Thursday, July 28, 2011

Choices Made

Yom chamishi, 26 Tamuz 5771.

“The end result of your life here on earth will always be the sum total of the choices you made while you were here.” ~ Dr. Shad Helmstetter
Since I didn't leave my chair, this is someone else's photo.

Last night, I sat with the Dearly Beloved on our patio, and watched the fog give us a peek-a-boo show of the stars, as angels sang.  I know -- you think I'm being poetic here -- but angels really were singing.  The young ladies in the landlord's house upstairs use their home for choir practice on Wednesday nights; and the girls are getting really good together!  We don't know how many voices are in this choir...  but they truly sound angelic, especially as their blended voices float down to us from above, keeping perfect time with the drifting clouds.  The wind was strong enough that I needed a blanket.  It was cool and perfect.

This morning, I am gazing in awe as the clouds above the Mediterranean Sea pile themselves up like distant mountains.  The coffee is good; the air is cool and slightly breezy.  Light plays on the fields beyond our small town.

Later today, it will get hot, of course.  The air will become still; and these lovely Jerusalem stone walls will absorb more and more heat, until the afternoon is unbearably sweltering somewhat challenging.

I grew up in small towns.  People knew each other well, borrowed easily from one another, watched each other's kids in the streets.

I always wanted to return to that life, to raise my kids with that simple lack of city sophistication.

This was not to be, as to be an observant Jew in America usually requires trappings found only in big cities.  I say "usually" because I have known rare individuals who had the learning and strength to bring their children up in the Torah in small towns in America.  But they all had "Rabbi" in front of their names.  I know we could not have done that.  We needed Jewish day schools and kosher butchers and lots of people who were "on the same page."  For the most part, that and small town life don't happen outside Israel.

Stunt Man
Even though this was my dream for the 16 formative years of my sons' lives, we couldn't make it happen.  And I have to trust that Hashem wanted my boys to get the life lessons they acquired in the mean streets of the city.  They grew tough fighting gangs who wanted to take their bikes, their money, their candy, and at one point, even a life.  (Thank G-d they were stopped by other good and decent city dwellers!)  My boys have a jadedness level of sophistication that wrestles with the insular Torah image I had set in my mind when we started this journey into religion.

Yeshiva Bochur
 But I trust in Hashem's wisdom; so I look for the good in what has transpired against my will.  My sons are strong and fierce warriors, which makes them good soldiers.  The Torah they learned teaches them justice tempered with sweetness.  They are exactly the sort that Israel needs defending her from destruction.  I long for the day when all of that worldliness is reserved only for the football field and computer games.  But in the meantime, I can see purpose to our lives spent in an American city.
Soldier Boy
Later today, I might hop a bus to the holiest City in the world to purchase a few items for Shabbat.  I might walk over to the makolet, our little "corner grocery" a few blocks away.  I'll joke with Shulamit about air conditioning as she smiles behind the cash register, telling us she's counting the hours until Shabbat.  Someone on the local "chat list" will ask for a cup of sugar, a baseball mitt for a small boy (his was left in a tremp, and we won't get it back for a few days), directions to Har Homa.  I'll race along with several other citizens of Cyberspace to try to be the first to help.  I'll listen to the kids playing in the streets; and when I pass them, a few of them will greet me first.  A couple of them will give me a message for "Coach."
Sports Guy
I'll go to work and kvetch about the heat.  I'll lament that I never get make time to clean my apartment.  I'll wish the bank balance had a little more muscle.  The news will bother me just as much as it bothers you.

And tonight, I'll sit on my patio in the open air, watching the clouds with my husband.

May we share good news, and happy times.  Come and visit.  There's room on the patio for more chairs.

This post produced and bottled by Eastman©, inspired by Treppenwitz.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Food Network star, just waiting to be discovered

Yom chamishi, 26 Tamuz 5771.
I finally had the privilege of meeting Miryummy at a recent food-bloggers event here in Gush Etzion.  How does a non-food-blogger get invited to a gig like this, you may ask?  Protexia, my friend.  Vitamin P.  The most important tool for survival in Israel.  (Write that down.  There will be a quiz later.)  Stay tuned for more about this delightful event, after I finish looking over the notes of the real food bloggers.

Miryummy and I "met" some time ago in Cyberspace, and enjoyed each other's stories and writing styles.  As much as I enjoyed the event, meeting my "old friend" was one of my favorite parts.  Please let me share her, the very interesting story of who she is, and her wonderful blog with you.

Introduce yourself.  Who are you, what are you, why are you?
I don't know who I was when I was born, but one cold November afternoon in Mount Sinai Hospital on Fifth Avenue I was given to my parents, childless Holocaust survivors.  My father had lost his children to the Final Solution, my mother had her childbearing opportunities literally ripped from her, and on that day I became Mirjam, pronounced MirYAM.  My father called me Miroosh, my mother called me Miraleh.  My friends' nickname for me is Mirj (merge) and my husband, when he's not busy calling me "My sweet, my love, my cherub," calls me Miriyummy.  I am a second generation Holocaust survivor who has been put on this world to boost my husband's ego, to embarrass my children and to make people feel good by feeding them.

Where do you live, and why?
I live in Ra'anana, a city that claims (probably rightly so) to have the highest quality of life in Israel.  I don't live here by choice.  My choice would be to live somewhere in the area of Jerusalem, enjoying dry summer days and brisk summer nights.  Instead, I live in the sauna that is Ra'anana because that is where my husband lives.  He lived in Ra'anana and I lived in Givat Ze'ev, one of those mountaintop settlements surrounding Jerusalem.  He couldn't move to my mountain, so I moved to his sauna.

What is your family like?
We're a blended family.  My husband has 4 children, I have 4 children.  Ever see The Brady Bunch?  We're nothing like that.  I have a blog called Miriyummy ( where I discuss the family, and even have a page that explains the entire tribe, my own Guide to the Perplexed (

What is your relationship with food?  Do you like to cook?
I have a love/love relationship with food.  My mother taught me that cooking and eating (and feeding) is an enjoyable experience.  I love to cook, it relaxes me, makes me feel creative.  The only time I don't enjoy it is when I'm rushed, usually on Friday afternoon right before Shabbat.  I do not do well in Headless Chicken mode. 
Miriyummy in headless chicken mode?
What is your first food-related memory?
My first memories are an amalgam of smells and sounds coming from the kitchen where I played while my mother cooked.  I remember lying over coloring books on the kitchen floor listening to an accompaniment of my mother chopping liver in a wooden bowl while the aroma of shmaltz rendering on the stove filled the air.

How would you describe yourself in the kitchen?  As a hostess?
My mother had two descriptions for me as a cook.  She always marveled at the fact that I am a fast cook.  I move about the kitchen quickly, close to the speed of light, rummaging in my spice drawer one moment, rinsing some tomatoes an instant later, grabbing eggs out of the refrigerator so quickly I drop one and the dog gets a treat as he licks up the yolk from the floor.  The other way my mother described how I cook is that I cook for the six million.  If there are ten of us sitting down to dinner I will cook enough for 24.  This drives my husband insane.  He's a wonderful cook in his own right, but he prides himself on cooking enough for everyone, and just enough.  My cooking for the masses spills over into my hostessing, I love to entertain, love to have people sitting around my table rolling their eyes in ecstacy (or sarcasm) over my food.  I would rather inundate you, stuff you, overwhelm you with food than leave you wanting more.  This is something I inherited from my mother.  In the Holocaust she had to do without, so she made sure that we never had the chance to be hungry, ever.

What is your favorite comfort food and why?
Macaroni and cheese, in all its permutations.  I love the Eastern European flat egg noodles with cottage cheese and sugar and cinnamon just as much as I love the elbow macaroni smothered in a cheddar cheese sauce.  Why?  Carbs, cheese, gooeyness, all the ingredients to make me feel good (at least for the moment).

Desert island picks, name three foods you could not live without:
Coffee, chocolate and sushi, my drugs of choice. [Oh, I can't wait to make sushi for/with you, Mirj!]

Now I know how to lure you here for a visit!  (Besides:  dry mountain air, no humidity, cool breezes from the Med...)
Is there any food you hate?  Why?
I hate, despise and loathe passion fruit.  [One of my favorite fruits, and absolutely my favorite flower.]  As far as I'm concerned it looks, smells and tastes like alien vomit.  Don't ask me how I know what alien vomit tastes like.  [Ooo-KAAAAY.  Guess we won't be serving my favorite fruit.  Fine.  Thanks for sharing.]

What is your favorite Miriyummy post and why?
My all-time favorite (so far) is I Am Not Everybody (  [I love this post.]  I may not be the genetic production of my parents, but I am who they made me.  A close second is Barge Pole (  My motto in life is Man plans, God laughs, and that post shows just how much this philosphy follows me throughout life.

Do you have a food-related story you would like to share?
I have so many of these stories that I started blogging them in Miriyummy (  Little did my husband know that when he gave me my nickname it was going to brand me.

Recommendation:  When you want a recipe, check Miriyummy before you go to Google.  You'll get more than a recipe.  You'll get a story, a slice of life, a laugh or a good cry.  And you just may make a friend.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!"

Yom shishi, 20 Tamuz 5771.

I mentioned on Shiv'a Asar b'Tamuz that I had a friend who was feeling literally rejected by the people around her, simply because they would not smile at her, nor respond to her greeting of "Shabbat shalom."

Since then, I have heard other stories that cause me much pain, from around Israel and outside Israel.
  • A young newlywed I know tells me she will never become religious.  "I went to an Orthodox shul a few times, to try to learn about Judaism.  I had stopped wearing pants; but I couldn't get used to the idea of covering my hair.  I asked the way to the women's section.  A man in a big black velvet yarmulke looked at my hair, and said 'You're probably the type who is more comfortable sitting next to her husband in shul.'"  Clearly, he judged her by what was not on her head, just as I find myself judging him by what was on his.
  • A rabbi gives a shiur on a controversial subject.  Only a handful of people bother to show up.  As they are all Anglos, and one elderly woman has trouble understanding Hebrew, the rabbi chooses to break his usual pattern, and give the lesson in English.  Fifteen minutes into his lecture, a native Israeli (who is fluent in both languages, and who also disagrees with the rabbi's stand on the issue under discussion), walks in, and demands that the shiur be given in Hebrew, since we're all in Israel.
  • A boy asks a philosophical question in class; and his rebbi -- followed by the students -- laughs at him.  The boy resolves never again to ask another question, because his questions are stupid.  It takes him years to develop self-confidence.  He still lacks confidence in the Torah educational system -- because of one moment and one rabbi.
There are many more stories like these; but my objective in writing them here is not to tell titillating tales about my people's failings.  The stories are meant to shake us up, to shake me up!  To remind us to listen to ourselves, to look at ourselves.

Do I get so wrapped up in my own thoughts and worries, or in a call on a cell phone, that I fail to notice the Jew passing by long enough to smile?

Do I decide that someone is "less Jewish" because of how she is dressed?  Is she somehow less worthy of dan l'chaf zechut, or at least of me guarding my tongue, than someone who has mastered wearing "the uniform"?

Do I sometimes forget that I represent Torah, and must think before I speak, lest I cause a Jew to think badly of people who "know more Torah"?

Do I show rabbis the respect that they are due?  Am I careful to criticize an opinion with respect, and never the person?

Do I remember to look around me at all of the people in the room, and think of what their needs might be?  Or do I only concentrate on my own needs?

Do I remember to make bridges between Jews?  Or do I carelessly, flippantly, put stones in the walls between us?

Do I encourage people to speak?  Or do I spend too much time filling the airwaves with my own words?

Do I pursue truth?  Or do I only spout platitudes or verses that others have stated before me, without thoughtful analysis? 

Do I listen to the searching question of a child or a ba'al tshuva or a friend with my whole self, or only with my ears, waiting for an opportunity to show them how much more I know than they (chas v'shalom)?

The world is in a terrible crisis right now.  We are all lost, alone, frightened, desperately needful of acceptance from each other.

I cannot say that by smiling at every random Jew I meet on the street I will save the lives of my friends who are suffering life-threatening illnesses, or that the answer will come from listening patiently or doing a kindness or living in Israel (for anyone who thinks that is the answer) or doing more mitzvot more diligently (for anyone who thinks G-d is mad at us for lacking attentiveness to His laws).

But Torah and our Sages -- both ancient and modern -- stress the need for kindness to each other.  We cannot know the mind of G-d.  I have a hard time relating to G-d as a King, or as something fear-inspiring.  (I'm working on it...)  But I can begin to relate to G-d Our Father, from my standpoint as a parent.

When my children are mean to one another, it enrages me.  I come as close as possible to "losing it," when they are hurtful to each other.

But when my children are kind to each other, when they "cover" for each other or help each other -- I can forgive them any slight against me.  

I think Hashem must be like this toward us.  While we must certainly do His mitzvot to the very best of our ability, while it is a shandeh if we ignore His gift of this holy and amazing Land, I cannot help but think that wherever we are in the world, treating each other much, much better than we do now might cause Him to change how nature and nations are treating us.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of fasting for the Churban.  I'm tired of watching the world crumbling around me.  Most of all, I'm tired of saying goodbye to friends, and fearing more goodbyes.

I'm going to smile more, listen more closely, think about the wisdom of my words before I say them.  Please help me.


Stella's Sunrise (taken on an early walk with my friend)
I have found that it's easier to daven with kavana for people when I know them.  Please feel free to get to know my friend Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara in this lovely interview, posted at her husband Yarden's blog Crossing the Yarden.  I think you will love her as much as I do.  And that can only help your davening, and help to save the world.

Shiv'a Asar b'Tamuz: the 17th of Tamuz: a fast day commemorating the Destruction of the Temple
Shiur: lesson (esp. in Torah studies)
Dan l'chaf zechut: the commandment to judge favorably
Ba'al tshuva: individual becoming more religious
Chas v'shalom: Heaven forbid
Mitzvot: commandments, good deeds
Shandeh: a shame [Yiddish]
Churban: destruction of the Holy Temple in 586 BCE

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"May the death of this boy mark the end of all anguish..."

Yom shlishi, 17 Tamuz 5771, the fast 17th of Tamuz.

At Leiby Kletzky's funeral - photo credit: Reuters

So we had the usual pre-fast discussion.

"I dunno," my friend said.  "I just can't feel it.  The Churban is so long ago...  even the Holocaust is so far away in history.  It's hard to get into the spirit of Shiv'a Asar b'Tamuz and Tisha b'Av."

I thought about what Rebbetzin Malky Friedman had said on Sunday morning, at her Derech Hashem shiur, when one young lady brought up that same point.

"Rebbetzin, I need your help," she said.  She was very sweet, expecting her first child in a few weeks.  Incredibly young.  "I just don't understand how we are supposed to mourn the destruction of the Temple.  I can't feel sad.  I just feel hungry, and annoyed about having to fast."

The rebbetzin answered her sensitively but straightforwardly.  "We don't have to go back to the Temple, or even to the Holocaust.  We only have to go back to last week."  After a discreet silence, during which we all "touched base" with that part of ourselves that could deal with Leiby Kletzky's murder, Rebbetzin Malky continued softly.

"We have reached the very lowest level of the Churban," she said.  "The Churban [the destruction of the Holy Temple in 586 BCE] has manifested throughout history, every time there was a destruction of Jewish lives.  But they were all done by other people to Jews.  This is the first time that Jews have had to be afraid of Jews."

I didn't think it was politic or necessary in that setting to bring up Gush Katif.  And thank G-d and Jewish nature, no one was killed there, in spite of a world press that sat licking its collective lips, waiting for that very event.  Besides, as bad as Gush Katif was, this was infinitely worse.  We can make the excuse that the murderer is deranged.  But he is a Jew.  He wears a kipa.  He was part of an insular, trusting community.

And they can no longer trust their own, because of him, because of this one incident.

"We need to feel the pain of this, because this IS the Churban," the rebbetzin reiterated.  And she is right.  Every terrible thing we experience -- terrorism, wanton murder, terrible diseases -- all of these horrors would not be possible if our Temple were standing.

(I think of events close to home, and my heart screams.  "End the Galut now!  Right NOW!")

Rebbetzin Malky left us not without hope, but with responsibility.

"Now people in that community tell me that they have changed the guidance they give to their children.  It used to be 'If you're lost, ask a Yid for directions.'  Now the parents tell their children, 'If you're lost, don't ask a man.  Not even a Tatty.  Ask a Mommy.'  We women have the same responsibility we have always had throughout Jewish history.  We have to bring the Geula.  We can and will bring the Moshiach, b'mheira v'yameinu [speedily and in our days]."

The rebbetzin then explained what we already knew.  Love your fellow Jew.  (As I looked around the table at the mix of women -- Chareidi, Dati-Leumi, very discreet about religious preference -- I saw that a microcosm of the Jewish family was listening to her words, and looking around the table with me.)  Choose a mitzvah.  (She recommended the Grace After Meals.)  Be present when you do it.  But mostly -- love your fellow Jew.

There are women right in my yishuv (and in your community, as well) who feel great pain at feeling a lack of acceptance from their fellow Jews.  Each woman is sure that it is because the other sees something lacking in her.  I am sure that it is because -- though each and every one of us desperately needs validation by our fellow human beings -- they are too caught up in their own dramas to even see the poor woman and her pain.  No one is truly trying to hurt his or her fellow Jew.  But our task is to not merely avoid causing hurt.  We have to seek out opportunities to validate, to give a compliment or a smile.  Even a smile.

Or we can take the path of the "familiar rut," the practices and habits of a lifetime, our smiles reserved for family and dear friends, our compliments reserved for "special" moments and people.  And there will be more and more tragedies, until we get it.

Feel the pain.  It will fuel us for the work we have to do.

"May the death of this boy mark the end of all anguish...": taken from a prayer that may be said in the house of mourning
Churban: Destruction of the First Temple (but also referring to the Second Temple's destruction)
Shiv'a Asara b'Tamuz; Tisha b'Av: fasts commemorating the Churban
Derech Hashem: The Way of G-d; Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto's book on basic principles of Jewish belief
Galut: Exile, both in physical and spiritual terms
Geula: Redemption
Yishuv: community

Powerful articles that helped me to focus on turning from this evil by doing good can be found here and here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Yom shlishi, 10 Tamuz 5771.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my spinning buddies and I started swapping information about our visits to the doctor.  She was having stomach trouble.  I was having headaches.

We had a few tests.  She had PT scans.  I had CT scans.  We joked when we met on our bikes that we had to be sure she had no pets running around in her stomach, and that I had no cats running around in my head.

Every morning we have a chat over a virtual cup of coffee.   (Yes, I know we just live down the street from each other.  But we never got into the habit of meeting for a cup of coffee -- and starting because of our health concerns would have seemed like artificial sweetener.)

This morning we sent each other off to get results from our respective physicians.  We "tough biker broads," as we've started calling ourselves, planned to reconnoiter later to share good news.

Our husbands have been waiting nervously on the sidelines.

I have some sort of "jumpy vein" thing which is not a big deal, apparently.  We'll have to figure out what the cause is.  Do I need to take some sort of muscle relaxant to finally get a good night's sleep again, after two months without?  Or should I buy an expensive, specially-contoured pillow?  Do I need dental work?  Who knows.  All I know is that my husband can stop worrying about aneurysms and other scarier stuff.  I was feeling pretty cheerful, until I got home to read my friend's husband's blog, where he has been posting to their many anxious friends about her status.

My friend has inoperable stomach cancer.

Who took all the air out of the world all of a sudden?

First come the questions.  Some are existential.  Some are silly.  Some are practical.  Why do really mean people hang around the planet sucking Tums to ease their justifiably cranky tummies, and nice, sweet people filled with light and goodness struggle for their very lives?  Do I have the right for my morning shmoozes with my friend, now that I'm not in the club anymore?  What of substance can we do?

The first question is unanswerable until the Moshiach comes.  The second is just the yetzer hara, trying to make it all about me.  I'll have to cope with my own survivor guilt, as I have had to many times as friends I love had struggled.  The third is answered by our tradition, by common sense, and by the family themselves.

Our tradition teaches us that G-d does listen.  We will pray for her complete recovery, for the new advances in cancer research to be in place in time for her, for her family's strength.

We will listen when they choose to talk, not treating them like lepers, but not driving them crazy with our need for solace.  We will use the avenues that they have offered for coordinating assistance that they may need as we fight this fight together.

I will keep "dinging" my friend once in a while in the morning to talk about LIFE.  Because no matter how afraid cancer makes all of us, my friend is very much in life, and living, and loving.  When I see her, we'll talk about the kids and make jokes about exercise and discuss the myriad other things we both care about.

A good friend struggling with this disease once said to her friends:  "Don't give me the 'sad, droopy eyes look.'  I don't need you to bury me yet.  Let's share our lives together!"

Please daven for a refua shelaima for Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara.  May we share good news!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eine Kleine Book Burning

Yom sheni, 9 Tamuz 5771.

Photo taken from Wikiality post on book burning
Almost everyone who had a TV growing up can remember an episode of a program that profoundly affected his life.

When I was a kid, there was a Hall of Fame or something like that about a town that went a little crazy over book burning.  The climactic scene took place in the local church or the town hall.  As everyone gathered for a final Blitzkrieg against freedom of the press, one man stood and read passages from a book to his frenzied audience.  The events he read out of context were so terrible -- passages that detailed violent murder, rape and horrific treatment of captured enemies -- that people in the meeting place were crying out, covering their children's ears, and in general getting worked up to burn. that. book.
Book burning in Nazi Germany - photo from Wikipedia
The book was the Bible.

Of course, the story ends with the upstanding Christians in the town coming back to their senses, and deciding to put the home fires out before it was too late.

I am not one of those who will defend the guy who cries "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  I think purveyors of child porn should have things done to them that should not appear in a family-friendly blog.  In other words, my boundaries for freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the same as they are for most normal people.

But that program ingrained in me the need to read before I freak.  It is very important to me to try not to take what is said in a news interview at face value, as I know that Mister Editor can cut and splice his way to making the interviewee state clearly and with full conviction that he daily eats bits of his grandmother on toast, and has done for years.  This is not to say that I don't occasionally have fun with what appears on the news.  But making true judgment takes more information than one thirty-second sound byte.

This is even more necessary in the case of passages taken out of context from a book.  Not only is it important to know who is quoting from the text and to try to think about what his motivations might be.  It is also important before jumping on an "anti" bandwagon to read the book.
Book burning in Pakistan - photo from Reuters

I am not going to read Torat Hamelech.  I am assuming it is in Hebrew (which is not my language of  clear judgment).  It is a scholarly tome, meant to be studied in yeshiva by earnest young men who discuss and argue passionately every passage.  Because I will not read it, I do not think that I am qualified to judge it based on a passage quoted here and there in the press, by people who may not have the Torah's interests at heart.

It seems from several stories I have heard and read, trying to collect enough data to have an opinion on the matter, that most of the people pontificating on this book have not read it either, and are basing their judgments on the time honored journalist method of "he said she said," flavored with a predisposition toward wanting to stone those radical "settler" rabbis.  (For a little more detail on this viewpoint, see David Bedein's op-ed piece here:  Sadly, several Torah Jews seem to care more about showing the world how rational they are than about finding out what the text actually has to say before they speak out against it.

Hello, people!  It's Tamuz.

With all of the fire Israel and the Jewish people must constantly take these days, perhaps at least among ourselves we could read the text inside before we burn the rabbis with the book.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Unity: The Peace of Strength and Valor, Take Two

Yom chamishi, 5 Tamuz 5771.

Someone reminded me that sometimes a repost is appropriate.  As we move into the difficult days of Tamuz and Av, I am reminded that there is only one way out alive.  "Veahavta l'reicha kamocha." 

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.
In zechut of Stella's war against that C monster.
 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 six 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, written last year:  Five Years Later: Gaza's Former Jewish Settlers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How much can you buy with a hundred shek?

Yom sheni, 2 Tamuz 5771.

As it was the first Sunday of summer vacation, the bus was typically very full.  Soldiers, giggling girls, mothers shlepping several little ones.  I sat down next to a young female soldier who was busy texting.  (I wish I could type that fast with just my thumbs!)

At every stop, the seats filled up, until eventually a young mother sat down on the steps with two small children.  I looked back to where they sat behind me, and noticed a hundred shekel bill on the floor near them.

I picked it up, and offered it to the mother.  She said it was not hers.  No one near her claimed it either.  As it was folded the way I fold my own, I checked my purse to be sure that it was not mine.  My bill was folded right where I had left it.  So, I got up and walked to the back of the bus, trying to remember who had boarded after me.

I offered the bill to everyone as I made my way through the bus.  A young solider in the back row of seats turned to his seat mate and said with exaggerated surprise, "Ohhhhhh, you remember that hundred shek bill I dropped earlier?" Even though I knew he was playing, I held the bill out to him; but he laughingly refused it.  "Staaaam!  Just kidding."

I went back to my seat.  I asked the soldier next to me to remind me of the grammar:  "How do I say "dropped" in Hebrew?"  She quickly went through a short lesson in Hebrew grammar, working out with me if I wanted a passive verb, or an active past tense verb.  (Everyone in Israel seems ready to be a teacher, if I ask.)

I walked up and gave the bill to the bus driver, explaining that someone had dropped it.  Thanks to my soldier-teacher, he understood me, and took the bill.  Of course I cannot know what became of it after that.  Did someone come forward, grateful that money was not lost after all?  Did the bus driver pocket it, turn it into lost and found, drop it into a pushke?  I don't know, and I don't especially care.

Right now, the value of a hundred shekel bill is close to $30.  If the behavior on the bus is not something you are accustomed to in your part of the world, you will understand why I never tire of "only in Israel" stories.  If it is something you are used to, then you are very blessed.

I would like to dedicate as much of that busload of honesty as possible to a refua shelaima for my dear friend Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara Imeinu.  May we do as many acts of kindness and honesty as possible, and may they help us to pay for a healthy, whole, completely-repaired world.

Haveil Havalim #320, the Summertime Edition, is up at Frume Sarah's World.  Yeshiva Bochur, writing as "Exiled Warrior," has an excellent post published there.  Please shep nachas with me!