Sunday, July 3, 2016

Unicorns and Fairy Dust

We keep a running shopping list on the door of our fridge. In my never ending quest to make my wife smile or be simultaneously annoyed and amused with me, I sometimes put in requests.
Pixie dust.
Elvish magic.
To my great disappointment, none of these can be found at our local supermarket.

I think it’s time to make a few requests of this world and the people stumbling through it.

For starters: and just as an example, let’s all agree that breaking into a house and stabbing a teenage girl to death in her bed because you don’t want her, her bed, her house, or her whole people to exist in your rocky sandbox is murder, and not political or religious discourse.

Next, can we please work towards a world where it isn’t news when a Muslim couple helps a Jewish family get out of an overturned car, when the family has been shot at?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t help each other.  But how have we reached a place where this is news, and the labels mean more than the activity?

Just stop.  All of it.  Stop.  Listen.  See what we have become.  Is any piece of land worth the blood that we are dumping all over it?  And if it is worth it, then maybe the land would do so much better without all that blood.  Or tears. 

It’s like the old songs about teaching our children.  They have to know who they are.  But they have to know who everyone else is also.  And we have to teach them that most people just want to live and love and laugh a bit and grow old with the sun on their face and breeze in whatever hair is left for them, and with the sounds of their kids and grandkids all around. 

It’s time to start now.
Please leave your suggestions on the fridge.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Friday 3:30 AM

Sitting on the couch with my son in the middle of the night.  Passing the time with a movie, waiting for the pharmacy to open so that when the inevitable prescription for antibiotics is written it can be filled, the bug-killers taken, and the hoped-for process of recovery from strep throat can begin.  The kid sent me in search of a bucket; because you never know when you’ll need a bucket.  My search took me outside onto the patio.  And I heard the singing.  

We live in sight of several villages, each with a green-lit minaret reaching for the sky.  Depending on the breeze, and the volume of the loudspeakers, the call to prayer can often be clearly heard. Lying in bed in the pre-dawn dark, I hear them calling; starting a new day as the old one ended, but tonight was not a call.  Tonight was a love song. Sometimes, ritual can become devotion.  Tonight I heard it, curling through the darkness as soft and sweet as the smell of the citrus blossoms on our tree right now.  I came back inside (with the bucket), sat beside our boy and didn’t start the movie. “Listen” I said.  “Can you hear the singing?” 

And the wind shifted, and the song faded away.  We started up the movie again, and the sounds of Roger Rabbit filled the room again, but I couldn’t help but think about the pre-fast meals taking place just across the highway.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Eleven Months

     When my mother died, the first day of chol ha'moed Sukkot, I was furious at the rabbis, the halacha, our tradition.
     What do you mean no eulogies?! How do I begin to say goodbye with silence? (we spoke at the graveside anyway, after the crows performed the ultimate act of chesed and went away. As my mother would have said, with the flick of a hand, "They can go jump!")

     What!? No shiva until after chag? But I had to say Kaddish, so I could forget about cloistering myself. A minyan was not going to come to me.  Not yet.  But I was not going to wave the lulav around in public exclaiming "הודו לה' כי טוב".  Not a chance.

     But our tradition is wide and the Rabbis did (even sometimes do) know what they are talking about: Don't ask a mourner how he is doing.  For the 12 months.  Let him tell you if he feels like it.

     OK.  Maybe you didn't ask, but here's how I am.

     For eleven months what began with silence turned into cascades avalanches waterfalls of words. And today I said my last.  Tonight begins the last month, and a return to silence.  For eleven months, through the seemingly endless repetition, my Kaddish at times lost texture.  Layers sanded down until it was something flat and smooth and nearly unrecognizable.  But I still had it.  Steel myself as I had to nearly every time to stand up or get up there, I still had it. It was okay to feel like crap.  It was okay to sometimes feel like I'm losing my mind – after all – I'm saying Kaddish, it's only natural. Now I have silence.

     For twelve months the soul is supposed to rise and fall.  Buoyed and dragged, until ultimately rising away.  Our Kaddish, our davening, our learning, our chesed, is a warm updraft.  An extra lift.  But in fine fashion for our people, we cannot even consider that our loved ones will bounce around for more than eleven months. So we stop.  And so I did.

     But I will have to steel myself for silence now, just as much as I steeled myself for speech. And in my silence there will be the echoes of last year crashing against the sound of the shofar and the coming of the New.  And in my silence there will be the sound of the Kaddish of those who I have come to think of as partners.  And instead of calling I will answer. 

     How am I doing?  Feeling fragile again.
     Ask me again in another month.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The View From Here

A bit less than a week ago, I was heading home from work on the bus, just like any other day, and I texted my brother, who was finishing up the annual Alyn Children's Hospital Wheels of Love charity bike ride (BTW, you can still donate on behalf of Yoni Hammer-Kossoy here: ).  Y, who was in Be'er Sheva that night, texted me back with the news that Israel had assasinated the head of Hamas military operations and that a response was expected.  I think you all know by now what happened after that.  Y. did not get that much sleep that night. And since then, neither have millions of people living in Israel and Gaza. 

We are in a war.  It did not begin last Wednesday night - just ask the folks in South-Central Israel who have been in and out of their bomb shelters for the past several years - but it unquestionably escalated then because Israel started to fire back.  I question the entire concept of targeted assassination.  And whether or not last week's assassination will make anyone safer in the long run is anyone's guess.  But I do know that no other country would tolerate a single rocket being fired indiscriminately on its civilian populations, much less hundreds of such rockets, before taking action in defense.  The news is now filled with bifurcations - negotiators meeting to arrange a cease fire, while rockets continue to be shot, and the IAF continues its airstrikes.  I just hope that a cease fire is agreed to before any ground operation, and that it is lasting.

So there is the big picture, from my point of view.  Here is the small one. 

We are fine.  Nervous, but fine.  By the grace of geography, Modiin has not been targeted, and we have not heard any air raid sirens.  Every recently-built apartment in Israel has a "secure room" which is reinforced, has a metal door, and a metal window.  Just because of the apartment lay out, the boys' bedroom is our secure room.  So even if there was a siren in the middle of the night, they could stay in bed.  We hear loud thumps from far away (and not so far away - the distances really are not that large here), and we hear more planes overhead.  But that is all so far, and I hope it will stay that way. 

Jerusalem has been attacked twice.  The latest this afternoon.  I had never heard an air raid siren go off before in an emergency situation or walked briskly to a bomb shelter (we have 60-90 seconds).  Cross that off of my to-do list.  No need to repeat thank you very much. 

Other than that, we are trying to go about our days as normally as possible.  We go to school, Hebrew classes, and work, and there are times when the war fades into the background.  But it is there, and life is not normal, and there is the constant knowledge that we are under attack, and that if I am walking down the street and a siren goes off that I will need to act quickly to get to safety.

This week in the U.S. it will be Thanksgiving, which was always my favorite U.S. holiday.  We are heading for Jerusalem on Friday to my brother's place for Thanksgiving +1.   And with all respect to Arlo, I am confident that it will be a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat.

To everyone reading this, I hope you all have the loveliest of Thanksgivings.  And let's all pray for peace and quiet. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Almost here!! (almost there!)

  Two months ago, our movers came and packed up much of our things, jigsaw-puzzle-like into a 20 foot container.  Last week, through the wonders of the way things work these days, we saw that the little red box with all our stuff had been off-loaded at Haifa.  And this morning we got the call that our lift will be delivered tomorrow.  Not to count my chickens...but it will be a very welcome delivery.  We made our move from my parents' place in Jerusalem to our apartment in Modiin this past Shabbat, and it will be nice to no longer be apartment camping.

  So tomorrow will be a big day.  Even more important than our delivery, tomorrow is the first day of school.  G and E will begin their ulpan and their first small steps at truly becoming Israeli.  From what we have seen so far, the school looks very good.  I have too much Eastern Europe still running through my veins to raise my expectations too high, but it seems like even if there are bumps along the way, the school has the resources (and more importantly, the desire) to work through any rough patches.

  I'll leave it there for now, but I can't go without a couple of first photos of the view from our mirpeset (terrace) a few minutes ago, with the sun setting over Modiin:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Between Ningbo and Ashdod

Part of our aliyah experience has been learning to be very patient.

Waiting for things to be processed (pre-aliyah paperwork); waiting for our number to be called (at the post office, the cell phone store, the gas mask distribution center at the mall, and of course at city hall to change our place of residence and register the boys for school); not to mention waiting for our shipping containing (our "lift") to arrive.

Last I checked, our lift had been off-loaded from boat #1 (Seattle to Ningbo, China) and is now on boat #2 (Ningbo to Israel).  If all goes according to schedule, we should be reunited with the rest of our belongings within the next week or so.  Don't get me wrong, I am very aware that it was not long ago that folks making aliyah watched their lift get trucked away, and maybe, just maybe would receive a phone call from the port a couple of months later to say that the lift is here, come to the port to sign this, this, this, and that form (and of course pay the associated taxes), and arrange the local movers to take it away.

So things are much better now, but it still takes patience.  So we will wait, and in the meantime set things up as best we can.  The feeling of limbo is just another form of waiting, but looking at the calendar (school starts next week!) this odd summer vacation of sorts will be coming to an end very soon.

Not that it has been drudgery....and the boys would never stand for day in day out of errands.  So we have been going here and there around Jerusalem.  Exploring and enjoying the city, past and present.  Of course it is the juxtaposition of the two which makes Jerusalem spin in the way that few cities do. And while there is so much more to say about all of that, something to leave you with is something that B-A said to the boys a few days ago after we literally crossed paths with history, and walked on a 2000 year-old street: how amazing it is to realize that the streets of Jerusalem have been bustling with similar mixes of tourists and soldiers and tradespeople and people just looking for a place to sit and eat lunch, for thousands of years.  And that we really do join that stream of history as we jump into the mix, and walk from the old city to the new.        

Monday, July 30, 2012

Building Identity

I realized over the last few weeks that aliyah is partly a display of identity, but it is ironically also an exercise in building identity in the most tangible ways.  I know it is a typical immigrant experience, but it has still been a bit surprising all the same.

In the US, over the course of many years, each of us had built up an identity in the society:  social security numbers, bank accounts, credit ratings, diplomas, and all the rest of the data points that glom onto our names and dates of birth.

Upon making aliyah, we started over.  Adding our information to the societal data stream and creating our own (even if still small) currents within it.  At the airport I had the opportunity to choose a new name (I didn't), but I could have.  Or changed its spelling.  Is there an extra alef or not in my last name or B-A's? How do the boys spell their names?  Will I have a hebraicized version of my name or the name by which I am called for an aliyah on my teudat zehut? And that was just the beginning.

We've opened a bank account (a strangely lengthy process.  I think B-A understood everything the bank clerk was saying, but I only caught every few words of his rapid hebrew, explaining the aspects of our accounts, which were then followed by him asking: "Do you understand?  Sign here, here, and here, and initial here, here, and here."  BTW, for those of you who will make aliyah, be sure to actually put money into the account you open!  You'll need the receipt to show to misrad haklitah before they start making regular deposits of your sal klitah).  We've nearly competed the process of renting an apartment (more on that another time).  We signed up for health insurance.

And so bit by bit we grow our identities in Israeli society, doing in a matter of weeks what before we had done over the course of years.  It is not exactly starting over from scratch but the speed of it all has been more than a bit dislocating, which is also surprising.  Though it shouldn't be.  Just because it is aliyah, doesn't mean that it isn't the immigrant experience.