Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Through Fire and Water

Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.
The Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

When the original generic nameless invitation to attend Prime Minister Harper’s speech at the Knesset appeared on my Facebook page, I thought that that was a nice gesture, but not worth the shlep  to Jerusalem.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t cook any dish that takes more than 5 ingredients (not including salt) and/or 15 minutes to prepare, and I don’t shlep.

But when the second, more private with my name on it invitation came to my email through the Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), I started to think about going. My friend B was already registered to go and urged me to come too. I duly sent in my name in English and Hebrew, my ID number, mobile phone number, name of next of kin, my shoe size and a taped rendition of “Oh Canada”. Back came an email that I had passed the audition, and was registered to go hear Stephen Harper address the Knesset – a first for a Canadian Prime Minister.

So, I gathered up my friend B, my Israeli-born daughter, and my Canadian-born niece and the four of us shlepped to Jerusalem. I drove.

Our first stop when we arrived at the Holy City was to a bathroom. Dressed in Winnipeg Jet costumes, this was easier than it should have been. I suppose hotels are used to tourists.
A random tourist looking for a bathroom
From there, we followed the flags to the rally that was organized to show gratitude to the principled stand Harper has shown to Israel. Like true Canadians, we were way early, arriving even before the organizer. There were a few other early birds unfurling flags, telling us that it was aboot time people started coming, and spelling words with extra ‘u’s, though leaving them oot in others.

When the organizer, Danny, showed up, he needed a volunteer to be a ‘sadran’ (an usher – a person who tells people where to sit or to park their cars). “This is going to be the first demonstration in Israeli history,” he declared, “where all the laws will be followed!” Since there was no seating and no cars to park, my daughter volunteered for the job. She just wanted to wear the nifty yellow vest and look important. 

A very important sadranit getting orders from the Mossad
B and I hung oot at the rally for aboot 45 minutes. Cars honked in solidarity (or annoyance – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), people waved, and we met some men dressed in lovely suits (who didn’t stand out AT ALL in the Jerusalem streets…) from Vancouver who knew my cousin. When I realized that nobody had brought beer, I decided it was aboot time to continue on our way to the Knesset.

Of course, afterwards I heard we missed all the fun. My daughter the sadranit told me: "At some point in the rally, the participants started yelling (like Canadians yell, right) which hockey team is better. "Toronto!" "Vancouver!" "More Canadian cities!" So Danny (the guy in charge) came to us saying that today we are united! He looks at me and says "you are supposed to keep them in order." So I turned to the Canadians and said "Danny is right! We should all be united! We should be together as one! And all support Winnipeg!"  Danny laughed."

Who says Canadians don't have a sense of humour?

I’d never been inside the Knesset before, and so was greatly excited to see the place. At security, I had to take off my Canada badge that pinged when I went through the metal detector, but my pre-recorded rendition of Oh Canada must have done the trick. Despite a very high level of security, we got through in five minutes.  We made our way to the visitors’ gallery where I proceeded to spot Members of the Knesset. This is probably not nearly exciting to the average bystander as I thought it was. I kept SMSing my daughter and husband: “Aryeh and Ahmed send regards!” "Amir is much taller in real life than I thought!” You’d have thought I was down on the floor with them, instead of behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass about 2 miles up in the rafters. I spent the good part of half an hour pointing, yelling out names in a high-pitched voice and driving B just aboot crazy. 

After the speech, I discovered that behind me sat a bunch of prominent Winnipegers. I was too tongue-tied to introduce myself properly. Unfortunately, I've been gone so long, there was little to talk aboot.   Too bad I hadn't borrowed my niece's Jets hat.

Better bloggers than I have already written volumes about Harper’s speech, about the standing ovations (five, six, I lost count), and about the Arab MKs walking out in a huff. So I won’t go into details, but it was worth the shlep.
One thing I must say that no one has mentioned yet. His accent nearly knocked my socks off. What a hoot.

You can read his speech here, if you haven't already.

For some reason I cannot fathom, the Israeli press has barely covered Harper’s support of Israel and Israelis in general are unaware of what he has done. So, for the record, here are only a few of the things that Harper has done for Israel:

1. Harper was the first Western leader to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 after Hamas’s rise to power in Gaza and the rampant mismanagement of public funds.
2. Canada was the first to withdraw from the second U.N. World Conference Against Racism, known as Durban II, saying the event would “scapegoat the Jewish people.”

3. Canada has sided openly with Israel in every one of its military operations since 2006.

4. Because of its support for Israel, for the first time, Canada failed in its 2010 bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

5. Alone among G8 leaders, Harper wouldn't agree to Obama's plan to begin peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of a return to Israel's 1967 borders.
6. Canadian sanctions against Iran are still in place, unlike American ones.

I know that there are Canadians, and even Jewish ones (some related to me) who do not consider Prime Minister Harper a particularly good prime minister.

I also know this: Harper’s speech did not win him a whole lot of votes. He did not say the things he said because it was the politically expedient thing to do.

He had no political interest in saying in public that “during Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, our use of Israeli-built reconnaissance equipment saved the lives of Canadian soldiers”.
Declaring in the Israeli Knesset that “we have also periodically made terrible mistakes as in the refusal of our government in the 1930s to ease the plight of Jewish refugees” probably won him no votes.
Announcing for the world to hear that “The understanding that it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland. Now let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so” certainly did not make him many friends back home. 

In a world where morality has taken a back seat to relativism, where truth has mutated into narrative, and where integrity and values have morphed into deceit and interests, Stephen Harper stands as a giant in courage, loyalty, and justice among world leaders.

He has brought honour back to the Canada that once announced ‘None are too many’, referring to Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. 

And today, I stand tall as a proud Canadian. 

It’s aboot time. 

God keep (both) our land(s) glorious and free!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

So What's the Manna with You?

Happiness is like manna; it is to be gathered in grains, and enjoyed every day. It will not keep; it cannot be accumulated; nor have we got to go out of ourselves or into remote places to gather it, since it has rained down from a Heaven, at our very door.
Tryon Edwards

Today, upon opening up my Facebook page, I learned that:
  • America is experiencing some of the coldest weather in its recorded history; 
  • Mt. Hua Shan in China has the scariest trail in the world; 
  • A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you today the way you are; 
  • One should not post pictures of one’s young children on Facebook; 
  • There is an anti-Israel bias in American Universities; 
  • My friend’s daughter snores; 
  • There is no bracha (blessing) on cigarettes; 
  • In Israel, women up to the age of 54 (!!!!) are entitled to free infertility treatments for up to two (!!!!) children; 
  • Kombucha is a friendly type of bacteria used to make an herbal "tea" to boost immunity and to balance gut flora (I don’t want to know what gut flora is); 
  • Scientists have found that memories may (or may not) be passed down through DNA; 
  • There is a rock band called Guatanamo Bay Watch; 
  • There are three magic ways to prevent getting sick. 

I also learned that today we recite Parshat HaMan.

At first glance, I thought this had something to do with the villain in the Purim story, but no! No villains here! 
Some infamous villians

Parshat (Episode of) HaMan (the manna) has to do with the reading in the Torah about the story of the Children of Israel miraculously receiving manna in the desert. For 40 years, Bnei Yisrael wandered in the desert. Every morning, manna fell from the sky, and every day, the people went out to gather enough for just the one day. If they collected more than they needed – let’s say to put some in the freezer for next week when they were expecting company – by the next morning, it would stink and rot in the jar. Moreover, on Friday mornings, Bnei Yisrael were instructed to collect a double portion—one for Friday and one for the Sabbath, for collecting on the Sabbath is forbidden. And on Sabbath morning, when they arose, Bnei Yisrael would find that, not only did no Manna fall that day, but the second jar would be whole and fresh. And if, indeed, they had company coming, or the grandkids popped in for a visit, the manna - which tasted like cake spread with honey - stretched to meet all the needs of the people. 

Hope company wasn't coming

This episode taught/teaches us to put our faith in G-d and that everything we have comes from Him. 

Getting ready for company

So important was this lesson, that, to continually remind us, a jar of Manna was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, first in the Tabernacle in the desert, and then in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, along with the two sets of tablets Moshe brought down from Sinai, the first Torah scroll written by Moshe, and Aaron’s rod. And no, it never stank or went rotten.

Sholom Asch, in his novel Moses, gives a wonderful description of the Manna, claiming it was a desert phenomenon, but it was the volume of it and the ease with which it was found that constituted the miracles. 
Sholom Asche
There are those who say we should recite the episode of the Manna daily. By doing so, one acknowledges, DAILY, that one’s livelihood and, indeed, everything one has comes from G-d. By reciting the story daily, one strengthens one’s trust and belief in G-d.

However, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov (1745-1815), a disciple of the Holy Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, said that everyone should read Parshat HaMan on the Tuesday of Parshat Beshalach – twice in Hebrew, and once in the Aramaic translation (or in the vernacular), because on that day there is a special segula for one’s parnassa to read the account (Exodus 16: 4-36).  In other words, today is an auspicious day to ask G-d to provide us with a livelihood and the ability to take care of ourselves, and He will bless us with sustenance and prosperity.

For those interested, here it is 

Before the story of the Manna, Parshat Beshalach relates the story of the crossing of the Red Sea – where Bnei Yisrael cross in safety and the Egyptians drown. After their safe passage, Moses and Miriam leads the people in singing a song of gratitude, which is included in our daily prayers (Exodus 15).  Because of the song, this coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath of Song) where we read both Miriam’s song and the Prophet/Judge Devorah’s song – after her victory over Sisera and the Canaanites (Judges 5:1-31). 

There is a custom to eat of the fruits of Israel in abundance on Shabbat Shira, so that you will be blessed with a year of abundance. And if you can’t get the fruits of Israel (they aren't even in season in the winter), it is customary to serve a bit more food than usual – to make an extra dish – on that Shabbat. 

I have a tin ear and can’t sing for love or manna. If I could request a superpower, I would ask to be able to sing (though my kids protest that this is not a superpower) so that I could sing in gratitude for what I have (and some Beatles).  I love Shabbat Shira—it is poetry at its deepest, at its most profound. It is an acknowledgement of G-d and of His mercy and His blessings. 

But I can't sing. So I have to suffice with extra fruit and cake. And I thank G-d for every bit of it. 

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and God of our fathers, that you will provide livelihood for all Your people the House of Israel, and my livelihood and that of all my household among them, easily and without pain, with honor and not with shame, in permissible ways and not in forbidden ways, so that we may carry out Your service and study Your Torah just as You sustained our ancestors with Manna in a dry and desolate land

The best of all