For All These Things

(Hit play)

My music teacher in elementary school was Mrs Orr. She was a lovely, Israeli woman with a graceful neck and blonde hair. I liked her. She would stand on the stage and move her hands in time to the music, her face shining light and smiles as she introduced us to classic Israeli songs in Hebrew and English. Songs about hope, peace, and land. Songs that told stories of Moses, young pioneers, Jewish holidays. Shining sea, green mountains, sweet oranges and laughing children.

sunset

For all these things…

“Al Kol Eleh – For All These Things”: my favorite Hebrew song. Music and lyrics by Naomi Shemer. Performed by dozens of famous and not-so-famous singers, including the Carmel Primary School choir in Pretoria, South Africa circa 1984, 1985, 1986. Loved by me from the first moment I heard it.

The melody flows like a gentle stream, the words sound and feel beautiful and comforting even if they’re not understood, the tears pool in my eyes, and the back of my throat catches as a soft smile plays on my lips. In 1984. And in 2014. And all the times I’ve heard and sung it in between.

For all these things…

Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok
Al biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov.

Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

So sweet. And so bitter. Wine and pizza and night-time play in the park. Siren. Boom. Then boom again. I never fear for our safety, but the siren is loud and the booms and interceptions are scary to hear. But #lifecontinues and Ze ma sheyesh the hairdresser tells me – this is what we have – with a shrug, a wry smile and pain in his eyes. The Red Alert rocket app on his phone beeps again.

Yes. This is what they have here, in this beautiful, tiny country almost entirely surrounded by enemies and hatred – not only on its borders but throughout the world. Two minutes in the bomb shelter in Herzliya is all day for the kids in the south, where the rockets fly too often and the 15-second window of safety is too small to risk corralling 50 little ones into a shelter over and over and over again. So this is what they have.

What they have is 13 Israeli soldiers killed in three days. Brave, heroic soldiers with wives and parents and children of their own, who are on the ground in Gaza protecting not only our children, protecting not only Israelis, but also the Palestinians from themselves. As those soldiers fight to the death, the Israeli Defense Force has established a field hospital on the Israel-Gaza border to treat wounded Palestinians. So bitter. So sweet.

For all these things…

I am here just for the summer. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here right now. It’s a crazy way to spend the summer and I could never have imagined it. But it’s an even crazier way to live, every day, every year, from babyhood and beyond.

Summers are for doing everything you want, and nothing if you don’t. Summers are for fun, and for carefree, for wind in your hair and sand in your toes. Not for bomb shelters and falling rockets and getting used to the deafening wail of the sirens. Summers are for too much screen time playing Wii and Xbox. Not for rocket alert apps and websites like israelhasbeenrocketfreefor.com (20 seconds and counting – it’s reset twice in the last 30 minutes). And there is not a child nor an adult in all of Israel that does not know a summer like this. That is a crazy, unimaginable, unfair way to live.

For all these things…

roadsign

The road to Jerusalem is quiet. The bright orange letters on the overhead traffic signs tell drivers what to do when a siren is heard: Stop safely on the side of the road. I switch the dial on the radio. My favorite song pours out of the speakers. My eyes well as the gentle melody streams over me. My heart lifts a little and I start to sing along.

“Siren in Ashkelon… siren in Ashkelon,” comes the announcement over the music. Not once or twice. But over and over and over again.

The tears cascade down my cheeks. The words freeze in my throat. My heart breaks into a million pieces. For this tiny country and its blessedly unyielding army, protecting its borders, its people, no matter what. Year after year, decade after decade. For the children spending the summer in bomb shelters and not in the park. And for the children who have done so too many times before and who will again.

A crazy, unimaginable way to live.

Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,
Shmor nah li eyli hatov
Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

For All These Things written by Naomi Shemer, translated by Theodore Bikel

Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning
from so far away.

Chorus:
Don’t uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase,
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.

Guard what little I’ve been given
Guard the hill my child might climb
Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen
Not be plucked before its time.

Chorus:
As the wind makes rustling night sounds
And a star falls in its arc
All my dreams and my desires
Form crystal shapes out of the dark.

Guard for me, oh Lord, these treasures
All my friends keep safe and strong,
Guard the stillness, guard the weeping,
And above all, guard this song.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

I’ve Been in Preschool for Eleven Years

My littlest one is graduating preschool tomorrow. Big day! He is the baby of our family but definitely not a baby anymore. He is monkey bar strong, too cheeky for my own good, kind and not so kind, teases his friends and begs for sleepovers, busy all the time with his Legos, water balloons, and “fairy dust” (ground up chalk that finds its way into everything). He is five-year-old little and five-year-old big all at once – squirms his small body into our bed most nights and can’t understand why he’s not allowed to stay home by himself like his brothers when he uses words like “hideous” and “actually”, eats teenage bowls of cereal all afternoon, shoots baskets better than they do.

He loves his preschool, the sandbox and slide, his teachers and friends – but he is bursting out of himself, like an uncontainable jack-in-the-box just waiting to spring into kindergarten with his arms up high: I’m here!

Yep. Big Graduation Day tomorrow. For him. And for me.

I’ve been dropping off at, picking up from, volunteering and shopping for, complaining about and loving this preschool for 11 years. In a row. No breaks. Sometimes I had one kid there, sometimes two. Sometimes as one was graduating, another was starting. It’s the only school all four of my children will attend from start to finish. And the divine Morah (Hebrew for teacher) K with the squeeziest hugs and most patient heart is probably the only teacher in their academic history that will teach them all. How lucky they are!

Since 2003, every week day, for ten months of every year, I have driven the route from my house to the preschool and back, at least twice a day if not more. I think that’s about 15,000 miles. We have no less than 12 homemade menorahs to choose from at Chanukah – who knew that bolts stuck on wood made the best Chanukah candle holders? – and almost the same number of Passover seder plates. I have devoured about 400 kid-made challahs (the yummiest challah in the world), and have helped raise thousands of dollars for the scholarship fund, facilitated the construction and dedication of a new classroom, and cooked countless meals for families and teachers with new babies and new homes.

I have watched my children’s two-year-old tears of separation and toddler anxiety transform into confidence, laughter, knowledge, friendship and pure delight in being at their home away from home. I have felt their teachers’ love, warmth and nurturing spirit – not only for each of mine, but also for me, my husband, even for Pretzel the dachshund.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to this haven of creativity and expression that has quietly brought constant calm to the chaos and confusion of daily life. For all of us. For 11 years.

I thought I would be sadder. I thought I would be sad. That it’s over. To say goodbye.

But I’m not.

I’m excited for my bursting jack-in-the-box to be in kindergarten in the fall, at the same school as his siblings. He can count, and form squiggly letters, and say the blessings on Shabbat. He knows about bridges and butterflies and how the world was created and he’s been in a fire truck. He knows how to share and have compassion and to empty the sand from his shoes before he comes into the house.

I’m not sad. My children – all four of them – are the still-growing people I am so proud of today because of that preschool. Those teachers. I am joyful.

And also nostalgic.

Longing – a little bit painfully – for those days when we would collect our three-year-olds and head to the park after school. An intense, necessary, sympathetic, close group of mamas, we would gather at the park with snacks and babies and picnic blankets and a gaggle of kids, and spend every afternoon chatting, gossiping, comforting, helping, friending. There was nowhere else to be but right where we were, with each other.

I miss that.

We are all still friends, but some have moved away, and all have moved on. Those three-year-olds are in middle school. The babies now have younger siblings. There are too many places we have to be after school, and it’s rare to run into each other anywhere.

That’s what I’m sad about.

I know life carries on, we move forward, sometimes slowly and reluctantly and sometimes with all the enthusiasm of an uncontainable jack-in-the-box. But as the sun sets on my years as a preschool mom, I am longing for those simple days of little kids, and bags of Pirates Booty (never thought I’d ever say that!), and long afternoons of more-than-friendship in the park.

JedRainbowTomorrow he will walk through the rainbow, like all the graduates at our preschool do, and like his brothers and sister did before him. My eyes will well with tears of pride and joy – and a little bit of pain and longing.

Want to go to the park after school? I’ll bring snacks.