Tuesday, December 12, 2017

So It's Chanuka

Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who made us holy through Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah lights.
-Blessing over the Chanuka candles

Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate Chanukah

-Adam Sandler

Growing up in the wilds of the Old Country, Chanuka was my favorite holiday. Freezing cold outside, toasty warm inside, we kids would watch my father light the chanukiya as close to a window sill, but still remain in the almost windowless kitchen, as he could. My parents weren't going to risk having wax drip on the wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room with the floor to ceiling windows. Ten minutes later we would be eating the latkes my mother made drowned in apple sauce. We had dreidels, and in school, we played games and sang songs and most of the regularly scheduled lessons were cancelled.

Now I live in the wilds of the Negev, and things, while mostly the same, are somewhat different. Toasty warm outside, absolutely freezing inside my house, we all gather around a slew of chanukiyot that the kids light in front of the glass door so as to publicize the miracles that occurred, and watch wax drip on the tiles of the floor, to remain there until - well - probably forever.

The kids are older now, and not all are aways at home, so lighting the chanukiyot no longer takes hours. When they are all at home, by the time the last one finishes lighting her chanukiya, the candles on the first one's chanukiya have already burnt out, leaving the youngest 'the winner' in the nightly 'see who's chanukiya lasts the longest' contest. The older ones won't let that slide, so they give her the handmade in kindergarten, wonky chanukiya made of bottle tops and pipe cleaners to light. She actually has no problem with that, except for the time the house almost burned down. But hey.

I still make latkes - only we call them levivot. And they aren't necessarily made of potatoes. There are 12 billion different recipes available today to please any palate. Livivot with apples, with cilantro and jalapeno peppers, grilled cheese livivot, and one I saw today with chocolate ice cream. (This would never have gone over in the olden days of Israel, when ice cream was completely unavailable in the winter - but I digress). And who needs apple sauce when you have orange marmalade, tahina, and smoked salmon?

So Old Country
The kids still play with dreidels, which we now call sivivonim. They aren't quite the same as the ones I had. First, there is the letter 'pei' on the Israeli sivivon, rather than the 'shin' on the Old Country dreidel, which, no matter how many years have passed or how many sivivonim I have stepped on in my bare feet, gives me a thrill and a flush of pride. But more than that, today's sivivonim certainly aren't made of clay, but rather wire, bulletsHershey Kisses, marshmallows or Lego. And they don't just spin. Oh no; they draw pictures, they play music, they make shapes, they come apart and turn into storage units for even smaller sivivonim, and ultimately, they can be eaten.

Back in the old country, sufganiyot were called 'jambusters' and were available all year, and were not particularly a Chanuka delicacy. I have only recently come to understand that jambusters were unique to my home town, and in the rest of the world, jambusters are called jelly donuts. Jambusters are far more descriptive, if you ask me. In fact, jelly donuts don't even sound that appetizing.
Sufganiyot, however, is a whole other ball game.

No longer limited to simple strawberry jelly (jam), sufganiyot come in all sizes and flavors: mint, lemon pie, olive - the sky's the limit.

And so is the calorie count. But who's counting?

Sufganiyot, along with only one seder at Pesach, is a main reason to leave the Old Country and its jambusters behind, and make Aliyah.

Because the miracles happen here.
The sivivon I just stepped on is right.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Cake Chronicles

Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!
-C. JoyBell C.
Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It's all about the memories.
-Buddy Valastro

I recently threw a cake party.
About a year ago I heard of the concept of a cake party and thought it the best idea since, well, sliced cake, but I was unable to have one at the time.

As soon as I was able, however, I sent out invitations to every woman I know, and to many many I don't know, and invited them all to my house to celebrate cake.
I received a slew of replies, and almost all of them said "what a great idea!!!" "sounds like a lot of fun!" But absolutely nobody knew what a cake party was.
The truth was that neither did I, really. So I made it up.

It was simple. Everyone had to bring a cake, and a story about cake.

About 40 people showed up.
With cake.
And stories.
Lots of cake

and lots of stories.

My friend S told us the story of how she discovered that her mother, a fan of the New York times and prolific letter writer to said newspaper, had her letter to the the New York Times Cook Book, with a suggestion to improve a recipe, printed. S only discovered this after her mother passed away. The sadness S felt that her mother never knew her letter had been printed resonated in her voice as she told her story, as did her pride and admiration of her mother. She brought the cake her mother had improved on.

My friend M told us how her granddaughter made cake for her (M's) mother (aged 98) every year on her birthday. Since the great-grandmother's birthday was on October 31, a very special cake was prepared, each year.

A case of Let's eat, grandma! or Let's eat grandma!!?
My friend Y told us how her bubbe taught her to bake by using her hands and not a measuring cup. Years later, when she tried to imitate the 'yankee' way of making a cake, it failed miserably. She went back to the fistfuls of this and fistfuls of that method.

My friend R told the story of how she made a cake for her two-year old, who remembered the shape and the colors and the sprinkles months and months later - showing the inherent importance of cake.

My friend SF thought that celebrating cake was so worthwhile that she traveled an hour and a half one way to come to the party. She told us how her daughter had gone to elaborate lengths to make a cake for her grandfather while traveling overseas. All the recipient could say when he received the cake was "the cake the (nursing) home made for me had candles".

O read from a cook book written for the disabled. "Reach for the sugar. Clean the fallen sugar from the counter, shake sugar out of your hair, and measure out a cup," went the instructions. O brought a magical cake from the book, which, by itself, separated  into three layers.

My absolute favorite story was from my friend H, who told that when her mother-in-law came for a rare visit, H felt obliged to make her a cake using her new food processor. Unfortunately, H wasn't very familiar with the different pieces of the machine, and to her dismay, the blue rubber coating on the knife was meant to be removed before making a cake. Tiny bits of blue rubber floated in the batter, which she baked and served nonetheless.
I'm still laughing.
Thankfully,  H did not bring that cake.

Other women told of recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers; others of recipes that were not passed down and were lost and never duplicated; of special birthday cakes made yearly; of weekly rituals of having cake and coffee with the entire family at 'tea time'.

Almost all the stories centered around family. Most of the cake stories brought up sweet memories; a funny incident, a special time spent with a family member, sharing cake with family.

Seeing as it was my party, I told my story first:

I don’t remember exactly what the occasion was, probably Rosh HaShana. My mother always had a lot of family over for Rosh HaShana; she would make truckloads of food, we had enough to last us for all the rest of the chagim.

One year, she made this very fancy cake. It was, I think, yellow inside, but she decorated it with cream and cookies very precisely placed, and sprinkles and whatnot on top. It really looked gorgeous. She put it in the fridge very carefully, for dessert. To be completely honest, she probably got the idea from a women's magazine. It was a very 1970s type of cake and decoration. But, in my 11 year old opinion, it was, and remains, gorgeous.

The guests came over and they all brought something; flowers, or chocolates. One guest brought a cake, and not just any cake; but the exact same cake, decorated in the exact same manner, as my mother’s. Obviously, they had both read the same magazine.
As opposed to my mother's cake, however, this cake was a mess. The cream covered the cookies, which were all wonky anyway.

I saw the cake, and my mother saw me see the cake, and with a look, she made damn sure I said nothing. Later, I asked her what she was going to do. She answered, “What do you mean?” Without another word, she served the wonky cake, placing it in the center of the table, which, to be fair, was already laden with other goodies. My mother’s gorgeous cake was left in the fridge, and this person’s mangled work of art was put on the table in the place of honor. My mother never uttered a word.

Even as I was telling the story, I realized how apt it was that I had organized the cake party on my father's yarzheit, just a month after my mother's first yarzheit.
Growing up, there was always cake in my house , not just because my siblings and I liked to eat cake (which, believe me, we did), but ‘in case someone dropped by’ there would be what to give them. Because cake, in my parents’ house, represented hospitality, and generosity, and friendship.
Hosting 40 new and old friends with cake was a way of honoring my parents.

And my old and new friends' generosity in giving me cake was lovely too.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I'm Still Standing

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Despite the fact that I have been blessed (?) to have experienced almost all that Israel has to offer - marriage, birth, death, wars, piguim, the educational and health systems, mortgages, holidays, movies, doctor, teacher and garbage strikes, traffic jams, bargaining in the shuk, snow, water shortages, egg shortages, washing machine part shortages, sandstorms and sudden flooding, price hikes, and the beach - nothing has ever prepared me for receiving a child's first call up to the army.

I went through that experience four times without falling apart. I cried, I moaned, I shut myself up in the bathroom, but I did not fall apart.
My three boys served in the army. My older daughter took an exemption and, instead, did two years of National Service.
They all survived - even grew and matured - from the experiences.
I, however, lost years of sleep and memorized every crack in the bathroom walls.

Why isn't there a Little Miss Worry?
I enjoyed a couple of years of army-free existence - except, ofcourse, for several rounds of 'miluim' (army reserve duty) and a war or two, but hey.

And then, my baby received her first call up papers.

Of course, my baby isn't a baby at all. She's 16, almost 17. She has started  studying for her theory test for her driver's license. She's writing matriculation exams. She heats up her own lunch in the microwave and washes the dishes after. She puts a few grains of coffee into her chocolate milk and tells everyone she's drinking mochaccino. When I say good night to her, it's because I'm going to bed.
True, her room is a mess, and she forgets to put her laundry in the hamper, but hey.

She's still MY baby.

When I drop her off at the bus station to catch the bus to go to school in a different town,  all I see is the child I dressed in pink and yellow (after three boys) going to kindergarten. Now, her favourite colour is black.

Because of her, I was allowed to keep all the baby toys, and the tiny cute dresses, and the Dr. Suess books. She's the one who made me go to kindergarten when I thought I had graduated. She's the one who keeps me company, when all the others left. She's the one who was supposed to keep me young.

I guess that's quite a burden to put on one kid.

As it is, she's put up with a lot: hand-me-downs, lots of blue clothes and blankets, enormous quantities of teasing, old parents. Sometimes, she would ask to go on a trip somewhere, a museum or a park, only to be told "we've already been there, you weren't born yet."

She's about to start a new phase of her life; independent and responsible. (Hopefully, I won't have to still wake her up in the morning. I HATE that bit.)

I suppose all parents go through this, watching those creatures they created get bigger and bigger. But that letter in the mail calling your offspring - your baby! - to serve ones country seems to exacerbate what is already a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, alarming, emotion.

On the other hand, the pride with which I watch my children take their place in shaping the destiny of their people also causes my breath to stop, my hands to shake, and my eyes to fill. There is no winning at this game.

I don't plan to fall apart this time either. I feel like I've been kicked in the gut; I spend too much time hiding out in the bathroom; my eyes are constantly overflowing. But, hey. I'm still standing.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Hallowed Ground

Aussie Aussie Aussie! 
Oi Oi Oi!!
Australian cheer 

It has been said that World War One was the beginning of the end for European Jewry. During the course of the war, 1000s of Jews were killed in battle and in pogroms, Jewish villages were decimated and the inhabitants were scattered. After the war, 1000s more emigrated; to the Americas, to South Africa, to Palestine, and even to Australia. The German defeat, and the degrading conditions set by the allies directly gave rise to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, which, of course, ultimately, led to the murder of over 6,000,000 Jews.

However, another perspective shows that World War One was also the beginning of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in its homeland.

When my new husband and I moved to Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev, in 1985, we found a small, quiet, dusty town. Right from the beginnning, I spent a good deal of time exploring my new home by foot. Within a few days, I had already found my very favourite place in town, just a few minutes walk from the apartment we were then living in.

The Beer Sheva British War Cemetery contains the graves of 1,241 soldiers, of which 67 are not identified, who died while serving in the British army during World War One. Maintained to this day by Her Majesty’s government, it was a sea of green in the midst of what was then bleak desert. 

I came across this cemetery in the days before Google (gasp), and so it took me a while, but not that long, to discover the story and the history of the cemetery. 

I had vaguely heard of Field Marshall Edmund Allenby, head of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces in the Middle East and knew that, up and down Israel, streets had been named after him. I even knew that it was Allenby who renamed the main street of Jerusalem after His Magesty King George, who ruled during the 'Great War'. But I knew little of the Battle of Beer Sheva.
When I first saw the cemetery and began to understand the magnitude of what happened here, I would go to visit quite regularly. I would stop in front of the gate, and salute those courageous and honorable men who, so very long ago and so very far from home, gave their lives so I could live mine. 

100 years ago, on October 31, 1917, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) stormed Turkish forces on the southeast side of Beer Sheva. There is a great deal of material online about the battle, so I am not going to describe it here. 

Galloping on horseback, and armed with rifles that could not be used while riding, the soldiers of the 4th Light Horse Regiment charged with bayonets in their hands. Of the 600 ANZAC soldiers who rode on horses directly at the Turkish trenches in the late afternoon of October 31, 1917, 35 were killed, and 39 were injured. They showed enormous bravery, charging at full gallop directly into machine guns and heavy artillery fire.  Despite the odds, they succeeded in what they came for. 

The victory at Beer Sheva paved the way for Allenby’s army to make their way to liberate Jerusalem six weeks later, and then on to Damascus, completely defeating the Ottoman Empire. 

After the humiliating defeats at the Dardenelles, Gallipoli, and twice in Gaza, had the British army lost the battle in Beer Sheva (their first victory of the war), they might have abandoned the fight, and left the Middle East to the vicious, backward, crumbling Ottoman Empire, where the inhabitants suffered poverty and neglect.

But the British army was not defeated. The victory of Beer Sheva, and hence the Middle East, gave teeth to the Balfour Declaration, issued two days after the battle. Had the British not been victorious, their support of a Jewish homeland in ‘Palestine’ would have been meaningless. 

The Balfour Declaration led to the San Remo Conference in 1920, which accorded Britain a Mandate in Palestine with the goal of building a homeland for the Jewish people. 

In 1922, the League of Nations approved the mandate, announcing that Britain "shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home".

L-R Edmund Allenby, Arthur Balfour, Herbert Samuel (High Commissioner of Palestine)
The League of Nations agreement then led, after World War Two, to the partition agreement voted on by the United Nations, and ultimately to the birth of the State of Israel, on May 4, 1948, less than 31 years after 35 ANZAC troups lost their lives in the desert that was Beer Sheva.

It’s not often that the hand of G-d can be seen in such a straight line over the course of 31 years.

However, those men lying in the immaculatly kept cemetery were unaware of their part in G-d’s great scheme to bring His people back to their Homeland. They gave their lives as soldiers of a foreign power, for reasons that were their own.

I still go back to the cemetery once in a while to remind myself that G-d always has a plan, and sometimes, we are lucky enough to see it.

This week, the city of Beer Sheva hosted over 4000 Australians and New Zealanders – many of them descendents and relatives of those who took part in the Battle of Beer Sheva – who came to mark its 100th anniversary. We locals looked at it as a party; a celebration of a victory that paved the way to a greater victory and return to our Homeland after 2000 years of exile. We wanted music, parades, pomp and pageantry. We wanted our guests, and the world, to see what came out of that victory; that Beer Sheva, once a backwater town important only because of its water supplies, has become an amazing metropolis of over 200,000 people—even though it is still dusty.

We Israelis are used to being in the center of attention, of the situation being all about us.

The Aussies and Kiwis, however, did not come to party. They came to honour their dead; to commemorate the heroism and bravery and spirit of their countrymen. The re-enactment of the charge – the climax of the day’s events and attended by 1000s of visitors and Beer Shevaites alike – was changed to ‘a walk of peace on hallowed ground’. 

The walk of peace on hallowed ground
For us, it was Yom HaAzmaut. For them, it was Yom HaZikaron. 

Beer Sheva, October 31, 2017, was not all about us, for a change.

The Beer Sheva British War Cemetery is preserved and maintained by the British people. The dead are not ours. The crosses on all but one grave are not ours.

But they are G-d’s. And we honour and salute them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Pompitous of Love

High school isn't a very important place. When you're going you think it's a big deal, but when it's over nobody really thinks it was great unless they're beered up.
-Stephen King, "Carrie"

It usually takes me about 10 minutes to drive to work. I try to leave home quite early and  arrive at my desk quite early, and therefore I can leave work quite early.
But one morning, a few weeks ago, I left the house later than usual, and hit early morning traffic causing  my drive to work to take almost 30 minutes.

I’m not complaining about this, however, because I enjoy the drive. I’m alone in the car, the weather is still cool, and I get to listen to early morning radio without anyone telling me what to listen to. Sometimes I listen to the news, but usually I flip around the channels trying to find something I can sing to. I don’t always succeed.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, since I sing as well as a muffin. Have you ever heard of a singing muffin? Neither have I. That's because muffins can't sing. Enough said.

But that morning, the angels were with me. Leaving the house 15 minutes later than usual, and having a longer time in the car than usual, enabled me to catch Steve Miller’s The Joker.

Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause I speak of the pompitous of love.

Suddenly, my 2008 green Renault Megane (aka Savta's car) turned into a time machine, rocketing me back to 1974(ish) and Junior High. 

Who ever remembers Junior High (known today as 'Middle School')? My time in Junior High, and, slightly less so, Senior High, was spectacularly boring. I had the same friends I had since Grade 1; we even had sports class (then called PT) in the same gym as we had in Primary School.

However, I do remember the endless winters, the waist-high snow, and the Saturday night dances.
I went to a Jewish school, that is, all the kids were Jewish. We were taught 'Jewish' subjects (Tanach, Jewish History, Israeli History and Geography, Jewish law [lite], Hebrew Language and Literature, etc.), but otherwise, we were much like any other school. We had dances. Three or four times a year, all the kids would come, on a Saturday evening, to the same gym where we had PT class. The boys would stand on one side, and the girls would stand on the other. Both sides would giggle. (You'll never convince me that the boys didn't giggle.) Every once in a while a boy would peel off the wall and ask a girl to dance. Everyone would gawk.

That morning, I was back in that gym, swaying to
I'm a picker
I'm a grinner
I'm a lover
And I'm a sinner
I play my music in the sun. 

Good thing the windows were closed, because, I was rockin', and, unfortunately, sounding like death with a bad cold.

I used to sing in Junior High school, also. I guess that's why no boy ever peeled off the wall to ask me to dance.

By the time I got to work, my time machine had returned to the present and once again became Savta's car.
But all day long, I did indeed speak of the pompitous of love.
Which perplexed many people.
I told them it was one of those words that's just not translatable. 
Like 'davka' and 'stam' in Hebrew.
Only different. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Oh, For Heaven's Cakes

Where there is cake, there is hope. And there is always cake.
― Dean Koontz, Life Expectancy

My mother, whose first yarzheit is today, taught me a great many things.
Since this is not a story about my mother, per se, I’m not going to list all the things she taught me; instead, I’ll cut to the chase.

She taught me how, and why!!, to bake.

When I was growing up, about one Sunday a month was dedicated to baking. We would bake for most of the day, from about 11:00 AM (if I was awake), until about 5:00 PM, sometimes longer. We would bake cakes, and cookies, and different kinds of pastries. Sometimes, it would be five different kinds of cookies, 100s of each kind, or four or five different cakes. At appropriate times, we would bake holiday related pastries – most notably, hamentashen at Purim time. We would make so many hamentashen, we would still be eating them on Shavuot. You might be wondering, what did we do with five different cakes? Or 500 cookies? How could one small family eat so many cookies at one time?

Despite that fact that our small family could probably, in fact, polish off 500 cookies within a day or two, we weren’t allowed to touch the cookies, or the cakes, or the different pastries that came out of the oven on those baking Sundays. No. Instead, those baked goods ‘fed the freezer’. 

My mother owned two large fridges – each with its own freezer - and two enormous full-size freezers, all full of cakes and cookies and apple pies. These delicacies were made and stored for emergencies, i.e., if someone ‘dropped in’. In these cases, my mother would run to the freezer, extract some cookies or pastries, and chit chat until they thawed. Then she would exclaim, as if she just thought of it, “Let’s all have some coffee!!!!”. And suddenly, seemingly freshly baked cinnamon rolls would be on the table. 

To my mother's misfortune, she never learned to lock the freezers, and some very despicable children would sometimes go in and steal cookies or muffins out of the freezer and take them into their bedrooms, where they would surreptitiously be consumed. There were times when my mother would go into the freezer to take out some chocolate chip cookies for dear Uncle and Aunt who had 'just dropped in', and find a plastic bag with two cookies and a few lone chocolate chips at the bottom. My mother was not happy at these times. 

Oh for Heaven's SAKES!! At least let me know you've eaten all the cookies!!!"

Just for the record;  I had NO KNOWLEDGE whatsoever of these shenanigans. I just heard about them.

I did, however, gain much knowledge in the baking and storing of cakes and cookies. And the importance of a good freezer lock. 

The truth is, my mother didn’t really want me in the kitchen with her when she baked. She moved quickly, and I only hampered her movements.
She would give me the unglamorous jobs; chopping nuts, peeling apples, washing dishes, bringing the baking trays up from the basement. I wasn’t allowed to actually measure ingredients or operate the heavy machinery. I learned mostly from observation. 
Which were not always as keen as one would hope.

The first time I gathered up my courage to bake a cake solo, my mother was not present. I decided I needed a chocolate cake. Everyone needs chocolate cake. I had seen my mother make chocolate cake countless times. I found the recipe, meticulously measured the ingredients, poured the batter into an oiled pan, and carefully placed the cake in a pre-heated oven. All exactly as my mother did. 

But it obviously wasn’t exactly as my mother did because my cake didn’t rise, it weighed over 25 kg, and tasted like very sweet mud. It was, in a word, a failure.

When my mother came home, she laughed at the sight. “Oh for Heaven's SAKES!! Maybe you didn’t put in baking powder”, she said.
I knew I HAD put in baking powder, and I was determined to try again. The next Sunday that my mother was absent, I tried again. Same results. Another attempt, and still the same results.

What did Einstein say about insanity?

While my mother was becoming rather exasperated at my many failed attempts at chocolate cake and using up all her eggs (Oh for Heaven's SAKES!), my sister thought it was hilarious. She called my cake ‘the doorstop’. “Oh!! You made another doorstop!! I’ll get a hammer and cut a piece.”
She was a real joker.

Finally, my mother allowed me to try and make the cake in her presence so that she could see what I was doing wrong. I did, the cake failed, and my mother could not understand why. ‘Doorstop’ jokes kept flying.

“That door keeps banging! Go make your cake”.
“The lock on the bathroom is stuck. Go make your cake”.
“Neo-Nazis are marching. We need ammunition. Go make your cake.”

Over the course of about a year or so, every few weeks, I would make another attempt at chocolate cake. Doorstop after doorstop were the only results.
And then, finally it happened. My mother, watching me make my millionth doorstop, said “hey, you’re cooking the eggs. Maybe that’s the problem.”
The recipe calls for dissolving cocoa in boiling water and adding it to the batter. However, when the hot water was added, the eggs already mixed into the batter began to poach long before they made it into the oven.
I looked at my mother, and my mother looked thoughtfully at the batter. “Yes, that’s probably it. I always dissolved the cocoa before I mixed the other ingredients, so it has a chance to cool a bit.

This was our eureka moment.

Oh for heaven's SAKES!!!!

Newton and his falling apples were nothing compared to our discovery. Indeed, the next time I made the cake, I first dissolved the cocoa in boiling water and let it cool before adding it to the rest of the batter.
My cake was as good as my mother’s.
Thus ended the reign of the doorstop. And though every once in a while, one of my cakes doesn’t come out as well as hoped (usually when I’m making one for a special occasion, e.g., a visit by my mother-in-law), doorstop incidences are few and far between.

Of course, my sister still tells the jokes. Because, she’s, you know, my sister.

By the way, I make a pretty good lemon meringue pie, also. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The History of Earth and of Heaven

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

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

- Psalms 122:5-9

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

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

The yearbook was called the Legacy, which was apt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kotel

The Holy Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Forever and ever and ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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