Monday, April 19, 2010

Another thought or two on Yom HaZikaron

Yom sheni, 5 Iyar 5770.

I remember arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for a business seminar, after I had lived for several years on the East Coast.  A large number of US soldiers were returning from Afghanistan; and as they stepped into the terminal from their plane, the crowd spontaneously began to applaud.  As random passersby became aware of what the commotion was all about, they added their applause.  I started to cry, overcome by the communal patriotism I remembered from my small-town youth, forgotten in the sea of big-city sophistication.


At 10:51, the bus lingered at a bus stop to give a woman with a cane time to find her seat.  When it seemed that she was not able to sit without assistance, a young woman rose and came to her aid.  A short discussion ensued.  Apparently, the woman could not sit, or felt she would not be able to get up again when she wanted to.  In any case, people in the rear of the bus who could not see what was going on began "encouraging" the bus driver, loudly, to move on.  Unruffled, the driver continued to wait, while passengers in the middle of the bus (also loudly) suggested patience to the people in the back.  Shortly, the situation was resolved.  The young woman stood with her hand on the older woman's back, to steady her.  A few minutes later, it became clear that their was reasoning behind the handicapped woman's actions.

At a few seconds before 11:00, the bus driver turned up the radio, and came to a full stop when the siren sounded, along with almost every other vehicle on the city street.

Everyone stood who was able.  A young woman in a colorful mitpachat swayed as she recited Tehillim.  More than one mother wept; more than one older man gazed stoically into the middle distance.  There was silence on the radio for a tiny eternity, as nearly everything froze in place.

I looked out the windows, and felt the familiar lump in my throat as I looked at all of those people, also frozen in place.  I felt sorry for the few who did not stop.  Either they were oblivious, or they had what they felt were strong reasons not to honor Israel's dead.  Even in America -- not my country, except by Esav's sufferance -- I was permitted and permitted myself to have some American pride.  Hey!  If I was going to accept her largesse, I thought I should support her in return...

A former soldier, I thought, "These people, standing here in prayer or simple silence -- these are my people.  These are people to fight for.  These are people I could defend."  I thought of Soldier Boy, who fought his war, who now tenderly fathers his nearly one-year-old daughter.  I remember when he sang to her, "Ani mavtiach lach, yalda sheli k'tana, sheh'zot tihiyeh hamilchama ha'achrona..."  I promise you, my little girl, that this will be the last war...

I thought of Stunt Man, who will enter the army in two weeks.  Hashem, please protect all of our holy soldiers.  Let the day come when my son can keep his promise.

This is a very sad song about war, and about the hope for war one day to finally end...

Yom HaZikaron: Israel's national memorial day to fallen soldiers, and in recent years also to victims of terror
Mitpachat: head scarf
Tehillim: Psalms
Esav: Esau, here referring to the non-Jewish and non-Muslim western nations

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Od lo avda tikvateinu..."

Yom sheni, 5 Iyar 5770, Yom HaZikaron.

When I was a little girl, American flags would be displayed proudly on Flag Day and Independence Day.  Older people even had them flying on their homes on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.  And, of course, there were people who flew the American flag all the time -- some taking it down at night, and none that I remembered allowing it to touch the ground.

Times changed.  Fewer homes flew flags.  Fewer people knew it was Flag Day or Memorial Day.  It was hard to completely forget Veterans' Day, because invariably there would be some old fellow with watery eyes shining  with an old doughboy toughness from beneath his military cap, his jacket covered with medals of heroic campaigns forgotten.  The Fourth of July was easy to remember, because it was a day of sales and fireworks and barbecues with the neighbors.  There might still even be parades...

We stand for the Yom HaZikaron siren.  The country stands still to remember our fallen heroes -- those in uniform, and those whose heroism was earned over pizza or ice cream, or just because they chose to ride the bus our enemies targeted.  We will concentrate on these losses as we travel through this very sad day.  And tonight, we will build up for the joy that is Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, the Day of Israel's Independence.

Yom HaZikaron flows into Yom Ha'atzma'ut as a perfect metaphor for the life of a Jew. It is not unusual to go to a brit milah in the morning, followed by a vort, followed by a shiva visit, and end the day at a wedding or bar mitzvah celebration. The rollercoaster life of one who is privileged to be embroidered into the tapestry of others' lives...

As we have prepared for these twin days of abject sorrow and joyful pride, my neighbors in Neve Daniel have been showing their true colors.

 Flags are flying all over town in honor of our dear departed, who fought and died for this soil we call Home.

Flags dance in the Neve Daniel wind to celebrate the honor of being raised over the country that is the closest thing we Jews have had to something of our own in thousands of years.

And here and there, an old soldier will still see a flag that has blown to the ground, and pick it up, to preserve the honor it represents.

As more than twenty neighboring Arab nations manipulate the Western world's negative feelings toward our people, trying to wrest this tiny piece of land from us, piece by piece, we celebrate Israel -- the first flowering of our redemption.  May we see the complete redemption of the Jewish people and G-d's world, speedily and in our days.

"Od lo avda tikvateinu..."  We have not yet lost our hope..." -- a line from "Hatikva," the national anthem of Israel
Yom HaZikaron:  Day of Remembrance (of those who have fallen in battle to defend our nation; of those who were killed in terrorist acts, may Hashem avenge their blood

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pesach must be over: Lag B'Omer prep begins.

Yom shishi, 2 Iyar 5770.

Question:  What is one of the first signs of Spring in Israel?
Answer:   Shopping carts mysteriously filling up with errant pieces of wood.

Question:  And what is another early sign of Spring in Israel?
Answer:  The Arabs, busily trying to salvage their construction wood, before the kids get to it.

The Dearly Beloved and I have long been impressed by the use the Arab construction crews make of wood.  Remember that wood is not plentiful in Israel; so this is not what houses are constructed of.  There is a lot of metal and concrete, covered with beautifying Jerusalem stone and terra-cotta.  But wood is used for supports...  and then reused, and reused, and reused... ad infinitum, ad Lag B'Omer...

So even though I know that the Arab crew was probably gathering and moving the precious wood after the job is nearly finished, there is something sweetly humorous about their timing this year.  Because the wood really is important.  Nothing can be wasted.  And you never know when someone else might see it as valuable...  and obviously unneeded by the grownups.

 Disclaimer:  The wood in this photograph was 100% ownerless, and not connected in any way with the previously-mentioned building sites.  Honest.

Chodesh tov, and Shabbat shalom!


Lag B'Omer:  for the purpose of this discussion, a holiday requiring children all over Israel to burn in small or large bonfires everything made of wood or paper that is not glued or nailed down.  Much feasting and singing ensues.  Life is good. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don't Forget the Shlissel Challah, redux

Yom revi'i, 24 Nisan 5770.
Reposted from last year, at a friend's request.

There is a beautiful custom, taught to me by my beloved Rabbi Menachem and Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger, to put a key into the first challah after Pesach.

There are many explanations given for this custom.  Rabbi Yehuda Prero says, "The 'schlissel,' which is the Yiddish word for 'key,' should unlock the gates of sustenance for us just as it was for the nation of Israel after their first Pesach in the promised land."   Others mention the key as a symbol of "opening a small hole, like the eye of a needle," by keeping Shabbat and taking challah -- and these mitzvot will help to "remind" our Father in Heaven to open His storehouse of blessing for us.  Still others mention that the counting of the omer is a time when gates in the Supernal Realm can be unlocked, if we but have the right keys.  I refer you to an excellent post on A Simple Jew's blog from 2007, wherein "A Talmid" did detailed research to offer many different explanations.  My friend Sheina bakes her challah in the shape of a key.
The key that has been used as our schlissel challah for more than a decade has been in my mother's family for several generations.  And so we keep the sense of tradition alive, even within a family building its traditions much as we build our challah -- from scratch.
Today I plan to fulfill the mitzvah of taking challah in the merit of all those who so desperately want to bring new life into the world.  I have not received permission to mention any names, though there are (unfortunately) several on my list, just as there probably are on yours.  I do not know if this is true -- but I believe that if we add to our personal lists the desire to add the names on each other's lists, Hashem will count our brachot as if all of the names were shared.  Please have all of these dear potential-parents in mind for healthy babies, b'sha'ah tova!
May we share a year of abundant blessing, joy and contentment.

Schlissel:  Yiddish for "key"
Challah:  special bread baked for Shabbat
Taking challah:  a mitzvah to remove and destroy a small portion of the challah dough, as a reminder of the portion given to the Priests during Temple times
Counting of the omer:  a larger subject than I can explain here -- but a time of spiritual growth between Pesach and Shavu'ot that takes 49 days of counting and introspection
Supernal Realms:  Don't even ask.
B'sha'ah tova!:  [Lit: at a good hour]  At the right time, and with ease!