Thursday, April 30, 2009

Soldier Deaths

We're watching the Tekes Yom Ha'zikaron - the ceremony for Memorial Day for soldiers and civilians killed - and Gabe asks, 'How many soldiers fall in the line of duty?' A squirmy moment for the mother of 16 year old - they both know he'll get his 'tzav giyus'/command to report next year around his 17th birthday.

We discuss that in Israel's 61 year history, their losses are about 10% of the population, comparable numbers in the US would mean 1 million losses within country. We analyze the old adage of more Israelis die in car accidents than in wars. That the numbers can even reflect someone killed in a car accident during his army service will be put on the lists. Is that the same as a combat death? This is all true but it's not exactly comforting to parents.

Gabe often worries that he's fit, strong, not scholastically inclined (meaning, Modi'in/Intelligence won't necessarily run after him) and that he's clearly headed towards a combat role when his time in the army come. I reasoned that his cousin Adam, who is a paratrooper, ended up taking a course to train other soldiers and by this means, wasn't involved in the recent combat in Gaza. That there are ways to avoid direct combat and still be in a combat unit. Truth is, I don't know enough about it anyway to really assure him of anything and as we see with Natan, the army here is a big machine and your kid is of course, one of many.

Look at Gilad Schalit? What are parents supposed to think about that one? We're just supposed to send our kids off and hope for the best. יהיה בסדר - It will be okay. It probably will be okay but every so often, it just isn't.

May their memories all be a blessing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Soldier Boy

He's happy, our soldier man-boy. He goes off to the base, comes home in general one night of the week and is generally around, eating us out of house and home on weekends. He says he has learned how to sleep anywhere (not that sleep was every really a problem) and tells me he can get in a bout 1.5 hours on the bus without a problem. (Natan describes his trip sort of like Uncle Charlie's trip to NYC from Merrick years ago. 3 buses - one in the bus, one to J'lem and one to our house. Charlie had a similiar sort of travel but he used to add the elevator in his building which was frustratingly slow and annoying.)

He advises newbies - a whole bunch of his local harem (he doesn't think of them quite this way but they tend to arrive en masse to pick him up on Shabbat afternoons) just went in during Pesach vacation and he spoke to a few, fielded a couple of phone calls and generally sounded the voice of calm experience. I mentioned to him how scared he was back in October and he said, 'Oh, I wasn't that scared really.' I said, 'You've forgotten.' He admitted this may be true.

Even I am an old hand. I saw a friend who's 2 girls went in recently (she has triplets) and she told me that the girls seemed okay but that she was a wreck. I inquired how long the basic training is for them - '3 weeks,' she said. I told her it will go by so fast they'll barely have time to register it. And thank goodness for it. Basic training isn't easy - emotionally, mostly - and it's good to on to a course, or a job or whatever.

Someone else asked Natan recently what his job is. When he told them that he's doing office work and some teaching English, the person said, 'Oh, what a shame.' I felt like throttling them. Could Natan have done some fancier job in intelligence or with computers or who knows what? Yea, maybe, had he gotten someone to help get him there when he was in the application process. But he's doing, he's serving and he's learning Hebrew, meeting different kinds of people and it's a good thing. There is nothing bad about it. At all.

He's upstairs tonight. Came home tonight because he offered to be in the office on Tuesday morning, Remembrance Day for soldiers killed in wars. He could have gone with Gabe to school, or shown up at Akiva's ceremony in his school and been Akiva's show and tell, or he could have shown up at another ceremony - soldiers are welcome everywhere on that day. Natan felt uncomfortable. He said to me, 'I'm not a combat soldier, I don't have the history that everyone else's important to me but I'm okay being in the office.' I told him that I understood but that he should be proud of doing service to his country - to any country, to any cause. It's a good thing to be a service minded individual and that he's an important symbol to many here because of that. It's a big army - not everyone is a fighter. It takes admin and logistics and many other 'jobniks' to keep the army moving. Nothing to be ashamed of - nothing.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Holocaust Day

A note that here, Holocaust Day is called - יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה - Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and the Brave/Courageous/ get the picture. It sounds better to me and it does make you think about all the Jews who didn't just walk their way into the gas chambers - who walks into the gas chambers really?
At the memorial ceremony held at Yad Vashem on Monday evening, 6 torches were lit but survivors. This year, the them was children who survived and their stories were, as always to us post-Holocaust generations, nothing short of unbelievable. The twins, who withstood Mengele's experiements - the pain, the agony - and who survived, along with their parents and made Aliyah as a family after the war. The Greek boy, now and older man living in Holon, who used every ounce or savvy to save himself and many others during the war. The children who were forced to live on their own at young, young ages - at Shabbat lunch this past week, our hostess, Yael, (wife of cousin Marc Rosenberg) told of a story of 2 children, ages 5 and 7, who survived by virtue of their preternatural adult-like skills. She looked across the room at her 4 year old son, busily playing with toys - a very, young boy indeed - and said she couldn't imagine her Aryeh on his own, fending for himself.
The day had its own drama with Durban II and the 'he who shall not be named' speaker. Israelis were up in arms about the speech - what was said and what wasn't said.
In Gemara class on Tuesday morning we studied B'rachot and it felt good to study - something pleasurable and important as Jews that was denied during many times of Jewish history to Jews. We studied, discussed and enjoyed - our own little bit of fighting back on a day of remembering not just destruction but acts of rebellion, battle and standing up for Jewish rights.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Oseh Ma'aseh B'reishit - Being Thankful for Creation

I don't remember Birkat Hachamah the last time - the Blessing of the Sun, from 1981. A big of google work and I found that the date was April 11th, 1981. I sniffed around and was reminded that the Aids epidemic was felt to have begun in 1981, that Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul were both shot and recovered and if you look on Wikipedia, you'll see an exhaustive listing of births (the Bush twins) and deaths (Hoagy Charmichael and Bobby Sands). Stuff happened.

Just to give you some background - From an article in the NYTimes: 'The calculation goes like this: God created the sun, the moon and the stars on Wednesday, the fourth day. A solar year is about 365 1/4 days, or about 52 weeks and 1 1/4 days. So each year since creation, the sun rises 1 1/4 days, or 30 hours, later. It takes 28 years for the sun to again hit the same position in the firmament at the same moment on the same day of the week.

Of course, it is not that simple. The astronomical computations, as well as the proper course of action in case the sun is obscured, are “subjects of great discussion, debate and analysis...Though the sun was created during the vernal equinox, a solar year is not precisely 365 1/4 days, but a few minutes less. Over many millennia, the time difference puts the solar calendar out of sync with the lunar Hebrew calendar; the actual vernal equinox occurred on March 20.'

Here's another good bit from an article from the Shalom Center:
'Why today? Because alongside the view that the Creation of the World occurred in Elul and Tishri, at Rosh Hashanah time, the Talmud preserves another view: that the Creation occurred in Nisan, the first of the months, in spring.

Evidently to the rabbis it felt particularly apppropriate that the birthday of the sun should be at the spring equinox, when the sun emerges from the womb of winter and crosses the Equator coming northward. The Torah teaches that the sun was created at the beginning of the fourth day -- Tuesday evening, to use our present labels. So the moment when the sun is again where it was at the beginning comes in a year when the equinox as the rabbis defined it comes on Tuesday evening in Nisan.

Then why are we celebrating today the eighth of April? Surely it is not the equinox! The rabbis' calculation of the length of the year was a few minutes off and in 2, 000 years that has added up to a few weeks.

And why only every twenty eight years? By assigning Tuesday evening as the moment, the rabbis made the moment hard to come by. For the year does not divide into four equal seasons of full days. There is a day and a¬quarter left over. So if the equinox comes on a Tuesday evening this year, it will come next year a day and a quarter later. It will take four years for it to come 'round to the evening again and then it will be five days away from Tuesday. Only after seven times four years will the moment come back to a Tuesday evening.

By working out this cycle of twenty eight years, the rabbis accomplished something else: by celebrating the sun only once a generation, they gave us a way to look ahead and look back that is worthy of the sun.'

I woke the big boys up early and we headed out to the Tayelet - the Promenade overlooking the Old City - with everyone else, yawning and wrapped up in our sweaters against the early morning air of 6AM. I had decided to meet up at the end of the Tayelet, past the usual stopping points, and join in the celebrations being hosted by the Navah Tehilah community known for their hippy, dippy, multi-faith approach. They didn't dissapoint. Drums, guitars, chanting and song - it seemed just the right thing for the morning. The sun rose in the distance, the Judean Desert shimmering in the early morning light, the morning sun beginning to strengthen and warm us up. We all stood and wondered where we'd be in another 28 years. I put on my sunglasses against the always strong glare of the sun in this part of the world. We could hear the chanting of thousands of people at the Kotel. Wild. Completely hokey but so appropriate in this part of the world where mythology has a habit of coming alive on a regular basis.

We picked up Ira and Akiva and shared some pre-Pesach bagel and coffee. The morning light felt especially good on us.

Moadim L'Simchah.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


It's getting done - the cleaning, the dusting, the organizing, the whatever. Of course, one doesn't have to empty out every drawer and clean every closet, just the ones in food-related areas but it's hard to avoid that desire to just clean the whole house top to bottom.

We've been working in sections and bits and pieces. Natan came home a couple of nights last week to pitch in and Gabe's been making his way through various kitchen cabinets in between football and whatever. The menu is set, the tasks given out. Seder 09 is on it's way.

It's our first year for hosting since we've moved which is fun to consider. I for one, feel ready to return to a job that Ira and I did happily (most of the time) for most of our years in Bklyn. Once my parents made Aliyah in 1992, we were in Bklyn. One or 2 years in Merrick at Ira's brother but they mostly came to us along with Joanne's parents, usually on 1st night, and when Ralph and Lisa were in town we Seder'ed with them many times and also with Ron and Marion and Miriam Wasserman, Iris and Steve, etc, etc, etc. Sorry for the trip down memories of Seder's past.

I should add here that the reason we're extra relaxed this year is due to the debut of the new Ira. Some of you may remember the Old, New Ira - way back with George W Bush's first term. I think there was something said about the Kinder, Gentler America (I don't remember, it's soooo long ago and I like to forget that period of American History). Ira decided that he'd be the Kinder, Gentler Ira. No more sarcastic retorts, no more nasty NY humor - Ira went all nice on all of us. This lasted for a time and then was replaced by the regular Ira we all know and love.

Now we have the Zen Ira. Zen Ira goes to the shuk and is unperturbed by marauding shoppers. Zen Ira gets ready for Pesach in a laid back mode - hey, it'll all get done. Zen Ira is off playing baseball and singing in Oklahoma! rehearsals Erev hag. What me worry?

I'll keep you posted. Later note: A few days later and Zen Ira is rubbing off positively on everyone, including myself. Best moment was calling Ira yesterday from camp (we were closing up, organizing and putting things away and I was running very late and Akiva was unattended by his babysitter who had canceled and Ira was working) and instead of kvetching that he needed me at home (which he had every right to do), he Ohmmed....on the phone. Hilarious. I think this is all the Eastern influence of our favorite books of the moment - John Burdett's tales of the adventures of a Buddhist detective in Krung Thep, or for you Farang, Bangkok. He assures me he's not about to take up Yoga and wishes that people would stop recommending it (a flash of the Ira we know and love) but that so far this is working for him. He did have a weak moment today, Erev Hag, when the phone was ringing fast and furious between Jess, myself, Daniel, Natan and Ira - he snapped a bit at Daniel but it was brief.

Shopping in the shuk is mostly done. Bought some fun things this time - freshly ground rice flour (first you check the rice and then they grind it for you), also, freshly ground almond flour. A lovely assortment of coconut based and chocolate dipped macaroons. Spices of all sorts. Nuts and dried fruits. It's just so easy in this country at Pesach time, especially if you eat kitniyot/legumes, which we do, even Zen Ira has come over to the Dark Side.

And we have our new Guide to the Perplexed,, the work of Rabbi Abadi formerly of Lakewood, NJ, which seems like enough of a 'hechsher' for us. Take a look at his extremely and seemingly lenient take on much of the cleaning and craziness of Pesach. Hey, we can all learn new tricks and still have ourselves plenty of work to do - but maybe, just maybe be a bit less tired.

A Happy and Kosher Pesach to all.