Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Right to Choose -- Without Undo Pressure

Yom rishon, 6 Shevat 5772.

This post is dedicated to friends stranded in Chu"l who feel that people already in Israel "just don't get it" in the sensitivity department sometimes.  Note to friends already blessed to be here: Let 'em breathe, okay?  As our rav's rav used to say:  "A decision is a lonely place."

My Mama used to quote a famous old Western bit of folk wisdom:  "Never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins."

I am very grateful that Hashem finally (FINALLY!) said "yes" to my request to live in Israel.  I hope, daily, that He will not retract this great gift.  I pray, daily, that He will bring Home all of my holy brothers and sisters who want to be here.

When I first fell in love with Israel, back in 1991, I knew that this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  Sort of the way I felt when I fell in love with the Dearly Beloved.

He brought me here for my first visit.  It was his third.  Nowhere else had ever felt this much like home.  I told him, "Go back and get the kids.  I'll wait here for you."

Ruti at the Kotel, when it was a bit more open.

At Yaacov Agam's famous "Fire and Water" fountain in Dizengoff Square.

Of course, it didn't work out quite that way.  It took 16 years for us to actually take up residence in Israel.

In the interim, I visited whenever I could.  (I have a very tolerant husband.)  Hashem engineered a job for me, with a boss who allowed me to make a business trip to Israel once a year.  (It helps to find an employer who has made aliyah, or is at least sympathetic to the idea.)

The visits were wonderful.  Leaving was increasingly painful each time.  Almost no one could understand what it felt like to be in my shoes, because each of us has a different story.

I stayed with friends during those visits -- and, baruch Hashem, with an increasing number of friends as the years progressed.  One early morning at the home of new friends, I davened quietly in the kitchen, as I waited for the household to awaken.  I gazed out over the red rooftops, and prayed a fervent prayer that Hashem would one day allow me this view on a daily basis.
Thank You, G-d.  He has!

A young woman joined me, and introduced herself as my hosts' eldest daughter.  We had a very pleasant chat about life in Israel, about my desire to be here, about her plans for the future.  Suddenly she asked me, "When are you making aliyah?"

Since I had shared a lot about my deep longing for the land, I knew that she could see that I was dedicated to getting here, if only...

"When Hashem says 'yes,' I'll be here," I sighed wistfully, knowing she would understand.

Instead, she looked at me with that gentle smirk that only the young can pull off convincingly.  "Oh, if you really wanted to be here, you'd be here already."

What followed is what my husband would call a Cylon moment.  Cylons (if you have not been glued to your TV set through the various iterations of Battlestar Galactica from 1978 until yesterday) are evil robots who, when they want to reduce you to dust with their laser weapons, first home in on you with a red beam from the region we call "eyes."  Once you see that little red light begin to glow, it pays to be light years out of the area before it locks on target.

When a teacher or parent or coach gets very, very quiet, but you know they are angry and may explode all over your simpering excuse, this is a Cylon moment.

I got very, very quiet.  The little light thingee behind my glasses started to warm up.  My response was barely audible, if somewhat clipped.  "Ah.  I suppose it's okay with you if I walk away from my significant debt, and leave my indigent and ill mother as a ward of the State."

She also got very quiet and reflective.  To her credit, she said, "Maybe I'll rethink my position."

(I really liked her a lot after that.  It takes a lot of courage to say the right thing in the face of the Cylon eye.)

I desperately want all the Jews I love who want to be here to have the clarity and the freedom to come Home.  But I also want you to know that I hear your pain, because I remember it.

Whether it is a commitment such as a large debt you feel the honorable need to repay, a parent or a child you cannot leave, or a handicap (real or imagined) you have not yet seen a way to overcome -- I will try my very best never to harass you.  Because YOU are the only one (besides Hashem) who can know when you can come Home to Israel.

Instead, you have (and always have had) my heartfelt prayers that Hashem will clear your mind and your path.

I'll keep a light in the window, and the kettle on.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Follow your dreams.

Yom shishi, 3 Shevat 5772.

This post is in honor of old friends about to make aliyah, and those who recently arrived Home: Joani and Avrum, Miri and Adina, Moshe Shaul (and his parents), Karen and Shlomo, Yael and Yosef, and all those who are on their way.  Josh and Chana, we miss you.  Come Home soon.

We were not sure how we would "make it" financially in Israel.

Our kids were not so sure they would find friends, or if they would figure out how to define themselves outside of the social safety and familiarity of their hometown in Baltimore.

Frankly, none of us knew what we were going to be when we grew up, because moving to a new country completely changed the playing field for each and every one of us.

We have chosen to live simply.  That has helped with the finances.  But self-definition is a critical thing, if one is to look in the mirror at himself each day and say, "Hey, good lookin'.  You ARE a success!"

Little did we know that G-d was going to give each of us the chance to be his most true self here in Israel.

I am writing, and besides raising crops of boys,  it's all I've ever wanted to do.  I play harmonica and percussion in a band with my husband, adding music each week to our home and our hearts.  I'm hosting soldiers and yeshiva bochrim in my home for Shabbat, surrounded by their love of life, of each other, and of G-d and His Holy Nation.

Stunt Man is "chai b'seret," living in a movie.  Whether jumping from planes or busking with his guitar in Ben Yehuda, he's living dreams he wouldn't have encountered in the same way in the Old Country.  And if you've known him most of his life, you know that his self-definition is getting kick-started in this first exciting reel.

Yeshiva Bochur has gone through changes in self-discovery he never could have encountered anywhere else.  So far, we like what we see, whether he's soldiering, arguing Torah with anyone who'll listen, or making music.  He is seeing in himself and the friends around him the potential to really matter, to make a real impact in his generation.

Sports Guy and his father, aka "Coach," are experiencing dreams they never would have imagined in the US.

The following film was made at then end of the last football season by Zevie Tannenbaum, one of the talented young people in this country who appears to be following his dream of making really well-put-together movies.  Look for #20, aka "Golden Shoes," to see Sports Guy among his friends and peers, his fellow gridiron warriors.  I'm just as proud of the Dearly Beloved, as he gives his boys loving guidance, and heart-felt kudos at the end of the game.

Ravens vs. Predators ~ Toilet Bowl from ZT Film on Vimeo.

Enjoy the new football season, boys.  Sweet dreams are made of this...

Monday, January 16, 2012

“A little light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Yom sheni, 21 Tevet 5772.

I have a new friend.

I don't know her name.  I don't know her birthday.  I don't know exactly where in the Middle East she lives.  I don't know what she looks like.  I don't exactly know her age -- though I think she is young enough to be my daughter.

All I know about her is that she hopes "to visit holy Israel one day," and that she is a secret refugee from Islam, who dares not give me more information about herself, lest she be murdered by the adherents to her former faith.

These loyal adherents may even include the family she is loathe to leave.

So she lives in a closet of lies.

Outwardly, she pretends to be a loyal Muslim, so that her beloved family will not disown her -- or worse -- in the name of Allah.

Inwardly, every fiber of her being struggles with a young, creative, passionate, naturally outspoken woman's desire to breathe freely, to sign her true name to what she knows to be true, to openly embrace ideas of others.  Inwardly, her very organs crawl to try to escape pretending to accept the words of  a prophet, not of peace and harmony and brotherhood, but a prophet of doom, domination and destruction.

She calls herself a Zionist, because she believes that the Jewish people have a right to their homeland in Israel.  She offers detailed analyses with quotes and facts to back up her assertions.  She helps me to understand that there is hope, that there are many young idealists among her people.  All may not be lost.

My friend needs your help.

She doesn't need your money or representation to help her escape.  She has very highly-placed help in that regard.

But she does need you to hear her voice, to give her the opportunity to fulfill her self-designated mission, for however much time she has.  Please read her blog.  Comment, because your comments give her strength.  Let her strengthen your knowledge that what you suspect is true about Islam is actually written in the texts.  Because if we are entering a time of world war, of a spiritual fight-to-the-death for what we know to be true, we had better be armed against disinformation and hopeful wishes that "it's not as bad as we think."

"Shakila's" blog is called Liberated One.  It is an ironic name, for no one living a lie can be truly liberated; but she is definitely on the path to personal liberation.  May she be blessed to disseminate much light to expel the darkness.

Do one more thing for her, won't you?  As disaffected by religion as my friend Shakila understandably is, she needs one thing from you more than anything else.  Please add her to your prayers, for safety and success.

I suspect the bad guys are looking for her...  and against being found and murdered, the True G-d is her only defense.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thanks, Mom! We needed that!

Yom sheni, 14 Tevet 5772.

We are all about kiddush Hashem, honoring the name of G-d in this world.  We are nothing if we are not living that goal.  With all of the turmoil in the Jewish world today that causes me to have a vision of the Satan scoffing at our failure to fulfill that goal, Yarden's mother's letter gives me reason to hope.  It's the little things, all strung together, that will save the world in the end.

Letter from Mom

by Yarden Frankl

January 9th, 2012
I didn’t feel any need to write an update today, since no words can match the picture below. But then my Mom (who had come with my Dad to help out) asked that I send her letter out to “Stella’s Army.”

Dear Stella’s Army:
On our flight and since getting home, I keep thinking about what you are doing for my family. To me, you are the meaning of true religion. Your support, kindness, and help to Stella and Yarden, my wonderful grandchildren and to Jerry and myself is beyond what ever the ancient sages could have imagined.
You are truly the interpretation of the Talmud as it should be. I have sat through many a college and graduate course in religion and philosophy and have never really understood what religion is all about until I saw you and your deeds.
The Rabbi who came to talk with Stella right before she left for her most challenging experience (if you don’t count being married to Yarden [HA! -Ed.]), the Rabbi who called from Maryland right after the operation, the unbelievable people who are staying with Stella so she should never be alone in the hospital, the people who kept bringing food so I shouldn’t have to cook, the super people who took me to get the things the children needed, and the ones who kept my husband company while I was gone, the children’s friends who came to keep my grandchildren company so they could get their minds away from what their mother was enduring, the countless other people who kept volunteering anything they could to make the time more palatable – you are truly the reason we have been put on this earth.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I understand your support of Stella – she is one of the most amazingly good people I know.
But your support of Yarden is above and beyond – we all know he is slightly mezhuganah (don’t forget I have known him from birth), so as his mother, I truly thank you.
With much love and gratitude for your unending kindness,
Anthea Frankl

Whenever I was trying to accomplish something "impossible," a little pep-talk from my dear Mama, a"h, could carry me to the finish line. Thanks, Yarden's Mom. We needed that. May we share happy news beyond our greatest imaginings! Please keep davening for the complete and speedy recovery of Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To sing or not to sing... is not the question.

Yom revi'i, 9 Tevet 5772.

Photo credit: Dan Keinan in Haaretz
Before I became religious, I used to sing everywhere I went.  Often, my feelings would be somewhat bruised when my singing seemed to trigger an impulse in people to turn on the nearest radio.  I have been told that I have a nice voice; so this reaction wasn't a need to drown me out.  Rather, I came to realize that without musical accompaniment -- say, from a piano or guitar -- the human voice is not taken seriously as a performance.  Instead, it reminds the hearer that he or she would like some music.  ("Oh, yeah.  That sounds nice.  How about a little Carly Simon!"  Click.)

Of course I was insulted, especially if I had intended to perform for my companion.  But I also understand the concept of "giving the benefit of the doubt."  The insult wasn't intended, and nothing negative had been directed at me.  I talked over my feelings with anyone dear enough to me, always to find out that my assumption was correct: the radio had been flipped on as a result of my voice reminding the listener that a little music would be nice.  Once they were made aware, people were always effusive in their apologies, and practiced finer midot in the face of future outbursts of song.

I don't like the Jewish prohibition called "kol isha."  Briefly, kol isha -- a reference to the singing voice of a woman -- means that observant Jewish men have certain restrictions placed on them about hearing women sing.  (There are variations in how this law is interpreted: some men will avoid only live performances; some will avoid all female singing, even recorded.  There are leniencies and strictures, all of which must be discussed with one's own personal rabbinic authority.)

I express myself in song.  So feeling that I have to watch where I sing and when cramps my style.  But I have to say to myself, "Tough. Being an observant Jew means I don't get to do everything I want to do, whenever and wherever I want to do it."  I don't have to stop singing.  But if I want to work in partnership with men in our work to live a Torah lifestyle, I have the obligation to avoid sabotaging their efforts.  It doesn't matter if I love the law or not (any more than it matters if I love not eating lobster, or if I love covering my hair on beautiful, windy days, or if I love turning off my computer before Shabbat begins).  It doesn't matter if my 21st Century American sensibilites argue against the reasonableness of the law.  ("Oh, puh-leeze.  Did the rabbis think that men have no self control, and are going to lose all sense of decorum, just because a woman sings in their vicinity?  Get a grip!  And why am I responsible for their thoughts?")  Argue away, holy Jews!  That is part of what we are about.  But like it or not, approve of it or not, keeping the Law is our job.

What matters is that I keep the Law, to the best of my ability, and that I don't hamper someone else's ability to keep the Law.  If I don't feel like keeping kosher at the highest possible level, and I can find a rabbi to support my position, fine.  But if I throw a simcha at which even one invited attendee feels he must keep the highest level, I should be sure that the food provided will feed him as well as the rest of my guests.  He is not trying to insult me by not eating food prepared at my level of observance.  He simply cannot eat it, due to his level of observance.  Keeping the highest standard for my most observant guest is not a halacha, a law, to the best of my knowledge.  It is simply nice manners.

The idea that observant soldiers must be punished by being forced to pretend they are not listening to a woman singing, rather than being allowed to discreetly absent themselves for the duration of the performance, is beyond unfortunate.  Such a rule says that the singer has more rights than the listener.  It places potentially hurt feelings over religious obligation.

My sons are soldiers.  I have been told that they are good at their jobs.  Will they be punished if they choose not to remain in a room where women are singing?  Will they be fined, or go to jail?  How will removing my sons from their job of protecting the country affect a woman's right to sing one way or another?

It would be easy, if Israeli life weren't so politically-charged, to find a solution.  Women could sing their hearts out for their adoring fans -- female and male -- and men who feel they must remove themselves from the performance could be given that privilege.  Everyone could retain his or her dignity.

No female singer should be told to shut up.  No man should be forced to listen.