Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Mothers of Israel

As I write this, I should be at a funeral. RifkA bat Yishaya died Friday morning. I have watched, read (Coffee and Chemo) and listened as she fought a most amazing battle. It wasn't fought fairly - the cancer had an advantage, as it always does, but RifkA had one too - her amazing family, the love of so many, and her personality.

On Thursday, on my way home from a client, the radio carried a story about a poem. Background noise as I thought about what I need to pack the next day. Then, I began to hear what they were saying. In a deep British accent, a man read a poem in English and then the Israeli broadcaster translated it into Hebrew. I missed the point of the story, what they were trying to say. All I heard was the poem. "Do not go gently into that good night."

My first thought was of RifkA - she hasn't gone gently into that night. But somehow I also knew that the fight would not last much longer. She fought it for years. The ups and downs of cancer treatment - the retreat, the discovery of new tumors in new places. New medications. Interspersed were stories of her life, her joys, a recent vacation and always plans for the future she fully intended to share with her family.

She didn't ignore her cancer; but she didn't wallow in as could easily have been considered normal. Instead, she wrote about it, addressed it openly with her family, her friends, her readers and made thousands more aware not just of the illness, but how a family copes with it; how a mother copes. She showed you can have cancer and still laugh, still be positive and happy. She shamed us all into being better parents - how could we not find patience for our children, when she always did? How could we not find time to mend relationships and be kinder and better? How could we claim to be too tired to attend to our children, when she continued, despite chemo and treatments, to challenge herself to try to do just a bit more for her children.

On Friday, my husband and I packed the car and drove to Hebron with our youngest daughter. As I was unpacking our camp site, a friend called. We spoke for a few minutes and then she said, "there's a funeral Saturday night." I think I even asked who, but I already knew. RifkA.

We had an amazing Shabbat - I'll write about that tomorrow, not now. But it was hard. It rained and it was cold and wet in the tent; worse, there was so much noise, we barely slept. Worse, I wrenched my arm carrying too much, too fast, too heavy and rather than admit it and slow down...I just kept at it. Maybe I wanted to feel the pain, I don't know.

By the time we left Hebron this evening, my arm/shoulder was on fire - as it had been months ago. The road to Hebron has been attacked a few times in the last few months; I felt better driving than letting my husband drive. I know the roads better and to be honest, my night vision is better. We arrived home about 35 minutes before the funeral...the drive there could take more than that, I wasn't sure with my arm what to do and maybe I'm just making excuses? I can still move the arm, the funeral will take a while. I can't even be honest with myself. I just don't think I can drive back into Jerusalem...stand and listen. I know there will be so many there...I need....what can I say?

I can't count the times I thought of RifkA on Shabbat, each time reminding myself that mourning would have to wait. We do not mourn on Shabbat; it is an incredibly hard thing to do, to put it aside, to delay, to stop the thoughts you want to have. Mostly, I think, I thought of RifkA's family and what they were feeling, thinking, knowing...Shabbat, I would tell myself - time enough later. I stood by Rifka's, not RifkA, but Rifka, one of the four matriarchs or our religion. It was Friday afternoon, so I let myself cry. Shabbat, was harder and so instead of thinking of the loss, I tried to push my thoughts back to discussions I'd had with her.

We shared a hometown and a university experience; a move across the world, the blessings of motherhood and many other things. Mostly, though she was younger - friends with my brother from childhood, mine only as adults and mothers. I respected her for what she had learned in her life, and how she had chosen to share it with others.

RifkA has...had...has...had a sense of the world in its place, of making relationships count. I wanted to pray for RifkA in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron...instead, I stood by the graves of our forefathers and cried for her. Somewhere in the afternoon, as we sat around the lunch tables, one of our amazing Rabbi friends spoke of the death of Sarah - that's what this week's Torah portion was about...the death of Sarah, one of the  mothers of Israel.

When Abraham heard that she had died, the Rabbi explained, he ran to her and bent to kiss her. He knew that she was gone and yet he realized that there are signs left when the Angel of Death takes the life and soul in our bodies. These signs were missing in Sarah and so he realized that it was God who had come and taken Sarah's life and soul. This comforted Abraham.

My friend told me that RifkA had gone easily, quietly, I guess. Perhaps, God so loved her that he personally came and took her. I know and believe she is in a better place; that her pain and suffering are gone. I know that she accomplished the task God gave her in this world and I hope someday soon, her family will find comfort in that idea.

For now, I know that there are so many around the world who mourn her loss and wish there was a way to comfort her husband and three children. I'm sorry, RikfA, that I'm not there but I have to believe you are in a place where you can see and know the outpouring of love that is happening now, beyond the tears.

May your loving family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they known no more sorrow.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Abraham Calls to Me

Every once in a while (perhaps more often than I let myself believe), I take the liberty of writing not just as a soldier's mother, but as an Israeli, a Jew. I could tie this in with the blog, and I will, a bit, but for now, let's start with history.

The thing about history is that there are often sides, shades, and personalities that we can only imagine. The longer between the event and the reporting, the harder it is to imagine, to believe, to know. Sadly, this is what is slowly happening with the Holocaust. As we move into a generation that knows no survivors, the fact that there are films, videos, direct testimonies of those who did survive, physical evidence that corresponds and confirms all that they say and said - still there are those who would twist, deny, inflame.

Imagine now, that the history happened thousands of years ago, and not merely a few decades ago. Imagine a man who married a woman and they have a child. That child marries and has two sons. One of those sons marries not one, but two women. One of those dies young and is greatly mourned. The second is buried in the same place as the first man and his wife, the second man and his wife, and her own husband, the child of the second man.

So far, other than there being a man who married two wives, our story is common enough that it takes little imagination. 

But the man was named Abraham and his wife was Sarah. In the technical writing terms I often live by, Abraham revolutionized the world - perhaps the first of so many great Israeli/Jewish discoveries and innovations that have graced the world. There was no US Patent Office, but his idea was certainly unique. If you can fashion stone into a figure, calling that figure "God" is absurd.

Abraham's patented system of global management was simple - recognize the Power...where the Power really is. When Abraham's wife died, Abraham did something else that is well documented and stands through time. He buried her, we all know that - but more. He refused the gift of her burial place. He demanded to purchase the land and so, in effect, the Bible that documents this transaction proves a legal and binding land contract in which Abraham purchased what is now called the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.

There, he was buried. His son, Yitzchak with his wife Rifka; his grandson Yaakov, and his wife Leah. I have always felt sad that Rachel lies alone and yet her grave, its location and presence were important enough to have been separate. That Yaakov loved her was enough.

All this was written, explained, documented, in the first book of the Torah. This week, we read Chaye Sarah - the life of which she dies. A contradiction, the name, with what happens. I'll let scholars and Rabbis explain more, but let me tell you that Hebron, and especially Ma'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) has always been a place that touches me, calls to me, and soothes me. 

I’ve been there when almost no one has been there; I’ve been there when it was so crowded, you could barely move. I’ve been there in the early evening, mid-day, more than once in the morning. I’ve been there as I watched two people wed, and I’ve said prayers for the sick there.

Each time, the feeling is the same. I’ve come home. I’ve come to the grave of my grandparents, a direct link, a connection. I have the right to pray there, to ask them to intercede on my behalf because I am theirs, they are mine.

This Shabbat is the anniversary of Sarah’s death and so thousands, literally thousands, will go to Hebron to be there to commemorate this day, this life, this death, this start of our people, this continuance. Of all the times I have been there, this is the one time I have never been. So natural and yet each year there was a reason, a delay, something else or even nothing else.

This time, almost 80 members of our community are going to Hebron – amazingly enough, to camp out in tents across from the Cave of the Patriarchs. What an amazing opportunity to be there, to share this moving day with so many. I can’t wait to go. I’ve got brownies cooking, carrots steamed, a noodle casserole in the oven. It will be a huge communal meal and, as usual, I already know I have gone overboard.

It doesn’t matter – Abraham calls to me. 

And to tie this in, Chaim called mid-week. I don’t even remember about what and I asked him about Shabbat. It’s a way of leading in to him telling me if he can/wants to come without putting any pressure on him. 

“I’m going to Hebron for Shabbat,” he told me.

“Me too,” I answered excitedly.

“Yeah, but I’m staying in a tent across the street from Ma’arat Hamachpela,” he responded back. 

“Me too,” I answered back so happy.

In the end, Chaim had planned to sign up for the communal meal but by the time he got through, it was sold out. Chaim called to ask what we had planned in terms of food and so, he is joining our community as our “son” – Chaim and another friend.

Elie and Shmulik aren’t into this camping out in the wilderness part of it all and are staying home; sharing one meal with their older sister, another here in our home, perhaps with friends. We have friends who went to Hebron yesterday and set up the community’s “perimeter.” We sent down extra tents; I am chilling a beer for Chaim.

Abraham calls to me, as he often does. “Come,” he says to me, “come and give respect to your mother, to Sarah, my wife.”

I will go and pray there – for RifkA bat Teirtzel, for Elie’s friend Re’em. I will pray for the sick of Israel…and the healthy. I will pray for my daughter and her husband that all their dreams come true; I will pray for Elie and the path he has begun since leaving the army. I will pray for Shmulik, for his safety in the army and for his future with the bride he will soon take. I will pray for Davidi, that the years and his teachers be kind to him as his path is forged and his personality developed. I will pray for my little Aliza, who every day gets bigger and bigger and just had her first “babysitting” job.

I will pray for my husband and our life together. And in the midst of all this, I will thank Abraham and Sarah for creating the nation and the path to this day, to this land, to this place. Somewhere, the reality of what we know parts from the imagination we have. There is archeological and historical evidence for much of what occurred in the Bible. Where science stops, belief and faith continue. Beyond belief and faith, I guess, is imagination.

I imagine a great love in Abraham for his wife, Sarah and all he built with her. It is there in his buying the Cave of the Patriarchs so that no one can ever lay claims to that land. It is, in some sense, the oldest recorded land deal, and we have the deed, right there in every Bible.

I hear Abraham calling to me. They are waiting for me and I will go. I will sleep the night in a tent across from where they rest. To show my respect, to show my faith, to show my love. Me…and tens of thousands of their other children. We are the people of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rifka, Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

Shabbat shalom.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yielding the Road

Shmulik was on base this Shabbat. His task was rather boring, hours of guard duty. I thought of him as I stood in the synagogue and they said the prayer for the soldiers of Israel, but it was a different kind of feeling than with Elie. Shmulik's job in the army now is, overall, safer than Elie's was and so I am less worried most of the time and more at peace with his service.

Chaim has finished basic training and advanced, where he goes now has yet to be announced and so I am at peace there too. Overall, it's one of those "flats of the roller coaster" time. It's been many months since the roller coaster brought me to a rise or fall and I'm getting lulled into believing that I might get through the next few months on the same level ground.

Doubtful, but enticing.

Shmulik can come home tonight, having finished his required guarding patrols; but has to be back on base tomorrow. As with most soldiers, the chance to get home triumphs all. He wants home. Buses will take him 2 hours; the drive is 30 minutes in each direction. He asked if we could come get him. Elie and I discussed it. I was willing to go; Elie feels he knows the roads better (he does) and knows evasive driving better (yeah, that too).

Many months ago, I had hurt my arm/shoulder doing...I know not what. I had a speaking engagement in the north and the thought of driving three hours in each direction was daunting. Elie volunteered to drive me; I gratefully accepted. We took a wrong turn and were heading towards an Arab village when I realized our mistake. Elie did something with the car; I told him he was crazy and could have lost control spinning the car that way.

He smiled, said he was in control and took my teasing well - about how he was lucky the car didn't flip, that he didn't lose control that it has "somehow" ended up in the right direction, on the road, etc. It was only when Shmulik was transferred to be a driver and talked about learning this evasive driving that it came out that Elie was trained too...that he knew what he was doing that day when he had spun the car around. It was enlightening. It was frightening.

So Elie is driving tonight to a base that is relatively safe, but a bit tricky in a few short areas. He has no gun with him...and yet he knows the road better than I do and apparently knows how to drive in a way that is more relevant than me. It's a strange feeling to know that I have yielded the road.

"Don't stop if they throw rocks," I told Elie.

He smiled that condescending smile he gives sometimes. Of course, he knows not to stop the car.

"You don't have a gun," I reminded him needlessly. If anything, his smile deepened. Recently, a Jewish driver in the Silwan neighborhood of our capital Jerusalem, drove his car into an ambush of Arab children with rocks and photographers waiting for the next victim. The children performed brilliantly for the photographers. They pelted the car with rocks and jumped in front of the driver.

This is the latest weapon in this war we face - the images for the world, unbothered by the reality of the setup, of the photographers/journalists who need to make a story from what doesn't exist.

As he started to leave the house, I started to say something...before he answered, "yes, I know. Drive carefully."

Yes...I yielded the road - he better drive carefully.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Special Prayer for a Special Mother

I have an interesting relationship with God and prayer. Well, that's a funny sentence. There is a Jewish custom to say Tehillim (Psalms) in times of distress, at times when you need special prayers. When someone is sick or something is about to happen. Friends told me to say Tehillim when Elie was in the Gaza War...I couldn't. Friends told me to say Tehillim when my oldest daughter was having an operation - I tried.

I know I should be saying Tehillim now for RifkA bat Teirtzel ( RikvA's fight with cancer has been long and hard and I pray it will continue to be long, though not hard. She has three children and a wonderful husband, a loving family, and friends all over the world. My brother knew her in high school and though it is sad for me to admit it, I just don't remember her from those days. I know that for a variety of reasons, I have blocked out much of that period of my life and things that others say I should remember, I don't.

There was a traumatic night when my brother was having an asthma attack and my mother says she took us all into the car and drove around to help him breathe better...I was there, they memory. It's just not there. RifkA went to Barnard College, as I did, but we weren't there at the same time. I really met RifkA here in Israel, after she had been diagnosed with cancer and despite some conversations on the phone, email, and some meetings in person, most of what I know comes from others or from her amazing blog.

So it is 2:00 a.m. and I woke thinking of her, praying for her. I should say Tehillim for her - instead I sit here and write. It's a philosophical debate I have with God at times like this. He knows what I am asking for, must I ask it? Must I verbalize the prayers? And if so, does saying Tehillim do this?

I am one for action more than words. I believe in prayer and the power of prayer, but I also believe that acts of kindness and charity speak volumes. When a cousin was sick, I bought extra food to give away, donated more money to charity and for each, I said her name and a hope that this kind deed would honor the person. It's the way my mind works.

But there is nothing I can really do for RifkA - she has a world of friends around the world praying for her and for her family; she has neighbors and close friends, including several of my own, who are in touch and even organizing the prayers more formally. I can give charity, and I will. I can say a prayer, and I am, but there is a helplessness that I hate when it is a battle I can't fight.

I laugh when people say I am brave. I don't really know what that means in the context of my life. I live in a country that I love beyond measure; have a family that means more than I could ever explain. I am challenged by my work; I love to write. What is brave in living a life you feel is blessed by family, friends, country?

I heard this a lot during the war and sometimes I hear it just for having a soldier (or two or three or four) - or just because I live in Israel. In all of these context, I don't know what that means - that word bravery. But when it comes to RifkA, her spirit, her love of life and family, I finally understand. Brave is a battle taking place even as I write - please join me in praying for RifkA bat Teirtzel (RifkA, daughter of Teirtzel) who has been sick for a long time...and is now in the hospital. She has been writing her story for a long time now, month by month, week by week and often day by day. Say one of the Psalms; think of her and ask God to grant her a speedy and complete recovery, give some amount of, think...pray...for RifkA.

RifkA wrote recently that she had a revelation in which she realized that her most recent request, to see her daughter's bat mitzvah, was granted this past summer and so I have another request on her behalf. May she live long enough to see her son become a soldier, to see her children marry and have children of their own. May she be granted an amazing and miraculous recovery in which the cancer is beaten back and down and away so that she can continue to share her wisdom with others, her patience, her smile.

She has suffered much, pains and disappointments, recurrences and fears and through it this very moment, she is an inspiration to others all around the world. She is a parent who has tried to ease her children into, around, through, and past her illness so that they see her for the mother she is, not the patient she has had to be.

RifkA's most recent post says much about who she is - if you have a moment, please say a prayer for her. You can say Tehillim, as I often fail to do, or just kind thoughts. All help.

A few days ago, RifkA wrote, "At the end of the day, it is God's challenges. God is our ultimate caretaker and we will be taken care of. So, I'm still here and I am still 'fighting the good fight.' ”

Keep fighting, RifkA. Refuah shlayma.

Read more:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chaim, The Lone Soldier, Comes for Shabbat

I couldn't resist that title - this one's for Chaim.

The "Protectzia" worked - Chaim was able to go visit his family in the United States over the holidays. I was so happy for him; felt the same desperation that he just had to go; and such joy that he went. He called me the day he returned, and that too was a wonderful feeling. It's nice to know he loves us as much as we love him.

After getting this break, he had to return straight to the army and so this last Shabbat was the first chance he got to come over. It was also a Shabbat where we were happy to welcome another lone soldier. I don't have permission to tell his story - I can ask, but I didn't yet, so I'll just say that his mother contacted me after reading this blog. We've been in contact a long time now...and I've heard and watched from afar.

This was the first time he came for Shabbat and we were happy to have him. Shmulik drove into Jerusalem and picked up both guys close to Shabbat. We enjoyed meals, quiet times, talks. Perhaps I'll write about our second guest another time, for now I'll write about Chaim.

He looks wonderful - happy, healthy, beautiful. He's a calming force when he comes to the house - somehow he has patience for everyone. This week, he gave a short Dvar Torah at both meals. A Dvar Torah is a few words of wisdom about or from the weekly portion of the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). There are some people who speak long and others who speak profoundly in just a few words. Chaim is a master at saying something meaningful in short sentences.

I was tired and focused on serving food and seeing everything was on the table. I listened, loved it, and now can't remember what he said, other than remembering that I smiled after each one. I pushed him into doing the second one (he did the first one on his own). I would have let him out if he hadn't stepped up for the second one, but he did and I was glad in the end.

This week's portion was especially meaningful at our table. It was "Lech Lecha" - the portion that speaks of God telling Abraham to leave his home and come to Canaan, the land of Israel. He spoke of blessing Abraham and giving him a great nation. See, I'm remembering what Chaim said just by writing this.

What was special was the Chaim tied it into almost everyone there at the table. We were the "old-timers" having been in Israel for 17 years. Two of our children were born here and know no other world. Chaim, our other long soldier and the family who joined us all came in the last few years. Like Abraham, we all picked ourselves up and moved to a far off land, to this land. Abraham was told that God would bless him. And, he was told that God would make his name great.

There was, Chaim explained, other text in between these two promises - and the break was important. It signifies the time we have in this life to fulfill God's plan, to make ourselves worthy. Not to be sacrilegious, but it reminded me of a Garth Brooks song (did I ever mention I love country music?).
There's two dates in time
That they'll carve on your stone
And everyone knows what they mean
What's more important
Is the time that is known
In that little dash there in between
In some ways, this is what Chaim was talking about - it's what you do with your life that counts, more than the dates of birth or death. And this is what Chaim and our other guest, and Elie and Shmulik and Yaakov have done or are doing. They've dedicated some part of their life to doing something important - that little dash in between.

So serious, I've let me go back to Shabbat. Major decisions loom ahead of both of these soldiers who visited our home this weekend. Each takes a path that has already taken them so far from the ones their parents envisioned for them. And on this path, they came and graced my home. It was a wonderful Shabbat - the Shabbat of lone soldiers, Chaim dared me to write...and so I have. And yet, with all of that, it's a funny name we give to these guys - lone soldiers...and yet we don't leave them alone, don't let them be lone.

The other family who came today had asked if they could bring their lone soldier - but he had to cancel at the last minute; a neighbor wrote to me and asked how I'd gotten my lone soldier - they want one too. Abraham left his home and all that he come home to a special land that was promised to him - a land of milk and honey. Chaim has done the same in many ways and he brought me onion powder and chocolate!

(Thanks, tons - to Chaim's mother - and to J.'s mother - my sisters in this soldiers' mother business, for sharing your amazing guys with me.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010


A few days after Shmulik was born, I found myself in the amazing position of being alone at home having to take care of three small children under the age of 4.5 years old. It was a bit daunting. My husband had gone back to work after taking a day or so off. It was me...and these three needy humans.

I don't remember the order in which I did things; I don't remember what I did. I do remember that there was little crying (by them or me) and somewhere around 10:30 in the morning, as little Amira and Elie were playing on the living room floor and I was nursing my newborn son, I suddenly felt such an amazing feeling of satisfaction, of accomplishment. I didn't know what would happen the next day, or even the next hour, but for that incredible moment, all was right with the world. I think in life we never have enough of these moments and so we should savor them when we do have them.

This morning, my oldest daughter was with her husband in the home they have built. They are young, happy, and building a life. Elie has finished the army and is taking a course to help him improve the all important grade he gets on Israel's psychometric tests which are used by universities as they decide who to accept. My youngest son had slept at his yeshiva in Jerusalem, a school he enjoys and is already challenging and maturing him as I'd hoped it would.

That left Shmulik and Aliza at home. I drove Aliza to school, as I do most mornings, and dropped Shmulik off nearby so he could meet up with his commanding officer and begin his day. There, by a few minutes to 8:00 in  the morning, I had placed all my children where they needed to be placed, prepared food for one, said good morning to another. There was no crying (them or me), just a feeling...of satisfaction, of happiness, of love, of life.

In those first days of Shmulik's life, I could not have imagined the trip we would take, the boy and the man he would become. He wants to get married in the next few months. The young lady is very sweet, very beautiful and in many ways it will be an interesting relationship to watch unfold. She comes from a culture very different from ours. I know only that their feelings for one another have lasted the test of time so far and can only hope it will overcome the stresses that life throws at us.

It's part of that giving birth process that never ends. Each step he takes is another step away; another release. it begins with the physical release from your body but it doesn't end there. Shmulik began his day today, as he likely will his life in the next few months, on a path I can only watch from the side, can only pray is the right one.

It's a beautiful day here in Israel, sunshine and dreams. Last night I stayed up too late watching as dedicated rescue workers continued more than 20 hours of excruciating slow work, extracting 33 trapped miners in Chile. One by one they emerged. Reborn, safe. Some cried, some laughed. Some fell to the ground in gratitude. All were welcomed and shown the love of the watching world.

The miners are safe and back with their families; Amira is in her apartment; Elie is still asleep after returning from his evening course session late. Shmulik is now driving his commanding officer, another day in the army. Chaim might come for Shabbat, if he is released this Shabbat from the army. Davidi is in school, but will come home tomorrow for the weekend. Little Aliza isn't so little anymore and went off today giving me a list of things to do.

For a moment, for a single precious moment, my world is right. Satisfaction. Love. Life. Israel.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Greatest of Days; the Busiest of Weeks

The greatest of days may well be those we didn't plan or those that ended differently than we expected. Last week was to have been one of those killer weeks where nothing could budge to ease the schedule. I knew going into the was going to be a hard one. Sunday was our anniversary; meetings and dinner out. We were both so tired, it was hard to enjoy it. Not a good way to start the week.

Monday was all day at a client in the north, with a trip back to Jerusalem, a quick change of clothes (and shoes) and on to the wedding of a friend and former student of ours. Beautiful wedding...a few hours sleep, and I was back at work with another day of meetings.

Tuesday was long - a meeting in the morning, deliver a project and then home to cook for a few hours...and then another wedding back in Jerusalem. This one was one where we were connected to both the bride and the groom and we stayed to the end.

Wednesday was to be my hardest day. A filled-to-capacity seminar at our Training Center, a mad dash home to get my two youngest. A drive up north to Chaim's Tekes Kumta with the hope of bringing Chaim back to our home for a few hours to catch up on his visit with his family. In the evening, Sheva Brachot (a festive dinner celebrating the newly married couple; where you have a minimum of ten men - and typically at least that many women).

Thursday was to be up early and another full day onsite at a client in the north, followed by another Sheva Brachot - this one at the home of the second groom's parents.

Friday was to be guests from the US that we haven't seen in a few years.

And with all the joy from start to finish was the knowledge that it was an impossible week and I wasn't sure how I was going to get through it. Usually, when these weeks come about, something gives in the schedule - a meeting is canceled, a clients asks to postpone, something. In this case, I knew there would be no "out" because the hard part of the week wasn't actually work - but all these happy events.

We went out for our anniversary; we went to the two weddings. I cooked for the first Sheva Brachot at my house and went to the seminar. I rushed home to pick up my two youngest and as I was driving, I calculated the best way to get to Afula. There are two roads north that I could take.

One is through the Jordan Valley - almost never traffic, a bit of speeding allowed. It means going a bit further east than I have to, swinging along the border with Jordan, a drive north, north, north, and then a swing to the west, into the city of Afula, where the ceremony would take place. Second choice was driving back into Jerusalem - always the risk of traffic, across the city and out the other side, more travel to the west, a zoom up north on Israel's only toll road, and then a bit of a trip back east.

It's probably about the same, but I decided to go through the Jordan Valley...we drove down, down, down, to the plains of the Judean Desert and just short of the Dead Sea before making the left turn to head north. It's open land there, desert surrounding you. In the distance to the right are the hills of Jordan; west high above the mountains, far in the distance, is Jerusalem and few cars...and a noise.

A flat tire...

I pulled quickly to the side, calculating several things at once. Plenty of water - no danger there. Phone service working - another important element considering that there to my left was the Palestinian city of Jericho and not to far off, Palestinian shepards with their sheep and goats. You stay there, I thought to myself; and I'll stay here.

I put on the emergency vest - part of a law that was passed a few years back and took a look. I guess before I admit the next thing, I should confess that I believe myself to be talented as a writer. Yes, my strengths are in my words...not in my engineering skills. My husband and I have a firm arrangement. I'll write whatever has to be written; he'll fix whatever has to be fixed. That includes tires.

I pulled out the jack. I know what a jack is; I know what it is supposed to do. I don't really know how you magically secure it under a car so that this rather flimsy piece of metal suddenly decides it is strong enough to lift a whole car.

I pulled out the spare tire. I know what it is; I know where it is supposed to go. I know that a whole bunch of screw-like things have to be taken off the car, the bad wheel removed, this spare tire put in place and those screw-like things put back on really tight.

I was not going to let my 14-year-old change his first tire without someone competent to watch him doing it and I quickly admitted to myself, I didn't qualify. The Palestinian shepards thankfully stayed with their sheep; I called home.

It is belittling to realize that there are times when all your skills amount to nothing in the face of a simple mechanical procedure. No, I told Elie when he answered the phone, I wasn't sure what to put where.

Elie set off from our house, intending to come help me change the tire. I told Davidi to call Chaim - we would be late at best, and I wasn't sure we would even make it. We looked around us - this is the desert, quiet, so quiet.

And then a car stopped - a wonderful Israeli man and his teenage son. He offered to help; I explained about Elie. He told me he could change the tire so I called and we calculated it was best for Elie to turn back. The man began a lecture to his son and to Davidi on how to change a tire.

It was an exercise in parenting, in patience, and I was enthralled. He had the boys loosen the tire, jack up the car, remove the screw-things. He removed one tire, put the spare in place. In minutes, the task was done.

He asked where we were from, where we were going. He asked if we had water; if we wanted to stop by his village - a short distance away for a few minutes to rest. When all was said and done, when all was cleaned up, he cautioned me about continuing north and when I realized the time had flown and agreed it was too late to go north, he said it was smart to go back home because this miniature spare tire wasn't really meant for distances and speed.

He told me to be careful when turning around on the road - people tend to speed on this road (I didn't tell him that had been my intention in choosing the Jordan Valley road in the first place). He told me his village name and his family name and invited us to stop by if we are ever passing along.

He bid us a safe trip after checking the tire again and went on his way. I finally go through to Chaim and told him the sad news that we wouldn't make it up in time to see his ceremony, to videotape it for his mother as I had planned.

But as much as I felt a bit cheated by missing Chaim, I felt enriched as well - I'm sure that people stop to help others around the world, but there was something so Israeli in how he told us his name, offered us water, told us to come to his home if we needed anything.

I returned home, finished cooking for that evening, welcomed 25 people into my house for dinner. The next day, as expected, I drove north and then returned for the final events of the busy week I had planned from the outset. I was sorry to have missed Chaim's ceremony (pictures have been promised and will be posted), but there by the Jericho road, I met Israel again and once again remembered why I love this place so much.

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