Week 7: Our first Chag Sukkot in Israel
People, laughter, sunny hot days, cool nights. Family, friends, vacation, freedom. Eating in the Sukkah, davening with Arba minim, religious ceremonies. So characterizes the Sukkot holiday in Israel. Celebrating Sukkot in Israel is an exciting experience. We started off the chag enjoying a wonderful meal in our sukkah, which we placed on our third floor mirpeset (see week six email). The night air was magnificent, though a little warm and we ate, talked and sang. We went to shul on Shabbat and enjoyed a nice, simple davening. Megilat Kohelet was read on Shabbat because we keep only one day of Yom tov. We met some people who live on our block who seem very friendly and we walked home with them. Lunch in the sukkah was extremely hot and Michal and I couldn’t sit there for very long, and Meyer, suffering from continued sciatica problems, couldn’t sit much either. But nevertheless, we enjoyed and were relaxed. Our two nephews, Avi and Dani, were spending Yom tov with us and they and Michal and Chezky kept two days of Yom tov, so while Yom tov concluded for us on Saturday night, they still had to go to shul, to a minyan about half hour walk from our house where a minyan for those holding two days was held. Michal and I prepared a nice meal for them and they were able to celebrate accordingly. It felt quite strange to be able to go on the computer, TV, and phone while they could not. We did though try to keep a Yom Tov environment for them.
On Sunday we traveled to Efrat to bring my mother and David to us for the day so that they could spend time with their grandchildren and us here. We had a lovely visit with them and showed them around our house and then took them back to Efrat.
Monday’s tiyul with Nefesh B’nefesh did not work out for us (registration had closed), so in lieu of that, we (Michal, Chezky, Yechezkel, Eitan, and nephews Avi and Dani) went to the Kotel for the twice annual Birkat Hacohanim. This was a site to behold. Masses of humanity… THOUSANDS of people-Jews-gathered at the kotel for this event. I know I’ve used this word quite a bit, but this was truly an amazing experience. Over the loudspeaker, the Baal tefillah led the tefilot and once it was time for the brachot of the Kohanim, silence surrounded the worshippers and onlookers as the blessings were recited. The sun burned down on us and Michal and I, the only girls of this contingent, stood up top to have a better vantage point. Birchat Kohanim at the Kotel is something everyone should experience at least once. I cannot adequately describe the feeling of being one of many thousands of Jews from all walks of life, receiving the bracha from the many Kohanim. This was definitely one of those ‘only in Israel’ moments. Apparently, there was some unrest in the city, and the Old City was closed to vehicular traffic; there were scuffles between police and Arabs. We were unaware of any of this but heard it on the news. Can you imagine, our esteemed President Obama declared the Old City unsafe to Jews during our holiday and advised people to stay away?
When we returned home we watched the video of Gilad Shalit that was released by Hamas in exchange for 20 female prisoners. I cried. I watched it in Hebrew and then in English. Needless to say, I cried over again. I cried for Gilad. I cried for his family. I cried for his mother. I cried for our country. I was angry. Angry that it has gotten to this point. Angry that his family has agonized over his well being for so long. Angry that these damn (sorry) terrorists even exist!! Angry at God. Angry that this predicament persists. And most angry that Israel is once again faced with the tortuous decision of releasing so many murderous prisoners, terrorists, so that we may have the return of one lone soldier. What is a country, a people, a government to do?
As a mother, I would offer the release of ten thousand terrorists for the return of my son safely to his mother’s arms. As a citizen of this country, I question that feeling. As difficult as it is to remove oneself from the emotional aspect of this decision, one still must ponder; is it wise to release those responsible for multiple attacks and multiple deaths for the release of one? What about those mothers and fathers? Has their pain and suffering been deemed insignificant in the face of the possible release of Gilad? What of future attacks by those released? Surely they will return to their nefarious ways in the wake of a cheering Palestinian crowd at their release. Is there another option? After speaking with friends and family, I wonder. But the diplomatic approach in light of such terror seems to be the way the government is proceeding. I am no politician and don’t profess to understand it all. Indeed, the questions posed here are elementary. But I ponder this issue as a mother, much like any other mother. Yes, bring Gilad home. But at what cost?? As one Jerusalem Post columnist noted in his editorial the other day, no one will be popping bottles of champagne if this deal goes through. But the value of life of every single Jew, of one Jew is of paramount importance that this creates the moral dilemma the government faces now. What an unenviable position to be in.
Chol Hamoed Sukkoth continued for us with a tiyul/hike with my cousins on Tuesday to Har Nissim, between Efrat and Beit Shemesh. Though we were a little late, we really enjoyed the camaraderie, laughter, and exercise. Some views were great, others less so but it was a fun afternoon. We then crowded into our little car, which was quite a scene (for you M.A.S.H. fans out there, think of the episode where Hawkeye piled 17 people into a jeep). My cousin Wendy tried to tremp (hitchhike) to get us a ride to Efrat for dinner, and though she tried valiantly, it was to no avail, though we all had a great few moments of laughter. So we piled in and prayed we wouldn’t be stopped, and made our way to Efrat for dinner with Mom and David and cousins Suzie and Barry. After dinner, we made our way back to Maaleh Adumim.
Wednesday was a day of work for Meyer and unfortunately he missed a great breakfast at my cousin Debra’s sukkah. (By the way, Wendy, Barry and Debra are brother and sisters). When I say great, I mean GREAT!! She cooked egg burrito’s, scones, made delicious yogurt, coffee, fruit salads, and on and on. We had so much fun with laughter, discussion, and general great time all around. After that some family went bowling, others to Naot Kedumim, a biblical landscape reserve, some back to Jerusalem, and me back home. Last night we had our friends Steve and Mindy over for dinner of pizza, salad, soda. (just realized forgot the beer!) Steve and Mindy live in Karnei Shomron and are very politically astute and involved. They are strong believers in Medinat Yisrael being a Jewish State and governed according to Torah. They have three sons who are or were in the army and one coming up to army age, and a daughter who recently completed her sherut leumi (national service). They are followers of Moshe Feiglin, who is head of the manhigut yehudi faction of Likud. We always enjoy stimulating conversation with them and it was great for Michal and Chezky to partake in the conversation as well.
Today was a low key day., with Michal and chezky in Jerusalem visiting the Generations center at the Kotel and then Ir David tour. Meyer is working. Tonight we have a sukkot gathering at Meyer’s aunt in Bayit Vegan with all of his cousins which should be very enjoyable. Then we prepare once again for Yom Tov. It will be strange saying Yizkor on the same day as Simchat Torah, but it’s nice having one day.
So high alert status continues in Jerusalem with threats abounding from the Arabs protesting Jews going on Temple Mount and in streets of Jerusalem. Violence continues, though we haven’t’ seen much. There are threats that the violence will continue and overflow to the West Bank. What else is new?? The good news of today is that an Israeli female scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work on ribosome and the struggle against antibiotic resistant bacteria. Kind of neat. I always love hearing these good feel stories of successful women!!!
So we complete another interesting fun week in Israel. I can’t believe that we are here for nearly two months. Time flies. We adjust. It’s wonderful seeing and speaking with family and friends who are here visiting, especially Michal and Chezky. We don’t want them to leave. Our friends suggested we kidnap their passports…hmmmm..interesting thought. Well, I’m sure we’ll be sad next week, but now I don’t want to think about it.
I close with the hopes and desires of all of us for the freedom of our captives. All of them. I pray for strength and clarity for the government of Israel and I pray for the Shalit family. I truly do hope Gilad’s mother will hug her son soon.
I miss all of you and wish you all continued health, happiness, and chag sameach.