Thursday, December 31, 2009

To Walk the Land and to be Counted

This has been quite a busy week in terms of getting around! A family was in from out of town whom I knew very well and had asked me to accompany them on some of their tiyulim in the greater Yerushalayim area (I am not--yet--a guide but with the exception of the 3rd day we had "professional" guides along the way). My purpose was to add a "flavor" to the trip both in terms of history and in terms of Tanach and Jewish Thought .

While I have been to Hevron numerous times, it is ALWAYS a treat to visit such an inspirational place as this. I say inspirational both in terms of the ancient history of our People and in terms of the local Jewish population. The few hundred Jews living there are TRULY seeing to it that Hevron maintains a Jewish presence...Kol HaKavod to them!

The next day, I found myself again in Ir David. I can not say this enough matter if you have or have not been there is an obligatory visit to see things that you only have learned about or heard about. Our guide was outstanding and made all of what we saw come alive. Imagine seeing David HaMelech's palace...the actual spring from where the Bnei Yisrael took water for the ceremony in the Bet HaMikdash for Simchat Bet Hashoeva and on and on and on...every step...every view is another peek back in time!

Our final day took us to the Southern Wall excavations and the Davidson Center. Again, a stop NOT to be missed on a trip...I read to the family from the Tanach from the sections dealing with the ascension of the bet HaMkidash and the subsequent downfall...we walked the ancient streets that still are there with the huge boulders thrown on those streets dating to the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash. We looked at Eicha and saw hope in some of the Kinnot we read on 9 Av every year. What a special moment to stand at the Southern Wall looking at the (sealed) gates through which ancient Pilgrims (and I am not talking with the Indians!) walked to be Oleh L'Regel. While it was cold and rainy (Baruch Hashem!) the mood was one of both joy and anticipation that we WILL indeed see this place SPEEDILY teeming with Pilgrims again!

And we walked...and we walked...and we walked the land...this magnificent Land! And then, I opened the paper this morning to learn some very nice facts and figures about this Land of our's.

As of now, there are 7.5 million residents in Israel (kein yirbu!) of which 5.983 million are Jews(74.5%). This number was bolstered in 2009 from two amazing 160,000 (!!) babies were born (Kein Yirbu!!) and 14, 500 new Olim came to this country (that includes US!). BLi ayin Hara a thousand times over, this past year of 2009 was the least amount of deaths (due to murder) via suicide bombings in the past 10 years with a grand total of: ZERO. (Compare that to 36 in 2008). Instead of nearly 2,100 rockets falling on Sderot in 2008, there were "only" 160 in 2009. (Yes, even ONE is too many! But Baruch Hashem, that with Hashem's help, the IDF has accomplished that which they SHOULD have done 8 years earlier).

So, during this week, I certainly felt a part of this Land both in terms of WALKING it and in terms of "belonging" to it in terms of population growth and (B'ezrat Hashem) further expansion.

However, this expansion will only be fully possible if the government removes the RIDICULOUS and onerous building freeze in Yehuda and Shomron.

(By the way, if you STILL call it the "West Bank"--a term I NEVER use--you may want to consider calling this parcel of land what the JEWS call it and not what the Arab propoganda machine labels it. By calling it the W.B., you are referring to the West Bank of the Jordan River, indicating that this area is "connected" to the other side of the Jordan and NOT to the Land of Israel. And for those of you who think it is a matter of semantics...there is NO such thing in that this part of the world, words and titles make all the difference in perspective!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Ties that Bind

It occurred to me that I had TWO forms of the word "tie" to write about (poor English grammar..., so sue me)...

When we landed on July 7, 2009 on Aliya, I removed the tie that I had been wearing. A tie had been a part of my wardrobe 365 days a year for the past ten years. That was then...this is now. As of the date of Aliya, I had not worn a tie (nor had a reason to wear one) for almost six months. However, the other night, I attended a wedding (my third in the past few months) and was told that at THIS wedding, I would be best off wearing a tie. So, I opened the bag into which all of my ties had been waiting dutifully to be used and scanned the lot of them. I took one in hand, and while walking to the mirror, I wondered aloud if I would remember how to tie a tie! Well, it was like riding a bicycle, and I was able to put it on with no problems. Except...after not wearing a tie for six months, putting on one now actually felt strange. How is it that something that had been so much a part of my dress had now felt so foreign and strange. I wore the tie until the middle of the dancing when I joined dozens of others who (blessedly) removed their's!

But there is another form of "tie" to talk about as well. On Sunday last week, I got together with some of my cousins from Toronto, who were in town for a visit. Then this past Shabbat, we had the pleasure of hosting Andy's twin sister, Sandy, her husband, Steve and my in-laws, the Shwarzsteins. Sandy and Steve are in for a visit from Chicago and my in-laws were "in town" from Neve Yaakov. As we all sat around the Shabbat table, and as we all sat in virtually the exact same seats at the table as we used to when we got together back in Chicago I realized how close our family ties truly are. We spent a beautiful Shabbat together catching up and picking up right where we last left off.

Our ties to our family both here and in Chicago and Toronto, and our ties to our new community in Maale Adumim are truly very strong ties that bind us together.

So, this past week featured one tie that was uncomfortable and one "tie" that was MORE than comfortable.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Book on Aliya

Living here in Maale Adumim, I have had the zechut of getting to know a lot of people with a lot of talent. Almost on a daily basis, I learn of the accomplishments of one of my fellow residents of this community.

It, therefore, came as no surprise to me that a neighbor of mine, actually living in my building, has just published a book that I wish I had before we made Aliya! Entitled "Oleh Chadash, The New Immigrant to Israel," Rabbi Mordechai Freidfertig captures so much of the Halachik and Hashkafik aspects of aliya for the Oleh. And while his book is geared to one who has or is about to make Aliya, the truth is that what I read in the book would be good for anyone to read.

He was given a very nice write-up in today's Arutz-7 in an article that can be seen here:

Many of the insights of this book are based on the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim, a teacher of Rabbi Friedfertig, who disseminates Rav Aviner's works in English.

I stated on the first day I began this blog that one of the purposes of writing all of this is to hopefully inspire and educate readers in the subject of Aliya. Well, here is a book that will both educate and inspire! If you are interested in a copy, please feel free to email me or to comment on this blog entry, and I will send you the information about ordering the book.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our First Chanuka in Israel

As I have commented so many times before, this first year of Aliya is, quite obviously, filled with "firsts" quite frequently. This past Friday night, with the arrival of Shabbat, we began our first Chanuka in Israel. As soon as we finished lighting, I left for shul hoping to pass dozens of people as they still were lighting or singing a song. I was not disappointed! I passed Chanukiot of all shapes and sizes and placed in all different locations. Some were outside at the entrance of their buildings; some were in windows, some were in doorways and others perched high above the street on a mirpesset (balcony). But...what was beautiful was that everywhere I looked I saw Chanuka being observed. It was magnificent to witness!

There was a different kind of first for us as well this week. Tonight (Monday night), we are all home for Chanuka together for the first time in THREE years! It is so nice to have all three of my daughters together with us and the hustle and bustle that goes with it.

While in the United States, the main "staple" of Chanuka is latkes (read: Levivot), here the main food is, of course, the Sufganiyot (jelly donuts). For those of you who have not had one or may not know what Sufganiyot are, let me try to paint a picture: Imagine taking a small blob of dough, dropping it into a vat of oil, removing this oily blob and then drop it into a vat of more oil and then once it has remained there for a day or so, removing it and then sprinkle it with liberal amounts of powdered sugar. Before it is complete, the baker must take a caulk gun and insert a very sweet, very red substance that vaguely resembles jelly and force it into this oily, dought mixture. Then and only then, are you ready to eat the Sufaginya. While there are all forms of Sufganiyot (including one place that has "designer" ones), the CLASSIC is the jelly product. The average Israeli eats between 986-1,034 Sufganiyot during the 8 days of Chanuka. I, on the other hand, have not had even one (*shudder*) because I can not eat something that I could probably stick a wick in and use as a Chanukia! I have been told that I may have to surrender my Israeli citizenship for not eating one, but at this point I will just have to take my chances.

One final Chanuka note...we have switched from a SHIN to a PEH! Of course, I am referring to the letters on a "svivon" (Dreidel). The miracle happened "POH" (here) and no longer "SHAM" (or over there). The only problem is that some of the popular Chanuka songs don't rhyme with the PEH! Small price to "PEH" for living in Israel (sorry, I couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


For those of you who have been following this blog for months, you know that Andy and I spent MANY hours in Ikea (Schaumburg, IL) before Aliya purchasing a whole host of items. (I will not re-hash all of that here, as it is too painful a memory!) In any case, months ago, in the heat of assembling all of the items we shipped here from Ikea, we found that they had given us three doors for book case extensions that were the wrong color. Many phone calls to Ikea in the USA finally gave us the solution to return the doors to any Ikea in the U.S., once we got them there, for replacement doors. We were told in no uncertain terms by the store HERE that they would not take them in exchange, as it was THEIR problem there, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Well, Andy and I had the opportunity to visit Ikea yesterday. MY motiviation was that I wanted to eat in their food-court while Andy perused the store for things we might need (HAH! We don't need ANYTHING!)...The thought of eating soup, salmon, bread, etc from the food court was a very enticing activity, since on all my visits to Ikea USA (Lo Aleinu), I would sit there and watch people consuming the inexpensive fare as I sat there with my cup of coffee and home made goodies.

Ah, but now was my chance! We got a ride from a good friend here in Miztpe Nevo (thanks Shlomo!) to the BIG BLUE IKEA in Netanya. On the drive there, Andy asked me if there was anything I wanted to see when we got to the store. I told that I was interested in seeing the EXIT!

Anyways, we decided that since we had nothing to lose, we would at least TRY to get the doors replaced.


The food was great (ok, it was pretty good, but the IDEA of eating there was soooooo good!) and, believe it or not, we were able to get the doors replaced! I went to the customer service department and explained my tale. (She stopped me in the middle to tell me that she did not believe I had made Aliya 5 months ago. I asked her why she would say that, and she said I spoke Hebrew like an Israeli. After feeling very proud of that, I showed her the receipt of the goods we had shipped on our lift a few months back to "prove" we just moved. We began to chat about Olim and Hebrew and some of the obstacles there are and the benefits we get...before I knew it our discussion veered into an Oleh Chadash discussion, putting aside the "door issue" for a few minutes. Once we returned to the matter at hand, she was more than gracious in trying to help out an Oleh. While that was not my "angle" that I had planned on, it certainly ended up working to my advantage! We got the doors replaced (ok, we DID have to pay a small re-stocking fee) and they will be installed by me today.

I must say that it was, all in all, a very pleasant experience! One thing of note...Ikea has many rooms set up as "show rooms" so people can see what their product would look like when used in a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom etc. In the area that they had bedrooms set up, I took a look around for a moment and something struck me as being subtly different from the show-areas in Schaumburg...the show-bedrooms all had Mezuzot! How cool is that!

So, I survived a trip to Ikea and lived to tell about it. I better go and put those bookcase extensions together, before beginning the rest of my day. In the meantime, I will think about the Swedish Meatballs we bought at Ikea to make for Shabbat....I love this country :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In Favor of a Settlement Freeze

The big news around here lately has been the decision by the Netanyahu government to institute a 10-month freeze of new construction (with some exceptions) in the so-called settlements of Israel. The public debate has ranged from mild to fierce and everything in between. Newspapers, blogs, on-line news magazines, television...all are debating the issue of this imposed freeze. So, it is time for me to weigh in on such a freeze as well...I am in favor of it.

Now, before you shut your computer off (or throw down the paper in which you are reading this) in anger and disgust at how I could say such a thing, allow me to explain.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word settlement as: "The act or process of settling." Using THAT definition, allow me to explain why I am indeed in favor of a settlement freeze:

* I would like to put a freeze on Israel settling for a government that promises one platform but delivers another.

* I would like to put a freeze on settling for rhetoric and pablum-spewing dictators calling for the annihilation of Israel, while the world is silent.

* I would like to put a freeze on settling for a United Nations which is obsessed with Israel and its condemnation.

* I would like to put a freeze on settling for the world blaming Israel every time something goes wrong.

* I would like to put a freeze on settling for boycotts and calls for marginalizing Israel.

* I would like to put a freeze on settling for allowing a brand new Arab neighborhood to be built near Ramallah but not permitting Jews to build Yehuda and Shomron.

Yes, I definitely support a freeze on settling for such folly and foolishness.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It is December, Already?!

In my previous life, there were certain signs that December was coming up. These signs included drastic weather changes, certain music that was playing in a ubiquitous fashion anywhere I went, cheerful holiday wishes (ignoring the fact that not every single person walking down the street was celebrating the same holiday as they were) and, of course, the PARKING BAN that would go into effect on December 1st in Chicago. This parking ban ultimately led to the annual ritual of bringing out old, beat up lawn furniture to prepare it for use in the street when it would snow.

For the uninitiated in Chicago-ese, let me clarify the last two statements: In order to ease snow clearing, should it become necessary, the city of Chicago instituted a parking ban on hundreds of miles of main arterial streets for the overnight hours, in case it would snow and removal would be necessary. Even if it did not snow, one was prohibited from parking on these streets overnight. (This ban went into effect today and will remain until April 2010). And, another time-honored tradition: Once there was a snowstorm, and you finished shoveling out your parking place, the way you saved that spot was to put old furniture, chairs, etc to mark your territory.

And I have seen none of these signs...and yet, I turned the page on the calendar today to find DECEMBER staring at me...December without the carols, December without the snow, December without the sales, December without the....well, you get the idea.

INSTEAD: It is Kislev...the month of Chanuka...and you see it and feel it everywhere! In stores, on the streets, on the buses, in posters...everywhere you turn there are signs that Chanuka is approaching. It will be very strange when we light our Chanukia and look out our window to NOT see snow...and we will NOT see our green plastic chairs sitting in a mound of snow waiting to be thrust into service. But, that's ok...I don't think I will miss that.