Thursday, November 13, 2014

Talking about Terror, Tefillin and More

On Tuesday, while Dahlia was being buried in Tekoa by hundreds of friends and family members (and complete strangers), my first grader was filling out a worksheet. He came home with the form to show me what they had done in school, and I simply wanted to put my head on the table and cry. There is always the debate here about how much to tell kids. Do you tell the littlest kids that a woman was murdered 150 meters from their school? Do you just tell them that something happened?

What we have found from years of living here is that they will ALWAYS hear about what happened – and they will often hear about it incorrectly from friends at school (although sometimes their accuracy is astounding). So, while there is no need to go into detail, there is a need to make sure our children are informed – whether we like it or not.

So Zeli went off to school Tuesday already knowing what had happened. And then, his teacher did this worksheet with the class. The form is beautiful, and elegant and perfect.

Perfect for the absolute insanity of our lives.

Perfect if you live in a world where your first grader gets to express his feelings about the latest murder.


Forget for a minute about the fact that my child has to fill out a worksheet like this, because that’s how we cope and get through our emotions, and simply focus on the fact that such an exercise exists.

In this country, we have “Where Were You When the Terrorist Attack Happened?” forms.

These are the worksheets that we have at the ready, mass produced and ready for distribution on any given day.

So I went over the worksheet with Zeli. For those of you who don’t know Hebrew, or who might not be able to read Zeli’s impeccable handwriting (hmmmm) says the following:

It asks the kids to draw a picture of where they were when they heard about the terror attack. Then, they circle from a collection of faces how they felt when they heard about it. Next, they draw a picture or write about what they did when they heard about it. Then they are asked how they feel now and what they can do for themselves to help themselves to have more strength.

Good lord.

The paper is beautiful. The process they worked through with the children is fantastic. The fact that we have such a paper, and such a need is disheartening, sickening and infuriating beyond words.


On Monday night, while we were staring at our computer screens all night, crying and processing, Yehuda and Josh had an appointment. They went to the home of the man who is writing the parchment inserts for Yehuda’s tefillin and Yehuda got to watch the process a bit and learn with this Rav. He even learned to write a few words himself in the style used for the tefillin and to bring this parchment paper home to show me.

It was one of those pre-bar mitzvah moments that are so special and so magical.

And when they returned home, we all wanted to act excited – we all wanted to share in this moment, post pictures to Facebook and talk about it….but the air in the house was filled with sorrow, anger and fear. There was little room for much else. And so we passed on celebrating the moment. Yehuda showed me what he had written and I told him how wonderful it was.

And then we all returned to checking the news, thinking about Dahlia's family and wondering what terror attack would strike next.

The terror of the evening had robbed us of a beautiful moment. And while we certainly try to continue living our lives, it was impossible to do so that evening.

We look forward to a wonderful bar mitzvah and to many special moments. But that one? That one was completely ruined from the terror and reality around us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Terror Looks Like

Terror doesn’t always look like planes flying into buildings with massive casualties. And it doesn’t have to look like a hotel, strewn with Passover guests about to have their Seder.

We read in the paper about an incident, far away, and we give a collective sigh that it wasn’t close to home, that no one we know was hurt. And then we move on.

But when it is close to home, and when the person murdered is entangled in almost no degrees of separation, there is no collective sigh.

There is just terror.

Terror is a typical Monday afternoon at the grocery store. It’s grown women, nervous about going to the neighborhood grocery store because it’s a location where both Jews and Arabs shop. A location that’s supposed to be an emblem of peace, of progress. Terror is looking over your shoulder in the vegetable aisle and steering the cart through the parking lot with extreme caution, looking for oncoming cars that might be trying to run you over.

Terror is sitting at the dinner table, showing the kids a cute picture, when a headline flies across the screen, “Woman critically hurt in Alon Shvut. Stabbing.”

And running to the phone to call everyone you know in Alon Shvut. And everyone who is at basketball practice there. And in class right by there at their high school.

Terror is waiting for the name to be released, to see whose pain will be the greatest tonight.

And then seeing on Facebook that your neighbor’s daughter knew the girl and her family, and the name is revealed. And then her beautiful picture appears.
                  Dahlia Lemkus
Terror is telling your children that they are safe, no really, they are safe, when the bus stop outside of one of their schools has been hit by a knife wielding psychopath bent on killing an occupational therapist whose life was filled with good deeds and love.

Terror is asking your 7th grade son if he knows Haggai Lemkus, the 8th grader in his school whose sister was murdered yesterday.

Terror is reading over and over again last night from your neighbors about their first-hand accounts of what happened down the street. About the heroes who stopped their cars to fight with the terrorist.

Terror is reading that Dahlia was stabbed once before, within a few blocks of this attack, and that she survived that attack only to face this one.

Terror is seeing on Facebook the beautiful, delicate, hopeful paintings that Dahlia made during her life time, posted by her first cousin who lives nearby.

Dahlia's paintings, posted by her cousin.

And it’s the pictures from the funeral, where a devastated, devoted and beautiful family wonders how they will continue.
Picture by Marci Wiesel at Dahlia's funeral.

And it's reading from a fellow woman from Tekoa, one who has known her own share of suffering, about Dahlia. The real Dahlia.

Terror is another sleepless night, wondering how you’re going to keep your kids safe. At all times, and in all locations.

And seeing that the neighborhood kids have put up a huge banner at the bus stop that says, "Do not fear them for Hashem your God is with you." Because that's what our kids do.
Picture by Jeremy Gimpel.

Terror is knowing that you’re supposed to keep that poker face. Am Yisrael Chai and we live here and we’re not moving. While all the while holding back tears at every moment and wondering what in Gd’s name is ever going to stop this situation? And wondering just how much a people can be asked to endure. But in the end knowing that we, the people of Israel, have always endured and always will.

This is terror.

This is our lives.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Modernity and Math Tutors

When I spent the year in Israel in 1993-1994 communication wasn’t exactly what it is today. It’s actually almost impossible to believe that we lived without the fast paced, always present ways to communicate. I remember sending aerograms to my family and waiting with great anticipation to get their reply. Well, it was their reply to something I had written two weeks before…but never mind.

And the phone. We would collect up asimonim (who remembers those!?) and wait by the pay phone. Now, at Kibbutz Revivim there was only one pay phone nearby, 60 participants on my program and countless other volunteers. Can you imagine how long it took to wait in line to get to use the phone? Or how impossible it was if a family member wanted to reach us instead of the other way around?

And now, everything happens at the touch of a button. The ability to communicate quickly and flawlessly through email, Facebook, an American phone line, Facetime and the like allows us to be in constant communication with our families. Moving far away simply doesn’t create the communication vacuum that it once did. This is not to say that it’s not difficult to be so far away, but it is to say that there are some great ways to stay in touch.

I was particularly tickled tonight. 

Yehuda was struggling with his math homework, and I am definitely the last person who can help with geometry. When he opened his book tonight I tried not to pass out as I saw the triangles, squares and rectangles screaming to be examined for the volume, the circumference, the whateveritisyoudoingeometry.

And, imagine on top of my lack of math skills, trying to help a kid who is translating every sentence into English.


So, we did what I always do when I don’t know something. 

We called Papa Rogie.
Papa Rogie to the rescue!

Well, actually we sent him a message that said, “Math emergency! Call as soon as you get up!” And since he gets up around 5 am, it was no problem to get started on our math quite early.

He tried to talk Yehuda through a number of problems. They held up diagrams for each other to see, they compared notes and they solved problems.

It was very cute.

Facetime, broken arms, and geometry with clics.
And it definitely made me marvel at the way that technology has skyrocketed us into places we could never have imagined; and how it has made our lives so much easier in many ways and so much more personal from far away.

Assuming Papa Rogie has the patience for it, I believe that we’ve found our new math tutor.