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    Yom Hazikkaron 2018

    I arrive at the port with a backpack. Accompanied by some friends, I am ready to go but I am not exactly sure why I am here at all, in the heart of this carnival atmosphere. A majestic, old-fashioned ship is waiting at the dock, its wooden deck trimmed with brass railing. There is a crowd of thousands pulsating with the music of marching bands, confetti is falling from the sky and brightly decorated men and women in colorful feathers are sitting atop majestic horses.

    I see familiar faces in the sea of celebration, everyone I have ever known in Israel,, and so many people I don’t know.

    I stop one of Tsiki’s best friends and pull him close. “What is happening?? Why are we all here?”

    “Don’t you know? He looks at me hesitantly. “They found a way to bring Tsiki back. He’s here.”

    My insides twist and turn at the news. I rush through the crowds trying to find my way onto the boat. I keep trying to digest what I heard as I search for a quiet spot on the vessel, I walk in a maze through restaurants and lobbies in this massive ship, full of celebration, full of people. The maze finally brings me to a long carpeted hallway and I set my bag next to a soft, velvet couch, which i fall into and I sit there breathing slowly, intensely rubbing my temples.

    If he’s here, where is he?

    Why are they doing this?

    How can this be possible?

    In this state, I still I can’t comprehend how it’s possible. My brain is not processing this new reality.

    And then I become angry. I become angry because the last thirteen years has brought a lot of pain and the last 13 years has also brought a lot of joy and that joy happened after he died. I can’t suddenly change the life I have, 13 years in the making.

    And when I look up, I see Tsiki walking down this long corridor, accompanied by two figures. He is shorter than he was supposed to be, his clothing hanging loosely on his pale frame. He is not the long and lean young man of 2004. His skin is not glowing from the Thailand sun and his sandy brown hair is not highlighted from the Israeli summer.

    “Is it really you?” I ask him.

    “Ya it’s me.” he hesitantly replies.

    And then, I become urgent, impatient. “NO. NO. I need to know if it’s YOU. Is it your heart inside, and I don’t mean your beating heart, am I speaking to your    נפש     ? ?

    My heart is pounding as my body jerks itself out of this dream. I heavily breath as I grab David’s arm and hold onto it tightly. The pieces of the dream fall around me and are replaced by the familiar shadows of our bedroom: the echo of the refrigerator fan turning on. The low grumble of our dog in the living room. Silence, because our babies are deeply sleeping in their rooms in the early morning.

    *********

    I recently took part in a study on grief. It’s been ongoing, the researcher Dr. Ofri Bar-Nadav, from the International Center for the Study of Loss, Bereavement and Human Resilience, Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, is no stranger to myself or the group I am a member of, he has has helped the Girlfriends of Fallen Soldiers (GFIDF) tremendously throughout the years. But I shy away from most things like this, my Hebrew sucks and thirteen years later, I hate confronting this failure. But Dr. Bar-Nadav is patient, and he’s willing to do the interview in English, so I concede.

    There are a lot of questions about life after loss, what my relationship with Tsiki was like..did we fight? (no). What my relationships look like now (“Mostly positive!” I assure him.), and where my grief is now, 13 years later. “Everything is excellent.” I proudly answer Dr. Bar-Nadav. My kids call Tsiki’s parents Sabba and Safta. I had a very positive relationship with Tsiki. I have a wonderful marriage. I love my life.

    I love my life.

    I am thankful everyday for the life i lead.

    But through all those questions, some truths come out. I STILL put on the Hamsa necklace Tsiki gave me when I am going through tough times. This year especially, in dealing with a serious family illness, this necklace brought me comfort, brought me strength. 13 years later, I STILL keeps Tsiki’s army bathrobe hanging in our family bathroom, inconspicuously, under the 5 towels used daily.

    Tonight, another year has gone by and my heart has been heavy since last week. No matter how much wonder and joy I carry in this very moment, 13 years ago I lived through the absolute darkest moments of my life. 13 years ago, I didn’t think I could make it in a world without Tsiki Eyal. My sadness was so immense that I was certain I could not love or be loved again.

    Tsiki’s spirit was contagious and every single day I had with him was better than the last. When he died, we all lost something fucking beautiful. I’m sorry it ever happened- but Tsiki Eyal will never be forgotten and will never cease to be loved by all of us.

     

    Remembering Tsiki Eyal.

     

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    Yom Hazikkaron 2017 (Remembrance Day)

    Yom Hazikaron.

    The band-aid comes off again.

    The girlfriends of fallen soldiers, we text each other: Where are you? How do you feel? Hold tight.

    “I’m ok” says one of the girlfriends. “I’m over it, I’m fine.”

    Some are rushing to the ceremony of their fallen soldier, others give interviews.

    We send lots of kisses, we speak to one another in the most gentle tone we can muster. We share in our private social media groups. We reach out to one another.

    We wait for the siren.

    That siren. It sends chills through my bones every year, and that’s when the rip of the band aid is felt and my heart tightens again. It’s just right there you see, right under the band-aid. It doesn’t feel so raw on most days, the wound, but it’s always there. It’s not so far.  That siren, little tears start to gather on the corners of my eyes and as i close them,  my jaw clenches and then i slowly swallow and breath and before the siren ends, the pain runs into every corner of my body leaving my body trembling as the wound is exposed and the pain comes back, the devastation. One day a year, this entire country comes to a standstill and we all hold our arms out, and we reach for one another and we stand together, holding each other.

    My first Yom DSCN4495Hazikaron siren was only weeks after Tsiki died in 2005. I was with his father and friends Asaf, Elad, and Oz. We took an army van down to Beer Sheva to pack up Tsiki’s room and the daytime Yom Hazikkaron siren went off before we got there. We pulled over on the side of the road at the Kanot junction and I stood there awkwardly, still numb and in shock from my grief. It was all a bad dream, I wasn’t sure anything was real. We arrived at the apartment he shared with Asaf while they studied at Ben-Gurion University, to pack what remained of his life into boxes and to deliver them back to his parents house. We did it so quietly I remember. So quickly. His smell was still in his room, his cologne, the same scent his father wore. We took apart his bed, his desk. We packed it into the army van. Just like that. I crawled back into the van, staring blankly through the window, the Negev desert running past my window. It was just really quiet. That’s all I remember.

    I was living in Thailand when I met Tsiki. Enjoying my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. We met one weekend night in Chiang Mai and then he found me the next night in the same spot. “I knew you’d be here.” He gleamed. I didn’t think as much of our evening together until an email popped up from him a week later when I was bed-ridden with a stomach bug. “I want to see you again, can I come visit you in your village?” He boldly asked me. That’s all it took.

    12 years ago, I left that village upon hearing the news of my father’s death. I went back to America to help my mom and brothTsikier. In those weeks, Tsiki was so worried about me. ” I am so sorry he would tell me, I can’t even imagine what it’s like, I am so sorry.” He couldn’t find the words. And when I returned to Bangkok for a Peace Corps conference less than a month later,  the minute i got off the plane he called my cell phone to check in. “I’m fine I’m fine, stop worrying so much” I impatiently told him, i could never have imagined that it was possible to lose him too, how could something like that be possible?

    The next day I got a text from him. “I am only dust without you, I love you.” Then I heard nothing. And then I got the news that Tsiki was killed and found myself on a plane to Israel, to experience the devastation of losing someone so loved by many, so loved by me. It has been 12 years and last December, I was able to return to my village in Thailand to hug those I left behind.

    Maechen, Thailand didn’t change very much in those 12 years, and neither did the small group of 3 Thai women I spent almost every evening with. When we first saw each other, we sat and talked about what happened. We remembered Tsiki together and we hugged one another tightly, for so long.  And wMaechanhile tears fell from this reunion, they were tears of pure joy to see these women again, to have the opportunity to reconnect again so show them that I am ok, that I am still here.  I spent the last 12 years in fear of returning to my old village. I thought it would bring back so much pain from my past. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

    But it didn’t bring back the kind of sadness i imagined it would bring, that i feared for so long which caused me anxiety every time i thought about it.  It brought back a lot of love. I learned something really big from my trip back to Thailand with my best girlfriend Channah: the pain of loss cannot take away my memories of love. And  my year in that quiet Thai village was full  of love, with these women and with Tsiki.

    Tsiki was killed on the third day of Passover. As my children get older, they are allowed to join me on his Jahrzeit at the cemetery and now, for Yom Hazikkaron. I let them decide if they want to join me in Mazkeret Batya at Tsiki’s grave or if they want to go to the ceremony at their school.  I have always tried to be gentle but honest with them, and it would be impossible to hide my story.

    My eldest, Ziggy, is finally at an age where he is putting the story together in a very real way, he is asking so many questions. I knew this time would come but I wasn’t sure the best way to explain my story to my children. They can hardly handle a Disney movie, how can they digest such a painful story?  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   I also know that my story is Dave’s story. And it’s our children’s story. It’s our family story.

    After Tsiki’s Jahrzeit before Pesach this year, Ziggy was eating his dinner at the table quietly. “Mama” Ziggy started to ask me,  “We call Sabba Moshe and Safta Tirtze Sabba and Safta.” He states as a matter of fact.  “But they aren’t our Sabba and Safta. I know Tsiki was your friend, but why are they all so close to us, why do they seem more than friends to us?”

    “Because Tsiki wasn’t just my friend Ziggy. We wanted to marry each other.” I explained.

    Ziggy’s eyes grew wide in a eureka moment. He couldn’t believe this information. And then I watched him process it and I waited.

    “But Mama, if you married Tsiki, you would still have me and Ella and Rafa right??”

    “No i wouldn’t have you guys. without Tsiki, we all wouldn’t have each other.” I explained.

    Tsiki Eyal and my love for him caused me my greatest grief and also my greatest happiness: the life and family i now have in Israel. I live with that realization every day.

    He will always be missed and loved.

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    Revival

    My oldest has entered first grade. And It was unexpected to get all kinds of emo about it. We are testing out our schedules this week and train him with the skills to do a bike commute. We wanted him to view his bike as his car, because our bikes are our cars. and when we arrived we were TWO mins late. and nothing even started. But Z felt it was already late and he was chastising me for being late. And I ran inside with him with my helmet and looking around, you just realize there is this new world inside that building. Different hierarchies. It’s going to be a bit of survival in there and all these thoughts run through my head as I try and look at every kids face and wonder what it’s like to grow up Israeli.  I wanted to walk in class with Z and learn what he learns and watch him learn. But he told me to leave, and obviously I knew that already.

    So hey blog. Howabout we start exercising the writing muscle and not save this blog just for my annual Yom hazikkaron post?

     

    Be patient.

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    Yom Hazikaron 2016 (Memorial Day)

    On the way to Halhul bridge

    This picture was taken  the week after Tsiki was killed.   I don’t know why I decided to join his male family and friends on the trip to Hebron but I did, I probably thought I was being tough about it, that it was my duty as his partner. In  any case,  I wanted to see where he spent his last days, where he sat when we spoke on the phone, I wanted to see what it was like as a soldier what this fuss was all about that I read in my Newsweek in the Peace Corps, where words like “intifada” and “suicide bombings” jumped out at me.  I wanted to go because I thought it would help me understand how something so horrible could happen. I hoped if I had this experience, it would help me heal quicker -give me an express closure, but it didn’t. That month I lost over 10 pounds and I would wake up every morning to a handful of  hair strands covering my pillow- “from the stress”- the doctor would explain to me.  If I didn’t have these pictures, I would only remember what that year felt like and 2005  felt numb. 2005 felt alone. The heartbreak of losing my father and Tsiki would have killed me too  if there wasn’t luck on my side.

    A few weeks ago, I went searching through the fabric drawers in our IKEA bookshelves. 6 weeks earlier, I had given birth to my 3rd child and had to gather the right paperwork for his U.S citizenship. Beneath our bill records and our medical records  is a plastic file folder packed with every single written memory I have of Tsiki.  I open the folder carefully and find myself hoping to not read a letter that is too emotional.  I want to only catch a scent of my  story, to softly remind myself without falling into the rabbit hole that took me so long to climb out of.  But it never happens that way.  Moments later, the folder is wide open, its contents spread around my naked legs and the brick on my chest presses down causing my breath to shorten and pause as my 35 year old self begins reading the story of a young American woman, who fell in love with a young  Israeli man in a village in Thailand.

    We all know what happens.

    Ella at Tsiki’s Askara

    A week later,  my expanded family and I attend Tsiki’s annual memorial service. After 11 years, so many friends and family still gather at the family home in Mazkeret Batya. The same annual vegetable wraps are served  and we still sit together, in a big circle on the stone floored patio outside, while homemade cakes are passed around.  This time, since I am nursing, I stay at the home while my husband and older children attend the service.

    My husband tells me how our children sit quietly, curiously watching the friends and family surrounding Tsiki’s grave, how they sit patiently and then understand the moment they need to rise up and give comfort to Tsiki’s grieving mother. My husband expresses his own awkward realization that although he is standing among the familiar faces of the family and friends, it is nevertheless the family and friends of a man that (on this morning) he alone has never met, but who is an important ingredient in the recipe of his own life and instrumental in the development of his own future in Israel.  And when we pack up to leave, my son angrily tells me: “You SEE! You see Mama?? I don’t want to be a soldier.  You see what happens? Tsiki died.” he says, upset about the reality of the conflict. I spent the last years finding the right words for my own narrative, but I had not yet thought of how I was going to handle the effects of that upon my own children.  The time has arrived.

    It’s been 11 years. I’m now the mother of three sabras – I’ve built my home here. I know the people who have helped me birth my babies at the nearby hospitals.  I’ve completed graduate school here, I’ve walked all over this city and built my marriage to what it is now under this holy sky.   My children speak Hebrew with a native tongue and they live Judaism. Our neighbor downstairs opens his door when he hears the echoes of our children in the hallway and pulls out a piece of chocolate when he checks their ears.   Families in our neighborhood take turns picking up our children from school and  we all meet daily in the local park, which is overflowing with the yells and laughter of tons of the neighborhood children. The wine shop knows which wines we drink and when we have dinner guests they just ask to buy something that Susi likes. Our local cafe greets our children with a baked treat every Friday when we go to buy Challah.  Despite the great love this little country has,  I am a mother now and I am in beast mode with my little brood, like every mother-I will always want to protect them. I am not going to glamorize army service. I am not going to pretend I am comfortable with the thought of my own children having to serve their time. I’ve witnessed the harrowing grief parents go through when a child dies and no one deserves that kind of pain.

    As a mother and a citizen, I do not accept the status quo, where loss and grief are an inevitable price for our right to exist.

     

    Our soldiers want to finish their army service and go home to their families. They want to go to college. They want to fall in love and run on our beaches. Our soldiers want to live for this country, and not die by it.  So for me, each and every night when I put my own babies to bed, I run my hands over their smooth cheeks and I bless them with the good luck needed to get through this life, because G-d knows they will need it. Whether it’s in Israel or abroad.

    11 years have passed.  Every single day, when I walk through the streets of Jerusalem,  I  take a moment to breath in my surroundings. I examine the trees around me and look at each car that lines our neighborhood. I often study each face that passes me in the alley way near our home- wondering what their story is.  I look up into the sky think about all of the circumstances and coincidences it took to raise my family in the heart of this Holy City. 11 years later, I still find it difficult to make sense of it all and my most random daydreams could never have imagined this adult life I am living.  And I suppose because of such great fortune, I would have assumed that after 11 years, I would not need to write about Tsiki anymore, but I was wrong. Because time passes for people like me but it doesn’t. Does that make sense? But for you, I need to write about Tsiki Eyal more now than ever, because I don’t  want you to forget him either. Every fallen soldier should be remembered.  For many, this is the devastating reality of living in Israel and whether it’s 1 or 50, losing a soldier brings Israel to her knees,  the entire nation mourns and we lose sleep together. Just like tonight, as the memorial siren bellows, we all shut down we all remember together those we lost and there is simply nothing more powerful for me than this experience, to know I am not alone.

    Last week a small bird slammed into our patio door, it landed on our patio table, breathing heavily and disoriented. I moved it to our flower bed.  My 3 year old asked why I was doing that. “The bird doesn’t look like it’s doing so well, and I want it to have a comfortable place for it to rest.” I answered. “And if it dies, we will bury it like Tsiki” answers my daughter, without a beat.

    “Yes”, I answer deflated, “We will bury it.” But when I returned a few hours later, the bird was gone. And that gave me one more chance to narrowly escape having that conversation with them.  It gave me more time to find the words for our own family story, and I need as much time as I can get.

     

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    Yom Hazikaron 2015 (Memorial Day)

    Tell me because I can’t remember I asked my friends about April 25, 2005:

    I was sitting on the bed closest to the door, and you on the other.  We were facing each other, so our knees were nearly touching.  There was someone to your left, I am pretty sure it was Lalo.  Your phone rang, you answered in your usual jovial upbeat way.  You must have known it was one of Tsiki’s friends because I faintly remember you answering with a sly joke or funny voice.  You had your cell phone in your left hand, up against your left ear.  A few seconds passed as you listened to the voice on the other end, your response was “I don’t understand what you are saying.  I DON”T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING”.  You passed me the phone.  The boy on the other end repeated himself.  I passed the phone to Lalo, who confirmed the news.

    You sprang up from the bed and I followed.  You came towards me, almost for a hug, almost for a battle.  You pushed me against the wall with your hands very, very tight around my arms and wailed into my face.  A sound so deep from your gut, from your heart, from your breaking heart, that the noise did not seem human.  I ran out into the hallway and pounded on Seth and Luke’s door.  You were behind me but had fallen to your knees and were crawling down the hallway towards us, wailing.  Everyone came out of their hotel rooms to see what was happening, all Peace Corps members who loved you dearly.  I remember so vividly you on your knees, and the faces of all these people, helpless to make this pain lessen. (Geneva Loftus)

    Last August , I entered a brightly lit living room on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and sat behind a circle of young women. There was a lot of us and many of them were the newest members of the Girlfriends of Fallen Soldiers support group from the summer war.

    I looked at the bewildered faces of these new recruits. At an age where the scorching sun of the Middle East has not yet affected their youthful faces, they have not yet developed the wrinkles to hold their sadness. Some of the young women are fidgeting with the invisible hole in their shorts- tracing empty circles into their thighs, tears gathering in the corners of their eyes. Some sat with a fireball of anger inside their chest, releasing the pressure with the incessant tapping of their heels onto the floor tiles- others had their eyes frozen towards the floor, staring into the invisible darkness that is grief, the only movement I could see was the slow and steady rise and fall of their breasts. I buried my own head into crook of my right arm and bent over my thighs in my chair.

    And I then I wept.

    Because I remembered sitting in that chair, tracing my fingers around my knee cap waiting for my heart to explode. And within the months after the death of Tsiki Eyal, I held my palms up to the sky helplessly and asked how I could survive the next day. And then I asked if I survived tomorrow, how could I possibly survive another decade with this pain?

    It’s been 10 years.

    Tsik Eyal (black shirt) with Seth and Lalo

    Last weekend, one of my dear friends from the Peace Corps came to visit for a short weekend in the middle of his  conference of Istanbul. What made this visit so important to me was that Seth is one of the small handful of people who knew me before I met Tsiki, also met Tsiki, witnessed me experience my father’s death on March 29, 2005 and was present when I experienced Tsiki’s death less than a month later.  He also watched me grow into the life I have now.

    And I didn’t realize how much I needed him to come precisely at the time he did.

    I needed him to come and visit me to remind me of who I was before 2005 because I couldn’t remember. I needed him to tell me what happened, I needed him to remind me of small the details that have floated out of my mind in the last ten years but most of all I needed him to look at me and tell me I am OK.  That I rebuilt and I am OK. The last ten years have been so tiring I fought long and hard.  I demand an honorary PhD in Project Management because my life fell apart and I put it back together. I rebuilt every detail in my soul and custom crafted every wound so I could carry it with me.

    I am OK.

    I don’t have to prove it through this blog post. All who know me know that I am OK. I have a caring and wonderful husband who I love, who is perfection who has my heart- kids I adore, job satisfaction.

    I ride my bike to work. Even my dog is awesome.

    But there are 31 newly bereaved girlfriends who are experiencing Israel’s Memorial Day on a very personal and painful level for the first time starting tonight. Like me, they have become part of the club that no one wants to join. These 31 young women have to get through the first year of their long journey. They are not OK. They are holding their palms to the sky defeated asking how are they supposed to get through the next day, let alone the next decade?

    They are wondering how they could ever love again.

    They are wondering if they will go crazy from their grief.

    They are wondering if they could finish their school or get through their job another day without a mental breakdown.

    They are wondering if they will ever stop crying.

    If the pain in their chest is their broken heart.

    They are wondering if their soldier is somewhere wanting to come back to them. Or perhaps, they should go to him.

    They are playing every scenario in their head where he doesn’t die.

    They are developing anxiety and depression.

    They cannot sleep and when they do, their dreams are violent and suffocating.

    They are wondering if there is anything left inside for someone to love. And if there is, if anyone could love what is left.

    There is loneliness, there is disbelief.

    There is a loss of faith. There is regaining faith.

    ……There is a whole process that they must begin and experience.

    And I am so sorry. I am so sorry that anyone ever has to go through losing the love of their life.

    I think about Tsiki Eyal every single day of my life.

    Tsiki Eyal

    The human heart has an amazing will to carry its wounds and to continue beating. I am OK.

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    Yom Hazikaron 2014 (Memorial Day)

    It’s our routine; Ziggy lifts his wet arms to be lifted out of the tub. I must always use the pink towel and I must always make sure the special velcro part of the children’s towel is tied around my neck. I wrap him tightly and we hold our cheeks against one another. This is one of the moments in the day we give each other an excuse to cuddle. About a month ago, we did this routine and as I let him down to stand and knelt down beside him to scrub the towel against his hair, he grabbed my necklace. I became serious and sternly held his hand in place. “Be very careful with this, this is very important to me, ok?”

    Ziggy looked me in the eyes with his head cocked to the side.

    “Why?”

    This is the first conversation I have had with my son about this. Before I ever had children, I knew there would be a time where I would have to explain to them who I was, what happened, why I became who I am now, and explain it in a way so that he knows this is also his story.

    “You know your Sabba Moshe and Safta Tirtze?” I start out slowly,  “And Doda Anat and Oren?”.

    He put the pieces of the puzzle together in his brain and became quiet and attentive.

    “They also have another son.” I hold my breath, carefully choosing my words, unsure of myself and what I should exactly be saying. How to approach the sensitive subject of death. “This is the necklace he gave to me, I wear it so I don’t forget him.”

    “Where is he moma?” Ziggy asks innocently, wondering how could there be someone I know that he’s never met.

    “He died, and it made us all very sad”. I reply. My stomach clenched, my back began to ache.

    Ziggy looks at me. “What was his name?”

    “Tsiki.”

    Ziggy pauses, then his face lights up with a eureka moment. “Tsiki sounds like my name!!!”. He concludes.  And ran into his bedroom to jump on his bed.

    Ella standing next to Tsiki's memorial by artist David Gerstein

    I walked into the darkness of my own bedroom, facing a blank wall- feeling my heart through my chest, hands shaking and then the deep sadness of loss opens up, enveloping me and holding me there. I breath. I breath deeper, but that evening, the tears wouldn’t stop until bedtime. That night, my little family held me and let me grieve because I needed to, because although it’s been nine years, and the next chapter of my children growing and learning about Tsiki Eyal has begun. That innocent moment reminded me that this was my life and my experience and it struck me deep into my soul.  Now it is my responsibility how I approach this narrative, because it will be part of their identity.

    From 2009, reflecting on my 2007 conversion when I sat before Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Nissim Karelitz , the chairman of the beis din tzede in Bnei Brak:

    “I’m only a day and a half away from my two year old birthday. As a Jew of course. Two years ago I sat in front of 9 Rabbi’s in a sparsely decorated conference room in in Bnei Brak and swam though questions about Judaism for 2.5 hours. I knew when the horn blew for the Soldier’s remembrance day the Rabbi’s would not stand up. They will not stand up because they don’t believe in the State of Israel, and since they do not believe in the State of Israel, they will not remember Her fallen soldiers. The night before- I had a small conversation with my fallen soldier. I asked him to come with me to this meeting and stand by me- and to forgive me when I don’t stand up for a horn that blows for him. I explained how I will not stand up because I am so close to my goal and when in Rome we must act like Romans. I felt he understood and I understood this would be the only time in my life I would not stand up but would not need to because he was there in spirit.

    One thing that never ceases to amaze me is my differing experiences every year with Yom Hazikkaron. Like the Torah, each year I interpret the holiday differently and go through a unique sense of emotions. In the first few years after Tsiki was killed,  I found comfort in the feeling of Tsiki’s presence around me. Leading me into the world of Israel and all of her challenges that I was about to join. I didn’t know how I was going to recover and find myself again, but somehow it all made sense- being here in Israel.  It was as if something greater than myself brought me here and I just had to begin the journey of figuring out my place in this confusing country.

    But it is 9 years later and I am no longer the Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand who didn’t wear sunblock. And Tsiki is no longer the fiancée who left without saying goodbye. I no longer pour over his photos confused and with longing of what could have been. As of late, the nightmares of losing him are few and far between and I no longer read the pile of letters I have from him in a folder in a drawer.

    Maechan Thailand

    Tsiki has become much more than that to me now. Tsiki has become the reason I fell in love with Israel and when I fall back in love with her every spring I feel his spirit next to me. Tsiki has become the serendipitous occasions that I find in Israel. The random people I meet, the new fruit in the market with the changing seasons. He has become the feeling I have when I take my  morning walks through the olive trees before the dew evaporates.  He is somewhere when a bird sits on the window sill on a calm Thursday morning for a still moment before it flies away. I hear him in the music that pours out of the windows when I walk the dog in the cool evening in our sleepy neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem.

    When the flowers bloom, I think of Tsiki. When I see the silhouette of a young Israeli with bronzed skin in the distance, walking with confidence- I am reminded of my youth and of him. But even more than that, what Tsiki has become to me in my heart is my family. He became a promise that I am fulfilling. He is the love I have for his family. He is the way his mother packs up her Moroccan cooking for me to take home. Or when his father chides me for not calling sooner. He is my children running to his sister Anat and the way she scoops them up like they are her own.

    Sabba Moshe with Ella

    Tsiki Eyal has become a big part of our own family narrative and his love is still very much alive through his family. My family.

    The moment he came into my life, it changed forever. And that is how we have become part of Tsiki Eyal’s legacy.

     

    Ziggy and Safta Tirtze

     

     

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    Yom Hazikkaron 2013

    Grief is lonely, it’s a tunnel with no light. It breaks you and tears you up inside. It hurts.  It consumes you by eating at you, it takes your words out and replaces them with silence. It makes you dead.

    The dreams were always horrifying. Dead serpents falling out from a muddy ceiling, landing in a bloody, twisted pile. Lions tearing out of their cage chasing you until you wake up gasping for air. Tsiki’s burning body in front of me, and I am frozen and cannot help him. There were always dreams of helicopters flying over with deafening sounds, tanks, dark wars and i am screaming and my body cannot move. Then I would wake up, in a pool of tears shaking. I would take a shower, standing under the steaming water, taking long deep breaths.

    This is how it was for a lifetime it seemed. I was 25 that year, the weeks were sunny and warm, and i could not feel. When the sun set I would go into the closet and pull out his canvas army sack, pressing his shirts onto my face, in the green cloth he was still alive, his scent had not yet faded.

    Tsiki 2005 Tel Aviv

     

    As the soldier’s remembrance day is upon us, this is what I remember. It’s another lifetime, eight years have passed and I can hardly recall how I even functioned through such a time. An old friend recounted the year with such major gaps in her memory that I felt she would have put more emotion into telling me her daily tooth brushing routine. After eight years, friends stop calling-people forget.  Yet as memorial day arrives, I still welcome it with the same anxiety and sadness that I have always have, I just have more memories piled on top of the old ones.

    Dear G-d. Please don’t fuck with my family.

    The Friday before Passover, we all came together at Tsiki’s grave to remember him. His comrades stood in the back of the crowd of the cemetery. When i first met them ,they were still in their army uniforms, boys themselves. And now, they are grown men, with families of their own. Our banter is light and we are smiling. I brought my own children this time. A clash between two world’s, but one had to exist for the other to occur. And after they recite kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, i take Ziggy, my two year old- who was born the day after Tsiki’s birthday- and i dip him down to pick up a stone to place on Tsiki’s grave. I hold my breath, i want to cry but i don’t. Motherhood has made me an insecure mess when i read the news but brings out new forms of self control in other situations. We go to the fountain outside of the grave site & i explain to Ziggy how we must wash our hands, just like we do before we break bread on Shabbat.

    Tsiki 2005 Jerusalem

     

    When we arrive at Tsiki’s family home, Ziggy opens his arm’s to Tsiki’s father, who he calls Sabba Moshe, and cuddles him. We enter their home for refreshments and Safta  Tirtza greets us with a warm smile and embraces my children. Tsiki’s niece and nephew run up to greet them like their own cousins and his sister Anat scoops Ella out of my arms, holding her tightly and showering her with kisses.

    This is how it is now.

    After Tsiki died, i truly felt it was my job as his girlfriend to carry on and live a life that he would be proud of. I would pull through my days grinding my spiritual teeth hoping for a day when I could be strong enough to carry on. Eight years have passed and I still think about him and my father every single day without fail, but I am no longer the 25 year old in my memories. And now, as a mother myself, I understand Tirtze’s pain on a level I never wanted to. And i just look up into the universe and pray that one day we can stop experiencing this type of pain.

     

    Ziggy and my rock, dave listening to the siren

     

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    Team Crossroads

    For the last seven weeks, I have been working on the Team Crossroads marketing campaign. The organization serves at-risk Anglo youth in Israel and their center sits in the middle of Jerusalem, off of Jaffo Road. The once loud, bustling street has been silenced by the light rail, instilling a refreshing calm in one of the most hectic cities in the world.

    The PA calls to boycott the Jerusalem marathon. My Google alerts are being sent hourly as the PR machine announcing this opposition is distributing the content to all of the news channels. One another note, 17,000 runners will be descending on these ancient streets, roads closed for hours, turning Jerusalem into one big sporting event.

    When I was approached to help with this campaign, I found it to be a big challenge to get even a team of twenty so late in the game. And I smiled nervously at the goal of $25,000. Almost a full 7 weeks later, we reached over $18,000 with more donations pouring in and with over 65 runners running for this organization. I am excited.

    I dropped by the center last night to pick up a few shirts for the marathon. Although I’ve spent some time at Crossroads, I have never really been around when the teens are around.  Upon my arrival,  I am instantly reminded of my own teenage self and the kids I spent my weekend nights with.

    When I was a wee little teen in the town of Tulsa, me and a group of friends rammed ourselves into a small brown Citation and drove ourselves downtown, where we sat around, smoked cigarettes and acted unimpressed. The kids around us smashed things and snorted them, their pupils dilated. Their hair bleached. They had nose rings and lip rings, spikes on their belts and bracelets.  Girls chose to be androgynous and the boys had black leather. They skated, we watched. Teens drank, passed out, we met strangers from other states who traveled in vans and brought in loud and fun music to an  dilapidated downtown apartment converted into a music space.

    When I was 15, I wanted to be a filmmaker. So I took my Uncle’s video camera and started filming these kids I was so in awe of. They seemed so experienced in life, so comfortable on the street curb. Their chip on their shoulder made them unique to me, creative and angry at the same time. My suburban upbringing made me envious of their attitude. They seemed so strong.

    I loved being part of this scene, I was fascinated and naive. Weekends brought excitement and stories. Fights, danger, music, addiction. We all came together because we felt we didn’t belong, and found solace in a community where we could belong. We became well versed in music. We collected patches on our black hoodies and it was awesome.

    In that video I made when I was 15, I asked all the kids I knew where they saw themselves in 10 years. “Dead if I don’t change my ways” said one girl. Another boy in the video shyly greets me and nervously looks around, not wanting too much attention. Many of us grew up to attend Ivy League universities, some joined the army. Some became teachers. And many are now dead.

    I am telling you this because walking into Crossroads center I am reminded of that period of my life, which shaped my character and gave me so many stories to tell. I tell you this because when I saw those kids at the center I am impressed by the safe place Crossroads created. You cannot put a price on the mental and emotional health of our youth. They are our community and we need to invest in them.

    So readers, aside from patting me on the back on this absolutely fantastic campaign we did. Donate to my cause. Help us reach our $25,000 goal. Let this be for those I knew, who were at-risk youth, so we can remember them through helping others.

    Thank You.

    Click here to donate to my cause.

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    Semantics of life

    Since i was 18, when I was forced to take a step back and make decisions that would affect my life, I relied heavily on natural occurrences that would make decisions for me. These occurrences would come in the form of a dream or the way i reacted to a sound of the word.  It seemed completely logical to me and any big decision that was left for me to make, I simply waited for a dream to tell me what I really wanted or if it was a choice, would wait for my gut reaction to the sound of the word.

    This is how I explained it to my friends at lunch today. “And that’s why my resume flows nicely, because it just SOUNDS like it flows”. As everyone looked on at me. Bemused smiles as they accepted this totally heinous explanation. I did end up living in Jerusalem, with a young family and a dog named Henck. There is no way my fate brought me here by logic. Not even the way we came to name Henckel makes any real sense.

    But i’m a bit of a romantic. And if you just inject a bit of romanticism into your life story, then it makes a bit of sense. And then you are able to remove yourself of ownership of a choice, because it was “just meant to be”, I “had a dream about it”, the sound “made sense”. I used this equation in deciding where i wanted to go to college, what I would study, where I ended up in the Peace Corps, when I met my husband, and even when we bought our first apartment.

    “I found our new home” I told my husband excitedly on the phone during a nightly dog walk two years ago. “take this number down it’s totally ours. ”

    I was not vexed after a few days to hear that the apartment was way out of our league. I was simply  a bit puzzled. After all, when i saw the place for sale, it just FELT that it was to be ours.

    Months later, after witnessing it just sit on the market with no action, i urged The Huzzy to call again. “Make an offer” i excitedly demanded. “what do we have to lose!”. “Don’t you want to look at it first” he questioned me. “I don’t have to! we are meant to live there”.

    And so he made an offer, and I didn’t come to look at our new home until it was accepted.

    Ok. So i know it’s totally ludicrous to ever pull that kind of shit.

    But I’m totally ludicrous, so at least it falls in line with how I roll. And I am pretty sure, I couldn’t stand up in front of random groups of people, telling them my story without a bit of ludicrous.  Because it took a lot of random acts of life to get me here to this point in my life. And it only makes sense if you pour in a cup of dreams, a spoonful of really shitty luck and dashes of risk.

    Bear with me. I’m trying to make sense of it all myself, and sum it up in one neatly written blog post.

    The point is, I’m at a point where that recipe is no longer effective, because now I’m a wife, a mother, and i own a refrigerator. And now I’m making decisions to uphold the balance of my family. And now these decisions need to make sense, and flow in the fashion of a gnatt chart verses a alcohol-fueled dream from a night of karaoke in a small concrete room in central Thailand.

    And i’m having a hard time grasping  this concept. Because a lot of what I’m feeling can’t be put into an excel file.  A lot of the things I want to achieve with my family can’t be measured yet. It can only be measured in hindsight.

    The good news is that it snowed on Thursday in Jerusalem. That level of snow was a big deal in the middle east, because we rarely EVER see snow. There were reports of snow in the Negev desert. THAT makes no sense. And Thursday was one of the best days we’ve had as a family. Which is proof that ludicrous may not be so ludicrous after all.

     

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    Technology

    I’ve come to a point where I am beginning to trust my GPS more than my own logic. Yesterday, I was taken to the top of a mountain, to the entrance of a national park that hosts a stalactite cave rather than listen to my own logic of “a community center cannot be situated in the middle of a national park”.  “Maybe this isn’t just a national a park..” i reason with my logic, maybe there is a community on top of the mountain?”. No. There is not a community on top of the mountain.

    I was on my way to speak to some teenage girls in Bet Shemesh about my experience in Israel. Girls who already come from their own experiences at the tender age of 15,  & who are still experiencing things but have not yet developed the skills to cope with all of their experiences.

    “So when you were our age did you have technology?” a strawberry blonde girl asks me.

    “If you are asking me if smart phones were developed, no they weren’t” I answer, trying to remember myself at her age and what i thought of 32 year olds at the time.

    “But i totally hacked AOL!” I  pathetically added.

    What I love about speaking to these young women, is seeing myself in their faces when I was their age. They have no idea how many good and bad experiences are still left to land on their lap. “I hate reading” explains one of them. “You should love reading” I tell her. “When you’re my age, all you want is more quiet time to read”. She is unmoved. Unimpressed by this token of advice. I have tons more of advice on the navigation of life and loss. But i guess I’ll have to save it for my own teenagers.