A Special Day…Happy Birthday

It’s just after midnight here in Israel. I should be finishing a project; I should be sleeping. Instead, my mind is drawn to the fact that it is Aliza’s 12th birthday on the Hebrew calendar. She’s asleep in her bed; excited by the plans we have to celebrate this week. Tomorrow, she and I will steal a day away. We’ll go out for breakfast and then go to the Western Wall. It is, in many ways, a symbol of all that we are as a people and so we’ll go there, as we have taken her brothers and sister so many times.

Later, we’ll do some shopping and come home. She is my baby and I have to keep reminding myself that she is growing so fast, reaching beyond, upwards. There is such wisdom inside of her, such gentleness. She is named after my mother-in-law and my grandmother. Two women who were hounded by hatred from their homes – one in Hungary in World War II; one from Russia after World War I. One was put in a gas chamber, but miraculously pulled out to live and raise a family. One caught in a horrible pogrom in her town. She was in the synagogue when the local Ukrainians came and set it afire. She too managed to survive and live to raise a family. Of all that they would have wanted for Aliza had they known her, I cannot help but believe they would have wanted her most of all to live the very life she lives here.

And like the women from whom she came, little Aliza has fought off demons as well. Their demons and Aliza’s have much in common – the Ukrainians, the Nazi, and the Arab cousins that butchered a family and terrorized a nation. I forgot the depths of the fear she has conquered until I stumbled on a blog post I had made only a few short months ago. I guess the blog serves as a reminder to me as well as to others. In honor of her birthday, I’m reposting the story of how a little girl has lived up to the women whose name she carries. With thanks to them and love for her….

Beating Demons – October 17, 2011

For those who don’t know, my youngest daughter is 11 years old, 11 and a half really. A few months ago, on a Friday night, two Palestinians sneaked into the Fogel home in Itamar and there they murdered…butchered…two parents and three children. Their bodies were discovered by their 12-year-old daughter, Tamar, when she returned home Friday night from youth group activities.

While much of Israel was caught up with the agony of this young girl and her two remaining brothers, suddenly and violently orphaned, I had my own bit of drama and trauma here in my home. My daughter identified with Tamar and became terrified that the same would happen to her. Nothing comforted her at first. She was afraid, for the first time in her life, to be alone at home even for a few moments; she was afraid of the dark; afraid of open windows that would allow terrorists to enter our home.

When I tried to tell her we would protect her, she answered too wisely for her age, “Tamar’s parents couldn’t protect them; how can you?” Indeed, Udi and Ruti apparently did manage to protect two small boys sleeping in another room, and so, at least Tamar has those brothers, though the Awad cousins did manage to murder her other two brothers and her baby sister. Aliza seemed to be getting worse for a while. It wasn’t enough just to assure her that the front door was locked; she wanted her bedroom door to be locked too. It wasn’t enough that we have bars on the windows; she wanted her window closed and her shades drawn closed against the dark.

She had nightmares that I thought signaled things were getting even worse, but according to the school counselor, this was actually a good sign in that it meant she was starting to find ways to cope. That her subconscious was sort of taking the trauma out and examining it and learning to deal with it. Whatever the reason, there were nights she came to my bed, shaking and crying and spent the next few hours with me.

I consulted people, psychologists, etc. and went with my instincts. I allowed her to fear and answered each fear. She slept with a fan rather than an open window. We put a window alarm on the window as well. She slept with a light on; she locked her door and checked the house locks too. Slowly, so painfully slowly, all that she has added on, she has removed. She can now sleep in her room with the door unlocked – except Friday nights. The lights are off again; the windows open again.

And then came a special challenge. We are now celebrating the holiday of Sukkot in Israel. Our front porch has been enclosed with bamboo mats and a fragile roof has been added. Decorations line the walls and the “ceiling.” But a simple rain would easily pass through, strong winds…even gentle ones…set things aflutter in the sukkah.

The point of the sukkah is to remind us that life can be precarious at times and it is our faith that strengthens and protects us. There is a custom to not only eat in the Sukkah, but to sleep there as well. To sit there as often as possible during the days and nights, to almost live there. Aliza wanted to sleep there. There are no windows, no doors, no locks. She won’t sleep there on her own but for the last several nights, either a friend has slept over or her younger brother pulled in a mattress on the other side and last night, I joined her.

I was awakened by the dog barking and I listened to see who approached. She slept peacefully and sleeps still as I sit a few meters away writing this. Aliza doesn’t know about the agreement to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners; doesn’t know that dozens will be released back to their homes in Jerusalem and nearby. She doesn’t know that a vicious killer named Ahlam Tamimi will be released to Jordan, to the hills I can see from my window.

But she has beaten the demons that have frightened her these past months. She has put them back and away and perhaps the next time she has to face them, she will see them for what they are – cowards that sneak in the night, slither in the dirt while she lives in the light.

4 Comments on A Special Day…Happy Birthday

  1. Happy birthday to Aliza from Louisiana, USA

  2. Happy Birthday, Aliza, from (near) Chicago, Illinois (USA)!

  3. Mazel Tov to Aliza on the occasion of her becoming Bat Mitvah!

  4. I was presnt in the early 1970’s when a very nice California gentile mitnadevet baked chocolate chip cookies for the families of Kibbutz Ramat David. They had not heard of such a food before. She had to make a special trip to Tel Aviv to find the chocolate chips and brown sugar.

    Based on my impressions from years living in Bahrain, Arabs love sweets, but chocolate isn’t really a part of the traditional culture like coffee is.

    Actually of course, solid chocolate is a European invention.

    Nowadays apparently, gourmet dark chocolate has become an example of the LosAngeles-ization of Tel Aviv.

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