Sunday, March 27, 2011

IDF storms bus; civilians victorious

Yom rishon, 21 Adar bet 5771.

Multiply this little group and all their luggage by eight; pack them into the smoke-filled parking garage of the bus station; and you'll have an idea of Sunday bus travel in Jerusalem.
Some occurrences that would be bizarre in America are part of the normal landscape in Israel.  Waiting on a Sunday at the Central Bus Station for your usual, scheduled bus is one such event.  One learns over time that Sunday mornings are not reliable travel times from and to Gush Etzion.  There are so many soldiers traveling that there is likely to be a shortage of seats, if the bus even comes into our small town.  (If it doesn't, you can assume that the bus picked up so many soldiers going back to their units after a Shabbat at home that there simply isn't a seat.)

In America, soldiers rarely traveled on public transportation en masse.  That's what troop transports are for.  In Israel -- for reasons of economy, I presume -- there are not enough such vehicles available.  Instead, soldiers travel free (when in uniform) on regular city and intercity buses.  For reasons I cannot fathom, increased troop movement does not consistently mean increased transportation.  The word balagan was surely invented for what happens at the bus platform on days like this.

Today, the Dearly Beloved and I had a lovely morning in Jerusalem.  We waited until the 13:45 bus (a quarter to two, for those of you still operating on US time), sure that by early afternoon, soldiers would mostly be back on base.

As we approached our bus platform, we saw -- conservatively -- eighty soldiers waiting outside and inside.  Soldiers in Israel don't wait like American soldiers, in a tightly regimented file.  They wait like Israelis.  Imagine puppies surrounding one mother dog, gazing balefully Heavenward as she tries to understand why the good Lord gave her nine puppies and an insufficient number of spigots.  The only people who understand the concept of waiting in line in Israel are olim chadashim.  And they do NOT get on the bus.
"If we stand in line, you can and I can [accomplish whatever]."  Nice sign.  NOT an Israeli concept.
I looked at my husband, expecting to share in the reality that today -- as we were not pressed for time -- the plan would be to wander around the bus station mall for another hour or so.  Was that the light of battle I saw in his eyes?  My husband played American tackle football in high school, and soccer and rugby in college.  I could see him maneuvering himself into position for the next big game.  Following in his wake, I could see why he had a reputation for clearing a field.  In America, this well-bred, polite big man never cuts in line.  In Israel, he comes just short of flinging combatants from the gridiron.
Don't mess.
So there we were, suddenly at the front of the line.  The young soldiers and soldierettes, undeterred, began to crowd around, as if the door to the bus would be able to accommodate more than one human at a time.  The bus driver opened the door, and filled it with his entire self.  He started yelling at the crowd.  An advantage of not being very good at the language is that we operate on the few words we understand, and then act like Israelis.  (The definition of "act like Israelis" is that you believe that rules are merely suggestions -- and even these suggestions are for the other guy.)  He said the words "citizens" and "now," which we took to mean that people who lived in the communities served by the bus had preference.  Much sardinage happened next, with the Dearly Beloved blocking entry of anyone until his wife, two elderly ladies, a couple of clever soldier girls and he boarded the bus.  For another few minutes, soldiers shoved and vied and yelled at each other and back and forth at the bus driver, until the bus was full.  The bus driver proceeded to stand in the doorway again, exchanging heated words with the forty or so remaining soldiers.

Now, I know this will be hard for people who don't experience it regularly to believe, but somehow, this is all done with much laughing and good-natured yelling.  Shortly after closing the door (and sharing a few communicative hand signals with the soldiers who were banging on said door), the bus driver pulled out, making a call on his cell phone to the dispatcher to request more transportation for the remaining soldiers, and to explain why he wouldn't be stopping at his next regular stops.
One of the many Sabra (aka "prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside") bus drivers we have encountered in Israel.
At a stop light, he stood up, displaying a new sign that said that his bus was for IDF Army Service Only.  He made a little speech to the effect that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and received a round of applause and cheers from the forty soldiers and five civilians crammed onto the school bus.  (Oh, yes -- I forgot to mention that another special feature of life in Israel is that, when we run out of buses to serve a particular area, school buses are pressed into service.)  The bus driver turned on a radio program he seemed to enjoy, which caused him to laugh goodnaturedly as he navigated narrow pathways through deadly traffic.  I think he went through about four complete personality changes in forty minutes, becoming just the fellow needed at each juncture.
Sign on the back of the bus:  "I drive carefully.  What's your opinion?"  In my opinion?  These guys are heroes.
As we disembarked at our stop, I screwed up my courage and spoke to the bus-load of young people in my meager Hebrew.  "Thank you all for your service."  There were many sweet smiles; and the bus driver made a loud bracha for all of them, and for all of us.

Traveling in our own country with our own family sometimes takes a little getting used to.  But it's never boring, and it almost always reminds us of how very fortunate we are to be part of this slightly crazy people.

Balagan: chaos, utter confusion
Olim chadashim: new immigrants
Sardinage: a self-explanatory Ruti word, which I like almost as much as "techneptitude"
Bracha: blessing

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"As a flower of the field, so shall he flourish."

Yom revi'i, 17 Adar bet 5771.

The old man sat down next to him on the bus.  The young Israeli soldier let out a sigh, and started talking as if to himself.  "I get it now," he said.

"Excuse me?  'I get it now'?  What do you get, young man?"  The old man's voice was soft, encouraging.  The boy looked at him.  Saw kind eyes, a face with a story under the Kansas City Chiefs ball cap.  He was immediately comfortable.

"I made aliyah just a couple of years ago," the young man answered, "from the States.  I just spent Shabbat, my weekend off base, on a kibbutz up North."

The old man didn't want to break the boy's train of thought, so he only nodded.

"One of the guys there showed me this flower.  'Calanit,' right?  Looks kinda like a red poppy or a tulip?  He said it was illegal to pick it."

"Yes, it is protected.  In Latin it's called the Anemone coronaria."  The old man laughed self-deprecatingly.  "I don't know much Latin.  But I, too, was impressed when I learned about this delicate little flower.  It actually comes in a lot of colors.  You can get fined if you pick it," the old man agreed.

"Yeah -- that's what the kid told me.  Here's what's weird.  If you had told me, back in Baltimore, that it was forbidden to pick some flower -- I woulda picked it, just to be a chutzpan -- just to tell you 'you can't tell me what to do!'  But if I saw someone trying to pick the calanit here for the same reason...  I'd deck him."  The boy looked at the old man in wonder, seeing himself, confused momentarily by what he observed.

"All those years I grew up in America, and I finally 'get' what all those patriotic songs by country singers meant."  He looked at the old man, not sure if he had been in Israel too long to understand what he meant.  "See, after 9/11 especially, there were all these songs about how we should love America and stuff, how we should fight to remain free.  I was still kinda young; so I didn't all the way get what they meant.  But now I do.  Now they're about Israel."

The old man nodded and smiled.  He himself had left America several years before from Kansas City, Missouri.  He had played in a country rock band back in the Seventies...  and he understood the boy.  America was something very special to him, when he had worn a US Army uniform, when he had served to protect her from her enemies...  and then he had become a religious Jew, and he had made his way Home to Israel.

And all that love of country that had brought a lump to his throat when he wrote and sang patriotic songs -- not unlike the songs by these young American country singers -- had been transplanted to his Jewish homeland.

"Don't get me wrong," the young soldier said hastily.  "I don't have anything against America.  America has been good to us Jews.  It's just that here, in my homeland, I finally really understand the values they were trying to teach me."

The bus arrived at Malcha Mall station, and the boy left to join his fellow soldiers as they made their way to their units. 

"Thanks for listening, sir," he said, shaking the old man's hand.

"Good boy.  Good boy," said the old fellow, under his breath.  "May Hashem bless him, and keep him safe.  Please, Father in Heaven, protect these strong and delicate flowers, our soldiers.  And please, dear G-d, fill our land with more young people like him."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reflections Around Recent Events

Yom chamishi, 11 Adar bet 5771.

I fall asleep to the BBC.

I assume this sounds a bit strange to people who prefer falling asleep to silence, or to soothing music, or at least to radio programs with which they agree occasionally.  Silence is a bit rough, after recent events, with a graphic imagination like mine; so it's better to fill my brain with someone else's word pictures.  The spoken word has always been my comfort music.  And English is my mamaloshen, whether I like it or not.  That pretty much leaves the BBC, in my current neighborhood's airwaves.

So last night, I'm listening to the news through BBC's eyes -- and I am swept away with how every nation on the planet seems to be in some sort of crisis.  If it's not natural disaster, it's political upheaval or horrific crime. I am sure the world was not like this -- at least not all at once -- when I was a girl.

Horror and rage aside, which are too fresh and painful just now for me to speak about, I find myself working very hard to avoid a great overwhelming sadness for all of the loss of life all over the globe.

The best way for me to do that is to remember that there is a Plan, and that Hashem runs the world.  And that He made certain promises; and that He never lies.  In their sweet, uncomplicated way of putting things, the Israelis are right.  Yihi'yeh b'seder.  It will be okay.

I have to leave deeper analyses to people who are more qualified, whether they are pundits of politics, or of religion, or of rage.

Now I will focus on Hashem's many beauties, with which He gives us solace when we would otherwise focus on our fears.

A last pomegranate of winter.
Look closely: you can see one of the first almond blossoms heralding spring.

The Kinneret is rising, post-season.  Winter is gradually becoming spring.

Photo credit: Dovid "Sage" Eastman

This photo was taken a few weeks ago; but the joyfulness of young women together lifts my spirits now.
Jews are fighting to find joy in an Adar stressed by sadness.  One Jew has promised to feed a family of orphans until they are grown.
Rami Levy -- photo credit: Flash 90

Yosef Karduner's new Kumzits CD is musically inspiring, and allows us a rare glimpse of the man behind the song.

There is still so much to rejoice over!  May we share more joy than sorrow.  May we merit to see the coming of the Geula shelaima, bimheira viyameinu!

My hero takes me shopping.

Evil shall be vanquished!

"For the Jews, there was light, honor, joy and gladness.  So may it be for us."
Have an easy and meaningful fast.  May we all be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Baltimore news about Israeli soldiers

Yom shlishi, 2 Adar bet 5771.

A request to Baltimore friends and family ~

You may not have heard about it...  but Chana and Ken Birnbaum are hosting a parlor meeting on Tuesday, March 8, from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM, that touches our hearts here in Israel.

If you can, please join them at 6204 Pearce Avenue to help out our Israeli soldiers.

Some of our Baltimore boys are holding that line against our enemies.  Please do what you can to help -- to keep them warm, to get them the equipment they need, to remind them that you are there for them, right behind them.  Your support keeps them strong.

For more information, call 419-358-7736 or 410-236-5398.

Tell them Josh E. and Aryeh and Michoel and Ami and Yaakov T. and Petey and Josh R. and Yaakov A. and Meir and Aaron sent you.

Their mothers, in Israel and Baltimore, thank you.

Haveil Havalim, Edition #307, is up at Esser Agaroth.  Among other great articles, be sure to check out West Bank Mama's explanation of the outpost phenomenon in The Forest Is The Politics, The Trees Are Our Children.  You will finally understand some of the concepts that the media obscure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Band of Achim

Yom shishi, 28 Adar aleph 5771.

When our sons were small, we told them a tale of twelve young Torah students, spending a night in an abandoned yeshiva in Poland a century or two ago.  It was winter.  The yeshiva had no heating; and the boys were desperately poor and very, very cold.  Between them, they had two blankets.

Six boys took one blanket, found a room just off the main study hall, and tried to catch a few hours' sleep.  The other six took the second blanket, and found another room.

The first group struggled to make the blanket fit over all the boys.  But it simply couldn't cover them all.  Soon, the room erupted into fighting and bitterness.  "You have too much of the blanket!"  "I'm cold!  I can't get covered!"  "If you weren't so greedy, I could get warm!"  "Cover me!  Cover me!  I'm freezing!"

No one slept a wink all night.  When they stumbled out into the study hall at first light, they were met by the second group, talking and laughing, looking well-rested.

Grumbling and glowering, they asked for particulars.

One boy spoke for the group.  "We decided that since there was not enough blanket to go around, each of us would work very hard to cover the fellow right next to him.  In this way, we were all covered by a brother."

We just had the privilege -- with hundreds of other parents, siblings, other family members and friends -- of witnessing our son's tekes kumta.  This is the ceremony when a soldier reaches a certain level in his training, and when he trades in the standard green recruit cap for a beret in his brigade's unique color.

Stunt Man receives his kumta from a favorite officer, Omri.
The ceremony was lovely, of course, with amazingly beautiful Jewish youth formed up to listen to encouraging speeches and divrei Torah.  And of course we are proud of the growth in our son, and of his success in making a place for himself in this strange new land.

We were awed as we always are by the cross-section of our people that make up the Israeli army family.  We are an army of Jews and non-Jews, white and brown, religious and not so religious.

Perhaps what takes our breath away more than the diversity and beauty of our soldiers is their brotherhood.
 One of Aryeh's commanders overheard another unit arguing about who was going to be stuck with the weekly task of "holding down the fort" over Shabbat.  Of course all of the guys work hard; and of course they all want to go home to their families.  So like brothers everywhere, there can be some squabbling about this particularly arduous chore.

 "Aryeh," asked his commander, "have you guys talked about who is going to close this Shabbat?"

"Yeah, we worked it out yesterday.  Nadav and I said we would do it."

The commander was pleased.  "And did you all fight about it first?"

"No -- well, not exactly.  Some of the guys were, like 'You shouldn't have to do it.  I'll do it.'  But it was no big deal."

After he related this story, Aryeh said to me, "Now I know that what Abba always said is true.  It's not what you're doing.  It's who you're doing it with.  I have a really great tzevet!"  I smile, remembering the story of the yeshiva boys and their blankets.  The soldiers in this tzevet will care for one another and keep each other covered.

As our friend Meir (an old friend from Baltimore, and currently a soldier in the Artillery Corps) explained to us, "In the Israeli army, the first guy who goes in is the commander.  (The first guy who rappelled down to the deck of the Mavi Marmara was the commander.)  His soldiers need to love him enough to be willing to follow him into any situation."

The US army does not have a concept of "breaking distance."  There is alway a division between soldiers and officers -- and there is something to be said for that kind of structured discipline.  But on the other hand -- I have watched our son developing a level of friendship with his fellow soldiers, and finally with his officers, that is built on trust and respect and love.  There's something to be said for that, too.

A special thank you to the officers and soldiers who have accepted our son in their "band of achim."  Thank you as well to the friends who have made themselves uncles and aunts and cousins to our boys, and who joined us for the event.

Photo credit: Daniel Freedman

Photo credit: Daniel Freedman

Achim: brothers
Tekes kumta: beret ceremony
Divrei Torah: words of Torah, sermons
Tzevet: crew, team