Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Shocking Turn of Events: Why I've Come to Enjoy Lag B'Omer

Now that we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Lag B’Omer fires are over (well, we can’t really breathe this morning, but you get what I mean), it’s time for some reflection. I usually really dislike this holiday. I would say hate, but I’m probably not supposed to say hate about a holiday. There isn’t too much to like as a parent. You send your kids out to a fire where they dance around, get splinters, eat too many hotdogs and refuse to come home. When they do finally come home, they have left trash all over our beautiful land, they’ve burned the ground and they’ve returned as stinky as a small skunk.

And that’s if they have friends with whom to do the fire. If they aren’t yet in Bnei Akiva or they aren’t old enough for their own fire, then you are left in charge.

What’s to like?

This year, for the first time, I started to see that there is something to like about the Lag B’Omer fires. It has been quite nice for me to find a way to enjoy the holiday and the surrounding pyrofest. 

Here is what I’ve learned.

Josh pointed out last night that there are two special things about Lag B’Omer, neither of which I had ever considered. He called it the “only truly Zionist holiday” since it’s observed with such fervor in Israel, but is a barely visible blip on the calendar in the rest of the world. In tandem with this, it’s the only truly non-denominational holiday that we have.

Let me explain.

Almost every child in Israel celebrates Lag B’Omer and this includes the most Haredi to the most secular. Show me another holiday during the year where this is the case. Even Yom Ha’azmaut isn’t celebrated as widely, and certainly the religious holidays aren’t observed by as many kids.  While there are obviously some bonfires around the world (my friend took a picture of herself at one in Cyprus last night!), it’s not a broadly celebrated holiday outside of Israel.

This is what makes it unique and interesting.

Even more so, my children spend weeks – literally weeks – gathering wood and setting up for their bonfires.   This means that, in the weeks before Lag B’Omer, they are outside all afternoon and into the evening with their friends. They are being social, active, productive (in a way) and entertained.

Last minute wood collection before the fun begins!
Thankfully, our kids lead active, social lives but even they enjoy watching TV and playing with the computer. But when they are preparing for Lag B’Omer, they aren’t sitting inside on a computer screen.

In today’s anti-social world filled with screens and ‘friends’ through social media,  these activities have real value.

Hopefully, during their wood gathering, they are also learning what it means not to steal, how to avoid scratching cars, how to make sure they include everyone and other lessons.

On the night of Lag B’Omer, they learn about team work as they set the fire up together with their friends and divide up the food needs for the evening. And then they spend the evening singing songs, sitting around the fire, laughing and talking.

My littlest guy with his best friends at their small fire.
This morning Josh and I went out for a very early morning walk and we came across our older boys as they were wrapping up their fires. It is definitely a weird feeling to see your children out in the morning light, when you’re starting your day and they’re finishing theirs.

What I saw, however, made me quite proud. They were cleaning up the area with over a dozen bags of trash. They were safely putting out the fires and carefully making sure that everything was finished and cleared.  When they finished, they were headed off in their stinky clothes and soot-covered faces to shul to daven the morning prayers.

In a world where so many kids feel isolated, where they are bored, and where they spend day and night on electronic devices, I’ll take Lag B’Omer.

Because these are the memories that will last them a lifetime and that allow them to feel like they are part of something special, unique and their Land.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I Remember You

This was first posted last night on the Times of Israel blog. We remember on Israel Remembrance Day.

I remember you, Koby. It was the Spring of 2001 when you were murdered while hiking through the wadi near your home. I remember you, Koby, and the day they were searching for you. I clutched my new baby, my first baby, to my chest and prayed that they would find you. Until they did. And then, soon after, when your father came to speak in Washington DC, I vowed to my husband through my never-ending tears that we would have as many children as we could have.

I remember you, Yosef. I was teaching your sisters and had only recently made Aliyah when you died during a training exercise; when you died while saving the life of your superior during the jump. I remember standing in the shul in Efrat with the thousands upon thousands of others and watching your sisters try to keep themselves together through their anguish.

I remember you, Segev. I awoke the morning after to a text message from the yishuv, from Neve Daniel, that I was sure I was reading incorrectly. It couldn’t be that such tragedy, that such horror had befallen my neighbors; such gentle, quiet souls. I called one of my neighbors, fluent in Hebrew, and knew that I was reading correctly when he couldn’t speak. When he only cried into the phone. I remember you.

I remember you Ruth, Udi, Yoav, Elad and Hadas. My baby was nuzzling at the breast at the same time that yours was that night, and my Bnei Akiva son was out having fun, as was your daughter. There are no words to describe what you endured, no words to make better what occurred. But as I awoke the next morning and you didn’t, I remembered you. And I will continue to remember you. All of you.

I remember you, Ezra. I was watching my son’s horseback riding lesson and another son was supposed to be at the Tzomet exactly when you were. But he wasn’t. And you were. And I remember watching the ambulances race along route 60, racing to save your already vanished young life. And I remember you, Yaacov, a man of such joy, of such love and faith. I remember you.

I remember you Dafna, as you fought for your life and used your last energy to keep your family safe. And you, Eliav, who share my son’s name. You aren’t here to see your newest son, born just recently to your wife in Karmei Tzur. But I will remember you.

I remember you Nidan, Adele, Shalom, Malachi, Alexander, Eitam, Naama, Aharon, Nehemia, Chaim, Alon, Yeshayahu, Omri, Habtom, Avraham, Rabbi Haim, Richard, Benjamin, Netanel, Yaakov, Reuven and Aharon.

I remember you.

I remember you Moshe, Yitzhak, Yossi, Eliyahu, Asher, Yonatan, Netanel, Maor, Said, Yitzchak, Amir, Elior, Kochava, Mustafa, Itzik, Mirah, Aharon, Gal, Tomer, Eden, Baruch, Shelly, Naftali, Gilad and Eyal.

I remember you.

And I will continue to remember you and preserve your name, to picture your face and to think of your accomplishments for as long as I am able.

Yesterday, by chance, my five year old asked me what tears are. Are there buckets behind your eyes holding those tears, Mommy? Do they ever dry up?

Indeed. Do they ever dry up? Does it ever stop?

Today, tomorrow there appears to be no end. And on so many days this is true.

I remember you. I really do.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Blessing of Being a Fake

This blog was first posted this morning as a Times of Israel blog.

Every Holocaust Remembrance Day I feel like a fake. My great grandparents all arrived on the shores of the United States from Russia and Poland in the late 19th century, which means that no one was left behind. No one perished in the Holocaust, escaped to Palestine, fought in the resistance, or survived as a hidden child.

No one. 

One grandfather fought with the Americans in World War II, earning two purple hearts and certainly making sacrifices along the way. The other grandfather wasn’t drafted because he was working for NASA and helping with the first moon landing. They both have impressive and heroic stories and I embrace them and love what they did for all of us.

But when we arrive at Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m always surprised by the stories that surround me. Last night at the yishuv’s memorial program, one woman described the hardships that her father endured. Fortunately, his story was preserved through a video of interviews, which even included a recent return to the camps. Near the end of the program, they had yishuv members come to the front to read the endless names of their families who died in the Holocaust.

One of my closest friends went up to read a list of names. When she returned to her seat next to me, I turned to her in shock, “I had no idea you had this history. Who did you lose?”

And she recounted a piece of history that I have never heard before. 

She’s from Holland, and her great grandparents were descendants of the Spanish Jews who escaped from Spain before the Inquisition. The community of Spanish Jews living in Holland, and particularly in The Hague, had been there already for over 400 years when the Nazis invaded and they had established themselves in all aspects of life in Holland. She recounted that the head Nazi of the area, Ausderfunten, deemed that these Jews weren’t really Jews and that they should be treated as regular citizens. And so, her great grandparents and many others went around without the yellow Star of David sewn into their clothing, and they continued to work at their jobs and survive. 

“What happened then that they perished?” I asked. And her incredibly ironic story was revealed.

Apparently, these Jews who weren’t being treated as Jews hid other Jews in their homes to keep them from certain death. And when they were found out, they were all sent to Auschwitz. When my friend’s great uncle heard what had happened, he made an impassioned plea to Nazi Ausderfunten to save them. And Ausderfunten sent a message to stop the transport and to save her great grandparents. But the Nazis who received that message laughed and ignored the order, and her great grandparents were sent to their deaths.

We could live to be a thousand and not hear all of the stories from the Holocaust. And we could live to be a thousand and not feel like we could possibly make up for what happened – possibly offer reparations to those who perished, to the families who carry their burdens forward, to those left behind.

And through all of this, and all of these stories, I always feel a bit off-center, left out. Certainly, I feel blessed to be left out, but I still feel left out.

But then I remember that I’m part of the story now, and that my story is one for the future.

While my family has a different history and a different story to tell, I will continue to hold the memory of the 6 million in my heart. 

As we concluded the ceremony last night with Ani Ma’amin and Hatikva, I moved from the periphery of this story back onto center stage. Because our 2000 years of yearning, of suffering, of exile is over…I’ve chosen to be part of the collective story moving forward – of the story of our people who have rebuilt (and rebuilt and rebuilt) from the ashes of our past and are firmly planting our feet here, in Israel, for our future.

We’ve done so on the backs of all of the people who dreamed, fought, cried and died with the hope of a Jewish homeland on their lips. And while I sang Hatikva, I had those same hopes, dreams and thoughts on my lips. But I also had them on the soil of my shoes – the soil of Eretz Yisrael where I live, love, grow and am building the future, while always, always remembering the past.