Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Building Confidence on Both Sides

While scanning the net news, I came across Jpost's story on the upcoming Netanyahu-Abbas negotiations. Jpost reported on a pre-meeting with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "Barak and Abbas discussed the further easing of security conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank as a confidence building measure as peace talks are renewed."
Whenever negotiations with the Arabs begin Israel is forced to make "confidence building measures" - release Arab murderers from prison, take down life-saving road blocks, ease transportation for Arabs in Judea and Samaria, stimulate the Arab economy in Yesha.
After years of reading the same stories with different dates on them, I'd like to ask, "What are the confidence building measures on the part of the Arabs? What steps are they going to make in order to get Israel to the negotiating table?"
I mean, it's only fair, right? Israel gives and gives, unfortunately, even to the point of endangering the lives of its citizens.
So, what are the Arabs going to do? Prime Minister Netanyahu is always talking about "reciprocity." I'd just like to see some on the other side. Will the "Palestinian Police" make sure that every car leaving an Arab town is checked to prevent weapons from reaching the roads? Will the PA police try to pick up stone throwers and punish them? Will the PA even rescind its economic war against Israel? Or its entertainment war?
What about its school books? Will it agree to teach its children about peace, instead of jihad against the Jewish State?
How will the Palestinian Authority build up the confidence of the Jewish People?
Today's Israel National News reported that just as Israel and the PA are sitting down to "peace talks," PA Prime Minister Salam Fayad is encouraging anarchists to demonstrate against Jewish communities. He supports "efforts to organize the reception and delegations of international solidarity with the peaceful popular resistance against the settlements and the wall [security fence].”
Well, that doesn't sound so friendly or like a leader who is looking for peace.
I for one, do not feel my confidence is being built up. Mr. Netanyahu, where is the reciprocity?

Menu Revisions

I received so many emails and notes on my Rosh Hashana menu, I decided that I will take it seriously. IY"H, tomorrow (Wednesday), I will sit down with my cookbooks and come up with an absolutely enchanting three-days of cookery and meaning.
I'm going to take everyone's ideas into consideration (you can still write me your thoughts) and then I'll put out a new menu.
My friend in America reminded me last night on skype (I just love skype) to serve raisins and celery, as they do, for a "raise in salary."
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beginnings of a Rosh Hashana Menu

Wherever I go lately, everyone's talking about her Yom Tov Rosh Hashana menu. It's getting annoying. I'm still working on putting out the Rosh Hashana issue of Voices Magazine, so I don't have time to think of anything.
But I am feeling bad that I'm not yet in the holiday spirit at all, so I pulled out last year's menu. Somewhere I have to add in food for another day (this year, we've got three days of praying and feasting in a row), and I've gotta make some adjustments, but at least, I can use the menu below as a basis of my Rosh Hashana.
I hope it helps you too. Make any changes you like, and perhaps write to me and I can use your suggestions.
Non-Traditional Traditions
As you'll notice, my family adds its own simanim (symbols of a new year) in addition to the traditional ones we eat at our Yom Tov meal at our best friends' home.
Some of the traditional simanim are honey for a sweet new year; rubia (fenugreek) so that our merits will yirbu (increase); silka (beets) so that our enemies will be siluk (removed), etc.
Our family has always had fun with simanim. That itself is a siman (symbol) of a fun new year. As a small child, my daughter, had a favorite doll named Honey Bee. She loved Honey Bee so much, I made matching clothing for the little doll and my living doll. When Honey Bee was finally loved to pieces, my daughter still could not "part" with her, so we used Honey Bee's head on the Rosh Hashana table as a siman. May we be like the head and not the tail.

Apple dipped in honey for a sweet New Year
Carrot sticks – gezer – that Hashem should change any evil decree against us
Pomegranate - rimon – that our lives should be filled with as many mitzvot as a promegranate
Chicken soup with kreplach - may our pockets always be filled
Roast Beef – so that any accusers who beef against us should be roasted
Rice with vegetables – including pilpel – so that we should be good in gemora
Zucchini - kishuim – so that children should also kiss your Ema (mother)
Apple crunch – so that our lives will be sweet and our enemies will be crunched
Creamsicles – so the coming year will always be soft and yummy

Chulent – so that the Jewish people will get along like all the mix of a chulent
Chicken – so that our enemies will be chicken
Dates - tamar – so that all singles should have dates
Broccoli souffle – that our mazel (luck) will flower like a broccoli
Cole Slaw – so their souls should be merry like Ol' King Cole
Chocolate Chip Bar Teddy Bear Head – so we can be the head and not the tail

Soup with kneidlach (matza balls) if it’s hot -so that life may always be light and fluffly
Turkey (called Hodu in Hebrew) – Hodu L’Hashem ki tov - Praise Hashem who is good.
Butternut squash – our enemies should be squashed
Mushroom Onion Crepes – that our descendents should mushroom
Cranberry-Apple crunch – ditto above
Rice with vegetables – ditto above
Peanut Butter Squares – so that we can devour Jimmy Carter’s memory (leftovers)

Gefilte Fish – so that the swimming pool’s filter will always work
Leftover Turkey – so that we'll do so many mitzvot, we will have leftovers
More leftovers

[I still have to come out with a menu for Shabbat day. Maybe you'll help me out. :) )
May Hashem bless us all with a healthy, happy new year.
May everyone be matzliach in everything he does,
and may he try to do everything well. Peace and good news for all Am Yisrael.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rosh Hashana Thoughts - Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Efrat's Chief Rabbi, HaRav Shlomo Riskin, in his office to discuss the upcoming Rosh Hashana holiday. Rabbi Riskin graciously spoke to my camera to make a clip, both in Hebrew and in English, wishing our Voices readers/viewers and all Am Yisrael a Happy Healthy Nachas-filled New Year.
It's always exciting in Rabbi Riskin's office. A young man came to him with a community problem. Next, a young couple about to be married met with him. Then me, or more correctly, you (since I was your representative).
He immediately began to think of one of the most meaningful blessings he could wish all of us, and I started the video rolling (although I don't think these digital cameras roll). His words were very true to the heart, and will surely touch everyone who hears them.
I don't want to give away the story. Watch it here:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mazel Tov - 18 Years in Israel

This Shabbat, Parshat Ki Tavo marks my family's eighteenth year living in the Land of Israel.
Mazel tov, as we say in the vernacular.
Eighteen summers ago in August, bli ayin hara, I gave birth to my one and only girl - pink and precious - after four fun-loving boys. No sooner had the doctor announced that she was a girl, then my husband said lovingly, "Well, there's no brit (ritual circumcision on the eighth day after a boy's birth), so I'm going to take the boys and move to Israel right away. Bye." I came home from the hospital to pack 18 duffle bags and say a hasty farewell to my school boys, and then recuperate at my mother's house with my new daughter and my two-year-old son.
We had planned to move to Israel that fall, but suddenly, it was happening a little earlier than expected.
My husband and the "Big 3" boys moved into our new home all alone. They had no fridge or oven. My mother-in-law, ad 120, graciously cooked their dinners, and sent them or brought them from Jerusalem. I called from America to see how they were doing.

"How's everyone?"
"How are the kids doing in school?"
"How do they get there? You don't have a car."
"They take the bus."
"What!!!!??? You walk them to the bus stop every day?"
"No, they walk alone. It's only a few blocks."
Remember that I came from America. In America, in my neighborhood, the bus picks up each child at his front door. A child in America would never walk alone to the bus.
"Well, at least they go with Micha. He's 11. He's big enough to watch over them."
"No, Micha's in a dormitory now. He sleeps in school."
"What, my baby? Alone in a strange school. How could you!!"
"You said he's big."
"He's big at home. He's my baby when he's away. He's too young to be alone."
"Hundreds of boys are with him. It's normal here."
Normal!!?? My heart beat faster. My eldest child had been shipped off to some boarding school (what did he think this was, England??) and my little boys were walking through foreign streets to the bus.

"What are you all eating every day, since you don't have a refrigerator or stove?"
"The kids are eating a lachmania and a bakbuk mayim."
"What's that?"
"A lachmania is a roll and a bakbuk mayim is a bottle of water."
"What??!! My children are surviving on bread and water??!!"
I was really starting to flip out.

"How's the clothing situation? I know you have no washing machine, so how are their clothes holding out?"
"Fine. Every Sunday we put out an outfit and they wear it for the entire week."
"What?!!??!!?? The same clothes every day!!??!!"
That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
My little boy all alone in some foreign school. Then the bus situation was terrible. The bread and water story was horrible. And on top of it all, that people should see my children wearing the same clothing twice was too much for my Five Towns pride. So, I ran (as quickly as my birth stitches would allow) downstairs and announced to my dearest mother (may she live and be well until 120) that we must get the baby a passport and go immediately to Israel.

When You Come to the Land
We processed everything as quickly as possible and were on the plane just in time to attend synagogue for the first time in Israel to hear the reading of Parshat Ki Tavo. It couldn't have been a more appropriate chapter for us, or any oleh (new immigrant).
Deuteronomy 26:1: "It will be when you enter the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it..."
And there was I with my new baby in my arms having just entered the Land of my forefathers and feeling that I was really possessing it.
My family has had many adventures in the past 18 years, just like the families of my fellow olim (immigrants). We have had our personal dramas (like when my cleaning girl stole my no-longer-insured diamond ring and bracelet, and was not arrested or punished in any way, no matter how hard we tried to have her prosecuted; like when all the animals of my son's petting zoo were killed on the night of Rosh Hashana when a pack of wild dogs broke into their cage; like when the sewage pipe in our rented house exploded and ruined tens of thousands of shekels worth of our belongings without compensation from the landlord; like when we were stoned on the roads during the intifada; like like like......we've all got our dramas). We have experienced personal joys, B"H, bli ayin hara, (like the building of our home, the marriage of our children, the birth of our grandchildren, the success of our children in yeshiva, the success of our children in the Israel Defense Forces, the lighting of a torch of honor of Israel's Independence Day, and B"H so many more.)
We have witnessed national dramas (the murder of friends by Arab terrorists; war, terror attacks, drive-by shootings and suicide bombers; police/soldier violence against our own people at national demonstrations; the destruction of Gush Katif and the degradation of its people; the demolition of Jewish homes under the orders of a foreign government; all levels of corruption in our own government; threats to our nation's security, etc., etc.).
We have merited experiencing moments of national glory (massive tefillot [prayer gatherings] at the Kotel; inspirational evenings at Me'arat HaMachpela [Cave of the Patriarchs]; struggling along with thousands of others to save Givat HaDagan and our hilltops; lighting a menorah in the Kotel Tunnels across from the Kodesh Kodeshim [Holy of Holies]; swimming in the ocean of Gush Katif; uniting with tens of thousands holding hands from one end of the country to Jerusalem; volunteering for one cause of other for the benefit of our brethren; taking in strangers from the North during the Lebanon War; marching in a sea of friends to Givat HaEitam; performing over the years in front of tens of thousands of women in Raise Your Spirits and Dames of the Dance; standing atop the Golan Heights; attending Sefer Torah dedications; seeing a destroyed community being rebuilt; experiencing the Birkat HaChama [blessing of the sun] in Israel; and more and more).
The past eighteen years have been both a personal adventure, as well as a national one for my family, and for all olim.
Our Children in the Land
We sat at the Shabbat table with two of our granddaughters today, and I told my oldest granddaughter, 7, that in this week's parsha, we learn that we take our bikurim (our first fruits) to the Kohen in the Holy Temple and we say the same thing that Jews have said for the past thousands of years, "...Hashem brought us to this place, and He gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold!, I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, O' Hashem!"...
I told my granddaughter that we were so lucky, because we could bring our own fruits from our trees to the Temple one day soon and I just couldn't wait. We've got persimmon trees and etrog (citron) trees and pears, and soon, IY"H, there'll be pomegranates and dates. My granddaughter said, "Savta, you can only bring the pomegranates and dates. You can only bring fruit from the Seven Species of fruit particular to the Land of Israel."
I could not believe my ears. My soon-to-be-second-grader in the Orot Etzion School knew that the fruits had to be the Seven Species. I didn't even remember that (well, it's been a year since last I read this chapter). I hugged her from happiness. I don't think she'd have known that if she'd been a seven-year-old on Long Island.
And so, I felt, exactly as it says I'd feel in the week's portion, 26:11, "You shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and your household...."
I am rejoicing!!
Thank You, Hashem, for bringing my family here to this blessed Land. (No, it wasn't easy, and it still isn't, but IY"H, we're making it.) Thank you for my husband, children and grandchildren who love the Land and dedicate themselves to Your commandments, and the future of the Jewish People on the Land, just as You promised.
Thank You for the loving friends You have helped us make over the past 18 years, and the incredible things You have helped us accomplish.
Thank You for our dear family that came here before us - my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my brother and their families - and please influence the rest of my family - my dearest mother ad 120, my wonderful sister and brother-in-law, and my darling niece - and the rest of my brethren in the Exile to come join us.
Mother Rachel is still waiting for the rest of her children to return to their borders, and so am I.
Thank you, G-d, 18 Years! Le'Chaim.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Circle Mania

The newest fad in Israel? No, it's not pantaloons under skirts or layers and layers of t-shirts or i-pods, i-boxes or any of those things. They're over.
The latest fad in Israel is the TRAFFIC CIRCLE.
Drive anywhere, anywhere in the country just-about. You can't go
a mile without hitting at least one, if not more traffic circles.
In my town, there are
five already with
another two currently under construction (see photo left). Their practical need is much debated here, as it is throughout the world. Europe's roundabouts and the US's East Coast rotaries could leave some motorists shaking.
However, traffic circles are being constructed everywhere in hopes of creating safer driving conditions. Firstly, traffic circles keep all traffic flowing in the same direction. Next, everyone is supposed to slow down. Thirdly, they eliminate the possibility of head-on and right-angle crashes.
Calmer Traffic
Yes, traffic circles work when people slow down. They're called "traffic calming" mechanisms, but they only calm traffic when people take it easy. Drivers entering a circle are supposed to go 10% slower inside the circle. If folks do slow down, then a traffic circle makes it easier for other cars to turn left, for pedestrians to cross the street and for bikers to ride safely along. But if people speed thro
ugh, or they do not give the car in the circle the right of way, circles can be traffic hazards.
Down Jerusalem's Gilo Hill toward the Malcha Mall, there are two traffic circles that are plagued with accidents. There are two reasons: drivers do not slow down and drivers do not follow the circle (they try to go straight through the circle instead).

Function and Fashion
Traffic circles are small, like the one in Efrat's Rimon-Gefen intersection, or they're giant like at the Gush Etzion Junction (pictured at left - it's so big, you probably think it's a round city block, not a traffic circle). My kids say the GE Junction circle is large enough to build a house on (if there wasn't a freeze). Most traffic circles in Israel have olive trees in the middle of them. My kids (who seem to know everything) say that the trees in traffic circles were uprooted by the government when as they were building the Separation Wall. (If we can believe in conspiracy theories, some folks say, the traffic circles began when the Wall began, because the government was looking for places to dump all those uprooted trees.)
There's another giant traffic circle that I know, but that one is just beautiful - the main Bet El circle. It's so large, and landscaped so lushly that it looks like a little tropical island.
Some traffic circles are just lovely, with real modern touches, like the one with the golden pomegranate on Pierre Koenig in Talpiot, or the circle near Achim Israel Mall that has a marble fountain sculpture in the middle.
There are memorial circles, like Efrat's Teina-Gefen circle (at left) that was named in memory of past Efrat Mayor Eitan Golan, o'h. Eitan was dedicated to the growth of Efrat, and worked especially for the development of the Tamar Hill.
The main traffic circle in Neve Daniel (at left) with fake grass and giant metal flowers is also a memorial circle.
According to Neve Daniel resident Naftali Armon, the traffic circle was named after Neve Daniel Mazkir (administrator) Eli Steinberg, o'h. ND's Harvey Poch filled in the rest of the info. "Eli Steinberg a"h, the first mazkir of the town, died on 8 Tishrei two years ago, while still in office. He had been mazkir for 16 or 17 years, and saw the town through several growth spurts. He lived and breathed Neve Daniel and, thoughhe lived in Elazar, his funeral began in front of the Mazkirut building in Neve Daniel. Yehei zichro baruch."
Well, if we've got to have them, it's obviously nicer to have a beautiful traffic circle, and even more, one that was named after people who looked to our welfare, because that's what a traffic circle is all about. But no matter what they look like, the purpose is the same - to calm traffic and save lives.
So, let's try to take it easy around all these traffic circles, drive safely and always go in a positive direction.

Searching for Charity

It's not hard to find places that need our charity dollars/shekels/yen. So I guess we don't have search too much.
However, would you believe that by searching on the internet (which we all do every day) you can raise charity dollars for the many worthy projects of Gush Etzion, through the Gush Etzion Foundation!
It's a tough competitive world out there when it comes to raising funds for charity. So, over the past 12 years, Shani Abrams Simkowitz, director of the Gush Etzion Foundation has worked to discover new ways, and especially by trying to utilize the new technologies in order to raise more money for Gush Etzion's schools, parks, synagogue and special projects.
Shani has a very active Gush Etzion Foundation website, explaining all the newest projects in the region, plus its history, the news in each of the Gush's towns and fun events, happenings and tiyulim (trips) in Gush Etzion on the upcoming Succot holiday. http://www.gush-etzion.org.il/
She created a Gush Etzion Foundation regular internet mailing that keeps worldwide supporters current with all the latest projects and achievements in GE.
She's also in constant email and Facebook contact with potential donors and long-time friends and supporters.
Hi-Tech Charity
And now Shani's got two new projects that out-techie all the rest.
** Beginning Sunday and running for the next month, you can donate 10 NIS to the Gush Etzion Foundation at any moment that the spirit moves you. It's an easy as a text message. If you send an SMS to 2255 with the number 10, you can donate an easy 10 NIS to the GEF. The monies raised from the SMS campaign will go to help Gush Etzion's needy for the expensive High Holy Day season.
You just text your 10 NIS donation. The SMS will cost nothing, and the 10 NIS charity donation will appear on your monthly phone bill. Pelephone, Orange and Celcom are supporting this project, and making it possible. It's also being sponsored by local merchants like Neve Daniel's Shifon Bakery. In addition, the Chevra LePituach (Gush Etzion Development Company) is donating the advertising space on its buses for the campaign.
Of course, the 10 NIS donation is not in place of your usual charity donation to the GEF or any other tzedakah, but it's an easy and fun way to make a difference with the touch of a keypad.
To make a larger donation, click on the GEF website: http://www.gush-etzion.org.il/
** Next, by simply installing a Gush Etzion toolbar onto your computer, the GEF will earn money every time you search Yahoo, Google and Bing. All the small sums that these companies donate for each search can add up to substantial amounts of money for GEF projects.
  • For English speakers, click here: http://gushetzionusa.good-click.com/JoinUs.aspx
  • For Hebrew speakers, click here: http://gushetzion.wesearch.co.il/JoinUs.aspx
    The Gush Etzion toolbar doesn't only perform searches, it has all the info you'd like to have right on the top of your computer screen, without having to really look. You can access your email, facebook or other social media right from the toolbar. You are only a button away from every map in the world. You've got a button that goes directly to GE Tourism. You can load up your favorite radio stations to play right from the bar. And best of all :), you can access ynet, Jpost or Voices-Magazine.com right from the Toolbar. Whenever you want to see the latest videos or stories, you can just click on Voices from the GEF tool bar. You can even make a donation to the foundation right from the bar.
It's all very cool, and very tomorrow. But you can use it today to help build a better future for the residents and institutions of Gush Etzion.
So, click away.
For more information, gushezif@inter.net.il .

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Harvest Time in Gush Etzion

After our Raise Your Spirits guest performance for Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat on Tuesday (http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/08/minister-of-culture-sport-limor-livnat.html), my husband treated my daughter (our photographer) and myself to lunch at the Gush Etzion Winery. The place was packed. It usually is. (In fact, totally by chance, our director Toby Klein Greenwald and production manager Eudice Spitz were there too - decompressing.)
And there was added excitement. The trucks overflowing with grapes had just arrived and were being emptied into larger containers before they entered the wine production chain.
The Winery's co-owner Tamar Rosenberg took us on a tour of the harvested grapes. They were gorgeous Merlot grapes that were headed to two different wineries - our own Gush Etzion winery and one further north, the Tishbi Winery of Zichron Yaakov - for their reserves. (Amitz of Kibbutz Migdal Oz was running the truck. He poured thousands of bunches of grapes into the special transport container. They formed "purple mountains majesty" across the top of the red container.)
Isn't that terrific - the Tishbi Winery will be producing a wine with the delicious essence of Gush Etzion inside. That's a very unifying thought!!!
Of course, the Gush Etzion Winery, headed by Shraga Rosenberg, will also be using these grapes for their own production of Merlot wine.
Tamar invited us to taste the grapes. Yummy, juice, sweet, almost alive.
She explained that while the wine production would begin momentarily, it would be at least 20 months before these grapes became bottled wine - ready for the customer to take home.

Blessed Grapes
The dark purple grapes (such a deep and rich blue, they look like blueberries) were from Shraga's fields at Emek Bracha, between the Gush Etzion Junction and the Gush Etzion Army Base. These fields are actually the winery's experimental fields. At Emek Bracha, the grape vines are planted further apart, receive more air and sunlight, but less water than other fields. These fields themselves have a special bracha (blessing) that we read about in the book of Chronicles II (20:26). The Jewish King Jehosaphat and his soldiers blessed G-d for the miracle He had done for them when He destroyed their enemies. "...they gathered at Emek HaBracha for they blessed Hashem there..."
These lucious grapes are used for the GE Winery's high-end wines Emek Bracha, as well as its Nachal HaPirim line.
Wine production as about to begin, and as dedicated I am to my readers and viewers, I couldn't stay to watch the rest, because my lunch was ready - salmon salad with fresh greens and mango. (The salmon was singed in teriyaki sauce. Unbelievable! Plus whole wheat bread and garlic butter. Still warm. Yum.)
I did make a video of the beginning of production. IY"H, as soon as I complete this Rosh Hashana issue of Voices, I'll add it to this blog. But meanwhile, you can see the wine production yourself if you pop over to the Gush Etzion Winery at the Gush Etzion Junction.
Moreover, if you'd like to place some of the finest wines in Israel on your Rosh Hashana table, or that of your host, you must stop over at the Gush Etzion Winery and pick out some of their home-grown award-winning wines.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Minister of Culture & Sport Limor Livnat in Efrat

I've seen lots of Knesset Members and Ministers visit Efrat and Gush Etzion. They take "The 5 Star Tour". Their photos are snapped from every angle. They make great statements and give us lots of pride in our towns. They're pleasant and supportive and return to Jerusalem.
I'm not sure how many MKs and Ministers fly into our local councils and pull up their sleeves to do real work, but yesterday's meeting in Efrat of Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture and Sport, was the first time I'd ever seen a top Minister in action.
Truthfully (for those of us who work on community projects) ... it was a thrill.

Preparation Makes a Difference
It was clear from the first moment that Minister Livnat had done her homework and was very well informed about every project to be presented. Any questions she had were answered immediately by one of her aides (at left). Immediately!
If all the other ministries in the government were as on-the-ball as Minister Livnat's we'd be in good shape.

Let's Talk Culture
The Minister visited Efrat to observe the local cultural and sport activities and projects, and to see how her office could help them grow and develop. Minister Livnat began by viewing the areas in Efrat that are affected negatively by the building freeze. Then she visited the Aseh Chayil School Cheder Tanach and the local library, among other stops.
Her working meeting at the Efrat Matnas (Community Center) began with an introduction of everyone sitting around the large table, including Minister Livnat's staff members, who are the contacts and hands-on-movers of the different projects in question.
Perhaps when these "Star Tours" are underway, we don't think the "Star" can really pick up any information on-site, but when Minister Livnat spoke before a room full of Community Center and Local Council staff members, she summarized her findings in the library very precisely.
Library: While it's a very large and impressive building, the state of the library itself is terrible. She remarked that the amount of activities in the library was indeed impressive, but the books are in a wretched state and the computers are old. The Minister instructed her staff right then to see if more monies could be allocated toward renovation and upgrading.
She suggested that Efrat apply to the Mifal HaPayis to build a second floor onto the existing structure. Minister Livnat also added that the Ministry of Culture would try to give more money, some of which would have to be matched by the Moetza.
Youth Film Festival: The Matnas Director Neta Magen told Minister Livnat about Efrat's Annual Young People's Film Festival, called Kol Noar. http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/03/youth-film-festival-in-efrat.html More than 600 high school students from 130 different schools in 27 cities came to Efrat to present their 150 films for competition. The festival is one way Efrat breaks down barriers between young people. They may have varied backgrounds and lifestyles, but they've got the common interest of filmmaking. Ms. Livnat showed great interest in the Festival, and explained that even though the Ministry of Culture and Sport does not fund projects aimed for youth under 18, she would have her staff investigate a way that she might help.
Choir: The of the Matnas' very unique activities is its choir. Okay, a choir itself is not so unique, but Efrat's choir, which began in order to perform at its 25th anniversary two years ago, has continued and grown. Its members are mainly grandparents. And while it's common in Efrat to have parents and grandparents come to see their kids perform in a Matnas end-of-the-year performance, the choir's end-of-the-year show in the Music Department, brings out children and grandchildren to see Sabba and Savta on stage. Ms. Livnat commented that funding had already been approved for this project, and had her staff immediately find out where the "check was stuck". The answer came in just a few moments, and the Matnas was informed exactly how to complete the necessary procedures to receive the choir's money.
Dash to the Chayalim: While the Matnas didn't ask for anything for its Dash to the Chayalim program (regards to our soldiers), Matnas Director Neta Magen and the program coordinator Ayelet Avrahami told the Minister about this special Efrat project that keeps all post-high school youngsters (Army, Mechina, Yeshiva and Sherut Leumi) connected to the community. This connection, Neta commented, makes our young people know that we care about them. And when they complete their national service, they still feel tied to Efrat. Read more here: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/02/sharing-purim-with-our-children-in.html
Ayelet also mentioned the Soldiers' Bus that leaves the Matnas on Sunday mornings to go to bases in the Negev, past Beersheva. She credited soldier Matanya Greenwald for coming up with the idea for this popular bus.
Raise Your Spirits: Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi kindly introduced the Minister to the Raise Your Spirits Theater Company, called Teatron Romemut in Hebrew, and he gave me the opportunity to give a short explanation of the women's community theater company. (In the photo above, I am wearing my JOSEPH T-Shirt - JOSEPH was our first Raise Your Spirits production nine years ago. To my right is our director Toby Klein Greenwald.)
I founded the Raise Your Spirits company in 2001 when Efrat/Gush Etzion (like the rest of the country) was rocked by terror. RYS was our way to stand up to the Arab terror around us, to overcome the suffering that everyone was feeling, to give ourselves something wonderful to look forward to (a show), and to support one another through a very difficult period.
Besides the psychological support we gave and received, we put on a darn good show. In fact in the past nine years, Raise Your Spirits, http://www.raiseyourspirits.com/, including this year, will have taken the stage in six different products that have been seen thus far by 35,000 women.
Minister Livnat said that the Ministry of Culture would try to help Teatron Romemut through the offices of the Local Council.

Sports Town
Efrat has the incredible statistic of having 1300 people involved in sports and dance through the Matnas. Of course, there are more people that take outside chugim (activities), but that makes it even more incredible.
Although our Matnas building seems very large, there's not much space for all these activities. Five-and-a-half days a week (not Friday afternoon and not Shabbat) every single Matnas room is filled with a sport, dance, art, or music activity. While we have a small addition on the Zayit, there is just not enough room for all the sports and cultural activities demanded of the Matnas.
Efrat requested help building a proper stage and more sports facilities. The Minister agreed that the need was obvious, but once again, she reminded everyone that the Ministry of Culture doesn't build. Her office would try to help in other ways, but actual building was the job of Mifal HaPayis.
Before the meeting was over, Minister Livnat said that she could not end this meeting with out talking about the building free. She said, "That's the issue that's really on top of all of our minds." She said that even though this was not a political meeting, she wanted to state that when the September 26th deadline came for the end of the building freeze, she would not agree that the freeze should continue one more moment than was mandated. Let's hope the other Ministers feel the same.
At the end of the meeting, Efrat's Council Head Oded Revivi presented Minister Livnat with a framed Megillat Ruth, the Biblical story that took place right here in and near Efrat.

A Private Performance
When the meeting concluded, all the men present were invited to leave, while Minister Livnat, her aides, Matnas Director Neta Magen and her staff, and other community Matnas members were treated to a private performance of two excerpts from the upcoming Raise Your Spirits production, Judge - The Song of Devorah. Judge was written by Toby Klein Greenwald and Yael Valier with music by Mitch Clyman.
Members of RYS (child and adult) took the "stage" in Biblical costumes and sang Tomer Devorah, and then Judge. The cast was thrilled to have performed for the Minister, and an incredible phenomena occurred. The stars shined during the day in Gush Etzion.
Devorah premiers in October.
Efrat thanks Minister Livnat and her staff for their attention and interest. It was a productive, exciting and great day.
All photos by Batia Katz.

The Blessing of Oil

Around 80 million barrels of oil are produced throughout the world every day. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil supplier produces 11 million barrels per day (13.9% of estimated world total). Rounding out the top five - #2. Russia produces 9.9 million barrels per dday (12.5% of the world total), #3. United States produces 8.3 million bpd (10.5%), #4. Iran produces 4.2 million bpd (5.3%) and #5. Mexico produces 3.8 million bpd (4.8%)
Every year, Israel consumes more and more oil, and we rely on foreign markets (mostly Russia) for 99% of our oil.
Granted that Israel did not receive the bessings of oil from our Patriarchs, but even a little oil would be appreciated.
Well, perhaps we've got that little oil now. There's a digging site by the Givat Olam oil firm that has struck oil, and has a possibility, according to Givat Olam, to producing about 380 barrels of oil a day and 90 barrels of gas. Okay, Israel is the world's 35th largest oil user, needing about 279,000 barrels a day, but this news means there are 380 barrels a day less that we need to buy outside our country.
Is there really oil? Will it really help the State of Israel and the Jewish People? I certainly hope so. The owners of Givat Olam are off to a good start.
At the end of their stockholders meeting a few days ago in Jerusalem, Givat Olam announced that it would give "25 percent of the general partnership's profits from the crude to charity.” That's the way a Jewish oil man should act.
When the meeting ended, each of the shareholders were given a bottle of honey and a bottle of crude oil. Both of them, hopefully, will contribute to providing the Jewish people with a sweet and prosperous new year.

Comically Jewish

Did you know that comic books were created by Jews? Yes, they were.
When I attended the 8th Annual Comics Convention in Tel Aviv, http://www.animixfest.co.il/aindex.html, last week with my daughter, we attended a lecture on the Jewish history of comics. Comic books and cartoons began as a Jewish industry. In fact, a very large number of comic artists are Jewish - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jewish_American_cartoonists - including Al Capp, cartoonist (Li'l Abner), Will Elder, cartoonist (MAD Magazine), Al Feldstein, cartoonist (MAD Magazine), Max Fleischer, animator (Popeye, Betty Boop), Friz Freleng, animator (Looney Tunes), William Gaines, comics artist and MAD founder,Al Jaffee, cartoonist (MAD Magazine),
Bob Kane, comics artist (Batman), Gil Kane, comics artist (Green Lantern), Jack Kirby, comics artist (Captain America, Hulk), Stan Lee, comics writer (co-creator of Spider-Man, creator of X-Men, The Hulk, Fantastic Four), Joe Shuster, comics artist (Superman), Jerome Siegel, comics artist (Superman), Joe Simon, comics artist (Captain America), Art Spiegelman, comics writer (Maus) and more more more.

A Jewish Trade
The comic book industry started, according to our lecturer, because newspapers in America, which rain daily strips, did not want to hire Jewish artists. Well, if they couldn't work for someone else, they'd work for themselves.
Thus was born the first comic book, All-American Publications, began by second generation Jewish Polish immigrants. All-American began with Wonderwoman, Flash and members of the All-American Justice League. (DC later bought All-American.)
DC hired the comic artists who couldn't get jobs in the regular "strips", because they were Jewish.
Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel of Superman fame, actually began their comic book careers with Dr. Occult, a guy who looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart, but who dealt in the realm of demons and the unknown. Actually it was a very known world for these two former yeshiva boys. It was the world of the kabbalah.
When S&S wanted to pitch Superman, they went to the Jewish head of DC Comics, who gave them a chance. (I actually wanted to buy a compilation of the first five issues of Superman comics from 1938, but it cost 75 NIS - 75 NIS, can you believe it!!) In 1938, as the Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, yemach shmo, was bringing the entire German army under his command, wouldn't it have been nice to have a super hero who could destroy him? Shuster and Siegel thought so.
Another Jewish company, Timely Comics became Marvel Comics. And did you know that the first cover of Marvel Comics #1 had Captain America beating the tar out of Hitler?
Superman's Jewish Roots
It's interesting that Superman (who except for Micky Mouse) is the most recognizable American hero. And yet, he began with Biblical boots (see photo above), like the real hero upon whom he was based - mighty Samson the Judge. Like Samson, Superman was superstrong, He was impervious to bullets, but that's about it. He didn't fly then or have x-ray vision. He was a super super Samson. And like the Jews of the enlightenment, he was a Jew at home and a mentsch outside, meaning, in his own space, he was Superman, and outside, he was Clark Kent.
Also, lehavdil, just as Moses was found in a little ark by a foreign person, who would become his parent, so was Superman.
In 1956, as the survivors of the Holocaust were still finding their way to America to establish their new lives, another survivor was sent to America to be cared for by her American relatives - Supergirl.
Our lecturer went as far as saying that the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which was a city in a bottle, that Kryptonians like Superman or Supergirl could visit when they wished, was like Israel today.

Super Jews
We learned that there are actually super heroes who are Jewish: Magneto (a survivor of teh Shoah Holocaust - he actually lived near Haifa), the Shadow Cat of Xmen (his grandfather was in Auschwitz), The Thing of the Fantastic Four, Iceman and Green Lantern (who are half Jewish), and Sabra (a Marvel Mutant who is supposed to be like a Jewish Angolina Jolie).
That was the beginning of the comic industry. It included Jewish values and hopes for a better world. Unfortunately, the comic book industry has become very big business. Creators and writers have changed over the years, and more unfortunately, the industry has traded in its small town (or perhaps Smallville) wholesome attitudes for the glitz, skin and violence of the rest of the media world.

Speaking Co-Existence

Most Israelis know that the Arabic word for "peace" is Salaam. Do Arabs know the Israeli word is Shalom?

When the new school year begins this year, 170 schools in Israel will begin teaching their fifth and sixth graders Arabic. I'm all for learning Arabic. In fact, one of Efrat's residents set up an Arabic course for adults this summer that was very well attended, and she intends to set up another one in the fall. (If you're interested and can travel to Gush Etzion, contact pearlclaspco@gmail.com. That was a public service announcement. :))
This decision should be applauded by all. Israelis should indeed know what the other half is saying in the streets, on their mosque loudspeakers, in the media and to their people.
The Jpost reported that "Dr. Shlomo Alon, supervisor of Arabic studies in the Education Ministry, explained that the reasoning behind the decision was rooted in the ministry’s understanding that knowledge of the Arabic language was vital for people who wished to live in the region in coexistence with Arab neighbors."
Coexistence! Something for which Israelis yearn. [Actually did you notice that we used to say "peaceful co-existence" and now we just say "coexistence".]
As Israel enters direct talks, coexistence what's on the mind of Israeli negotiators. "Let's just find a way to get along."
The Ministry of Education believes that having children speak Arabic will be step in the right direction.
Well, what does the Palestinian Authority believe? Is speaking Hebrew one of the priorities of the PA Education Ministry? Are children in Gaza, Judea and Samaria taught Hebrew to prepare them for co-existence? This is a question I have posed to Itamar Marcus, director of the Palestinian Media Watch - http://www.palwatch.org/. Experts in understanding the Palestinian Authority, through its media and its textbooks, Itamar will be able to tell us if the Arabs in PA territory are also spending millions of dollars to prepare their children for co-existence.
Meanwhile, yesterday the PA again renewed its threats about Arabs shopping in the Rami Levi supermarkets. Israel National News, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/, reported that the PA says that "purchasing anything from Rami Levi or any other Israeli business was against PA law, and a violation of the Authority's official business boycott of Israel."
For those hungry for co-existence, http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/05/hungry-for-co-existence.html, shopping together, passing the yogurts and comparing nectarines is a good first step. But this is a step the PA rejects. So, who knows what will be with Hebrew in its schools?
Speaking the Same Language
When we're wondering if we can find agreement on an issue with another person, we use the figurative expression, "Are we speaking the same language??" Israel has taken the figurative and turned it literal. Will the PA do the same?


PMW answered Voices question immediately. As you see in comments, here is their response, "Hebrew is taught in the schools in East Jerusalem, since they belong to the Israeli education system. In the PA schools in the West Bank and in Gaza, Hebrew is not taught as a subject in the schools. Several courses are offered for adults."
Perhaps Dr. Shlomo Alon, supervisor of Arabic studies in the Israeli Education Ministry, should speak to his PA counterpart, the supervisor of Israeli studies, if it exists, and strongly suggest that in order for them to foster coexistence in their schools as well, they should begin teaching Hebrew too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Don't Have to Speak Hebrew

Remember those ads...You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Rye Bread?

Well, today, you don't have to speak Hebrew to write a speech in the Holy tongue. But then again, some of the results could be kind of funny.
This morning, I had to give a short address in Hebrew before a governmental committee that was held in my town's community center. B"H, I am a very competent speaker, and have spoken on many topics for many different committees and events...in English. I have my audience laughing, crying and whatever else I'm feeling.
But when I have to speak in Hebrew, it's a totally different situation. First of all, unfortunately (after so many years in Israel) my spoken Hebrew still is not that great. Secondly, when I read a speech in Hebrew, I sometimes don't understand it enough to emote in the right places. Thirdly, I don't have the vocabulary that I really need to write a good speech in Hebrew. Actually, I didn't have the vocabulary, but now all that has changed.
My Hebrew speechwriting life has changed. In fact, the mysterious world of Hebrew is now open to me, or kind of.
I have discovered an internet translating program! I wrote my speech in English, went to http://www.stars21.com/translator/hebrew_to_english.html, input my speech, and pressed GO. Ten seconds later, there was my speech translated. It was like magic.
It was also fraught with funny pitfalls. Whenever I wrote capitals for emphasis, it left the English word in caps, and whenever the word was US, it wrote, United States. "PLEASE HELP US" became in Hebrew, "Please help the United States."
The subject of my speech, my theater company, Raise Your Spirits was translated in four different ways throughout the speech, "Tarim Et Ruchecha" (Lift Your Spirits), "Tarim Et HaRuchot" (Lift the Winds/Spirits), "Laarim et HaMorale Shelcha" (Raise Up Your Morale), "Laalot Ruchot Shelcha" (Raise Up Your Spirits).
I wrote, "My director, who is with me today...." The program translated it: My director! "Who is with me today?"
When I wrote that 35,000 women participated in the Raise Your Spirits experience, it was translated into "Women who are partners will lift the experiment of your wind/spirit."
Anyway, B"H, I'm happy that I have real Hebrew speakers in my house that were able to help make my gobbly gook into real conversation.
And I'm happy that there's a program that can give me a kickstart in writing Hebrew, because without this translating program, I'd have to start from scratch, and I'd probably still be scratching today. Still, it seems to me that you'd better have any translations checked, so that you're not caught saying something other than what you really mean.
Shalom. (Actually translated on the program as - Peace, Safety, Tranquility, Comfort, Quiet, Payment, Reward, Requital, interjection, Goodbye, Hullo, Hallo, Bye-bye, Good day, Adieu, Cheerio, So long.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Comics - Not So Comical

Do you remember the days when comics were fun to read? When Superman rescued kittens from trees and Robin was just a dedicated helper for Batman?
What happened to those innocent enjoyable comics?
I love comics. If you follow my blog, you might know that I draw comics (although I'm not very good - but my heart is in it). http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/07/comic-encounters.html
My daughter and I attended the 8th Annual Comics Convention in Tel Aviv, http://www.animixfest.co.il/aindex.html, last week.
We attended several of the lectures, including the talk on You Don't Need Superheroes. Actually, it was pretty sobering.
The superheroes of my youth were role models for young people. They stood with their heads high, because they had values that were meant to make society and the world a better place. We knew when we read a Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, Captain America comic book that the superhero would make sure evil was destroyed and good triumphed.
But that has changed over the years.
Once upon a time, a superhero would meet with the president of the United States and say, "I am at your service, Mr. President. Please tell me how I can help." Our lecturer, Oded, explained that today's anti-superheroes walk into the president's office and say, "Listen, I'll keep things quiet for you, as long as you do this and this and this." Many superheroes aren't squeaky clean anymore.
It seems that all the innocence has been taken out of comics. You won't see Superman helping an old lady or catching some crooks in a local bank anymore. That's not big enough for him anymore. He's grown beyond that. Today Superman is battling Atomic Destruction from another cosmic plane. He's not just reverse flying around the world to go back in time and save a young woman from walking in front of a truck, he's fighting the latest mega-evil with as much devastation and blasts and ruination as possible in his wake. As they say in the newspaper business, "If it bleeds, it leads." I guess they say the same thing in the comic business.
After the convention, I spoke to my nephew, Arye, who is a talented artist, and boy does he know his comics.
We spoke about other trends in comics.
Good-bye to Comic Innocence
I told Arye that I didn't like reading modern-day comic books, because they were all dark and depressing. He explained that comics have followed along with the other trends in our modern world. The heroes and heroines wear skimpier clothing, their language is peppered with curses, and they're involved with more violence than ever.
Arye told me that, like television or film, comics are rated, but that the industry is pushing the limits so much, that there's more violence and more skin than ever.
"Comics don't have to be superb anymore," he said, as long as they've got the skin and the violence that audiences have come to crave (thanks to our perverse media).
That's very upsetting to me. It's bad enough that kids can't watch TV today because of all the adult material on the tube. They can't even pick up a comic book.
Can't we let our children remain innocent children for a little while longer? Can't we produce comics that are comical, that bring a chuckle to a kid or an adult, and do it without perversion or embarrassment.
Arye said that there are still some family comics that are drawn beautifully and that have a script worth reading. He mentioned two specifically, so I'm passing on Arye's recommendations - Lions, Tigers & Bears and the comics of Astounding Studios.

Jewish Comics
The comics I spoke about above, of course, are all comic books from America and Great Britain. I'm only now become more familiar with comic books made here in Israel. I'm happy to tell you that there are books with comics from Israel that are entertaining, well-drawn, well-scripted and both for general audiences, and even for Jewish audiences. Everyone's heard of Shai Charka and my comics teacher Shlomi Charka, and more. I'll add some names tomorrow. At least, for those of us in Israel, IY"H, I think there's hope.
Lastly, did you know that there is an Israeli Comics Museum in Holon, http://www.cartoon.org.il/ , I can't wait to go!!!

Elul - Preparing Calmly for the Day of Judgment

From Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana, we have seven haftarot (weekly reading of prophets) that deal with consolation of the Jewish People (after the Destruction of the Holy Temple). We hear Isaiah’s words, “Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled…” “Hashem shall comfort Zion. He shall comfort her ruins…” “My kindness shall not be removed from you and My covenant of peace shall not falter…”
Rav Menachem Schrader, rabbi of Congregation Tiferet Avot in Efrat and Director of the Alisa Flatow Learning Program in Nishmat, Jerusalem, comments that some people might feel that perhaps the haftarot should be chastising or that we should be in a tenser mindset before the High Holidays. Rav Schrader added, “We have a custom to recite Psalm 27: “Hashem is my light…” twice a day during the month of Elul. “You’d think it would be about teshuva (repentance), or reminding us about our sins. That’s not what the perek (chapter) is about. The perek speak with tremendous confidence. “G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear… G-d is the strength of my life… Enemies will come, but they’re going to fail.” What does this have to do with Elul?
In the last sentence of this psalm, we are told that if we pray to G-d and don’t get the answer we were hoping for, we should just “strengthen [ourselves]” and “hope to Hashem”.
Rav Schrader explained, “The mindset that we should go into Rosh Hashana is not depressing or one of mourning. We have to calm ourselves.”
“Today we see six million Jews in Israel with midrashot and yeshivot and Torah-learning… We’re going in the right direction. We can relate to these [encouraging] haftarot. But they weren’t only read since the beginning of the State of Israel. They’ve been read throughout our history – at the time of the Hadrianic Persecutions, in the shuls of Bar Kochba when things in Beitar weren’t so successful, in the exile of Babylon, in the times of Torquemada (Spanish Inquisition), during the Crusades, Gezeirot Tach V’Tat (1648-1649 - Chmielnitzki massacres), throughout all the pogroms and during the Holocaust. They were consoling throughout these times, even for those generations that didn’t merit seeing the beginning [of the Redemption] with their own eyes.”
Therefore, Rav Schrader said, we are meant to go into Rosh Hashana, “not with a feeling that everything is lost, but with a feeling that Hashem promised to redeem us, and that Hashem is on our side, and that He wants us to win in the Judgment of the High Holidays. And we should walk in with confidence and a good feeling, because Hashem is with us.”
Have a positive strengthening end of the month of Elul. And may your new year be blessed.
To see VOICES' interview with Rav Menachem Schrader, click here: http://www.voices-magazine.com/index.php?page=inside_page&id=160&which=VTV

Saturday, August 21, 2010

One Week to Sherut Leumi (National Service)

One week from tomorrow (Sunday), most of Bnot/Bnei Sherut (national servicepeople) will be leaving for their national assignments. The young women and men will be working in hospitals, schools, charitable organizations, government offices. You name it, there's a bat sherut (national service girl) working there.
It's going to be a big change for the teenagers (girls, as well as boys) who will be laden with responsibility (some for the first time of their teen lives) and expected to do their job with professionalism and dedication. Many of them received a week or more of intense training at seminars from the National Service organizations to which they belong.
My daughter will be working in an elementary school. She attended sessions on how to motivate your students, what to do if they won't listen, how to answer fresh mouths, etc. But there's nothing like on the job training.
There's also a fantastic brochure, both in Hebrew and in English on preparing for National Service. The brochure is a free service of Bet Shemesh's Givat Sharett Chesed Committee, headed by Lisa Silverberg. To receive your email copy, please contact Susan Barth- simchagemach@gmail.com .

On Thursday while visiting the Efrat Community Center, I had the opportunity to speak with Ayelet Avrahami, who among many other responsibilities, is the coordinator of Efrat's connections with its post-high school youth.
She shared some Sherut Leumi advice that perhaps isn't included in Bet Shemesh's terrific guide.
Ayelet said that the first action of the girls sharing an apartment in Sherut Leumi is the most important. Have a meeting. Sit down and discuss different rules and responsibilities that will govern your year together.
** Will you share food expenses?
** Will each person buy her own food and keep it for herself?
** Will everyone prepare dinner together?
** Will you prepare dinner in teams?
** Will you eat dinner together?
** Set up a toranut (schedule) - take turns cleaning the kitchen, the bathroom, the common room
** How late can girls have company?
** How loud can they play their music?
** Does everyone want to chip in for internet? If not, should girls be allowed to use the internet of the person who's paying?
** What is a reasonable time to expect lights out in the apartment?
** When can each person do her laundry?
** How dressed should each person be after the shower?
** Can girls wander around in their pajamas or shorts?
** What level of cleanliness/neatness do they expect in common areas and in their shared rooms?
** What will be the rules for boys/fathers/brothers, etc. visiting the apartment?

Chip in right away for common items. Make a list of the items you need to buy together, household cleaners, tissues, paper towels, soap, toilet paper, etc.

Religious lifestyles
** Bnot/bnei Sherut come from different communities. While most are religious, their levels of observance are surely varied. This is a challenge that can be overcome with understand and mutual respect. Discuss this, especially when it comes to the kitchen, the food being prepared, the way it is cooked and stored, the pots/pans/dishes.
** National service teens were given 18 years of traditions and love of Torah, the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel from their families and teachers. These teens should not be afraid to be true to their Torah commitment, while they are understanding of the differences in other people's observance. Everything they have learned in their parents' home has prepared them to go out into the world to experience new things, use their energies to benefit others and really help the State of Israel and its people, make new friends and grow as committed Jews and great young people.
Good luck to all those who are embarking on the Sherut Leumi adventure. May Hashem bless you and give you success.
There is also a Givat Sharett preparation guide for service in the Israel Defense Forces. It is available as well by contacting Susan Barth- simchagemach@gmail.com .

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hot as Blazes

It was hot as Blazes yesterday. Where on earth is Blazes anyway, and why is it so hot? I actually searched for cities named Blazes tonight, but didn't find any. I thought that perhaps there's a Blazes, Montana, or a Blazes, Arkansas, but...no. Then I figured, there's probably Blazes, France, and they'd pronounce it Blez, but... no again. Maybe I didn't search enough, but you know what...it's hot as blazes, so who can sit over a hot computer in a hot office and contemplate this too much! Wherever Blazes is, I wish they'd invest in a city-wide air conditioning system, perhaps a nice tinted dome to keep that cool air inside, and just give the rest of us a break.
My search did reveal lots of folks named Blazes, including the heroine of some seedy romance novel. Great name for a woman of allure.
Actually, it's been hot as blazes for a few weeks already. They say it's been the hottest summer in 50 years. Shvitzville!! Yesterday (I haven't been out yet today, so can't comment on today's temp), the thermometer climbed above 41 Celsius, and that's just about the limit for us regular folk. No more, you hear.
Last night in this upgegussen heat, with no air conditioning or fans, our overly devoted cast of the upcoming year's musical hit Judge - The Song of Devorah (lyrics by Toby Klein Greenwald and Yael Valier, music by Mitch Clyman) rehearsed for our new Raise Your Spirits production (premiering in October, IY"H - I'll keep you posted). We reviewed clever dance routines by delightful choreographer Sara Orenstein. I kid you not - we danced in 41 degree temperature. We twirled and clapped and counted silently 1-2-3-4 turn, 1-2 turn, as giant beads of water danced themselves all over our brows and chins. In very short time, we were soaked from head to toe. It looked like someone had turned on the sprinklers (which would actually have been refreshing).
No one complained toooooo much, although we wished we had a pool that we could all jump into after rehearsal - with our clothes on!! Everyone did their parts, gave it their all, hoping not to faint, and then dashed whenever possible into the courtyard for an opportunity to catch some night air in between numbers. (Our audiences should only know how dedicated [read: obsessively crazy] our RYS women are.)
Then I spoke to my nephew (fabulous boy - 26 and single) after rehearsal. He has milium (reserve duty) in the Negev. The temperature there makes our weather seem cool. But he didn't complain. He's also doing his duty - serving his country in a place that's hotter than Blazes, wherever Blazes is.
They say that when the Meshiach (Messiah) comes, the sun will be released from its pouch. Then you'll see hot!! Well, perhaps we're heading in that direction. At least the thought makes me feel better about shvitzing without the use of a sauna.

AN UPDATE ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON - It's 44 ºC, that's 111.2 ºF. In Tirat Tzvi up north, it's 50 ºC, 122 ºF. Is it hot enough for ya???
Best wishes to you all over the world. Keep cool.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Most of our children are finished with camp and vacationing around the country with their families. Not so the children of olim chadashim (new immigrants)!
In Efrat and other communities, there is Olim Camp, a special program with bi-lingual counselors and loads of children just like them - olim from all over America. There are activities and tiyulim (trips) and loads of things planned to help the children get to know their new hometown, make friends and learn to appreciate Israel.
I popped by Efrat's Olim Camp and saw backpacked kids on their way out to a little jaunt out in the park near Efrat's Community Center. They were gathering together in the hallway, and instead of just standing there, they were chanting those camp songs that most of us know from our old American camp days. Then later, I popped into the gym to see four of our newest residents - from Atlanta, Georgia and Flatbush, New York - engaged in a basketball game of "2 on 2". Three of these youngest live on the Zayit and another lives in Gefen. I asked them how they like Efrat. The eldest said, "We're doing great. We are living in a very special place. (Our Biblical Patriarch) Abraham lived here." That was a terrific answer, and it made me realize that indeed this young chap knew just what he was doing when he made Aliyah.
Another one of the youngsters was the grandson of one of our town's family doctors, Dr. Efraim Ben Zev, and he said that he even knows a little Hebrew. Lucky kid, he's ahead of the game.
The boys told me that because they're going to spend the next six months learning Hebrew, they won't have to do homework. What a deal!! They were very excited.
When I visited with a group of younger children and asked them how they were faring, most of them said, "Fine," and sounded happy. One little girl said, "Very bad. I don't know anyone here and I want to go home to my friends." I almost started crying, but one of the Olim Camp counselors told me that there's still another week of camp, and that because there are seven children in every age group, they will make friends that they can play with past camp, when school starts.
Good luck to all the Olim Campers. You're going to love it here. Israel is absolutely the most fabulous country in the world when you get to know it. May you make many friends and do well in school. We need you and we're glad you're here.
Here's a short short clip of Olim Camp, as the kids were on their way out the door:

Homegrown Talent

Efrat/Gush Etzion, you probably know, is the regional home of two of the most talented groups of women in Israel - the Raise Your Spirits theater company and DAMES of the DANCE. I am honored to have founded both groups. The women in both RYS and DAMES dedicate their time, as well as their hearts and souls for their audiences and whatever charity they benefit at the time.
What's exciting in Efrat/Gush Etzion is when a new generation of performing women comes to the fore.
I was witness to that recently when I was invited to see a show, featuring a talented young woman who was raised in Gush Etzion (Tekoa to be exact) - Sima Goren. I had the opportunity to include my story about Sima and the theater company in which she performs. Here it is:

Mikro Theater Presents Maxi Entertainment
A new theater audience - teen-agers, students, soldiers, new immigrants and native born Israelis together - have become enchanted by a little theater company, Mikro Theater, under the direction of Irena Gorelik, who is also the company’s founder. Originally a playwright and director in Russia, Irena put her experience to work here at first with Russian immigrant youth. Her theater project transformed into the Mikro Theater, a young and dynamic theater company that includes olim and Israelis performing together in the small theater of the Khan in Jerusalem.
Voices attended the Mikro performance of “Shirim M'HaBoydom,” (Songs from the Attic). A touching, energetic, and humorous musical trip down memory lane, Shirim M’HaBoydom presents 50s and 60s Israeli songs as the remedy for the soul’s ills. It stars talented duo Sima Goren and Michael Goroden as the likable doctor and her many patients.
Goroden is a man of many faces, and Goren is multi-talented and charming - the perfect ingenue.
More on Mikro’s repertoire: http://www.mikro.co.il/.