Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lessons Learned at the Lone Tree

My two oldest boys go to school 45 minutes south of our house in a program that I’ve written about a few times called Sussya. It’s a magical place that places a great deal of emphasis on molding the boys into upstanding, thoughtful, generous people. At the same time, they teach the kids all about Jewish history and modern Zionism by exploring the Land.

This Friday, Yehuda’s weekly trip took them to Gush Etzion. So the evening before, each kid called his parents to tell them that the kids would be available to say hi for 15-20 minutes…and could we please bring some goodies. We’ve been doing this for two years already with Matan, so we know how to grab the moments when we get them and how to bring treats for the kids. But with Matan’s class, we have a Whatsapp group (of course) so that the parents who live in the Gush can coordinate what to bring and when.

We don’t have such a group with the new ninth graders, so I was in the dark about how much to buy…and of what. I bought enough treats for each kid to have one pastry and a cup of juice, and I certainly hoped that other parents would be bringing more treats. 

When we arrived, we were the first parents on the scene, and the kids quickly starting to gobble the goodies that we had brought. We were standing a bit away from the kids, talking to Yehuda’s teacher and I started to get nervous.

“Oy,” I said to Rav R. “I didn’t bring enough. And now the kids are going to be hungry.”

And in perfect fashion, he said, “No! It’s great that there isn’t enough."

I looked at him like he was crazy.

"Listen, Romi! This is how the kids learn to share. They look at the bourekas, and they realize there isn’t quite enough and they think about how to divide it up, and what to do. It’s perfect.”

As I stood there, obviously doubting what he was saying, Rav R. continued, “No really,” he said with a huge grin. “I love when there is only one candy left in the house and I give it to one of the kids. She has to look at it and figure out how to divide it with her sister. This is what life is all about.”

And then a few more parents showed up with goodies and he said, “See! They came just as the kids finished your treats. And now the new treats will taste even better to them since they had just a taste of yours. The timing is perfect.”

It’s incredibly humbling to be among people who have such good hearts and such positive attitudes. I notice a similar thought-process among many of the teachers in their school.

I have so many lessons to learn from an attitude like this one. And I can only marvel that these are the types of giants among whom, and from whom, I have my boys learning.


Lessons learned at the Lone Tree boureka stop.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Romi's Reading Round-Up: October 2016

It’s been a few months since I’ve shared my recent reads, and I love talking about books. Here are my recent discoveries and opinions. I’m always on the look-out for the next great books, which I find to be few and far between.

So here we go:

Books I Loved
The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley: What a gem. Very thought provoking and nicely written.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick. One of the best books I’ve read in years was The Unlikely Adventure of Harold Frye and I’m always looking for another book of this sort. The Story of Ove was almost as touching. So this has a similar theme and it was lovely. Not quite to the level of Frye, but a gentle look at the journey an older man takes.


All three books by Noah Hawley. My dad (my reading buddy) and I recently discovered this extremely talented writer. Wow he’s amazing. I’d say the best book is Before the Fall, and then Other People's Weddings and then The Good Father. He’s a Hollywood writer and he’s just incredible.

Eternal on the Water: Joseph Monninger: Very sad love story.

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven: Chris Cleave: Here was my review on Goodreads “Holy cow. I feel like I need to go to sleep for like a year to recover from this book. First of all the language was out-of-this-world gorgeous. And the topic was sweet at first, and then turned incredibly heavy. One of the best looks at the blitz and some of the trials that both soldiers and Londoners endured that I've read. Just remarkable.”

The Life We Bury: Allen Askens: Interesting look at a young boy who does a report on a convicted murderer and what he uncovers about the murder.

Books I Enjoyed
Odd One Out by Monica McInerney: Light and sweet. Short read. Nice two hour read on Shabbat but nothing special.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson: This is by the author who wrote The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window. So, if you’ve read that then you know how quirky this is going to be. I actually bought it in a grocery store in Cyprus which I thought was funny. This book is the definition of quirky and you have to be ready to suspend all disbelief and be along for the ride.  You may hear yourself yelling out "WHAT???" quite frequently as you read.


The In-Between Hour: Barbara Claypole White: The premise here was quite intriguing. Father loses his son but has to keep pretending with his own father that the boy is alive. It was good but not great. Dragged at times.

Echoes of Family: Barbara Claypole White: Intense look at what someone with bipolar deals with. Quite heavy and also dragged in places.

Leaving Blythe River: Catherine Ryan Hyde: I love this author and almost anything she writes. This book was slower paced and more introspective than most of her other works. What do you do when the father you really hate is missing and you might be able to save him? It was a poignant read, if a bit slow paced.

Whippoorwill: Joseph Moninger: I bought this because of another book of his that I read (see above). This is a great book for pre-teen and teenage kids. It was a sweet look at a girl trying to help a dog in distress.

The Imposter Bride: Nancy Richler: Woman steals another woman’s identity to escape the Holocaust and marries into the family that the other woman was supposed to marry into. Interesting look at what happens.

Books I wanted to throw across the room
It appears that I don’t record the books that I don’t finish or absolutely hate. I’ll have to start recording these since it’s important to know what NOT to read too!

What I’m Reading Now 
Britt-Marie Was Here: Fredrik Backman: This is the author of A Man Called Ove. It’s written in a similar style but is a bit slow so far. We’ll see how it goes.


And what are you reading? What do you most recommend? I’d LOVE to get suggestions for books that keep you up late at night and keep you thinking about them long after you’ve finished.


Happy reading!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Raise a Glass in Memory

What was a woman who doesn’t drink doing with 52 bottles of wine in the back of her car? Yes, it was close to Rosh Hashanah, but that certainly wasn’t the full answer.  No, she hadn’t suddenly become a wine distributor in her free time….well, not really. So what was she doing? The answer was more meaningful than you might expect.

The story begins on the last day of school, June 30th, 2016. My children got up with eager anticipation for their last day of school, as did the younger Ariel girls in Kiryat Arba.  My high school boys were tucked soundly in their beds, having finished school the week before. So, too was Hallel.

But here our stories diverge.

Because as my boys dreamed of the summer ahead, of rock climbing and working, of traveling and hanging out with friends, Hallel’s bedroom window was opened by a 17 year old terrorist; a terrorist who jumped through the window as she slept, dreaming of her dance recital from the night before, and murdered her in her bed.

So began the hell that would engulf the Ariel family through the summer and into the fall.

As so many have somehow learned to do, the Ariel family has tried to rise from the ashes of despair and find hope. And hope, for them, has come (among other things) in the shape of a wine bottle.


Amichai and Rena Ariel own a beautiful vineyard in Kiryat Arba where they make their own wines from scratch and sell them to their neighbors. Now, they are selling them near and far to keep Hallel’s memory alive, to enable us to elevate her soul in this special way. Amichai Ariel was expecting Hallel to help him bottle and label his wine this summer, as that was her task within the family business.

Instead, he has created a beautiful label with her picture, in her memory.


As Elana Kronenberg, an amazing woman who is actively working with the family, explained, “It's a bottle of blessings that can be distributed to those in need here in Israel. An amazing way to connect to our people, land and roots. And with each blessing made, Hallel Yaffa's neshama will have an aliya. And you can make it happen by buying a bottle of blessings. With love from the Ariel b'Yehuda winery in the Judean Hills.”

I was moved by the incredible fortitude that it must have taken for Amichai and Rena to get up from their tragedy and to already think of a way to memorialize their daughter. So before Rosh Hashanah, I decided to be part of their solution, a tiny piece of the answer to their tragedy. 

I gathered a group from my office together to purchase wine, and I was driving the 52 bottles recently to bring them to my co-workers.
Late at night pick-up of wine cases for my co-workers.

At our Rosh Hashanah table, as we opened a bottle of the Ariel b’Yehuda Merlot, one of our guests said, “I don’t remember this one. Isn’t it crazy that all of these terror attacks start to blend together and you can’t remember the details of one to the next?”

It is crazy on so many levels. But the bottle of wine allowed us to open a conversation about Hallel; to remember what had happened to her; and to elevate her soul while we were enjoying a delicious meal with family and friends. It allowed us to talk about her during our happiness, and to remember her surrounded by love and joy.


There is little that we can do for terror victims and their families. There is only so much comfort we can offer, and so much money we each have to contribute. But we can buy a bottle of wine and share it together in memory of this 13 year old girl who didn’t get the chance to enjoy her summer as did my boys; who didn’t get the chance to return to school this September or to sit around the beautiful Rosh Hashanah table with her family. 

But I did.

And the least that I felt I could do was to buy a bottle of the wine with her beautiful face on it and to share it with those I love. And to bring other bottles to the homes where I’ve been invited to celebrate and to enjoy. I’ve brought Hallel along with me over the chagim and I feel blessed to have been given this opportunity.


To purchase wine from the Ariel b’Yehuda winery you can be in touch with Elana Abelow Kronenberg at Elanam77@yahoo.com or 0525690248 or with me at home@thesussmanfamily.com.