Friday, October 20, 2006

On Tuesday night of Chol Hamoed, the Turners had a St. Louis simcha bais hashoeva (sukkah party). We came with Avital (Rivki had other plans), plus the Gitts, the Bar Leibs and the Newmark’s (who have been in Israel for several years) came. We had such a good time! We got there around 3, and Avital and I didn’t get home until 11. Even though not everyone knew each other and had lived in St. Louis at different times, everyone knew people in common (like the Grunbergers and Yaris, etc.). It was a phenomenal evening!

We had our own sukkah party on Wednesday night of Chol Hamoed. In the first picture from left to right are Avital, Ellen Kolman, me, Toby Friedman and Karen. Toby and Ellen are two of my closest friends (here in Israel). In the second picture is Al (husband of Karen who is in our ulpan class), Zvi Friedman, David, and Kalmon and Ellen Kolman (Kalmon’s English name is Ken. He’s the guy David hikes with). Two days ago we went to the pidyen haben for Toby and Zvi’s grandson. Pretty fancy shmancy. Toby has 3 sisters and both her parents who live in Israel and all their families. They’re so down to earth and fun to be with! Zvi made it clear that after ulpan I was coming to work for him at Jewell. He reminds me a lot of Shmuel Greenwald, which is why I think we like them so much!

This is our sukkah! The second picture is the back of our building. The other pictures are buildings in our neighborhood. And I forgot to write that Avital and Rivki were in the pictures below in our sukkah when they came to stay with us.

The first 6 pictures are from our tiyul (trip) to Ne’ot Kedumim with the Turners, on the 2nd day of Chol Hamoed. It’s a forest (several, actually) of the 4 Species, plus lots of other trees that CAN’T be one of the 4 species (come hear their shpiel if you want to know more…). There were also about 30 different kinds of sukkah; David is standing next to a VERY tall one. There were beautiful date palms with bright red and yellow dates growing on them, and a lot of rimonim (pomegranate) trees; Rebecca and Josh had fun picking them and eating them.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Okay, I'm going to try this again. Last night I wrote one of the longest blogs so far, and then after I previewed it and tried to go back to it - it disappeared. Poof! Just like that. And it was so well written, too - lots of news and some witty remarks. I'm not usually so humble.

BREAKING NEWS!! I just heard that Laya, the Grunberger's 2nd oldest daughter, is a kallah! She's here in Israel as a madricha (mentor/dorm counselor?) at Eyhat, a women's program at Aish. The family needs some good news right now! Under normal circumstances the wedding would probably be here in Israel, but since hardly any in the family can travel right now, I would assume the wedding will be in St. Louis. I'm so happy for her, and for the family!9

Here's an update that Rabbi Grunberger sent out yesterday morning, so the information may be a little old by now:

Again, I thank everyone for their tefilos and efforts to create zechusim for Rafael Dovid and Tehilla. The achdus, tefilos, learning, and mitzvos in their merit is absolutely working, bli a"h.

Tehilla had her jaw surgery today and the Doctor feels very positive and optimistic. They didn't need to wire her jaw as originally thought. At this point her leg fracture, jaw fractures, and head injuries are healing. They hope to wean her off the respirator tomorrow and hopefully she'll respond in the best way that can be expected. We daven for a COMPLETE recovery and that she'll have no limitations or consequences from the injuries. The Doctors have no way of saying for sure but are very optimistic based on the xrays and CT scan, B"H. The tefilos will make the difference.

Rafael Dovid has been stable for the last 48 hours. They now hope to start weaning him off the different medications. Today they started giving him little doses of nutrition. He's still in very critical condition but it's like an official turning point for the better, B"H. The next 3 days will be very telling and as he continues to respond positively with stability, they will wean him off the respirator as well. As the swelling around the brain subsides, they will then try to assess the impact of the injury. Here too, it's all in HaShem's Hands and we daven that he will come through with no deficits, limitations, or handicaps but with a refuah shelaima.

Elisha is BE"H coming home tomorrow morning. He's in good spirits. He has a broken thumb and clavicle along with his impressive gash on his left forehead. Visitors are allowed to speak with him between innings during the playoffs. He'll be coaching Pujols after school hours and wants to retire LaRoussa and take over. (may this be the only affect of his head injury). He's turning 12 in a few days and will continue all his various extra learning projects to make siyumim during the year and for his Bar Mitzvah.

Chaim (Eliyahu Chaim- age 9) is healing. He's confined to a wheel chair for a while and then back to crutches. His fracture should be healed in 6 weeks, be"H. He has memorized 121 mitzvos (Sefer Madah, Ahava and Zemanim) which we reviewed today. The plan is for him to hopefully return to school tomorrow for at least part of the day.

Aviva (15) returned to school today for a few hours. She's doing well.

We deeply appreciate HaShem's kindness in answering the outcry of the many tefilos around the world. The chapters of the "master plan" can play out in any number of ways. We thank HaShem and continue to daven that this chapter and the chapters to follow will be filled with joy, yeshuos, nechamos, and clearly evident of the Yad HaShem in every detail that goes on around us.

With deep appreciation to HaShem and to everyone,

Elazar Grunberger

How's that for emuna?

I've been trying to download for the last hour (with David's help) to download a whole bunch of pictures from Succos, with no success. I just spoke with Rivki to get some help, since she has gorgeous pictures of Succos on her blog (see my link - Inspirations from the oOly Land). I'm going to end here and see if I can download the pictures separately.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sukkot is over. All the holidays are over; Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur. For us, it was a time of introspection, of reflection. Actually, that's how it's felt since we've been here. From the minute we stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion I've marveled that we actually quit our jobs, sold our home, packed everything up, said goodbye to family and friends, and moved to a new country. And here we've been for just over three months, basking in the wonder and awe (and frustration) of starting over, settling in, making new friends, finding a new place for ourselves. And then,


Hashem hit us with a right hook that no one could see coming. When I say "us" I mean a whole lot of people. The war in Lebanon and Gaza was big when we first got here. But when an unexpected event happens so close to your heart that you know you will be changed forever, even when it doesn't personally happen to you but to people you know well and who have had a major impact on your life, it's as if all the breath is literally knocked out of you and you wonder if there will ever again be a phenomena known as "normal".

Living 6000 miles away doesn't change anything. Every time you think of a new ramification of this event, it's as if the horror is beginning all over again. You can only think, "Oh, my G-d, oh my G-d, please help! Please let them be all right! Those who were in the accident and those who have to sit by the bedsides of those who were injured. Please, G-d, let them be all right!!"

Remember how I asked G-d about "do-overs"?

Here are some specifics as I know them second hand: Rabbi Grunberger and his 15 year old daughter, Aviva, were in the front seat. They had air bags and although both had concussions and were pretty beaten up, they were both released from the hospital the first night (last Wednesday, October 11). Chaim, age 7, suffered a broken hip or leg, I'm not sure which. He had surgery on Thursday and was released from the hospital before Shabbos on Friday. Elisha is still in Children's Hospital. He broke his collarbone, one eye is swollen shut, he has a gash on his face and may have internal injuries. But he is out of intensive care and is no longer intubated. He may even be released from the hospital later this week. Tehilla, 17 and a senior at Bais Yaakov, is at St. Louis University Hospital. She broke her jaw in 3 places, hit her head and has a very bad break of her leg/tibia. They did surgery Thursday on her leg and plans are for surgery on her jaw on Tuesday. They’re keeping her heavily sedated because the pain would be too much for her to bear.

And then there's little Dovid, age 7. Dovid was thrown from the car and landed on his head. There is severe swelling, even after surgery last Wednesday night to try to reduce it. The doctors say that if he makes it through the first week, his chances are better. As of this writing, the swelling is getting worse. He's in a third hospital (they were all airlifted from the scene of the accident to 4 different hospitals).

It's a miracle that none of them died at the scene. Two of them were never unconscious and remember everything, which will no doubt live with them forever.

How are we to understand this? I keep asking rabbis and other people, and of course, there are no answers. I hear that there are scores of people at all the hospitals, people arranging rides, cooking meals, trying to feel that they are helping in some way. Tehillim is being said all over the world, mishmeres groups have been formed (not speaking, listening, or writing gossip for a one or two hour period each day) in the family's merit. People are learning Torah in their merit, donating money, doing acts of kindness. In the face of this personal tragedy for this family and those who know them (and many more who don't), so many people are changing their thoughts, speech and deeds, so many people are beseeching Hashem for His mercy, so many people are thinking twice when they put their children in their car and fasten their seat belts, so many people are thinking about what's really important in their lives and changing their priorities. Is good coming from this nightmare? Yes, I guess it is. There has to be some meaning to it. We'll all be trying to find that meaning for a long time to come.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sorry, I meant to write that Tehilla and Chaim are having surgery right now.
There's so much I want to write about this week of Chol Hamoed, but it all seems so insignificant now.

Hashem shows us in so many ways that He is in control. Happiness and tragedy can each happen in the blink of an eye.

Tragedy struck yesterday. My Rabbi in St. Louis, the person responsible for my changing my entire life 13 years ago to a path that I bless and feel grateful for each and every day, a person I worked for the past 9 years, was in a horrific car accident with five of his (10) children.

Baruch Hashem no one was killed. But from what I understand the car flipped over several times and the youngest child, age 7, was thrown from the car. They were airlifted to several different hospitals where four remain. Three of them are in serious but stable condition, but the fourth, the youngest, is in very, very critical condition. There is excessive swelling in his brain, and even though he had surgery this morning, the swelling is not abating.

Please pray and say tehillim for a complete recovery for:
Dovid ben Bracha
Tehilla bat Bracha
Eliyahu Chaim ben Bracha
Elisha ben Bracha

David and I got several calls and emails this morning, and we went into Yerushalayim to daven for them at the kosel (western wall). All of the young people from St. Louis who are here learning have organized that all of tehillim be read on a daily basis, and there is a minyan going on right now at the kosel (10:30 PM) with St. Louisans from all around Israel.

The children are in 3 different hospitals in St. Louis. The entire observant community there has rallied to help: they said tehillim last night and different people are staying with Tehilla, Elisha and Chaim in 2 of the hospitals while the Rabbi and his wife are staying with Dovid. Tehilla and Dovid are having surgery right now for broken bones. It's a nightmare.

May Hashem send them a complete and speedy recovery and may we hear b'sorot tovot.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I never know how to start off "blogging." My first inclination is always to say, "I love it here!" But that gets boring for you, I'm sure. The only problem is - I really, really love it here!!!"

Succos in Israel is simply indescribable. Everyone has always told me that, but this is our first experience. And to be here as an Israeli and not a tourist - there are no words.

But I'll try.

Let's see. One day Yom Tov. 6 days Chol Hamoed. Sitting in our beautiful sukkah the first night with our friends, Ellen and Kalmon and their son, Moshe. Hearing everybody else in their sukkahs all around us. Shabbos lunch going upstairs to our neighbors on the top floor and eating with them (originally South Africans but have lived here 18 years) and listening to the beautiful harmonizing voices of Shimon and his 4 sons and 1 son-in-law and laughing when people in other sukkahs started applauding, going to a motzei Shabbos simcha bais hashoeva (sukkah party) at our shul where we saw many of our new friends and heard Rav Avraham Twersky speak about simcha (happiness). The first day of Chol Hamoed taking it easy and then having the former Donna Wethington (now Dvora Lowenthal) and her husband Azriel and their 4 very (very, very, very, very, very) active and cute children for dinner (they took the bus from Beitar, an extremely hareidi, religious, town which isn't too far from us). Yesterday (Monday) we went with the Turners to Ne'ot Kedumim, an interesting place not far from Modi'in and Ben Gurion airport. We joined a tour group of Chabad of the Cardo (from the Old City) who had come by bus. We were blessed to have actually ridden in real live cars! What a treat! Chabad provided a lunch, and then we divided into 2 groups to tour the gardens, which were really forests that grew the 4 Species, plus other trees that were candidates for one of the species but were ruled out for whatever reason (I kind of tuned out the tour guide for a lot of it and just enjoyed the scenery). And then we saw about 30 different kinds of sukkahs, with signs by each telling if they were kosher or not. That was pretty cool! There were double decker sukkahs and teeny tiny ones and one that was about 3 stories high! At one point a bunch of guys got a mincha minyan together in one of the larger sukkahs. There was a treehouse sukkah and one in the back of a donkey cart. It was pretty interesting. There was also arts and crafts for the kids, and a lot of ponds which you don't see very often.

Traffic on the highways was unbelievable, but probably common for this time of year. Chanoch drove his car with David and Eric and Josh, and I was in Yocheved's mini-van with the girls. We drove home a back way and had no problems.

Then - began the vigil waiting for Avital and Rivki to arrive from Yerushalayim. They finally got in late, and then we (and my friend, Ellen - David opted out) took a cab to the concert in Beit Shemesh. Let me tell you about this concert. There is probably no where else in the world where a bunch (we're talking 1000's) of frum kids and even old people like me and Ellen) can go to a rock concert. I felt like I was back at Southern Illinois University where we used to go to outdoor concerts about 30 (oh my G-d, 30?!) years ago. Except there wasn't any of that funny smelling stuff, just kids screaming and singing along and waving their arms. Shlock Rock started the concert off, but we didn't get there until way later, when the hard rock music was playing. The bass sounds vibrated right through you. Old hippies in payes were sitting on blankets in the back with their tots while the younger generation was down in front. They had 2 huge projector screens on either side of the stage so you could see the band if you weren't close enough. You haven't lived until you see a young kid singing Sholom Aleichem to booming rock music. It totally freaked me out, man!

Now it's Tuesday morning and we're all davened, breakfasted and ready to check out Beit Shemesh. We were supposed to go to a Kite Festival in Gush Etzion and we even got places on the bus, but we have to be at the Turners at 3 for a St. Louis BBQ. I'll write more later in the week when we have some pictures of all the sukkahs.

Chag Sameach and Gut moed!

Monday, October 02, 2006

I don't know how to write this. How about: WOW! What a powerful Yom Kippur!

The Kol Nidrei service was beautiful and only 2 hours - we were home by 7:30 PM last night! David and I sat out on our glider and watched the clouds moving across the moon. I wished we could have videotaped it; it was so pretty. Both of us agreed tonight that we were able to follow the davening today with no problem. Our Hebrew is so much better than in past years (not because we're in Israel, but just because it's starting to sound familiar after all these years). The singing where we daven is so beautiful. My back is really in bad shape, so I had to sit a lot. After mussaf Shemoneh Esrei I went home for awhile. Then I really got homesick for St. Louis. Actually, not for St. Louis, but for all the times I spent those couple of hours with Shifra and Lynda and Malky (and Emunah only once!). So I kept myself busy with reading The Way of G-d (Derech Hashem) and then davening mincha Shemoneh Esrei and reading the Torah Portion about Jonah before I headed back to shul for Neilah.

The intensity of the davening just kept building, especially with the beautiful singing. By the time the shofar blew at the end, I was really crying. All the other women were hugging and kissing and giving each other brachot, while looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. One by one they kept coming over and patting me on the back; it was a little embarrassing. It was hard to describe the feeling of being in Eretz Yisrael and feeling the relief and happiness of the whole teshuva process. And then someone pointed out Rebbetzin Twerski standing next to us; her husband, Rabbi Avraham Twerski was the one leading the davening at the end. It turns out that our rabbi's wife is their daughter! They're going to be here through at least the first days of Sukkot and he's going to be giving some shiurim. Pretty amazing!

Now begins a really busy week of getting the sukkah up, cooking, making plans for all the days of Sukkot, and oh yeah - studying for our ulpan test on Wednesday. I spent a little time this evening going over verbs and infinitives and plurals and vocabulary, but tomorrow is really going to be rough. Hopefully it will just be review because I'm sure I'm not the only person who hasn't even looked at any of our learning since last week. David ended up going to daf yomi at our shul tonight when someone came and knocked on the door to remind him. He started daf yomi right after we moved here, but didn't stick with it; we just had too much going on. Now that we're a little more settled, and he knows a lot more of the men at the shul, he'll hopefully stay interested.

Tomorrow after ulpan I'm going all by myself on the bus to Super Sol (grocery store) in Beit Shemesh and get a lot of groceries for the holidays. You're probably thinking, "What's the big deal?" Let me tell you - it is. Just getting anywhere takes a lot of time and planning when you don't have a car. Then I have to figure out not only what everything is, but what the hecsher is. Then I have to take a taxi home (20 shekels!) because I plan to have a lot of stuff. Hopefully David will be home to help me carry it all upstairs. He might be going into Geulah in Yerushalayim to pick out his lulav and esrog. They sell it here, but there you have a bigger selection and it's everywhere out on the streets. Maybe he'll go on Wednesday so I can go, too.

I should probably get some sleep. It's going to be a long (but hopefully enjoyable) week.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This is from the top article in this morning's Arutz Sheva (newspaper):

Yom Kippur Gradually Descends Upon Israel by Hillel Fendel

Bus & train service, radio & television broadcasts, commerce & office activity and other signs of a modern country will gradually close down today, marking the onset of the solemn day of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur - Hebrew for "Day of Atonement" - is a day of fasting, prayer and introspection. The country will essentially be closed down from sundown Sunday until the same time on Monday, with no public transportation, public electronic broadcasts, stores or services.

Can you imagine the whole country shutting down? A poll showed that 80% of Israelis fast on Yom Kippur - that's way higher than the religious population. I went up to the mikolet this morning to get some things, but thought better of it when I saw the lines. But outside at various tables were people collecting tzedakah for their organizations from people who did Kaporah before the holiday. That's where you wave some currency over your head (if you're too creeped out by waving a chicken, like we are) and ask that your sins be expiated by giving the money to tzedakah. Everyone's scurrying around, buying supplies for their sukkahs and otherwise preparing for tonight and the next week.

Last night we turned the clocks forward; it's always done in Israel the motzei Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. David will go to daven mincha at 2, and then we'll eat our seuda when he gets back. The good news is that the fast is over by 6 PM tomorrow; the bad news is that Kol Nidrei begins at 4:15 this afternoon. I'm looking forward to davening in the shul we were at for Rosh Hashanah. I can just imagine how beautiful the singing will be, and how the prayers will become more fervent at the day goes by tomorrow. I'm in the last row (in the main tent; some women are in an adjacent tent) by the mechitza, so I'll have a lot of privacy when it get emotional. This past year we had so many changes take place in our lives. The last few months have been an introspective time for me; wondering what is going on with Israel, with the Jewish people, with my own personal teshuva, with the suffering and challenges of my friends and family members.

Over Shabbos I finished a book by Elie Wiesel, a book about suffering. By the last page I was in tears, and then I thought of all those closest to me, and some I don't even know so well, and I thought about all the illness and emotional and spiritual challenges Hashem has given them and it really hurt. I want to scoop everyone up and say, "Come here! Come see the beauty here! Come feel Hashem every step you take, everywhere you look!" And I know it just isn't going to happen. But I truly believe that Hashem has a Plan for every single person, and whatever they're going through, it's the right path for them. Who am I to say that the challenges He's given them won't make them into the kind of individuals He wants them to become? But I can still daven for them and pray that He makes things easier for them, that he grants them good health, that he grants them vision and goals and courage and strength.

We had Shabbos meals this week at two totally different homes, and each one was very special. Here, at the Shabbos tables, we talk about ideals and concepts and philosophies. Sure, we talk about the mundane as well, like how to get to somewhere on the bus or the easiest way to get through the bureaucracy of getting a driver's license, but even that is imbued with the knowledge that we're here in The Land, that everything we do is filled with holiness because we're here. I'm sure it's different for people with small children. I know that everyone's experience here isn't like ours, but it's the way it is for David and I. And when we start working again, it may start feeling like the same old, same old. I hope not.

Have a meaningful fast, and may all your dreams for the coming year come true.