Thursday, November 28, 2013

Consolation Prizes

Once again, a procrastinated post. But better late than not at all, I hope. Having settled on the subject of “consolation prizes” a while back, I’ll stick with that theme and begin with this: During the week of November 4, the anniversary of our aliyah to Israel 16 years ago, I drove around town taking photos of the breathtaking fall foliage. It was one of the most colorful autumn seasons in my recent memory and I was thrilled to have the time to drink it all in. I maintain that this natural wonder, which does not occur to the same degree in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) as in parts of chu"l (outside the Land), is a consolation prize for those of us who are physically po (here) but mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually shom (there). You know where I’m going with that, don’t you….? So this post will be peppered with some of the pics that Shani and I took. Please respond with your ooohs and ahhhs.
Fast forward – and here we are again….celebrating Chanukah in the Land of Sham (I do pronounce it “shom” but I kind of like the “sham” twist) instead of Po (see previous Chanukah posts for a fuller explanation). This year’s Thanksgivukkah phenomenon is cute but only meaningful to me in that there are people of all persuasions being thankful for their personal blessings and miracles on a day when we Jews have been doing that for a couple of millennia anyway.

I see it as a consolation prize of sorts as we wait for what life will be like when the entire world is united under G-d’s Kingship. (A Rosh Hashanah concept but applicable all year round.) And as everyone knows by now, since Thanksgivukkah won’t happen again for another seventy-thousand-some-odd years (and even that is questionable), it does offer a unique opportunity to contemplate that vision of a fantastic future.
We were planning on a festive dinner for this evening with some special guests who had to cancel on us last-minute and now we’ve got tons of food and very few people to eat it. Wanna join us? But the consolation prize in that will be the very delicious Shabbat seudah (meal) tomorrow night (wanna join us?) and having time today to compose this post instead of slaving over the stove.

Although our trees are nearly leaf-less now and Thanksgivukkah is almost behind us, Chanukah will continue for another seven light-filled days. There is so much written about the power of the Chanukah flames. May we merit to tap into their holiness.

Chanukah is one of my most special times – if not, the most - to Remember Jerusalem as it is the first holiday that we celebrated there after our aliyah and the only holiday that we commemorate for an event that happened on holy soil; at a site so accessible to us today. That’s much more than a consolation prize and something to give much thanks about.
Wishing you a Happy Chanukah 
and many reasons for thanks-giving.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Right of Return

"The Right of Return" means different things to different people. This post does not include the Palestinian definition of the phrase. 

I haven't blogged since early May. I chickened out of dealing (publicly) with the tenth anniversary of our return to Baltimore on July 29 (Hebrew date: erev Rosh Chodesh Av).
Although we were welcomed back so warmly and graciously by family and friends alike, the anniversary is still an emotional day for me - and the 10th, all the more so. The plan (mine alone) was to be heading Home this summer, after what I originally told the kids would be a "ten year visit" - the amount of time it would take to see them all through high school in the States. I've come to grips with the fact that we're a bit off schedule but I reserve our Right of Return for the earliest possible opportunity, please G-d.

The aforementioned mission was indeed accomplished when Zevy joyfully accepted his high school diploma in June.
He left for Israel on August 6, his first time back since we lived there. People ask if I'm "farklempt" (choked up - Yiddish) about sending my "baby" across the ocean for a year (at least) of Torah study. I reply that it isn't the "my baby" thing - rather, the mere thought of Zevy returning to Israel, the first home he ever really knew, is enough to blur my vision. Some parents struggle with the decision of whether or not to send their kids abroad immediately after high school.
For us it was a no-brainer. Zevy was done relying on family photos, videos and this blog to Remember Jerusalem. He was more than ready to exercise his Right of Return. May he blossom and grow in the holy soil where he is now planted; may he once again "cherish her stones and favor her dust" (Psalms 102:15). He's been there about a month now and, as Cousin Bob likes to say at this time of year "shofar so good"!

Just six days after Zevy's departure, Berel took off in the same direction. I'm delighted that my seasoned Yeshiva-student-in-Israel is there to help Zevy reacquaint himself with the sights, sounds and soul of Jerusalem. And Berel's thrilled to have his only kid brother in close proximity. On his summer visit with us, Berel noted that for the second time in his 21 years, he can now say "I've lived in Israel for more than half my life". (The first time was when he was 11.) I continue to thank G-d for what has become Berel's annual Rite of Return.

We are nearing the end of the month of Elul, the Jewish month designated for a different Right of Return - a return to our Source; a time of teshuva (repentance) and preparation for the High Holidays ahead. Our prayer books are replete with references to both kinds of return - and even of G-d Himself returning to His holy city, as He promised He would.
May it be His will that our personal spiritual return will be a prelude to our national return and that the new year will see us welcomed Home to stay, greeted warmly and graciously by family and friends.
On behalf of the whole gang, best wishes to you and yours for a healthy, holy new year with many happy Returns! 
K'sivah v'Chasimah Tovah
(l to r) Shani, Yoel, Yours Truly, Bill, Berel, Simcha and Z'ev 
(Not much in the way of a formal family photo this year but you get the idea.) Below, my annual Rosh Hashanah poem - with a new stanza for the new year, as always.

Rosh Hashanah 5774

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 the 5774th year since your birth.
With what shall we bless you on your special day? Global peace. Gentle weather. Prosperity...

Soon the air will turn brisk; the foliage, bright.
First, 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.

We shall pursue our Right to Return
to our Source, to our Land, to the words that we learn
from our Torah, the treasure that keeps us alive
as we wait for Mashiach, soon to arrive.

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!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Six Splendorous Days

I timed this post to coincide with the 46th anniversary of Israel's famous Six Day War (June 5-10, 1967) but with more than 700 Jewish lives lost and over 2,000 Israelis wounded in that otherwise miraculous week, "splendorous" is malapropos. (Note: My husband, the IP attorney, advised me to remove from this post David Rubinger's iconic photo of the paratroopers at the Western Wall unless I would like to pay huge copyright infringement fees. Needless to say, I heeded his advice.)

Rather, "splendorous" refers to the Six Day Stay in Israel that my mother and I enjoyed together in early May.
My apologies to everyone I knew I wouldn't get to see (and therefore didn't call) during our visit. The itinerary and pace of our wonderful week was almost entirely Mom's (and, truth be told, my pace ain't quite what it used to be either).
Being far from the typical American tourist, the highlights of my week were atypical, too. Highlight #1 was the car rental. Usually, that's Bill's job and he does most of the driving but this time I made the reservation, sat in the driver's seat and cruised around the country like I owned the place. (Oh, right - I do own the place!). I felt truly Home.
The minor miracles that I signed up for with the rental contract are too many to mention but suffice it to say that I squeezed into the tightest parking spot of my nearly 40-years behind the wheel. Well, not a parking spot exactly but a heaven-sent space against a wall where I left the car in order to walk to the Wall. Every one of the many wrong turns taken was a delightful detour en route to my intended destinations.

Highlight #2, also with clear hashgacha pratis (Divine intervention), was finding my way down a dark street and up a creaky flight of stairs to hear a shiur (lecture) by the speaking sensation,
Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi. I've watched many of her videos but hearing and seeing her "live" - and in Hebrew! - was a whole 'nother chavaya (experience). Receiving a personal blessing from this amazing woman was in itself worth the entire trip.

Our whirlwind week reminded me yet again of our Homeland's contrasts between the old and the new. "Herod the Great - The King's Final Journey" at the Israel Museum is a fantastic exhibit of King Herod's numerous palaces and construction projects (circa  40 B.C.E.).
My very first ride on Jerusalem's not-so-new-anymore light rail brought me back into the 21st century
which will soon boast the opening of the holy city's stunning new Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

A visit with my dear Uncle Reuven was another trip back in time through the eyes of this walking encyclopedia of a century of Israeli history. Born 90-plus years ago in Rishon LeTzion and still living there,
Uncle Reuven inspires me with his unwavering trust in G-d despite life's many challenges. And to think that all these years, I didn't know how close Uncle Reuven lives to the beach (just ten minutes in my trusty rental car) until this visit when Mom wanted to see the seashells on the Mediterranean Sea shore.
I went on a shopping spree at Esther Weiss' Silverpoint Judaica in the Rova (Jewish Quarter of the Old City) to refresh my collection of mitpachot (head scarves). Esther will personally wrap every scarf in her store around your head until you find the one(s) for you! Other highlights of my Six Day Stay: short-but sweet time with friends and family (including Mama Rochel, of course), pit stops at some of my favorite Jerusalem eateries and savoring the fruit and flora of the Land on my first summertime visit to Israel in ten years.

Esrog tree in Har Nof
Oh, and let's not forget my darling Ber! May he continue to shtaig (study well) at his new yeshiva.

Just three days after my return to the States, I hung my flag on our mailbox to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, the Hebrew date of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. This Friday will be the "English" anniversary of that glorious victory.
In the shiur that I attended during my Six Day Stay, Rabbanit Mizrachi spoke of the non-coincidence of Yom Yerushalayim occurring on the same Hebrew date (about 3,000 years apart) as the petirah (passing) of Shmuel Ha'Navi (the prophet Samuel) whose burial place, high on a hill, overlooks Har Nof, our old neighborhood. In brief, it's got a lot to do with the women (including Samuel's mother, Chana) whose trials, tribulations and tears built Jerusalem and whose spiritual descendants will rebuild her once again.
With "the three weeks" (of mourning for the destruction of the Temple) beginning this year on June 25, it's comforting to know that my tears and yours, shed as we Remember Jerusalem, are part of the rebuilding process. King David, anointed for the monarchy by that same Prophet Samuel, said "Ha'zor'im b'dimah b'rinah yiktzoru" - Those who plant with tears will reap with joy (Psalms, 126:5). And won't that be splendorous?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Music, Songs of Spring

With the official start of spring just two weeks away, we're finally getting some winter! As I type, we're in the middle of what was promised to be our one (and likely only) major storm of the season with 5-10 inches of heavy wet snow and strong winds predicted - although it's looking pretty wimpy at the moment with just a drizzle falling and nothing sticking to the streets. But we weren't going to wait for what might yet be another snowless winter in Baltimore. Instead, on an almost springlike day in January, we loaded up the van and traveled north to "visit winter", as one of my boys put it. We did some skiing and snowboarding
on Hunter Mountain (yes, even I - for the first time in 24 years) and all in all had a great get-away. (Hey, why isn't "Blogger" letting me choose the size and positioning of my photos like it used to? Anybody know? Oh well...) Hunter Mountain isn't Har Chermon (Mount Hermon), Israel's highest peak and only ski slope, but we could make believe - especially knowing that Berelour family representative in the holy Land, had just skied on the Chermon a few days earlier following Israel's biggest snowstorm in two decades. You've probably already seen photos of that winter wonderland and the blessed snowmelt that is now filling Lake Kinneret so I'll skip that here.

One of the highlights of that trip to Tannersville, New York was the getting there. About four hours into our journey, just when we were starting to feel a bit squirmy in our seats - and still with two hours of travel ahead - we put on some Udi Davidi
and began to jam. Yoel on the bongos, Simcha's tin whistle, my mini-tamborine... What a wonderful way to pass the time. And I couldn't help but recall that our family's musical moments began in earnest when we lived in Israel. Flute lessons for Shani under the tutelage of her South African teacher, Oriella, prepared her to perform at her Bat Mitzvah, our first family milestone celebration in the holy Land. Simcha took up the trumpet sometime thereafter with his wonderful Russian instructor, Georgi. Back here in the States, Berel and Zevy have most recently settled on guitar. (And Bill is a great audience!) The "Sheves Achim" band played just one gig - at Berel's bar mitzvah. But our
family jam sessions have become a favorite feature of our summer and winter vacations.

A recent email from Berel made me feel like our humble Har Nof musical beginnings had come full circle: "Last night my friend asked me if I wanted to go with him to the hospital today to play music for the sick. I was somewhat reluctant at first but I quickly consented. What was supposed to be a quick in and out half hour became over two. The main thing that spurred us on was a feeling, an amazing feeling that was inspired by what we witnessed in the hospital beds before us. I have never felt anything like the feeling I got when our music made unaffiliated Jews break down in tears - whether it was the sick people or their healthy family members. Our music made people who couldn’t speak wave their hands around and clap because that was the only way they could join in. Every smile we got, whether from an old (113 years old, the oldest man in Israel) and sick person or a young and healthy person made this feeling grow stronger and stronger. My friends and I are gonna try to do this more often and even try to get larger groups to go so that we can entertain more of the hospital at once." Go, Ber! We're looking forward to having you back here for Pesach (Passover) to jam with the fam.

Next week we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Nisan (the beginning of the month of Nisan), the month in which Pesach falls and spring begins. Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also the day on which the Mishkan (Tabernacle - forerunner of the holy Temple) was dedicated as the first earthly place where G-d's Divine Presence would dwell among His nation. In the Musaf prayers for Rosh Chodesh, we ask that we may once again rejoice " the service of the Temple...and in the songs of Your servant David that are heard in Your city...". That beautiful prayer makes me Remember Jerusalem and the sound of music that is an essential part of her past and present. King Solomon's Song of Songs, which we will read during the holiday, will conjure up images of the Temple's majesty in his day. Indeed, the music of the Levites in the Beit HaMikdash was one of the highlights of the Temple service. I've often day-dreamed about what that must have sounded like... May we merit to hear it soon - perhaps even this Pesach in our third and eternal Temple. There's still time!

Meanwhile, I will take this opportunity to wish you and yours a blessed month of Nisan and a joyous Pesach - full of the sweetest songs of winter past and spring ahead.