Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mission: Attitude Adjustment

Yom chamishi, 28 Kislev 5769.

These days, many people are feeling a sense of mission.

At a pastry shop in Emek Refaim, I spoke with a man who had written a beautiful children’s book.  Gil Daleski is also a tour guide and a “healer,” which I have found to be the professions of an increasing number of Jews living in Israel.  There is a lot of tension in the world that needs to be ameliorated, I guess; and there’s a lot of beauty and history in Eretz Yisrael to share.
That sense of mission again.

At his request, I stood and read the little book, called Is God Sad?.  (There is a Hebrew version as well.)  Not bad.  This fellow without the kipah had written a lovely explanation, from a father to a daughter, about how G-d loves us; and even when He takes away someone we love, it is for the good, and so that our loved one can return to His embrace.  (Hashem keeps giving me reminders never to judge a Jew’s attachment to his faith by his clothes.)  Gil wrote the book; and his sister, Debbie Veinshtein, did the lovely illustrations.

We discussed our work, and our need to share the good in Israel with the world, to combat the lashon hara of those who speak ill of her.  The discussion moved on to the attitude about Israel among our own people – and then onto attitude in general.  He shared an interesting viewpoint.

“During the First Intifada,” he began, “you sent your kids off to school.  You didn’t know anything, you didn’t know what would happen.  They, or you…”  His voice trailed off; and he indicated, rather than said, that either your kids or you might not make it home alive.  “People had to live,” he shrugged.  “So Israelis – I can’t speak about all Israelis, but a lot of us – we built this little room inside our heads, where we kept all the worry.  Whatever might happen that was bad, we put in this room.  And then – “ here he made a dramatic downward gesture with his fist, near the side of his head, “we shut off the power to that room.  And we lived our lives with the rest of our brain.  That’s how we live.”

I thought about how the Israelis, against all logic, do seem to live life absolutely.  They dine and dance and design and create and build, while bombs are falling, while their government assiduously avoids its only job, the job of protecting its people, while they do not know from day to day if the keys to their homes will be handed over by their own government to a bloodthirsty enemy.

They simply put it all into the “worry room,” turn off the power, and go on about their lives, with a vigor and intensity we in America seem to lack.  And I started to think about why, perhaps, there was a difference in how we relate to the world.

“I can’t speak about all Americans,” I said.  “It’s a big country.  But my sense of us is that we protect ourselves in an almost opposite way.  In America, we are increasingly aware that the world is going crazy.  We are stressed about our jobs and the economy, about making it through the global financial crisis, about our kids’ educations.  We are aware that more and more of the world loves the Jews and Israel less and less.  So how do we handle it?  We build a little room in our brains.  My husband calls it the ‘panic room.’  But the difference is that we don’t put our worry in there, and shut off the power.  We go in there to hide from the worry.  It’s a safe room, filled with entertainment and shopping and food and more shopping…  While we are inside there, we don’t have to think about how scary life is.”

We discussed this subtlety for a little longer, aware that others might have different outlooks, but satisfied that ours helped clarify our individual missions a little.  Attitude may not be everything; but perhaps it is our best weapon in a world gone mad.

 That, and the knowledge that G-d loves us, and that He keeps His promises.

To contact Gil, call 052-389-6877, or email to

Where, exactly, is it?

Yom revi'i, 27 Kislev 5769.

"Land for peace" hasn't worked so far.  Neither will the "two-state solution."

Other people speak the obvious much more clearly than I.

To quote Shvach, "if the Arabs had wanted peace, we would have had it 60 years ago."

To paraphrase Rod Tidwell: Show me the peace. Oh-ho-ho! SHOW! ME! THE! PEACE!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shom vs. Po (There vs. Here)

Yom shlishi, 26 Kislev 5769.

Nes gadol haya shom  PO!

My friend, S. Galkin, writes a yearly Chanukah greeting to friends and family.  Through her delightful poetry, she copes with a move back to the States after several years in Israel.  She gave me permission to share her thoughts with you.

Subject:  Greetings from the Land of ... PO?!?
Date:  December 2003

Dear Family and Friends, both "po" and "shom,"

Faithful readers of my mass mailings know
that at Chanukah time, I loved being PO.
PO, of course, means here, which I am.
But "here" is only POetic in our Holy Land.

In Israel, the dreidel knows just what to say:
Nes Gadol Haya PO!*, which is spelled with a "pey."
But here, we say "there," which is so much less fun.
Here, the "pey" on the dreidel's a "shin," as in "shom."

Here, everything is all lit up green and red,
"Seasonal" tunes are forced into my head.
There, the streets are aglow with menorahs at night,
and the sufganiyot are a month-long delight...

But just when this all started getting to me,
and I cried "What kind of Chanukah will this one be?!"
I suddenly thought of a man with a name
that is one of Baltimore's best claims to fame.

Edgar Allan, they called him.  His last name was Poe.
His works are still published.  His "raven" well known.
And I said, "Look at that!  I am here.  Don't you see?"
In the land of Poe, after all -- with an "e"!

It's not quite the same, but it will just have to do,
till we return to the land where the real PO rings true.
Meanwhile, I'll say Merry Kislev** to you,
and Chag Urim Sameyach*** to ev-er-y Jew.

Thank G-d, we're okay, and we hope you are, too.
Adjusting to freezy-cold temps and the snew****.
Please drop us a line, and tell us about you.
Are you well?  Are you warm?  Is there anything new?

Last, but not least, let us know when you'll be
heading our way for a day, two or three.
Meanwhile, best wishes for a choref bah'ree*****,
from Bill, the Galkinder, and of course, yours truly.

* A Great Miracle Happened HERE!
** the current Hebrew month
*** a joyous Festival of Lights
**** that's how the real Baltimoreans say "snow"
***** a healthy winter

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fully Connected

Yom chamishi, 21 Kislev 5769. 

The Dearly Beloved always reminds the boys (and me, and himself):  "Attitude is everything."  This is especially true in having a successful and happy aliyah.  Here is a guest post by a very creative new olah, Rena Chernin, writing at Sweet Home Yerushalayim, that says Avi's expression in a very holy, poetic way.  Enjoy the read!



My Disconnect Week

Kislev 7, 5768
December 4, 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

It started one Wednesday when David was in America. First, the internet went down. Ok, it happens. Usually we are back online in 15 to 20 minutes. So I kept checking. Too soon, I began to feel a little disconnected. As the hours went by and I kept trying to log on, I began to feel quite out of touch. So I decided to call someone: Netvision, our internet provider. I am just familiar enough with Hebrew to figure out how to get to technical support. First question to the voice on the other end: “Do you speak English?” “Of course,” was his reply. I told him we were off line. He took me through all the unplugging and replugging of the modem, the Airport, etc. that I had already performed several times myself, of course. No connection. He said he would have to have a technician call me. We arranged a time frame for late that night, and I waited.

The time for my phone date with the Netvision technician came and went. So I called them. When someone answered, I asked “Do you speak English?” “Of course,” was the reply. I told him what was going on and that no one called me yet. He said, “I need to get someone speaking English.” Then I was disconnected. It was late, I went to sleep and hoped for the best tomorrow.

Thursday morning, still offline. When I called this time, they said it was not a problem on our line, but a Netvision problem and we would be up and running later that day. Good. I had a busy day until late that night, so I would not really miss it.

I was spending that week as a madricha (volunteer who helps a guide), with an Aish HaTorah Gem trip to Israel Eleven incredible women ages 33-88 toured and learned here for ten days and I got to spend every wonderful, memorable, inspiring, and exhausting moment with them. I was all over the city gathering food and running errands, shepherding stragglers and checking in with the rest of the group. My phone, as you can imagine was vital to the operation. And this was the day, after 4 years of almost perfectly reliable service, that it decided to completely die. No, it was not the battery. It was the whole thing. My phone numbers-gone. My access to the group-gone. My frustration-not gone.

It had been a great phone, that Blackberry. Sure, it was a bit complicated and certainly outdated, but it did everything, and much more than, I wanted. Without it, I was really disconnected. So I hurried to town to pick up a simple little phone. And there it was The Simple Phone. Little, too. The phone I’d wanted before inheriting the Blackberry. The phone of my dreams….Slip in the SIM card and-except for losing all those phone numbers-back in the business (of being a madricha).

So I gave the very pregnant saleswoman with about 17 earrings in one ear the 300 NIS (today that’s $75.00) thank you very much-and b’sha tova! She gave me a big smile and rubbed her tummy. Connected.

When I got home very late that night, I tried to check my email…but to no avail. We were still offline. Knowing that it was an attempt in vain, I called Netvision anyway. “Do you speak English?” “Of course,” I repeated the story and he said, “I will get someone speaking English.” This time I was not disconnected. The technician spoke perfect English accented with that delightfully, sweet Israeli accent I love. He was kind, too, when he repeated what I knew, that it was a Netvision problem, “we are working on it now and you will have service by the morning.” Flavoring my English with my newly acquired Israeli attitude, I asked, “What time this morning? The morning is just a few minutes away.” He was amused, but noncommittal. I was still offline, but we connected.

Friday morning, I woke and checked my email. 52 messages!!! I’d have to read them later. I was scheduled to escort our Gem Ladies on their Old City program. By noon-ish we were done, so I came home to clean and rest up for Shabbos. I was accompanying several ladies to host families for dinner & lunch, so I did not have to prepare meals, but I had Shabbos guests for sleeping. I made the beds, dusted and “sponge-ahhd” (Israeli mopping) and sat down to read all those emails.

Before I knew it, it was 3 pm, almost time for candles. I dressed and went down the list of things to do (lights, turn off dud (hot water heater), call David, parents and daughters-great the internet phone was working). As I set the Shabbos lock on the gate outside, I noticed our mezuzah, which has been lodged into a crevice in the stone wall ever since we have been here---was gone. I looked all around but it was mysteriously nowhere to be found. We have a lot less doors here than in America, which means a few extra scrolls were tucked away, so I quickly found one, and looked up the bracha. As I said it and placed a new scroll in the doorpost, I heard my neighbor in the stairwell say “amen!” Yea!, connected again.

My guests arrived with cookies and smiles. As we chatted in the kitchen before we lit candles, I washed a few straggling glasses and noticed a putrid but familiar smell. Then I heard the drain “gurgle.” The horrible sound that means: the sewer is clogged, again. Oh no… This time it was our courtyard neighbor who heard me. I was in distress. He was leaving for his minyan, but told his wife that first, he would go to the Muslim Quarter to find an Arab plumber he knows. It was time to light, and meet up with the Gem Group. I had to leave the gate open for the plumber and go. Had to.

The Arab never came and all Shabbos I tried not to worry about an overflow. I placed towels all around so we hopefully could contain a disaster, and we kept water use to a bare minimum. B”H, we were saved and Sunday morning the son of the Rova plumber showed up. He’s a great kid, knows what he is doing and made jokes about the nature of his work. He can certainly joke. Plumbers here get paid more than many doctors and I wonder if maybe they are even more appreciated. Within 15 minutes and 230 NIS ($58) later, we were unclogged.

Internet, phone, mezuzah and sewer. All conduits. Why, within three days, did these four things disconnect, disappear and clog up?

Then, I realized that it really wasn’t the things—the true conduits were open, they were the people Hashem brought to me. The essential Jewish kindness of the Netvision technicians came through over the phone line, no matter how much English they thought they understood. They really just wanted to help. The multi-pierced woman at the phone store was genuinely happy to place exactly what I was looking for in my hands. And she knew I was sincere about my little bracha to her. Her child is also my child, just like when I hung the mezuzah. My mitzvah was also my neighbor’s. And when the sewer scare began, my other neighbor did not think twice, of course he was going to help me, despite the inconvenience. I could not help but be struck by the sight of the darling plumber’s son, so refined as he went about his grubby work. Only a Jew could make this job seem noble.

They are all around, every day, ready for connection. On the bus, in the makolet (little groceries that are everywhere), the waitress, the pharmacist, and the beggar who looks up and smiles when I drop a coin in her plastic cup. Only here can I get a heartfelt bracha for a shekel. There it is: "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh le zeh,," another connection.

All of those disconnects seemed like frustrating inconveniences that I had to deal with alone. It was really the opposite. Hashem was leading me to connect with others. I had to talk to Jews at Netvision and ask friends if I could come and check my email. I had to ask people about where to buy a phone, then share a bus ride to the store and share excitement with the mom to be. When the plumber’s father came to check the work, I got to tell a dad what a great kid he has-and because we are all connected, he was my kid, too.

It’s the same with these letters that I write to you. I do it so I can feel connected to you, and you to Eretz Yisrael--until you all come home, may it be very soon.

Renee & David

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chanukah's in the Air

Yom rishon, 17 Kislev 5769.

Oh, goody!  I FEEL like it's Chanukah already.  My latest issue of Haveil Havalim (The "My Kids Wish It Was Chanukah Already" edition) just arrived!  Thanks, Jack.

Enjoy a little pre-Chanukah light.             

Friday, December 12, 2008

The first step: stop and think.

Yom shishi, 15 Kislev 5769.

Politics usually is not my arena. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, "a girl's gotta know her limitations."

I am now one of The 18.

To quote Joseph Goebbels (yemach shemo): “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Too many people are believing the lie. The upcoming Administration didn't create this problem. But it will have a lot of power in one place to affect change.  We can't ignore mistaken concepts, when there is actually enough power behind them to implement them. There is nothing wrong with beginning to address the lie now -- unless it's already too late.

I'm only asking you to think.  For my sake.  For my kids' sakes.  For your own sake.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why We Do It

Yom chamishi, 14 Kislev 5769.

I had the nicest cup of coffee this morning with a fellow blogista.  (Despite the slightly South American flavor of that term, I think it really would be the Hebrew word for "female weblog author."  Though Benji would probably spell it "blogeestah."  Ehhhhhh....  but I'm no lengweech aikspoort.)

Anyway -- back to coffee.  She and I have been trying to get together since the JBlogger's Convention, many months ago.  So today, we finally did it.  Happily, we did have lots of other things to talk about besides virtual reality; but we did touch on our mutual fascination with friends who say things like "I just don't get the whole 'blog' thing.  I mean, what's the big deal with 'blogs'?"  Oh -- and my favorite:  "Yeah but, how can you spend so much time with blogging and bloggers?  I mean, they're not even real."

It was nice to share experiences and impressions with someone who "gets it."  Frankly, we are probably as mystified as to why our friends don't adore the blogosphere as they are about our seeming obsession with it.  So here's a little thumbnail analysis of "why we do it."
  • We like to write.  And it's easier now than ever!
  • Blogging keeps us from having to repeat everything we write to each of our friends individually.  (Sorry.  While we love you, one can only give over the story of "what's happening" so many different ways before even the writer gets bored with repeating herself.)
  • What a great semi-permanent way to keep that journal!
  • It's fun to communicate with other people who like to write.
  • Secretly, we wouldn't mind being published.
  • Hey!  We can publish ourselves, thereby avoiding the pain of countless rejection letters.
  • "Hanging out," even virtually, with like-minded souls (politically or religiously, or sharing similar life experiences, difficulties, or interests) is very empowering and validating.
We had a very nice time sharing our aliyah experiences, discussing our pride in our amazing kids (puh-puh-puh), and marveling at one another's life stories.  We also talked about the growing grassroots power of the internet:  the freedom to set one's own agenda in commentary, rather than being muzzled by the agenda of a company or a sponsor; the ability for two-way sharing of ideas; the immediacy of "man in the street" journalism (such as that which kept us all glued to the twittered reports during Mumbai). 

I can absolutely verify that she is 100% real.

I'm looking forward to reading her latest opinion or adventure in her next blog post.

And I'm looking forward to the next cup of joe.  Thanks, Baila.  I'll call.  ;-)  

Ehhhhhhh...  this one's just for you, girl.  What will those techno-wizards think of next?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter Colors, Created By Kids

Yom revi'i, 13 Kislev 5769.

May I share with you the beauty that is wrought by the hands of kids with paint?  Hardened city-dwellers, don't be afraid.  This is not the graffiti we have come to know and love tolerate, with deep sighs.  This is what happens when kids in the Bnei Akiva movement in Israel "show their pride" by decorating their snif (branch) for their particular shevet (tribe -- in this case, a group of kids of the same age).  Each shevet receives a special name when the kids reach 14 years of age -- and they can connect with each other by that name throughout their lives.  (The "old boy" network starts very young in Israel.)  The yearly renovations happen with little or no supervision.  Part of Bnei Akiva's genius is that the big kids guide the little kids; and the grownups go to work, where they belong. 
When I was much younger, I was privileged to work with little kids, to try to help them to improve their reading.  The kids taught me great things about the relationship between their use of color and their self-value, and ultimately their ability to believe they could become better people.

The kids of Bnei Akiva, Snif Neve Daniel, give me a lot of hope in the future of our people.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"...where everybody knows your name..." #1

Yom sheni, 11 Kislev 5769.

When I was a little girl, I enjoyed walking with my Mama into the neighborhood shops, to be greeted with "How are you today, Mrs. N--?  How can I help you?"  The shopkeepers' warm smiles taught me that my Mama was an important and well-liked individual.  And she, in turn, was very gracious to each person who greeted her.

When I grew up, and moved to the city, I discovered that people followed their customers around the store with a suspicious eye, rather than greeting them by name.  Was it that the times they were a'changin', or was it the difference between the small town and the city?  Or both?

After I married the Dearly Beloved, we sought out business people who treated us in that old-fashioned, small-town manner.  Wherever the US Army moved us, we would find a shop or two wherein the proprietor felt that customer service came before all else.  It never mattered to us, within reason, whether his prices were the lowest in town or not.  To be treated as a mensch is worth an extra buck or two.

We have lived in Israel a year now.  And, baruch Hashem, we have begun to find those businesses where people bother to "know your name."  So we decided to start taking photos, writing small stories, and sharing the wealth.  After all, when you make aliyah, you also deserve to be greeted with warmth, and a genuine desire to serve.  "Boker tov, Avi v'Ruti!  Mah nishma?  Mah atem rotzim hayom?"

Okay, so we're not loaded.  But small gifts of jewelry do help the world go 'round.  (I am convinced that if more men spent time buying their wives jewelry, and less time trying to build empires and take over other people's countries, there would be world peace.)  Bentzi not only sells handmade silver jewelry at affordable prices.  He also dispenses brachot, in the eloquent and lavish style only Sephardim really seem to have mastered.  He praises my husband for his generosity to me; and he points out that Avi has a good chance of extending his time on this planet, because he greets everyone with a smile.       

Times are tough for the shops on Jaffa Street, due to
all of the destruction/construction for the planned city train.  (If my understanding is correct, they are running something like Baltimore's light rail through the center of town, and turning whatever is left of Jaffa into a great long walking mall.  Of course, there is much in-fighting about the great plan, as is the Israeli bureaucratic custom; so we will see how it actually turns out.)  

It is hard to walk in the narrow sections left around the heavy machinery and ripped-up road.  Many tourists don't bother; and the locals have found other routes.  In true Israeli "make the best of a bad situation" spirit, the shopkeepers do their best to use the situation to their advantage, rather than being daunted by it.   

So, doing our part to help save the Jaffa Street businesses, we make a point of visiting Bentzi, when there are a few spare shekels.  He is good enough also to enjoy our regular purchase-free visits.  And if an earring wire breaks, he repairs it n the spot, at no charge.  His workmanship is quietly elegant.  Think of stopping in next time you are looking for the perfect gift!
"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came..."  

-- from the "Cheers" theme, by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Tuesday Chavruta

Yom shlishi, 5 Kislev 5769.

Every Tuesday, I am blessed to sit in the well-windowed dining room of an intelligent and spiritually sensitive young woman, who patiently listens to me butcher the ancient language of the Babylonians.  Over cinnamon chai tea, we study Sefer Daniel.  As she is learned enough to read and translate the Hebrew commentaries,  I get the task of dragging us both through my version of the Aramaic, followed by my more adept reading of The Stone Edition English translation.  (It doesn't matter to me that this was the language of the Galut of the time.  Hebrew is hard enough!  My poor chavruta suffers gracefully through my reading AND my whining.)

It's interesting stuff.  Nothing Hollywood could produce holds to this a candle for the weaving of dream and reality.  (Apologies to my friend, R.Y.)  There is a gigantic and terrifying statue of gold and iron and stone. We witness survival in impossible situations, from fire and wild beasts. A meteoric rise to success and power is followed by the utter desolation of the thundering fall to disgrace, penance, and renewed greatness.
The lessons our sages learn from this incredible story are extremely timely.  Amazing how the words of Tanach seem to be coming true -- a veritable road map through the politics of the days before the coming of the Moshiach (bimhera v'ameinu).
When she leaves the table to bring our other chavruta to the learning, I stand and look out at the beauty that is her back yard.

There is much comfort in gazing out toward the Mediterranian Sea, dreaming of our Avot, as they faithfully made their way north toward the Holy Temple.  Our history is so palpable here, as is our future.  ("Someday, My son, all of this will be yours...")

The young Torah scholar joins us, and the learning is enhanced.

Watching the faces of little future talmidei chachamim during learning is instructive.  Is it my imagination?  Or does my young friend seem to be remembering some of the Torah he and the angel studied together, before he left the safe shelter of his mother's womb?

I am certain he understands more of this than I do.  There are so many questions I would like to ask him.  But the irony is that when he is articulate enough to give it over to me, he will still be in the process of re-learning it himself.

And so it goes...

May our learning be ilui nishmat HaRav Daniel ben HaRav Chaim HaLevy, and l'refua shelaima l'Tehila Sara bat Yocheved.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Toys to Push Away Big Worries

Yom shlishi, 5 Kislev 5769.

This post is dedicated to boys. Mine in particular; and everyone else's in general. Because I need the therapy today of focusing on the simple stuff boys love.

With love, to a little boy named Moshe, who needs simple things to smile about.

With love, to several big boys, who still stand with rapt fascination, whenever a big rig is moving the world around.