Monday, February 29, 2016

When Compassion and Love Triumph Over Evil

Sometimes, in your darkest moments, you think you are ready to surrender. You think that evil can actually win and you're ready to pull into yourself and give up. Almost 72 hours ago, evil attempted to defeat goodness.

Evil was a 21-year-old Palestinian who had been given an opportunity to earn wages well above the average income of his friends and neighbors. He landed a permit that allowed him to come into my city every day to work. He was, by all accounts, treated respectfully. Each day he went through a security check to verify his permit and then he was allowed to go to the mall where he worked. Someone told me he regularly had coffee with one of the security guards. He was trusted to remain after most Arabs left, hours after closing.

Well into the night, he worked to prepare the store's offerings for the following day. He did this last Thursday night until, for some reason, he took an axe and found the security guard. He told him he wanted to go outside and as the guard turned to open the locked doors, the Arab struck him from behind. I won't detail the rest of the attack except to say it was particularly brutal and barbaric and we still don't know if the guard, Tzvika Cohen, will survive.

What we do know is that Tzivka is the father of four children, including one that is 8 and one that is 12 and about to become bar mitzvahed in just two weeks. Bar mitzvah is the age when a boy is said to become a man. Weeks before my David's bar mitzvah, his brother went to war for the first time and we learned to live with a fear that is almost unparalleled. Over those weeks, Davidi changed, became a bit more responsible, a bit more attentive. Now Tzvika's son has been forced into a new reality just weeks before he was to have celebrated with his family.

So for the last 72 hours, my city has been in limbo, praying that the Arab would be caught (he was) and more, praying that Tzvika survives and finds his way back to his family, friends, and neighbors. Today, as details of Tzvika's family became widely known, someone called for donations to be made to the family and within hours, over $1,000 (4,000 NIS) was promised and collected..

And then Elie asked about our Book Swap, where we raise money for charity twice a year and suddenly, that's what we scheduled. What normally takes us weeks to do - we are now attempting to put together in just 72 hours. More, we've thrown in a bake sale. All proceeds go to Tzvika's family.

So I posted on Facebook, created Google docs, answered questions, made up details and decisions on the spot and then, I sat back and watched. Without touching my computer, my browser opened to the shared spreadsheet I had opened just a short time before, my eyes filled with tears and I felt completely overwhelmed.

With details, but more with love. Tzvika is in a coma. We pray he will awaken but for now, as he sleeps, more than two dozen people have shown their compassion and their love. Within hours, over 500 books had been pledged; people who live hours away have offered to send books if we can find a way to collect them. They'll even drive an hour north, if we can find someone able to drive south for about an hour.

Cupcakes, brownies, lemon bars, three kinds of cookies, 60 challah rolls and so much more - all promised for Thursday night's bake sale. All posted as I watched the page fill. Suddenly a last name, then a first name, their phone number, the dessert they would offer. Meanwhile, on the other page, a last name, a first name, their phone number, how many books they would donate, and if they can help by volunteering to be a cashier, to sort books, to help with the cleanup. And hours later, I am closing off jobs because so many are filled. Fourteen hours after opening this up to my community, almost all the volunteer jobs are filled; over 35 people have volunteered to bake for the Bake Sale; over 600 books have already been donated (with several people saying they will donate but not specifying an amount).

This is my city, my country, my people, my world.

When darkness fills the world, all you can do is try to bring light back into it. An act of kindness, of compassion. Love and caring have filled my city. Last night, the children took to the streets, singing and holding up signs, "The Nation of Israel Lives" - there can be no evil strong enough to defeat the people of the light, the people of life.

This is my city, my country, my people, my world.
-------

And so, the Book Swap is on - this Wednesday and Thursday night in the Social Hall of the Pnei Shmuel synagogue (Rechov Mitzpe Nevo 102), Maale Adumim starting 6:30 on Wednesday night and 7:30 on Thursday night.

All for Tzvika and his family. Refuah shlayma - may he be granted a full and speedy recovery.

Update: In the end, we organized a Book and Bake Sale and raised a total of 24, 633.50 NIS, which was given to an organization that will focus the entire contribution on helping Tzvika's family. No real update on his condition. He underwent another operation but is still in critical condition. Please pray for Achiya Tzvi ben Batya.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Animal has been Caught

Once we were considered lower than humans; once we were humiliated, stripped naked and persecuted. Once, they considered us animals when really, all we ever wanted was to live, to raise our children, support our communities. And still, the Nazis came into our synagogues, our homes, our schools. Still they persecuted us, beat us, gassed us, burned us, murdered us. I will call them Nazis; I will not call them animals. 
Once they crusaded through our villages, burned synagogues and homes, beat and murdered people. My grandmother was caught in a synagogue set afire by hatred. She survived, though the peasants, crusaders, and others would have wanted her and so many other Jews through the millennium to die. I will call them many things, but even there I do not use the term animal.
Once they closed their hearts and their countries to my people. At best, they refused us entry and so we wandered elsewhere. At worst, we died a thousand deaths because of their inhumanity, their silence and still though I would question their humanity, I will not call them animals.
I am very careful with words...or at least I try to be. I lose my temper; I get sarcastic, but mostly, I try to weigh my words and consider the implications of how I refer to someone. Some words come easily to me, perhaps at times, too easily. But others almost never escape my mind to the keyboard.
I am very quick to call someone an idiot (and laughed when the Times of Israel supposedly refused to publish an article I wrote because I called Obama's spokesman an idiot). For all that I use words to express my feelings, there are some words I hold deep inside. I am very slow to use the word Nazi. I am even slower to use the word "animal" in relation to something that a human does.
The word slips out when the attack is particularly brutal. When two cousins infiltrated a Jewish village named Itamar and murdered two parents and three children...including three-month-old little Hadas, then the word came out. I don't remember if I left it or if I changed it and I can't even say I regret it. When a young Palestinian slithered out of the bushes and attacked Dafna Meir, the word came out. In front of her children...at the entrance to her home as she painted the front door. A woman who dedicated her life to her family and to helping others as a nurse...what other word would describe her brutal death?
Now I use the word again - without shame, but with anger. Without regret, but with such pain. My son works two jobs to support himself and his wife and save for a future which they hope will include a home in our city. His second job pays little more than minimum wage, but he has built a bond of many years with the people there and so he finds the time, each week, to work at the mall in Maale Adumim. Once he was a security guard at the gates of the mall; now he is on the move, from point to point within the mall, from door to door, walking among the shoppers, alwayss watching. He has risen to a position of responsibility for those few hours, for the overall schedule and security.
He wasn't there on Thursday night at 1:00 a.m. when an Arab worker approached a guard from behind and smashed an axe into the 48-year-old's head. Like most malls in Israel, our mall has security cameras and they caught everything. What the Arab did to Tzvika (please Pray for Tzvika) with each blow, long after Tzvika was down. I won't detail the injuries - they are both brutal and barbaric.
Tzvika was not armed; he was attacked with the equivalent of an axe, repeatedly, without mercy. Blows to the head to disable him and then more blows simply meant to kill and butcher someone who always greeted shoppers with kindness. With extreme cruelty, Tzvika was attacked and then left to bleed out and, the terrorist assumed, die where he fell.. In the video, which I have not watched but which some of my friends have, the Arab is seen calmly taking out his camera and videotaping the results of his work. This is not a human being with a soul and a conscious. This was not a being with a heart and compassion for others.
In cold-blood, he attacked an unarmed man from behind and continued the attack long after Tzvika represented any kind of threat. The Arab then stole the keys and let himself out and disappeared into the night, like the animal that he is.
Yes, there you go. I've said it. He is an animal, this Palestinian would-be murderer. This cowardly, sniveling snake that slithered out of my city having devastated a man, a family, a city.
It was not "the occupation," that spurred the killer on. It was hatred, pure and simple. It was brutal. It was barbaric. It was wrong that the videotape was published. Tzvika's family should never see it...and I pray to God they never do.
But maybe the rest of the world outside of Israel SHOULD see what our enemies are capable of?What hope is there for peace when such barbarism exists in a culture, a society that tries to fool the world regularly into believing they want peace? Is there any doubt that they harbor these animals, that they will celebrate the attack on Tzvika, and pay this cowardly animal's family a reward? They've done it before. Iran will now use the billions of dollars the US released into their greedy hands to pay these killers and their families.
On the bright side, after an intense manhunt, the Israeli police have arrested the terrorist. He didn't even have the guts to die in what the Palestinians would have called a martyred and glorious death.
Let this Palestinian animal be imprisoned for the rest of his miserable life, put in solitude and not allowed to ever touch his family again. Tzvika is no less ours than Yitzchak Rabin, whose murderer remains in prison. Tzvika is still alive, but that is not to this animal's credit. He did all he could do to murder Tzvika and only the strength of Tzvika's soul and an amazing and dedicated team of doctors are managing to keep Tzvika alive.
I won't describe the attack. If you come across the video, I urge you NOT to watch it. I will tell you that, as you can see in the video, Saadi Ali Abu Hamed, 21, who was captured a short time ago, is seen using his phone to videotape his brutal attack.
Twenty-one years old. The body of a human being but the soul of an animal...or perhaps, as many are quick to remind me, not even an animal. Few animals kill merely for the joy of killing.
Whatever Saadi Ali Abu Hamed is, I hope he will be convicted and left to rot in prison and I hope and pray that Tzvika will recover and be reunited with his family.
There are few fast and firm rules in life. Treating others with respect is one of them. I don't always succeed but I try. This Abu Hamed's actions redefine the definitions of cold-blooded and cowardly and prove something that we really did not need proven - sometimes human beings have been raised without the essence of what makes us human...when this happens, all that is left is the animal.
Please pray for the full and speedy recovery of Tzvika ben Batya...even though, based on his injuries, it is doubtful he will ever fully recover. But let him live - give him life...and help him to learn to cope with what was done to him. From the agony of these past days, please God, let good shine through. A city is united and praying for him, even a country. We must find the good even in the horrible...it is our way.
And please God, avenge every drop of Tzvika's blood that was left smeared on the walls and floor of a place we go for fun, for food, for entertainment.
The animal has been caught; the animal will be caged. Now we must deal with the people and the culture that raised the animal into what he is and enabled him to do what he did. The animal has been caught.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Praying for Tzvika

"Did you hear if he died?" asked one neighbor.

"Is he still alive?" asked another.

"I know him, we all know him," said another. "He always greets me when I see him."

Him in all of the above, is a 48-year-old man who lives in Maale Adumim. A security guard who was working the night shift on Thursday night. Early Friday morning, he was attacked at the mall in Maale Adumim. His name is Tzvika...Tzvika ben Batya...Tzvika, the son of Batya. There are variations to the story of what happened. There is, apparently, some level of military censorship in place and I don't know how much is rumor, how much is truth; how much is allowed to be published, how much is being held back.

What we know is that a young Arab worker attacked Tzvika with an axe and a knife. Tzvika was unarmed. The Arab worker then got out of the mall and ran off. Tzvika was found, seriously wounded and taken to the hospital where he is fighting for his life.

After Shabbat, checking the news, we learned that he had survived surgery but was still sedated and in very serious condition. The Arab terrorist has still not been found. Meanwhile, two other Arabs opened fire on a car very close to Maale Adumim - no injuries in that attack.

This evening, I thought of going for a walk in my neighborhood. I had brownies in the oven for Davidi to take back to the army; I have a long week ahead of me and this is my last chance to steal a bit of time...and so I did.

I walked around because that's the kind of neighborhood it is, because we cannot stay locked in our homes. I met several friends walking or just standing and speaking to others. It seems I am not alone in our determination to live our lives as we will.

We will pray for Tzvika. Even now, security forces are closing in on his attacker. For now, no Arab workers are allowed into Maale Adumim for the next four days. People are calling for a boycott of stores that hire Arab workers.

Is it racism? Well, considering the reason that Tzvika was attacked was because he was a Jew, it seems to me the first act of racism came from them.

Is it collective punishment? Perhaps it is. But tell me, do you think Tzvika's attacker worked alone? That no one saw him leave with an axe? Do you think Tzvika didn't scream? Did no one hear him?

Years ago, a reporter complained to the father of a young terror victim. The inconsiderate and likely rather stupid reporter demanded that the father answer to the fact that Israel's security wall (93% of which is really a fence similar to that which exists in dozens of other countries in Europe and elsewhere, including the United States) damaged the "quality of life" for Palestinians. The father of Malki Roth, who was 15 years old when she was murdered in an attack on a pizzeria in Jerusalem responded that the reporter had no right to speak of the quality of life for the Palestinians to someone whose daughter had no life, whose life was stolen by Palestinian terrorists.

So long as Palestinians overwhelmingly support this current wave of terror (and they do by a margin of 66%), don't speak to me of collective punishment, don't speak to me of the quality of their lives. So long as their culture supports and celebrates attacking unarmed men, women and children...there will be collective punishment.

And no, I don't believe the punishment caused the culture - I believe the culture caused the punishment.

Will innocent workers suffer this week? Yes, they will. But they don't suffer alone. Tzvika's family is suffering, and they did nothing wrong. My community, my city is suffering as well. We built a beautiful city on land that was open, barren, unoccupied. The land never belonged to the Palestinians, was never part of a Palestinian state. No homes were destroyed, no one was turned into a refugee. People came and saw a beautiful mountain top - and began building a beautiful city - clean and welcoming...even to the Arab doctors and nurses who work here in our city; to the Arab shoppers who come to buy here in the very mall where Tzvika was attacked. Arabs work here, shop here, get medical treatment here and last Friday morning, attempted to murder a security guard.

The Arab who did it is now hiding in their neighborhood. When he is caught, it will likely be because our soldiers hunted him down, not because Arabs stepped forward to turn in a violent terrorist.

So for now, Israelis will do two things - we will pray and we will hunt. And the Palestinians, they can do two things too - they can sit and contemplate their lost wages...and they can consider that they have a moral obligation to turn the perpetrator over to the police. Until they do that, they should not wonder why they are barred from our city.

Let them shop in their own stores, let them build their own medical centers. Until there is a change in their culture and condemning terrorism becomes mainstream, I will do my best not to shop in stores that employee Arab workers.

If that is racist, so be it. I think hitting a man in the head with an axe, ramming a child with a car, throwing firebombs at cars and stoning buses - all because the intended victims are Jewish - is racism too...and while their racism has resulted in the deaths of more than 30 Israelis in almost 300 attacks in the last few months, my racism, if you want to call it that, will simply result in a few less shekels in their pockets.

Stop their racism. Stop their violence...and the need for my so-called racism will disappear.

Till then, I ask you to say a prayer for Tzvika ben Batya (update: his family has added a name, a Jewish custom often done with the hopes of bringing about a speedy and full recovery. His name is now Achiya Tzvi ben Batya), yet another victim of a hatred so deep it poisons the souls and hearts of at least 66% of the Palestinian population.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Three Months in a Life

Three months and two days ago, David entered the army of Israel (see He's In).

It has gone much as I expected it to - with few real surprises. I don't remember crying the first time I saw either Elie or Shmulik in uniform - this time, I did.

I've almost gotten used to seeing him in the uniform. He's lost weight; gotten so much stronger. They started with his unit walking a small amount and have built them up to almost 20 kilometer walks...and they'll keep it going until he can walk 3 times that amount.

He looks so good each time he comes home - I want to just stare at him. I cherish each picture even though I don't take many. In his mind, he is the same as he was.

He's been picked for "a very responsible job" in his unit (with thanks to a friend for that phrasing). I won't say what it is but it shows the army likes him and respects him and recognizes that he is a dedicated soldier.
Shmulik's Swearing-In Ceremony at the Western Wall

Today is his swearing-in ceremony. He will stand with hundreds of other newly recruited soldiers before the Western Wall, the last remnant of our Holy Temple. He will stand before thousands of parents, siblings, and guests and he will promise to protect the state of Israel, his fellow soldiers, all of us.

This picture is from Shmulik's swearing-in ceremony. Both Shmulik and Elie will be there today to see their younger brother follow in the path they too once took. David will be handed a Bible and a gun - two very important elements of who the modern-day Israeli is.

Shmulik after receiving his gun rifle and Bible
He will, for the next few years, dedicate his life to protecting all that we have built here, all that we are. A few more hours...my stomach is in knots. I can't even explain why. He has finished his basic training - finished it yesterday with a 16 kilometer trek that brings him today to stand before Israel.

With my life, he will promise...and I'll cry because I don't want his life promised to anything but his long future. I didn't attend Elie's swearing-in ceremony - it was held without parents, on the top of a mountain at dawn. I didn't cry at Shmulik's swearing-in ceremony; I felt only pride.

David posted a picture taken last night after the long hike. He looks great...I'm going to remember that he was smiling and that he's strong, dedicated and doing what he believes in. I'm going to try really hard to stop being so absurdly emotional. But I'm going to mark down three months off the calendar...three months until I can again sleep without thinking he isn't home, that he's out there somewhere, maybe cold.

I'm going to look at this picture again and again - Davidi about to return to base; Elie leaving for a week of Reserve Duty both with the same look on their faces...tolerance, acceptance, resignation. Their mother is going to be impossible and demand that she gets a picture of the two of them in uniform together. Maybe some day they'll smile at this picture and be glad I grabbed that moment.

For now, I'll hold on to the humor in their eyes. I am what I am, as they well know. Not the best mother in the world, but no mother could love them more. Not the most organized or rational, but we've gotten through this life together, David and me, for the past 20 years...with, God willing many, many, many more years to come!

So, in a short while, I'll go there and watch my youngest promise to do all he can to protect this land, this people, this life that we have built here.



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Stop and See the Beauty...

Once a year, we coordinate and host a national conference and most years, we have guests that come from abroad. The last few days before the conference should be calm. The name tags are all printed; the magazines all finished. All the fliers are ready; the signs and rollups piled and waiting.




Of course, that may be how it should be but that rarely is how it is. People keep registering; companies need information. Attendees want to know the schedule; the convention venue wants a final headcount, which changes nearly every hour.

She wants vegan; he wants to know about parking. She isn't sure she can come and what will happen to her ticket if she can't; he needs to leave early and wants to know if he can get a partial refund if he has to leave (um...no).

And each year, I do the same thing - I slip away with my international guests to show them the beauty of this land.

The sessions will wait; I'll solve what I can while driving. All to see...all to show. So I had two days - the first, I drove south - to the Dead Sea and to Masada. To show the lowest place on earth, to tell about a place that still touches our souls.

One could say that both places are about death but really, it isn't true. The Dead Sea is dead, and yet has invaluable resources, minerals, and more. People all over the world rejuvenate their skin with the riches of the so-called Dead Sea.

And Masada? Masada is not about death. It's about over 1,000 people who chose death over life. But not any life...the lives they were about to be forced into living.

And Masada? Masada is not about death. It's about over 1,000 people who chose death over life. But not any life...the lives they were about to be forced into living. That was one day...the next was to the north.

We went to the Lebanese border - to beautiful grottoes. Rosh Hanikra. And Haifa - a beautiful city perched on the mountain climbing up from the Mediterranean. The Bahai Temple, built in love and maintained constantly, all in symmetry, peace and tranquility.

The day helped center me, remind that all the work that goes into planning and hosting a national conference with international guests is worth all the work, all the time. And more, beyond the work, beyond the time, is the timeless.

That's what Israel is all about - it is timeless. The land and our connection to it. We live on the land but it remains, forever. We change it slightly, building roads, homes, businesses...but it is the water and the sun, the rock, the very foundation that grounds us.

I always love Rosh Hanikra. It is simply stunning but this time, the colors combined in a way that I didn't remember. The sun filtered in from outside the caves, reflecting inside and the colors of the stones are amazing - purple, green yellow...near amazing blues of the water.

The lesson of Rosh Hanikra stays with me long after I leave...the conference was amazing; over 300 people came!

But what fills our lives are all different moments...and all different views. You have to remember to stop and see the beauty.














Mourning Micheal

I never met Micheal Phillips. I never met his mother, his father, his two brothers or sister. I know his nickname was Pokey, but I can never really think of him by that name. It is for those who knew his smile, but not from a picture; for those who saw for themselves the light that even now I can see in his sparkling eyes.

To my great regret, he died before I even knew he existed. On February 24th, 2008, Micheal was killed in action in Iraq. He was a proud young man, a proud Marine who chose to serve his country. He was also a much loved son, a much loved brother.

About six month's after his death, his mother began to write about him on a blog called Knottie's Niche. She quickly began reaching beyond writing her own blog to reading and touching others in the military. She lost one precious son, and has gained many others. She has become a voiceMuch as we here in Israel adopt soldiers, Angelia has become the adopted mother to whole units.

At some point, she began leaving supportive comments on my blog. It was very early in Elie's service and I was distracted until a friend told me to look at Angelia's blog. I did. And that was when I first learned about Micheal, his death, and the family that will always miss him.

It was very hard for me to continue writing about my son...each of my sons...serving in the army and, for Elie and Shmulik, returning to civilian life, getting married, etc. No one can be frozen in time. The hardest part of bereavement, I think, is that life is always measured in the before and after and, in some cases, the line between them is a split second. More than once, I have thought of Angelia as I wrote something and at the worst of times, when Elie was sent to war, Angelia reached out and offered prayers and comfort.

I don't know if I'll ever get to Oklahoma. I don't know if Angelia will ever come to Israel. We live in two different worlds in so many ways. But in this strange world of cyber communication, I consider her a friend, a sister. We are the mothers of soldiers and there are not many harder things to be in life. I learned from Angelia that there are blessings in having your enemies live on your borders (and even, as we see almost daily in Israel, within your borders). It means that your son is close too.

Today, I mourn Micheal Phillips, Pokey to those who knew him and loved him. He was a beautiful young man with eyes that smiled from the depths of his soul. It has to make a difference in this world, that there are young men like Micheal, who step forward to fight for their country, for freedom, for the greater good of others.

May his memory be blessed and may God bless the soldiers of the United States who guard the borders of America, even from afar.

And to Angelia and her family - may you find comfort in the memory of the amazing son you raised, in all your children, and in the amazing work you have done over the years for so many of Micheal's brothers. In Judaism, we often wish bereaved families the simplest of blessings - may you know no more sorrow.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Lost Wallet

A lone soldier lost his wallet and it was found.

That's the short story. The longer one is quite amazing because it shows the depth and the love of Israel. The wallet was found, and someone contacted the lone soldier but he's in basic training and the ridiculous few hours where the place is open...don't match up with the hours he can get there.

Within a few days, the wallet was moved to a central location for lost and found. On off hours, the soldier tried to get it back. My oldest son tracked it down but despite what is posted, no one was there even during the appropriate times. Phone calls later, he was directed to an entirely different place.

An old building in the center of Jerusalem where two women work, beside an electric heater that tries to fight off the chill of a combination of winter and stone. I explain that I have come for a lone soldier who lost his wallet and we've been told it is here. In my mind, as the woman searches through a list, I think of how I can persuade her to give the wallet to me...if it is found. I have conversations with his mother; I have Whatsapp messages from him. I have my identity card...what else could they ask for?

The woman doesn't see his name...and I begin to wonder how I will explain to him that he will have to replace driver's licenses, credit cards and more. She takes out a stuffed envelope and opens it. "This is from the Central Bus Station," she explains as she dumps it onto the desk.

At least six identity cards, a military ID, credit cards and more all come pouring out. "There," I say with happiness as I point to the military ID.

Only, it isn't his. She begins to explain that he isn't listed and it isn't there. They don't have it.

I begin again to tell her the story and despite having checked, she begins again to review the list. This time, she sees it. It was the way I said his last name - not an Israeli one - and how she read it.

She points to a name, "This, is this is?"

"Yes!" I tell her and she goes into a room filled with clothes and books and papers and brings back a wallet, as I had said. She begins to look - military ID, driver's license from a state in the US, credit cards.

"How much money was there?" she asks me.

"One hundred and twenty shekels," I answer. She pulls out about 15 shekels in change...nothing near the 120 shekels we were expecting.

I was disappointed, but so was she - and then she said, "wait, look. Here inside." And there it was.

"The poor thing," she said to me when I was explaining. "He'll be happy now."

I told him his mother was worried and that he didn't even have money to buy himself food and no way to get more money because his bank card was here. For another few minutes, the woman explained to me how wonderful it was that this young man had come to live in Israel and serve in the army, how amazing his parents are that they manage to cope.

She had to write an explanation for me to sign - it included explaining that my son serves in the army now and as she read it to me, she added the blessing, "he should be healthy and safe."

I gave her my identity card; she asked for my phone number. I began listing other ways they could identify me but she answered that she didn't need anything else and praised me for taking the time to collect the wallet.

"This is Israel," she said when I told her I was so happy that everything was still inside.

Yes, indeed - a lost wallet has been found. It was never really lost actually because lost is so much worse. It was always in the hands of people who cared, on its way back to a lone soldier who came to this land to serve. To be returned to him not just with the things inside, but with a blessing of health and safety!

This is Israel...

Monday, February 22, 2016

What we do to ourselves

Shortly before I traveled on business to Germany, I asked my husband to fix the chain on the beautiful Jewish star he had bought me years ago. I wanted...I needed...to take that star with me. While there, I didn't have to say a word. The pretty star spoke for me. This is who I am. I have come to Germany and I am a Jew. As it turns out, the star pretty much told Germans that I was Israeli as well. Somewhere during those days attending the conference, I began to understand my own thinking. At first, I didn't know why it was so important to wear the Jewish star but then it came to me. Where once, Germany had labeled Jews, now I freely chose to label myself.

There is nothing shameful about being labeled as a Jew, as an Israeli, a wife, a mother. The shame comes, perhaps, in the intent of the "labeler." For me, that was a revelation. I had grown up with the image of the yellow star and the word "Jude" that Jews were forced to sew on to their clothing.

There is the image, forever ingrained of Jews during World War II wearing clothes with the Jewish star and in some way, I took that attempt to humiliate and label us back, by willingly and proudly labeling myself. Unintentional, but something that I needed to do for myself.

And yesterday, I saw a picture of the Prime Minister of the Jewish State of Israel beside a security fence that is intended to "surround entire state with a fence."

He stood there with the IDF Chief of Staff and explained how this ultra-techie fence will surround us and protect us from those who mean us harm. No, it won't protect us from the enemies within, but it will protect us from those seeking to infiltrate. Initially, it is starting along the Jordanian border and then will encircle Israel.

Others should not label us, but we can label ourselves. Others should not put us behind fences and barbed wire, but that too, we can do to ourselves.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Angels that Watch Over Us

I don't always know where to start a story. Some people start at the end, and then dramatically trace the story back. Others start at some random point; others announce they are starting at the beginning and move towards the present. I tell people that I go with the "rule of fishing" method. I throw my line out there far into the lake where people don't have a clue what I'm going to say...it can drive people mad (in fact, I might be responsible for making some people crazy) and then, if luck and the wind hold true, I pull the line to shore and draw the connection - sometimes quite dramatically. Unless I get lost...and sadly, that happens too.

Tonight, though, I'll start at the end. Today, Hadar Cohen died. She was 19 years old. She was doing her national service as a soldier in the Border Guard, and today she was stationed at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. I never met her; I never will.

She was beautiful. Had eyes that sparkled...you can see them in this picture. She was standing with a unit of Border Guards when they saw three Arabs approaching the Old City. Something triggered the soldiers to approach the Arabs and ask for some identification.

On my way home today, less than an hour after Hadar was attacked, I saw another guard do the same thing to three young Arabs who were walking in the center of Jerusalem. The soldier approaches and asks to see some identification. What I saw, was three young Arab men pull out their identity cards, show them to the guard, and then walk away. What Hadar and her friends saw, was one of the Arabs pull out a knife and stab one of the Border Guards. Hadar drew her gun, as she had been trained to do, and shot the terrorist. At the same time, another of the terrorists pulled out a concealed gun and shot Hadar. When the battle was over, all three Arabs were permanently neutralized; one young border guard (female) was seriously injured and Hadar was critically injured when she was shot in the head.

She was rushed to the nearest hospital because even in those first seconds, the first responders knew how bad the injury was. She died a short time later, despite heroic attempts to save her life. Another guard is in stable condition; the three Arabs who were clearly on their way to what would have been a a major terror attack if they had succeeded in getting past Hadar.

Two hours before Hadar was attacked and murdered, a Facebook friend named Joshua Wander posted a picture of four female Border Guards near the Damascus Gate. I don't know if one of these is Hadar. I'm not sure if I want to know. If it is, it is obviously the last picture taken of her alive.

They stand there, these angels, watching, ready, alert. They wear vests to protect them; they've been trained to fight, to shoot.

In this intifada that we have been fighting for many months now, men, women, and children have been murdered. Grandparents and pregnant women have been stabbed; elderly and infants have been injured in ramming attacks. There is no profile for a victim in Israel. It can happen in any city, at any time. Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, Raanana or Otniel. No difference.

We are used to seeing strong young men in vests and guns patrolling, but the truth is, there are many female Border Guards who are watching over us, guarding our streets and our lives. Today, Hadar Cohen sacrificed her life, and in so doing, saved many others. It has been confirmed that the Arabs had a bomb with them, in addition to a gun and knives.

What the picture above shows, what Hadar's death reminds us of, is that just as there are no profiles for who can become a victim; there are no profiles for who can become a hero.

Hadar Cohen was 19 years old. She died to protect her people, her friends, her country. I can only hope that at some point, that thought will give her parents comfort. As for the picture above, it is one that might make us sad, but it should also make us proud. These are our children - fulfilling a promise to this land. It is a promise that comes, too often, with a price. Today, Hadar's family, all of Israel, lost a precious daughter.

May God bless the memory of Hadar Cohen and send comfort to her family. And may those who rise up against us day after day, understand that they will never succeed. Never. A generation of Hadars are stationed all over this land, angels watching over us. May God watch over them and protect them.



Israel At the Forefront of Maternity / Paternity Rights

Israel is a land that strives for equality even when equality is, almost by definition, not completely attainable. A man can never give birth, for all that he may want to. And so the law in Israel was that the mother was given maternity leave of up to 14 weeks - with FULL pay. I had three children in the United States and not once did I ever get any paid time off after giving birth...the first time I gave birth in Israel, people told me I'd get my full salary and I thought they were crazy. They told me to go to the National Insurance office, told me what papers to bring, and I did.

And when I walked out, I was shocked. It turns out, not only do they pay me my salary, not only did they hand me several hundred dollars when I left the hospital, but apparently, I hadn't requested a monthly stipend for my three children from the time I'd moved to Israel. So, I walked out of there with a promise that within the next few days, I would received three months salary, PLUS all the backdated stipends. All in all, it was close to $10,000.

Years after my children were born, people correctly asked why only a mother got paid time off and so the law was changed. The first six weeks are for the mother - to bond, to rest. After that, the couple can decide and either the mother OR the father, can take the remaining 8 weeks of paid "maternity/paternity" leave. But even that wasn't enough and so in the past few weeks, a new law was passed - mothers still take the first 6 weeks, but fathers can now take up to 8 paid days as paternity leave IN ADDITION to the maternity leave.

For all that people sometimes complain...I think this is an incredible concept and an amazingly positive thing for mothers, fathers, babies and families!


Monday, February 1, 2016

What Next Summer Will Bring...

How many times in my life have I counted ahead, months in advance? The minute I knew I was pregnant...each time...I counted ahead...this is what September will bring, May and March, and finally January (twice). This is how far each holiday is, this is when the summer break will come.

When David went into the army, I started counting...basic training, advanced training...oh God, I thought to myself, he'll finish advanced training...right before the summer begins. The first time Elie went to war, it was in the winter of 2008. Then, he four years later, it was the summer of 2012. Israel went to war again, the summer of 2014...

Last summer, there was no war...already they are talking about a war this coming summer. Hezbollah has increased the number of missiles pointed at Israel; Hamas is working hard to rebuild the tunnel infrastructure.

And as friends on Facebook post about the increased tunnel-digging activity, a few mentioned next summer as the most likely time for the next war...and my heart died a little. I don't know if Davidi's group will be ready for war by the summer...but I do know that unlike Elie's group, which was stationed outside of Gaza firing artillery at designated targets...David's unit is the one that goes in...

I can't.

I just can't.

I know this isn't about me...but that's why I started this blog...from the start, it has been a soundproof room where I could go and scream with all my lungs...only the soundproofing leaked and the walls have holes. Some of my kids read some of the posts; my parents, maybe some of my in-laws. I can't scream anymore. I have to smile and act like I know what I'm doing but I don't. I'll never really get this army thing. I don't...I can't handle David going to war. I didn't think I could handle Elie going to war...I did, somehow...twice. Davidi will be the same age but it isn't about age.

I can't explain. I can't scream here anymore. Too many are listening. But Hamas is building tunnels...they are preparing for the next war and so, in a way, are we. We are training our sons...they are training my son. They are teaching him to fight, to shoot, to search and enter buildings. But the buildings they are practicing for are in Gaza and I don't want him there.

I know I signed up for this when I boarded that plane and I'm not sorry and I'll never, God willing, be sorry...but please God, not next summer...Let next summer come in peace and let it go in peace.

Please flood the tunnels; let them all collapse. Let the missiles they fire land inside their borders; let them explode themselves. Please God, not next summer.

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