Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kwitcherbellyakin

Untold suffering seldom is.
Franklin P. Jones

I met my friend E just one time, and despite the fact that I’m not 100% sure she would recognize me in the street, I consider her a good friend. She lifts me up when I am down, she gives me strength when I am weak, she entertains me when I am bored, and all without realizing it. And best of all, she laughs at my jokes.

E is a Facebook friend, and I read her posts avidly. She posts divrei Torah, uplifting stories, and, most importantly, different segulot.

Just over a month ago, E posted that Kislev, the month in which the holiday of Chanuka falls, is an especially propitious time for miracles.

E told us she had learned that to nudge a miracle into coming, on the Shabbat before the first day of Kislev, at candle lighting time, we should pray for something we seriously needed (i.e., not a mink coat or that pair of boots you've been ogling, but rather a job, health, or a partner) and then for the whole month – from the first day of Kislev to the last day of Chanuka – if we manage not to complain out loud, to not show ungratefulness, we will be a witness to the needed miracle.

Now, to be very very honest, I’m not one for segulot. To me, they smack – just a bit – of superstition. But I’ve followed some of E’s other segulot—most notably when I read a certain part of the Torah as a segula for a job, and lo and behold, extra hours were added on to my job, a mere hour after. Honest. (of course, I don't really like my job, but that's another story.)

But this one, well, I liked it. It would be a fun thing to see if I could go a whole month without complaining. I was quite confident, actually. I’m not a complainer. I never complain if I’m hot or cold like my colleagues at work do Every. Five. Minutes. I’m not a picky eater, I don’t complain if there are tomatoes in the salad, or onions in the kugel like my kids do Every. Single. Meal.

So what if I have nothing to wear, that there’s never anything good on TV, that Israeli politics are poison (I might not even vote this time round, they’re all a bunch of losers!).

I don’t get upset when someone puts a carton of milk back into the fridge with exactly one drop in it (can’t they just finish it, for heaven sakes!) or one noodle is left in a huge container (what does that mean, you’re too stuffed to eat one more noodle. Do me a favor). I don’t care mud is tracked all over my just-washed floor (oh, for heaven sakes), or the lights are left on (that wouldn't happen if they paid the bills).

Really. I don’t.

And so, I entered the month certain I would get my much needed miracle at the end.

I’ll put you out of your suspense now.
It turns out that I’m quite bad at not complaining.
In fact, I might become a professional complainer. I’m pretty darn good at it already.

Me
Two separate things happened almost simultaneously and almost immediately, on that very first Shabbat.

The first was that I noticed how much other people complain:

“It’s hot in here, how can you stand it?”
“It’s cold in here, how can you stand it?”
“I don’t like tomatoes in the salad”
“Whoever left the lights on in their room can pay the electric bill!”
“Why is there an empty carton of milk in the fridge?”
Etc. etc.

It was a cacophony of noise. I stopped hearing words; all I heard was wah wah wah.


The second thing that happened was that I noticed that how much I complain.
I started out bravely. “How was work?” my husband would ask every day. I didn’t let out the five- and six-letter words (MUCH worse than four-letters) that were popping from my brain; lousy, yucky, crappy, icky (that’s only four).

“Just jim dandy”, I said the first day, even though it wasn’t. Great, fine, and ok followed on other days. I bit back the comments about the witchy boss, or how hot it was because everyone else was cold, or about the boring work, or the guy who yelled at me, or the stupid printer that ate my work, or, well, all the other things that make my day so super.

I bit my lips, then had to hold back complaining about how much my lips hurt.
Luckily, E never said anything about putting on a happy face.

Sometimes, I wasn’t all that successful at lip-biting. But I tried.

I came home from a colleague’s simcha one evening, and my daughter asked how it was. Without thinking, I said “food was ‘orrible”. (I’m Canadian, and there’s no earthly reason to drop my ‘aitches’, but I do it when I’m complaining). Then I stopped, and said ‘but it was lovely, really, it was a nice place and great people.’

Of course, I said the right words, but they sounded like wah wah wah.
After a few days of bleeding lips, I decided that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I would say nothing at all.

And that’s what I did. I didn’t say anything at all. I nodded a lot instead of answering 'NO!' (work ok?), 'yes, my favorite part of my day is unfolding your smelly socks!' (Did you wash my socks?) and 'yes, but make sure you eat the whole thing instead of throwing half away. Do you know how much apples cost these days and also there are children in Yemen who would die to have that apple, don’t tell me about it being bruised' (Can I have an apple?).

I shook my head instead of answering 'What, am I your secretary now?' (did anyone call), 'You think I have a cookie tree??' (anything I can menashnesh on?), 'it’s your friend, why do I have to spend my day running around looking for a present?' (did you buy a present for [fill in the blank]); sometimes I just pointed to the fridge instead of answering 'What, am I a restaurant?' (what’s for supper?).

The thing is, nobody noticed that I was only head shaking and pointing at the fridge and not talking.

That means that nobody ever listens to me. I work myself to the bone, and all they care about are their cookies and me doing errands for them. Ungrateful…
But I digress.
I live with several people of the male persuasion. I know that they have mouths and tongues because I’ve seen them eat, but otherwise one could be excused for thinking they had gills for all they use it to communicate. They only thing they say during the course of the day is to ask me for something (Can you fix my pants? Can I have the car? What’s for supper?). Is asking how I am too hard for them?? Or tell a funny story after an awful day of work? Is this too much to ask??

Anyway, meal time became pretty quiet. I was determined not to complain about anything. (Why can’t you use a knife??) I let someone else make conversation. (Who didn't put a serving spoon into the noodles?) Somebody else must have done something fun today, because if I mention anything about my day/job I’ll just complain (stop dropping crumbs on the floor, you have a plate RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Now I’m going to have to sweep AND wash dishes because nobody else sweeps in this house OR washes dishes. EVER), and I was desperately determined to stop complaining.

A week of the no-complaints experiment went by. I had lots of complaints, but most of them were left unsaid. Except in the car. I allowed myself to take out all the week’s complaints on unknowing drivers (aka jerks). “Why does this guy think he can take up THREE parking spaces, of all the nerve. Hey Jerk, don’t come crying to me if someone rams into you for going so slow. Whattasmatter with this jerk? He thinks he owns the whole road. AND he probably doesn’t use a KNIFE, and he puts back the milk WITH ONE DROP IN IT!! OR WORSE!!! he leaves it OUT!!!!!

After a week, I was feeling pretty miserable. Though I had thought that I didn't, half my life seemed to be made up of complaining, nobody noticed that I had stopped, and the kid still wasn't using his knife.
The second week was spent feeling pretty sorry for myself.
Why can’t anything ever go right for me?

It was only by the third week that I knew I had to do something. If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all is a great axiom. I decided to take the first half of the sentence seriously. I would find nice things to say, instead of complaining. 

That's a nice shirt, I said to my son referring to the sweat shirt he has worn every day for two weeks.  He looked at me as if I had grown a beard. 
The table is set so nicely, I said of the mismatched cutlery and no glasses. My daughter thought I was talking in my sleep. 

It became a little easier as time went on. 
What a great supper! I said of the eggs and leftover challah that I had thrown on the table.  
Little by little, I began telling funny stories, reported on interesting articles I had read in the paper, and recommended the book I was reading.

The stories didn't always get a laugh, the articles weren't as interesting as I thought they were, and everyone had already seen the movie on their smartphone, but hey, nobody complained.

By the fourth week, Chanuka, I managed not to complain that the sufganiyot didn't have enough jam, that the latkes were too oily, and the candles made SUCH A MESS.  Because, y'know, who cares?

Instead, we sang songs, even though I'm completely tone-deaf, played with the grandkid, saw trains, and just had a good time.

Chanuka ended. I'm now allowed to complain again. 


But I'm going to see how it goes not complaining, at least not quite as much. Nobody listens anyway, it never changed anything (I guarantee that the carton of milk that is in my fridge has exactly one drop in it - I know this because I put it there myself, and the jerk driver still takes up three spots), and once in a while, somebody laughs at my jokes.

As for the needed miracle - well, I see miracles every day.
Can't complain.






Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Medic's Oath

"Save yourself" asked the wounded
"I'm staying here with you" replied the medic

From the Ballad of the Medic


I have lived in Israel for exactly two thirds of my life.
Almost.
I have lived in four different areas of the country, had a dozen or so addresses and voted in way too many elections.
I have seen just about all there is to see.
But not everything, and last week, on the first day of Chanuka, I had the opportunity to visit a place in Israel that I have never been to, and probably will never see again.

The Yigal Yadin Army Training Base – better known as Tzrifin – was originally built by the British Army in 1917 during World War 1. Some of the original buildings are still there. Located between Rishon L’Zion and Ramle, and situated on prime real estate, Tzrifin is the largest army base in the country. It is what is known as a ‘container base’ in that it is actually made up of, amongst other things, about a dozen or so training bases known as Bahadim [sing. Bahad] (בה"דים), which is army slang for, well, training base (בסיס הדרכה). There is a Bahad for Logistics, one for Extraction and Rescue, a third for Computers and Telecommunications, a fourth for Medical Professions, and so on (i.e., NOT basic combat training). Each Bahad is an entity of its own, with its own hierarchy, chain of command, and all facilities. There are fast food places, banks, and even a small shopping area.
The largest military jail in the country is also in Tzrifin.
The place is, in essence, a small city.

Tzrifin 

Thousands of soldiers serve there, and just about everybody who has served in the army has been there at one time or another. But I never served in the army, so I've never been.

Bahad 10, aka the School for Medical Professions, trains army medics. These medics undergo a four-month intensive course on frontline first aid and trauma care. They learn how to put on tourniquets, how to stop bleeding, various bandaging methods, CPR, and more.
Practice
In the olden days, in far-away lands, medical personnel were not armed, and were labeled as non-combatants. They wore a distinguishing emblem on their uniforms (usually a red cross) so as not to be targeted by the enemy. However, in recent times, warfare has been waged against an enemy who does not respect – to put it mildly – the rules of the Geneva Convention, and targets - with absolutely no hesitation - combatants and non-combatants, women, children, and elderly alike. Israel medics are therefore armed and are also fully trained as combat soldiers. Besides a small pin they wear on their dress uniforms, they wear no distinguishing marks. That would make them a clear target to our illustrious enemies. 

At the end of the four-month course, Bahad 10 holds a graduation ceremony, swearing the newbies into their new duties. Last week, about 150 young men aged 18-20 were so sworn in. One of those young medics was my youngest son.

When A was chosen to do the Medic’s course, he was a bit anxious. He would leave his unit, one month into basic training, and be with people he had never met before. He knew he would have to later catch up with their training. It would be difficult, but off he went.

For the four months of training, every weekend A was home, he spent a goodly amount of time tying tourniquets on every stuffed animal in the house, the legs of the tables, and for laughs, the necks of his sisters. Once, I caught him bandaging the perfectly healthy turtles that live in our back yard. He gave infusions to the teletubbies doll.

He would come home with blue gloves, infusion tubes, empty vials, and bruises on his arms where he had been practiced on for taking blood. He looked like a junky. I hate to think what the other guy looked like.

He would tell us funny stories, recite new words that he’d learn (hypothermia was one he especially liked, must be the Canadian in him), and demonstrate new skills. He did his homework meticulously and with an enthusiasm he never had in 12 years of school

On the day of his graduation, I packed a truckload full of food, as is the custom of mothers of  IDF soldiers, and off we went.

We arrived, the soldier son met us and we had a picnic. We ate the hamper of food – or some of it at least – took pictures, kvelled with nachas, and walked him to the grounds where the ceremony was to take place.

We sat in the bleachers and watched 150 enormously handsome young soldiers from all the different brigades march in and form lines. A few short speeches, a little bit of marching, and then each soldier was given his medic’s pin while ‘The Ballad to the Medic’ was played.

The pin. A nachas.
It was the first day of Chanuka and a time of miracles, and, indeed, one occurred right there.
I didn't cry.
At least, not until the soldiers took their oath.

When Israeli soldiers join the IDF, they swear that they will give everything, including their life, for the State and its people. The medics’ oath, much longer and more elaborate than the regular oath, states that they will treat everyone, ‘friend or foe’, in all conditions, and that, most importantly, they will never leave anyone in the field.

The morality of the oath struck me full force.
We teach our sons to heal, not to hate.

I later googled around online, looking for the medic’s oath of different armies. I found nothing. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, I just couldn't find it. Yet, the Israeli oath was relatively easy to find, in both English and Hebrew.

Our enemies do not train medics. They do not treat enemy soldiers who have fallen. They leave their own in the field, knowing that we will care for them.
Yet, the disapprovals and accusations and condemnations and hatred are reserved for the army who thoroughly trains soldiers to treat, not only their own soldiers and civilians, but also any enemy soldier and civilians at the risk of their own lives.

We teach our sons to heal, not to hate. 
We teach our sons to love life, not seek death.

We are in the middle of Chanuka; the holiday of light.

May the light of the Jewish nation spread ever outward, and chase the ever encroaching darkness away.

שבועת החובש

נשבע היום הזה
להושיט יד עוזרת לכל פצוע ולכל חולה
אם נקלה ואם נכבד, אם אוהב ואם אויב
ולכל אדם באשר הוא אדם

אני נשבע להביא מרפא וצרי לגוף ולנפש
לשמור סוד, אמונים וכבוד, ולשקול את מעשי
בתבונה, בתושיה, ובאהבת אנוש
שומר אחי אהיה תמיד - אם בקרב, אם באלונקה
ואם ליד מיטת החולי

אני נשבע כי על ליבי יהיה חרוט לעד
הדיבר העליון של ההקרבה
לא להשאיר פצוע בשדה
בזאת אני נשבע

The IDF Medic's Oath

I, a soldier in the Medical Corps of the IDF
This day, swear
to extend a helping hand to any who is injured or ill, 
be he lowly or venerable, friend or foe - to any fellow man.

I swear to bring healing and balm to body and soul, 
to maintain discretion, loyalty and honor, 
and to consider our actions with intelligence, resourcefulness and love of humanity.
I will always be my brother's keeper
Whether in battle, on a stretcher
Or at their bedside

I swear that my heart will be forever engraved
With the highest Commandment of sacrifice -
To never leave the wounded in the field.
I hereby swear!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Wake Up Call

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.
–Douglas Adams

According to legend, the 18th century Englishman Ned Ludd (aka Ned Ludlam aka Edward Ludlam) destroyed two modern knitting frames to protest the human price of progress. He was determined to keep to the ‘old ways’ and refused to accommodate ‘new-fangled contraptions’. Since that time, a Luddite has come to mean any opponent of industrial change or innovation

I can proudly say that I have never been a Luddite. My mother was the first of her friends to buy a microwave, and I was the one who read the manual and was able to warm up my own hot chocolate long before anyone else on the street.

I knew how to program a VCR, back in the days, to come on every day at the same time.

And today, I am especially proud that I can click and double click as fast and as accurately as anyone.

But cellular phones, for some mysterious reason, have eluded me.

In Israel, there are approximately 9,964,000 cell phone users. In a country of just over eight million, that’s…. well…. a lot. Everywhere you go, people are talking on their phones, watching movies, and playing Fruit Ninja. People seemingly talking to themselves, dancing to silent music, or just staring madly at their devices can be spotted in elevators, in supermarkets. in schools, on the roads, at clinics, at the supper table,

I was the last in my family (besides the then-3-year-old) to get a phone.

The first phone

At first I walked around with a MANGO.

The other kind of MANGO
It was as big as about 3 real mangoes and we had bought it when my husband started to do army reserve duty and I was pregnant. It received calls, but you could only dial out to one number. There was a feature that you could use a ‘calling card’ and by punching in about 72 numbers and then the phone number you wished to call, you could reach more people. The only problem was that by the time I punched in 135 digits, either a) I’d forgotten who I was calling, or b) it was the next day. When I was tired of being laughed at every time I hauled the MANGO out of my bag, I took an old discarded cell phone that didn’t have SMSs, or a SIM card. That one didn’t last very long either. I finally took ownership of my oldest kid’s cast-off model when she upgraded. (I got her phone number too, and to this day, I receive messages and calls from her friends around Rosh HaShana time, wishing me a Happy New Year. It’s lovely.)

That model did have a SIM and SMSs, though no camera. It had a memory that held about 10 phone numbers and six messages. It lasted a little while, until the buttons began to stick and I couldn’t punch in the number 5. Do you know how many phone numbers have a 5 in them? All of them, that’s how many.

I finally broke down and bought a little flip-open cell phone. I loved that phone. It was small and compact and fit in my pocket. It came with: a) a camera (though I couldn’t actually do anything with the pictures as there was no USB connection or, obviously, internet connection), b) a memory big enough to compensate my lack of one, c) a two click function to actually make a phone call, and most importantly d) the ability to make me feel like I was on Star Trek every time I flipped it open (unfortunately, my constant flipping and saying in my best Captain Kirk voice while holding the phone close to my mouth “Scotty, beam me up” was completely lost on my uneducated children. They would just say “Mom, don’t hold the phone so close, I can’t understand what you’re saying). The phone also made me feel technologically adequate enough to remain a non-Luddite. 
Sotty Beam Me Up
That phone lasted a long time. Though I spoke nicely to it and fed it and tucked it in at night, it finally gave up the ghost about six months ago and went to live in cell phone heaven, which is actually a drawer in the kitchen where small old non-usable gadgets congregate for some reason. At night, they probably exchange recipes and talk about the good old days. 



But I digress. 

As a stop gap, I used an old, but still usable, cell phone that used to be my son’s, daughter’s, mother-in-law’s and nephew’s. It wasn’t a good phone; it was all banged up, it took 5 buttons to make a phone call, and, most importantly, I emphatically DID NOT feel like James Kirk while using it.

I began, finally, to think of getting a smart phone.

I too would be able to take pictures and send them around the world to family and friends in real time.
I too would be able to listen to MY music while cleaning the kitchen and not anyone else’s (music, not kitchen).
I too would be able to watch movies while waiting at the post office.
I too would be able to walk down the street, deftly missing light poles while wildly texting and pretending to be important.
I too would be able to enjoy seeing the antics of cats on youtube videos anywhere and anytime. 

The first step was to do research: find out which phone was suitable to my needs. This involved asking family members “what phone should I get? I got the same answer from everybody: “take mine, I was going to upgrade anyway.”

But I stood fast, did not take anyone’s hand-me-downs, and went out (dragging the expert who actually knew what he was doing) and bought myself a brand new 2nd generation mini smartphone, which turned out to be not as smart as it looked.

In many places in our Holy Torah, the narrative suddenly shifts scenes and begins a completely different story, and then, that completed, returns to the original story. A classic example is the story of Yehuda and Tamar, which breaks off the story of the sale of Yosef, leaving Yosef to slavery in Egypt (about which we read  just a week or so ago). This is to teach us some relevant lesson of taking responsibility and manning up to mistakes and rectifying them.

So this is my scene shift, lesson learning story:

When I was a kid, about 10 or 11 years old, I wanted to go away to camp. All my friends went to camp, but I was unlucky enough to belong to a family that took car trips around the North American continent seeing such sites as Yellowstone National Park, Cape Kennedy, and Disneyland. Poor me. Every year, I would ask to go to camp crying why can’t we be more like other families and feeling very sorry for myself. One year, we weren’t able to go on a month-long car trip, so my parents sent me to camp. I was there for about 23 minutes, maybe less, when I realized that this really wasn’t for me and thought about walking the 100 miles home. (I didn't. I managed to stick out the three weeks and have a pretty lousy time.)

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. 
In case you don't it's: Be careful what you wish for.

I’m not whining. I own a smartphone. What could be bad??

I joined the ranks of those glued to their phones, engaging in communications with people all over the world.

Except:
Nobody will pose for a picture.
I can’t seem to find any good music to download, and when I ask for help, they download their music (and I still have to clean the kitchen).
Who am I kidding? I can’t see movies on that itsy bitsy screen.
I find that, while I can wildly text and pretend to look important while walking down the street, I don’t actually miss the light poles.
I don’t like cats.

But the worst part of the phone (and it’s a LOVELY phone, really, I’m not whining) is that my fingers are apparently too burly/solid/hefty/fat. 


It takes me 45 minutes to type in “Im hpne”.

The first app (see, I know the lingo) I downloaded was whatsapp. Or, as I type it on the phone, wjatsioo.

This was my first message: Ho gyys. In pn wjatsioo tpp!

The hours my face glow in the reflected light of my 2x5 cm screen are spent typing out one message over and over until I get it right:

Arw ypi cpnunh Sgavvat?

Aee ypi vpmung Shannay?

Aew uoi xpmunf Sjabbar?

Are you coming Shabbat?

And then I send it to the wrong person.

I hope the electrician isn’t vegetarian.