Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Angels and Humans

The art of conversation lies in listening.
Malachy McCourt

Good conversation is the bridge that connects minds and hearts.
Paulo Coelho

The quality of your life is the quality of your communication.
Tony Robbins

For truly we are all angels temporarily hiding as humans.”
―Brian Weiss

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
Proverbs 25:11

By far, it was not the worst week I have ever had.
It wasn't even the worst week I've had in the last nine months.
Not even in the top ten (it's been a rough nine months).

But it was a very frustrating week. 
Various plans that were made had to be cancelled at the last minute. 
I missed out on my weekly coffee date just to rush out to an appointment, only to wait a very long time to be seen. 
Another shopping date was missed for reasons that turned out to be irrelevant. 
Yadda Yadda. 
And it's hot. 
So hot that going outside is a challenge, and unless I've an appointment (in an air-conditioned office), I try and keep my outings to a minimum. 

Me. 
And therefore, I've been feeling more and more isolated in my air-conditioned home. 

Which is my own fault as I am not the type of person who reaches out, who picks up a phone, who loves to party. 
Also, I'm lazy. 

Nonetheless, the need eventually arose to venture out to the nearest shopping mall to run some small errands. 
After a short period of time, exhausted from getting nothing at all accomplished, I sat down on a bench in the middle of the walkway to rest my nerves. Before I even had a chance to pull out my phone to play a restorative game of Sudoku, an older woman approached my bench and asked if she could sit. 

Of course, I said to her, please do, and I scootched over to make room for her and her parcels. 
She rested her many bundles and bags onto the bench but remained standing. "Why are some young people so rude?" she asked me. Without waiting for a reply, she began to talk. Her name was Ilana, and it was her birthday; she had six children, one girl and five boys; the five boys had all been called up to the army on October 7; one came back from abroad to serve; her daughter, the oldest of the six was 37 and unmarried and didn't really want to get married and Ilana was worried; she came from Transylvania and had made aliya almost 50 years ago; her husband was killed while serving in the army (details unknown); she worked as a nurse at Soroka hospital for over 40 years; the checkout girl in the store had been very rude to her when she asked a question, what's wrong with children these days, her children would never dare to speak in that manner. 

Ilana never sat down during our entire one-sided fifteen-minute conversation. She spoke, I nodded. 

As she was winding down, amidst a great deal of head shaking and near-tears, I spotted a friend, whom I had not seen in a long, long time. I waved at her and patted the bench next to me, signaling her to come and sit a moment. Ilana had by this time began to pick up her purchases and wished me a wonderful day and quieter times. 

My dear friend sat in the space vacated by Ilana's parcels with a satisfied sigh. We chatted about prices (too high), the weather (too hot), the war (too awful), the army (all superheroes, too bad about the government) etc. etc. Our two-sided fifteen-minute seated conversation was peppered with both laughter and sighs. It was totally lovely. We parted ways, wishing each other a wonderful day and quieter times. 

A third conversation took place once I returned home. 

A relative, who lives in non-Israel Land, called to say hi. "I just felt like it", he said to me.
I don't normally like speaking on the phone – it gives me anxiety – but I welcomed his call. For half an hour, we shared gossip, jokes, and news – both good and bad. I told him to call any time at all. Before we hung up (or more accurately touched 'end call' on our screens), we wished each other a wonderful day and quieter times.

I was feeling isolated. And anxious. And not a little lonely. 

And God sent me three angels in human form – one for listening to, one for laughing with, and one for sharing and comforting.  

Wishing us all a wonderful day and quieter times. 


Please, take a moment to say a prayer for our Holy Land, our Holy soldiers and for our hostages, may they return home quickly and in health:

Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it Your canopy of peace; send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.
Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them, our God, salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants. Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Your servant Moses:
Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and God will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.
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. 

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ. הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ, וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ. חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ.
וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּקָד-נָא בְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם, וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ, כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךָ: “אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ. וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ.
וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ, וְלִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתֶךָ. וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּות מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ. הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיֹאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ: “ה’ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ, וּמַלְכוּתו בַּכּל מָשָׁלָה”. אָמֵן סֶלָה.

  

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 them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלֹהֵינו מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה’ אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחֲלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחון. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן:

 

May it be the will of our Father in heaven,
Who brought His people Israel out from the suffering of Egypt
That He bless and save our abducted brothers and sisters.
Bound with iron chains,
May He strengthen their souls and faith,
Protect them from all harm and disease,
Have mercy on His sons and daughters awaiting His salvation.
Nullify all cruel decrees from upon them
In His great kindness, may He hasten their redemption,
And may they quickly emerge from darkness to light,
And from the pit of captivity to the freedom of the world.
And return in peace to their families and to their homes,
Please, plant brotherhood, peace and friendship in the hearts of all
Remove envy and baseless hatred,
And spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace
And may we merit to soon sing before You a ‘New Song.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלִּפְנֵי אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיא אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרַיִם
הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִנְצֹר אֶת אַחֵינוּ וְאַחְיוֹתֵינוּ
הַחֲטוּפִים הָאֲסוּרִים בְּכַבְלֵי בַּרְזֶל
,יְחַזֵּק נַפְשָׁם וֶאֱמוּנָתָם
,יִשְׁמְרֵם מִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחֲלָה
,יַחְמֹל עַל בָּנָיו וּבְנוֹתָיו הַמְּצַפִּים לִישׁוּעָתוֹ
.יְבַטֵּל מֵעֲלֵיהֶם כָּל גְּזֵרוֹת אַכְזָרִיּוֹת
בְּחַסְדּוֹ הַגָּדוֹל יָחִישׁ פְּדוּתָם וְיֵצְאוּ מְהֵרָה מֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה
וּמִבּוֹר הַשְּׁבִי לְחֵרוּת עוֹלָם וְיָשׁוּבוּ לְשָׁלוֹם אֶל מִשְׁפְּחוֹתֵיהֶם וְאֶל בָּתֵּיהֶם
,אָנָּא, נֶטַע אַחֲוָה שָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת בְּלֵב כֻּלָּם
הָסֵר קִנְאָה וְשִׂנְאַת חִנָּם וּפְרֹס עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ
.וְנִזְכֶּה בְּקָרוֹב לוֹמַר לְפָנֶיךָ שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה

 



Monday, June 10, 2024

A Day in the Life

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
–Albert Camus

חֲזַק, וֶאֱמָץ: כִּי אַתָּה, תַּנְחִיל אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לַאֲבוֹתָם לָתֵת לָהֶם
Be strong and of good courage: for you shall cause this people to inherit the Land which I swore unto their fathers to give them.
–Book of Joshua 1:6

אין לי ארץ אחרת, גם אם אדמתי בוערת
I have no other country, even if my Land is burning.
–Ehud Manor

Some days, it's difficult to breathe. I mean, I do breathe, but then I forget to exhale. Or to inhale.
There are simply so many emotions inside me that there is no room for air. 
It's dizzying. 

Yet, my days are ordinary days.
I go shopping and fight with an older man over the best peppers. Seventeen different people leave their shopping carts on the diagonal in the middle of the aisle, and I have to reach over to move them so I can get by. Then I get yelled at for touching their cart. I back out of my parking space, maneuvering (badly) around the next car waiting, not particularly patiently, to take my spot. On the drive home, I wait, not particularly patiently, behind the garbage truck that is making a pick-up in the middle of the narrow street. Out of habit, I glance around, looking for a safe space in case of a rocket attack. 

At our weekly Koffee Klatsch (aka Ladies Parliament), my friends talk of home renovations, grandkids, books or articles that have been read, the number of airplanes and helicopters overhead, the price of apples and potatoes, who has been called up for reserve duty, and the recent massive damage from missiles and anti-tank guns in the north of the country. 

I bake cheesecake for the upcoming festival of Shavuot. But this year, I'm not paying enough attention, and the cake comes out wonky. Nonetheless, we'll eat it as we celebrate our holiday.
Eating wonky cake is nothing new. 

Just in case, I make some cookies also and set a box aside for my son who is in the middle of his second round of reserve duty. And another box for my daughter who is at the end of her second round of pregnancy. 

I read the newspaper. I stay away from the front page's blaring headlines and most of the editorials. I concentrate on my horoscope. It tells me to take care of my health and get enough sleep. There are articles about hiking trails and swimming holes and new restaurants. But both the north and the south of the country is closed to tourism and there aren't any tourists from abroad anyway. I note the ads for sales in cordless vacuum cleaners, hiking sandals, and hats. I need some new hats. There are also transistor radios on sale. Transistor radios are a hot item now because people are worried that the electricity will go out for an extended period if the power stations are hit by missiles. Also popular are home generators. We actually own a transistor radio from the 1980s.
It still works. 
We don't have a generator.

Some days are a bit less ordinary. The IDF, in one of the most heroic, daring, and well-planned missions in history, rescues four Israeli hostages held by Gazans in the middle of a residential area in the middle of the day. The entire Nation of Israel simultaneously rejoices at the rescue and mourns the hero who was killed.

Simultaneously rejoicing and mourning is the new normal for the Nation of Israel. 

My country is burning and sometimes it's difficult to breathe. 

Life rages on. 









Thursday, May 9, 2024

Bitter Sweetness

And the Lord your God will bring you into the Land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will do you good and multiply you above your fathers.
–Deuteronomy 30:5

What Eretz Yisrael means to the Jew can be felt only through the spirit of the Lord which is in our people as a whole.
–Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook - The Land of Israel

Our future does not depend on what the Gentiles will say but on what the Jews will do.
David Ben-Gurion

We are in the month of Iyar. The first Rosh Chodesh Iyar after the exodus from Egypt found Bnei Yisrael at the waters of Marah. After wandering for a week after crossing the Reed Sea, Bnei Yisrael finally came upon water in the vast desert, only to find it undrinkable. Moshe turned to God to find out what to do, and God told Moshe that if he threw a branch of a nearby growing tree – which in itself was bitter – into the water, the water would become sweet.

There are many questions that can be asked. Why didn't God just go poof and make sweet water? Why didn't God just provide sweet water to start with? And maybe the most puzzling, how is it that something bitter (the branch) added to something else bitter (the water) makes the water sweet? And why did Moshe have to throw the branch into the water? Why didn’t God just blow it in Himself?

There are many explanations for these questions, but the one I present now is this: Sometimes, in order to achieve sweetness, we first need a dose of bitterness. And sometimes we have to get there ourselves. In other words, great things don't often come easy. 

This year, Yom HaAzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, will be difficult to celebrate.
There is simply too much hardship, too many tears, too much destruction, too many deaths.

After all, what do we have to celebrate? A failed leadership, a divided population?
How can this be רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ the first flowering of our redemption, as the prayer for the State of Israel states, when hate and death surround us and are rapidly closing in.

So much bitterness.

And like the weary people at the waters of Marah, we are wondering have we been led here only to die in the desert

It is the Rambam who tells us what the flowering of our redemption might look like; the one difference between the beginning of the Messianic age (the age of redemption) and normal times is the sovereignty of Israel. We might not be witness to great miracles, and there will not necessarily be peace, says the Rambam, but the fact that Israel is sovereign in its land will be the sign that the beginning of the redemption has come.

In fact, the great Rabbi Akiva believed that Shimon Bar Kochva was the Messiah. Bar Kochva, leader of the last Great Revolt against the Romans, was big and strong and a great and brave general and warrior, but he never performed miracles, nor was he a great scholar. Yet Rabbi Akiva believed until his death that Bar Kochva was the Messiah because Bar Kochva liberated Judea from the Roman conquerors, if only for a short period of time. And Rabbi Akiva knew that a sign of the beginning of the redemption is the sovereignty of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.
But Bar-Kochva was not the Messiah, and his sovereignty didn’t last.

Shimon Bar Kochva from the Knesset Menorah

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, what makes this time around different?

This time, we are surrounded by miracles. From the 1947 UN partition vote, when both East and West voted for the partition, through the victory of the War of Independence when our army was out-manned, out-gunned, and out-trained by five invading genocidal armies, to the Six-Day War, whose miracles are too numerous to list, to the Yom Kippur War, when the Syrian tanks retreated without a logical reason back into Syria.
And on and on. 

To be a realist, said David Ben-Gurion, you have to believe in miracles. 

The people of Israel, rising from ashes, emerging from the persecutions, the forced conversions, the slaughter that they encountered in every corner of the globe, came together, and created a miracle.

An ongoing miracle; a miracle in progress; a daily open, glorious miracle.

We became farmers, after centuries when Jews were forbidden to own land. We became architects and designers and builders and planned and designed and built cities where only sand dunes and marshes had been for generations. We became doctors and lawyers after years of quotas and closed doors. We became bus drivers and fighter pilots and tank drivers. We became generals and soldiers again after 2000 years. We became Nobel Prize winners and politicians and millionaires and inventors and experts in security. We became researchers and Web designers and engineers and cartoon artists. We became university professors and computer programmers and authors and composers. We became Olympic athletes and singers and basketball players playing for teams in cities where once Jews were forbidden to live.
We became parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents.

We are the miracle.

Despite what it looks like from the outside, we became one people with one heart.

Make no mistake.

We will endure this heartrending, unbearable bitterness.
We will yet witness more miraculous sweetness.

Because the People of Israel live.

And that is our miracle.

 


Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first manifestation of the approach of our redemption. Shield it with Your lovingkindness, envelop it in Your peace, and bestow Your light and truth upon its leaders, ministers, and advisors, and grace them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our holy land, grant them deliverance, and adorn them in a mantle of victory. Ordain peace in the land and grant its inhabitants eternal happiness.
Lead them, swiftly and upright, to Your city Zion and to Jerusalem, the abode of Your Name, as is written in the Torah of Your servant Moses: “Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And the Lord your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers.” Draw our hearts together to revere and venerate Your name and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah, and send us quickly the Messiah son of David, agent of Your vindication, to redeem those who await Your deliverance.
Manifest yourself in the splendor of Your boldness before the eyes of all inhabitants of Your world and may everyone endowed with a soul affirm that the Lord, God of Israel, is king and his dominion is absolute. Amen forevermore.







Wednesday, May 1, 2024

A Product of Israel

When someone loves you, it's like having a blanket all round your heart.
Helen Fielding

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.
Winston Churchill

A good few years ago, a relative travelled to Israel from the Old Country to spend a summer volunteering on a Kibbutz. During that summer, they decided to stay in the HolyLand and attend classes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Having packed for only a summer, my relative needed to buy a few supplies for the upcoming Jerusalem winter. One of the things they bought was a blanket. It gets cold in Jerusalem. 

My relative eventually returned to the Old Country and brought some of the things they had bought for that winter with them, including the blanket. At that time, I was still young and very impressionable, and my youthful Zionism was fired at the sight of the 'Product of Israel' tag on the blanket. While this relative never actually gifted the blanket to me, they didn't seem to notice that I had totally appropriated said Israeli artifact. 

At that time, I actually had a Hudson Bay Blanket on my bed, and didn't need the wispy DIB (nickname commonly used by non-Israelis for anything Israeli, usually people, the initials meaning 'Dear Israeli Brother' cough cough) blanket at all, but I kept it for years in my room as I plotted my own escape from the Old Country winters. The 'Product of Israel' tag called to me. 

For comparison only

And indeed, a few years later, knowing that I would also be attending an Israeli university, I packed the blanket in a box with other essentials (toothpaste, baby powder, and Zest soap) and shipped it to my new lodgings in a dormitory in the Holy City of Ramat Gan. 

The blanket didn't keep me that warm and I had to buy another one, but I held on to it and always considered it my 'Israeli' blanket. 

Years passed, and the blanket travelled with me to several dorm rooms, an apartment in Jerusalem, and many different abodes in the wilds of the northern Negev. Over the years, because it really is a rather thin blanket and because upon my eventual and official Aliyah, I was given a thick pink duvet by the Jewish Agency and because I inherited my then roommate's Jewish Agency's Aliyah duvet (hers was much nicer than mine) when she needed to leave the country quickly (a story for another time) and then received a third Jewish Agency Aliyah duvet upon marriage (it came with the groom), my Product of Israel blanket became relegated to being a second or even third blanket on really cold nights. It also became slightly raggedy around the edges. 

Thanks to the Jewish Agency

More time passed, and today I am the proud owner of at least seventeen different blankets of all sizes, fabrics, and colours. They don't all reside with me in my house. Many have been appropriated by various children, which seems appropriate. 

My three sons were all called up to reserve duty on October 7th. On his first visit home, one son asked if he could take a blanket back with him. The army was short of sleeping bags, and depended almost entirely on donations, which had not yet reached all the units. I offered him a thick warm duvet or a double flannel blanket. He refused them saying that whatever he took with him might not come back. Looking through a stack of blankets, he held up my slightly raggedy and obviously-seen-better-days Product of Israel blanket. 

"This one ok?" he asked.

I hesitated for less than a second, "Of course you can have it, but it's not very warm", I warned him, 
"I'll be fine", he assured me. 

He and the blanket served on the northern border throughout the winter. The blanket added another address to its already impressive list. 

A few days ago, finishing up his second round of reserve duty, my son returned the blanket to me. "I'm sorry it's a bit dirty. I didn't get a sleeping bag for a while. But the weather is much warmer now and it's not raining, and I won't need it when I go back." He fully expects to be called up again before summer sets in completely. 

After a long, cold, horrible, grief-filled winter, my Israeli blanket, like all Israelis, is a bit more raggedy, a bit more worn. 

But we are Products of Israel, and we are made to last and here to stay. 

A Product of Israel

Please, take a moment to say a prayer for our holy soldiers:
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה’ אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחֲלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחון. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן:

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 them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

And a prayer for the quick and safe return of all our hostages:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלִּפְנֵי אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיא אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרַיִם
הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִנְצֹר אֶת אַחֵינוּ וְאַחְיוֹתֵינוּ
הַחֲטוּפִים הָאֲסוּרִים בְּכַבְלֵי בַּרְזֶל,
יְחַזֵּק נַפְשָׁם וֶאֱמוּנָתָם,
יִשְׁמְרֵם מִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחֲלָה,
יַחְמֹל עַל בָּנָיו וּבְנוֹתָיו הַמְּצַפִּים לִישׁוּעָתוֹ,
יְבַטֵּל מֵעֲלֵיהֶם כָּל גְּזֵרוֹת אַכְזָרִיּוֹת.

בְּחַסְדּוֹ הַגָּדוֹל יָחִישׁ פְּדוּתָם וְיֵצְאוּ מְהֵרָה מֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה
וּמִבּוֹר הַשְּׁבִי לְחֵרוּת עוֹלָם
וְיָשׁוּבוּ לְשָׁלוֹם אֶל מִשְׁפְּחוֹתֵיהֶם וְאֶל בָּתֵּיהֶם
אָנָּא, נֶטַע אַחֲוָה שָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת בְּלֵב כֻּלָּם,
הָסֵר קִנְאָה וְשִׂנְאַת חִנָּם
וּפְרֹס עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ
וְנִזְכֶּה בְּקָרוֹב לוֹמַר לְפָנֶיךָ שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה.

May it be the will of our Father in heaven
,Who brought His people Israel out from the suffering of Egypt
That He bless and save our abducted brothers and sisters
.Bound with iron chains
,May He strengthen their souls and faith
,Protect them from all harm and disease
,Have mercy on His sons and daughters awaiting His salvation
.Nullify all cruel decrees from upon them

In His great kindness, may He hasten their redemption
,And may they quickly emerge from darkness to light
,And from the pit of captivity to the freedom of the world
.And return in peace to their families and to their homes

,Please, plant brotherhood, peace and friendship in the hearts of all
Remove envy and baseless hatred
,And spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace
.’And may we merit to soon sing before You a ‘New Song


 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

On Buses and Coffee

We always knew how to honor fallen soldiers. They were killed for our sake, they went out on our mission. But how are we to mourn a random man killed in a terrorist attack while sitting in a cafe? How do you mourn a housewife who got on a bus and never returned?
―A. B. Yehoshua

Travelling shouldn't be just a tour, it should be a tale.
― Amit Kalantri

If it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.
―David Letterman

A few short years ago, when I was a teenager, I asked my mother for bus money. To be perfectly frank, as a kid, I did not travel by bus with any regularity. We had a carpool to go to school and back, and I was chauffeured to most of the extracurricular activities I pursued. I was usually able to walk to friends' houses.  But occasionally, I did need to travel by bus, and I was given money accordingly. 

Each time I asked, my mother always had the same question: "how much is a bus ride these days?", as she forked over a handful of change.  
I thought it hilarious that my mother had no idea how much a bus ride cost. My mother hadn't taken a bus for as long as I had known her, which, at that point, was pretty much my whole life. My mother, to my knowledge, had never taken a bus since she and my father had bought their first car, years before I was born. (This is not completely accurate - my parents travelled across country on Greyhound buses seeing the sights, but a city bus was a different story.) In any case, not only did I find my mother's ignorance as to the price of a bus ride hilarious (in addition to not knowing where to get on and off, and which bus went where, but hey), I also thought she was a touch spoiled. She never had to ride a bus. 

I'm all grown up now, and the truth is, I seldom ride buses either. I also own a car. But I have been known to ride a bus, and I do know several routes and where the stops are. But, I must admit, I never enjoy riding a bus. At one period, during the Covid crisis, I rode a bus almost daily, double masking, and feeling appalled at the selfishness of the other passengers who seldom masked up to my liking. Therefore, it's been a while since I have ventured forth and joined the masses. 

But when the husband told me he was taking the car this morning, I knew I had a choice: stay home, or take a bus and meet up with friends for coffee. I had been looking forward to going out this morning, so I took a deep breath, decided that I was not a touch spoiled, and I could go by bus. I knew it was an easy bus ride; a two-minute walk on each side to and from the bus stop, and a six-minute ride. Easy peasy. I armed myself with my bus card and a bottle of water, and I was set for my great adventure. 

But this is Israel. 

Just before I left, I check the news and discovered that just before I was to leave, there had been a terrorist attack at the bus station. I'm not sure what the terrorist was thinking  sure, if soldiers were his target, Sunday morning at Beer Sheva Central Bus Station is the place to be. Hundreds of soldiers, returning to their bases after a weekend at home, can be found there all morning long. On the other hand, there are hundreds of soldiers at the Beer Sheva Central Bus Station on a Sunday morningall armed. Indeed, within moments, the terrorist was 'neutralized'. 

Nonetheless, getting on a bus suddenly lost its appeal. The bus station was nowhere near where I needed to go, but the incident did take the wind out of my sails, so to speak. 
I thought of the 'person' who had committed this attack. What was the point? What did he think he would accomplish? 

The point, of course, was: 1. to create terror; 2. to disrupt lives; and 3. (and most important) to kill Jews. This particular terrorist was not, thank God, successful in the third point, and I was not going to allow him to be successful in his first two.

There have been hundreds of such incidents since October 7th throughout the country (and thousands upon thousands before), and there seems to be no end in sight. 

But nobody, I decided, as I hefted my bus card, was going to stop me from having coffee with my friends. 
From the River to the Sea, I am going to drink my coffee.

I got on the bus, and ten minutes later, I had reached my destination. Easy peasy. I drank coffee and my friends and I solved the world's problems AND oohed and ahhed over pictures of soldier sons and grandkid's Purim costumes. Along with the caffeine, I soaked up some much-needed Vitamin D. 


I may not be completely spoiled, but I actually don't know how much a local bus ride in Beer Sheva costs, as no cash ever changes hands on a ride these days. Instead, it's all done with cards and apps and machines that go ping. 

It doesn't matter how much they cost though, when the need arises, I will keep riding the buses, and drinking coffee, and seeing friends and living my life, because we have nowhere else to go. 

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 them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה’ אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחֲלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחון. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן:

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Miracle of the Maple Tree

Always remember, joy is not incidental to spiritual quest. It is vital.
Nachman of Breslov

The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honour.
לַיְּהוּדִים, הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה, וְשָׂשֹׂן, וִיקָר
–The Book of Esther 8:16

All the festivals are destined to be nullified [in the Messianic age], but the days of Purim will never cease to be observed.
Midrash Mishlei 9:1

Today is the first day of the second month of Adar, and Purim is just around the corner.
Every year at this time, I find myself fraught and frazzled, and this year is no exception, the only difference being that, this year, I am a bit more fraught and a great deal more frazzled.

This year, my annual calculations of how many hamantashen to make so there is enough to give to all the kids and have also for Shabbat and Purim and the Shabbat after Purim AND for mishloach manot has the added complication of trying to figure out how many and when I will give some to my sons who are returning to active duty (one before Purim and one right after) so as to feed at least their unit, or maybe battalion (but that seems like a lot). The complexity arises when I factor in the necessity of not making so many that we’ll still be eating them on Erev Pesach and then have to burn the remainder. (I still have three packages of noodles and some couscous that need to be used up.)

Then there is the planning of Seudat Purim. With the boys in the army, I have no idea who will be here to eat. Will the one going in the next day feel like coming over and will the one already in be able to get out? Will the other kids want to come if the boys aren’t here? How much humus should I buy? I don’t want any of that left over either.

In any case, how much do we celebrate? Do we dress up, party hardy, dance and laugh? It’s hard to get to that frame of mind when our enemies are still at our doorstep (almost literally) and our sons and daughters are still defending us with their lives (very literally), while others are languishing in the Hamas terror dungeons. Our hearts, quite literally, are in Gaza. 

Personally, I have no problem being fraught and frazzled. It’s a thing. A problem, however, does emerge when one wants to adhere to the commandment (mitzvah) to be joyous. According to Rav Nachman of Breslov, it is not just a mitzvah to be joyous, but a GREAT mitzvah. (מצווה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד) What complicates things even more (what’s with these complications?), in the month of Adar, we are commanded to be even more joyful than the rest of the year. When Adar enters, our sages tell us, our joy increases. (מי שנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה)

It’s a tall order to be joyous upon command. How is it even possible to be joyous in the midst of war, death, uncertainty? Do we put aside these worries and concerns and ignore them? Do we, really, only concentrate on how many hamentashen and humus we need?

In order to understand this dichotomy, one needs to understand exactly what the commandment is asking of us.

In Hebrew, the word for joy is Simcha. But Simcha, in this context, is one of those words that is not really translatable (even though I’ve translated it). It is not the joy you feel when you your favorite cereal goes on sale, or when you find a parking spot right in front of the post office. It’s not even the joy you feel when the cake you’ve made impresses your daughter-in-law.

Simcha, in the context of mitzvah, is the feeling you get when you perform mitzvot. It is the awareness that you have the ability to serve the Master of the Universe. It is the understanding that one has a unique relationship with HaShem, that each one of us has, within our power, the ability to do good and to change the course of the world.
It is the feeling we have when we acknowledge before Whom we stand.

What strength this can give us! What peace of mind! What happiness, knowing that we are deserving enough to serve God.

Both months of Adar and Nissan, with their respective holidays of Purim and Pesach, are bursting with the miracles of God.
Yet there is no separate mitzvah to be especially happy during Nissan.

There is a palpable difference between the two months, and the two holidays.

The miracles of Nissan transcend nature, changing it. From the first plague of blood through to the splitting of the sea, the entire world is witness to these miracles. From the youngest to the oldest, across the nations; all realize and accept the greatness of God. Even the name of the month of Nissan attests to the miracles (ness נס = miracle).
And yet, very quickly, the belief and trust in God is questioned. Soon after liberation from slavery, the Children of Israel begin to complain – they have no water, no bread, no meat. How can it be that directly after the greatest miracles of all time, almost immediately the people demand more and more proof of God’s powers?
During the entire story of the Exodus, the people are passive observers. They stand aside and let the wonders occur. The miracles are open (גלוי) – obvious.  Yet, it is very difficult to maintain the feeling of awe and gratitude over any length of time.

Adar is the name of a tree, a maple. Like the miracles of Purim, the greatness of the maple tree – its sap, the very core of its being – is ‘hidden’ (נסתר). The miracle of the sap doesn’t change nature – it is nature. Likewise, the miracles of Purim are hidden in the natural course of events. Only in retrospect, and with understanding and study, can one see the guiding hand of God throughout the story. Our salvation came, not from a change in nature, à la Pesach, but through nature.

The Jews of Shushan and beyond were obliged to play their part for the miracles of Adar to occur. They were not passive observers. They did not simply stand aside and watch the power of God. The people worked with God to bring about their own redemption.
In Pesach, the miracles were so overwhelming that we were awed, but in Purim, because we were part of the process, we were able to take pride and joy in it.

While the miracles of Pesach were stupendous, the feelings of belief they engendered were fleeting.
However, Megillat of Esther tells us: “These days of Purim will not pass from the Jews, nor the memory cease from the children.” (Esther 9:28)

There are actually two elements of the miracles that we must never forget: The first is that we will always remember that it was God’s intervention that caused our redemption during the days of the Esther and Mordecai.

The second is that divine intervention and supervision continue on to our very day. The miracles of Purim, unlike the splitting of the sea, was not a one-time occurrence. God watches over us every day and every hour. While we play our role in our affairs, in Israel and beyond, ultimately it is God who is watching over us.

The miracles of Purim live on with us.
 
This explains why the mitzvah of increased joy is incumbent on us only in Adar, and not in Nissan even though the miracles were so much more magnificent in Nissan. When Adar comes in, replete with its miracles, we should try and strengthen our simcha, do our mitzvot with extra meaning, with a higher level of concentration. We need to focus on our glorious destiny, understand our part in it, and pray with all our hearts, and with great simcha, that we be rewarded our complete redemption.

Amen.

 



Thursday, February 29, 2024

Carrying On

If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.
―George Carlin

Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
―Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore

In Israel, Sunday is a working day. Many people do not work on Friday, and those who do, along with schools, have a shortened workday. Friday is a day usually used for errands; shopping, laundry, fixing the toaster, washing the floor, and cooking for Shabbat. Therefore, especially for those families who are 'shomer shabbat' (i.e., keep the Sabbath and don't travel or use electricity) there are very few opportunities for get-togethers with family and friends who do not live close by. 

In fact, there are exactly three Sunday-like days:

  • Purim - a Jewish holiday but travelling is permitted;
  • Independance Day - a National holiday, where having a barbecue is mandatory; 
  • Election Day.

Here in Israel, we are blessed (?) to have at least one Election Day a year. In a really good year, we might have as many as three Election Days. Let's hear it for democracy!

In any case, Election Day is a day off work and school, and after voting, one is free to do whatever one wants. Shops are open and do a booming business (no Israeli pun intended), and national parks, beaches, and other attractions are full of picnickers.

Election day, in our family, is a good opportunity to gather family members from the far corners of the country and have a barbecue in our yard. Therefore, after two postponements due to the war, when it seemed that the municipal elections, originally scheduled for last October, were finally going to happen, I made sure, well in advance, to have the kids pencil in the day to come to Beer Sheva and eat semi-raw meat. 

The kids all assured me that they would 'probably' come if no better offer came up. 

The last time an effort was made to all get together was during Sukkot  five months ago. Since then, a lot, to put it mildly, has happened (see past posts). In addition, due to anticipated return call-ups to army service, we might not have another opportunity to all be together until next Sukkot ― seven months away, if then. We have all learned to grab opportunities when they arise. 

And so, we filled the house with raw meat, pitot, humus, and pickles. 

We cleaned off the porch that had barely been used all winter. (Some of the harder to reach Sukkot decorations were still up, but hey.) Blessed rain had fallen Election Day morning, and we had to dry off the chairs. 

People began to arrive. Pickles were chopped, lettuce was washed, and raw meat juiced dripped onto the floor. 

I pulled out disposable plates and cups and cutlery from a cupboard that hadn't been opened since Sukkot.

But it was only as I unfurled the plastic outdoor tablecloth onto the plastic outdoor table, a tablecloth that had not been used for five months, it was if all the memories trapped in its folds came floating up. 

The laughter of the children on that Sukkot day;
The hot holiday sunshine and blue skies the last time we were all together.
The next memory that flew up was from five days after the first:
The sun peaking over the houses, and the gut-wrenching sound of booms in the distance;
The blast of the sirens and deafening booms much closer to home.

I could hear those booms so clearly in the snap of the tablecloth as we straightened it. 
We have not had rockets in Beer Sheva in almost two months. 
I shook my head to clear the sounds in my head, wiped away the tear that had somehow, uninvited as always, rolled down my cheek. I took several deep breaths. 

I carried on. 

Meat was burned, drinks were spilled, and gales of laughter erupted from three generations of Israelis sitting on the porch on Election Day afternoon. We ate cake and deep-fried marshmallows (not recommended).  

Interspersed with the laughter, though, I could not shake the memory of the uncertainty and fear as the sirens and booms continued on that black day five months ago and the never-ending horror and grief and worry that washed over us as we slowly began to understand the magnitude of events.

Yet, here I was, on another beautiful Israeli day, with the sounds of the children's laughter filling the air, and the smells of charcoal wafting above. 

We will carry on.
Laughing, and loving, and voting. And remembering.

The future is not a promise but a hope. 
We are full of hope.