Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Life for a Life

We learn in the Torah that we are commanded to give "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot..." (Exodus 21:24). Usually it is a form of punishment and justice.

Well, on Sunday morning, I witnessed a different kind act of justice - A Life for a Life.
Our friend Max celebrated his 70th birthday at a surprise party for friends and relatives.
Max was a child of the Holocaust - born in 1941 in Holland.
To escape the Nazi Death Machine, Max's parents turned him over to the partisans, who passed him along from family to family until he was raised by a loving non-Jewish couple who had no children of their own.
Max's mother had sewn a Magen David (Star of David) into his clothing, and through this piece of cloth, she was ablve to identify him after the war.
Now that Max is celebrating his 70th birthday, his children watned to repay a Life for a Life, and they decided that in lieu of gifts, they'd like guests to contribute to EFRAT, http://www.efrat.info/, an organization that saves the lives of children whose mothers want to abort them.
B"H, a loving Dutch couple gave Max his life, and his children wnat to help other children live.
Efrat was a very appropriate charity for Max's children to choose - especially since it was founded by another Holocaust survivor. Their website states, "When Mr. Herschel Feigenbaum arrived in Israel after surviving the Holocaust, he understood that our children are our future. In memory of the over one and a half million Jewish children who perished, Mr. Feigenbaum founded EFRAT, to increase the Jewish birthrate in Israel."
Thus far, EFRAT has saved the lives of 44,000 babies. They continue their support once the baby is born. In 2009, they distributed 2,822 cribs, 3,425 stroller, 66,940 diapers, 2,835 baby baths, 3,858 baby kits, 27,868 can of baby formal and 4,215 monthly food packages to needy families.
Of course, it all comes down to dollars and "sense". A baby's life can be saved for $1,200!
We'd like to wish Max a happy birthday. Even if you don't know him, you can still save the life of an unborn child. Contact efrat@efrat.org.il .

Our Travel Song

This post is dedicated in honor of my dearest Mother, may she live and be well until 120, who made and makes everything from a car ride to a trip to the supermarket a joy and an experience to always remember.

Ever since I was little, my family always started off our family trips the same way. We put on our seat belts, pulled away and began to sing. [Yes, even before Tefillat HaDerech (the prayer for a safe journey), we sang as soon as the ignition purred.]


We gotta get goin', where are we goin', what are we gonna do?
We're on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you
What'll we see there, who will be there, what'll be the big surprise?
There may be caballeros with dark and flashing eyes
We're on our way (we're on our way)
Pack up your pack (pack up your pack)
And if we stay (and if we stay)
We won't come back (we won't come back)
How can we go, we haven't got a dime?
But we're goin' and we're gonna have a happy tiiiiime ...
Cuanto la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta
Cuanto la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta
(You can even hear Carmen Miranda and the Andrew Sisters sing it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioxMX9r97bs)

Cuanto la gusta, and off we went. No song, no trip. Well, let's say, no trip was official until we sang our travel song.
Then halfway through our trip, we had our halfway-through-our-trip song.

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we're gonna go through it together.
We may not go far, but sure as a star, wherever we are, it's together.
Wherever I go I know he goes. Wherever I go I know she goes.
No fits, no fights, no feuds and no egos, Amigos, together!
Through thick and through thin, all out or all in.
And whether it's win, place or show.
With you for me and me for you,we'll muddle through whatever we do.
Together, wherever we gooooo.

(You can hear Bernadette Peters sing it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvZc_XHezL8&feature=related)

Would you believe I sing the same songs at exactly the same moments of my family trips with my own children! It's nice to share these memories and funny traditions with our children.
B"H, as faith-filled Jews, we transmit many traditions and practices to our next generation. That's how we give continuity to our eternal people and make sure our heritage continues on.

After havdala (prayer ending the Sabbath) every week, each member of the family puts his arms around the family-member standing on each side of him, and with link arms or in a hug, we sing together Eliyahu HaNavi (one day Elijah the prophet will come and herald the Messiah), Shma Yisrael (our belief that G-d is Our L-rd and He is One) and Ani Ma'amin (our belief that the Messiah will come one day soon).
[My brother and I began singing these three songs after havdala when we were young :) at the home of our friends Yisrael and Leah Neuberger (http://www.tosinai.com/). I think their family began singing these prayerful-songs in the home of Rabbi Meshulem (o'h) and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis (until 120). This tradition has become part of our lives, as it has become part of the lives of so many others.]
We have never said good-bye to our beautiful Shabbat and hello to a new week without Eliyahu HaNavi/Shma/Ani Ma'amin. And we've had the opportunity to be in our children's homes for Shabbat, and at havdala, they sing this medley too. It is a great feeling - one that says, "We continue on!"
The children may be away from us, but they're still close - ending Shabbat just as we have almost all our lives.
When we pass along our silly/touching/funny/serious/quirky family customs to our children, we are passing along part of our/our parents'/our grandparents' personality to our children and hopefully to theirs.
Our funny songs or bad jokes or little family traditions are another aspect of who we are, where we're from - a piece of us!
Share the family customs and traditions, no matter what they are. Put a bow around the past and the future with a little ditty or a family memory, and enjoy your family times together for many years to come.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meitzad for Young Chareidi Families

The sun was shining. The view to the Dead Sea was breathtaking. It was a perfect day for families to take a country outing.
We attended a Pesach Happening in the small town of Meitzad in Eastern Gush Etzion. Children played on the jumping castles and in the parks, while parents took walking tours on the quiet streets.
Meitzad is a serious Torah community that is hoping new young families will join them. As rents increase in Jerusalem, Kiryat Sefer, Betar and other Chareidi areas in Israel, young couples are having a very hard time finding a place to build their future.
Meitzad is a perfect answer to the housing crunch and a place where young religious families can raise their children in a deep Torah atmosphere - of learning, good deeds and yirat shamayim (devotion to Torah). The families living there today are warm, helpful to one other, involved in chesed (deeds of kindness)and imbued with positive Jewish values.
Visitors to the Passover Happening were impressed by the young families that greeted them, the pastoral atmosphere, and the opportunities for growth and development. In addition to the renovated caravans and the small villas available, there is an area that will soon have 80 new homes built on it.
With a beautiful synagogue, a kollel, ganim (preschools), medical services and transportation to and from the community, Meitzad is an ideal location for young families. Contact (02) 993-8395, (052) 605-1456.
To get a peek at the Pesach Happening, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2PHulVc4Is

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bringing Home Our Captives

Motzei Shabbat, Saturday night - There's not a day or a moment that goes by in the news without announcements calling for the release from US prison of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard (after 25 1/2 years) and freedom for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
[BTW, we must never forget that there are seven missing Israeli soldiers, not just Gilad Shalit: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2004/1/Israeli+MIAs.htm -
Staff Sgt. Zecharya Baumel, Staff Sgt. Zvi Feldman, Staff Sgt. Yehuda Katz, Major Ron Arad, Guy Hever and Majdy Halabi.]
Well, we've done just about everything to get them back. We've had wars against Lebanon and Gaza without successfully bringing them home. We've had demonstrations. We've gone to different world leaders and different countries asking for help. We've participated in letter-writing campaigns and internet petitions. Nothing has helped.
Well, today as I was learning Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) from my new sefer (book) by HaRav Yisrael Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel, current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv), I read something that sparked an idea that absolutely startled me, it was like an electric shock.
Today we began the cycle of reading from the Ethics of the Fathers every Shabbat afternoon. We began learning Chapter One today. In Mishna 2 of Chapter 1, we learned "Shimon HaTzaddik was one of the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used to say: Upon three things does the world stand; 1) upon Torah; 2) upon [Divine] service; 3) and upon deeds of kindness.
Rav Lau explained that one of the blessings of one of Judaism's most important prayers the Shmona Esrei concludes with a reference to the patriarch Abraham alone (not his sons, Isaac and Jacob). We say, "Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Abraham."
Rav Lau explains that the chassidic rebbe R' Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov noted that the patriarch Jacob, who learned in the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, represents 1-Torah; and that Isaac, who was bound as an offering and prayed in the field represents 2-Divine service.
Abraham, who was so hospitable to all, represents 1-deeds of kindness.
Rav Lau explained how important it is for the Jewish people to continue to be engaged seriously and deeply in deeds of kindness.
He said that Abraham, who represents deeds of loving kindness, liberated captives.
Then it hit me.
The Jewish People have been willing to do all sorts of things to free our captives - we've planted gardens, made exhibits with their pictures, saved seats at our Seder tables for them, plus all the things listed above.
Let's try something else.
Let's try to follow in the example of Abraham, who liberated captives. Yes, he made a war against the kings who held his nephew Lot, but he also dedicated his life to gemilut chassadim (acts of kindness). Part One - our wars - didn't free our captives. Let's try Part Two - acts of kindness.
Maybe if we show G-d that we are devoted to one another and would go above and beyond regular actions in order to help one another, He will be moved to go one step further and truly free our captives.
Let's try loving kindness.
Let's each of us begin acting with kindness and respect to his fellow. Let's help one another in any way that's needed. Let's go out of our way for one another.
Want some ideas? http://www.catalogs.com/info/spirituality/random-acts-of-kindness.html
DO AN ACT OF LOVING KINDNESS TODAY (and tomorrow and the next day).
Write to this blog and let everyone know what you've done.
I am very serious in believing that if we all follow in the ways of Abraham, we will achieve the release of our captives one day very soon.
Let's try together. Worse comes to worst, we'll make the world a better place.
And we might even bring home Jonathan, Gilad, Zecharya, Zvi, Yehuda, Ron, Guy and Majdy.
IY"H, together we can make it happen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Return to Shechem - Remembering Daniel Mandel, HY"D

Eight years ago on 13 Nissan, Lt. Daniel Mandel, HY”D, was killed in an operation in the city of Shechem, as he commanded a Palsar Nachal unit in search of Arab terrorists. The mission was successful, but, Daniel, the commander was mortally wounded by one of the three terrorists.
Sunday is the yahrzeit of Daniel. Rosh Tzurim's Adina Hershberg wrote about Daniel in this issue of VOICES Magazine, http://www.voices-magazine.com/, and I added the Shechem update.

This year on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Daniel’s father, Dr. David Mandel of Alon Shevut, organized a bus of friends and neighbors to travel to the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem for a prayer service in Daniel’s memory. Coordinated by the Shomron Regional Council, the Israel Defense Forces and the One Shechem Organization, Dr. Mandel’s group joined about 2000 worshippers at the renovated site. Joseph’s Tomb had been destroyed ten years ago during the violence of the intifada. After a visit years ago Dr. Mandel had urged the Army to repair the holy site, which was given to Israel in the Oslo Accords. It has finally been restored. As Nissan drew near, Dr. Mandel felt strongly that he should pray in Kever Yosef, which was so close to the place his son had been killed. In an emotional ceremony, the head of the Shomron Regional Council Gershon Mesika addressed the Mandel family and those gathered in the middle of the night in Shechem. “On Pesach, we say twice, ‘Through your blood you shall live and I said to you through your blood you shall live.’ All geula is connected with blood. All steps forward were made with sacrifices.” But Mayor Mesika added words of comfort. “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed.”
Prayers at Joseph's Tomb
Dr. David Mandel recited kaddish at Kever Yosef and told those around him, “Daniel was moser nefesh (sacrificed himself) here in Shechem, and I hope our coming here today will help Am Yisrael keep this place.” Eve of Pesach 8 Years Ago Two days before Pesach 2003, while Jews the world over were busy with the myriad details of Pesach preparation, the Mandel family of Alon Shevut, their relatives, friends and acquaintances gathered at the grave of Daniel Mandel, killed in the line of duty at the age of 24. Daniel’s unit had encircled a building in Shechem in search of wanted Arab terrorists responsible for the deaths of at least 30 and the injury of over 140 Israelis. The soldiers succeeded in locating the men. Two terrorists surrendered and then one came out shooting. Despite the bullet-proof vest he was wearing, Daniel Mandel was hit by a bullet that struck just outside the vest, permeated his heart and killed him instantly. Daniel's mother, Cheryl, had told friends that when the Mandels moved to Israel from Canada, they did so “because this is the place where Jews should live. We brought our family here because it is our homeland. We accepted that this is a country where there were difficulties and there might be a price. …."

The Mandels' price was the loss of their loving son and brother. Daniel's younger brother Gabriel remembered him. "Daniel had a fantastic combination [of characteristics] and because of it everyone admired him so much. It was a combination of quietness and never-ending strength, a combination of loving people without boundaries and real stern-ness when needed, and a combination of delicate and pure avodat Hashem and uncompromising army professionalism…How characteristic it is that he was killed in defending Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael which he so loved."

Cheryl said, "Coming from Canada I hadn't had the experience of family members being in the army. I found the army with its framework to be easier than having teenagers driving late at night and going to all sorts of places. At least in the army they were on a base and had a schedule. Until Daniel was killed I never worried."

A Fine Character

The Mandels made Aliyah when Daniel, the third of five Mandel children, was eight years old. "Daniel was fine wherever you'd put him. He always became the leader. He had a certain charisma," Cheryl related. "Daniel was like David [his father, a psychiatrist] in that he was centered, calm and a thinker. He was very social, but he was comfortable going off in his own direction. Daniel was like me in that he was fun-loving and sociable," Cheryl said. When Daniel was twelve, he won two tickets to Euro Disney. Cheryl was willing to buy a third ticket and take his brother Jonah, as well. But Daniel's father David said that he wasn't comfortable with their going at all. "Someone suggested we ask a posek and so we decided to go to HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz'l. We agreed that we would accept his decision, whatever it was. The Rav said not to go. It was a very traumatic experience for Daniel. He cried all the way home and then went to mincha. It was hard, but he accepted it," Cheryl recalled. With the money he received instead of the trip, he bought a guitar and amplifier, which reinforced his love of music. Daniel had been a very talented musician. His first instrument was the piano. He also learned how to play the guitar, harmonica and bagpipes. Since his death, his friends have organized an annual evening with music and song around the time of his birthday (January 6th). Daniel's older sister Nicole described how Daniel was an angel at home, but a bit mischievous and even chutzpadik in school. She described him as generous, and related that when she, Jonah, and Daniel were young they were each given $2 to buy something at a science museum. "When we got back home Daniel gave Jonah, my parents and me each a gift from the museum store." She continued, "Daniel was a leader. He was always happy, always smiling and he tried to make everyone happy." "As an adult Daniel became more religious. He was very strong in his belief. He was always looking for a way to be the best he could. He was very strong in his direction, but if he made a mistake, he would admit it," commented Nicole. "Daniel, who studied in the army preparatory Atzmona Yeshiva before enlisting in the IDF, had a gift of being able to educate. I think he probably would have become a teacher. When he was at yeshiva he was a very serious student. He always tried to do his best. In the army he wanted to do his total best as well," Cheryl said. Like both his parents, he was also involved in chesed. He felt that soldiers should do more than what was required of them in the army. He took his soldiers to volunteer in a shelter for battered women, in a home for developmentally disabled, with youth in distress, with children from poor social-economic backgrounds, etc.

In a book entitled Fragments of Memories, Daniel's father David wrote, "…you were a wonderful son: straight and truthful, beloved and likeable, charming and pleasant, good and handsome…" Continuing His Memory Since his death, Cheryl and David have spent much of their time doing good. Nicole noted, "At the funeral my mother spoke about how bad things happen, and it matters what one does with them. Daniel's death has brought a lot of good. On a personal level, one grows from grief. My parents established The Mandel Fund in his memory. There have also been various chesed projects in his memory. (The Beit Midrash in the local school, where Daniel learned, was renovated with funds from The Mandel Fund. A local Alon Shevut park is underway as well.) My father volunteered in the North during the Second Lebanon War and he continues to volunteer in Sderot, where he established a holistic trauma center."

Cheryl was completing the run of the Raise Your Spirits theater production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court when Daniel was killed. Since then, she has performed in NOAH! Ride the Wave!, RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem, and In Search of COURAGE. She has also choreographed 60s dance numbers for the past four years of the Dames of the Dance mega-dance spectaculars, whose proceeds go to feed needy families in Efrat/Gush Etzion before Passover. Cheryl is in contact with a few other Army families who have lost a son. She said they all deserve "a big hug". She observed, "We [bereaved family members] are a vulnerable species. I'm respectful of my limits and try to be good to myself…We're grateful for what we have - four children and six grandchildren. I don't want people to feel sorry for me." Over the past years, Cheryl has addressed gatherings around the world on Yom HaZikaron. This year on Memorial Day, Cheryl will be speaking about Daniel and the soldiers and victims of Arab terror to audiences in South Africa. On the anniversary of his death, the 13th of Nissan, following a visit to his kever there is learning in Daniel's memory and a quiet get-together. Nicole said, "It's a difficult time (so close to Pesach) for people to come for the yahrzeit.…Part of the pain is seeing my parents lose a child…My father helps everyone. He is the healer…" One of Daniel's soldiers wrote, "You stamped your imprint upon all of us, and we proudly carry your image and your name with us everywhere. In each one of us there is a piece of you, each one of us labors more in your merit, in each one of us there is a Mandel that lives and kicks and breathes." When Daniel was killed, his family vowed to strengthen themselves and build themselves in order to do good in Daniel’s name. This they have done, so that the spirit of Daniel Mandel and his love for the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the Torah will continue on in his community and in many worthy Jewish causes.

Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer from Rosh Tzurim.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bye, Bye, "Smalltown"

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) - It's a really comforting feeling knowing that there are places in the world where everyone knows everyone else's name, where they watch out for each others' kids, where they never have to worry about running out of milk or eggs (because there's a neighbor always ready to give you theirs), where you don't have to lock your door, where crime is unknown.
A place like that used to be called a small town. Walking down Smalltown's streets, you wave to everyone you see, you have a funny remark for every little kid, and you know what Mrs. Cohen made for dinner on Friday night.

Smalltown is a place where you feel warm and secure, like in the arms of your grandmother.

My hometown was like that when I was a child. As I grew older, the community's innocence faded.

Here in Israel there are still towns like that. There was actually one very near to my home.

Unfortunately last week, Arabs broke in to the town, cutting the fence and robbing a family. B"H, they didn't have time for anything else, because the community alarm was sounded immediately and they made a fast dash for it. They stole a car and drove out through the break in the fence. No, they haven't been caught yet.

Thank G-d, they just stole money and valuables. Those things can be replaced. B"H, no one was hurt, but everyone is shaken.

Smalltown doesn't feel so innocent anymore. When they go to sleep at night, Smalltown's families are locking their windows and their doors. Slight noises are making everyone jump. Shadows are looking scary.

I'm upset to see Paradise Lost. It's sad to know that a little town with big hopes and dreams for a better world was hit in face by reality.

B"H it was just money.

Israel Museum - Jewish Art and Life - Part 1

I gave my family a break today from Pesach cleaning with a trip to the Israel Museum and a tour of the Jewish Art and Life exhibits. Through rare and fascinating artifacts from around the world, we explored the many interested customs of Jews from throughout the world and throughout the centuries.

In addition to my children, husband and "Bubby", we took along my oldest granddaughter. Only eight years old, my granddaughter was fascinated by everything in the museum, beginning with the Shrine of the Book (Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit) to the model of the Second Temple to every wedding dress and canopy on display.

She kept tugging on my sleeve, "Write it down, Savta, and we'll look up the pictures on the internet." So, since we weren't allowed to take photos in most places, I wrote down descriptionsn of a few of the most outstanding objects on display in the Jewish Art and Life exhibits.

If you've never toured that part of the museum, YOU MUST. Meanwhile, until you do, you're invited to tour with me. All the photos are from the Israel Museum website,

Jewish Life, Death and Everything in Between

Jewish Life exhibits are exactly what they sound like - artifacts from births, britot, children's outfits, wedding dresses, shrouds, and every other happy/sad/exciting/quiet moment of Jewish life.

In one exhibit from Yemen (at left, photo from Israel Museum site - just like my granddaughter said it would be), a new mother sat behind a triangular table to welcome guests to see the new baby. Many triangular motifs were present to "push away the evil eye," our terrific tour guide Paula from Rechovot told us.

The woman was dressed beautifully. Paul said that the Yemenite mother had one good outfit that she wore at her wedding special occasions, and in which she was also buried. Her headcovering was called a gargush. On top of the gargush are decorations of copper (and perhaps gold). Paula said that Yemenite women wore their wealth on their head covering.

They also wore their wealth on their leggings. No, leggings were not only for warmth. The detail and beauty of these "great leggings" were meant to show the success of their husband. Silver- and silk-thread embroidery on gold brocade, as shown in the leggings (at left) from Sana'a, Yemen, meant that the owner's husband did alllll right!!!

In Turkey, the bride's wealth was proven by the two beautiful delicate golden bracelets and choker she received for her wedding. These items, her ogadero, were her personal wealth, and she wore them all the time.

The "Great Dress" truly was great. This bride of Tetuán, Morocco in the late 19th century, wore a silk and velvet dress with metal-thread embroidery on cardboard cutouts.

The color of velvet showed what city she was from. The skirt is a wrap around so that it could be opened more during her pregnancy. The blouse if covered with circles - again, to reflect the circle of life. Lastly, under this gown, she wore a simple white dress that would become her funeral shrowd.

More to come.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Efrat is Waiting for Bibi

I was driving out of Efrat today and kids were handing flyers to each car.
"Oh, some new Pre-Passover Restaurant must be advertising," I thought.

But the flyer was totally different. It said, "Efrat is waiting for Bibi."

Waiting for Bibi to do what?

An abridged English-language letter from Efrat's Mayor Oded Revivi to Efrat residents explained.

"After all of Prime Minister Netanyahu's promises - to allow building in Efrat to be renewed - turned out to be futile, and even his recent declaration to approve the building of 500 apartments did not include Efrat, we have decided to start a public campaign demanding that the building freeze of more than 11 years be thawed out!

...We cannot be silent..."

Can you imagine a town of almost 2000 families has not received one new building permit? So, young people have to move away from their families. Growing families have to stay squished in their starter apartments, because there's nothing to move UP into. Renters will have to stay in a perpetual state of renting, unless they decide to move to a BUY-able community. Efrat will stagnate, and if a community can't grow, it will eventually just die, chas v'shalom.

Bibi, Bibi, Wherefore Art Thou, Bibi?

Efrat began its publicity campaign with a video launch of a young woman who is looking for her beloved. While he promised her everything, he delivered nothing, and then just abandoned her. After the success of the first video, Efrat released a second video identifying the girl, "Efrat", as a 27 year old resident of Efrat (the same age as the town) and her beloved, "Binyamin, Bibi", as the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.

Bibi, she said, promised her a home, and all kinds of other positive things, but he simply disappeared. He promised her a flourishing community in Gush Etzion. "We're all desperate for building here, but you refuse," Efrat told Bibi. "To date, you haven't approved one house. Not one."

To see both video clips, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noQph29-4vc .

To find out more about Efrat's building deep-freeze, click here: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2011/01/media-says-theres-no-building-freeze.html

Meanwhile, has the video campaign made any progress to get Bibi to keep his promises? Has Bibi even seen it?

We'll find out and keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bless the Trees, Whatever They Are

I sat on my porch saying my morning prayers and looked up at the palm tree in my front yard, towering high above my house. A whole bushel of dates is hanging from the very top. (Do dates come in bushels?)
We're going to have gorgeous dates, IY"H, from this giant tree.

I should be happy, right? I guess I am.

The only thing is: we didn't buy a date palm tree when we built our house. We bought a coconut palm. The gardener said, "You'll have the cutest coconut palm. It doesn't grow too tall, but it's a very beautiful tree."

That sounded great to us. We ordered it immediately and waited through the years for it to develop its coconut-y personality.

Well, grow it did, but it grew as a date palm!!

At first we were traumatized, but we have since learned to love it, and be proud at the arrival of every new branch and every new date.

Funny thing, the same thing happened to us when we decided to add a tree to our side yard. We wanted an almond tree. Everyone's always singing about them (in a popular Hebrew children's song) that we figured an almond tree would be a perfect addition to our yard - with its magnificent blossoms and later on, it's fun and yummy nuts.

For many years the tree just refused to bloom, and then suddenly two years ago - loooooooong after we first planted it - it budded and then blossomed and then its fruit pushed forward. And lo and behold, the almonds looked kind of strange. "Hmmm," we wondered, scratching our heads. "Those sure are funny-looking almonds."

"They're so funny," our gardener said, "They're peaches!!" So, we were had once again.

Our coconut palm ended up growing into a date palm.

And our almond tree wound up bedecked with little peaches on its branches.

We've learned to live with all this. We love our trees, every one of them - no matter what sort they are.

So, bless the trees - the green and fir-y, the tall and leafy, the small and flowery. We love them all, whatever they are. Happy spring.

Never on the Sabbath

I just noticed that the last blog says, "Saturday."
I wrote that blog on Motzei Shabbat last week. Motzei Shabbat means Saturday night.
Of course, I would never write a blog or anything else on a Saturday, because that day is Shabbat for me. It is a day of holiness, rest (as Hashem Himself rested) from work, contemplation, prayer, joy, family, song and majesty.
So, if I ever post again on a Saturday night, I hope I'll remember to start the blog off with SATURDAY NIGHT...
I surely wouldn't chas v'shalom (G-d forbid) give anyone any indication that Saturday in my house is anything but a day to honor and protect as the Sabbath.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nissan - Redemption and Redeeming the Land

Every time I return to Netzer, the Jewish State Land area of fields and hills between the towns of Alon Shvut and Elazar, I am in awe of the beauty of the place and the feeling of serenity all around me. It's the first place in Gush Etzion that I ever saw delicate gazelles leaping through the valley, free and magnificent. The sun was shining right on the white spots on their backs and looked like heavenly stars shooting through the valley. It absolutely took my breath away. On each of the different plots of Jewish land in Netzer, there are benches that kind folks donated so that lucky visitors could relax and contemplate whatever it is they contemplate when faced with the vast nature-filled panorama of Israel at its best. How ironic it is that in this pastoral paradise of Netzer, Arabs are engaging in a campaign of agricultural terrorism – uprooting Jewish trees and attacking Jewish farmers who are working the land there. Since the first days of planting more than two years ago, Jews have done their best to protect the saplings and grape vines planted there. But the truth is that Netzer is protecting the Jewish towns of Alon Shvut, Elazar (actually, all of Gush Etzion) and creating Jewish continuity between the communities of Gush Etzion. If not for the Jewish fields of Netzer, the towns of Alon Shvut and Elazar would be isolated from one another, Israeli islands in a sea of Arab-claimed land. While not all of Gush Etzion's residents might understand this, the Arabs know it well. And that is why they bring in heavy machinery and anarchists to grab as much land as they can. While we have no idea why Arabs are not stopped from planting on Jewish land, we are shocked that the Civil Administration puts "destruction orders" on Jewish trees, whose whole purpose is to safeguard the Land of Israel and cultivate a deeper connection to our G-d given Land. On Thursday, led by Women in Green's Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, and under the auspices of the Yibaneh Fund, a few dozen Gush Etzion residents, along with supporters from Jerusalem came to Netzer to replant the trees that were uprooted by Arabs two weeks before. When Jewish men had come to Netzer to replant the saplings, they were attacked by a group of Arabs, and then taken to the police and bizarrely given a "tzav" (command) to distance themselves from the area. The arrival of the group on Thursday, right after Rosh Chodesh Nissan, was very significant. Firstly, the event in which we planted dozens of trees (in the area that had previously been uprooted) was a sign of Nissan's Redemption. We learn that in Nissan we were redeemed, and IY"H, in Nissan we will be redeemed in the future. One the of the signs of Jewish redemption is the flourishing of Jewish agriculture. Next, the event embodied everything for which religious Zionists stand. We were a group of diverse Israelis uniting to show our love for our land, and then joining together for a shiur by one of the leading women Torah teachers in the world today, Rebbezin Shani Taragin. So, it was a day of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, filled with Torat Yisrael. I am sure that if residents of Gush Etzion understood the importance of Jewish continuity among its communities then Jewish agriculture would flourish through our region. I hope the realization will not come too late, chas v'shalom. For a glimpse of the planting and the shiur by Rebbetzin Shani Taragin, click here: http://www.youtube.com/user/NashimBeYarok#p/a/u/0/T1y7ulsXg48

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happy Dishes

Thirty-one years ago when I married my husband, we went like all young couples to pick out dishes. We waded through dozens and dozens of patterns in the china shop. They were all gorgeous.
I chose beautiful delicate flowery china for my meat dishes and happy bright colored china with a bird (I was sure he was singing) on a branch for my dairy. I loved my dishes to death over the years, and already more than ten years ago, when they were almost 20 years old, I had only a few dinner and salad plates left.
For our twentieth anniversary, I had decided to buy new dairy dinnerware. I searched everywhere in Jerusalem, but china is expensive or not so plentiful in Israel. And I found nothing that I felt reflected the sunny breakfast - happy dairy dinnerware I wanted in my kitchen.
Yes, more than ten years, we've been eating with ad hoc plates and bowls, because the cheery fun dairy dinnerware eludes me.
Well, this week, my mother visited Ikea in Rishon LeZion with my nephew, and then made a big announcement, "I bought you dinnerware." She was so happy that a ten-year burden have finally been taken care of. She even unpacked one of the sets and showed me the plates on skype. Grey. White. Some grey. Some white.
I was crestfallen.
I had waited for more than 10 years in the hopes of one day finding my dream dishes, and my dearest mother, may she live and be well until 120, had brought me grey and white dishes.
Why am I telling you this story?
I really don't know. Sometimes we build things up in our heads to such an extent that it's impossible to have the reality match the dream. Or sometimes we give importance to things that are just things. I mean, they're just dishes, but I had wanted the kind of dishes that made folks smile and get excited about life. I wanted dishes that make folks say, "Hey, it's a great day. You look nice. What fun it is to be with you."
These are beautiful designer dishes that make folks want to eat a big Greek salad.
I guess that's good too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bless That Rain

I drove to Bet Shemesh this morning along the back way. It rained the entire ride. Then as I drove down the windy mountain road from Gush Etzion to the valley, a fog surrounded my car. Not ideal driving conditions, and a bit scary for me.
Two trucks were driving ahead of me. We went the entire trip in the same direction. When I got to Bet Shemesh, I pulled over to let out my passengers and two truck drivers stopped too. They dismounted from their trucks and greeted one another to the left of my car. "How's everything going?" the first driver asked his friend. "B"H," he answered. "It's raining, so how can things be going. Fantastic!! That says it all. B"H for the blessed rain!

Good-Byes and Hellos

Tonight our DAMES of the DANCE 4 - The Promised Land cast had its good-bye party. Many of us have been rehearsing together once, twice, five times a week for the past four months. That's a lot of together time.
Last week, we finished our performances, which were dedicated to raising money for Kimcha D'Pischa (food for Passover) and we hung up our dancing shoes. Tonight we came together one more time to celebrate what we had accomplished.

Between my performances with the Raise Your Spirits Theatre Company (which I founded in 2001) and the Dance of the Dance company (which I began in 2007), I rehearse a lot, perform a lot (B"H), but then say good-bye a lot.

It's difficult to spend every Tuesday evening or Friday morning or Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) with a group of women, get to be so close to them that you know what move they're going to make and exactly when they're going to do so; and then say good-bye.

It's the good-bye part that is the not-fun part of performing.

But tonight as I was giving everyone a parting hug, I realized that our performances didn't mean a lot of good-byes. They actually meant a ton of hellos.

I met at least thirty new women in this year's DAMES performing company. (And I made at least 10 new friends in this year's RYS production of JUDGE!) That means 40women that I'm going to say "hello" to when I go to the shopping center or the school or the next neighborhood event. These are young and older women, Israelis, Americans and other nationalities - gals I'd never have met if it weren't for Dames of the Dance (and RYS).

So, we might have turned in our costumes until next year, IY"H, but we weren't left empty-handed. We've earned a bunch of new friends for our hard work over the past few months, and they're friendships I'll always cherish.

Photos by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com .

Monday, April 4, 2011

Accidental Audience

Last year, my DAMES of the DANCE 3 production company brought The Seven Days of Creation to the stage in a dancerific, flamboyant, exciting and fun-filled blast of color and energy. So, when I saw that the Jerusalem Arts Festival was presenting a special program on Creation, I couldn't wait to attend.
I was eager to see how performing arts professionals deal with the theme of Creation. (Dames photos by Sari Tweeto above and left.)

I went to the Rebecca Crowne Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater and took my seat. The music started and I was caught completely off guard. I had read the description of the show, "The Jerusalem Art Festival stages an exciting performance, charmingly and professionally done, presenting the story of the Creation in words, movement and sound. With singer Adam and the Hakol Patuah dance troupe, the special group of the Jerusalem Municipality's Arts Division. Direction, choreography and costumes: Momi Gil. Producer and troupe director: Sarah Sharabi." It sounded great... Exciting... Charming... Professional... Special. Nothing prepared me for how special it was. The Hakol Patuah dance troupe is a dance company of special-needs young people. When they first came on stage, I thought it was a mistake, or perhaps someone was being super nice and allowing these youngsters to open for the real show. I didn't know they were the real show. I should have been clued in that something special was happening around me when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Bareket walked in and sat in front of me. He stood up to speak, "The Jerusalem Arts Festival is part of our plan to make Jerusalem into a more attractive place for young people and culture; and to see the potential in Jerusalem. All those who participate in the Jerusalem Arts Festival contribute to the mosaic of Jerusalem." He added, "Hakol Patuah shows that everything is possible." I still did not understand. A voice began, "Bereishit barak Elokim..." (In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.) The show began in earnest. (Courtesy photos from the show at left and below.)

Hakol Patuah Dance Company

"It was evening, it was morning, one day..." The special youngsters danced enthusiastically in all black (and later in every other color), waving wands of stars in the dark sky. They skipped in a circle shimmering their stars, and they smiled the biggest teethiest smiles possible. They were so ecstatic to show their friends and family (and Sharon Katz) how much they loved to perform and give of themselves to their audience. They were so filled with the freedom and joy of the moment, that at times, they just threw their arms out to the audience, jumped up and down, hugged one another, came right up front and flashed giant grins. Then they returned to their places on the dance floor, and everyone continued as if nothing unexpected had happened. Tears poured down my cheeks. I could not stop their flow. "Why are you crying? They are so happy," my daughter said. She was right. The performers were so filled with the joy of performing (I know exactly what that's like), they couldn't contain their excitement, and I had to work hard in my seat to contain my emotion too. Everyone in the theater was thrilled to see the performers on stage. The dancers and drummers were their children, siblings and friends. I was an accidental audience member, probably the only one not related to someone on stage. I had come into the theater expecting something else, and I received this tremendous gift of a show - I watched about 30 champions score a tremendous triumph with every completed dance. They danced the creation of the waters, the the sky, the birds and the animals. In brightly colored heart-dresses, they danced their love of life! The performers' smiles were as wide as the ocean, and their families' applause was thunderous and long. Famous Israeli singer Adam joined the kids for the second year in a row, as the voice of the Bible. He jumped on stage to sing about the fourth day of creation, and danced with the "stars". As the show's world was completed on the seven day, all the performers took the stage to sing and sway with Adam in the song, "It's a Wonderful World." The youngsters held each other's hands, hugged and sang along - young people with so many challenges and so many difficulties, and they were joyously singing "It's a wonderful world!" As the producer of a yearly dance extravaganza, I know what hard work, dedication, rehearsal discipline and stick-to-it-ness one needs to mount a production. For special-needs children, the effort must be 100 times mores. When the music ended, these special performers had achieved something extraordinary. Their family and friends cheered. So did I. Victory!

Secular Hysteria

I read an article in JPost about a recent Haifa University Population Study that screamed from Secular Hysteria. "Save us. Save us. The Chareidim are coming." Well, the author of the Haifa study didn't say those exact words, but that's what he meant.

http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=214979 The Haifa study predicted that Torah-true Jews would be the majority in the State of Israel by the year 2030 with Chareidim numbering 1 million of them , IY"H. The Haifa report warned Israeli decision-makers to "come to their senses," or else "the Zionist vision will come to a tragic end" if the religious become the majority in the State of Israel. Hellooo, who do the Haifa authors believe were the first Zionists? In modern times, they were the religious Jews of Europe who followed the Zionist dreams of the Bible. In ancient times, they were Abraham and his descendants, who followed the word of Hashem. When the children of Israel were in the desert, they were taught...when you go into the Land...if you follow the word of G-d... That was the goal, not the fear, that the Jewish people would live in the Land of Israel according to the Torah. Go to any old yishuv museum - Rishon LeZion, Netanya, Zichron Yaakov, Mazkeret Batya. Look at the photos on the wall (at left, Rishon LeZion's early family). The first Zionists who founded their towns were all religious G-d fearing Jews - hats, long coats, wives with their hair covered. I don't know of any exception to this. Look at the Founders Walls of any of Israel's early towns. They look like Rabbinic Yeshiva photos. (At left, Zichron Yaakov early family) The Haifa study claims that the rise of religious Jews in Israel is the end of Zionism and the end of the State. Perhaps the authors of the study are afraid it's the beginning of the real State of Israel as G-d meant it to be. The study warned, "Education will become Torah-based, courts will be operated according to Jewish religious law and much of the media will undergo a transformation in which a large amount of the content it broadcasts will disappear.” Torah-based education? Hooray. A Jewish State that knows its heritage, that is rooted in the eternal principles of the Holy Books, that has Jewish morals and values. America's entire legal system, education system and social system was based on the Torah when George Washington and Ben Franklin helped create a new nation. They wanted a State based on Biblical values, and look at America today (or at least pre-Obama today)...one of the greatest nations in the world. Religious law? Jewish religious law is the envy of the entire world, except perhaps Secular Leftists of Israel. It's about treating all man with dignity, being honest in business, what witnesses are acceptable, proclaim liberty throughout the land... Reforming broadcast TV? Yippee. Bring on quality television. Trash the trash. JPost stated that "the report warns that if current demographic trends continue, Israel could cease to exist." What hate-mongering rubbish! Israel will not only continue to exist, IY"H, it will flourish. It will be everything that it can be. A proud Jewish State, something for which we've prayed for 2000 years.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Goldstone, Gather Your Feathers

Jpost editor David Horowitz wrote a very powerful and excellent column about the too-little-too-late apology written by Richard Goldstone in the Washington Post. Goldstone now claims that if he had known then what he knows now, he would not have so virulently condemned Israel's operations in Operation Cast Lead (in which Israel tried to destroy the terrorist infrastructure that was launches kassams at innocent Israeli civilians). But his Goldstone Report was damming in every way. Goldstone has now tried to assuage his guilty-conscious, but didn't really apologize to Israel. When you make claims that are simply NOT TRUE, and you do something SOOOOOOO terrible and damaging, it's extremely hard to apologize, but a MENTSCH would have. http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=214866 David Horowitz wrote, "An apology just isn’t good enough. The very least he owes Israel is to work unstintingly from now on to try to undo the damage he has caused." He should go from country to country, making appointments with the officials of every nation to retract his statements. He should meet with every committee of the UN, the World Bank, the Hague, the Church, the churches, every organization and tell them his report was wrong. He should write an op-ed in every newspaper in the world. He should go on every talk show to apologize. One article in the Washington Post doesn't do it. He has spread feathers of deceit, danger and lashon hara around the world that have damaged Israel tremendously. Let him go gather the feathers.