Monday, July 28, 2008

"Palms Up"

Yom sheni, 25 Tamuz 5768/28 July 2008, Monday.

Okay. I've given in. I am now a proud owner of "the national shoe of Israel."

Crocs really are not as bad as I had thought they would be. The "made in China" thing put me off for a while. Mostly it was the fact that, when I went to their web site, there was no mention of Israel amid the many nations they served. That really brought out my nationalistic ire. But, as each kid came home with a pair... and I started to think of the wisdom of a shoe with lots of spiffy little air holes to let the feet "breathe"; and then my Soldier Boy's new bride actually found SIZE 14 (which is also what his father wears)... what could I do? The fact is, they are a darned comfortable shoe. There is a mashal here for the life of an Israeli. We can stand on principle, and sometimes that is the right thing to do. I think that applies to Gush Katif, and the Golan, and Amona, and Shdema. And then there is the time to say "yadaiim maaleh" -- palms up. "Zeh lo chashuv." -- It's not that important. As my dear husband says, "You have to pick the sword you want to die on."

Crocs aren't my sword.

I may wear them to the next protest about keeping Shdema Jewish. Yeah, I like the symmetry of that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Israelis, Old Memories

Yom chamishi, 21 Tamuz 5768/23 July 2008, Wednesday.

The last couple of days have been courtesy of Nefesh b'Nefesh. Those guys really know how to throw a party!

Avi and I went to our first NBN Welcome Ceremony, to greet new olim, fresh off the plane. I strongly recommend this experience. It is possible that it qualifies, to some extent, as hachnasat orchim; for even though you are not hosting them in your house, you are welcoming weary travelers Home, with smiles and dancing. What better way can there be to come to a new land!

The most moving part of the program was the acquisition of a shiny new Israeli passport by Frances Greenberg, late of Pittsburgh. Ms. Greenberg, at eighty-eight years of age, stood out from the rest of the hope-filled olim, by the fact that she had already tried to make aliyah once before, and had failed. Seems like the olim on the Exodus, back in 1947, lacked a Rabbi Yehoshua Fass to see the process through.


One of the really wonderful ways Israelis have of getting to know the people and places of their country is through "tiyulim." These little outings -- while not unheard of in Chutz l'Aretz -- really are a national pastime in Israel. Nefesh b'Nefesh offers some splendid tiyulim, at reduced prices, for first-year olim. This time we took a couple of lively boys to visit Be'erot Yitzchak, a kibbutz boasting a "Biblical Zoo," in the north of the country. We were actually interested in visiting the place, as it had been the location of our Soldier Boy's first ulpan, when he made aliyah in 2005. Following in his footsteps, we wanted to see the source of the near-vegetarianism our son preferred after months of cleaning out the dead chickens from the lool... Thankfully, the closest we got to actual chickens was the unbelievable odor emanating from the huge loolim. "Fowl" is the perfect word to describe those creatures. Even a serious carnivore may have opted for a life of broccoli and potatoes, after such a job. One could smell them from the road, as we took an otherwise pleasant tractor ride around the grounds.

The whole day was a wonderful adventure, for my husband and me, and for our son and his friend. Having spent several years on farms as youngsters, Avi and I had a lot about which to reminisce. He had vaguely urine-scented memories of sharing space with "Cousin Ikey" at Uncle Burr's farm. Seems Avi was a strapping fellow, even back then; and his yearly invitations to the farm coincided with haying season. My memories were sweeter. After feeding the animals and milking the cow (during which I perfected the art of shooting a stream of warm milk into a cat's mouth -- and who knows when that will come in handy?), I mostly hung out with my favorite creatures, the goats. As far as I am concerned, they are better pets even than dogs. Even though there was much to see and do on the kibbutz -- from baking pitot to rock climbing, water slides to camel rides, I kept going back to the goats. It was a day of pleasant memories.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Small Town, and Jewish!

Yom shlishi, 19 Tamuz 5768/21 July 2008, Monday.

I've been away a while. So I'm keenly aware of how much I love my Home.

I go to pick up the mail at the post office, a decent walk from my house. It is after 9 PM. I go at this hour, because I can.

Kids are outside playing. They sound nice.

There are few cars. No sirens. That is one of the joys of small-town living. Emergencies are a little fewer and farther between.

I walk by 15 bicycles on my way home. None of them are chained to anything. They will still be here in the morning.

The sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer wafts across the glittering jewels of Beitar below us. There was a time when such a sound would have been quaintly pretty to my ear, an ancient (albeit amplified) part of the music of the Middle East, with a claim to this ground older than mine. Unfortunately, the terror against my people (which has its own much more valid ancient claim to this soil) has soured the sound in my ears.

For a moment, I am sorry for my "cousins." I wish they could hear what I hear. The music of children playing. Crickets singing. The soft sounds of evening embracing night in a peaceful town.

Instead, in a few hours -- at three or four AM -- they will be awakened to their obligation to declare Allah the chief invention of men in search of the rationalization they call "god."

Do they feel as loved by their god as I do by Hashem? Do they feel as dear children to a Father? Does their god love peace among His creation as much as does my King? I feel very sorry for them. This will pass. People make their choices.

May Hashem bless us to make the right choices.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Regev, z'l and Goldwasser, z'l

Yom shishi, 14 Tamuz 5768/17 July 2008, Thursday.

Yesterday and today were very sad days in Israel.

Yesterday, the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were returned to us, in exchange for five living terrorists. Today, our two soldiers were buried. May Hashem avenge their blood.

Today, amid discussions about what would have been the right approach to take in the so-called "prisoner swap," a nation mourned. We argued about whether the gains -- families able to find closure; an agunah unchained; military integrity regarding POWs; the halachic requirements to bury a Jewish body properly -- outweighed the potential harm: Why would our enemies bother to feed and care for our kidnapped soldiers, when they are worth as much dead as alive? Why wouldn't they kidnap more soldiers, when the strategic gains appear limitless, and the relative price to pay appears so low?

We mourned together, as a nation. We cried together, as a people, for the terrible trap of being a compassionate people facing a ruthless, monstrous enemy, in a seemingly unfeeling world.


When I was crying, every day it seemed, during the Oslo War, I had to disappear into "cyberspace" to find a group of people with whom to weep openly. Life in Chutz l'Aretz just seemed to march on to a much too normal beat. People were sympathetic, when I would explain why I was so upset. But I felt a little foolish to be so very sad, when so many people on the street seemed so unaffected.

When we were praying fervently for Gush Katif, and wearing orange, and people kept asking us, "What is 'Gush Katif'?" and "What's the deal with all the orange?", we felt like outsiders in our own community. Oh, don't get me wrong. Some people were happy to learn. Some clucked their tongues, and shook their heads, at the problems those poor Israelis were going through. A handful actually got it. When we lost Gush Katif, despite our prayers, some people who didn't really understand the situation reacted very calmly. "It was inevitable," said one. Open displays of pain seemed lacking in taste.


Today and yesterday, the whole Jewish country mourned together. The TV and radio news personalities spent time talking of these two men, who were sons or husbands or brothers to each of us, to all of us together. Today, my whole town, my whole country, shared my pain.

This is what it is NOT to be "the other," a stranger in a strange land. This is what it is to be home, among my own. This is what it is to be a Jew, living in the only Jewish country in the world.


To those who prayed for Udi and Eldad for two years: do not think that your prayers were wasted. Among the other powerful attributes of prayer, we learn that by davening for a righteous person, he is elevated. And if he is a worthy person, and we contemplate his life, as we learn more about him and his good deeds, his acts of courage, he becomes like a rebbi to us; and we, his talmidim, try to become better people. May the accumulated prayers for these dear soldiers help us indeed to become better Jews, that we may bring the Geula, bimhera v'ameinu.