Thursday, December 31, 2009

weekly funny - from our home to yours

On Parshat Vayechi

Me: Yaakov had more than twelve kids, why did Yosef have only two?

Husband: Maybe because they were living in Chutz La'aretz and they had to pay yeshiva tuitions.

My sister: the new me

Anyone who makes Aliyah has done the math and figured out that moving from the land of plenty to the land of milk and honey requires a significant change in lifestyle. Yet we have all come to the same conclusion that sometimes less is really more. I had prepared myself to be at peace with giving up my house, cars, pool and full-time help, not to mention leaving behind a community that we loved and loved us (well except for a few wayward congregants here and there.) I understand now what a friend of mine, who had moved states, said to me about the experience. She told me that she couldn’t sleep one night because she could not stop thinking that if she died the next day, there would be no one at the funeral. No one in her new community knew her. I mean people knew her. They just didn’t know her. And now I know what she meant. But at the end of the day, I was prepared for this. I like my new home, my new-to-me car, and my life here very much. Still nothing could have prepared me for my sister picking up, exactly where I left off. As fate would have it, my sister moved into my old house today. Not only that, she is moving in at the same stage of life as me – with one rambunctious little toddler boy running around the great big space. So now she’s me, only thinner. I was so excited about this development. Something felt good about it. I was happy that my house was being inhabited by family. My lay-z-boy chair that didn’t make it into the lift would be in good hands once again (incidentally, this chair has the pattern of an old world map on it. When it didn’t make it to Israel, I took it as a sign that our years as wandering Jews are over.) But now I’m having a different sort of reaction. I’m not nostalgic for what was, but for what could have been. What would have been had we not chosen to move. And as my back hurts from washing up a ton of dishes because neither Maria nor Anita will show up to wash them tomorrow, I can’t help but confront the decision that I made to leave one life in favor of another. The truth is there are plenty of people in Israel and in Efrat, that live very nice lifestyles. But almost all of us have to go through that initial transitional phase where that quality of material life is one big question mark. We have to remember time and time again why we chose to move here and what we truly value. I am reminded of the first day that I met my (very) Israeli neighbor. She asked me the same question that many Israelis do. “Why did you move here, to this difficult land?” I answered her that my kids had everything. Materially that is. But not spiritually. When it comes down to it, we all know which makes a person truly happy in the long run. And that’s why we are here, and hopefully why my sister may join us one day. Because as great as a swimming pool is in your own backyard, it can’t compete with what I have in mine.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making sense of the non-sense

The recent murder of Rav Meir Chai has to challenge anyone’s faith. Could there be a better man? Father of seven, idealistic settler, beloved rebbe of children, beacon of faith. For Heaven’s sake, his last name means “life,” and he will be forever remembered for his death. His first and second names, Meir and Avshalom mean light and father of peace, while his life came to an abrupt end amidst darkness and violence. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a philosophical conversation that I had with a friend a few weeks ago. He commented that people either experience Gd as the all-loving father or the abusive parent. Well, score one for the abusive parent scenario. Or so it seems… The success of terrorism is not so much in the amount of lives it takes. It’s in the amount of lives it effects. We have a greater chance of being in a car crash then being in a terrorist attack, and yet most of us don’t think twice about getting in the car. But we live with the fear of terror and grapple with the loving presence of Gd. The word Olam, world, shares a root with the word Ilaim, hidden. We live in a world where truth is hidden and terror is the supreme master of illusion. When a 40-year-old father and teacher is gunned down in broad daylight for the crime of living in the Jewish homeland, we are left wondering ‘where was Gd?’ I can hear the answers, ones that make sense, but still leave us wondering. I’m sure there is someone out there explaining that his last name “Chai” indicates that he is living on in the Real Life of the next world. That’s the same idea of calling a cemetery “eretz Hachaim,” “land of the living.” Nice, but not all that convincing for someone who has just lost a loved one. Someone else is undoubtedly connecting this week’s Parsha, Vayechi, which means ‘and he lived’ to Rav Chai. Just as “and he lived” is the heading for the segment in which Jacob dies, so to Rav Chai’s death is described as life. In both cases they live on through their children. While this may be true, no one can deny that living on in memory is no comparison for truly being alive long enough to walk one’s children to the Chupah. The most satisfying answer so far is a story that was reported in the Yehiva World News. The story claims that 12 years before last week’s murder, Rav Chai had been in a terrible car crash – one that claimed his life. Yes, this article claims that Rav Chai died 12 years ago and went up to the Heavenly Court. He cried and pleaded to be able to come back and help raise his new son. He was told that he would get 12 more years. That baby boy turned 12 on the day of Rav Chai’s murder. According to this story, Rav Chai’s life-span was not the result of an abusive parent, but of a loving and merciful Father in Heaven. Now it all makes sense. If only it was true. Which it may be. Or it may not be. Remember the story about the Ethiopian kid who was killed in the Rav Kook massacre? There was a beautiful story circulating the Jewish world describing how he was rejected from the school for lack of knowledge and agreed to work in the kitchen instead just so that he could be there. Ultimately, he worked so hard at learning that he made it out of the kitchen and into the Yeshiva, just like the legendary Hillel the elder who learned his first bits of Torah by climbing on the roof and listening in on the lectures he was not privileged to attend. Touching story. Only, it never happened. So the jury is still out about the story of Rav Chai and his extra 12 years of life. We don’t know if it’s true or not. I guess the only thing that we can say for sure is that it could be true. It could have happened. Whether he told the story over or he never uttered it to a soul, or he never experienced it consciously himself, it could have happened. There are also dozens of other scenarios relating to heavenly courts and out of body experiences that could have happened, only we don’t know about them. In the end, knowing that we don’t know is the only way to make sense of the non-sensible. And for now, that will have to be enough.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Today I did the unforgivable. As I was talking on the phone and about to get a phone number, I instinctively (gasp) tore off an entire sheet of paper towel and (gasp again) wrote down a phone number on it! Right after I did it, I realized the damage I had done and confessed it to my sister-in-law who was still on the phone and wondering what I had done wrong. “I did a very American thing,” I told her. “I wrote on a paper towel! I have no choice – I’m just going to have to save it and use it later on.” The ironic thing is that we had been discussing the difference between American and Israeli lifestyles. In case you are wondering what paper towels have to do with lifestyle, let me back up a minute. In the weeks leading up to packing our lift, I was very busy buying up all of America. This shopping escapade came to a crescendo when I entered the Mecca of all shoppingdom: Costco. There I was prepared to stock up on all of the products that are either very expensive or unavailable in Israel. As I filled up two (Costco-sized) shopping carts with well over a thousand dollars of stuff, I started to feel a little ridiculous. Was I prepared to come back to the US every time I ran out of paper cups? I resolved that it would be good to have all of this stuff to start out with and then when the time came, I would switch over the Israeli way. Well, that time is now. The truth is that almost everything is available here (even the ‘fake’ silverware), albeit in much smaller packages. Prices aren’t bad either. But there is one item that just cannot be replaced and that product is Bounty: the thicker quicker picker upper. It really is. By the way, in that great escapade in Costco, I didn’t fit even one roll in my cart. Bounty required a trip all of its own and we stuffed every drawer and chair with rolls of the Bounty goodness before they were packed onto our lift. Now, I am down to my last pack. Sure, Israel has paper towels but they are so not the same. Take a look at the photos and just guess which one is Bounty. It’s like David and Goliath. There is no way around it, Israel can’t compete with American Bounty…or can it? Paper towels are just one example of the many things that America has over Israel, materially that is. America has lots of stuff with little price tags. Israel has a little stuff with large price tags. So if things are what makes up bounty, then we know who wins the competition. But if David and Goliath can teach us anything, it’s that smaller is sometimes bigger and less is sometimes more. Bounty isn’t really about fewer towels to throw in the wash and more things to throw in the garbage. Bounty is the seven species of Israel growing wildly all over our yards and garden. It’s about looking out your bedroom window and seeing the breathtaking view of the land that Gd made just for us. Bounty is the luxury of taking a few steps and walking into history. It’s the luxury of making history. Bounty is living in a country that shares and supports your values and lifestyles. It’s being able to vacation without having to bring vacuum packed kosher food with you. It’s having amazing schools for your children and a plethora of learning opportunities for yourself. It’s not being afraid to wear a kippa to work or that you won’t get the job if you are a woman who covers her hair. Being in Israel is the greatest aspiration of the Jewish people for the last 2,000 years. Our generation is lucky enough to live that dream. So I ask you, isn’t that dream worth a few paper towels?

Aliyah Revolution -- the Album

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Monday, December 21, 2009

We've only just begun

There are some days that I feel like I have been here forever. My kids seem to fit right in (just as rowdy and rude as the next kid) and even the dog seems to have carved out his niche. And then there are days like today when I am so abruptly reminded that we are new and by no means well established in this neighborhood. For instance, this bright and sunny morning got off to a rather smelly start. We don’t have those large green wheelie outdoor garbage containers that we had in Miami. In fact, while Miami provided one such container for every household, the Rothchild family had to order an extra one on account of our daily contribution to Global Warming. Here, we have Zero. So when our garbage is full, we have to take it up or down the hill to the nearest dumpster. At night, especially when it’s dark and cold, we leave the garbage in our mudroom and take it out in the morning – Israeli style. The Israeli (or at least Efrat) way to take out the garbage is to put it on top of your car and drive it to where it belongs. Only, today we forgot it was there. Oops. Just as we turned out of Efrat and almost at the Highway our daily offering slid off our car and onto the busy road. As Israeli and Palestinian drivers looked on curiously (you think they would have seen this before) my husband had to dodge traffic to grab the bag which was, oops again, now slit wide open. Forceflex my tush. After getting what we could out of the way, we continued on to our grocery shopping where yet again, my greener side gleamed brightly. We were looking for a fairly simple product – confectioner’s sugar. After a brief game of hide-and-go-seek we found it not in the sugar aisle, but with the baking products. Of course. What threw us off was that we were looking for the usual bag of confectioner’s sugar, but where we were it was being sold only in small envelopes. Not being prepared for this I had no idea how many envelopes I would need for the recipe, so I grabbed a whole bunch. Better safe than sorry. Guess the ‘present’ we got for spending over 100 shek at the store? Yup! Confectioner’s sugar! Good thing too, because when we got home I realized that I had exactly enough. We ended the morning by looking at a very charming home that just went on the market. It was all going very well until we heard the asking price. Are we in the West Bank of Israel or the West Side of Manhattan? Like most of the homes in this area, the price is a great example of what happens when the demand far outweighs the supply (and we won’t get into why that is so). All of this had me a bit down and thinking that we had missed the Efrat Boat by 5, 10, 20 years. Yet, somewhere in the midst of all this, we stopped off in the budding industrial area just across from Efrat. There are a few existing buildings, a few more under construction, and a whole lot of space for more. You could feel the potential swarming around in the cool crisp air and see history in the making. I could almost hear the voices of the future looking back on the present and saying “remember the days when the Gush was all farm land?” Maybe we have not missed the boat after all and a bright booming future lies ahead. Perhaps we’ve only just begun…

Friday, December 18, 2009

The second ever virtual Rosh Chodesh Club

Welcome Tevet! This is a good month as intimated by its name. Tevet – Tov- Goodness. I don’t know about you, but I could use a good month! So what is the power of this month? What makes it so great? This month is all about growing out of Anger. That's a good thing because anger hurts not only the ones we love, but also ourselves; emotionally and physically. Anger is a natural part of the human experience, but it is one that we are meant to outgrow. According to Rabbi Lazer Brody, anger and spiritual awareness go hand in hand. You cannot get close to Gd if anger is your constant companion. You can’t get close to joy either – I have yet to see a happy angry person. So how do you cut a lifelong buddy loose? The answer can be found in this month’s letter; Ayin. Ayin, is not just the name of the letter, it is also its meaning. Ayin means eye. The key to freedom and emotional maturity is perspective. It’s all in the way we look at things. If you have ever seen a Jewish woman mumble something under her breath and then spit three times and say poo poo poo (something they would punish their children for doing and saying), then you know about the concept of the evil eye. Tevet is about the good eye. More specifically it is about the transition from the evil eye to the good eye which is accomplished spiritually by looking at the Chanukah candles on the 8th and final day, which just happens to fall in Tevet. If I haven’t lost you yet, follow me a bit further. The evil eye is essentially a perspective of judgment. Appropriately, the Tribe of the month is Dan, which means to judge. When our evil eye is leading, we judge reality, others, and ourselves harshly. Anger is the result of confronting a reality that contradicts our expectations. We judge it as wrong. For example, if I have the expectation that drivers should be courteous, I may get a little ticked off at the person who cuts right in front me as I have just finished waiting 20 minutes on line to exit the highway. That’s judging harshly. The fact is that I have no idea why that person did what they did. Perhaps his wife is in labor. Perhaps he was born without the part of the brain that tells him how to interact appropriately with others. Leading with the good eye is a state of maturity which, ironically, takes a page from the behavior of children. While we are not meant to remain children forever, we can and should remain childlike. Children are playful and joyful. The antidote for anger is to lighten up. To play, to laugh, to dance, to sing. The sign of the month is the Gedi - -a kid/goat. There is a midrash in kohelet that teaches that at the age of 10 a child “jumps like a goat.” It is this playfulness that can chase away the big bad wolf of anger. If you think this sounds too simple, just take a trip to Disney World and try to get angry. I dare you. You just can’t get angry in a place where even the street sweeper is whistling a happy tune and tap dancing with his broomstick as he works. The truth is that we don’t control the really serious things (or for that matter, trivial things) in life anyway. That’s Gd’s job. If it’s our expectations versus Gd’s chosen reality, He is going to win. Every time. May as well enjoy it rather than fight it. Ultimately, there is nothing to get angry about anyway. It’s all good. It’s all Gd. And we are all just children learning how to play the grandest game of life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


A few years ago when I was training to become a life coach, I was paired with a woman that to this day I have never met and at the time had seemingly nothing in common with. This total stranger and I would practice on each other over the phone for almost two years. Needless to say we got to know one another fairly well, pretty quickly. What stood out most was not what a Jew in Miami and a Christian in Philly actually had in common, but how strikingly different we were. We were on exact opposite ends of the same path. She was becoming an empty-nester, while I was just putting my twigs together (and still laying eggs). Her struggle was how to cope with losing her primary role as mom and homemaker and I was trying to come to peace with my role changing into exactly that. Both of our realities could be explained by a phrase that I had come across in a parenting magazine that asked “why is it that the days seem to go on forever, while the years pass by in the blink of an eye?” I was wishing that I was on her end of the spectrum, while she was nostalgic for my time of life. When you are living on 4 hours of sleep and you can’t walk more than a few inches before encountering spit up, mucus, bodily excrements or on a good day, a mixture of all three, it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of motherhood. Yet, when it’s all over a deafening silence takes its place. In talking to my “chavruta” I came to the insight that I would never regret the things that I didn’t get to do. But I will regret not enjoying the things that I did. The spiritual bread and butter of a Jew is appreciation. There is a comic that portrays two Jewish women at a restaurant. The waiter walks over to check on them and asks “is anything ok?” We have a tendency to forget that our very essence as Jews is to appreciate, not decimate. The Chanukah story is replete with one word in many forms – Yehuda the Maccabbe, Yehudit the Jewish Heroine, Yehudim the Jews are all related to the word Hoda’a – appreciation. Which is why I was so thrilled to have a day full of hoda’a today, the 5th day of Chanukah. I appreciated that I could not join my husband, sister and the boys today on a trip to the Dead Sea because my two-year-old daughter was a bit under the weather. I appreciated that I got to spend time with just her. I enjoyed holding her and taking the time to play with her. We baked Chanukah cookies and she washed the dishes. Then I took her chocolate covered behind upstairs and into a warm bath. I don’t take warm baths for granted anymore. Now my kitchen is full of a gooey flour and water paste and I don’t mind a single bit. This is a huge accomplishment for me. Usually when my kids are ‘helping me cook’ all I can see is the mess I’ll have to clean up when they’re done. Right now as I look at the sink full of dishes, the crust on my kitchen Island, and the splotches all over the floor, all I can see is my daughter giggling and sneaking tiny chocolate chips into small, pretty, flower covered envelopes that I had set aside for the occasion of writing thank you notes. They served their purpose well.

A great miracle happened here! Literally.

One of the best things about living in Israel is the month of December. No other month drives home the difference between living in exile and living in the homeland like holiday season does. No longer do I have to explain to my children that Santa is not a Rabbi in a red suit nor do my tiny simple menorah lights have to compete with the dazzling colorful light shows displayed on my neighbors’ homes. And I don’t have to bite my tongue to stop myself from singing along with “rockin around the you-know what tree” every time I go shopping. Here, the sights, smells, and sounds of Chanukah are everywhere. Even in the most unlikely places. Hyundai has a car called the “Getz.” Despite its ridiculous name (it could only be worse if it was called putz or clutz) they ran a great add. Plastered on a building in Jerusalem was a huge sign that read “Getz gadol haya poh.” “A great Getz was here.” Something about that just makes me smile. As we lit our first Chanukah candles on Friday at sundown it was one of those moments that I swelled with joy watching my family commemorate the miracle of Chanukah in the land that it occurred. I knew that the Maccabi wars had taken place in the Judean hills and I wondered to myself if the war had stretched down from Modiin (about an hour drive from here) to our area of the hills. The next day we found out from a friend who is also a tour guide, that indeed the battles had been fought on the very land we live on. In fact, the yishuv across the street called Elazar is named so for one of the Maccabi sons that perished in the battles. Here, where we live and play, those heros walked and fought. You just can’t beat that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Learning on the job

I want to apologize to all of the nice people who read my article in the Amit magazine and followed the link on the bottom to this blog hoping to find something thought provoking and inspiring here. Its seems that since the Freeze began, my mind has been frozen as well. Every time I sat down in last 2 weeks to write something I faced the following dillema. I didn't want to write about the Freeze, but how could I not? It's not that I'm not interested in it. On the contrary, aside from the fact that it could ultimately pose an existential threat to the State of Israel, it directly effects the likelihood of my ever being able to afford, let alone build, a home in this area that I have come to love so much. However, every time I tried to write something I realized what an ignaramous I am when it comes to Israeli politics. Sadly, I don't have the wit or humor to make up for it. At the same time, I realized that the average Israeli citizen knows more about Israeli politics then the average American senator (or in some cases president) knows about American politics. So for a whole two weeks I listened. I listened to the radio, read articles, heard the opnions of the locals and after all of that I have come to the following conclusion: NO ONE knows anything. Nothing makes sense at all and the only thing that seems a bit logical is that there is something going on behind the scenes that the public is not privy to. So there you have it. I have said my peice and added my two cents. Now I can go on talking about the really inportant things in my life like the lice I found in my son's hair two days ago and the chestnuts that just blew up in my oven. Those are two things that, unlike the current situatioin in Israel, I'm sure that I can learn to understand.

In this week's Parsha we learn about the beggining of the whole saga with Joseph being sold into salvery and brought down to Egypt. Of course we know the rest of the story and understand that the events of this week's Parsha are part of Hashem's greater plan to provide food for Jacob and sons during the famine to follow. We also know that Joseph going to Egypt was the catalyst for the entire Passover story and consequently all of Jewish history. The lesson here is that we need not understand what is happening around us to know that it is all for our ultimate good. This shabbos, as I light my Chanuka candles in this time of deep darkness, I'll try to learn that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My new article

Check out my new article published in the Winter edition of Amit Magazine. You can see the virtual edition here or read the text below. Enjoy!

What’s Light Got to Do with It?
How 8 little lights show us how to shine

In my second year of college, I accidentally discovered what would become my passion and focus of study for the duration of my four years. I had signed up for a course on drawing, thinking that it would be fun and relaxing. In reality, the class was anything but recreational. The course was painful. The professor was relentless. Still, I learned and increased my skills a thousand times over. I fell in love with the subject and changed my major from psychology to fine arts. The next year, I experienced a different professor and with her, a different approach to art. Professor Berger could look at the most horrendous painting and find something good about it. She would share her find with the student who painted it and that student would shine. The student would develop the particular aspect of her talent that Professor Berger had highlighted, and in that way develop into a sophisticated artist with a unique flair. This was quite different from the approach of my first professor, Professor Fink. A student could stay up all night working on a drawing only to have it torn up (literally) by the critical professor the next day. It wasn’t unusual for students to leave Professor Fink’s class in tears. The more we perfected our techniques, the more she would point out our flaws. The more she would point out our flaws, the more we would perfect our techniques. When I began her class I could hardly draw a straight line. By the time she was done with me I could replicate drawings by Michelangelo.

So who is the better professor?

The Talmud deals with this very question, only instead of Fink and Berger, it speaks about 1st century scholars Hillel and Shammai, and the question is phrased differently. The Talmud discusses whether we should add one candle each night of Chanukah or if we should begin with eight candles and subtract one candle each night. Hillel says that we increase, while Shammai maintains that we decrease. Whenever these two sages argue, there is always a deeper level to their respective opinions. Candles produce fire, and fire can do two things. It can destroy and it can illuminate. On Chanukah, our candles represent both the destruction of our Greek oppressors, and the light of our rededicated Temple and renewed learning of Torah. What Hillel and Shammai are really debating is which aspect of Chanukah is more important?

According to Shammai, the primary lesson of Chanukah is to destroy evil. The path of spiritual growth begins by first destroying all of the negative aspects within oneself. We light one less candle every night to indicate that we have been working on ourselves and that we need less fire, as there is less to burn up. On the other hand, Hillel believes that the more important lesson of Chanukah is the light and the accentuating of goodness. The way to spiritual perfection is to find the good within ourselves and to develop our positive traits. Each night we add light to signify the growth of goodness within us.

In reality we need to do both; eliminate evil and increase goodness. This is reflected in the laws of lighting Chanukah candles which require the light to be an actual fire (electric menorahs do not fulfill the obligation) and a light that provides illumination (the menorah must be placed in an area that is visible to all). Like my two professors, Hillel and Shammai offer two approaches to human development. Ultimately, we give preference to Hillel’s opinion. We increase the light every night of Chanukah by adding one candle. In this world and at this time it is better to focus on developing our positive traits, rather than getting bogged down with the daunting task of eliminating all of our negative tendencies. If we expect ourselves and everyone around us to become perfect, we will fail before we even begin. It is important to confront and destroy the evil within us and our world, however we must first believe in the goodness of ourselves. And while we are not free to walk away from the challenge of perfecting the world, the focus has to be on celebrating and developing what is already working. Our tradition teaches us that in the messianic times, we will follow the opinion of Shammai. One day we will be able to totally eradicate any traces of evil. However, now is the time to spread goodness and change the world, one tiny light at a time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Sights and sounds of protest abound. I took the above photo today at the entrance to Efrat. It reads “There is no entry for the agents of Bibi’s freeze.” Yesterday in Nokdim, a yishuv down the road, the residents were successfully able to quite literally stand in the way of the officers intending to put an end to building in the yishuv. In addition most leaders in Yesha (Yehuda and Shomron) have refused to aid the government in enforcing the freeze. There is talk among residents about having a build—in, the idea being that everyone should build something, anything. Let them arrest us all! The Rothchilds have come up with a scheme all of their own. With great sacrifice, we have decided to allow the city of Efrat to build us a large 500 meter home in a centrally located area. While we would prefer to undertake this task alone, for the sake of unity, we would allow it to be a collective project. We would allow the yishuv to adorn the new home with extravagant luxuries that we may have otherwise shunned out of modesty, in order to make the statement to the world “you may try to stunt our growth, but our olim will grow and prosper beyond your wildest imagination.”

BTW, if you are factually challenged and suffer a bit from undiagnosed ADD like I do, I recommend the following blog from Treppenwitz (a fellow Efratite) that gives a great background to the conflict at hand. Also check out Jammel@theMuquata, a resident of the Shomron.
If you are not doing so already, make sure to follow the news at Arutz Sheva and Jerusalem Post

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The battle against the Freeze Machine

In the following clip, Obama and Netanyahu don the images of Professor Coldheart and a helpless misguided child, respectively, as they role play current events. Oh – and we settlers are the fuzzy wuzzies. Still haven't figured out who the short little sidekick is. Hillary maybe? Suggestions?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ancient story, modern times

The settlements are all over the news here in Israel and interestingly, this weeks parsha (Vayishlach) as well. I’ll be writing more about the “freeze,” what it means, and how we settlers are responding in the next few days. For now I wanted to post an excerpt from an article that I read last night that compares what is being done to us to what the ancient pharaoh of the pesach story did. It brought to my mind some unsettling photos that I had seen a few months ago.

( In response to Prime Minister Netanyahu ‘s announced ten month construction freeze for Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, resistance activists have accused the prime minister of mimicking the decrees of Pharaoh in the Passover story. The parallel, according to activists who are calling themselves the Task Force in the Struggle against Pharaoh's Decrees, is that both leaders work to curtail the Jewish birthrate.
“By trying to prevent a new generation of Zionist pioneers in Judea and Samaria Netanyahu is behaving like Pharaoh. Like Pharaoh, Netanyahu preventing the Jewish nation’s development. Like Pharaoh, Netanyahu imposes draconian restrictions on us. Only unlike Pharaoh who targeted only male children, Netanyahu’s decrees apply to everyone regardless of gender.”

…The L’Herut Tzion (For the Freedom of Zion) organization, which works towards increasing political independence for the State of Israel, responded positively to the plan to struggle against the construction freeze but rejected the comparison of the prime minister with Pharaoh. A spokesperson for the organization argued that it is not Netanyahu but the American president who deserves the title of Pharaoh in this case.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


While I was reading my fan mail (ok, so all my fans at this point happen to be family and friends, but fans none-the-less) I came across the following question: “why do you describe yourself as a "settler"? That designation for people living in Yehuda and Shomron always bothered me - it seemed to me invented by pro-arab media to imply that we're new there and don't really belong.”

The answer is two-fold. Firstly, it’s simply tongue and cheek, while at the same time describing the uniqueness of our experience in Israel as opposed to people who live on the other side of the line. Kind of like the blog Joesettler, which is a very pro Israel blog written by, well, a settler in Samaria. Though the more I think about it, this answer doesn’t really satisfy me, nor you, my beloved fans. So here is my other reason. When we were up on the Eitam (see full story here)Nadia Matar, founder of Women in Green, made the following statement (more or less): “We are settlers! We are not ashamed of that name. We are proud to be settlers! Settlers are people who come to a place in order to develop it. We are here to live on this land, to make it beautiful, and to reclaim what is ours. And we are ALL settlers of Eretz Yisrael. The people of Tel Aviv are settlers, the people of Jerusalem are settlers, the people of Haifa are settlers, we are all settlers building up OUR land and making it better for our children. “ So there you have it: I’m a settler.

Rabbi/Husband input: Avraham was called a Toshav – a settler. So by using that term we are connecting our experience on this land all the way back to Avraham. In addition, the mitzvah of living in Israel is called “Yishuv Haaretz” – settling the land.

I looked up the word on Wikipedia and found similarly ambiguous connotations of the word. See my comments in parenthesis.
A settler is a person who has migrated to an area and established permanent residence there (yay! – we made aliyah and made Israel our official home), often to colonize the area (not exactly, Efrat has been owned by Jews way before it was liberated in ’67). Settlers are generally people who take up residence on land and cultivate it, as opposed to nomads (true, though the first few weeks here were a bit nomadish, now we, with our community continue to build and develop this beautiful land.). Settlers are sometimes termed "colonists" or "colonials" (not so good sounding) and -- in the United States -- "pioneers" (sounds much better. Last I checked, that was a good thing.)

That makes not just us, but Americans settlers too. As the eve of Thanksgiving is upon us, I humbly submit to you that we settlers in Israel are far more worth celebrating, then those pilgrims who were actually colonist. Maybe a few hundred years from now, they will be celebrating a day that recognizes settlers, except that instead of turkey, they will commemorate the day with a big, nice, juicy rack of Schwarma. Yum!

Window of Opportunity

I imagine this 'works' in the US on US time also. You may want to take advantage of what is posted below.

There is a tremendous et ratzon this Thursday Israel time from 1:43pm to 1:56pm Israel time, that only occurs every 50 years. This was predicted by the seferbrit Menucha. Many people will gather at this time on Thursday around his kever to pray for the Geula and each person for his own needs. You can pray from your own home.

"The ninth hour is the time of celebration and rejoicing, it is the hour of Mincha. Know that the ninth year of the Jubilee is the chosen, and the ninth month (Kislev) is the month of goodness and desire, and the ninth day of the ninth month is the most selected day from all the rest of the days of the month, and the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month is the most chosen".

The above was written by Rabbi Avraham Marimon HaSfaradi, zs'kl, in the Sefer Brit Menucha. Also Rabbi Avraham Azulai, zs'kl, wrote in his sefer Chesed Le'Avraham, "I saw in the Sefer that the ninth month in the ninth day on the ninth hour is a time of great success and the reason for this is because it is the ninth wheel of the Yesod and is a pipe of abundance". Also the Ramban, zs'kl, writes that the ninth year of the Jubilee, on the ninth month, on the ninth day, in the ninth hour is time of special will.

Many great Rabbanim calculated the exact time of will and according to all it is tomorrow, Thursday afternoon, 9th of Kislev between the hour of 1:43 pm and 1:56 pm. It is a time of will when all the gates of Shamayim are open.

This window of opportunity is very rare when all the gates of Shamayim are open to our prayers and needs; utilize these rare 13 minutes of will to pray for all your desires and especially for Am Israel to be zoche to see the redemption, AMEN!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Important message

From the blog
This message is too important not to post...

Last week, there was a horribly tragic story where R' Shmuel Borger's son Motty, who had just gotten married, died two days after his wedding. R' Shmuel Borger is someone who has been involved in chizzuk for Klal Yisrael for many years, and specifically recently with the production of the Tisha B'av chizzuk videos on behalf of Chofetz Chaim heritage foundation. In the middle of Shiva, this amazing person recorded a small request from us. Please listen and take the inspiration, putting it into action, then pass it on.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Olim therapy, for $6 and under

Piece by (painstaking, gut wrenching, life sucking) piece it’s all coming together. No, I’m not talking about aliyah, I’m talking about an actual puzzle that my husband and I have been spending day and night obsessively trying to complete. I haven’t been this engrossed in something recreational since the last Harry Potter book came out. This is no ordinary puzzle. It is a 750 piece, 26 inch jigsaw with one basic image that is repeated over and over again. Our puzzle contains a field with a bunch of flags – the SAME flags. My husband dug it out a few nights ago. He thought it would be a fun activity for the boys. Ha! It was a matter of moments before the boys figured out to stay away from the puzzle monster and mom and pop took over. Every night, and sometimes in the middle of the day we were drawn to this thing and determined to get it all together. It occurred to me that it was a great kind of Aliyah therapy that I highly recommend for anyone who has dismantled a well established life and is trying to re-erect it on a much rockier terrain. As we wait and work to get the pieces of our lives into some kind of picture that makes sense, we find comfort in engaging a puzzle that we actually can complete. Much like our aliyah, we began the puzzle with no idea how difficult it could actually be. There were times when one of us was doing great, connecting several pieces in one moment, while the other fumbled frustratingly for minute after long minute with no answers in sight. Then it would switch and the self sufficient puzzle maker would lose all confidence in her abilities while the other would thrive. We would support each other in those difficult moments, thankful that our ‘down’ moments did not correlate or we may have given up the venture all together. Then there were times when we were sure there was a mistake. Surely, the manufacture had forgotten to include all of pieces necessary inside the box. These were our moments of doubt, which only faith could pull us through. Every morning, the kids would run down the stairs to see the progress that we made. Sometimes we would share their joy, and other times bemoan that after all the hard work, not enough progress was made. Finally, after many nights that turned into early morning hours, and right before Shabbat we completed the puzzle. We were beside ourselves with joy and satisfaction. We are still trying to figure out how to glue it together without it falling apart and have decided to leave it on our dining table for Shabbat. It is our celebrated centerpiece. Only now it has occurred to me that perhaps this puzzling journey has only begun. The whole time we were doing this, it was such an obvious symbolism of our aliyah, but one part of the symbol just didn’t fit. The flags on the puzzle are American flags. So here I’m thinking that as I am putting this puzzle together, it’s symbolic of my life coming together in Israel, only the American flags kept getting in the way. It kind of ruined my neat little analogy. Yet now I understand the following: I need to dismantle the puzzle that I just worked so hard to complete. That’s right – totally take it apart. If I can do that and buy a new puzzle – one with Israeli flags, and find the strength to begin a whole new puzzle, then I will have truly reenacted my aliyah. So, I guess we will be moonlighting this week as well. Because if I can do this, then I can know with confidence that my life here in Israel will also come together, piece by piece.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First ever virtual Rosh Chodesh Club

Way back in the old country, I used to create Rosh Chodesh meetings just about every month for the women of our community. Half of the night was devoted to doing something new and fun and the other half was for “exploring the mystical insights into the month of x” (after 8 years I’ve got that line down pat!) While I don’t miss the planning, arranging and advertizing(read: begging people to come), I do miss the learning and teaching. So here it goes… my first ever virtual Rosh Chodesh Club welcoming in the month of Kislev. We may not have silk painting and there won’t be candle making, but there will be Torah, and hopefully a whole lot of inspiration for your month.

Every month has its own energy and symbol. It also has its own letter, color, body part, tribe, and sense. When you put all of these facets together you have an understanding of the opportunities that this month presents us with. So what do the letter Samech, the color blue, the tribe of Benjamin, the bow and arrow, the stomach, and sleep all have in common? The answer is: TRUST. In short, here is how they all connect. The letter Samech is related to the Hebrew word somech, which means to support. Trust in Gd is knowing that He is always there to support us. In addition, the letter looks like a circle which is symbolic of Gd's all-encompassing love for us and involvement it our world, kind of like a baby in a womb. The color blue also reminds us of Gd’s constant care. Like the blue fringe on tzitzit, the color blue is meant to remind us of the sky, and beyond it, to our Father in Heaven watching over us. The bow and arrow are a bit tougher to explain. When I was in college, I was supposed to read the book “Zen and the Art of Archery.” Of course I didn’t actually read the whole thing, but I learned the basic idea from the bit that I read, which was that archery teaches a person to focus on who they are BEING and not on what they are DOING. The ability of the archer to shoot straight at his target depends upon a most tranquil inner spirit. When we are tranquil, i.e. trusting, we make our best decisions and that’s when we are most likely to hit our targets. In addition, once our arrow is shot – once we take action – we trust that the arrow, or our action, will end up wherever it is meant to go. This is how the few and weak Chashmonaim of the Chanukah story were able to defeat the great and mighty Greek army. They were masters of the bow and arrow – both physically and spiritually. The Tribe of Benjamin who is also known for archery prowess is associated with trust in Hashem. "To Benjamin he said: the beloved of G-d, He shall dwell in trust over him, He hovers over him all the day, and between his shoulders He rests" (Deuteronomy 33:12). Trust is also associated with sleep, because going to sleep is actually a great act of faith. Sleep, which is said to be 1/60th of death, requires trust that we will wake up the next day (something we often take for granted) and that nothing bad will happen to us and our homes while we are unconscious. Alternatively, we can understand that it’s only when a person has trust in the future that he can dream (sleep) about a better tomorrow. What’s left to explain is the stomach, but I think we can all relate to the way our stomach behaves when we are stressed out and anxious, as opposed to trusting and tranquil. IBS anyone? Trust feels soooo much better.

What this all means, is that this month provides us with the spiritual support to attain the state of mind (or at least come one step closer to it) that the Chasmonaim had during the story of Chanukah. This is a mindset and way of being that leads to miracles. It is the mindset of absolute trust and tranquility. In the words of The Alter of Kelm “He who has gained peace of mind has gained everything.” A few days ago I noticed that an overwhelming amount of my posts here have to do with fear, in particular my Arab-phobia, though some days I’m even afraid of my kids (ages 2, 5 and 6). No question I need to work on trust and tranquility and it’s not easy. Life is scary and we are living in very uncertain times. So here is a quote that I feel is particularly helpful: “He who fears one, fears none. He who fears many, fears any.” In other words, when we realize that everything that happens to us is from the ONE (who does everything for our best) who or what can we fear? But if we have other “gods” like money, people, you name it, then life is a very scary place with danger lurking around every single corner. This month is a great time to make the shift from fear to trust and from living out of worry to living out of love. So relax, dream, take aim at your goals, and let the arrows go. Know that wherever they (or you) end up is exactly where they (or you) are meant to be.

Have a meaningful, restful, and tranquil month my friends. And just in case you are still craving to create, click here for some great ideas. Supplies not included.

One more thing -- you can check out more on Kislev at My thoughts were largely based on Rav Ginsburg's writings there, who bases his comments on the Book of Formation/Sefer Yetzirah.

Chodesh Tov!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of Mice and Men

I encountered two kinds of Israeli teens today. One in a Jerusalem Post article, the other in my neighborhood. First, I encountered a rather unpleasant sort of youth. As my kids were playing in the playground up the block from my house I noticed some bodies rustling in the trees and bushes on the hill just above. Being the arab-phobic that I am, I kept a vigilant watch on them to make sure these were not unwelcome guests. Then they started some kind of cat calling, making some strange noises that would not be unusual in my household, but totally inappropriate for those over the age of 6. At least, I figured, they were probably not Arabs. If they were out to get us, I would think that they would have the sense to be a little more inconspicuous. So I kept half and eye and ignored them. But then the profanities began. Like it’s such a thrill to shout an American curse word. Still, my kids didn’t notice, so I kept quiet. Next they started the weird noises again, only this time child #2 got wind of it and decided to chime in. They were going back and forth, and for a moment there it was all ok, but then they started with the stupid 4 letter words again. Thank Gd, my kids don’t know those words yet, but I do. What I wanted to say to them (in Hebrew if I could) was “if you think it’s so cool to say those facacta words to a five-year-old, then buy a one-way ticket to New York and stay there.” Instead, what I yelled up was “If you say that again, I’m coming up there.” Ooh…as if I look the least bit threatening. I doubt they understood any English other than the 4 letter variety, but at least it got them quiet. Thank Gd, later I read about Uriel Ben-Hamo, a chareidi who is also a boxing champion. This kid represents the best of us. He is strong physically and spiritually. Even more importantly, he combines the two. There is no duality. Boxing enhances his Torah learning, and spirituality is a big part of his boxing success. At the age of 18 he has become Isreal’s kick-boxing champion. His secret to success is hard work, prayer, and saying the shema in every corner of the ring before a match. By the way, his prayers are not just that he should win – it’s that neither he nor his opponent should be terribly hurtin the process. And somehow, I don’t think that you would ever find him standing on a hilltop watching children play and feeling the need to flex his muscles by yelling out in foul language. Israel could certainly use more Uriel’s, truly strong inside and out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Desired Destination

My mother received a most unusual gift for her birthday yesterday. A few months ago, she contacted the Registry at the United States Holocaust Museum and applied for information about her father (A”H) and mother who survived the Holocaust and for 6 other relatives who did not make it through. Out of all of those people, it was her father’s information that showed up on her birthday, just days before his 3rd yahrtzeit. We are totally amazed at how many documents were discovered and delivered. It is emotional and at the same time surreal to see the records, documents and personal signatures that testify to the horrors that our beloved family members endured. One particular document stands out from all of the rest. The Allied Expeditionary Force Registration form is faded and pale like all of the others. The form, which was filled out when my grandfather entered the Föhrenwald Displaced Persons Camp, contains nothing other than simple facts and information. Name, birthday, gender, etc… However, the banality of the document betrays the depth of emotion that it actually contains. The upper right hand of the document asks for the applicant’s nationality. My grandfather’s answer? STATELESS. Beneath that one, simple, cold word lays the entire tragic series of events that left millions like my grandfather alone, lost, and homeless in every sense of the word. Further down the document and slightly to the left, the form asks for the applicant’s desired destination. Zaida’s answer: PALESTINE. Israel was and is the only possible answer to the 2,000 year persecution of the Jewish people. Zaida never made it to Israel (other than a few visits), though he is buried here. Instead, fate took him to Columbus, Ohio where he made a good life for his wife and only child. Yet two of his grandchildren and almost all of his grandchildren have made their homes in the Jewish country. Sometimes goals are only realized by later generations. It is through us that my grandfather has finally reached his DESIRED DESTINATION and his legacy lives on.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mitpachot for dummies

There are a whole lot of ways to wear a mitpachat (head scarf). There is the basic bun look where the scarf is wrapped around the hair and tied into a neat bun at the nape of the neck. There is the new (what I call) “alien do” where the bun is quite large, often comprised of more than one scarf, and is formed between the top and bottom of the head. Kind of like a conehead,a pretty conehead. Then there is the soft flowing look where the scarf is tied around the head once and the material is allowed to linger freely and flowingly down the back of the woman. Truly bilblical looking. The list goes on and on and the real professionals know how to incorporate several scarves into one design. There must be dozens of ways to tie a mitpachat, and I have not managed to master any of them. Not a single one. For most of my married life I have been wearing a sheitel (wig), and as weird as it seems to wear someone else’s hair on your head, it actually felt quite normal. At least, it looked normal. When I decided to move to Israel, one of my friends cautioned me that in Israel, if you are young and cool, you wear a scarf. Anyone who wears a sheitel or a hat is obviously old and/or a dork. I’m not old, and I don’t want people to find out that I’m really a closet dork. Not yet anyway. Truth be told, I’ve always felt that covering one’s hair via a scarf was more in sync with the spirit of the law anyway. I made the determined decision to make the switch from old world sheitel to the timeless headscarf. But the reality is that it is a daily battle for me to tie the darn thing and even more challenging to keep it on. One time, I was driving out of the supermarket parking lot and I noticed the woman driving passed me looking at me with a bit of concern. I figured out later, when I got home and realized that my hair was completely uncovered, that the free fall of my scarf must have begun when she saw me. Maybe it’s because I have thick, unruly, curly hair. Or maybe it’s because I am certainly no native to the land of flowing headwraps. Maybe I will learn with time. Perhaps I should ambush a well-tied headscarf-lady next time I’m in a public restroom and make her spill the tricks of the trade. Or maybe I should go back to wearing some Chinese women’s hair on my head. Actually, make that super soft and fine European hair. Maybe blond. I certainly feel like one when I try to tie these frikin things!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rain, rain (don't) go away!

It’s cold and it’s wet – and we are elated! I challenge anyone to find a happier damp nation in the whole wet world! While rain in most countries puts a damper on things, in Israel it is a cause for celebration. I have heard of several “rain parties” being held in the area and our family is celebrating by trying out our fireplace (let’s hope it works) and toasting marshmallows. After 5 years of drought, Israel needs this rain so badly. This past October saw the greatest amount of rainfall since they started keeping track of rainfall in Israel. As of today, the Kinneret has risen over 3 centimeters. My husband and I were discussing this over breakfast and he let a little rain on my parade when he let me know that we still need 200 days just like this one in order to get the Kinneret back to where it should be. Well at least this is a start! The Hebrew word for rain is geshem, yet these days, everyone is referring to the wet drippy stuff as gishmay bracha, rain of blessing. We are literally experiencing ‘blessings on our head.’ Geshem is related to the word gashmiut – materialism. Geshem is the symbol for all material gifts from Hashem. So when it rains, it means so much more than greener grass and longer showers. It is a sign that Hashem has heard our prayers and is turning to us with favor. This past week we read about the separation between Lot and Avraham. The land where they were (which we visited this past Sukkot) could not sustain them both. Lot opted for the green pastures of Sodom. Avraham remained in the dry land of then Cana’an, now Israel. It’s easier to live in a well watered area where sustenance is all but guaranteed and life seems easy. However, the Jewish people have chosen the ‘road less travelled’ which requires constant prayer and acknowledgement of Gd Almighty. It’s a more difficult path, but as I once heard from musician Chaim Dovid Saracik, “who says easier is better? “ In our case, harder means more prayer, a closer relationship with Gd, and a greater appreciation for all of life’s blessings. So while the neighbor’s grass always seems greener (well, in my case it really is greener) if the dry, rocky terrain was good enough for Avraham, its good enough for me. Happy Showers!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Start-up Nation

A new book has come out lauding the economy of Israel. Yes, Israel. Definitely not America. The book Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is by Dan Senor (a former Bush-administration official in Iraq) and Saul Singer. In an interview with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez Senor calls our attention to some truly amazing stats.

DAN SENOR: Israel represents the highest concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship in the world today: the most start-ups per capita; the highest percentage of GDP invested in civilian R&D; more companies on NASDAQ than all of Europe, Korea, Japan, India, and China combined; and the biggest destination for global venture capital per capita. Israel raises 2.5 times as much global venture capital as the U.S., 30 times more than Europe, 80 times more than India, and 350 times more than China — and these numbers are from 2008, when the world was in the midst of an economic meltdown. Israel all but escaped the crisis that ripped through economies everywhere else.

So what’s the secret to Israels’s success? The book goes on to explain that the mandatory military service is to thank. Ok, Maybe.

But this weeks Torah portion has a different suggestion:
Hashem said to Avraham, “Go for yourself frokm your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation: I will bless you, and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. (Genisis:12: 1-2)

This portion is very special to new olim. It celebrates the continuation of Avraham’s journey through our families. May we and all of Israel continue to be blessed with the blessings of Avraham!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stand up for Israel

The greatest statement made in the UN since the declaration of the State of Israel!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fear Factor

Today was a day of ironic fears that all coincided within a few minutes of time. A friend from the US was visiting and as we were driving through the breathtaking Gush Hills to Gavna (an amazing and beautiful restaurant), I was relaying to my friend the whole scary episode on the way back from the Eitam. It was quickly apparent that I was way more afraid of Arabs than she was. In fact she gave me a whole new perspective. I have to think of this land as MY HOME. Period. The Arabs are visiting in it. I need to do away with the Galut mentality that espouses apologetics and cowering before them. I need not live like a trespasser afraid of getting caught by the owner. I AM the owner. My intention here is not to be political. You need not agree with her point to appreciate how ironic it is that I, the “settler,” albeit for only two months, am far more fearful of Arabs and far less comfortable in disputed areas then my American friend. Oh – and she not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. She has done and continues to do amazing things within and for Israel that I haven’t the stomach for yet. She was coaching me on how to perceive the settlements, the Arabs, and the State of Israel and not the other way around. In the middle of this conversation my new cleaner called to say that she was petrified because my dog had fallen asleep on the stairs and she was afraid to go down them in order to finish cleaning the house. Now, anyone that knows Hero, my labradoodle, knows that he is more like a child in a dress up suit then a formidable Canine. He is large, but totally (even a little bit too much) harmless. In fact, we were once robbed in Australia. Hero (a bit of a misnomer so far) did absolutely nothing. It wasn’t long before my friend took the phone and counseled this poor, young girl, telling her that she has known our dog for years and that he really is a tinok – a baby. A rather large one. This girl who was cleaning for me has grown up in the Shdachim (settlements). Scary Arabs have been a reality for her for probably most, if not all, of her life. How ironic; she could probably look any Arab in the eye without batting an eyelash – but my overgrown puppy – now that was reason for panic! A bit later we arrived at our destination. Over a delicious lunch of stuffed butternut squash with Quinoa and tofu we were discussing our lives and I found that I was prodding my fearless friend to abandon her trepidation about an issue that doesn’t even register on my fear radar. So I guess we all have our monsters to face in life. Personally, I still maintain that my monster is the scariest. Yet they are all here to serve a purpose: to strengthen our Emunah, to challenge us to grow, to learn new things, and to let the fear go.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says:
The whole world is a very narrow bridge.
And the main thing is not to fear at all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ark Ages

Last night I went to my first women’s event here in Efrat. It was a gathering sponsored by the Women’s Beit Midrash in Efrat and was in honor of Rosh Chodesh and (yet another welcome for) the new olim. It was a beautiful event with words of Torah (in English!), singing, and mingling (all Anglos!). The speaker was teaching about the personality of Noach, from this week’s parsha, and contrasting him with the personality of Avraham. While Avraham beseeched Gd on behalf of the condemned in Sodom, we see no concern on the part of Noach for the entire world that was soon to be destroyed. Avraham is commanded to leave his home and go out into the great wide world, while Noach is commanded to stay inside an ark, separate from the rest of the world. As the teacher explained, one lesson that we can learn from these two distinct personalities is that there are times in life to be a Noach, and there are times to be an Avraham. Sometimes we need to be focused inward, taking care primarily of ourselves and our families, and there are times to be focused outward, taking on the needs of those around us and contributing to society at large. Sometimes we get too caught up in solving the world’s problems that we wake up one day to find that we are totally drained and hardly know our loved ones. This is what people call burnout, and I’ve had firsthand experience on more than one occasion. Other times, we are so caught up in our own lives that somewhere between our grande latte and American idol we fail to see the suffering of others. As one Mussar sage once remarked “your physical needs are my spiritual obligation.” It is quite a challenge in life to know when to move out of Noach’s ark and into Avraham’s open tent, and vice versa. This balancing act is compounded when we become parents as we find ourselves navigating the elusive path between giving our all to our children and making something of ourselves out in the world. As I was thinking over these thoughts during the shiur, it occurred to me that I was going through one such Noach-Avraham dilemma at that very moment. I realized that for the first time in nearly a decade, I was on the other end of the teacher-student spectrum. After creating many, many Rosh Chodesh meetings in Miami and in Australia, I was simply attending one. I was really looking forward to this. It has been so nice being the recipient of numerous programs and classes aimed at my personal well-being and spiritual growth. Yet as I listened to the speaker I felt a strong pang of longing for the “rebbetzinhood” that I left behind. I made a conscious decision when I came to Israel to be in the “Noach” phase of life. This year is for settling myself and my family. It’s for learning and growing. Yet, even as I create a cozy ark, and relish in the simplicity of my days, I still long to spread my wings and fly out into that great big world…

Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be for me.
And if I am only for myself, what am I.
And if not now, when. (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Explorations in Emunah

It’s been 3 days since our little fender bender (which, by the way, may have totaled our car) and I’m still thinking about it. Actually, to be more precise – it’s not the crash that has me thinking, it’s the fear that I experienced in the moments before it when we caught our first glance of the Arab posse walking towards us. We were panicked and scared and truly feared for our lives. The debate that I am having over and over again in my mind is about how I could have, or should have, reacted in those moments. No question, I should have kept calm – truthfully, my panicked state of mind began the moment my foot hit the gas pedal when leaving the Eitam. I could have kept my cool from the get-go and had a much more enjoyable ride – at least until the point of collision. But should I have trusted that nothing bad would befall us? Is fearing the worst a lack of emunah, faith? Others in the car with me have since suggested that the incident was meant to literally jolt us from our seats in order to wake us up to the amazing individual providence that Hashem provides us with ‘b’chol eit u’bchol sha’ah’ – at every moment, in every hour. Indeed it was a nes, a miracle, that no one was hurt. I wish the lesson were as simple for me. Here is my dilemma: I have Emunah that everything that Hashem does is for the best – for our greatest good. No questions asked. However, what if the greatest good doesn’t always feel like the greatest good? The best thing for us can, and sometimes does, feel downright petrifying and painful. I see the faces and names of terrorist victims and holocaust victims – holy and pure – and yet their greatest good was an end that I dare not utter. I don’t need to understand Hashem’s ways and I trust that in the next world all makes sense and these holy ones are at peace. Yet their stories create quite a conundrum for me. I can trust that Hashem will help me. I can know that all is for the best. Yet, how does that help me keep calm and feeling safe when faced with a true danger that, for all I know, can be for my greatest good? In other words, how could I have known that being attacked by a group of Arabs was not in our best interest on that day? “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I do not fear because you are with me…(Psalms) Does the author of Tehillim not fear because he has faith that he will be saved from death, or because he is not afraid to die? Are we too expected to laugh in the face of death? That’s a tall order. And there is no better place to practice then in this beautiful rose of a land that is surrounded by plenty of thorns.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sukkot Part II

We had a beautiful experience on Eitam (see part one) and then we began our journey back to Efrat. That turned out to be quite an experience all in itself. I knew things were not ideal when we were among the last few cars to manage to turn around on the rocky terrain and head back. There was a big gap between us and the rest of the motorcade with yours truly leading the way. I was not happy about this. This was not the sort of area that I would like to get lost in, but at least those handsome soldiers were there to protect us! My mother was busy reiterating to me that she would never visit me if I moved out to the Eitam before they paved the roads, when in the distance we saw a group of people walking towards us. Being in the middle of an Arab village, these were Arabs that were walking towards us, kafiyahs and all. They were taking up the entire width of the road and coming our way. They showed no signs of slowing down or moving out of our way. Of course just about EVERYONE else was on the other side of this blockade and so I did what any other Jersey girl would do – I panicked. I also slowed the car down and hoped that the security car would get to the group of people before I did. Unfortunately, the guy behind me did not slow down and drove right into the rear end of my car. Now I was no longer driving through a scary neighborhood, I was stuck in one! As those in the last remaining cars got out to assess the damage, we were warning them (like lunatics) to get back into their cars as the group was coming closer. Turns out, the scary Arabs were school kids coming home from school. Who knew? Probably harmless, but how could we know? Until now, our only interaction with Arabs has been with the guy that came to change the battery in my parents’ rental car. After thanking him for coming out during the holiday of sukkot and wishing him ‘chag sameach,’ we realized he was in fact an Arab. Although my mother had thought his name was Smiley, it was in fact Yismaely. Smiley/Yismaely wasn’t the nicest guy around, but he didn’t seem dangerous either. The Arabs walking towards us today appeared to us as a group of mobsters out to get us. Come to think of it, some of the Jewish teens I have taught looked that way too. So in the end, we did get back to Efrat in one piece though a little shaken. We got a nice ambulance ride to Haddasah hospital in order to check everyone out and thank Gd, we are all doing fine. Miracle of miracles, my parents still made their flight tonight (thanks to some protectsia from a neighbor’s son who happens to be doctor at Haddasah). Tomorrow we will take the car in to be fixed and on Tuesday we will file a report at the police station. It’s a bit of hassle, but with the High Holidays not far behind us, what else is there to say other than “kapara!” May this be the worst thing that happens to us and may it replace anything else that was coming our way! And may we be able to pave the road to the Eitam – both literally and figuratively!

Sukkot Part I

We have just completed an action packed and wonderful Sukkot that quite literally went out with a bang – but more about that in part II. Celebrating one day of Yom Tov instead of two took no time getting used to at all. We made the most of our full week of Chol Hamoed. We spent a day on a honey farm, danced at music festivals, canoed down the Jordan, rode camels, hiked, swam, flew kites at a kite festival, and explored caves. But probably the most important tiyul – trip – that we took was the one we did today. A few weeks ago when we were on a tour of Efrat, I asked about seeing the hill called "the Eitam." While much of Efrat is settled and beautiful, there are still several parts that are not. Tamar and Dagan both have families living in caravans on them, but there is nothing yet on the Eitam. In the original plans for Efrat, the Eitam is expected to house more than half of the entire population of Efrat. Problem is that it is on the wrong side of the proposed security fence. Ironically, as the chief Rabbi of Efrat -- Rabbi Riskin explained, they settled the other areas of Efrat first as they were smaller and further from Jerusalem. They felt that those were the hardest parts to settle and so they went there first. They never dreamed that they would be told that they could not build on Eitam. Now it is a dream that we will be able to lay even one stone. Even as I write there are people in Efrat planning to do just that in spite of it all, but with great effort. When I asked to see the hill, I knew none of this. I had heard that the Eitam was beautiful – the Switzerland of the Gush – and so I wanted to see it and dream that I could have a space to build a home one day. My inquiry about Eitam turned into a full fledged program and ceremony that took place today. The program was meant to include live music, food, and festivities, yet we quickly realized that it was much more than that. While we were waiting with the other cars in the motorcade to begin the trip to the Eitam, the lady in front of us gave us a tip. She said to go slowly as there would be some “potholes” along the way. Ok, I lived in New York, I can do potholes. What she did not say was that by potholes she meant boulders and craters on unpaved dirt roads that went through some rather unfriendly neighborhoods. And just in case our 20+ car motorcade was not getting enough attention from the Arabs watching us go by, my breaks were loud enough to alert the whole village. There were plenty of soldiers along the way, and my mother who was visiting, reassured me that they were so handsome that we would definitely be fine. As if they could stupefy any dangerous Arab with a single grin or flexing of their muscles. There was one soldier though that looked very scary and I was happy that he was on our team. I wouldn’t want to mess with that dude. The car ride there was a little nerve wrecking to say the least, but the arrival onto the Eitam was glorious. A huge Israeli flag was flowing down the side of the mountain. The children and some adults were carrying Israeli flags and Orange "Am Yisrael L'Eretz Yisrael" flags. There were photographers and soldiers and music. At the top, the views were spectacular. After we had some falafel we heard from the mayor of Efrat, the chief Rabbi and some others. They explained the history of Eitam, how and why it is beyond a doubt Jewish property, and the frustration of not being able to build on it yet. We hoped and prayed that we would be able to build there in the near future. I had not realized it when I signed up for this, but we were actually making a political statement and making history by being a part of this excursion. We were going there to declare that this land is rightfully ours and we are not going to give it up. We sang and we danced with soldiers standing guard and reporters writing notes. All this because I wanted to see a nice place that I could build a home for my family.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today was the closest we have had to a ‘normal’ day since we got here. After getting the kids off to school, I spent the morning cleaning and doing laundry. My husband went off to buy material for the succah. The boys managed to come home on their own – no one ended up in another town today. We did homework and colored. I made dinner. It was all seeming pretty ordinary until I noticed the view as I was driving our daughter home from Gan (nursery). The 5 minute drive from the Rimon neighborhood where she goes to school, down to the Gefen neighborhood where we live, was enough to take my breath away. As I noticed the panoramic view of the Judean hills I realized that ordinary living would forevermore be extraordinary. Later, the kids rode their bikes, we ate dinner and gave the kids baths. It was a good day. I’m starting to feel a little less like a new immigrant and a little more like a new being.

Later on I read this quote in the Muqata blog. It was very apropos.

From R' Ari Enkin at the Hirhurim blog:
"The Holiness of an ordinary weekday in Eretz Yisrael is like that of a Shabbat in Chutz La'aretz. The Holiness of Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael is like that of Yom Kippur in Chutz La'aretz. The Holiness of Yom Kippur in Eretz Yisrael cannot be found anywhere else in the world" -Zohar

I first saw this teaching shortly after making Aliya five years ago and it has been with me daily ever since. Frankly, for me it is one of the most compelling pieces of introspection and mussar – to know that I am in the palace of the King, where the Holiness is incomparably powerful - and even tangible. How those of us who live in Eretz Yisrael must properly prepare for, utilize, and appreciate Yom Kippur.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur -- a day of reflection

Yom Kippur in Efrat was ... different - but not in a bad way. Just different from what I'm used to. One major difference was that I was not suffering through a fast day during a sweltering Miami Autumn. Plus in Israel - they change the clock before Yom Kippur in order to shorten the fast. How cool is that? The other major difference is what I did - or rather did not do - on the holiest day of the year. For the last 6 years I have managed to work out child care for the High Holy Days between youth groups in Shul and non-Jewish babysitters. In Israel, most shuls do not have groups and it is pretty difficult to find a non-Jewish babysitter that you would trust with your kids. So I knew in advance that much of my Yom Kippur service to Hashem would be servicing my own kids. Still, I could not fathom not going to Shul for Kol Nidre and so like many other moms, I went to Shul too. Then I spent the remaining two hours wondering why I had. I had made peace with the idea that I did not have a requirement to daven like my husband did. I had made peace with the idea that it was more important for me to take care of my children then to daven. I had come to understand that my husband's davening would count for me, which was a bit counterintuitive after being raised in a society that espouses equality between sexes. Yet, for some reason I had to go. I did catch a few notes of Kol Nidre before joining the chorus of children in the nearby playground. It made me nostalgic and I felt at home. Was that a reason to go? I watched the other mothers, many of whom were in the makeshift women's section in the lobby next to the door to the men's section. It was filled with women who could not make it into the real Women's section with their children but wanted to be part of the service none-the-less. The women were struggling to daven while holding babies and feeding children. Don't get me wrong - this was not a pitiful scene - it was quite beautiful and everyone was joyful. Only I could not figure out what to do with myself. Should I struggle too? If I made my daughter sit on my lap while I tried to get a few words out to Gd, would it even matter? If I do not have a requirement to pray and my husband's prayers count for me, then why should I bother? If my prayers do make a difference and I can impart a better year for all of us, than what am I doing outside the Shul in the first place? So there I stood, or rather sat , in a no-man's land - listening to the prayers, but with my daughter in my hands instead of a siddur. I loved the experience no less. When I was putting my kids to bed that night I thought about my tzadeket friend who told me with great joy how she had got up at 6 am on Rosh Hashana so that she could daven quietly and then be ready to start with the kids at 8. I thought about going downstairs to do some praying or meditating of my own once the kids got to sleep. I thought about it and I thought about her. And then I got up and went to sleep! Luckily, my husband parts easier with sleep than I do and he woke up at the early hour of 4:50 am. in order to go to the early Minyan so that I could catch the last hours of Musaf in the regular Minyan. I did enjoy Musaf immensely and I had to admit that 2 hours in Shul was easier than 6! I briefly cringed at the thought of not going to Neila, but had a most meaningful Neila service at home with the kids. I got to hear what THEY wanted to ask Hashem as Yom Kippur was coming to an end! So all in all it was a sweet way to start the year, though I'm still not sure what it is exactly that I did most of the day!
  I hope your Yom Kippur was meaningful, whatever way you spent it! May all of our prayers be answered for the best!

Friday, September 25, 2009

All roads lead home

Rosh Hashana is not just the beginning of the year, it is also, quite literally, the Rosh -- the head of the year. What this means is that we have a unique opportunity to create a vision of what we want to come that year and to make that vision the “head” – the leader of our year. In fact, the reason that we eat symbolic foods at our Rosh Hashana meal is not because they have magical powers (husband’s joke – if we eat lettuce, raisins and celery - Hashem will lettuce have a rais in salary). We eat these foods because they help to form our vision and to keep our picture focused on sweet stuff. This year we had plenty of visual aids to create a vision of what we want to follow. Rosh Hashana in Efrat was nothing less than picturesque and blissful. Of course it helped that we were invited out for all 4 meals and for the first time in 8 years, I cooked absolutely nothing! As the chag began I was watching my children play in the park next to the shul. The sun was setting behind the Judean hills. All around us were children playing happily in an area built of Jerusalem stone and Jewish dreams. The weather was cool and breezy. It was one of those Aliyah moments in which I felt that I really did have an “elevation.” I really did fulfill a dream that began long ago – way before me, my parents, and their parents. There is a saying by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi that says “Everywhere I go I am going to Eretz Yisrael.” When you make this idea the head of your year, your Aliyah begins in that moment. Long ago, I had a dream that I would live in Israel one day. Looking back in my life I see that I wherever I went, I was headed that way. I had to move to Perth, Australia and to Miami in order to move to Israel. From living in Perth I learned that it is possible to live far from family, and yet still be close. From the South Africans in Perth I learned that leaving certain luxuries behind does not have to mean a decrease in the standard of living. It can also lead us to a higher standard. As one oleh said “I have never had so little and yet felt so rich.” From the South Americans in Miami I learned that it is possible to be part of another country without losing one’s identity. Being an immigrant does not have to mean a life of trying to fit in or trying to be something you are not. I’m proud to be and Israeli but also proud to have been born in the USA with all of the good things that it has to offer. From living in Perth and in Miami I learned to appreciate 4 seasons that coincide with the Jewish yearly cycle. For the first time in a long time, Sukkot will actually feel like the time of year it is supposed to represent. No fan or air conditioner needed! Yet from Miami, I learned that it’s ok to be hot and sweaty, or as one of the locals put it “moist.” At least here we get a break from that. From living in Perth, I learned to appreciate a multitude of kosher food and restaurants. There was on kosher restaurant in Perth open two hours a week. After we left he closed and apparently told someone that he closed because we left! From living in Miami I learned to love Israelis and to see the softness beneath the hard veneer. In short, after being around the world and back, I learned that there is no place like home. Though many of us take the roundabout route, for Jews, all roads lead home.
Happy New Year 5770!

If I had Hebrew font, I could show you that the year is written Taf Shin Ayin. That could be an acronym for Teheh Shnat Aliyah. This should be a year of Aliyah. Wishing you a year of elevation physically and spiritually!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Learning Curve (how the kids are doing in school)

One of the most common questions that we are getting these days is about how the kids are doing in school. After all it is quite challenging to sit in class all day when the teacher is speaking your language, how much more so when you understand almost nothing. As one person put it: remember how you feel when you are listening to a speaker and everything he or she says is either terribly boring or going way over your head? Now imagine doing that 6 days a week for the whole day! Luckily, our kids have been pretty good about it so far. When they walk in we ask them how their day went and the response ranges from “good” to “the best!” Then we ask if they understood anything. To this they invariably respond with a huge grin and a very enthusiastic “not a word!” I call this success. However, we did have our share of blunders along the way. On the first day of school I went to put rosemary oil on their heads since this is said to repel lice – a nightmare for an American, but no big deal to Israelis who often let the lice take up room and board in their kids’ heads. In my haste, I forgot to mix the oil essence with water. In fact, I should have mixed a few drops of oil with a ½ cup of water. Instead I put more than a few drops directly on head. I figured out it wasn’t right when Shira started to cry and hold her nose and then when Akiva, who was up the stairs said, “What stinks?” Good thing she is only 2, or I may have cost her the chance to have any friends in her new class! The other blunder was not our fault. We had planned to drive our kids to and from school, thinking they were not ready for the bus system here, but they would have none of that. So on the second day of school, Ezra boarded the bus from school to our street, only they forget to let him off. After 30 minutes and a bunch of frantic phone calls he was located, still on the bus and happy as can be. The next day Akiva got on the wrong bus and ended up leaving Efrat and getting a tour of the neighboring town, Elazar. It took a while for him to figure out that he was no longer in Efrat and a very frustrated bus driver who could not speak a word of English eventually got him back to us. Since then it’s been smooth. I still marvel at their independence. At the ages of 4 and 6, they can come home from school all on their own and can even walk up the block to their taekwondo class all by themselves! They love the independence and it builds their esteem. Next stop: the grocery store. That will be cool.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Life without a Lift

We just got called today to find out that our long awaited “lift” (container) is coming on Sunday. While I am elated at the prospect of having our own fridge, oven, washer and dryer there is something I will surely miss about living without stuff. When the Torah wants to describe Avraham as wealthy, the word used is “Kaved.” Kaved literally means heavy and every time I move overseas (this is the third time) I am reminded why. Life is so much lighter when there is less. All we have right now is 3 air mattresses, 2 thin foam mattresses, 2 pots, 2 tables, and 10 chairs. We have some linen, clothing, some cleaning products and food. That is it. The house is bright and airy. There is so little to make a mess with and little to clean up. Life is simple and we enjoy simple things. When we first got our borrowed tables in the house, my 2-year-old was so excited saying “table, table!” You would have thought she had just gotten an amazing birthday present. 2 months ago, she had literally thousands of dollars worth of toys at her disposable, and not one was nearly as intriguing. So while we are excited and eager to be in our own beds and to eat at our own table, I hope that we can take the lesson of simplicity with us and remember to buy less, share more, and pass on those things that no longer serve us.
Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat Menucha.
Shabbat of Peace and of Rest!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Sunshine State

We have internet! And all that comes with it – our US Miami number is now working, I can blog again, skype, you name it. After a whole week and a few days without, it’s like rediscovering the wonders of the web all over again. This past week and a half have been very busy. I started to write out everything that we have done, thinking that it might be helpful to anyone who is considering aliyah, but quickly found that my brain cells have been fried. I can hardly remember anything! It's a good thing that Nefesh B'Nefesh gives everyone a poster (that looks kind of like a rather fun boardgame) with all of the necesary steps listed on it so that we can have some sense of what has been done and what needs to be done yet. It’s kind of like having a baby. You are so busy and tired that you can’t remember a thing! So I’ll skip to my thought of the week. During this process, we have been given a lot of advice and support by friends, strangers, and professionals. However there is one line that is said over and over again, starting with one of the government officials at the welcoming ceremony. “Eretz Yisrael niknet b’yisurim,” (a quote from the gemara) “Israel is acquired with yisurim – tzoris -- extreme hardship.” In other words you are going to suffer this year. This is often tempered with “kol hatchalot kashot,” “All beginnings are difficult” – meaning it’s hard in the beginning, but it gets easier. This make me think that we are going through some kind of hazing to become part of a fraternity and while I know that a lot of people have horror stories from their initiating year, I find it very depressing to be on the lookout for ours. One woman even showed us a graph that showed how all olim go up and then they all dip down, and sometimes very down before going up again. I know that the first year is hard. I know that there are challenges. But so far we are having a really good time and I find the yisurim thought to be a bit of rain on my parade. My other problem with the thought is the fact that there is a lot of truth to it. Many olim do go through experiences ranging from slightly unpleasant to total nightmare. Why? Why would Hashem do that? Here we are, new immigrants that gave up the good life in America in order to live in the Holy Land. Can’t Gd give us a break? The zechuyot are great and everything, but could we skip the yisurim bit? It’s kind of like when Avraham comes to Eretz Yisrael, only to encounter a famine. So here is my thought that I acquired while speaking to a fellow new oleh who is having plenty of challenges of his own: ITS ALL GOOD. As my friend from Miami (now in Hong Kong) and fellow Life Coach Ana Scherer taught me to say – we ask for what we want and then acknowledge that we will get what we asked for or something better. In Eretz Yisrael (and everywhere else), there is a lot of ‘something better.’ We think we want A, but B may be better. Judaism talks a lot about light. Light is goodness, wisdom, even Gd Himself is referred to as the Endless Light. We are taught that when Hashem first created the world some of the light had to be hidden – it was too bright for human beings to stand. In the future, the light will return and we will be able to enjoy it. Light is a good thing, but only if we have the eyes to see it. When a person comes to Eretz Yisrael, there is a lot more light and sometimes it takes time for the eyes to adjust. How we experience our aliyah depends on how we see things and what we choose to focus on. As my husband says “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. “ So much of life is experienced as a reflection of who we are rather then as what the true reality may be. Sometimes we experience the light as too bright even though it is always there to heal, to guide, to lead…to something better. However the potential is always there to experience the light as pure, wonderful sunshine. I’d like to propose a radical idea: it is possible to experience aliyah without feeling yisurim! Lest you think I am heretical and contradict the Gemara, allow me to suggest that we have had our share of tzoris and continue to bear our share of yisurim for the sake of obtaining and maintaining Eretz Yisrael. We need not bear anymore! I prefer to focus on a different ancient text – a blessing form the daily Amidah which states “Teka b’shofar l’cheirutainu v’sa nes lekabetz geluyotainu vkabzeitnu beyachad me’arba kanfot ha’aretz.” “blast the trumpets of our freedom, raise the banner high of our ingathering, and bring us together from all four corners of the Earth.” We are having a blast. Come join us. This is the true Sunshine State.