An Ode to My Boys

The oldest grandchild in my immediate family was a boy. The most recent grandchild, born this week, is a boy.
The six grandchildren born between the two also…have been boys.

I’ve got eight nephews, and this poem is an ode to the beauty that they are in my life.

To my first one:
Tonight, as I read you a story in your bed,
My mind wandered as you leaned your almost-seven-year-old head on my shoulder.
I felt your little sighs and the little struggles on your big heart,
As you prepared to go to sleep, a big brother for the 4th time.
It was a long book, and I asked if you were ready to press pause,
And right before you said yes, you said quietly “can you just read one more page?”
And my heart split, and I read three more pages.
You have younger brothers, four of them now,
And three little cousins who live past the hay-filled farms and old American towns on the other side of this country.
There’s 8 little guys in all.
And my love, for each, continues to grow.
For the little eyes that blink awake in my arms,
And the little eyes that blink shut as I sit nearby,
And the little hands that squeeze tight,
And the tighter hugs when it’s only been a couple of days.
And the giggles, and the jokes that really make me laugh,
And the long talks about space, and the Mayor, and saving the day.
For the FaceTimes, and the naps on my lap.
For the exploration, and the trust I see in your sweet little eyes.
For the way you reach out your hands and ask to play.
For the songs we sing together, for the inside jokes we share, for the little whispered secrets.
And for the moment your hand grips mine as we walk down the street,
my heart not ready for the fact that any day now you’ll realize you’re too big for that.
And the best part about loving all of you
Is sharing you with all your aunties and uncles.
Because it means you’ll always be loved.
And you’ll never doubt
That the world has your back
And that you’re capable of everything.

To my newest one:
Last night, I sat near your oldest brother,
Waiting for his many thoughts to drift
Into peaceful slumber
And tears found my eyes.
My heart swelled at the thought
Of you: my newest boy,
Ready to join the chorus of little boy voices
And my tears fell
But they were happy tears, baby,
And they filled eyes that will watch you grow,
My heart barely containing my love for you,
And all my little boys.




Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

5 Things I Learned From My Grandfather

Today is my grandfather’s 4th yartzeit (anniversary of death). It’s obviously unbelievable to truly recognize that, but when he passed, I had just been a year out of high school, unsure yet of where the future would take me. A lot has happened since then. I’ve changed. But, in passing, my grandfather has been a constant, and I still remember him exactly the way he was when he left us. I lived with my grandparents for my final two years of High School, in New York. I lived side by side with my unassuming Zeidy, getting to know him well between quietly shared breakfasts at 7 am, or through conversations in the living room, as he spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently, and I stumbled through attempting to use my tiny knowledge of those languages, always resulting in me just speaking in English, much to his chagrin.

The truth is, I don’t see a lot of myself in my Zeidy. Perhaps it’s simply the generation gap, or because I was born in America, and he in Israel, or perhaps because my life has been nearly bump free, whereas he persevered through challenges to get to where he was. Whatever it is, I know that I can learn from my grandfather in a lot of ways. As I was thinking about this day coming up, I thought about the things that so personified my Zeidy, and that I felt I could do well to learn from him. Here are 5:

1. Keep it simple.

From what I’ve heard from the old days, and what I saw for myself, was that my Zeidy didn’t have much he wanted for himself. He had a simple diet, made up of simple, tasty foods. As I rooted around in my grandparent’s kitchen Saturday night, looking for something new, and different, and exciting to eat, my grandfather sat down to the same exact meal, each Saturday night. Food is a big part of my life, and I am not ashamed to find it enjoyable to explore new flavors and cook up a storm. But – it would do me well to remember more often, as my grandfather clearly knew, that we don’t live to eat, we eat to live.

2. Joke around.

I’m a serious girl. I like big conversations and real life things. There are things in life that I believe should not be joked about. My grandfather was a serious man. He dealt with issues of great importance on a daily basis. He was constantly surrounded by people who were going through difficult times. He knew, better than most of us surely, that life was no fun and games. But if you ask any of his grandchildren what pops into their mind when they think of Zeidy, I will assure you that right up there on the list is the memory of his practical jokes and teasing. He had a light spirit and found joy in putting his grandchildren and many guests at ease. He would try on our sunglasses and jackets that he found laying around, he’d tease us about all kinds of things, and I will never forget the infectious grin on his face as he did so.

3. Talking less, but talking when you should.

I talk a lot. Not everyone believes this about me, but then there are times that I’ve met people, and when I told them I’m an introvert, they did not believe me, because when I’m excited about something, I could go on, and on, and on. I know I talk a lot. My grandfather did not. He could sit at his Shabbat dinner table, and not utter a word, just listen and observe. But, at the same time, if something came up, or someone did something that he did not find appropriate, he would speak up. His silence was not a result of fear, or being shy, or not having what to say. He simply recognized the value of words and did not waste them.

4. Doing good things, quietly.

I like doing good things. I get a lot of joy from doing things for people. But that doesn’t exactly make me special – it’s a human thing. What made my grandfather special, is that no one else in the world, other than those he helped, knew about it. After he passed away, our family heard countless stories from all over the planet about people that had been quietly assisted by my grandfather, whether it was financially or emotionally. He never bragged, he never even mentioned anything. He was the worlds greatest secret keeper, and his secrets only began to leak when those who had been touched could not hold it in any longer.

5. Overall, I think about myself way too much.

Clearly, I think about myself all the time, as this blog post shows. But, even if one is thinking about themselves in regards to making oneself better, I’ve learned that the less we think about ourselves, the better. When we keep our focus on others, we naturally become better versions of ourselves. By making our lives about others, we correct our flaws so that we can be a better friend, child, employee etc, in a way that obsessing about our flaws can never help. My grandfather lived a life for others, and today, he is deeply, and warmly, remembered by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.

Always, on this day, I remember the last moment I saw my grandfather, as I left his house after dinner on a Wednesday night, as I waved goodbye to him, as I called out “Good night, Zeidy!”. He smiled and waved, and two days later, I found out that those were the last words I’d ever say to him in person.
I’m just one of his many, many, grandchildren, yet, then and now, I still have a relationship with him that I cherish. I am forever grateful that my genes stem from this great man who lived a full and generous life, never chased honor or attention, but left a legacy that the wealthiest men on earth would be envious of.


Photo by David Becker on Unsplash

When Everything Broke

While I was uttering the words of Psalms, heartfelt prayers in my heart and on my lips far away from home on a sunny morning in France, the one thought I knew deep in my mind was “G-d wouldn’t.”
I knew, so solidly, that everything would be okay. That Hindi would come back from this. That soon our family would be discussing the huge miracle that occurred.
I knew it.
And then in one sickening moment, everything broke.
I didn’t believe the words I was reading. For hours afterward I waited for someone to say it was a mistake. That it wasn’t true. That everything wasn’t destroyed.
I consistently and constantly use words to express myself, but this time there weren’t any. Like being socked in the stomach, I couldn’t breathe, let alone write or speak. Only silence felt suitable in the wake of such an immense tragedy.
And so, I was silent.
For the first time all year, I missed writing a weekly blog post.
Every other time, I couldn’t justify breaking my commitment, I couldn’t allow myself to let a week go by without forcing myself to write something.
But when G-d kicks you in the gut, nothing matters anymore.
There were no words. I didn’t want to create words. I didn’t want to be a part of this tragedy, I didn’t want to raise my voice, I didn’t want to hear my words echo in such a cruel world.
And as I sit here, writing with tears in my eyes, wearing a dress and heels I’m trying on for a friends wedding I’ll be at next week, reality makes less sense to me than it ever has.
G-d took a mother from her children. A wife from her husband. A daughter, a sister, an aunt from her family, a teacher from her students.
Someone whom I’ve always, always admired.
In a world of false realities, Hindi was real.
She didn’t know how to work social media, she was all about honesty and truth.
The meals I shared with her and her family at her parent’s house I always remember so fondly, even before this horrible tragedy. She was quick to include me in conversation, ask me honest questions and listen, oh so well.
In a world of distraction, Hindi was here.
In a world of easy ways out, Hindi worked so hard to achieve her dreams.
Her babies are now left to grow up without her – how? They are surrounded by so much support and love, but nothing on earth can replace a mother.
As I take my next steps in life, I wish I could have spoken to her sooner about how to do it all. How to have the family and the career, how to maneuver the education system, how to bring positive change to the world, how to raise children to be open-minded and intuitive. But I missed my chance. I missed my chance to tell her how much I’ve admired her. I missed my chance to ask all my questions.
A part of me is broken, and always will be.
These things don’t go away. There will always be hard-hitting reminders about this new ugly reality we live in.
And for a long time, there will be so many moments that it feels like there is no air to breathe.
G-d knows what He did. Somewhere deep inside me, I believe His tears are mixed with ours. As I cry into my pillow, furious with Him, I desperately pray that He knows enough is enough.

Behind The Story

Shoshana knelt by the stream, lifting up the water to her mouth with her cupped hands. She re-adjusted the knapsack on her back, wincing at the pain in her shoulder blades.  She could feel the warmth of the crusty bread through the worn cloth the bag was made of. One more gulp of water, a refreshing splash on her face, and she once again began walking along the stream.
She followed the nearly invisible path leading to the hidden caves that housed her father, older brothers, cousins and neighbors. They were living in the caves, following the leadership of the great Yehuda and his brothers, training in mind, body and spirit to battle the enemy. Shoshana froze as she heard a twig crack behind her. She moved silently behind a tree and held her breath. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw a tiny animal move past her and go to drink from the stream.
She moved back into the path and kept walking.
Shoshana was trusted with this task by her entire community. She appeared to be much younger than she was, giving her an air of innocence. Twice a month, she would make this trek, bringing the men some fresh food, more for the message of support and love than actual nutrition. The wives and children worried back home. Once a man became a Maccabee, there was no saying when and if he would ever return.
On Shoshana’s feet she wore specially crafted shoes made by Tzippa, the old woman down the street. They left almost no footprints in her path, ensuring that no Greek or Hellenist could follow them.
Shoshana’s mind wandered as she walked, following the path from memory.
There had been a fight once, already. The army had been frightened away, and Yehuda and his brothers were taking advantage of this time to better train their soldiers for the next inevitable battle.
Shoshana shifted the bag again.
She thought back to the stories her grandmother shared with her as they kneaded the bread.
Savta had told her about the days when the Beit Hamickdash was fully in Jewish ownership, and the Kohen Gadol was a respectable, G-d fearing, beloved man.
It was hard for Shoshana to imagine a world like that. A world empty of fear, a world full of community. Today, it was dangerous to assume anyone was a friend. Even within your own family, you must first view everyone as a traitor.
Just a few weeks ago, one of Shoshana’s cousins that she had grown up with had confided in her that he was considering joining the Hellenist movement. He said he hadn’t been keeping Shabbat for months anyway, and that his friends from school had joined.
She cried for hours with him, begging him to re-consider. “Don’t keep Shabbat, I don’t care!” she whispered behind her house, “but don’t join the traitorous, evil-doers. We are your people, Shimon. Don’t turn your back on us!”
Shimon had scoffed, flexed his arm and threw a rock into the darkness. It made a muffled sound as it hit the next house.
“Goodbye Shoshana.”
Shoshana’s heart cracked as she watched her cousin saunter away from the house. She fell to the floor, sobbing as the night slowly turned to day. The very next morning, Shoshana was awakened by screams coming from her own home. Bones aching from a night spent on the cold ground, she leaped up and ran into her home. Her aunt had fallen onto the ground, wailing.
Immediately, Shoshana knew that her aunt knew. She had discovered her eldest son missing.
In times as cruel as these, there were only two possibilities when faced with a missing child. They were now on the Greek or Hellenist side, either by force or by choice.
Shoshana wiped her tears as she climbed over the rocks, the memory of that awful morning sitting heavy in her stomach.
She had been the one who had to deliver the news to her uncle. Her uncle sacrificing his life, living in a cave. She had had to tell him that his only and eldest son, whom he had let stay back to take care of the home, had given up everything. Even more than giving up everything, he had chosen to join up with his fellow Jews who had only one aim – to destroy every Jewish community.
Times had become unbearable. Even Shoshana could remember when Shabbat had been a joyful time. Now, it had to be done under the cover of darkness. She missed having her family together at home, safe under one roof. Her heart ached during late nights, imagining her father and brothers uncomfortably laying on the cave ground. She remembered falling asleep to the sound of her parents laughter in the other room, her brothers joking around.
She was nearing the caves, but one unfamiliar with the terrain would never have known. She counted the trees from the stream. Number 6. She pushed through the tiny opening in the leaves, ducked under the boulder leaning against another, lifted up the tree branch and finally caught sight of the cave opening. She took a deep breath. She moved forward, slipping into the heavy darkness of the cave. Using her feet as sight, she maneuvered carefully in the wet cave. Finally, she heard the low murmur of voices.
“Shalom!” She called out quietly.
“Come!” was the response she received. She walked towards the voice, and found a group of men huddled over a small book. Among them was her father and brother Yonatan.
Her father jumped up as he saw her and enveloped her in a tight hug. She squeezed him, as she felt her brother pull on her braid, with a wide smile on his face.
“Shoshana, our little rose. You bring so much light to these caves,” her father kissed her forehead as she slipped her knapsack off of her back.
“How are you feeling? Where is Choni?” Shoshana asked as she pulled provisions from her bag.
Her father took the warm bread and homemade jam from her. “Choni is practicing his sword skills. We are doing fine, thank the Lord above. How is everything at home, Shosh? How is your mother? Your sisters?”
The small, disjointed family settled down on the side of the cave to catch up.
After just twenty minutes, Shoshana knew she had to go. With tears in her eyes, she stood up, embracing her father and brothers once more, holding them more tightly than before.
With each goodbye, the fear grew. They had been so lucky thus far- but war could break out tomorrow. They tried to have as much faith in G-d as their fearless leaders, the sons of Matisyahu had, but it was so, so difficult. With so much real fear and danger all around them, it was almost impossible to imagine a reality in which they could trust completely in G-d.
Her father squeezed her shoulders, tears falling from his tired eyes.
“Send my love to everyone back home, Shoshana. Believe in G-d. He is the only one powerful enough to protect us from our enemy, and our brothers and sisters who have chosen to become the enemy.”
Shoshana bowed her head, the image of her cousin Shimon’s last cruel glance lingering in her mind.
She kissed them all goodbye, put the empty knapsack on her back and left the cave.
It had gotten darker, but she knew this path so well. She knew exactly how much time she had before it became completely dark.
As she neared the village, she could almost imagine that things were back to normal. Lamps were lit, the village was quiet. She slipped into her home almost silently, leaving the worn knapsack on the hook for its next trip.
Her mother looked up from corner where she had been murmuring prayers for Shoshanas safe return. She jumped up and hugged her daughter warmly, grateful to have her back in the safe walls of the home.
“How was your Abba? Your brothers? Did they look okay? Did they seem strong?”
“Ima, they are doing just fine. They are strong, they are healthy. They have G-d watching over them.”
Her mother covered her eyes with her hands, breathing deeply, holding in her tears. It had been three months since she had seen her sons and husband. These moments of Shoshana’s return felt like the closest she could get to them.
Shoshana sat with her mother, sharing the stories and bits and pieces of information she had been able to get from her family in the caves.
Her mother soaked up every word, dreaming of the day she would be able to hear the voices of her sweet children and beloved husband again.
The silence in the kitchen was suddenly interrupted by the sound of Shoshana weeping.
“Shoshana, my love, what is it?” her mother asked, laying a gentle hand on her daughters heaving shoulders.
“Why did they do it?” Shoshana gasped between her tears. “Why did our own brothers and sisters betray us?”
Her mother sighed deeply.
It was so devastatingly painful to think about, let alone discuss.
The entire mess they were in would have been conquerable if it was merely an enemy nation against the Jewish people. Their history was pock-marked with enemies rising up against them. But this time, it was the unimaginable. It was also their own people, brothers against brothers, sons against fathers, mothers against daughters. It was the ultimate betrayal, and that is what made it so terrifying, and so, so hard to bear.
Shoshana’s mother took her hand and cried with her. For in times of searing pain, words of comfort are hardly welcome.
Finally, Shoshana’s heaving sobs faded away. She wiped them with her sleeve, and in a shaky voice she turned to her mother and said:
“When this is over – and it will one day end, for we believe in G-d – I only pray that there will never be a time again that each Jew sees another as an enemy. I pray that the Jewish nation will forever be a family that loves each other so much that the idea of hurting another one is as painful as hurting oneself. That it won’t matter what level of observance one keeps, what name one carries, which ancestor one comes from. That the memory of this painful time keeps them from fighting each other. I pray that they look into each others eyes, remember the destruction they cause when they are divided, and recognize the strength they all carry when they stand as one.”

Blog Post: 14/52

Featured Photo by Ksenia Kudelkina on Unsplash

To My Nephews

Dear Nephews,

All five of you.
Your favorite Auntie is writing this letter. I know we play this game of pretending that there is no favorite auntie so that the other aunties don’t get insulted, but we can be honest here. I know I’m your favorite.
When there was still just one of you, my friend looked at me in middle of one of my obsessive long-winded stories of whatever it was that you were doing at the moment, and she said “How are you going to love another one?”
I was honestly quite concerned. When I found out that your moms were pregnant again, I wasn’t sure that I could love the new ones as much as I loved the first one. But it only took a moment to discover that it was a useless fear. I fell in love with you all the moment you joined my world, and I never looked back.
Of all the things I call myself, my proudest one is Auntie.
I hate being too far away. I love our face-time dates when we have to be apart.
Most of all, I love being your best friend.
The moments in which you trust me so sub-consciously, reaching for my hand, wrapping your arms around my neck. When you are afraid, and I am your safe place.
The moments in which you look up at me, wonder in your eyes, a question in your sweet little voice.
I don’t have all the answers, but answering your questions fills me with a joy that I can’t explain.
Most people I see in the adult world have an incredible depth of pain. They are mistrusting, suspicious, angry, saddened and broken down by the way the world has trodden upon them.
You, my sweet, sweet nephews, are untouched. Your eyes are still bright, your smiles are genuine, your questions have no ulterior motives.
If I could be all-powerful for a moment, I would grant you the capability to be that way forever.
Yet that is not the way this life works.
But the thing is, I don’t have to change.
As life hands you lemons, I beg you to come to Auntie Ettis house and we will make lemonade together.
I hope, so deeply, that when you are 15, 16, 17, you still have that trust in me. That you still turn to me with that question in your eyes, and trust me to give you the answer. That you are unafraid to voice your thoughts to me. That in the moments of your fear, and for whatever reason, your parents can’t be there for you, you remember that you have an auntie that loves you more than anything.
You currently range from ages 4 years old to 3 weeks. Pictures of you flood my camera roll on my phone. In my conversations with others, I have to hold back from sharing story after story of your antics. Hanging out with you is my first choice in activity, far above anything else.
Drinking coffee, as you drink your cocoa, sitting together.
Playing with your toys, constructing worlds inside your head.
Waking up at 5:30 with you.
Reading stories.
Making up stories.
Rides over my shoulder.
Singing songs with you.
Running around the playground.
Flying down slides.
Holding your hand as we walk down the street.
Rocking you to sleep in my arms.
When you rest on my shoulder, comfortable and at peace.
The hugs, the kisses, the ridiculous things you say.
I love you. I love all five of you, and I already love those who have not yet joined our family, but will one day.
I know you aren’t able to read this letter yet. But one day you will be. It will then be more years until you can understand what it says.
But the words in here will always be true.
While our activities will change, and our relationship will transform as we all grow older, the depth of my love for you will never  falter.
And while g-d willing, I will grow busy with my own family, I want you to know right now that my door will always be open, my arms will always be ready for a hug, my food will always be cooked for you, and most of all, I will always be here to answer your questions.
I love you, M, M, B, A, and B.
Your Auntie,

Day 3 of the #Happychallenge

I’m tired. Today was the third day of Chanukah, and the first major party that I took part in.
Today, what made me happy was my family.
I have them. My parents. My siblings.
They’re all here, and healthy, thank G-d.
Most of us are home for the holiday, except for two, and their spouses and children.
Family is incredible, and I don’t know how people live in the world without their family.
It made me so grateful for the family that I have, knowing that so many people are suffering now, as a result of worldwide terror.
I love you, family.
#happychallenge is easier than I thought.
Bubby, I hope you are watching me try to find the good in each day that comes. This is for you. I’m writing something happy.