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?