Saturday, May 24, 2008

Odds and Ends (Article# 84) 5/22/2008

Last Friday morning, Goldie and I went on our semi regular double date for breakfast with Donny and Tzippy Lieberman. They last appeared in these pages almost two years ago, having made Aliyah on our flight and moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. A few months ago, Goldie got a call from Tzippy inviting us to join them for Friday breakfast at a local café. That invitation turned into a regular outing, whenever both Donny and I are in town (he travels much more than I do for work purposes).

A couple of weeks ago we were driving into Yerushalayim for a breakfast on Ben Yehuda with his parents who had been in for Pesach and were due to return to the USA the following week. I was telling them about our chol hamoed trip with my in laws to Sderot and how great it felt to help support the people there and provide them with income.

Donny and Tzippy had never been to Sderot, and we agreed that the next Friday outing (upon Donny’s return from overseas) would be breakfast and shopping in Sderot. On Tuesday there was a rocket that landed in Ashkelon and with reports of other rockets in the area, Goldie and Tzippy both expressed their concern about heading there at this time and the initial plans were cancelled.

On Friday morning, we were ready to head to Modiin when we all decided to just go to Sderot and let H-shem take care of the details. On our way there, when Donny mentioned that seven rockets had fallen in Sderot the day before, Goldie began to get apprehensive.

Driving through Sderot is difficult. There are concrete bunkers every few blocks, bus stops have been converted to bomb shelters and the construction of the ganim (preschool) is clearly different than the rest of the country in the way they are reinforced. When you think that Sderot is less than an hour’s drive from our home, it is also somewhat unsettling.

We found a café and enjoyed a nice quiet breakfast (although Donny visibly jumped at any loud noise that occurred) and then started to browse the shops for some shopping. The first store keeper mentioned how crazy the day before had been, asked us where we were from and then effusively gushed his thanks to us for coming to his store, saying that we were his first customers of the day. The entire morning was like that and we really took pride in being there and helping support the people without their having to take a handout.

My sister called to wish me Shabbat Shalom while we were there and after her initial shock that we were actually in Sderot asked me to look for a certain store in Sderot. It turns out that her boss, wanting to help support the merchants of Sderot asked her to start buying office supplies from a store there and she wanted to see if we could find it (we did). Goldie mentioned that our Yeshiva’s maintenance head also started buying all of our disposables from a vendor in Sderot as well, for the same reason.

As we begin to enter the doldrum days of the summer, where very little happens, I thought I would write about some of the odds and ends that didn’t merit a special article in and of themselves, but definitely are a part of our Israel experience.

Let’s talk little league. Having coached little league in the USA for seven years (out of the eight years Chaim played in the league), I have become used to the 5 Towns version of the season. Just after Purim the season starts, it runs through June and if you were lucky enough to have no rain outs, you end up with two weeks of playoffs. Most teams play ten or eleven games in a season and it is essentially a spring event.

This year I was drafted (by Goldie) to resume coaching (or maybe I should say co-coaching). Since the weather by us is so nice year round, the season began some time after sukkot and will end in the middle of June. That’s right, the season runs for something like eight months! Since Friday is the only free day we have, it becomes an incredible inconvenience. Additionally, with a game each week (after the first month of practices), we play something like twenty five to thirty games a year, which is a lot when the team is mostly second and third graders.

For the little league coach (and/or parent), the rainy season becomes very important. I think we had three rainouts this year, and it was like getting paroled from a prison sentence. This week they sent an email that there was going to be little league on Lag B’omer, and I know that all the coaches collectively groaned. It just never ends.

On the positive note, the length of the season gives us an opportunity to work on the kids skills a lot and help them develop. We get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each player and the team jells a lot better since they have been together for so long. Also, even though Mordechai was officially not in the league (he was a few months too young to sign up), he came to practices and the kids saw that he was a good player and agreed with us (the coaches) when we snuck him into the lineup on the days we were shorthanded. So he had a chance to play as well (don’t tell the commish).

Another thing – Shabbat meals out. It seems like there isn’t a Shabbat that goes by where we do not either have company or are company for at least one meal. With thousands of students and tourists visiting the country for a week to a year, there are a lot of people to visit with. Another factor is the fact that the community is constantly growing and changing as new people move in, and we all are trying to get to know one another. We do a lot less going out during the week than we did, but our Shabbatot are much more active.

One thing I did get this week was some feedback. I get a few emails each month from someone commenting on an article I wrote or point I made. Most of the emails are critical; people who agree with me have no need to tell me so, but the detractors want to make their point in return.

This person was concerned that I was giving Chareidim a bad rap and that most of you might get the wrong impression about them from my articles. So, I wanted to reiterate two points.

The first is that the chareidim I write about are a small segment of the chareidi community. Most of them are not violent, nor do they participate in the rock throwing or harassing that does, unfortunately happen. They don’t do anything to stop it, and I personally believe that deep in their hearts they truly support these people – but the real crazies are definitely only a minority. They are just more visible because of their actions.

Secondly, when I embarked upon this weekly journey with you, the goal was to write a diary of sorts and try to have you feel as if you were standing next to me as events unfolded. It is a very personal description of things that happen to me and my family, here in Bet Shemesh. In Bet Shemesh (as in some other places as well), there is a very vocal minority group of chareidim that have an affect upon our lives. As such, I write about it. I am sure that if I lived in Ranaana, Efrat or Chashmonaim, I would write a lot less about chareidim and a lot more about concerns specific to those areas.

Milestones (Article# 83) 5/15/2008

Last week was one of many milestones here, both nationally and personally. The national holidays reminded us, once again, just how young a country Israel is and how differently the people of Israel show their pride, concern, honor, and (in some cases) disrespect for the country in which we now live.

We celebrated 60 years of Israel’s existence last week. Immediately following Purim, the beginning preparations for the celebration could already be seen in the approach to Yerushalayim with the construction of a large “60–Israel” sign on the major Jerusalem–Tel Aviv highway. Flags went up all over the roads, as the highway crews spent countless hours adorning the light poles with our national flag.

Once Pesach concluded, the signs really came out. Office buildings and yeshivot unfurled huge flags that draped over the sides of their buildings. Different celebrations were announced and flags began to sprout from car windows throughout the country. Schools, shuls, and other groups sent out notices for their specific events and the excitement began to build. Early in the week, Bank Hapoalim distributed a free flag with the morning newspaper and there were suddenly flags waving all over the country.

Of course, hand in hand with Yom HaAtzma’ut is Yom HaZikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day. In an incredibly fitting touch, each year Israel refuses to celebrate its existence until it pays high honors to the people who made the ultimate sacrifice so that first we could exist, and then we could continue to exist. The air raid sirens go off twice and the nation pauses in reflection not once but twice, as each person is reminded to think of these heroes.

It was an opportunity to really talk with our kids and highlight how miraculous our existence is here. Even the younger ones can definitely relate to the chayalim that they see every day and understand how 22,437 of them have perished since 1948. It was sad to note that almost everyone knows someone who had a friend or relative who was killed in defense of Israel.

At night, after the first siren and minute of silence, there was a special memorial ceremony at the Kotel, which was televised, along with various speeches. The audience was comprised totally of the families of the fallen, and as the speakers spoke to them, the rest of us were just witnessing the tributes. Interestingly, the Israeli television channels (even the satellite channels) broadcast either nothing or special programming appropriate to the day. Entertainment was a no-no.

Yom HaZikaron is taken very seriously here. All restaurants, supermarkets, and stores close early out of respect (similar to Yom HaShoah). People consciously take steps to increase their thoughts and (in some cases) tefillah in memory of the dead.

Imagine if the U.S. acted in the same manner. I don’t just mean the waving/hanging of the flag. I mean taking time to actually reflect on the losses of generations of youth and future generations in defense of the country and in safekeeping our right to exist and our way of life. Picture this—moving Memorial Day to July 3 and making it a real day of remembrance. Not just parades and barbecues, but spending time actually reflecting on the service and dedication of those in the armed forces and the sacrifices they often make. Imagine how much more patriotic Americans would be.

Unfortunately, not everyone here in Israel feels the same way. We expect the Arabs to feel somewhat less than patriotic, but the vitriol that comes from some elements in the chareidi community is in some ways worse. I find it interesting that the chareidim are insistent that we accept their right to hang their “tzeniut dress only” signs from the walls of their houses yet they object to and interfere with our hanging the flag of our nation.

One of our neighbors has been very involved with setting up lines of dialogue between our neighbors. He got a call last week from a member of the vehement group of chareidim. The caller was registering his concern over the proliferation of flags on the balconies and windows facing the chareidi side of the street (and you would be 1,000 percent correct in assuming I had a lot to do with encouraging my neighbors to hang these flags—there are two of them hanging from the windows of our house as well) and wanted to have arrangements made for the removal of the flags.

The response? “Not only am I doing nothing about it, I am offended that you would even think to make such a call!” Of course, within a day the predictable response was the hanging of even more of the tzeniut patrol’s signs across the way. *Sigh*

Perhaps they have forgotten what it is like to be a Jew in a land where you are not allowed to practice freely. Perhaps they take the protection offered to them by our servicemen and women for granted, forgetting that it is this blanket of protection that allows them the freedom to live here and to harass those they feel do not adhere to their interpretations of what our obligations are. I cannot figure out what these people are actually doing in Israel. Perhaps they would be better off in another country, where they can deride the existence of the state from afar rather than use it as the base for their activities.

Mordechai came home from school telling us about one of his teachers, who is also the assistant principal of his campus, leading an outdoor assembly and sharing stories with the first and second grades about a very close friend of his who he grew up with and how he was killed in action. Similar programs went on throughout the country.

By the time the day was over, I know that internally I felt much more positive about the country as a whole and its people. This is probably one of the reasons it is linked with Yom HaAtzma’ut, because I certainly felt more appreciation that Israel is here for 60 years than I thought I would and that feeling was definitely enhanced by Yom HaZikaron.

Yom HaAtzma’ut is a big party. Having been here only once before on Yom HaAtzma’ut (our pilot trip’s final day was Yom HaAtzma’ut 2006—see the archives), we really did not know what to expect. There were celebrations everywhere, and each person in our family did something different from the others.

I went to Efrat to be with the yeshiva at the Efrat communal celebration culminating in a fireworks show, followed by a special Maariv and a barbecue at the Rosh Yeshiva’s house. Goldie stayed at home with Mordechai and watched fireworks from our window. Chaim went to Yerushalayim to enjoy the celebrations there with a bunch of his friends. Chaya went to a special memorial service and then had a big party with many of her classmates. Aliza went to a different memorial service and then went to a sleepover party with several friends. And Batya went to a memorial service, went to watch the movie Exodus at a friend’s house, and then watched fireworks from our house with Goldie.

The next morning I rushed off to yeshiva. I loaded the car with students and at 6:30 in the morning we headed off to deliver rugelach, chocolate milk, and goodie bags to soldiers at various checkpoints and an army base. What a well-received gesture. There is nothing quite like seeing the interaction of our students with chayalim and chayalot only a couple of years older than them (if that much). It just feels great to say thanks.

After a special davening at yeshiva I quickly rushed home to get the kids together (minus Chaim, whose yeshiva had its own event that day—a barbecue to which they invited their entire moshav to come and enjoy) and start our own celebratory day.

Having no experience in what is appropriate, we made things up and arranged to meet my brother and his family at a local pool for an afternoon of swimming. There was almost no one there and it was quite nice to have a quiet afternoon, when we were expecting the place to be totally crowded. After the swim, we drove into a local national park, found ourselves a couple of picnic tables, and proceeded to light up my newly bought mini-grill and enjoy a barbecue together.

Since we got a late start to the day, most of the people who had gone to this park were either finishing up or had departed, and within an hour we had the entire area to ourselves, until a shul group from the North pulled in and set up their barbecue next to us. You know you are in Israel when you are in the middle of a national park, a bus pulls up and disgorges its passengers, who immediately form a Minchah minyan, and you join them for davening. We all enjoyed the day, and by the time we got home we were exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Friday was a day of personal milestones as well, marking the first anniversary of Goldie’s surgery in the U.S. It has been a time of upheaval for us, and although I generally do not mention it much here in this space, it has been a trying time for us as well. Hopefully she will continue her recovery.

This column’s focus is supposed to be on aliyah and the experiences of our family as we moved from Woodmere in the Five Towns to Bet Shemesh. Clearly, our tale is not the typical one. Yet, I must pause to point out that every one of our peers has had their own personal issues that were, to them at least, extremely critical and difficult. So I wanted to take this minute to thank all of you who have been so supportive of our family this past year and to look forward to sharing many more successes than failures in the future.

On another personal note, Goldie and I want to wish a special mazal tov to our former neighbors Rabbi Mordechai and Sora Kamenetzky on the engagement of their daughter Bashy.

Saba Shmu (Article# 82) 5/8/2008

One of the Pesach “traditions” we had developed in Woodmere was the habit of converting our kitchen back to chametz as quickly as possible and then getting our annual pizza delivery from one of the Eisen boys from across the street (who probably brought back pizza for everyone on our end of the block each year). This year (and maybe last – I really don’t remember, and I didn’t write last year about doing so), we continued this tradition, sending Zaidy and Chaim out for a couple of pies to “ring in the chometz”.

It was my last pizza for a while. With all the different changes and stresses we went through since making Aliyah, I put on fifty unneeded pounds. According to an informal poll of Bet Shemesh residents, this is actually unusual, as most of those I spoke with talked about losing weight in the move. In any case, I decided to make a real drive to lose the weight starting the day after Pesach and hope to have it off by Channuka.

On Sunday, the last day all the kids would be able to be with Bubbee and Zaidy for the entire day, we took almost (no Chaim) everyone to Yerushalayim for a little shopping (and for me to spend some time in the office trying to begin to get back up to speed). Shopping in the mall in Yerushalayim is an experience in itself; the Malcha mall is NEVER empty – the crowds there resemble walking down a Manhattan sidewalk at lunch time. However, as I regularly say, there is nothing quite like being able to eat at most of the restaurants in the food court.

Thankfully, the elementary schools only took one day of additional vacation after Pesach and by Thursday – even Chaim was back in Yeshiva. School started on Monday for most of the kids and after Bubby and Zaidy left on Monday night (after a too short 11 day stay), we made our way back to a somewhat normal routine by the end of the week.

Getting back to routine from any long break is always an experience. In the Yeshiva, it means greeting the talmidim as they return from their chag experience (some of them in Israel and others who returned home to be with their families). After Pesach we also get an inclination of which of them will be coming back to the Yeshiva for a second year, which adds a little excitement to their arrival as well.

Although most Yeshivot (post HS) in the USA begin on the first day of Iyar, in Israel there are many Yeshivot who started a few days earlier in order to have their students back for Yom Hashoa. We started on the day before Yom Hashoa in order to give some special shiurim on the day and to prepare everyone for the day.

This was our second Yom Hashoa in Israel. When I was here as a teen, I left for Pesach and never returned and missed it. Last year, we were a few days post-diagnosis and Goldie and I were at a doctor’s office in the basement of a hospital. We didn’t hear the siren and with all the things we were dealing with at the time, the truth is that we really weren’t able to focus on the day.

Having completed some errands in the center of town, Goldie and I headed for a major seforim sale run each year by the Mossad HaRav Kook publishing company (right behind the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva). We had a list of gifts to buy and the sale could not have come at a better time. The doors were scheduled to open at 10 AM, the same time as the Yom Hashoa siren and minute of silence.

Wanting to really experience the moment, Goldie and I headed for a major intersection two blocks away, literally at the entrance to Yerushalayim. Within minutes the siren sounded and life literally ground to a halt. Busses and taxis stopped in the middle of the road and their drivers stood outside their vehicles in respect. All pedestrian traffic froze. My sister told me she was once on the expressway and it was unbelievable to watch all the traffic instantly freeze.

I know that the USA has Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and these are recognized as honoring those who have served their country. However, with Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron (coming up in a couple days), Israel’s observances pack much more power and really focus on memorializing those who have been lost. Although it is only for a matter of seconds, the entire country focuses on honoring and remembering those who were killed at the same time and in a somber and respectful fashion. Yes, we also have parades and services, but there is nothing quite like that minute.

Of course, it goes without saying that Goldie cried. I turned to her as the sirens ended and there she was, wiping away the tears. While seeing her cry was not surprising, her explanation was. She said that it was the first time that she really took a minute to think about all the people lost in her mother’s side of the family and to consider how our lives would have been different, if only…

When we got home, each kid had a different story of what they were doing and how they reacted to the sirens. Chaim and Chaya were home (Chaya was laying in bed doing homework and she jumped up when she heard the siren – in the privacy of her bedroom). Aliza was in the middle of an assembly at school where the twelfth graders were reading very emotional compositions on the holocaust. As she put it, the whole room was swimming from the tears. Batya and Mordechai were in special assemblies in their schools, and Mordechai told us that on his own, he decided to say some tehillim to himself while the siren was ringing.

We have a friend who assists in Mordechai’s first grade classroom. She told us a bit about the special lessons they teach in the first grade here and we were overwhelmed. In order to relate the day to their level, the teacher described some of the hardships the little kids went through, talking about children leaving the ghetto through the sewers to go search for food for their families. She also got some fascinating questions from the boys. One of the most interesting ones to us was……

“Why didn’t they just come to Israel when it was so bad there?”

Sometimes we take what we have for granted.

On Shabbat, Chaia Broderick joined Goldie, me and Moshe for a walk to the park. At the park, Moshe found one of his three year old friends from his playgroup and was busy playing together with him and his father (who was clearly much younger than us) while we sat and schmoozed on a park bench. About a half hour passed when Moshe tried to climb on a specific riding toy at the park and couldn’t get it right, so I got up to help him.

“Look Moshe,” said his friend’s father, “your grandfather is coming to show you how!” “His FATHER!” I yelled, to the delight of Goldie and Chaia, who were laughing uncontrollably. Even though it didn’t make a difference to this guy, I made sure to explain that Moshe was my youngest child while his son was clearly the oldest, leading to the difference in their fathers’ ages.

I think it was the hair. The gray has come out again in a big way (especially the sefira beard). Maybe I need to color it again.

Pesach and Tiyulim (The Unprinted Article) 5/1/2008

This article was written after Pesach but submitted after deadline and never ran in the paper.

I got a call in the middle of chol hamoed from the guy whose family had baked matzot with us. He called to see how “we liked the cardboard” and to tell me that they would not be baking next year since they didn’t like the taste. I was surprised. My matzot were also thick and had less flavor than the “matzo bakery” matzot, but we all enjoyed them because we made them with our own hands.

There is no question that our family wants to make the “matzo bake” an annual tradition. I can even see doing it with my grandchildren way down the road. To each his own.

Having done all our shopping the week earlier, we (ok – so Goldie, Chaya & Aliza) spent the week before Pesach cooking, baking and filling the freezer so that Goldie would be able to enjoy the visit with her parents (who joined us for chag). With four less major seudot to plan and cook for, this was not as tough as it used to be back in the USA.

The Tuesday night before Yom Tov I broke my left pinkie playing in the inter-shul basketball league. The next morning, I went to get an x-ray and the technician asked me if I was injured while Pesach cleaning. Then he read the report and said, “I guess not.”

I responded that even though it was not a cleaning related injury, I needed an excuse note to get out of all future cleaning (even though we were all done cleaning by that time). After the x-ray, he came to give me the x-ray disk and said “Yaish Lecha Ishur” (you have a permit). It has been a painful inconvenience, but is getting better.

Once Goldie’s parents arrived the day before Yom Tov, we were all set to go. Thankfully, we will not have to deal with another Sunday Pesach for thirteen more years. All the headache with eating chametz for hamotzi on Shabbat was enough to drive us crazy, and waking up for a 6:40 AM davening did not help things. With the warm weather we were having, we were able to eat the meals (both at night and during the day) outside on the patio, which certainly helped with keeping the interior chametz free.

We almost did not have any bread to use for the Shabbat meals. Goldie and I assumed that the stores would have a fresh supply of challa available on Friday, but all the stores were converted for Pesach and the local bakery was closed. I had to run up to Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph where there was one bakery open. So we ended up with some really fresh challa rolls.

One of our returning students, Daniel Pessar asked me how the sedarim were for the family. I loved responding, “Sedarim? What’s that? Our Seder was very nice". Having one Seder instead of two is really a treat. Last year’s seder was a little overcast with all the medical issues we were dealing with. This year, even though we still have issues to deal with, things are much more settled and we were much more prepared to enjoy ourselves.

Chol Hamoed was really hot. The hottest day reached 105 or so, but the rest of the days were scorchers in their own right. This made planning tiyulim difficult, because with little kids and grandparents, we had to be very cognizant of the “wilting” factor and limit their exposure to the sun and heat. With an additional day of chol hamoed here, we also had to keep everyone occupied and busy.

We spent the first day at the safari in Ramat Gan. I am not sure which was worse, the 45 minute wait to get to the entrance or the traffic jam as cars maneuvered to get better viewing position in the safari. The adjoining zoo was so crowded that it reminded me of the Bronx Zoo on July Fourth.

The next day we drove to Ma’alot in Northern Israel to visit Goldie’s two great-aunts who came here from Russia eighteen years ago. It was nice to visit with them, but the six hours of driving in some awful traffic was tough. While in Ma’alot we also went to a mini fair they had over chol hamoed and went go carting and paddle boating. The highlight of the day was having dinner in a Naharia shawarma restaurant that had gone Kosher for Pesach.

By Wednesday we were all exhausted and with the weather forecast calling for 105+ degree weather, we decided to keep the kids home while Bubee and Zaidy took a day in Yerushalayim to tour and shop. Boy was it hot! I think I might even have traded an extra day of Yom Tov for a little less sun, but we don’t get that kind of choice.

Thursday we decided to go to an archeological dig in the National Park at Beit Guvrin, a twenty minute drive from our house. One of the treats of this tour (which was conducted in English) was getting to actually dig for archeological treasure in the Beit Guvrin caves. Every kid found something, be it a shard of pottery or an animal bone – and they loved getting dirty right under their parents’ noses.

On Friday I took my in-laws to Sderot to go shopping. As you know, I try to participate in many “support the people of Sderot” activites. I really believe that showing up and spending money in their stores in order to earn a living with dignity even when many of their regular customers have moved away is a big mitzva. Unfortunately, not everyone does.

Some guy took out several ads in the Jerusalem Post decrying the “tourism” aspect of going to Sderot. In his opinion, we should show solidarity with the people of Sderot by offering to switch houses with them for several months rather than try to catch a cheap “thrill” by coming by for a few minutes and then leaving after a bomb or two (no bombs landed while we were there).

I disagree but certainly hope he continues with this kind of sentiment. I think every time he gives money for a poor person to buy food that he goes to their home to eat their meal, while offering his meal in his home to their family. Or maybe he should personally open his door to all orphans and the handicapped who do indeed need all of our concern for their housing and shelter. Somehow I don’t see it.

What I do see is that we have a responsibility to care for all those who need our help. And if that means that we sometimes go to an orphanage to help make a simcha there, then that is what we do. Or if it means that we need to drive down to Sderot and buy Yom Tov flowers from THEIR florist instead of in Beit Shemesh so that the florist can make a little money with dignity and not have to ask for a handout – then I am all for that as well.

Oh yeah. My nephew was indeed home for the Seder but had to return to vigorous training during chol hamoed during which he fell and hurt himself. So he had an unscheduled visit home for the last day of chag before returning to the base and a resumption of training.