Monday, November 23, 2009

"You See a Video, I See My Dream Came True!"

On my very first visit to Israel with a group back around 2002, I found myself standing on a Jerusalem street corner for a few minutes, all alone. I was awaiting the beginning of a new day of touring but was ready much earlier than everyone else. I vividly recall standing there in the crisp November air observing school children making their way to school. Garbed in backpacks, children of all sizes were grasping small bags of Choco on the way to school, and young students speaking in very animated fashion to their friends. As I stood there, I said to myself, " Why am I not raising my kids in Israel!?! How can it be that they are going to be educated in the Diaspora and not here, at home in Israel?" At that point in my life, I still felt that Aliya was a dream, and one that may not come true. It pained me to think back then that I would not see any of my kids go through the school system in Israel and get an Israeli education. Nor would they have the "youth" experience that Israelis grow up with.

All that changed last night! As many of you are aware, this month in Israel was Chodesh Irgun. It is a month in which kids in Bnei Akiva (A VERY STRONG MOVEMENT IN ISRAEL) participate in a myriad of activities and, in many cases, are out of the house a LOT for various events. The culmination of this month of activities is a Shabbat Irgun, a series of presentations to the public by various classes/groups and, for those in 9th grade, the acquiring of their Shevet name. It is a BIG deal, one of those "rites of passage" in a large segment of the Israeli population.
And there was my youngest daughter, right in the thick of things! She disappeared for what seemed like days at a time to involve and immerse herself in these activities. Her group's performance was a video they put together based on the theme of "V'ahavta L're'acha Kamocha." As I watched this I observed her total immersion into her class and her social group of new friends, I could not help but flash back to that moment on a street corner in Jerusalem seven years prior.

After watching this video, I turned to her and said: "You see a video. But, I just witnessed my dream come true."

I invite you to see the video here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Road Trip!

On Wednesday, I joined a few of my co-workers for a road trip, of sorts. Since I needed to be in Modi'in by 6:45am, I decided to spend the night at nearby Hashmonaim and then make my way to Modi'in early after Shacharit.
The purpose of this road trip was to visit seven or eight hotels/resorts/inns in the Northern part of the country to see their facilities, see their rooms and hear about what services they provide . This way, we can make informed decisions as to places to recommend to those coming to Israel for a visit. Some places would be appropriate for youth groups while others would be for high end travelers and others, still, for those in between.
The weather co-operated, and we were treated to a magnificent day with mostly blue, clear skies, gorgeous temperatures and a gentle breeze. Couple that weather with breath-taking views in the mountains of the Galil, the vista of the Kinerret and the food we were served along the way, all of that made for a MOST enjoyable and educational day. It is so interesting to see what some providers consider "deluxe" when it comes to accommodations while others would call the same room "superior" or "standard." Because there are different needs for travelers, there are indeed different options.

The day was a VERY long day for me since I was first awoken by the Muezzin (Moslem call to prayer) coming from loudspeakers from the nearby Arab village at 4:15am. I did not return home until after 9:00pm. BUT...well worth it! I had a very enjoyable time, and like I said I did in fact learn a lot.

One of the most beautiful views had to have been the view of Har Tavor...the area in which the battle with Devora Ha'Nevia, Barak ben Avinoam and Sisra. I could have sat there all day long!
By the way, for those of you who have stayed in Kibbutz Lavi's guest house, you will be amazed at the new rooms and all of the remodeling they are doing in one of the wings.

Now it is back to work at my desk and not in the field. It is almost Shabbat (tomorrow night!), and we are going away for Shabbat in Petah Tikvah. I am SO looking forward to going!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Reunion, A Book, and other Miscellany

Once again, many things to write about...

1.) Last night, Sunday, November 15th, I joined a number of others living in Israel for a Class of '76 reunion held right here in Maale Adumim. Well, to be a bit more specific, it was a reunion for Class of '76 for the Ida Crown Jewish Academy. And to be even MORE specific, I didn't even GO to ICJA! But, since Andy DID go there and I DID graduate in '76, and I WAS invited, after all, I decided to go...and I am so glad I did. I saw friends that I have not seen in (some cases) over 34 years. But, in addition to those who had gathered here, we were also joined long-distance, by the miracle of technology, by a large group sitting in a hotel hall in Chicago with a video hook-up. It was so nice to see people from both sides of the ocean get together like that! (When a few people noted that they do not recall me having been in the class at the Academy, I told them that I was undercover and that they just didn't realize I was there!)

2.) Over the years, I have found less and less time to read. Most of my time doing that form of activity was spent either learning for personal growth or learning to prepare classes. But to read a BOOK was a very rare thing for me for years. However, I had one book in my collection that I was determined to read, albeit a book in Ivrit. I pulled it down off the shelf the other day and am already half-way through what has become my absolute, number one, all time favorite book that I have ever read. Now that is a pretty bold statement, especially considering I am only half-way through. So, let me back up and tell you what it is and why I love this book. I am reading the autobiography of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel. The title is אל תשלח ידך אל הנער which has won the Israel Prize. Rav Lau shlit"a, was the youngest survivor of Buchenwald. While there are many books written about experiences in the camps, this one is incredible! He weaves his story of the past with anecdotes over the past few years and how many of his experiences crossed into his professional life. How, for example a woman called him and begged him to perform the wedding of his daughter. When Rav Lau said he had another wedding that same day to do, she pleaded with him. Before he relented, he had to ask why it was so critical that HE be the one to do this wedding. She told him that this information would only be revealed to him after the make an incredible story turns out that it was in this woman's arms that Rav Lau's mother died in a concentration camp. How he describes this moment can not be put into words. If your Ivrit is not at the point you can read this book yet, I urge you to pull out a dictionary and read it... you will not regret it!

3.) I had a VERY high cell phone bill and had no idea what made it so high. Then I checked the says that about 20 calls were made on one of my daughter's phones from Jordan. Now, I consider myself a pretty responsible parent and would think that IF indeed my daughter HAD gone to Jordan I would have known. I called Cellcom, and they explained to me that her location at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu evidentally placed her within range of the Jordanian cell towers and it was pinging off their towers. While they assured me I will be credited, that is not the point of my story...the guy taking care of me on the phone asked me if he could call me back later to review the charges and the credits as he first had to review it with his supervisor. Without blinking or thinking, I told him that it was no problem for him to call me later as I needed to run out and daven Mincha! His reply was to daven well and that he would call me later...I love this country!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ben-Gurion Airport

I went in to the office today, Wednesday, and I had a very productive day. When I was getting ready to leave, a co-worker offered to drop me at a bus stop where I could catch the bus to Yerushalayim, because she had to go to the airport and was going out. We got to talking, and the next thing we realized...we were already at the airport! (The office is a 10 minute drive from Ben-Gurion)

So, now I needed to find the bus back to Yerushalayim near the airport. No problem whatsoever with only one exception...I was at the airport and I TRULY began to have palpitations! Why, you may ask? (If you did not ask, you are welcome to stop reading right now). After visiting Israel 21 times prior to our Aliya (bringing groups, coming alone, etc), every single time I went TO Ben Gurion, I was sad because it meant I was leaving Israel. I, of course, associated arriving at Ben Gurion (not through a plane but by a vehicle) with LEAVING Israel.

I suddenly found myself VERY eager to get out of the airport, as fast possible. I AM NOT LEAVING ISRAEL! I AM NOT BOARDING A PLANE...LET ME GO BACK HOME!!! I can not begin to explain how strange or how uncomfortable I felt being in the airport. Look, I know that when the time comes for me to go on a trip, I will be fine (won't I??!)....but I will know I am going to the airport and then leaving and then returning home to Israel. But, today, just suddenly finding myself there...well, I just NEEDED to get out of there.

As I write this, I am back at home (PHEW!) and nowhere near the airport...for now, I am safe!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Only Six More Days Until Shabbat!

While today is only Sunday, I find myself already thinking about Shabbat...specifically Friday night...and specifically Kabbalat Shabbat. To participate in the serene, melodious nearly-surreal singing is to BEGIN to understand the idea that Shababt is "me'en olam Haba" (a taste of the World to Come). If I could describe in the printed word what it feels like to sit there with a few hundred people singing so beautifully together and the absolute peace at which I feel while singing, I would attempt to put it in words. But the best way to say this is to say that anytime you find yourself in Israel, you must experience a Shabbat in Mitzpe Nevo, especially the Tefilla.

During the week, I often catch myself humming tunes from the Friday night tefilla and think that it is only "X" number of days until we are together again for that mystical time. While I could elaborate further, you get my drift by now!

I had a very interesting thing happen today that, when I thought about it in retrospect, I FULLY understood the situation. I often go to daven Mincha at 1:35pm at the local boys Yeshiva high School. There is, of course, a gate through which all visitors and students must pass and must be buzzed in through the security gate. Over the past few months, the one or two Shomrim (guards) who are at the gates came to know me, and buzzed me in as soon as they saw me. Today, however, I arrived to see a new guard. He asked me for ID...I had been working in the house on some project and was not walking around with any identification. He asked again for me to present ID...when I told him I had none, he would not let me in. As I began to explain how I am there nearly every day, and he said he would not let me in, I just put up my hand, stopped the conversation and said, "Ata tzodek" (you are correct!). Under no circumstances should he have let me in, and he was 100% right about it. As I walked home, I recalled that the #2 Bus was bombed by a homicide bomber dressed like a Chassid. Just because a guy comes with a Kippah and tzitzit out does NOT entitle him to walk freely into a high school.

(PS--As I write these words, I am sitting in our backyard until a moonlit sky filled with 1000's of stars. I look up, and in the distance, I see Jordan and hear the faint sounds of cars on the main road a couple of kilometers away. The beauty of Maale Adumim is staring me in the face one mountain over...Ah, Hashem has truly blessed us!)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Travel Documents

Once a person makes Aliya, they are not entitled to an Israeli passport for a period of one year. Instead, when someone needs to leave Israel, they must apply for and receive a document called a Teudat Ma'avar. It looks identical to a passport, but it is not a passport. It functions exactly like a passport...but it is not a passport. So, you may ask, why give a Teudat Ma'avar instead of a passport, if indeed they function the same way. The answer to that question is very deep....I JUST DON'T KNOW.
But, since my job will eventually require me to go to Chutz La'Aretz, I figured it would be a good idea to get that taken care of and not wait until the last minute. Besides, who knows how long it would take to get the actual pseudo-passport? Well, the answer to THAT question, I DO takes about THREE MINUTES!! I went to the Misrad HaPnim (Ministry of the Interior) branch office right here in Maale Adumim. I brought all the documentation and money; handed everything in, and in a matter of three whole minutes, I walked out with this passport-wannabe! I was shocked it went so smoothly and so efficiently. As I turned to leave, I opened it up and I got a little choked up. Under the title "Nationality" was the word ISRAELI. It truly was a very special moment for me.