Saturday, August 30, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I have been a very busy mother this summer.  As most Israeli mothers, I was scared that this year would be remembered by my children as the "year of the WAR." So, I decided to change that thought process.  I managed to snag a good friend, Leiah Jaffe, an amazing American- Israeli tour guide who managed to give me two days of her busy week, for day tours around Israel. I managed to wrangle six other families to join us on each trip, in order to make the trip feel more like a  group tour, vs. a private tour. Leiah would give us an itinerary, directions to go to the location of the tour, and we would caravan up to the site in our cars together.  We made sure to pack plenty of drinks and snacks for the way, and we were off to our adventures!
It was not easy to rile my kids out of bed on trip day.  The kids wanted to sleep, watch TV, or play computer games. But, I managed to push them out the door each time.  And, each time, we were more surprised by the wonders this country has to offer.
Our trips were to places including the Tel Aviv Eretz Israel museum, the Israel Museum, the Big Bambu exhibit, the Qumran Caves, Lido Junction, Ein Zukim, the Old City of Jerusalem, and Bet Shearim.  At each stop, Leiah entertained our children with tales of old, and tales of new. She gave the kids workbooks to answer questions, and asked them questions as they were walking through the exhibits and grounds, as well.
At times the kids complained, but it was fleeting.  At times, parents were non-compliant, too, but that was a fleeting moment as well. Overall, our days were filled with exploration and a new love for our country and its many nooks and crannies.
As these trips ended, my kids were reflecting upon the summer, and said "Mom, thank you for the best summer EVER!" That statement warmed my heart! It meant that I succeeded, I managed to turn a possibly scary summer into one of adventure, exploration, and new-found appreciation for Israel.
I love this country with my heart, my soul, and my entire being.  I live and breathe it daily with utmost appreciation to our Maker for giving our family the ability to live, love, and laugh here daily.  Yet, I was unsure as to whether my kids appreciated their existence here.  But, now it is affirmed.  Even in time of war, we live in the best place in the world, hands-down.  As it says in Psalms,
מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶיךָ ה' כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִיתָ מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ
.תהילים ק"ד
 How abundant are Your works, G-d, with wisdom You made them all!(Psalms 104:24)
We witnessed many wonders this past summer.  Many miracles, many natural wonders, and many wonderful acts of bravery by our IDF.  May G-d continue to bless us with His grace.  And, as we approach the new Jewish year, I look forward to the "best year EVER!"

Dead Sea Environs Trip

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Miraculous Night

On Thursday night, our yishuv hosted two events. The first event was an outdoor party welcoming our soldiers home  from Operation Protective Edge.  The local basketball court was full of rides, games, blow-up's, food, beverages, and items for sale.  The event was well attended by families, young and old, and it was a terrific summer evening activity.
The second event was a hosting of three buses of families from the southern town of Netivot.  The families first came to the outdoor activities, and then walked over to our local synagogue for a catered dinner, accompanied by entertainment for the kids, as well as live music.
I attended both events with my kids.  Both were entirely enter-twined. For, we were celebrating the army soldiers return, while simultaneously hosting families from Netivot while their homes were being barraged by rocket fire.
The families from both events were entirely grateful for the hospitality and warmth of our community.  I spoke to many Netivot families that night who were so gracious for us opening our yishuv to them. " How could we not do so?"  I thought. It is our duty to help all fellow men and women in trouble.  As it says in Pirkei Avoth (Ethics of Our Fathers)"If not now, when?" (1:14).
As the evening hosting the Netivot came to an end, I sat down next to another local yishuv family to chat. Suddenly, we noticed that the room began to clear out. We did not think of it much, and kept talking. And then, my friend looked down at her phone, and noticed that there were two Code Reds in Hashmonaim at that moment. The party kept going on, the music kept playing, and we did not move.  We knew that we were in the safest part of the building, so there was not imminent danger.
Ironically, the band was playing a Mizrachi version of the song Yedid Nefesh (Beloved of the soul), a tune usually sung on Friday nights in synagogue.  The verse he sang as we noticed the siren announcement is as follows:
הגלה נא ופרש חביבי עלי את סכת שלומך
תאיר ארץ מכבודך נגילה ונשמחה בך
מהר אהב כי בא מועד וחננו כימי עולם
Please be revealed and spread upon me, my Beloved, the shelter of Your peace. Illuminate the world with Your glory that we may rejoice and be glad with You. Hasten, show love, for the time has come, and show us grace of days of old(written by Rabbi Eliyahu Azikri, Israeli Kabbalist from the 16th century).
There needs to be no explanation for the connections between the song and our current situation in Israel.  To the reader, I am sure it is quite clear that we are aching for the peace we all deserve!
After the event that evening, we all returned home, satisfied that we had perhaps made one evening slightly easier for all.  By nightfall the following evening, I had heard that one of the families who we hosted from Netivot had a rocket fall in their backyard while we hosted them for the evening.  We truly provided a סוכת שלום (dwelling of peace) for that family. May we continue to be able to shelter our brethren from the storm.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Art Imitates Life

It is currently August summer vacation in Israel. Most children have finished summer camp, and are home with their parents, or guardians as they eagerly await school to start in September.  I opted to keep my kids home with me, and enjoy this time together.  Although there were summer camp options here, I decided that we would find fun things to do together, and pepper that with trips to the pool, etc.
Our first adventures were a Trip Camp that we organized with our local resident tour guide, Leiah Jaffe.  We set out together on terrific local adventures to the Eretz Israel Museum (Tel Aviv), the Israel Museum (Jerusalem), the Dead Sea, Qumran Caves, Ein Zokim (Dead Sea area spring), and Beit Shearim.  All of these trips were geared for young kids, and their parents to enjoy together. Leiah Jaffe always peppered the trips with stories, activities, fun games and plays for the kids to enjoy!
When we are not touring the country, I take the kids on Mommy Day adventures. Our most recent adventure was taking the youngest two kids of my family to the movies in Tel Aviv.  We went to Dizengoff Center, and found a local movie theater showing the movie my kids have been aching to see, How to Train Your Dragon 2.
I had never seen the first movie, nor had I seen it in Hebrew, but I figured this would be an adventure for all of us; for my kids to see Tel Aviv, and for me to sit through a sequel of a movie in Hebrew.
The movie is basically a tale of evil forces vs. good forces.  A huge battle ensues, and the forces are tested to determine which will prevail over a land of Viking type glory.  Living here in Israel, it was not too hard to make the comparisons between art and life.  There was one line that really brought it home for me, and many other parents in the theater.  One character asks "Why do they[sic. the evil forces in the movie] hate us, so? I do not understand?"  The other character wisely answers "Sometimes, the forces of evil prevail, and convince all around them of their the point that no one is aware of how dark and evil they have  become...they are soldiers of the fight of evil, without entirely thinking of what they have become."  [Please note that I am translating the Hebrew, and I am sure that this was said differently in the English version.] At the moment I, and every other parent in the theater, began to cry.  I heard muffled sounds of sniffling, and I knew that everyone in the Tel Aviv theater was thinking of Operation Protective Shield, and the evil forces of Hamas vs. the forces of our brave IDF.
My kids heard me sniffle, and saw the tears. They did not know what to do. Mommies are not supposed to cry! And, especially not in movies! But, then I saw my 6 year old daughter wipe a tear from her own eyes. And, I grabbed my kids, and held them tight, as I grappled with the emotional overflow of tears in this simple movie about good and bad dragons.
Eventually, the movie ended. No, I will not spoil it for you. But, the message was clear that the Viking village was happy and peaceful again, with a new, courageous entourage of dragons to help them prevail.  Of course, the movie was left open-ended for another sequel.
As we left the theater, my kids began talking about the movie, and the possibility of a How To Drain Your Dragon 3. We talked about what the movie reminded them of, and they immediately said "the War, Mommy." They openly saw the mashal(comparison) of the evil forces of dragons being similar to Hamas, and the good forces of dragons being like the IDF.  And, then my son said, "The IDF is going to always be ahead, just like the good dragons, Mommy!"  I reached out to him, and gave him a big hug and a kiss.
"Art and life," I thought "sometimes really do imitate each other."  Yet it takes very powerful eyes to see it.  I suggest that you all take your families and your loved ones to this movie. Parents, you may want a pack of tissues, just a warning. But, please make sure to talk to your family afterwards about the message of this movie.  Help your children understand the nuances of war, through the simple mashal of dragons.

Hiccup-Meets-Monsters-in-How-to-Train-Your-Dragon-2.jpg (1500×621)
Hiccup-Meets-Monsters-in-How-to-Train-Your-Dragon-2.jpg (1500×621)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fun in the Sun!

I recently took my kids to the local pool one afternoon. As we walked into the pool area, we noticed a bunch of soldiers sitting in a circle, talking to each other.  At times our local pool hosts soldiers who are stationed nearby to use the facilities when they are on a break.  The soldiers swim a little, eat a bit of ice cream, and then return to their duties.
Our kids, and their friends, were intrigued as the soldiers jumped into the pool. Soon they were doing synchronized swimming, diving in one after the other in unison, and other tricks.  My son, and his friend decided to avidly watch a volleyball game the soldiers started.  Whenever the ball was thrown out of the pool, the boys eagerly caught it, and threw it back. It was so cute to see the boys so eager to help the soldiers play.
These soldiers protect us, and save us from harms way. But, we often forget that they are just little boys and girls, too.  Everyone needs time to play and laugh.  No one is immune from having fun! Even if there is a order to be a successful soldier one must learn how to properly channel energies and focus on the army, yet also focus upon the time to relax, and chill with friends.
My friend and I decided that we would buy the soldiers ice pops as we were about to leave the pool. As we bought the ice pops, the soldiers were so grateful for the treat.  Our kids were eager to give the ice pops to the soldiers, as well as take pictures with them.  To the kids, these soldiers just gave them a fun day at the pool. And, to us, these soldiers are a reminder that Israel could not survive without them.
Thank you, IDF for making our life, our love and our laughter possible in Israel. We could not ever do it without you!  And, if you are ever at the local pool, we will treat you to an ice pop!
Photo: ‎בריכת נילי‎

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Saved My Heart and Soul

Summer Saved My Heart and Soul

Graphic T-shirts are the rage this summer.  Even in Israel we see people walking around with T-s that share messages like "Happy"or "Keep Running" or "Peace." As I was shopping with my daughter recently, at a local Israeli mall, she too had gravitated towards the t-shirt bug.  She found something she liked, and I started to rifle through the mix to help her.
I was then struck by a purple T-shirt that somewhat offended me, and enlightened me all at once.  It stated "Summer Saved My Heart and Soul." I began to philosophize to myself "Can a season really save someone?" What did the author of this T-shirt really have in mind? Certainly not living in Israel. Probably some beach in Malibu for the summer....surfing, wind blowing in the surfer's hair, and not a care in the world.
Yet, the more I thought about it, I realized that this summer really has saved my soul, and others here in Israel.  Our summer began with the tragic loss of three young souls, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.  Their kidnapping, and later loss of life, catapulted our nation of Israel into a collective energy of prayer and mourning that is unprecedented.
Following that tragedy, we were catapulted into the Operation Protective Shield.  Young men, and old, were sent to Gaza to defend our country. No one was immune to the pain of each missile fired towards Israel. Nor, were we immune to the loss of 64 soldiers, young and old, who died giving their souls for this country of Israel.
And so, collectively, I think Summer Saved OUR Heart and Soul. Despite the tragedy, and the loss, our country has become stronger and more unified.  We join forces, both left and right, to stand up for the right of Israel's existence.  The collective soul of Israel has strengthened.  We have been empowered, and no one can take this power away from us. The soul of this nation is stronger than ever.  I thank G-d for saving our collective Israeli soul.  It was time for us to wake up.  We just did not know it was time to do so.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Comfort Food

Comfort.  The word itself does not really exude any form of ease or release.  It starts with a hard "c" consonant, and ends with a "t." The cacophony of it does not really make me ooze relaxation or carefree attitude when I say the word.
I think the first time I saw the word comfort was on a bottle of Tennessee bourbon, labelled Southern Comfort.  That in itself is an oximoron.  Southern Comfort?  Can the deep South ever really feel comfortable?  Humidity, mosquitoes, cicadas, and heat abound in the south.  Ah...but others took comfort in spirits to ease their sorrows.  Bourbon could comfort any soul.  Or, perhaps the famous drink of bourbon and cola!
This past Shabbat was the first one after Tisha BÁv.  It is typically called Shabbat Nachamu (the Sabbath of Comfort). It is called this because we have just finished mourning the tragic fall of the Holy Temple.  Immediately following this time period is the time of renewal, regrowth, and comfort.  During this week's Haftorah (portion of Prophets read after the Torah reading), we read נחמו נחמו עמי (Comfort you, Comfort you, oh, my Nation of Israel!).  It is Jeremiah's plea for the Jews of the time of the destruction to pick themselves up and move on towards a greater good.  It is a plea to keep moving, and not remain crying in grief forever.
My family had the priviledge of visiting old friends in a small yishuv called Har Bracha (a settlement in the area of Samaria) this past Shabbat.  We have started a tradition of visiting each other for Shabbat every Shabbat Nachamu.  This Shabbat was particularly special, for we were able to comfort each other with tales from the war, and tales of perseverance.
Honestly, the best comfort for us, was sharing good food together, laughing, and watching our children enjoy each others' company.  It was such a pleasant way to remove ourselves from the mundane talk of war, of cease fires, of returned rocket fire, and hatred.  It was a Shabbat of good friends, good times, and peaceful celebration.
As I sat, and chatted with our good friends, I realized that THIS is what being part of this wonderfully diverse Jewish Nation is all is about being part of a greater family.  It is being cherished and loved by friends, neighbors, and loved ones.  It is taking comfort in the fact that we still are enjoying the freedom to celebrate the end of a busy and tiring week with good conversation, laughter, and love.
When I was a kid growing up, the local Rabbi of our synagogue would step up to the podium to give a Shabbat sermon, and he would always begin his sermon with the word "Friends."  As a child, I remember thinking this was odd.  "I am not the rabbi's friend, I am a congregant" I thought.  It took me many years to realize how profound my Rabbi was.  He was trying to make his congregants realize that if we are not all friends, there is no commonality between us, and we will not really amount to much at all.  Only if we are all truly friends can we collectively work towards a better good.
If this war has done anything for the Israeli psyche, it has enabled us all to realize the precious reality that we are ALL part of one greater family.  We are all working towards a greater good for this country.  We each play an integral part in this wheel that is turning.  We may not know where this wheel is turning, but we do know that we are in this together.  We are taking comfort in knowing that good friends make the ride so much easier to bear.  And, a little bit of comfort food, or drink, is definitely in order!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Please Don't Stop the Music

It has been slightly over two days since the official Cease Fire between Israel and Hamas.  The IDF troops have pulled out, and Hamas has been quiet.  How long will this last? There is no direct answer.  It has been proven time, and again, that Hamas has a trigger-friendly finger on the rockets of Gaza. So, we are all hoping this peace lasts, but we are weary eyed that it may not last forever, due to several acts of precedent.
I listen to a radio station that is called Galgalaz. It was established in the mid 1990's as a radio station by the IDF, for soldiers.  Soldiers can place requests, listen to official news briefs, and sometimes full units can choose the songs for a set hour of time.  The music on the station is a combination of Israeli pop, American and European rock, and some oldies, but goodies.
Galgalaz is my source of a melding of American and Israeli culture.  I can listen to music, and learn new Hebrew vocabulary. I can also learn what is the pulse of the Israeli public by listening to the station, as well.  I honestly love listening to this station more than listening to my pre-set I-pod lists, youtube playlists, and the like.  Why? I just love to listen to the randomness of it all.  I love the Mizrachi rocksters combined with the rock legends like Johnny Cash, all mushed into one play set in what seems to be a symphony of welded cultures.
For the past month, Galgalaz has been playing soft, sad, muted tones. This lull was duly noted, for it was a time of war here, as well as the time of mourning before the commemoration of Tisha BÁv, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.   Tisha BÁv, is a day of mourning and fasting for the loss of the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem over 2.000 years ago.  One of the many customs is to refrain from playing music, or listening to live music during the three weeks before the fast day.  This year, the mourning period corresponded with Operation Protective Shield.  So, the tunes on the radio were slow ballads, and accapella,  not the usual upbeat rock n' roll of the past.
Yesterday, I realized that the real rock n' roll had returned to the radio.  Upbeat, happy tunes were playing again.  Had the pain ended? In a sense, due to the combination of the cease fire and the end of the Jewish mourning period, the music was allowed to return.  Various soldier units were chosen to create an hour of playlists for the listeners.  The song choices were brilliant, and thoughtful.  Each song had more meaning than the next.
As I listened to the radio, peppered with modern upbeat tunes about peace, war, silence, and love, a song started on the radio.  It was a song by Ehud Banai, a song called הופעת מילואים (Performance for the reserve troops) about an older man, who is called in for reserve duty.  His job is to entertain the troops.  But, he gets up, in front of the troops, and he cannot sing.  He looks out at the twenty young men and women, and he cannot perform for them.  He is at a loss for words.
Ehud Banai adds so briliantly:
מבול יורד עלינו עכשיו 
מפסגת לבנון עד סיני 
פורט בגיטרה ושר לטבח: 
"ים של דמעות בשתי עיני." 

אור נרות נשמה 
לא עוזב לא עוזב 
שיירה ארוכה על נתיב מסוכן 
שיירה לאיפה את הולכת
A flood is descending now,
From Labanon to the Sinai dessert,
The guitar began to play,
And I sang to the local cook,
"There is a sea of tears in my eyes."
The memorial candles
Do not end
Do not end
They keep flickering.
To the long convoy,
On the dangerous path,
Convoy, where are you going?

I heard this powerful song, and began to cry in the car.  The situation described by Ehud Banai could be real, or fiction. It is of no matter to me. It is the fact that this is the reality in this land we call Israel. Men and women are called for reserve duty, for they have served in many wars, and sometimes it drives them to be speechless.  Even the songwriters and rock stars can be driven to silence.  No one is immune.
Although the Cease Fire is in affect, no one is really aware of the consequences. We ask ourselves, where is this convoy of peace going? Is it on a dangerous path?  Will we return to true normalcy?  Where are we really going?  Will we flicker like the memorial candle for our fallen soldiers? Or, will the singing return, strong and brave, like soldiers fighting for the right to exist.  I hope the silence does not continue. I hope the music will never end here.  Please don't stop the music.

Link to the song הופעת מילואיפ by Ehud Banai:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Grandma Bertha and Tisha BÁv

          In 1979, my grandmother, Bertha Teller Augenbraun, was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was a chain smoker for most of her adult life. It was no surprise that her lungs began to fail her during that year.  Her health began to progress from stable to critical around the time of Tisha BÁv, 1979.  It unfortunately only was two months later, several days before Rosh Hashana, that she passed away.
          At the time, I was 8 years old, and my sister was 7.  When we were told that our grandmother passed away, we did not truly understand what was going on.  Death is a strange concept for a child.  We had a dog pass away, but neither of us really had a real understanding of what it means when a person close to you dies.
           I remember that my father arranged flights for us to return to New York for the funeral and the shiva.  We had spent part of the summer in New York with Grandma only a month before. But, now this was very different.  We were going back for a funeral, not hospital visits.
           The actual funeral is a blur for me. I do not remember what was said, who spoke, or who cried.  I do remember the cemetery.  I had never really been to the cemetery before.  Large grey stones with Hebrew lettering littered the area.  It was eerie, and beautiful all at once.  My cousins and I began to wander off, and hide behind the stones. I was only 8 at the time.  I did not realize that it was inappropriate to step upon the grave mounts, or play between the stones.  I was just a child only learning about life, and now death.
           Someone found us playing, and reprimanded us.  Our smiles turned to hushed glazed looks of shame.  We returned to the shiva house with our family.  Grandma's apartment was not bigger than most average Riverdale apartments.  My sister, my cousins, and I just looked out the windows at the tiny people, taxis, and dogs below.  We must have done this for hours, until my parents would peel us away to eat or to play with Grandma's perfume bottles as they sorted her belongings.
           I never really got over the guilt of not mourning my grandmother.  Although I was only 8, I was somewhat saddened that I did not act properly at the cemetery, that somehow I was guilty of some major sin.  A sin of inability to mourn those close to us.  Now, looking back , I was only 8.  There were no books about death, dying, or bereavement for kids at the time. My parents tried to explain it the best they could. But, how could they really know what an 8 year old understands about death?  So, I lived with the guilt and moved on.
           Eventually, I began to go to summer camp.  Every summer, the camp would commemorate Tisha BÁv, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.  We learned that it is traditionally the saddest day of the Jewish Calendar.  For, it is the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed. It is also the day of the Crusader invasions of countless European towns, it is the day of the final expulsion of Jews  from Spain, and it is the day of countless tragedies during the time of World War II.
             After learning this, I realized what it meant to mourn.  As we mourned these tragedies of our Jewish people, I realized what it was to mourn for our own loved ones as well. And, during the first time I heard Aicha (Lamentations) at our sleepaway camp, Camp Hatikvah, I opted to sit next to my sister.  I knew that I needed her strength to get through the painful liturgy.  Sure enough, I began to cry.  I wept for my Jewish people, I wept for our tragedies, and I wept for Grandma Bertha.
              Now, some 34 years after my grandmother's passing, I have witnessed death, mourning, and grief time and again.  It is never easy, but yet, somehow the shiva process does make it somewhat more helpful for the grieving parties involved.
               Today, I live in Israel, and although Grandma Bertha never had a chance to visit, I am sure she is with me here. Sometimes a bird flies by the window near my kitchen sink, as I think of her, and I wonder...."Can you hear me? Do you see me? Do you see my Israeli children? Are you proud of us?" I sure hope that she is.
                I just witnessed a video of an anti-Israel demonstration down the Diamond District (47th and 5th Avenue) that occurred last week.  Anyone who knows my grandmother, knows that she was very proud of the fact that she was the first woman voted onto the board of the Diamond District Association. She was a proud businesswoman, who cut diamonds for a living. She loved 47th street, the friends, the colleagues, the excitement of it all, it made her alive! During the Palestinian demonstration, Jewish shopkeepers heard the ruckus outside, and ran down to see what was happening. When they heard the Palestinian propaganda, they closed their shops, and began to follow the protesters shouting "Israel" louder, and louder as they went. Eventually, they outnumbered the cowardly Palestinian protesters.  The crowd then began singing Am Yisrael Hai (The nation of Israel lives!).  They stopped the anti-Israel protesters in their tracks. No one could believe the quick response of the pro-Israel crowd.
                 I am not surprised.  If Grandma Bertha were alive today, she would be out there, smiling, and chanting too! I would not be surprised if she was there, following the crowd, like a dove returning home.
                 And so, as I mourn this Tisha BÁv, I think of my Grandma Bertha, for whom if she were not the strong-willed amazing woman she was in the 1950's, I would most definitely not have had the courage to be living in this land of Israel today.  May her soul have comfort knowing that Israel is here to stay, as are we.