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.


K’Siva V’Chasima Tova!

Happy New Year!! I’m sorry I haven’t been updating as regularly as I (and I’m sure, all of you, my loyal readers) would have wanted — I kept forgetting to bring my camera with me and I didn’t think it was as fun to update without pictures — in hindsight, I wish I’d updated more regularly because now I don’t know really where to begin!

This past month, the Hebrew month of Elul, has been intense, to say the least. It’s a time of learning and self-evaluation, and that energy can be felt all over the country. In everything from going to the supermarket to riding on the bus, there is a feeling of anticipation present in Eretz Yisrael during this time of year. Just to give you an idea of how intense it can be, here’s a few pictures of the checkout line in the supermarket:

It took us about an hour and a half to checkout — by the time we got to the front of the line, we decided that our next venture to the supermarket, one of us would stand in line and the other one would shop!

Another thing we certainly do not lack here is exercise: I’m uploading a step-by-step (literally) visual of my commute to school:

The first flight of stairs — which I forgot to get a picture of, is about 30 steps or so.

Then, I approach this beauty:

And walk ALLLLLL the way to the top.

Then, the next flight of stairs is about 10 meters from this one:

And more:

Then, there’s an AMAZING view at the top of these stairs, which I stand and “admire” while I catch my breath.

You can see my house from here!

Then, when you think you’re finished walking up all the stairs in the world, there’s another flight:

These are the perks of living literally ON a mountain — where our town was built, and from where we live, there’s no way to go but up.

As the new year (5773) begins tonight, I have to say that I feel extraordinarily blessed and happy to be celebrating it here in Eretz Yisrael. The only thing missing is our Philadelphia family and friends, who we miss very much.

This year has been very trying for my family and me — from unexpected health troubles, to the loss of my beloved grandfather, to changes and circumstances that are not always understood, this has been a year where each of my family members (including myself) has had to learn ways to stretch ourselves to fit the ever-changing needs of our environment around us and to help each other get through particularly trying times. It sounds a bit cliché, but I’m hoping that next year’s challenges are going to be less…challenging. More clarifying. I don’t believe that learning to stretch yourself is a bad thing, on the contrary, I think it’s a beautiful way to grow; all the same, I do not wish any challenging circumstances upon anyone, including myself.

I’ve learned a lot over the past month, but one thing that I learned that I think stuck with me above all else is that if you want to make a change in your life, no matter how big or small, you have to meet yourself where you are at that moment. And if you’re looking to get from point A to point D, you’re better off stopping off at point B and C along the way — taking a leap doesn’t always work the way you necessarily want it to. There’s a concept in Judaism called “opening the eye of a needle” — when we want to make a change, and G-d wants us to make that change, He doesn’t ask us to do anything drastic to get there. Instead, He just requests that we “open for Him the Eye of the needle,” and He’ll show us the rest.

I can really see this concept clearly in my life these days — when I think about the fact that four months ago, Jonathan and I weren’t even planning on going to Eretz Yisrael. We went, from one day, having what we thought was our “plan” for the next few years, to making the decision to go, to finding ourselves on an airplane, and living in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful neighborhood all in the blink of an eye. That eye of a needle for us was making a concrete decision to come — and we were really shown the rest, given a path, given help (financially and emotionally) to make it work, allowing us to live the year we’ve been dreaming about since we got engaged to be married.

When you’re little, and your bones and muscles begin to stretch, we call them “growing pains.” What we don’t learn at a young age is that these growing pains do not cease when you get older and your bones and muscles reach their “grown-up” length — the pains just become more emotional, more spiritual, more internal rather than physical. Growing pains aren’t bad — they measure progress, they teach you your limits, and help you ultimately define who you are, what you do, what you want to be. To experience these pains in a beautiful and fulfilling way, all you need is the eye of a needle.

We want to wish everyone a K’Siva V’Chasima Tova from Jerusalem — that 5773 should be a year of health, healing, bracha, parnasa (prosperity), and of achdus (togetherness) for all of our loved ones here and elsewhere.

Shana Tova u’Metuka!

Can’t Touch This

Since I work at a Jewish organization, I get put in situations like this on almost a daily basis. These were hilarious, and I couldn’t help but want to share it on this forum.

As I explained in Un-Orthodox, my husband and I are both Orthodox Jews. This in and of itself lends itself to hilarious situations (see: why I won’t eat that lettuce and “the bob-and-weave” at an engagement party), working at a Jewish org where I am the only orthodox person means that I get asked questions. Those uncomfortable questions that don’t always have a simple answer.

For example, a friend of mine came to visit me during lunch last week, and our 80-year-old intern (I’m not kidding. Trust me, I wish I was) came into the office and I introduced him. She has dark skin and is very exotic looking, so when he offered his hand and she told him that she didn’t shake hands with men, he looked at me like we both had 4 heads and they were all growing tentacles.

“She’s Orthodox,” I explained, “She doesn’t shake hands with men.”
“What language?” the 80-year-old intern asked.
“English. She’s Jewish. Orthodox,” I repeated.
“OH! Orthodox. Did you know that I’m related to the Ba’al Shem Tov?”

Today, one of my colleagues had a meeting today with a group of Jewish people, one of whom just celebrated her orthodox son’s engagement. She went on and on in the kitchen (where else?) about the relationship, the short engagement, and wait — the fact that her son has never, ever TOUCHED his bride-to-be.

Everyone gasped collectively and the volume went through the roof–

“Like they’ve never held hands?”
“He didn’t kiss her when she said yes?!”
“They’ve never even high-fived!?”

I could go on for hours, really. Since my office is right next to the kitchen, I got to hear the entire discourse, and as soon as it was over, I knew exactly what was coming.

My co-worker sauntered into my office and started with a caveat, “I hope this isn’t too much of a personal question, but –”
“I know exactly what you are going to ask,” I replied, my cheeks probably red enough to give away my answer.

As I convinced her that yes, there are people who really ONLY touch their husbands/wives/immediate family members in the Orthodox Community, and shunned her previous thought that that was such an “Ultra-Orthodox” thing to do, I told her that there were really normal, living, eating, breathing people who waited until they were married to touch for the first time. And yes, their marriages are normal. Yes, they have sex, and yes, they really do love each other. And they know they love each other before their wedding day.

My co-worker didn’t ask me why, but since I experience situations like this more-and-more freqently, maybe I should articulate why I won’t shake your hand/hug you/kiss you/square dance with you even if you are one of my closest friends.

Similar to Islam, Orthodox Jews do not touch members of the opposite sex they are not related to. Not because men or women have cooties, and not because we’re afraid that we might get automatically “turned-on” from a high-five. The reason is simple – that physical relations are holy – and holy things need to be kept separate. This concept plays a huge role in many of the facets of Orthodox Judaism; but shomer negiah is one that is often downplayed, ignored, and looked-down upon.

In today’s world, so much of what we do is public. We all have Facebook (except me!), we all update our twitter feeds and linkedin profiles, and we are all online, all the time. Even my diary is public and you’re allowed to read it, and I don’t even know who you are! Judaism, in general, is a religion that says that’s okay — great, even, as long as there’s an amount of self-respect that is preserved.

Keeping touch private makes it feel special, knowing that my husband won’t hug my friends or even shake hands with the women he works with (who I will never meet) makes me feel like I am more important than them. Which is allowed, because I am his wife. It keeps our most personal relationships private, adding a layer to our love that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

And it makes our relationship feel holy, for sure.