Monday, October 29, 2012

Losing One of Our Own

Last night there was a shiur (a lesson about the Torah) given at a friend’s house. I wanted to go to it, but I got caught up in work and couldn’t get away. I understood, afterwards, that the basic message of the lecture was about enjoying daily life, learning to appreciate the little things in life, and learning to see everyday as a joy even if it’s not a holiday or another reason to celebrate.

Unfortunately, Hashem decided to allow me to learn this lesson, as well, last night. But in a very different way.

When Josh and I both finished our work at about 9:30, we went out for a walk. While walking up the big hill in the new area of the neighborhood, I even said to him, “Oh look honey. There’s the shiur happening that I had wanted to attend.”

As they were learning about appreciating life, we continued our walk.

We were debating some of the details of Matan’s bar mitzvah and I was wrapped up in finding just the right answers.

Suddenly, a man that we know came running up to us saying that he needed to use our phone. That there was someone…on the ground…injured…dead…he didn’t was someone from the chevre…from the neighborhood.

And the lesson began.

I turned to Josh in a panic and said, “Oh dear Gd, Josh. Who is it?” It could be anyone. Someone that we knew was out there, alone, and hurt.

We called for backup, for an ambulance and for the army and then we rushed back to find him, to help, to what? I stood back, shaking, and praying. Praying that he was alive. Praying that he should breathe again since I had already heard the words “no pulse,” “no heartbeat.” Praying and praying.

I heard snippets. “He’s young. He’s someone’s kid.”


And I thought to Hashem, “Oh Gd, please don’t let him be…”

And then I stopped. Please don’t let him be WHO? Please don’t let him be the son of one of my friends? Please don’t let him be the son of one of my community members? Please don’t let him be…………

There was nothing left. He was certainly going to be the son of one of my friends and was certainly going to be the son of a community member. There was nothing to pray for in this realm. Because I count everyone in the community as a friend, as part of our family.

We still didn’t know who it was.

But I pictured his mom and his dad. They were sitting at home eating…arguing...dancing…painting…paying bills…talking on the phone…giggling…menu planning…cooking…cleaning up…reminiscing…yelling…showering…

They were going about their regular lives, completely unaware that the course of their entire future was about to change – that it had already changed.

Then a family name was spoken. I don’t know if there exists a stranger feeling than I experienced. I knew something that I had absolutely no right to know.

His family was eatingarguingdancingpaintingpaying billstalkingonthephonegigglingmenu planningcookingcleaning upreminiscingyellingshowering.

And I was with their son who had just died.

They did not yet know that their entire life had already changed. The change had occurred. It was over.

I looked out over the yishuv and pictured people in every house in the entire community who were eatingarguingdancingpaintingpaying billstalkingonthephonegigglingmenu planningcookingcleaning upreminiscingyellingshowering, people who didn’t yet know that we had lost one of our own. A part of our body.

And within that noise, within that mass of people going about their business and continuing with their regular lives at 10:14 pm was his family.

They were in a space of time where the course of their lives had already altered without their knowledge.

I prayed that they should be given the strength to get through this incredible tragedy. That they should be able to continue on.

We left, walking home in silence.

And I told Josh that the bar mitzvah would be beautiful no matter how it played out as long as we were all there, healthy. The details? Who cared.

And I went home and checked on each of my beautiful sleeping boys.

And I watched their chests rise and fall with each breath.

With tears streaming down my face, I kissed their cheeks and vowed to try to learn the lesson.

And I prayed that the Lubitch family's last moments with their son, Eliyashiv Lubitch, zt"l, were full of joy and wonder; happiness and beauty. And that his memory should be for a blessing, always.

For another perspective on this difficult day, see

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walking in Their Footsteps

This post is dedicated to the refuah shlema (a full and speedy recovery) of Mordechai Leib Ben Shayna Esther, Larry Levine. Our dear friend, Avi Levine's, father.

It's also dedicated to Nefesh b'Nefesh, which has allowed so many of us to follow in Avraham Avinu's footsteps.

I don't think there is a parsha (weekly portion of the Torah) to which I feel more attached. Hashem says to Avraham,
"Get a move on it. Pick up everything and everyone that you have and leave your father's house. Come on now, don't look at me that way. I mean it. Just have complete and total blind faith in me and come to the Land that I will show you."


And it sounds crazy, ridiculous. Who would simply believe in this sort of promise? Who would have the faith to pick up everything that they know, and convince their family to go as well, and move away from the land that they've always known and the people that they've always loved?

This story is sounding suspiciously familiar.

When I think about what Hashem told Avraham, and then I reflect on our journey for the last eight plus years, it's really amazing to think about how it all begins.

What makes one person decide that it's time to move, despite it all, while another chooses to stay put?

This week, as I think about that question, I'm brought back to one name: Rocky Brody. I wonder how many of us have one, two or three people from whom we received so much encouragement that we decided to finally make the move. They were the proverbial tipping point.

We had considered Aliyah for awhile and I was always the one who was nervous. I came on a pilot trip in December of 2003 and was put in touch with Rocky Brody. Sitting in her home in Alon Shvut, with a few other supportive women, I was struck by their words and by the encouragement that they offered. However, while their lives looked lovely - mine did as well, back in Potomac, Maryland.

And so, I went home and thought and stewed some more.

Sometime after that visit, Josh came to Israel for a visit and I had a sleepless night at home. Could we really pick up and move everything that we'd ever known? Could we really do this? And in the middle of the night, I dug out Rocky's email address and wrote the longest, most rambling email of my life. I filled it with every worry, every fear, every trivial and important concern I'd ever had. All to a person that I didn't really know.

And then I went to sleep.

In the morning before taking the kids to school and going to work, I raced to the computer to see if she had answered me. And I was utterly confused.

I had over 100 emails in my in box.

While I slept, Rocky had forwarded my email to the close-knit email lists throughout Gush Etzion, requesting that people offer me strength and encouragement; that they answer me honestly and help me with my difficulties. As Rocky recalled,
"I remember the emotional email I wrote to the lists asking them to help you like they had helped me before my Aliyah- calling on my new extended family of Gush Etzion to address your fears with honesty and compassion."

I sat at the computer reading email after email and crying and laughing and crying some more.

Who were these people who were willing to take time out of their busy days to write to some random person half way around the world?

Who were these people who were gushing about living in Israel? About life in Gush Etzion? About their experiences that were similar to mine?

And I felt a shift in my core.

We could do this.

We really could.

And that day, and the decision by one acquaintance to take my email and forward it to her many lists, created a marked shift in me. These beautiful, strong, confident Zionistic strangers were calling me home; they were drawing a picture for me of a life that was rich beyond my wildest dreams and that would lead my children to destinies that I couldn't even fathom.

Hashem promises Avraham (in a loose English translation), "Raise now your eyes and look out from where you are: northward, southward, eastward and westward.

For all the land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring, too, can be counted. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth! For to you will I give it."

And walk, indeed, we have.

Parsha Lech Lecha is a great time to think about the people who have influenced you in your life, whether you've been influenced to make Aliyah or to do anything else noteworthy, scary, and challenging. And to offer thanks to them for leading the way.

Thanks, Rocky.

And thanks to all of you nameless, faceless friends in Gush Etzion who offered me their hand and encouraged me to follow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Dawning of a New Ride

Last year in early October, Yarden said to Josh and me, with a twinkle in his eye, "I have an idea." And when those four words come out of his mouth, you know you're about to be in for an experience.

And he started telling us about how he was going to ride - really ride - for 12 hours...around Gush Etzion from the dead of night to the dawn of a new day. And how this would be a fundraiser for cancer and for Stella...and how it would mirror what they were going through, with the darkness of cancer and the hope for dawn.

"Um, what?" we both replied.

But in perfect Yarden fashion, we held on for the ride and watched him pull it off.

And what a night it was.

Cancer is completely debilitating. Of course, it's the most debilitating to the person who is struggling with the cancer. No doubt about that. But it's also crippling to those who love the patient. They are left to feel frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed...

And useless.

And rather than sit around stewing in those feelings, Yarden chose to put his energy towards something incredibly positive and life affirming - the bike ride of his life.

And in doing so, he allowed his family and all of his friends near and far to feel like they were doing so and participating in some small way.

It was one of the most life-affirming, inspiring and invigorating nights I have ever experienced.

On that night last year, we surprised Yarden with t-shirts.

The entire yishuv (neighborhood) came out for a kick-off party,

and then a bunch of us were there at 5:30 in the morning to greet him when he finished.

We got updates through the night from his crew about where he was, how he was doing, and what the crew was eating next. We got to laugh and enjoy and watch Yarden ride his heart out for the love of his wife.

And we got to see this:


So, when Yarden told us last month that he "had an idea" again, we both leaned forward in our chairs and said, "Hit it."

And he explained that, come November 9th 2012, he will be biking from Mount Hermon in the North of Israel all the way home, 260 km. His goal is to go, as he explains on his blog, "from the highest point in Israel to the lowest point in the world and then back up to the second highest spot in Israel."

And he's inviting all of us to participate again.

There is something overwhelmingly therapeutic about being able to put our energy towards a task; about having something fun and exhilarating to look forward to and about watching the process unfold.

Everyone wants to know how they can help the Frankls - how they can help Stella. The best way to do so right now is to donate with this link. Yarden is taking on this challenge as a way to raise money for Shaare Zedek, the hospital where Stella has received all of her treatments to date, and to which she is returning now for weekly treatments.

Sitting with her last week for the first of her new chemo treatments, I was struck by so many things in the cancer ward. The age range in the day ward is astounding - there are so many young people there; so many faces that have been through hell at an age when they should be getting married, having children and enjoying life.

As Yarden always says, "The cancer business is booming" and it needs our support. All of the money that Yarden raises from this ride is going to the cancer ward at Shaare Zedek to help patients like Stella and to ensure that they continue getting the best care possible.

There are so many beautiful ways that people have expressed, and continue to express, their love for the Frankls. Challah has been made around the world, groups have gone to the Kotel and to Kever Rachel together, baked goods have been made by the truck loads (none needed right now), evenings of simcha have been enjoyed, emails have been written to them and more.

Now, it's time to show them that we love them with donations to Shaare Zedek.

Stella is fighting like hell; Yarden is training like hell; and we can all do our part to show them that we've got their back and that we are standing there with them every step of the way.

Ride on Yarden...ride on!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Musings from the Grocery Store Parking Lot

I had to laugh when I came out of the grocery store yesterday. This was the "car" that was parked next to me.

Now, I’ve been in Israel for long enough that this shouldn’t even make me bat an eye. There is nothing unusual about seeing a major military vehicle on our streets, in our neighborhoods or (yes) even at our grocery stores.

But, as the girl who grew up in West Los Angeles, these images still make me laugh and still remind me of how far I’ve come – and how far I am from my first home.

The grocery store that is five minutes from my house, and right next to my work, serves the 30,000 Jews who live in Gush Etzion and it also serves the thousands of Arabs who live in neighboring towns. It’s a fascinating study about Life in Israel. Sitting at the falafel store outside of the grocery store, you’ll see a bunch of Yeshiva boys taking a break from their studies, some Jewish high school girls, a few soldiers and a couple of Arab men grabbing lunch.

Growing up in LA or living in Maryland, I certainly don’t recall ever parking next to a vehicle of this sort (or ever even seeing a military jeep!) In LA, for instance, it was more likely that I’d be next to this one.
(Incidentally, since we really don’t have convertibles in Israel, Zeli was enamored of them in LA this summer. He absolutely did NOT know what to make of these funny cars all over the streets, and he kept yelling, “Wook! Dere’s another car wid no top! What happened to its top, Mommy?” And he was in heaven when my cousin, Nancy, pulled up for a party in this car.)

The closest I would have gotten to an army jeep, filled with hungry soldiers, at the grocery store in LA as a child would have been if they were filming a movie at Ralphs, Vons or Gelsons!

And so, this moment reminded me, yet again, how far I’ve traveled in my life and how different my daily experiences are today from what they were in the States. While thinking about all of this, I had an even better thought - maybe I could get these boys to help me load my groceries. that's a universal request!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creating the Space for Beauty

While lounging on a bean bag on Friday, I was trying to ignore the voice in my head that said to clean! cook! do laundry! get things done! rather than reading, as I was.

And then I heard, “Can I cuddle wiff you mommy?”

And it was chicken-pox boy, Zeli, looking for something to do.

“Of course, sweetie,” I replied.

He sunk into the bean bag and proceeded to burrow into my chest.

A few quiet minutes passed, while I was immersed in my book and in the squishy comfort of a delicious cuddle.

Suddenly, from the quiet space around us I heard,

“I wuv you mommy.”

And my heart melted.

And I was reminded, yet again, that only in the quiet moments, in the stillness when I feel that I’m “wasting time,” do I typically create the space for such beauty. How profound would have been my loss if I had insisted on cooking, cleaning or doing laundry during that half hour, missing this cuddle and expression of love.

I held him tight as I replied, “I love you too buddy.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Makings of a True Israeli

It's official. We are now Israeli.

And we've got the biscuit (ביסקויט) cheesecake to prove it.

One of the many interesting things that we've learned about Israeli life and culture is that the country is very small. It's not just geographically tiny, but culturally close-knit and insular. And we aren't always on script.

The first time that we went to an Israeli wedding, we thought that we were on a movie set for a musical. Everyone there seemed to know the same dances and to know when to break out which moves.

At a nursery school party, the parents will suddenly and instantaneously break out in a collective song (while we sit in the background pretending we know what's going on).

While we looked on, in a daze, when we first arrived here, wondering how everyone could possibly know and do the same things, we have gained some insight into the Israeli secret.

Eliav, in first grade, has a 20 minute class called "Song of the Week." Each week, the teachers in the school teach the entire first grade class a specific song and they sing it every day until they've got it down perfectly. Well, no wonder they can all break out into collective song when they are grown ups. The same goes for many cultural phenomena and activities.

And one of these, and the one that has made us Israelis today, is the biscuit cheesecake. Now, if you live here, you probably know of what I speak. The ingredients include biscuits which are soaked in milk, cheeses, creamer, sugar and other nutritious items.

When we first made Aliyah, we thought that there must be a candid camera outside our house. There would be a knock at the door, we would answer it, and a sweet Israeli woman, or a group of children, would be handing us a delicious home-baked treat - often a biscuit cheesecake. Seriously.

We would scan the street for cameras, shrug our shoulders, offer our thanks, and then devour the cheesecake once inside. And the biscuits, themselves, always cracked us up. See, the year that we met on Project Otzma, I worked in a Brita water filter factory at Kibbutz Revivim. I would get up at 5 am to start working, and breakfast wasn't until 7:30 or 8. To tide the group over, we'd drink weak tea and munch on these biscuits. And so, for 19 years, these biscuits have been dubbed "factory wafers" in this house.

And here were people generously offering us factory wafer cheesecake at every turn. Since our Aliyah, every time that we have had a baby, or enjoyed a brit or celebrated a house warming, our Israeli friends have arrived armed with factory wafer cheesecakes. The Americans bring tortes and cookies, chocolate-dipped pretzels and cakes. But the Israelis? Well, they've almost always got a wafer cheesecake on their hip.

And so, tonight, Josh declared in the kitchen, "We're officially Israeli!" when Matan finished making our very first factory wafer cheesecake. Ironically, our first-born, totally Israeli kid made the cheesecake. Technically, we had nothing to do with it. But, it was made in our house, so we're giving ourselves the credit too.

Yes, we've become Israeli in many other ways. We've bargained with the best of 'em; ignored the lice with the rest of 'em; fought our way through a check-out line at the grocery store; cut off that aggressive driver; and learned the words for diapers, wipes and vomit in Hebrew.

But this - well this really put us over the edge as true Israelis.