Crusader Mom

History tends to be his-story; but every once in a while, in the annals of history you come upon her-story.  One such maker of her-story history was Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem.melisende

Melisende was born to Baldwin II and Morphia from Edessa.   She was the oldest of four daughters (no sons) and as such was appointed as the heir presumptive when her father was still in his prime.  Alas, Baldwin II was not confident that a queen would be accepted on her own merit by the populace or the clergy.  Also she would not be able to continue the familial chain of heirs.  Baldwin II needed to look for a husband for Melisende.  He turned to his ally Louis VI.  Turns out,  Louis was looking to unload an upstart count and send him far from Paris.  This was the flamboyant Fulk de Anjou.

Fulk, however, did not have the progressive ideals of Baldwin II.  Already in the negotiation before the wedding, he tried to install his son from a prior marriage as the heir apparent, wresting power from Baldwin’s family.  Fulk finally backed down on this issue and agreed to marry Melisende anyway.

After their coronation as King and Queen of Jerusalem, Fulk continued to look for a way to lessen the influence which Melisende had on the kingdom.  He accused Melisende of having an affair with Hugh,  Count of Jaffa who was intensely loyal to Baldwin’s family.  The church and the knights supported Melisende and her son, the future Baldwin III, against her husband.  In 1143, twelve years into their joint rule, Fulk found his end in a hunting accident.

Melisende still doesn’t have peace.  She assumes power and becomes ruler of Jerusalem but only until her son, Baldwin III comes of age.  It’s sometimes hard for a mother to let her son go out into the world, especially when his ascension comes at the price of her power.

When she stays too long at the helm, Baldwin III comes after her, amassing his own army.  He even attacks her forces which are protecting her stronghold, the Tower of David.  Eventually, mother and son will come to a truce and she will give him his independence to rule as King of Jerusalem.

But, kids are fickle and shortly after he takes the title from his mother, he goes out on campaign.  To whom will he leave the day-to-day running of the country?  You guessed it – his mother Melisende.  There ain’t no one who is as loyal or supportive as your mom, even when you’re a Crusader king.

Melisende sights:


Walking into the Abyss

Tomorrow morning, I awaken to walk into the abyss.  I know I’m being overly dramatic, timnabut I am returning my rental car and beginning a period of car-less existence.  Passover is a holiday which celebrates the Children of Israel’s freedom from the Egyptians and us Jaffes are, with some concerns, becoming free from our car.  Perhaps nothing defines mankind over the last century better than the car.  That vehicle contributed to world wide economies, not only because cars are shipped over the world, but because they provide an ease of travel unparalleled throughout history.  Cars, and the combustion engines which were developed to power them, mean that modern man can work anywhere, live anywhere, and be independent of his natural, physical surroundings.  Turn up the radio, turn on the air-conditioner, and you are free.  Nothing but the empty road ahead.

We identify ourselves through our cars and I am for sure not exempt.  I didn’t just own the Red Luxury Toyota Land Cruiser, I was the Red Luxury Toyota Land Cruiser, long gone from my life like a dodo bird.   It pained me to lose that car, it was like losing a good friend and a part of my psyche.

It was a big shift from that car to the next, a gray, nondescript Toyota Corolla.  How many times did I ask out loud, “Who’s visiting me?” only to realize that the car in the driveway was mine.  The Corolla became a reliable way to get my family around and satisfy our needs.  It wasn’t always comfortable; the Corolla sat 5 and we were 10 (me, 6 kids, daughter-in-law, 2 grandsons), but we found the comfort of sharing, compromising, and finding our way around.   It got decent gas mileage, wasn’t terribly expensive to maintain, and had plenty of space for all kind of stuff a car with that many people relying on it accumulates.  Random strollers, empty wine bottles and books waiting to be given away, lived comfortably for months in the Corolla, without bothering anyone.

The Corolla met its death through no fault of its own.  While parked on the side of the highway, waiting for someone to come and change a flat tire, it was hit (side-swiped, Asaf corrects me) by a truck which crossed the yellow line at full speed (120 km/hr).  And just like that, it was over.  Thank God, Asaf and I are fine, but not so for the Corolla.  The Corolla, which was almost 10 years old, received enough damage for it to be rendered a “total loss”.

Next came the car provided as a stop-gap by the insurance company “until they settle out the claim”; but that will take some time, my insurance agent tells me.  The Kia Picanto was the car we received.  It fit comfortably 4 people and enough luggage for the Jaffes, which is to say, not much.  We can get one trip to the grocery store in the trunk if there isn’t anything else in there.  Shortly after picking it up, we took our yearly family trip (previously scheduled) to Eilat.  The car drove nicely and the gas mileage was fantastic.  I have to say, it’s been 16 years since I drove a new car (really new, not just new-to-me) and it was pretty nice.

Alas, the insurance only pays for 2 weeks, and that ends tomorrow. Seeing that we haven’t gotten a settlement from the Corolla, my son and daughter-in-law are in the throes of building a new house, and none of the trees in the yard yields money, we have opted for trying out the no-car thing in the short term.  Truth is, thank God, I will be very busy with work over the next few months, and investing in a car right now so that it can sit in the driveway and I can wave at it when I come home, seems silly.

Israel has terrific public transportation and we have kind neighbors.  We can rent a car short term and we can take taxis. Israelis are flexible and find solutions to all kinds of technological challenges, I am sure that the Jaffes are going to find our way through the transportation maze with resolve and creativity.

TEDx Jerusalem Women?

tedOn Friday I went to a taping of a TEDx Women’s event in Jerusalem. I looked forward to the event for weeks, being a fan of TED, anticipating all the wonderful people I would meet, attending an “event”, all good things.

I also had a bit of trepidation.  You see, I don’t like “women’s” events.  I don’t live in a women’s world; I have 6 boys, love competitive games, and like science.  I don’t like high-heeled shoes, wearing perfume, or focusing on fancy jewelry.  I don’t even like flowers!  Besides not liking women’s events, I don’t even consider myself a feminist.  Something about the word bothers me.  Now, I was raised on the religion of the Democratic Party and am pretty liberal in my world view.  I believe in equal rights regardless of religion, race, sexual preference, and yes, even gender, but I consider myself to be more of a humanist rather than a feminist.  Why do I need to limit my views on equality to women?

And yet, here I was, signed up for TEDx Jerusalem WOMEN.  And I was excited.  I even considered signing up for the open mike session. Because of my busy schedule in the days leading up to the TED event, and my indecision about what exactly I would speak about for 5 minutes, I didn’t apply.  I came up with about 5 topics I thought I could speak about for 5 minutes:  the international book project I started, building community through cooperative summer camp, sharing my story to empower Millennials and others to take control of their lives, and so on.  But as I sat through the TEDx event, a strange uncomfortableness started to creep up on me and a realization that the 5 minute open mike segment that I needed to give  was on none of those topics.

The TEDx event consisted of a mingling of 3 main speakers, 4 taped segments from the main TED event in Los Angeles, a comedian, a singer/songwriter, and 9 open mike speakers.  There were 18 women speakers in all and not one of them spoke about Motherhood.  Sure, many spoke about their challenges in combining raising children and having a career, but not a single one spoke about the choice which some women make to put their previous occupations on hold and to simply be a mother.

I became pregnant while in graduate school.  I had been married for over a year and the time was right for starting a family.  I had completed my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, summa cum laude, and was then studying Physical Organic Chemistry in a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University.  I was raised as part of  Generation X, with the world-view that I could do it all.  I could have the high-powered job, the advanced education, the active, healthy family life, the involvement in my community, and be independent.  I very much wanted to have children and assumed that they would be put in the best day care, while my husband and I went off to work, sharing quality moments as a family in the evenings and on the weekends.

And then Rafi was born.  I discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about being a parent – and I am not talking about the nuts and bolts about feeding and bathing and holding.  I am talking about the emotional response I had to him.  I actually really loved him, and he loved me (this was a big shocker to me – did I mention that I didn’t like children prior to becoming a mother??).  I was exhausted by taking care of him – no one told me about the exhaustion.  And I was learning things about myself and my world at a rate which could not be matched by any doctorate program.

But, I was committed to going back to school.  My professor was waiting for me.  And when Rafi was 10 days old, I went to the office for my first office hours.  My professor was really understanding for the first few months and gave me things that I could mostly do at home, with only the occasional foray into school.  At the age of 4.5 months, Rafi went into full-time day care, the best in the neighborhood, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  My husband and I shifted our work schedules to extend our days because even those hours were not sufficient for our occupations.  And as time went on, I became more and more miserable.

Finally, when Rafi turned 1 year old, I decided, with the encouragement of my husband, to make a switch in my occupation and become a stay-at-home mom – not because I had nothing else to do, but because I had nothing else I wanted to do.  I finished my master’s degree (the consolation prize) in 6 months and took up my new occupation – stay-at-home mom.

Even the name “stay-at-home mom” is bogus because we did anything but stay at home.  I embraced my new occupation with a passion, seeking out professional peers who would lend encouragement and give advice when I was facing some new challenge.  They supported my right to make decisions about my parenting and lifestyle.  It was great!  Yes, there were some challenges, things I had to give up, hard decisions that needed to be made.  That is part of life.  But I was immensely more happy in my parenting occupation than in my previous occupation.

Through the 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, I grew in skill as my children grew.  I became an expert on teaching informally because when I saw gaps in their educational experience, I tried my best to fill them.  I became involved with building community because I wanted my children to be surrounded by others (adults and peers) to round out their world.  I taught interpersonal skills as I interacted with them intensely.  I became an advocate when my son became very sick.  Any quantitative quality with which you could measure an employment environment was met by my new occupation.  Even financial goals were met, as my husband was able to fully focus on developing his career, knowing full well that all at home was being managed.

I ran into a glitch in my otherwise flawless story when I encountered the outside world, and often feminists were the worst. There is no greater conversation stopper at a social gathering than answering “I’m a mom” to the question of what your job is. Stereotypes rule these social situations.  Apparently, moms are not that interesting.  Apparently, moms are not that intelligent. Apparently, moms have nothing to contribute in any social setting that does not involve their children.

People think that you took the easy way, or have some sort of charmed life, drinking coffee at the cafe and getting your nails done.  They think, “What does she DO all day?  Doesn’t she go crazy?  Doesn’t she want to better herself?”  Men think that all of your thoughts are around “female” topics, and they aren’t interested/comfortable with those discussions.  Women whose occupation is outside of the home may have feelings of guilt, thinking that they should be at home with their kids.

But feminists tend to be the worst.  They look at you as a failure. They have children and a career; what’s wrong with you that you can’t do both?  They are advancing the cause of gender equality and you are stuck in the last century.  What a pity.

What a pity, indeed.  Instead of being an advocate for choice, feminists are really just falling into the anti-choice dictates of the past, mimicking the idea that some choices are ok for women and some aren’t.

So I was disappointed by the TEDx Jerusalem Women event. Disappointed that even among ourselves, we don’t stand up for the occupation of being a mom.  That no speaker spoke about the challenges and joys of an evolving life – first academic, then mom, then something else.

That those who purport to organize an event dedicated to women’s rights, ignore the most female right of all – the right to choose to be a mother.

Memorial Day Sale

Memorial Day Sale!  Everything 25% off!

This is how I viewed Memorial Day growing up.  Memorial Day was a day set aside by the US Government to honor our veterans.  In my family, we had veterans from the Revolutionary War (both sides), the French and Indian Wars, the Civil War (one died as a result of an illness contracted during his service and one was captured and tortured), World War I, and the Vietnam War.

However, Memorial Day, that last weekend before the last Monday in May was the time for the inaugural events of a Midwestern Summer.  Memorial Day was the first barbeque, with all the family gathering around to eat just about anything that could be cooked over coals.  You put on your bathing suit (even though it was still too cold) and ran through the sprinkler.  I remember Memorial Day barbeque at my Auntie Judy’s with its requisite tour of the garden and what would be growing by the time we regrouped on July 4th.  The men drank beer, the women worked in the kitchen and us kids enjoyed a stress-free day wandering the neighborhood with our cousins and, of course, playing games.

When we got older, the sales and shopping took over.  I never figured out if the switch happened because of a grand cosmic disturbance in American culture or because I was a teenage girl or because our family moved East away from the simple Midwest of my early childhood.  This was Memorial Day for my family in the United States, despite our veterans.

Both of these realities are a far cry from the Memorial Day which my family experiences now in Israel.  Memorial Day in Israel is a day to remember those who lost their lives for our country.  I currently have 3 sons in the army and by next fall, will have 4.  Four of my children will be occupied with defense of the Jewish State.  Four out of 6.  Last summer we went through a war which touched every resident of our tiny state.  So, how do I mark Memorial Day?

Each community has a ceremony marking the beginning of the Day in the evening (Jewish days start at night like in the creation story in Genesis).  This starts with a siren where the entire country stands in silence for an entire minute.  It’s hard to imagine a whole country coming to a stop for a minute – no cars on the roads, no one talking/texting/whatsapping on his phone, no one watching anything on a screen.  The evening is so sacred that there are no restaurants open and no movie theaters screening films.

Our community ceremony is on the basketball court and I sit and watch as my friends and neighbors gather to mark the day.  I feel connected.  These are the people whom I have known for the last 21 years.  I sit embraced by the familiar surroundings and the familiar faces.  Maybe this is why we are able to face this pain year after year – because of the implicit support we feel all around us.

The rabbi of our community speaks.  He more or less says the same thing year after year.  Something about rebuilding the State, about the importance of welcoming immigrants, rebuilding Jerusalem, the important role of children and youth in the flourishing of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel according to the Laws of Israel.

And then comes the tough part, the actual program which is done by the 11th grade class.  They always get me.  If it is through the overacting, the crying, the scenes which trigger all kinds of “what if’s” and fears I have about my own children, I don’t know.  The11th graders depict situations in a simplistic way, which cuts to the core and makes you feel the issues more deeply.  They talked this year about their friends, the boys who were kidnapped last summer and brutally butchered on the way home from school.  They read letters from lovers who were never able to realize their love because the war stole their future.  And through simple pantomime depicted families who would never be able to live normal lives because of the ravages of war.  They talked about the volunteers who come from oversees, like Max Steinberg.  And I cry – I always do.

At the end of the ceremony, there are a few prayers sung before we sing the National Anthem.  Those prayers are asking God to have mercy on our soldiers and to bless them.  I have an additional request this year.  I would like a Memorial Day Sale.

God, please lower the prices for us this Memorial Day.  Let the cost of being a free nation in our land be drastically less.  We haven’t lost hope, but we sure could use a discount.


holocaust remembrance day 2015Today, Israel stopped for 2 minutes for a siren.  Every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, sirens sound at 10:00 a.m.  Cars on the roads pull over and let their occupants out to stand in testament to the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.  Shoppers stop, carts full, in the grocery story.  In every office, workers pause and stand for 2 minutes.  And I, hanging laundry in the bright sunshine, also stopped, the wail of the siren reverberating in my ears so much it hurt.  I, too, remembered the victims of the Holocaust.  The ones who died and the ones who lived.  But I couldn’t help my mind from racing.

Sirens.  Why are we standing here?  We only have 90 seconds to reach the nearest shelter (or less depending on where you were).  I was taken back to sirens in my experience, the sirens warning of a rocket attack during Operation Protective Edge (Gaza War – 2014) last summer.  I have written about the effect of sirens on Lou, my grandson here.  But a few weeks ago, I was faced again with the confusion of those who did not experience last summer in Israel, during a recent tour with some businessmen.

“We understand there was a war, but it didn’t really affect you, did it?”

People don’t understand how small Israel is.  Israel is the size of New Jersey and there is no place in this small country that even fairly simple rockets can’t hit.  The rockets used in the attacks were assembled in Gaza, not shipped in from a large munitions factory in a world superpower.  And yet, they succeeded in reaching Haifa, Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem, with its large Arab population and important Islamic sites, was not spared.  It is an interesting note that Gazans were willing to fire on the third holiest site in Islam in order to kill Jews.

And I guess that pulls me to another parallel.  Another layer has been added to the Israeli experience.  When we remember the horrors of the holocaust during the two minutes of sirens, we add our own experiences to the past collective memory.

Every year during the Passover Seder, we reenact the Exodus from Egypt.  We retell the horrific events and see them to their resolution.  It is not a cold, dry retelling of long-gone events. But rather, “Each person is obligated to see himself as though he came out of Egypt,” states the Hagadah.  We are commanded to turn the story into our own, to layer our personal experience on the accumulated collective one.

So back to the sirens, we, now have first-hand experience on what it is to be a nation under siege.  We know what it is when a people rise up against us to obliterate us.  We look for “shelter selfies” on facebook to know that all our kids are o.k. The Palestinians want to push Israel into the sea.  They have been saying it for decades. Their maps do not include a Jewish state at all.  And then they shoot rockets.  Israelis, including Israeli Arabs are pushed into their bomb shelters, random stairwells, and lay on the ground with their bodies covering their children, in order to protect themselves against an all-out war against us as a people.

Luckily for us in 2014, the entire operation only lasted a few weeks.  Luckily for us, we didn’t lose 6 million Jews (the approximate Jewish population of the State of Israel today).  Luckily for us, we had the Iron Dome to minimize casualties.  In no way does our experience with sirens match the horrors of the Holocaust.  And yet, we are able to connect to the Holocaust this year in a new way, adding our own personal stories of anguish, trepidation, courage, survival, and hope for a better world.

“We understand there was a Holocaust long ago, in the time of your grandparents, but it didn’t really affect you, did it?”

Each person needs to answer this question for himself,  but as for me, it makes me stronger, more resolute, and more sure of the path I take today.

Birthright to the Max

maxThere have been posts on facebook about an article written recently laying at least some of the “blame” for Max Steinberg’s death on the institution of Birthright. The headline’s subtext states, “A Birthright trip convinced an American with shaky Hebrew that he was ready to die for another country.”

Even before I read the article, I knew that it would upset me.

Condensing the decisions and actions of a person on one factor is infantile.  But beyond that, the one statement quoted above has so many problems that I barely know where to start.

1.  “A Birthright trip convinced an American”:  Birthright is not there to convince anyone of anything.  It is meant to expose people to viewpoints and experiences to which they would not otherwise have been exposed.  I have had some trips where the participants say that the main Jewish value in their lives is Bagels and Lox!  I am not so happy about that, but it is allowed to happen, and sometimes it does.

2.  “with shaky Hebrew”:  The fact that Max had shaky Hebrew says nothing about the depth of his commitment to this country.  Israel was built by people who had shaky Hebrew.  Hebrew only returned to usage on a daily basis a little over 100 years ago.  Herzl didn’t speak Hebrew.  Golda Meir spoke Hebrew with a Midwestern accent.  The state of Israel is built on immigrants who have shaky Hebrew.  Intel’s chips and cherry tomatoes, as well as much of the cell phone technology, were developed by people who did not speak perfect Hebrew and yet had to get along here and communicate.  Think about how many US citizens are being shut out of contributing creatively because of their shaky English.

3.  “that he was ready to die”:  Maybe Max was ready to die.  This is actually part of the statement that I agree with.  But before you go getting all crazed with thinking that I am a war-monger, suicide-mission aficionado, let’s look at the flip side.

People who are ready to die, are engaged and willfully living.  They are two sides of the same coin.  Simple self-preservation with nothing behind it is selfish.  It says, “I am the most important idea in the world.  I deserve to be alive because I am me.”

Is that why we are alive?

In Judaism, there is the idea of tikkun olam – fixing the world.  “For six days you should do all your work.”  What work?  Tikkun olam.  Each of us will see this differently.  Whether your life’s work is in charity, or making a better world for our children, or advancing business in order to improve the world, or whatever.  Once you know what you are living for, you know in what situations you are willing to die.

So, Max was ready to die, according to this article.  If so, he reached a level that many of us don’t reach until we are much older or at all.  Self-awareness of what we are doing on this planet and why we are alive is an aspiration.

4.  “for another country”:  Israel is not just another country.  Max got the message that Israel is home.  That is a Birthright message.  And home isn’t always warm, fuzzy, chocolate cookies all the time.  Sometimes home is the “my boyfriend dumped me and I need someplace to be” refuge.  Home is when mom hugs you and then yells at you for not washing your dishes.  Home is where you need to take out the trash and work at making it liveable.  And yet, home is just simply home – that place where you can just be.  That is what Israel is for world Jewry.

And when Jews are being killed in Europe, Chana Senesh is coming to parachute in to help you.  She won’t give up secrets.  She left Israel-home to help her fellow Jews in Europe.  And when Jews are hijacked and sitting in an airport in Uganda, the Israeli army is coming to get them out.  Yes, your mom would do that for you.

So what did Birthright do for Max Steinberg?  What did Max get from his 10-day all-expense paid trip to Israel?  Maybe some ideas, maybe a free ticket, maybe a feeling, maybe some friends or mentors.  Max Steinberg became Max Steinberg.  And I think that instead of searching for somewhere to place the blame for his death, we should celebrate everything that made up his life.

May his memory be a blessing.

I am a Tour Educator who has been guiding Birthright groups for the last 3 years.  Max could have been on my trip (but he wasn’t).  To date, of the 450 participants on my trips, only 1 has stayed to join the army, but 450 have returned to their lives with a taste of what Israel and being Jewish means to them.

What Can You do with a Bed?

lou sleepingWhat can you do?
What can you do?
What can you do with a bed?

Paint it red!
Paint it red, yellow, blue
And paint the covers too!
Paint purple, orange, brown on it
And then jump up and down on it!

Oh, no! No! NO!
What are beds for really?

That’s right!
Good night…sleep tight!

What Can You do with a Shoe?
by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

The last page shows the darkened bedroom of the two main characters of the book who, after trying all kinds of silly things with shoes, brooms and the like, finally go to bed.

“Savta (grandma), then there is a siren and they go to the miklat (safe room).” Lou continues the story with his own narrative.

“Is that what happens at night?” I am kind of shocked by his matter-of-fact attitude.

“Yes, there are sirens and we go to the miklat (safe room).”

“Does mommy take you to the miklat?”

“Yes, mommy takes me. We have to be careful from the rockets.”

“How do you feel in the miklat?”

“Good. It is safe there. The sirens are scary. I don’t like them. I want them to stop.”

“Why are the sirens scary?”

“There are rockets. Rockets are dangerous. I want the rockets to go away.”

Lou is only just three years old and he has only heard three or four sirens. Yet the lingo of war is part of his vocabulary. He sees beds in a room at night and remembers when his parents took him from his bed at night to the miklat.

I wonder about the long term effects of this war on my kids and my grandson.

I guess I don’t need to wonder so much. The long term effects have been studied already in places like Sderot. Kids who live with uncertainty, fear, economic loss. Kids who always know where the closest shelter is and how far you can get in 15 seconds.

Luckily, where we live, we have 90 seconds. Once you see how long 90 seconds, you wonder why it is so hard to get things done in life. Ninety seconds is a long time.

It’s a topic now.  Perhaps THE topic in Israel.  I was priviledged to get an inside look at the situation in Gaza as I took a tour in February, 2014 of the Gazan crossing points. I am happy I was able to see these areas from the inside. I went into the goods crossing at Kerem Shalom and the beautiful land terminal between Gaza and Israel (for people) located at Erez. At the time, I wrote down some “Scary Gaza facts”. According to the guide, Miri Eisin, these “Scary facts” would lead to a major meltdown in Gaza in 6 months (pretty accurate).


1. Population: 1.5-2 million residents. 50% under 18 years old. 40% Unemployed. The Palestinian Authority maintains 6 different security organizations in Gaza. Hamas employs its own security organizations. Many of the working people in Gaza are employed by these two. There are many many people employed in the public sector and they are doing parallel work. Talk about bureaucracy!! And 40% unemployment means 300,000-400,000 unemployed people.

2. Refugees: 80% of Gaza’s residents are refugees. The refugees receive money from UNRWA. The United Nations now has a problem – Syria. Syria is demanding more money from the United Nations through UNHCR and there is less money for UNRWA.
Today there are 150 international organizations operating in Gaza and $500 million spent in Gaza on humanitarian aid. That’s a lot of tomatoes. But there is the threat that this money will be diverted for use in Syria which is scary for the people who are depending on it for their basic needs.

3. Resources: Almost no potable water exists in Gaza. There are 250 legal wells and 6000 illegal wells. According to Mekorot, the Israel national water authority, by 2020 there will be an irreversible loss of water from the aquifer. Gaza receives clean water from Mekorot, with the Palestinian Authority paying for a percentage.
There are only 6-8 hours of electricity a day. This is being provided by Israel and 65% being paid for by the Palestinian Authority.
Notice the trend? The Palestinian Authority pays for Hamas’s electric and water and gets nothing in return. The Palestinian Authority does not control the Gaza strip and Hamas does what it likes there.

4. Access: Gaza receives all its goods/services through Israel. Why? Doesn’t this sound unfair? EGYPT CLOSED THEIR BORDER WITH GAZA BECAUSE GAZA WAS A BAD INFLUENCE ON THE EGYPTIAN POLITICAL PROCESS. So just to put it out there – Egypt closed off their connection to Hamas because they were too unstable and extreme. Doesn’t it seem odd then, that Israel is left holding the bag, providing the only conduit for food, medicine, technology, water, electric with the very organization and the very territory which seeks to destroy her? It is one of the reasons that Egypt has a vested interest in ceasefire. They are being practical – a calm Gaza means a calmer Cairo.

What is the answer? I don’t know. I often feel that the birth of nation’s follows the path of the maturity of people. If that is the case, it is time for Gaza to shake off the adolescent “It’s not my fault” attitude and start behaving as an adult. I wonder how many ceasefires accepted unilaterally by Israel and broken by Hamas it will take before the population reaches its breaking point. How many chances do you give the young teen before you need to have some tough love?

I look forward to the day when the “parent” Gaza takes after her children and has an eye for the long term safety and security for all. I am pretty sure that it needs to start with Gaza owning up to its own issues.

Until then, I will be happy that Lou knows what to do and where to go when he hears a siren.

“What are beds for really?

That’s right!
Good night…sleep tight.”

And may we all sleep tight; peacefully dreaming of a better world where children don’t need to know about rockets and shelters.

Three Boys

three boys

In my family, we hitchhike. In my family, we pick up hitchhikers. We ask for and receive help from random people we meet. We belong to a community and accept others into our community.

We live as Jews with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts.

As I look at the myriad of pictures of the three boys, Gil-ad, Ayal, and Naftali, I see the faces of my children and my friends. Happy, proud Jews living in our land.

Apart from the terrible loss of these three boys, our boys, I worry about the future. We need strength to continue to raise our children with hope and trust. I don’t want my children to live in a world where you don’t help others because of the “what if’s”; I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that strangers are dangerous.

No, and No.

To take away our sense of family, of unity, of security in our own land is to give victory to the terrorists. The minute we become strangers to each other and to the land, is the moment when we have given up on the promise and the hope.
May G-d give us all strength to continue on the path.
Am Israel Hai!

Patience and Promise

So, I should be working on the millions of things I have to do before my upcoming Birthright and guiding trips, but I heard a story tonite that needs to be told.  It so urgently needs to be told, that I am putting all else on hold.  It is a story about patience – but, wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

Tonite and tomorrow, Israel celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Our community, like many around Israel, holds a ceremony in the evening to mark this day.  The ceremony is organized and run by the 12th grade class and features a skit with readings, music, an introduction by the local Rabbi, and the lighting of torches.  The 12th graders have all had the opportunity to go on their high school trip to Poland and spent time learning about the Holocaust and generally do a pretty decent job at choosing appropriate readings and music.  The local Rabbi speaks, usually about the importance of living and building the state of Israel after the Holocaust, and what a fabulous community we live in that takes in so many immigrants to strengthen the Jewish state.  The other parts of the ceremony usually run without surprise or incident.

More of a wildcard is the lighting of the 6 torches which represent the 6 million Jews who were killed.  Traditionally, torches would be lit by the survivors to remember their family members who were lost, individuals representing masses.  It has been almost 70 years since the Holocaust.

70 years is a long time.

Think how hard it is to find people who themselves survived the holocaust.  So, generally, we get one or two survivors and then we fill in with people whose parents, relatives, aunts, uncles, etc. survived.  The survivors who light a torch, are often frail, or not native Hebrew speakers, and are helped by their children and grandchildren who read a memorial passage written by someone in the family.  It is nice, but sometimes lacks passion.

This year, there was a family led by an elderly woman who went to light their candle.  The grandchild, Elisheva,  started reading about the family, telling their story.  Her grandmother, Mindy, came from a small town.  When the Germans came into the town, they carted off the Jewish population to a concentration camp in Poland.  There, Mindy’s entire family was killed;  her parents, her siblings, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  She alone survived.  All in total, 31 of her relatives were killed.

After the war, Mindy came to Israel.  Mindy only had one child, Chana, Elisheva’s mother and Chana had raised children and grandchildren.  Mindy’s granddaughter continued that they were lighting this torch to remember their entire family who was killed.  Elisheva handed the torch to her grandmother and Mindy started speaking.

“I am lighting this torch to remember my family who died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Germans:  Shlomi, Moishe, Freidel, Sarahleh, Dovid….”  She paused slightly before each of their names and did not use their proper names but rather their nicknames.  You could hear in her voice, that as she recited the names, she revisited their faces.  Name after name.  31 people.  Her entire family.
 rosh hashana - 2014
Then, her voice cracking, Mindy continued.  “Two days ago, another great-grandchild was born for me.  Two days ago, my 31st descendent came into the world.  31 descendents for 31 of my family members who were killed.  This is my revenge.  This is my answer to the Nazis who wanted to eliminate the Jewish people.  The revenge of life and not of death.”

70 years is a long time.

MIndy had to wait almost 70 years for those 31 relatives to come back into her life.

70 years of hope.
70 years of yearning.
70 years of patience.
70 years of belief in the Jewish promise.

“Know that your children will be strangers in a land not their own.  They will be oppressed, but I will execute judgement on the nation which oppresses them, and in the end, they will go free with great wealth….They will return to their land.”

Patience and promise.  And if anyone asks about the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages, throughout the hardships, I would have to say that the belief in the promise and the willingness to wait for it, are a big part of the answer.  Come to Israel for a visit and let me help you discover your part in the promise.


modiin dayWe are coming up to the holiday of Passover.  And it occurs to me that my life over the last few years has a lot of parallels to that first Passover.

The children of Israel were in Egypt in a situation which was getting increasingly worse, not only for them, but at the end also for those around them.

And then it happened.  In haste, they left Egypt.  They didn’t have time for the correct preparations.  They didn’t have time for a normal meal.  They sat with their children and their neighbors and waited for the moment when they would leave Egypt.  They didn’t have time to dream.

And then, when the time came, they couldn’t even leave under their own power.  With an outstretched hand, God took them out of Egypt. God pushed them from one reality to another.  They missed the watermelon and the eggplant.  They doubted leaving the known of Egypt for an unknown future.  What would they eat?  What would they drink?  Where was the illustrious “Land of Milk and Honey”? Questions they had.  Answers fewer.  After the events of the first few months, the drowning of the Egyptians and the receiving of the Torah, the sin of the Golden Calf,  after the fanfare and the fireworks, it started.

What it?  The silence – the 38 years of wandering and wondering. And what remains for us is this, silence.  No stories, no laws, nothing.  Day after day of existence – simple existence.

And then, as suddenly as it started, they were on the opposite bank of the Jordan, across the area of Qesr al-Yehud of today.  Their new reality was in front of them; a new mission, a new land, new dreams.  They had new inspiration and new connections.  They knew who was in their tribe and where they were meant to be.  Moshe, in a series of short snippets, gave them the entire book of Deuteronomy in a single month to prepare them for the next phase.

And then, they worked to fulfill those dreams.  Building one day onto the next and working toward something – not simply existing but moving forward.  They were not always successful – they lost at Ai, suffered with civil war,  ignored prophets and followed evil kings – but they worked toward a goal.  We read about all those events in the books of the prophets.  Scroll after scroll of stories written about a people who found a goal after a silence.

Silence is where I am these days.  I justify it away.  I tell myself it takes time.  And it is true that I feel that my everyday life is existence, just existence.  I look for inspiration on Facebook.  I don’t write enough.  I don’t have a plan.  And perhaps more troubling for me, I don’t have dreams. This lack of dreams is intertwined with a lack of stories.  Nothing new.  Nothing worth weaving a story around.  Silent and storyless.

And then, I realize that I need to get my life back on track.  I am o.k.  My kids are fabulous.  My friends are my family.  I have some work I love.  Thank God.  Thank God.  And now I need to find the inspiration, to dream.

It’s a rough spot.  Usually, I am providing inspiration for others – putting pieces together to make a coherent whole which will touch you spiritually, cognitively,  or otherwise.  That is the way I guide.

Part of the puzzle came together through a comment by a stranger. Someone who commented about the quality of my posts. And I realize that I have neglected my writing.  Writing is part of me and something I love.  That part of the dream has been silent – but it doesn’t need to be.  Going back to writing is awakening part of myself.  I need to find the other parts, do those things which make me supremely happy.  They are part of the dream as well.

With Passover just ahead, I need to refocus on being a  guide for myself.  I need to find the pieces which make me who I am and put them together into a coherent whole – to find a dream.

It’s there, I know it is.  Just beyond Qesr al-Yehud….