Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ozzy update

Ozzy-the-wonder-dog continues to be the cutest, funniest dog alive. He continues to bark at pretty much every thing that moves when he is out on the mirpeset [porch]. Sometimes things bark back (like the kids on their way home from school) and he is in doggie heaven. The garbage trucks now come earlier, so unfortunately I can't let Ozzy out anymore to bark for that. Lately he's started a new thing--when we are sitting on the couch he jumps up next to us and snuggles in. He does this mostly with me because I, of course, am his favorite.

On Friday nights, when I light candles, he goes to the door because he knows that we are going down to the park to meet his buddy Monty, The Big Black Dog. When we return home, as soon as Isaac starts to make Kiddush he puts himself in his crate where we had always put him since he's really annoying when we eat. Don't feel sorry for him, he's nicely rewarded with challah.

One of his favorite places to hang out is under the computer when I am surfing the 'net.

We're also trying to teach him a new trick, but I think he's a bit afraid of the Jerusalem Post (could it be because a certain someone who shall remain nameless but whose name starts with an I and ends with a C used to take a rolled up paper and strongly say "NO!" as he hit the newspaper on the floor when Ozzy was a pup and being trained?)

Finally, Ozzy continues to be obsessed with cats. There is a white one that strolls across the mirpeset every night at about 9 PM and Ozzy goes totally crazy. He knows the word "cat" and always reacts:

(Falls for it every time).

It's sheet-changing day, hence the piles in the hallway. I know I should have moved it, but set design is not my thing.

Ozzy wants you all know that he is content here in Israel, among his dogs, he loves his people (that would be us) and someday soon he will write his own post. But, first, there is an open garbage can somewhere in the house to explore...

Kosher Cooking Carnival is up at Israeli Kitchen. Happy cooking.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Of Switches and boards, Part II

It was very gratifying to get so many productive comments regarding my "professional crisis", which I wrote about in the previous post. I appreciate all the suggestions and the support.

I've been thinking about it a great deal, and I think the best thing I can do, within the confines of the job, is just to do the best I can at the job. I think this means starting from the bottom up, rather than the opposite. As I stated earlier, the principal is an intelligent, dedicated person. She is a mature woman who has been influenced by a great deal of life-experience. I don't think I can easily change what is obviously a core belief of hers. On the other hand, the assistants in the classroom are very young women just starting out in their adult lives. Perhaps through example and demonstration they can come to understand what their role can be in expanding these children's ability to communicate.

Interestingly enough, before all of this happened the principal has scheduled a course on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to be presented at the school by some of the foremost experts in the world on the topic. I am hoping that the course will also help to convince the staff of how much can be achieved when AAC is used throughout the day.

So that's where we're at for now. I will keep you updated as things develop.

In the meantime, Haveil Havalim is up over here. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Of switches and boards

It's been a pretty tough week at work. For several reasons, but I'm just going to talk about one aspect.

For those of you not in the know, I'm a speech pathologist by profession. I have been doing this for many years in many different capacities. It is a field where ther are so many options and different areas and ages to work in. Overall it has been a rewarding career.

When we moved here I was concerned about work. How could I work with language-delayed or language-disabled children when my language was newly acquired and not up to snuff? (I should point out here that my Hebrew is quite decent. Still it takes years to acquire the richness, subleties and sophistication of language of a native-born speaker. For example, I can probably say "The girl is pretty" in many different in ways in English, but in Hebrew I can say only the basic sentence--"הילדה יפה" [HayalDAH yaFAH]).

And yet, I was lucky enough to find a job at a school in Kiryat Sefer, about 20 minutes travel from Modi'in. It is a chareidi (ultra-orthodox) school and most of the children and all of the teachers and assistants are chareidi. The support staff (speech, physical, occupational ["OT"], music, and vision therapists as well as psychologists and social workers) ranges from not religious at all, to very religious and everything in between.

Because my language skills are not yet up to par, I am working with multi-handicapped children. These children have extreme motoric and cognitive issues, as well as contending with various medical conditions. Like kids everywhere, some are beautiful and some are not, some are likeable and some not so much. They have personalities and feelings and thoughts. They communicate with their eyes and their movements and their smiles and their cries. They are very special children in every sense of the word.

Few if any of these kids will ever communicate by using words spoken by their own mouths. It is my job to help these children express themselves in a more functional, organized way. To show them that by communitating more functionally they can control some things in an environment where they have so little control, where everything is done for them. That they can say yes and no and I want more and stop that and I'd rather do something else and hey, I like that toy. Where they can announce that something smells funny and where they can ask someone else how they are. Where they can tell their parents about what they did in school. Where they can daven (pray) and make brachot (blessings before eating) and say the Shema at night. Where they can make choices.

We have the tools to teach severely handicapped kids to do those things. Or at least to try. It is very hard to know exactly how intelligent a kid who can't speak or move is. But we've all heard and read about people who were "trapped in their own bodies" who have achieved many things with the use of communication tools and devices. I know that this is not the norm. But I also know that I'll never know which kid could achieve these things and which not unless I try. And trying means trying to reach the potential of each kid, whether the child's potential is going out there and making scientific discoveries or whether the potential is the child taking control by saying "yes, I want that" or "No, I don't like that".

These goals of communication are achieved by using what we call switches, and boards.

You start by recording a simple message such as "I want more" on a switch and when the child hits the switch (with his hand or his head or an eye blink--that's where the OT comes in) he gets more, immediately. Same thing if you you are using a board--you start with one or two simple messages, reinforce their use quickly and add more messages. In this way the child learns that the device or board is his means of communication; when he uses it, he has more control of the world around him.* Whatever means of communication the child has, it is crucial that many opportunities are provided throughout his everyday life for him to use it. After all, you and I take our mouths and ears (and laptops!) everywhere we go; these kids need to be given the opportunity to do the same thing with their modes of ocmmunication.

This week, the teacher, occupational therapist (OT) and I arranged a meeting with the classroom staff to review all this stuff. However, the meeting turned into a rap session. The principal of the school had been invited to the meeting, and she told us (the OT and myself) that our expectations are to high. That the classroom staff just doesn't have the time to implement the kinds of things we were asking them to implement. That they felt like we were checking up on them when we came to the classroom. They were to busy feeding and diapering and positioning the children, the principal said. "After all", she added, "you don't really expect these kids to ever be independant, do you? Isn't it enough that they are well-cared for and loved? We give them music and parties and animal therapy, to give them a quality of life, to make them happy. If they're smiling isn't that enough?" (Please note, those weren't her exact words, but they were pretty close).

I was shocked. That's all they want for these children? These children are only 3-5 years old. How could we possibly know what they can achieve if we don't give it our best effort?

The OT sitting next to me, just burst into tears out of anger and frustration and sadness. I said to the principal, "Then exactly what are you paying me for? You have an excellent staff who does those things. You don't me or the OT for that". I felt completely discouraged and disrespected.

The principal then back-pedaled and told us how wonderful and dedicated and professional we were and of course we were key players in the classroom. It's just a difference of expectations.

Let me just say that the principal is an intelligent woman who has dedicated her life to building this school and helping children and their parents. But she is not an educator, or at least a special-educator. Obviously she has some very core beliefs that filter down to the staff. Which is why I feel like I'm fighting an uphill battle, banging my head against a wall.

So we have here a bit of a professional crisis. I can't leave the job for the very practical reason of income. Yet, I need to feel good about what I do and that there is hope of progress, minute as it may be.

Your thoughts are welcome.

*There is alot more that goes into this process, I am giving you the very basic stuff.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


...to my friend Nitsana, whose short film FLAT has won the Amazing Grace Award and will be opening the Breast Fest Film Festival in Toronto. I interviewed Nitsana here, and you can view the film here. Nitsana will be flown to Toronto to introduce the film and has also won a cash prize. I'm so proud!

In other news, Haveil Havalim is up at Ima On and Off the Bima. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Adventures in blogging

Last night I attended a blogger's gathering at the home of Mimi of Israeli Kitchen. The gathering was also hosted by A Mother-in-Israel. The evening was a fun, informal way of us getting to know each other. There was a planned program, in which we got to "interview" each other. I had fun chatting with Baroness Tapuzina and Isramom, and then introducing them later on in the evening.

I discovered several things there:

1. There is a whole big, beautiful English-writing-Israeli-blogging world out there. People blogging about art, food, financing terrorism (how to identify and prosecute it, not how to do it) and budgeting for Israelis, as well as what it's like to be a start-up wife (we're waiting to hear about that) and about settler life. And of course, Fern Chasida, who gave me a People Magazine Care Package, which I've hidden from my kids.

2. Until three seconds ago, my blog title did not have an apostrophe in it. I don't know why. I've always thought that my basic grammar skills were intact, but was mortified to find out that I've been blogging for over two years without the darn apostrophe. That's practically like being naked.

3. Bloggers are great resources for when you're in trouble. One Tired Ema was kind enough to give me a lift to the blogger's party, but unfortunately her car wouldn't start when it was time to go home. Not to worry, the Baroness and her terror-financing-fighting husband were there to jumpstart the battery. Unfortunately, as soon as they left, the car died again. Robin was still there and told us she wouldn't leave until she knew we were okay. She vaguely remembered a volunteer organization of people who come to your aid when you're stuck on the road. Robin contacted Mom, who got on the internet to try to find this organization. She found Rafi over at Life in Israel (who did not attend the event) awake and he relayed the pertinent information to us via Mom. As luck would have it, that was a dead-end as well. Finally, Robin offered to drive us to the airport, where we grabbed a cab to Modi'in. I arrived home at about 1:15 AM, just in time for the Yankee Pre-game, but that's a whole other story. It was so nice of Tired to offer to drive for the second time, and well, she's pretty good company even in a somewhat stressful situation.

4. If your blog name starts with an A, you'll get alot more hits. I think I'll change the name of this blog to A Blog Called I'll Call Baila (of course, with an apostrophe, what am I, stupid?).

If you head on over to Mom's place, she has a nice synopsis of all the bloggers who attended.

In spite of the car adventure, it was a fun evening, spent with talented, intelligent people. Thank you Mimi and Hannah for organizing this. I hope we do it again soon.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You have got to be kidding me

President Barack Hussein Obama is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

For what, exactly? Has peace broken out somewhere in the world that I haven't heard about? I'm pretty sure it hasn't broken out lately in this part of the world.

I'm not saying it should never happen (okay, maybe I am, but I am trying to be open-minded here), but since World War III (they don't call me Doomsday Baila for nothin') may be around the corner, perhaps this prize is just a teensy-weensy bit premature?

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An interview ith Nitsana Bellehson, director of the short film FLAT

Recently, I told you here, about FLAT a movie that my friend Nitsana had produced and directed. As I told you then, FLAT has been entered in an internation film competition in Toronto, Canada. All of the films are themed around breast cancer and the one receiving the most votes will win.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Nitsana graciously accepted my invitation to interview her about the film. If you want to view the film, click here. If you liked it, you can vote for it up to three times.

Here's the interview:

Is this the first movie you have produced and directed?

No, but this is the first film I have completed that I conceived of and created. I have done a few music videos and short films for clients for events, for internet advertising and more. I regularly film stories for Israel21c and I have been working on a full length documentary that is near completion.

What was the inspiration for the movie? How did you come up with the specific idea?

I wanted to do a film that made us shift our perception regarding cancer. There is a kind of underlying belief that cancer just “happens” to us – and we don’t know why it happens. Science still doesn’t know why exactly cancer happens in one person and not another – but it is fair to say that we have discovered that a western lifestyle seems to be a catalyst to increased cancer incidence. (studies show that as societies westernize, there is an increase of incidence.) Since I had cancer I have become much more aware of what is in the food I am eating, the products I am putting in my body, the air I breathe – because I realize that if I want to be well then I must take responsibility. I wanted to create a film that inspires us to look at the way we live as a society – and don’t take it as a given.

So – I had this idea to go to the future – when women don’t have breasts anymore – and instead of talking about it seriously having fathers tell their sons how great it was once, long ago. I was under a very tight deadline to produce this film to make it in time for the contest – and after a day of racking my brains – I went to a friend’s birthday party where I encountered three of my male friends who have really silly, fun senses of humor – and I told them about my idea and asked to brainstorm. They were excited to be able to brainstorm about breasts – and Mitch, one of the guys said “I see them walking through a museum” – and that was it! I knew we had our idea. The other two guys acted in the film!

And the concept of the fact that women didn’t have breasts because they were taken off preventatively was inspired by a friend who had undergone this operation. I have no judgment about her personal choice – because this is the stage that treatment is at right now. But I think its absolutely crazy that the way we treat this disease is to take off parts of the body as though they are unnecessary. Again – I am not against people doing it. I did chemo, radiation – the whole bit – and I would do it again because I believe that it helped eradicate the illness from my body. I just think that in our thinking we need to go towards prevention and towards treatments that do not destroy the body. I think that is the way of the future – and there are scientists doing incredible, wonderful work in this area. And I support that!

What kind of support did you have putting the movie together?

Such incredible support from all my friends and colleagues – I have no words!! No financial support – didn’t have time even to turn to anyone about it! I had known about the Breast Fest Contest – but I had been focused on doing a long documentary about breast cancer and so thought this contest was not for me. But about two weeks before the deadline I got a reminder from them into my inbox and it clicked something in me – and I realized, I probably should be in this contest. I have something to say about breast cancer – and this is the platform to say it. I was kind of wavering to get committed to do it because two weeks seemed an impossible deadline – but I spoke to my friend and colleague Shelly – and she said – yes! You most definitely have to be in it. That gave me the push I needed to take on this project along with all my other work. I right away knew to get help from wherever I could. I sent first drafts to a scriptwriter friend Joel – who helped enormously by telling me I was aiming too small and got my concept from talking it over with friends. All my girlfriends were willing to send me pictures of their cleavage (we went with more racy pictures in the end) and then it came to casting and production…. I was looking for a space to film in – I thought I was looking for all white walls so that we could add in the pictures in after effects – but I by chance met an old friend with a gallery on the weekend – and thought – hey, maybe we can do it in the gallery? He said yes, my editor said it could work and that was key to have that place. My regular cameraman was not free to volunteer – so I thought maybe I would shoot it – couldn’t conceive of starting to ask around for people to work for free. I then asked my editor who also does camera work if maybe he would like to do it – as it would be a fun challenge for him – but he right away said – I will get you someone – and Moshe Gelber, an incredible professional, volunteered and brought all the equipment – making the production as high quality as it was. I had two of the best editors in the country – Ziv Appleberg (editor and AE) and Uzzi Alexander (AE) editing and doing after effects to create the final look of the film, both working on a volunteer basis and with a great amount of love – and did a wonderful job. My friend Keren helped me recruit a volunteer sound person and both Betty, makeup, and Yamit, wardrobe, volunteered- Yamit came up with the concept of the hoods! I didn’t have time to even think of auditions – so I called on friends who were actors to do the main parts, my funny friends to do some cameos – and all the other extras are friends and people in my life who volunteered in the hot sun in those long clothes and really took time out of their day. I appreciate them! And on the day of production – Inbal came to organize the production, Shelly and Keren helped out on set and everyone really made it work – down to Ziv, my editor, helping me get from place to place on the day of the shoot because my car had died and was in the shop!

Who is your intended audience?


What did you hope to accomplish by producing this movie?

To raise awareness. To make people think about the choices they make in their every day lives. To make people realize that cancer is not inevitable.

What has been the reaction to the film? Have there been negative reactions because of the nudity? How do you respond to those critics?

Almost everyone who has seen it has told me that they think it’s a powerful film. Some people called me the day after the premiere to tell me that it stayed with them all day. Some people have said that its scary. One friend who saw it last night didn’t like it so much – she said it bothered her that it was so strong. All those are good comments I think. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable, but hopefully – make you laugh a little too. And regarding the nudity – no, no negative reactions from anyone who saw it. When my sister heard that there was nudity in it she asked me why there had to be nudity? But I am pretty sure that when she sees it she will understand. I did actually make a first version of the museum which was mostly just cleavage – but it didn’t make you feel anything, didn’t bother you, wasn’t shocking. I realized I needed to switch the pictures to something a bit more graphic in order to make the experience more powerful for the viewer.

I remember the days when you dreamed of being an actress. Obviously your career and art have evolved a great deal. Are you happy with the direction it has taken? What are your plans for the future?

I am very happy with what I am doing now – but I still love to act and would love to do it any time it's offered! My plans for the future include a long film about breast cancer interviewing cancer survivors about their experiences, finishing my other documentary – about how people make changes in their lives – and producing and directing a whole slate of other ideas that I am developing, including projects for the internet and for film. I plan on being healthy, active, in love and living with a partner and family. And my biggest plan is being happy and satisfied in my life – no matter what shows up.

More than breast cancer, the movie makes a huge statement about the environment. Is this something you are involved in? How has having breast cancer changed the way you deal with this issue?

I am involved in the environment as we all are – I live in it! It affects me personally. I am not part of a movement if that’s what you mean – although I do work out of a place called The Hub – an incubator for social and environmental issues. I think that living responsibly on our planet is an imperative. We are just beginning to become aware of the effects of our choices, of consumerism – and I want to do what I can to feel and live better – for myself and for everyone around me.

Why wasn't I asked to pose?

Would you like to? You can be in the sequel.

Good luck to you, Nitsana as you enter the last few days of the competition!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gilad sends a message

In Israel, you'd have to be living under a rock to not know that Hamas has released a videotape of Gilad Schalit that apparently was filmed on September 14, 2009. Have you heard about it in the states? The tape was received on Friday, and released to the public right before the holiday started. I saw it last night.

In order to obtain this "Sign of Life", ostensibly a step in the eventual release of Gilad, Israel freed 20 Palestinian women prisoners who are not considered to be "accomplished terrorists". Let's be clear about this: these women are members of the terrorist organizations Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Their crimes, according the Jerusalem Post range from knife-wielding to smuggling suicide bomb belts. Charming.

Here is the video. I'm sorry I could not find one with English subtitles. Briefly, Gilad identifies himself and the date via a newspaper. He asks the Prime Minister not to waste this opportunity to obtain his freedom. He goes on to say that he loves and misses his family. "I yearn for the day when I will see you again". He recounts a shared family memory, I think to show that it is really he who is filming. He notes that he is in good health and his captors are treating him well. He then stands up and walks toward the camera (I believe to show that he is capable of doing so.)

Israel will pay a great price for the release of Gilad. Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners, many of these "accomplished terrorists", masterminds of murder.

But that is what we do. If we could give so much for the bodies of our soldiers what would we give to have our Gilad back alive?

Almost anything, I think.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sweet 16

Happy birthday to my beautiful Liat, a dream come true.

(Poor Liat; her cake looks nothing like this).