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 lives...work, 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!!