Monday, October 26, 2015

A Phone Call Away

I posted this article yesterday on the Times of Israel website. Here is the original article posted there:

I'm posting it here for those who might not see it, and for a record for myself.

A Phone Call Away
Recently, while at work, I received a call. The caller was talking for a few minutes in Hebrew before I could catch on to anything he said. Was he trying to sell me something? Was he from the insurance company with whom I’ve been fighting to get my money back? What was this? And then I heard something I recognized – the name of our dear friends’ daughter.

“Wait,” I said, as I lost my balance and went down with a plunk. 

“Can you speak to me in English?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Can you talk fast, please? Really fast?”

I soon came to understand that all was ok, and that the woman (let’s call her Shira) was fine. During the day, as Shira sent WhatsApp messages and everything become clearer, I grew more and more amazed by the power of a few to do amazing things.

Let me explain. Last year, Israeli Nadav Shoham was killed in a freak snowstorm that hit the upper section of the Annapurna trekking circuit in northern Nepal. Four Israelis were killed during the surprising and unusual weather pattern and blizzard conditions.

What has Nadav’s family done to preserve his memory? They evaluated the situation and thought about what could help future Israelis (and hikers from around the world) to be in better contact with assistance should the need arise; then they paid for the implementation of a brilliant plan.

Now, when hikers come through Rabbi Chezki and Chani Lifshitz’ Chabad House in Kathmandu, they can receive satellite phones to take on their trek with them. When hikers receive the phones, they have to list two contact phone numbers and emails so that family back home can receive emails about their trek and know that they are safe along the way.
Phones handed out by Chabad of Nepal (Photo:

That’s exactly what Shira did a few days ago. She asked if she could put us down as a second contact, should the need arise. 

Last week, I realized just how special this program is, and how brilliant Nadav’s family was for putting the program into place with the help of the Chabad house.

When Shira’s group went ahead and she had a choice to make at a fork in the road, she chose the wrong direction. After hiking for hours, and realizing she was at a much higher elevation than she knew they were supposed to be, she began to panic. Night was coming and she was hopelessly lost, and alone.

With the phone in her hand, she sent out an SOS that Rabbi Lifshitz received. And with her exact coordinates with the GPS on the phone, he was able to alert the rescue team to find Shira, and to reunite her with her group.

Then, from Nepal, he called me to let me know that everything was alright. There was a chance that we would receive an email saying that Shira had activated her SOS, and he didn’t want all of us to worry. As Chani Lifshitz said in a recent interview that rang so true for me yesterday, “We also want to assure parents of trekkers that if they are ever worried about their children, we will now have a better way of accessing them.”


“The phones,” Rebbetzin Lifshitz explained, “Let us know exactly where trekkers are when a tragedy hits.”

WhatsApping back and forth with Shira, I wrote to her, “When you finish this trek, you’ve got to tell Nadav’s family that they saved your life.”

While reading some of the press about the phones today, I saw the same sentiments from Rebbetzin Lifshitz. As she said, “We want the families of those who were so tragically killed last year to know that we will never forget their loved ones. This project will prevent more casualties.”

It is a special family that can rise from their own tragedy and find a way to implement services to prevent future problems…and it is certainly a special couple, like Rabbi Chezki and Chani Lifshitz, who spend their time monitoring where these hikers are and what they need; who alert safety personnel when someone is in trouble; and who call family around the world to tell them when tragedy has been averted.

These are people worth knowing and admiring. And this is certainly a program worth funding.

May Nadav’s name live on in this special project.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

There Is No Conflict Right Now In Israel

We aren’t in the midst of a conflict here in Israel.

You read that right. There’s no conflict.

A conflict is inherently an event where two parties are engaged in a fight, a battle, a struggle.

There’s no conflict in Israel right now.

There is terror. Period.

Out and out one-sided terror.

When I see the coverage that the international media offers to what’s happening here, I feel like I’m living inside The Onion, an American digital media company and news satire organization. The coverage is simply too far-fetched to be believed – and yet it’s being believed around the world.

Last week, a well-educated Arab woman walked into a bus station in Afula with a knife and tried to stab a soldier. The soldier got away but she refused to put the knife down, and eventually had to be shot in the legs. The Arab world, showing a picture of her and then a picture of her on the ground, reported that she was killed in cold blood with no justification.

Another day, two brothers aged 13 and 15 set out to stab Jews. After stabbing and critically injuring two people, they were stopped by our forces. The 15 year old was killed. Abbas himself has reported that we killed the 13 year old in cold blood with no justification. Not only did we not kill him, but he’s getting medical attention at this time in our hospital at Hadassah after ripping a 13 year old boy off of his bike and trying to kill him. In the Arab social media world, they have shown a picture of the Arab 13 year old boy who was “just on his way to the mall” and declared that we killed him in cold blood. And yet, this video (which I'll warn you is very disturbing) shows exactly what those boys were doing that day and why they were out on the street.

There is no conflict here.

There is terror.

In another recent incident, an Arab Israeli, with the same rights and privileges that I experience in Israel (and probably a much higher salary), used his Bezeq company car to crash into a bus stop and savagely kill a 60 year old Rabbi standing there waiting for a bus.

The most stunning piece occurred when Mounir Kleibo, who heads the UN bureau of the International Labor Organization in the Palestinian Territories, was hurt Friday by rock throwing in East Jerusalem. While recovering in an Israeli hospital, he wrote that “Allah will forgive the rock throwers.”

Furthermore, a UN coordinator, Robert Piper, condemned the attack “on a clearly marked United Nations (UN) vehicle traveling on Route 50 in East Jerusalem, which seriously injured a senior UN official.” Meaning that if it hadn’t been a UN car it would have been all right, and justified, but that they shouldn’t have thrown rocks at a clearly marked UN car.

And then, of course, there is this video going around the world that shows Arabs exactly how to stab Jews.

The world has gone mad. And we feel it.

And as we feel it, this is what I know.

I know that I’m putting my purse high up so that my four year old doesn’t find the pepper spray that I’m now carrying around 24/7.

I know that my son is carrying pepper spray as well that I hope he never uses, and that they are giving them self-defense courses at his school.

I know that I’m spending two hours tomorrow in a self-defense course and many hours in the next few weeks becoming more comfortable with the gun that I absolutely do not want to carry.

I know that we are paying thousands of shekels next week to get one of our cars rock proofed (the other one already is) so that we can drive the roads that we live on; the roads that our ancestors have walked on for thousands of years.

I know that I check the news obsessively and check in with my family members even more.

I know that I have to tell my 13 year old that he’s only allowed to look at the news for a few minutes each afternoon and that he’s not allowed to look at videos. Gd only knows how he’s processing all of this.

And I know that my 7 and 9 year olds have been talking about how they would get away from a knife-wielding terrorist.

And I know that amazingly resourceful Israelis have been using everything at their disposal to stop terrorists, from selfie sticks and umbrellas to nunchucks. Really. Read it.

I know that all of this – all of this – would go away if they would just stop. The violence in this entire country would be over if the Arabs would stop being violent. Period.

We would still have a long way to go at that point, and many questions to answer. Again and again, Israel has asked the Arab population to come to the table. We have offered land; we have withdrawn from Gaza; we are willing to try. But the PA has created a situation by using Har Habayit/Al-Aksa as a spark to start the fire of their own making, while lying to their people the entire time. And while keeping their own people from building, creating and dreaming of a better future.

Because violence is so much easier.

This is not a conflict. We aren’t in conflict when I drive down the road praying not to get hit by a rock or a bullet aimed at me.

We aren’t in conflict when I walk the streets, looking behind me at every turn. And we aren’t in conflict when I go to the grocery store and manage to take products off the shelves behind my back so that I have a view of the aisle behind me. We aren’t in conflict when I have to think to myself “Never turn your back, even when you’re picking out tomatoes.”

We aren’t in conflict.

We are being murdered. Period.

And we are alone with this terror as the world evaluates if we are using “excessive force” and if we are “brutalizing” the Arabs murdering us.

And, unless you live here and walk the streets with me each day, you can’t imagine how that feels.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bathtub Bands

My kids are constantly reminding me that there is life outside of today’s news. My big boys can’t be sheltered. They follow the news more closely than do I (for better or for worse) and they know through Whatsapp, Facebook and everywhere else what’s happening every second.

We check in with them and make sure they are doing as well as can be expected. We try to process together and to keep their fears at bay as much as is realistic.

But the little guys.

Well, the little guys don’t have a clue that anything is happening in Israel right now. And that’s the way I hope it remains.

I remember when we first made Aliyah 11 years ago and were fresh to Israeli culture. A terrorist attack occurred one morning and we went back and forth about whether or not to discuss it with the kids when they came home from school. But before we could even open our mouths, they were already telling us about it and had already talked about it in class.

We could spend hours discussing what the right psychological stance is here. Do you tell 4 year olds about the things going on around them? Do you clue in 7 year olds in if no one else is? Do you get mad at the school for taking that choice away from you? (Not really…they usually know what they are doing better than do I in terms of these things.)

Certainly, the kids who can understand it need to know to be vigilant and aware.

But, there are times when it’s fun to live in ignorant bliss, and when it’s even more fun to be part of it with the kids.

Recently, my 7 year old drew this…

…and I stared at it, holding back my tears. Because it’s so gloriously innocent, so refreshingly happy at a time when the rest of us are having trouble getting through the day.

And of course, as we so, so often do in Israel, I found myself flipping from the happy to the sad.

I looked at his picture and wondered if the Henkin children will ever draw pictures of this wonder and naiveté again. And I wondered if the many, many other orphans and victims of terror will as well.

As I put the picture up on the refrigerator, one of my kids was getting ready for the bath. “Mommy,” he said, “Can I bring music down to the bath tub?”

“Um, I guess,” I said thinking it was a bit funny since no one had every suggested such a thing before.

While I was wrapping up dinner with the littler guys, I vaguely heard the music turn on. By the time I came downstairs, I simply stood by the bathroom laughing and admiring. One of my kids was in the bath, with a hairbrush as a microphone, belting out the songs at the top of his lungs. He was the bathroom performer, all wet and singing his heart out to his fans.

I smiled, loving his spontaneity and his ability to be so free in the middle of so much chaos. And I quickly gathered the other little brothers together in the tub with their own hairbrushes and watched their band form and perform.

These are the moments that get us through. The ones that give us the strength for another day and the magical belief that things will turn out OK. 

Or at least that they are OK for that brief moment.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

No Time for a Torah High Five

Simchat Torah has ended, with all of the fun and dancing that accompanies it. We said goodbye to the sukkah, we danced with the Torah scrolls and we listened as the congregation finished the entire Torah.

And then we started again.

And herein lies one of the most important moments that I experience every year – and one of the most important lessons to learn in life.

We stand in shul, after having listened for the entire year to parsha after parsha after parsha of the Torah. We’ve done our work. 

We’ve completed all Five Books of the Torah. And as we finish, I think it’s human nature to give a collective and very loud high five. And then to go home for some cake and ice cream. We did it! Yahooo! What an accomplishment!

But this isn’t what we do.

Far from it.

Rather, we roll up those Torah scrolls and turn almost immediately – almost in the same breathe – and start reading from the very beginning of the Torah again. There we are all over again at Beresheit, listening to what Hashem created and in what order he did so.

Wait! You almost want to yell. Hang on. Can’t we celebrate? Can’t we have just one minute to relax? To gloat? To step away from the Torah?

The answer we get back is a resounding NO. Good job, we did it, and now let’s do it all over again.

Why is this such an amazing lesson? Why is this probably one of the greatest lessons that my children learn all year?

There are so many answers to this question.

Moving directly and seamlessly from the end of such a great accomplishment right back to the beginning again shows that we never stop learning. Even when we have accomplished something awesome, there is more to learn. Always.  

And not only do we always have more to learn in life, but we can even learn from the exact same material we just learned.

Life is a spiral rather than a circle or a line and we are always moving.
So even when we accomplish something and we think we’ve got this one in the bag, we can always learn more, even from the material we just finished. It’s not the material, per se, from which we are learning. It’s our interpretation of the material. It’s how we approach it. It’s with whom we select to approach it.

The material is fluid and kinetic in our hands.

So yes, we finished the Five Books of the Torah and we can celebrate and relish in our accomplishment. But darn it, you’re about to hear Beresheit right now – again. 

One of the best lessons to learn here is that you always have the opportunity for improvement and for more chances.

I hope that son #1 learns from this that learning never ends. And that what he's learning in school builds on itself and changes as he changes and grows with the material.

I hope that son #2 realizes, as he practices that basketball shot for the thousandth time, and yet misses it in the game, to simply pick up the ball and practice for the 1001st time, knowing that eventually he'll get it right.

And that when Son #3 draws that not-so-perfect picture that he’s learning on YouTube, that he puts aside the picture and immediately picks up a clear page to start again.

And that when Son #6 falls off of the bike that he’s learning to ride, he’ll get right back on and try it again.

And so on.

These are the lessons to be learned at Simchat Torah. What a glorious message to receive as the new year starts.

We are ready to be better people than we were last year and to work on ourselves each day.

Let’s hope we continue to be given the opportunity to do so and to learn this important lesson.

Shana Tova.

Here’s to a peaceful, productive and magical year ahead.

Friday, October 02, 2015

And Who Will Hug Naama's Four Year Old?

“Mommy, put down your iPad and cuddle with me,” my four year old whines this morning in the sukkah.

I hear him. And I certainly get what he’s saying. But I can’t. I can’t get away from the images swarming in my head, from the images that didn’t stop all night long, of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin driving with their four children. Driving from dinner, driving home to tuck the kids into bed, driving because we drive and we have the right to drive and why the hell shouldn’t they be driving, only to be gunned down in front of their children on a road in Israel.

I have a four year old. I have a seven year old. I have a nine year old.

As I pull myself away from the iPad, because of course when your beautiful four year old tells you to get the hell off of your electronics and just focus on them – you do it.

But my head is swimming with images of this couple. Of the beauty of the wife. Of the heritage from which they come. Of the children, dear Gd, the children, and what they must have heard and seen last night on that road.

Then the government tries to reassure us that they are sending soldiers into the Arab villages to find the murderers. ‘Good, go get them, we all think’ …but when they say this, I think of my friend’s gorgeous son, a soldier whose task it is to go into hostile villages to find murderers. And I’m not reassured. Rather, I’m furious. As the murder of two puts into motion a situation where our boys – our glorious, beautiful boys – are forced into treacherous, hostile situations. And I know, as we wait for news about the capture of the murderers, that we are putting the lives of our sons at risk for this capture.

I hug Yakir in the sukkah, in the sukkah where we are commanded to be happy and to bring the joy of light and festivity into our fragile temporary structure. And I hug him as if my life depends on it because right now it really does. And I wonder, with tears streaming down my face, who will hug Naama’s four year old this morning. And who will gather him into their arms and tell him that it’s going to be alright, when it’s not going to be alright because it will never be alright again.

Nothing can wash away the blood he saw and the screams he heard and the abandonment that he has now experienced.  The status of ‘orphan’ that he has now adopted along with so many other Israeli children whose crime is that they are Jewish. They are Israeli. They are alive. Period.

I turn off the iPad, but it doesn’t turn off the noise in my head. The noise continues as I think about my four year old, my 7 year old, my 9 year old...

And their baby – their baby who probably needs to nurse. Who needs his mom more than anyone else right now. And who needs his milk.

I wonder, as I lay there cuddling with and loving Yakir, who is going to help Rabbi Eitam and Naama’s four year old. And who is going to cuddle with him in the morning light tomorrow, and the day after.

And I cry.