Tuesday, August 24, 2010

PEOPLE IN TEL AVIV: The Cat Feeder Lady


She has to be in her late 60S. Probably new in the neighborhood—I did not see her before. A shaven head, bright eyes, a hippie gown thrown on her slim body, I met her in my office parking lot while walking to my car after work.

She caught my eye. She was feeding the stray cats. Talking with them, it looked like she hurried from home to fulfill her mission. One glance was enough to see it is more than a hobby for her.

Several cats gathered around her. A street gang. Some strong and looking healthy, others shy and beaten. One was waiting several meters aside, patiently. I opened my car window, asking her how the babies are.

“Hungry,” she replied.

“There is another one there,” I say, while opening the parking lot barrier, rolling slowly into the street.

“I know,” she says. “She does not mingle with the crowd. She is a princess waiting for me to come over.”

And indeed, the Princess is waiting patiently, and finally gets her share.

It was several evenings that I saw this, and every time we spoke a few words through the open window, the lady and I.

Last week I stopped to talk with her before getting into my car. She told me she is relatively new here, and moved in with her own cat.

The cat took a while to get acquainted, and at first she had to shut the windows as the cat would jump out of the window every time while she was away at work. Plus she could not keep the windows closed or she would suffocate. Hot, humid Tel Aviv days and nights. She had to let the cat go. Then she decided to adopt the stray cats. She has three different gangs, in different corners. Each gang has a different menu; I did not catch exactly why.

She watches who else feeds them, and then decides what she will bring, whether cat food (Does she buy it? I will have to ask, but that’s certainly what it looks like), or table scraps. We keep talking. She says the cats need company, and I can see how fond they are of her.

She needs company too, and does not seem to have much of it. Eager to talk and talk.

I walk to my car, heading home.

Tel Aviv, a hot summer night with lonely people and lonely cats.

Many readers will remember Nachum Katz from his 1997-1999 stint as Israel shaliach, or emissary, at the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. Back home in Hadera, Israel, he is currently COO of SDM Sales & Direct Marketing. His varied career includes service in the IDF from 1975-97. He was Colonel of the Artillery and Education Corps upon retirement.

Monday, August 23, 2010

IMPACTING MY WORLD: The Mosque That Roared


The discordant din of the 911 mosque controversy has taken a nasty turn. Not surprisingly, supporters of constructing the mosque, just a stone’s throw from Ground Zero, are outraged at those opposed to putting a mosque there. Unfortunately, their predictable knee jerk reaction to its opponents is to label them racists and bigots.

The opponents to erecting the mosque on that spot claim that it is in deference to the sensibilities of tens of thousands of victims, whose number includes the family and friends of the 3,000 murdered innocents. Rather than respond to the opponents' explanation as to why they oppose the mosque at Ground Zero, their claims are unceremoniously brushed aside as anti-Muslim, by the very folks who profess tolerance. They do not allow that opposition to the mosque is based on the abhorrence of acts of murder perpetrated by terrorists in the name of their misguided understanding of Islam.

Fortunately, the majority of adherents to that faith have an understanding of its 21st Century imperative, which is to live harmoniously with those of other faiths.

It is the anguish of tens of thousands of victims, which includes family and friends of the 3,000 souls who perished on that site that warrants a special kind of sensitivity. The ‘rights’ issue is a non-issue and only serves to deflect and dishonor those who have suffered an irreplaceable loss.

There is no question that the proponents of building the mosque have a right to do so, but that is not the ground upon which the issue stands. There are other places to build the mosque and at the same time build bridges spanning an abyss born of suspicion and mistrust.

The resolution of differences does not depend upon the gratuitous proclamations of politicians and pundits, but rather upon the gift of an open heart and outstretched hand reaching out to those sorely in need of compassion, empathy and kindness. Those who have no legal right, nor claim, to that hallowed ground, nevertheless need to have the issue put right—for they only have one site, Ground Zero, upon which to build a lasting memory of those they love and remember, even as they grieve over their loss and pray for their souls.

Steven Wenick, a retired systems analyst, says that blogging enables him to “satisfy my need for self expression and dialogue with my audience.” A past president of Cong. Beth El, he and his wife, Bobbie, frequently travel to Israel to visit one of their three daughters and their two sabra grandchildren. Wenick has written for Attitudes Magazine, The Friday Forum and New Business Opportunities Magazine.

Monday, August 16, 2010

ON MY SOAPBOX: Pleasures of the Jersey Shore are Timeless

Pleasure of the Jersey Shore are Timeless


While sitting by the ocean on one of our many hot summer days, I observed how timeless is the pursuit of pleasure at the Jersey shore.

Children enjoy playing in the exact same manner that I did as a child. Toddlers alternately run towards and away from the waves that crash at their feet, while laughing and shrieking. Equipped with brightly colored pails and shovels, their older brothers and sisters spend hours happily digging in the wet sand, carting endless buckets of water back and forth from the water’s edge to create their castles and other architectural splendors. Those buckets and shovels, which were metal when I was a child; are now made of plastic…but provide just as much fun. Seagulls, sand crabs, and ice cream men are pursued unmercifully by this age group.

The pre-teens are ever so slightly more nonchalant as they go about their shore pursuits. The boys pretend to ignore the blossoming young girls who gaze longingly at them as they ride their surfboards out towards the beckoning whitecaps. Perhaps realizing that they may have to bide their time for awhile, these pubescent young lades revert back to being little children again—shrieking and giggling as they jump the waves. Later, when the boys return from their surfing, or if they pass a lifeguard stand, the girls may regret that their hair got all wet.

Like the seagulls, the teenagers strut their stuff in a slightly more conspicuous fashion. Teenaged girls, more practiced at the art of unspoken seduction, apply sunscreen or adjust their bikini straps in a casual yet semi-suggestive manner while appearing not to notice the appreciative glances of the opposite sex.

This effort is not entirely lost on the guys, who although still embroiled in endless surfing and games of volleyball, cast overt glances at the better endowed females. When at last they tire of their games, some preening and grooming usually precedes the casual flop on the sand next to the young lady of their choice. There are, after all, hormones to be dealt with and evening plans to be made.

Hardly anyone under 21 is reading, but this seems to be a favorite pastime of both young and not-so-young adults. Those who are tending young children, of course, don’t have time to do anything else. Regardless of their age, women are usually talking while either walking or sitting on their beach chairs, while men are busy playing something—it really doesn’t matter what. They are all still little boys at the beach.

You may not see a lot of them, but the older folks are perhaps the sweetest sight of all. If they are at the beach at all, it’s because they really love it. I know because I am becoming one of them. They take it all in—remembering the faraway times when they played with children of their own at the beach, and perhaps wistfully remembering when their bodies were capable of doing so much more. And is there a more beautiful sight than that of a grandparent happily playing with a grandchild in the waves or the sand or sharing an ice cream treat?

And when it’s really hot, what could be a more timeless pleasure than to drag your chair to the water’s edge, allowing the cool water to wash over your legs, as your chair tilts crazily in the shifting mud? And can anyone forget the delicious taste of an ice cold fudgie-wudgie? The ice cream man is still the most popular person on the beach.

Our daily lives have changed a great deal over the years. Family picnics and drives have given way to more air-conditioned and high tech activities. Computers, television, cell phones, Ipods and blackberries compete for our leisure time. Yet, cell phones and the occasional Kindle are about the only modern-day intrusions that have made it to the beach.

Other than that, it’s exactly the way we all remember it. And how many other things can you say that about?

The photo shows my granddaughter, Maxie Mandel, at about two years old, playing with my 35-year-old bucket.

Sherry Wolkoff, in her own words, blogs to add her perspective as a “somewhat curmudgeonly and occasionally cantankerous observer of the wrongs she thinks need to be righted in this world.” She is the Director of Communications for Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service, a Federation agency; and has written for many local publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Courier Post, Attitudes Magazine, Inside Magazine, The Jewish Voice, and The Jewish Exponent. \

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

GREEN ACRES: The Gift of Mishael Adar Binyamin

By Haviva Ner David

KIBBUTZ HANNATON, GALILEE—Mishael Adar Binyamin, our youngest son, had been living with us for two years when we were called to court to finalize his adoption, which is why, the night before our court date, my eleven-year-old daughter posted to her friends on Facebook in Hebrew: “Tomorrow we are going to Jerusalem to finish adopting my youngest brother, who has been living with our family since he was half a year old. And the funny thing is, I forgot he was adopted!”

I know all of us in the family feel the same way. When we applied to adopt a child through the Israeli Office of Child Welfare, we did not know this would be the case. It was an act of faith. Our first five children are our biological children. We have friends and family (gay and straight) with adopted children, but almost all of them adopted because they couldn't have biological children and had a long wait before being offered a child. We did not want to take a child away from a couple who could not conceive. So the thought never occurred to us to adopt. Until we were having trouble bringing a sixth child into the world. It seems my body was telling me it had had enough. But the desire was still there.

And then our very good friends from Massachusetts moved to Israel. They had adopted two boys from Ethiopia, where there are many orphans in need of a loving family. We spent Sukkoth with these friends, and I watched with interest how these boys were integrated into the family. I considered adoption for the first time. On the drive home I asked Jacob what he thought, and we agreed that the idea of adopting a child who needs a home was appealing. But we felt it made sense first to make sure there are no such children in Israel before looking in a foreign country.

The next day, I called the Child Welfare Office and discovered that indeed there are. These are called “Special Needs Children,” (and there are plenty of them although they would not give us a number), and are defined as any child in the system above the age of two or who has medical and/or emotional issues. When I heard this, I understood that the feeling that I was meant to have another child was not wrong; it was just the manner in which this was going to happen that I had been wrong about. So we applied and were contacted a few months later. This was followed by a series of meetings with our social worker and a required adoption course.

A few months later, about 1.5 years after we applied, we were offered Mishael Adar (although his name then was Binyamin, which we kept as his third name). They showed us his file (no pictures allowed until after we agreed). He had a medical disorder which manifested itself twice before, both times when his perspective adoptive parents came to pick him up from the institution where he spent his first six months of life. The couple decided they were no longer interested. So our social worker called us.

Experienced parents, we knew that all kids have their “issues,” so we decided his medical condition was an issue we could handle (a luxury we did not have with our biological children!). We felt there was a reason we were being offered this particular child, so we decided to go with our instinct. After all, the entire project of adopting a sixth child was not rational. Yet something was pushing us in this direction. And now we know why. From the moment we first met him, we knew he was meant to be part of our family. After a difficult first night (his care takers forgot to give us his special bottle), he became an integral and natural part of the Ner-David family and has been ever since. I can say with complete certainty that I feel no different about him than I do about my five biological children. And I know Jacob and Mishael's siblings feel the same way. When someone lives with you and becomes part of your family, it makes no difference how they got there. At least that has been my personal experience. And, thank God, his medical condition seems to have disappeared.

The road towards adopting Mishael was not seamless. We had to deal with the Israeli Rabbinate (to convert him, as his non-Jewish biological mother requested that he be converted), as well as the general Israeli bureaucracy. It took a whole year to be called to the Beit Din (the Rabbinical Courts). We were worried, because adoption in Israel is only through the Rabbinate, which is Orthodox. And my being a woman rabbi would not be a point in my favor in that system. One of the judges, it turns out, recognized me as the woman who received Orthodox rabbinic ordination. At first, he kept it secret, but when another one of the judges asked Jacob if he dons tefillin, this rabbi said with a smirk: “Not only does he don tefillin, but so does she!” I thought they would take Mishael away from us then and there. But thank God, the judges did not hold that against me. In fact, I think it worked in our favor. They were so fascinated with this fact that they did not ask any other questions about our religious lifestyle, which is not “Orthodox” and therefore not “religious” by their standards.

Next he had to be circumcised (they did not let us do this earlier, when it would have hurt less and not required a general anesthetic, much to our horror). Astonishingly, they informed us that the only place we could do this was in Safed. We were still living in Jerusalem then, which is a three-hour drive from Safed, and the thought of driving a toddler three hours home after surgery seemed ridiculous. So we waited, and after a few weeks, they sent us to Bat Yam, which is a little over an hour from Jerusalem. The experience was far from positive for a variety of reasons—one being that Mishael suffered from an infection after the surgery and was in a lot of pain.

We were delayed further with the mikveh immersion, which we were told could also only be done in Safed. They would not allow him to immerse without an I.D. number. This was a problem we encountered every step along the way. We kept explaining that until he was adopted, he would not have an I.D. number, and until he was converted he could not be adopted (Israeli law forbids parents to adopt a child of a religion other than their own). One would think that the governmental office that deals with conversion would have worked this out with the governmental office that deals with adoption well before our case. Mishael immersed without an I.D. number in the end, and it seems he is Jewish nonetheless, because his conversion went through in August.

It was not until a Friday in March that we were called to appear in court--on Monday morning at 8:45 am! After all of this waiting, all of a sudden they were in a rush! We asked to make it later in the day, since we now live two hours from Jerusalem and needed to get our children off to school, but they refused. So we packed up all the kids and took them along. Which again was a blessing in disguise, since they will now have the memory of being present for this momentous event.

The moral of this story is: Count your blessings—even those that don't seem on the surface to be blessings at all. This is not the only time in my life when I have felt God's metaphorical hand guiding me, steering me in a certain direction. But this was certainly the most powerful of those times. I was fortunate enough to have been given the gift of Mishael Adar Binyamin. But I was even more fortunate to have been given the faith to accept this gift.

The writer is the founding director of Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage and Shmaya: A Ritual and Educational Mikve at Kibbutz Hannaton. She is the author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination. This article first appeared in Zeek, published by the Jewish Daily Forward.