Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shavuot Song: Ahavat Yisrael

Yom revi'i, 4 Sivan 5769, Erev Erev Shavuot.

My name is Ruth.

Whither thou goest, I will go.

I have been seeking a place among this Holy People my whole life.

I have been included  

 warmly, lovingly, laughingly, approvingly 

 lo these twenty years.

There is nothing so sweet as seeking a home for one's neshama, and finding it.

There is nothing so satisfying as hungering for a thing, and attaining it.

The love I am permitted to have for every Jew comes from wanting it so before acquiring it.

This is what I would share with you.

This is what it can be to be a ger among Hashem's Holy Nation.

Even born among this people, you can fall in love with it 

 just by making yourself into a ger.

Where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people are my people, and your God is my God.

Thank you, Hashem, for bringing me home to Your People, and to Your Land!


Shavuot:  the holiday of the giving of the Torah
Neshama:  soul
Ger:  convert

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yishuv Car Pool

Yom rishon, 1Sivan 5769, Rosh Chodesh.

Haveil Haveilim (No Number, No Name Edition) appears at Benji's place, "What War Zone???".  B'ima sheli!  Benji can be funny; but if you feed him chumous, he can be convinced to just sit quietly and behave.  Here, Benji!  Sit, boy!  Sit!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Yom chamishi, 27 Iyar 5769.  Yom Yerushalayim mukdam (early, so as not to conflict with erev Shabbat).

"US Sec'y of State Hillary Clinton reiterated on Tuesday the US stance that Israel must halt its settlement activity on the West Bank:  'We want to see a stop to settlement construction -- additions, natural growth -- any kind of settlement activity.  That is what the President has called for.'" (quote transcribed from the broadcast of  JerusalemOnline news for 20 May 2009)

Just to put this in perspective, this means that the US government demands requests that Israel force my neighbor to stop building the house he has already paid for and received permits to build; that Israel prevent my landlord from adding an addition onto his house; that Israel mandate that my children not live in my community when they grow up and move out on their own.  I am guessing that -- temporarily, at least -- Barack Hussein and Hillary would not mind if we do these things in Tel Aviv.  Just not out here in the Judean Hills (from the same shoresh as "Jew"), or in the Shomron, or in certain parts of Jerusalem...

Aize chutzpah!

In contrast, a little recent history, a reminder of why we don't have the right to give up this precious moresha:

Hat tip:  Tsila Kahane

And because laughing is better than crying, and perspective (especially set to music) is important, please drop by Walt Handelsman's blog for a little animated "Recession Sing-A-Long" here. Hat tip to the Israel White House.

"And don't forget: finances can be a worry back in America as well! I think it more sensible to live in the land about which is said 'the Eyes of God are upon it' since He's the One who holds the purse strings anyway."  (Riva Pomerantz, from her article "Aliyah without Regrets," published at Hat tip to Rebbetzin Doctor Rivkah Lambert Adler

Look, mamaleh...  If it's bad there, and it's crazy here...  Why not be crazy with your family?

Daniella Tikva says, "Come Home!  It's a great place for kids!  And don't forget to say 'Tefilat Ha-Shelah Ha-Kadosh' for me and my dor!"

Mukdam:  early
West Bank:  a silly, made-up term that has caught on in the MSM that refers to Yehuda and Shomron and 'Aza, Biblically-recognized as having been bequeathed to the children of Israel from Hashem
Aize chutzpah!  "What cheek!" is as close as I can get.  Remind me to tell you the best definition for chutzpah sometime.
Moresha:  inheritance
Mamaleh:  a term of endearment -- "little mother" --  used for females mostly, but sometimes for males as well
Tefilat Ha-Shelah Ha-Kadosh:  a prayer made by a very great man, said (especially) at this time of year, that one's children should cleave to Hashem and to Torah
Dor:  generation

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seeking: Moral government officials to set world example. Apply within.

Yom chamishi, 27 Iyar 5769.

Ex-Kadima Speaker Itzik Billed Gov’t for Home Decorating
Former Kadima Speaker Dalia Itzik billed the government NIS 111,000 ($25,000) for expensive home improvements, claiming she needed the items because she used her Jerusalem home for work.

Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping, I put the radio by my head and let the BBC drone me to sleep.  Every once in a while, this affects my dreams.
The other night, I was listening, sort of, to a discussion of a study by Timothy Besley and Valentino Larcinese about "fiddling."  A definition for fiddling is "to commit fraud and steal from one's employer, as in 'We found that he had been fiddling for years.'"  I first encountered this quaint British slang in one of John Mortimer's delightful "Rumpole of the Bailey" stories.  It seems that the aged and well-loved court clerk had been fiddling the barristers out of a pound-note here and there over decades, and was finally caught -- and the barristers had to determine whether or not the offense was bad enough to let him go.  In the end, they did.

In the case of the Besley/Larcinese report, fiddling concerns what government officials charge their constituents beyond what is strictly required in the performance of their duties.  Of course, without Torah as a guideline, the gray areas of what one "requires" to do his job are vast.  Many government officials the world over find it easy to rationalize frighteningly large sums.

Besley and Larcinese were mainly interested in what was going on in Westminster; however, the discussion did get more global by comparison, as they were searching for a moral model against which to judge Britain's MPs.  It seems that corruption in government is as rife as our cynical age expects it to be, with only countries that prosecute such behavior with jail time having any degree of morality at the top worth measuring.

The US didn't fare very well.  The Swiss did better.  Israel wasn't even mentioned, which is good, of course, given the reality with which we live in our pursuit of the status of "a place among nations."

But my dreams drifted to the alternate reality that there is a job opening that Israel was designed to fill. Wouldn't it be nice if we could stand out in the crowd by just applying for that vacancy?

Wanted:  Moral government officials to set world example.  Applicants must be prepared to separate themselves from the behaviors commonly accepted world-wide.  Must be energetic, honest, courageous, and able to think outside the box.  Background in halacha a plus.  Desire to be a light unto the nations paramount.  Apply within.
 Baruch Hashem, at Chez Mizrachi, family members don't take money from each other.  So when the Stunt Man got paid for a bit of yard work, he thought nothing of tossing his cash onto the nearest empty surface.  This created an interesting image.  I wonder if the government could use our services?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Farewell to the Land of the Free

Yom revi'i, 25 Iyar 5769.

When you prepare your file to make aliyah through Nefesh B'Nefesh, one of the requirements is to write an essay explaining why you want to make aliyah.  Several recent blog posts made me feel like digging out our old essay, to see if it still rang true.

It does. 
America is a terrific country; and we are blessed to live in a wonderful, warm Jewish community. We understand the language; and we know how the system works. So why would we want to leave, and make our home in Israel?

We want to live the Torah. That means participating in mitzvot that cannot be done in chutz l’Aretz. We want to live the shemitah year, rather than just read about it! We want to understand terumah and ma’aser, and receive the birkat Kohanim at the Kotel, with thousands of our fellow Jews. We want to stop practicing Judaism, and start living it.

In Israel, as holidays approach, cello bags of vegetables have recipes for the holidays on them. During shemitah, every discussion about food turns into a Torah discussion! Dried flowers replace fresh flowers as gifts, in order to respect the halacha. How beautiful is that?! People cry together, when Yom HaZikaron comes. (In America, we mourn at home, or in small groups, feeling very much on the sidelines, as if we don’t really deserve to participate.) And Yom Ha-Atzma’ut in Israel is filled with real pride and joy. We want to experience the Jewish holidays that we now can barely describe to our children.

In Israel, at Pesach, businessmen go to a lot of trouble to provide suits and food for Jews who cannot afford these commodities, without embarrassing the recipients. Beautiful Jewish girls read Tehillim on the bus. Jewish children discreetly give up their seats for the elderly at the bus stop, in a way that doesn’t highlight their elders’ infirmities. Young people work up their courage, and sit with people in their homes, recommending that they consider sending their children to learn Torah. And often the people let their hearts hear, and send their children to Torah schools! Many people’s lives are built around bettering the lives of others. Of course, this happens in America, within the Jewish communities. But in Israel, it is embedded in the national consciousness. In Israel, we are a family, helping each other. We want to be surrounded by our family.

In Israel, one learns to be humble about “judging the wine by the jug.” People can appear to be very secular; yet, they may say “Baruch Hashem” with as much kavanah as anyone in a shtreimel or a shaitel. Often, in Israel, we have met people with very deep faith, who don’t “dress the part.” We learn so much from every kind of Jew in Israel. We want to live in Israel full-time, and continue to learn from our brothers and sisters.

In Israel, when one packs clothing and presents and notes for soldiers, one feels he is part of the effort to protect the country. (In America, one only feels useless. The tiny amount of money we can donate is empty, compared to the work of our hands.) When one works in a soup kitchen, she feels she is giving back to her own zaydes and bubbies, instead of just “doing a nice thing.” (In America, the hungry in Israel feel too far away to help.) When one cleans rubble from a bombed-out seminary, or paints a wall, or even sweeps one’s own house, he feels as if he is doing a small part to help keep G-d’s house clean. You just can’t feel like that in the land of the free.

We want to come home, and bring our sons home, to add to our numbers, because we Jews belong in Israel; and because our enemies, and even many of our friends, don’t want our numbers to rise. And we want to be able to live in the country, rather than the city, and still have our sons marry Jewish girls! (No need to go into what happens in America, if one prefers a small town or country life.)

We want the terrible homesickness to go away, that has been torturing our people for millenia. We have been out here in the wilderness for far too long. Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim to be His servants in His Land. Time to go Home.

Baltimore, Maryland, Iyar 5767.

Chutz l'Aretz:  anywhere outside of Israel
Shemitah:  the sabbatical year, during which Hashem commands us to allow the Land to lie fallow
Terumah and Ma'aser:  laws of tithing produce that I STILL don't properly understand

Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel:  a very cool experience, wherein many priests bless many, many Jews at the Western Wall
Yom HaZikaron:  Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars
Yom Ha-Atzma'ut:  Israel's Independence Day
Shtreimel:  elegant round fur hat worn by Chasidic men at holy and special occasions
Shaitel: wig [Yiddish]
Mitzrayim:  Egypt

Monday, May 18, 2009

C'mon, people. Is anybody listening?

Yom sheni, 24 Iyar 5769. 

"With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made - just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward."

This quote comes from those hard-working translators at, from an Arabic News Broadcasting interview with Abbas Zaki, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon.

I feel a little naive having to ask this; but is this the way ambassadors are supposed to talk?  And what kind of mental gymnastics does it take for Jews anywhere in the world to keep believing that the "two-state solution" means anything other than Israel's destruction?  And that people who demand such a final solution of us are our friends?

For more detailed coverage of Zaki's remarks, in this interview and others, see the article here.  The original ANB clip can be viewed here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

American Hell v. Israeli Hell

Yom rishon, 23 Iyar 5769.
There are certain jokes that require a knowledge of a specific society or country to appreciate.  One of my favorite jokes would have meant nothing to me just a few years ago.  Now I laugh all the way down to my toes.               
A man dies and the angel says he is going to hell, but he gets a choice of American hell or Israeli hell. He asks, "What's American hell like?" So the angel answers, "In American hell, you live in a huge mansion overlooking the sea, with an indoor/outdoor pool and a whole staff to serve you hand and foot, including an award-winning chef who serves scrumptious meals of all types. You drive the latest luxury cars. But every day at 5 p.m., a guy comes and dips you into a vat of boiling water."

The man shudders and asks, "What about Israeli hell?" The angel answers, "In Israeli hell, you live in a tiny dilapidated apartment on the top of a 5-story building with no elevator and no air conditioning, overlooking a bus station. You drive a 15-year-old dusty gray Kangoo wagon that burns oil; and all your meals consist of bread, boiled eggs, tomatoes, and cucumbers. And every day at 5 p.m., a guy comes and dips you into a vat of boiling water."

So the guy asks, "Why would anyone pick Israeli hell?"

The angel answers him, "well... in Israeli hell, 5:00 is never really 5:00... half the time the guy with the vat never shows up because he's on army reserve duty, on vaction in Greece, is attending a bar mitzvah, or is busy with his part-time cab business. And of course, everyone knows that the water never gets all that hot anyway..."

(You know it's hell instead of heaven, because there's no mention of chumous...)

Haveil Havelim #217:  The Discount Edition is up at Shiloh Musings and at Me-Ander.  Two for the price of one!  Happy Birthday, Batya.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No pressure. But let the music speak to you.

Yom chamishi, 20 Iyar 5769.

 Years ago, a dear friend who was living in Givat Ze'ev told us about a community project that had to be called to a halt due to Jewish history.

Seems that the gas station that was being built had to be stopped, as the excavation of the site had dug up Hashmonean ruins.  We marveled together about how a Jew in Israel is blessed to set his feet down, over and over again, in the paths upon which his great forefathers walked.

When someone else says it best, I might as well take a break and let him talk.  The following pearl shone forth from Chez Treppenwitz yesterday; and I could not pass up sharing it with you.

The importance of having access to the piano  -- David Bogner

As I drive to work each day through the breadbasket of ancient Judea, the ripening orchards, vineyards, and fields I pass remind me that just as in the days when the Temples stood in Jerusalem, the first wheat from the southern slopes of the Hevron hills will be ready just in time for Shavuot (signaling the traditional start of the wheat harvest).

Shortly after we moved here, our (then) 7 year old son Gilad made a memorable observation.

He had been taking piano lessons in the US, but was on a forced break in his musical studies due to our move. Even though he remained keenly interested in music, we explained to him that it made no sense to start his lessons with an Israeli teacher until our lift arrived and he had a piano in the house to play.

At the same time, being in an Israeli school with a strong religious Zionist curriculum, he was also starting to become aware of the direct connection between the land of Israel and the mitzvot (commandments) found in the Torah.

One morning after our lift had arrived and he had finally restarted his music lessons, he said to me, "Abba, being a Jew outside of Israel is sort of like someone taking piano lessons but not having a piano to practice on."

From the mouth of babes...

As Bogner so famously says:  "Don't thank me.  I'm a giver."

 Hashem has been very busy beautifying the yishuv lately.  Enjoy!
Hashmonean:  the period during which the Chanukah story takes place

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?

Yom shlishi, 18 Iyar 5769, Lag b'Omer.

There was a public service announcement (popularized by a Jewish radio announcer, incidentally) in the 60s, 70s and 80s that reminded parents to be aware of what their kids were up to during the late night hours.  It was understood in those days that a responsible parent ought to know that his kids were safe at home by then -- or at least know where they were at and whom they were with.

It is Lag b'Omer, the night Israel goes up in flames, in the most positive sense possible.

Every unguarded piece of wood is in fractals of fires all over the country, "stolen" by little boys and set ablaze by same.  There are several bonfires glowing at this moment around my yishuv.  I know where my little boys are.

The two fourteen-year-olds are out with their friends, feeding that yearly pyromania that Israeli kids are permitted to nourish.  (Mine are less bizarre at Chanukah now that they have this ultimate boy-pleasure.  The piles of fallen and burning candles have thankfully been replaced by something a bit more normal.)  Oh -- and The Dearly Beloved and other parents will pull patrol through the evening, to make sure that Shmuel doesn't burn his eyebrows off, and that Chaim is discouraged from tossing that aerosol can into the flames "just to see what will happen."  In most cases, a reminder that next year's bonfire depends on no incidents happening at this year's bonfire, coupled with cruising parents, seems to keep the young hopefuls relatively tame.

We have spoken on the phone; and they know that they must keep their heads.  Have fun -- but stay smart and safe.

Meron is filled with more humanity than I can appreciate all at once.  I know where my medium boys are.

The seventeen-year-old is enjoying the company of his best friend.  He and his nineteen-year-old brother, visiting from his yeshiva in the States, are immersing themselves in the kedusha and craziness that is Meron on Lag b'Omer.  Thousands of Jews are dancing and singing and perhaps encountering the divine within themselves as they celebrate the mystical wonders of Judaism that Shimon bar Yochai brought down from the Higher Realms in his lifetime.

We have spoken on the phone; and they are happy to share that they are experiencing something sublime.

Soldiers are guarding the borders, so that the celebrants can dance without fear of anything less than the Almighty.  I know where my big boy is.

The 22-year-old new husband, new father is on a jeep patrol with his comrades.


He would rather be home with his exhausted wife and their two-week-old daughter, helping to carry the little one around for an hour here and there so the new mommy can sleep.  But he has a job to do; and he does it with focus, even though he has the weight of the world on his young shoulders.

We have spoken on the phone; and it helps him when we tell him that his brothers can dance because he is doing his job.

This is my Israel on a Monday night in May.

It's eleven o'clock.  Do you know where your children are?

Photo credits:  Isranet, Avihu Shapira, AP

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Opting Out of Mom's Day

Yom rishon, 16 Iyar 5769.

For the past week or so, The Dearly Beloved has been asking me, "When is Mother's Day, anyway?"  I keep telling him that "ain li musag" -- I have no idea.  My calendar has been an Israeli one for the last three years; and it doesn't list Mother's Day.

It is not a holiday I ever cared for.

My sons -- G-d love 'em -- are seriously Mother's Day challenged.  They don't fight much, baruch Hashem.  In fact, I would say that they are each others' best friends.  But on Mother's Day, bitter, acrimonious fights are liable to break out.  They are moderately obedient children ("obedient" and "Israeli" being somewhat antithetical).  However, on Mother's Day, they can become nearly criminal.

Oh, don't think I haven't received all of those "love letters" their teachers made them bring home, with the lovely Crayola flower outlined in teacher's-aide-applied glitter.  But I finally had to tell them I would leave home the next time I received a letter that began with "Dear Ema I'm sorry for all the bad things I done to you."

After my dear Mama left this world, I decided to give my kids a well-deserved break.  We suspended our observance of the holiday entirely.  Their father became aware of a certain justice in the world.  After all, Father's Day falls in June, usually after elementary schools have subsided from filling their young charges' time with meaningful arts and crafts.  Dads got a raw deal for years, as there are many interesting things to do during the summer besides making a card for Father.  Dads, being less likely to start blubbering as you hand them your tender art work, aren't as much fun, anyway.  Useful for having a catch, but not as fun for the emotional manipulation game.  ("Hey, Ema, will you read Love You Forever to me and my friends?  [Soto voce:]  Hey, guys, watch this.  She can't get all the way to the end without bawling her eyes out.  It's a riot!")
(There's a stack of these for sale at M. Pomeranz Bookseller in Yerushalayim, for the locals.)

Back to my Mama, a"h.  She loved Mother's Day.  She loved the attention and the presents and the flowers and the burned breakfast in bed.  I see by remarks on the internet that the day must be getting close.  So for Mama, and for other mamas who might be more like her than her daughter, I offer some pretty things that would have made her smile.

Happy Mother's Day, Old Thing.  I was just missing you a little today.
Okay, in fairness, I possess a lovely box of boy-made cards that still bring a tear to my eye.  I think "Ema, you the man! -- well, sort of" is one of my favorites.  But let's not tell them.  It will be our secret.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why I listen to OTR, instead of watching television

Yom shlishi, 11 Iyar 5769.

"The best that I can hope for is to live to the age of 70.  That will give me 840 months of life.  Now I figure that for a third of a man's life, he's not quite sure what it's all about.  He spends another third just sleeping.  That leaves 280 months in which to accomplish anything.  Two hundred and eighty months in which to justify his existence.  Well, no matter how you look at it, there's no time to waste if we're going to accomplish the good that G-d expects of us.  We certainly can't try to dodge our opportunities... Above all, we cannot overlook our responsibilities to our families; for that is the vocation in life to which most of us are called.  If we wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to making our homes as happy and holy as G-d meant them to be, then we'll surely not be wasting the life that has been given us.  And G-d will help us do this, if we have the vision and the faith to pray to Him daily, in the circle of the home. For I can promise you this:  the family that prays together, stays together."

This quote ended an episode of Family Theater from the late 1940s.  In the "olden days," Hollywood actually spoke openly of G-d and family, without that little sarcastic edge that such words merit in today's sophisticated age.

Give me a little Old Time Radio any day for real relaxation and entertainment.  Sometimes, you can go home again.