Sunday, February 28, 2010

Double Celebration

Yes, it's Purim, but it's also Tali's 14th birthday.

I adore that kid. I love watching her grow into the person she is becoming. She is one of the lights of my life and I wish all her dreams come true.

Tali, may you be blessed with many, many years of health, love and friendship in your life.

I love you....

Some thoughts, as I listen to the thunder, before we sit down to eat our Purim Seudah

Purim around here starts on Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the Jewish month). For the past two weeks, very little in the way of formal learning has been going on. I try to tell myself that the girls have been getting a different kind of education:

Liat's grade (11) is always responsible for the annual Yerid Chesed--a carnival they organize to raise money for charity. It's a huge project, with all kinds of activities for kids, sales of new and used stuff, food and entertainment. The girls pretty much independently find donors, organize everything, plan and execute the whole thing. I'm thrilled that Liat was very involved this year. I went to the event and it was huge. Her class raised 32,000 shekel for their chosen charity.

Tali had her "hachtarah", of which the literal translation is "coronation". This is basically a series of "Purim Spiels [skits]" and dances. She was busy at nightly rehearsals for her performance. There was also a hachtarah for school, at which the "takanon Purim" was decreed. These are rules given by the students that are strictly enforced in the week before Purim. Some of them include allowing the use of cell phones during class. Another one is if the teacher steps on a particular, unknown square in the tile floor, the rest of the period is free. Like I said, not a whole lot of formal learning.

There were costume parties, "erev kitot" [night "classes"--dinner together prepared by the girls], sing-offs and more parties.

As for me, well I've been eating chocolate.

Yesterday, the girls and I went to listen to "Zachor". I heard it 6 times, so I figure I'm covered for the next 5 years. During the main reading, it was read 4 times--one time according to the Ashkenazi tradition, then the Sefardi one, then the Yemenite one, then--and this was strange--the American tradition. I didn't realize we even had a tradition; the truth is it sounded strange to my ears.

Last night we heard megillah with friends, followed by a pot luck party. This morning we went to a women's megillah reading, very popular here in Israel.

Soon, we'll sit down to our Purim Seudah [festive meal]. Hopefully, noone will have gone into diabetic shock and we can enjoy our double celebration.

Wishing all of you who are celebrating a very happy Purim.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A little perspective

Gil Troy at the Jerusalem Post tells us that March 1-14 has been declared "Israeli Apartheid Week" and there will be many fun and varied activities to celebrate on college campuses across the US.

There are so many other bloggers who can respond to this better than I can.

The problem is that so many people out there don't really know the history of this place. Of my country. It is to long, varied and complex to recount here.

But I do have this to show you:

This is a map of the British mandate of Palestine (1920-1946). Notice how the mandate includes both present-day Israel and Jordan. Jordan is a muslim country.


In November, 1947 the United Nations partitioned the British mandate to look like this. The Jews were to be granted what appears on the map in blue. Over 75% of the land allocated to the Jews was desert. We accepted the plan; the arabs didn't. After Israel declared independence in May, 1948, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria attacked Israel, vowing to destroy us. This marked the official beginning of the modern "Arab-Israeli Conflict". 62 years later, we're still fighting for our right to be here.

And one more:

Look at Israel on this map (or feel free to go to any map or globe) and compare this one Jewish country and its land to all the Arab-muslim countries surrounding it. How many Jews do you think live freely in these countries?

NOW talk to me about my apartheid country.


Haveil Havalim is up at my friend Ruti's place. She did such a great job, you won't believe it's her first time!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A very personal story

A very vivid memory that occasionally comes back to me:

I don't recall how old I was; probably between 7 and 10 years old. Very, very young and very, very innocent.

At the time, we lived at 153 South 9th street, in a walk-up railroad apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Next door to us was a church. 153 and up were 4 to 6 story apartment buildings, filled with chassidic Jews. Below the church lived the Puerto Ricans. That's just the way it was.

On the corner, across Driggs Ave. was Bahndo's Grocery. Mr. Bahndo was an old chassidic Jew. At least he seemed old to me--his beard was filled with grey and he had lots of kids, some of them teenagers.

At the time, there weren't many supermarkets. People shopped in these little corner grocery stores, where the owner knew you by name and if you needed a little credit, you said, "write it down" and he would find the page that had your name in his book and he would write-it-down.

All my siblings and I ever wanted was for my mother to allow us to go to Bahndo's alone. After all, this meant crossing the street alone. Driggs Avenue, corner South 9th was a tiny intersection, but to us kids it was the end of the world. Across the other street was the candy store, and we knew that if we could get to Bahndo's it would be no time at all before we would be allowed into that candy store (where all those yummy chocolate bars like Three Musketeers and M and M's would all-of-a-sudden-one-day be declared not kosher; we'd have to wait years until they were no longer forbidden again).

I can't remember exactly when my mother allowed my brother and me to go to Bahndo's on our own, but when she did, we were thrilled. I loved picking up a rye bread and some milk and saying to Mr. Bahndo, "Mymothersaidyoushouldwriteitdown." I felt so big, so grown-up.

And here's where the scary memory comes in.

One day I walked into Mr. Bahndo's alone. His was a tiny shop that had everything you wanted at the time: milk, eggs, bread, cereal. I remember going to the bread section and picking up a rye bread. I walked over to the counter and handed it to Mr. Bahndo to slice. He took it and as he went over to the slicer, a chassidic (we used to say "chasseedisha") man came to stand next to me. To this day I remember what he looked like. He had a reddish beard and he was tall and heavy. He was wearing a long, black, satiny, bekeshe (coat) and the black velvet hat the chassidim wore during the week.

What happened next still gives me the chills.

As I waited for the rye bread I felt something moving on the side of my outer right thigh. When I looked down, I was horrified and terrified to see the man's hand on my skirt, trying to lift it up from the hem. I felt the skirt creasing and moving along my thigh.

And that's all.

Mr. Bahndo handed me the bread and I ran home. I don't recall if I paid him or told him to write it down. I burst into our apartment, hysterical, telling my mother exactly what happened.

She grabbed me and took me back down to Bahndo's.

She entered his store, screaming like a banshee. She shouted, "Who was that man that was just here while my daughter was here??!!" And she told Mr. Bahndo what I had told her.

Mr. Bahndo stuttered, "It can't be. That man is a "chooshiva yeed" (I remember those words)--an "important jew". "She is a CHILD!" my mother said, "She couldn't make such a thing up!" I don't remember exactly what my mother said next. Knowing her, she probably told Mr. Bahndo that if that pervert ever came near me again she'd kill him.

I buried that incident and I don't think that it had lasting psychological effects. But every so often it resurfaces and I remember a little girl's fear, a little girl wanting to say, "stop!", but being afraid to. Years and years later, I began to wonder just who this man was. If he could not help himself in so public a space, what was he doing--who was he hurting--in private?

Was this an isolated incident or were other children really and truly harmed? I shudder to think about it.

Many of you reading this probably know why this memory comes to me now.

Who can we trust if we can't trust our religious leaders?

What are we supposed to tell our children? We send you to religious schools, but don't have a meeting alone with your principal's or teachers because really they are just men (and women) and you never know what their very real and very damaging human failings can be? How do you say that to your kids without scaring the living daylights out of them?

Because we live in a different world than I grew up in, my daughters are not as innocent as I was at their age. They know way more than I did. So we found ourselves, at our Shabbat table discussing the events of the past week. Pretty honestly and matter-of-factly. To be safe, they have to be aware.

But when I think about the disappointment and devastation of so many people because of the actions of an "important Jew", I just have to cry for that little girl who I so vividly remember. And for so many, to many, others like her.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It just can't be

How old are you?

Never mind, that's a rude question.

Are you old enough to remember 25 years ago?


25 years ago, I was--25 years younger. And, if memory serves there was a great famine that affected most of the continent of Africa. To help those poor people, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie** wrote a song called We are the World. They,and producer Quincy Jones gathered together some of the most popular recording artists of the time. Remember Cyndi Lauper? Tina Turner? Kenny Loggins? Bruce Springstein? And dozens of others. The song became hugely popular, raised tons of money and spawned other songs and concerts that raised money for various causes (Farmaid, anyone?)

You'd have to be living under a rock to not know that Michael Jackson is no longer with us. But his partners Richie and Jones had decided to do 25th anniversary video of We are the World. They were scheduled to do so on January 28, 2010. In the interim the earthquake in Haiti happened causing unspeakable loss of life and damage to that already poverty-stricken country.

And so was born We are the World 25 for Haiti.

And I love it.

There are lots of performers in the video. A number of them I don't know. But you'll be surprised (and my kids were, too) that besides recognizing Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennet, Celine Dion and Natalie Cole, I also recognized Jennifer Hudson, Pink, Usher, Fergie, LL Cool J, and Snoop Dogg, among others. Oh yes, and Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. (And I actually know who Lady Gaga is even though she wasn't in the video).

My two favorite parts of the video were when they used the footage from the old version of Michael Jackson singing the refrain; he is joined by his sister Janet. And toward the end of the video Jamie Foxx does his Stevie Wonder imitation (Wonder was also in the original video).

All that being said, it's weird to me that I remember so vividly (well, more or less) that time in my life when the first version was so popular. Since that time, I got my bachelor's, two+ master's, got married, bought a house, had three children, developed my career, dealt with a couple of medical and financial crises, sold my house, moved to Israel, bought another one.

I can't fathom all of this. I still feel like that--very young woman of 25 years ago. I don't know enough to have been through all of that.

It's all happening to fast.

Yeah, well, in the meantime, here's the new video. Enjoy it, let the memories wash over you. Two points for those of you who can identify and Snoop Dogg. And Enrique Iglesias.

Haveil Havalim is up at Batya's place. Check it out.

**Please accept my apologies for not linking all these celebrities. If you google them, you'll find plenty of information.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Swearing in

Last night I had the honor and privilege of attending my friend Susan's son's Hashba'ah--swearing in ceremony--into the army. Susan is an old friend from high school who lives in the states. Her young son made Aliyah about a year ago and has been attending university while awaiting his draft into the army.

I can only imagine what Susan felt as his mother.

At the ceremony, the young soldiers were given both their gun and a Tanach (bible). Their commander told them, "Take this gun with you to protect and defend yourself in battle, but know that you have the Tanach, which tells the story of how our people were given this land and how G-d is with you all the time". He quoted Joshua (1:9) הלוא צויתיך חזק ואמץ אל תערץ ואל תחת כי עמך השם אלקיך בכל אשר תלך
In truth I commanded you, Strengthen yourself and persevere. Do not fear and do not lose resolve because G-d is with you wherever you may go.

When I looked at this soldier, young, fit, handsome, proud, I was so moved. Though his parents raised him to love Israel as the homeland of the his people, I don't think it was their idea for him to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). That was of his own initiation and volition. Here is a young man who loves his country and his people so fiercely that he swore three times to protect it and defend its freedom from any enemy that threatens it. And we know our enemies are many.

Susan, I will pray every day for your son's safety and for all of our sons and daughters who place themselves in danger's way. May G-d watch over them until the day comes that we no longer have to send them off to battle because there will finally be peace and freedom throughout our homeland.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Srugim, or my current favorite show on Israeli TV

***************WARNING......SPOILER ALERT........***************

Srugim (which is ridiculously translated as "Knitted Kipas" in the TV listings) is an Israeli TV show about the lives of single religious Israelis living in Jerusalem. It was a big hit its first season out and recently began its second season.

This season, two of the main characters got married and the show is dealing a bit with their first year as a wedded couple. Other characters are still dating in search of a lifelong mate. One woman has decided to leave religion behind and the show effectively portrays her struggles with her new found identity.

And a new character, just introduced this season is gay.

I wasn't surprised about this because I'd already read that it was going to happen at the Muqata (I couldn't find the exact link, but I'm pretty sure that's where I read it).

It was a good episode, but I've got some comments and questions:

I think it's fair to deal with homosexuality in the single (and married) religious Jewish community, but I think it's a bit early in the series to do so. The series probably has a shelf-life of four-to-five seasons (trust me, I'm a very experienced television watcher) and I think the creator and writers should have delved deeper into the characters before introducing this topic.

I know the writers were probably going for a surprise element here, but there was no realistic build-up to this. After all, Roi (the gay character) really seemed very into Reut, one of the women on the show. He asked his brother, Nati about her. He called her in yesterday's episode to get together for another date. Yeah, I get that he's trying to build a traditional Jewish life by finding someone he can have good conversation with (as his married, but gay chavrusa (learning partner) was advising him. But I don't buy it. The writers sprung this out of nowhere (unless you also read the Muqata) and it just didn't ring true to me.

I'm a bit surprised that Roi would come out to his brother, Nati. They didn't seem so close (in spite of their mother's recent death) and well, I wouldn't expect Nati to be particularly tolerant of his brother's homosexuality, and true to form, he wasn't.

One more thing: Why does the guy playing for other team have to be so darn good looking?

Here's some background on the main characters:

Hodaya. Daughter of a Rabbi, no longer religious, but struggling. Currently works in a bar and seems to be living with her boyfriend, who also recently left the fold.

Reut. A successful career woman, recently returned from a trip to India, which apparently wasn't so great. Feminista.

Nati. A doctor. Has trouble with commitment. Doesn't treat his family or friends too nicely. Put on weight recently.

Yifat and Amir. Now happily married and trying to marry off all their single friends.

The newest character, Roi. Now out of the closet. Better looking without the beard.

It will be interesting to see where the show goes with this...

Reporting on the blogger's event

Nah, I'm not really going to go into great detail right now. It was great fun, Mother-in-Israel does a good job of reporting on it and providing links to all the bloggers who attended. She was the keynote speaker. (Okay, she was the only speaker, but still). She discussed how to be creative with your blog and was very helpful to me. I'm hoping to put some of her ideas into motion, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Haveil Havalim is up at Simply Jews. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A peaceful Shabbat

I love the feeling of Shabbat (the Sabbath) as it descends over the household on Friday evening. I've loved it ever since I was a little girl. The house is at its peak of cleanliness, the table is set (most of the time, anyway), the silver candlebra is waiting. When my mother used to light, I used to feel a sort of...glow come over the house, and now I feel it as well when I am the one lighting.

We often have guests for one of the meals on Shabbat; either friends of ours or friends of the girls. Good food, good conversation, laughter, even some words of Torah. This Shabbat we were on our own for the first time in quite a while. (Well actually, I'm not being completely truthful here; Monty the Big Black Dog was visiting, but he didn't actually sit at the table with us). Sometimes, when it's just us it can get tense around the table (the bickering--you know what I'm talking about?). I like to envision us as a harmonious family and when the tension sets in--well I hate that. This Shabbat, for some reason, everything felt right. We talked, laughed, spoke about the parsha. We even sang together. We were going to play Rummikub, but toward the end of our meal the lights went out (Shabbat clock mishap). The girls set up sleeping bags and pillows in the bathroom so they could read and Isaac and I read in our room by our bathroom light.

Today at shul two three! people actually spoke to me. Then we went to our "Rambam" group for kiddush (does that count as a mention, Ora?), followed by lunch, after which we actually did play Rummy (Team Liat/Tali swept all three games) my book + nap, a visit to Tammy....and here I am.

A pretty perfect Shabbat.

(How do you spend your Shabbat? Do you sing? Have guests often? Bicker around the table? Play games? Learn? I'd love to know. Especially about the bickering ;-) )