This summer, my husband and I celebrated our 20th year of marriage with our first European vacation. In the cold clutches of the polar vortex, we asked ourselves, what is the one European city known to be one of the world’s most romantic destinations?
Why, Paris, of course!
Gleefully, we dreamt of a Paris vacation. In the evenings, we played a Paris Jazz Café station on Spotify. Without a single semester of French between the two of us, we spoke sweet nothings to each other in fake Parisian accents.
I dug out my college art history textbooks and plotted my visit to the Louvre.
Then we checked in with the news coming out of France, and our dreams crumbled like a stale baguette.
Anti-Semitism in France has been on a steady incline in recent years, even before Hamas’ most recent war with Israel. In 2012, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 40 percent of approximately 1,200 French Jews said they avoided wearing Jewish identifiers such as kippot or Jewish stars. For me, all it took was one YouTube video filmed on Jan. 26 with throngs of protesters repeatedly shouting “Jews Out” through the streets of Paris, to rethink our plans.
So, forget Paris. We instead spent 10 memorable days in Italy touring Tuscany,
eating fresh pasta
Italy was far from a consolation prize to France.
However, all that wine did not cloud my awareness that war was still raging in Israel (my daughter spent the summer in Israel), and anti-Semitism was all around us in Europe. Still, I refused to be afraid to be outwardly Jewish. In the Jewish ghetto of Venice, I purchased a star of David made of Murano glass and wore it for the duration of my trip.
In Italy, an appreciation for Judaism’s contributions to humanity on the surface outweighed any animosity towards the Jews. An orchestra in Venice’s St. Mark’s square played Klezmer music.
I still don’t understand where all the Israel bashing comes from. Ignorance? Brainwashing? Plain old Jew hatred?
Against all odds, Israelis, especially those living in the south just kilometers from the Gaza Strip, refuse to become vengeful or embittered by terrorism.
Within days of the flood that besieged many Detroit residents, Israeli NGO IsrAID came to town to help. Taking the skills in teamwork and collaboration that come with years of serving in the IDF, IsrAID volunteers have been on the ground all over the globe where there has been natural disasters: Japan. Haiti. Indonesia. And the United States.
Here is a brief story I wrote about them in this week’s issue of the Detroit Jewish News.
Lending a hand to the cleanup efforts of last month’s flood, eight Israeli volunteers with disaster relief agency IsrAID left their own war-ravaged country and set their eyes, hearts, and hard work on healing flooded neighborhoods in Metropolitan Detroit. Some got on a plane here just days after finishing their military service and will be cleaning out basements and restoring stability to the lives of flood victims for the next two weeks.
Beth Shalom in Oak Park has become the temporary home for the volunteers, where over half the congregants there have had damage to their homes due to flooding, said Rabbi Robert Gamer. The volunteers sleep and eat at the synagogue on air mattresses, linens, towels and toiletries donated by community members. The synagogue men’s club, the Jewish Community Center, the Salvation Army and other charitable agencies prepare their meals.
“These floods have become big news around the world and Detroit has many connections in Israel,” said Rabbi Gamer, who hosted the volunteers for a Shabbat dinner at his home. “My congregation is thrilled that they are here to help those in need. We often think about us helping Israel but here Israel is helping us.”
Nevonel Glick, 27, of Tel Aviv, IsrAID program director and the lead volunteer coordinator in Detroit, said the volunteers, highly trained in the art of efficiency, coordination and teamwork after their service in the Israel Defense Forces, help break the downward spiral of depression and hardship commonly experienced after a natural disaster by helping flood victim. Glick has been with IsrAID for over six years guiding relief projects in Japan, Haiti, the Philippines, Kenya and several places in the United States, including New York City after super storm Sandy.
Unlike some of the poorer countries he has, Glick said IsrAID understands that relief work in the United States does not need Israel’s doctors or search and rescue teams. What victims of natural disasters here need is a path back to financial and emotional stability.
“After a disaster hits, the victim can be stuck in this downward spiral of depression.” Glick said. “All your possessions from many generations may have been lost. Your house is damaged and you don’t know where to start. IsrAID volunteers understand this and we are here to remove that load off your back, both physically and emotionally, moving the victim from utter chaos to a clean house, a clean slate.”
IsrAID helped Shelly Legg, 61, of Oak Park, a woman out of work on medical disability who found herself with not only a flooded basement and a loss of personal possessions, but now without a car, nor the means to purchase a new one. Last week, the volunteer crew helped her sort her possessions between what could and could not be salvaged, tore up and disposed of the basement flooring and wood paneling and drywall which black mold had already started to grow. Next, they thoroughly disinfect and dry the basement for future renovations.
According to Glick, this work saves such a homeowner between $3 to $7K. He expects the team to be able to clean approximately 1-4 homes per day depending on the size of the home and the extent of the damage.
Glick said that his work aligns his Jewish, Israeli and global identities because the work is something he is proud to stand behind. Speaking for some of his volunteers who live in southern Israel, which has endured the brunt of the rocket attacks, the work lets them “channel their anger and frustrations into something good and healing.”
“Disasters foster a lot of unity and resilience and coming together,” said Glick. “It puts things into perspective in my own personal life. Every place we go, we get back more than we give.”
The Hebrew written in the black and white portrait above is from Genesis 22:17: 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[a] enemies
The words above are headlines from this summer.
The rest I will leave to the viewer’s interpretation. Look at this portrait. What do you see? Leave your comments below.
Last night, I volunteered at Detroit’s evening of Solidarity with Israel. After attendees passed through a strict security screening process, I gave them each a sticker bearing the logo shown above. Fellow volunteers gave out over 2,700 stickers to Israel supporters.
While the world looks bleak now for all world Jewry, and while radical Islamists spread their fiery hatred for Jews just like the Hitler Youth did in the 1930’s, it soothed my soul to see so many: Jewish, non-Jewish, black and white, coming together for a few hours to support the United State’s biggest ally in the Middle East in her war on terrorism.
By the way, my daughter is still on her trip in Israel. She just returned safely to Jerusalem after a sea-to-sea hike in the North.
Last weekend, she did spend some time in a bomb shelter. She heard the Iron Dome obliterate an incoming misile. But then, after they got the clear, she and a family she was staying with went on with life.
Here is my most recent piece published in the Detroit Jewish News.
A few weeks ago, my parents, husband, son and I were riding down the Belt Parkway in New York to take our 17-year-old daughter to JFK. She was about to embark on Ramah’s six-week Israel Seminar, a trip she knew she wanted to do since she was about nine years old. The news that Hamas murdered the three teenaged boys was less than 24 hours old. Seated in the middle row with my mom, I curled my hand into hers. I just kept squeezing it.
The scene at the departure terminal, though chaotic, was almost healing. Hundreds of Jewish teens about to leave for Israel on one trip or another greeted each other with smiles and hugs.
Expressions on the faces of the parents revealed one thing: we all knew our relatively carefree Jewish American kids were headed to Israel in a time of national mourning. Who could predict that a war would unfold in just days after their arrival?
What have I been doing since she left?
It has been a surreal time. While the program posts photos of the kids having fun on hikes and gazing over the Haifa skyline, while my daughter calls me from Jerusalem telling me about the fantastic time she had working with the children at the Ramah Israel Day camp in Jerusalem, friends in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Be’er Sheva post on Facebook about dashing for stairwells or shelters when the sirens blare.
On my wrist, I wear a blue Stand With Us rubber bracelet showing my support for Israel. My watch is set to Jerusalem time so I know the best time to call my daughter. My cell phone has become an appendage to my body. I pray daily for her safety, for all of Israel and her Defense Forces.
I thank Ramah Seminar in Israel for their tireless efforts of keeping our kids safe and having as an enjoyable and educational experience as possible while constantly keeping parents in the loop of the changing security situation. After an extended stay in their northern base in the Hodayot Youth Village, the “seminarniks” finally traveled safely to their home base in Jerusalem on July 15. In fact, a parent conference call to update us on the matzav started just as the IDF launched their ground offensive into Gaza.
But life goes on. I have taken the cue from my Israeli friends who endure this daily threat to keep moving on through routine and simple distractions. If my Israeli psychologist friend, an olah from New York, can help spread calm by teaching Yoga to women in a bomb shelter in Sderot, I too will try to find Zen on my mat. I work in my garden and take walks.
Even as the bombs fall, and the inevitability that she may spend some time this summer in a bomb shelter is very real, I have no regrets that my daughter is in Israel. I will not deny the danger or my worry. I know that this time in Israel will be a transformative one for her that can only strengthen her understanding of what it means to be a Jew and never take our Jewish homeland for granted.
When midnight here rolls around, my mind is already seven hours ahead wondering what the dawning day on the other side of the planet will hold for Israel. If you too have a loved one in Israel and find yourself up in the middle of the night, I’m sleepless right there with you.
- Why we’re letting our daughter stay in Israel in wartime (haaretz.com)
Summertime is usually a carefree time.
Not this summer.
This summer, it has been hard for me to focus on anything that is not Israel. And usually I love thinking about Israel – all the great things it gives the world , memories of my four visits there, and now living vicariously through my daughter, who is spending her summer in Israel.
That’s where the carefree element of my summer has all but disappeared.
It started with the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teen boys. It was followed up with the equally horrible murder of that baby-faced Arab boy. Then the increase of rocket fire. And now, our soldier’s putting their lives in jeopardy to protect the lives of all living in Israel.
That includes my daughter. And people I met through a sister-city educator program. And my daughter. And friends who now live there. And my daughter.
The news has been all-consuming. Other news is barely registering with me. Was there some ruling on Hobby Lobby that I should be all fired up about, or sending unaccompanied children back over the border to Central America? What was that again? But, oh, another rocket has been fired into Israel. Another Palestinian child has been used as a human shield by Hamas. Oh, am I supposed to be packing my youngest up for camp?
Over Facebook, I see my Israeli friends posting about running to a bomb shelter, or a miklat, a safe room,or when there are neither of these things, a bathroom or stairwell shelter.
Some darkly joke about what are the top 10 essential things you need in a bomb shelter. Topping that list includes flashlights, water, ice cream, wine, and chocolate. LOTS of wine and chocolate.
This week, I had to ask the surreal question to my daughter, who wished to visit her friend for Shabbat in Ra’anana.
“Can you please find out if your friend’s family has a bomb shelter?”
Can you imagine asking your American friend such a question before visiting?
Do you have cats, ’cause my kid has allergies.
What can I bring you for dinner? Wine? A salad?
Oh, and does your house have a bomb shelter?
In more peaceful days in Israel, I remember spending a summer working on a kibbutz up near the Golan Heights. I didn’t think twice about going into a bomb shelter, but they were pretty much used as “disco” shelters back in the 80’s. The shelter was a cool place to hang out at night after working. I never associated it as a place to take cover from an attack.
In more peaceful days in Israel, I gave my daughter about 50 shekels for the evening as she set to hang out at night in Tel Aviv with her friend, the one from Ra’anana. They roamed freely the streets of Tel Aviv, got pizza and gelato, and hung on the beach until 11 at night.
This Shabbat, my daughter, my intrepid and strong daughter had her first taste of what it is like to sit in a bomb shelter. She heard the boom of Israel’s Iron Dome shoot down a rocket aimed for where she is, a suburban town near Tel Aviv. In her nonchalant manner, she said it was like going to hang out in our basement.
Last weekend, I tried to snag some of my own carefree moments. My husband took me on a bike ride along West Bloomfield’s trail system. I felt carefree and peaceful. But every now again, a dark thought crept into my mind. If a siren went off along the path, and we had 15 seconds to take cover, where would we go?
Last weekend, friends who, most likely sensing that I really needed a night out, invited us out to Detroit’s Concert of Colors. Among the many free acts who played at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars group that came out of the horrors of war in their native country and helped heal with music.
Indeed, the infectious music was healing and joyful. Everyone, in every shape, size, color, religion was dancing in joy to the music. I also let myself feel some joy and danced with my husband. The leader of the band was right. He was no doctor, but he said dancing a little bit every day gets rid of all the toxins in your body and makes you feel good. After every song, the leader of the band just wanted to know one thing from their audience: Are You Happy?
And I was.
But there was one guy at the show with a smug look on his face. He wore a beat up T-shirt that read “Free Palestine” in English and I guess Arabic. He didn’t look happy. But I refused to let him make me not feel happy that very moment. Even though, I felt like telling him, that cause he holds dear, well, some of the people who are so dedicated to that cause would have no druther about strapping a bomb to themselves underneath their clothing, walking into that concert hall where we were all dancing in joyous unison, and blowing us all to pieces.
Summer in our house means that the kids in my family get a break from their usual surroundings and, though we will miss them, we the parents take a short break from parenting.
I know that sounds bad to some, that we need a break from parenting so we ship them off to camp. But a wise woman, a mother of five boys, once told me when my children were very young, that one day I will understand: summer is a good time for everyone in the family to have some time on their own in a different place.
I lit three more Shabbat candles than usual and said an extra prayer.
Eyal, Naftali, Gilad, where are you? Who is watching over you? Who is feeding you? Who is clothing you? Gd in Heaven please give them strength and keep them safe until they are rescued. Please.
My husband and I held hands with our three children and sang the blessings. We blessed our children. I now have to rise up on my toes to kiss the top of my fifteen-year-old son’s forehead. He has to bend down to put his head on my shoulder when he hugs me. I can feel his shoulders getting broader. Looking down, I wonder how those feet which were once so tiny got to be the size of a mans, with no signs that they have stopped growing.
As much of a man he is turning out to be, I still dote on, and nudge my teen-aged son. A son who can’t seem to eat enough though he remains thin as a bean pole. A son who plays guitar, has formed a band, and has introduced me to a lot of cool music
The kids that night ate heartily. They enjoyed the last homemade challah they would have until the end of August.
We are not Shabbat observant. After dinner, Broadway show tunes played on the Sonos. My children sang and danced loudly together around the family room.
I tried to soak it all in and be joyful, but having the knowledge that across the sea, there were empty places at the Shabbat tables of three families in Israel, my joy was tinged.
We are going on the third Shabbat in which these families will not have their sons home. Kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal have not been heard or seen since in spite of a vigorous search and investigation from the Israel Defense Forces.
I don’t know what is sustaining these families. Think about when you lose sight of your kid in a shopping mall or at a carnival. Those few moments are agony. For two weeks, every moment for these families has been agony. Every night their beds are empty must be agony.
I have so many questions.
Where are they being held?
Why is there NO coverage of the kidnapping of these boys in the US media, even though one of the boys has dual US-Israel citizenship?
Why has our President been so silent in this matter?
How could the United Nations be so cruel as to mock the pain of the three mothers, who went to Geneva to testify and plead on behalf of their sons, only to get a response from the UN that there is no evidence of an abduction, that perhaps these “settlers” went on holiday and didn’t tell their parents?
Where are they?
Where are they?
And, what can I do?
What else can I do?
I follow every bit of news coming out of Israel on my Facebook feed, sites like the Times of Israel and Israel365
I say special Psalms
Ribbons tied to my tree for the boys? Check.
Create a sign with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys? Check.
There is one woman I know who is doing more to help the boys more than anyone else I know.
Remember the woman with the five boys? Almost a decade ago, she and her husband and five boys made aliyah. Now, she works as an educational psychologist and is on the ground in the very town from where the boys families live and is helping schoolchildren there cope with this crisis that has taken away their friends or their siblings. You can listen to her being interviewed on a local Israeli radio show.
Therein lies the difference between one side and the other.
We as Jews when it comes down to it, we really care for each other and will support each other because we are responsible for each other. All of Israel is responsible for each other. In the end, it is something we must stand by to know that it will be all right in the end because we care for each other, and we place the value of life of any living human in the highest regard.
It is sad to say that on the other side, that is clearly not the case.
Let’s get something straight.
The anti-Israel “Boycott Divest Sanctions” movement hitting campuses across the globe is nothing more than a new fangled incarnation of simple Jew hatred.
In advance of tonight’s Central Student Government hearing tonight to reconsider its decision to table a vote to approve a resolution asking the University of Michigan boycott and divest from academic and business dealings with Israel, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit sent out the following email:
To Our Friends and Supporters:
As you may know, the Central Student Government (CSG) at U of M last week rejected an anti-Israel divestment resolution. However, due to pressure from an anti-Israel campus group, CSG will reconsider the resolution at its meeting tonight. We want to bring you up to date on developments surrounding this resolution and how you can best support efforts to convince the CSG to sustain its initial rejection of it.
Federation and JCRC work continuously to advance the interests of both Israel and the Jewish campus communities. Tilly Shames, the Executive Director of U of M Hillel, serves as our agencies’ eyes and ears on campus and has been keeping us well-informed on developments related to this proposed resolution. With her many years of experience fighting anti-Israel activities on campus, she knows what tactics work and don’t work with college students. Her most important advice is to ensure that it is students who remain most visible and vocal in the fight against the resolution. CSG is an organization of students serving the needs and wishes of students, and is not likely swayed by older adults, especially if they are not part of the campus community.
Rather than show up at tonight’s meeting with calls or demands that CSG again reject the anti-Israel resolution, the most effective way you can affect the vote is to contact the university administration asking that it issue a statement calling for its rejection and expressing concern on how the issue is polarizing the campus. You can do this by emailing U of M President Mary Sue Coleman at email@example.com or calling her office at (734) 764-6270. Your contact will be most effective if you convey your message respectfully.
Please know that the BDS activists have been threatening and intimidating Jewish students at the University of Michigan. BDS is nothing more than intellectually disguising age-old Jew hatred in the name of “human rights.”
if you are at a loss of words at what to write to President Coleman, I suggest you may want to take an excerpt from LA radio commentator Ben Shapiro‘s statement at a similar hearing at UCLA, where they voted against the resolution 7-5.
Here is the full transcript of his statement:
Please do not be silent. Please write the UM president at firstname.lastname@example.org and stand for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East which supports freedom of religion, gay rights, educational opportunities for women, and freeedom of expression,
In my blog posts, I am trying to avoid having a bitter tinge in my writing.
I’ve heard advice to avoid politics in my blog, unless I want to have a political blog.
I want to write about happy things, like the anticipation of spring in this very cold corner of New York.
When you live in Western New York, winter can drag on until mid April.
When you live in Western New York, you hang on to your “sleeping bag” puffy black jacket until Mid-April.
“Spring” sports have begun in school.
Youngsters at this very moment are at an ultimate frisbee match.
Outside temperature right now is 28 degrees.
And it’s still snowing.
And when you are a Western New Yorker, a yearning for spring makes beautiful, sweet bouquet at Trader Joes – prices at $1.49 for 10 flowers – extremely hard to resist.
So I picked two bunches and carefully placed them in my cart, as to not crush their happy yellow heads.
As I got on line, I happened to check the label of the flowers.
“These flowers were proudly grown for you in England.”
England. A product of England, eh?
Nope. I put them back.
Wanna know why?
Because my love for Israel is stronger than my desire for a floral impulse buy.
The UK, in the past decade, the anti-Israel atmosphere has only thickened and intensified.
In the UK, it is just fine and socially acceptable to call upon the boycott of Israeli products, Israeli-created technology, and even Israeli intelligence all under the guise that Zionism= racism.
Zionism, by the way, is no way related nor does it ever condone discriminating one because of one’s race, religion or sexuality. Zion comes from the Hebrew word “excellence” which is what Theodore Herzl dreamed about – the creation of a homeland that would be for the Jewish people but would also serve as an example and a resource of excellence for the rest of the world.
At Oxford University, students are set to vote whether or not the university should boycott all products and companies that have ties to Israel.
In the UK, academics at top Universities call for a boycott of collaborating with universities in Israel. At one point, there was a petition to arrest any Israeli academic visiting England upon landing for war crimes.
And finally, I thought about England’s Chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks address at last month’s AIPAC conference, which he referenced how anti-globalisation protests in England quickly devolve into anti-Jewish protests. You can check out the video here:
All these thoughts swirled around my head as I admired the daffodils.
i didn’t start a protest to boycott Trader Joe’s, as many Arabs have done outside TJ’s around the country for daring to carry Israeli products.
No. I just had my own personal boycott.
No England. You can keep you daffodils. I’ll boycott you back. And I’ll wait for my own flowers to pop up in a few weeks, thank you very much.
My latest student sat before me sullen. Sad even. Completely disengaged. The chid complained of a headache, even a stomachache and could NOT find the strength to sing.
The child had not a chance to review the sentences given to it to study months ago. The child’s iPod had also mysteriously stopped working, so he/she could not listen to the melodies of the chanting either.
I get it.
To many emerging young Jewish adults, studying for one’s B’nei Mitzvah may not be your thing. You’ve got a life, for gosh’s sake! That life is full with homework and friends and sports and has nothing to do with chanting a strange language in a building you hardly go to!
And what does all this Hebrew mean that I can barely read and hardly understand?
And how am I going to find the time to study?
When it comes to hunkering down and preparing for one’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah, many obstacles can get in the way. In a recent post on the Jewish culture blog Kveller, a rabbinical student even honestly put it out there: why put your kid through the motions of having this Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony if it is devoid of meaning, when a small percentage of Jewish adults even volunteer to read from the Torah after they reach that milestone day.
Here is why.
Like it or not, kid, you are the next link in this 5,000 year chain that cannot be broken.
Last night, after my student left and after dinner and dishes, I watched a PBS special: Space Shuttle Columbia: A mission of Hope, about the 10th anniversary of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. What made it all the more tragic was it was the first time an Israeli, Ilan Ramon, son of Holocaust survivors, took a trip to space.
And on this unique mission to space that bonded this unique multicultural team of astronauts was
a tiny Torah.
A Torah that survived the Holocaust.
A Torah that had been used to prepare a boy for his Bar Mitzvah in the hell of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A boy that survived and grew to be an old man living in Israel still in possession of this tiny scroll.
A Torah that, when Ilan Ramon heard of its story, he knew it had to accompany him in space.
For all of the Jewish people.
I’m not going to retell the story here. I won’t do it justice. But if you can, watch with your family Mission of Hope, and you will understand the Big Picture of why joining the Jewish community as a fully participating adult is an incredibly precious honor.
If that’s not inspiration enough, then look at this photo below:
this is a recent picture of men, Holocaust survivors, who never got to be Bar Mitzvah boys. Until today.
Now, stop kvetching, stop whining, and go study.