The Person Behind The Posts

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Father Sent Me

My parents at their  chuppah.

There's a Hebrew expression,"Maasim Avot Simanim l'Banim " which translates as "deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." The concept refers to the idea that what one generation does has an impact on subsequent generations.  

The day that just passed was Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. Shavuot is one of the four times a year when we recite Yizkor, the memorial service for deceased parents, relatives, martyrs and members of the Israeli Defense Forces who died in service to the nation.

I didn't start saying Yizkor until my father passed away in 1994. But now I say it for my father, all four of my grandparents, an aunt and my friend Janis who died in the bombing at Hebrew University on July 31, 2002.

Because there are so many names, I don't trust my memory, so I keep all the Hebrew names (as well as the names of each person's mother and father) written on a card which I keep in my siddur.

My mother tells me that I am named for her father. His Hebrew name was Reuven, which shares two letters in common with my name, including the initial resh. That was the custom of my parent's generation - to at least retain the initial letter of the family member after whom a child was named.

About eight years ago, a distant family member sent me a photograph of the headstone at the grave of the parents of my maternal grandfather, my great grandparents. From that picture, I learned that my grandfather's mother's name was Henna Rivka. And from that knowledge, I felt more connected to my name than ever.

After I finished saying Yizkor, I went looking for the photograph of their headstone among a box of very old family photos.

I didn't find it.

But I did find something else.

This is the original text from which my father delivered his bar mitzvah speech. And it reads, in part:

The history of my people teaches me moreover that only by loyalty to Israel and fidelity to Israel's ideals can I hope to achieve true and lasting happiness....

Above all I pray that our people scattered and dispersed throughout the world, tossed and afflicted beyond all other peoples, may speedily find grace and compassion in the eyes of God. I pray that the broken down walls of our people may soon be rebuilt, that the land of Israel may soon be ours and that once again Israel may flourish and play a leading part in the spiritual and religious life of mankind.

My father's speech was delivered on October 18, 1947. Barely a month later, on Novemember 29, 1947 the UN approved the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine with a vote of 33 countries for, 13 against and 10 abstentions. The birth of the State of Israel had begun.

Maasim Avot Simanim l'Banim. Sixty-five years after my father spoke a prayer that Israel be restored to its proper place among the Jewish people, his daughter and granddaughter would sit on a couch, seven kilometers from Jerusalem, and discover his words for the first time.

How did I come to merit a life in Israel?

My father sent me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

G-d Work

In the book Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, an 8 year-old Jewish character named Aaron Naumann sees a small flashing red light in the midst of the nighttime clouds during his first plane ride. He doesn't understand that it's coming from the wing of the plane and he thinks it's G-d showing Himself.

From the far distance of America, even though I kept the same mitzvot as religious Jews in Israel (more or less), I knew something was missing. And I knew it had to do with G-d. When I came to Israel, I wanted to feel G-d more in my everyday life.

Even though it sounds cheesy in English (e.g., נפשי חולת אהבתך translates as "my soul is sick for Your love"), the prayer of Yedid Nefesh, which speaks of the soul's desire to be close to G-d, rang true for me.

It still does.

I am always moved when friends talk about G-d as if He is a factor in every aspect of their lives. Didn't get the apartment we were hoping for? G-d must have something different in mind. There's no such thing as a coincidence. What we call coincidences are G-d's way of making Himself known, as this story by dear friend and fellow blogger Ruti Mizrachi illustrates. Everything, everything, everything comes from G-d and it's all good.

That's my truest core. And I need this perspective to breath.

But, because I am part of the clodden, earthbound world, I get distracted. And I start worrying about money, outcomes and all sorts of other things that are, in truth, out of my control.

Twice a year, I coordinate an English book swap and sale, captured in words and pictures by yet another dear friend and fellow blogger A Soldier's Mother. Besides providing cheap books for English readers, it also raises thousands of shekels for tzedaka. Dozens of volunteers do everything - from picking up donated books to taping signs on tables to sorting books into categories to making change. The hardest volunteer job to fill is always the movers - the ones who tote 100+ cartons, bags and boxes of books from multiple locations in the neighborhood to the event and to move the leftover books out after the event is over.

This year, two stalwart mover volunteers were unavailable and I started to panic. I wrote dozens of emails and Facebook posts begging volunteer movers to please, please help. At one point, like a woman in hard labor who swears that she will never let her husband near her again, I pledged that this would be my last book swap. That's how discouraged I felt.

After I sent my volley of begging, pleading emails, I said, "I've done everything I can. G-d will have to step in and make this happen." I said it, but inside, I still felt responsible. And I imagined injuring myself in the process because, in the end, I was going to have to schlep 100 cartons up and down steps pretty much by myself.

What actually happened is that more than a dozen people showed up to help. Every carton, bag and box was transported from two houses at different ends of the neighborhood into the event hall in under 35 minutes.

And I knew that only G-d could have done that.

I'm not where I want to be with this. I still have plenty of learning, plenty of G-d work, yet to do.

It comforts me to know that, at the very least, by living in Israel, I'm enrolled on the right campus.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Haveil Havalim #360 - Bat Aliyah's Maiden Voyage

It took me awhile to understand the concept of Haveil Havalim. And then, when I understood that it was a way for new readers to learn about my blog, I started submitting blog posts for awhile before I volunteered to host. 

And can I just tell you something? I inadvertently picked a very busy week to host my maiden edition since this week, I am coordinating the Great Ma'ale Adumim English Book Swap and Sale which raises thousands of shekels for tzedaka by selling 2000+ English books really, really cheaply.

Okay, back to Haveil Havalim. Here's the boilerplate: Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in the posts linked below are those of the respective bloggers and not necessarily endorsed by the carnival host.

Also, you should consider subscribing, by email or RSS feed, to any blogger whose writing delights you. 

And now, on with the show:

In a new blog called Questions in Hashkafa, D. Fastag, the woman who wrote one of my all-time favorite Jewish books The Moon's Lost Light: A Torah Perspective on Women from the Fall of Eve to the Full Redemption under the pseudonym Devorah Heshelis writes about the significance of the Yovel year and what the role of non-Jews will be during the geula.

Bat Aliyah (shameless self-promotion) writes about the price we pay for making aliyah and responds to a pained reader whose aliyah seems to have failed.

Following up on the theme of, "Who said life in Israel would be easy?" Esser Agaroth writes A Letter To A Fellow Immigrant To Israel.

On a related theme, Andyboy discusses what it’s like to have failed to master Hebrew after 25 years in Israel at The Israel Situation.

Especially significant if you're reading this on Yom Yerushalayim, Batya at Shiloh Musings shares personal historical and spiritual recollections of the Six Day War.

On her blog Me-Ander, Batya shares how she overcame her lack of enthusiasm for baking challah and even shares her recipe. By the way, I just learned this week that the Hebrew word for recipe (meersham) is the same as the Hebrew word for prescription. I found that fascinating.

Batya had a busy blogging week. In this piece, she reports on two ancient coins that were found in Tel Shilo. 

If you enjoy photo blogs, head over the Real Jerusalem Streets for pictures of eight US actors sweating during a martial arts class at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. The post also mentions what they were really doing in Jerusalem. Also shared this week: what else was going on in the streets of Jerusalem on Nakba.

Speaking of politics, Joel Katz produces an independent weekly review of media coverage on issues of religion and state in Israel. Last week’s review includes plenty of stories about the haredi community. For real-time updates, readers can visit

Sometimes she's political, sometimes she's personal. Reading this post from A Soldier's Mother, you might feel like you're inside her brain as she recounts profound truths, in parenting, in history and, as always, in Israel.

How You Can Participate: If you have a Jewish blog, or have written a post about something Jewish on a non-Jewish blog, we would love to include your work in future editions. To submit your blog post, please go to the Havael Havalim Facebook Page, found here and use the "Docs" tab to look for the current week's host and how to contact him or her.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Empty Pockets

I received this anonymous comment on my post Paying the Price about compromising in the material world to receive spiritual benefits of life in Israel. It's such a powerful comment that I wanted to let it stand on its own. Please read it and then I'll say more about it afterwards.
I think I must have been totally naive to come here 5 years ago. I brought my family because of my religious zealotry. We have no family here and no rich relatives in the states to call when we need help. My family has literally starved , begged in the shuk, and we get frequent calls from the bank telling us we need to make more money. I have cleaned houses for the last 3 years. We have not been able to provide properly for our family. And my daughters school has threatened to take us to the bet din because we can't pay her school bill. No, education is not free it's 250 shek a month each kid. When hubby makes 40 shek an hour it's impossible. Gan is higher, Yes I know its cheaper than what we paid in the states but food is at least 2000 a month and rent is around 4000. Not any left over when you make 7000 a month. If you are well off, then come. If not ask yourself some hard questions. We are headed back to the u.s. as soon as we can get the airfare. We love the land but the system is harder than hard. There are no food stamps here no way can you go back to college here. No student loans. My husband made 50,000 in the states. Here, the companies don't pay sometimes for 3 months. Can you afford that? We will never be able to afford a car, much less a home. I have to ask myself do I want to be renting and taking buses in my old age? The NBN money only lasts about a year. Your cashed in 401 k the next year. If Momma's not helping you and you don't speak Ivrit you won't be able to work the system. If you are fired, there is no unemployment for 6 months. Can you survive that long? It's not fun to have your phone and internet cut off, to have to borrow to keep the electricity on. To have the landlord call cause the check bounced. Imagine all of this while the rabbi's tell you to daven harder and have more emuna. We gave one organization 250 a month while living in the states. When we needed money for Pesach that same organization couldn't help us becuse my husband works and isn't in kollel. The peole pushing for Aliyah on their blogs are rich! You have never been poor till you are poor here. Oleh Beware! I used to give Tzedekah now I have to take it. Not for long, Yeah I want to go back, I can help others there I can't even help my kids here. Please people stop criticizing those who can't come. I have no more pride. Hashem has broken me. You can all say I am a loser but my sorry tale is true. I never wanted any handouts, just an opportunity to live in the land. I am not sorry I came. Just regret I stayed too long.
Let me start by saying that my deepest reaction is to feel sad that this woman and her family tried so hard and couldn't make it here. I have heard, we have all heard, of families and individuals who have made aliyah more than once because they just weren't successful the first time for whatever reason. It's often financial, but it's sometimes due to family dynamics and the needs of a child or one of the adult partners. It's not at all unheard of.

I have no idea why Hashem helps some people be successful in their aliyah and others have to struggle so. I know lots of American olim and the majority, the vast majority, are reasonably successful, meaning they are able to put food on the table and live a respectable lifestyle, not constantly dashing creditors and begging in the shuk. Sadly, that wasn't this woman's experience. I believe every word she wrote, that it really was that hard and she really is that desperate. I have no idea why Hashem is testing her family in such a dramatic way.

However, I would emphasize that her experience, tragic though it is (and it is), is far from typical. There are people who fail at every human endeavor. Should we not send our children to school because some kids drop out before graduating? Should we not attempt to train for a marathon because some people's marathon hopes are dashed long before the finish line? Should we not reach for a big goal because others have failed to achieve it?

She's bitter. That's utterly understandable. Who could read her pained words and not feel a deep sense of compassion? May Hashem bless this family with adequate parnassa, restore their dignity and help them return to the Land successfully when the time is right.

In the meantime, will I stop advocating aliyah, stop urging Jews to answer Hashem's call, stop making American Jews uncomfortable enough to question their motives for staying in chutz l'aretz at this time in Jewish history, because sometimes it doesn't work out?

Not on your life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Paying the Price

Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman reminds me of me. Except that he says things to American Jews that even I wouldn't say. And, as I said once before, he gets a lot of hate mail.

He recently wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece called The 50 Top Excuses for Not Making Aliyah.

Then, in response to a challenge, he wrote a more positive spin on the same idea and called it 50 Reasons to Make Aliyah.

One of the comments struck me as both incredibly harsh and also sharply illustrating something essential about the difference in perspective between some American Jews and olim from America.

Paul S., from Scarborough, CA wrote:
1. When I can make a living there comparable to here within my skill set, that would go a long way to encouraging aliyah.
2. Jail or deport the following: Hareidi rioters and inciters to violence. All left wing traitors who consort with our enemies. Arab MKs who are linked to terrorism. All illegal entrants to Israel who don't register with the authorities or who commit any crime (no matter how small). Naturei Karta (expel them). Tzvi Fishman (for advocating violence against Jewish girls)
Paul is saying that Israel doesn't live up to his expectations. Too many things are wrong here. And until Israel matches his vision of an ideal society, he's not coming. He's clinging to the Diaspora where, presumably, things make sense to him.

On some level, I can hear his point. Why would he want to leave a civilized society for a place where social chaos seems to run amok, where prices are high and salaries are low, where nothing seems to make any sense?

If this were a decision about which job offer to take, or which flavor ice cream to choose, or which new couch to buy, these rational considerations are completely appropriate. 

But choosing Israel does not exist in the rational sphere. Indeed, for most of us, it's completely irrational to give up what most of us have given up - professional jobs, community prestige,  late-model cars (two!), a support network built up over decades, friends and family we love, large homes, cultural fluency, linguistic fluency, the feeling of being a competent adult, etc. etc.

It's anything but rationality that accompanies most olim to Israel.

We come, I came, because G-d calls. Because tradition calls. Because religious commitment calls. And I came prepared to sacrifice in the material realm. What I sacrifice by living here is the price I pay for the privilege of living closer to G-d. 

In other faith traditions, monks choose asceticism, choose to live materially austere lives, as an aid in the pursuit of spiritual goals. Although my materially limited lifestyle of today can't compare to the sacrifices of monks (or of olim from previous generations), perhaps this is a useful analogy for understanding the experience of olim today. 

I sometimes joke that I earn approximately the same now as I did in 1984. But I always, always come back to this idea I learned from Rabbi Moshe Lichtman in his book Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah
Why can't it be easy to live in God's Chosen Land? The answer goes back to the Ibn Ezra's statement mentioned above. Since Eretz Yisrael is superior to all other lands, both spiritually and materially, it "costs" more. Wouldn't you be willing to pay more for a nicer house (assuming you had the money)? If Eretz Yisrael was the easiest, safest, and most profitable place to live, all of world Jewry would be here. "So what's wrong with that?" you may ask. The answer is, God wants is to live here in order to get closer to Him, in order to live a more meaningful life, and because it is a mitzvah; not in order to buy two cars, a villa, and eat kosher McDonald's. He wants to be able to give greater reward to those who forgo their physical pleasures in order to live here, as Chazal teach, "The reward is proportionate to the pain" (Avot 5:26).
I didn't walk across the desert barefoot for six months, risking desert marauders and starvation to get here. I didn't move into a tent in a muddy field or a tin hut in a ma'abara or even a development town. I didn't wait 3 months to get a phone installed and was able to buy Cheerios and toilet paper with embossed red hearts from the first day I arrived.

Without question, there are tremendous compensations, but it would be dishonest to say that there are no nicks.

Every nick this country inflicts on me, from inefficient bureaucracy to laughable salaries coupled with inexplicably elevated prices to linguistic frustration and irrational government policies, I see every single nick as the price I pay for the privilege of living here. And I pay it willingly. Because I believe that I am doing what G-d asked me to do. 

Whatever works smoothly for me is a blessing. And whatever challenges me, I work to accept with emuna. 

Without that perspective, I imagine it would be impossible to live here in peace.