The Person Behind The Posts

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Driving Moxie

There's a highway called I-695 that rings around Baltimore. It's also known as the Baltimore Beltway. There's a similar one that encircles Washington DC - I-495 or the Washington Beltway.

I mention this because, for years, I was bemused by stories of women drivers who, for fear of merging, refused to drive on the Beltway. Okay, bemused is a mild description of how I really felt about women like that, but it's Tishrei and I'm trying hard not to judge others negatively. When I lived in the US, I drove anywhere, except, come to think of it, in New York City.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about the traumatic process of getting my Israeli driver's license. And earlier this year, I wrote about the ease with which I used to drive in America.

I had a job once that required me to travel all over the State of Maryland to meet with nurses about advancing their educations. I hopped in my car without a moment's hesitation and drove four hours in each direction just to meet with a handful of nurses who worked in isolated communities in Western Maryland or on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

I've been driving since I was 15. Having said that, I never really liked to drive. I did it because I was an adult and it was a necessity. But it's a standing joke between me and my husband that, as we approach the car, he asks, "Do you want to drive?"

And I always say, "I never want to drive."

As a consequence, now that we're a one-car family and Egged buses take me to work, I rarely drive anywhere anymore. I can count on one hand the number of time I have driven anywhere outside of the city where we live and at least two of those times, I drove to the airport to pick up my husband who, despite his jet lag, would always drive us home.

In Israel, I lost my driving moxie. I went from electing not to drive to developing a low-level anxiety about driving.

Then two things happened.

Someone told us about an Israeli-developed smartphone app called Waze that operates like a GPS  to navigate around Israel.

And my husband left town.

My daughter and I decided to go to a friend's for Shabbat. Ordinarily, with my husband away, we would have taken the bus, but there is no direct bus to our friend's home.

So I agreed to drive us there.

I know it sounds like such a little thing. I know people who have been here much longer and much less time than I have who drive all over the country like, well, like they own the place.

But I was trepedatious. Anxious.

Okay, scared.

I felt like one of those Baltimore women who won't drive on 695.

My husband texted me a pep talk. My daughter watched the Waze app on my iPhone. And I drove.

And when we arrived, yes, in one piece thank you very much, I texted my husband.

"Piece of oogah."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Worldwide Prayer for Moshiach Explained

When I first started hearing about this, I didn't understand the concept. Then someone made this short video and it became clear. Watch the video, then set an alarm on your phone to remind you when to say the short tefillah along with Jews from all over the world.

Sunday, September 23
5 PM Israel time
11 AM East Coast USA time

Here's the prayer in English:

Master of the Universe, we, the children of Israel, ask for Moshiach to redeem us, now and with mercy, from exile and all suffering, to reveal your Name in the world and to bring peace. 

That's it. Just 35 English words.

How can you not?

Here's the text in Hebrew:

" ריבונו של עולם,
אנו בני ישראל מבקשים שמשיח צדקנו יגאל אותנו עכשיו מהגלות ברחמים, לשים סוף
לכל סבל, לגלות את שמך ולהביא שלום לעולם."

Aliyah and an Erev Rav Government

About a week ago, someone sent this comment in response to a positive, uplifting post about life in Israel.

WHY do you live in Israel with a erev rav government? Tell me the reason to come to Israel? 

I didn't approve the comment. But I didn't stop thinking about it either.

In fact, the first thing I decided was to elevate the comment into a full post.

I'll be honest. On first reading, I thought the comment was pretty hostile. But a week later, after setting a goal for 5773 of not judging others, it seems that perhaps it was a genuine plea for clarification.

I wrote to a bunch of like-minded people on Facebook and asked how they would answer. Here are some of their answers:
It's not about the government. Some people move here for the Zionism, some move for the mitzvah of living in Erertz Yisroel. Why do you live in Boro Park and not someplace in Utah? Because there is a shul? Because of the other Yidden there? Now multiply that by hundreds of thousands? Why would you NOT want to live here?
Israel is NOT the government. It's the Land, the people and our inheritance. Why is he in America? Does he support the government there? Give me one good reason to be in America.
In addition to all the above, many of our sages risked life and limb to get to Israel, even when the government was Arab and hostile to the Jews. If we don't show Hashem that we want the gift He has given to us, why would He give it to us fully?
Again, in addition to all the above, if we believe that HaShem controls all things, if we believe that all things in our lives seemingly good and bad are from the hand of HaShem and therefore we must be thankful to Him. Then we MUST believe the Government here is exactly as HaShem intended it to be with exactly who He intended to run it. Not what it is going to be, not what we want it to be but as it should be. To say anything else is to deny HaShem controls all things. We are exactly where we should be.
For a country that is only 64 years old and made up of a population of nearly 6 million Jews, by the way the first time in 2000 years nearly half of the world's Jews live in Eretz Israel. With all that has been accomplished in such a short time frame, I couldn't be more proud of Israel. Its a living miracle that we 'chose' to be a part of...B''H
The more we fill this country with Torah and GOD-living Jews, the greater our opportunities to cause positive changes (voting blocs will certainly go to the right!). Sometimes, H' wants to know how far we'd go to demonstrate our love for HIS version of morality rather than ours. THAT is our opportunity to grow as committed Jews. As Rav Moshe Feinstein was wont to say "You don't make tzadikim from donuts and soft drinks." Read chumash for updates on that issue.
I would respond very simply by quoting the comment, then defining and elaborating on the term "eruv rav", touching on whether or not the Israeli government qualifies, then go into the fact that this is Eretz Yisrael and we need to be here no matter what government is in place (there are bazillions of sources). Someone once told me that you can't come for the health care or the government or any other material reason; you have to come live in Israel because it's the right thing to do.
As we learn in Kol HaTor, once the majority of Jews live in the Holy Land, Mashiakh must advance H's agenda. C'mon home everybody and make miracles happen!
Tell him/her to read the book "Am Habanim Smeicah"
You can only influence Israel if you're here. otherwise it's just comments from the peanut gallery.
Well, for starters -
1. It's not erev rav. You don't speak about Jews that way. The erev rav were not Jews but "hangers on" who brought down the Jewish people when they left Mitzryim. Legitimate disagreements can be had, defaming all those who work on behalf of the Jewish nation is not the way to fix things.
2. It's the same argument made about Israel in the early days by the Agudah and the Chachmei Europe - clearly there wouldn't be a viable country if it was left up to just the religious to do everything. We owe a lot of thanks to the Chalutzim who were not observant for doing the "heavy lifting". It was their zechut that made it possible.
3. Regardless of how non religious a govt is, the support they give to religious institutions, practices and way of life can not be matched (sometimes to our detriment)
4. It's Israel for G-D sakes, not Brooklyn... though someone would say, yes, that's the point.
5. I recently heard Rav Schechter (from YU) quote Rav Soleveitchik in the context of a larger discussion saying the point/drive of supporting/living in Israel is the belief in the Medina and its ultimate redemptive direction....not necessarily any given Memshala, at any given time.
6. What if the govt was more religious, and acted in a way that was not in line of your hashkafa, wrong color kippah per se, would they still be erev rav?
7. Its the only country we have that is ours, it's up to fix the problems, If we don't join in, we cant complain when something goes wrong. If you're interested in Jewish continuity, there is no where else to be.
We gave a deed from our Father. Ze hu.
The reality is that Israel is extremely pro religious, compare it to Western Democracies like America, and you will find that it's actually more like many of the Muslim countries. The Gov has official rabbis (on payroll) in each city, Marriages and Deaths must be arranged according to minimal halacha (ie Mikva/Tahara) and so much more.
The kedushah that the Land imparts is absolute and not dependent on anything.
(Rambam: Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 5, halacha 12) - “A person should dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose population is mostly non-Jewish, and not live in “chutz la’aretz”, even in a city which is mostly Jewish.”
A teacher of mine used to say, "There's such a thing as mitzvot hatluyot ba'aretz, but no such concept as ha'aretz tluya bemitzvot."
It's written in the Tanach and in the Shema and the Tehilim and the prophecies. Now we are back as it was written. The fact that we might have erev rav in the government is in the hands of Hashem, but the fact that millions of Jews are denying the fact that they don't need to live in Israel is BAD. The Zohar haKadosh says that when Israel has a Melucha (meaning a memshala, not only a king) it is forbidden for us to leave our land. They compare it to niuf! I'm just saying what the gdoley Israel are saying. It is also written in the Talmud. So Jews have nothing to do outside Israel, we have a memeshala , Hashem gave us back our land, HIS LAND. we are the shechina (the clal Israel) we are free now. No matter what they say, coming to Israel now is not only a mitzvah but a commandment from G.od. Why do Jews in the galut are always trying to find an "good excuse" just like in the Torah with the spies? Please wake up and think about it with all your heart and soul you will find the truth within you.    
So let's say, for argument's sake, that this guy/gal is correct, in which case, it seems to me that he/she can make one of two choices: (1) bemoan the fact that there is such a government in place and openly question those who choose to live in Israel under such a regime or (2) be overwhelmingly and irresistibly compelled to make aliya as soon as humanly possible to try and do anything and everything he/she possibly can to correct this woeful state of affairs. Each of us has that choice to make. 
Uncharacteristically, I have nothing to add. Except this:

May Hashem open the hearts of all Jews who remain in the diaspora and increase their desire to spend their future with the rest of Am Yisrael, here in Eretz Israel. And for those Jews who already have the desire, may Hashem decrease their obstacles to returning Home.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Daily Life in Israel: A Photoblog

This post is a roundup of some photos I took with my iPhone in the last few months of just ordinary life in Israel.

The heart-shaped potato was so cute, I almost didn't have the "heart" to use it. But it contributed to a fabulous veggie kugel for Shabbat some weeks ago.

I snapped this picture a moment too late to really see the Arab woman leading the donkey (at least I think it's a donkey) across a gas station. You can glimpse half of her at her in the left-hand frame. Yeah, an Arab woman and a donkey at the gas station. Just another typical Israel moment.

First time visitors to Ma'ale Adumim often comment how beautiful the city is. These are some local flowers I photographed while waiting for a bus outside the library.

In some ways, life in Israel is like living in the 1950s. Consumer choices are often simpler here. I've started hanging laundry to dry.

In this shot, taken from a hotel room window at the Dead Sea, you can clearly see how the Dead Sea really is drying up.

My dream house in Israel. It isn't my actual house. It's the one I plan to buy when my mother-in-law wins the lottery. 

In Israel, the street signs sometimes tell you what you shouldn't do with your car on Shabbat, holidays and at communal prayer time.

My husband took this photo a few weeks ago. First signs of Sukkot in Jerusalem.

Shana Tova v'Chag Sameach from the Egged Bus Company. It was hard to get this shot on a moving bus, but oh, so worthwhile!

In Israel, even the eggs say Chag Sameach. How can you not love this?! (Photo Credit: Marcia Chiger)

Prayer for Residents of Eretz Yisrael

This prayer, which appears in English and Hebrew on the inside front cover of To Dwell in The Palace, comes from Bigdei Yesha by Zadok Harofeh and was published in Jerusalem in 5648. Despite being published 125 years ago, when Israel was still ruled by Britain and before Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress, it's incredibly relevant to olim today.

I want to share the more-or-less verbatim translation that Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein published in To Dwell in the Palace. If you haven't read To Dwell in the Palace yet, or haven't read it recently, I highly recommend it. The whole book is one long aliyah pep talk.

Our God and God of our fathers, please help me to cherish Eretz Yisrael with all my heart, at all times, at every moment. Thus will I fulfill the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael, as it is written, "And you shall dwell there..."

And may I be forever joyous in living here, filled with enthusiasm, like that of a child happy to be reunited with his mother. This is the way our father Avraham felt about being here, and I am, after all, one of his descendants. Bless me, please, with this quality, so that I may atone for all the sins and transgressions of my whole life; and even those of earlier existences, as in the wilderness, when I rejected the Land and caused grief for generations.

And may the move here and its difficulties be an atonement for my soul. May I dwell here until the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days, and may I cling to You in happiness. May I be among those of whom it is said, "Who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the Land."

Bathe my spirit in the holy light of the heavenly Eretz Yisrael so that I may grow in sanctity until I merit seeing the glory of the Lord with all the people of Israel. May I merit living in this Land, immersed in Torah and Divine service, praying without the distractions of this world.

Enable me to do Your will with alacrity, without weakness or laziness, to embrace at least this one of the 613 mitzvot with great fervor. As our rabbis said, "Anyone who does even one mitzvah fully, benefits much, enjoys long life, and inherits the Land." And through this one mitzvah, will I merit all the others.

May I never have any need to leave the Land, all the days of my life - not I, nor my children, nor my children's children, forever. "For the Almighty will deliver Zion, rebuild the cities of Judah, and they will dwell in the Land and inherit it. The descendants of His servants will take over the Land, and those who love His name will live in it..."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Is It Odd or Is It G-D?

Is It Odd or Is It G-D?
Guest Post by Joan Kristall
Is it bold to say that living in Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel) has elevated my soul? Do I view my day, interactions, connections and good fortune through a lens of the remarkable and miraculous? Have I been open to shift my thinking about events that occur; not just as happenstance, but as occurrences that are particularly designed for me? Do I feel a renewed clarity about my life's purpose? Have I felt the support and presence of loved ones long gone from this earth? Do the challenges and imperfections I experience make more sense?

Simply, I would say.....yes. My dear son, Rafi, once asked me if I ever feel my life coming together; the dots all connecting; things seeming to make sense? Although, often fleeting, when I can sense the flow, it's a great feeling. Since we arrived here, seven months ago, in a Holy place; in a Holy land, my eyes have been open to view life's daily rhythm from an awesome perspective.
Avrum and I have been enormously blessed to both be working in fields we are passionate about. Only in Israel, would Avrum be asked, by his perspective employer, the (Hebrew) names of his parents, who have been deceased for over 30 years. We thought it was unusual, but, we chalked it up to some kind of Israeli bureaucracy. Once he was hired, he inquired why he was asked for that information. Not only was it standard operating procedure to check references from his previous employers, but the organization gave his parents' names to a makubal (Jewish mystic/Kabbalist), who, promptly advised them to "hire this man!" I suppose good genes don't hurt in any country.
The incredible list goes on and on of 'coincidences' that are just too unbelievable to be logical.
Previously, I wrote about my father's (of blessed memory) dear friend, who, 'just so happened', to show up at a Purim gathering, hosted by mutual friends. Since I did not know him personally, we discovered, through conversation, that I am the daughter of his friend from many years ago. During the festive meal we shared, I could feel my dad's presence.
Mom's essence shows up in the lives of cousins, who I have only recently met. All of them, originally Americans, ventured here, for various ideological and uniquely personal reasons. We are all the great, great-great or great-great-great grandchildren of Yehuda Leib and Marusha (Mervis) Tatelman, two simple Jews, who raised 10 children in Lithuania. All, but one, settled and raised families in America and, here we are, their descendants, relocating again in Israel. We have all been the richer for our 'chance' meeting. Continuing traditions that began long ago in some shetl, we now share in simchas (joyous occasions), Shabbat and the tales of each others' lives.
Discovering 'serendipitous' events, I wonder if there is much more to their fortunate, yet 'accidental' occurences. 
Was it 'good luck' that my cell phone was found by a hebrew speaking yeshiva student, who just 'so happened' to 'randomly' call a woman that I was to see the following day, who speaks fluent hebrew? 
Was it by 'accident' that I found a perfectly good lamp shade in a field on the same day that the lamp shade in my guest room unraveled and couldn't be used? 
Is it a 'fluke', that when I missed my bus stop and traveled clear out of my way, I was tapped on the shoulder by a gentle voice saying, "Aunt Joan!" It was my great-neice, Naomi, who got on the 'wrong' bus and spotted me. 
Is it 'odd' that we were invited to a couple's house for Shabbos and the husband is originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city we lived in during the late '70s? We exchanged stories and caught up on families we knew so long ago. This couple made aliyah from Cleveland and the man's generousity and kindness connected Avrum with potential donors on his recent trip to that community. 'Small world' or something much greater?
A number of months ago, I dreamed about a woman I first met when she was 12. The dream of her and her family was vivid and memorable. When I woke up, I recalled that she made aliyah. I searched for her phone number and now this 50-something year old woman and I have happily reconnected. It has been a marvelous reunion! 'Curious'? 
Just the other day, I 'bumped' into a friend from Baltimore, who may be launching a new endeavor and sought out my thoughts. I believe I was helpful to him and he left with new ideas and suggested contacts. Was I meant to stroll down that street at that particular time or was it simply a 'random' and 'lucky', 'chance' meeting?
I will close with a connection that creates a bridge between my grateful life in Baltimore and my treasured life in Israel. The landlord of our apartment is a lovely gentleman, who actually was born in Chicago, but has lived his life, from infancy, in Israel. His mother is an author of children's books and we had a collection of her stories in our Baltimore home; our children actually grew up with her beautiful writings. I was able to share the pleasure of reading them, to her son, in our beautiful apartment, that he now rents to us. Who would have thought; who would have imagined?
Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, September 07, 2012

All Kinds of Courage

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

e.e. cummings

It's very hard to understand why Hashem picked me to become a religious Jew. Yes, I was born to Jewish parents, but I was raised in a family that had the most minimal connection to its Jewish heritage. I had zero Jewish education as a child. The vast majority of my Jewish memories date from when I was in my 20s and became interested in Judaism on my own. Decades later, I'm married to a rabbi and live a fully Jewish life in Israel.

No one who knew me was at all surprised when I made aliyah. Once on the path, it was a natural progression on my journey, always seeking a closer relationship with God.

Last night, I met a woman whose recent aliyah probably surprised a lot of people.

She's an older woman, easily in her eighth decade of life. She came on aliyah alone. With a few suitcases. No household goods. Fewer than 10 words of Hebrew. No Jewish education. No friends of family in Israel. No Jewish lifestyle.

Whatever possessed her to come?

Last night, she told me, "Ever since I first heard the word 'Israel', I knew I had to come. This is home now. I'm never going back."

She's of extraordinary good cheer, even though she knows almost nothing about Israel and what lies ahead. Already a cadre of good neighbors have come to her assistance. Yet, in many ways, she is as vulnerable here as a newborn.

I am blown away by the soul of this woman that pulled her halfway around the world.

And her courage. The courage to become who she really is.