October 4, 2006

Sukkot is in the Air

Chag Sameach to everyone. It is now just two days after Yom Kippur and I can already hear the hammering of poles, a rhythmic clanging, and the thrashing of palm fronds as they are cut down for schach. In fact, the majestic palms that line the thoroughfares here are shorn each October for schach, their fronds left in piles for the taking.

Here in Israel the sukkahs are not made of wooden boards. They have metal poles as a base with white curtains hung on them. Very regal, the white curtains gently billow and buffet in the warm breeze.

As soon as Yom Kippur is over, a huge Sukkah Fair is set up in Yad Levanim, the main square here in Raanana. Music blares while booths sprout up selling lulavim, etrogim, and decorations for the sukkah. Etrog sales people are eager to point out their perfect new crop. Yeshiva boys are out working the crowd, selling etrogim and lulavim for company ‘aleph’ and then getting a ‘cut’ for bringing in a customer.

And if you want a lulav demonstration, you can get one right away. Shopping for a brand new sukkah? Enter the sukkah stall and sit down to talk about dimensions, windows, pattern and color. And if you want, you can have installation included in the price. Tents are filled with flashing lights, pulsating lights, stringing lights. Ceilings are hung with paper pineapples, shiny apples, glass pomegranates. Kids run under foot, pointing at their favorite decorations then darting out with to play hide and seek behind a sukkah.

The greeting is now Chag Sameach and there is actually a team of people who work for the irya (the city) who make sure we know this. As I was returning from a bike ride yesterday, I was stuck on an island in the middle of a busy intersection waiting for the light to turn green. Suddenly a man appeared holding a new sign in his hand and a screwdriver. With a swirl of the tool, he quickly replaced the Shana Tova sign with a Chag Sameach sign, then went on to the next intersection – all this for the benefit of people waiting to turn left – and a lone biker or two!

We had the gardener come by to trim our trees in preparation for our sukkah. He brought his team of Thai workers donning large straw hats. Working with long shears, they pruned away the banana leaves and palm fronds. Seeing them work, if I closed by eyes, I could almost imagine I was back in Thailand passing by emerald rice paddies, where straw hats bobbed across green furrows, and boys rode atop water buffalo (but that is another chapter in another era!).

Our children are excitedly making sukkah decorations at school and I am about to pull out the Sukkah box from our meeklat (bomb shelter, which, Thank G-d, is again being used for storage). I wonder if our flashing lights still work…if not, I’ll be heading off to Ahuza because, just like that street sign, the Rosh Hashana merchandise has been ever so swiftly turned over to accommodate Sukkot. And so must I.

Chag Sameach!

Yom Kippur – G’mar Chatima Tova

It is Erev Yom Kippur and, once again, the streets are as busy as ever with everyone preparing for Yom Kippur. Here in Israel, most people fast no matter how religious they are. The paper runs articles on how to prepare for the fast and how to fast safely, complete with menu suggestions. The country even goes into daylight savings time the day before to accommodate the fast. This year, the fast begins in Raanana at 5:06 p.m. and ends at 6:01 p.m. the next day - very amenable times. The tradition is to dress in white on Yom Kippur so racks packed with white skirts and tops tumble onto the streets.

Erev Yom Tov is a holiday here; the children have no school and most parents have the day off work. The feeling today is almost Sunday-like and somewhat festive (since we usually rush from Motzei Shabbat right into weekday mode, it is a rarity to have a ‘day off’ with the shops open) ; families lounge in the coffee shops, and women run around picking up last minute items for the special meal before the fast. I saw a French woman toting two small children and a basket filled with fresh baguettes (a taste of the recent huge aliyah from France.) Men in black hats set up stalls on the streets offering passersby an opportunity to give tzedakah in preparation for Yom Kippur.

The greeting is changed from Shana Tova to G’mar Chatima Tova. (As we are all judged on Yom Kippur and our names are ‘inscribed,’ our future determined for the year, we ask that one receives good things in the year to come.

As I was walking Talya to a friend, a pick-up truck pulled onto a grassy area. Strapped on top were a few metal cages filled with chickens. The driver stepped out and placed a handful of papers on his windshield. It was a photocopy of the kaparot blessing, a blessing of atonement for our sins. This ancient ritual involves taking a live chicken (or money) and swinging it over our head while reciting the special blessing. Soon a crowd grew. Cars stopped to take a look. A line up began. Israelis love crowds and line ups -- even though they are not so good at keeping their spots in line. And what a line up it was: some women wore head scarves and long skirts, some wore tank tops and tight jeans. And all children - be it with long payes or not even a kippa on their head - stood silently in amazement as the chickens twirled above their heads.

Then suddenly, everything becomes quiet. The people disappear from the streets. The shops turn their signs to read ‘Closed’ and shutters are pulled down tightly and locked. And eventually, all cars disappear. The country becomes silent. From Metula to Eilat, all traffic ceases. The highways trickle with cars until not one motor is heard.

And then we light our Yom Tov candles. People hurry off to shul to hear Kol Nidre all dressed in white. Leather shoes are replaced with flip flops, running shoes, slippers, and this year, Crocs. We saw white flowing skirts and bright pink Crocs, crisp white shirts and black pants with brown Crocs – even girls in flowered dresses and tiny tippy toes ran by with miniature purple Crocs.

And as the streets fill with families in white carrying their machzorim to shul, so it fills with bicycles and skateboards. By the time we leave shul after Kol Nidre, the streets have been taken over by bicycles. We may call this a Day of Awe, while they (the entire non-religious population) call it the Day of Bicycles. Our minhag is to fast while their minhag is to go as fast as possible on a bike using the same lane of traffic for both directions – without bike helmets.

Since it is such a bizarre sight, and since we have little else to do after shul other than sleep, most people stroll to the main street to see what life looks like without cars on the road. By late evening, it becomes a scene with thousands of bikes flying down every street. Gangs of kids take over the roads, calling their friends on cell phones, sipping bottles of water, storming past pedestrians at top speed.

The first year I saw this, I thought it was interesting. This year, I look at it differently- it is deeply sad. Ariel’s friends were so offended, they stood in the path of the cyclists and chanted ‘Yom Kippur.’ I know this is not the right tactic but I don’t know what would work – and we desperately need an answer!

Yom Kippur day is bright, warm and breezy. We walk to shul down the middle of the road, the only sound a lone ambulance making its way past cyclists. The day is heavy, somber, silent. We daven and daven and daven. And after the neilah prayers and then the ma’ariv prayers, we all feel light, fresh, free, relieved. Wishing each other a hearty Shana Tova, we hurry home to feed our empty tummies. And the cars quickly fill the roads, enveloping the clean silence with a rush of metal and fumes.

Shana Tova

After having been in Israel for one year, we still feel very privileged to be living in a place where the Jewish calendar is an integral part of life – a magical rhythm no matter how religiously affiliated one is.

Looking out my kitchen window when I do the dishes, I just have to glance across at my neighbour’s garden to know that Rosh Hashana is here; their tall pomegranate tree proudly displays its plump red fruit just in time for the chag.

And in the days leading up to Rosh Hashana, there is a festive spirit everywhere. Everyone wishes each other Shana Tova; at the grocery check out, in the bakery, and at the gas station. The custom here is to give gifts to friends and neighbors so every store displays their goods in beautiful baskets and boxes, prettily wrapped in cellophane and tied with bows.

The Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'uman mobile is out on the street today, blaring its music to a rap melody. The driver wears a large white crochet kippa, a huge smile and practically dances in his seat. These cars are driven around by the breslev hassidim, whose joy is effusive.

And one cannot walk a block without seeing stacks of honey for sale. Some stores even have clerks who stand beside tables filled with huge rolls of wrapping paper, packaging gift after gift – the line ups are long but everyone waits their turn and is in a great mood.

The butchers across town are also busily preparing people’s orders and offering special recipes for the taking – prefaced with a Shana Tova. This greeting appears on the billboards and the mayor here sent everyone a special Shana Tova greeting in the mail.

It has been a very hard year here in Israel for all, especially this past summer. But as you can imagine from the brief description of life here on Ahuza, the main street in Raanana, everyone is optimistic and is preparing for a positive, sweet year. May we have a year of peace.

Shana Tova u’bracha!

September 13, 2006

Want A Canadian Passport, eh?

This story may not be about life in Israel but it has taught me a lesson. When I first arrived in Israel, I used to get frustrated by Israeli bureaucracy – not any more!

I am a Canadian citizen and I have a passport. Problem is, it’s expired. So I downloaded the forms, filled them in, had a picture taken and collected the necessary ID. As for my guarantor, it turns out I actually know one person in Israel who can be one - and even though he lives far away, I am able to get him to sign the passport and pictures.

I am in good shape, I think, as we drive along the Ayalon Expressway into downtown Tel Aviv. I grin as I sail into the empty consulate, remembering the queues and usual three hour waits back in the hectic Toronto passport office.

The clerk looks at my form. He looks at my ID and said, “I cannot accept this Quebec birth certificate. The law has changed and you nee a new one, a longer one.”

“A longer one,” I repeat in disbelief. “You mean this card that I have carried my whole life is no longer valid?”

“That is correct. Fill out this form and fax it to Quebec City. Once the certificate arrives, come back. And by the way, these pictures are not valid.”

“But that is my photo.” It was. It was a miserable picture that showed deep dark bags under my eyes, lines, furrows, and a bad hair day to boot. I thought it was rather perfect.

“I can see that. But your mouth is partially open. Unacceptable.”

He threw the photos and the application and the documents in his window scooper and returned it back to me as if it were dirty laundry, then walked off.

I collected my forlorn pile, my heap of failure and walked out dejected, taking a second look at my picture. My mouth was open so slightly, it looked as if I had taken an opportunity to inhale. According to the Canadian consulate, it was a bad time to choose to breathe. But that tiny aperture displayed teeth and one would assume that teeth could serve as a good identification marker – but not according to the Canadian consulate.

Back to square one. I filled in my birth certificate form and faxed it in, paying for an expedited service. I went to a different photographer and brought along the form that showed exact distances between chin and forehead, cheekbone to cheekbone. The poor photographer had to get out a ruler with millimeters and measure, then measure again.

I froze for the picture and wore my most stern look, much to the photographer’s consternation.

“Be happy,” he yelled at me from behind the lens.

I waved the Canadian documents and explained that in Canada, it’s a law to look suicidal on your passport.

I then waited and waited and waited for my new birth certificate. I checked my mail box every day. After two weeks, I started to call. Due to a combination of our time change in Israel and the few hours that government offices actually answer the phone, I had a very small opportunity to call. And when I called, I would either get onto a queue and wait and wait and wait for a person to come to the phone – or, I would get a busy signal. After a week of this, I actually got a live person, a real Quebecois.

I gave him my name and mailing address, which is Israel. He was extremely rude and incredibly unhelpful and had no sense of humor – at least not in English.

“And what is the postal code on the form?”

I gave it to him.

“Sorry. It does not match.” He then asked me if I was sure that I was me.

“Yes, I am sure I am me – at least the last time I checked, I was.”

I gave him the postal code again and was so aggravated that I said it in a very loud voice. To make sure he heard every detail, I spelled out the dash in the postal code.

“D. A. S. H.”

Click. Silence- the only sound I could hear was my pounding temples
Since I had no one to scream at, I turned to the nearest being. Amir.

“He hung up on me. I have been trying for two weeks to find my expedited birth certificate and have been dialing this number for hours. And no this bureaucrat thinks that I am not me. But one thing he knows is that I, whoever I am or not, live in Israel.

I decide this is a job for my father. He can call from Canada and he does not spell out postal codes when aggravated. He looks into the matter and relays the following. Turns out my certificate was sent out but since it did not arrive, the matter has to go to another department. That other department cannot issue a new one until they issue a letter but they cannot write a letter for another two weeks.

The weeks go by, the months go by. I give up. I even start to question whether I am really me. I mean the bureaucrat does not think so. I also have an invalid birth certificate and a new certificate that went elsewhere.

My father then suggests that since I am hopelessly passportless, I should renew my EC passport. I download the forms, fill them in, get a picture taken and get it signed. I go to the British consulate, hand in my old EC passport, my form and my pictures. I am in a sweat but try to look calm.

“Thank you. It will be ready in five days. Do you want it mailed to your home or do you want to pick it up?”

Traumatized by lost mail, I eagerly agree to pick it up.

I walk away incredulous. I have never lived in England and am a British citizen through my father. I have an expired EC passport and to get a new one, I merely produce the old one! The logic is befuddling.

And our Canadian government will not give me a new passport even though I have held one for close to forty years – aside from the fact that I have a Canadian driver’s license, OHIP card, pocket size birth certificate……

I do pick up my EC passport and give up hope of ever having a Canadian one. My parents come to Israel to visit and my mother, the optimist, goes to the mailbox one day. With a flourish, she produces a letter from Quebec: my long form, long lost birth certificate!

Armed with this new birth certificate, forms and morose pictures, freshly signed by my guarantor, I make my way back to the Canadian passport office. I sit there patiently while he pours over the documents and the ID. It is looking quite good. And then he points to the back of the pictures.

I cannot accept this signature. It does not match the guarantor’s signature on the form.

“But it is the same person! He signed it at different times.”

“Not acceptable. The Canadian government will reject this for sure.”

“Do you want me to call him? Can he send in a letter? You see he is the only professional in Israel that I know who has known me for over two years. And now he is living in a bomb shelter.”

This is sounding a little too tragic, too ‘dog ate the homework’ like. But it is true. I am so new in this country, I really have no long-term relationships. And my poor guarantor is a doctor living in a shelter in Nahariya.

“If you pay extra, and fill in this form, we can do this for you.”

I feel like throwing my entire wallet at this guy. Anything just to get this over and done with. You see, this saga started last December and it is now August.

“Would you like us to mail to you or would you like to pick it up?” he asks me innocently.

At this point I would have paid for a ticket and flown to Canada to pick it up. Problem is, I don’t have a Canadian passport…..

P.S. It is now September and I just picked up my passport. And no, I could not whip into the Canadian consul to pick it up. There was no convenient pick-up line - just a Russian guard with a gun who did not care whether your business would take one minute or one hour. I had to hand in my cell phone, take a number and sit waiting with all of the other visitors who were nervously clutching their documents. I got to see the Canada movie again, marveling over all that huge, unpeopled space with its towering snow-capped mountains, sheer cliffs, vast prairies and lonely herds of buffalo grazing on cool, purple tundra. My turn came. Clasping my brand-new Canadian passport, I descended down the elevator and went out into the blinding sunshine and intense heat. I was immediately gobbled up by the chaotic traffic on just another hot, sticky day in Tel Aviv.

August 18, 2006

A Flute, A Goblet And The Value Of Life

So the ‘מצב,’ or the so-called ‘situation’ here has changed for the moment. The skies are eerily quiet. Last Shabbat, choppers and transport planes filled the night sky, rumbling above. It was nerve-wracking but we grew accustomed to it. I would always be searching the sky, wondering whose son was up there and what fearful battles he would be soon facing in Lebanon – and if he would ever be home for next Friday night dinner.

And many boys will not be home this Shabbat. Or ever. Their seats at the table will remain empty. One son’s last words to his parents before he was killed in Lebanon, just moments before the ‘ceasefire,’ were, “I’ll be back with you for Shabbos.” They buried their 21-year-old son on Monday.

And what did this senseless loss of young life accomplish? How many parents are grieving – and how many more will? This so-called ceasefire will not bring peace. We may have silent skies for now, but for how much longer no one knows. Everyone here is depressed. I couldn't read the paper or watch the news for days. I didn't even want to talk to anyone about it. (And thanks, Amy, for giving me the incentive to continue sharing my thoughts on this blog as I was truly feeling sickened and hopeless.) Many people here, including Amir and I, are also very angry at the government.

I overheard two women talking at the grocery store. And although my Hebrew is still very rusty, I did understand their parting words, Ma La'asot? They did not say the friendly l’hitraot to eachother. They just shrugged, saying ‘What can one do?’ and walked away. We do not know what to do but continue with our lives.

And now the people who ran from their homes in the north are returning. At ulpan, we were given a performance by the Ma’alot children’s orchestra. Ma’alot is very close to the Lebanese border and over the past month, it was pummeled time and again. Many of these children were shipped out away from their families to Netanya and other cities. Some remained in bomb shelters for a month.

And yet here they were, sitting proudly with their violins and saxophones, drums and flutes, playing beautiful music for us. They were all wearing white Jewish federation T-shirts that said “I Love Israel” on the front. Is this because they could not wear their regular performing clothes? Did they have any clothes? Did they have homes? My heart broke thinking about how they would feel returning to their home town. Was their favorite park still there? Was their school still standing? Was there any grass to lie on or a place to ride their bikes? Was it safe? We heard the sounds of Mozart, of Beethoven and of Shubert.

Some of these children were as young as 10 and yet they were playing with the beauty and proficiency of any adult. As I listened to their music and saw their determination to be normal kids and go on with life, tears started to roll down my face. (And I confess that this is a normal occurrence for me in Israel; I cannot go a day in this country without being moved profoundly.)

In the Jerusalem Post I read a story about fifty couples from the north who were married in Tel Aviv last Monday. They were all married together because their wedding plans were cancelled due to the devastation in the north. One couple from Kiryat Shmona told the paper that they had already invited 600 guests to their wedding. They were heart broken when the war broke and their plans fell apart. The bride said, “Until last month I was a normal person. I didn’t know what a katyusha was.’’

Over 300 couples whose wedding plans were cancelled were interviewed for this event and 50 were chosen. Bridal gowns and NIS 10 million were donated, the first time such an event has happened in Jewish history. A string quartet greeted the thousands who gathered on the boardwalk at the port in Tel Aviv. And the sound of 50 glasses being smashed all at the same time brought incredible joy.

So although Hizbullah wanted to destroy Jewish homes, these couples were building them. One groom said, ‘It was a real answer to our enemies. All the broken glass will the biggest bomb that we send to Nasrallah. It is a bomb of happiness against hatred.’

Life does go on here. People look to the future and dream of peace. Israelis are simply used to living a life without it. I too will have to deal with knowing how to lead a normal life under a severe threat to this country’s survival.

But as those exquisite notes soared from the flutes, the violins and the piano, as as those goblets were smashed at the wedding, I realized that a love for beauty, for culture and for life is carefully imbued into every Israeli. This is more valuable than anything and it must be preserved at any cost.

We lost the war.

We lost the war. Unbelievable. My mind is reeling as I watch events unfold.

Olmert, Peretz and Livni can spin it as much as they want but nobody here is fooled and nor is Nasrallah. The country is in shock. The soldiers and the nation had the will to win and our government let us down. Everyone is talking about the utter failure of the leadership here. I saw some graffiti sprayed onto a wall- the words in Hebrew said “Sharon wake up – Olmert is in a coma”

It’s Kafkaesque. Nicole and I read the newspaper in disbelief and dismay. The stance of the UN and the EU is beyond surreal. Let me share with you a particular news item published in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday, and you’ll understand why I think the world has gone insane.

The headline reads “World Council of Churches: Israel Planned to Destroy Lebanon”. Jean-Arnold Clermont who headed the delegation which represents 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches said that “The destruction was both deliberate and planned… Israel would not want the existence of a democratic Lebanon where Jews, Christians and Muslims were peacefully living side by side because it does not want to see its neighbor state succeeding in what Israel is unsuccessfully trying to achieve. De Clermont was quoted as having gone on to say that Hezbollah was a scapegoat.

Hello? What planet did I wake up on? Israel abandoned defensive positions in Lebanon six years ago against the better judgment of the army, exposing us to huge security risk in the name of peace. The North of Israel is destroyed – that is the peace dividend of our pullout from Lebanon.

People are perplexed. They cannot make sense of the events around us. Voters last year put their faith in a party whose sole platform was based on unilateral withdrawal. They believed that if we uproot tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria, we would have peace with the Arabs. Can any thinking person still hold on to that misconception? After leaving Gaza the reward was unabated Kassam rockets on Israeli towns bordering Gaza. Leaving Lebanon was rewarded with 3,000 missiles fired into the heartland.

The raison d’etre of the Kadima Party, that of ‘realignment’ is being seriously questioned (Duh!) by people across the political sphere. Even many MK’s from Kadima are publicly bailing on the policy. The problem is, the government is now at a total loss as to what is next on the political horizon; “If not realignment, then what?”

Twice this week I rode my bike alone, along the magnificent beaches from Netanya to Herzliyia. For many kilometers there was just me, the sea, and the sky. I’ve posted some pictures below. Near the beach at Gash I ran into a few families who had built a temporary enclave on the beach. They had left Rosh Pina a few days earlier to escape the non-stop bombing. Most of them were still sleeping (I tend to ride my bike early in the day). One man, sitting on a woven mat on the beach invited me to join him for a turkish coffee. He had long grey hair and a beard, a large woven kippah perched over the dreadlocks. We talked about the ‘Matsav’ (the situation). His eyes stared out across the Mediterranean as he spoke. “I was born here three years after the founding of the state. When I was five years war broke out with the Egyptians in Sinai, when I was sixteen there was the six day war; at the age of 22 I fought in the Yom Kippur war. Nine years later I was with my unit again fighting in Lebanon. Now this. He raised his hands, palms heavenward. “What can you do – It’s Israel, this is our life here”. He had the look of someone who had seen it all. But he wasn’t at all hopeless. He told me that it’s a big Mitzvah to have joy in life.

He explained that there are two approaches to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East; A realistic approach and an unrealistic approach. One must sit down at the bargaining table, determine fixed borders and negotiate a political solution with the Arabs. Or alternately, pray with deep conviction for God to save us. As it turns out, he laughed, it’s the latter approach that is the realistic one.

Early morning bike ride on the beach

August 7, 2006

Does the CBC really want to "Hear All Sides"?

I recently received an email from my mother in Toronto. It was entitled “Action Alert – We need your help!” The email told of a special program that was about to be aired on CBC radio last Thursday. The show was called ‘Hearing all Sides’ and was to focus on personal experiences of those affected by the war. I was moved to action. Hey, we are living in Israel and even though we may not be in Haifa, our lives are touched by this war nonetheless.

I called many of my Toronto friends who are living here in Israel and they immediately agreed that this was a cause worth pursuing. We all have memories of CBC and their stance on the Middle East.

These Israeli-Canadians called and called and called but none of them got through. Meanwhile, I sat with my laptop and listened to the program. I heard traffic reports and all about the big story of the day -- the weather. Even though it was just 7:00 a.m. Toronto time, it was quickly turning into a steamy day on those downtown streets.

On the show, there was a panel of three Lebanese and three Jewish Canadians who were trying to devise a plan for peace in between the all-important humidity readings. What happened? Here is the story of my friend Kendall.

Kendall dialed the number again and again and got no reply. Hmmm, a phone-in show with no one to pick up the line? Eventually a woman at CBC answered. Kendall explained that she was calling from Israel and thus has some direct experience with this subject.

“Do you know that we are now discussing how to implement ever-lasting peace in the Middle East?” the CBC lady reiterated over the phone.

“Oh,” said Kendall, “I can comment on that.”

“So what is your solution?” asked the woman.

“I will quote Golda Meir,” said Kendall matter of factly. “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

“Hmmm….” said the woman. “I will take down your phone number and you may get a call back.”

Kendall waited three hours for that call. To date, she has been waiting five days for the CBC to call her back. Is the CBC really interested in some live coverage from Israelis who are feeling the effects of war? It seems as if the show “Hearing All Sides” just wasn’t interested in this side, yet again.

August 6, 2006

Day 26 of the War

I just signed up for FOX News last week through my satellite company because my friends in the old country told me that it was the most balanced of the major non-Israeli networks. I already want to give it back to them. One problem is that the other news channels that come with the package - CNN and BBC are completely and totally insane. Those guys are actually worse than Al Jazeera because they wrap their anti-semitism in cloaks of objective journalism.

I don't know what it is, but even with FOX it gets me way more uptight than when I watch Israeli TV. Now I know why my friends in Canada are more nervous than I am.

I think there are two reasons for this:
1) My Hebrew isn't so great so I only understand what my sub-conscious allows to filter on Israeli televison :)
2) I like FOX and they do present the events fairly but it is still an outsider's view.

I preferred watching channel 10 tonight. It shows the big picture as well as the little picture. There was the composed mother from Nahariya start off by calmly saying that she's decided that the situation is such that she should head South and she then completely breaks down, crying - "I'm so scared for my children". They also interviewed little kids in Ra'anana Park who were refugees from the North. Four year olds should not be able to tell you about the different types of sounds that Katusha rockets make. Still you get a sense that even though it is terrible, we'll all get through this together somehow.

Even the commercials remind you of where you are. Orange, a cell phone company, let us know that people from the North and those in the Southern communities within rocket range of Gaza now enjoy an 80% price cut as a gesture of unity. Other companies are taking similiar actions.

Today was a terrible day. I was in Ulpan and when I called a guy I work with at a break. He told me the horrible news of the miluimniks who were killed. Then tonight it was Haifa.

Ulpan is so weird. The teacher asked each of us what we did on the weekend. My face sunk as Sarah from Catelonia decribed going to a Jews for Jesus Service on Saturday. She hangs out with another woman in our class - Maria Grazia from Italy - a Christian woman who walks around with a Star of David around her neck and just happens to want to learn to speak Hebrew. My mind spins - I see nefarious plots forming around me - they are coming here to learn Hebrew so that they can convince the hapless Russians Jews to pray to Jesus. Oy vey.

Then later in the morning we had an assembly where they were teaching us Hebrew songs from the 50's and 60's. Songs that are deep in my bones from when I was a child here. The assembly ended with a moving rendition of Ha'Tikvah - the Israeli National Anthem. All stood except for the Israeli Arabs who are being subsidized by the state to learn to speak Hebrew. Go figure. To be fair, there were two Muslim women who rose to their feet. They are both in my class - Manar and Ranan. They moved here from Kuwait four years ago. I came up to Manar afterward and thanked her. I said that 'It must have been hard for you to stand when you saw that the others would not'. She replied 'Anachnu midina echad' - We are one nation. I've read on YNET that many of the Arab residents of Haifa who had their homes blown up this evening by Nasrallah share her sentiments.

Yihee'ye Tov.

July 31, 2006

Kfar Kana as discussed by Naomi Ragen

Cry to Those Using Babies as Shields
by Jul 30, '06 / 5 Av 5766

My son is in the army. He is not the type at all, believe me. Quiet, studious, a writer, a lover of Jewish history, Talmud, ethics. He spent two years in a pre-army program in the Galilee called Karmei Chayil. He made many good friends there from all over the country; and now, he and all his friends are in the army. One of them I know well. A bit chubby, with payot (sidelocks) and a great laugh. He and my son have become like brothers.

While both of them tried out for the elite paratroopers unit, only he made it in. He and his unit are the ones in Lebanon. They were there over a week, fighting under horrific conditions, running out of food and water. Even though the Israeli air force dropped tons of leaflets warning civilians to flee because they were in terrorist territory and likely to be injured, they still encountered civilians. My son spoke to his friend yesterday,and this is how he described it:

The village looked empty, and then we heard noises coming from one of the houses, so we opened fire. But when we went inside, we found two women and a child huddled in the corner of the room. We were so relieved we hadn't hurt them. We took up base in one of the empty houses. And then, all of a sudden, we came under intense fire. Three rockets were fired at the house we were in. Only one managed to destroy a wall, which fell on one of us, covering him in white dust, but otherwise not hurting him. I spent the whole time feeding bullets to my friend who was shooting non-stop. We managed to kill 26 terrorists. Not one of us was hurt. Our commanding officer kept walking around, touching everybody on the shoulder, smiling and encouraging us: "We're are better than they are. Don't worry." It calmed us all down. And really, we were much better than them. They are a lousy army. They only win when they hide behind baby carriages.

Please remember this when you hear about the "atrocity" of the Israeli bomb (allegedly) dropped on Kfar Kana, killing many civilians, a place from which Hizbullah has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. Unlike previous administrations, Mr. Ehud Olmert has my respect when he says: "They were warned to leave. It is the responsibility of Hizbullah for firing rockets amidst civilians."Terrorists and their supporters have lost the right to complain about civilian casualties, since all they have done this entire war is target civilians. Every single one of the more than 2,500 rockets launched into Israel is launched into populated towns filled with women and children.

Just today, another suicide belt meant to kill civilians in Israel was detonated harmlessly by our forces in Nablus. So, don't cry to me about civilian casualties. Cry to those using your babies and wives and mothers; cry to those who store weapons in mosques, ambulances, hospitals and private homes. Cry to those launching deadly rockets from the backyards of your kindergartens and schools. Cry to the heartless men who love death, and who, however many of their troops or civilians die, consider themselves victorious as long as they can keep on firing rockets at our women and children.Save your sympathy for the mothers and sisters and girlfriends of our young soldiers who would rather be sitting in study halls learning Torah, but have no choice but to risk their precious lives - full of hope, goodness and endless potential - to wipe out the cancerous terrorist cells that threaten their people and all mankind.

Make your choice, and save your tears.That terrorists have been unsuccessful in killing more of our women and children is due to our army, God and our prayers, not to any lack of motivation or intention on their part. If you hide behind your baby to shoot at my baby, you are responsible for getting children killed. You, and you alone.

Article by Charles Krauthammer

Life in an Orwellian universe
By Charles Krauthammer

Israel's moral scrupulousness is being paid in blood - and
yet they're still branded as evil personified What other country, when
attacked in an unprovoked aggression across a recognized
international frontier, is then put on a countdown clock by
the world, given a limited time window in which to fight
back, regardless of whether it has restored its own

What other country sustains 1,500 indiscriminate rocket
attacks into its cities - every one designed to kill, maim
and terrorize civilians - and is then vilified by the world
when it tries to destroy the enemy's infrastructure and
strongholds with precision-guided munitions that sometimes
have the unintended but unavoidable consequence of
collateral civilian death and suffering?

Hearing the world pass judgment on the
Israel-Hezbollah war as it unfolds is to live in an
Orwellian moral universe. With a few significant exceptions
(the leadership of the United States, Britain, Australia,
Canada and a very few others), the world - governments, the
media, U.N. bureaucrats - has completely lost its moral

The word that obviates all thinking and magically inverts
victim into aggressor is "disproportionate,"
as in the universally decried "disproportionate Israeli

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did
not respond with a parallel "proportionate"
attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year
campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo,
Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a cinder, and turned the Japanese
home islands to rubble and ruin.
Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an
aggressor, one has every right - legal and moral - to carry
the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled
that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it
took with Japan.

Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II.
Did it respond to the blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with
"proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course
not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest land invasion in
history that flattened and utterly destroyed Germany,
killing untold innocent German women and children in the

The perversity of today's international outcry lies in the
fact that there is indeed a disproportion in this war, a
radical moral asymmetry between Hezbollah and
Israel: Hezbollah is deliberately trying to create civilian
casualties on both sides while Israel is deliberately trying
to minimize civilian casualties, also on both sides.
In perhaps the most blatant terror campaign from the air
since the London blitz, Hezbollah is raining rockets on
Israeli cities and villages. These rockets are packed with
ball bearings that can penetrate automobiles and shred human
flesh. They are meant to kill and maim. And they do.
But it is a dual campaign. Israeli innocents must die in
order for Israel to be terrorized. But Lebanese innocents
must also die in order for Israel to be demonized, which is
why Hezbollah hides its fighters, its rockets, its
launchers, its entire infrastructure among civilians.
Creating human shields is a war crime. It is also a
Hezbollah specialty.

On Wednesday, CNN cameras showed destruction in Tyre.
What does Israel have against Tyre and its inhabitants?
Nothing. But the long-range Hezbollah rockets that have been
raining terror on Haifa are based in Tyre. What is Israel to
do? Leave untouched the launch sites that are deliberately
placed in built-up areas?

Had Israel wanted to destroy Lebanese civilian
infrastructure, it would have turned out the lights in
Beirut in the first hour of the war, destroying the
billion-dollar power grid and setting back Lebanon 20 years.
It did not do that. Instead, it attacked dual-use
infrastructure - bridges, roads, airport runways - and
blockaded Lebanon's ports to prevent the reinforcement and
resupply of Hezbollah. Ten-thousand Katyusha rockets are
enough. Israel was not going to allow Hezbollah 10,000 more.
Israel's response to Hezbollah has been to use the most
precise weaponry and targeting it can. It has no interest,
no desire to kill Lebanese civilians. Does anyone imagine
that it could not have leveled south Lebanon, to say nothing
of Beirut? Instead, in the bitter fight against Hezbollah in
south Lebanon, it has repeatedly dropped leaflets, issued
warnings, sent messages by radio and even phone text to
Lebanese villagers to evacuate so that they would not be
Israel knows that these leaflets and warnings give the
Hezbollah fighters time to escape and regroup. The advance
notification as to where the next attack is coming has
allowed Hezbollah to set up elaborate ambushes. The result?
Unexpectedly high Israeli infantry casualties. Moral
scrupulousness paid in blood. Israeli soldiers die so that
Lebanese civilians will not, and who does the international
community condemn for disregarding civilian life?

July 30, 2006

Two Million Refugees In Israel

Thousands of Israelis have been living in stuffy, poorly ventilated bomb shelters for over two weeks now. Many are elderly, some are disabled. Cramped in these living conditions, they cannot cook in their own kitchens and they cannot even go out to get money from the bank. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled the pounding rockets and headed south. And remember, Israel is a tiny country. Driving south to be out of range of the rockets of Haifa is a one hour drive. So where did all these people go? And, aside from the incessant pummeling of rockets and soldiers fighting, how can this blip of a country handle this?

If this had happened anywhere else in the world, it would be tantamount to a crisis. Israel has humbly, quietly risen to the task – and excelled.

People in the south have opened their homes to perfect strangers; every day in both the English and Hebrew papers, there is a column entitled ‘Happy to Host You,’ where people who have a spare room or a spare bed ask northerners to please come and stay. The Meir Panim organization delivers 2,000 hot meals to shelters each day at a risk to themselves. And when appeals were sent out for food, some 4,000 people called in right away.

Today I went to Mega to do a grocery shop. Outside, a young girl stands at the store entrance asking for donations for the soldiers; be it candy, toothpaste, soap.

In Nahariya, a whole yeshiva decided to stay put. In addition to learning Torah, the young men and staff volunteer at the hospital, organize blood drives and distribute food before Shabbat.

In Raanana, 200 people are now living in a religious boarding school that was empty because of summer vacation. The city welcomed them with free accommodation food and necessary supplies. And they even thought of entertainment; there was a karaoke night with the mayor himself turning up to show off his talent. And just last Friday, residents of Raanana lined up in the midday sun to give blood – and the line was so long, some had to wait hours.

And in Beersheva, the Golden Tulip hotel is offering free hotel rooms to some 600 refugees from the north. In fact, hotels across the country are offering free rooms, discounted rooms, free access to pools, and activities for the shell-shocked children.

We have been connected with a family from Nahariya that needs a safe bed to sleep in and a home to relax in; a place where the air raid sirens aren’t going all day long and where buildings are not being destroyed daily. Our cousins Tomy and Chava are still in Nahariya trying to help wherever they can. Today Chava’s office in the hospital was struck. A direct hit. Luckily it was Shabbat and she was not there. Who would target a hospital?

Disproportionate Force?

I know that you are most likely familiar with the facts below. But, if you have been watching CNN or reading the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail, some of this may be news to you.

The headlines are once again raging out against Israel. “Shock over civilian deaths from Israeli attack.” “Israeli raid kills 56.” Does anyone talk about the fact that four days ago, Israel warned the civilians of Qana, asking them to leave. Has everyone forgotten who started this war and why this has to be done? Or about the kind of war Israel is trying to fight single handedly – and for the benefit of the whole world?

The Hizbollah are entrenched across Southern Lebanon. They have built bunkers and have stashes of weapons under homes and schools in these villages. If they want to fire a rocket at Israel, they simply fire right from a highly populated area.

Israel’s army, contrary to popular belief, is more benevolent than any army in the world. When faced with these terrorist tactics, Israel at first had four choices: bomb the entire area by surprise; warn the civilians to flee and then bomb the area; send in ground troops to scout out the rocket launchers and arms caches; or send in ground troops to do face to face combat with the enemy. So the Israel Defense Force first gave warnings to the civilians telling them to leave. Many did not. (And, one may wonder, if a person is told to leave and they do not, why do they insist on staying?) One reason is that Hizbollah is forcing the Lebanese to stay so they can use them as human targets. The second reason is that many of these people are really terrorists themselves.

Having assessed the situation carefully, the IDF knew that the most humane solution was to reduce the casualties of Lebanese civilians, even at the expense of spilling Israeli blood. So the IDF sent in their ground troops. These young boys (aged 20, 21, 22) faced the most sophisticated terrorist army that could be imagined. According to Debka, using Viet Cong style techniques, Hizbollah has hundreds of bunkers and tunnels for hiding in and storing weapons. And they are also using Japanese style camouflage techniques. So when four or five trees start to move, it is really a rocket launcher being transported.

Israel did not use napalm against villages like the US did. And if we look at what the French did to civilians in Algeria, we would be shocked: thousands of innocent lives were lost. How about England’s response in Dresden during WWII? What about the Russians and the Chechnyans? The US in Iraq? It goes on and on except only Israel is found guilty for defending its own civilians from rockets. In fact, over 100 were fired at Israeli cities in the north just today – and it’s only 5 pm.

And because Israel has been so careful to protect the lives of civilians, it has lost many heroes. The pictures of nine young men were in the Jerusalem Post on Friday. They all died in an ambush in Bint Jbail –a town that the Israelis had requested be evacuated, but was not. Roi Klein, a 31-year-old father of two, gave his life to protect the other soldiers in his battalion. When a grenade was thrown into a house they were in, he did not think twice. He recited ‘Shema Israel’ and jumped onto the grenade, killing himself and saving the others.

How much more blood has to be shed? How many more widows will there be? How many more inconsolable mothers and bereft fathers? So when Israel strikes from the air as it did today and kills civilians who were told to leave, there is no reason to hear that tiresome word “disproportionate” yet again.

July 28, 2006

Ulpan in Netanya

Nicole and I started our Ulpan* program along with the kids on Monday. It’s a on a campus in Netanya right by the beach. We take the half hour drive each morning from Ra’anana but most of the people there stay at the adjoining Hotel. It’s called Ulpan Akiva and we make the trip because it has a great reputation and draws people from around the world.

It’s been an exhausting week. I’ve been getting up before six each morning in order to make it to shul with Ariel and Sam Brody (he decided to stay with us) and then grab some croissants and coffee on my way to pick up Nicole and the kids and somehow drop into our seats in class by 8am – of course we’re late every day. The Ulpan goes until 1pm and then I come home for lunch, catch a quick nap and head over to the office and stay there until about 10 or 11pm by which time I’m too wound up to sleep until a ridiculous hour and the sick pattern repeats itself

The classes have been great – I feel my brain stretched and squeezed as I struggle with my Hebrew vocabulary and grammar. But the best by far are the people that we’ve been meeting there.

Let me tell you about ‘Eedit’ (Edith with an accent like Zsa Zsa Gabor). I met her on the first day when someone asked me to assist her in getting to the Mo’adon (meeting room).
The reason that I had to help her is that Eedit is totally blind. For any of you out there that feel Israel is too dangerous to visit, you have to meet Eedit. Let me tell you about her…

Eedit lives in Budapest and has visited here before. She isn’t Jewish but told me that she has great love and respect for the Jewish people. I asked her (in my tactful way) “Are you nuts? Why are you coming here now, of all times?” She told me that when the war started a couple of weeks ago, she felt that Israel needs as many friends as possible and she wanted to be here to show her support. Moreover, her own family refused to go to the travel agency top pick up the airline tickets and a friend did so instead.

As I held her hand, walking along the flower lined path to the Mo’adon she wanted to know all about me as well. Are you religious? Do you have a beard? Are you in favor of the settlements? When I told her that I am she smiled and whispered “me too, me too”.

I also had the pleasure of sitting on the grass during a break with Zachariah. His English is better then my French so we stuck to English. Zachariah is as university professor and came here from the Ivory Coast to spend his summer vacation learning Hebrew. He’s also not Jewish but told me that he wants to convert. He’s been in the conversion process for five years now. There are, basically next to no Jews in the Ivory Coast so what he is trying to do is like building an ice sculpture on the beach in Herzliyia. The Rabbis that he visited in Paris told him to get out of there. Break finished before I could find out why a black guy from West Africa got it in his head to become Jewish. That will have to wait until next week.

Nicole and I have been put in the same class (Gimmel). Yes, I am the one who was born in Israel and went to Hebrew day school so leave me alone – she’s just way smarter than me. Anyway, it’s fun to be together in the same class. I’ve been able to copy her homework a couple of times already.

In our class there are:

Some Russians – we’re trying to figure out which if any are actually Jewish. Svetlana already told me that she isn’t.
Some French people – love the accent even if their Hebrew is totally wrong
Two Muslim sisters from a neighboring Arab village
A teenager from Toronto who goes to C.H.A.T – her mom is flipped out that she’s still here.
A Christian woman from Milan (her family also thinks she’s nuts to be here)
And a few other people which I’m not sure of yet– perhaps South Americans.

The big surprise for me was the Arab women. I’m starting to think that I have a lot more in common with them than the Russians! They are religious, dress modestly, and have a connection to the land that goes way beyond just being a place to earn a living. I’ve got to get to know them before the course is over.

On Thursday morning the teacher broke us into groups of three to discuss (in Hebrew of course) certain statements that she handed to each group. The statement given to the Arab women was –

“Every Jew, wherever he lives, is obligated to learn Hebrew. Yes or No.

Manar, one of the Muslim women spoke eloquently about how important it is for Jewish people everywhere to be connected to their culture and speak the language of their heritage in their homes. She said that they must continue the tradition of their people and be ready for the day when they may also move to Israel. The Sachnut (Jewish Agency) should hire her for the Aliyah office!

I’d like to say more but Shabbat is coming in and I’ve got to get ready. I’ll tell you more later. One thing more to say, and I’m posting the picture. After picking up my weekend hummus from the best hummus place in the Middle-East I walked past a mobile blood bank. People were STANDING IN LINE in the hot midday sun to give blood. What a country!!! Gotta love it!!! My thoughts and prayers are with those unfortunate people living outside of Israel who cannot be here at this time.

* ULPAN is a place that teaches people Hebrew and Israeli Culture

July 24, 2006

Benjy's Funeral

Ariel and I had been out doing our normal Shabbat shopping last Friday morning. There’s the visit to the butcher – a sweet Sephardi man who works alongside his wife, helping us with our meal plan while selecting meat with care and concentration. I’m sure that the focus that he puts into his work carries a flavor of welcoming guests that is tasted at the Shabbat meal. There are the breads and cakes of Artisan Bakery, flowers from the moshav, the delicacies of Baladi and the fruit from Givat-Hen that I can’t even describe and you’ll have to stay with us for Shabbat to taste for yourself.

We ran into Shia and he told us that a close friend of his had been killed the day before in a fierce firefight with the Hizbollah and the funeral would be at noon. I knew that we had to go. I wanted to show my respect to someone who died in the process of ensuring my safety. It was also a bit like slowing down to see carnage on the side of the road – you can’t help but look.

There were many hundreds of people there, walking together slowly in silence in the heat of the day, toward the military cemetery of Ra’anana. The cemetery had too many graves for such a small town. It was heartbreaking to see the ages on those stones. The funeral was highly regimented. It was the first military funeral that I had ever been to and there was a clear order to the events – I sadly realized that they have practice at this.

I can’t begin to describe to you the look of raw pain on the face of the young widow. They were married three weeks ago. The couple only spent the first week together for the sheva brachos. After that his sense of duty to his soldiers at the front compelled him to join them, to lead them and help keep them from harm’s way.

I watched the honour guard standing at attention the glaring heat of the mid-day sun. They stood at attention, rifles in position, grief written on their faces. The drill sergeant who commanded them to take this position or that position as the proceedings unfolded was unlike that of any other army. Here was a squad leader of a Jewish army - more like a doting grandmother – whispering a word of encouragement in the ear of one crestfallen soldier, squeezing the arm of another, giving a water bottle to a third. He knew each of his kindele and he was caring for their individual needs. I can’t tell you why, but these simple actions made me certain that we would overcome our enemies.

The people who came to talk to Benjy in that hole in the ground tore my heart out. At the end of this funeral it was as if I had been hit by a truck. They spoke of the tremendous love that Benjy had for his wife. They spoke about his sense of duty. His love of Israel. His devotion to Torah study. He was an immigrant, his parents having moved here from England when he was four years old. Would they turn back the clock and not have made Aliyah? It’s not a fair question to ask and I push it out of my head. The rabbi who married Benjy and Ayala was beside himself with grief. I see visuals of my own kids in army uniform. What will I feel when it’s their time to serve? I called Sami today – he told me that when he was in Lebanon in ’82 they would fight and then only come home to bury their friends. We sleep a bit less now. Our house is a bit messier and none of us care as much about it as we may have a few weeks ago.

War In Israel

July 20

It’s been one year since we moved to Israel. I really regret not writing about our transition sooner but I was so caught up in the move that I barely had time to sleep, let alone reflect. The newness and wonder of it all has seemed to wane a bit much to my disappointment. I often want someone to pinch me to remind that yes, I am here living in Israel; be it walking down the cobbled streets in the Old City of Jerusalem, discovering a lichee tree for the first time with plump red fruit hanging, ready for the pick; or simply doing the dishes and staring out at a deep blue sky on yet another clear, warm day here in Israel.

Last week the country erupted in war. Before I knew it, Katyusha rockets were smashing communities in the north of Israel, killing, wounding, shattering the peace. On Sunday morning we sat glued to the internet, waiting for updates. And then the phone rang.

An Israeli friend told us that Tel Aviv was in range of the rockets and that we were to stay close to our bomb shelter. Our feeling of normalcy floated out the window…slowly. I insisted on keeping it together by doing the dishes and the laundry. But when I went outside to hang the clean clothes, I looked up at that deep blue summer sky for a hint of the unthinkable. I kept a window open to make sure I could hear the wailing siren. I wanted my kids by my side and counted the hours for them to come home. Yet Aviva was in sleepover camp to the northeast of here. Shaya had gone jeeping with his camp and Talya was at her kindergarten. I continued sweeping, folding, tidying, one eye on my watch and one to the sky, still that magenta blue, cloudless, silent. The birds were singing. The garbage truck came. The grass was cut. The mail was delivered.

And my kids came home. Our bomb shelter was ready - just in case. And life went on.

Just yesterday morning, I was relaxing in an outdoor café with a friend. I got home and as I sat down to lunch, the phone rang again. This time it was a Canadian friend who had made aliyah four years ago. “I just want to tell you that there’s a suicide bomber walking around town. I’m picking up my daughter from camp. You decide what you want to do.” Click. Normalcy was pulled out from under our feet within a second. Yet again.

I sat there stunned. I had lost my appetite. We called Talya’s camp and they said not to worry. ‘The gate is locked, the kids are inside and there’s a guard with a gun standing outside.’ We called Shaya’s camp. They had gone to a crocodile farm and were now stuck on the highway. The police had shut down the main roads and were checking each and every car. They emptied the malls. The city sat and waited.

After being stuck on a school bus in the heat of the day for two hours, Shaya came home. Then Talya came home. They caught the suicide bomber in nearby Hod Hasharon a few hours later. And so life goes on.

And life must go on for the thousands of people who had to flee their homes in the north. Families who in a minute’s notice ran from the rockets; who locked the doors to their homes, piled into their cars and drove south. They are now in Raanana and many other towns in the south. And hundreds of families are opening their doors to take them in. People are giving them food, shelter, toothpaste, toys, diapers. They are living in hotels, movie theatres – even families who lost their homes in Gush Katif have opened their tiny caravans to help out these people. There are now makeshift camps for the children. Our town has invited them to swim at the country club. People are sending care packages to the soldiers and baking for those who are still living in bomb shelters. And I just read that a popular Israeli rock band is touring the public bomb shelters. And so are the clowns, ever hopeful to make those terrified children laugh again.

As for me, the newcomer, I can now see that I live in a land where there is a profound sense of care for one another. No one is a stranger here. We too want to help and have put our names down to host a family from the north. I now understand that I am living in a country that is united and strong. I just have to get used to the mat being pulled from under my feet and the threat of impending danger. It causes stress, irritability, fatigue. But I know how important it is for us to be here in Israel. Just today, over 200 Americans landed at Ben Gurion to start their lives here as new immigrants - and they could not have dreamed of a better time to be here in Israel.

July 21

Another cloudless blue day. This morning, there was a photo of a couple on the front page of the paper who were married just last night in Kiryat Shmona. Months ago, they had picked July 20 to be their wedding day and had invited 800 guests. Now that war broke out, they were determined to keep their date. The bride wore her beautiful white gown and the couple marched down the steps of the bomb shelter while 30 guests were there to celebrate.

It is so serene here in Raanana, it is almost hard to imagine that there is a vicious war going not too far from here. And horrific it is. My husband ran into a friend on the street this morning. When Amir casually asked how he was, he said “Not good. I heard last night that a good friend of mine was killed in Lebanon.” We had seen in the paper that morning that there were casualties but there were no names and no faces. Now there was a name. Benjy Hillman was a 27-year-old accomplished commander who lived here in Raanana, who had just three weeks ago walked under the chuppa with his new bride. He spent five days as a married man and then left for Lebanon because he felt it was his duty to be with his unit. Now the same guests who danced at the wedding were together again – this time at his funeral. He had plans to honeymoon in Thailand but his deep responsibility to his soldiers came first. Now there will never be a honeymoon. Just deep scorching sorrow.

Although we did not know Benjy Hillman personally, Amir felt he should go to this funeral. A huge group gathered on Schwartz Street at noon and then walked alongside an army jeep that escorted the casket to the cemetery. Hundreds of people slowly walked in the midday sun until they reached the military cemetery. His father spoke. His commander spoke. His brother, a friend, the mayor and the chief Rabbi all eulogized this young man. The crowd was silent, the heat was unbearable, the pain too heavy to bear. A woman collapsed, the crowd stirred to catch her in her grief and the sad words continued to pour out, witness to a life beautifully lived, a life that was extinguished all too soon. Amir said this was the saddest day he has experienced here in Israel.

The war is touching everyone here. We have refugees from the north living next door and our neighbour up the road told us his house is full of relatives who have fled from the rockets. We have put our names down to open our home to a family. Apparently so many people have offered here in Raanana, there is a waiting list for available homes and not for refugee families!

I know I am supposed to beautify my home in honor of Shabbat, to lay down a white table cloth and the best china. But I feel so heavy, so lethargic from the sadness. I just want some good news. I check the internet every hour and hear about more rockets, more injuries. I hear helicopters passing overhead, army personnel carriers, jets. The sky is busy with war. I will light my candles and pray for peace, for protection of our soldiers and for those who are living in bomb shelters.

Saturday July 22, 2006

We did have a relaxing Shabbat as always. And as I cannot listen to the radio, turn on the TV or read the internet, we were forced into seclusion. It was blissful, a total sanctuary. The skies were blue again but are now a virtual highway for transporting soldiers and supplies to the north. When I finally re-entered the world of information, I learned that Saturday had been one of the heaviest days of rockets thus far; over 150 katyusha rockets fell in northern Israel, wounding dozens.

Sunday July 23, 2006

No camp today. This is the first official Sunday we have had in many months. So what does one do on yet another beautiful sunny day here in July? The beach! We packed the car up with boogy boards, sand toys, bottles of water, snacks and, of course, our excited kids and headed out to Herzliya, just 15 minutes away. En route we stopped at a mall to run an errand. My daughter pranced across the parking lot in her electric pink bathing suit and purple crocs. We passed by a family with four small children and I noticed something amiss. One little boy had no shoes. The mother was wearing clothes that looked as if they had been worn for a week. They looked sunken, tired. I have heard that here are families who have run away from the war and simply roam the malls all day long.

The beach is always a special treat and can take the stress level down several notches. I just felt so strange to be floating in the waves as those helicopters passed over us, constantly ferrying back and forth to the war front.

I read today that Europeans are now marching against Israel: 7,000 in central London; 1,000 in Paris; 2,000 in Amsterdam. Is it because all of these people are being fed the wrong information? Are their news broadcasts only focusing on the Lebanese refugees and deaths? Do these people know how many Israeli lives have been destroyed by this war? Sons and fathers killed; people displaced, incomes and crops destroyed.

Do these Europeans realize that Israeli citizens are the targets of the Hizbullah rockets while the Israeli Defense Force distributes leaflets to the local Lebanese residents asking them to evacuate an area before it tries to ferret out the terrorists? Do these protesters know that the Israelis are so careful not to hurt the local population, they also risk sending in their ground troops to root out the terrorists? Or, it is that these demonstrators do not want to know. Maybe they are full of hatred and they just want to see Israel erased off the map. I think the answer is the latter.