Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tears, Flags and Fireworks

I think I've concluded that this is my favorite day of the year - Yom Ha'atzmaut. It just doesn't get any more meaningful than this. I believe that I've written about the Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day) ceremony almost every year that we've been here. But I am struck by it in a new way every...single...year. So here we go.

On Yom Hazikaron, which was last night through this evening, we remember those who gave their lives so that we may live in Eretz Yisrael. We remember all of the soldiers who have fallen in battle, all of those killed in terrorist attacks, and all of those who fought for us so bravely. It's a very solemn day and one that includes two piercing sirens throughout the country, many memorial services and many television and radio features like that for Yoseph Goodman.

And, unfortunately, it's not some intangible thing. My older boys related today that their ceremony at school included three boys who have lost brothers in the last few years in the army and in terrorist attacks. Three boys - in their school - who have first-hand knowledge of what this sacrifice means and of what the day represents.

In the early evening, we began our ceremony in the yishuv remembering those who have fallen. This year, they selected a local person, Tzachi Sasson. Tzachi was killed by terrorists during the Second Intifada in 2001 while returning home from work. Tonight, I felt such a sense of coming full circle while two people read about Tzachi's life. In 2001, we had committed to come and spend Pesach with our friends, Rafi and Atzila Abbo, who had been part of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Washington the previous two years.

I was nervous to make the trip. It was the height of the Intifada and things were very unstable and difficult in Israel. As a final push, I decided that I would call Rafi one random day and have him reassure me that we were doing the right thing by visiting and that we would be safe. As I called, he had just returned from the cemetery and from burying his life-long friend, Tzachi.

Obviously, we made the trip.

11 years later, Rafi's children were playing beautiful music in the background as someone read about Tzachi's life. And here we were - eight souls, eight Jewish human beings who are living in Israel today partly because of Rafi and Atzila Abbo - partly because of Tzachi.

After a few more solemn parts to the ceremony, they declared Yom Hazikaron to be finished and raised the flag back to full mast. And then it was time to party! This brings in Yom Ha'atzmaut, where we celebrate the very fact that Israel has managed to exist for 64 years.

During this part of the ceremony, my kindergartener participated in a dance, and the seventh grade kids did a flag dance, and 10 people from the yishuv were honored for their commitment and service to the community.

And then, the part that makes me cry every single year began. We all stood up and sang Hatikva together. This is Israel's national anthem, the song that talks of our yearning for our homeland, and we stand there together as an entire yishuv and sing at the top of our lungs. And it never - ever - fails that I cry and look around wondering why no one else is.

Every year I think to myself - this must be a dream. I think of the blood, sweat and tears of our people for the last 2000 years - and of what it took to make the creation of the modern State of Israel a reality. And I think of the baby in my arms (because there always seems to be one there) and of his future. And I think of my bigger children and the journey they are on. And I look around at the hundreds of people, all of whom are building our homeland together, and I cry.

And then, the lights go out and everyone cheers as the sky explodes in fireworks.

I realized this year, while watching and enjoying the bright lights and the crackling sky, that I actually drew even more pleasure from staring, instead, at the faces of my children. I turned first to Yehuda, watching the look of amazement and joy light up his face every other second as the fireworks popped above; I looked at Zeli's amazement and I stared at Yakir's bewilderment mixed with joy. Their faces would darken, and then the fireworks would burst forth, lighting their expressions all over again.

Chag Sameach. 64 years later, we are home.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Six Answers to Hitler

As the siren is about to ring across Israel signaling our two minutes of silence to remember the Holocaust, I am thinking about six things.

Here is my answer to Hitler:

And my answer isn't just one that shows six healthy, growing boys who have defied Hitler's decree to kill us all.

It goes a step further than that. My answer includes six healthy, growing boys who will someday be part of the Israeli army. An army created out of the ashes of the Holocaust so that such a tragedy can never, ever happen again.

I believe that I've told this story before, but it's heavy in my thoughts today. In 1997, Josh and I backpacked through Europe. We went to Auschwitz and Birkenau as part of the trip.

Certainly, there were many, many experiences that we had that had an impact on me. The most important one, however, was as we entered the gates of Auschwitz. I was holding myself together and doing relatively well, until we saw a large group of kids draped in Israeli flags. I came unhinged. Josh asked me if I needed to leave. No, I was able to convey by shaking my head. And then I just pointed and let the sobs rack my body.

It was an image that I will never forget. "We are here," these young children were saying to Hitler. "We are wearing the flag of our people, of our nation, as we walk on the soil where you tried to destroy us.

And we'll come back each year to show you that we're still here."

I knew then that Israel was the place to be; we hadn't made Aliyah yet. I didn't know that someday my children would be those children - but I knew that the image before me was RIGHT.

There are so many things that are confusing in the world, that don't make sense, that don't have explanations. When the kids ask questions about the Holocaust, we can't answer their questions about why it happened, where God was, and so on.

We can however, point to their chests and say "You. You are the answer. And as long as you continue living here, fighting for this country with your body and soul and breathing the air of Eretz Yisrael, you will continue being the answer."

"And someday, you will put on that army uniform and be even more of the answer...and maybe, just maybe, you'll take a trip to Auschwitz draped in an Israeli flag."

Does it bring back the six million Jews murdered for the crime of being Jewish? Of course not. But with our eyes to the future, it's the best damn answer there is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


As my children grow, it’s definitely a funny experience to be an American raising Israeli kids. My children speak English in the house, and they know about many American things. We are often caught off-guard, however, with the little nuances in their thought processes, with the expressions they use and with the endearing accents that they have.

I recently posted a video of the boys on Facebook, and I was flooded with responses about how cute their Israeli accents are. I don’t notice their accents on a daily basis (except for Zeli and his “Ch” instead of “H”) – they are just my kids. But then something reminds me that I’m really raising Israeli kids and it’s always a bit of a surprise.

Two examples.

During the Seder, we were discussing why Hashem kept the Jews in the desert for so long. Couldn’t he have brought them to Eretz Yisrael a bit sooner? Did they really have to wander and experience so much hardship on their way back?

Yehuda’s answer was that the Jews needed to toughen up. They had to become fighters rather than slaves, and the only way to get that fighting spirit was to endure hardship and come face to face with enemies for years on end. Josh was immediately struck by how “Israeli” his answer was. There are many other ideas about why the Jews were kept wandering for so long – this one, however, showed such an Israeli mentality.

Example two. Zeli, who is only three, came home from school yesterday with a new expression. Out of nowhere, he started saying “SABABA!” Now, sababa is a great expression. It means, “cool” or “alright man” or “great to hear it.” There are few things funnier and more endearing than hearing your three year old suddenly pipe up with a new Israeli expression that he clearly learned outside of the home.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Learning from the Campers

So I wouldn’t call it a formal invitation, or one that required any stationery, but I was invited along for the first time to the Sussman camping adventure. For years, Josh has been taking the boys that are deemed old enough camping. They usually go for a night during Pesach, and they often take a night or two during the summer as well.

Me? Well, I’ve stayed home with the child or children who aren’t yet old enough, tough enough, or potty-trained enough to join in. Finally, however, Josh and I decided that enough was enough. For how many years can you sit around waiting for the youngest kid to be potty trained?

And so, my formal invitation arrived, and I accepted it with relish. The entire trip was really quite an experience for me. I honestly felt like an outside observer.

When we got to the campsite, the boys sprang into action. Virtually as soon as I had found my way to the campground and made sure that Yakir was with me, the tents were set up. Poof. Just like that. The boys were unbelievable - rolling out maps, getting sleeping bags set up, throwing down rugs and heading out to collect fire wood.

It was really a pleasure watching them in an environment that I know nothing about - and one where they seem to be so comfortable (what little boy isn't comfortable rolling around in dirt, making fires, burning marshmallows and eating lots of meat?).

The next morning, there was Josh cooking up a delicious matza and egg breakfast while I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and running after Yakir. And then we were off for our first day of hiking.

Now, I'm well aware that I'm the weak link in the testosterone-filled home. Josh keeps reminded me every time that I complain on a hike or ask if we can make a detour to a cafe that I better keep up...or get left behind by my group of growing men.

And he's certainly right. It was hysterical to watch the boys on this rigorous three hour adventure. The four older boys zoomed ahead, jumping over boulders, gliding down mountains and giggling all the way. Yakir was a bit crankier on Josh's back, but he did ok overall, and Zeli was amazing. Some of the rocks he had to scale were larger than he is, and he declared himself a "mountain man" and just kept moving forward. I tried to reason with myself that if my three year old wasn't complaining, then I really couldn't.

On the second night, we stayed in a very cool igloo of sorts at the camp ground.

The boys appeared to have boundless energy, wrestling on the mats we had out for sleeping, roasting marshmallows and asking how late they could stay up. Yes, I was asleep before they settled down.

Then, the last day, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall. When we got there, I enjoyed watching Yehuda and Matan go scurrying off, looking for crabs and fish and getting wet and dirty. Amichai and Eliav weren't far behind.

At one point, when we were walking in this deep ravine, we stumbled upon a cow! How the cow had gotten there (and how it was possibly going to get out) was anybody's guess.

And then, as we headed home, we offered the boys the treat of a bit more commercial food. What Pesach trip is complete, after all, without a trip to a Kosher-for-Pesach McDonalds? The boys loved the idea of going to McDonalds (although not the potato buns...those were gross) and the little ones dug into their Happy Meals.

But I had the happiest meal of all, watching all of my boys so comfortably navigating the natural world around them, exploring Eretz Yisrael and enjoying themselves without spending much at all.

What a gift to me for Pesach!

While the committee is still out voting, I believe I've swayed enough of them that I'll be voted in for the next trip. And I certainly look forward to that adventure and to seeing the many ways that my little men surprise me and show their talents along the way.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Half a Cup Is Enough for Some

So, I haven't written anything in quite awhile. I guess that means that sometimes life can just And when you're dealing with six growing children, jobs, a friend going through chemo and getting ready for Pesach, it's usually a good sign when life is just life.

With that said, here's a quick cute story from the family.

I think Amichai may be our eternal optimist. It's possible that his head is in the clouds far enough that he just doesn't see what's going on; but it's also possible that he's just got a great, optimistic disposition.

So, last week when we were setting the table for Shabbat, I handed him two glasses. As I was handing him the glasses (yes, made of real glass), I thought to myself that it was probably a bad idea.

And just as I was rethinking the decision, Amichai clinked them together - and glass went everywhere.

And there stood Amichai, looking quite surprised, surrounded by glass and holding a shattered cup.

The good news, of course, was that he wasn't hurt. The bad news? Well, the cup had seen better days.

"Oh Amichai!" I said, showing some of my frustration. "You broke the cup. Look at it."

Looking down at the jagged part still in his hand, Amichai thought for a second. Then, with a sparkle in his eye, he raised the cup as if to make a toast and said, "Well, it's still half a cup!"

He doesn't know the expression about the glass half full or half empty - but this is definitely a kid who looks at a broken, ruined cup and declares that it's still "half a cup."

And we all cracked up and started sweeping up glass shards.

Lesson learned from the ever-optimistic seven year old.