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July 30, 2014

A Haunted Dream

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It is Day 22 of the war here. I feel sluggish, anxious, unfocussed. It is as if a powerful earthquake shifted the plates below my feet. I feel its tremors below and do not know what the future will bring.

This ‘earthquake’ has shaken both Israel and the world to its foundations, unleashing evil and darkness. Hatred and lies are spewing as never before. Shaken, I feel as if our cherished concepts of kindness and light, and of goodness and love have been trumped.



This feeling reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, when darkness unleashes a power causing "a time of peril unseen, of fear without form, an uneasy vigil; or a haunted dream, leading through despair to the shadow of Death."

A haunted dream come true, this is our reality in Israel’s south. Here, terrorists dig tunnels and emerge from holes in cover of darkness falsely disguised in IDF uniforms with guns and masks and death on their minds. They come to wreak terror upon families huddled in beds and children fast asleep in their cribs.  

A peril unseen, rockets are shot high into the skies, aiming for civilian populations. The rockets soar and the sirens wail as we sleep, drive, or work, sending us running, filling us with panic and fear.

Darkness unleashes a power in Israel and also across the world:

In Miami, Hamas thugs aggressively demonstrate on downtown streets screaming ““Khaybar, Khaybar, ya yahud, jaish Muhammad sa yaoud.” (The threat of Muhammad’s to exterminate all Jews.)

In Paris, mobs shout, scream, beat, plunder and smash.

In The Hague, the Islamic State (formerly Isis) proudly wave black flags under the cry “Death to the Jews.”

In London, there is a warning that the black flag of jihad” will fly over Downing Street.

In the media worldwide, journalists write lies, weave fabrications and uphold terror.

In world politics, democratic leaders and ‘peace’ organizations condemn a country for defending itself and pity those bent on destruction and death.

It seems as if the world has shifted to a place of darkness and lies and all seems upside down. I dream of those quiet days in the ‘Shire’ and wish we could return. But I feel as if something huge has shifted the precarious balance we once enjoyed--and I do not know how we can get back home to a life of surety, security, love and comfort.

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit:

The bells were ringing in the dale
And men looked up with faces pale;
Then dragon's ire more fierce than fire
Laid low their towers and houses frail


We will not allow this dragon to make our faces pale and hope to vanquish this evil darkness. But for those who do not live here in Israel, please be aware that this shift has unleashed fumes of ire that have been simmering undercover for some time. And they are gathering force worldwide. 

I always like to see the positive side and do not want to sound like a doomsday sayer, but Israel is like a canary in a coal mine. And it is dark down here.

Are you feeling the earthquake’s aftershock?

July 25, 2014

A Nation Weeps

Soldiers bearing Oded's casket in Nir Etzion's military cemetery.
When a soldier dies, the entire country mourns.

On Monday night at 11 pm, lone soldier Sgt. Sean Carmeli was buried in Haifa’s military cemetery. Some 20,000 people flocked from all parts of Israel, standing united in the dark night to mourn a solider from Texas they did not know.  A posting on the Lone Soldier’s Facebook page reads that they came to  “strengthen, unite and define what it means to be a Jew today.”

Sean was among the 13 Golani fighters killed by an anti-tank missile.

On Tuesday, six other young men were laid to rest. From north to south, military cemeteries filled with mourners. Ashkelon, a city that is being bombarded by rockets shot from Gaza, is now a place where gatherings of over 300 people are forbidden. Despite the danger, some 6,000 people came to say goodbye to the French lone soldier Jordan Bensemhoum.

On Tuesday, we attended the funeral of Sergeant 1st Class Oded ben Sira from the Nahal Brigade. It was in Nir Etzion, a tranquil religious moshav nestled in the Carmel Mountains. 

We had never met Oded, yet felt we had to pay our last respects. We were not the only ones with this desire. As we drove along coastal highway 2, traffic came to a stop as cars from north and south turned onto the road up that winds up to Nir Etzion. Police were there to direct traffic, diverting cars into an empty field. Busses awaited, ready to shuttle crowds to the moshav.  The army knows all too well how to prepare for a soldier’s funeral.

We gathered in a circle outside the moshav’s synagogue. It was a hushed crowd, save for claps on the back as weeping soldiers embraced each other. Many of the soldiers had just left the war zone of Gaza to come here and would soon be returning to the field. The Ben Sira family huddled around their mother who was sitting on a chair. Pale, Oded’s mother stared blankly ahead.

The crowd parted to allow a military jeep through. Six soldiers sat in the back, accompanying a simple casket. It was draped in a Magen David flag and covered in wreaths. The truck stopped. Silence. We heard the casket being lowered and then a piercing shriek. It was a cry of anguish, pain, sorrow and hurt that would never be healed. The cry of a mother. Oded’s mother.

Oded’s uncle spoke about his nephew, a gentle soul who never really suited the army and who simply loved to play guitar on the beach. As he stepped down, he said, “G-d gives. And G-d takes.” Oded’s father stood up and bravely said mourners’ kaddish for his son, trembling as he recited the words that every parent dreads.

We were then directed to waiting busses that took us to the military cemetery for the burial. As I saw the sparkling sea ahead, I thought of Oded and although I never met him, I imagined him driving this same road, guitar propped in the seat beside him, visions of song and surf in his innocent, young mind. Never again.

As we stood under the late afternoon sun around the graveside, we heard one heart-wrenching speech after another.  Shoulders shook with grief and tears flowed freely down faces of the young and also the strong. It is hard enough for adults to bear this grief, but outrageously unfair that young people should feel such anguish when life is supposed to be at its beginning.

His brother spoke, explaining that Oded had already finished his three years of army service. He had just spent quality time with his family as he excitedly planned his future. And when Operation Protective Edge began, he did not have to fight. But felt obligated and he volunteered. Sobbing, his brother said he was grateful they had this time together.

A best friend cried each word of his speech and a sister-in-law spoke in lieu of a broken-hearted brother who could not talk.  They all described a sweet, gentle soul.

The army then asked Oded mehilla, forgiveness for any wrongdoing, and requested that those with wreaths step forward. Young friends came forward to lay flowers on the casket, a last gift for their dear friend. Soldiers stood at attention, fired a salute for this brave fallen soldier and we all left, not knowing how we could continue our regular trivial lives carrying such grief.

Yet Naftali Bennett’s inspiring words from this funeral give us hope to carry on. Here is a translation of his speech.

Anyone who thinks we will give up, should open a Bible, read the Covenant G-d made with Abraham pledging to give him this land, and should look at the faces of our soldiers, at their steadfast spirit.

The enemy hasn’t a chance in this battle against the Eternal People of Israel.The liturgical poet Rabbi Judah ben Shmuel Ibm Abbas, says with regard to the binding of Isaac 'the eyes weep bitterly but the heart is glad' and that is how we feel today as well. At this moment, our eyes weep bitter tears, so many tears. How much sadness accompanies your leaving us. But with all that, our inner hearts are glad. They are glad because we know and understand what Oded's grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, would have said to us all at this time.

My brothers and sisters, in just one day during the Holocaust of our people, more Jews were murdered than in all of Israel's wars put together. And Oded fell as a Jewish soldier protecting his people in the Land of Israel.

Against a cowardly enemy whose commanders hide behind women and children, flee to hiding places under hospitals and schools, deciding that their people can die, you, Oded, decided to volunteer to be on the front line. Against an enemy that glorifies death, you fought so that we will be able to live our lives here. Against an enemy that has no roots, you deepened our roots here, and even when a branch is plucked, no one can uproot the tree it is on.  No one. We were here before the Hamas terrorists and we will be here long after they are gone.


You entered Gaza as a regular soldier and you left a reservist. You entered Gaza as a soldier who had been drafted, but you left as a volunteer. You entered Gaza alive, yet you left there alive in our hearts You went into Gaza to stop the deaths. And you left there willing us our lives. Oded, rest in peace, rest assured that we will complete the mission you began.


May we all keep these words in our hearts and remember our brave soldiers who have fallen to protect our land and the future of the Jewish people.

July 18, 2014

Miracles

Marriage proposal on the Gazan border.
Hamas has been firing rockets at the Israeli civilian population for eleven days now. Over 1,000 rockets have been launched into Israel to date. The sirens blare and people run for their lives. Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva and many other communities in southern Israel are on constant alert with Red Alerts going off every few minutes.

Miraculously, there has been just one fatality and a few injuries. With over three million Israelis in range of Hamas rockets, this is nothing short of a miracle.  

Just yesterday, as Amir and I were on Ahuza doing errands, the Tzeva Adom blared. We did not know where the nearest safe room was so we tucked down a stairwell below street level. Looking around, we foolishly realized that the opening was southward-the exact direction of incoming rockets. But with 90 seconds to hide, there was no time to find another secure spot. A woman, who had been out jogging, joined us. And then an old man in his undershirt came down. A moment later, his elderly wife tried to make her way down the steps.

“Careful,” we all said. Most of the injuries from these rockets have been a result of elderly people falling as they run.

“Hamas timed it for the six o’clock news,” the woman in the work-out gear commented, glancing at her Garmin watch.

The siren stopped and an eerie silence followed. We nervously eyed each other and craned our necks upward to a soft blue sky. Then we heard it. Boom. Boom. Boom.  My heart raced. It was very close, somewhere up there right above us. After a few seconds, the old man in the white undershirt laughed and said, “Who wants to come to my house?” He left and we all followed, eyes to the sky. I saw nothing.

Within a few seconds, the pace on Ahuza Street picked up. Cars zoomed, trucks honked and women pushed their babies in strollers. Customers were already in line to pay at SuperPharm. Where were they just now, I wondered, imagining them strolling down the diaper aisle deciding between Pampers and Huggies as the siren blared outside.

I walked into the wine store and saw thousands of glass bottles crowding the shelves from floor to ceiling. A chill went down my spine. This would not be a good place to run for cover.

The owner of the wine store waxed eloquent. “Why are most Israelis not saying tehillim (psalms) after each rocket lands without harming anyone? This is the work of G-d. It is obvious.”

And true. The fact that we are able to calmly incorporate this into our daily routine is also a miracle. Where else in the world would people manage to live like this day in and out? 

Love conquers all, or so it was at the Gaza border a few days ago. A creative man from B'nai Brak decided to propose marriage right at the Gazan border. Excited soldiers cooperated with the idea and even helped him make a sign. He got down on his knees, and to the delight of all, she said "Yes!"

Some people are acutely aware of the daily miracles in this country. A friend of mine emailed me a miracle list she collected over the week:

Kibbutz Sufa - An IDF spokeperson reported that on Thursday at 4:30 am, thirteen terrorists emerged from a tunnel 250 meters inside Israel. They were crawling on the ground, headed to the sleeping inhabitants of Kibbutz Sufa when they were spotted by the army.

Ashdod - A rocket fell in a gas station that held 35, 000 liters of gasoline. No explosion.

Gaza - Israel has been supplying Gazans with water and electricity for years. As Israel has a heart and would not cut off the supply even though Hamas does not pay its bills, Gaza’s own rocket hit an Israeli power station, plunging some 70,000 houses into darkness from damage by their own rocket.

Be'er Sheva - Kids were playing in a football court , and a rocket fell right there right after they left. Not far from there, another rocket fell by a gas balloon and it didn't explode.

Eshkol - A rocket fell in a kitchen right before the family went in.  Nothing happened. 

Negev - Young girls went outside and a rocket fell in their room right after they left.

Near Jerusalem - A rocket fell on a balcony of a family and did not explode.

Holon - A rocket "missed" a child by a split second.

Nes Tziona - A rocket fell on a highway full of cars. No one was hurt.

More then 1,000 rockets have been launched at us in the last 11 days. The Iron Dome (Kipat Barzel) shot down 150 of them. The rest (around 850 rockets) miraculously did not hurt us.

I told a friend of mine about our encounter with the Tzeva Adom and he shared another recent miracle. 

A packed bus left Tsfat for Jerusalem last motzei Shabbat. As the bus passed an Arab village, it was stoned. Windows shattered and a Molotov cocktail landed right beside a baby. There was a thud but no explosion. The driver sped off to safety and when all was safe, he stopped the bus. The Chasidim jumped off and formed a circle, dancing and singing to Hashem for delivering a miracle.

When times get rough, true kindness is revealed. A young couple was supposed to get married in Sderot on Wednesday night. Due to the situation, the wedding was cancelled. When the rabbi of a local Hesder yeshiva heard the news, he made it happen. Much to the couple’s surprise and joy, the wedding took  place in the yeshiva’s bomb shelter. You can see the video in this article.

Said one guest, “This shows the great power of the Jewish people – while outside everything is gloomy and dark – we continue on and this is what builds the people and the land.”

We will continue to bring light to the world. My son is at sleepover camp in Israel with a few hundred other Israelis. Are they going to be denied a fun summer? Have a peek at this video that was made by the camp. I watched it and cried tears of happiness. 

Our children refuse to be brought down. They will sing, they will dance and they will be strong. They will love life to its fullest as they are the future of the Jewish people.



Rockets are still flying and now the IDF ground troops are in Gaza. We are filled with trepidation. My son’s best friends are in there right now; cute, sometimes goofy boys who played board games at our house on Shabbat and whipped about on scooters and joked and played basketball. They are now fighting to secure our future so we can continue to live meaningful lives in this most remarkable, miraculous land.  

Let’s not get used to the miracles or take them for granted. And let’s pray that our boys come home safely so we can live in peace.

July 11, 2014

Boom

Life in Israel is surreal now.

Hundreds of rockets are being blasted from Gaza into Israel daily. Reaching as far north as Haifa,  these rockets are threatening a huge percentage of the Israeli population. Israel’s largest, most densely populated cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are under threat. But not under siege. 

Everyone outside the country sees newscasts. So what’s it like over here for the average Israeli living in the central part of Israel?

Here is a glimpse at my life over the last three days. Let me know if you think these rocket blasts are stopping Israelis in their tracks?

Tuesday - Day 1 of  Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Eitan) Ra'anana


After a relaxing day in Tsfat, we pack the car for the drive back to Ra’anana where we are staying in a friend’s apartment. Sitting in the car, I am reading the news and hear of rockets falling in Ashdod and Sderot. My son calls me from Rishon L’Tzion to tell me there have been rockets fired near his army base. Hmm, that's right outside Tel Aviv.

I then get a phone call from my friend’s  daughter.

“Hi. Hope you know where the bomb shelter in my mom’s apartment building is.”

“No. Why?” I am puzzled. I live in Ra’anana and have only ever used my own bomb shelter to store wine.

“Didn’t you hear the siren?”

I end the call in disbelief. As we park the car an hour later, we hear two loud explosions overhead. It is the Iron Dome intercepting two rockets on their way to Hadera perhaps? Wherever they were headed, they were close.

I check out the bomb shelter. It is in the basement, three floors below the apartment. I go onto the Home Front website and learn that I have 90 seconds to get to a shelter when I hear the siren. I decide to sleep in my clothes. Just in case I have to run.

Wednesday - Day 2
Jerusalem

We wake up tired and have an appointment scheduled in Jerusalem. This city has also been targeted. Should we go? Of course. We do not give it a second thought.

The roads are filled with commuters en route to work. Jerusalem is brimming with tourists and is as vibrant as ever. We go to our appointments. Nothing is cancelled. It is business as usual. 

We stop on Emek Refaim for lunch at Cafit and have a pasta dish with a cold beer, then stop for chocolate ice cream at Aldo’s. We stroll along the street with our ice creams. Music is playing in the cafes, people are shopping in the markets and children are biking and playing in the parks.

Around 7 pm, we hear a boom. We are on Derech Hebron. People stop for a second then get on with their lives.  We hit the highway back to Ra’anana.

Thursday -  Day  
Tel Aviv


10:30 am, North Tel Aviv
We have an appointment in north Tel Aviv. Sitting in our meeting in an office tower, the secretary runs in and says “Tzeva Adom.” Red Alert? We did not hear a siren but follow her out of the office into the bomb shelter down the corridor and continue our meeting there. The secretary remarks that it is nice to finally chat with the workers in the other offices. 
Mingling in the office bomb shelter....
a bit like chatting around the cooler?

"We usually never get to see each other," she says. 

We are meeting with someone who lives in Meitar. He has a Whats App group on his phone that beeps with new messages of road closures, rockets that land nearby and threats of Bedouin uprisings.

“We are surrounded by Bedouins,” he says calmly as he glances at his phone, then continues with the work at hand.

We hear there is an Iron Dome positioned nearby this office tower in an orchard and are told that with so many hi tech high rise buildings in this area, this is a prime target. No one around here seems to acknowledge this potential threat. It is now lunch time and hungry office workers must dine on sushi and salad outdoors in the sun.

12:30 pm, R’aanana
I am sitting at the doctor with my daughter. As the doctor is talking to us, her cell phone rings.

“Sorry.” She picks up her phone.

“Motek,” she says.

When she explains that her daughter lives on a kibbutz outside of Sderot with three small children, I understand why she picked up the phone so quickly.  Her daughter, she tells us,  lives in a house that is a bomb shelter. So if they are in the kitchen or bedrooms, they need not run when they hear the siren. The children’s school is also one giant bomb shelter. This is how they have had to adapt to nine years of pummelling from Hamas. 

However the shelters do not shield the children from the deafening sounds. Our doctor thinks her daughter will soon pack the kids in the car and head to Ra’anana.

3 pm 
My husband downloads an App called Red Alert. It beeps every time a rocket is fired into Israel and tells us the location. We know many rockets have been landing but are in shock at how often the phone is beeping. 

Read about how our technically savvy population has become aware of the rockets falling.

9 pm
We head out for a sushi dinner. The restaurant is bustling with diners eating outside. Kids are mingling on the street and couples are out for a stroll.

Friday - Day 4

11 am, Ahuza Street, Ra’anana

It is Friday and the pre-Shabbat rush is on. People are out buying challot in the bakeries and sipping espressos in the coffee shops.  

As I am come out of the dry cleaners, I  hear a siren. It is soft but distinct. People grab their kids and rush. A man directs me to a sheltered area under an awning, but I decide this is not safe and run with a family to a stairwell. We stand there for a minute and hear a big “Boom.” 

I am standing with a couple who have a young boy and no one seems frazzled. It almost looks as if they have dashed in here to get protection from a rain storm. Surreal?

After another minute, we go outside. An old man is pointing up and shows me smoke in the sky just to the south. The Iron Dome.

People stare at the sky, grab their cell phones to make sure their loved ones are fine, then go back to sipping their coffees. My husband did not even hear the siren.  Think I will go back to the apartment and keep the windows open. Just in case.

11:30, Shufersol grocery store, Ra’anana
Standing in line, I hear the cashier complaining that her husband and seven-year-old son have slept right through the siren. She is very anxious and is on the phone every few minutes trying to call home. She seems to be the most panicked person I have seen all day. Finally her husband picks up the phone and she blasts him. In Arabic.

2:00 pm, Herzeliya Pituach
Time to hit the beach and have fun. Israelis know how to enjoy life in spite of its challenges. This video clip taken today at the beach tells the surreal story.


video






Israelis know how to live life to its fullest. And so far, they are not phased. Of course, everyone takes the sirens seriously but this does not stop them from enjoying a beach party. 

My husband's phone continues to beep the Red Alerts as sirens blare in different parts of the country. Constantly. There have been over 700 rockets fired into Israel so far and we must be prepared. But we will not cower. Contrary to our enemy's desire to create chaos and terror, we aspire to live as normally and fully as we can. 

Shabbat Shalom (in the most peaceful sense of the word).