Thursday, February 23, 2017

Respect and Honor and Gratitude

Over a decade ago, I went to Poland with Amira, my oldest daughter. So many years later, it still remains (and hopefully always will be), one of the most difficult things I experienced. Days were spent going from one cemetery or concentration camp to another. It was hard to see Poland and its people, for all the dead Jews I felt surrounding me.

It was day after day of tears and despair. Sights no human should ever see - ashes...human ashes, still in ovens where they were burned. You tell yourself that you cannot possibly still smell death more than 70 years later, and yet you do. You feel it to the depths of your heart and you beg God to let you leave. I wanted to go home, back to Israel and my baby daughter and my young sons. But I know that my oldest daughter needed me too (though in the end, I needed her as much, if not more, than she needed me).

Going to Poland for a Jew, for the wife of a man who lost all his grandparents in Auschwitz, for the mother of children named after those who died in that very place or nearby, was agony. First, I wanted to go home with all the ashes, all the bones, all the decimated and desecrated gravestones. At some point, I realized it wasn't possible; that there isn't enough place in all of Israel to honor and rebury the remains of over six million Jews (more if you count the tens of thousands of other graves dating back decades and perhaps even centuries.

We got to Warsaw as destroyed as I think human beings can be and yet still breathe. But we were given no rest. They took us to the Warsaw Jewish cemetery. I wanted to crumble; to beg them to let me stay on the bus, or better, take the bus and surrender. I would go back to Israel, gladly admitting that Poland had defeated me, if they would just let me go.

I got off the bus and walked. More graves. More dead Jews. It was never ending. And then I saw an Israeli woman, the wife of Shevach Weiss, Israel's Ambassador to Poland. She came over to us and explained that she came regularly with a group of Polish Christians to clean the Jewish cemetery. It was so large that it was something close to an impossible task and yet they returned and removed the greenery that covered more and more of the gravestones.

We thanked them for cleaning the graves and felt a bit of sunshine, a touch of hope. In a perfect world, there would have been no Holocaust, no desecrated, abandoned, overgrown Jewish graves in Poland, but it did happen and so the best we could hope for was this small measure of human kindness to our murdered grandparents and great-grandparents. My great grandmother had no grave, nor did my great aunts, but there was comfort to be found knowing that at least these graves were being tended.

It's been over a decade since that trip. It comes to mind, now and then. Truthfully, it is always there, just a memory that never dims. I can close my eyes and remember almost word for word, what our guide said before taking us into the gas chambers in Auschwitz, in Maidanek. I can see the mass graves at Chelmno and Tarnow.

But it was the image of those Polish Christians cleaning the graves in Warsaw that came to mind when I saw a picture of Vice President Mike Pence helping to clean a Jewish cemetery that was desecrated in the United States.

There is a special kind of decency in this act. Some will call it politics but in Judaism, there is a concept of "Chesed Emet" - true compassion.

It is said that those who show compassion for the dead are showing the purest form because they offer this compassion with no hope of it being returned.

I know that there are those who will say that this could be considered a political opportunity, but I don't want to believe that. I want to view it as true compassion and not something done for the cameras.

The Poles did not know that we would be visiting that day in Poland so long ago. Perhaps Pence knew he would be photographed; perhaps he even organized it. But it was the honorable thing to do and I respect him for this act of kindness and compassion.

It is an answer, in and of itself. Yes, this is me, says Vice President Mike Pence. I am the Vice President of the United States and I will answer this hatred with love; I will clean and erase the hatred.

I will honor your dead and in doing so, I honor him.

And I pity those who must find the angle, the politics, in this act.

How to Stop Your Heart

This...this is the very reason why I didn't leave Israel for the entire time that Elie and Shmuli were in the army...

I'm far away on a business trip and yet, in the middle of the conference, I can't stop myself from checking the news in Israel. A soldier has been wounded...that easily can a mother's heart stop. Lightly wounded...and so the heart beats a bit. In an area far from where mine is...and so the heart beats again, this time with a little guilt.

Yesterday, a soldier was lightly wounded. I can guess what happened then. Or at least, I can hope. Hopefully, they handed the soldier his phone and told him, "Call home."

"Allo, Ima?" he would say.

"Yes, sweets, how are you?"

"I'm fine. Really, but..."

And that quickly her heart would have tripped. A million thoughts in a fraction of a second. He's calling. It's his voice. He's alive. He sounds okay. Where are you? What happened? I'll be right there.

That fast, would she rush to her car (or find someone who has one). That quickly would she leave work or home; call someone to take care of the younger children or call her older children.

Frantic until she gets to the hospital and sees for herself. Nothing matters until she can hug him, touch him, see him.

All this and more goes through my mind as I sit here thousands of kilometers away enjoying a business trip in a distant land. So so different...

Fascinating sessions, wonderful and friendly people. One is outraged that I, as an Israeli, would ever feel uncomfortable traveling. Two people have come over and told me they read this blog...and I love that. I love being here.

I need to stop checking the news. I write to David and he sends me pictures of where he is. My children are posting pictures to me of my grandchildren, reminding me of my world (not that I could forget it for a moment). The connection to home burns so brightly, so strong.

So does the worry of being so far from home. I wonder how many more times my heart will stop before I return.

For now, it's enough to have a brief WhatsApp conversation with David. He's fine. He's okay. It's has to be...each day, every's everything.

Who is your God?

Have you ever been asked that question? More, have you ever been asked that question where you know the person is possibly not monotheistic, certainly doesn't believe in YOUR God? In a place so different that you worry any word could offend and so you think, really think, before you speak.

India is an amazing land of amazing contrasts - the people, the land. You can, within minutes, go from such luxury to unimaginable poverty. In a single day, I met a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu. Someone from Europe, someone from Asia, someone from America.

The land is so different, the air, the smells. The smiles, the gestures and body language. So different that you find yourself amazed by the similarities while celebrating the unique. And you can see cows walking on highways as cars swerve around them, and monkeys sitting on the fences near a park. The dresses of the women are so colorful. India is a celebration of colors, blended in impossible combinations that break all the rules and dazzle the eyes. The people are so helpful, so kind. 

And for once, for all my travels over the last few years, I am in a land that respects my country. Endlessly, I am told that Israel and India have a strong alliance; that the military strength of Israel is respected and honored here; that I am from a good land, a blessed one.

“Very good,” says one man after hearing I am from Israel.

“Israel. Strong country,” says another. Does he realize how tiny we are?

Mostly, I meet Hindus; sometimes, I meet Muslims. Everywhere, there are armed soldiers on alert; I thank them as I exit the airports and tourist sites. I do it at home; why would I not do it here?

I am on my way from Delhi to Bangalore. The flight I booked has a stopover in Ranchi. I have learned over the last few years that each country and perhaps each city has its own rules. In one country, they insist on stamping your passport, even when you are merely passing through. In India, they are very security-conscious and so when you get off the plane in this tiny airport, you walk in a big circle...down a flight of stairs, around and around on the first floor, through a security check, and back upstairs, soon to board the next plane through the very same gate I entered almost two hours before.

There is a line for men and a line for women. It is an interesting thing to be a woman in India, especially a white woman, though I have never really thought of myself as being white other than in India. I walk through the streets and the men stare, as do the children. There are about 150 - 200 people in this lounge, predominantly male, though there are some women. I am the only white woman here. 

They look at my passport, wondering where I am from. I have chosen to travel on the Israeli passport, rather than on my American one. It is a statement I make to myself as much to others. I am confident that as an American, I will be accepted any place (though I'm happy not to have to discuss the American elections). But, as an Israeli - that is the challenge.

In Amsterdam, I was asked if I had another passport when I handed in my Israeli one. Why? I asked the man. He mumbled something about it being easier and no, it wasn't really a problem. He wasn't happy when I instructed him to use the Israeli one after having admitted that I did indeed possess an American passport.

In India, the Israeli passport is met with smiles, perhaps especially among the security forces. I walked through the line for women, where they have generously put up curtains to provide privacy and a female security guard to do the checking. She looked at the Israeli passport and said, "Israel?"

Yes, I answered.

"Are you Christian?" she asked. Strange question but easy enough for me to answer.

"No," I answer, "Yehudi." It continues to make me smile that the Indian word for Jew is the same as the Hebrew one. Yes, I am a Yehudi. I am a Jew.

"Yehudi," she repeats. "Who is your God?"

I'll tell you my answer in a moment; but first I'll tell you that I asked her in return what her religion is. She is Muslim and her God is Allah.

My God has many names; each representing different attributes of God. There are names we never say; names we say only during prayer. There is the term we use in every day language, which refers not so much to a name, but simply means "the name" - My God is Hashem - The Name. Once, when introducing Himself, God referred to himself simply as "Ehiyeh sh'Ehiyeh ( or: I Am That I Am).

Who is your God? Over an hour later, I am still pondering that question and how I could have answered it. I avoided historical lessons that came to mind. I almost said that my God is the God of Abraham but didn’t. I almost started with the negatives – how unlike Allah (or at least the interpretation of Allah made by too many), my God does not ask for martyrdom, for suicide and terror.

I answered simply, “My God is Hashem, He is the God of the Yehudi.” He is the God of the Jew. She said again, “My God is Allah” and I smiled and said, “Many people think God is God, no matter what name you give him. Our God is Hashem.”

There was nothing else to say; I went to catch my flight.

It was such a simple question and it was, perhaps, the hardest one I have ever been asked. Who is your God?

My God is a God of honor, a God of love. My God protects my land and my children. My God travels thousands of kilometers (miles) so that He is here with me in this distant land. Or perhaps, it is better to say it differently. My God was there as my plane took off and left Israeli air space. He was there with me briefly when I had a layover in Turkey. He was here when I landed in New Delhi; here when I visited the tourist sites and met with different people.

Here with me on the plane as it flies to Bangalore, and I believe, with complete faith, He will be there waiting when I arrive.

Does it matter what name we give? What name we use? 

Who is your God?

My God is, quite simply, God. Elokim. He is a God of hope, of prayer. He is with me everywhere I travel, every moment of the day. I walk in a land of many gods. They are mounted in the taxis and on the walls. My God is One. My God is The Name. my God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. I am a Yehudi.

Here in a distant land, the truest name is here - for who I am and for God. He is What He Is...what He has always been, and what He always will be. He is the God of Israel, forever loved and trusted to watch over His people.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Look Back at Ten Years as A Soldier's Mother

On February 13, 2007, I decided that I wanted to experiment more formally with this thing called "blogging." There was no WordPress, no other real blogging platform other than Blogger. I decided to go for it and with the first screen, I was stuck.

It asked me the name for the blog I wanted to create. I didn't know what to write. There were two major things happening in my life. One I was anticipating with such joy; the second I was intentionally trying not to face.

My daughter, first child, was getting married. She was (and is) beautiful and ecstatically happy. Her future husband was (is) so gorgeous and sweet and I love his family. But what would I write about - the wedding was one month away, most of the planning done and anyway, how much can you write about a wedding long after it happens.

The second was my oldest son, second child, being drafted into the army. That was to be for three years, involved more unknowns and so I chose that as the topic. I would be, whether I wanted to be or not, a soldier's mother. And so...ten years ago today, I started writing.

The wedding was amazing but it left me with nothing else to focus on, nothing left to delay me from facing reality.

The first picture when he came home was of him smiling and I began to think I might survive this thing called the army.

He became a Commander. He went to war and I thought I would die of fear. I cried. I prayed. I wrote...

And then the war ended and he came home and he was fine. Really fine. "We did what we had to do," he told me and his only complaint was that he felt the army had ended the war too soon and would have to go back.

Elie finished the army and began to think about his life after this service the same week my second, Shmulik went in.

Shmulik served in Kfir and after a while was assigned to be the Base Commander's personal driver.

I loved him working with this man, this leader and knew he would teach Shmulik and watch over him and the years passed very quickly.

Towards the end of his service, still a soldier, Shmulik got married and his whole unit came and danced at his wedding.

Things settled down. Shmulik finished his army service and settled nicely into married life. Amira had her first son and I learned the wonder of being a grandmother to her amazingly beautiful son.

Elie got married and I got a break of a few years when I was a soldier's mother, but not really. A few months later, Elie's prediction came true. Israel had not done Hamas permanent damage and they were up for another war. Elie was called in, but thankfully, this time, it ended more quickly.

 Two weddings. A grandson. Then a granddaughter as Elie and his wife had a baby girl.

Then another grandson, when Amira's second son was born.

The break was too short. I started dreading Davidi going into the army weeks and weeks and weeks before he went in. He too agreed to go into a combat unit and though I wanted him to go into Artillery, he wanted something else.

He was given the choice of Givati and he took it and so for the last year before this 10 year "marker" as a soldier's mother, I've had a Givati son.

The day I took him to enter the army, I promised myself I wouldn't cry in front of him, and I didn't. A few hours after I dropped him off, he sent me the first picture of him in uniform and it was then that I broke down and cried.

He's been in the army more than a year now...and mostly he's doing great...and I'm doing okay.

That's his younger sister. She was just 7 years old when her oldest brother went into the army, too small to be afraid, or so I thought.

And yet...

One day, a soldier had been shot in the north in a training accident and she overheard and thought it was Elie. In a terrified voice, she asked if Elie was okay and we quickly reassured her - not Elie, not an attack.

And we were more careful around her. Today, she listens to the news and keeps herself aware of what is happening. She's very proud of her brothers, as am I.

David was 11 when Elie went in. He was a month short of 13 when Elie was called to the front and we weren't sure that Elie would be home in time to celebrate David's bar mitzvah with him.

But he was - he came home the day before looking strong and happy and safe.

I had my three boys there, all smiling and my world seemed so much calmer. David was adorable; Shmulik so big and  heading to the army too soon. Elie was home and that simple fact freed me to enjoy the day.

Along the way, Elie brought Yakov home. Yakov brought Chaim, and suddenly we'd adopted two brothers who became ours.

Yakov married and has three daughters.
We're still waiting on Chaim but he's done really well for himself and so I'll leave it to his mother to nag him about bringing home someone special.
At one point, both Elie and David were going to base. Elie had been called for Reserve duty; and David was in his first year. Without shame, I forced them to post for a picture together and I didn't really care that they weren't too happy with me (more like benevolently accepting that they had to let me take the picture.

We all get together when we can, though it's never often enough.

A few weeks ago, Shmulik's wife gave birth, and now we have little Lavi, sweet and precious, and we're watching him grow.

How do you sum up 10 years that changed your life again and again? Ten years. Over 2,000 posts, Over a million visits.

But more...Three marriages. Three sons, two adopted sons and one son-in-law into the army, all but Davidi already out. Four grandchildren. A house sold, a house bought. Cars bought and sold. Trips taken, even the dream of a cruise.

A lovely 7 year old child, now a beauty of 17. Three wars. How many missiles? How many UN condemnations? How many betrayals by nations of the world...but how many miracles.

I think the answer is that you don't sum it up and you accept that every day is a gift; every day a miracle.

If I have learned anything in the last decade, it is that you have to spend every day being grateful; never taking it for granted. You look at the pictures; you hug your grandchildren, knowing how fast they grow.

And you pray with all that is inside of you that they will all continue to smile, all continue to live their lives in health, in safety - as a family, as a community.

As a nation, a people. As a world. At the end of the day, look at your children and pray, as I do, that the day closes and opens with them smiling.

Thank you, God, Thank you for the miracles of the last ten years.

NOTE: At the request of their very wise parents, no grandchildren were displayed in this post. And if some day way in the future, they come here and read this words - to them I's not my fault. Ask your Ima and Abba. They said no...if it was up to me, a day wouldn't go by that I wouldn't show your picture everywhere, to everyone.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Hate Roller Coasters

You know that part of the road where you go up and then suddenly go down and your stomach takes a second to catch up? You know that feeling when you get to the edge of the fall of a roller coaster and then begin falling? You don't know how far you will fall; you just know that you weren't ready. All the time in the world to think, to prepare, and there you are, at that point so much earlier than you expected.

Israel has just been attacked from three fronts in the last few days. A rocket landed in the Golan Heights, fired from Syrian territory earlier in the evening last night.

And then, later in the evening, air raid sirens wailed in Eilat without warning and four missiles were detected. Iron Dome shot down three while the fourth exploded in open fields. Yesterday, Gaza fired a rocket at Israel - it landed in the Ashkelon beach area.

Two things can happen now, and it's impossible to predict which. It's been 2.5 years since our last war (Protective Edge/Tsuk Eitan). That one took place just two years after the previous one (Pillar of Defense/Amud Annan). That one was four years after Cast Lead. I think that was four years after the Second Lebanon War. It seems our enemies forget their defeat rather quickly and though we all know the outcome, they are itching for a fight yet again. So, in a matter of days or weeks, this could escalate, again, to war.

Or, as often happens, Israel might strike back strongly. A not-gentle reminder that we are not interested in war, but will not hesitate to defend our land and people. Maybe, the message will be delivered and maybe Hamas and Hezbollah will pull back.

Stupid is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. One could easily dismiss our enemies as being stupid. I mean, come on, they've been attacking us for almost 70 years (and actually before). They've succeeded in making us suffer and cry. We are a nation that cries easily and perhaps that makes them think we are weak.

The sad reality is that we are strongest when we cry; more united, more determined. There is no nation on earth that is invincible but the nation of Israel, when pushed against the wall, comes pretty darn close. Push us, attack us, and you will not like the results.

Under normal circumstances, we'll listen to the world (sadly) and we'll pander and dance and hesitate because ultimately, we keep testing whether finally our enemies have awakened to the truth - that life is worth living, worth celebrating and death is not a glory, a goal. But attack us, push us, harm us and oh my goodness, at least be smart enough to run, to hide. Of course, that won't stop us, but never mind.

So - war or de-escalation? What will come in the next days? I'm praying that they will back down; that the rockets and mortars and missiles will stop. My son is on the border and I can't sleep or breathe if I think about how close he is, of missiles being fired towards him. Been there, done that...oh God, I don't want to do that again.

I'm on the edge of the roller coaster again. It is a place I have been so many times in the last 10 years and still, I wasn't prepared. It comes so fast. You're going along, congratulating yourself on really handling things well. You've got lists and places to go and meetings to attend. You've settled into a regular schedule. He comes home; you back him brownies. She leaves for school; you go to dinner with the grandchildren. It's really all very simple, until you reach that point, and your stomach just falls.

Is war coming in the next few days? In what other country is that question asked as often as we ask it here?

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Politics of Silence

I'm tired of politics.

No, really.

I want.

I want to write about what is important in life. Today I got to hold, kiss, hug, each of my four grandchildren. Does life get any better than that?

My computer is set to default after two minutes or so of inactivity to a slideshow of recent pictures taken of most of my family. At two recent events celebrating the birth of my youngest grandson, there was a photographer and we took a lot of family pictures. I'm looking forward to adding those pictures into the same folder. Does life get any better than that?

It was freezing cold here in Israel. The January rain came in a vengeance in the last few days of the month. But today was warm and sunny. We opened the house and let the warm sunshine in. By 4:00 p.m. it was getting cold again, but still the house seemed brighter, fresher, cleaner. But it was starting to get cold; the sun was getting ready to set. So we closed the house, lowered the plastic shutters.

And as the night came around, I bounced back and forth between social media (primarily Twitter and Facebook) and last minute things I wanted to finish for work. Amira came around with her two precious sons. They joined Elie and his beautiful daughter for dinner in my living room. Three innocent children who know nothing of politics, violence what worldly tensions. Michal has grandparents who live in the US, so she knows there is a place called "New York." To her, it is a place of love and warmth. None of them know anything about a place called the United Nations, or even the White House, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

After dinner, Yosef and Aharaon went home with their mother, amid hugs and kisses and the knowledge they live only a few kilometers away. Michali went to sleep and Shmulik called to say that if I wanted to come over, I could see my newest grandchild, baby Lavi. So I drove a few kilometers and got to hold little Lavi as he slept and dreamed baby dreams in my arms.

As the hour grew late, I returned home. Back to my computer, back to politics. And somehow I realized I had reached the point that I couldn't write anymore about Trump and Clinton, America and Europe and immigration and refugees. I've had enough.

I'm tired of politics...

And the problem is that deep down I believe that even silence is a political decision. And I've never accepted silence as a viable solution, a real alternative to speaking what you believe to be right.

And yet...and yet. I'm tired of the anger, the hatred, the seemingly irrational leaps people are making. No, he didn't ban ALL Muslims...he didn't even pick the nations from where...TEMPORARILY...he wants America to stop immigration. The facts are so different from the fears but you can't stop people bent on hate and you can't stop people bent on fearing.

So, at least for now, I'm going to go back to posting about what I love to write - my country, my people, my family. I return to where I started and where I've never left. Enough politics - at least that which takes place on distant shores. Enough.

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