Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Am I Poor?

I posted a comment about the sense of entitlement that many people under 30 years old feel in the USA today, in 2011,on a blog I follow:  Bookworm Room.  The upshot of my comment was that I could be happy with what I have, since I could see that my situation could be worse, a lot worse.

Maybe I should show you the comment and refer you to the YouTube video that prompted it:

His comments about hauling water at 3:08 brought back this memory I posted in comments:

28 years ago, Dec 1983 the west bank near Ramallah.
I’m getting out of a shared taxi in the village that Jay’s uncle lives in . Jay is a Pali  American, my age about 24. We’ve spent the day at UN womens’ collective for Pali embroidery and folk art and Bir Zeit University for student body election week, and now we’re going to have something to eat at his uncle and aunt’s place just outside Ramallah. It’s a small village, about 45 families.
Jay’s two teenaged female cousins are calling him the moment he emerges from the taxi: Taah hoon!
Look! Come here! Look at this!
They are gripping with excitement and pride of possession an old fashioned water pump, something from about 120 years ago, straight out of a Western movie.
There is a bit of a scuffle as they both try to get a grip on the handle and then up and down and up and down and out shoots a gusher of water.
They are dancing, you’d think they won the lottery.
Congratulations all around, Jay is very pleased for them, and then they run off to the house.
I look at Jay and say: Where were they getting water before this?
He turns around and points in the direction we’ve come from. “At the entrance to the village you turn left instead of right and continue for another 2 minutes. There is a well down the side of the hill.”
“How far round trip?”
“At least 2 kilometers. ”
“How often?”
“Every day,” he shrugs, like what do I think? of course everyday. “Except when someone with a pick up truck would take the kids back and forth, then they could put in enough water for a couple of days. Some times my uncle let the girls have the donkey, when it rained.”
“So I don’t suppose they have sewage pipes, do they?”
He gives me a look.  “No electricity either.”
I think of all the times I’ve had to take a cold shower since I arrived in the Middle East and thanked G-d that at least I didn’t have to the haul the water up a hill and down the road before I bathed.
Flash forward 10 years:
I’m a mother with 3 kids under 5 yrs, my husband works 12 hour shifts, I don’t have any family near by.  I don’t have any “conveniences”: my own car, a garbage disposal, a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, central heating and air conditioning, a microwave oven. I’m tired a lot, and I feel sorry for myself a little too often.  Then I remember the gratitude of two teenage girls with an old iron water pump in their front yard. And I thank G-d I don’t have to haul water on top of everything else.
Sue K., another regular reader and commenter,  responded :

I _really_ _really_ _really_ don’t want to go back to living like they did 100 years ago.
Thank you, Michal, for reminding me that we _can_ do it.
I just  _really_ _really_ _really_ don’t want to.
Then I looked at the list of “conveniences” I didn't have then and that Sue K. can't bring herself to live without now and I realized, that the only things on that list that I have today, 18 years later, are the microwave oven and room air conditioners.  I still don't have my own car, or a vacuum cleaner, or a garbage disposal, or dishwasher. I forgot the clothes dryer, no, I don't have a clothes dryer either. I wish I had the car, but I live without it and have gotten to the place where I cope without all those other things.  I guess I should add that I don't eat in restaurants or buy take out. I don't go on vacation. 

Does this make me poor?  Am I underprivileged? 

Since I compare myself to that part of humanity that live without running water or sewage disposal, permanent housing, and electricity, or that only eat once or twice a day, I have always considered my situation good, if not especially comfortable.  My attitude is as long as I have water, sewage disposal, electricity, a refrigerator, and plenty of food, I'm way ahead of most people in the world and have a lot to be thankful for. 

Things could always be worse.

Our Sages teach, "Who is rich? The one who is happy with his portion." 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

There Is Still Something There


It's funny being over 50.
Sometimes I feel invisible. A lot of times I don't feel all that pretty.
Once I was attractive.
Never in a mass market way.
Not buxom or blond.
Just nice to look at. 'Cute', my High School girlfriends said. 'You have nice eyes'
I had a look that appealed to mature men. A teacher in that same High School used to tell me that every time he looked at me, he felt he had Liz Taylor in his classroom. I didn't get it then, but I get it now.

It happened a couple of months ago.
I was having problems with the phone lines and the telephone company sent a technician to the house.
They don't wear the gray or brown uniforms that they once had. They have clothes that look like everyday wear and except for the emblem on the chest, they look like anybody. They don't stick out as workmen.
My neighbor saw him coming out of the house with a suitcase type thing in his hand. The neighbor came running over to see what was going on and found me in the side yard hanging up clothes. Slightly out of breath, he half shouted at me that there was a man taking things out of my house. I smiled and said not to worry; it was the phone technician and that probably was his tool kit. The neighbor approached me and I repeated what I had said because he wasn't acting like he heard me and I have a quiet voice, too. I didn't look at him; I was doing wet clothes and besides that, it's not so modest or polite to stare a man you aren't related to straight in the eye. We just moved here less than 6 months before and frankly, I don't have any contact with my neighbors, especially the man of the house. He explained that there had been day light break ins over the years, and some families had had people come into the house when they were home but in the backyard or upstairs and had things stolen and so he was concerned. I turned to thank him for being a good neighbor and finally looked him straight in the eye. Our eyes locked, and I saw a look there in his eyes I hadn't seen in years. He broke off first, mumbled I don't know what, and turned and almost ran away.

I put my hand to my face. There is still something there after all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Homelessness and Remembering Jerusalem on the 9th of Av

Today is the ninth of Av.
It's a day of national mourning for the Jewish people.
Today the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and the Jewish people were sent into exile.
Many other tragedies have happen to the Jews on this day. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain started on the 9th of Av, for example.

It's all so far removed, though.

It's hard to get a grip on the sadness when it's something that was lost so long ago. Even harder when the loss is not something we personally experienced.
I can remember my grandmother wiping away tears for a friend that had died. She was really sad about it and couldn't talk about it. The friend wasn't someone I knew or even knew of. She had come up in a conversation we were having and when I asked later when the friend had died, she said it was years ago. Years, I wasn't even born when her friend died. And yet she missed her and was still able to cry over the loss that was more than 50 years old. Something valued had been lost, irrevocably and she still felt the pain.
I'm not a stranger to loss. I've had friend and family that have died and it was hard to adjust to their being gone.
But those were personal and close.
I've tried to connect to the loss of the temple and the tragedies of the Jews over the millinia, but I've found it very hard to imagine the feeling.
The temple is just a archeological site, and place described in the Torah and Talmud.
The closest I've ever come to understanding the loss was through a teacher I had several years ago.
She gave us a lesson on the importance of the temple and what it represented to the Jewish people. She described the temple as G/d's house, His home on this earth, and when it was destroyed, He was made homeless. He has no address, no resting place now. She described the essence of G/d adrift in this world with no one and nothing to attach itself to and the suffering and loss that G/d "experiences" daily because humans don't have this unique place to communion with Him.
I kept thinking about what she said after the lesson was over and I had gone home to have lunch. I kept trying to imagine what it must be like for G/d to be without a home amongst humans, that because of our lack of caring, G/d had to pack up and leave us on our own here to find a way to reach him, each one of us by ourselves.
But because G/d is just too big a concept for me, I tried to find a way to make it smaller and more manageable, more personal.
So I started to think about how I would feel if it was my parents that had been thrown out of the their house because they couldn't stay there anymore, evicted for whatever reason, all their possessions gone and living on the street. I got into the details of it: no where to sleep at night, no bed. Where do you go to the bathroom, where do you bathe? What do you do if you just want to sit down and rest? You don't even have a chair! And when the weather gets bad-very hot or very cold or it rains? Where do you find shelter? What if they get sick? What if someone robs them?
I didn't have to think about it very long to get completely upset and overwhelmed.
I just dropped it and went to eat my lunch.
I had a sandwich for my meal and when Jews eat bread they have to say Grace After Meals.

The third part of this prayer is about Jerusalem:

Have mercy, Lord our God, on Israel Your people, on Jerusalem Your city, on Zion the home of your glory, on the kingdom of the house of David, Your anointed one, and on the great and holy house that is called by Your name. * Our God, our Father, look after us and feed us, give us a livelihood and support us, relieve us, and quickly provide a respite from all our troubles, Lord our God. And please, let us not be dependent, Lord our God, on any gift or loan from a human being, but rather on Your hand that is full, open, holy and generous, so that we should never feel embarrassed or ashamed.

*I got here and I burst out into tears. G/d should have mercy on us?! G/d doesn't even have a home amongst us because we couldn't behave. Why should He have mercy on us? I'm begging my homeless Father in Heaven to have mercy on me and take care of me? Who's taking care of Him? Just like I would never allow my parents to live on the street if they were evicted from their home, how can I let G/d live without a home? And yet I do let Him live without a home. Do I really want Jerusalem's Temple rebuilt and for G/d to have a place amongst us and all the people of the world?

Since then when I go to Jerusalem and the Kotel (Western Wall), I feel such a sense of shame. All the people coming there to spill their hearts (as they should) and I wonder if anyone cries for G/d and His homelessness?

There is a Rabbi Addis that lives at the Kotel. He made himself homeless. He is married and has children but refuses to live at home until the temple is rebuilt. He cries, and he prays and lives outside because G/d is without a place to live. He teaches people, he is a very learned man. Our rabbi talks to him frequently, asking questions, clarifying points in Talmud and the Zohar. He's not crazy. He's just living what he believes and wants others to feel the loss of the temple to the Jewish people and how G/d suffers from the lack of a way to connect to us.

The last time I was at the Kotel, I cried. I'm not the kind of person who cries in public, but this last time something got to me. Every time I go there I try to see up to the temple mount and to imagine what the temple must have looked like. What the smoke was like from the fire, the smells of incense, the crowds of people going up and down the staircase. I can't though. All I see are the huge stones in the support walls of the temple mount, the western wall, the Kotel, all that remains of G/d's home on earth. I hadn't been to the Kotel in months and I had this impulse to tear my clothing, a sign of mourning that some Jews do when they have been away from Jerusalem for over 30 days. I couldn't tear my shirt; I needed something sharp. I didn't have anything with me, not even a paper clip that I could have used to poke a hole to get started. So I wandered around the plaza in the Kotel and asked strangers, mostly foreigners! if they had a pair of scissors or pocket knife or even nail clippers. No one had anything. So I tried to pick a hole in my undershirt with my own fingernails but I didn't manage to do anything. I finally gave up and prayed Mincha and read Tehillim ( Psalms). Later that week at home in Hadera, I was folding laundry and discovered that I had made a hole, a very small hole in that undershirt. I smiled. I had remembered G/d, I had remembered Jerusalem.

May the temple be rebuilt speedily in our days.