Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Picture-Postcard London (#7)

London is just a gorgeous city. Every block looks like it’s straight off a postcard. On our first outing, I didn’t see tall glass skyscrapers like they’ve got in New York City. Actually, there was a pretty cool glass building that looked like an onion, but what it was doing in historic London, I have no clue.
London’s brick steepled buildings and elegant mammoth public structures are just stunning. Some of the buildings are incredibly ornate. The ones built by the royals (whichever) are covered with engraved crests and gold and symbols of royalty – dragons, eagles, lions. “Ordinary” buildings have cornices and pillars and sculpted faces and shields. As I snapped away, everyone asked, “What are you taking pictures of?” “Everything!!” I answered. The architecture here is just that beautiful. The Parliament building is mammoth and imposing; Trafalgar Square is so fabulous, it should be a movie set; the Tower Bridge is so picturesque, it looks like they made it just so folks could snap pictures of it all day; Big Ben is just as photogenic as I believed it would be.
London streets look so dignified and pedigreed that it seems funny to see a Starbucks and a MacDonalds scattered here and there. Regent Street is part of the Crown Estate. It historically belongs to the monarch. The street lamps have crowns on them, and the Queens gets revenue from the stores here. The shops on that block have to fit the criteria of fashion and taste. So, it was also a little jarring seeing famous British shops, like Hamley’s Toy Store, standing side by side with the Gap.
We passed Picadilly Circus, the height of London’s entertainment district. It’s said that you can’t stand in Picadilly Circus for more than 37 minutes without seeing someone you know. Well, I proved that wrong!

The City
We found the skyscrapers. They’re in a part of London the folks call The City. What a name. Not only are there big windowed buildings, there are also a bunch that are colored red and yellow and orange. A new look for “city”. When I get home, I’ll upload some pictures. It’s quite a unique Wizard of Oz kind of look for a Wall Street-ish area.
PUB-lic Places
One characteristic about London, actually I think all of England, that I’d seen in the movies is the proliferation of PUBs. Really. There are pubs on just about every set of blocks. On some, there are pubs right after one another – usually decorated in black, red and gold. And they all have picturesque names, “The Dirty Dog,” “The George,” “Ye Olde Ale Tavern”, “The Shipwrights Arms,” “The Ole Bell”, “Coach and Horse”, “The Porters Basement Bar”, “The Northumberland and Arms”.
Our cabbie asked if we’d been to any of London’s pubs. Um, no. But we did go to Covent Garden and see all the cafes and quaint shops and flea market stuff. I tried to imagine Audrey Hepburn dancing around there with her flower basket in My Fair Lady. I couldn’t. But I had fun watching all the street performers engaging the crowd.
We stopped at the Waldorf to use the facilities, and there was a conference inside, The Future of Broadcasting. Just perfect for me, but, um no…I’m on vacation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

IT’S NOT WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE (#6)

I’m still trying to get used to the traffic driving in the wrong direction, and now I have to wonder what every sign says. Grosvenor Square isn’t Gross venor. It’s pronounced “Grovner”. Leichester is said “Leister”. There’s a whole bunch of things like that here.

Then as much as I think that London is the most dignified place, it’s a capital of gore (not Al, but yuchiness).
Two hundred years ago, Madame Tussaud made death masks of people condemned to die on the guillotine. She moved to England and brought with her dozens of death masks. Since then, her children and descendants have been recreating the forms of the rich and famous. (The line may be long at Madame Tussaud’s, but I won’t be on it.)
There’s a tour of Jack the Ripper. Tourists can walk in the footsteps of the world’s most infamous serial killer. The guides reveal Jack the Ripper’s murderous tale from the dark streets of Whitechapel in 1888. (I’m not taking that tour.)
There’s a tour of the London Dungeon and the Tower of London. You name it, and you can see all the torture tours you like.
We spent the afternoon yesterday hearing the thrilling story of King Henry VIII and his six wives. That was our day’s worth of gory.

London Pride (#5)

My sister arranged for our family to take The Original Tour Bus around London. The city is so huge, there are three routes that by the end of the day will take you everywhere. You could ride for hours before you get the full picture of London.
We climbed to the top of the double decker and oohed at the stately statues and the historic buildings. London was all history. You can feel the kings and statesmen walking the streets there. And the guides talk about them all the time. Every building had a piece of history either 200 years ago or 20.
The London Hilton – here the Beatles met their guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The Dorchester Hotel – here Elizabeth Taylor spent each of her honeymoons. The guide mentioned that the hotel has a revolving front door, but it’s probably not related.
Hyde Park – Queen Victoria was born there, and Princess Diana lived there until her untimely death.
Speakers Corner of Marble Arch – where condemned criminals were allowed to stand up on soap boxes and deliver their parting speech before they were hanged. About 200,000 people attended each hanging, and about 60,000 Englishmen were hanged there over the centuries.
You get the idea – England is dripping with history, and the tour guides get you so wrapped up in their centuries of history, you want to wave the Union Jack (their red, white and blue flag) for the rest of the day. Queen Victoria, Lord Nelson, Queen Elizabeth I and II, Ann Boylen, Oliver Cromwell. I know all about them. Just hearing their stories is exciting.
I don’t know if it’s because these people have real pride in their British heritage, or if they’re being paid to say this stuff, but I was feeling a little jealous.
I want Israeli tour guides to tow the “Jewish Party Line.” I want every tour guide in Israel to talk constantly about the Patriarchs, David, Solomon, Ezra, Nechemiah, and all our prophets and statesmen of yore. I know that some tour guides do, including Topguide Avi Dobuler, Meir Eisenman, Peter Abelow, Eve Harow, but all tour guides should have to do that.
I want tourists in Israel to be as excited about the City of David, the Cave of Machpela and the Temple Mount as tourists in England feel about Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Hyde Park.
All over Gloucester Place, there are blue plaques to indicate that famous citizens once lived there in the distant or very distant past. Well, that’s a great idea. We should do that in Israel too. As you enter Hebron, there should be a giant blue sign, “Here David ruled…”, “Here are buried, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rivka, and Jacob and Leah.” Bet El should have a sign, “Jacob slept here.” A Haifa sign should proclaim, “Elijah prophesied here.”
One more note about our tour…London has tremendous dignity. There is an air of stateliness and nobility everywhere – not just because there are royal crests all over the queen’s real estate here (and she sure owns a lot of real estate), but because the people act with decorum and manners. Even regular people give an air of dignity, and it’s not just the accent.
It goes back to the pride thing that we were talking about before. Without even realizing how much it affects them, they are poised with have an air of self-respect. They are the Queen’s people. They can’t be slovenly or impolite.Another thing that we Israelis should learn from the British. Self-respect. Dignity. We are the people of the King – firstly the King of Kings, but also David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Yoash. We are the people of the kings, and we should treat one another courteously and politely. And we ourselves should start acting like our own history demands – like a proud nation.

First Impressions of London (#4)

Welcome to Heathrow
The plane landed B”H safely at Heathrow. The first site out the window was the black, green and red colors of the Arab countries – a line of United Arab Emirates planes.
We caught a cab to the hotel. The cabbie’s name was Ahmed. We arrived at the hotel and the bell boy jumped right over. Ismaii greeted us warmly, “Welcome to London.”
Hm, any Brits around?
Genteel Gentiles
Everyone in our hotel is so helpful and polite. At first, I thought it was a hotel thing. But now that I’ve spent two full days in London, I know it’s everyone! Everyone we’ve come across is just so kind and attentive. They can’t do enough for you.
We went down to breakfast in the dining room, and Mahmul, the dining room manager, brought us Hermolis kosher food. (It was terrific!! www.hermolis.com) We got the rolls and spreads as we arrived, but the hot food was scheduled for 8:30 AM, and it was already 8:45. My sister mentioned gently that when food is ordered for 8:30, she’d like it on time.
Oh my gosh. They were beside themselves. Just about everyone in the dining room and kitchen came to our table to apologize that our meal wasn’t ready. They even gave my sister and brother-in-law a free dinner on another evening as their apology.
My B-I-L joked that they’re going to the back to fall on their swords because they were disgraced. Well, I certainly hope not. But I was happy when they came right back to us and said that they’d like to give us a free fridge in our room.
When you eat kosher and have to keep special food, a fridge is a great thing. Thanks, Mahmul.
A word about my sister (director of Journeys Unlimited). My sister, who has traveled the world, has a natural gift for speaking to people. She knows exactly how to speak in the most appropriate way to every single person from the dining room manager to the waiter, to the maid and the bellhop.
I was surprised on our first morning here that Ahmed, our taxi driver from the night before, hadn’t joined us for breakfast, because after my sister spoke with him the entire drive from the airport, he was positive he was our long last cousin. And since his name was Ahmed, he probably was.
One last first-impression of London. The driver sits on the right of the car, and the traffic flows in the opposite direction than ours does. All over the streets, it is stenciled, “Look right,” or “Look left”, because everyone in the world is used to doing the opposite. When we started piling into our cab, my daughter almost asked where the driver was, because there was a guy sitting and smoking in the passenger side of the front seat, but no one on the other. He was the driver, and we’ll just have to get used to it over the next few days.

Discover Israel (#3)

A TV show with Menashe Tucker aired excerpts of superstar music concerts – Shwekey in Caesaria (I have since seen Shwekey in Efrat), Mordechai Ben David, and then Oif Simchas performing a concert for Jewish children who are terror victims. (It always makes me proud when performers use their talents for tzedakah. That’s what I’ve tried to do for nine years in Raise Your Spirits and the past three in Dames of the Dance.)
They also showed a music video of Shloimi Gertner. Seeing long-coated fur-hatted Chassidim dancing a choreographed routine in a Yiddish-language music video just cracked me up. What’s next?
One more note…There were clips from Lag B’Omer in Meron. Wow. No wonder people will do anything they can to get there for the holiday. It looked like the most uplifting event. Thousands of Chassidim dancing and jumping, creating waves of black and white, with some color dotted in there. I’ve been to Chassidic simchas, a tisch, and a fabrengin or two, but I have never in my life seen anything like this. Director Cecil B. DeMille, who loved filming casts of thousands, should have been there. And if you can get there next year, join them for the experience of a lifetime.

More Terrific Commercials – Stuff to Think about & Laugh about (#2)

The New York Festival 2009 featured some really terrific, thoughtful and funny commercials.
Of course, the TMobile commercial with everyone dancing in the train station was a Gold Medal winner. There’ve been many since then – folks dancing in train stations, malls, plazas all over the world. How come they never dance when I’m around? Well, you never know.
A Monster phone ad features storks flying through rain, snow, sleet, through treacherous mountain passes, and fighting all kinds of elements and animals in order to deliver their little babies to their rightful owners. Then the ad fasts forward and the stork has returned 25 years later to see if their “package” has reached its potential. Makes you wonder what your stork would think, eh?
The Dove Self-Esteem Fund wants women the world-over to be happy with themselves just as they are, instead of looking toward an ideal that is impossible to attain.
They photograph a plain girl whose make-up is retouched, whose hair is spiffed up. After the photography session, her face is further improved with the Photoshop graphics program. Her eyes are enlarged, and her lips are luscious-ified. She gorgeous, and she’s not real. Dove wants all of us to be real, and satisfied with whom we really are.
One more. My daughter always tells me to lock my cellphone’s keypad. She says that I’m probably calling all kinds of folks that I don’t even know. I always respond, “That’s impossible.”
Well, would you believe there was a commercial on locking your cellphone’s keypad.
A son is gardening when his phone rings. The ID says it’s his Dad. The voice on the other side says, “Son, I have something to tell you. I’m not your real father. Your real father is Robert, the insurance man.” The son is having a heart attack. Meanwhile, the father is at home, sitting on his phone, oblivious to what’s happening to his poor son, and watching TV, while the father-son scene is played out on the little screen.
The message is: Next time you make a call by accident, make sure it does some good.

Shalom, London 1

I’m not a world traveler. I left Israel three times in the past 18 years to visit my mother and sister in America. That’s it. I have no desire to climb the Himalayas or see the Parthenon. I think the mountains of Switzerland are breathtaking, and I am in awe of the Amazon, but I’ve seen pictures of them all, and that’s enough for me.
However, when our 17 year old daughter was little, we spoke about taking a graduation trip. It seemed so far away. It was one of those “one day” plans. We had no special destination in mind – just something wonderful to celebrate her completion of 12 years of study and hard work (well, hopefully hard work). Suddenly, my husband and I were attending my daughter’s high school graduation, and ta da, this was the summer. Bagruyot (matriculation exams) didn’t feel so horrible when there was a special graduation trip to look forward to.
After a few discussions, it was decided to head for London. And the best part was that we’d meet my dearest Mother (until 120) there. Plans for the “trip of a lifetime” grew into London and Paris, and my sister and brother-in-law were going to fly there too. My husband has never left Israel since we came, almost 18 years ago, so he wasn’t going to leave now, even to go to London.
My sister, a travel agent for 30 years, had planned the most incredible trip, right down to the last detail. Her customers are lucky folks. She’s surely the best in the business.
On Sunday night, we boarded ElAl for London. The plane was packed. Everyone settled down to the movies and TV on their personal screens. None of the movies or TV shows looked interesting to me. I like movies from the 1930s and 40s, preferably musicals.
I read for a while, and then turned on the New York Festival 2009 – Best Commercials Awards. In one of my previous lives as a reporter in New York City, I actually covered the awards, so I felt this selection was perfect for me.
The first commercial, “The World is Awesome”, was itself awe-inspiring. A spot created for The Discovery Channel, the ad begins with two astronauts, floating in space, admiring the earth below, when they break out into song.
Suddenly we are flying all over the world, viewing its wonders, as folks sing: I love the mountains. I love the clear blue skies. I love the great white whale. I love the sites and sounds.
A surfer sings, “I love the oceans.”
A cave explorer says, “I love the dirty things.”
An archaeologist, working on a mummy, shouts, “I love Egyptian kings.”
A weather watcher screams, “I love tornadoes”, as a tornado is actually rushing behind him.
You’ve got the idea. The commercial presented all kinds of people appreciating the magnificent and varied world we live in.
It reminded me of a Berel Wein book that I had read years ago. Rabbi Wein said that he liked to travel, because it helped him appreciate the beauty and majesty of the world that G-d created.
That was just a perfect message for me as I left my beloved Israel to travel to another continent.
I was determined to soak up all the wonder I could find around me. I decided to study London – the shapes of its skyline, the faces of its people, the character of The Brit.
I readied myself for adventure. The fluffy cotton candy clouds around our plane added just the right touch to the start of our trip.
How wondrous is Your world, Hashem. How great are the peoples and the lands You have formed. I am ready to see the marvels around me and study their piece in Your Tapestry of Creation.

Seeing the World

My daughter and I are joining my dearest mother (until 120) and my sister and brother-in-law for a graduation trip. It's the trip of a lifetime and we're having a marvelous time, thank G-d.
There's no internet connectivity here, so it's hard to write and tell you about it, but I'll try to keep up with my blog somehow.
The first experience that was incredible was just getting on the plane and seeing that whole communications system in front of us.
I watched the NY Advertising Festival. The first entry was THE WORLD IS AWESOME. And so it is.
More on that fabulous clip and more from our trip at a later time.
Shalom.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

10,000+ Readers

Mazel tov, congratulations. Tonight, I hit 10,012 readers to my blog. WOW, B'H, bli ayin hara.
(Thanks Yosh Mantinband for these celebratory fireworks photos.)
I wanted to be at my desk exactly when the 10,000th reader clicked on whatever article caught his fancy. I was going to write something immediately.
"Excuse me, sir, I see that you are my 10,000th reader. Welcome. Who are you? How are you doing? What brings you here? Come again!" But I missed the moment.
Oh well, it's still exciting for me.


HISTORY OF THIS BLOG
Last September, I sort of started to blog (actually my fabulous webmaster Beth Lanin started it for me). My media mentor Avi Abelow told me that if I was going to have video clips on my then-new website, I'd have to have a blog to explain it all. I listened to him, because he's a genius, although it took me more than three months to figure out what a blog was, or why anyone would ever read it. :)
Now exactly nine months have passed. I've blogged about Efrat, Gush Etzion, life in Israel, events of the day, and a little about my life too. Looking back at those hundreds of entries, I realize that they were pretty interesting. I hope you thought so too.


Anyway, what's the point? Well, guess what??? I am so thrilled I wanted to tell you that B"H with your help, I have hit more than 10,000 readers of my blog!!
It started out really slowly, turtle-ish (and some of those early blogs were terrif, even if 30 people read them). Finally, I guess folks got into the habit of reading it. They even passed it along, and now B"H it's soaring.
Of course, all of this and 7 NIS will get you on the bus to Jerusalem. But it's exciting to know that folks are ready my blog from Efrat and Gush Etzion to Canton, Massachusetts; Toronto, Ontario; Tel Aviv-Yafo; Norway, Vestby, Akershus; Birmingham, Alabama; Haifa; Mountain View; California; Livingston, New Jersey; Ramat HaSharon; Desert Hot Springs, California and more. I don't know who any of these people are, but I appreciate it so much that they've logged on.
Sooooo, hooray for you. You really encouraged me along the internet highway. Thank you for clicking.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trees of Hope and Trees of Despair

I just can't continue on with the day without reflecting on the strange irony that the other day I wrote about Trees of Redemption (at left - the olive trees or grape vines that would be planted, IY"H, on the Netzer Hill - in order to save the land between Alon Shvut and Elazar), the Trees of War (the olive trees planted by the Arabs and anarchists on Israel's land - in order to grab Jewish land in Central Gush Etzion) and then the Trees of Despair (at left - the majestic trees of Bat Ayin's forest that two years ago witnessed the murder of Erez Levanon, HY"D, and then this week saw the destruction of two Jewish homes by Jewish policemen).
I am at a loss about the seeming coincidence of the proximity of these "tree" stories.
GUSH ETZION & TREES
But then I thought about another tree in Gush Etzion, the Lone Tree (Etz HaBoded), the symbol of Gush Etzion itself. The ancient tree stands between the modern day towns of Kfar Etzion/Bat Ayin and Rosh Tzurim/Alon Shvut. The tree is quite possibly thousands of yearsAdd Image old. It has seen many generations of Jews and others who have passed along its path. Perhaps our forefathers sat under its branches. Perhaps olei regel (pilgrims) to the Holy Temple stopped there in the shade. Just over 60 years ago, the tree watched helplessly as Gush Etzion's residents were taken into captivity, yet it stood tall as the children of Gush Etzion's defenders looked for its comforting form from far away near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. In 1967, the Israeli Defense Forces rested there after having liberated the Temple Mount, then Rachel's Tomb and before their liberation of Hebron and the Cave of Machpela. Today, it stands like an old wise friend as Jewish children from all over Gush Etzion pay it a yearly visit, and as a welcoming site as visitors from all over the world photograph it from every angle.
The Lone Tree and all the trees of Gush Etzion have been silent witnesses to the glorious and turbulent history of our region. They have encountered friends, enemies, good men, evil ones, children, old folks, deer, fox and even stray dogs :).
They will be here, I suppose, even long after we've gone. And one day, IY"H, they will offer their shade once again to those pilgrims on their way to the Holy Temple and their fruits to children who will will run and play over our hills from Hebron to Jerusalem.
Now I think I feel better, and I think I'm going to go outside and hug my etrog trees.
On while we're at it, on to the real tree... "the Torah is a tree of life for all who cling to it..."

Destruction Among the Trees

The sky was grey and overcast this morning as dozens of Yassam police marched into Bat Ayin. Dressed in their deep black jumpsuits and riot helmets, the Yassamnikim guided a giant tractor through the pristine Bat Ayin forest, down the rolling hill, destroying whatever nature stood in its way, and then destroying two Jewish homes.
The homes were built at the edge of Mitzpe Erez, near the place where Arabs murdered Bat Ayin's Erez Levanon, HY"D in February 2007. From that moment, the area of Mitzpe Erez became a dangerous one - where Arabs would not fear to come near Bat Ayin, to cut down trees, even to bring groups of Arabs for a picnic.
The two young families who bravely built their homes among the trees - in the most ecological manner possible, not harming one tree - were the Zionist and security response to Erez Levanon's murder. They brought security once more to the edge of Bat Ayin and life to the area, which had known death.
The Torah teaches us that Met Mitzva Konah Mekamo (a person's death in a random place buys that place for him) - the ground that soaked in the blood of Erez Levanon rightly belongs to the residents of Bat Ayin, because his death bought it.
However, the Israeli government did not agree, and this morning they destroyed these two homes. Residents of Bat Ayin watched as the tractor did it dirty work. They screamed out in anguish. Many were on their way to prayer when they received the call that the homes were being destroyed. Some ran to the area wearing their tallitot and tefillin.
Bat Ayin's rabbi HaRav Daniel Cohen said that this was a terrible day for Bat Ayin. The homes had brought added peace to the town. Now their boundary is once again compromised.
Voices was in Bat Ayin this morning at 6 AM to record the terrible event. You can view it here at: http://www.voices-magazine.com/index.php?page=inside_page&id=153&which=GTV

Olive Tree Wars, Olive Tree Redemption

This summer more than 50 young people will have the opportunity to participate in a working agricultural camp aimed at redeeming Jewish land in Gush Etzion. The camp will focus on farming on the Netzer Hill, and result hopefully in saving the land reserves between Alon Shvut and Elazar.
Right now Arabs, aided by international anarchists and NGO "humanitarian aid organizations for Palestinians" are working land in Central Gush Etzion without any interference. Currently Jewish Gush Etzion is only 4% of the entire region. The Arabs and anarchists are pushing with determination to increase what is already their 96% portion of the area.
This summer's teen camp, sponsored by the Yibaneh Fund of Women for Israel's Tomorrow, hopes to save the last 60 dunams of Jewish land in Netzer! Widespread support is needed to make this possible.
You know, we sit in our beautiful homes on the hills of Gush Etzion, and we look out our windows to see the other Jewish communities and green rolling hills. We don't usually think about the fact that Arabs are planting right near us in fields that don't belong to them in order to cut off our communities from one another. This is something that should bring us much concern and something that should push us to act for the sake of our land.
False "Humanitarians"
The pro-Arab "humanitarian" anarchists on the Marvi Marmara ship in last month's floatilla clearly taught the people of Israel the dangers of international anarchists. Voices had written about them long ago when we first encountered anarchists in the once-abandoned IDF Army base in Shdema. The anarchists' destruction and agitation is also witnessed almost daily in Hebron, all along Route 60 and now on Gush Etzion's hilltop of Netzer.
In Netzer, the mark of the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) is on hundreds of olive trees planted on Israeli State Land and Admot Seker (land whose ownership has not been determined). The JAI is an initiative between the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine, launched in 2000. JAI says it engages "YWCA/YMCA, Church members, and other constituents in resistance by sponsoring olive trees and participating in other OTC activities."
The JAI is financed by donors in the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, UK, Switzerland, USA, Ireland, and many others. Thus far, more than 50,000 Arab trees have been planted in Judea and Samaria as an action against Israel's "unjust Israeli military practices."
A new sign at the entrance to Netzer boasts that the Netherlands is "reclaiming 123 dunams of land". The sign notes that the Land Research Center (LRC), Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) and Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG) are working the land in Central Gush Etzion. Thus far they have not been stopped by the Civil Administration. The Palestinian Authority and the European Union view the Arab reclamation of land in Judea and Samaria as a top priority.
While the Arabs seem to have an unlimited budget for their Olive Tree war, the Jewish people have yet realized the need to invest in redeeming the land. B"H, Women for Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green) began saving Central Gush Etzion land a few months ago by planting Jewish trees on the Netzer Hill. Yibaneh Fund co-founder Nadia Matar explained that while volunteers have already "redeemed a few dunams of land, we have to increase our pace. And we have to continue in other locations in Judea and Samaria."
Nadia warned, "The Arabs are making a concerted effort to expand on to our land reserves. They are doing their best to choke us. If we don't save these lands, the Arabs will work the land up to our window sills if we let them."
"The Arabs understand that if they take all the hills around the yishuvim (Jewish towns), then this will mean the end of the settlements and the end of Judea and Samaria, G-d forbid. We are trying to save the lands and preserve the Jewish continuity between communities."
Camp Yibaneh
Over the past few months, a Galil farmer Uri Palsy (at left) has come to Gush Etzion once a week to work in Jewish Netzer groves. Uri will supervise the teenage agricultural work camp for the entire week of Sunday, July 11 to Friday, July 16.
The dozens of teens in camp will work the land, remove stones, plant, weed, build terraces, and then end each day with an inspirational guest lecture by a famous lover of Eretz Yisrael. This camp will reconnect our youth to the Land, take them away from their computers and twitter and electronics and bring them on to the hills of Gush Etzion.
Not everyone is young enough or strong enough to work in the fields of Eretz Yisrael, but everyone can participate in redeeming Jewish land by donating to the Yibaneh Fund. Every 20 people who contribute 500 nis ($150) each will enable Yibaneh to redeem one dunam of land (the price includes tractor work, tools, tubing, manpower, seedlings, maintenance, water for a year).
Camp Yibaneh's goal is to redeem 20 dunams of land this summer and then another 40 by Chanukah. If Yibaneh cannot accomplish this, then the anarchists are likely to use their international funds and connections to grab this land in Central Gush Etzion.
When the 60 dunams are successfully planted, IY"H, Yibaneh hopes to move its activities to other Jewish land in danger.
Contributions may be sent to Women for Israel's Tomorrow- Yibaneh Fund, POB 7352, Jerusalem 91072 or POB 1269, Efrat 90435.
To view a Voices video on GushTV, visit http://www.voices-magazine.com/index.php?page=inside_page&id=152&which=GTV .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unsafe for Bibi, Unsafe for Us

There's a joke that's not so funny, and often, not a joke about the Mashgiach (kashruth supervisor) who approves the kashruth certification of a restaurant, but when asked, he states, "I would never eat here."
Well, if he doesn't want to eat in that restaurant, I don't want to eat there either.
Tens of thousands of people are about to "eat" in the foolishly certified "restaurant", actually road called Highway 443.
After Peace Now demanded that the High Court of Justice open Highway 443 to Arab traffic, the highway has removed roadblocks and restrictions, and as of a few weeks ago, Arab cars can drive on the 443.
Well, surprise…although the opening has been an act of goodwill to the Palestinian Authority, the Arabs have shown their "goodwill" also, and there have already been cars stoned on the 443 near Beit Ghur a-Fawka.
I'm worried about all the residents of Greater Modi'in. And since I have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews moving to the Modi'in area this year, I'm particularly hysterical about their well-being and about mine when I drive to visit them. Hashem should watch over us all.
But really, how did this road get opened to Arabs? Many of the 150,000 residents in the Modi'in region that also includes Maccabim-Re'ut, Modi'in Illit (Kiryat Sefer), Hashmonaim and Matityahu, plus the Talmon area towns are against the road's accessibility to Arabs. They remember all too well when Arab terrorists killed six residents in 2002. The road was closed to Arab traffic, because of its security risk.
The Jerusalem Post reported, "Specifically, the IDF is worried about renewed shooting attacks and bombs being planted along the highway. In December, security forces discovered the remains of an improvised explosive device made of a gas canister and firecrackers that had gone off along the road and appeared to have targeted passing Israeli cars."
UNSAFE FOR EVERYONE, INCLUDING YOU
Despite the best efforts of the IDF to secure the road, the Army doesn't think Highway 443 will be a safe place with Arabs allowed to drive there. The Shin Bet has forbidden Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from taking the 443 (and he has a bulletproof/bomb proof/attack proof vehicle).
Now, Israel National News reports that the American government has forbidden its personnel from driving on the 443 after dark.
Well, if the 443 is not safe enough for US personnel at night, and it's not safe enough for Bibi day or night, then why should Israeli citizens have to risk their lives to make Peace Now, PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas or US President Barack Obama happy?
Why the Jews of the Modi'in Region haven't thrown themselves on the highway in protest, I have no clue. I guess it's the Modi'in heat that keeps them indoors.
But they're not the only ones who should protest. We all have family or friends living in the area. They might not be Prime Minister or US government workers, but they're important to us, and we want them safe.
Their lives are more important to me than popularity points for Mahmud Abbas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Raise the Flag

Did you ever notice that between Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) people walk a little taller. Everyone's a little prouder. Smiles are a little wider. Then when Jerusalem Day is over, it's back to real life. Folks slump a little. Their greetings are a little more subdued. The summer sun is shinier, but people's steps lack the pizzazz of the weeks before.
I think it's because of the flag. The Israeli flag.
When the cherry picker trucks drive down the main street of our towns, the excitement begins. Every day thereafter, the positive feelings that start on Main Street spread throughout the entire community. There's something to celebrate. As the flags flap festively one right after another down a kilometer or two of town, there's a reason to be a little more animated and cheerful.
Then, after the uplifting weeks of Iyar (when these holidays are celebrated), suddenly the cherry picker returns to remove the flags. What a downer, literally!
So, this year, coincidentally after the flags came down, we got boycotts against Israeli goods, the floatilla fiasco, the death of our Rabbi HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu, ztz'l, the terror attack near Kiryat Arba, Helen Thomas telling me to go to Poland, verbal and physical hate attacks against Hareidi Jews, protests against Israeli ships around the world, nasty notes about local shopping centers and more. Add to that some serious conversations I had this morning at Pina Chama (the soldier's hospitality hut), and it's just enough to really depress anyone.
A WHALE OF A FLAG
And then suddenly, there's the flag. This giant flag.
I drove my daughter back from school in Jerusalem to my hometown of Efrat, and suddenly my daughter pointed out the giant flag on the Tamar Hill. There's this mammoth flag blowing back and forth like a whale jumping the waves. I had seen this flag foisted in a video clip shown at the Shwekey concert a few weeks ago, right after the floatilla, but I had never really noticed the flag.
Efrat's Local Council Member Josh Adler wrote to Efratians right after the Tamar flag and the others were hung in Efrat, "Today the Moatza (Local Council) proudly raised four enormous Israeli flags across Efrat (Tamar, Zayit/Dekel Gimmel, Dekel Bet & Teena). These flags are on very high poles and can be seen from every Arab village in the area and from very far. It is a firm statement that our nation is strong, we are strong, we are proud, and we are here to stay."
When my daughter pointed out the flag to me, I also felt stronger, prouder and more determined in my life here in this blessed land.
How incredible that a flag can do all that, but it did.
Things are tough for the Jewish people lately (what else is new?). It's easy to feel a little down.
We need some flag waving. Flag waving on our main streets, on our cars, and in our hearts.
Wherever you live, invite your municipality to follow Efrat's lead and hang some Israeli flags around your town. It will make an immediate difference in the outlook of everyone around you.I should have told you before, but thanks to the Efrat Community Council for rehanging the Israeli flag in our town. It was there for me just when I needed it. And I'm happy to share the good feelings with everyone else.
Thanks to Yaron Shane for the uplifting video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTMJ1GrA7L0
Raise the flag!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Signs of the Times

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the increased Arab signage on the roads in Eastern Gush Etzion. This blog continues that report.
WATER
If you make a left out of Efrat's Southern Exist, you can see the sign (left) hanging right past Wadi Nis.
It's from PAZ, the European Union's "Assembly of Cooperation for Peace." Yes, the European Union is investing quite a lot of money in Gush Etzion's Arab villages, or rather what it calls "Bethlehem District, West Bank Palestinian Occupied Territories". "Assembly of Cooperation for Peace (ACPP) is a non profit, lay and independent Spanish NGO, defender of democratic values from a perspective of social and economic justice." It is funded by the Spanish autonomous community of Valencia - Generalitat Valenciana.
PAZ is investing in a water project (2009-2010), implemented and supervised by Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), for the improvement of the access to water for domestic use for 4,380 inhabitants of the communities of Jorat Al Sham'a, Merah Muala, Khalet Al Hadad, Al Masara and Wadi An Nis.
"The Palestinian Hydrology Group is a non-profit, non-government organization that protects and develops the water resources of Palestine [my emphasis]. We strive, through community participation, to achieve justice in the service, allocation, and protection of the water resources of Palestine, since the sustainability of this resource is vital for the protection of the Palestinian nation, the protection of future generation, and the protection of the planet."
I remember years ago when Italy put down water pipes to direct water from Herodion to the Arab towns in Gush Etzion.
Another sign, to the East of the T-Junction proclaimed the earlier much ballyhooed water project – "Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian Water Authority. Emergency Water Project Southern West Bank, East Herodion No. 2 transmission Pipeline, ProjectMidmac."In December 2004 the Midmac company undertook an Emergency Water Project to "help alleviate the chronic shortages of safe water supplies… (a) supply and installation of electromechanical works for the existing East Herodian well #2 (EH#2)" and the installation of piping for transport of that water to the Arab villages.
EDUCATION
Across from the new water sign on the southern side of the road leading to Eastern Gush Etzion is a set of signs with the Eagle symbol of the Palestinian Authority with the words Palestinian National Authority, Ministry of Education. Project Um Salamonah Coed Basic School. The donor in this case is the Islamic Development Bank. Asfour Consultant Design, Engineering Office Supervision. It is expected to take one year at a cost of $869090.90.
"Financer, the Islamic Development Bank (also known as IsDB), is a multilateral development financing institution located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia." It is financed by Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kuwait, Libya, Turkey, UAE, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan; and it is an observer in the United Nations.
So, we've got Valencia, Spain, on one side of the road and a multi-national Arab conglomeration on the other.
I think the PA has done a terrific job in raising international monies to create projects in many areas. Its aim is to use these projects to gain a stronger hold on the lands on which these projects stand. Unfortunately, in these cases, they are trying to grab a greater control of Gush Etzion, the region in which I live.
(And I'm not even talking about their attempts for a land grab in Shdema or Netzer.)
I once heard Gush Etzion Mayor Shaul Goldstein explain that 96% of Gush Etzion is Arab, and 4% of Gush Etzion is Jewish. If so, the Arabs are doing a yoeman job developing their 96%, and trying to spread that 96% into Jewish Gush Etzion as well. I wish we were doing as well to develop Gush Etzion and post signs everywhere to strengthen our presence here.
JEWISH SIGNS OF THE TIMES
You may say, "Oh, what's the big deal about signs?"
Well, whether the Arab projects these signs describe are underway/finished/real, the signs give them legitimacy. They give respectability to these projects.
We need that legitimacy and stability in regard to our own projects, foremost our towns.
At left, next to the sign pointing to Nokdim, or "oqedi" is a graffitied cement block that says "Tekoa", "Kfar Eldad" and "Nokdim."
Immediately at left is another cement block that shows the way to the towns of "Maaleh Amos" and "Ibay HaNachal."
Now, are these respectable signs for our Gush Etzion towns?
Lastly, at the bottom left is the road sign that leads the way to Pnei Kedem and Meitzad. Tell me the truth, if you look at the three signs on top of this blog and you compare them to the three signs at the bottom of the blog, which ones look more credible?
Gush Etzion and all Jewish areas can begin to strengthen their areas first by simply erecting respectful signs that designate the nearest town's name. It's time to declare our pride in our towns and our determination to hold on to, develop and foster our Jewish presence in Gush Etzion.

Say Shalom, Bring Shalom

When Alon Shvut celebrated its 40th anniversary recently, one of Alon Shvut's first residents, Gedalia Ginsberg, recalled the beginnings of his town. Before he concluded his remarks, he sighed and said, "When Alon Shvut was young, everyone walked through the streets and said, 'Shalom.' Little children rode their bikes and told you, 'Shalom.' There are no more shaloms anymore. People don't greet one another, or they usually say 'hi' and 'bye'. We should start saying 'Shalom' again."
I agree. There's a major lack of the greeting, "Shalom," in our society.
Back in 1961, Jerry Herman wrote a great song for the Broadway show Milk and Honey: "Shalom, Shalom, You'll find Shalom the nicest greeting you know; It means bonjour, salud, and skoal, and twice as much as hello. It means a million lovely things, like peace be yours, welcome home. And even when you say goodbye, You say goodbye with Shalom."
Once upon a time, the Jewish people greeted one another with "Shalom Aleichem" (peace unto you). "Aleichem Shalom."
Every day we pray that G-d bless us with Shalom.
Well, what if we begin by blessing one another with Shalom. We know that those who bless the Jewish people are themselves bless. So, let's go. Let's answer the phone with "Shalom" instead of "helllllooo". Let's greet one another in the street with "Shalom." Let's bring more words of Shalom to the world, and maybe G-d will bring more Shalom itself to the world.
It's worth a try.
All the best to you, my friends. Shalom.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Emanuel - Missing the Point

Can practically an entire world of people miss a point?
Well, if the Emanuel school problem is held as an example, the answer is "Yes, especially if they want to!".
For the past several weeks, newspapers have been crying out against segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi students in the Emanuel community. They have cried out against prejudice and a class struggle between Ashkenazi and Sephardi. (Sounds good. Makes good reading - Ashkenazi are prejudice against Sephardim - a spector that has haunted Israel since its modern-day inception.)
Is there really a racial problem in Emanuel, or are the Israeli media and other institutions trying to promote the idea of inter-Hareidi prejudice and racism? Are they trying to create a new reason to bash Hareidim? Are they fanning the flames of sinat chinam (baseless hatred of Jews for one another) just as we are approaching 17 Tammuz (when Jerusalem's walls were breached) and 9 Av (when the Temple was destroyed because of this baseless hatred)?
Thursday's http://www.cnn.com/ reported, "Some 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews protested Thursday an Israeli Supreme Court decision banning segregation based on ethnic background in a girls' religious elementary school. Girls of Sephardic origin were being denied permission to share classrooms with the largely Ashkenazi school and were forced into segregated classes."
The media in Israel and the world are making the Emanuel problem into a war of the races. That sounds good, and of course, those horrible Ashkenazi hareidim are to blame for the latest round of racism in the world...NOT.
The Emanuel School crisis, which culminated today in a march by 100,000 men (those present said it was more like 200,000) to the Russian Compound to escort Emanuel parents to prison, is not about race. In other neighborhoods or nations, perhaps that's what the crisis would be, so each reporter puts the story into his own reality - "This must be racism."
But if anyone really read the reports on Emanuel or watched the video clips, this Emanuel education predicament is not about race at all. Some of the parents protesting on the side of the Slonimer Hassidim of Emanuel were Sephardi themselves. They admitted, "This has nothing to do with race. This is about halacha (Jewish law)."

Jpost report that "35 fathers of students at the Emmanuel Beit Ya’acov girls school began two-week jail terms for contempt of court over discriminatory practices at the school, and their hassidic community hailed them as heroes for 'choosing Torah' over the secular court system."
Jpost added, "The parents have remained firm in their insistence that the separation was not racially based, but was a function of halachic stringency. A small number of Sephardi girls had been allowed to study with the Ashkenazi girls, and three Sephardi fathers were among those jailed."
It was also important to note there was absolutely no violence, just dignity in the ranks of the hundreds of thousands. "Throughout the day’s events, not a single act of violence was reported by police. Magen David Adom and Hatzalah units positioned along the march’s route reported scattered incidents of heatstroke and other medical calls, mostly among the crowd’s elderly participants."

Mission Statement

Every school is run on a certain takanon (regulations or mission statement). The original mission statement of the Slonimer school in Emanuel explained that the school wished the strictest interpretation of different opinions in religion and dress. Parents who wanted to send their children to the Slonim school had to have a desire to adhere to these tenets before their children walked through the school's doors. And when their children were learning in the school, they were obliged to keep to the mission statement. Both Sephardi and Ashkenazi families agreed to do this.
Unfortunately for the school population, families came into the school, agreeing to adhere to the takanun and then later, demanding that the school change its policies to bend toward the parents. This would be totally against the beliefs of the parents and the rulings of the school.
The High Court and the local and world media would love to make this predicament into a race issue, but it's not.

Dancing to Prison

More than 100,000 men danced and marched through the streets of Jerusalem with the fathers of the pro-Slonim students. The fathers were on their way to jail, according to a ruling of the High Court of Justice. So what could they possibly have been dancing about?
Well, if you listen to their words, they tell you that they are not going to jail because of prejudice, but because they are not willing to compromise their Torah values. Their rabbis have counseled them on the proper education of their children, and they wish to follow the advice of their rabbis, not the Israeli High Court.
The crowd wanted to send a message to the High Court of Justice and to the Israeli public. Simply:"Torah believing Jews follow the words of their rabbis, not the words of the court."
That, my friends, is what this entire dispute in Emanuel represents - who's the boss in the Hareidi Community (or in any Jewish-faith-filled home)? The Rabbis or the secular courts.
This same debate goes back thousands of years to ancient Israel. The rabbis? Representing the word of G-d and the Torah. Or the courts? Representing the new world, modern thinking.
The Hareidim are sincere enough and devoted enough to Torah to make their choice clear, "The Rabbis!!"
Jpost reported a truth that we should all contemplate before we let sinat chinam (baseless hatred) spread any further. "Israel Prize laureate and Migdal Ha’emek Rabbi Itzhak David Grossman, who accompanied Porush, said that Israel had more external enemies than it needed, and 'we don’t have to destroy ourselves from within.'"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SHOPPING: New Friends, Old Friends

When a new store opens here in Israel, everyone goes wild. Remember the day that H&M opened its doors at Malcha Mall? http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/03/h-opens-in-jerusalem.html The lines reached from one end of the Mall to the other. And everyone was sucking on way-cool H&M lollipops.
Well, there's been equal or even greater excitement about the opening of the new Rami Levi store at the Gush Etzion Juncion. It started with the news that Arabs were being forbidden by the Palestinian Authority to shop at Rami Levi. It continued when Arab employees of Rami Levi and other Jewish-owned businesses expressed their fear that they might be fired as a backlash to the edict against Arab working/shopping at Rami Levi.
Boy, Rami Levi should write the Palestinian Authority or at least its Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for all the publicity that has made folks wonder, "What on earth is going on in Rami Levi? I've got to get there."
Well, it seems that just about everyone, except maybe me, has been shopping in Rami Levi since it opened a few days ago. No problemo. I understand the need for growing families to save money on their groceries. And I understand that it's fun to try something new.
Usually these new stores see excited shoppers at their launch, and then shopping habits calm down, and things more or less even out as they did before.
Rami Levi's affect on the supermarkets in Efrat or other neighborhoods in Gush Etzion might be immediately damaging, but as folks decide whether or not they like the staff of Rami Levi, if their service is sufficient, and how they feel about shopping in a mixed environment, many will ultimately return to their Efrat/Gush Etzion shopping places.
Secondary Shopping
But what I'd really like to talk about is the secondary shopping - not the supermarkets, but all the stores in the Teeina and Dekel shopping centers, in Alon Shvut's old and new neighborhoods, as well as Neve Daniel, etc., that benefit from a shopper's trip to the supermarket. These stores were empty today. The shopping centers were ghost towns. The parking lots were empty and the stores we love with the shopkeepers we have known for many years stood silent. As they say in Willy Wonka, "No one goes in, and no one goes out."
No matter what shoppers ultimately decide in regard to shopping at Rami Levi, they should do their best to pop in to the local stationery, clothing, lingerie, book stores, and even the local supermarkets.
The loss of one store, due to lack of sales, could cause a domino affect. What's really better for your town, a bustling shopping center, or an empty one with "For Rent" written on the front windows of stores that couldn't hold out?
Our local stores have serviced us in good times and bad throughout the years. Now is the time for us to show our gratitude for their years of service. Shop wherever you like, but also for the sake of our towns, SHOP LOCALLY.

More Efratians in FIDDLER

Last week I congratulated the cast and crew of Encore's excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/06/fiddler-on-roof-smash-hit.html .
I especially noted those Efratians on and off stage. Well, it seems I missed a few.
So, kudos to:
Michael Ben Eliezer – the 'distinguished' rabbi!
Jacob Brody - Perchik - who lives on the Dagan
Atara Teitelbaum - chorus member
Sorry, I missed these talented Efratians. Thanks for letting me know.
Kol hakavod.

Dance Girls, Dance

A few weeks ago after the End of the Year show by the Efrat Community Center Dance Department, I wrote that Efrat is becoming Israel's dance capital. Folks that are involved in dance here agreed, and others asked, "Really!? Or is that some Sharon Katz over excitement." Um...really!
Well, tonight I was attended a Dance program for third to sixth graders at the Orot Etzion Girls School on the Zayit Hill. Every Wednesday the school provides a free extra-curricular activity for the girls. More than 90 girls study dance on that day. Tonight's production was the result of those afterschool activities.
The girls just love dance and are devoted to their dance teacher. The school has reinforced a dedication to dance and an understanding that in order to excel in dance or anything else, a girl must practice, work as a team, and apply herself.
Each group performed in front of hundreds of mothers and sisters. The spirit was animated and older girls provided the mandatory "shrieks of excitement."
Good for you, Orot Etzion, for investing in your students' creativity and talent as well as its spiritual side.
Betar Dance
Straight from the Orot Etzion dance performance, I went to the Matnas Gush Etzion for the Betar Girls' Dance Production. Dancers from child to teens from the Lital Schertzman Studio B Dance Groups performed ballet, jazz, hip hop and modern.
Sometimes people mistakenly think that religious (it's often called Ultra-Orthodox) communities do not train their girls well in the arts. On the contrary, Lital Schertzman's dancers were graceful, fun and dynamic and all-round excited to perform on Stage.
So, it was a great night for Dance in Efrat and then Gush Etzion.
And may you, dear readers, always have many reasons to dance, dance, dance.
Photos by me

One Swimmer's Story

Cheryl Mandel is a working mother, a former go-go dancer and character actress in Gush Etzion's local theatrical productions. She's also always ready for a challenge. A casual swimmer, Cheryl began training in earnest two months ago for the First Annual All Women's Kinneret Swim to benefit Rosh Tzurim's Sadnat Shiluv, which aims to help integrate special needs young people into the community.
After Cheryl's swim today, she actually wrote about her experience.
You can read it here:

CHERYL MAKES A SPLASH
I got up at 5:30 am – very reluctantly – and opened my door to see a buzz of activity in blue shirts as everyone was getting coffee and registering. My wonderful roommates for the night were Zelda Rubin (pictured below) and Sharon Katz (pictured in bottom photo) and no one complained about snoring and they encouraged me to get moving! Uugg, putting on a bathing suit before 6 AM is unnatural. But I did it for the good of the world. Drank coffee with real sugar, ate cake and was ready to spring into action. After we saw the 3.5 km swimmers enter the water and disappear around the bend we went to Maagan to await the call to enter the water. I was the one injury of the day as I stepped into the water and on a bee that did just what bees should do and stung me! Pain spread through my foot but I was brave and put my flippers on anyway. We were given the permission to start and off we went, yellow, red and blue bathing caps. The water was perfect, cool and calm and green. The sky was perfect, blue and cloudless and warm. It was a unique experience to swim and experience the sun coming up and getting into your eyes. In the swimming pool, swimming 1.5 km was a big effort for me. In the Kinneret, it was a breeze and although I was glad to approach the shore (among the first group), I could have kept on swimming. It was a joyous experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and look forward to repeating next year. Maybe you folks will start swimming and join me?
Some facts – there were 85 swimmers – it seems that every time that I asked, there were another 10 swimmers with us! Next year there will be triple the number.
I swam 1.5 km and it too me about 1 hour.
There were swimmers over the age of 70 and maybe over the age of 80 (can't really ask for ages).
One young woman, a survivor of a car accident 12 years ago that left her very handicapped, swam with us and was truly an inspiration for all of us.
All the swimmers committed to raise money and that will be for hostels in Rosh Tzurim part of Sadnat Shiluv. I do not know how much was raised but thank you all for supporting me.
Here is Sharon's blog about it and pictures will come later. I was so tired after that I slept on the bus – unheard of for me.
http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/

Thank you to Vivienne Glaser for organizing the swim.
Cheryl

Grandmother's Second Charity Swim of the Kinneret

All the 85 women who swam the Kinneret today for the First Annual All-Women's Kinneret Swim were unique, and each had her story.
When grandmother, Chana Loecher of Jerusalem, swam the Kinneret today, it was her second swim here to raise money for charity.
Fourteen years ago, Chana Loecher completed a ten kilometer swim in the Kinneret to benefit the ALUT (Israeli Society for Autistic Children) Children's Hostel. Her grueling solo swim from Tiberius to Ein Gev took the mother of eight, more than five hours against a treacherous current in the chilly autumn weather.
Today, Chana Loecher, aged 66, swam the 1.5 kilometer course from Maagan to Tzemach Beach, for the benefit of Rosh Tzurim's Sadnat Shiluv, which helps special needs young adults integrate into the community and contribute as best they can to community life. Unlike Chana's first Kinneret swim, today the water was calm and magnificent. Encouraged by this ideal swim, Chana, a former swimming coach, exclaimed that next year, IY"H, she plans to swim the 3.5 kilometer route.
An enthusiastic "tzedakah athlete", Chana also rides in the yearly Bike-athon to benefit the Alyn Children's Hospital. Today Chana was reunited with former Alyn Bike-athon organizer Nina Alon, who was instrumental in organizing today's All-Women Kinneret Swim.

Kinneret Women's Swim a Splashing Success

Just got back from the Kinneret where 85 women swam this morning from points beginning at HaOn Beach and ending at Tzemach Beach. The All Women's Swim to benefit Sadnat Shiluv was a tremendous success, B"H.
Sadnat Shiluv encourages maximum integration of special people into the community. It works with children from kindergarten and elementary school until young adulthood. Currently, its only hostel houses six young adults and offers them a place to live, work, study and lead an independent life while being an active part of the Rosh Tzurim community. Vivienne has made it her personal goal to try to build another two hostels.
The Early Bird...
Our day began at 5 AM with so much activity and excitement that the birds in the palm trees must have been checking their watches in disbelief.
After registration and a quick cup of coffee, swimmers immediately waded into the Kinneret. Unfortunately with the drastic drop in the level of the lake, the swimmers had to walk quite a distance until the water's edge, but there were no complaints. In fact, many of the women explained that swimming the Kinneret had been a lifelong dream for them.
About five water police boats floated along with the swimmers in order to keep everyone safe and swimming in the right direction. (It's a big watery Kinneret out there.) Safety precautions were observed to the "T". The women wore a colorful bathing cap - red, yellow or blue - so that boats could keep track of each swimmer.
By 6:15 AM, some women just put on their goggles and started stroking their way across the Kinneret.They said, "Oooh, it's cold!" Others entered the water with fins, others with hand paddles or kick boards. Many had chocolate and other energy pick-me ups tied in plastic bags on to their bathing straps. When they got tired, they popped for a moment on their bags and had a nosh. (That was a real surprise for me.) One swimmer said that as she made a stroke, her hand touched a bag of chocolate just floating in the water. She thought, "Thanks for the treat, Kinneret!", and enjoyed the delicious surprise. Some women said they were singing with each other. Others were just gliding along enjoying the serenity of the melding of the sea and the sky.
By 8:18 AM the first swimmers were climbing on to the beach at Tzemach, as the welcoming committee and volunteers cheered. The swimmers pronounced the swim, "Fabulous," "Unbelievable," "Magnificent," every superlative you can guess. "Perfect," they said. The water was perfectly still. The temperature was perfect for swimming. The women who participated were perfectly wonderful.
After the Swim and lunch, Vivienne handed out certificates to all the participants. Their sense of accomplishment was very great, and the certificates were the icing on the Kinneret Cake.
Kudos to Women's Kinneret Swim founder Vivienne Glaser, whose hakarat hatov (thanks) to Shadnat Shiluv was the impetus for this event. Appreciation to the organizing team, including Yechiel Fishman, Nina Alon, Joanna Shreiber, and Liz Pushett. And to the women of all ages from all over Israel and beyond, who came to make the Swim a big splash - you are all terrific.
You can still make a donation - http://www.israelgives.org/ (write in Sadnat Shiluv).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

By the Sea of Kinneret - for Sadnat Shiluv

It's 10:30 PM and about 85 women are sleeping soundly by the Sea of Kinneret. You probably have figured out that I'm not an early to bed girl, so it's just the computer and me right now.
Tomorrow morning at 5 AM, IY"H, they're going to be lathered up in their sun tan lotion and dressed in their bathing suits and new swimming T-shirts, ready to hit the beach.
These women - ranging from teens to seniors - will be swimming either 1.5 or 3.5 kilometers in the Kinneret from Kibbutz HaOn to Tzemach in the First Annual Kinneret Swim-a-thon to benefit Sadnat Shiluv, a learning program in Gush Etzion's Rosh Tzurim that mainstreams children with all kinds of health and learning difficulties.
The Swim-a-thon is the dream of Alon Shvut's Vivienne Glaser, whose own son Elchanan, was a member of the first shiluv (integrated) class of the Sadna's Reishit school. After a wonderful education in Reishit, and now a member of a productive and happy home in the Sadnat Shiluv program, Elchie is an able resident of the Rosh Tzurim community.
Vivienne wanted to give other young people the opportunity that Elchie had, and so she launched this Swim in order to raise money to create two new living spaces for other young Sadnat students.
Tomorrow morning at 5 AM, we begin registration, so I think I'd better call it a night too.
More from the beautiful Kinneret tomorrow.
Good luck to the women who will be taking to the water with their colorful bathing caps and their high spirits.
If you're reading this blog right now, you're not up with us in the Kinneret, but you can still participate by donating to www.israelgives.org (write in Sadnat Shiluv).

Youth take the Stage in the Proyekt

It's about friendship. It's about appreciating each other's talents. It's about creating something fun together. It's about accomplishing one big Proyekt, The Project!
For the past four years, hundreds of teenagers have passed through the curtain of HaProyekt, The Project, a yearly production, written and performed by teenagers from Efrat and Gush Etzion. Any young people who wish to get involved can find a place in the Proyekt, on stage or off. In this year's Proyekt, there were about 30 kids on stage, and there were about 30 stage hands moving all the sets and scenery around. Teens were in the sound and lighting booth too.
Produced and directed by Yonatan Levi, the Proyekt gives teens a place to be creative, clever, adorable (oops, I meant cool, of course).
Yonatan said that the Proyekt functions totally on donations. After producing shows for the past nine years, i can attest to the fact that the most innovation comes when you have no money in your budget. Because they don't get regular funding from any official body, Yonatan Levi thanked all those who helped them create The Project year after year - Gush Etzion's Early Childhood Center gave them space for scene painting and storage, the library gave them space too, the Derech Avot school let them meet there, Matnas Gush Etzion gave them the stage, sound/lighting pro Yair Balams helped with their tech needs, as especially did Yehuda Margolis, Rebbetzin Riskin's clothing gemach gave them costumes, etc.
According to Yonatan, almost 3500 people have seen the Proyekt over the past five years. About 60 young people participate in each season's show, writing the script and music, making costumes and scenery, and handling PR and tickets. This year's writers included Micha HaCohen, Meir Cohen, Yonatan Levi, Roi Landau and Adiel Kahan. These are very talented young people - their script, which followed real families through their daily routine of going to work, school, the Mall, etc. was very clever. The performers were just delightful.
The Proyekt rehearsed for six months before they went on stage. The kids themselves also filmed the videos and "commercials" included in the show.
Yonatan noted that he'd like more kids involved, and he'd like to do more shows if there's an audience. As I said, the show was adorable, I mean, cool. It was filled with screaming young people. I think if it performed once more, it could be filled with screaming old people. Adults have a sense of humor too, you know.
Have a look at Voices Gush Etzion TV's clip of this year's HaProyekt:

Fiddler on the Roof - A Smash Hit

I had the opportunity last week to see the Encore Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof in Jerusalem. I left the theater flying with excitement and filled with so much music and spectacle that I wanted to dance down the steps of the Hirsch Theater and sashay through the lobby with my date (my mother-in-law).
However, being considerate I didn't want to take any spotlight away from this stunning production, and besides that, my mother-in-law isn't really into dancing in front of 400 strangers.
Folks asked me how Encore's Fiddler was, and I said that if I described how great it was, people would think I was being paid by the theater company. It was that good.
There are two more performances in Jerusalem: Tues, June 22 and Wed, June 23. I told the Encore folks that they should keep going. This show is just too good to close down right now.
Really. The atmosphere was fabulous. The Chagall backdrop was a perfect touch for the little shtetl Anatevka of 1906 based on Sholom Aleichem's tale of Tevye the Milkman. The costumes were just perfect. The Encore Theater company is one of the best community theater groups in Israel. Their leads, all of them, especially Tevye, were incredible. Really, the entire cast, down to the smallest child, was terrifically talented and disciplined.
I was proud of the folks from my hometown that took the stage. In whatever roles they performed, my friends are stars!! To all the Efratians in Fiddler – you're stars!!!
On stage: Peter Abelow, Johnny Lemberger, Yoni Ben Ari, Tzachi Goldstein
Musicians: Bill Bozen, Yechiel Lock
Make-up: Shira Abelow
Efratian in her heart: Choreographer Arlene Chertoff
And Alon Shvut's Paul Salter, Music Director
There are so many other Gush Etzion folks in the show, bli neder, I'll try to get their names.
The staging by Director Robert Binder was clever and creative. The Fruma Sarah nightmare sequence was just a feat of brilliance and innovation. The musical end of the show was glorious. Kudos to Musical Director Paul Salter for filling the hearts of the audience with the most beautiful tones and timbres. Choreographer Arlene Chertoff deserves praise once again for bringing out the foot-tapping finest in her cast.
Encore has been bringing Gilbert & Sullivan and Broadway musicals to Jerusalem, Raanana, Netanya, Haifa, etc. since 2006. Every season, its productions have improved in quality. And just when you think they can't get any better, they wow you with..Fiddler on the Roof.
The production was so likeable, it was actually problematic for me. I am not a great fan of the theme of Fiddler. The production's show-stopper, "Tradition" talks about preserving tradition, and yet the entire show is based on the unravelling of tradition in Anatevka and the Jewish world at the time. One after another, Tevye accedes to his children's rejection of tradition. As he says, if we pull out the first string of tradition, all of tradition will unravel. (It doesn't matter that it's the show's comic tradition of shidduchim, or anything else, it's the point of rejecting tradition). His words prove true when he is put to the ultimate test of Jewish tradition - the intermarriage of his daughter, which Tevye clearly states, is just one unravelling too many.
But what could I do? I wanted to dislike Fiddler, but the Ecore production was so marvelous, I adored it and so did the rest of the audience.
Anyone who's lucky enough to have seen it, or has tickets for the last two performances, will be singing the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harwick tunes for weeks to come.

Busy Week - Simchas

B"H, it's been a busy week here in the Holy Land. My daughter, like other 12th graders, graduated from Ulpana (girls' religious high school) last night.
The evening was casual, but filled with content - a few rabbinical speeches, a parents' representative and a senior class rep.
There was the mandatory power point with the girls on their tiyulim (trips) and having fun in school. (Of course, no studying photos. :) ) Then they received their graduation diplomas along with a siddur (prayer book), which hopefully they'll use every day until they replace it with a personalized one bought by their future husband, IY"H.
These Ulpanistiot (high schoolers) are all set with their plans for next year - all planning on an activity that will benefit the nation. The majority are doing national service in schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations and community centers. Some will become chayalot (female soldiers) in the education corps of the Army. And others will continue their Jewish education at one of the many midrashot in Israel.
The girls were so enthusiastic and happy when they received their diplomas. They cheered for one another and everyone in the school.
We wish all these lovely young women, all graduates of Ulpan, Yeshiva High School and high schools throughout Israel a hearty mazel tov. The nation will soon be in your hands. We pray that you take the faith, the giving-attitude, and the knowledge you have acquired to help Israel find its way on the path toward Ahavat Achim (love of one's brother) and Geula (Redemption).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Real Men Dance Together

They're doctors, lawyers, judges, rabbis, teachers, bankers, insurance brokers and everything in between.
They're the men of Alon Shvut and they're hooked on dancing.
Gush Etzion, home to the hit dance extravaganzas Dames of the Dance, is known for its talented dancing women. But outside of the Gush Etzion town of Alon Shvut, not many people know that Alon Shvut men are talented on the dance floor.
They dance for the town on Purim, Independence Day and all kinds of community-wide celebrations. Today they danced up a storm to honor Alon Shvut's 40th anniversary.
The origins of Alon Shvut's dancing dudes vary according to whom you ask. Either they began dancing about five years ago when today's 20 year olds were teenagers, and they decided to take to the dance floor in Bnei Akiva. Or they began dancing at the smachot (happy occasions) of their friends.
(Readers are invited to write to izzy@actcom.co.il if they've got the real scoop.)
Regardless their legendary beginnings, Alon Shvut men are taking the dance world by storm :)and creating a tradition that's fun and exciting for the entire town.
At tonight's 40th anniversary celebration, Alon Shvut's children and adults twirled and jumped and thrilled a cheering crowd. In Alon Shvut, real men dance together!!
Join Voices' Gush Etzion-TV for a look at the dancing sensations of Alon Shvut: http://www.voices-magazine.com/index.php?page=inside_page&id=149&which=GTV