Friday, March 25, 2011

Grief and Gratitude: Wildflowers

A few weeks ago I wrote here about gratitude, and how much I love feeling thankful; I guess you could say that I’m grateful for my capacity for gratitude. Thankfulness is so much a part of my belief system, my emotional makeup and, come to think of it, my life, that I’ve decided to make it a regular theme in this blog. From time to time, starting today, I’ll go into deeper detail about specific aspects of my life that I count as blessings. Today I’d like to write about wildflowers.

Israel, so I’m told, has more species of wildflowers than any other country. Because we’re located at the point at which Europe-Asia meets Africa, a great number of the millions of birds that migrate every year between the two continents make pit-stops in Israel and leave behind their droppings, which contain seeds from wherever they originated.

Growing up in the city, I was nature-deprived (or, perhaps, green-open-space deprived; I did live right next to the beach). I longed for fields and forests; when I was in sixth grade I wrote a poem called "The Green Meadow, imagining what it would be like to go out into a meadow first thing in the morning, and to witness a sunrise. The second verse captured one of my recurring my fantasies: "The grass is green and sparkling/With drops of morning dew,/Everything looks young and fresh/As if the world was new."

So one of the miracles of my daily life for which I'm most grateful is that I live within such close reach of green-filled open spaces. And even more amazingly, wildflowers, which I never saw at all as a child.

Daniel shares my love for wildflowers, and often go out looking for them. Many times we plan our travel within Israel according to what flowers are blooming where, in whichever season we’re traveling. This past Sunday, for example, we spent the day near the Eila Valley, just wandering the fields, resting from time to time and looking closely at the flowers, leaves, and insects (gorgeous butterflies, fascinating beetles) that surrounded us. As often happens, at one point I counted more than twenty different kinds of flowers that I could see just from my place on the rock on which we were resting. This coming Sunday we’re driving to the Galilee for a few days, and will certainly take our Wildflowers of Israel book with us. (We’ll look for birds and insects too, and will be thrilled if we come across wild boars or other animals.)

Here in Jerusalem there are also a few fields whose intense green is thickly dotted with points of red, orange, yellow, white, pink, blue, and purple. One of these fields is right behind our synagogue, and in blooming season Daniel and I usually walk there after Shabbat services, in order to see what's new.

This year Daniel had an idea. During the winter, when the ground was still completely brown, we went to the field with a shovel and dug up enough earth to fill a window-box. We dug in several different spots, so as to capture as large a variety of seeds as possible. We put the soil in our planter and left it to the elements.

Our little "nature reserve" has become a source of real joy for us. First came green – the grasses, the grains, and the leaves. This itself was lovely; I'll never forget the morning I woke up to find my childhood fantasy fulfilled, in miniature: the sun was shining on one drop of dew on each tip of each blade and leaf.

A couple of weeks ago, these were joined by our tiny, deep-blue first flowers. A few days later, some of our buds opened to reveal five delicate pinkish-purple petals each; after that, another plant produced what look like little white star-bursts with dark green tips. Now a brilliant yellow sun is opening, smack in the middle of the box.

I think Daniel is right when he says that the advantage of having our own mini-field – besides being able to look at it every day – is that rather than visiting a field, looking, and leaving, we’re developing a kind of ongoing relationship with each of the flowers. We watch as they bud, open, reach their zenith and, eventually, return to the earth that nourished them – leaving behind the seeds that will bloom next year into their descendants.

In my memoir, I examined my bereavement in the context of Nature’s cycle of birth, life, death, and new birth, and found that there was comfort in reflecting on my loss in that light. Now, I get not only to consider that cycle but also to witness its miracles, literally, right outside my window.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Twice the Marrow Now Available in Bookstores in Israel

My memoir, And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, is finally available at Steimatzky bookstores throughout Israel. Twenty stores are now carrying the book, and it may be ordered at all branches.

In Jerusalem the book may be purchased at the following Steimatzky stores:
Jaffa Street
King George Street
Mamila Avenue

It may also be obtained at Havruta on HaLamed Hei Street in Jerusalem.

Spread the word to anyone who may be interested!

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Feature: Follow My Blog by Email

I've just added a gadget to this blog that makes it easy to "subscribe" - that is, to receive my posts by email within a day after I've put them up. If you're interested, just enter your email address in the space provided on the sidebar to the right, below the "About Me" section.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones: Now Available from Amazon

Many people who've read my memoir, And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, have wanted to recommend (or have already recommended) it to friends, and have asked where it can be found. I'm happy to say that Twice the Marrow can now be ordered on Amazon, with fairly quick delivery, as its official publication date was this past week.

Don't be put off by the notice on Amazon that the book is "temporarily out of stock." What this means is that Amazon has sold all the books it initially ordered. However, the publisher is now shipping additional copies as requested, so anyone who is interested can put in an order and it will be filled as soon as Amazon orders from the publisher.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mourning and Meaning: Friends

Grief is not exclusively “family property;” losing a friend whom we've loved is also a kind of bereavement. Although it’s not the same as the loss of a child or a sibling, a friend’s death presents us with similar questions: What does it mean that a person who was once very much present in our lives has left her own life? What does this say about our own mortality? And when our friend has died before her time, how can we draw meaning from that which seem so senseless?

Nehama Grenimann Bauch was Timora’s first friend; they first started playing when both were less than a year old. Our families live in the same neighborhood and belong to the same religious community, Kehillat Yedidya, and they were in the same class through eighth grade. Although they attended different high schools and drifted apart in adolescence, they became closer again during Timora’s last year. During Timora’s shiva, the first seven intensive days of family mourning, Nehama came and sat with us almost every day, some days for several hours. And not just to comfort us; she felt so bereft that she felt she needed to sit shiva herself.

Different people make meaning from traumatic loss in different ways. How we choose to do this depends, of course, on who we are, but also on the loved ones we've lost - who they were, and the special character of our connection. Nehama and Timora shared many things, prominent among them a creative and artistic nature. Timora was drawn mainly to writing, theater, and music, whereas Nehama excelled – and continues to excel – in the plastic arts, principally painting and sculpture. Both girls also inherited from their families a zeal for tikkun olam the imperative to make the world a better place.

So it shouldn’t surprise that Nehama chose to process her friend’s death by combining these two passions – by initiating, organizing, and carrying out a project that has produced art that is both esthetically beautiful and practically useful. Faraway Places has brought together ten artists – Judith Margolis, Sharon Binder, Chana Cromer, Ruth Cohn, Anat Yefet, Galina Blaikh, Julia Lagus, Mallory Serebrin, Zoe Pawlak and Yulia Polyakov – who painted and contributed works that now grace the walls of Hadassah Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. As I’ve written in my memoir, “patients who awaken [are] greeted not only by sterile white walls and ceilings, metallic IV stands, and cold machines, but also by warm, colorful scenes into which they can escape, in their minds at least, from the harsh reality of the ICU.” The staff has told Nehama that the art is making a tremendous difference both to them and to the patients and their families.

Nehama spent months and months dealing with and mediating among the artists, the hospital bureaucracy, the ICU staff, and the Young Hadassah branch of Hadassah International (through whom she organized the project) in order to get the paintings planned, finished, and onto the ICU walls. As if that weren’t enough, she spent many additional months working on the Young Hadassah Ball, which took place here in Jerusalem a week ago. Every year, the Ball brings hundreds of the organization’s members and supporters together for dinner and dancing, to raise funds for different departments in the hospital. This year – by chance but very fittingly – the money raised will be used to renovate and expand the Pediatric Department.

At the small ceremony that was held right before the finished paintings were hung in the ICU, Nehama spoke at some length about Timora. She said that she chose this way to perpetuate Timora’s memory not because she’s no longer alive, but because of who and what she was for Nehama during her life – an intensely creative soul who actively encouraged her friend (from the time they were four years old!) to become an artist.

Timora would have been very proud indeed to have her name attached to the lovely works that these generous artists have created, and to a project that is directly benefiting the two Hadassah departments in which she was cared for so long, so professionally, and with such dedication. And even prouder to be Nehama's friend than she already was when the two were together in this life.

When I think about it, though, perhaps I can say that she is proud, as she follows her friend's fortunes from wherever her spirit has finally come to rest.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Poems of Cautious Hope, in English Translation

Timora's resilience was such that even after her cancer relapsed, and even after it began spreading rapidly, she still preserved her faith and her hope.

Her faith, in that she continued to pour her heart out to God, still believing that He might answer her prayers, even as she feared He would not:

All night I lay in bed and prayed to God.
I tried to gather myself from His hands crumb after piece
And again and again scattered back into nothingness.
I asked why,
I pleaded, “Enough.”
Such a small creature
Why should You mind
That I should be
That I should be as a human being.

And her hope, in that whenever things took a turn for the better, she dared to wish for her good fortune to continue, even as she feared it might not:

And again came the wave I’d awaited so long
Which I cried for, I moaned, bit my pillow and prayed
It lifted me high, brought me close to the rest
At the very last second before the too late
From the pit, from the suffering, the cold, chilly fear
My heart fainted before it, so glad to be near.

But I really don’t know.
Will it stay after all?
Before me tomorrow is closed, a dark wall.

There's irony for me in reading these poems now, when I know how her prayers and hopes ended. But my grief is also eased by knowing that her hope enabled her to face, again and again, unimaginable suffering and sorrow, and to find and appreciate happiness wherever and whenever she could.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Baby Resilience

Grandchildren are perhaps the greatest of comforts to bereaved parents. Grief for a child who has left this world never ends completely, but its pain is greatly softened, and even sometimes forgotten – this is true for me, at least – when we spend time with our children’s children. As I've written in my memoir:

"It’s as if a deep pit opened up inside me.... I’ll never be able to fill the hole, but what I can do is build my life around it, continually adding meaningful relationships, work, and creative pursuits, so that the pit becomes a proportionally smaller and smaller part of my being. It’s still there, but it’s dwarfed by its surroundings."

My grandchildren certainly dwarf that pit.

Daniel and I have many times had the good fortune to host our oldest daughter Elisheva and her partner Tayir for Shabbat together with their son Imri, who is now twenty-one months old (Elisheva is Imri’s biological mother, and Tayir is in the process of adopting him). Two weeks ago we were even luckier, when the couple took a two-day vacation alone (their first since Imri was born) and left him with us. Besides the great fun we had with him, we also got a bonus – the opportunity to witness his budding resilience.

When they visit, Imri normally runs into our home as soon as we open the door, shouting “Ka!” (his name for me) and “Abba!” (his name for Daniel). When they arrived that Friday, though, he refused to walk in. His mothers hadn’t said anything to him – at his age there would be no point, as he can’t yet grasp a concept like “two days” – but he could tell something was up. Eventually they carried him in. It took about an hour before he was willing to stop clinging to Elisheva or Tayir, and to come to us.

When he seemed ready, they waved to him and said, “Shalom, Imri. We’re going for a trip now, but we’ll be back.”

“Lom, Mma!” he replied, waving, and turned back to put another block on the tower he was building.

Imri’s mood remained excellent throughout the weekend. I took him to synagogue Shabbat morning, as I always do, and he played, looked at his books, and went up and down the aisle flirting with everyone in the women’s section, as he always does. At home, he played with us, ate happily, and talked and talked and talked.

The first time he asked for his mother was when I was putting him to sleep Friday night. I said, “Eema isn’t here, but Savta (Grandma) is here, Sabba (Grandpa) is here, Ayala is here, David is here,” and so on, naming everyone who was with us for that Shabbat, including his two-month-old cousin Arielle. “Eema will be back tomorrow.” He calmed down right away and fell asleep. He asked for “Mma” again only another couple of times, when he was tired or fell down, and each time we were able to calm him quickly.

Don’t get me wrong – he didn’t forget his mothers. On Sunday, we explained that Eema would be back later. A short time afterward, we were playing in the living room when David came out of his room.

“Who’s that coming?” I asked Imri.

Immediately a huge smile lit up his face. “Mma?” he asked hopefully.

“No, it’s David,” I said. “Eema will come later.”

He looked at me seriously for a second, then went back to the book he was leafing through.

For a while after his mothers returned he wouldn’t get off Elisheva’s lap, or stop hugging her. I came to sit down beside them, saying things like, “Your Eema’s back! That’s so great for you!” At first he looked out at me a bit suspiciously from the safety of the maternal lap. But after a few minutes, he suddenly gave me a big grin. “Ka!” he said lovingly. Then he looked at Elisheva and said, “Mma!” Then again at me, “Ka!”

When we took the three of them out to dinner that evening, he sat happily next to me, smiling from time to time and saying “Ka!” in that loving tone. I melted every time.

Clearly, he wasn’t holding a grudge – at least while his mothers were there. But the real proof of his forgiveness came the next day, when they were safely back at home in Tel Aviv. Elisheva phoned me for some advice, and suddenly I heard in the background, “Ka? Ka!”

“He recognizes your voice,” she told me.

“Even when you’re the one talking with me?”

“Yup. He knows telephone voices from across the room.” We finished our conversation and hung up.

About an hour later, the phone rang. It was Elisheva again. “He insists on speaking with you,” she said.

She put him on and we had our usual conversation.

“Hello, Imriki?”


“Did you call me?”


“Did you call me to give me a kiss?”


“So give me a kiss.”

He made a loud kissing sound and gave the phone back to his Eema.

I’m floored by Imri’s ability to stay with us and feel almost no distress, and to go back afterward to his normal life, free of anger. To me, this demonstrates a resilience rooted in the deep basic trust that he's developed through the loving and patient mothering he’s gotten all his life from Elisheva and Tayir.

I believe that resilience is one of the most crucial qualities we can nurture in our children. I'm sure that Imri's will stand him in good stead, throughout what I hope will be a long and eventful life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Twice the Marrow: Reactions

I've added to my reviews page a quote from Dr. Debbie Weissman, President of the International Council of Christians and Jews, highly recommending my memoir:

"While focusing on the author's deeply Jewish experience and perspective, And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones is inspiring to people of all faiths, or none. A must-read for both my Jewish and Christian students and colleagues."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Poems after Relapse, in English Translation

In January I posted three Hebrew poems that Timora wrote after the relapse of her leukemia was diagnosed, as with the steady return of cancer's incomparable pain she began to lose some of her cherished independence.

As I wrote in my memoir, what stands out for me in Timora's poetry is her astounding ability to transform suffering into art. If you think about it, that is what all artists do, and Timora was a true artist.

Warning: The second and third of these poems are very difficult to read.

March 19, 1999
Don’t tell me,
I know by myself,
If I don’t do it
It doesn’t mean a thing,
Leave me.
Tell me,
Or I won’t succeed,
I won’t do it,
Help me.
Don’t decide for me,
I’m not a little girl,
I’m responsible for myself,
Leave me.
Protect me,
I’m scared like a little girl,
I can’t stand alone,
Help me.

April 11, 1999
spreading further and further
conquering every spot that had been free
Poisonous, black malicious
Snickering of devastation, of evil, of defenselessness, of some
dark power
Extending long and emaciated and terrible and destructive arms
that grow
like some horrible nightmare from which we’ve not awakened and we'll not
And twist and twist
and distort
and deform
and hold on
Hold fast by the nails Hold and do not let go Hold fast and wound
And if it does not bring death it will bring destruction of some other kind
Because there are no few kinds (to each his own destruction) Here it’s

April 20, 1999
A black cloud of razor-sharp claws.
They scratch deeply into my flesh
If I ask who sent them, and why to me,
They continue to pierce in silence.

A black cloud of claws that wound.
They’ve pulled me toward pain’s abyss
I cannot scream out how evil they are –
After all, does a claw have a heart?

A black cloud of claws that rip.
A claw has reached my core
And there it tears off strips of my soul
And, giggling, discards them in slime.

A black cloud of murderous claws.
They’ve pulled me toward the great Pit.
But I’ve stood up to them and continue to stand –
I’ve yet to give in to despair.

I've yet to give in to despair. There it is - Timora's resilience, in her own words.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Last Poems of the Remission, in English Translation

Leukemia is an insidious disease, whose effects - both physical and emotional - last well beyond the disappearance of its malignant calling cards, the cancerous cells that fill the blood and keep it from fulfilling its life-giving duties. Even when the cancer seems to be gone, and its treatment seems to be over, its victims - especially, I think, its child victims - are left utterly changed by the experience, and often find themselves strangers to the "normal" world.

These are my translations of two of Timora's Hebrew poems that I posted in January. She wrote these in the last months of her remission, when she was worn down from trying, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to re-enter the life she'd left behind when she became ill.

November 30, 1997
And all
Has suddenly become gray,
All has faded,
All has darkened,
Now all that’s left is cold.
Bleary eyes
Are tired of wondering,
And for what,
Until when,
All is finished for me.

January 29, 1998
There’s a precious pearl hidden deep in my soul,
It awaits the arrival of he
Who has courage enough to dive into my soul,
And to gaze in my eyes, truly see.

For perhaps I am like a sea-shell from the deep,
Whose facade glitters not, nor intrigues
And whoever would thread it with filament fine
Needs a blade that’s especially keen.

Not a blade, but love that is tender and true
Will pry open this tightly-closed shell,
And although it seems hard, if only he’d try –
Only softness he’d find, smooth and still.

There’s a precious pearl hidden deep in my soul,
If you seek it, it’s right within reach.
But your eyes are shut tight and blind to the light,
They will never discern the true me.

There's little I can add to Timora's own eloquent words.