Double buggy rage and other buggy blues

7 Jun

To continue on the parenting theme begun in my last post, today is the day for a guilty confession:

My name is Rebecca and I suffer from a bad case of buggy rage. 

(But officer, don’t judge me, anyone in my position would be guilty of the same crime, I swear!)

I am blessed to have three children under the age of five. This means that most of my gallivanting around the world in the last few years has involved a large multi-occupancy three-wheeled GT vehicle – but not one I travel in, oh no: this is one which relies solely on my own pushing power – aka a double buggy.

I began my double buggy career being a meek, nervous newbie gingerly steering the unwieldy contraption along narrow pavements, in and out of slightly too narrow shop doors, and up and down and all around town.

Scroll forward a couple of years later, and I am a whizz at zigzagging along the pavement effortlessly pushing the double buggy along one-handed. But this is where the problem begins. Inexplicably, other passers-by do not realise they are meant to get out of the way when I come hurtling forward. And this is the root cause of my buggy rage.

Not only do they not move out of my way, out of spite, I swear, they actually slow down, or stop entirely, JUST in front of my buggy. All types of humans are guilty of this, so it’s not limited to a certain demographic. Old ladies with walking sticks, children, mobile phone conversers, groups of people, single individuals, canine individuals, they are all culprits.

After innumerable encounters of this kind, I have concluded that they must be doing on purpose, they are all out to get me. There’s no other explanation for this.

There is a bus stop near where I live which I have to pass regularly, and the people waiting at that bus stop are without doubt the most unbearable offenders of this buggy obstruction. They ALL without exception conspire to stop and wait RIGHT in the middle of the narrow strip of pavement JUST as I appear behind them with my buggy. They loiter right in my path with their immense pieces of luggage / their giant-sized dogs / talking into their mobile phones. And then, as I call out politely for them to excuse me please can I get past, they move in sickening slow motion one or two steps to the left or right, which means, either there is still not enough space for me to get past, so I have to holler again, or worse still, there is JUST enough room for me to get through, but to do so requires me squeezing the buggy past painfully slowly for fear of causing injury.

Reader, I confess, I no longer care about causing injury. I now actively wish to do harm to these vile buggy obstructers.

While we are on the subject of buses, I have another cause for my buggy rage. This is when I need to take a bus journey and I have to haul the double buggy onto the bus using the middle doors. Because it is a large contraption piled high with little people, bags, blankets, water bottles, with rice cakes and breadsticks flying in its wake, everyone on the bus stares at me as I attempt my acrobatics to mount the vehicle.

But wait, you’d imagine all these unencumbered humans would LEAP up to help this hapless mother. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? But no, this is how the sequence works: I struggle, they stare, I struggle some more, they stare some more, and JUST at the point when my one-woman haulage system has completed its heaving, and the buggy has successfully been raised into the bus, one helpful person sometimes finally gets off their tush and asks me so helpfully: “Do you need any help?” GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

And once on the bus, puffing and panting, between gritted teeth, I still often need to sweetly ask those unbearable people invariably blocking the buggy / wheelchair section of the bus for no good reason, to kindly move out of the way.  Again, slow-motion movement from said individuals.

There’s much more to be said on this subject, I’m just warming to the theme, but I need to head off now. Just don’t get in my way, ok? And you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

 

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Survival guide for clueless mums of school-aged children

27 May

We are three quarters of the way through our family’s first “official” school year, and I am still getting my clueless head around the demands of the daily school run-playground-classroom-playground-school run grind.

In a spirit of  generosity, I will share some of my hard-earned wisdom for those embarking on this treacherous journey come September this year. In no particular order:

  1. Limited parking spaces near school turns parents into frenzied dog-eat-dog monsters. No solidarity, no polite giving way to other drivers, just pure go-for-the-kill ferocity. If you wish to survive, arrive half an hour early to bag a good spot, or expect to park at least half a kilometre away.
  2. Some other mums are simply never going to be friendly, some may even inexplicably blank you. I have been puzzling for some time over the lack of friendliness / plain coldness of some other mums and I can’t quite work out why nor what the point of it is. (In one nursery setting, where there were really not enough children and their respective parents to justify claims of ‘not knowing’ who other parents were, one mother regularly blanked me. In spite of  this, muggins-me still insisted on smiling and saying hi nearly every day as we passed each other going in and out of the nursery. She did eventually thaw but this period only lasted a few days, and then she was back to blanking me again. Go figure.)
  3. On the other hand, you may encounter other mums who over-share semi-intimate details of their lives within one minute of meeting you. This also leads to some awkward moments but is definitely preferable to the blanking scenario encountered in #2.
  4. Your child’s nursery / school teacher will at some point make you feel as if you should go stand in the naughty corner. If you are perennially disorganised like me, chances are your child’s teachers will give you that look or make a few pointed comments at some point or another during the school year due to you having committed one or another of the following parental crimes:  you’ve once again brought your child in late making them miss important class activities SUCH AS THE ANNUAL CLASS PHOTO / you’ve forgotten their swimming kit / you’ve forgotten to dress them in the right colour  or what not for a special activity etc etc (yes all real-life misdemeanours committed by this atrocious mum).
  5. Following on from #4, you realise that you don’t really change your wicked ways once you become a parent of school-aged children. Sadly, your failings as a human being persist even once you are a parent and ought to know better. I don’t quite know what I was expecting of myself, but after this many months of this school year have elapsed, I’m afraid I have come to the conclusion that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I was late and did my homework at the last minute / after the deadline when I went to school myself, and now I’m often bringing my own children late to school.
  6. Forget spontaneity, playdates have to be set up weeks in advance. Feeling as if it might be a good idea to get my children to interact with their school and nursery peers, I’ve been valiantly attempting to arrange playdates. Ignoring my inner murmurings of ‘why is it always you initiating these dates?’ (and yes, it transpires that there are more than one or two similarities between playdates and the romantic variety), I have been rebuffed on many an occasion by super-busy fellow London parents. To avoid feeling too desperate, I have established a policy of no more attempts at ‘chatting up’ a parent after two rebuffals. (Luckily, I’ve discovered a few other last-minute, more spontaneous parents out there with whom we’ve had quite successful playdates. Phew.)
  7. There you were happily listening to Radio 4 every morning, but then you commit the fatal error of buying your child/ren a CD to listen to in the car on the way to/home from school. Children love mindless repetition, I have discovered. They WILL want to listen to said CD ad infinitum / ad nauseum  / ad unbearablum. You will be obliged to accidentally-on-purpose lose / scratch said CD at some point to avoid the need to commit an act of mindless violence.
  8. It’s okay if neither you nor your child really enjoys their own birthday party.  Just like when I was a shy child and found my own birthday parties an ordeal, it’s acceptable to be secretly wishing your own child’s birthday party to be over – especially when they seem overwhelmed by all the attention themselves.
  9. You may feel secretly proud of your child when they tell you they were a ‘cheeky monkey’ with their friend at school that day and got into trouble with their teachers. You will of course have to tell off said child and instruct them to behave better henceforth, but inside, you may be secretly beaming with pride at their feisty character.

These are just a few randomly scribbled discoveries I have made. More to come, but in the meantime, bed beckons. Good night!

POSTSCRIPT: I should end off by saying there was a happy ending to the missing the class photo debacle. Given we are in the digital era, the photographer was able to take pictures of my son and one other child who was also late and Photoshop them into the class photo. Phew again.

Postscript 2: To clarify, I’ve got away with the lack of punctuality this year as we are still in the pre-school nursery year. Come September it’s reception, and I’m going to have to seriously pull up my socks and learn how to be on time. Or bad mum is going to be really in trouble.

Yuval Noah Harari provides brain fodder

19 May
As part of a campaign to encourage my baby brain to retain a modicum of sharpness, I am listening to an audio version of Yuval Noah Harari’s sweeping work Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
 
I do keep having to rewind and replay as my sloppy mind wanders and I miss key points, but that notwithstanding, I’m loving the way Harari casually debunks so many accepted truths about the world.
 
For someone brought up in the Orthodox Jewish community, where God created the world in seven days is an elemental truth, I’m finding it refreshing to be confronted with Harari’s absolute insistence on the fact that all religions are no more than delusional myths that homo sapiens have learnt to tell themselves about the world they inhabit.
 
Reading Sapiens makes me realise (shamefacedly) that as I’ve got older, I’ve become complacent – or should I say lazy – about my beliefs. When’s the last time I really analysed or even questioned my beliefs about existence?
 
This complacency is also bound up with becoming a mother. With little children, it’s just convenient (but perhaps also kind of necessary?) to be part of a system and a community (Modern Orthodox Jewish, in our case) that provides clear answers and purports to hold truths about the world.
 
Is it okay to give ambiguous or philosophical answers to my four-year-old son when he asks his adorable ‘metaphysical’ questions? Or is it not fair to confuse him at such a young age?
 
Isn’t it hard to be a mum when you are full of niggling doubts and an awareness that you don’t really know what the “truth” is when your child comes to you wanting clear answers?
 
In any event, thank you, Yuval Noah Harari, for dragging me out of my baby-brained fogginess back into the land of doubt and questioning.

J’accuse! Grazia – utter body-image hypocrisy

24 Mar

 

I’ve been roused out of my slightly muddled baby-brained existence by a fit of rage in reaction to the contents of the sleek pages of this week’s Grazia magazine (27 March 2017 edition).

Rarely do I ‘treat myself’ to such written fodder, but needing some light relief from the  cerebral audio-book I’m working my way through, I forked out the requisite £2.20 for the mag. Thinking to myself, well, at least this is one of the “MORE INTELLIGENT” titles on the glossy mag spectrum.

For a while it lived up to its name. Alongside the usual celeb gossip (“Scarlett: Divorce turns toxic”), there was a feature on Syrian refugees in the UK, a surprisingly uplifting interview with Khloe Kardashian about her new clothing line that genuinely caters for women of all sizes, and a “modern stepmother’s survival guide” piece to coincide with Mother’s Day.

Then there was a poignant feature on eating disorders, featuring three women who were turned away by GPs “in their hour of need” for apparently not being thin enough. The piece talked about how eating disorders, “have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses – with up to 20% of those seriously affected dying prematurely.”

Naive me was fairly impressed with this array of important social issues affecting women that Grazia was devoting its pages to.

And then I turned to the fashion pages, and this image jumped out of the page at me:

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Here before my eyes was a positively skeletal, half-starved, dangerously under-weight model squinting morosely into the camera, bones jutting out of her chest above her strange bandage-like top that binds her miniscule torso. Long bony arms hanging on either side, she looks extremely unhealthy, with a BMI that must be in the single digits. Poor girl has clearly starved-detoxed-beetroot-juiced her way up the slippery pole to get her foot through the door of those cut-throat model agencies, and then starved herself further to win the ultimate prize of a photo shoot to appear on the pages of a high-profile glossy magazine.

The utter hypocrisy of claiming to care about young women suffering from eating disorders on one page and then featuring emaciated dangerously under-weight models on the next. The contradiction smacked me in the face.

J’ACCUSE!

Yes, Grazia, YOU, your editorial board, your staff writers, you and your glossy-paged competitors, the whole women’s magazine press, YOU are all complicit in the problem, the eating disorder epidemic you wrote so very poignantly about just a few pages earlier. Do you not realise by now that young women aspire to achieve these unattainable looks you feature on your fashion pages? That you are irresponsibly encouraging young women to deprive themselves of food in an effort to look like these supposed fashion ‘role models’?

Grazia writers, editors, do you have so little self-awareness that you failed to spot the rather enormous piece of irony of placing a feature about eating disorders and images of strikingly under-weight models side-by-side in your publication?

Grazia, please don’t pretend you don’t know by now that young women who develop body image issues do so in part because they try – and fail – to achieve the impossible body shapes that you continue to portray on your fashion pages, sometimes entering into cycles of severe food deprivation in the process?

Women of the world, unite and boycott Grazia and all women’s magazines until they commit to good and responsible practices with regard to model body size.

I, for one, will be saving all my £2.20s from now  on for loftier reading material – and in the meantime, am going back to my intellectual audio-book for solace.

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The French Jews have landed – les juifs français sur Londres

2 Aug

Recently published feature I enjoyed writing about the French Jews in London in Jewish Renaissance: fr 001001

 

 

 

 

 

My take on Brexit

30 Jun

Having felt rather despondent since the Leave vote won the Brexit referendum, was glad to have the opportunity to pen an op-ed for The Forward, giving my take on the matter:

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A British Jew Mourns, Fears Brexit

Prime Minister David Cameron stands down…Conservative Party leadership battle hots up… “Labour Party imploding” – shadow cabinet coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn…Nicola Sturgeon Scotland’s First Minister says: “Scotland may veto Brexit.”

It’s been one upheaval after the next since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum late last week.

Being a liberal-minded, extremely pro-European Londoner, who lived for many years in France, I’ve been in a state of shock and dismay since the referendum results were announced. Would I now need a visa to visit my beloved Paris? French friends I saw over the weekend, who only moved to this country a few months ago, were already worrying what their status would be once the UK’s “divorce” from the EU is finalized.

To me, the Leave victory is representative of a disturbing reactionary trend, of a more insular, less tolerant, “small island” mentality prevailing. Leave supporters were shown on television news crying with emotion, saying: “We’ve got our country back.”

But what “country” have they “got back” exactly? Is this nostalgia for some mythical all-white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian utopia that maybe existed hundreds of years ago – if it ever existed?

As a British Jew – whose grandfathers came to this country in the 1930s from Germany and Hungary respectively to escape the Nazis – the kind of jingoistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric that has characterized some of the Leave campaigning has made me feel distinctly uneasy.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party, unveiled a huge poster during the campaign showing a large line of mainly non-white migrants and refugees, with the caption: “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.” Although other political leaders condemned this poster as an incitement to racial hatred, the fact that Farage even felt comfortable enough to use this kind of racist publicity stunt speaks for itself.

The whole Brexit campaigning has clearly shown up bitter and divisive splits in the country, with the tragic low-point, the murder of a young, pro-Remain Labour member of parliament, Jo Cox, in broad daylight on the streets of her local constituency.

Mike Katz, National Vice-Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate of the Labour Party, argues that Remain is “the natural position” for progressive-minded Jews. He makes a strong pro-immigrant argument: “Immigrants are the essential glue of society. We understand the huge contribution that immigrants make to our life… we ourselves, our forefathers, benefited in the past from being able to make a life here.”

Katz foresees that British Jews, along with all other ethnic minorities, will be affected by the wave of racism that the Leave campaign seems to have unleashed.

There has already been a sharp spike in hate crimes against ethnic minorities reported since the Leave campaign triumphed. Just over the weekend, cards stating “No more Polish vermin,” and “Leave the EU” were distributed in homes and shops in Cambridgeshire.

Yet, as a Remain supporter, I cannot deny the black-and-white fact that 52% of the British population voted Leave, or dismissively label all 17 million-plus Leave voters as a bunch of fringe, far-right racists. Indeed, what about Jewish pro-Leave voters?

How did British Jews generally vote? Perhaps mistakenly, I assumed that most Jews were surely pro-Remain. Yet, according to one poll conducted by veteran pollster Lord Ashcroft, who surveyed some 12,500 voters on Referendum day, as many as 46% of Jews voted Leave.

No less than the editor of Britain’s most widely read Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, heralded the results as “a wonderful day for Britain – and its Jews”.

Pollard dismissed any claims that Brexit will affect British Jews detrimentally: “As for our place in British society as Jews and the threat of extremism: I have rarely read more rubbish than the idea we as Jews will suffer from Brexit…Our freedom from the EU will make extremism less, not more, likely, as the pressure cooker is released.”

Other commentators have also argued that Brexit will allow the country to take back control of its borders, thus preventing the apparent threat of radicalized Islamist migrants coming into the country, and so reducing the terror threat.

Nizza Fluss, a London-based Jewish company director and a vocal pro-Leave activist, is obviously delighted with the referendum results: “The UK should once again be a democratic self-governing nation. The EU is an unelected, unaccountable and unremoveable body.

“I firmly believe in democracy, and to get anything done in the EU, you need the agreement of 27 countries which all have different interests – so British interests can never be served.”

She also argues that European government policies have led to the rise in the far-right: “European governments have not listened to their own people. Merkel brought in 1.5 million immigrants – the majority Muslim – last year [without considering their integration]

“The Remain campaign are labelling people racist. They are not racist, they just want a normal life without their culture being overtaken.”

Ultimately, the United Kingdom is going to have to somehow heal its rifts after this bruising campaign. As British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in a statement following the vote: “It is my hope and prayer that the polarization of the national debate about Europe will now give way to a composed recognition of our common values of respect and responsibility.”

Rebecca Schischa is a freelance journalist based in London.

The Orthodox feminist revolution has finally arrived – in London

22 Jun

Here’s a piece I wrote that was just published in The Forward for a U.S. readership about  about finding life back in London surprisingly cheering after a few years living in New York – from a Jewish (Orthodox) feminist perspective.

Also includes an interview with JOFA UK ambassador, Dina Brawer.

Enjoy the read 🙂


The Orthodox Feminist Revolution Has Finally Arrived — in London

Landing back in the Jewish community of my home town of London, U.K., after five years living overseas, I have the heady sensation of being caught up in a full-blown feminist revolution.

Back in 2010 when I left for a four-year stint in the U.S. (followed by a year in Kenya), London felt like a neglected backwater languishing decades behind the great world centers of Orthodox feminism in Israel and the U.S. Women were relegated to the “ladies’ gallery,” looking down at all the action taking place in the men’s section of the synagogue, and “feminism” was still a dirty word in the Orthodox Jewish community.

There were some signs of grassroots activity — women’s megillah readings on Purim, monthly Rosh Chodesh women’s prayer services, and a training program set up for women to become community educators. But as for any perceptible change in women’s participation at synagogues affiliated with United Synagogue, the country’s largest network of mainstream Orthodox synagogues, it all felt a bit tame and apologetic.

A friend mentioned a partnership-style minyan (prayer groups that retain adherence to Orthodoxy but allow women to lead certain sections of the prayer service and the weekly Torah portion), which someone was setting up in their North London home. Apparently, you needed a masonic handshake to gain entry, though, given how controversial such a minyan was considered then.

And then I arrived in the epicenter of Orthodox Jewish feminism in the world — Riverdale, New York, where I lived for the next four years. Attending the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a synagogue where the first Rabba (Modern Orthodox woman rabbi), Sara Hurwitz, is on the clergy team, and where it’s no big deal for women to read from Torah scrolls on their side of the mechitza on Simhat Torah, or recite Kaddish during services, I saw how women’s active participation could be a seamless part of Jewish communal life.

I also saw how partnership minyans and Yeshivat Maharat, the first yeshiva to ordain women as Orthodox clergy, are creating basic facts on the ground, new norms for Orthodox communities.

Scroll forward five years and I arrived back in London fretting that I was about to go back to the Dark Ages.

How delighted I was to be proved wrong. I came back to a completely transformed landscape. JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) has set up shop in London, four proudly out-in-the-open and thriving Partnership Minyans are now established, and lately a group have come forward with plans to create a more egalitarian Modern Orthodox high school.

It seems to me so unexpected and exhilarating that I can walk five minutes down the road from my home in Golders Green, a largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in North-West London, and hear women leading sections of uplifting Shabbat prayer services run by the lively Golders Green partnership minyan.

Are British Jews finally ready to embrace change? Sally Berkovic, a prominent Orthodox feminist and author of “Under my Hat: An Orthodox Woman Speaks Out for Her Daughters,” says: “When my book was published 17 years ago, issues I touched on — women’s ritual participation and leadership…the challenges of an Orthodox feminist mother raising daughters — were all fresh and new ideas. Now, they’re virtually old hat — and part of the mainstream conversation.”

JOFA ambassador to the U.K., Dina Brawer — formerly a rebbetzin working alongside her then-community-rabbi husband, now training with Yeshivat Maharat to become the UK’s first Orthodox woman rabbi — sums up her experience launching JOFA in 2013: “I spoke to a few women already sympathetic to the cause…they all advised me not to use the word ‘feminism’ because it would be too radical for the U.K. community… or to associate with JOFA (for the same reason). I went ahead anyway.”

“I did not see that there were favorable conditions — on the contrary, but I felt that there was an urgent need for action to accelerate the growth of Orthodox women’s opportunities for involvement,” she adds, explaining how JOFA is enabling many “formerly marginalized women and girls” to find a new place for themselves in Orthodox Judaism.

While mainstream Orthodoxy is still resistant to much of JOFA’s philosophy, Brawer cites several important changes that the organization has engineered since its inception, including: “This is the first time individuals have felt empowered to create religious events outside the established structures, for example minyanim or ceremonies in their own homes to celebrate bat mitzvahs”.

Brawer also points out that the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis has already implemented some of her suggestions, including her call for talented women to be given the opportunity to become community leaders independently of being married to rabbis. Mervis has recently launched the Ma’ayan Programme, a high-level qualification for women in laws of family purity and women’s health which, on completion, will enable them to take on leadership roles in Jewish communities.

JOFA is also running education programs for Jewish students on UK campuses, and an awareness-raising campaign about the Agunah and Gett abuse issue, among other activities.

A great time to be an Orthodox Jewish feminist in London.

Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/342458/the-orthodox-feminist-revolution-has-finally-arrived-in-london/#ixzz4CKuAQjU7

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