Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Death Comes to those Who Plot Against the Jew

An Open Letter to the Commander of Iran's Army, Ataollah, Saleh

Dear Ataollah,

I'm glad I'm not you. I didn't think to start this letter quite like that, but maybe it's the right way. You are the commander of Iran's army and you have promised to destroy my country at all costs. That's a heck of a promise, I have to tell you.

Many have tried...including some from the same land you now occupy. For his promise, Haman of ancient Persia was hanged from the very tree he prepared to execute Mordechai, the Jew. Death comes to those who plotted against the Jew. All that Haman had, was given to the Jews and to this day, his name brings laughter to every generation of our people.

Hitler promised and today, for the grandfather he murdered, there are seven children that carry my husband's grandfather's name. The memory of Yeshaya Zev is blessed; Hitler forever cursed. For the people he reviled, there is a nation reborn and each day we walk in sunshine, even on the rainiest of days, because we are home.

Amalek promised...yeah, you probably never heard of him, and that was, in a large part, thanks to the Israelites. Yes, in Israel, Hebrews, Jews, even then, more than three thousand years ago. He attacked the weakest, showing no mercy and so he and his people are no more.

You said that “Israel only barks. No matter how much weapons are given to [it], we are going to destroy them. We will promise this task will be done.”

What great military battles has Iran fought? It's a question...Google is one of my best friends so I asked, "Google, what great battles has Iran fought?"

So, using another of my friends - Wikipedia, I learned about your history a bit. I had fallen out of touch after the Jews of Shushan, Persia were saved. With a little help, I covered your history from 678 BCE to 2015 CE (a period of 2693 years). Amazingly enough, of those approximately 2,700 years, you've spent 1,528 of them at war with someone, and often several someones at the same time. So, how'd that go for you? Well, let's check.

Rounding the numbers out a bit, you've won 28 out of 59 wars. Not bad...just under half. Of course, 19 of those victories took place over 500 years ago. You were defeated 20 times...12 of them in the more recent part of your history.

You were involved in conflicts that lasted hundreds of years - that tells us you really have a social problem and likely need psychiatric assistance to learn to cope with anger issues and in general, just trying to get along. Apparently, you can't even get along with yourself - over 60,000 Iranians were Iran...or so said Ayatollah Khomeini.

You don't get along with your neighbors, but I guess we can't hold that against you - we pretty much don't get along with our neighbors either. Of course, the reasons are different.

We are against extremism; that is what you hold dear. We value life; you take great pleasure in threatening it.

You say that Israel only barks...which of course completely contradicts all those lies that say we spend all our lives butchering, oppressing, occupying, torturing etc. The truth is though, that we do bark... a warning...and then, for those who do not listen, we follow the bark with the ideal bite, customized as needed to suit each situation. It might be a clandestine flight into Uganda to save predominantly Jewish victims of a hijacked Air France flight; it might be planes that fly into Yemen and Sudan to bring our people home.

It might be the IDF Air Force flying in to bomb a nuclear plant in Iraq, the makings of one in Syria, and, perhaps, one day soon, into Iran as well. The bark of Israel might or might not impress you, but the bite is guaranteed to shock you, perhaps even enough to push your country back into the Middle Ages when you actually won some wars.

I was wondering about your army and your air force and how it ranks compared to others. So Google again...Israel just misses the top 10 "most powerful armies in the world" ranking in at number 11. It is, by far, the smallest army relative to the top 10, but it was immediately cited as being very powerful. Good news for you, you managed to squeak into the top 20, ranked at number 18.

As for air force, well, you don't make the top 10...I mean, no where. In most places, you aren't mentioned; one got you in at 20. By contrast, Israel's air force was ranked anywhere from 3 to 8.

What about overall "best militaries in the world"? Well, Israel came in at a solid 11...not bad at all considering the size of our tiny country. The army you command, more than 15 times larger than Israel's in size...ranks at 22.

So, army for army and air force for air force, it seems Israel isn't the one that falls short. More importantly, as the US so kindly announced to the world, Israel has had nuclear capabilities for decades and yet, for a nation you accuse of being all "bark" - we've never threatened anyone with the use of those weapons. By contrast, you don't even have them yet, and have already repeatedly threatened Israel.

So bark for bark, Iran does seem to win that comparison. It is, sadly, the only one you can win.
Our country is stronger militarily and without question, our sons and daughters are more dedicated. But more:
  • According to the World Health Organizations, of 191 countries, Israel ranks at number 28...Iran ranks at number 93.
  • Infant mortality rates...Israel comes in at, well, I found you down at 108, right next to Turkey at 109.
  • Life expectancy - for men, Israel ranks tied at number 2; for women, Israel ranks tied with Canada, Sweden, Norway and others at number 11 (overall rank of 9th in the world). By contrast, you rank 69th for men; 98th for women (overall at 81).
  • Israel has laws against spousal abuse...Iran does not.
  • Sixty percent of labor judges in Israel are zero percentage in Iran because women aren't allowed to be judges.
  • Women's economic index (the measure of a woman's ability to participate in the economic environment of her country): Israel ranks 30th in the world...Iran is right down there at 117.
Lest you think the Israel beats Iran in everything:
  • Intentional homicide rates - Iran's is double compared to Israel (3.8 to 1.7 per thousand)
  • Honor killings are much more prevalent in Iran than in Israel
  • 80% of the Iranian population lives below the poverty line, as compared to 20% in Israel (and before you blame it on the sanctions, remember why the sanctions were first created - Iran was spending its money supporting global terrorism, not caring for its children).
  • Iran is one of five countries (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen) that allows the death penalty for children (defined as individuals under 18 years of age). By contrast, for all intents and purposes, Israel does not have the death penalty...only one person - Adolf Eichmann, was ever sentenced to death...and that was more than 50 years ago).
So, Ataollah, what this all comes down to is this. Your country is a mess and you can fix it by taking care of your women and children, improving your health facilities and lowering crime...or you can mess with Israel, a country ranked by the world as having a better army, air force, dedicated soldiers and the history and the might to answer your threats.

Before it is too late, read history. The facts are all there. My people has one land, not dozens. We have one home and it will forever be ours. It is the one place where we will raise our children without fear and if that means bringing Iran to its knees, you forget you are talking to a people that has successfully outlived the Babylonians, the Ancient Persians, the Ancient Egyptians, the Roman Empire, the Crusaders, the Amalekites, the Caananites, the Phoenicians, the Nazis...and, if need be, your people as well.

Remember the lesson...death comes to those who plot against the Jew.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sealing Your Fate

Yom Kippur is a day filled with so many emotions. We are, in many ways, stripped from our families and friends. We stand in a room filled with people, utterly alone. We pray alone despite the other voices near us. Each was judged, their fate decided on Rosh Hashana and then comes Yom Kippur when the decree is signed by God, no less.

No less; no more. In the space of 25 hours, God will sign our fate for the coming year.

Fear - did I do all I could do? Who ever does? We are human beings, not angels, not God. How could we possibly do enough to warrant the blessings we need to survive? We need a place to live, we need food. We need enough money to buy all these things - clothes, help our children, electricity, phone, car...whatever. We need companionship and many people have we driven away in anger? We need health and safety, protection from the elements but more, protection from our enemies.

How many have we judged this past year when we have no right to judge others? How can I, imperfect beyond imagination, the ultimate fraud, go before the Holiest of Beings and believe I have a right to more blessings...or even the same blessings I was given this past year? Will this be the year I stop fooling God and He sees me as I really am?

Hope - No one can fool God and so He must see me as I am, flaws and all. Am I a worse person than I was last year or the year before? If I was "good enough" to squeak into a year of living, won't I pass this year again? He gave me so much last year...blessings of a solid marriage and a man who still says "I love you" in almost every phone conversation we have; children that grow more beautiful, more responsible each year; grandchildren that defy all words...and a new one this year, so precious, so sweet. For all that I try and don't succeed, doesn't the trying mean something?

Faith - God sees all. God knows all. This journey called life that I am on has a plan to it and God will help me continue that journey. I have been blessed so many times, in so many ways. I have come home to a land that was always mine - God brought me here while so many others have not yet experienced that blessing. I have five children, three have found those that love them as no other. Blessings pour down from the heavens; we have to have faith that God watches over us and no matter what other countries do, God sees all. God knows all. God has promised to protect Israel.

Wonder - How is it possible to have such a perfect system as we do in so many ways? I always marvel. We celebrate Rosh Hashana even though it is the day on which God inscribes our future for the year to come. We sing and hug and smile and eat, despite the solemn words that remind us on that day, God decided who would live and who would die, who will be born into our lives in the coming year, and who will leave us. Who will rest and who will wander. It's a solemn, inspiring, terrifying prayer that goes right to my heart every year.

A friend's father died hours before Rosh Hashana came in...that was decided a year ago, inscribed and signed. That I would be sick for weeks this summer and feel stronger and so much better just as the holidays come to Israel...that too was decided. God knows all. God sees all. And we live our lives from moment to moment, never knowing what the next could bring.

Last year, I was driving one minute, sitting in a destroyed car the next. I never saw the man who passed the red light and smashed into my new car, sending it flying across three lanes of traffic only to crash into a thick traffic light pole. That's what life can be like, is like, for so many. Perhaps for everyone.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, I imagine the worst...a policeman coming to my door. It happened once early in the morning when everyone in the house was asleep. I opened it and my brain began thinking. Lazer is in bed. I was just there and then I went through my children thinking who isn't home. Frantic in those split seconds before it registered that the policeman was asking if I was a member of the family who lived here five years ago.

The alarm on their car was blasting away and neighbors were complaining. The only address the police had was this one...the people never updated the Ministry of the Interior's database. Breathe. All is fine.

Rosh Hashana and now as Yom Kippur approaches, that's what life is about...uncertainty, that moment of stark terror...and the calm as your life returns and you accept that Yom Kippur is not so much about sealing your fate as promising your future.

Prayer for the Soldiers of Israel
Whatever the future holds, it is what God intends for us. We can't always understand or like the path He takes us on. But there is a reason for all actions. It is at moments like this that I think of two families - both victims of terror attacks; both lost young children to barbaric murderers seeking to glorify Allah.

Both transformed their sorrow into something amazing. Both families began working to help others - one runs a fund that cares for children with developmental problems and is a constant and loud advocate for fighting terror; the second created and runs an organization dedicated to helping other families learn how to cope, to live, with the devastation of losing loved ones to terror attacks.

Last night at the Kotel
On the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur before their children were murdered, they never would have imagined the paths their lives would take. Knowing this, comes the fear and the hope and the faith.

As Yom Kippur draws near, in a few short hours, we will close the computers, the phones. The buses will all stop; the stores will all close. Israel's airport will shut down - no planes in or out. The umbrella of silence we pull down each Shabbat is nothing to the one we place over ourselves on Yom Kippur.

In a city up north, residents received a reminder that they are asked not to drive on Yom Kippur and if, for some reason they have to, they should call the police for an escort. Other than security or medical reasons, Israel is about to close off the world for 25 hours. Much of the world will never notice; but it is an inspiring thing to see, here under the umbrella.

We will fast; we will pray; we will contemplate how we can try next year to be a bit better, a bit kinder, a bit slower to anger. We will forgive our friends, our neighbors, our families, ourselves, in the hope that in doing so, God will forgive our imperfections.

And we will find, in the hours and minutes before the Gates of Heaven close again, the hope, the wonder, and even the fear and take it with us into this new year with the knowledge that God knows all. God sees all. God protects Israel.

G'mar hatima tova - may you and your family be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good year, a sweet year, a healthy year. May your family know no sorrows, no hunger, no need. May God watch over our sons and daughters, the soldiers of Israel...God, please help me...over my the year to come. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Slice of Israel

We are about to begin Yom Kippur...a solemn day of judgment where all our future is decided. Sounds heavy right, frightening even. And yet, it is so much more. It's a wonderful, unique, amazing opportunity to stop and contemplate where you are, where you've been, and where you want to be.

In life, we can change anything...we really can...if you have the courage to try. You can move across the world, you can bring life into this world and brighten it day by day by sharing acts of kindness, of love.

You can drop a coin in the cup of a beggar; you can invite a friend in need to your table. It all begins on Yom Kippur...when the buses stop in Israel, the trains, the cars...even the radio and television. The stores are all closed; there's barely a car on the road...Israel stops in a way I doubt much of the world could possibly imagine.

And then from the heavy comes the light; from judgment comes celebration. Sukkot is a holiday of triumph in so many ways. It's about getting back to nature, removing all the nonsense we put into our lives. For 7 days (8 outside Israel), we "live" in temporary dwellings; some people sleep outside, most eat outside. In fact, we are commanded to eat anything of substance (bread, cake, noodles, etc.) inside the sukkah and so it sometimes presents a challenge. What if you aren't home...and you are hungry and want to grab a sandwich...or even eat a piece of cake?

The answer is that, at least in Israel, there are sukkahs built...well, all over the place. I saw this one today (it wasn't there yesterday). A sukkah put up by the light rail at a train stop.

There will be many others, but this was the first I saw...advertisements galore...greetings from the light rail to the people of Jerusalem, pictures, statistics of how many hundreds of thousands have already used the light rail.

I love the holiday of Sukkot!

Living for the Silliness of Life

Sometimes, life gets way to serious.  It is somehow at those moments that your children feel the need to remind you of the simpler things...the fun things...the silly things. I baked a cake for my older daughter's birthday. I won't tell you how old she is, just that am amazingly proud of what she has accomplished in the life and lives she has created. I baked her a cake that we served on her birthday. Because it was on the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the day she was born, we could not take pictures.

But we have a rule in our family - on your birthday you cut the cake...and there are no rules about how. Squares, circles, zig zag...knock yourself out. It all came from Amira's first birthday. As she sat on her grandfather's lap, a beautiful chocolate-frosted birthday cake was placed before her and before anyone could do anything, this one year old baby reached out and put her hands into the cake. As she lifted them to her mouth, a few of us stepped forward to stop her and my father-in-law said the words that created the rule, "it's her cake, leave her alone."

And so we did...then...and every year since. This year she took the round birthday cake with the four layers I had baked and frosted, and created a sun - removing every other piece to serve to the family. Then she cut out the center and took that for herself. How am I to store the cake without it drying out, I thought to myself..."it's her cake, leave her alone" I could hear my father-in-law whisper to me. Happily, my mother was there to enjoy this with us, and immediately repaired the "damage" and packed away the cake into a box for future consumption (yup, it's all gone).

Then, after the holiday was over, Davidi came home to join us and brought a bit more silliness to my life. Every time he comes home now, there's a part of me that is brought painfully to the realization that somewhere there's a clock ticking. As my life changed 8 years ago when Elie went into the army, it's going to change again now.

I could easily drown in the emotions. David, on the other hand, insists on making things easy, light. He's going about his life as if that huge mountain doesn't exist. Maybe for him it doesn't. People have come to speak to his group; they know what to expect. He's got two brothers who went in and thankfully came out. He's as ready as he can be...eight weeks before.

It's me that is failing so much this time, not him.

Last week, his younger sister wanted to take fresh bread back to school. I figured I could make my usual 3 kilo of challah dough on Wednesday night and then freeze the dough until Friday. From that, I could carve out enough to send her to school with freshly baked rolls.

As I often do when David is around, I ask him to be my mixer. When I mix the dough myself, I get it to the point that all the ingredients are mixed and then I take the dough out of the bowl and knead it.

Davidi is much stronger and so when he mixes, he ends up kneading it right in the bowl. I used to put it on the table or counter, only to realize I was kneading something that really didn't need to be kneaded...and so, I let him at the dough.

Only, he began to play with it...drawing something. I took a few pictures; but I couldn't see what he was doing...then, before he could mess it up, I grabbed a shot...

And then he announced, "and now it's a lake" and pierced through the flower picture to the liquid below.

I live for the silly moments in life.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

In Eight Weeks, The Journey Begins Again

Eight years ago, I started a blog and answered the first question, "What is the name of your new blog?" with the first thing that came to mind..."A Soldier's Mother," I'm not sure, as I typed those words, that I realized how true they would become.

For my first post, I decided to explain about Israel, that there is a mandatory draft. I wrote about Starting Young. After weeks of writing about the preparation, suddenly the day arrived and with tears, I wrote about Induction Day.

For three years, my son and the army were rarely out of my mind. A week after he came out, my middle son went in. I handled my second Induction Day more calmly, more aware.

Now, in eight weeks, I face another induction day, my youngest son. And the calm that I felt with my second, has fled me for the third. The tears have already started. Worse, I drove my son to teary eyes when stupidly I mumbled words a mother should never say to a son, "I'll never forgive you if something happens to you."

How stupid to say such words, as if he can control it. He told me he would be fine and I have to believe he will. I know better than to let such words slip from my heart. He is too young to understand that a mother's heart can never survive such a blow.

The heart will continue to beat; the brain continue to think. The lips will continue to speak, even to smile but what was shattered can never be returned; always a piece is missing. I know that from friends who have lost sons in the battle we have been fighting since 1948.

"How many children do I have?" one mother asked me. She gave birth to five and one many children does she have. I hesitated for a second and the answer came to me, "you have five children. You will always have five children."

She smiled and said, "yes."

The truth is, for eight years and counting, I have been something of a fraud. I don't really understand the army. I can't really face this all again. I hate guns. I can barely bring myself to touch them. I've never fired one and don't think I ever will. I cringe when I hear stories of what they did, where they went. And now I have to send another.

If you have never had a son or daughter in the army, you can't imagine what it is like. We have a bond, we parents, that transcends borders. One night while my oldest son was fighting in his first war, a woman in Montana wrote to tell me that it was 4:00 in the morning there, and she woke, worrying about me and my son. The mother of an American soldier who fell in Iraq writes to me and I write back. We are friends in a world where we will likely never meet. She prayed for my son; I mourned for hers.

For the last few years, I've been a soldier's mother in some distant way. Except for when the army sent my oldest son to war again during Operation Pillar of Defense. Now, once again, there is this huge mountain coming at me, blocking out all light from the other side.

I have to climb that mountain again, even though I've already climbed it twice. I don't want to climb it again. I don't want my son to come home in a uniform, carrying a gun. Deep in my heart, I can be a child, shrugging my shoulders and shouting, "Don't want! Don't want!"

When my oldest, Elie, was stationed in the center of the country, days before the Cast Lead Operation, I knew that he would be moved soon - north, to a potential war with Lebanon, or south, to a potential war with Gaza. I wasn't sure which frightened me more, though I think it was Gaza.

And as I often did in those days before and after that one, I wrote, What I want and What I'll Do.
What I to go collect my little boy and bring him home. I want to lock him in a room and tell Israel that no, you can't have him. I've changed my mind. No, I'm sorry. He's not allowed to play with guns and big things that go boom. No, I'm his mother. I gave birth to him and no, you simply can't take him.

What I to call him and make sure he is where I put him, where he told me he was yesterday. Not in the north, where Hizbollah is promising to burn the ground and open a second front and not in the south, where dozens of rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel, where a man was killed and dozens were wounded.

That's what I want...

And what I'll do, is sit here at my desk and keep editing this document for my client. I'll update the copyright statements and change the installation information to reflect the new platforms the product now supports. I'll answer the phone and I'll talk to my accountant.

And what I'll do, is tell my heart to settle. I'll tell my eyes to take a moment and look at the next beautiful wave of clouds rolling in over Jerusalem. I'll sign the papers I need to sign; type the words I need to type. I'll tell my younger daughter to clean her room and my younger son that he has to study for his test NOW. I'll tell my middle son he can borrow the car like we agreed, but he has to drive carefully. I won't talk to my oldest daughter because she's old enough to see the cracks in my smile and know that outside, it's all a front.
In eight weeks, I'll begin the journey again. I'll get on the roller coaster that is life as a soldier's mother...that endless, daily ride with sudden and unforeseen pitfalls where the bottom drops out below you and your heart screams in fear. There will be days of such pride as my youngest daily turns into the man he is to be.

Eight weeks and then years of living each day, one day at a time. I will go back to what I wrote once before...
Maybe deep down, what I want is to hide inside myself, but what I will do is what every Israeli is doing today - having faith that we are bringing a better reality to our country by taking its safety into our hands. Our soldiers have our faith, they have our prayer, and they have our love.

May God protect the soldiers of Israel and watch over them as they do what they must. They cannot be defeated because where they go, they will not be alone. They have with them the Defender of Israel.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Is Israel Afraid of Iran?

You know how sometimes several discussions merge into one; thoughts collide? There's this moment in time that I sometimes create in my mind. I relive it, even though I've never even lived it once. I don't ever want to experience it and my imagination only takes me through the first few seconds before my brain steps in and scolds.

In my imagination, it's always daytime. Always sunny. I'm always alone. Sometimes, there's a siren...sometimes not even that. And then, there are massive explosions. In my mind, I can hear the missiles hitting the land, my land. It feels like a physical blow, though I am never injured.
I never see blood; no gory scenes that return in nightmares. There is only the sound and the fear...and the reckoning. The panic - where are my babies, two of whom have babies of their own to worry about. Where is my son-in-law, my daughter-in-laws, my parents? Where, God, where is my husband?

And then I push it away - it could be coming from Iran; it could come from Lebanon. Heck, it could come from Gaza. Any time. We'd probably have warning, wouldn't we?

Despite this thought that slips through my defenses every once in a doesn't live in my heart or my brain. Hard to explain. It's sort of under the surface until it comes up, only to be pushed down and away.

It's sunny and beautiful and the holidays are coming and that's enough. I have a new grandson and when I see his brother cuddle next to him, and their cousin ask if she can kiss the baby, my heart melts. These three that came from two of mine, this is the future. My daughter who frets about the most amazing things that a teenage girl can think of; my youngest son who day by day, hour by hour, is getting closer and closer to the army...all facets of a life so rich there is little space for fear or worry.

And then someone who wants to come live in Israel asks a question, "Is anyone worrying about this nuclear deal with Iran in the motherland?"

I wanted to respond but noticed that several already had. Their responses reminded me of why I love Israel so very much. Here's a sampling (I'm writing these without permission from the authors but it should be clear these are the thoughts/comments of others):
You can come with your nuclear helmet or buy one here.
Israel has a pretty powerful nuclear arsenal itself... and has had one since Golda Meir's days... between that and the Almighty looking out for us, I wouldn't be worried.
Trust me, Israel has enough technological equipment to intercept nuclear missiles.
I am much more concerned by the US American policies which drive us closer to the third world War.
I feel like I live in a bubble here in Israel. The world can fall apart around us, and I'm pretty sure our biggest concern will be the increase in shipping costs. A certain percentage of the country never sleeps so the rest of us can.
Israel has so many nuclear bombs that it could declare war to Mars and make their inhabitants worried.
As the Rebbe would say Israel is the safest place in the world and as it says in the Torah - the eyes of Hashem are on the Land from the beginning of the year to the end of the year... many poskim telling us not to fear the nations and their schemes...
I would be more worried about the safety of my family if I still lived in NYC.

There is a curious blend of comments here - attempting to comfort by diverting her attention, bringing in faith, reminding the original poster that Israel has a military response, even a preemptive option.

But more, in this small sample is a microcosm of Israel. There were a few other comments, some even admitted to the fear. But most were more about comfort - and that's what we do...

We aren't afraid because we trust that we were not returned to this land, only to be exiled again.

We aren't afraid because we believe that this land is ours, promised to us through time and history.

We aren't afraid because to be a realist in Israel, you must believe in miracles, and so we do.

We aren't afraid because we have the most dedicated army in the world. They are not fighting in some distant land. Every minute, they know they stand between their families and the enemy.

We aren't afraid because Israel has always focused on establishing and maintaining the technological edge.

We aren't afraid because we are too busy living life here in our country, trying to be the best we can be...not always succeeding, but certainly putting all our neighbors and many other nations to shame.

We aren't afraid because Iran is indeed more likely to decide to take out the "Big Satan" (the United States) before attempting to confront the "Little Satan (Israel).

Most of all, for those of us who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we believe, with complete faith, that better days are ahead of us; that God protects Israel.

We are not afraid...even in those horrible moments when we let our imagination escape for a bit. We are not afraid.

Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11 and the Forgotten Lessons

14 years ago, I cried for America...for what it was suffering; for what was inflicted upon it. I cried because I live in a country that has know terrorism and tragedy and didn't wish that knowledge on others.

Today, I cry for an America that has forgotten the lessons of 9/11 - one that would choose to support a terrorist regime, one that has promised to wipe my beloved country off the face of the map..

I cry for the families of those who were lost on September 11, 2001 - 14 years ago and today...America stood behind you in the days following September 11 and promised that the terrorists would not win, that their values would not triumph. How wrong it has all turned out.

Osama Bin Laden is no different than Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah or the many leaders of Hamas, or Khameini, for that matter. If I had told you that 14 years ago, on the day America was supposed to mourn and remember the events of that horrible day, America was closing a deal to give the terrorists $150 billion dollars, you would know that America had forgotten...

Fourteen years ago, America, I cried with you. Today, I cry for you.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Whimsical City

I am in Jerusalem almost every day. It is a most amazing city. Often cool, comfortable and breezy when most of Israel is hot and humid. In the bright sunlight, the stones of Jerusalem turn golden. As the sun sets, the stones change color, giving off an almost reddish tint. When it storms in Jerusalem, the stones show they are timeless and the homes become cold...the kind of cold that comes deep from within the stones.

In some neighborhoods, you could easily imagine that little has changed in centuries, the arched entry ways speak of a time long ago; the open market places still relying on the strength of the seller's voice as they call out merchandise and prices, "Bananas, 7 shekels a kilo" - "Avocado! Avocado!" - "Corn! Corn."

Jerusalem is, most of all, timeless. It always shocks me to walk through the Old City and see cars there. How can they drive on streets so narrow? Years ago, I drove the family car down some of these streets, slowing backing up, turning more sharply as I advanced, watching the sides and wondering how I would make it without scraping the sides. "More, more. Turn right. Right!" the man called out...and I slowed and angled to the right and then to the left and pulled into the side street and wondered how I would ever get the car out again.

The ancient walls show thousands of years of history - where once they shot arrows, now weeds grow. Where once armies were forced to slow their advance by meeting a sharp turn, now cars attempt to take the same path, also slowly making their way through. Where once guards walked the walls, now Israelis and tourists scale the heights to see the amazing views below. Here the ancient ones walked, always here and here I walk today.

Jerusalem is a city that lives in its own space, its own time. In what other city are concerts held in the Sultan's Pool? Where else can you walk through tunnels created two thousand years ago? Is there another place where you can walk through a valley, come to a tomb and know the name of the man buried there 3,000 years ago? Is there another place on earth as beautiful, as deserving of peace as the beautiful city of Jerusalem.

Mornings here during the Hebrew month of Elul are a blend of shofar blowing, calls to prayer from the muezzin, and church bells ringing. Where else? There are moments when all three faiths are praying and you wonder how there could be any problems at all in the world at that moment. Such prayers, such hope.

On the main street in the center of town, you are as likely to find a stone building that is hundreds of years old, as you are to find one just recently built. You can walk beside the store and see special sales for tourists, and then, as an Israeli, walk in and get a smile and even a better deal!

Once, when bombs were exploding regularly, I needed to go put more money in the parking meter but my teenage daughter was trying on clothes...I stood frozen. What if something happens between the car and the store and I'm separated from here. The store owner asked what was wrong and I explained, "Go," he said to me quietly, "I'll watch her, I'll make sure she stays inside." Years ago, that memory still brings tears to my eyes. The people of Jerusalem are as beautiful as the city.

And sometimes, this ancient, now modern city becomes whimsical. There's just no other word for it. Lest it become predictable, the city does something different. It builds a living water exhibition that shoots water up to some music only it hears. Light shows on ancient walls. It adds a modern light rail system on roads that have seen almost every other type of transportation known to man...from donkeys, camels and horses, to trucks, cars, tractors and even
Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Paula R. Stern)

But what makes it whimsical are the times the city does something that can't be explained, something beautiful, unusual. Like close in the whole city center and make it one huge outdoor fair for days on end; like announce the light rail or the buses are free for the day. Like fill an alleyway with hanging umbrellas.

Like when kids dance and play music in the streets to collect money for charity, and like when strangers walk up to you and ask you to hand this cup of hot soup to Shoshana...and you ask them, "Who is Shoshana?" and so they tell you this is the name of the woman who sits on the steps as one descends from the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel (Western Wall). And because you can't think of any other response, you take the soup and walk towards a woman you have never met.

And when you give the cup of hot soup to Shoshana, she blesses you and wishes you health and happiness, children and grandchildren.

Like when the man at the top of the steps grabs the arm of your visiting Hindu friend from India and showers him with blessings in a language the visitor can't possibly understand. And so you translate - he wishes you a long life and children. And a good living and guest smiles, convinced this is the holiest of men and this blessing comes straight from God. And a good living...

And then, as the visitor smiles and believes that perhaps in some way this is a blessing straight from God, the man turns to you and says in Hebrew, "Is this your husband?"

To which I, as an Orthodox Jewish woman with her hair respectfully covered, respond, "Does he LOOK like my husband?"

And so the man cuts to the bottom line, "Does he have money?" Oblivious to the conversation, my Indian friend keeps smiling, hoping I'll explain the significance of the red string now tied around his wrist. I tell the man, "No, he doesn't," thank him, and walk away.

This is Jerusalem, where beggars bless you and tie red string around your wrist to warn away the evil eye; and where umbrellas hang in the streets, and large lions adorn the streets.

On the light rail today, on a trip that took only minutes, I met tourists from Africa, Europe, and the United States. I heard the sound of the shofar blowing, horns honking, sirens wailing, and children laughing as they waited for the train to take them home. A woman who lives on the eastern coast of England, in a small fishing village, asked me if I ever miss living in the States and without hesitation, I answered, "not once in more than 20 years."

If you have never been to Jerusalem, a city that has known too little peace, you might think we spend our time wondering when the next war will come, the next terror attack.

I once stood with a friend who was visiting Israel for the first time about a year or two after the Second Intifada had calmed a bit. Her husband was back in the States, not thrilled that she'd chosen to come visit. As we stood in the center of Jerusalem, she spoke to him about how amazing the city was, how calm, how peaceful.

I let her finish her phone call, and then walked her from one memorial to another because Jerusalem can't be defined by any single status or term. It is peaceful and yet at war; it is divine, and yet entirely set on earth; it is abrupt and rude and polite and helpful.

Today, as I walked through the city center, later rushing to catch the train home, it suddenly occurred to me that a word I had never thought to apply to Jerusalem, seemed to need to be added to all of the above. Today, Jerusalem was whimsical.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Settling in to a New Reality

I have a new reality to least for the next few months...and then, just as I have to learn to be, to settle, to live now, I'll have to do this whole thing all over again.

For now, my new reality is that Thursday will come and my house will fill with people...the big people my children have become. Aliza came home. Davidi came home, helped me for a few hours, and then packed up and went back to his yeshiva. Elie and Lauren joined us for both meals! Their adorable daughter was only present for one.

Aliza was more around this Shabbat. She crammed in a week's worth of activities, spoke of some of the girls, the teachers, the school, the schedule. She wanted to play a game of Bananagrams...we sat and ate ice cream together, worked on a puzzle, talked.

Saturday night, Davidi came home again, but too late for me to see him.

Sunday morning, Aliza left. Davidi's back to me and Lazer (and Elie and Lauren downstairs).

Work and then home to an empty house...fed the dog; need to unload the dishwasher. New reality...

I can leave in the morning when I want to - without coordinating my schedule, without checking if Aliza made food for herself or needs me to do it. I don't have to call and wake her in the morning...a new reality.

I haven't decided yet whether I like it or not...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Message to America

I am struggling to find the words this morning; mostly what I find is anger. I have two messages I want to deliver - one to America, and one to the American government, particularly the Democrats. I'll start with that one.

I was raised in a staunchly Democratic family. My mother worked hard within the party; though I was never told who to vote for, it was assumed that I would vote Democratic. For many years, I did. I will never again vote for a Democrat. I won't automatically vote for a Republican, but I will choose not to vote, sooner than cast a vote for a Democrat. As you, the Democratic party, have finished with Israel, I have finished with you.

Most of these names, I do not know but some are very familiar and people I once respected. To Barbara Boxer; Dianne Feinstein; Harry Reid; Bernie Sanders; Patrick Leahy; Tom Udall, I expected more from you.
You choose to redefine the argument, to spin reality to fit your needs and enable you to continue to woo American Jewry to get their votes. The Iran Deal won't endanger Israel?  On what planet? How did you come to such a wrong conclusion? Who the hell are you to say we can safely ignore Iranian threats to obliterate us, to wipe us off the map?

The reality is very, very simple. The Iranians have repeatedly told you what they want - it is there in the chants, the burning flags. "Death to America" they scream out; "Death to Israel" is their battle cry.

Their message is clear and so is your vote. Very simple - a vote FOR this Iran Deal is a VOTE against Israel, it is a vote in favor of the death of Israel. And each one of you will bear full responsibility for each death that results from this deal...and there will be many, including some Americans. You've agreed to give Iran over $150 BILLION dollars. They have already laughed in your faces and confirmed that some of this money will go to Hezbollah and Hamas and to other terror organizations. Each bomb...each murder...will be listed in blood under your names. In our eyes, and I believe in God's eyes, when you hand a weapon to a killer, you become the arm with which he acts.

Yes, you have promised to support a deal that includes Iran's pledge to see us destroyed. That we will not die is something you do not understand and something for which you will never be able to take credit.

That we will live; that we will thrive and raise our children here is quite simply a miracle on earth. Every day here in this land, it is a miracle. We do not take it for granted and yet we know, for more than 2,000 years...even 3,000, God has protected and watched over Israel. This is something you cannot understand; you cannot credit. You cannot see or acknowledge. And you can't explain it away either. By all laws of warfare, Israel should never have been created. Outnumbered, under-armed, untrained - we were a disaster waiting to happen.

That we rose victorious in 1948 and in every war since has little to do with the United States and nothing to do with the Democratic party. So, it's time Israelis said goodbye. If you really wanted to understand the Iranian threat, you've had weeks to come here and learn our perspective. That you voted according to party lines shows your truest convictions. I am disgusted with each of you and with the Democratic party in particular.

And now, my message to Americans. Every poll I see says that a huge number of Americans oppose this Iran Deal. You get it. You understand that if Israel is Iran's "little Satan," than you are Iran's "Big Satan." You see that when thousands burn the American flag and scream "Death to America" - they really mean it.

I have gotten hundreds of message of support from all over America. People have written to me, left comments, and I am grateful. America has stood beside Israel since the moment Israel was created/recreated. Israel has stood beside America for the same amount of time.

Our military forces have a deep love and respect for each other because we know we are fighting the same enemy. This will continue long after Obama and these Senators are a vague memory in the annals of the world's greatest hypocrites and worst leaders.

Our people have fought for our independence, constantly strived to make not only our own countries, but the world a better place. Both our countries have made numerous sacrifices to try to achieve peace, and both have reached well beyond our borders to help others. We will always stand together, even if, in the next few months, Israel will walk alone.

If the day comes that missiles again rain down on Israel, we will not call you. If we determine that the only way to stop a nuclear Iran is through military action, we will not notify you.

All we can do is wait for sanity to return to Washington...and hope that you will remember each of the names above in November, 2016. Israel will.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Brag

I'm on a Facebook group of mothers - some professional, some not. It's a diverse group at varying points of their lives - some with very young children, some with teenagers, some older. I'm one of the old ones...

Once a week, they have what they call a "brag" day - a day when you write about something that you're proud of. Many write about a new job; some go for simpler. I've done it a few times but I'm beginning to think that I want to do it more often - not so much because I want to brag, but because posting something good about yourself is a way of admitting you are proud of something you accomplished.

So, today I posted and after I wrote it, I was proud of what I'd written and I decided to share it here because I think in the brag, there is a lesson for all of us.

Here's my brag:
Brag for the day: yesterday I walked from the Iriyah train station to the Yaffo Mercaz station (1 stop). I had hoped to walk two stops to my office at the HaDavidka stop, but I couldn't do it.

I've been sick all summer with CMV - for many this very common virus (90% of people get it...many with no symptoms and sometimes not even knowing they have/had it) was devastating and I'm fighting my way back. From barely being able to walk from my bedroom to the couch in the living room, sleeping long hours and then also taking a nap, this was huge for me.

I've tried to work over the summer, with varying levels of success. Had no vacation - did nothing with the children. We usually take a few days, go kayaking...instead, my kids mostly took care of me. My 19-year-old made Shabbat (he rarely cooks anything more than eggs or noodles) for a month; my husband did all the shopping.

My lessons - sometimes you have to let others. Sometimes you have to admit you can't. I transferred one client to one of my writers - she's doing a great job and now understands the software application better than I do. I rested. I did nothing. Every time I pushed, I ended up back at Terem (3 times and counting). So my brag is that I walked because even small steps are major ones and important and worth being proud of. And my second brag is that I didn't walk the second distance because admitting your limitations is also something to be proud of.

This doesn't compare to some of the amazing brags I've seen here in the last few weeks but I think that's why I'm posting it. I think the concept of the weekly brag is wonderful and I think every single one of you amazing mothers has something to brag even if it's something as simple as proud of yourself. I am...I walked where for the last 7 weeks...I really couldn't!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Story of a Rocket

At 5:21 a.m., my phone started beeping. It's an Android phone app I have, a paranoia I carry with me every day. With the cooperation of the Home Front Command and the genius of Israeli programmers, in real-time, you can learn about a missile attack. Color Red. Incoming missile.

The first thing that most people do after downloading one of several of these web applications, is to change the default settings.

What region do you want to know about? Most choose only their own, perhaps adding where their children go to school or where their parents and siblings live. I leave it for anywhere/everywhere in Israel.

What ringtone do you want to use when a missile is fired at Israel? Here, I think everyone changes it, except during a war. I changed it out of deference to others. The default sound is an air raid siren; terrifying, shocking and maybe relevant and worth keeping if I had changed that first setting to be only my region. In that case, the phone acts as an additional backup so that you hear the real siren even as the phone starts to sound the alert. When you set the app to alert you no matter what area is targeted, you need to change the sound. I made mine a binging sound that I alone would recognize as meaning an attack. Others would think it was an alarm for an appointment, time to get up, whatever.

So, 5:21 a.m., in the last hours of sleep I would permit myself before starting my day, a Color Red alert sounded. First reports suggested it was fired by Gaza into Israel and landed in a particular area - open fields, no injuries reported. People went out, even at 5:21 a.m. to search, to make sure everyone was okay.

Now it is being reported that it misfired and landed in Gaza, as so many do - I don't know if they bother sending out people to search. I do know that many rockets, hundreds, have landed in Gaza, killing Palestinians, destroying their property. On a day when they fired a rocket at Israel, I am justified in saying that what they misfire into their own territory is their problem, not mine.

That is one facet of the story of the rocket fired at Israel this morning - that it was fired, as it often is, that it lands, as it often does, not where they targeted but somewhere else. The other, more important side is that today is September 1. Some countries have fixed school calendars; other float the days from year to year. In Israel, school starts on September 1 and ends on June 30. Today, over one million Israel children went back to school.

Perhaps they had to get up at 7:00, perhaps a bit earlier. By firing the rocket at 5:21 a.m., what the Palestinians wanted was to steal that last hour, upset the morning and first terrify and then destabilize our children. As I did not fall back asleep after searching to find out what happened with the rockets, I'm sure many parents and children also found sleep elusive.

Last summer, a missile was fired towards Jerusalem and a siren went off while we were sleeping. Elie heard it and ran around the house waking everyone up. 
Going back to sleep after was an impossibility as we waited to see if it was one of many rockets to be fired. They say you should wait 10 minutes after the rocket is fired before leaving the shelter...10 minutes is a long time when you are straining to listen for a siren and the sound of a boom.

So, at 5:21 a.m., tens of thousands of parents would have scrambled to grab their children and run to the bomb shelters. Nowadays, we build fortified rooms, so often the bomb shelter is often a bedroom. Lucky were the parents last night who were able to allow their children to continue to sleep, perhaps unaware that they, this tiny creatures that are the heart and soul of our lives, were the very target of today's attack. It happened last year as well on the first of September and probably in other years as well.

So the story of this rocket is very simple. No matter where they aimed it, no matter where it hit, it had one target - our children. On the first day of school. With their new backpacks and new clothes and new shoes...excited to see their friends, a bit happy, though they may not admit it, they were pulled from their beds and rushed to shelter.

The rocket fired at Israel this morning was a message - clear and loud to our children. We will not let you sleep; we will not let you go about your lives normally.

We too have a message to deliver to Gaza. We will sleep. Our children will sleep. We will live normal lives and our children will live normal lives. We may rush them to bomb shelters but we have already taught them the most important lesson of all - what you love, you protect and so as we protect them, they are forever filled with the knowledge that we love and cherish them. The terror fades very quickly for children in light of the love we shower upon them.

And we have another message for Gaza. We won't do back to you what you continue to do to us. We won't fire on innocent children; we won't try to terrorize them on their first day of school. If they lose sleep, it will be because you hide among them. If they are not protected and loved, it is because you choose to build attack tunnels instead of bomb shelters and buy rockets instead of building schools.

As I watched our children walking to school this morning and noted the police on the street corners, a reminder to drivers to be careful, and a presence if children need them, I thought again of how many times Israel has shown itself to be a culture of humanity.

On a day when Israel's children were frightened and targeted, I proudly admit that I would rather live in a country hit by a rocket fired by terrorists seeking to target and frighten children, than live in a place where firing that rocket is considered heroic and just.

Even though I don't agree with surrendering to terror, I still would rather live in a country that agonizes and perhaps releases terrorists to save the life of one young soldier, than live in a society that would dance and celebrate the return of child-killers and terrorists.

I would rather live in a country where we cherish our children, rush them to hide in bomb shelters and calm them on the first day of school because the siren frightened them and brought back horrible memories, than live in a culture that believes it acceptable to encourage their young to commit suicide in the name of their religion.

May God bless Israel's children as they return to school and may they know our love and protection all the days of their lives.

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