Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Starts and Fresh Beginnings

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.
-Alan Alda

A few short years ago, I graduated from high school. I don’t remember the exact date, but the graduation ceremony was somewhere in the two weeks between Passover and Israel's Independence Day (Yom HaAzmaut). I went to a Jewish High School, back in the Old Country, where we learned Bible, Jewish Law, Jewish History, a smattering of Hebrew, and a great deal of Zionism. We graduated in the early spring (there was probably still snow on the ground) so that my class could travel to Israel and spend five months working on a Kibbutz and travel the country.

I don’t remember all the details of that graduation. I do remember that I was the first in the line of graduates to march into the school synagogue – where the ceremony took place – because I was the shortest one (though I was led to believe it was because I was the cutest and smartest...). I remember who the valedictorian was (today, if I’m not mistaken, he’s a professor in a prestigious Old Country University). I remember the guest speaker, a Rabbi I much admired and respected, and who, several years later, as life would have it, became my cousin’s father-in-law. (By then, I was already living in Israel, and was not privileged to get to know him better.) I even remember the really awful dress that my mother had made for me for the event. It was truly hideous.

The Old Country School with Snow
What I remember most clearly, however, was my apprehension.

Well, it wasn’t quite apprehension. More like disquiet. Worry. Dread. Terror.

Because, not only had I finished high school and my future now lay before me without an iota of an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but, to make matter worse, I had opted out of going on the Israel program with my class. I had decided that if I was going to spend time in Israel, I was going to go by myself, and not with 20 people I had known all my life. A new country and a new experience required a new start, a fresh beginning, and independence.

Therefore, I, at the ripe old age of 17, made my first adult decision of NOT going to Israel with my class, and instead, to go by myself the following autumn.

All through that graduation, and for months after, I wondered and worried whether I had made the right decision. I was leaving the extreme comfort of the life well-known and the road well-traveled (and not doing what was expected of a good Jewish girl), and leaping into an abyss of the completely and utterly unfamiliar, unexplored, unknown.

My parents (may their memories be blessed) were NOT happy with this decision, to put it mildly.

That graduation ceremony was the last time I saw many of my classmates, who had been classmates, friends, and family just about all my life. I honestly didn't know anyone or anything else.

Shortly after graduation, and the departure of the participants of the Israel program, the Jewish community of my hometown organized its annual ‘Yom HaAzmaut March for Israel', something I had participated in every year for many years. That year was a significant anniversary (as it is this year). I made my way to the center of town to take part, as I had done many times before. Israeli flags were flying, Hebrew songs were being sung.  I walked with the rest of the crowd, but without my friends, who were, for the most part, in Israel. There were a few other classmates who had not gone with the class, but I don’t remember seeing them at the March.

I left the March for Israel early, before the end.

And have not been back since.

I remember going home on the bus from that March, tears in my eyes, lonely, afraid, unsure of the future. Was the first decision I had made as an adult a wrong one? Fresh beginnings and independence weren't looking so appealing at that point.

I spent most of that summer alone.

I did come to Israel that autumn after my spring graduation as planned. I traveled alone, though I met an acquaintance on the plane. We parted in Tel Aviv, and I saw her again about 5 years later. She had left Israel after a few months. It hadn’t worked out for her.

Since that Old Country March for Israel, I have been blessed to celebrate every Yom HaAzmaut but one, here, in Israel, marking it in the traditional Israeli way: hanging flags on our car, eating falafel, watching fireworks, hiking, barbecuing, pretending I know an answer from the Bible Contest, and spending the day with family and friends. For me, it seems to have worked out.

Every day is a new beginning, a fresh start.
Every day is a challenge.
Every day is a wonder and a miracle.

And here I am now, these few years, one husband, five children, two grandchildren, four cars, and seven washing machines later.

Still marching for Israel.
(and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.)

That first decision as an adult turned out to be the right decision. I was not so lucky in all my subsequent decisions – sometimes yes, and sometimes no – but I have never regreted that first one, even when missiles, or the shekel, were falling.

And certainly not when there are fireworks.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ,
בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ,
וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.
חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה
וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץוְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ.
וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּקָד־נָאבְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם,
וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ
 וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ,
כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךָ:
”אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ.
וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָוִירִשְׁתָּהּ,
וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ.“(דברים ל:ד-ה)
וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ, וְלִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתֶךָ.
וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּות מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.
הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיֹאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ:
יהוה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ,”וּ֝מַלְכוּת֗וֹ בַּכֹּ֥ל מָשָֽׁלָה.“(תהלים קג:יט)
אָמֵן סֶלָה.
Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel,
bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance.
Shield it beneath the wings of Your love;
spread over it Your canopy of peace;
send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.
Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land;
grant them, our God, salvation and crown them with victory.
Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.
Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the  of Your servant Moses:
“Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and God will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.”
Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah.
Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David, to redeem those waiting for Your salvation.
Shine forth in Your glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Your world.
Let everything that breathes proclaim: “The Lord God of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.”
Amen. Selah.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rawa Ruska

For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel

Over the past half a dozen or so years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the internet researching the history and demise of the town of Rawa Ruska (pronounced Rava Rushka), the birthplace of my mother.

My mother and her parents and brother left Europe and came to Canada long before World War Two, and were, therefore, not subject to its horrors. All my mother was left with were some old dishes, grainy photographs of people whose names she was unsure of (“I think that was Hershel. He died in the War”), and child memories, which later proved to be somewhat inaccurate.

She did not often speak of the town, though I can’t remember a time when I did not know its name. On Passover, she would tell me how her family made all the preparations for the holiday on the day of the seder; that her mother would pluck and cook a chicken only late in the afternoon after the house had been cleaned of chametz; that they would sit down for the meal only after midnight, because it took that long to get ready. Even as a child, I realized that the story couldn’t be right – it just seemed like midnight to my then six-year-old mother. She once told me that theirs was one of the few houses that had a tin roof (I suppose the other roofs were wooden or thatched) and she could remember the thundering of the rain on the tin. She would sometimes, though infrequently, mention a relative – an aunt or uncle or cousin – and then say “They died in the War”. I am embarrassed to say that I was in my teens before I understood that ‘They died in the War’ did not mean these long-dead cousins had been soldiers, or that their house had been bombed, but, rather, that they had been murdered by the Nazis and their helpers; my mother’s family – MY family – were part of the six million.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with that magic number, six million.

6,000,000. Six zero zero zero zero zero zero.

All those zeroes. The very magnitude of the number makes it almost meaningless; a number so vast that it is next to impossible to imagine.

As a teenager, I was morbidly interested in the subject. I read Leon Uris’s ‘Exodus’ at age 12, and from there went on to read other, and much better books, dozens and dozens of them. By the time I graduated high school, I had read, not only Uris's Exodus, QBVII, and Mila 18 (which was the only book in my life that scared me so much that I found myself afraid to leave my room late at night and go to the bathroom, in case Nazis would find me),  but also books on the Nuremberg trials, Spandau, by Albert Speer, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, by Giorgio Bassani, The House on Garibaldi Street by Isser Harel, The Diary of Anne Frank, and most of Eli Wiesel’s books. I heard both Wiesel and Simon Wiesenthal speak and I received 100% in the Grade 12 Holocaust course I took, a class I could have given.

This was at a time when it was still not cool to talk about the Holocaust except in hushed whispers and euphemisms (‘they died in the War’); when there were many many survivors who would not, or could not, speak of their experiences; when so many facts and details were unknown and  most people did not want to know.

Rawa Ruska is a town in south-east Galicia, sometimes in Poland, and sometimes in the Ukraine. Founded around 1455, Jews were invited to live there shortly after its establishment to help with its economy. The history of Rawa mirrors that of other Galician/Polish/Ukrainian/European towns. Princes/Dukes/Lords rose and fell; the Jewish community was alternately protected and slaughtered. By the early 20th century, Rawa was a busy, relatively prosperous, railway town, and its population was approximately 12,000 people, of whom 5000 were Jewsabout 40 percent.

Again, the experiences of the Jews of Rawa between the years 1941 and 1943 mirror those of Jews across the Baltic and in much of Europe. The Jews of the town were first rounded up and herded into the old market area, which became the ghetto. There, they were starved and worked to death. Those who survived were either taken to be shot in fields surrounding the town, or taken by train to the nearby extermination camp of Belzec and murdered there. 

Until only a few years ago, it was difficult to find any information on what happened at Rawa Rushka. This was partly because there were almost no survivors of the horrors and partly because the rest of the town never spoke of what they saw and/or did.

It is only in recent years that a French Catholic priest, Father Patrick Dubois, took it upon himself to discover the fate of Jewish communities across the former USSR and uncover the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mass graves, where up to a million Jews lie strewn in the ground.  He has located eye witnesses in dozens of towns and villages, who at the time were children, and seem to have waited for the end of their lives to tell what they saw. They told him that the ground around Rawa Ruska moved for three days. 

It takes three days for a mass grave to die. 

Today Rawa Ruska is no longer prosperous. There are about 8000 inhabitants, which means that it never regained its pre-war conditions.

There are no Jews now in Rawa Rushka, almost none in all of Galicia.

The only Jews left in Galicia

Until 2015, there was no memorial, no memory, no indication of the lives once lived and brutally taken. It was only due to the efforts of Father Dubois that a memorial was put up on one of the killing fields. It is made up of Jewish gravestones.

The memorial at Rawa

The ghetto of Rawa Ruska, and the eradication of its Jewish community, was just one of over 40,000 Nazi camps and ghettos across Europe.

40,000. Fourty Thousand. Four zero zero zero zero.

Each of these camps had Nazi guards and commanders. Each one was situated either within or very close to a town or village, where the locals were witnesses to what was happening. 

The sheer numbers defy belief. Indeed, more and more people don't/won't/can't believe it happened. 

The importance of learning the facts and details and understanding the magnitude of the horror is greater now than ever. We are on the cusp of forgetting. 

The generation who lived through World War Two – the perpetrators, the victims, the witnesses, the bystanders – is almost gone. 
If my generation, the second generation, does not pass on the stories, the biographies, the descriptions, the names, the identities, the places, and the histories to the next generation, it will be lost.

As Eli Wiesel said: to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

So It's Chanuka

Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who made us holy through Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah lights.
-Blessing over the Chanuka candles

Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate Chanukah

-Adam Sandler

Growing up in the wilds of the Old Country, Chanuka was my favorite holiday. Freezing cold outside, toasty warm inside, we kids would watch my father light the chanukiya as close to a window sill, but still remain in the almost windowless kitchen, as he could. My parents weren't going to risk having wax drip on the wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room with the floor to ceiling windows. Ten minutes later we would be eating the latkes my mother made drowned in apple sauce. We had dreidels, and in school, we played games and sang songs and most of the regularly scheduled lessons were cancelled.

Now I live in the wilds of the Negev, and things, while mostly the same, are somewhat different. Toasty warm outside, absolutely freezing inside my house, we all gather around a slew of chanukiyot that the kids light in front of the glass door so as to publicize the miracles that occurred, and watch wax drip on the tiles of the floor, to remain there until - well - probably forever.

The kids are older now, and not all are aways at home, so lighting the chanukiyot no longer takes hours. When they are all at home, by the time the last one finishes lighting her chanukiya, the candles on the first one's chanukiya have already burnt out, leaving the youngest 'the winner' in the nightly 'see who's chanukiya lasts the longest' contest. The older ones won't let that slide, so they give her the handmade in kindergarten, wonky chanukiya made of bottle tops and pipe cleaners to light. She actually has no problem with that, except for the time the house almost burned down. But hey.

I still make latkes - only we call them levivot. And they aren't necessarily made of potatoes. There are 12 billion different recipes available today to please any palate. Livivot with apples, with cilantro and jalapeno peppers, grilled cheese livivot, and one I saw today with chocolate ice cream. (This would never have gone over in the olden days of Israel, when ice cream was completely unavailable in the winter - but I digress). And who needs apple sauce when you have orange marmalade, tahina, and smoked salmon?

So Old Country
The kids still play with dreidels, which we now call sivivonim. They aren't quite the same as the ones I had. First, there is the letter 'pei' on the Israeli sivivon, rather than the 'shin' on the Old Country dreidel, which, no matter how many years have passed or how many sivivonim I have stepped on in my bare feet, gives me a thrill and a flush of pride. But more than that, today's sivivonim certainly aren't made of clay, but rather wire, bulletsHershey Kisses, marshmallows or Lego. And they don't just spin. Oh no; they draw pictures, they play music, they make shapes, they come apart and turn into storage units for even smaller sivivonim, and ultimately, they can be eaten.

Back in the old country, sufganiyot were called 'jambusters' and were available all year, and were not particularly a Chanuka delicacy. I have only recently come to understand that jambusters were unique to my home town, and in the rest of the world, jambusters are called jelly donuts. Jambusters are far more descriptive, if you ask me. In fact, jelly donuts don't even sound that appetizing.
Sufganiyot, however, is a whole other ball game.

No longer limited to simple strawberry jelly (jam), sufganiyot come in all sizes and flavors: mint, lemon pie, olive - the sky's the limit.

And so is the calorie count. But who's counting?

Sufganiyot, along with only one seder at Pesach, is a main reason to leave the Old Country and its jambusters behind, and make Aliyah.

Because the miracles happen here.
The sivivon I just stepped on is right.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Cake Chronicles

Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!
-C. JoyBell C.
Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It's all about the memories.
-Buddy Valastro

I recently threw a cake party.
About a year ago I heard of the concept of a cake party and thought it the best idea since, well, sliced cake, but I was unable to have one at the time.

As soon as I was able, however, I sent out invitations to every woman I know, and to many many I don't know, and invited them all to my house to celebrate cake.
I received a slew of replies, and almost all of them said "what a great idea!!!" "sounds like a lot of fun!" But absolutely nobody knew what a cake party was.
The truth was that neither did I, really. So I made it up.

It was simple. Everyone had to bring a cake, and a story about cake.

About 40 people showed up.
With cake.
And stories.
Lots of cake

and lots of stories.

My friend S told us the story of how she discovered that her mother, a fan of the New York times and prolific letter writer to said newspaper, had her letter to the the New York Times Cook Book, with a suggestion to improve a recipe, printed. S only discovered this after her mother passed away. The sadness S felt that her mother never knew her letter had been printed resonated in her voice as she told her story, as did her pride and admiration of her mother. She brought the cake her mother had improved on.

My friend M told us how her granddaughter made cake for her (M's) mother (aged 98) every year on her birthday. Since the great-grandmother's birthday was on October 31, a very special cake was prepared, each year.

A case of Let's eat, grandma! or Let's eat grandma!!?
My friend Y told us how her bubbe taught her to bake by using her hands and not a measuring cup. Years later, when she tried to imitate the 'yankee' way of making a cake, it failed miserably. She went back to the fistfuls of this and fistfuls of that method.

My friend R told the story of how she made a cake for her two-year old, who remembered the shape and the colors and the sprinkles months and months later - showing the inherent importance of cake.

My friend SF thought that celebrating cake was so worthwhile that she traveled an hour and a half one way to come to the party. She told us how her daughter had gone to elaborate lengths to make a cake for her grandfather while traveling overseas. All the recipient could say when he received the cake was "the cake the (nursing) home made for me had candles".

O read from a cook book written for the disabled. "Reach for the sugar. Clean the fallen sugar from the counter, shake sugar out of your hair, and measure out a cup," went the instructions. O brought a magical cake from the book, which, by itself, separated  into three layers.

My absolute favorite story was from my friend H, who told that when her mother-in-law came for a rare visit, H felt obliged to make her a cake using her new food processor. Unfortunately, H wasn't very familiar with the different pieces of the machine, and to her dismay, the blue rubber coating on the knife was meant to be removed before making a cake. Tiny bits of blue rubber floated in the batter, which she baked and served nonetheless.
I'm still laughing.
Thankfully,  H did not bring that cake.

Other women told of recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers; others of recipes that were not passed down and were lost and never duplicated; of special birthday cakes made yearly; of weekly rituals of having cake and coffee with the entire family at 'tea time'.

Almost all the stories centered around family. Most of the cake stories brought up sweet memories; a funny incident, a special time spent with a family member, sharing cake with family.

Seeing as it was my party, I told my story first:

I don’t remember exactly what the occasion was, probably Rosh HaShana. My mother always had a lot of family over for Rosh HaShana; she would make truckloads of food, we had enough to last us for all the rest of the chagim.

One year, she made this very fancy cake. It was, I think, yellow inside, but she decorated it with cream and cookies very precisely placed, and sprinkles and whatnot on top. It really looked gorgeous. She put it in the fridge very carefully, for dessert. To be completely honest, she probably got the idea from a women's magazine. It was a very 1970s type of cake and decoration. But, in my 11 year old opinion, it was, and remains, gorgeous.

The guests came over and they all brought something; flowers, or chocolates. One guest brought a cake, and not just any cake; but the exact same cake, decorated in the exact same manner, as my mother’s. Obviously, they had both read the same magazine.
As opposed to my mother's cake, however, this cake was a mess. The cream covered the cookies, which were all wonky anyway.

I saw the cake, and my mother saw me see the cake, and with a look, she made damn sure I said nothing. Later, I asked her what she was going to do. She answered, “What do you mean?” Without another word, she served the wonky cake, placing it in the center of the table, which, to be fair, was already laden with other goodies. My mother’s gorgeous cake was left in the fridge, and this person’s mangled work of art was put on the table in the place of honor. My mother never uttered a word.

Even as I was telling the story, I realized how apt it was that I had organized the cake party on my father's yarzheit, just a month after my mother's first yarzheit.
Growing up, there was always cake in my house , not just because my siblings and I liked to eat cake (which, believe me, we did), but ‘in case someone dropped by’ there would be what to give them. Because cake, in my parents’ house, represented hospitality, and generosity, and friendship.
Hosting 40 new and old friends with cake was a way of honoring my parents.

And my old and new friends' generosity in giving me cake was lovely too.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I'm Still Standing

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Despite the fact that I have been blessed (?) to have experienced almost all that Israel has to offer - marriage, birth, death, wars, piguim, the educational and health systems, mortgages, holidays, movies, doctor, teacher and garbage strikes, traffic jams, bargaining in the shuk, snow, water shortages, egg shortages, washing machine part shortages, sandstorms and sudden flooding, price hikes, and the beach - nothing has ever prepared me for receiving a child's first call up to the army.

I went through that experience four times without falling apart. I cried, I moaned, I shut myself up in the bathroom, but I did not fall apart.
My three boys served in the army. My older daughter took an exemption and, instead, did two years of National Service.
They all survived - even grew and matured - from the experiences.
I, however, lost years of sleep and memorized every crack in the bathroom walls.

Why isn't there a Little Miss Worry?
I enjoyed a couple of years of army-free existence - except, ofcourse, for several rounds of 'miluim' (army reserve duty) and a war or two, but hey.

And then, my baby received her first call up papers.

Of course, my baby isn't a baby at all. She's 16, almost 17. She has started  studying for her theory test for her driver's license. She's writing matriculation exams. She heats up her own lunch in the microwave and washes the dishes after. She puts a few grains of coffee into her chocolate milk and tells everyone she's drinking mochaccino. When I say good night to her, it's because I'm going to bed.
True, her room is a mess, and she forgets to put her laundry in the hamper, but hey.

She's still MY baby.

When I drop her off at the bus station to catch the bus to go to school in a different town,  all I see is the child I dressed in pink and yellow (after three boys) going to kindergarten. Now, her favourite colour is black.

Because of her, I was allowed to keep all the baby toys, and the tiny cute dresses, and the Dr. Suess books. She's the one who made me go to kindergarten when I thought I had graduated. She's the one who keeps me company, when all the others left. She's the one who was supposed to keep me young.

I guess that's quite a burden to put on one kid.

As it is, she's put up with a lot: hand-me-downs, lots of blue clothes and blankets, enormous quantities of teasing, old parents. Sometimes, she would ask to go on a trip somewhere, a museum or a park, only to be told "we've already been there, you weren't born yet."

She's about to start a new phase of her life; independent and responsible. (Hopefully, I won't have to still wake her up in the morning. I HATE that bit.)

I suppose all parents go through this, watching those creatures they created get bigger and bigger. But that letter in the mail calling your offspring - your baby! - to serve ones country seems to exacerbate what is already a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, alarming, emotion.

On the other hand, the pride with which I watch my children take their place in shaping the destiny of their people also causes my breath to stop, my hands to shake, and my eyes to fill. There is no winning at this game.

I don't plan to fall apart this time either. I feel like I've been kicked in the gut; I spend too much time hiding out in the bathroom; my eyes are constantly overflowing. But, hey. I'm still standing.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Hallowed Ground

Aussie Aussie Aussie! 
Oi Oi Oi!!
Australian cheer 

It has been said that World War One was the beginning of the end for European Jewry. During the course of the war, 1000s of Jews were killed in battle and in pogroms, Jewish villages were decimated and the inhabitants were scattered. After the war, 1000s more emigrated; to the Americas, to South Africa, to Palestine, and even to Australia. The German defeat, and the degrading conditions set by the allies directly gave rise to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, which, of course, ultimately, led to the murder of over 6,000,000 Jews.

However, another perspective shows that World War One was also the beginning of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in its homeland.

When my new husband and I moved to Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev, in 1985, we found a small, quiet, dusty town. Right from the beginnning, I spent a good deal of time exploring my new home by foot. Within a few days, I had already found my very favourite place in town, just a few minutes walk from the apartment we were then living in.

The Beer Sheva British War Cemetery contains the graves of 1,241 soldiers, of which 67 are not identified, who died while serving in the British army during World War One. Maintained to this day by Her Majesty’s government, it was a sea of green in the midst of what was then bleak desert. 

I came across this cemetery in the days before Google (gasp), and so it took me a while, but not that long, to discover the story and the history of the cemetery. 

I had vaguely heard of Field Marshall Edmund Allenby, head of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces in the Middle East and knew that, up and down Israel, streets had been named after him. I even knew that it was Allenby who renamed the main street of Jerusalem after His Magesty King George, who ruled during the 'Great War'. But I knew little of the Battle of Beer Sheva.
When I first saw the cemetery and began to understand the magnitude of what happened here, I would go to visit quite regularly. I would stop in front of the gate, and salute those courageous and honorable men who, so very long ago and so very far from home, gave their lives so I could live mine. 

100 years ago, on October 31, 1917, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) stormed Turkish forces on the southeast side of Beer Sheva. There is a great deal of material online about the battle, so I am not going to describe it here. 

Galloping on horseback, and armed with rifles that could not be used while riding, the soldiers of the 4th Light Horse Regiment charged with bayonets in their hands. Of the 600 ANZAC soldiers who rode on horses directly at the Turkish trenches in the late afternoon of October 31, 1917, 35 were killed, and 39 were injured. They showed enormous bravery, charging at full gallop directly into machine guns and heavy artillery fire.  Despite the odds, they succeeded in what they came for. 

The victory at Beer Sheva paved the way for Allenby’s army to make their way to liberate Jerusalem six weeks later, and then on to Damascus, completely defeating the Ottoman Empire. 

After the humiliating defeats at the Dardenelles, Gallipoli, and twice in Gaza, had the British army lost the battle in Beer Sheva (their first victory of the war), they might have abandoned the fight, and left the Middle East to the vicious, backward, crumbling Ottoman Empire, where the inhabitants suffered poverty and neglect.

But the British army was not defeated. The victory of Beer Sheva, and hence the Middle East, gave teeth to the Balfour Declaration, issued two days after the battle. Had the British not been victorious, their support of a Jewish homeland in ‘Palestine’ would have been meaningless. 

The Balfour Declaration led to the San Remo Conference in 1920, which accorded Britain a Mandate in Palestine with the goal of building a homeland for the Jewish people. 

In 1922, the League of Nations approved the mandate, announcing that Britain "shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home".

L-R Edmund Allenby, Arthur Balfour, Herbert Samuel (High Commissioner of Palestine)
The League of Nations agreement then led, after World War Two, to the partition agreement voted on by the United Nations, and ultimately to the birth of the State of Israel, on May 4, 1948, less than 31 years after 35 ANZAC troups lost their lives in the desert that was Beer Sheva.

It’s not often that the hand of G-d can be seen in such a straight line over the course of 31 years.

However, those men lying in the immaculatly kept cemetery were unaware of their part in G-d’s great scheme to bring His people back to their Homeland. They gave their lives as soldiers of a foreign power, for reasons that were their own.

I still go back to the cemetery once in a while to remind myself that G-d always has a plan, and sometimes, we are lucky enough to see it.

This week, the city of Beer Sheva hosted over 4000 Australians and New Zealanders – many of them descendents and relatives of those who took part in the Battle of Beer Sheva – who came to mark its 100th anniversary. We locals looked at it as a party; a celebration of a victory that paved the way to a greater victory and return to our Homeland after 2000 years of exile. We wanted music, parades, pomp and pageantry. We wanted our guests, and the world, to see what came out of that victory; that Beer Sheva, once a backwater town important only because of its water supplies, has become an amazing metropolis of over 200,000 people—even though it is still dusty.

We Israelis are used to being in the center of attention, of the situation being all about us.

The Aussies and Kiwis, however, did not come to party. They came to honour their dead; to commemorate the heroism and bravery and spirit of their countrymen. The re-enactment of the charge – the climax of the day’s events and attended by 1000s of visitors and Beer Shevaites alike – was changed to ‘a walk of peace on hallowed ground’. 

The walk of peace on hallowed ground
For us, it was Yom HaAzmaut. For them, it was Yom HaZikaron. 

Beer Sheva, October 31, 2017, was not all about us, for a change.

The Beer Sheva British War Cemetery is preserved and maintained by the British people. The dead are not ours. The crosses on all but one grave are not ours.

But they are G-d’s. And we honour and salute them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Pompitous of Love

High school isn't a very important place. When you're going you think it's a big deal, but when it's over nobody really thinks it was great unless they're beered up.
-Stephen King, "Carrie"

It usually takes me about 10 minutes to drive to work. I try to leave home quite early and  arrive at my desk quite early, and therefore I can leave work quite early.
But one morning, a few weeks ago, I left the house later than usual, and hit early morning traffic causing  my drive to work to take almost 30 minutes.

I’m not complaining about this, however, because I enjoy the drive. I’m alone in the car, the weather is still cool, and I get to listen to early morning radio without anyone telling me what to listen to. Sometimes I listen to the news, but usually I flip around the channels trying to find something I can sing to. I don’t always succeed.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, since I sing as well as a muffin. Have you ever heard of a singing muffin? Neither have I. That's because muffins can't sing. Enough said.

But that morning, the angels were with me. Leaving the house 15 minutes later than usual, and having a longer time in the car than usual, enabled me to catch Steve Miller’s The Joker.

Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause I speak of the pompitous of love.

Suddenly, my 2008 green Renault Megane (aka Savta's car) turned into a time machine, rocketing me back to 1974(ish) and Junior High. 

Who ever remembers Junior High (known today as 'Middle School')? My time in Junior High, and, slightly less so, Senior High, was spectacularly boring. I had the same friends I had since Grade 1; we even had sports class (then called PT) in the same gym as we had in Primary School.

However, I do remember the endless winters, the waist-high snow, and the Saturday night dances.
I went to a Jewish school, that is, all the kids were Jewish. We were taught 'Jewish' subjects (Tanach, Jewish History, Israeli History and Geography, Jewish law [lite], Hebrew Language and Literature, etc.), but otherwise, we were much like any other school. We had dances. Three or four times a year, all the kids would come, on a Saturday evening, to the same gym where we had PT class. The boys would stand on one side, and the girls would stand on the other. Both sides would giggle. (You'll never convince me that the boys didn't giggle.) Every once in a while a boy would peel off the wall and ask a girl to dance. Everyone would gawk.

That morning, I was back in that gym, swaying to
I'm a picker
I'm a grinner
I'm a lover
And I'm a sinner
I play my music in the sun. 

Good thing the windows were closed, because, I was rockin', and, unfortunately, sounding like death with a bad cold.

I used to sing in Junior High school, also. I guess that's why no boy ever peeled off the wall to ask me to dance.

By the time I got to work, my time machine had returned to the present and once again became Savta's car.
But all day long, I did indeed speak of the pompitous of love.
Which perplexed many people.
I told them it was one of those words that's just not translatable. 
Like 'davka' and 'stam' in Hebrew.
Only different.