Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"This is Hashem's doing. It is wondrous in our eyes."

Yom revi'i, 5 Iyar 5769, Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

Prior to 2008, I was always a little wistful on Israel's Independence Day.  Not much was said, if anything, in most of Baltimore's shuls and schools.  There were no special prayers to thank Hashem for giving us the miracle of the State of Israel.  I listened to all of the explanations about why we didn't celebrate this gift.  But I remained dissatisfied, and a little sad.  I sought out those who, like myself, longed to be in the Land; and we sang songs of praise to the only One who made a Home for the Jewish Nation a possibility.

On Yom Ha'atzma'ut in 2008, I was thrilled to be living in Israel at last.  Still somewhat confused by what one was permitted to say and not to say in the prayers on this auspicious date, I tentatively said Hallel -- without a blessing.

This morning, I happily followed the Torah of Rav Shlomo Aviner, and said Hallel with a blessing.  And as I said these words of praise, reserved for very special days on the Jewish calendar, my heart heard anew the words "This is Hashem's doing.  It is wondrous in our eyes."

It suddenly occurred to me as surprising and sad that the holy congregations of the Diaspora, steeped in the teaching that only Hashem makes miracles, would not defiantly remind themselves and the world that modern Israel could not have happened without His direction.  It was not the Israeli army, for all its courage, that created the State of Israel.  Nor was it Herzl or Ben Gurion or the United Nations.  Not by my might, nor by the strength of my hand...

It seems to me that it is a very frum concept indeed to thank The Only One who could have made such a miracle.

The Dearly Beloved reminds me of the great story of Napoleon, hearing the heart-rending cries of Jews coming from a synagogue.  When he asks over what they are weeping and wailing, he is told that they are crying over the destruction of their holy Temple.  He wonders how anyone could destroy the Temple of this poor people during his reign without his awareness...  and he is informed that the Jews are crying over a loss that had occurred more than a thousand years ago.  And he praises this people, saying that a nation that feels the pain of the loss of their holy Temple so acutely so many years after the fact will surely merit to see it rebuilt.  This is a great story.  At Tisha b'Av, it gives me a great deal of chizuk.  But today it brings to my husband's mind a different thought.
"When we were in Chutz l'Aretz, we were very good at mourning for our loss.  But we were not so good at celebrating the beginning of our Redemption."

The Dearly Beloved recently bought for me the new Koren Siddur, which replaces my beloved Artscroll.  I feel a need to say farewell.   

Dear Artscroll Siddur, 
Please don't be hurt or offended.  You were my friend as I tried to learn how to be a Jew.  You told me when to bow, and when to say the right words in the spring and in the winter.  You have been a good friend; and I will always love you.  But now I am here in Israel.  And the kohanim bless us every day!  And there are words I can say here, that are different than the words I said in America...  and they really matter to me.  Koren is the best teacher for me now.  I will always have a special place for you in my heart -- but it's time to move on.  I hope you will understand...

There is more to process.  But now I must follow my husband, Avraham, who says:  "What is the best way to celebrate the gift of the return to Israel, and the gift of the return of Israel to us?  It's time to walk the land."

If you want to see a really GREAT photo of the new little Eastman sabra, check out Through Josh-Colored Glasses, and read her abba's love letter to her.  (As usual, have a box of tissues handy.)  Stay tuned to hear what is her name.  I won't know until after Shabbat...

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Monday's Child is Fair of Face."

Yom sheni, 3 Iyar 5769.

Welcome to the world, little Sabra.  As was pointed out by my dear son, your father -- lovingly known in these pages as Soldier Boy:  Thank you for making Saba's and Savta's klita complete.

May you give much Yiddishe nachas to your dear parents and to our Tatte b'Shomayim.  May your life be filled with wonder and awe and absolute joy in your knowledge that Hashem runs the world.  May you strike the right balance between kef and concentration.  And may you see the coming of Moshiach, bimheira v'yomeinu!

(For those who will ask, the new little princess came into the world at 04:50 this morning, weighing 4.1 kilo [9.3 pounds], kine hora, puh-puh-puh.  New baby and new ema and new abba are doing fine, baruch Hashem.  May we all share good news and much joy!)

Parenthetical answer to Question Number Two:  Savta.  Because Bubbies are plump and soft and smell of chocolate chip cookies; and Savtas smell of Chanel No. 5, and have a back story.

Klita:  absorption into Israel, and into Israeli society
Yiddishe nachas:  the joy that children can give to their parents and granparents, when they live a truly Jewish life
Tatte b'Shomayim:  Yiddish for "Father in Heaven"
Kef:  Arabic word for "fun" --  Interestingly, there is no word in Hebrew for "fun."
Moshiach:  The Messiah
Bimheira v'yomeinu:  speedily and in our days
Savta:  Grandma in Hebrew
Bubbie:  Grandma in Yiddish

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Jew and the Land

Yom sheni, 3 Iyar 5769.

"The meaning and purpose of Jewish history, and Jewish life, is inextricably bound to the Land of Israel.  I'll say the words again: The meaning and purpose of Jewish history, and Jewish life, is inextricably bound to the Land of Israel. This means that the definition of a spiritually healthy Jewish life is either one that is lived in the Land, or one that is lived in a state of near desperate longing to do so. If you believe these words, if these are your words, the words of your Torah and your guts, then let them fill you. Breathe them in. The meaning and purpose of Jewish history, and Jewish life, is inextricably bound to the Land of Israel."  --  Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf

These words were up on my kitchen wall for years.  They gave me a lot of strength, and a clear goalIt's time to pass them on, or to give them back.

Haveil Havalim #214, The Radiant Ziv edition, is posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband for your edification and enjoyment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reflections on Pesach and Post-Pesach 5769

Yom shlishi, 27 Nisan 5769:  Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day.

It was amazing to have four boys (and one wife of a boy) here for Pesach!  Soldier Boy and his bride, heavily-laden with the next generation...  First time I have had most of them at the table since the wedding.

Upstairs, the Sephardim are loudly and joyously debating, or singing songs that are different from ours, but equally delicious.  They worry:  Are they too loud?  Does their singing and chatter bother us?  I try to explain that I move to certain areas of the house in order to hear them better.  Thank you, Hashem, for allowing us to hear such beauty.

Yeshiva Bochur leads the second Seder for himself and three equally aliyah-retarded guests.  I am proud of my 19-year-old for being comfortable enough in his own skin to lead a Seder.  Some of what these guys say is remarkable in its sweetness.  It is like a photograph and scratchy phonograph record of songs I remember from childhood.

Some of it is wistful, as this quartet really wants to be here, to live here.  I daven, as I photograph them, that next year they will keep one day, as citizens of our Holy Land.


Tonight is Yom Hashoah.  Sports Guy (all of 14-years-old) attended a Bnei Akiva event...  I only hope he didn't see the video. Of all my children, he is the least able to cope with the Shoah.  Weird.  I remember standing in the library with him as he tried to do research for an assignment for his third grade class.  He was supposed to write something regarding the period between 1930 and 1945.  It was clear that the teacher was gearing up these Jewish kids to do a paper on the Holocaust.  We pulled out a book designed for children.  (It was important to me as a mother to keep my kids from seeing stuff that was more graphic than their ages should be able to bear.)  We were looking at this kids' book, which dealt with the subject in a very sensitive manner.  And then my Dani looked up at me with eyes frighteningly shining with tears.  "I can't do this, Ema."

My eyes filled.  "I know, Honey.  I know."

After a long quiet hug, we found something else about the Thirties to write about.  I don't remember what it was.  But we established a clear understanding between us at the time:  Dani doesn't do Holocaust.  Intuitively, I understand that he "carries" it differently than my other sons do.  Is he "an old soul"?  Does he have dreams like his mother's?  I don't know.  But I respect that he handles this differently than his brothers do.  His brothers all want to crush and destroy anyone who would threaten the Jewish people ever again.  Dani agrees.  But something in Dani remembers or just knows how much it hurt to be a Jew then.  He feels it in a way they cannot.

As I type, I glance at the clock.  I know that I am going to ground him for being late getting home, just like normal mothers do in normal times.  Baruch Hashem, he will say that he is sorry, and that he will get better in the future.  Just like normal kids, in normal times.  Thank G-d.


"I'm sorry.  I was hanging out with friends.  I lost track of time.  I know -- it's my fault."

"Did you see the film?"

"No.  I'm sorry."  (He thinks I'm disappointed.  Oy, vey.)  "I was talking, and I came too late.  A couple of mothers and a kid talked.  Hebrew.  I didn't understand much.

"Then, we all sang 'Gam ki ailech' and 'Ani ma'amim' and 'Hatikvah.'  That was pretty cool."

"You know what it was all about?"


"Any questions?"


"You okay?"

"Yeah.  You?"

"Yeah.  Go to bed, okay?"

"Okay, Ema.  G'night.  I love you."

"You, too, buddy."


After Sports Guy trundles off to bed, I think of a cherished memory.

Soldier Boy was younger, and was -- uh, let's just say he was "giving me fits."

But deep down inside him was a kid who wanted Ma & Pa to be proud.  He has a beautiful voice, does Soldier Boy.  He learned all of the words to "Mama Rochel," a famous Shwekey song.

We don't speak Yiddish in my house.  Not our cultural upbringing.  But he memorized all of the words, even the Yiddish words.

And while he was singing the Yiddish words at the end, I thought suddenly of my father's grandmother, Ruth, for whom I am named.  As far as I know, she was the last religious person in my father's family.  As the story goes, the family was pretty wealthy.  They had gathered at the family farm just outside of Warsaw...  and then the Nazis came.  One of them said to my father's lookalike cousin, "Here boy -- catch!"  And this animal threw to my father's cousin a hand grenade.  My grandmother saw "her son" blown up -- and even though they presented him later (he'd been hiding under a haystack) -- Rita was never the same.

There was a mentally-retarded girl in the family.  The Nazis decided to take her into the woods...  Of course she was afraid.  My paternal great-grandmother, Ruth, said, "I'll go with the child."  They were taken into the woods, and that is the last anyone in the family knew of them.

So when I heard my son, in his unbelievably sweet tones, singing this Yiddish lyric...  I thought I could hear Ruth, Hy"d, saying:  "I won, Adolf.  I am still here, through this boy.  YOU are gone.  But I am still here." 

To carry on. To keep singing and telling over...  To let them know that we will never let them down again. And everything that means -- even the holy aspects some of them did not know.

That's what it's about, isn't it?

Glossary:  Sammy, just call me on this one, okay baby?


Haveil Havalim #213, the It's Been A Long Time edition, is live at The Real Shliach.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't Forget the Schlissel Challah!

Yom shishi, 23 Nisan 5769.

There is a beautiful custom, taught to me by my beloved Rabbi Menachem and Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger, to put a key into the first challah after Pesach.

There are many explanations given for this custom.  Rabbi Yehuda Prero says, "The 'schlissel,' which is the Yiddish word for 'key,' should unlock the gates of sustenance for us just as it was for the nation of Israel after their first Pesach in the promised land."   Others mention the key as a symbol of "opening a small hole, like the eye of a needle," by keeping Shabbat and taking challah -- and these mitzvot will help to "remind" our Father in Heaven to open His storehouse of blessing for us.  Still others mention that the counting of the omer is a time when gates in the Supernal Realm can be unlocked, if we but have the right keys.  I refer you to an excellent post on A Simple Jew's blog from 2007, wherein "A Talmid" did detailed research to offer many different explanations.  My friend Sheina bakes her challah in the shape of a key.
The key that has been used as our schlissel challah for more than a decade has been in my mother's family for several generations.  And so we keep the sense of tradition alive, even within a family building its traditions much as we build our challah -- from scratch. 
Today I plan to fulfill the mitzvah of taking challah in the merit of all those who so desperately want to bring new life into the world.  I have not received permission to mention any names, though there are (unfortunately) several on my list, just as there probably are on yours.  I do not know if this is true -- but I believe that if we add to our personal lists the desire to add the names on each other's lists, Hashem will count our brachot as if all of the names were shared.  Please have all of these dear potential-parents in mind for healthy babies, b'sha'ah tova!
May we share a year of abundant blessing, joy and contentment.

Schlissel:  Yiddish for "key"
Challah:  special bread baked for Shabbat
Taking challah:  a mitzvah to remove and destroy a small portion of the challah dough, as a reminder of the portion given to the Priests during Temple times
Counting of the omer:  a larger subject than I can explain here -- but a time of spiritual growth between Pesach and Shavu'ot that takes 49 days of counting and introspection
Supernal Realms:  Don't even ask.
B'sha'ah tova!:  [Lit: at a good hour]  At the right time, and with ease!


Monday, April 13, 2009

The J-Bloggers' MAS

Yom shlishi, 20 Nisan 5769.

Rickismom, over at Beneath the Wings, has given me the pain in the backside honor of awarding me with the "Honest Scrap Award."  The rules are: 
A) List 10 honest things about yourself—and make them interesting, even if you have to dig deep!
B) Pass the award on to 7 bloggers whom you feel embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap and whose blogs you find brilliant in design or content.

Here goes.  Let's do "A" first, because it is easier to remember it in order.

1.  My favorite author is Haim Sabato.  IMHO no one in our generation makes a story into pure poetry like he does.  (Read The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale, as an example.)  It's so good, I want to give it to my rabbi as a present.

2.  My greatest mundane angst is the space between now and when I can read The Dawning of the Day in the original Hebrew.  It's called Ke'afapey Shachar (Like Eyelids of Dawn).  See what I mean about the poetry?

3.  My greatest authentic angst is that we don't love each other enough to put aside our pettiness and bring the Moshiach.  I don't care if there's a million bucks involved.  If it is causing anger between Jews, and delaying the coming of Moshiach, it's petty.  Remember Rosh Hashana?  No one can take your "fair share" away from you.  Hashem decrees on Rosh Hashana exactly how much you will make in the coming year.  You can afford to be generous!

4.  I love the color turquoise.  I would have loved it anyway; but it became a symbol for my creative writer son and me for the forgotten space between white and blak.  (This is not a typo.)  Turquoise signifies the most appropriate form of joyful compromise between absolutes.

5.  I hate that Arabs have made it hard for me to love them.  They are the children of Avraham.  They have a fascinating and colorful history, music, and culture.  They also have a really big chip on their collective shoulder, Biblical in origin.  I cannot wave to the workmen crawling all over my yishuv and wish them a good day, because some of them want me and my children dead -- and the silence of the majority makes it so I cannot know who they are, and who are the simple souls grateful for a chance to make a living.

6.  Sometimes I am afraid of my love for the gift of my family.  Love makes us vulnerable.  May Hashem protect each of them, and carry them in the palm of His hand.  Bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh.

7.  I used to like to make Peggy Lolas' curls "boing" when we stood in line.  It made second grade very trying, for both of us.  But it helped me to understand my boys, and to be a better mother to them.

8.  I want to be a much better Jew.  The only things standing in my way are extreme laziness, a desire for the entertainment of an old time radio story over a Torah lecture, and the fact that I like listening to Gaelic Storm more than nice, healthy Jewish music.  Okay -- except for Udi Davidi and Yosef Karduner.  Those guys rock the house.

9.  I will happily teach Hebrew for free to anyone who hungers for the language as I do...  as soon as Hashem gives it to me.  I want to communicate with my dear Israeli neighbors with the same ease as I communicate with my English-speaking neighbors.  I hope I am not too old or too lazy to fix this.

10.  Renting seems very healthy to me.  A sense of impermanence gives me more security, strangely, than a false sense of permanence.  It reminds me that Hashem runs the world.  If He says it's time for us to move (to somewhere else in Israel), then there must be something for us to do somewhere else.  This feels safer to me than a false belief that my home can never be taken from me for totally stupid reasons.

Part "B" is harder, because it means that very nice people I like and respect must be imposed upon.  Sorry, guys.  If you ignore this great "honor," I'll still love your blog.

FYI Honest Tea is a Maryland invention.  Just thought I'd give the Alte Heimland a moment of glory.  Tasty stuff!

I pass the award on to:

1.  Treppenwitz -- both David and Zahava.  Honest?  Sometimes I want to tell them:  "TMI!  TMI!"  And yet, who can not feel a part of their family, and a part of their experience in Israel, after faithfully reading them since the great "crazy Marine analogy" of 2006?  (Is that all the longer it's been, Bogner?  We thought we've known you since high school or something.)

2. al tishali oti --  Here is a young woman whom I would love to have as a daughter-in-law.  She is spunky, full of joie de vivre, and a great love for Jews and Yiddishkeit.  If you want to hear the young, hip religious Jewish voice, check out this blog.

3.  I'll Call Baila -- I get a lot of chizuk from Baila, because she is also a new olah, with a good attitude, and teenagers.  And she has girls; so from her I get the Venus version.

4.  Bat Aliyah -- Full disclosure:  This lady happens to be a long-time best friend.  (We are pretty certain that if we had gone to elementary school together, the teacher would have been careful to separate us.)  A very funny, optomistic person in life, her blog explores her longing for aliyah and the Geula, and her angst that both are taking too damn long.

5.  Seraphic Secret -- I am a closet old Hollywood movie junkie.  And great writing is my favorite hangout.  Besides, he loves his bride absolutely (and I'm a sucker for extreme shalom bayit); and the doorways and shoes are "to die for."

6.  Through Josh-Colored Glasses -- My son's blog.  Duh!  (Besides the obvious, he is a very good writer.)  Great stuff about being in the IDF and being a newly-married oleh chadash.  Could the average American teenager change his life just a little more drastically???

7.  Israel Easy -- If I want to find something to make life in Israel easier or more interesting,  this blog allows me the pleasure of learning about goods and services through the wonderful protexia of networking.  Suggestion:  if you have had a good experience with a service provider in Israel, please post it on this blog. Make life easier for your fellow Jew.  It's a mitzvah...

Haveil Havalim #212:  The How Many Days till We Can Eat Bread edition, is available for your perusal.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring Comes to the Gush

Yom sheni, 12 Nisan 5769.

Blessed are you, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, for nothing is lacking in His universe, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure with them.   
In the English translation of the Modim of the Rabbis that is said during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, we say "[We thank you] for inspiring us to thank You."  I have always loved that passage.  Many times throughout our day, the prayerbook inspires us to show G-d appreciation for the many gifts He gives us that we might otherwise take for granted.

One of those prayers is said only once each year, upon seeing fruit trees in bloom.

Even though this special prayer was also available to me in Chutz l'Aretz, it feels even more special to say it in this very holy place.  Please let me share some of the local Gush Etzion beauty with you.


 We had a few guests drop by, as the weather started to warm up.  A couple of them even posed for photos.
 And, of course, some of the greatest beauty is the Jewish people and their love for the mitzvot...  such as cleaning every inch of their homes for Pesach.
 Thank you, Borei Olam, for this beautiful Land, and for all of the lovely, colorful flowers and the interesting creatures and the fine and holy people that fill it.

Thank you most of all for friends with whom to share Your wondrous creation.

Chag Pesach sameach v'kasher l'kulam!

Haveil Havalim #211 is posted at Ima's place.  She calls it "The Preparing for Pesach Edition."  There is some fun stuff in there to take your mind off of your scrubbing and cleaning...  or to focus you more intently.  Take a break.  You deserve it!

Modim:  acknowledgment, gratitude, admission
Shemoneh Esrei:   prayer with "eighteen blessings (plus)"  said three times daily
Chutz l'Aretz:  everywhere outside of Israel
Mitzvot:  commandments, elevated deeds
Pesach:  Passover
Borei Olam:  Creator of the world
Chag Pesach sameach v'kasher l'kulam!:  Happy and kosher Passover to everyone!