October 21, 2013

We're All One Family

Living in Israel, incredible, heart-warming opportunities are right at our doorstep. Last week, we had the privilege of being with a group of very special Canadians on a day of the OneFamily Fund hike. This organization helps families who are victims of terror.

The organization was founded in 2000 during the height of the Intifada, when a young girl from Jerusalem decided to donate her bat mitzvah money to those affected by terror attacks in Israel. One Family Fund  is now funded entirely by private contributions and sustained by field workers, counselors and hundreds of volunteers who help the families and injured victims function. Unfortunately, more Israelis have been murdered and injured by acts of terror than in all of Israel’s wars.

Each year, the Canadian division of One Family raises money and hikes the land. And on each visit, they focus their footsteps on a different part of Israel. On the last hike, they trekked across the Mitzpe Ramon crater. This year, 50 participants came to explore the trails of the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem. They stayed at a zimmer near the trail and after breakfast each morning, they put on their hiking boots, packed a hearty lunch and headed to off to the trail with a guide and medic.

The day we joined the One Family Hike, they were following the Nahal Sorek trail, crossing over two mountain ridges. It was a fresh October morning and everyone was friendly, eager and energized. Autumn, with its deep blue skies and refreshing breeze, is an ideal time to hike in Israel.

When we started off, I noticed a hiker had a tag attached to his bag. On it was a color photo, a name and a story. Looking around, I saw every hiker had a tag, yet each bore a different name and face.

As we took a break in a shaded area of Ya’ar Kedusha, the guide explained that six million trees had been planted on these slopes and in the valleys in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I looked up at the lush hills covered in pines and realized that these very slopes were once rocky and barren. So many trees; so many lives lost.

We trudged up and came to a sculpture atop a ridge. One half depicted twisted barbed wire, consuming flames and the deep agony of a persecuted people. Yet the other half showed proud soldiers carrying a menorah, and people dancing amidst the Jewish flag of a nation rebuilt.
There are two stories to the Jewish people, and agony and despair are still a daily reality in this fledgling nation. 
The guide asked one of the hikers to read the tag on his backpack. We all sat silently on this verdant green hilltop, in the shadow of this sculpture and heard of a young girl who was meeting her friend in Netanya when a pipe bomb exploded outside a fast food restaurant, killing her. She was vibrant, social and had her whole life ahead of her. She was just doing what every child loves to do--have fun with her friends. Her crime? Being a Jew and living in the land of Israel. 
The words of the hiker were lost in a sob. We all sat in silence. Nothing can heal such a loss.

And then another hiker was asked to read the story of the young man on his bag. A high school student from Haifa was riding the bus home. He sat and talked happily with his girlfriend. She kissed him goodbye, and he waved to her as she stepped off the bus. A few blocks later, the bus was blown into bits by a suicide bomber, taking his life and murdering many others. He too was popular and smart and had a full, beautiful life ahead of him that was snatched away too soon.

We walked with these heavy emotions, yet were buoyed by views that stretched all the way to the glistening Mediterranean.

On some days of this powerful hiking experience, survivors' families join the group.  In the evenings, the participants  hear more stories first hand from parents, siblings and spouses of Israelis who have lost loved ones to terror and directly from rehabilitated victims themselves.

Thanks to One Family, Israeli victims of terror receive financial, medical, legal and psychological assistance, workshops and retreats, children’s camps, as well as warmth and compassion.

This year, the Canadians raised over $100,000. Hiking this beautiful country one step at a time, and connecting to the Israeli victims with great compassion, they proved that we are all one family. 

October 12, 2013

How to say "woof" in Hebrew

(Continuation of Doggie Do’s)

The Purina Pro-Plan Doggie Run was held in Tel Aviv's Sporteque on Friday. Similar events have been held in Montreal, New York and Sydney. This was its first appearance in Israel and given the excited tail-wagging, it was a success. There is also a ProPlan IDC (Incredible Dog Challenge) in St. Petersburg Florida, complete with fetch-it races, hurdle races and freestyle flying disc races, but  please do not mention this to my son.

We arrived at the event very late (if you are wondering why, read the previous blog entry),  parked the car and bolted out, jolted by an over-excited Labrador with a hyperactive olfactory snout. We handed in our prized doggie medical forms, wrapped TJ in a special bib and attached his runner’s number. My son wore a black Purina T-shirt with TJ’s number.

Arriving at the starting line panting, we were curtly told that the 5-kilometer race had begun ten minutes ago. But that did not detract my athletic, medal-seeking son and hyperactive, tail-wagging dog. They took off like the wind, leaving us in the dust and with a moment to take in the scene around us. 

We saw a fat runner with a tiny chihuahua and a skinny runner with a sleek afghan. We saw a three-legged dog that ran like a cheetah, a two-legged dog toting a doggie-style wheel chair, and a man in a wheelchair bicycle toting a large dog.

There were tough looking police dogs with muzzles, an elegant, well-groomed standing poodle and matching shi tzus. Everyone was out and having fun.

“Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof,” blasted from speakers across the park as the runners trotted across the finish line. Some dog owners flew in, sprinting with their dogs, while some dogs were walking their owners.

Athletes and pooches posed on a raised stage for the cameras, accepted a Purina medallion, then lay on the grass under a warm October sun.

There was also a special race for visually-impaired runners and their guide dogs. Experts were on site to answer questions and in case pooch's fur became wind-blown in the race, there was a dog-grooming area.

And whenever there is an event, there’s shopping. Want to give your dog a stylish doggie do? Or treat him with a special snack for his heroic work out? How about a painted portrait? Is your dog a mountaineer who needs his own backpack? How about a clever water-chilled doggie shirt? Or doggie boots complete with rubber treads?

TJ wanted nothing other than the opportunity to sniff other dogs. As for me, I just wanted to go home to cook for Shabbat.

This short movie captures it all. “Woof , woof.” Or, as dogs here in Israel say, “ow, ow.”

Doggie Do


Tel Aviv’s Sporteque hosted Israel’s first doggie race last Friday. Of course my ambitious, medal-seeking 14 year-old son signed up with TJ, our Labrador-Retriever. When my son signs ‘himself’ up for a race, it somehow always implicates ‘us.’

If you ever get cajoled into such an activity, beware.

Doggie Do Not’s

When your dog is signed up for a race, do not lose your dog.

Friday morning, as we tried to make a quick and early exit from the house, we went through a final check list. Car keys, check; five-page intensely detailed medical form to prove the athletic prowess of our dog (not our son) signed by none other than Ra’anana’s chief veterinarian, check; freshly brewed coffee, check; water bottle, check; dog leash; check; dog?

“Oh TJ,” we all shouted in unison. My husband rushed around whistling his special call. No tail-wagging dog appeared. I checked every room and TJ’s favorite sleeping spots. No dog.

We tried to remember the last time we saw our mutt and realized we were so busy with our own activities, we could not even remember having a dog. And now the star of the show was missing.

My athletic, medal-seeking son grabbed his bike and zipped one way. My husband frantically ran the other way. In the midst of this chaos, I sat on the front step sipping my coffee, feebly calling out TJ’s name and secretly hoping he would not appear. A few minutes later, TJ strolled up the driveway in such a chilled fashion, he looked as if like he been hanging out at the local beit café. He had also non-chalantly bypassed my son and husband’s search team efforts.

I grabbed my phone to report my sighting. “Dog back,” I barked, holding onto the dog for dear life. The search and rescue team returned home and we piled into the car.

Check your tires the day before you leave.

We then noticed that our front tire was low. Very low. We had been eyeing that tire for weeks and did nothing other than comment on it. Now that we actually had to be somewhere fast, we realized this tire was not going to make it. 

When we pulled into a gas station to look for an air hose, I understood that Israeli gas stations are not well designed. Perhaps this is because there is so little room in this teeny country, everything is squished in. The air pump was pushed tightly into a corner  right beside a gas pump. And since everyone in Ra’anana was filling their cars up at that very moment, the air pump was blocked by a gas guzzling car. 

Undeterred, my husband simply parked the car in the main driveway, blocking all cars and pulled and tugged on the hose until it reached; that is, until the fierce honking started. By the time we reached the highway, dog intact and tire inflated, I was finished for the day.

“By the way,” we ask our son, whose brain was fogged with Facebook, “What is the address?” 

He gave us a blank stare. 

“Plug it into Waze,” we commanded him. (Our GPS system is our line to survival in this country.)

Know Your Destination

Some 30 minutes later, Waze cheerily told us, “You have reached your destination.” I looked around and did not see a single dog. Our destination was an empty parking lot. We shot daggers at our son. Our dog, unfazed, panted away blissfully.

“Well, I put the address in your phone…”

“Which address?”

The race was to begin in four minutes and we could not find it. My son programmmed another address that was on the other side of Tel Aviv.  I felt like banging my forehead against the dashboard--I had lots of cooking to do and I wanted my Friday back.

Waze told us to turn left and right and right and left. Finally, we saw Purina banners. And dogs. Lots of dogs. We knew we had finally reached our destination.

Stay tuned for More Doggie Dos.

October 3, 2013

Our New Leaders

An azure sky floats above the sparkling Mediterranean and the warm afternoon sun tickles our cheeks. Parents and siblings gather excitedly for a ceremony.

This is not a cap and gown university graduation. We sit before 19 and 20-year olds who have just completed a rigorous 14-week commanders’ course. And the 100 soldiers who proudly stand here are about to receive three stripes on their uniform and take on new, important responsibilities in the IDF.

My son, who has been in the army for one year now, is one of these soldiers. He entered this course with trepidation, he persevered and now he has finished. Cameras poised, breath held in anticipation, we listen to the general who inaugurates the ceremony.

He calls out the name of a soldier who has earned a special distinction. My heart stops as my son runs forward amidst clapping and cheering. I feel a lump forming in my throat and tears roll down my face. My son proudly stands at attention before the general and I glance at my husband. He too is wiping his eyes. This is a moment when parents’ hearts swell.

And here we are, two immigrant parents who never served in the army and who often feel like outsiders in this perplexing country. Yet here we are, watching our oldest son graduating from an advanced army course and receiving special honors.

For us, having a son who is a soldier has been a terrifying roller coaster ride with lots of fearful plummets and unknown twists. Time usually flies at quick velocity, but with a son in the Israeli army, time stubbornly refuses to budge. 

And now, here we are. I see towering skyscrapers and beyond, the glistening sea. Just as the skyline is being built before my eyes, the young generation is being built up. These young soldiers are recruited to serve for three and sometimes, four or five prime years of their lives where they endure physical and emotional hardships.

Unlike the civilian world where money, education and looks propel one forward, in the army these distinctions mean nothing.  Determination, self-discipline and enthusiasm propel one forward.

The general calls for the officers to unroll the soldiers’ sleeves, revealing their new stripes, the symbol of higher responsibilities. 

Standing before us are our new leaders. These young soldiers know they are making a huge difference to the country and they are proud of their contribution. We can see it in their poise and their pride. We all stand for HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem and wipe more tears from our faces. 

A young female soldier is called to the center. She orders all the soldiers to stand at attention and suddenly whips her cap high into the air. All the soldiers follow suit, and soon the blue sky is speckled with green. The crowd breaks into cheers and parents run down to hug their sons and daughters, while soldiers rush to congratulate each other. 

We run to our son, our hearts swelling and as we embrace him, knowing that he is an intrinsic part of this incredible country.