Monday, December 3, 2012

My Return to the "Real World"

This past Thursday, I was finally released from the rehabilitation center. This means that my injuries are healed to the point that I do not need constant supervision and that I can continue my therapy at a facility that I do not live at 24/7. All in all this is great news!

Now that I am out of therapy, I needed a place to live in New Jersey until I get well enough to go back to Israel. (I could not live in my parents house for various reasons). So I am staying with two friends of mine that I grew up with that married each other and their four children. Their kids are 7 and under which is quite the change from all the 80 and 90 year old people that were at the rehab center with me. Kids are energetic and lively, which is much nicer then grumpy and tired.

One interesting side effect caused by being out of rehab is that I find myself being reminded about my parents more frequently. This is not to say that I was not thinking about them every day before. In rehab, my injuries were a constant reminder of the accident that led to my parents being killed. But now I am being reminded about what life was like with them, as opposed to without them.

For example, the family I am staying with is a religious, orthodox Jewish family. That means this past weekend, they celebrated the Jewish sabbath in the traditional fashion. When I saw my friends with their kids at the table for the sabbath meal, it reminded me of my childhood with my parents. Seeing my friend bless his kids Friday night was a strong reminder of how my father blessed me every Friday of my life. Even if he was not near me physically, he always made sure to speak to me before the sabbath via phone. While this tradition did not have any specific meaning to me any more, it had great meaning to my parents and I always appreciated that.

My parents looking very happy at synagogue social event

While I was in rehab I knew that once I was released I would feel the gap left by my parents deaths in a very different way. While I was going through such a hard time with my injuries, I wished I had my parents who were always supportive through life's rough moments. But now that I am getting back to "normal life" that my parents had been a constant presence in, their absence is constant. I pay a bill, I think about how my father taught me financial responsibility and constantly checked in on me to offer guidance and help. I go shopping, I think of the countless times I went shopping with my mom. I drive around East Brunswick, the town my parents called home, I am constantly reminded of different times I was with them around the town.

I know as time passes I will feel the lose of my parents in countless different ways. One day if I am lucky enough to meet the man that I will marry, I will not be able to introduce him to my parents. If I am lucky enough to have kids, my parents will never get to meet these grandchildren and my kids will be robbed of having the most amazing grandparents ever. The list can go on and on. But in short, my parents will always be missing for the rest of my life.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Living with my Mortality

It is a sad fact that death is a major part of life.The chances are that the longer you live, the more encounters with death you will experience. While ideally most of the people that a person will know that die will be old and have lived full lives, this is not always the case. The early death of young people was a topic of conversation in my life from a very young age. My father's brother, my Uncle Natan was killed in a car accident shortly after my birth. In fact my sister Natanya was named for our uncle. Growing up, we were both told many stories about what a wonderful and amazing person Uncle Natan was and how much everyone loved him. I remember asking my mom once when I was little if Uncle Natan was so wonderful and was not old, how come he died. I was told that god had taken him "because he was too good for this earth."

My next experience with someone dying "before their time" was sadly a childhood friend. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I had a friend from the neighborhood who was 12 years old who died from cancer. Our families were close friends and I had known him for most of my young life. He was the nicest kid and everyone loved him. I remember when I was told that he had died once again being confused. How was it that such a good and young person could die? But then I remembered the explanation my mother had given me about my uncle's death and it seemed to make sense for my friend's death as well.

The next time death of a young person became part of my life was when I was around 15 years old. In this case, it is not an actual death, but rather the threat of death. As I have written about in previous posts that after a rabbi taught me that gay people deserve to die, I began to expect my own death all of the time. Whether in a plane going through turbulence, or in a car making a sharp turn, I would often think to myself, "this is when god is going to kill me." The thought of my early death became a regular part of my daily life.

The death of young people returned to my life in the summer of 2006 while I was serving in the Israeli Army during the war in Lebanon. While I knew 11 people that were killed in the war, there were 3 that I knew very well. The first was my friend Kobi who was 20 years old. We had completed basic training together. He was killed when his tank went up on a landmine. Next my friend Michael Levine who was a grade younger than me in our elementary school and we completed the Army's course for new immigrants together. Last was another friend named Ami that was in basic training with me. He was 22, newly married and expecting his first child when an anti-tank missile hit his tank and killed him. At this point in my life, I stopped asking for reasons and just accepted that we live every day under the treat of death.

And of course most recently I have suffered through the death of my parents, who were killed in a car accident. My parents were 51 years old, an age that may have once seemed old to me when I was a kid, but I now realize how young my parents were. I was also badly hurt in that accident and am still working on my recovery 2 months later. It is not lost on me, how close I came to being killed as well.

All of these experiences have lead me to have a very strong awareness of my mortality. I know that life can end at any moment. I also know that as things are right now in my life, I am not happy. The idea that I could die before ever having found my happiness is very scary and it motivates me to go out and find my happiness. I know the last time I felt truly happy was when I was in Vietnam. It is an amazing environment and culture that suits me well. I have met the most amazing friends there and even had some dating success during my short time there. I am sure that for these reasons, along with many other reasons, his is a step in the right direction for me. However, there are a growing number of obstacles that are delaying my departure and this causes me to worry.

What if something were to happen to me? I am terrified that the longer I delay my plan, the greater the chances I myself could die before having a chance to go. While I know this is not the right way to see life, after all that has happened, who can blame me for me for being so aware of my mortality? But the truth is that no one knows when their time will come. The chances of me dying are no greater than anyone else dying. I just have to keep searching for my happiness and hope for the best. And frankly, I am sick and tired of death and I am looking forward to being able to focus on life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

People Say the Dumbest Things

After the tragedy of my parents being killed, many people that knew them over the years came to express their condolences to me, as well as to visit me in the hospital. It is truly remarkable how hurtful, callus, and tackless people can be in spite of their good intentions.  I will not repeat any names or how the people who's comments will be repeated here are connected to my family. My intent is not to embarrass or hurt anyone. However, I do hope that after reading this, people might think twice before they open their mouths to talk to people that are grieving and/or hurt. And of course, I am writing this to vent my hurt and frustration.

I will start with the most ridiculus thing said to me. This person came to visit me in the rehab center where I am recovering from my injuries. They looked at me and said "at least we now have two strong advocates for Romney's victory in heaven". I don't know why this person thought this would be helpful for me to hear, or why they think dead people help change the results of elections. This person was also so close minded that they never thought I might have different political beliefs them their own. Frankly, I found the comment to be belittling of my loss and down right stupid.

Of course their were the tens of people that told me that "god" simply wanted my parents closer to "him". These are the same people that would tell me "god" is everywhere. But even if "god" does have a home in the sky where he hangs out with dead people, I would say "he" is a selfish, cruel "god" that could have waited patiently another 50-80 years before putting my family through this pain. And isn't "god" beyond time? This sort of comment might help a young child, but I find it hurtful and condescending.

I was told by one person that that a slight high point is that I would not have to "deal with my parents aging and will always remember them young and strong". I understand what this person was trying to say, especially now being in a rehab center surrounded by seniors with dementia. However, I would gladly deal with my parents aging and still have them here with me. This was not comforting in the least.

One person heard all that happened and looked at me and said, "with all this bad happening around you, you should probably be praying more". This small minded, cruel individual was of course implying that had I been sucking up to "god" more, then he wouldn't have hit us with a car. What a loving "god" to worship. This also implies that it was somehow my fault that this happened. Obviously this is not helpful or comforting. It is cruel, evil and self righteous.

Another person actually had the nerve to basically ask for a donation for a memorial plaque for my parents. Of course they asked while I was lying in bed at the rehab center, left leg and arm in splints and on bed rest because of complications. This person could not think about anyone other themselvesand money.  I'm sure I don't have to explain why this was the wrong thing for this person to do.

There were people that in one sentence tried to tell me that it was "god's" plan to kill my parents and that the only way I could get through this trauma was by returning to "god" and embracing "him". So "god" killed my parents AND will help me deal with my emotional loss? Isn't that called Stockholm Syndrome? There was another person that told me "god" killed my parents as a test to me, to see how I would handle it. This is kind of like how the mafia does things, no? They will kill someone close to you so that you stay loyal to them. Or maybe you will go to to the police? So "god" is a super human mafioso I guess. Sometimes it is obvious people do not think before talking.

Another person went to the shiva (a Jewish wake) and approached my maternal grandparents and asked who they were. My grandfather explained that they are Sari's parents. To which this person responded, "who is that?"  Needless to say my grandparents were mortified. If you do not know the deceased or their family, don't go to console them! It's an empty gesture that is only making you feel better and can be hurtful to the family if you are a tactless moron like this person.

Speaking of  self serving, empty gestures. One day some rabbi came to my hospital room with three little children. I looked up from the bed at four smiling faces that I did not know. I asked, "did you know my parents?" The father answered me with a huge happy grin on his face, "no, but we heard about the accident and we came to do the mitzvah (good deed) of visiting the sick." I felt like saying
that I was so glad that I was hit by a car so they could get their newest merit badge. These were people that were just going through the motions because that was what they were taught to do, not because it is the right thing to do or because they want to help.

I know that none off these people were trying to be hurtful, but they all were. I understand that sometimes people don't know what to say. So don't say anything! And DO NOT ever try and take advantage of someone's loss by trying to get money, or to push your religious agenda. This is called being selfish and emotionally abusive.

The first time I ever went into a house of mourning, my father told me not to say anything, unless someone speaks to me first. This was a great lesson. It lets those grieving have the choice of who to speak to and stops people from feeling the need to have something to say even if they can only come up with half thoughts like those mentioned above. I do really appreciate the good intentions of most of the people who said these things, however, I just wish they had thought before saying such hurtful things.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I cannot believe that I still am in the rehab center. The accident that killed my parents and left me and two friends badly injured was SEVEN WEEKS AGO today. After eight days in the hospital, tomorrow will mark six weeks in this rehab center and I still have not walked yet. I'm sure it goes without saying that the situation is very frustrating. However it's not all bad. The experiences of this long recovery can be divided into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good
The number one  experience is all the wonderful friends and family that are constantly visiting me and supporting me. It is so great having them around and because I'm normally in Israel. I a, getting to spend a lot of time with people that I rarely see,  but that I care very much about.

Another good experience is that I have joined the Twitterverse and I'm doing pretty well there. I use to say that I don't understand why anyone uses Twitter, but now I get it. You can follow me @Amiad_horowitz

Lastly I have had the time to learn great songs from my now favorite Korean band Big Bang. Yea, thats right. I have been listening to Korean music since before it was trendy and Gangnam Style. Anyways, check them out. They are a lot of fun.

Talented and beautiful! 

The Bad
I am so frustrated!!!!! While I am making progress on my elbow (it now can bend to about 105 degrees!), I still cannot put any weight on my leg. That means its now been seven weeks since I last walked. Ahhhhhh!!! I spend pretty much all day in bed or Ina wheel chair, except during 2 hours of therapy. And I haven't seen the outside world in a month and a half, except for one doctors appointment that was so painful that I fainted. So it wasn't a fun outing.

The next bad experience has been super mega hurricane Sandy. This whole town is still without power and the rehab center is running on emergency generators. Also, the power was lost at the surgeon's office, forcing me to miss my follow up with him, further delaying my return to walking.

The last bad experience is the twice daily injections of blood thinners. Over 6 weeks, I'm starting to feel like a pin cushion. Actually the needle isn't so bad. The medicine itself gives some people a burning sensation. And guess what? I am one of those lucky people.

Oh not again

The Ugly

Well the ugly is directly related to the bad. Since I spend so much time not moving in bed or Ina wheel chair and I still have to eat, the ugly would be myself. And I wasn't exactly in shape before the accident. I haven't gained so much, but still, I'm getting very frustrated. Am I suppose to starve myself? And the doctors tell me that eating calories is an important part of all my injuries and wounds healing.

On top of that a few times a week, a nurse comes to my room and says they to weigh me. really?! I can't deal with knowing how much I gained on top of everything else I'm dealing with, so I always refuse. When I get out of here, it will be time for  a serious diet and when I can, serious exercising. If not, I'll probably be doomed to being single forever. I DO NOT want that.

All in all, the good, namely the support of friends and family outweighs the bad and the ugly. But I am defiantly getting frustrated with this situation. I hope it ends soon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Anger

Since the accident that left my parents dead and me and two great family friends injured, I have been on an emotional roller coaster. There are times that I am sad of course. But there are also times that I am OK. In fact most of the time I am OK and often even happy. I know many people expect me to be a depressed mess, but I am trying to move on. And thanks to the wonderful support of family and friends, I am doing fine most of the time and really moving on.

But of course there are still times that I am sad. I very much miss my parents and at times the feeling overwhelms me. But I manage to get past the sadness and continue moving forward and and I try to be positive. The one emotion that I have the most trouble dealing with when it comes is anger. Lately when I get angry, I am really not sure what to do, except go to sleep and hope that when I wake up it will have passed.

What am I angry at? In short, almost everything. I am angry that some random person that had nothing to do with my life, was irresponsible while driving and now because of her my parents are dead and my elbow and ankle have been severely injured. I am angry that every time it pops into my head to talk to my parents, I can't because they are dead and always will be dead. The permanence of death angers me.

I was brought up to believe that death was just physical and that people live on in an after life. Now that I can no longer believe this, I am furious at the totality of my parents death. I am angry that my parents truly believed that by following what they believed to be the will of "god" they would be protected and given long lives. And despite their belief and dedication, while walking with me and their closest friends on the sabbath, a day that they "kept holy" as they believed they were commanded to, they were run over by a car and killed. I am angry for my parents because I believe they were lied to (not maliciously) and given false promises.

I'm angry for my injuries and for the injuries of our dear friends that were hit as well. I cannot speak for them, but I am angry that I am always in pain. I am angry that at the moment, neither my leg nor my arm work like they should. I am angry that I am completely dependent on the help of others while I spend most of my day in a hospital bed.

I am angry at all the horrible things people have told me while being well intentioned. I don't want to hear about "god's will" or "god's plan". I really, wholeheartedly believe there is no god. But should there be one, his plan is evil and his will is demented.

I am angry that in my close family circle that is dealing with this tragedy, I am the only single - as in unattached - person. I love my sister and brother in law. I love all four of my grandparents and I'm grateful to still have them in my life. I love my aunts and uncles and i love all my parents close friends that are for all intents and purposes are part of my family. But at the end of the day, when the lights go off, they each have their life partner, their soul mate, their lover to help each other through this horrible tragedy.

At the end of the day, when the light go off I am alone. I have no one to talk to as I fall asleep. I have no one to share my nightmares and dreams with when I'm woken in the middle of the night and no one to hold me and hug me when that is what I need.

At some point the anger always fades. I go back to my normal mood. But even after I calm down, I know that at some point I will get angry again. I know that because I have every reason to be angry over all the things I mentioned above. I'm not a little kid and I have known for a long time that life isn't fair. But I never expected to have this much "not fair" shoved down my throat at once. But what can I do? Nothing. I just have to accept it all and move on. I'm trying and I will, but it sure isn't easy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Letter to My Parents

Since the accident that killed my parents and left me badly injured, I have struggled with the desire to pick up the phone and update my parents about different events. I used to speak to my mother almost daily and my father multiple times a week. Any time anything interesting, significant, important, etc happened, I would pick up the phone and tell one of them. So I have decided to write them a letter telling them much of what I wish I could say. While I know my parents are dead and cannot read the letter, I hope it might help me deal with this desire to update them.

My Parents

Dear Mommy and Abba,

So much has been going on sine you were suddenly killed. Natanya (my sister) is working so hard at trying to keep everything in order, with the amazing help of Aunt Marcia, Andrew and so so so many of your friends. She is so strong that it really amazes me st times. I wish you could see her. And you should see how well we are getting along. I know that would make you happier than words can describe. And I don't think there will ever be a way to express our gratitude to them. So I hope you are not worried for us, although I know you well enough to know that you are. No matter what, you always worried that Natanya and I were safe and happy.

You should also know I am being taken cared of very well while I'm still stuck in rehab. Ben even got permission to work from home sometimes so he can work here and help pass the day with me. All of your friends, from Philadelphia, East Brunswick,and even Maale Adummim are always helping me out and visiting me often. It seems that I have even become friends with some of your friends. You really choose amazing people to befriend.

I am slowly recovering from my injuries, although I still cannot walk. Physical and occupational therapy is going very well and I have become friends with my therapists.. I can even bend my elbow to 80 degrees now which is much better than  when I fainted by trying to bend it 60 degrees.. I know you would be excited. Its not easy and is often very painful. Sometimes when I am in the most pain, all I can think about is being able to talk to you. You were always so good at talking me through pain. And now that I am in the worst pain of my life, and you are not here, it is sometimes very difficult.

But I never give up. I am doing everything I must to get better and move on. And sometimes I even think of you favorite saying Abba, "successful people do the things that unsuccessful people don't want to do." I know I use to laugh whenever you would say that, but it is a good motivational line.

I guess if I really wanted to, I could keep writing forever because you have missed so much. But I will spare you. Just know that I really really miss you and love you. I still cannot comprehend how one moment you were together a few feet from me and then you were suddenly gone forever. I don't know if I will ever get rid of the constant desire to call you all the time. I am glad we shared so much while you
were alive so that now I have so many conversations which to look back. There are many things that I wish I had shared with you, but now I cannot.

I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. You were the greatest parents anyone could ever imagine.
I love you both so much and I am so lucky to be your son.
Love forever,

I miss you so much mom
I miss you so much abba

Saturday, October 6, 2012

One Moment in Time

When my parents were killed, we were all walking together and my father was in the middle of  a sentence. And then the  car hit and my parents are gone forever. One second I was thinking to myself what a wonderful time I am having with my parents and how lucky I am to  have such amazing parents, the next second I am lying on  the ground, unable to move, severely injured and both my parents are dead.

The strongest lesson that I have learned over the last few weeks is that at any moment life can be completely changed and turned upside down and that any moment life can be over. My parents had everything going for them. My dad was at the top of his career. Both my parents were leaders of their community and they just been picked as honorees at their synagogue's annual dinner. They fulfilled some of their greatest dreams by traveling all over the world. And above everything else, my patents loved being grandparents and would travel to Israel to see their grandchildren as often as possible. They were so happy and then in one moment it was over

As for myself, I was a healthy 27 year old, stressing over my thesis and work. One moment later, I needed 3 surgeries, I can't use my left limbs for 6 weeks and I have months of physical therapy ahead of me. I also realize that I could have easily been killed had i been standing slightly different or moved and inch one way or the other.

I have so much I still want to accomplish and do with my life. I want to finish school. I want to go live in Vietnam. I want to travel. I want to spend more time with the people that mean the most to me. And perhaps my greatest desire, I want to find love. I know that might seem very "Disney" to some and maybe even immature, but it really is the one attainable goal that I want more than any other. I want someone to share my life with. Since life can be just hanging by a thread at any given moment, I really do not want to waste any moment.

I want to live my life like my parents lived theirs. They never missed an opportunity to fulfill a dream or achieve a goal. Whatever they did in life, they did it as grandly as they could. And more important than anything else, whatever they did, they did it together.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Letter to my Friends

To my dear friend, _________________

The last few years of my life have been quite the roller coaster. It was not a simple time in my life or for anyone close to me. But you, my amazing friend stuck by me.

 It all began with what many saw as my abrupt exit from Judaism, which was actually the culmination of years of struggle and confusion. While many stood in judgement of me and some even cut me from their life, you stood by me as I learned to see the world through new eyes.

Of course the next major change in my life was not easy either. When I first told you that I was gay, you may or may not have been surprised. But you saw how terrified I was to share this once deep secret. Without missing a beat, you hugged me and told me that I had nothing to fear. You said that you loved me and that anyone else that loved me would continue to do so, no matter what. You once again stood by me as I learned more about myself then ever before. 

And of course you are still with me today, as I struggle through the most difficult calamity and change in my life. When that horrid person lost control of her car and killed my parents, while severely injuring myself and two loved ones, you rushed to my side. You were practically tripping over yourself trying to figure out how else you could help. You are here to help me deal with my emotional trauma and to support me through the healing process for my physical injuries. I do not know how I would get through all this without your loving friendship. 

I would like to tell you how much you mean to me, but the words simply do not exist. You are an amazing, wonderful person and I love you very much. If it was not for you, I do not how my life would look, but I am sure it would worse off.

Thank you for everything.

Your friend forever, Ami

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Day that Turned My Life Upside Down

It has been a long time since I last posted in my blog. That is because 12 days ago on  Saturday, September 15th a horrific tragedy struck my family. I was in New Jersey visiting my family. I joined my parents for Sabbath services and while walking to the house of dear family friends for lunch, a driver lost control of her car, went up on the curb and hit my parents, our friends and myself. Me and our two friends were badly hurt and my parents were killed.

My Parents
We left the synagogue after services and started walking with a large group of friends towards our friend's house. I was actually walking a bit ahead of everyone and my mom sped up to catch up with me. Me and my mom were just chatting about nothing particular as the large group followed behind.

When we reached the first corner me and my mom stopped and let the group catch up. As the reached the corner I could see that everyone was standing around my dad and they were hanging on his every word. My dad had an amazing, out going personality and he was often the center of attention because people loved to hear him speak. One of our friends said to me, "can you tell your father to move faster? I'm hungry and I want to get home." I smiled and replied, "you cannot bother my father while he is holding court." My mom was tired of waiting as well and continued to walk and called for me to follow. 

While walking the next block, me and my mom spoke about her really cool new shoes for a bit and one of the friends followed closely behind. Behind him was my dad, the other friend and the group that was slowly shrinking as people turned down different directions towards their homes. I loved talking with my mom. We could talk about anything for hours. No matter what we talked about, whether it be shoes or life decisions, my mom was fully invested in the conversation. For her, the subject wasn't necessarily as important as the participants. She didn't care what me and her were speaking about, she just loved every moment we spent together.

There was a short lull in the conversation and my mom started talking with her friend. I thought to myself how much fun me and my parents were having during my visit and how thankful I was that we had gotten past all of our issues. I knew how hard it was for my parents to accept me as not religious and gay, yet they loved me so much that our relationship had been saved and was as strong as ever. 

My father and the friend walking with him must have sped up, because we all reached the corner together. The five of us crossed the street together. When we reached the next corner, we started talking about an abandoned building on the corner. Me and my parents friends were a bit ahead of my parents who were now walking together, slightly behind us. My father started to talk and I looked back at him and saw him pointing at something on the building. I looked forward to see what my father was pointing at when suddenly I felt the most horrid pain. The pain was so strong, the only thought that went through my head was that I was being killed - that I was dead.

Next think I knew, I was on my back, looking up at the sky in horrible pain.I was not sure if I was dreaming or awake. I tried to move but couldn't. I started to scream out for help and because of the pain and people arrived on the scene. Because I was the only conscious victim, everyone ignored me at first and went to help the others. Eventually, EMTs (medics) arrived and started to help me. The one holding my head said "sir, you have been hit by a car." I was shocked. How did a car hit us? We were on the sidewalk. I noticed one of my parents friends next to me on the ground being treated as he screamed out for his wife.

I kept screaming and asking if my parents were OK, but they just kept telling me that they were there to help me. The fire department came and cut some wire that had fallen from a pole and landed on me. I was the last one taken away from the scene.
I was brought to the ER with my elbow broken into pieces and open, along with a broken ankle. I was told I would need multiple surgeries and that the first one was an emergency that could not wait. And after hours of asking every nurse and doctor that I saw about my parents, I was told that neither of them had survived.

And just like that, in a single moment, my world was shattered. My parents were wonderful people and amazing, loving parents and they had been taken from me and my sister. My two sets of grandparents each lost a child. Family and friends lost two people that they loved and cared for dearly.

After 3 surgeries, I am now in rehab. And even though I am in horrible pain and face a long road to recovery, I'm grateful that I was with my parents until the last moment of their lives. And even though it is very scary, I am thankful that I remember pretty much everything. I will forever remember being with my amazing parents until the last seconds of their lives. I would not trade that for anything.
I love and miss them more than words can express.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fear of Flying and Falling

At the moment I am sitting in Ben-Gurion International Airport waiting for my flight to New Jersey. When I was little, I use to love to fly. Through most of my life, my father would win trips from work and I was lucky enough to get to travel with my parents around the US and a bit internationally as well.

I remember before my fist flight ever when I was about 6 years old or so, I told my grandmother that I was scared to fly. She explained to me that flying is extremely safe, even safer than cars. I was very surprised by this, and even though at six years old I had no understanding of statistics, the information was trustworthy enough to rid me of my fears. During that first flight, I insisted on sitting by the window and looking outside the entire time.

Fast forward a few years. By the time I was a teenager, around 14 years old, I had had the idea of the "fear of god" drilled into me. On top of that, I was racked with guilt over my attraction to men and the fact that I, like every 14 year old masturbated. I was taught that these two "sins" were amongst the worse things that a person could do and that the punishment for them was death. Not only that, I was told that the punishment for "wasting seed" was that you could never get into heaven. At the time, the idea of godly punishment and heaven were extremely real to me and I lived in fear of being smitten by an angry god.
So scared! :-/

My fear reached a point that every time I got on a plane I actually expected it to crash. I would spend a good portion of every flight that I was on, mentally begging "god" to spare me. I would make all kinds of deals with "him". I was actually taught to do this by a rabbi that had taught me. He told me that it was a good idea to try and make deals with god, but that they had to be realistic. So I would say to "god" that " should I survive this flight I would not look at men for 30 days and that with "his" help I could go longer." But I also asked "him" to make it easier for me, because such promises were so difficult to fulfill.

Death Plane

Having realized that religion is  make-believe, and a man made invention, I no longer board a plane expecting the worse. In fact, just like when I was a little kid, I try and think of how statistically safe I am flying in order to fight any fears of flying that remain. I do not know if I ever will be completely without fear when flying, because in the end I do not like heights and really really do not like falling. But it is definitely a lot nicer flying now than it was in the past.

Monday, September 3, 2012

To Hide the Pride?

Throughout my life, I have always tried to be proud of how I live my life. Even when I was young, I believed that if I could not be proud of my lifestyle, than there must be something wrong with my lifestyle. I remember that many times when I was younger, my parents would tell me that I should take off my kippa (Jewish skull cap worn by religious males) because we were somewhere that people might not like Jews. This always upset me because I did not think that I had anything to hide.

Fast forward to today and I still have the same attitude about my life. Anyone that knows me or that reads my blog knows that I am very into the idea of gay pride. I have written several posts on the subject. I went to 2 different pride parades this year, one in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem. At each one I marched proudly waving my rainbow pride flag. I walk around with a pride pin on my bag and I have a mini Statue of Liberty holding a pride flag in my living room. I also wear a pride bracelet on my arm at all times.
Proud Miss Liberty
My Pride Bracelet

Recently, my mother was visiting Israel and I joined her, my sister and my sister's family for the weekend. At one point, my mom called me to the side and said the following:
"I noticed your bracelet. I get it, I understand it. But please don't wear it around extended family or any of mine and abba's (father's) friends. We just can't deal with that yet". 
As I wrote earlier, since I came out to them, my parents have come such a long way in accepting the fact that I am gay. I do recognize this and I am grateful for their amazing effort. I am also sensitive to how difficult this is for them and considering all this, I agreed not to wear the bracelet when I come to America to visit family for the Jewish holidays. However, I really do hate the idea of having to be dishonest about who I am, just so my parents can save face. And the irony of hiding a pride bracelet is not lost on me.

I know that while visiting them for the high holidays, at least one of their friends will tell me how they know a girl that would be perfect for me and will ask to set me up. (Oh really? you don't say? A girl? For me?) I know members of their synagogue will come over and say things like "how are you not married yet? Are there no nice girls in Israel?" Rather than coming up with some fun, witty response, I will have to put on an act and pretend, just like I did for so many years.

I know it is a very short visit and what my parents friends say and think is really of no consequence. And I really am not looking to make my parent's lives any more difficult or complicated. However, after all those years of denial and hiding, I really hate the idea of having to go back into the closet, even if it is just for a short while.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Impossible Dream

So far in my life, I have had very bad luck in the romance department. I have fallen in love twice and once someone has fallen for me. In the first case (that I have actually written about before), the guy was straight. So that had never had a chance of becoming anything. In the second case, the guy simply said that “I am not his type”. Then there was the one guy who claimed to be in love with me. He was a nice enough guy and I was attracted to him, but I was in no way in love with him. In fact, I often found him to be very annoying.

This has left me feeling very pessimistic. Am I doomed to fall for guys that are unattainable? Will I always go for guys that are “out of my league”? Should I consider settling? If there is a guy that falls for me, should that be enough?

My greatest fear in life is ending up alone, never having had a loving relationship. So maybe that means I should compromise. I have been told that my view of love is “too Disney”. Could it be that my standards are too high and my dreams unrealistic? If that is the case, than I am simply setting myself up for a life of disappointment and failure.

There are days that I feel that it is an impossible dream and that I will never find the guy that loves me the same way I love him. I think to myself that in order to not end up alone, the next time I find someone that claims to love me, I should just stick with them even if I do not love him.

However, simply not being alone is not enough for me. I want a guy that when I look into his eyes, I see that he is looking lovingly back into my eyes. I want someone that I will be excited to come home to and that will miss me when we are apart. I don’t think this is impossible, but it definitely feels like it is impossible. Who knows? I hope the day will come that I will look back at this post and laugh about how pessimistic I was and how wrong I ended up being.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Big Anniversary

The other day was an important anniversary for me. On August 14th, 2011 I told my parents that I was gay. It was an extremely difficult day for all of us. While I my parents told me they loved me and would never cut me off, they cried a lot and had a very difficult time grasping the game changing news.
For me it was the point of no return. I was out of the closet and going to live my life as an openly gay man. My parents knew and I was hoping that there was a way that we could be as close as ever in spite of all that had just happened. So as shocking, scary and difficult as that day was, I really hoped that things would eventually improve.

For a while it was difficult. The subject often felt like the pink elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about. When the subject did come up, my parents approached it in a very somber and sad way. Of course I understood - I had really shaken up their world.

But the good news is that things did improve. A few months ago my mom called me to tell me that she had read a good review about a café in Tel Aviv that was known as a popular hangout for gay guys in the city. This was a huge step! Not only did she recommend a gay hang out to me, it was a non-Kosher restaurant. Just a year earlier, when I was in Vietnam and I posted pictures of good food I had been eating, my dad called me saying that they could not handle seeing pictures on non-Kosher food that I ate. Now, my mom was recommending this café. Why? Because she loves me and thought I would enjoy it.

A few months later, after there was a sudden wave ofhomophobic comments being made by a few Israeli politicians, my mom called me and we discussed how she and my dad thought what was being said was horrible. A year earlier, I am not sure my parents would have disagreed with the statement that gays should be banned from serving in the army. Now my parents said to me that they think gays should be allowed to serve. What a turnaround!

Over the last year I have learned that my parents love for me is great enough and strong enough that they can learn to accept that I am gay and even change some of their preconceived ideas about gays. Are things perfect? No. But they are better and I am sure things will continue to improve. I am very lucky to have such great, loving parents and I love them very much.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kosher and the Politics of Food

A big part of being a religious Jew has to do with the religious dietary laws know as "Kashurt" or "kosher". Basically the Torah lays out a list of animals that can be eaten and those that are forbidden to eat. As most people know, religious Jews can eat beef and chicken, but not pork or shell fish. On top of that, the Torah has a cryptic line about cooking a baby calf in its mother's milk, which rabbis have interpreted to meaning that it is forbidden to mix dairy and meat products. So no cheeseburgers allowed either.

Of course as everything in orthodox Judaism, there was a need to make this more complicated. There are time periods to wait between eating meet and dairy. There is a need for separate tools and utensils. Then there are hundreds of different stringency added by different rabbis and groups over the years. All this has led to food politics in the religious Jewish world.

Kosher restaurants and kosher food producers must get certification that their food is kosher by some rabbi organization  In America there is the OU, the OK, the Start K and many others. In Israel there is The Chief Rabbanit, "Adah Charedi", "Bedatz"," Bet Yosef" and others. All of these different certifications mean the food is kosher. However, different people wont eat from certain certifications because it is associated with a specific rabbi, or not associated with a specific rabbi. Or even because one certification is given by rabbis of Middle-Eastern heritage as opposed to European heritage. Supposedly the places you will eat from say something about your connection to Judaism. People proudly say, "I only eat food from x certification", or "I would never step foot into a place with y certification".

Back when I was religious, I always hated the food politics. In my eyes, if it was kosher and tasty, I would eat it. If it was not tasty, or not kosher I wouldn't eat it. Why should their be politics involved in my food? Food is to be enjoyed and sustain your body. Nothing more. But now, somehow the politics of food has become a big deal in the U.S.

Recently, CEO of the fast food chain "Chick fil a", Can Cathy, came out and said that he is against marriage equality because he thinks it will piss off god and god will than take his anger out on America. It also became common knowledge that "Chick fil a" donates money to many anti-gay hate groups such as "The Family Research Council". In response, those that are for gay rights called for a boycott of the fast food chain. This  makes because if you would not want your money going to the groups Cathy donates to, why would you pay pay for his products. It does not make sense if you simply don't agree with his own personal beliefs. Chances are you buy stuff every day from people that you do not agree with. Everyone is different and won't always agree.

Rainbow Pride Flag outside Chick fil a in protest

The calls for boycott were followed by religious right-wing leaders like Mike Huckabee saying that people that support "traditional marriage" should go out of their way to support "Chick fil a". He even called for a national "Chick fil a" appreciation day. So now, people went out of their way to wait in long lines for mediocre fast food chicken, not because they wanted to eat the chicken, rather because they wanted to make a statement about their position on marriage. The politics of food has come to America.

People waiting in very very long lines to buy their chicken

Personally, if the CEO had stated his own personal belief and did not donate to hate groups, I would probably eat at "Chick fil a". I always said I will never deny myself a product because I don't agree with the politics of the provider. Nor would I go out of my way to get a product because I agree with the provider's politics. Food is food and mixing it with politics is silly. Millions of people around the world are starving while we have the luxury to chose whatever yummy food we may want. So why would we start denying ourselves food because of something like politics.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Jerusalem Pride Parade

Yesterday was the 10th annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. People that do not know much about Jerusalem might not realize how significant it is that there is a pride parade in the city that is holy to Judaism. Christianity and Islam. So here is some background.

For around two thousand years, Jews, Christians and Muslims and been killing each other over the ownership of the city. However, the three religions seem to be able to find common ground and work together when it comes to the issue of gay pride in the city. Every year since the first parade in 2002, the radical religious groups in the city and from around the world try and do everything they can to stop the parade from happening. In 2005, one particular nutcase rushed into a group of marchers with a knife, stabbing 3 people. In 2006. the threat of violence against the parade was so great that the police said they could not guarantee the safety of the participants. So the parade was moved to a stadium and no spectators were aloud.

Besides Jerusalem's special significance to the 3 major monotheistic religions, it has a large personal significance as well. I lived in Jerusalem or in its suburbs for around 8 years. When I dreamed of coming to Israel as a young boy to" fulfill my religious and nationalistic duties", I dreamed of the city of Jerusalem. When I first started to leave the religion, living in Jerusalem made it very difficult. The secular community of Jerusalem is shrinking and it lives in the shadows of the growing ultra-orthodox communities. When I would tell people that I did not believe in god, they would look at me like I was a total lunatic. The city life also revolves around religious life, meaning that from Friday night to Saturday night pretty much everything is closed and all you can do is stay home.

Coming out as gay in Jerusalem was even more difficult. For about a year I worked as a security guard at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. It was not uncommon to see some of my coworkers make fun of openly gay students. On a number of occasions, I heard coworkers announce how they would refuse to work side by side a gay security guard. Needless to say, I was always very worried that someone at work would find out I was gay. So Jerusalem became a symbol of my old religious, closeted life.I could not wait to get away and move to a more tolerant city like Tel Aviv.

Today, when I go back to Jerusalem to visit and I see all the men dressed in black and all the women with their hair covered and in long heavy clothes in the summer, I think to myself "how was this ever a part of my life? I am so glad I got away from it and can live my life freely and in a way that will make me happy".So now going back to Jerusalem for a pride parade, I was looking forward to celebrating how far I had come in the last few years.

You can be sure that the Jerusalem Pride Parade is very different than most other parades. It is more of a protest than a celebration. The sidewalks were not full with cheerful spectators rooting the marchers on, rather the sidewalks were pretty empty. There were a few people clapping here and there. There where a few people making rude hand gestures. But mostly there was just police.

My personal highlight was when the parade passed by "Hachel Shlomo", the offices of the Israeli Chief Rabbanit. The chief rabbis are among the leaders of the anti-Jerusalem pride parade camp. They say how having LGBTQ people march in the "holy city" is a desecration. But there I was, marching past their offices anyways. Tolerance had beaten superstition and hate. For years religion made me deny and feel ashamed about being gay. And now I was marching in a gay pride parade, holding a rainbow pride flag, in Jerusalem, right under the noses of the intolerant and hateful rabbis. What a feeling!

That is me holding my flag during the parade. The tall building with the dome in the background, is  "Hachel Shlomo", the offices of the Israeli Chief Rabbani   

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Confessions of an Insomniac

Lately I have been suffering from insomnia. I will have 2,3 or 4 sleepless nights in a row. This is followed by a night in which I pass out and cannot even wake up in the morning. I wake up after 12 hours of sleep and then the cycle repeats itself. It would be wonderful if I could put all these extra "awake hours" to good use. I have a thesis that is due soon, a seminar paper, summer classes and tests for which I need to study. But no, this time is waste. I am too tired and frustrated to focus on anything important. Instead I lay awake in bed frustrated, hoping to fall asleep.

For as long as I can remember, I always had trouble falling asleep. On average, it would take me an hour or 2 of lying in bed to actually fall asleep. But I use to enjoy the time in bed, surrounded by the darkness and left to my thoughts. When I was little I would imagine I was a super hero or something fun like that. When I got older I used to fantasize about becoming an amazing, professional hockey player (quite the fantasy), or about romance, and of course about sex. Sometimes I even put the time to good use and I would make plans, or set new goals for myself. So, I was never really bothered by that hour or so that it took me to fall asleep.

But today it is different. It is no longer just an hour or so. I am awake pretty much the whole night. My mind no longer wonders to fantasies and dreams. Rather I get nervous about school. I think of all the work that needs to be done at my job. I wonder why I fall in love with guys that do not love me. I look at the clock and get frustrated at the fact that I am still awake. I count back how many hours are left for me to sleep before I must wake up.

I am not sure why my insomniac nights are such downers. I do have a lot of pressure to meet a number of super important deadlines that are quickly approaching. But other than that things are looking up. Hopefully I will soon graduate from my Masters program. If all goes according to plan, in just a few more months I will be moving to Vietnam and hopefully getting the chance to press the restart button on my life. I have good friends and I live in a wonderful city in which there is always something to do. However, in spite of all this, my sleepless nights remain negative.

I am not sure why I am writing this post. But it is 1:00am and I am lying in bed, dead tired, yet wide awake. Maybe writing about it will put my mind at ease and I will get some sleep. Tomorrow evening is the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. I know it will be very different than the Tel Aviv Pride Parade from a few weeks ago. You can be sure there will be a post about that.

Goodnight world and here's hoping I fall asleep soon!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Quick Thought about the Stupidity of Gender Roles

I work at a place that sells glasses. Every time we get a new pink frame into stock, my boss makes the same joke. "Hey, I have a new frame you will like". He than pulls out something pink and laughs. It was funny the first time and now it is just dull and old. But I am not offended by it. Why should I be? I do like pink. It is a nice color. That has nothing to do with me being gay. I am gay because I am attracted to other guys. My liking the color pink really has nothing to do with it.

My sister and brother-in-law have good friends that are married and have a 2 year old son. Their son likes to play with dolls and toy cleaning equipment. They keep trying to get him to play will baseballs and other "manly toys", but he still prefers the "girly toys". Obviously this concerns them very much. Because it is wrong for boys to want to be nurturing and clean, isn't it? Maybe they are worried about their 2 year old's masculinity. They might even be worried about his sexuality (they are super religious so I am sure that is a big "fear" of theirs).

Why are people so hung up on meaningless and empty gender roles? There are men that are amazing cooks and women that are amazing athletes. And whether those men and women are heterosexual or homosexual is of absolutely no consequence. A man can like pink and be attracted to a woman or a man. A woman can like sports and be attracted to a man or a woman.

I have a friend from my childhood who's family emotionally tortured her because she likes to play hockey. They would tell her that is not how a girl is suppose to behave. People would assume she is a lesbian, in spite of the fact that she is straight just because she liked sports.

What is even more ridiculous is when a straight guy likes something that is considered "girly" and hides it because he is afraid someone might think he is gay. What is most ridiculous is gay men that are so insecure in their masculinity that they have to prove how tough they are. I've seen on a number of gay dating sites people that write things like "I don't like rainbows. I am gay, not a girl". And if they did like rainbows what would happen? Someone might think they are gay? Well they are gay, so who cares?!

Social gender roles make absolutely no sense. They do nothing but constrain people and make them feel uncomfortable with themselves. People are all different and have all different combinations of interests. A straight guy should not be scared of liking musicals and a woman should not be afraid of linking football. Its July 2012 and I cannot believe that this is not obvious to everyone yet.  
Gender Roles are Stupid

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Value of a Life

Six years ago, during the summer of 2006 Israel went to war with Lebanon. Actually that is not true. Israel went to war with a terrorist organization called Hezbollah that has its bases in Lebanon. This terror group ambushed a border patrol and took 2 dead soldiers hostage. The Israeli government panicked, overreacted and went to war in order to retrieve the two bodies.

At the time, I was a member of the communications platoon in an armored battalion. We were on maneuvers up near the border when the war started, so we were one of the first units mobilized. I hadn't always been in communications. I had trained to be a tank driver but due to an injury, I was reassigned to a second line position. While I was no longer serving in the tanks, I still had friends that were. One friend was named Kobi. He was picked to by the gunner in the battalion commander's tank.

Kobi was very excited to have been chosen to by the battalion commander's gunner. When the ground invasion started, he would be in the command tank. I remember the night he went into Lebanon, me and him were sitting around talking. He was telling me how energized and nervous he was about the invasion. I remember saying to him "kill some terrorists for me" and I wished him luck. With that we said goodnight.

The next morning, I woke up early and I ran over to the command center to ask if there had been any injuries over the night. I was told no. But not a second later I started hearing screaming and yelling over the radio. I heard people screaming "what was that?!" and many explosions. I was sent away so as to not be in the way. There was a few hours of confusion where no one seemed to know what was going on. I had my cell phone and I called my parents in the US and asked them and their friends to pray for me and my friends. But a few hours later I was told that Kobi had been killed. His tank had drove up onto a huge landmine and was blown apart.

A few days later, I was among the people sent home from the unit to attend Kobi's funeral. I remember having this horrible feeling at the funeral. It was not normal sadness, it was more complicated than that. Since I had been a little kid I had seen war movies and thought they were exciting and fun. I had dreamed of being a soldier. I used to fantasize about leading troops into battle and destroying the enemy. And now I was at the funeral of one soldier and I was surrounded by hundreds of bereaved family and friends. I could not comprehend how this event happens hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS of times over in other wars.

Why is life worth so little? Why are we so quick to send people to die, to volunteer to go die, or to kill some one else? I am not a pacifist, but in many cases it is just unbearably frustrating what people are willing to die and kill over; religion, land, political philosophies, money. I cannot figure out for what Kobi and the other 118 Israeli soldiers that were killed sacrificed their lives. Because a bunch of under-qualified politicians didn't know how to react to a minor incident? Thousands of Lebanese people were killed because some irresponsible, fanatically religious group decided to attack a more powerful country. What a waste.

I have written this before, but I think it bares repeating. When people focus all of their energies on a make believe fairy land called "heaven" that can only be reached after death, they are devaluing their actual lives. When you tell people from the time they are little children that "this life is full of turmoil" but the next world is perfect and amazing, why should they not throw away their lives in the hope of leaving turmoil and reaching perfection? And if you tell them they have an automatic ticket to heaven just by taking down some "heathens" with them, they are that much more tempted.

One of the best things that happened to me when I stopped believing in Judaism is that I stopped focusing on what will happen after I am dead. I stopped being afraid of "god" sending me to hell. I was able to focus on my real life and trying to make that as good as I can. Life is so valuable. People should stop treating it like it is cheap.