Being Proud of One’s Religious Identity and Antisemitism

Once again a saddening debate about religious signs is happening in my beloved homeland. It is traditionally understood that religion belongs to the private sphere, and you do not encounter common expressions like “God Bless” or “God speed” in the French language, at least not with an intentional meaning as it would commonly have in the US.

 

The Media is Creating the News

Another terrorist attack on a teacher donning a Jewish skullcap, the kippah, occurred this week in Marseilles, third city in the South of France, and is now sparking a fiery debate as the chief of the local “consistoire” (a Jewish Counsel Organization that has a lot of authority in France among religious Jews) has recommended the Jews NOT to wear a kippah in the public space “until things calm down”, which we all know is akin to saying “until the sun stops shining on the earth” because we are talking of one incident among the hundreds that are happening all the time when Jews are concerned everywhere in the world and in Israel every day. This particular incident got a lot of media attention because of the recent terror attacks in France and as always the need from the media to distance themselves from the responsibilities they bear in “making events” or burying them.

By insisting on the necessity to hide your own beliefs or your customs under the pretext that they would be provocative of any kind of violence done to you, you are accusing the victims (here, in this case, a victim of antisemitism, but the same happens with victims of sexual violence or of racism in the case of young black men walking in the street in the USA – and how would they hide that they have a different skin tone in the public space?) of being the guilty party for the violence that is done to them.

mezzuzah on my doorpostI remember when I decided to affix a mezuzah (the decorative box containing a small scroll with excerpts of scripture from the Hebrew bible, the Torah called the “shema“) to my doorpost in my apartment in Paris, my father had been agreeing to my so doing, if I was putting it INSIDE the apartment but not outside. Out of respect for my father (which has to take precedence in honoring him, rather than doing the other commandment of affixing the mezuzah to the doorpost), I had done so. Only when I came to live to the USA was I able to proudly adorn my outside doorpost with a mezuzah (and have other doors inside with same, too!).

Living in a World of Fear or in a World of Love

In doing so, I do not see how I could incite to violence unless people are antisemitic and hate the Jews for just being Jews.

We live in a world of growing fear, not because the world is more violent than it used to be in the dark ages. We live in a world of fear because we choose to shine lights on the darkest and meanest parts of what the world is experiencing and not shining a light on educating, teaching and loving.

A Jew who is wearing a kippah is a person who chooses to adhere to a certain code of conduct, that is, first of all, respectful of all the others, and that is a non-violent way of affirming beliefs for oneself and not pushing them onto others.

Everyone in France should support their Jewish neighbors by wearing a kippah in the public space, in a way to affirm that they understand their plight and they respect them. They are very decorative and elegant little hats anyways and the pope dons one all the time. You do not need to believe in any kind of God or particular religion to understand that we should all do to others what we would like to be done to us.

Pre-Chanukah Message

To all my dear friends,

I did not see December arrive. It may be a result of a mild and beautiful fall in Westchester this year, or it may be a result of many other things, like getting older and being the witness of too many years go by, so that perceptions of time flying increase with each added year to my bones. It may also be the result of burying my head in my own sand, made of grief and denial, anger and sadness, all very unhappy emotions that make depression loom on my usually organized disposition.

Now that the last month of the year 2015 is here, I have reached many deadlines that I will not be able to meet with confidence that things were properly done. Some of those deadlines may seem trivial to others if I were to describe them, some others we all share so those would be easier to tell and get your compassion because I am pretty sure you share the feelings.

A feeling of overwhelm

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the world, the news, the pace. The feeling of guilt when friends or family in need have been neglected, as simple as a phone call that was not returned or a personal letter that was not replied to. Their need may have been dire or just plain simple, like knowing that you are doing okay, it still feels huge to me, because I have always prided in giving everyone as much attention as asked for.

This year, I certainly failed many of you. The reason why I had promised myself to write more often became a big source of procrastination as if I wanted to write good news only, happy thoughts and inspirational stories.

After I lost my mother, I understandably went into grieving mode, with the realization that there was very little I could say or do to explain what it entailed for me. I chose to share as little as possible without really wanting it because I started to be afraid I would bore everyone with repeating myself over and over, as I have often noticed it in these circumstances. It is as if the wheel is stuck and spins without any reason, and it hurts but is nearly impossible to explain. It is a time when those who witness the process may feel helpless and pushed into insensitive remarks if they do not stick to the traditional greetings and phrases that can make everyone feel a little out of place or worse, annoyed, because who wants a constant reminder about mortality, death and all that goes with mourning?

Loss after loss

Losing my friend and choir director Kathy Storfer was, therefore, an impossible conversation. Knowing that Kathy was dying made it worse for me to share anything about my feelings and emotions because I knew of Kathy’s desire for privacy and discretion. As much as my updates had helped me cope with the end of life of my mother, I felt tragically isolated in my process that led to the news that Kathy died on Monday, November 9 in the early afternoon. There was no shock nor falling apart because of an incredibly sad and cruel fact, there was the need to acknowledge that the loss was a public one – and oh so public because of Kathy’s wide influence in this side of the world – and that the many “families” Kathy had been part of were going to fall into that intense mourning I knew o so well from my other experiences with it. It needed to be acknowledged, but it became very soon overwhelming when on top of it another public and tragic incident shattered my personal world with the terrorist attacks that plagued Paris and threw an entire people in shock and post-traumatic stress mode, so early after the already disturbing losses of the month of January 2015.

As much as the terrorist attacks had affected me emotionally and intellectually because of my sense of belonging – to a nation – to an ideal of values – to a generation – I knew of the process of recovery, of political stances. It becomes much more difficult when it comes to personal losses, like the death of Cantor Kerry Ben-David, the shutting down of the Jewish Family Congregation which I had personally opposed for reasons that a lot of my current friends in the congregation failed to grasp despite all my efforts to explain and my attempts to get anyone willing to try to believe we could follow different paths than the only one offered matched with total failure.

Like a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean

Then at the same time, all these bereavements – my mother, all that made my life in the synagogue still hold – were matched with yet another challenge that was tragic, when we learned of our current rabbi’s illness, completely out of nowhere, since he is a young, spiritual, kind, healthy living rabbi. He is keeping his struggles to his personal sphere, and we, as congregants, are left with praying for his recovery, and absolutely nothing else to hold onto, which is totally scary, as if we were on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle, barely enough life jackets, and water, and little energy to envision the journey to an elusive shore we do not see.

For some like me, this has felt like an antic Greek tragedy that would have cursed the place we once loved, the community that was built and that thrived despite several difficult episodes, until several years ago when tragedies after tragedies started to strike and shove many of us in a feeling of a whirlwind, with no happy ending in sight.

Spirituality as my Buoy

I have explained how spirituality is a key component of my balance and how it has helped me go through personal hardship, when I have had to decide of the course of my life after I made some turns that took me to a foreign place, a foreign land, a foreign territory, a foreign language, a strange maze of raising a child with autism, a demanding responsibility of raising boys without a man to partner with me in the task, and no personal currency to compensate for the lack of help in a place where everything you need has a pretty high cost when you think about it and when no regular income makes it look like a regular expense. Living in a rich country is a privilege that I am always thankful for, but it makes poverty a constant weight to drag at your feet, that slows you more than it should, every day and every night.

So yes, I can be spiritual and find solace in prayer anywhere, I need no particular place for that, just discipline and practice. I have a solid network of friends and loving family that is responsive and caring, and I lack no interactions with social networks either. Solitude should not be such a problem. I have healthy young men as my sons, and this is a blessing that can also bring pain with the fear of losing what is loved so much, and can make me, even more, tense at all times, just trying to show the more relax side of me, so that I do not communicate my anxieties and make them a useless burden to their lives.

Anger as my fuel

But I also have unsaid anger, resentment that is not politically correct to voice and I am very upset at many people for having brought some of the things that I regret are happening upon ourselves because of their own attitudes and belief systems, the lack of commitment to reconsidering their positions as part of a system that they should not have wanted to control entirely as they have done.

The reason why I am mentioning such anger, taking the risk to alienate you, dear friends who are reading this and might feel threatened by an unsaid comment not openly directed at you is that I feel the time is here for me to stop playing along with correctness, with fear of antagonizing others when in reality it has already happened all the time, and I have been backstabbed more often than never anyway. I am pissed, and I am ready to say if it can help things shift and go to somewhere else, in a healthier zone than being sorry all the time.

I am not sorry that I did not want the merger of the two synagogues because I am seeing no end to doing more of the same that took us in the first place to a place of depletion instead of a place of abundance. I am not sorry that I can claim I have kept doing as much as I could to show support and more support without asking for anything more in return, well knowing that it was going to be exhausting only, and it has, and I am at a point where restarting the engine will only take a supply of outside fuel because there is no more personal resource that I can rally to accomplish the miracle.

Light, hope, and love

I will have to say no, and to say no again and no more even more. I will have to pick and choose and make priorities, and it will hurt some if they do not understand where I want to go from here.

At the end of the week, I will start celebrating the holiday of Chanukah, the festival of lights, the Jewish minor holiday that some would wrongly compare to a Jewish Christmas time when it has nothing to do with it. My celebration is a daily meditative practice that allows me to see the light come out of darkness, to see hope grow out of utter despair, to see strength finally win over depletion. My hope is to be able to share with all those I love the miracle that occurs at that time and that goes beyond the glitter or the sparkles that I do not want to be part of when my heart is so full and heavy.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season, and hoping to hear from you,
With love always,
Laurence

This is why I choose to add a French Flag Filter to my Profile Picture on Facebook

Customize_your_profile_picture_on_facebook

In the aftermath of Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, Facebook quickly offered the ability to add a filter covering your profile photo in a layer of the colors of the French Republic flag.

After thinking through, this is why I chose to do it:
there is a time of shock after events that you feel are touching you directly in who you are. After a death comes grief, but it comes with several stages, that need to be passed through before you can transform them into something constructive. I decided that until I had passed those stages, I would signal my state of grief by filtering my face behind a veil that represents a part of who I am, and that will signal myself as a mourner, or a person in mourning for those particular events. I will remove the veil when I feel ready to go back to the world… this is called bereavement, and nothing else.

Now, if it presents a vision of the world to anyone who would tell me it is limiting to a shocking reality excluding other valuable causes, I would reply that the world wide web is very vast, vaster than the sea of filtered faces you can see in Facebook’s timeline. If you see only filtered profiles, it may mean that your choice of friends is not diverse enough, that is all. This goes both ways.

 

I had also had to explain something that seemed obvious, but is always necessary to restate clearly:

Since we are all guilty of doing it, and I will always include myself in these faulty behaviors or speeches, I want to say that immediately after hearing of a terrible news, other than pronouncing conventional sentences, we may want to jump to very insensitive comments, that are spoken from a place of raw emotion.

I will not comment on top of these comments that social media have facilitated now. I will put myself in the place where I am: in shock and disbelief, in sadness and profound distress.

I know that whatever I will say or think is painted with where I come from and what my own experiences are. We are all part of what is going on and in need of trying to make sense in order to be able to move from the place of raw emotion that is too painful to bear otherwise.

My plea to everyone is to do what you feel comfortable the most with, whether it takes root in your belief system or political views, but also bear in mind that the noise we make has an impact, the words we say have an impact, the images we share have an impact. Let us all think before we react. Let us pause the time we are sure what we can do is going to be useful to someone else as well as to oneself.

And if too much thinking and pausing is making us look dumb or bizarrely shy or uninteresting, let us be thankful for being a worker of peace, a keeper of time.

Thank you for all your messages of love. Paris is where I was born and where I lived all my life until I moved permanently to the States at 40 years old, too old to become anything else than a foreigner in a foreign country, an adopter of a new land. The motherland remains strong. I do not want to hear any disparaging comment about the politics of the French. They are my countrymen and my allegiance will always be to the world of strong values that made me who I am. Paris will always be my hometown where every nook and stone I have walked and had adventures that those who are currently walking may feel and love or fear.

Let us be kind to each other and let us try to be patient when Time has been suddenly put in a motion that is scary.

The Time of Cherries – Le Temps des Cerises

When tragedy strikes, what can I do that can be helpful?

 

Le Temps des cerises is a song written in France in 1866, with words by Jean-Baptiste Clément and music by Antoine Renard, extremely famous in French-speaking countries. The song was later strongly associated with the Paris Commune, during which verses were added to the song, thus becoming a revolutionary song. The “Time of Cherries” is a metaphor regarding what life will be like when a revolution will have changed social and economic conditions. It is believed to be dedicated by the writer to a nurse who was killed in the Semaine Sanglante (“Bloody Week”) when French government troops overthrew the commune. (©Wikipedia)

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Et gai rossignol et merle moqueur
Seront tous en fête
Les belles auront la folie en tête
Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur
Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Où l´on s´en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d´oreilles
Cerises d´amour aux robes pareilles
Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang
Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Pendants de corail qu´on cueille en rêvant

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Si vous avez peur des chagrins d´amour
Evitez les belles
Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles
Je ne vivrai pas sans souffrir un jour
Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Vous aurez aussi des peines d´amour

J´aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
C´est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur
Une plaie ouverte
Et Dame Fortune, en m´étant offerte
Ne saura jamais calmer ma douleur
J´aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur

The Birthday Cake

Making of the birthday cake from Otir on Vimeo.

Today was my son’s 14th birthday. Yesterday we prepared the traditional chocolate cake with his brother; we had a lot of fun of course, but not as much as today’s while eating the cake.

During the making of the cake, I mention a pinch of sugar in the whites, when I meant a pinch of salt of course. While the cake was baking, we enjoyed the last episode of season 5 of the West Wing, had you guessed it?

Traditions are sacred. Six years ago, I already documented the making of the famous homemade chocolate cake, that I learned to bake when I was a child, and that my four-year-old made with his grandmother in 2001 back in Paris. I am not sure I have any digital photo from back then, but the delicious pictures of the toddler in the kitchen mixing the batter are everywhere in my mind.

I have this fantasy that I have time to spare building a whole interesting book of memories on a unique theme, as discreet as the making of the chocolate cake. Each year, I think about it and pass on the action because pictures are either scattered or suddenly I realize how futile the endeavor would seem to anyone but me.

And then another year goes by and I really regret I did not do it, as it would be such a wonderful way to show something to the world, something that is so difficult to explain with words when you are living it day by day, one day at a time, and have done so now for decades in the plural form: the tiny changes that you cannot see, cannot feel, cannot experience, because one year after the other, all is so exactly the same and at the same time absolutely not any more.

Yes, the seasons come back, and with their name and their flow, what is expected at that time, happens. But, you have grown, and aged, and lost so much that remembering would allow to measure how much you actually have won, what you gained in wisdom and in patience, in understanding and in marveling.

This year was no different: I wanted it to be memorable and at the same time it felt such a repetition of the previous years heartaches that I nearly was discouraged before even starting. There is such an intense hope that things have changed for the better and the utter inability to feel that it happened. But only static memories can prove the feeling wrong and show that things change, not maybe what we wanted to change, but something is happening. Growth is happening.

The cake remains the same and the pleasure to eat it is a continuous renewal of memories to cherish.

 

 

Joseph 20th Birthday

Click on the picture to go browse the full album of pictures – starts with a short recap of past birthdays 

My Mother

The text below was shared during shivah with the visitors who came to comfort me.

My Mother

She was born May 9, 1927 in Algiers
She died in the morning of August 21 in her bed in Paris.
In between those two dates, she had run the course of a luminous life. On that last morning, she woke up, said she did not want to take her breakfast nor her medication and simply wanted to go back to sleep. Then the heart that had beaten with passion and love for all those years simply stopped.

Colette was the type of sunshine that warms you all the time. She was constantly active and had only started slowing down and losing some of her enthusiasm for life after her beloved husband died April 8, 2014. They had been married for sixty years and my father Francis was her only love. While he was still alive, he was the one keeping her on her toes intellectually. Otherwise nothing could stop her in her busy tracks, always bustling with errands, planning of all sorts, redesigning, shlepping furniture in between rooms or between her houses – the country cottage and the Parisian apartment – or constantly relandscaping  her garden. Her joy in life was to feed everyone and she would cater the most refined and original tables with a taste for always new recipes. She would jump at any opportunity to throw a festive meal and she would even invent some bizarre celebrations just to have a chance to set a full table of guests to rejoice.

Besides her amazing table, she will be remembered for her gardens. Hers were set in the country of Monet, the impressionist painter, and could definitely sustain the comparison with the best of his paintings. She was constantly perfecting it. Hands in the soil, or hands in the dough, my mother was always busy, and you could find her either in the kitchen, or in the garden, day and… night. She was happy to infuse plants and flowers with her enthusiasm. If they happened to suffer from the inclement weather and die, it was a pure catastrophe, and she would display genuine and utter sorrow over their demise for days.

Colette could not understand evil. There was nothing mean that she not see the good in. She adored people, her family, of course, her brothers, her friends, her cousins, her nieces and nephew, and each and every child born to all of them. She knew each and every birth date – and we are talking of a time when there was no facebook to remind you of sending a happy birthday greeting (and she would never approach anything technological anyways).

She loved making lists, wrote hand written letters that looked like heavily edited first drafts and would never clean them up because of her enthusiasm that would not allow her to stop long enough or regret anything that she had written. She always wanted to proceed with the next thing to be done, not delve on mistakes or shortcomings.

My mom adored that she be loved and everyone always got charmed by her, and rightfully would start loving her. She never wanted to bother anyone. She was a free spirit. She loved literature, had an absolute passion for the English language – which goes back to another long story that I will tell bli neder another time.

She loved making presents and would always give more than what you actually needed. She would send me care packages as if I was living in a war zone, and sometimes those packages were pretty explosive themselves. When I would scold her for overdoing it, she would cry and make me feel awful and guilty. Then it would inevitably end up in hysterical laughters from both of us, and the mishaps would become part of our family lore for ever.

Colette was who everyone dreamt of having for a mom and she actually would allow all who wanted to, to adopt her as such.

She thus became the mother of many, so many that I can’t count. She also became the grandmother of even more, including the children of my brother’s wife who came to France when they were 9 and 11 from Brazil. Family myths have it that she taught them how to speak French in less than three weeks.

To end this for tonight I would like to tell of the very special bond she had with Joseph. I believe the bond is made of their shared traits: their unadultered passion and enthusiasm without any filter, their total inability to think evil, their complete independence, their preference for doing things on their own and their utmost desire to then have the others partake in their joy and marvel at the results of what they do all day long.

Neither of them liked cuddling very much, but they were always ready to cuddle each other. When I told Joseph that his Grannie had died, he looked up and said: “sad“…

Grannie and Joseph cuddling