Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cucumbers, Memories and Pain

On March 7, 2008, Neve Daniel woke up to an SMS on our cell phones. When I read the Hebrew message, it simply didn't make any sense and I assumed that my issue was with my poor Hebrew.

It was not.

The message stated that the funeral would take place that afternoon for Segev Avichayil and it provided other details. It simply didn't make any sense.

What funeral? What could they possibly be talking about?

When I called my neighbor to ask for a translation, he offered me the same translation that I had already made for myself. And then, holding back tears, he said that he had to get off the phone and figure out what was going on.

We would soon learn that a terrorist had stormed into the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, just as the boys were finishing their learning and preparing for a party to usher in the festive month of Adar, when Purim falls.

We would soon learn that we had lost one of our very own Yishuv members, a 15 year old boy named Segev P'niel Avichayil.

I didn't know Segev's parents before the massacre and I haven't gotten to know them since. They are extremely quiet, unassuming people, and I can't imagine what they have endured.

Their daughter is in my son's 4 year old nursery class, and I often want to cry when I see the mother, Moriah. I wonder, to myself, what she must experience on a daily basis and what it means for her to carry on.

So, today when I saw her in the grocery store in the Yishuv, I gave my cursory smile and moved on with my typical heavy heart.

And then, as I was buying apples, I heard the news program come on the radio. Usually, the grocery store plays music, but today they had some type of a talk show on instead. And as I selected my produce, I heard them mention the Mercaz HaRav massacre in the context of the recent tragedy in Itamar. As they slowly said the names of the 8 boys who were murdered in the Mercaz HaRav shooting, I dropped my apples and stood there...paralyzed.

What in the world, I thought to myself, could Moriah be thinking right now? She had come to the store to get cucumbers, cheese, apples and bread; did she really need to be reminded at absolutely every turn of her son's murder? Was this what life was like after such a horrific event?

I left my cart and my groceries, and started to look for her in the store. In retrospect, I have no idea what I was going to say, but I felt that I needed to see her and that I needed to make sure that she was alright.

It's not a large store.

She was nowhere in sight.

I did, however, find her half-filled cart abandoned in the aisle.

The names may fade for many of us.

The individual acts of terror may become a blur.

But for those who are affected; for those who endure unspeakable loss, even the act of buying cucumbers becomes loaded on a daily basis, forever, with inescapable memories and pain.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The List Continues....

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? I certainly do. I can tell you ever moment of that day and the next.

Do you remember where you were on:

January 1, 2001 when car bomb exploded in Netanya? Or on February 8, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Jerusalem? Or on February 14, 2001 when a bus plowed into soldiers in Tel Aviv? Or on March 1, 2001 when a bomb exploded in a taxi? Or on March 4, 2001 when a bomber exploded himself in Netanya? Or on March 27, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Talpiot? Or on March 27, 2001 when a bomb exploded in French Hill? Or on March 28, 2001 when a bomber exploded himself at a gas station in Jerusalem? Or on April 22, 2001 when a bomber exploded himself in Kfar Saba? Or on April 23, 2001 when a car bomb exploded near Ben Gurion Airport? Or on April 29, 2001 when a car bomb exploded close to a school bus near Nablus? Or on May 8, 2001 when Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran were stoned to death in Tekoa? Or on May 18, 2001 when a bomber exploded himself in Netanya? Or on May 25, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Hadera? Or on May 27, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Jerusalem? Or on May 30, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Netanya outside of a school? Or on June 1, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up at the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium? Or on July 2, 2001 when two bombs exploded in Tel Aviv? Or on July 16, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up in Binyamina? Or on August 8, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up near B'kaot Moshav? Or on August 9, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up at Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem? Or on August 12, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up in the Wall Street Cafe in Kiryat Motzkin? Or on August 21, 2001 when a bomb exploded in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem? Or on September 4, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up near the Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem? Or on September 9, 2001 when a suicide bomber blew himself up near Nahariya? Or on September 9, 2001 when a car bomb exploded near Netanya? Or on October 1, 2001 when a car bomb exploded in Talpiot? Or on October 7, 2001 when a bomber exploded himself near the entrance of Kibbutz Sheluhot in the Beit She'an Valley? Or on November 29, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up on the Egged 823 bus near Tel Aviv? Or on December 1, 2001 when two bombers blew themselves up on BenYehuda Street in Jerusalem? Or on December 2, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up on Egged bus No. 16 in Haifa? Or on December 5, 2001 when a bomber blew himself up on King David Street in Jerusalem? Or on December 9, 2001 when a bomber exploded a bomb in Haifa?

This is only the partial list of terror attacks experienced by Israelis in 2001. No one could possibly remember where they were on the day of each of these incidents - the idea of it is simply absurd.

And yet.

This is our LIVES.

It is hard, if not impossible, to make people around the world understand what we endure in Israel each day. September 11th was a horrific, bone-chilling, despicable act. It sent America reeling and dramatically changed American foreign policy, immigration standards, airplane regulations and more.

Look at the list above from Israel. This is what Israel experienced during the same year when September 11th occurred. It's almost unimaginable. Actually, as I sat down to write the list, I had no idea that it would be this long. I started copying events from the year 2001, and after awhile I thought, "Oh come on! It simply can't keep going and going and going."

But it does.

And we, unlike anywhere else in the entire world, are expected to live with it. And to figure out civil ways to respond.

One of my friends wrote a blog yesterday about how his daughter can't sleep and that, while he isn't being stopped by terror, she is. And that it's completely unacceptable.

Well, you know what? I'd like to say that I'm not being stopped by terror either and that I'm sleeping well in my home and functioning just fine.

But I'm not.

My kids aren't scared, although I'm not sure why. And I don't let them see my fear. But I am scared.

And that fear enrages me.

Why should I be made to be fearful in my homeland? Why should I have to think about anything more mundane on a given day then how to pay for my son's orthodontist bill?

Before we made Aliyah, there was a sniper who wreaked havoc on our lives in Washington, D.C. for three weeks in the Fall of 2002. It was a completely debilitating and terrifying time.

When we were discussing making Aliyah about a year after the sniper incident, my very wise father pointed out to me that I had been completely terrorized by the sniper. How, he wanted to know, was I going to function in Israel when this type of terror was the norm?

He had a very good point.

My answer then, and my answer now, was that being in Israel and being part of the continuing history of the Jewish people and the building of the State of Israel simply had to override my fears.

So, I live with my fears because my presence here matters. It matters every day and every minute that I continue living here and functioning, despite the best efforts that these terrorists make to paralyze me.

And while I'm afraid when these incidents occur, and furious that I'm made to feel afraid, my life continues.

Right after the bus bombing yesterday, I sat down and wrote a Facebook post that clearly struck a nerve and went viral (to my utter surprise). Before I knew it, I was seeing the post on my friends’ FB pages and then on their friends’ pages as my message of frustration spread across the world. The post said:

"News flash: Family in Potomac, Maryland massacred in their sleep, bomb hits outside D.C. convention center injuring dozens and killing at least one; dozens of bombs continue falling in Fairfax, Virginia. Do I have your attention? Is this completely insane and far fetched? Then why is it commonplace here??????"

Why, indeed. When will it end?

I don’t know.

But, what I do know is that, while I'm fearful, I'm not paralyzed by it. I am, instead, propelled by my anger and outrage. I am amazed by how strong Israelis continue to be in the face of the unimaginable and I am, as always, committed to staying and to building this beautiful and important Land.

Some of us may be scared. But, what we aren't doing is leaving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hands-Down, the Best Day of the Year

There is simply no better day each year than Purim - and there is nowhere in the world like it in Israel. It is hard to convey what Purim is like here to someone who hasn't experienced it, but I'm going to give it my best effort.

I think Purim may be one of the best examples of how living in Israel allows us to live a full, rich Jewish life. When we lived in Potomac, I remember desperately trying to FIT Purim into my busy work schedule. As a public school teacher, I would get up at 6:00 in the morning on Purim day, drive around the neighborhood like a maniac delivering Mishloach Manot (small packages that people deliver to each other for Purim), race to school to teach, and then try to figure out how to get to a Megilah reading. One of the requirements for Purim is to hear the entire Megilah read at night and in the morning from start to finish without missing any words. I remember a few years when I left my classroom and raced to the nearby shul to listen to Megilah. As the minutes ticked by, I realized that my next class was about to start...and that I wouldn't be able to hear them finish the reading.

Then, when school ended, I would run home to change into a Purim costume and to join the family for the Seudah (traditional Purim meal). It always felt rushed and it always felt like my Jewish life and my professional life were in conflict and that I was desperately, and inconveniently, squeezing my Jewish life in around my "regular" life.

Now, those two things have become one. Here, in Israel, we BREATHE Jewish life. You'd have to be living in a very deep hole not to know that it's Purim.

In contrast to my life in America, here is how Purim looks in Israel.

On the first day of the month of Adar (two weeks before Purim!) the children start to get ready. There is singing and dancing in all of the school; kids come bursting into each other's classrooms singing Purim songs; and the oldest kids in the school write new "rules" for the school that everyone follows. These include things like allowing the kids to eat in class, allowing them to discard their uniforms for two weeks, outlawing homework, etc.

Then, when Purim finally arrives, the children all dress up in school.

They dress up again at night for the first Megilah reading.

Then, the next morning, they dress up again (are you seeing a never-ending pattern here?) for Purim day and for the second Megilah reading. We always dress up as a family, tying our Purim costume and our Mishloach Manot together. So, this year we were bakers from Krispy Kreme.

Josh and I spent all day Friday frying up 600 donut holes that we then glazed on Sunday and got ready to hand out.

We set up a shop in front of our house with hot coffee, ice choco and donuts and were ready for Purim business. The streets were packed all morning with kids delivering goodies to each other, with parents driving around in costumes and with music blaring in the streets.

We have a tradition on our street, started by an enthusiastic neighbor, to set up speakers outside with Purim music and to dance in the street, offering small shots of alcohol to the drivers trying to get by us. This year, an army truck came down the street and the collective group of us burst into applause and dancing.

We stopped their truck and opened the back doors, only to find a soldier already wearing a Purim mask.

As Josh remarked, "Only in Israel...only in Israel." The soldiers all got out of the truck and proceeded to dance in the street with us, to sing songs, and to happily, even giddily, accept our donuts and ice choco. Eliav, who is four, asked if they were in soldier costumes. "No," I said, while laughing, "They are soldiers, honey!"

When the dancing finally died down and all gifts had been delivered, it was time for the traditional Seudah. On Purim, one of the other obligations (along with hearing Megilah, giving charity, and giving small gifts of food) is to sit down to a festive meal.

We ate with a whole collection of our friends. We were a group of 20 people from 4 months to 60 years (or so); some more religious than others; some very old friends of ours and others people we just met; all happy to be together and to drink, eat, and sing in joyous unison.

It simply doesn't get much better than this.

And, of course, no Purim would be complete in my house without my sugar-induced, costume-wearing, energized children discussing NEXT year's costume before the sun even sets on this year's Purim.

We're ready...only another year, minus one day...and counting....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's Simply What We Do

Since last Saturday night, when I heard about the Fogel massacre, I have found myself living two lives.

My children are getting ready for Purim; they are excited and full of anticipation. We laugh, we bake, we put together costumes and we prepare for the big day. Each afternoon, when I arrive at Gan (nursery school), my little ones are dressed in yet another adorable costume.

And yet...

The other side of me is holding back tears all day. I find myself drinking in Yakir's baby smell, unable to get enough of him or to hold him tightly enough. I think of baby Hadas when I see him and I can't shake the image of her, or of what was done to her as she cuddled in bed with her father.

I've been going into my children's rooms at night, simply to hear them breathe as they sleep.

In the face of such unbelievable hatred, I've tried to focus on the good this week. To pick myself up with what inspiration there is to find in such a dark time.

Here is what I have found this week.

Rami Levi, one of the owners of the larger grocery store chain the country, has been delivering food to the shiva house all week. He's filling the cabinets and keeping the hundreds of visitors fed. And, when a relative thanked him, he said that they should get used to seeing his face - because he would be visiting the orphaned children every week with groceries until the youngest turned 18.

That's simply what we do.

A Palestinian baby was delivered by paramedics and IDF troops inside Neve Tzuf yesterday - the exact same settlement where surviving member of the Fogel family are sitting shiva.

With the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's neck, the woman was raced to the settlement for help. As ambulance driver Orly Shlomo recounted, "It was touching, but I couldn't help but think that a few meters from there, people were sitting Shiva for another baby, who was murdered." The paramedics noted that, on the day of the Fogel massacre, they witnessed fireworks and celebration in nearby Palestinian areas. They said, however, that the local medical team is committed to assisting anyone who is in need.

That's simply what we do.

A young couple from Itamar got married last night, and did so at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Hundreds of residents from Itamar came to dance and sing in honor of Moshe Orlinsky and Natalya Zucher.

The two had planned to wed in Itamar, but decided to become the first couple to get married at Joseph's Tomb instead. No matter what, we are a people who choose life - and who come together to celebrate it, even under the most trying of circumstances.

That's simply what we do.

Finally, our listserves have been inundated with organizations that are trying to help. There are those who have set up funds for the orphaned children, those that are delivering Mishloach Manot for Purim to the community in Itamar, and so much more.

Today, my boys and I packaged Mishloach Manot (gifts that are given out on Purim) for the people of Itamar so that they will know that they are not alone in their tragedy. My children wrote notes to them that said, "We are all Itamar!" and "We are thinking of you" and "May Hashem Bring Peace and Take Care of You."

Because, that's simply what we do.

If only the world could understand how much we value life and how hard we work at celebrating it.

If only the Palestinians - and the Arab world in general - would use the energy they pour into hate for things that are so much more productive.

What a world we would live in, indeed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I am Ruth Fogel...

I am Ruth Fogel.

With breasts full of milk, I sat down to nurse my newborn baby on Friday night. The beautiful candles were aglow, the house was clean, and the fresh smell of challah wafted through the house. My oldest asked to join his friends for the traditional Bnei Akiva festivities in preparation for Purim. My six year old was asleep on the couch. My other children were safely tucked into bed, dreaming about the Shabbat adventures they would enjoy tomorrow.

I am Ruth Fogel.

The only difference is that I, for whatever reason that only HaShem can understand, awoke Saturday morning.

and Ruth did not.

Use any excuse that you want. They were settlers, they were living on "occupied" land...but for every excuse you throw out, I'll show you an Israeli, a Jew, who was killed inside the Green Line simply for being a Jew and an Israeli....or a Jew who was attacked in London, Paris, Rome or San Francisco simply for being a Jew.

It's not about lines.

It's about the entire country - and they want us out of it.


We may be sitting here, right on the edge of Jerusalem, protecting the most holy city in the world. And we may be on land that some call disputed. But the bottom line is that what we are is Israeli Jews.

And that is seen as unacceptable.


They are handing out candy in the streets in Gaza, in the West Bank...they are celebrating slashing the throat of a newborn baby girl...they are celebrating stabbing a 3 year old boy through the heart.

Palestinians from President Mahmoud Abba's Fatah faction, our "moderate" "peace" partners, have just named a town square after a leader of the 1978 bus hijacking in which 35 Israelis were killed.

The ceremony, in Al-Bireh, a town near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, was held at exactly the same moment that 30,000 people gathered to mourn the Fogel family and to bury them in Jerusalem.

"We stand here in praise of our martyrs and in loyalty to all of the martyrs of the national movement," Fatah member Sabri Seidam said at the unveiling of a plaque showing Dalal al-Mughrabi cradling a rifle against a backdrop map of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mughrabi and a group of gunmen killed 35 Israelis that day.

I am Ruth Fogel.

But so are you.

You may not be a religious Jew. You may not have six children, including an infant nestling at your breast.

But if you believe that Israel has a right to exist, and you believe that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland, then you are Ruth Fogel.

And your simple existence makes someone want to kill you and your children.

It's not about the settlements.

It's about all of Israel and about having the right to live here in peace, on the land that we've been given and that we've won through blood soaked tears, sweat and history.

And we aren't leaving.

But we sure as hell are being asked to pay the price.


and again

and again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dancing on a Friday Morning

It's a dreary, stay-in-your-pajamas-under-the-covers, type of Friday here in Neve Daniel. When we finally got all five older boys bundled, scarved, and out the door with lunches in hand, it was time for me to start the clean-up routine. Since there's no work on Friday, I'm able to stay in my pajamas a bit longer than usual and relax as I clean up the mess.

And then Yakir, in his swing, reminded me that it's also his day off...and that he wanted to spend it with me. So, I stopped cleaning the dishes, ignored the explosive breakfast cereal and bowls mess, and picked him up out of his swing.

With sweet music in the background, we started swaying together, and I found myself slowly dancing around the family room, cradling my little guy in my arms.

I closed my eyes, drank in his delicious baby scent, listened to his stuffy-nosed gurgle and danced and danced and danced.

And as we danced around the empty room together, I realized that this was IT - this was the most important moment of my life.

I'm about to turn 40, and such an event often causes moments of reflection. Where would I like to be right now? What do I need to change? What is going right? What would I like to own that I don't presently have?

And I realized in that moment that you couldn't put me anywhere more satisfying in the entire world or offer me anything more precious.

A trip to Switzerland? A new car? A fancy diamond?

No thanks.

I've got all the riches in the world right here in my messy, chaotic, disorganized house dancing on a rainy Friday morning with my 6th beautiful son.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Mesibat Chumash

Amichai had his Mesibat Chumash tonight. He is in an amazing kindergarten program called Mechinah and the kids learn to read during the first part of the year. By this time of the year, they are getting ready to venture into the next level of reading - reading the Chumash (the Torah). It is absolutely amazing to see how much they are learning and growing.

The kids sang a number of songs and then had some great activities including small music groups and a few art projects. At the end, they were given beautiful framed pictures of themselves reading from a Chumash and were handed their first Chumash.

(Here they are singing their hearts out!)

Matan dropped in for a few minutes to tell us something (no siblings were allowed to come since it would add over 150 extra participants!). Matan had the same teacher in Mechinah when he was in the program 6 years ago. I was struck by how quickly time is moving when Matan went to say hi to the teacher and came up to her shoulder. And here Amichai is, in the same class Matan was in so many years ago.

May Amichai only know the sweet melodies of the Chumash his whole life and may the enthusiasm that he has for learning and the zest he has for life continue as he grows and learns each year.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Flipping Over Purim

You've certainly got to hand it to the kid for his impeccable timing.

Yakir started to flip yesterday, and he seems to have perfected the skill overnight. He's quite tickled with himself, as are his brothers (as you'll see in the video below).

What makes his timing so perfect? Well, yesterday and today mark the beginning of the month of Adar (Adar II this year) - the month when Purim falls.

And if you live in Israel, you would have to be hiding under a very large boulder not to know that the month of Purim has begun. Today, many children dressed up for school (in preparation for the holiday that is still 10 days away!), and they ran through the halls singing a specific Purim song and bursting into the various classrooms. My four year old tells me that even the nearby nursery school filled with 2 year olds came into his class to surprise the big 4 year olds. What a country.

All of my children came home with painted faces and with new "rules" that the students have created for the month of Adar. They flip the school rules on their head this month, and the kids get to dictate (to a degree) a number of ways that the school is run until Purim. Yes, it's organized chaos at its best.

The story of Purim is all about mistaken identities, flipping things on their heads, misperceptions and the like. Queen Ester hides her Jewish identity from the King; Haman tells the King that the best way to honor someone worthy (thinking it's for himself) is to parade him through the streets on a horse - and he is then forced to do this for Mordechai; Haman vows to kill the Jews and constructs gallows for the purpose, only to end up on it himself. The list goes on and on.

And so, on this day, that marks the beginning of the month of Purim, when everything gets flipped around, Yakir has learned to FLIP!

Way to go buddy! Getting in the Purim spirit already at 4 months of age:


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Talking to Hashem in Different Ways

Today, as on most Shabbat mornings, we found ourselves at the park. There I was, cradling the baby in my arms, pushing the 2 year old on the swing, and keeping an eye on the crazy 4 and 6 year olds so they didn't get in too much trouble. I could faintly here the davening (praying) from the park, but was certainly not going to be part of it today (as I haven't been for the last 10 years and 11 months, for that matter).

One of my friends walked by who has all older children. She stopped to "ooh" and "aah" over the baby and then she declared, "Ok, I'm heading into shul (synagogue)."

"Ok," I said. "Say hi to Hashem for both of us, since I'm obviously not following after you."

"Romi," she said, "You're saying hi to Hashem on your own right now."

She stopped me in my tracks.

And, as she walked away, I looked down at little Yakir's face and at Zeli grinning in the swing, and thought: how true, how very very true.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Ties that Bind

Today, when I went to pick Eliav up from his friend's house, I was struck by this little group of boys. Up until now, Eliav hasn't really had many play dates or been that social. He's only four, after all, and his mommy is terrible about arranging play dates and social outings. I tend to set the kids up with friends when they beg for it, rather than proactively creating social interactions.

Anyway, here were four little guys running around like maniacs and having a ball together. And it struck me that these kids are going to grow up together, serve in the army together, fall in love at similar times and dance each other down the aisle to the Chupah.

Obviously, I had friends while I was growing up. I even had many good friends. I did not, however, live in a 400 family yishuv where the children are growing up in each other's backyard and where the parents have all chosen to live together for religious, ideological, and geographic reasons.

While Eliav is only four, and he will fall in and out of favor with various kids (sometimes multiple times a day), I see the strength of the bonds that these children are developing. I get goosebumps when I see the relationships that my older boys are developing with their friends.

As I see them playing ping-pong in the yard or soccer at the field, I only have to squint a tiny bit to see them graduating high school together, saluting in uniform, and attending britot for each other's children.

May my boys and their many friends know only good times together and may they grow in strength and friendship through the years.