Monday, October 31, 2005

Hachnasat Sefer Torah in Neve Daniel

Our across the street neighbors and friends, Aharoni & Shoshi Neubauer (who also happen to be living in 'our' house) had invited the entire yishuv to the dedication of a new Sefer Torah In Neve Daniel. The entire Neubauer family had commissioned the writing of the sefer Torah in memory of Aharoni's mother who passed away a couple of years ago. Traditionally, there is a big 'party' where the sefer Torah is finished in the presence of the family by various individuals. It is considered a mitzvah (obligation from the Torah) for every Jew to write a sefer Torah. This can be done by commissioning the writing of a sefer Torah and also by completing even one letter. The Neubauers invited everyone (including a full chartered bus from Jerusalem) to help them to complete the sefer Torah by writing one letter each.

I waited my turn in line with Yehuda at my side and Amichai in my arms and finally stepped up to the table, ready to participate in this wonderful mitzvah. I sat down, the sofer (the ritual scribe) handed me a feather pen dipped in ink, told me to say 'I am doing this for the sake of writing a sefer Torah (roughly translated) and pointed to a letter for me to complete. It happened that the letter was a 'yud', which is the first letter in Yehuda's name. Both Yehuda and I took this as representing his name.

By this time, 100's of people had congregated at the house and in the street waiting for the next stage of the celebration. We would all sing and dance the Torah to its new home in the new Beit Knesset all the way to the top of the yishuv. There were dozens of kids with torches leading the way and a three man band playing music. Out came the sefer Torah under a chuppah (a wedding canopy) surrounded by the family and 100's of people of all ages, from kids in strollers to senior citizens. Everyone was dancing and singing as the mass of people slowly made its way to the beit knesset, where the new sefer Torah was 'greeted' by the other sifrei Torah of the yishuv. All of the sifrei Torah had been brought out to participate in the celebration. After much singing and dancing, a few moving speeches about Aharoni's mother and maariv, everyone moved into the social hall for a celebratory meal.

Amidst all this revelry it occurred to me, here we are only a couple of months removed from the destruction of the synagogues and communities of Gush Katif, consecrating a new holy sefer Torah and bringing it to its new home in our beautiful new Beit Knesset. Out of destruction comes creation...with Iran publicly and obscenely calling for our destruction; with terrorists still trying to bring us down, we persevere and continue to build our lives and to educate our children; to build new shuls and write new sifrei Torah. This is the spirit that makes Israel the special place that it is.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The View from the new Beit Knesset...

I'm not sure what the view is out of the window of your synagogue/shul/other place of worship (for those of you not in Israel and who have a regular place of worship), but the view from our new Beit Knesset in Neve Daniel is quite stunning. Instead of the usual leafy trees or busy suburban road that you may see from your shul's windows, we have a beautiful view of the Judean Mountains and especially of Herodian, which is a powerful mark on the landscape of our area. We have mentioned Herodian before in various e-mails about tiyulim and the area, it is the mountain fortress build by King Herod between the years 22 & 15 BCE. It is an incredible feat of engineering and a wonderful example of Herod's penchant for challenging nature. Where there were mountains he tended to flatten them (ie-the Temple Mount/Har HaBayit in Jerusalem), where there were rivers he moved them (evidenced by his palaces in Jericho) and where there were no natural ports he built them (Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast). Here in the Judean Mountains, about 15 minutes to our east) Herod, quite literally, built a mountain with a castle/fortress on top. It's internal cisterns and tunnels were later used by the Jewish soldiers of the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans (132-135 CE).

Anyway, back to the view. While we have been using the shul (the highest in all of Israel as we sit at over 980 meters above sea level) since just before Rosh HaShanah, I hadn't noticed the view of Herodian until the rows around my regular seat were moved a bit up. I looked up from my davening one day to see this incredible view, with Herodian prominently rising on the eastern horizon. Upon this realization, I could only think to myself, how fortunate we are that we have found ourselves here, living in the heart of Jewish civilization and history, in a wonderful community, with great people and a view like this (I will add a picture of our view and the shul tomorrow).

We look forward to sharing our view with you when you visit!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's about time...

It has taken over 5 years of constant internationl condemnation but, with the help of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recently elected 'hard-line' president of Iran, the world should now clearly know what the Arab-Muslim world plans for Israel. During a keynote address to the 'A World Without Zionism Conference' being held in Tehran, Ahmadinejad said 'Israel must be wiped out from the map of the world...And God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.' He went on to call for and predict a wave of terror that will once and for all wipe out Israel, which he called an historical affront to Islam. See articles in CNN and Jerusalem Post . Israel has called for Iran, which we should recall is months or at most a few years away from possessing nuclear arms, to be removed from the UN. Western leaders have condemned his statements 'in the strongest words' and Iranian ambassadors have been called into capitals throughout Europe.

The big question is, where were these condemnations over the last five years? Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and the Palestinian Authority/PLO have been saying the same thing both in Arabic and in English throughout the last five years of war and before. This has been the basic Arab rallying cry for at least 75 years.

In the shadow of these obscene pronouncements, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a market in Hadera (on the northern coast) killing five innocent people (including one Arab). In response to this attrocity (in addition to the double, sychronized drive-by shootings that killed three young people 10 days ago and the fairly regular rocket attacks that are launched from Gaza) Israel has initiated a full-blown campaign to root out, arrest and/or kill the leaders of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza. The military has already succeeded in capturing at least one Islamic Jihad official and killing two others. Sharon has announced that this operation has no end point, simply that it will continue until either the terror infrastructure has been obliterated or when the Palestinian Authority begins to meet their obligations to activetly fight terror, something that we all know is not likely to happen under the current, corrupt and weak regime.

So, just another day in the life of almost nuclear capable country vows to wipe us off the face of the Earth, a suicide bomber blows himself up in a crowded market and we are left to clean it all up, to wonder what will be next and to move on with our lives. Time to get ready for Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.

Teaching in Israel...Gotta love it!

A brief incident that I thought was too funny not to share today. I have been having - shall we say - a bit of difficulty with one of my classes at the school where I'm teaching. I thought I was hired to help these girls with homework as a supplement to their class. Well, apparently I was hired to be their sole teacher. These are eighth grade girls who have been taking English since third grade and still can't say, "Hi, how are you" or "My name is Yifat" in English. I am NOT making this up. They are severly learning disabled and somewhat emotionally impaired. Needless to say, I'm having a ball.

So, today I had finally had it with one of the girls. She makes the other girls feel shy and uncomfortable when they try to speak English, she sings all the time during class, and generally drives me crazy. I needed to do something. How, exactly, does one look dignified and demand that a student listen or leave the room without the vocabulary to do so. It was quite an experience. Well, she and I got into an argument, with the other girls trying to correct my Hebrew while I spewed out my venum. Finally, I sat back and started to laugh. She was hurling all sorts of epithets my way - but I didn't understand a single thing that she was saying. It was actually quite humorous. Poor girl. She didn't realize that she couldn't actually insult me if I had no idea what the insults were! And so, I sat there, trying not to show her that I was laughing or that I was clueless - I had to look offended after all or blow my cover. Did I win? Who knows...there are still eight months left before I can collapse!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Flying High in Pnei Kedem...back to the grind!

The event we had been looking forward to since last year's adventure at the Pnei Kedem Kite Festival had finally arrived. All year, we had told anyone who would listen that they simply had to make plans to come this year. We recruited friends from near and far (we planned to go with Heidi and William Daroff and Family who rented a special car and driver for the day just to make it). Last year was the first year of this festival and this year the people of Pnei Kedem (a very small yishuv on the Eastern fringe of Gush Etzion in the middle of the Judean Desert) had put in a lot of effort in publicizing and marketing their event. In fact, it was the featured Gush Etzion festival for this Chol HaMoed. We were not disappointed...the crowds exceeded last year's with cars parked all along the road that rings the yishuv.

We packed-up the kids in the morning and made the 20 minute drive out to Pnei Kedem. We were met with moon bounces and slides, great music, crafts, arts & crafts for the kids, puppet shows, story time, drum lessons (note Amichai keeping a nice rhythm in the picture) and lots and lots of kites. The most amazing thing about the festival, that we noticed last year as well, is the landscape. Pnei Kedem is made up of about 18 families who live on this mountain top overlooking the Dead Sea. It makes for an amazing kite festival, with over 1000 people pouring in for the fun, and it's also quite a dramatic place to see. The work these families put into the day is amazing!

For us, the big difference this year is that we felt like we belonged. Last year we bumped into some people we had met, but this year we knew tons of people. Of course, we saw the Frankls and other friends from Neve Daniel, but we also knew people from all over the area and we really felt at home. As we mentioned, our friends William and Heidi Daroff came with their two little daughters. We were impressed with them for coming out to see the festival (and for making so many trips to Israel from Potomac so far this year!) We also bumped into Jeff and Karen Cohen from Potomac (last year, their 8 year old son Mendel hitched a ride with us to the festival, this year most of the Cohen family joined him too!)

On Monday it was time to get ready for Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, which always makes for a fun time. Unfortunately, Josh didn't feel so great and realized he had strep just before the chag. The antibiotics didn't have quite enough time to kick in so it was Mommy and the kids going solo for most of the holiday. The new shul was packed with holiday revelers and the building reverberated with spirited song and dance in the evening and again in the morning.

As the month-long holiday season draws to a close there is one more vacation day left before school starts again on Thursday and then it is back to the everyday routine.

PS--Quick Amichai development update...he just started clapping yesterday and continues to improve his 'furniture cruising' as he terrorizes the house.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Second Day of Chol HaMoed-Hevron & Camping!

Every year on Chol HaMoed Pesach and Sukkot the Jewish community in Hevron, the City of our Forefathers, has a special two day festival. It is only during this time of year that the entire compound of the Ma'arat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Forefathers) is open to Jewish visitors. The rest of the year only a small portion is open. Since we came to Israel we had not visited Hevron, so we thought this would be a really nice opporunity to visit, hear some good music (they have all day concerts both days) and learn more about the community. We arrived by shuttle bus from Kiryat Arba (a five minute ride) and were met by a colorful array of booths and high-energy music. We took the lay of the land, finally figured out that they were conducting walking tours of the various communities and embarked on a tour of 'Jewish Hevron'. The hearty souls of Hevron, certainly live a difficult existence, being surrounded by a largely hostile Arab population, however, they are there as guardians of the Jewish heritage of Hevron. The land of Hevron was originally purchased by Avraham as a burial place for Sara (later to also be the burial place of Avraham himself along with Yitzach and Yaacov (Isaac and Jacob) and had an almost continuous Jewish population until the Arab riots of 1929 which saw 67 Jews slaughtered and hundreds wounded. It was not until the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, that saw the reestablishment of the Jewish community in Hevron. We visited the Avraham Avinu Synagogue (established in the 16th century), the community at Beit Haddassah and the small, newer community established in memory of Shalhevet Pass (who was the 10 month old who was murdered by an Arab sniper while sitting in her stroller 4+ years ago). We bumped into a number of friends, grabbed some very good lunch from the street vendors, ate in the huge sukkah and headed home for our next adventure.

After returning home from Hevron the three oldest boys (Daddy, Matan and Yehuda) headed out for a camping trip in the North with the Frankls and Itay Zeman and his kids. After a two hour drive we set-up camp in the Carmel Forest about 15 kilometers south of Haifa, with a beautiful view of the Mediteranean. We had a great time, ate smores in the sukkah that we built and did a nice 5 km hike in the morning and headed home. We all, at least the Sussmans, slept well...ate enough and had a nice time with friends.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The First Rain of the Year

Everyone has been anticipating the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot (chol hamoed are the 'intermediate days' of Sukkot). Chol HaMoed, both for Sukkot and Pesach, are wonderful times in Israel. School is out, many people are not working and there are activities galore. Neve Daniel had scheduled today as a yishuv-wide tiyul. Everyone was all set to go to explore some tunnels and then to visit Herodian and to eat in the sukkah there. Well we woke up to the first rain of the year and, even though everyone had planned outdoor activities many of which would be cancelled, there were still baruch haShems (Thank G-d) all around. The first rain is a very special time in Israel. We are so starved for rain, that even when everyone's plans are ruined the rain is still a blessing that everyone is grateful for. We went to the bank this morning, while waiting in line the tellers realized that is was raining outside, everyone stopped what they were doing to go to open the door, look at the rain and proclaim, 'What a bracha!'

So, even with a day filled with rain there were a bunch of hearty souls who met at the gate (about 45-50 families) to embark on our tiyul. We all convoyed out to Tekoa (about 15 minutes East of us in Eastern Gush Etzion in the heart of the Judean Desert) and drove down to the entrance to the wadi that leads all the way to the Dead Sea (the same route that I took for the over night hike I wrote about in June). The landscape is stunning, with sharp descents plunging to the bottom of the wadi. The mountain sides are filled with caves of various sizes that were used for centuries by various monastic orders as monasteries and by the soldiers of the Bar Kochva revolts against the Romans. We made our way inside one large cave, through a twisting tunnel until we entered a large room. It was quite neat and amazing to think that people had actually lived in these places centuries ago.

The concert that we had planned to attend for a year in Beit Shemesh was cancelled tonight due to the rain, so we are hunkering down for a night of pizza and movies as the land absorbs the much needed rain. No sleeping in the sukkah tonight!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Here we go!

OK-so it is Sukkot 5766, it is Amichai's 11 month birthday and we have finally caved and started our own blog. We have been in Israel for 15 months now, have written over 60 e-mail updates and have heard from numerous people suggesting that we take our e-mails to the 'blogesphere' or whatever this is called, so here we go.

The two older boys are outside sleeping in the Sukkah, something they have been looking forward to for weeks. It appears that Fall has descended in Harei Yehuda (the Judean Mountains) and the temperatures have dropped a bit, so they are 'double wrapped' in sleeping bags and a quilt. They'll soon be joined by at least one parent (one is hesitating).

The first day of Sukkot, even after more than a year of being in Israel we are still revelling in having to observe only one day of holidays, was very nice. We ate lunch out at the family of one of the kids' babysitters (who also happens to be Romi's favorite hat maker), returned home late and before we knew it the day was over. The yishuv is organizing a yishuv wide tiyul tomorrow to a number of sites around Gush Etzion, which we are looking forward to.

The big news of the last couple of weeks is the long awaited opening of Neve Daniel's Beit Knesset Mercazi (the Central Synagogue). We don't even know how long it has been under construction, but it has been at least 6-7 years. On the shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Hashana it was announced that everyone should come to Kabbalat Shabbat at the new shul. Instead of the typical five minyanim, the entire yishuv came together to celebrate the opening of, what is now, the highest synagogue in all of Israel. A lively davening with 2,000 voices joining together was powerful. The Rav of the yishuv spoke beautifully and everyone was happy (or almost everyone was happy...there always has to be a spoilsport in every crowd). There are still some kinks to be worked out of the building, but it is nice to finally have a formal building dedicated to Torah and tefilla (prayers) in Neve Daniel.

On the brief update side, everyone is doing well and enjoying time off from school and work (especially Romi).

We're still working hard on our new project at work at Gift of the Times . We are selling historic papers and reprints which make great gifts...take a look!