Hello all and greetings from rainy Tzfat!!
Ten weeks or two and half months as olim chadashim.
The events of this week, our tenth in Israel, were significant for both Israel and the Stepners, though in obviously very different ways. This week proved to be an incredibly busy and eventful one for us and exciting in many ways, but for Israel, I fear, quite the contrary. As you will read below while we experienced both good and trying things, Israel was again made to feel like a pariah in the eyes of the world and indeed, it is a very isolating feeling.
Last Friday, shortly after I sent out the week nine email, we were genuinely surprised by a visitor from West Hempstead. David Saidoff, who was in Israel visiting his father and other family members decided to surprise us and made his way to Maaleh Adumim, flowers in tow. He found his way to our home and knocked on our door. Unsuspectingly, I answered the door and there he was. I screamed shouts of joy and after hugs all around we showed him around the house and sat and talked for a while over drinks and cookies. It was so great to see a West Hempsteader and boy, were we surprised. It was amazing.
We were invited to dinner Friday night to a couple who live down the block from us, she from England, he from Canada. There were a couple of girls there also who are studying in Midreshet Harova and we all (me, Meyer, Yechezkel and Eitan) enjoyed. I decided Shabbat morning not go to shul because I’ve been very tired lately so I played hooky. Saturday night was uneventful. Sunday morning, Meyer, Yechezkel and I made our way to Hadassah Ein Kerem for a breathing test Yechezkel had to take for the army to help determine his army profile. Afterwards Yechezkel returned to Yeshiva and we returned home to prepare for the arrival of our aronot. For those of you who don’t know, Israeli homes are built without closets which requires one to purchase specially made aronot (makeshift closets) to store clothing. It takes about four weeks for them to be delivered once they are ordered and Sunday was our delivery date. We were given a small leather chair as a gift and had ordered a matching hassock which the delivery men dropped down our stairs resulting in a tear to the leather. We obviously did not accept it and are now awaiting a new one. In any event, the workers took most of the late afternoon to assemble the aronot and we are now finally through living out of suitcases and garment boxes from our lift. Another milestone in the Stepner aliyah saga.
Monday was a typical day: Ulpan, school, work, etc, except that Yechezkel had asked me to join him in visiting the Gush Katif museum which is off of Rechov Yaffo between Machane Yehuda and the Tachana Hamercazit (Central bus station). So I met him after Ulpan and we went together to the museum. The museum is a nondescript museum housed in an apartment building in the area. The only identifying indicator to the museum is a sign, the actual road sign to Gush Katif, adorning the entrance. The museum is very powerful. Regardless of your political beliefs or opinions, you cannot leave that museum without being profoundly moved or affected in someway. We read newspaper clippings, saw photos, saw resident’s artifacts, remnants of homes and personal belongings. There was footage of the ‘disengagement’ day and of the days and weeks leading up to it. We were then directed to a video room where we were shown a film documenting one family’s experiences of that fateful day. The father of the family is a doctor who treated so many people in Gush Katif. Before we viewed the film, we engaged in conversation one of the docents, a young girl, probably twenty three or twenty four years old because we wanted to hear of her experience. She told us she lived in Gush Katif and was evacuated with her family. She described it as an unbelievable, unfathomable, heart rendering experience, one she will never forget. I don’t know why she is working in the museum but I imagine she wants everyone to know and understand if possible, what she and others like her went through. Her parents are some of the fortunate ones in that they found employment fairly soon afterwards. Her brothers, 16 and 18 years old are angry and hurt. They do not wish to serve in the army and apparently they will be performing some sort of Sherut l’eumi instead. They were 12 and 14 years old at the time and the memories are too fresh. They are wounded. We watched the film in Hebrew and we couldn’t believe our eyes and ears. What we all saw and heard in the states was nothing in comparison to the actual footage shown that captured the days events. One term that stands out that the family and others repeatedly said that day was ‘Yehudi lo goresh Yehudi’. A Jew does not expel another Jew. Very powerful words. A very powerful statement, indeed. I cried. Yechezkel cried. The children, parents, friends, everyone, were crying, pleading with the soldiers and police, to not expel them. Perhaps it was too late, but would any of us just leave our homes willingly? Would we accept being thrown out of West Hempstead?? There is much debate about the events of that day in August 2005, and about the decisions leading up to the day. Nevertheless, watching your fellow Jews thrown out of their homes and seeing the homes destroyed, well, there really are no words to describe it. We left the museum drained, and talked a little about what would happen if decisions like that are made again. Neither of us could or would fathom such an occurrence happening again and I can say with confidence, that I would do everything I could to stand up to and resist such a decision. This should never be allowed to happen again. You should all visit this museum on your next visit to Israel.
Tuesday and Wednesday were fairly uneventful days except for a nice gathering on our block of English speaking families on Tuesday night and more army tests for Yechezkel on Wednesday. Eitan awoke very early Thursday morning (2am) to watch the opening World Series game. Needless to say, Meyer and I did not watch with him. I need my sleep!! Thursday proved to be a very momentous day for Yechezkel. He went to be ’Mitchayel’, or to enlist as a soldier. He is now, officially, an Israeli soldier. He is not in uniform yet but was given all the vaccines, blood tests, forms to complete and at the conclusion of the various tests, was given a soldier ID and dog tags. He now will receive discounted bus rides and discounts in various stores. He will be ‘mitgayes’, or an active duty soldier in March.
So we are in Tzfat for a little ‘R and R’ for Shabbat. We left on Thursday night after leaving Eitan with my cousin Debra and family in Givaat Z’ev and drove up North for about three hours and arrived there around midnight. The hotel was really nice, except that it was pouring and cold and the heat in our room did not work so we had to have a portable heater brought in. This was fine (it wasn’t really all that cold for me). Fortunately for Israel, unfortunately for us, there was a lot of rain over the weekend in the North and Central Israel. Israel is in desperate need of rain and this certainly helped, though we will need many more heavy rainfalls for the Kineret to fill. In any event, there were quite a few ‘Meyerisms’ over Shabbat and it was fun to see Tzfat again with Meyer. To clarify, Meyer, in all his prior years of living in Israel, and over all of our prior trips to Israel, never visited Tzfat. Tzfat is a very spiritual and mystical city and can be very uplifting in those ways. It is also a city wrought with a modern day history of battle and survival. So on Thursday night with all the shrieking howling winds and thunderous rain, and over this Shabbat, Parshat Lech L’echa, as we took a walking tour (in Hebrew) and learned about the Gedolim buried here, the mystical and spiritual artists who once lived here and who’s influences are still felt here, and about the ordinary people who once resided here, and those that currently live here, the ’achdut’ amongst all of Tzfat’s Jews, both secular and religious, and of the battles fought here. Walking home after davening Carlebach at the Beirav shul in Tzfat Meyer felt the achdut between the various sects of people coming from different backgrounds: Chasidish, modern, secular, and others. Everyone respected everyone else and wished each other Shabbat Shalom. Regarding the parsha of Lech L’cha, Meyer related and connected to the parsha and story of Avraham Avinu when Avraham was told to leave his land. Avraham, who was instructed by Hashem to leave his land for another, didn’t know where he was going, or what he would be doing. There were a lot of uncertainties facing him. But he just went with emunah that Hashem would show him the way. Meyer feels this connection in much the same way. Meyer feels how fitting it is for us, as new olim who left our home and relative comfort for Israel, to be visiting Tzfat on this particular Shabbat. We too recently left our home and comfort zone for so many uncertainties, financial, social, and others, yet, we knew we had to be here, that it was time to come home. We came with a plan; we did know how we were to travel here, yet there were and still are uncertainties. But we have emunah that Hashem will help us and show us the way. So far, so good, I guess. Interesting how Meyer feels, isn’t it. And me? I do feel much the same way, though maybe not in as much of a ‘spiritual’ way as he. Meyer is still the same Meyer, not to worry. He has not ‘flipped out’. (I wouldn’t have that). But he views things differently here and has a unique perspective on things. We both have appreciation for the simpler, smaller things in life.
As for Israel and the happenings here, it is sad to feel so isolated, to see your country being held to impossible standards by the rest of the world. My Ulpan teacher noted on Wednesday that Israel is always alone, yet now, at this time there is such an acute sense of loneliness and isolation. Many average citizens on the street feel that the world is callous towards Israel in every sense and that the world holds a vendetta against Israel more so than usual. It really does feel that way. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that not enough is being done by our leaders in support of Israel. More education and less fear of what the world thinks about Israel’s role in the Middle East for starters. More activism on Israel’s behalf is sorely needed. Israel has to survive and defend herself against all odds. Israel is a light among nations and that light should not be allowed to dim. Jews abroad should not tolerate what is said about Israel in the UN, on college campuses, in government. Jews in Israel too need to stand up more for these same things. There is much work to do.
Enough of that. I guess I just went off on a soapbox after reading the Jerusalem Post this morning. Anyway, time to sign off. One week ends, another begins. Hope everyone is well. Missing you all this week, a lot.
Here’s to a week of less strife for all, more rain for Israel, and health and happiness to you all. We miss you and love you.