April 30, 2015

How Israel loves mankind

Newspaper headline reads: "The honor of helping."
A natural disaster hit Nepal on Saturday. An earthquake that registered 7.8 crushed the country. The quake killed over 5,200 people, injured 10,000 and created a state of homelessness and hunger for tens of thousands of  survivors.

Countries around the world offered help and aid. The US, India and the UK pledged aid money. China sent a 62-member search and rescue team. Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan and the E.U. promised aid. These are all big countries with abundant resources and some of them are regional neighbors of Nepal. It makes logical sense that help comes from here.

Yet one teensy country that is the size of New Jersey was the first one in Kathmandu with an operational field hospital of 60 beds. 

Its 250 doctors, nurses, paramedics and rescue teams were already working saving lives and rescuing people by Wednesday morning.  A few hours later, they had operated on over 100 wounded and delivered a baby in their obstetrics unit.
Israeli doctor from Nepal: The honor and need of aid

This country is not a neighbor of Nepal and it is not a rich country. It is not exactly a stable place either, with enough domestic and international issues to fuel negative news stories around the world. Yet this particular story, about a country that has a large heart, loves mankind and whose essence is giving, may never appear in the headlines.

The country with a heart? Israel.  Where is Iran’s search and rescue team? And where is its millions of dollars worth of aid for Nepal? What about Saudi Arabia?  Bahrain?  Turkey? Yemen? These countries have far more money than Israel and are geographically as close or closer to Nepal. (Forgive me if they have contributed; I could not find this information.)

Setting up the Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal.

On a smaller scale, I recently read that two Israeli trekkers who were rescued in Nepal decided not to go home but to stay and help. Imagine being struck by a huge natural disaster, being stranded without food and water, then rescued and invited to board a helicopter to safety and security. Well Aviv Rosen and Yonatan Molcho said “No, thanks. We would rather stay here in Nepal and help rescue lives.”

When Aviv’s mother was interviewed about her son’s decision by The Times of Israel, she explained, “It is certainly not easy, but I understand he has values and thinks about others beside himself,” she said. “I am very proud of my son; I think the entire country should be proud of such a boy who doesn’t just up and leave but stays behind to help dozens of people. He stayed behind [and didn’t fly back home] because of his love for mankind, not in order receive anything.”

These two young men had just served in the army for three years. They were finally free to travel, explore, indulge, enjoy. Yet they decided to stay. Why? Possibly because these three army years showed them that life is not able serving oneself, it is about looking after others.

And this is teensy Israel. She is always on the lookout to lend a helping hand and to make the world a better place.  A new organization called The Hallelu Foundation has been set up to explain the light and the love that is the real Israel. They will not need to look far for positive stories to tell because Israel truly loves mankind. We just need mankind to listen.

Here is their promotional video:

April 22, 2015

23,320 flags

Selling flags in anticipation of Yom Ha'atzma'ut.
Twenty three thousand three hundred and twenty flags are flying half-mast today. 

These blue and white flags were lovingly placed at the graveside of fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror.
Sixty seven years of statehood: 23,320 lives lost for the sake of being Jews in a Jewish land.
These numbers are so high, the loss so vast, the wounds so deep.
In the ten years we have been living in Israel, there have been three wars and countless acts of terror.
And every year, on the eve of Yom Hazikaron l’chayalim, Israel’s remembrance day for the soldiers, every Israeli gathers at 8pm in silence and in tears. 
Punctually, a siren wails across the country and we stand in silence and in tears to remember those who we lost. 
I attend this ceremony with trepidation as it conveys the heavy burden that comes along with Israeli citizenship. And because every year, the list of names grows. 
In our small town of Ra’anana, the list is so long, it is read in three portions.
When our mayor Ze’ev Bielski spoke last night, he encapsulated this feeling so well.
“When I was a young boy, my father said ‘Tzvika, there will be no more wars when you grow up. No army.’”
The mayor paused and continued. “And when I was a young father looking at my son, I yearned that he would not have to join the army and fight.”
“But today, when I look at my sweet grandson, I am no longer disillusioned. Because, sadly, there will be more war and we will have to send our children and grandchildren to fight. Sadly, heavily, this is our reality.”
Our reality. The names of the fallen are read and new names are added each year. The IDF published the most recent list today.
100 soldiers fell since last year.
67 fell during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza during the summer.
2 were killed in a Hezbollah ambush near the northern border
1 soldier died in a terror attack in Tel Aviv.
7 were killed in car accidents (on base or on leave)
2 more were killed in what the army called “other accidents,” such as training accidents.
1 soldier was killed in an “operational accident.”
14 soldiers died in “suspicion of suicide.”
6 more died from disease and sickness

Even the cars are patriotic. (Tel Aviv)
Babies are born, parents pray for peace, yet more wars are fought. We remember, we mourn, we shed tears and stand for HaTikvah, our feet planted firmly on the ground. 

At 11 am today, sirens wailed once more. Together, we stopped and stood on the ground in silence and in tears.

Honoring the fallen during the two-minute siren today.

We stood on our ground. If not for these soldiers’ huge sacrifice marked by 23,320 flags, we could not be here.

April 9, 2015

The power of giving

We are about to light our Yom Tov candles and enter into the eighth and final day of Pesach.

We started counting the Omer on the second night of Pesach. We will count up each night until we reach 49 and arrive at Shavuot, the giving of the Torah.

These seven weeks represent self growth we should be focusing on during this time. This first week is all about chesed or loving kindness.  We make our blessing every day of the first week, aspiring to focus on kindness. 

I happened to hiking though Nahal Dishon with Amir on Tuesday and saw an incredible act of kindess. Walking along a part of the Shvil Israel that is also a popular off road biking route, we saw a cyclist approaching a rocky stream bed. He was riding a tandem bike and a second biker was seated behind him. The biker went for it and splashed across the stream, spraying water. I looked at the cyclist pedaling behind him. She was a woman in bicycle garb with dark sunglasses.

Hikers and bikers
Then the next biker arrived. And another. One passenger on the back was not wearing sunglasses and I immediately could see he was blind. This whole group was comprised of seeing riders with blind passengers. The route was technical, rocky and uphill.

We walked on and passed a group of day hikers cheering on the cyclists, then saw a stranded cyclist fixing his chain. He explained that he was a volunteer with group called Ken Velo, which in Hebrew means ‘yes bicycle’ or 'yes and no,' referring to those who some can see and those who cannot. 

This cyclist's blind partner was holding the bike and chatting away, very excited to be out on the trail.

I did not know who I had more admiration for: the strong, confident bikers who could navigate this tricky uphill path and bring their passengers along safely; or the blind cyclists who clung onto the handlebars and pedaled without seeing the obstacles or the scenery along the way. 

I was in awe and very touched by everyone in this group. This was chesed, ultimate giving and receiving.

Aviva was also on the giving end of Pesach this year. Instead of sitting comfortably with family and friends to celebrate the seder, she volunteered to be at a seder with lone soldiers. These are soldiers who have no family and who have volunteered to be in the IDF. 

The army, with the help of generous donations, holds a seder for these 650 soldiers, offering to be their warm, extended family.

Aviva explained that the afternoon before Pesach, the whole group gathered and invited one Ukrainian solider up on stage. They asked him who he missed most and when he said his family, his father tapped him from behind on the shoulder. 

Father and son hugged while the entire group burst into tears. This soldier’s father had never been to Israel and could not afford the trip. The IDF secretly organized the reunion so they could be together.

Over the evening, Aviva met soldiers from any countries. They may have identified Jewishly in different ways but they all had one belief in common and that was a love of Eretz Israel. 

When we picked up Aviva after the yom tov, she told us she felt as if she had truly been liberated just as we aspire to do on the Passover seder.

“To be among so many people speaking so many languages and sharing one common love was liberating at a soul level,” she told us.

“I would not have missed this for anything.”

She may not have had the most halachic, traditional seder, but she had the opportunity to inspire and give and to be inspired.

Wishing you all a chag sameach.