An Exchange

Margo Sugarman:

A brilliant take on the Haredi protests against conscription.

Originally posted on Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog:

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an old friend who now lives in Israel, part of the Chareidi world. He sent me his thoughts, and I responded, and the exchange is reproduced below, with minor editing. I have deleted the friend’s name.   -RSP

6 Adar II 5774, March 8, 2014

Dear Steven,

Ahead of the mass gathering of Torah true Jewry scheduled to take place tomorrow in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you, our brothers in America, to share with you the sad truth: here, in the State of Israel, Torah Jewry is subject to religious persecution.

To classify Torah students as “criminals,” subject to imprisonment, is only the latest and most absurd of anti-chareidi laws enacted recently by the government. In addition, they have  drastically cut education and welfare budgets, aiming to choke our yeshivos and schools, and even our individual religious freedoms, so prized by Americans and…

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‎25 years of Israel – the inexplicable and the great

January 23, 1989 - Day 1 of my ulpan at Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

January 23, 1989 – Day 1 of ulpan at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

Today 25 years ago I arrived in Israel. It’s a lifetime ago. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay, but the fact that I’m sitting here a quarter of a century (eek!) later tells the story.

To say that Israel is a quirky little country is probably the understatement of the quarter century. After so many years, it amazes me that there are still things that I cannot get used to (and it’s official – I probably never will), but some I wouldn’t give up for anything. So at this auspicious time in my immigrant history, it’s time for a “brief” list of some of the inexplicable as well as the “won’t give up for anything” quirks (and sometimes the intersection of the two) that make living here a unique experience.

The inexplicable

  • The list has to start with driving habits– 25 years later, and some of the scenes on the roads here still amaze and horrify me – red lights optional; parking in the middle of the road; driving down the wrong side of the road, etc., etc., etc., etc…. The upside: When you drive in Italy, you have no idea why people say Italians are the worst drivers. Compared to our roads, theirs are a pleasure.
  • I have yet to meet an Israeli who isn’t disgusted by the combination of chocolate and mint! Adding copious clumps of mint leaves to sweet tea is a national passion, but that same flavor with anything chocolate is met with total revulsion.

    Bamba

    Bamba

  • Bamba as one of the four main food groups for children! ‘Nuff said.
  • Israel has evolved into a sophisticated country, with Tel Aviv known as one of the most cosmopolitan hot spots in the world, overflowing with happening clubs, bars, restaurants, high culture, innovation…and yet we still love that high priest of musical kitsch, the Eurovision Song Contest. How? Why? Oy!
  • Hebrew spelling… after all these years I still make mistakes. The upside: It amuses my Israeli friends and colleagues, but nope, that doesn’t make me feel better.
  • The phenomenon of the Israeli line/queue… a cultural icon and the cause of much public strife. I’ve never understood why people would rather argue about their place in the line for 10 minutes instead of just waiting patiently; why they have to insist that “they had been there and just went to do who knows what” and are claiming their rightful place; why they cannot help themselves from peering over your shoulder as you punch in your ATM code… Confession: When I’m abroad, I have been known to employ local tactics to get ahead in lines of very polite and patient locals. Why wait? I’m an Israeli.

Won’t give up for anything

  • Living in Israel means being surrounded by technology, and being connected all the time (even if it does mean that 9 out of 10 people constantly have their heads in a phone). As a nation, our lack of patience with each other is only surpassed by our lack of patience with slow connections!I feel this most when I’m in another country and there’s minimal wi-fi, the connections are painfully slow and mobile phone reception is spotty, and I get to say how spoiled I am back home because we’re so advanced – score 1 for Israel.
  • The salad country

    The salad country

    Salad! No country in the world offers main course salads like Israel does. Our national obsession with fresh vegetables is a great habit we should be proud of. For years now I’ve never understood why you can’t get fresh vegetables for breakfast abroad or a big main course salad. Learn something from us, people!

  • Instant conversations: Everyone’s up for a chat, whether you’re standing in line at the meat counter, or buying shoes or in a taxi (less fun). You’re never alone and you’re never going to have to wonder what someone’s REAL opinions are (also sometimes not too much fun). On the downside – be prepared to reveal what you’ve paid for everything you own.
  • Our weather…we have a lot of tzurres here in our corner of the Middle East, that’s for sure, but one thing we can boast about is our weather. Years ago, a fellow oleh from the UK told me that he made not Zionist, but meteorological Aliyah – makes sense. Yes, it’s rather hot in the summer, but let’s face it, when our friends and family in the US are being battered by hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms, we can be a little smug about our reliable 8 months of sunshine and our relatively calm winters that every 10 years or so give rise to a conversation-worthy storm.
  • Applause on landing is one of those corny yet irresistible Israeli quirks. After 25 years of flying to and from Israel, it still makes me smile.

    That mushy feeling of coming home

    That mushy feeling of coming home

  • And then… coming home… no matter where I go, landing in Israel IS coming home, and there’s no place like this one.

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Not taking taking the kids to school for granted

I dropped my kids off at school this morning and the thought foremost in my mind was how lucky I am to be doing this today, on a day when thousands of school kids in Israel, who should be in their classrooms and at their desks, are at home instead. The Home Front Command closed the schools in all towns within 40km Gaza as rockets continue to bombard Southern and Central Israel. This gives me pangs of what I can only compare to survivor guilt. I live just north of the center, not near any area that is attractive to the Hamas as a target, and our schools are open. I can work while my kids study at school. When they come home, they can go to their after school activities and walk around freely. Not so elsewhere.

Kids in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi running for shelter as the siren goes off. (Picture: Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas is holding half of Israel hostage. The barrage of rockets that has intensified over the past days is merely a continuation of the constant bombings that began in 2005. Since then terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel, mainly into the south. So many of us in Israel have tried to express this to the rest of the world. Imagine your neighboring country launching 8,000 rockets into your territory for no reason other than the fact that you live there. It’s hard to believe.

What’s even harder to believe is the indifference of the Western world. Let’s take a look at The New York Times today. On the front page there’s a picture of IDF reserves in their tanks, waiting on the border, not yet engaged. On the inside page, a large picture of an Gazan woman and her daughter taking cover during Israeli Air Force bombings of Hamas targets. Here’s the message from the NYT – Israel – big and strong with lots of tanks and soldiers; Gaza – weak and frail with terrified women and children. No pictures of Israeli children in shelters, no pictures of heavily armed Hamas fighters or their rocket launchers, no pictures of blood-stained floors of Israeli apartments where innocent civilians were killed and maimed by Hamas rockets. Israel is expected to take the rocket fire lying down, literally. The world is OK with seeing innocent civilians lying face down in the streets of Ashdod or Sderot when they don’t have enough time to reach shelter within the minuscule 15-second window between siren and impact.

I don’t wish this situation on anyone, but sometimes I do imagine what would happen if citizens of the US or the UK for example, had to live with seeing their children face down on the sidewalks as rockets fly overhead at a nearby apartment block or having them cooped up at home weeks on end because it’s not safe for schools to be open. I don’t take it for granted that my children are safe and at school. What about you?

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A siren call

“Mom, is something happening there?” It was my 16-year-old son calling me at home from inside a bomb shelter at the Tel Aviv University earlier this evening. I had no idea at the time that sirens had just sounded all over Tel Aviv, sending more than 400,000 people running for shelters.

“Why?” I answered as my stomach churned, because from the sound of his voice and the fact that at that time of the day he should have been in a math tutorial and not on the phone to me, I knew immediately what was going on. The threat of “the gates of hell” had crept north and touched our central plain and its biggest city.

“The sirens went off,” he said. All I could think of was that this was a nightmare scenario come true – my son was far away from me during a time of real fear. I had no control and neither did he. Except that I am the mom, and I should be able to protect him, but I couldn’t.
“Are you in the shelter?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “So just stay there. Do as you are told. Don’t leave unless someone who knows what they are talking about tells you to. Call me in five minutes.” I really didn’t know what to tell him. I just mimicked what I had been hearing on the radio all day – follow the instructions of the Home Front Command. But they weren’t there, and I could only pray that there were enough responsible adults to guide my 16-year-old to safety, knowing that university isn’t school and everyone has to take care of themselves.

“Where’s Aba? I can’t get hold of him,” he asked. I realized immediately that my husband was probably in a shelter in his office in one of Tel Aviv’s tallest buildings, one that makes a very attractive target. I couldn’t get through to him either. Later I found out that my son had heard rumors that the rocket had landed right near that building, which had only added to his stress.

Hearing me having this conversation with my eldest, my two other children were mortified and worried. “Don’t worry,” I reassured them. “It will be fine.” It was. Tel Aviv was soon given the all clear and my son went back to class. Eventually my husband called to say they were all OK as well.

This was one incident. It made me shake for hours and will remain with me for many years to come. Down in the south this is the routine. I have never taken their hardship for granted or ignored their suffering. It mortifies me to think that parents in the southern towns send their children to school (when they are open), not knowing what the day will bring and whether their children will reach safety in the mere 15 or 30 seconds they have before rockets crash down around them.

There are no words to adequately describe the feelings parents have when they are incapable of creating the safe havens that they would like to provide for their children.

My son arrived home with my husband hours later. All I want to do is lock the front door and not let them out again. I know I can’t but  I confess that I’d like to. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live like this for not only days, but years. What I do know is that I never want to receive another phone call from any of my children who are alone in a bomb shelter, far from home and don’t know what’s going to happen next.

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Bye bye, kitchen

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my kitchen. After nearly 12 years of devoted service to me and my family, it is being ripped out and replaced with a shiny new, white kitchen.

I’ve been dying for a new kitchen for so long, that I didn’t think that I would feel so sentimental about saying goodbye to the old one. But I am. As I work to remove dishes, plates, cups and trays from the slowly buckling shelves, I can’t help reminisce and deeply feel the truth of the old adage that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

I’ve had disasters and triumphs, produced delicious food and some inedible muck, all within the comforting embrace of my cherry wood colored Formica cabinets and chrome appliances. Disasters included one over-spiced Thai curry that made my chilli-loving friends sweat and cry; a pan of brownies that did an Icarus on me as the baking paper drew too close to the element and burst into flames; a pot of pasta to which I forgot to add salt and discovered the hard way why salt is so vital to the success of all things noodle; the odd cake that looked great on the outside but was liquid on the inside, and a few other forgotten kitchen train wrecks.

Fortunately the triumphs have won out over the disasters, and I can only think back with joy on the hundreds of meals that have resulted in hugs from my kids and quietly loosened belts from my friends; perfectly baked cakes that have prompted shy young children of friends to whisper requests for reprises at later meals; old family favorites hauled out for the festivals, like kneidlach, tzimmes, brisket; the excitement of getting new dishes right when I thought only the experts could – sushi, caramel filled lava cakes, and even that elusive Thai curry that finally worked, didn’t kill my guests and was delicious.

I am already missing my single oven that bakes cakes so perfectly; my stovetop that has produced hundreds of “Orange Noodles”, which is my son Amit’s absolute favourite food, especially considering that he eats very little else; and my see-through glass kettle (to be replaced by a Tami 4), which has boiled water for so many thousands of cups of tea, drunk with love and kinship by visiting family members from around the world and great friends from around the corner.

My children grew up around my feet in this kitchen, sneaking around to find hidden snacks, slowly discovering their hiding places as they got older. My son Hadar taught himself to bake chocolate chip cookies and brownies here at the age of 11. I have watched them growing in this kitchen. At first they couldn’t reach the sink to pour water for themselves. Then they learned to drag chairs over and help themselves. And then the finishing line, when they could pour their own water from the little filter water tap on the far side of the sink. It was the equivalent of the notches on a door post, measuring their changing heights. My seven-year-old daughter has just got there, is just now able to reach the tap without a chair – an achievement that will be short-lived.

My husband and I have had most of our arguments in the kitchen. They are mostly about the over-generous quantities of food (yes, way too much) I like to prepare. In that kitchen I learned how lucky I am to have a husband who is as happy to be there as I am.

This kitchen has also felt the loving hands of my late mother, who would visit from South Africa, roll up her sleeves and wash dishes, even though I begged her not to. Her voice still echoes in that kitchen, telling me to “have a rest already.” It welcomed my late mother-in-law, who although would never herself have cooked with the decadent ingredients I used, loved to enjoy the results of my efforts and complimented me on my food with great admiration and love.

The kitchen has been a nook in which secrets have been passed, gossip exchanged and laughter shared. So long, dear room.

Now the time has come to look forward to the new memories in my sparkling white kitchen with its new appliances, fancy drawers and modern under-lighting. If these moments are half as wonderful as the ones to which my old faithful kitchen has served as a backdrop, I will be very blessed.

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Facebook, My Water Cooler

My flesh and blood friends who are also Facebook friends are constantly making fun of me. “You’re always on Facebook”; “I follow your life on your status updates”; “How do you do it?” “You’re nuts.”

I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. In fact, it’s probably a lot less than the average working person in an office spends hanging around their colleagues’ desks, chatting in the kitchenette over a cup of coffee or loitering around for several minutes after a meeting. I work from home. I have no desks around me with their denizens ready to let me in on their daily gossip; my kitchen, which far from being a messy office kitchenette, hosts no little groups of people chatting about the latest in office politics or what they did last night; and I don’t go to meetings that are preceded by a quick rundown of last night’s news or baseball scores.

Instead, I have Facebook. When I need to take my eyes off a document for a few minutes or rest my brain after searching through thousands of words of online wisdom, I open Facebook. It’s my personal water cooler. I hear about my friend Jo’s latest trip; see pictures of Janice’s most recent culinary sensation; see how Tracy’s baby boy is growing up so quickly; catch up with Tal’s latest blog; check out Barak’s most recent quirky post; have a good laugh courtesy of Renee and many others, find out how Michelle’s kids are doing and so much more. In return, I keep my friends and family around the world (and nearby) up to date on the latest with my kitchen renovation, what my guests are having for dinner, my kids, what I’m reading that I think others will care about, interesting articles I’ve stumbled on and anything else I think may amuse. And I manage to do all this without taking too much time out of my working schedule and without getting in anyone else’s way.

So for those of you who think I have no life because some of it is lived on Facebook, I poo poo you! For me, it’s just a place where a working-from-home professional can exchange some water cooler moments without having to leave the comfort of my home or my sweatpants. Give me a home office and a Facebook water cooler any day over the alternative.

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Just Do Nothing for Two Minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? When I saw this “challenge” on my Facebook page, I clicked, and received a full screen picture of the sea with the sound of the waves in the background and a two-minute countdown clock.

Two minutes – that’s nothing.

Or so it seems. Turns out that as I watched the seconds tick by, in my head I was running through the list of to-dos that awaited me for the morning instead of enjoying the nothingness.  I waited for the countdown to end so I could rush to my online chores and get ahead for the day.

We are trapped in a vortex of having to fill our minutes, hours and days with constant activity. We’ve lost our ability to stop and do nothing, relax…meditate. Remember the seventies when people took time out to meditate? I remember my older brothers, who were teens in the hippie era, “indulging” in mediation, stopping for half and hour a day to do nothing but meditate. I don’t know anyone today who does that. We are all too busy “doing”.

Of course living in the technology age doesn’t help. In addition to our regular jobs and chores, we find ourselves stuck in this constant race to fill our minds with more and more information so that we don’t “fall behind”. We’re pushed to keep up with the latest technologies, news, updates, information, so heaven forbid we don’t hear comments like: “What, you didn’t hear about what happened in X?” Or “You haven’t tried the latest version of Y?” Or, “Didn’t you see what I just posted about Z?”

I confess that I fall into the trap of trying to keep up with all the above on a daily basis. So I would like to take up my own challenge of taking a deep breath, stepping away from the info race every now and again, and just doing nothing for a little bit. The world will certainly keep turning if we all give it a go, and we’ll probably all be slightly less stressed for it.

 

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