Yom HaZikaron – A Day to Remember


Today was a very bittersweet day. Living in Israel is a paradox. It’s a country where there is a huge sense of faith in Hashem, in G-d, but also many people that run away from their Jewish identities. It’s a country where every young boy goes to the army as soon as he is old enough, and fights to protect our country from the enemies that surround it. Today was Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance.

In America, Memorial Day means a lot to a select few. In Israel, today means a lot to everyone. There is no one who doesn’t know someone who fell, or at the very least, someone who knows someone who fell. Today, I heard a very moving story that I am going to try to remember here.

A Rosh Yeshiva survivor of World War II had a teacher at his school who had a son serving in the army that fell during the first Lebanon War. After the Levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to the bochurim (yeshiva students) in the van taking him back to school and said, “He was Kadosh.” He was holy. One of the other students in the van turned to him and questioned, “Rebbi, even the non-religious soldiers?” Without hesitation he responded, “They were ALL kadosh.” Then, without explaining himself he asked the driver of the cab to take him directly to the house where his colleague was sitting shiva, mourning for his son.

His colleague was shocked at the arrival of the Rosh Yeshiva, who was never known for spending any extra time out of his Torah learning, and said to him, “Thank you for coming, but it is time for you to return to Yeshiva.”

His superior turned to him and relayed the following story:
“You don’t know this about me, but I had a son who was taken out of my arms and executed. He was five years old, and I was not able to do anything to save him. Later, I traded my five-year old son’s shoes for food, but I could never eat it. I gave it away to someone else. When my son was taken, I knew he was a tzadik (righteous) but he went singularly; he didn’t save anyone else in the process. Your son was also taken from you, but he did so saving the lives of all of the Jewish people that live in the Land of Israel, making him a tzadik in his own right. I know that in shamayim (heaven) right now, my son is welcoming your Shlomo to a heavenly minyan, where your son is the Shaliach Tzibur (the leader of the group) in heavenly prayer. I never got to sit shiva properly for my own son, so please let me sit here with you for a little while longer.”

The Rebbe (teacher) replied, “Rebbi (my teacher), I didn’t think it was possible to be comforted, but you just comforted me.”

Two sirens sound on Yom Hazikaron, one in the evening and one in the morning. The sirens evoke emotions that are larger than life, bringing in images of soldiers knocking loudly on doors to deliver news that no one wants to receive; wails of mothers burying their sons, and an intense silence falls over the country: the silence of laughter that will never be heard again; the silence of a wedding that will never occur and children and grandchildren that will never be born.

The director of my school said that while the national response to these sirens is to stand in a moment of silence, she doesn’t think that it’s a very Jewish response. She said that a much more Jewish response would be to stand up and to pray to G-d on behalf of the fallen soldiers, to say tehillim for their souls to help them elevate higher and higher; that our prayer should enable them to daven in their own heavenly minyan.

People often criticize the religious population in Israel for being unwilling and ungrateful to the soldiers of the land of Israel, but this powerful story shows that the opposite is true – we ALL owe our lives to them. We owe our safety to them. Our ability to daven at the Kotel to them. But we also owe it to Hashem, our Father in Heaven, who made it possible for them to strengthen this country to be able to defend itself from it’s foes. Without this understanding; without soldiers in the army and soldiers learning Torah, the Jewish state loses all of it’s Judaism – it becomes a secular state with a mainly Jewish population, the antithesis of anything Jewish. that is the essence of Yom Hazikaron, which always falls during a time of mourning for the Jewish people. It’s not a coincidence that the date is during sefira, the counting of the Omer, when we are challenged with working on our character traits specifically concerning “ben adam l’chavero,” between a man and his friend. During this time it is essential that we recognize the kedusha, the holiness, of each and every one of the soldiers defending Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), and also that we realize that ultimately, everything is in Hashem’s hands.

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A Little Peace and Thanksgiving


Baruch Hashem, it’s been quiet here for the past week. We all had a few mixed feelings when the cease fire was announced last week, because we partially wanted Israel to just go in and finish the job they started, but thankful that we wouldn’t hear the wail of the siren in the coming days.

We were unhappy for several reasons. First of all, Hamas learned some lessons during this war that are not beneficial to Israel. Primarily, they learned that they can fire over 1500 rockets into Israel in an 8 day period and not get so much as a potch (smack) on the wrist. They also learned that Egypt (see below: the real winner of the “war”) and the United States will push for a cease fire and try to get Israel to not ‘invade’ by foot. (I put the word invade in parenthesis because can a country ‘invade’ a part of their own borders? Would the U.S. be ‘invading’ Puerto Rico? Arizona? Just something to think about.)

Egypt really won this war because the world recognized their leader (an open member of the Muslim Brotherhood) as a vital contribution to the “peace” process between Israelis and Palestinians. No surprise that less than a week later, he declared himself a dictator by saying that none of the courts can contradict any decision that he makes as leader.

As for the amount of quiet we’ve had, there’s still some unrest along the Gaza/Sinai border, and not all of the soldiers that were called up from the army have gone home. Most recently, there was some distress on the Gaza/Israel border (see above comment for why I sigh/roll my eyes while I write this) and Israeli soldiers were needed to calm down the situation. We haven’t had a siren in Jerusalem, and I don’t think there have been sirens in the south since the day after the cease fire either.

Even throughout the whole ordeal, we weren’t fearful. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t afraid, but we weren’t full of fear. A friend of mine, who I’ll tell you about in a second, almost found herself outside during the second siren, because she had to go to the butcher. Once the siren was over, she ran out, and while she was waiting for the butcher to ring up her food, she let out a sigh, almost as if she’d been holding her breath the whole way there, afraid there would be another siren. The butcher (a Chassidic man), told her it’s okay to be scared. He said, “You can be scared because it’s scary. But to be paralyzed in fear is not good. To not do things because of the fear is bad.” In other words, being paralyzed because of fear makes you think that you are in control. To be aware but unparalyzed is to see that you are most certainly not.

We’re coming to visit America next week for two weeks, and my mom asked me if we’d had a conversation about not going back because of the war. I told her no. She asked if we would be having that conversation — and I told her it wasn’t in our radar. That it was a conversation that would not happen.

There is a clarity that comes from being in a time of crisis. Over the past week, we were scared, but we still felt safe. We’d have to be idiots to not feel safe after seeing all of the miracles that happened all over Israel. To say that over 1500 rockets fell in and around highly populated cities all over a country that’s the size of New Jersey and only six people died is miraculous. A bus blew up in Tel Aviv and only injured some of the people on board. That rockets aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem landed in Arab territory; there’s no other way to understand it. The army might say it’s because of the Iron Dome, that they are strong, and able, but we know that it’s because there’s a greater “Iron Dome” out there, looking out for all of us. We have to hold on to this clarity.

These are all things to be thankful for. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Israel (not even in Har Nof, which is made up of A LOT of Americans!), our group of friends from Philadelphia decided to get together for a Shabbaton and eat Thanksgiving-themed food. Everyone made a dish or two, and it was a lot of fun. Jonathan and I made the turkey and gravy, and others contributed stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and onions, butternut squash soup, and salad. For dessert, we had our choice of either lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, pumpkin bread pudding with a dulce de leche sauce, or chocolate chip cookies. To say that we were full at the end of Shabbos would be the biggest understatement of the year, probably.

Throughout the whole experience, all I could think about is how grateful I am that all of our best friends got the opportunity to come to Israel at the same time, and that we’re all quite literally in this together. Just to give you a little bit of background: In college, I met two girls who very quickly became my best friends. They are now here, in Israel, with us. One of those girls, Hannah, is married to a guy that I grew up with, from kindergarten through college. Obviously, he’s here too and he is one of Jonathan’s best friends. Another one of our very good friends from college is here also, along with one more couple. And we all went to college together. Now, we’re all in seminary together. Quite literally, Hashem gave us this incredible support system in college as we were becoming more observant together, and continued to give us this support system through getting married (for some of us, and for others, soon!), and now, going to Israel.

So when we want to go to the supermarket and have to take those four buses to do so (and to share a cab home!), there’s someone to do it with. When we want to go shopping for a skirt, or for gifts for family and friends, there’s someone there. Need to vent? Not a problem. Missed a class? Here’s the notes. And all coming together for a meal that we all had a part in was a beautiful materialization of that reality. And it was a lot of fun.

We missed our family and friends in America, but we’re lucky to have a kind of Philadelphia, mismatched, quirky, and fun family here. And a lot of things to be thankful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for.

Our New Pet!


Yes, we have a new pet — kind of. As I’m sure many of you know from reading this post, we had a MAJOR ant problem in our first apartment. Why, you may ask, do we not have one here? Because of our newest addition to the family; THIS GUY:

The awesome, ever-elusive, ant eater — FRANK!

Alright, he’s not really our pet — more like a trespasser that likes to sleep in our shoes, under the bed, and once, IN the bed — but he gets the prize for the most creative exterminator I’ve ever seen. I worry about Frank, sometimes, about when he is going to get the amount of sun he needs to keep warm, like the cold-blooded fella he is. I’m scared he’s going to get out and get eaten by one of the many feral cats that live on the Jerusalem streets. My fears were almost actualized when I almost stepped on him while sweeping the bedroom the other day — that would have been traumatizing, to say the least.

But Frank is cool, and he doesn’t poop in the house (that we can see), nor does he make noise, shed, or activate any of our allergies. He also changes colors, like a chameleon, and we find him in the strangest places (here – on our window), outside on the Jerusalem stone walls, or like I said, in our shoes.

Maybe one day we’ll get him a heat lamp and build him a terrarium, but I like the idea of him running free, as he usually is when he’s running away from the broom, or the mop, or the never-ending dust bunnies that seem to form EVERY DAY in our tiny apartment, where he builds his nest night after night. Frank’s a cool dude. And he can stay here, if he’d like. He pays his rent by killing mosquitoes, aunts, and moths (although sometimes I worry that they could eat him!).

In other news, since Sukkot is over, I needed to find a use for the 15 spare etrogim that Jonathan got for free right before the holiday at a nearby shul. So, like many bubbes and balabustas before me, I’ve decided to try my hand at making etrog marmalade — YUM! Since we had so many, it seems like we are going to be enjoying many-a etrog flavored dessert for the next few months, probably until Shavuous (in June). I researched a lot of recipes, and this is the one I compiled after reading a dozen.

Meet Etrog. Looks a little like lemon’s lumpy cousin, the distant relative to buddha’s hand citron. Also called a citron in other languages.

All of the recipes I found said to soak the etrogim, some said whole, some said cut up — so I did the smart thing: Both!

Here are the cut-up etrogim soaking for the second day.

The recipes I found said the minimum time to soak the etrogim was 12 hours, and the longest was 7 days — so I went with soak for 1 day whole, 2 days cut up (changing the water once each day.) This step is important because it helps to get rid of the bitterness from the pith of the fruit, which in an etrog’s case, makes up most of it’s bulk.

Then, the etrogim were cut into smaller pieces, and put into a pot to simmer on the stove (this is happening now). This water is also going to be discarded, and then they’ll be set to simmer again. The second batch of water will ALSO be discarded. The third time’s the charm with this one.

Esrog’s simmering on the stove for the first time.

Once the esrogs have been simmered twice, and they’re sitting in NEW water, then it’s time to add the sugar. Since this is a classic marmalade, the standard equal parts fruit/sugar will qualify. This is usually equivalent to 1 cup of sugar for every etrog in the batch.

Once the sugar is added (with water, obviously), let the mixture simmer for about 1/2 hour. Make sure you watch your jam at this point, because it can burn and ruin the whole project. To check whether you have the right consistency, I found this great trick from Food.com — if you put a saucer in the freezer, and spread a little bit of the jam on the cold saucer, it should cool down to the temperature where you can check the consistency — you want it to be like jam, not like caramel or juice. If it’s like juice, add a little bit of orange marmalade to reintroduce the pectin you removed while soaking (this is why it’s nice to have a food scientist husband). If it’s like caramel, then congratulations — you’ve made candied etrogim! YUM!

Jar and sanitize according to your grandmother’s method.

Stay tuned for photos of the finished product tomorrow!

Since etrogim also have SO MANY seeds, we thought it would be fun to try to plant a tree in our backyard. The only time I’ve ever tried this before, I planted the apple seeds DIRECTLY into the ground instead of letting them germinate and sprout, so I’m going to work a little smarter this time. (Disclaimer: I was about 6 when I tried this with apples. Also, my mom was NOT HAPPY. She was afraid an apple tree would actually grow. Me? I just really liked apples, and was a tad jealous of our neighbor’s neighboring pear tree. Now, I’m allergic to both fruits.)

Our collection of Etrog seeds — soon to be ETROG TREES…or one, etrog tree. If my black thumb doesn’t betray me.

Since I’ve had a black thumb in the past with every plant I’ve ever tried to care for, I’m a little nervous about this one, but Jonathan’s green thumb should help back me up. (Side note: seriously, blackest thumb EVER. I’ve even managed to kill SCALLIONS — all they need is WATER.)

Many more fun and exciting stories are to come!

I’ve Been Slacking


In the blog department. I apologize greatly for that, but it’s really exhausting to live here.

Amazingly exhausting, that is. The lifestyle here definitely took some getting used to — there’s no such thing as Target or Wal-Mart, and in order to get the food for the week it usually requires a trip to the shuk (I have some pictures), the supermarket (I have some more pictures) and the Makolet (think corner store, but a little bit more variety), with one or two more errands thrown in between. No one has cars, but there’s always traffic somehow, the bus system is GREAT, but taking buses everywhere is crazy because the bus drivers are army reserve members that  drive like they are STILL in the army, and you have to take a trip to about 5 stores ALWAYS to get everything that you want.

For Sukkot, that meant A LOT of shopping, and a LOT of stores, but we are so excited that we got to have our first Sukkah here in Israel! We had 11 of Jonathan’s yeshiva friends over for a meal, so we certainly had a full house, erm, Sukkah!

Our first Sukkah! The roof is made from palm leaves that enable you to still experience the elements, and we decorated it with etrogim (esrogim, or citron fruits), grape vines, and plastic pomegranates that were realistic enough to fool the bees!

To prepare for sukkot, we went to many different stores, and I finally got to take some pictures of the shuk (open market)! We got there really early, by 8:15 in the morning, but it was already packed with people buying food for the holiday.

A store only for nuts!

And one that only sells olives and pickles!

Soon, I’m going to go back to the shuk and take pictures as we eat our way through it, and do a blog specifically on the foods of Israel, but that’s for another day :-)!

On our way back from the shuk, we were getting off of the light rail to transfer to a bus home when someone suddenly yelled out to Jonathan and ran up to him to introduce himself. Turns out, because they looked so much alike, he wanted to know if they could possibly be related. This man, Gilad, has some American family that he never got to meet and wanted to know if Jonathan could possibly be his long-lost cousin. After they shmoozed for almost an hour at the bus stop and on the bus, it turns out that they certainly are NOT related, but they do look alike.

Jonathan and his new “brother.”

We also went to the supermarket, which was even busier than it was last time I showed you a picture. See?

This was the supermarket on Thursday afternoon, before Shabbos and Sukkot. It was so crowded, you had to walk to the back of the supermarket to make it to the other side, and you couldn’t even choose which check out line you wanted to use — whichever aisle you were in dictated that decision for you.

During this pretty sizeable break from classes, we were also able to travel to the south to visit a lot of Jonathan’s Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. It’s certainly been a busy break, and one filled with lots of food! His aunt Mazal told us she was only going to prepare us a snack, and when we got to her house there was a feast — four courses including fish, steak, wings, soup, and dessert. My waistband was not happy with me by the end of this trip.

Jonathan and Mazal at our feast!

We also made pizza in this awesome pizza oven at Jonathan’s Aunt Aleeza and Uncle Moshe’s.

At the end of this trip, we were definitely ready for the respite that Shabbos brings — I don’t think I’ve ever napped so much on one Shabbos before! Now that break is over, and I’ve gotten A LOT of Hebrew practice and we got to travel quite a bit, we are ready to get back into gear at school. I’m going to be doing a new education program, where I learn a curriculum for teachers in Jewish Day schools, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve got more to update everyone on, so stay tuned!

Jonathan and Me all ready for Shabbos at his Aunt Aleeza and Uncle Moshe’s house.

Firmly Planted


When I was little, I thought Tu B’Shevat was the coolest holiday EVER. I had a book called “The Birthday of the Trees” and I would read it all the time — it was about a little girl who wanted to make a birthday party for the trees. She even baked a cake.

Today, I appreciate the holiday even more. Today was the day the world began.

I know that sounds really counter-intuitive. I know I shared my vision for a new year already; I know that there can’t be more than one new year per year. But in Judaism, there are three — Rosh Hashana, Tu B’Shevat, and Pesach.

Today is Tu B’Shevat. The fifteenth of Shevat, the new year for the fruit of the trees.

We can learn a lot from Trees; we are really very similar to them in many ways. And in the ways that we aren’t, we should really strive to be more alike.

Trees have their roots planted firmly in the ground. As saplings, they grow in two directions; as their roots stretch and twist and swell from nourishment deeper and deeper in the ground, trees grow branches and leaves. They defy gravity while sinking into it at the same exact time.

A cross-section of human bone looks just like a cross-section of a tree. It has rings on the inside, rings to help nutrients penetrate to the core – to sink inside something that looks and feels so solid.

People too, defy gravity from the moment they are born, but still can’t overcome it. Our feet must be firmly planted at all times or we will lose our footing; even jumping from a high enough plateau; it will always bring us back to earth.

We are conditioned to reach for the skies, to ponder their depths and to look for answers. To use our limbs to reach out and up and grow — to stand on our tipy-toes to see what the world looks like from a slightly higher altitude.

On Tu B’Shevat, today, we can learn from trees. We can reach and reach and reach, higher and higher until we might topple over from standing so high. We can enjoy the fruits of our labors and the fruits that just appear because the rains fall just enough to give us G-d’s candy. We can harvest and reap and sow until our backs hurt and then just stand in the plowed fields stretching and reaching toward heaven.

Today is the birthday of the fruit of the trees. The start of the world and the beginning of a lesson that has been going on for centuries. A lesson about balancing earth and heaven, our heads and our hearts; how to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and still reach up, searching for more.

 

New Year, New…Shoes?


So, it’s official – it’s a new year. 5772.

Ever since I can remember, Rosh Hashanah has always been one of my all-time favorite holidays. Something about the warm, sweet challah dipped in honey, the sweet honey or Jewish Apple cake dotted with sour raisins, the smell of brisket roasting in the oven…

For some reason, all of my holiday associations center around food.

Rosh Hashanah always meant the beginning of something. The beginning of the school year, the beginning of fall, the beginning of a beginning. This year, I celebrated with an entire new family, but missing one of my family members as well.

It was really beautiful, and made me really look forward to hosting our own Rosh Hashanah seudah at our house. I can picture the tablecloth, the centerpiece. I can see the simanim we would giggle over before stuffing our tummies full of yummy food. I can see the meal going on for hours.

Looking back at the past year, I almost can’t believe how much has changed. How much I grew. How much Jonathan grew. We went from taking walks and drinking Starbucks Hot Chocolate to packing lunches (for each other) and paying renters insurance. And I really couldn’t be happier.

A lot of things are changing; Jonathan got a new job working for Campbell’s soup, which he loves. I’m in school and working, and I’m starting to find time to breathe. We’re talking about travelling, about buying a house. We’re dreaming together. And I’ll take the beginning of a life of dreams anytime. L’Shana Tova, all.

#Flagman


At work, I receive a daily email filled with interesting news stories, newspaper articles, and videos that have been flagged by the civil rights division as relevant and useful to our jobs, but also to help us enrich our understanding of the ever-changing world we live in. Some articles speak of good news, of solidarity and bring hope to the workplace. This one brought tears.

The article I’ve linked above speaks very briefly about what actually happened in Egypt: a man ascended the Israeli embassy in Cairo, scaling the building, and removed the Israeli flag. He threw it to the ground and replaced it it with an Egyptian flag.

That’s painful enough. Israel and Egypt have co-existed for almost 35 years somewhat peacefully, save for a very small rebel faction, and as the rest of the world knew, once Mubarak was gone, it would all come into question. And it has, seen most literally in last weeks terror attack in the Negev that left 8 Israelis dead and dozens more injured.

But what bothers me most about the article in the Times? That it was the first I had heard about the Flagman. And that it mentioned nothing about the consequences of removing a flag from a foreign embassy.

For Israel, that flag was more than just a piece of printed and sewn fabric; for all of the Jewish people, the symbolism is much deeper. The star of david, the magen david, is the shield of David, the King who represents the ultimate time of hope within the Jewish religion, the King that will bring our salvation. The fact that the white and blue shield of David could fly freely over the streets of Cairo meant that Israel had finally acheived recognition by one of it’s Arab neighbors, enough recognition to warrant a spacial haven protected by the Egyptian government. For each nation’s embassy is as good as that nation’s land: it’s laws are primary, it offers protection to it’s citizens, and within it’s confines, the only government that can make law is the government that resides within it.

The article didn’t talk about what Flagman means for Israel and Israeli-Egypt relations. It didn’t talk about the symbolism of removing an Israeli flag from it’s own land on foreign soil, and it hardly mentioned that he was rewarded by the state with a fancy apartment and job.

It glorified the Flagman – whomever he is. It compared him to Spiderman, a childrens hero and vigilante who takes matters into his own hands when he can’t rely on the government or police, and showcased the competition that each of the perpetrators is knee-deep in. They both want glory. They both want recognition. For what? For throwing away that flag. For erasing Israel’s history, and Israel’s haven. For turning it into a land that once existed, replacing it with Egypt’s new republic.

Last week, I participated in a training for a program that deals strictly with anti-Semitism. In today’s world, the conversation would be incomplete if anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment was left out of the equation. Look at the cartoons that compare Netanyahu to Hitler, and then look at Hitler’s propaganda. What’s that saying about a duck? – I hear quacking.

Someone remarked to me this weekend that it seems as though the world is literally falling apart at it’s seams. We had a 5.8 earthquake in Virgina that reached all the way from Phoenix to Toronto, and we all felt the eart quiver under our feet. We experienced a hurricane that left thousands powerless and waterlogged, killing at least a dozen people in it’s path. And the Times published an article that totally disregarded a terrorist act; instead, glorified the terrorists.

We need to wake up.

Today is the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, which is a month of connection and growth. It’s intensity is tangible, and within it lies the power for all of us to come closer to our own potential. But the world has a lot of work to do. Many people are rebuilding physically their homes and basements, which they found filled with water, others are going back to school to work on building intellect and knowledge. Some are entering and ending new relationships, others rekindling old ones. All of this brings potential to make ourselves, and the world, a better place. But potential, like the truth, can always be ignored, and we can choose, like the author of the Times article, to ignore the real issue and focus on the external, dramatic, disgusting battle of two terrorists vying for a top spot.