Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Survival, Snow Heroes

Yom rishon, 12 Tevet 5774.

If you live in Baltimore, New York, Idaho, Washington State... this is a typical winter day. But if you live in Israel, this is a once-in-several-years occurrence.

People have been without power for days, at least intermittently. Cars are buried in snow. Schools are closed. The roads have been virtually impassable for the better part of the last few days.

Families are spending quality time together. Kids are thrilled, or are showing signs of cabin fever. I've even seen a soldier or two giving a hearty fist-pump at being stranded on the mountain. We had a special birthday Shabbat planned for the Dearly Beloved. That, as readers of this blog may remember, does not mean birthday cake. The Friday night menu included a cheesy lasagna, fluffy, home-baked challah, and cinnamon rolls. But with no electricity on Friday, the plans changed to a complete stove-top menu (so I could get by on gas): a hearty chicken soup with lots of vegetables, cauliflower rice, baby peas, barely warmed, and paratha, an Indian pan-fried bread. The pot roast which is usually prepared in a crock pot was instead prepared on the stove top as well; and everything was kept warm on an old-fashioned copper blech.

Stunt Man had planned to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem with Molly McMolly's family. Of course, that was illogical, impossible, etc., etc.

So he walked down to the highway to see if he could possibly catch a tremp. A security vehicle came along, and the driver -- after questioning his sanity -- gave him a lift. They traveled down a completely vehicle-free highway, stopping along the way to assist stranded drivers. "There were abandoned cars all over the place. I felt like we were traveling through some surreal post-zombie-apocalypse scene," was how he described his adventure. The driver dropped him off two minutes from his destination.

I don't raise normal people. I raise heroes. Or crazy people. Or both.

Building a snowman under the trees

The Dearly Beloved, going after provisions

Getting ready for some serious sledding
We have a very special community here in Neve Daniel. People have helped each other, by digging out paths from door to street. People have shopped for those for whom getting out is a hardship. After pulling his stint as the shliach tzibur for a local shul, Yoram went to open the makolet... and was joined by store owner Moshe Torjman. Moshe left his cozy home in Gilo on foot (on his birthday), planning to walk to the makolet if he couldn't get a ride. A policeman gave him a ride to the bottom of Neve Daniel's formidable hill, where he walked up to open the store.
Kol hakavod, Yoram!

Happy birthday, Moshe; and happy day after your birthday, Coach!

Moshe fired up the oven, so people could have nice, warm pita bread.

Eli, friend and fellow shopper, duded-up for the weather

Nobody who doesn't own a helicopter is surprised that the makolet doesn't have fresh milk.

But as a public service announcement, I'll offer some alternatives, to get folks by until the milk truck can make it up the hill.

The makolet has shelf milk, soy and rice, in various flavors.

There's fresh soy milk...

...and shoko, strawberry-flavored and mocha-flavored milk...

...and yogurts of various styles and flavors...

...and if all else fails, there are chemicals.

If I still had young kids at home, I'd probably melt their favorite ice cream, and say, "Hey, boys! Guess what? When we have a snow day, even the milk is special!"
Everyone has his priorities. People with small children came to the makolet, hoping to make a milk run. Without young children at home, we made a B - double E - double R - U - N, as the country song goes.

Finally! A home we may be able to afford on the yishuv. As soon as we find out who is the builder, we plan to make a bid. Hopefully before the house turns to liquid assets...

And before a rival buyer makes his bid.
Stay warm. Enjoy each other. Let your neighbors know if you need help. One thing about snowy weather in Israel: in a few days, it will be a memory for a few years.
This jacket, like its wearer, is now officially an antique. Both of us are pretty hearty in cold weather, b"H!
A few snow-survival tips from a former Washington State gal:

  1. Do not follow my son's example. Follow the rules, and don't travel when you're not supposed to.
  2. Stay off your roof. (Sad story in the news, about a guy who fell off while trying to fix a leak that could have waited.)
  3. Walk on snow when you can, rather than ice.
  4. When you have no choice, bend your knees a bit, and walk duck-toed (as opposed to straight-toed or pigeon-toed).
  5. When going down steps, use the hand rail or a wall, if available, and put your weight on your heels. Falling on your face or tailbone is zero fun.
  6. Think out of the box, and try to have fun. Attitude is nearly everything.
  7. Get out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
  8. Have as much fun as you can!

Blech: Flat metal pan used to cover stove burners on Shabbat, to warm food without direct contact with the flame
Tremp: ride, hitch (as in hitch-hiking)
Shliach tzibur - cantor and leader of prayer
Shul - synagogue
Makolet - corner grocery store (although we are calling ours this affectionately and out of habit these days, as Moshe has made it into a supermarket!)
Yishuv - community, sometimes called a settlement (sometimes disparagingly -- but we ignore those people)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

American Football in Israel: Rockin' the Midot

Yom shlishi, 7 Tevet 5774.

Mrs. Coach has a confession to make. I don't know anything about football. I never watched it when I was growing up in America. I don't understand it, and I don't didn't even particularly like the sport. I'm a baseball kinda gal -- which my sons tell me "doesn't actually qualify as an actual sport." George Carlin sums the differences up in a five-minute comedy bit that ends with this:

"In Football, the object is for the quarterback -- otherwise known as the field general -- to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies’ defensive line. In Baseball, the object is to go home, and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home, safe at home."

(It's really worth hearing it in Carlin's own unique style. Don't worry: for this one, he resisted the impulse to use any of the seven words you can never say on television.)

I was never a fan of American football.

But I love American football in Israel.

I love it for several very good reasons.

My son Sports Guy is truly good at the game. Hashem gave him the gifts that he can play several positions well, and still behave like a mensch. (His mother gives him the bracha that he will be able to continue both activities in equal measure.)

Take six minutes, and watch Number 20. Even if, like me, you don't understand the game, you will enjoy watching this kid move. It's okay -- I'll wait for you.

Video credit: Pavel Arshavsky

Another of my sons, Yeshiva Bochur, is just beginning to play as Number 22. (He picked that number because it's the gematria of his wife's name. Yes, they are that adorable, bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh.)
Yeshiva Bochur as linebacker with his father, "Coach" - photo credit: Alex Gandler

The Dearly Beloved, sporting his high school center number

The Dearly Beloved is the head coach of the Judean Rebels men's football team and the Ravens high school team. He is a good coach. He doesn't care about "winning at all costs." He cares that his players have fun, put their own families and the families in the stands first, and play fairly and with grace and sportsmanship.

"I don't want to hear any swearing. There are children and grandmothers in the stands. And I don't want to see dancing in the end zone, or hear trash talk. If you're losing, you don't have anything to trash talk about. If you're winning, let the scoreboard do your trash talking for you. When you make a touchdown, you calmly hand the ref the ball, because you just did your job. Let 'em know that you do this every day."

 After coaching his guys this way for several years, I have seen that they take pride in leading the league in examples of sportsmanship. Recently, one of our Israeli players was being harassed by a member of an opposing team, who was trying to goad him into losing his temper. "Shhhh," said our player, pressing his finger to his lips, and with his other hand, pointing at the scoreboard. Situation diffused.

And here is perhaps what I love best about football in Israel: I love it because it is Israeli. It is predominantly Jewish, meaning imbued with Jewish values, to the extent that a gridiron battle can be. (The players are Jewish, both observant and secular, and from various other religious backgrounds as well. That fact doesn't seem to keep them from playing well together.) The league is beginning to crack down on swearing on the field and in the stands. It's not official. It's just that more and more players are having increased fun and decreased anger. Parents and even young people are reminding other young people in the stands that "we don't talk that way." And unlike fans in other countries, most of the chastised listen, and try to "clean it up." We have a lot to do still. But we're making progress.

The teams have taken it upon themselves to do charitable projects, to shine a positive light on American football. The Rebels have gone a few times to Nefesh B'Nefesh events, coordinating with them and with Ben Gurion airport personnel to unload and sort luggage for exhausted and bewildered new olim.

A few Tel Aviv Pioneers even show up occasionally to help out, thereby promoting brotherhood and camaraderie among the teams. (Coach Eastman: "Leave the rivalry on the field, where it belongs.")

And the Rebels recently were permitted the privilege of participating in a project taken on by the Jerusalem Lions, reported at the IFL site by Commissioner Betzalel Friedman. Warning: tissue alert. Though you may be laughing through the tears at how easily those big orange Rebels got knocked out of the way...

Video by Midabrim Communications

Pro- and semi-pro sports is getting a really bad name. From the fields to the stands, in countries all over the world, sport is getting to be a place NOT to bring your kids. Which is a real shame. We're trying to change that, one player, one team at a time.

So do me a favor. If you like what you've seen here, please help spread the word. Pass on this blog post to your friends who love football, but don't even know Israel has it, or to people who need to hear good things about our little country. Let's help Uriel Wang's moment of glory to go viral. It's good for football. And it will make Uriel and his mother smile. Refua shelaima, little man.

Midot (also midos) - good character traits
Mensch - someone who exhibits good midot
Bracha - blessing
Gematria - a Kabbalistic method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by computing the numerical value of words, based on those of their constituent letters
Bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh - an expression little old Jewish ladies say to "ward off the evil eye" -- used by this little old Jewish lady to remind readers that I am not trying to incite their jealously when I write about good things in my life, but rather am giving them blessings for every happiness in theirs
Olim - immigrants to Israel
Refua shelaima - traditional Hebrew wish that one who is ill should have a complete recovery

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Ivrit": a Hebrew word meaning "drives one to drink"

Yom rishon, 28 Kislev, fourth day of Chanukah.

I have a little exercise I take myself through, to sort of check up on my current level of Hebrew language comprehension. I read signs to see if I understand more than I used to. Most of the time, it is a gratifying experience, as there has been some progress, thank G-d. But once in a while, תיסכול (teeskool, Hebrew for "frustration"), doesn't even begin to cover it. Let me walk you through the process.

The sign said " מחסני חשמל הרשת הזולה והמשתלמת בישראל," which transliterates into something like this: Machsanei Chashmal, hareshet hazolah v'hamishtalemet biYisrael. Okay. Here's what I go through with a sign like this.

First, I give myself an "atta girl" that I can translate most of what I'm looking at. After six years in Israel, this is not a fact worth bragging from the rooftops over; but I can see progress, however incremental. Machsanei Chashmal means "Electronics Warehouse"; and it's where we have bought all of our major electrical appliances. (Brief commercial announcement: I highly recommend the store in Talpiot to all new Jerusalem-area olim. They have always given us good prices and good service. Yes, you can ship American items -- but they may not fit into your Israeli apartment. And yes, you can buy European or Israeli products before you come and have them shipped to Israel -- perhaps at lower prices -- but getting them serviced in Israel may be a question. And there is something to say for helping the Israeli economy.)

To my ridiculously over-the-top joy, nearly all of the remaining words now belong to me. Hareshet here means "the station" (sometimes as in "the [radio] station," but here as in "the best location for a particular purchase"); hazolah means "the inexpensive," or "the place for the best prices"; biYisrael means "in Israel." I'm nearly golden. But now it gets ugly. We're left with one two- or three-word big word: v'hamishtalemet.

Sidebar. If our word were English or German or Spanish, all I would have to do is to look up the word in the dictionary. This, sadly, is not how Hebrew works. First, a little dissection is necessary.

I know enough now to know that I can surgically remove the "v'," because it simply means "and." I can do the same -- usually, but one must not get arrogant, as it doesn't always work this way -- with the "ha," which means "the." Now I'm left with mishtalemet. Another sidebar. I am making an educated guess that it is pronounced this way, as opposed to mashtalemet or mastilimet, based on what I've learned in various ulpanim (Hebrew language classes). But again, we don't get cocky about this stuff. Once in a while, what I think I know, I don't know. But I do know that I can drop off the "et" at the end of the word, because it just tells me that this word is in the feminine form, to correspond with the feminine word reshet.

So now it's time to pull out Mister Dictionary. But can't I simply look up mishtalem under "מ," the "m" letter? That would be nice. But it's not always how Hebrew works.

I guess (again, based on what I may have encountered in my thousand or so teeth-busting Hebrew classes) that I will have to look the word up under a couple of possible past-tense forms, as that is how Hebrew dictionaries are organized. Since words morph depending on tense (just as they do in English, but not as recognizably from an English-speaker's perspective), number, gender, and exceptions, you have to figure out what that first letter will be. I'm thinking it will start with either a "נ" or a "ה" -- either an "n" or an "h." (You do not want to know how I know this.) I check the usually-excellent Multi Dictionary: Bilingual Learners Dictionary by Edna Lauden and Liora Weinbach. for both hishtalem and nishtalem (just as I'd previously tried for mishtalem). I don't find it. This is often the case, no matter which of my half-dozen dictionaries I grab first; and as usual, I persevere.

Even though I am thinking this word is an adjective, it is often the case that adjectives come from verbs. Fortunately, I find it in my next resource of choice, the Hebrew Verb Tables by Asher Tarmon and Ezri Uval. Woo-HOO!!! I find it as hishtalem. My troubles are over, right? Not quite. The definition is "(be) paid, do advance study." I try again with Lauden and Weinbach. This time, I'm successful. (It would be nice if I could avoid user error; but sadly, that is part of the game.) It has two definitions: 1. took extension training. Yeah, that's not going to help me much... 2. was worthwhile. Hmmmm...

So now I have to sort of guess what the adjectival use here might be. Electronics Warehouse: the inexpensive and worthwhile station [for appliance purchases] in Israel? The Electronics Warehouse: the inexpensive and advanced-study? -research? station, etc.?

At this point, I usually opt for a glass of יין אדום and something on YouTube. In English.

חג האורים שמח, חג חנכה שמח (Happy Festival of Lights, Happy Chanukah)

By the way -- most of what I "get" in Hebrew (the good stuff, not the mistakes) comes from Ulpan La-Inyan. If you are seriously interested in falling in love with the Hebrew language, check out my friend Ami Steinberger's resource-rich site and fun and excellent classes. He has a brand-new ebook called Hebrew Described. Please feel free to drop my name when you request it. It won't get you a discount (since it's free), but it will make Ami smile.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Holy Star Returns to the Heavens

Yom chamishi, 11 Kislev 5774.

I don't have any words right now -- but I promised to keep you informed.
Hashem has gathered Stella -- Tzuriya Kochevet bat Avraham -- to Him.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.
May her dear family be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Small Store with a Big Heart

Yom sheni, 10 Cheshvan 5774.

We got some great news last week: our local makolet isn't going to be sold to strangers after all!

Moshe, Sasha, Sahri, and Yoram are eager to give great service!
The Dearly Beloved and I had been slightly depressed for a few weeks, because Moshe was planning to sell Super Torjman, for financial and personal reasons. As much as he has tried to keep prices competitive, we from America know that "competing with WalMart" is a nearly impossible battle. As much as we would miss the convenience of our high-class "mom-and-pop" grocery store, we understood that there was no choice. We hoped that the new owners wouldn't be too much of a disappointment, even as we knew that nobody could replace the team of Moshe, Yoram, Sasha and Sahri.

The good news: Moshe decided, at the eleventh hour, not to sell. His reason: he learned that the potential buyers did not intend to run the store at all, but merely to "flip" it for a quick sale.

"You have to love a store like this, and work at it from inside. You can't just treat it like a business," said Moshe.

Moshe has always tried to offer excellent service, ordering what customers requested, constantly upgrading departments (including bringing in an in-store butcher shop and many specialty products from Europe and the US), and offering deals whenever possible. Our grocery store is in a safe neighborhood... so there is no problem sending small children to do their own nosh shopping, and bigger kids to do light family shopping. And, let's face it: "the super" is just a short or long walk for everyone in the yishuv, as opposed to the big stores, where a car is a necessity.

I asked Moshe what he will do to try to make the store a financial success, so that he can stay indefinitely.

"We'll try to get the word out on a regular basis about special deals and new products," he said. "We'll keep reminding people that if they want something, let us know, and we'll try to get it for them."

To our fellow Neve Daniel residents: wherever you prefer to do the majority of your shopping, do what you can to support the small business entrepreneurs in our area -- to include Moshe and Super Torjman.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Neve Daniel to the Rescue!

Yom rishon, 26 Elul 5773.

"An army marches on its stomach." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

I have had many opportunities to be amazed by my Neve Daniel neighbors -- so it should really be "old news" by now. But I remain in awe of these people.

Here's the story.

We received word that 80-100 young soldiers had spent Shabbat without food Apparently, these soldiers were sent just before Shabbat to replace 40 who had been moved closer to the north. And when the 40 left, the kitchen was entirely dismantled -- and there was no replacement kitchen, nor fuel for preparing food, and also no MREs. ("Meals Ready to Eat" -- manot krav in Hebrew -- is the modern version of the Spam and candy bar "C-ration" culinary delights that soldiers were issued to keep them alive when they were away from the mess hall.) MREs, we were told, are too expensive to use when it's not quite war-time.

My contact got details from the mem-pay (company commander) in charge. The new arrivals did have food Thursday morning, before leaving their regular base. For lunch en route, they received still-frozen schnitzels, due to the fact that they were "jumped" (reassigned) unexpectedly; and there were not enough for everyone. Dinner simply "didn't happen."

It seems that when the new recruits left their base, it was thought the country was heading to battle. According to IDF policy, in war-time, warehouses are opened and everything needed is provided. However, by the time this group arrived at their new mini-base, the country was not heading to battle, but heading to "wait and see."  No battle. No MREs.

To compensate while the army sorted out the logistical difficulties of getting dietary infrastructure set up after the fact for dozens of soldiers, an army vehicle picked up food from the machsom base about ten to fifteen minutes up the road (that was still being manned by boarder guards and police) and delivered food to the mini-base, but not enough for everyone.  They shared.... and some were still hungry. As one of the boys said, "If you were in the back of the line and the bread ran out, you just didn't get."

So a lot of strapping 18- to 23-year-olds sat around through Shabbat, without sufficient calories. Please don't ask me how this happened, how the army could let this happen, why the army didn't find a way to fix it on its own. This is the definition of the famous army term, SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. And even though there will be people who will assume the SNAFU is an "only in Israel" experience, I can tell you from my US army experience, its not. I can tell you many stories of logistics in the US army that simply went awry, due to situations such as this, where a unit arrived ahead of the planning. Certainly it can happen under the stress of impending war.

What is an only-in-Israel experience is what happened in less than an hour in Neve Daniel. Word was put out on the local chat list.

Eighty soldiers have been without food through the entire Shabbat. A driver is coming to Chez Mizrachi to pick up whatever food we can gather. Please help!

It appeared after that post went out that we should have said "without adequate food," in fairness to the army... but that's the problem with the game of "telephone." But this story isn't about how the IDF is made of humans who make normal, human mistakes. It's about my home town.

Neighbors called, came with Shabbat leftovers, sent children with bags and boxes of everything they had available. The atmosphere was festive, very energized, as only a last-minute group mitzvah can be.

In a very short time, the bounty piled up. The Dearly Beloved now has an evil plan for how to cover the Rosh Hashana groceries at Beit Mizrachi.

It was loaded up in the car, and driven off to its destination by another member of the yishuv.

These were leftovers??? This town eats well, baruch Hashem.

The best part of the story is that I live in a wonderful town, filled with loving, caring, helpful people, who will drop everything and rush to aid a fellow Jew at a moment's notice.

As our delivery person said: "It was not [as it turned out] an emergency. Our children had not been put in a situation with NO food for two days. Assessing how hungry and why hungry... I have to leave that to emptier stomachs than mine. What I can tell you is that these guys, half of whom who will not be home for Rosh Hashana, are enormously grateful for the food, the concern and the love shown them this evening by the good folks of this yishuv. I only wish you could have seen the guys pouring out of the caravanim as they heard that food had arrived. So grateful!"

I am grateful, too, Neve Daniel. Thank you for making us proud. Thank you for caring for your soldiers, and for "being there," as we knew you would.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Understanding Israelis

Yom shlishi, 14 Elul 5773.

This post hopefully will serve three purposes: it will illustrate one of the subtleties of transitioning to a new country; it will allow me to express hakarat hatov (gratitude) to an anonymous soldier for a kindness; it will give readers the opportunity to share (please!) stories of kindnesses done to them, by soldiers, or by any Israelis.  Thank you for playing along!

One of the facts of immigrating to a new country, language and culture is that you take a while to understand the nuances.  An example is the frustrating juxtaposition of IDF soldiers and civilian buses.  A couple of years ago, I wrote about this from a humorous standpoint in a post with the (if I do say so myself) intriguing title IDF storms bus; civilians victorious.

As time goes by, you can learn the reasons behind certain behaviors, if you are willing to begin from the premise that people are not rude, just differently-cultured.  When I was in the US army, we had troop transport buses that were never used by non-affiliated civilians.  While a service member could certainly use public transportation, civilian buses were not used, at least during peace time, for mass transportation of military personnel.  But Israel spends its military budget differently; and I am certainly not in a position to determine if the money is spent wisely.

Not having their own transportation system puts IDF soldiers into a difficult position.  Most soldiers try to stay at home until the last possible bus -- because they want as much time as possible with family, their own beds, and normal food.  Some of them are just exhausted.

Sports Guy trying to sneak in a few more z's before the morning bus.

As my newly-married soldier son, Yeshiva Bochur, explained to me:  "Ema, most of the guys I serve with were raised with good midot.  But we are told by our commanders that if we don't make it to the base on time, we will be punished by losing Shabbat.  They don't care if there is traffic, if we miss the bus, if the bus breaks down.  Somehow, that's all the soldier's fault.  And we really want to see our wives or girl friends and families.  We will get on that bus, no matter what."

I know that he's right.  I've heard the negotiations on the phone with the mem-mem (acronym for "platoon commander").  To be fair, there are married commanders who understand, or those who are simply sensitive and fair.  But there are also a few commanders who like to throw their weight around and enjoy the power of punishment.  Stunt Man tells a story about a bus that was supposed to get the soldier to his base an hour ahead of schedule. The bus got stuck in traffic in a tunnel, behind a bus that had caught on fire.  The soldier had a copy of the bus schedule, as well as cell phone photos of the bus on fire... but his mem-mem blamed him for the three-hour delay.  "Not fair" doesn't begin to cover it -- but most soldiers just want to get through their service without making additional waves, so they don't do much more about such commanders than grumble.

And crowd the next bus to get in ahead of anyone who might cause them delay.

Once everyone gets on the bus, a soldier will very often give up his seat for an older person or couple, or for a pregnant woman or a mother with children.  (In fact, Sports Guy had a commander who told his soldiers: "If I ever get on a bus and see one of you sitting while a citizen is standing, you will be punished." Sports Guy had great respect for that commander.)

This background is all leading up to a thank you to an anonymous soldier.

Dear Chayal,

I know you were tired.  It showed.  By the ring on your finger, I could see that you had probably just said goodbye to your wife, and perhaps kissed your still-sleeping children's heads.  Making sure that you got on the bus was very important to you, as I have learned from my own soldiers.

Nonetheless, as it looked like seating might be limited, you surrounded the doorway (in a stretching and swelling maneuver of the body at which Israelis and even olim vatikim begin to excel), keeping anyone from entering until I and two other older ladies were aboard.

I am grateful you got a seat, and I hope that you will never, ever be subjected to a foolish punishment that keeps you from your dear family.

If I would meet your ema, I would be happy to tell her what a good job she did raising her son.

I look forward to learning more about the reasons behind the behaviors that now infuriate, confuse or amuse me.  I must remember that being dan l'chaf zechut is an important part of being a Jew, and a great way to develop love for one's new country and its people.

Midot - character traits
Chayal - soldier
Olim vatikim - immigrants who have been in Israel for a few years
Ema - mama
Dan l'chaf zechut - the Torah requirement to give the benefit of the doubt, to assume the best in people rather than the worst

Monday, July 15, 2013

"What if we just stopped hurting each other?"

Yom sheni, 8 Av 5773, Erev Tisha B'Av.

My friend told me a story on Shabbat that was filled with such promise, I had to share it with you.  Especially now.  Especially just before Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year.

Years ago, there was a property dispute between neighbors.  Prior to the argument, they had been friendly, warm even.  Their children played together. They attended shiurim at each other's homes, had meals together.

After the argument, they stopped speaking.  They didn't go to one another's homes.  They didn't acknowledge each other on the street -- even going so far as to cross the street rather than cross the path of their "enemies."  If a ball rolled into the yard of the neighbor -- that ball was history.  No one would go through the gate or over the fence to retrieve it.  If a piece of fruit fell into one neighbor's yard from the other, no one would eat it, because it came from "their yard."

Years went by.  More than a decade.

Every year, my friend would write a letter in her head to the woman of the other family.  She mentally composed line after line of conciliation.  But she could never bring herself to write it, much less to send it.

Each Rosh Hashana, she struggled with a feeling of hypocrisy, knowing that she had this anguish festering deep in her heart.  Most of the time, she could work around the pain.  She had buried it, and was used to the not speaking, not visiting, not acknowledging.  But at Rosh Hashana, what had once been a series of misunderstandings felt like a giant, heavy stone in her heart.

Finally, life events piled up to such a degree that she could not go into yet another Rosh Hashana with a pain partly of her own making pressing down on her.  She resolved to write the letter, and to deliver it before Rosh Hashana.

As she sat down to write on Erev Rosh Hashana, she had the vision of handing the letter to her neighbor before candle-lighting, and of going home to light the candles with a sense of having done what she could do.  She did not know, of course, how her neighbor would react.  Would she slam the door in her face?  Tear up the letter without reading it?  Unload all of her own pain in a verbal assault?  My friend did not know.  All she knew was that she could not bear this weight any longer, and she had to try.

She wrote and wrote and wrote...  She was amazed that it was not trying to find the words to say that was difficult.  The difficulty was in stopping the torrent of writing that poured forth from her anguished soul.  Yet, not one word was about the fight.  No mention of whose rights were violated, or who had more reason to be upset.  Those words had been burned out in her own internal war long ago.

A glance at the clock told her that the time for Rosh Hashana candle-lighting was coming in soon.  She finally made herself stop writing.

She tapped on her neighbor's door, and was glad that it was the woman of the family who answered.  She started speaking immediately, rather than risk losing the moment.

"I wrote you this letter, and I wanted to deliver it personally."

The neighbor's hand reached tentatively for the letter.  Then, taking it, "Do you want me to read it in front of you, or after you leave?"

"I would like very much to stay while you read it, if you would like, but if you want to read it after I leave, that will be fine, too."

The neighbor invited her in.  My friend marveled at how strange it was, after more than ten years, to step over the threshold of this house!

As her neighbor read silently, my friend thought the words again in her mind.  "It has taken me a long time to write this.  But I wanted you to know how I feel, from the heart.  What if I said hello, and you said hello in response?  What if we went to shiurim at each other's houses?  What if when a ball went into your yard, my child would feel comfortable coming to get it, and if your child's ball came into my yard, your child would feel comfortable knocking on my door?  What if we invited each other over for Shabbat?  What if when fruit fell from our trees into each other's yards, we would be comfortable eating it?  What if we just stopped hurting each other?  What if we became friends again?"

When her neighbor reached the end of the letter, she asked, "Did you write this many times before today?"

"I wrote it mentally many times before this."

"I did the same.  I have been mentally writing you a similar letter for years now."  And with that the neighbors embraced.

My friend's candle-lighting that Rosh Hashana was holier than any in memory.  The weight of the pain of this conflict was gone from her heart.  She felt so light, so pure.

They never spoke about the issues of the past, never tried to work out who was right or who was wrong. The families involved began to behave like true neighbors, smiling at each other, sharing with each other. Over time, they even shared their story, in the hope that other people with long-standing feuds would just make up and leave the past behind -- and they have had some success in "infecting" those around them with a desire to make peace.

And that Rosh Hashana, when my friend stood before Hashem, she truly felt worthy of attending His Coronation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Yom shlishi, 2 Av 5773.

Idit and Ella: Golani sheli!
You know how when you're at home, you can get away with acting a little goofy, and people tolerate it?  Because they know you, and they love you, in spite of (or because of) your goofiness.  You can't get away with that stuff away from home.

So I'm walking around Jerusalem one day last week, and I see that it must be "Golani Soldier Day," because there are Golani soldiers everywhere.

Because Soldier Boy -- my eldest of four soldier sons -- was Golani, I can't help feeling a certain affection for all Golani soldiers.  They're all "my boys."  And as every Golani parent can affirm, whenever I see them, I want to sing a bar or two of their anthem to them.  "Golani sheli, Golani she-leeeeeee!"  There are rules in Judaism about men hearing the intoxicating sound of my amazing voice -- down, boys! -- so I can't do that.  Instead, I just think the song to myself, and send them a proud mother smile.

On this day, however, I had a special treat: two female Golani soldiers walked into a pet store.  Hah!  No rules of kol isha!  Overwhelmed by the goofiness instinct, I followed them in, and said, "Ah, at last, I can do something I always want to do... 'Golani, sheli...'" I sang to them.  And they joined in, and quietly we serenaded each other, followed appropriately by giggles.

We interviewed each other.  They wanted to know where I was from, now and before aliyah.  We spoke about my soldier sons.  I asked them why they chose to serve in Golani.  "Because it is how we felt we could best serve our country," said Ella, and Idit agreed.  Such a logical statement.  But they might have said, "Because we have to." or "Because we were drafted."  I don't meet too many young people in Israel with a negative attitude about their service.  Maybe about their base, or their commander...  but rarely about serving their country.  (They also informed me that Golani is superior to all other branches of the IDF.  First time I've ever heard that from a Golani soldier.  Not.)


"The Brothers," as they and everyone else call my sons, have always worked at being close friends (when they weren't beating the pasta out of each other, of course.  We raise men here, not saints).

As Soldier Boy and his bride Executive Girl are temporarily detained in the States for an unspecified duration, the Brothers -- Yeshiva Bochur, Stunt Man and Sports Guy -- can sometimes be seen huddling over the computer, chatting with their big brother on Google's Hangout.

I love that being in this country has strengthened their love for one another, and their friendship.  I don't know if the IDF helped with that, or gave them more to argue about.  ("Golani guys go through walls instead of over them."  "Yeah, well that's because Tzanchanim are too chicken to face the wall head on, so they fly over it."  "At least Shirion guys go through the wall in tanks instead of with their heads."  "Hah!  The only people crazier than Golani guys are bus drivers!"  "Oh, yeah?  Well -- your mother wears army boots!  [pause]  Oh, yeah... she did...")


Got a call from Sports Guy after Shabbat.

"It was a good Shabbat, Ema," he said.  No special excitement.  It wasn't an amazing Shabbat.  It's just Sports Guy's way to be pretty accepting of his situation.  "I had guard duty at Ma'ariv [the evening prayer service]..."

"How was the food?  Any good?" I interrupted.

"Yeah, well, no, actually it was pretty bad.  [He laughed a little here.]  Except at Ma'ariv... but of course, I was on guard duty.

"So I was thinking 'Well, I'll just daven here by myself, then.  That'll be okay... and suddenly I see all these people walking toward me.  I thought 'Okay.  No big deal.'  But as they're coming toward me, I see it's all the dati (religious) guys, and even some chiloni (secular) guys, but they're wearing kipot... and the rabbi is with them...

"And the rabbi says to me, 'If you can't come to the minyan... the minyan will come to you!'

"And all those guys came to the guard shack, and we davened Ma'ariv right there."

"Wow!" I said, truly overwhelmed with love for these soldiers, and this rabbi.  "So it was pretty good after all -- except for missing out on the good food," I said with a wink he couldn't see.

"Oh, no, Ema.  I didn't miss out.  Somebody brought me food, too..."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I LOVE THIS COUNTRY!!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Do you like murder mysteries?"

Yom rishon, 22 Tamuz 5773.

Holmes: Well, what do you think?
Watson (disdainfully): All that stuff about a coat -- obviously a last attempt to inject a mystery into an open and shut case against him.
Holmes (sighing): Both you and the coroner, Watson, have been at pains to single out the very points which are strongest in that young man's favor... One moment, you give him credit for too little imagination, and then for too much.  When asked what he and his father quarreled about, he couldn't even invent a reason which might have won him the jury's sympathy.  And yet, a few moments later, he evolves something so outré as a dying rat, and a vanishing coat...  Well, my dear fellow.  I shall approach this case from the hypothesis that what he says is true.  We shall see where that will lead us...


I grew up in a time and society in America where the Missouri expression "Show me" meant that I had the need to prove to myself everything, scientifically, that I claimed to believe.  This wrought havoc in my teens, as I questioned everything, and my Christian bible study teachers were simply not equipped to deal with such chutzpah.  "It's all in the Bible," they would tell me.  (It wasn't.)  "If you have to ask that kind of question, you don't have any faith."  (Okay, said my 14-year-old mind, fine.  I don't have any faith.  That was easy...)

Shortly after our conversion to Judaism in Elul of 5750 (1989), the Dearly Beloved and I were privileged to attend a special Shabbaton in the walled city of Sobernheim, Germany.  There were many Orthodox rabbis and rebbetzins, as well as a chef and cooking staff from Israel.  We had a full program of classes.  Among the interesting programs were lectures offered by speakers from the Aish HaTorah Discovery Seminar.  There were opportunities to speak to the presenters at odd hours over the several days; and eager for knowledge, the Dearly Beloved and I took advantage of those private moments.

I had a conversation early one morning with Rebbetzin Naomi Kahn that completely changed my direction (as if conversion hadn't been a drastic enough change).  I confessed to her my inability to be comfortable without being able to adequately prove G-d's existence to myself.  I knew that learning and practicing would mean growth -- but the elephant in the room was that I wasn't sure I could give myself permission to believe.

If I was expecting her guidance to be of the "just have emunah" variety, I was in for a surprise.

"Do you like murder mysteries?"  Rebbetzin Kahn's question delighted me with its apparent irreverence.  Enjoying the ostensible change of topic, I confessed to being an inveterate fan of Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple and Gervase Fen.  She had my rapt attention.

"In a murder mystery, if the detective walks into the scene of the crime assuming that everyone might be guilty," she said, "he'll never get anywhere.  He'll never solve the crime, because everyone has something to hide.  There are motives and opportunities everywhere he looks.

"In a good murder mystery," she continued, "the detective assumes that everyone is innocent -- and waits for the ripples."  Here, Rebbetzin Kahn did a delightful fluttering of her fingers reminiscent of the heat that shimmers on a distant highway on a blazing hot day.  "Try believing that it's all true.  Just give yourself permission to believe that G-d exists... and wait for the ripples."

 At that moment, it felt as if a Sisyphus stone of responsibility was lifted off my heart and mind.  That bit of reverse logic hadn't occurred to me.  What if I just ignored the need to prove G-d to myself, and waited for the "G-d theory" to just disprove itself?

I have been happily Jewish for 24 years.  And while this inquiring mind will always have questions and internal battles...  I'm still waiting for the ripples.  The bottom line?  I might be wrong.  There might not be a G-d.  But if so, I am living a very wonderful moral-centric life, filled with an effort to better myself, to treat my fellowman with love and respect, to hold the creation in awe, and with a sense of purpose every minute of every day.  When I have challenges, I can "discuss" them with G-d, Whom I believe loves me and wants for me only good, without having to speak behind people's backs to other people. (Great therapy.  I recommend it.  And in Israel, when you walk down the street talking to yourself, people assume you are praying, rather than crazy.  Unless you dred your hair, and fail to bathe.)

As Rabbi Daniel Mechanic says, if I'm wrong, if there ends up not being a G-d, what's the worst?  But if the one who cannot accept the existence of G-d is wrong...  well, "oops" probably is not going to cut it.  So I'll take my chances on this side of the argument.  Nope, it seems not to be provable in the Missouri sense of the word, at least not yet.  But I like my life.  I like the values that my children, brought up in this faith, have chosen to adopt and even to refine.  I like the way their relationships and their children are turning out.

And if we're happy, mentally and emotionally healthy and stable...  what else do I have to prove?

This post dedicated to all of the young people I know who are struggling to find answers in an admittedly difficult time in history.  You have my prayers, my friend, for answers that will satisfy you.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"We have met the enemy..."

Yom chamishi, 28 Sivan 5773.

It's no secret that Israel is in trouble right now.

I'm not speaking about the threat from Iran with all of its obvious (to anyone not playing ostrich) bomb building.

I'm not referring to the danger at various borders caused by the hemorrhaging "Arab Spring."

Nor am I drawing attention to any "fifth column" issues within Israel's borders.

Our greatest danger is and always has been internal, within the Jewish family.

We are fighting with each other, and the fights are getting uglier.  No "side" is blameless.  The tragedy is that if we truly tried to feel what the other person might be feeling, to hear his side (even without expecting our minds to be changed through the exercise), we could not throw chairs nor invective, we could not disdain nor patronize.

דאס טוט נישט פּאַסן אונז.  Das tut nisht passn uns.  This is beneath us.

A friend has invited me to participate in a special day tomorrow.  It seems a worthwhile exercise... as long as it is the beginning of better behavior on my part, and not merely a shekel dropped one time in a pushke.  Here's what the originator of the plan, Akiva Gersh, wrote on his Facebook event notice:

Let's not wait until Tisha B'Av to think about how we can increase Jewish unity and ahavat hinam ["groundless" love] in Am Yisrael. We know what hate and intolerance have done to our people in the past. Let's not let it happen in our generation. While ahavat hinam is something we could and should focus on everyday, there's incredible strength in hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions of Jews focusing on it on the same exact day, especially on Erev Rosh Hodesh. 

The idea is that, on that day (29 Sivan/Friday June 7th), each of us will perform a "random" act of kindness for at least one other Jew, ideally a Jew who comes from a different religious/political/lifestyle perspective than you. That action will send them the message that you have honor and love for them despite any differences that exist between you two, that you have honor and love for them simply because they are a fellow Jew.

May our acts of kindness on that day increase our awareness of the inherent unity that binds all Jews together and strengthen our dedication to making ahavat hinam a priority in our lives every single day.

Our Sages deal with a question about what will finally bring the Era of the Moshiach.  How could I, so lowly, so lacking in knowledge and good deeds, possibly bring the Moshiach, if Dovid HaMelech couldn't, if the Chofetz Chaim couldn't?  Chazal answer that the operation is cumulative.  Our good deeds "stand on the shoulders" so to speak of the good deeds of previous generations.  Only G-d knows which good deed will be the last one necessary.

Join me, won't you?  And if you happen to read this well after the day, don't be discouraged.  Your act of kindness, your thoughtful word, your decision to listen fully to what the other person is saying, your plan to be more careful, may just be THE act that changes everything.  YOU could singlehandedly be the person responsible for bringing the Moshiach.

No matter with what or if you cover your head; no matter if you and I agree or disagree about religion, politics, lifestyle, or child-rearing techniques -- I look forward to standing in line to thank you personally.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Fonder Heart

Yom rishon, 24 Sivan 5773.

It is very hard to be an ocean away from people you love.

That is the hardest thing for me about aliyah.

But I truly cannot complain.

I made aliyah in a time more technologically-advanced than I could have imagined when I first entertained the idea, back in the "olden days" of the early '90s.  I can visit my grandchildren (even babysitting one of them briefly!) via Skype or Google Hangout.  I can once again sit in the dining room of my Rabbi and Rebbetzin, chatting about Israel, and about how blown-away we are by technology.

I can spend a glorious hour on Mother's Day watching a grandson walking around in his dragon outfit, trashing his parents' house as he shows me every. toy. he. owns.  (Who says you have to "be there" to drive your children crazy?)

And sometimes, on Erev Shabbat, my Soldier Boy in America can sing Shalom Aleichem and Aishet Chayil to his mother, after learning Mishnayot with his father.

Thank You, Hashem.  It will never be easy to be away from those we hold dear.  But thank You for making it easier than ever before to "touch" each other, even while holding fast to our ideals.

You never promised us that this life would be easy, or comfortable.  But in this time, You have wrapped the difficult in a lot of clearly-discernible love and compassion.

Happy 28th wedding anniversary, Dearly Beloved!  Thanks for helping me to raise these amazing young men!