Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"What can I bring back to the States with me?"

Yom revi'i, 27 Sivan 5771.

This post in honor of 45 successful years of the Alan-Leslie merger.  May you share many more healthy, happy years; and may we be friends for all of them!

Leslie Itskowitz and I have been friends since our excellent mutual friend, Rebbetzin Sara Sachs, first introduced us during one of our Eastman family visits to Pittsburgh.  Leslie has a lovely sense of humor.  (When she walked in my door earlier this week, she quoted a line from the movie Pretty Woman:  "Just in case I forget to tell you later, we had a wonderful time.")  She also has a deep love for the Jewish people.  And she reads my blog.  So, being friends with her has been easy, even though I see her less often than I would like.

On this trip to Israel, Leslie brought her husband Alan to meet us, and informed us that they were spending their 45th wedding anniversary with us.  (I was sure glad I'd brought out the nice tablecloth!)

There was the expected banter between brothers-in-arms.  ("I'm sorry, Honey.  He's Navy."  "Oh, well then.  Alan, it's been a pleasure meeting you; but now you will have to eat outside.")  Leslie and I were very happy that our husbands got along so famously.  They were chatting away about politics within five minutes of meeting, and didn't stop conversing on many topics for several hours.  (Not much makes a woman happier than discovering that she and her very good friend have husbands who like each other.)

At a certain point in our conversation, Alan interjected a seemingly incongruous remark.  "So, tell me.  What can I bring back to the States with me when I return?"  It soon became apparent that he wasn't talking about shopping.  (The boys left that to Leslie and me, hanging out in the Elazar beit knesset when they drove us there for a wild clothes-shopping spree at the home of the delightful Shelley Bloom.)  He explained that his community in Pittsburgh expects to hear from him what is going on in Israel.  What's the "real story"?

Alan explained that although most of his friends see the world the way he does, getting good honest news from the pro-Israel perspective isn't always easy.

The MSM (mainstream media) have a field day with anything negative about Israel; but it seems they often gloss over stories that might show Israel in a positive light, or stories that tell of the abuse of Jews at the hands of Arabs.  And much of the problem comes from an Israeli emphasis on anti-Jewish news, as many of our own MSM sources seem to be pro-Arab and anti-Jewish (even though this may not be their intention.  Like leftist press the world over, they truly may believe that this slant is in the interest of world peace).

An acquaitance of mine has lived in Jerusalem for 30 years, but has not traveled "over the Green Line" since the 90s, because she thinks its wrong for us to encroach on "Palestinian land."  "What I can't understand," she said to me, "is why you settlers won't let the Palestinians drive on Highway 60 with you.  Why won't you let them use the same roads you do?"  It does little good to show her photos of late-model vehicles with Palestinian license plates traveling on Highway 60, in equal numbers to cars with Israeli plates.  She believes her favorite "news" sources; and they have informed her that what I see every day isn't happening.

I don't begrudge this Palestinian contractor his success.  I just resent the people who say he isn't having it.

FYI: The Palestinian plates are white and green, and the Israeli plates are yellow.  No segregated parking lots here.
Full disclosure: not every Arab in Israel drives a late-model vehicle.  There are poor Jews and poor Arabs in Israel.

I enjoy the support of commentators such as Melanie Phillips, though it rankles to have even Israel's friends intimate that a good portion of the bad press is somehow Israel's fault.  According to Melanie, Israel has ignored what she calls "the battleground of the mind."  "Israeli hasbara [PR] is a joke,"  she says.  "Israel is completely outclassed and outmaneuvered on a battleground it doesn't even understand it's on."

The bottom line is that Melanie is only partly right.  Israel could perhaps be more present on the battleground of the mind.  This would be helped if this tiny nation could be a little more "on the same page" regarding our own right to exist.  But I differ with her opinion that "nobody" is addressing the problem, "nobody" is speaking on behalf of the truth.  There are wonderful sources of information available.  (Please feel free to ask for my favorites.)  But one must pick and choose (and occasionally dodge) as the meteor shower of information zooms past over the morning coffee.

Perhaps the best wisdom came in a conversation with a dear friend in America.  "It is an issue far too large and complicated for me. Is it ideology or money that is the root of the problems? Is it really a matter of property? Is it a question of religious freedom? In either case, in the holiest place on the planet for three major religions, why doesn't everyone walk around in awe of their similarities; their connectedness and the three separate but equal children of Abraham?"

My friend continued to illustrate what I see as one of the most important hurdles Israeli hasbara has to overcome:  "I have grown ... resigned to issues that are so complex and unmanageable that I am left helpless. I have given [my focus] to minding very carefully those things I may be able to personally affect. I trust your depth of knowledge on Israel.  You know internally and authentically what is happening and why..."  My friend is a musician and teacher who plays "music with babies and old people so they can find their sweet place in the song that is this life."  She truly doesn't have the time or filtering process to decide about Israel.  That is my job: and she is willing to listen.

The fact is that we are living in a time of sensory overload, a virtual nuclear holocaust of information.  Every end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movie I ever saw as a kid ended with a handful of stalwarts communicating post-destruction with the equivalent of cans and string technology.  That translates as one person to one person.  Remember the old shampoo commercial?  "You'll tell two friends, and they"ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."

My answer to our friends who feel confused by a lack of answers is to find one friend who is "a fact on the ground," who is actually present on the battleground whom you trust, and ask your questions, just as my  friend in America asks me.

And to our friend Alan, who asks "What can I bring back to the States with me?," I would answer as my husband did:  Take back the truth that you see with your own eyes.  Talk about what you know to be true based on what you hear and see and discern during your visits.  Obviously, there is responsibility here: but you have been aware of that all of your adult life. Your friends, overwhelmed by too much news, will be happy to have you as their eyes and ears on the topic,  as they go on with their very busy lives.

Alan left us with a very heartwarming farewell remark:  "As I look at you here, I know one thing I can tell them.  I can tell them that we are in very good hands."

You're welcome back any time, Alan.  And bring your excellent bride with you, too!  After Leslie and I finish shopping, you'll have lots more than hasbara to carry back to the States with you.  And in case I forget to mention it, we enjoyed your anniversary dinner at Ma'alot very much.  Ask us about it...

Dear Locals: Shelley Bloom does all kinds of clothing repair, and will pick up from the Gush and Efrat if you write to her email:  Support local business!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the land."

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldberger in Israel - photo by Ezra Leventhal
Yom revi'i, 13 Sivan 5771.

I always think of my Rav and Rebbetzin when Parashat Shelach rolls around.

There are a few reasons for this; but a primary reason is that Rabbi Menachem and Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger refuse to fit any stereotypes.  A typical stereotype, for instance, is that American Chasidic rabbis do not traditionally support aliyah to Israel.  And yet, a very large percentage of Rabbi Goldberger's congregation either lives in Israel or is in the process of making aliyah; and a disproportionate number of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel's young people has served in the IDF.  Of course, there are also a number of our young people who have attended yeshiva in Israel for a year or two; but, again, a surprising number of those return and settle in the Holy Land.  This is due in large measure to the unabashed love the Goldbergers have for Eretz Yisrael, a love they share happily with their congregants.

This blog is named for my favorite pasuk in the Chumash, which can be found in this parasha, a pasuk I believe to be a favorite of Rabbi Goldberger's as well:  "!עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי-יכול נוכל לה" -- "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!" (Bamidbar, 13:30)

There are many beautiful and inspirational p'sukim in the Chumash.  So what is it about Calev's rallying cry to the Jewish people, in the face of the spies who were trying to dissuade them from entering the Promised Land, that resonates for me so much more than all those other bits of Torah wisdom?

Besides the fact that it is all about aliyah to the holiest place in the world, this pasuk also reminds us not to "go along to get along."  If G-d thinks we can accomplish something with His help, who are all of those naysayers to tell us that it is not possible, that there are too many obstacles between us and success?

A Jew must remember that he works for The Front Office.  He doesn't just work for himself; and he certainly doesn't work for all those who tell him he can't succeed.  If G-d tells us (as He seems to, many times throughout the Torah) that He wants His people in His land, why should we let anyone tell us that it is not where we belong?  And why should we believe that surviving here is beyond our poor abilities?  (I mean -- it IS.  But it isn't our project.  Our job, to paraphrase a favorite military expression, is as follows:  "When G-d says jump, we say 'How high?'")

How high, indeed.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldberger have helped us to become ourselves, and not some cookie-cutter version of themselves.  They have helped us to love every kind of Jew, no matter how different from us.  They have taught us such a sense of kehilla-as-family that all "TYers" feel connected, no matter how long it's been since we davened together or how far apart we live on the globe.  They have shared with us their version of Chasidut, which includes the injunction to use the tools G-d gives us to make our own decisions -- and to live by them.

They made it okay to leave their shul to come to live in Israel.  Not easy, but okay.

Thank you, Rabbi and Rebbetzin, for taking us higher.  Rebbetzin, I wish I could be there for your Coffee House Concert.  I know that it will be wonderful, and will inspire the ladies of our community to even greater closeness, and to the fun of being spiritual -- another instance of a stereotype you sidestep.  Thank you both for being our teachers, our friends, our family.

Pasuk, p'sukim: verse, verses
Parasha: chapter
Kehilla: community, especially the tight-knit community in a synagogue or small town
Davened: prayed
Shul: synagogue

Sunday, June 12, 2011

G-d chooses the time and place.

Yom rishon, 10 Sivan 5771.

We think we make our own decisions.  My suspicion is that -- at best -- we get to help.  But many of our most crucial decisions are made for us by Hashem.

Ask any ger (convert to Judaism).  Everyone has a fascinating story about how and why he became Jewish.  But to a person, each one I have met and listened to has shared that he or she didn't so much choose as was chosen.

So it was for our aliyah.

I had fallen in love with Israel the first time my husband brought me for a visit in 1991.  But it would be 16 years before my dream would become our life.

After years of visiting for a few weeks each year, due to a job with a remarkable employer, I found myself literally lovesick over this country.  But there were very logical arguments against making the move.  (Even today, as anxious as I am for all Jews to "come Home," my experience keeps me sympathetic to the very individual hurdles there are to overcome before one makes that final leap of faith.)

My boss allowed me an end-of-year bonus of a ticket to Israel for myself and one child each year.  It was a great way to reconnect with Israel, to spend time with a child, and even to brainwash him just a little to my way of thinking.  ("Yes, son, the most beautiful girls in the world do live in Israel."  The Talmud promotes bribery in a good cause.  A mother has to know her audience.)

In 5765 (early 2005), my bonus was so large, I was able to take the younger two boys and the Dearly Beloved to Israel for a couple of weeks.  I had been telling my husband that we had reached a critical stage in my continued emotional health: we needed to finally make up our minds.  I couldn't keep the dream alive anymore: I was going to need to put down real roots in one country or the other.

Before we left, I had a little chat with the Creator of the Universe.  "Tatte B'Shemayim," I said, hoping to remind The All Powerful of our Father/daughter relationship, "I accept Your will.  Whatever You want for my dear husband to choose, please help him to choose once and for all."

The day before our flight, I checked the weather report.  We were planning to visit our Soldier Boy at his mechina in the Golan Heights.  The weather report promised that it would be cold, rainy and muddy.  Smiling resignedly Heavenward, I said (and meant), "Hashem, if You have decided to use really lousy weather to convince my Dearly Beloved to choose America as our home, I accept Your decision.  Just help him to choose, please."

From the time we landed in Israel, everyone who met us thanked us for bringing the unseasonably beautiful weather.  The air was fresh and clean as only mountain air can be.  The calanit was in bloom, dotting the green fields and purple hills with electric bursts of red.  There were other flora and fauna caressing the landscape, as if Israel wanted to show herself at her best.

The yishuv of Avnei Eitan went out of its way to make us welcome.  They offered us a luxury mountain cabin free of charge for the three days we were there.  And Soldier Boy -- though only 17 at the time -- exhibited grown-up genius by offering to take his brothers Stunt Man and Sports Guy to live in his dorm for the duration.  So they got the thrill of sleeping on mats on the floor amid dirty socks and underwear and pizza boxes, a kind of boy-heaven, and we got a second honeymoon.

The guys dropped by for meals, but otherwise enjoyed more freedom than we could ever give them in Baltimore.  (All part of my evil plan.)  I enjoyed watching my men toss the football around on great open fields, with no worry of hurling the pigskin through some apartment window.  The Dearly Beloved and I had time to think and plan and to fall in love yet again.  Most important of all:  my guys fell in love with Israel in general, and the Golan in particular.  We knew where we were going to live.  And we knew it was going to be very soon.  We were "ish echad b'lev echad" -- one person with one heart.

("Thank you, Ribono Shel Olam!"  I said it many times during that trip, and many times since then.  How often do we truly get to feel that Our Father in Heaven is holding us in the palm of His hand???)

When we came to Israel on our pilot trip the following year with Tehilla, we visited something like 23 communities in less than two weeks.  But we only paid cursory attention, enjoying the tour and the company of Israeli wannabe friends, because we knew where we were going to live.

Of course, man plans and G-d laughs, as the expression goes.

Just before our actual aliyah, we heard about a teenager ulpan  -- the only one dedicated to teen olim in the country -- located in Baka, a section of Jerusalem.  My husband and I grew up in small towns in America; and the idea of taking our boisterous, loud, gigantic boys to live in the wondrous albeit crowded Holy City seemed a bit overwhelming.  I wrote to everyone I knew or vaguely knew, saying that we would like to spend the first few months near but not in Jerusalem, and did anyone have ideas or suggestions?

Gush Etzion lit up like a neon sign in Times Square.  Friends and people we barely knew offered connections, offered to take photos of apartments, offered advice...

Throughout our career as Jews, we have learned one thing very clearly.  If one listens very closely, not to his own desires and plans, but to the messages that seem to be coming from Hashem, one reaps great rewards.  There is a saying:  If you are very happy in a place in Eretz Yisrael, it is because when Avraham Avinu walked the Land, he met your neshama there.

We never made it to the Golan, except for the occasional memorable visit.  We are too happy in Neve Daniel to ever leave -- unless Hashem needs us somewhere else in Israel.  And having lived this way for so many years, we trust His judgment, and will listen to His messages.

Thank You, Hashem, and a special thank you to all of Your emissaries and messengers who have helped us to make our Home in Holy Israel.

Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Tatte B'Shemayim, Ribono Shel Olam, Hashem: names for G-d
Mechina: Jewish army preparatory school
Calanit: anemone flower
Yishuv: community
Ulpan: Hebrew-language learning program
Olim: Jewish immigrants to Israel
Avraham Avinu: Abraham our father
Neshama: soul

Sunday, June 5, 2011

LOCAL x-rays can be a reality.

Yom rishon, 3 Sivan 5771.

This is a PSA for folks in the Gush; but anyone anywhere in the world who wants to donate to the cause is more than welcome to participate!

Are you tired of shlepping to Jerusalem every time you or a family member needs an x-ray?  Very soon you'll be able to have them taken right here in the Gush.  But a little help is needed to make this a reality.

If you've spent any time outside the yishuv lately, you may have seen a friend of ours riding around the Gush on a red Vespa.  His name is David Bogner, and he actually rides from Efrat to Beer Sheva and back every day on his scooter.

To mark his 50th birthday (this month), David has decided to take a 1,000 mile (approx. 1,600 km) ride around our beautiful country on his Vespa.   He's calling it the "Midsummer Night's Dream Ride," and he is inviting residents of the Gush to sponsor the ride to the benefit of the Efrat Emergency Medical Center's nearly completed Radiology Suite.

All of us stand to benefit from being able to get X-rays taken locally; but there is only a short time left to participate.

So we're writing to ask you to sponsor the "Dream Ride" and the Radiology Center.  If enough of us make really modest donations, this project can be up and running in a matter of days.
You can read more about the ride on David's blog ( or go directly to the EEMC site ( and click on one of the yellow "Dream Ride" buttons to submit your donation through their secure server.

Our kids, who maim themselves routinely (puh-puh-puh), thank you for participating in this important project!

Dear Bogner:  The Major says to watch out for rocks, and to remember to wear your Air Defense Equipment, aka "helmet."  Ruti just reminds you to drink lots of water.  Pit stops aren't just for tires.  Happy birthday.  You're almost an adult.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Politically Correct Hebrew Ulpan

Yom shishi, 1 Sivan 5771, Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

I love efficiency.  It delights me when I can accomplish two things in one shopping trip.  Three practically gets me dancing.  I feel the same way about objects.  I have no use for pointless dustables, however lovely.  (It took the Dearly Beloved nearly half our marriage to figure this out.)  Ah!  But give me a thing of beauty that is a functional joy forever...  and I am ecstatic.

An objet d'art that is merely lovely is very nice to look at in a gallery, in other people's houses, or in a store.  (They can keep it, as it's usually too expensive.  I'll just enjoy it when I pop by.  That's why they call it a "store.")  Like everybody else who lives in our apartment, a piece of art will be more greatly appreciated if it earns its keep.

What follows, before I get to the point (yes, actually, there is a point) is a short visual excursion through Ruti's favorite functional art.

Art from the Armenian Quarter of the Old City.
Function.  This one can stay.

Art from an artist formerly-from-Gush-Katif.

After this challah is sliced, it will be so happy being passed around the table on this beautiful platter.

One of my few family heirlooms.  Quite a story.  Russian prince; sunken ship; Pekingese dog.  I'll tell it to you sometime.

Its functionality as a Shabbat salt cellar keeps it from being stored in the cellar.

Even technology and office supplies needn't be ugly.

And spiritually functional.

Such fine lines!

AND she works for a living.  Definitely NOT stuck in a drawer.

Even cute is acceptable...

...when it has a purpose.

My favorite functional art.  Lovely, and made in Israel...
As I said, it took the Dearly Beloved a while to figure me out.  But he finally got it.
...and it guards my precious rings.  What more could a girl want?
Okay.  What does this have to do with ulpan?  Or political correctness?

There is a group I am going to research a little more later.  (It is Erev Shabbat, after all.)  The group is called "Artists 4 Israel."  These days, that is so much more than a refreshing group name, as an increasing number of the "creative enlightened" decide to share their political opinion that Israel is the greatest evil on the face of the Earth.  Artists 4 Israel will come to Israel, will perform or paint for people over the Green Line, will stand with Israel as she does her best to survive, while all about her are losing their heads.

So Artists 4 Israel led me to this very clever video, which explains in careful Hebrew (with Hebrew subtitles as well as English translation) exactly what "the territories" are, and to whom they belong.  Fancy that!  Entertainment, history, and ulpan.  And it's all politically correct.  (Or politically corrected.)  Art meets function.  And Ruti is very, very happy.

Chodesh tov, and Shabbat shalom!