Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Promise of Tomorrow

We are a people of so much hope, so much faith, so much joy. Yesterday, 228 Olim (new immigrants) from North America stepped off of a plane and became Israeli citizens. In his speech to the new Olim, Nefesh B’Nefesh Co-founder and Executive Director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass called them heroes. They are heroes for coming at such a difficult time, at such a monumental time in Israeli’s history. And there is no time when we need the support, the love and the numbers more than we do now. He said, 
“Today’s Aliyah flight demonstrates the great resilience of the Jewish people and its determination to build the State of Israel.”
In a pre-recorded speech to the Olim, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said that 
“You are saying to all of our enemies that you’ll never succeed. We are coming to stand up for our state, our people, our future. You’ll remember it all your lives.”

Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Prisoner of Zion, Natan Sharansky said 
“That so many Jews from the West are joining us of their own free will is the best answer to those who still try to destroy us. This flight is yet another step in the ingathering of the exiles."

One of the Olim who got off the plane was Ilana Barta, 23, from Teaneck, NJ. She had in her hand her wedding dress, as she is getting married in a few weeks to an officer in the Paratrooper unit who is currently in Gaza. She hasn’t heard from him since the ground operation started.

In other news, yesterday Lt. Shai Witakovsky, a reservist in the Givati Brigade, asked his girlfriend to marry him when she came to visit between battles.

Finally, if you haven’t seen this video yet, it’s well worth a watch. About 12 years ago, Josh came to Israel by himself and attended the wedding of our close friend’s brother. The brother was part of an elite fighting unit and Josh recounted that he has never – never – seen the energy and joy that these boys exuded at the wedding. They dance like there was no tomorrow and with a zeal that often comes from seeing the darker side of life. Josh came home from the trip and said, once again, that we simply had to move to Israel; that there is nowhere else where the people rejoice the way that Israelis do and grieve the way that they do. There is simply nowhere that appreciates life and feels the intensity of life as do Israelis.

And it wasn’t until I attended my first wedding in Israel that I understood what he meant.

This video reminded me of a wedding. These are soldiers who have come out of Gaza for a break. They will soon be returning to the fight. But they are taking the brief time that they have to dance, to sing to Hashem, to sing about faith and hope and the future.

We are a truly special people. A people that shows up in mass, 20,000 strong, for the funeral of Sean Carmeli, a lone soldier; of a boy who came to Israel by himself to fight and to be counted amongst the Jewish people here, in our Land.

A people who responds in mass to a Facebook post that has been going around for the last day. It says, "The funeral for Max Steinberg, the lone soldier from Los Angeles, will be held tomorrow at Har Herzl in Jerusalem. His parents are arriving in Israel soon for their first time. Max has no family in Israel and we are worried that there won't be enough people at the funeral. Please share, post and recruit. This amazing brave young man deserves to be honored and celebrated." 

Josh is heading to the funeral now. A funeral for a boy that he has never met.

We are a people who dance, love and sing together, and stand together in times of intense hardship.

And we are a people who arrive on the tarmac, brimming with hope for a better future – carrying wedding dresses for the promise of tomorrow – for the promise of a peaceful future in our Land.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Never-Ending Newsfeed

I’m an avid fiction reader, and I’ve never read so little in my entire life. Every time that I pick up my phone or my kindle to read, I find myself turning to social media instead. Is there anything new? Has another soldier died? Is there something I should be doing? And the spiral begins, sucking me into the world around me.

I’d like to share a glimpse into my social media feed in the last day or two to give those who might live a bit farther afield an understanding for what our lives feel like.

On Friday, I wrote, 
“Holding back tears....until she wasn' next door neighbor told me that they just got a call from their son. He told them he loved them and to please convey to each of his siblings how much he loved them. And I held her and we cried for her son, for all of our sons, who are heading into Gaza.”

Then I saw that they are rioting against Jews in Turkey and that the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Saturday of having "surpassed Hitler in barbarism" through its attacks on Gaza.

A recent protest in Turkey against Israel
After my post on Friday, a number of moms in the yishuv wrote to tell me that their sons are in Gaza. One mom, who has a great deal on her plate already, told me that her son called to say goodbye on Thursday, and that he was heading into Gaza. And a few minutes later her son-in-law called to give the same message to her daughter.

And in Seattle they are screaming about blood libels and calling us murderers.

In the grocery store on Friday, I ran into a friend. I asked her how the wedding plans were coming for next month for her son. She replied, “Um…good good. We are trying to stay on track. You know he’s in Gaza right now, so we are just hoping they will still get married next month.”


And in Paris they are throwing Molotov cocktails at shuls and screaming “Death to the Jews!”

Yes, this is Paris in 2014
On Friday afternoon, someone posted that “Neve Daniel is keeping track of the families whose fathers are on Tzav 8” (emergency reserve call-up). We have over 30 families, and counting, whose husbands have run off to serve their country for an indefinite amount of time. We have a Google doc started and we are cooking for these families each night. I’ve taken on three families for dinner tomorrow night.

And I see on the newsfeed that “Venezuela's socialist government condemned Israeli strikes in Gaza on Saturday as a policy of genocide that could not be justified as like-for-like warfare.”

Yehuda tells me Saturday night, when he comes back from Bnei Akiva, his youth group, about the long list of boys whose fathers have left. He said that one friend is very worried because last time this happened he didn’t see his father for six weeks. And I tell Yehuda to try to be gentle with these boys – extra nice to them.

And then, last night, we had the honor of celebrating with our dear friends, at a Mesibat Geus, as they are about to send their 20 year old to the army. He enters on Wednesday, and there is a tradition here to have a large celebratory party before going into the army. He is going to be a paratrooper and at the party everyone talks about how incredibly proud we are of him – how honored he should be to be joining the ranks of those who have the privilege to protect us and serve our country.

His mom, last week, told me that she is so proud of him; that he is going to be serving in a sense in the honor of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, who weren’t given the privilege of doing so. He will be protecting all of us, in their memory. 

And I cry.

This morning, we wake up to more soldiers who have died. 
 We just lost 2cnd Lt. Bar Rahav (21), engineering corps.
And as I see their pictures, their smiling faces, I see the status of a friend.

She writes: 
“Thanks to all of you who have asked about the boys. We have not heard from them since the ground invasion began.”
And then another mom writes, 
“Just got a message from my son's unit of stuff they need. These boys have been in since the kidnaping and went straight from chevron to azza almost six weeks. They need boxer shorts, army socks, energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, gummy candies, cookies, triple AAA batteries and wipes.” 
So I drop off 300 shekel before work that family in the States wanted me to use for a good purpose.

And the bombs continue raining down on Southern Israel. There are sirens in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beer Sheva and on and on and on.

And a tunnel – the largest discovered so far – is uncovered at 10 am going from Gaza to Netiv Haasarah.

And then I see this incredibly brave young man, Daniel Mael, battling against a sea of hate in Boston, when they went to a rally to try to voice their opinion and to stand with Israel.

And another post from the yishuv: 
“On July 17th 2014, my son returned from the states with his Israeli bride from a five week honeymoon. Within the hour of his arrival back in Israel he received his next present a Tzav 8 or emergency call up to the army. Quickly we packed him up and within 24 hours of his return he was on the border of Gaza.”
Another soldier from the yishuv to add to the bursting list.

And all this before 10:30 in the morning.

This is life in Israel.

So, if you talk to me and I seem distracted it’s because I AM distracted.

I’m distracted by life in Israel, by trying to keep our heads above water, by finding the money to help the children in the South, the soldiers on the field, the families in the yishuv without fathers at the moment, the pina chama that has run out of cakes.

I’m distracted by the newsfeed on Facebook that simply….won’t…..stop.

Minute after minute after minute.

Second after second after second.

And by the ever-present danger for myself, my children and those around me.

And when my three year old wakes up this morning, looks at me and says, “I love you in the world Mommy” I try to hide my hot, angry, desperate tears as I choke back “I love you in the world too buddy.”

And I take him in my arms for all of the moms who took their three year olds in their arms – their three year olds who are now soldiers, deep within Gaza, fighting for all of us, for our freedom, our right to sit on the beach in peace, our right to be Jews in the Jewish homeland without rockets and terrorists and murdered school boys.

And as I hug him and hold him tight, I glance over his shoulder at my iPad, at my newsfeed that just keeps going and going and going.

Romi Sussman
Neve Daniel, Israel
At War