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Jul 14 2014

The Only Thing We Arranged For Our Move Across the World

By at 11:47 am

car drives on highway

“Last US Exit,” my husband, our driver, reads aloud. I reach for my iPhone to capture the image of our departure, but we whiz by too quickly. Too unceremoniously.

Can I really leave my home, take my children out of their excellent school, say goodbye to an amazing job and kind friends and a beautiful neighborhood–again?

We’re not American, though the country feels like home to us. Graduate school brought us to the US from Canada for a long stay that began in the 1990s, and we have since left and returned to the country with every job change and new opportunity. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 26 2014

When You Can’t Recognize Anybody’s Face

By at 10:42 am

playground

I come from a long line of people who have great difficulty recognizing faces.

The technical term for this is prosopagnosia, and I don’t have a full-blown case, I can recognize people I know well. That said, I’ve definitely failed to recognize my first cousin in an elevator, I have been known to say, “Hi, Shabbat Shalom, my name is Amanda. What’s your name?” to the same people in shul many, many, times, and I was very upset to be voted down in my desire to have everyone at my wedding wear a name tag.

My husband functions as my seeing-eye human, trying to clue me into who people are so I can interact with them normally. Before I met him, I would email pictures of the guys I had gone on a date with to my best friend in Jerusalem, who would email me back a prose description of them so I could attempt to identify them on our second dates. “So and so has glasses, a beard, is very skinny, and has blue eyes,” I would think, over and over again, scanning the sea of pedestrians for a fellow I had last talked to in person for three hours and with whom I planned to have dinner. If they shaved or wore contacts, I was out of luck. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 12 2014

How An Email I Sent About Pizza Started a Religious Firestorm

By at 2:09 pm

email-firestorm

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. The other day, I forwarded an email to a local community listserv from a local pizza restaurant offering to donate 20 percent of proceeds to a well-known Jewish charity. And with that, I had ignited a religious firestorm.

The listserv was started by an Orthodox woman in our town and, though I assume initially it was comprised of mostly Orthodox women, word has spread and it has grown to nearly 200 women who span the range of religiosity. I was added to the list about two years ago. For me and for many others, it is our go-to place for community recommendations like babysitters or doctors. All three painters who provided an estimate to paint my house were recommended by women on the listserv. When I was cleaning out my playroom, with a quick email to this group, I found an eager taker for many of the toys my children had outgrown. When a friend from California posted on Facebook that she was looking for a bike to borrow or buy cheaply for use during an upcoming New York visit, I was able to hook her up through this list. People post about anything from asking for a last minute ride to the train station to finding out which streets have been plowed in a snowstorm, from promoting a local Torah class to offering sheitel (wig) cleaning services. Though I have never met many women on the listserv, including its founder, I love that they are out there and that we are all willing to help each other out.

Which is why I was so surprised at the reaction to my email. Within minutes of posting, one woman responded to me directly to point out that this restaurant was not kosher, stating that she didn’t think anyone on the listserv would go there. A few minutes later two more women sent replies to the entire group questioning why I’d send an offer for a non-kosher restaurant. Feeling like I had totally done something “illegal” by the unspoken listserv rules, and not wanting to engage in a religious debate, I quickly sent an email to the entire group: “I am sorry if my email offended anyone. My apologies.” Read the rest of this entry →

May 22 2014

Sometimes, It Takes an Island to Have a Baby

By at 2:06 pm

Island-baby

Living on an island in Maine–unreachable other than by boat, plane, or helicopter–has its challenges and its pluses. For every moment of feeling like I live in a Manhattan-sized fish bowl–for every canceled ferry boat–there are moments when our tiny community, with just 350 or so year-round residents, functions like a loving family.

If someone has a medical emergency, not only are they often cared for and transported off the island by our volunteer emergency medical service, but a card will appear at the island’s one grocery store, available for all to sign. Donation jars appear in the same spot on the counter for families in need. And perhaps because each new resident represents the continued sustainability of North Haven, the island family is never more functional, motivated, and caring than when it comes to welcoming new babies to the island.

I’ve gotten to see this first hand over the last week, since I had my baby. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 30 2014

How My Son Finally Opened Up About His Little Brother With Special Needs

By at 11:25 am

big-bro-of-special-needs

The first time I remember talking to Oscar about his younger brother Saul’s special needs, he couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Definitely still in preschool. There was something–though I can’t remember exactly what–that Oscar thought Saul would like and he said, “Saul is going to do this!” and started flapping his hands and bouncing up and down. I lost it. I couldn’t believe my sweet little boy was making fun of his younger brother who has Fragile X, which is a genetic syndrome and the cause of intellectual disabilities that can include learning problems, autism, anxiety, sensory, and behavioral issues.

As a parent, my biggest fear was that Saul was going to be subject to a lifetime of cruelty from others who didn’t understand his condition, but I didn’t think this cruelty would begin in our own home. I yelled at Oscar–I can’t recall exactly I said–and his face fell. He said, “But Saul will be happy and that’s what he does when he’s happy.” I realized then that he wasn’t mocking his little brother. He was simply acting out the happiness he anticipated from Saul. And I had yelled at him for it. When I agonize over all of the mistakes I’ve made as a mother to three children, this incident always cracks my top 10.

Saul was diagnosed on the first night of Hanukkah in 2007. He was just 1 1/2 at the time. And in the six years since, our family’s life has, often out of necessity, revolved around Saul’s treatment and care–from countless early intervention classes to a variety of therapies to special schools. There are places and things we can’t do together as a family. And at home, Saul’s needs sometimes seem to take priority ahead of those of his “typical” siblings–his twin sister Beatrice and Oscar. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 20 2014

Stuck in the Shabbat Limbo

By at 4:02 pm

Doing Shabbat, my way

It was my second time meeting with Chana with the hopes of renting her Jerusalem apartment. I was in Israel on a research grant and following an ulpan (intensive Hebrew immersion course) in Jerusalem, had moved to Tel Aviv to be closer to my university. After just a few weeks of living by the water, I felt pulled back to Jerusalem.

Chana went through a checklist of the idiosyncrasies of the apartment. It would be furnished and I would not need to, nor would I be permitted to, bring my own bed. The school across the street could be loud at lunchtime. There was no dishwasher, of course, but I was welcome to use the laundry machine provided. And then almost as an afterthought she added, “Shabbat. Of course you keep Shabbat.”

“Well,” I started. And that was the beginning of the end. “I may turn on the lights here and there.”

“No. No turning on and off the lights. You must keep Shabbat.”

“But—,”

“No. No. I cannot. My friend rented to someone like you and first she had a car accident. Then…” her voice trailed off. “No. I cannot take the risk.” Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 12 2013

How I Swallowed My Pride & Asked for Help

By at 10:09 am

jello

Last week was one of the hardest parenting weeks I can remember. My 14-month-old was breaking four molars and three incisors at once, which I figured could explain the endless screaming and fevers. That is until the 3-year-old started in with the fevers, and screaming, and saying his mouth hurt. After finding his mouth full of sores, I noticed the baby’s hands were also covered in sores and realized they both had Coxsackievirus (more commonly known as Hand, Foot and Mouth disease).

So with my husband out of town on business, I was house-bound for an entire week of rushing between two beds of screaming children all night, giving endless hugs and popsicles, and managing my own pregnancy-induced nausea.

At one point I stole away a minute to pee and as I passed the defeated shell of a woman looking back at me in the mirror I thought, “This is so hard, I wish I had help.” I was eating Ramen noodles because making a full meal for myself when my kids were surviving on Jell-O seemed ridiculous (and time consuming). I wouldn’t dare ask a friend to enter my home and risk bringing this hell back to their own child, but even if someone tossed me a hamburger from the driveway, at least it would be a hot meal that I didn’t have to make myself. Read the rest of this entry →

May 30 2013

Maybe Thank You Cards Aren’t So Bad After All

By at 2:10 pm

cara paiuk twinsAlmost two years ago, I wrote about my disdain for writing thank you cards, and I still have an issue with the premise that thank you cards should be required or expected. Are we not supposed to give a gift, do a favor, or extend a kindness without an expectation of receiving something in return? Do we need the thank you card construct to make us feel good? Rewarded? Acknowledged?

To this day I resent my family for forcing me to write engagement, wedding, and baby shower thank you cards. I especially resent the pressure to churn out thank you cards 24 hours after receiving gifts from people I hardly knew when I was a new mother who couldn’t find time to shower or eat. It just made me regret receiving the gifts in the first place! Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 12 2013

Friday Night: Desperately Seeking Mom Friends

By at 2:13 pm

lawn mowerThe weather is warming up and here’s a piece of advice for anyone thinking of moving to the suburbs: do it when the weather is nice.

Through the long winter months, I thought a lot about how living in the city forces you to be a part of the community in a way that the suburbs do not. Back in Brooklyn, I could easily spend a day alone with the kids but not feel lonely for adult company, because wherever I went, I was surrounded by people. If I sat on a bench with the girls at the park, other parents and their kids were inevitably doing the same at an adjacent bench and suddenly we had our own adult version of parallel play without meaning to. Lack of space indoors meant people were pushed out of doors, even in inclement weather.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 8 2013

In Praise of the Meal Train

By at 4:08 pm

I’ve never once been told not to eat when it came to my Jewish family. In fact, the opposite holds true. I’m usually not eating enough.

Have some more matzah balls.

Did you try the stuffed cabbage yet?

Here, take a little bit more tzimmes.

There’s never enough food. The food itself: warm, rich, and soul-satisfying made me feel loved and taken care of, just like I felt about the women and men who prepared it all for me growing up. I’ve taken many of the food-focused life lessons I learned in my Jewish household and have continued to practice them in my adult life. Read the rest of this entry →

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