Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Forever and ever and ever

Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.
-Golda Meir

In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.
-David Ben-Gurion
Thus saith the Lord GOD: I will even gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.
-Ezekiel 11:17

There is a Facebook Page called Keep Olim in Israel Movement. There are over 30,000 members, and they hail from all sorts of countries. I'm not a new Olah (immigrant to Israel), and I don't have any desire to leave Israel, but I'm a member of the group, because once, before Facebook and Google and blogs, I was a new immigrant. Most of the posts are asking for advice or information. There are offers of employments or applications for employment. Some posts express frustration or love. I'm not very active in the group, though some of my friends are.

However, the other day, two posts caught my eye. One was a question asking why all shops and restaurants are closed in the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Shouldn't it be the choice of the business owner to open or close? That post elicited more than 50 comments.
The other comment that caught my eye was a request for reasons to stay in Israel. It was hard, said the poster, the language was hard to learn, the culture was hard to understand, the bills were hard to pay.  That post elicited well over 100 comments. I did comment on the first post, but not on the latter. There are too many reasons.  

In past years, in the run-up to Israel's Independance Day, I've written blog posts of 65 reasons to live in Israel, and 66 more reasons. The reasons include falafel, and ice cream, two birthdays, and one Pesach Seder. 
I haven't added any more reasons in recent years because other writers say it so much better than I. 
But now I'm going to try again - because I have simpler reasons. So, in no particular order, I give you this year's list of reasons why I will live here for ever and ever and why you should too:

 1. Miracles happen.
 2. We have our own government (for better or worse).
 3. Our government is not going to outlaw circumcision, or Shabbat observance, or ritual slaughter.
 4. We have our own flag. No more bowing down to foreign flags.
 5. We have our own army. Never again actually means something. 
 6. More miracles happen.
 7. Hebrew, after 20 centuries, has been restored as a spoken language, and is spoken by at least 8,000,000 people,             more than at any other time in all of History. 
 8. My kids speak unaccented Hebrew.
 9. They also make fun of my Hebrew. 
10. Translating Hebrew slang into English can be very entertaining.
11. Hebrew is the oldest language in the world that is still in use, and speakers can still understand ancient texts. 
12. Ever more miracles happen.
13. The Holidays come out at the right time of year. Pesach is in the spring, and, not only is there no snow on                        Tu B'Shvat (January/February), the trees are blooming. Take that Old Country. 


14. Planting trees in Israel is an emotional event. 
15. You don't have to ask to get vacation on the Jewish Holidays.
16. There is only one possible three-day holiday.
17. But Purim lasts for about two weeks.



18. Israel is the ONLY country in the world where the Sabbath is kept on Saturday.
19. In Hebrew, the word for Saturday is Shabbat, so, no matter how secular you are, you are aware that it's Shabbat.
20. Days here begin at nightfall. There is something calming in knowing that a new day is beginning with the stars.
21. 60% or so of the Jewish population make Kiddush every Friday night.
22. There are far fewer than six degrees of separation between just about anyone here.
23. Strangers share with you both tragic and happy events. This is because even strangers are family. 
24. The security guard at the train station was in Grade 7 with my son. They shared a hug.
25. The security guard at the mall was the son of friends. He cheerily waved us in.
26. My (immediate) family can't go anywhere without at least one of us seeing someone we know. 
27. You are never more than 4 or 5 hours away from Jerusalem. 
28. You are never more than three hours (by bus) away from a beach. And the water is usually warm. 




29. Did I mention the miracles?
30. There is only one time zone in the country; none of this "8:30 in Newfoundland" nonsense.
31. But there are about eight different climate zones.
32. It's possible to have sunshine, a sand storm, and rain, all at the same time.
33. There are groups such as 'Shabbat meals and hospitality for Olim'
34. There's a music group called 'HaYehudim' (the Jews).
35. 
Three times a year, once on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), and twice on the Memorial Day for the         Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism (Yom HaZikaron), the entire country comes to a complete                     standstill as a siren sounds in memory of those worlds that have been destroyed. 
36. Three evenings a year, all shops and restaurants close down - on Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Tisha B'Av -        as a memorial to our people who have been killed because they were Jews.



37. During the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, there are no cars on the road, and no TV or radio station broadcast.
38. More than 70% of Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur.
39. About 98% of Israeli Jews attend some sort of Passover Seder.
40. IDF soldiers are everyone's children. That means everyone takes care of them.
41. Over 80% light Chanuka candles.
42. 40% of secular Jews in Israel keep some form of kashrut.
43. Flags adorn most public and private buildings from the day after Yom HaShoah until the day after Yom                          Yerushalayim.
44. Israel ranks #11 on the 'Happiness Index" out of 156 countries. The US was 13, and the UK scored 23.

45. Israel is the second most educated counry on earth with 92% of its population graduating high school, and 46%            graduating college. This despite the fact that, after finishing high school, most Israeli youth serve in the army for 2-          3 years, and don't start college till they are well into their 20s. (Canada, by the way, is #1)
46. 
Israel boasts 12 Nobel Prize winners - a testament to its value on education and culture.
47. Israel has produced wine longer than any other country in the world - since Biblical times - and in recent years, has        won prestigious awards
48. Just about all Israeli wine is kosher.
49. By law, all fathers get vacation for the day of their son's brit mila (mothers are on maternity leave, so automatically          have the day).
50. Everyone gets a week off if they need to sit shiva.
51. The State of Israel has gathered Jews from practically every country in the world.
52. When Jews. anywhere in the world are in danger, Israel comes to rescue them; Ukraine, FranceNepal, Syria,                Yemen - just to name a few.
53. The history of Israel eclipses that of Europe and North America. "Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the            right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of                             Solomon.”, said Benjamin Disraeli.
54. 
Upon induction, IDF soldiers are registered in Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Donor Registry, which             has saved countless lives.
55. The majority of hotels in Israel have 'Shabbat elevators" (which automatically stop on every floor), kosher food,               regular keys to replace the electric keys for Shabbat usage, and the clerks wish you a Shabbat shalom.
56. The Mount of Olives is the world's oldest continuously used cemetery.
57. Political and military leaders have great nicknames, which they are called by everyone.
58. The monetary currency in Israel is the shekel, the same currency used by Moses, Joshua, and Shimon Bar Kochva.
59. The shekel notes have raised lines on them so the blind can identify the different notes.
60. The glue on the back of Israeli stamps (remember stamps?) is kosher. I think that's hilarious.
61. Israel's air force is exceeded in size only by those of the USA, Russia, and China. We can reach anywhere we need           to be.
62. In late winter and early spring, G-d unrolls carpets of red flowers all over the northwestern Negev. 



63. Fresh pomegranates, fresh dates, fresh figs, and fresh grapes, all fruits of the Land of Israel, and locally grown, are           widely available in most supermarkets in time for Rosh HaShana.
64. So are pitayas, passion fruit, carabolas, and lichis - also locally grown.
65. It's one thing to have a sign on the bus that says Shabbat Shalom, or Chag Sameach. It's quite another to have a              sign requesting you to rise for the elderly.



66. Nobody, EVER, nags you to stop having kids. A family of five kids is normal. 
67. At most school ceremonies, anywhere in the country, the pupils wear blue and white, the colors of the flag.
68. Patriotic songs are sung unabashedly, and with gusto, at school events, parades, weddings, bar mitzvah parties, and         karaoke evenings.
69. Our National Anthem is called "The Hope''. In that we are rich.

And one more for next year:
No matter the hardships, the difficulties, the challenges, the frustrations, and even - sometimes - the fear, Israel is home; it always was, and it always will be. 


Avinu Sh’b’Shemayim – Heavenly Father, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of Your final redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving-kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of Your Peace.
Send Your light and truth to its leaders. ministers and counselors, and direct them with good counsel before You.
Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them deliverance our God, and crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the Land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.
As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, remember them in all the lands of our [ in Israel say their] dispersion, and swiftly lead us [ them] upright to Zion Your city, and Jerusalem Your dwelling place, as it is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant:
Even if you are scattered to the furthermost lands under the heavens, from there the Lord Your God will gather you and take you back. The Lord your God will bring you to the Land your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Then the Lord our God will open up your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Unite our hearts to love and revere Your Name and observe all the words of Your Torah, and swiftly send us Your righteous Anointed One of the house of David, to redeem those who long for Your salvation.
Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, and let all who breathe declare: “The Lord God of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all.”
Amen. Selah.







Monday, April 10, 2017

Why we do Pesach

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God our Lord took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
-Pesach Haggadah

With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, for His mercy endureth for ever.
-Psalms 36:12

The story of Pesach (aka the Festival of Freedom) is a great story. It’s been made into innumerable movies, and there are probably 1000s of memes. It is considered the greatest story of an escape to freedom of all time.

Yet the story of Pesach is not as simple as slaves going free.

There are two lessons that we learn from the story of leaving Egypt –יציאת מצרים —both equal in importance.

The first reason is two-fold, and again, both reasons are equal in importance: 1) to give us the Torah, and 2) to bring us to and give us the Land of Israel. The freedom that G-d gave us was not the freedom to go to Karaoke bars, eat sushi, and sunbathe on the beach in Thailand, but the freedom to do mitzvot in the His Land. That was His plan, and for us to remember this for all times, G-d gave us the mizvot of Tefillin and Mezuzah (read what the words on the inside say).

The second lesson that we learn when G-d took us out of Egypt is to show the nations of the world, once and for all, that G-d is in charge.

While He wants his creation, Man, to run the world, ultimately it is G-d who is in charge, capable of and willing to change the course of nature. Sometimes – many times – we don’t recognize His miracles, sometimes there are those who deny His miracles. But because of what He did for us in Egypt, we know that G-d is always watching us, caring what goes on in our lives, and – when we let Him – guiding us.
When G-d created the universe, all living beings knew that G-d was the Supreme Being. Yet, as time passed, people forgot that G-d was manifest in all things. There were those who denied G-d’s existence entirely, and there were those who agreed that G-d might have created the universe, but since then, He’s been on one long coffee break, and doesn’t really care what happens to us mortals.

By the time Bnei Yisrael were slaves in Egypt, suffering, weary, they were unable to believe that their salvation would come. The Egyptians felt that they were stronger than any god; that they could not be destroyed. Through great miracles, culminating in the splitting of the Sea, G-d brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. G-d’s greatness was recognized not only by Bnei Yisrael, but by all the nations of the time. In a once in a lifetime show, G-d changed the course of nature. To this day, we remember these momentous events, that with יד חזקה and זרוע נטויה, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, G-d brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage to serve Him in His Land.

These are bleak times. There are people who deny us our right to our Land. There are people who deny us our right and ridicule our desire to worship G-d. There are people who deny the very existence of G-d. Therefore, it is even more imperative to remember that G-d took us out of Egypt to do His mitzvot, to live in His Land, and to be a light to the nations. When all is going well, it’s easy to believe in G-d, but now, when godlessness is all around us, when we are weary and under attack, now is the time to turn to G-d, because only there is where our salvation lies.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Sweet Sixteen

The best substitute for experience is being 16
- Raymond Duncan

Our family is not big on birthdays. We always have cake, adorned with gummy candies, but we don't always get around to buying presents. The worst hit has traditionally been my youngest child. As the fifth kid after three boys, she's learned to live with her brothers' hand-me-downs, used toys, old parents, and lots of teasing. When she turned 16 a few weeks ago, her father and I did take her to the local mall and bought her some junk food to eat. 



 
What I did do for her, however, is write her a letter, which is something I did not do for any of the others. 
Her school arranged a four-day 'identity' trip for her class, where they discussed what it meant to be a Jew and an Israeli; the responsibilities this entails, the history that has formed us, the destiny that we share. 
At the end of the trip, the girls received their Identity Cards (teudat zehut), with much pomp and circumstance on the grounds of the Knesset building. All Israelis receive the card at the age of 16, but not all with such fanfare. In addition to the cards, the girls also received letters written by their mothers. 
The following was mine:

Your teacher asked all the parents to write a letter to you for this tiyul, as you are ‘coming of age’, being 16 and way old and all. I wanted to do something like this anyway, but, unless pushed, I don’t, because, you know, I’m way lazy.

First, let me say that I can’t believe you’re 16 already. When I was your age, I was stam a jobnik…

Here, there were two more points that I'm leaving out as they were personal, and, if published, my life would be in danger.

But enough mush.

I’m now going to dispense some advice. Listen carefully: 
  1. Forgive yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. People do. It happens. Learn and move on. 
  2. Forgive others. They make mistakes too. Unless they keep making the same mistake over and over. Then it’s time for you to move on and away. 
  3. Set goals. First Big Goals (e.g., I’m going to be rich and famous). Then set smaller goals to get yourself to the big goals. (e.g., I’m going to do my math homework and clean my room). 
  4. Set one Goal every day. It doesn’t have to be big, just something so that, at the end of the day, you feel that you’ve accomplished something (e.g., ‘today I’m going to make sure that there are no dirty clothes under the bed’, or ‘today, I’m going to wash all the spoons that are in my room’). 
  5. Be grateful for at least one thing every day; the pita in your chocolate sandwich wasn’t stale, or there was leftover chicken soup, or you got a seat on the bus. Life is richer when you recognize your blessings. 
  6. Dance like nobody is watching. Send text messages, whattsups, and emails as if they are going to be read in the Knesset and quoted in the press. (Ok, so I read that in a meme – it’s true anyway.) 
  7. Every once in a while – not every day, or even every month – go outside and watch the sun rise or the sun set. It will give you energy when you need it. 
  8. Drink lots of water. Then drink more. This will keep your blood pressure down, your skin young, and you will always know where the bathroom is. 
  9. Be kind. You don’t have to like everyone, heck you don’t have to like anyone, but you do have to be kind. Kindness breeds kindness. Be kind to your friends, and your teachers, and to the bus driver, and the clerk in the shop, and the hairy guy making falafel. If you are kind, others will be kind back to you and pay it forward. It’s a double bonus. 
  10. There are days when you’re going to feel bad, sad, or depressed. That’s life. When that happens, make yourself a nicecupoftea, or chocolate milk or a cookie, stand in front of the mirror, and wink at yourself. A big wink. It’ll make you smile. 
  11. Don’t do anything that you have to hide from those closest to you. My dad told me this a very long time ago, when I tried to sneak about 20 chocolate bars into my bedroom. If you have to sneak, it’s not the right thing to do. 
  12. Use sun cream and wear a hat. You know why. 
  13. Learn to say no. It’s ok, really. Say it kindly, but, when you need to, say no. 
  14. Listen hard and speak softly
  15. Have fun. Have fun at everything you do. Always look for the fun part. It’s there someplace, even in the most boring, dull, annoying places. Life is way too short not to be having fun every day. 
  16. Remember, always, that you are a creation of God. God does not create imperfect things. You are perfect as you are, no matter what you think. Your hair, your height, your inability in math, these things are not you. Don’t try to be something you are not, because God created you to be what you are. There is only one you in the world. Be the best you you can be. 

And there you have it – 16 points for 16 years.

With so much love,

Mom