Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tell the world he's coming home

Many years ago, on July 4 1976 an elite commando unit of the Israeli Defense Forces stormed the Entebbe, Uganda airport and freed the 102 Israeli hostages held there after they were hijacked on an Air France Flight by terrorist palestinian organizations. It was a bold and daring raid by the Israelis, indeed a national victory that the entire country celebrated.

But of course, as always, the joy felt was tempered somewhat by tragedy: some of the hostages were killed in the crossfire of the raid; one hostage, Dora Bloch, was brutally murdered by the Ugandans in the aftermath; and Yonatan Netanyahu, a commander of the raid was killed in the firefight between the commandos and the terrorists.

After the raid, Yehoram Gaon came out with a song that became very popular at the time and now is considered an Israeli classic (Lyrics by Telma Eligon Rose, music by Dovi Seltzer). There is a line in the song that to me describes perfectly life in this little country of mine. Living here in Israel, it is a line I think of often. On this historical day, I especially feel it. The line goes like this:

"עצבונה וששונה הם שתי וערב בבגד יומה"

"[a country whose]...sadness and happiness
are interwoven into the fabric of her daily life".

I don't think I need to review for you all that is happening here today. That our soldier, Gilad Shalit, "everybody's child", is coming home. That the Israeli government decided to pay a very heavy price for his release. That out of the 1027 prisoners that are being released in exchange for one Gilad, about 400 of them are true murderers and masterminds of horrific terrorist attacks. That since the deal has been announced families of the victims of these murderers have appealed to the supreme court to take the murderers off the list. That the supreme court said, no. That there are people who say the price is to heavy for one soldier. That the deal emboldens the terrorists. And that there are others who say we are a country who can't leave our soldiers behind. That we are a country with values and that human life is valuable. That we are the only country in this neighborhood of the world that values life, whereas our neighbors value death. That our soldiers serving and being drafted today need to know that we will do anything to get them back should, G-d forbid, another soldier be kidnapped.

I read it all. The papers, the blogs, the opinions. And I go back and forth. When I see the families of victims of terror in so much pain today, my heart goes out to them. One of the masterminds being released today was responsible for the Sbarro terror attack in August, 2001, in which Liat's teacher, Morah Shoshana Greenbaum was slaughtered. She was an only child, pregnant with her first child and this deal likely pours salt on a wound that has never, that will never close for her parents.

But yet, Gilad. How can we leave him there any longer? He needs to come home, to be held by his parents and embraced by his people.

Today is one of those quintessential Israeli days: exhilaration and heartbreak, tears of both joy and sadness intermingling for all that Gilad has been through, all that our nation and our country has been through.

Gilad, you have been "everybody's child" for five long years. We have cherished and missed you without even really knowing you. Now that you are coming back, we will give you back to your parents, Noam and Aviva. You belong to them.

I for one, give you back wholeheartedly and with love.


(Here are the words to the song Eretz Tzvi, along with an accompanying video I found on You Tube. All the words are appropriate today).

בחצי הלילה הם קמו
והיכו בקצה העולם
כבני רשף חשו הרחיקו עוף
להשיב את כבוד האדם

אל ארץ צבי
אל דבש שדותיה
אל הכרמל והמדבר
אל עם אשר לא יחשה
שאת בניו לא יפקיר לזר,
אל ארץ צבי שבהריה
פועמת עיר מדור לדור
אל ארץ אם לטבורה
קשורים בניה בטוב וברע.

בחצי הלילה עוברת
בשדותינו רוח שרב
ערבה אילמת תרכין אז ראש
על אשר עם שחר לא שב

אל ארץ צבי
אל דבש שדותיה
אל הכרמל והמדבר
אל עם אשר לא יחשה
שאת בניו לא יפקיר לזר,
אל ארץ צבי שדמעותיה
נושרות על שדה חמניות
שעצבונה וששונה
הם שתי וערב בבגד יומה.
At midnight they arose
and struck at the edge of the world
like sons of ghosts they hurried to take flight
to return the honor of humanity

To the land of the deer (Israel)
to the honey of her fields
to the Carmel and the desert
to a nation who will not be silent/still
who will not abandon its sons to a foreigner
to the land of deer, in whose mountains
a city beats from generation to generation
to the motherland to whose navel
her children are bound in good and in bad

At midnight passes
in its/our fields a blistering wind
a willow then bows her head for those who
with the dawn did not come back

To the land of the deer (Israel)
to the honey of her fields
to the Carmel and the desert
to a nation who will not be silent/still
who will not abandon its sons to a foreigner
to the land of deer, whose tears
fall on a field of sunflowers
whose sadness and happiness
are interwoven in the fabric of her daily life.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd.

At 321 Woodmere Blvd., in the Five Towns of Long Island, New York, there stands a mansion-like building. It is an attractive, red bricked edifice with a large circular driveway leading up to its doors. On either side of the entrance are some bushes that flower in the spring, but are rather boring the rest of the year. As you face the building, all the way to the left stands a small cherry tree. I haven't seen the tree in years and I have no idea if it has grown or if it is one of those dwarf trees, meant to stay small forever. But I am sure the tree is still there and I am sure there is a group of people who think of that tree every year on September 11.

I was there when the tree was planted.

On September 11, 2001 I was at my job at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC). Many of us saw the second plane hit the twin tower and watched in horror as the towers fell. The only work that got done that day was arranging for the children to go home early, making sure there would be someone home for them when they arrived. Many staff members frantically tried to contact loved ones who worked in or near the towers before leaving for home. One of my colleagues left and did not return for months as she mourned her husband who perished in the towers and began raising her two young daughters without him.

I went home to a silent house as I waited for the girls to come home. They were 7, 5 and 4 years old. Today I asked Liat what she remembered about September 11 and it was minimal. Tali and Orli don't remember the day at all. Liat said she remembered that Isaac was home that day. He wasn't. He came home very, very late as he had to walk to Queens from Manhattan. From Queens he caught a ride home with his friend Nahum. There were no subways or railroads running. He did stay home the next day. We all did. The whole city did. That is, except for the search-and-rescue people, the firefighters, the policemen, the volunteers...and the men and women who never returned home from work the previous day. The next few days were quiet, the skies were blue. No planes were flying and it seemed as if a hush had fallen over the entire world. I remember being relieved when it rained a few days later. "What took so long for G-d's tears to fall?", I thought. The rain was more in keeping with our collective mood.

Over at HASC, we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. Several of our own had experienced close calls on that day, but one of ours had lost her world in those towers. One morning months later our principal, Clare, gathered us together outside. I don't remember what she said, but I'm sure we cried as we watched her plant that tree. The tree was in honor of Megan's husband and all the others, in honor of all the people that rushed into those buildings to save others, in honor of all the people that volunteered in the aftermath of that day and in honor of our beloved New York City, so wounded and yet so proud.

Megan came back a few weeks later, bearing a huge basket of chocolate kisses to thank us for our prayers and support. She got right back to the business of doing her job. We all took our cues from her and did the same and pretended that life was normal. But it wasn't.

My life changed on that cloudless day and in those hours of silence that followed. I felt fear. Though the fear has receded, there are times it comes back to me. In the weeks and months that followed, everytime I would drive through the tunnel at the end of the LIE that emerges out onto the Gowanis before the BQE, I would look at the skyline and search for the gap of where the towers were and I would wonder, I still wonder, how could those buildings not be there. Gone. Vaporized. "Take nothing for granted", I would tell myself as I drove down that road. And then would come the question--"What am I doing here? In New York, the city I love, but I have a home somewhere else."--a question that I answered six years later when I boarded a plane for my one-way flight to Israel.

/>Tomorrow I will go to work and I will ask everyone where they were on that day. I will tell them where I was and what I experienced and what New York City was like before and after. I will them about the people I was with, people of different faiths and color and how we mourned together for all that was lost. And I will describe that little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd., sure that it is thriving and cared for and in its own way, honoring and remembering.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where were you when....?

I've been thinking alot, since the beginning of the month about 9/11. I can't wrap my head around the fact that ten years have passed. I have half a mind to take this Sunday off from work so I can stay home and watch the memorials and just feel, rather than the day being lost in the hustle-and-bustle of life.

This year, to honor and remember the day and those who perished, I'd like to try a round-up of sorts.

I'd like you to answer some questions:

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Who were you with, what were you doing? What is your most vivid memory? What did you feel?

Did your life change in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Did it change in any way later or is your life affected now, ten years later, by the events of that day?

If you blog, you can put it there and send me a link in the comments and I will post it. If you just want to write in the comments, that's great as well. I'll put something together on 9/11 to mark the day.

Thanks, everyone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I learned from my summer vacation and yeah, we're celebrating an anniversary

The Chofesh HaGadol has come and gone and I thought I would blog about it every week, but well, you see how that worked out. Truth be told, there wasn't much to write about. Sure we did have our arguments about curfews and the like, but nothing out of the norm. The kids spent alot of time on the computer, but, hey so did I, and they did do other worthwhile, and even at times, productive things over the long summer.

And I had an epiphany of sorts this summer. I know some people reach this conclusion early in their parenting careers, but me, well I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Here it is:

Our kids are not computers, or robots to be programmed to be the way we want them to be. Or, to put it mildly, they are not us and maybe, just maybe, they want different things for themselves than we want for ourselves/them, think different thoughts and feel different feelings.

I know, sometimes I also surprise myself with my brilliance.

Case in point:

One of the things I very much looked forward about living in Israel was involvement in the Bnei Akiva youth movement. I was very active in the movement in the states during my college years and loved the philosophy, which believed in, among other things, Jews living in Israel. When we arrived here I very much forced encouraged the girls to join. I felt it would help them integrate, learn the language and make friends. It didn't work for Liat--she came in the ninth grade and it was a bit late for her to start. But I thought it would be good for Tali and Orli. Orli jumped right in, made friends, and started speaking Hebrew like a native. Tali also attended, but wasn't as enthusiastic. She has a really good friend who went with her and mostly stuck to this friend and other English speakers. Over the years she went on hikes and camped with BA and seemed to enjoy it, although never with passion. This summer, Tali did not go to camp, she worked and played and I really wanted her to go to the BA camp which was over a Shabbat (weekend). I just felt it would really be good for her and I signed her up even though she expressed to me that she didn't want to go. I didn't care. I wanted her to hang out with the girls who were going. A few days before the trip she finally had it out with me, telling me, "Mommy, I go to Bnei Akiva because I want to make you happy, not because it makes me happy."

When she said that, she looked so sad and all of a sudden I knew it was true. She never really loved going, but I always pushed her. Maybe, when she was younger it was okay to push. But she's 15 now. Her own person. She knows what she likes and she certainly knows what she doesn't like. How could I force her to go on a trip that she really didn't want to go on?

Why am forcing her to be more Israeli??? She has plenty of friends, most of whom do not attend Bnei Akiva, and she is happy with them. Yes they are anglo, but that's who she's comfortable with. They're nice kids. She speaks hebrew and does nicely in school. She seems to have found her place here. Why am I pushing her so much to be somewhere else?

So I've taken a step back with both her and sisters. Given them a bit more leeway in making decisions. It's hard to find the line between being a controlling parent and setting appropriate limits; I admit I struggle with this all the time. But there is a change in Tali, a tension that doesn't seem to be there anymore. She seems relieved. I only wish I had figured this out sooner.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the fourth anniversary of our arrival here in Israel. In some ways my life in the states seems further and further away and in others I still feel so strongly connected to the US. I came with three children, and four years later they are young women, each with their own individual personality, trying to figure things out for themselves. They are different here than they would have been had we stayed in the states. How could they not be? They still need me, but not necessarily for the things I think they need me for. And that's okay. Because at every stage of the game, whether here or there, they teach me, and make me a better parent and indeed a better person.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogging the chofesh hagadol (Big, huge, no-end-in-sight, looong vacation) Week 1

The "Chofesh HaGadol", or "long vacation" is the term given for the summer vacation that Israeli school children have every year. All elementary schools here finish on June 30 and begin on September 1st, thus leaving two full months for vacation. The teenagers (yes, that would be my kids), finish about June 20, giving them an added bonus of ten days.

In America, the bulk of the summers were nearly as structured as the school year. When they were younger the kids went to day camp and were out of the house from about 7:30 in the morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon. As they got older they started going to sleepaway camps and could go for four or seven weeks. The summer we made Aliya all three were in sleepaway camp for a month. I would have sent them for the entire summer had we not moved here.

In Israel the younger kids also attend day camp, for a shorter day and a shorter period of time. Older kids (over 16, I think) can get working papers and find jobs, but there are alot of kids competing and it's not easy to find summer work at that age.

The toughest ages to deal with in the dog days of summer are the kids who consider themselves to old for day camp (and there really aren't programs in place for this age anyway) and are too young to work. I have two such children, and well, it's going to be a long summer. (My oldest, Liat, found a job working in Camp Moshava, [IO], so she is not part of this discussion).

Both will be attending their Bnei Akiva (youth movement) camps for about a week, and Orli is signed up for a two-week camp that combines volunteering in the morning, with trips and activities in the afternoons, and Tali has a two week job in a day camp. Which leaves 7 additional weeks with not much planned.

When we first arrived here in Israel, I arranged my work schedule so that I was home by 1 and then we'd pile into the car and go to the beach. Good times, those. Now my girls make it abundantly clear that they want to go places with their friends and they want to go alone.

I need to point out here (and I plan to write more about this in follow-up posts) that parenting teens is much more.....difficult, annoying, complex challenging than parenting the little ones. Yeah, I know some of you reading this with kids, say 9 and under, don't believe me. And that's okay, we all have to go through what we have to go through, but I'm telling you it's true (parents of teens, help me out here, wouldya?). I was a confident parent of little ones. I knew how to handle them, how to set limits, how to talk so they would listen and listen so they would talk. I am having a much more difficult time now with them as teens. I second-guess myself all the time. Sometimes, well, it's not pretty.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by some parents of the 8th grade who wanted to set up some guidelines for the long vacation. Things like curfews, making sure the kids have a parent to accompany them when they leave the city. I went to a couple of the meetings, agreed with some of what the parents said, but was also turned off by some of the parents saying things like "my son/daughter is a good kid". Hey, let's agree that all our kids are good kids. Sure some of them are rebellious, some of them are starting to do things that are not good for them, but let's just assume they are all good. I couldn't quite put a finger on what else bothered me until Carol clarified it for me. She noted that there are always parents who are willing to abdicate their parental responsibility to the group. "I don't want my kid traveling to the mall by himself, so let's set up a rule that none of the kids can go unless a parent accompanies them and then I don't have to be the bad guy to my kid".

But here's the thing. We all have different views about what is permissible for our kids. You might think I'm to permissive, I might think you're to controlling and the other guy is waaaay to permissive. As a parent, I have to decide what is the red line for my child and then stick to that. I'm not going to let other parents decide what is right for me. Sometimes I struggle with what the right limits are, but in the end I have to do it on my own and not rely on some committee to establish rules for me.

Tali and Orli started their vacation last Tuesday. Since then, they've been to the mall, to the pool, to the beach. Both have babysat and done some "mother's helping", they have hung out with friends. We've argued discussed curfews and bedtimes, and I see that it's not going to be easy. Hopefully, we'll come through this in one piece. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

That was week 1 of the chofesh hagadol. Looking forward to telling you about week 2. Not.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How I met my husband, or the story of our Aliyah

I was definitely a late bloomer when it came to men.

I knew alot of guys through Bnei Akiva, which I became active in after high school. And they were all great friends, but that's where it ended. All around me my friends were dating seriously, but not me.

I didn't mind that much because I was having fun with the single girls. I traveled a great deal, to Israel, to Europe and all over the states. I had a great apartment, first with one friend, who got married, and then with another, who got married.

Through all this I contemplated moving to Israel. After my year in Israel on a kibbutz through the Hachshara Bnei Akiva program, I vowed that I would return here to live as soon as I got my act together. I became part of a "garin", a group of like-minded people who would make Aliya together, to the same place. Those were exciting, fun times.

But then a few things happened that pushed off my move. First, I got cancer. Big downer, but thank G-d, I got the "good" kind and after about a year of treatment I found myself in remission.

Next my friends started coupling off and the garin was made up of mostly married people. There were a few singles and a couple of the guys did go to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim single, but I wasn't relishing making Aliya as a single person, let alone to a kibbutz.

All my bravado and talk about Israel being the place where we belong, and honestly?--I was scared to do it on my own.

And then I found that I was 26-years-old. I was going on singles weekends and blind dating, and well, those of you who have done that scene know it's not fun. My good friends were all leaving for Israel. I was feeling it was time to put my money where my mouth was and book a flight.

And then the Persian Gulf War of 1991. When the scuds started hitting Tel-Aviv, I couldn't stand it that I was in Brooklyn when I wanted to be here in Israel. So I started the Aliya process. Got in touch with a shaliach--the person at the Jewish Agency who facilitated the process at the time. Started stocking up on things like toothpaste and shavers. Told my friend Marta of my plans and she said, "what the hell. I'll join you even though I'm not a zionist."

I booked the flight for July 28, 1991. Was given a good-bye party in which my aunt bought me a beautiful set of linens and Suzanne bought me a beautiful gold heart with an inscription that said "friends forever".

And then, in early June a woman I worked with told me about her tenant, Isaac. Another blind date. I accepted, thinking that nothing would come of it, because nothing ever came of those dates.

Isaac picked me up promptly. He was charming and talkative, taking the pressure off of me to converse. He took me to a great restaurant. He told me that he had been very active in Bnei Akiva in Venezuela and that he also dreamed of making Aliyah. He talked and talked and eventually I felt relaxed and I started talking, and well, it was a really. good. date.

And then there was a second date. And a third one. And so on and so on. And then it was July and I was in a panic. I was leaving in 4 weeks, but I really liked this guy.

(Note: I went up to find my old diary where I wrote everything down about how I was feeling. I was going to quote, but I found myself blushing from all the mushy-gushy stuff. So you'll have to trust me when I say I was a mess).

Should I stay or should I go? We had only been dating weeks, neither one of us was 100% ready to commit. But the chemistry was certainly there. I don't think I slept for weeks.

And then one night, clarity. I woke in the middle of the night with this thought: ISRAEL WILL STILL BE THERE IN SIX MONTHS. If things don't work out with Isaac, I'll leave then.

Slept like a baby that night.

We got engaged three months later, promising ourselves that we would make Aliyah in two to three years.

Life happened. Babies. Jobs. We bought the house. We fixed it up. School. Community obligations. Liat's illness, which brought home the fact that life is so precious and short and if you have a dream, you need to try to achieve it.

Sixteen years after I postponed my Aliyah for a man, we stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport as a family of six (five humans + one canine). I don't regret those sixteen years in America for one moment, just as I don't regret our decision to move our family here either.

By the way, Marta did make Aliya without me. She's still a bit grumpy that I left her high-and-dry. Until I got here, she used to say, "How is it that I, who am not a zionist live here in Israel, and you, who are, live on Long Island??"

Life is full of twists and turns. We try to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shiva call

You all know I have honed the doom-and-gloom thing to perfection. Horrific things await us, I know it and that's why I think it's important to try to find joy in something everyday, to see good in everyone I meet, and to try to be thankful for all I have. What can I say? It's a basic philosphy of my life.

You would think that the story I am about to tell you would reinforce the doom-and-gloom theme of my life. But it does not. I'll go into why after I tell the story.

About two months ago a woman I'll call Amy (okay, I'll call her that because it's her name) contacted me via e-mail. She was a reader of the blog and was in Israel with her husband and triplet 7-year-olds on an extended (6 weeks!) pilot trip in preparation of her Aliya this coming July. One of the neighborhoods she was considering was the one we live in and she asked if we could meet for a cup of coffee so I could answer some questions she had.

Always eager to recruit people to the 'hood, and never one to turn down a cup of coffee (which we all know is a euphemism for Breakfast! or Lunch!), of course I said, yes and we agreed to be in touch the following week.

Amy has an unusual last name and it turns out her husband was a cousin of a friend of mine. In further probing I found out that her husband was the son of members of our shul in the Five Towns, whom we knew.

I never did get to meet Amy. Several days after speaking her husband fell ill with Pneumonia. Very ill. He was hospitalized here in Israel and the situation became increasingly critical. I became a follower of Amy's on Twitter and looked for her frequent tweets. At one point her husband seemed to be improving but as the days and weeks on, the situation became more and more critical. I could not put Amy and her husband out of my mind. They had been through so much with his illness (he was in remission from lymphoma). They were so excited about planning their new life here. And then, this. As I followed her tweets, I got to know Amy a bit. She is a strong person with faith in G-d and an amazing sense of humor. The tweets for tehillim (psalms), challah baking and starting Shabbat early for her husband kept coming fast and furious from her and her faithful 'twitpacha' (twitter family).

While this was happening Amy made a huge decision: she decided to move up her Aliya date. While her husband lay ill she went to all the necessary offices, and completed all the necessary paperwork to declare her and her family Israeli citizens. And I kept checking her tweets, kept hoping, praying that a miracle would happen for her family.

You know from the title of this post that that that miracle did not come. Her husband, sadly, passed away last week.

Last night I went to see Amy, who was sitting shiva. In Israel, when doing this, one uses the expression "לנחם" [lenakhem]--to comfort, rather than the expression used in the states "paying a shiva call". Even though I never met Amy, I felt a pull to go see her and pay my respects-- for whatever small measure of comfort that would bring her. Isaac also felt a need to join me to see our old shul friends.

We walked into the home, to find a small, lively crowd there. Amy and her sister-in-law (also a former Five-Towner--I know I've met her before, or perhaps stood behind her in line at Gourmet Glatt) were joking around--that dark, black humor that is really funny, and really sad and scary at the same time. Isaac and I looked at each other and smiled. We know that humor and used it all the time back when Liat was ill. I'm not sure people who have not had these kind of experiences understand the jokes, but Isaac and I definitely got it.

Amy was exactly as I expected. She had a commanding, vibrant presence and an open and engaging personality. When I introduced myself, she smiled warmly, knew exactly who I was and made me feel good about my decision to come. I thought it would be a very difficult shiva call to make, but Amy made it easy.

I did almost lose it at one point. Amy told us about her decision to move forward her Aliyah. Most people in her difficult situation would have likely given up and said, you know what, much as I believe in living in Israel, I have a husband who is not well and as soon as he is recovered enough, we are going home where I know what-is-what, where I have plenty of family and friends and speak the language. Not Amy. When she realized that her husband's situation was very, very serious, she decided to make his lifelong dream come true. She said, "I wanted him to die an Israeli. I know that is what he would have wanted." She continued to tell us that she intends to stay in Israel, she is determined to make her life here, raise her children in our land to fulfill her husband's last wish.

I am in awe of this woman, of her love, of her strength, of her humor, of her raw honesty, of the comfort that she brings to people at a time when she is the one who should be comforted. I didn't feel doom-and-gloom, but rather hope and devotion.

מי כעמך ישראל?

Wishing Amy all the best. Her husband's name was Eliezer Baruch Chaim ben Rochel Leah. יהי זכרו ברוך. May his memory be for a blessing.

Update: (from In the Pink) Amy and the triplets will need continued financial help as they learn to live without Barry. The expenses are significant, and they will continue for years to come. To ease their considerable financial burden a trust has been set up that will help with both immediate and longer-term expenses such as bar/bat mitzvahs, tuition, weddings, etc. Please contribute. Checks should be made payable to “Barry Shuter Family Trust.”

Please send to:
Adam Hofstetter
441 Oak Avenue
Cedarhurst, NY 11516

In addition, money can be donated via credit card to the Barry Shuter Family Trust at Rootfunding.

Thank you so much for your help.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I was going to put up a different post but then decided to hold it for a day

Because it's Yom Yerushalayim! Or Jerusalem Day. It's the 44th anniversary of the day Jerusalem, our capital, the holiest city in the world was liberated and united. It is a day of joy and pride for us. I'd like to remind everyone that in 1967, Jews were denied access to our holy sites, then under Jordanian rule. Jerusalem was liberated after Israel fought a defensive and decisive six-day war. Yes, we were defending ourselves. Had it not been for Arab aggression, parts of Jerusalem might still be under Jordanian rule. (Gee, I wonder how the Jordanians would feel about handing it over to the Palestinians would that be the case).

Under Israeli rule Arabs and Christians have access to their holy places. The Palestinians want Jerusalem in any kind of peace deal they may negotiate with us.

Do you think we'd be given access to those places should such a scenario take place?

In any case, Happy Jerusalem Day to all. In honor of the day, I'm posting a recipe for Meurav Yerushalmi , or Jerusalem mixed grill. It's yummy, but you should know I skip the livers,hearts, spleens and kidneys in the recipe. And some of the spices. Which basically leaves chicken and onions.

Meurav Yerushalmi

The traditional “Jerusalem mixture” is a medley of local meats and spices served mainly in market eateries. This version comes from Sherry Ansky, author, Eating in Jerusalem and The Food of Israel.


Chicken breast, liver, spleen, and heart (small morsels)
Beef kidney (small morsels)
Steak pieces
Whole egg yolk (optional)
Coriander seeds
Curry powder
Black pepper
Grilled chopped onion
Pita bread


Mix meat and egg ingredients. Season with spices, grilled onion, and garlic.

Heat an open grill plate or skillet. Place the mixture over the heat and sear, then lower the heat until the pieces cook on the inside. When cooked thoroughly, briefly increase to maximum heat before removing from grill.

Stuff in pita bread and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Jewish Dog (no, not Ozzy) or three+ years in and there are still firsts for me

Those of you who know me, know that I love to read. When I was a kid, we were allowed to take out ten books at a time from the Brooklyn Public Library. My mother would take us there every Friday, so I pretty much read ten books weekly--sometimes more when I read the books my siblings took out.

As an adult I continued to read voraciously. Not ten books a week, but I used to be able to polish off two or three for sure. With the advent of Blogger, Facebook and all that other stuff, I read less books, but I read many, many articles and blog posts. I still average 2 to 3 books a month.

When we moved here to Israel, I started reading the newspaper in Hebrew and I have to say I was pretty pleased with myself about this. But I never thought I would want to read a novel in Hebrew. Reading is such a pleasure for me that I thought reading in Hebrew would slow me down. If I have to work at reading, where's the pleasure? I have plenty of sources for English books, including my book club here in Modi'in, my book sistas (including Hilary who sends us books from the US), and various other sources. Sometimes I even buy books.

But this week I was inspired to read an actual Hebrew novel. (Okay, I wasn't really inspired. What actually happened was that on Shabbat morning I was downstairs and had already read all the papers. The English book I was reading was upstairs on my night table and I was too lazy to go upstairs to get it).

I sat down in our Archie Bunker chair and began to read the book titled "The Jewish Dog" by Arthur Kravitz. It is a holocaust story, told from the perspective of Koresh, dog of the German-Jewish Gottlieb family. From page one it grabbed me. It's fairly obvious that Kravitz parallels the holocaust experience of the Jews through Koresh. This dog goes through everything: he wanders and hides in the city, Selection, Treblinka, escape from Treblinka, is hidden by a sympathetic Pole. He even joins a partisan group. The book focuses on the dog's relationships with the humans in his life, the most important one being with his first Jewish master. The irony of the dog's humanity versus some of the animal-like behavior of the humans in the story was not lost on me.

The book was a page turner that had both humor and of course, much sadness. I had my handy-dandy Hebrew-English dictionary close by, but I only used it occasionally. There were times when I may not have understood a word, but if I understood the sentence I let it go, because I didn't want to lose the flow of the story to often. I looked up words only when I felt I wasn't getting it, which was rare.

I learned something from the experience. A good story is a good story in any language. I fell in love with the title character of the book. I've always been an avid reader of holocaust literature, and well, you know how I feel about dogs. So the book was for me, a perfect introduction into reading a full-fledged adult novel in Hebrew.

Being lazy inspired really pays off.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And a happy Naqba Day to you, too

I never heard of it until a few years ago, but the Naqba thing is definitely growing. Naqba (in Arabic) means tragedy. It is the day that Israel received Independence, our Yom Ha'atzmaut that the Palestinians commemorate their Naqba Day. For them it is a day of mourning the destruction and occupation of their land.

I'm sure I've said this somewhere or other on this blog, but I'll say it again.

A bit of history:

There has always been a Jewish and an Arab presence on this land. But until the late 19th/early 20th century, it was mostly unpopulated; the land was desert and undeveloped. At that time Jews started arriving en masse from Europe. And they started to work the land, to bring the desert to life if you will. By this time the land was under British rule. Tensions between the Arabs and Jews intensified until the UN granted Israel independence.

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.

They attacked us. We were willing to accept partition. We were willing to share; they were not. Note that Jerusalem was given to the Arabs--and we were okay with that. Well, maybe not okay, maybe we were heartbroken, but we were willing to accept that partition in order to live peacefully with our neighbors. They were not. They attacked us.

They attacked us!

People who just have vague knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict don't know this. THEY DECLARED WAR ON US! THEY ATTACKED US! In commemorating their Naqba day they conveniently forget this fact.

It was war, people. Five countries attacked us, vowing to drive us into the sea. We had a right to defend ourselves. To defend our borders.

We still do.

Today Hamas and Fatah are friends again, in what I am sure is a marriage of convenience, not true love. Hamas has stated that they are willing to return to the 1967 borders, but they will never recognize the right of Israel to exist.

How in the world will we ever have peace with people who don't recognize our legitimate right to exist??

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Best Yom Ha'atzmaut ever

Today, instead of having the traditional mangal, or barbeque with friends, we decided, together with those friends to take the mangal to an army base.

I'll explain.

Several weeks ago a message was sent out to the Modi'in listserve (You know the type of internet list where people post things like: "If you're giving away your I-Pad for free, I'm looking for one". Or: "For sale: 20 year old couch that the dog only peed on once a day for 20,000 shekel" [just kidding!! The list has actually been very helpful to me]) Anyway the list posted a message from the organization Standing Together. This organization, run mostly by volunteers, is dedicated to showing the people who protect Israel, its soldiers, our appreciation for their hard work. With their truck and "hospitality trailer" volunteers visit IDF soldiers at their bases and offer support, gratitude, treats, hot and cold drinks etc. One of their biggest events is their Yom Ha'atzmaut barbeques, where they try to reach as many bases and soldiers as possible.

Understand something about Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel. It is in my opinion the most celebrated holiday here. People go crazy getting ready for their mangal. Cows, sheep and chickens have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide this time of year. The supermarkets are busier than before Passover. (Trust me on that one, I stood on the line at Rami Levi day before yesterday). And most importantly, it is a time for families to come together.

I suppose that bringing barbeques to army bases on Independence Day is not something that many native Israelis do. Most of them have seen enough of army bases in their lifetimes and they have their families to celebrate with. For us, olim, immigrants, well, our friends are our families. So when Ahuva decided to organize things, well, Casa Baila was in.

Our young men and women get drafted here at age 18. This is the price we have to pay to remain strong, to defend our country and its right to exist. Some of these young men and women do get the day off for the holiday, but you just can't close down an army base for the day like you would a toy store. The day, one of the happiest of the year in this country, can be sad and depressing for soldiers who are away from their families and their own personal traditions.

And so off we went. Standing Together provided the meat and we provided the grills, charcoal, manpower. The pita (in Israel they don't do buns), chumus, tachina, salad, ketchup, mustard (yeah they don't do that either....), potatoe chips, drinks, paper goods and various desserts (Elianna's rice krispie treats were a big hit after being eyed suspiciously by those tough soldiers). We were four families who were friends from Modi'in, and we were joined by a lovely family from a nearby moshav.
We fed two shifts of soldiers, male and female, about 70 in all. Their average age was 19-20. The commander of the base was 24-years-old. They are young, strong, intelligent beautiful men and women.

I didn't think I would actually have conversations with the soldiers because it is hard for me to speak to strangers (nothing to do with the language, my Hebrew is good). But I did, mostly because they spoke to me. They were curious about why we made Aliya, about our kids and how they adapted, about what New York was like. And I asked them questions. About their work, about what their plans were when they would be done with the army. In speaking to one of the chayalot, she told me a bit about what she does. She's fairly new, been serving for about six months. She told me that the soldiers from this base work the nearby machsom--which is the checkpoint. Their job is to check both Israelis and Palestinians crossing through the checkpoint. She does this for 8 hours a day every day for two weeks and then gets two and a half days off. Sometimes she does 16 hour shifts (with a two hour break between). She misses her family terribly and even though the other soldiers in her unit have become like family, she told me she feels very lonely at times. She said that the most difficult part of her job was the relationship between the soldiers and residents of the area. "The Palestinians?" I asked, and she answered, "Actually both the Palestinians and the Jews". She told me that both have to pass through the checkpoint and both can be asked for ID for various reasons, and both can get angry about that.

At the end of the day, many of the soldiers came over to thank us. We made the day "שמח"--happy, and "חגיגי"--festive. Thank us???? The sacrifices that these young people make are astounding and they are thanking us for a couple of hamburgers and some Fanta. And rice krispie treats. I guess the treats makes us even.

I have a job to do, the soldier-girl told me and I will do it, and serve my country and protect the people in it as best as I can. But she said, "הלוואי שיום אחד לא יהיו מחסומים ויהיה שלום".

"How I hope and wish for the day when there are no checkpoints and there will be peace."

Me, too. And for the day our young men and women can spend our Yom Ha'atzmaut with their families at home, far, far away from any army bases.

***For more pictures, visit me on facebook. Feel free to friend me to see them. I won't be insulted if you later de-friend me.***

Saturday, May 7, 2011


This is the number of sacrifices our people have given so that we can have our own state.

Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day began this evening. Take a moment to think about all of the soldiers and citizens who have given the ultimate, and their families who remain behind.

For them, Yom HaZikaron is everyday.

Note: This is a post that I've updated from 2008 and 2009. (I missed 2010 due to the death of my father). Today, more than ever, Israel finds herself having to justify her right to exist even though she is surrounded by terrorist, despotic states.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An unfortunate name

Four years ago, Liat was recovering from a severe infection and was just moved to a regular bed from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Every morning nurses or doctors would come around to take blood and Liat quickly became an advocate for herself, not allowing just anyone to stick a needle in her.

One morning a young doctor cheerfully walked in and introduced himself. "Hi, I'm Osama", he said. (The doctors in the pediatric unit tended to introduce themselves by their first names, probably as per some memo from the higher-ups).

"Osama?", she asked.

"Yes, I'm here to take some blood.", he answered, reaching for her hand.

"Are you a resident?" she asked.


"I don't let residents take my blood", she said. "I prefer for the ICU nurses to do it, when they can".

He looked at me and I shrugged.

"Okay", he said. And left.

When he was gone, Liat said to me, "I hope he doesn't think I didn't want him to take my blood because of his name".

Again, I shrugged.

"Although", she added, "it is an unfortunate name".

Osama, as a name, will go down in the annals of history with that other name that personifies evil, Adolf, moniker of both Hitler and Eichmann.

I'm glad he's dead. I'm glad they dumped his body into the ocean and didn't bury him somewhere where the loonies of the world can go visit his grave.

But I'm not so sure his death brings closure to the families of his thousands of victims. They still live with the gaping hole Osama left in their lives.

At Ground Zero, yesterday there was dancing and celebrating. At the 9/11 memorial site someone had placed a sign.**

"Freedom, hope, peace, USA", it said. Written on the sign's side, someone added,

"Wish you were here".

**Seen in the Jerusalem Post, Print edition, May 3, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Today I remember

Eight years ago I visited Israel for a week together with my friend Carol and her family who were celebrating her son Ilan's bar mitzvah. It was my first trip to Israel in 12 years and I was thrilled to be here and drinking it all in.

Our first night here we strolled along Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, talking and laughing. At one point I found myself sitting next to Carol's father and he said, to noone in particular, and to all of us, "58 years ago today I was liberated from Matthausen. If someone would have told me then that I would be in Jerusalem almost 60 years later with my children and grandchildren celebrating the bar mitzvah of my grandson, I would have laughed hysterically".

I cannot imagine what it was like for Carol's father and so many men and women like him who picked themselves up, literally from the ashes, and moved to strange countries, built families and businesses and were able, in spite of it all to laugh and sing and show their children and grandchildren, and all of us what it means to be a Survivor.

Today I dedicate this post to Carol's father and all my friend's parents (much to many to recount here) who survived the Nazi horror and raised their daughters and sons, my friends, to be strong, proud Jews.

Today, I remember.

Friday, April 15, 2011

You could say I cleaned my kitchen for Passover yesterday. Or you could say I did this.

1. Wiped and cleaned down display shelves; walked to various places around the house putting things where they should go (books in their owner's rooms; sunglasses, too; assorted wires and chargers in his junk drawer).

2. Cleaned 8 dining room chairs and the accompanying table.

3. Started making a pile of chametz things by the porch door that were going out to the shed. Cookbooks and challah board were first.

4. Designated which cabinets in the kitchen would hold our Pesach stuff.

5. Moved all the stuff out of those cabinets and stuffed them into other cabinets.

6. Cleaned butcher block island; added more stuff to chametz pile.

7. Cleaned out really annoying corner cabinets that I had to crawl into to get to get to everything. Founds tons of paper cups, napkins and assorted stuff that I keep buying new thinking I had run out.

8. Went out to the porch, emptied a plastic closet in the shed, hosed it down to clean it, left it there to dry.

9. Did I mention 4 loads of laundry? (True not a kitchen chore, but I thought you should know).

10. Cleaned the microwave. (yeah, I should do that more often).

11. Cleaned the toaster oven. Put it in the going-to-the-shed pile.

12. Put everything in the pile in the shed.

13. Swept and washed the dining room floor.

14. Moved the plastic closet into the dining area.

15. Washed, dried and put away remaining dishes.

16. Scrubbed the counters.

17. Scrubbed the sink.

18. Swept and washed the kitchen floor. (Several times; it was really gross).

19. Poured boiling water over the counters (you're right, I should have done that before I washed the floor).

20. Covered the sink with Israeli heavy duty aluminum foil. Which means it's not.

21. Shlepped the Pesach stuff (which had been placed in the family room a few days ago) into the kitchen.

22. Found a space for most of the stuff.

I started at 10 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m. (Yeah, I took some short breaks. Sue me.) When Isaac came home from work at 8:30 p.m., he said to me, "Why didn't you wait for me, we could have done it together?"

So yes, we are commanded to observe Passover for 7 days, but here at Casa Baila, we are very stringent--we're doing 11.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Pesach.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Definitely not Costco, but still... (Or why I cried tears of pure joy today)

A few weeks ago, in the Jerusalem Post I came across an ad splayed across two pages from Supersol EXTRA Deal (emphasis on EXTRA because the Supersol I usually shop in is just plain "Deal"; nothing extra about it). The ad said, if I remember correctly, "Costco in Israel". Costco, as many of you know is one of those giant warehouse shopping centers in the US where you can buy a 5 gallon jug of milk and a package of 300 rolls of toilet paper. Size matters at Costco. You buy in bulk and if you're smart about it you often save money. Most Americans I know living in Israel miss it.

The buy-in-bulk phenomena has not as of yet penetrated the Israeli psyche. On a practical level, Israeli kitchens and homes are generally smaller and do not have much space for storage (although this is changing somewhat). Mostly, though I think Israelis are very much live-in-the-moment people. (When an Israeli friend recently told me she found Purim costumes for her kids for the ridiculously low price of 9 shekel, I asked her if she bought some for next year as well. She answered, "I should worry now for next year?", which is perhaps the quintessential Israeli response).

My friend Tammy saw the ad as well and when we discussed it, we both snickered, "Costo in Israel? Yeah right". But we decided to put our cynicism aside and today took a trip out to Nes Tziona (about 15 minutes from Modi'in) to check things out.

I should mention here that two weeks before Pesach, or Passover, the entire country is in a frenzy. Everyone here, religious or not is getting ready for the holiday. People are cleaning and redoing their homes and there is an orgy of cooking happenning everywhere. I really didn't want to be in a supermarket this time of year, but there is no choice; I, too, have to get ready for the chag.

And so the parking lot was crazy. It's a good thing Israeli drivers are so polite or we would never gotten the spot we did. We then went over to get a shopping cart, which were the big "Costco-style" carts. The carts were not locked in and no coin was necessary to free them of any chains. Tammy and I each took a shopping cart, paused, and looked at each other in disbelief.

This is where the tears of joy came. If you have ever shopped in a supermarket in this country, you will understand. The back wheels of the shopping carts were locked. The cart could be steered left or right, according to MY will.

Dayenu. If that would have been the only positive thing about the experience, it would have been enough. But it wasn't.

We found some really good buys at Supersol EXTRA Deal. Items were not larger-than-life-sized, but rather what they do is give you a better price if you buy three of an item. So for example, a box of Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal was 19.99 shekel instead of the usual 24 or more shekel--but you had to buy three. (One Israeli woman said to me--what do I need three items for? This is a stupid store.) Even singly, many of the items were lower priced than the regular Supersol (except fruits and veggies; those seemed to be more). The store also had greater variety than in the supermarket, a really nice home goods area, a pharmacy, electronics, and (coming soon) an organic food section. Workers milling around were very helpful. It was also fun seeing everything stocked up way high, just like in Costco.

There were some negatives: like Costco, the store was huge and it took forever to shop and wait in line. This store in particular seemed a bit shabby, although it was clean. But overall it was a pretty good experience and we saved some money.

Only things missing: free tastings and blueberry muffins the size of my head.

That would have been perfect.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I just wanted you to know

I know that many of you (readers and facebook friends who sometimes tune in to the blog) may not be aware of what has happened here in Israel over the weekend.

I just wanted you to know.

On Friday night, in a place called Itamar a "yishuv" in Judea and Samaria* at least one terrorist infiltrated this place; that is they cut through the fence. Friday night marks the beginning of Shabbat, our Sabbath here in Israel. At approximately 10:15 PM this person or persons broke into a home where two adults--a man and a woman, parents, and their five children were sleeping. This person(s) went from room to room with his weapon and quietly stabbed the parents, Udi, 36 and Rut, 35 and three of the children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 3 and Hadas, 3 MONTHS. Two other children, ages 2 and 8, were apparently sleeping in a side room missed by this person(s) and were physically unharmed. At approximately 11 PM, the 12-year-old daughter returned from a youth activity and could not get into the house, but heard her two-year-old brother crying from inside. Alarmed that noone seemed to be responding to him, she ran to a neighbor for help. The neighbor and the child broke into the house to find the carnage left behind by the murderer(s).

I suppose, in light of the devastation in Japan and the tragic bus accident in New York City, that one single Israeli family being murdered in cold blood while they were sleeping may not garner the attention of the media where you are.

But I just wanted you to know.

I am well aware of how my country is portrayed in the world media. We are, according to many, occupiers, oppressors, an apartheid state. But there is another side to the story, the side where the people we are supposedly oppressing want us dead. That's me, my husband, my children, my neighbors, my fellow countrymen and their children. And their infants.

On Friday night, they in no small way succeeded.

I just wanted you to know.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Birthday wishes

In Israel, there is a very nice custom in which the birthday person gives special blessings to those around her. I happen to be celebrating a special birthday (no not an even number, I just think all my birthdays are very special). In this tradition, I bestow my blessings upon you.

May your home look the same way when you walk in the door after a long day as you did when you left it. May there be no cups on the table, crumbs on the floor or food in the TV room.

Unless of course you want your home to look different from what you left in the morning. Then I wish that for you.

May your teenagers answer their phones whenever you call them.

May they still have their phones for you to call them.

May all your cabinet doors be closed, especially if you're standing up after bending over to get something. And if it wasn't may the swear words that pour forth from your mouth go unheard by your teenagers.

May your car stop making that funny noise that sounds like this: KA-CHING.

May your boss not tell you, when you ask for a raise, "Excellent timing, Bibi is making us give you a cost-of-living raise of .02%".

May your dog always greet you at the door (because L-rd knows your teenagers won't).

(For you younger moms--this is an equal opportunity blog)--May your kids get into and out of their carseats by themselves (including the 'click'), shower by themselves and yes, wipe themselves. On that note, may you be able to use the bathroom by yourselves, with the door closed.

(For the men out there): May you always shower your women with compliments and love. You know they deserve it, even when they order you around.

May your children always forget to log out of their facebook pages so you can see what's going on in their lives.

And may you find no surprises there when you do.

May you always get a cart at the supermarket with wheels that work. (Hey, a girl can dream.)

And may you be in the fast lane when you get to the cashier.

And may the cashier say to you, "Would you like some help with the bagging?"

May you always remember what you went upstairs to get. Or at least remember it before you give up and go back downstairs.

May the TV show you are downloading do so quickly.

May your printer always have ink.

May your internet always be up.

May your blogs be filled with comments [almost] as witty as your post.

And finally may your lives be filled with health, prosperity, peace and love and many, many more birthdays.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waxing poetic about Tuna Casserole

When I was a kid there were certain meals that my mother made that became legendary.

On Thursday nights she would bake challah, and set some of the dough aside for pizza.

Once she started working, home cooking became a bit scarce. By this time I was a teenager and I'd tease her about throwing the bologna and rye bread on the table, with the bellow, "Supper's ready!".

Not exactly healthy living, I guess, but to this day those foods evoke in me memories of that time, where I can almost reach out and touch and taste and feel--and be there.

But there is one dish that I have missed. I've never seen this dish served in a restaurant, nor have I heard my friends discussing their recipe for it. When the girls were much younger, I tried to re-create it for them. The vehement negative feedback I received from them and from Isaac was such that, traumatized, I have never attempted to make it again.

What is it about Tuna Casserole that brings out this impassioned response in people?

"I hate the word casserole", shudders my friend Efrath.


Is it the noodles, flat and broad, with just the right texture?

Is it the tuna fish--only American used for this recipe?

Is it the cheese, liberally sprinkled through and on top, melted and browned to perfection?

Or is it the Cream of Mushroom soup, so thick it doesn't pour when you open the can? That when mixed with the noodles, cheese and tuna makes this satisying slurpy, wet sound?

Alas, it had been years and years since I inhaled that essence, heard that sound and savored that taste.

And then I moved here. And met and befriended Tammy and Alan. And discovered, a mutual affinity between Alan and myself for this gourmet dish. We found our memories of how the dish was made similar and began to plan for a time when we would sit down and embrace this meal again in spite of the ridicule of our respective families.

Alan and Tammy provided the Cream of Mushroom and American Tuna. I provided the other ingredients and baked it. Tammy made pizza for the rest of our families.

Last night we sfinally sat down to dinner together--in the middle of the week! on a school night! As I took that first bite, I closed my eyes and saw my mother pulling the white scratched casserole dish out of the oven in our tiny Brooklyn kitchen. I remembered that sometimes I'd sneak in and pull the cheese off the top and when she'd ask who did it, I'd say , "Not me". I can still see that dish soaking in hot water and soap after it had been devoured and her putting it away in its spot to wait for next time.

Isaac and the girls wouldn't go near the stuff last night. Neither would Tammy and Alan's daughter. But their son did try it, and--surprise--asked for more.

The next generation of Tuna Casserole lovers has been born.

In case I had you salivating, here's the recipe:

Tuna Casserole

1 package of broad, flat pasta, cooked al dente
2 cans American white tuna fish
3 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
shredded cheese, lots of it

Boil up the noodles according to instructions. Place in a lasagna (9 X 13) pan or aluminum tin. Add the tuna, flaked. Add the mushroom sauce (You can also add mushrooms) Add the cheese, mix it through and sprinkle on top. Bake, covered for about 20 minutes and then uncover. Continue baking until cheese is browned.