January 29, 2007

Israelis discussing Hebrew literature class

(left to right)
Elisheva, French-Canada born
me, Jerusalem born
Fabrice, Paris born
Sara, Bulgaria born

While Fabrice lives in Tel Aviv as I do, Elisheva and Sara live in Jaffa; Elisheva because it reminds her of Mexico where she lived many years, and Sara because her parents lived in this ancient port city when they "moved up" from a ma'abara, an Israeli transit camp during the 1950s.

In the photo, we are sitting on Ben Gurion Boulevard near the Gordon ulpan, a center for the intensive study of Hebrew. We are speaking Hebrew with a word or more of English or French tossed in to explain a term, an idea, or a book. The free-wheeling conversation started with Sami Michael's novel yonim b'trafalgar [Pigeons in Trafalgar] that we are studying now and then shifted to the teacher's political biases (all speculation, of course!) and ours, and from Ayn Rand (whom Sara had read as a teen living on a kibbutz), existentialism ("Why did the teacher lump Kafka with Sartre and Camus?"), communism and its [false] promises, Israel's police departments today and in earlier years, religion (flavors, traditions, distortions, impacts), and more.

January 21, 2007

The Warthog| חזיר היבלות| Das Warzenschwein: A trilingual poem

Meet Miriam Neumeier, my third guest blogger. "I am a 90-year-old mother to five, grandmother to seventeen, and great grandmother to 22," my friend writes. "For more than 67 years, I have lived in a small home in Petach Tikva [close to Tel Aviv]. I think I have a crazy streak somewhere. Why else would somebody like me write these crazy things? Maybe loneliness feeds the imagination."

Miriam shares more about herself below this, her poem
in English, Hebrew, and German.

The Warthog
Beside the river on a stone
sits a warthog sad, depressed and alone.
He weeps in silence, does not cry.
I think you would know why.
He thinks, "So we had a row,
yet she should not have left me, the dirty sow.
Now she lives with a porcupine, the adulterous tart.
Does she not know that I love her with all my heart?"
She says, "I am fed up with warts, now I prefer bristles
when doing it; it is like falling in thistles."
Chacun a son gout!
C’est tout.
Beside the river on a stone
sits the warthog forlorn and alone.

חזיר היבלות
על סלע בודד בישימון
יושב חזיר יבלות בדיכאון.
בוכה חרש, הדמעות זולגות,
כי אשתו עזבה אותו לאנחות.
הלכה לגור עם דרבן.
לאן הגיע העולם, לאן?
את לבי שברת, חזירה נואפת, לרסיסים.
את לא יודעת שאני אוהב אותך לעולמים?
התבלבלה לך הפדחת.
חסר לך קוץ בתחת?
היא אומרת, נמאסו עלי היבלות,
בחיים צריך לפעמים לשנות,
עכשיו אני נהנת מהקוצים.
מי יודע מה יהיה בעוד כמה שנים.
וחזיר היבלות יושב בישימון
על סלע בודד בדיכאון.

Das Warzenschwein
Ein Warzenschwein
sitzt traurig und allein
am Wegrand auf einem Stein.
Es weinet stumm.
Ihr fragt warum?
Seine Frau,
die ungetreue Sau,
hat es verlassen.
Es kanns kaum fassen…
Jetzt hat sie es mit einem Stachelschwein.
Wer laesst sich schon mit sowas ein?
Sie sagt: die Warzen sind mir ueber,
Im Moment sind mir die Stacheln lieber.
Chacun a son gout,
C’est tout!
Und das Warzenschwein
sitzt traurig und allein
auf seinem Stein.

Miriam tells more.

"I was born in Germany during World War I. Growing up a Zionist [follower of the international political movement that supports the ingathering of Jewish exiles to their ancestral homeland], my goal was to come to Israel, then Palestine. I was like everyone: a good German citizen. I was planning to study medicine, thought my future was quite clear, and then came Hitler. After graduating from high school in 1934, two years later, I made aliya ["ascension"]. On arriving in Palestine, I worked on a kibbutz [Israeli collective intentional community] where I found my beloved, now deceased, husband. I served in the Haganah ["defense" — pre-State militia], which became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on May 15, 1948. When my youngest child entered grammar school, his mother resumed learning, too, and I became a tourist guide.

I am still learning. Because I now have a big hearing problem (two hearing aids, and still missing much), neither university study nor lectures are options. So I have developed a long-standing love affair with my computer that brings me parts of the world out of my reach. G-d bless the Internet!

I have no regrets. I lived more than 60 years with the only human being who was really my other half (maybe the better one). I have my big family, and G-d was good to me, leaving my brain intact and blessing me with above average health. Can you ask for more?"

NOTE: My second guest blogger, my ninth grader cousin Daniel Zohar, increased this blog's ratings with his popular post, Caught in the Thicket נאחז בסבך, a powerful commentary on the Akedah, or the Binding of Isaac. First guest blogger, Stefan, sends an urgent message "all over the world" on antisemitism in Austria.

January 16, 2007

Happy birthday, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Subject: Martin Luther King Day
Date: January 15, 2007 11:26:53 PM IST

Hi Tamar,

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I led a bike ride (pic attached) to Dr. King's tomb [in Atlanta, Georgia]; it was the 5th year we have done it. I even read the following King quotes.

I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart. ... I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

More later. Got to go feed the goats before it rains. Love, Neil

January 08, 2007

Breaking the stigma of mental illness

"Just as the sun's warmth, nutrients in the soil, and regular watering produce healthy sunflowers, so do the warmth of family and friends and the nurturing of a supportive community produce people — including those with mental illness — who contribute to society."

So speaks my American childhood friend, the mother of a 38-year-old daughter diagnosed with schizophrenia more than twenty years ago, and, more recently, with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

It has been said that you can’t make old friends. One of my chief delights in bihemispheral living has been rediscovering decades later, in Israel, my childhood friend. During high school, we studied together at the Herzliah Hebrew Teachers Institute (merged with the Division of Judaic Studies, Touro College, NY). On our graduation from City College of New York, she moved to Israel, and I to Cambridge, Massachusetts, each to marry and pursue postgraduate education and careers, and she to raise her children.

In 2002, when I launched my journey of connecting with my roots, spending part of each year in the USA and part in Israel, I found my childhood friend! We eagerly shared life stories since we last met. And while we revealed more each successive meeting, she was guarded when describing her children.

Months later she allowed that one child had health problems. Several more months had passed when she added that the child had mental health issues. Gradually (I never asked or pried, just listened carefully), she told of her firstborn who by age 18 was an excellent student, a fashion-conscious teen with motivation, plans, and joy in life. And then, suddenly, their world seemed to collapse. Her child began to show a series of unexplained behavioral anomalies, severe anxieties, and depressions, and the family launched a terrifying frantic scrambling for diagnoses, treatments, and specialists.

And then came the shame. . . and the guilt, anger, and self pity, and feeling cheated and distraught by having to give up dreams and expectations. All these responses accompanied her need to cope with the stigma of mental illness. Even today, after 18 years of her child's and the family's rehabilitation, mentoring, struggles, and active involvement in Enosh (the Israel Mental Health Association), my childhood friend didn't have to ask (though she did) that I respect her and her family's anonymity in this post.

Recently, my friend invited me to an Enosh-sponsored event in Tel Aviv. Israeli television personality Tzofit Grant introduced the evening in a dialogue with her brother, Amiram, who fell ill with schizophrenia 15 years ago at age 32. Tzofit explained that while she was at Amiram's side during periods that he stopped eating and announced that he was the Messiah, to the world she lied, "He is hospitalized on account of an auto accident." Tzofit shared that ten years passed before she "came out of the closet" and began to address the stigma.

A determined mood filled the meeting space where more than 200 people gathered, often shouting support for speakers' calls to —
  • Break open the secret, come out of the closet of shame.
  • Break down the prejudices and the fears in society.
  • Provide these folks, the consumers — warmth, support, and rehabilitation.
Stigmas have no place in the modern world. My friend challenges us to "Eliminate the stigma so that these folks can move beyond the illness, develop the healthy parts of their personalities, and make positive contributions to society."

January 01, 2007

Israeli medical doctor

Victoria Zaharov, M.D.,
internal medicine specialist
in one of her three Tel Aviv offices

My 2007 resolution is to promote shamelessly the outstanding service providers with whom I engage in Israel. In this, my first post in the new series, I bring you "Dr. Vicky," as she invites patients to call her. If ever a photo speaks volumes, I direct your attention to her smile, the flowers and candles, the stylish attire and coordinating jewelry, the cleavage. What my camera missed is the bowl of candies on her desk and the art on the walls.

Dr. Vicky, whose medical education began in the former Soviet Union and was followed by an internship and a residency in Israel, works for two of Israel's national health insurance organizations. Her waiting rooms are filled with speakers of Russian, Hebrew, English, Swedish, and nearly every other language spoken in this polyglot nation. Yet when my scheduled turn comes and she replies "Kanes" [enter] to my knock on her office door, her wide smile and warm "Ahhh, Shalom, Tamar" tell me that I am her sole focus and concern, and that she is happy to see me.

Yet Dr. Vicky is not all smiles, incense, and cleavage. In my letter (in Hebrew, shown at the end of this post) to the medical director of the Tel Aviv headquarters of the health organization I belong to, I noted that "Dr. Zaharov is ... consistently professional, pleasant, industrious, patient, intuitive, gentle, helpful, and attentive. She listens carefully and answers questions and gives instructions in clear and simple language. ..." I asked the director to forward my letter to Dr. Vicky, who then emailed me —

HI Tamar!!

Thank you very much! [...] Moshe sent me you letter. [...] Thank you! It was so pleasure to read your letter. I"ll be glad to assist you in future. just targishi tov [feel good].

Dr. Vicky Zaharov

For her wonderful help and kind heart, I celebrate my doctor.

And, dear reader, in the comments section below, please share your experiences of outstanding service providers in Israel and anywhere else!

הנדון ד"ר ויקי זכרוב

מאז חודש פברואר 2005, ד"ר ויקי זכרוב משמשת כרופאתי. מצאתי בה מקצוענית בעליל, נעימת הליכות אישיות ובעלת תושיה המיטיבה לנצל משאבים. ד"ר ויקי הנה ידידותית תמיד, סבלנית, חדת תפישה, עדינה, עוזרת ואוזן קשבת. ד"ר זכרוב מאזינה בקפידה, עונה לשאלות ומוסרת הוראות ומידע בשפה ברורה ובלתי-אמצעית.

נא להכיר בד"ר זכרוב בזכות שרותה יוצא הדופן וציינו באמצעות העתק מכתבי בתיקה האישי.

בברכת תודה,
תמר אורבל