Jumping in puddles and finding rainbows

I remember the day my zayde passed away. I was at home, brooding over some teenage problem, when my dad called, then took us to the hospital to kiss him goodbye. His stomach was a beach ball from the oxygen he was pumped with in attempt to resuscitate him after the heart attack. I remember that, but I also remember that his face was so peaceful as he laid erect on the hospital table. I guess Zayde knew he was moving on to somewhere better, and that whatever he didn’t finish here on Earth would never be done, so there was no more need to worry about those things. In heaven, he would have the luxury of time.

Those of us left here, however, would forever have to struggle with the things we never said, the hugs we never gave.

The Har Nof massacre on Nov. 18 – and all of the recent terror tragedies in Israel – mean dozens of parents, wives and children never got to say goodbye to their loved ones. But a massacre like the one in Har Nof rips something away from the community in a deep way, too. In an instant, the community loses its safety, its innocence. And the Jewish people are again faced with the unsteady reality that bad things happen to good people – and we will never understand why. And we are each confronted with the slap-in-the-face lesson that life does not go as planned; map as we may, a Higher Power is in charge.

It makes me anxious, edge-of-my-seat tense and almost ill because what it means is that life moves fickle and fast and if we spend all of our time focused on what we have to do, gone could be the time to embrace the life we want to lead. God willing, our lives will not be cut short, but they will feel short if we don’t live every day to its fullest.

Several months ago, I launched this blog with the goal of writing about the interesting challenges of raising an observant and Zionist family in the Midwest. But then the war in Gaza raged and writing about my little life in the breadbasket of the world seemed trivial and uninteresting. But I am ready to write about it now.

I moved back to Kansas City after nearly two decades in St. Louis, Israel and then Baltimore. I would not have moved back to Kansas if not for my family being here, because I was happy where I was. Also because I knew that I arrived in KC a clean slate, no job I loved and where I was loved, no community or friends to chat with and lean on or discuss our sheitels. The Jewish community is small but highly diverse and no one really cares how anyone else defines their Jewish practice. The lack of a forced community forces me to look at me.

The reputation is accurate, people in Kansas are polite and nice. They smile – a lot. And they never criticize you to your face. This means you never know what they are thinking and so you stop caring.

Kansans move slower. Not just when they walk, but in how they handle their daily lives and goals. This means if you move at the speed-of-thought you will have to find new things to do while others are taking their time.

It’s a spacious state. People have their own houses and their own yards and their own lives. They design them their own way and afford you the freedom to create your own space, too.

It is a terrifying privilege. In the quiet, the mind is given the opportunity to ponder tough questions, to examine values and virtues, to reflect. Is the person in the mirror the one I wanted to become or is there another vision?

I have been raising my children in a black-and-white world of how it supposed to be. Now, I want to give them the rainbow … and I can have the rainbow, too. But it will rain first – hard. The key is not to drown.

I want the rain because I need the rainbow.

Yesterday, I was anxious and tense and terse. Yesterday, I mourned and cried for the hugs I’ll never give. I haven’t been able to write about my life in Kansas, because while I live in Kansas, I have not yet defined my life here.

Today, I am celebrating the hugs I get.

I hope you will follow me on this journey through the heartland. … I am sure we will have to jump in some puddles, but I am also confident that somewhere over the rainbow, the dreams that you dared to dream really do come true.

About the Author
Maayan Hoffman is director of international communications for a leading Israeli think tank and an American-Israeli journalist since 1995. She raises her large, blended family a bus ride from the Western Wall.
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