June 26, 2015

United We Grow

We are a tight nation. The more fiercely we are attacked, the closer we become; the more we are threatened, the stronger we grow.

On June 11, Ayala Shapira celebrated her bat mitzvah. Seems like a wonderful simcha for any 12-year-old girl. But Ayala is not a regular 12 year old. She is a hero, a survivor and an inspiration to everyone in the country.

Just six months ago, on December 25, Ayala was in the car with her dad when a Palestinian teenager lobbed a firebomb at their car. 

The Shapira's car after it was firebombed.

Ayala, whose whole body was set on fire, had the presence of mind to exit the car, and roll when she hit the ground. After being set on fire, she found the strength to walk and find help. During this terror attack,  she suffered third degree burns over much of her upper body and face.

Since that horrific day, Ayala has been in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries and rehab. As it was her dream to go the Temple Mount in honor of her bat mizvah and offer prayers of thanks, she was released from the hospital for a week to mark the occasion. 

In the words of Ayala's mom, "Half a year ago, we weren't sure we'd make it to this moment. She's simply a heroic girl. She decided she's not going to withdraw, rather will emerge to the world and she's emerging to the world. Her situation improves from day to day."

After this gruesome attack, the country united in prayers. Recently, the nation celebrated with Ayala, sending her videos of support and admiration, words of hope and blessings. 

The girls of my daughter’s high school sent warm wishes. As did children in a nearby Kfar Saba school.  Days of darkness here arequickly filled by light and kind deeds.

 Another example of light overcoming darkness was held here on June 3. This was Unity Day, when one million people gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the three teens’ killing. Read last year's posting Bring Back our Boys

Comforted by Israelis from all walks of life after this tragedy, the parents of these boys decided that their sons’ legacy had to be Jewish Unity. 

 When it seems as if the world is turning against Israel, the unity here simply strengthens. Just last Friday, the Hassidic Rebbe of Vizhnitz announced that all his yeshiva students should enlist in the IDF.

This is a dramatic move and shows a complete turnaround from the standard Hareidi view of not serving in the army. And this is yet another vote for Jewish unity that strengthens us and makes our hearts swell.

June 18, 2015

The Evil Spies

I recently read an article in entitled “Tourists have stopped coming to Israel.” It reported that tourism to Israel has seen a 28% drop in the first quarter.  

I was a little shocked. To date, there is no war like there was last summer. I actually feel as if it is peaceful here these days. Relatively.

Or maybe tourists find the prices here to be high. The euro is weaker than the shekel and Europe offers better vacation value these days.

Sunning on a Tel Aviv beach.
But still, I wondered, why are people not coming to what I feel is the most beautiful, dynamic, miraculous place on Earth? 

The article then explained some of the reasons why tourists are not coming. It stated that non-Jewish tourists place Israel in the same basket “of fire” as our warring neighbours. 

Ok. I see that. The civil war in Syria is still raging on our northern border. Hezbollah threatens and digs while Gaza can’t contain its rocket addiction, lobbing a few our way every so often.

Perhaps, after watching the horrendous acts of Isis, who are fighting on the Israeli-Syrian border, people decide that a beach vacation in Majorca could be a more relaxing choice.

Vibrant nightlife on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.
I guess Majorca wins over Israel on the peace front. But Israel has so many issues domestically and internationally, it is really sad that, in addition to our huge problems,  we are perceived as sitting in the same fiery basket as our warring neighbours. We are, after all, a hot, sunny, booming, flourishing democracy with beaches and mountains and the world’s holiest sites.

Israeli school girls go to  Nahal Kziv for a refreshing dip.
The article then went on to explain that the only tourists arriving these days are pilgrims who spend six nights in Bethlehem and some religious Jewish tourists. 

If the Christians and some religious Jews are coming, where are the other Jewish tourists? I did not need look far to find out, as I just had to read the comments at the end of the article.

Those who have decided not to visit Israel used this simple piece of reporting as a platform to bash everything they hate about this country. They could not contain themselves and wrote seething anti-Israel comments at the bottom of this article.

The lashed out at the cab drivers, bad mouthed transportation, groaned about food, whined about poor service, inflated prices and then went on about apartheid.

Who could speak so badly and have so much hatred and misinformation about Israel’s political situation? The names beside the comments were all Jewish, not those of anti-Israel groups I usually see all over the Internet.

Just last week we read the Torah portion Shelach, when, during the sojourn in the desert,  Jewish tribal leaders, were sent to investigate the Land of Israel. Known as The Spies, they came back with negative reports. This was because they saw only the negative and were caught up in the mundane physicality. They did not judge the land on its uniqueness and potential and they had no faith.

And here we are, over  2,000 years later, still repeating the same mistake.

But today it is worse. Jews now smear fellow Jews and call their own brothers murderers. Many Jews have embraced a complete anti-Israel mythology. And not only do these seemingly intelligent people buy into the lies, they then assertively spew their hatred to the rest of the world.

This sin is worse than that of the Biblical Spies. These Jews are inflaming the harmful lies that threaten to destroy the Jewish homeland. 

June 8, 2015

Sounds of Israel

Last Tuesday, two sirens went off across the country as part of a test from the Home Front Command. This war drill was to test preparedness if Israel were to experience heavy rocket attack on multiple fronts.

We all knew it was coming so we had the ‘luxury’ of planning our actions beforehand.

A country of constant polarities, here is a glimpse of what I experienced on this day.

10:30 Beit Issie Shapiro, a school for children with disabilities. I arrived to volunteer and asked what will be when the siren goes off. The subject was a heated one. We were two volunteers plus five staff and we had ten children to look after, none of whom could walk and two who are confined to wheelchairs with IV machines.

To add to the complications, a few children were to be in the hydrotherapy pool when the siren went off, while others would be coming out of the pool and would need to be changed and dressed. The staff discussed at length whether the pool therapy should be delayed and if some kids should come out of the water earlier.

I was given responsibility for one child and at 10:55, I was told to start making my way to the school’s bomb shelter. As I was holding Yoav’s hand, I realized at this moment how important it was that he could walk, even though he needed the assistance of my hand.

We were also fortunate that this time round it was simply a test. In front of me, Channah, a teacher, pushed a young boy in a wheelchair, pulling his feeding tube alongside. It was not easy for her to navigate and I wondered what would be if the siren were for real and we had only a few seconds to find shelter.

We sat down and I watched everyone arrive. There were teachers and therapists, both Arab and Israeli. Children arrived with walkers and with braces, in wheelchairs and strollers. Some were being carried.

11:05 am We sat crowded in the shelter and the siren wailed. The children did not even seem to even notice. We sat and we waited until a voice over the loud speaker told us we could return to ‘shigra,’ the Hebrew word for routine.

Routine? As I walked back to the classroom with Yoav, I wondered how the concept of having to sit in a shelter or even anticipating how to organize children in a bomb shelter can then be associated with routine.

In any other place in the world, this would not be a practiced routine. In a Western country outside of Israel, this would be an unacceptable way to exist. And it would create fearful pandemonium. But here, we bizarrely go about our lives as if this test were like a visit to the dentist for a routine checkup.

Last summer, there were real sirens and these same children were carried and wheeled and gently, calmly accompanied to shelters several times a day, while rockets flew over Ra’anana.

I asked one of the teachers what it was like and she said everyone was fine but she was always nervous a rocket would be fired in the afternoon when the children were napping. She said this calmly as if war became part of the school day routine, albeit an unacceptable one.

7:05 pm As we were eating dinner and the siren went off. The sound of the wail was piercing, gripping, terrifying. The sound of the siren has become, sad to say, almost routine.

We live on the top floor of an apartment building and the shelter is 100 steps below. We had to do this same flight downstairs this past summer when rockets flew at us from Gaza. Back then, my daughter’s only fear was being in the shower in case she was caught naked and dripping wet when the siren screeched.

7:30 The trills of Mozart. Shubert. Brahms. My son’s year-end piano concert at the music school. There are no wails here. Only beauty. Culture. Reverence for art. The parents sit quietly and listen. They clap after every recital with no trace of the sirens we had just 25 minutes ago. Those are already in memory’s distant past.

10:55 pm Rockets were fired in five separate attacks from Gaza and sirens wailed in Moatza Ezorit and Sdot Negev. Real sirens this time.  Maybe our enemy wanted to take advantage of the previous fake sirens in hopes of confusing people and then targeting them. Who knows.

Rockets hit nearby Ashkelon on June 6 just two days ago. The wail, then the pounding of feet running, of hearts beating. Then the boom of rockets exploding. 

Soon, all shelters in Israel will be equipped with wifi. This will ensure civilians do not miss one beat, be it work, social or security; and more importantly, it will help the Home Front and army communicate to all immediately. All for instilling some sense of routine. But Israelis simply refuse to miss out on living busy, meaningful lives.