Thursday, February 20, 2014

Making It Home Against All Odds

These are the moments that life in Israel is made of. These are the moments when you realize there is absolutely nowhere else on Earth as overwhelmingly fulfilling or inspiring as is your own backyard.

Tonight, there was a Hachnassat Sefer Torah in the Yishuv. This moving event occurs when a Torah scroll or Torah scrolls are brought to the synagogue and officially donated by a family or organization for use in the synagogue. A Torah scroll might be commissioned in memory of someone and then donated to a shul; or it might be that a family has an already existing Sefer Torah that they want to now give to a shul.

My good friends, Zvi and Sharon Ron, were in the latter category, and honored our yishuv tonight with the dedication of their family’s Sefer Torah.

I get goosebumps just thinking of relaying the story of this Torah. Our friend, Zvi, had a great-grandfather who owned this beautiful Sefer Torah before World War II in Czechoslovakia. When the war broke out, and all of Zvi’s family was either misplaced from their homes to go into hiding, or murdered by the Nazis, the Sefer Torah was taken by the Nazis. Why was it taken? It was taken, not to burn or desecrate, but to be an exhibit as part of a museum of Jewish items. The Nazi plan was that such a museum would showcase the items of the long-deceased people; of the religion that used to be and of the culture that had been obliterated.

Can you imagine?

And so, the Sefer Torah was kept by the Nazis in a warehouse. When the war finally ended and the warehouse was abandoned, the Torah made its way to a makeshift shul for post-war Jews. One day after the war, Zvi’s uncle, who had been a partisan during the war, stumbled into this shul and was called to the Torah. As he stood there, in post war-torn Europe, he realized that the Torah before him belonged to his family. And he walked out of the shul with the Torah in his arms.

The Torah made its way to New York with Zvi’s uncle, and then eventually here, to our land, in Israel. Zvi’s father had the Torah in his possession in Hashmonaim and he spent time fixing it and taking care of it. He told Zvi that someday, when Zvi had a shul in the new neighborhood of Neve Daniel, that the Sefer Torah should come with him and enjoy a home there.

Zvi on the right fulfilling his father's promise and Daniel Kasovitz on the left

And tonight, the Sefer Torah, that was intended to be used as part of a museum of the murdered religion, took its place in the newest shul in Gush Etzion, along with another beautiful Sefer Torah donated by another family. Hundreds of us gathered on the street to dance and sing the Sefrei Torah to their new home. During a Hachnassat Sefer Torah, the Torah or Torahs are held under a Chuppah (marriage canopy) as everyone sings wedding songs and dances around the Torahs. It is a glorious ceremony filled with hope, continuity and promise.

Who would have thought, when Zvi’s great grandfather was torn from his home and his family; when the Torah was placed in a museum of the dead; when his uncle happened to stumble into a shul in post-war Europe…that the Sefer Torah would someday arrive in the hills of Gush Etzion, in Eretz Yisrael, among hundreds of Jewish people. 

Three generation of Ron family members: Zvi on right, his daughter Kinamon and his mom

What a gift.

What a moment.

What a glorious message to those who have tried to annihilate us again and again.

We are here.

Our Sefrei Torah are here. They make it home to us, eventually.

As do many of us.

And our future is here. Now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tales from the Clueless Bnei Akiva Mom

Our lives here in Israel absolutely crack me up at times. I’ve written many times about the youth group, Bnei Akiva, which the kids join in 4th grade. Matan and Yehuda are very active in it and they participate every Tuesday afternoon, every Shabbat afternoon and a number of other times during the year when there are trips and events.

So, about three weeks ago, Matan asked me if I could come over to the computer.

“Sure, what’s up.”

“I’m signing up for the Bejajajaj,” he explained.

“Um, the what?”

“You know, the Bejajaja.”

Hmmmm….and so the conversation continued for a bit. Finally, Matan, realizing that I wasn’t raised in this country or with this culture, explained that he was signing up for some eighth grade Bnei Akiva event. Apparently, each year the 8th graders from the ENTIRE COUNTRY (can you imagine?) get together to conquer some mountain near Tzfat.


So, he signed up and then I forgot about it. I've learned the hard way over the years that when Matan explains that he needs money to sign up for something with school or Bnei Akiva, he really does. During his first year in Bnei Akiva, there was one night where everyone very excitedly got their first Bnei Akiva shirts.

"Why don't you have one, Matan?" I innocently asked.

"Because you told me I couldn't have money when I asked you for it a few weeks ago. Don't you remember?"

Oy - epic fail.

So, since then I've listened when he's told me he needs money for this or that...including to sign up for the Bejajajaj.

Sunday, he reminded me that he wouldn’t be going to school on Tuesday because he would be conquering the mountain.

“Ok,” I said, trying not to laugh at my complete ignorance. “What do you need from me? What time are you going? When will you be back?”

So, yesterday, he was off with all of his friends. He was gone until midnight (midnight!) when he came home to wake me, declare that the trip was awesome, and go to sleep.

I went to work before he was up in the morning, so I didn’t have time to check in with him.

And then, I noticed on Facebook that Matan posted a video of the Biria (I think that’s what it’s called). Awesome! I thought to myself. Now I can at least see where my son went yesterday.

So, I watched the random YouTube video for clues about my son’s culture and experience. Unfortunately, they didn’t put up any pictures of him, but then I saw this cute picture that one of the girls in his class took.

Gotta love getting information about your son’s life from YouTube, other kids’ pictures and your imagination. 

Of course, when I’ve mentioned this event to Israelis they all say, “Oh! The Biria! That’s so fun. Hope he had a good time.”

Yeah, the Biria. Oh sure, that thing.

When I came home from work, I fortunately got some more insights into his trip. So, as I should have known, the Biria Forest has a great history to it. As one website explained,

"In 1945 the land was settled by Bnei Akiva (religious youth movement) cadets and members of the religious unit of the Palmach (pre-IDF) underground movement cultivated the land, planted a forest and built a fortress. The fortress was built with double stone walls and included two watch towers. The people of Biria helped smuggle immigrants in from Syria to Eretz Israel. In February 1946 the British discovered arms caches on the outskirts of the camp, arrested the Biria members and took over the place. The Jewish population was enraged. About two weeks later, under the protection of the Hagana (another pre-IDF underground movement), 3,000 people arrived and built the place that became known as Biria Bet, close to the fortress. The British destroyed the new community too and dispersed its inhabitants. Five days later hundreds of people from the vicinity returned to start building up Biria for the third time. Faced with such tenacity and determination, the British Army retreated and simply let the settlers stay." 

For decades now, the kids from Bnei Akiva have been going to this site to learn about the land and about the fighters who came before them. They have a great time, and, as with so many Bnei Akiva events (and events in general in this country), the experience offers so much more than just fun.

So now I'm schooled in the Biria. Hopefully, by the time boy number 6 goes on these trips, I’ll actually know what’s going on ahead of time. 

But with boy number 1? 

No clue…none at all.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Hug-O-Meter

I’ve been thinking a lot about hugs lately. How many hugs does a child need in his life in order to feel loved? And until what age do they need them? I notice that some of my kids are more huggy than others. The little guys, of course, love to be hugged. But my 9 year old also loves a good hug and loves to cuddle. My 7 year old is more stand-offish, more reserved. But certainly, he still needs those hugs as well. And my big boys? Well, the biggest one isn’t too huggable now, but I assume he’ll return to being huggable at some point. And my 12 year old still allows for it once in a while, but not too often.

So we appear to have a hugging window that lasts until the age of 8, 9, 10 or so. (And then probably reappears when they are done being cool teenagers, but I haven't gotten that far yet.) And how many hugs is enough in that amount of time?

I’ve been trying to pay attention to how much I hug and praise my children. And, I’ve been trying to make room for that extra cuddle time. With older kids in the house, I don’t need to look far to realize just how fast time goes. So, in the morning, when I’m frantically making lunches and trying to get everyone going, I consciously stop what I’m doing (and take a deep breath) when the younger two come upstairs looking for a couch cuddle. I put aside what I’m doing and I take them to the couch for a few minutes of cuddles to start their day.

Who wouldn't want to stop making lunches to cuddle with this guy?

When the middle boys come up, I make sure to give them a morning hug,. Sometimes, the 9 year old will come and give me a hug from behind when I'm busy cutting vegetables or doing something at the counter. And I've been trying not to say, "Sweetheart, I'm busy right now" but rather to put down the food, turn around and hug back. And when the big guys come up I try to send them out feeling good about themselves (no fights, no conflicts). Does this work perfectly every day? Certainly not. But it’s the goal that I strive for, and the more conscious I am about these goals, the more likely I am to come close to reaching them.

It’s funny. I was thinking about this hug-o-meter for the last week or so. And tonight, as I thought about it more deeply, I saw that it’s World Cancer Day. And one of my Facebook friends, who recently lost his very young sister to cancer, wrote on his Facebook page that everyone should go hug someone they love today.

Great goal. 

But let’s make it every day. 

Why not? 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a day designated for cancer awareness to be aware of its impact, and I don’t need a specific day to remind me just how important hugs can be.

Hug away…every day.