Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Encouraging Talent

Every community has its share of children who just l-o-v-e one hobby or another. They can't get enough dance, swimming practice, judo, roller-blading, tennis, gymnastics.
My town has that too. We've also got a bunch of young people who love music. Many of them study drums, clarinet, guitar, piano, saxophone, vocal and more at the Efrat Community Center. They get encouragement and support there from professional musicians who are training the next generation.
This week, the Matnas of Efrat showcased some of its most promising young students in a Benefit Concert for Kimcha D'Pischa (charity before Passover). Not only did the young future stars perform, but so did their teachers. The afternoon was an intimate affair, and the atmosphere was charming. So were the kids.
Azzi Tzuval, star of children's TV on Meir TV, acted as master of ceremonies.
Thanks to Chagit Dahan and the Efrat Community Center for putting the spotlight on these talented youngsters and their musical mentors.

Famous for Our Children

In every era of our lives, we receive our fame for something different.
When I was young, everyone said, "You're Belle's daughter. Wow, your mother is one of a kind." B"H, bli ayin hara, my mother should live and be well until 120, I got lots of congrats thanks to all the chesed (acts of loving kindness) and volunteerism that she performed over the years.
When we moved to Efrat and my husband being chief baal koreh (the person who reads the Torah) in his synagogue, I received lots of kudos, "Wow, you're Izzy's wife. I love hearing him lein (read the Torah)." I still get that today.
When I became editor of Voices, plus founded Raise Your Spirits, Dames of the Dance, and became involved in  Gush Katif Brides, Pina Chama, my children's school and other charities, B"H, I received acclaim and appreciation for my own endeavors.
But I have to admit that my favorite situation for which I get tons of kudos, thank G-d, is being the mother of...
When my varied children were active in different school events, or when they excelled in yeshiva, or they were distinguished in the army, or they made a positive difference in their community, I was proud to receive the congratulations for their accomplishments. :) I think there's nothing more fulfilling in life than to have someone come up to you and say, "You're ___'s mother. Zachit (you merited) an incredible child. It's an honor to be his/her friend." And B"H, it has happened in each of their neighborhoods and among each of their "crowds".
This week while volunteering in Pina Chama (Soldiers Hospitality Hut), I was greeted "extra happily" by many soldiers. I mean, soldiers are always sweet and friendly in Pina Chama. They reach for their coffee and brownies, and are all smiles. This week, they were almost giddy when they said, hi.
Then I found out why.
My son happens to be in miluim (reserve duty) now in the Gush Etzion area. (That's a very rare treat in our family.) And his soldiers found out that their comrade had a mother in Pina Chama. They had to say, hi.
So, they came in in waves. "Wow, you're his mother!! Wow!! What an amazing person!! We love him!! Wow, you're his mother!!"
They were so sweet and excited to meet me. We chatted and laughed, and we even took some photos. I guess they wanted to find out if I lived up to the impression they had of my son. B"H, I think they weren't disappointed.
Here's to the Mother of ____, the Father of ____. Have nachas from all of your children.

Monday, March 26, 2012

At Pina Chama Chocolate Palace

I usually serve at the Gush Etzion Piña Chama (Soldiers Hospitality Hut) with my friend Jill. Unfortunately Jill's father is ill (refua shelaima) and I find myself doing our shift on my own.
I miss Jill, and our chats between jeep-loads of soldiers, but I'm holding my own.
I've got a "patent" as they say. I lay out a dozen cups with a teaspoon of coffee inside each. In half I put one teaspoon of sugar, ready for the majority of soldiers that like coffee with one sugar. There are plenty that want two!
I try to cut the cake like Jill - cake is her specialty. She makes cake platters with picture perfect rows of black and white delicacies. She alternates brownies and vanilla cakes, chocolate iced and maple walnut.
Cakes for Piña Chama come in fresh every morning, made by residents of Gush Etzion. And boy, at 10:30 AM when the fresh cakes arrive with their smells of Gan Eden, they are hard to resist.
Jill puts together these treats like a work of art. The soldiers absolutely ooh when they see her tray. I haven't been so lucky. I start with stripes of flavor, but everyone wants the chocolate, and the vanilla orphaned cakes start clumping together.
Just as they were choosing chocolate brownies from the tray, I asked two soldiers if they'd rather a tray comprised solely of chocolate cakes and brownies. Surprisingly, they said, "No!" They like the choice.
Go figure.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Efrat's 5th Youth Film Festival

I have a soft spot in my heart for Efrat's Youth Film Festival. Not only because I love film and at one time worked in the film industry (a world ago :) ), but because the Festival was launched five years ago, right on the heels of the first season of my mega-dance production, DAMES of the DANCE
We've grown up together. Of course, while DAMES participants are aging (gracefully) with real life, the participants in the Kolnoar Film Festival remain teenagers always. So, even though along with our teenager dancers, we've got mothers and sometimes grandmothers dancing, and the Filmfest is totally youth oriented, we've grown together over the past five years, and we both celebrate creativity, pride in our Jewish heritage, and what is good in our society.
(Hmm, the ultimate co-operative project - perhaps one day the young people of the Film Festival will create a movie of our next Dames of the Dance 6, IY"H. Until then...)
Today's "Festival Kolnoar Chevrati 5" brought together about 300 young people from all over Israel to view short films, created by their peers. They also joined together in workshops on Humor in Film with director Shai Kapon, Make-up with Shachar Gafni, Directing Actors with director Doron Tzabari, and Effects for film with special effects specialist Micky Amram.
Dassi Be'eri of the Ministry of Education told those present that the Festival Kolnoar was part of a larger program today, the "Festival of Arts and Faith." The overall festival included another 700 students in two other locations - Literature and Creativity in Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem; and Music in the Bible Lands Museum. 
Dassi noted optimistically, "The next generation has shown itself to be creative, socially conscious and dedicated members of society."
You're invited to have a glimpse of today's Festival,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


On a day when Israel buried the murdered Jewish victims of a terror hate-attack in France, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he wouldn't be afraid to use a nuclear bomb [and we know his main targets, G-d forbid], and when Norway was declared the world's most anti-Semitic nation, we Jews might have reason to believe that THE WHOLE WORLD HATES US. 
Well, two incidents in the past two days make me confident to tell you that, "No, the entire world doesn't hate us." In fact, there are some folks around the globe who absolutely love us.
Yesterday a large group of Japanese tourists marched down Rechov Ben Yehuda (Jerusalem's Central Pedestrian Mall) carrying signs and calling out, "Thank you, Israel, for helping us" following last year's earthquake and tsunami. Israel was among the first nations to respond after Japan was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The Japanese must have appreciated Israel's help, because this group was singing their way to the Western Wall, "Am Yisrael Chai," "David Melech Yisrael." They waved to the on-lookers and blew kisses, and called out, "Thank you, Israel!!!"
Then today I received a surprise phone call. I was shocked to hear the very recognizable voice of John, my former cleaning man. John and his partner-in-life Vicky worked in my hometown a decade ago. About eight years ago, they returned to Europe, where he now attends University.
John called to tell me that he saw Efrat's rabbi HaRav Shlomo Riskin in his hometown, and that made him "homesick" for Efrat. He said that he and Vicky think about Efrat day and night, and even in all these years, their love for Israel has never lessened.
He added that in his little European town, there are only two Jewish families, but he said, "They are the nicest people in the entire country." He added, "I just wanted you to know that." I told him that I was very happy to hear that, and I felt especially happy that these two Jewish families had made such a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) with their good character traits.
John's telephone call and the Japanese parade came at a perfect time - when I felt very low about the fate of Israel vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Things may be bleak on the international political front, but when it comes to real people, the truth shines. Not only does the entire world not hate us, some of them even love us. Thank G-d.

A Day of Mourning in Israel

Today is a day of mourning in Israel, a day of funerals and sadness.
There are two main funerals today – the victims of the Toulouse, France, massacre, HY"D, and that of HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ztz'l.

HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ztz'l, a tzaddik, a gadol hador, respected, compassionate and beloved, revered Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Ohr Yeshiva, has passed away at the age of 101. Surely everyone has heard inspirational stories of HaRav Scheinberg, ztz'l, over the years. In fact, whoever read Ruchama Shain's book ALL FOR THE BOSS gets a very intimate view of HaRav Scheinberg's life (the Rav was married to Rebbetzin Shain's sister, o'h).
HaRav Scheinberg passed away at the age of 101 having accomplished a life of Torah and mitzvoth, as a guiding light to a generation of Jews. What a bracha!
The second funeral in Jerusalem was that of the rav and three children (two, his own) who were assassinated by an Arab in Toulouse, France.

Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, HY"D, 29 years old, his sons Aryeh HY"D,  6 years old and GavrielHY"D, 3 years old, and little Miriam MonsonegoHY"D, 8 years old at the Otzar HaTorah School were massacred in front of their Jewish day school. If you add all their ages together, the total of 46 doesn't even come to half that of HaRav Scheinberg. And yet their lives (or sadly, their deaths) have suddenly touched us all. Once again, we see a modern day example of "bechol dor va'dor omdim aleinu lechalotein" – in every generation they rise to destroy us (no matter what age, nor what nation we are in). They have united every Jew in sadness and sorrow, in brotherhood, reminding us all once again that we only have Hashem and one another.
HaRav Scheinberg lived a life of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d's name). Rabbi Sandler and the children were surely devoted and loving Jews, despite their young years. They gave their lives al Kiddush Hashem. 
Four very immense and different losses were remembered today. May Hashem comfort all of Am Yisrael among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. May we be wise enough to learn the lessons of Ahavat Achim (loving one's brother). We Jews worldwide must unite once and for all, not just in sorrow, but for life.

More about HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg:
More about Rabbi Sandler and the children:

Photo of Toulouse victims from the Jewish Journal.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Israel - The Cost of Living

At the time of the first Intifada (Arab uprising) when Israel's stones became deadly weapons in the hands of Arab youth and adults, Israelis were encouraged to put migun (rock proofing plastic) on their car windows. So, instead of stopping the Arab rock throwers, Israel rock-proofed the cars. This cost to the government was approximately 4 million shekels each year.
Now, although in many incidents, the migun on cars has proven itself a life-saver, today the government says it is out of money for the program. Now, what?
Since the Arabs have graduated from rocks to missiles and kassams, not just drivers' lives are in danger. The entire South unfortunately is under the threat of Gaza's murderous rockets, which are aimed at Israel's heaviest populated areas.
In its attempt to protect its citizens (without wiping out the terrorists), the government has decided to fortify Israel's Medical Centers against missiles and bombs in the center of the country. Israel National News reported that "approximately 100 thousand square meters of protective coating on windows" will be installed in 28 Medical Centers at a cost of more than 15 million shekels. Small change. And what about the rest of the Medical Centers?
Its next action has been a bit more pricey. Instead of totally finishing off the terrorists, who are threatening the lives of millions of people, the Israeli government has developed a partial defense system, called the Iron Dome. Each Iron Dome costs between $50-70 Million. There are currently three in operation – protecting Beersheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod. But the country needs 13 of these. You do the math. I can't count that high.
The system works pretty well. A computer determines if an incoming missile from Gaza is going to hit a populated area, and if it is, the missile attempts to destroy the rocket. Great. So, instead of destroying the terrorists in Gaza who shoot these $100 missiles at Israeli cities, Israel shoots its own anti-missile Tamir missiles at a cost of $70,000-$100,000 each. Again, you do the math.
I wonder how long the State of Israel can go on, spending more than 1000 times more than the Arabs on its "Cost of Living." And everyone here is complaining about the price of cottage cheese. 

A Change in Perspective - Ahavat Yisrael

My telephone number is mistakenly listed on a non-profit-listing website as the correct telephone number for a non-profit organization. Although I've tried to do something about it, nothing has helped. (Believe me - NOTHING!)
This saga started many months ago. It seems that this non-profit began making automated telephone calls to folks all over the country. Big deal, we all get automated calls of one kind or another. Well, this organization must have had the computer set to call repeatedly every day, even every hour.
When the receivers of these calls were annoyed enough, they looked up the non-profit and, lo and behold, found my number. They called to complain. Not one person, or five people, but an average of seven people a day - every day (except, B"H, the Sabbath). The phone calls start in the early morning and they continue until late night.
Most people are irate. "You have to stop calling me. You have to leave me alone. I am going to call the police," they tell me. They yell and scream. It is very unpleasant. They are being harassed, so they harass me. 
In the beginning, I said, "I don't know what you're talking about." They often said, "You are lying." Our phone conversations were often terrible.
I called my lawyer. I wrote to the website. I called people from the organization. Nothing helped to change the number on the site. And my number remains there even now.
But I was able to change one thing - my perspective on the situation.
Until two weeks ago, when I received a phone call, I frantically tried to get rid of the person on the other end of the line. I tried to make excuses and unsuccessfully calm his/her anger and I often became short-tempered myself.
I still get the six or seven phone calls every day (I just got one a moment ago - that's what reminded me to tell you about it), but I have changed my own attitude about these calls.
I realized, "People are calling me from all over the country. People from places that I've never visited. Types of people that I'd never get a chance to speak to. What an opportunity for ahavat yisrael (love of one's fellow Jew)!"
So, now, when someone calls, I don't start a whole debate. I simply say, "No, you have not reached the organization. I am a private person who is receiving dozens of phone calls every week. But I am happy you called, because I want to wish you and your family all the best, and especially now, I wish you a Happy and Kosher Passover."
The person on the other end says, "I'm sorry I troubled you. And I wish you a Happy Kosher Passover too."
These phone calls are exciting for me now. Instead of the annoying intrusion on my life, I am pleased to be able to say hello to my fellow Jews from near and far (most far, and places I've never heard of). And I think they're happy to speak with me too.
This phone mix-up must have happened for a reason. I'm trying to make the best of it. Remember the old AT&T telephone commercial - "Reach out and touch someone"? That's what I feel I am doing with every mistaken call. I only received three calls today so far. I'm looking forward to the next four. "Happy Passover, friend."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pidyon HaBen - Redeeming the First Born

Last night I attended my fourth ever pidyon haben (redemption of  31 day old baby). That's actually alot. Some of the other adults at the ceremony had only been to two.
The event was especially exciting for me, because my son was the Kohen who redeemed the baby (more on that later).
A pidyon haben is a pretty rare occurrence. The new baby's grandfather (my mechutan - my daughter-in-law's father) said he heard that about 1 in 50 Jewish babies is eligible for a pidyon haben. That sounds low to me. I would have said 1 in 1000.
First of all, it's only for boys. That lets out half the population.
Next, it's only for first borns (of both parents). That lets out all subsequent births and some births of second marriages. 
Then, the baby has to have been a regular non-Caesarian birth. It also has to be the child of an Israelite - not a child or grandchild of a Kohen or Levi.
You get the idea...rare.
The source of the pidyon haben comes from a recent portion of the Torah. When the children of Israel left Egyptian slavery, the first born of each family was supposed to be a Priest in the service of Hashem. But then when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, the masses grew fearful that he had died, and the built a golden calf to worship and "revel" before.
Upon his descent Moses saw the terrible desecration and called, "Who is for the L-rd, fool ow me!!" The tribe of Levi stood beside him for the sanctification of G-d's Name. On that day the tribe of Levi was reconfirmed as a tribe dedicated to holiness. And the people unfortunately forfeited their right to send their first born to serve Hashem.
Because a Kohen must now take the place of every first born (with the above conditions), the father of the baby must redeem the child - in essence paying the Kohen to take his place. 
The fee is five silver coins, totaling 110 grams of silver.
There are special sets of silver coins that are sold in Israel, and, I guess, abroad, that are made just for a pidyon haben. 
My son took the baby, who was lying on a pillow draped with gold and jewelry. Being a 21st century Kohen, he pulled out his I-Phone and read the service, along with the  proud father, right off the phone. (What a world!)
According to the Aish HaTorah website, "The father attests to the fact that this is indeed his first-born son. The Kohen then asks the father: 'Which do you prefer, to give me your first born or to redeem him?'"
Then the father redeems his son. My son has been honored with the mitzvah of Kohen at a pidyon three or four times, B"H, and he's never been given the baby instead of the coins.
The baby redeemed, the parents overcome with joy and emotion, we ate a delicious dinner.
But the ceremony is not just a nice dinner. It is a serious event. It says in the book of Shemot (Exodus) 13:13, "And you shall redeem every human firstborn among your sons." 
Every first born Jewish male that fits all the conditions must have a pidyon haben. Even if someone is an adult, if he discovers that he never had a pidyon haben, he must consult a local rabbi immediately.

Mazel tov to the little redeemed man, Yonatan Oze, his parents, grandparents and great-grandmother. May they have much nachas from him for many years to come.
I thank Hashem for giving me the zechut (merit) to see my son act as Kohen at a pidyon haben. May my husband and I merit seeing him, as well as his brother, acting as Kohanim in the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), soon in our day.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Faith in Spring

The weather in Israel has been so crazy lately. Rain (thank G-d), snow, sunny skies, hail, hot days, sleet, sunshine, rain, hail, freezing temperatures, warmth again.
Hellllllooo, make up your mind. 
I don't know whether to wear a winter coat or a sweater or a t-shirt.
After a few cold days, it was just so magnificent on Thursday, I was going to sit outside in my corner (remember my corner? - and say my morning prayers.
Despite the sunshine, it was a bit soggy in my garden, so I headed to the porch, and suddenly I saw it...the first real spring flower blossoming in my garden. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Happy.
It doesn't matter what the forecasters say about wintry weather. It doesn't matter what the weather/hail/sleet is saying. My beautiful white flowers are proof that the spring is coming, IY"H. I have faith in the spring, in the breath of innocence and newness, in the rebirth of the world and everything in it.
Tonight the windshield on our car was so frozen, it took us eight minutes before we could drive away. I'm not disappointed. Tomorrow, IY"H, the sun will shine and my spring flowers will greet the day.

Frozen Barbie

I opened the refrigerator and got a bit of a start.
There, sitting on my seltzer bottle on the third shelf was a Barbie doll. It's just something you don't see in your fridge every day. A blonde pajama-ed Barbie, casually reclining against a jar of mayonnaise.
It took me a while to track down the reason for this cooled doll, and find the mastermind behind this Popsicle Barbie.
About 15 years ago, my daughter won this Sleep-Over Barbie at a Chinese Auction that I had chaired. She loved it. Clad in her light pastel-colored pajamas, Barbie was indeed sleeping. But if you took a wet cloth, and rubbed it on her eyes, those eyes would miraculously open.
One of my little granddaughters discovered the Barbie in one of our toy boxes, and was determined to reactivate the magic. She tried the wet cloth trick. No luck. She tried hot water, cold water, ice cubes. Nothing. But she was sure that something would make Barbie open those baby blues again. Although she had to catch a bus to get home, she decided that the refrigerator was the answer, and before she left, she popped Barbie inside.
I loved granddaughters. They're always full of surprises. But, I'm sorry to report that even after the Big Chill, Barbie still has not opened her eyes. Well, she's 15 years old (I don't know what that is in doll years), so maybe she's just tired.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Purim Parades Take to the Streets

One of the favorite parts of every Purim is the pre-Purim Ad Lo Yada Parade. Just about every neighborhood has it. In my hometown, the children of every school marched through the streets with music blaring and costumes flaring. I love the excitement of the early morning celebration. There is such joy in the nippy air.

And just about every costume you can think of: Pirates, spies, Biblical heroes. Princesses, strawberries, Albert Einstein. Clowns on stilts, peddler men, doctors and their patients. Harry Potter, the Cat in the Hat and even the Mona Lisa.
Students and teachers all dressed up. Parents (and grandparents) came in droves with cameras snapping away.

Everyone enjoyed the spectacle, and even the drivers that were held up in parade traffic kept their cool.
I had as much fun as the kids, and so did the Mayor of our town, the head of our Local Community Center and our security chiefs. Just plain Purim joy.
Take a peek:
For more about what's happening in Efrat, try What's Up, Efrat? Purim 5772