Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No Title Needed...

...it's already at the top of this page. "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem..." and the rest of the country, while you're at it.

Unlike many, if not most, of my fellow bloggers, I don't crank these posts out prolifically. I dwell on them for days, writing and re-writing; searching for the precise word to match each carefully chosen photo. But today as I type, Hillary Clinton's singing her swan song,
the Oom Shmoom  is doing its thing (no play-on-name intended - if you're unfamiliar with the term, ask and I'll explain) and with G-d's help, this'll all be over soon. Therefore, I've gotta act quickly so forgive me if this post is somewhat sub-standard.

When I saw my dear friend, Esther, on the very first day of the current conflict, we compared notes on what we'd heard from our friends and family in Israel. The reports were all similar. "We're ok. Steering clear of hot spots. Praying that this shouldn't escalate...". Esther smiled and said "I wish I was there being calm instead of here being so worried." It's true that for the most part, Israelis are calmer than we are about these things. As we check every news site for the latest information, life in Israel goes on - albeit cautiously. Homes in "safe" areas open their doors to brethren from more dangerous locations.
Ads begin to appear for donations to Magen Dovid Adom (the Israeli "Red Cross") and groups deliver care packages to our brave young men in uniform. But life goes on.

Our six years in Israel included our (un)fair share of rocket fire in the region, stabbings in the Old City and suicide bus bombers minutes from our home in Har Nof. Oh, and let's not forget bad ol' Saddam's threat to bombard us with chemical weapons, forcing us to carry our gas masks to work, school or the supermarket.
My mother called from the States as we were preparing our sealed room and asked how we were doing. "We're fine", I replied. "You're in denial", she said. When I told my husband about Mom's diagnosis of our psychological state, Bill quipped: "Tell her that d'Nile is in Egypt. We're in Israel." And life went on. I don't mean to minimize the tension or the fear. It's there. You live it and breathe it.
But the Nation of Israel carries on.

I scratch my head as I listen to the radio. In an interview with a professor of Arabic studies at an American university, the professor stated that the Palestinians are bearing the brunt of the exchange of fire in that only (emphasis mine) 3 Israeli civilians have been killed but approximately 100 Palestinians (mostly terrorists) have lost their lives. The interviewer responded: "But not for lack of trying! The Palestinians would surely prefer killing more Israelis but their weapons are inferior and their aim is poor." To which the professor wholeheartedly agreed!

Similarly, a news report stated oh so simply that the cease-fire negotiations in Egypt are complicated because the Israelis won't cease their fire until the Gazans stop lobbing missiles into Israel but the Palestinians won't cease their fire until Israel stops assassinating their leaders! If an alien had just arrived on this planet, he'd have no way to know that one is a direct result of the other. (And if you don't know which came first, you can stop reading now and hop the next spaceship home to Mars.)

So what are we to do from here? "Tehillim K'neged Tillim" was a catchy slogan during the Yom Kippur war. Tehillim are Psalms. Tillim are missiles. "Psalms to Fight the Bombs". As our sisters and brothers in Israel do their physical best to deal with yet another "operation", they and we know that our most effective weapon has always been the power of prayer. When the "tillim" are falling, we recite our "Tehillim".
While governments of the greatest nations in the world gather to discuss a cease-fire, we turn to the King of all kings to represent us in the negotiations. So open your book of Psalms - it's there somewhere on the shelf, if not already in your hand. Start with chapters 83, 130 and 142. It's the best way to say "Imchem Anachnu b'Tzara" - we are with you, Israel, in your difficult time (see Psalm 91:15). Even if you're reading this after the imminent cease-fire, you can still say Tehillim. There's always more to pray for.

May the Almighty Remember Jerusalem and the rest of our holy Land. May He answer all our prayers to protect His People and return us to the peaceful existence for which we beseech Him thrice daily.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Of Calendars and Crocuses

When my dear friend, Shoshana, visited from Israel this summer she brought me a wonderful gift - a calendar with pictures of flowers of Israel on each page.
Even in this digital age when I could have everything on my computer, I still prefer the old-fashioned way for organizing my days, weeks and months. Keeping my life in order while simultaneously enjoying the flora of Eretz Yisrael is a winning combination.

One of the best things about using a calendar is starting a new one. Turning the pages from month to month engenders a certain sense of renewal but to begin an entire booklet of clean slates is, in my humble opinion, a feeling far more exhilarating than the sum of its parts.
Jerusalem Autumn-crocus
My calendars have always been Jewish-year calendars so a new one usually means that Rosh Hashanah, the ultimate clean slate event, is on page one - and always seems to come as a bit of a surprise. (What? Rosh Hashanah already? Where'd the year go?) But this forces me to think way beyond "September" and aids me in my attempt to start the new year "al regel yemin" (on the right foot). And that, of course, includes keeping Jerusalem at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers.

When I Remember Jerusalem in the year ahead, I'll consult my calendar to admire the Jerusalem Autumn-crocus or the Pistacia palaestina of the holy Land.
Pistacia palaestina
In January, I'll recall the winter roses that graced our neighbors' ginah (garden). In April, the wild red poppies that sang "Aviv Hee'gee'ah Pesach Bah". And in the summer, the flower of the pomegranate tree - that delicate harbinger of another Rosh Hashanah ahead. And I'll hope that when I turn the last page of my flower calendar in a year from now, we will all be starting our next clean slate amid the crocuses, anemones and lilies of the Land. May every calendar page until then - and thereafter - be filled with meaningful moments, healthy, peaceful days and joyful events for all Am Yisrael.

Below please find my annual Rosh Hashanah poem with, as always, a new stanza for the new year. With warmest wishes from our house to yours,
Z'ev, Berel, Simcha, Yoel, Shani
Bill and Yours Truly

Rosh Hashanah 5773

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.) Gotta work hard to make hardly any…

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

Our sacred laws, beloved traditions see 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.
Begin a new calendar, start a clean slate,
fill it with good deeds and character traits;
with memorable moments and meaningful days, months full of emulating G-d’s holy ways.
Yomuledet Sameyach! 
Congratulations, dear Earth,
on 5773 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!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Learn to Yearn

Today, erev Rosh Chodesh Av (the eve of the first day of the month of Av) is the ninth Hebrew anniversary of our return to the States after living in Israel for almost six years. It is also the eve of the beginning of the saddest period on the Jewish calendar, "The Nine Days", which culminate with the fast of  Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of Av, when each of the Batei Mikdash (holy Temples in Jerusalem) were destroyed (approximately 500 years apart).

My thoughts and emotions get kind of muddled each year on this day and during the nine days ahead. I become a jumble of personal sorrow (on leaving Israel) and national loss (of the Jewish nation's closest possible relationship with G-d via the holy Temples). My personal yearning to return gets all mixed up with our national yearning for the ultimate redemption and ingathering of the exiles. Rather than try to un-muddle my mind for this post, I chose to let others speak for me - and far more eloquently than I would.

But first this newsflash: Israel's Civil Service Commissioner, Moshe Dayan, recently announced that Tisha b'Av will be included on the list of authorized holidays (that is, days off from work) in Israel beginning this year. This short news item made me smile. Not because Israelis can now fast and mourn in the comfort of their homes. Rather, because our sages tell us that in the times of Mashiach (the Messiah), when certain holidays will be abolished, Tisha b'Av will remain on the calendar but as a day of joy and celebration. I am delighted to see that the State is already making arrangements for Tisha b'Av to be a holiday! Now all we have to do is yearn for it...

Just as the topic for this post was beginning to gel,

I discovered this book on my mother's bookshelf. I know nothing about the author nor can I vouch for the veracity of his selections but these words from the book jacket cannot be denied: "Yearning has always been a major component of Judaism. This yearning can take many forms, and is attached most often to the Holy Land, that wonderful place...where spirit and G-d play a central role in everyday life." 
In the book, this vignette about Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (circa 1800) rings true: 

Once Rabbi Nachman of Breslov sat speaking about Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), of its holiness and its beauty, with two of his children's fathers-in-law, Rabbi Aryeh Valutshisk and Rabbi Avraham Dov of Chmelnik. In the midst of their conversation, the rabbi of Valutshisk exclaimed: "For the past forty years I have longed for Eretz Yisrael, desiring so very stongly to bask in its glory, and yet I have not been privileged to go there and see it." The rabbi of Chmelnik was astounded at this comment. "Why should anyone pine for so long? All one has to do is take one's money and travel there!" Rabbi Nachman said to his disciples: "The rabbi of Valutshisk will eventually move to Eretz Yisrael, while the rabbi of Chmelnik will never see the country - for longing and pining are more important that all the world's treasures..." A short time later Rabbi Nachman's words were fulfilled.

For a more modern-day version of this notion of "yearning", let me introduce you to Rabbi Pinchas Winston, a prolific writer on the subject of geulah (redemption). The very first chapter of his book "Geulah B'Rachamim - Sixty Daily Lessons to help a Jew Yearn for Redemption"  is entitled "Learn to Yearn". He ends the chapter with this: "Remember...redemption can occur without making a single change in location or lifestyle. It just takes a change of heart." So even if you're not quite ready to pack your bags and make Aliyah, you are still a crucial part of the process. (Of course, if you do have the ability, there's no place like Home to wait out the rest of the exile - may it be brief!!) The book is excellent. You can order it and his other works here.

If you don't have the time or patience to read, at least watch this short video that Rabbi Winston recently produced. Its powerful message - that "you have to want it with everything you have" - is what yearning's all about. And the "auto-tune remix" (I learned the lingo from my teenage son) is so cool!

If you would like to practice your yearning
this Tisha b'Av (observed this year on Sunday, July 29), you can join thousands of Jews in over 300 locations who will be watching Project Inspire's annual Tisha B'Av production. Billed "Journey to Jerusalem", the newspaper ad reads: "On Tisha b'Av, we yearn for the reubuilding of the Bais HaMikdash and our return to Yerushalayim (Jerualem). This year, invest one hour of your Tisha b'Av and be truly inspired to help bring the Geulah Sh'leymah (the complete redemption)." To find out where this film is being shown in your area or to arrange for it to be shown in your area, call 646-461-3339 or email info@projectinspire.com.

"Yearning", by the way, does not only apply to those of us in chu"l (chutz la'Aretz - outside the Land). Quite the contrary! Any thinking Jew living in Israel - whether born there or immigrated - knows that until the Temple is rebuilt and the Shechinah (G-d's presence) is completely returned to Zion, he, too, is still living in exile - albeit as close to G-d as one can be in the meanwhile. Yet, surrounded by all that holiness and history, one can lose sight of what is still so sorely lacking. Sometimes it's the "chutznik" (person living outside the Land) who needs to remind his Israeli counterpart that there is still much more to yearn for.

Since our return to the States, I have carried this in my wallet:
I have yet to find its source. (If you happen to know, please share!) Allow me to translate:
The story is told of a man who wanted to leave Jerusalem for chutz la'Aretz. The sages said to him: "Was it not decreed that one should not even leave the city of Jerusalem? How much more so if it is in order to leave the country entirely!". The man replied: "I am envious of those who live outside the Land because they yearn for Jerusalem. I have never tasted these yearnings. I want to leave so that I can experience these longings for Jerusalem." They permitted him to leave on the condition that while in chutz la'Aretz he would speak the praises of Jerusalem.

Which brings us back to my muddled mind; to the reason for my blog in general and this post in particular. To Remember Jerusalem is to yearn for her and for G-d's revealed presence among us. If I can't physically be there right now, as least I can sing her praises and perhaps help others learn to yearn for our third and eternal Bais HaMikdash, may it be built speedily and in our day.
Nice picture, isn't it? Don't know the source of that, either. But the image at the beginning of this post - "Skyline of Jerusalem" - is a micrograph of the entire text of Tehillim (Psalms) by Menachem Boas.

P.S. As I go to press, we mourn yesterday's passing of HaRav Elyashiv, zt"l, the Gadol Hador (spiritual leader of our generation). May his holy neshama (soul) be a meilitz yosher (heavenly advocate) for all Am Yisrael. At the same time, our hearts go out in condolence to the families of the Israelis killed in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria. May the Almighty heal the injured and end all our individual and national suffering.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ah Gut (T)Zimmer!

I love a good play on words and this one fell right into my lap. It began when Bill came home from shul after Shavuos and wished everyone "ah gut zimmer" (a good summer), the customary Yiddish greeting for after the Shavuos holiday when summer seems suddenly upon us - even if the calendar won't make it official until June 20.

Villa Rimona
A few days later, I received an email from Chana Veffer, proprietress of Villa Rimona, a beautiful place to stay in the peaceful, northern town of Yavne'el which Bill and I had the pleasure of visiting on our last trip to Israel. Chana's request: "If you know anyone who may be visiting the Golan and Galil (this summer), please let them know about our guest zimmers". Zimmer, in this case, is a whole 'nother word - one which I thought was spelled/pronounced "tzimmer". A quick Google search led me to Balashon, the Hebrew Language Detective, who gave me exactly what I was looking for:

"As the summer begins, we see a lot of Israelis looking for a tzimmer - usually in the North. In Modern Hebrew, (tzimmer) refers to a country guest house - a 'bed and breakfast'. The word comes from the German zimmer - meaning 'room'. Zimmer has the same source as the English word timber, since most rooms in Germany were made of wood." (Much to my pleasant surprise, the Hebrew Language Detective turns out to be none other than the husband of "A Time of the Signs" which I've linked to in previous blog posts. What a terrific team they are!)

K'far Zippori
So it looks like tzimmer and zimmer are both correct but for the purpose of this post, I'll use "zimmer" for "summer" and "tzimmer" for "B&B". In case "tzimmer" makes you think four walls and an outhouse, think again. Sometimes deceptive from the outside, tzimmerim (pl.) offer everything from jacuzzis to cable TV on the inside. Most have minimal-yet-functional kitchen facilities and some even provide four-legged friends to accompany you around the grounds. If you're a wise Israeli, you booked your tzimmer for this zimmer many months ago in order to get the best location, size, amenities and near-by attractions to make your zimmer vacation a wonderful one. But there are surely still some excellent tzimmer opportunities available for procrastinators.

All this talk of tzimmers in the zimmer got me reminiscing about some of the lovely places we stayed during our kids' chofesh ha'gadol (literally, "big vacation" as Israeli schools' summer break is called). At K'far Zippori, breakfast was delivered to the door of our cozy cabin - the cheese, straight from the goats on the moshav; the vegetables fresh from the local fields. This provided a rare, exciting opportunity for us Jerusalemite city mice to practice taking t'rumot and ma'asrot (agricultural tithes) from the country fresh produce.

Neve Ativ
Neve Ativ was another delightful vacation spot. Nestled at the foot of the Chermon (Mount Hermon) in the Golan, it is Israel's answer to a Swiss chalet in the Alps. The surrounding scenery was spectacular and the close proximity to Israel's highest peak was a real treat.

One of the nicest things about getting away in the zimmer was to Remember Jerusalem and look forward to returning to the holy city that we were privileged to call home. Whether you'll be vacationing this year in Israel or in chu"l  (chutz la'Aretz - outside the Land), I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you fine accomodations, rest and relaxation and a safe return home (ideally with an upper case "H"!). In other words...Have a Very Gut (T)Zimmer!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!

Erev Lag Ba’Omer, the eve of the 33rd day of the 7-week period between the second day of Pesach and the first day of Shavuos. It’s when we count the days from leaving Egypt to receiving the Torah; from bringing the barley offering to bringing our first fruits to the Temple when it stood…

On day 33 of the omer, we celebrate the end of the plague that killed the students of Rabi Akiva and we commemorate the yohrtzeit of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai who brought the mystical light of Kabbalah into the world. You can Google any of these topics and get all the fascinating details of each but I’m going to jump right ahead to the highlight (oh, what a pun!) of the night.

The bonfires, that is. Lit all over the Land on Lag Ba’Omer – by religious and secular alike – they are a sight to behold. There are various explanations for what this is all about but as the stars come out in Israel on the 18th of Iyar (this year, Wednesday night, May 9), no explanations are necessary – nor permits for building a blaze in your yard, on your street corner or in the nearest open field.

There are the HUGE bonfires in Meron, Teveria and other holy places and then there are the medium-sized bonfires constructed with amazing ingenuity by children across the country and lit with adult supervision – usually. Picture everything from tree branches and cardboard boxes to old furniture and mattresses strategically placed for maximum combustion.

The kids work on this for weeks, dragging their “firewood" to the spot they designate as theirs. No one would dare think of stealing a box or wood plank from someone else’s pile of junk.

I never particularly wanted to be among the hundreds of thousands (literally) of people up north in Meron, the burial site of Rabbi Bar Yochai, on Lag Ba’Omer. I was perfectly content in my Jerusalem neighborhood, driving through the streets, walking into the forest, listening to the simultaneously soulful and joyful singing around each medura (bonfire) and to the klezmer band that traverses the hills of Har Nof on the back of a flatbed truck...(wish I had a photo of that to share).

For our very first Lag Ba’Omer in Israel, my boys were not yet “Israeli” enough to compete with the local bonfire builders so they created their own version: a Medura America’i, they called it – an “American Bonfire” - made of toothpicks and matches.
It was quite a hit among their Israeli friends and it quickly became a family tradition of sorts. We’ve continued to build our Medura America'i each year here in Baltimore. For my kids, it brings back fond memories. For me, it has taken on an almost mystical significance of its own.

As I gaze upon our tiny Medura America’i, I Remember Lag Ba’Omer in Jerusalem; I am transported mentally, emotionally and spiritually back to where the bonfires burn their brightest. As I stare into the tiny flame, I do not have to wish I was there...I am there. I am leaving Egypt, I am standing at Mount Sinai, I am bringing fruits to the Beit HaMikdash, I am studying the Torah of Rabi Akiva and the Zohar of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai…

...and I’m there together with all Am Yisrael, 
one Great Ball of Fire unto the nations.
Lag Sameyach!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Great (Pre-Purim) Date

My original title for this post was "A Date to Remember" but that was too ambiguous. It could have been referring to our recent Tu b'Shevat feast (at which I did not serve dates) or to various important dates that we celebrated in January and February - including my birthday and Bill's and our wedding anniversary, all happy and meaningful,
thank G-d. But the "date" I really had in mind is the Rosh Chodesh date that has become a tradition for my husband and me.

The custom began when we lived in Israel and Rosh Chodesh (the first day of each Jewish month) seemed the ideal time for us to get away from it all (read: the kids) and spend some quality time together over dinner at a favorite restaurant after a visit to the Wall - or vice versa. (It was always difficult to decide which to do first - on the one hand, I didn't think I could concentrate on my prayers if my stomach was growling with hunger. On the other hand, how could I beseech the Almighty for my many needs on a stomach-full of "abundance"?) Whichever the order, it was always wonderful. Our Rosh Chodesh tradition has continued here in chu"l (outside the Land) - sans Wall, of course - and although the kids are getting away from us a lot more these days than we need to get away from them, there's still much to be said for that special time together "out on the town".

Our most recent date was to welcome the month of Adar, the month in which the holiday of Purim falls and the month designated as the happiest one on the Jewish calendar. In that spirit (and with photo credits and thanks once again to Toby at "A Time of the Signs"), I would like to present the Rosh Chodesh Adar date that Bill and I might have had as new olim (immigrants to Israel) being guided by the "English" ads, signs and what-not around Jerusalem. Be sure to read all the fine - or not so fine - print!

In preparation for our special evening out, I might have had to wash a sthocking (yes, sthocking) or two in this amazing 21th Century (yes, 21th) invention:

Meanwhile, Bill - wanting to look his best for our date - would surely have stopped on his way home from work at the local hair saloon:
...where they serve gin and hair tonic while you wait and offer a variety of shampoos on tap.

At last, we'd be on our way to our favorite restaurant where we'd have a choice of three different chicken spellings:
Dessert? Well, we usually do not go off our regular American diet:
(None of that Atkins or South Beach stuff for us!) But who can resist the temptation of:
After dinner, we'd go to the Wall to thank Hashem for all His blessings - not leastly, one another. If we didn't have each other, we might be forced to find our dates at:
"You are not alone?" Not quite sure how to answer that question. Visit Toby's blog where every word comes through loud and clear. Then again, you might be better off not reading every word in this ad...

When I Remember our Rosh Chodesh dates in Jerusalem, there are no errors of spelling or syntax. But I'd give up the good grammar in a snap to be having our Rosh Chodesh dates back in the holy City. Hope to see you out with your spouse at a fine restaurant there soon. Meanwhile, best wishes for a Happy Purim and a continued joyful month of Adar!

P.S. I love it when I'm coincidentally in sync with friends and fellow bloggers. Click here to read Ruti's recently published non-Purim perspective on dating your spouse.