Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Our lives are filled with choices. I chose to expect the best."

Yom rishon, 24 Cheshvan 5771.
The first time I met RivkA in person was at the First Annual J-Bloggers' Convention.
It was a lovely morning for an engagement party, the last time I saw RivkA bat Yishaya, a"h, alive.

Her sister-in-law's daughter was getting married.  I was so moved by the speeches given by the kallah's sisters in her honor.

Even though I had seen RivkA at this same home only a few months before at her niece's bat mitzvah, it did not occur to me to think about seeing her at the engagement party.  I remember looking around at all the guests, drinking in the simcha.  My eye kept being drawn to a beautiful, graceful woman in the center of the circle of chairs.  She seemed to be sitting by herself -- not just apart from the people, but from the place and time.  I felt as if I ought to know her, but couldn't quite place her.  After a while, I sort of forgot about her, and went on enjoying the gathering.

"Aren't you going to say hello to me, Ruti?"

The question had come from the beautiful woman.  Somehow, seeing her face in the motion of making words, I recognized her.  RivkA!  The last time I had seen her -- indeed, throughout the duration of our brief friendship -- her face had been very round from the side effects of chemotherapy.  She was always jovial, a little argumentative, in the friendliest possible way, full of an almost defiant joie de vivre.  Now she was slim and quiet, a bit tired, otherworldly.

We chatted a bit, about her niece's simcha, about our children, about blogging.  Then we sat together, as we always did, the few times we ran into each other "in real life," without speaking too much.  Companionable silence with RivkA was as special and warm as conversation with her was.  As was said at her levaya, RivkA never let anyone feel unimportant, and she never let anyone make her feel small.

RivkA was a life-impacter to anyone who encountered her.  How did she add to your life?

RivkA ("with an A") has affected my life profoundly, as she has affected the lives of so many others.  I am a better blogger because of her.  I have learned to listen more sympathetically to the genuine struggles a feminist scholar must endure to balance her sense of self with the conventional understandings of a woman's role in Torah.  I have become a better debater on behalf of my views, political and religious.  I do not know if I am any braver in the face of cancer.  I think it still scares me witless.  But I admire that she was able to persevere with such grace under fire nuclear holocaust.

Eleven days ago, I got the first message from a friend that things had moved to a precarious place for RivkA.  A friend in the "blogosphere" began arranging a mishmeret for her, so that all of her friends could have the opportunity to say Tehillim on her behalf, to storm the Heavens to try to change the decree.  Another friend took over her blog, updating concerned readers about her status.  Someone else arranged visits and help for her family while she was in the hospital.

I contacted a friend who I knew would be able to listen, and could give me some psycho-emotional counseling.  "How do I get past this feeling that I am sitting on yet another death watch?"  I asked him.  I have seen a few miracles.  I wanted our Tehillim to change the natural course of events.  I just didn't want to give RivkA up -- and I felt guilty for having doubts that she would make it out of this terrible stage of her battle.  He reminded me that Hashem expects us to ask for His help on behalf of others, but that He also instructs us not to rely on miracles.  At the end of days, we will know exactly how much value each prayer and tear had.  Nothing on behalf of another Jew is wasted.  But we must also trust the True Judge to know what He is doing.

Taking RivkA bat Teirtzel off of my davening list is one of the hardest things I've had to do lately.  Her incredible courage and optimism strengthened my belief in miracles.  I just knew that the only way she was coming off of that list was for the best reason possible.

RivkA participated in bringing the Moshiach nearer.  I know this, as I know that increasing the wattage in the light bulbs in my house brightens the darkest corners.  I will miss her so much.  But the light will continue to shine, from her beautiful family, from her writing that will carry on her message of hope and optimism, and from the countless people whose lives she enhanced.

RivkA and Moshe
Note to fellow bloggers, and RivkA's friends in Israel:  In honor of RivkA bat Yishaya -- let's a bunch of us get together soon and go to a movie. We could laugh and be rowdy. No talking during the movie, and pizza afterwards.

Good friends stay with us forever.
May the family of RivkA bat Yishaya be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Kallah: bride-to-be
Mishmeret: prayer circle on behalf of someone who is ill, literally from the word meaning "to guard"
Tehillim: Psalms

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finally. Inspiration. Thanks, Baila.

Yom chamishi, 13 Cheshvan 5771.

This recent dry-spell was brought to you courtesy of technical problems, which took a few weeks to work out.  Then...  I just sort of got used to not writing.  After a while, I was sort of like a bottle of  ink someone left open on a shelf for too long:  a little dry staining on the sides of the glass, flaking at the edges a bit, but certainly not any good for writing.

So then I read my friend Baila's post.  She has been in Israel for three years now, and is making a trip back to America.  She is full of hopeful anticipation -- and the wisdom time gives us.

Baila and I made aliyah at about the same time; and the three-year anniversary is very significant to Nefesh B'Nefesh olim.  At three years, any loan they give you at the time of aliyah automatically becomes a grant.  It is a physical reminder of the law of averages:  Immigrants who stay three years have a highly-increased likelihood of "making it" here than those who leave earlier.

Baila's article inspired me, because while we are good friends, we have different views on the "homeness" of our two countries.  She has a big enough heart to call both countries home, I think.  I never felt at home in my life until I moved to Israel.  (Well -- that's not quite true.  I felt halfway home when I joined the Jewish nation...)

That is not to say that I don't miss people.  I miss the friends I shopped with and davened with and hung out with for 16 years in Baltimore.  But the US Army taught me the art of making friends and leaving them and still being close, even with oceans between us.  And my friendships and family relationships have even deepened, in some cases, thanks to modern social media, that allow great and frequent conversations with some people I never had the opportunity to know this well in person.

I don't miss stuff.  True -- Israel lacks Dunkin' Donuts, Target, authentic Slurpees, and a host of other products that my American friends and my kids remind me of periodically.

But I just can't get wistful about those things -- especially when Israel has the Temani restaurant on Emek Refaim, shakshuka and chumus, red rooftops on creamy pinkish-white houses of Jerusalem stone -- and the Kotel is available for a drop-by-when-you-want-to visit.

The point is, every country has her own unique gifts.  But for me, Home is where my people have their historic roots buried the deepest.  Theoretically, if our government ever starts worrying more about what G-d thinks than about what other countries who should be minding their own business think, our accomplishments as the Jewish People can be greater here than anywhere.  "Mom and Dad" are just down the road, buried at Hevron.  And the heart of everything I ever hope to be beats right here.
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Nefesh B'Nefesh: agency responsible for increasing aliyah from Anglo countries since the 2001 Sbarro Restaurant bombing which inspired its creation
Olim: Jewish immigrants to Israel
Davened: prayed
Temani: Yemenite
Shakshuka: Middle Eastern egg and tomato dish
Chumus: chickpea paste -- a staple in Israel
Kotel: Western Wall, not the holiest site to the Jewish people, but as close as the world will let us get to it these days
"Mom and Dad": Sarah and Avraham, the patriarchs of the Jewish people -- the very first converts
Hevron: Hebron, one of the four holiest cities in Israel, and site of the Cave of the Patriarchs