Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ani l'Dodi v'Dodi Li

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.
- Oprah Winfrey

The Hebrew month of Elul is almost over and the month of Tishrei is upon us. Like all Hebrew months, the name Elul was taken during the Babylonian exile - more than 2500 years ago - and, according to Wikepedia, means harvest, which is appropriate because Elul falls during the autumn harvest period. Winter is coming (or at least whatever passes for winter here in the HolyLand).

Elul (אלול) is also an acronym for the Hebrew אני לדודי ודודי לי (ani l'dodi v'dodi li) - I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine, from King Solomon's Song of Songs. This alludes to the belief that during the month of Elul, G-d listens to our prayers ever more closely, He is more approachable and more forgiving; according to custom, prayers said during the month of Elul are twelve times more powerful than during the other eleven months of the year.

Elul is designated as the month of soul searching and of repentance, so that on the first day of Tishrei - Rosh HaShana - one is ready to begin anew, determined to improve in specific ways, resolved to be a better person and to become closer - not only to G-d - but to your friends and family, your colleagues, your neighbors, and society in general. It's custom to contact those you know you have hurt over the year and ask forgiveness.

This all sounds good on paper.

I try. Really I do. I know that, during the year, I have, more often than not, acted less than perfectly (by which I mean downright awful).  I know that in some of the areas I've come up short, and sometimes, I know that I have hurt people and how. I recognize my weaknesses and I can confront my shortcomings.  

But mainly, during Elul, I agonize over how much work there is to do before Rosh HaShana. 
I think about polishing the silver. (hahahhahahahahaha - we'll use glass kiddush cups or  - better - disposable)
I think about cleaning out the fridge/freezer. (hahahahahahaha - what is this, Pesach??)
I wonder how long lettuce stays fresh in the fridge. (long enough to make me feel guilty for not eating more salad)  (hahahahahahahaha salad)
I calculate how many chickens I need to buy, including for the Shabbat before and after the holiday. (20 billion)

In between, I try to soul-search.  

I receive dozens, even hundreds, of articles on 'How to make your Rosh HaShana more meaningful', or 'How to achieve the most out of the month of Elul', or even 'How to confront your sins and stop sinning'. I even read some of them. I say to myself  "Right, young lady!! In order of importance, from least to most: This year, you are going to be more organized with your time so you won't be pressured and cranky and yell at your family for not washing their cereal bowls why do I have to do all the work; you are going to stop being so super-sensitive and take everything anyone says to you the wrong way, and MOST IMPORTANT!!!! You are going to stop being so snarky to people, AND I MEAN THAT!! Also. stop overcooking." 


After I say all that to myself, myself talks back:
"I have been known to apologize to people to whom I've been snarky. The problem, however, is that I'm snarky in my head, and there's a chance the person about whom I'm thinking snarky thoughts doesn't know I'm thinking snarky thoughts (never mind the rolling eyes and pursed lips), and if I apologize they will know I'm snarky!! A dilemma.  Also, some people deserve snarkiness.*
Also, I'm not oversensitive. I've got thick skin. It's just that everyone is mean. 
And also, I'm hyper organized. I'm going to polish that silver right now. As soon as I watch 14 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer." 

And then my mind goes back to chicken parts and shopping lists.

It turns out that I'm pretty darned good at being disorganized, cranky, super-sensitive, and snarky. However,  I'm really not very good at soul-searching and repentence.
Sorry about that.
While I'm not going to promise that I'll never be snarky again, or get upset over someone being snarky to me, and I certainly am not going to promise to polish the silver, I can say I'm working on it. (not the silver polishing. Just forget I ever brought that up.)

Also, I'll try and eat more salad.

This is what I can also do:
I can wish all my family and friends, and all of Am Yisrael, a good and sweet New Year, filled with health and joy, with goodness and happiness, with prosperity and kindness, and with love and hugs and friendship.

*Very few people actually ever deserve snarkiness. Even that person you're thinking of right now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

We got mail

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

Snail mail in the Holy Land has become a small controversy. In the olden days, before the advent of electronic mail, chat groups, cellular phones, whattsapp etc., mail service, while not as perfect as one would like it to be, was, at least, dependable. Mostly. There were, even then, instances of mail being put in the wrong boxes, being returned because the mailperson couldn't read a foreign language, or not receiving mail at all because the mailman was doing reserve duty in the army.

Today, snail mail barely exists.
Sometimes, we get bills, but these are sent out by courier, not through the postal service. Ditto junk from the bank.
Our mailbox is packed with flyers of all sorts, but these are hand delivered by private companies.
The all-important invitation to the simcha you want people to come to, however, is best sent by email. Chances are good that the correctly addressed envelope will end up on the wrong street/city/country.

Despite this difficult situation, there is one piece of mail that does get delivered efficiently, promptly, and, despite, rain, snow or scorching heat, all too frequently.

The Brown Envelope.

I hate the Brown Envelope.

We recently received a Brown Envelope in the mail.
I was outside talking to a friend about something or other, and found the Brown Envelope in the mailbox.
I held it in my hand.
I suppose my disquiet was shown in my expression, because my friend, who happens not to be a female, said "what's the problem? It's only the army."
This friend, like me, has three sons. He knows all about Brown Envelopes. Unlike me, however, he doesn't hate them. As I stood there looking at the Brown Envelope, he began to regale me with tales of army service, either his or his sons'.

Who remembers the TV show Get Smart? The Chief says "Now listen carefully", and gives long and complicated instructions. "Did you get that?" "Not all of it", says Max. "Which part didn't you get?" "The part after 'Now listen carefully'".

Now listen carefully
That was me listening to my (male) friend.
I don't hear a word of army tales. Anyone's. Ever.

I stress that my friend was male, not because I'm a mistandrist, or a philandrist, but because the Brown Envelope is almost always addressed to males and not to females.

I've seen many males react to getting a Brown Envelope. Some of them are slightly annoyed, a few are very annoyed. Many, especially the older ones, are delighted. It's a chance to get out of the house, have a vacation, sleep in their underwear, and not shower for a week. What Fun!!

Mothers, however, are never delighted at the arrival of the Brown Envelope.

Though this particular Brown Envelope was addressed to my middle son, I opened it.

I needed to know when, for how long, and to where he was being called up, I needed to know how many cookies I would need to bake, how many pairs socks of socks he would need to take, and how many shabbatot he would be away. I needed to begin worrying strategies.

Reserve duty (miluim - מילואים) is ubiquitous in the Holy Land. All males who have served in the IDF do miluim until at least 45 - longer if they are officers. (Women officers also do miluim - at least until they become mothers. They are then exempt, but can volunteer if they wish.) Men receive call-up orders about once a year, either for training, or to relieve standing army soldiers for a period of time. This does not include emergency call-up orders in times of war.

The word 'miluim' is often one of the first words an Israeli baby can say. After Dad doesn't appear to take his kid to nursery in the morning, a kid will ask "Where's Abba?" "Abba is in miluim....".

Dad's in the army
Israel reveres its soldiers. Because the IDF is a people's army, one in which almost everyone's children serve, the soldiers are everyone's children. There are numerous organizations that offer all sorts of benefits to reserve soldiers, including discounts to hamburgers places and to movies.

When the Brown Envelope arrives, the reserve soldier puts his life - job, studies, wife, kids, mother - on hold for a day, a week, a month, whatever, and joins his unit. As mentioned above, many men take this service as a means of getting away from the day-to-day pressures and difficulties of living and see it as a semi-vacation.

Don't you need me for another week?
It's the wives and kids and - yes - mothers who pay the price.

When the husband has miluim, he goes off, thumping his chest and making gorilla noises, and the wife is left doing the shopping, making sandwiches, and explaining to the kids why dad had to go to the army even though he's old. Of course, it also means one less kid person in the house to worry about. When he returns, with a bag of laundry, tired, and as hairy and smelly as a gorilla, he's the one who gets to complain how tired he is, how hard his week/month was, and how much he deserves to be served breakfast in bed.

Having one's sons go off to play soldier, however, is a whole different ball game. They make the same gorilla noises as their father, but come back with only one pair of socks to wash because they hadn't bothered to change them for a week. Mothers insist on serving their little hairy smelly babies cookies and breakfast in bed - much to the future distress of their future wives.

Like traffic jams, and snippy bank clerks, reserve duty is an integral part of Israeli lives, something to get through. And like traffic jams, it never ends; once the husband is too old to serve, the sons take on the duty, and before you know it, it's the grandson's turn to receive that Brown Envelope.

I can only hope that by then, the mail service will be better.

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.
Now let us respond: Amen.