February 21, 2013

A Bird In The Hand

In life, our small actions are overlooked and often discounted. But they are important. On Shabbat, I read a beautiful story about an action that was small, yet beautiful.

On an army base during the recent election day, a soldier found a cat with a live bird in its mouth. He managed to rescue the bird from the cat’s jaws, but when he examined the bird, he realized it was badly wounded. Its heart pumping, the bird was fighting for its life. He cradled the small bird and placed it in a box.

With little time to spare, the soldier jumped in his jeep. He was determined to take the bird to a vet but was soon stuck in snarled traffic. Both the highways and the side roads were clogged with cars. On that day, everyone in the country had decided to take a tiyul, creating a nation-wide traffic jam.  (I can vouch for this; see my post Of Beaches and Ballot Boxes).

When the soldier realized he was not able to drive anywhere quickly, he called Hatzolah, the volunteer emergency medical service that transports the sick to hospitals and performs emergency first aid. Since many Hatozlah volunteers drive motorbikes, they are able to arrive on the scene of emergencies quite quickly. A Hatzolah motorbike wove through the cars and hugged the shoulders of the highways, arriving on the scene in time. The box with its fragile contents was handed to a vet and the bird survived.

This seemingly small action does reverberate. It is so tender and touching, it will remain with me a long time, certainly longer than the so-called great deeds that the Western world worships. This tiny tale has the power to remain with us longer than  the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster or the scores of the Superbowl.

And its image also affects me. When I read the story, I envisage a big strong soldier with large hands and a huge heart. I do not know who he is, but I feel that his compassion is deeper than that of most people in this world.  He could have let the cat keep its prey or simply rescued the bird and let nature take its course, leaving the tiny animal to die.  But he did not; he saw life in danger and he took huge steps to save a tiny being.

We may associate soldiers with might and perhaps insensitivity. We rationalize that soldiers need to be tough to do their job.  This one story turns these stereotypes upside down. And when the outside world accuses our soldiers of violence and brutality, let them consider the high level of humanity here.

Yes, I believe that small actions reflect greatness.  And I feel they can reverberate and make a difference in the world. I just need to look way up. Maybe I will see that little bird soaring high.

photo credit: Postsumptio via photopin cc

February 10, 2013

I Love His Mess

I just dropped my son off at the bus.  It wasn’t a regular ‘Bye, have a good day,’ interaction most moms around the world have with sons, watching them rush off to school, to college or to work. There wasn’t that touch of mundane routine, or sense of rushing as kids slam car doors and meld into crowds of shuffling, faded jeans, backs stooped by book-filled packs and ears plugged into music.

And I didn’t just veer back into the rush hour traffic with a secure knowledge most moms have; that he would be home for dinner, or maybe for the weekend and that life would simply go on. No. It wasn’t that at all. I did not know when he would be back or when I would be allowed to talk to him next.

He had been home for the week on army leave. He slept in, hung out with friends, watched movies, bought jeans at the GAP--and left a mess wherever he went. For one week, he was a kid just like those other kids moms drop off at the bus stop.

Except early this morning, as he walked downstairs, I could see he wasn’t a kid anymore. Wearing his crisp, clean army uniform, he dragged a huge duffle bug, dropping it at the front door.

He was a soldier again and my job this morning was to give him back to the army. I know it was hard for him to shake off his civilian life with oodles of free time, staying up late and having laughs with old buddies. “Which movie should we see?” “Wanna to go to the beach?  “Feel like sushi tonight?”

But he stood tall, put the bag into the trunk of the car and off we drove. I gave him a hug, said “I love you” and watched him place his bag under a bus, then disappear.  I tried to feel normal, but something stirred deep inside. I was saddened that it had to be like this. In our modern world, living in a high-tech Western country, we still have to give away our boys for three long years.

I drove back home to an empty house and before I sat at my desk, I thought I would peek into his room. It was a mess. Damp towels covered the floor. Socks were scattered. Pants and shirts sat in heaps. 

I started to clean up the clothes, sorting the clean from the dirty. I slowly folded the pants and neatly placed them on hangers. I arranged his shoes in pairs in the closet, fluffed his duvet and puffed up his pillow, wondering when he would be back in his cozy bed.

I love having him around. I even love his mess. 

photo credit: terremonto via photopin cc

February 6, 2013

Best Friends With Broccoli

The alarm clock beeped incessantly. Obnoxiously. 
It was Friday morning and I felt shattered as I had worked very late the night before. I could see it was still was dark outside. In denial, I pulled the warm covers over my head, suddenly remembering there was a method to this madness; I had a mitzvah to do. This thought energized me.  Soon, my husband and I were in the car, a full pot of steaming coffee (our consolation prize) between us.
Plugging our destination into Waze (and if you don’t know about this, it’s a very clever GPS system that was proudly developed in Ra’anana), we drove north along an empty highway. The sun popped up, shimmering atop lush green fields. I could see that the recent abundant rains had fortified the earth, awakening poppies and daisies with swirls of red and yellow.
We were on our way to pick vegetables for Leket, an incredible organization that cultivates and harvests 3,300,000 pounds of vegetables annually for the needy. And this is just the farm initiative. Leket specializes in food rescue, collecting18,250,000 pounds of fruits, vegetable, hot meals and perishable food from some 7,000 producers.
We passed pine forests in the Carmel Mountains, then headed into a fertile valley of fields.  It was Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish birthday of trees, and a day that officially marks spring fever in Israel. I was very excited to be spending this significant day outdoors, gleaning in the fields. Knowing that my efforts would help to feed the hungry with healthy farm-fresh vegetables energized me.
We followed the flags and found the field. I bolted out of the car, excited to get my hands dirty. We were greeted by a Leket worker who told us all about our task at hand: extracting turnips from the ground. He gave us a demonstration, a bucket and left us free to pick.
I pulled out my first turnip, marveling at how easily it parted from the rich soil. Then I pulled out my second turnip, and was shocked by the size and magnificence of its deep purple hues. The next few turnips were so juicy, they actually squirted me with moisture as I bent the stalks and tossed them into my basket.
We were shocked by the Olympian size of some turnips, yet felt a kinship with the cute, smaller turnips. Soon, we stopped our chatter and sank into a meditative ‘picking’ silence, developing our personal techniques and rapport with these rows of turnips. I felt as if I were in a trance. The sun soon warmed my back and brightened the green fields. I plodded on, working my row meticulously, pouring full baskets of turnips into a large dumpster, then watching a tractor cart our turnips away.
When we were called to break for a salad, I had to tear myself away, determined to finish yet another part of my row, dead set on making a dent in this huge field of magnificent produce. Yet the temptation of fresh salad beckoned and I plodded, muddied shoes weighing me down.  Instructed by a Leket worker, a group of school girls had prepared a salad of turnips, broccoli, carrots, beets, rutabagas and garlic with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Freshly picked, it was the most delicious breakfast I had ever eaten. We crunched away, feeling a deep connection to the food we were eating.
As we munched, I met a woman who had been busy in a broccoli field and who begged us to come help. Since we had already cultivated a close connection to turnips, we were ready for a new challenge and eagerly followed her. We were given a knife and a bucket and told how to find prized broccoli florets.  Excitedly, we took our positions and started the hunt. 

Before long, I knew broccoli florets were the most exotic flower I had ever seen. Some were a deep green, and some lighter and yellow; others were small, coyly hiding under leaves, while others were gregarious and huge. We soon identified which were ready for picking and eating, and which should stay on the stalks. Our buckets swelled. We all worked these fields alone yet in unison, filling up the dumpster with emerald green produce that would soon enrich dinner tables across the country.
I loved every moment and obsessively wanted to find another prized broccoli, then finish another row, and fill yet one more bucket.  I could have done this till sunset, yet Shabbat was looming and I had my biological (not botanical) family to tend to.  We felt a special connection to this land and to all the needy families who would soon be tasting the most beautiful, delicious, healthy produce that we had picked on this most satisfying day.
Here are some incredible stats from Leket:
Perishable Food Rescue
18,250,000 lbs (8,275 metric tons) of fruits and vegetables, hot meals, and perishable food was rescued from over 700 producers.
Leket Farm Initiative

3,300,000 lbs (1,500 metric tons) of specially selected vegetables were cultivated and harvested for the needy.
Sandwiches for Kids
1,350,000volunteer-madesandwiches were provided to children at-risk in 113 schools in over 35 cities.

Nutrition Education and Training
• Delivered 38 nutrition seminars attended by 1,000 people 
at risk.
• Sponsored regional nutrition and food safety training attended by representatives from 70 NPOs.
Purchasing Cooperative for Nonprofits
2,600,000 lbs (1,170 metric tons) of highly discounted food was supplied to partner NPOs.