January 30, 2015

An Officer (and a Gentleman)

It is Wednesday afternoon and we are at the tekes siyum (graduation ceremony) of our son Ariel’s 32 soldiers.  This exciting moment marks the end of their six months’ basic training. Proud parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins come out. Some hold up large signs, others wear matching T-shirts printed with their soldier’s picture on them. Everyone brings coolers stuffed with food and  perches with cameras and videos ready to capture the big moment.

Yet just a few hours ago, Hezbollah had shot anti-tank missiles at IDF jeeps on the northern border. We knew there were casualties. We knew there could be a war.

Six months earlier, these same soldiers, three units comprising 113, entered the army as young kids. Now they stand as a cohesive, professional group of motivated soldiers. Six months ago, they were all strangers. Now they have formed close bonds that will last a lifetime.

Six months earlier, when these soldiers entered the bakum to be drafted, a war in Gaza was raging.  Rockets were slamming into Israel by the dozens. Code Red sirens blared in Ashkelon, Beersheva and Ashdod. It was very unsettling. Despite wars, the drafts continue.

In fact, when Ariel was first drafted in November 2012, there was also a war in Gaza. Hundreds of rockets were pounding southern Israel and the inhabitants were fleeing their homes. On the day Ariel was drafted, the Palestinians shot an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep.

When Ariel graduated from his Officers’ Training Course early June 2014, it was a time to celebrate and a time to be tense. Soldiers were combing the Hevron area to find the three teens who had been abducted and we stood together and prayed for them.

As I sat at his officers’ graduation ceremony last June, I felt pride for my son. Yet I was experiencing deep sadness for the missing boys and found I could not even bring myself to write about Ariel’s huge achievement.  Ariel came home that evening with a respectable new title, a bar on his lapel and a huge new responsibility.

Ariel received his new recruits soon after, and along with three mefakdim (sergeants) who report to him , they molded them into a cohesive, responsible, enthusiastic group.

Now, here we are. It is Wednesday afternoon and we are at the tekes siyum of our son Ariel’s 32 soldiers. This time, I am not watching the soldiers; I am looking at my son the officer standing in front of his group.

He stands tall and commands authority. He looks serious and even a little intimidating. He has worked hard over the past six months and feels he had done a good job.

As a mom and an olah who has never served a day in the army and still cannot speak much Hebrew, I cannot fathom what army life is like.  I have no idea what my son does everyday and my only tangible connection to the IDF seems to be washing his khaki uniforms when he comes home.

At this tekes siyum,  I feel pride as I watch him marching with the other officers and standing in front of his soldiers like a serious leader.  As I watch him saluting allegiance during HaTikvah, along with other officers and high-ranking soldiers, I feel his dedication and loyalty to protecting Israel.

I am honored to have a selfless son, and I know how special it is for a young person to make such a huge commitment. (As an officer, he must serve an additional year and four months to the prescribed three years of army service.)

It is Wednesday afternoon as we stand at attention, watching the blue and white flag being raised and buffeting in the sea breeze. We all sing HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem. The soldiers receive their pins and some are rewarded for excellence.

At the end of the ceremony, in keeping with tradition, the soldiers lift their berets and they spiral into the sky.  The green berets fly up with a communal joyous cry, and come crashing down with a thud. Training is over and now there is a serious job to be done.

And such is life in tenuous, heart-warming Israel.

January 22, 2015

Israel's Good News

They hate us.  Again. Israel and the Jews are equally despised and blamed for world calamity, tragedy, economic downturn and political unrest.

I am so accustomed to Israel bashing, Jew hating and anti-semitic lies, I am no longer surprised when we get blamed. When something terrible happens and we first hear about it on the news, my husband and I try to imagine how Israel will be negatively implicated. This has become our sick game. So when tragedy struck Paris two weeks ago, we knew the cause would soon be reported as political unrest in Israel.

We didn't have to wait too long. Jimmy Carter soon came out saying, "One of the origins for [the violence in Paris] is the Palestinian problem. And this aggravates people who are affiliated in any way with the Arab people who live in the West Bank and Gaza, what they are doing now—what’s being done to them.”

The mayor of Ankara, Turkey, said it too.  But he added a creative twist to his interpretation of events, stating that Israel wanted to punish France after it voted for a Palestinian state. In his distorted angle, he said "Israel certainly doesn't want this sentiment to expand in Europe. That's why it is certain that Mossad is behind these kinds of incidents. Mossad inflames Islamophobia by causing such incidents."   

The media is one of the worst offenders, so when I received this email today (thanks Deborah), I had to laugh:


An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in England when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage.

Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside his cage, right under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him profusely.

A reporter has watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: 'Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I've ever seen a man do in my lifetime.'

The Israeli replies, 'Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little girl in danger and acted as I felt right.'

The reporter says, 'Well, I'll make sure this doesn't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, and tomorrow's paper will have this story on the front page. So, what country are you from, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?'

The Israeli replies, "I'm from Israel. I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud."

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads, on the front page:


I laughed because this type of media distortion is true.  And I laughed because I can and I laughed because I live in Israel and do not have to put up with this anti-Israel bashing.

People here are not putting their energy into devising ways to terrorize civilians and they are not teaching their children how to hate and kill. Israelis are not scheming lies or demonizing others. Israelis are busy leading meaningful lives and investing their energy into making the world a better place.

Here is a glance at what Israelis are up to:

On January 11, it was reported in the Times of Israel that an Israeli dental company designed a custom-made titanium jaw to save the life of a Syrian fighter. This complex procedure was done at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital with the aid of an Israeli-developed 3D printer. The patient, who was critically injured and could not eat or speak, was fighting on the Syrian side of the border. 

This beautiful story speaks of Israel’s respect for the life of all and of its incredible intelligence and determination.

All lives are precious. Just have a look at this TED talk given by IDF Doctor Brigadier General Professor Yitshak Kreiss last December about the compassion and humanity of the IDF medical rescue team. 

Just writing about these incredible contributions elevates me and makes my heart feel open, my horizons hopeful and positive. Those who want to lie, distort and discriminate will shrivel; while those who live to cherish and be compassionate will expand the world. 

The irony is that when there is good news, Israel is often behind it.  And that’s the truth.

January 6, 2015

Chik Chak

Chik chak.”

That’s what he said when he left the Misrad Hap'nim, the Ministry of the Interior. Black Israeli humor at its finest; there is no chik chak in government offices.

Here we were sitting, standing, fidgeting, playing with smart phones, hemming and hawing, checking our watches…all waiting to receive our new identity cards, the much acclaimed teuda zeut chacham or intelligent identity card.

 A few weeks back, we had waited in what seemed like the longest line ever. There we filled in a form, had our photos and fingerprints taken and were told to come back and pick up the card. Waiting time for pick up? No more than ten minutes. Sounded pretty straightforward.

Wow. Teudat zeut chacham, the smart identity cardHere we were, exchanging our regular ‘dumb’ ID cards for the ‘smart’ version, a biometric card that reads your fingerprint and is innovative, top-of-the-line, progressive, fraud-safe.

As the office told me, I received a text message saying my card was ready and went to the pick up area in the Misrad Hap'nim, imagining it would take ten minutes tops. I entered a packed waiting area. Most seats were taken and people were starting to mill in the hallway. I grabbed a seat and noticed that after 20 minutes, only one person had been served.

“Mi ha’acharon?” Who is last? Each new arrival asked our growing group, as we all pointed in unison to the last in line, like tattling children in a kindergarten. This was a chatty crowd, as are all ‘waiting’ Israelis. Be it a bank line, a grocery queue or a bomb shelter, everyone has something to add.

"What are they doing in there?" "How could it take so long to pick up a card?" People craned their necks to get a peek inside.

“Seems to me this smart identity card is not so smart,” a man chimed in, twiddling his thumbs.

Everyone chuckled in agreement.

“No one values our time,” one woman said, shooting off a text message with a whoosh.

“Ma la’asot?” an older woman added. Everyone groaned in agreement that there was nothing to do and returned to their phones. The woman’s phone then chimed the most toxic ring tone and, pressing every button, she could not shut it off.

"Ein ma la'asot." A newcomer said, adding a cherry to the top of the last comment.  And the group growled and clicked away on their smartphones.

Hold it. I'm getting a smart I.D. card and it is taking longer to pick it up than apply for it. Is this normal? I know biometric sounds impressive, but is this process really efficient and smart?

I looked in the office. There was one clerk at a desk. It reminded me of the interminable lines at the post office. Aside from the single clerk, I saw two open drawers that looked like they could have once been filled with socks. There were index cards inside with hand-written letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Not very biometric-looking to me.

A woman came out, a new employee on the scene. We all looked up hopefully and stared at her. She announced that if we gave her our old identity cards, she would help make the process faster. Yippee. We all leapt from our seats and gave her our cards.

She then went to the sock drawers and started paper clipping the new card to our old ID cards. But nothing happened.

Thirty minutes had passed.

“Now we can’t even run away from this mess,” one woman in the crowd remarked. “They have our old ID card and our new one.”

Prisoners of this bureaucracy, everyone in the room and in the hallway grunted and went back to their text and emails and cyber lives. (At least they did not confiscate our cell phones, like they do at the Canadian Consulate in Tel Aviv.)

Israel is progressive…yet is not. A case in point. Recently, the parliament tried to pass legislation to charge shoppers for plastic grocery bags. I, an ardent canvas bag carrier, was exuberant. Yet the bill did not pass. Why?  It was unfair to the plastic bag manufacturers, it would cost the consumer too much and the tax ministry (not the environmental ministry) was poised to collect the windfall. 

After forty minutes, it was finally my turn. My new card was put into a computer reader, I was asked for my fingerprint and was given an envelope to activate the card. Voila. I was ready to go forth to a biometric future. I ran outside to find a ray of sunshine and wait for my husband who was next in line.

Ten minutes later he called to tell me they couldn’t find his card in the sock drawer.  Twenty minutes later he called exasperated. Maybe the letter beit from his surname was filed under the letter tzaddik. He eventually came outside biometrically card-less.

We were halfway home when we received a call that the card was finally located, making a sharp U-turn and heading back to bureaucracy.

This morning's trial showed us yet again that Israel is surely a country of miracles. Who runs Israel? Certainly not the Interior Ministry. Not only has Israel survived 66 years surrounded by enemies, faced with wars, entangled in intense bureaucracy and internal political strife, its economy has grown exponentially, it has made countless scientific discoveries, medical advances and is a leading start-up nation.

Who runs Israel? My husband and I looked beyond the bulldozers carving out highways and the multitude of cranes building blocks of apartments. We looked way, way up to the blue sky above. And we smiled. In Israel, we are often reminded about Who runs the show and Who ensures the existence of this tiny country every moment of the day. Chik chak.