My $.02

Since everyone else has written about the US operation that ended with the killing of Bin Laden, I thought I would add my little part.

For me, there is no doubt that the man needed to leave the scene. He caused enormous death and destruction for many years through his evil organization. He killed indiscriminately innocent men, women, and children. One can hope that perhaps his death will save some lives.

In the Jewish tradition, however, we recognize that even our enemies’ downfall is not a source of joy. In fact, at the seder each year, we spill out a bit of wine for each plague, for how can our cup of joy be full when others, G-d’s creatures, are suffering.

I feel very sad about Bin Laden and those who follow him and other people who have chosen evil. They too are G-d’s creatures. They were given human souls and human bodies that could be used for good, healthy, productive lives and they have used them to cause pain and death and destruction. How can we rejoice at the end that Bin Laden brought on himself?

Our Creator must be very disappointed in him.

Lesson Learned

This morning, just as the very first shades of orange began to light the dawn, my husband and I set off in the direction of Jerusalem. What a show we witnessed– the clouds were spread out like a comforter with small tufts in a pattern and room between for the light to light each individual tuft. The sky around the clouds was an electric blue and the clouds were lit flaming orange, finally fading into pink and as the sun came up higher, the sky was filled with pinks and blues and lavendars.

We were on our way to Hadassah Hospital where my husband was to have cataract surgery.

As we drove along the highway several times cars came up close behind me and flashed their lights even though I was driving at the legal speed limit. Apoplectically flashing their lights, they could barely wait to pass me quickly on the right, often getting themselves stuck behind slow trucks that were barely making it up the hills to Jerusalem. Had I made eye contact with them as they passed me, I am certain that they would have displayed their disgust with me.

For years I have not understood this behavior. In the case of driving to Jerusalem, how much time could one save by speeding? The whole trip takes a short time (from Modi’in, for example, it is about 30 minutes; from Tel Aviv, maybe 45 minutes). How much time could one save by speeding? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Is it worth having high blood pressure? Feeling hostility? Is it worth risking one’s life???

It occurred to me that I made a decision many years ago that really changed my behavior.

I was about 18 years old. I was driving my mother’s car. I was coming out of a parking lot and making a right turn. To the right of my car there was a telephone pole and I was too close to it. As I felt my car touch the pole, I thought about backing up and turning my wheel toward the left as I proceeded forward. But I was too lazy. I made a conscious decision to continue. So I did. And when I reached home a few minutes later, I saw that the thin metal strip at the side of the car on the right side was now sticking out at a point about 1/2 way back at a 90 degree angle. My mother was not pleased.

How I wished I could go back and make a different decision!

I couldn’t get the stupidity of my decision out of my mind, but worse, I realized for the first time how irreversible time is. Once an accident happens, it can’t be prevented. Once someone is scarred or maimed, it can’t be undone. So, perhaps it makes sense to be careful and not take dangerous risks.

Often I take my time when others would hurry, am more cautious when others would rush, but a burnt finger or a twisted ankle can cause a lot of pain and take a long time to heal. We are fragile beings. We are limited by our human capabilities, and so far, we cannot reverse time.

Oh, and according to the doctor, the surgery this morning went very well. We are home and the recovery is underway.

Count your blessings

Recently I had the most unpleasant experience of being with a mother and her adult daughter (no relation to me) over a period of time. The daughter is an intelligent woman with a family and career of her own. The mother, now over 80 years old, is healthy- and physically and mentally comparable to a person 20 years younger. From the first time I met them, the daughter was critical of pretty much everything her mother said. However, the criticism was not even subtle; it was loud and harsh. When the mother would speak, the daughter would tell her loudly, “No one wants to hear you!” or “You’ve said that a hundred times already!” or “Why are you talking about that now!” The others who were present found the mother witty and charming. We also found the daughter’s hostile outbursts embarrassing to listen to. We reassured the mother that we were indeed interested in what she had to say.

For me, it was particularly hurtful. Although my mother was far from perfect, I always felt that it was my responsibility to act with kindness and respect toward her. After all, she did give birth to me and raise me and despite the negative things she said and did, I loved her. She died much too young and I miss her.

I wanted to say to the daughter, “Count your blessings! Your mother is alive and healthy and independent and completely mentally and physically fit. She is witty and clever and engaging. She has a unique perspective and lots of stories and experiences to share. Someday she will no longer be here and you probably will regret the way you acted toward her. Then, it will be too late to apologize or to make up to her for the pain you have caused her.”

We live with the illusion that life, as we know it, will continue forever, but unfortunately, those we love will not always be here. We need to know that the time we spend with them is precious.

I wonder

I was brought up to be a rich girl.

When I was four years old, my mother sent me to dancing school where I was taught by a personal friend of Anna Pavlova. I danced a toe solo at five and a half at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the summer, we would go to Atlantic City, renting a home there for the entire summer and taking the maid with us.

By the time I was in my teens, I had not a room of my own, but a floor of my own in the house. I had a bedroom, a study area, a sitting room and a bath. My clothes were as expensive as the clothes I buy today– in 1960! I was taught to appreciate the finer things in life like fancy restaurants and new cars.

My mother dressed in clothes that were high fashion. She was always ahead of the trends and many times I went with her as she took her new dress or suit with her to the milliner to have exactly the right hat made to match it, often taking some material from the garment to draw the outfit together.

That privileged stance was in direct opposition to my experience at high school. There I was the outcast, not having moved into the same neighborhood as the other Jewish girls in our school. We Jewish girls were a real minority at our high school, the first of a vanguard breaking into the formerly pristine suburbs. In our class of 675, we were probably fewer than 20. Antisemitism was not encouraged by the school, but its subtle and not-so-subtle appearance among the other students was ignored. Being rejected by the small minority of Jewish girls was very painful.

I had most of my social needs met by my friends in Hebrew high school, and later Hebrew college. With them I was on an equal footing and their unaffected manner and their acceptance of me, the misfit, allowed me to feel normal for the first time.

It was probably through them that I acquired my values. They were kind, unselfish, open, accepting, and full of fun. By spending time with them, I began to realize that my discomfort with my upbringing was well-founded.

Shedding the privilege I had been given was liberating. Instead of disdaining the world as not meeting my expectations, I could appreciate it and even love it. Suddenly I could enjoy new things, new experiences, and new people.

Recently, I have been to the Galapagos Islands three times. It was interesting to see how different people responded to the experience.

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

I was overcome with emotion, actually each time I visited. I was astounded by the beauty of raw, unspoiled nature. I loved watching the birds and the sea lions and the iguanas and the land tortoises. Unthreatened by humans, they had no fear and allowed themselves to be photographed, even posing for us, it seemed sometimes. There I was with G-d’s creation. What could be more awe-inspiring!

Nazca booby

Nazca booby

Most of the people I was with reacted that way.

But some did not.
“Where are the flamingos?” “Why aren’t they here?”
“Why aren’t there more animals?”
“Why can’t I walk around alone instead of having to go with a naturalist?”
“I already saw a blue-footed booby; what’s next?”
“OK, so I have seen the albatross babies. Enough already!”

At first these reactions made me feel angry. What do they want! But then I just began to feel sad for these people. Their privilege was blinding them to the beauty of the world. They were unable to share the awe of seeing a newborn sea lion nuzzling its mother. They couldn’t enjoy seeing the boobies protecting their young. They couldn’t share the excitement of seeing the magnificent frigates puffing out their red pouches.

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

I am grateful that that veil has been lifted from me and that I can look beyond myself and share the wonder of the universe. I hope someday that our privileged travelers will be able to do the same thing.

Mount Grizim

Yesterday was Pesach sheni, one month after Passover when someone who had missed Passover could celebrate it. However, for the Samaritans, שומרונים it was Pesach!

The Samaritans believe in the Torah, but not in any of the other Biblical books, nor do they accept the Talmud or other rabbinic writings. Since modern Judaism is a product of rabbinic interpretation which they don’t accept, their religion differs in major ways from normative Judaism.

Yesterday a bus of Modi’in residents made its way to Mount Grizim to watch the Passover festivities nd to learn about the Samaritans.

All told, there are about 700 Samaritans in the world and all are living either in Holon, Israel, or on Mount Grizim which is located in Samaria (what some people call “the West Bank”). For the Passover observance, all Samaritans must come to Mount Grizim and participate. Busloads of curious Israelis and tourists arrived to watch the festivities.

On a fairly warm day, the mountain was cold and windy. As we walked toward the location of the ceremonies, we saw some sheep grazing. They looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but feel sad for what was to happen to them.

Sheep on Mount Grizim

Sheep on Mount Grizim

We went to the museum which was small, but well kept and we were lucky enough to have one of the Cohanim talk to us and tell us about their beliefs and observances. I found it fascinating that they take the same basic laws from the torah as we do and observe them differently. For example, on Yom Kippur, among the Samaritans, everyone fasts, even babies. The only exception is for those babies who are still nursing.

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

Yesterday, we were instructed not to bring with us anything that would be considered chametz, not kosher for Passover. We came to see the ritual slaughter of the paschal sacrifice, the lambs.

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Passing by us on the street

Passing by us on the street

In addition to the Samaritans, there were hundreds of people who had come to watch the ceremony as well as dignitaries from the Palestinian Authority with whom they also have cordial relations. There also were almost as many professional photographers as there were sheep.

People crowded around the enclosed area where only the participants, dignitaries, photographers and some very persuasive visitors were allowed to be. We occupied a grandstand, a hillside all of the areas around the fences, and areas overlooking the site including roofs of buildings. It was very difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph as the people in front of us kept swaying and blocking our views and never thought of saying “why don’t you take a couple of pictures standing in my place and then switch back with me.” It was cold and windy and pretty frustrating to be standing on my feet for about 2 hours and not seeing much.

What we did see were many men approaching the ceremony. Most were dressed in white, however it appeared that the men of higher stature wore green robes. All of the elders some robes and each had a staff that he walked with.

Approaching the ceremony

Approaching the ceremony

Lambs in the pen, unaware

Lambs in the pen, unaware

As we stood and watched, we heard chanting. The leader would begin the chanting and then all of the men would chant. The words were not intelligible to us because they speak a different dialect. The chanting was not unpleasant, but the noise and commotion of all of the onlookers and of the non-participants made it difficult to appreciate. We saw some dignitaries, cohanim/priests, I suppose, on the podium and then there were two long lines of men. also dressed in white, many of them wearing boots, facing each other on either side of a long trench. A glimpse of two of the men showed them each holding a lamb between their legs.

At a certain point, a word was shouted and then in a couple of seconds there was cheering and shouting and people kissing each other. Although we had seen nothing, we guessed that at that point, the lambs were slaughtered. We later found out that we were right. There was such joy and elation among the participants that I found it incomprehensible.

While we were not looking the animals were skinned and gutted and later we saw a few put on huge skewers being readied to be thrown into the deep, round pits that had been burning for hours.

We were told that at that point, the people would go home and only return around midnight to claim their lamb that would be eaten with the people they were close to.

A few commments:

1. I am glad that I went. It certainly was an experience unlike any other I have had. that said, I wish they could have kept their ceremony purer– with less noise and fuss and extraneous noises and people and bustle. It didn’t have a spiritual quality that I could grasp.

2. I am still feeling very sorry for all of the lambs, and especially so when I think of the joy that slaughtering them brought to the people who did it. I never imagined that animal sacrifice could be anything but deeply solemn and deeply moving.

3. I am pretty sure that I heard our neighbor’s cat praying this morning saying “…שלא עשני כבס”

(If you don’t know Hebrew, it probably isn’t worth explaining it…)

Taking a deep breath

Who said that when you get old you slow down? Well, maybe there are days when I am not physically running around, but ohmigosh… busy!! I have to say, though, I do love it! It’s great to have my children and grandchildren nearby and it’s great to have other interests as well.

Right now we are working on learning everything we can about our new travel destinations. We also are trying to learn survival Spanish. There are enough cognates of French and English that we often are able to read captions and descriptions, but passive vocabulary won’t get you 4 more tablespoons or enough bread to make sandwiches for 36 people. So it’s a wild and woolly time here cramming for a test of our Spanish that’s coming in only a few months and that we must pass.

To say that the tour to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru was fantastic, is such an understatement. Imagine for a moment that you were able to be present on earth on the 5th day of creation. There are the creeping things and the fish and the birds and all of the plant life, and the sea. Imagine all of it living together in harmony. Imagine how beautiful it would be. How pure. How utterly precious.

That is what you find when you step onto most of the Galapagos Islands.

There are no words.

But there are pictures. You can see them here.

Here’s a preview:

A blue-footed boobie

A blue-footed boobie

Yom Kippur

It seems a bit absurd to write about how Yom Kippur was for me this year, yet I cannot help but write.  As a child, I only remember this about Yom Kippur:  My parents would buy tickets for services.  In those years, the synagogue was still small and there was not enough room inside for everyone who wanted high holiday tickets, so they would erect a huge tent that seated maybe 200 people, maybe more, and my parents would attend good chunks of the service leaving us outside to our own devices.  I didn’t want to enter because I didn’t understand anything anyway and inside the tent, it was invariably boiling hot.

Late in the afternoon, my parents and I would ride about a half hour to my grandparents’ synagogue and arrive just in time for Neila, the last service of the day.  My mother would walk with us up the stairs of the synagogue into the women’s section.  The women’s section was populated with women of my grandmother’s age, all elderly (in their 50′s!) immigrant women who spoke with heavy Eastern European accents.  My grandmother was always really happy to see us when we showed up.  My cousins and their mothers too would arrive and always there was discussion as to which of the huge flower arrangements my mother and her siblings had bought for the synagogue in honor of their mother.

After the service, we would return to my grandparents’ home with the flowers.  They always consisted of  a large percentage of chrysanthemums and the smell of chrysanthemums usually reminds me of my grandmother.

I am now older than my grandmother ever was.

I am lucky enough to be living in Israel where on Yom Kippur, the entire country stops.  There are no Israeli television channels broadcasting and no radio.  Aside from one police car, I saw no cars on the roads.  In the evening, the park was filled with adults and children.  It is amazing!

This year, at services in our bursting-at-the-seams synagogue, I was privileged to have 16 of my grandchildren.  I pretty much was bursting with happiness seeing all of their beautiful faces.  The older ones, serious about their prayers, remained inside for large parts of the services and some, notably, for all of them.  The younger children, happily wandered in and out.  The youngest were held in their mothers’ or fathers’ or siblings’ arms.  The language we prayed in was the language they live.  The synagogue held familiar people.  The melodies were ones the older children had sung many times before.

And the service…  I don’t think it was my imagination.  Our congregation has been going  for about 13 years.  I think it has come of age.  The singing of large parts of the service was no less than inspiring.  Just as we repented in group fashion as one people, we sang in one voice and if the heavens were open, I can’t imagine more sincere petitions or more beautiful sounds of praise entering the holy gates.

The family, unretouched, missing three children

The family, unretouched, missing three children

Missing: Amiel Michelson, Elazar Michelson, Shlomo Goodman

May all of you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

Why I am not wishing “peace” this year

Every year at Rosh Hashana, we exchange the wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous new year. I used to put “peaceful” into that mix, but this year, I just can’t do it. I know that it is a lie. Peace is not just around the corner.

You see, the problem we have here in Israel is not that we don’t want peace. It’s not that we won’t give up the building of homes in communities in Judea and Samaria. What it is is an ideology fed to Arab children from the day they are born that has to do with eradicating the Jews from all of Israel. I believe that peace cannot come from conferences, from concessions, from cajoling, or from horse-trading. Peace will come when a responsible Arab leadership cares more about the life of their people than about the destruction of mine.

All attempts we have made have only emboldened the radical elements. If they believe that we are tired, sick to death of the terror and the pain, then they will only give us more so that we give up, capitulate, leave.

Economic success, educational success, building a society that serves the needs of its citizens is what will bring about a change in the mind set. It is what will make this senseless hatred recede as parents educate their children to achieve and to value knowledge and to love learning instead of longing for “martyrdom.”

So my prayer, it isn’t for peace. It is for the beginning of a change in the hearts and minds of the people who want to destroy me and my people. I pray that G-d will open their hearts to the knowledge that their children are precious gifts as are all of G-d’s children. I pray that by next year, the Arab parents will begin to value their children and their children’s future. I pray that responsible Arab leadership will focus on what they can do to help their people live happy meaningful lives.

Appreciation

It’s a lost art, appreciation. People who see something beautiful such as a beautiful house or a palace, may know that it’s beautiful, but they don’t usually appreciate all of the thought and hard work that went into planning it and building it. People who see great performances often don’t appreciate that the performer has spent hours and hours learning, rehearsing, and improving his/her performance. When food is delicious, we often don’t appreciate the wonder of beautiful fruits and vegetables growing from seeds out of the ground in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes and sizes. We don’t appreciate the person who peeled and cut and arranged the food. We don’t appreciate the minutes or hours spent mixing, dicing, sauteing, kneading. When the table is set, we don’t appreciate the thought given to settings and colors and table accessories. When we see a garden, we don’t praise the gardener. When someone we love tells us he/she loves us, we hear, but often we don’t really hear. We don’t fully understand or appreciate the importance of ourselves in that person’s life or of their importance in ours. When people die, often survivors then begin to see the kindness, the warmth, the sacrifice of their deceased relative. Then they realize what they have lost.

Sometimes when I wonder what all of the traditions we as Jews observe are about, I remember that there is a large component of appreciation– for the food we eat, for the land we were given. These prayers should serve to sensitize us to the gifts we have been given, whether by G-d, by the people we love, or by those who work to make our lives better.

TWTSTW*

This is a post that will need to write itself since I want to write about the seder, but have no idea of where to start. First of all, the logistics: Israeli homes are on average, the size of US elevators so our seder configuration was roughly equivalent to an elevator at Macy’s on the day after Thanksgiving, except that the average age was about 15 months. OK. I exaggerate. The children’s ages: 15, 15, 12,12,12,11,9,7,4,4,3,1.5,1,7 months, 3 months. The fact that the youngest 5 were 3 and under led to a substantial amount of motion and noise. The truth is that all of them were super-adorable. But imagine 5 super-adorable puppies… you get the point. This entailed less barking and a bit less biting, but just as much action.

But all that aside, the family was beautiful. Each and every one of them looked wonderful. We enjoyed reading and chanting and singing together, even when one or more of us were off-key and/or making up our own melody that was similar to but not identical to the ones we are accustomed to singing. There was a feeling of happiness and a real sense of tradition. It all really was worth it. I only pray to enjoy many many more with the ones I love!

*That was the seder that was