Channie Greenberg and Rivka Gross,
with Rivka Gross
Publisher: Seashell Books
Retailer: Barnes & Noble
Date: March 25, 2018
Length: 234 pages
ISBN: 1984057286; 9781984057280
Units of Exchange
The sun washes the sky outside of my Jerusalem window, painting the hills in streaks of gold and lavender. I breathe in the almost quiet of my salon. One child is babysitting, another is finishing trigonometry, a third is home coughing, and a fourth is exploring the wilds of a neighbor’s playroom. Some of the golden streaks deepen not so much to crimson as to periwinkle, as the child with® the cough rummages for a lap blanket, and as the phone vibrates. Traffic, as seen from my perch, begins to congest on the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In these transitional moments, I think about what my mother once said; “small children step on your feet, but big ones step on your heart.” I had no idea what she was talking about. In innocence, I grew up, got married, went to school, had babies, worked, and made aliyah. Years of sunsets followed. My own babies grew up. Mom was right.
Periwinkle deepens to indigo. The last of the gold becomes gamboge and cerise. The traffic lights in the valley below become distinct. At this stage of their lives, when I “know everything,” I merely need to nod to give over wisdom to my children. In the same way, when “I know nothing,” no amount of kinetics can telegraph my perceptions to them. As for the gradations in between, my teens have yet to distinguish carmine from alizarin, or azure from Maya blue; they are still too young.
The sky deepens. I detect maroon, burgundy, and a bit of persimmon among the reds. I see sapphire, ultramarine, and cobalt among the blues. The children are not yet too old for extra chauffeuring, homemade soups, or hours set aside for talking. They have not yet outgrown my squishy hugs, my bits of cheerleading, or my bedtime tuck-ins.
The other day, when one son finished telling me about his hours of learning, he pulled a book to his face, secure in the knowledge that I care. Another time, on a Shabbat night, when a daughter, who had fallen asleep before our meal, awoke, she was full of dozy smiles and half-opened eyes, and I was full of the need to gently place my hands on her head to bless her. Other times, the children need only the reassurance that my cell phone is not turned to silent. One contemplates driving lessons. Another grows facial hair. One insists on following her coterie. Another insists on determining the constituency of his.
The traffic thickens. The shift from one phase of the day to the other is subtle, yet dynamic. Slate, taupe, and Payne’s gray begin to replace brighter colors. Soon those shades, too, resolve to a more saturated hue. My children no longer fit in the crook of my arm, on my lap, or snuggled under a blanket next to me. I no longer remind them to stop fidgeting with their sun bonnets or to wipe their feet. Independent of my guidance, they tower beyond my height, check the ultraviolet shielding of their glasses, and mop the foyer.
My babies speak better Hebrew than do I, talk about Hesder and about marriage, and back their arguments with Rashi and Rambam. I answer them with photo albums, ancient songs, silly games, and fantastic stories. We think together, for maybe five minutes at a time, about the era when we shared mud pies and kept company with fictional bears suffering from chicken pox, when we “rhymed” words like “orange,” “plankton,” “bulbous,” and “galaxy,” and when we made up stories about hedgehogs that were yielding spatulas.
The gray yields. Stars twinkle. The congestion on the roadway eases. My offspring no longer: pull flowers when I pull weeds, mix those leaves while I make salad, or dip their chubby fingers, feet, and random kitchen utensils into the puddles I make when cleaning up their “culinary delights.” Rather, they haul fifty pound sacks of earth to our rooftop mirpesset, cook tasty dishes for the entire family, and help clean the toilets. They wear jewelry made from fabric and clay, listen to funky yeshuv pop, and manipulate all manners of electronic goods.
Just as Hashem, today, rolled away the light before the darkness, tomorrow, too, He will roll away the darkness before the light. The Jerusalem sky will again bloom with chiffon, papaya, saffron, mustard, amaranth, fuchsia, and magenta. In equally small measures, my children will guide their own children, will dole out the currency of Jewish parenting, giving my grandbabies the kindness, respect, silliness, grace, imperfection, and emunah that bind our generations. Such is our Israeli life.
This excerpt was previous published as “Units of Exchange,” Mishpacha Magazine’s Family First, February 20, 2008, p. 30 and then reprinted as “Units of Exchange” in The Best is Yet to Be, Miriam Liebermann. Ed. Targum, 2011, pp. 36-38.
About the Book
Rhetorical Candy reflects on images of, suppositions about, and lived experiences indigenous to Israel. The Jewish state is neither an ongoing beach party nor a perpetual war zone. This country’s fruit crowns world agricultural, her high tech is second to none, and her military know-how remains superlative.
The Holy Land equally embraces foreign laborers, BUL M5-toting rebbes, and public transportation-using five-year olds, who accompany their three-year old siblings to school. Additionally, this great realm is comprised of: sunsets over Jerusalem, Eastern and Western traditions woven into local milestone celebrations, egrets, camels, and hyraxes, plus an awesome national medical system.
Most importantly, Israel is this word’s most concentrated sphere of supernal energy. Come taste the truth about this fantastic geography. Come read about Israel one essay at a time.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg and Rivka Gross