Monday, June 21, 2010

"Anachnu lomdim Ivrit b'yachad." *

Yom sheni, 9 Tamuz 5770.

One of the keys to surviving comfortably in Israel is spending time -- for some of us, a LOT of time -- in ulpan.

As in most families, there is a division of labor, to make the household run smoothly.  For instance, I learn Hebrew for us, and the Dearly Beloved earns the money to pay for the classes.  I benefit from his expenditure; and he benefits from the words and grammar I bring home.  Today, we had a real breakthrough, as I was gratified to see that he is grasping some of the lessons I have tried to impart.

I called him from the Tachana Merkazit (Central Bus Station) to explain why I was going to be late coming home.

"Your wife is a moron," I explained.  "I rode all the way to the Tachana Merkazit, forgetting to get off at the Klal Building so I could do our banking.  So I had to walk back."

Ever mindful of shoring up my self-esteem, he chided me.  "This is the second time today you have called yourself a moron," he said.  "You are not a moron."  He paused, to let his words sink in.  "You are a moronah.  In Hebrew, it would be 'moronah.'  Because you're a 'she.'"

As I pointed out in class today, the only way we can make it in Israel is to work as a team.

Thank you, Honey.

Take advantage of the free classes every oleh receives when you make aliyah.  By all means!  But when you are finished with that, and want to really "get" the language, deep in your kishkes, take as much Ulpan La-Inyan as you can afford.  It's more than worth it.  (Check into the options for taking courses before you make aliyah, as well!

* "We are learning Hebrew together."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"New moon, you left me standing alone..."

Yom rishon, 5 Tamuz 5770.

Because Israel is a tiny country, it is easier to know famous people personally  -- or at least to pass by them routinely in the street -- than it is in a vast country like the United States.

We are blessed to have an MK (Member of Knesset) living in our yishuv.  And he is blessed to have several security guards looking after him.

The guys who guard politicians in Israel don't look that much different than the guys I have seen in movies, which I assume is what sets the "type":  they are all physically fit specimens, without a lot of excess cranial hair, and little squiggly wires sneaking out of their ears and into their shirt collars.

But the guys in Israel are different, because they are mishpacha.

I walked by a couple of them on my way to visit a friend the other day, and overheard a few sentences of conversation.  No kipot, not particularly religious-looking -- these guys were debating a Rashi.  No kidding!

Tonight, the Dearly Beloved left shul after davening.  He walked past one of the MK's security guys on his way out the door.  The guard spoke to him in Hebrew, so it took a few seconds before my husband knew what he was suspected of.  Turns out, the guy was asking him, "Aren't they supposed to be doing Kiddush Levana now?"  The Dearly Beloved thanked him for the reminder, and waited outside until the rest of the congregation joined them for the ritual.
One of the nicest things about living in the Jewish homeland is that, more or less, the whole family is on the same page.  In ways that you just won't see in Washington DC -- and in ways the media sometimes forget to notice.

Yishuv: community
Mishpacha: family
Kipot: yarmulkes, skullcaps
Rashi: a famous Biblical and Talmudic commentator
Shul: synagogue
Davening: prayers
Kiddush Levana: monthly ceremony sanctifying the new moon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unity: The Peace of Strength and Valor

Yom chamishi, 5 Tamuz 5770.

Who started the silicone bracelet craze?

Gel or rubber or silicone bracelets have been popular since the 1980s.  Lance Armstrong was probably the most powerful force for the "charity bracelet" movement, when he used the medium to promote cancer awareness with his "Livestrong" campaign.  Since then, enterprising companies and individuals have used a variety of colors with or without molded slogans as interesting personal billboards.
 Never one to pass up a good idea, I decided to make my own statement.  Since late August of 2005, I have been wearing a bracelet combination in an effort to cause conversations about achdut (unity).

It seems to be working.  People of various ages and religious affiliations ask me about my bracelets.  For the most part, the discussions have been interesting and civil -- even when certain aspects of "the bracelets' story" bring up controversial opinions.

Here's the story.  I was part of the "orange camp" in the year leading up to the expulsion from Gush Katif.  From my safe little perch on my kitchen stool in Baltimore, I used to watch the internet news daily, following the unbelievable and heart-rending story of my people in our Land.  This is not the forum to rehash the history of those dark days -- and I don't want to depress myself.  Suffice it to say that Kleenex made a lot of money off of me that year, and the color orange became more than a fashion statement.  Meanwhile, the color blue -- which had always stood for Israel -- was adopted usurped by the pro-Disengagement crowd.

History lesson:  we lost.  We lost Gush Katif.  We lost another piece of Jewish and Israeli self-esteem.  Our humiliating sacrifice brought us not one step closer to peace in the Middle East.  And we took a big hit in the achdut department.

Immediately after Gush Katif, very loving people would no longer give rides to soldiers.  The "orange camp" and the "blue camp" were at each others' throats, even more than before.  There was a lot of pain, and a lot of blame.  However correct those in pain were about their stand, the rage and hurt didn't fix anything.  I was of the somewhat unpopular opinion that G-d said no.  Not because Gush Katif wasn't part of our yerusha (inheritance).  But for reasons of His own, that would take pages and pages to guess at -- and like questions about the Holocaust and dinosaurs, the guesses won't have any satisfactory answers till the End of Days.

After a family trauma, one has several behavioral options.  Blaming each other is a perennial favorite.  "If you had worked harder/prayed harder/fought harder..."  "If they or he or she would have done the right thing, this wouldn't have happened."  Diving to the bottom of the abyss, and refusing to rejoin humanity, is a good hiding place in the short term.  ("We will never forget -- and we will never forgive.")  But it has its obvious limitations in the long term.

Another choice is to pull more closely together.

I'm of the opinion (and I didn't invent it) that the single most important job of our generation of holy Yidden is to somehow give up our devotion to our differences, and instead to focus on the fact that we are family.  Hashem will not give us our Holy Temple -- no matter how many mitzvot we do, no matter how many marches or rallies we attend, perhaps no matter how many prayers we pray -- until we make nice with each other.

So I wear my orange bracelet, to remind myself "Eretz Yisrael l'Am Yisrael," that the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation of Israel.  I do not want to waver in that commitment.  The color orange also reminds me of the "Gush Katif refugees," who five years later are still suffering.  I have added a blue bracelet, to remind myself that my heart should remain firmly in the East (Israel), no matter how much pressure there is from the West -- and to love my fellow Jews who disagree with me or are uninformed about our heritage.  I wear a green bracelet as well, in support of all of our children who fight to defend this people in this land -- and as a reminder to myself that those young soldiers were given an unfair and untenable burden.  I don't blame them.  And I pray that they will never be so ill-used again.

I tie this trio together with a red bindle.  As it comes from a red thread that was wound seven times around Kever Rachel, it ties my heart to all things holy and Chasidic.  It reminds me to love the Chareidim, who are also my brothers.  Attached to the red thread is a bead of Sephardic derivation, for these holy Yidden are also my brothers.  I look forward to finding something to add from the Ethiopian and Bnei Menashe branches of my dear family...

An Israeli woman in slacks and a designer scarf began screaming at us in a crosswalk one day.  "What's so good about being a Jew?  What's so great about holding onto the whole land?"  (Apparently we were wearing a uniform that triggered something in her.)  I tried to think of how one responds to that much anger in the length of a crosswalk.  "I really love that scarf," was all I could think to say.  We parted with kind words and smiles.  I didn't change her mind, or fix her problems.  But I didn't make them worse.

Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, zt"l, said that to bring Moshiach, everyone should do teshuva (repentance) in the area of "veahavta l'reicha kamocha (and love your fellow as you love yourself)."

"The exalted peace we long for, the peace of strength and valor, is the peace where the seemingly opposing powers within our nation are united, where all forces and ideologies are recognized as being the words of the Living G-d." -- Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

To make a contribution toward ending the lingering pain of Gush Katif, please visit Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon's worthy JobKatif project, which is working to assist the many remaining refugees to get back up on their feet.

Baltimore mishpacha:  Here is a very good article to refresh your memories and to update you by our own Kenneth Lasson:  Five Years Later: Gaza's Former Jewish Settlers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hot off the press: "Ki Yachol Nuchal!" boycotts YouTube, switches to "WeJew " and "12 Tribe Films"

Yom rishon, 1 Tamuz 5770, Rosh Chodesh.  Happy Birthday, Rabbi G.

This blog is usually about the fun, exciting and happy things that happen to family and friends in Israel.  After all, there are plenty of sources to tell you everything that is difficult about living in Israel.  There are even several sources dedicated to "educating" you about how evil Israel is.  ("We don't hate Jews.  We just hate Israel."  Yeah.  Right.)

But today, it seems only fair to join the small chorus of voices pointing out that YouTube, everyone's favorite site for downloading videos, has once again bowed to pressure to hold Israel to a different standard regarding copyright laws, freedom of speech, and the Fair Use Doctrine.  (Since the attack was on Caroline Glick's Latma TV parody, "We Con the World," I link to her article explaining what took place.  Briefly, she describes the detailed efforts made by Latma TV to ensure that all laws were followed; and her commenters point out that several other parodies have been made of the original version, without being banned for the copyright infringement reasons cited by YouTube.  Worth a read.)

Over the years, I have become increasingly aware that Hashem seems to be offering every human being a choice.  To paraphrase what I perceive the Almighty to be saying:  "You're either with Me, or agin Me."  There used to be confusing gray areas.  Now, it seems that choices are becoming so clear, we are almost living a parody of ourselves.

It would be unthinkable to American sensibilities for any nation in the world to have its babies and grandmothers blown up while eating ice cream -- except that when it happened in Israel, many people could rationalize it.  A pregnant woman and her four small daughters being shot at point-blank range would not be an acceptable protest anywhere in the world -- but when it happened in Israel, there were deeply caring people in the world who said that it was the pregnant "settler" who was to blame.  When the IDF has defended its country from attack, its soldiers and officers have been threatened with being tried for war crimes.  And so on.

My small protest will be to begin featuring our own home-grown video services instead.  WeJew, founded by Shlomo Wollins, is one source.  Another is 12 Tribe Films, created by Avi Abelow of Home Game fame.  I have been aware of these sites for some time, and have waited for them to "grow up" and shake out their developmental glitches.  They are both excellent video sharing resources.  I encourage Am Yisrael to take advantage of services that won't bow to pressure to exclude a pro-Israel voice.  By all means, check out both sites' now-extensive libraries of excellent historical and modern videos.

Here again is Caroline Glick's parody, We Con the World.  (As stated in comment from Shlomo Wollins:  "Youtube has BANNED this video for copyright infringement - which stretches their editorial credibility beyond belief - feel free to spread this link - as the critical video has become one of Israel's best PR responses to the flotilla.")

Even though Rabbi Tarfon is speaking about the study of Torah in this Pirke Avot quote, Jews traditionally bring it to mind for issues of social consciousness has well:  "You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it."  This blog must speak out.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer 2010 Coming Attractions

Yom chamishi, 28 Sivan 5770.

You've got to admit it.  This is really good.

Hat tip: Josh Sussman

I expect the buzz phrase of 2010 to be "in eight years, they've only lost two bags."

I plan to be in the crowd for the July 7 showing.  Hope to see you there -- at least in spirit.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"You make us strong."

Yom shlishi, 26 Sivan 5770.
Three beautiful chayalim greet us with smiles and stories.
They are young and beautiful children.  They are out on the streets at night, in some pretty lousy neighborhoods.  Some of them don't have homes to go to after hours.

Happily, they are not "lost children" or "off the derech kids."

They are the young men and women in uniform, who watch our highways, putting themselves in constant danger so that we can travel and live and sleep safely.

Of course, many of them are from families that have lived in Israel for generations.  ("I'm from Haifa; but my grandfather came from Syria."  "My family is here already seven generations, from Morocco.")

But many of them are olim, just like we are.  They are from Canada and Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  Some of them are here without their families -- and perhaps Standing Together is even more important to them.

According to its mission statement, Standing Together is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Israeli soldiers on active duty, and is funded totally by donations from concerned Jews throughout the world. It is a voluntary organization with no offices, almost no employees and no expense accounts.

The Dearly Beloved and I had the privilege of joining a small band of volunteers, lead by the founder of Standing Together, David Landau.  When we should have been heading off to sleep (and when many of the soldiers' contemporaries might just be starting up the night's entertainment), we drove out to some of the area machsomim (checkpoints) to visit our heroes.
Their families live not far from each other.  "Did you know each other before the army?"  "No -- we met here.  But we feel like we knew each other since we were born.  We are brothers.  The army makes you feel that way."

We gave them stickers with "love notes" on them.  "Give me more stickers!  The more, the better!"
The sticker says: "Dear Soldier!  Jews all over the world value and appreciate the holy service that you and your comrades do on behalf of the Nation of Israel.  All of us "stand together"!!  We will be happy to hear from you..."
We gave them ice cream and Elite candy bars from David's special refrigerator truck.  (In the winter, he and his volunteers make warm pizza and hot coffee available, among other delights.)  They gave us back the most beautiful smiles.
I have had the pleasure of going out on a couple of these missions since we have been in Israel.  Each time, my heart is moved by the beauty of these kids, their sweetness, their devotion, and their gratitude.  Every time we would thank them, they would thank us ten times more.  "You make us strong," one soldier said.

It's enough to make a mama weep.

My new friend (and also a neighbor!), Chaya Mandelcorn, writes for Makor Rishon newspaper.  She also couldn't stop smiling, and told stories of her mother.  "She would walk around hugging every one of them if she were here!" she said.  "It would catch them off-guard -- but they would love it!"
If you live here, give yourself the treat of spending a few minutes with a holy Israeli soldier.  As you expect, you will go with the intention of strengthening the soldiers.  As you also know, you will walk away strengthened by them.  This is especially good therapy if you worry that you're not doing enough, or if you're a little depressed, and want someone to lift your spirits.

If you still live abroad, think about arranging a mission with David and Standing Together when you are in Israel.  Nothing makes you feel more like part of the Jewish story than being permitted to participate, rather than just being a tourist.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A week in The Life

Yom rishon, 24 Sivan 5770.
The Kinneret, showing off a higher water level than in years past

Last week was a powerful week, full of individual gifts for each member of Chez Mizrachi.

 We spent time with friends, welcomed new olim, attended a military tekes, celebrated an anniversary, witnessed change and development, and watched the world behave with increasing weirdness toward our tiny little country.  (I am always amazed that no matter when I switch on the BBC -- for the purpose of being lulled to sleep quickly -- the top story is ALWAYS about Israel.  I wonder if Luxembourg is jealous.  Nah -- probably not.  Maybe if the BBC ever has anything nice to say about us...)

On Yom Rishon, there was the tiyul with my ulpan to Givat HaTachmoshet.

On Yom Sheni, while I was meeting with my friend Adi Brito, here from Baltimore to take care of her dear father, I got a great phone call from Yeshiva Bochur:  "Ema, I'm the last Eastman to make aliyah!"  Baruch Hashem!  After a year-long struggle, my son is a citizen of Israel.
Aryeh, to his brother:  "DUDE!  Nobody else in the WORLD could take a year to make aliyah!"

"Shut up and smile for the camera.  Do I tell people how long it takes for you to clean your ROOM?  We're talking months here, people."
On Yom Shlishi, we attempted to meet new olim at Ben Gurion, but ended up having to greet them by email.  But since we were already in Tel Aviv, it seemed worthwhile to go the extra distance to visit our dear son, Stunt Man, at his military ceremony for moving up to a new level in Basic Training.
"Now I'm no longer lower than bovine excreta.  I have reached the new level of -- bovine excreta."

Yes, Baltimore people -- that's a Verschleisser on Aryeh's right.
It was our 25th wedding anniversary; so the Dearly Beloved took me out to dinner.

(It was a little hard to find a kosher restaurant in the Haifa train station.)  Later, when we were on our way home, we found a terrific little eatery near the Tiveria bus depot.  It may have been near-starvation that made the food taste so good -- or it could have been that the pargiot and veal kebabs were spiced to perfection.
When we got home, we exchanged gifts.  Since it was the Silver Anniversary, Benzi's got some more business.

And because he gives to everyone else, and hardly ever tells anyone what he might want, the Dearly Beloved got a present hand-made by Be'gdei Hemp.

Don't you just WANT to be a settler, when you can look this good?
In the course of the week, we saw pictures of our Soldier Boy (the First)'s new truck, purchased for his landscaping and hauling business.  Way to go, Josh.  You're keeping the family tradition:  your father's father, and his father before him, were in the hauling business.  (Baltimore folk are welcome to call him at the number on the side of the truck.  Hey!  A mother's gotta look out for her grandchildren!)

And we coped, as best we could, with the end of an era, as Sports Guy's hand-made Gush Katif kipah bit the dust, and he decided it's time to "wear a normal kipah."  (Sorry, Devra.)

Stunt Man (aka Soldier Boy the Second) poses with a sleepy Sports Guy, to illustrate that the Orange has moved on.  Note black, barely-visible kipah on Sports Guy's head.  How will we find him in a crowd?
Last but not least, the brilliant Caroline Glick put together a video using humor to teach the Israeli perspective on the Great Flotilla Debacle.  [At the initial posting, I could show you this video here.  However, under pressure, YouTube has since pulled it.  So now, hop on over to Eye on the World to view the Live Leak copy.  The freedom of speech laws are a little harder for Israel to access, even when she carefully follows the Fair Use Doctrine.]

And I don't even see a point in making more than a passing mention of Helen Thomas...

All in all, a totally not-boring week at Casa Mizrachi. Looking forward to whatever new adventures are in store!  (Are YOU coming to Israel soon?  Come to see us.  You will add to the light!)

Olim: immigrants to Israel
Tekes: ceremony
Kinneret: Sea of Galilee
Yom Rishon: Day One (Sunday) -- the days of the week are called numerically, in their progress toward the Sabbath
Tiyul: day hike
Ulpan: intensive Hebrew-language immersion class
Givat HaTachmoshet: Ammunition Hill
Bovine Excreta: look it up, unless you're in the military, in which case you will understand by implication, and wonder why I'm using such big words for such basic ----
Pargiot: chicken thighs, prepared here, like so much in Israel, "al ha-aish," on the grill

Friday, June 4, 2010

Join Standing Together to Thank Our Soldiers!

Yom shishi, 22 Sivan 5770.

The Twelve Spies by Oleg Trabish (Thank you, Nechama.)

I want to tell you more about this amazing week -- but just for the moment I want to share with my fellow Neve Daniel citizens some news.

Standing Together will be heading out to thank our holy chayalim on Sunday night (yom sheni).  We will meet at the main gate of Neve Daniel at 22:00 (10 PM).  Chaya Mandelcorn of Makor Rishon newspaper will be there to hear what we have to say about what motivates us to go out in support of our boys and girls in uniform.  (If anyone needs a ride, please email and they will see what they can arrange.)

This week's parsha, Shelach Lecha, has my favorite pasuk in the whole Torah.  I wonder if you can guess which one it is.

Shabbat shalom u'mevorach!