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 feeling...like 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 ever...an 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.