Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Romi's Reading Round-up: December 2016

I’ve read some very interesting books lately that are certainly worth recommending. Here is my latest round-up for your holiday reading!

Books I Loved

Last Will by Bryn Greenwood: Sometimes I find a gem out of nowhere. I’m on a few lists that show me when books go on sale for less than a few dollars, and I tend to snap these up sight unseen. Last Will was one of these books. This started off feeling like a Rosie Project, but turned into a deeply moving look at how one damaged man learns to cope and love. I truly loved this book.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney: This was one of those books that I stayed up far too late one night finishing. The ending was awful – why can’t authors take their time and realize that everything doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a nice little bow? But the book was fantastic despite the lame ending. I really liked both of the main characters.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon: It’s hard to go wrong with Chabon. The book was beautifully written and it was a lovely story. I didn’t like the back and forth chronology of the book…sometimes I couldn’t figure out what decade we were in with the main character or what was going on! But despite this, it was really well done.

The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel: This was another of those $1 finds. The book is about a tough and fascinating woman during the Prohibition Era who gets involved in rum running. Certainly not a topic or era I’ve read anything about before. Loved it.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Sometimes it’s a good thing when I don’t listen to the Goodreads reviews before jumping in. Wow they were harsh on this book, but I really enjoyed it. Yes, there were parts that dragged and yes, I think she played with the reader’s emotions a bit too much with her use of suspense, but I really loved the book. I felt for four of the main characters and I think that, perhaps, only someone who has been in the situation that the book outlines would realize just how realistically she wrote about it.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: What a gem. I’m finding that I disagree a lot these days with Goodreads. Not all readers liked this book but I just loved it. Don’t read too many reviews or you’ll spoil the book. Just pick it up and read it. Wow.

Books I Enjoyed

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold: About a third of the way into the book I realized that I’d read it already. Whooops! But I still found it fascinating. Yes, it was torn apart on Goodreads, but I thought it was an interesting look at the struggles that the narrator went through with her mother and where she ended up as a result. Not really for the faint of heart.

The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll: This was a nice read. Nothing earth-shattering, but I definitely enjoyed the story of a confused woman going back to her childhood home to try to sort out things that had happened to her and misunderstandings that had taken place.

Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede and Jennifer Posner: We have a lending library in the yishuv and it caught my eye. It isn’t my style or something I would ever think of reading. It was very eye opening about how some people are forced to live and quite inspiring. It was definitely a bit crazy, and if I were the girl’s mother I would have had a heart attack reading it (and watching her live through it), but it is amazing what some people are able to do in the worst of situations.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman: Well, she certainly was here…on every single page. I love Backman’s writing style and I really did enjoy this book, but I felt like it took a lot of work to get to the enjoyment. It was very slow going and seemed, at times, to be going nowhere. It really did have a lovely message and looking back on the book it was beautiful. But it was work.

Books I Could Have Done Without

The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley: This could have been a great book, but about half way through I started laughing at how ridiculously implausible it was. While the historical backdrop was interesting, way too many things happened to this poor boy and it became ridiculous. It was also difficult to read because it was sooo dark. I'm sure some people would love this book (as the reviews appear to show) but it wasn't one of my favorite ones.

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale: If you like clever twists and interesting turns then this book would entertain you. But I tend to expect more from my reading time. It was fine...but I never really connected with the main character or felt that I could feel what she was experiencing. And the big answer to the book's question was a bit of a let-down. Very much just so-so.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: This is when you wonder if you’re insane, or if all of the people who rave about a certain book are insane. I love Patchett and I was looking forward to this book. I was looking forward to it so much that I had Josh buy it for me in a real bookstore in the States….for $30! Holy smokes. But what a terrible journey this was. The book centered around a tragedy that was sort of brushed under the table and never really the focus on the book. But the focus…that in itself is the question. What was the focus? Why were we meant to follow this and then follow that, and then jump to this instead? What was Patchett thinking? I thought this was dreadful. Anyone else agree?

What's Next?
Now I’m reading another little $1 find called An Exaltation of Larks that sounds incredibly odd and unlike my usual reads. I’ll let you know how I like it.

Love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying as well! 

Happy reading in 2017!!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A First for our First: Tzav Rishon

At sixteen, I came to Israel on a teen tour. I enjoyed the 6 week experience, the tour of the country and the beauty of the Land. And then I went home. But something had stuck, had connected, had pulled me. I returned as a 20 year old college student, and then for a year in a post-college program.

Each time, there were many things that struck me; stuck with me; made me choke up. But perhaps none more so than the soldiers that I saw. I remember thinking to myself – these kids are the same age that I am. And if I believe in the State of Israel – if I believe that it should exist and continue existing – then why should they be serving and I shouldn’t be? Why is that fair?

The years trickled by, or flew by as they sometimes do, and I was raising two beautiful little boys in Maryland. As we started to think about how we wanted to raise them, who we wanted them to be, it was hard to get away from the Zionist calling.

People said, “Are you crazy? You know they are going to have to be in the army one day, right?”

I didn’t quite understand them. Yes, I would think. That’s exactly it. Why should I be raising my boys to love Israel, to respect Israel, to want an Israel to exist…but not to have to be part of that experience? To not be part of that commitment?

Of course the story ends, or begins, with our Aliyah.

But now, those two beautiful boys are not so little and they have been joined by 4 brothers.  Yes, I’ve known in the most metaphorical and theoretical sense that someday I would have to stick by that commitment, to the conviction that I had; that I would have to lend my boys to the army.

When the day comes, however, it’s no longer theoretical.  The dawning of that first day came on Friday when my oldest got his Tzav Rishon (first call up to the army) in the mail. The feeling was like none that I’ve experienced before. Well, perhaps it was akin to the day we boarded the plane to make Aliyah. We knew we were doing the right thing for ourselves; we were excited and enthusiastic, bright eyed and eager. And yet, there was a part of me giving pause. We were leaving everything behind and taking a leap of faith that seemed crazy - and yet natural as well. It was terrifying and exciting; gratifying and completely nerve-wracking.

The feelings of pride and anticipation didn’t erase the fear, worry and apprehension.

My son groaned when I wanted to take a picture of him with his Tzav Rishon. “Mommy,” he said while trying to check his phone and eat, “It’s just the first paperwork. It’s nothing. Everyone gets it.”

Yes, sweetheart, everyone gets it. And that, as well, is a miracle to me. I don’t believe I’ll ever stop seeing the miracle as long as I live here. It’s amazing to me that he sees it as no big deal, as just something that everyone does, as a commitment that he will obviously be making. A no brainer.

I see it as an amazing commitment. A chance to join with his people and connect to thousands of years of history – through his body and his being. And while he takes it for granted because it’s all he knows, I never will.

My grandfather, Jerry Weinhouse, was the last person in my family to don a uniform. He fought for America in World War II, earning two purple hearts. And now, his first grandson will be putting on a uniform that didn’t exist when he was fighting the Nazis. A uniform that was just a dream, a 2000 year old prayer.

And that is now a reality.

Our reality. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

1000 Meters of Wonder

On Friday while I was taking a walk around the yishuv, I laughed as I saw the busloads of tourists pouring onto the road towards our water tower. They were headed, as they always are, to our lookout, Mitzpor HaElef.

Little did the producers of the movie “Field of Dreams” realize how true their expression would become for little Neve Daniel. “If you build it, they will come.”

And come they have.

When the project for this lookout was getting underway, we kept wondering what in the world was going on up there. What could they be building? When the lookout was finished, I will admit that I said to Josh, “A lookout? All that money for a lookout? Why in the world do we need that?”

But obviously I’ve never been a tour guide in Israel, and as Josh recently pointed out, tour guides LOVE having somewhere to point....and boy can they point from here.

The site was developed with the Jewish National Fund in conjunction with the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Neve Daniel. It is dedicated to the memory of Sam and Frieda Makovsky of Pueblo, Colorado, family of one of Neve Daniel's founders, Chaim Makovsky.

It’s called Mitzpor HaElef. "Mitzpor" is a lookout and "Elef" is 1000. Our lookout is 1000 meters above sea level; it’s one of the highest points in the country and certainly the highest point from anywhere nearby.

The Mitzpor is the perfect place to start or end a trip to Gush Etzion. Clearly, many agree.

If you look  far out to the east you’ll see the mountains of Jordan, Harei Moav. Moshe talked to the people in this spot before he died, pointing to our area and saying that this would be the land that HaShem promised to give to our people.  

In the eastern foreground you can see Efrat and just beyond that, Herodian, a fortress built by Herod. You can also catch a glimpse of Derech HaAvot, the Path of the Patriarchs, the road that leads to Hebron from the Mitzpor. Avraham walked on this road on his way to the Akeidah (sacrifice of Yitzach) and Yaakov fled along this road many years later. If you look to the west, you’ll see the coast of the Mediterranean from Gaza to Ashkelon and Ashdod and up to Tel Aviv. Finally, if you look north you’ll see Jerusalem and Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount).

The Mitzpor HaElef is packed all the time with army groups, tourists, Yeshiva students and more. It’s been used for wedding proposals, for family gatherings and for a quick afternoon view of the amazing Land that we get to call home. Just a few days ago, a friend in Neve Daniel told me that her cousin got engaged in front of the Mitzpor HaElef...sort of. See, the couple doesn't live in Israel but she said that she wanted to get engaged in that spot. So, he had a huge picture of the Mitzpor, of our lookout, made, and he put it up in New York and asked her to marry him. Second best is better than nothing.

If you haven’t been here, come and relish the view and breathe in the air of Gush Etzion. 

Of our home.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

When Zionism Looks Like a Basketball Game

The modern State of Israel is a complete miracle. With all of its complexities, problems and issues, it is a miracle that we've come home after 2000 years and that we are a thriving and free democratic society. 

When most people think about Israel, an image of the Kotel comes to mind; of the Old City Walls; perhaps of Tzfat and its mystical blue doors. This week, however, I was introduced to an entirely different image that represents the State.

Here it is:

And here it is:

Um, you might be thinking. What the heck do pictures of basketball games have to do with the miracle of Israel? 

A lot.

Recently, I attended my first Hapoel Jerusalem basketball game, and the energy in the stadium was absolutely mind blowing. Of course, fans around the world go crazy at soccer games. And there is energy and fun to be had at all sporting events. But the energy here and the love of the team and the players felt unparalleled to me.

I happen to cry just about every time that I hear our national anthem, Hatikva. Hearing it at a basketball game, with everyone holding up their Hapoel scarves, was incredible. 

Before the game, I asked Josh if it would look silly for me to wear the scarf. He said, "You have no idea where you're going." Everyone had on something Hapoel and half the crowd used their scarves throughout the game to show their love of the team and their enthusiasm.

They have a section at the game for the particularly energetic fans, the Malcha Brigade, and they jumped and sang the entire game.

I was kept laughing throughout the entire game by my neighbors at the game. The guy behind me takes his basketball very seriously and spent the entire game telling people to sit down or move. He told the security guard in front of us to please move over. He yelled at the mascot, "Yalla! Lion! Move out of the way!" And he even yelled at the opposing team's players as they were warming up in front of us. Now, they were from Slovenia and didn't know a word of Hebrew; but never mind, as the guy was yelling, "Yalla! Players! Warm up somewhere else."

Yalla! Lion, sit down!

Yalla! Player in green. Can you warm up somewhere else?

The game was a blast from beginning to end. As the brigade section broke into a modern version of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold), waving their scarves over their heads, I couldn't help but think about Herzl, Ben Gurion and Ben Yehuda. How in awe would they have been to see the ancient language of Hebrew being used in its modern form at a basketball game and to see thousands of people coming together for something so mundane and profound?

I find that living here very often turns the mundane into the profound. This is exactly the point of our country; that we can live in a Jewish homeland and enjoy the regular, everyday events and activities that people enjoy all around the world. But do it here, at Home.

We have come so far in Israel in such a short amount of time; we have achieved so much. And while most people don't enjoy a Zionist take-away from a basketball game, I was left bursting with pride over what we manage to accomplish on a daily basis here. And in awe of what Zionism can look like. 

Sometimes, it looks like a basketball game on a regular Wednesday night.