Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Year Reality Check

Yom chamishi, 1 Cheshvan 5769.

The Dearly Beloved and I were discussing the topic "What do we miss that we left in the States?"

A thread on the Tachlis chat list had precipitated this discussion, as future olim asked the advice of seasoned veterans about what they should bring to Israel, and what they should leave behind.  Now, at the end of our first full year, we decided to explore the question.

What should we have brought with us?
To tell you the truth, we had to really work our brains on this one.  Apart from what has become a family joke -- leaving behind the snow shovels  -- we couldn't think of anything.  (To let you in on the joke:  My husband used to get paid to do snow removal in Baltimore.  He had access to snow shovels, snow blowers, and even small snow plows.  And he made a tidy profit each winter.  "But who needs snow removal equipment in Israel?" he had said.  Then came our first winter atop the 997-meter high yishuv of Neve Daniel.  And there was the Dearly Beloved, clearing our 33 steps with a kitchen dustpan and a sponga squeegee, and cursing himself for his mistake. 

He was so delighted that he found at least a garden shovel by the next snow...  But when we went back to the States for Soldier Boy's wedding, you can be sure that we packed a big ol' Home Depot snow shovel into a friend's lift.)

We don't mind being normal upon occasion; and we have heard that people do regret stuff that stayed behind.  So I asked again, out loud, "Okay, so what should we have brought that we didn't bring?"

The Stunt Man, who had been busy "Facebooking" at the laptop nearby, answered, "Dovid."

We parents broke into laughter.  The Stunt Man won the prize for suggesting the only thing that belonged to us that we truly missed:  his dear brother, the Yeshiva Bochur, who has stayed behind to finish school.
What could make parents happier than a teenager who misses his brother, rather than all of the superficial entertainments deserted in Chutz l'Aretz?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kine Hora. Puh-puh-puh.

Yom shlishi, 29 Tishrei 5769.


No, I am not an amnesiac, awakening suddenly to clarity.

It's just that, once in a while, it strikes me again that I finally have something I was striving so hard to attain for many years.

Maybe it's similar to the feeling of completing med school, which I believe also takes about 16 years (after all the internships and so on).

Maybe it's like having a baby after you've been trying for more than a decade.

You just occasionally have to pinch yourself, and say out loud, "I made it!  Baruch Hashem!"

During my morning walk, I fixed my eyes on the street sign at the top of the long hill, just to give myself an attainable goal.  "Nof Herodiyon," it says.  But in Hebrew letters.  My street.  So the thought washed over me:  We have been here for a full year, even on the lunar calendar.  And I cannot entirely believe it.

I am very, very grateful. 

I am also very conscious of all of our dear friends who want to be here, but who are not.  Yet.

Today, my davening for those in Chutz l'Aretz who want to come Home will be strengthened by my own love of this place -- the same kind of love you have for someone you are afraid of losing, if you take him for granted.

Tatte b'Shomayim, please grant the prayers of those who want a good thing with all their hearts. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fall Colors, Real and Imagined

Yom rishon, 27 Tishrei 5769.

Mystically, beautiful metal floweirds* from some planet far, far away, have sprouted in Neve Daniel. Perhaps they are a gift from Above, a Heavenly thank-you note for the keeping of shemitta.

While they have brought with them a certain amount of controversy (three Jews, five opinions, et cetera), they certainly have been a delight for the eyes. It will be fun to watch and see what else develops.
I'll be watching the ripening earth, lush and brown after our prayers for rain have been answered with so much love, to see what else grows (indigenous to this planet, and otherwise).

More fall colors: There are fruits you just don't see too often in Baltimore. And even if they get to the grocer as the unique fruit for Rosh Hashanah, are they this ripe and luscious?

Rav Avigdor Miller, zt"l, in his beautiful work The Universe Testifies, first introduced me to the lucid thought that colorful food is clear evidence that Hashem loves us.

Ah! I see a future etrog liqueur!

When the chill weather of Chanukah returns, we will have a little something to warm the spirit.


*Credit for this unique name for the shemittah blossoms goes to Zvi ("The Box") Ron. Nice job, Reb Zvi. You keep your well-earned title of The Name Guy in Neve Daniel. Long may you reign.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sukkot 5769: After-Action Report

Yom revi'i, 23 Tishrei 5769, Isru Chag.

At the end of the holiday of Sukkot, there is a ceremony to "say farewell" to the Sukkah, our home for the last seven days.

The Dearly Beloved and I sat in the waning light, watching the sunset weaving pink and blue threads through the black plastic burlap of our western sukkah wall.

"What was your favorite moment in our first sukkah in Israel?" he asked.

I didn't even have to think. "It was an off-hand remark you made. I was reminding you of the time, that it was almost Shachrit. You said not to worry, that you wouldn't miss davening. That there is a Torah reading every day during Sukkot, and that you hadn't missed a Torah reading since you made a deal with G-d. I asked you what the deal was. Your reply touched my heart. 'I asked Hashem to please get rid of the Cellulitis. I said I would use my legs to get me to shul to touch His holy Torah, every time it was out.' I was so moved by the simple faith of that bargain."

While it is not recommended that we make deals with G-d, I know that The Dearly Beloved will keep his end of his bargain, even if Hashem decides at some point that he can serve Him best by struggling with another bout of Cellulitis. But get this: between 2002 and 2004, my husband had increasing attacks of Cellulitis in his legs. It really appeared that this was going to be our "new normal." In 2004, he had to cancel a trip to Israel with me, his first trip to Israel since 1991. His doctor said that the risk of DVT was very great, and that it could kill him if he flew. He was very disappointed; and I had so hoped this trip would finally convince him that it was time to make aliyah. Apparently, he made this deal with Hashem, unbeknownst to me, over this event. In 2005, he was able to take the family trip that caused all of us to decide to move to Israel. He flew with me again the following year for our pilot trip; and in 2007, we finally came Home. (And, he hasn't had Cellulitis since, bli ayin hara.)

I realized, sitting in the sukkah this year, that it may have been my husband's simple act of turning his health over to Hashem that caused Hashem to finally say yes to our aliyah.

"What was your favorite moment?" I asked him, in return.

"There were two. Working with my son on building it. And the melave malka, when our neighbors came by and played music with us."

I remembered that my favorite moment at another friend's sukkah actually took place as she walked us to our car afterward. She had invited us to speak and play music before a large group of her students. At the end of her event, she asked everyone to share a moment of silent contemplation, to lock in the sukkah experience. Some sat with eyes closed. Others studied the walls and decorations. As we were leaving, she and I shared that we two had been looking intently at each face... because to us, "the sukkah" was not the walls and decorations, nor even the schach, but the people. These were the true "walls of the sukkah."

The Dearly Beloved and I reminisced for several more minutes, and realized that all of our special moments were about people. Then he gave me a short d'var Torah. "We have to be careful not to get too focused on the structure of the mishkan or the Temple or the shul. Hashem said 'Build me a mishkan so that I may dwell in them.' He didn't say 'it.' Our sages learn from this that He wanted to dwell inside of each of us, and inside of the collective Jewish people. The structure helps us to focus, but it is the achdut, the unity, that is critical to Hashem's plan."

Master of the Universe...may there always be upon us a heavenly protection from Your holy abode, to save us from all sin and iniquity, from evil occurences, from malevolent periods that are stirring to come upon the world." ( -- from the "Farewell to the Sukkah" service on Shemini Atzeret)

May we Jews together create the achdut to merit that protection.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sukkot. Dateline, Israel: 5769.

Yom rishon, 20 Tishrei 5769.

Isn't it lovely?

Our first sukkah in Eretz Yisrael! I am so proud of it. The sukkah has always been my favorite home, because it is built with love, ingenuity, and creativity by my husband and sons. And because it seems to become imbued with something special and holy. And because it is not belabored by all the flotsom and jetsom of "too-muchness"... It's hard to explain. But if you have had the experience, you know the feeling. Is it the simplicity of it? The closeness? The family project? Or do the ushpezin, the holy guests, actually add some spiritual dimension that brings us closer to our Father in Shomayim? We are too small to comprehend it... but Hashem blesses us by letting us experience it.

I am always delighted by the way The Dearly Beloved accepts the suggestions and efforts of his sons. And he gets back as good as he gives. I overheard The Stunt Man telling one of his friends: "My Abba is a genius. Did you see that shower curtain? What an idea!" (Mental note, filed under "Keeping the Chagim Special for the Kids": Remember a shower curtain for next year's sukkah.)

The engineering to keep this sukkah upright for the whole chag is trickier than in Baltimore. The winds of Neve Daniel have been measured at at least as strong as 120 kph (sustained) with gusts as high as 185.5. That can really mess with your sukkah! So the guys came up with clever methods for keeping the schach attached to the top of the sukkah, and the walls attached to the frame.

This partial spiderweb design really impressed me. Especially since father and son each contributed ideas to the design, and praised each other's suggestions. These are the very sweet pearls we hope to cull from the bumpy, ugly oysters of the teenage years. They remind us that after parents and children finish the requisite head-butting, there can be a wonderful relationship of mutual respect.

I was in a sukkah this evening, playing music and sharing seemingly vast quantities of food, all in honor of the Simchat Beit HaShoeva. A very gifted teacher we know was sharing her sukkah with her (finding-themselves-Jewishly) students and with us. She opened up a question-and-answer period, wherein she bravely offered her students the opportunity to ask any questions they wished. One of the questions gave her the opportunity to share with her students why she had chosen this particular (religious) path in life. B'kitzur, she -- a non-religious 17-year-old Jewess -- spent Shabbat with a frum family. She was fascinated by the way the family interacted at the table, as if the Shabbat were the hub of a wheel, and they were its spokes. (In her very lovely secular family, the dinner conversations were isolated islands: her parents talked of the day's events, and of their worries; the kids talked of events in school, and other kids they mutually knew; the parents and kids talked of grades and individual issues...) In this frum family, it seemed there were two common themes -- the parsha hashevua, and the holy Shabbat -- and everyone contributed to the main concepts; and they sang, and told stories, all in support of the main theme of this Shabbat, and all interacting with each other.

She decided then and there that she would one day raise a "connected" Jewish family.

When my husband and son, very normal in the scheme of fathers-and-teenage-sons, have a meeting of the minds over the sukkah -- I feel like that woman. I know that, after all is said and done, they will have a deep respect for one another, born of this exercise of working out the sukkah together. Even as I enjoy these days, with all of their quite normal strife, I am heartened. I know that one day, these two men will be friends, who deeply respect one another.

This is the beautiful subtlety of Judaism.

And then, after all the work, comes beautiful, well-earned play, celebration... the precious celebration of Jewish talent and Jewish desire to please the Creator.

One of my favorite moments in the liturgy comes at Modim d'Rabbanin:

"We thank You for inspiring us to thank You."

What can I say? "Hodu Lashem, ki Tov, ki Le'Olam Chasdo..."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Settler Chic, ala The Dearly Beloved

Yom revi'i, 16 Tishrei 5769.

What is it about this man that causes guards to automatically ask him "Yesh neshek?"

(Photo credit: Gavi Zeitlin,

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Anniversary to ME!

Yom shi'shi, 11 Tishrei 5769.

Today is our One Year Anniversary in Israel.  It is also the day after Yom Kippur.

What do I miss from the Old Country?

I miss my rabbi's voice during the services.  I miss his special niggunim.

I miss my friends.  How can you not miss people you have grown to love over sixteen years?

I miss knowing that someone would go in to The Dearly Beloved during Yizkor and touch him on the shoulder, bringing him back gently from the dark abyss of missing people he loved.


 I miss the ease of communicating deep thoughts in English, something I'll be working at for a long time in Hebrew.                                                                                              
Baruch Hashem, I don't miss "stuff," or places.  Only people, and easy communication with them.

What do I love about my Ancient/New Homeland?

I love that the beit knesset is full of teenagers.  Most of them stay for most of the davening.  I don't know why.  But I am glad.  Even my teenagers stay.                           

I love the new niggunim (which include a potpourri of Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Chassidic melodies), and that most of the kehilla sings.  There is a lot of singing.  I love that I can sort out the words of the liturgy, because it is in modern Hebrew pronunciation, which I have always deciphered more clearly than Ashkenazic.

I like this new rabbi.  He can't replace our rav in Baltimore.  You can't replace people.  But he will be great at being our Israel rav.

I love the smiles and greetings from new friends.  They are genuinely happy that we are here.  Not just us -- they are very happy to have olim make the effort to come.  They are very supportive.

I love the touch of gratitude from a new friend, whose shoulder I touched during Yizkor, when it was clear that she was having a hard time digging out of the abyss of missing people she had loved.

The long and the short of it is that change is hard.  And change is good.  As hard as it is to be ahead of the Baltimore friends (-- and I truly believe we are only ahead of them in making aliyah --), I am so grateful to be a tiny part of repopulating our precious Land, perhaps moments before the Geula.  Ezra and Nechemia, I am very sorry we didn't listen to you when you first invited us.  But we are here now.  And our first year has been wonderful!

Thank You, Borei Olam, for letting mere us be part of Your Great Adventure!  Please bring our siblings Home soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm sorry.

Yom revi'i, 9 Tishrei 5769, Erev Yom Kippur.

I saw one of those human interest stories on Jerusalem Online the other day. Sort of a random "man in the street" interview about Yom Kippur. People were asked what bad things had been done to them in the past year. There were various responses, from the general to the specific. A few people expressed such happiness with their lives that they could think of no one who had wronged them.

Then the interviewer apparently asked the same people what they had done wrong in the past year. The responses were interestingly patterned, and in some cases, disturbing.

Those who had felt that the world had not wronged them were consistently able to name some thing that they had done wrong. "Maybe a little lashon hara, which I try not to do," said one jovial woman, looking embarrassed. "I'll try to get better about it." Thus expressing the three-part Jewish formula for teshuva, repentance: owning the mistake; expressing regret; and sincerely stating the plan to improve the behavior.

Others mentioned -- on camera, and with no apparent remorse -- such "little naughties" as getting drunk (this from a twelve-year-old), and from a middle-aged man, having a relationship with someone who is married. I felt very sad for them, and for their families and friends who might have seen the interview.

But the most troubling of all were those who felt they had been wronged, but who themselves didn't wrong anyone else. "I don't do bad things," was said by two of these interviewees.


To those whom I have wronged through a careless or flippant word: I'm sorry.

To those whom I have wronged through neglect: I'm sorry.

To those whom I have wronged by being less than honest in any dealings: I'm sorry.

To those whom I have failed to give the benefit of the doubt: I'm sorry.

And to those whom I have hurt without my knowledge: I'm sorry.

(There's a lot more to type... but we all have things to do before sunset... Please feel free to let me know of any specifics.)

I really will try to improve my behavior. And if you think you did something wrong to me, you should know that I forgive you. May we all be sealed in the Book of Life. I so want to be there to see the Geula, hand in hand with you. May it be very soon!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sharing Diamonds: Haveil Havalim

Yom sheni, 7 Tishrei 5769.  

One of the nicest things about the Jewish blogging community is that much sharing goes on.  (What else would one expect?)  People share freely their knowledge of the best places to eat or to travel in Israel, for instance.

Recently, a young boy's health was dramatically improved by the sharing of information.

Other people allow us a glimpse into their lives that gives us all the opportunity to be better people.

Bloggers happily share their advice about the best fence builders available, their favorite repairmen, doulas, and gemachs.

Sometimes, we just entertain each other.  Sometimes, we offer new outlooks, or strength, or tips on a successful aliyah.  There is Torah knowledge imparted, and political wisdom and opinion.

One of the best resources to sample some of these diamonds is Haveil Havalim, hosted each week by a different JBlogger on his or her blog.  (This week's, #185, is hosted by the blog "Writes Like She Talks.")  Let's face it:  there is a lot to read out there.  It is helpful when some sort of filtering happens, to let us taste some of the wonderful writing out there in Cyberspace.  This particular portal has been a real pleasure to me, and a great help in my aliyah experience.

I strongly recommend it!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

You may be a settler if...

Yom rishon, 6 Tishrei 5769.

Recently, Yisrael Medad posted (or reposted) an entertaining diversion which I enjoyed very much. My guys, being in touch with their "You may be a redneck" selves, got quite the kick out of it. I understand it now; and I know I wouldn't have gotten most of the jokes last year. Go ahead. Test yourself. I'll wait...


As Sukkot approaches, as with other yomim tovim, I am enjoying the uniquely Israeli (and sometimes uniquely over-the-Green-Line) ways of doing things. As we know, as Rosh Hashana approaches, a Jewish man's fancy turns to sukkah building.

The Dearly Beloved has been eyeing a piece of wood near the "Box Shul" for several days. "Hmmmm," he said to me this morning, "if that piece of wood is still there after davening, it would look right nice as a wall panel for this here sukkah." (It is interesting that The Dearly Beloved, who grew up in the midwest, sounds like he grew up in Hapeville, Georgia, at moments like this.)
Noticing he was empty-handed when he returned from shul, I casually asked, "Nu? What happened with the sukkah panel?"

"The early davener gets the wood," he answered glumly.

I felt very bad for him, especially since this loss came on the heels of last week's near international incident. He had spotted a clearly ownerless panel, and began to make off with it.
Apparently, the Arab builders felt they had previous dibs on the wood. "I can't believe they use this kind of poor-quality junk for building our houses," he snorted at me. "Why, I wouldn't even use stuff like that for a sukkah." I thought it politic to move on to other topics.

Happily, The Dearly Beloved is not easily daunted in his mission. "You know... that rusted metal door has been there for a while. If it's still there tomorrow..."

You may be a settler if any piece of wood, metal, fabric or plastic looks mighty interesting, come sukkah-building season.