Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Smiles: "G-d Loves You!"

Not the title you'd necessarily expect for a Chanukah blog post but I'll explain... First, though, a few Chanukah treats from some blogger friends of mine. Like this finger-snappin' tune on Ki Yachol Nuchal!

And can you find what's wrong with these Chanukah ads?
If you can't see them clearly here - and/or for many more "gotta love 'em" signs from Israel, visit A Time of the Signs.

Now for that explanation I promised: In 2009, "The Land of PO - Revisited" pretty much summed up my feelings about living in Israel during my favorite of holidays there. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading that post and I humbly suggest that you do, too. Of course, there's always more to tell about the five consecutive Chanukahs that we merited to celebrate as residents of the place where the miracles occurred...about our family trip to the Chashmonaim Village
Ancient Olive Press
where we tried out the ancient olive presses...and how we stuck to the PO theme by going out for a Chanukah dinner at a wonderful Jerusalem restaurant called "AproPO" (which has since closed so don't go looking for it) and taking the kids to see "Ari PO-tehr" (Harry Potter)...

But none of that seemed very blog worthy - and yet I couldn't let Chanukah go by without offering something personal to my faithful readership. So I decided that while I'm sharing other people's stuff, I'd share a Chanukah thought that I heard at my weekly Na'aleh class. (Na'aleh has been providing me with interesting and inspirational classes which I "attend" by curling up in my comfy den chair and logging on to this excellent site.) Mrs. Shira Smiles (yes, that's really her name), a sought-after speaker and educator - in Israel, of course - asked the question that so many Torah sages have asked: If the main miracle of Chanukah was the battle that the Jews won against the Y'vanim, why do we make a much bigger deal about the less important miracle of the small amount of oil that burned for eight days?

One of many answers is that because of G-d's promise to our forefathers, He had no choice but to miraculously save the small, weak nation of Israel from the Hellenists' goal of our total spiritual annihilation. They didn't want to exterminate us physically as much as to completely destroy us spiritually. But G-d had said that would never happen so He enabled the Maccabees to lead a stunning victory over their enemies.

Then came the oil issue.
There wasn't enough pure olive oil for lighting the menorah in the Temple until more pure olive oil could be produced. Well, who said they had to use pure olive oil if they didn't have any? They didn't NEED a miracle - they could've used less-than-perfectly-pure oil in this emergency situation. But G-d wanted to show His children how proud He was of them for standing up for what was right; for fighting against all odds to defend their sacred Torah. So He performed a miracle that He didn't have to perform - just to show how much He loves us. And that's what Chanukah is all about. Our rabbis teach that there is still some of that loving miracle in every Chanukah candle we light today - we just have to look deep into those flames to see it, to harness the power of G-d's daily loving miracles, to recognize it and thank Him for it. And that, says Mrs. Smiles, is why we focus on the miracle of the oil rather than our miraculous victory in battle. As a reminder that G-d loves us.

Tapping into G-d's loving miracles can be accomplished anywhere on the planet - and I've been trying hard to do that this year - but it's so much easier in the Land where "the Eyes of G-d...are always upon it" (Devarim 11:12) .

When I Remember Jerusalem many miracles come to mind:
In rains that fall, we see G-d's hand; in crops that grow on desert land.
In thriving through the centuries, surrounded by our enemies.
The little things we take for granted, when seen as miracles become enchanted...Before I start waxing too POetic, I'll just say that miracles are simply more obvious in Israel, making daily life a lot more meaningful.

So as another Chanukah draws to a close and the new month of Teves begins, may we manage to tap into G-d's loving spirit from wherever we are and Merit Many Meaningful Miracles of Maccabean Magnitude!

Chanukah Sameyach and Chodesh Tov!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Missing Mama Rochel

Last week, we celebrated the anniversary of our Aliyah. Our lives as Israeli citizens began 14 years ago on the 4th of Cheshvan. At the time, I couldn't have known that among our many adjustments would be some serious calendar transformations. Dates that had been just ordinary in the previous 40 years of my life were to become special in ways I never would have imagined. The very first of these was just one week after our arrival...

My dear friend Shoshana called to ask if I would join her for a trip to Kever Rachel Imeynu, Mother Rachel's Tomb. (Pronounced "Rah-cheyl" in Sephardic/Israeli dialect and Rochel - "Ruh-chul" - in Eastern European circles, Rachel was one of the four matriarchs and the mother of two of the twelve tribes of Israel.) It was the 11th of Cheshvan, the anniversary of her passing, and a visit to her burial place was the appropriate thing to do.
Artwork by Zevy, grade 2

I had been to Rachel's Tomb on previous visits to Israel but never on her yohrtzeit (that's Yiddish; yom petiratah, in Hebrew). I wish I could say that I jumped at the offer - it sounded wonderful - but I was exhausted and overwhelmed from our move so I politely declined. Still, the date was now etched in my mind as one to be remembered and commemorated.

That first year passed quickly and before I knew it, Shoshana was inviting me again. This time, I was ready for the journey – half an hour from home; about 4,000 years back in time. We drove to the southern edge of Jerusalem where we boarded a bullet-proof bus which took us into Arab Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). Soldiers surrounded us with rifles at the ready and we got on and off the bus.

Upon our arrival, I was swept into a sea of women from every slice of the Jewish spectrum. (I'm sure there must have been some men there as well but this was clearly a women's event.) There were so many women that I couldn't get into the building so I stayed outside with the overflow and let myself get lost in the crowd, in the emotion, in the prayer...of old women, young women, tenth-generation Israeli women and Western immigrants like myself, each feeling her own personal connection to the soul of Mama Rochel.

My trips to Kever Rachel would never be the same after that. Today, the security fence enables you to drive all the way there and park your car in safety right across from the tomb. Although the area is now surrounded by cement walls and bares no resemblance to what it looked like on my very first visit there 35 years ago
it is as tranquil and holy as ever inside. If you've never been, you must. If you have been, it probably wasn't recently enough.

(for more info: KEYtfilla@gmail.com)
On our first 11th of Cheshvan back in the States I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the yohrtzeit of Rachel Imeynu was catching on here, too. Special events - almost exclusively for women - school assemblies and projects...but they just made me miss Mama Rochel - and my former proximity to her eternal resting place - all the more.

When I began this blogpost, I wasn't sure I'd have enough to say about Kever Rachel. Now my train of thought is transporting me to all sorts of related places...to the beautiful curtain inside the building made from a bridal gown that was never worn due to a terrorist bombing that took the bride's life...and my not-by-chance encounter with Adele who introduced me to the Har Nof women who visit Kever Rachel every Sunday...  The Mama Rochel song that hit the charts shortly after our return to the States is playing in my head - its haunting melody and lyrics touch every Jewish heart that hears it...

As of last year, the yohrtzeit of Rachel Imeynu took on an added significance for me as it comes just four days before the yohrtzeit of my father, z"l. Daddy, whose second yohrtzeit is this Shabbos, 15 Cheshvan, felt a very strong connection to his ancestors and a great appreciation for the opportunities he had to visit their grave sites. Needless to say, I'm missing him, too. May my father's neshama (soul) and Mama Rochel's both have an aliyah (spiritual elevation). And may every Aliyah (move to Israel) have a neshama (as expressed by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, former executive vice president of the OU, at a good-bye party for a staff member making Aliyah).

To Remember Jerusalem today, the 11th of Cheshvan, is to remember Mama Rochel, who continues to cry for us, feel our pain, give us comfort, strength and hope - and whose spirit waits just beyond the border of the holy city to welcome all her wandering children Home.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

I really SHOULD HAVE posted to this blog in July on the eighth anniversary of our return to Baltimore from Israel but I just didn't have the emotional energy to go there...

I WOULD HAVE posted in August but summer is not necessarily all relaxation and free time...

I COULD HAVE blogged earlier this month about Jerusalem's old walls (see above) and new string bridge (on the right) - a good theme, I thought, as we end the old year and begin a new one - but the string bridge isn't really so new anymore. The Jerusalem light rail is - but I don't have a photo of it...

Excuses, excuses. At least I AM posting in time to wish you and yours a healthy, joyful new year - a year of no excuses, a year in which all your hopes will be realized and all your prayers answered with revealed good and sweetness. And of course, the year in which we will no longer have to Remember Jerusalem with photos and blog posts...

Speaking of photos, see ours below. Then scroll down a bit further for my annual Rosh Hashanah poem with, as always, a new stanza for the new year.

With every blessing in the year 5752 and beyond,

Zevy, Yours Truly, Bill, Yoel, Simcha 
Berel and Shani

Rosh Hashanah 5772

We ponder again the year in review
What was accomplished, what's still left to do.
Looking back, we can count all the ways we've been blessed
and assess how we've scored on G-d's many tests.

So many should'ves and could'ves but didn't.
Surely I would've if my heart had been in it.
No more excuses! (Or at least not as many.)
I'll have to try hard to make hardly any.

What have I learned in the years that have passed?
That no two people will take the same path.
Be it highway or footbridge, a road lies ahead.
Walk yours with G-d, King Solomon said.

Our sacred laws, beloved traditions                                                
guide us through challenges and transitions. From day to day, from year to year
our faith and our trust calm every fear.

The years come and go in the circle game.
Events ever-changing; the cycle the same.
Like wood being shaped by the artisan's lathe
we marvel at eych ha'galgal mistoveyv.

Yomuledet Sameyach!
Congratulations, dear Earth,
on 5772 years since your birth.
With what shall we bless you on your special day?
Global peace. Gentle weather. Prosperity...

Now the air's turning brisk; the foliage bright.
Soon the table we'll set and the candles we'll light.
The challahs are baked; the honey dish glistens.
The shofar will blow, to its call we will listen.

Ripe pomegranates bursting with seeds remind G-d of our merits, not our misdeeds. The angels are ready to plead every case to the Almighty King Whose judgment we'll face.

May He grant us good health and joy that is true,
contentment and nachas and simchas "by you".
Let this be the year that He takes our hands
and leads us back Home to our holy Land.

Now we are ready, the holiday's here.
May it be the start of a wonderful year.
As we don our finest, it is so nice to know
that for Rosh Hashanah we're all "good to go"!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Breaking My Blogger's Block

Is it really eight months since I last posted to this blog? Where's the time gone? I do have a metaphysical explanation for my unplanned and unexpected hiatus. Drop me a line for the full explanation - or just to say hello.

Now that I'm back, I'd actually like to change the slant of this blog just a bit. Rather than continuing to reminisce about the six years that we lived in Israel, I want to make Remember Jerusalem more current and interactive. I can be "current" for a while because I'm still savoring the memories of a wonderful one-week visit to the holy Land at the end of March. The "excuse" was to visit our son, the yeshiva bachur (young man), who has been studying there for the past three years. We arrived just in time to take him out for his birthday. His restaurant recommendation (and his appetite) was excellent: Entrecote. Their website says that their focus is on the meat but the numerous dips and salatim (salads) that came with the pitot (pita bread) were so delicious that Bill and I were full by the time the steak arrived. (Yeshiva Bachur still had plenty of room.)

The apartment we rented in Har Nof was amazing - for its panoramic view of the surrounding hills (see photo above) and every comfortable, convenient amenity within. If you need a place for your next visit, email me for the owner's contact information. And please tell her that I sent you.

We stayed mostly in Jerusalem for the week - except for a one-day tiyul (excursion) to the lower Galil (Galilee). We drove along the West Bank of the Jordan River on the way there and down Israel's ultra-modern Highway #6 on the way back with stops in Yavne'el and Tiveria (Tiberias) and an almost aerial overlook of the stunning-but-still-not-full-enough Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

We spent as much time as we could at the Kotel (Western Wall) and in the Old City of Jerusalem where we toured the nearly-new Aish Hatorah building with its spectacular Chihuly glass sculpture and totally awesome views from the roof.

Everywhere I went, I took pictures with this blog in mind. Unlike our last trip to Israel, this time my camera returned safely with us, thank G-d. But my photos will only get me through another two or three blogposts. That's where the "interactive" idea comes in. Won't you please share your favorite photos of Jerusalem with me and the readers of my blog? It's a win-win situation. You'll be famous (Ha! I wish my blog was that popular!) while the rest of us will be able to Remember Jerusalem from perspectives other than my own. Send your photo to sharon@rememberjerusalem.com with a short description of it and why it is special to you. May our shared photos tide us over until we can all be there in person (and may they remind those who are already there how blessed they are).

Ahhhhh. It feels so good to be blogging again. But it feels even better to Remember Jerusalem.