Thursday, December 28, 2006


There is one thing that is hard to replace from 'the Old Country' for many Olim and that is snow. Our kids (at least the ones who lived in America) have been desperate for some snow since we moved. This is our third winter here and they have been regularly asking, 'when is it going to snow?'. Well, yesterday after much build-up, the kids of Gush Etzion and Jerusalem (along with the North and even into the Northern Negev)got their wish. It snowed! To be sure, it wasn't the type of snow that our kids expected based on their experiences in our last two winters in America where we had really big snowstorms both years, but it really was snow. In fact, everything was completely covered with 3 or 4 inches of snow. The road to Jerusalem was closed for hours by the army and we had to abandon our car at the top of the yishuv for fear of losing control as we descended the very steep hill that leads to our street (a wise choice as there were a couple of fender benders and almost fender benders on that hill). During the height of the snowstorm yesterday evening I just assumed that the snow covered everything, not just in our area.
> Neve Daniel is known to be cold and windy and will generally get more snow than the surrounding areas due to its altitude (980 meters; 3,000 feet above sea level). So, when I walked Matan all the way up to the top of the mountain to catch his bus (doubting that it would come down the hill to pick up at his normal stop) I took along the camera to take some shots of the surrounding hills covered in a white blanket of snow. Upon arrival at the top, I looked west toward Betar and was stunned to find that the hills were green! The snow line apparentely began only a few hundred meters west of Neve Daniel!

Needless to say, the kids were absolutely ecstatic. They were practically jumping out of their skin with anticipation of playing in the snow, along with every other kid in the area; this, of course, excludes Amichai who was a bit perplexed by the entire experience. He kept looking at the snow and asking 'Ma Zeh?' (what is that?) and then saying, 'wet...wet'. The kid does not like wet floors at all. He won't walk on anything wet and had absollutely no interest in going out to play in the snow. He just stood at the front door saying, 'wet...wet'. Anyway, back to the kids who actually wanted to play in the snow. This being the Middle East, the kids aren't exactly equipped for snow. Every family pulls out whatever they think will slide down hill to use as a makeshift sled. We had brought a sled from America, so our kids were all set. We saw boogie boards, cookie sheets and all sorts of other things, but the best makeshift slide, by far and away, was debuted by our next door neighbor, Asher. Asher's dad owns an appliance repair service and offered Asher a piece of an old washing machine. This thing was totally uncontrollable but boy could it slide!!

Needless to say, the kids were out bright and early this morning swooshing down the hill behind our house with absolute glee, but were absolutely dissapointed when they got home from school (the start of school was delayed two hours) to realize that much of the snow had begun to melt and the streets were basically clear.

Much fun was had by all; the kids had a blast and we were all treated to the beautiful sight of Gush Etzion covered snow!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Visiting the sites of the Tanach....priceless!!

When we were contemplating Aliyah on and off over the years, one thing that was always part of the discussion was having our kids grow up in Israel. The country is an amazing place to grow up, a veritable Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) for kids. In our first weeks of Aliyah our kids sampled the best of Israeli junk food in ecstasy. It was the first time that they could ask for things and we didn't have to say 'sorry, sweet heart, it's not kosher', so we were very liberal in allowing junk food for the first little bit in Israel. After a few days, our oldest said, 'You know HaShem must really want people to live in Israel...because He made great junk food for the kids to have!' I'm not so sure that is the reason for the amazing array of popsicles, ice creams, lollipops and other assorted candies, but it certainly gives a nice glimpse into the 'minds of babes'.

As the months have passed and turned into years, our decision as it pertains to our kids has only been been strengthened. Our oldest, Matan, now in first grade, is working his way through Sefer Breishit (Genesis) in school. Of course the early stages of Breishit focus largely on the stories and exploits of the Patriarchs & Matriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak,Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Leah and Rachel. Living along Derech Avot (the Path of our Fathers) offers many opportunities to enhance the learning that is done in school. One night, Matan was reading about Avraham and Yitzchak's journey to Har HaMoriah where the parsha tells about Avraham seeing 'the place from afar' referring to Har HaMoriah. There are those who argue that they first saw their destination from the high point in Neve Daniel (being the highest point in the area, there is some logic to this thought). So, without further ado we put down Matan's Chumash and went for a brief, spontaneous trip to the top of the yishuv where we could look out at the distant lights and envision ourselves as Avraham and Yitzchak, where again Matan read the appropriate lines from the Chumash.

A couple of weeks later brought us to Parsha Chayei Sarah, which has become a traditional Shabbat for people to spend in Hevron praying in the Maarat HaMachpela (the Tomb of the Patriarchs). As a treat for finishing the Parsha, Matan and I set off for Hevron on the Friday morning of Chayei Sarah with a group of guys from Neve Daniel. What a way to bring Matan's learning to life!!

This week, on our trip to the Negev, we took the opportunity to bring the Torah to life again by visiting Avraham's Well in the southern part of Beer Sheva. Again, Matan and Yehuda's minds were brought to new heights as they intelligently discussed the life of Avraham, the ancient history of the area and the significance of wells (and how to dig them).

They could certainly be learning the same information in school in America, but they would be learning it in a foreign language (English) and they wouldn't be able to walk out their back door to experience the land of their Forefathers.

Once again, we are left saying...only in Israel!

Chanukah Greetings from our Holy Home!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chanukah Sameach--5767

So, shame on us is definitely in order. I can't believe how long it's been since we've written,but hey, we've been very, very busy (moving, starting the school year and having a baby will do that to a family). So, we are finally trying to commit to check in every once in a while. It's Chanukah break for the boys right now and a few cute things have happened this week and a few meaningful ones as well.

First of all, we never mentioned that Eliav Yitzchak came into our lives on 4 Tishrei (September 26). He is a beautiful, sweet little baby and we are all thrilled to have him. We have to watch that the boys don't smoosh him with love - other than that, we haven't had any adjustment problems!

So, the boys were sitting around the other day drawing Chanukah pictures. There was music on and the song suddenly said, Nes Gadol Haya Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There. One of the very cool things about living in Israel during Chanukah is this saying. In the rest of the world when you buy a dreidel, you see that it says "A Great Miracle Happened THERE" and if you buy one in Israel it says, "A Great Miracle Happened HERE". We have discussed this with the kids a number of times, pointing out how cool it is that they live in the only place in the world where the miracle happened and where their dreidels say HERE and not THERE.

So, back to the story. The song said that the miracle happened there. Matan suddenly jerked his head up and said, "Hey - this song isn't from Israel. You know, Huda, we live in the place where the miracle was. The song should say "Nes Gadol Haya Po" and not "Nes Gadol Haya Sham". This is one little, amazing example of living a miracle and living in the midst of history. We are in THE place where all of this happened. We daven each day during the Chanukah and thank Gd for the miracles that happened on this holiday - that happened here - exactly in the land we are in. Even after two and half years here, this is still amazing to us.

We spent the day today enjoying a day of Chanukah break as a family. First we went to the Airforce Museum in Beer Sheva which was a great place. The boys loved looking at the planes and climbing in the old ones that were there for them. Afterwards, we went to Sderot for a brief solidarity visit. Sderot has taken the incredible brunt of the withdrawl from Gaza onto each shoulders having withstood a near constant rain of rocket attacks (numbering in the thousands) since the Disengagement was completed last September. Since there is no longer a buffer, or a group of Jews and army in Gaza, Hamas, Fatah (yes, those 'moderates' of Fatah are terrorists too) and Islamic Jihad have managed to send thousands of rockets into Israel. Sderot has taken the brunt of these attacks, and no one seems to be particularly outraged or willing to do much to stop the constant terror that they are experiencing (even during the current 'cease fire'). I read recently that the children of Sderot hadn't been allowed to a playground for over a month. Can you imagine?

Well, Yehuda's school has been collecting candy to send to the kids of Sderot and we figured that it would be nice to go there to show solidarity and to connect the place with the name for our children. Huda was very cute - he wanted to meet THE kids who received his candy. He didn't quite get the idea - but he was very earnest and wanted to talk to kids who needed comforting (of course he refused to say a word while we were actually there, but that's another story). We had a very nice lunch there and talked with a few locals about how tired and exhausted they are of the situation. May things improve soon.

Chanukah Sameach to you and yours!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Our Two Year Anniversary in Israel--We're at War...

We write from a country at war.

On Friday we celebrated the second anniversary of our Aliyah amidst a two front war to our North and our South. Rockets rained down on communities throughout the Northern tier of our country and on the small communities and cities that have the unfortunate luck of being situated too close to Gaza where they have been subjected to a continual onslaught of rocket fire for well over a year. Unfortunately, no one in the world cared about these attacks until a young man, Gilad Shilat, was kidnapped and hidden away in Gaza (where we hope he is still alive). This was a move which forced the government to finally send the IDF back into Gaza, just under a year after the same government ministers celebrated the Disengagement.

The rockets continue to fall, but at least the IDF is attempting to wipe them out (a little too late for the residents of the South, but a welcome move nonetheless). The terrorists to our North were so impressed by the Gazan terrorists' deed that they, too, decided to join the game, kidnapping two soldiers (Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser) from sovereign Israeli territory and killing 8 others.

What they didn't expect was that this move would bring the wrath of the Israeli military upon them. What they didn't count on was that the terminally divided people of Israel are still resilient in the face of attack and that this gross misjudgment of the Israeli government, military and people did what no Israeli leader seems capable of doing...bringing the people together as a unified nation.

What we didn't expect was that the world is largely letting us do what must be done to defend our national sovereignty. For an amazing analysis of this situation click here for a brief article written by an aqcuaintance in Efrat who has a very interesting view of the world. His analogy and analysis are crystal clear. Condi Rice, no great lover of Israel, has acknowledged that a cease fire will not solve the problem. Even Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the PA, who never miss an opportunity to find fault with Israel, have publicly criticized Hizballah for this misadventure. The supporters of Arab intransigence against Israel--Hizballah, Hamas, Syria and Iran--is a short list that most would like to avoid. The supporters of some type of compromise between Israel and the Arabs consists of virtually the entire world. Maybe, just maybe, the winds of change are starting to stir, although I expect this is unlikely.

In an ironic twist of fate, Gush Etzion and Efrat are currently hosting hundreds of residents of the North and serving as a place of refuge in the face of the onslaught in the North. Why ironic, you may be asking? Well, at the outset of the Intifada, Gush Etzion had its share of terrorist attacks and was a place where some wouldn't visit. Now, only 3-4 short years later we are suddenly seen as a 'safe place' and are pleased to welcome our brothers and sisters into our homes and our communities, providing them with food, shelter, activities for the children and, most importantly, a break from the stress of living under siege.

We had a remarkable interaction on Friday morning as we ran around doing our typical Friday morning errands around the Yishuv. We saw a friend who made Aliyah a couple of weeks after we did and he said with a trace of a smile, 'Hey, it's our first war!' On the surface this may appear crass, cavalier or insensitive; however, it perfectly captures the spirit of the Israeli people. When faced with adversity, we use a combination of gallows humor, resilience and an amazing ability to go on with our lives to the best of our abilities.

What did we do for our two year anniversary? Thankfully, we weren't huddled in fear or sitting at home riveted to the news...we took our kids, two olim and a sabra, to the zoo where they gleefully spent the afternoon watching the lions and tigers and bears, (Oh my), despite having spent the morning reciting tehillim (Psalms) for the safe return of our heroic soldiers and the quick end to our current hostilities. They understand the situation as best as two little boys can grasp it, but they are also able to move like the rest of their Israeli brethren.

Here's hoping that the end of this war brings peace and quiet to the people of Israel.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Our Visitors

Since we made Aliyah to Neve Daniel almost two years ago we have been fortunate to have many visitors--friends, family and acquaintances from our past lives have all come to see us in Neve Daniel. Some have come for Shabbat, others for just a few hours and others for a week or more. We have been thrilled with all of our visitors. We are very excited to have 3 different families visiting over the next few days (the Daroffs, our most frequent visitors; our old friends the Levi's, for their first visit to us; and Romi's younger cousin Amy and her husband who are visiting Israel for the first time).

Unfortunately, there have been a couple of friends (and some family) who have told us that they wouldn't be visiting us. We have been very pleased that this has only happened two or three times. This is always disappointing, but we also try to use it as an opportunity to educate our friends about why we chose to live where we live (and why we chose to make Aliyah) as well as a little about our area. In one case we actually had a friend who changed his mind and decided to come to visit after reading our response to him. I have decided to post our latest response to friends who are visiting Israel for the first time in years, but who decided to not come for a visit after initially saying that they would love to spend the day visiting our home and seeing Gush Etzion. They said that they promised their parents that they would only visit places 'in Israel', which was the driving force behind our response. The letter is posted below. I will say that they responded very thoughtfully and that we still hope to see them (although they won't be coming to visit us this time).

The letter follows (with very slight editing for added clarity):

We are very sorry to hear about your decision. We were very much looking forward seeing you after so many years and showing you our beautiful and historic area, our home and our community. We do still hope that we have the opportunity to see you....In light of your response we feel a sense of responsibility to explain our situation, choices and our area. Please know that we certainly understand and respect your right to make your own decisions and come to form your own opinions. I hadn’t thought much about mentioning exactly where we live for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t really have much of an impact on our thinking from a security perspective. We live here, work here, travel here, etc without thinking much about security. Second, you mentioned in your email that you were staying in Har Adar and traveling to Masada so the fact that we live over the Green Line didn’t appear to be an issue for you. Har Adar is over the Green Line as well (and abuts a number of Arab villages) and I believe you are staying there and were planning to visit us from there. In order to get to Masada you have to travel through the Shtachim (the Territories, West Bank or whatever else you want to call it). So, while you may not be exactly aware where you are going and what you are doing, your itinerary indicated to us that this wouldn’t be an issue. We moved to Israel for many quantifiable, ‘logical’ reasons (better Jewish education for our kids, more affordable quality education, a culture and environment that better fits our lifestyle and world view, etc); but at the end of the day, the major reason we decided to make Aliyah and cast our lot with Israel is ideological. We wanted to be ‘part of the action’, to play a role (however small) in the development and success of our country, the country to which our grand-parents and generations before them prayed to return…the only Jewish country in the world. For the first time since the First Temple period, over 2000 years ago, the largest Jewish community in the world is in Eretz Yisrael and we’re part of it…that’s why we came. We want our kids to grow up as proud, strong Jews who know what they stand for and are willing to make sacrifices for the good of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel), Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the People of Israel/the Jewish people).

We live in the highest Jewish community in Israel. It is from atop our mountain that Avraham Avinu and Yitzach first saw Har HaMoriah (now known as Har HaBayit/the Temple Mount). We live along what is known as Derech Avot (the Path of Our Fathers), which for millennium was the main path for Jews who were traveling from the south to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. A 15 minute walk from our house brings you to a Second Temple period mikve which was used for ritual purification for those on their way to the Temple. More recently, the heroes of Gush Etzion are credited with ensuring that Jerusalem would remain Jewish and part of Israel during and after the War of Independence in 1948; dozens were massacred by the Jordanian Legion after having surrendered, but also having successfully stopped the Legion’s march toward Jerusalem.

Our neighbors are high ranking government officials, well known media personalities, military officers, teachers, respected lawyers, doctors and university professors. Why am I bothering to tell you all of this? In short as an explanation of why we live where we live and also to help you to understand that we definitely DO live in Israel. When we were making the decision to make Aliyah in 2003, the situation was much different in Israel. The Intifada was still going strong, suicide bombers were common, etc. However, in America the situation wasn’t so great either. We had just finished two years in Washington filled with planes flying into buildings (9-11), poison in my place of work (Anthrax in the Capitol) and an insane guy killing ten people around the area for no reason (the infamous Washington sniper). My point, everyone has their own 'red lines' and makes their own decisions regarding safety and security. However, we have come to the conclusion that, while we wouldn't want to pick a fight with a gang member in LA or go for an afternoon in Ramallah, Jenin, Baghdad or any number of other places on Earth, it is very difficult to figure out where to draw these lines (beyond the obvious examples given above). There are probably lots of your friends and relatives who think you are crazy for coming to Israel at all. The reality here is that we have no idea which places are safe. Just last week there was a 12 hour ‘mini-war’ in the north which saw residents of communities in the north spend hours in their bomb shelters. There are rocket attacks on the Western Negev and Ashkelon on a daily basis. Baruch HaShem, few deaths and/or injuries have come from these regular attacks, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Like all Israelis, we live our lives to the best of our ability…day to day, week to week, month to month. While we try to be as safe as possible, we can't let our daily lives be dictated by evil people whose goal is to destroy our country and our people....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

It's All Smachot!

Generally speaking, people around the world have a view of Israel that has little correlation with the reality here. Admittedly, there are problems here. The people next door (not to mention a large percentage of the one billion plus Muslims around the world) would celebrate in the streets if we all decided to pack up and move. Unfortunately, not only would they celebrate, many of them are actively taking measures to 'encourage' us to give up the Zionist dream. Yes, there are divisions within Israeli society (religious v. secular; rich v. poor; left v. right; etc), but generally speaking we all get along alright on a day to day basis.

What most people around the world don't see in the news is that we live fairly normal, school, friends, malls, restaurants, etc. Most importantly is that we are still living life. For example, in the last four weeks I have attended 5 britot (bris/ritual circumcision). Heck in the last 3 days I have attended 2 britot, two bar mitzvahs, two Shalom Zachors (a small party on the first Friday night after the birth of a baby boy) and one hanukat habayit (the 'dedication' of a new home). In addition we have friends who, Gd willing, will be having a brit for their newborn son on Wednesday morning (making it 6 britot in 5 weeks) and another friend who is due to give birth any minute to the family's 9th(!!) child, so there may well be another brit in the next 8-10 days. To top it all off, we have a wedding on Tuesday night and Sting just performed to a standing room only crowd last Thursday night in Tel Aviv (although I think Sting was riding the coat-tails of Matisiyahu, who was the opening act).

So, in short, while terrorists are regularly shooting Kassam rockets from Gaza (thankfully both the terrorists and their rockets aren't particularly competent or effective at this point); Hizbullah is a regular threat on our northern border; and there is a mad man attempting to build nuclear bombs in Iran, we are still able to celebrate life's joyous occasions, big and small.

May we all know only smachot (joyous events) in the future.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Got Milk? Shavuot 5766

As I browsed the Jerusalem Post online this afternoon, I noticed a little article headlined 'Shavuot Triples Dairy Consumption'. This was indeed another little reminder that makes you stop to realize how cool this country is.

Traditionally Shavuot (which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai) is a holiday of dairy. Cheesecakes, special danishes with sweet cheese filling, sweet challah with cheese filling and many other one time a year offerings flood the bakeries of Israel. Given this minhag (custom) one would assume that dairy consumption would be noticeably higher in the days leading up to Shavuot, but three times higher?!?!? Wow, that is a lot of milk!

The article went on to tout Israel's dairy industry as the world's leader, more productive than even the famous dairies of the Netherlands. The average Israeli cow produced more than 10,000 liters of milk annually, far surpassing the world average (for comparison's sake the Dutch cows produce 8193 liters, US 8162 liters and Australian cows 3450 liters annually). Whatsmore, Israeli milk is higher in quality than milk throughout the world (measured by percent fat and protein in milk). The article even gave kudos to Israel's most productive cow, Noa of Moshav Zippori, who boasted 19,911kg of milk last year!!

Not that any of this is quite as exciting as putting in a man in space or the seventh game of the World Series, but it is just one more example of the kind of special place where we live. Not only does the newspaper have an article about dairy consumption around Shavuot but Israel is technologically far ahead of the rest of the world in yet one more industry...dairy cows!!!

Chag Sameach from the Land (literally) flowing with Milk and Honey!!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

58 Years & Counting--Yom HaAtzmaut 5766

Tuesday afternoon, we all walked up to the basketball court so that Yehuda could attend the rehearsal for the yishuv's Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAztmaut celebrations. The kids from the various ganim (3-5 year olds) were participating in the ceremony and Yehuda was ready to go. Led by some adult volunteer 'choreographers' the 50 or so kids who showed up obediently marched in circles waving little Israeli flags. Yehuda was quite proud of himself during the rehearsal and ready to get home to get into the requisite blue pants and white shirt of all Israeli celebrations.

A couple of hours later off we went for Yehuda's big debut (since Matan goes to school off the yishuv he wasn't participating). As the flag was raised from half-staff to its full height signifying the end of Yom HaZikaron and the beginning of Yom HaAtzmaut, the mood immediately changed as the 'yeldai ganim' (the children of the gan) were called up to start the festivities. Along with the other kids, Yehuda glowed with a sense of pride and excited to be participating in the festivities. The program moved on through the traditional Bnei Akiva flag routine, lighting of candles representing honoring different groups from the yishuv (olim, educators, military personnel, etc) and ended with a very nice fireworks display.

The ceremony was followed by a special Ma'ariv prayer service (tefillah chagagit) in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut. The thing about Yom HaAtzmaut in the States that rarely, if ever, is captured is the religious significance that our community (the dati leumi/modern orthodox community) places on the holiday and the founding of the State. In the wake of last summer's Disengagement the relationship between segments of our community and the State have been stressed and difficult, however, even with that tragedy so fresh in our minds it was amazing to be part of a spirited and intense davening that signified the belief that we have that the State of Israel's existance today is truly a miracle from Hashem.

After davening, the kids then grabbed a quick felafel and were off to see a mime who the yishuv had brought in for the evening. They sat for an hour completely transfixed and laughing along with the the other kids in the audience.

The following day found us in Tekoa, in Eastern Gush Etzion, where the regional council was sponsoring a big festival. There were moon bounces, arts and crafts and a wonderful exhibit put on by the army with jeeps, tanks, remote controlled bomb disposal robots, all sorts of guns and cool optical things (binoculars, etc). The kids had a great time and then we came home to host a barbecue at our house with two other families. For those who don't know, barbecuing is the official 'religious obligation' of Yom HaAtzmaut with every family in Israel partaking in a barbecue somewhere...they cover the parks and forests, the beaches and people's homes. You can't go nowhere in the country without seeing a barbecue nearby.

The big news this Yom HaAtzmaut is that Israel has officially become the world's largest Jewish community for the first time since the first century of the common era (see the Jerusalem Post article) . With the Jewish population in the US (and the rest of Diaspora) steadily shrinking, Israel boasts the only Jewish community in the world that is actually growing. Estimates are that within 20-25 years the majority of the world's Jews will be living in Israel. This news brought with it a certain sense of validation and triumphalism for the people of Israel who have been building up to this point for over 100 years. There have been ups and downs and many very difficult obstacles to overcome, but here we are in 5766/2006 as the largest Jewish community in the world. Who would have thought that what our grandparents and great-grandparents could only dream of we are living today? 5.64 million Jews working together (mostly) to build a country. We have our differences and arguments, but ultimately, we are all in this together.

Here's to a wonderful 59th year filled with joy, safety and many more olim.

Happy Birthday Israel!

PS-Mazal tov to our friend Aryeh Binyamin Levin on his Bar Mitzvah this week. We are sorry we are missing his bar mitzvah, but very much look forward to welcoming Ari and the rest of the Levins at the airport this summer when they arrive as olim!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yom HaZikaron-5766

At 8:00pm tonight the nation came to a standstill for the second time in a week. The siren blared signalling the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for our sons and daughters who have fallen in defense of our country and those civilians whose lives were snuffed out by terrorists. There are no big sales, in fact restaurants and shops are closed. This is as a solemn day as there is on the Israeli calendar. Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av (commemorating the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash-the Holy Temple) are sad days on the calendar, but they are religious holidays and for many, even religious people, they don't hit quite as close to home and many struggle to connect. Unfortunately, most of the country doesn't have that problem of connection on Yom HaZikaron. Almost everyone, from the newest immigrant to the family who has been here for generations is someohow directly linked to someone who has lost their life either through war or terror in the 58 years since the country was founded. This fact is illustrated by my experience at tonight's 8:30pm Maariv minyan. Usually there are 30-50 people at this minyan (there is also one earlier and one later minyan which attract even more people), but tonight there were 13. It immediately occured to me that everyone else must be at some type of ceremony or commemoration, either public or private, to remember Israel's fallen. In many cases the memorial is too close to home--a father, brother, cousin or best friend from the army.

It was almost exactly three months ago that Yoseph Goodman fell to his early death and we 'joined' a group that we would have been happy to avoid. On days like today there are names that pop into our heads as we remember the martyrs of Israel--Yoseph Goodman, Koby Mandell & Yosef Ishran, Yehuda Shoham, Tsachi Sasson, Dr. David Applebaum and, unfortunately many others. Today, I add another name to the list, Alex Singer.

Alex died on his birthday, September 15, 1981 when he was killed by terrorists in South Lebanon. An article appeared in today's Jerusalem Post which you can read here. His family just launched a website, to continue to use Alex's life to educate and inpsire others. I think grasping Yom HaZikaron and giving it meaning (especially for those who aren't in Israel) is made easier by personalizing the day through learning about one of our heroes. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read a little about Alex or any other hero of Israel.

Alex wrote to his brother Saul (a Jerusalem Post columnist) a few months before his death:

"The purpose of my aliya will be a combination of wanting a greater chance to make my Judaism one of joy rather than one of burdens, of wanting to be part of Israel's development both as a state and as a beacon, and of feeling that it is the duty of the individual Jew to help the Jewish people."
Like us, Alex chose to make Israel his home and to tie his destiny to the Jewish people. Even today, almost two years after we arrived, it is sometimes difficult to explain to friends and family who are still in the States, why we made Aliyah. I think this quote captures our sentiments beautifully.
Wishing that we never bury another soldier or innocent civilian and remembering Alex, Yoseph, Koby, David, Tzachi, Yehuda, Tzvika and too many others.
Take a moment from your day and hear our siren.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not without my Matza!!

Part of our pre-Pesach experiences was going to buy hand made shmura matza for the Seder in Mea Shearim. It was quite an adventure as we wandered (basically aimlessly) around Mea Shearim looking for matza bakeries that were open in the middle of the night. We walked miles (literally) getting a very nice tour of the alleys and hidden courtyards of Mea Shearim. Had our yiddish been a little better we may have reach our goal a little faster, but we did persevere and were eventually successful. I was going to write something on the topic myself, but my friend Jordan wrote a nice piece (see below) that pretty much captured the experience so I will let him speak for me, plus it is an easy way to get Amichai into a picture!

Hope all is well!

Crossing the Yarden
© Al HaMakom 2006
by Yarden Frankl

Hey Buddy, Got Any Matzah?

Since this year was our first Pesach in Israel, we decided that we had to do something extra special. Together with my friend who also made aliyah from our neighborhood in the "old country," we decided that we would have a late night tiyul to Mea Sharim. We would find an old guy with a long beard making matzah by hand. He would bless us for our decision and teach us some wisdom while we sat at his feet. So off we went.

Mea Sharim in the middle of the night two days before Pesach is a really neat experience. The streets are full and everyone is in a holiday, festive atmosphere. The Haredi are actually really nice when not rioting, and many responded helpfully to our queries for Matzah.

Everywhere we went we saw an unusual sight. Men and women of all ages were running around with metal hand carts, most of which were full of potatoes. Sacks and sacks of potatoes. Every so often we would see a little child guarding the family pile of potatoes while the other members of the family collected more. We rounded a corner, and there in the street were several vans in which guys were selling potatoes out of the back. People were just crowding round the vans hollering for their taters.

Then we came to a whole street that was blocked off. A sea of black hats crowded round huge trucks filled with one of the four major Pesach food groups: meat, eggs, carrots, and yes – potatoes. Imagine a 40 foot lift that has been used by a family of ten to make Aliyah. Now take out all the big American furniture and appliances and fill the space with eggs – get the picture?

Yet, we were on a mission to buy matzahs – not eggs or potatoes – and we would not be deterred. When my slow Hebrew did not seem to be making an impression on the Haredi crowd ("Slicha, Efo HaMatzot Chabibi?") I instead just nudged some kid with really long braided peyos and said "Hey buddy, I need some good matzahs if you know what I mean."

At first he looked either alarmed or confused, but then he started giving the typical directions that Israelis give when they have no idea what you have asked them "Yashar, yashar, yashar, yamina, az yashar")

Somehow we found a matzah bakery. Dozens of workers were rolling dough and throwing it in and out of the fire. Yet in response to my poignant request for some of the flat stuff the kid who seemed to be running the place just shook his head. Apparently, out of the ten thousand matzahs they were baking, they had none to spare. Of course, I did not make any friends when I took out my camera to grab a shot of the place. Hey, nobody told me that cameras can make graven images. (Message to Haredi guys – put "no pictures either" on the charming signs welcoming women to the neighborhood).

Now, it was getting real late. We had walked for miles and still had no matzahs. (Although we did get to see the world potato market at work). We were about to give up when we somehow actually found a place just as they were closing for the night. There was the really old guy with the long beard that we had been searching for. Although he wanted to go home for the night, we used our natural charm and skills of persuasion (in other words we begged). Surprisingly, he found a half kilo for us.

You would think that finding Matzah in Mea Sharim before Pesach would be like finding ice in Alaska at Chanukah. Yet sometimes things don't work out exactly as you plan. But I guess it's like the whole Aliyah experience, things may not be exactly how you imagined, but if you persevere, you will get what you need.

L'Shana Haba…. Po.

Shabbat Shalom from our blessed nation.

Yarden Frankl is the former Executive Director of the Torah School of Greater Washington. He made Aliyah in July 2005 and lives with his family in Neve Daniel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yom HaShoa

Today was Yom HaShoa. The first time that I experienced Yom HaShoa was 12 years ago when Josh and I were living here for the year. We had adopted an older couple in Kiryat Shemona who we visited often. On that day, I vividly remember the pale that set over their house. The news was on continuously and they were extremely somber. I had never met people who were so closely impacted and it left an impression on me.

Living in the States, a day like Yom HaShoa doesn't really have an impact. Here, I find that so much of our Judaism is tied up in the air we breathe. You don't even have to actively look for ways to celebrate or commemorate this or that - it's just part of life. Working in a school, I find that these holidays have even more impact, as there is always a program and a collective nature to the event.

So, today the entire school met in the auditorium for an assembly. I really didn't know what to expect. The pricipal had everyone stand at the beginning, and I couldn't understand what we were doing. Then I remembered - in Israel there is a siren that sounds in the entire country at the same moment for Yom HaShoa and Yom HaZikaron. It is one of the most intense and amazing things here. There we were, in this auditorium, standing silently listening to a two minute siren that was blaring across the entire country at the same time. That type of moment is really overpowering.

The assembly was breathtaking. The 7th grade girls did the entire thing with very powerful music, a lot of pantomimed scenes and a few voice overs. Throughtout the performance, I kept thinking - this is it. THIS is why I live here. I'm watching a recreation of an event that happened partly because we didn't have a state of our own to defend ourselves and flee to. I'm watching a recreation of an event that gave rise to the country in which I live. This is why I'm here. I remember going to Aushwitz years ago and breaking down in violent sobs. When? Not over the camp or the horrific images I saw there, but at the moment when I saw a huge group of Israeli teenagers draped in Israeli flags walking through the camp singing. They were telling the Nazis what they could do with their plan for the Jews - they were living, breathing examples of the potential for Jewish life and power. At the end of the ceremony today, the girls draped a huge Israeli flag over the traintracks that were on stage and then everyone stood to sing Hatikva. This is what it's about. This is why we are here.

Finally, I came home to find Matan and Yehuda having a very serious conversation this afternoon. Yehuda said to me that he had learned at school today about the very bad people that tried to hurt the Jews. Yehuda talked about what he understood, and Matan corrected him many times. I barely spoke. My 4 and 5 year old were discussing Hitler, the Nazis, the Jews who weren't able to escape and the destruction of Jewish life in Europe. Matan said, "Huda, this happened because there wasn't an Israeli army." Bless his heart. He's being taught that he lives in a country that protects its people and a country that fights for Jewish life and Jewish freedom. Amazing.

Our Pesach Break

Well, Pesach has come and gone and we enjoyed a great vacation together as a family. I was off for three weeks surrounding the Passover holiday and Josh worked off and on, but was able to spend a lot of time with us. It was really wonderful. Before Pesach, we heard from friends about a really cheap place to stay in Eilat. While Eilat wouldn’t have been our first choice, it sounded too good to pass up. And it really was! The hotel was right by all of the activity in Eilat and was an apartment hotel. So for about $50 a night, we had a kitchen, family room for the kids to sleep in and bedroom for us. It was perfect (except for Amichai waking up at 4:30 both mornings, but that’s another story!). We went to the aquarium, walked on the beach, went on a speedboat to see dolphins, and went to an interesting amusement park. The kids even got to go on trampolines where they were attached to rope and could swing in the air with glee – they were very excited! We arrived in a sand storm – something we had never experienced, even though we had heard about it while living on Kibbutz years ago. On the way down we stopped at kibbutz Revivim, where we met, to show it to the kids, and then we went hiking in a great national park on the way back and had a nice lunch at Yotvata Kibbutz.

After cleaning for Pesach and getting the house in order, we had a beautiful seder with the Frankls (reuniting with our Potomac tradition). Everyone came dressed as a part of the seder – Matan was Moshe Rabeinu; Jordan was Paroah; Miriam was Miriam; Yehuda, Rivka and Yedidya were all animals from the plagues, and I was darkness. It was very fun and an enjoyable and meaningful time. Next year with the Levins as well! (and anyone else who wants to join us : ) )! Saying “Next Year in Jerusalem” is so interesting when you live in Jerusalem and obviously has a different meaning for us now.

During Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days) Pesach we had four days to enjoy ourselves. We got the chance to see Deborah and Josh Wilbur and kids at a great monkey park near here. The monkeys were actually climbing right above our heads at one point, and the highlight of Yehuda’s day was getting peed on. What can I say? We briefly saw my brother and family while they were here for a bat-mitzvah and it was great to spend time with the little cousins. Another day we went to a deer park right by our house, another day we went to the beach with friends, and a final day we went shopping for furniture for our new house. Yes! We are actually moving in the next few months – yeah!

Now everyone has returned to school and life resumes. The next few months will be filled with crazy activity between Matan and my birthdays, Yom HaAtzmaut, Shavuot and other holidays, the end of the school year and the beginning of our packing and moving. We should be in by the beginning of July. We are starting to get quotes for some changes that we are doing to the house, and shopping for furniture. Many will be sad to know that our beloved green leather couch won’t fit in our family room, and so we are searching for a substitute. Is it really possible to have a Sussman house without that couch?!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thoughts on Election Day

Ever since I was a little boy I have liked election day. I always enjoyed going to the polls with my parents at the local elementary school and when it came time for me to vote on my own I proudly and consistently went to the polls, both in South Carolina and later in Maryland. I even hounded some of my more apathetic friends urging them to go vote. With all that said, today's elections were different for me. While I always felt that voting as a democratic ideal was important, voting in the States never felt quite as pressing and important as it felt today. In the States the choices of parties and candidates never struck me as particularly different. The majority of people feel no impact on their daily lives whether the Democrats or Republicans control Congress or sit in the White House. Here in Israel, the impact of an election can have a long lasting and drastic impact on the future of the State. Voting here seemed to have an existential any one vote could really make the difference in the future of the country and therefore in our lives.

After minyan this morning I walked over to the social hall where the polling for Neve Daniel was being held. I walked in, presented my teudat zechut (my national identity card), was given a small blue envelope with the menorah embossed on the outside and asked to step over to the little voting cubby. I selected the little slip of paper with the letters representing the party that I was voting for, slipped it into the envelope and, with a proud sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction, dropped my first ballot as an Israeli into the ballot box.

As I walked passed the people in the line who were waiting their turns, a couple of people jokingly asked me if I had said the shechiyanu prayer (the prayer of thanks said when reaching significant milestones). A number of Israeli friends and acquaintances asked me what it was like voting for the first time today, which made the day that much more special. It was nice to feel like our friends and neighbors understand the significance of our voting as Israelis for the first time.

At this point, it doesn't appear that the elections are going the way that we would like. However, regardless of the outcome, today we reached another milestone on our path of Aliyah and being Israeli.

May we all wake-up tomorrow to a new day and have our new leaders be blessed by Hashem with the wisdom and fortitude they will need to steer this little ship called Israel in the wild sea of the Middle East.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Belated Purim

Last week, as many of you no doubt are aware, was Purim. While Purim is a one day holiday, here in Israel (and especially in the environs of Jerusalem where the holiday is celebrated the day after Purim) this one day turns into a week of more of festivities. Sunday, was the official day of dressing-up at school. The entire country shows up at school dressed as soldiers, Superman, indians, Peter Pan, princesses (many, many, many princesses of all shapes, sizes and colors) and pretty much anything else you could imagine. Our boys dressed up differently each day of Purim. On Sunday they went as a dentist and a policeman, on Monday night (for the first reading of the Megillah, the story of Purim) they dressed as Power Rangers (and Amichai was Tigger) and on Tuesday the entire Sussman family dressed as members of the Israeli National Soccer team. We had an amazing Purim filled with activities, fun and friends.

We were talking to friends here in Neve Daniel about the differences between holidays in American and here in Israel. We realized that, at least for us, all of the holidays are special and feel more 'natural' when celebrated here in Israel, but the Purim really stands out. Unlike many other holidays where work is forbidden and there are special meals and tefillot (prayers), Purim does not have the prohibitions of avoiding work (like Shabbat and other holidays). This makes for an interesting dichotomy with the holiday's observance here and abroad. Here everyone is home from work (as it is essentially a national holiday) and the whole country, both religious and secular celebrates the holiday. In America the holiday often felt rushed as we would rush home from work to get the kids dressed before Megillah reading at night, get up early in the morning to deliver Mishloach Manot (one of the mitvot, commandments, of the holiday is to give small gifts to others called Mishloach Manot) to friends and to catch the second Megillah reading all before going to work so that you can rush back home to partake in the festive meal (seudah) that is also one of the mitzvot of the holiday. While all this is fun, there is a certain rushed quality to the holiday. In comparison, we were able to enjoy the entire holiday (all three days) at a nice relaxed pace. The yishuv sponsored a parade around the neighborhood with kids riding in the backs of pick-up trucks and trailers in the Purim finery, music blaring, candies being thrown from the roof of a truck (that was partly my job) and we had a great meal with friends (40 of us including kids all together) with good food, singing and a general festive atmoshpere.

It was our best Purim experience that we hope that our friends from abroad have the opportunity to share with us in the future.

Olmert's Arrogance

The following article appeared in Haaretz newspaper, which is widely known to have very left-wing views. Their editorial position has been against settlements and for complete withdrawal from all lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War (a position that, incidentally, is not in-line with the Israeli populace many of whom do want some sort of territorial compromise but does not seek to go back to the 1967 borders). The paper's general position makes the following article more remarkable as the author's position is clearly not in-line with the general editorial policy of the paper.

Hope all is well.

Olmert's arrogance
By Ari Shavit

In September 2000, the Palestinians began a terror offensive against Israel. They did this because they refused to accept the Camp David proposal, which promised them the entire Gaza Strip and 91 percent of the West Bank in exchange for full recognition of Israel and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Ehud Olmert is elected prime minister and implements his convergence plan, then in September 2010 the Palestinians will have sovereignty over the entire Gaza Strip and some 91 percent of the West Bank, and all this without recognizing Israel and without ending the conflict. Thus will the national Palestinian movement fulfill the objectives of its wars and obtain a full strategic resolution against the State of Israel. The history books will record Olmert's unconditional withdrawal as the unconditional surrender of Zionism. No, it will not be the end. But it will be the beginning of the end. While relying on big money on one side and big journalism on the other, Olmert will lead the country to the beginning of the end. At first glance, Olmert's plan appears enchanting - no fear, no hesitation, and very Israeli. Here, we'll take our destiny in our own hands. Within three years we'll evacuate some 80,000 settlers. Within less than five years, we will undergo a final disengagement from the Palestinians and converge within the borders of a flourishing lowlands country. We will surround our existence with a high wall, which will protect us from both the craziness of the Land of Israel and from the threat of Palestine. And so, in one term, we will isolate ourselves from all the sickness and terrors of the Middle East. So simple. So clear. How did we not think of this sooner. Why did we wait so long so that the man who saved Jerusalem could also save the State of Israel. However, on second glance it becomes clear that the Olmert plan has a small flaw: It has no Palestinians. This is a plan whose logic is simplistic and patronizing. This is a plan for Israelis only, which ignores its ramifications on Israelis. It takes an extreme unilateral position to the point of absurdity, totally ignoring the fact that the conflict is bilateral and the political reality is multilateral. The plan, then, is an arrogant one, and the hubris that characterizes it is no less than the hubris of the person who formulated it. What Olmert plans to do in the next few years is to establish an armed Hamas state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Via the nearly complete withdrawal, Olmert will promise Hamas almost total control in the Palestinian state for generations. The Palestine of Olmert will be hostile, dissatisfied and violent. Its founding ethos will be "We've chased them out of Ofra, we'll chase them out of Tzahala too." Since Olmert is establishing this country without first assuring its demilitarization, it will have significant military capability. Since he is establishing it without removing the right of return from the agenda, it will have a destructive claim against Israel, whose legitimacy is recognized by the international community. The combination of political sovereignty, military power and a commitment to demanding return will transform Olmert's Hamas state into one that will endanger the very existence of the State of Israel. Despite the irony, the convergence plan will not implement the Bush vision, but will destroy it. It will not build a stable two-state solution, but will create an unstable reality in which an Islamic Palestinian state systematically undermines the foundation of the Jewish democratic state. But it is not just the stability of Israel that Olmert is endangering. He is also endangering the regional stability. A Hamas state will accelerate Jordan's collapse. There is no chance that the Hashemite rule will stand up against a Palestinian state on its doorstep whose religious fervor has just subdued the Zionists. Egypt will also be threatened. A victorious Muslim Brotherhood republic that controls a third of Jerusalem and devours the Temple Mount will be the beacon of zealotry for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. And in Damascus. And in Amman. And Olmert will be supporting not only anti-Israeli terror, but also the anti-Western revolutionary movement. His radical unilateral process will disrupt the American strategy in the area and will bury U.S. President George W. Bush's dream of stability and democracy in the Middle East. The Land of Israel must be divided. The occupation must end. A two-state solution is necessary. But the Hamas victory has made a two-state solution more distant and more complicated. Olmert's convergence plan makes it impossible. Therefore, if the public gives him the chance to carry out his arrogant plan, then March 28, 2006, will go down in history. History will remember it as the day that did not bring peace and did not bring security, but began the end.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Adar - Purim For A Month!

Well, it's been awhile and we wanted to update everyone on life here as we head towards Purim. This country cracks me up. Everyone has told me in the school that Purim really takes over the whole month of \adar (usually around March). "What?" I've said with great confusion. "But Purim is only a one (or two) day holiday." Well, they were right. On the first day of Adar (the beginning of the month when Purim falls), I was in the middle of teaching my class when suddenly the door flew open and fifteen boys came in with hats and make-up and costumes singing a song about Purim. They proceeded to dance their way around the room and then leave. "Well, ok then," I said to the kids who seemed to know more than I did, "let's continue." As you can guess, this continued to happen many, many times during the lesson. After that, every class asked if they could make their own line and run around the school singing to other classes. And this was only the beginning - the very beginning.

The next day was considered the "real" Rosh Chodesh or the "real" beginning of the month and it was even wilder than the day before. Then, the next day, the school had paid for huge plastic inflatable bouncing things to be brought into the yard. They had a d.j. and free cotton candy, and each class got to leave their classes for 20 minute to have fun for the beginning of the month of Adar (mind you, Purim isn't until the 15th of the month!) While I was a bit overwhelmed by this activity and thought - come on, doesn't anyone learn - I also stepped back to enjoy the festivities. Kids here have a lot of pressures, and at times, know a lot of pain much earlier than we would hope. They do need a chance to enjoy themselves and to express their energy. And, why not do it in a Jewish way, other than the many different ways that kids have known to express themselves when left to their own devices? This is a great way to imbue them with a love of the Jewish holidays.

The next week in school, I arrived to find that the students had written a "treatise" of how we are to interact with them in the class. The principal allows them to do this for the month of Adar. I am to begin the class with a joke each day (I'm not funny!), to let them out early if I say "sit down" or "be quiet" and many, many other things. And Purim is still a week away!

The Purim spirit is felt around Israel as well. Everywhere we go there are costumes to buy. Our kids already bought their costumes and they mention, at least once a day, what they plan to be at school, at home, at the festive meal, etc. etc. Their classrooms are also decorated for Purim as castles. The kids have brought in their pillows instead of the chairs they usually use, they have created a thrown for the king, and have confetti paper everywhere. Every school really "gets into" the holiday feel from their dress to the make-up of the room. It's amazing.

Yehuda had his fourth birthday party at school last week. Josh made him a circus cake, as per his request and we did the usual party in school. They have a very set order of these parties in the Gan. Israeli schools all have the same tape of "birthday songs" and they do various games, dances, and activities with each song. It's very cute and fun to watch. Yehuda shared his birthday with his best friend Hanan whose birthday is 3 days before Yehuda's. They both seemed to have a really good time and Yehuda was happy as could be with his party and seemed none to worse off for not having a big extravagant party at home.

We had a great time meeting up with old Otzma friends last weekend. Derek and Jessica Smith were in town with a Pittsburgh mission and we went out to dinner together. We hadn't seen them in over five years, but we were remarking how nice it was to pick up where we left off and to feel so comfortable together. It was very nice to see them! Come visit us and we will get a babysitter and go out for a nice meal with you too : )

That's about it from here. Our jobs and the kids are keeping us very busy. Matan is going for his first belt in Karate soon. He's very excited about that. And, at school, he is receiving his first Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) in an elaborate ceremony that his school is putting on this Friday. We are very excited about it and excited for him. He takes school and learning very seriously. Amichai has started walking, finally!, and is enjoying his new freedom. He is adorable and sweet, when he's not tearing the house apart. Yehuda continues to be Yehuda - he's enjoying his school and his friends a great deal. We found Matan and Yehuda playing together in Hebrew for the first time last week. All of a sudden they switched from English to Hebrew while playing Peter Pan and it took us by surprise. Undoubtedly there will be more of that to come.

We hope everyone is doing well. We wish you a wonderful, happy Purim and a great month.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Kiddush in the Doar!?!

Along with the comings and goings of our family and the occasional 'political analysis' we always like to keep in mind those, 'only in Israel moments' and yesterday gave us a perfect example.

I have been making regular trips to the post office in Efrat lately to mail information packets for work and had noticed that the woman who is the most regular clerk at the Efrat doar (post office) was quite pregnant and looking ready to head to the hospital at any time. Yesterday morning I dropped off Romi at school and headed over to the doar to mail some packets before heading into work. I walked in and was struck by the array of baked goods, candies and drinks spread across the little ledge that is generally used to fill-out shipping forms and address labels.

'Hmmm, this is strange...the post office is not usually the place where one goes for a home baked snack.'

At first I didn't make the connection between the 'kiddush table' and the pregnant mail clerk and then I noticed a small handwritten 'Mazal tov' sign taped to the window where the clerk sits. This particular branch is run by a young couple (the pregnant woman and her husband) and the husband was happily sitting there doing the work of the post office. Everyone who came in wished him a mazal tov and some even walked behind the counter to give him hugs and kisses. Then a loud commotion came from the back and a small group of men could be heard singing and celebrating as they made their way from the back of the post office into the public area in the front...

The husband smiled and continued going on with his business as if this was all quite normal, encouraging everyone who came in to mail a letter or pick-up a package to have a quick snack and join in his simcha!!

I have visited many, many post offices all over America and even some in Europe and I am quite confident that this type of thing could only happen in Israel where the simcha (joyous event) of one person the the simcha of everyone.

Mazal tov on the birth of your daughter Yael and husband (I don't know his name)....may she grow to build a bayit ne'eman v'yisrael and give you much nachat!

Thanks for bringing simcha to the simple act of going to the post office.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Where's the Balance?

As Muslim protests over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Denmark and Norway grow more violent, I continue to return to one simple question...'where's the balance?'

What do I mean? Not a day goes by when virulently anti-Semitic cartoons depicting Jews in the most obscene, grossly stereotypical ways do not appear in the Arab and often in the European press. Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias in the media has become so widespread that a cottage industry of organizations (Honest Reporting, MEMRI, The Israel Project and more) have cropped-up over the past five years whose sole goal is to fight this scourge.

Never once have have crowds of Jews massed outside of Arab or European Embassies demanding that the people responsible be beheaded (as happened in Pakistan today); or threatened to kidnap citizens of a particular country if there wasn't an official apology issued by the government of the offending paper (as happened over the weekend in Nablus); or torched 'the offending' foreign embassies (as happened in Beirut and Damascus).

Where is the US State Department who said today, 'The publication of cartoons that incite religious or ethnic hatreds is unacceptable' when the incitement is against Jews and Israel? Why is it that followers of Islam are allowed to regularly incite against Jews and Christians, publish violent threats and carry out religious base violence against others but when the shoe is on the other foot, the world is asked to apologize?

Does no one see the hypocrisy? Where's the outrage? Unfortunately, I only have the questions and am left wondering as no-one seems to have the answers.

Friday, February 03, 2006

And the Angels Wept....

Upon waking and checking the e-mail this morning at 6:30am I was stunned to learn of the death of First Sergeant Yoseph Yitzach Goodman z'l (Yoseph Yitzach ben Chanah v'Mordechai). We know Yoseph's parents and Romi teaches two of his siblings in Efrat, so when I told Romi she was quite shaken. Our plans for the day were immediately shelved and we headed off to the funeral in Efrat.

Yoseph, 20, was killed in a tragic training accident when his parachute became entangled with that of another paratrooper. Yoseph was unable to release his emergency chute and fell to his death (see article in the Jerusalem Post). Yoseph was a member of an elite paratrooper unit and it was clear from the outpouring at his funeral that he was loved by all.

We arrived at the shul in Efrat which was full to well beyond capacity; however, like the Beit haMikdash during festivals, the shul seemed to miraculously expand to ensure that there was space for everyone. The members of Yoseph's unit entered and took up positions lining the wall of the bimah (pulpit) at the front of the shul. The site of these young men (most look more like boys) stoically standing there as they mourned the loss of their friend and colleague brought tears to my eyes.

Yoseph's parents are among the earlier families to settle in Efrat and they own the local pizza place. We first met his mom a month or two after we made Aliyah when we were eating at their restaurant and she took the time to come over to chat with us. Some of you may recall the story of a nice woman making Romi a 'glossary' of Hebrew terms that she may need during labor and delivery (being the mother of 9 she had quite a bit of experience in that department)--well, the woman was none other than Ann Goodman.

We later met Mordechai Goodman, Yoseph's father, in ulpan in Gush Etzion. Mordechai is a bit of local legend for his athletic exploits in the American Football League here in Jerusalem and for being 'the Pizza Guy' in Efrat. After being in Israel for over 20 years Mordechai had re-enrolled in ulpan to work on his Hebrew and it was a pleasure having him in class and being exposed to his unique view of the world.

Mordechai and Ann spoke beautifully at the funeral in shul. Mordechai spoke of the time when Yoseph was 3 or 4 and some kids came to tell Mordechai that he was in a field collecting rocks in a bucket. When Mordechai approached him to ask just what he was doing, he simply replied, 'I heard that the Arabs are throwing rocks at Jewish cars so I am collecting rocks and we are going to go throw rocks at Arab cars'. Yoseph's leadership, dedication and love for Am Yisrael were apparent at an early age and it took some doing for Mordechai to explain to him that is not how they were going to handle the situation. Mordechai then went on to ask the question that all parents who lose a child must ask of HaShem...why couldn't I have the choice to give my life and let me son live? The question brought the heretofore quiet sniffling to grow to loud sobs from around the room.

Ann's speech was unbelievably touching. She said that she wanted to say only three things. 1) She loved Yoseph and he was all that a mother could ask for in a child. 2) She thanked Hashem for giving her 20 beautiful years with her boy. 3) She asked Yoseph for forgiveness for anything that she had done wrong to him in those 20 years.

After the eulogies were complete, the entire assembly followed the Goodman family out to the truck where the simple coffin sat draped in the blue and white of the Israeli flag in the back of a military transport truck. As Mordechai loudly and clearly recited the Kaddish it started to slowly drizzle and thousands of people silently walked behind the truck, escorting Yoseph out of Efrat. The prossesional continued via car to the military cemetery at Har Herzl, the final resting place of Israel's heroes. As we slowly continued on to Har Herzl, the rains strengthened and were mixed with hail and ice as we all ascended the mountain through the rain and mud. It appeared that all of the 1500-2000 people who were at the funeral in Efrat had continued on to the burial at Har Herzl and were joined by hundreds of clean cut young men and women of the paratroopers in their maroon berets and brown boots.

Brig. General Elazar Stern, head of military manpower, spoke beautifully, Mordechai again recited Kaddish and then we were shaken as the military rites of the 21 gun salute broke the silence of the assembled mourners.

The scenes we saw today are something we hope to never have to see again, but the warmth and love expressed by an entire community was something to behold as we said goodbye to a special young man--a loving son, a respected big brother and friend and a hero of Israel.

May we only know simchas.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, January 05, 2006

...and the music played

Today was the day that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled to have angioplasty to close the small hole in his heart that was said to be the source of his 'very minor stroke' of two weeks ago. Instead the country awoke to reports that the PM was still in surgery for a major stroke suffered while he was on his way to the hospital late Wednesday night. All in all Sharon was in surgery for over 9 hours as the neurosurgeons attempted to stem the massive hemorrhaging taking place in his brain. The PM is now in a chemically induced coma which will last at least 24 hours and maybe more. His days in government are clearly done and the country is now suddenly faced with a very new and different reality.

The radio stations were filled with solemn songs throughout the day and the country is in a somber state, with news and discussions dominated by talk of the PM condition as well as likely governmental and election scenarios over the coming weeks and months.

Ariel Sharon is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the country and has been for the last 50 years. Founder of the mysterious 'Unit 101' which specialized in raids against terrorists in the 1950's and integral figure in the formation and development of the legendary Israeli paratroopers, his methods were oft ridiculed and called into question and almost always outside the box. Despised by the Left for his role in the Peace for the Galilee War in the early '80s and for his central role in the creation and support for West Bank and Gaza settlements; in the last 2 years the roles were reversed and he became despised by the Right for his sudden reversal and abandonment of Gush Katif. Even today, as the person who has shifted dramatically to left many have still not been able to completely embrace him and are unable to look beyond the past that they so despise. So, while his party was expected to be swept into office...he was still not a loved figure.

Despite his controversial persona the country is now rallying around the call for tefilla (prayer) on his behalf. While many disagree with his policies, both old and new, most acknowledge that he has contributed much to the success of Israel over the past 57 years and pray on his behalf as a hero of Israel regardless of his political policies.

Here's praying that Ariel ben Devorah (Ariel son of Devorah) sees a speedy and full recovery.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Surprise in the Shadows of Smokestacks

For the first time since we made aliyah 18 months ago, the parents Sussman (that's Romi and Josh for the uninitiated) went away for a brief mini-vacation, thanks to the visit of Grandma and Grandpa Sussman. We spent the night in a nice little hotel in Zichron Yaakov. About 30 km south of Haifa, the picturesque small town sits on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. Zichron is one of the earliest permanent settlements built during the First Aliyah in the late 1880's and 90's and they have done a wonderful job of restoring some of the original homes and creating a nice pedestrian area in the center of town. We had a really nice time shopping, eating in the sidewalk cafes and visiting the very well-done museums in town (one on NILI the WWI spy ring centered in Zichron and the other about the First Aliyah whose members founded Zichron along with numerous other agricultural settlements, many of which were sponsored by Baron de Rothschild). We also took in a really interesting tour of the Zichron (Carmel) Winery, the first in Israel and still the largest in the Middle East (which even the tour guide admitted wasn't the biggest feat on earth given the muslim prohibition against alcohol production and consumption).

The next day we drove a few minutes to see the amazingly intact Roman aqueduct on a public beach in Caesarea (see the picture above), then meandered through the beautiful neighborhoods of Caesarea. On the way out of town, we stopped to pick-up a quick soda at a gas station and were shocked when we saw a sign for a kosher sushi restaurant attached to the gas station. A bit sceptical at first, we went in to investigate a bit more. The inside was very nice and newly re-done in traditional 'sushi restaurant' motif, sushi bar and all. We immediately scrapped our plans for an early dinner on the beach in Netanya for a lunch of delicious sushi. The sushi was fresh, good and quite moderately priced!! We spent the whole meal celebrating our little find and trying to figure out just how cool it is to be able to eat kosher sushi on the side of the road in the shadows of the famous smokestacks of the power plant in Hadera. Our trip was officially topped off by lunch and we then drove around the fancy neighborhoods of Herzilya Pituach and wandered on the boardwalk in Netanya before returning home.

As I wrote to a friend yesterday, this trip reminded us of the majesty that is living in Israel in our homeland. While we enjoyed our travels in America visting New York and Boston, Williamsburg and Philadelphia and all the other wonderful places and sites that America has to never moved the spirit like travelling through Israel does. In Israel we are visiting our history, the history of the Jews--both ancient and modern. We learn of the heroes of Zionism, who sacrificed more than any of us can contemplate, who built this country by reclaiming the lands from centuries of neglect in conditions beyond terrible. When we travel our land we are touched by the beauty and the history of a land that is ours and that speaks to our souls.

We look forward to sharing our land with anyone who wants to come for a visit (and anyone who wants to come to stay!)