Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How do you know when you're home?

Yom revi'i, 3 Shevat 5769.

It started with a loaf of warm challah wrapped in parchment paper, delivered with an even warmer smile, and a love note.

 To [your dear family],

With you in our prayers that [your son] should return safely very soon...

It ended with a prayer that Hashem will create a peaceful and speedy settlement of our Land.

More than the delicious challah and the love note, I think it was the love and empathy in Shani's eyes that said to me "Welcome to Israel, where we are better because you are here, and where we understand to the core of our being what you are going through."

The next week, a man I only know in passing came to my door.  "This is for the chayal (the soldier)," he said, "from the Yishuv."  From the whole community.  Inside, a soft, warm hat, scarf and set of gloves were waiting to wrap a soldier in love, inside the hell of Gaza.  And another note, written to the dear soldier directly.   

"Yasher koach on the courage and sacrifice for the sake of the Nation.  We are very proud of you, and pray for peace for all the soldiers.  We wish you success and health.  Return in peace!  Strength and courage!  The families of Neve Daniel."

The note matters to our son even more than the presents.

Throughout the three tense weeks, we were reminded every day that we were not alone.  On a particularly nerve-wracking day, I had a pleasant encounter with new young friends at the makolet.

One young mother turned her attention briefly from her son in his stroller.  "How is your son?  Have you heard anything?" 

From a short distance, her husband said, "Oh, don't worry about her, " he nodded in my direction.  "She was an army chick."

"An 'army chick'?" I responded.  "Yeah -- a thousand years ago, when the expression 'army chick' was actually 'hip'."  Eight people standing in line shared the laugh with us.  Somehow, this little exchange made me feel strong and cheerful again.  Because I wasn't alone.  Because they all were paying attention to the same news I was, and cared enough not to let me have the blues.

Dvora and I shared our worries for our sons over tea and Tehillim.   We agreed to keep each other positive, and to avoid dwelling on the depressing or terrifying aspects of the situation.  It was comforting to know that she was thinking the same things about her precious son that I was thinking about mine.

Throughout the weeks and days, individuals would call to ask how we were doing, was there any news, could they help us in any way...

When the cease fire was declared, relief spread throughout the yishuv.  On Shabbat, there were gatherings at various houses, welcoming home soldiers.  The soldiers were happy to speak, to tell over to friends and family the funny experiences, the miracles.

There was a shalom zachor, welcoming a new baby boy into the community.  And time was taken by the father and grandfather to speak of the sacrifices of the soldiers.

There was a bar mitzvah.  The proud father of the young man took some time from his family's celebration to praise and thank the soldiers.

I think that this is some of what the solidarity of community is all about. 

Thank you, Shani and Keren and Karyn and Hillel and Dvora and Marcia and Romi and Josh and Miriam and Marc and Yarden and Stella and Sara and Shoshi and Merav ...  Thank you, Neve Daniel.  It's good to be home.  May we share good news, smachot, and happy endings.

As requested by someone I love, a short glossary:
Yishuv:  outlying community; "settlement"
Yasher koach:  Way to go!
Makolet:  corner grocery store
Army chick:  heh-heh-heh
Tehillim: Psalms
Smachot:  joyful times, often celebrations

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Soldier Speaks

Yom sheni, Rosh Chodesh, 1 Shevat 5769.

The Dearly Beloved and I got to spend yesterday with Soldier Boy and his bride. 

He looks good.  They seem very happy to be "normal" again.  
I have a lot to process about the war, and its aftermath.  But right now what my son has to say at his own blog, Through Josh-Colored Glasses, seems more important.  Please click on the link, and enjoy reading the soldier's impressions in his own voice.  Warning:  The guy just came back from a war.  There are some graphic images.
I'll save my thoughts for another time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Gaza: A New Immigrant Mom's Perspective

Yom revi'i, 25 Tevet 5769.

We made aliyah only a little more than a year ago.  And tomorrow our son comes home from his first war.

As my husband and I had served in the US military, we came to our decision with open eyes:  Israel has been a nation at war for as long as we have been alive.  While it is our opinion that there is no better place on the planet for a Jew to live, there is no sugar-coating the fact that all of our sons would probably wear IDF uniforms, and would probably experience the trauma of war.  Part of why we took so long to make aliyah (16 years) was dealing with this reality.

Did we have the right to put our kids into the apparent path of danger, simply to enhance our concept of a higher attachment to Torah?

We wrangled with this question through the First Intifada, through the Oslo War, through bus and cafe bombings, through the contempt of a "civilized" world that still smugly pontificates that "both sides must renounce the violence."  We discussed the tragic decision to use soldiers as policemen during the awful and stupid "Disengagement" which laid the groundwork for this current Gaza War.  If we as soldiers had been asked to choose between our mission to protect and defend our citizens, and our responsibility to respect and obey the government we represented -- what would we do?  More relevantly, what would our sons do?

It finally became clear that whatever tafkid (purpose, mission) we may have had in America was pretty well used up.  One day, as we listened to yet another ambulance shriek its way to the retirement home across the street, my husband said to me, "Ruti, I can't just wait for my ambulance to come.  I have a little more adventure in me."

Baruch Hashem, our sons had come to the decision that Israel is our true Home, even before we made the final decision.  So we did the move together -- not just physically, but as "one man with one heart."  One son even made the move a couple of years before the family -- the "point man" of the operation, as we say in the Army.

When he went to war with the Golani Brigade, we and his wife glued ourselves firmly in front of our computers and radios.  We attended closely to each news story.  Wanting to know everything.   

Not wanting to know...

In the evenings, the men in my house watched war movies.  I listened to old time radio.  Comedies mostly.  That is how we coped between phone calls.  During the day, I blogged, and read the blogs of others, most notably The Muqata (for a reliable play-by-play of the unfolding war) and A Soldier's Mother (for damn fine writing about what I was feeling).  I didn't write too much of what I felt, because it didn't seem to be what my blog is about, and because my military training told me that staying positive through the mission is more useful than being scared.

Of course I was scared.

I have been worrying about that kid keeping his limbs attached to his body since before he was born.  It's not like I was going to stop when people were firing projectiles at him, trying to hit him.  I worried about what would happen to his body if they got him.  I worried about what would happen to his spirit if he got one of them.  I felt his pain when he missed his wife desperately.  I felt his fear, even though he would not voice it.

He would call when he was "back from the office," our code for when he was at the base just outside of Gaza.  We had lovely talks sometimes, philosophical grappling with the situation's politics.  He couldn't tell me much; and I didn't ask.  We honored the rules.  "No civilian phone line is secure."  Mostly, we just updated each other briefly.  I gave him news he was seeking; he just gave me his voice.

Every so often, we would get "the call."

"Ema, I love you very much.  I really love you."  He would say the words slowly and carefully, as if asking me to pay. close. attention.  This call was code for "I'm going back in; and I am terrified I won't ever speak to you again."  And my military/mom response was very cheerful, because that is my job:  "You are one of my heroes, Josh.  Your abba and I are so very proud of you.  You have been well-trained.  You know your job, and you are good at it.  Think about what is in front of you, and the guys on either side of you.  Remember For Whom you work.  That's all.  I love you very, very much."  This was the verbal form of polishing his shield and sword.  It was all I could do.

When I cried, after I hung up the phone, one of his younger brothers would come and hold me for a few minutes.

What do you say to your soldier son when he calls to fall apart over the devastating injuries sustained by a friend?  How do you comfort him when he shares his fear, his guilt, his empathy?

You cry with him.  You let him pour it all out.  And then you listen and silently applaud as he pulls himself together, as he sees visiting his friend and attempting to strengthen him as his next mission.  As he comes out of his pain, and comes back to life.  You know that his friend will probably end up comforting and strengthening him, as is so often the case in tragedy.  But you know that he will grow from this, as we are bidden to grow from the good and the terrible that Hashem puts in our path.

When the "cease fire" was initially announced, I was torn exactly in half.  I felt joy for my child, who would sleep in a real bed, inside of the first building that he had been in for three weeks.  I felt happiness for my daughter-in-law and for us.  But I was also disappointed, yet again, as our government ended another mission before it was completed.

Josh cornered the market on wisdom this time.  "Remember, Ema, that a Torah Jew knows that we can't solve this.  Not with politics, and not with fighting.  We soldiers are only doing a 'holding action,' until Moshiach will come and fix it."

We have all survived the first test of our commitment to this country.  How did this affect our younger sons?  One wants to come to Israel from the States.  "It's time, Ema.  I can't stay away any longer."  One keeps checking the calendar, to see if he is old enough to go into the IDF.  Like his big brother.  The little one just keeps playing football, wearing his Gush Katif kipah, and listening.

Please G-d, help us to stay strong and positive, as we await Your intervention.  Please help us to never forget that You run this whole show -- and that it will be all right in the end.  You have made certain promises to Your people; and You never lie.

Oh, yeah...  and please let our children grow to be really, really old men, intact and healthy, with great stories to tell their grandchildren.  Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rav Aviner's Song for the Soldiers

23 Tevet 5769.

Rav Shlomo Aviner has a blog, called "Torat HaRav Aviner," which gives me a lot of chizuk, especially in these challenging times.  He has written beautiful lyrics for which Eliyon Shemesh has created a joyful and powerful melody, which remind us of what Rav Goldberger has always taught us is true of the Jewish people:  V'ameich kulam tzadikim!  [And all of Your people are righteous!]

A Slow Line Enters Gaza:
A Song for Israeli Soldiers

(Many thanks to Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig, as always, for his translation of Rav Aviner's words.)

The unit commander is a factory owner.
The regimental commander is an engineer.
The company commander is a nature guide.
The platoon commander is in his mandatory army service.
The sergeant major sells holy books.
The sergeant is somewhat of a carpenter.
The squad leader is currently unemployed.
And the private is retired.

But all of them are excellent soldiers
Marching in the quiet of the night in a slow line
Entering enemy territory
Without fear
In order to wage war for our Nation
As their parents had done for them.

The unit commander has a bad back.
The regimental commander – high cholesterol.
The company commander – digestive problems.
The platoon commander just doesn't look good.
The sergeant major – problems with his eyes.
The sergeant has trouble sleeping.
The squad leader is scratching.
And the private has corns on his foot.

But all of them are excellent soldiers
Who slip into the darkness in a slow line
Entering enemy territory
Forgetting that they are pampered and sensitive
Filled each day with drops, oils and pills
And they are suddenly healthy.
And these men who are afraid of shots and dentists
Are suddenly courageous
They are not afraid of anything
They do anything that needs to be done
Because what is needed is needed.
They don't think about themselves
But about the national goal
Because it is enough of this mess
And we must now act to protect our Nation
And this is only the appetizer.

The unit commander is a leftist against the settlements.
The regimental commander is a settler for the settlements.
The company commander votes for the centrist party.
The platoon commander is a Religious-Zionist who is deciding between two parties.
The sergeant major is Ultra-Orthodox.
The sergeant is a socialist.
The squad leader votes for all the parties.
And the private has still not decided.

But all of them are excellent soldiers
Marching silently in the darkness of the night.
Under the smiling moon
With preparedness and strength
And the same people who do not agreed
About anyting in politics and religion
Have suddenly become brothers.
Brothers in arms and brothers in battle
Who sacrifice for each other with their heart and soul
Everyone suddenly agrees
That the best thing we have
Is our country and the army which defends us
And they are ready to completely strike the enemy
For once and all
So that we will be left in peace.

Hey, Nauru: I like you, too!

Yom rishon, 22 Tevet 5769.

Life stays interesting here in Israel.
What would you do if your two best friends in the whole world -- in fact, your only friends -- were this really, really big rich guy, who is ambivalent about his feelings of support for you, and this little teeny kid who, though he's 100% behind you, makes a 98-pound weakling look hefty?
The big, wishy-washy guy is the US, of course.  But you probably never heard of the little guy.  Meet Nauru, the only other nation in the world that voted against the bizarre cease-fire arrangement on the grounds that it wasn't fair to Israel.
Check out this issue of Haveil Havalim, hosted by Mordechai at The Rebbetzin's Husband, for a more thorough history of this interesting and brave little ally of Israel.  He calls this the I-love-Nauru Edition.

If the Dearly Beloved and I willingly travel outside Israel for a vacation, Nauru looks pretty good to us.  How can you not want to visit a place who's motto is "God's Will First"?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Clarity: my two cents on the media war

Yom shishi, 20 Tevet 5769.

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to be on a long drive with a very dear rebbetzin, who doesn't mince words. In the course of our conversation, I was trying to make sense of the inability of decent, normal people to see the truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict.  How could nice people keep rationalizing the behavior of suicide terrorists, who were blowing themselves up in pizza parlors and cafes and buses filled with civilians?  I made some comment, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, about how they were undoubtedly confused by the biased reporting in the media.

The rebbetzin focused very intently on the road as she drove.      

"If you think it is ever excusable to blow up babies and grandmothers, for any reason, to advance any political cause, you are not confused.  You are evil."

Wisdom means being able to cut through the "nonsense," directly to the truth.  To put it nicely.

Thanks, Rebbetzin.  I get it:  Don't capitulate.

Dear terrorists:  We Israelis have tried to appease the media and our Western friends for too long.  It really is time for you to be stopped.

To everybody else:  Shabbat shalom.  May we share good news.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunday Sojourn #2: Gaza War Inspired, Part 2

Yom revi'i, 18 Tevet 5769.

So, where was I, David?

Oh, yes.  The fellow who was “giving his father a lift” dropped us off across the road from the base.  After a short walk, directed by our dear daughter-in-law, we were outside the gate.  In a few minutes, my son’s familiar frame with his “conquering the world” stride came into view.

We had a terrific visit with him.  He looks good.  He is strong; and his confidence and sense of humor are intact.  Baruch Hashem!  May he come out of this “adventure” whole and healthy.  I could talk about him for a long time…  but this letter is about the angels we met, coming and going.

As the sun was sinking, our brief two-hour visit had to end.  We made our farewells, with hugs and smiles, and only a few tears. 

At the bus stop, we told Executive Girl we would see her later.  “We’re going to see if we can find the camera.”  Yes, David.  My husband and I are a little bit crazy. But cameras cost money, and a quest is a quest.  We just had to try…

We wandered down the road for a bit, not sure of the distance.  After a pleasant hike, a young father offered us a ride.  His little boy’s face is the “wallpaper” on his cell phone.  He lives in the kibbutz nearby.  Former Golani, he expects to be called up soon.  “Where’s your car?” he asked.  His question made sense.  The only people who would be walking out here are folks whose car broke down, right?  We explained.  He found us amusing.  But he could not leave two people walking on the road; so he took us as far as he could.  Brachot were exchanged – for the long, healthy lives of his children, for the successful homecoming of our soldier son.
It was getting dark; and I really had given up on finding the camera.  Many cars had gone by without stopping.

And then you came along, David.

Of course you wanted to hear what the heck we were doing here.  We explained the whole story, to include the search for the camera.  You asked why we made aliyah.  Let me tell you the best reason, David.  I don’t know what your plans were for the evening.  But you spent at least 45 minutes with us.  You drove us to the place in the road at which we had lost the camera, near the “camel crossing” sign.  You shined your headlights on the road, so that we could look for white grocery bags.  You let us stop, three different times, to examine white bags by the roadside.  Each time, we told you that you had done enough; but you persisted.
The last bag had my rocks in it…  but no camera.  You waited as we searched the area, using your headlamps to light the side of the road, until we were sure it was not there.  “Thai workers drive up and down the side of the road, very slowly, to see what people may have dropped,” you explained.  As if to illustrate your point, a Thai went by on his bicycle at that moment.  We gave up on the camera.  But my husband was gratified at having found the bag with the rocks.  “See?  At least we know it wasn’t crazy to try.”  He was almost as happy as if he had found the object of our search.

I was happy to have encountered another angel.

You used your cell phone to check the bus schedule for us.  We didn’t even ask you to do that!  “There are no more buses,” you said.  “I’ll take you to the best place to tremp.”  Unbelievable.  May you have many brachot, David.  May you discover for yourself why living in Israel truly is the best way to spend your life!

Still, the night was filled with angels.  There were the two soldiers and the “hilltop youth” at the trempiada.  “Don’t take that car,” one of the soldiers warned.  “He’s an Arab.  You can tell by the black windows.”  Got it.  When a “kosher” car stopped, the “hilltop youth” gave up his place in line, and offered us the ride.  “Good luck!” they called after us.

This car felt like a tiny spaceship.  Very cool little car, with all the latest gadgets.  The Gen-X driver wore driving gloves and a Bluetooth.  He was constantly checking the news, roaming from station to station.  I could see that he was very into the drama of the war, of traveling in the south.  “The main road isn’t good.  No miklatot – no bunkers, in case of the ‘tzeva adom.’  I’ll take you to a bus stop in Ofakim with a miklat close by.”  As he dropped us off on a well-lighted street, he pointed to the bunkers on either side of the street, very serious.  “If you hear the warning, go there quickly.”  Off went the angel in his spaceship.

We enjoyed the silly, night-time teen life in Ofakim.  Young girls playing karaoke on their cell phones, singing and flirting with friends who passed by.  Yes, if they were our daughters, we would be freaking out (which is the main reason G-d didn't give us daughters, I think).  But since they were just beautiful young Jews, filled with life and normalcy and a complete disregard for the serious adult world enveloping them, we could just take pleasure being near their exuberance.  It was a comfortably cool night; and when I remarked on the worrisome lack of rain, our young soldier's father reminded me that sleeping outside in a tent, and fighting the enemy, are best done on rain-free, cool nights.  I made a silent prayer that Hashem would fill the Kinneret only after our soldiers' work is finished, may it be soon.

We reached Jerusalem at around 9 PM.  Realizing that we had not eaten since breakfast, Avi offered to take me out for a bite of lamb at Burger's Bar in the tachana.  We asked if they took credit cards, since we had never made it to an ATM machine.  The new employee said yes; so we placed our order.  Another young man came out of the kitchen to prepare the food; and I offered him my credit card.  "We don't take.  No place.  See?"  He pointed enigmatically at the cash register...  The Dearly Beloved and I had a brief moment of panic; and then my dear husband went to get money from the machine.  "The teller is unable to complete your request at this time."  [Note: refer to earlier note:  traveling on Sunday is not always the best idea...]

"Ehhhhhh...  we don't have any money; and the caspomat is not working for us today."

"Don't worry.  Pay me tomorrow," said the young man behind the counter.

Embarrassed, I accepted his offer, as the food was already on the grill, marveling at the "only in Israel" nature of the fact that he wasn't disgusted by our lack of funds. We sat down to eat, wondering why our reasonably flush US bank account was letting us down.  "I'll come in tomorrow, first thing, and pay this," The Dearly Beloved said to me.

Our 14th angel arrived in the form of our landlord's daughter, who was here for a friend's birthday party.  She loaned us the money to pay the bill.

As I was paying, I explained to the delighted young man behind the counter:  "I just want you to understand what kind of day it's been.  We went to visit our son, who is in Gaza."

("Golani?  G'dud Shteim-Esray? [12th Battalion?]  Wow!" he interrupted.  I didn't mind.  The hero image of the Barak Brigade helps to ease the fear.  A little.)

"Nu?  So we had all these angels help us up and down the road.  You and the lady who paid for dinner are just the latest.  What makes a Jew an angel?  That he has a desire -- no, a need -- to help another Jew.  This is the best place in the world to live!"

This slender kid could have looked cynical in another setting.  He said to me, with deep sincerity in his dark brown eyes:  "Thank you for saying it.  I know what you say is true.  But thank you for saying it.  It is the best place.  You are a neshama tova."

Our friend Marc says that if you scratch to just beneath the surface of any Jew in Israel, male or female, old or young, you will find a Jewish mother, who is dying to help you out.  We have found this to be true.

We took the 10:30 PM bus back to Neve Daniel.  Just so that the day wouldn't end in a boring way, the gate was broken, and the new driver was afraid to take his bus through the narrow opening.  Let off at the bottom of the hill, Avi said to me, "I have been good all day.  We have walked miles; and I have kept a remarkably good attitude.  But now I am going to piss and moan my way up this hill.  Fine.  Just fine."  I laughed, because I know him, and I know he was mostly kidding (although he really was looking forward to "slipper time").

Just then, the 15th angel arrived.  Our landlady drove up.  "Would you like a ride?" she asked, in her musical and clear school-teacher's Hebrew.

Would we ever!

David, I won't pretend that any of the encounters we had today would not have happened in Chutz l'Aretz.  Hashem made beautiful people; and He placed them all over the globe.

What makes the country of your birth so special is that people like this cross our path every day.  And not just once or twice a day.  Some days, one is blessed to meet 15 angels in 15 hours.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sunday Sojourn #2: Gaza War Inspired

Yom shlishi, 17 Tevet 5769.

Dear David,

Thank you so much for the ride from the middle of nowhere to the bus stop!  You spent a lot of time with us; and when we said that we made aliyah 15 months ago, you asked:


I gave you the first answer that came to my head, about how it is the easiest place in the world for a Jew to live as a Jew.  But I could tell that you weren't satisfied by my answer.  Actually, you were part of a better answer.   

In 15 hours, we met 15 angels.

We spent 15 hours, round-trip, going to visit our son.  He was experiencing a little "R and R" between fire-fights in Gaza; and we and he thought seeing his parents might boost his spirits.  "Bring books, Ema.  Stuff you don't care about.  I don't know what condition they will be in when -- if I get them back to you.  And paper and pens.  I have a new idea for a tee shirt, and all these great blog ideas.  Oh, yeah.  Ema, please bring pictures of my family."

Ask me for the moon, Soldier Boy.  Is there anything I would not bring you right now?

When we got to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, the young Jew at the security gate welcomed us to Israel.  When we looked a bit abashed, he said "Sorry.  I saw your 'Aliyah Revolution' button on your jacket."  (Let's face it:  this 43-year-old classic antique Liberty High School letter jacket probably screams "I'm an immigrant from America!" as loudly as any button.)  He was very sweet to us.  "Have a yishuv tov!"

         (The Stunt Man, playing mannequin to make his mother happy)

It was standing-room-only on the bus to Beersheva; but I never felt so safe traveling anywhere.  The bus was packed with soldiers, heading for the Front.  After we had stood for a while, badly, as only people this many decades old can, two sweet young soldiers gave us their seats.  The boys folded up neatly on the floor, heads resting on backpacks.  They would not need a crane to get them off the floor at the end of the two-hour trip.  We tried not to envy them.

At Beersheva, we were blessed to meet our dear daughter-in-law.  Executive Girl had been trying to get on the usual bus from Beersheva to Soldier Boy's base for the last three hours, only to be told each time that they were full, that there was only room for soldiers right now.  Without her command of Hebrew and willingness to think outside the box, we probably would have turned around and gone home.  She got us all onto a bus going to Tzomet Eshkol, which would get us "somewhere in the neighborhood, and we will figure it out from there."  Yeah, right...  She also paid for our tickets, as we were somewhat surprised that our special olim bus passes didn't work out here; and our quick stop at the ATM had not been fruitful.  (More on that later.)

A bus driver at Eshkol told us that the next bus to the base would be coming in three hours.  Waiting for another three hours to see her husband did not thrill Executive Girl; so we followed her to seek a taxi, praying that the spare change we had between us would help with the cause.  After a short while, a woman stopped for us.  She could only take us a bit further, to the turnoff toward Ofakim.  She was very sympathetic:  of her four children, two were in Gaza.  And her husband had just been called up for miluim (reserve duty).  We thanked her.  She and I gave each other many brachot, for healthy, whole children with long lives.

We walked for some distance.  I picked up fascinating agate-like rocks, and dropped them into my plastic bag.  I took pictures of interesting signs, such as "Rafiah Crossing," and "camel crossing."  One was in the news all the time; and the other you just don't see in Baltimore that often.

 (substitute for photo stuck in lost camera)

Finally, a young man in a Kangoo stopped for us.  As the Dearly Beloved and I squished ourselves into the narrow opening to the back of the car, I unwittingly dropped the bag containing the rocks and my camera onto the road.

This driver was especially sweet.  He also has a son in Gaza, so he knew the base well.  He felt compelled to tell us why he had picked us up.  "First of all, I saw these three people walking on this road, where people usually aren't walking.  And I was asking myself, 'why is a pregnant young woman walking down this road?'  And then I looked at the man -- and I asked myself, ' why is my father walking down this road???'"  It seems that the Dearly Beloved is the spitting image of this young man's father.  "I just couldn't leave my father walking by the side of the road," he said, with smiling, twinkling eyes.  As he continued to converse with Executive Girl, The Dearly Beloved and I enumerated the mitzvot and brachot he had surely earned.  ("Ahavat yisrael, kibud av, chesed la-ger...  At least!")  We dedicated them to the safety of his son.

So far, six angels, without whose help we may not have been able to make this trip.

To be continued...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Haveil Havalim (#199 or #200) Makes an Appearance

Yom sheni, 16 Tevet 5769.

This one's called the Harvey Edition.  (Don't ask.  Let Jack explain it himself.) 

There seems to be some argument over which number this one is.  Blame it on the fact that the host has also been running updates on the war in Gaza that are coming so fast, the folks at Twitter are calling him for advice.

If you are new to the blogosphere (meaning you "don't get the blog thing"), or if you want to hear something authentic about the matsav in Israel, rather than relying on only the MSM -- try getting to know some very good writers through Haveil Havalim

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Geula b'Rachamim

Yom shishi, 13 Tevet 5769.

Give your neshama a little soul food just before the Holy Shabbat.  The words and music of this beautiful piece will soothe the tired guf, and energize the neshama for its important work of bringing the Geula.  B'rachamim.  May it be soon!

Please daven for a refua shelaima for the brave soldiers who have been injured in their effort to protect and defend this holy People.  Among them are:

Dvir ben Leah
Noam ben Aliza
Li-El Hoshea ben Miriam
Nerya ben Rivka
Yitzchak ben Naava
Netanel ben Naava
Maxim ben Olga
Yisrael ben Ilana
Yoad Ido ben Freida Rivka
Idan ben Leora
Nadav ben Miriam
Raphael ben Nina
Netanel ben Mazal
Yosef Chaim ben Ziva
May we and they hear b'sorot tovot!  Shabbat shalom u'mevorach.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Daddy, what did Mommy do while you were fighting the war?"

Yom chamishi, 12 Tevet 5769.

Today I offer you a special treat.  My friend and neighbor, Marc Gottlieb, did the liveblogging (which he updated regularly throughout the day) for the recent Standing Together mission to "500 meters from Gaza."  My intrepid daughter-in-law, Chana (aka Executive Girl, so named because she gets things done, and keeps 'em organized), went along.  (Hey!  Don't ask.  She's a grown up!  What can I say?)  With Marc's permission, I am posting their adventure here, so that you can sit on the edge of your seat, like I did all day Tuesday.  Don't thank me.  Love is sharing.  

Liveblogging Gaza Mission #3

Stay tuned as we provide updates to the Standing Together 1/6/09 Mission to Gaza.

Meet our Guest Hosts 
Rami Landau is David’s son. Besides the enjoyment he gets from helping out the soldiers, he’s taking video and photographs of the mission. 
Chana Eastman was married in July 2008. Her husband Josh is serving in the Golani brigade. He hasn’t been home in weeks. She’s hoping that they can find where his unit is stationed, and that he’s been rotated out of the action for today. Hey, it could happen... 

Anthony Harris, originally from Scotland, grew up in Perth, Australia, and is now living in the Zayit in Efrat. Anthony, who made aliyah too late to serve, is on the mission today because, “In 2006 I had many friends from work who went up to serve in the war. I couldn’t help out last time, but now nothing could keep me away!” 
Dan Leubitz just couldn’t stay away. Dan joined Standing Together on their Second Mission to Gaza on New Year’s Day 2009. Dan was born in Cleveland, Ohio and made aliyah in September 2006 from Teaneck, NJ. The last mission was so emotional he had to come back for more.

Brendan Rothschild, from Melbourne, Australia hasn’t made aliyah just yet. He served in the Nachal brigade until 8 months ago when he finished his service. He plans on making aliyah when he completes his degree. About a year ago, Standing Together came to visit him on the base during Chanukah, and he’s glad he has the opportunity to lend a hand today.

Wendy Gordon, an MSW originally from Boca Raton, Florida, now living in Beer Sheva, joined Standing Together because she felt a strong need to help directly, hands on, with the soldiers who are protecting our country. “It’s amazing how thankful they are, when it’s us who should be thanking them.”

Left for the South this morning with a car full of 500 packages including fleece masks, thermals and socks. Heading to Sderot to pick up food and personal items in the grocery.

Still haven’t been able to get to a location with decent reception. Going to try again in a bit.

In the makolet, stocking up on supplies to bring south.
Chana: Im just trying to help where I can. My husband’s doing his part, so I’m doing mine.
Heard a Qassam in the distance (11:45)

As we’re leaving Sderot on the way to Nachal Oz, we heard the Tzeva Adom (Color Red) alert. We didn’t hear anything, but we quickly pulled over to a reinforced bus shelter. Three seconds later we heard a loud explosion. For some on the mission it was their first experience in a rocket alert.

12:39 PM
Another Tzeva Adom alert. That’s two in five minutes. How do people live like this every day of their lives?

Stopped at an artillery staging area in the middle of nowhere. We came with food and clothes, and they were most appreciative of the clothes because it’s freezing down here.

2:30 PM
Followed the smoke about a kilometer and a half to an insertion point. They’ve been there three days straight without a change of clothes. They constantly repeat thank you. Handing out bottles of water. We changed the mood from stressed to festive, we broke the monotony of waiting. We’re taking pictures of them, they’re taking pictures of us!

Wendy: I can’t get over the range of ages of the soldiers! Young, old, and they’re all here fighting for Israel’s very right to exist. I wish there was more I could do.

At a camp now, handing out hundreds of packages of cold weather clothing to soldiers.

Soldiers are hanging around the trailer like a little cafe, very funny. Soldiers from all walks of Israeli life. They talk about where they’re from. They’re overwhelmed by individual letters, and the thousands of people from the Facebook group who showed their support and love. Two officers approached us and thanked us, just thanked us. 

Anthony: Every soldier says to me “Ein milim” -- there are no words. I never knew I could bring this much pleasure by just coming to visit them, just to support them.

David: Last cold weather package handed out. 500 soldiers are sleeping warmer tonight, in clean clothes. Thousands more aren’t. Need help for more!

We’re starting mincha (evening prayers) with the soldiers. The religious soldiers and the volunteers prayed together between two tanks for safety. The sky is dark gray, filled with shadows. It really moves you to see that in the midst of it all, they stop to pray.

We’re 500 meters from Gaza right now, within sniper range. We’ve been handing out everything that we have to the soldiers who have just returned from inside Gaza. It was such an uplifting feeling to see them come back safely. Many are just young men who are experiencing combat for the first time. They appreciate what we’re doing even though it’s so little.
Wendy: We need more boxer shorts!  :-) 

Wherever we’ve gone, the soldiers are polite, and it’s really a pleasure to mingle and chat with them.
We’re getting ready to go home. We need to leave a little earlier than planned, before it gets too dark to see how to get back.

Chana shared another vignette after she returned safely to my house.  She said that one of the young soldiers sat down next to Wendy, the "mom person" on the trip.  He told her that he wanted people to understand how much Standing Together's visit meant to the soldiers.  "We know that everyone in the world hates us, and thinks bad things about us.  We are risking our lives here; and we get discouraged when the media make us look like the bad guys, and when people believe them.  And then you people come here to see us, and you bring us food and presents; and we feel loved.  We feel like you understand why we are doing what we do.  Thank you so much!"

Photos used by permission from Marc Gottlieb and Abba Richman

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Daven well. Bring Moshiach.

Yom revi'i, 11 Tevet 5769.

For years, I have sent my guys out the door with those cheerful words.  "Daven well.  Bring Moshiach!"

It's been a way of centering them.

Of course, being (sometimes) serious young men, they were often daunted by this assignment.  Back in the States, I would get doubtful feedback.

"Sure, Ema.  No pressure." 

"Uh, maybe you could task me with something a little more up my alley.  Say, cleaning the entire house for Pesach by myself?"

"Geez, Ema.  You really know how to depress a guy."

Then, Yeshiva Bochur came back to Baltimore for a visit.  In the morning, I sent them out the door with my usual, "Daven well.  Bring Moshiach."

"Pack your bags," he said, as he went out the door.

Now THAT is the kind of confidence this generation needs.  You go, boy!

(Now that we're living in Israel, The Dearly Beloved will sometimes respond, "'Pack your bags!'  Oh, yeah.  That's right.  You're already here.  I crack myself up...")

Monday, January 5, 2009

"What can I do? I can't just sit here..."

Yom shlishi, 10 Tevet 5769, Asara b'Tevet.

It's night time.  Tomorrow is a fast day, one of the few days each year that we remember the circumstances that led to the destruction of our Holy Temple.  Which, when you think about it, led to every rotten thing that ever happened in the world.  Including my Mama's diabetes.  Mumbai.  The current Gaza War.

Just to keep things in perspective.

Packages and treats keep appearing for the soldiers.  The Dearly Beloved had to remind himself that even if they appear during the fast, the boys can eat.  Soldiers at war, who get to fast on plenty of occasions when the rest of us are eating full and wonderful meals, are exempt from minor fasts.

Soldier Boy was talking about how the guys respond when the packages arrive.  He received a pair of gloves and a warm hat, for which he is very grateful.  He says sometimes the guys act like puppies pouncing on a good bone.  I have seen that, in films; but I have also seen them sharing tee shirts with each other, finding for each other the proper sizes, in a brotherly way that brought tears to my eyes.

The nicest comment he saved for the very last few minutes of our very short phone call, before he had to "go back in."

"Ema, I always try to save the little notes.  Some kid somewhere wrote that little 'love note' to an anonymous soldier...  and I was lucky enough to get it.  I wish they knew this:  the notes are even more special to me than the food and the clothes.  I hope they will keep sending them."

If you haven't had the chance yet to write your little love note to a soldier, or to donate for those precious packages, please consider contacting one or all of the following worthy organizations, with which I have been privileged to work.  They will deliver them for you.

A Package From Home
"Our mission is to strengthen the spirit and resolve of each Israeli soldier, and to show our appreciation for the sacrifices they are making in securing our safety and the survival of the Jewish People. Our care packages are not only a warm reminder of the love and esteem we hold for our soldiers but also are items that they truly need."

Connections Israel
"Connections Israel enables Jewish communities worldwide to stand united in helping to play a decisive role in improving safety, restoring normalcy, bringing a sense of gratitude to the IDF soldiers and bringing joy back to Israeli victims of terror."

Standing Together
"Standing Together partners with schools, synagogues and youth groups to establish a connection between Israeli soldiers and the Worldwide Jewish Community.  It is so important that the soldiers know their hard work is appreciated.  Whether its an email greeting for Rosh Hashana, a donut for Chanukkah, M’shloach Manot for Purim, chocolate for Pesach or barbeque for Yom HaAtzmaut, a small gesture goes a long way."

Also, please daven for our precious sons who were wounded during their struggle to protect and defend their holy people:

Dvir ben Leah
Noam ben Aliza
Li-El Hoshea ben Miriam
Nerya ben Rivka
Yitzchak ben Naava
Netanel ben Naava
Maxim ben Olga
Yisrael ben Ilana
Yoad Ido ben Freida Rivka
Idan ben Leora
Nadav ben Miriam
Raphael ben Nina

Have an easy and meaningful fast.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

When a boy grows up...

Yom rishon, 8 Tevet 5769.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse." -- John Stuart Mill
You'll forgive me if, for a short while, my thoughts and prayers are on one young soldier, his wife and baby-to-be (b'sha'ah tovah), and his comrades-in-arms.
May they be safe, successful, and victorious, in all their efforts on behalf of this holy People.
For excellent coverage of the Gaza War, the likes of which you won't find on CNN et al, please check out the efforts of my fellow bloggers, the writings of whom have been painstakingly gathered by Jack.  They do a much better job than I can of reporting what is really happening over here, as well as including the best and the worst of the MSM.  Some of my especial favorites are Jameel at the Muqata for reportage, A Soldier's Mother for a mom's perspective, Seraphic Secret for Old Country passion, and Treppenwitz for everything else, to include inspiring all of the rest of us.
Thank you to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldberger and the kehilla back in Baltimore for your prayers, phone calls, and inspiration.  It is your concern that adds the spiritual fuel to the tanks and fire to the weapons.  
May we hear b'sorot tovot. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Short Mantra for Parents of Soldiers, and Others Who Love Them

Yom chamishi, 5 Tevet 5769.


May Hashem bless our soldiers with safety, strength, wisdom in battle, loyalty to each other, and success.  May they have many mitzvot that Hashem requires of them, which they can only fulfill as healthy old men.