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!