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.