Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What's in a memory?

I must have been five... Maybe even four, as I don't remember any baby brother around. Memory has a way of tricking you and mixing times up, but that's not the point – the point isn't accuracy. The point is what I remember. Either way I was small, and just making sense of the world. I remember a warmth around me, the feeling of being loved and protected. It was a warm summery day and a marvelous ray of sunlight come in through the door, accompanied by a light breeze and the smell of freshly cut grass. Maybe it's memory playing tricks on me again. It could just as well have been extremely hot and dry, but that's how I generally remember the kibbutz, any kibbutz, and it must have a grain of truth to it if just the thought of it brings back the instant sensation of that smell and that warmth. Being that small meant I got to be blissfully unaware of any complicated history, life struggles or pain. I got to just appreciate that moment and was accompanied by another group of small beings - chicks. Someone had given me little chicks to care for. They came in an open box - one of those large open cardboard boxes with holes for handles and no top. The kind you can find in small grocery stores, packed with vegetables or small bread rolls. They seemed to be quite free to go where they pleased (or so it seemed in my four-year-old mind), but were tiny and fragile and had to be protected. I had no idea where they really came from or how come I got to have them, but I remember my relative, an elderly man, gave them to me with a great big smile. There were a few of them, but I don't remember how many. They were small and soft and rapidly walking around in that box, bumping into each other and chirping. They were different-colored, though I can't say today what color they were. They must have been even more unaware of their location or context than I was. They were probably just a few days old or less. I didn't think of where their parents were or where they were taken from. I just thought they were cute and somehow, through the smiles or gestures of the man who gave them to me, I got the feeling that taking care of them was something special. I don't remember if I had them for a day, a few days or maybe just a couple of hours, but I do remember they disappeared at once, mysteriously, and I naively want to believe they went back to their mommy, and didn't suffer with little me. I have no way of knowing and will never know, but for some reason this memory, the almost tangible feelings of wonder and warmth, stuck with me all these years, torn out of context and reason. What I did learn more about, years down the line, was that elderly relative I had always happily called uncle. He was all smiles and warmth, as far as my little-self could perceive, and I had nothing but positive feelings toward him, but he wasn't a blood relation of mine, as it turned out. I never knew this until years later, a long time after he had passed away. 

I think of those chicks, and myself and my son, and I wonder what memories might randomly be ingrained in my son's little brain. This perceived randomness is, of course, up for dispute. What moments will he get to then look back at and break into small, complicated pieces? You see, that moment held in it so much more than I had imagined or might dare to try to understand. I was there with my uncle because he was dear to my grandmother, the one I had never met. At such a young age, I'm not sure I even realized I had a grandmother I had never met. It wouldn't have mattered to me if the nice man was my uncle or friend or teacher. I got a clear message that he was dear and important, and would treat me kindly, and that was fine by me. Yet today, I wonder what he saw in me; this little girl, the first new generation of women in my family, surrounded by love and excitement and unaware of thoughts such as "what would she have felt about this little granddaughter?", and "would she have imagined her daughter and granddaughter here in the kibbutz, smiling and laughing together?", "did she imagine her own family's future?". What he might have felt and thought, I now got the chance to speculate about, years after discovering and reading through the many, almost daily, letters my grandmother wrote to him from far away in Long Island, New York. I'm only at the start of a journey, and it is a journey that looks backward and forward and even tries to feel the present, in the middle of it all. It is a personal journey that will probably never makes sense of it all. Yet if it gathers together pieces of me, random pieces, ones that don't always fit, then maybe it will help me look forward, or add to the story that my son or future children might someday read themselves and choose to learn from. Possibly, there was a deeper reason I remembered that moment with the chicks. It must have been one of the first moments I understood I could get attached to other beings and they might then disappear. It might have stuck as a confused and bitter-sweet moment in which all those feelings of warmth and protection do not prevent the deeper intuition that it is also sad. Those chicks came from somewhere and disappeared to somewhere, and aside from what a catastrophe the experience could have been for them, it could have been a first realization for me. Someone you care for could disappear and not return. You will never wholly understand where they went to. You will never fully understand how you felt. They're gone. Or maybe I sensed that bitter sweetness in the air, as this uncle's smiling eyes looked at me and perhaps saw sparkles of my grandmother who went away and won't return, sparkles that at the same time can burn holes in the past that can never be filled and burn hope in the eyes of the young, newly born.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wrestling with hope

[written on the 18th of November]
Last year I went to the psychiatric hospital in Har Nof twice a week, to do my practicum as an Art Therapist. Twice a week I would get on the bus and tram, through a wondrous mix of Jerusalem residents and visitors, passing Jaffa street, the Mahane Yehuda Market, my former high-school and the central bus station - reminiscing about the past, thinking of the future, trying not to think about the terror and violence I once witnessed there growing up, rather thinking of hope and peacefulness if possible - I had a long day of work ahead of me, no time for anything but hope.
Twice a week I walked into a neighborhood so different from my own, an ultra orthodox community. Within it, I would walk into a place filled with the city's despair... filled with the worst possible stories of loneliness and violence and rape, awful childhoods and misfortunes and situations you could never imagine. Stories I mainly have to keep to myself and share only with my colleagues to protect the privacy and rights of my patients, and to do what we are there for - to help our patients. Like in Hadassah hospital, which I've actively supported for a long time, here too - once inside the hospital walls, religion, race or nationality didn't matter. Patients and staff come from all different backgrounds. Tolerance is key to doing our job, accepting anyone, any background, any emotion.... anything but violence.
Among buildings telling a tale of a bloody and painful past all of their own - the people I got to know there, staff and patients alike, taught me how one might, despite it all, look to the future. How - with such small odds, knowing the patient might return a month after release, a patient might get hurt, commit suicide, commit a crime - one still holds on to hope, still tries to make a change, still smiles, still laughs, still creates...! 
This morning I heard that four men were murdered a few steps from this hospital, in a synagogue, during prayer, and a fifth man was murdered while trying to protect others and prevent further casualties. May they rest in peace. 
It leaves me relatively speechless and scared for the future and for my loved ones.

It also makes me think of those I know and care deeply about, who were probably in the hospital at the time. It is quite a quiet neighborhood and I am sure they heard the shots. I think of the reactions of patients with anxiety disorders, patients who have violence in their family or background... The difficulty to move on and work as usual, even if you are an Arab or Jewish doctor, nurse or therapist. The high alert that must have kept them all inside the buildings. I know how strong a lot of those people are. I know they will put all their effort into getting through the day, and tomorrow, in that god-forsaken-psychiatric-ward, there will still be that unbelievable and inconceivable drop of hope. That inexplicable despite-it-all will to live. Those unimaginable slowly growing friendships and those underestimated low-payed workers who still have a glimpse of belief in their eye that they can make a small change in an old and crumbling system. The rare patients who, despite a lifetime tarred with horror and sadness, puff on their unhealthy cigarette, sip their cheap coffee, and dare to think of what they want to do tomorrow and even the next week, dare to imagine and then slowly even paint with a bright color as they wrestle with the idea that they might have a future... Wrestling with hope.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Being there

My dear boy,

I know, you want to hold my hand. You want me to play with you, to explain to you, to be fully and completely with you, wholeheartedly. Yet I am partly absent. I'm sitting on the computer writing to the future you instead of playing with you and drawing for you, and with you, right now. I want to be, so so much...

The truth is, everyday I think of how to explain to you what we're doing right now. Where we were and where we are going, and why. Where do I start? Should I draw about the present? the past? the imagined? Should I dive into a fantasy world, connecting mine to your own, newly invented, characters and stories? Or should I go back to the start, tell you about history - and if I do, should I go one generation back, two generations, three...? One side, the other side, both...? my point of view, or yours?

I think about these things every day. I have ideas of words and drawings. Then I think of the other people I love, my friends and family. Then of a larger circle of acquaintances... So much to tell and to so many people - and then I'm off in my own world and not quite there, connecting to yours. Slightly ironic, isn't it? Trying to connect to you makes me disconnect.
I get overwhelmed by these thoughts and then I just cannot figure out where and how to start. So I stop, I just play or laugh with you. Or work while your Papa plays with you, and I wait for another day. Tomorrow... Next week... Next time.

We're both starting something new. A new place, new friends. Trying not to lose touch with home, with why and what. I'm scared too. I have my own dinosaurs and monsters and lions to be scared of, and to tackle. I want to be strong. To hold your hand firmly and fully be there with you. But I'm not. I cannot. I cannot always hold your hand.

So, for now, I let you draw with me instead. I let your lines be the basis for my ground. I let you look with me into an unclear and blurry future. Trying to be there, trying to hold your hand, but not quite, not always there, not entirely. I let myself show a sketch, my vulnerable visual searches, to the world... Maybe that's what I can give to you right now; It's ok to not know. It's ok to be a little vulnerable. I'm still constantly, somehow, there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


How do I protect you? From flying rockets, from flying accusations? From fear... From heartbreak, from ignorance, from pain, from physical wounds, from heartful words, from innocence, sobriety, from hurtful words, from society. How do I tell you your identity without confusing, refusing to play by someone else's rules. Only fools think they know it all, but what will you feel you know? How do I protect you
from words
from rocks
from bombs
from herds
from disasters
from HATE and guns
from other people's sons.
How do I let you run and fall, without knowing much at all. I feel small. But I must be big. FOR YOU.

i.e. - Heartful - full of heartfelt emotion. Yes, heartful from one side can be hurtful to another, or to yourself... An interesting little word I found.

"איך אגן עליך? מרקטות עפות, האשמות עפות? מפחד... משברון לב, מבורות, מכאב, מפצעים פיזיים, ממלים שבאות מהלב, מתמימות, מהתפכחות, ממלים מכאיבות, מהחברה? איך אני אספר לך על זהותך, מבלי לבלבל, מסרבת לשחק על פי חוקים של אחרים. רק שוטים חושבים שהם יודעים הכל. אך מה אתה תרגיש שאתה יודע? איך אני מגנה עליך? ממלים, מאבנים, מפצצות, מעדרים, מאסונות, משנאה ומרובים, מבנים של אנשים אחרים. איך ארשה לך לרוץ וליפול, מבלי לדעת הרבה בכלל. אני מרגישה קטנה. אבל אני חייבת להיות גדולה. בשבילך."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jerusalem, heartbreaker

More than six years ago I took a walk to the Jerusalem promenade with someone. It was early in the morning, perhaps 3am or later... Everything was quiet, only the lights of Jerusalem, east, west and north, were shining at us the way they always do, ever since they built this promenade, when I was a child. I told him that to me, Jerusalem is the ultimate heartbreaker... You can't help but loving her and being astounded by her, exploring her delicate mix of people and cultures, the history and its underground, simultaneously ancient and young beating heart. The passion and insanity it ignites. That subtle sense of hope, communication and renewal beneath rubbles of aggression whilst sitting on top of bubbling, hot, lava, constantly threatening to erupt. Those simple, small, day to day moments of compassion or creativity that you see in the street. People pushing and shoving, hating and loving. The millions of opinions that can enrich your mind and soul, anger you to the bone and tear you to pieces.

We stared off into the distance. That someone was the someone I married, and happened to have been born in Germany.
Looking back at that moment I realize how much this promenade has been present in my life, from my runaway adventures as a child with my best friend Timora, god rest her soul, and her sister Eliana, to having my scouts group named after a young girl stabbed to death right there. From walking in the magnificent Jerusalem snow with my swedish friend Daniel, thanks to whom I met my husband, to showing the view to my visiting Italian friends days before my wedding or having a mothers get-together with my little baby, my childhood friends and their little ones.

Last night I was trying to fathom it all. Before this latest acceleration of violence we were slowly telling people we are moving to Berlin, Germany, for a couple of years for my husbands' studies. Now packing up and dealing with the move and with all the feelings surrounding it just got that much more intense, surreal and complicated. Our decision had nothing to do with security, but with our own calculations and dreams for the future. I love my hometown. It still breaks my heart when it is this tense, and it still stays deep deep inside my heart all days of the year. You cannot take the town out of the girl, wherever I go.

So I drew this... last night. Then I didn't put it up on fb, I didn't want to "jinx" it, although it was meant to be more metaphorical than realistic. Well, now.... There have been many nights in which we heard fireworks in this neighborhood, they sound like shooting but we know they're not. This time I heard the real rockets. Clearly.