Thursday, May 25, 2017

The History of Earth and of Heaven

The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.
-Benjamin Disraeli

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.
For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within you.'
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek your good.

- Psalms 122:5-9

Back in the Old Country, it was the Grade 11 class of my High School that was responsible for the publication of the school's yearbook. I attended a small school, with only about 200-300 kids in six grades, and, therefore, the yearbook wasn't very big.  My friend A and I took over the 'layout' of the book, which is, of course, the bulk of the job. Raising money for the book was the other big part, but raising money was never my thing.  A and I spent hours and hours and hours laying out the pages of the yearbook. This was not because we were so dedicated to the task, but rather because the 'yearbook room' - a space the size of a hotel bathroom - was down in the basement of the school and was a great place to go when you didn't feel like going to class, but it was too cold to go outside (just about every day). I don't think the teachers even knew that the yearbook room existed. It seemed originally to be a broom closet, and its entrance was actually inside a classroom. I don't know why there was a classroom in the basement, and it was seldom used. Every once in a while though, A and I would be stuck in the yearbook room while there was a class in progress. We couldn't leave without giving notice to whatever teacher was there that there was a secret room where kids cut class. If any teacher queried where we had been and why didn't we come to class, A and I always answered innocently that we had been in the yearbook room and didn't hear the bell. (This was an out and out lie - we could hear the bell very clearly - but as the teachers had no idea where the yearbook room was, we were never caught out.)

High School
As I said, A and I spent HOURS down in that room. I can still see it in my head when I close my eyes and think about it. We  did move pictures around the layout pages, but mostly we just sat and gabbed. We talked about life, boys, teachers, the future, and, surprisingly, Israel—when we planned on visiting, should we live there, could we live there, how good the ice cream was, and what Israeli boys were like. I say surprisingly but, looking back on it, it wasn't really a surprise.
We were in a Jewish school; we had Israeli teachers; we learned to read and write Hebrew at the same time as English (today, I can read and write Hebrew just fine - it's the understanding what I'm reading that's a problem); we learned Israeli history and geography, Hebrew literature, and Hebrew grammar (which was really my downfall....). We were all Zionists, we marched in the Israel parade every year, and we knew the words to HaTikva. But it was surprising, because at 16, I still considered myself a staunch citizen of the Old Country, and I didn't yet envision myself living in Israel—
not genuinely. That would only come a few years later.

The yearbook was called the Legacy, which was apt.

The year I was in Grade 11, Jerusalem celebrated its 10th anniversary since reunification (stop counting on your fingers how old I am...), and A and I dedicated a whole page to that event. This was still before the days of the Internet and Instagram so we found some picture in a magazine of the Kotel on the Shavuot immediately after the Six Day War, when thousands of Israelis had thronged to the site. We wish a 'happy birthday' to Jerusalem and 'may it live for an eternity'. Though most of our efforts on that yearbook were directed at embarrassing the teachers, and though very few kids from our class or school had as yet been there, it never occurred to us not to dedicate a whole page to Jerusalem, and the miracles it represented.

If I had been in Grade 11 for the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, that means - counting on my fingers - that I was in Grade One during the war itself. I remember it vaguely. I certainly don't remember the tension and anxieties preceding it. I was completely oblivous to the rants and screams coming from Arab radios declaring death the the Jews, and how the sea would be red with Jewish blood. I was unaware that American Jewish leadership - fearing another Holocaust - called on the Israeli population to send their children to America, where they would be safe. I didn't know that thousands of graves had been dug in parks across the Land in preparation for the feared mass casualites.
But I did know that the Israeli air force demolished its enemies' air forces in a surprise attack  ('our planes bombed their planes'). I did know that Jerusalem was unified (but admittedly, I didn't know what that meant), I knew that Israeli soldiers cried, and I knew that, though far too much Jewish blood had once again been spilled, it was not 'running into the sea'.

In addition, I thought that Moshe Dayan was King of Israel.

Years later, I had a poster of Moshe, with the caption "hire the handicapped".  I thought it was funny.

This is the point:
I can't remember any time in my life, where Israel was not a significant element and part of the discussion, not even at 16, when just about nothing was significant, except how to skip class; not even in the far off Old Country where our biggest worry was how to keep snow out of our boots.  I can't remember any time when Jerusalem was not the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

I am part of a blessed generation, born into a world where the State of  Israel exists, and functions as a homeland of the Jewish people; born into a world where there are more Hebrew speakers, more Torah scholars, more Jewish soldiers than at any other time in history; born into a world where my children and their children have been blessed to be born in their homeland, and are no longer forced to wander and live under the mercy of strangers.  

We are blessed to have borne witness to the open miracle of the liberation of the Holy places -
in Hebron
Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron


in Bethlehem,
Kever Rachel,  Bethlehem
and of course in Jerusalem.

The Kotel

The Holy Temple Mount

I am part of the generation that has been blessed with these gifts to be heralded and cherished.

According to Wikepedia, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
And now, here we —my generation— are, 50 years after the return of Jérusalem to Jewish hands, and in the words of Naomi Shemer:

We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the market-place
A shofar calls out
from the Temple Mount
In the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain
Thousands of suns shine -
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho!


Or more to the point, in the words of the prophet Zecharia:

There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the broad places thereof. (Zechariah 8:4-5)

We are living in prophetic times.  We are blessed. 
It was our Legacy.
And our Destiny.














Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Forever and ever and ever

Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.
-Golda Meir

In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.
-David Ben-Gurion
Thus saith the Lord GOD: I will even gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.
-Ezekiel 11:17

There is a Facebook Page called Keep Olim in Israel Movement. There are over 30,000 members, and they hail from all sorts of countries. I'm not a new Olah (immigrant to Israel), and I don't have any desire to leave Israel, but I'm a member of the group, because once, before Facebook and Google and blogs, I was a new immigrant. Most of the posts are asking for advice or information. There are offers of employments or applications for employment. Some posts express frustration or love. I'm not very active in the group, though some of my friends are.

However, the other day, two posts caught my eye. One was a question asking why all shops and restaurants are closed in the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Shouldn't it be the choice of the business owner to open or close? That post elicited more than 50 comments.
The other comment that caught my eye was a request for reasons to stay in Israel. It was hard, said the poster, the language was hard to learn, the culture was hard to understand, the bills were hard to pay.  That post elicited well over 100 comments. I did comment on the first post, but not on the latter. There are too many reasons.  

In past years, in the run-up to Israel's Independance Day, I've written blog posts of 65 reasons to live in Israel, and 66 more reasons. The reasons include falafel, and ice cream, two birthdays, and one Pesach Seder. 
I haven't added any more reasons in recent years because other writers say it so much better than I. 
But now I'm going to try again - because I have simpler reasons. So, in no particular order, I give you this year's list of reasons why I will live here for ever and ever and why you should too:

 1. Miracles happen.
 2. We have our own government (for better or worse).
 3. Our government is not going to outlaw circumcision, or Shabbat observance, or ritual slaughter.
 4. We have our own flag. No more bowing down to foreign flags.
 5. We have our own army. Never again actually means something. 
 6. More miracles happen.
 7. Hebrew, after 20 centuries, has been restored as a spoken language, and is spoken by at least 8,000,000 people,             more than at any other time in all of History. 
 8. My kids speak unaccented Hebrew.
 9. They also make fun of my Hebrew. 
10. Translating Hebrew slang into English can be very entertaining.
11. Hebrew is the oldest language in the world that is still in use, and speakers can still understand ancient texts. 
12. Ever more miracles happen.
13. The Holidays come out at the right time of year. Pesach is in the spring, and, not only is there no snow on                        Tu B'Shvat (January/February), the trees are blooming. Take that Old Country. 


14. Planting trees in Israel is an emotional event. 
15. You don't have to ask to get vacation on the Jewish Holidays.
16. There is only one possible three-day holiday.
17. But Purim lasts for about two weeks.



18. Israel is the ONLY country in the world where the Sabbath is kept on Saturday.
19. In Hebrew, the word for Saturday is Shabbat, so, no matter how secular you are, you are aware that it's Shabbat.
20. Days here begin at nightfall. There is something calming in knowing that a new day is beginning with the stars.
21. 60% or so of the Jewish population make Kiddush every Friday night.
22. There are far fewer than six degrees of separation between just about anyone here.
23. Strangers share with you both tragic and happy events. This is because even strangers are family. 
24. The security guard at the train station was in Grade 7 with my son. They shared a hug.
25. The security guard at the mall was the son of friends. He cheerily waved us in.
26. My (immediate) family can't go anywhere without at least one of us seeing someone we know. 
27. You are never more than 4 or 5 hours away from Jerusalem. 
28. You are never more than three hours (by bus) away from a beach. And the water is usually warm. 




29. Did I mention the miracles?
30. There is only one time zone in the country; none of this "8:30 in Newfoundland" nonsense.
31. But there are about eight different climate zones.
32. It's possible to have sunshine, a sand storm, and rain, all at the same time.
33. There are groups such as 'Shabbat meals and hospitality for Olim'
34. There's a music group called 'HaYehudim' (the Jews).
35. 
Three times a year, once on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), and twice on the Memorial Day for the         Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism (Yom HaZikaron), the entire country comes to a complete                     standstill as a siren sounds in memory of those worlds that have been destroyed. 
36. Three evenings a year, all shops and restaurants close down - on Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Tisha B'Av -        as a memorial to our people who have been killed because they were Jews.



37. During the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, there are no cars on the road, and no TV or radio station broadcast.
38. More than 70% of Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur.
39. About 98% of Israeli Jews attend some sort of Passover Seder.
40. IDF soldiers are everyone's children. That means everyone takes care of them.
41. Over 80% light Chanuka candles.
42. 40% of secular Jews in Israel keep some form of kashrut.
43. Flags adorn most public and private buildings from the day after Yom HaShoah until the day after Yom                          Yerushalayim.
44. Israel ranks #11 on the 'Happiness Index" out of 156 countries. The US was 13, and the UK scored 23.

45. Israel is the second most educated counry on earth with 92% of its population graduating high school, and 46%            graduating college. This despite the fact that, after finishing high school, most Israeli youth serve in the army for 2-          3 years, and don't start college till they are well into their 20s. (Canada, by the way, is #1)
46. 
Israel boasts 12 Nobel Prize winners - a testament to its value on education and culture.
47. Israel has produced wine longer than any other country in the world - since Biblical times - and in recent years, has        won prestigious awards
48. Just about all Israeli wine is kosher.
49. By law, all fathers get vacation for the day of their son's brit mila (mothers are on maternity leave, so automatically          have the day).
50. Everyone gets a week off if they need to sit shiva.
51. The State of Israel has gathered Jews from practically every country in the world.
52. When Jews. anywhere in the world are in danger, Israel comes to rescue them; Ukraine, FranceNepal, Syria,                Yemen - just to name a few.
53. The history of Israel eclipses that of Europe and North America. "Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the            right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of                             Solomon.”, said Benjamin Disraeli.
54. 
Upon induction, IDF soldiers are registered in Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Donor Registry, which             has saved countless lives.
55. The majority of hotels in Israel have 'Shabbat elevators" (which automatically stop on every floor), kosher food,               regular keys to replace the electric keys for Shabbat usage, and the clerks wish you a Shabbat shalom.
56. The Mount of Olives is the world's oldest continuously used cemetery.
57. Political and military leaders have great nicknames, which they are called by everyone.
58. The monetary currency in Israel is the shekel, the same currency used by Moses, Joshua, and Shimon Bar Kochva.
59. The shekel notes have raised lines on them so the blind can identify the different notes.
60. The glue on the back of Israeli stamps (remember stamps?) is kosher. I think that's hilarious.
61. Israel's air force is exceeded in size only by those of the USA, Russia, and China. We can reach anywhere we need           to be.
62. In late winter and early spring, G-d unrolls carpets of red flowers all over the northwestern Negev. 



63. Fresh pomegranates, fresh dates, fresh figs, and fresh grapes, all fruits of the Land of Israel, and locally grown, are           widely available in most supermarkets in time for Rosh HaShana.
64. So are pitayas, passion fruit, carabolas, and lichis - also locally grown.
65. It's one thing to have a sign on the bus that says Shabbat Shalom, or Chag Sameach. It's quite another to have a              sign requesting you to rise for the elderly.



66. Nobody, EVER, nags you to stop having kids. A family of five kids is normal. 
67. At most school ceremonies, anywhere in the country, the pupils wear blue and white, the colors of the flag.
68. Patriotic songs are sung unabashedly, and with gusto, at school events, parades, weddings, bar mitzvah parties, and         karaoke evenings.
69. Our National Anthem is called "The Hope''. In that we are rich.

And one more for next year:
No matter the hardships, the difficulties, the challenges, the frustrations, and even - sometimes - the fear, Israel is home; it always was, and it always will be. 


Avinu Sh’b’Shemayim – Heavenly Father, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of Your final redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving-kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of Your Peace.
Send Your light and truth to its leaders. ministers and counselors, and direct them with good counsel before You.
Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them deliverance our God, and crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the Land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.
As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, remember them in all the lands of our [ in Israel say their] dispersion, and swiftly lead us [ them] upright to Zion Your city, and Jerusalem Your dwelling place, as it is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant:
Even if you are scattered to the furthermost lands under the heavens, from there the Lord Your God will gather you and take you back. The Lord your God will bring you to the Land your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Then the Lord our God will open up your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Unite our hearts to love and revere Your Name and observe all the words of Your Torah, and swiftly send us Your righteous Anointed One of the house of David, to redeem those who long for Your salvation.
Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, and let all who breathe declare: “The Lord God of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all.”
Amen. Selah.







Monday, April 10, 2017

Why we do Pesach

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God our Lord took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
-Pesach Haggadah

With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, for His mercy endureth for ever.
-Psalms 36:12

The story of Pesach (aka the Festival of Freedom) is a great story. It’s been made into innumerable movies, and there are probably 1000s of memes. It is considered the greatest story of an escape to freedom of all time.

Yet the story of Pesach is not as simple as slaves going free.

There are two lessons that we learn from the story of leaving Egypt –יציאת מצרים —both equal in importance.

The first reason is two-fold, and again, both reasons are equal in importance: 1) to give us the Torah, and 2) to bring us to and give us the Land of Israel. The freedom that G-d gave us was not the freedom to go to Karaoke bars, eat sushi, and sunbathe on the beach in Thailand, but the freedom to do mitzvot in the His Land. That was His plan, and for us to remember this for all times, G-d gave us the mizvot of Tefillin and Mezuzah (read what the words on the inside say).

The second lesson that we learn when G-d took us out of Egypt is to show the nations of the world, once and for all, that G-d is in charge.

While He wants his creation, Man, to run the world, ultimately it is G-d who is in charge, capable of and willing to change the course of nature. Sometimes – many times – we don’t recognize His miracles, sometimes there are those who deny His miracles. But because of what He did for us in Egypt, we know that G-d is always watching us, caring what goes on in our lives, and – when we let Him – guiding us.
When G-d created the universe, all living beings knew that G-d was the Supreme Being. Yet, as time passed, people forgot that G-d was manifest in all things. There were those who denied G-d’s existence entirely, and there were those who agreed that G-d might have created the universe, but since then, He’s been on one long coffee break, and doesn’t really care what happens to us mortals.

By the time Bnei Yisrael were slaves in Egypt, suffering, weary, they were unable to believe that their salvation would come. The Egyptians felt that they were stronger than any god; that they could not be destroyed. Through great miracles, culminating in the splitting of the Sea, G-d brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. G-d’s greatness was recognized not only by Bnei Yisrael, but by all the nations of the time. In a once in a lifetime show, G-d changed the course of nature. To this day, we remember these momentous events, that with יד חזקה and זרוע נטויה, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, G-d brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage to serve Him in His Land.

These are bleak times. There are people who deny us our right to our Land. There are people who deny us our right and ridicule our desire to worship G-d. There are people who deny the very existence of G-d. Therefore, it is even more imperative to remember that G-d took us out of Egypt to do His mitzvot, to live in His Land, and to be a light to the nations. When all is going well, it’s easy to believe in G-d, but now, when godlessness is all around us, when we are weary and under attack, now is the time to turn to G-d, because only there is where our salvation lies.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Sweet Sixteen

The best substitute for experience is being 16
- Raymond Duncan

Our family is not big on birthdays. We always have cake, adorned with gummy candies, but we don't always get around to buying presents. The worst hit has traditionally been my youngest child. As the fifth kid after three boys, she's learned to live with her brothers' hand-me-downs, used toys, old parents, and lots of teasing. When she turned 16 a few weeks ago, her father and I did take her to the local mall and bought her some junk food to eat. 



 
What I did do for her, however, is write her a letter, which is something I did not do for any of the others. 
Her school arranged a four-day 'identity' trip for her class, where they discussed what it meant to be a Jew and an Israeli; the responsibilities this entails, the history that has formed us, the destiny that we share. 
At the end of the trip, the girls received their Identity Cards (teudat zehut), with much pomp and circumstance on the grounds of the Knesset building. All Israelis receive the card at the age of 16, but not all with such fanfare. In addition to the cards, the girls also received letters written by their mothers. 
The following was mine:

Your teacher asked all the parents to write a letter to you for this tiyul, as you are ‘coming of age’, being 16 and way old and all. I wanted to do something like this anyway, but, unless pushed, I don’t, because, you know, I’m way lazy.

First, let me say that I can’t believe you’re 16 already. When I was your age, I was stam a jobnik…

Here, there were two more points that I'm leaving out as they were personal, and, if published, my life would be in danger.

But enough mush.

I’m now going to dispense some advice. Listen carefully: 
  1. Forgive yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. People do. It happens. Learn and move on. 
  2. Forgive others. They make mistakes too. Unless they keep making the same mistake over and over. Then it’s time for you to move on and away. 
  3. Set goals. First Big Goals (e.g., I’m going to be rich and famous). Then set smaller goals to get yourself to the big goals. (e.g., I’m going to do my math homework and clean my room). 
  4. Set one Goal every day. It doesn’t have to be big, just something so that, at the end of the day, you feel that you’ve accomplished something (e.g., ‘today I’m going to make sure that there are no dirty clothes under the bed’, or ‘today, I’m going to wash all the spoons that are in my room’). 
  5. Be grateful for at least one thing every day; the pita in your chocolate sandwich wasn’t stale, or there was leftover chicken soup, or you got a seat on the bus. Life is richer when you recognize your blessings. 
  6. Dance like nobody is watching. Send text messages, whattsups, and emails as if they are going to be read in the Knesset and quoted in the press. (Ok, so I read that in a meme – it’s true anyway.) 
  7. Every once in a while – not every day, or even every month – go outside and watch the sun rise or the sun set. It will give you energy when you need it. 
  8. Drink lots of water. Then drink more. This will keep your blood pressure down, your skin young, and you will always know where the bathroom is. 
  9. Be kind. You don’t have to like everyone, heck you don’t have to like anyone, but you do have to be kind. Kindness breeds kindness. Be kind to your friends, and your teachers, and to the bus driver, and the clerk in the shop, and the hairy guy making falafel. If you are kind, others will be kind back to you and pay it forward. It’s a double bonus. 
  10. There are days when you’re going to feel bad, sad, or depressed. That’s life. When that happens, make yourself a nicecupoftea, or chocolate milk or a cookie, stand in front of the mirror, and wink at yourself. A big wink. It’ll make you smile. 
  11. Don’t do anything that you have to hide from those closest to you. My dad told me this a very long time ago, when I tried to sneak about 20 chocolate bars into my bedroom. If you have to sneak, it’s not the right thing to do. 
  12. Use sun cream and wear a hat. You know why. 
  13. Learn to say no. It’s ok, really. Say it kindly, but, when you need to, say no. 
  14. Listen hard and speak softly
  15. Have fun. Have fun at everything you do. Always look for the fun part. It’s there someplace, even in the most boring, dull, annoying places. Life is way too short not to be having fun every day. 
  16. Remember, always, that you are a creation of God. God does not create imperfect things. You are perfect as you are, no matter what you think. Your hair, your height, your inability in math, these things are not you. Don’t try to be something you are not, because God created you to be what you are. There is only one you in the world. Be the best you you can be. 

And there you have it – 16 points for 16 years.

With so much love,

Mom

Sunday, December 4, 2016

May you be comforted

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one
-Khalil Gibran
God is our refuge and our strength.
-Psalms 46:1

This blog post is about the practice of sitting shiva. There is no disrespect intended, and in no way do I want to make light of the practice. Sitting shiva is never easy. At best, it's a long, tiring week. At worst, well, it is the worst.
Many psychologists agree that the practice of sitting shiva is healthy and gives the mourners time to internalize the loss without having to deal with day-to-day life - work, shopping, laundry, etc. There are multitudes of books, and hundreds of website about the laws and customs of sitting shiva, and what to say when you visit a shiva house. Apparently, there's even a movie.

However, in my own recent experience of sitting shiva, I found that many people don't actually know how to act when visiting a shiva house. It was disconcerting, to say the least. Most of the people who came to visit me when I sat shiva for my mother were polite, respectful, and helpful. All of the visitors were welcome, However, there were a few who could, perhaps, benefit from a few hints.

Here are a few do's and don't's when visiting a shiva house - in no particular order.

1. Do make sure you've come to the right house.
It is not necessary to know the mourner or even the deceased when you visit a shiva. Here, in Israel, it is perfectly acceptable, and highly regarded to visit a shiva of a soldier or victim of terror whom you do not know. It's also proper and righteous to visit a shiva of someone who had little family in the country - a Holocaust survivor, or a new immigrant, for example. However, it's important to make sure that your facts are right. Three visitors came to my house. I didn't know who they were, but that was ok. In these days of social media, there are many people I know only through email or Facebook. But these three people entered the house, took a look at me, and realized they were in the wrong place. It turned out that they thought someone with a name similar to mine was sitting shiva. (She wasn't.) They were highly embarrassed (though very respectful and said all the right things) and my daughter and I had a very hard time keeping a straight face.

2. Don't pick a fight with another visitor.
What can I say? Just don't. Not even with your spouse. I don't care how right you are. Just shut up.

3. Don't talk over the head of the mourner. 
Two mutual friends came to visit at the same time. They sat on either side of me. I happen to like them both very much. They started a discussion on a particular subject, which was interesting, to me, for about 30 seconds. They, however, found it fascinating for about 20 minutes, speaking to each other over my head. I couldn't speak to other visitors because it would mean I would have to speak loudly over their heads, and I was sitting way low down in a low chair, and that would have been very unseemly. If you need to speak to another visitor - take it outside.

4. Don't sit with other visitors and show off pictures of your kids to each other. 
I don't care how cute they are. Not the time or place.

5. Don't start any sentence with the words: 'you should', 'you shouldn't', or 'why didn't you',  'why did you'. 
Even something as innocuous as 'you should eat breakfast' shouldn't be said.  If you think the mourner should eat breakfast, MAKE him breakfast, and bring it over.

6. Be careful what you say. 
Don't use phrases such as: 'you might as well die', or 'he just killed me when he did that'. It was funny when it happened in my house, but other people might not find it quite so amusing.

7. Don't talk 'stam'
I don't think there is an English word for stam. It means 'unimportant, without reason, without aim'. No matter how fascinating you are, I can't imagine any mourner wanting to hear all about your vacation in Italy, or your new diet and exercise program, or the new tricks your grandkids are doing - no matter how cute. What should you talk about? Jewish law states that you shouldn't speak to the mourner until spoken to. In other words; words are not important. If you don't know what to say, don't say anything at all. You don't have to. Just your presence is comforting.  Remember, a shiva is not all about you.

8. Don't stay too long, and don't come too late.
If you are a local, 15 minutes is enough time to stay. Really. You can stay longer if the mourner is alone, or if you can see you are helping. But really, 15 minutes is enough. If you are not local, but have traveled an hour or more to visit, you are permitted to stay, say, half an hour. But don't expect to be fed, or be given a lot of attention. You can, however, use the bathroom. If you feel that 'you've come all that way' and therefore deserve extra attention or credit, don't come.
Also, don't come at 9:00 PM and stay an hour. Sitting shiva is exhausting, and the family just wants to go to bed.

After all these don'ts, what should visitors do?
Here are some ideas:

9. Talk about the deceased
If you knew him/her. If you didn't, ask about him/her, or say something about him/her anyway. You don't have to ask how the person died. Ask how they lived.
One visitor told me what a special person my mother must have been because her grandchildren are so wonderful. I am in awe of that sentence, and still cry.

10. Bring food. 
It doesn't have to be a full course meal, or even a main course. It doesn't have to be home made. It can be a bag of apples, or a salad, or some peanuts. When my daughter brought me an ice coffee from Cofix (5 NIS), I almost wept with gratitude.  If you can't bring food (and I personally hate cooking), grab a broom and sweep the kitchen. Offer to take little ones out to play. Wash the cups. In my house, it's known that nobody is allowed in the kitchen but me. Ignore me.

11. Remember the others
Just because a person is not officially sitting shiva, does not mean he or she is not mourning. Grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, close friends can all be mourning just as much as the official mourners. Speak to them also.

12. Come.
If you can, come to the shiva. Stay 10 minutes. Nobody likes to come to a shiva. Nobody is good at it, or knows what to say. But the presence of friends and acquaintances and family is comforting beyond all description. If you can't come - and there are a many acceptable reasons not to come - send some sort of message either by phone (but sometimes that is intrusive as the mourner is busy with other 'guests') or by text message via whatsapp, email, SMS, facebook, or a million other ways. The idea is to reach out.

13. Reach out after the shiva, also.
Sometimes, you just can't make it - a week isn't a long time. Or you might not have heard. Call after. Send an SMS. Let the mourner know you are thinking of them.

These suggestions are  based on events I noticed when I sat shiva. Some of the points might not even bother other people.

I sincerely wish that nobody would ever have to use these suggestions.

Here's the thing, and it's important all the time, not just at a shiva:

Be kind. Be thoughtful. Act as you would want others to behave.
And enjoy your life, and cause others to enjoy theirs.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Mother's Legacy

Death is a night that lies between two days.
-Maurice Lamm – the Jewish Way in Death and Mourning

My mother's shloshim (30 days after death) and my father's yartzheit (anniversary of death) are only a few days apart.
The Hebrew name of my mother, Chaya, means life. It is the name of the first woman who G-d created from the side of the first man - Adam.

My mother, may her memory be blessed, passed away right before Shabbat Breishit, the Shabbat where Jews begin to read the Torah anew. This first portion, of course, features the creation of Chaya (Eve) and Adam.
While she actually died on the Friday, in the Old Country, because of the time difference, it was already Shabbat here in the Holy Land, and I only learned of my mother's death after Shabbat was out. So, while my siblings were dealing with the pain of her passing, and the details of arranging her funeral, I had one more day of thinking that my mother was still in the world.
However, as soon as Shabbat was out, and I learned my mother was gone, I immediately began to sit shiva, something my siblings began only the next day, after the funeral.

The whole experience was weird. I felt cut off and alone, so far from my family - despite the fact that MY family - my children, and husband and dozens of friends - surrounded me immediately in love and support.

My father passed away more than two decades ago. Then, I sat shiva in my mother's house, with her and my siblings, and various siblings of my father. The house was full; none of us was ever alone for a minute. Yet, one of my clearest memories of the week is of one family member saying to me, “It must be so hard for you to be here alone without your husband and kids.” Even though there was a constant flow of people, it was hard - I did feel alone; my other siblings had someone to run to the store for them, if necessary; someone to bring them coffee, someone to talk to at the end of the day. I had a baby with me; I had to wash his clothes, feed him, and find someone to buy him diapers.

Sitting by myself here in my own house, with my kids and husband, and sitting there with the others both had good points and bad points. Actually, both had only bad points - just different bad points.

I did kriya for my father at his funeral, watched by the many people who had come to pay their respects. I wore that shirt for the week, taking it off, finally, in a bathroom in the airport in Zurich, on my way back home to Israel. The Rabbi had told me to take advantage of my pre-paid, pre-booked ticket back home as my kids were waiting for me, even though I had two more days of shiva. I changed my shirt, carefully packing it away into my hand luggage. When I got back home, I washed it, folded it and put it away. I still have it, though I can't and wouldn't ever wear it.

When my mother died, I did kriya in my house, in front of my kids. When I got up from shiva for my mother, it was almost Shabbat. I took a shower, put on Shabbat clothes and threw the clothes that I had been wearing all week, including the torn shirt, into the laundry hamper. But after I had washed it, I immediately threw the shirt out. I couldn't look at it. It was too raw.

On the other hand, the phone number of the hospital, where my mother spent her last days, is still on the fridge, held in place by a magnet in the shape of a bird. I can't bring myself to throw the piece of paper away.

I have many memories of my mother, but two stand out as shaping me into the person I am today.

The first occurred just after my grandmother - my mother's mother - died. I was 9 years old. It was a Saturday afternoon. Saturday had not yet become Shabbat for me. I was sitting in my room at my desk, when my mother came in. She asked me what I was doing. "My homework," I answered, though it was - I thought - obvious. My mother said to me very quietly "You shouldn't do homework on Shabbos", and she left the room, closing the door behind her. I put my pencil down and left my homework to do the next day.

I never did homework on Shabbos again. Not ever. I didn't yet keep Shabbat. I went to dancing lessons for several years on Saturday afternoons. I watched MASH on Friday nights. I went out driving with my friends after MASH.
But I never once did homework again on Shabbos.

The second memory took place years later, during the Pesach holiday. I can't recall where I was exactly on my own religious journey, but my mother's actions at the time took me by surprise.

I don't remember, either, why I was there, but my mother was at her friend's house, with a few other women. As mentioned, it was Pesach. One of the women offered everyone a stick a gum. My mother reached to take one, but then noticed it wasn't 'kosher for Passover'. "Oh, no thanks," she said, "I only eat kosher for Pesach things this week". I don't recall exactly what the other women said, but I do remember they were borderline disparaging—something along the lines of 'don't be a fanatic, it's only gum, not bread', but without actually using the word fanatic. My mother stood her ground, and inside, I swelled with pride.

I am quite sure that she had no inkling of the affect either of these memories ever had on me.

I got up from shiva for my mother on Parsha Noach, the second reading of the year. Our sages discuss, at some length, how great a man Noach was. Noach was the only man in his generation who believed in God. He was the only one to do as God commanded him. Despite the need to solve huge logistical problems, years and years of physical labor, at great personal expense, and, most importantly and the hardest trial of all, despite ridicule from his friends, Noach did God’s bidding. Some of our sages say that had he lived in the generation of Abraham, he would not have been considered particularly great in comparison to the greatness of Abraham. But other sages contend exactly the opposite. Had Noach lived in the time of Abraham, and had Abraham to emulate and learn from, had he been surrounded by righteousness instead of evil, Noach would have been even greater than Abraham himself.

Every year, when we read this parsha, I am transfixed by this discussion. It reminds me of how important personal example is to others, what effect, even unknowingly, we have on others, and how important an impact our environment (our neighbors, friends, school, family) has on us. I wonder how I would compare.

I come from a smallish town, with a smallish Jewish community. I went to a Jewish day school, but I was one of the few in my class who came from a kosher house. At home, we ate latkes on Chanuka and hamantashen on Purim. (I still make my mother’s recipe for Hamantashen.) My mother tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me how to make blintzes, and knishes, and gefilte fish. She bottled her own sour pickles. She turned the house over every Passover, and made the seders in our house – every single year. She volunteered in Jewish organizations; she taught us Yiddish sayings (e.g., I need this tzuris like a loch in kop). Both my parents showed us, by personal example, the ways of kindness, and consideration, and thoughtfulness, to others and to each other.  In so many ways, our Jewish identity was instilled in us.

That was my mother’s strength, and this is her legacy. Against all odds, she raised four Jewish children, who went on to give her twenty Jewish grandchildren – nine of whom (so far) live in Israel – and seven great-grandchildren (so far) – ALL of whom live in Israel, the youngest one named after her as a blessing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Is it only me?

I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up - they have no holidays. 
- Henny Youngman

The Land of Israel is in the middle of the 'Chagim Season'. This month-long period is marked by joy, prayers, family, mosquitoes, noisy neighbors, and exaggerated amounts of time preparing  exaggerated amounts of food.

I find that, every autumn (or what passes for autumn in the Holy Land, i.e., a short period of time when it's less hot for 20 minutes a day), for six weeks, I spend an exorbitant amount of time doing household chores that I am unable to put off, as I normally would, because it's The Chagim. And when I'm not actually doing these chores, I'm thinking about doing them; Extra shopping, laundry, ironing, baking, dusting, wiping, polishing, washing, cleaning, mopping, weeding, grouting. Ok, maybe not polishing. I don't think about polishing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

As I attend to these tasks, making the same depressing mistakes and messes year after year, I wonder if I'm the only one to feel, on the one hand, joyous to be able to celebrate these holidays with my family, and, on the other hand, resentful that I have to celebrate these holidays with my family....

When I know I have a lot to do for Chag or Shabbat - a lot of guests, extra laundry, more shopping - I start early in the week. I make lists, I plan a timetable, I prepare food to put in the freezer. That way, I tell myself, time after time after time, on Erev Shabbat or Chag, I won't have so much to do, and I won't be frazzled or anxious, and everything will be tickety boo for chag. Why is it then, that, even if I get out of bed on the morning of Erev Chag when it's still dark outside, I still find I have 20 gajillion things to do and I still get to Shabbat/Chag frazzled, anxious, exhausted, and in a snarly bad mood. (The question, of course, is am I in a snarly bad mood because I got up at 5:30 AM?)


Am I the only one that this happens to? 

Am I the only one who makes about 4 cups of coffee in the space of an hour because the previous one got cold before I had a chance to drink it because I was too busy looking up new recipes on the internet that I have no intention of ever using? Why haven't I learned to just make a cold cup of coffee and save time?

Am I the only one who still has just as much laundry, even though most of the kids have left the house, as I had when they were toddlers? Do I live in a magical laundry wonderland? Does laundry breed and is only my house a good breeding ground? Is it only my dirty socks making whoopee?


Am I the only one who never learns how to calculate amounts? For example, I seldom make schnitzel. That's because it's a potchka to make, and I don't do potchkas. However, when I do prepare schnitzel, I make a lot. First, I dip the meat in flour, then in an egg mixture and then a mixture of bread crumbs and spices. I fry up four kilo of schnitzel at a time. Each time I make it, it doesn't matter how many breadcrumbs I start out with, I won't have enough for the last three pieces of meat, the last two pieces have no egg, but I have a mound of flour left over I can do nothing with. Is it only me?

Sometimes, it's not me, it's other people. I'll look up a recipe because I have a particular ingredient left over in the fridge, say, spinach leaves. I'll make a small salad of the aforesaid leaves and a couple of old tomatoes, and some basil. And everyone eats it up and fights over the last leaf.
The next week, I'll buy more spinach leaves, and make a lot of the same salad. But this time, nobody will touch it, and the leaves die a slow death in the back of the fridge, unloved and unwanted. Do other people's fridges have spurned leaves in the back wasting away? Or is it only my fridge?

spurned love
Speaking of leftovers, am I the only one who cannot, CANNOT, estimate the correct size of a needed container? Either it's way too big and takes up too much room in the fridge, or it's too small and the excess spills all over the counter. Best case scenario is when the container is too small and I make some passing kid eat whatever won't fit it. Which is ok with the kid if it's schnitzel (even naked schnitzel), but not so ok it's it's leftover spinach salad.


Are there other people out there playing tetris in their fridge? I can spend HOURS fitting odd-shaped containers into the fridge, only to have the bag of peppers remain on the counter. I'll start again, finally fitting in the peppers by taking them out of the bag, and arranging them individually into the odd-shaped spaces between the containers. I'm finally able to shut the door of the fridge without squishing the pie and turn around to find I've left the milk out. I make a passing kid drink it. If there's no passing kid, I just keep making cups of coffee I don't drink, and use up the milk that way.

The inside of my fridge
Despite the lists that are the length of  Gone With the Wind, hours deciding what to serve at which meal, days searching for bargains, and weeks copy and pasting menus and recipes, I still forget to buy almonds, cinnamon, and beans. If I'm lucky, I forget to buy dish washing soap, too.

I really hope that I'm not, but I suspect that I am the only one who burns the rice while chopping carrots for the tzimmis, adds pepper to the chocolate cake while stirring the soup, and forgets to put yeast in the challah because is 5:30 IN THE (expletive deleted) MORNING!!

As I prepare for yet the next shopping/cleaning/cooking spree, which I accomplish in my own unique way, I wish all Am Yisrael a truly joyous, blessed, and tasty holiday.
And remember: if you don't like pepper in chocolate cake, adding the left over spinach leaves might work.