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Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Time To Laugh, A Time To Weep (Continued)

Yom HaZikaron immediately preceeds Yom HaAzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Like the States, it is a holiday of barbecues, friends, family and fireworks. It is our day of rejoicing, of laughter, after our day of mourning. The juxtaposition of Independence Day with Memorial Day is a stark reminder of the cost of freedom, and I sensed that our celebration of Yom HaAzmaut contained a defiant undercurrent of "We're still here!"

Liberty Bell Park

From our mirpesset, I could stand in the freezing cold the night that the holiday started and watch fireworks explode over Mt. Herzl to the west. The Boy joined his friends and wandered around Kikar Safra downtown, spraying each other and total strangers with the ubiquitous foam, listening to the live bands and chowing down on hamburgers.

The next day, we joined Yossi and his family for a barbecue in Liberty Bell Park--a park that actually contains a replica of America's Liberty Bell.

We passed Gan Sacher, the huge park that surrounds the Knesset and the Israel Museum, on an early-morning errand--at 0700 it was already filling with people. Yossi's parents staked out a spot next to the Montefiore Windmill under the shade of some ancient olive trees, while Yossi got the grill and we schlepped over pargiot(little chicken breasts), steak and potato salad. Our friends brought enough pita, houmous, and various salads to keep everyone well stuffed until late afternoon. The kids all grabbed a camel ride on a passing camel, while the Husband and I strolled around the windmill and through the adjacent neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, whose gardens were in full bloom.

Yemin Moshe

By late morning, the park was filled with people, everyone staking out table and blanket room on the ground. Early birds like us got trees--latecomers took whatever space was available. Ours was not a big group -- the Iranian-Jewish family next to us brought their own minyan. The folks to the northwest of our spot were serious campers: they had a BIG table with BIG comfortable chairs; a tent for the little ones to nap in; a barbecue on an upright stand for easy grilling; a water dispenser which they tied to the olive tree shading their table; and even more food than we had. The families across the walkway were equally well equipped and seized a spot strategically near two olive trees, and set up the volleyball net before setting up the barbecue. Our Boy and Yossi's kids spent the day, except for the camel ride, kicking around a soccer ball or chasing each other with more spray cans of foam. It was exhausting just watching them.....

The adults ate, schmoozed, had some beers, sat under the shade until a breeze blew up and then adjourned to an unclaimed sunny spot immediately north of our table. Between cooking and talking, we returned runaway soccer balls from all points, met some nice dogs (leashed), talked to new olim from France in the spot to the east of us, compared recipes, discussed our kids, got sprayed in our kids' foam battles and suffered more spray from passing bands of other kids chasing ours in retaliation for their attacks, and at times, just sat soaking up the sun in silence.

During the late morning, all activity in the park came to an amazed halt as we watched the Israeli Air Force do a spectacular fly-over of Jerusalem: low altitude, with contrails and lots of engine noise. The kids loved it. So did the adults, although we are more aware of why we need an air force in this neighborhood.

We raised our glasses to freedom and to the Jewish State and thanked G-d we were here to celebrate that freedom, a sovereign people in their own land at long last.

photo credits: Yemin Moshe, by RomKri of Jerusalem Shots; Liberty Bell Park, by Pes & Lev of Jerusalem Shots

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Time To Laugh, A Time To Weep

In Israel, the lament is done from left to right of this title....the weeping preceeds the joy.

Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance, comes the day before Independence Day. I went to the Boy's high school on Yom HaZikaron as he was one of the children selected to be in the honor guard for the ceremony.

The children had worked hard at commemorating those who have died to protect this small country, as well as the many civilians murdered by Arab terrorists. The flag was lowered to half staff; the honor guard of four students carried flags which waved gently in the breeze in time to the music. Although the music came from a tape of prerecorded songs, everyone knew the words and sang: Ani Maamin (I Believe), Oseh Shalom (Make Peace), and finally Hatikvah (The Hope), Israel's national anthem.

Israel's music isn't martial music. It is music that sings of making peace, of belief in the Messiah and a future of peace, of hope....something those who denigrate Israel as an apartheid, Nazi-like state choose not to notice, as they choose not to notice the songs, poems and plays of Arab children, who sing of slaughtering Jews.

The Rav recited Kaddish after the torch was lit. That was the most difficult part to watch, as some of these children have lost family members to war and terrorism. We could tell who the mourners among us were -- they were the children who could not hold back their sobs.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wrote great music. I couldn't get the lyrics of one song out of my head today:

Find the cost of freedom
buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you,
lay your body down

Our graveyards are full of our familes who are buried here: soldiers and police who have manned the borders and driven back the enemy time and again, as well as civilians who have refused to flee the terror wars waged since 1921: the Hebron pogrom, the Arab Revolt, the War of Attrition, the Oslo War, Gaza's incessant rocket attacks and the other constant, unending (and in Europe, unrecognized) warfare which targets civilians. I heard this refrain in my head as helicopters whomp-whomped overhead in heightened security all over Jerusalem -- a reminder of the need for constant vigilence against those who want us all dead.

We honor our dead on this day. We grieve for the widows, the parents, the girlfriends, the orphans who have to manage life with the huge emptiness of unspeakable loss.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Monument and A Name

Passover is the celebration of our Freedom, our Exodus from slavery. Here in Israel it is followed almost immediately by what in English is called "Holocaust Memorial Day." But that's not the correct translation....the full translation (loosely) is "The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day" because it is not only about genocide....it is also about human heroism.

Yad VaShem, the site dedicated to this remembrance, has a new wing that aptly demonstrates this dual remembrance. The communities of Jews who were wiped out are commemorated, as well as our "fellow-travelers" among the gypsy, homosexual and politically incorrect populations. This memorial reminds us that while Jews were the primary focus of Nazi hate, we were not the only victims. Yet amid these heart-rending remembrances of our dead are also paens to the heroes who fought back.

Contrary to what some think, the resistance to annihilation was fierce. This is not a uniquely Jewish trait, but rather a human trait -- we will not go quietly into the night at the business end of a machine gun, given a chance.

Typically, the resistance was found among the young, the idealistic, the first to recognize the Big Lie of "Relocation to the East" (a euphemism for transport to the death camps). The Bielski brothers, one of my favorite resistance groups, hid thousands of Jews in a mobile camp deep in a Russian forest, keeping the very young and very old encamped while everyone else foraged and killed Germans and sabotaged Nazi supply lines.

Death camp inmates themselves revolted at camps such as Treblinka and Sobibor--camps whose sole purpose was the mass extermination of human beings deemed unworthy of living by the Nazi machine.

The Jews of eastern Europe were herded into ghettoes and used as forced labor. Forced labor was considered fortunate--it allowed the inmates to go out of the ghetto and scrounge for food, since everyone was living on starvation rations. The biggest risk in leaving the ghetto was discovering upon your return that your spouse, or your parents, or your brother, or your children had been "selected" in your absence, and were already gone, transported on a train to a death camp in the east. The Nazis deliberately did their "selections" of children while the parents were working to minimize the chances of revolt.

In the best-known of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish resistance movement initially decided not to fight despite the transport of over 300,000 people because they believed the lie that their neighbors and family members were being sent to labor camps. Young people from the ghetto escaped to follow the train tracks and found not a labor camp, but Treblinka and its extermination factory. By the end of 1942, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began preparing for their revolt against the Nazis.

On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. The Jewish Festival of Freedom was the trigger for the Jewish revolt against the Nazi's extermination juggernaut. The organized uprising wasn't put down until May 16th, by a the combined forces of the German Army and other military forces under their direction.

The Germans eventually committed 6 battalions of Waffen SS Panzergrenadier troops, and assorted other troops of Ukranian, Lituanian and German military or police origin. Their support weapons included armoured fighting vehicles, combat gasses, flamethrowers, aircraft, tanks and artillery.

The Jewish Resistance held out with small caliber guns, grenades, Molotov cocktails and other home-made devices until May 16th against these odds. Different divisions of the fighters were eradicated one by one, some escaping, some taken captive, some committing suicide rather than becoming Nazi prisoners. One of these was Mordecai Anielewicz, the young leader of the Uprising, who died when the Nazis discovered and captured Mila 18, the command post of the Resistance.

The undermanned and under-armed kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip, which halted the Egyptian advance in 1948, is named Yad Mordechai (the Hand of Mordechai) after young Anielewicz.

The Borg are wrong.....Resistance is NOT futile. It echoes down human history and sets an example that, however deadly, however tragic at the time, says to other human beings that the spark of freedom will not easily be extinguished. "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees, " La Passionara is famed for saying.

Yad VaShem is also a tribute to humanity's finest moments. The Rescuers, those gentiles who risked not only their own lives but also those of their families to save the lives of the Jews among them, have an avenue dedicated to them -- the Avenue of the Righteous. It is one thing to be brave when mounting a desperate, but armed resistance. It takes an even greater degree of courage to put yourself and your family in harm's way for the sake of strangers, simply because it is the moral thing to do.

I have a very difficult time at Yad VaShem. This is a period of history I studied intensively, and few of the photographs or statistics or histories are unknown to me. The new hall emphasizes the most human aspects of this horrendous history, and somehow that makes a day at Yad VaShem very personal, as if I am walking through a graveyard of people I know. Because that's really, in one sense, what Yad VaShem is -- so many of our dead are unburied, cremated beyond recognition; or killed in a ditch like Babi Yar; or shot in a forest. They have no remembrance, no headstones, no proper gravesites in hallowed ground. So they are remembered here, at Yad VaShem, whose Hebrew means "a monument and a name," in order that they can be honored and remembered here.

"I will give them, in my house and in my walls, a monument and a name....that shall never be cut off..." (Isaiah 56:5)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time Of Favors

I've been MIA for a large number of reasons, mostly dealing with medical issues for the Boy and insurance for the Husband; changes in our routine due to the Husband's employment and of course, the Chagim.....the Husband is now working for an anti-terror unit of the Jerusalem Police; I am struggling to deal with the Boy's disability paperwork with Bituach Leumi; we're working on coordinating a plan of treatment with his neurologist; we dealt with an outbreak of seizures over Purim; and we were the recipients of great kindness over Pesach.

Nefesh B'Nefesh recommends, as do many vatikim, that each new olim family find a "buddy" family. Being folks who operate under the delusion that we can handle just about anything ourselves, we never hooked up with another NBN family.....but HaShem had other plans for us. Our "buddy" family found us.

It started with a taxi ride. Everyone on the Tachlis message board has warned newcomers about the taxi drivers and how some will offer newcomers a "deal" of only 50 shekels for a 30 shekel ride off-the-meter. We were wary of taxis. Being without a car, we walked all over Baka, Moshava Germanit, Katamon and Talpiot. We bussed downtown and walked all over the City Center. We avoided taxis since we were very much in "we-can-handle-this-ourselves" mode. However, the day came when we staggered out of a mall with too many bundles to schlep--and we approached a taxi which was dropping off a fare.

The driver agreed to take us for the relatively short ride home, which not all taxis will do. He got out of the car and helped my husband load our bags into the trunk. He and the Husband chatted in Hebrew on the way home and the driver ascertained that the Husband was a retired police officer and I had worked in an office (I try to keep the word "lawyer" out of my conversations with people). As we pulled into the parking lot of our building, I said something to the Husband in English, and our driver chimed in--turned out he spoke extremely good English. There was no hassle about the fare -- without asking or bargaining, he had turned on the meter, so I paid him. I also gave him a good tip. Many of my friends in school worked as bus or taxi drivers, or waitresses, so when I ride in a cab or sit in a cafe, that particular element of the working class tends to benefit from overtipping.

The driver was both surprised and pleased, and immediately handed us his business card. I took the card and put it in my wallet, surprised myself that taxi drivers have business cards at all. This turned out to be a good move, since hailing a taxi along Derech Hebron is almost impossible, and it was far simpler to call Yossi, our driver.

Another day, we called him for a ride to the mall. "What do you need at the mall?" he asked as we talked in the taxi. The Husband told him we were looking for a particular electronic item. Now Yossi thinks we're two retired olim struggling on a policeman's retirement (which isn't much in Israel) who are elderly and in danger of being ripped off by other Israelis. "Noooooo," he said, with that long Israeli intonation of the negative, "No one shop at the mall--they rip you off. Israelis don't shop there--for tourists! Israelis go to Hashmal store!"
The what?

Yes, there is an equivalent of Price Club/Sam's Club/Home Depot/Costco here in Talpiot. I have since learned that discount shops abound in Israel if one knows where to find them. Clearly, as newcomers, we don't -- but Yossi knows. He took us to the Hashmal store where we purchased our item for a third of what it cost in the electronic boutique in the mall.

This is the same taxi driver who several months ago started insisting that we speak only Hebrew in his taxi. "It is no good, Sarah," he told me. "You go to school but you never speak. You must speak Hebrew to learn it, otherwise you always speak English." From that day onward, he spoke to me and the Boy only in Hebrew, slowly and clearly and in simple phrases, so we can practice.

Then there was grocery shopping. "You shop THERE?" Yossi asked me one day as we passed HaMoshava Supermarket, in a tone of voice usually used for the feeble-minded. "Well," I offered tentatively,"its within walking distance, we like their meat and produce, and they don't charge for their shopping carts."

"Charge? What you talking about?" Yossi asked, the protective instinct coming to the fore.

"You know--every time you use a shopping cart, you have to pay 5 shekels." I explained, surprised that this ubiquitous custom was unknown to a sabra. I received a look of total incredulity. "The 5 shekels is not a charge, Sarah" he explained with pronounced patience. "The 5 shekels is to unlock the cart, and when you return the cart and relock it, the 5 shekels come out of the container. You get back the 5 shekels. You understand?"

Oh. It was a deposit to keep people from leaving carts all over the streets and all over the parking lots. Oh. Did I feel stupid? You bet.

"No one shop here," Yossi went on to explain. "You shop at Rami Levy -- it's good and much less money." I'd never heard of Rami Levy, the discount grocery chain. Turns out there are three of them in Talpiot, and Yossi drove me over to what he and his wife consider the best of the three.

"But its too far to walk with all our groceries, " I protested (we still didn't have a car at that point.)

"No problem, Sarah -- I take you, you shop, and when you done, you call me. I come and take you and the groceries to your home," he assured me. (Rami Levy doesn't deliver--both Yossi and our neighbors, Tilda and Avi, told us about other, less expensive grocery stores which DO deliver.)

Our education in the ways of survival-in-Israel has continued under the tutelage of Yossi and the rest of his family. When we all came down with the flu in February, his mother made the entire Shabbat meal (both days) for us and he delivered it. He, along with our other Sephardi neighbors next door, checked in on us daily, offered to pick up medicine at the pharmacy, food at the grocery store or drive us to the doctor.

I wanted the Boy to take swimming lessons before summer started. He knows how to swim just enough to be dangerous to himself. I had no idea how to find swimming lessons for him. Yossi's wife, as soon as she found out I wanted lessons for my son, arranged with her children's instructor to include the Boy in their class.

Yossi's wife also found a shop that makes a kind of "dogtag" for the Boy -- since we haven't found a Medic-Alert bracelet here, it was her idea to make one ourselves. The "dogtag" addresses the Boy's seizure disorder and his allergy to penicillin, AND provides a phone number for emergencies -- Yossi's. As Yossi pointed out to us, his phone is always on because of his business--and he is always "in the neighborhood." If for some reason he can't get to our son quickly enough, he has all of our phone numbers programmed into his cellphone and can call us.

Yossi also went with the Husband to Bituach Leumi a couple of weeks ago. As a returning Israeli, the Husband has had to wait 10 months to get health insurance. This involved filling out forms (in Hebrew) and going to multiple windows to talk to the clerks (in Hebrew). Yossi volunteered to go with him. On the way, he called his neighbor who works at Bituach Leumi and explained who the Husband was and what he needed -- and as a result, the Husband was in and out of the office in under five minutes, forms complete, no red-tape.

The Boy needs paperwork from Bituach Leumi which pertains to his disabilities. The paperwork is on the Internet. Can I, with my kita aleph Hebrew, read the Hebrew website? Nawwwww......but Yossi and his wife can. This morning, his wife downloaded all the appropriate forms from Bituach Leumi's website and tonight they are both going to sit down, take an hour out from their family time, and fill out the forms which they know that neither I or the Husband have the Hebrew proficiency to do ourselves. This, so that our son can get help from the government and medical establishment he needs.

All these, of course, are totally unexpected kindnesses from people we have now known for less than a year....and in total contrast to the Anglo community's "excuse-me-but-you're-sitting-in-my-seat" experience we've had so far with our Landsmen.

We've always eaten kitniyot (rice and beans, forbidden by Ashkenazi custom)during Pesach. The Husband eats it because that was the custom on his kibbutz, and as his mother was totally secular and never put on a Seder, and his father wasn't Jewish, that became his minhag. I eat it now because my husband eats it. A wife follows her husband's tradition. When we first started going to Chabad in California, we tried not to eat kitniyot because its not an Ashkenazi custom, but to our relief, three other families in our congregation ate kitniyot--so we three families became the kitniyot group for Pesach in our little community.

This Pesach, as newcomers still in search of a community and synagogue that "fit," we were prepared to do Pesach alone. However, the reciprocity of our kindnesses to our neighbors and to Yossi's family, because we love them and they've been warm, kind, helpful and loving to us, resulted in a cooking-free Pesach for us: we ate either at our neighbor's house or at Yossi's mother's house for nearly all of Pesach -- the First Night, Shabbat and the Last Night were all at Yossi's mother's home. The Sephardi custom is to eat kitniyot, and both families were concerned about our presumed Ashkenazi eating habits. Once we assured them that we, too, eat kitniyot,we were immediately invited for Pesach meals. I've never seen so much food in my life. My husband has, but only in the Army.

Apart from a table groaning under enough food to feed a platoon, being surrounded by four generations of family was amazing. From the great-grand-mother to the youngest seven-year-old, they embraced us as family, and made this the greatest Pesach ever--and a memorable first Pesach in Israel.

To their credit, Nefesh B'Nefesh, in an effort to make sure no olim were alone on their first Pesach in Israel, called us several days before the holiday. A young lady with an indeterminate East Coast accent asked us if we needed a family to celebrate the Seder with? If so, NBN would hook us up with another family.

"Oh, no, thank you," I bubbled, "We have friends who have invited us for nearly every meal over Pesach, including the Seders."

"Oh, that's nice," she replied warmly, "Are they also Americans?"

"No, no, they're Sephardi--as a matter of fact, our neighbors are from Turkey and our 'Seder family' is from Morocco." I said happily, anticipating wonderful food and warm company.

Pregnant silence. Then, "Oh.....well, THAT will be special," she retorted flatly, with the merest tinge of sarcasm.

Yes, it will be, I thought -- more than you could ever know, with your American pretensions, tasteless Ashkenazi food, and misplaced sense of superiority. There is more Yiddishkeit and warmth and love in the Sephardi families of Jerusalem who have "adopted" us than you will ever know--your loss, our gain. We are blessed indeed, to have found families here who have the heart and soul to take in these wandering Jews who have finally wandered home, and who have bestowed on us their heartfelt acceptance.

I wonder if we changed our last name if we could pass for Moroccan? No? Too bad....

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