Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The One Year Party

The other night, most of those who have made Aliya in the past couple of years gathered at the shul in the social hall for a nice evening of celebration. The majority present were celebrating their one year anniversary (like us) but there were those from previous years as well.

The evening was punctuated with a couple of speeches, I gave a brief dvar Torah, there was a live musical presentation, a comedian (who truly captured the essence of living in Israel) and a slide show of pictures taken during this past year (put together by Eric Solat). All in all, the evening was very enjoyable and--as the saying goes--a good time was had by all.

But, a couple of observations are in order. I was looking around the room and thought of two things: First, I knew almost every single person in the room and secondly, I knew almost none of them a little over a year ago. Why do I mention this? Because as I looked around the room, and I thought of how CLOSE so many of us have become, I was a bit overwhelmed. And then I thought of the "feeling" aspect as well. It FEELS like I have known so many of these families for my entire life. It feels like I know my neighbors and new-found friends for my entire life and it is strange to pause and realize that this is just not the case. I have known them for much LESS than my entire life.

And yet...there is a bond...there is a closeness that is hard to put into words. The feeling of going through so much many of the same experiences of being an immigrant to a country that until not long ago was just a distant dream. But by living the dream together and by experiencing many of the same events together...many have built a bond that is incredibly strong. While I have a LITTLE bit of family here (with whom I am indeed close), I do not have a LOT of family here. So, it is with great pride that I look at the members of our community and especially those with whom we have become so close and realize...they ARE a part of my family now and we are a part of their's.

Today is Shiva Asar B'Tammuz...a fast day in which we commemorate the breach in the walls of Jerusalem that led to the eventual destruction of the Bet HaMikdash. Since we arrived two days before Shiva Asar B'Tammuz last year, this is the second time we are now here for it. And as I look around my house and the neighborhood and the community, I see with my own eyes how much we have grown and how much we have accomplished in one year. Baruch has been a good year and B'ezrat Hashem, we look forward to many more years to come in this amazing community.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Our One Year Anniversary of Aliya--15 Tammuz

This Sunday, the 15th of Tammuz corresponding to the 27th of June, will mark our one year anniversary of our Aliya.

One year…in the blink of an eye, a year has now passed since we stepped off the Nefesh B’Nefesh / El Al flight last summer. We boarded the plane as citizens of the United States on Monday and landed on Tuesday as citizens of the State of Israel. Just like that…our lifelong dream became a reality. Well, it wasn’t exactly “just like that.” But, as I sit here and reflect on “the year that was, “I am filled with awe, gratitude, admiration and joy. And if I think back to the first few days we lived here, it seems like a lifetime ago because I feel like we have lived here for twenty years!

Allow me to preface this with a disclaimer: I know that while we did indeed have some ups and downs along the way, our experience of our Aliya and Klita was not the norm. Our journey until this point has been very little in the way of problems, issues and crises and lots in the way of things going RIGHT most of the time. Only one way to explain that: Hashem has been incredibly wonderful to us…a fact that we do NOT take for granted.

What seemed in the beginning like a snake path that only the initiated would be permitted to know, we finally figured out our way from the entrance to Maale Adumim to our home in Mitzpe Nevo. Very quickly, and truthfully not long after we moved, when I thought of the word “home” I thought of Maale Adumim and not Chicago. I had actually wondered how long it would take me to stop thinking of the house in Chicago as “home.” It actually happened very fast.

Boxes…boxes…boxes! Everywhere I looked after the delivery of our lift I saw boxes and other packing materials. How in the world were we EVER going to get everything unpacked and set up shop?! Would we have enough room for everything we had brought? How would we know where to buy certain supplies and groceries etc etc etc?!?

In step our new-found friends who were there at every turn with advice, a good word and helping hands. I can not imagine having gone through the first few months here without the support and help of SO many people in Mitzpe Nevo! How would we ever be able to repay them all? When I said this to one of our friends, he suggested that the best way to “repay” THEM was to do in kind for the new Olim that will come this summer. Great idea and one that I will act upon, Bezrat Hashem!

Work…find a job…parnassa…Yes, earning a living would indeed be something I would call a priority and BH, I was able to find work very fast doing something I truly enjoy…working in the tourism industry bringing people to Israel. My daughters and my wife all have adjusted so well here and SO love this country and our community. We could not have ordered a better group of neighbors with whom to share our building and we could not have picked a better neighborhood!

A year later, I reflect back and I am filled with awe at all our family was able to accomplish in such a short time. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at Jewish History in the making. I feel like a part of the process and like someone who can make a difference merely by living out my dream.

Chicago…home for me for nearly 50 years…home to ALL of my immediate family and home to SO many friends of mine/our’s. I will always have special feelings for Chicago. It is a magnificent city with wonderful people. (I REALLY like Mayor Daley and Chicago politics!) I miss my family but am heartened by the knowledge that they are so happy for us. Thanks to modern technology, we see each other often on Skype—an ISRAELI invention) and talk on the phone nearly every single day. Yet, in spite of all of these good feelings I have and truly close feelings I have to the community in Chicago, I wouldn’t trade my life HERE for anywhere else…not for a million dollars (roughly 3, 810,000 shekel at today’s exchange rate!)

With one year now behind us and B’ezrat Hashem many years ahead of us, I can only hope and pray that we will continue to live a life filled with joy and happiness and health. While it is NOT realistic to expect everything to be good and to never have any setbacks and to never know sorrow and pain…I CAN daven that these things will be few and far between.

I am eternally grateful to Hashem and to my family for enabling me to realize my lifelong dream of hearing the call from Hashem to live in HIS land. Those of you reading this who may be thinking, “I wish that was ME,” can do more than just “wish.” You can take steps to make that dream come true…I am living proof of this.

May Hashem watch over us and all of the other Olim who are coming up on their one year anniversary as well. We ALL have a long road ahead of us, but with the help of Hashem, one day, we will become fully integrated members of society, here in Eretz Yisrael.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rear View Mirror

As we approach our one year anniversary of Aliya (!), I sat and re-read some of the posts I wrote exactly a year ago on this blog. All I can say is "wow!" When you are going through it and things are happening like they were back then, it is hard to realize the frenetic pace and craziness of all that is going on. But, as I look in the rear view mirror and sit (quietly, calmly) in my home here in Israel and look back at those postings, I almost feel exhausted. The "funny" thing is that when I was writing about all the things left to do and the events left to attend, little did I know that one BIG event that would occur prior to Aliya was waiting for us in the dad getting very sick very suddenly. It also means that it will be a year since his BARUCH HASHEM complete recovery bli ayin hara and one that we are grateful for each and every day. I hope to make a Seudat Hoda'a (thanksgiving meal...little "T") for this event. As far as our Aliya anniversary (this Sunday, 15 Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar), there will be a gathering of Olim here in Maale Adumim which we will attend. SO DIFFICULT to believe it is almost one year, BH.

More on that later this week...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let There Be Light

Last night, I joined tens of thousands of people to walk through the Old City to view a marvelous exhibit. For the past two weeks, there has been a public "Light and Sound" show happening in the Old City. It literally drew thousands of people to see various displays and movies. In addition to the lights that were displayed all over the area in a wide range of colors (colours for my Canadian friends!), you were greeted at Sha'ar Yaffo (Jaffa Gate) by a robot about 3 meters tall made of foam and light. Inside, and projected on the outer wall of the Hurva (newly rebuilt) synagogue, a movie was played showing the history of the building, its destruction, rebuilding, destruction and yet again its rebuilding. (Sad that for the most part the visiting to the Hurva has been hijacked by a small group of individuals. Yet another example of taking something beautiful and making it into a symbol of the fiefdom of a few). One of the most impressive things though had to be the lights that were set up on Har HaZeitim (Mt of Olives) facing inwards towards the Old City as you look towards the Kotel. Massive lights alternating in various patterns shone brightly in the nighttime sky. Why do I say that this was the most impressive? Because as I looked at those lights on the right side of my field of vision and then looked at Har haBayit on the left side of my field of vision, I could only imagine in my mind's eye the light that emanated from the Temple Mount in the times that the Bet HaMikdash stood and the light of the Menorah shone into the houses of Jerusalem. I was comforted by the feeling that this light--the OR CHADASH--will once again shine on Jerusalem in the near future B'ezrat Hashem. However, it is necessary for us to realize that this won't happen ONLY B'ezrat (with the help of) Hashem. It requires our input and action as well. But, looking around lately at how Jews have been acting towards each other (no, not a new story!) here in this country lately and the crazy, out of control actions of one sect trying to hijack normative Judaism and claim it as its own...these actions delay the Or Chadash...the New Light that we all pray for. I can only pray that these people will "see the light" sooner rather than later and help to replace the "artificial" lights on Har HaZetim with the light of the Menorah on Har HaBayit, bimhera b'yamenu!

Monday, June 14, 2010


A few moments ago the news was received that three police officers had been shot in the Southern Hevron Hills area and that one of them just died. In additon, there have been a few other terrible incidents the past few days. All of these have been as a direct result of the closing down of some of the checkpoints on the roads and allowing the Arabs to travel freely. This then enables these terrorist animals (sorry to insult the Animal Kingdom) to roam freely for their next victim. Once again, Israel gives up something and in return receives violence and murder. We give away Gaza (and by doing so hurt the lives of 8000 Jews!) and we get Hamas and murder. We once again have the same scenario in the area that checkpoints are closed down.
And what concessions and "gestures" do the Arabs give/make? Do we have Gilad Shalit? Do we have a recognition of the country as ISRAEL? Do we have less preaching of hate and muder and death to the Jews? Do we have any less TV shows aimed at little kids to glorify jihad? One simple answer to all these questions: NO. NONE of this happens because we do not demand it enough and the world does not care. If the world truly "cared" there would be more of an outcry about Darfur, the Congo and the list goes on and on. The same old refrain for centuries..and most clearly nowadays...demonize and marginalize the Jew and his country. If you do that the world will nary make a peep.
I need to go read the news now to read all the world condemnation that will pour in due to the outrage of the murder of the JEWISH, ISRAELI police officer. I am sure that the UN will have their inquiry and commission get right on that...The UN...HAH! That's a joke. The UN is truly the UNITED Nations...united against Israel.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Car-less and Korach

Now that the Netivot 2010 program has ended and the kids have safely (BH) returned home, it is time for me to turn my attention back to many items that have been on hold for weeks. But, since the program IS over, I had to return the car that was on loan to me during the duration. I was asked by a few people if I miss having the car...the truth: NO! This is not a matter of sour grapes. Having a car here in Israel is not like in the States. When driving in Yerushalayim, and I did plenty of that, is like driving in the Indy 500 while blindfolded and driving backwards with directions being given by a blind man who is unable to speak. I had two small fender benders along the way (neither my fault thankfully) and the pressure sometimes got to me while driving. In between cities, the driving was nice and often relaxing. it WAS nice t be able to do shopping by car and not bus, for sure, but in the long run there was much more (and IS much more) that I accomplish on a bus: I can learn, I can rest, I can shmooze, I can relax and not worry about traffic.
So...while I truly appreciated having the car, it is just fine to be without one for now. Once I have another group like this, it will be back in my hands, but till then I will indeed leave the driving to Egged.

It only occured to me last night that this week marks a double anniversary for me. It is THIS week's parsha (Korach) on which I announced our upcoming Aliya and it is this week's parsha also on which I made my "goodbye" speech. I sit here and think back to those two events and I amazed at all that has transpired in those years and especially the past year. However, I will save the reminiscing to a later date once we are here the full year BE"H.

I am re-printing below the speech I gave when we "announced" on Korach 5767 that we were making Aliya. I do this more for ME than for the readers, as I found that moment most liberating to be public and I enjoy re-living that moment.
Parshat Korach
Public Announcement of Our Aliya Plans
June 16, 2007

Every year, when we read the Parsha of Korach, the same thought runs through my head. It is not a thought that I tend to share with others but today, I think it is appropriate.

As you recall, Korach challenges Moshe and Aharon in their capacity as leaders. Not only that, but we see an amazing Pasuk that absolutely boggles the mind:

 וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִקְרֹ֛א לְדָתָ֥ן וְלַֽאֲבִירָ֖ם בְּנֵ֣י אֱלִיאָ֑ב וַיֹּֽאמְר֖וּ לֹ֥א נַֽעֲלֶֽה:

Moshe sends messengers to have them appear before Moshe. Not only do they refuse, but they make what had to be the most Mechutzefdike statement ever made to Moshe:

הַֽמְעַ֗ט כִּ֤י הֶֽעֱלִיתָ֨נוּ֙ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ זָבַ֤ת חָלָב֙ וּדְבַ֔שׁ לַֽהֲמִיתֵ֖נוּ בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר כִּֽי־תִשְׂתָּרֵ֥ר עָלֵ֖ינוּ גַּם־הִשְׂתָּרֵֽר

I can not even fathom how Moshe Rabbeinu must have felt on that day and at that moment. The man who had spent his entire adult life serving Hashem to near-perfection had just been (as they say in modern vernacular) DISSED in a big way. He had been dis-respected to the nth degree.
Moshe, being Moshe Rabbenu, reacts in a proactive manner to show them that in fact Hashem is not happy with them, nor with their power grab.

We all know the end of this narrative in that Korach and his followers are swallowed up and never heard from again.

And what is it that I think about each time we read this Parsha? How fortunate we are here at KJBS. This idea, that the person leading his congregants and being maligned, taunted, derided and mocked by his so-to-speak congregants is an all too familiar one in the American Synagogue. How often do we hear of shuls that are in fights with their rabbi and who break off from their shuls (only to put the name of SHOLOM or AHAVA in the name of the NEW Shul). How commonplace it is to see people speak with chutpza to the Rav of a shul or in many cases, behind his back.

However, I must acknowledge here this morning, that it is with complete gratitude to HKB"H that this has NEVER been the case in my 8 years plus while serving as your Rav. NEVER have I been in such a position. This does not mean that I have not been questioned or gotten into heated debates at times as part of normal human interaction.

But, how fortunate I have been to serve this shul and NOT ever, not even once been in a position that Moshe Rabbenu and hundreds of rabbis after him have been in...publicly being humiliated by those he is entrusted to care for. Yes, I feel blessed to be in such a situation.

And this year, like in all of these past years, I think of this, on Parshat Korach. And that thought today makes me a little sad. Because it makes what I want to say to you today even more difficult than I thought it would be to say.

If you had looked in the sky the past few weeks you would have seen a few things flying: birds, planes, helicopters.....and rumors. These rumors had to do with my future here at KJBS as your Rav. So, today, allow me to clarify many of these rumors and put speculation to bed, once and for all.

As you have noticed over the past eight years that I have served as your Rabbi, I have exhibited a passion in one area that transcends our shul. The area I speak of is the Land of Israel. My FAMILY'S passion is one that can truly be called a שלהבת a fiery passion for Israel. It has been our dream, since Andy and I were married nearly 26 years ago, to make our permanent home in Israel by making Aliya.

I stand before you today to announce publicly that we are in the process of making this dream of our's become a reality. It is our family's goal to make Aliya iy"h in June 2009, two years from now.

While it is still two years away, I felt it necessary after speaking to the administration to go public sooner rather than later so that the rumors and speculation can end and facts can be discussed and we can move forward.

While I am very aware that this announcement may come as a surprise to many of you, I want you to understand that it is not by any means an easy decision for a variety of reasons. First and foremost our familial ties to the city of Chicago. Secondly, my very close ties to our Shul family and third, our close ties to the extended family of the community of Chicago.

However, if I am to be honest with myself and true to who I am, I must realize that our desire to live in our HOMELAND and be מקיים the Mitzva of ישוב ארץ ישראל will supercede all of these obstacles. We have been inculcated with the idea of Aliya since we were growing up. I have personally spoken about Aliya for many years. I can think of no greater example to set for our community than to make this ultimate move and go live in Israel.

I want to make a few pledges today before we begin Mussaf. First, until the day I leave for Israel, I will continue to act in the capacity as your Rav. The future plans of Aliya will not impede my work for the Klal. It is, as they say, "business, as usual."

Secondly, over the course of the next two years, anyone who has even a glimmer of a desire to make Aliya and is interested in speaking with me about this track, please feel free to do so. It is the שלהבת that burns in me that wants to assist others. BUT, I do not intend on becoming a "poster boy" for Aliya and making "stump-speeches" and go RAH RAH RAH ALIYAH. I think that you know me better than that. I hope to lead by example.
Third, after we are already living in Israel, and in particular in Maale Adumim, I will continue to be in contact with as many of you as possible. Either in the capacity of Rav, if so desired or in the capacity of "former Chicagoan." With the communication available today, I will be an email or phone call away.

Finally, when the time comes many months from now that the shul begins the process of looking for a new Rav, I stand willing to help in any capacity in which I am able to assist in that process, if it is desired by the shul.

I ask for your blessing and support on this journey. It will be a much easier journey knowing I have the support of the shul I so love. It will make the road less bumpy and ultimately, I pray it will lead some of YOU to join US along the way, as well.

I am certain that this announcement leaves more questions than it does answers, but we have a long time together still IYH and I hope, over the course of the next two years to answer as many of those questions as possible.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hard to believe...three years since I gave this speech...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It has been forever since I last posted!

And once again, the reason for that is the incredible amount of time that the Netivot program has taken. But, BH, it has been an outstanding run and below is my last posting regarding the group. I plan to return to regular postings in the next day or two. I can not believe that pretty soon, I will be writing about our one year anniversary in Israel!


As I write this last posting for Netivot-Chicago 2010, the students are moments away from landing in Chicago. I can not believe that the program has come to an end! it seems like yesterday we all went to the airport to greet the plane. *sigh*

Here are some final highlights and thoughts as we bring this program to a close.

This last week was a hectic one and an emotional one, as well. After bidding goodbye to the schools and their fellow students, we all headed on a tour of soem sights in Tel Aviv including the location of the founding of the State of Israel, Heichal Ha'Atzmaut. We had a chance to be in the Mediterranean and do some shopping in the flea market in Old Jaffa.

The next morning, we went to visit Yad Vashem. There really is not much that one can write about this, but suffice it to say that it was an overwhelmingly intense morning. After lunch, we went to the Rabin Youth Hostel where we heard once again from Michelle with Stand With Us, a "hasbara" organization. She was magnificent in explaining to the students the issues with the Gaza boat incident and answered many unasked questions.

We were all treated to a dinner in the city by the Aarons who were in town and this was followed by an evening known as the "Preida" or the (beginning of) saying goodbye. A few short speeches were then followed by the kids putting on skits, and as the saying goes, a good time was had by all.

The next morning, Friday, our day began at Har Herzl. The most poignant moments were our standing in front of the graves of Michael Levin and two others whom our guide (Miriam) knew before they were killed by Arab terrorists. I recited a Kel Maley for them and then a general one for all those who fell in Israel in battle or terror attacks.

We were then off to the Old City to do some last minute shopping and walking around. Finally, from there we went to Mahana Yehuda and some to Ben Yehuda.

Then, we were off to prepare for our last Shabbat together...a bittersweet moment indeed.

Friday night, we davened at the Kotel. While that alone was beautiful, a most amazing thing happened after Tefilla...a group of about 100-150 soldiers were in the plaza singing and dancing and our guys joined right in in an amazing show of love for our soldiers and our people! The boys had a fabulous experience in that circle!

Dinner and a walk back to the hostel for our last night together...

On Shabbat day, we all could feel that nervous tension building as the clocked ticked down towards the end of Shabbat. After tefilla in the morning, we gathered together as I made a Siyum to commemorate the first Yahrzeit of Mrs. Amy Kahan. We learned in her memory and some former ICJA students who had been in the same hostel joined us for this as well.

In the late afternoon, we all sat around and spoke about what the trip meant to all and what they would miss, what they liked and how they had changed. It was amazing to hear some of the comments that were made!

And then the moment came...the bus would be heading to the airport for the journey back to Chicago. Even upon arrival at the airport, it was written all over the faces of the students: I do not want to leave! Tears flowed as goodbyes were made. Finally, at about midnight, all us (the madrichim and me) sat down to have a bite to eat and breathe a little bit and to think about the awesome experience we all just had shared over the past 7 weeks.

And now that it is over, a few thank you's are in order:

To Shmarya, Yael and Yocheved...I can not tell you how happy I am that i got to know you through this project and I can not thank you enough for all of your hard work!

To Roni (the director of Tlalim) and to Tami (his assistant) I am so happy to have had all of your assistance, help and guidance throughout the program and even before the kids arrived in Israel.

To ICJA for allowing and even encouraging the kids to come here. You are to be applauded for the forward-thinking in educating our kids in a different fashion!

To ALL of the wonderful teachers both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol...your efforts were so appreciated and the students learned SO much from you!

To you, my dear students, thank you for allowing me to become a part of your lives and for all the trust you placed in me. You are a special group that have this memory to share forever!

To the parents: Thanks for sharing your wonderful children with me and with Israel...we tried our best to make you proud!

To Dani Yemini, Ilan Osrin (Oz), Zev Schwartz and all of our friends at Bnei Akiva, thank you for your help and your involvement in the program!

And finally but of course really first: A thank you to Hashem for all of the assistance in this entire endeavor. We, none of us, would be anywhere without the help of Hashem in everything we do!




Rabbi Zev M Shandalov
Netivot-Chicago 2010