Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lost in Translation

Of all the challenges that I have faced in my life in Israel –and even my life in general – the one that has been the hardest, and the longest lasting, has been trying to learn a second language.
I came to Israel knowing some Hebrew, after spending twelve very expensive years in a private Hebrew school in the 'old country'. I could read and write, knew how to say glida and Shabbat Shalom. But I couldn’t actually speak it. In the early days, my throat would get dry, my tongue would twist up, and my lips would freeze. And that was just listening to someone.
I somehow persevered and today, though I sound like I just stepped off the boat, I can make myself understood.
My kids, however, are a whole other story.
My children were all born in Israel. They are completely bilingual; they speak equally proficiently in two languages. Unfortunately those two languages are not Hebrew or English.
They all speak Englew and Hebrish.

Seriously, they can’t go more than six words in any one language.

Most conversations go something like this:

“Today, at school, I went up the madreigot, to the sifriyah. The morah l’mada’im stopped me and told me to go to class. It wasn’t fairrrrr, because it was hafsaka then.”

I’ve stopped hearing it the mishmash long ago, and probably am just as guilty of this particular infraction as they are. But I can, if I concentrate hard, speak a complete sentence in one language.  “You drive to the first tzomet – I mean traffic light – and turn right at the mishtara – I mean police station. Then carry on straight till you see the makolet – I mean grocery store…..”

And then there’s the problem of getting slightly confused. One of my kids – I don’t remember which one – informed me one day that s/he needed to bring some ‘sookar’ to school. As I went to the kitchen to get the requested sugar, I noticed my sister, who was visiting from the ‘old country’ laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked, “They’re making challah in school tomorrow”. “No, it’s that she asked for sookar in the middle of such lovely English,” answered the aunt. I thought that was a bit unfair. Sookar is almost English. I looked at the child, who was about five at the time, and asked him/her “How do you say sookar in English?” S/he thought a minute or two, flashed a grin and said “Flour!!”

Sometimes, I forget they are not actually English speakers. The most unexpected words will throw them off. The other day, my son saw me sucking at my finger. “What happened to you?” “It’s nothing,” I said, “Just a hangnail.”
He looked at me blankly. “Your nail was hanged? From what?”

Of course, many words are simply untranslatable. ‘What a fadicha’ is much stronger and clearer than ‘what an embarrassment’. An embarrassment is when you spill your tea. A fadicha is when your mother brings your forgotten lunch to school. And talks to you. In English. In front of your friends. (This is actually several fadichot...)

The best thing about my kids being bilingual is that I can ask them what words mean. They think it’s hysterical. I’ll be reading the paper and ask “what does ee ziyut mean?” They start laughing and say “It means he didn’t make his bed.” No, no, he didn’t finish everything on his plate!” “NO! It means he didn’t hang up his laundry!” Eventually, I’ll get the dictionary (or Google translate – my new best friend) to tell me it means ‘disobedience”.

I’ve seen some people get upset over my kids Hebrish/Englew. “Send them abroad for a summer and then speak properly” I’ve been told more than once. Or “you should correct them every time they speak a Hebrew word! If I did that, I’d be speaking more than them.

In fact, I enjoy listening to my kids speak their own unique language. It reminds me daily, that though the transition of language has not gone exactly smoothly for me, they have been blessed by not having any transitions, any barriers, or even any accents; and that I have been blessed by having five amazing bilingual Sabra children.

No fadicha there.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pitaya and loquat pie?

Here’s a fun fact.
Israeli farmers grow approximately seven times as many fruits and vegetables today as they did 25 years ago without an appreciable increase in water usage.

The lack of rain in Israel has, of necessity, led to technological advances in agriculture that have changed the world.

The drip irrigation system was developed in Kibbutz Hatzerim (about 10 minutes – with traffic – from my house), and today is sold all around the world. It has revolutionized agriculture, not only in Israel, but in Africa, the Western United States and South America. They sell their technology to 112 countries.

But saving water through irrigation is just one way to save water.
Israeli researchers are on the cutting edge in the use of recycled water.
Israel has produced fruits and vegetables that need less water.
Israel has developed methods of growing more food in a smaller area of land, thus saving both land and water. A dunam of land in Israel (approximately a quarter of an acre) can yield more than 30 times as much food as in an average agricultural country.

The average palm tree – say in California – produces 17 kg of dates a year. Israeli palm trees produce over ten times as much – an average 182 kg a year. The streets near my home are lined with palm trees and in the autumn, around Rosh HaShana time, it seems that all 182 kg falls to the ground. If you hurry, you can take as many as you can carry, before they get stepped on.  The trees are too tall to be picked without an extra large cherry-picker machine, which I suppose is called a date-picker....

Altogether, more than 40 different kinds of fruits are grown here, and Israel leads in citrus production and is second, after Japan, in the production of loquats. There’s another fun fact to take to your friends.

Israeli agronomists are also busy developing new and improved fruit. Researchers are now creating a new strain of prickly pears (aka sabra fruit), without the prickles. Not as much fun, perhaps, but a lot easier to eat. Now if we could only grow sabra people without the prickles.

Growing fruits and vegetables that are indigenous to the region or easily adaptable to the Israeli soil and climate is no longer a challenge. Researchers have been busy bringing new species to the country and adapting them to their new home. Berries that need a cool climate have learned to love the heat. Where once blueberries and blackberries were only a faint memory of the 'old country', now they are available in many moshavim in the Golan and in Gush Etzion.

Fruits that require huge amounts of water, no longer do.

Native to the jungles of South America, the pitaya (also known as dragon-fruit) was brought to Vietnam in the early 20th century and now grows across central Asia. These being tropical lands with large amounts of rainfall, it didn’t seem possible to adapt the fruit to the desert of Israel. Yet, not only is the fruit being grown commercially in Israel, with exports of 30-50 tons a year, mostly to Europe, it tastes better than its Asian cousins. And needs a lot less water.

I am privileged to have gotten to know Prof. Yossi Mizrachi of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, who was the principal researcher who adapted the pitaya fruit to Israel. He worked in an office down the hall from mine. Once, he took me and two colleagues on a short tour of his hot houses where his pitayas grew in pots. Not only do the pots greatly lessen insect infestation of the tree and lower water loss but, Yossi gleefully informed me, they also makes the pitaya kosher in a shmita year[1].  

Only in Israel, would that be a concern.

[1] see my previous blog A Story of Compost for the definition of shmita

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Focaccia and peanut butter

I work in a department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev that comprises about 30 women and 5 men. The Head of the department is a woman, and all five sub-sections are headed by women. It’s a fun place to work even though it’s a serious department and everyone works hard. As in all places of work, there are gossip times when a few people gather together to talk about kids, vacations, kids in kindergarten, home improvements, kids in high school, sales in the supermarket, kids in the army, where to get the air conditioner/fridge/car fixed, kids getting married, the weather, grandkids, and sirens. Once in a while (and really not very often) some of the women talk recipes.
Those are the conversations I eavesdrop on; not because I like cooking (I so don’t) but because it’s such a lot of fun listening to the different kinds of recipes exchanged. It’s not your typical “wow! Your chocolate cake is so moist, what did you put in it” exchange. It’s more like “my mother-in-law makes the best focaccia you’ve ever tasted”. And “it’s only good if you add a bit of chimichurri” or “my kids like Malawach, but I never know what to make with it, they hate tomatoes.”
I don’t usually bother giving my peanut butter and jam sandwich recipe.
My colleagues come from such a variety of backgrounds, I find it breathtaking. There are four olim from English speaking countries (two Americans, one South African, and one Canadian – moi), three from the former Soviet Union (I’m not sure which countries), two from Argentina, one from Italy and the rest are Israeli-born, but with roots in: Morocco, Algiers, Iran, Iraq, Hungary, Romania, most of the other countries in Eastern Europe, and most of the other countries in Northern Africa.
This mixture of people is not unique, and occurs in most other workplaces in the country.
At one time (yesterday) I decided to do a little research to see how many nations have gathered together in the Holy Land.
In a Google search, I actually could not find how the Jewish population was divided according to ‘Edot’ (Edah is the Hebrew word for community, or ancestry – Edot is the plural). I suppose that’s because the population is so mixed, with Edot marrying other Edot, that there is no way to count who belongs to whom. Another, more romantic, reason I couldn’t find any division is because the State of Israel has tried to absorb all the immigrants into one citizenry, and divisions between the groups are not considered desirable.
What I did find in my Google search was astounding.
There was a natural division between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, and Jewish and Arab citizens. About 75.5% of the population is Jewish.
There was a further division within the Arab community: Muslims (divided into the predominant Sunnis, and a very small number of Shiites), Christians (of many different denominations, but mostly Oriental Orthodox and Catholic), Druze, and Bedouin (divided between the Northern and Southern Bedouin, both having very different ways of life). Just less than 20% of the population of Israel is Arab – of one kind or another.
That leaves us with about 5% of the population.
There is a Maronite community in the north of a few thousand people, made up mostly of refugees from Lebanon’s civil war.
There is a Copt community, refugees from Egypt.
There are about 5000 Black Hebrews living mostly in Dimona but also Arad and Mitzpe Ramon in the south, and others scattered around.  They arrived from America in the 1970s, and just sort of stayed.
There are about 700 or so Samaritans, half living in Samaria (duh) and half living in Holon. They claim to be descended from ancient Israelites who didn’t leave Israel during the first exile to Babylon.
There are about 4000 Armenians, mostly in Jerusalem (found in the Armenian Quarter of the Old city – duh again), but also in Tel Aviv, Yaffo, and Haifa. Refugees from the Ottoman Empire.
1000 people in Israel are Assyrian, mostly in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Assyrians are an Aramaic speaking, Eastern Rite Christian minority who are descended from the ancient Mesopotamians.
A small group of Roma (Gypsies) came to Israel in the 1940s and 50s, to escape persecution in Europe. They have mostly intermarried and became Jewish, but there is still a small community remaining. Recent immigration from the former Soviet Union has bolstered the number.
Several thousand Circassians live mostly in two villages in the north; Kfar Kama and Reyhaniye. Like the Druze, they serve in the IDF. (I passed through Kfar Kama once – quite interesting).
There are still a few hundred Vietnamese here, remnants of the refugees that Prime Minister Menachem Begin brought in to Israel in the 1970s.  A few dozen live in Ofakim, but most live in the center of the country.  They speak Hebrew, and serve in the army. These refugees were originally picked up on the high seas by an Israeli ship; their food had run out and the boat they were on was hardly seaworthy. After being rebuffed by several countries who would not give refuge to them, the ship returned to Israel with its passengers, where Begin said as Jews who found no refuge in the world and were left to die, we had a moral obligation to take in others that no one wants. The Vietnemese were granted almost immediate citizenship.
During the Soviet immigration in the 90s, there were many many non-Jews who came to Israel. Some of these are from ethnic groups, such as Tatars and Siberian Yupiks (Siberian Eskimos). Yes, Eskimos in Isael.
According to Wikepedia, there are communities of Ethiopian Christians, Haitians, former British Mandate soldiers who forgot to go home, refugees from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kurdistan, and a few members of the Bahai who look after the gardens in Haifa and Acco.
Of course, this does not include legal foreign workers, coming from Thailand, Romania, China and the Philipines, or the several hundred foreign students studying in many of the Universities – which have special programs for non-Israelis to come and learn and bring their education and expertise back to their country of origin – or the recent flood of illegal immigrants, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, who have come to Israel looking for economic refuge.  
Altogether, there are probably 200 countries, nationalities, religions, and sects represented here in the Holy Land. This is not a big deal as far as America or Canada goes, but this is Israel. We do not search out (non-Jewish) immigration, as opposed to America. Yet, immigrants seem to be searching us out as a place where it is good to live.
I’m going to repeat that: Israel is a good place to live. For everyone.
And the range of food types is as overwhelming as it is delicous.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A bit of Beer Sheva history

I have lived in Beer Sheva for 27 years. I arrived with my husband of less than two weeks to a sleepy town at the edge of the desert. We knew no one and nothing. I had been to Beer Sheva once previously in my Bar Ilan days on a two-day tiyul in the Negev. It didn’t impress me back then, and it didn’t impress me when we first moved either.
But that soon changed. First, we met people, lots of people, who quickly became friends, then good friends, then family. I had never met such hospitable, open, helpful people as I did in those first weeks in a strange town, and I never have since. 
Second, I fell in love with the authenticity that is Beer Sheva. This was really Israel. Falafel, Bedouin, History.  I loved the fact that there were Bedouin women riding the roads on donkeys. (I loved what the donkeys left behind a bit less, but such is the price for authenticity.) I loved the train track, a block away from our apartment, and the train car still sitting on it, that was a remnant of the Orient Express, which traveled – in the good old days – from Constantinople to Cairo. I loved the old Soviet style buildings that had been built for the onslaught of Olim from Northern Africa in the ‘50s. They might have been ugly, but they were a reminder of why we were here, and how Israel took in any Jew who needed to come and I loved them for that. But most of all, I fell in love with the British War Cemetery.  

Beer Sheva is the site of a pivotal battle of World War One. The British army and its allies of Australians, New Zealanders, and Indians were situated in Cairo and had to break through to Damascus. They traveled up through the Sinai but were stopped by the Turks (who controlled the area) in Gaza. (Always trouble, that Gaza). So the British circumvented the problem and traveled north via Beer Sheva, which at that time was an Ottoman garrison and a collection of wells.  See here for some amazing pictures of Beer Sheva from 100 years ago. 
The pitched battle that took place became famous because it was the last major battle in history that took place on horses.

For a full history of the battle (for those interested – it really is fascinating) see here or for some cool pictures here.

Since then, every October 31 is ANZAC day in Beer Sheva, memorializing the Australian and New Zealand Armed Corps, and those who died in the battle.

There are several British military cemeteries in Israel; one on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, and another, the largest, in Ramle, which has become infamous as the final resting place of Pvt. Harry Potter. But the one in Beer Sheva is simply breathtaking. Today, tall apartment buildings front the site, and a huge playground is on one side, while at the back, ground was given for as a final resting place for non-Jews. Actually, that last is pretty fitting.

Nevertheless, one only has to step through the iron gates to be taken back 100 years, to imagine what the spot looked like then. Most of the soldiers buried here are in their late teens or early twenties. They died in an alien land, so far from home, so far from their families, so far from anything that could look remotely familiar.

When we first came to Beer Sheva, I passed the cemetery at least once a week, and would stop to pay my regards. Now, I’m not there nearly as often, but when I do go, I spend even more time.

The remnants of Orient Express are long gone, and have been replaced by huge apartment blocks. The Soviet style buildings are still around, but I don’t love them quite as much anymore. They really are ugly…
But the cemetery still holds its spell over me. I think of the long and torturous road that was taken before the Jews could come home to their Land, and how these young men were part of the Divine plan. They didn’t know it, but they gave their lives in the sanctity of G-d. May their memories be for a blessing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mazal Tov! It's a boy!

Much has been made of Israel’s birthrate over the past decades. It seems everyone is interested in who is having babies. Are the haredim having more than the Arabs? How can the secular possibly keep up? Who will outnumber whom in 20 years? What will the country look like? Will there be enough room in a state the size of New Jersey for more babies than in all of Europe (whose birthrate is decreasing each second)? It seems that in this country, even having babies is a political statement.
But once in a while, there is a birth here that isn’t a political statement and is celebrated around the world. No, it’s not the messiah (yet), but a rare baby white rhino. The second baby rhino born in Ramat Gan’s safari in five years (same mother), this little guy is making zoo waves. Rhinos are endangered (some species more than others) and each birth is cause for celebration. Apparently, more than 300 rhinos are killed each year by poachers in Africa for their horns, which supposedly have medicinal (read aphrodisiac) properties. Zoos around the world have sent congratulatory messages to the Safari here. Mazal tov!
The Ramat Gan Safari is quite well known in zoo circles. Though not in the same category as say the San Diego or Berlin Zoo, the Safari, spread over 250 acres, is home to more than 1600 animals. It participates in breeding programs and in 25 international programs for endangered species. Its star, Yossi, is the largest elephant in captivity and father to 23, most of whom have gone on shlichut to other countries.  
Israel isn’t just camels and donkeys, falafel and hummus. Life here is varied and complex. Nothing is static, and an inquiring mind knows no limits here.
We wish little Terkel Ben (son of) Tendra a happy and healthy life here in Israel. May he grow and prosper.  Mazal Tov to us all!!

Tendra and new-born Terkel

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Tango with Pango

A tango with Pango

It’s old news that Israel is the “Startup Nation” with more research papers, patents, books published etc per capita than any other nation.
Recently, Facebook purchased face recognition technology from an Israeli company for $100,000,000. (No typo, really, it’s nine zeros.) That even made the news in the Winnipeg Free Press (I looked).
People who boycott Israeli products are also asked to boycott cell phones, innumerable medications, computer apps ad nauseum, and Google chat – all Israeli inventions.
But here’s the latest that probably not many have heard of. Israeli technology has apparently solved the New York parking problem.

Pango is an Israeli company that allows you to park your car (in Israel) anywhere there is legal parking and pay by credit card. No need for meters, nickels, tickets, or any of those old fashioned gizmos. You simply slip into the parking spot, call from your Israeli made cell phone, and announce where you are parking. When you leave the spot, you simply call the number back and say you are leaving. The bill (which otherwise would have been fed into a meter) shows up on your credit card the next month.

So now, Pango has gone international, and adapted its tech to other cultures. According to the article, Pango is available in 50 cities in 5 countries – Israel, Poland, Germany, France, and the United States.
Now we just have to figure out how to park...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A story of compost

Almost five years ago, my family began making compost in the back yard. I had heard a lecture on the making of compost and had a bit of experience with the stuff in my youth when I volunteered on a kibbutz years and years ago. It didn’t seem that hard to do. The reason the idea came up at all was because it was shmita year. Shmita is the Sabbatical Year, and is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle in Israel. Fields are required to lay fallow, and all agricultural work, such as plowing, weeding, spraying, trimming, is not allowed. "God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land. It is God's sabbath during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. [What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you, by your male and female slaves, and by the employees and resident hands who live with you. All the crops shall be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land." (Leviticus 25:1-7) (In Modern Israel, many answers have been found for the economic problems that occur by not growing produce for a year, but that’s another issue.)
Whatever produce that does grow, such as fruit and berries, take on a special sanctity. Because of this sanctity, these fruits cannot be thrown out carelessly, but have to be disposed of in a dignified and respectful manner. So apple cores, orange peels, peach pits and the like must be separated from the rest of the trash and discarded separately. This can pose a problem and compost was the solution we came up with. By throwing the leftover banana skins into a compost bin, we were not throwing out the fruit into the trash, but returning it to the soil. In addition, we could then use the compost in our garden as fertilizer (not during a shmita year of course, but, anyway, it takes awhile for rotten fruit to actually turn into compost).
Shmita is mentioned several times in the Torah, and was considered to be one of the most important Mitzvot during Temple times. It is to the Land, what the Shabbat is to people. Indeed, there are some commentaries that hold that the first exile to Babylon/Persia lasted 70 years, one year for each shmita year that was not kept.
Compost, on the other hand, is not actually mentioned in the Bible at all. But it was a very practical solution to our small shmitah problem. In addition, it teaches our kids the importance of conservation and recycling. Yada yada yada.  Of course, it’s a great way to get rid of garden debris and save money on fertilizer.

Over the last week, missiles have, once again, been raining down on Southern Israel. While Beer Sheva has actually been spared – so far – approximately 150 missiles have been shot at Israeli towns and villages over the last five days. It’s hard to comprehend that number. A few houses have been damaged, a factory in Sderot took a direct hit, and an empty school was badly damaged. So far, 11 border police and one civilian have been wounded. As I write this, a report just came out the five rockets have been shot into Ashkelon at one time. They were taken out by the Iron Dome anti-missile rocket defense system.
Here is where compost comes in. One katuysha hit a garden composter, which absorbed the shock of the blast, so that there was little damage to the adjacent house.   See story

It turns out that composting saves not only money, but lives, at least in Israel, where miracles happen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A day at work.

Having lived in Israel for over 30 years and having traveled its length and breadth,  it amazes me that there are still places that, not only have I not been to (there are 1000s of those!) but that I’ve never even heard of.
Last week, my department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev had its yearly ‘fun day out’. I don’t know if other places in the world do this, but many companies and institutions in Israel sponsor what they call a ‘yom gibush’ or, according to Google translate a ‘formulation day’. The idea of a yom gibush (the verb form l’gabesh actually means to crystallize) is not to learn how to work together and solve problems together in a relaxed atmosphere but simply for members of a work team to bond outside of the work environment and to create lasting friendships. These days are supposed to be pure fun. There is something to be said for seeing your boss in shorts and a floppy sunhat.
Usually these fun days take the form of an outing to places around the country. In years past, my department spent a day touring different neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and another hiking up and down the hills outside Jerusalem. During these days, there are also stops for coffee and cake and for lunch in a restaurant. All part of the service.

This year, our department went somewhere a bit different. We started the day in Moshav Bnei Atarot. A moshav, for those who don’t know, is – historically – an agricultural village, whose members own their own fields, earn their own living (as opposed to a kibbutz, where everything is communally owned, and the kibbutz pays ‘salaries’[1]), but have communal buildings and equipment.
Moshav Bnei Atarot was founded in the summer of 1948 during the War of Independence and was originally made up of survivors Moshav Atarot outside Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Arab Legion of Jordan. (Bnei means ‘the sons of’). Situated a few miles from Petach Tikvah, the moshav was built on the evacuated Templar settlement of Wilhelma.
The Templars were a German Christian group who came in the 1800s to settle the Holy Land. For a complete history of the Templar movement in the Holy Land, you’ll have to Google it yourself. This blog is about Israel….
Suffice to say, there were about five different settlements of Templars, including Acco, Haifa, the Sharona neighborhood in Tel Aviv (which today is the command headquarters of the IDF) and the ‘German Colony’ neighborhood in Jerusalem (complete with a little-known Templar cemetery).
The Templars, being German and card-carrying members of the Nazi party, were evacuated by the English from ‘Palestine’ in 1942 and sent to camps in Egypt. Eventually, I suppose, they were sent home.
But their settlements remained in the Holy Land, and Wilhelma – named after the Kaiser Wilhelm – eventually became Moshav Bnei Atarot.
Young members of the Moshav, dressed as 19th century German farmers, gave us a tour of the preserved buildings of the Templars. All two-storied (the families lived in the top floor where it was cooler, and the animals lived on the ground floor), the buildings are made of wood and mud. Many of the then-communal buildings have been preserved and are used today as Moshav communal buildings. The Templar school is used as administration buildings, the congregational building (the Templars didn’t have churches) is used as a community center and the post office and clinic still retain their original uses. There is even a hotel (called the Wilhelma), which is a redone visitors home.
We spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering around the Moshav, listening to our young guides put on a German accent and speak bad Hebrew and explain the various buildings. We also spent a fair amount of time watching planes land, as Bnei Atarot is only a mile or so from Ben-Gurion Airport. The day was hot and humid, but somehow this bit of countryside in the middle of Israel’s most congested area made it very pleasant to be outside.
I was aware of the Templar history in the Holy Land; How this Protestant sect felt that settlement here would hasten the second coming, and how they set up settlements around the country. My family has visited Acco and Beit Lechem of the Galilee, and of course Jerusalem’s German Colony (not many original buildings left there), but I’d never heard of Bnei Atarot. It was worth the day just to learn something new of the history of Israel.

After a pleasant lunch in Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak [2], which took me back to my own Kibbutz days, we continued on our way to the Ariel Sharon Park, just outside Tel Aviv, about a 20 minute drive.

The heart of the Ariel Sharon Park, which has not actually been built yet, is the Hiriya Waste Dump. This massive mountain of garbage is located southeast of Tel Aviv. After accumulating 25 million tons of waste, the facility was shut down in August 1998 after the birds that fed there became a menace to the planes taking off from adjacent Ben-Gurion Airport. Today, it is a flat-topped mountain. Since 1998, the dump has been covered with earth, trees have been planted, and it has become a center for recycling and ‘green’ building. The Park itself, planned to cover 2000 acres (!) is set to be twice as big as Central Park in New York, and filled with cycling paths, a lake, zoo, and whatnot. From the top of the mountain of trash one can see into Tel Aviv. It’s scheduled to be completed by 2020, but will be opened in stages over the next eight years.
The place is very impressive because an unsightly, hazardous area and has been changed into an educational and positive site, where many school children come to learn how to recycle and how to conserve our Land. The Hiriya center is one of the largest of its kind in the world, recycling plastics, glass, and building rubble. And in 10 years or so, one of the largest urban parks in the world will be filled with cyclists, picnickers, and zoo visitors.

CNN doesn’t tell you about that.

[1] A history of the moshav and kibbutz movements are fascinating and worthy of an article of their own. What’s written above is a nutshell definition.
[2] Be’erot Yitzchak is a religious kibbutz situated five minutes from Bnei Atarot and founded by survivors of Be’erot Yitzchak outside Gaza, which had been badly damaged by the Egyptian army during the War of Independence. Some of the survivors of the Kibbutz originally went to Bnei Atarot, but moved, shortly after the war to their present location. The original Be’erot Yitzchak has been rebuilt as Kibbutz Alumim.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Starting afresh

It seems I've lost my last blog. Since I haven't posted in about a year, I can't seem to access it. So I'm starting afresh. I hope my millions of followers will find me here.....
Here goes:

This past Shabbat, which I spent in Yerucham celebrating my son Adin’s graduation, was the 40th anniversary of my husband’s Bar Mitzvah. (Egads, how could I be married to someone so old??)

I dedicate the following to him wishing him health and happiness for many more years.

Parshat Shlech Lecha, (which we read this past Shabbat) relates the story of Moses who, at the behest of the nation, sends twelve men of honour to Canaan to go up and “see the country…. Whether it is good or bad; and what cities they live in…” These men, whom we call spies, were not really spies.  They openly toured Canaan, asking questions, bringing back fruits. Basically they were wearing name tags, and everyone knew who they were. (This is opposed to the spies we read about in the Haftorah, who stole into Canaan quietly and hid out in the house of Rachav. Those names are never mentioned though Chazal say that they were Pinchas and Calev.)
The original 12 ‘spies’ went to see the country, and tell Bnai Yisrael about it. And when they returned, after a 40 day Egged tour of the country, ten of them said, “We came to the land… and indeed it flows with milk and honey: BUT the people are strong that dwell in the land….”  The Land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a Land that eats up its inhabitants….

Two spies, Kalev ben Ephuna and Yehoshua bin Nun disagreed with the other ten’s assessment of the Land. “The Land that we passed through to spy is an exceedingly good Land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a Land that flows with milk and honey.  

Nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael chose to believe the other ten.
And why shouldn’t these spies be believed? These ten men were leaders of the people. They were the ‘presidents’ of the tribes. They were the ‘elite’ of the Nation, the intelligentsia. They were scholars, who sat and learned Torah all day. Indeed, some commentaries say that the spies said what they did, because they knew that when they entered the Land, they would not be able to learn all day, that they would have to work the Land. These ten men were great men!! And the people believed the majority, rather than the minority. That’s natural. But not always right.

We all know the end of the story. Bnei Israel had to wander the desert for 40 years before coming into the Land. The entire Nation that left Egypt (except for Calev and Yehoshua) died in the desert.  

Commentaries say that the sin of the spies was twofold. First, the spies spoke Lashon Harah (derogatory speech) against the Land and let the people know that they didn’t want to go and take what G-d had promised them. For this, the spies were stricken with a mysterious ailment, where their tongues swelled up and they choked to death. 
The second sin was that the people did not believe in the word of G-d. Despite the miracles that they had seen – the plagues, the deliverance from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the events at Mt. Sinai, the manna, the well of Miriam – they still did not believe that G-d would give them the Land He had promised.

So, two sins – two punishments. However wandering in the desert wasn’t really a punishment. G-d simply felt that Bnei Yisrael were yet not ready to inherit the land. There had been complaints before, about the lack of water, food, meat, etc, and this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. G-d felt that that generation would never be ready to go into the Land. If they were not ready to accept the Land, they should not receive it. So if the 40-year wandering was not the punishment, what was?
 The real punishment for the sin of the spies still affects us today, more than 3300 years later. The spies returned from the Land and spoke to the people on Tisha B’Av. Since then Tisha B’Av has been a day of national mourning for the people of Israel, and a day when great tragedies have befallen us and still befall us.

The so-called spies of more than 3300 years ago and the ‘spies’ of today say the same things. “Don’t go to the Land. It’s too dangerous. We can’t win over the terrorists.” How many of our ‘leaders’ – politicians, academicians, judges, the intelligentsia of our people – have said something similar to what Ariel Sharon said in 2004 “We had a dream that we could live in the whole Land of Israel, but now we know that we cannot”. And there are others who say “It’s better for us as Jews to live outside of Israel, where we can do more good.” Bad enough the Lashon Hara, but after the miracles we have witnessed – the redemption of the Land after 2000 years of neglect, the birth of an independent Jewish state, the ingathering of Jews from all over the world after 2000 years of exile so that today any Jew from anywhere in the world who is in physical danger because they are Jews has a place to come, the reunification of Jerusalem and the liberation of her holy places, the liberation of the holy places of Hevron, Beit Lechem, Shchem – how can we doubt G-d’s promise to give us this land?

The State of Israel is facing many crises, one of which is ongoing terrorism. A far larger problem, however, is our doubt, our lack of belief.

It is time to undo the sin of the original spies. It is time to stand up and say in the words of Calev “Aloh Na’aleh!! Let us go up and possess the Land!”

One way to undo the sin of the spies who spoke Lashon Hara against the Land is to praise the Land; to publicize the daily miracles, the wonder and the beauty that is Israel.

And so, I’ve set myself a task. Every day until Tisha B’Av (Sunday, July 29) to match, more or less, the 40 days the spies were in the Land, I will, bli neder, write something good about Eretz Yisrael. It isn’t hard to find things but I’m lazy, so there might be some days without anything written.
I urge anyone reading this to take up the challenge too, if not in writing, than in talking, or learning, or telling your kids.

And maybe we can enable the words of the Prophet Zechariah to become reality: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Yehuda (Zecharia 8:19). Speedily, and in our time.