Friday, September 19, 2014

Taking the Pledge

Last night, our closest friends invited us to come to their son’s swearing in ceremony for the Israeli army. He joined in July, becoming part of an elite unit within Tzanchanim (paratroopers). The swearing in ceremony for the paratroopers is always at the Kotel (Western Wall) and it proved to be an incredibly moving night. We were here a few years ago for our Chayal Boded (Lone Soldier), Jeff. That time, we were standing as part of the crowd in the Kotel plaza, and I didn’t see much of what was going on. This time, we were on one of the rooftops overlooking the Kotel, so I had a better feeling for the ceremony as it unfolded.

And what a ceremony it was. The soldiers march in, there are speeches and memorials, a few songs and explanations. Then, each soldier is individually handed his gun, but what I hadn’t caught in action with Jeff is that they are also given a Tanach which is placed inside their shirts, over their hearts. It may be a bit hard to see in this video, but watch carefully as a soldier comes up, gets his Tanach, and then gets his gun.

Can we pause here for a minute? Yes, many of you are saying, “Well, yeah. We all know that they are given a Tanach and a gun.” And others of you are saying, “So what’s the big deal?” But to me – this is a big deal. Native Israelis and those who have lived here for a long time are often surprised by the things that strike me in daily life here. But I had never witnessed this moment in action, watching as they are given a Tanach with their gun. Whether the soldiers are religious or not, whether they read the Tanach or have rarely opened one, they are being given the message that Gd is with them. BUT that they still need to take action. This is what we live by. Gd is on your side, Gd is right by your heart watching you; but you don’t sit idly by and just trust that all will be ok. You build an army, you join it and you take up arms when necessary.

The Kotel plaza filled with Tzanchanim and their families.

The evening was particularly powerful, I thought, since the Tzanchanim paid such a heavy price in our recent war with Gaza this summer. These boys, who yelled their allegiance to the IDF and the State of Israel last night, realize extremely poignantly where they are headed. They know that their brothers recently gave up their lives for our country – and that they are standing there in their stead, ready to be next in line to defend our Nation and our People.

When we sang Hatikva, thousands of people strong, I was also struck by the incredible imagery through time. The paratroopers liberated the Kotel – they broke through the blockade of the Old City in 1967 and made their way through the winding streets of the Old City to blow the shofar at the Kotel. 
Famous picture taken minutes after the soldiers got to the Kotel.
It was a dream of our people to come back. It was our dream to stand by the Kotel, to remember the Beit Hamikdash and to return to our Holy City. Fast forward two thousand years…or 47 years as you will…and here are the newest recruits of the same regime. Standing at the liberated Kotel singing our song, with their Tanach over their hearts and their guns strapped over their shoulders.

Yonatan right before the ceremony with his sister, Avital.

Eliav stayed up until 11 to be there with Yonatan!

I am honored beyond words to watch Yonatan join this elite group. I am honored beyond words to have the privilege of living out the modern miracle that is the State of Israel today – and the Army that supports it.

May Yonatan, and all those with him, find protection and strength as they keep us safe day and night and help us to continue living out the dream of our people – to live in our Homeland as a free and strong Nation of Jews.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Carpool-Free Life in Israel

I didn’t raise my kids in the States for very long. They were only 4 and 2 when we made Aliyah, so I don’t have a huge point of reference for juggling kids' activities there. What I DO believe I have, however, is an ability to see the incredible differences in carpooling needs and extra curricular activities between the two countries.

I remember talking to a mother of six when we lived in Potomac and she told me that her four year old basically lived in the car. All afternoon she was out taking this kid to piano lessons and that kid to karate. And the four year old couldn’t stay home alone…so he spent hours schlepping along. I thought, at the time, how sad this was for all of them. And through the years, I’ve watched on Facebook as many of my friends in the States gear up for the carpool year ahead. There are charts, negotiations, discussions and hours of labor in order to fit the puzzle together.  

And then there is life in Israel. 

As I’ve worked, over the last two weeks, to piece together my children's school activities and after-school programs, I’ve marveled at the ease with which we do everything here. I don’t know if people outside of Israel can truly appreciate how hands-off and user-friendly our kids’ lives are.

Here are my examples. My school aged kids all take buses to and from school. 

Free buses.

My first two kids leaves the house at 7 and my second two leave at 7:15. I wave goodbye and off they go…my neighbors have even been known to snap pictures of them to show me how happy they are on their way to the bus. 
Here they are on their first day of school..walking to the bus

Then, I drive up the hill with Yakir and drop him in nursery school in our yishuv, and I’m on my way to work.

After school, they all return on their buses and walk home on their own. Their afternoon schedules are packed with activities. It’s like mobilizing a small army every day to complete a 1000 piece puzzle in record time. But, the brilliant thing about this 1000 piece puzzle is that it’s ALL completed in my yishuv, within a short walk from our house.

The wealth of talented people that we have Neve Daniel is utterly spellbinding, and the opportunities to enjoy enrichment programs amazing.  Two of my kids take art from a professional, commissioned artist. They walk two doors away to enjoy this privilege. 

Take off to space! Matan and Yehuda with recent art work.

One kid takes basketball, given one block away. Three take judo from a talented and patient black belt instructor.  Yep, they walk there. 
Eliav in his Judo outfit 

Now, one has decided that he wants some new activities this year, and he’s taking a math enrichment class and a full year of percussion instruction. The percussion class is taught by a professional musician who has an elaborate studio…you guessed it. Right in the yishuv. 

Amichai's first day of drums!

Finally, my child who is on the regional basketball team has practices in another yishuv, Alon Shvut. This is my only carpool. But it's only one way – they get a neighborhood bus home for the cost of $1 a trip.

It’s truly amazing. Until recently, about the only thing that you couldn’t accomplish in the yishuv was swimming lessons. But now a family has built a pool and there were lessons there all summer. It is hard to convey just how independent and self-sufficient our children learn to be from a young age. They get themselves to (and back from) almost every after school activity each day.

My car sits in front of my house all afternoon. 

It gets used to drive to the park. 

To drive to the library. 

To get ice cream. 

But for carpools and schlepping? Virtually never.

And this, my friends, is life in Israel.