Friday, August 20, 2010

One year!

Happy Anniversary to us! Yup, it’s been exactly one year since our Aliyah! And while I didn’t eat any matzo today, I did seriously contemplate making matzo brie for breakfast to celebrate our Exodus, but it was about a million degrees outside and I do not have A/C. Tip for future olim to the Gush: whoever said you do not need A/C in the mountains LIED. Either that or the heat got to them and they are INSANE! Anyway, even with the heat, we couldn’t have spent the day in a better way. Today I greeted a life-long friend and her family at Ben Gurion airport as they made their Aliyah! We basically re-lived exactly what we did exactly a year ago, only from the other side and minus the dazed and confused, jet lagged and sleep deprived part. It was emotional and inspiring to watch other people “live the dream” as they say. I realized that it’s not just their dream, and not just the dream of millions before them that came true today. It’s Gd’s dream too. It is simply awe inspiring to watch Jewish people returning to the land of Israel. It is watching the past, present and future all at once. It’s watching the hand of Gd in action. It’s watching Jews in action – doing what they are meant to do. After re-living some of the less glamorous parts of Aliyah day # 1 (passing out on a couch or floor from exhaustion, schlepping baggage in ridiculously hot weather, learning how to live sans phone and internet, etc..) I ended my day on a different note. I spent part of my evening consoling a new friend after her visiting parent went back to the States. Its one thing to have a hard time saying goodbye to a parent, but it is another to watch your kids cry inconsolably because their grandpa or grandma or uncle or aunt or whomever they love deeply, has to go so very far away after being so close. She asked the question that we all ask ourselves at one time or another: “Is it really worth it?” The painful goodbyes, the struggles, the loneliness, etc… No one said it was going to be easy, but yes, it is so totally and absolutely worth it. If for no other reason than because Gd willing, we will never have to be that parent who says goodbye. We are here because this is the one place on Earth that a Jewish mother has a prayer that her kids and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will grow up in the same New Jersey sized Jewish state that she lives in. Plus, my kids have really cool Israeli accents now! So one year later we are still standing strong. And each new immigrant that joins us makes us stronger still.
Come Home! Let us greet you next year!

Monday, July 26, 2010

To many Amerikayim!

One of the classic Aliyah debates is whether or not to shed just about every facet of one’s ‘old country’ in order to be properly integrated and accepted into the new one. In other words, do we purge ourselves of our American ways and values in order to take on those of our Israeli brethren, or do we bring our culture with us along with our big furniture and Skippy peanut butter? Should we resist the temptation of settling into an American community and sticking to American friends, or should we embrace the support and comfort of our landsmen? I think that the answer is different for every individual and every family. We have tried to do it all. Adapt to our new country’s culture and celebrate the one that we have always known. Mixing the old with the new. While we have naturally made American friends, we have also welcomed and pursued friendships with Israeli’s. We cherish our Israeli friendships as new found treasures, exotic and familiar at the same time. Which is why I was so hurt when I called the home of new Israeli friends and got the following message on their machine (in Hebrew): “Family ________ has gone to _____ for vacation because there are too many Amerikayim in Efrat. Too many Amerikayim! We had to go! Too many Amerikayim! Ahhhhhhh….“ It was meant as a joke. Kind of how I joke that I lived in a South American city called Miami and a South African town called Perth. I know that the person that said this enjoys joking around. He often speaks English to my kids in an exaggerated accent, making them giggle and love being around him. But it still hit a chord. It reminded me that to many Israelis, Americans are seen as too materialistic, too spoiled and well, too American. Some second generation Israeli Americans even try to hide their American origins. I learned that kids actually have a name for Americans that behave too American – they call the Ameri-kaki-im (how clever, you Yisraeli-poopy-im!) If kids are labeling kids as too American, it’s because they are learning it from their parents. Let’s face it. Their perception is correct to a certain degree, but it still makes me angry because it shows how little they appreciate and value exactly how much we Americans have sacrificed and left behind to build our lives anew. I thought of one friend who made Aliyah this year in spite of knowing that she may never see her chronically ill mother again. “What about the rest of Mom’s life?” her brother asked. “What about the rest of my kids’ lives?” she responded “I want them to grow up in Israel”. I think about another friend who made Aliyah almost on her own while her husband had to stay behind, other than a few short visits, in order to support the family during the first transitional year. I think of the many husbands who still travel frequently, sometimes every week, in order to make their Aliyah work financially and I think of their Eishet Chayil wives who have learned to be strong and capable while their husbands are away. I think of not only the salary cuts but also of the prestige cuts that many well established professionals take when they leave hard-won positions behind to start again from the bottom up. I think of the late nights parents spend with a dictionary in hand trying to decipher simple notes home from school and to write short mitzvah notes for their children in a language that their teachers will understand. I also think that while Americans may have bigger furniture and crave supersized Costco packages, they also have really big, supersized hearts. We welcome, support, and give our hearts to each other. While my Israeli friends have the luxury of visiting and being pampered by different relatives every other Shabbat, we have learned to become to each other the family that we lack. This past Shabbat, while my husband was speaking in the US, I spent Shabbat in an “American neighborhood” in Efrat, envied by some, but put down by many. You know what? It was the nicest Shabbat I have had so far (minus the husband away part). I watched as my kids played with their friends in the streets and in nearly everyone’s backyard with make shift Aunts and Uncles watching all around. I saw the love and support between families. You could feel the strength of character and the commitment to Torah and Israel that brought these families to Israel in the first place. They had a communal Seuda Shlishit where all the neighbors casually brought out tables and chairs into the middle of the street, shared delicious food, sang, and spoke divrei Torah. As the sun set behind the Judean Hills, I felt that I was a part of something very unique and special.

At the last Nefesh B’nefesh reception, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass read a letter that he had received that very week. The letter was written by a 10th generation Yerushalmi. She asked him to relate a message to the new olim. She said that while she was a 10th generation Israeli raising the 11th generation, she often wondered what it would have been like to be the first generation. She said that in a way she was jealous of that first generation that they got to be part of something so special, so heroic. She said that one day in many years there would be another 10th generation Israeli raising the 11th generation, and that it would be because of them – the heroic Amerikayim making Aliyah today.

So my mind is made up. If these heros are the American Israelis, than I am proud to be counted as one of them. Let there be many Amerikayim. Here’s to many, many Amerikayim! “And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea (Kineret) to shining sea (Mediterranean).”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hand Made

I love to run on Friday afternoons in Efrat. The atmosphere is super charged with the coming of Shabbat. The streets are almost empty, there are amazing aromas wafting through the air, and there are even a few children freshly bathed and ready in their nicest clothing. It is peaceful and serene. This past Friday, as I was finishing up my run, something caught my eye just before I was about to turn up my street. There was a chair with some pieces of pottery on it and a sign that read:

You are invited to take


Shabbat Shalom

The sign was in Hebrew and so I read it several times to make sure that I had understood right. It’s quite unusual for people to give things away here. Our local chat list has people selling everything from used crocs to three legged chairs. It’s just not that material around here. So I was quite taken aback by this gift of beauty and the grace with which it was given. I grabbed a delicate cream pedestal plate and three small brown nesting bowls. I smiled to myself and felt Gd smiling to. Here’s why. Just before my run I was speaking to my father and expressing to him a frustration that he most certainly did not understand. My sister had recently been the beneficiary of some beautiful furniture. The person who gave it to her is not only one of my dearest friends, but also the owner of some of the most gorgeous things I have ever laid my eyes upon. If I had a magic wand my home would look exactly like hers, only here. I was feeling very happy for my sister until I found out that several pieces that she had gotten were covered in toile fabric. Toile. I know this is very hard to understand if you are a man or a woman who has not yet encountered toile, but when I see toile I get weak in the knees. It’s kind of like how my husband gets around steak. For those who don’t yet know what toile is, here is how Wikipedia explains it. “Toile de Jouy, sometimes abbreviated to simply "toile", is a type of decorating pattern (originating in France) consisting of a usually white or off-white background on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme such as (for example) a couple having a picnic by a lake. Toiles also often consist of an arrangement of flowers.” I can’t explain it, but when I see toile, I just can’t help but think that all is well in the world. I’ll admit it. I was jealous. So when I passed by those elegant but simple pieces of pottery, I felt like I was getting some sort of a consolation prize and that is why I smiled. Thanks, but I still preferred the happy picnic scenes on a French countryside. However, it occurred to me over Shabbat, as we were sharing our meal with our new friends and neighbors (pure Israeli), that there was a deeper message in all of this. Toile is a machine made fabric with a repetitive depiction of a pleasant scene. In contrast, something that is hand-made is imperfect, unpredictable, and unique. No two pieces are the same. It is also created by a human being every step of the way. It simply has more soul. So here is the message: by moving to Israel, I may have left behind toile, but I have been given ‘handmade’ instead. I left behind a pleasant life of relative stability and predictability for one heck of a ride. We are building a life from scratch in uncharted territory. We are creating the unique story that will go down in generations to come as the narrative of our family. We have been given the opportunity to be partners in creating the fabric of Jewish history. Don’t get me wrong. I still love toile, and will gladly accept any and all gifts graced by its beauty. But I understand better now that there is an irrevocable beauty in all that is handmade. There is perfection in imperfection. I have learned to see that the chance to use my own two hands to create my life is nothing less than a Gd given gift.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This is what it’s all about.

Before I made Aliyah I would hear people who had already moved to Israel describe their new life as ‘holistic.’ They would say things like “I have never had so little and yet felt so rich.” I could not completely grasp what they were saying until we moved here and experienced it first-hand. Two events that occurred in the last month drove the message home more than any other. This past Friday, my kindergarten son had his end of year production. But it was no production. It was real, it was simple, and it was absolutely beautiful. The event was centered around the children receiving their siddurim for the first time, or as their Rebbe put it, they received their ‘friend for life.’ To prepare the children for this momentous occasion, they went on a trip to teach them about prayer. And what better place to teach Jewish children about Jewish prayer than the place that Jews have been praying at and towards for last few millennia; the kotel. The kids prepared little notes to place inside the ancient walls and then delivered them in person. Although my son’s prayers included a request for the whole world to be made out of Bamba, I think he got the idea that there is Someone to pray to and Someone that cares. By going to the kotel he also learned that he was about to become part of something much bigger than himself. I know that he felt a sense of pride when he received his siddur two days later because when they called him up to get his siddur he looked out at the audience, flashed a huge grin, and bowed 3 times! Ahh…this is what they meant by holistic. To learn about prayer and to go to the kotel. To pray in a language that you understand. To live in a country whose most important site represents your most important value. Just a few weeks earlier at my first grader’s commencement the sentiment was much the same. After learning the entire book of Genesis (i.e. 1/5 of the Torah) the children and their parents celebrated at Ma’arat Hamachpela – Tomb of the Patriarchs. After learning the stories of our foremothers and forefathers the children were actually standing at their burial sites! Not to mention that they already live in the area in which many of the stories took place! Before the ceremony, someone leaned over to me and said “you are really going to enjoy this. With all the struggles that moving here brings you can sometimes forget why you came here. After you see this, you will remember why.” The kids proceeded to act out most of the stories in Breshit. Which isn’t so unusual for a first grade production. Except that they were doing it on the actual site that the stories took place. One could not help but feel deeply that the kids were not just re-enacting the past – they were continuing the story in the present. In the same place. With the same values. And Gd willing with an equally positive impact on our future.

This is what it’s all about.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Runaround

Ok everyone, I get the message. I don’t call, I don’t write… Last time I felt this kind of pressure was when I was 9-years-old in sleep-away camp! So here I am, back in the blogosphere to let you know that all is well here in Machane Efrat. Where have I disappeared to for the last 4 months? I’ve been running around. Literally. (And also figuratively.) I now start almost every morning with a 4, 5, or 6 mile run around the Judean Hills. Can your rebbetzin do that? I couldn’t always. When we moved here almost 9 months ago, I could barely walk up my own street without getting out of breath. Then sometime around January I decided to walk around my block, then run, and then run some more. I haven’t stopped running since. I’m not really sure why. I’ve lost some weight, but not enough to make it worth my while due to my weakness for a certain Israeli food. Not falafel, not even schwarma, but its ‘cariot’ that I can’t resist. It’s a chocolate covered cereal filled with chocolate nougat that totally grosses me out as a breakfast cereal, but is just right for a snack that I can pretend is nutritious. It’s junk posing as good stuff. Hey, that kind of reminds me of the flotilla incident…but I digress. Back to running. Something is compelling me to run. Sometimes I think that I am making up for lost time. You get a mitzvah for every step that you take in Eretz Yisrael, so imagine the spiritual mileage I’m getting out of my morning escapades! And then there is the teaching that the air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wiser. Man, do I breath deep going up those killer inclines. I’ll be Einstein by August. Breathing deep also serves to calm and center me before I start my day, so I stress less and can better handle things like the dog emptying the garbage. Again. It also thrills me to no end to think that I am running on the same hills that our ancestors walked (or ran) on. I feel a deep connection with the land. I am now intimately acquainted with just about every brick and brush on my running trail. I guess this is my version of picking oranges on a kibbutz. But in the end, I think the thing that keeps me going is the idea that I am doing something that I never thought possible. I am pushing myself beyond limits I thought unbreakable. I am doing the unthinkable, for me anyway. This belief has served me well as I, and the world for that matter, stand at a crossroads. As we build our lives from nothing into something, I need to believe that the best is possible. I need to believe that challenges are surmountable. That I won’t crumble under the pressure. I have learned, physically and spiritually to smell the magnificent fragrances of our land and to appreciate the breath taking beauty, even as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other. I have learned that success comes one step at a time and that growth comes at the point where we struggle most. I have literally experienced the cliché that ‘what does not break us only makes us stronger.’ Then, as I sail down those hills that I ascended with such great difficulty, I experience the joy of reaching goals once thought unattainable. And then I know in my heart that anything is possible or as Herzl put it “If you will it, it’s no dream.”

So what are you waiting for? Stop giving the runaround and GO somewhere. Maybe here. As we say in athlete-speak “JUST DO IT!”

DISCLAIMER – if in 2 weeks or 2 years I stop running, put on weight, and get breathless going up the stairs of my home, no one is ever allowed to mention this particular post again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The reflections of a Rebbetzin turned Regular

A funny thing happened on the way to holyhood. I became a regular person. This is not to say that regular people are not holy or that holy people are not regular. It’s just that my definition of holiness and my application of the term has shifted quite a bit. I left behind a very holy life – at least what I thought was a holy life – for a rather mundane daily routine. The life of Rebbetzin, by virtue of being married to a communities’ spiritual leader lives a life, by choice or not, that centers around shul, Torah, spirituality, and everything else that comes with the package. As someone once said to my husband, the Rabbi is paid to be a religious super Jew. I would add: and his wife is unpaid to do the same. Everything a Rebbetzin does and anywhere she goes is somehow connected to her husband’s position. No matter how friendly she may be with her congregants she is always different and other. The expectations are high. It lends itself to a very holy lifestyle. Teach a lot of Torah, reach out to those in need, have many guests for Shabbat, inspire others. Prepare brides for their weddings, comfort the bereaved, celebrate births and cook food for the new moms. Don’t cut anyone off in traffic; you never know who it could be. Make sure to get to every simcha, your presence makes a difference. Lead both by example and with inspirational words. Be a role model and model your role well -- as teacher, advisor, and giver. You get the point. Its holy. And all of the sudden, life has a very different rhythm. I’m no longer the leader of the pack, I’m one of them. No one is watching my moves, calculating how much I entertain, or expecting me to do…well, anything at all. I take care of my family and try to be a good person. That’s pretty much it. I talk to my friends about cooking and crafts, about our kids, our husbands and vacations we’d like to take. I take the time to exercise. I go to Torah classes to hear other people teach. I take an art class and dance lessons. I am a guest on Shabbat! Amidst all of this fun, I lost my identity. And then all the ‘shoulds’ started to surface. I should make more time for Torah study. I should start to teach. I should enroll in a women’s learning program. I should apply for positions in seminaries. I should head a committee – what committee? -- who knows, someone must need me to head their committee. But then I realized that the only thing I should do is be holy. What is holiness really? It’s not teaching about Chessed, it’s doing acts of kindness when no one is looking and no one cares. It’s easy to be holy and good and giving when everyone expects you to be (not to mention, your parnassa more or less depends on it). It’s another to do a favor for a friend in need or even a stranger, just because. To keep conversations positive and constructive and ever so gracefully steer them away from Lashon Hara. To give someone a ride. To make time for Torah study even when there is no class to teach. I’ve come to see that having a normal life and making it holy is perhaps even greater than having a holy life that you try to make normal. What does Gd want from us? “Only that you do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Gd. (Micha 6:8)” Parshat Mishpatim which we will read this Shabbat stands in stark contrast to last week when we read about the revelation of Gd at Sinai. While last week was all about the holiest, most mystical experience that any group of people has ever experienced, this week is all about the nitty gritty laws of everyday living. The Torah is teaching us a powerful lesson – the very same lesson that I have stumbled upon myself –that the real test of holiness is not in the most inspirational moments of our lives, but in the smallest of everyday details that over time create something far greater and longer lasting than the greatest sermon or shiur ever could.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

With gratitude to Hashem I am celebrating my thirtieth birthday. Even better, I am celebrating it in Eretz Yisrael. I am grateful that at 30, I have just about everything that I would have wished for myself (you know, give or take a few pounds.) I have an amazing husband who both inspires me and makes me laugh. I have three wonderful children. One a brilliant philospher (aged 6), one a budding artistic protégé (aged 5) and of course my precocious princessa (aged 2). And let’s not forget Hero, the gentle giant. For all of the complaining that I have done about my pooch, I am grateful for one thing: With a decade of a multitude of changes behind me, it is nice to know that some things never change. If you put a piece of bread on a low lying surface, Hero WILL eat it. He WILL get gas. It WILL smell. Aside from that, you can always count on him to give a warm welcome, long after your presence is taken for granted by other family members living in your home. HOME. That’s another thing that I am grateful for. While I could not have predicted the Australia and Miami layovers, I always strove to be living in Israel. When I left Israel after a year and half of post-high school study, my prayer at the kotel consisted of three words only. Three words that I repeated over and over again. “Hashiveinu Hashem V’nashuva. “ “ Bring us back, Hashem, and we will return.” I was thinking about my desire to live in Israel, and acknowledging that it would be difficult to achieve the dream. I knew that I too would be settled one day chutz la’aretz and getting up to go to Eretz Yisrael would be like getting out of a warm bed on a cold winter morning. I prayed to Hashem for that gentle push, to have a hand in bringng me back, so that I could do the rest. Boy, did He come through. And here I am. Dreams fulfilled and dreaming still. May my dreams and yours continue to build a brighter tomorrow for us and for all of humanity.

My prayer for the next decade:
May it be Your will Hashem, that you bless me with knowledge, strength and love. Knowledge to know what it is that I am meant to do, the strength to do it, and the love to see all things through. May our will be one and the same as I fulfill myself by serving humanity. Please bless me with the wisdom to raise my children in Your ways. May my home be filled with blessings, peace and light. Please let that light make the world a little less dark, a little more bright. May we all merit to see our nation truly free and our world truly at peace, living the ultimate dream, speedily in our days. Amen!

One more thing – please bring all of my family and friends (and their family and friends) to also live in Eretz Yisrael. In peace and with joy. With wealth and health. And then we will have one HUGE party that will never end….

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rothchilds in the news

This is Israel to me,' says a settler from Miami

McClatchy Newspapers

EFRAT, West Bank -- Efrat, 10 miles outside Jerusalem, has become known for its Anglo-Saxon population.

Nearly 30 percent of the town lies on Palestinian land that was confiscated from the nearby Arab village of al-Khader, according to a survey completed by Peace Now. New York Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Israeli Moshe Moskovics jointly founded it with money donated by Florida businessman Irving Moskowitz.

Oded Reviv, the mayor of Efrat, said that all of the 24 families he knows of that have moved to the settlement this past year are Anglo-Saxon. The city's tree-lined streets boast New York-style pizza, and the identical, angular red-roofed homes easily could be mistaken for American suburbia. The high demand for homes in Efrat has driven up prices, with a modest family-sized residence costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Moshe and Yonit Rothschild moved to Efrat from Miami four months ago with their two children. They consider themselves part of the "moderate and mainstream" settlement movement.

They said that their decision to live in a settlement had nothing to do with the Green Line, the internationally recognized border that between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

"If you gave me a map, I couldn't draw the green line for you. ... It wasn't a matter of living over the Green Line. This is Israel to me," said Moshe Rothschild, 42.

He said that he and his wife weren't happy about the Obama administration's opposition to new settlements, which he thinks is a "huge mistake."

"I'm not less American than anyone else, and we are entitled to disagree with our president like anyone else is. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of what the settlements are. When you use the word 'settlement' in the States, they think of fanatics."

When the subject of a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is raised, the Rothschilds aren't sure whether they'd be willing to relocate inside the Green Line.

Moshe said he'd "probably be willing to make that concession" if there were a guarantee of peace.

Yonit, 29, is less sure.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)

Monday, January 4, 2010


If I didn’t know better, I would think the Arab Member of Kenneset, Jamal Zehalke was Ali G in disguise. What follows is a rather amusing excerpt from an interview that broadcasted on the Erev Chadash program hosted by veteran broadcaster Dan Margalit and his younger co-host Ronen Bergman (as published on Arutz Sheva). We are a strange people, allowing people like this to be a part of our government.

Bergman: “Why don’t you protest against Egypt? If they would open their blockade of Gaza in Rafiach, there would be no humanitarian crisis there!”
Zehalke: “I support the Egyptian opposition’s protest against their government” [evoking sarcastic laughter by the interviewer … ]We want to stop the suffering in Gaza, one must be totally obtuse in order not to see this.”
Margalit: "Not quite; Hamas has fired 8,000 rockets…"
Zehalke: “There were 1,400 dead Arabs and 400 children [in Cast].”
Margalit: “Because Hamas fired rockets…”
Zehalke: “Ehud Barak listens to classical music and kills children!”
Margalit: “Yes, we’ve heard that, we’ve heard that. What chutzpah (gall, nerve -- ed.) it takes to talk that way.”
Zehalke: “No, the chutzpah is the killing. Don’t say it is nerve.”
Margalit: “It is chutzpah.”
Zehalke (yelling): “Don’t you say chutzpah!”
Margalit: “I’ll say what I want, I don’t live in your type of country, I live in a democracy.”
Zehalke (yelling): “You talk as if you’re in the marketplace!”
Margalit: “I talk that way? You say that Barak is a murderer! You are chatzuf [cheeky, rude, disrespectful, from the same root as the Hebrew word chutzpa!]”
Zehalke (yelling): “Don’t call me chatzuf!”
Margalit: “You’re chatzuf!”
Zehalke: “Don’t call me chatzuf!”
Margalit: “You’re chatzuf!”
Zehalke: “Oh yeah? You’re a zero!”
Margalit: “Oh? OK, now you’ve convinced me.”
Zehalke: “You’re a zero! You’re a mouthpiece for all the prime ministers, and you’re a court reporter! You’re a court reporter!”
Margalit: “Yes, OK, Zehalke, you’re right, now get out of here. You don’t care about all the Kassams, now get out of here.”
After another round or two of mutual insults, when it appeared that Zehalke had finally left, Margalit had trouble calming down, and said, “You saw that chatzuf? He says that Barak is a child murderer!”
Zehalke’s voice is heard from offstage: “Don’t say chatzuf!”
Margalit: “Get out of here already!”
Zehalke: “Don’t say chatzuf! Don’t say get out of here already!”
Margalit: “Can you let me work, please?” (The next interviewee had already arrived)
Zehalke [still yelling from offstage: “This is Sheikh Munis here!” (referring to a former Arab village on the ruins of which northern Tel Aviv -- including the television studio -- was built)
Margalit [banging on the table]: “Aaah, now we see what you really want! Now it’s clear! You want to conquer this from us too! Now we see the truth!”
Zehalke: “No, we want to live together! I was born here, you are an immigrant!”
Margalit:”Oh, I’m an immigrant?” (Margalit was born in Tel Aviv in 1938)