Monday, June 30, 2008

Local conversation

This weekend I rented a car. Friday, my friend Gayle and I decided to do some good old-fashioned adventuring. After weighing various options, we decided to go see the sand dunes at Nitzanim. The following is an actual conversation we had en route, as Gayle was perusing the map to figure out how to get us there.

Me: So, is Nitzanim is north of Ashkenlon or south of Ashkelon?

Gayle: North...wait, let me check that. (Goes back to map). Yes, north.

Me: Ahhh...so out of rocket range then.

Gayle: Yep.

Me: Brilliant!

Of course, after we got to Nitzanim, and discovered that sand dunes are 1) just that-enormous piles of sand and 2) the sand is really f**ing hot in the sun and 3) hot sand is not particularly fun* to traipse about in while wearing sandals...we ended up ditching Nitzanim and going to Ashkelon anyway where we continued to adventure away. We drove around the city a bit. We marveled at how pretty the houses were and how clean everything was. We drove through one of the more upscale neighborhoods and discussed how much we would love to own one of the houses...if only it did not involve actually having to live in Ashkelon. We eventually found one of the local boardwalks along with a cafe for seaside-brunching. I am using the word "cafe" loosely--the primary product there seemed to be beer. But then, that does add to the element of adventure. There we spent an hour or so eating a breakfast of eggs, bread, salad and 50% fat cheese. Ashkelon does not do low-fat. Nor does it do coffee apart from Turkish, apparently. This was quite a shock, though not as much as a shock as realizing that most of the inhabitants were actually speaking Hebrew, as opposed to English, French or Russian or any of the other languages Gayle and I normally hear in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, respectively.

But nothing catastrophic happened. Unless you count us each eating an entire loaf of bread apiece and my completely blowing my diet a catastrophe. It might count as one, no?

* As in "I actually burned the soles of my feet" hot. Nu, I am a Tel Avivit. Pave over the damn things already! (Just kidding).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Haveil Havalim #171 is up...

At Ima on (and off) the Bima. She put it together while packing the kids up for camp. I still have rather traumatic memories of sewing name tags into all of my clothes. And then going to camp and being tormented. Not pleasant.

But you should go visit Ima anyway. It is not her fault I was such a wierdo as a child. At least, not so far as I know.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Alyn Wheels of Love is Hitting the Road

So, now that I have managed to convince some portion of you that I am the spawn of Satan, I thought that this would be an opportune time to, you know, hit you up for some cash.

Well, not cash. Credit card digits and checks are better.

And not for me. For the kids at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem.

You know my suicide ride to and from Jerusalem? Well, it was for a reason. In four months, I will be participating in my second Wheels of Love Charity Bike Ride to benefit Alyn Hospital. Assuming that my trusty Alyn Posse (hi Mandy!) manages to teach me how to ride off-road by then, and assuming that I do not manage to break my head or some other useful body part in the process, I will be doing the off-road route. If she does not succeed, or if something is (alas) broken, I will be either 1) doing the on-road route 2) doing the wimpy touring route 3) volunteering while on crutches or 4) cheering the pack on from my bed at Tel Hashomer.

Which, at least according to my friends Inna and Hillel, is another fine medical institution. And you should give them money. But not right now. Because right now you should give ME money.

Ahem. You should give it to Alyn.

Anyway, in order to participate I have to pay for the trip. Which I did. I also have to raise $5000 dollars. Oh, okay....I am lying. I do not have to raise $5000. I actually have to raise less. (Please do not have a heart attack Mandy. You have not taught me how to go down hills yet. Or up them, for that matter.) But, I want to raise more, and if I tell you the real amount, you guys might not be properly inspired. So I am lying. Ergo, I really am the spawn of Satan. But you should sponsor me anyway.

(Other Alyn Riders take note: no spoilers regarding actual required amounts to be raised are allowed in the comment section! They fall under the category of "extremely provocative political comments")

Here is how to sponsor me:

1) Go to the donate online page
2) Follow the instructions on the page. There are options for US, Canadian and Israeli tax receipts.
3) Please make sure to note that you are sponsoring me: Gila Weiss
4) Drop me a line to let me know so that I can make sure it was properly credited to my "account". (Of course 100% of the money raised is for Alyn).

For you locals, I am planning on doing a book swap and some other fun stuff for fundraisers. Please let me know if you are interested in hearing about them. Alternatively, if you have any good fundraiser ideas, please share.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Am I Waiting for Gilad Shalit?

The hottest trend on Facebook now is for people to change their status to "...has been waiting for Gilad Shalit for two years". Over the last several days, a significant number of my friends have joined the wave. This morning, I received my own invite. If I wish, on June 25, I can also up the ante and change my facebook profile picture to that of Gilad Shalit.

I am not sure what to do.

On the one hand, yes, I want Gilad Shalit to come home. On the other hand,I have to admit to being very troubled with Noam Shalit's stance toward the recent truce between Israel and Hamas. He has demanded that the government condition any truce and any easing of conditions on the return of his son. Thousands of Israelis are suffering under daily rocket barrages from Gaza. Thousands of Israeli children are growing up in an active war zone. Israelis are being killed and injured. Why are we supposed to do nothing to help them? Why are their lives less important than that of Gilad Shalit?

What am I saying if I change my status? Am I saying that I believe that everything and anything should be conditioned on Gilad Shalit's return? Or am I saying that we should be making every effort to bring him home AND to bring quiet, and that the two processes may well be separate. And that, in fact, to the extent that numbers have any relevance in respect to setting our priorities, thousands of Israelis trounce one. Seven years trounces two.

Which brings me to another, rather cynical, question I have beating around my brain. I ask myself this: Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for two years. Sderot and its surroundings have been under attack for seven. What was Noam Shalit doing about this during the long five years of attacks when his son was safe at home and when the people of Sderot were suffering? Where was his outrage then?

Did he give a shit?

But I am conflicted because I am not a soldier. I came too late to serve. I am conflicted because I do not have children who will serve (at least not yet). Who am I to say anything? Who am I to have an opinion? How am I any different from the armchair Zionists, the hawks and the doves, who pontificate from afar without ever risking having to suffer the consequences of their plans?

If it were me, I know what I would believe, or at least I know what I believe now, when it is all theoretical. My life is not by definition more important than that of another. But what if it were my child?

Whether I change my status or not, I am taking a stand. I just wish I really knew where I stood.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Collect the Whole Set

Here is a question for the masses: what do people do with all the photos?

One of the odder elements of life as a poor, sad, heroic victim of terror was that of being turned into a tourist destination of sorts. People just loved taking photos with me. I was not alone. One of my physicians told me of another physician, a volunteer from the US, who insisted on being photographed with every last poor, sad, heroic victim of terror that came through his department. My doctor was not sure what was stronger, his horror or his embarrassment.

So again, what do people do with these photos? I mean, it is not as though the people being photographed are particularly attractive. (If you do not mind, we will save the "beautiful souls" and "brave spirits" and other similar claptrap for someone else's blog). Are they like trading cards? Can you collect the whole set? Do people swap them? "I will give you my brave widow and traumatized soldier for your orphan with a head injury"? Are there point values involved? Who sets them? I have a friend who was also injured in a bombing, but much more seriously than was I. She is now in a wheelchair where I have only minor signs of injury (though they are visible to Israeli men turned on by scars). Is she worth more points than I am?

As for me, I have long since entertained this mental image of folks going back to the States, downloading their photos to a DVD and regaling their friends with a slide presentation of their trips to Israel. "This is me at the Kotel. This is me in Tiberias. This is me with Gila, the Poor, Sad, Heroic Victim of Terror ®…. She's so brave."

It goes without saying, of course, that one cannot talk about Victims of Terror without proper attention being paid to our bravery. Random true story: someone once commented to my father, with no small amount of outrage, that it was terribly wrong that all of the newspapers were writing about me, and not about those who died. My Dad's response: it is kind of hard to interview the dead ones. Obnoxious, but oh-so-true.

Any thoughts?

Haval Haveilim #170 is up...

At Soccer Dad!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Belated Shavout Post

Two weeks ago, my bike and I traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Note that I did not say "I rode my bike". That is because that a good 30% of my time was spent pushing my bike up the hills, huffing, puffing and cursing, as opposed to riding. So to call this "riding my bike to Jerusalem" would be rather misleading. And we accountants do not like to mislead. Misleading is bad. A tendency toward misleading-ness can land you in prison. Granted, so far as I recall the various ethical codes governing my profession do not touch on the matter of exaggerating one's prowess on a bicycle. Or, ahem, in other areas. But whatever. One can never be too careful.

But I digress.

So, anyway, I spent about nine hours of quality time, fueled by innumerable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pushing my bike up the *$^%# mountains up to *$^%# Jerusalem, which, if it were really and truly blessed, would be located on a convenient, biker-friendly, flat plain, a'la Tel Aviv. I got to my friend's house with just enough time to try-but-not-be-able-to-sleep-so-I-just-lay-there-with-my-eyes-closed-telling-myself-that-this-will-also-refresh-me-even-though-I-know-that-this-is-an-utter-fallacy for a few hours. Of course, it was only once I got up and started getting ready for the festive meal that my body decided that, you know, it really felt like a nap, if I would not mind. Between you and me, it had decided to get me back for the long trek by being a contrary brat.

Clearly this meant war.

I upped the ante. I did not let my body go to sleep until after dinner and about fifteen slices of cheesecake. I then finally let my body go to sleep, but with strict instructions to get up early so that I could get an early start on the ride back to Tel Aviv and miss some of the heat. My body decided to bitch slap me back, and slept in until about 9 the next morning. Do not worry, I got my revenge. Yes indeedy, I showed my body who is boss. I got started on my ride at 10 AM…the perfect time to enjoy every stunning moment of the hamsin (evil bitch of a heat wave). While on a bicycle, going uphill, in the middle of f**king nowhere, somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

As an aside, please allow me to share with you that you would be shocked, appalled to know how many of the hills on the way back to Tel Aviv are actually going up. I know I was. Honestly, we really should raze some of those suckers. Granted, this would mean that one would not be able to enjoy the delightful experience of hurtling down a mountain, on a bicycle, on a twisting, one lane road populated by crazed Israeli drivers, at approximately the speed of light. And I would miss that. But I think I would get over the loss pretty quickly.

Anyway, it was a long, evil ride back home. The worst part was realizing, somewhere mid-ride that I had done the same damn thing last year and had sworn never to do it again. Apparently the heat cooked the bits of my brain that were supposed to store this information and bring it to my attention the next time I got it into my head that a long bike ride in a hamsin would be a good idea. In order to make sure that this does not happen again, I have instructed Kayla and certain of my other Jerusalem friends that, if I ever show any intention of trying this again, they are to deflate my bike tires.

Lest you feel too bad for me, the ride did enjoy its lighter moment. Somewhere on the endless plain between Beit Shemesh and Tel Aviv, I decided to stop for a break at a Menta and allow my brain to cool down a bit before I managed to cook the bit that is supposed to remember to never, ever do this again. (I mean, what if I wake up before my hostess and she does not have a chance to let the air out of my tires? For that matter, who will let the air out of my tires if I start from Tel Aviv? Prevention is the best medicine!) I went in, assembled a collection of drinks and muesli and started to refuel. A guy at the shop decided to chat me up. He came over with a (stupid) question about bikes. I accepted it for what it was, a rather pathetic pickup line, forgave him for it, and we proceeded to chat. At some point, after asking him several times to repeat himself, I explained that I have a hearing loss. The conversation proceeded on as follows:

Him: A hearing loss? But you are young!

Me: (And this is relevant...how?) Yes. Lots of young people are hearing impaired

Him: Oh, of course!

Silence. I ate my muesli and started to hope he would go away.

Him: Is it from an accident?

Me: (evasive) Cacha, you know, I just do not hear well.

I eat more muesli.

Him: Because I see you have scars on your arm

He pointed to the scars on my right arm, which had been nicely highlighted by the dark golden brown biker's tan I had managed to acquire despite my slathering myself with 45 sunblock every 15 minutes

Him: So I just thought that maybe you were in an accident, and that is why you do not hear well.

Me: (in desperation) It's just a flesh wound!

After a bit of explaining, I managed to turn the conversation to Monty Python, The Search for the Holy Grail and the foolishness of the Black Knight. (G-d bless Monty Python, they always come in so handy).

Shortly thereafter, the muesli was finished, my brain was cooled down and it was time for me to hit the road.

Him: I really enjoyed our conversation. I would like to continue it.

Me: (You are alone in that). Oh, no thank you.

Said with a pleasant big smile and everything.

Some interminable number of hours later, I finally made it home.

Now, clearly the guy is an idiot. But what disturbs me is that all this time I have been telling myself (and have been encouraged in this by my friends) that I am the only one that notices my scars, and that no one else does and that they are itty bitty and not at all noticable and that the only reason I see them is because I am paranoid and that if I did not say anything and did not point them out, no one would ever know they were there. Perhaps, this is not the case? Perhaps people have been noticing them and have simply too polite to say anything?

The silver lining to this is that it would mean that the average Israeli is blessed with discretion, tact and manners.

Who knew?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Haveil Havalim #168 is up...

At Jack's Place, where he has put together a lovely collection of good reading material!

Along with some random basketball commentary....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Watershed

Dedicated to "my girls"
Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while.

"Watershed", Indigo Girls

I live in the past. I live with regrets. I live with "if only". I hate this but I cannot seem to get away from it. No matter how much I do, there is always something that I have not done. There is always a price. There is always something I missed.

I know, intellectually, that this is folly. How much can one do, after all? We have limited amounts of energy. If I am putting all of my mental energy into certain goals, it stands to reason that I will let other goals slide. It cannot be helped. And yet, I want to help it. I blame myself for not helping it.

How can I help it? I have always felt old. Even when I was a child, I wanted to go back in time and to start over. To get a second shot at the time and the life that I missed and that was taken from me by elements out of my control. Today, I tend to obsess about time I wasted and about what I lost. I am lost in my opportunities lost. I focus on my bad spending habits in the past. "If you had started saving when you were in college, like your sister, than you would have this, that or the other by now". I focus on my bad eating habits. When I was 14, I went on a diet. In my calendar, I wrote up a schedule of how much I was going to lose each week. By a certain month, I would hit my target weight. Of course, I did not succeed. To this day, I still find myself thinking back to that marked-up calendar and asking myself "what if you had stuck to it? What if you had gone through your adolescence thin and pretty instead of fat and dorky? What life would you have had?" I focus on my stupid, stubborn choices. After 35 years of an often exhausting, often successful and occasionally futile battle with PDD/NOS, I finally gave in and accepted a crutch. I started anti-depressants. (The one good thing that came out of my bout with thyroid cancer). Today, instead of focusing on the 2.5 good years since then, I focus on the years before—"if only I had started this earlier". You see, I have high standards. I am harsh on myself when I do not live up to them.

I rarely live up to them.

Recently I have been thinking to myself: "Gila, you have got to get off this motherfucking negative train". This is not thanks to the ongoing efforts of my close friends to get me to stop beating myself up (though I love them for it, and know I am blessed for having them). It was not my blog-based analysis of the near-death experience that was the bombing that opened my eyes. It was not anything it should have been It was a series of curious, unrelated events. But then, that is how these things normally happen, isn't it?

First, over the last year I have had the opportunity to meet several children, adolescents and young adults "like me", or rather, the way I was as a child, as an adolescent and as a young adult. They do some of the same things I did. They screw up in some of the same ways I screwed up. They are often behind—immature for their ages—like I was. They communicate with others and act and react to situations and stimuli in similar ways to the way I did at their ages. Some of them are not keeping up with their siblings, just as I did not keep up with mine. Nonetheless, they are not bad. They are not lazy. They are not defective. They are not ungrateful. They are not stupid. They are on their own, individual timetables. It has been eye-opening to watch them. I see how wonderful and absolutely incredible they are. I see how much I love them, especially my "girls". I see how strong they are. I see their potential and how far they are going to go. I see their weaknesses and their fashlas (screw ups) and their fears and for what they are: weaknesses and fashlas and fears, and not hideous character defects. I watch them and I understand that this fighting with demons—this learning to be normal—takes a lot of time, strength and energy. It is a top priority, so it has to come before other things, like doing the stuff that everyone else does. I am learning to view my past (and my present) in a different light.

I have had the opportunity to meet young people. Not young in calendar years, but in outlook. I did the Alyn Ride and had my ass kicked by 80 year olds. I read a blog post written by Savta Dotty, who described how she has always felt 26. Even though, in calendar years, she is 71. I have met her. I agree with her. Twenty-six is far more accurate. I want to be like that. Why feel old if I can feel young? Why assume that if I have not achieved x by age 40, I will never achieve it?

Finally, last week, in advance of our 20th high school reunion, one of my fellow classmates sent out an email describing where he was in his life. Suffice it to say, that it was picture-perfect. Married, three children and successful in his career. I felt bad. I felt like a failure. I am single. I have no children. Work has not been going particularly well. But then I thought: "what if you were to send out your own email? Do you really think that people would be saying 'what a loser'? It is more likely that people would be impressed. Some might even be envious." (I am sorry—I know that this is catty. But it is also quite cool.)

I have been thinking about just how much these negative thoughts cost me. I have been thinking of my future. Enough! Forget about the past! What is done is done! How much will I lose, what is the price I will pay if I continue on this way? How much of my life will I enjoy and appreciate only in retrospect? How much of my follies and failings will I find it easy to forgive and understand only in retrospect? Maybe, just maybe, I can take the forgiveness, on credit, and move on?

I am 37 years old. Let me assume that (please G-d) I have another 30 years (am trying to be conservative). Imagine the amazing things I could do in that time:

I could fall in love. Someone could fall in love with me.

I could get married and raise a family. Even if I only manage to get married in a few years, and can no longer have kids, I could adopt.

I could get involved politically and change my beloved country.

I could continue to volunteer where I am now. In 30 years, I could help to change the lives of 60 young women. As they grow and build successful lives…I would know that I had a little piece in that.

I could start and build and succeed in a whole new career. Like Jewish education, for example

I could write ten books.

I could go on 30 trips abroad. I could cycle all over Europe. I could hike the Appalachian Trail. I could spend a year or two working in South America, learning Spanish and the amazing Latino culture.

I could learn better financial habits so that I am putting my money where I really want it to be.

I could get myself in shape and polish up my appearance and spend the rest of my life looking good and feeling confident and pleased with what I see in the mirror.

I could learn: to sew, to sing, to play piano, to make sushi and to speak several new languages.

I could do anything. I can do anything.

I have tried to get off this train before. I have failed. But I tried to quit smoking for years and years before I finally succeeded. Maybe this time will be the time I make it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The MonsterMobile Has Hit the Road

A break from the heavy, meaning-of-life stuff. This is an email I sent to my friends back in 2003, when I bought a car. It turned out to be a complete lemon and money-pit, but that is another story.
_______________________________________________________________________


I have a car.

It is not new, and it is not that nice. It is a 1991 Peugeot 405. It doesn’t have a CD player, a nice shiny paint job, pristine seats or a nice, new car smell. In short, it is the stereotypical Israeli car—a random assortment of tires, motor, steering wheel, loud horn, tattered interior and a banged-up exterior all purchased from a family member. (In this case, my cousin). What can I say about it? It runs, and has a radio with extremely effective speakers. I love her. I want to name her. I am trying to come up with a good French name but I cannot think of one that is French enough. I thought about Pepe le Peau, but I decided against it. For one thing, Pepe is a boy’s name, and cars are girls. For another, I think Pepe is Spanish, not French and I am aiming for authenticity. For now, I just call her the MonsterMobile.

Before anyone breathes a sigh of relief because “Whew! She is finally off the exploding buses!” keep that breath nice and bated, because if you were losing sleep over the possibility that I might be injured in a suicide bombing on a bus, you should be a positive insomniac now. Israeli drivers are notoriously wild and death defying (read ‘insane maniacs’), and the bus drivers are the worst. In fact, one of the major benefits to riding on the bus is that it is ten times less stressful and a thousand times safer than trying to dodge them on the highway. I have spent my first week of car ownership almost exclusively in the right lane with the large trucks and the little old ladies, my two white-knuckled hands clutching the wheel for dear life, and just generally trying to stay out of harm’s way. Of course, technically speaking, the buses can try to chase me down there, but since there is a good possibility they will encounter a far less crunch-able large truck in the process, they normally leave me alone and content themselves with terrorizing the cars in the faster lanes. Think of it as an ocean. The buses are great white sharks, the trucks are whales and the normal cars are abnormally fast and aggressive fish. Piranhas, if you will. Me…well…I’m just a terrified little plankton trying to get to Ramat Gan in one piece.

Aside from learning to maneuver in Israeli traffic, I have been busy with three main car-related tasks in the week since I bought my car: learning how to get places, learning how to program the radio and defending my car against the evil eye. The first is damn near impossible for a woman with no sense of direction. The second one is complex, but I trust I will eventually be successful. The last one has been, by far, the easiest. I purchased a little glass eye, strung it onto a piece of red ribbon taken from the spool my stepmother sent over with my father when I was injured in the bombing, and hung it from the rearview mirror. I also have a tehillat ha’derech (prayer for the road) which I keep in my wallet at all times, a picture of the Lubovitcher Rebbe which I am going to stick in the glove compartment and a red string on my wrist. The first day, I made sure to wear a hamsa as well. To be honest, the red string is so I get married, but I figure that if it is powerful enough to find me a husband, it should be able to protect me from the demon buses as well. I look silly enough with one string around my wrist—I’ll be damned if I am going to walk around with a whole collection.

To digress a bit—here is how the red string works. You have friends (Yael and Edith), who go to the Kotel (the Western Wall) one fine afternoon to pray. They, wanting to do more than just stick a note in the Kotel for you, give some shekels to a local schnorer who gives them a piece of red string which has allegedly been laid upon or otherwise blessed at Kever Rachel (Grave of Rachel). The next time your friends see you, they tie the string around your wrist while praying for whatever you need. I need to find a husband. Now here is the rub: I cannot take the string off! I have to leave the string on, and when it falls off, that means I have met the guy. In the meantime, I am walking around with a bedraggled red string around my wrist. It has been about a month so far, it does not match ANY of my clothing and I really want to cut it off but I am afraid that if I do, I will invite the evil eye and will never meet my husband. So I am leaving it. Fortunately for me, there are lots of equally superstitious people around, so I don’t look quite as idiotic as I would back in DC.

Okay, enough digression. As I said, the first item—learning my way around—is the toughest. You may be surprised to know that it isn’t because the road signs are in Hebrew; most of them have Arabic and English translations as well. Rather, it is because 1) most of the road signs are either misleading or downright wrong and 2) because there are only three road names in Israel: Alozorov, Jabotinsky and Begin. (Like in Virginia, where every single road is named after Robert E. Lee). The first time I tried to drive from Jerusalem to my class in Ramat Gan, I got lost twice just trying to get out of Jerusalem. In the end, after driving aimlessly around the Jerusalem forest for about 25 minutes, I ended up back where I had started across the street from the office where I work. I took this as a sign from G-d, ditched class and went to visit a friend instead. Since then, I have managed to get lost at least twice on every trip to Ramat Gan, but since it has been on the Ramat Gan end of the journey, I really have no choice but to get myself un-lost and go to class anyway. I have a very large and expensive atlas, but it is of limited use. On the bright side, I have been able to put my hard-won skill at making illegal U-turns, which I picked up in DC, to good use. And on the even brighter side—the country is small—so long as I do not wind up somehow in Ramallah, Bethlehem, or another equally friendly Palestinian neighborhood, there is only so lost I can get and I will can be reasonably assured that I will someday figure out how to get back to Jerusalem.

Happy trails to me! Vroomvroom!!!!!

One funny, and only slightly related postscript. Some years ago, when I was still living in Maryland, I arranged with my friend Jonathan to meet him for a movie in Arlington. I literally got so lost that I arrived an hour late. (The amazing thing is that he was still there waiting when I got there). Anyway, I got so frustrated and upset that I literally started screaming and crying while driving my car. Just then, a news blip came on that Federal Express drivers, who can be expected to have a better sense of direction than a the general population and certainly better than myself, reported getting lost more in Virginia than in ANY OTHER STATE. I immediately felt better. Don’t get me wrong, I was still lost, but I stopped screaming and (I assume) freaking out the other drivers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Loneliness

This was written about nine months after the bombing, in December 2002 or thereabouts. It was a particularly low point, to put it mildly. Even though I know that half of you will not believe me and will write stuff like "oh, I hope that things improve soon", things really and truly are much better now. I have long since completed my classes and now have loads of free time to see friends, vegetate in front of the TV (am now waaay into Israel's version of The Biggest Loser) and otherwise goof off. With the exception of the odd surgery and hearing aid fitting, the bombing is a part of my life to the extent I allow (aka-writing). I have friends. They call me. I call them. They invite me to do stuff. Sometimes, I even go. Most importantly, I developed very good bombing-groupie radar and can effectively avoid those types from the getgo. Now that adds to quality of life.
*********************************************************************************
The mass of former slaves, wandering in the desert after their escape from Egypt, complained bitterly of what they had left behind: safety, comfort, water and cucumbers. I sit here in my apartment, safe and comfortable, ready streams of water for the asking and my refrigerator just chock-full of cucumbers. Nonetheless, I find myself envying those wanderers. Not for their misery, but for the fact that they had others to share it with.

If there were one thing that could set me running back the US, to my own Egypt, it would be the loneliness. I miss having friends. I miss being sought out and important. I miss people calling me to invite me out to do things. I miss having plans and what to do on the weekends and feeling good because I am the type of person who virtually always has what to do, and with whom to do it. I have been living in Katamon, home of one of the most active social scenes in Jerusalem, for a year now, and I find myself quite alone. I have virtually as many friends now as I did when I left Ulpan—not many.

I did not expect it would be like this. At the time I left Ulpan, I thought I would go out and meet people and make friends…maybe even (finally!) start dating again. It just has not happened. That is not to say that there are no good reasons for my situation. There are. The first, and most obvious is my preparation for the CPA exams: from July to December I spent three to four nights a week in night school and the other nights studying. I admit that I was obsessed, but I was set back six months by the bombing and I just refused to be set back again. I decided, the cost be damned, I was going to pass the exams on my first try. I succeeded, but the cost was very high indeed. I had no time for a social life for those six months.

The second reason is the bombing. As ironic as it may seem, considering how people have fallen over themselves to reach out to me, the bombing has gutted my social life. First, months of doctors and paperwork and stress and speaking to groups and everything else bombing-related has left me so drained of energy and patience that I simply do not have the strength to try and deal with new people. Second, my hearing loss has made socialization both less fun and less rewarding. Finally, I find that I do not trust people as much anymore. You would not believe how many people want to know me only because I am a Victim of Terror, and not because I am me. One woman I know actually stopped inviting me for Shabbat dinners (and stopped accepting my invitations) as soon as I asked her that she no longer announce to the entire table that I was injured in a bombing.

I know and accept that there are valid reasons for this isolation I find myself in. And yet knowing that there is a reason doesn’t make me feel any better when I realize that, for the last week, no one has called me apart from Galia, Debbie and Yael. People I know are doing things, going out, and having Shabbat meals. No one thinks to include me.

The last week has been particularly difficult. I decided to take advantage of my break from classes by going out and doing something about my social life, or lack of it. Sitting around and whining and feeling sorry about myself isn’t going to help, right? G-d helps those who help themselves! Except that sometimes He does not. I went to services and asked the few people I knew to introduce me around. They all looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted another head. I went to a lunch with people I barely knew; everyone was so busy talking about the people that were not there that they had no time to talk to me. After months of internal debate, I forced myself to call a shadchan. Twice. She never called back.

Last night I hit rock bottom. I was supposed to go to a Hadassah “Evening of Entertainment” in honor of the hospital. I had an appointment at National Insurance in the city center immediately before and intended to travel to the hospital from there. When the time came for me to catch the bus to the hospital, I found myself trapped in a vicious mental circle. I could go to the event, by myself, where if I met anyone it would be because one Hadassah lady was introducing me to another Hadassah lady as GilawhowasinjuredatMahaneYehuda. Alternatively, I could go home and spend the evening, Thursday night, the kickoff to the Israeli weekend, by myself. I found myself wandering up and down Ben Yehuda, close to tears, trying to figure out which would be the less pathetic and heinous way to spend my evening.

I do not miss the salary, the larger home, the food—the stuff from the States. The lack of security I feel on public transport here as compared to in D.C. is offset by the greater security I feel walking around my city at night. What I miss is the being wanted. I find myself comparing. If I were in the States, I would not be by myself so much. People would be calling me. People would be inviting me to do things. I would not find myself standing alone after services, feeling like the worlds’ biggest loser, watching everyone else chat and smile and be liked. I would not be coming home at the end of the day, and finding that I had no messages.

Those bitterly crying slaves had no idea how good they had it

Wanted: An Alyn Posse

Last year, for the first time, I participated in the Alyn Wheels of Love Charity Bike Ride. Before the ride, I heard the following about it from the guy I knew who had done the ride in previous years.

1) The ride is an incredible challenge, loads of fun and a great way to see Israel from a different vantage point.
2) Alyn Hospital is an amazing place and it is an honor to raise money for them.
3) Bikers are a warm, friendly bunch and I am sure to end the ride with zillions of new friends.

Post-ride, my responses to the above assertions would be as follows:

1) Yes--though I would have been happier had slightly more of my sightseeing been from a bike and slightly less from a bus--which is where all stragglers ultimately found themselves. This is not Alyn's fault. This is my fault for not being in good enough shape. Admittedly, I do like to allocate a portion of the blame to my gimpy eyeball and Dr. Halpert for requiring emergency surgery and scheduling emergency surgery, respectively, a month before the ride. Nothing quite like being ordered off your bike for three weeks to put a dent in one's training schedule.

2) Alyn Hospital is an amazing place. I agree without reservation. Not that I would not vote for an ease up on the "heartwarming stories" at dinner. Melodrama (and these things are by nature melodramatic) simply does not do it for me. This is where being a Poor, Sad Heroic Victim of Terror is great. If I were a regular Joe, making a quick exit at the moment the organizers started to launch into the daily fare of heartwarming stories would mean I was an evil misanthrope. As a PSHVOT, however, I can just play the trauma card. All of those melodramatic meetings with Caring Visitors from Abroad, and Caring Communities Abroad...well...you know...the memories. It is...it is just too much. You would be traumatized too. Or at least rendered thoroughly cynical and jaded.*

3) Bikers are a warm, friendly bunch and I would end up with zillions of new friends. No. Not by a long shot.

Just to clarify, the people I met were warm and frendly. But, at least from my experience, it is easier to make zillions of new friends when you do not meet all said zillions of people at one time. And in particular when said zillions of people already know each other, and have been training together for months and months and in fact, are already are friends with one another. Talk about the mother of all cliques.

Registration for Alyn starts tomorrow. I actually was debating whether or not to do it again. I love the ride. I love the cause. I do not particularly love spending a week feeling isolated and like the class nerd. I did make one friend last year (Hi Natalie!) but she will be volunteering, and not riding. What's a wanna-be do-gooder to do?

Finally, it hit me. What I need is a posse. I need people to train with. I need people to ride with. I need people to chat to in the evenings. I need a person to room with that I already know, and that I am going to enjoy seeing. I need people to eat meals with. In short, I need to get to this ride already having friends there. I am thinking of signing up for on-road, but am willing to do off-road if that is where my posse is.

Any takers?



*Not to mention thoroughly confused. Obviously we know Alyn is worthwhile. Would we be on the ride, would we have spent months raising money otherwise? What is the sales pitch for?