Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dovid's Moon

Yom revi'i, 15 Tevet 5771.

Last night began my son's birthday.  It's a fairly ordinary day in December, if it doesn't happen to be your own birthday.  But it's a remarkable morning in the Jewish month of Tevet here in the southern foothills of Jerusalem.

I awakened at 6:13 to get Sports Guy out of bed for school.  (No mean feat, as he spends far too much time immersed in the brutality of football to get a good night's sleep.  I know, I know...  You try being the parent of a 16-year-old gridiron geek.)

Cup of steaming coffee in hand, I walked outside to appreciate the view.  It's always lovely here.  But today felt like a special miracle, a love-note from Hashem.  The full moon was still out, which always reminds me of a sweet children's song we used to sing in Brownies, all of our faces so serious, wanting not to drop our places in the round:

Mister Moon, Mister Moon, you're out too soon.
The sun is still in the sky.
Go back to your bed and cover up your head,
and wait till the day goes by.

This moon was so very bright, so well-defined.  I thought of my newly-minted 21-year-old, working in the fields in Beit Shean, loving the land and its produce and the Land and her people more and more each day.  He's probably awake, getting ready for his day in the fields, I was thinking.  I wonder if he can see this moon where he is?

My sister's daughter just had a son, and she wrote about the joy of small miracles:

The most holy and sacred gifts of this life, for me, are the most ordinary. The baby was simply born. Today, like every day, simply came. I am grateful for the abundance of miraculous, ordinary moments.


Here's to some of the recent "miraculous, ordinary moments."

Some of the children I love, who don't belong to me, and their children.
One of my very own little miracles: he looks just like his dad did, way back when.
Another one of my little miracles, who looks a lot like her Savta did, but with her mama's amazing eyes. Photo credit: KF Productions
And here's to all of your recent miracles, as well.  Please feel free to share.  There can never be too much gratitude for all the gifts He gives us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weather Reports

Yom shlishi, 4 Tevet 5771.  Happy solar birthday, Dearly Beloved!

I have mentioned before how much fun it is to have an online community email list that is frequented by interesting people who love to help each other.

It's a pretty nice way to communicate other issues as well.  For instance, we just had the first serious winter storm of the season.  Of course, there is the usual communication that makes a list so helpful:

How do we find out if there is school today?

Is school on time?

School is open today, right?  How do we find out for sure?  High schools?  I'd hate to send the kids out to wait for buses that aren't coming.

We called my son's bus driver and he assumed business as usual. The snow is pretty superficial. Big question is if there's ice on the roads. I assume there would have been an announcement of some sort if there was any problem. But dress the kids really warm cuz it could take longer than usual...

And the final, authoritative word:  SCHOOLS ARE OPEN REGULAR TIME

But then there was the stuff that makes living in Neve Daniel, with our amazing winds and our not-boring listmates, so much fun:

There is a black bicycle helmet with yellow flames in my yard.  The wind probably put it there. If you are missing it, now you know where it is :-)

Has anyone seen a black barbecue cover flying around anywhere? Our bbq is cold.

Green schach-mat bag on our porch. If you are missing one, we will be happy to return the one that just landed on our mirpeset. That is, if it is still on our mirpeset when the storm has passed...

Yair's beloved kippa flew off in yesterday's storm.  It is large and black with purple trim.  Please let us know if  you find it.

Happy Precipitation,


And my own contribution to the weather report:

Just now, btw, I am listening to the wind take red roof tiles off of a part of my roof and dash them to the patio below.  The sound is somewhere halfway between beautiful and destructive.

May the rain follow, and it will all be worth it.  (I feel bad for my landlord, though.  He really liked adding those tiles...)

Where the tiles used to live.

Where they landed.  Crash!  Bang!  Smash!

After the Dearly Beloved cleaned up.

The wind was so strong, it blew furniture around the yard.

Sigh.  If we get lots of rain, the cleanup will be worth it.

I hope all items found their owners, and not too much of value was lost or destroyed.  I give the kids a bracha for a snow day -- and their parents a bracha for not too many snow days.

And I thank Hashem for the blessing of rain.

May it continue until our worries of fire and drought and famine have passed.  May this year truly be blessed, with rain in its proper time for our crops and our cattle, with good health and good friends.

Happy solar birthday, Dearly Beloved!  Till 120, in good health.

Schach-mat: used to cover the traditional temporary dwelling we build at the Festival of Tabernacles.
Mirpeset: balcony
Kippa: scullcap

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Don't tell ME you can't get good service in Israel!

Yom shishi, 3 Tevet 5771.

First of all, I want to apologize to you.  It's not your fault.  Since you read this blog -- thank you! -- you are probably not one of the people I'm speaking about when I say that it gets on my nerves when people tell me that Israelis don't give good service.

Secondly, I want to stress that an increase in American-style service would be warmly received by me and just about everyone I know.

That said, let me share a lovely story.

The Dearly Beloved accompanied me to a particular location in Jerusalem to get information about renting office space for a friend who was under the mistaken impression that I knew something about the subject, or that I had enough Hebrew at my command to do this task for her.  (But -- hey!  When your friend asks you to help her get information in your country, do you say no?  No.  You say "sure" -- and hope you can figure it out with your handy dictionary.)

When we arrived at the lovely office complex, I surveyed the massive sign to see if there would be a hint about where we might find the rental office.  Clueless, my eyes were drawn, like metal filings to a magnet, to the only words in English on the board:
I turned to the Dearly Beloved.  "I know.  Let's go to them.  They'll have the answer."  He hastened to remind me that helping me find my way around their building was not in their mission statement.  But he also pointed out that this was my project; and if a wild goose chase would be a good place for me to loosen up my question-asking muscles, it would at least entertain him.

We entered the office, and were met by an enthusiastic and delightful young Israeli named Sigi.  I asked Sigi -- in Hebrew -- if it would be okay to speak to her in English.  She answered me -- in Hebrew -- that it would be.  This is a psychological tactic I use on myself.  If the Israeli will give me room to speak English, I have the courage to try to speak in Hebrew (until they give up on me).  So I asked much of my question in Hebrew.  Flawed though it was, Sigi was happy with my efforts, and cheerfully offered to give us first something to drink, followed by a present, and then the answer to our question.

We followed her through the suite of offices, through a gym I would happily work-out in, to help me come up with answers, if I worked there, through a small kitchenette.  We met various cheerful employees along the way, busy with thinking up wisdom.  When we arrived at her destination, Sigi set us up with the cold water we had requested -- I suspect she would have served us hafuch, if we'd asked, or even lunch -- and bustled off to another room.  Shortly she returned with tee-shirts.

Now, I don't know how Sigi sized us up so quickly.  If you give anyone in Chez Mizrachi a tee shirt with a cool logo, we will act almost as happy as if you gave us a car and a steak dinner.  Sigi chatted to us pleasantly, alternating between Hebrew and excellent English.  Then she took us back out to the front desk and gave us the phone number and directions to the office we were seeking.  Following this, she walked us out to the elevators, making sure that we were clear on the directions, before wishing us a Chag Chanukah Sameach.

In case anyone in business wonders if that "little extra" really matters -- Sigi is one of my favorite new words, guaranteed to bring a smile to my face; and has become my "Q&A Website" of choice.  (It doesn't bother me at all that a nice Jewish boy started the Jerusalem- and New York-based company.)  Today, they helped me to fix a problem with my computer, told me where in the world is Ibadan, and helped me to figure out how to make a perfect Crepes Suzette.  Who would have known I needed that information, before Sigi treated us with such courtesy and business acumen?  (At this point, don't even think about asking me.  You know where to look it up...)

Israel, you have some very nice people as residents, and some companies that should make you proud.  Thank you.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dear G-d. A Humble Petition for Reconcilation.

Yom rishon, 28 Kislev 5771.

Dear G-d,

I fully accept that we are responsible for the lack of rain in Israel, and for the subsequent disaster wrought by the fire in the Carmel.

We Jewish people have failed in some way -- many ways -- to keep our part of the bargain with You.  We have made many mistakes.  Small errors and large and terrible errors.

But I think I am not alone in feeling helpless to fix the problems between us, between You and me, without clearer guidance.

I once knew a fellow who told me the story of his very unhappy marriage.  He told me he had married a girl who was much too good for him.  They had married young, when he lacked knowledge about how to run a successful relationship.  (The fact was that he hadn't even seen a good relationship growing up.)  He had treated her shabbily and carelessly for the first several years of their marriage.

Then he "got religion."  He learned and developed as a person; and in the course of his learning, he became ashamed of how he had treated his wife.  He begged her forgiveness, and vowed to improve.  She forgave him; and things improved for a time.

Then, little by little, she again began to withdraw from him.  He would try to do small kindnesses for her.  He brought flowers to try to appease her.  He would ask her what he had done -- and she would tell him that "he should know."  After all, they had discussed during their reconciliation all of the little actions and big commitments it takes to make a relationship work.  She gave him little hints periodically, and turned away even more when he failed to pick up on them.
Photo credit:

But he remained perplexed.  He knew that he was still not the perfect husband.  But which (or how many) of his small errors had weakened their relationship this time?

As time went by, he stopped asking for particulars, as she really felt he ought to have learned enough by now to not need her detailed guidance.  Eventually, he stopped asking, and just accepted the situation of their cooled relationship.  When I met him, he wore a perpetual expression of being lost.  I had no advice for him, as I also could not read her mind.

Hashem, we are like that man.  Every year, we try to "make up" with You.  We cry, and apologize from our hearts for all of our little carelessnesses and big transgressions in our relationship.  But as time goes by, there is still no rain, there are still terrible illness and disaster.  Our Sages -- ancient and modern -- exhort us to look over the requirements You have clearly outlined, to pay attention to the hints You are sending us.  If only we would walk in Your ways...  there would be rain in its time, and grass for our cattle.  Our enemies would be subdued...

But I must admit to being as perplexed as my old friend.

We know that we are "messing up."  We want to repair the damage.  Our rabbis are calling for days of prayer and fasting, to increase our observance of Your commandments.  Groups gather at the Kotel to beseech You to end the drought.  Every day, I receive new emails reminding me to add more Tehillim (recitation of King David's Psalms) and give more charity in order to help end the distance between You and us.

But instead, the situation seems to be getting worse.
Photo credit: San Francisco Sentinel

Like my friend, I don't for a moment think that You are the guilty party.  I know my weaknesses and my faults.  But I cannot determine which of my failings has caused this terrible distance between us.  I fear that we may be drifting into a loveless marriage that I will be unable to repair.

Please, Hashem!  Help this poor orphan Nation!  Give us clear guidance.  We are trying to "bring flowers," to do small kindnesses to help each other, to improve our speech, to give more charity, to house those whose homes were destroyed in the greatest disaster in Israel's history.  We know in our heart of hearts that our efforts are not large enough compensation for our errors.  But we really do want to repair our relationship with You!  For the best of reasons -- to bring the Geula Shelaima (the complete redemption), and for the most mundane -- to avoid what appears to be the decree of impending drought, famine, and who knows what else, G-d forbid...

You are our Father.  Please guide us.  Please send us clear guidance.

Lovingly, humbly, beseechingly Yours,

one of Your children

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Ain't it good to know, you've got a friend..."

Yom chamishi, 4 Kislev 5771.

Lots of people go around gushing about what friends they are to Israel... but this usually ends up with something that makes us feel a wedgie coming. "I'm your friend... your only true friend... so you have to do what I say. Capish?" Shades of Don Corleone...

But just today, I heard a couple of reports on IBA News that I want to share.

Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has put it on the line for Israel in the past. Harper's in the news again, this time pointing out that there are more important things than a seat on the Security Council.

"When Israel -- the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack -- is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.  Demonization, double standards, deligitimazation -- the three 'D's' -- it is a responsibility of us all to stand up to them.

“And I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israel rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of honest broker.

“There are, after all, a lot more votes — a lot more — in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand.

"But as long as I am Prime Minister -- whether it is at the United Nations, the Francophonie [Summit in Montreux, Switzerland], or anywhere else -- Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost."

And while I was sending a note of appreciation out to some of my Canadian friends on the yishuv, I was treated to the second positive news story of the day.

It's one of those stories that starts out sad, and ends up taking your breath away.

Apparently, the Jewish community of Palm Beach, Florida was devastated by Bernard Madoff's financially-rape-the-mishpacha scheme.

I would expect a community that was licking its wounds after such a shandeh fur de goyim to just handle local issues for a while...

So I was a bit surprised that one of their first acts after financial recovery was to donate the funds for the rebuilding of the Magen David Adom emergency medical station in Nahariya.  The MDA station -- which serves 90,000 residents -- played a crucial role during the Second Lebanon War.

A primary donor was the estate of Joseph Gurwin, zt"l, who died at 89 in September.  Gurwin's foundations lost millions last year in Bernie Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme.  But months before his death he vowed to keep giving, telling The Palm Beach Post he would continue donations even if he had to "sell apples on the corner."

It has recently been a topic of discussion among my friends that Hashem is giving us clear opportunities in recent generations to choose between good and evil.

During the Second World War, it seems that much of the world was pretty clear on who were the bad guys, and who were the good guys.  But in recent years, what appears obvious to some seems to be very blurry for others -- possibly for a majority today.  I do not know why this is so.  But to me, choices are very clear.  What is evil is evil.  To steal people's money, to deny a country its right to exist, to thoughtlessly embrace double standards...  these things are wrong.  To stand strong when all those about you are quaking under the weight of what is popular, even though wrong-headed -- this is right.

Hillel said:  "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

I am grateful that Hashem has sprinkled about the globe a few men of parts to set examples for the people around them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

They're our kids. Let's keep 'em warm.

Yom shlishi, 2 Kislev 5771.

I think I've mentioned it before -- but one of the great things about having one's own blog is the opportunity to advertise what one loves.  Please take a moment to read the request below.  If you want to and are able to contribute, please click on the link below to keep our IDF boys and girls warm this winter.  Thank you -- and may you and your children have many blessings in the coming year!

And if you have words of encouragement for our soldiers -- in Hebrew or in English -- please feel free to include them in your comments.  I'll be sure that Standing Together gets them to pass on to our brave soldiers.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Three-Year Mizrachi Report

Yom rishon, 30 Cheshvan 5771, Rosh Chodesh.

What has changed since we made aliyah, three years ago?  Here's a stream-of-consciousness slice of our lives.

I have a son who has fought in a war.  I have another son who is preparing to do the same.  I no longer think of this as bizarre -- though it has probably caused me to daven with more kavanah.

My husband has started the favorite career of his life as a guitar teacher.  He is "15 years younger."  So say his sons.

One of my sons is fulfilling my "dream aliyah":  At 20 -- a great age for absorbing a language -- he is immersing in a religious kibbutz ulpan program.

My youngest son, now quite as tall as his brothers, likes school for the first time in his life, and is being scouted for professional football.

I finally got to be the writer and photographer I wanted to be since I was ten years old.

Small things have changed, too.

I automatically drift to the left on a sidewalk or down a public hallway now.  I can spot the Americans, even before I read the Yankees symbol on their baseball hats, by their insistence on walking on the right.  (Don't for a minute think this is reliable.  We are a melting pot of the world's cultures.  Generally, we make an effort not to crash into each other.)

Everybody has taught his stomach to expect cholent by 10:30 or 11 on Shabbat.  In the morning.  We guess that they daven this fast because they have been reading and speaking this language since they were pitzilach.

I now speak three languages haltingly.  When I want to speak German, only Hebrew will come out.  When I want to speak Hebrew, it's as if my mind were an electronic Roll-O-Dex, carefully (whirrrrrrrr) choosing (whirrrrrrrr) one (whirrrrrrrr) word (whirrrrrrrr) at (whirrrrrrrr) a (whirrrrrrrr) time.....  While English is still easy for me to maintain, I often find that only a Hebrew word will come to mind.

Other changes:

At my house, we don't face East to pray.  (Facing East would mean, incidentally, that we would be bowing to Mecca.)  Since we are situated to the South of the Holy of Holies, we face North.

I no longer absentmindedly hum the Orioles' baseball theme, or a catchy jingle from one of the Baltimore radio stations.  I now find myself singing "Gal-gal-galgalatz" or "Kol Chai, Kol Chai, Kol Chai, Kol Chai..." as I leave the house for the bus.  (Galgalatz is the IDF radio station, and Kol Chai is a religious radio station.  Kinda depends on my mood...)

My kids prefer Osem Ketchup to Heinz.

I  now type "חחח" nearly as often as I type "LOL" in emails or Facebook comments.  (First person who says "GROW UP!" is gettin' a couple of  knuckle sendvitchim.)

Instead of little bags of Cheerios, I now see kids waiting for the school bus, eating halves of avocados and red peppers, or munching on pitot, or drinking chocolate milk from plastic bags.

I have undergone a cultural fascination shift.  I used to wonder what possessed urban black teenagers to introduce the fashion of displaying three inches of underpants above the waist of their pants.  (How does one participate successfully in gang warfare with one hand holding up one's jeans?)  Now I wonder what is meant by wearing a hijab along with pencil pants and three-inch spikes.  (What is the point, and how exactly does the imam feel about it?)

Gefilte fish, once a staple of our Shabbat meals, has been replaced by various brightly-colored salads (such as carrots with ginger and garlic; beet salad; or salads of olives and onions).  I was worried that my family would complain.  Then they informed me that gefilte fish -- as expensive here as chicken -- was never a favorite of theirs anyway.  Now we have it for Rosh Hashana, and it's special.

True -- I might see flowers and candy in a vending machine here; but I also see seforim.  And there might be indoor-outdoor thermometers hanging on a display in the hardware store; but there will also be mezuzot.

We have very Yid-centric headlines here. "Fur Import Bill Amended to Accommodate Shtreimels" is one that comes to mind.  Perhaps such headlines existed in the Goldene Medina as well; but they seem to stand out more here.
I don't recall in America ever being asked at a simcha to watch a friend's purse while she dances, because she doesn't want to leave her handgun unattended.

Standing at the butcher counter in a major supermarket, I had to explain to several customers and to the butcher that "OU" is a very reliable hechsher in America.  They weren't so sure... because they'd never heard of it.

Jewish holidays are on everyone's radar.  Can you say heimish?  There.  I knew you could...

During the Ten Days of Repentance, we witnessed several Jews of different backgrounds performing tashlich at a small pond in the Wohl Rose Garden, right near the Israeli Supreme Court building.  There were five or six Chareidim, shuckling gently with prayerbooks in hand. Across from them, on the other side of the pool, was a youngish Russian Jew, singing the prayers of tashlich aloud in a beautiful voice.  While he was not Chareidi, he clearly knew his stuff.  When they were finished, one of the Chareidim went over to the Russian and shook his hand.  There was a short, pleasant exchange, after which my husband said, "I have hope."

Stores offer products for 1 shekel each in honor of Shavuot.  The products offered might include: Tnuva, Strauss or Tara white cheese (gevina levana, 250g), Tara sweet cream and HaMutag pasta.  At Sukkot, Angel Bakery gives us a "matana" -- a gift -- of two extra hotdog rolls in the package.  Coca-Cola gives us a free additional .25 liters of Coke.  At Purim, the local online chat list heats up with interesting offers and requests:  "I am offering Superman, Ninja Turtle, Robin Hood, soldier, Moshe Rabeinu.  Looking to borrow a cowboy, and Rivka really really wants to be a parrot -- any good suggestions????  ~ Shifra"
There is a lot more...  But I think I'll give it a rest for now.  It's motsei Shabbos -- called "motsa"sh" here, and the young kids are entertaining the entire yishuv with the yearly daglanut festival, when they will learn the name of their Bnai Akiva shevet...  See?  I don't even speak English anymore!  (Sigh.)

Chodesh tov!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Our lives are filled with choices. I chose to expect the best."

Yom rishon, 24 Cheshvan 5771.
The first time I met RivkA in person was at the First Annual J-Bloggers' Convention.
It was a lovely morning for an engagement party, the last time I saw RivkA bat Yishaya, a"h, alive.

Her sister-in-law's daughter was getting married.  I was so moved by the speeches given by the kallah's sisters in her honor.

Even though I had seen RivkA at this same home only a few months before at her niece's bat mitzvah, it did not occur to me to think about seeing her at the engagement party.  I remember looking around at all the guests, drinking in the simcha.  My eye kept being drawn to a beautiful, graceful woman in the center of the circle of chairs.  She seemed to be sitting by herself -- not just apart from the people, but from the place and time.  I felt as if I ought to know her, but couldn't quite place her.  After a while, I sort of forgot about her, and went on enjoying the gathering.

"Aren't you going to say hello to me, Ruti?"

The question had come from the beautiful woman.  Somehow, seeing her face in the motion of making words, I recognized her.  RivkA!  The last time I had seen her -- indeed, throughout the duration of our brief friendship -- her face had been very round from the side effects of chemotherapy.  She was always jovial, a little argumentative, in the friendliest possible way, full of an almost defiant joie de vivre.  Now she was slim and quiet, a bit tired, otherworldly.

We chatted a bit, about her niece's simcha, about our children, about blogging.  Then we sat together, as we always did, the few times we ran into each other "in real life," without speaking too much.  Companionable silence with RivkA was as special and warm as conversation with her was.  As was said at her levaya, RivkA never let anyone feel unimportant, and she never let anyone make her feel small.

RivkA was a life-impacter to anyone who encountered her.  How did she add to your life?

RivkA ("with an A") has affected my life profoundly, as she has affected the lives of so many others.  I am a better blogger because of her.  I have learned to listen more sympathetically to the genuine struggles a feminist scholar must endure to balance her sense of self with the conventional understandings of a woman's role in Torah.  I have become a better debater on behalf of my views, political and religious.  I do not know if I am any braver in the face of cancer.  I think it still scares me witless.  But I admire that she was able to persevere with such grace under fire nuclear holocaust.

Eleven days ago, I got the first message from a friend that things had moved to a precarious place for RivkA.  A friend in the "blogosphere" began arranging a mishmeret for her, so that all of her friends could have the opportunity to say Tehillim on her behalf, to storm the Heavens to try to change the decree.  Another friend took over her blog, updating concerned readers about her status.  Someone else arranged visits and help for her family while she was in the hospital.

I contacted a friend who I knew would be able to listen, and could give me some psycho-emotional counseling.  "How do I get past this feeling that I am sitting on yet another death watch?"  I asked him.  I have seen a few miracles.  I wanted our Tehillim to change the natural course of events.  I just didn't want to give RivkA up -- and I felt guilty for having doubts that she would make it out of this terrible stage of her battle.  He reminded me that Hashem expects us to ask for His help on behalf of others, but that He also instructs us not to rely on miracles.  At the end of days, we will know exactly how much value each prayer and tear had.  Nothing on behalf of another Jew is wasted.  But we must also trust the True Judge to know what He is doing.

Taking RivkA bat Teirtzel off of my davening list is one of the hardest things I've had to do lately.  Her incredible courage and optimism strengthened my belief in miracles.  I just knew that the only way she was coming off of that list was for the best reason possible.

RivkA participated in bringing the Moshiach nearer.  I know this, as I know that increasing the wattage in the light bulbs in my house brightens the darkest corners.  I will miss her so much.  But the light will continue to shine, from her beautiful family, from her writing that will carry on her message of hope and optimism, and from the countless people whose lives she enhanced.

RivkA and Moshe
Note to fellow bloggers, and RivkA's friends in Israel:  In honor of RivkA bat Yishaya -- let's a bunch of us get together soon and go to a movie. We could laugh and be rowdy. No talking during the movie, and pizza afterwards.

Good friends stay with us forever.
May the family of RivkA bat Yishaya be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Kallah: bride-to-be
Mishmeret: prayer circle on behalf of someone who is ill, literally from the word meaning "to guard"
Tehillim: Psalms

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finally. Inspiration. Thanks, Baila.

Yom chamishi, 13 Cheshvan 5771.

This recent dry-spell was brought to you courtesy of technical problems, which took a few weeks to work out.  Then...  I just sort of got used to not writing.  After a while, I was sort of like a bottle of  ink someone left open on a shelf for too long:  a little dry staining on the sides of the glass, flaking at the edges a bit, but certainly not any good for writing.

So then I read my friend Baila's post.  She has been in Israel for three years now, and is making a trip back to America.  She is full of hopeful anticipation -- and the wisdom time gives us.

Baila and I made aliyah at about the same time; and the three-year anniversary is very significant to Nefesh B'Nefesh olim.  At three years, any loan they give you at the time of aliyah automatically becomes a grant.  It is a physical reminder of the law of averages:  Immigrants who stay three years have a highly-increased likelihood of "making it" here than those who leave earlier.

Baila's article inspired me, because while we are good friends, we have different views on the "homeness" of our two countries.  She has a big enough heart to call both countries home, I think.  I never felt at home in my life until I moved to Israel.  (Well -- that's not quite true.  I felt halfway home when I joined the Jewish nation...)

That is not to say that I don't miss people.  I miss the friends I shopped with and davened with and hung out with for 16 years in Baltimore.  But the US Army taught me the art of making friends and leaving them and still being close, even with oceans between us.  And my friendships and family relationships have even deepened, in some cases, thanks to modern social media, that allow great and frequent conversations with some people I never had the opportunity to know this well in person.

I don't miss stuff.  True -- Israel lacks Dunkin' Donuts, Target, authentic Slurpees, and a host of other products that my American friends and my kids remind me of periodically.

But I just can't get wistful about those things -- especially when Israel has the Temani restaurant on Emek Refaim, shakshuka and chumus, red rooftops on creamy pinkish-white houses of Jerusalem stone -- and the Kotel is available for a drop-by-when-you-want-to visit.

The point is, every country has her own unique gifts.  But for me, Home is where my people have their historic roots buried the deepest.  Theoretically, if our government ever starts worrying more about what G-d thinks than about what other countries who should be minding their own business think, our accomplishments as the Jewish People can be greater here than anywhere.  "Mom and Dad" are just down the road, buried at Hevron.  And the heart of everything I ever hope to be beats right here.
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Nefesh B'Nefesh: agency responsible for increasing aliyah from Anglo countries since the 2001 Sbarro Restaurant bombing which inspired its creation
Olim: Jewish immigrants to Israel
Davened: prayed
Temani: Yemenite
Shakshuka: Middle Eastern egg and tomato dish
Chumus: chickpea paste -- a staple in Israel
Kotel: Western Wall, not the holiest site to the Jewish people, but as close as the world will let us get to it these days
"Mom and Dad": Sarah and Avraham, the patriarchs of the Jewish people -- the very first converts
Hevron: Hebron, one of the four holiest cities in Israel, and site of the Cave of the Patriarchs

Saturday, September 18, 2010

PM Netanyahu Solves Construction Conundrum

Yom rishon, 11 Tishrei 5771.

Hot off the press!

Displaying his vaunted talent for diplomatic discourse, Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu today claimed to have solved the looming construction freeze crisis a week ahead of the date the 10-month freeze was originally scheduled to end.

Mr. Netanyahu has been hinting at a compromise that would somehow manage to placate both the Arab and Western governments and media on the one hand, as well as staving off rebellion from his own party on the other.

The announcement was made in time for publication on Friday morning that there will be no extension to the freeze.  However, the following parameters for continued construction in the West Bank -- and indeed, all over Israel, in anticipation of any further demands by the Palestinians -- will be as follows:

Temporary dwellings with three or four makeshift walls and a thatched-shade roof taken from something that grows (as per Sukkah 2a); not more than 20 amot high (Mishnah Sukkot 1a).  More details available in soon-to-be distributed Government Circular 613-2b (or not 2b).

Several examples of acceptable construction, according to the recent proposal

Israeli think-tanks tasked with researching this proposal determined that yearly construction of this type of structure has elicited less hostility in the past from our enemies peace partners than any other.  Therefore, there is hope that if the entire country moves to this style of construction -- the flimsier the better -- there will finally be peace in our time.

This post produced with the able guidance and assistance of the Dearly Beloved.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Gates of Nikanor are screaming again.

Yom revi'i, 23 Elul 5770.

I don't usually write about sad events, because that is not the purpose of this blog.

But last night, I slept poorly. The last story in my mind before I went to bed was about yet another tragedy to have befallen the Jewish people: four Jewish civilians were murdered by Arabs as they were driving home, to a small town south of the holy city of Hevron.

According to Arutz Sheva, Yitchak and Talya were the parents of six children, ages 24 to nearly 2. Talya was nine months pregnant with their seventh child.

Arutz Sheva also informs us that Avishai, another of the victims, had only recently moved to the community of Beit Hagai with his wife.  What will she do without him?
One of my dear friends sent me the following email about Kochava, the fourth victim:

Hi - I am sitting here crying because one of the women murdered tonight was my son's gannenet [kindergarten teacher].  Yehuda is six and is developmentally delayed - his teachers are our world because they bring him such joy when the world is such an overwhelming and confusing place.  Kochava was an angel, and we were with her an hour before she died - she was on her way home from the gan [kindergarten] "welcome back" orientation when she was murdered.

I wish I could scream out to the world how unfair this is, how senseless to waste such a beautiful giving life, but I have no outlet to tell everyone. Then I realized maybe you will be writing about what happened, and so perhaps you can include this part of the story.

Thanks - jennie

Another friend sent me a message informing me that one of the first ZAKA volunteers on the scene was Kochava's husband.  The terrible and important job of ZAKA volunteers is to painstakingly and lovingly collect every piece of a Jewish body, every drop of blood it is possible to retrieve, so that the entire Jew can be buried according to Jewish law.  This is how Mr. Even-Chaim was informed of his wife's passing.

One of the boys said to The Dearly Beloved, "Wow.  That is so close to us -- just down the road."  His father responded, "It's just down the road from every Jew."

When I awakened this morning at 6:13 to wake my newly-minted 16-year-old for school, of course I checked to see if there were updates.  Besides more details about this tragedy, I was treated to the following headlines:

6 US Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

Lod: 26 Year-Old Found Shot

Hollywood: Three Iranian Jews Murdered

There are plausible explanations for all of these and related stories.  The US is at war.  The murders in Lod and Hollywood may be criminal in nature.  Whenever Israel begins talking peace, terrorists accelerate their efforts to take Jewish lives.

There are plenty of "this world" messages in these events that must be addressed.

But all I can think of is the Gates of Nikanor.

In the last 40 years before the Second Holy Temple's destruction, the beautiful bronze gates of Nikanor screamed louder and louder each time they were opened.  The screams were a warning to the Jewish people that if they went on, "business as usual," and did not change their ways, the Temple would be destroyed.  But it's hard to stop living our lives as we always have.  One gets used to the horrors of life, and walks over them to get to the next job or meal or entertainment -- because that is how we survive without spending all of our minutes crying.

But My people would not listen to Me.  Israel would have none of Me.  So I left them to their stubborn hearts, letting them follow their own devices.

Teshuva, tefilla u’tzedaka ma'avirin et ro’a hagezeira – repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree.

It is Elul.  I can't fix the world.  I can only fix myself.

Have I been hurtful in my speech?  Very likely.  If it is YOU I have hurt with careless words, or lack of words, please let me know.  I humbly beg your forgiveness -- but it is still better for me to hear what I did or said directly from you.  Meanwhile, what about my performance of the other mitzvot?  How could I have gotten so lazy!

Could my davening get just a little more shvach?  [Sarcasm.]  Probably not.  It only takes me a few minutes out of every day.  Couldn't I put in just a little more effort?

We can't pay into every charity or roll up our sleeves to pitch in on every worthy project.  But surely I could be more diligent to support those I have selected as "my" worthy causes.

If only My people would listen to Me, if Israel would walk in My ways, I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their foes.

May the day come very soon -- this minute! -- when we will "get our act together," so that we will stop hearing and feeling tragedies.  May we fulfill whatever is that last effort needed from us to save our world.  May it be, as suggested by the prophet Yechezkiel, that we will see the Redemption coming through those very Nikanor Gates, speedily and in our days.

Nikanor Gate from
Elul: the last Jewish month of the year, a time for concentrating on spiritual renewal before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
Davening: praying [Yiddish]
Shvach: weak [Yiddish]
Yechezkiel: Ezekiel