July 31, 2017

A Love Story

One day, seventeen years ago, a young couple fell in love and married. At first, they lived busy city lives in crowded central Israel.

They dreamed of having a family where there was open space and vistas and envisioned living in in the Binyamin region.  In Biblical times, Binyamin is where the prophets Samuel, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha wandered, prophesying to the people.

This is also close to Shiloh, where the mishkan (the tabernacle) was housed and near the ancient capital that stood during the time of King Saul, Israel’s first monarch.

As in days gone by, this place is nestled amongst craggy mountains dotted with ancient olive groves. Sheep graze the hills. Goats and donkeys amble along as they did millennia ago. This is a profound land where days are hot, dry and parched while nights are lit by stars twinkling in a jet-black sky.

They soon came across Amona, a hilltop where a few families were starting to set up home. They loved the views, the fresh air, the sense of a being part of a new beginning. Abandoned terraces and ancient wine presses dating back to the times of the Byzantines dotted the area.

Their feet felt mysteriously pulled to this spot; their hearts expanded and they decided they had to be here and nowhere else.

They moved and soon became a dynamic force in this fledgling yishuv. As their family grew, their love of the land expanded. They loved their community; its kindness, simplicity and beauty. Their kids ran free, playing outdoors all day.

Years went by until, one day, they were told their house was illegal. A bulldozer came and tore down part of their newly built home. They then moved into three caravans that they joined. And this place soon became a comfortable new home.

There were struggles and protests. Despite the hardships and legal conflicts, the couple stayed on.
Remains of the synagogue in Amona, Feb, 2017. Ofra in the distance.

Just last December, the Israeli court community gave orders to have Amona evacuated. Heartbroken, they stayed on until February 1, the day they were forcibly pulled out of their home. Their trailers were towed away and their belongings placed in storage. 

Today they are waiting in nearby Ofra for the government to offer them a new place to call home. They are family with six children living in a makeshift home that is a field school. They have no kitchen and no laundry facilities. They sleep in a small room of floor to ceiling bunks and have only the clothing they brought with them when they were evacuated six months ago.

Just last month, the wife decided to drive to Amona to recite her prayers for the new month. She left her car and walked to the empty place that was once her home. Mysteriously, she fell, shattering her foot and leg. In intense pain, she managed to crawl back to her car and call for help.

Adding more challenge and frustration to their already hard life, she went through surgery and is healing but immobile.

Her husband decided it was time for light and love. Their 17th anniversary was coming up and he wanted to formally propose to his wife. He regretted that years ago he was too shy to pop the question this way. Now, more than ever, he wanted to show her his love.

He also wanted to arrange for her favorite band to perform a private concert but felt it was a frivolous expense given their situation. His friends advised him to go ahead as this was an investment in love and the strength it would give to his wife was limitless. And so he ordered the band and organized a small gathering.

First he took his wife to a beautiful look out.  She hobbled out of the car on crutches and they sat down together in the late afternoon sun, looking out across the rocky terraced mountains they both grew to love to so much.

New ring in hand, he popped the question but this time it was, “Will you build a home with me?” He handed her a ring designed like the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple and the Jews’ spiritual home. 

After 17 years, their bond is stronger than ever, their love chiseled and sculpted from the many joys and sorrows they experienced together.

They then arrived at a friend’s home to a table laden with food, in a room surrounded by her best friends. There she listened to her the band she loved best sitting beside the most special person she knew in the world.

These are the moments that heal and bond. And these are the secret ingredients of happiness and connectedness.  One can have almost everything taken away, yet still feel full and content.

This couple is my son-in-law’s sister and brother-in-law. They are role models of love, endurance and hope.

As Lao Tzu said,  “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

It is almost Tisha B’Av, a time when Jews mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. It is also six months since this family lost their home and community.  And Israel has experienced heart-breaking tragedies in the past few weeks along with increased tension over the holiest site.

Yet it is also close to Tu B’Av, the mysterious holiday when the daughters would dance in the vineyards under a full moon. These days, it is celebrated as a time of love, promise and redemption and an auspicious time for weddings.

Loss and love. Like the image on the new wedding ring of a Temple that was lost and rebuilt and lost again, yet waits to be rebuilt once more, this is the shared story of both our nation and this beautiful couple.

May they continue to have courage and strength from their love and to be always inspired by this land.

July 18, 2017


Over the past month, our family has been part of a ‘countdown’; we are counting the days our son Ariel has left until he’s a civilian.

After serving over four and a half years, he’s getting out of the army – today. Following his army adventures over these long years, I too can say this is a big deal. 

Moms in Israel cry when their sons go in, shedding tears of pride and of fear. At night, Israeli moms tend to leave their cell phones on, just in case.  After a leave, when our sons and daughters depart in uniform, we hug them goodbye, but our thoughts are never truly settled.

So Ariel has done his time, way more time than most soldiers who serve 32 months. Twice I have counted down his time left to serve and then ‘reset’ the marker after he signed on for additional months of service.

After being army property for over four years, what does ‘shichrur’ (army release mean?), especially for those who have never served?

We all take freedom for granted. And as an average free person, we can do the following without blinking:
- We can make our own schedules and arrange our own priorities;
- We dress according to our mood in the colors we like. (No worries of punishment if our shirt’s not tucked in just so);
- We press the snooze button just one more time if we’re tired;
- And if we can’t cope some days, or if it’s too rainy or snowy, we could decide to stay home for banana pancakes;
- Yes, we eat the foods we love and grab our go-to comfort food when we’re hungry;
- We hang out with people we like and if someone bugs us, we could tell them where to go or just leave;
- We can hop on a plane on a whim, go on vacation or sit and daydream about where the next one will be.

The average Israeli goes into the army at the age of 18 or 19 so there’s no option to discover the world after high school or go to college. In Israel, there are obligations and expectations and so, freedom is put aside for another cause – security and protection of the country.

So Ariel put freedom on hold to serve his country. He may already be tall, but in the army he ‘grew’ even more; he expanded as a person, matured and learned a lot about responsibility, obligations and teamwork.

I’ve written about Ariel’s army experiences over the years, starting with his giyus, or army draft, in November 2012. The army was new territory to us all and Ariel went in with a good attitude, having to navigate the waters all on his own. I’ve since learned that having immigrant parents who know nothing about the workings of the IDF is a real disadvantage. 

Nonetheless, he did very well and was promoted to a commander in October 2013. He took courses, moved to a different base, worked with new people under stressful conditions and took on more responsibility. He discovered a new strength called leadership.

He did so well, he moved onward to becoming an officer in January 2015. He faced more competitive training courses, was again moved to a new base, had even more difficult bosses plus added stress and responsibility. 

He hardly slept, came home exhausted and hoarse and could never leave his phone, even when he was off duty. And if a dangerous situation erupted during his precious time home (which it did), he would get into in a wet uniform straight from the laundry, wake up his soldiers, grab his gun and they’d all head back for duty.

He never complained about being tired or hungry or stressed. He simply did his job and gave all to the army and to the country.

His last advancement was to the rank of captain in September 2016. As captain, he was leader of the officers, the commanders and all the new recruits. He took on a very un-Israeli approach to leadership; he never raised his voice and was very approachable. 

Every evening, the espresso machine was on, his office door was open despite his workload and the soldiers were encouraged to drop in and talk. Many soldiers came to his office to chat. Ariel got to know them well and was able to advise them with their issues on a one-to-one basis. For both Ariel and the soldiers, this was invaluable time.

We once asked Ariel why he wanted to sign on to do extra years of army service with increased responsibilities. He did not flinch with his answer, replying, “These soldiers will one day be my children’s teachers and bus drivers, our bankers and our politicians. Here’s an opportunity to teach new recruits respect, develop selflessness, and give them a love of Israel and knowledge of responsibility to society and our country.” Over the years, Ariel was also able to inspire other recruits to follow the same path and take on army leadership roles.

There will be adjustments to be made as he enters civilian life.  It may be puzzling for him at first when he enters a room full of people and they don’t immediately leap to their feet.  But that’s OK, humility is one of the first and most lasting lessons that he’s learned in the army.

As of next week, he’ll pamper himself with a taste of freedom; a long backpacking trip where he’ll let go of time, abandon strict timetables and forsake worry. He’ll be in flip flops, cut offs and simply chill. He’ll decide to get on a bus or a plane or to just stay put. He will spend time with people without obeying orders or giving commands. He can try everything on the menu and order more food if he’s still hungry. He can be just like us.

Ariel, with our countdown over, you’ve cut your ID card and are finished your service. We’re so proud of you and of the huge commitment and sacrifice you’ve made for Eretz Israel.

Happy adventuring, happy freedom!