Sweet Sorrows

The fact that we haven’t written much on the blog recently is simply a sign of the deep denial we are experiencing. We leave in seven days – next Thursday night, June 21, we will make our way to the airport, and eventually board our 12:30 am flight back to Boston.

This past week has been marked by the beginnings of our “misibot predah” – our going away parties. Last Friday we had dinner at “the residence” with Danny Shapiro, Julie Fisher, Liat, Merav and Shira as well as Uri, Meryl, Meitav, Shira and Adi Feinberg.  It was the way a Shabbat dinner should be, fantastic company, yummy food, and full wait service.  What incredible fortune to share this year with the Fisher Shapiro’s first year as the American Ambassadors to Israel.

On Sunday we hosted Gila’s class from gan, 30 kids and their parents were invited, along with several classmates of Ela’s. The beautiful garden in our backyard was filled with pre-schoolers, second graders and assorted siblings and their parents. Nomi was adored by all and spent most of her time being carried or painted by one group or another.

At one point I witnessed Gila turn to Ela – they were both flushed and a bit overwhelmed.  Ela gave Gila a reassuring hug and I felt a rush of pride and love for these strong, resilient girls. The party was lovely – we served TONS of food fresh from the shuk in Ramla, featuring humus and salads from Samir’s, of course.

Each family asked “when are you going” and “how long are you going for? when are you coming back?”   Answering is always difficult, we feel the need to explain that, like many, our hearts are split. That home is here in Israel, and in the States where our family, friends and work are. They commented on the challenge of the transitions for the girls and they asked that we stay in touch. In only 10 months our family was warmly greeted, engulfed really, into the Yozma community. Rabbis Kinneret Shiryon and Nir Barkin also stopped by.

Rav Kinneret and Gilush

Yesterday, during the Thursday morning tefilah (prayer service and Torah reading) at Ela’s second grade class, the focus was on her. This was her own “misibat predah.”  She was presented with a book of blessings, written by each of her classmates, and during the Amidah, the central part of the prayer service, each student and teacher offered her another, personal blessing. They ranged from “good health,” and “fun in your new home” to “good food on your flight” and “hope you get t

Ela reading Torah with a teacher, Smadar

o sit by the window on your flight” (lots of concern about the flight).

I asked Ela how it felt to receive all of those blessings:

I felt happy but also sad because I liked the beautiful cards, but also sad that I was leaving. I felt that I knew that the kids were actually worrying about my flight, because they kept saying things like “be happy and have a good trip,” or “fly in peace.”

With one week left I feel sad and happy because I am leaving friends and I am going to see my old friends. I am wearing a new necklace that says “Ela” in Hebrew  from my friends Shira and Shahar. 

Mostly I am going to miss, well everything, like my friends, and the delicious foods (like felafel and pita and humus and mango popcicles and Choco-bo, and rugelah, and malawach and milky, and to top it off – Crembo) and all the friends that I have in Israel.

This morning was Gila’s event, linked with Kabbalat Shabbat at her gan. This one really got me, I knew it would. Her gan is a magical place, “maksim m’od.”  The children sat in a circle, Gila and her dearest friend Adi ha bat (Adi the Girl) sat next to Adi haganenet (Adi the preschool teacher) and HaRav Kinneret. Gila helped hand out kippot, she lit the candles, she collected tzedakah – all of the prized jobs on Friday mornings.  Adi led them in songs, some for Shabbat, some for Gila – blessings really – including the prayer for a safe journey – tfillat ha derech. Then they presented her with a beautiful book, decorated by Orna, another teacher in her gan who is also a talented artist. Each page has a picture of either a teacher or a student, beautifully set in a collage, with an envelope holding a note with a drawing and a message and a kiss print. Gila very carefully opened the book and while the group sang, she took out each card, made eye contact with each person, smiled and slid the card back into the book. She was conscientious and so intentional. I wept.

Gila and the beloved Adi haGanenet

On Sunday Bradley will present his final project at the Melton Center in the morning and then we will host the families from Nomi’s gan mishpachton, her family daycare for dinner. Later that evening I will be in Jerusalem for a personal gathering with the women with whom I have been planning a Jerusalem mikveh over the past 10 months.

This Shabbat we will linger with Miri Gold and David Leichman at Kibbutz Gezer – avoiding goodbye as long as possible.

The girls have elected to attend their schools up until the last moment – that feels like a huge sign of success. It gives us more time to reflect, organize, pack, mourn, and prepare myself, as best we can, for the next leg on our journey.

The Cousins Visit

On July 19 we got in the car to drive to Ben Gurion Airport to pick up Jill, Dante and Paris who were coming for a 9 day visit. We had a great time travelling all over the country, seeing the sites, eating great food and having lots and lots of fun.

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Here are some highlights of our adventures:

Shabbat July 19 - After we spent far too long on line at AVIS we drove home, rested and got ready for sunset at Hof HaTzuk – a great beach just North of Tel Aviv followed by a yummy dinner on the Namal (the Tel Aviv port).

Sunday July 20 – Headed up North with our first stop at Tzuk Manara in the Upper Gallilee but they weren’t open yet so off to the Dan river for some rafting. After lunch we returned to the cable car at Tkuk Manara and then some alpine sliding there. Dinner was right on the Dan river at Dag al haDan – yummy. Then on to Kfar HaNasi, a kibbutz where Jill had lived “a long time ago.”

Monday July 21 – First off to Rosh Pina a small town next to the Kibbutz with a beautiful artist’s quarter / old city. Dante found a beautiful painting. After lunch we ventured into the Hula Valley for a 10 K bike ride in a nature reserve. We then drove up to Tzfat and walked around the old city and had a yummy dinner of Yemminite Pizza. Aliza, Gila and Nomi returned to Modi’in and Jill, Bradley, Dante and Ela returned to Kfar HaNasi.

Tuesday July 22 – We drove further North onto the Golan Heights for a hike at Tel Dan including a stop next to a really cold water hole. On our way to Tel Aviv we stopped for lunch at a Druze restaurant with a spectacular view of the Heights. Three hours later we were in Tel Aviv shopping at Nachalat Binyamin. We had a great dinner afterwards at Manta Ray next to the beach.

Wednesday July 23 – We conquered the Old City of Jerusalem. We started in the Jewish Quarter then met up with Uri to see the Christian and Muslim Quarters stopping for a hummus lunch in the Shuk. Then off to Hezekiah’s Water tunnel, the Western Wall and the tunnel tour underneath the wall. We walked out of the Old City, stopped at a great, not so little shop in the Shuk owned by new friends of ours, and then walked into Modern Jerusalem for a Shwarma dinner before heading back to Jaffa Gate for the Light Show.

Thursday July 24 – More modern Jerusalem including a scavenger hunt at Machane Yehuda – lots of yummy treats. Afterwards Jill, Aliza, Dante and Paris met up with Uri to visit Yad VaShem. After a quick pit stop in Modi’in the Crew ventured to Jaffa to Na Laga’at (a center for the arts for blind and deaf people) to have dinner at Black Out (a restaurant where you eat in the dark) followed by seeing the play Not By Bread Alone.

Friday July 25 – We woke up early to head South to Masada, the Dead Sea and the desert. Jill, Aliza, Dante and Paris hiked up the Snake Path. We explored the journey of the Zealots after the fled the Destruction of the Second Temple pursuing the question – did they come to live or to die? The Cable car became more popular on the way down and then we were off to the Dead Sea. Lots of somewhat painful floating and mud bathing following by swimming and chillin’. Then back in the cars for our trip to the Beduin Tent – Chan HaShayarot where we were having dinner and spending the night.

Shabbat July 26 – A quick breakfast and then we climbed aboard our camels for a short desert treck with beautiful views. Then we met Boaz on the edge of the Ramon crater for a session of rappelling into the crater – lots of fun. We met our next guide for a three our hike into the crater – discovering hidden sources of water and many things to do with desert poop. Jill and the Boys ventured back to Modi’in and Bradley and the girls headed to Kibbutz Urim for Shavuot.

Sunday July 27 – Jill and the Boys drove (all the way) up North to Rosh HaNikra and then went to the beach up there followed by a return trip to Tel Aviv for more exploring and dinner. Bradley and the girls swam on kibbutz and then took part in the Shavuot ceremony of the offering of the first fruits including dancing and a tractor parade.

Monday July 28 – Can’t believe 9 days went by so quickly. The girls LOVED sharing Israel with Jill, Dante and Paris. We all had a great time!

Antidote to Cynicism

This Shabbat is a big one in Israel, it’s the Shabbat after Pesach, and between Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron / Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Memorial Day immediately followed by Independence Day).  In addition, we just celebrated the joyous bat mitzvah of our friend Meitav, daughter of Uri and Meryl Feinberg, sister of Ela’s and Gila’s dearest friends, Shira and Adi.

The Jews of Israel have been preparing for this season of commemoration and celebration for weeks.  National and regional flags are being hung from every light post; colorful plastic flags (like the ones you see in car sales lots) decorate every major intersection.  On most street corners you can find teenagers selling 10 shekel (about $2.50) flags to clip onto car windows.

I remember making lots of Israeli flags in religious school, or at summer camp. I remember picking out just the right royal blue marker and using a ruler to get my lines straight and my Star of David centered.  I remember experimenting with waved lines to make it look like the flag was flapping in the wind. I remember singing Kachol v’Lavan (blue and white) and marking each of Israel’s birthdays, with especially big celebrations on the milestones like 40 years, 50 years and 60 years.  This year marks 64 years since Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948.

Competing messages in Hebron

This year Yom Ha’atzmaut, like everything else is more complicated for me. The ever-present flags don’t feel only joyous – they feel a little “davka” (best translated as “intentionally” – in this case to revoke a statement of we, Jews, are here and you, Palestinians, are not).  About two months ago I went to Hebron with Encounter and met a number of Palestinian non-violent activists. I remember seeing Israeli flags painted on walls often covering Palestinian flags or Arabic writing, and Palestinian flags painted on fences or houses, often covering Hebrew or Israeli flags. The flag was overloaded with political weight. Each flag was like a statement of “in your face.”   So when I drive down the road and see hundreds of flags my stomach tightens a bit. What do they all mean? How can I feel pride and at the same time shame?

Just when I am feeling the most cynical about the lack of justice, the impossibility of peace, the lack of energy for challenging the status quo – my daughters offer me a break, a chance to lighten up and to simply enjoy this season  – even if just for a moment.

The other day on the way to school, Gila noticed all of the flags and said – “Oh see all the blue and white – that’s just right for Israel’s birthday!” (In her preferred language these days, Hebrew).

Yom Hashoa Ceremony at Ela's school, TALI YOZMA

On Thursday I attended the Yom Hashoa ceremony at Ela’s school, led by the 4th and 5th graders complete with poetry, dance, songs and a torch lit by a survivor and his granddaughter, a student at the school. I wanted to be there as all of the kids, dressed in their white shirts, stood at attention for two minutes during the siren (on Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron sirens blast throughout the country and Israelis stop driving, eating, talking and stand still for two minutes – it’s an amazing scene particularly on a busy street corner in any city in Israel). Ela said if felt much longer – “like three or five minutes.”

Yom Ha'atzmaut Celebration at Gila's preschool, Gan YOZMA

Yesterday, Gila’s gan (pre-K) celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut. All of the children, dressed in white and wearing Israeli flag styled paper hats, sang, danced, listened to stories and ultimately, offered a blessing of peace for Israel. Each class wrote their own blessing, wrote it on a paper dove. The teachers attached the dove to a bunch of blue and white balloons and ceremoniously released their prayers and balloons into the sky. The children were totally engaged in this process, they craned their necks to watch the balloons float away. Then with a rousing song for peace, they went back to their classrooms for falafel and popsicles.

I smiled, sang along, joined their hopefulness and believed, with my whole heart, in the kavanah (intention) of their prayers for a safe, peaceful and joyous future for Israel.

God-willing this new generation, burdened with far fewer memories of suffering and fear and blessed by greater security, will have the confidence to build this peaceful and just future for Israelis and Palestinians.