Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's just a nice place to raise your kids up.

Yom shishi, 15 Av 5770.

What are your kids doing this summer?

Mizrachi update:  Soldier Boy is raising his adorable baby girl with his bride, and building a business.
Photo credit: her loving Baltimore grandfather, head of KF Productions

Photo credit: same as above: KF Productions
 It is a landscaping and hauling business, and he is very proud of it.  We are proud of its "Yiddishen ta'am."

Stunt Man has decided that he is quite comfortable with his place in the Paratroopers Brigade.

The guard duty shift is long; 
the backpack is heavy; 
the workers are hungry.  --  Pirke Samba"s

Thank G-d, the parents remembered to fill the fridge.

I often say of teenangels that they come home, lift the fridge up, and pour its contents into their mouths, and then announce, "Anything to eat around here?  I'm starving."

Teenangels and soldiers have this in common, with one small difference:

There is not enough food in Israel (or perhaps any other developed country) to feed a soldier who is home on leave.

I'm not discouraging you.

But forewarned is forearmed, as they say. Note to Israeli parents of pre-teens:   Taking out stock in Oreo and Bamba may not be a bad idea.

Yeshiva Bochur has been traveling in the Golan with a good friend from his childhood, Moshe-from-Chernovitz.  They have risen at dawn each day [Ed. comment:  REALLY???], working the fields of organic farms, getting their arms lacerated by the leaves surrounding zucchini vines, which they have soothed with the cooling waters of various waterfalls, after which they drank  the waters of the holy Kinneret... 

Sports Guy has been at the Kinneret all day with his friend Noam (aka "Fish" -- don't ask).  They have been kayaking, swimming, fishing, burning...  (He did use sunscreen, Tante Shalomis.  It just wasn't waterproof.  What can one do?)

And their big brother SamJam is moving with his beautiful family to greener pastures...

Photo credits: ShellDIL  (Don't worry.  That's not their house.)
Meanwhile, the kids of Neve Daniel have been keeping themselves (and their parents) busy.

Mountain climbing is not an uncommon sport for intrepid little Israeli settler kids...

What really makes us nervous about letting our kids go bunjee jumping?  It's the possibility of smacking their little kepis on the ground at high velocity, right?  So -- leave it to Israelis to come up with a solution:  Horizontal Bunjee Jumping.  You heard it here first.

It was very cute when he hit the back wall.  But he was not concussed.  No parents were hurt in this filming.

Someone asked us if we are going on any tiyulim (trips) this year.  We just looked around at our neighborhood:  kids playing on wonderful and brightly-colored fairground equipment; boys swimming and climbing and kayaking; parents with never-before-imagined free time on their hands...  (That would be us -- not the parents of the little kids running around in these photos.)  Now I hear Jerusalem is in line to receive the biggest ferris wheel in the world.  My only question is, "Where the heck they gonna put it?"

Well, if nothing else has inspired you to want to live in this lovely country, maybe the ferris wheel will do it.  And if you already want to live here, don't worry: the thing is supposed to hold something like 800 people at once.  I'll save you a seat.

What are your kids doing for summer vacation?  Tell me!  I'm anxious to hear, because I miss you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Do you ever wonder if you have any impact?

Yom rishon, 14 Av 5770, Erev Tu B'Av.

In 1991, my husband brought me for my first visit to Israel.

We had few "survival skills" for a nine-day stay in this very foreign country: We had zero Hebrew; we weren't traveling on a package tour; we hadn't much money.  We did have a couple of nice rabbis we had met at a Discovery seminar in Germany, who said they would give us lodging.  But we had already developed a small amount of chutzpah, and absolute faith that Hashem would take care of us.

The first place we were to spend the night was in a chareidi neighborhood in Jerusalem called Arzei HaBira.  We arrived on a hot June morning, dragging our suitcases behind us.  I had been calling our hosts for a while, but had only connected with their answering machine.  The plan was for us to call, and for them to meet us in the community square, and take us to their apartment...

We stood outside, perplexed about what should be our next move.  From a nearby porch, a  young boy addressed us.  As we were wearing our invisible signs that said, "Hi.  We're clueless American tourists," the boy spoke to us in his meager English.  "What are you looking for?"

We explained, giving the name of the family.  He came over to my husband and took his hand, as an adult would a child.  "Come," he said.  He walked us to the door of the apartment, and waited.  Knocking didn't help.

I remembered that Rabbi Hanoch Teller and his family lived in this community.  (This is where the chutzpah comes in.)

I asked the boy to take us to Rabbi Teller's apartment.

Here I need to digress -- but the story reminds me of how interconnected Jews are, and how networking is one of our keys to survival.

When we were newly-minted Jews in Germany, needless to say there was not much available in English to satisfy our craving to learn more and more and more.  We discovered the writing of Rabbi Hanoch Teller.  At the time, he had a fledgling inspirational newsletter.  We signed up.  We were accustomed to mail from abroad taking time to arrive; so waited patiently for our subscription.  Certainly, mail from Israel to Germany might take ages!  After a while, we forgot about it.  A year after our order, Rabbi Teller sent us a very cheerful renewal notice.

I sent back an equally cheerful letter, explaining to him that our first year's subscription had never arrived.  It was back in the ancient days of hand-written letters; and to soften my "complaint" letter, I drew my usual doodles in the margins -- little cartoon characters with kipot and curly peyot, rainbows and other silly things.

After a short time, Rabbi Teller sent us back a very nice letter, apologizing and asking us a little about ourselves.  Included in the package were all of the back issues, and an autographed book.  There was also a query about whether I might be interested in illustrating an upcoming children's book.

That was too much pressure for this little artist!  I sent him some drawings -- but they were nothing like my doodles.  I wanted so much to please that I overworked them, and they lost the original charm of the simpler drawings.  I also wrote back about our desire to find a Jewish community in the States, until we would be ready to make aliyah.  I listed some of our choices:  Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore.

In the end, he went with an artist who was simple in line, and exactly what his story needed.  But he also wrote back a nice letter introducing us to his former dorm counselor from years ago, who now lived in Baltimore.  He secured our permission to pass our mailing address on to his former counselor.

Months later, as we were still trying to make our decision, a handwritten several-page letter arrived from Baltimore, from this very counselor.  In it were hand-drawn maps of the eruvim of both the main body of the Jewish community, as well as of the Ner Israel Yeshiva neighborhood.  The letter was warm and encouraging.  It became very clear to us which community we would choose.

At the end of our military tour in Germany, and before we made the move to our new community in Baltimore, we took our first opportunity for a honeymoon since we had married in 1985.

So there we were, standing outside Rabbi Teller's door.  Apprehensively -- who likes to disturb any relative stranger, much less a famous rabbi, as he is spending a little private time with his family? -- we knocked on the door.  A child answered, and we asked for her father.

After we explained to Rabbi Teller with much embarrassment why we were standing in his apartment doorway, he dispelled all awkwardness, and eagerly invited us in for something to eat and drink.  He went to tell his wife that they had guests.

In a few minutes, out came the very-pregnant Mrs. Teller, bringing to the table fruit and drink and several choices of leben, a yogurt-like treat we had never tasted.  She joined her husband in chatting with us for a few minutes, and then apologized for the need to continue working in the kitchen with some of her daughters.  The rabbi spoke with us interestedly for several minutes, even though he was preparing for a trip abroad.

We marveled at the simplicity of their home.  While the kitchen was well-appointed, the living room was very austere.  We were delighted.  This seemed to be a way we could live.

At a certain point, our original hosts called, apologizing profusely for having been held up at a simcha; and we took our leave of the Tellers' warm hospitality.  We were suffused with happiness.  (We ate that brand of leben for some time afterward, to "stay connected" to the wonder of that experience.)

The story came to a happy conclusion last Thursday night.

I was at the wedding of the youngest child of a very special family, the "dorm counselor" and his wife, who had become our very dear friends over the years in Baltimore, and had made aliyah a few years before we did.  Just before we left, someone pointed out Rebbetzin Teller to me.  I approached her.  "Mrs. Teller?"

She greeted me warmly, with an open smile.  "I know you!" she said, excitedly.

I was taken aback.  "Well, you don't exactly know me," I said, "but you hosted my husband and me in 1991..."  I gave her a brief version of the story.

Her face lit up even more brightly.  "I remember!  And in the zechus of that visit, my 19-year-old son was born that very night.  It was the easiest delivery I ever had."

I am convinced that the surreal quality of that day -- surrounded by what Blanche Dubois would have called "the kindness of strangers" -- was what first ignited my love of Israel.  To live day-to-day with a people who paid attention to each other, who felt an obligation to help each other, was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

This post dedicated to the special ladies of the "musical chairs" table, among them: Esther, Esther, Hinda, Aidel, Bryna, Avigayil, Chaya, Ettie and Chemla (raba emunatecha!).

Erev Tu B'Av: the day before the minor but joyous holiday of Tu B'Av, which is MUCH cooler than "Sadie Hawkins Day"
Chutzpah: the quality of audacity, for good or bad
Chareidi: though I don't like the designation, it is most often translated as "ultra-Orthodox"
Kipot: skull caps, yarmulkes
Peyot: long side-curls
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Eruvim: plural of "eruv" -- an enclosure around a home or community, enables the carrying of objects out of doors for Jews on the Jewish Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden by Torah law (Halacha)
Simcha: joyous event, such as a wedding or bar mitzvah
Zechus: also "zechut" -- merit

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When chutzpah is a good thing

Yom revi'i, 10 Av 5770.

Arthur Rosenberg, 83 in 2004

"Nachamu, nachamu Ami."  (Isaiah 40:1)  "Console, console My people." To help to ease ourselves out of the sadness of Tisha B'Av, I want to share this video with you.  You will still cry -- but at least some of the tears will be for good things, such as the courage of these elderly people, the kindness and efficiency of the staff, the fact that these dear people are alive to walk in the Holy Land even though some of their parents were brutally murdered during the Shoah.  My "good tears" were for these things -- and for the way Israel greeted them warmly and with the great kavod (respect) they have earned.  It is just a small part of the tikkun (repair) we must do, if we are to witness the rebuilding of our Holy Temple.

Hat tip: Rebecca Chesner

May we share the day when the elderly will walk freely about Israel, and the children will play in the streets, in freedom and peace.

"Never again with there come from [Jerusalem] a young child or an old man who will not fill his days..." (Isaiah 65:20)

"Thus said Hashem, Master of legions: Old men and old women will once again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with his staff in his hand...and the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing..." (Zechariah 8:4-5)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jerusalem Prepares for Tisha B'Av

Yom sheni, 8 Av 5770, Erev Tisha B'Av.
"Tonight no learning Torah."
The Dearly Beloved and I were walking down the street in Talpiot (a neighborhood in Jerusalem) when we were confronted by this initially-shocking sign.  After a few minutes of deciphering, we figured out the real message of the sign: It was an invitation to join a congregation in Baka (an adjacent neighborhood) for the observance of the reading of Eicha (Lamentations), which traditionally begins the 25-hour fast of the Ninth of Av, the commemoration of the destruction of both Temples.  It reminds us that one of the things we deprive ourselves of during the fast is the learning of any portions of our Holy Torah that might bring joy.

 One of my sons has been struggling with what is the connection between depriving oneself of food, and remembering the destruction of our Holy Temple, nearly 2,000 years ago.  "Ema, honestly, when I go without food, all I think about is how hungry I am.  I can't connect it to the Temple's destruction.  I just get grouchy, and start counting the hours until the fast ends."

He studied and wrestled with his questions, reading and asking his chavruta's opinion, and the opinions of friends and family.

Finally, he answered his own question -- more or less -- by reminding me of a story I had told him years ago.  I had forgotten the story; and I now cannot remember the rabbi about whom it is told.

A couple of young men went to their rabbi, asking for advice about how to get through the upcoming Tisha B'Av fast.  The rabbi apologized to them.  "I wish I could give you advice," he said, "but I've never fasted a day in my life."

The young men were shocked.  But they had been taught to reason, and to give the benefit of the doubt.  Surely this holy man kept the Laws, handed down for generations!  Finally, one of them responded to the rabbi's statement.  "It is possible that the Rav found leniencies, for reasons of health, for not fasting on the minor fasts," he said.  "But surely the Rav has fasted on Yom Kippur!"

"I can honestly say that I never fasted on Yom Kippur, bochrim," he answered.

Now the second boy was emboldened to respond.  "I cannot believe the Rav didn't fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year!"

The rabbi smiled at his talmid.  "You are right.  Yom Kippur is the holiest day.  I am always so overwhelmed by the opportunity for such closeness to my Father in Heaven, so excited by the knowledge that He will forgive all of my sins, that I cannot even think of food.  It happens that from Kol Nidre until Neilah, I am so overcome with joy, food is the very last thing on my mind."

"And Tisha B'Av?" asked the first boy.  "The Rav also never fasted on Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year for a Jew?"

The rabbi's face clouded over, as he glanced at the calendar on the wall.  Tisha B'Av would begin that very night.  "On Tisha B'Av --" the rabbi's voice become choked, "I am so very distraught at what we have lost, and what we have suffered ever since that loss...  that I cannot bear the sight of food."

The young men left their rabbi's presence, clear now in the approach they would take to surviving the next several hours.

One thing passed through my mind when I saw that sign.  I realized how very sweet it is to suffer this supreme sadness with my people in our Land.

Sitting shiva is always easier when surrounded by family.

May we see an end to our suffering, individual and collective, and rejoice together this year in the complete and total Geula.

This post dedicated to two dear Rebbetzins who have recently lost their beloved fathers.  May their sweetness and love of their fellow Jews continue to accrue to their dear fathers' accounts in Shemayim.

Chavruta: Torah study partner
Bochrim: young men
Talmid: student
Kol Nidre and Neilah: opening and closing prayers of Tisha B'Av services
Shiva: the seven-day mourning period after the death of a close relative
Geula: the Final Redemption
Shemayim: Heaven

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Turnabout's Fair Play: Israel Interviews France

Yom shishi, 5 Av 5770.

Photographed by Ilana-Davita in Sweden "in September, and whose serenity I really like."
One of the best things about the blogging world is that I am privileged to meet such interesting people.  True -- we sometimes don't meet in person (at least not right away).  But as I have mentioned before, bloggers are real people, with interesting stories.  And sometimes we get to know one another as well through our writing as we get to know the "flesh-and-blood" people in our lives.

"Ilana-Davita" started an interesting feature I have been following, in which she interviews fellow bloggers.  She recently interviewed me -- and I thought my readers might like to get to know her.  Here is our conversation.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I am a 46-year-old woman who teaches English in a French high school.

What caused you to pursue the English language as a course of study?

I loved English from my first English lesson wen I was ten. After high school and before college, I spent a year in England in a school, and then it seemed natural to go on with English.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I was raised Catholic by practicing parents. Until about ten years ago, I did not know much about Judaism as a religion, although I had always had a keen interest in Jewish history and culture. I didn’t know, however, that one could convert to Judaism.

This all changed when I borrowed a book by Rabbi Telushkin – I am still a faithful fan of his – and started reading it. I almost instantly had the feeling that what I had always believed was Judaism. Believe me, it was both a bit scary and comforting. Scary to be shaken off base when I least expected it and comforting to find I had a spiritual home – by then I had stopped going to church for a long time. The book also mentioned conversion.

It became clear that I had come across this book for a purpose. I then found a rabbi with whom I could study, went to Paris regularly for classes and started learning Hebrew. I converted almost six years ago.

What are your feelings about aliyah?

I admire the people who make aliyah and sometimes wish I had their courage. You have to be very brave to leave behind your friends and relatives, your job, your home.

I think I’d find it difficult to move to Israel while not knowing whether I’d find a reasonably well-paying job in an environment where I would know so little of the language.

In addition at present there are other issues which would make aliyah difficult (aging parents being one of them) but I don’t totally rule it out either.

You mentioned the very difficult problem of making aliyah when aging parents need care. Are both of your parents still in the world? How did they feel about your conversion?

My parents are 76 and 73. I think they were a bit perplexed when I announced my desire to convert but said they were glad I had found a spiritual home. They love Israel and have been there three times – although they visited some places I probably wouldn't care to see myself.

Where in France do you live and is there a special reason you live there? 

I live in a middle-sized town (about 60,000 inhabitants) in Northern France. I ended up here because of my job. I started teaching in a junior high and then, after seven years, looked for something more challenging, and it so happens that my current school had vacancies. I applied through a complex system of points that is particular to France and got the job.

What would you like to share about your daily life in France that might be interesting to those of us outside France?

France is not the monolithic country portrayed in the media. Something Jewish people who are used to a stereotyped picture of Israel can understand.

For instance France went through a spate of anti-Semitic incidents a few years ago, but a lot of places are very quiet; and I know some people who always wear a kippah in Paris and who do not feel threatened. A number of Jews are university lecturers, film directors, actors or politicians here. It doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Some French journalists have pointed out that is difficult to teach about the Holocaust in some suburbs, which it shouldn’t be of course, but this is not the case everywhere. A young friend who teaches History was telling me the other day that in his classes the students were attentive and curious.

I also agree that the portrayal of Israel in the media is often biased and simplistic.

France’s main problem concerning Judaism – and other religions too – is that it is a very secular country. Secularism is practically the official religion in France.

There are some advantages; one being that religion isn’t pushed down people’s throats at school or elsewhere. But there is also one big drawback: ignorance. People know next to nothing about religions in general and Judaism in particular. As you know, ignorance can lead to misunderstandings and misunderstandings to disasters.

When and why did you start blogging?

I had been reading a few blogs for some months and felt I wanted to have a go. So I started blogging in January 2007. I was at LiveJournal then. I had a very small following at the time. But as I found their options and settings too limited and limiting, I switched to Wordpress in June 2007. The rest is history.

Where did you get the name for your blog?

It comes from Chaim Potok's novel. He is one of my favorite writers. I also chose it since I felt it pointed to the fact that it was a blog written by a woman.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

Very surprised. I never imagined I would meet so many fantastic people through my blog. I suppose that since I live in a town with such a tiny Jewish community, I need the feeling that I belong to something broader, and blogging fills part of this void.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

I feel proud when a post gets a lot of comments or when I have done a lot of research and feel the end product is not too bad. Here are two posts for which I worked hard:
- Survey: Morning Blessings (birkat ha-shachar)
- Organ donation
I am also delighted that so many people seem to enjoy my interview series.

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

More than one or two in fact. I’ll probably forget some. I hope no one feels offended.

- Treppenwitz whose prose led me to start my own blog
- Here in HP - Leora is a great blogger and she has taught me more than a thing or two in layout as well as careful and caring commenting. She is someone I really consider a friend, which may seem strange since we’ve never met.
- I just love the subtle humor displayed by Mrs.S. at Our Shiputzim and hope that when we meet in person we can share good moments.
Mom in Israel, another of my mentors. Guess where I got the idea of interviewing people from?
- Jew Wishes whose book reviews and vast knowledge of Jewish History and culture never ceases to astonish me
- I’ll Call Baila for her honest way of talking about her everyday life.
- Shavua Tov with whom I share many experiences.

There are also Shimshonit, Mimi and lots of others.

I also like the fact that these people are very different and that regularly I “meet” or get to know more new wonderful people – you for instance.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Ilana-Davita.  I appreciate getting to know you better.  And thank you for introducing me to some of your favorite bloggers.  I am definitely going to check out Mimi's Israeli Kitchen: Food, Wine and Bread from the Heart of Israel!

Don't you just want to have a cup of tea with this elegant person?   I do.

When you love somebody this much, you just have to say hello.

Yom chamishi, 4 Av 5770.

 Rabbi Elan Adler and Rebbetzin Dr. (I love saying that) Rivkah Lambert Adler are two of the nicest and funniest people you will ever meet.

They have touched thousands of lives in very positive ways.  Rabbi Adler is a sought-after speaker, and was a dynamic and well-loved congregational rabbi in the United States.  Besides giving over wonderful Torah in an inspirational manner, Rabbi Adler is arguably the Jewish nation's nearest equivalent to Jonathan Winters.  (For the younger crowd, Winters was Robin Williams' comedic mentor.)  A punnier fellow you'll never know.

Okay, Rabbi...  now that I've mentioned you first, I want to talk about my dear friend, Rivkah.

 I know that Rabbi Adler will agree with me that one of the best things he ever did in his life was to marry Rivkah.  (She and I agreed years ago during a shiur we both took that if we had gone to school together, the teacher would have had to separate us.)

"Rivkah" and "love of Eretz Yisrael" mean the same thing.

Rivkah has wanted to make Israel her home for many years.  During the time that this desire could not be fulfilled, she channeled it by helping hundreds of other people make aliyah, or at least keep the "bren" for aliyah alive in their hearts, through the Baltimore Chug Aliyah.  She educated and sympathized, strengthened and empathized -- and wept copiously when she sent her "chicks" out of the nest.  She admitted that it was because she was happy for them, and also that she was sad for herself.  As she used to say, "Every time I send one of you to Israel, there is one less person here who can understand me."  She expected that it would be well into the decade before she would have the chance to make aliyah.

But Hashem makes miracles.  And years ahead of schedule, Rivkah and her dear family are finally Home.

This time, we -- Rivkah's chicks -- were crying as much as she.  First at the NBN Welcome Ceremony, and then at the Baltimore Welcome Party given by those hosts par excellence, the Schamroths.

Below are some photos of that special gathering.  May many more of our friends be inspired to join us very soon.  May those who have been inspired for a long time find the obstacles cleared from their paths, for only the best reasons; and may they gain strength from Hashem if they must continue to wait.  Remember, if you long for Israel with all of your hearts, you are counted as if you already dwell here.

Follow the continuing saga of Rivkah's & Elan's & Ariella's & Shani's Great Aliyah Adventure at Bat Aliyah.

Torah: The totality of Jewish learning is encompassed by this word.
Shiur: Torah lecture or class
Eretz Yisrael: the land of Israel, special to Jews because it was the land given as an inheritance by G-d
Chug: club, society
Bren: Yiddish for a burning love or desire for something
Aliyah: immigration to Israel
Hashem: G-d