Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quiet Eternal Flame

Quiet Eternal Flame

             Yesterday was the Sabbath, or as we call it here in Israel, Shabbat.  According to Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a day declared by G-d to be a day of rest. A day that all must rest from labor or work .  Just as G-d rested “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He reseted from all the work of creating that he had done”(Genesis 2/3),  we currently continue to hold this tradition, and rest as well.  Orthodox Jews do not do any form of manual labor, drive cars, or cook on this special day.  It is truly a day to go to synagogue, enjoy friends and family, and rest. 
               It is hard to imagine what it is like living in a war.  As most readers know, we have been barraged by rocket fire from the Hamas terrorists throughout this ordeal.  We have weathered countless Code Red sirens, as the rockets come very close to our homes, our schools, and our offices. 
               Cease fires are promised, and yet, Hamas continues its barrage of rocket fire.  The IDF holds itself to its morals, and holds to the cease fire as long as it can. But, time is of the essence.  And, as it says in Pirkei Avoth….”If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”(Pirkei Avoth/Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:14), than who am I? “Therefore, eventually it is determined that the IDF must respond and return fire.
               Throughout this conflict, our lives move on.  We go to work, we send our children to day camp, we go to the supermarket….we just live.  Fear would paralyze us.  And, we know that life must go on.  Yet, on Shabbat (the Sabbath), we rest.  We sit, we talk, we pray, we entertain, we laugh, we love, we give and we live. 
               In my small town, it was a quiet Shabbat.  I know that other towns in the South were not as fortunate as us. Yet, I am sure that they also enjoyed the ability to try to enjoy the moments of tranquility between the chaos. 
               I know this past Shabbat I let myself laugh a little louder, eat a bit more, drink a glass of wine, and revel in the fact that we are a Jewish people of tradition that will not give up.  We may enjoy the quiet of the Shabbat day, but we are never going to be silent in this war. We will continue the fight, and defend our right as a nation to defend itself to the end.  The strata of the mountains of this country contains the very fabric of war battles that made us strong. From the times of the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Byzantenes, the Ottomon Empire, and the British Empire, we have survived.  Our Jewish nation is indestructible.  It is time Hamas realizes it will be another layer of the strata of our Jewish history.   For, we continue to live and love our quiet existence for eternity.
               At the end of the Shabbat day, we have a ceremony called Havdala. It is one in which we separate that which is holy, the Sabbath, from that which is mundane, the regular day of the week.  The prayer includes wine, for sanctity. It also includes spices, to wake the soul up from its sanctity, and remind it to return to the mundane.  And, lastly, it includes a three-wicked candle.  The candle represents the holy Jewish eternal flame.  It reminds us that despite our return to the regular work week, we must remember that our small holy Jewish spirit will not die out, it will linger until the following Sabbath.

               Havdalah last night was no exception.   As the prayers were recited, I realized that I am going to take this flame, and continue to aim towards a greater good this week. I will not let the terrorists break my soul, or extinguish my fire. I will continue to burn, and fight to the bitter end. I will make sure to support my country, its soldiers, and my family through this war.  I will not let the flame die.  For, the Jewish people are like an eternal flame which will never be extinguished.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Huge Hug

Throughout this war, I feel as if I have been walking through a thick cloud of fog.  My "slow uptake "responses to the world around me are due to the fact that my mind is always barraged by the mundane every day activities, and the reality that a war is going on at the same exact time.
The fog lifts for brief moments...time playing with my children, visits with friends, and meeting someone I have not seen randomly in the supermarket.  Yet it is quick to return its cold, gray head.
The only respite I have found to lift me from the fog is giving hugs.  I know, it is such a simple task, but I have found myself needing to find comfort in the warm embrace of my family, my friends, and my own self.
It reminds me of the book Hug, by Jez Alborough.  It is a book about a monkey named Bobo who tries to explain to his friends that he just needs a hug, but no one understands him.  He tries to explain it to all of the other animals in the jungle, but they do not know what he wants. Bobo becomes very frustrated until his request is finally recognized by all and he is given the world's biggest hug.  Bobo is happy as can be, and he is ensconced in the love of his jungle friends, and his family.
Scientists have proven that hugs lower one's blood pressure, lower stress hormones (cortisol), and increase social connections between individuals.  It has also been proven that couples who hug more often have a higher percentage of staying together as a couple.
Hugs are such a simple form of contact.  The warm hug of a friend or loved one in a time of happiness or sadness can truly uplift one's spirits and calm one's soul.  I venture to say that hugs, due to the contact of one body to another, connect a soul more readily than the typical "air kiss" gesture friends usually greet each other with in today's modern world.  A hug connects to another, heart touching heart, and soul to soul.
My husband's rabbi, Rav Mordechai Twerski, originally from Denver, Colorado, was nick-named the Hugachover Rebbe.  Why? He always greeted his congregants with huge bear hugs.  Often the hugs would last more than a minute.  When the hug was released, both said huggers would be grinning from ear to ear.  The sheer power of embrace was a powerful gift towards a happy soul.
So, I propose to all during this Operation Protective Edge to simply give someone a hug.  A family member, a friend, a neighbor...all could use a hug.  And, do not skimp on that hug.  Hold him/her tight for more than a few seconds.  Do not be embarrassed to let it 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Silent Roar

     There have been several Hamas attacks over the Southern and Central areas over Israel since yesterday, but we in the Modiin area have not heard sirens as of yet. The silence is deafening.  Every truck, every motorcycle, every wind gust scares us into taking a double-take and making sure we are not hearing a siren.
     It is quite frustrating, for I am currently suffering from a slightly progressive hearing loss issue.  It appears that the malady is genetic, and that it progressively gets worse over time.  Despite the hearing loss, I am acutely aware of sirens and loud noises. Why? Is it the "fight-flight"reflex we are born with since the time of Neanderthal men?  Is it the fact that fear can heighten one's senses, even if those senses are dulled?  I wonder if others with such issues are experiencing this as well.
     Last night, my husband was walking on his way to his car parked in the work parking lot.  Sure enough, there was a siren. He ran to the nearest shelter, and was fine.  But, I wonder, if it were me, would I hear it? Would my ears defy me? Would they take the social cues of people running, the fear of the crowd, the silent march to Safe Rooms?
     People told me to download the Code Red app.  I did so, but the constant pinging of the Cod Reds was too much for my anxiety level.  There is a Code Red somewhere in this country every thirty minutes.  I could not face the reality of its magnitude.  I silenced the App, and told myself to hope for the best.
    So, as I await the next Code Red alarm, I pray that my ears do not defy me.  I pray that the silence continues here, and throughout Israel.  But, if the alarm returns, I will be ready.  My malady will not prevent me from hearing G-d's warning signs to take cover.  Silence is aquiesence to tragedy and fate.  Yet, a roar is one's ability to scare the opponent and defend oneself.  Not only will I hear the roar, I will continue to do so myself.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ripe Sabra Fruit

    The barrage of Hamas rocket fire has increased daily in Israel.  Many friends, relatives, and colleagues were sent to Safe Rooms to wait out the rocket fire.  Tales of anxiety and angst were heard on the news, on social networking sites, and via phone calls to loved ones.
     But, nothing really prepared me for the sirens at roughly 9:30 and 9:55 PM last night.  Sure, we talked about the possibility, described the protocol to the kids, but in all reality it was still so foreign to all of us. That all changed the minute we heard the siren.  Carmi, Gila, Levi and Tiki were home. Pacey was out at the local Kids clubhouse for our local youth group on our yishuv (which we knew was equipped with a Safe Room). Gila said she was on her way home from Bnai Akiva, and heard a loud "boom,"and she looked at her friend and said "We better run home!" Two minutes later, we heard the siren.  Levi and Tiki were taking their baths, and we scooped them up in their towels down to the Safe Room.
     We share a safe room with our neighbors.  Let's just say that the Safe Room is a storage room for them of tools, a freezer, and random odds and ends.  It was not ready for us... but then again, why should it have been? We have not been sent to these rooms since 1991 in Hashmonaim. Our neighbors were in a sense in denial, as we were.
     As we stood in that room, amidst the tools, the exposed nails in the walls, the neighbors, and their dog, it was clear that everything had changed.  Life as we know it will never be the same.  Our children will now have memories of war, of evil, of bombs, and of fear.  It just does not seem fair.  Why the hatred? Why inflict this pain for a people that does not really exist at all.  For a cause that was created in the 1960's by Arafat in order to relinquish Jewish control over this land.
     As we cuddled our children to sleep last night, their were so many unknowns.  So many questions my children asked, such as:  "Why now? Why do they hate us, Mommy? Will G-d always be with us?" And, we, as parents placated their fears by saying it will be OK, and that we are here, and G-d is always watching us, and helping us with His miracles.
     None of us got much sleep last night, and we were awoken to yet another siren at 6:00 A.M.  We waited to hear the siren end, the aftershock boom, and waited a bit more until we returned to our homes.  Everyone went back to sleep, but Levi (my 9 year old), and I made pancakes together.  Why not? We were up early, with time to spare. So, I made a large cup of coffee, and Levi mixed the batter.  He had a breakfast for war champions...pancakes, powdered sugar, and lots of love!
     Within an hour, everyone else woke up, and we continued with our normal day. The kids went to camp.  Carmi started packing for her trip to the US, and Josh and Pacey went to the local synagogue to pray.  Sure, we walked with trepidation...thinking if another alarm may happen.  But, deep down, we knew that we have the drill down-pat now.  Nothing can scare us.
     The sunny day has turned a bit windy and cloudy today, and we continuously jump, thinking the sirens are wailing.  In the background, we can hear the fighter jets flying towards their destinations. And, we are praying for their godspeed, and goodwill.  We will not live in fear. We will be strong, and refuse for the Hamas rockets to agitate our souls.  We are Israelis, and our skin is thick like that of a sabra fruit, which is prickly on the outside, and sweet and sticky on the inside.  I just thought my innocent children had a bit more time until they had to face the cruelty of the terrorist dogma.  I thought it would happen when they reached army age.  But, it was not meant to be. Our sabras have ripened a bit early this season.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Am Yisrael Hai
By Ariel Blacher
                We began our journey to Spain on Sunday June 29th.  We were very conflicted to leave Israel at such a critical time in our country’s conscience. Yet, the tickets were booked and plans had been made. So, we decided to continue with our original plan and travel to Spain, with somewhat bated breath.
                One of the criteria of our trip was to educate our children regarding the historical significance of Spain for our Jewish people.  The kids have learned about the Spanish Inquisition  of 1492 in Jewish History lessons throughout their  school careers.  Yet, we wanted the kids to tour the towns, and learn the history of the Jews living in this area.
                We travelled to Toledo by train.  We met our tour guide, Shlomo(, at the historic Toledo train station.  The station itself is a work of art. High ceilings, ancient chandeliers, and beautiful stain glass windows adorn the station.  It is a work of art.
                Our first stop, was to a panoramic view of the Old City of Toledo.  The view was breathtaking.  There, our tour guide , Shlomo (, gave us a brief history of the city.  There is mention of this area being settled from the time of the Roman Empire. Yet, this area was clearly first settled during the Visgoth rule.  The Visgoths converted to Christianity, and then the Muslims conquered the area.  In the time of the Crusades, the Christians re-conquered the area, and kept strategic control of the are. 
The Jews settled into the area, and called it Taltulya , which is Hebrew for wandering, for the Jews were dispersed from Jerusalem ,  and wandered to this land.[1] Here, these Jews created a hub of life.  The city was complete with synagogues, a Jewish Castle (essentially a Jewish community center), ritual baths, kosher butcher lane, and more.  Jews lived as merchants, jewelrs, butchers, rabbis, tailors, and more in this small town. 
                Originally, the Jews maintained peace with the rulers of the area.  The Muslim leadership had a quiet understanding with the Jews of allowing them to worship freely.  When the Christians took control of the area, originally the same peaceful worshiping practices applied.  Yet, by the early 1200’s there were ordinances made upon the Jews.  By the mid-1300’s, Jews were ordered to wear yellow bands in order to show their identity in the common public areas.  (Note: It is entirely possible that the Nazis took this history, and used it to their benefit when making Jews wear yellow Jewish star armbands during WWII). 
                Eventually, the Jews were singled out as infidels and were tortured for not believing in Christianity.  Jews were told to either convert to Christianity, or to leave Spain.  Many Jews were tortured during this horrific time in our history.  Main leaders of the community, such as Shmuel HaLevi (a prominent businessman at the time), were tormented and eventually brutally killed for their belief in Judaism.  Many of these horrific crimes occurred in the Main Square of the town, with the entire community forced to watch the torturous torment.  The gate near this Square is called The Blood Gate, due to this horrific fact.
                It should be noted that those who chose to convert were called “Muranos”.  Yet, this term is considered derogatory.  It literally means “pig.”  These people prefer to be called “conversos”, which literally means “converts”.  To this day, many stores hang pig legs in their shops in order to prove that they readily eat pork.  For, it is known that Jews are forbidden to do so.
                As we walked throughout the streets of Toledo, there was a feeling of familiarity for me.  I am not of Sephardic descent, I am an Ashkenazi  Jew.  Yet, my father recently had a genetic testing done for a genealogical study.  His genetic report clearly stated Sephardic descent.  It is no wonder that my father is often confused for someone of Italian or Hispanic descent.  So, I would not be entirely surprised if my father’s family migrated from Spain to Eastern Europe.
                As we passed by a store, Josh quickly said to me, “Ariel, look into that store…you look like the salesperson!”  Sure enough, she had my dark brown eyes, chocolate curly hair (mine is usually covered for Orthodox reasons), and round face.  She could have been my cousin!  My kids often joke that they will marry Sephardim.  Ah…but now we know that we also have a drop of Sephardic blood, too!
                Throughout our tour, I felt as if I was walking through familiar alleys.  The Jewish Quarter reminds one of the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem or Safed.  It is hard to imagine that people rode donkeys and horses throughout these narrow alleyways!   And, people continue to drive cars throughout them today!
                As we left Toledo, I was enamored with a sense of identity and purpose.  I am so proud of my Jewish identity.  I am proud that my people, despite the odds, have continued to thrive.  Spain was not the only country to create ordinances against us.  Yet, we survived! We continue to be graced with G-d’s great light.  Even in times of darkness we are guided to survive the pain, and continue towards a better future.
                It is with a heavy heart that when we returned to our hotel, we received messages from Israel that Eyal, Naftali and Gil-Ad were found dead, near Hebron.  No one can comprehend the pain the families of these boys have suffered these past two weeks.  And, now, the collective pain that an entire nation currently suffers along with them.  If we have learned anything from this terrible ordeal, it is that we are Jewish brethren that must unite against evil forces.  And, despite the darkness, we will survive, and thrive.  From the time of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, until now we have made it clear that we are a stubborn people.  We will not let this terror scare us.  We will rise to the occasion, and use this as our strength for generations to come.  Am Yisrael Hai! And in the words of Rabbi Lau (Chief Rabbi of Israel), we are Am Echad, V’Lev Echad (One nation, one soul).


1.    [1]  Abrabanel's Commentary on the First Prophets (Pirush Al Nevi'im Rishonim), end of II Kings, p. 680, Jerusalem 1955 (Hebrew). See also Shelomó ibn Verga in Shevet Yehudah, pp.6b-7a, Lemberg 1846 (Hebrew)