Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt Revolts & Israel in the Lens

I wanted to see how many minutes would pass before the camera lens would be redirected from the Egyptian street to the Israeli street.
There's a transition underway in Egypt, and the leaders of the Western World are having their air time to talk about how they have to make sure the revolution goes in their direction - democracy. The world leaders - American, British, Spanish, German, etc. - want peaceful change for democracy, social justice, etc. How nice.
I don't know if the Arab citizens that are rioting all over the Arab countries are rioting for democracy, or they are rioting to get the old dictators out and put young leaders in. Will the young leaders be democrats or autocrats? I don't know, of course. I just have a gut feeling that Islamic Fundamentalism is on the way just about everywhere.
CNN interviewed a protestor (see CNN - Egyptian protest rages on) who said, "If people are free in Egypt, they'll be free in Palestine. They'll destroy Israel!"
What happened to freedom for better jobs, better health care, better wages, better lives? CNN could have interviewed 100 protestors about the change they want. And they chose the guy who said that Egyptians want to be free so they can destroy Israel. Well, we know that in the end, everything comes down to "Israel".
Now, world leaders really don't know what the future will hold for the Egyptians, the Tunisians or the Syrians. Western leaders are truly not in tune with the Arab world. As much as they hate Israel and align with the Arabs out of that hatred, they don't understand them. Their CNN moments of face-time show that the world leaders are not feeling as confident today as they were at the start of the weekend.
But just about all of them are saying that Egypt's changes will affect Israel drastically. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with Egypt's 1.3 billion dollar US aid package to the country and the military. That's a lot of missiles.

Democratic Egypt? I don't think so.

It's interesting that folks are looking at the situation in Egypt and saying that democracy is on the way for Egypt.
Changes in Tunisia and protests in Syria have an optimistic (read: naive) world pointing at democratic futures of these countries.
The media say the people in these countries want a better education and better employment opportunities. Perhaps the West thinks these Arab nations want the good life of the modern world. And perhaps again, they think this will moderate them.
Why is it that I am skeptical?
Remember when the Shah of Iran was overthrown? Did the Iranians get a better more democratic life? They got the mullahs and now years later Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .
The finale of chaos and coups in Arab countries may well be Islamic Fundamentalism reigning in each country.
We'll Take Care of You
Remember when Hamas began its rise in stature in Gaza? The Arabs of Gaza were suffering under a corrupt PA leadership. Children were hungry, healthcare was bad, families were poverty stricken. Hamas came forward giving children hot lunches, helping families in many social ways. As we remember, eventually the PA was overturned. Democracy didn't come next, but Islamic Fundamentalism did.
Egyptians want a better standard of living. While democracy and a free market economy could indeed help them, chances are the majority of people will opt for an Egypt run by the Moslem Brotherhood.
Jews know we're never supposed to pray for a new king – that goes for a new king in a nearby nation too.
Egypt is one of the most militarily equipped nations in the Middle East. It's a terrifying scenario to think of those weapons in the hand of Islamic Fundamentalists.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

B"H for the Rain!!

Finally, B"H, we're getting some welcome rain. Drip drop drop drop. Pitter patter. Pitter patter. Splash.
It's great. I ran outside this morning and videoed cars driving down the block, because I wanted to hear the sploshhhh of the rain on their tires. I watched the rivulets of rain running down my street.
Hooray hooray hooray. I stood by our kumquat and etrog trees to watch the little drops fall from their leaves.
The sky is full of rain, B"H. Super duper. Unfortunately, we can't make "rain men", but everyone enjoy it anyway.
This afternoon, I watched preschoolers in their adorable rubber boots, stamping their feet in the puddles. Their mothers didn't even scold them. I bet they would have stamped too if they had rubber boots with smiley faces on them.
I've gotten a bunch of emails since I first posted this short blog today, and everyone has signed off, "Happy rain!" Isn't that great? Yes, it is happy. B"H for a happy rain.
I've gotten calls from Jerusalem and Bet El that they're experiencing terrific rainfalls. It even rained for a short time in Bet Shemesh.
B"H for the rain and drive carefully, folks. Keep buttoned up. Keep your feet and head dry, and you'll get through the rain both happily and healthily.
We learn in the Torah (Bible) that we are not allowed to covet our neighbor's house or his wife. It didn't say, "Don't covet your neighbor's precipitation." We have been hearing for weeks about the record snowfalls in New York. We've read about the humongous rains and even mudslides in Australia and around the world. I never wanted 20 inches of snow (maybe three) or flooding rains. I just wanted a drop of their precipitation. Maybe now we've got a bit of it.
Thank you, G-d, for the blessed rain. Please keep it coming.
Wanna see the rain: .

This Year in Jerusalem

We just completed our Gush Etzion run of the newest Raise Your Spirits production, JUDGE! The Song of Devora, and we got word that the Jerusalem Municipality would like us to perform in their Jewish Theater Festival in June, IY"H.
We can't wait.
The event coordinator said that the Raise Your Spirits production will be the cherry on the cake for the Festival.
I'll keep you posted, IY"H.

Photo above by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

An End to the Dream Week

Last week was a real treat for me. I was supposed to work on our special ANNIVERSARY ISSUE of VOICES MAGAZINE, but I thought to myself, "After 14 years, you deserve a prize." And my husband/publisher agreed with me. B"H for an understanding husband/boss. Actually, he was probably relieved. Perhaps he thought I'd ask for a fancy vacation or a diamond bracelet. All I really wanted was "the perfect week!" So, I gifted myself with a pretty terrific week!
It was packed with all the best elements - visiting with my grandchildren, touring around Israel, getting nachas from my kids, performing on stage, being in the audience, and then being in a newspaper for something good.
At the beginning of the week, I spent time with my grandchildren, sharing fun and hugs. Then as you know, if you've read my previous blogs, I took a tour of the Dead Sea area with the One Israel Fund. (There are five blogs about it - here's the first )
I drove my daughter one morning to her Sherut Leumi (national service) assignment, where she works in an elementary school. B"H, I was able to see her in action. I watched little kids run up to her with hugs and kisses. I listened as the school's secretary sang her praises, and I got a tour of this very innovative school. More on that in a later blog, IY"H.
My most recent show, JUDGE! The Song of Devora, had its final Gush Etzion performance on Wednesday night. JUDGE! was the sixth production of the Raise Your Spirits Theatre, which I merited to found nine years ago. There were so many people in the audience, they were literally hanging from the rafters. Everyone who had always wanted to get tickets, but never found the time, crammed into the theater for the last show.
They came from all over the country, and boy, did we give them a show!!?!! Wow, we were B"H in top form, and everyone have especially good fun on stage. (I took my camera on stage under my costume at the finale and even photographed some bows - above - and our audience - left.)
Then I took some of my kids (those who were interested) to see Spirit of the Dance, which was an hour and a half of Irish Dance - very exhilarating. I love to be on stage, but I l-o-v-e to be in the audience at a great show. The experience just takes my breath away.
I ended the week (after a productive and great Friday morning dance rehearsal) finding out that the Jerusalem Post had written about JUDGE! The review was positive, B"H, but it didn't even touch the real feeling of the show, or the talent and creativity of those amazing women on stage. The author somehow forgot the fundamentals, like the fact that JUDGE! was written by Toby Klein Greenwald and Yael Valier and composed by Mitch Clyman. But my friends were excited that my favorite JUDGE! photo by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky of was in the paper. So I guess most people don't read newspaper stories anyway.
Then Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), we had a JUDGE! cast party followed by rehearsals for my upcoming show, DAMES of the DANCE 4 - The Promised Land. So, it was a full and fully wonderful week. Next week, it's back to work. VOICES will come out a little later than normal, but its editor will be smiling, thinking of seven days of happiness.
Yes, next week begins VOICES' 15th YEAR!! I can't believe it. But you know what?? That's for another blog. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Qumran - How Tan is My Mountain

I noticed that my previous posts mentioned the colors that stood out in the different spots that I visited this week, so I guess talking about Qumran is talking about tan and tan and tan - the mountains, the caves, the walkways.
Qumran, we know, is the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important archaelogical finds of the 20th century.
The Qumran Caves national park is highly visited, mostly by Christians who are intrigued by its many mikvaot (ritual baths) and the notion that one of their saints, John the Baptist, might have been an Essene (one of the folks who lived a ascetic life in Qumran). According to our terrific tour guide Eve Harow, "For Christians, Qumran is a must-see, and for Jews, it's a 'Well, I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum.'" We were on a tour of the area by the One Israel Fund.
The story of the discovery of the scrolls by Bedouin is well known. In 1947 while pasturing their flocks, Bedouin sheperds came across a cave in which they found large jars standing. Inside the jars, they found pieces of leather, some of which were wrapped in cloth - the first of the scrolls. The scrolls, hidden for nearly 2000 years, were preserved B"H, because of the area's arid climate. They included the Bible, the Apocrypha and some of their own works. French archaeologists began excavating the area, and in 1951 as the Bedouin sifted through the cave, they unearthed 14,000 fragments of scrolls. Archaeologists later uncovered anothe 1,000. Fragments of these scrolls were pieced together to produce 530 different scrolls. Their publication was completed in 2001.
Why were there so many torn pieces? Scholars believe Roman soldiers tore apart the Jewish scrolls - in vengence against the Jews? in hopes of destroying the Jewish people by destroying their holy works? other reasons?
Well, we know where the Roman Legion is today - dust, like the dust of Qumran...and B"H, we know where the Jewish people are - still vital, still creating, B"H and still improving the world.
Ancient Industry in the Desert
You might wonder how the Essenes could survive in such an unhospitable environment. Well, one of the curious places we saw in Qumran was a workroom where the residents worked with date pits.
Eve recalled the verse, "Tzaddik k'tamar yifrach," a righteous person is like a date palm tree. A date palm tree is beneficial in so many ways. "Tall and straight, every part of the palm tree is valuable." You can eat its fruit, use its fronds for roofing, etc.
She reminded us that a few years ago, Ben Gurion University began growing a date pit from 2,000 years ago. The "Methuselah" date palm tree is now growing at Kibbutz Ketura. That, she noted, gives the verse added meaning. Even after 2,000 years, the influence of a tzaddik sprouts again through his words or deeds.

The Perfume of Queens
Another industry of the area was balsam, a legendary bush of the Second Temple period, a prestigious and royal perfume. It's hard for us to believe that a tree could be so powerful, but balsam was such an important industry in ancient times that it is said that Cleopatra and Herod contested the ownership of a balsam grove near Jericho, not far from Qumran. The grove was a gift to her from Mark Antony. Herod leased them back.
Eve said that at one point in time, balsam was the most expensive commodity in the world, and that Herod possibly made his fortune from the sale of balsam. The industry was so important that during the Great Revolt of 70 CE, the balsam trees were uprooted, taken to Rome, and paraded through the streets along with the Menorah, as proof that Judea was indeed captured.
Eve said that when the Jewish people were taken into exile, two groups of people were left behind. In Kings II: 25:12, it says that the chormim and the yogvim were left behind. These are translated as simple people to tend the fields and the vineyards. Eve said she believes they were the people who knew how to grow the balsam and those who could harvest the trunculus snail for purple and blue dye - two industries coveted by the kings of the surrounded countries.
The industry was so secret, so specialized and so special that Israel hasn't been able to recreate it since.
Today, scientists in Ein Gedi are trying to grow what they believe is the balsam and reintroduce it into the Dead Sea area, where it once thrived.
So, in addition to our hopes for the Redemption, or perhaps along with it (hm, interesting thought), we've got two great things to look forward to, IY"H - the growth of a 2,000 year old date palm and the return of the balsam.

Green is My Desert

I visited Kibbutz Almog on Sunday, as part of a tour from the One Israel Fund. Only a half hour from Jerusalem on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, Kibbutz Almog is a green patch in the middle of tan rocky dunes. Established originally as a Nachal base in 1977, Almog became a kibbutz in 1979, and is part of the Megilot Regional Council.
We stopped by Almog for lunch. As we walked into the large empty dining room, I asked the manager where all the people were. She explained that the kibbutz dining room is for guests of its vacation apartments and visitors to its spa. Kibbutz members stopped eating together long ago, she said.
The kibbutz has cute little guest houses (above) that are surrounded by green spaces and loads of trees. An oasis in the desert, it's a good home base location for families exploring the Dead Sea area, Massada and the Jordan Valley. The number of kibbutznikim is small, but they supply all the services you might need for your vacation.
The fields of date trees nearby belong to Kibbutz Almog, and it seems they also have a share in the Ahava Factory.
Almog dates are exported throughout the world, our tour guide Eve Harow told us. "The kibbutz gets Jerusalem's grey water, which is used to water the date trees."
Eve noted that 78% of the water in Israel is recycled. The closest country to Israel is Spain with 18%.
Marc Provisor, One Israel Fund's director in Israel, reminded the visitors that "All the places int eh Jordan Valley forget that the world wants them to give up their land, as well [as Judea and Samaria]."
A peek across the Dead Sea revealed miles of green agricultural land and fertile soil. Why shouldn't it be? Eve explained, "Israel gives 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan, rain or shine." If we had a little of that water, perhaps our desert would be green too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blue as the Sky

This week I visited the Ptil Tekhelet Factory in Kfar Adumim. Amutat Ptil Tekhelet was formed to provide tekhelet (the blue string on tzitzit fringes) to the general public.
Jews were commanded to wear the blue string since the days of Moses. "G-d said to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, that they shall make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of tekhelet...And you shall see it and remember all the commandments of G-d and you shall do them." (Numbers 15:37-39)
Tekhelet was a precious commodity. One of the Amutah members Baruch Sterman said in a movie at the factory, "Everyone in [Biblical days] worse raw wool - beige, brown, grey. So when the Jews wore tekhelet, they stood out. The blues and the purples are what royalty wore."
"When he wore the strings of tekhelet, he looked down and said, 'I'm not a peasant farmer. I'm a prince, a king, a priest."
But the Romans put an end to those thoughts. They issued edicts that only royalty could wear purple or blue. And with the oppression of the Jewish people, and their exile from the Land of Israel and from the sea and the source of tekhelet (thought to be the trunculus snail), the secret to making tekhelet was lost.
In the late 19th century, the Radzyner Rebbe felt that the Messiah couldn't come until the Jewish people reinstituted the tekhelet, and so he tried to restore tekhelet to Am Yisrael, beginning with his own Chassidim.. His followers still wear blue strings on their tzitzit. A few decades later Rabbi Isaac Herzog (later Chief Rabbi of Israel) wrote a doctoral dissertation on tekhelet, and was even in contact with the Radzyner chassidim about their dye. Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger of Jerusalem began researching the tekhelet again while writing a book on tzitzit in 1985.
Today, Ptil Tekhelet makes about 1000 sets of blue-stringed tzitzit every month. That's not an easy feat, considering the fact that it takes 30 snails to make one set of tekhelet.
Joel Guberman, our guide in the factory, said that since all shell fish are protected in Israel's waters, today most snails come from Croatia.
We walked through the factory where the wool is made into spools, and where the threads are dyed blue. Every step of the way, the words, "Be'shaim mitzvot tzitzit" (in the name of the mitzvah of tzitzit), were intoned.
Joel told us that in order to make blue fringes easier for the general Jewish public, Ptil Tekhelet even has a tzitzit tying board with international tyers who are available to tie tzitzit in many areas of the world.
In fact, I met a tyer.
Five Towns teenage tekhelet tyer (you say that five times fast!)Michael Rosenfeld was visiting the factory while we were there. Michael said that he can tie tekhelet in any one of the many shitot (opinions) of our sages. He can be contacted to tie tzitzit at
For tyers in other areas, contact Mois Navon, .
It says in Sifre, Shelakh, "Rabbi Meir said, 'Whoever observes the mitzva of tzitzit, it is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for tekhelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles G-d's Holy Throne."

A Thought - Judaism and Nature

I played hooky from work this week and joined a tiyul (trip) with the One Israel Fund to the Dead Sea area. The tour guide was the talented Eve Harow, former Efrat Councilwoman and current Arutz 7 personality. I actually got a lift to and from the tour bus with Eve, and we had the opportunity to chat along the way. She mentioned something that I had never thought about, and I wanted to share it with you.
"A lot of nature is incorporated in our rituals," Eve said. "Judaism is a very much an agricultural religion in the Land of Israel, and our holidays are filled with appreciation of what nature gave to our people."
Pesach is the holiday of barley harvest. Shavuot, the holiday of the wheat harvest. Sukkot was called Chag Ha'Isuf (Holiday of the ingathering). [If I got any of this wrong, it was my mistake, not Eve's.]
On Sukkot, during the time of the Holy Temple, the four water-loving species that grow so beautifully in Israel - the palm tree's lulav, the willow, the myrtle and the citron (etrog) - were waved in a ceremony in Bet HaMikdash. Today, we march around the synagogue with these species to remember the Temple's ceremony.

Remember all those old European stories about communities that could only afford one etrog among the entire congregation? Well, there are no such problems in Israel. The orchards were filled with etrogim. We even have three etrog trees in front of our home. And what about the shtetl rabbis who wondered, "How big is a kezayit?" Well, it's the size of an olive from Eretz Yisrael, and Israel is blessed with an abundance of olives and olive trees. European rabbis of the Middle Ages and even the 18th and 19th centuries might never have seen an Israeli olive. Eve said, "We look out the window and see olive trees in fields everywhere!"
Eve said that she heard that the menorah of the Holy Temple was fashioned after a sage bush. I went into the Neot Kedumim site and found this, "Sage grows in the shape of the Menorah that was a central part of Jewish ritual from the time we wandered in the Sinai with the Tabernacle, and throughout the period of both Temples in Jerusalem. Why was sage chosen as a symbol of light and fragrance? At noon when the sun is at its zenith, the strong sunlight causes the wild sage to release a heady scent. From the time of Abraham to the time of Solomon, Mount Moriah in Jerusalem was covered with this plant, and the bright light of mid day was awash in its perfume. As people who spent most of their time out doors, the connection between light and fragrance was obvious and natural to our Jewish ancestors."
Those of us who live in Israel are lucky enough to see and understand the connection between nature and Jewish life.
If any of our readers know more such connections, please send them to us through out comments.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exploring Israel - Good Samaritan Inn

I had an incredible day of touring Israel today from Jerusalem, east to the area around the Dead Sea. My fabulous tour guide on the trip, organized by the One Israel Fund, was fellow Efratian Eve Harow, a former Local Councilwoman and a current Arutz 7 radio personality. The first step on the trip was the Inn of the Shomroni Hatov (Good Samaritan), the only mosaic museum in Israel. The site is located on the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The 26 kilometer road linking Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley dates back to the First Temple period, and was known as the Aravah route.
The inn got its name from a negative parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped save a traveler who had supposedly been ignored by a Kohen and a Levi, after he was attacked by a band of robbers. Eve noted that this was a difficult road to climb eight to ten months out of the year, and most likely, travelers wouldn't choose willingly to come through these hills.
But she added that in reality the Samaritans weren't good at all. She said, they killed people who came through their area. "A man who traveled through an area in Samaria had to give his wife a get (divorce) [because it was so dangerous, he might be killed]."
The Samaritan roadside inn was a Chan, built on the walls of a former Crusader fortress.
Eve Harow said that the Shomroni Hatov museum was one of only three mosaic museums in the world. The museum holds mosaics from synagogues, churches and Samaritan synagogues – all from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The visit to the museum begins with a mosaic from a synagogue in Gaza (it is undated). There are pictures of animals, and curiously, a picture of a giraffe.
As we examined the different mosaics, we learned that the symbols that designated the world's religions changed through the centuries. Originally the symbol for Judaism was a menorah, not a magen david. The symbol of Christianity was a fish before it was a cross.
All the mosaics in the museum were originals, except for three: the replica of the floor of the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, a mosaic inscription from Shiloh (pictured at left) and a mosaic of King David from Gaza. The first is still in the synagogue in Jericho, the next is in the Israel Museum, and unfortunately Gaza's King David mosaic is most probably no longer existing.
We saw Jewish mosaics with images of the Holy Temple, menorahs, and horns. Eve said, "When you see Jewish symbols on mosaics, you see the yearning for the Temple."
The museum's collection included mosaics from all faiths and all areas of Israel. It was worth the trip just to see the replica of the David mosaic from Gaza. I had learned about it many years ago.
The mosaic of King David (left) playing the harp was located at one time in Gaza City. Its fate is unknown today, although it was still existing in 1967. Given the Arab record of destroying evidence of Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, I don't have high hopes for the King David mosaic. I had seen it only in photos. Even though it is a replica, it is still striking. It is very infuriating to know that beautiful ancient synagogues existed in Gaza and had been destroyed. I guess that was only a foreshadowing of the 2005 destruction of Gush Katif's synagogues.
The other spectacular replica was that of the floor of the Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue in the ancient shul in Jericho. The 10 by 13 meter mosaic floor bore an image of an Aron HaKodesh (holy ark), a menorah, a shofar and lulav. It is inscribed, "Shalom Al Yisrael", "Peace Upon Israel". Eve told us that the floor was rediscovered during the Six Day War when an exhausted soldier that fought the battle of Jericho rested in the empty building and spilled some of his water. Up through the floor popped the words, "Shalom Al Yisrael" from the cleaned mosaic.
Supposedly Jews are allowed in to Jericho at certain times. Perhaps I'll get to see the mosaic in real life.
Meanwhile, the Shomroni Hatov Museum is a good stop if you're on your way to the Dead Sea. There are mosaics from several shuls, and there's also an interesting look into the Samaritan "synagogues". I would have liked to see more Jewish mosaics. There definitely was plenty of room to stretch them out there. Unfortunately, so many mosaics have been found in excavations here, they are probably in store rooms in museums all over Israel. I know I would be fascinated to see them. Wouldn't you?
For the non-Jewish visitor, there are many Christian mosaics to view. So, I guess you can say...Shomroni HaTov Museum...something for everyone.

Zumbathon Funathon

My Saturday nights are pretty busy lately - filled with weekly rehearsals for DAMES of the DANCE 4 - The Promised Land. Cheryl Mandel's 60s style dance group (photo left of last year's Animals' Number) gets together for the most fun evening of the week in what is known as the Saturday Night Dancers.
Well, we danced the night away (our number for the next show is going B"H great!!), and then instead of standing around chatting, we all took off like a shot, and raced over to the Matnas Efrat for a Zumbathon. Zumba is an aerobic dancercize using African and assorted music. I've Zumba-ed before. I found it great shvitzy fun.
I couldn't wait to try it again.
I was so excited to see the gym floor filled with women who love to dance, and the smiles were so wide, you could see that everyone was having a fabulous time.
Thanks to the Matnas of Efrat, especially Tehilla Makover, for organizing the evening, as well as Zumba teacher Penina Sand who was so bubbly and energetic, you couldn't help but jump along with her. And thank you to the other teachers and women who helped make this evening such a success. Oh whatta funtastic night!

Tu B'Shevat - NETZER - Love of the Land

More than 300 lovers of the land from all over the country joined together on the hills of Netzer in Gush Etzion between Alon Shvut and Elazar (left) and Efrat to plant trees for Tu B'Shevat and dedicate new benches that were installed all over the hill for folks to enjoy on hikes and tiyulim.
A new orchard was dedicated in honor of Jonathan Pollard, who has been languishing in American prison for 25 years on charges of spying for Israel. Everyone present expressed their hopes that Jonathan would one day visit the orchard and plant one of his own trees there.
Organized by Women for Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green) and the Yibaneh Fund, the planting was specifically significant because of the on-going struggle in Netzer over State Land - between Arabs, who are planting illegally with the help of unlimited funds of anti-Semitic organizations, the European Union, Oxfam and even Saudi Arabia; and dedicated Jews who are trying to safeguard those lands.
There were even confrontations at the start of the planting with Arabs who threatened to uproot the new saplings.
"The Jewish residents of the Land of Israel have to safeguard their own land," Nadia Matar, co-director with Yehudit Katsover (left) of Women in Green said. "Thank G-d, with the help of Am Yisrael, who gave donations, and farmers from the Galil, as well as volunteers, we have been planting on these Jewish lands to try to stop Arab encroachment," she said.
On Tu B'Shevat, they returned again with hundreds of people to redeem a few more dunams of land. They planted olive trees, pomegranate trees, fig trees, vines. As she faced Alon Shvut, with Elazar over her left shoulder, Efrat over her right, Nadia declared the reason for the planting, "The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. No one will take it away from us. Everyone here saw the incredible enthusiasm and the love of the land. Am Yisrael chai. Am Yisrael loves this land. And Am Yisrael will keep this land forever for future generations."

Photos above by Sharon Katz.
Additional photos at link by Gemma Blech:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tu B'Shevat - Just Love That Land 3

Tu B'Shevat for Kids!! If you read my previous posts, you'll see that I had a splendid Tu B'Shevat, B"H. We had a Tu B'Shevat Seder, we planted, and we had a children's celebration.
The Tiferet Avot synagogue in my neighborhood hosted the neighborhood kids in a children's Seder, led by Rabbi David Marcus.
Rabbi Marcus enthralled the children with his tales of the first Chief Rabbi, HaRav Avraham Yitzchok Hakohen Kook; the myserious 2000 year old date that is currently being raised in the Negev; as well as the adventure of the date trees that were brought to Israel in 1948 to agriculturally repopulate the Land of Israel.
The kids had an amazing time. They love Rabbi Marcus, and they all participated in the Seder - asking and answering all sorts of questions.
There was a surprise visit by Dr. Ari Greenspan, who grows giant Yemenite Etrogim. Dr. Greenspan cut open the etrog for all to share. It tasted like an apple.
After the seder, Marcy Marcus made a skewer of Tu B'Shevat fruit with the children. They munched right out the door with their treats.
Thanks to Rav Marcus, Becky and Moti Avner, Marcy Marcus and anyone else who worked so hard to make this kids' Seder such a success.

Tu B'Shevat - Just Love That Land 2

We packed up our lasagna and headed east today - to Eastern Gush Etzion. In a small town overlooking the Judean Desert, we planted three trees - two black cherries and one almond. The land was soft and waiting to be planted. I regretted with the first whack at the earth, that I hadn't bought another two trees. The area we picked beside my children's home was a perfect spot for a future garden. And the ground seemed to be pleading for more trees whose roots would dig deep into the soil.
My sons dug holes, planted the saplings and covered them over with compost, plus lots of water. My grandchildren covered the trees' bases with soil that they held in their hands. They looked amazed at the earth between their fingers. It wasn't "dirt". It was a piece of the Land of Israel. The little tykes surrounded their trees with stones, so anyone who'd come by would take care not to trample on the little trees.
Before he began to dig, my son the rabbi told my grandchildren, "We're planting trees today for Tu B'Shevat. We love the Land. We're connected to the Land. You'll see them in a few years. These trees will be very big and give many fruits."
I fast forwarded in my imagination to a time a few years hence, IY"H, (just as my son had said) when we'd all sit beneath these trees, enjoying a picnic and noshing on the plump and delicious black cherries above us.
As the trees drank their first sips of water in the new garden, everyone smiled, almost in unison. We all felt more connected than ever to our Land and our past on this Land. My husband said, "May these trees and these towns grow and flourish." Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tu B'Shevat - Just Love That Land!

I woke up this morning with a surge of excitement - yay, Tu B'Shevat!!
Actually the electric feeling began last night at our Tu B'Shevat Seder. Every year, dear friends come for a Seder with our family in honor of The Birthday of the Trees. We talk about trees and man's relationship to them, but mostly we talk about a Jew's relationship to the Land. We pray that the Jewish people will be planted into the Land with deep and growing roots.

We use a different "hagadda" each year. Each has a different slant to the holiday and a different nusach (wording). I guess we haven't found the one we really love best.
The Tu B'Shevat Hagadda isn't like the Passover Hagadda, which has an exact wording that has been handed down from generation to generation. It's made from a combination of sections from the Bible that talk about the seven species of the Land of Israel - "A land of wheat, and barley, grape; fig trees and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and date-honey." (Deuteronomy 8:8) - as well as stories from the Mishna, Gemara and rabbis throughout the ages.
We learn about each of the distinct species of the Land, and then we pass around the representative food. For wheat, we've got pizza or lasagna. Barley is always barley soup - yum! The others are the fruits themselves, plus we've got lots of nuts and dried fruits too.
We munch and chat about the holiday, but our very presence at a Seder together is what Tu B'Shevat is all about. We're together in the Land of Israel, the Promised Land, and we're talking about those seven species that are particular to this Land.
When we think "wheat", we remember that Isaac planted wheat and "reaped a hundredfold." We imagine Joseph's prophecy in which his brother's sheaves of wheat bowed down to his. "Barley" takes us back to the days of Ruth and Naomi. We can see Ruth modestly going out to the barley fields for the harvest.
"Grapes", the source of wine for the Holy Temple.
"Figs," an allusion to Torah study - the more you seek, the more you find.
"Pomegranate" represents the 613 commandments, a parallel to the 613 seeds in the fruit.
"Oil" from olives - the source of the oil to light the menorah in the Holy Temple. A reminder that the Jewish people are charged with being a light unto the nations.
"Date-honey" from the same palm trees the prophet Devora sat beneath.
Every year we try to be a little more creative with the fruits and nuts, and a little more detailed in their relationship to the holiday and to us. Every year, B"H, we complete the Seder really feeling that we have strengthened our relationship to the Land, and increased our appreciation to G-d for planting us in this blessed Land.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Destruction & Construction - TEKOA DALED

Although the Civil Administration destroyed their stone home in Tekoa Daled last month, Maayan and Yigal Carlebach are rebuilding and are determined to live in their new home soon, IY"H.
Last month security forces surrounded the Carlebach home at 4 AM one freezing morning, evicting the couple and their newborn baby. Maayan had delivered by
Caesarian only three weeks before, and was recovering from her surgery.
All the couple's belongings were tossed out into the street, and their home was smashed, Tehilla, a Tekoa Daled resident said. "The Carlebachs were simply outside in the freezing cold. The forces threw everything outside into the mud. The Carlebachs couldn't find anything, not their diapers or pacifiers or anything. Everyone from Tekoa Daled stood together watching. We didn't do anything, no violence, but they wouldn't let us help our friends either."
Maayan Carlebach told Voices that she had her husband had built their home with their own hands, over a period of two years with stones that the couple had carefully chosen from the area to blend into the landscape.

Adam Tzachi, spokesman for the Gush Etzion Regional Council, also said the demolition was a "total surprise." He said, "The Minhal Ezrachi (Civil Administration) did not notify the Moetza beforehand, so there was no way to prevent it."The media reported that the Carlebachs had received several Demolition Orders. In fact, the Civil Administration showed the Carlebachs photos of the orders, but Maayan said that she had never seen one, and that the destruction of her home came as a shock.
He explained that the Minhal Ezrachi said it destroyed the home because "it was a stone house, built during the freeze."
In the name of the Moetza, Adam said, "We're very sorry about the destruction of a Jewish home in Eretz Yisrael…The Gush Etzion Regional Council encourages Jewish building within its boundaries and all parts of Eretz Yisrael. However, in certain areas, you have to build with appropriate caution."

Tekoa Daled

Tekoa Daled is a young neighborhood in the ever-growing community of Tekoa. On Daled, 20 families live in an area closer to the desert and to the town of Nokdim.
The residents of Tekoa Daled stood together helpless, as the Carlebach's home was destroyed. Later, neighbors rallied around the couple, offering them support and help to rebuild immediately. Maayan said, "The support is the only thing that has kept us on our feet. It is very heartwarming."
Gush Etzion’s Mayor Shaul Goldstein visited Tekoa Daled later that day and assured the family of the Moetza's help on a "humanitarian basis." A social worker was sent the next day, and the Carlebachs were put up in a guest house in Tekoa Bet.
Right after the destruction, the young couples organized a concert with Arye Zilber and Aaron Razel in order to raise money for the rebuilding.
Maayan said, "Our new home is much simpler than the first one. We still need windows, doors, plumbing and a kitchen," which would total about 20,000 NIS.
Maayan said that she and husband Yigal merited "to take a community that had some dissention, and when this happenned, they solved problems between neighbors. People who didn't get along for years were united, and now realize what is important in life and what is not."
She added that she asked security forces why they were destroying her home when "over the hill there are 3000 Arab homes that were all built illegally."
Yigal and Maayan are concerned about the future of their new house, as well, but she added, “This is a war for the existence of the Jewish people in their land!”
Maayan is a tour guide and horseback riding instructor. Yigal is a farmer in a plant nursery. In two months, IY"H, Maayan said, the nursery will have plants to sell. He also builds musical instruments.
In order to help the Carlebachs rebuild, please send a check to Yigal and Maayor Carlebach, Tekoa 90908. To transfer money, Bank Leumi, Branch 647.

Photos courtesy of the residents of Tekoa Daled.

Haftora of DEVORA

Every Shabbat after the reading of the weekly portion of the Torah, in synagogues across the globe, Jews then read the haftora. The haftora is a selection from the prophets that is thematically linked to the weekly portion.
This week, we read the portion of "Beshallach" with the splitting of the Red Sea, followed by the "Shira" (song) that was sung by Moses and the people, as well as Miriam and the women.The Shira celebrates the victory over the Egyptians when G-d drowned them in the sea, after they pursued the Jewish people.
The Shira in the haftora is sung by the prophetess Devora and her general Barak ben Avinoam. It celebrates the victory over the Canaanites after G-d "swept them away in the Kishon River."
In the Exodus story of the splitting of the Red Sea, we know that Moses and the Jewish people miraculously crossed the sea bed on dry land. Then when the Egyptians pursued them, the water returned to its place, and the Egyptians were tossed and drowned.
In the story of Devorah, Artscroll explained that the Radak said, "The Canaanite army [led by Sisera] rode into Kishon, either to flee or to maneuver for an attack, and the shallow, lazy brook suddenly became a raging torrent. But when the Jews waded into the water, they were able to walk firmly and confidently." Sisera's chariots became mired in the mud, and the Canaanite general ran away.
The Raise Your Spirits Theatre Company is just about to finish its run of JUDGE! The Song of Devora after a dozen performances. The smash-hit musical is the sixth production of the women's theater company, which presents Biblical musicals.
About 4000 women from all over the country, who had the opportunity to see JUDGE!, sat in their synagogues today tapping their feet as the haftora was being read. Especially for them, the haftora came alive.
Of course, my favorite part was not the war or the victory, but the intorduction of one of the most powerful women in the Middle East, Sisera's mother (played by me)! After the battle is over, she searches for him, weeps for him, worries why he has been delayed. The only comfort Sisera's mother can accept is when her wisest of women suggests that he is busy dividing the booty (including slave girls).
While Sisera's mother is happy that her son might be dividing up the colored garments, treasures and women, we all know that Sisera and his army have been destroyed. The haftora ends, "So may all Your enemies be destroyed, O' Hashem! And let thoes who love Him be like the powerfully rising sun."
Photos by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky, .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Memories of Snow

My brother went to America to visit my dearest mother (ad 120 - may she live and be well until 120). He got there a few days late, because of snow. Now he's stuck in New York a bit because of snow.
So, of course, he took out his camera and photographed the beginning of the latest snow storm.
He sent us a bunch of photos of the front of the house in snow, and our backyard in snow. He sent a video clip of the snow falling on our swimming pool and gazebo.
The flakes were as big as feathers. I guess I have been in Israel a long time, B"H, because I don't remember such big snow flakes, and I don't remember such fluffy snow.
Suddenly as I was flipping through my brother's pictures, tears gathered in my eyes. My old home, the house of my youth. My mind is flooded with memories of snows and snowball fights, of shoveling and shivering, of snow plows and snow piles.
I don't miss America per se. I don't miss the home of my married life (no offense, husband dear). I don't miss my old job. Of course, I miss my family and friends. But watching the fat pieces of frozen lace fall on my backyard made me homesick for my old home.
I love my home in Israel, and my life here. But suddenly I miss my blue and gold room, my cozy den, and our Shabbat table that was so overflowing with family and friends.
And I miss my mother. May Hashem bless her with good health, happiness, nachas from her family, and prosperity always.
Cold winter. Warm memories.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Get Efrat Out of the DEEP FREEZE of Non-building

The media says there's no building freeze, but building in my town is frozen solid. I live in Efrat, the capital of Gush Etzion. You'd think a capital would be bustling with construction, but then again, look at the capital of Israel - our holy city of Jerusalem. There's a definite lack of cranes and tractors in many areas.
Recently I read that building is indeed proceeding in different areas of Judea and Samaria (Yesha), but Efrat's Mayor Oded Revivi explained that towns whose land is being marketed by the Jewish Agency or Jewish National Fund are under construction. However, Efrat's land is marketed by the State of Israel, and the State just is not releasing any lands for construction.
Now, Efratians might not be worried by this. Shortage of housing keeps housing prices high, and folks love when their real estate is worth a bundle. But high housing prices mean that young people can't afford to live in your town. Without young people, there is no future. Folks just grow old in their over-priced houses, and even when they want to sell, there are no buyers, because the prices are too outrageous.
So, a town without building and growth is condemned to shrivel up and go the way of Tombstone, Arizona. Not a pretty site.
On a larger scale, if there's no building in Efrat and many other towns in Judea and Samaria, the entire Yesha enterprise is threatened. That's what US President Barack Obama wants, but I certainly hope it's not what Israel's elected officials want. For a strong country, you need strong, growing, prospering towns and cities everywhere, especially in the heart of the Land.
Well, things look grim, but Efrat's Mayor is not giving up. He's been meeting with Knesset Members and Ministers. He's been banging on doors, and inviting government officials to come here and see for themselves that without the ability to build, we are absolutely choking.
Visits by Knesset Members are great, and it's very gratifying that they are sympathetic to our predicament, but the key to Efrat's building, as well as building most anywhere else in Yesha, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And the only way he'll sign anything for Efrat is if the Prime Minister orders him to do it.
The trouble is that the government doesn't want to put out public tenders in Efrat, because it doesn't want the American government
Efrat is the capital of Gush Etzion. It's a city of kindness (chesed) and a place where people work together for the common good. Efrat's made a record of an extraordinary amount of educators and a tremendous amount of doctors and nurses within its population. Efrat's residents have often taken the lead in times of national trial - helping Gush Katif expellees in their hotels, welcoming residents of the North into their homes during the Lebanon War, etc. Efrat deserves to build, so that it can absorb more families that love Israel and work for its benefit.
Efratians, you must act now. Respectfully demand the start of construction in Efrat. Call or fax or email today. Even if you don't live in Efrat, I'm inviting you to help us.
Start easy with a few of your Likud representatives.
Benny Begin - 02-6408022,
Tzippy Hotovely - 02-6408328, Fax: 02-6753719,
Ze'ev Elkin - 02-6408145, Fax: 02-6496438,
Ruby Rivlin - 02-6753444, Fax: 02-6496193,
And of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - 02-6753227, Fax: 02-6496659,

You can find plenty more at
Write to your Knesset representatives.
Keep those phones ringing!! We need to build now!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shepherds Hotel Construction on the Way - YAY!

Yesterday's news was very exciting:
Demolition had begun on the Shepherd Hotel to make way for a Jewish apartment building. If you read a previous blog of mine:, then you know that the Shepherd Hotel was once the residence of one of the biggest anti-Semites and incitors to violence that Israel ever knew - Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. He was kindred spirits with Adolph Hitler, yimach shmo.
I had visited the Shepherd Hotel last March and heard of the plans for the new building. Everything about that specific building is proof that eventually G-d's justice is served.
Husseini was not only an anti-Semite. He stirred up the Arab masses to attack Jews throughout Israel and create pogroms in Jewish neighborhoods. Like Hitler and Haman before him, he wanted the destruction of the Jewish people And now the site of his home will be filled willed with wonderful Jewish children, running, playing, living life in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people.
Another point about that house is that it is right next to the British Consulate building. The British Mandate did everything it could to prevent Jews from buying land in Israel, from building in Israel and from even entering Israel. And now a Jewish building is going up right next door. Yippee.
Besides all else, this was the site of the murder of the Hadassah doctors and nurses on their way up to Hadassah Hospital during the Mandate Days, during the time when the British were pledged to look after the welfare of all those in their Mandate. Well, the convoy climbed the hill to Hadasah Hospital, and right outside the British Consulate, the Arabs attacked and murdered 79 Jews, or was it 78 Jews and one Christian.
The memorial stands there today outside the Consulate and across from the Shepherd Hotel. Those 79 souls will be avenged by the building of a Jewish community right across from the site of their horrible deaths. Am Yisrael Chai. The nation of Israel shall live, despite the Arab enemy that would bomb, stab, kassam them. The nation of Israel shall live, despite the British or any of the European nations would have not and would not lift a finger to prevent the destruction.
I laughed this morning when I read the Jerusalem Post:
Consuls General in capital call to be present at demolitions, court proceedings, intervene in arrests; "Attempts to emphasize Jewish identity of city threatens to radicalize the conflict," 'Independent' reports.

Well, the Jewish identity of Jerusalem threatens to radicalize the conflict with the Arabs! When buses were blowing up all over Jerusalem in 2001, was it because of the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel or that of any illegal Arab building in Jerusalem? Um, no.
When a suicide bomber blew up Sbarro's Restaurant and killed 15 year old Malkie Roth, the sweet Schijveschuurder family, 18 year old Tehilla Maoz, pregnant Shoshanna Greenbaum and others, was it because of demolitions of illegal Arab homes in Eastern Jerusalem? Um, no.
When an Arab terrorist blew up Cafe Hillel and took with it Naava Applebaum, a bride on the eve of her wedding, and her father Dr. David Applebaum, the head of the emergency room at Shaarei Tzedek hospital, was it because of the demolitions of illegal Arab buildings? Um, no.
So what are these blind Consuls General talking about?
The European Union is pushing an Arab agenda that would end, chas v'shalom, in the destruction of the Jewish State as we know it today. They're just happy that their hands are clean, and someone else is doing the dirty work.
B"H for building Jewish homes in Jerusalem and everywhere else in the State of Israel. B"H for the population growth of the Jewish people, especially in Judea and Samaria, where Jewish building has been frozen all year.
B"H for a country that grows and prospers. May Am Yisrael grow in number, in buildings and in faith in Hashem Above, because He is the One who rules the earth, not the EU or the PA or the USA.

Friday, January 7, 2011

B"H Tomorrow Night's Shabbat!!

WHAT??? Tonight is Shabbat. Agghh. How did that happen? I must have misread the calendar. Aghhh. Better race even more.
Okay, a two minute blog and then off.
FRIDAY, the shortest and busiest day of the week! NO matter how little needs to be done on Friday, folks like me are usually ready only two minutes before the time of candlelighting or two minutes after. :(
This morning I had my regular weekly reheasal for Dames of the Dance 4 - The Promised Land. On Friday, we rehearse two numbers - a very patriotic march that is a tribute to the Israel Defense Forces; and a rousing stomp number that is dedicated to building Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). They are just brilliant, B"H, really not enough adjectives for the excitement and energy in those two very different numbers. Both were choreographed by the innovative and talented Judy Feinerman Kizer. Wait 'til you seem 'em!!!
Usually it's dance, dance, dance on Friday morning and then race home to cook for Shabbat.
This week was different for my friends Fayge, Meira, Heather and me. We had our dance reheasal and then had to rush from Efrat to Gush Etzion for a full cast rehearsal of JUDGE! The Song of Devora.
Our cast is performing tomorrow night (Saturday evening) at the Gavna Restaurant's event hall. And it's going to be such an incredibly fun and fantastic performance. The performance was created by Raise Your Spirits, the Efrat Matnas and Gavna together specifically for female soldiers, national service girls and those women who just haven't been able to make it to a week-day performance. Of course, other females are invited as well.
So we rehearsed in this enclosed tent from 10 AM to 1:30 PM and then raced home to hopefully supported (read: not such happy families) to complete Shabbat preparation.
But it was all worth it.
Folks, this Gavna show is going to be an historic production - out in the middle of a forest in an enclosed tent, high atop the hills of Gush Etzion. It's such an intimate place, the audience and the actors are side by side. Everyone is going to have such a blast. Wow wow wow.
If the rehearsal is any indication of how the show's going to work out - LOOOOOOK OUT, FOLKS. Yay.
If you read this before Motzei Shabbat 8:30 PM, you're invited to race over to Gavna in Gush Etzion. You'll thank me.
And before I end, I want to thank Matnas Efrat for all their support. They're just terrif!!
Admission: 35 NIS for bnot sherut and soldiers
50 NIS for any other women who'd like to join us

All photos by Rebecca Kowalsky. Images through Time!!