Monday, December 22, 2014
A few days ago it was the first yartzheit (anniversary) of my grandfather, Shimon Woolf z"l (may he rest in eternal peace). He died last year on the third night of Chanukah, and for our family, a light that had burned for more than ninety years had been extinguished forever. This past Shabbat, my family shared a meal with good friends and our host gave a small Dvar Torah while we sat at the table, unable to move from all the amazing food. He spoke about the machloket - the disagreement - between Hillel and Shamai in regards to lighting the menorah on Chanukah. Shamai argued that we begin the holiday by lighting all eight candles on the first night and gradually decrease every night until we light one last candle on the last night of the holiday. Hillel argued that we start off the holiday by lighting just one and then increase every night until we are lighting all eight candles on the last night of the holiday. Our sages have decided that while Shamai's method had merit in many ways, we were - for generations to come - going to do things Hillel's way. And so we do. But the reason our host gave was a beautiful one.
Our world, especially now, is a dark one. There are unspeakable events happening all over the world that seem to be gaining a scary momentum and it doesn't seem like things are going to get better just yet. As Jews, we are commanded to be a light unto the nations. The events over this past summer tested us in ways no one should ever be tested, and yet, we came through with flying colors. We sought prayer, gave comfort and rose beyond the anger that fuels revenge and hatred and chose to love instead. The outpouring of pure giving that went on in this country was mind-boggling, inspirational and endless. And so we - as a nation - actively chose to keep that commandment and we shone.
Our Shabbat host explained that when you take a pitch black room and suddenly fill it with lots of light, it's bright and beautiful. You've filled the darkness with lots of light and that's a good thing. But the act of lighting one less candle each night, is a depressing one. And a passive one. Instead of keeping the light, you're actually extinguishing it slowly until there's but one measly flickering flame left behind. The amazing quality about light is that even a little bit of it can light up even the darkest of rooms. It fills each and every corner with just enough light for you to see and find your way. And in doing so, it brings with that small flickering flame the concept of hope. Increasing the light slowly until the room is completely lit up, is the antithesis of depressing. It's an act of positivity and hopefulness, of seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. It's an attitude, it's the way we should all see life, and ultimately, I believe it is the key to our survival. Bringing the light into the darkness is one thing, but increasing it is a whole different concept altogether.
And I'm not just speaking physically, but metaphorically as well.
My grandfather carried a light inside of him wherever he went. Yes, he was sometimes incredibly focused, single minded and filled with more stubborn determination than anyone in their 90's should be, but he had that light. It shone from his face when he handed out candy every Shabbat to the kids in his shul in exchange for some words about the parsha. It shone from him whenever he was busy with the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, which he was busy with all the time. Nothing made him happier than hosting people. He'd go out of his way to buy just the right cakes and offer drinks and a comfortable seat and he would engage you from the minute you walked in until the minute you left. He gave tzedakah with a smile and a willing hand. The crinkles in the corners of his eyes never reflected more light than when he was with my grandmother. His love for her was palpable. He came to Israel to visit almost every Passover for the last four or five years of his life. We took him to Leket one afternoon during Chol Hamoed and he insisted on getting down in the dirt to help his great grandchildren pick beets for the needy. He was dressed impeccably, dapper and elegant in his perfectly ironed slacks and button down shirt and tweed cap, but he got down on his knees and he picked those beets. And you could see the light that shone from him.
When he died, I thought that that light was forever gone. After all, it's the neshama, the soul and the true essence of a person that makes a person truly alive. Without the soul sparking within, there is no life.
But I think I was looking at this the wrong way.
I think that if we all take those little sparks of light that we've learned from him - his genuine crinkly smile, his easy laughter, his love for Torah, his true desire to help people and his welcoming nature - we can keep the light that was him alive. And we can increase our own inner light. We can keep the spirit and deeper meaning of Chanuka, of bringing more and more light into this world alive. And instead of slowly removing and extinguishing the light, we can make a conscious decision to strengthen the light, and keep that flame steady and constant, not just during Chanukah, but during each and every day of our lives.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
I grew up in an Orthodox home in Toronto. And, although I won't reveal my exact age, suffice it to say I've spent more than three decades fasting on the ninth of Av and sitting on the lumpy cushions on the floor of my shul in Toronto while listening to Megillat Eicha. Nothing much has changed since I've made Aliyah, except I sit on the cold hard marble floor instead, since there are no cushions in my shul. And while I learned throughout my schooling the significance of this fast day - second in importance to the fast of Yom Kippur - it's sometimes difficult to really feel it in your bones. We begin the mourning period every summer on the fast day of 17th of Tammuz, which was the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE. Three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, marks not just the date of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash (the second Holy Temple) but also was the date of the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash as well. And if that wasn't enough tragedy for a single day, there was a whole slew of other terrible events that just so happened on that day as well (not a coincidence in my opinion...).
So, in a nutshell, this was not a great day historically for the Jewish people.
During these last few weeks, I've been thinking about how I've spent past Tisha Be'avs and I've come up with some constants. I've slept in, hoping that when I finally woke up, half the day had passed so I didn't have to think about food for more than a few hours. I've tried keeping my kids busy so they wouldn't complain about being starving. I've read books and watched documentaries. Then, later in the day, I've busied myself with cooking for the conclusion of the fast, which somehow - ironically - manages to keep my hunger at bay. I'm not sure, though, that I've really ever felt like I was mourning.
I suppose it's difficult to mourn something you've never had. Despite learning all through school about the Beit Hamikdash and learning about how it was made, how holy a place it was, how sacrifices were brought to the Kohanim (the Priests), it's all just stories and legends, more or less. No matter how many times I've learned about bringing the first of your crops to the Kohen or about how he took a handful of flour and some oil, and made some sort of cake and then burned it, it was all so removed, so distant. And the fact that the destruction of both Temples occurred thousands of years before I was born, has distanced me further from the event. And so while I go through the motions of not eating meat, not swimming or listening to music or going to parties or the movies for nine days and then ending this period with a twenty-five hour fast that begins by sitting on the cold hard floor and listening to the tragic reading of Megillat Eicha, I'm not always truly mournful.
In fact, I remember one particular Tisha Be'av, exactly 14 years ago, when I passed the day in a drunken state of joy and euphoria as I sat in Tel Hashomer Hospital holding my gorgeous, healthy, super-cute baby girl that was born only two days earlier. Not fasting and basking in the quiet mother-baby bonding, I was too busy mooning over her to think about Tisha Be'av.
This year is different. These last three weeks can only be described as hellish. It started with the cruel and unforgivable kidnappping and murder of three young boys and culminated in a war so devastating and frightening that it's left us all shaken. We've lost WAY too many of our young, brave soldiers and our nation is truly in a state of mourning. And I've felt it, this all-encompassing sadness that has taken over our people. I've felt it in every nerve ending of my body. Now, with a little perspective, I think back to August 70 CE, when our second Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans, scattering the Jewish people and commencing our exile from the Holy Land.
And while I got it before, now I really get it.
The very existence of the Jews of 70 CE were at risk for annihilation. They lost a country that they were gifted by God, a country that they loved. They lost their Holy Temple, their place to worship God freely and with a whole heart. Families were torn apart, and loved ones murdered before their very eyes. Whoever was left standing was taken away by shackles to other strange countries, forced to give up their religious beliefs. Their yeshivot and their places of worship were now a thing of the past.
It's now August 4th, 2014. Centuries lie between us and them, but the threat facing us right now is one and the same. We are fighting an enemy that wishes to destroy us, to eradicate us from this land that is rightfully ours, a land that we love. And while we don't have a Beit Hamikdash, their goal is to destroy our religion in the name of theirs. They have already torn families apart by killing our children, our soldiers and our citizens.
But there is one fundamental difference between now and then. We will not let them win. We are hanging on by tooth and nail to this country of ours and we will not let them take it away from us.
But in the meantime, while I'm fasting in the cool air-conditioned comfort of my home, our soldiers are spending this tragic day in impossibly difficult and dangerous conditions. They are fighting for us. For our right to exist in this country that is unequivocally ours. But we've paid a terrible price for this just war, and will go on paying it until we can live our lives in peace. We have no other choice in the matter.
And for the first time in a long, long time, this Tisha Be'av, August 4, 2014, I am in mourning.
Friday, August 1, 2014
This summer has been such a strange one. For all of the Jews around the world, but especially for those of us who live here. This war has been on the front page news for way too long and the anti-semitism that has erupted all over the world as a result has left us all a little shell-shocked.
Summers are the only time of the year that I'm off of work, with pretty much nothing to do, and while I'm generally a person who loves to be busy every minute of the day (I consider myself naturally caffeinated...), I relish the summer months where I have nothing urgent to do but decide whether to sit on the couch and read a book all day, or play Boggle and Settlers with my kids in the middle of the afternoon, something I'm never able to do. I normally sleep in, lazing in bed with my Nook, reading some light, fun beach read, before making my way downstairs for a leisurely breakfast. I usually tackle some summer project, like a mosaic or a particularly difficult piece of music but I have yet to do any of those things.
I haven't been able to sleep in as much as I want - no, need - to and I wake up bleary-eyed and exhausted before I even lift my head off the pillow. Instead of sleeping deeply and dreamily through the night, my thoughts (which are often depressing) are rushing ADD-like through my brain and I'm tossing and turning most of the night. Instead of dreaming about rainbows, fairies and happy endings, I've got images of tunnels and rockets stuck in my head. And forget about reading. Those of you who know me well know that I am a serious book addict. I could read between five and six books a month in addition to keeping to my work schedule and still manage to make a balanced dinner most nights. I never leave the house without my Nook tucked in my purse in the event I can get another chapter under my belt while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store or at the pharmacy. But since the kidnapping, I can barely bring myself to finish one single book. I'm too unfocused, too shaky and have trouble turning the news off. I have this visceral need to know what's happening with our soldiers every minute of the day.
While you might think that sounds slightly obsessive, I assure you, I'm not alone.
While I figured that everyone around me is probably feeling somewhat similar, I didn't realize to what extent. I ran into a friend at the mall a few days ago while doing errands. She told me that she stopped by my house yesterday but I wasn't home. She said that she couldn't bear the thought of going home where the television beckoned her with only bad news and that she just needed to clear her head, talk with someone about what she was feeling. Which was untethered and shaky and unfocused. Like me. She has good reason since she has a son fighting in Gaza. Yesterday I ran into another friend, also while doing errands, and the sentiment was the same. She had a bright smile on her face because there, standing next to her, was her son, the same age as my soldier daughter, who had just gotten back from Gaza. While he was heading back there after the weekend, her relief and her gratefulness for this small weekend reprieve was written all over her face. There was still worry mixed in with the relief, worry for her other son and her son-in-law who are still fighting in Gaza. And while standing in the local Makolet just a few minutes ago, I just had a lengthy conversation with yet another friend and all we could talk about is this war and how it's affecting us. How surreal this summer is and how easily we are moved to tears by what is going on around us.
I feel fragile, on the verge of breaking if I hear of one more soldier dying to keep us safe. Reading about that young widow who gave birth to her fourth child, a girl, just ten days after her husband died in the battle was almost too much to bear. But there are moments in this terrible summer when I feel a surge of strength come over me. It slowly creeps into me when I sit every night in the shul, elbow to elbow with other women who've come out to pray for our soldiers, for our wounded, for our army and for our country. I felt it pour through me when I saw a young girl standing at the entrance of the supermarket next to six huge boxes that bore a sign on which was written: "for our chayalim, please give what you can". And another surge of strength when I handed over four tubes of toothpaste and her face broke out into the biggest beaming smile you can imagine. For toothpaste. It crept into my veins and made me smile when I saw the picture of the IDF armored vehicle decorated with colorful "stay safe!" cards made by children from all over Israel. I felt it when I read about the owner of a Shwarma restaurant that literally emptied out his store and packaged up every last salad and Shwarma for a father who was taking food down to his son's unit before Shabbat, and then refused to take any money. I feel it when our community continuously collects everything from underwear to flashlights to granola bars so the soldiers could keep focusing on doing what they do best and not worry about the small stuff. I felt it when I saw the picture my husband posted of himself along with four colleagues doing a volunteer ambulance run down south in Be'er Sheva. And I felt it again when I watched a video of a mother who has lost two sons in past wars bring words of comfort and solace to the mother of a slain lone soldier who came all the way from the US to bury her son.
We are getting through this summer moment to moment; from weakness to strength, and from despair to hopefulness. I keep hoping that the moments of strength will overpower the moments of shaky uncertainty and while that hasn't happened just yet, I'm not just hopeful but certain that they will. Soon.
And I think that's what we all feel.
That amidst all the shakiness and fragility, there are unbelievably beautiful and powerful moments of strength that feeds our souls and continues to bind us together and makes us the nation we are today.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Show someone a cup of water that is filled to the half mark. Fifty percent of the people will say it's half empty and fifty percent will say it's half full. It's all about optimism versus pessimism and an individual's perspective. War is always - inarguably - a negative thing, no matter how you try and spin it. I think about the usual words associated with the word war, and I come up with pain, suffering, loss, wounded, death, fear, trauma, nightmare, etc... These are not pretty words, which makes perfect sense, because war is anything but pretty.
But there's one more word that comes to my mind when I think of this war.
I know. It's strange to add that upbeat, hopeful, supernatural word to the mix. Miracles are usually associated with good things. Great things. Godly things. Awe-inspiring events that have the power to turn non-believers into believers and to forever change lives. It certainly doesn't apply to war.
But I can't help but see that this war is anything but miraculous.
When the tunnels were first discovered, I didn't know what to think of them. First of all, my impression of these tunnels were little furrows just beneath the surface if the ground. I figured they had something to do with the black market - something surely illegal - but I didn't know much more than that. It was only after I saw the footage of the five terrorists popping out of the ground on Israeli soil and then trying to scurry back into the mouth of one of the tunnels after being discovered by the IDF, did I begin to understand the gravity of them. As every day that passes during this war, the complexity and sheer number of these sturdy fortified tunnels - that resemble any major city's underground subway system - sends tremors of fear up and down my spine. And I still worry that they will not find each and every one. I shrunk back in abject horror when I saw a video of the IDF pulling shampoo bottles, soap and conditioner out from a cupboard beneath someone's bathroom sink. They then removed a false bottom and discovered the entrance of yet another tunnel. They filmed some of the items they found down there: rockets, lighter fluid, bomb-making material and the like. And this was in someone's private house! (This leads to a whole other issue of what "innocent civilian" really means...)
When the "master plan" of a massive-scale terror attack that was carefully planned over the span of a decade to slaughter all Israelis in towns, yishuvim and kibbutzim within the vicinity of Gaza this coming Rosh Hashana was made public, I know not a single one among us that did not quake in fear.
And it hit me with such clarity that this war was a miracle. A blessing in disguise.
Had the IDF not gone into Gaza, there would have been a chance that those tunnels may not have been discovered. And if their plan of terror had actualized, the losses on our side would have been unimaginable. Personally, it affected me deeply. As a mother whose son is scheduled to be attending an army prep school not four kilometers from Gaza, I'm still reeling from the "what ifs"...
And to think how close we were to that happening. Truth is, Hamas is stupid. And stupid is as stupid does. We accepted not one but two ceasefires before the ground forces of our army went into Gaza. Had Hamas been smarter and had accepted the ceasefire, there might have been some sort of (fake) peace treaty (until the next time they lobbied rockets into Israel...) and our Prime Minister would have been forced to stop the IDF from going in. He took a calculated risk by accepting the ceasefire, hoping that Hamas would refuse and it - thank God! - worked in our favor.
So yes. While the losses of our many - too many! - soldiers are painful and devastating, this war cannot only be defined by pain, suffering, loss and death.
It is also a miracle.
And so when I go to the synagogue every night to say Psalms for the safety of our soldiers and for the healing of our wounded heroes and warriors, I also say a fervent thanks to God for two things: for sending us this miracle, and for being able to recognize it for what it is. I might not like the shape or form that this miracle has been given, but I'm eternally grateful nonetheless.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
To my fellow Jews,
I've lived here for almost twenty years. I remember the day we broke the news that we were planning on making Aliyah. Thankfully, most of you were proud and supportive, even if it meant taking our infant daughter far far away from you. We came here without the support of Nefesh B'Nefesh or it's financial grant because it didn't exist at the time. We were supposed to have been met at the airport by a representative of Tehila, but somehow there was a miscommunication, so no one showed. There we stood, on February 3rd, 1995, in the old Ben Gurion airport, standing among hundreds of Russians and a handful of visitors, with our duffle bags, our car seat, our stroller and our five month old baby girl. We had not a clue what to do, but we made our way to a Sherut taxi service which would take us to our apartment in Jerusalem.
Our three bedroom apartment in Katamon was 75 steps up with no elevator and had a galley kitchen painted a bright glossy canary yellow. I didn't need coffee to wake me up during the three years we lived there. And we loved it. We loved the neighborhood and our new friends, and our new community. But living so far away from all of you was not easy. I know we communicated via the telephone and email and we sent plenty of pictures of our growing little girl but it's not the same as seeing one another in the flesh. Looking back, sometimes I can't believe we did it.
As you know, we did not have jobs lined up and we were living off our savings while we settled in and tried to find work. Things did eventually fall into place. We eventually moved to the center of the country and added three more kids to our family. We found a community we love, people who have since become like family. Our kids went to Gan and learned Hebrew, And I went to Ulpan and learned Hebrew (I'm still learning...) and we settled into life in Israel. But unfortunately, things have not always been calm and quiet here.
Our son was born amidst bus bombings that crippled Jerusalem, and as a result, only half of our guests were able to make his Brit due to a bombing that occurred a half hour earlier. Ironically, he happened to have been born half an hour after another such bus bombing. I remember being in the middle of heavy labor when the staff in the birthing hospital started whispering and a tension gripped the room. They wouldn't tell me what had happened until after our son was born, but I had pretty much guessed. Imagine trying to bring a child into a world with so much pain and suffering.
We experienced more threats a few years later and had to seal up our bedroom and make sure we had our gas masks and other necessary supplies in case of a biological attack, which they thought was imminent. Those were fun times, I tell you. Our bedroom still has marks of the tape residue and for some reason, we never painted over them. And I look at them now and then and it makes me remember those times, like when we had to instruct our young daughter how to put on her gas mask. No parent should have to do that.
Since then, we've had more wars. During the second Lebanon war, my husband, an ambulance driver, volunteered to help out up north near Akko where the bombs were landing in residential neighborhoods. This was before the Iron Dome, so yes, there were fatalities. He drove up north with three other ambulance drivers and it just so happened to be the fast of Tisha Be'av. It was also one of the hottest days of the summer. Our rabbi told my husband and his colleagues that they were under no circumstance to fast, despite the seriousness of the day. They were doing God's work, he said, and it would be stupid to put themselves in danger health-wise when they were responsible for saving lives.
Just two years ago - not even - we had another short-lived battle against Gaza. That same little baby we made Aliyah with was now in an army prep program in Kibbutz Alumim, is situated less than four kilometers from Gaza. Rockets started landing in and around the kibbutz as well as other yishuvim in the vicinity. The school sent all the students home. They stayed at home for one, maybe two days, and then, as a group, called the head of the school and said they were coming back and that they didn't care. They were officially kibbutzniks for that year and if the people of Alumim were hiding in bomb shelters, then they would too.
Now, this war called Protective Edge has taken on a more ugly and terrifying form than any other in the last twenty years since I've been here. Despite the several cease-fires that our side abided by, we have been barraged with more rockets than you can possibly imagine. We've had too many deaths already, too much pain and loss. It all began with the kidnapping and murder of the three young boys, Ayal, Gilad and Naftali. The hunt for the murderers and the despicable revenge killing of the Palestinian boy escalated things in record time and now, Israel is fighting for its life and the life of its people. Our brave soldiers have begun a ground invasion and were shocked at what they discovered. The magnitude of these tunnels, and what might have happened had they not been discovered is chilling. Through interrogations of the terrorists that were captured, there are terrifying reports about evil plans that were to take place this coming Rosh Hashana. Hundreds of terrorists, disguised as IDF soldiers, popping up from under the ground inside kindergartens, lunchrooms and backyards in yishuvim, kibbutzim and settlements around Gaza in order to slaughter as many Jews in a surprise attack is now a nightmare that every Israeli sees behind their closed eyes when they go to sleep.
And yet, I don't regret - not for a single minute - the decision we made to move here. It's been the right move for us and for our family and we feel that this country is our one and only true home. We've watched our kids grow and flourish and soak up a love for this land that is overflowing. They relish the day they will serve it and protect it and help it continue to grow. They are being educated in a country where education is prized and appreciated. Where democracy and civil rights are protected. They are living day to day in a country where giving is more important than receiving. They are growing up in an environment where they can apply the Torah's values and morals to their day to day lives.
When I see what's going on in Europe, Canada and America, I'm chilled to the bone. I see the sign in an Antwerp restaurant saying that while dogs are allowed, under no circumstances are Jews allowed. I hear of synagogues in Paris being burnt, and see Jewish businesses in Paris broken into, their windows shattered. And the glass lying on the street is eerily reminiscent of Kristalnacht... I see violence against Jews all over England, their cemeteries desecrated. I see protesters all over the world carrying signs with a swastika, saying they will happily finish the job Hitler started. I see protests in Canada where the Muslims beat up anyone carrying an Israeli flag or supporting Israel. I see the main streets of downtown Chicago and Boston filled to capacity with American jihadists protesting Israel's right to exist.
So while it might seem strange to you, with the rockets flying overhead and the alarms sounding every few minutes, I am afraid for you. For you, my family and my friends. For all my fellow Jews in the diaspora.
I am very afraid for you.
And I know this might seem crazy - and in many ways it is - but we are safe here. We may be in the middle of a war, but we are fighting it and we will win. We are taking as many precautions as necessary, but we are surviving. Our soldiers and our country will protect us.
And they will protect you if you come here.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
We are commanded by the Torah to love our neighbour as we do ourselves. In its most basic form, it means treating people with kindness. I am the kind of girl who appreciates the little things. I never forget to say please and thank you to those who show me any type of kindness - big or small - and that especially includes people in the service industry. It's a tough industry - having to please people all day no matter how they treat you. A genuine smile and a sincere "Thanks!" can go a long way. It's like I tell my kids: You catch more bees with honey than vinegar. Setting that cliche aside, I happen to like having a personal relationship with the people I encounter on a regular basis. Last week I was in Jerusalem, strolling down Jaffa Street, when I saw one of the checkout clerks from Mega Modiin sitting on a bench. It was weird to see her out of context. She didn't see me and I could have walked by, but I walked over to her and said a big hello. She smiled and asked me how I was. Vicki has worked in Mega Modiin for at least 15 years since the day I moved to my yishuv. And we always share interesting conversations while she tallies up my grocery bill. I continue to break my teeth speaking Hebrew to her while she chats with me in English. And then there's the guy at the local gourmet shop who asks me what I'm going to bake with all the stuff I've bought and we end up segueing into which diets work and why. But I'm not just friendly with the Israelis that I come into contact with, but Arabs too.
I don't know what my friends who live in the US and Canada think, but just because we live in Israel, doesn't mean we only come into contact with Israelis. I happen to live just over the green line and there are plenty of Palestinians (not Israeli Palestinians, who are full citizens of this country) who work in and around our small community and in the larger city of Modiin. But just because they are Arab, doesn't mean I don't have similar conversations with them as well. We have an older Arab gentleman who works for our yishuv keeping our streets clean and plenty of families here use him to clean their windows which he does for extra cash. And every time he sees me, he waves and asks me how I am. There is quite a skilled staff of Arabs working at the chicken and meat counter in a couple of the local supermarkets, as well as some working at the gas station. While I don't get into conversations at the gas station, I definitely do at the meat counter. Sometimes it's about what cut of meat to buy, or which method would work better, oven or BBQ. When Thanksgiving rolls around and I pick up the 15 pound turkey that I ordered, we have a whole discussion about what Thanksgiving is all about and why I, as a Canadian, choose to celebrate it. They laugh about it and then ask me how I prepare the turkey, with which spices and at what temperature and for how long. And they often hand me the meat and then wish me a "Shabbat shalom." My husband has worked with plenty of Arabs in the past and some of them even tried to "friend" him on Facebook. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we live with them and they live with us, and I, for one, don't ignore them. I say please and thank you to them as I would to anyone who did me a kindness. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.
But now things have changed. I filled up my car with gas the other day and while I still smiled and wished the gas attendant a good day, I drove away with a clenching in my stomach. I couldn't help but wonder if he was forcing himself to be polite while seething inside at the very fact that I am part of a nation that is attacking his. And thinking about how easy it would be for him to throw a lit match into my tank as it was filling... (I know - I tend to be morbid sometimes...) And when I thanked the clerk at the meat counter for picking hairless wings for me (a big deal here...) I wonder if he's secretly wishing he could somehow poison my meat. My 16 year old daughter pointed out that they could be thinking exactly the same thing about me. And that thought had never even crossed my mind.
My house is situated at the far end of our community and the view outside my window is one of hills, valleys, craggy stone and olive groves. And the ugly, tall, imposing, concrete security fence, too. While it somewhat ruined my bucolic view, I'm glad it's there. Before it went up, there was one Friday when I was standing in the shower, my hair full of shampoo, when my daughter burst in and screamed, "the Arabs are coming down the hill!" I grabbed a towel and ran out of the shower and stared out the window. Hundreds of Arabs were chanting while making their way down the hill towards our chain-link fence. A call was made to the security company that sits at the entrance of our community and the army was called in. For weeks afterward, while the security fence was still just a concept and not yet a reality, several army jeeps were situated on our side, using their night-vision technology to watch the valley, to make sure we had no other surprise visitors other than the occasional deer leaping through the hills. Then the security fence went up. Now, every Friday, the Palestinians behind the wall - there are three villages just beyond - come out to protest the wall among a host of other things. Sometimes it's peaceful, but most of the time not. Too often, the army has to throw either a stink bomb or tear gas at them, which the wind then carries over the valley and makes it difficult to stand outside or even keep the windows open. Never thought I'd ever experience tear gas in my life, but I have. Many times. I know that some of those same Palestinians are coming over the security crossing every morning in order to work. And I wonder sometimes if the guy who cuts my chickens up into eight neat pieces is the same guy that's burning tires and trying to topple the concrete wall in view of my house.
I'm not sure what to make of this whole weird relationship that we now have. I'm still trying my best to love my neighbour and continue being kind and grateful, because that's the kind of person I am. I'm still smiling and still polite, but I'm conflicted and the clenching in my stomach has only intensified. It's not like this hasn't happened before. With every war in the past, there were the same thoughts, the same concerns, but now it seems much more complicated. This war has escalated beyond what we had imagined. Sure, we figured there would be terrorists, but we weren't counting on the "human shields" or the twelve year old gun-toting kids, or the sheer number of mind-boggling tunnels that must have been in the works for decades. The anti-Israel riots that have erupted all over the world hasn't made it any easier on us, either. Educated European and American Arabs are now taking to the streets, not in peaceful protest with flags and homemade posters, but with bats, sticks, stones and fire and with an anger-driven violence that has not stopped shocking me. And while these local Arabs - who I come into contact with each and every day - don't live in Gaza, plenty of them are loyal to Hamas.
When will the tides change for them? When will they care more about their loyalty to Hamas than their steady jobs? When will they decide to put down their butchering knives, or the gas nozzles and take to the streets? Is it only a matter of time?
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Ten minutes before the siren went off in our yishuv, my 16 year old daughter and I had an intense discussion about the Palestinians in Gaza. The debate was brought about by a particularly disturbing video that someone had uploaded to Facebook. It was a series of clips - videos and stills - that was titled Children of Hamas.
The clip opened up with a shot of a Palestinian baby - maybe a year old - with a "suicide belt" around his diapered bottom and hundreds of bullets draped around his neck. It then featured Palestinian children in kindergarten. All the boys were dressed in full kid-sized army gear, complete with bullets and guns (fake, I hope!) with Hamas ski masks that were strangely similar to KKK masks only in black, and their familiar green bandanas tied around their foreheads. Their teacher, in a full burqa, was instructing them how to crawl on their bellies military-style towards their target with their guns held in front of them. Then, if that wasn't enough, other boys in the class, similarly dressed, started leaping over them as if attending an army boot-camp obstacle course.
Then it flipped to an interview with what looked like a four year old boy. He was asked, "do you want to be a martyr?" He answers, "yes." Then, "why do you want to?" The little boy answers, "to kill the Jews." The interviewer then asks, "why are they shooting at us?" The boy responds, "because they are animals."
What struck me right away was not the horror of it all - I had been expecting it to be awful - but that these kids were practicing war tactics in a bright, colorful classroom with a cheerful mural on the wall of children playing on a swingset in a green park with a bright yellow sun shining down on them.
The juxtaposition of the "miniature terrorists in training" against this happy wall that you'd find in any kindergarten in the world was jarring.
So at the end of this video, we had the age-old discussion of good versus evil, right versus wrong and nature versus nurture. My daughter's opinion was that she pitied the children of Gaza. Her argument was that had they had been brought up in open, loving, tolerant homes, they would not be thirsty for Jewish blood. She maintains that it's not necessarily their fault that they had been indoctrined to hate us from the womb.
I don't disagree with her. I don't. Hamas has abused its power and destroyed its people. But I don't have the same compassion that she has. And I won't apologize for it. After hearing name after name of our soldiers who have been killed announced on the radio and after hearing Palestinian youth respond to whether or not they would welcome peace with "no, either we stay or they do," I'm just not feeling all that compassionate.
A Golani soldier - who is currently recovering from wounds sustained on the battleground in Gaza - told the press that the terrorists that shot at him and his comrades were 12-13 year old boys. 12-13!!! These are not men, but boys. Boys who should be playing soccer or flirting with the girl next door. Not carrying guns. And then there was the most shocking photo of a terrorist with a baby - a baby! - strapped to his chest, along with several cartridges of bullets hanging around his neck.
So what is the definition of innocence in this situation? Are children under 18 automatically considered "innocent" just because they are young? At what age does someone become culpable for their own behavior? Do children grow up with an innate sense of right or wrong or must it be taught?
I'm not a child psychologist nor would I presume to know the answer. It's a controversial subject and plenty of strong opinions exist on both sides of this issue. But that's not important. What is important is this question that needs to be answered: what are our soldiers supposed to do when faced with a smooth-cheeked, unshaven, baby-faced boy with a gun aimed at their heads?
The constant theme of every foreign news report about this war is that while they unwillingly concede that Israel has the right to defend itself against incoming rockets, now that our army has gone into Gaza, they are showing "excessive force". And that too many "innocent" men, women and children are being killed by IDF forces.
The international community - and shame on them - doesn't bother distinguishing between a child of twelve and a child of twelve with a gun held to our heads. Or an innocent Palestinian girl and a Palestinian girl who stands on the roof of a building acting as a human shield. And brainwashed or not, those "innocent" children are the enemy. Yes, maybe they might have grown up to be different if their environment had been one of life and peace instead of death and war. We'll never know. But the only thing we can do to possibly change that is to remove Hamas and every possible threat against us. And the international community has to support our basic right to defend ourselves or - pardon my French - shut the hell up.
My peace-loving, compassionate, empathetic and rather astute daughter said regarding the international community: "they think they know everything, but in fact, they know nothing."
Then she skillfully summed it up:
"If the rest of the world was in our situation and the international community told them not to defend themselves and to sit and wait to be slaughtered, they'd mute us and our opinions and they'd do what they know is right. Even if it caused death. So we have to do the same. To stand up for ourselves. To protect ourselves at all cost. And focusing on that is way more important than focusing on what everyone else has to say about it."
Monday, July 21, 2014
So far, as the dog days of summer inch by, I see countless of posts on Facebook by my friends and family. Pictures of kids living it up in the summer like they are supposed to. Having fun at camp, and frolicking at the beach, their smiles so wide and genuine. And it all seems so fun, so carefree. So normal. My kids were supposed to have that kind of summer. But...
Normally, when June comes to a close, I, along with most parents, exhale a long sigh of relief. Along with the intense heat, the beginning of summer in Israel brings with it a loosening of the knots in my shoulders and a liberating feeling of letting go. No more homework, no more rigid schedules and no more carpool. Curfews are more relaxed and the real fun begins. There are usually talks of heading to the beach on Fridays, maybe with the dog in tow, and perhaps a mid-week trip to the Sachne and its grottos complete with swimsuits, sunscreen and sandwiches.
Not so this summer.
The beach is currently off limits and we're patiently waiting (and hoping and praying) for things to settle down a little before planning a fun day trip to the Sachne. But when you're a mom, summer is still summer and kids should still be allowed to be kids. So I try to walk that impossibly thin line between what used to be our normal and what has now become our new normal.
I signed up my kids for cooking camp and sewing lessons and made sure they've got what to be busy with for these long lazy eight weeks. My son is busy with his summer job at the bookstore, trying to pad his wallet before going to Mechina in September, and I find myself reminding him time and time again not to hitchhike home if he's alone, something I never did before this summer. My youngest, finished with cooking camp, is happily working at the local pizza store before she starts her two week stint at sleepover camp in the north and we've had the distinct pleasure of having her as our waitress when we ate there last week. When we all come together for dinner, there are funny stories to regale, hilarious moments, and the usual bickering between the siblings. Inevitably there's the nightly argument about whose turn it is to walk the dog, or do the dishes. In other words, normal. But then my youngest hears a siren and begins to panic. Turns out it was only (only!) the nightly news rebroadcasting the sirens that were heard all day in Ashkelon. And while I've known about the army base that is located very close to our yishuv almost since the day I moved here, every time I hear shots being fired, I have to remind myself against and again that it's just our guys in training, and not something more sinister. Understandably, we're all a little jumpy....
I was busy this morning designing a two-tiered Bat Mitzvah cake for a client, which I then delivered to Jerusalem. Again, not an unusual morning for me. Instead of heading straight home afterwards, my husband, my daughter and I lazily wandered around downtown Jerusalem, window shopping for art and treating ourselves to a falafel and an iced coffee. It was such a beautiful, unusually cool and windy day - gorgeous for the end of July - and it seemed, for those isolated forty minutes, like such a blissfully normal summery thing to do. Then we were back in the car listening to the radio broadcast about the thirteen Golani soldiers that were killed. And our normal changed yet again.
This past Shabbat, our table conversation, which was once filled with only jokes, funny stories and always plenty of laughter, was instead a place of serious debate and discussion about peace, Gaza, tunnels, suicide bombers and our shaky history as Jews living in this country. Hearing my oldest, who is serving in the IDF, wonder out loud whether or not Arabs are pre-disposed to hating us because of the biblical story surrounding Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael opened up an interesting and somber exchange about the Torah and the sad impossibility of peace between our two nations. The conversation then veered to the global anti-Israel/anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist "trend" that seems to have infected not just all of Europe like a persistent plague, but is rapidly creeping into North America as well. Even more depressing. But then, after our guests left and I went to bed, my husband and my kids switched gears and cleared off the table and got it ready for their sacred Friday night Settlers of Catan marathon, which runs well into the early hours of Shabbat morning. And I realized that even my kids are getting used to living in both worlds. And it's not easy - mentally or physically - this yo-yo-ing back and forth between our old normal and our new normal. One minute you're enjoying a delicious yoghurt shake while driving home with the windows wide open and the wind in your hair, but then a minute later you see a highway sign instructing you what to do if you're stuck behind the wheel when a siren goes off. And the reality of it snaps you cruelly back to the present. And these days of whiplash are wearing us down, despite how well, considering, we are all trying to deal with it. And I don't live in the south. I can't imagine how they are dealing with it...
It somewhat hit home when I checked my Facebook and saw that my youngest, who is 14, has been sharing countless IDF posts instead of the hilarious YouTube videos about funny dogs and their funnier owners that she usually shares. To my surprise, I discovered that she'd not only downloaded the Red Alert app which - for the record - has not stopped beeping these last two weeks, but she also downloaded a local news app and gets regular updates of what's been going on in our country. A new normal for her, I suppose.
Last night, I read a news report out loud to my 14 and 16 year old girls about a Gazan that was being rushed to Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva because his hand had suffered a serious gunshot wound. My 14 year old piped up and asked me why we would bother tying up our ambulances and our medics in order to help the enemy. My 16 year old responded lightning quick: "Because we are humane. And because we care." And then she paused, turned to me and asked, "do you think once he's stitched and bandaged up, he'll go back to Gaza and try to kill us again?" Out of the mouth of babes...
I told her that I didn't know. But I think I do.
And with a heavy heart, I left the house to head to our synagogue to say Psalms for our soldiers' and our country's safety.
And this has become my new normal.
Friday, July 18, 2014
When I heard that the name of this "operation" was called Protective Edge, I was a bit skeptical. First of all, semantics aside, this is no "operation". Let's call a spade a spade and use the more accurate - albeit fearful - word: WAR. Because, that's what it is. It's not like I don't like the name Protective Edge. It's that it's not a true translation of its Hebrew counterpart: צוק איתן - Tzuk Eitan.
The correct translation is a rock of strength. In other words, staunch, mighty, unswerving and permanent. A rock of immovable strength.
I moved to a new school when I started third grade. I was under five feet tall, sporting glasses, freckles, and had a head of frizzy bright red hair. Imagine little orphan Annie. I know. Not a pretty image. There was a tall girl in this new school who bullied me. She was popular, oh so cool and she snubbed the nerds of the class. Everyone wanted to be in her circle because if you were friends with her, you were one of the popular girls. She was a smart bully, because most of the bullying happened under the stairwell when no one else was around, or in the bathroom during recess. I did what most victims of bullies do: I raised my hands to protect my head when she slapped at me. I learned early on that telling on her was only going to make things worse for me. My parents knew and desperately wanted to tell the school so they could deal with the issue but I wouldn't let them. They did anyways. They were right to, but it didn't work. It only made things worse. At some point, I remember my father pulling me aside and saying, "Listen, I don't condone violence in any way, shape or form, but this girl needs to be stopped. And you need to stop her. Do what you have to do to defend yourself." And then he finished off by telling me not to tell my mother. The next day, I went out to recess armed with my biggest, baddest, heaviest science textbook. And when she came at me, a jolt of adrenaline coursed through me and I whacked her on the head with everything I had in me.
I got sent home from school.
But my father said, "Good for you. She won't bother you anymore, trust me. Before this, you were an easy target. She saw you as someone weak. She won't look at you the same way anymore. She'll find someone else to bother." And he was right. She never touched me again.
Truth is, at the beginning of this war, although the amazing IDF were actively taking out terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip, the main objective of this war was to facilitate the Iron Dome in order to protect its citizens from getting hurt. And miraculously - with the Iron Dome, the IDF and the hand of God - we had very few injuries and unfortunately one casualty. Without the Iron Dome, the sheer number of deaths would have been unimagineable. So at the beginning, perhaps this war was aptly named. It did protect our people and our land.
But now things have changed. Hamas, the bully of all bullies, hasn't been getting the message these last two weeks. They've only escalated their violence and attacks on our country. Now, more than ever, we need to show the world that we are not going to be bullied anymore. We are not going to cover our heads to protect our faces from getting slapped. We aren't going to be victims any longer. We are stronger than that 98 pound weakling in the schoolyard. We may be the skinny, small, country in a region of huge, strapping, muscular brutes, but let's not forget David and Goliath. If there was ever a time in history that proves that the smaller can be smarter, edgier, more powerful and victorious, it's now. The fanatical Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood (just to mention a few) are a threat not just to us, but to the entire world. They are against democracy, western civilization, moderation, religious freedom, equality and everything that is just and moral in this world. But the world is not standing up to them. They are terrified of being politically incorrect and have been - until now - having trouble seeing the forest through the trees.
And so, the job lies to us to do the world's dirty work. We are putting our soldiers' - our husbands', sons', nephews', friends' and loved ones' - lives at personal risk for this war. Our army is currently - as I write this - invading Gaza with ground forces, as well as by air and by sea. We are attacking them with everything we have, from all sides and we will not stop until we've unearthed every tunnel that was built by Hamas for the sole purpose of slaughtering our people. And yet, we still have the humanity to warn the citizens of Gaza to evacuate their homes and we sent in hundreds of trucks filled with necessary supplies for the Gazans caught in the middle of this war. We have no interest whatsoever to hurt innocent men, women and children. That is NOT our objective. But a friend of mine said it pefectly: if those "innocent" men, women and children are hiding behind the Hamas rockets to act as human shields than they are collaborators. And that - plain and simple - makes them the enemy. To date, one of our soldiers has lost his life for this war. Our hearts break for his family, for his parents, because we did not want this. We never asked for this and we certainly did not start this. But we will persevere. We are a people who turn to each other for support, to God with prayer and to our families for love. This is what we're trying to protect.
Right now, Protective Edge seems all wrong and Rock of Strength seems right on the money. We are no longer passively detonating the rockets before they land on our cities and our residential neighborhoods. We are stepping forward and showing our hand - strong and firm, moral and just, proud and patriotic. We, our small country, are redefining the meaning of moral warfare, and that is something to be proud of.
We are, a light unto the nations.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I've been getting quite a few emails and Facebook messages from friends and family asking me how we're holding up. If we're sleeping in our bomb shelter and if we're staying put, deep inside our houses with our shades pulled down, our heads kept low. With the constant barrage of rockets pelting down on every major city, yishuv, moshav and kibbutz in Israel you'd think that would be the smart thing to do. Keep a low profile. Start eating your way through your pantry as opposed to venturing out to the supermarket. Watch a movie at home instead of going to the local theatre.
That might be the smarter thing to do, but then you don't know Israelis.
I'm not sure if it's part of our stubbornness or our complete faith in our country and army to protect us or our determination not to let Hamas scare us or just plain stupidity on our part. It's probably a combination of all four. As much as we are playing it safe - getting our bomb shelters ready, making sure our kids know what to do during a siren, knowing where the closest protected area is when we are out and about - we are doing whatever we can to make things "normal" for our kids and families.
For us, it meant going to Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon so my daughter could buy material for her Monday sewing class. It also meant we were caught in a barrage of four rockets aimed at Tel Aviv's bustling city while eating pizza on Shenkin Street. While we waited out the loud booms and trembling that shook the downtown area, we took selfies in the kitchen of the pizza shop along with the other twelve diners and a visibly shaken dog who were taking refuge there. About six minutes later, we were back at our table, wolfing down our now-cold pizza (stupid Hamas!) as if nothing had happened.
As a parent you might think we were negligent. Going out with our kids in the middle of this craziness, we must be mad... I think it normalized things for them. They faced a serious fear with grace and a little humor and were none worse for wear. We all acted with calm and orderliness and swiftly made our way to a safe area without freaking out and terrifying them.
And that makes me sad...
That this has become somewhat "normal" for them. But then again, as they say in Texas, this isn't our first rodeo. My son was born in the midst of the second intifada, and we went through a period where we had to seal up one of our rooms with plastic, fill it with emergency supplies like food, water, emergency lights and our gas masks, of course. This was the same stretch of time we had to walk around with our gas masks at all times. Imagine taking your four children supermarket shopping, each of them holding their own gas mask boxes. Once you have that image in your head, it's difficult to get it out. But like it or not, this is our reality.
Why not leave, you might ask? Why bother when I have the choice to move back to the place I grew up? Because if everyone here thought along those lines, we'd be more or less handing over this country that God gave us straight into the hands of our enemies. And we are not willing to take that risk. Our very presence in this country is protecting it - the more people who choose to make Israel their home, the better chance we have at keeping it ours. Safety in numbers, you could say.
When I look at a map of the region it scares the bejeezus out of me. I look at the tiny - and I mean minute - space that Israel takes up on the Middle East map. I've heard all the comparisons - fits into Lake Ontario, smaller than the state of New Jersey etc... - but the fact that we are a small nation doesn't bother me. It's the sheer land masses of the Arab nations that surround us that freaks me out. But then I think about these last few days and I feel a sense of deep pride. We may be small, almost insignificant in the scheme of things, but boy, are we powerful!
We are strong and proud; especially in the way our first-class army operates, and in the sheer patriotic love we instill in our kids.
We are moral and humane; especially in the way our army conducts itself and how we continue to permit trucks filled with supplies to cross into Gaza even while they continue to bomb us.
We are kind and caring; it was more than evident in the way our entire country - religious and secular alike - prayed and pulled together in a show of unity and support for the three boys who were kidnapped and subsequently murdered in cold blood.
We are empathetic and loving; thousands of us attended the funerals of the boys and made condolence calls to the families whose sons were so brutally taken from them.
We are a people who love life; after all, we are determined to eat pizza with our kids on a sunny summer afternoon while rockets rain down on us.
We are peace-loving and peace-seeking. We agreed to a ceasefire and stopped all defensive attacks on Gaza. But while we ceased, they fired. Six hours we sat patiently and did nothing as more than fifty - FIFTY! - rockets continued to be fired into Israel before we said enough is enough.
But above all else, we are stubborn and determined. And we're not going anywhere.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
If you're a Jew or have spent time with Jews, or have attended a wedding, bar mitzvah or any Jewish celebratory gathering, you've heard this popular cheer before. It's the equivalent of Cheers, Salut, Sliante, Prost, etc... Technically it means "to life".
We Jews happen to love life. We celebrate it on a daily basis and we respect life and revere it. So much so, that according to the Torah, the only time you are allowed to violate the Shabbat is to save a life. Because a life, according to G-d, is more important than any law pertaining to Shabbat. My children see this first hand every time my husband, a volunteer ambulance driver, grabs his keys and drives to the ambulance station when he (frequently) gets a call on Friday nights.
And according to the Talmud, whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. So in short, we love life.
I've been trying to make sense of what's been going on here in Israel these last few weeks. And setting politics aside, the one theme that keeps repeating itself over and over again is "life". And the differences between how the Palestinians view life and how we view life is drastically different. To say we are on polar opposites of this issue is putting it mildly. To be blunt, I think we're orbiting different planets.
Here are just a few basic differences:
Them: The mother of one of the Palestinian terrorists/kidnappers who murdered Gilad, Naftali and Ayal, preened with maternal pride on public radio, thrilled that her son was responsible for these cold-blooded murders.
Us: The family of the Israelis who were responsible for the death of the Palestinian teenager are mortified and ashamed at their sons' horrific actions. Rachaeli Fraenkel, Naftali's mother, got up from the 7 day mourning period and one of the first things she did was denounce the senseless death of Mohamed Abu Khdeir. I think that pretty much says it all...
Them: The city of Ramallah was seen celebrating - handing out candy and sweets - when the boys' bodies were found.
Us: An Israeli group called 'Tag Meir' arranged for a large group of Jews to pay a condolence call to the family of the murdered Palestinian boy in an effort to show that that is not our way. The entire country was horrified by the revenge murder and hundreds spoke out against it. We were certainly not celebrating...
Them: They shower down hundreds (by now, thousands...) of rockets on our cities without any warnings, terrifying residents all over the country from Sderot to Jerusalem to Beer Sheva to Tel Aviv and everywhere in between.
Us: The IDF actually calls their targets (yes, by telephone or SMS...) and warns them about incoming attacks in an effort to prevent innocent bystanders from getting hurt. And just for the record, despite the constant barrage of rockets, Israel coordinated 100 trucks of humanitarian aid to Gaza today and 130 yesterday.
Them: They encourage their youth and their children to go up onto the roof of a targeted building, thereby using innocent children as human shields in order to protect their terrorist organizations.
Us: We worry for our kids and in the event of an incoming rocket, we shove our kids down onto the floor and we position ourselves over them so if any shrapnel falls it will hit us first before it hits them.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyah sums it up pretty perfectly. He was quoted saying:
"Yes, we are a people that yearns for death, just as our enemies yearn for life."
I couldn't have said it any better...
We Israelis cannot possibly be the only ones who are able to put two and two together, but I wonder why the international community keeps calling for "calm and restraint". They plead with us to end the battle. Like it's up to us... Why can't they figure out that it's impossible to make peace with a people that consistently chooses death over life?
Trust me, we don't want to be huddling in safe rooms, or checking the news for red alerts every minute of every day. We don't want our husbands, sons or loved ones putting on their army uniforms and readying themselves for a possible ground offence. We'd all rather be at the beach, eating out with friends and planning fun excursions with our families. We didn't ask for this, but we weren't given a choice. We love life and we want the best kind of life for our families and our kids. And that unfortunately means removing the terrorists from our midst.
It's not because we don't revere life. It's because we love it.
And until the Palestinians learn to love life more than they hate us, we have no choice but to defend ourselves.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Three boys were buried today. Three boys who were traveling home for the weekend. They never made it. Instead, these boys were murdered in cold blood for the simple reason that they were Jews.They were teenagers with siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And friends. And you'd be right in assuming that anyone personally connected to them or their families would be at their funerals to pay their final respects.
Today, an entire nation is attending the funerals of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali. We don't know them personally - at least, I don't - but we are there in some form or another. I'm only representing my small community when I say that what I witnessed today was remarkable. I was on my way to Modiin to pick up my daughter and saw carloads of young girls being driven to Talmon, the small community where the Shaer family resides. They were volunteering to babysit the myriads of children in the community so that their parents could attend the funeral. They didn't know the Shaer family personally, but they wanted to do something to help, and so they found something. When I returned home, I pulled up in front of my house and noticed that the streets were quiet. Too quiet. I ran upstairs and the television was already on. My husband and I watched the hespedim of these three boys, switching from channel to channel so that we would not miss a single word. And when I heard Gil-Ad's mother thank God for giving her the gift of raising her son - her only son - for the sixteen years she was given, my heart broke. There was no talk of anger at G-d, or revenge for the murderers, only tearful words of goodbye, words of strength and faith.
In the middle of watching the funerals, I checked my Facebook and saw a post that my neighbor posted. While our community had made arrangements for buses to take anyone who wanted to go to the funerals, she had received permission from the police for those who were unable to go to the actual funeral to stand at the entrance of our community with flags and a strong show of support for the grieving Shaer family that would pass by on their way to bury their son. She posted it at 3:45, asking people to come, to bring flags. The funeral procession was starting at 4:15. That didn't leave much time for the word to get out. While I was walking towards the front entrance, I saw three buses, packed to the gills with my friends and neighbors - most of whom did not know the families personally - pull out onto the highway on their way to stand with the three families. To grieve with them. By the time I made my way to the front entrance at 4:30, there were about 50 people standing there. By 4:45, close to seventy-five. By the time the family drove by with a police and army escort, we were more than a hundred strong. They held out their hands as if to touch ours and while most of us don't know them or have a personal connection with them, we hope through our standing there, they knew that they are not alone.
This is what happened today in my community. It's just one small community, but I can say with absolute certainty, we were not the only community to 'attend' these funerals. There are hundreds of small communities like mine who have shown unbelievable support over these last heart-wrenching 18 days. And during that entire time our entire nation prayed for their safe return - religious and secular prayers alike. We worried together, rallied together and sang together.
And now, unfortunately, we mourn together.
יהי זכרם ברוך
Sunday, June 29, 2014
It's the end of June and the beginning of summer. And while the sun is out full force, and not a cloud in the sky, I'm feeling anything but sunny. I'm sitting at my table, reading the newspaper and hoping for some positive news about the missing boys, some good news for a change. Not only is there no good news about the boys, but it seems like wherever you are in the world, if you are a Jew, things are heading towards a downward spiral.
If you are a Jew in Germany, you are now required by law to wait at least 48 hours between the death and the burial of your loved one. Our simple and benevolent law mandates a quick burial - within a day - and the purpose of the law is to bring respect to the departed. And that simple kindness, or chessed, is being denied to all Jews in Germany.
If you are a Jew in England, you are now reading about the worst desecration of a Jewish cemetery that England has seen in years. All at the hands of two thirteen year old Neo-Nazis. Besides Nazi slogans and swastikas spray-painted onto gravestones, these twisted young boys toppled more than 40 headstones causing damage estimated in more than 100,000 British pounds. A non-Jewish witness, who called the local police, testified that he heard them laughing as they toppled down headstone after headstone. Many of these headstones dated back to 1900 and had just gone through a major overhaul to better preserve them.
If you are a Jew in Norway and have just given birth to a boy, you can now breathe easier knowing that your son will be allowed to be circumcised. The law now stipulates that the procedure must be performed under the presence of a licensed physician. This is after a campaign to ban ritual circumsicion altogether because activists in Scandinavia say it "violates children's rights to physical integrity and is comparable to female genital mutilation". So breathe easy, Jews of Norway. You no longer have to pack your bags and leave. At least, not until the next law that comes under question. And by the way, don't bother thinking of moving to Denmark. Ritual slaughter is illegal there and while Denmark's Jews rely on imported meat instead of doing their own ritual slaughter, you should still think twice before making that move. "Animal rights come before religion," quoted the Agriculture and Food minister.
If you are a Jew in the Ukraine, besides facing the very serious possibility of being caught in the middle of a war between Ukraine and Russia, grave robbers raided a mass grave of Jews that were executed en masse during the Holocaust. These robbers are seeking gold teeth and valuables that the victims may have had with them when the German soldiers shot them into trenches that they themselves and the locals dug in 1941.
If you are a Jew in Israel, not only are you still anxiously awaiting the return of the kidnapped boys, but you are worried for the community of Sderot that is enduring an enslaught of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip, destroying local businesses, factories, homes, and terrifying the residents that live there. Not to mention the day to day struggle Israel endures as it defends its position as the only democratic country in the Middle East and fights terrorism 24/7 in order to keep its borders and its people safe while at the same time managing to excel in the high-tech field, medical research and the sciences.
It seems that as Jews, no matter where we are in the world, the odds are stacked against us. But for those of you who do not live in Israel, there is a fundamental difference. Despite the bombardment of rockets or the terrorism that surrounds us, we, in Israel, can do something about it. We don't have to wait for a foreign government to give us "permission" to live our lives as Jews. We don't need permission to circumcise our boys, or to bury our dead. Our cemeteries are places that are respected, where people can visit their loved ones who've passed on in peace and tranquility. We can slaughter our meat according to Jewish law. We don't have to fear of being caught in the middle of a war between neighboring countries and wait for the inevitable blame that will rain upon the Jewish community. And when those who are out there seek to destroy us - by bombs, rockets or threat of attack - we get our talented and well-trained army ready for the fight of their lives. Living in our own country with our own government doesn't come without its ups and downs, but one thing is for sure. We will always be able to live as Jews here. Our government, while not necessarily doing things the way we want them to, will always protect us and provide us with a place we can call our own. We will never be thrown out, persecuted, desecrated or disrespected for being Jews.
And that is the big difference between being a Jew in Galut and being a Jew in Israel.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
So just a few weeks after my childhood home went on the real estate market, it sold. I was rather taken aback as I had (wrongly) assumed it would take much longer. I had visions of all sorts of people traipsing through my house. Couples checking out our laundry room (this is where the wife whispers to the husband that it desperately needed updating. It does.) or opening the cabinets in the kitchen (here, the wife's eyes light up because the kitchen is truly beautiful...) and then stepping out the back door and taking in the backyard with its simple landscaping, hammock hooks and awesome pool and sauna (now it's the husband's turn to grin as he imagines dozing off on the hammock on the long weekends). But I thought that it would take months, not weeks.
Over the years I've discovered that a house - even a fantastic and beautifully designed one - loses all it's fantastic-ness if the neighborhood enveloping said house sucks. There's a reason they always say, location, location, location. And I guess that's why I've always loved my childhood home. The neighborhood certainly did not suck - in fact, it was wonderful. I loved the location (although not so much when I had to trudge through five feet of snow for more than twenty minutes just to get to the bus stop...), the park two minutes away and more than anything else, the neighbors. We moved into the neighborhood when I was five years old and my sister and I were given a beautiful room to share that had a view of the entrance of Rockford Park. It also had a view of the house across the road where my best friend lived. Being completely and utterly obsessed with Anne of Green Gables at the time, we had developed a method of communication that involved yanking our window blinds up and down and leaving them open at varied heights. (This is what we kids did back when there were no cell phones. Don't knock it, it worked just fine...)
They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and it was certainly true on Fisherville Road. Having long, thick, red hair that reached just above my tush until the age of twelve, I remember my mother sending me across the road some Friday afternoons with my soaking wet hair wrapped up turban-style in a towel. I'd sit on the floor in their family room while my best friend's mom would French braid it for me, and it would stay braided like that until the next time I washed it. Until my dad put the pool into our backyard when I was sixteen, we had no fence between us and the neighbors. Our parents were good friends and there were nine kids between our two families, all around the same age, so they had decided to benefit from a double-size backyard instead of dividing the two. Their backyard was slightly higher than ours, so the gentle slope was great for snow sledding and running through sprinklers. When my mom came outside and brought snacks, she brought nine, just like when their mom came out with Popsicles, there were nine as well. And if anyone stepped out of line, you got reprimanded - whether it was your mom doing the reprimanding or your friend's mom. Somewhere around fifth grade, my best friend from across the street moved to a different neighborhood in the city. I was devastated - who would move into that house that had been like a second home to me? Luckily, another nice family from our shul moved in and we had new, instant friends once again.
Saturday afternoons, especially during the summer, we'd head to the park across the road. Huge with several jungle gym configurations, a couple of tennis courts and tons and tons of grass, we'd haul the enormous and heavy metal garbage tins towards the swings, lay them on their sides, climb up on them while fitting the bottom of the swing snug on our bottoms and hurl ourselves into the air. We'd do this for hours while our little brothers would climb the "space shuttle" and then argue, cry and fight about who got to be the astronaut piloting it. And when Monday morning rolled around and we were unceremoniously woken up at the ungodly hour of 6:15 so we could get to school on time, we'd leave the house at around 7:10 and pick everyone up along the way (think Pied Piper...) so that by the time we reached the bus stop (twenty minutes later...) we were a good solid group of eight or nine kids. We'd sit in our plaid Eitz Chaim uniforms at the back of the 7C bus heading south towards school and we'd giggle and laugh until we reached our stop.
Ironically, almost all of my old neighbors are living here in Israel, and even more ironically, my old next door neighbor lives in my neighborhood, about three minutes away. So while we're not sharing a backyard anymore, our kids are growing up as neighbors. It's odd and weirdly wonderful to have that shared past with someone that you can - in turn - pass onto your kids. That doesn't happen often.
So when I wrote my first post about my home, I didn't really touch on the neighborhood. It didn't strike me until today that part of what made my childhood home a great one was the neighborhood. Today, living in my own home in Israel, I'm lucky in that respect as well. My neighborhood is an awesome one. My friends are like family and I feel I can turn to them for just about anything, be it a cup of sugar or a couple of eggs, some hot water on Shabbat morning when I forgot to plug in my urn, a ride to Modiin when I don't have a car, or their shoulder to lean on precisely at the moment when I needed it most. And when I walk into my house and see my kids playing on the floor with my neighbor's seriously-adorable one year old, I'm reminded of that great song that was the opening of the Mr. Rogers show:
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,