Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Car Blanc

I know a lot about cars, man. I can look at any car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming.
- Mitch Hedberg

I have been driving a car since I was 16 years of age (five years ago). I got my license in the dead of an Old Country winter. I was assured that, if I could pass the test under those conditions, I would have no problem driving under any conditions, which has proved to be more or less true.


Beer Sheva’s winter is not a shadow of a shadow of an Old Country winter; though sandstorms are dirtier than snowstorms, you still never have to plug in your car.

I am the main driver in our family. I take the car daily to work, do most of the errands, and chauffeur those who need chauffeuring. The husband uses it occasionally in the evenings and on Fridays, when he fills the car with gas. They used to give out free newspapers with a fill-up so he would wait for Fridays to get the bigger weekend paper for free. They stopped giving the papers out for free, but the custom remains, much to my delight.

You see, I don’t much like driving. “Just close your eyes and drive”, my friend D once advised me, which is more or less what I do. But my dislike for driving is NOTHING compared to my dislike of actually taking care of the car; much like comparing Beer Sheva and Old Country winters.

And so, it was with a certain amount of dread that, this morning, I took the family car in for its annual test.

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but here in the Holy Land, every motor vehicle is required to be tested for road worthiness once a year. The test includes checking window wipers, lights, brakes, the steering system, and gas emission. (They used to check to make sure you had some sort of receptacle for garbage, but they don’t anymore. That was the only part of the test I aced.)

I can’t imagine what the roads would be like if the cars weren’t tested.

The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, not including registration, payment, the clerk’s conversation with her grandkid, the tester’s cigarette breaks, the other tester’s meeting with his friend from back home whom he hasn’t – apparently – seen in decades, the guy who cuts in because he’s REALLY IMPORTANT, and waiting in the wrong line.

I drove into the test area at precisely 7:42 AM. I figured that if I went early, I would have less of a wait. There is, obviously, no parking lot there (you're supposed to test the car, not park it!) so I left the car next to a mound of mud, took the necessary papers with me and went to register and pay for the test. That done, including the requisite oohing and ahhing over the cute grandkid, I deftly maneuvered the car around the pile of mud (maybe that was part of the test?) and drove slowly to the area of the first platform.

Unfortunately, they had moved the platform. I sat in my car waiting to be noticed but, in reality, was actively ignored. Eventually, some other customer took pity on me and waved me into the correct line. A few minutes later, the tester began barking orders at me. This first part was to check that the lights and wipers all work properly. I’ve done the test many times and know the words in Hebrew. I was fairly confident that I would handle this part easily.

"Visherim"[1]!! he yelled. I obediently switched the window wipers on and off. They worked. "Vinker"[2]! came the next command. I switched on the left-turn signal. "NO! the other one! I'm standing here!" I quickly clicked the windshield wiper. Then I put on the headlights. Then the wipers again, and finally hit the right-turn signal. He waited patiently. Nodding at my right-turn blinker, he crossed to the other side of the car. "Vinker", he hollered. On went the wipers, followed by the right-turn blinker. "I can do this", I said to myself, took a deep breath and switched off the air conditioner I had erroneously switched on, and then, finally hit the correct light. I've always had trouble telling my left hand from my right. 

He went to the back of the car. "Breksim[3]!!!" I stood on the brakes. That one I could handle. "Rrrrreverrrs[4]!" I switched to reverse. The lights, thankfully, were all working.

One more command then came at me from nowhere. "Tzofarr[5]!" And then it happened. My brain completely froze and refused to translate his heavily accented word into anything comprehensible. I blinked. "Tzofarrrrr!" he shouted again. I blinked again. He smiled slightly. "Beep beep", he said more softly. Ah. A slight thaw, and I merrily tooted my horn, and headed off to the next platform.

This next platform was to check the brakes. The testee (me) is required to drive onto two planks suspended over a pit, in which a man stands. This is the part of the test that absolutely gives me the heebie jeebies. I am positive that, one day, I will cause my car to fall off the planks and plummet onto the head of man beneath.

The tester (who stood on solid ground) beckoned me with his hand. "Od, od, od (More, more, more)", he urged, as I crept forward inch by inch. Finally, he signaled enough and I slammed on the brakes. "Nootrul"[6], he shouted at me. I switched from drive to neutral. "Bli (without) breksim!" Terrified the car would plunge into the bottomless pit beneath me, I slowly eased my foot off the breksim, er, brakes, as requested.

A minute later, came the command "hendbreks"[7]! I grabbed the handbrakes, but the stick slipped out of my hand. I grabbed again, still careful not to move too much so the car wouldn't descend into the depths, crushing the man waiting patiently underneath my car. I managed to hold onto the brakes, but it wouldn't engage correctly. Another deep breath, and third time lucky. "Ok", said the tester, beckoning me to creep forward a meter. The man in the pit beneath stood waiting for me. I released the hendbreks slowly, and, careful not to move my body in any direction, eased the car forward.

The tester, observing my pale face, clammy hands, and frozen brain, finally felt sorry for me. He reached in the car and grabbed the steering wheel, jerking it first to the right and then to the left, quite hard. The first thought I had was "the man below is going to die", and the second thought was "he must think I'm an idiot". I was half right. In the meantime the man below was checking something under the car, I suppose the bekeksl[8] or maybe it was the bekeksl kidmi[9].

The final segment of the test was for gas emission. After waiting for the guy to finish talking to his long-lost landsman, my car was hooked up to some machine, which measured stuff. I just had to sit there with my foot on the gas pedal, and, lucky for me, not move.

Test over, and passing with flying colors, I reparked the car next to the mound of mud, and went back to the office to exchange the test papers for a diploma.

The whole thing took 35 minutes; 35 minutes of my life, which I will not get back again.

Finally arriving at work a half an hour late and explaining why, every single other woman - every. single. one. - said, "oh, I make the husband take the test. I never go."

I didn't really understand that. After all, they are all native Hebrew speakers, so the language wasn't a problem for them.

Of course, they never learned to drive in an Old Country winter. Everything comes easy after that.

[1] Visher is a bastardized rendition of the English word ‘washer’, which is what window wipers are for (Visherim is the plural form).
[2] Vinker is a bastardized rendition of the English word ‘blinker’. In Hebrew, the B sound and the V sound are made by the same letter (bet ב) and are interchangeable. The L is left out because it’s almost impossible to say an L after a V. Vinkerim is the plural form.
[3] The plural form of Hebrew nouns is 'im'. So breksim, in fact, is the plural of the plural and means brakeses.
[4] Reverse in English, but only used in the context of vehicle. You would never use the word rrrreverrrz in a sentence such as “the reverse is also true”. There, you would say HaHefech.
[5] I actually knew this word. Tzofar is a bastardized rendition of the Hebrew word shofar (ram’s horn) – the thing we blow on Rosh HaShana.
[6] Nootrul has morphed from being a word used only in the context of gears, to being a verb used in the context of law enforcement and is a verb, i.e., the terrorist has been neutralized – or in Hebrew – me’nootral.
[7] Logically, the Hebrew should be Hendbreksim, but, strangely enough, it's not.
[8] bekeksl - in case the reader hadn't figured it out - is a bastardized rendition of the English word back axle.
[9] Kidmi is the Hebrew word for front. Therefore, bekeksl kidmi means the front back axle.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Points to Ponder

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
-Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

This Shabbat, we will begin to read the book of Exodus (Shmot שמות)—the second book of the Chumash. Shmot begins the story of the Jewish nation, from their slavery in Egypt, to their redemption and their travels through the desert. There have always been discussions, debates, arguments, disputes, altercations, and even – to our dismay – fist fights over the relevance of Biblical stories to our lives today, in the 21st century.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading of slavery, suffering, obstinance, leadership, and heroism. Below, are a few facts and explanations, which seem to be very relevant to our situation today. I'm just going to relate the points to ponder, and I'll let you make whatever connections you like.

Point to ponder #1:

The book of Shmot starts with the story of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt and the first recorded case of anti-Semitism.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. And he said to his people, Behold, the people of the children of Yisrael are more and mightier than we: come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it comes to pass, that when any war should chance, they also join our enemies, and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” Shmot 1:8

There is nothing at all in the literature to indicate that the Children of Israel were thinking of taking over Egypt, or fighting the Egyptians. This is all pure “the Jews have taken over international financing in order to conquer the world” stuff. Protocols of the elders of Zion, Egyptian style.

Pharoah first instructs Shifra and Puah, the Israelite midwives (commonly belived to be Miriam and Yocheved), to kill all the Hebrew babies. Yet, Pharaoh realizes that this is not suffiicient. At this point, Pharoah's astrologers have seen that the saviour of the slaves will soon be born, but they cannot see if he is to be Hebrew, or Egyptian. They also see something about water, but they are a little fuzzy on this point. And so, Pharaoh, in his great wisdom and mercy, decrees that ALL baby boys, when born, are to be thrown into the river, Hebrew or Egyptian. The fear and hatred of the Jews is great enough to sacrifice their own babies.

Point to ponder #2.

"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi." Shmot 2:1. We know that this is Amram and Yocheved, but at this point neither is named. Yocheved is named as one of the 70 souls entering Egypt with Yaakov. She was born just as they arrive. Our sages have calculated that at this point in the story, she is 130 years old. When Sarah gives birth to Yitzchak she is 90 years old, and much is made of the miracle of his birth, and how an old women was able to give birth. Yocheved, on the other hand, is not even named. No mention of any miracles, no mention of her appearance, or how she reacted to the news of being pregnant. Why is that? One explanation is that there were so many miracles going on at that time amongst the Israelites that giving birth at 130 was not such a big deal. Many women were giving birth at advanced ages. Women, in awful conditions, were giving birth – according to the Midrash – to six babies at a time. Shifra and Puah were credited not only for not killing newborn babies, but also in resuscitating those who had died from natural causes. From this we learn that it is easy to overlook miracles when there are so many occurring all around. Sometimes we take things for granted, especially when everything is going well. You don’t notice the babies who DON’T die.

The trick, the hard part, is to see the miracles as they occur, and for what they are, G-d's proof of His love for us. Which brings me to:

Point to ponder #3.

G-d, being omnipotent, could have simply taken the Children of Israel out of Egypt with a snap of His fingers. But He didn’t. He first had to impose the ten plagues on the people of Egypt. He began by turning the water to blood. Why was blood the first plague? There are many explanations of this, not the least of which is that the river was considered holy; G-d wanted the Egyptians to understand that He and only He was the true G-d. Along with this explanation, however, it is also suggested that the river was chosen for the plague because of its very lack of change. The river was always there. It could always be depended upon. It was not at the mercy of rainfall. The river was never changing. And the people took it completely for granted. It was only when it changed that they realized how much they depended on it, and how lucky they were to have it. The next plague, frogs, emphasizes this even more. Frogs are totally innocuous. They don’t harm, and they don’t help. They are just kind of there. And nobody ever notices frogs, until they take over. This was one of G-d’s purposes in the plagues; to make people aware of G-d, not only in times of trouble, but to understand that a lack of trouble is also G-d’s work.

Point to Ponder #4

The slavery of the Jews in Egypt was not a personal slavery like those of the blacks in southern America 150 years ago. Individual households did not have slaves to work in their fields. Rather, the slaves were owned by Pharaoh himself, and were used to build cities, and storage facilities.

Nonetheless, the plagues were visited upon the whole population. When the river turned to blood, it wasn’t only Pharaoh and his court who went thirsty. It was the whole populace who suffered. The frogs tormented everyone, down to the last child, and the locusts and hail destroyed not only the king’s cattle and crops but every last person’s field. And of course the killing of the first born affected even the animals. This is to show us that a society that supports evil, or does not fight against evil, even when they don’t directly benefit from it, must be destroyed.

Today, the media would call this Disproportional response.

Point to Ponder #5 

At the Passover Seder (16 weeks from today!!!!!), we drink 4 cups of wine to remember the four affirmations of redemption.

I will bring you out ..... and
I will deliver you out ..... and
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm ..... and
I will take you to me for a people. Exodus 6:6

Most people stop there, but if you continue to read just a bit further G-d goes on to say:

And I will bring you into the Land, which I swore to give to Avraham, Yizchak and to Yaakov, and I will give it to you for a heritage. Exodus 6:8

G-d brought us out, and delivered us, and redeemed us, and took us in order to bring us to the Land. Something we must never forget. The miracles He performed/s for us were/are in order for us, as a people, to live in our Land, and follow His mitzvot.

The Haggada of Pesach was first compiled in Babylon, in exile, and it didn’t seem fitting to remember and celebrate the Land, which had been lost. Later, when so many Jews remained outside the Land, it still did not seem appropriate to add the 5th cup.

We are back in our Land. The exile seems to be coming to an end as Jews stream to Israel from the four corners of the globe. Miracles are taking place at a heart stopping rate.

Maybe it’s time to add the fifth cup?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Eight fun facts of Chanuka

Put on your yarmulke, Here comes Hanukkah! So much funukah, To celebrate Hanukkah! 
 - Adam Sandler

Of all the holidays, Chanuka has always been my favorite. Courage, miracles, good guys, bad guys, soofganiyot, chocolate coins, and a week off school. What could be bad?

Of course, the greatest miracle of Chanuka is not gaining weight from all the latkes and donuts. I have it on excellent sources that during the holiday itself, calories evaporate.

The other greatest miracle is that we are still here, over 2000 years after Yehuda HaMacabi, lighting candles, remembering the Holy Temple and - even a greater miracle - doing so, once again, in our Land.

The story of Chanuka is one, not of victory, as is usually assumed (the war was eventually lost), but of hope. When it's the darkest, even a spark can dispel it; we have only but to light it.

One of the ways to celebrate Chanuka is learn about the holiday. So here are eight fun facts - one for each night - that you may or may not know. Please feel free to add your own.

1. The word dreidel is Yiddish, and means to spin. It is said that, in the time of the Greek occupation of the Holy Land, because Torah study was outlawed, youth would gather to learn in secret and bring games – sometimes a spinning top made of clay – with them. If foreign soldiers found them, they would seemingly be playing innocent sports. Therefore, the game of dreidel dreidel dreidel is over 2000 years old and still popular. Even if it’s not dry and ready.

2. A Menorah and a Chanukiah are NOT the same thing. The Menorah – a seven branched candelabra – was lit by the High Priest daily in the Holy Temple. It was made from one solid block of gold, and originally designed and built by Bezalel in the desert. Under Greek occupation, the Temple was profaned, and the ceremony was stopped. When the Temple was reclaimed by the Maccabees, the Menorah was once again relit with the famous pure bottle of oil that was found and which lasted eight days. A Chanukiah – a nine branched candelabra – is what we light to remember the Menorah. (A copy of the Temple Menorah has been rebuilt – at the reputed cost of three million dollars – and is on display on the stairs leading to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.)

3. The tradition of giving gifts – usually coins (or gelt—money in Yiddish) – to children was to reward them for learning Torah and to teach them to give tzadaka – charity. Keeping up with Xmas had nothing to do with it. Chocolate is good too. 

4. The Maccabean war against the Greeks was actually a civil war against Hellenized (i.e., assimilated) Jews. Many Jews, it seemed, wanted to be more Greek than the Greeks, and thought the ‘Orthodox Jews’ antiquated, primitive, and barbaric. They dismissed the practice of Brit Mila (it spoils the 'perfect form'), desecrated the Sabbath (time cannot be holy, only men and the gods), ridiculed the laws of modesty (they played sports in the nude as was Greek custom, showing off the 'perfect form'), and dishonored the Holy Torah (reading, instead, the Greek plays and legends). The Maccabees brought Jewish life back to the HolyLand. Over the years, this bit of the story was overlooked, mostly because it was considered 'unpleasant' to bring up the fact of internecine fighting.  

This would have gone down well. 

5. The Greeks were actually Seleucids (and not Greek at all), whose center of power was in today’s Syria (and not Athens) and, at the time of the Chanuka story, was ruled by Antiochus IV. He added the name ‘Epiphanes’ to his own—meaning God’s Manifest. However, the Jews called him Epimames–the mad-man. He was not a very nice man.

Bust of Antiochus IV

6. The Maccabees weren’t really an army. If they were around today, chances are they would look like a cross between charedim and IDF soldiers. (Something to think about.)

something like this

7. Chanuka is the only Jewish holiday without its own book to read. The Book of Maccabees, which tells of the early wars and the rededication of the Temple and other stories associated with the wars, was originally written in Hebrew, but survived only in Greek. (It's been re-translated back into Hebrew, English, and other languages). For various reasons, it was not included in the canonization of the Bible. 

in Latin

in Greek

8. The Maccabean revolt lasted over 20 years. The re-dedication of the Temple occurred, probably, in the third year. The leader of the revolt, Matityahu, died in the first year. His sons took over, with Yehuda the Maccabbee leading. Yehuda was killed shortly after the rededication of the Temple. Of the five sons, only one – Shimon – survived the wars. He ushered in 80 years of Jewish independence, until infighting, dissension, and sedition allowed the Roman army to occupy the country, leading to the eventual destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from their Land.

There is another custom, one my friend E told me about and I wrote about here, and that is to describe, while the candles are burning, a miracle that happened to you. This is to publicize G-d mercy and greatness; that His miracles are are around us.

So while you're at it, feel free to tell me miracles.

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a happy and blessed Chanuka.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good to the Last Walk

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
― Noël Coward

In the last few months, in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, I have taken to walking around my neighborhood. It turns out that simply not moving any of one’s muscles at all – ever – is not the optimum way of exercising.

And so, I have been striding up and down the streets around my home.

In the interests of full disclosure I must state that I dislike walking. I much prefer watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Get Smart and eating cake crumbs (so that the calories leak out). However, I dislike walking less than I dislike, say, cooking or cleaning or doing laundry or waking up my kids to go to school or taking out the garbage or scraping the grunge off the stove or peeling potatoes or sewing elastic on old underwear rather than buy a new pair because the owner REALLY LIKES that pair and you can’t find them like that anymore or dusting the blinds or scrubbing the toilet or cleaning out the penicillin growing in the fridge or wiping down the light switches or making beds (actually I wouldn’t know about that – I’m not sure I’ve ever done it….) or, and especially, ironing.

In the summer, when it’s hot, I wait till late in the evening to go out, after the sun has gone down and the temperatures drop dramatically—from 39° C down to 35° C. (Just kidding about the dramatic part.) Actually, summer temperatures make a great excuse to sit at home and watch reruns of BTVS with a fan directly on my face. 

But when winter (and I use the word in the Israeli sense, hahahaha Old Country) comes, the weather actually invites walking. So, two, three, four, and  – once, memorably – FIVE times a week, I strap on my walking shoes and trudge forth. Lucky for me, winter only lasts a week and a half.

I live in a nice residential area on the south-western edge of Beer Sheva. 15 minutes of sprightly walking brings one to the edge of town, right into the desert. (It takes me about 45 minutes - I don't do spright.) Down the street from me is a ‘forest’ (forgive the term). Made up of a couple of acres of untended trees, mice, and a family of fox, the forest is used by youth groups for fun activities by day, and by slightly more unsavory youth for slightly more unsavory fun activities by night. The trees give the street the feel of ‘country’ within the city. Sometimes, there are sheep grazing, and once or twice the place has been visited by camels. That’s always fun. I avoid walking through the forest, but I do walk past it on my nocturnal wanderings. 

My forest
Not my forest

There are parks and tennis courts, shops, shuls, schools, a soccer field, and a running track all close to home. The streets are quiet and there is little traffic on the side roads. It’s a lovely area, and in the evenings – winter and summer – there are usually dozens and dozens of people out walking, running, jogging, skating, hiking, marching, rambling, strolling, strutting, and riding bikes. It really can be quite pleasant. 

However, this is Israel, and nothing is simple, even a walk in the park.

Beer Sheva is a quiet and safe town. The level of crime is relatively low. My kids have walked around at all hours of the day and night with no problems.

The other night was very quiet, with almost nobody around. I was at a crossroad, debating whether to turn left and take a shortcut home, or turn right and enjoy the quiet and the air for a little longer. Just then, an old dilapidated tender (is tender an English word? A small pick-up truck is what I want)[i] – the kind casual workers would use – stopped across from me and a young disheveled man got out, I immediately turned left , and scurried home.

An evening or two later, I ventured out again. It was earlier in the evening and I hoped more people would be around. I took my usual route, through quiet and dark streets. There were a few people walking, but in couples or in groups. I was the only lone walker. I had just reached a lighted busy street, when a man brushed past me. I let out a little scream and jumped out of both the way and my skin. I scared the man almost as badly, and I found myself apologizing to him. “You got scared?” asked the man’s walking companion – presumably his wife – “it’s the times. Everyone is jumpy”. I let the couple pass me, took several deep breaths, and continued on my way down a now well-lighted street with lots of traffic. 15 minutes later, relaxed and listening to Katy Perry (I know, I  know, don’t start), a high-pitch screeching whizzed by me on a bike. Maniacal laughter, which only a 12-year old can manufacture, could be heard in the distance. I picked myself - and my heart, which had jounced clear out of my body - up off the wall I had crashed into, and watched the kid ride away. So much for Katy Perry. I went home.

I’m not a nervous person, really I’m not. But Israel today seems to be full of angry, brainwashed people who find it fulfilling to stab/run over/throw stones at Jews. This can influence one's nerves. 

Warning: Graphic content.

I could go on and on. But I think the point has been made. These attacks come from anywhere, at any time, on anyone. All you have to do to get stabbed is be alive.

I’m still walking. I watch over my shoulder, and I stay on well-lit streets with lots of traffic. I’m brave, but not stupid. (All Israelis are de facto brave, and most are heroic.) Sometimes, it’s hard to hear Katy sing with the noise of the passing cars, but at least I get to pass the largest mall in the Middle East as I stride with head held high and eyes wide open .

If I’m going to dislike walking, it’s going to be on my terms, and nobody can take that away from me.

Except maybe Buffy and Angel.

[i] The myth goes that during the British Mandate, British soldiers would point to a 10-seater van and yell “ten over there and ten there! In Israelspeak, this became “ten der and ten der”. These vans became known as tenders. I don’t know if this is true.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Until When?

My hope is that gays will be running the world, because then there would be no war. Just greater emphasis on military apparel.
- Roseanne Barr

I have told the following story approximately a million times, so I apologize in advance if you’ve already heard it. But it makes a good introduction.

When my older sister was preparing for the brit milah of her first son, she told me that the ritual was barbaric in nature. “Everyone is sitting around fressing and celebrating, while a little baby is in pain” is how she put it.
My sister, I figured, is a nut. Here’s a ritual that’s taken place among Jews for more than 3500 years, given to us by G-d Himself as a covenant, and she’s calling it barbaric. She’s just an avant garde, vegetarian, tree-hugging, anti-traditional, radical, extremist, liberal, I reasoned. 

And then, about six years later, I had my first son.

Believe me, I am NOT an avant garde, vegetarian, tree-hugging, anti-traditional, radical, extremist, liberal. And apparently, neither was my sister. The ritual of Brit Milah suddenly seemed awfully barbaric to me. I stood at the back of the hall where the brit was taking place and cried.

I went on to have two more sons. For both ceremonies, I left the hall altogether. By the time my grandson was born (the son of the son who had turned me into a radical extremist liberal), I almost didn’t come to the brit at all. I sat in another room, with my head on my knees, breathing deeply.
All the boys came through the ritual far better off than I did.

A brit milah might change a boy physically, but not emotionally or mentally.

The army, however, is a whole other story.

When I first came to Israel, the soldiers I knew or saw weren’t close enough to me to think about worrying over any of them. My male friends who went through the army were admired. They were applauded. They were drooled over.

When my husband was drafted, it was for a shortened service and his basic training was about two weeks. He served for almost 20 years in the reserves, but not as a combat soldier.

My friends had kids in the army over whom they worried. I sympathized.

And then my son went into the army.

And then my second son went into the army.

And then my third son.

When the first went in, I repeated the brit experience. I sat in my room and cried. For the second son, I decided to be brave. I sat in my room and breathed deeply. I allowed myself to cry only in the bathroom. The third was drafted during Operation Protective Edge. His brother was serving on the Gaza Border. I was no longer brave. I just cried, anywhere and everywhere.

I learned a lot from my boys when they were in the army.

I learned the names of the different army divisions – kita, machlaka, pluga, gdood, chativa (roughly – squad, section, platoon, company, and battalion).

I learned the colors of the berets for the different battalions.

I learned new words:

Kalab (קל"ב) short for ‘karov l’bayit ((קרוב לבית) – close to home. Serving on the Lebanon border or on Mt. Hermon is not Kalab. Serving in Gaza is.

Kumtah (כומתה) - a soldier’s beret. Each battalion has a different colored beret. Combat soldiers receive their colored kumtah only after a Masa Kumtah (מסע כומתה) – a 50 km hike in full battle gear (weighing approximately 40 Kg). At night. Only then, is he a real soldier. This is celebrated at the Tekes Kumta (טקס כומתה – beret ceremony), where the soldiers are given their berets in front of their families. I cried. Twice. One ceremony was cancelled because of snow. I cried it was cancelled.

Gimmelim – sick leave (to receive 3 gimmelim means receiving 3 days of sick leave). I don’t believe I’m the only Israeli mother who said “Yay, he’s really sick!!! He got gimmelim!!”

I learned that soldiers are divided into ‘veteran’ and ‘young’. Veteran soldiers are those who have been in the army for more than two years; young soldiers less than two years. (Veteran soldiers are often younger than young soldiers.) Young soldiers aren’t supposed to drink milk. They risk getting beaten up if they do. I don’t know why.

I learned that עד מתי!! is the clarion call of all soldiers.

עד מתי is literally translated as until when? But the real meaning is how long is this going to last?

עד מתי the boys would shout, as they slogged through mud and weeds on yet another night trek.

עד מתי can be heard when they were told that their weekend leave was cancelled because there was intelligence that mischief was afoot, and more manpower was needed.

עד מתי is whispered as the boys lay under the small amount of shade they could find trying to survive yet another 50° (C) summer day in the Judean Desert. 

I learned that pride and fear don't cancel each other out. Indeed, they egg each other on.
עד מתי 

My youngest son was officially released from the army yesterday. I can't stop crying.

We’re done. For now.

Until the next call up.

עד מתי –Until when – will mothers and fathers cry?

Friday, November 6, 2015

To Be Continued In the Land

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah: and Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hevron, in the Land of Canaan.
Genesis, 23:1-2

This Shabbat we read Parshat Chayei Sarah. Two main episodes are related in the parsha; the first the death and burial of Sarah, the wife of Avraham, and the second is the acquisition of a wife for Yitzchak, his son. Both of these episodes are related in great detail.

In the first episode, we are told - not how or why Sarah died - but how Avraham went about finding a suitable gravesite for her; how he bargained for it, how he was careful to pay a full price, how much he paid, where it was, who owned it, etc etc. The second episode is not only detailed, but actually repeated! Why are these two episodes so lengthy in description?

To answer this, we must understand what these episodes represent. 
Avraham had been promised two things by G-d. The first promise is that the land of Canaan would be his, and the second promise is that he would be the father of a great nation. 
Both promises are made no less than 5 times each (trust me on this). 
But at Sarah’s death, where does Avraham stand? He is not in possession of the Land, and his 37 year old son, Yitzchak, is not even married, let alone having children. Despite all of G-d’s promises, Avraham is worried. He therefore makes sure that the burial site is his for a fair price. Indeed this is the only bit of Eretz Canaan that Avraham actually owns in his whole life. And his second mission, that of marrying off his son, he takes great care to make sure that the proper wife is selected.

Yet why Avraham so careful with these two missions?  Why is he so worried? Why doesn’t he just rely on G-d’s promises? The answer is because the promises aren’t exactly promises. They are G-d’s covenant. They are a part of an agreement. “You do this, and I’ll give you that”. And what is it that Avraham is supposed to do to receive the Land and descendants? 
It is only with the total commitment and participation of Avraham that G-d’s promises can come into being.   Only with devotion, sacrifice, and sweat, will these things come into beingsometimes against seemingly unbeatable odds-not only for Avraham, but also for his descendants. .

G-d’s promise of the Land – Israel – and His promise of children – Jewish continuity – are basically the two concerns which occupy Jews today. 'Will Israel be safe for Jews, and will I have Jewish grandchildren'.

And it is these concerns that have occupied Jews for the last 4000 years. The story of Chanuka (celebrated in five weeks) is a story of Jewish continuity. The battles of the Maccabees were battles against Hellenism, Greek culture undermining the Torah, The Maccabees won that battle – suffering great losses, showing faith in G-d’s word, and through that faith allowing His promise to be fulfilled.

Today we face the same challenges. G-d’s promises will come true, but only if we do our part. Avraham’s trials show us that faith does not mean inaction, but rather the opposite. 
We must take action, sometimes at an unbearable cost. We must fight for our identity, continue to settle our Land, fight against the Hellenists among us, who insist that the Land of Israel can be a Fun Place To Visit. That is not our goal. Our goal is to be, like the chanukia, a light to dispel the darkness, in our Land, in this generation, and for all generations to come.

Sarah's burial ground, the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hevron

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In the Beginning

Where there is Torah, it sustains the world.
- HaRav Ovadia Yosef

Last Shabbat, I read a dvar Torah about Parshat Breishit. It was simple, but I had never thought about it before. After all the horrible events of this week, it seems to be relevant too.

The first line in the Torah is:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

The question is asked, ‘Why does the Torah start with the letter beit (ב), the second letter of the alphabet and not the first letter, alef (א)? There are many answers to this, and there is great significance to the order of the words. (I'm afraid I'm not going to link anything here - knock yourselves out and look it up.)

That significance is shown in the following story from the Tamud: (Tractate Megillah 9a):

In the times of the Greek/Roman occupation of the HolyLand, 70 (or 72) Rabbis were forced by the Egyptian King Ptolemy II to translate the Torah into Greek. (Known as the Septuagint, it was considered to be a great tragedy, as the Torah is supposed to be learned and read only in Hebrew so as to avoid misinterpretation in language or connotations.) The King and the Greeks/Romans wanted to prove that the Torah could not possibly be written by G-d and that having different translations by different Rabbis would prove this. Each Rabbi was placed in isolation so they could not discuss the wording with each other. When each Rabbi finished his translation, it was found that each version was IDENTICAL to the others. Not only were the Greek words the same in each version, each Rabbi changed certain wording in the same places with the same phrases, so as to avoid misinterpretations. One such change that each of the 70 (or 72) Rabbis made was the very first sentences. Their translation, began, not with the words in the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), but rather with the word G-d, (אֱלֹקים), i.e., “G-d created the heavens and earth in the beginning”. 

The change was made this so that the Greeks/Romans would not think that a god named Breishit/Beginning created anything.

However, this change raises its own question: If there is a danger of misinterpretation, why does the Torah begin with the word 'breishit' בְּרֵאשִׁית and not with the word God?

Because, say our sages, there were no worries that Bnei Yisrael, to whom the Torah was given, would misunderstand. There was no reason for Moshe Rabbenu not to write the words in the correct order, laden with its meaning and significance.

The Torah is cyclical, we never stop reading or learning it.

The last line of the Torah is:

לְכֹל הַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה וּלְכֹל הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה משֶׁה לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל
‘and all the strong hand, and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel’.

On Simchat Torah, we read the end of the Torah, and immediately begin again from the beginning, so what we are reading is:

לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
Before the eyes of all Israel, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.                       

In other words, G-d created the heavens and earth right in front of our eyes. How can we not believe in the one true G-d and in His Word.
And when we continue to read the Parsha, we know that all He created was good.

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד
And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.