Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another take on the dog days of summer

Yom rishon, 10 Elul 5769.

In the spirit of Elul, here is one of those precious family moments that briefly takes us from  the level above nature to the level of nature.

Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah blows the shofar when family dog, Chewy, decides to add his voice to the mix. Thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance.

Hat tip to Bagolan  (Thanks, Adam.)

West Bank Mama has put together a great edition of Haveil Havalim:  #232 - The Back to School Edition.  There is so much to read these days -- it's nice to have one place to get a very good taste of what is happening at the Jewish/Israeli grassroots level.  A little Torah, a little politics, a few slices of life...  Put the kids on the bus, and enjoy a quiet read.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Are we builders or destroyers?

Yom shishi, 8 Elul 5769.
It's Elul.

No big deal, right?  All we have to do is spend the next month cleaning up our act, getting ready for the big show:  Yom Kippur.  We have to forgive every Jew who wronged us, and make ourselves forgivable in the eyes of Hashem.  Oh, yeah -- and let's not forget that noodling in the backs of our minds is that famous Chofetz Chaim rewording of an already troubling famous concept.  Every day that the Temple is not rebuilt, we are tearing it apart with our own hands.

With our own words, actually.  And our petty (but not to us, of course!) little angers at other Jews.

And every day that we are Temple-free is another day we get to fear our enemies, bury our loved ones over stupid violence and disease, suffer small and great torments, physical, mental, emotional...

And all we have to do to end the suffering is to love our fellow Jew.  Not climb Mt. Everest.  Not walk over burning coals in our bare feet.  Not starve ourselves for forty days, nor even take a vow of abstinence.

Just love Jews.  Every Jew, even the least lovable.  Even the Jews that drive us crazy.  Easy, right?


Given our natures, given our weaknesses and easy rationalizations over our hurtful responses to our dented fragile egos, acid-soaked coals would be a cakewalk, compared to loving that %#@&* who did X to me five years ago...

Impossible.  Totally insurmountable.

Fortunately, as Rebbetzin Tzipporah Harris points out, its not our job.  It's Hashem's.  All we have to do is ask Him to solve the impossible.  But we have to ask sincerely.

Rebbetzin Harris listened to the words of great rabbis who are telling this generation that without Ahavat Yisrael -- love of the Jewish people -- Ahmadinawhackjob will get the bomb, and he will be empowered to wreak more destruction against the Jewish people than in the darkest days of World War II.  She listened, and she decided to do something to help.

Rebbetzin Harris started Ahavat Yisrael Chaburim, small groups of women who take upon themselves to eradicate senseless hatred from among their membership.  The hope -- the prayer -- is that all of these small groups (and today there are more than 80 of them around the world) will create ripple effects that will cause the entire Jewish world to "get over it."

She addressed "impossible" with a story, that goes something like this:

A family was notified by the hospital that their elderly mother had died.  They were, of course, distraught; but they followed Jewish ritual, and had her body picked up by the Chevra Kadisha, which as always prepared her lovingly for burial.  After the shiva period, the family got a phone call:  "Why haven't you been to visit me?" asked the old woman.  They were too shocked to respond; and they received a second call:  "Is everything all right?  Why hasn't anyone come to visit this week?"

They rushed to the hospital to make the astonishing discovery that their old mother and grandmother was still alive!

The hospital staff quickly discovered their embarrassing error:  they had confused the woman with her roommate.  The family had buried and sat shiva for a complete stranger!

The family was dumbfounded, but completely overjoyed to have more time with their dear relative.  But now the hospital staff had a terrible problem.  They had to call the other woman's family, and tell them that not only had their mother died a week ago -- but someone else had buried her!

When the young doctor in charge of the staff made the call, he introduced himself to the woman's son.  The man barely let him finish before he started to speak harshly:  "If this is about my mother, you can tell her the answer is still NO!  All day long, she sits with that prayerbook of hers, asking God to give her a 'kosher Jewish burial.' That's all she does, all day long -- and we're not going to do it.  You can just tell her to forget it!"  And he slammed down the receiver.

Even the impossible is not hard for Hashem.  We only have to ask Him for it, with all our hearts.

Join a group like Rebbetzin Harris' chabura.  Gain strength from other Jews who have the same holy goals.

Make that phone call.  Send the email that you know you need to send.  It starts something like this:  "Dear [Ploni], I love you, and I want to have a relationship with you."   Say you are sorry for your part in the difficulty between the two of you -- without dredging up the stupid fight that got you to the place of so much hatred.  (Contrary to certain schools of psychology, airing the problem rarely solves it.)  And then just focus on the things you like and admire about him...

Get over it.  Our lives depend on it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Send A Friend to Israel Contest

Yom chamishi, 7 Elul 5769.

 Almost twenty years ago, I fell head over heels in love with Israel -- and I spent the next decade and a half driving my husband crazy.  When he was finally crazy enough, he brought me here to live.

The Dearly Beloved has always liked this picture.  I had just figured out how to ask for something -- the ancient asimonim, probably -- and I felt like I could actually live in this exotic place.  It was the success that made the smile; but to him, it was the face of somebody who had found her makom.

During the years between that first visit to Israel and finally making aliyah, many of my friendships were with people who also longed for a home in Eretz Yisrael.

Of course -- how else could it be?  Who else could understand the longing, the fits of tears brought on by "HaTikvah," the daily fascination with an obscure internet radio station broadcasting illegally from a ship off the Mediterranean coast?
One of my best friendships developed with a very special woman who not only listened to my whining about a home in the Holy Land -- she eventually became instrumental in helping me and many other Jews to fulfill that dream.

Rebbetzin Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler has not yet been permitted to fulfill this dream for herself.  But during the several years that she has nurtured "her baby," the Baltimore Chug Aliyah, she has shepherded a significant number of us from "our father's home" to the land that Hashem showed to the Jewish people and gave to them as an inheritance.  She set up meetings for us with Nefesh B'Nefesh representatives, as well as with people who taught us about banking and shipping and every other aspect of surviving in our future new home.  For some of us, she made the dream seem possible.  For others, she kept the dream alive, when "reality" would have crushed it.

Until Hashem allows Rivkah to come home, she blogs her love of the land, her desire to walk among the people as a citizen, her angst at being "outside the candy store, looking in."  And she and her dear husband, Rabbi Elan Adler, keep bringing speakers to Baltimore to remind every Jew that he is a potential oleh, that his land is calling him home.  And sometimes she visits us here in Israel, and reminds us of what the fever to be here felt like.

  Please take a little time to look over Rivkah's blog.  It is called Bat Aliyah.  As she says, "On September 11, 2001, I had an epiphany and realized that it was time to come Home."

I wish that every Jew in Chutz l'Aretz could want Aliyah the way this beautiful and precious soul does.  She is intelligent, funny, erudite.  Everyone who reads of her love for Israel and for the Jewish people wants to be part of that love affair.

If you are a blogger, and have not yet decided whom to nominate for the opportunity to fly aboard a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight to interview incoming olim, please consider my dear friend, Bat Aliyah.

Asimonim:  tokens used to operate Israeli payphones -- now obsolete
Makom:  place (here, "the place one belongs")
HaTikvah:  the Israeli national anthem
Chug:  club or organization
Oleh:  immigrant to Israel
Bat Aliyah:  Daughter of Aliyah -- one who "is a child of" the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel
Chutz l'Aretz:  anywhere outside the land of Israel

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A great-grandmother's prayer

Yom rishon, 3 Elul 5769.

A very elderly woman gave me this poem, and asked me to publish it.  "But," she instructed, with a fearsome gleam in her intaglio eyes, "you may not, must not, use my name."

Now that I am old, I can tell it.

I dared not, when they were young, when I might bring an ayin hara by even mentioning my fear.

When I was young, we came to Eretz Yisrael.
I was a young wife, with children.

The first night, we spent in a kibbutz cabin.  As the trees scratched on the roof like mujahideen, trying to find a way inside, I was afraid.  I did not sleep at first; and then I told myself that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, decides who lives and who dies.  Not the mujahideen.

If He decreed that we would die, my sleepless fear would not save us.  If He decreed we should live, no Arab could harm us.

I slept.

I never told the children I was afraid, for fear captivates.

When we moved to the moshav in the shtachim, I was afraid, as I walked the path between our small kfar and the barbed wire, behind which were rocks and trees hiding them, with their rocks and knives and axes and guns.

And I held my head high and straight as I walked.  I was a daughter of the Holy One, Blessed Be He.  And if He decreed I would die, lowering my head would not save my life.  And if He decreed I should live, no Arab could harm me.

I walked.

I never told the children I was afraid, for fear incapacitates.

When my sons went off to war, one by one, I was afraid.  I knew too many mothers, better women than I, who had lost sons; and I did not think I had the strength to be among them.

And I sent my sons to the Army, with small packets of food and warm hats and love.  I gave them brave brachot, and reminded them that they were fighting on behalf of the Holy One, Blessed Be He.  And if He decreed that they would die, my tears would not save their lives.  And if He decreed that they should live long lives, with wives and children of their own, no Arab could harm them.

I smiled, proudly.

I never told these brave men that I was afraid, for fear emasculates.

When my daughters moved to the cities and traveled on buses, I was afraid.  I was hearing too many stories of bombings in cafes and in the places they shopped for baby clothes.  And then I remembered that they, too, were daughters of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, doing the holy work of raising the next generation.  And if He decreed that they would die, my warnings would not save them.  And if He decreed that they should live long lives, with grandchildren on their knees, no Arab could harm them.

I crocheted, and knitted, and enjoyed their joy.

I never told my daughters that I was afraid, for fear only believes in fate.

Now I am old.  I thought I could tell of my fears, proud to at last share honestly that I am no different from the others, save for my faith in Him.

But now I have grandsons, who yet must go to war...

I pray, privately, silently, with hands that will no longer make strong fists, raised to the Holy One, Blessed Be He.

"Keep them, Borei Olam, as you kept me.  Bring an end to the need for silent, hidden fear.  Save your holy children."

Amen.  Hashem keeps providing me with meetings with amazing people, who continue to give me strength.  May we all have her faith, for many long, healthy years.

Haveil Havalim #231, The Rav Kook Memorial Edition, is up at Esser Agaroth, in honor of HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook's 74th yahrzeit.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Seriously New Construction

Yom sheni, 27 Av 5769.

To offset the potentially disastrous high costs of Arab labor, some Jewish homeowners in the so-called "settlements" are beginning to employ spacemen to complete the construction of their houses.

Haveil Havalim # 230, The Disaster Edition, is available for perusal at Letters of Thought.  Mazal tov, Mottel.  May you and your dear bride be zoche to build a bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Schamroth and Peyos Show

Yom rishon, 26 Av 5769.

One of the trickiest things about parenting is not only to avoid having favorites among your children, but making sure they never think you have favorites.

"Mom always loved you best."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did NOT!"

So the Dearly Beloved and I have worked very hard over the years to point out each boys' special attributes, so that it would be clear to each of them that not only is no one boy favored over any other -- in fact, each boy is our favorite son.  Baruch Hashem, it has been easy for us to feel this way, as each of these guys is such a flaming individual that there is little competition on common ground.

However, things always get a little dicey as you move down the sibling food chain.  There are a million photos of the first born...  quite a few of number two...  at least some pics of the third kid...  but by the time the "baby" is ten years old, he notices something missing from the walls of the mansion flat.

At this point in their lives, each of our creative geniuses (puh-puh-puh) has created some sort of brilliant video or audio.  Soldier Boy has recorded a few of his beautiful songs, and had an impressive bit-part in a Gidon Orman production for One Israel Fund.  Yeshiva Bochur put together a hoppin' reggae band (much to his long-suffering rosh yeshiva's chagrin), and cut a professional recording.  Stunt Man made a couple of classy short movies under the tutelage of the great Yaron Shane.

But Sports Guy had yet to attain audio or video stardom.

Until now.

Thanks to young filmmaker Yaakov Myers of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Sports Guy (aka "Peyos") has finally made the big time.  Yaakov's and Peyos' good friend, Avi Schamroth -- besides acting in the film, pretending to be a "so-so" basketball player (the only unbelievable part of this film) -- has a professional filmmaker as a cousin.  Dovi Schamroth at Momento Media took this fun short video, set it to hero music that would rival "Rocky," and did a wonderful editing job.  (By the way, Dovi is so humble, you can't find his name on his website.  His work speaks for itself.)  Dovi was kind enough to edit out the scene where Sports Guy misjudges the distance, and propels himself from a trampoline head-first into a wall.  (We're negotiating to get our hands on the "blooper reel.")

When you are a guest in our home these days, you are imprisoned by the proud papa until you sit through the video of Sports Guy.  (Consider this fair warning to anybody who plans to spend an afternoon or overnight at Chez Mizrachi.)

As a beloved guest of this blog, I invite you to enjoy a few minutes of the only white Jewish Harlem Globetrotter, complete with peyos.  Thanks for having a little fun with us, and sharing a bit of nachas.

Baltimore homies alert:  Be sure to check out the third Schamroth star of our show, being interviewed by Yishai and Malkah Fleisher on Israel National Radio.  The whole program is a pleasure; but Yehudis' interview begins approximately 30 minutes into the recording.  Yehudis speaks well, as always, and does the Baltimore kehilla proud.  Can you imagine having 40 relatives in walking distance of your apartment?  Kein yirbu!  Yishai and Malkah get an answer to the burning question, "What is the difference between an anesthetist and an anesthesiologist?"  And Yishai gives free advertising to Dr. Julian Schamroth, his dermatologist, and Yehudis' brother-in-law.

(If anyone doesn't understand how this Ki Yachol Nuchal! episode got its name, please feel free to call our toll-free number.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where Do You Start: Thoughts on the Road to Aliyah

Yom shishi, 24 Av 5769.

Michelle and Marty Gordon will be making aliyah in September.  I haven't had the pleasure of meeting them yet; but Michelle's words to their Washington D.C. congregation suggest to me that we will be friends.  I hope to be privileged to meet her, as she leaves her Nefesh B'Nefesh flight, and enters her new Homeland.  Finally!  (And I thought waiting sixteen years was long...)

One of the best things about having your own blog is that you can choose what to publish.  A friend here in my yishuv thought I would appreciate Michelle's dvar Torah, sent to Shauna by a friend of a friend of a friend of hers.  (Thanks, Shauna.)  

I think you will enjoy it, too.  

"Where do you start?"  I was asked by a fellow congregant of this shul.  That’s a great question.  Where did I start on our road to aliyah that will, B"H, lead Marty and me to begin our new lives in Jerusalem in less than one month from now.

I could tell the congregant about how we opened our tik aliyah, our aliyah file, one year ago.  Or how we’ve been shoveling out twenty-six years of flotsam and jetsam from our house so we can fit into a small Rehavia apartment.  Or how my head is filled with practical details like shipping quotes, rental agents and property managers.  And how I’ve  attended seminars and webinars on employment, ulpans and healthcare.  Like a kid packing for sleep-away camp for the rest of my life, I’ve been stockpiling my favorite American brands of deodorant, dental floss and hand lotion.

But, that’s not the real answer to the question, "Where do you start?"

My start was thirty years ago when I first went to Israel on a year-program called WUJS -- World Union of Jewish Students.  I remember waking up the morning after my arrival, in the middle of a chamsin -- a hot desert wind -- and feeling the thin film of gritty Negev sand on the windowsill of my absorption center apartment. "What was I thinking?" I said to myself.  "How am I going to stay in this country for a whole year?"  But I stayed. For sixteen months.  Those were the days before cell phones, when you had to make an international call from a pay phone that ate up your asimonim, your phone tokens, almost as fast as you could put them in.  The taxi drivers would wax poetic about the virtues of America!, the Grand Canyon!, Niagra Falls! and their cousin Moishe who lives in L.A.  But before I’d get out of the cab they’d turn to me and say, "You stay here, live in Israel, join us."  I fell hopelessly in love with the country.  Even the most mundane tasks -- going to the grocery store, doing the laundry -- were somehow elevated just because they were being done in Israel. I feel different when I’m in Israel. I feel completely whole.  It’s a feeling that cannot be replicated anywhere else.  And so I never recovered from those sixteen months.  I never forgot how incredibly blessed we are to be living in this period of history where we have the privilege -- and the ability -- to return to the land.  Yes we can!

By the time I returned to the States in 1980, my aliyah dream was born.  And as our own Rav Shmuel said, in last year’s Rosh Hashana sermon, "You can’t have a dream come true, if you don’t have a dream in the first place."

For close to thirty years, I have not forgotten my dream.  I did not let weeds grow around my dream.  I tended it, watered it and pulled out the dead leaves.  I watched it grow and flower.  And in recent years, our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, already living in Israel, have added to the magnetic force that has been pulling me eastward for all these decades.

So, back to the question, "Where do you start?"  With a dream. But not only a dream.  A dream must also have a plan. Too often people say that they will follow their dream "someday."  But "someday" will eventually become "never," without a plan.  It takes a very strong force to turn "someday" to "today."

Do you remember your high school physics?  The second law of thermodynamics?  Inertia.  It states: a body at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force.  In the case of aliyah from our cushy, comfortable lives in America, this inertia must broken by a determined internal force.  It was so tempting to continue our lives here with our chevra, our mishpocha, and our warm community.  And it will be sad to leave.

But we cannot be two places at once.  And so we will go forth, Lech Lecha, on a new adventure, to a land that reverberates with tangible spirituality, and we will leave behind our familiar comfort zone.   We’ve had to lighten up for the journey.  We don’t need a lot to live a spiritually fulfilling life.  In fact, it is our over-abundance of possessions that weighs us down.   In ridding ourselves of that which holds us down, we are free to flow like water in a stream.

Last November, Marty and I were on a bus near the Dead Sea when we witnessed flash floods in the Negev.  The rains had started suddenly, the forceful water mixing with the brown dunes looked like chocolate milk spurting, streaming out of every crevice in the rock face. It was a powerful sight.  Someone grabbed the bus microphone and lead us in singing "Shir Hama’alot" where we say "Shuva... et Sheveteina, ka’afikim b’Negev" -- "Bring us from exile as the streams return to the Negev."  

Ka’afikim b’Negev.

I want to be part of the streams of exiles, returning from the diaspora. It is a miracle in our time.

On September 7th, when Marty and I board a charter flight at JFK, filled with North American olim chadashim, new immigrants to Israel, we will become a part of the prophetic ingathering of exiles, the "Kibutz Galuyot." It is the answer to the prayer we say every time we recite the amida: "She ta’ah’laynu bsimcha l’artzetu, v’tee’ tah’einu b’gvul’aynu."  "Bring us up in gladness to our land, and plant us within our boundaries."

Flash flood photo by Dani Landes

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's all about the children.

Yom shlishi, 21 Av 5769.

Here are two visuals I had to share with my readers, pictures being worth oodles of words and all.  One is very topical and Jewish:

Dearest Flamers:  Please don't waste both of our time by remarking to me that Obama isn't the first US President to suggest that Jews give up their homes.  I know that this problem has been growing for at least the last four administrations; and it hasn't mattered from which side of the aisle the President stepped up to the podium.  And there is no point in sharing the other well-known fact that Israeli Prime Ministers have cared far too much about US Presidential opinion, also over several administrations.  But now is when the excellent graphic artist, Aharon Shevo, produced this impressive piece of work.  Ya gotta admit he hit the coffin nail right on the head.
[Hat tip to Jameel ]

The second visual I want to share is a two minute video that has nothing to do with Israel, and nothing particular to do with being Jewish.  It has everything to do with heading back to school, with the division of labor in most families, and with the special relationship my sons have always had with their father.

Briefly:  Many years ago, I heard a dvar Torah from Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss in which he taught that prayer is the ultimate life insurance policy.  If you want your spouse to live a long life, remind your Tatte B'Shomayim that you can't live without him.  This sounded reasonable to me; and I thought that I would increase our life insurance by adding insurers.  Thus I requested that my sons daven for both of their parents to live to be really old, because Ema gets us places on time, and Abba is fun.  (I suspect that I convinced them to daven harder for Abba with that technique; but that served my selfish purposes just fine.)

Please take a couple of minutes to enjoy this adorable Kevin Nalts production.  It will remind you why women stay busy with long lists of activities.  How else can fathers successfully instruct their progeny in new and ingenious ways to puncture perfectly functional membranes?
[Hat tip to Rabbi Shlomo Skinner and HIS insurer, Lisa]

May we share more happy pictures than sad ones.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

When I don't have time to write, I'll call Baila...

Yom rishon, 19 Av 5769.

I am busy doing some proof-reading for a friend just now; so there isn't much time to write.

Fortunately, there is a new edition of Haveil Havalim up at my friend Baila's place.  One of the delightful aspects of the "blogosphere" is that, after one writes for a while, and reads the writing of others, commenting on same, a kind of cyber-community forms.  And eventually, we begin to find out a few things about each other, just as in a less virtual community.  (Speaking of Haveil Havalim, for instance, I recently discovered that HH's founder, Soccer Dad, is also from Baltimore.  Now I just have to do a little more research to see if his wife and I ever "hung out.")

Over time, Baila has discovered that many bloggers are living right in her own newly-adopted home town.  (Baila also made aliyah about two years ago.)  Issue #229,  the Modi'in Edition, features the writing of Baila's neighbors in Modi'in, along with other interesting offerings from all over the Jewish cyberworld.

If you enjoy good writing, please look over this collection of interesting and eclectic opinions, information, news coverage, Torah and fun.

Looking forward to seeing blogger buddies in person again, and making new friends, at the Second Annual Jewish Bloggers Convention.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

238 more reasons for dancing on Tu B'Av

Yom revi'i, 15 Av 5769.

After so much sadness, yesterday was a great way to prepare for the special joy of Tu B'Av.

"There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av (and Yom Kippur) for on those days, daughters of Yerushalayim would go out dressed in white clothing and dance in the vineyards located on the outskirts of the city."  [Mishna, Masechet Taanit 4:8]

Another planeload of olim landed at Home, courtesy of Nefesh B'Nefesh, El Al, and the Jewish Agency.  It included 55 young people whose first goal in life is to strengthen the IDF with their vigor and idealism.  One of these is a young man who decided to leave West Point to fight for his People in his Land.

Among the olim were the head of the largest greeting card company in America, the head of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins, and a musician who backed up the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, Seals & Crofts, and the Doors.  We hope to be privileged to jam with him here in the yishuv, as rumor has it he has family here...

For folks back in the Old Country, Penina looks beautiful, the married Goetz daughter and baby look radiant.  Mrs. Colabella is of even greater regal bearing than in the past.  Israel will be richer and even holier, now that these precious Baltimore neshamot have arrived.

Welcome Home, dear family.  May we dance together through many joy-filled days in Yerushalayim ha'Bnuya!

To see great pictures of this event, check out Jacob Richman's always-amazing photos, as well as the extremely professional shots at the Nefesh B'Nefesh site.  Bring a box of tissues, if your heart swells with the thought of filling our holy Land with the Jewish people.