Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shana Tova u'Metuka, l'Kulam!

Yom rishon, 28 Elul 5768.    

May the cooling, gentle Shabbat rain be a siman that Hashem has so much bracha for the year 5769 that He is giving us an early taste of overflowing blessings to come.  May this year be a year of simcha, spiritual growth, success, and good health for Klal Yisrael, here in this Holiest of Lands, and everywhere in His world.


To our new friends --

We have now lived here for nearly a year. If we were to make a slogan about the Neve Daniel kehilla, based upon our experiences here, it would be "Always Ready to Help a Jew."

People to whom we give rides say that Neve Daniel residents are famous for offering rides more frequently than any other community.

Whether you need a date, a beer (not for your date), an Ace bandage or a mini-trampoline -- you can usually receive offers for several within minutes of posting to one of the on-line lists.

And if you need to know the wind speed, where to get a Canadian passport, or how to say "chicken pox" in Tamil or Sinhala, you can get the answer from one of the residents.

We love this town!  

May each and every resident have a 5769 filled with simcha, bracha, spiritual growth, and success -- in good health! (Next year, bs"d, we'll be able to say this b'Ivrit.)

With love, from Ruti, Avi, Aryeh and Dani

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Golani, Golani Sheli...

Yom shlishi, 23 Elul 5768.

Recently, Soldier Boy brought home a special gift to his dear father, a former US soldier.  He knew his abba would appreciate a hat with the insignia of Soldier Boy's infantry brigade.

His father wears it proudly, nearly everywhere we go.

While no one actually asks for his autograph, driving in a darkened, chauffeur-driven car with diplomatic plates would not get him any better treatment.

Young men all over Israel smile at my husband, murmur "Golani," and shake his hand.  He is quick to say that it is his son who is in Golani; but I don't think it matters.  It may not qualify as protexia, or get us special discounts. 

But folks treat us right nice.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Yom sheni, 22 Elul 5768.

This post is dedicated to Rabbi Elan Adler.  With all due respect.

A new oleh is often on the lookout for small proofs that he is becoming Israeli.  Mastering the various hand signs and sound effects is as important to the Israeli wannabe as is learning to say "Aize ba'asa!" in place of "What a bummer!"

Well.  I am inching ever closer.

There is only one way to get an Egged bus driver to open the back door at your stop, if he didn't think of it on his own.  The bus driver, called a "nahag," cannot be reasoned with in the ordinary American fashion one uses with service personnel.  You can't hope for success by saying something like, "Excuse me, Mister Nahag.  Will you please open the door?"  Even if you say that in perfect Hebrew.  Rather, you must cry out:  "Naaaaaaaaaag!"

This is not as simple as it sounds.  There are fine rules of pronunciation that, if ignored, render the term "Nahag" unrecognizable to the Israeli ear.  Think tonal, as in Vietnamese.  (Did you know that there are about ten different ways tonally to pronounce the word "ma" in Vietnamese, that mean everything from "mother" to "grave"?  Ah, the important cultural lessons one can learn, growing up around Pike Place Market in Seattle.  But I digress.)

It was really, really important for The Dearly Beloved and me to get off at Malcha Mall today.  The bus driver was too busy, initially, to see our problem.  He chatted pleasantly with the fifteen people entering the bus by the front door.  "Nahag!" my husband said, forcefully but politely.

No response.

People throughout the bus took up our cry, as is the way among these helpful natives.

"Naaag!"   Naaaag!"   "NAAAG!"

No response.

As the bus began to pull away, I tried out the special, nasal bellow I had heard little old ladies use on countless buses, but had felt too demure to employ.


At last!  Success!  We flung our bodies out the slowly opening door, as the bus continued to pull away from the curb.

As a public service, I will try my best to describe the correct method and pronunciation, to save future olim embarrassment and traffic-related bruises.

The trick is to expel the sound, as loudly as possible, from the nasal cavity.  It must sound something like this, to be really successful:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Late Summer Morning in Israel

Yom chamishi, 18 Elul 5768.

I love late summer mornings on this mountain.

One can sit outside as the sun is coming up, before the moon has quite gone to bed after another night's work of shoving tides around.

The air is cool. The quiet in the yishuv is so complete that the occasional dog-bark takes childhood memory to appreciate. Birds twitter. There are insects; but for some inexplicable reason, they leave me alone.

I am grateful -- for the peacefulness; for being allowed to live here; for my husband's willingness at last to let go of the notion that his family's security is shaped like life in Chutz l'Aretz.

I am hopeful -- that my family will be permitted to stay; that even more of my friends from America will come Home; that our Home will remain ours, through the strange and frightening decisions of our government.

Slowly, slowly, the yishuv awakens. A baby cries. Mothers begin to start their day, preparing children for school. Doors open and close inside apartments with open windows. At last, the day picks up its insistence. "I matter!" it says, in the rising stridency of the parents' voices, pushing their kids through breakfast. I assume there is "Mah pitom! Only NOW you decide you have only dirty clothes to wear?" coming from at least a few homes. A car engine turns over. In the distance, a jet transports her crew on another mission toward Gaza...

In a half-hour, the Arabs will arrive, to start their day's work of building houses for more Jews. The air will fill with the jackhammer politics of life in Israel.

But for now, I still have this cup of coffee to take care of, and a bit more holy Jewish morning air to imbibe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Farewell, Chananya.

Yom revi'i, 10 Elul 5768/10 September 2008, Wednesday.

A month ago, the Baltimore community lost a precious young soul.

It is always hard for a community to lose a member. Like losing part of oneself. And when the person lost is a child, who has barely begun to live his life, the communal mourning and soul-searching are even more intense. And when you yourself are his teenage peer -- well, as adults, we never want our kids to go through that edge-of-the-abyss kind of loss.

My son was one of his friends. Many of the chevra are going to yeshivot and seminaries here in Israel this year.

I got a call from Gav on my cell phone last week. "In a few days it will be Chananya's shloshim. Would it be okay if a few of us kids made a seuda at your house?" We discussed logistics for a bit; and, of course, it was fine.

On Monday night, several precious young people came to our home, to share a meal, a memorial to their friend. They shopped; they cooked; they cleared the table and took out the garbage. (They offered to do dishes!)

More importantly, these young people ran the entire show themselves -- they made beautiful speeches, and were careful to have ten men for the minyan.

Gav made a siyum on completing mishnayot. (He reminded me so much of his father, in his attention to the details of the halachot, and in his fine presentation.)

One of the speeches was a beautifully prepared talk about Chananya, and how much the boy wished he had known him better. I could see Chananya's smile in my mind, as this young man spoke.

Another speech, which had not been prepared ahead of time, was a reminder to the other kids that "we don't know how much time we have. We never know what tomorrow will bring. I was supposed to have lunch with Chananya the next day...

"Let's try to make sure that we use our time well."

I think what impressed me most was the way these young people mimicked "adult" behavior. They knew what had to be done. And they handled it, by themselves, in a way that would have made their parents very proud of them.

The message to all of us parents, I think, is the following: Keep talking with your kids. They aren't always good at letting us know what's going on with them; but they are doing better than we think at inculcating all of the lessons we are trying so hard to impart. And look in the mirror. You would be amazed at how closely your child emulates your behavior. These kids are remarkable! It was an honor to spend the evening with them.

Shouts out to Gav and Berel and Chaim and "Mitchell" and Gavriella and "Aardvark" and Rina and Baruch and... you are welcome at our home any time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gifts of the Land: a study in relativity

Yom shlishi, 9 Elul 5768/9 September 2008, Tuesday.

Yesterday, the Dearly Beloved returned from a trip up to the Golan, bearing stories and gifts.

He and the Stunt Man (the 16-year-old) had climbed to the Black Falls and to the White Falls without enough water, but with a great deal of intestinal fortitude. They had a great time, bonding as father and son.

The figs were delicious, tasting of shmitta-kedusha, warm summer mountain winds, and sun-drenched earth.

As I appreciated my lovely figs, carried lovingly from one of my favorite places in the world, I thought of gifts I would receive from trips around Baltimore. Once again, I have an opportunity to be grateful for the move to the Holy Land. ;-) Baruch ata Hashem al ha-aretz v'al peyroteiha!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Ma shlomeich?" "Ruti!" "[sigh] I know you. How are you feeling?"

Yom rishon, 7 Elul 5768/7 September 2008, Sunday.

I have finally learned just enough Hebrew to be somewhat competent dangerous.

We were making a welcome party for a wonderful boy from Baltimore who will be living with us through the school year, coupled with a farewell party for Yeshiva Bochur, who had to go back to the States. We wanted to "mix it up" a bit, by inviting friends of ours who are bilingual, as well as our dear landlords, who are trying to learn English (as they patiently try to help us learn Hebrew). Lest you think I was making a party without considering the teenagers involved, I will say that both invited families have teens; and the Boarder's father was here, and is friendly with both families. It seemed like a perfect blending. Everyone would have somebody with whom he could converse easily.

My landlady said many words to me about this party. I am at the stage of my development where I get a little embarrassed to make them repeat every sentence several times... and, besides, I understand at least every fifth word! So, there I am, nodding away, and saying, "Todah!" as she offers to do something for the party, which I assume is to prepare a few things. (She's a great cook. Who could refuse?!) So, we have this "understanding," she and I; and I look forward eagerly to my effort to be multicultural.

The night of the party arrives. The Boarder and his brother and father are here. The multilinguals arrive in a timely manner. The party is moving along nicely. But where are my landlords? Since they live in the house connected with our apartment, after they are a half-hour late, I decide to go and find them. As I reach the top of the steps, and prepare to say something like, "Mah pitom? Are we so far away that you got lost?" with a big smile on my face (the internationally-recognized "just joking" signal)... my landlady comes out her front door, ready to come to me to ask, "Mah pitom? Are we so far away you got lost?"

Turns out that what the landlady had offered was to make the party at her house, as she has more room. (Apparently, that little detail was in one of the words between every fifth word... so I didn't quite get it.) She has been waiting for us to appear at her door... and wondering if extreme lateness is some sort of custom in America.

Baruch Hashem, she really is The Landlady Min HaShomayim. We assessed the situation. She had cleaned her house for the party. ("Don't worry. Now I'm ready early for Shabbat!") She had prepared a few lovely dishes (which put to shame my store-bought chumus. Really: make friends with native Israelis. They make fresh chumus, techina, chatzilim... MMMMM!!!). We decided that since they have no A/C either, and our party was happening outdoors in the lovely Neve Daniel evening breeze, she would bring her tasty dishes to me. We also both learned that little details like "basari o chalavi" (are we having meat or milk?) are really important to work out ahead of time. With very little trouble, and lots of savlanut, we made an amazing party.
Thank G-d for patient friends and neighbors! We may just make it here...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"I could never live in Israel. Israelis are so..."

Yom revi'i, 3 Elul 5768/3 September 2008, Wednesday.

The Israeli ahead of me in line sees that I have only a few items, and offers me his place.

Three people jump up from their seats to help the mother lift her heavily-laden stroller onto the bus. Two middle-aged ladies take charge of her toddler, as the mother gets settled into the seat someone else has offered her. Several hands of various colors and ages pass her fare to the bus driver; and then several hands pass back her ticket and change.

Beautiful teenage children, one after the other, wish me "Shalom" as I pass them on the street. They make eye contact, and smile.

Cashiers in the supermarket point out the cheaper prices and the better deals. They speak like women helping out other women rather than like shills for any particular product.

Four strangers in a car disavow ownership of a 20-shekel bill that has been found on the floor of the car. It is decided that the owner of the car will put the money into tzedaka, rather than accidentally transgressing a Torah law.

A young Israeli in a bright red shirt, his carefully spiked and gelled hairdo unencumbered by a kipah, rushes to help an elderly woman who has fallen in the street. He slowly readjusts her shopping bag and her walker, and assists her to the middle of the sidewalk in front of his trendy hair salon. "Are you okay?" he asks. "Do you need something to drink?" He stands outside with her for several minutes, until she is steady enough to move on.

A bus driver sings Shabbat melodies with an autistic boy, who is clearly a regular passenger. The driver pulls up as close as possible to people's homes, because "on erev Shabbat, people shouldn't have to go so far with their Shabbat groceries."

A credit card is dropped in the Misrad HaPnim. Several Israelis vie for the honor of fulfilling the mitzvah of returning the lost property, even though it means scouring the building for the owner. Only one of eight participants in this exercise appears to be religious.

A teenager's wallet disappears. Nine months later, it is returned, with ID and 100 shekels intact. Exactly as he lost it.

I find myself a few shekels short when paying for my groceries. The cashier says, "Don't worry. Pay me tomorrow."

Most Israelis speak patiently and slowly when asked, enunciating like foreign language teachers. They repeat several times, as requested. This includes the woman who calls from my health care provider, to remind me that a yearly checkup is available to me now. I thank her for her patience. She laughs sweetly, and wishes me a very good day.


Everywhere in the world, one can find people who will be rude and self-centered. And yes, there are certainly cultural differences between what Americans view as acceptable, and what Israelis will tolerate. Personal space is different the world over.

But sometimes we repeat our disappointments in people so often that the negative stereotype is more clearly remembered than the positive one.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Thank You, To Elie's Mom.

Yom sheni, 1 Elul 5768, Rosh Chodesh Beit/1 September 2008, Monday.

[This post is a response to A Soldier's Mother: Ima, I'm in the Middle of Nowhere.]

Dearest Paula,

Nu, so now that you're a "vet," do you get benefits? :-)

Thank you so much for at least two things. As a former soldier, I so appreciate the decent way you speak about the goals and training of the army, and its goal to "build the man." At the end of the day, they are, of course, invested in building a piece of the whole, the "equipment" made of men who can work as one machine when that is needed, and as separate units, when that is needed. It doesn't always feel that way to the raw recruit, as the layers of his civilian self are (temporarily) stripped away. But like the great scene from the movie "Karate Kid," once he survives "wax on/wax off" enough times, he sees the value of that seemingly pointless training. When it counts. When he sees himself functioning as a real soldier in the field. When it saves his life, or someone else's.

As the mother of a soldier, I am grateful to you, who are farther down the path than I. Thank you for shining a light, so that I can see my way, and the way of my dear son. Your coherent and calm words take away a lot of the worry and fear normal for the mother of any soldier in Israel. And thank you for declaring publicly what I have seen for myself. The IDF bends over backward for her soldiers more than I ever remember being done for the US soldier. Many times my dear son, newly-married, has had privileges allowed him for the sake of his marriage, that the US Army would never have allowed a fellow in Basic Training. (I can just hear the Yewnited States Army now, in the booming voice of Master Sergeant Flood: "Son, if the Army woulda wanted yew to have a wahf, we-wudda-issued-yew-one!") I am proud of my time, serving the Old Country. But I am glad we made it here, in time for my dear sons to decide how they wanted to serve this one. Like the rest of this amazing country -- with all her faults -- the IDF is very family-oriented. Something nearly unheard-of, at this level certainly, anywhere else in the world.

I just want you to know how much I appreciate you, and Elie, and all of our children, who decide that it is holy to protect this Land and this People.

Warmest regards, and Hashem's protection for all of them,


P.S. American Jew, come home. G-d forbid you or your son should fight in any war. But I would rather my boys put on a uniform here, and learned to fight to protect Our Home, than to see them go off to "do their duty" to fight for something more obscure.