It hurts to care


Empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings. 

  
But what if you don’t want to share someone else’s experience and feelings of hardship? What if it is just too fucking hard? Thinking let alone writing this most probably makes me a rubbish human being. But maybe I can still earn a modicum of cred for keeping it real? Maybe not…

There are reports that the third intifada is breaking out in Israel and Palestine as I write. For seven years I have lived in northern Israel, and for seven years I have protected my sensitive heart and soul by being staunchly apolitical and maintaining a firm ignorance of what was being projected by major news agencies. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care. I care so fucking much that it destroys my heart to see people living in squalor, grasping at straws in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families, and at times being maimed or killed in the process. To see the lifeless bodies of children, of babies, with their parents screaming at the fucking injustice of reality. 

The empathetic part of me demands that I recognize this suffering, if only to bear witness to it. The emotional part of me tells me that I cannot handle these agonies and that I had best look away. My cowardice most often wins in this battle of conscience.

  
Looking away is becoming less of a privilege that I can afford myself these days.

The fear is real. Terrorism is very effective in this way. 

The suffering is real. Knives and bullets, stones and rockets are very effective in this way. 

The people are real. All of the people. 

So I ventured into the news today, and was broken.

Often when I’m looking for information on current issues or news items, I turn to Twitter for a more on-the-ground, grassroots perspective.

Did a search for #intifada. 

The mechanations of fear, hate and violence appeared on the feed before my very eyes. 

Jihadist call to arms.

Videos of mayhem and destruction.

Dead fucking children. 

Dead. Fucking. Children. 

…Heart dashed to pieces…

Decided through my tears that I am too sensitive a soul for this shit. 
  
If anyone needs me I’ll just be over here with my head in the goddamned sand, waiting for someone to press the restart button. Because from this vantage point, “peace” is a laughable non-option and as a concept carries as much weight as a bumper sticker slogan. 

Meaningful movement towards any solution not based in war, terrorism and violence seems absolutely impossible. People only get more and more fearful, vengeful and distrustful as it is revealed time and time again how insecure life is here. 

Today was a hard day.

I hold out hope that tomorrow will be better.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t hold my breath while we wait and see though. 

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Seasonal Homesickness


It’s amazing.

Six years.

Six years I’ve been away from my place of birth, and the change of seasons never gets easier. Especially fall and winter. But also spring… Summer, less so. Israel does a far superior summer to Canada. Not too much to miss there. Except for the “midnight sun”… And cool mornings evaporating to welcome radiant afternoons. And Caribana. Ok. So, there’s a few things.

Mostly it’s the transitions. The movement from season to season that makes me long for home.

IMG_3438.PNGRight now it’s 14 degrees centigrade. It is the first cool morning of the fall season here in the Jordan Valley and I am reveling in it. Enjoying the coolness of the tiled floor feel on my bare feet, heating up leftover oatmeal (with maple syrup!) for breakfast, closing the windows against the chill of the pre-dawn breeze. Back home, Canadians are proudly sporting shorts and sandals at 14°, hell, they’re going to the beach at 14°!

Still, I’ll take what I can get. There are no frosty mornings, no multicolored foliage, no migratory geese, no wisps of chimney smoke on the crisp breeze. No Halloween, no Thanksgiving, no Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. ::sob::

But these pleasant facets of real Canadian autumn reside pleasantly in the stores of my memory.

For now, that’s enough.

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Just angry


Please be forewarned that this post is a rant. A rant of epic proportions.

I live in the north of Israel. Much like in Canada (my motherland) in Israel universal health care is in place, and the level of treatment is generally quite high. This I glean from hearing about other people’s experiences. Thankfully I am healthy and only have to navigate the hell that is the health care “service” here infrequently.

Today I was supposed to have my first prenatal appointment with my new ob/gyn. My first women’s doctor for my last pregnancy is featured in the dicktionary next to the definition for “Asshole.” Never want to see that slimball again. Second doctor mysteriously went on sick leave never to return. Pity. She was great. Hope she’s ok. Third time’s a charm?

I am 17 weeks pregnant. I booked this appointment with lucky number three one month ago. I am not one for the medicalization of pregnancy and birth, but am also not out there on the frontiers of crunchy momdome, I felt like it was about time to see someone, and make sure everything is ticking away as it should. Two hours before my appointment, the doctors office called and cancelled. Bummer. Had to book this appointment a month in advance, and was really beginning to feel a bit anxious to check in and see that everything is alright, and they cancel. Awesome.

A little background on the lumbering dysfunctional mechanisms that comprise Clalit medical care. One has a health card and number, a user code and a password with which to book appointments online or through a central booking agency. There is little to no personal culpability. There is no calling the receptionist at your doctors office. Your doctor doesn’t even necessarily have an office. He/she travels from location to location, but you are encouraged not to visit them at more than one location for although all of your personal information and medical history is entered into the computer system, it is not centralized. So if you have your blood taken at one clinic but see your prenatal nurse at another location, she can’t access your results. How efficient. If you book an appointment online for, oh say a month from now because that’s the earliest appointment that exists, you can’t log back in and check for earlier appointments/cancellations until canceling your existing appointment. Getting Radiohead tickets is easier.

So back to the matter at hand.

Nearly in tears at having my long-awaited appointment cancelled, I ask the woman calling me what I am to do, explaining that I am in my second trimester and haven’t seen a doctor yet, and that through the system I can only book another appointment another moth in the future. Without. Word, she transfers me to someone else. “Shalom?” “Hello?” “Yes, I can hear you what can I do for you?” I don’t know?! No idea who I have been transferred to, what the story is here, I explain, from the beginning once again what my issue is, and she semi-resolves it by booking me an appointment for a week from now. Ok. Not bad. But there is the nagging concern that has been occupying a small corner of the back of my mind that even though I felt tons of movement previously, I have felt nothing for the past week and a half. Knowing that stress is one of the greatest problem makers in pregnancies and in life, I had kept this concern at bay with the resolution that I would be seeing he doctor. Today. But now I’m not. Now I have to wait another week. 18 weeks and no prenatal care. No movement. Starting to freak out a bit.

Decide to go and see another doctor closer to our home just to be sure that there is a heartbeat and movement. This little process involves it own lovely little set of acrobatics. If you don’t have an appointment (which I couldn’t have, not without canceling my re-appointment from above) you need to show up, ask the receptionist to see the nurse, wait for a long-ass time until the nurse shows up, decide by asking various strangers in the waiting room who happen to be in the vicinity of the nurses room if they are there to see the nurse too, so you know who you are to succeed, talk to the nurse, explain why you want to see the doctor, have her decide if your reason is valid, and then get referred back to the receptionist who will swipe your card, book you a same day appointment and then direct you to a machine where you use your card to access your appointment number. Then you wait until the doctor calls your number. Which doctor? Why Dr. Asshole of course! Which other doctor wouldn’t have ANY other appointments because he’s effectively made a name for himself as a prenatal terrorist?!

Ok. It’s ok. Deep breath. Just need to be sure baby has a pulse and I can leave. Enter. “Hello” “Didn’t you hear me call your number?” “Yes. Yes, I did.” Swipes card.

    Throws

card across table. (Asshole!) Looks at me expectantly. Gulp. I explain why I have come. Who is my doctor? Where do I live? Have I moved? Why am I going to a doctor in a different region and not to him? Because I decided to?! “Yes.” “Fine, on the bed. There, you see?” Son screaming because he is old enough to know what happens at the doctors office, and he is afraid for himself, or for me, or for both. Thanks honey. I see a little blinking something on the fuzzy grey screen. “So, everything is ok?” “Well!” He is about to launch into a dramatic speech about how only rigorous prenatal testing, (which of course I have don’t none of because I am a bad person of faulty character) could possibly determine such a thing. I stop him before he get too excited about shutting my little plea for reassurance down. “There is a pulse?” I rephrase through clenched jaw. “You don’t see?!” Like its the most obvious fucking thing in the world. Like it would hurt to give someone a little sliver of calm or peace. He roughly pushes the monitor back, bumping the bed in the meantime. “Oh! I didn’t hit you, did I?” This creep clearly knows the difference between passive aggressive and just plain aggressive and on which side of that line the lawsuits begin to fall. “I’m fine.” Goes back to his desk. Look at him as he sits down. “Good luck” he says, completely deadpan. Thanks. Thanks a lot asshole.

I went in to seek a little bit of care and reassurance from a medical professional that my unborn baby is not in distress, and while I left with the information that he/she has a heartbeat, I also left in tears and in a state if heightened anxiety and very real anger.

Would it really hurt to build a little bit of personal responsibility and personal care into the health monolith? I am seriously considering suspending all prenatal care and just ‘going with God’ on this one because I cannot, will not, subject myself to that kind of inefficient, impersonal, impractical, rude, unprofessional and highly stressful “care” just because that is what is available. Fuck it.

Seriously longing for a state in which midwife prenatal care was even an option. Already have my beloved goddess of a mama midwife booked for the birth, but their care is private and only starts from week 36. What’s a woman to do?!

Comments, commiseration, and comfort most wholeheartedly welcomed.

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Why so long?


I recently recommended to my sweet and awesome little brother Pat that he beef up his journalistic chops by starting a blog which, being amazing advice, he of course initiated immediately. Shout out to PShields Sports, check it!

His success, in turn, reminded me of how very, very long it has been since I did a little ditty of my own. Evidently, inspiration is circular.

What I have been thinking of lately revolves around my recent return from a long overdue vacation to visit the familia in Canada. Aside from having a great time seeing family and friends from my many walks of life, I have been given the opportunity to realize and reflect upon the fact that somewhere along the way, Israel became “my home.”

Why the quotation marks? Indeed, I am Canadian and the great white north will always hold my roots. However, upon my return to Israel this time around, I seem to have avoided the feelings of displacement, depression and lack of bearing that usually accompany me.

Aside from being an obvious improvement emotionally, this new reaction to returning to “my home” has certain implications in terms of self-identity and sense of belonging that I find to be of interest. I cannot help but think that the recent and major shift of becoming a mother to a little Israeli must affect my bearings on this subject. Also, my relative proficiency in Hebrew and the effects that this has had on my ability to integrate are likely to be held accountable.

However, when I really ask myself in honesty what has changed since the last time I returned about a year and a half ago, what comes to me is acceptance. Acceptance of my choice to live half a world away from my roots; acceptance of my less than perfect language skills; acceptance that I cannot know what the future might hold, and that trying to control it only brings suffering. Acceptance of myself. Period.

For these realizations I am very grateful, as I am proud of myself for getting to the level of awareness to make them. Life is good. What more can I say? 🙂

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Christmas as a State of Mind


First and foremost, Merry Christmas! Peace and goodwill unto you and yours.

I have been blogging recently about my experience of Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas a.k.a. Israel. While the overwhelming irony of this situation is almost comical, there really is a palpable lack of spirit of the Baby Jesus variety in the Holy Land. Christmas can be found being kept by minority populations of Arab Christians in little pockets here and there, but due to the discrimination that they have faced by Muslim majorities and the Jewish bureaucracy their existence and therefore their traditions become more and more subaltern as the majority populations grow and dominate.

Celebrating ones faith or cultural traditions as a minority is quite different than just getting swept up in the flow of the cultural celebrations as a member of the majority population. You have to work at it. You have to want to keep the holiday intact, sometimes at great personal expense. I have a friend in Toronto who has to jump through hoops and perform major feats of reorganization to be able to take a break from her strenuous academic schedule to celebrate Rosh HaShana every September. It’s not easy, but as I have found, it is totally worth the effort, the time and the investment to keep the spirit of ones culture alive as an expat.

All pretty heavy and involved for Christmas Day, I know. But don’t worry, here’s where it gets light and cheery.

I have found that it actually doesn’t matter that the rest of the country sees December 25th as being just the same as any other ordinary day of the year. It doesn’t matter that there are no Christmas carols playing on the radio, or that no one has decorated homes. It doesn’t matter that cafes and restaurants aren’t serving traditional Christmas fare, or that there is a better chance of Syria and Lebanon declaring a new-found love for Israel than waking up to a fresh blanket of snow for Christmas morning. It doesn’t even matter that my husband worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Why? Because Christmas is what you make it, and while it might be easier, more comfortable and require much less imagination to have it made for you, if the spirit lives in your heart then none of the exterior peripherals have any bearing on how you nurture that spirit.

This might sound all flaky and naive. So, if you can’t take it from me, take it from someone of much more serious stature:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him; but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived in that respect upon the total-abstinence principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Surely if old Ebenezer could do it in the face of major identity crisis and re-imagining of self, I can carve out a little space for Christmas in the diaspora.

And so, what I have learned with the passing of this first Christmas away from my family, away from the traditions of my childhood, outside of my own culture is that even as a minority love, strength of character and conviction trumps status quo if you believe.  What a beautiful gift to receive on Christmas Day in the morning.

Love, Light and Life & Merry Christmas!

Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas


It is truly ironic to me that in Israel, the Holy Land, the birthplace of the Big JC, Christmas comes and goes just like any other ordinary day. There is no month-long consumer gorge-fest, no obnoxious Musac playing in every public establishment, no eggnog, no Santa Claus and no Baby Jesus. And snow is just completely out of the question.

For a great lover of secular Christmas such as myself, this is a rather depressing irony and one that I hope to remedy by seeking out the Christmas havens, the nooks of crannies of holiday cheer that do prevail in this predominantly Judaic environment.

Over the course of the coming month, I will be blogging about how I am bringing Christmas back, to my little corner of Jewish suburbia anyhow. Props to the Christians in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and other Arab communities around the country who have been keeping the Christmas-love alive for… well, a really long time.

I will seek out Christmas going-ons where they can be found, adapt traditional iconic Christmas decor to my current climate (Christmas palm tree?) get crafty and create what cannot be bought, and get my bake on like never before (how this last item will be harmonically balanced with losing my baby fat, no one knows 🙂

Stay tuned for twenty days of Christmas tidings, from the Land-of-No-Christmas!

Arab IDF Soldier, keeping it real for Christmas

The Things I Miss Most


I’ve been rocking the homesickness as of late. No big surprise. These feelings of longing for my birthplace usually set in after about 6 months of being away. So according to this internalized clock, I’m right on time.

What are the things I miss most? I love a good list, so here goes:

(in the order of my random mind wanderings)

  • watching hours of mindless crime drama on the big screen with my little sister
  • having dinner/movie dates with my dad
  • everything that my mom cooks
  • being 45 minutes away (or less) from a totally kickass modern urban center
  • the Toronto bellydance community
  • Starbucks, especially their ridiculously high-calorie seasonal lattes
  • sleepovers with my bestie
  • snow (wrong season, I know)
  • Shields Family BBQs
  • guitar jams in the den with my siblings
  • suburban grocery monoliths – wasteful? probably. but it is SO convenient and deeply satisfying to be able to buy tempeh, a 1 kg block of old chedder and natural window cleaner all in one place… and the aisles! the aisles!! so WIDE!
  • drinking red wine, eating chocolate and stinky cheese late into the night with raucous, awesome femfolk
  • seafood… what I wouldn’t do for a fresh crustacean right now
  • trees… especially when there are lots of them together. Israeli forests leave something to be desired
  • going on special dates with Mom
  • seeing films in theatres
  • easy access to books in English
  • the family hang
  • my bike

In the interest of time, space, attention span and not becoming completely self-indulgent, I will conclude here.

Any expats out there who are feeling lonely for home stuffs, feel free to chime in. Strength in longing.