Saturday, March 22, 2008

Whew - Purim, then Shabbat. Quite a mouthful - literally!

The week started with a women's Purim party at Chaya's house. Now tell me, if you were invited to a Purim party, wouldn't you think that everyone was coming in costume? Yeah, me too! But apparently not these women at this particular party... I was the only one who showed up looking distinctly not like me. I was wearing an old suit of David's with suspenders that held the pants well above my waistline - Steve Erkel would have been proud. I also had a painted-on moustache, a blue afro covered by a Borselino, and a bright red bow tie. Almost all of the other 17 party-ers commented on my lovely appearance. I didn't really mind. When Malka finally showed up, she changed into a similar get-up and we provided the entertainment for the evening by doing a rendition of "Abbott and Costello Learn Hebrew." We each held an ulpan book while she (Abbott) taught me (Costello) the rudiments of Hebrew. You know: מי is who and היא is she and הוא is he and מה is what and דג is fish. I thought most people had heard the routine before, but apparently not - they seemed to enjoy it. Another woman gave an enlightening dvar Torah and we played a game called Yankee swap which was kind of fun - I won a beautiful haggadah with a lot of Marc Chagall paintings.

Early Wednesday morning found me on a bus to Yerushalayim for a therapy appointment. That's the day that all the school children had their Purim parties. The sidewalks were filled with kids (and some adults) dressed up in the cutest costumes! There was a party atmosphere in the air and everyone looked so happy as they headed to their destinations. After all the tragedies lately, it was good to see people feeling happy.

After I got home later that day - surprise, surprise - I started feeling not so great, and all that night I kept waking up with a terrible sore throat. By the time Thursday morning rolled around, I had a raging upper respiratory problem - a mere three weeks after surviving the last round. What is going on here?! I never used to get sick - or stay sick - this often in my life. We did have a pretty bad dust storm for two days earlier in the week and allergy season has definitely started, so those could be contributing factors. The fact that I can't just close the windows and turn on the air conditioning as I've always been able to do in the past could also have something to do with it.

Anyway, I had a To Do list a mile long for each day this past week and somehow managed to get the whole list completed in time. Baruch Hashem David had decided to take Thursday off (he hates working on fast days) and he helped tremendously. I actually didn't even make it to the Megillah reading Thursday night and even though someone offered to call someone else to come read it to me at home, I wasn't even up to that. On Friday morning the cold medicines started kicking in and I was able to get to shul and then come home to prepare for our seuda (festive meal). Three families came over (we had all contributed to the meal), the temperature was in the low to mid 70's with not a cloud in the sky, and we all had a great time. David had set up tables outside and we had a cooler filled with wine. Penina's oldest son brought two friends along, and the boys had a guitar which I personally enjoyed (some of the other adults thought they were rather loud). Pinchas (Penina's husband) joined them with his flute and together with the sounds of our neighbors enjoying their own seudas, a fun time was had by all.

I tried to relax in the afternoon, but we had nine people coming for dinner and there were things I needed to finish up before then, although the cooking was already done. We had Thanksgiving fare: turkey breast, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. It's the least expensive way to feed a crowd and everybody seems to like it. Miryam and Shaya were the only ones who came for lunch today, and we had plenty of leftovers - that's when it really felt like Thanksgiving!

We did have some bad news this week. Our friend, Tobi (whose husband, Zvi, we stayed with last Shabbat in Ramat Beit Shemesh), lost her sister after a five month struggle with lung cancer. All the family that was with her in New York flew back to Israel Wednesday night with the body and the levaya (funeral) was very late Thursday night in Yerushalayim. There was no way I was up to going, but David went. We're going to pay a shiva call on Monday night.

You just have to wonder sometimes at the way things work out. To have to bury a beloved (50 year old) family member on Purim - a holiday of joy? What is that all about? I find myself asking Hashem "why?" so often these days. I wish we had a Rav that we could go to at times like this. It's not that I'm looking for answers, because I know that no one has answers for situations like this, and I know that there are certain things that Hashem wants from us: that we recognize Him, that we live by His mitzvot, that we learn to love and respect each other. But I want to see the Big Picture; I want to see the front of the quilt instead of all the individual knots and pieces on the back. It's said that there will come a time when we'll all be able to see how everything fits together. I guess I just need some
סבלנות (patience).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I accomplished a lot today. The temperature was probably near 70 and I was energized. You may remember pictures I posted from last summer of our yard without any greenery. Well, it seems that grass - and lots of weeds - grow in the winter due to the rain. We have weeds almost a foot high in some places in our yard; I'm afraid Emma will get lost out there. Today I borrowed a weed whacker and just worked on the front of our house (which is actually on the side of our house; go figure). First I pulled up around twenty palm fronds that we had laid on the dirt in the yard for Emma to have a place to walk when the ground was wet. They had been part of our schach, the top of our sukkah, back in October. Grass and weeds had grown through and around them, so I had to really pull to get them up. Then I dragged them, three or four at a time, down to the end of our road where the houses end, and piled them up outside the gate. After I got rid of those, I used some big garden clippers to get rid of the thickest of the weeds, before I started whacking away with the weed eater. It actually looks like a real yard now! I only worked on about fifteen feet but it took a long time. A lawn mower would have been a whole lot easier, but I doubt if more than a handful of people on the yishuv own one. All I needed was an area big enough to set up some tables for our Purim seuda (meal) this Friday. We have to finalize plans, but I think Penina is making the Purim meal and Miryam & I are doing Friday night.

I also cleaned out the frig today. It wasn't so dirty, but it still took a long time. I think I'm getting in the Pesach cleaning mode. Our guest room is being painted as we speak by our landlord, a young Israeli guy named Eran. He's putting on the anti-mildew paint which should cut down (although not eliminate) the mold problem. Now that I know better, we'll keep the metal window doors open as much as possible and keep a fan running in the room. Even though the weather is nice, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the rain this season.

Shabbat was wonderful. We left early Friday morning and headed to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Emma was a basket case in the car. She's probably only ridden in a car about five times in her life, and she doesn't like new things. She sat in my lap panting and shaking the entire way. But once we got to our old home, she seemed to remember it. David walked her in the grassy area in front of the apartment building we used to live in, and she couldn't get enough of the sights and smells. Yonatan and Coco were waiting for us inside, and Emma and Coco got pretty excited when they saw each other. Since Yonatan was cleaning the floors for Shabbat, we went out into their little garden with the dogs and let them get used to each other. When Shaina got home from running errands, she shooed us away and told us not to worry about Emma; she was in good hands. I'll probably say this several times, but it was so nice to see them again, and to be back in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

We spent the rest of the day going to the bank, grabbing a falafel for lunch, and visiting with Ellen and Kalmon. We miss them so much. It's amazing how in sync we two couples are. We're about the same age and have the same memories of all the stuff going on in the world when we were growing up. Plus, Kalmon and David have the same weird sense of humor, and Ellen and I run our households (and marriages...) the same way. It's nice to know there are people who "get" you. {Of course I'm talking about here in Israel; there are lots of people who "get" us back in chutz l'aretz.}

We had a great time with Zvi and Daniella. They cooked enough food for their entire apartment building, but we were their only guests. We also feel very comfortable with them. David came home from shul Friday night with a wistful look on his face and told me how good it was to be back at our old shul. We miss that the most on our yishuv. Shabbos morning was Parshas Zachor and I actually got to shul in time for the Shacharit Shemoneh Esrei.

Parshas Zachor is always the Shabbat before Purim. In the Purim story, Haman is this evil guy who tries to get the king to annihilate all the Jews. Familiar story line. Amalek was Haman's predecessor, and encompasses ANYONE who hates us and wants to kill us. We are commanded to hear the following from Deuteronomy on Parshas Zachor: Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. It shall be that when Hashem, you G-d, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven - you shall not forget!

Wow. The Jewish People have been reading that on Parshas Zachor for thousands of years. It sure has new meaning now, doesn't it? Do you think any of our esteemed leaders in our country (the Land that Hashem, our G-d, gave us as an inheritance) have ever read that line?

Sorry for the political interruption. And now back to our regularly scheduled story.

So it was pretty weird walking into our old shul, I have to say. There are a group of women in their 60's from the "senior" group who I had been semi-friendly with; they had us for Shabbat a number of times. None of them were friendly to me Shabbat morning. I don't know if it was because we didn't reciprocate the Shabbos invitations or if we didn't become involved in the senior group or because we moved away, but I'm sure I felt I coldness from them which was uncomfortable. On the other hand, there were two or three other women who were happy to see me, and after we filed outside, David and Zvi were waiting. David even got an aliyah (he was called to the Torah to read the blessings for one of the seven sections of this week's portion that were read)! After lunch I went to an interesting women's shiur (talk) where I saw Ellen and Michal, the woman who had given us Emma. Ellen and I walked around afterwards and sat on a bench in one of the parks. Josef and Joke (Yo-ka), another couple from our ulpan we were friends with, walked by and we all spent some time catching up. Then I headed over to Yonatan and Shaina's for Seudat Shlishi, the last meal of Shabbat. Emma seemed glad to see us for the first thirty seconds, but then she was off chewing a bone and trying to steal Coco's.

On the way back to the yishuv, I thought about how much more, observance-wise, Shabbat was there. More learning (there were other shiurim I could have gone to), a shul we feel comfortable in. The rabbi there is also very personable, and his drosha (sermon) was in English. On the other hand, if I were to make a list of pros and cons for each community it would probably come out pretty even. There are certainly things we like better about living in a house versus an apartment - like having our own yard with grass (granted, the grass is only around for about three months of the year). I do remember, though, how special it was to be in an apartment building where we could knock on doors to borrow things or to drop Emma off for a couple hours. Not that we can't do that here. Like I said, there are positive things about living in a yishuv as well as in a larger community. A lot of times when I'm walking around Yerushalayim I think how wonderful it would be to live there if we could afford it, where there's so much to see and do. Come to think of it, there's probably not many types of communities that I wouldn't be happy living in here! One thing I know for sure - if we're not living IN Yerushalayim, we need to live pretty close to it.

It's been a long day!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's late on a Thursday night. No cooking this week - we're going to Ramat Beit Shemesh for Shabbat. Last night our friend, Zvi, called to invite us to spend Shabbat with him and his daughter. His wife, Tobi, has been in the states most of the last six months to be with her sister who was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer just after Yom Kippur, and I think he's craving the companionship. It would have been nice to invite him here instead, but our guest room is being painted on Sunday with anti-mildew paint and the furniture from that room is all over the place. Emma's going to stay with Yonatan and Shaina, our former neighbors there. I hope she remembers their dog, Coco, and that they used to be good friends. We'll have Seudat Shlishli (the third meal) with them, but the other two will be at Zvi's. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning so we can spend the day visiting other friends there and shopping for things we can't get here, like instant oatmeal and Ken's salad dressings.

We also need to go to the bank there, although we've been puttiing it off as long as possible. David gets his Air Force retirement directly deposited to a bank back in Minnesota, and every month he cashes a check from that account at Cheerfully Changed so we can put the money in our account here. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is down to 3.4, which is the lowest I've ever seen it. Normally, it's around 4.0 or thereabouts. That means that the 2000 shekels we would usually get (minus the fee) is now about 1400 shekels. That hurts! For people who get paid in dollars or have to pay their rent or mortgage in dollars, it's a big blow to the monthly budget. Thank G-d we have a set shekel rate for our rent, but most people we know pay in dollars that they have to convert from shekels. It's a real problem here; I don't know why anything is charged with dollars - no other foreign currency is used.

I went to the Kotel twice this week. Kind of a record for me since I rarely go. My friend, Ellen, and I were discussing last week the fact that both of us felt less spiritual of late. We met there on Monday afternoon and amidst a crowd of both Israelis and zillions of tourists (I took a little poetic license there) we davened and said Tehillim. Being me, I had left my sheets of names of people to daven for at home but I was able to remember at least my family's names and those of cholim (sick) I daven for every morning.

Yesterday morning I had a 10:50 am appointment for my back therapy (Alexander Technique). My plan was to go straight home afterwards, but I was so near to the Old City that I just started walking there after the appointment. On the way, I called a friend of mine who lives there, Ariel, to see what she was up to. She was delighted that I called and asked if I was up for a shiva (condolence) call. The family of one of the murdered boys from the yeshiva massacre last week lives in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. I had never been in the Muslim Quarter before; I hadn't even known that Jews lived there. Apparently a company buys homes in all the Quarters and sells them to Jewish families so that we can have a presence throughout the Old City. We followed the signs to the home - there were people spilling out into the alleyway. Ariel and I only stayed for a few minutes. We never found the parents, but we able to find one of the sisters who was surrounded by her friends, and we gave her our condolences. I felt so honored to have been able to just be a presence in their home, to let them know that their grief is also my grief, that their sadness is shared by their larger Jewish family all over the world.

After Ariel and I visited in a cafe for awhile, she went home and I again went down to the Kotel. I pulled a chair as close as I could to the Wall, then closed my eyes and had a heart-to-heart talk with Hakodesh Borchu Hu (G-d). I talked to Him about what happened at the yeshiva, about all the sick people I know, about the divorces of my friends, about the terror down in Sderot, about living our lives in this Holy Land, about each one of my children, siblings, nieces and nephews, and about my husband and I. It was kind of a long conversation. I felt bad that I was asking for so much, more than I'd ever requested at one time before, but I knew He understood why I had to ask.

I used to feel guilty that I felt so blessed; that I had so much more than anyone else, but I figured out (somewhat) why it's so. We can't really afford our car, but a lot of times I use it to take someone to the store or to the doctor or pharmacy so we can't afford NOT to keep it. A woman down the street is counting on me to take her to the hospital in the coming weeks when she goes into labor. We haven't been able to give miser (10% of our income to charity) the last few months because our bills are higher than our income, but I always take a handful of shekels when I go into town to give to the many people on the streets who ask, and I try to be a good neighbor and friend by taking soup to someone who's sick or getting some groceries for someone who needs. I'm astounded sometimes by some of the awesome people I've met or heard of who don't have much of anything and still give part of it away to someone who has less, or who spend hours physically helping other people. I know I'm still way too attached to my "things" - to my computer and my dining room furniture and all the things that make up a household. One day Hashem may just take these things away from me, like He did to the people in Gush Katif, just to show me that I can live without them. I ask myself, could I deal with that? With losing all my photo albums and my books and my clothes and all the rest of my "stuff"? I know I'm willing to make a stand here, on this yishuv, on our land, in this place that Hashem promised us. My heart knows this, but I wonder - can my head make peace with it? Sooooooo many things to contemplate.

Guess I kind of rambled a bit tonight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I came across this and thought ut was worth sharing:

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The news of just so many teenagers killed in the Mercaz HaRav pigua has been heartbreaking. Moreover, with two kids killed from the Gush, one in Efrat and another in Neve Daniel, it has been very close to home. Israel is so small, that everyone knows someone involved. The boy killed in Neve Daniel has a sister in my daughter's class. The boy from Kochav Hashachar is the son of the Mohel who performed my son's Brit Mila. On Friday, I attended the Lavaya (funeral) of Avraham David Moses. Only when at the funeral did I realise that I knew both the father and the step-father of this child. But this email that I received today took this all to a new level. It is from someone that I work with at Nefesh B'Nefesh:

Every morning I take the 35 bus line to work. It's a quick ride and usually takes no more than 12 minutes. The third stop after I get on by the shuk is directly in front of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. This morning I found myself a bit anxious, unsure of what I was going to see as we passed by. As I looked around, I saw death notices pasted all over the street and flowers that had been brought lined the entrance to the Yeshiva. When the bus pulled up to the stop, the driver shut off the engine and stood. With tears in his eyes he told everyone sitting on the bus that one of the boys killed on Thursday night was his nephew. He asked if everyone on the bus would mind if he spoke for a few minutes in memory of his nephew and the other boys that were killed. After seeing head nods all over the bus he began to speak. With a clear and proud voice, he spoke beautifully about his nephew and said that he was a person who was constantly on the lookout for how to help out anyone in need. He was always searching for a way to make things better. He loved learning, and had a passion for working out the intricacies of the Gemara. He was excited to join the army in a few years, and wanted to eventually work in informal education.

As he continued to speak, I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me was crying. I looked into my bag, reached for a tissue and passed it to her. She looked at me and told me that she too had lost someone she knew in the attack. Her neighbors child was another one of the boys killed. As she held my hand tightly, she stood up and asked if she too could say a few words in memory of her neighbor. She spoke of a young man filled with a zest for life. Every friday he would visit her with a few flowers for shabbat and a short dvar torah that he had learned that week in Yeshiva. This past shabbat, she had no flowers.

When I got to work, one of my colleagues who lives in Efrat told me that her son was friends with 2 of the boys who had been killed. One of those boys was the stepson of a man who used to teach in Brovenders and comes to my shul in Riverdale every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to be a chazan for one of the minyanim. We are all affected by what goes on in Israel. Whether you know someone who was killed or know someone who knows someone or even if you don't know anyone at all, you are affected. The 8 boys who were killed will continue to impact us all individually and as a nation. Each one of us has the ability to make a profound impact on our world. This coming wednesday morning,

I will be at Ben Gurion airport at 7 am with Nefesh B'Nefesh welcoming 40 new olim to Israel. We will not deter. We can not give up. We will continue to live our lives and hope and work for change, understanding and peace.

A second point is about the dignity and restraint which everyone has been exhibiting here. At the Levaya there were tears but no anger, no calls for vengeance. Just silence, tears and palpable grief. In fact, more than that. The mother of Avraham David Moses thanked God for "the 16 years we had the privilege of raising him, 16 years of purity of heart and honesty." How can a mother in her grief respond in that way? It is simply incredible.

On the night of the pigua, a few people stood opposite Mercaz Harav calling chants for vengeance and "Death to Arabs." The Rosh Yeshiva went to them and aske dthem to leave. "This is not our way," he told them. "We respond with love of the land, love of Torah, love of Israel. we will rebuild our land, our nation and remain attached to Torah."How starkly different we are to our enemies. May we always be filled with gentle dignity, love and hope, even when our enemies exploit those "weaknesses" to frighten and hurt us.
Here's a link to a youtube video about Sderot.
For the past several days I've been wondering what I could write here. There's the weather, which has suddenly turned into a beautiful Spring. There's the melava malka we had last motzi Shabbat at Aish in the Old City with former and current St. Louisans that was a lot of fun. There's the unbelievably wonderful conversation I had last night with a long-estranged relative. There's a lot of chatty, unimportant stories I could relate to you. We're in the Jewish month of Adar now, a time of joy for the Jewish people.

But my heart isn't in it. The tears won't stop flowing and my heart weighs a ton. What is happening in the world these days? This is what's in my life these days:
  1. Cancer. Five friends are dealing with this in their families; only one is in remission and the rest are critically ill.
  2. Divorce. Four couples we know are going through horrendous divorces, and two others have discussed it due to the constant dissension in their homes. These are all friends of ours; all but one couple are religious.
  3. Poverty. Many people who have made aliyah are struggling to make ends meet. They're either working non-stop for little money or they can't find work at all. We're personally doing okay, but we try to help our friends out and it's tough.
  4. Depression. People are emailing me and calling me and speaking to me in person about personal issues that they're having trouble dealing with. Some of the issues are the same for different people. But instead of trying to find solutions, or possibly even failing to find solutions after putting in the effort, some of them are simply giving up.
  5. Tragedy. Oh, my G-d, the tragedies! A) Last month a family down in Gush Etzion had an explosion and fire early one morning. The father was able to get the two small children out of their home, but he has burns over 35% of his body and his wife has burns over 80%. B) Last Friday morning there was a head-on collision about ten minutes down the highway from us and a 23 year old woman and her one year old baby were killed; everyone's davening for the young husband who's in the hospital. This girl has family in St. Louis; her 21 year old first cousin died just a few years ago. C) Sderot down in Southern Israel is bombarded with missiles every single day; when the siren goes off they only have fifteen seconds to find a safe place to go so they always have to be aware of where they are and where they could take refuge. Everyone in the town is traumatized. Now the rockets are reaching as far north as Ashkelon, a city of 250,000. The missiles are coming from Gaza; from land that was torn away from 80,000 Israelis two years ago so the Palestinians would give us peace. What happened instead? They destroyed the beautiful homes and greenhouses and synagogues and began firing into Israel - at a much closer range. D) And the mercaz yeshiva massacre last Thursday night. Teenage boys and young men gunned down as they were studying Torah in preparation for Adar; eight souls murdered, six more still in the hospital with bullet wounds. Blood and bodies everywhere in a library filled with sefarim. And Hamas celebrating down in Gaza. News reports saying it was in retaliation for Israeli troops killing terrorists in Gaza - without mentioning the daily barrage of missiles shot from Gaza at schools and homes and businesses.

Some people would say that all these things happen all the time. There's always forest fires and earthquakes and tornadoes and sickness and people not getting along. I understand that, but it's different now. It seems to me that events are happening on a much larger scale than before; more catastrophic things are happening and at a faster and faster rate, and less people are caring about them. No one sees the "larger picture." So many people are seeing black as white, and white as black. There's no perspective, only moral relativism.

I can't help but feel that as awful as all these things are (and there are so many other things happening as well), it's all careening towards a purpose. There's a reason for all of it. I'm no Torah scholar, or even close, but this is my blog so I'm going to state my opinion.

The Torah is really only about one thing: Treat other people the way you want to be treated. If we all lived by that maxim, if we all truly believed that Hashem is our Creator and that He loves us and wants what's best for us - none of this would be happening, at least not on this scale. We would still have our challenges, of course, because that's how we grow. But because we, the Jewish people, have not learned to tolerate each other or treat each other with respect, Hashem has to bring Moshiach to us the hard way. Right now he's telling us to stop what we're doing, talk to Him, count our blessings, start doing chesed, and care about each other. We have to get the message!

I truly believe that when we do what we're supposed to do, He'll do what he promised. I believe that He's going to give us the cure for cancer, put gentle words in our mouths when speaking to our spouses and children, and find a way to eradicate the evil surrounding us. At some point he's going to stop hardening the hearts of our leaders/enemies/news reporters. Then, as in the Pesach story, He'll redeem us, this time by bringing Moshiach to lead us out of the chaos into a world of emmet - truth. The question is - are we going to make it through the present crises if we don't make some changes?