Monday, July 14, 2014

War Report: Operation Protective Shield

Yom shlishi, 17 Tamuz, Erev Tzom Tamuz.

What's really protecting Israel, with all due respect to the IDF and the Iron Dome
While he is supposed to be tucked away in his reinforced bomb shelter, my friend Marc Gottlieb instead makes a photo of his version of the true Iron Dome. It goes viral, with comments that indicate that there are a lot of hopeful believers out there.

A woman's gotta know her limitations. To paraphrase Dirty Harry.
It's a weird, weird world. We talk to our children at war. (My mother certainly never chatted routinely with me, back in my army days. Fifteen minutes a week on the mess hall phone, if we were lucky.) My son calls me from the front periodically with instructions for wedding preparations, and laughs at my wedding outfit woes. "Young, tanned people look really good in seafoam. Older, pasty-faced Irish ladies should not wear sea-foam, at least not around their faces. I'm sticking with the navy part of my navy-and-seafoam ensemble as far as the hat is concerned." It's so damn good to hear him laugh.

Another of our sons says to his father, "You and Ema really should go to a shelter when there's a siren."

"We go to the hallway," his father answers.

The wise young soldier smirks. "Oh, yeah. Like that's safe."

"Look -- I'm with my best friend. And if the landlord's mamad gets hit and the landlord's family rains down on us through the ceiling, we'll know we're in trouble." We amuse ourselves with the image of raining balebatim. It's hard to explain the idioms to the landlord's family, because "raining humans" doesn't really translate into Hebrew. But they laugh anyway, because Americans perplex and amuse them.

My army sends warnings via cell phone and dropped leaflets in Arabic to the civilians among the enemy, warning them of an attack. The IDF gives the civilians time to leave the area. Then, they send a "knock-knock" bomb to tap on the roof of a building they plan to bomb (because it is pinpointed as a source of rocket fire). Only after these warnings do they actually bomb buildings. WHO IN THE WORLD DOES THAT???

Meanwhile, my husband and son plan the coming football season, recruiting from among the new olim -- because Jews are still making aliyah, even during war. Another son plans to travel to Israel for his brother's wedding, wishing he could be here sooner, to "do his part" in uniform, rather than standing on the sidelines, feeling ineffectual. We understand him. Many of our friends abroad express the need to be here with us in this time of crisis, rather than being safely far away. Yet another son writes passionate pleas for peace, between Israel and her enemies, between Jews and Jews.

My chavruta, a long-ago immigrant from Morocco, laughs with me about perspective. "Everything is so crazy right now," she says, showing off her grasp of American slang. I ask what she means. She stares at me, incredulous. "We're at war," she says, as if that explains it.

"Esther, I've lived here for nearly seven years. In that time, three of my sons have been called to the front in three different wars. This to me is normal."

But, of course, she is right. At three in the morning, when I cannot ignore it any more, I think and pray about how much I need each of my guys to live to be really old. I ask myself if I am crazy to be living here. And then I get out of bed (because fighting to sleep doesn't bring sleep) and read the world news, and hear about another random school shooting or mall shooting in the US, or the terrifying siege of a French synagogue, wherein the trapped congregants were praying for the safety of the Jews in Israel; or I read about the entire Middle East on fire around us -- and I realize that crazy is the new normal everywhere in the world. Might as well be in the Holy Land, where I at least know that every step we take and every sacrifice we make is for our own land and for our own people.

Someone tells the poignant story of getting off a bus with a bunch of Tel Avivians and tourists when a siren sounds. They look at each other, and realize that there is no bomb shelter in sight. So they make a group decision to huddle together and try to protect each other with their bodies. An elderly lady cannot get down on the ground, so a couple of people forget about their own safety and stand with her to cover her with their arms. The girl telling the story relates that she is brought to crying and terror by the elderly lady's screams. She begins to cry, lying on the ground. A girl in pants and a short top takes her head in her lap, and recites Tehillim over her, forgetting about protecting herself. What a remarkable people is this nation Yisrael!

Lucy Aharish of i24 News asks a 16-year-old girl in Ashkelon, who has lived under rocket attacks for eight years, what she would say to her 16-year-old girl counterpart in Gaza: "I would tell her to stay strong, to stay safe, and maybe one day we can live side by side in peace."

Please share with me the quote of one young person on the other side that is as full of humanity. Please. I need to hear it.

Bottom line: life is not easy anywhere just now. Proof we need Mashiach, RIGHT NOW. But there is nowhere I'd rather be, no people I'd rather be with, than in this land of Israel, with this people Yisrael.

The Nation Israel Lives

Have an easy and productive fast. May this be the last of the sad fast days. May it finally be enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our Mother Rachel Weeps: Bring My Children Home

Yom chamishi, 21 Sivan 5774. The end of Day 6.

The mothers of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali 
I'm listening to Ruchama Raz in the background. Her sweet voice connects me with something old in me, before my birth, that itself is connected to this Land. I'm listening to this because my husband has told me to stop listening to the news so much. (I joke with him that one of the signs of an Israeli is news addiction. So I'm a real Israeli now.)

Stunt Man comes in with a tub of kruv adom (red cabbage salad). Towering over me, he asks with absolute trust in my kitchen wisdom: "Ema, could you smell this or taste this, if you don't mind, and tell me if it seems okay to you? It smells okay to me; but I'm not sure." Dutifully I smell. Taste. "It's fine to me. I wouldn't have any problem eating it." Except for the calories I can't afford, I don't say. He takes his tall, handsome frame out the door, after giving me that gently grateful smile... full of trust.

And I get tears in my eyes, thinking of three mothers, wishing with all their hearts they could say "Yes, you can eat that." or "No, that's not good for you. Throw it out."...

אנגן שיריך... I will sing poems...

And then Sports Guy comes in. "Can you wake me up at eight tomorrow?" "You don't really need it anymore," I chide him, gently, gently, loving my "job" of being his back-up alarm. "It's okay. If you don't want to, I..." "No. It's okay. I don't mind. Just letting you know that I notice you've been getting yourself up lately." To lay tefillin and daven, sometimes in his room, before he goes back to sleep before work. Before he leaves in his olive drab uniform.

And I get tears in my eyes, thinking of young soldiers, searching for boys only slightly younger than themselves, and their mothers who send them out the door, with kisses and prayers...

 בארץ אהבתי... in the land I love...

Yeshiva Bochur drops by with laundry. "Do you mind if we come by for Shabbat dinner, Ema? It will be good to have all of the brothers home together..." All the brothers. And yes, I'll change the laundry, and hang the things that shouldn't be put in the dryer.

And I get tears in my eyes, hoping the boys -- all the brothers -- will be home for Shabbat dinner...

היו לילות, אני אותם זוכרת... There were nights, I remember them...

Soldier Boy calls me from the States, so very anxious to get back to this family, to his dear brothers, to this crazy land... He sings a song of love in his sweet, strong voice. He always makes me cry, even when there is nothing about which to cry. And I think of all the mothers who want to see their sons in the same room with them, to hear them laugh and sing, to hold them close...

And I get tears in my eyes, thinking of the prayers set to song, saying them fervently, for each and every boy and mother and every brother...

היה לי חבר היה לי אח... Be for me a friend, Be for me a brother...

Please God, bring them home. And don't let me take for granted a single day with these brothers.

I light a candle at precisely 20:30 with other mothers in Israel, praying that Hashem will rescue these boys in the merit of our Mama Rachel, and all her tears for her dear children... And then I tune back in, hoping for good news before another night of fitful sleep...



May we all share laughter and hugs and the wholeness of life and family, very, very soon.

איל בן איריס תשורה
גילעד מיכאל בן בת גלים
יעקב נפתלי בן רחל דבורה

Eyal, son of Iris Tasura
Gil-ad, son of Bat Galim
Yaacov Naftali, son of Rachel Devorah

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When Will We Have Made Enough Concessions to Appease Our Supporters?

Yom rishon, 17 Sivan 5774.

Last Thursday night, three yeshiva boys were kidnapped.
Without the swearing and vitriol that this topic usually seems to arouse, I would like to hear a reasoned discussion on the possible scenarios.

There are (at least) two different opinions among those who claim to support Israel.

On one side of the discussion are those who, for religious or nationalistic reasons, believe that Jews are entitled to land beyond the so-called Green Line, that we have a right to populate and rule over the region called variously the West Bank, Yehuda and Shomron, or Judea and Samaria. On the other side of the discussion are those who, for reasons of the pursuit of human rights or merely for peace and quiet, believe that Jews have no business occupying the land beyond the Green Line, that this land rightfully belongs to the Palestinians. For the sake of this discussion, I won't present all of the arguments of each side, about which much has been written extensively already.

In 2005, the Israeli government attempted the experiment of removing Jews from Gaza. For years, no Jews were there (except for Gilad Shalit). It is true that Gaza was not left unmolested -- but only as a response to attacks on Israel emanating from Gaza. This did not bring an increase in peace. Those on one side of the argument saw this as proof that moving Jews out of the area was a mistake, only allowing for another (and nearer) launching pad for terrorism. Those on the other side believe that it was not enough, and that the terrorism will stop when Israel withdraws from all of the land the Palestinians claim.

For the sake of this discussion, I won't deal with the chimera of settlement construction, as it is only a stepping stone. Why does settlement construction matter? As has been proved many times, it is not about building new settlements in areas currently occupied by Palestinians. In most if not all cases, the construction is happening in existing Israeli communities. Settlement construction is offensive to one side of the argument because it indicates that Israelis are planning to stay on land the other side covets. So let's cut to the chase.

If I and my neighbors in Judea and Samaria left our homes and moved into other parts of Israel, would the attacks stop? If they did, if there were peace, I guess we would have to concede that the other side of the argument was correct -- that at least for the purposes of peaceful coexistence, moving out of these areas and leaving them to the Palestinians was the necessary approach. But if peace didn't ensue -- if instead attacks now moved into Haifa and Tel Aviv and other areas that (so far) many of Israel's supporters (within Israel and without) believe Israelis are entitled to inhabit -- would the other side begin to believe that perhaps the Arabs do not want peace at all, but merely an absence of Israelis, and specifically Jews?

Or would that side merely suggest that it is fine and understandable for the Arabs to still be attacking, because Israel waited too long to pull out, or because Israel isn't doing enough to support the new Palestinian state surrounding her, or because the Arabs have a legitimate right to further chunks of Israel?

When will it finally be enough? Is there any way to prove to those on the other side of the argument, to our friends outside of Israel and inside her (accepted) borders, that Hamas and Fatah and Hizbollah and indeed the Palestinian and greater Arab world have no intention of making peace with even a sliver of Israel?

Please pray for the safe and speedy return to their families the following young men: Eyal ben Iris Teshura (age 19); Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim (age 16); Yaacov Naftali ben Rachel (age 16, and a US citizen).

איל בן איריס תשורה
גילעד מיכאל בן בת גלים
יעקב נפתלי בן רחל דבורה

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ezra's Aliyah - a children's book review

Yom shlishi, 16 Adar II

Aliyah is not easy for adults. For children, it can be bewildering. Sometimes parents make the mistake -- in life in general -- of forgetting to see change through the eyes of their children. And even those for whom their children's perceptions are paramount can use a little reassurance that they are covering all the bases.

Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod's newest book, Ezra's Aliyah, tries very hard to anticipate the questions and concerns of her young character; and she doesn't sugar-coat or dismiss his objections or his worries. She states truth with simplicity.

One example: there will come a time when Ezra will speak Hebrew better than his parents. Her simple statement of the fact has wisdom, for it can prepare children and parents, and take away any negativity associated with this eventuality. She also drops excellent hints about how to make the transition to life in Israel less painful (for example, packing unnecessary but comforting cake mix for Ezra's upcoming birthday).

I liked Ezra, his sense of humor, and his honesty. His parents' honest answers to his questions were appreciated. The illustrations were a pleasing combination of cheerful cartoons and photographs.


I was sometimes confused by the order of the illustrations: there is a photo of grandparents without any comment about grandparents where I would have expected it; and when Ezra's grandmother at last appears, she doesn't look like this grandmother. (The other grandparents? Random elderly Israelis? I don't know. Will a child reader notice or care?)

Back to my favorite part of this sweet little book. I can feel Ezra's worry, hesitation and hope as I read. Here is one passage, in which he tries to imagine his future through past associations:

"A couple of years ago, a new kid came to our class.
He didn't speak much English. Nobody talked to
him, but then it turned out he was a great basketball
player, and everybody wanted to be his friend.

"Will the kids in Israel talk to me? I hope so. I'm not
so good at basketball, but I know a ton about planets
and about astronomy."

Someone once said of aliyah: "Don't make your dream your children's nightmare." This lovely little book is a step in the direction of preparing children for aliyah by taking into account that their aliyah experience matters, too.

About the Author: 

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod is a proud mother of four (two big and two little), who recently made aliyah to the north of Israel. A freelance writer for magazines and newspapers, she also loves writing stories for her kids and their friends.

Follow her own aliyah adventures at: http://aliyahland.blogspot.com

While her book can be purchased at Amazon, the author has a special going on right now: her two newest books (Ezra's Aliyah; and Zoom! A Trip to the Moon) for $9 plus shipping. To take advantage of this sale, go to her website Write Kids' Books! Tell 'em Ruti sent you. It won't get you a bigger discount; but it will make Tzivia smile.

All illustrations used with permission of the author

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dames of the World: Unite, and DANCE!

Yom revi'i, 25 Shevat 5774.

I live in a remarkable part of the world, in a remarkable country, in a remarkable community, surrounded by remarkable women. And some of the most fun I've had with these dedicated, generous (in time and money), totally joy-filled and life-embracing women has been around a wonderful project called "Dames of the Dance."

To quote my friend Varda Epstein, who wrote about Dames of the Dance for the Times of Israel last year, "Dames of the Dance was born in 2007, as a remedy to local poverty. As Sharon Katz, founder ... and producer of Dames put it, 'We give women a safe environment in which they can try their wings, expand their creativity and express themselves freely.'

"Katz had learned that contrary to the stereotyped image of Efrat and Gush Etzion as wealthy communities, there were some 360 resident families living below the poverty line. It was unacceptable to Sharon that people in her neighborhood would go without while she did nothing. She thought about all the talented women in her regular dance class and knew that her 'sistahs' would be glad for the chance to do a good deed."

Dames of the Dance programs are always entertaining and lively, with varied styles of dance, beautifully choreographed and danced by talented women and girls of all ages. The emcees balance humor gracefully with message. I have rarely missed the yearly adventure, as it is a highlight of my year -- and I look forward to seeing dear friends on stage, and in attendance.

Here's the info on "DAMES of the DANCE 7 - CELEBRATION", an evening dedicated to TZEDAKAH and filled with fantastic dance troupes. See you there!

** Tickets - http://tinyurl.com/buyDames7Tickets 
Checks should be made out to the Gush Etzion Foundation

** Thursday, February 27, 27 Adar A, 8:15 PM, Matnas Gush Etzion
** Monday, March 3, 1 Adar B, MATINEE, 5:00 PM, Matnas Efrat
** Thursday, March 6, 4 Adar B, 8:15 PM, Matnas Gush Etzion

** For fun, here's a DAMES parody I think you will enjoy. Dames of the world -- UNITE and DANCE!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Where everybody knows your name: a delightful bed and breakfast in Tzfat!

Yom sheni, 19 Shevat 5774.


The Dearly Beloved and I rarely get a chance to travel, even in Israel. Work, the costs involved, not wanting to miss the soldiers when they're home, our intense affection for our own beds. You know the drill.

We had the opportunity to spend just one night and a few daytime hours in Tzfat, at the bed and breakfast of our newly-married friends Miri and Dave. Simcha Leah's Bed and Breakfast is everything the Dearly Beloved and I want it to be: affordable; quaint and charming; centrally-located; clean and quiet; well-appointed with what we consider necessities (meaning decent beds, lots of blankets in the winter, our own fridge and microwave and kum-kum so we can hide from the world, wifi for when I get tired of hiding from the world). Miri and Dave have made Simcha Leah's all of these things, and so much more! They clearly asked themselves, "What would make us comfortable, if we were away from home?" Then, they proceeded to make it so.

Warmth of every kind: an urn, kosher lamp and plata for Shabbat; a microwave and kum-kum; cozy blankets

Varied reading material; control of the temperature; plenty of hanging space for clothes

Next time, we'll stay long enough to try out some of those board games!

A full-size fridge!

Fruit, nosh, tea and coffee

Wonderfully comfy beds and thick comforters

Even the bathroom is charming and homey.

Just like fancy spas, they even thought of shower slippers.

While the building itself is 300 years old, the room is spacious, with lots of light and color, and with comfy twin beds (long enough for the Dearly Beloved's over-six-foot frame). One can request additional bed options. The fridge is full-sized; and the microwave and kum-kum are in great working order. The water for bath or shower is nice and hot. All the basics are there. The mazgan kept the room nice and cozy, and we ended up not needing the extra blankets. The fluffy down comforters were more than enough.

The walls are decorated with some of Dave's beautiful photographs. We encourage him to add discreet price tags to the photographs, as tourists who know fine photography may be interested in purchasing some of his work (one of our favorites of which you can see here).


We wandered around town in the fog and rain, enjoying Tzfat in its misty, mystical glory even when wet. Miri's son Adam took us on a brief tour, and dropped us off at a very affordable sushi place. When we returned, the too-long skirt I'd worn was soaked for the bottom 10 inches... and Miri tossed it in the dryer. Talk about full service!

After a cold breakfast of yogurt, granola and different kinds of fruit, we headed home... but we plan to return to Simcha Leah's many times, to check out Tzfat in even better weather. Miri and Dave make Simcha Leah's feel like a home away from home.

Below, the Dearly Beloved tests out his new birthday present to show you some of the other lovely features of the room.




For prices and other details, or to make reservations, click on the link here: http://www.simchaleahsbedandbreakfast.com/

"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came..."  
-- from the "Cheers" theme, by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy

Glossary:
Tzfat: Safed
Kum-kum: In my humble opinion, the first purchase an oleh (new immigrant to Israel) should make after landing: a super-fast electric water-heating kettle for tea and coffee. Don't they have these in America yet???
Plata: an electric warmer for food on the Sabbath
Mazgan: An electrical wall unit used for both heating and cooling

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Post: Living, Breathing Snow Angels

Yom revi'i, 15 Tevet 5774.

It has been an unusual week in Israel. For the second time in the six years we have lived here, enough snow has fallen to keep us all locked up most of the time, if not in our houses and apartments, at least on our mountain. There were many acts of kindness during this period. Julie Arnowitz writes a poetic acknowledgment to her image of snow angels.


The snow angels of my childhood were made on fresh snow by lying on the back and creating angel wings by moving one’s arms up and down on the snow. There was a competition of who could make a more perfect angel impression in the snow.

The “snow angels” of the December 2013 snowstorm in my mountaintop community are non-competitive and spiritual in nature.

In a snowstorm that closed roads, prevented schools from opening for five school days, and left inhabitants stranded without electricity or water at times, the acts of snow angels were revealed on the community's internal email list and via SMS on mobile phones.


There are officially designated volunteer angels, such as members of the mazkirut (community governing board) and the community emergency committee, whose members never seem to sleep. (I know because I received a SMS close to midnight one night asking for people without electricity to contact them.)

The paid transformative worker angels go way beyond the call of duty and job description by providing essential services and repairs. They open the supermarket, plow the roads, repair local electricity problems, and cheerfully fix the plumbing problems caused by the storm. This includes the electric company employees who finally restored electric power.

The spontaneous generation angels initiate essential volunteer tasks. The subdivision includes:
  • the pharmacy angel, who collects prescriptions and drives over the snow-covered roads to a nearby town to obtain the much needed emergency and chronic medications 
  • the radio angels, who monitor news bulletins and the regional council updates on current road conditions, road closings, and school openings
  •  the tremp angels (also known as the hitchhikers’ saviors), who offer rides to essential places and to and from Jerusalem as they patiently wait to fill up the car with cold and wet residents 
The spiritual angels can be classified according to their function.
  • The prayer enabler angels open their homes to prayer services as the synagogues were too far away. It is not easy to care for small children and to welcome at least nine snow-covered men twice a day.
  • The teacher angels give lectures, teach, and provide children with educational activities.
The members of the cadet angel youth corps earn their gold-tipped angel wings during the snowstorm and its aftermath. They run errands, deliver groceries, shovel snow, and repeatedly request to be called upon by residents to utilize their volunteer services.

Not everyone earned the title of angel. The men who quickly responded to a mother's plea for help when part of the family's roof collapsed were given the title of "rescue commandos" by the grateful family.

The taxonomy is incomplete because there are too many examples to enumerate and I do not know about every act of kindness; but the real thanks goes to the invisible angels who help and nobody knows about their assistance. I merited to catch a glimpse of one. My neighbor was hacking away at clear, smooth ice that was in front of my car. Had I driven off I would have surely skidded downhill. If I was not on my balcony clearing off the snow, I would have not seen him nor known about his unsolicited and potentially life-saving good deed. Many communities are likewise filled with such angels who one cannot  be identified; they look like ordinary people.

Like the snow angels of my childhood the snow angels of Neve Daniel are ephemeral. The snow melts. These services are no longer needed; and the snow angles once more become ordinary neighbors with their good cheer and human foibles. But unlike the snow angels of my childhood which disappeared without leaving a trace, the snow angels of Neve Daniel live on in everyone's heart.