him but he REFUSED to believe me. He kept telling me that I was wrong!! 

Finally, after about five minutes of useless back and forth during which I had raised my voice an octave with each sally, I called him an idiot. He stormed off. I watched him. He went to my file, opened it and rifled through the pages there. All of a sudden, he stopped and looked. Aha! He found the corrected hitchayvut and saw that I was indeed right. 

He then told me that the technician who injects the dye was busy so I would have to wait for him. I laughed and said, “I have already waited an hour and a half”. He then said to me, “but your appt was not until 10:30 PM why did you come so early?” to which I replied, “Because I was TOLD to in order that the dye could be injected into my arm BEFORE the procedure!” He said nothing and walked away. 

15 minutes later I was injected, and 15 minutes after that taken in for the MRI. SHEESH. 

One thing: I spoke in Hebrew the whole time. I yelled in Hebrew. I was sarcastic in Hebrew. The only English was when I muttered, “you are an idiot” in English. These experiences are really bolstering my acclimation to Israel… 

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Disengaged…

Well…it has been a while since I have posted here.  There is/was a reason for that.  Something happened.  I received a letter, from a person I know, in which I was excoriated for have slung out publicly my “complaints” about my treatment at the hospital and at the shikum (rehab center) following my recent elective surgery on my lower right leg.   The writer further posited that because of my “negative” attitude that I do not understand how to have a good relationship and that my pending marriage is doomed, unless I listen to the writer and take their advice on how to have a good relationship.  

 

Needless to say, I was quite upset at having received such a letter.  It gave me pause to the concept of publicly airing ANY of my gripes, ever.  The feeling of “safety” I’d had, simply disappeared.  None of this was written in this blog.  It was written elsewhere — other blogs, or on Facebook.   Or, it was shared privately, via emails or in person.  

 

The fact is, I was not really complaining, but apparently, that was how it was understood. And for that I am sorry.  I was reporting.  I am Anglo, I am still a fairly recent olah (immigrant to Israel), and many of my experiences here are new to me.  I have had an extraordinarily amazing (in a good way) klitah (absorbtion) and am relatively happy with my situation. 

 

I recently underwent major surgery — elective, true, but major nonetheless.  It involved cutting my tibia and fibula, into four sections, and the insertion of screws into the bones, which were then attached to an external fixator called a Taylor Spatial Frame — the frame consisted of three rings around the leg and adjustable vertical/angled struts between them.  

 

Prior to the surgery, I had to jump through many hoops of the bureacracy of the Israeli health care system, between my kuppah (health insurance provider), the doctor (which was private), and the Sharap offices (billing offices at the hospital for private patients).  I also had to be my own spokesperson when dealing with everyone to ensure that everyone understood my needs, and my condition. I had been coughing for months, it was a lingering cough that would not go away.  I was very concerned that it would be problematic for me to undergo anesthesia for the surgery.  I had made sure to see my family doctor, an allergist, a pulmonologist, and an ent. I made sure they all were aware of the pending surgery and specifically asked about this potential problem. ALL assured me it was fine.  I even informed my surgeon of the issue and he pooh poohed it and said it would be fine.  A week before the surgery, I went to the hospital pre-op clinic.  I informed the nurse, the orthopedic doctor and the anesthesiologist whom I saw that day of my coughing.  They all said it would be fine.  Then the day of the surgery came and I was on the gurney, being prepped for surgery, hooked up to IV, when the anesthesiologist came. He heard me coughing and ..you guessed it … he said, “no, it is dangerous”.  And so, I was sent home. I wrote about this, in detail in another blog.  My intention was to inform others that this can happen and that the channels of communication within the health care system are not great.  It was an amazing learning experience for me.  

 

I was hospitalized twice – 8 days the first time and 10 days the second time.  I was placed in a shikum (rehab center) for about 3.5 weeks.   During those times, I was privy to the health care received in Israel.   While I cannot compare it to the States other than through what I saw during the times my late husband was hospitalized, or my mother or father were hospitalized, what I saw was fascinating.  And I wanted to share it with others.  My care at the hospital was great, but the food sucked.  And I was a bit shocked about the food — after meeting with a nutritionist and learning that no, I cannot get butter or margarine, but I can get mayonnaise!  I have never expected hospital food to be great, but to serve a patient the same exact thing nearly every single day –ugh.  Just looking at the food became a trial for me.  

 

I will also say this:  I was lonely in the hospital.  I had barely any familial support while I was there.  I had several good friends come to see me — but even my closest friends did not come.  I am not sure how to pinpoint this — due to how much less convenient it is for people to visit — my friends live in places remote from the hospital (or rather, the hospital is rather remote from most of my friends). 

 

Then, I was placed in the shikum.  The hospital social worker and the kuppah nurse were shameless.  They came to me, yelled at me, told me I must think I am at a spa and I have to leave.  They understood that at that point I could not go home.  I could not yet manage stairs and stairs were the only way in and out of my house.  So, it was off to a shikum for me.  I wanted desperately to go to a sports rehab center or the shikum at Har HaTzofim. My surgeon had been pulling strings for me to get into the one at Har HaTzofim.  But they came to me on a day when he was not there, and they bullied me and forced me out.  I was not given a choice. I was sent to a so-called shikum in Maale Adumim.  It was really a GERIATRIC facility.  I was VERY angry and very upset.  B”H, I have many friends in MA and they made sure I was taken care of and they visited me.  While I was at the shikum I had much opportunity to witness how the patients are treated.  All I can say is this:  be afraid, be very very afraid.  

 

It is better if you have money and can afford private insurance for such a thing. And to have a mitapel/et who can advocate for you, if you are unable to advocate for yourself.  What I saw: rife disregard for basic hygienic practices, needle sticks without gloves or alcohol, blood taken in the middle of the dining room where people are eating (and the blood is dripped on the table and left there),  40 minute lapses between the time a patient pushes the call button and the time a nurse actually responds, careless dispensation of medicines,  and lack of compassion for the patients.  While there I was subject to two scary episodes, the first being when an old man entered my room, in his underwear, and one shoe, and attempted to climb on top of my walker. The second was when one of my roommates, an old Russian woman who spoke no Hebrew or English, came to my bed, pulled down her pants and peed on my bed!!   

 

This, then was the epitome reason why I did not belong there.  But I stayed.  Why?  Because the actual rehab center there was good. Because I was receiving therapy on a daily basis.  Because I was learning how to manage stairs.  And because at home, it was far too stressful for me.  

 

These, then are the major gripes about which I wrote.  I also wrote about the lack of familial support.  I wrote about my disappointment with my daughter and with my boss.  I wrote about how I felt the lack of their support, lack of compassion, lack of understanding for what I was going through.  And for this, I was excoriated.  And threatened.  And thus, I stopped writing. 

 

But now, I am going to return to writing.  Watch for next post.  And yes, I might even complain a little bit….

Holy, Holy, Holy….

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Yesterday I had an AWESOME day.  I went to Shiloh with a group of amazing women

The day had a rather inauspicious beginning — I was being picked up by my a friend and she got stuck in traffic so she wound up picking me up more than an hour later than we had planned.  I was not bothered by it.  I just knew that it did not matter.  I knew I was in for an awesome day, so who cared if the awesomeness would begin now or an hour later.  It did not matter…

Upon arrival at Shiloh we began our Awesome Adventure at Shiloh HaKedumim (Ancient Shiloh).  After parking, we first met the group at the bottom of Tel Shiloh.  We had a tour guide, Franny.  She was young, beautiful, religious, adorable, well-informed and best of all, PASSIONATE.  She described to us the Biblical story of Shiloh with such passion and verve — she made it come alive for us.

Shiloh holds special prominence in the history of the Jews and of Israel.  It was there that the Mishkan stood for 369 years.  It was the first capital of the Holy Land.  Shiloh was the place where once stood Joshua, Hannah and Shmuel HaNavi. It is the place where the shvatim divided the land using a lottery system.

ImageWe then hiked up Tel Shiloh.  Yes, I HIKED UP TEL SHILOH.  With a frame on my leg.  With crutches for added support.  With a backback on my back, and my fanny pack slung low around my hips (fanny packs worn in front make GREAT cellphone carriers).  I wore my sun hat, and had a bottle of water in the side pocket of my backpack.  I wore my hiking boots.  And…I was dressed up, I took care to wear really nice clothing.  I felt, I am about to go to a very Holy Place.  I had to be dressed nicely.

I think my friends were pretty impressed that I was hiking in my condition, and at the same time, all mother hen-ing me, worrying about me, as I insisted on climbing the Tel.  I even climbed up on the rocks surrounding the place that is where it is believed that the Mishkan had been.  I climbed up those rocks, gingerly seeking a crutchhold here and a foothold there, carefully testing each spot for stability before moving my weight up.  And then, I went down, on the other side of those rocks, into the area of the Mishkan and I moved forward, determinedly, with every intention of finding “the perfect place” in which to sit and daven.  I found a rock at the edge of a depression in the ground and sat down there.  I took out my book of special prayers and my tehillim.  I then placed my bag under my leg for support and opened first my book of special prayers to search within for just the right prayer to intone.  I chose a Hodaya to Hashem for Miracles. I have lived a life of miracles, that has allowed me to reach that point – to climb up that Tel with a frame on my leg, to clamber over rocks and to reach the area of the Mishkan.  It was AWESOME. I sat down and intoned that prayer, in Hebrew, finding myself UNDERSTANDING the prayer without reading the English, finding myself moved to tears, and most of all, finding myself moving my hands and arms in supplication, in tune with the cadence of the words which I was intoning.  It was as if the Holiness of the land took over for me and gave me the gift of this type of expression.  My normal mode of prayer is usually a simple incantation of the proscribed prayers, albeit heartfelt incantation.  But the involvement of my body, following my words, was not usual for me.  This was a completely new experience for me – and it felt as natural as my breathing was.  I finished my Hodaya, adding a few silent words of my own and then recited Tehillim.

This, then, would be the highlight of the trip for me.  Holy prayer, in a Holy place, amongst Holy women… Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh!

When I had completed my prayers and supplications I realized I could not get up without help.  So I had to ask for help and two women came over and helped me.  Then just as I was turning around, I saw that another one of the women had decided that she too, would try to clamber up over the rocks.  She is legally blind, but not totally blind — and she, like me, has some balance issues.  At that moment, a group of young students appeared led by a tall willowy man.  Two of the female students immediately went over to help Yocheved.  We then asked them if they would take pictures of us all together and four of them took all our cameras and took pictures of our entire group.  I spoke with this man and was inquiring after them – where they were from, what organization they came with, etc.  He told me very readily that they were from Calfornia but seemed hesitant to tell me what their organization was.  He finally did say that they were Evangelical Christians.  My response was, “welcome to this beautiful and Holy country.  You are here right now on very Holy land.  Enjoy and appreciate.”  But they stayed on that site for a few minutes and then moved on.  It is hard for me to fathom, how a faith can be so cavalier of Holy ground.  This land is Holy, not only to the Jews who were the first to make it Holy, but later to conquering peoples, Muslims and Christians.  If I were a non-Jew and was presented with opportunity to visit a Holy Place, I would want to spend more than a perfunctory few minutes at that place.  At the very least I would want to sit in quiet contemplative meditation.

When we had each completed our personal prayers we wended our way back down the Tel.  I took the longer path down that was less steep.  I was always the slowest in the group, but always I was accompanied by one or two women. I was never alone.  It was truly a comfort for me and it meant so much to me – though I am not sure I expressed my appreciation.  I can remember when I was much younger, thirty six years ago, touring through Israel with my peers.  I was never one to “fit in” easily, and that lack of ability to fit in was never more obvious than when I was younger – because of course, when we are younger, “fitting in” is so much more important.  I recall that there may have been times when I may have lagged behind.  But never had anyone made sure to stay with me, to accompany me, to provide me with any form of support.  I was, by dint of my inability to fit in, and by dint of my inability to keep up, a loner. I was also lonely, although I do not remember complaining about it. I think I was just so used to it that I stopped taking note of it.  But as I have gotten older my need, not to fit in, but to feel like a valid and worthy human has become greater.  It is perhaps exacerbated by some of the trauma of my life after my husband died.  At this stage of my life I am much more self aware and able to recognize better my needs and my feelings.

With the hike of the Tel and tour of the archeological grounds completed, we visited the Shiloh HaKedumim gift shop where we took a breather, and sat and drank cold water.  Some of us took the opportunity to use the facilities and others perused the gift shop offerings.  I, still very much in recovery from my surgery, first took a percocet and two optalgin. I used the facilities.  I then perused the offerings of the gift shop and found a set of beautiful “Sheva Brachot” cards.  I bought them to be used at my upcoming Simcha.

Then we drove over into Shiloh, the modern Shiloh.  We went to a restaurant called Nichochot.  It is a pizza and salad place.  I ordered a small personal pizza with mushrooms and olives.  I was a bit concerned about the fact that there was only one person working behind the counter and the fact that each order was custom.  I thought we would be there forever.  Well, I must say “kol hakavod” to the young man who was working behind the counter.  He kept all the orders straight, he served them n the order in which the orders were given, and he did it pretty decent time too.    I was quite hungry, the hike and being out of doors whetting my appetite, and the personal pizza I ordered was one of the best pizza’s I have had since making aliyah!!  While there, I called my niece, Tamar. She lives in Shiloh. I told her where I was and she said, great, it is on her way to Tipat Chalav (Tipat Chalav is the well baby clinic) where she would be soon be going.  She would stop in.  About 20 minutes later in she walked with her son Eitan, who is about three years old and her infant, Mevaser Shalom, who was born right before I went into the hospital for my surgery.   It was my first meeting with little Mevaser Shalom! He is GORGEOUS, absolutely precious. I held him and he was very content in my arms!!!  I introduced Tamar to all my friends.  Batya, who coordinated the event, and who lives in Shiloh, knew Tamar — they daven at the same shul.   It was SO NICE to see Tamar and the babes.  It connected me…to Israel, to Shiloh, to my family, and to everyone.

After we were done eating, it was time to go, time to go home.

Sigh — what an awesome day!  I was tired, exhausted actually, but happy.  I did a lot of walking and the hiking up the Tel put some stress on my leg.  I was given the opportunity to say “Thank you Hashem for all your miracles”, while being in a very Holy place. Just not an everyday occurrence…

I mentioned above that I davened at the site of Mishkan offering Hodaya to Hashem for all His miracles.  I chose that because I have felt, very strongly, that my life is wrought of many miracles, not the least of which is that I have made aliyah, successfully, I have met a wonderful man to whom I will soon be married, I became part of this awesome group of women, I have had surgery on my leg, thus enabling me to have participated in this outing, and was able to daven on such a Holy site.  But I must also offer my thanks to the people in my life:  to Batya Medad for having organized this event, to each and every woman in the group – those who were present in Shiloh yesterday and those who were unable to join us – for her part in offering me solace, support, friendship, knowledge, and comfort.   Thanks too for the lovely card wishing me a Mazal Tov on my engagement.  Thank you to both Jessie Schechter and Risa Tzohar for driving out of their way in order to pick me up and take me home, and to the two other women, Yocheved Golani and Chaya Golda Ovadia for their forbearance during those drives.  Thank you to Yocheved Golani who introduced me to this awesome group of women.  Thank you also to Shiloh, Ir HaMishkan, for their work in unearthing the site, in keeping it up, and making it accessible to the public.  Thank you to Franny, our tour guide who made Shiloh come alive with her passion and her words.

To visit and for more information about Shiloh HaKeduma, Tel Shiloh, contact visit@telshilo.org.il or call 02-994-4019

What Went Wrong?

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This next post is a very personal post.  It was excruciating to think, let alone to write.  But I recently heard from a few people who were responding to some of what I have recently written (not in this blog, but in other blogs and on Facebook) and I realized that the message that I was trying to convey was not the message they were getting.  In fact, the message that some people were getting from my postings was just the opposite of what I wished.  I thus had to take a strong and hard look at myself, my thinking, my writing and to perform an analysis of “what went wrong”.   What I wrote below is truly “stream of consciousness” writing.   I have NOT edited it.  I am publishing it as both an apology and a call for comment.  I only ask that you be gentle with your comments – as I said, this was excruciating for me to think and write.

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ImageWhat would my life look like if I had taken the attitude that my husband’s death was the will of G-d and that it was a good thing?

To a certain extent I did take that attitude.  My first thought was that Barry was done, finished, that he had served whatever purpose he’d had in this world and it was time for him to go to the world to come.  I also had the thought that he was too good for us, here on earth, and that the angels wanted him back.   I also had the thought that I was being punished. That somehow I had been found lacking, I had not lived up to G-d’s expectations of me, and I was being punished with the loss of my husband.   I thought his daughters and his family were also being punished, that they did not deserve Barry and so G-d took him away from them.   .  I also thought that all of the above was true and the G-d, in His infinite ability to arrange the world had managed to make it all fit together.

When we lose a loved one, especially when that loved one is taken at a young age (Barry was only 48 when he died), and when the manner of death is sudden, and a freak accident to boot,  it is then very easy to take it personally.  At least this held true for me. Never mind that there are bigger and more important things in the world with which G-d is or can be or should be occupied.   Actually, my definition of G-d holds that He can be busy with ALL the big and important things in the world as well as all the small and mundane things in the world and everything and everyone in between.  So, it makes sense for me to take it personally.

But my response to this was belligerence, anger, resentment, and self-pity.  I engaged in a nearly two year long pity party over my situation.  Widowed, disabled, abandoned, unemployed, victimized, lonely, grieving – these were the words I chose to describe myself and my situation.

What if I had been easygoing , calm, accepting, and cheerful?  What words would I then choose to describe myself?  Well, I would have still be widowed but I might have chosen to state “single” rather than widowed.  I would still be disabled, hard of hearing but I might have said competent.   I might not have lost the support and love of Barry’s family, and instead of abandoned, I would have said loved.  I might not have been victimized, I would have been in charge of my life.  Rather than lonely I would have been sociable, and instead of grieving I would have been happy.   So, single, competent, loved,  employed, in charge of my life, sociable,  and happy – quite a different picture from  widowed, disabled, abandoned, unemployed, victimized, lonely,  and  grieving!

The most amazing thing about all this is how “off the derech” this was for me.  I am by nature an upbeat, positive, optimistic, cheerful, friendly person.  And even though there may have been an overall aura of desperation to my life or behavior or writings,  and even though I seemed to have been engaging in a  two year long pity party, the truth is my positive characteristics remained in place and stood me in good stead as I navigated the new paths of my life:  my move from Teaneck to Baltimore, my working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, my pursuit of what some call entitlements:  social security, hearing aids, and other benefits, courtesy of either local, state, or federal government, my decision to make aliyah and all that entailed, my actual aliyah to Israel,  (new country, new community, new language, culture, job, life situation),  my active pursuit of a new spouse ( to wit: I have dated 42 men since I made aliyah a year and a half ago), and my pursuit of the surgery which I recently underwent to fix a minor deformity in my leg that will hopefully enable me to once again dance and hike and sightsee and go to museums and more – I believe that all these activities are strong indicators that I was not, had not, given up on my life, that I was looking forward to my life, that I was doing everything I could to make it better . I believe that only people with positive outlooks engage in this type of activity.   I don’t think I REALLY engaged in a “pity party” –but that I chose the wrong words to describe what I was going through.   Thus I inadvertently have given the wrong impression to others about myself, through my words.  But people, look at my actions, not my words and I think you will see that my actions belie my words.

ImageHowever…it has come to my attention that I have given the impression of being self pitying and negative  –  that others have come away with this impression of me, based on my writings.  For that I am very sorry.  It was never my intention to be “mitlonenet” , a whiner, a complainer.  It was more my intention to report – only I was not careful with my words.

I will try, from here on in, to be more careful.  This is not just “a matter of semantics”.  Words have meaning.  Words have power.  I must be careful to use that power wisely.

Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

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Even though growing up Judaism played a strong role in my family, my parents did not push it on us.  At some point, for some reason, I chose to discontinue my participation in the Talmud Torah Hebrew School.  It was not a full time school.  We had classes that met after school two days a week and on Sunday mornings. I no longer remember why I stopped attending but I think it had something to do with my social situation.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was bullied and ostracized by my peers in school, mostly a result of my disability which made me “different” from them.   Children are cruel and those with whom I grew up were no exception.  Perhaps it was enough that I was exposed to that cruelty in public school that my parents agreed I need not attend the Hebrew school where I endured more of the same.

But one night, after about a year or two of not participating in Hebrew school studies, I lay in bed thinking about this.  I suddenly realized that all my peers were going to finish their Hebrew school and each in turn would have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and they would get lots of presents.  I was not going to have that – unless I attended Hebrew school.    I wanted to have the Bat Mitzvah party, be the center of attention and receive lots of presents.  But I knew that if I told my parents that was why I wanted to go back to Hebrew school, they would not consider that a good reason.  And so I contrived…

It was the middle of the night.  I went into my parents bedroom and cried.  I wailed.  I wanted to go to Hebrew school.  I was distraught. I HAD to go to Hebrew school.   My parents told me we would discuss it in the morning.

The very next day they called Rabbi Harry Z. Schectman, the Rabbi of our shul at the time and principal of the Talmud Torah Hebrew School.   I could enter the school but I was a year behind, so I would be in a class with students a year younger than myself.  Would that be okay?  I said yes.

USYYes – I was bullied and ostracized by my peers there as well.  But I remained.  I actually enjoyed the studies.  And even if my reasons for wanting to go back to Hebrew school were not the “right” reasons, it did not matter.  What mattered was that I was getting the education that was important to me. I was becoming part of a chevra of Jewish students.  I ultimately became involved in Kadima and USY (conservative youth movements).  Utlimately, my Jewishness became more important to me than the presents I would receive for my Bat Mitzvah.  Yes, I still coveted those gifts and yes, I did receive them.

My return to Hebrew school involved not only myself, but also my parents.  And ultimately, my sister followed in my footsteps and she, too, attended the Talmud Torah.   I often wonder, what path would my family have taken had I not woken up my parents that night and demanded to return to Hebrew school?

One thing is certain: it was a first step in the right direction, onto a path that ultimately led my family and myself to religious, observant Judaism.   Many years later I learned a truism from a Rabbi who would be highly influential in bringing my family to observant Judasim.  He said, “Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons, and sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.”  He was not , at the time he quoted this truism, referring to me or my actions, but to another situation.  But the truism was and is totally applicable to this turn of events in my family.

I like to think I did the right thing (going back to Hebrew school) for the wrong reason (desire to have a Bat Mitzvah and receive gifts), and that ultimately the right thing is what enabled me and my family to continue on a path of doing many right things.

rightforwrong

Opportunity to grieve

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ImageWhen my late husband suffered his accident (slip and fall on icy surface, striking head on pavement, resulting in major subdural hematoma, leading to total brain death upon arrival to the ER), my daughter was half a world away, in Israel, nine months pregnant and due within days.  Barry was her stepfather but still she loved him and she would have come to be with me during those agonizing days he was in the hospital and for the shiva (Jewish mourning period) after.  She would have grieved alongside me, his four daughters, his parents and his two sisters.  But because of her pregnancy, she was unable to do so.

The same day that Barry died, my daughter’s husband’s maternal grandmother died.  She too lived in Israel.   My daughter’s mother in law also lived in Israel, and so she would sit shiva in Israel.  Chloe was of course, there, by her side.  I fully believe that this was a gift from G-d:  He provided for my daughter the opportunity to grieve.

In the Jewish religion we have a religiously proscribed period of mourning, replete with its own set of laws and customs.  We rend our clothing, we wear the same garment for the full week of shiva, we do no laundry, others perform all menial but necessary tasks for us – cleaning, cooking, (or providing already prepared foods), we sit on low chairs which are meant to be uncomfortable, we wear nonleather footwear.  We sit for a whole week.  When guest arrive to be “menachem aveil” (provide comfort to the bereaved), we do not get up to greet them.  We sit. They sit with us.  They listen to the bereaved — and the bereaved chooses what to say, what to talk about. Typically, the topic of discussion is the deceased.   It is a week in which we are not only permitted to grieve but we are bidden to do so.  It is the barrier between bereavement and the ‘real world’.  For all too soon, the bereaved must face real life and begin the process of living — and that too, is a both a gift and a command.  We are given permission that yes, it is okay to go back to the business of living, and in fact we must.  Life goes on, and we must go on with it.  There are still some restrictions placed on the bereaved, based on their relationship to the deceased, that continue for the next month, or the next year — but in general we are told to get on with our lives.  And, over time, our pain will lessen.  Time IS the great healer.

My daughter was given the gift of the opportunity to grieve.  When she spent a whole week with her mother in law, who was grieving the loss of her mother (a woman whom my daughter knew but only very briefly), Chloe was able to parlay that time into her own grieving for her stepfather.

Hashem, the Master of the World, orchestrated this.  He may have had other reasons to have arranged things to happen as they did.  He takes all the parts of the world and He makes them all work together for the best, for His plan.  And some of His plan, are His gifts to us.

It was a precious gift.  Thank you, Hashem for providing my daughter with this most wonderful gift.

Fear of the Unknown (Yetzer HaRa)

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ImageI am disabled.  Since age three, when I was diagnosed as being severely hard of hearing, I have been wearing hearing aids.  And, most recently, I have become disabled in another way.  I recently had surgery to fix a minor (and invisible to all but myself and my surgeon) deformity of my right leg that had been causing me pain.   The result of this surgery has been to render me “mobility impaired”.  Currently, I get around using crutches.

It is an interesting experience for me.  In the past, my disability has been largely “invisible”.  I function so well that, unless one is familiar with deaf and/or hard-of-hearing people and their behaviors, or one is a speech-language pathologist and can detect the oh so slight speech impediment I have, I “pass” for a hearing person.

But having a mobility impairment that entails getting around with crutches, is very visible. There is no hiding the crutches.  There is a huge difference in experience.

Children, who have not yet had “manners” ingrained will openly stare at me.  I can detect a note of fear in their stares.  After all, it is a truism that for most people, the unknown provokes fear.  I take a daily walk these days, to build up strength in my leg and to get used to using it again.  My circuit includes a walk through a park where, inevitably, I will pass in full view of groups of children playing in the playground there.  They openly stare at me as I pass by.

Remembering myself as a child, and understanding that fear of the unknown, I decided I would not let the opportunity go by to have a “teaching moment” and to allay those fears.  So,  one morning, I stopped and shouted out to the children who were staring, “Would you like to see my leg?  Would you like to know WHY I have to use crutches?”  At first, the children were a little taken aback by my invitation; after all, I was a stranger.  But I persisted, bending down and rolling up my pants so they could see the frame on my leg.  That really piqued their interest and they all came up to me and listened to what I had to say. I explained about my surgery, why I had it done,  what the surgeons did, what the frame was for and why I had to use crutches.  I let them ask me questions and I answered them.  When I was done, and there was not much more to say, the children went back to their playing.  The fear was gone, and with it their interest that caused the staring.  I have since walked by them playing again, and they all just wave at me and continue playing.

The first time I stopped and invited the children to stop playing to come and learn about why I was using crutches, I was actually scared.  I was nervous.  I am not that good with children, and especially with groups of children.  But I felt like I needed to try.  The response I received from the children, their interest and their questions, helped me to realize I had made the right decision in stopping and speaking with them.   It also taught me to trust more in my own interpretations of human behavior.

Fear of the unknown is, in a way, our Yetzer HaRa.  And it can cause us to behave in ways we might not otherwise.  I also was dealing with fear. Fear of rejection (yes, by children).  But I shunned my Yetzer HaRa, and in so doing I helped the children, at least for the moment, shun theirs.

A lesson learned…

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My parents were always givers.  We often had strangers come to our house and we would let these strangers sleep over, and eat our food.   I came to love meeting these strangers.  It is this collection of early experiences in my life that taught me to be welcoming, to be accepting and to enjoy the richness of diversity among my fellow human beings.

My father was an employee at IBM.  Whenever a new young Jewish man would show up, he quickly took that young man under his wing and brought him home.  We would feed him and let him sleep over if he needed a place to sleep for the night, and later, we even invited them to come and stay with us for Shabbat.  As  young impressionable girl prone to girlish crushes and fantasies I loved when my father would bring home yet another “nice Jewish boy” for me to try my wiles out on.  Of course, I was far to naïve and innocent to actually have wiles.  In fact, I don’t think I ever did develop those.  I am not much into “game playing” or being “mysterious”.  I am kind of open, what you see is what you get is what my mother would say.

My father also went to shul fairly regularly, he was the gabbai for a while. Of course, this was at the Conservative shul, to which we belonged and in which both my parents were quite active.  Sometimes my father would come home with strangers who showed up at shul.

One night, my father came home with an old man.  To me, this man seemed ancient.  He did not seem to speak any English.  He spoke Yiddish.  My parents, apparently, understood Yiddish.  He ate dinner with us.  He hung around.  It was obvious he would be spending the night. I was not particularly interested in him.  He was just a boring old man. I was more interested in watching TV.

In the middle of the night, or what seemed like the middle of the night to me, I woke up, thirsty. I went out to get myself a drink, and there were my parents and this old man sitting in the living room.  My mom saw me and she jumped up and helped me take a drink and then escorted me back to bed.  What I remember most is the look of anxiety she had on her face.  She seemed to want to shelter me from this man.

ImageI later learned, she wanted to shelter me from his story.  The man was a holocaust survivor.  He spent the night telling my parents his story.  I never heard the story, I never heard the details.  But I also never forgot that night.  I never forgot my parent’s kindness in taking in a confused old man, who needed a place to stay and food to eat, and how they listened to him.  He needed someone to listen to him, to hear his story.  They listened.  I think that was the best thing they did for him.  The next morning my father got up early and took the old man to meet his family.

If someone asked me why this old man, why this particular night stuck out in my mind, I think it is because I saw, for the first time, that my parents love of the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, was a difficult one.  Up until then, it was an easy and pleasant mitzvah.  But that night, it was not easy and it was not pleasant.  But they did it.  I think that was the best lesson I learned from this.  That not all mitzvot are easy, sometimes they are difficult, and still we do them.

Schooling

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educationWhen I was growing up when a child entered public school, beginning with first grade, if that child had any kind of disability, they were immediately classified as handicapped or retarded.   The terms  Aspergers, Autism, ADD, ADHD, learning disabled, dyslexic, etc.   were not part of the lexicon.  Children were “socially awkward”, “retarded”, or just had “something missing” (when no definition of their syndrome could be found).    When I was growing up, all these students would be lumped together in one class, call a “special education classroom”.

As you can imagine, chaos reigned in these classrooms.  It was impossible for teachers to really teach these students. They were not given the training, the tools, the resources needed.  Furthermore, lumping these students together, when they each had different needs and different methods that worked to teach them, and were at extremely different levels of ability, a single classroom with one teacher was not only insufficient, it was also inappropriate.  Additionally, separating these students from the rest of the student population certainly did not foster learning appropriate behaviors and only served to further isolate them from their “normal” peers.

When I completed Kindergarten, the school which I was attending asked my parents if, perhaps, I should be placed in a special education class.  My parents conferred with Dr. John K. Duffy whose response was an emphatic “No!”  He said, there is nothing wrong with my intellect. I am smart and capable.  I should be in regular classes.

Thus, my parents returned to the school, and told them no, we do not wish for our daughter to be placed in the special education classroom.  And…the school said fine.  I was NEVER placed in a special classroom in all my years of learning in the public school system.

Hashem once again was watching over me.  Dr. Duffy, my parents, and even the times.  All contrived to ensure that I would receive a decent education and live a normal life.

If I was a child entering public school today, my parents would not have been given the choice. The school would have said, “ we are putting your child in the special education classroom”. If my parents did not agree with this they would have to fight it.   That would mean subjecting me to all kinds of testing, and perhaps my parents would have to go to court to fight to get me placed in a normal classroom.  In the meantime, until they won their fight I would have languished in the special education classroom.  And…even if they won, the fight would start all over the following year since the decision would only apply to the remainder of that school year.

Perhaps they would only succeed in getting me “partially” placed, in a move called “mainstreaming”.  That word too, was not part of the lexicon of educators when I was a child.

You see, schools have a vested interest in classifying a child or children as some form of disabled.  According to the numbers of those such students they have, the school receives money from the government.

I am so thankful that I went to school at a time when parents were given more leeway into their child(ren)s education. I am so thankful that my parents said no. I am so thankful that Dr. Duffy was a part of my life and that of my parents at that time and that he gave them such sound advice.   And, I am so thankful to Hashem for having orchestrated all this for my life.

Who I am today

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I am who I am today as result of everything in my life that has already happened.  And who I am continues to form and change and shift according to what happens in my life.  But there are some things that never change.

Again, I thank my parents.  I was a “special child”.  I was severely to profoundly deaf, or hard of hearing. I wore hearing aids, I read lips.  I could have been treated like a “special child”.  I suppose in some ways I was.  I probably got a bit more than my fair share of attention from my parents.  My sister probably felt, at times, that maybe they cared more about me than about her.  I hope not.  My mom had a way of creating a special relationship between her and me, and her and my sister and her and my brother.  My brother grew up a bit more like an only child.  He was 8 years younger than me and 5 years younger than my sister.

But my parents never treated me in the special way that made me feel like I was so different, that I could never live a normal life. I was treated like a special NORMAL child.  I remember them telling me, “you can do whatever you want to do, if you apply yourself to it, if you really want it.”

I really believed that.  And to a certain extent i still do.  But as an adult I feel my limitations far more than I did as a child, or a teenager or even a young adult in college.  I believed what my parents told.

And because I believe in what they taught me, I learned to speak Hebrew.  Let me explain.

I am first going to relate a story that happened when I was in junior high school (today they call it Middle School).  I think it was in eighth or ninth grade.  We were informed that in order to graduate high school with a Regents diploma (the preferred NY HS diploma) we were required to take two years of a foreign language.  Three languages were offered: Spanish, French, and German.  At that time it was believed that Spanish was going to ultimately become a major player language in the US and in other places as well.  Thus I chose Spanish for purely practical reasons.

The teacher, though, was terrible.  He mumbled.  He covered his mouth frequently with his hand.  He turned his back on the class while speaking.  All these are factors that work against anyone with a hearing loss.  It was explained to him that I have a hearing loss and that I needed clarity if I was going to learn anything from him.  But he insisted that “there is nothing wrong with her. She is just lazy.”   His attitude in a way was a good indication of how well I was able to function.  I function very highly, so well in fact, that many people do not realize that I am hard of hearing.  In fact, just today I had that experience.  Ok, going off on a tangent, but this is a good one:  I am currently an “inmate” at a rehab facility – where I am receiving intense physiotherapy for my leg which was recently operated on.  The man who runs the kitchens here wears hearing aids.  They look to me like the old fashioned analog aids, they are large and very noticeable.  He probably cannot afford digital hearing aids.  I wear two hearing aids.  They are behind the ear aids, smaller than his but not invisible. I also keep my hair short and cut around my ears, so my ears are visible.  I thought for sure he noticed – because after all I notice when other wear hearing aids, ALL THE TIME!  I caught him taking a break outside on the terrace and I approached him and began a conversation with him (in Hebrew).  I asked about his hearing aids and told him about mine and he was SHOCKED to realize that I wear hearing aids.  So, I function highly. Point made.   Back to the Spanish teacher.  He insisted that I was lazy not deaf.  In a meeting with my parents, the teacher and my counselor, a discussion of my “problem” in Spanish class, went no where and finally it was agreed that I would not have to learn a foreign language, that requirement would be waived for me.  I was just as happy to not have to deal with another class anyway so no protest came forth from my lips.  I should have protested. I should have said I can learn a foreign language but you have to accommodate my needs.  But back then, I did not even have the words to say that.  It was not in my consciousness.  And so, I did not learn a foreign language, in school.

Several years later, upon graduating from High School, I went to Israel for a post high school year long “Israel Experience”.  I went with Bnei Akiva on a program called Hachshara.  We were promised that I would be given resources for learning Hebrew while I was there.

A short ulpan (intense study of Hebrew language) was provided int he very beginning, but that was only for four weeks.  Then we were placed on a kibbutz for the duration of the year.  A second month went by and no opportunities for learning Hebrew were offered.  I then spoke to the counselor about this and he told me: “You will never learn Hebrew.  You will never learn a foreign language.  You are deaf and you cannot learn foreign languages. You can never be a teacher.  You can never do this, you can never do that” and so on…

As you can imagine I was kind of shocked.  I remember looking at him while he was saying these things to me and thinking, “My parents taught me that I can anything I want if I put my mind to it”.  I dismissed what he told me.  I made arrangements to leave the program and to participate in an ulpan in a different kibbutz.  I spent nine months at this ulpan learning Hebrew.  I spoke Hebrew so well I was frequently mistaken for an Israeli.

Hashem put me in this situation. It was a test.  I did not get angry. I simply did what I needed to do, and I learned Hebrew.  Whether it was in spite of or because of what this stupid counselor told me, I cannot say.  What counts in the end result.

Hashem also made sure that I learned Hebrew while I was young, when learning new things comes easier.  My hearing was also slightly better then that it is now.  But had i NOT learned Hebrew back then, in 1977-1978, then I would not be able to manage as well as I do today, 36 years later.  I essentially had a 35 year hiatus during which I spoke no Hebrew,  I did forget much, but not so much that I could not pick it back up easily.

Today, I live in Israel, once again.  I speak Hebrew and even today I am frequently mistaken for an Israeli.  Just yesterday a woman asked me where I learned to speak English so well.  I laughed.  I was very complimented by that.

So, once again, Hashem’s Hashgacha Pratis, very wisely gave me the best parents, who in turn gave me the best advice.  It caused me to learn Hebrew which has enabled me to make aliyah and to live a good life here in Israel…

POST SCRIPT:  after I spent one year post High School in Israel, I returned to the States.  I decided that I wanted to get credit for having learned a foreign language.  So I went back to my high school and asked to take the test for the Four Year Hebrew Regents.  At fist they were a bit recalcitrant, but then they agreed but said they had no one to proctor the test, to administer it who spoke Hebrew.   But Hashem placed a Hebrew linguist in Kingston at the time, Tammy Bernat.  So I was able to provide the proctor for the school.  Then they tried to convince me to take the Two Year Hebrew Regents exam, telling me that the four year Hebrew Regents exam is “very difficult”.  But I said no I want to take the four year Hebrew Regents exam.  And, this I did. I took it.  I passed….with a 98% grade….(so take that you stupid Spanish teacher and counselor!)