Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Real Question: So What Can ***I*** Do?

Every time I assess the situation in this wonderful country, I see more problems than ever. I thank G-d every day for living here, and yet the tragic situations around me could be kind of depressing. Often they are.
** Only today, the PA says it's going forward with an PA airport in Area C, mind you. And you know what? They'll get it too. Because just like when they build and plow without asking questions, without stopping when they're told to, they'll just build this and go forward. To blazes with everyone else. They're very focused on the prize.
** Just today, a bank, holding the credit of communities in Judea and Samaria, has cut off that credit and told Jewish towns to close their accounts. Read here: major crisis to come, chas v'shalom.
** The price of water is going up. Didn't it just go up? How can bankrupting us help the water situation? I feel like an Englishman during the time of the wicked Prince John, being taxed into penury, chas v'shalom. (Robin Hood, where are you?)
** The Building Freeze Edict is still on, and Israeli security forces are accused of using excessive violence against those who love the land and want to keep building. Very scary.
** And the worst thing is that the social fabric of our society is unraveling. There's a horrifying story on Professor Gil Troy's blog, http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/troy/entry/galilee_rape_nightmare_tests_us. Everyone should read it, and cry out in shame. It used to be that Israel only had to "worry about" Arab attacks. Now there are mafia-style killings, thievery, murder (from young aged hoods too), drugs, prostitution, alcoholism, and sexual offenses of every kind, corruption on every level of life here, etc. etc. The shocking story of the 17 year old in the blog cited above reminds me of the story of the girl tortured in Sodom, in the time of Lot. And we know what happened next? PSHUBOOM!!
But the story above didn't happen in Sodom, it happened in Israel TODAY!! And we wonder why we're in trouble.
So the question is, "What can I/you, a regular person, do? How can I/you make things better."
I'm really asking the question, because I don't have any brilliant answers.
We are in deep trouble politically, economically, socially, religiously, security-ily, and every other -ly.
Where can we begin in order to make things better? The obvious answer is in our homes, then in our little towns, then in our region. Can we ever pass that level and help the nation, heal the nation, benefit the nation? Maybe if every town from north to south improves itself, that will affect the country as a whole.
I don't know. And I hope you'll tell me.
There are superb chesed (loving kindness) organizations to feed the poor, give guidance to the childless, work with teens at risk, big-brother the orphan, counsel single-mothers, find jobs for Gush Katif unemployed and all unemployed, make weddings for needy brides, etc. Volunteering for one of these will definitely help bandage some social wounds. Will it save the country?
No.
But beginning to do things for others, caring about other people, and teaching our children to do the same is a start. Chanukah is long over, but it would be good for our nation to follow in the path of Yehuda HaMaccabee. The first thing he did after the Chashmonaim came to power (in addition to continue the battles to free Israel) was to institute frameworks of CARING for the JEWISH PEOPLE. Can you believe that our ingrained characteristic of chesed was lost from the Jewish People? We had become so Hellenized as a nation that we forgot to care and protect and reach out to and for one another. This communal responsibility united the people, raised them up and began the healing process.
Learning to NOT be selfish - me first, me second, me me me - will begin having an impact on society. A small one at first, but if we get everyone in on the program, one day real differences will be felt.
Will it lower water prices? Will it keep Ahmadinejad from pushing the red button? Will it put a halt to a PA airport? Maybe not right now, but uniting a nation, teaching our brethren to think of one another as brethren can only bring joy to the eyes of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father Our King) and then there is no limit to the ways that Hashem would help us and protect us.
About the inhuman torture inflicted on this 17 year old (in the blog above), I personally think all those who hurt him should be punished in the most severe way. All those who let this happen should be punished in the most severe way. And the nation (us) and the State (government) should reach out to this family and somehow try to help heal its wounds. Somehow we have to help this boy. And I sincerely am asking for your suggestions. May Hashem have mercy on this boy and on our nation, and heal all of us.

Killing Buying, Killing Selling

I had to run to Jerusalem on an emergency this morning. (There's always an emergency around deadline time. See my previous post.) While I was there, I decided to give myself a break and buy take-out side dishes for Shabbat. My favorite take-out store is Hadar Geula in Jerusalem. (No, I don't get a commission, I just wanted to share the tip with you. :) .) Then I was going to visit Brooklyn Bakery (yum) and and another store speedy quick. So, since I was nearby, I drove to Geula to pop in to the shops and buy some yummy potato kugel, stuffed peppers, a black and white cake, and whatever else fun stuff was there.
I looked for a space. None. I drove around block after block. Not a space to be had. Jerusalem is in the midst of roadwork everywhere. Trucks blocked the streets. And in Geula, the side streets that used to be my best parking are now blocked with these giant metal thumbs that keep you from parking on any side street. I circled four times, sighed "Oh well," and left. Now I'm going to have to really cook on Friday. Gasp!
I decided to stop at Malha and park in the parking lot in order to pick up a different item that I was going to get on the main drag in Geula. The lines into the parking lot were longer than I'd ever seen them. (I guess it has something to do with the fact that it's raining, B"H. Folks do more indoor shopping in the rain.)
When I finally got into the lot, I drove up and down, and even tried different floors, to find a spot. And after about 20 minutes of circling, I gave up. I really do have a deadline and I had to rush home.
So, the shops in Geula lost about 1000 NIS that was I going to leave there.
The stores in Malha lost my 500 NIS.
And I couldn't get anything I needed.
No buying or selling today where I was concerned.
If Jerusalem doesn't find a way for folks to park and shop, a lot of stores are going to suffer more than the economy has already caused them to suffer. If you've got any ideas to help, contact the Municipality.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deadlines vs. Lifelines

I have a deadline problem.
Every newspaper and magazine editor has deadlines. I am no different from them. I have been keeping deadlines for 30 years. (Wow, some of you aren't even 30 years old!)
Deadlines are everything. Nothing is more important than a deadline.
I remember once, as Junior Editor of Showbusiness Newspaper, I was faced with a Wednesday afternoon deadline, and my publisher, editor and star columnist were in jail. Yes, jail. (Long story. They were arrested at the office of one of our advertisers whom they were dealing with after they found out his ad was a scam. Really long story. Believe me.)
The paper had to get out, but the main men were in jail. I actually walked to the police station on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan with a pencil and pad of paper, handed it to the policeman on duty, waited an hour, received back my publisher's editorial written in long hand on the paper, and then rushed to my office, typed up the editorial and put the issue to bed.
Nothing gets in the way of a deadline.
The world can go to pot, but the deadline must be met.
In my case, there's only one problem with that. I also have a Life-line.
When the world spins and "stuff happens," I feel the need to be part of the event. Sometimes it's a national event, sometimes local and sometimes family. I try to say, "Sorry, I'm on a deadline." Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Choose Life-line: Last night I closed my computer and drove to my children to help with the house and kids, because my daughter-in-law has the flu. Sorry, deadline.
Then there are times when the deadline wins: Efratians went to Negohot today to show their support after a young woman was firebombed there. They also went to the PM's house to protest the freeze. Those are very important events. My friends are there out in the streets and I'm in my office.
I guess I choose the deadline over the Life-line by specific criteria.
* If the event will be attended (or can be handled) by others, and they don't really need me, I don't go. So, I won't get the scoop. I'm not really a scoop chaser. (You'll have to read the story I missed writing on Jpost or Israel National News.)
* If my presence would make a difference (or if I'm the only one who could do a specific thing), then I choose the Life-line and everything else has to wait.
I guess I'm writing this because this week is my deadline, and I also have so many Life-lines calling me. A tough dilemma.
Anyway, if ever Voices Magazine is late or a VoicesTV movie, you'll know why. I chose the LIFE-LINE.


Monday, December 28, 2009

JEWISH Fruit

I have the privilege to volunteer on the Committee for Gush Katif Bridal Showers. B"H, we are approaching the 500th couple that our committee will have showered (if IY"H, we don't run out of money, chas v'shalom [times are tough] – but that’s another story).

BACKGROUND:
One of the young men we showered last year is named MICHAEL EDRI. He and his wife Yael have a little baby now, B"H.
Michael lives in the Netzer Chazani caravan/caravilla community of Ein Tzurim in a caravan that he bought himself, because he wanted to stay with his community.
TACHLIS:
Michael is trying to build a life for himself and his family. As you know, the majority of folks from Gush Katif are unemployed or underemployed. Michael is trying to go forward to a better future. He has started a company selling DRIED FRUIT FROM JEWISH GROWERS IN ISRAEL. This is NOT an easy task. Until now, much of our dried fruit comes from chutz la'aretz - and not just outside of Israel: Jordan, Syria, Iran!! No kidding.
Michael is selling JEWISH DRIED FRUIT for Tu B'Shevat. The fruit and nuts are from Jewish farmers in Tzfat, the Galil and the Negev. He has hired all young people from Gush Katif communities to work for him.
Good for you, Michael!!!
For the past four years, B"H, I have merited to be able to reach out and give Gush Katif families a hug when they were unsure and didn't know how they'd marry off their children. Now I am LITERALLY SEEING THE FRUITS of my LABOR of love. And I am going to reach out and give Michael Edri a hand in getting his Dried Fruit to the public – YOU. (This is TOTALLY VOLUNTARY on my part. In fact, you can help market this Jewish fruit to others if you wish too.)
TUV HA'ARETZ – Jewish Tu B'Shevat Fruit – 700 gram box – 35 NIS
You can order the fruit directly from me - izzy@actcom.co.il or from Tuv Ha'Aretz 052-312-1112.

PS – Can you imagine? This young man was kicked out of his home. His family's home was destroyed. He even had to buy his own caravan, and he calls his business TUV HA'ARETZ - the good of the land, or as I interpret it - The Land is Good. B"H, for our next generation. Faith. Strength. Vision. The young heroes of Gush Katif - our future, IY"H.
PSS - I put a notice on my Efrat email list, and already have 25 orders. Hooray for Efrat, Gush Etzion and Am Yisrael.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Speaking of Peace on Earth


In my last blog, I wrote about the ultimate peace on earth - the lion and the lamb, or perhaps the cat and the rabbit. So I thought I'd continue the thought with something interesting that happened in Efrat last week.
Our town received a letter from the Christian Sisters of Israel, who were visiting Bethlehem for Xmas. It seems that these ladies are supporters of Israel, and wanted to show my hometown Efrat their support. Efrat is right next to Bethlehem, and they thought that after visiting their holy sites in Bethlehem, they'd pop over to Efrat with two busloads of Christian pilgrims and sing Xmas carols to our families, and also bring a nice friendly Santa along with them to hand out candy to our kiddies. Being kind folks, they also promised to be out of our town before the start of the Sabbath.
This idea did NOT go over well with my fellow Efratians. In fact, they were quite upset. After leaving the Diaspora behind, and hoping to leave all remnants of Santa and reindeer along with it, the thought of being exposed to all this here in our own hometown was very upsetting.
I wrote a letter to the "Sisters". I truly believe there can be peace on earth, and I believe that peace must begin with understanding - understanding each other's sensibilities and beliefs.
MY LETTER:
Shalom from Efrat.
"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." Or let it begin with us. :)
We Efratians greatly appreciate the support of friends throughout the world.
Your good words to us are quite enough, and we thank you, and we will remember them.
We don't want you to take this in the wrong way, but I don't think Erev Shabbat caroling would go over very well in Efrat.
Friday is a special day for us, it is Erev Shabbat – a time when each in his own home prepares serenely or frenziedly (as in my case) for the beautiful day of Shabbat. We would not be able to join you to hear your carols. And because Xmas is not our holiday, we neither sing nor listen to Xmas Carols.
We do, however, thank you for wishing to please us and "raise our spirits". You have done so with your good wishes.
Our Jewish Nation has just celebrated the holiday of Chanukah, wherein our people fought against assimilation and the influences of foreign nations. On the heels of this holiday, it would be very inappropriate for us to participate in your activities. But we do wish you a peaceful holiday season.
Thousands of years ago, we had a great-great grandfather. His name was Abraham. G-d blessed him in a special way. He was told that whoever blessed him would be blessed. May you and your organization merit to always bless the Jewish Nation, and thereby bring blessings upon yourselves.

Sincerely,
Sharon Katz
Efrat

And the cat shall lie with the rabbit

The Jewish Nation is an ambitious lot. Throughout our history, we are waiting for the lion to rest with the lamb. This is our ultimate idea of world peace.
Could it be we are too ambitious?
My family spent Shabbat in the Eastern Gush Etzion town of Metzad - it's like a clean-aired small town overlooking the distant Dead Sea. Rural, quiet, filled with warm wonderful people.
It's also got rabbits. It seems that some years ago, a resident of Metzad owned some rabbits and then let them free. I guess life was good for them in Metzad, so they didn't go far, and every once in a while when you look outside, there's a rabbit munching on a flower and wiggling his long ears.
Last week, while watching a black rabbit outside on the lawn, I noticed a cat about to pounce. I called my four-year-old granddaughter Rivka and asked if I should run outside and do something about this. She said, "No, in Metzad, the cats get along with the rabbits."
I thought, "Sure, I bet they'd love them...for dinner." So, I watched cautiously, ready to throw something at the sneaky looking cat. And whattayaknow? The cat just sat there as the rabbit munched away.
So, perhaps there is a place where peace can reign between animals. And IY"H, perhaps it's a good sign for all of us too.
It doesn't compare to lions and lambs, but it was pretty impressive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doves for Gilad Shalit


Ah, the gentle dove - we can all picture it, white and chubby with little black loving eyes. Its coo is soothing, and its characteristic faithfulness has been inspirational since the day Noah first set it free from the ark.
More than anything else today, a dove symbolizes peace. Noah's dove with an olive branch in its beak is looked upon internationally as the soaring aspiration for which we all strive.
Well, there are actually dozens of types of doves, all sizes and shapes and colors.
Recently the Mamilla Mall presented an Israeli Dove Exhibition. Hundreds of beautiful doves, from the Association of Dove Lovers in Israel. Row upon row of dove cages filled the upper level of the Mall and both adults and children enjoyed feeding the doves, drawing them and participating in workshops about their care and feeding.
I read that the Exhibition was being launched with a Dove Send-Off for the Release of Gilad Shalit. How appropriate, since the safe return of soldier Gilad Shalit is exactly the kind of event for which we yearn. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was set to launch the dove with a personal note praying for peace.
Voices TV visited the Dove Exhibition and you can visit along with us in a video soon to be uploaded to the net at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=89 .

Blessings for You and Yours

I know that Chanukah is almost a week past, but there was one story/video that I wanted to share with you that was so special, I figured that time hasn’t dimmed its meaning.
I try to attend at least one Kotel Chanukah Lighting each year. Lighting the menorah so close to the place where it was once lit by the Kohen Gadol is such a moving event that, really, every deserves to experience it.
I picked up my machatenesta (son’s mother-in-law) Judy from the Old City and we walked down to the Kotel. It drizzled as we huddled together against the cold. At this point, some folks would have given up and went home for some hot cocoa and a dry chanukiah-lighting, but we toughed it out.
And we felt so privileged that we had.
It was the seventh night of Chanukah. The Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beitenu) lit the menorah on the Upper Plaza. Then the Rishon LeZion, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar lit the chanukiah next to the Kotel, in the presence of the Minister of Tourism and the Rabbi of the Kotel and Holy Places HaRav Shmuel Rabinowitz.
His words were so filled with blessings for the Jewish people that we were moved to tears. His blessings were for everyone present and for you too.
That’s why I’m writing this now. I want you to hear the blessings that the sincerely learned and holy rabbi, HaRav Amar gave you. The following is an abridged version of his words (and I would like to thank my dear friend Leora for her excellent translation). HaRav Amar’s words were truly poetic, and, of course, lose a great deal in the translation. Any mistakes in translation or transcribing are all mine.
Be blessed:
The Rishon LeZion spoke, “I would like to bless everyone present and through you, all of Am Yisrael, and all our soldiers, in the merit of this day – seventh day of Chanukah – and Rosh Chodesh (the new month) Tevet in this holy place outside Bet HaMikdash, from whence the Schechnia has never departed.
May we merit to light the menorah one day soon in the Bet Hamikdash by the Kohen Gadol, and may that great light shine a new light over Israel - a holy pure light will glow in all the hearts of Am Yisrael. May this light increase our joy, bring light into our homes, and may we not hear tragedy. Instead, may we only hear the voices of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and groom. May the sound of smachot (joyous occasions) fill all our homes.
May this month be the end of our difficulties, the beginning of the redemption of our souls, and we hear only good news, especially good news about our soldiers and about our captive soldiers.
There is a hint in a previous Torah portion, Parshat Miketz (ketz means end) of an end to our travails. Then after Miketz is the portion of Vayigash, which is an acronym for Vayavo Gilad Shalit (Gilad Shalit came home), IY”H!
And after that is the portion Vayechi Yaakov (and Yaakov lived). “And the spirit of Yaakov revived.” [Ed. These are all blessed allusions for our people.] May our spirit be revived with the coming of the Messiah. Amen.
The moments that connect the (Jewish months) of Kislev and Tevet are very special. Kislev, the month with a kis (pocket) and lev (heart) and Tevet, the month that denotes tov (good), when Hashem will do good for His people.
As we lit the pure menorah, we all prayed that we will soon merit to see the Kohen Gadol light the menorah in purity in Bet HaMikdash.
My children, girls and boys, soldiers and citizens, the King of the World should bless you and fulfill your wishes for good and blessing; give you smachot (joy) in your homes; may you merit making weddings and smachot for your sons and daughters; may you increase your Torah learning, mitzvot and good deeds. May Hashem remove sickness from you, may He remove fear and any obstacles and mishaps. May Hashem grant you success and parnasa (a livelihood). May Hashem bless you a thousand-fold, and, BE”H, may the Redeemer come to Zion.”
When the Chief Rabbi finished his words, as raindrops drizzled around us, the entire crowd sang the Chanukah hymn Maoz Tzur. It was an incredibly uplifting and unifying experience. Spontaneously, children and parents danced together in happiness.
And then everyone lingered a bit to keep the blessing fresh upon their hearts for just a little while longer.
I know Chanukah is over, but I bless all of you that HaRav Amar’s words should be fulfilled very soon, IY”H.
Happy After Chanukah.
I videoed the Kotel ceremony, and you can see those blessings on video at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=88.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Classical Music in Gush Etzion

I love music - all kinds of music, but I never knew until two weeks ago that I like classical music. At the premiere concert of the Classical Music series in Gush Etzion, I found myself breathless at the energetic performance of the PercaDu Duo. Playing 50 different instruments from around the world, the international performing duo had the entire audience enthralled.
When intermission was called, audience members exprssed their appreciation for the high quality performance they had seen right in their own hometown, and then shmoozed in the Matnas Gush Etzion lobby over delicious hot soup. The series, organized by Sima Gal, Director of the Music Department of the Matnas of Gush Etzion, is off to a succssful start.
In a little over two weeks, on Motzei Shabbat, January 16, 2010, the Matnas of Gush Etzion will present the second in its series of five concerts, Classical Music in Gush Etzion. The performance will feature flute and harp in "From Bach to the East."
It will be followed by "The Soul of the Violin" and "A Piano Recital" by conductor and pianist extraordinaire Paul Salter of Alon Shvut. The last of the series will feature the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Orchestra.
To take a peek at some memorable moments from the series' first concert, click here.
English - http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=85
Hebrew - http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=86

You can still order season tickets by emailing matnas@gush.matnasim.co.il. For further information, http://www.matnasetzion.com/, 02-993-7999. Add the warmth of music to your winter.

Save the World, well at least Stop Postpartum Depression

Every month I am sent one or two or even three books to review. Most of them are enjoyable, inspiring, and even exciting. I don't write about them in my blog. I review them in Voices Magazine, http://www.voices-magazine.com/. When I received the book Delivery from Darkness about Postpartum Depression, I thought, "Okay, I'll just do my best to finish it, because the topic is important." Well, I was in for a shock. Delivery from Darkness was so riveting, so intense that I was totally drawn into the issue of Postpartum Depression, and now I want to be an anti-Postpartum Depression Activist (do they have them) and save women, their husbands, children and families from this horrific syndrome.
I WANT YOU TO READ THIS BOOK. No, I don't get a commission on any sales (well, maybe after 120, IY"H). I just want to help your family and help eliminate Postpartum Depression, if I can. Postpartum Depression is a destroyer. I want to battle the destroyer. Join me. Read on.

* * *

Just about every woman has had some sort of mood swings or baby blues after the birth of a child. In most cases, the distress dissipates with time and rest. However, any family that has suffered the horrors of Postpartum Depression knows that it tears families apart at the very core – harming husband-wife relationships, shattering children’s stability and neshamot (souls), and damaging extended family and friends as well.
The figures are startling – 80% of all women will experience some sort of emotional distress after childbirth; 15% of all women will fall into Postpartum Depression; and one in 1,000 will suffer Postpartum Psychosis.
Delivery from Darkness, the third book in a series on birthing/family topics by Rabbi Baruch and Michal Finkelstein RN CNM, gives us a frighteningly frank look at the full spectrum of postpartum melancholies.
While baby blues might have been hidden behind closed doors or shrugged off in the past, we are a more aware generation and must do our best to detect all levels of Postpartum Depressions and deal with them for the sake of mother, child, family and society. This book is a guide to the early recognition and treatment of this syndrome, which unfortunately has gone undetected or misdiagnosed because of lack of awareness of its very varied symptoms.
Delivery from Darkness is a book that must be read multiple times during a marriage – during each pregnancy and afterwards by both husband and wife, as well as mother, mother-in-law, even fathers, medical caregivers and rabbis.
PPD is such an evil, such a jolt and a destroyer of entire families that all of us must be given the knowledge that this book provides to identify the syndrome and get help.
I feel very strongly about the need for YOU and everyone around you to read this book. Delivery from Darkness is a war on the horrors of PPD, and a shield for the families. PPD must be prevented if possible, and treated ASAP if it could not be prevented.
Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski’s endorsement says it all, “I consider the reading of this book to be a mitzvah. There can be no greater recommendation.”
In addition to its vital clinical information, provided by Michal Finkelstein, a certified nurse midwife who has delivered more than 1000 babies, Delivery from Darkness provides halachic advice on Jewish issues and encouraging spiritual elements by Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein. It also includes the expertise of family therapist and social worker Doreen Winter MSW.
This blending of medical and Jewish issues is a perfect combination for religious families who, B”H, have many children, and can relate to a faith-based outlook on Postpartum Depression.
Following their best-selling books on pregnancy and childbirth (Be’Shaah Tovah) and infertility (The Third Key), the Finkelsteins have tackled Postpartum Depression with compelling personal accounts, understandable medical explanations of the varied causes of PPD; steps to keep emotionally and physically fit to prevent depression; traditional and alternative treatments available; tips on how community and family can help; therapies and medicines; issues to discuss with the rabbi; and ways to return to regular life and reconnect to family, friends and G-d.
Find at more at the Delivery from Darkness website, http://deliveryfromdarkness.com/ . Contact the Finkelsteins at ppdachreileida@gmail.com . You can even purchase the book on-line at Feldheim.
I had the opportunity to interview Rabbi Baruch and Michal Finkelstein. You can watch that interview on Voices TV right here: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=84 .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Netzer Again and Again and Again

Eight times the outpost of Netzer has been destroyed. Nine times it has been rebuilt. This afternoon was one of its rebuildings.
Netzer was created to bring Jewish continuity from Alon Shvut to Elazar, the Biblical Heartland of Israel, the center of Gush Etzion. It stands on a hilltop only a few hundred meters from Alon Shvut's Givat HaChish and from the top of Netzer, you can see Elazar's beautiful Jerusalem-stone homes.
Netzer became a symbol long ago of the Jewish determination to build the land. Its outpost stood for many different lengths of time, only to be destroyed , but then rebuilt again with even greater determination.
Gush Etzion was well-represented on Netzer today. Dozens of Jews of all ages gathered there to show their steadfast attitude that Gush Etzion and all of Yesha must be strengthened, and this would be achieved through continued construction, construction, construction.
It was cold and windy on the hilltop, but there was no freeze. Three generations of pioneers carried small and large stones to build the walls of a stone house on the remnants of a house that stood once before. Teenagers sawed and hammered to build the skeleton of a wood and aluminum house, as well.
The building was done to lively accordion music, as the accordionist walked from worker to worker, cheering him on with his tunes.
After hearing a shiur (lesson) by Alon Shvut's Rabbi Gidon Perl, the visitors lit an improvised Chanukiah (menorah) on the side of the mountain. Its flames were visible all the way from Efrat.
While this building event was partially symbolic, there is actually a movement underway to create a "Build the Land of Israel Fund." This Fund will finance Jewish builders in the construction of a 48 sq meter home at the cost of 100,000 NIS (completed within five days) or the construction of a 70 sq meter home at a cost of 200,000 NIS (within two weeks).
This will enable young couples to move to Israel's hilltops at very reasonable susidized costs. The couples will not pay for the construction, but will pay rent to the Fund, which will then subsidize other housing.
If the houses are destroyed, G-d forbid, the Fund will finance new homes. Continued new homes throughout Judea and Samaria will thaw the freeze, and continue the warmth of building and growing.
There are already ten young families on a waiting list for the hamlets of Aish Kodesh, Sussia and Negohot. With the help of the "Build the Land of Israel Fund", founded by Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, the families will be able to expand on the hilltops with REAL houses.
The people of Judea and Samaria want to continue building. This Fund will make it even more possible.
If the Fund is not able to collect the monies that it believes is possible, then chas v'shalom, the only building in the next nine months and beyond, will be the symbolic stone and wood structure a la Netzer.
For more information about the "Build the Land of Israel Fund," readers can contact Nadia Matar <nmatar@netvision.net.il>, 0505500834 or Yehudit Katzover 0507161818.
The photos in this blog were provided by Israel Katz.
IY"H a video about Netzer can be found on Voices TV at: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=87

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad

Speaking at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein detailed the list of Anti-Semitic acts committed throughout the world in 2009. Minister Edelstein concluded his address with the following words, "It is our moral duty to educate our children about anti-Semitism and the evils of senseless hatred."
Exactly! Minister Edelstein was more correct than even he knows. READ ON.
The more than 500 attendees of the Anti-Semitism Forum came from all over the world to find out how to combat Jew-Hatred in their own countries. They came to the right place, but unfortunately they probably won't come to the true causes and the real cure for anti-Semitism at this conference. Yes, they might vote to increase education, seminars, workshops and newspaper articles on Jews and their right to exist in this world, but that will not end anti-Semitism anywhere.
Minister Edelstein had the answer and he probably didn't even realize it.
END ANTI-SEMITISM by ENDING SINAT CHINAM
The way to end anti-Semitism in the World is to END ANTI-SEMITISM IN ISRAEL, by ending SINAT CHINAM (senseless hatred) of Jew for Jew.
My dear friends, the world's attitude toward the Jewish people is created solely by the Jews' attitude toward the Jewish people, and most especially the attitude of Jews in Israel.
BEAT JEWS HERE, BEAT JEWS THERE
When the world sees Jewish policemen (Yassamnikim or whoever they are) beating Jews on hilltops for defending their land, or Jews at a Shabbat demonstration, they don't start analyzing the scene. Hm, a Jewish policeman is beating that man, because the man won't stop building his town. Hm, a Jewish policeman is beating that man, because he doesn't want that parking lot open on Shabbat. No! They think plainly, "A Jewish policeman is beating a Jew. If a Jew can beat a Jew, than I can beat a Jew as well."
If you look at the charts of anti-Semitic activity in the world, you will see that it has risen in parallel to the amount of hatred by Jews against Jews in Israel.
When Gush Katif was destroyed, the Jews there were thrown out of their homes, their homes were leveled to the ground, and their dead had to be unburied and reburied in other cemeteries around the country. Prior to the Expulsion from Gush Katif, demonstrations were held all over Israel to try to stop the evil decree. Police and soldiers beat protestors with great brutality. The world didn't analyze those scenes. Hm, Jews are beating Jews, because they refuse to leave Gaza. No, they thought, if it's okay for a Jew can beat a Jew, crack his head open, break his arms, it's okay for me as well. And do you know what happened? Anti-Semitism around the world reached the highest levels it had been in nine years.
And just as the Gush Katif cemetery was being dissected, Jewish cemeteries around the world were being desecrated as well - Budapest, London, West Hampton, Berlin.
These are not "coincidences."
This is not "interesting."
As Jews show their hatred for one another, non-Jews worldwide feel they are given a green light to show their vehement hatred against Jews.
FALLING INTO THE TRAP
And yet the Jewish people are constantly falling into the trap that gives anti-Semitism its justification. The secular Jewish public hates the national religious public - the "settlers", the "right wing extremists", the "nationalists", the "Zionists". The national religious hate the Chareidim - the "leeches", "the parasites", "they won't even serve in the Army."
The world doesn't look on and think, Hm, secular non-religious Jews are good. They are just like us. Only Zionist Jews and Chareidi Jews are bad. They think, if Jews can hate one another so fiercely; if they can curse one another and blame one another for the ills of their country, then I can hate them and blame them all for the ills of the world.
The Israeli media doesn't single out his hatred for one or another segment of religious society. The Israel media equally hates BOTH national religious and Chareidim and demonizes them all. And as Israeli media demonizes Jews, so does the world media.
Every time an article is printed, like the one last week in In Jerusalem by Peggy Cidor, which slandered the Jewish Quarter, calling it a "Haredi Slum," and desecrated the Kotel with her words, saying that it had been removed from the Jewish people - "no longer a national Israeli site but a haredi Kotel," then the Jewish people are endangered on the world stage.
The world doesn't know Chareidi/Haredi or National Religious or Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox. The world substitutes all those words for JEWS.
Peggy Cidor wrote that non-religious Jews were alienated from the Kotel. (I could write ten blogs about the UNTRUTH of that statement, but that will be for another day. I go to the Kotel regularly and frequently and have photos to prove from just about every one of my trips that non-religious Jews are IN LOVE with the Kotel.)
Chas v'shalom, her hateful article (and similar articles) will come back to haunt us. The statement about the Jewish Quarter, and the one that said that non-religious Jews are alienated from the Kotel will lead to the Arabs and the World become more emboldened to DEMAND not only the Temple Mount, but the entire Old City, the Kotel itself, Mt. Zion, the City of David. There is no limit to the appetite that stories like these trigger.
HATING THE LAND, INCREASING THE DEMAND
The same concept carries over to the Land. When we reject the Land of Israel, our enemies demand more and more. We turned out backs on Gaza, the enemy attacked us farther into the country. We tore down Jewish hilltop communities, the enemy demanded ALL Judea and Samaria as well. We refuse to defend Judea and Samaria, the enemy whets its appetite for Eastern Jerusalem, and on and on and on.
CREATING THE HATRED, ENDING THE HATRED
We learn from an early age that when we do a good deed (a mitzvah), we create a good angel. When we do an evil deed or say something evil about another person, we create a prosecuting angel.
Every time a Jew lifts a hand against another Jew, somewhere in the world a non-Jew lifts a hand against a Jew. Every time a Jew writes slanderous hatred against any segment of Jewish society, non-Jews use their media to pass along their poisonous hatred against all Jews. Whenever the Israeli government makes an evil decree against the Jewish people or the Land, non-Jewish governments demand more and more concessions from the Jewish people.
My dear dear friends, Jews of Israel and around the world,
Do you want to destroy anti-Semitism?
Do you want to stop Jew Hatred?
You can only stop it with Jew Love!
Anti-Semitism is not caused by Sinat Chinam (senseless hatred) of a Pole or a Frenchman or a Nigerian or a German or a Dutchman for a Jew. It is caused by the Sinat Chinam of a Jew for a Jew.
And no amount of conferences or classes or studies will ever stop it.
The only thing that will stop Sinat Chinam is Ahavat Chinam (unconditional love) of one Jew for another.
TRY IT. For one month, let us encourage every Jew to praise every other Jew - religious, secular, national-religious, Chareidi, Chassid, Misnaged, Ashkenaz, Sephard, Ethiopian, Russian, Bnei Menashe, Indian, every one! Share a smile, say Shalom, shake a hand, see the good, see the good, see the good.
Defend the Jewish people everywhere - in word and deed. Build each other up in your own eyes, and you will see that the entire Jewish people will be built up in the eyes of the world.
START NOW. "My brothers in the Shomron are committed Jews." "My brothers, the Jews of Meah She'arim are devout." "My brethren in Tel Aviv have good hearts." "The Rabbis are learned." "My brothers in the Negev live with mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice)." "My brothers, the Jews in Gush Etzion are full of chesed (loving kindness)." "My brethren in Chevron are devoted to our roots."
And when you read an article or hear someone speak, spewing hatred for our brethren, DO SOMETHING. Right the wrong. Stand up for your brethren here in Israel, and Jews throughout the world will be able to stand up taller as well.
Your actions, your words and your deeds will fan or fight the flames of anti-Semitism. The responsibility begins and ends with ALL OF YOU.

Seniors and Souvganiyot

Every year, our family spends one night of Chanukah at the Bet Tovei Ha'ir Senior Residence. My mother-in-law and great-aunt are lucky enough to live there, so we join them as everyone comes out into the lobby to light the giant golden-colored menorah. Residents also have their own chanukiyot (menorahs) lined up in the lobby, but it's the main ceremony that gets the most attention.
The menorah is lit and all the seniors stand together and sing "Maoz Tzur." It is very lovely.
This year after candle lighting, there was an Erev Shira (Song Night). The lobby was set out like a theater, and a performer sang old and new Israeli and Jewish songs. The words were on a screen behind him, so really everyone could participate. Every night of Chanukah brings a different entertainer to Bet Tovei Ha'ir, but the Erev Shira is always a favorite with songs that had residents reminiscing about the past - "When I first heard that song, I was in the north on Kibbutz. We worked the fields with a rifle on our shoulders..." "The war was over and we had just gotten married. They played that song at our wedding..."
We stayed for the majority of the Erev Shira, but because the hour was growing late for our littlest children, we slipped away to Savta Rabba (Great-Grandmother)'s apartment for latkes (potato pancakes) and apple sauce, whistling dreidles and gooey souvganiyot (jelly donuts).
When her great-grandchildren were sufficiently stuffed with goodies and their faces were completely covered with melted chocolate, it was time for Savta Rabba to bid everyone a good night. Happy Chanukah, ad 120.

Jerusalem Museums on Chanukah

Jerusalem has great museums - many. Most of our kids have been to them all through school, but it's always more fun to go with your family. Our family visited two museums this Chanukah.
SCIENCE
On Monday, we popped over to the Bloomfield Science Museum. We didn't even have to enter to be caught up in the clever hands-on exhibits. Outside in the courtyard is an exhibit of optical illusions. Every one of them elicits a "WOW, WAY COOL." And each one of these illusions is possible only thanks to your brain's coping mechanism.
The museum explains, "The human brain has developed many fields of expertise to help us function efficiently. Yet, sometimes, it's these feilds of expetise that make our brain easy to fool because it is locked into a certain set of assumptions."
Those assumptions make different shapes or spacial orientation give the illusion of movement or color or depth or size. Believe me, "way cool," go look yourselves.
Then there was science and story books, finger prints, Leonardo da Vinci's ideas, and Albert Einstein's life story (pretty interesting AND surprising). Did you know that he was a suspected Communist during the McCarthy era, and that he had an FBI record? Also on exhibit was his last notebook, a movie about this trip to Israel, and the letters he received when he was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel.
The kids had a great time. Everything is hands on and they were kept very busy.
(ONE PART of ONE KINETIC EXHIBIT GREATLY disturbed me, but I am going to put that on hold for a few days while I wait to hear again from the director of the museum. The director was lovely, open, knowledgable and open to public opinion. We had a chat about the exhibit, and I am waiting to hear from the creator of the work. If nothing happens on the part of the craftsman or the museum soon, you'll hear from me about this. Meanwhile, I will wait until after Chanukah.)
LIGHT
Light was one of the themes in the Israel Museum. We went to the Pyromania show on Tuesday. But there was no fire. There were talented gymnasts playing with light. The show was clever and entertaining. The audience was mesmerized. The show was short (about 30 minutes), but then again, how long do we think little kids can sit.
Then in another part of the museum, a trio was playing Chanukah songs on a variety of different instruments. Visitors sat on rugs around the room and enjoyed the music.
While the main exhibition hall of the Museum is closed, you can still go to the Shrine of the Book. Little kids will like seeing the "old stuff" for about ten minutes. If you can shlep them out a little longer, you'll get a glimpse of the varied finds from Qumran that give us a glimpse into the society that lived in the desert 2000 years ago, as the forces of Light battled the forces of Darkness.
My kids went back to the children's museum to do some arts and crafts, and I settled down outside watching folks in front of the white dome of the Shrine of the Book. I took a bunch of photos, and even made a video. IY"H, when I get a chance, I'll share them with you. You can check http://www.voices-magazine.com/ later in the week for some great Chanukah videos.
Lastly, we stopped at the model of the Second Temple. There we saw "King Herod" and his wife "Miriam" welcoming the visitors. While he seemed too nice to be Herod, he did say that he hadn't "killed" anyone today, so I guess that was scary enough for the kids.
The model is magnificent. Walking around the city of Jerusalem at its largest point during the Second Temple, 66 CE, was awe-inspiring. What grandeur! The model showed Jerusalem just before the revolt against Rome broke out.
It was twice the size of the Old City today, and our understanding of its magnificence make the destruction of the Holy Temple and the world's most beautiful city even more tragic. The model is based on a scale of 1:50. Two centimeters represented a meter. It is very large - and gives us a look at Herod's palace, the palace of the Chashmonaim, the city of David, the Shiloach Pools, and the streets upon which our forefathers walked two millenia ago. We marveled at the model, as did visitors from all over the world. I took a zillion pictures. You will too.
I am hoping to upload videos of the two museums, so check back to http://www.voices-magazine.com/ to see those and other interesting clips.
Hope you use the rest of Chanukah to discover Jerusalem and feel the light of this eternal city.

Gift Giving DON'TS

There's still two more gift-giving days in Chanukah, so if there are any of you out there who haven't yet purchased something for your friends or loved ones, good luck. I told my better half that I was going to use my personal Chanukah experience and write folks about what NOT to buy. He said, "What? Tell them what TO buy, not what NOT to buy." I said, "Dear, everyone knows what TO buy, except..."
Okay, because he asked me nicely: What TO buy - personal gifts, personalized gifts, meaningful gifts, cute gifts, home gifts (there are tons of places you can find these exact lists, probably on line or in varied magazines - especially around now). If you have no clues what the things in the list above are, just write to me and I'll give you specific ideas.
What NOT to buy -
* For kids - Don't buy clothing or books. We might think that the grey sweater is just gorgeous, but a kid will look at it, say thanks, and then ask, where the REAL present is. And ditto books. (My kids have the knack of buying me exactly the sefer (book) that I'd love, but not everyone is "into" books.)
* Don't buy toys that have to be grown into. Buy for the moment. Toys to be grown into are things for you to buy on your own time, and put away in your own closet for the right time. Buy something kids can have fun with TODAY.
* For anyone - Don't buy anything ugly. There are plenty of ugly things on the market. Don't buy them. (A fetus shaped cookie cutter is NOT cute.)
* Don't buy anything non-returnable. Your taste might not be your friend's/child's/spouse's taste. No one wants to get stuck with something non-returnable. Then not only do they not like the gift, they're stuck with it forever.
* Don't buy something strange. Unless your recipient has a really funny sense of humor or has requested a strange gift, don't buy one. (Ex. Derogatory art, rain sticks or crime scene towels are not for everyone.)
* Don't buy anything in a strange place. If there are a toy store, gift store, hardware store and dentist in the same row of stores, DON'T buy a gift in a hardware store. (Unless it's for Bobby Joe and he specifically asked you for a hammer or saw.)
* Don't try to be different. (Unless recipient said, "Be wild and carefree when you buy my gift.") (Don't buy any stuffed REAL animals or bad breath devices or Albert Einstein action figures unless the recipient specifically requested something like that.)
When in doubt -
** Buy jewelry (preferably REAL jewelry). And nothing wild or trendy (unless that's a specific wish - jewelry should last forever, classic jewelry is best).
** Buy a personalized gift. People love their names: a towel, glass or even soap with someone's name engraved on it will bring smiles for a long time.
** Buy a gift certificate to a terrific store (not hardware). When in doubt, be honest, and say, "I'm looking for the perfect gift for you, but haven't found it. Could you give me a hint."
** Give money. Everyone loves money. :)
Good luck with the rest of your shopping. You don't have to spend a bundle to find the perfect gift. You just have to give it a little thought.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Chanukah Wedding

I was going to title this blog, A MATCH MADE IN VOICES, but the story I am about to tell is so much deeper than that, that I called its A CHANUKAH WEDDING.
But I will start at the beginning so you can really appreciate this special wedding.
About four months ago, a guy named Shimon took out a full page ad on page 2 of Voices, looking for a shiddach (match). Friends called me immediately, "Is this for real? What do you know about him? What kind of a person would put an ad in a magazine, asking for a shiddach?" You know what kind of person? A person who won't leave a stone unturned in his search for his beshert (intended).
Shimon was 39, and had pledged himself that he would be married before he turned 40. So, he took the next proactive step. He took out a full page ad in Voices. And he himself made sure that that ad was seen everywhere!!!
A short time later, a young woman from the Sharon Region, near Tel Aviv, traveled to Jerusalem to pray at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) that Hashem help her find her intended. Walking through the Old City, looking all around, as she made her way to the Kotel, she saw the Voices ad. "What? A nice 39 year old guy was looking for a shiddach? Who wouldn't jump at that?" Yael told me at the wedding.
Well, Yael answered the ad. They dated. They decided. And they planned the wedding for Chanukah. Rav Micha Peled, Shimon's chevruta (learning partner) from two decades ago insisted that he make the wedding for his old friend. Since Rav Micha is the chief rabbi of Bet Horon, the wedding would be held in the shul there. Friends came from as far as Tzfat and Nahariya.
My husband, Israel, publisher of Voices, was invited to be a witness to the Tenayim (engagement contract), and to give a blessing to bride and groom before the wedding. HaRav Zev Leff read the ketuba (marriage certificate). Rabbi Hoffman of the Hoffman Shabbat Minyan at the Kotel gave a bracha (blessing) under the chuppah (wedding canopy), as did other friends of Shimon.
Then Rav Micha spoke.
We were standing there on Chanukah in Bet Horon, the first location where despite the overwhelming odds against Yehuda HaMaccabee, the Jewish people defeated the Greeks in Battle, B"H. Overwhelming odds do not stop Hashem from doing anything. With G-d's help, we can defeat a giant enemy. With G-d's help we can go against all odds, split the sea and find out intended mate, IY"H.
Standing under the chuppah was our Chattan (groom) - Shimon Mattityahu. Mattityahu, the holy Kohen and father of the five Chashmonaim brothers. Shimon, the third Chashmonaim ruler and the son who Matityahu felt was the wisest of all.

And beside him was his Kallah (bride) - Yael Miriam. Yael, who like Yehudit of the Chanukah story, vanquished the evil foreign general. Miriam, one of the last members of the Chasmonaim family.
So, what more natural circumstances could there have been, than this wonderful Chanukah wedding in Bet Horon?!
Lesson:
If you are single - NEVER GIVE UP. There is someone for you. Be proactive like Shimon. And may Hashem bring your beshert (intended) quickly.

Stars Light Stars Bright

Last week VOICES' Chanukah issue came out. And though I haven't uploaded the expanded version of Voices to the web yet, or uploaded some of the many videos waiting to get up onto the http://www.voices-magazine.com/ website, I have felt an easing up of the pressure on me around deadline time, B"H.
With my drop more free time, I am determined to do some great things this Chanukah.
And so when Efrat astronomy buff Tom Rosenfeld told our community email list that a Geminid meteor shower would take place tonight, I decided to go out and watch it.
According to NASA, "The Geminids are expected to put on a good show this year. Created as planet Earth sweeps through dusty debris from extinct comet Phaethon, the annual Geminid meteor shower is predicted to peak on December 14th..The meteor streak points back to the constellation Gemini and the shower's radiant point, just off the upper left edge of the scene. Along with Rigel, the sword and belt stars of Orion are at the upper right. Near the eastern horizon are bright stars Procyon (left) and Sirius."
Very excited to see if the meteors had begun falling, I popped out in front of my house and saw nothing. Then I wrote to my email list asking, "What should I do? I don't see anything?" Someone responded, "Find the darkest place to keep watch."
I put on my coat, jumped into the car and started driving around my community at 12:45 AM, trying to find a dark spot. Where was everyone? I didn't see any other star gazers? Where were you guys?
I found a darkish spot near the Neve Shmuel building in the Te'ena. I grabbed my camera, got out of the car and looked up. Wow! I snapped photo after photo of the beautiful sight.
I watched in awe as one meteor (or was it a star) looked as if it were falling from the sky.
I could have watched forever, but not there. I sort of got the creeps on the deserted street, and I drove around Efrat looking for another spot. I found two on Rechov Netzach Yerushalayim and took more photos. I was amazed how bright and beautiful the meteors were. I saw another dart shoot across the sky. Very cool stuff!
Then I came home to download my photos, and they more or less don't show anything. Above you see what the sky is supposed ot look like (and that's actually what I saw), and at left, you see what my camera saw. I guess there are some things that just don't translate into a photo.
I stayed out for about 20 minutes watching the sky. I said the blessing "oseh maaseh bereishit", thanking He who created such phenomena in the world.
And now that I've seen something extraordinary LIGHTING up the Chanukah sky, I'm off to sleep.
Thanks to Tom Rosenfeld and Jonathan Segal. Happy holiday of lights.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gush Etzion and the Chanukah Story

I woke up this Chanukah morning and looked out my picture window to the hills of Gush Etzion. Suddenly, I envisioned the events that took place here 2200 years ago - the Battle of the Chashmonaim against the Greeks - yes, right here in Gush Etzion.
Gush Etzion has always been a place where the Jews stand up for Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. It's been like that since our patriarchs, and it has continued, through David HaMelech, the Chashmonaim, Bar Kochba until today - Givat HaDagan, Givat HaTamar, Netzer, Shdema and more.
I wrote about the battle once in VOICES Magazine many years ago, and I'd like to share the story with you again.
Sit back and drink your coffee, and I will share with you the thoughts of Chaim Makovsky, Neve Daniel resident and noted tour guide.
Once upon a time 2200 years ago, the rebellion by the Chashmonaim against the Greek Empire began not far from Gush Etzion in the Modiin region.
"The Jewish rebellion took the Greeks by surprise," Chaim told Voices. "They thought they'd be able to squelch the rebellion quickly, but they couldn't, because the Jews fought back."
In total, there were eight battles between the Maccabee-led forces and the Greeks. Two out of the eight Chashmonaen battles were fought in Gush Etzion - the battles of Bet Tzur and Bet Zecharia, and one of these changed Jewish history.
The first of the eight battles - in Modiin - caught the Greeks so off guard that they were resoundingly defeated. After the Greeks sent for reinforcement, a second battle was fought near Bet Horon, closer to Jerusalem. With great faith, the Jews fought fiercely, and the Maccabees won again.
In the third battle, the Greeks brought in more reinforcements, Chaim said. They marched in from another direction, dear Park Canada and the Latrun Junction. Still the Greeks lost.
Needing a bigger show of strength, the Greek Army (under the evil Emperor Antiochus - pictured at left), decided to bring in their most power weapons - the war elephants. Chaim explained, "Elephants were considered scare tactics. They were the tanks of their day," giant unstoppable beasts that could really knock out anything in their path. Add to the legion of elephants, tens of thousands of soldiers whom the Greeks had just brought up from the South, and the fighting force was tremendous.

GUSH ETZION BREAKS THE GREEK SPIRIT

"This is how Gush Etzion got involved," Chaim explained. "Yehuda HaMaccabee got wind of this plan to bring enemy soldiers from the South. He in turn set up a camp in Bet Tzur (between today's Carmei Tzur and Rosh Tzurim). There he carefully planned his battle tactics, which even took into consideration the Greeks' use of these giant animals. And again, the Jewish army was victorious near Bet Tzur (in its fourth battle)."
This battle brought Gush Etzion into the thick of the Chashmonaen rebellion. The Book of the Maccabees notes that in the battle near modern-day Rosh Tzurim, the Greeks outnumbered the Jews by more than two to one with close to 100,000 Greek foot soldiers facing only about 40,000 Jewish "soldiers" who were recruited ad hoc.
The Jewish army was not composed of regular soldiers, but simple people who lived nearby in tiny villages all around Gush Etzion. Bet Tzur was the central village. As the small Arab neighborhoods in Gush Etzion live today, Jews lived more than 2,000 years ago - spread out over the hills in tiny villages with a few homes grouped together. The families subsisted on agriculture.
The Jews fought a guerilla war in the hills which were familiar to them, Chaim explained. "They set up small units that attacked the Greeks from the back and the sides, and they broke the might Greek spirit," he said. "The small number was able to overcome the larger number."

ONWARD TO JERUSALEM

After winning four battles in a row and now finding themselves in Gush Etzion, so close to Jerusalem, the Jewish army felt uplifted. Yehuda HaMaccabee decided to gather a troop of men to march onward to Jerusalem. Chaim explained, "He founda Jerusalem that was completely destroyed and Bet HaMikdash that was totally desecrated. It was a tremendous amount of faith, but he rallied the men to clean and purify the Bet HaMikdash." And the result is the eternal story of the one small flask of pure olive oil that burned from the 25th of Kislev for eight days.
What is not so well known is that while Yehuda and his men were readying the Bet HaMikdash for its rededication, the battle was still raging in Gush Etzion.
The fifth battle of the Chashmonaim against the Greeks was the famous battle of Zecharia. While his brother Yehuda was in Jerusalem, Elazar led this campaign.
Although the Jews had vanquished the Greeks in four consecutive battles, their elephant tank corps had been unstoppable. To break the morale of the Greeks, Elazar deemed that at least one elephant had to be killed. As the Greeks drew near, Elazar saw an elephant fitted with a red and gold carpeted saddle, and figured this must be the evil King Antiochus himself, or at least his general. In order to strike a fatal blow to the Greek forces, the elephant would be the target.
"Everyone else was afraid," Chaim said, "So Elazar undertook the tank himself. He got under the elephant and stabbed it in the stomach with a spear." He succeeded in killing the elephant, but tragically, the beast fell upon him, and Elazar was killed as well.
"We of Gush Etzion remember Elazar for his courage in that battle that raged nearby by naming the town of Elazar in his memory."
On the heels of Elazar's death, the Chashmonaim lost the battle of Bet Zecharia to the same Greek commander they had defeated at Bet Tzur.
However, the Maccabees continued, fighting three more battles against the Greeks and succeeding in demoralizing them until the final Jewish victory.
"Altogether there were eight battles," Chaim noted. "Eight is a theme that runs around Chanukah - eight days, eight lights, eight battles."
Chaim added that Gush Etzion, during the time of the Bet HaMikdash, had the same job as Gush Etzion today - defender of Jerusalem. "Gush Etzion was the protector of the Bet HaMikdash, as far back as the Maccabees. That seems to be our historical role, to be the buffer for Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the protector of Jerusalem, our Holy City."
PS - if you'd like to see a child's version of the Chanukah story, watch this: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=81 .

Thursday, December 10, 2009

55 Packages

I am not one of those people who think Chanukah is in any way parallel to or competing with Xmas. I am very attached to the spiritual and historical aspects of Chanukah. (I mean, I have read Rabbi Pinchas Stolper's Chanukah histories twice each already - you should too!)
I am in awe of the Maccabees - not because they won incredible victories over their enemies, especially with the "few" against the "many", but because they were principled and dynamic people who loved Hashem, His Torah, His Land and His People. Rabbi Stolper noted that the Ramban himself wrote, "Were it not for the valiant efforts of the Chasmonaim, Torah and mitzvot would have been obliterated from the Jewish Nation."
Yehuda HaMaccabee and his brothers were truly inspirational individuals, who brought back the nation to G-d. So, with all of the above cited, I believe I know the higher significance of Chanukah!
But when the kids said they're coming home with their kids for Shabbat Chanukah, and my brother said he's coming with his kids and grandchildren on Shabbat Chanukah, I got so excited, the first thing I wanted to do was....go shopping. (It's something in my genes from my Dearest Mother ad 120).
I needed presents (including three birthday) for all age folks, plus prizes for our Chanukah games,
Then I needed food to feed 20 people for each meal and for our Motzei Shabbat Chanukah Party.
Because I was working on Voices Magazine, http://www.voices-magazine.com/, for the past few weeks, I only had two days in which to shop for all our Chanukah needs. It was a whirlwind of wooden toys, cute flashlights, chocolate coins, chickens, salmon, cash, checks and credit card.
I've never undertaken such a gigantic project in a two-day period. I had time just to SHOP and DROP (drop stuff off at the house before I had to go out again).
Last night, after I completed three hours in the supermarket, I came home with a car load of stuff, and B"H, my husband Yisrael was there to help me unload.
When we finished, my entire kitchen floor was covered with bags. It was an amazing site. I don't know why, but I counted the bags - FIFTY FIVE.
Since I did just about all the shopping at once, it was a unique opportunity to see how much we actually buy for a family Shabbat and super-simcha. ALOT.
Well, I've got to get off this blog and start cooking all that food, and wrapping all those gifts. So, I guess I'll wish all of you who tuned in - a HAPPY HEALTHY SAFE CHANUKAH.
May the lights of your Chanukiot (menorahs) cast a light of warm and love in your homes.

Rent a Preschooler

One of those wonderful things that makes an oleh (immigrant) teary-eyed is the way preschoolers celebrate Jewish/Israeli holidays. The floral crowns of Shavuot, the blue crepe paper ties of Independence Day, the painted faces of Purim.
And Chanukah, O' Chanukah. The candy-filled dreidle, the latke hat, the crayoned cruse of oil, and the magnicent wood and bottle-capped menorah.
Every visit to my children's ganim (preschools) at holiday time was a lesson for me in Jewish life in Israel. As I watched my little ones singing the songs I never knew, and dancing the dances of a new land, I was so grateful that my children would grow up with an even deeper attachments to the holidays than I.
Today I attended my four-year-old granddaughter Rivka's Chanukah party. The girls spun like dreidels, wiggled like latkes slipping on the oil, and popped up every time one of their candle flames was lit. They decorated dreidels, colored the story of Mrs. Keresh (the potato cutting board), and painted their own Chanukiot (menorahs). Each of the mothers brought another treat. My daughter-in-law baked souvganiot (donuts) and added loads of powdered sugar.
To end a perfect morning, the ganenet (preschool teacher) had the girls whack a giant dreidel piniata, and catch all the candy and prizes to be shared amongst the entire class.
Not all olim (immigrants) are lucky enough to come when their children are small, and not all have grandchildren in the Land. So I thought perhaps that when a family without a preschooler moves to Israel, before every holiday, they can rent a preschooler, or make arrangements with the teacher to attend holiday parties, even if they have no kids in the class.
The day we made Aliyah 17 years ago, my friend Kaye was on the same flight. I settled into life in Israel with my tiny children, but her girls were older already, and so she didn't have that preschool cultural influence in her home.
You know what she did? She contacted one of the local preschool teachers and asked if she could volunteer in gan for a year. The teacher was thrilled, receiving a much needed extra pair of hands. And Kaye experienced the excitement of preschool every day. She learned all the traditional gan songs, read "Mitz Petel" (one of Israeli preschool's most beloved books), memorized all the hand motions of children's games, recited the Hebrew names of all the parts of the body, and learned the history behind every holiday.
Kaye didn't rent a preschooler that year. She rented twenty, and her Aliyah experience was richer than just about anyone I knew. Smart lady.
Happy Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A LIGHT CASE: Efrat Vs. The Electric Company

If you live in Efrat or Gush Etzion, then you know that whenever the weather changes, the lights go out. And not just the lights. The computers shut down, the refrigerators stop working, the heaters go off, and everything gets ruined. Appliances just burn out from the sudden and continued blitzes. (And I'm talking continued blitzes - there could be ten a day from a few seconds in duration to a few hours.) As pioneers in the Land of Israel, we have held ourselves strong through many situations, but the constant collapse of the electric system is unheard of. Our family personally has lived like this since we came to Efrat 17 years ago, and we've lost just too many appliances to these blackouts. Drip drop pop black fritz gone!!
Well, in October 2007, Efrat and Gush Etzion residents finally had enough. And one brave man, Efrat's Yechiel Fishman, brought everyone together to fight the poor electric service coming into our community.
Today two years later, residents of Efrat/GE traveled to the Tel Aviv Court House on Rechov Weizman for a hearing on this class action suit against Israel's electric company. Efrat's claim against the electric company is that the disturbances and stoppages of electric service are ABNORMALLY high, both in comparison to any other area in Israel, and in comparison to even the worst service that could be endured by residents.
A bus load of Efrat/Gush residents got up at 5:30 AM to make a 6:30 AM bus to the courthouse, but they wouldn't have missed it. Finally, they felt justice would be served. Led by Yechiel Fishman, who initiated the action, the residents listened to the attorneys for the Electric Company and for the community, and felt that the presiding judge Derora Pilpel understood their plight.
The court gave the Electric Company until May 23 to make constructive changes in the electric infrastructure in Gush Etzion, and then to appear before the court once again to show what they have done to correct the situation.
Yechiel and the attorneys representing Efrat and Gush residents felt that the outcome this morning was a very positive one, and we all look forward to the next hearing, a few days after Shavuot.
Kol hakavod to Yechiel!! and to all our region's residents who took off from work and dedicated their morning to this event, making the trek to Tel Aviv in search of justice. May this Chanukah be one of uninterrupted light.
IY"H, we hope to have two videos up later today (one in Hebrew and one in English) about the case and today's events.
They will be available, IY"H, on http://www.voices-magazine.com/ .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Real Zionism

Symbolic acts to show our love for the Land of Israel are great. They get folks all excited, and the press come out with their cameras and their notepads.
Then, there is real Zionism - the kind where Jews build the land without the media watching every shovel, the kind that involves real mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), the kind where only G-d Above witnesses the sacrifices of those involved in the act.
My family was on our way to Bet El for Shabbat, when we noticed a boy on the hilltop at the side of the road, putting up some kind of sign. It seemed like he was in the middle of nowhere, and it's kind of odd to be in the middle of nowhere 45 minutes before Shabbat. My curiosity would not abate, so I made my husband turn around on the highway and drive back to the boy.
I called out to him (he was older than I first thought) and asked what he was doing. He said that he and nine other friends had started a new community - Ramat Migron.
Ramat Migron is actually an offshoot of the Jewish town, Migron, which is on a hilltop right next to Pesagot. More than 50 families call Migron home. My husband and I have been there, and it is a lovely neighborhood, but the government wants to destroy it and move its residents, because they consider it an "illegal settlement."
Ramat Migron was built by young people, and destroyed a few times already, but the residents are determined to continue rebuilding it until it stands always, and its hilltop is filled with Jewish families.
I am sure this will happen one day, because the destiny of the Jewish people is to tied to the Land. G-d forbid, the government might send forces once again to destroy Ramat Migron, as they have other "outposts," but I know that the next time I pass on my way to Bet El, Ramat Migron's sign will still be standing (or be standing again) and yet another caravan or structure will be added to it. And one day in the not too distant future, new families will call Ramat Migron home. I look forward to visiting then.
You can view my encounter with the young Ramat Migron resident on http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=79 .

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Bet El-Efrat Connection

Last week's Torah portion was a dynamic proof of the Biblical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. The cities of our heartland - Schechem, Bet El, Bethlehem, Efrat, and Kiryat Arba - all figured prominently in the story told in "Vayishlach." (Genesis 32:4-36:44)
Jacob leaves his father-in-law and enters Eretz Israel to be greeted once again by the Angels of the Holy Land, as well as his estranged brother Esau. After a troubling familial encounter, Jacob has more personal trials, beginning in Shechem with the abduction and defilement of his young daughter Dina, and the punishment inflicted on the town by his sons Shimon and Levi. The action continues in Bet El, as Jacob erects an altar at the spot of his famous dream, his mother Rivka's nurse dies and is buried there, and Hashem promises Jacob once again ownership of this Land and a glorious future for his descendants. Then on his way to his father, Isaac, in Kiryat Arba/Chevron, Jacob's beloved wife Rachel dies in childbirth and is buried in Bethlehem on the way to Efrata.
In heart, Bet El and Efrat are sister cities, not only because we are mentioned together in the Torah portion, but because there are so many connections between the two places. Our populations are similar - lovers of Torah and Eretz Yisrael. Many Efrat residents have family in Bet El, and visa versa. Efrat children have learned (and continue to do so) in the Bet El Yeshiva and visa versa. Efrat residents, Nadia Matar, Eve Harow and Dovid Willner, are radio hosts on Bet El's Arutz 7. And quite a number of Efrat's second generation are living in Bet El, taking advantage of the reasonable rentals and caravan opportunities, and the chevra (group) of serious young Torah families.
We spent Shabbat Vayishlach with our children in Bet El. They are pioneers living in a modest caravan on the hill, Pisgat Yaakov, overlooking the place of Jacob's dream. (Others on the hill include children and grandchildren of Efrat and Gush Etzion families.) The young people living on Pisgat Yaakov are idealistic, bright and dedicated. Together, they are a strong vibrant community that bode very well for the future of Am Yisrael, IY"H.
Our Sabbath began as one of the residents blew the shofar to signal the start of Shabbat. In different neighborhoods, I had heard music before candlelighting, but never the sound of the shofar. But Ilan, the baal tokea (shofar blower) said that it was an ancient custom. And ancient customs feel very right in Bet El.
I found the reason on the website: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/ - "The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat on Daf 35, Side B, discussed a custom that took place in Jewish communities every Erev Shabbat. Every Erev Shabbat, a fellow used to go up to one of the tall roofs in the city and blow the Shofar blasts to warn the people that Shabbat is coming.He would blow a Tikea, a Teruah, and then a Tikea. He would then blow a second set of Tikea, Teruah, Tekia. The Gemara discusses what each set represented. For example, the first sound would be blasted in order to warn the farmers in the fields that they should put down their equipment, stop planting, and start making their way back home to accept Shabbat. The second set was to tell the merchants in the city that it is time to close shop. The third set reminded the people it’s time to light the Nerot Shabbat. There would be three more sets of blasts, with the last signifying that Shabbat has begun."
The synagogue on the hilltop was packed in the morning, and someone's little Sephardi boys sang together as a choir, at the end of the services. Mothers and babies floated in and out, and the atmosphere was very warm.
On Shabbat afternoon, I took my grandbabies for a walk. We looked down to the place of The Dream.
What a zechut (privilege) to be able to stand where once a ladder reached to Heaven, where angels descended and ascended. We stood in the open air, and yet, it felt as if we were in a sanctuary. And he called the place, "El-Bet-El, for it was there that G-d had been revealed to him..." (Genesis 35:7) One of the residents also pointed out the place of the Alon Bachut, where Devorah was buried. He said, that tree, the largest of the area, is ancient, and if it is not exactly Devorah's tree, it is an offshoot of that tree.
I couldn't take the stroller to the top of the water tower, from which you can see all the way to Israel's coast, but there were lots of young people up on top taking advantage of the weather to see the land of Hashem's promise. "That land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give to you; and to your offspring after you I will give the land." (Genesis 35:12)
We returned home to Efrat, and our minds were on the continuation of Jacob's story. As he approached Efrat while traveling through Bethlehem, his wife Rachel went into labor, and died in childbirth. She called her son, Ben Oni (son of My Mourning), but Jacob gave him a more optimistic named, "'Benyamin' (son of the RIGHT), a symbol of strength and success." (The Stone Edition Tanach)
We pray that Hashem bless the residents of Bet El and Efrat, and all of Eretz Yisrael. May they appreciate the privilege that they have to live in G-d's Land, and may they follow in the direction of their forefathers, as well as Benyamin, bringing strength and success to the Jewish people always.