Sunday, November 22, 2015

Caliber 3: Anti Terror Trifecta

Recently, I worked to equip myself with the tools, once again, to protect myself and my family as I go to the grocery store, bring my kids to their basketball practices, go out to work and attempt to live what should be an ordinary and peaceful day, each day, as a working mom raising six boys.

I have now completed a trifecta of anti-terror courses. The trifecta includes a three hour defensive driving course, a one and a half hour private counter-terrorism gun training and a two hour hand-to-hand self-defense course to defend against stabbings.
Yes, I certainly feel better prepared for the day-to-day events unfolding around me in Israel right now.

I feel more confident.

I feel more knowledgeable.

But boy do I feel weary.

I’m weary of the constant attacks, including the shocking news recently when an 11 year old stabbed a security guard on the Jerusalem Light Rail.

I’m weary of the constant and never-ending threat.

But what are we to do? As my friend so eloquently wrote recently, “It’s difficult to have to be so physically vigilant while simultaneously feeling so emotionally weary.”

Yet, we carry on and prepare ourselves as well as we can and we continue to live our normal, happy, healthy lives to the best of our abilities.

I’m fortunate to have an academy five minutes from my home where they have amazing resources available to help me, and others, to be better prepared. Caliber 3 was established in 2002 by Col. Sharon Gat and has become a leading counter-terror and security academy in Israel. They work closely with the IDF, Israeli Police, local rapid response teams and government agencies. They also work with tourists who want to get a taste of life in Israel, and they work with regular people like me.

They offer Krav Maga for children and adults, shooting classes at all levels, safety and awareness classes and this defensive driving course.

I’m scared of many things, and at the top of the list is my fear that something will happen while I’m driving. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could get stoned, have Molotov cocktails thrown at us, find ourselves facing a man-made barrier on the road or encounter a violent riot or protest.

With these fears in mind, I decided to take this three hour course.

About a dozen of us showed up with our cars and got ready behind Caliber 3. In the class, we discussed how to back out of dangerous and impassible situations, how to get an injured passenger out of the vehicle, how to swerve around obstacles in the road (both forwards and in reverse), how to drive through fire, how to deal with objects being thrown at us (in this case water balloons) and how to quickly change a tire and get back on the road.

The course was highly professional and informative.

What struck me throughout was, first of all, how sick it was that I was taking this course. I thought to myself, where else, in the entire, world do people need to be taking a course like this?

And why should we have to?

The other thing that struck me was the shared stories and the background that we brought to the course. When the instructor explained a topic, there was always someone who said, “Oh, you mean like the incident that happened in Kiryat Arba last week.” Or “Well, on the Tekoa road when this happened….” And there were nods all around each time. There was a real, concrete, this-already-happened story to share for every situation. Typically, if you take a self-defense course or a shooting course, you don’t have prior experience with these exact situations at the tip of your tongue.

But here, you do.

And that is the difference. Because we are all sharing in this collective horror here in Israel; and we are all following every single story as it unfolds.

Fortunately, our lives in Israel are extraordinary. They are rich beyond imagination, overflowing with blessings, crowned by a glorious four- thousand year history and bursting with hope for the future.

Thank Gd this is true, since our current situation is anything but ordinary.

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are here, living out the promise offered to Avraham Avinu thousands of years ago; that our children are living their heritage and that our lives here matter.
Because sometimes the day-to-day struggles and the trifecta that I carry can become very heavy baggage to bear.

But bear it I do, and we do, for a better tomorrow. For a chance to continue living in our Land and continue offering our children the promise of a better tomorrow – but one where we are prepared for the situation today.

Note: This article was first published at the Israel Forever Foundation website.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bnei Akiva Saved My Son's Life

Posted today on the Times of Israel website. I'm putting it here for those who might not see it and for my records.

My son takes horseback riding lessons in Elazar, the town in Gush Etzion right next to ours in Neve Daniel. And the horseback riding area is right at the front of the yishuv, overlooking highway 60 and the beautiful rolling hills beyond. Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a quiet nook, reading an article and watching my beautiful son develop confidence when the noises started.

The ambulances flew past, the unmarked cars zoomed by.
No. Please Gd. Not again.

But I didn’t want to look. So, I tried to continue reading my article for a few minutes, and watch the horses prance by.

Zoom….more ambulances…more unmarked cars.

And the pull became too great as I braced myself, and went to the news on my phone. As I read the news I did a mental check, making sure that I knew where all of my children were. And fortunately, today, I did.

Terror. Terror again. Terror at our Tzomet. At the spot that I drive once, twice, three times a day. That my children drive by on their school buses. Shooting at cars standing in line, waiting to get through the intersection – a traffic jam that I sit in almost every afternoon. Typically at this exact hour.

And as the tears began, and the anger welled, I realized that my son’s life was spared today by Bnei Akiva. Because you see, this weekend is the culmination of a month’s worth of activity that the Bnei Akiva kids have been doing. And last night was their “Lila Lavan” where they stay up most of the night practicing their dance for a performance coming Saturday night and painting the walls of their club house to present to us on Shabbat. And because of Lila Lavan, my 9 year old wasn’t stuck in the traffic at the exact moment of the attack that he’s stuck in with his carpool every single Thursday. He didn’t have basketball practice.

And this time, he was spared.

But of course, others were not. A few of our neighbors were behind the cars that were sprayed with bullet fire. They were in the same traffic jam that Ezra Schwartz and Rav Yaakov Don were in. Why were they spared? Why weren’t their cars sprayed with bullets, and yet the cars in front of them were?

These are the questions that haunt us. The ones that we can’t answer.

Besides tears, and screams and moments of desolation, what can we do with ourselves?

Last night, they modified the Lila Lavan a bit, saying tehillim (prayers) and having a quiet song session in the beginning. But then, fortunately, they went on with the festivities. And I found myself sitting at home praying that they wouldn’t take this away from my children. Yes, many of their friends are friends with Rav Yaakov Don’s children, and yes the pain and lack of separation from these tragedies is never ending. But my kids also need — so desperately — to be kids. And to continue on through their tears and their fears BEING kids.

We see this in so many ways here. Last week, Sarah Techiya Litman lost her father, Rabbi Yaakov Litman, and her brother, Netanal, in a terror attack while the family was driving to her fiance’s community for Shabbat. They were to be married three days later, and instead Sarah spent the week sitting shiva. But, in an incredible move, they have rescheduled the wedding for this Thursday, just days after she gets up from the seven day mourning period, and she and her fiancĂ©, Ariel Beigle, have invited the entire country to join in their simcha.

This is who we are.

So I was happy last night to place a sign by the front door that said “Don’t lock out your brothers!” to remind my three Bnei Akiva boys not to lock each other out throughout the night as they came and went with their festivities.

And this morning, I awoke with a mission. I bought bouquets of flowers and dropped them at the home of a friend who witnessed the terrorist attack yesterday; I brought them to the home of a friend battling cancer, and I brought them to my own home to bring a desperately needed ray of sunshine into the house.

And then, at the grocery store, I bought more cookies and drinks to deliver today to the soldiers who are tirelessly trying — trying their best — to keep us safe. My son and I will go to the spot of the attacks in a few minutes to hand out drinks, to offer cookies and to stand strong. To stand strong in the location — yet another location among so many – where we have been attacked for being Jewish and Israeli.

We will mourn (as the funeral for Rabbi Yaakov Don is taking place right now with thousands in attendance), we will cry, and we will try to carry on. We will protect ourselves and use caution. But all the while we will continue living here, in Israel, and getting up from the ashes to create, to do acts of kindness, to love and to build.

Because that’s what we know how to do. And that is how we have continued to be who we are for the thousands of years of our existence.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

King for a Day

I spent Shabbat wrestling between the joy of my five year old's birthday, and the knowledge that Sarah Tchiya Litman's life, and that of her entire family, will never be the same. Driving Friday afternoon to participate in the pre-wedding celebrations for Sarah's groom, her father and brother were murdered on the road - with most of her family in the car.

Instead of a wedding on Tuesday, Sarah and her family are sitting shiva.

Throughout Shabbat we had heard sprinklings that something had happened in Paris. Something major.

We came out of Shabbat and were soon in a fog from the carnage, the never-ending devastation that we feel here almost every day, that was now being felt elsewhere as well (and not for the first time).

And so, today, I'm sharing something happy on my blog. Because the sorrow and the devastation are too much, and we can only take so much at a time.

Yakir's party in kindergarten was on Thursday morning and I wanted to share a few observations. We made Aliyah when my oldest boys were 4 and 2, so I really don't know what schools do for birthday parties outside of Israel.

But I've been so touched, each time that I attend, by what our schools have done for the kids through daycare, nursery school and kindergarten. Israel loves its children, and this love shows through so clearly in the way that they treat the kids for their birthdays.

Years and years ago prior to our Aliyah, Josh and I were visiting friends here in Israel. Everyone was hanging out on a balcony and Josh sat down. Almost immediately, people started screaming. "You can't sit there!" they said with a mixture of shock and indignation. What had he done?

Turning around, he realized that he was sitting in a seat that was decorated. And there is only one reason that seats are decorated here - for the birthday child (or the bride and groom). And Josh had dared to sit in a seat that every Israeli knows is reserved for the birthday kid.

Today, the memory makes me laugh because, of course, the seat was for a birthday kid. Birthdays are raised to a very special level here in Israel and the children are treated as kings and queens during their celebrations.

Ubiquitous birthday chairs!

It's also amazing to see how well the teachers have the kids in line and how orchestrated the party is down to the last costume and second.

Last week, Yakir shared his party with another boy, Elyasaf, and both moms arrived for the big event. The entire class of 30 kids lined up across from each other to create an arch through which the boys entered the party.

Then, there was a series of songs, each of which had a costume to go with it and an activity. First, he and Elyasaf danced and had five kids holding pom poms dancing around them. Then, he donned a cap and selected a friend with whom to dance (yes, he picked an adorable little girl and I sent her mom the pictures). Then, he and Elyasaf dressed as butterflies and planted a "garden" that said Mazal Tov.

Next, they changed into gardening costumes and they put 6 "apples" on the tree. Each apple had a number on it and they had to put them in the right order.

After this, the moms had to give their children blessings (the dads were at work since it wasn't the most convenient time for a party and both moms work in the area...) and explain why we gave them the names we did. The teachers gave the boys gifts that the class had made for them, and, finally, the cake was brought out and paraded around before being devoured.

And of course, all of this lasted for exactly the 25 minutes that they said it would. It was beautifully choreographed and gave the kids such a nice feeling about the themselves - and how special they are to all of us.

May Yakir always feel this special and may we continue to enjoy him and to see the beauty in the little things, like a birthday party, for many, many years to come.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Birthday Nostalgia

Yakir's fifth birthday is this Shabbat, and I always find myself nostalgic at their birthdays. I go back and look at pictures from their births and first years, I look through albums and I remember. With this child, it was even easier to do so since Yakir's entire life has been on Facebook. As I was looking through everything, I found the speech that I gave at Yakir's brit. And I thought I'd share it again.

Papa Jerry would LOVE this kid.

The Brit of Yakir Yaakov ben Yehoshua Raion v'Reuma Michal Sussman

As many of you know, and have been reminding me for four years now, at Eliav’s brit in 2006, Josh closed by inviting you to the britot that we would be having in 2008 and 2010.  While I hate to admit that the man seems to have navua – the facts are certainly on the ground…And so today I welcome you with incredible gratitude to Hashem to the Sussman brit of 2010.

As you probably know, we struggled a bit to decide on a name for this little guy.  I had heard the name Yakir a while ago and put it in the back of my mind as a possibility.  No matter what else we considered (suggestions from friends, the Facebook challenge or ideas from our kids) I kept coming back to dear or beloved one.  While many will see him as 'the sixth son' or 'one of six' or 'WOW...SIX BOYS?!?!?', I view him as one of a kind original and a miracle from Hashem, just like every one of his five big brothers.  In giving him this name, Yakir, it is our hope that he will always know how special and unique he is to us.

When we went to the sonogram where we found out the sex of the baby, I have to admit that I was a bit shocked.  Could it really be possible that I was producing yet another boy? (One of Josh's former interns has since pointed out that the likelihood of having a family composition like ours is 1.5%!!)  As we walked out of the appointment, with me in shock, Josh said, “Well, of course it’s a boy Romi.  It has to be – this baby is, after all, Papa Jerry’s neshama.”

And indeed it is.  My grandfather, Jerry Weinhouse, whose Hebrew name was Yaakov Yosef ben Birtie, died about 2 weeks before we found out that we were pregnant.  I was raised around the block from my nana and papa and grew up in their home, and in their warm embrace, as much as I did in my own.

In so many ways, I feel an incredible sense of coming full circle with this brit and with the naming of our son, Yakir Yaakov and I’d like to share these thoughts with you.

10 years ago, Papa Jerry flew to Washington, D.C. to be able to hold his first great-grandchild during his brit. We were all a bit worried at Matan’s brit that Papa would drop the baby, as he stood there crying and rocking Matan in his arms, but Papa couldn’t have had a prouder moment in his life.  Today, I feel like we are holding Papa in our arms as we name our sixth son in his memory.
Papa Jerry at Matan's brit in May 2000

My papa earned two purple hearts during World War II as part of the American army.  He was shot in the leg and bombed out of a tank…and certainly could never in his wildest dreams have imagined the creation of the State of Israel – let alone have imagined that one of his grandchildren would someday call this place our home.  Today, as we come full circle, I feel a sense of astonishment and pride, considering that Papa’s 11th great grandchild, being named in his honor – will someday serve our country, but as part of a Jewish army, and in OUR Jewish nation.

Papa in his army uniform
As the birth grew closer, and I started to look ahead to see which Parsha the baby would probably be born during, I was, once again, stunned.  The baby was scheduled to be born, according to his due date, during Parsha Toldot – when we first meet Yaakov in the Torah.  And, of course, he was born right after this Parsha, and during Parsha Vayeitzei, when we first meet Yosef.  Could Hashem be speaking more clearly to me?  At the beginning of parsha Vayeitzei, Yaakov sees Hashem in a dream. Hashem explains to Yaakov that the ground upon which Yaakov lies will be given to Yaakov and to his descendants and that his offspring will spread out in all directions.  He promises to guard Yaakov wherever he goes and that he won't forsake him.  Here we are, thousands of years later, on the very ground that Hashem promised to the Jewish people - creating the descendants that he promised to give to Yaakov- and the descendants of my own Yaakov, my grandfather.

Finally, a last example of coming full circle.  When Papa died, Josh took it upon himself to commit to saying Kaddish for him for the entire year.  It has not been an easy commitment.  While traveling for work, juggling family life each night, and dealing with a complaining wife who was often heard saying, “It’s time for minyan again? Already?” he has said Kaddish with compassion and grace all year for my grandfather.  I want to publicly thank Josh for taking on this commitment for me and for Papa.  As Josh finishes saying Kaddish in the next 10 days, I have, yet again, a profound sense of coming full circle.  While moving away from the ritual of saying Kaddish, we will continue remembering my grandfather now, through the very existence of our son  Yakir.  Thank you Josh for the incredible commitment that you’ve shown to me and for keeping Papa’s memory alive all year.

And so, today, we welcome Yakir Yaakov ben Yehoshua Raion into our family, our incredible community here in Neve Daniel, and our greater community as part of Am Israel.  My Papa was fiercely loyal to family and madly in love with his grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He was a man of dreams, picking up his family from Chicago for a better life in Los Angeles and a man who adapted remarkably well to change, remarrying in his 70s when my grandmother suddenly died, and then finding love in his late 80s again in his senior home.  Our bracha for our son is that he follow in his namesake’s footsteps, as a courageous, loving, devoted and adaptable part of Am Israel and Eretz Israel.

Thank you all for being with us today.  We feel overwhelmingly blessed in our professional lives, in our family life, in our community life and in our life here in Israel and we appreciate the part that each and every one of you plays in our lives today.  Mazal Tov!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Just Do It: How You Can Help Us in Israel

I’m not embarrassed to say that I am, at times during the day, depressed.

I get up each day, remembering that yesterday there was another stabbing, another car ramming, another stone throwing that ended in injury, and I have trouble waking up.


As the terror has gotten closer and closer to home, there are days when I have trouble getting through the afternoon…and the evening.

But I do, because that’s what we do (obviously) and because the only answer to terror is to keep going and building and living and loving.

Or something like that.

So, very often, to get through my day I work on getting OUT of myself. How do I do that? I have a few key things that I do to rise above myself and our national situation and to feel better.

When I do my grocery shopping at the neighborhood Rami Levi each week (the Rami Levi where a mother of eight was stabbed in the back and left for dead last week), I buy extra cakes and cookies. And I bring them over to the Pina Chama so that the many, many soldiers who are trying to guard us and keep us alive will have goodies to enjoy.

Soldiers eating at the Pina Chama (Photo Credit: Laura Ben David)

And when I drive towards Kfar Etzion and Bat Ayin (which I do about once a week or more), I go into the bakery in Kfar Etzion and I buy either two coffees or two ice coffees and a bunch of bakery goods. Then, I park near the bus stop where our boys were kidnapped last year, and I bring the two soldiers who are there the goodies. 
These days, there are two soldiers here at all times.

I love to see the looks on their faces when I bring them these treats. They are always so appreciative – so sweet – when I’m the one who is trying to show my appreciation for them and my gratitude for what they are doing.

And then, most recently, as the #Eatifada idea has taken root, Josh and I have gone to dinner and to breakfast a number of times. We’ve gone out in Jerusalem a few times, and out in the Gush as well. The restaurants need our support and going out allows us to get out of our heads (well, at least mine) for a bit while supporting a local establishment.

These are my weekly rituals and the ways that I’m trying to do something good for others in the face of so much evil.

There are other things that have been helping me as well. And I started to realize that my dear friends and family in the States, who want to help but don’t know what to do, might benefit from a list. I am not in any way trying to pat myself on the back for the things I’m doing; nor am I trying to imply that you’re not doing enough, no matter where you live. But, should you be looking for more involvement and for ideas, here is a list.

My list is in no way all-inclusive. Hopefully, others will add ideas in the comments or will offer up their own lists. But here are mine:

It’s not all about the money: While I’m going to offer a lot of financial ways to help here in Israel, I want to offer you a few that aren’t about money. So let’s start with them.  I can’t speak for other people, but I really appreciate hearing from people outside of Israel right now. While I’m not a phone talker, and I, in particular, don’t want to talk after something has happened, I love email and WhatsApp. We have dear friends who WhatsApp us once, twice a week just to say hi. “How are you today?” “I just heard about the latest attack. How are you holding up?” These messages are priceless to me and they make an enormous impact. Private Facebook messages are similarly helpful, as are emails.  

Physical Presence
Your physical presence is like gold to us. Last week, Josh and I were at a restaurant in Jerusalem and we noticed that at least half the people there were on Christian missions. The Christians are still coming; many Asian tourists are around; but the Jewish tourists? Many tend to stop coming when things get rough. Last week, our favorite artisan bread bakery, PatBaMelach, even hosted a group of Amish tourists. The Amish are coming to Gush Etzion!! But are you? I know it takes money and time away from work to get here. I’m not at all belittling that. But having your feet on the ground offers us emotional support, even more than the financial support that you’re giving to the State when you eat in the restaurants, shop in the stores, and stay in a hotel. So come.

Financial Help
You may not be able to come here, but there are still many ways that you can help Israel financially. There are so, so many ways to help, that it’s often hard to even know where to start. Here are just a few ideas. There are so many more out there.

1. Give through me; you won’t get a tax deduction, but I can guarantee that every cent you give will go directly to feed tired and hungry soldiers.  If you’re a friend of mine (or you can do this with another friend who lives in Israel), you can send me money directly. I can use this money for various activities. I can buy soda and bakery goods for those soldiers at the bus stop or I can buy extra food for the Pina Chama. Last summer, during the war, people sent me an amazing amount of money and I kept running to the Pina Chama and bringing things to the soldiers on the streets. 

Yehuda, last summer, buying tons of food for the Pina Chama soldiers
This serves a few purposes. It helps out our soldiers, and it keeps me occupied and allows me to take my mind off of the situation. It also puts food directly into the hands of the people you are trying to help (I can send you pictures if you want!) 

2. Send someone you know out for a meal. There is a campaign going on at the moment called Eatifada that encourages Israelis to get out and eat in the restaurants that are hardest hit by the situation. Last week, a generous friend of ours sent us money and told us to go out to eat, but to do so in a restaurant that has lost a lot of business. If you do this for friends, you are helping the Israeli economy, keeping young student/waiters/waitresses/cooks employed and helping to lift the spirits of friends who probably need a night out.

3. The Gush Etzion Foundation: You can earmark your gift for the Pina Chama, helping out soldiers. This page also shows many other ways that you can earmark your funds to help us here in the Gush.  Unfortunately, we seem to be at the center of things here and the Gush Etzion Foundation is constantly working to improve our security, fund the Pina Chama and generally improve the lives of the residents, especially in hard times.  

4. Standing Together: They help soldiers in many different ways, whether it’s bringing food to bases or buying warm winter gear for our soldiers. 

5. Both the One Family Fund and the Koby Mandell Foundation work with victims of terror and their families. So does the American Friends of NATAL

6. A friend of mine forwarded me this idea. This is a specific army unit that needs better equipmentThey can’t always get everything that they need from the army. Learn more about their campaign. 

These are just a few of the many ways that you can get involved. 

Whatever you do – just do it. Call or write a friend. Check the news regularly so you know what’s going on (Israeli sites, not international ones), come for a visit, give a donation, or think of other ideas. 

The bottom line, as Nike says, is JUST DO IT.