Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Amazing Role Models

In the last few weeks, we have been privileged to be at some amazing events. I find our friends are constantly teaching us about parenting, about friendship and about strength. These few weeks have really been an example of that.

Two years ago, as I've written many times, a four year old boy in the yishuv died in an accident at his house. He was very good friends with our son and there is a beautiful park in the yishuv in his memory. So, they had a baby last month. It has been amazing watching them bring another child into the world after such a tragedy and seeing how they've dealt with it. They had a Simchat Bat last Friday, an event for a girl to celebrate her birth. It was in their backyard on a beautiful day. They had put up a large tarp to create shade and had a beautiful food display. It felt like a breath of fresh air - a chance to celebrate with them in a house that has experienced such a tragedy. The father spoke beautifully about turning pain into joy and about the name they gave the baby which roughly translates to mean "a song of praise to Gd".

We are all given choices in life. Some of us have to deal with larger issues than others - but we all choose how to deal with them. It has been truly amazing to see this family rise from their shiva to create a park and a Shabbat children's program in memory of their son, and then to watch them have enough faith to try again - and to praise Gd with the name they've chosen for their beautiful little girl. May they know only joy from her.

We also just experienced our friends' daughter's bat mitzvah. They had close to 50 family members in from the States for the event and it was amazing to watch them all interact. The bat mitzvah itself was lovely - but it wasn't the thing that struck me, per se. The mother cooked Friday night dinner, Shabbat lunch, a huge kiddush for the entire community, and Seudat Shleesheet for over 50 people. And she did it all with such happiness and gratitude. Many people would be very stressed and overwhelmed with this task - and she was stressed, of course. But, there was so much love in their family all weekend and such an overwhelming appreciation for family. All of these people came from the States - not one person in their family lives here. And while it's expected that the parents will be here for an event of this sort, it's not always assumed that siblings will have the time, money or interest to come. And yet, all 8 siblings (3 on one side and 5 on the other) picked up with their families and came here to be with them for the bat mitzvah. This family also happens to have experienced the tragic loss of a child a number of years ago, and this milestone must have been mixed with a certain amount of sadness and longing for them. And yet, they showed so much joy and strength the entire weekend - it was truly beautiful to see.

We have amazing role models in our lives who keep us grounded and help us to keep our focus. That's really one of the most amazing things we've found here in Israel. We hope to have half the strength that we see in some of our friends!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

When Fireworks Make You Cry

I'm a complete sucker when it comes to Yom Ha'Atzmaut here in Israel. I always - and I mean always - cry at these performances. If you were here, you'd understand how out of place crying is - but I just don't seem to be able to help it.

Israel has an amazing tradition for Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Day) of having these events back to back. That means that last night and today was a very solemn day here when we pay our respects to those who have died creating and building this country for us. Many people go to the graves where the soldiers are buried, and there are performances in school, gifts sent to soldiers who come to class, etc.

Then, as the evening comes, Memorial Day turns to Independence Day. What was solemn and reflective turns celebratory and festive. It's an amazing idea and an amazing way to live really. Recognizing those who have given their lives for the country, and moving directly from that to the joy for which they sacrificed.

So, we have a very sweet ceremony in the yishuv for these events. At about 7pm they started and said a number of things about the soldiers who have died and been hurt for the country - and those who have been in terror attacks. Then, they honor about 10 people from the yishuv for various things they've done to help the larger community. Each one is called up and lights a candle.

And then they turn from the solemn feeling to a festive one. The kindergarten kids (including Yehuda this year!) did a cute performance to a song about Israel. Yehuda practiced for days with his group and they did a great job. Then, the 7th grade kids have a flag dance that they do every year and that they see as a great honor. They dance with Israeli flags and I always get choked up - those will be our kids someday and they are dancing about their country and celebrating the freedom to live here as modern Jews in Israel.

Then, to finish off they have a great fireworks display. The event always hits me and represents our aliyah to me. There we are - standing together with our entire community - celebrating something that was such an unimaginable dream just 60 years ago. And our kids are part of it and are growing up here with these passionate beliefs about their country and their people.

When you see fireworks on the 4th of July, it doesn't choke you up, per se. They are pretty and fun - but they don't have much meaning beyond that. When you stand together here and look out at the mountains of our ancestors, and watch fireworks that represent our struggles - your neighbor's struggles - struggles that are so fresh and so recent - it means something entirely different. And that is the meaning of our aliyah. Those fireworks, and the chance to celebrate here in Neve Daniel, is why we moved!

Happy Birthday Israel. Here's to another 60...and 60 after that...and 60 after that...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Yom HaShoah 2008

This small country of ours truly never stops amazing me. I knew that it was Yom HaShoah today – I sent one of my kids to school in blue and white with a yellow Jewish star that he’s going to put on later for a performance they are doing. And obviously it’s all over the news, the internet, etc.

And yet….and yet…at 10:00 I was standing in my kitchen about to make a snack when the siren rang. That siren. It’s got to be the most piercing thing that I’ve ever heard in my life. I hung up the phone, stopped preparing my food and just stood there. I was thinking about the fact that here I am – in 2008 in my kitchen in ISRAEL. How unreal would that have seemed in the barracks at Auschwitz that I could be in my kitchen 65 years later in Israel? I’m free. I live in a Jewish country – a Jewish country – with a beautiful house, children who are learning about their heritage in school, a job, and a tree in the front yard that is large enough that it’s had almost 10 uninterrupted years to grow and flourish. It’s truly a modern miracle – this state that we are living in.

Josh and I went to Auschwitz years ago. It was, obviously, a very difficult experience. I was able to hold it together in general – except for one thing. When we entered the area, we saw a large group of kids who had come from Israel. They were covered in Israeli flags and were carrying huge flags with them. I was completely and totally overcome and almost had to leave. What a strange reaction, you might think. We didn’t live in Israel yet, but that moment – that image of the kids – screamed out to the Nazis and to the area “Screw You! You didn’t kill us all. We are here and we’re building a country and we are connected to our heritage and you didn’t win.” It was completely overpowering for me – it was like the siren. Perhaps it was one of the many signs that led us, eventually, to move here. So that our children will carry that flag one day and will continue to show the Nazis – the Arabs – anyone who wants to kill us all – that they won’t win and that we will remember the past and fight for the future.

That siren travels right through your body. It’s even more amazing if you are out in a busy area and suddenly everything – everything – comes to a standstill. But, even in my kitchen, all by myself, I feel it move right through me. I feel the entire country – from babies to the elderly – standing still and thinking about their ancestors who suffered so much and fought so bravely so that I could stand in my kitchen in Israel on this day. And I felt the baby moving inside of me – the life that is kicking and growing and getting ready to shine – the Israeli life that is going to continue in spite of what was done to us – and what some people in the world are continuing to try to do to us. It’s amazing. It’s Israel.