Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Sameach!


There is no such thing as darkness; only a failure to see
Malcolm Muggeridge

For the past four or five years, the southern branch of the organization of the Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) holds a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner here in Beer Sheva.
This year's dinner was held on Erev Thanksgiving, i.e., the evening before Thanksgiving, Wednesday night. It was a huge success, with more people in attendance than ever. 
Last May, I stepped down from the position of chairperson of the Southern Branch of AACI. I nonetheless had the hono(u)r of giving a short speech to thank the people who made the evening possible. 
And this is (more or less) how it went. Commentary will be in red and in brackets.

My name is Reesa Stone. (I have lived in Beer Sheva for almost 30 years. I thought I knew just about all the English-speakers in town. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I didn't know about half of the over 70 people in attendance, and most had no idea who I was either. And here I thought I was infamous.) 

I am Canadian. (I said this with a sigh, and the correct response was supposed to be 'We love you Reesa', but no, nobody seemed to care.)

Nonetheless, I yam very happy be here. (geddit I yam – that’s my contribution to Thanksgiving). (I actually didn't say this - though it was written on the page. I forgot to say 'yam' and the joke didn't seem worth going back for.... so those who heard me speak last night get an extra joke. )

First, before anything, I want to thank the people who are responsible for tonight’s event:

1. Beer Sheva resident Chef Doron Degen, owner of the Yom Yom Grill and Sandwich Bar opposite the old location of Gong near City Hall. We urge you all to go and try it, if you haven’t already. (I'm leaving his name in because the food really was good, and he deserves the advertising. Go try him out. He opened his Grill and Sandwich Bar just before the summer's war and took a beating.)

2. T, who has stepped in to be de facto chairperson of the southern branch of AACI, after the previous person abandoned the post and disappeared. (Absolutely nobody laughed at this. I was the chairperson before T). T has been the liaison between AACI and Mishan, (the assisted living home in which we held the dinner) which brings me to the next thank you to Mishan for allowing us to use their beautiful premises on several occasions.

3. And finally, thanks to my good friends B and M for planning and organizing this evening. I know that a great deal of time was spent on the details of this evening. Their only mistake was allowing me to say a few words… (nobody laughed at this either. They just nodded their heads.)

(slight pause)

I write a blog. I try to keep it light. I try to write only good things about life in Israel, and what a hoot it is to live here.
But sometimes, it’s really hard to be funny. It’s hard to make jokes when all around you is burning. Since the war over the summer, it’s been difficult for me to write. I have felt that there is nothing for me to say.

I volunteered to speak tonight long ago, when I thought my head would be clearer, but that hasn't happened.

So when in doubt of what to say, I look to our sources. There is always something.

And sure enough:

In Parshat HaShavu of last week, Toldot, we read of Yitzchak Avinu’s move to Beer Sheva:

And he (Yitzchak Avinu) went up from there (Grar and Rechovot) to Beer Sheva. 
. וַיַּעַל מִשָּׁם בְּאֵר שָׁבַע: 

And the Lord appeared to him on that night and said, "I am the God of Abraham, your father. Fear not, for I am with you, and I will bless you and multiply your seed for the sake of Abraham, My servant.

. וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהֹוָה בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ אַל תִּירָא כִּי אִתְּךָ אָנֹכִי וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ בַּעֲבוּר אַבְרָהָם עַבְדִּי: 
Genesis, 26:23-24

Well that’s promising. Beer Sheva, blessings, and fear not. All the things I need to hear.
But in this week’s Parsha, VaYeitzeh, we read:
 And Yaakov (Yitzchak's son) left Beer Sheva, and he went to Haran. 
. וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה: 
Genesis 28:10

Yaakov left Beer Sheva because he was afraid of Esav. So much for fear not. And he was afraid because he received Esav’s blessing. So much for blessings. And he left Beer Sheva.
So much for Beer Sheva.

The text says that Yaakov left Beer Sheva to go to Haran. Well, duh. To go somewhere, you have to leave somewhere. And we already knew where Yaakov lived, so why repeat it?  Rashi explains it says that he left Beer Sheva because when a great man leaves town the whole town is diminished. 

And indeed, from there on in, Beer Sheva is barely mentioned throughout the Bible.

The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2) but the thought is that they were banished here because they were not the best of judges. 
King Saul built a fort here for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9) and then left after he killed them all. 
The prophet  Eliyahu took refuge in Beersheba when queen Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). Beer Sheva was a safe place to hide. Nobody was going to go ALL THE WAY to Beer Sheva to look for some prophet. Even then, it was much further from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva than from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem. (any true Beer Shevaite will understand the reference.)
And finally, the prophet Amos mentions the city; this is what he says: do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. 
Which is what most of my friends said before we moved here.

Living in Israel and in the Negev is sometimes hard. Over the summer we had yet another war. In the last few months, we have suffered heinous piguim.

Canada, where I come from, on the other hand, has no natural enemies. Except maybe some Americans who can’t find Canada on a map. My siblings’ kids aren't in any army. No need for any iron dome.

I've been in Israel a long time and the only advice I ever give to new olim (immigrants) is to never  compare Israel to the Old Country. I take pride in the fact that I almost never said “we don’t do it that way in Canada.” Or “it’s not like this in Canada.” But sometimes, when I talk about the weather, and I’m wearing sandals during Chanuka, then I say “It’s not like this in Canada!” (here I waved my hands about, and gave a little smirk. Take that Old Country!)

Very recently, my nephew, who made Aliyah almost three years ago, got married. My brother and his family came to Israel – for the first time in many years – and I got to hang out with my brother.

We sat in the sun drinking coffee. In November. You can’t do that in Canada. (Smirk) And I said to him, “This. This never gets old. Sitting in the sun drinking coffee is good for the soul. Seeing palm trees in the streets, and jacarandas next to my house – well, you don’t have that in Canada. "

For years and years and years and years, Yaakov Avinu’s departure from Beer Sheva was felt. There was almost no Jewish settlement in Beer Sheva.

Until great men and great women began to return to their Land, to the Negev, and to Beer Sheva. And they, you, us, have made it, once again, a blessed and great Land, where miracles are a daily occurrence. Where, in Beer Sheva, we can drink coffee in the sun even on the rainiest day of the year like today. (It's been pouring all over the country for the past 48 hours. Here in Beer Sheva, I was able to dry my laundry outside.)
The days of November/December/Kislev are the shortest and the darkest days of the year. It is known that the order of the world is ברישא חשוכא והדר נהורא, first comes darkness then comes light. G-d created darkness and then light. In fact, light comes out of the darkness. And we know that the smallest light can dispel the darkness. The smallest act of goodness; drinking coffee in the sun, a hug, an evening out with friends, a meal with family, can make us realize how blessed we are to be living in our Land. 

G-d told Isaac not to fear and then blessed him. 

We must remember that blessing, and not fear.
Every morning we wake up is a blessing.
Every morning we wake up in Israel is a double blessing.
Every day in Israel, we are witness to miracles.
Every day in Israel is a gift.

So I’ll end with this.

Tonight is erev Thanksgiving . I ask you all that tonight – and any other night you want – take the time to count your blessings and not your calories.

Thanksgiving Sameach!!













Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thanks for asking

Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day
Psalms 91:5

Since the official start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8, I’ve received many emails, SMSs, Facebook chats, and even telephone calls asking me ‘how are you holding up’. We have received invitations for weekends, dinner, the whole summer if necessary!
So here’s my answer:

I’m fine.
Really. 

Beer Sheva has been relatively calm during this go-around. We haven’t been able to figure out why. There have been days when we have had no sirens, no rockets. It’s eerily quiet. This leaves us time to watch the airplanes and helicopters overhead. Without the sirens, we can hear – 40 km from Gaza – the booms of artillery.

My house has a ‘safe room’; a room built of re-enforced concrete. It’s safe and we can get to it easily from anywhere on the property in less than the minute we have before the rockets fall. We also have Iron Dome, which we can both hear and see firing. Many of our friends don’t have safe rooms in their homes and have to crouch in a hallway, or hide under the stairs.

So, of course I’m fine.

My oldest son was called up on the first day of the operation. His reserves unit is always called up immediately when there is any sort of fighting in Gaza. They replace the regular army guys in their regular duties guarding on this side of the border.
He’s been doing guard duty more or less where they keep finding those pesky tunnels.
He’s been gone for three weeks.
His wife and baby are refugees in the center of the country.

I’m fine, thank you for asking

My second son learns in Ashdod. Ashdod, about 25 km from Gaza, has been pummeled by rockets – sometimes seven or eight times a day. His Yeshiva is not in a permanent building, but in mobile homes. There are no actual ‘safe rooms’, so the city brought in ‘migoonits’, which are basically hollow hunks of concrete. He has about 20 seconds. 

a migoonit
Honestly, I’m fine.

My third son was just drafted to the army. He’s in a combat unit and will undergo training for the next several months. If he survives, he will then be a full fledged soldier, ready to go to battle.

I’m fine.

My youngest daughter is too nervous to go down the street to buy milk. We've sent her to stay with family in the center of the country so she can remember what it’s like to be outside.

But I’m really fine.

My oldest (can’t leave her out) has been caught during a siren in the street, in the bus, in the car, in the supermarket, in the shower. It’s unnerving, to put it mildly.
Everything is fine.

Every day, I get up early. It’s too hot to sleep much. I check my email, watch the news, eat breakfast, and get to work by 7:30. I’ve missed a few days to stay with the youngest. She can stay by herself, but it’s unpleasant to be alone. (Work is also unpleasant, so it’s a good excuse.) I go shopping, I do the laundry, I wash dishes. Of course, I don’t remember what I’m supposed to buy, and I forget to wash the pan, and I mix the socks with the towels. But hey.

There are large swaths of time when I don’t cry.
There are no swaths of time when I’m not almost crying.

I find myself on the verge of tears at the darndest moments; talking to a friend on the phone, in the shower, at the supermarket.

My throat closes up, I suddenly can’t catch my breath, my hands shake.

The checkout person asks me if I’m a member of the supermarket club, and even though I am, I shake my head no because I can’t tell her my number (and my son on the border has my card) because if I open my mouth, the catch in my throat will unleash the tears that have been stored all day. I hold up one finger when she asks me how many payments I want.
I’m doing fine.

Spoke too soon, gotta dash, siren.

Iron dome to the rescue.
Again.

So, of course I’m fine.

Despite what it seems, I am not falling apart.
There is no falling apart going on.
Tears – in this case –are not a sign of despair.

I am filled by so many emotions that the overflow is manifested by tears. That’s all.

Love and pride, and hope and honor, and gratitude and awe, and grief and sorrow and – yes – fear and dread and rage.

But not despair. Nor gloom. Nor hopelessness nor helplessness.

We are so blessed.

Blessed to live in our Land, which has an army, and a flag, and an elected government; 
blessed to be surrounded a People who care so much that the soldiers are complaining they have too much food, and too many socks;
blessed to belong to a People who care, not only for the soldiers, but for the families of the wounded;
blessed to be a witness of countless miracles;
blessed to be checked up on at least once a day to see ‘how are you holding up’.

So yes, my voice trembles, and my hands shake, and my eyes – and heart – are full.

But that’s just me, being fine. 

Thanks for your concern. And please, keep thinking of me, and sending me hugs and strength. And chocolate wouldn't hurt either. 

But, hey, really, I'm fine. 

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our Land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.
May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.
May He lead our enemies under our soldiers' sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for the the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you. 
Now let us respond: Amen. 














Monday, July 14, 2014

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A few days ago, the rock band Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder digressed in the middle of a concert to rant on about “those who go across borders and take over land that doesn't belong to them.”
Logically and obviously, I thought that he was talking about Hamas's ongoing attempt to blow up Israeli towns, cities, and farms. Hamas leaders have said over the years that they want to take over Israel.
Mahmoud Al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas, once stated that he dreamed "of hanging a huge map of the world on the wall at my Gaza home which does not show Israel on it".
The Hamas charter states that "our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious" and calls for the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel.
Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zarad during a television program said that the Muslims will only stop killing Jews "with their [the Jews] annihilation, Allah willing, because they tried to kill our Prophet several times."

But, beyond all logic, Vedder apparently was referring to the Israeli defense of its citizens during the current Operation Protective Edge!

So, for his edification, I am reposting parts of a blog from 2012’s Operation Pillars of Defense with added emphasis.

"The land on which Kfar Darom was settled was purchased by Tuvia Miller in 1930. In 1946, he sold it to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and a religious kibbutz was established on the evening after Yom Kippur that year as part of an 11 point settlement drive. The other 10 settlements built on the same night were: Nirim, Urim, Hatzerim, Shuval, Mishmar-Hanegev, Be'eri, Tekuma and Nevatim in the Northern Negev, and Gal On and Kedma further south. The first eight are today all in range of Gaza’s missiles and most have sustained damage.

During the War of Independence, in 1948, Kfar Darom, along with Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and other settlements in the Northern Negev, was overrun by the Egyptian army. While Yad Mordechai and the others were retaken by Palmach forces during the winter of 1949, Kfar Darom was not, and the area – which later became known as the Gaza Strip – was lost to the Egyptian army.

In other words, land in what is known today as the ‘Gaza Strip’ but used to be known as part of Egypt and before that as part of the British Mandate of Palestine, was actually legally purchased by a Jew and sold to the JNF to be a kibbutz. To the best of my knowledge, the Egyptians never bought the land; legally, it still belongs to the JNF.

[The same, by the way, goes for Gush Etzion, areas of the city of Hebron  (the cave of Machpela in Hebron was, of course, purchased by Avraham Avinu) and much of what is erroneously named the West Bank.]

Could somebody please let Vedders know that history didn’t start last week, or even last month. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 to be rewarded not only with approximately 15,000 (no typo) missiles but also with imbecilic comments like his. I won’t take the easy way out and call him anti-Semitic.

He’s just ignorant.

I find it abhorrent that so many celebrities who are - and have every right to be - ignorant of a particular subject, talk anyway.

It would be like me talking about rocket science or veterinary medicine. Just because I know what a rocket or a elephant look like, doesn't make me want to stand up on a stage and shout that NASA should be doing more to put elephants on the moon.

Same nonsense.

I can understand anti-Semitism. Really, I can. Unwarranted and hatred you don't have to explain is easy, it’s common, and it’s cheap. Anti-Semitism seems to be in style now. It’s a thing. So why not lash out at Jews willy-nilly?



But why would anyone get up on a stage and show, for the entire world to witness, his own ignorance? Is ignorance a thing too?

To borrow a phrase from another ignorant musician: while nobody needs thought control, maybe you do need an education.

Just because someone doesn't know the facts, doesn't make them go away.

I was taught “Better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid, than open it and prove it.”

In the meantime, Israel has been bombarded with over 600 missiles aimed at babies, grandparents, teachers, farmers, rabbis, doctors, and even elephants.

Ignorance is not a thing.











Thursday, July 10, 2014

Protecting More than the Edge

We are determined to lay a significant blow on Hamas’ terror capabilities and infrastructure, eliminate any threat on Israeli sovereignty emanating from the Gaza Strip and restore stability to the southern region
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner 

This is not the time for quiet. We have a bank of various targets. An Iron Dome [missile battery] will be needed in every Israeli home
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum


On Monday morning, the first day of Israel’s Protective Edge campaign against Hamas’s missile attack on Southern Israel, a woman came to my desk at work to ask where the safe room was on that floor. There had already been a siren in Beer Sheva early that morning, and she had a meeting scheduled later with about 15 people in the conference room next to my department.

A safe room is a room that has been fortified with extra concrete to withstand a direct hit from an incoming missile. According to Israeli law, all private residences must have one safe room in the house, and all public buildings are required to have one safe room on each floor. This law came into effect about 12 years ago. Unfortunately, the building I work in is about 15 years old.

I looked the young lady in the eye, and said, “Sorry, there isn't a safe room on this floor.” She was shocked. “So what do we do?” she asked. “Pray”, I answered. 
She was not amused. 

A shelter in Sderot

What happens when there is no safe room or shelter

I took her to the two areas on my floor to which people run during a missile attack due to lack of choice. One is an internal stairwell that is behind a locked door and has a small window but quite a distance away, and the other is a hallway close by the conference room with a concrete ceiling but with a large glass window wall. She looked around. “I guess a little prayer wouldn't hurt,” she sighed.

Operation Protective Edge (in Hebrew צוק איתן – loosely translated as a Firm Cliff – is much more poetic) is in its third day. Almost 400 missiles have been launched into Israel in the past 72 or so hours. There have been sirens all the way from Zichron Yaakov in the north to Yerucham in the South. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have been targeted. The Israel Air Force has hit more than 600 targets in Gaza, blowing up bomb factories, rocket launchers, and the homes of Hamas leaders. Sometimes, those leaders were at home. 


A firm cliff in Southern Israel

It’s summertime in Israel; hot, humid, and raining missiles. Summer camps are closed; university exams are cancelled; people have been advised not to travel but to stay close to safe areas. 


Missiles over Southern Israel courtesy of  MailOnline
40,000 soldiers have been called up for emergency duty, one of whom is my son.

The foreign press is going wild. Israel has to find a way of achieving peace with its neighbors. Israel must show restraint and not allow the hostilities to escalate. Israel must not show disproportionate response.

(I still haven’t figured out what the proportionate response is when someone shoots a rocket into your wedding ceremony, or bombs a day care full of 5-year-olds, or, for that matter, indiscriminately shoots missile after missile after missile – each with the potential to kill dozens of people – intentionally into residential areas at times they know they can do the most damage—when the kids are going to or coming from school.)

This movie, we've seen before.
Been there, done that, even got the T-Shirt (which apparently is so old it's been thrown out).

No need to go to the dark side. We've got cookies too. 

After my son was called up yesterday, I went into cookie mode. I made cookies for him to take with to the army. It’s the least I can do. (I made 1000s of cookies when he was doing his regular service.) An improvement on the last time he was called up for emergency service 18 months ago during Pillar of Defense. Then, I simply cried.

There is no reason not to cry this time around; same missiles, same bad guys. I guess I’m simply all cried out.

There is, however, one difference this time around. Friends around the country are not inviting us to their place for a ‘respite from rocket fire’. They have their own rockets to contend with.

The whole of Israel is under attack.

So, Jews abroad, listen up!
I know this story is boring. You’re asking why can’t we all just get along.
Here's the deal: the whole of Israel is under attack by evil people who attack babies and grandmothers.
The whole of Israel includes those Jews who live in New York, or Paris, or London.
When Hamas is allowed to indiscriminately attack a Jew in Israel, it is much easier to indiscriminately attack a Jew in Brussels and shoot him dead.
When Tel Aviv is targeted, the Jews of Winnipeg will feel it.
When 2 million Jews in Israel are under attack, 10 million Jews abroad are threatened.
Make no mistake. We are a strong and moral people. We will stand firm. We will win this battle – again.

But it will be easier with you.

Make yourselves aware of the real story and not the CNN version.
Make your voices heard.
Stand tall.
And send cookies.

Most importantly, take a moment to say the prayer for our soldiers:

Prayer for Members of the Israel Defense Force

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Force, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.
May Hashem cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighting men from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.
May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.  Now let us respond: Amen.





They need cookies



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Choose Life

We need never be ashamed of our tears. 
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations


For 18 days (chai/life), I didn’t cry.

I didn’t laugh either.

I didn’t speak much.

For 18 days, I didn’t sleep without dreaming.
I went to work. I went shopping. I did laundry. I watched a lot of TV.
I prayed.
I said Tehilim.

Last night, the proverbial damn broke.
I cried. And wept. And mourned.
Along with the rest of Am Yisrael.

Soaking our already-blood-soaked land with our tears.

Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar – may their memories be blessed, and their blood avenged – are the latest (and may they be the last) victims in a very long line of Jew hatred. Murdered because they were alive, they join millions of Jews throughout the centuries who have been slaughtered simply because they were breathing.

There seems to be no end.
And so we weep. Until it seems that we will drown in our tears.

But make no mistake.

"You see us crying. This is because our hearts are full of love, because we are human beings. Don't make the mistake of interpreting our tears as weakness of spirit. We are strong, we are here, and your day will come”, eulogized Uri Yifrach, father of Eyal.

I take solace in that I belong to a people whose hearts are full of love and not of hate. 

We solve problems, not cause them.

I belong to a nation that builds and not one that destroys

We do not celebrate death by giving out candies. We do this.

My people save the lives of anyone in need.

Our soldiers are trained to help, wherever help is needed.

no matter the pain

no matter the irony. 

Rachel Frankel, mother of Naftali, spoke of the murders “This was not a random act of cruelty. They went out to hunt, and G-d chose you to be the poster children of the opposite, of good and of love." 

We are a nation of goodness and love; a holy people.

"We will learn to sing without you", she said.

Though this is a heartrending declaration, I am heartened that we are a people who sing to G-d—even in our deepest grief.

I am proud to belong to a nation that chooses life – that celebrates life! – even when we are surrounded by those who celebrate death, both ours and their own.

I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).








Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A few very disjointed thoughts

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
- Mark Twain


I recently returned from a week in Italy. It was an arranged tour, so, unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all the things I wanted to see. My husband and I managed, however, to slip off a few times, and we successfully tracked down three different shuls in three different communities, the first in Sienna (54 Jews in the community, down from 500 in the early 20th century),   

Sienna Shul

the second in Florence (just under 1000 Jews in the community, down from 3000 in 1931), 


Shul in Florence
  
and the third, in Rome (15,000 Jews today – down from 48,000 in 1931). 

Shul in Rome
The shul in Pisa is not open to the public at all due to disrepair, and apparently there is no real community there.
Not exactly the shul in Pisa

The shul in Florence is considered to be one of the most beautifully constructed buildings in Tuscany, and that is saying a very great deal.

We actually had to pay to get into each of the shuls because they are museums. We were also not allowed to take any pictures inside.

Displayed were Torah covers and parochets, Pesach plates and chanukiyot. 

A Roman Parochet
Two fun facts about the history of the Jewish community of Italy:

1. The Jewish community of Rome is one of the most ancient in the world, dating from before the destruction of the Second Temple in 71 AD. They have their own customs and way of praying that is different from any other community. They consider themselves neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic. They are Roman.

2. The first ghetto in history was in Venice. 

Touring these museums, I felt that next door should be a Viking or a Visigoth museum. 

An extinct species – or at least an endangered one – is what the Jews of Europe have become.
Which, or course, got me to thinking. 


This is always a dangerous thing….

What follows is not a comparison. I’m not belittling, or saying, chas v’shalom, that what happened in Europe was expected, or ok, or foreseeable.

I’m just writing out loud.

Rashi says that 4/5 of Bnei Yisrael did not leave Egypt at the time of the Exodus. If 600,000 men left Egypt, as it is stated, this means that about 3,000,000 men did not. There is no clear reason why they did not leave, but because we know that Datan and Aviram, who were described as wicked but Zionistic, DID leave Egypt, it has been supposed that the 4/5s didn't leave because they did not want to live in Eretz Yisrael. And while it is also not clear what happened to the 4/5s, it is hypothesized that they died during a plague that occurred during the plague of darkness.

During the Exodus from Egypt, miracles abounded: the plagues, no dogs barking, parting of the sea, clouds, winds, etc. 

The Ten Plagues in Playdo
In recent and not so recent years, scientists and skeptics have attempted to explain these miracles in natural terms – earthquakes, fog, mud in the waters. 

And we all know that getting lice is not miraculous at all. Getting rid of it, however, is.

My thinking – ever disjointed – led me to remember what I wrote on my last blog:

We know that all those events were caused by G-d as it is stated in the Haggada – as a way to remind us – “I (G-d) and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger.”

In the same way that G-d brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, now, in the 20th-21st centuries, G-d Himself has brought us to the Land and protects us, not a messenger (i.e., the sochnut, or the government, or El Al, or Nefesh b’Nefesh) and not an Angel (i.e., the IDF; the IAF; Iron Dome; bomb shelters), and not a seraph, (i.e., anti-Semitism, Zionism, economic problems). G-d Himself wanted us out of Egypt/Europe and has brought us here to our Land.


This is where my thinking further led me:
The miracles of today should be just as obvious:
  • The ingathering of the exiles – so that parts of the world has simply been emptied of Jews; 
  • The redemption of the Land after 2000 years of neglect; 
  • The birth of an independent Jewish state; 
  • The reunification of Jerusalem and the liberation of her holy places, and the liberation of the holy places of Hevron, Beit Lechem, Shchem
How can we doubt that it was G-d who brought us here?

And to emphasize these miracles, they are celebrated in the days between Pesach and Shavuot – in the days between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah.

  • The Land has been redeemed so we can count the Omer so that we may bring sacrifices of our crops; 
  • We celebrate Yom HaAzmaut, which symbolizes the miracle of governing our own Land and bringing in the exiles; 
  • We celebrate Yom Yerushalyaim and the liberation of the Holy Places. 
  • We also, at the same time, remember those we lost on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. 
To summarize:
Why did G-d take us out of Egypt? To give us the Torah and bring us the Eretz Yisrael.

Why has G-d taken us out of Europe and North Africa, both now practically empty of Jews after 2000 years? To bring us to Eretz Yisrael and live a Torah life.

There remains one more question. What is a Torah life?

Lots of people are going to give you lots of answers.

  • Is it going to shul?
  • Is it checking your strawberries for bugs and wearing a burka? 
  • Is it serving in the army?
I have my own answer:

Shavuot is usually bracketed (though not this year) by Parshat BaMidbar and Parshat Nasoh.
Maybe these two stories can clarify what – in my opinion – is living a Torah life.

Parshat BaMidbar talks about the numbers of each tribe and the position within the camp.

We learn from this that each tribe had a role and that each member of each tribe had a role to play within the greater nation.

Yissachar will learn Torah, and Zevulun will support them. The Leviim will work in the Mishkan and Asher will be businessmen. There were no arguments among the tribes about their role or their position because they knew it was ordained for the greater good of the nation.

We learn from this that today, though we don’t have tribes or camps, each one of us has a role to play within Bnei Yisrael. Some are soldiers and some are teachers. Some are farmers and some are fishermen. Some learn Torah and some support them. It is our job to learn and understand what our role is (hint; it doesn’t have to be a formal occupation like banker) and how we can contribute to our nation.

Our role, however is NOT to tell others what their role is. When we see that someone else is not fulfilling the role that we think is theirs, it is not our place to say why aren’t you doing this! You have to do that! Don’t you know anything?

Rather, our job is to fulfill our role even better, to work harder, to help another find his/her way, to show chesed to those who are lost.


In Parshat Naso, the Torah relates, in what seems a waste of space, the sacrifices of the princes of each tribe.
Each prince gives the exact same thing.
There are lots of explanations to this. But, to me, the following seems the most logical:

The first to give a sacrifice is Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda.
The second is Nethanel ben Zuar, from the tribe of Issachar.

Now, let’s for a moment digress. Let’s say that a bunch of friends get together every day to party. The first friend serves a delicious cheesecake. The next day, the second friend will serve a delicious cheesecake with Oreos inside and chocolate chip cookies. The third friend is going to serve homemade yeast cakes and fruit salad and Bavarian tortes. Etc. etc. In other words, each friend will naturally try to top the others. 


Now back to Nethanel. He sees what Nachshon has brought and thinks what he should do. He doesn't bring 150 shekel because Nachshon brought 130 or 2 bulls where Nachshon brought one. No, he brings EXACTLY the same thing. And each prince after him does the same, instead of trying to top one anotherIn this way, there was neither resentment nor embarrassment between the tribes by bringing more or less than another. 

And THAT is what living a Torah life is. A life of Chesed, a life of helping others, of giving to others, being humble and trying to understand and perform our role on G-d’s earth.
For this – to live a Torah life and be a light unto the nations – is why G-d brought us to the Land.

I know this is a very long blog, but one more observation.

When we came home from Italy, (a week before Yom Yerushalayim), and as we approached Tel Aviv, I could see the city spread out below. It really looks quite lovely and very large from the sky.

Later that week, in an email (so I took it for a sign), I read the words of Zecharia: Again, proclaim, saying: Thus saith the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.'

You see? They tried to destroy us, but in the end, we won.

Let’s eat.

Chag Sameach!!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The First 66

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
— Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, from his book Der Judenstaat, (The Jewish State), published in 1896

There is a yearly ritual in Israel to list the reasons for living here according to the number of years since Independence. Obviously, the lists tend to repeat themselves: delicious falafel, a dearth of snow, and unity among the population usually end up on everyone’s list.

I can’t go against ritual (I even baked a schlissel challah this year ), but I tried not to include falafel on my list. I also drew upon my perspective as a tax-paying homeowner in Beer Sheva, capital of the Negev to make up my 66 reasons for never once regretting the decision I made in my youth.

The first set of reasons are about Beer Sheva, the next group are about the Negev, and the last are more general in nature. Hope you enjoy my first 66 reasons for being Israeli. Feel free to add your own.

1. My adopted Hometown is one of the oldest cities in the world with almost 4000 years of history.
2. I once heard Beer Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich give a talk. He said that when he visited Brussels, Belgium, he was taken to see the famous Mannikin Pis statue because “thousands of tourists come yearly to see the statue”. Danilovich told how he stood there looking at this tiny statue and thought “If Brussels is making all this money on this little statue of a boy, excuse the expression, peeing, what can Beer Sheva do? WE have Avraham Avinu!"
3. I live in the same place that Abraham our Father, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob lived.
4. The Beer Sheva Bus Station is probably one of the only bus stations in the world to lie atop a Byzantium bus station.
5. Glass panels in the floor of the station allow travelers to glimpse into the Byzantium town beneath their feet.
6. Beer Sheva has one of the greatest collections of Ottoman era buildings and artifacts outside of Turkey.
7. Beer Sheva was the site of the last known mounted battle in combat history in the battle of Beer Sheva between Ottoman and British forces during World War I.
8. That battle was pivotal in the history of the Land, as victory paved the way to British General Edmund Allenby’s drive to Jerusalem.
9. Literally a seven-minute drive from my house is one of the most famous aircraft museums in the world: The Israel Air Force Museum.
10. The IAF Museum features planes that flew on both sides of Israel’s wars, with more than 140 aircraft displayed.
11. The biggest ‘green’ shopping mall in the Middle East is 2.5 blocks from my house.
12. A shopping center is a ‘kanyon’ (accent on the second syllable) in Hebrew from the word liknot, which means to buy. The shopping center 2.5 blocks from my house is called the Grand Kanyon. I’m sure that no pun was intended.

not quite
13. Home to close to 300 stores and restaurants, the Grand Kanyon serves all the surrounding towns and villages, both Jewish and Arab.
14. The Grand Kanyon is closed on Saturday, our Holy Shabbat.
15. ALL the restaurants in the Grand Kanyon are kosher, even the treif-looking hot dog vendors.
16. There is a wonderful gummy candy store at the Grand Kanyon. The gummy candies are not just kosher but super-duper kosher.
17. I have eaten (kosher) food whose origins are from Yemen, Morocco, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, China, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, India, and others. All in Beer Sheva. And most available in any supermarket.
18. While Tel Aviv is known for its Bauhaus architecture, Beer Sheva is known as the Capital of Brutalism Architecture. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds.
19. There are reputed to be more than 200 synagogues throughout the city, each with its own architecture, customs, and treasures brought from the diaspora, representing such diverse Jewish communities as Yemen, Cochin, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Tripoli, Hungary, Romania, Iran, and Germany.
20. The main streets of Beer Sheva are all lined with palm trees, a fact which makes this native Canadian sigh with pleasure every morning. It never gets old.


21. While the palm trees on the main roads are not date palms, there are many date palms on other smaller roads. These trees are too tall to pick, therefore every year hundreds of kilos of dates simply fall from the trees and can be picked up, washed off, and eaten.
22. The surrounding streets where I live are lined with Jacaranda trees, which bloom for about three weeks a year with the most amazing purple flowers.


23. My old hometown is a sister city of Beer Sheva.
24. The Winnipeg Community Action Centre – Beer Sheva, Israel, only a few blocks from my house, provides supplemental educational programs and activities to disadvantaged youth.
25. Known throughout the ages as the City of our Fathers, Beer Sheva is now additionally becoming known as the cyber-security capital of the world with the opening of the new Hi-Tech Gav-Yam Industrial Park Negev.
26. A final fact about Beer Sheva that always makes me puff up my chest: The Beer Sheva Chess club is home to more chess grandmasters per capita than any other chess club in the world, and is one of the best chess clubs for children anywhere. And no, I don’t play chess.
27. The Negev Desert is at my doorstep.
28. Every spring, wild anemones spring up all along the Northern Negev; red carpets that G-d Himself has unrolled.

29. To celebrate these flowers, the Northern Negev holds a month long flower party Darom Adom, “The South In Red”.
30. The most beautiful site in Israel, the Ramon Crater, is a one hour drive from my house.
31. Beautiful ibexes wander freely both in the Ramon Crater, and on the edges of the town Mitzpe Ramon. Incredible amounts of time can be spent just watching them. 


32. One of the most fun and entertaining places in Israel – and free! – is the colored sands of the “Large Crater” in the Negev, also about an hour from my house. Not recommended to visit in the summer when temperatures can reach in the high 40s, but a very popular spot in the winter.


33. It would be remiss to write of the wonders of Southern Israel without mentioning Kassams or Grad Missiles. There is nothing wondrous or good or fun or adventurous or splendid or noble about experiencing a grad attack. It is frightening and sickening. However, grad attacks have allowed me to be a witness to G-d’s miracles, which is both wondrous and humbling. 
34. There are trees in Israel that originate from every part of the world, adapted for the Israeli climate and often made more resilient and less water reliant. Examples include eucalyptus from Australia, bougainvillea from southern Europe, pitayas from southern Asia, kiwis from New Zealand, not to mention, avocados, guavas, maples, and more and more and more. 
35. It’s against the law in Israel to cut down a tree. If the tree poses a hazard, e.g., it is growing directly under power lines or growing into water pipes, one needs special permission to cut it down. Trees are an important part of the Zionist project. Rabbi Yohanan ben-Zakai said that if a person planting a tree heard that the Messiah had arrived, he should finish planting before going to greet him.


36. Tiny Israel has a tremendous diversity of natural flora. Attempting to look up how many flowers actually grow in the Land (apparently countless…), I found instead countless sites that list, not only the flowers by Latin, English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian name, but by colour, flowering season, recipes, and a story to go along with them. There are always wild flowers blooming in each season and in each area of the country. 
37. Wild flowers notwithstanding, Israel is one of the world’s largest exporters of cultured flowers, with exports coming to more than $50,000,000 in 2000. Israel grows every flower imaginable so that Europe will have flowers during the winter. Going into an Israeli flower shop is both an olfactory and visionary experience.
38. Not only are the seven species mentioned in the Bible grown here (duh) and the four species needed for Succot (duh again), there are over 40 types of fruit grown in Israel – most of it exported. We are one of the world’s leading producers of citrus fruit [oranges, tangerines, clementines, lemons, grapefruit (both red and yellow), pomelos, pomelit (a hybrid of grapefruit and pomelo – developed in Israel), and of course etrogs]. We also grow: avocadoes, mangoes, pitayas, persimmons, loquats (the second largest producer in the world after Japan), bananas, apples (many varieties), pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, strawberries (not technically a fruit), and prickly pears (sabras) yadda yadda yadda.


39. Any grocery store in any town in Israel will also sell latke mix, rugelach, and canned cholent. 


40. Other Israeli staples are schnitzel (not pork!) shwarma, bourekas, and shakshouka, available anywhere, anytime.
41. The country is awash in soufganiyot (not to be confused with jam busters) at Chanuka time, hamentashen at Purim, dried fruit at Tu B’Shvat and cheeses of all kinds at Shavuot. 


42. However, awash isn't sufficient. Not only are the sweet treats abundant come holiday time, they come in dozens of various flavors.
43. Pomegranates, dates, and figs ripen, as they should, just in time for Rosh HaShana, and are available at reasonable prices everywhere.
44. Though available all year round,  ice cream is eaten by Israelis mostly in the summer while krembos are available only in the winter.
45. Thankfully, you can get krembo flavored ice-cream.
46. There is also hummus, honey, chai, almond, and lemon pie flavored ice cream.
47. One can find ice cream made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk.
48. There is also Glida Beer Sheva. 


49. Most importantly, there is a wide range of flavors for non-dairy (parve) ice cream so that it can be eaten after a meat meal.
50. During Passover, most restaurants remain open, serving Passover rolls, bourekas, pastas, and cakes that are almost indistinguishable from the regular year-round food.
51. The buses have signs in them such as “Today is nine days of the Omer, which is one week and two days” or “Rise before an old person, and honor the presence of a sage”.
52. Our soldiers are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, no matter to whom they are related.
53. I don’t have any statistics to prove that our soldiers are the best-looking in the world, so I can’t put that into my list (even though they are). What I can put in is that our soldiers are the best in the world.
54. Everyone has two birthdays, one on the Gregorian calendar, and one on the Hebrew calendar. So if you aren't available to celebrate one, you always have the other.
55. If you can celebrate both, even better
56. You can also celebrate the entire time between the two birthdays!! 


57. I have friends who live in Israel, but were born in: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.
58. Friends are everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. When my daughter was late for work one morning, the bus driver, the cleaner, and the kiosk guy all asked if she was ok. 
59. My friends are all heroes.
60. The Academy of the Hebrew Language is responsible for creating Hebrew words for modern concepts such as the internet (mirshetet מרשתת) or an alternator (micholel zerem chiloofi מְחוֹלֵל זֶרֶם חִלּוּפִי).  Ancient Hebrew is constantly expanding and adapting to the new world.
61. While a there is a great deal of slang in Modern Hebrew, rude words are mostly in Arabic, Russian, or English.
62. While my kids don’t always know how to say words like avatar in Hebrew (yatzgan יצגן), they do gleefully correct my Hebrew. 
63. They also intentionally cause me to say certain words in Hebrew so that they can laugh at my accent.
64. My grandson, who is a second generation Sabra (third on his mother’s side) will not need to correct his parents' Hebrew nor will he be able to laugh at their accent.
65. My children will never have to be immigrants again.
66. Fireworks on Yom HaAztmaut.



Wishing all of Am Yisrael a very Happy Independence Day!!