Teeth or No Teeth (Still Here)

My grandmother once had a lingering toothache. No dentist could determine the cause. She suffered terribly.

At some point she purchased a new pair of shoes. The first time she wore them, her toothache disappeared.

I heard this story countless times from my mother growing up. Each time my mother would emphasize that as hard as it is to believe this story, it was true. And that is the reason for my mother’s firm belief that one should never scrimp when it comes to buying shoes.

Close Little Milieu

I grew up in Baby Boomer middle class Jewish Pittsburgh. I always had everything I needed. My teeth were well taken care of, and I had nice clothes. Survivors of the Great Depression, my parents made sure that I and my three siblings wanted for nothing. More than that: we had no idea that want could exist in our close little milieu.

But I was bright and rebellious and hot to come to Israel. Because Zionism was also a part of my closed little milieu. My parents were always running off to Israel Bond dinners. My maternal great grandfather was a delegate at the first Zionist Congress. My paternal uncle was president of the Pittsburgh ZOA.

I was 13 when I read Exodus. And the hunger to be in Israel grew. It was all I could do to make it through high school and get to Israel.

Perfect Teeth

I arrived in Israel at 18 with perfect teeth and nice clothes and soon met my husband. We were married within a few short months, both of us newly religious and enjoying being counterculture to our “old” lives in America, where our parents had belonged to major American Conservative congregations and where our moms got their hair done once a week. We were going to live a much more important sort of life.

In other words, we would have no money. But we would have all the important things: we would have lots of kids and be warm bodies populating the Jewish State.

We had 12 children.

One sure perk: Israel offered us wonderful, state of the art, inexpensive medical care. Except for the fact that dental care was not covered. There are some dental plans today, but they aren’t much better than paying full price at a regular clinic. They aren’t really that much of a savings and the dentists are unknown quantities.

True Israelis

So we became true Israelis and joined the ranks of the natives—natives with poor teeth. Our children, too. We got dental care here, there, and everywhere–paying when we could how we could. And lost teeth.

Now I want everyone to know this: living in Israel still makes my heart sing every moment of every day. I do not regret the choice I made at the silly age of 18 for a moment. And I am thankfully past my midlife crisis.

But I have the need to come to terms with the fact that I am going to lose the rest of my teeth. I will no longer be that hot young thing, the middle class girl from Pittsburgh.

It was inevitable, here with no dental insurance and no money. And so like a drumbeat, an undertone running counterpoint to my days is a phrase in my head, “I am losing my teeth. I am losing my teeth.”

Still Here

Eventually I will lose them and that will be that. I will still be in Israel. I will still find a way to be happy. I won’t be that same middle class girl from Pittsburgh, but I will STILL be in Israel.

And really, that is the main thing. I will come to a place of acceptance. It will be okay. I will it so. God wills it so. And that is how I will live my life from day to day, from here on in.


About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for Kars4Kids.org www.kars4kids.org