Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In America, I Drove a Camry





Sometimes it hits me how utterly upside down I turned my own life by making aliyah. I was thinking of a family vacation we took, years ago. There were overlapping circles of family - us, my sister and her family, my husband's parents, his siblings, etc. One afternoon, my sister and I jumped into the car and drove on unfamiliar roads to have lunch together, apart from the rest of the crowd.

The confidence to jump in the car and engage in spontaneous travel alone does not exist for me at this stage. Here, unless my husband is behind the wheel, I travel with a certain, now familiar low-level anxiety, at least the first time I go somewhere new.

In America I drove a late-model Camry and my husband drove a van. Here, we share a very old Hyundai with well over 200,000 Km and feel grateful each day that the car functions as it should. And that we have a car at all.

In America, I balanced our accounts to the penny every month. In Israel, I have the vaguest sense of what we spend and what our bank balance is.

In America, I stocked up on household and non-perishable products when they were on sale. In Israel, living in much smaller quarters, I think carefully before buying too much of anything because we don't have much storage room.

It took me awhile in the grocery store to understand that Hebrew, being read right-to-left means buy 2 packages of spaghetti and get 1 free, not buy 1 and get 2 free. In America, I understood the sale flyers and the details of any consumer service we signed on for. In Israel, I make my best guess and pray that I'm not getting rooked too badly.

By now, I probably could order a pizza by phone, but it would be a bit stressful, so I still let others do it for us. In America, I nearly always felt confident about my ability to figure things out. In Israel, I am much more dependent on others for help.

The other night, riding a very crowded bus home, a frantic mother tried several times to tell me something involving my feet and her baby's stroller. I thought she was asking if the stroller was in my way and I kept reassuring her that it was fine, but the penny finally dropped and I realized she was trying to tell me that something fell from her stroller and landed near my feet. This is one of the hardest changes to accept. I can't just speak casually with strangers and assume I'll be understood.  Sometimes, a telephone solicitor calls and speaks in rapid-fire Hebrew. When I stop them to explain that I can't understand, they usually just hang up.

Okay, so maybe there's a positive side to being linguistically challenged.

In Hebrew, I am an error-prone, bumbling immigrant. Although I stumble through a weekly hour-long Hebrew conversation with my tutor, the truth is, I am who I am only in English. When the topic of hair-covering came up a few weeks ago, I lent my bi-lingual tutor a book on the topic in which my essay was published some years ago. After she read it, she expressed delighted astonishment at having met the real me through my essay.

Having said all this, Israel still, hands-down, wins the "Where Would I Rather Live" contest. I get panicky if I imagine being forced to go back to America to live. I consider it a privilege every day that Hashem makes it possible for me to stay here, in Israel, where my soul rests more comfortably, where my prayers feel more sincere, where my heart recognizes its home.

It's not effortless to live here. But it's Home.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Walking With An Ayin Tova: A Photo Blog

On Sunday mornings, I take a 10-minute walk to my Hebrew tutor for our weekly "rak Ivrit" conversation. Today, the weather was especially gorgeous. Blue skies. No humidity. Not too cold. Not too hot. Just a pleasure.

As I was walking, I thought of how, before we lived in Israel, I used to rent Israeli movies, in part for the thrill of seeing ordinary things in Israel - road signs, bus stops, painted curbs, etc. Although we've been here more than a year and a half already, I never want to take for granted what is, to me, simultaneously uniquely Israeli and also a part of my daily life.

I've taken to tossing bread onto our back mirpeset (porch) to attract birds.


The birds that come aren't particularly lovely, but they do come to feast on our leftover bread. Every time I tried to get close to photograph them, they flew away, so this one is at a distance.

The city takes such good care of our public spaces, small flowers grow near the trees.
In warmer weather, the centipedes start coming out from the dusty hills. 
The modest Ashkenazi synagogue across the street.
And the even more modest Sephardi synagogue right beside it.
No more waiting for trash pickup day and no wheeling trash cans out to the curb. Here, we bring our trash to the dumpsters on the street as often as we like.

Our convenient recycling station: the drum-like container is for paper, the grey box is for old clothes which get recycled as rags for our soldiers and the green cage is for plastic bottles.
Waiting for public buses is incredibly common here.
As are the local buses that appear on our street about 65 times a day.
Important signs in Israel are often written in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

A common and still breathtaking view of the desert.
These become omnipresent before Yom HaAtzmaut, but it's always nice to see Israeli flags blowing in an Israeli breeze.
More spring flowers in a public garden.
Getting one of these red and white, quintessentially Israeli stickers on my own car was a big goal of mine, recently accomplished. They warn drivers to guard their distance.
A view of the backs of dozens of homes on my street. This is the view that can be seen from the highway below.
In Israel, traffic circles (kikarim) often replace traffic lights and are sometimes decorated with a theme. This one is particularly well landscaped.
A pre-craigslist way of making announcements: Notices taped to electrical boxes.
Municipal sign in a park reminding people to keep things nice for one another.
A typical neighborhood playground. The whole neighborhood is dotted with them.
In one set of apartments nearby, it's about 20 steps from the street to the entrance of the building, a consequence of living in a hilly area.
Chances are excellent that the people who own this kind of van have a large family and live over the Green Line. I think of these, with love, as "settler vans". Every one is old and beat-up. I've never seen a new one.
More friendly municipal instructions about how to treat a common area.
Yellow flowers bloom in the walls.

One of the benefits of living high up is this view that never, never gets old.

All that in a 10-minute walk with an ayin tova - an appreciative eye, aware that the ordinary can also be beautiful.


Friends in Surprising Places

NASCAR Team "Races for Israel" at Daytona 

 

A team in North Carolina clearly displays its support for Israel on a car it plans to race in NASCAR's Daytona 500.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Rabbi Nachman Kahana Responds



A few weeks ago, I posted a dvar Torah by Rabbi Nachman Kahana that generated a plethora of comments, many of them highly critical of his perspective on the efficacy of prayers on behalf of Eretz Yisrael that originate outside of Israel.

His exact quote was:

But can any thinking, learned Jew take seriously the idea that the tefilos coming out of 13th Avenue in Boro Park, or President Street in Crown Heights or even Forest Ave. in Lakewood N.J. have an iota of influence in the Shamayim on the fate of the holy Jews in Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael?

This sample is typical of the tone of the majority of comments the piece generated:

Now you are speaking for G-d as to whether He hears our prayers or not? Unbelievable! Thanks for letting me know my tefilos are worthless.

As a blogger, it's always a challenge to decide whether to approve angry and/or hostile comments. Like most people, I find dissension uncomfortable. I started a blog to share my perspective, not to foment discord. In the end, I approved the many angry comments on this post and shared them with Rabbi Kahana.

Below, Rabbi Kahana responds to the substance of those comments.

----------------------

From the reactions to last week’s message regarding prayers recited in the galut for the people and peace of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim, it seems that I touched a nerve.

Let me explain.

At the end of the day, all prayers arrive in the shamayim, albeit in different ways; as in the anecdote regarding Menachem Begin who told Jimmy Carter that prayers originating in Yerushalayim are local calls, whereas Jimmy Carter’s prayers from America are long distance ones.

Yonah’s prayers from within the bowels of a whale at the bottom of the sea were heard and answered by HaShem. So too are the prayers said in the galut are heard.
My message was directed primarily at the religious leaders in the galut.
Recall what HaShem said to Moshe when the Jews were standing at the water’s edge at the Red Sea Shemot 14:15):
' יואמר ה' אל משה מה תצעק אלי דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו
Why are to calling to me; tell the children of Israel to move ahead
So to the religious leaders in the galut I say: The several minutes that it takes to recite the prayers for the Medina and for the soldiers of Tzahal on Shabbat, must not be the peak of your efforts for Eretz Yisrael, but rather their modest beginnings. Rabbis must use these prayers as a springboard from which to teach their congregants that the ultimate is not just to pray, but to transform the words into actions and move forward to aliya in Eretz Yisrael.

In conclusion:
There is an infinite difference between Jewish life in the galut and our lives in Eretz Yisrael. It was summed up much more dramatically than any way I could, by the great tzaddik "Chesed L’Avraham" from Tzfat.
וכאשר יראו אותן האנשים
]בני קיבוץ גליות שיבואו ארצה יחד עם מלך המשיח[ כאשר אחיהם ]שימצאו כבר בא"י[ נעשו בריות חדשות ופורחים באויר ללכת לדור בג"ע =בגן עדן= ללמוד תורה מפי הקב"ה, אז יקבצו יחד בני קיבוץ גליות ויקחו דאגה בלבבם ויהיה להם דאבון נפש ויתרעמו אז על מלך המשיח ויאמרו הלא אנחנו עם בני ישראל כמוהם ומאין זו להיות הם רוחניות בגוף ובנפש משא"כ אנחנו ולמה נגרע? וישיב להם מלך המשיח הלא כבר נודע ומפורסם מדותיו של הקב"ה הוא שהם הכל מדה כנגד מדה, אותן שהיו בחו"ל ואחר יגיעות רבות השתדלו לבוא לארץ ישראל כדי לזכות אל נפש טהורה ולא חשו לגופם ולממונם ובאו בים וביבשה ולא חשו להיות נטבעים בים או להיות נגזל ביבשה ולהיותם שבוים ביד אדונים קשים, ובעבור עיקר רוחם ונשמתם עשו זאת, ע"כ חזרו להיות רוחניים מדה כנגד מדה, אבל אתם שהיה בידכם לבא לארץ ישראל כמוהם ואתם נתרשלתם בעבור חמדת הממון וחששתם לאיבוד גופכם ומאודיכם ומהם עשיתם עיקר ורוחכם ונפשותיכם עשיתם טפל, לכן נשארתם אתם ג"כ גשמיים מרוחכם וכו', אבל אותן שלא חשו לגופם ולממונם כנזכר רק חשו לרוחם ולנפשם בלבד עושה עמהם השי"ת כמה טובות לעשותם בריה חדשה כנזכר ולהוליך אותם אל הג"ע התחתון )חסד לאברהם
"When the exiled will return to the land together with the Mashiach, they will find that their brothers in Eretz Yisrael have been transformed into more spiritual beings and have entered into Gan Eden to learn Torah from HaShem. The newly arrived will be deeply pained and will have grievances towards the Mashiach. Why have the Jews in Eretz Yisrael merited to be more spiritual beings and permitted to enter Gan Eden whereas we have not?

And the Mashiach will reply, that it is well known that HaShem relates to people measure for measure in the way they led their lives. The Jews in Eretz Yisrael sacrificed their material interests and overcame great dangers to live in Eretz Yisrael. You in the galut could have come too, but you valued your material possessions over spiritual attainment, so you do not merit what HaShem has provided for His people in Eretz Yisrael.

What is there left to say?

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Life Lessons

Judy Simon hosts a show on Israel National Radio called Life Lessons in which she interviews people and encourages them to share their life stories and what lessons life has taught them.

Judy gave me the great privilege of being interviewed on her show last week. She started out asking me about my grandparents and, very gently, guided me through many of the milestones in my life to talk about my twin Jewish passions of today - aliyah and geula - and how I got here.

Short of those of us who become famous enough to write autobiographies, I don't know how many of us have the chance to connect the dots and tell someone else our life's story in something resembling chronological order. Since we tend to live our lives in day-long or week-long segments, it's a tremendous experience to have someone help you put the big pieces together in a story about how you became who you are and about what you've learned over the course of your life until now. Judy Simon gave me that gift last week.

This is what Judy wrote about our conversation. I would be honored if you would click the link and listen in.


Meet Rivkah Adler, secular Jew turned religious Jew turned Geula

Rivkah Adler was raised in an unaffiliated home and knew very little more than that she was Jewish. To her, religious Jews were old, living in Florida, and mostly a dying group of people. Until she chanced upon an advertisement for an Introduction to Judaism course, in which she turned out to be the only Jew. Having graduated from her course, Rivkah considered herself knowledgeable, until she failed a pop-quiz about Judaism, which led her to a one-on-one learning partner. Slowly but surely, Rivkah's life was becoming increasingly Jewish and G-dly. Years later, happily married to an Orthodox rabbi, Rivkah thought she had found her permanent home and began looking for a cemetery for her future internment.
Then, on September 11 2001, she had an epiphany that would change her life. America could never be a permanent resting place for the Jewish people. It was simply another host country in a long list of those. She realized that she would have to make Aliyah one day. But she also knew that that day was far in the future, as her family had had no such epiphany.
Thus began Rivkah's blog http://bataliyah.blogspot.com, in which she encouraged others to make Aliyah as she prepared herself and her family. The story of her actual Aliyah is so moving, that you'll just have to tune in to hear it. Now living in Israel, Rivkah had a new epiphany: The Geulah is on the way, and we must prepare for it. As her life continues to grow and become more spiritual, Rivkah encourages others to do the same in her forum, Geulah Watch. Tune in to hear this warm, optimistic, and engaging woman share her spiritual journey.