Sunday, May 28, 2017

Miracles Just Below the Surface (and an Awesome Manicure)

Shavuot is in a few days, and you know what that means. 
Time for my Shavuot nails.

I was actually considering not getting my nails done in such a fancy way and just getting a regular manicure, but Josh thought that the kids would be so disappointed and I should do it for them. What a funny life I lead. 

While some people prepare for Shavuot by running around finding cream cheese and making cheesecakes, and others prepare with the Torah learning they are planning for that evening, I prepare like this:
That is some manicurist that I've found! Look at the details!

While I enjoy being playful and having my nails reflect my life, I'm also trying to take some time to get ready for the holiday. I recently read a beautiful piece about it. Les Saidel, a master baker and CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute discussed the transition from Passover to Shavuot. He explained that at Passover we have unleavened bread. It is straight-forward, bare-bones and made of only flour and water. The miracles at Passover are straight-forward as well. You can see the plagues; you can see the Jews escaping Egypt; you can see the sea parting.
At Shavuot, however, we eat leavened loaves. The wheat harvest that occurred right at the time of Shavuot was celebrated by bringing two loaves as Temple offerings. These loaves were leavened wheat loaves mixed with a mature sourdough starter and then baked in the Temple ovens on the day before Shavuot. The loaves have hidden ingredients in them (the sourdough yeast) which works in mysterious ways to make them rise; so, too, do the miracles of Shavuot work in hidden ways. At Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai which includes so many hidden miracles. We never see HaShem directly; there are many gifts in the Torah that we don’t fully understand; and there is much learning to be done throughout our lives with this gift.

We spend the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot counting. Why are we counting? We are counting in anticipation of the date when we received the Torah. We are counting as we move from the barley harvest to the wheat; we are moving from a spiritual plain where we have miracles that we can see and understand towards ones that are much more hidden. As the flat bread eaten on Passover rises over these 49 days into the leavened loaves offered for Shavuot, it is our job to rise up spiritually and to try to attain a level of appreciation fitting for a people who receive the Torah.

I love this image of the bread slowly rising from Passover to Shavuot; as we slowly rise in our appreciation for the miracles we have in our lives, both ones that we can see and those that live just below the surface or beyond our reach.

It is not always easy to appreciate everything that we have; it’s not easy to be grateful for things that we don’t readily see or for events that don’t appear to be going our way. But there are many hidden miracles being offered to us all the time, and if we dig deeper within ourselves, if we count our blessings, we just might be able to start to see more of the miracles that surround us.

Hopefully, if we’ve gotten in the habit of counting in these 49 days, we may continue to count our blessings, the miracles in our lives and the wonders of the world that live just below the surface of what we see.

May it be a sweet and uplifting Shavuot and the beginning of a beautiful harvest season and summer for everyone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Ancient to Modern Story of Jerusalem

Josh and I had such a gloriously fantastic day today. My office very generously gives us the day off for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), and this year we took full advantage of that opportunity. We left first thing in the morning and headed for the city. We wanted to enjoy the vibrancy that is modern Jerusalem by walking from the new, to the old and then to the really old before returning home to the warm embrace of Gush Etzion.  We ate breakfast at a great little cafe at the First Station (which has been beautifully remodeled in the last few years and has turned into a real center of entertainment ) and then walked toward the center of town. We had the opportunity to join a number of different tours that were taking place, but this year we decided to just go to our favorite stomping grounds and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city we so dearly love.

As we were heading towards Ben Yehuda...the first person that we ran into was son #2! He was in town for the day with school (as was son #1) and there he was with his entire grade. It was a great surprise and fun to give him a hug before he headed on his way.

As we got to the center of town, there was a great energy. Most people were dressed in the traditional white and blue and there were groups of school kids everywhere, people singing and musicians playing. We walked around for a while and I went for two of my favorite activities - a pedicure and shopping!

Armed with my bright red toes and a cute shirt from Klafti (a store that employs at-risk women), we were off to the Mahane Yehuda Shuk.

We've never been to the restaurant that everyone is raving about, so we decided to check out Crave Gourmet Street Food. It was a fun, delicious experience. Their hook is that they offer food from a large variety of cultures in an eclectic atmosphere. Highly recommended.

Next, it was off from the new (pedicure and shopping in the modern city) and the somewhat old (shuk) to the really old. We headed through Mamila to the Old City and the Kotel. But first, of course, in the city swarming with thousands upon thousands...we ran into our first born with his friends. I gave that one a kiss, and told him to be smart and to have fun at the afternoon parade. Look how cute these kids are...our Zionist future.

When we got to the Old City it was hopping with old people, young people and everyone in between. It's almost impossible to imagine what it was like 50 years ago as the paratroopers descended onto the Old City and managed to secure it, and the Temple Mount, for our people.

If you've never listened to the radio broadcast as the soldiers went through the gates to the Old City and onto the Kotel, you should listen here with some tissues. It's amazing.

But here we were, 50 years later, relishing the unbelievable opportunity to simply walk in the streets of the Old City to the Kotel Plaza. There were large groups of young boys singing at the top of their lungs behind us and people flooding the restaurant and the stairs leading to the was a sea of humanity all celebrating together! We davened at the Kotel and then sat in the Rova for a bit, soaking up the ambiance.
There is a huge parade in the afternoon every Yom Yerushalayim that fills the streets of the city with flags and music and dancing. We've never participated (since our kids have school on this day and we haven't ever driven in after school) and we vowed that next year we will come in with the kids and enjoy the day together. Just as we got home, I saw that a friend had shared this video from Stand with Us as the parade warms up. And there, with their enormous flag, is Susya and our older two boys dancing.

We dashed back home to our younger kids, and topped off the perfect day by taking them to dinner in the Gush. At the Gush Etzion junction there is now a mall and shopping area. Just this week, a sushi restaurant opened and we ate there, marveling at the expansive view of the rolling hills that face the road to Hebron. 

On this day, we celebrate Gush Etzion and all of Yehuda and Shomron as much as we do Jerusalem. In 1948, the entire Jewish population of the area was completely wiped out. The children of these heroes spent 19 years waiting to return to Gush Etzion and hoping that they would be able to resettle the area some day. When you speak to the founders of Neve Daniel, they describe sleeping in tents, driving convoys through Bethlehem to get to the area, and looking out on the barren land.

Fifty very short years later we dined in a sushi restaurant, in a mall in the middle of Gush Etzion. Even when we made Aliyah only 13 years ago it was beyond our wildest dreams that the area would soon be the site of restaurants, shops and activities for the entire family.  We are living in the most amazing of times!


And that, really, is the end to a perfect day of celebrations.

May we continue to grow and build and flourish in the modern State as we remember those who have secured it for us. To our past and our future...for all of us.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Gel That Binds

As many of you know, I’m the main representative female of the species for my sons. Of course, they interact with other women and girls; but they get most of their understanding of how the whole girl world works from me.

Talk about pressure.

And I’m not the most girly-girl out there, so they know almost nothing about hair products, perfumes, make-up and the like. It cracks me up, however, when they do latch on to something that intrigues them about my appearance.

Take my nails. I’ve never understood wearing nail polish because it takes approximately 52 seconds for it to chip or peel with my busy life. Within minutes of sitting there, bored in the chair for a manicure, I’ve ruined it with dish washing, laundry folding, sandwich making and glue sticking. I’ve always loved to get pedicures, but I’ve just assumed the manicure world wasn’t for me.

And then recently, I decided that maybe I would try this whole gel manicure thing. I’ve noticed friends in the States who enjoy a good gel manicure and I’ve shied away from it thinking that I don’t have the time, or that it’s too frilly for me. 

I have found myself, over the years, enjoying adding a bit of extra sparkle to my appearance. There are so many ways that life can be difficult, and it's fun to weave in sparkles to the things that I can control and to brighten up my own little area.

So, I carved out the time and had my nails done like this:
You should have seen the conference when I got home. “Look at Mommy’s nails!” “Oh, Mommy, they are purtty!” The best, however, was when my ten year old thought I had dirt stuck to my nail and tried to brush off..the cute little silver heart that was there. We both got a good laugh about that.

When it was time to take the polish off and to potentially do it again, there was a family conference, of sorts, held. With Israel Independence Day approaching, everyone wanted something that had to do with Israel. “You need an Israeli flag!” “No, Fireworks! Fireworks!” I went to Pinterest and we all started looking through the 4th of July pictures for ideas. Yes, my 6, 8, 10 and 12 year old sons were holding a conference about my next manicure.

“Show me! Show me!” They each yelled when I got home. 

“What happened to the fireworks?” the little guy asked. I explained that the fireworks were a bit complicated but that I had the sparkly silver fingers and the flags, and that seemed to satisfy the masses.

I didn’t realize, however, just how much the kids enjoy being involved in these processes until today. As my ten year old headed out the door, he said, “Mommy, I’ve been thinking about it and with Shavuot coming up, I think you need nails that have barley and grains on them. Then you can have a cow on this one, and a Sefer Torah on that one….”

Laughing, I said, “You know, buddy, she can’t do everything. But we’ll come up with something together, ok?”

That seemed to satisfy him enough to go off to school.

And I marveled at the ways that my boys surprise me and the energy with which they approach things that you would assume wouldn’t interest them. My nails have become a bit of a family project. I assume the kids will grow bored of them at some point, but for now they are a “gel” that binds us together in pursuit of fun, creativity and beauty. I enjoy seeing their enthusiasm and having something silly that brings us together; and I enjoy teaching them that there are many simple ways to have fun and that I don't take myself too seriously.

I’ll let you know how the Shavuot nails turn out. Moo.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Carrying the Torch of our Futures

I created a new file today for the file cabinet. It says “Army Stuff” on it. And as I filed it away, with the first of my first son’s army papers in it, I just couldn’t believe that we had come to this stage.

Tonight, I stood in the Neve Daniel hall with hundreds of my community members and watched the Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) ceremony.

I couldn’t help but marvel, with the typical tears meeting beneath my chin to drop and pool on my sweater, at the juxtaposition.

Today, this son who will be the first of my many to enter the army, stood in as a substitute basketball coach for his younger brothers. They played and laughed on the court in Neve Daniel, in the mountains of Judea, here in Israel.

Tonight, I watched as the kids putting on the event came on stage dressed in clothes from the 1940s, with stars ablaze on their garments. They posed, as if they were part of a picture from long ago; and it hit me that the six million people that we think about in a massive, unimaginable number, were each someone’s friends. They were Arbel and Stav, Yehuda and Amichai. The faces of the faceless, nameless 6 million became real to me as I saw them on stage. And of course we all know that they were real people, but they are so hard to conceptualize and to fathom. Here, standing in front of me, were 8 teenagers who I know and love – and I could suddenly visualize the horror, the terror and the reality.

Today, my children burst in the door, making arrangements to gather wood to get ready for Lag B’Omer.

Tonight, I listened as one of our yishuv members recreated the last Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto. He sang a piercing melody of longing, of fear and of hope at their dining room table, sitting across from his eight year old who wondered who would sing “Ma Nishtana” next year, and who would remember.

Today, my children sat at the dining room table doing their math homework and their science homework in Hebrew; in the language in which they are most comfortable; the language of their people, their nation and their country. They sat at the dining room table where just last week my six year old belted out “Ma Nishtana” and my eight year old shared a Dvar Torah about our escape from Egypt.

We remembered.

Tonight, we stood for Kaddish, and then we sang Hatikva as the same teenagers who had been dressed as Holocaust victims changed into blue and white and waved the Israeli flag.

And I thought about that new file sitting in my file cabinet. I can’t bring back the six million who died; I can’t make up for the pain of those who lived and remembered and carried on.

But I can create this file.

And I can sign the papers that allow my son to try out for the units of his dreams, and to envision himself as part of the future.

Our Future.

That file is our future.

It’s a future where a Jewish child, wearing a green uniform and not a yellow star, will strap a gun over his shoulder and not a sack with his worldly belongings, and defend his people. In his Homeland.

We can’t bring them back. But we can use our minds to remember, and we can use our bodies firmly planted here in Israel, or supporting the country from wherever we may be, to declare Never Again.

We can watch our children, our confident, bold, Zionistic children take up the torch of our future with their files.

This post first appeared last night on the Times of Israel blog.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Pausing to Remember Elhai Teharlev

It’s four days before Passover and I’ve been busy juggling work, housework, watching the kids…all the things we are all doing this week. So when I heard this morning that there was yet another car ramming — a ramming outside of Ofra — and that someone was killed, my heart sank. Because my heart always sinks when I hear this. 

And I thought, Oh dear Gd, not again.

But there isn’t much information for hours as they process and tell loved ones and arrange and deal and…I don’t really know what else they do (thank Gd).

So I went back to my work and my cleaning and my watching my kids destroy the house while I work and clean.

Then around lunchtime, I glanced at Facebook. I saw a picture of a beautiful, strong young man rappelling. My oldest son is out rappelling today. So I thought — hey, I don’t know that kid, but I guess Matan sent me a picture of the fun they are having today. 
What a gorgeous kid. They look happy.

And then I realized that the picture was from Moshe Saville, the head of the community council of Gush Etzion. It took me a minute to jump from my son, who is currently rappelling down a mountain, to this son.

This son, who is rappelling in the picture.

But isn’t rappelling right now in real life.

Because he was murdered today.

And then my day fell apart, as well it should. Because while Matan is rappelling and enjoying his life with his gorgeous friends on a beautiful day, Elhai Teharlev isn’t.

They both set out this morning. One is gone for no reason other than a terrorist woke up this morning and decided to target that bus stop, at that moment. He decided to kill that Jew, that soldier, that son.

Now I can’t get Elhai’s parents, Rav Ohad and Avital, out of my mind. What was Avital doing this morning when she heard about the car ramming? How many lists did she have in her head of things she had to do to get ready for Passover? How many chores had she sent her other six children to do? Who was coming over for seder? How close were they to turning over the kitchen? Did they plan to take a trip during Chol Hamoed?

These tapes run and run and run in my mind. And as I try to get back to my cleaning, I think about them dressing for their son’s funeral.

The only reason that they are dressing for a funeral for their gorgeous, strapping young son who was rappelling not long ago, and I am not doing so for my gorgeous, strapping young son who is currently rappelling is because…of nothing.


And I have to get back to my cleaning; I don’t have the time to write this, just as you probably don’t have the time to be reading it.

But I don’t have the ability not to write it.

Elhai must be remembered; we must pause from what we are doing to scream and write and question and cry. We must pause to help his family in any way that we may be able to do so. And to think about the never-ending question about how the hell to move forward. Again.

May Elhai’s memory be a blessing, always. May his family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. The seemingly never-ending list of mourners.

This piece was first published at Times of Israel.