Saturday, September 10, 2011

The little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd.

At 321 Woodmere Blvd., in the Five Towns of Long Island, New York, there stands a mansion-like building. It is an attractive, red bricked edifice with a large circular driveway leading up to its doors. On either side of the entrance are some bushes that flower in the spring, but are rather boring the rest of the year. As you face the building, all the way to the left stands a small cherry tree. I haven't seen the tree in years and I have no idea if it has grown or if it is one of those dwarf trees, meant to stay small forever. But I am sure the tree is still there and I am sure there is a group of people who think of that tree every year on September 11.

I was there when the tree was planted.

On September 11, 2001 I was at my job at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC). Many of us saw the second plane hit the twin tower and watched in horror as the towers fell. The only work that got done that day was arranging for the children to go home early, making sure there would be someone home for them when they arrived. Many staff members frantically tried to contact loved ones who worked in or near the towers before leaving for home. One of my colleagues left and did not return for months as she mourned her husband who perished in the towers and began raising her two young daughters without him.

I went home to a silent house as I waited for the girls to come home. They were 7, 5 and 4 years old. Today I asked Liat what she remembered about September 11 and it was minimal. Tali and Orli don't remember the day at all. Liat said she remembered that Isaac was home that day. He wasn't. He came home very, very late as he had to walk to Queens from Manhattan. From Queens he caught a ride home with his friend Nahum. There were no subways or railroads running. He did stay home the next day. We all did. The whole city did. That is, except for the search-and-rescue people, the firefighters, the policemen, the volunteers...and the men and women who never returned home from work the previous day. The next few days were quiet, the skies were blue. No planes were flying and it seemed as if a hush had fallen over the entire world. I remember being relieved when it rained a few days later. "What took so long for G-d's tears to fall?", I thought. The rain was more in keeping with our collective mood.

Over at HASC, we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. Several of our own had experienced close calls on that day, but one of ours had lost her world in those towers. One morning months later our principal, Clare, gathered us together outside. I don't remember what she said, but I'm sure we cried as we watched her plant that tree. The tree was in honor of Megan's husband and all the others, in honor of all the people that rushed into those buildings to save others, in honor of all the people that volunteered in the aftermath of that day and in honor of our beloved New York City, so wounded and yet so proud.

Megan came back a few weeks later, bearing a huge basket of chocolate kisses to thank us for our prayers and support. She got right back to the business of doing her job. We all took our cues from her and did the same and pretended that life was normal. But it wasn't.

My life changed on that cloudless day and in those hours of silence that followed. I felt fear. Though the fear has receded, there are times it comes back to me. In the weeks and months that followed, everytime I would drive through the tunnel at the end of the LIE that emerges out onto the Gowanis before the BQE, I would look at the skyline and search for the gap of where the towers were and I would wonder, I still wonder, how could those buildings not be there. Gone. Vaporized. "Take nothing for granted", I would tell myself as I drove down that road. And then would come the question--"What am I doing here? In New York, the city I love, but I have a home somewhere else."--a question that I answered six years later when I boarded a plane for my one-way flight to Israel.

/>Tomorrow I will go to work and I will ask everyone where they were on that day. I will tell them where I was and what I experienced and what New York City was like before and after. I will them about the people I was with, people of different faiths and color and how we mourned together for all that was lost. And I will describe that little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd., sure that it is thriving and cared for and in its own way, honoring and remembering.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where were you when....?

I've been thinking alot, since the beginning of the month about 9/11. I can't wrap my head around the fact that ten years have passed. I have half a mind to take this Sunday off from work so I can stay home and watch the memorials and just feel, rather than the day being lost in the hustle-and-bustle of life.

This year, to honor and remember the day and those who perished, I'd like to try a round-up of sorts.

I'd like you to answer some questions:

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Who were you with, what were you doing? What is your most vivid memory? What did you feel?

Did your life change in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Did it change in any way later or is your life affected now, ten years later, by the events of that day?

If you blog, you can put it there and send me a link in the comments and I will post it. If you just want to write in the comments, that's great as well. I'll put something together on 9/11 to mark the day.

Thanks, everyone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I learned from my summer vacation and yeah, we're celebrating an anniversary

The Chofesh HaGadol has come and gone and I thought I would blog about it every week, but well, you see how that worked out. Truth be told, there wasn't much to write about. Sure we did have our arguments about curfews and the like, but nothing out of the norm. The kids spent alot of time on the computer, but, hey so did I, and they did do other worthwhile, and even at times, productive things over the long summer.

And I had an epiphany of sorts this summer. I know some people reach this conclusion early in their parenting careers, but me, well I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Here it is:

Our kids are not computers, or robots to be programmed to be the way we want them to be. Or, to put it mildly, they are not us and maybe, just maybe, they want different things for themselves than we want for ourselves/them, think different thoughts and feel different feelings.

I know, sometimes I also surprise myself with my brilliance.

Case in point:

One of the things I very much looked forward about living in Israel was involvement in the Bnei Akiva youth movement. I was very active in the movement in the states during my college years and loved the philosophy, which believed in, among other things, Jews living in Israel. When we arrived here I very much forced encouraged the girls to join. I felt it would help them integrate, learn the language and make friends. It didn't work for Liat--she came in the ninth grade and it was a bit late for her to start. But I thought it would be good for Tali and Orli. Orli jumped right in, made friends, and started speaking Hebrew like a native. Tali also attended, but wasn't as enthusiastic. She has a really good friend who went with her and mostly stuck to this friend and other English speakers. Over the years she went on hikes and camped with BA and seemed to enjoy it, although never with passion. This summer, Tali did not go to camp, she worked and played and I really wanted her to go to the BA camp which was over a Shabbat (weekend). I just felt it would really be good for her and I signed her up even though she expressed to me that she didn't want to go. I didn't care. I wanted her to hang out with the girls who were going. A few days before the trip she finally had it out with me, telling me, "Mommy, I go to Bnei Akiva because I want to make you happy, not because it makes me happy."

When she said that, she looked so sad and all of a sudden I knew it was true. She never really loved going, but I always pushed her. Maybe, when she was younger it was okay to push. But she's 15 now. Her own person. She knows what she likes and she certainly knows what she doesn't like. How could I force her to go on a trip that she really didn't want to go on?

Why am forcing her to be more Israeli??? She has plenty of friends, most of whom do not attend Bnei Akiva, and she is happy with them. Yes they are anglo, but that's who she's comfortable with. They're nice kids. She speaks hebrew and does nicely in school. She seems to have found her place here. Why am I pushing her so much to be somewhere else?

So I've taken a step back with both her and sisters. Given them a bit more leeway in making decisions. It's hard to find the line between being a controlling parent and setting appropriate limits; I admit I struggle with this all the time. But there is a change in Tali, a tension that doesn't seem to be there anymore. She seems relieved. I only wish I had figured this out sooner.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the fourth anniversary of our arrival here in Israel. In some ways my life in the states seems further and further away and in others I still feel so strongly connected to the US. I came with three children, and four years later they are young women, each with their own individual personality, trying to figure things out for themselves. They are different here than they would have been had we stayed in the states. How could they not be? They still need me, but not necessarily for the things I think they need me for. And that's okay. Because at every stage of the game, whether here or there, they teach me, and make me a better parent and indeed a better person.