October 24, 2014

Show and Tell

Canada, once described by a historian as a “peaceable kingdom,” has been struck in the heart. 

To their horror, Canadians experienced two terror attacks this week. In the first, a soldier was killed in a hit and run. In the second, a lone gunman killed a solider guarding the War Memorial in Ottawa, then fled to the Parliament Buildings for a shootout. The connecting thread? Radical Islam. An ideology of death perpetrated by Canadians on Canadian soil.

The headline on The Globe & Mail’s Thursday edition screamed ‘Attacked’ with huge letters pulsing in front of an image of the Parliament buildings. News stations ran a constant update of the events. The country was paralysed.

Having lived in Israel for nine years and being in Toronto during both of these events, it really brought out the difference between living in a shire and a cauldron. As an inhabitant of the cauldron, the boiling waters seethe with threats, attempts to harm civilians and tragedy. The country has adapted to this situation in order to protect civilians’ liberties and lives.

For example, there is security outside all shopping malls. When you want to enter, an armed guard looks in your bags, wands you with a metal detector and could ask you to pass through a machine that could detect weapons. In public parking lots, guards look in the car for suspicious passengers or baggage and open the trunk for an inspection. There is security at banks, museums, airports, bus stations, train stations, concerts, city gatherings and parks.

It is not an inconvenience and it is something I have adapted to and am grateful for.  It takes one second to do a security check and it saves lives. When I come to the US and Canada, I am often shocked by the lack of security and feel vulnerable in large crowds, often looking suspiciously at the number of unattended parcels, bags and strollers. If a distracted Israeli child were to leave his school backpack on a street for half an hour, chances are it would be ‘sapped’ by a policeman’s robot.

In Israel we do not take chances. In Israel we cannot afford to. Yet despite this, Israelis do enjoy freedom and democracy and a high quality of life.  Just stroll down Diezengoff Street in Tel Aviv, take in the surf on a Mediterranean beach or enjoy a falafel on Jerusalem’s  Jaffa Road. 

So when I hear alarmists cry that giving Canadian security forces increased power is a breach of democracy, I bang my head on the wall.  The Globe & Mail’s editor wrote that the security changes they choose to make should be done “carefully and calmly, with an understanding of the limited scale of the threat and the natures of tradeoffs between freedom and security.” He goes on to say that these recent tragedies  pose “no threat whatsoever to the survival of Canada.” True, they cannot and will not get their way. Canada will remain strong and free just like Israel.

Yes, Canada, you have been attacked and it is an inside job. Canadians should take these two events as a wake up call that radical Islam is growing and is enmeshed inside Canada.

The logical solution is to take this threat seriously by beefing up security and being aware. The soldier who gave his life while guarding the war memorial in Ottawa was carrying a gun without bullets.

Are security forces in Canada purely ‘for show?’  Please, Canada, oh shire, wake up, rub your sleepy eyes and use your forces ‘to tell.’

October 10, 2014

We are not in Oz

Picture on Etrog Box 
Wednesday felt a bit like a marathon. It was erev Sukkot, the holiday that takes place five days after Yom Kippur. Also known as the Festival of Booths, the holiday is centered around a Sukkah.

Most people traditionally start building their sukkahs right after the Yom Kippur fast. This was not an option for our family; we were in Ra’anana, our Sukkah parts were in Tsfat and we could not assemble it any earlier than Wednesday. Our personal challenge was driving north two hours, building a Sukkah, decorating it and having special meals ready to entertain guests for the holiday that started at sundown.

This required organization and planning.  My daughter cleverly suggested she make the decorations ahead of time. I cooked and froze and cooked and froze. Our real challenge was arriving in Tsfat in good time. Getting anywhere in Israel erev chag is a challenge as everyone clogs every road with cars so overstuffed with suitcases and kids and grandparents and food that children’s cheeks are plastered against windows.  With this in mind, we eyed each other and asked, ‘anyone up for an adventure?’
Sukkah decorating 

When you have little time in the day, take it from the night. We set our clocks for 3 am and placed our bags by the front door. At 3:15 am, I was stuffing my frozen food into coolers, while my daughter was placing her decorations in the car. We were on the road by 4 am and sped off in the cool darkness with barely a car in sight. We made a brief 5:30 am stop at my daughter’s army base to pick her up. We could barely make out the shapes of the soldiers who were making their way home in the pitch darkness.

The sun rose as we wound around the mountain roads, arriving in Tsfat by 6:30 am. We were exhausted but felt ahead of the game with so many hours of the day yawning in front of us. Our task was becoming achievable.

We built the frame of the sukkah, adorned it with our pre-made decorations and organized the food for the next two holiday meals. It was time to set the table. Out came the tablecloth, silverware, wine glasses and china plates. The final touch was arranging our elegant black and white napkins.

As we basked in our accomplishment, there was a clap of thunder. Lightning flashed overhead and the wind whipped up dust and leaves. I ran to our roof to see a bolt of lightning sizzle in front of Meiron Mountain. Looking up to my friend Susan’s house,  I saw her holding a sukkah wall in place while a piece of golden tinsel flew out like a spooked swallow. “Hey Dorothy,” I yelled to her through the cyclone. “Tap your slippers three times.”

I ran down to save the flimsy bamboo roof of our sukkah, senselessly perched atop an aluminum ladder with daggers of lightning above.  The rain came next. We stripped the table, cut down the hanging decorations and prayed our sukkah would not end up in Oz. Within seconds, the sun was out and the birds were chirping. I picked up a shiny tinsel that had blown in from a neighbour’s sukkah and asked ‘why’?

The answer was obvious to me. Hashem tells the Jewish people “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra 23, 42-43) The sukkah is a temporary dwelling because life is transient. The gusting 60 kph storm winds that blew across the whole country? A firm reminder that we should not become too attached to our physical comforts because they can separate us from our spiritual connection. And here we were, placing our energy into creating a perfectly designed,  elegant, Martha Stewart-style sukkah.

Well, at least our sukkah had not flown to Oz. After the storm, it was still standing but was bare, humble, stripped. Fragile and impermanent just like all of us. The sukkah is supposed to be open to the elements and we are to accept that life will blow and tousle and howl and break us. Yet we are to have trust and acceptance and this is why Sukkot is also called “Zman Simchateinu,” a time of rejoicing.

We are to sit outside, live simply, study the stars twinkling above our heads and experience wonder. I often try to plan ahead but am shown that my frail plans simply do not work out. 

I put away my ladder and realized that there is no time left to give my sukkah a makeover. But that is fine; the less decorations we have on our walls, the greater is my opportunity to marvel at the stars above.

October 1, 2014

A Meaningful Life

The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the Aseret Yomei Teshuvah, the ten days of repentance.  This sounds very heavy and it actually is. In the Midrash Tanchumah, it is written that G-d says, “The gates of Heaven are open, and I will listen to your prayers.”

During these days, we feel that Hashem is closer to us and many people take these days to reflect on their deeds and chart a path to reflect positive change for the new year. People also make time to attend Torah classes, give charity and do mitzvoth.

For the past 21 years, Rabbi Weiss of Ra’anana has been hosting a morning of inspiring lectures during these ten days. The city opens the doors of the large Yad Lebanim theater to a packed audience of people eager to learn, be inspired and make positive, impactful changes in their lives.

This week, Rabbi Weiss explained that we are in this world because “we each have our own potential to fulfill. We are singular and unique, and that reality is reflected in our faces, for, remarkably, no two faces in the mass of humanity are exactly alike. We are all different, but each of us is part of a great symphony in the totality called klal Israel, and if we don't perform the music that we can perform, the Torah that we can learn, the kind deeds that we can do, the tefila that we can pray, the job that can contribute to society, it makes a difference because He knows our potential, He notices everything, He can tell when someone or something is missing.

Who am I?

Rabbi Weiss concluded, “I am someone who never existed before, and will never exist again, and so I must “face up” to my intrinsic holiness, and complete my holy mission before my time is up. I must maintain my sense of modesty, while at the same time acknowledging my lofty lineage and awesome capabilities. I make a difference in this world.”

He then introduced the next speaker, Racheli Fraenkel. She took center stage this summer after her 16-year-old son Naftali was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. She was seen in front of TV cameras and addressing the United Nations, uniting us all in hope and prayer.  Her son, along with two other innocent teens, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, was later found murdered. Yet Racheli Fraenkel continues to give the same inspiring words of unity and dignity.

When I heard she would be speaking, I imagined she might address her personal tragedy. But she did not. Sure, she suffers. And certainly, her life will never be the same again. But she is a pillar of strength and is one of the most dignified, intelligent, self-actualized people I have ever heard speak. I learned that Maslow later modified his hierarchy of needs to include three higher levels with transcendence being at the top. Racheli Fraenkel, with her grace, glow and wisdom stands bravely atop this peak.

She explained that we are human and are limited. Many things happen in life that are out of our control. Yet must work on joy (simcha) and give it space in our lives as it is our natural state of being. Simcha gives us energy to make life more meaningful and realize the blessings that we have.

These words of wisdom came from a Torah scholar and a mother whose son was murdered in July by terrorists. She did not once speak of hate, revenge, power or bloodshed.

Who is she?

Rachelli Fraenkel is a shining example of what living a life of Torah truly is. She is a sensitive, dignified, forgiving, peace loving and hopeful human being.

Echoing the words of Rabbi Weiss, she maintains her sense of modesty, while at the same time acknowledges her lofty lineage and awesome capabilities.

Rachelli Fraenkel makes a difference in this world.
And the world should open its eyes and learn from her.

You can hear her on this inspiring Aish video for Rosh Hashana.

These were her words to the UNHRC on June 24, 2014.