It's a bird...it's a plane...it's...a new book! Breaking Free is both a sequel to my first ever book Breaking Point, as well as a standalone book that can be read perfectly well by itself. It's the poignant story of a boy, Avrumie Faber, who has come back from a period of rebellion where he turned his back on Torah Judaism and now...now what? It's a story of self-discovery, of testing limits and finding what works. It's the story of a family that must come together and redefine itself. It's the story of determination, courage, and strength in the face of real challenge.
I wrote Breaking Free to address a specific, very relevant issue that many struggle with--both parents and teens who have undergone the trials and tribulations experienced by "Avrumie Faber". I have attempted to portray a clear, realistic picture of the "Okay, I want to get out of rebellion and get a life. How do I do it?" syndrome which is one that has been under-addressed. We've heard a lot about kids-at-risk; what do we do to help them get over their "risk"?
See it for yourself. While Breaking Point was more emotion-filled and character-dense, Breaking Free has a captivating plot while still preserving the behind-the-scenes emotions and thought processes that make my characters more three-dimensional and down-to-earth.
You can check it out at: http://www.feldheim.com/cgi-bin/category.cgi?item=978-1-56871-531-5&type=store&category=0 or at Targum Press's website, http://www.targum.com/product.php?xProd=1038.
Let me know how you like it!
I'm throwing a big party--y'know, hauling out the good silverware, gourmet catering, flowers, balloons, a chocolate fountain, and a dance floor. Okay, maybe not really, but it was good while it lasted! ;-) In any event, I do have cause for celebration, and it's seemingly disproportional to the actual event. Here goes: I finished a jar of face cream. Big whoop, right?
Well, actually, yes.
Let me illustrate to you the bigness of the deal by showing you a stark contrast. My grandfather, Zaida, has, for the last endless number of years, called his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren every single week to wish each of them a Good Shabbos and give them the traditional bracha (blessing). Every single week. For many, many years. Without fail. That is what you call peresistence. That is what you call consistency. That is what you call stick-to-itness.
Back to Riva. None of the words I just used above are to be found in my personal dictionary. Consistency? Persistence? Stick-to-itness? Just about the only thing I do on a constant basis is eat and breathe, and even then I'll still try to be creative. In fact, it might be safe to say that the only thing I'm consistent about is being inconsistent. Whew, that's a lot.
Enter face cream. Now, I am not really into beauty regimens--bronzer's about the only thing I ever use in my make-up bag, but I guess those glitzy You Can Be Beautiful Too ads that the cosmetics industry invests billions in really did claim another victim because one auspicious day I took the plunge and bought...a little jar of face cream. Oh, the lofty promises of this magical little jar. It will prevent wrinkles, give me younger skin, tons of vitamins, protect me from free radicals, nourish me with antioxidants, and everything else short of making coffee and styling my wig.
Of course, I laughed at myself. This cream was destined to go the way of all other creams before it. It would be used once, twice, and then....y'know, I'm tired; it's cold out; it never works anyway; ooops, forgot about it; I read that these things clog your pores....The inconsistent reader may find herself identifying with this little episode.
But something strange happened. I began to use the face cream at night. One night. Two nights. Three nights. Dare I say "four"? And slowly but surely, insidiously, it became a sort of...well, routine. If I could figure out how to adjust the fontsize on this blog I would write that "r" word really, really tiny becuase it is just terrifying for people like myself. Routine is for people like my Zaida. People with discipline and fortitude. Not for creative, flighty, all-over-the-place types like me, right?
Wrong. Because today I hold an empty jar and a full feeling of accomplishment. I, too, can be consistent. It starts with a jar of face cream. It carries over to other, less banal endeavors. And that, my friends, is cause for celebration.
A CNN news story caught my eye because it featured a famous pianist, Lang Lang, who has taken the world by storm. I love my piano--no, really. I love making music, feeling music, bringing music into my home and weaving it into our family culture. And my secret dream has always been to become a concert pianist, but I'm not sure that's happening any time soon! Anyway, so this Lang Lang pianist talks about his upbringing, where he was dubbed a prodigy at the tender age of, like, three, and his father drove him to greatness.
The melodic tone of young Lang Lang's dream ended rather abruptly when his piano teacher fired him, calling him talentless, and the heartbroken father, who had moved to a new city to enable his son to become a star, give him a good piece of, er, fatherly advice: to throw himself off the roof of a building rather than dishonor the family.
I'm not going to touch the subject of Far Eastern honor culture here. What I'd like to reflect on, for a moment or two, is the complex synergy between who we are and what we do. Is my life my work? Is my life my family? Is my life my friends, my accomplishments, my bank account? What, in essence, IS my life? In Lang Lang's case, his father clearly felt that his life was his musical career. When that did not pan out, his life was worthless, a crumpled piece of yesterday's newspaper, rightfully destined for the garbage.
In Jewish thought, every moment of life is inestimably precious, even if that droplet of life exists in a total vacuum. The person in a vegetative state, being sustained by a respirator and myriad tubes, is precious and valuable and their life is just as exquisite and sacred as the person receiving the Nobel Prize or tending to humanitarian causes in Rwanda, or...or the woman writing hasty blogposts in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel :-)!
Just a sprinkling of thought, on the very periphery of my exhausted mental state. Life is precious and purposeful, regardless, perhaps, of its by-products. Life is a means, but it's also an end. I'm really glad Lang Lang shelved his father's bit of advice.
This is gonna be a short post, being written under the ominous shadow of a mountain of deadlines, but it's been so long since I've blogged I just HAD to bite the bullet. Yuck. Where DID that expression come from, anyway?
This blog is about society and change and comfort zone. There. No foreshadowing, no carefully layered nuances and plot-building. No prologue or preface. Basically, I'm giving it all away at once. As my grandmother says, "How d'ya like that?" :-)
Our Sages teach us a principle: "Oy l'rasha, oy l'shchainoh"--Woe is to an evildoer; woe to his neighbor! And conversely, "Tov latzaddik, tov l'shchainoh"--Good for the righteous person; good for his neighbor. In other words, we are creatures of the society in which we live. As someone with a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak in her, I have balked at this principle. I have definitely felt capable of bucking the trend, of swimming against the current. But I have come to see that even if, by and large, one can continue to hold his or her own against the immediate environment, there are subtle changes that penetrate. For the good and for the bad.
There are so many personal examples I've witnessed in myself, on both sides of the fence, and every time I try to bring one to mind here it just seems to eclipse or take away from the others. So I guess I'll just leave the phenomenon open-ended. The bottom line is that I have noticed, without a doubt, that the society or societies in which I live and mingle with definitely influence me. And "society" in this case is a conglomerative umbrella term (can you tell it's raining out?!)--in this context I mean it as a catch-all word for community, neighborhood, apartment building, friends circle, synagogue members, work colleagues, grocery store personnel--whatever. The changes can be permanent and specific--like choosing to eat a certain hechsher (kosher supervision and certification) of chicken, or temporary and relatively banal--like wearing a more chic-looking outfit if I'm going to attend a wedding of a certain type of friend. But it certainly give me pause to know that, to a certain extent, I am a drifting boat and something else is moving the oars.
I worry that we may not take this reality seriously enough. We may not consider it with the appropriate amount of forethought when we make a decision--which city and community to live in, where to work, which block to buy on, where to send our kids to school, even which Gym to work out in or which company to interview at.
I guess the metaphor for this would be pores. Our skin is full of these pores. They absorb and release all sorts of stuff, some of it good and some of it bad. Is it such a stretch to imagine them taking in the intangible, the spiritual? What do you think?
I just love the sight of little, stubby legs protruding from under a huge umbrella. Delicious. It's raining in Israel, and the whole country is singing. My kids make a mad dash for the puddles and I couldn't even care less. It's raining, and that's a good thing.
It's so interesting to me how the same reality can be both good and bad. Rain is a blessing. It will make the produce grow well. It will make my garden healthy and green. It will lower my water bill because now we've been hit with a drought tax. At the same time, the rain makes the sky grey and bleak. It will ruin my carefully-coiffed wig. (Carefully coiffed? Yeah right!) It's inconvenient and messy and, well, y'know, wet. But I am rejoicing at every droplet. I hardly give a though to the rain's sludgier side. (And anyway, I look pretty cute in a hoodie :-))
Isn't that the way it is with many things in life? Every event can be both bitter and sweet at the same time. It's how we choose to view it. Same thing. Different perspectives. Last night, I spoke to a woman who is very, very wise and special. When I asked her how her day was going, she sighed. I know what usually comes after a sigh--"Can't complain!", or "Stressful!" or "Tiring!" or "Could be better..." Imagine how shocked I was to hear her say, "My day is just terrific. It is just wonderful! It is going great, thank G-d!"
"But you ALWAYS say that!" I protested. "C'mon!"
And she said, "Because that's the reality I choose. I choose to be having a great day--so I have a great day. Life's too short and precious to complain."
She's singing in the rain. Today, so am I. I wonder how it would transform my life to sing in other downpours as well.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.