Sunday, November 18, 2012

Passion, Love & Hope

Passion, love and hope come in many forms.

They come in the form of a man, willing to take his body to the absolute limit for the love of his wife.

They come in the form of a community, hundreds of people, who line the streets to cheer on the man who completes his mission.

They come in the form of a son, getting the call during services on Friday night, and then embracing his father and little brother before walking out to the waiting car that will take him to war.

They come in the form of a mother, rushing up the street to grab her 7 year old who has left for synagogue, while the sirens blare.

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On Friday, Yarden Frankl completed the mission of a lifetime. Months ago, he devised a plan to raise money for Shaare Zedek hospital, where his wife, Stella, has been receiving treatments for stomach cancer for the last year and a half. He set up the team, he created the plan, and he trained. He left the Hermon, the highest point in Israel, in the darkest of night at midnight on Thursday and traveled with a team car and a friend on a scooter passed the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth) all the way until he reached the second highest point in Israel, our home in Neve Daniel.

At 9 am on Friday, Ruth, Stella, two of my boys and I met up with them in Almog, about an hour and fifteen minutes from home. Yarden was shaking, exhausted and fearful of the steep climb ahead to Jerusalem. I was very nervous. How in the world, after 9 hours of sleepless physical exertion, was he going to make it up that monster climb? We ate breakfast together with the team who came from Shaare Zedek (including Stella’s oncologist and his wife!) and we davened.

And then Yarden was ready. And we went on to another point were friends were waiting to cheer him on before we returned home.

When we got home at 12:00, I turned the computer on with trepidation. Would he really get up that mountain? And I looked, with shock, as I saw that he was already cruising the streets of Jerusalem – he had done it!!! We dashed out of the house, gathered up the kids, and stood with hundreds of our friends at the entrance to the yishuv to cheer him home.

It was incredible. It was awe-inspiring. It was what movies are made of, as Yarden charged up the hill with hundreds of kids screaming and cheering at his back and a camera woman hanging out of a car to capture the scene right in front of him.

Along with Yarden, Stella, Josh and David, the Rav spoke at our victory party. And what he said clearly made a difference to my children.

The next morning, on Shabbat, when I asked the kids what they had learned from Yarden’s amazing ride, Eliav (who is only six) said, “Yarden is the Rav (Rabbi) of bikes.”

Laughing, but knowing where he was going with this, I said, “What do you mean Eliav?”

“You heard what the Rav said, Mommy. We can daven with our mouths, but we can also daven with our feet. With our bodies. With our hearts. We can do anything Mommy.”

Oh, Yarden.

If only you can imagine the lessons you’ve just taught to my boys, to the children of the yishuv, to your own children, and, of course, to your wife.

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On Friday night, while we were still basking in Yarden’s accomplishments, Josh and the older boys went off to shul.

And for the first time in my experiences in Gush Etzion, the siren sounded. The only time that we’ve ever heard this siren is on memorial days. On Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, they sound the siren and we all stand at attention in silence for two minutes around the country. But this was no remembrance day. And as I heard the siren, I looked in utter confusion and horror around me. What in the world was happening? What were we to do?

And then it dawned on me. And the need, as a mother, to stay calm for her children gave way in a heartbeat to the need to keep them safe. I yelled, “Get to the safe room! Go!” and scooped the baby from his play. We dashed downstairs, only to realize that Zeli, 4, was sound asleep in my bed. I needed to leave the 2 year old and make him stay in the safe room, but I needed to grab the 4 year old. How in the world do people in the South do this over and over and over again?

For ten years?

I heard later, of course, about the experiences of many others. The one that is the most poignant is that of my neighbor. She had just sent her 7 year old off to shul when the siren sounded. Looking at the door in horror, she wondered what she should do. Could she catch him and get back to the safe room in time? Would he know to find a home to duck into? She ran out into the street and saw him up ahead. He was completely motionless – just standing still in the empty street as the siren wailed. What was he doing? She thought he might be in shock.

Rushing to catch him, she realized that he was standing tall, proud, strong, for the siren that he had been trained to listen to, as one does on Memorial Day. As a bomb was about to fall nearby, this child was standing at attention, honoring his ancestors as he had been taught.

But this wasn’t a siren for honoring. It was a siren for running. She grabbed him and they ran, back to the safety of their shelter.

The stories go on and on…including the Arab from the village of Tuqua who called his friend, the Jew, in Tekoa as the sirens were wailing to find out what was going on. Including the children who burst into tears in the middle of prayers at Bnei Akiva, who didn’t understand what was happening. Including the many, many children who slept on the floor in their parents’ rooms Friday night and last night, trying to make sense of the world around them. And this was all a reaction to one siren – just one.

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And then, Saturday night, our children had a culminating activity for their opening month of Bnei Akiva. I left the house early for it, thirsting for a Zionist activity – for a reason to celebrate and to enjoy with my community. And the children danced with their Israeli flags, and stood at attention as we all sang Ha’Tikva. The activities were not held in our open field, as usual, but in a more shielded area in case the sirens should wail. But other than this adjustment, they were able to momentarily enjoy being children again and to sing and enjoy in unison.

But in the South, the children didn’t sleep Friday night, as we did. And they didn’t celebrate, even in a sheltered location, with their Bnei Akiva groups. And for ten years now, they’ve been living with the sounds of those blaring sirens and the feel of the earth shaking beneath their feet as the bombs fall.

Our children – our community – were completely shaken by one siren. By one set of bombs that fell not far from our homes. This war isn’t about how many rockets have fallen this week or about our operation in Gaza. It’s about a decade – a decade – of rockets. Of citizens of a free country who can’t send their children to the park or to school without the fear of bombs falling and without the fear of their lives being shattered – physically and emotionally over and over and over again.

And so today, we continue to send our sons, our brothers and our fathers into battle. We do so with a passionate love for our people, with the hope for a better tomorrow for everyone in this country, and for the goal of finally having the quiet that we all deserve. We daven with our words that things will improve – that our boys will fight the fight they need to and then return home. But we also daven with our feet, with our bodies, with our commitment to make things better. And this can’t be done only through words, as Yarden has taught us, but through a commitment to action. With our whole being for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Birthdays, Bombs & Bikes

I am sitting in one of the boats at Disneyland, going through the "It's a Small World" ride. And it's not the enjoyable experience that it was when I was a kid.

Let me explain.

I grew up right near Disneyland and I used to love going there. My favorite ride was "It's a Small World After All" and my dad and I could ride it 10 times on one trip to Disney. If you haven't been on the ride, I'll explain a bit. It's a boat ride that takes you through a canal. Along the way, you go through various rooms where there are oodles and oodles of dolls in costume from every nation.

And my dad always used to laugh as I spun and spun my head, trying to figure out where to look first and what to absorb. It was sensory overload - there was no way to take everything in and there wasn't enough time to do so before the boat moved on.
And that is exactly how I feel today.

Except today it isn't an amusement park.

It's my life.

Today is my precious two year old's birthday. And I want to be celebrating and dancing with him; writing in his baby book and making him giggle.

But I don't feel like giggling while rockets rain down on Beer Sheva and as people crouch beside their cars in Tel Aviv, waiting for the air raid siren to stop.

Today, Yarden has set out on an amazing ride, covering hundreds of kilometers from the very top of Israel to the mountains of Gush Etzion, all for the love of his wife and for the benefit of Shaare Zedek Hospital.

And I'm so overwhelmingly proud of him. And of the men who are riding alongside him and making sure that he fulfills his goal.

But I don't feel elated, and I'm not even sure that this amazing task can distract me from the murder of a Chabad emissary who was pregnant, and visiting Israel to give birth and attend a memorial ceremony for other Chabad emissaries killed by terrorists.

And I'm pissed.

Because Yakir's birthday deserves center stage in my life.

And Yarden's ride deserves it as well.

I'm in the boat, heading from room to room of "It's a Small World" and I simply don't know which way to turn my head first, and I don't know how to absorb what is in front of me, to the side of me, behind.

I'm grateful, of course, that I don't happen to be in range of the missiles. But 1 million Israelis are sleeping in bomb shelters tonight and being fired upon over and over and over again for being Jewish and for living their lives in their Homeland.

As Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US recently explained, having 1 million Israel citizens being forced into bomb shelters “would be the equivalent of 40 million Americans in bomb shelters.”

And I'm pissed that my newly married co-worker came to work this morning worrying about her husband who's in the army. And that many of my dear friends have that far away look in their eyes, as they try to get through every minute while wondering where their soldier sons are right now.

How do Israelis handle this barrage of information? This anger, frustration and grief?

What I'm going to do is the following.

I'm going to put blinders up to some of those sections of the boat ride. If I don't ignore some of the dancing dolls, I won't get through the day.

And I'm going to open my home to those from the South, inviting them to come and get away from the bombs and the devastation.

And I'm going to wake up throughout the night to check on Yarden's progress, and then dance and sing when he arrives back in the yishuv tomorrow. And I'll probably cry too.

And I'm going to kiss that beautiful baby in the morning, and wish him a gorgeous, glorious birthday. And place that crown that his brothers made upon his head, and celebrate with friends on Shabbat.

Because he deserves it.

And so do I.

And then I'm going to pray for all of our soldiers, and all of our citizens who are in need at this time. And I'm going to thank Hashem that I've been given the opportunity to live amongst these people, and to be part of history in the making as we defend our country, yet again.

Even if it brings me to fresh tears each day right now.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Moment of Perfection

Yesterday I had one of those moments that make for a rich life. We were at the park and Yakir was swinging next to Zeli. It was a crisp, beautiful Shabbat morning with a sky full of puffy-white clouds. Each moment, the sun would peek out from behind a cloud and then disappear again.

I gave Yakir a hearty push and he tilted his head all the way back in the seat and let out the laugh of a lifetime. He held this pose for three or four swings, back and forth, and as he did so I saw him as if in slow motion.

The sun peaked out just at that moment from behind a cloud, showering Yakir with a halo of yellow glow. His blond hair swayed back and forth as he tilted his head back as far as it would go and let the swing take him. And his laugh bellowed over the hills and back.

Watching him, I felt as if I were seeing a clip from a movie. It was the scene where the hero, recollecting about his early days, flashes to a moment of perfection in a park when he was two.

It was a moment, captured in time, of unadulterated glee, of sheer joy.

And then it was gone in a flash.

And I was left slightly off balance, wondering if anyone else had felt the momentarily slowed hand of time; or if I had been uniquely offered this moment.

And I felt blessed to have been part of watching a little two year old express the joy of being alive; the joy of swinging with the wind in his hair and the sun shining down on his little face.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Just Because

There are some truly amazing people in the world, and I feel blessed when I get the opportunity to meet one of them.

We’ve been leasing a car for two and a half years and our lease is just about up. It’s our first leasing experience and we are trying to tread through the waters of this process.

Yesterday, I spoke with a nasty representative of the leasing company who sent me into quite a tizzy. He led me to believe that we would end up in the red, owing the leasing company more money than the car was worth and without the funds to buy another car.

Resurfacing after my panic attack, I got in touch with Zvi Cars, who sold our Peugeot a few years ago for us (no small feat). Through my tears of frustration and fear, I painted a picture for Ezra of our future – of my carless children trudging to school in the snow, up hills, in both directions. Feeling intense pity for me, he told me that I should talk to his partner, Zvi, who is an expert in this area.

Ezra said that he would call Zvi for me and that I should then call Zvi myself a few minutes later. When I called him, Zvi picked up the phone and immediately said,
“Romi, before we talk about the car, I need you to remember that this is all shtuyot (silliness). This is a car we are talking about. Your family is healthy, you have a job. None of this really matters in the big picture and it will get taken care of.”
Is this the typical line that you’re familiar with hearing from your neighborhood car salesman?

I, for one, am definitely not.

We talked about my situation and I explained my frustration. Zvi offered to meet me at the leasing company any time this week to negotiate with them.

And so we did yesterday.

Zvi took two hours out of his own schedule, and potential sales out of his pockets, to help me with my predicament. He turned down payment; he turned down an icy cold drink that I begged him to take.

Nothing.

He wanted nothing from me.

I’ve never bought a car through him.

And he knew that I probably wouldn’t be buying one from him now.

When we finished with the leasing company and favorably resolved things with them, Zvi accompanied me to the Honda dealer where we were hoping to purchase a hybrid. He even went so far as to advise me against buying something from his company, saying that I had probably found the best deal possible with Honda. Now that's integrity.

He walked me through this process because I was financially worried and scared. And because he wanted to help out an Olah (immigrant) in need.

Amazing.

Thank you, Zvi, not just for helping me through a difficult situation, but for reminding me about priorities and balance and helping others, just because.

And now, we can start to dream about our little red sports car (ok, it's not a sports car, but a mother of six can dream)!

Should you need to sell a car or buy one at some point, don't hesitate to call Zvi and Ezra at Zvi Cars. Mentches aren't made everyday.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Banding Together

Sometimes the most brilliant ideas are the simplest. A few weeks ago, a teenager in the neighborhood, Noam Shire, had the idea to make bracelets as a way to support Yarden's upcoming ride.

It was brilliant.

And so an idea was born and the steps were quickly taken to make the idea become a reality.

It is such an amazing feeling for those of us who love the Frankls, from near and far, to have something to DO; some action to TAKE; a way to say "Yes, we are HERE with you."

And these bracelets do just that.

When the bracelets arrived, my kids couldn't wait to put them on and to proudly show that they were part of Stella's Army.



Yes, even the two year old is showing his spirit.

I sometimes forget that my children are going through this struggle with us. They love Stella just as much as we do, and they feel just as helpless as we feel at times. And so, this project has allowed them to get out and help. They've combed the yishuv, selling the bracelets to everyone in the neighborhood (and raising, 2480 shekel as of tonight!) and they've found a few interesting ways for us to use our bracelets.

These little yellow bands are, first and foremost, an amazing part of the fundraising efforts that Yarden has put into place for Shaare Zedek. Should we sell all of the bracelets, we will have raised an additional 50,000 shekel ($10,000)to benefit the patients at Shaare Zedek.

Even more so, on a personal level, they are a visible way to say that we are fighting, in a united way, against cancer. That we stand with the Frankls in their fight and that we are there for their family. When we were at shul today, the boys were pointing out all of the people that they saw wearing bracelets.

"There's one! Wait - there's another one. Look, there's one!" And on it went.

And this, really, is the point. How powerful will it be if we can show the Frankls a sea of shimmering yellow bands every time that they leave their house? Every time that they go on Facebook this week and see the bands being sold in Potomac, Pittsburgh, Texas, California, New York and beyond?

And, how amazing will it be, this coming Friday, as Yarden makes it back into the yishuv after riding half of the way across the country, for him to see his yishuv greeting him armed with Stella's Army bracelets.

One small idea with big potential.


If you haven't yet given to Yarden's ride, you can learn more about it here and make your donation.

If you'd like to be part of Stella's Army, you can find someone selling them at many locations. Drop me a line and I'll let you know where to get a bracelet.

The latest fashion statement - the latest way to tell your friends you love them while raising money for cancer patients.