Sunday, May 6, 2012

Week 15--many choices/Choice #4 - Write about yourself as a writer

I was a bit hesitant about taking this class. I took 262-95 the year before and wasn’t sure there will be something new or different. I am very pleased that I did take it.

The two classes were very different and each one presented different challenges.

The biggest one for me in this current one was the prompts.

The themes were challenging but I had practice from last year, the prompts however made me, at times, tear my hair, and not one but three!!!

This class literally made me ‘squeeze’ my brain, that was good.

It made me write a lot which was even better.


It has been four years of continues, mostly non-fiction writing, through different classes and teachers. In the process I produced hundreds of written pages (just the thought is enough to amaze me) and dug out almost every memory I could think of.

Some memories were pretty obvious and others caught me by surprise. Each one of those forgotten ones was a true present from my memory to me. Lately it seems though that the stream is running dry. The same things are surfacing time and time again and a sense of uncertainty is descending over me.

Scary, is this end I see coming, when one day of emptiness will stretch into another, and soon it will turn into weeks of continuous dry spell. 


It has been four years of continues writing through different classes and teachers.

But what did I learn;

To begin with I learned words, the tool of the trade, can’t do much without them.

Then I learned how to put them together in many different ways to create the effects I desired.

But most important; I learned to look at what I wrote, time and time again, and with a pain in my heart press delete.

And then start again.

Thank you for this present.

Week 15--many choices/Choice #3 bigger topic

What's in a name?

“Everyone has a name given to him by God and given to him by his parents.” Zelda

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks one ordinary afternoon few days before Yom Kippur. I wondered, many times since, if the time of the year had anything to do with it.  I always found those last days of September especially gloomy. The end of summer ties in the Jewish tradition to many complicated religious rituals; all have one thing in common. It is time to look back at the year that just ended. It is time of reckoning, settling debts with god. 

So on one of these ominous, thought provoking days, a persistent nagging thought appeared from nowhere. “This makes no sense at all, “it went on and on refusing to let go. “This” referring to the story I told myself and others all my adult life about the origin of my name. Ariela, Levia. Both names mean the same in Hebrew, a lioness. I remembered, vaguely, how my mother explained it to me. Well, it was over fifty years ago so it was hard to remember her exact words. She told me how she and my father wanted to name me after my grandmother Livia, my mothers’ mother but were concerned with the old ring it had and decided to change it to Levia, which was more up to date. And then as an afterthought made another change and named me Ariela with levia as my middle name.

 I carried this story with me all the years only for one flawed detail I did not pay attention to till that afternoon. Jews do not name their children after live relatives and my grandmother was alive when I was born. I clearly remember her sharing our tiny apartment in Jerusalem. So if she was alive, who was I named after?

My parents died few years prior. My aunt, Leah, my moms’ only sister died shortly after. So there were no live relatives to ask, with the exception of my cousin Miki living in Israel. I picked the phone up and called her. “Miki” I said. And at that moment I realized, I don’t really know where her name came from either. I pushed the embarrassing thought aside and proceeded with my mission. I explained the name issue only to find out she knew even less then I did and had no idea I even had a middle name.

We departed with a decision that each one of us will try to find as much information as possible. She through her father, my uncle Zerubavel (his name is another mystery waiting to be resolved) and I, by talking to my two elderly aunts, my fathers’ sisters.

After the unfruitful phone conversation I dug out my birth certificate, just to be sure. It was written there, black on white. Ariela, Levia, born on March 1949 in Jerusalem. I also located, after racking my brain, a box full of old papers and photos I took from my parent’s apartment in Jerusalem, after my fathers’ death. It was found unharmed, tucked at the back of the closet.

In spite of the clear displeasure of my husband, who kept telling me that a name is a name and I am making a big deal over nothing, I spent a whole morning sorting through falling apart yellowing documents.  They were all written in either German or Hungarian, none of which I could read or understand. I was searching for any clue, running my eyes along lines and lines of incoherent sentences.

I found my mothers’ birth certificate and my grandmothers’. I found my grandfathers’ wedding certificate and a picture of his grave in Budapest. I tried to make sense of school papers, more marriage certificates and piles of pictures of people I did not know.  None of these findings shed any light on the name confusion.

So there I was, stuck with a name I made my own for sixty years and suddenly was not sure about. It made me sad and confused. I wondered why this never came up in a conversation with my parents while I could still talk to them. It made me want to tell my daughters “Hey, I am still here, take a moment, let’s talk.”

But deep inside I was thinking, maybe my husband was right and a name is just a name. The thought made me feel somehow lighter. I could see the humor and fun in this strange situation. “I was free!!!” no longer a captive of a name I did not choose. I didn’t have to carry on my shoulders old unknown relatives with a long and troubled past .I could even decide to change this old name and pick a new one. I could find a name that will reflect my real personality better than the old one, a name that will do justice to my sixty years of life experiences.


I was toying with these thoughts since September of 2009.

I did few things:

  1. I wrote many pieces about any memory I could pull out.
  2. I conducted a pretty extensive genealogical research that to my great surprise produced plenty of information, including a possible answer to my original question (my name).
  3. I made a cd with all the information I found and gave it to my family members.

But, I keep thinking of gathering the entire information, and writings to create one document that will encompass the whole story as far as I know it.

So why not?

-          Not very original; it seems like lately many of my age group, second generation to holocaust families, troubled by the stories not told and the time running out are researching and documenting either as non-fiction or fictional works. Sometimes this feels like over indulgence.  I almost want to say, enough is enough, let it go. The never ending heaviness always on our shoulders, the everlasting commitment to the dead, to the past, to the ideology.

-          Technical issues; I have hundreds of names but no faces. How can I write about people I don’t know without it turning into a work of fiction. So maybe I know a lot but really not enough to do justice to the story.

-          Who but me is interested? The few times I approached my family (my daughters, cousins, and my brother) the reaction was polite but definitely uninterested.

So why yes?

-          Because it is obviously important to me.

-          Because not a complete story is still better than nothing.

-          Because even if not interested now, one day, one or more of my daughters (perhaps even a granddaughter) will feel the need to know more and I will no longer be around.

-          Because I truly believe that ‘you need to know where you came from in order to know who you are’ is not just a cliché and perhaps there is not enough of it nowadays. 

-          Because it’s a way to achieve eternity (did I just say that…)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Week 14 - 3

So you think you want to home school your child. You thought about it for awhile, you spoke with others on both sides of the fence (your wife/husband) you surfed the blogs written by seasoned homeschoolers and read thoroughly all the pros and cons and still you’re conflicted.

Let’s make it simple.

Home schooling is a life philosophy, a set of beliefs regarding education of young people and the responsibilities of parents to the said process.

See up till now, simple.

On its face it appears as if home schooling is putting the child in the center, but truly that function was long ago taken by public education (or so declared). Home schooling is about the parent and putting him in the center of the educational process by assuming responsibility.

As a parent, the minute you decide to go the route of homeschooling you declare, even if only to yourself, that being of sound mind and body you agree to be the one and only one accountable for your child education.

OK, now it is getting somewhat complicated, but not to worry.

Like any good thing in life the next stage of ‘how to’ can be divided into three:

  1. You become a ‘school teacher duplicate’ by learning all the in and outs of the material requested, and then attempt to teach it to your kid by setting scheduled times for learning.

The results: Just like a school teacher you have to be prepared to be the aim of many hostile remarks. If you thought that getting your child to clean his/her room was tough be ready for what’s coming.

  1. You still follow the school curriculum to a T, but delegate the actual work to somebody else; another teacher or even a computer program.

The results: The heat is somewhat diverted from you but not completely. You still have to make sure the offspring will make it to the scheduled classes and complete assignments.

  1. You go completely wild and choose unschooling as your educational philosophy.

The results: you and your child share responsibility to the learning process discovering or rather rediscovering, the excitement ‘true learning’.

“Unschooling,” you mumble quietly, savoring this new word, not sure you’re ready to reveal the fact that you have no clue what that means.

So here it is in a nutshell. There are many variations to unschooling but in essence two main ideas repeat in this viewpoint of education. So take a deep breath and let us step together into this ‘no man’s land’ of endless surprises and possibilities.

A fundamental premise of unschooling is that curiosity is innate and that children want to learn. From this an argument can be made that institutionalizing children in a so-called "one size fits all" or "factory model" school is an inefficient use of the children's time, because it requires each child to learn a specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a particular time regardless of that individual's present or future needs, interests, goals, or any pre-existing knowledge he or she might have about the topic.” Wikipedia.

Basically, let them be, and in an environment of complete freedom let learning flourish. That is unschooling at its best.  

Many exciting issues that stem from the above definition can be discussed ad nauseam; like what complete freedom really means in reality, how much guidance children need, want, benefit from. What about the body of knowledge needed to succeed in life, how about self discipline and socialization know how. In the process many clichés can be tossed around like; what does not kill you make you stronger, or, we all need to learn to do things we don’t like, that’s life, and the sooner you learn to cope the better you’ll be.

So let’s stop here and recite the first major premise of home schooling. It’s not about the child in the center, it is about the parent and how comfortable he or she feels with stepping back and watching while learning takes its course.   

Week 14/2

Two takes on the same theme

If you do something that others consider hard but for you it is coming naturally does that count as a challenge?

On the other hand tackling something that is a huge obstacle for you but not for others is that a challenge too?

Sorting through the many different definitions to achieve  any sort of understanding is hard and  essentially they all use the same terminology; engage, fight, compete, confront, test, demand, victory.

Flooded with all these power charged words one has to assume that a challenge has to do with big powerful occurrences. That it is always teamed with drama and at least a mild level of aggression. That only few can face up to and emerge victorious.

But what about those who go through life just performing their regular tasks? Yes, here the terminology strikes again, regular folks, daily tasks, so plain and unassuming almost boring.

Somehow it seems that going through life’s regular tasks and performing them to the best of our abilities is as challenging as any duel, only longer. Being born is a challenge, going through the different stages of maturity is risky and full of obstacles, finding the right mate, creating a family, giving birth and tending to our children needs. Protecting them and directing them through the endless issues our changing world is making them face. And through all of it holding a steady job, maintaining a stable and safe household, remaining supportive, encouraging and above all calm.

It seems like a challenge all right, actually it seems like such a colossal challenge it is almost impossible to fathom how one person can tackle it alone. 


Some people look at life as a huge mountain situated in front of them ominous yet alluring. They know they’ll have to climb to make it to the top, to be winners, to stick their flag at the top and declare success. But on the way up they might at times make a very slow progress, lose their breath or periodically even slide back. Sadly enough when they finally make it to the top and are able to take a deep breath and take in the view they often wonder what was the purpose of all the huge effort? Now it is going down all the way and they could have reached that same point by following those other folks who decided not to climb at all and go around the mountain. Could they decide to stay up there, on the top of the mountain? Or like the old cliché it is lonely at the top and it looks so much greener and inviting down there in the valley.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Week 14--using yourself differently:


They say beauty is only skin deep, they say wrinkles are a sign of earned wisdom, they say…
But in the foggy mirror in the early morning hours or the harsher, bright neon light, late at night there is no way avoiding it or pretending it is not happening.
The deepening lines that won’t fade away anymore, the puffy eyes, the thinning hair they are here to stay.
They say,” wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” (Mark Twain) it’s a sign of wisdom earned through life experience.
But they also say, iron out the wrinkles; let’s get it right this time.
They call them the ‘golden years’ with a fleeting smile that flickers and gone.
Golden indeed...
They say “age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face. “(Michel de Montaigne). They say “age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.”(Douglas MacArthur)
They also say “hard work keeps the wrinkles out of the mind and spirit.”(Helena Rubinstein)
Or maybe she meant that with hard work (and a lot of money) one can smooth out the wrinkles?
 Some retreat to stale jokes;

“Jewelry takes people's minds off your wrinkles.”(Sonja Henie) or “We have to be able to grow up. Our wrinkles are our medals of the passage of life… “(Lauren Hutton) “If God had to give a woman wrinkles, He might at least have put them on the soles of her feet.”

And others will go even further with this cheap demagoguery aimed to convince that growing old is just a fun filled process and ‘life is just a bowl full of cherries.’

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” William Shakespeare

 At times is it seems that I am living my life backward, and that at the approach of old age my real youth will begin. My soul was born covered with wrinkles-wrinkles that my ancestors and parents most assiduously put there and that I had the greatest trouble removing.” Andre Gide
“…at the approach of old age my real youth will begin?
 Symbolically perhaps, but the real wrinkles will they be smoothed away too?
Not according to the following statement from the man who was not spared a thing. Definitely worked hard, did not lose his spirit and quitting was not even in his vocabulary. So his words ring true.

You said it Job !!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week 13:65. In the drawer is a box made of carved...

Jewelry, mostly old pieces I don’t wear anymore, and have nothing but sentimental value. They all cramped into this small wooden box that has no real value either but I still carry with me because it was given to me by my daughter years ago. She decorated it and on the top she wrote, in nicely fashioned calligraphy letters – mom. So, the box itself is more precious to me then its content.

Still as I sort through its content I come across few objects that tug at my heart. A gold pendent, shaped as Star of David that was given to me by my father, in my last visit to Israel, before his death and I am pretty sure was his indirect way to deliver a message. A green ribbon with a key attached to it, I check it for few minutes but nothing surfaces. It must have been important to be put in my box of treasured objects but I forgot why. One of these days I will have to follow this mystery but not today because the last object I find is the one grabbing a hold of me. It is a silver coin; it used to be one of my most treasured objects. 

It is not just any coin; this one is a replica of a Second Temple freedom coin, a silver half-shekel dating more than 2000 years. Second Temple Jewish officials had minted this ancient coin and others like it, in the first year of the revolt against the Romans in 66-67 AD. A branch with three pomegranates and the inscription, "Holy Jerusalem" adorns one side, the other decorated by a chalice is inscribed "Half-Shekel."

Growing up in Israel I am familiar with the relevant history of the time. The great revolt against the Romans brought in its wake enormous destruction and suffering. The issues emerging, surrender versus revolt, forever embedded in the fabric of Israeli culture and coming back to haunt the collective memory when talking about the Holocaust. “Masada will never fall again” was the motto I grew up with and referred to the last stronghold in the Judean desert, where a fistful of desperate man and women chose suicide as opposed to slavery. Rivaled by the survivalists who through the generations bent their heads and whispered “this too shall pass.”

As I am holding the coin in my hand I remember that this is ‘that’ week in Israel. The one starts with a special day set aside to remember those who were murdered during the Holocaust and those, like my father, who saved many lives, and ends with the Memorial Day to all the soldiers that lost their lives fighting.  This day will merge into the Independence Day celebrations in an impressive ceremony in Jerusalem.

 I know the spot where the ceremony will take place. It is a small hill in the middle of the national military cemetery, in front of a big black gravestone with only six engraved letters, HERZEL.  Benjamin Zeev Hertzel the man who dreamed the state of Israel and is now lying in the midst of endless lines of graves of young men and women.

 The formal ceremony that ends the saddest day and starts the happiest one always starts here. Soon two blue projected lights, signing the end of the ceremony, will shine in the sky. Two blue rays, will slowly move from side to side illuminating the city sky and then the fireworks will explode.

I look back at the coin, now warm in the palm of my hand, return it to my wooden treasure box and close the cover. Until next year…