יום שני, 11 בינואר 2016

It fits!

It's been a while that I've wanted to write about my grandmother. She was the most authentic person I have ever met. She was just that: herself. As I child I couldn't understand what that means. But now, as I'm approaching 30, I understand how difficult it is to be just yourself.

She died the day after I became fourteen. I always knew she wouldn't be around much longer. How did I know it? Because she used to say: Such a shame I will not be here when you'll turn 15. And she used to say this like every word she uttered. A command. As if the universe would come to halt to fulfill her will.

The very talented seamstress who already in the 1940's would say that she was no fashion victim. And with the conceit to the others' helplessness that was so peculiar to her she would say: I make fashion I don't follow it. No, grandma, you've never followed anything. You were not made for that.

Her creations last until today. She wore them in the 1950's/1960's. But so did I in the 2010's. (And I have never  felt so comfortable in any kind of fabric, as I feel when I dress something from her wardrobe.) She would wear many, many rings. As many rings as you and I have fingers. I rarely saw her wearing pants and NEVER, but never wearing jeans. It was not proper for her. She was not a cowboy, she would say. And how angry she would get when another seamstress wouldn't do her job right. It was like breaking the gentleman's agreement between all the seamstress that a piece of cloth must fit perfectly, with no apparent threads.

Once, as I told my grandmother's life story,  a miserable soul said: Ah, so your grandmother married up. No, you silly thing, my grandmother simply got married. And like all the happy couple they were simply fit. Life might look very confusing sometimes. But it is really not. Life fits perfectly, like one of grandmother's creations. We don't need reasons to live, we don't need reasons to be who we are or to do what we love to do. Reasons come later. To explain what doesn't seem to fit.

Whenever I find myself in a situation in which I can't figure out what to do, I think: How my grandmother would do that? And the answer is always the same: She was just herself. Go, girl, just be yourself and everything will be fine. It's like going back in time and lying on her huge bed, while she passes her long red nails through my hair. If she made it by then, I can do it now.

Today, as I got the news of  David Bowie's death, I sat quietly trying to remember who else had his power to overthrow society's paradigms and transform it into art. We need people in our lives to show that you are the most amazing character you can be in this show that life is. And it should be the only role you should be trying to perform in life. And while others are thinking they had been so lucky because they could share the planet Earth with him, I feel lucky because of the wonderful woman I had as a grandmother.

יום רביעי, 26 באוגוסט 2015

Emotional equality: we want it!

Today is women's equality day. Ninety-five years ago, in USA, women secured their right to vote. Each one of us has its own cause when it comes to gender equality. And, for sure, I have mine. It is emotional equality. What does it mean?

It means that women should never ever feel the need to hide their feelings from the opposite gender. As women, we are used to talk a lot about our feelings to our girl friends, but we hardly ever have the chance to express what we feel to a member of the opposite gender. Even when it is the guy we love. And, seriously? It sucks!

We should be able to tell a guy when we like them, when we don't or when we want to date. It shouldn't sound strange or not proper. A man can ask a girl out. But the opposite still sounds too forward sometimes. Wait down there! Let's imagine two people who like each other. She cannot ask him out first, because women should be conquered and seduced by a guy, not the opposite. That's the tradition. Oh, I see. Your way of keeping it traditional is by making my love life similar to a board game, like Monopoly or Risk. Are you nuts? If I cannot ask you out for a simple cup of coffee and some good talking, you can forget about any kind of romance.

A relationship where one part is not able to express her feelings is not a relationship, it's not partnership. It's emotional slavery and it doesn't matter how well the guy might treat you. If he is not ready to deal with and respect your feelings when you open up, I am sorry to say, but he doesn't respect you, he doesn't deserve you.

I have been lucky enough to express my feelings since I was a teenager. And I guarantee you, it pays off. Even when you two don't go out on a date. It helps you to learn what you want, who you really are, and who you should or should not invest in a relationship with.

So on this women's equality day, I would like to thank the men who I had been lucky enough to express my feelings fully to. They are great men. And I also would like to tell the young girls and women out there: it is possible, worthy and is has nothing to do with being decent or indecent. It has to do with being honest to yourself.


יום ראשון, 27 ביולי 2014

The story behind the picture

It was early morning on Friday, July 25th, 2014. I checked my Facebook notifications and saw that a friend tagged me on a status. There I found a link to an article at the online version of USA Today. Yes, there was a picture on it, but I couldn't care less. It automatically got to the "I can check it later" list. Soon other friends started liking the same status. And I still couldn't see any reason for all that fuzz. The article's headline read: Rockets or not, Birthright still going to Israel. I thought that maybe a brave Brazilian was at the Birthright group.
After couple hours of likes, comments and what's app messages, I went back to the status and decided to give it a third, fourth or fifth look… The picture! I click on the link and the picture's caption read: An Israeli prays at the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg. Yes, the Israeli was me. And my first reaction was: "Wow! Somewhere I am indeed Israeli!" And here it starts the story behind the picture:
Officially, I'm not an Israeli citizen. Or, at least, not yet. After a long struggle, only a couple of governmental department stamps from the country of my birth, Brazil, keeps me away from becoming officially Israeli. I am almost there! But what a journey, what an odissey it was.
I wasn't born Jewish by the Jewish Law. But I always knew that Israel was my home. And I cherished the dream of living here for years. Even during the peak of the second Intifada, I didn't allow my dream to fade. I would liv in Israel one day. And whenever I got here, this would be my last stop. Every journey has a starting point and mine was the orthodox conversion... Or conversions. I got two of them, you know, just in case.
After spending five years just trying to convince a rabbi to prepare me for the orthodox conversion, I engaged into a year and half of constant study with my rabbi that prepared me for a written exam about Judaism and Jewish Law. Passing this exam was the condition for my trip to Bnei Brak to the Beit Din that would really convert me, since orthodox conversions are unheard of in Brazil. I honestly think that the rabbi who gave me the test (not the one who prepared me) didn't believe I'd make it through. But I did. And with flying colors.
And I landed in Israel! After weekly visits Bnei Brak for a little bit more than a month, I got my conversion. Not I was Jewish according to the Jewish Law... Not so fast! I learned the hardest way that this conversion is illegal in pIsrael. By no means, it is taken by the Chief Rabbinate. So, legally, in Israel, I was still not Jewish.
I had to take a second conversion at the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. And it was everything but easy. Even renewing my visa to stay in the country was a nightmare. But one day I made to a second Beit Din. This time, at the Chief Rabbinate. Once again I made it through! After the second mikve in two years, I was... No, I wouldn't say I was Jewish again. I had been Jewish for two years before that. I was now Israeli! I could stay in the country, I could become a citizen. Finally!
Now I have a paper where it says I'm Jewish. The problems to renew visas are totally behind me. Only couple of stamps from Brazilian authorities are between me and my Israeli ID or at least I hope so. But I don't care. It will happen. I just hope it happens really soon.
But deep inside, I'm the lone young woman who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport with a backpack weighing nothing more than 11kg. I couldn't speak more than 20 words in Hebrew. I could read, but my vocabulary was limited to 'how are you?', 'my name is...', 'I want to go to...' And this last sentence had to end with the name of a street, a neighborhood, I had no idea how a drugstore was called in Hebrew. Except for a handful of Brazilian friends I knew no one. No family. No connections. And guess what? Yes! I made it through! Later, I understood why some of the Brazilian rabbis involved in my conconversion counseled me to have it in Bnei Brak. No one would seriously believe I would survive here. They probably thought I would soon be back to Brazil. But do you know when you finally get home after a long day? Even if your best friend invites you to the most amazing event you simply want to stay in. And I am at home.
But I also know what it is to be alone here. The distance from friends and family. I also got adoptive families, to whom I'm eternally grateful for everything, from help with apartment searching, job hunting, shabat and festivals meals, friendship, warmth... I had been so blessed so far that I have never really felt lonely.
And on the day I got the news that some lone soldier had passed away in the current military op, my heart broke. And what it was left of my heart was broken once more when I read the story of Sgt. Max Steinberg. Just like me, he arrived here in 2012. But we had more in common. We both decided to stay after visits to Har Herzl Cemitery. We both were connected to the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.
For a couple months I was a humble volunteer at the Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem. Every week I would bake them 40-60 small challot and deliver on Friday at their office. I loved what I did. I wanted the boys and girls in the army to have a small flavor of homemade food. I'm getting ready to resume the project soon, expanding it, making it more professional. Our soldiers deserve it!
But anyway... I never met Max. But when I heard that he would be buried in Jerusalem, I started a small campaign posting in Portuguese to raise awareness of his funeral. I myself couldn't stay longer. I had an appointment at the other side of the city at 12:00. But I decided that I would be there. Maybe for a couple minutes. I would get a taxi to my appointment. No matter what, I would be there. I would honor the guy who gave his life to protect me and my country when he could be surfing in LA. If he didn't find excuses not to protect me. I wouldn't find any excuse for not honoring him.
And that's when the picture was taken. I was standing by near the entrance of the Cemetery, because I had to leave soon and it'd be crowded. I split the book of Psalms with other girls, whom I didn't know before. And just after Max's coffin was taken to where he would be buried and while I was reading the psalm 107, I got this sensation that someone was staring at me. I raised my eyes and there he was. A press photographer. By looking straight to the camera, I knew I had spoiled his picture. And I felt so bad. After all, it's his profession. He needs pictures. But I couldn't stage one. I left just after that. Internally, I hoped he had caught it. And he did! And I was named "an Israeli". While it is not officially true... Ah... Who cares? The caption is right! It was an Israeli praying.
SHARE this story! There might be some lone immigrant out there who might be strengthened by reading this piece.

יום חמישי, 28 בנובמבר 2013

Nilton Santos, my father and me

I should've written this in Portuguese. But chose English so that my non-Portuguese speaker friends would be able to grasp the feeling of soccer, the passion that moves this whole industry/circus that this sport became. Last night, I got the news that Nilton Santos passed away in Rio de Janeiro, my hometown. From 1948 to 1964, Nilton defended Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas (O Glorioso - The Glorious). He was a defender, a left back, o beque esquerdo. The news of his death reached me in my bedroom in Israel, while I was preparing to move to a new apartment. And there, a little bit squeezed in between boxes and suitcases, I remembered my childhood, the days of supporting Botafogo, the Sunday afternoons of seeing Botafogo led by Tulio and Goncalves playing and making all its way to be Brazilian champion in 1995.

But wait there... Everyone knows that I support Fluminense! Yeah, I do. I PROUDLY support Fluminense Football Club, my passion in three colors. But what few people know is that I only started to be this fanatic supporter I am today in 1998. Before that I "supported" America FC, under the influence of my step-father. And, after that, I was a Botafogo fan for a real short while in an attempt to please my father who's a real Botafogo supported. My mother and her Vasco da Gama were never ever in the picture. Every now and then, I catch myself singing:

Botafogo, Botafogo
Campeão desde 1910
És herói em cada jogo
Por isso que tu és
E hás de ser
Nosso imenso prazer

These days are long gone and I don't think I still have my Botafogo jersey anymore. Obviously, my Fluminense jersey is right here in my closet and I even arrived to Israel wearing it under the several layers of fabric to protect me from that cold night of Febraury. But even though Botafogo is still important in my life, not only because my father, four sisters and three nephews still support the club (all due to daddy's influence), rather because I love soccer and I acknowledge the importance this club has in the history of Brazilian soccer.

They had Heleno de Freitas, Garrincha, Nilton, Didi, Jairzinho... And how not to mention Jefferson and Loco Abreu? But they had Heleno, the one all the women died for. Had Garrincha, that some say were better than Pele... And also, they had Nilton Santos, the most elegant defender who has ever played. We can argue that'll be better players, but Nilton Santos was from a time when you had respect for other team's players. And it's so rare now. I've seen few examples of honoring the rival recently. I can put on my list the French players Igor Djorkaieff and Marcel Desailly. Unfortunately, I have more examples of very thin professional ethics, just like when, during 2002 World Cup, Mexican players kicked the ball off the field to simply beat up Coby Jones, an American player that as it seems they hated. It'd have never happened in a squad led by Nilton. He'd take the ball from you, never would he leave you lying dead on the field as Martin Taylor did to Eduardo Silva.

By experience I can tell the difference of watching a match full of violence and one in which things get solved nice, professionally inside the four lines. Good soccer is beautiful to watch, it doesn't (ok, there are exceptions) matter who plays. And yesterday watching YouTube videos from past World Cups and Brazilian Championship, I remembered why that's my favorite sport. It brought me back to memory the matches I went to, the Fluminense vs Botafogo match I went with my father, the extreme joy that is seeing your club to win the national championship or any championship, the days I myself was defender (it deserves another post). But above all I thought that I saw players like Junior, Thiago Silva, Cafu, Lothar Matthaus, Thorsten Frings and the first things it comes to my mind when I remember them it's the same thing that comes to my mind when I think about Nilton Santos: your will of winning that match is never greater than the respect owed to the rival player. Nilton Santos: We all learned so much from him....

יום שני, 17 ביוני 2013

The Giant is no longer asleep

I was born in a city that many foreigners consider "exotic". Sorry! Sorry for disappointing you, but the city where I was born, grew up and lived most of my life is a normal, chaotic metropolis just like any other. But I must tell you that you have never seen so much rain in your life before you have seen a summer storm there. You have never seen beautiful beaches before you have been there. This amazing city is Rio de Janeiro. And today I am writing to express all my pride not only of Rio, but also my pride of Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and all the other cities throughout Brazil that chose to protest against the country's status quo.

It's not about 0,20 of the bus fare. It's about expressing how the Brazilian people is tired of what's going on in the country for years now. It's about the extremely high taxes, the ridiculous corruption that reaches all the country and almost everything there, the poor quality of public education and health services. Yes, it started due to the raise of 0,20 in the bus fare, but its roots lie much, much deeper in the Brazilian society. I was born in a country where nothing changed. I grew up in a country where people didn't protest on the streets, didn't strongly demand anything from their politicians. But the reality changed. Our giant is no longer asleep.

The country I left behind to pursue my dream of living in Eretz Israel is a work in progress. I can't express my love for all that cities. Despite my love for the Land of Israel which G'd promised to my people, to my forefathers, I keep Brazil in a very dear place in my heart. There, in Rio, I lived the most beautiful moments of my life. In Niteroi (RJ), I lived the best years of my life as a college student. In Sao Paulo, I dreamed higher and I must confess that despite I was born in Rio, I do love Sao Paulo. I didn't hide my joy and happiness when I saw people occupying Cinelandia (if you think that I didn't support the Occupy movements, you don't know me). The same feeling I got just recently when I saw Avenida Paulista (SP) packed with protesters, when Avenida Rio Branco was full of people wearing white shirts and protests spanned all over this giant country.

I'm proud of the changes in the mentality of Brayilian mentality. I'm proud of all my friends and the thousands and thousands of people who are out there on the streets, facing the strong repression from the police. What will change? It change  the idea of the Brazilian population as a herd of calm, pacific sheep. It makes clear to the citizens themselves that whenever they get together, whenever they make their voices heard, things will certainly change. The protests show that the idea of the brazilian citizen as passive onlooker of the ridiculous political situation is gone.

It's been some years that Brazil is changing. Economically the country changed a lot. Socially also. What should we expect then? I strongly oppose to the violent protests, I totally don't agree with protesters who destroy public places and buildings. But let's be honest... Who doesn't know the extremely violent attitudes of the police in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro? Who doesn't know how cruel the police in SP can be? It IS. It HAS ALWAYS BEEN. But people who live there show that old days of passivity are gone. And I'm eager to see the next chapter of this amazing and historical event.

יום שלישי, 23 באפריל 2013

Correction on previous post

Just correcting the previous post: as well said by my friend Daniel Barenbein, Yom HaZikaron also honors the fallen combatants in all of the wars fought in Eretz Israel, including the period before we had a regular army. 

I stand for them

So far one of the happiest days in my life is Yom HaAztmaut (Israeli Independence Day). However, it's preceded by the saddest day in Israel's History: Yom HaZikaron (lit. Rememberance Day). That's when we remember all the soldiers and police officers killed from 1948 until our days. On this day, a siren is sounded and, if you live is Israel, you happen to get used to this sound. Sirens are there either to announce when Shabat starts or that rockets are flying over our heads. But this one is different and also quite polemic, as most of other things in this country are.

Some religious people, who are against the State of Israel due to many different reasons, do not stand when Yom HaZikaron siren sounds. They have their own reasons for their attitude. And I'll not discuss here why people take such an attitude. What I'd like to share with you is why I stand and why I cry for people that I didn't even know. I don't pretty much care about what other people don't do. I care about what I feel it's right to do.

I think about the bereaved families, about the lives taken from more than 23,000 people. And I praise and thank them for all they did in their duty to protect my country. But also I ask for their forgiveness, since we couldn't do enough to keep them alive. In a certain sense, I feel indebted to them. And I would like to ask for their forgiveness that their families had to suffer such a pain that NO family should be exposed to, so that I would live safely in Israel.My question is if we are worthy of living on their merits. I'm not asking if we would die for the country. What I ask is, in fact, a little bit more complex. Are we meritorious to exist in the land where these people lived, died and are buried? Honestly, I have no final answer, but I tell you that I live my life trying to be.

Whenever the siren sounds, I stop whatever I'm doing and give them kavod (honor). I stood for them, for all of them. I stand for the ones who were religious and for those who weren't. Because they stood for all of us, Haredi, Dati Leumi, Conservative or Secular. They didn't choose which of us they would protect. How can we think we should select who we should honor? I don't care if a fallen IDF soldier didn't keep Shabat or ate pork with shrimp while drinking milk-shake. As observant Jew, I obviously feel sad. But I acknowledge that they were human beings that must be respected as such, regardless any political or religious bias.

On this day, I remember people like Dov Indig, whose Letters to Thalia were a very sweet reading; Esther Cailingold, who made Alyiah alone in 1946; Michael Levin, just a couple years older than me who is a hero in my generation; Yoni Netanyahu, whom I admire beyond anything words could express; Roi Klein, who jumped on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. I don't understand how someone would not be proud of them, how someone wouldn't want to honor people like these. I ask myself who these people do honor. Since they are unable to show gratitude to someone who died making sure that their lives would be safe, I doubt if they would honor anyone to whom they owe much less than their own lives. But once again... I can only be responsible for the things I do. And, on Yom HaZikaron, I remember their life stories and visit the graves at Har Herzl (Jerusalem Military Graveyard), weep and share their amazing deeds. That's how I'm able to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut so much, because I know that I'm doing my best to make their effort worthwhile.