Thursday, July 30, 2009

"A breath of life for our souls is the air of your land..."

Yom chamishi, 9 Av 5769, Tisha B'Av.

Last night, we heard the recitation of Eicha, as we do every Tisha B'Av night. This time, we listened under a canopy of black sky laced with stars, spread over the Mishnaic ruins of Anim, with around forty other people.  Men, women, young people and children, and even a baby or two, sat quietly for the reading, which was beautifully and hauntingly chanted by one young father. It was very special to see our two teenangels, sitting in the back of this ancient beit knesset, shuckling along as they closely followed the reading.  We felt we made a powerful statement, coming to this place roughly 30 kilometers south of Kiryat Arba, to pray and learn where the composers of our Mishna prayed and learned millennia ago.  Even the sound of the muezzin which punctured the holiness only increased our knowledge that we Jews belong in these places of our forebears, in every place that was given to the Jewish people by Hashem.  Thank you to our friends the Bogners for inviting us along for this remarkable adventure.


Today I watched The Devil's Arithmetic, from the book by Jane Yolen, adapted to the screen by Robert J. Avrech (and for which he won an Emmy).  It is a very moving story of a 16-year-old modern American girl who knows nothing about the meaning of the Pesach seder she is forced to attend with her "boring" elderly relatives.  Sent to open the door for the Prophet Elijah, she steps into the world her great aunt inhabited in 1941 Poland.  As those around her try to explain what she is seeing as she "comes out of her fever," we are reminded about the events that took place in that time.  As she begins to understand what is happening to her and those around her, she tells stories of the future that keep hope alive among her fellow concentration camp prisoners.  This is a difficult and beautifully-made film.  Because it is from a book for young people, it handles the Holocaust more gently than other movies I have seen -- and these days, it is about as draining a rendition as I can handle.  (I'll leave Schindler's List to my tougher brothers and sisters.)

Afterward, I watched a film that still brings buckets of tears out of me.  Avi Abelow and Yaron Shane put together Home Game, about the days leading up to the destruction of Gush Katif -- a very fitting topic for today, as tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the implementation of that great evil. Focusing around the last championship basketball game to take place there, between teams from Nezer Hazani and Neve Dekalim, the events are seen literally through the camera lenses of the engaging young people who lived there.  This documentary should be required viewing for every member of Knesset, and for every soldier.  I think it would be impossible to believe evil propaganda about "the settlers" after seeing this beautiful and heart-wrenching film.

In these last few hours before the end of this fast, a few thoughts stay in my mind.

When will we Jews stop fearing that our own government will evacuate us from our homes and from our holy places -- for what?  For peace?  No one sees any peace coming from our abandonment of Gush Katif to the Arabs.  To appease world governments, rather than pleasing G-d?  To fulfill some sort of national suicide syndrome?  Perhaps our government should be evaluated for Münchausen syndrome by proxy.  Do they still believe that the world will love them if they sacrifice the lives of their own citizens?

Of course, questions linger about why we lost Gush Katif, when we all knew that a miracle would occur, and that we would not lose it.  I will leave the political questions to someone else, as politics is not my arena.  But the spiritual battle was not completely lost at Gush Katif.  Nor has it been won.  The Ahavat Yisrael group in my yishuv, and the ones throughout Gush Etzion and Yerushalayim and New York and everywhere else in the world, must continue to work to solve the spiritual problem that allowed the gerush to happen.

The Dearly Beloved found a note that I wrote in 2007, tucked into the pages of a Tisha B'Av machzor.

"36.  One of the most amazing and beautiful of the Kinot, pointed out to us (Tisha B'Av 5767) by our dear friend, Mordechai Chazon.  He received nechama from it.  We did, too; but only because, with G-d's help, we will 'cherish [her] stones and favor [her] dust' in only a few weeks."

Here are some of the passages that especially move us from the Kinah, quoted from The Artscroll Mesorah Series: Zechor L'Avraham/The Complete Tisha B'Av Service, Nusach Ashkenaz, copyright 1989:


From west and east, from north and south, carry [in your heart]
the welfare of the distant and the near, from your every side.
And the welfare of the prisoner who is yet full of hope,
Who gives forth his tears like the dew of [Mount] Hermon,
and yearns to let them fall upon your hills.
Weeping over your suffering, I am like a sea monster,
but when I dream of the return of your captivity,
I am a harp for your songs.
My heart [longs] for God's Temple, and before God I long intensely...

I would cause my shattered heart to wander
amidst your shattered ruins.
I would fall on my face upon your soil
and intensely cherish your stones and favor your dust.
Even as I stand by the graves of my Patriarchs,
I behold in sheer wonderment the choicest burial sites in Hebron.
Mount Abarim and Mount Hor, the resting places
of your two great lights [Moses and Aaron],
your beacons and your guides.
A breath of life for [our] souls is the air of your land,
the powder of your dust is finer than flowing myrrh
and your river is like the honeycomb's drippings...

The flocks of your masses who were exiled and scattered
from mountain to hill, they do not forget your sheepfolds...

Your God desired you for his residence,
and fortunate is the man who chooses and draws near
and dwells in your courtyards...

Paintings of the destructions of the two Temples are taken from The Temple Institute, whose efforts include raising public awareness about the Holy Temple, and the central role that it occupies in the spiritual life of mankind.

From the haftarah:
The words of my Lord, Hashem/Elohim, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel, "I shall gather to him even more than those already gathered." 

@#@#@#@#@#@#@#@#@#@#@#@#   Nachamu, nachamu!

Dear English speakers!

This coming Friday, July 31st, we will be holding an event in Shdema.

Itamar Marcus who was supposed to speak in English,
had to cancel his talk because of a sudden trip abroad;
and therfore the person who will be replacing him will be:

YORAM ETTINGER, former ambassador, expert on the United states and the Middle East.

Yoram Ettinger will speak IN ENGLISH on "The demographic scare: A demographic timebomb or scarecrow?"

Those who heard the lecture in Hebrew can tell you that this is a lecture NOT TO BE MISSED:
extremely informational and very uplifting!!

Tell your friends and come this coming FRIDAY July 31st at 9:30 am to SHDEMA in GUSH ETZION!!

The Committee for a Jewish Shdema

for details Nadia Matar 0505500834 or Yehudit Katzover 0507161818

Eicha:  Lamentations, a tragic and beautiful poem describing the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the exile of the Jewish people from their land
Tisha B'Av:  the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, on which many terrible tragedies befell the Jewish people throughout history
Mishnaic:  from the  first through early third centuries of the Common Era
Beit Knesset:  synagogue
Shuckling:  moving the upper body back and forth in a swaying motion, to "the music" of prayer or learning
Muezzin:  Muslim who chants the Islamic call to prayer, broadcast over loudspeakers five times a day
Ahavat Yisrael group:  gatherings of women devoted to promoting the laws and observance of love of a fellow Jew
Gerush:  "Disengagement" from Gush Katif, August 15, 2005
Nechama:  comfort, solace
Kinah (plural: Kinot or Kinnos):  dirges or elegies recited during the mournful time of Tisha B'Av, to focus our sorrow toward tears that will bring the Ultimate Redemption, may it be speedily in our days!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Riots and Reactions

 Yom rishon, 5 Av 5769.

I am very worried.

As people are aware, there is a real problem going on in Yerushalayim right now, in the Hareidi sector.  For anyone who has been studying Torah in a cave, minding his own business, a short recap:

  • Mayor Nir Barkat announced a few weeks ago that a parking lot was going to be opened on Shabbat.
  • Hareidim rioted.
  • Mayor Barkat canceled the opening.  A week later, he announced that a parking lot in an area somewhat farther from the Hareidi community was going to be opened on Shabbat.
  • Hareidim rioted.
  • A pregnant Hareidi mother was arrested while leaving a meeting with a social worker, and placed in a cell for three days without bail.  One of her children who was extremely ill, allegedly at her hands, was taken from the family, put into the hospital, and is improving in health.  It was suspected that she had Münchausen syndrome by proxy.
  • Hareidim rioted.
These are difficult problems.  Possibly catastrophic, if handled badly.  But this is not what I am worried about.

I am worried because otherwise level-headed friends of mine are doing something they NEVER do when it has to do with our camp:  they are believing what they read and hear in the MSM.

I have a lot of questions about the stories I have heard about these incidents; but first let me state a few impressions clearly.

Rioting is bad.  It doesn't help anyone.  It doesn't persuade.  I don't think it changes anyone's mind when the Hareidim do it over events like these, when secular college students do it over increased tuition, when the kipah seruga crowd does it over a razed home in the middle of the night, or when the Arabs do it over their latest bout of hurt feelings about anything.  Rioting doesn't win hearts and minds.  It improves nothing.

It is not possible to force people to keep Shabbat.  Since my earliest awareness of Torah Judaism, it has been clear to me that the maxim about catching flies with honey rather than with vinegar is true.  I have known many people to become Torah observant due to a well-prepared Shabbat meal or a kindness extended by a child from a Torah-observant home.  I have never heard of a single case of a person being screamed at about his hedonistic lifestyle saying: "Gee!  Glad you pointed that out!  Hurry -- get me some tefillin!"

The Jewish people as a whole does not need to feed the wolves of the world press any more choice meat.  When we publicly battle each other, Esav gives us much more world attention than we need.  We give ourselves great big black eyes when we publicly flip out, instead of dealing in reasoned discourse.  This close to the coming of Moshiach, the Satan surely must love when we behave so incredibly divisively.  I can see the headline in the Gehinnom Daily Trumpet:  "Sinat Chinam increases during the Three Weeks!  Jews 0, Hell 49!"

So here are a few of my questions, before I assume that the entire Hareidi world has gone bonkers.
  • Was there any negotiation with the Hareidi leadership prior to the parking lot announcement?
  • Why was a pregnant mother who was assumed to be sick not gently taken to a mental hospital for observation?
  • Was the rav of the alleged child abuser/ill woman approached prior to her arrest by the police?
  • How many people, of which sects, are involved in the riots?
  • What is the response of parents, educators, and rabbis in the various Hareidi communities to their own young people?
  • Why can't my friends and loved ones in the Dati community read Hamodia, Yated Ne'eman, Mishpacha magazine, before they assume that no one in the Hareidi camp is protesting the riots, rather than assuming that the Hareidi world is "ish echad b'lev echad" -- one man with one heart?  Do they have to post signs for us to read, and print articles in our papers, before we will give them the same careful analysis we expect the world to give us?  We, who are the constant victims of the viciously-spewed expressions "settlers" and "obstacles to peace" in the MSM?
  • When will we Jews stop feeding the Satan such lavish meals, made entirely of each other?
This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you?  I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another; and that you have awe and reverence for one another.
                                          --Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu Rabba, 26:6

Anyone interested in hearing another side, please start here:  Shooting Ourselves in the Foot -- Again, by Jonathan Rosenblum. 

Hat tip to my friend, Sarah Lipman, a techie-dynamo and brilliant eim ha-banim smeicha, buried deep in the Hareidi world.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shigrah vs. Gerush

Yom chamishi, 2 Av 5769.

Durng the battle for Gush Katif, there were differing opinions (surprise, surprise) on the best "battle plan."  Many of the citizens of the beleaguered settlement bloc argued on behalf of "shigrah" -- routine.  "If the government sees that their threats cannot stop us from living our normal lives, they will see that we are not intimidated.  We won't leave.  We will plant and harvest and go on as usual.  We will build.  We will have Torah scroll dedications, just like always."  Nadia Matar, one of the founders of Women for Israel's Tomorrow (dubbed by the MSM as "Women in Green") pointed out a small but glaring problem.

"Just remember that the root letters of "shigrah" (routine) and "gerush" (expulsion) are the same."

Nadia came to Neve Daniel at the request of Rebbetzin Geula Twersky, to speak to a group of interested community members.  She spoke with us casually, telling her personal history, the history of Women for Israel's Tomorrow, the history of the Oslo agreements, and the ongoing fight for a Jewish presence in Shdema.

When the Dearly Beloved and I first made aliyah, we went with Nadia to Shdema.  (He had been loyally supporting me as I wept at the computer since the early 1990s regarding the urgent angst over "the settlements."  It seemed only right to "put our money where our mouth is.") We followed Nadia the Conqueror down the road surrounded by Arab villages to Shdema...  and ended up sliding down (rather than going up) the hill in our beat-up old Kangoo...  smack into the military police.  This delayed their ascent, so that Nadia and her small group could make it up the hill.  Somehow, we were not arrested.  (How would we have explained THAT to the kids?)  Not having a weapon or a guide with us on our return, we took the road to Jerusalem, which we had heard was a shorter route past the Arab villages than the route we had come, with major trepidation.  Baruch Hashem, we made it home without incident.  But we decided we probably weren't cut out for on-site protesting.

Many months later, visits by Jews to Shdema are government-approved and IDF-supported.  However, as Nadia points out, the battle is not yet won.  This tiny piece of high ground is all that keeps the eastern part of Gush Etzion from being cut off from Jerusalem.  If it were to become Judenrein, only the Minharot (Tunnels) highway and the long way around Beit Shemesh/Ramat Beit Shemesh would connect the two sectors.  Bitter history has shown what happens when the Gush is isolated from Jerusalem.  Both areas become more vulnerable to attack.

Nadia asked us if we had noticed the white Oxfam signs going up in the Gush, as well as other activities that show EU and UN support for the "Palestinians'" efforts to claim land in this area by hastily planting and building in open areas.  Were we aware of the giant Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers present in the area, one of whose claims to fame was the destruction of houses and communites?  Did we know that the Arabs have succeeded in surrounding Shdema with building and planting, in their bid to drive us away from that strategic hilltop?

Our daily routine may be choking us.

The Dearly Beloved and I decided that our new routine, as we become more entrenched in our Land, is to take a more active stand against giving away chunks of it for elusive promises of peace, especially as the enemy keeps increasing hostilities.  So we will join our friends and neighbors in adding to the Jewish presence in Shdema.

Routine in Israel isn't like routine elsewhere in the world -- and here routine doesn't ever mean "mundane."  In Israel, routine means solving problems differently.  It means taking more time to do simple things, but for very good reasons.  It means remembering what the root letters are in the word "routine," and not becoming so complacent that the letters switch around to mean "expulsion." 

 P.S.  Keep in mind that there are other "outposts" that are holding ground for us in the Gush.  Between Elazar and Neve Daniel is the tiny fledgling community of Nezer, which will need to be supported if it is not to be destroyed. Our own Sde Boaz will also need our continued support.  Otherwise, it is of concern that the quiet war against the Jews of the Gush, being fought by the EU and the UN and others, will fill the areas between our small towns with Arab villages -- some of which are hostile toward our peaceful communities.  As I have expressed before, any neighboring Arabs who feel friendly toward us don't speak up against the violence.  So we can't know who they are.



THESE COMING TWO FRIDAYS WE HAVE A SPECIAL TREAT! In addition to our Hebrew program we added an ENGLISH PROGRAM IN SHDEMA! Make sure not to miss it!


10:30am-12:00 noon -- PANEL IN ENGLISH: "WE MADE ALIYA. WHAT NOW?" with RABBI MOSHE LICHTMAN, author  of Eretz Israel in the Parasha and translator of Eim Habanim Smeicha,resident of Bet Shemesh, RABBI YITZHAK AND GEULA TWERSKY from Neve Daniel, ZAHAVA ENGLARD from Efrat and SHARON KATZ, editor of VOICES, resident of Efrat, as moderator


9:30am-10:30am -- LECTURE IN ENGLISH by ITAMAR MARCUS, Director Palestinian Media Watch on: "FATAH AND HAMAS: Find the difference"

More details and short movies about the struggle for a Jewish Shdema can be found by clicking on:

The flyer with the entire program in 3 languages -- Hebrew, English and Russian -- can be found by clicking on:

We must point out that the upcoming Hebrew program is fascinating too and urge you to join.

Shdema is accessible by car. For bus transporatation please call Elisheva to reserve seats. 052-3003689


The Committee for a Jewish Shdema and Women in Green

for details: Nadia Matar 0505500834  Yehudit Katzover 0507161818


If you haven't seen Avi Abelow's excellent film, Home Game, or if you haven't seen it for a while, please read the information below, and watch the film for free:

To commemorate the 4th anniversary of the Gaza pullout, or expulsion as opponents call it, Home Game: The Movie is now available online for FREE during the "The Nine Days", which begins on July 22nd and ends with the close of the fast day of the 9th of Av that falls out on July 30th.

Watch the movie, forward it on to your friends, relatives and community lists and send us your feedback about this moving and important film:
Click here to watch Home Game today
Thie movie is  most appropriate activity for the 9 days, in general, and Tisha Ba'av specifically.

Oh, by the way... mazal tov on all the Arab weddings going on in my neighborhood lately.  (Is Av a particularly auspicious time for Arab weddings???)  We've been listening to "music" that sounds vaguely like jackals, and many weapons being fired, all for the sake of the Arab version of simcha.  Sometimes our communites overlap a bit.  Jameel at the Muqata shares the love.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Tops and Tales

Yom shlishi, 22 Tamuz 5769.

This post is about a kipah, and a visit with an insurance agent, which have nothing in common except that each took a little extra time -- and was worth it.

The hottest story of the summer in the Jewish Blogosphere very tiny cyberworld of Ruti's blog has been Sports Guy's dwindling Gush Katif kipah supply.

Let me take this opportunity to say that you may be a small readership -- but you are THE BOMB.  Readers gave guidance about where they though Gush Katif kipot could still be found.  Others made phone calls to people they knew who knew people, trying to get them professionally produced.  One of my favorite conversations went like this:  Holy Reader to Vendor:  "Nu?  Can you get us a few of the Breslov style orange Gush Katif kipahs?"  Vendor:  "I'll try.  How many do you want?"  Holy Reader tells the story of how Sports Guy doesn't want to stop wearing Gush Katif kipot until we get Gush Katif back.  Vendor:  "Oh.  Then he only needs one, right?"  That effort fell through -- but not for lack of trying.  "When Moshiach comes, it won't be an issue..."

A kid in the States offered to send his via airmail or courier.  And one amazing lady here in Israel offered to make the kipah for him with her own hands.

"Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach" is one of those friends you shake your head and say, "What nice thing did I do to deserve this?"  And then you realize that she is just that good a friend to a fellow Jew.  When we first came to Israel, hers was one of the first families to feed us.  They helped us to make connections.  And when I started my blog, she was one of the earliest to comment and encourage.  And now she made a kipah for my 14-year-old son, based on the photograph in the blog post -- and she won't accept an agarah for it.  Sports Guy is thrilled.  Color commentary on this latest sports story:  "I'm really loving this kipah.  It fits great.  It's got great color.  It can really go the distance."

If only Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach could know how much she taught my sons with this loving effort.  Thank you, Devra.  May you reap many rewards, in this world, and in the World To Come.


 As I have suggested before, don't try to get more than one bureaucratic thing accomplished in Israel per day -- and expect every accomplishment to take two visits.  I did not make this up.  It was advice given to us prior to aliyah.  Life experience has proven it to be correct.  So, we heave a heavy sigh, gather up our intestinal fortitude, and slog our way to this week's current incompetent bureaucrat or inept businessman, right?


In America, you can get business done, chik-chok.  When you are done eating your meal, the waiter is there with your check.  (Maybe even sooner.)  When you go to get some piece of bureaucracy handled, you can get in and out quickly (once you get through the lengthy period in the waiting room -- the actual business usually takes a laughably short time).  In Israel...  your waiter gives you perfectly fine service, until it's time to pay the bill.  Then you have to hunt him down.  And when you go to buy an airline ticket or to get car insurance...  you get right in to see the fellow...  and it takes two hours to get out of his office.

Is this because he doesn't know his business?  Chas v'shalom!  It is because A) he is interested in your life, as a fellow Jew; B) he's probably going to have to untie some complicated bureaucratic knot you've gotten yourself into; and C) he has a story to tell you.

 The diplomas and awards on David Cohen's walls share space with photographs of David skiing, photos of his family, and of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l.  He is happy to show photos of our friend who recommended him, who happens to be his nephew.  He shows family photos of a recent bar mitzvah.  When we share our photos and tell a bit about ourselves in response to his questions, he shows more photos of windsurfing with a US Army friend.  (We think of a dear retired Army friend who could easily get along with this guy.  We may work an international business shidduch...)  He gives us chocolate.  (He would have given us coffee.  He probably would have fed us lunch.)  As he's untying our personal bureaucratic knot, he tells us his story.

David's father was a rabbi in Egypt.  He was born in the year of the First Zionist Congress in Basle, in 1897.  In 1952, during the military coup d'état that brought Nasser to power, Rabbi Cohen fled with his family to Palestine.  When the 1967 war came about, the 70-year-old rabbi wanted to do battle against the forces of evil.  Instead of a rifle, his weapon was tefillin:  David remembers his father staying in tefillin during the entire six days of the war -- "even sleeping in them."  [Ed. note:  Please don't talk halacha to me just now.  I am in awe of someone so holy that he battled darkness with the light of tefillin.  I cannot know his level of holiness.  I am certain his dear son also held him in such awe.]

In 1992, David Cohen went back to Egypt, to visit and photograph his father's beit knesset.  He was not allowed by the Egyptians to enter; but he was permitted to take photos through an outside window.  His camera discovered, under the dust of disuse, that the seforim and other holy objects that had been abandoned had been left untouched by the Egyptians, just as they had been left hastily by the fleeing talmidim.  The Egyptians' fear/respect/awe of Hashem seems to be genetic coding from Paroh who, though he defied Hashem, finally came to know and fear Him.

The short summation of this story is that there are extraordinarily cool reasons why things take too long in Israel.  Come with a positive attitude, and some extra time in your schedule.  It's worth it.  And if you need a really great insurance guy, let me know.


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach:  "May His great name be blessed" -- from the Rabbi's Kaddish prayer
Agarah:  the coin representing 1/100th of a shekel
Chas v'shalom!:  Heaven forbid!
Shidduch:  a match-up (usually means for marriage; but it can refer to other types of partnership as well)
Tefillin:  phylacteries
Halacha:  Jewish law
Seforim:  books, specifically holy books
Talmidim:  students
Paroh:  Pharoah, who is said to have survived the drowning of his army at the Red Sea, in order to be a witness to Hashem's greatness

Monday, July 13, 2009

Haveil Havalim #225 Lands on the Tarmac!

 Yom sheni, 21 Tamuz 5769.

Photo credit:  Avital Pinnick
I was going to tell you the the latest chapter in the story of the Gush Katif kipah; but today I spent two hours getting car insurance.  Then I went and listened to Nadia Matar.  So I will tell you the stories of the kipah and the car insurance, and maybe a bit about Nadia Matar, in a later post.  For now, I will give you a special treat.

The Welcome New Israelis Edition has just been posted over at Maya's place:  How to Be Israeli.

Haveil Havalim is always a nice roundup of the week's Jewish/Israeli writing.  This week is particularly rewarding, for a few reasons.  There are posts in which you can vicariously relive the adventure of the first planeload of Jews for this year's aliyah fever season, brought to you once again by that great choreography team:  Nefesh B'Nefesh, The Jewish Agency, and El Al.  There are other excellent and well-written articles on a variety of topics.  From a writer's/contributor's perspective, this is my favorite Haveil Havalim edition so far, for two reasons.  Maya gives excellent guidance to contributors, much of which has never occurred to me before.  And she has clearly read and commented thoughtfully on each and every contribution.  Kol hakavod, Maya!

Please read through this issue -- and take an opportunity to look through Maya's blog archives as well.  Here is an olah chadasha with some great tips for How to Be Israeli.  Why re-invent the wheel, when Maya can save you so many headaches?

And don't lose patience with me, please.  The story of the kipah is still unraveling...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

City of Dreams**

Yom chamishi, 17 Tamuz 5769, Ta'anit Shiva Asar b'Tamuz.

The Dearly Beloved and I are in a walking competition, started by our friends and fellow bloggers over at Chez Treppenwitz.  As much of our daily life involves sitting -- my husband with a guitar and student, and I in front of the computer -- the opportunity to walk off a little pudge competitively seemed like a good idea.  It has been wonderful, at many different levels.

We are spending some real quality time together.  We feel better and stronger -- and, yes, we are getting lighter, ever so slowly.  The kids are very supportive.  Frequently throughout the day, they will ask how many steps we have walked so far.  There is nothing quite so rewarding as getting "knucks" from your proud and encouraging teenangel.  (Sports Guy:  "Nice job, Ema.  Give us some knucks!")

Today, we were too busy to get to our customary evening walk until very late at night.  But, see -- that is the point of competition.  If we were doing this on our own, we would look at the clock, and our fully-functioning brains would say, "Naaah.  Not tonight."  But thanks to our buddy Trep, our glory-drunk egos scream "Slacker!!!  Get out there and get it done!  Tie on those tennies, right NOW!"

Now here is the delicious part of going out so late.  The beautiful black sky is filled with stars.  Some of them are red.  There is a planet near the moon, clearly visible.  The Dearly Beloved says, with such awe in his voice, "Can you believe what our eyes can see?  Those stars are billions of years old, and light-years away!  And yet we can see them, and even know which ones are hot and which ones are cool.  We can see the valleys of the moon; and it's over 300,000 kilometers from Earth.  Amazing!"  I am unbelievably happy.  He still is as excited about astronomy as he was as a kid.  He points out Scorpius, and Cassiopeia (which has always been one of my favorites).  We marvel together at the gift of sight Hashem has given us.  Each of us says a silent prayer that He lets us keep this gift, for many years, in good health.

At a bend in the road, we suddenly hear pounding feet behind us.  We turn slightly, without fear, to be sure that we are not in the jogger's way.  In the city, in the Old Country, we would not have been walking by choice at this hour.  And if for some reason we were, the sound of running feet approaching would have caused us to whirl, and get into a defensive fighting position.  Our hearts would have been in our throats, hoping that this would not be the time when we would join others in our community who had been mugged or worse.  We walk and talk, and before we know it, we arrive at the brand-new "Park shel Sport."

For a change, there is no one there.  So we exercise a bit, under the remarkable sky.

"What does your pedometer say?"  He asks me.  When I tell him my step count, he says it's time for us to head home.  As we are walking up our street, the fog rolls in that has been hovering over the Mediterranean.  It brings with it dew that we literally watch being deposited on the cars.  "Since we moved here, I finally understand our tefillot," I say to him.  "Davening for dew in the middle of the Baltimore summer rainy season never made too much sense.  But of course -- the Jewish calendar was made for Israel."  As simple as this concept is, it becomes very clear to us, as we watch it taking place before our eyes.

And when we return home, the clouds that always remind me of the ananei ha'kavod envelope us in a cool and soothing embrace.

So now it's far too late to still be awake.  Instead of setting my alarm to get up early enough to ingest some caffeine before the fast, I am enjoying the feeling of gratitude for the simple Jewish life I have wanted for so long. 

"It is on fast days that peace and truth are hewn out."...

..."May they become forever times of joy and celebration -- festive days."*

 *The quotes above are taken from Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks' English translation of the Selichot for Seventeenth of Tamuz, The Koren Siddur, p. 954.
**City of Dreams is the title a wonderful song written by my dear son, known to you here as Soldier Boy.  I hope one day to post a good recording of it.

Shiva Asar b'Tamuz:  The fast of the 17th of Tamuz is one of the days that  commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Tefillot:  prayers
Davening:  praying
Ananei haKavod:  Clouds of Glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Not seeing things

Yom revi'i, 16 Tamuz 5769.

Nothing says "too much time in front of the computer" like walking out your door and seeing this: 

...instead of this:

The Dearly Beloved and I were on one of our daily walks, enjoying a particularly lively Neve Daniel wind.

I couldn't quite bring myself to admit that I was just now noticing the flag painted on our water tower.  I mean, what if it had been there for WEEKS???  And when did it get there?  It must have taken days to paint.  I pride myself on being an observant Jew.  (Sorry.  I'm getting old enough to get away with being punny.)  Had I been so oblivious to the world outside of cyberspace that I totally missed guys with pulleys and platforms and buckets of paint crawling all over the water tower?  I decided to remain nonchalant.

"Hey," exclaimed the Dearly Beloved, "when did they put that up?"  (Whew.  I do not know how I would maintain my sense of mental balance without the old guy.)

We discussed it for a few minutes, reminding each other that we had spent the whole week moving Soldier Boy from one apartment to another.  We ran into one of our good neighbors, who invited us in for a home-brewed beer.  (We accepted, of course.  Beer may not be the cornerstone of most weight-loss plans, but it is "proof that G-d loves us, and wants us to be happy.")  He and his delightful wife explained to us that the painting had, in fact, gone up just this day!  Their sons earned a little arichat yomim by validating the parents.  "We saw the guys painting it!" they chorused.  One of the little geniuses elaborated.  "They had this big triangle, and they turned it this way --" he illustrated in the air -- "and then the other way."


We felt better, and it wasn't just the beer.

The old girl in me is grateful not yet to be losing her sense of reason.  The rebellious teenager that still dwells inside likes seeing a giant "we are here, and we aren't leaving" banner painted on the water tower.  Right on, Israel.  Right on.

Arichat yomim:  "lengthy days" -- one of the rewards, our Sages tell us, for respect for our parents
The beer quote was taken from Benjamin Franklin without permission.  He's dead.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The eagle has landed, bringing more of my brothers Home.

Yom shlishi, 15 Tamuz 5769.

Our friend Yarden has written another fine and heartfelt post on his blog, Crossing the Yarden.  He gave me the honor of agreeing to be a guest here.  If you didn't get to farewell the new olim on the North American side of the world, or greet them on the Israeli side, you can still catch a little of the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliyah fever by watching the recording at

Dear Eric and Laurie,

So now you know.

No matter how much I try and explain what it is like emotionally for
those of us who have made aliyah, it is a hopeless task. In the end,
it is only those who step off the plane with an “Oleh” sticker on
their shirt and a exhausted but happy smile on their faces that can
ever truly comprehend the Aliyah experience.

You have left your homes, your jobs, your friends, and your family
for….. Well that’s just it. You know in full detail what you have left
but you cannot have anything more than a vague concept of what you are
getting. You have a vision and have followed your dream, but tomorrow
you open your eyes and see the reality.

What are these details? What will your life be like?

You will marvel that the Kotel, the holiest site in Judaism for
thousands of years is just a short car ride away. You will be
frustrated when you try and translate “taco shells” into Hebrew at the
supermarket. You will be filled with pride when your children sing
Hatikva on Yom Hatzmaut, and will be at a loss when you need to get
your car through the annual inspection process. Your children will
delight in racing around a kosher food court in a mall, and you will
wonder how on Earth everyone you know lives in “minus.”

You will scream, and cry, and grasp each other when you hear the
terrible news that is a tragic part of life here. You will be filled
with rage from top to bottom when you watch Israel’s enemies act like
human beings on television. And you will be filled with an almost
inexplicable joy every time you see a young Israeli man or woman
wearing the green of the Israeli Defense Forces.

You will have fierce arguments with friends and neighbors over
anything and everything in the news. And you will end up feeling
closer to them than friends and neighbors can ever feel. You will
laugh, cry, joke, and lean on them because that’s how Israelis get
through things, be they wonderful or terrible.

Many leaders of the world, in a sincere but naïve attempt to create
“peace,” say Jewish settlement in the heartland of Israel is not
legitimate. They will look at you and your children and label you
“obstacles to peace.” The “experts” on the Sunday news shows will try
and explain how your desire to live over the “Green Line” is the moral
equivalent of the desire of others to do you harm.
But even Presidents and experts are without a clue when it comes to
the desire of Jews to return to the  places that our ancestors were
forced out of thousand of years ago.

What you did today was not just a move. Your decision to build a home
and a life for you and your children and one day grandchildren is a
message that is heard around the world. The ongoing return of the
Jewish people to the Jewish national home cannot be stopped. And you
and your children are a part of this amazing revolution.

And maybe four years from now, you will be working in front of a
computer one morning. You will have forgotten the joy and exhaustion
of your aliyah day and be more preoccupied with paying the mortgage
and deciding what to make for dinner. Then you will take a break and
watch a live arrival ceremony at Ben Gurian airport, and the tears
will roll as you watch a few hundred more happy and clueless new
immigrants walk off a plane and onto the beautiful roller coaster that
is life in the nation of Israel.

To Eric, Laurie, and all the other Olim,

You made it. Welcome home.

Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel, Israel

And if you still have room for a bit more vicarious aliyah, check out my friend Romi Sussman's blog post for today at Sussmans b'Aretz.  And for fans of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, word has it that Laura Ben David will be greeting TWO of her sisters on this flight with a very special sign.
Bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh.  Kein yirbu.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Signs of Home

Yom rishon, 13 Tamuz 5769.

How do I know I'm really Home?  I can find mezuzah covers on sale at the hardware store.

There are mikva'ot on the path to the Holy Temple, so travelers won't have to wait in long lines to immerse prior to entering areas of sanctity.  (I can see the signs going up along Derech HaAvot any day now:  "Dip on the way!  Beat the rush!") 

My bank offers deeper insights into existence, as if a Heavenly voice were speaking directly to each patron.  (The sign says "Your tomorrow begins already today.")  Somehow in Hebrew, the message is inescapable. 

Even "you snooze, you lose" looks better in the holy tongue.  Or as we used to say less colorfully:  "He who hesitates is lost."  I don't think the saying was intended to sell BMWs.  But you have to admit, it makes you think.

The people, of course, tell more about Home than the signs do.

A young soldier lays tefillin at a booth in the central bus station.
At Home, an ancient beggar gives heartfelt brachot for health, happiness, wealth, Torah-observant children, and no ayin hara.

The flags for national holidays have the Magen David on them, and are hung by immigrants from the four quarters of the Earth.

People who make us nervous usually end up on posters sporting the trademark symbol of Arafat, yemach shemo, the kaffiyeh

Even signs advertising upcoming summer fun for kids are more delightful to me in Hebrew.  ("Caution:  there is color here."  Sounds so much cooler than "Caution:  wet paint.")

At Home, friends surprise one another by coming from four different street corners for a group hug.

And guys who were neighbors half a world a way plan how they're going to go about becoming neighbors again.
At Home, national football players drop by my apartment to make themselves a bite of lunch...
...and then it turns out that I am actually related to most of them...
...and when they act like national football heroes everywhere, I just roll my eyes, and go back to what I was doing.
(Sam, I'm pretty sure they learned this from you.  You're grounded for a week.  That'll fix you.)

And when one is truly at Home, she gets the privilege, now and then, of glimpsing the future of her people -- and it looks beautiful and healthy and strong, and very sweet.  That gives me a sense of peace.

These youths from Bat Ayin -- who could have spent the day with friends at the beach -- were near the Kotel, raising money and awareness for the family of the sweet boy who was murdered by an Arab terrorist just a few months ago.  May Hashem avenge his blood.  And may we share b'sorot tovot.

This post was in honor of the hostess of this week's issue of Haveil Havalim #224, The Fourth of July Weekend Edition, which is on the rack at Toby's place, A Time of the Signs.
Mezuzah covers:  used to house the small pieces of Torah-inscribed parchment found on the doorposts of Jewish homes and businesses
Mikva'ot:  ritual baths, for spiritual purification
Derech HaAvot:  Path of the Patriarchs -- the actual road traveled by our forefathers on the three pilgrimage festivals to the Holy Temple
Brachot:  blessings
Ayin hara: "evil eye," by some treated as a superstition; by others who see the world more spiritually and less physically, understood to be bad fortune that can be brought down onto one's head by the jealousy of others
Yemach shemo:  May his name be erased
B'sorot tovot:  Good tidings, good news