March 31, 2016

From Army Boots to Naots

From mefakedet (sergeant) to a twentysomething...
Last week, my daughter finished her army service. She arrived at base in uniform, then changed into civilian clothes and walked out the front gate. Just like that. (Of course there were many offices she had to visit and lots of paperwork involved…bureaucracy and the IDF are solid roommates!)

I asked Aviva how she felt and she looked at me, her voice quivering, then she broke into tears. I try to understand but I am an olah, an immigrant to Israel --and she is too. Yet I never served in the army. My daughter’s army service helped to develop an intrinsic part of who she is today. Her service was formative in attaching her to this country and in helping her to grow.

She started her army service in tears and she ended it in tears. I remember, just two years ago, looking at her army uniform arranged neatly on her bed. I wrote a posting about her new life called Cut From One Cloth.

The first tears were about adjusting to hard physical work, to a lack of sleep and to a rigorous schedule. These recent tears are about leaving this tight framework, of working hard and knowing that each minute contributes to the greater good. Her tears are all about the lifelong friendships she has made, the laughs, the hardships and the deep bonds she has forged from being part of a something greater than herself. These long, hard, meaningful days are over. And what is next?

I hold her hand and sit silently. There is nothing I can say. I know she will eventually adjust to civilian life. The army helps every soldier after they are released; they know it is hard to simply transfer from being a proud soldier saluting in uniform, standing at attention, to that woman at the grocery check out, leaning on a shopping cart, standing in line.

The army offers a seminar to help soldiers decide on what path they want to take next. They give them a Maanak Shichrur, money after they leave to help them get back on their feet. They give you a Pikadon, money they have seven years to use to study, buy an apartment or start a business.

She will find her way and she will learn how to navigate this huge expanse of time before her. When she was an army sergeant training soldiers, her day was neatly arranged in 20-second intervals. 

Getting back on her feet Israeli style...from army boots to Naots.
And now…well, now life is one vast ocean. We all know this and we must all steer a path, with ourselves at the rudder. She will do fine; the army has taught her great life tools, the gifts of giving, leadership, discipline, wisdom and of reaching deep down when life get tough.

She will sail smoothly. I wish her much success and am so, so proud of her.

March 25, 2016

Happy Hipster Purim

Happy Purim! Living in Israel, everyone knows about this holiday. Hamentashen  (oznei Haman) seem to appear on bakery shelves right after the Chanukah donuts (sufganiot) disappear.  Do you like white chocolate filling, strawberry jam or the traditional poppy seed variety?

The toy stores start displaying costumes in February, with princess dresses buffeting in the fresh spring breeze. 

Did you know that Elsa, the Princess from Frozen, was the number one dress up choice for Israeli girls? I heard that five girls turned up in the same blue dress at one kindergarten last Tuesday.
Snow White soldier on base. 

Every school child dresses up for school and every town in the country hosts their own huge parade, a huge, creative enterprise that takes months to organize.  

There are parties everywhere: on army bases, offices, schools, homes and on the street. 

Our expressive neighbours rented a horse and pony and paraded their kids riding them up and down the streets, reenacting a scene from the Purim story. (See video below.) They even took the horse inside MK Naftali Bennett's house!

Adloyada Purim parade.

 In my younger daughter’s high school, the girls elect a 12th grader to be their Rabbanit. She is given a crown and fancy dress and is in charge of the school for a week. All the students dance around her when they see her to her and she gives new school rules for the week such as:

-Every time the teacher says “I,” the girls have to clap
-Every married teacher brings a wedding photo and tells how she met her husband
-Every time the girls see a teacher, they have to sing a special song

The results are a hilarious upside down world where students rule.

On Wednesday night, my older daughter and her friends dressed up and went out to some local pubs to dance. They were swarmed by a parade of costumes. Everyone turned out in costume, religious and non religious, and they all danced together.

And on Thursday night, the young crowd headed to Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem where there is an all-night party in the market. DJs blast music and costumed revelers dance outside the market stalls, filling every alley with fun.

My daughter wandered from the market to Nachlaot last night and said Jerusalem was one massive street party.  Na Na Nachman guys were twirling in the streets, dancing along non-religious kids. People young and old were dancing on rooftops and balconies and everyone was invited to join in the parties. People roamed the streets all night, wishing each other “Chag Sameach.”

Nachlaot, two years ago (Nati Shohat/Flash 90).

And this is not even the religious side of the holiday, which, in itself actually commands parties, fun and drinking. The fact is that Purim is a natural part of life here in Israel, while outside Israel, it not exactly mainstream Judaism. 

I did not fully realize this until I read an interesting article on how Purim should be a hipster holiday, a time to bring secular Jews outside of Israel closer to their Jewish identity, especially millennials.

In Israel, one proudly wears their Jewish identity on the outside, where outside Israel, Jews, now more than ever, are keeping their identity low key. 

The police asked the Jewish community in Brussels to cancel their Purim celebrations because, in the wake of the horrific terror attacks, they could not assure the safety of the Jews.  As a result, large concerts were held in private homes and megilah readings were done in small huddles.

This is a mirror of the Purim story, where the main characters who live in Persia must keep their Jewish identities undercover. They are soon threatened with genocide and, ironically, when they proudly come out as Jews, the story reverses and their lives are saved. Perhaps strength and confidence in who we are empowers us and can weaken our enemies.

Just look at those fearless revellers in Jerusalem last night, partying in the same city that witnesses attacks daily. They won't give into fear but continue to experience a vibrant life lived just as hipster, millennial Jews do, right here in Israel. 

March 19, 2016

Running for Jerusalem

Friday was the sixth annual Jerusalem marathon. It was a chilly, bright morning and we were there to run the 10-kilometre race. (My son Shaya had been training to run the half marathon but had a bicycle accident three days before and was unable to participate. He calculated that he'd run the distance from home to Eilat in his training and sat sadly at home while we, the non-athletes, were able to run.)

There were several events going on, all leaving at different times. There was a full marathon, half marathon, 10-km run, 5-km run, a 1.7-km family run and an 800-metre special needs race. 

With 30,000 participants running through a city that has been plagued with Palestinian terror attacks nearly daily, this run seemed like it could be an organizational and security nightmare. Yet, Jerusalem had this one under control both logistically and security-wise. The mayor, who himself ran, said he would never give in to terror.

As so the races went on. And despite the terror and the press that streams horror stories on a daily basis, there were more foreign participants in this race than ever before. Some 2,400 people came to Jerusalem to run from 62 countries, double the amount of foreign participants from last year. They came from Uzbekistan, Argentina, Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey, US, Switzerland and more—including 60 runners from China. The winner of the full marathon was a Kenyan who came in at 2:16:33.

The music blared as the runners passed the most scenic sights of town, including the Knesset, the Sultan’s Pool, Rehavia, King George and Jaffa Streets and Sacher Park. The highlight is always the sound of feet pounding the cobblestoned alleys of the Old City, going in the Jaffa gate and into the Armenian Quarter. And when there were uphills (of which there were many), crowds cheered, clowns clapped and live music thumped to buoy our tired spirits.

As Purim is in a few days, some people ran in costumes. Women wore tutus over their running pants, Spider Man and Super Man joined and many other capes flew by. Someone in the crowd was even giving out hamentashen to the runners. One wino, clutching a wine bottle at 10 am, insisted on shaking all the runners’ hands.

I noted the stronger presence of religious girls running this year. Wearing skirts and with long-sleeve shirts under their running shirts, they were pumped and ready to go. Along the way, many seminary girls cheered them on. I also saw a young Hareidi couple running together. This race was like one happy party of people from many places and of all ages having fun together. Families with tiny toddlers came out for the Family Run, while blind runners ran, attached by Velcro bands to a seeing runner. Young people accompanied disabled kids. People ran for charities, collecting money for wonderful causes.

To ensure our safety, there were 1,000 security personnel assigned to the race. Every road and pedestrian alley leading to the race was blocked. Police carried assault rifles. They sat on horseback near East Jerusalem and patrolled rooftops in the Old City.

To end a magical run, Amir was there to witness the most incredible sight at the finish line: a marriage proposal. As soon an one runner ended and was greeted by his girlfriend, he fell to the ground and presented her with a ring. Friends were there with a sign and cheering erupted everywhere. Amir caught this moment on video, yet another indication that Israel is all about living life to its fullest.