Sunday, April 30, 2006

What a Great Roundup

The Hashmonean sponsors this week's Havel-havelim and does a superb job of bringing together both small and large blogs.

Rafi at Life in Israel really describes Yom HaShoah as it is in Israel, which reminds me again why I love living here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

They've Started Already

You know those little creatures with seemingly endless energy, scurrying back and forth carrying objects that sometimes weigh more than they do?

No, I'm not talking about ants. I'm referring to the young boys in our yishuv who are already collecting wood for their bonfire on Lag B'Omer, a holiday that occurs this year on May 16th. (The girls collect also, but they don't start so early).

The energy expended at this task always amazes me, as does the ingenuity of some of the kids and how they figure out how to shlepp things from one point to another. I've seen ropes tied to bicycles and baby carriages (minus the usual precious cargo, of course) filled with sticks pressed into service. Now I know where men get their love of pickup trucks!

There is also the endless "turf wars" - where each group of kids claim that they found the perfect spot for the bonfire before anyone else even thought of it. The boys also know down to the last stick how much wood is in their stockpile, and G-d forbid anyone should even THINK of stealing some...

We already have an impressive pile in the driveway. Pretty soon there won't be enough room for the car, and there are still almost three weeks left...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Too Many Unsung Heroes

I just read a very good article in the Jerusalem Post about the Jewish partisans. It seems that the image of the Jews who went to the slaughter passively is very ingrained, and not enough people know about those that actively resisted.

Worth a look.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Haveil-Havalim is up....

Scottage has done a fantastic job with this weeks Haveil-Havalim. I really enjoyed WanderingJew's depiction of the Exodus story as it would be written today in the New York Times. Funny, but sadly true.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, M16's, and a New Respect for Veterans

Four years ago, during the intermediate days of Passover, a terrorist broke into the Gavish home in Elon Moreh and killed four members of the family. After analyzing the details of the incident, the army came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to train women to use the weapons that were issued to their husbands. Soon after Passover the first training session was on offer in our yishuv.

I grew up in a liberal Jewish household in America, and one of the ingrained messages that I received was that GUNS WERE BAD. As children we weren't even allowed a squirt gun (pity my poor brother). Consequently I developed an aversion to the M16 that my husband uses when he performs guard duty on our settlement. If I needed to handle it at all, I would touch it gingerly - as if I was holding a dirty dead thing that I wanted as little physical contact with as possible. So westbankpappa thought that he would have a hard time convincing me to agree to a training session. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I was one of the first women to sign up.

Not long after the terrorist attack some of the details of what happened came out. One particularly harrowing fact was that the wife and daughter-in-law of those killed saved her life and that of her child by hiding under the kitchen table with her hand over her baby's mouth, as she watched the terrorist walk through the kitchen stalking his prey. This searing image was enough to trump whatever aversion I had to guns many times over, so on the appointed day I took the M16 and showed up to learn how to use it.

The day chosen for our first round of training was Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The symbolic significance of the day, commemorating another group of Jewish civilians who were forced to take up arms in order to defend themselves, was not lost on any of the twenty women gathered a bit nervously in an empty classroom.

One of the members of our yishuv, whose job it is to train young men for the IDF, was chosen to teach us, and became our "drill sergeant". The first thing we learned that day was how to take apart and put together the weapon in our possession. The only thing I remember from this lesson is that there is a small part of an M16 called in Hebrew a "pin Shabbat". This tiny piece, about the size of my thumb, is called that because, "if you lose it, you have to stay on the base for Shabbat". The next, and probably most important thing we learned, was the concept of "neshek shishim maalot" - "weapons at a 60 degree angle". This injunction meant that we had to place our weapons facing 60 degrees upwards, except when given express permission otherwise. At first this was a polite request, but when one or more of us made the mistake of pointing the M16 at another person it became a shouted order, and we quickly learned the correct Pavlovian response. We then learned how to check the chamber to make sure it was clear, how to cock the rifle, and how to set and unlock the safety. At one point we were told to line up outside in a row, with our weapons at a 60 degree angle of course, and our instructor for the day went down the line, checking us one by one to see if we had mastered these simple skills.

I am usually a calm person, but for some reason as our instructor made his way closer to me I became suddenly nervous that I wouldn't know where the safety was. I gave a quick look on the side of the gun, and was both delighted and relieved to see S-A-F-E-T-Y etched into the black metal. With a heartfelt "G-d Bless America!" uttered under my breath, I passed this small test with flying colors. We then learned the different positions for shooting (lying on our stomachs, kneeling on one knee, and standing upright). We then had to practice shooting (without bullets of course) for a little while, and our first day of training was over.

The second day of our training was scheduled for a Friday afternoon in a wadi (dry river bed) not far from our settlement. The army was notified, of course, and this time a number of men accompanied us, in addition to our instructor. The atmosphere was a bit more relaxed, with the inevitable jokes bandied back and forth. One man quipped that "You have no idea how much this new skill will improve your marriage, ladies!" - which was greatly appreciated by the few men who had gathered to see how their wives did on the improvised firing range.

Receiving a set of ear plugs and a clip with ten bullets for each round of practice firing, we then proceeded to fire at targets from the three positions that we had learned. A last drill consisted of firing from an upright position "b'lachatz" - "under stress." This stress consisted of our drill sergeant screaming near our ears while we were firing. I supressed a smile at this - I am a mother of boys, and trying to concentrate on a task while someone screams nearby is not exactly a new experience! All in all I did much better than I thought I would, and went back home sweaty but satisfied - to my boys' wide-eyed admiration.

If I stopped the post here it could be seen as just a cute "private mamma" post, but there is a more serious denouement to the story that I want to share. It seems that after learning this new skill, I found a strange weight settle on my shoulders. I started looking at my home differently - doors and windows took on an additional dimension, and became entry points for intruders. I found myself imagining all kinds of frightening scenarios and how I would react to them, which basically boiled down to various ways that I could get myself and the gun between the terrorist and my children.

After about a week of this strange experience, something dawned on me - "this is how combat troops think".

I know, I know, the veterans out there are probably thinking, "who the hell does she think she is! She learns to shoot a gun, spends a few "Walter Mitty-like" hours fantasizing about being a heroine, and she thinks that she knows what it is like!"

I fully realize that what I was imagining was only a faint glimmer compared to the reality of what combat troops go through in the line of duty, but this tiny peek into their experience enabled me to perceive something from a completely different perspective - and to change some mistaken impressions that I had picked up in the liberal environment in which I had grown up.

I cringe to admit it now, but when I was young, I thought that most conservatives were just unbelievably paranoid - seeing boogeymen under every bed, and much too eager to go to war. I'm embarrassed to say that I also picked up the arrogant belief (not from my parents, though, who had great respect for the armed forces) that those Americans who volunteered to enlist in the army were macho show-offs who just needed to prove how tough they were.

I didn't need to learn to shoot an M16 twenty years later in order to know that the young liberal I was was wrong and incredibly naive. I had learned on my own that there really were people who wanted to murder my children in their beds (and blow up people on line for pizza and fly planes into office buildings, for that matter). But learning how to shoot the gun, and imagining myself actually using it do defend my loved ones, did teach me something new. I learned that there is absolutely nothing wrong, and in fact everything right, about using your strength, and skills, and courage to protect others who are weaker than you are - and that whatever pride you may feel at this is completely justified. I can now say thank G-d for those "macho show-offs" who became veterans - because without them I may not have had the priveledge to grow up in safety in America and become that naive and ungrateful liberal. I thank G-d for the IDF soldiers who protect the woman I am now - less naive, proud to be a conservative, and profoundly grateful to the veterans of both of the countries that I love.

My "obsessive" thoughts about terrorist intruders gradually faded, and I am happy to report that the doors and windows of my home have reverted to being just doors and windows.

One thing has changed permanently, though. I don't touch the M16 as if it is a dead and dirty thing anymore. I handle it with the respect it deserves - as a very dangerous, but unfortunately necessary, tool.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

G-d Is In the Details

Something unusual happened today in synagogue. We were in the middle of the Torah reading for this week, listening to the details of which animals are and are not kosher, and suddenly the reader just.....stopped. As the pause drew out, the Rav of our yishuv went over and looked at the place where the reader pointed to in the sefer Torah. It turns out that one of the letters was written incorrectly, so the Torah was closed up, its "gartel" (the sash used to close the two rolls of parchment together) was tied on the outside of the velvet cover (versus inside) to distinguish it from the other Torahs, and another one was taken out to be read.

In this particular instance, it was clear that a letter was written incorrectly. When there is a doubt, an interesting event takes place, one that excites my imagination. A small child, who is old enough to know the Hebrew letters but not old enough to read words, is called over. I can just imagine the scene, as a little kindergarden-age kid is motioned to the center of the synagogue, as all of the adult faces look on with expectation. The Rabbi scoops him up and points to a place in the sefer Torah, and with a kindly look asks him, "what's this letter, cutie?" This little innocent child will judge whether or not the Torah is pasul (unfit).

There are many people, both Jews and non-Jews, who think that we Orthodox are too stubbornly obsessed with the small details, and that we'd be better off, and would be easier to get along with, if we would just relax a little. So what if a letter is written incorrectly - what's the big deal about a few drops of ink?

The answer to this is that those few drops of ink are crucial - and our survival as Jews for centuries has been ensured by our stubborn insistance on paying close attention to the details. By making sure that the Torah is written exactly as it should be, we know that we Jews are "all on the same page", as it were. The same Torah that we read in our little community in the Shomron is the same one that they read in New York city and in a remote village in India, where a Chabad shaliach (emissary) runs a synagogue for the Jewish tourists from Israel. It is also the same one that that they read in the Warsaw ghetto, in the old synagogues in Spain before the Jews were expelled in 1492, and in the ancient city of Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

There may be arguments about how to interpret the texts - but there is no argument about what the text is - and we take our responsibility to guard the text for future generations seriously.

Think of it this way - what is the difference between and www.westbankblog.blogspotcom? Just a tiny amount of virtual ink, no?

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I am usually very happy in my little village in the mountains. The serenity, the warm close knit community, the scenery...

There are a few weeks in the year, though, that I really suffer living where I do. From Pesach (Passover) until about a month later (Lag B'Omer time), the place really gets up my nose.


You see, when the lovely growing things around here start doing the plant version of "be fruitful and mulitply" and start distributing their pollen, I suffer. It starts with that really annoying itch in your throat that you can't scratch, and then it progresses to sneezing, coughing, and my eyes tearing. People who know me think I must be crying for joy that I don't have to clean for Passover for another WHOLE year. (Well, not really. I hate cleaning but not enough to cry over it....)

In short, I start fantasizing about Tel-Aviv, and air pollution, and how glorious it must be not to breathe in pollen. The scent of diesel fumes changes in my imagination to the heady scent of perfume....

You get the picture. Yes, I know there are all kinds of antihistamines out there, but I don't like to take them. The side affects are worse than the runny nose.

The one thing that saves me is the inevitable chamsin (hot, east wind that brings in the fine dust of the dessert) that most women dread, because it ruins their clean windows. When I hear that wind howling, I just imagine all of those pollen producing plants being burnt to a crisp, and I know that my short period of suffering is about to end.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They Don't Make it That Way in the Old Country...

We all have memories of favorite foods from the holidays, and sometimes recipes are handed down for generations. Then again, part of the satisfaction of making the Pesach seder in your own home is the ability to make things "your" way. Since I never made the seder before making aliyah, when it came time for me to make it for the first time I decided to combine some old fashioned foods with some with a more Israeli feel.

I remember my parents making the charoset with apples, cinnamon and Manishewitz wine. In Israel, I make it a bit differently.

Here is my recipe:

chopped walnuts
date spread
date syrup

The date spread and syrup make it sweet - and sticky - which is perfect as the charoset symbolizes the clay that the Israelites used to make bricks when they were slaves. It is great the next day as a dessert.

I wish all of you a very happy and kosher Passover - and look forward to hearing about your holiday!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Why is This Havel-Haveilim Different From All Other Havel-Haveilim?

Well, Irina put it together this week, and she did a fantastic job. There is enough great reading there for all of us who deserve a treat after all of the Passover cleaning we've been doing....

Saturday, April 08, 2006

G-d Doesn't Extend Deadlines

This time of year is very hectic for Jews, especially observant ones, who have to prepare for Passover. We have to clean our houses from top to bottom, lug tons of groceries home, completely change over our kitchens to Passsover mode, and cook for the seder if we are hosting (this year I am). This doesn't include the laundry and haircuts that need to be done before the holiday starts.

The deadline is Wednesday of this week - and G-d doesn't extend deadlines. So I'm sure my readers will forgive me if blogging is somewhat light.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Get Ready, Get Set, Go....18 Minute Mitzva Time

After a hard day of Passover cleaning, I am about to go and watch a spectacle that I have enjoyed for the past few years - westbankpappa and a bunch of other men from our settlement bake their own matza for Pesach.

A few years ago a group got together and purchased small bakers ovens that are used exclusively for this purpose. Each year more and more people participate, so that they have reached the point where there are four rounds of baking, not counting the two hour special baking on the eve of Pesach itself.

The Rabbi of the yishuv supervises everything, of course, down to the smallest detail, including keeping track of the time. From the second the water is mixed with the flour his stopwatch is on, making sure that the baked matza is finished before 18 minutes are up. Someone usually brings a tape player, so that there is Jewish music in the background, and the kids watch avidly as their fathers perform this once-a-year mitzvah (Torah commandment). Boys 16 and up can participate, so my oldest son will be baking, too.

After working hard getting the house ready, I always enjoy putting my feet up and watching the men sweat a bit.

But the best part comes next week. Everyone enjoys the taste of pappa's special matza at the seder. It seems that everything, even matza, tastes better when it is "homemade".
Lieberman May Be Asked to Join Government

Internal Israeli politics, like a lot of things in Israel, changes from one day to the next. This morning both Galei Tzahal and Haaretz are reporting that Olmert has not rejected Avigdor Lieberman's party out-of-hand, and the Kadima party is making overtures to him.

This puts Amir Peretz in a difficult situation, because he came out with a statement before the election that he wouldn't sit with Lieberman. He supposedly reiterated this claim to Achmed Tibi as late as last night, according to this article in the Jerusalem Post.

Peretz's statement shows his inexperience in politics at this level. Closing out your options before you have to is never a good idea in this country.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Mating Dance of the Israeli Party Leader

The elections are behind us, and the final count is in. Ehud Olmert of the Kadima party now has the job of putting together a coalition.

Those of us who have lived in Israel for awile and have experienced this before can predict pretty much what the coalition will look like - Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners, and Shas. Perhaps Meretz will be in also, and if not, perhaps UTJ. This is mostly a numbers game.

That is not to say that the negotiations that are happening now are not important. Each party leader is trying to strike the perfect balance between not appearing too eager, but not coming off as too hard-to-get either. Each one wants to negotiate the best deal for their party - which will impact their personal political careers. How many portfolios go to each party - and more importantly, which ones, may not impact on Israel's near future - but they will have an impact on how long the government stays in power.

It is somewhat like building a foundation for a house, small cracks here and there don't make their presence felt right away - but eventually they do, and then the house can collapse.

Politicians have large egos, and what may seem to the "little people" to be small slights take on greater proportion in the politicians' own minds. This leads to holding grudges - and when an opportunity presents itself to stick it to the person who slighted them - they grab it. This is part of the reason why Israeli governments don't last very long.

Olmert is making one mistake in this negotiation phase - which he will pay for later. He is ignoring Avigdor Lieberman and the Russian vote. True, Olmert and Lieberman disagree on some basic issues, but Olmert, if he wanted, could come up with a carefully worded compromise to allow Yisrael Beitenu to join his coalition. The fact that he isn't shows that he underestimates the political strength that Lieberman has. This means that he is ensuring a strong opposition.

Arik Sharon was able to implement the disengagement plan because, in addition to the Likud votes he managed to hijack, he didn't have to worry about an opposition. The Labor party wrote him a blank check. Olmert will not have that luxury - between the Likud, as weak as it is, and NU/NRP, and Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, the opposition will be vigorous. As much as both Shas and UTJ need to join the coalition in order to finance their programs, they also know that their constituents do not want unilateral withdrawals. They will go in for the money - but they will not necessarily be staunch supporters later on down the road.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Since When is Buying an Apartment Building "Taking Over a Compound"?

A headline in today's Haaretz appalled me - and I am a veteran reader, who usually shrugs off their wildly left-wing headlines as par for the course.

It turns out that Elad, a non-profit that seeks to purchase houses in East Jerusalem for Jews, has succeeded in doing just that. They purchased two apartment buildings, and plan to have 15-20 Jewish families live there. Haaretz described this as "Elad organization took control of two large, populated and sensitive compounds".

Compounds? I think someone is mixing up Monopoly with a war game.

Of course it isn't just a simple act of buying an apartment building. There are sinister implications - but ones that the Haaretz writers didn't seem upset about. The purchaser in this case had to provide protection for the buyer against death threats - which are rumored to have already taken place (detailed in the article itself).

Let's try to see it the other way around, ok, and see it through Ibrahim's mirror (borrowing from Treppenwitz's latest, and brilliant post). What would the headline be if, say, a Chareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) couple sold an apartment to a chiloni (secular) family in Bnei Brak, and afterwards the Chareidi family received death threats?

Any guesses? How about "Religious fanatics threaten couple!"

I shudder to think about how Haaretz would have described all of those Jews who put their charity money in those blue JNF boxes in order to purchase land in Israel in the first place.
I'm Ha'aretz is Hosting This Week....

Havel-Havelim, of course. Great blog name, don't you think?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another Milestone in the Westbankfamily's Aliyah

There are many milestones that those who make aliyah pass - some more emotional than others. Opening your aliyah folder at the Jewish Agency, getting your one-way ticket to Israel, and coming off the plane and realizing that you are really here to live, are all very exciting.

Some people mark their entry into Israel by Hebraicizing their names at the Interior Ministry - a sort of reversal from what our ancestors did at Ellis Island, when the Jewish names with difficult pronunciations were Americanized. The first cycle of Jewish holidays spent in Israel are always uplifting - including the keeping of only one seder on Passover.

Other milestones down the road are less exciting, perhaps, but further deepen one's feelings of committment to the land now called home. Voting for the first time, and even the scary step of taking out an Israeli mortgage, take the oleh (new immigrant) to another level of permanence in Israel.

Last Thursday the westbankfamily passed another milestone, with the unceremonious but still incredibly important arrival of an envelope in the mail. Stamped on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope was the symbol and return address "Tzava Hagana L'Yisrael" - "Israel Defense Forces". My eldest son, a few months shy of his 17th birthday, received the forms needed to start his induction process into the army.

This is just a preliminary, mind you. He received medical forms to fill out and an appointment to show up for a battery of psychological and intelligence tests in another six weeks. In the national religious community in which we live most young men study in Yeshiva for at least a year and a half after completing high school before joining the army - and some study for longer. Given my son's desire to sit and learn, and the ambivalent feelings caused by the disengagement this past summer and the role of the IDF in it, his motivation to join the IDF is somewhat low, so I know that it will be at least three years before he goes in. Nontheless, the arrival of the envelope last week both filled me with pride - and dread, and turned me the same shade as his future uniform - light green.

This step is one we obviously thought about long before we even got off the plane in Ben Gurion Airport a bit less than 15 years ago. The decision, although frightening, wasn't difficult to make. The whole point of making aliyah, for us at least, was that we couldn't sit in our safe and prosperous neighborhood in America, no matter how pleasant, and leave our Jewish brothers in Israel to carry on without us. When asked the direct question, "How can you move to Israel and put your sons into the army?" my plain answer is, "How can you NOT?" If you feel part of Klal Yisrael (the community of Jews) than how can you sit back and let other Jews do the difficult work of protecting the one country that belongs to us, without lending a hand?

This is not to say that it is easy. It scares me, to be honest. At the same time I remember what one grieving mother said in an interview when asked about the loss of her son in one of the wars. "How can we expect to have brave sons, if we are not brave mothers?"