Sunday, March 27, 2011

How Many Guests?

In most cases, when you have a wedding, you pay per guest. What happens, I asked the wedding hall manager, when a chunk of your guests are soldiers? I can't tell you a month in advance, I explained. He answered that we could tell him a week or even a few days before the wedding.

Well, Shmulik spoke to S. (his commanding officer). S. was also the commander of Shmulik's base during basic training, before Shmulik became his driver. S. called the head of Shmulik's old battalion and when he got on the phone, S. explained that he wanted the battalion commander to release all of Shmulik's friends - 31 in all, from the unit for the wedding.

The commander agreed, but warned that if they get a sudden operation they are required to handle, he'll have to pull them back. "I'm the one that gives you the operations," laughed S. "so you won't have any."

So, after a few months of worry - it seems like Shmulik will be surrounded by his army brothers for his wedding. The entire division has been released for the wedding!

And...I got a dress!

Justice and Humanity and Twisted Ironies

On Friday, my phone beeped. It's set to send me news messages. I'm a news-aholic. If I don't know what is not happening (and by extension what is), I'm a wreck. First report said a shooting incident; second report clarified.

An Arab attacked a soldier, hitting him hard enough to put him in critical condition with a blow to his head. Police were nearby and shot the Arab in the legs. The attack is over as far as a medical threat; the terrorist disabled. Now what you have is two people needing medical intervention. One urgently; one a bit less so. Protocol followed, further damage averted; two wounded. A soldier and an attacker.

The location was in the Jordan valley, a bit remote. We have hospitals in many cities, but there are zones which are more problematic when it comes to the distance for an ambulance. This is one of the stretch locations. And so a call is made, the calculation determined. Here it was a non-issue. A soldier has been injured; the helicopter took to the air in minutes. So far, this is an ordinary story in every way - from the Arab attacking; to the soldier and the police defending; to the helicopter going in fast.

When the helicopter landed, they loaded two wounded people onto it. The soldier who was bleeding and injured, and the Arab who had tried to kill him. Justice served? Humanity displayed? I looked at Elie as he told me this, "are they stupid?" I demanded in fury.

There is a twisted irony in placing the attacker on the same rescue helicopter as the soldier. The angry part of me wants the soldiers to have ordered an ambulance for the terrorist and let it drive slowly to the hospital, hitting every pothole in the road that it could find. I know all about medics being asked to pledge that they will treat with equal determination, the disarmed terrorist as the victim of the attack.

I get the importance of our keeping our humanity. I understand it. But I also know that our dear Arab neighbors would not only not afford us the same privilege but probably think this is further proof of our weakness. We don't even have the courage to abuse our prisoners? Wimps, they'll laugh. Stupid, stupid Jews.

So we give our enemy prisoners access to computers and let their families visit them. We give them sunshine and education and food and really, anything to make their lives more comfortable. After all, isn't that what is expected of us? The humane thing to do? Justice requires them to sit in jail, not rot there. And all this, while Gilad Shalit remains held in silence, in darkness, with no communication with his family, no visits, not even a letter or phone call.

We are being efficient. We are being logical Go on, put the attacker and the soldier on the same helicopter. It saves resources. It saves gas. It saves time in getting the injured to medical care. And, most of all, it makes me sick to my stomach, furious, angry.

I'm tired of being right. I'm tired of being fair. I'm tired of worrying more about them than they worry about themselves, never mind how little they value our lives. I want the freedom to express my fury and I want to tell them that if you dare to blow up something and you survive, expect to lay there in agony until we've taken care of all our own, cleaned the streets, restarted the traffic. Lay there and feel the pain you have inflicted on yourself while we sit and drink some water a bit.

It's hard work cleaning up a terrorist attack. Gruesome work. Horrible. We'll get you to the hospital before you die...or not. After all, that was your plan, wasn't it? You wanted to die, to be a martyr of Islam. Fine, don't let us stand in your way.

But that makes us inhumane and occupiers and "the most vile person" according to one person who wrote to me recently. And so we continue to load the soldier and the attacker on the same helicopter when our enemies would more likely let ours die there on the side of the road unattended. Deep inside, I want to say, that maybe if they didn't see us as so weak, they would not attack us so viciously thinking that through our weakness they can achieve their goals of destruction and death for their enemy.

What they don't understand is that we do not view humanity as weakness. We do not see that loading the terrorist on the same helicopter is a weakness. We don't, but they do, and we are indeed too stupid to realize this. We don't understand their culture; they don't understand ours. We keep trying to believe we can get them to understand how we value life - but we can't.

We keep dreaming of a world in which they will think slitting the throat of an infant is wrong - but they don't live in that world.

No, we'll keep putting that soldier on the helicopter with the terrorist and wonder why we are the only ones who are amazed by the twisted irony, the lack of justice, and the misplaced humanity of it all. And they will announce to the world that an Arab was wounded by the IDF on Friday without ever mentioning that he smashed the head of a young soldier who was simply on patrol. The UN will up the numbers of wounded - one on each side if we are lucky, or more likely an Arab civilian on one side and an Israeli soldier on the other.

There is no justice here, there is only twisted ironies, misplaced humanity and stupid, stupid ethics...and a young soldier in the hospital.

Sometimes Music Works Best

What can you say about this other than "Amem" or "Please, God, please, make this the last time...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Palestinian Civilian

I want to tell you, from the other side of the divide in which we live, that I care. I care about you, your children, your wife or your husband. I care about your parents, your grandparents. I care about your future and that of your children and grandchildren and generations to come.

I care because I am a human being, a mother of beautiful sons and daughters that I love beyond measure. I care because I know that locked into the future of your family, is the future of mine. I am not stupid. I am not racist. I am not filled with hatred and a desire for revenge. I live on a hilltop that never knew a house before mine was built here. No Arab homes were destroyed to build my beautiful neighborhood; no Arabs suffered its loss. It was a barren, empty hilltop, owned by us thousands of years ago, then the Romans, then the Turks. The Jordanians got it from the British; and we liberated it back to our control in 1967, when the Jordanians refused our request to stay out of the war.

We fight with our brothers, they told Israel in 1967, and they did. They fought, and lost this piece of land, where no one lived, no village, nothing. People came to live here in the mid-1970s and have been building ever since. There are almost 45,000 people who live around me here on these hilltops surrounded by light and desert.

I love my house, with its large windows and the sun streaming in early in the morning. In the far distance, I can just barely see the Dead Sea; closer, so much closer, is the beginnings of the enchanting city of Jerusalem just a few kilometers away. But as much as I love my home and my city, if someone were firing rockets from a nearby house, I would run. I would grab my children and run as fast as I could. This isn't about rights; this is about life.

I cherish my husband and my children above all that I have, all that I am. I would run to the very corners of this country (but no, not beyond those corners). A bit over 2 years ago, the unthinkable happened. My son was serving in the army, as all young Israeli men do, and he was ordered to the border with Gaza.

Over a hundred rockets had been fired at Israel in a single month. The situation was intolerable. He was ordered to fire artillery into Gaza - at pinpoint targets where rockets were being fired at us; where mosques and hospitals were being used to shelter weapons and explosives.

Now again, just two years later, as he predicted when Israel stopped the Cast Lead war, your people are again firing on our cities. This morning - Beersheva; last night Ashdod and Ashkelon. It is impossible. It is intolerable. Even Israel, even Israel cannot withstand this barrage.

Yesterday, rockets were fired and our tank division immediately returned fire at the source of the incoming attack. These mortars and rockets you fire at us are incredibly portable. If we don't respond in seconds, like animals, your fighters will tunnel underground. We fired and hit the launchers, but 12 civilians were apparently also hit. And so I ask - not why you fired on us. I know the answer to that - it is the same culture that allows you to slit the throat of a 3-month old baby and stab a 3-year-old in the heart. It is the culture of the suicide bomber who carefully places himself between families hoping to maximize the dead. No, I know why you fire on us.

I know why we fire back too. We are trying to stop you, to protect our babies, our families. We cannot stand the cruel murder of another Hadass. Our hearts broke and continue to break. No, even Israel cannot allow this. So, I understand why we fired back at the rocket launchers yesterday.

What I cannot for the life of me understand is why your civilians are near the rocket launchers. So dear Palestinian civilians - we will do our best to avoid hitting your homes, unless you allow them to be used as rocket launchers. We will do our best to avoid hitting your mosques, unless you hide explosives there. We will do our best, but the wind and the earth, the inconsistencies of war, make it impossible that we can be accurate 100% of the time.

No, I won't point out the obvious, that your goal is to target our children while our aim is to avoid yours. I won't quote Golda Meir and her now-famous comment that this endless war will end when you love your children more than you hate us. I won't speak of your incredible hatred or your culture of martyrdom and death.

I will ask only one thing. It is logical. It is reality. If you live near a place being used as a rocket launcher, please run away. Please move. There is no other option. We cannot allow you to launch rockets at Beersheva. Don't you realize 185,000 people live there? Ashdod, Ashkelon. No, this is not possible. Sderot has suffered enough. So, Palestinian civilian, if you are truly innocent in this, truly a civilian who loves your family - go to the very corners of your neighborhood. Move away from the rockets because they will be stopped.

My oldest son took part in a war to stop the rockets two years ago. We had a partial success. You continued to fire, but at least it wasn't every day and certainly not a hundred in a month...until now. Once again, your people are attacking. At midnight in Ashkelon; at 5:30 a.m. in Beersheva.

No, we will not accept your people shooting rockets at ours and so all that leaves is an endless cycle of your attacking and our responding. We will do our best but you have a responsibility too. During the Second Lebanon War, which began after Hezbollah crossed into Israel and kidnapped two of our soldiers, our ambassador to the United Nations said something so simple and yet so profound. I offer you his words, please take them to heart.

"Sometimes," Dan Gillermann said, "sometimes when you sleep with a missile, you don't wake up."

I want you to wake up in the morning and see the beauty of the sun, as I do now, as it shines through the thick clouds over this mountain where I live. I want you to live because ultimately, your future is tied to mine and those of my children. But whether you live or die, whether your family is safe or not, depends as much on you and the decisions your duly-elected government makes, as it does on mine.

It is the nature of a government, at least ours, to protect its people. If you want to wake up to the sun tomorrow, make sure you are not near those rocket launchers today.

You Can't Retaliate First!

When I was little, my sister went to my father and told him that I'd hit her. He punished me. I didn't think it was fair and I told him that she had hit me. He went back to her and asked her if that was true. My sister's response was, "Yes, but she hit me back!"

I remembered that ridiculous, child's response tonight as I heard that Hamas was threatening to retaliate for today's misguided tank shell. What we know is that Hamas has been firing dozens of rockets and mortars at Israel for the last few days. Rumor has it, this is a command of Iran to help divert attention back to Gaza and away from them, the recent ship filled with armaments we intercepted, and perhaps an element of taking away the attention Libya is getting.

Today, Israel fired back into Gaza towards a rocket launcher. It seems the tank shell missed the target (or perhaps hit the target without realizing there were also civilians nearby). There is no argument that this was fired in response to Hamas' targeting Israeli citizens today and in recent days.

But in a classic move to spread their propaganda, Hamas is now threatening to retaliate. And somewhere in this insanity must be the simple response - you can't retaliate first!

If you fire rockets and missiles - this is called terrorism and this is called attacking. If Israel responds and targets the rocket launchers as we have been doing - THIS is called a response. It isn't called retaliation because within the concept of retaliation there seems to be an element of revenge, of getting back.

We aren't trying to get back at Gaza or Hamas. We are trying to stop the endless, daily rocket fire.

No, Hamas, just no. You cannot call this retaliation - but you can call it by its most obvious terminology - aggression, violent, acts of war, targeting civilians, and most of all - terrorism.

A Child's Fear

It's inevitable that children will have, deep within them, fears that we cannot reach. They aren't logical; they aren't just a reality. If we are blessed, the fear rises and is expressed. These we can handle, address, soothe, and hopefully ease. It is the ones that remain below, hidden and unspoken, that concern me the most.

The Itamar massacre, as it is often being called here, may well have been a flash point in our history. It is a terrorist attack that touches us all, infuriates us, disgusts us. It doesn't matter - left or right. If you are human, you have to condemn it and reject the concept of rationalization.

We got home late tonight. A bunch of factors came together, leaving Aliza without someone at home. She went to our next door neighbor. She loves going there - she gets to be the big sister. We spoke to her as we drove up to the house and she came home. She went to get ready for bed and then came out crying and shaking. "I'm scared," she said in tears.

"What are you scared of?" I asked as I held her.

"I don't know, but I'm scared."

"There's nothing to be scared of," I told her and again asked what was bothering her.

"Where is everyone?" she asked me. And so I ran through the family, telling her where each person was.

"I'm scared of terrorists," she said, "I'm afraid they're going to come into the house like they did in Itamar."

"We have bars on all our windows," I told her. "We'll lock the door as soon as Elie gets home."

It took a while to calm her down; to explain that we are secure here; that everyone is fine. Elie came home a few minutes later and I told him to go in and see Aliza, even though she'd already gone to bed. I told him what she'd said and about her being afraid.

In the few minutes we were talking, his beeper went crazy - Color Red warning in Ashdod. "I heard an explosion," I heard one man call out. Several more responded until someone in charge told them to stop talking so that everyone could listen.

Finally, a man came on and said it fell in open spaces between Ashdod and Ashkelon. Another beep, another warning. People in Ashdod should stay near the shelters; another rocket hitting near Ashkelon.

Elie went to Aliza and I heard them laughing. I locked the front door - more so I could say that I did, rather than any real fear on my part. And now I realized that Elie is on call for the ambulance squad tonight. A total of three missiles were fired at Israel tonight, and my little daughter is afraid that a terrorist will try to break in and kill her family as they attacked Itamar and the Fogel family.

So many thoughts jumble in my mind, so many emotions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Cultural Journey

Sometimes words aren't really necessary - sometimes, pictures are enough. Shmulik is getting married soon. His future wife's family comes from Iran - in Israel, they are referred to as Parsi - or Persian Jews. There is a custom among Parsi (and other Sephardic groups), to hold a henna before the wedding.

On my first trip to Israel, when I was 16, we were taken to a henna for Yemenite Jews. Part of the evening includes spreading a yellow-brown paste on your hand and leaving it for a few minutes - it stains the hand for a bit of time (I'll let you know how long). They explained tonight - if you aren't married, this will help you meet your intended; if you are married, it will increase your livelihood. Whatever the reason or result, it was an amazingly fun evening. Plus, it is always hard to get everyone together and get a picture. We didn't totally succeed, but we got close.

So - a cultural journey, a mixing of traditions tonight - in pictures.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Meaning of Purim - A Reminder

Years ago, there was a terrible attack a few hours before Purim began. We were invited to a Purim party at friends after hearing the Megillah and putting the kids to sleep. As Purim entered and we walked to the synagogue, they were still counting the bodies in Tel Aviv.

I called our friend in tears, waiting to hear his confirmation that the party had been canceled. He told me that it was not canceled. I told him I could not come...I could not laugh...I just did not want to celebrate and be happy. I needed to mourn. He listened to everything I said...and then completely ignored it. "Paula," he said, "you will come and you will be happy."

I figured on a compromise - I would go, but I would NOT be happy. We went to the party - driving through the Arab village to get there. This was years ago when these areas were not closed to Israeli traffic as they are today. Years ago, when the Arabs understood that if they wanted Jews to buy in their stores, they couldn't expect to be allowed to stone the cars, throw firebombs at them, etc.

I'd been in the village many times. On a normal evening, the men would be sitting outside the stores, smoking or drinking coffee. If you drove by, they ignored you; if you stopped to shop, they would get up, welcome you to the stores, even offer you Turkish coffee (which I've never tasted in my life).

But that night, it was different. The village was deserted - all the Arabs were inside their homes. Not because there was any closure, but because they understood, I believe, the incredible and justifiable fury we felt. No one driving through the village attacked anything. No one shouted in anger but it was best for all sides if there was no contact. We knew this as we looked at their homes and thought of our dead laying in the streets of Tel Aviv, and they knew this too.

They gave us time for our anger and for our pain. Of course, back then, they knew it was Arabs who had set the bomb and there was no attempt to pretend or claim others had done it. How different, I thought, that now again they attack us around Purim, but this time pretend. The Itamar massacre, as some are calling it, was as violent and inhumane as any we have seen in recent years. It almost defies the human ability to comprehend its horror or that capability of any human being to perform such atrocities. Though initially Fatah claimed responsibility and indeed is likely to be found responsible, they and others stepped back from this claim. Palestinian news source, Maan, even had the audacity to suggest that Thai workers were to blame, despite the fact that there are no Thai workers on Itamar.

Purim is supposed to be a time of triumph, of celebration. Why do the Arabs attack close to Purim? They want to take this from us, my friend told me, that night. He was right. That was part of why the Fogel family was attacked and murdered, part of why yesterday sixty mortars and rockets were fired at Israel. And as they attack, it is our responsibility to remind them of the essence of Purim, the victory we claim as ours year after year. So, I baked for Purim as I always do. I laughed and enjoyed the holiday with my family, as I always do.

The more we mourn, the greater will be our joy. The more we cry, the more we will laugh.

We will reach deep inside ourselves. We will never forget Rav Udi and Ruthie. We will always mourn for Yoav, Elad, and for baby Hadas and we will watch over Tamar, Roei and Yishai. But, we will celebrate the miracle that is Purim. We will celebrate our triumph over the evil that was Haman, that was Hitler, and that is Fatah and Hamas.

Purim is an incredible story - from promised destruction to watching as our enemies die the very death they would have given to us. It is what happened then, what has happened again and again in our history. So today, we cooked a special meal and ate out on our balcony surrounded by our neighbors. There was singing and laughter. A neighbor called to my son-in-law and offered him a drink. My son-in-law held up a bottle of wine to show we had our own drinks here.

The neighbor's guest said it was a silly drink and my son-in-law should come over and share with them. Men dressed in costumes, children laughed and played in the yards, the balconies, the streets.

An explosion was heard in the southern region - 10,000 people attended a parade. My two older sons have gone into Jerusalem; my youngest son will leave shortly. We made packages of cakes and food and delivered them to our friends, and got bags and bags delivered to us.

There's a gentle breeze blowing; I can still hear the music. Purim for most of Israel is just beginning to fade away but the sense of blessing and triumph remain. We have outlasted them all. We watched the Ancient Egyptians fade into history, watched as Greece and Rome fell. Haman fell before us, as Amalek had before him. We watched the Cossacks and the Crusaders come and go. We watched as Haman was hanged on the very tree he would have used for Mordechai.

Nation after nation has fallen, time and time again. Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein - all that vowed our destruction are no more. This isn't pride or arrogance, but faith. The moon circles the earth; the earth circles the sun and each day, the Jewish nation does what it must to survive.

Last Shabbat was one trial, one horrible, agonizing pain but here we are a week later, remembering that we will survive it. Tamar Fogel, just 12-years-old, and already smarter than most of our government - we will build, we will settle, we will survive and we will triumph. As the day fades away, we remember all that came before, knowing it strengthens us for all that will come in the future.

Happy Purim - may its blessing light the way for the year to come until we are again granted the reminder that we are the children of Israel and we are home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Memory

At 11:30 p.m. at night, 21 years ago, the nurse told me that within 30 minutes, my third child could be born. It would take another 4 hours, but he was worth the wait (not that I had any choice). Within seconds, the nurse said, "it's a girl."

Ultra-sounds were already common "way back then" but I didn't want them to tell me if it would be a boy or a girl - besides, deep in my soul, I knew. I knew I was having a boy. I can't tell you how I knew, or why, only that I did. After I heard the nurse pronounce the birth of my daughter, I looked at my husband. He was as surprised as I was - we were both so sure, "A girl?" I asked him. Later, he would tell me he thought those were his words and that I would be upset that he'd voiced his inner surprise.

I had a girl and a boy at home. It really didn't matter if this one was a boy or a girl - we loved both of our children without limitation and were excited about this one joining. But I'd been so sure. I was sure about our first being a girl, and I was right. I was sure about our second being a boy, and I was right. Both times, I didn't ask or receive any help from any ultrasound. So, I just was sure that I was right again, that this would be a boy. A second later, the doctor said, "it's a boy." We never thought to ask the nurse anything. My husband later joked that the doctor had more experience.

So our second son joined our family and to this day, looks at us and wonders why we have to keep telling this story, when we'll stop. Shmulik - my beautiful baby boy - born 21 years ago today.

Happy birthday, my beautiful baby boy now a soldier of Israel.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

True Love

I was blessed in my life to understand the meaning of true love very early. I met my husband when I was 17-years-old. Our lives have taken many journeys, many twists along that road - from the United States to Israel; from the two of us to the seven of us and beyond to another and another and another.

Yesterday, we had the kitchen installed in the apartment where Shmulik will live with his wife. It's a lovely apartment with a large living room and a bedroom, a bathroom with a place for a washing machine, a sweet little patio area outside with a small garden off the living room, and the place where the kitchen and dining area will be. On Sunday morning, we finally ordered the kitchen cabinets, letting Shmulik and Na'ama pick the colors. We planned it with thoughts of the kosher kitchen it will be - two sinks, one for dairy and one for meat. Two sets of drawers and many cabinets.

The wedding is weeks away and the preparations are getting intense. Shmulik is getting nervous. The apartment has to be painted; the kitchen installed, the floors and windows scrubbed; their new furniture delivered; the closets put together; their things moved in. More - with Passover coming and guests to arrive, we have a major shift under way. Shmulik will leave his room and move to the apartment. Elie got the smallest room because he was in the army and away much of the time. Davidi got the largest room because he would live in this house the longest (and he promised to share it when we had guests or vacate when couples came to stay with us).

Shmulik's room is in the middle - a nice size room, but the most beautiful part is the balcony - private, all his. This he leaves behind. Elie will move to this room. Aliza has been staying in the bomb shelter - a full-sized bedroom on the first floor near our bedroom. It has a heavy door to protect against bombs, explosions, etc. She will move upstairs to Elie's room, which catches the first morning light and looks out on the beautiful Judean Desert.

My husband had a home office down in the apartment. He will move that office to the bomb shelter, making his office right next to our bedroom, still quiet, but nearer to the family. All this shifting is taking place and my living room is full of computers and boxes, a dismantled stereo, pictures that need to be hung on walls.

We were supposed to have painted the apartment yesterday, but Shmulik's friend didn't come and so it is being painted today. The kitchen was supposed to be installed today, but they called and it was ready yesterday.

From the army, Shmulik was calling me, trying to get things coordinated. I'm working from home, trying to make things go smoothly. I realized in the morning yesterday that we could save the day from being wasted by getting the kitchen installed. I decided not to tell Shmulik about the surprise. I let him think that another day was being wasted. We were plastering the walls, I told him, doing what we could. He was still frustrated - not enough progress as the days are seeping away and there is still so much to do. He wanted to tell his friend to come last night; I told him to wait.

He got home and I showed him the kitchen and he was so happy. It makes the apartment more real, the home they are about to build so much closer. A short while later, he brought Na'ama over to see it; I left for a meeting before she came, happy to know that they would be seeing this together. When I saw him later, he described how they had talked and planned out their kitchen. Where they would put the pots, the dishes, the dairy and the meat sides.

He let her decide; let her plan and simply enjoyed watching her enjoy the kitchen and talk about where she would put the various things. It was then I remembered something that my husband said to me in our early days of marriage, "if you are happy," he told me, "then I am happy."

True love, I think, is that wonderful feeling of knowing that the person you love is happy. If we lose that feeling, in some ways, I think maybe we lose it all. If I ever had doubts about how Shmulik and Na'ama feel about each other, watching them begin building their own home has shown me that what they have is true.

A Message to Obama - from a Young American Jew

This is a letter written by a young woman. I don't know her personally - and yet I do. She is 20 years old, she lives in America. She is Jewish. In her letter, she tells you a bit about herself. She shares a first name with my youngest daughter - but so much more, she shares a collective memory, something that binds her to us, and us to her. She lives far from the tragedies of the Fogel family. This message shows that through the distances of miles and time, this horrible terrorist attack should touch us all.

A Letter to President Obama from a Young American Jewish Woman

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to you about the unspeakable and horrific acts of terror that took place in the settlement of Itamar in Shomron on the West Bank of Jersualem on Friday night, March 11, 2011. Udi, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months, were all stabbed to death in their homes. I am sure you are well aware of the attacks and the terrifying details of that sadistic massacre. I am writing to ask you what America, our brave and beautiful country, plans to do about it.

I am a Jewish American, born and raised in the United States. I love my country with all my heart and am a very patriotic citizen. However, I love Israel with all my heart as well, as the Jewish people are my brothers and sisters. This innocent family was murdered in their own homes, slit by the throat and in the heart, some while asleep and some while awake, witnessing their own extermination. This is the type of horror that one cannot even bear to imagine. Three children, who G-d chose to carry on their family’s legacy, survive them. The type of horror these young children now live with is also something one cannot even bear to imagine. Although bombs and chemicals are atrocious, the personal nature of this attack makes it indescribable and abominable.

I have been in Israel twice in my life, on a vacation and a ten-month deferment when I studied abroad two years ago. I have seen the landscape of the country and seen the heartbeat of this illustrious and indestructible nation. I have lived in America my entire life. I have seen the greatness and strength of this country, and the unyielding power we hold in the world. It is time for America to step up and take a stand. It is time for the media to condemn these actions. It is time for the world to take note and pay attention to the fear and terror that is occurring in homes and cities far away from theirs. It is time to start publicizing heinous crimes and report the truth. When will enough be enough?

To stand and watch is to align yourself with terror.

To quote Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for me—and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

I am speaking out now in the hopes that my voice can be heard. I stand behind my people, as I hope my President does for his.

Aliza Falick, 20

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Words that Break the Heart

There are things that happen that threaten to break your spirit, your drive, your ability to cope. How, I want to ask God, how can we bear this horrible thing? When parents are killed, leaving behind orphans, that is a horrible crime. But the children. How can you bear to think of an 11-year-old murdered. My youngest is 11 - she is so full of life, smiles, always talking. She calls me to tell me about her day. Endless energy, life.

How can you bear that a three year old has been murdered? Stabbed in the heart. How is it possible? And the baby...God, the baby. How could anything even close to human slit the throat of a three month old baby? What sickness, what depravity, what evil, what hatred those beings must have in them. I cannot call them human. I cannot. Yes, I know all about how the Nazis said the Jews were not human and this attitude helped contribute to the ability of Nazi Germany to destroy as ants and sheep, more than six million of my people. But what did the Jews do to the Germans?

Nothing - the Jews did not throw rocks and firebombs, rockets and missiles. They never murdered Germans as the Arabs continue to try to kill us. No, never - I do not believe a unit of Jews went into a German home and slit the throat of a baby. No.

There are things that happen that threaten to break your spirit - and there are the images that break the heart. Of the clenched fists, of the baby, of the father, of the mother. It is so hard to imagine, so hard to accept and move on.

But I managed, I really did. I cried a little; I released my anger a bit more - here and on Facebook and Twitter helped. So, really, while I almost broke...I didn't, until now completely break. Not when I had to talk to Aliza and listen to her, not when Shmulik told me to lock the door, not even when I saw the pictures. Not when I read the hate messages on CNN and other sites blaming Israel. Not when people post to Facebook asking for proof that the Palestinians handed out sweets in Gaza to celebrate the terrorist attack (why lie about such, when the proof is there in the photos?). No, none of this broke me to the point where I just couldn't talk or listen or think.

Sad as it is, I've seen this before, suffered these tragedies. Each touches the heart, but doesn't break the soul. Each comes close, but even as it comes close, you know you'll go on tomorrow. It is the reality of life here and I know I would never, could never change it.

The words that broke my heart came not from those who hate, but from one who loves. Not from our enemies, but from the purest of souls. I listened to the funerals. I heard Ruthie and Rav Udi's brothers and father and though I cried, I did not break. Perhaps the concept of breaking is strange, and so let me explain it in other terms.

When I went with my daughter to Poland for 8 days, we walked into gas chambers and though I cried, I did not break. For me, breaking was the moment when I turned to my daughter and said, "I can't. I can't stay here any more. I need to go home. Now. Please." It was the moment I stood in a small Polish village and heard about the hatred - not of 1941 when the village people murdered their Jewish neighbors in Jedwebne. That angered me, saddened me, brought me to tears. But what broke me was listening to how, in 2001, they were still denying that they had done it, still insisted it was the Germans, who were not even in the town at the time. And then there was a memorial celebration after Poland (but not the town), admitted that it was the neighbors who had killed the Jews that horrible night, and not the Germans.

I listened to how the townspeople tried, in 2001 to disrupt the ceremony and how even today, generations and decades later, they still deny. I realized in that moment how hopeless it all was and I broke. I told my daughter and the organizers of the trip that I just couldn't, couldn't stay. Please, let me go to the airport and I'll wait for you there. We were leaving that night anyway. Please, I just couldn't take any more.

The organizers would not let me go. "We have one more stop - Treblinka." I broke there; I broke before the crematoria in Auschwitz, and I broke with the words of Tamar Fogel.

It was, finally, the words of Tamar, only 12-years-old, who came home Friday night and realized something was wrong. Her words that made me feel so broken, so lost. It was Tamar who ran to her neighbor Friday night when she realized something was strange, something was wrong. She returned together with him and entered her house. It was Tamar who found her parents and her two young brothers, who miraculously survived when the terrorists failed to find the two young boys amidst the bloodbath they had created.

Little Tamar, who has experienced more horror in her short life than anyone should ever know. With all the dignity and faith she must have gotten from her parents, it was Tamar who broke my heart with the simple promise, "I will be strong and succeed in overcoming this. I understand the task that stands before me, and I will be a mother to my siblings."

I rarely, if ever, agree with anything said by Ahmed Tibi, a member of the Knesset representing one of the Arab parties. This time, I do. He said, "The murderer shames his nation. What did that criminal think when he looked a three-month-old baby in the eye and stabbed her?"

Well, I think criminal is the wrong word, and no, I do not recognize the Palestinians as a nation - they had that chance 60 years ago and chose to miss that ship and all the others that have sailed since. But he is correct - the murders bring only shame to his people, his society, his culture. There is no martyrdom here, no honor, only shame.

The pride of Israel, the beauty and grace, come from a young girl, suddenly and without mercy or warning, now thrust into the role of "mother." May God grant Tamar the blessings of the childhood she still deserves, the innocence, the love.

May she know only love from this day forward and know no more pain.

And may God avenge the blood of her parents, her brothers and her baby sister.

And please God, heal our hearts and souls so that we can continue to build our land, our homes, our lives, here in this wonderful, amazing land you have given to us.

16 Years of Kindness

The oldest orphan in the Fogel family, you have probably heard, is Tamar, the 12-year-old girl who found her parents, two brothers and sister murdered, and found two remaining brothers safe. The youngest of the orphans is only 2 years old.

Shiva is the period in which Jews sit and mourn for their immediate loved ones. It is a 7 day period, broken only by the Sabbath, a day on which we do not mourn. Throughout the period, friends and family come to comfort, to speak of the loved ones lost, to remember, to ease the immediate pain, if at all possible.

After the Shiva, the mourning continues, in degrees. First there is the Shloshim - the 30 days. The restrictions of the Shiva period are intense. You sit on low chairs, a sign of mourning. You wear a shirt torn in grief, and for the most part, you do not leave your house. The Shloshim represent an easing of many of the earlier restrictions, but still you grieve. You leave your home and return to work, but you do not attend parties and happy events, and there are other rules you follow as well.

After the Shloshim, for the first year, there are still other rules and laws. Less than the Shloshim, but still not normal. Still you do not attend parties, nor do you give or receive certain gifts. The grieving stays with you, forcing you to deal with your loss.

With each easing of the restrictions, in some way, the grief is eased as well and you learn you can live, laugh, survive. It is a most Divine, ordained method for human grieving - brilliant as only God can be. The restrictions become a burden towards the end of the period. You long to leave your home, you yearn to join with others. So, as the period comes to move to the next stage of mourning and recovery, the easing of the restrictions encourages healing.

For now, the Fogel family is sitting Shiva, the hardest, most intense part of the mourning. People come to visit and usually, food is put out somewhere. Some people spend hours sitting and talking - and many try to encourage the family to eat something. You talk of the loved ones, you see pictures. People come and tell you stories you had never heard before about how special they were. Your heart breaks a thousand times, and then a thousand times more.

Quietly, over the last few days, a man has been coming to the house bringing food and stocking the kitchen. His name is Rami Levy and he owns a chain of supermarkets. I've heard amazing stories about him in the past but this one beats all I have ever heard.

Every day, Rami Levi comes by the shiva house to the Fogel family and fills the cupboards and refrigerator himself with food for the family and guests. Today, one of the relatives thanked him for this incredible kindness and his response brought me to tears,"You will get used to my face," he told this family in mourning, "I have committed myself that every week I will deliver food and stock your home until the youngest orphan turns 18 years old."

The youngest orphan of this tragedy is a young 2 year old boy who woke in the night and ran to his parents. Thankfully, by then, the terrorists had left, leaving a scene of unimaginable horror behind. The little boy ran to his parents and began to shake them, trying to wake them. His sister and a neighbor found him there, crying.

What Rami Levy has done is commit to 16 years of kindness. If this was a week in which the Palestinians should be ashamed, and it was, than this is a week in which we Jews have the right to be so proud.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just Lock the Door

It's strange how things effect you and your children. Shmulik took our dog for a walk a short while ago. Simba is a relatively large dog and if any Arab terrorists are reading it, a particularly vicious one (for the rest of you, he's a sweetie).

Shmulik came in and without saying anything, went upstairs. I didn't know, but he was checking in with his commanding officer. Apparently, he saw police searching the edges of our neighborhood and wanted to find out if S. knew of anything happening.

Then he called down, "You should lock the door," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

That's when he told me that he'd seen the police searching and had called his commanding officer, "it's probably nothing. Just lock the door."

I locked the door; I lowered the shutters. No, I don't believe there is anything happening, but just two nights ago, terrorists went into a home and murdered two parents and three of their children. We are a country in mourning; an angry one.

Today were the funerals. It was impossible to listen to the long funeral broadcast over most of Israel's radio stations. It was impossible not to listen. I drove home from a meeting with tears in my eyes as I listened to the agony in the voices of the brothers and parents of Udi and Ruthie Fogel. The mourners wailed in agony, as each person mentioned little Hadas - only 3 months old.

I got up from the computer and locked the door tonight because I want my children to feel safe. I closed the shutters because I want to block out all evil.

Tonight, we went to the wedding hall where Shmulik will be married in a few short weeks. We tasted salads and main dishes and chose what foods will be served to our guests. Such a strange day, such waves of agony. A strange blend of normal, of life going on and plans moving forward, and a feeling that we will never be whole again.

It wasn't fear that caused Shmulik to tell me to lock the door, it wasn't a feeling of helplessness. It was a logical suggestion. Probably nothing out there, but the locked door might be enough, if something were there. Why play with fire? What harm to lock the door earlier than usual?

"Ima, did you hear about the family in Itamar?" my young daughter asked me a few minutes ago. She wasn't around when Elie told me last night after the Sabbath ended and it never occurred to me to explain to her such horror. Today, she attended a fair at the junior high school in honor of the upcoming Purim holiday.

"All the money we raised today, we are giving to the family," she told me. My daughter goes to the same youth movement as Tamar, the oldest child of the Fogel family. Tamar, just a few months older than my daughter, had gone to Bnei Akiva and come home afterwards. She found the house locked and went to a neighbor because it should have been unlocked. They entered together, and found the bodies of her parents, her brothers, her baby sister. She found one of her little 2-year-old brother shaking is parent's bodies, trying to make them get up. I can only hope these details are not known to my daughter.

"Bnei Akiva saved her," my daughter said, "because if she'd been home, she would have died too."

Too much knowledge for an 11-year-old. "And they killed the baby. Only 3-months-old." Too much knowledge.

"Just lock the door," said my 20-year-old said as he went back upstairs. Too much knowledge even for a 20-year-old.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I try not to read CNN - I find myself just disgusted by their hidden agenda. It is little comfort that BBC is even worse. Tonight, I could not bring myself to look at BBC, but I did make the mistake of reading CNN. (

Don't bother to read it - it is infuriating.

Dear Mr. Flower - no, the family was not killed. Killed is a word that implies innocence; it implies accidental. Thousands were killed in Haiti, thousands feared killed in Japan. No, this family was not killed, they were murdered.

Dear Mr. Flower, why do you need those quotes around terror attack? Do you have some question about the veracity of those words? Do you need the Israeli military to explain that when someone stabs a two month old baby, it is a terrorist attack?

What would you call it when two men sneak into a house in the middle of the night and stab a mother, a father, an 11-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 2-month old as they sleep? Is that not the very definition of innocence? Is that not the very definition of a terrorist attack?

Interesting that you fail to mention the ages of the children. Is this not relevant? Is this not newsworthy? Do you think this is such a common occurrence, then? This stabbing of an infant? You tell the ages of people in half your articles when it is not relevant and yet here, suddenly, it is missing.

I understand. I really do. To tell someone that an infant was butchered might lead to sympathy. Certainly, there can be no justification or defense and so it is better, perhaps, to leave it out. It is only relevant when the Israeli army catches an 11-year-old stone throwing Palestinian or a 14-year-old bomb carrying one. But not, certainly not, when it is an 11-year-old Israeli child stabbed brutally to death and worse, it might appear, so much worse when his 2-month old brother or sister (I don't even know which at this time).

If you have to use quotes in this case, you might as well stop writing. Words have tremendous power. As a journalist, you should know that. With words, you can paint pictures for all to see, for all to understand. That's why I love to write. I want to show people what it is like to be a soldier's mother, but more, I have learned that I want to show people what it is like to be an Israeli, a Jew, mother to Elie, Shmulik and David as they join the Israeli army and the world, people like you, would want to paint another picture.

As a journalist, your putting quotes around those words shows that you have given in to the political agenda of CNN and the pressure of your anti-Israel readers.

But more important, Mr. Kevin Flower, as a human being, your putting quotes around those words shows only your lack of humanity. You should be deeply ashamed.

A Choking Anger

"Did you hear?" Elie said when I came to the table moments after the Sabbath had ended.

"No, what?" I asked.

"Bad news," he said. And then he told me. "Two parents and three children. Stabbed. Itamar."

"Killed?" I asked, already feeling the horror starting to mount inside me.

"Yes," he answered quietly.

"Oh, God. Oh, God," I kept repeating. "Oh, God."

The anger, the rage that comes is almost more than I can stand. It chokes you. It fills you, infuriates you. What animals, you want to scream to the world. "Animals," I said out loud to my husband and my son, who was and is a soldier. "Animals," I said again. It is a horrible thing to call a person an animal and yet what other word can you use? What sets us apart as humans is our ability not to feed off others, and yet only humans murder for the sake of murder. Perhaps we are even less civilized than the animals if we can butcher a child, an infant, a baby.

I quickly opened my computer. We stopped having a television in our home when we moved more than a year ago and, in truth, I rarely miss it. I love having my children find other ways to amuse themselves. But tonight, I could use a television to see and learn more quickly what is happening now. But there is nothing happening now, not really.

As always, there is confusion in the early reports. It seems, in the early morning hours or perhaps very late last night, Arab terrorists sneaked into a house in Itamar and stabbed a husband and his wife, an 11-year old, a 3-year old, and a 2-month old baby. Perhaps the baby was only 1 month old. It isn't clear, the reports differ. Does it matter? I cannot comprehend what it takes to stab an infant, a child, two children. A woman asleep, a man unarmed.

What bastard religion calls this a thing of honor? What society hands out candies and celebrates such devastation and horror? They are celebrating in Gaza today - handing out sweets. They are so proud of their brave and honored brother, who showed his stabbing a helpless infant.

It is hard to be an Israeli tonight. To sit here and know that life was stolen before it was every fully attained. Harder still to imagine what a young 12-year-old girl is experiencing now. She was the one who returned from visiting with friends to find her parents and two of her siblings murdered. She found two other siblings and took them to neighbors to get help. Yesterday, a family with six children; today, three orphans.

The US government announces its condemnation and outrage. Small comfort there when all too often, they demand we remove the very checkpoints that help protect against these attacks. France has condemned the attack and urges restraint. Why? Why should we restrain ourselves? Are they restraining themselves in Gaza as they dance in the streets and hand out candies? Did they restrain their hands as they stabbed this small Jewish baby?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned any violent act towards civilians, "regardless of the circumstances," and yet it is his own organization that claims responsibility for this attack. He cannot even bring himself to name the place and the people - his standard general comment only infuriates more.>

There are no words that can adequately describe the anger and the rage I am feeling and so there is no comfort. The world will forget, as it always does - each orphan, each infant. It sickens me beyond words. Already, comments are being made on CNN news chats saying that Israel is responsible for the killings because of the stalled peace talks. How, I wonder, can someone blame Israel for two terrorists who jump a fence, enter a house through a window, and murder, in cold blood, a couple and their children? How can you blame Israel for the deranged action of a terrorist capable of stabbing an infant to death and the society that supports and encourages such actions?

No, it is wrong. It is an abomination. It is beneath everything we know as humanity. And there can be no peace, none, with a society that celebrates this horror. For now, as I check the news stations, I try to find something that can console, something that can comfort. Tomorrow, there will be funerals.

And through the blinding agony comes one thought. This is not 1940; this is not Europe. We are not helpless. There is no more that we can do - but even now, there are those who are acting. There are those who are finding the clues to the identities of the murderers.

Quietly, in the days to come, they will be hunted. That is, after all, what you do with animals - you hunt them. It is not a popular thing to say; it is not politically correct. We will hunt those who butchered an infant, two children and their parents. They will be caught. Perhaps they will be arrested. Perhaps they will resist. They will be caught.

That is the only comfort I can find as I sit here and think of these murders. We cannot bring this family back; we cannot remove the horrifying pictures that will forever be engraved in the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. But we can find these martyrs of Islam and make sure they never do this again.

Soon, very soon, their families will know that Israel is not helpless; that despite Obama and Clinton, despite France's concern for restraint and Abbas' meaningless words, the Jewish State protects its own. Perhaps the UN will condemn us - no matter. Others will criticize us on CNN - we do not care.

My response is the hunt is on and it will continue until these people are brought to justice. Somewhere, deep in my heart, I hope they resist. Then, it will be God who declares their punishment.

May God avenge the blood of these innocents.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Called Terrorism, Folks

It angered me when President Obama refused to use the "T" word for the Fort Hood attack. When someone takes a gun, screams, "Allah Akbar" and opens fire, the action is clearly a terrorist one. Obama had problems with the more recent attack against American forces in Germany as well. So let me explain.

Last week, terrorists threw rocks at a bus from Maale Adumim that was about to enter a tunnel in Jerusalem. The tunnel was built a few years ago as a bypass to the old bypass road. The first bypass road was built so that thousands of people didn't have to drive through Abu Dis and Azarya for the 5 minute drive into Jerusalem from Maale Adumim. Those 5 minutes through two Arab neighborhoods threatened their safety and their lives as Arabs were throwing rocks and firebombs and more at passing cars.

During the second intifada, the Arabs attacked the bypass road, shooting, throwing things, etc. at the passing cars. More than once, they threw couches, chairs, even a washing machine - "appliance terrorism" a friend joked, but terrorism, nonetheless.

So the second bypass road was built, tunneling under Mt. Scopus into Jerusalem and moving the path of now tens of thousands of Israelis to a safer more distant area. And so, sometimes, despite heightened security, some cameras, and a checkpoint, the Arabs attack that road. Not often, as the land doesn't easily lend itself to attack and run, but still it happens.

Last week, they attacked a bus - one woman was injured and the bus was damaged. The Arabs had failed, though - because their goal was likely to hit the driver's window, shattering it from above and causing the bus to crash. The greater the suffering, the more the victory - for a terrorist.

Last night, Arabs opened fire on a bus in Maale Ephraim, north of Jerusalem. Damage to the bus, no injuries. Again, a failure for the terrorist. Again, terrorism.

It's called terrorism, folks - when someone opens fire on innocents. It's terrorism when they use religion or politics as the justification for their attack, glorifying in the suffering of innocents. Terrorism, Mr. Obama.

Of all Obama's failures, and there are many, I believe his greatest failure will go down in history as his refusal to understand the fundamental threat that we in the west face. For whatever reason he refuses to see it, and I won't get into his religion, his birth certificate or parents, whatever the reason, his refusal to call terrorism by name is an insult to Americans, the military, all Israelis, and anyone who believes in the rights of the innocent.

When a rocket is fired at a city, that is terrorism. It terrorizes hundreds of thousands of people, parents and children, innocents. No political or military action in the world justifies such terrorism. That is the fundamental truth that Obama seeks to minimize by failing to use the accurate word.

It IS terrorism, folks. Yesterday and the day before, last week, last month, last year. In Fort Hood, in Tel Aviv, in Germany, in Kfar Sava, on September 11, in Bali, Jerusalem, Madrid, Netanya.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Husband in the Making

It is interesting watching a husband being made. It happens in the weeks before the wedding, I think. There is that slow transition from the boy to the man that I saw with Elie, but there is an added level of responsibility. Shmulik is taking a wife (and to be balanced and fair, being taken by one to be a husband).

He's got so much on his mind now. He's helping us get the apartment ready. We have to order a kitchen (the final order will be placed on Sunday and should be in place by Tuesday). We need to paint the apartment - I don't know when or how.

He's got to have the furniture they ordered delivered; he still doesn't have a suit. The invitations arrived and we have to give them out or mail them - hopefully tomorrow. Maybe I'm projecting my feelings and pressure on him? I don't think so, but it is hard to tell.

It's funny how life is sometimes - when Amira was getting married and Elie was about to go into the army; things seemed simpler then. Of course, it can't be true. My youngest was only 7 and still a little girl. Now she is 11 and so much more independent. With Amira, it was our first wedding and there was so much we didn't know. And yet, it really did feel like it was easier last time around.

Three weeks...and we still haven't gotten clothes for everyone (or really anyone); the apartment isn't done; so many details.

Life is a bit surreal right now - two worlds swirling around. There is the world of family and this wedding, and there is the outside world. Rioting and demonstrations in the Arab world; rock attacks, fire bombings, and rockets and missiles in this other world. There was a siren test in Jerusalem today - we didn't even hear it. Not a good sign.

Clinton is going to visit Tunisia and Egypt. The Sea of Galilee went up 7 centimeters as a result of this latest storm that is hitting Israel now. The UN is accusing Israel of kidnapping a Palestinian engineer. Three hundred refugees attempted to cross into Israel from Egypt in the last week alone, seeking refuge and a better life than what they had in Africa. A rocket hit Israel today, again fired from Gaza. And the Dalai Lama stepped down as political leader of Tibet.

What does it all mean? I don't have a clue - all I know is that in my little world, we feel the earth is yet again shaking a bit as our family once again shifts and expands. It's a nice feeling, after all to have a son turn into a husband, to watch as he accepts that he has met his partner for life and begins to build a world for her and around her.

Their apartment is taking shape - it will be a sweet home. May it always be blessed with health and happiness, graced with love and with children in the years to come.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Chronic Thinker

I was thinking as I drove home from dropping Aliza at school this morning, letting my mind wander. I thought of something, and then the term came to mind - I am a chronic thinker. I think about the future and somewhere deep in the places I don't want to admit to anyone, I believe that if you think of bad things that might happen, somehow you'll help prevent them from happening.

See, I knew it wouldn't make sense once the words were written out in black and white, but there you go. I believe that if we try to out-think God, God will simply be more creative and think of something else. Beyond that, I test how I'm going to feel about something - in short, I'm a chronic thinker. I wake sometimes in the middle of the night or the early morning hours, my mind heavy with so much.

This morning, I saw a boy that looked a bit like Davidi - not much, but a little. He was older though and so my mind wondered if he was in the army and there the chain continues. I wondered how I would feel when Davidi, my little boy, goes into the army. Never mind that at 15, he is certainly not little. He towers above me, simply towers above. He is slightly, ever-so-slightly, shorter than Elie such that each time he comes home from school, I see myself wondering if today is the day he will equal or pass Elie.

He has Elie's blue eyes - almost more gray than blue, but amazing. His hair, like Elie's is lighter than the rest of the family. Like Elie and Shmulik, he was chubby entering his 13th year, and then sprang up in height, becoming so much more slender. How would I feel, I thought this morning, having this one join the army?

And that was when I remembered something that happened after Elie's birth. It is a Jewish custom to circumcise a son on the 8th day after his birth. It is that action that welcomes the boy into the Jewish people. The first act of many to come in his life.

When Elie was born, I was nervous about how the procedure would go, how I would take care of him after. It was an operation - a simple one, but an operation nonetheless. It was nerve-wracking,  but it went well. He was given his name, welcomed into a people and religion that has followed him all his life. After the actual brit (circumcision ceremony), it is customary as with most things in the Jewish religion, to sit down and have a meal, a celebration, a thanksgiving.

At the meal, I asked the rabbi, "does this get easier with each boy, or do you start wishing for girls?"  He laughed and assured me that it gets easier. When Shmulik was born, after the brit, I went to the rabbi and without much of an introduction, I said, "You lied." He was startled for a second and then asked, "About what?"

"It doesn't get easier," I said with a smile, relieved that Shmulik too had received his name and his introduction to our covenant with God. A few years later, it was Davidi's turn to undergo this experience. He was given the name of my husband's father, a living memory to a wonderful man. My father-in-law would be amazed to see his grandchildren now, how tall they are, how smart, how beautiful.

The memory of that day when I told the rabbi that there are things in life that don't get easier over time returned to me today as I thought into the future, when Davidi would come home with a gun and a uniform and I would still be a soldier's mother.

Somehow, like the brit, I don't think it gets easier with time. If it helps any, I have years to go before it happens. Like I said, I'm a chronic thinker, I guess. Shabbat shalom - may the Sabbath come and bring peace to all our sons, all our daughters, all our people and to the world.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Security Guard

Shmulik needs to earn more money than the small amount the army pays him as a soldier. He gets food, clothing (well, uniforms anyway), and free buses, which he largely doesn't need because most of the time he goes to and from base as S.'s driver. But he's getting married and so there are many more things he will need.

He started last night working part time as a security guard at the local mall. That means he stands there and checks people's bags as they enter the mall, checks car trunks, etc. He came home last night after a 6 hour shift earning minimum wage looking so incredibly handsome - even more, perhaps, than he does in the army uniform.

Doing security at the mall will be easy and fun for him. On his breaks, he gets to walk around and see what's new in the mall. He's always been a shopper - he loves clothes and fashion, as does his future wife. They are beautiful together and each has more clothes than most of my other children combined. But it is his right to buy things for himself and truthfully, I hope he always will treat himself (and his wife and God willing, his children) to the good things life has to offer.

It's fun at the mall because he is working in a city where he has lived for 10 years, where he grew up, where he went to school. Already on the first day, he met people he knows. It is a formality, to some extent, but he has to check their bags and cars too.

That is the light side of being a security guard - talking to people you know, looking at new things or drinking some hot chocolate on a break. There is a terrifying side to being a guard and that is the side I push away. It seems silly, after being a soldier's mother, to worry about something as common as a security guard.

They are everywhere, all the time. Every mall I go to involves opening my car trunk, sometimes my glove compartment. It means opening my purse when I walk into the actual mall and sometimes answering the silly questions, "No, I don't carry a gun" even as I realize it really isn't a silly question at all. But more than the answer, is that the security guard is listening in those few seconds, deciding if I pose a threat or could have been used to pose a threat.

They hear the American accent, they see a woman in her middle years. Let her go, their brain says as their eyes shift to the next person. Now their eyes are Shmulik's eyes - those amazing dark brown eyes that are the deepest, darkest of colors. Eyes that dance with humor and warmth. My Shmulik now stands between the people in the mall and any danger that comes to threaten them.

Years ago, I wrote about The Israeli Guard. Here's that article. It was written 7 years ago but is still so true today.

The Israeli Guard
(written in 2004)

The guard at my third grader's school can be fearsome. He stops you at the gate and questions you. What is your name? Why have you come to the school? Who is your child? Who have you come to meet? He's been known to ask for identification and other than students and teachers, no one walks through his gate unless he knows who you are and that you should be where you want to go.

He’s bearded and dark and won’t unlock the gate until you answer his questions. He is bundled in a warm coat, as he sits outside for hours at a time, in a small security booth beside the locked gates of the school. He doesn’t allow children to leave the protected area without a note during school hours and I’ve seen him call to a child running towards him in a costume and mask, demanding that the child stop and reveal his face before approaching.

Recently, I caught him off guard. The man is a fraud. Under the dark and serious image he projects to protect his children, is a smiling man who knows most of our young ones by name. After driving my son to school, I was about to put the car in reverse when I watched his dour face transformed. Gone was the serious man standing by the locked metal bars. I’d never seen him smile before, never laugh.

As a child approached with a soccer ball, the guard faked to the right, moved to the left, and quickly intercepted the ball, kicking it swiftly back to the boy before it could enter the school gate. A goal prevented, a child enthralled. This is clearly not the first time they have played this game. The ball bounced and the child aimed again, and for the briefest of moments, the game continued as the guard let the ball fly past him and the child roared “GOAL”!

The guard laughed and did a “high 5” with the child as he sailed on his way to school, having conquered mountains a full 10 minutes before the school bell. He greeted my son by name, and gently slapped several other boys on the back as they passed. He motioned to the last stragglers to hurry before the bell. He pretended to run in place as the bell rang, signaling to the children that they should hurry. And, after the last child passed through, he locked the gate and returned to his booth.

Yesterday, I had a meeting at the school. I approached the guard booth with a smile, but none was returned. Somber expression on his face, he questioned me as I approached. Who are you? Why have you come? I wanted to tell him I knew his secret. I’d seen him smile and play with the children and he clearly wasn’t as tough as he pretended. But somehow, I was as intimidated as he expected me to be. I answered his questions and entered. I thought about him again later in the evening when I passed the checkpoint to enter our local mall and waited while the security guard opened my glove compartment, asked if I had a weapon, and then searched the trunk of my car.

In Israel, security is an ingrained part of our lives. What would be considered an invasion of our rights in any other place is accepted as normal here. We open our bags, allow guards to run security wands close to our bodies, open our car trunks without a second thought. We slow down at checkpoints, stop and answer questions…all with the hope that our little inconveniences help guarantee the safety of all around us. It’s become so normal for us that we seldom point this out to strangers and so the inconveniences we accept to make our lives more secure are ignored by most of the world.

We’ve gotten so good at this, we look past the guards. They are a brief obstacle on our way to buy milk, a short delay when we enter the mall, the reason we stand in the cold for an extra few seconds before entering a restaurant. They guard our children, protect our schools and yet sometimes, all we hear are the gruff questions. It’s only on rare glimpses that we see that behind the uniform, behind the job, there is a person full of life, full of concerns, full of dreams.

Few of us could describe what a guard looks like moments after we pass by, and yet they stand between us and murder on a daily basis and sadly, sometimes they sacrifice their dreams to save our realities. Haim Smadar was a school guard in Jerusalem. He was 55 years old when an 18-year-old Palestinian woman came to attack the school where he worked. Haim stopped her, protecting the children he had promised to protect, but losing his life in the process. He once promised his wife, "Shoshana, if a suicide bomber ever comes close to my school, he will not get past me. With my own body, I would stop him." And he did.

Alexander Kostyuk was a 23-year-old security guard from Bat Yam. He was killed and another 13 were wounded in a suicide bombing outside the train station in Kfar Sava. There is no question that many more would have died that day, if Alexander hadn’t put himself between innocent civilians waiting for a train during rush hour, and a suicide bomber determined to kill as many as he could.

In March of 2002, a Palestinian terrorist detonated his bomb as he walked into a cafe, crowded with some 50 patrons. Miraculously, the bomb did not go off. The terrorist tried again to detonate himself, but by then the security guard had realized what was happening and stopped the terrorist.

Just two months later, another suicide terrorist targeted a popular Kfar Saba shopping mall. The security guard stopped the terrorist from entering. This prevented more extensive casualties, and yet the guard and one civilian were killed, with another 70 were wounded.

In yet another example of extreme bravery, Staff-Sgt. Noam Apter found himself in the kitchen of a school under attack. The 23-year-old paratrooper was on leave from the army at the time. He was right by the door and could have fled the scene unharmed. Instead, he locked himself into the kitchen with the terrorists, giving dozens of students who were in the midst of their Sabbath meal, the opportunity to flee. Noam was shot in the back, but precious time was saved.

Their sacrifices highlight the dangers so many choose to face each day. What makes them special, beyond the job they do, is the humanity that they continue to show, despite the strain. The security guard at my son’s school is charged with protecting hundreds of children every day. The minute they pass through his gate, he is the only thing that stands between a potential suicide bomber and our children.

He takes this job very seriously, as can be seen by the questions he asks, the way he watches when we approach his position. But he takes the children very seriously as well, and so he learns their names, hurries them along so they won’t be late, takes the time to show them the person behind the uniform, the man behind the job. It is yet another sign that more than four years into this Intifada, with rockets falling daily and the threat of terror still on the horizon, we have not lost our humanity, our ability to care, to smile, to be concerned for each other.

January, 2004

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

History in Truth - I am Israel

This is a very special video someone sent to me today - I hope you can take the time to see it.

All the words that need to be said - are in the video - please watch and send a link to your friends!

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you were working at your computer, surrounded by many people - all working on their computers, when suddenly, an air raid siren goes off?

It happened here about an hour or two ago. I'm working at a client site. There are about 60 employees here. I sit in the same area as two developers, three QA people, and two project managers. Everyone stopped; two people went to look out the window. The siren continued.

Two people started searching the Internet, "it must be a drill," said one.

"It's probably a mistake," said another.

"If this was in the south or the north, we'd be going to bomb shelters," I said to one programmer.

"Yalla, let's go," he said.

"Are you serious?" I asked him.

"No," he said with a smile.

I watched as more people crowded by the windows. "You do realize that if a missile were coming in, the dumbest place to be would be by the window, right?" I said to no one in particular.

Another programmer turned around, "you're right, let's go to the roof."

He was being funny and a few people laughed. It was as we expected it to be - an error. Here in Netanya with the sun shining, we were relatively sure that it was a mistake even from the beginning. No one ran to "safety."

But elsewhere in Israel, people did run to bomb shelters; people did wonder if they would hear an explosion in a few minutes. As we were waiting for the siren to stop, for confirmation it was an error and not an attack, another thought crossed my mind. If this were real, we wouldn't even know from where the attack came. Lebanon and Hizbollah in the north; Gaza and Hamas in the south. Syria and their latest attempts to go nuclear in the north east; Iran further to our east; perhaps even the new Egypt to our west.

The siren stopped; people returned to their work. "It was a mistake," someone called out.

"Where do you see it?" someone asked and was given a website. Others went to look to confirm. It is a strange feeling to hear a siren wailing in the distance, to look outside at a beautiful sunny day and wonder if at any moment, something would explode or come crashing down. Everyone treated it as a normal part of life here, if a bit more exciting than a normal day without any such disturbance.

It is times like this that I want to shake them - no, this is not normal. In a normal country, people can go years and years and never hear an air raid siren. Did I ever hear one in America? I don't remember.

In Israel, I hear them on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks. I hear them on the very rare occasions when the authorities test the sirens. During the Gaza War, someone made a mistake. Instead of hitting the switch for Beersheva, they hit it for Beit Shemesh and the Jerusalem area. We heard it and wondered. For my daughter, it was a different story. We were a nation at war and so the school quickly moved the children to bomb shelters (see A Child's Alarm).

I haven't heard yet whether schools did the same today. I have to assume that they did. And so I return to wanting to shout out, "No, this is not normal." Because remembering normal gives me a hope that someday we will get there.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When the Heart is Sad

Since his early years, Shmulik has always loved animals. It almost doesn't matter what kind of animal. Birds, cats, dogs, rabbits. Even hamsters, guinea pigs, and snakes. We took him to the safari a year or two after we arrived in Israel - he was probably all of 4 or 5 years old. He loved watching the animals run as we slowly drove through the beautiful area, twisting lanes that led between the various enclosures. Lions lounging fascinated him; he loved the zebras and the deer.

At one point, in the deer area, we parked to watch the grace and beauty that is nature and the deer. We stayed parked on the side and watched as a young fawn slowly walked behind our car and stood in the middle of the road. Shmulik decided the baby deer was lost and didn't know where his mother was. He insisted that we take the deer home with us so he wouldn't be scared. We tried to explain to Shmulik that the deer's mother would find him; that everything would be okay; that we could not take him home. Shmulik started to cry and cry.

When we first moved to Israel, Amira and Elie were scared of dogs. As someone who had grown up with dogs (more than I want to admit), I found this intolerable. A year after moving here, we got Sheba, a beautiful white and black dog. A year later, my sister called and told us that a dachshund had been abandoned on the side of the road, taken by a neighbor and nursed back to health. Sushi joined our family.

I doubt there has ever been a dog as gentle as Sushi. Several other families have offered to take her in the past. We went away on vacation one year and left her with loving friends for a week, only to learn that she was a tyrant. Little Sushi! I went to pick her up, astounded that she had been misbehaving. She ran to me when I saw her and would not leave me alone for a second. I put her in the front passenger seat and circled the car. She immediately crawled into the driver's seat to be closer.

I pushed her back into the passenger seat and had to keep one hand on her, touching and petting her, all the way home. When Davidi was a toddler, he tormented Sushi. We told him to leave her alone, but he was terrible. One day, he was leaning over her. Sushi had had enough. She stood up and Davidi slipped off her. He looked at me, as if expecting me to give Sushi a hard time. I wanted to say, "Good Sushi!"

We've added cats at various points to our home, fish and birds. I think we had a hamster, but that was short-lived and against my wishes and eventually, we settled down to the 1 fish in Shmulik's room, the 11 birds, including Coco the African Violet, beautiful Sheba who wasn't very smart, and gentle Sushi. Sheba died about three years ago, after a long life and Shmulik missed her terribly. He asked us to get another dog.

We held out for a while; Sushi was getting old - already she was 12-13 years old so we decided to get a puppy. Simba joined our family and it was strange having a bouncing puppy, energetic, and full of action. Somehow, he knew to yield to Sushi and the two were often found cuddled together. More than once, Simba would stand by while Sushi ate his food (only later to go over and eat Sushi's). Simba quickly learned how to open doors (literally) and stand on walls. When we moved to our new house about a year and a half ago, Simba delighted the neighbors by standing on the wall of the upper balcony, towering over the neighborhood.

I'm delaying so I guess I'll get to the point.

Sushi died during the night and it is hard on all of us - harder perhaps, on Shmulik. When Sheba died, Shmulik came with us to the vet when it was clear she was suffering and in pain. We cried together outside while my husband stayed with Sheba as she slipped away. It is an agonizing decision to make and one that was even harder with Sushi.

In the end, there was no decision to make. For days, we have been giving her medicine, coaxing her to eat and weighing the decision. Yesterday, she was quieter and was refusing to eat. I gave her a few teaspoons of water - all she would take before going to bed. I was sure that today I would have to make a final decision and probably take her to the vet. I hated the idea.

In the end, she slipped away, gently in the night. It was Shmulik who helped me take care of the body. I couldn't even bring myself to touch her to confirm she was gone. I called Elie. After years in the ambulance squad, he has sadly been around dead bodies. Elie is great with many things, but has never been a real animal lover. He'll help when he has to, but is more than happy to be left alone.

I asked Shmulik for help, another sign that our relationship has reached this mutual stage where it is one between adults, rather than solely that of parent and child. Shmulik touched Sushi and finally covered her. His eyes filled with tears but he was amazingly gentle. As with Sheba, we cried together.

Sushi lived an amazingly long life - even for a dachshund. Aliza cried this morning before leaving for school. I told her that from my calculation, Sushi had lived at least 17 years. In dog years, she was at least 119 years old. According to Jewish tradition, a full life is 120 years. We don't know exactly how old Sushi was. She was thrown away on the side of the road by some callous people when she had puppies. All her puppies died; Sushi was very ill when she was found. I don't know what caused them to be so cruel, but I know their act of cruelty was a blessing for our family.

It could easily be that Sushi was a few months older than a vet assumed so many years ago. It is only those few months that stand between her and 120 years. Perhaps, God has granted her a perfect and full life of 120 years. Certainly, she gave me the gift of not having to decide and I know she did not suffer. She simply left our lives as she entered it, gently and sweetly. I know that from the time we got her, she was loved. She was warm and fed and had children to play with. She would often sleep outside our bedroom door. Just yesterday, Shmulik found her sleeping on the floor in my room and took her back to her bed to rest on a blanket. She always wanted to be near us. She had a full life, I told Aliza, and went as gently in death, as she lived her life. I can't begin to explain how much we will miss her.

But I am comforted, or trying to be, by the very real truth that I don't think you can ask for much more in life than what Sushi had (and what she gave us) - pure and simple love.

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