Saturday, July 22, 2006

What I Want American Jews To Know

Erev Shabbat, we received a number of phone calls and emails from friends and family in America. And they all asked us a version of the same rhetorical question: “You must be so relieved to be leaving the war zone over there and finally coming home.”

I wanted to scream.

I AM ALREADY HOME my neshama shouted back, even if I didn’t say the words out loud. NO, I don’t want to leave! The only real reasons to return to America are the two girls to whom I gave birth. Everything else is either sustainable from here or can be approximately duplicated.

I feel like I am speaking into a void when I talk like this to American Jews. In Israel, it is common to hear it said of Jews outside of Israel, “They just don’t get it.”

So rather than agonize over the differences in our perspectives, I wondered to myself whether I could explain to the Jews we love and with whom our lives are knit together in America, exactly what it is they don’t yet see.

It’s a formidable task and I don’t know if I’m up to it.

Here are some assumptions with which I begin:

1) Jewish life in America, like Jewish life in every Diaspora community throughout history, is finite. And it is rapidly waning.

2) The center stage of Jewish history has shifted to Israel. The significant events in Jewish history from this point on will all occur in Israel.

3) Gd really, really wants us to live in Israel, never more so than now. The entire Torah is filled with evidence of His desire.

4) We are living in the shadow of Moshiach. Even if he does not arrive in my lifetime, we are already living in Messianic times.

5) This war is not about land. It is about the right of the Jewish people to exist. It is, fundamentally, a war between good and evil. The enemy is such pure evil that the Jew ought to be roused from slumber and realize that the only security in the world is Hashem.

Now that I've put it down in black and white, I realize that these assumptions are the whole explanation.

All the rest is commentary.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Now I’m All Wound Up

It’s a couple of hours before Shabbat and I’m more upset than ever.

Daniel Gordis just posted one of his famous dispatches where he argues that this war has nothing to do with a Palestinian state.

This is not an ordinary war over land. This is an existential war over our very existence. They just want to destroy us.

The great spiritual mistake of the miraculous victory of the Six Day War was that we forgot that Gd handed us the victory, in exactly the same way He did all through the book of Yehoshua (Joshua). We came to believe that our swift and decisive victory was from the strength of our own hands. BIG MISTAKE. A few years later, the Yom Kippur War was much harder to win.

When we think that the answer lies in the right geo-political/military analyses and actions, we make the same mistake. It's not for nothing that the two fronts of this war are the exact two places from which we withdrew.

Gd is SHOUTING at us and most of us are still asleep, caring more about what color Crocs to buy than about this existential war the Jewish people are fighting.

We need Gd, not more hours of CNN coverage. I’m afraid to return to America because I know I’m gonna wanna slap American Jews out of their oblivion.

The American chapter of Jewish history is almost over. There is no future for us, as a people, in America. There is nothing there but illusion and delusion.

Those who think they are safer in America are deluding themselves. Gd is shrieking for us all to Come Home.

We are living in very serious times.

Doing Something

We’re scheduled to leave Israel in a few days. Except for the fact that our children are in America, I’d much prefer to stay here while our country is at war. I’ve joked that I want to stay, even though there’s not much two Americans can add to the war effort.

And then tonight, it occurred to me that there is much we can do. CNN graphically reports the negative impact of the war on Lebanese civilians but does not begin to lay bare the disruption of the lives of ordinary citizens in Israel.

The trickle of people fleeing the north has become a flood. The city of Bet Shemesh is absorbing somewhere from one to two thousand people in municipal buildings. Local residents are adopting refugee families and taking care of their most immediate needs for laundry, meals, showers and the like.

Communal meals are being prepared for families in bomb shelters. There are drives all over the country for blood, non-perishable food, diapers for babies and toys for children in bomb shelters, bedding, fans, clothing, flashlights and all the essentials of daily life.

People left with dirty dishes in the sink and whatever cash they had in their pocket in order to catch the last bus headed toward the center of the country. How much can you pack in 20 minutes? Families displaced, jobs lost, homes destroyed, children traumatized, money gone.

This sounds hauntingly familiar. We just did this. We just mobilized a year ago to deal with the refugees from Gush Katif who had all the same immediate and pressing needs. Gd-forbid that these most recent refugees are still homeless a year from now.

As soon as we leave Israel, a neighbor’s family will occupy our apartment. She is currently hosting 18 (!) of her family members from northern Israel in a very small apartment down the street. And they’re the lucky ones because they are together with family.

While we’re here, we can beg Hashem to end the decree. We can send money, donate food and household items, give blood. And when we leave, we can give someone a temporary home.

That’s not nothing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

During This War That Has No Name

I want to relate two divergent incidents that happened to us in Jerusalem in the last 24 hours, during this war that has no name.

My husband and I were walking on Emek Refaim, a street in the German Colony in Jerusalem. Emek Refaim is filled with restaurants and gets a lot of foot traffic. We came upon a hand-painted sign on a white sheet, hanging on a wall directly on Emek Refaim. In Hebrew, the sign read, “Our brothers in the North, we are with you.”


This was the first sign of its kind we had seen in Jerusalem and, moved by the sentiment of support for the Israelis who live in the area of the county that is being pounded by Hezbollah rockets, I stepped into the street to take a picture of the sign.

A non-religious Israeli couple walked by and the man said to us, in a disparaging Hebrew, “You’re from there, but we are here.”

Did he think I was gawking at Israel’s most current pain? That it was all just some kind of sideshow, some local color, to an ignorant American tourist? I consoled myself by saying, “He doesn’t know anything about me.” He doesn’t know the extent to which I am also connected to this country. On some level, I can understand his reproach. It happens that he guessed at least partially right. I’m not yet living in Israel. But that doesn’t mean that I am not wholly with Am Yisrael as we face this most recent wake-up call. And his approach is not exactly going to win support for Israel.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.

The second incident occurred this afternoon as we were driving back into Jerusalem from a cemetery in Beit Shemesh. At an intersection near the entrance to the city, a young religious woman, maybe 17 or 18, more of a girl really, came to our car window and handed me a small piece of paper and a piece of candy.

The Hebrew note, clearly homemade, photocopied, roughly cut and decorated by a small child, began: “Dear Precious Jew”. It included the text of Chapter 121 in Sefer Tehillim and an announcement of a prayer rally at the Kotel, to beseech Hashem to have mercy on the Jewish people and to bring peace to the region.

She just handed me the note and the candy through the open car window and said, in simple Hebrew, “You should have a good day.”

I was greatly moved by her simple act of faith in the power of Jewish prayer. An attempt by an ordinary Jew to make a difference, a spiritually magnificent part of this holy people of which I am privileged to be a part.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gd's Newest War

For the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting my thoughts in order to write about why Israel is such a magical place. I was trying to capture a sense of the serendipitous way things happen in Israel.

Then the missiles started landing in northern Israel. Reservists are being called up and, in the north, people are being advised to stay close to their miklatim (bomb shelters). It is worthwhile to remember that the extraordinary former residents of Gush Katif endured this kind of missile fire for years and years, all the while building their beautiful, now destroyed, communities.

We Jews have been living with our enemies for a very long time. Three thousand years ago, King David wrote: Long has my soul dwelt with those who hate peace. I am peace, but when I speak, they are for war. (Tehillim 120:6-7)

There's always something dramatic, even theatrical, going on here, so it takes more than what’s happened so far to unmoor the whole country. Our American friends, assuming from the media that Israel has turned into a war zone, started asking us if we’re okay.

We’re okay. We’re home in Ma’ale Adumim, very close to Jerusalem, out of missile range, at least for now. Life in Jerusalem mostly goes on as usual. We take day trips, visit family and friends, eat dinner in lovely little restaurants and prepare for Shabbat. We’re saying more chapters of Tehillim and trying to stay focused on the big picture.

In Israel, it is easier to see the big picture, to not get distracted by details of news reports and to see that the destiny of the Jewish people, and progress toward our final Redemption, being played out, just as our Rabbis told us it would.

We are in the fifth, final and most difficult exile, the so-called Ishmaelite exile. Read The Ishmaelite Exile by Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman for more on this idea. The difficulty of this exile is the powerlessness felt by the whole world. How does one protect oneself from millions of people who believe that murdering Jews, even if it results in suicide, is their highest religious obligation?

There are so many absurd aspects to life in Israel. Three hundred million enemies surround us and the world demands our restraint. We evicted 9,000 Jews from their homes in Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron last summer and destroyed their communities. At the same time, we allow 10,000 illegal Arab dwellings to stand on Jewish-owned land in east Jerusalem. Absurd!

And yet, 300 million enemies surround us and we are still here. Life has a different texture in Israel. Gd is a real factor in the lives of ordinary people who pepper their conversation with awareness of Gd’s Hand in events, large and small. We recognize the newest battles here as part of Gd’s plan to move Jewish history forward toward the Messianic Era and we try not to obsess about the details of each news report. At the same time, with all of our humanity, we mourn and grieve for the soldiers and civilians we are losing and gnash our teeth at the frustration of being under attack, incomprehensibly, yet again.

At this point, only Gd knows whether this will end up being a couple of tense days that will quickly be put down or whether this will escalate into a full-scale, long-term war, Gd-forbid. In the meantime, the Jewish people fight, pray and continue waiting for a time when Gd vanquishes our enemies in response to our prayer:

Pursue them with Your tempest and terrify them with Your storm. Fill their faces with shame and then they will seek Your Name, Hashem. Let them be shamed and terrified forever and then they will be disgraced and they will be doomed. Then they will know that You, Whose Name is Hashem, are alone, Most High over all the earth. (Tehillim 83:16-19)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Using my Hebrew - ha!

This week, during a visit to Israel, my husband and I drove to the section of Jerusalem called Talpiot, where there are a lot of furniture stores, to look for a couch to replace the hand-me-down we got when we first opened the apartment.

We found one couch that we liked, but it was the first store that we looked in, so we didn't buy it. We went to a second store where the salesman spoke some English but I tried to speak to him in Hebrew a little.

With these couches, you have to order them and they take two weeks to make. There was a couch there that was close to the couch we really wanted and close to the color we really wanted, so I asked if we could buy that exact couch off the floor instead of waiting two weeks for a new one to be made.

I was trying to explain that we wanted the couch as soon as possible since we're only going to be in Israel for a short time, so I said, "Anachnu b'aretz rak shalosh shavuot." (Translation: "We're only in the country for three weeks.")

Well, he thought we were olim chadashim (new immigrants)! He gets a big smile on his face and says, "Bruchim habayim!" and "Welcome to Israel!" and "This is your REAL home." Then he gets on the phone with someone at the factory and pleads with her that we are olim chadashim and we have nowhere to sit, so can she please make the couch as fast as possible?

He was so happy for us that we didn't have the heart to tell him that we aren't really olim chadashim. Sof, sof (in the end), it's still going to take shvuayim (two weeks) to make the couch. We left the store feeling a little guilty, though we really didn't mean to mislead him. But we thought, oh, so that's how olim chadashim feel, being welcomed everywhere.

I have to tell you, it was a nice feeling.