Sunday, November 24, 2013

Family On A Journey

What was our goal for taking Sam to Israel?

Let me rephrase that sentence.

What was our goal for taking our whole family to Israel?

To create memories together, as a family, in a place that we (the parents) love. To deeply embed in our children (all of them) a collective remembrance on the subconscious level. To add to the canon of our family's story with tales that can be told and retold until their memory becomes softened around the edges and sweetened with the flavor of memory.

I do believe that we did that.

Sam was a lot like a homesick camper who can't quite get comfortable. That camper who has fun during swimming or sports but immediately tells you how miserable he is afterwards. That camper who, if caught smiling or laughing, might send you a scowl just to remind you that he plans to continue to be homesick even if he's having fun sometimes. And in retrospect, this is so typically Sam. (Please remember, he really and truly did not feel well for most of this trip. The not-quite-sure-if-it-was-chemo-or-GVH rash was uncomfortable and itchy for most of the trip. The pain in his ankle that only started to go away by Thursday kept him from walking too much. And wow, were those changes fast.)

We scrapped most of the schedule and replaced it with "go-with-the-flow" moments that filled us up with Israel and Sam-ness.

Buying the biggest shofar he could find
Feeding elephants at the Biblical Zoo

Releasing birds at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory

Fishing in Jaffa Port (one of my favorite moments because this kind Israeli man just let Sam use his fishing pole)

Helicoper ride over the coast of Israel….in full disclosure -- I (Mom) kept my feet on the earth.

Playing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea (try teaching Solly to say that)

My children will carry this memory of their very first time in Israel deep in their souls. They will always hold this as a place that they experienced together as a foursome. When they visit again, when they study there, when we talk about Israel at home -- they will feel the presence of our whole family. This is the accomplishment of our goal.

It was hard, oh so hard, but I do believe that we made the right choice to take this journey in the midst of our bigger one.

We have so many people to thank for this journey, and it's hard to write everyone down -- so if I forgot to include you, please know it is from my own error (and probably jet lag) and not because we are unappreciative of what you have done for us! 

Our intense and full gratitude...
To Rabbi Steven Lowenstein and the entire community of Am Shalom who made it possible for this trip to happen.
To Uri Feinberg and the entire staff of Da'at who went above and beyond to give our family this experience. (And to Meryl for the challah!)
To the hotel staffs at the David Citadel and the Carlton hotels who delivered milk at all hours of the day and high-fived Solly at breakfast each morning.
To Jessica at USAirways, who rebooked us on Sunday from our original tickets to the different-airline's flights that got us all the way to Israel (it was quite an ordeal for her and for us but without her, we might not have made it at all).
To everyone in the US and Israel who sent us messages with ideas and suggestions for improving and adding onto the trip, or had fruit or sweets (who knew that Marzipan Bakery's rugelach could be delivered!?) sent to us, or left us kind and lovely offers of their own resources and even their own homes.
To Dr. M and his team who spent a lot of time texting and talking about ways to make Sam more comfortable from so far away and checked in on us at all hours of the day and night.
To our dear friends at home who took care of our house and turtle.
To Uncle Josh and Uncle Harry and Tante Anne who helped shepherd our children and share our pain and love.
To Bubbie and Zeyde and Grandma who trooped along with us and held back their tears as best they could.
To all of you who followed our journey and continue to follow what we do…

Thank you.


  1. Phyllis - I am left speechless by your grace. Even if you only feel this way 1% of the time, that's 1000 times more than any other human I know.

  2. Phyllis, we all read your words and allow our tears to flow ... tears that are full of your family's pain, strength and BEAUTY.

  3. Im a long time lurker here, but this post brought me out. Your strength and your family's strength amazes me, and I am happy that you could take this trip. May these memories stay with you always

  4. I'm so grateful you were able to take your whole family to Israel. God bless all of you.

  5. You did the right thing to make this trip, and I hope that you'll be back with your wonderful brood. Sam, David, Yael and Solly are so lucky to have such wonderful parents who have such amazing friends.

  6. As always, thank you for letting us make at least some of journey with you in spirit. It is truly a gift to give to all of us.

    With every best wish,
    Stephanie, Aaron and Eli

  7. So glad you could make this trip as a family. I am so impressed by your grace, honesty and bravery. Sending warm thoughts.
    Julie and Dan

  8. We are new to your journey, thanks to Rabbi Anne. Tears, love, your incredible family, chocolate, the sea, the sites, more love, more tears. Phyllis, your compassion and ability to communicate through all of this are awe inspiring. I feel blessed to be traveling with Sam and with you all.

    Kate, Larry, Ben, and Emily--Dubuuque, Iowa

  9. A fellow Highwood'er checking in here. Sending you lots of good thought and prayers. Your family is amazing.

  10. Your family has helped me make peace within and appreciate everyone and all that is around me. Even people I don't know. It's hard to explain. Something has changed inside of me. I thank you and your family for that. And pray every day for you.

  11. Hoping you'll let you us all know how we might facilitate your transition back home.

  12. Sam is changing everyone who reads his story. Peace to your family

  13. Sam has changed the lives of so many through the stories you so graciously share. I catch myself from reacting to things in my life with unhappiness thinking of the importance of each moment -- Sam reminds me of that. Even in Target, which seems to be filled with Superman symbols, I think of Sam and I pray that miracles happen as we prepare for Thanksgiving and Hannukah. Sam is in my prayers and those of the children at my school when we sing Mi Sheberach each week. Shavua Tov!

  14. I thought about Sammy and all of you all the time you were in Israel, praying that the joyful, feel - good times outweighed the painful ones. Welcome back home to more love and friendship from those of us who you've taught how to appreciate life. Anything we can do we will do. Always.

  15. No one can walk this journey for you but you have let us walk with you. You have reminded us to love fiercely and smile through our tears. Thank you for sharing those powerful pictures and words we will not soon forget.

  16. When I saw that y'all were going to Israel, I was amazed by the chutzpah (to take that kind of trip, now?!) -- and humbled by your readiness to give Sam something he didn't want to miss, and to give your other children something they will never lose. Amazed-and-humbled is usually how I feel, reading this blog. (Along with the whole gamut of angry / frustrated / shaking my fist at God along with Sam -- and, lately, weeping uncontrollably, which I guess is part of all of our journey as we bear witness to yours.)

    I wonder whether Sam realizes how remarkable this is. That there are hundreds, thousands, an uncountable number of people out here reading along, sending love, being awed by his...him-ness. By Sam just being Sam, in the face of all of this stuff. Sam, I know this doesn't "make up for" anything, and it doesn't really change your situation, but -- know that there are a LOT of people out here who have never met you or your parents, and who love you more than we can say.

  17. You are all wonderful. So happy you had your trip to Israel. Thank you for sharing it with us. If there's anything I can do, I'm on the next plane. Love you.

  18. In awe of your words, your courage and your strength. You are remarkable. We love you Sam...continued prayers and love. Lots and lots of love. xo