Thursday, January 26, 2006

Shame Shame Shame

Our family is back in the Holy Land, touring and visiting friends. What really struck me today was an off-hand comment by our dati tour guide. Arabs, non-Jewish, pork-eating Russians, Bedouins, Druze and Baha’is are full citizens of Israel.

And I’m not.

G-d must be some kinda disappointed in the Jewish people. We received this extraordinary, astonishing Land as a gift from G-d. And the millions of Jews who live in chutz l’aretz (outside the Land of Israel) have chosen to live elsewhere. As if it’s an equivalent choice. Chocolate or vanilla? Potayto or potahto? Jerusalem or Baltimore?

I’m ashamed of myself.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Guest Column: Anita Tucker's Visit to Baltimore

On January 16, 2006, we had the very great honor of hosting Anita and Stuart Tucker at Moses Montefiore-Anshe Emunah. The following account of Anita Tucker's visit to Baltimore was written by my friend and sometime chavrusa, Ruth Eastman. Ruth wrote this piece because she wanted to "do something" to help. Through her very accurate transmission of Anita Tucker's message to us, may we all be inspired to "do something" to help strengthen those who are still hurting so they may again soon return to their status as ba'alei chesed.

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BS”D

ANITA TUCKER'S VISIT
by Ruth Eastman

It was not in Hashem’s plans to save Gush Katif. But it is certainly not in Anita Tucker’s plans that anyone should forget the people of Gush Katif.

Passionately, warmly, and with humor and incredible emunah, Mrs. Tucker describes her own personal rise and fall of Netzer Hazani, one of the several communities bulldozed by the Israeli government on August 18, 2005.

Anita tells of arriving in Beersheva in 1969. She and her husband were young idealists, leaving the comforts of Brooklyn to make aliyah. She describes the reasons she came: her parents were refugees from Germany; her grandparents were refugees from Germany and Poland; her great-grandparents were also refugees. She didn’t want to be a refugee. So she “went home” to the Land of the Jewish people.

Anita and Stuart lived in Beersheva for seven years. Then they decided that their children would need a challenge. So they moved with their three kids to the sand dunes of Gush Katif, with the guidance of the Ministry of Agriculture. They were greeted by the religious leaders of the neighboring Arab communities, who asked how they expected to grow anything in the land the Arabs had called “The Cursed Land” for generations. In the twenty-nine years they spent in Netzer Hazani, they made the desert bloom.

On the morning of August 17th, all of the children lined up at the fence. They filled gas canisters with kerosene, and set them on fire. Anita tells us that all of the protests that the youth engaged in were carefully negotiated with the highest echelons of the IDF, so that no one would be hurt. It was very important, the residents and the Army felt, for the children to have a safe outlet for their rage. On the 18th, when the soldiers came to evict the families, more than a hundred media people joined the residents in crying over the soon to be destroyed communities.

The soldiers were dressed in specially designed gray uniforms. The uniforms were made bedavka to be intimidating, so as to make the expulsion easier. The soldiers marched up to Anita’s home in five rows of three. They were sent in these waves, in order to prevent the soldiers from breaking down. If the first row would become emotional, the second would come, and then the third…

Each family found its own way to protest the expulsion. One woman emptied her home of everything precious, filled it with wood and kerosene, and set the house on fire. She screamed at the soldiers: “You think you are destroying my home? This is just a structure. My home is my community. You can’t take that from me!” Anita’s family took nothing out of their home. They set the table with a beautiful cloth, and laid out a lovely breakfast. When the soldiers came to the door, the family rushed them inside. The soldiers were caught off guard by this behavior, and did not resist. Soon, they were sitting around the Tuckers’ table, hearing the stories of how the family had spent its last 29 years.

The soldiers remained stoic throughout the stories and tears and entreaties of the family members. They did not cry; their faces did not lose their robot-like expressions. Finally, calm, rational Anita broke down. “Please, dear soldiers, give me one crumb to take to my children! Tell me how you really feel about this! Don’t leave me not knowing how you truly feel about what you have to do! For my children and grandchildren! For your children! Give me one crumb!” Her youngest son, who had just ended his military service with an elite unit of the Golani Brigade, protested by wearing his full uniform, and tearing kriah in his uniform shirt.

Still nothing. No change in the soldiers’ demeanor. Finally, Anita’s eldest daughter, Mia, grabbed the first soldier she could, and dragged him and Anita into the parents’ bedroom. “My parents slept in these beds for 29 years. You are not going to leave until you give my mother just one crumb, just one true thing, about how you feel.” Then she went out, closing the door on her mother and the soldier! Anita looked the soldier in the eye… and he began to cry like a baby. Her spirits lifted. She was no longer afraid for the Jewish people. There was hope, because the Jewish feeling inside the soldiers had not been extinguished. Mia pushed one soldier after another, one at a time, into the room; Anita looked them in the eyes… and fourteen soldiers wept like children. The fifteenth, the leader, remained stoic… And Anita left him in the room.

Later, when the family was being escorted out of the house, Stuart remembered that he had left his tallis and tefillin behind. He asked permission to go back and retrieve them. When he walked into the house, he saw the leader of the soldiers… crying like a baby.

The families were marched or dragged to big black buses. They asked to be taken to the Kotel, to pray for the House that would be eternal. (Somehow, the media misquoted Anita, and CNN reported that she had requested to be taken to the Temple Mount, so that they could begin to build the Third Temple. This caused a stir in the government.)

The evacuees were told that each family would get 50,000 shekels “off the bus,” to compensate them for their loss. (This money has still not materialized, for most families.) But there were miracles… And at this point in her story, Anita Tucker refers to her “virtual clothespin.” “I really believed, right up until the last moment, that Hashem would make a miracle in the blink of an eye. But I realized: I must have blinked. I missed it. The miracle didn’t come. So now I have these virtual clothespins, to keep my eyes open all the time. And I see a yeshua happen in so many ways. There are miracles from Hashem everywhere.” She told about a woman who approached her at the Kotel, when the buses first dropped them off. Anita was as dazed and traumatized as the other evacuees. And the woman came up to her and said, “Your name is Anita, isn’t it? You have a job to do. Take this pen and paper. Go to all of your people. Find out what they are missing. Everybody forgot something that they will need for Shabbat. Get the list, and take this money, and buy what the people need.” She left Anita with a pen and paper, and a plastic bag with 10,000 shekels! Anita did what she said. When the purchases were all made, only sixty shekels were left. Anita has tried to find this woman, but has never seen her again. Miracles are everywhere.

Anita pointed out that the biggest miracle is the Jewish people. As the evacuees were being driven away in the buses, they saw that the streets were lined with people. When the buses would stop, Jews pushed flowers and food into the windows, offering expressions of sympathy and encouragement. Individual Jews have tried to help, to try to convince the government to treat these displaced families humanely and fairly, to not forget them.

The government is still letting the people down, and they are still living in the terrible limbo of hotel rooms and tent cities. They are still expected to pay the mortgages on their destroyed homes! Their possessions are still locked up in containers, due to a dispute between the storage company and the government. Many young people, discouraged and angry, are getting into trouble. No one knows what will be. Like many of the Gush Katif evacuees, Anita and Stuart are in their sixties. They gave their youth to the Land, to build their country, to retrieve the holy yerusha of our ancestors.

In two minutes, 29 years was bulldozed to nothing before their eyes.

Donations may be sent to Central Fund for Israel, Ein Tzurim D.N. Sde Gat, Israel, 79510. The memo should read: Netzer Hazani. According to Anita Tucker, 100% of the funds go to the refugees.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Why We Chose Ma’ale Adumim

We could have bought an apartment anywhere in Israel. Literally. We are still living in America most of the year and wanted to buy a small apartment so we could establish our proverbial foothold in Israel, and, because we still earn our living in America, we were not tied to any location because of employment considerations.

We looked at about 20 different communities before we chose Ma’ale Adumim. We had a wish list for the apartment, of course, but we were also looking for three specific features in the community: we wanted to be near (but not in) Yerushalayim, we wanted to be among lots of English speakers and we wanted to share our community with people who were different than us.

Back in America, we narrowed our search down, synchronized our schedules and found that we unexpectedly had the same four days free. We booked tickets back to Israel and started looking at specific properties in three communities.

In one community, we looked at an apartment on a street that had the same Hebrew name as my father (A”H). I thought that might be a sign. But the climate was too hot and the neighbors, lovely though they were, were all 20 years too young. In another, we saw a nice-enough apartment, except for its view of three other apartment buildings.

The realtor must have been teasing us. She saved Ma’ale Adumim for last. A positive feeling about Ma’ale Adumim remained with me from our first visit. My first, strongest impression was that Ma’ale Adumim was clean and well-run. The rows of palm trees at the city entrance reminded me of the Miami Beach of my childhood. I loved the rhythm and rhyme of the entrance sign that said, Bruchim HaBaim l’Ma’ale Adumim (Welcome to Ma’ale Adumim; but it sounds so much better in Hebrew.)

The city has so many services we have come to appreciate. There’s a mall with a kosher food court, a large outdoor shopping plaza, a local cab company, excellent bus service to Yerushalayim, a makolet (local grocery) with lots of American products, a pizza shop that offers free delivery, a community center with indoor and outdoor pools and a library with excellent air conditioning and a collection of English books.

In four days, we had found a community, bought an apartment, hired a lawyer, organized a mortgage, opened a bank account and picked tile for the kitchen and bath. Just as Hashem shorted the road for Eliezer as he went searching for a wife for Yitzchak, this was our sign that Hashem had blessed our efforts to buy a home in Israel.

The apartment we bought was surprisingly affordable and had everything we wanted. And more. Opposite our front gate, where we go to take out our trash, is a view of Har Nevo where Moshe stood and looked out upon the Land he would never get to enter. And from our mirpeset (porch), we have an amazing view of Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) and the rest of Yerushalayim. The first Friday night we spent in the apartment, I sat on the mirpeset, sang L’cha Dodi, watched Shabbat descend upon Yerushalayim and wept at my extraordinary good fortune. The mirpeset is still our favorite part of the apartment. It’s the place my husband and I sit, at the end of the day, and talk about what a miraculous piece of real estate G-d set aside for the Jewish people.

Even with all this, hands down, the most important part of Ma’ale Adumim is the people. Our first Shabbat in Ma’ale Adumim, my husband went to the Carlebach minyan and met an old school friend he had not seen in over 30 years. A new friend, who later became the woman we trust to look after our apartment in our absence, furnished our apartment so we would have beds to sleep on when we first arrived. We never lack for invitations for Shabbat meals nor for help negotiating whatever Israeli system we have to face.

The truest signs that Ma’ale Adumim is the right community for us are the magical reverberations that have occurred among our family and friends since we bought this apartment. Previously reluctant friends and family from America have come to visit Israel because we have a safe, comfortable home in a great community where they know they can stay. Friends who are considering aliyah are now looking seriously at Ma’ale Adumim. And my brother, who made aliyah a few months ago, loved the community so much, he rented an apartment down the street from us.

Because of Ma’ale Adumim, our family has begun to come home.