Monday, May 31, 2010

The Battle of Language... and the Language of Battle

Yom sheni, 18 Sivan 5770.

Language fascinates.

History has strutted its hour upon the stage.  Geography is more or less fixed, give or take a tectonic shift.  Math and Science may be filled with undiscovered permutations -- but I would not call them living and breathing.  Each of these studies is interesting.  No doubt about it.  But none of them is as vibrant and alive for me as is the study of language.

A language is a growing and changing thing.  In order to get "bifnim ha-milim," inside the words (I'll have to ask my teacher if one can get away with that phrase in Hebrew), one needs to experience the language in its home soil, with its own personal background and environment surrounding it.  To truly learn Hebrew, one has to walk the Land, learn its history, and hear the language as it is used by Israelis, young and old.

A female soldier takes a break from the IDF field trip to the Ammunition Hill memorial museum and battleground.  Our soldiers are routinely taken to sites of battles -- modern and Biblical -- to be reminded of what they are fighting for.  Many Israeli soldiers had never been to Jerusalem before such tiyulim!
Why are burned-out and rusted vehicles -- the skeletons of war -- such effective reminders of our sense of loss and triumph?
I am not telling my friends still outside Israel to give up until you're here.  By all means, study!  The more you know before you arrive, the more quickly you can dive into the nuanced daily existence of your new friend called Hebrew.  But don't think that you will ever understand this language until you walk where she walks, eat what she eats, and hang out with her teenagers.

This fanciful lead-in is brought to you by a tiyul I took yesterday with my ulpan class.

Our teacher's approach was very organic and creative.  I don't know what his training is -- haven't figured out how to ask that b'Ivrit -- but Avi Mermelstein is a natural teacher.  When he teaches language through history, you feel like you are there, seeing, hearing, almost smelling the reality behind the words.

Avi started this particular lesson by taking three days to teach us a song.  The song was "Givat HaTachmoshet."  Wrapped in music only 1960s Israelis could think was appropriate, this beautiful lyric tells the story of the battle for Ammunition Hill, a battle which was very significant in the amazing and miraculous outcome of the Six Day War.
The lyrics of the song, in Hebrew and English, in an unusual display at the museum, which is dedicated to the 183 soldiers who sacrificed their lives to reclaim Jerusalem.
"Because of the fences and mines, we left the medics behind, and ran without our senses to Ammunition Hill."
"We went down into the trenches, into the pits and channels, and toward death in the tunnels of Ammunition Hill."

During those three days, Fern and Yosef and I were led by Avi through not only the maze of the poetic Hebrew language, but through the warren that was the history of that battle.  And warren it was.  A deadly and narrow labyrinth, the Jordanian-designed trenches on Ammunition Hill were a nightmarish battleground for young men in their late teens and twenties to wend their way through toward eventual glory.
They fought all night in these narrow trenches.  You could not stand up straight in them for more than a few seconds, lest you become a target.  You carried your pack on your back, and followed closely behind a fellow soldier who just might drop before you at any moment...
After we studied the song, Avi went "above and beyond the call of duty," taking an extra day after the session had ended to take us on a tour of the site.
"At two, two-thirty [in the middle of the night] we came through the stony terrain to the fields of fire and mines of Ammunition Hill."

However beautiful and poetic a language might be, it truly comes to life when you walk its footpaths.

The task of capturing the hill was given largely to the Israeli 3rd company of the 66th Battalion.  Thirty-seven Israeli soldiers fell in the battle for Ammunition Hill.

As the 43rd anniversary of that battle approaches, I look at my husband of 25 years.  Had we grown up in Israel, he may very well have fought in that war, may have lost friends on that hill.  Looking at him, hearing their words, and seeing the details of that fateful landscape, I can feel the confusion and pain, fear and fury and loss, of those young men.  I can feel their somewhat mystified glory.  My heart swells for those who are still alive, in pride at their accomplishments, and in shared sorrow for those they lost, "who remained twenty years old on Givat HaTachmoshet."
To hear the song and read a translation in English, click here, and select Song #2.

Eitan Naaveh is memorialized for his bravery in the song about the battle for Ammunition Hill.   He was posthumously awarded a medal for his courage, as he sacrificed himself to provide covering fire to protect his comrades.  At 23, he left behind a wife and child.
Each tree was planted to represent one of the soldiers who gave his life during the Six Day War.

"I don't know why I received a commendation, I simply wanted to get home safely."
Shivtei Yisrael is currently one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem.  But this was the normal scene during the 19 years prior to the Jewish reclamation of the Holy City.  The sign reminds pedestrians to stay on the sidewalks or risk being hit by sniper fire.
May we never give up what they died to regain.  May we never again have to fight for the ground that holds their pure and holy blood. Rather than rewriting their story, may our new songs build on their words, and on the words of thousands of years of Jewish history.

Thank you to my teachers and classmates for helping me through the last few months' worth of encounters with the amazing Hebrew language.

  A special thank you to Ami Steinberger for developing this wonderful Ulpan La-Inyan program.
Tiyul: hike, field-trip, outing
Ulpan: intensive Hebrew-language course
Givat HaTachmoshet: Ammunition Hill, located in northern Jerusalem, the site of a pivotal battle which enabled Israeli forces to liberate the Old City.

Friday, May 28, 2010

To exist, or not to exist. That is the question...

Yom shlishi, 15 Sivan 5770.

Okay, you know me.  I don't spend a lot of time or space here being political.  (Well -- maybe a little...)  This is not because I lack strong feelings regarding the security of Israel, or about the plight of the Palestinians.  Rather, it is because there are so many people who write about the situation better than I can.

Every once in a while, it is important to share what some of them are saying.  Please take five or so minutes to watch this video.  It graphically illustrates why giving away land is dangerous, purely from a security perspective.

Hat tip: Hillel Porath

If you can't see this video, or for more information, please visit The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

My prayers continue to focus on the pain of the individual, and on the security of the collective.  May we live to see a time when pain and sickness and fear are lifted from our shoulders.  May we live to see the time when human beings can live near one another in peace and respect and tolerance.

 Shabbat shalom u'mevorach! 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

Yom sheni, 11 Sivan 5770.

 When we were stationed in Germany, finding what we needed for our Shabbat and Yom Tov table didn't just mean going to a few different stores.  It meant going to three different countries.

In the land of milk and honey, finding just what you need for the holiday of Shavuot can be one-stop shopping, if you know where to shop.

We had a wonderful but too-brief visit to the Gush Etzion Farmers' Market, sponsored by Lone Tree Brewery and Ruti's Gallery.  (Nice lady.  No relation.)  Lone Tree Brewery's beer garden, located in the courtyard of Antman's Farm (opposite the Deer Park) in Gush Etzion, was the market's pleasant open-air venue.
    As promised in the advertising, there was an abundance of homemade delicacies, as well as hand-crafted art which was not just pretty, but wearable and usable, my favorite sorts of decorative delights.
We have been privileged to enjoy tastings of the newly-developed Lone Tree beer.  There are many flavors.  It is clear that the brew-masters are taking much care in handcrafting their little babies, and in promoting "the art of beer."
I did not have time to shop the herb booth; but I am looking forward to adding some of these beautiful herbs to my yard!

Ruti and her sons seemed to corner the market on herbs and pottery and interesting cheeses.  I have to admit that I don't just "drop by" gift shops, always assuming that they will be too expensive, and filled with luxuries.  I am glad Ruti brought her wares outside the shop, as there are many reasonably-priced and varied pieces of pottery and art and jewelry.  And Ruti assures me that shoppers are welcome, even if they are just coming by to see what's new.
Some of these cheeses helped to create "the best lasagna ever," according the Mizrachi Home Taste Testers.
There is something very special about tasting the honey developed from wild flowers that grow in the Holy Land...
Be'gdei Hemp makes beautifully woven garments to order.  Watch for the bass player of the Strung-Out Quartet to be wearing one of these hemp shirts in an upcoming gig...
Besides the wonderful products, watching the workers (and their tiny helpers) was part of the fun.  Here, the little guy is picking up (and adding to) the spirit of the family business.

It is good I picked up this rich and delicious chocolate cheesecake.  I didn't bake this year, as I had always thought the boys don't like cheesecake.  And how much cheesecake do the Major and I need to eat?  I was informed that a Shavuot without Ema's cheesecake is like a pancake without syrup -- but at least Violet's recipe kept everyone from grumbling too much.

This is another booth I look forward to looking over more carefully next time.  Lots of natural items for pampering the skin and adding sweet smells to the mansion flat.
Debra and I still can't pin down where we know each other from; but it will be worth further investigation, just to see more of her beautiful fabric art.  I need to remind the guys that my birthday is coming, and that turquoise is my favorite color...

I really hadn't planned on buying herring.  I'm the only person in the house who likes it.  There is nothing like an excellent piece of matjes herring to add a little je ne sais quoi to Shabbat morning, in my opinion.  But how much herring can one girl eat?  Mordechai Zucker persuaded me that joining his Kiddush Club would be a win-win situation.  A taste really did the convincing, though: the matjes herring was delicately salted, and not too oily.  A real pleasure!

Here is more delicate, hand-crafted beauty I hope to examine and enjoy in future Farmers' Market visits...

The artists seemed to enjoy each others' company as much as we enjoyed chatting with them.  It was really a heimish atmosphere!

Lovely and interesting hats for ladies...
And awarding-winning liqueurs for those who appreciate the sweeter things in life.

Real homemade delights for the Shabbat table, ready-to-eat!
My cyber-friend of many years made aliyah around the same time I did.  She immediately began to pop up all over the internet with classes teaching Israelis the health benefits of a 100% uncooked diet.  I tasted some of what she had on offer -- and was pleasantly surprised at the delicate and delightful taste.  Note to self:  Call Chana Rachel Mark, and learn a little more about Israel Gone Raw...

There were other booths I was too rushed to photograph, such as Holy Cacao Chocolate, Israel's Hebron-based "beans to bar" handmade chocolate company.  This firm produces the. best. chocolate. I have ever tasted.  (Fortunately, I did catch up with Mssrs. Zander and Stender earlier in the week for a Stender-birthday-moment photo at Malcha Mall.)

In case you didn't make it to the premier event (or wanted more time to enjoy), the Gush Etzion Farmers' Market returns in a month! Applications are being sought from vendors with fresh produce, crafts, kosher prepared foods and baked goods, jewelry, and more. Local vendors can contact Susan at susan_levin at or 054 234 5439.

The Victoria Day 268th edition of Haveil Havalim is available at The Rebbetzin's Husband!

 Yom Tov: Jewish holiday
Shavuot: "Feast of Weeks"
Heimish: [Yiddish] Warm and comfortable; homey; folksy