Sunday, December 27, 2015

In Love and Support

When I heard that Ezra Schwartz’s family was planning to be in Gush Etzion, I knew that I would be there as well. It didn’t matter what day it would be, or what time they would arrive, or where in the Gush they were planning to be – but I knew I would be there. I would be there as one of the many nameless, faceless supporters with tears streaming down her cheeks as they walked by.

And so it was, today, at 1pm that Ezra’s mom, dad, sister and brothers were in Givat Oz V’Gaon helping to create a garden that Ezra was working on when he was murdered; and seeing the exercise park created for soldiers that was dedicated in his name a few short weeks ago. Ezra was a spunky, funny 18 year old who chose to study for a year in Israel before college at a Yeshiva that combined learning with community service.

Having spent the summer of 2014 here on a program, Ezra was moved by the creation of Givat Oz. Givat Oz stands as a park and camping area made in memory of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal soon after they were kidnapped and murdered by Arab terrorists for being Jewish. Ezra’s mother spoke today about how Ezra was moved by the unfolding events that summer; by the boys roughly his age who were snatched one evening and the ensuing hunt to find them. Ezra was here, in Israel, when their bodies were found and buried, and through the war that we endured that summer.

He felt connected to these boys, murdered for being Jewish and for no other reason. And he spoke to his parents last month about his work at Givat Oz and the things they were doing in memory of the boys.

Little could he have known that he would join this larger picture when, last month, a terrorist opened fire on the road near Tzomet HaGush as Ezra was on his way to build at Givat Oz. And today, his memory is mingled with that of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal; so much so that Racheli Frankel (Naftali’s mom) was there to speak about grief, sacrifice, love and the Jewish soul.
Racheli Frankel speaking at Givat Oz V'Gaon
Today’s ceremony was beautiful and perfect. Ezra’s parents both spoke about their son’s love for Israel, about his choice to be part of the program at Yeshivat Ashreinu and his choice to be part of this specific chesed project. His sister shared a few touching memories. A student spoke about meeting Ezra's parents at the airport and wanting them to know how much the students in the Gush supported and loved the family; and about feeling incredibly touched by the individualized attention this grieving family gave to the boys in return, and the comfort they offered to the boys instead of the other way around.

The head of Yeshivat Ashreinu, Rabbi Yudin, spoke through his absolute grief about Ezra while the Mayor of Gush Etzion, Davidi Perel, spoke about how precious Gush Etzion is to us. He spoke about how, after thousands of years of exile, we have returned to this Land only to have sacrifices over and over again. And he thanked the Schwartzes for sending their boy to us, to Israel.

Rocky Brody, a dear family friend, coordinator of the event today and resident of Alon Shvut, spoke about the connection between Ezra in the Tanach and their Ezra. She spoke about the mosaic that she helped the boys from Yeshivat Ashreinu to create that now sits outside of Alon Shvut (with one for Rav Yaakov Don).

As she concluded she said, “We here in Gush Etzion, and especially those of us from Alon Shvut will be thinking about Ezra on a daily basis every time we enter or exit our yishuv; this mosaic is there to remind us of him every single day. Though, let me make this very clear: Even though this spot is ground zero, we will not be thinking about him in his final moments, at the time of this horrific pigua, rather, just by looking at the words of this pasuk, permanently displayed in broken tiles, we will be inspired by who Ezra was, these words connecting Ezra Hasofer and Ezra Schwartz for all eternity, forever with Hashem’s good hand resting on them both."
Mosaic outside Alon Shvut made by Yeshivat Ashreinu for Ezra Schwartz
 Picture by Rocky Brody
Memorials for Rav Yaakov Don and Ezra Schwartz outside Alon Shvut
Picture by Rocky Brody

In addition to all of these powerful moments, something unusual touched me in its simplicity. Yeshiva Orot Yehuda in Efrat took time out of its school day and rented a bus to attend the ceremony. They had no personal connection to the Schwartz family beyond the connection that we all feel. They brought along with them four signs that they held up at the back of the throngs of people. And the signs read, “Ezra will always be one of us,” and “Ezra is one of us” and so on. Their presence was a beautiful lesson for their students, and the posters were such a simple, yet powerful, message to the family.
The signs say "Ezra will always be one of us" and "Ezra is one of us"

Because, indeed, we are all here together trying to figure out how to get through each day safely and trying to find the best way to preserve the memory of those who don’t.

As Racheli Frankel said, Ezra is now with their sons, with the boys that he so admired and felt for, looking out for all of us and giving us the strength that we need to keep planting and building and fighting for our very lives here in Israel.

May the Schwartz family gain great strength from their time in Israel and may they know from events like the one today that we are all here for them in love and support.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tehina, Technology & Tunes

Amidst the bloodshed and the terror are so many hidden gems in this Land of ours. It is such a breath of fresh air to get a glimpse of businesses that are booming, people who continue to work together through the conflict, and places where Israeli innovations are bursting onto the scene and making the world a better place.

This is the glimpse that we were privy to over Chanukah, when we used one of our days to explore the Maaleh Adumim area with the help of Tour Adumim and guide Shelley Brinn. We arrived in the area in the morning, ready for a tour of three factories in the Mishur Adumim Industrial Park.

There are close to 350 businesses and factories in the industrial zone. Some are Jewish owned factories – and some of them are Arab owned. The entire area throws the Apartheid state accusations out the window and demonstrates just how closely we are tied to each other, and how capably we are able to make things work at times. Most of these factories have Jews and Arabs working side by side. 

This is where the SodaStream factory was located prior to relocating to the Negev in the past year, due to overwhelming BDS pressure, leaving hundreds of previously well paid local Arabs jobless.

Those doing the yelling and pressuring are certainly not the ones touring the factories and seeing with their own eyes how many financial opportunities are in the area; and how vital Mishur Adumim is to the economy in this part of the country.

We started at the Mamlechet HaHalva factory where we learned about the process of making excellent artisan tehina and halva. The highlight, of course, were the free samples of about 8 different kinds of melt-in-your-mouth halva. We happily purchased 4 different flavors to take home at the reduced factory prices!

With our tasty purchases in hand, we made our way to a fascinating tour of Aleinu, a company that is showing the world that it’s possible to create an agricultural feast on the top of a tall building. With their aeroponic facility, they are growing lettuce and spices in a football-field-sized space…three stories in the air. In perfect Israeli fashion, they are pushing the greenhouse envelope and showing the world amazing innovations. They have managed to create a space that uses no soil whatsoever and very little water, and yet their greenery is blossoming and growing across over 4,000 square meters of this very hi-tech facility.

Finally, stop three was at a blow-your-mind guitar making factory. Tal Macmull always loved music and he loved guitars. At the age of 16, he spent a year building, from scratch, his first electric guitar. And a love affair was born. Tal moved to the States for a bit to research the market, and realized that there was a market (ready for this?) for authentic 1950s guitars.

Apparently the guitars today are made with different types of wood, glue and other materials than the ones from times-gone-by were. Any trained musician can easily hear the difference in the instruments, and they are willing to spend large sums of money to get that perfect sound.

So, Tal has made a very successful business, Macmull Guitars, out of recreating vintage 1950s electric guitars. This means that he searches the world for the wood from the 1950s (including going so far as to buy a house in the States just to rip it down for its wood!), he purchases machines that were used at that time for guitar creation and he makes the dreams of skilled musicians come true.

Tal’s workspace is amazing and his passion is awe-inspiring.

To top it all off we had a delicious, incredibly reasonably priced lunch at Hummus Adumim. The hummus was mouth-watering, the pita and falafel balls were hot and the atmosphere had the perfect Israeli ambiance.

We are an amazing people. 

And our hidden gems surprise me every time that I stumble upon them or am shown the way.

(This blog was originally posted on the Israel Forever Foundation website. I'm posting it here for those who might not have seen it.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Parenting Lessons Learned While the Doughnuts Fry

I am the world’s worst baker. And I’d say I’ve come to terms with my terrible baking, but you have to care about the activity at hand and your own failure in order to come to terms with things. 

And I don’t care. 

I’ve always been a bad baker, and I know that I’ll always be one.

But that doesn’t mean that, at times, I don’t wish that I could whip up an awesome soufflĂ© for that dinner party; or that I don’t want to make the amazing hamentashen (Purim cookies) that I see my friends concocting. So, as Chanukah approached and one of my friends posted a recipe for sufganiyot (Chanukah jelly doughnuts), I decided that I would give them a try.

The first night, they were fluff-less mounds of oily dough. Now, they were quite delicious fluff-less mounds of oily dough, but nonetheless, they were not sufganiyot.
Eating the fluff-less mounds of dough...
I went back and forth with Susan, the recipe-giver and friend, over IM and eventually Skype, from Australia all the way to Israel. She kept offering me tips, encouragement and suggestions. She finally realized with whom she was working when she said, “Did you make the oil too hot?”

And I replied, “Huh? Oil can be too hot?”

I could hear her sigh across the ocean.

The second night, after much coaching, I took a deep breath and decided to try again. I could do this. I could be one of the Betty Crocker moms who pulls fancy things out of the oven – who feeds her kids fattening “I love you because I baked for you” items. And I followed the recipe point for point. The sufganiyot were actually quite delicious. It was a Chanukah miracle! Susan gave me a high five icon on Facebook. I posted pictures and the crowd went wild.

Go wild, crowd!
The next day, I was thinking about my self-deprecation and wondering if it’s bad parenting. Is it bad form to make fun of myself? To laugh about what a bad baker I am? (We also laugh in the house about other things I don’t do or can’t do, such as ironing, keeping the laundry sorted properly, etc.) And I came to a conclusion that I found reassuring.

None of us are perfect. And yet many children think that their parents are invincible, unbeatable.  While it’s great for kids to look up to their parents, it’s also great for them to learn about imperfection and about having a sense of humor.

And when I make fun of my sufganiyot making, and my kids roll their eyes and say “Here she goes again!” they are seeing that I’m not invincible. I’m just an entirely human woman trying to do well by her kids and struggling through everyday activities. In addition, I’m a mom who knows how to add humor into her imperfections.

Most importantly, perhaps, I’m the mom facing her insecurities and inabilities head on; I'm the one trying to offer up great sufganiyot to the kids, even when everyone knows that I’m probably going to fail.

They will see me in the kitchen again soon, for Purim, with flour on my face and sugar all over the floor as I consult with Susan in Australia and try to turn out a Hamentashen worth eating.

And I’ll be smiling and laughing at myself all the way to the oven, with my kids cheering me on. 

Failure is human. 

Imperfections are natural. 

Humor is precious. 

And learning to scale obstacles despite these challenges? A priceless lesson for myself, and my kids.