“Jennifer has never been to Israel before! This is her first trip, and you’re the only girl her age in the family. If you don’t come along, she won’t have anyone to talk to!”
“What do you mean ‘so what’? First of all, she’s your cousin.”
“My fourth cousin! And she’s from Florida!”
“Whatever. I don’t know the difference.”
Ah, the joy of having Israeli kids. To them, geography outside a certain radius is irrelevant.
“Yes, that’s true. But even if she weren’t a relative, this is important. A fellow Jew who knows nothing about Yiddishkeit—”
“Just because you and Abba decided to go into kiruv doesn’t mean that I have to!”
“You don’t have to, but don’t you understand why it’s important?”
She just stared at me blankly, as if I’d asked her about the merits of eating spinach.
What is it with that kid? I thought to myself in exasperation yet again. Well-meaning relatives and friends had warned me, chuckling light-heartedly about how difficult it was to raise teenagers, but this was ridiculous. My cousin, with whom I’d recently reconnected, had finally made the trip to Israel with her family. I was sure that Bracha would be an engaging conversationalist and show her daughter Jennifer that being religious and “with-it” were not mutually exclusive. Who knew, maybe one day Jennifer would even want to go to Neve… Oh, well. Bracha refused to budge and I ended up going out to dinner with Kelly’s family by myself. My other cousin, Chaim, came along with his munchkins, but they didn’t speak any English so Jennifer sat there on her phone pretty much the whole evening. Something or someone else would have to inspire her to go to Neve. Sigh.
The whole way home the nagging feeling of a missed opportunity gnawed at me. I was glad that Bracha wasn’t home, because even though dinner had been nice I was in a rotten mood. I tossed my pocketbook on the sofa and went into the bedroom to change. I pulled on my ratty, splattered smock and old skirt. The hour wasn’t that late, and painting always picked up my spirits when I was down. The only question was, was I in the right headspace to start a new painting?
The physical sensations I experience before, during and after painting are almost identical to the ones I experience on vacation. Selecting the color range and squirting the array onto the palette is akin to choosing my clothes and packing my toothbrush. While gliding the paint brush across the canvas, I can almost feel the wind blowing in my face on the way to the beach. My eyes experience the same rush of invigoration and wonder, whether taking in the shops along the Netanya boardwalk or scrutinizing the beach umbrellas I am painting onto my little flat canvas. To me, my canvas is alive. When I’m painting, I’m not painting on it; I feel like I’m strolling in it.
I took out some watercolor paper and stared at it but didn’t see it. All I kept seeing was Bracha’s face. My mind wandered through dark, tangled weeds and vines of angry and anxious thoughts. What’s going to be with her? Why does that child always make shallow, selfish decisions? Where had she learned to be so self-absorbed?! Was I seriously asking that question? Look at her. Look at what she’d witnessed! Look at who her role model was. She’d always idolized him. How did you expect her to turn out?