Monday, April 23, 2012

My Tribute to Israel's Fallen

Tomorrow night begins Yom HaZikaron, or Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers. Unlike in the US, Memorial Day here is what it should be: a somber, reflective day when we collectively remember the Israeli men and women who paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The day also commemorates the hundreds of innocent civilians who were murdered in terrorist attacks on our country's soil.

The current period in the Israeli calendar is as difficult and emotional as there is all year. There's the high of celebrating Pesach, the holiday of freedom and redemption followed just six days later by Yom HaZikaron L'Shoah v'L'Gvura, Holocaust Memorial Day. A week later follows Yom HaZikaron, which gives way the very next day to Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day.

Of course this is not a coincidence. While Independence Day is celebrated on the Hebrew date that David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence in 1948, the decision to commemorate Memorial Day the day before reflects the acknowledgement that the Jewish people suffered greatly for the establishment of our own country, and unfortunately, continues to do so to defend it. Just about every single Israeli is either the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, has lost a family member in a war or terrorist attack or knows someone who has.

I am fortunate to not personally know the effect this kind of loss has on a family: all eight of my great-grandparents left Europe just after the turn of the 20th century, and all four of my grandparents were born in North America. I did have the opportunity of being at Yad VaShem last week for the national memorial ceremony attended by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. The touching ceremony included a special honor for six survivors who each lit a torch to symbolize one million of the 6 million Jews murdered. As each survivor was spotlighted, a 4 minute video played to tell their story, the story of their community in Europe, what happened to it and to their families, and finally, how they survived and made it to Israel. As sad and tragic as each of their stories was, it also gave hope, that after experiencing the single worst atrocity ever committed on this planet, each of these people could come to Israel and contribute to the building of a Jewish State. That, I believe is what is most powerful about these Israeli High Holidays, and why they must lead up to our Independence Day.

Far too often, we get caught up in the minutia of daily life: all the little things we each have to do that day, that week. It's not often enough we get to stop and think about what it all means. For a country that elicits such impassioned responses, both positive and negative, domestically as well as internationally, it's not only healthy, but imperative, that we step back and internalize all that that this country stands for, regardless of our differences of opinion on policy and politics. The creation of Israel has forever changed Jewish life all over the world and has finally made the Jewish people a people with a home.

Thus my tribute to Israel's fallen is simply my presence: that while the horrors of the Shoah are unimaginable for anyone who did not suffer through it, and while we mourn the thousands of men and women who have given their lives to create and defend the State of Israel, the pain, trauma and loss is not in vain. We have built here in our historic homeland, a country and a society that those living here even 100 years ago could not have dreamed of. I give thanks to them each and every day by living here and by being a part of the country they helped create.

אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה
בנימין זאב הרצל –

"If you will it, it is no dream"
- Theodor Herzl

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jerusalem...Something Good Is Happening Here

Happy April to all - and yes it's been exactly a month since my last post, so excuse the silence but let's get to it.

One of the many reasons I chose to make aliyah to Jerusalem is the vibrant and growing young adult culture. Across Israel, cities and towns are losing their young adults to "the center" - that is Tel Aviv and its surrounding suburbs. The beaches and nightlife are of course major factors, but the primary reason is that Tel Aviv is the country's economic center, so people move there for work. It's a phenomenon that the Boston-Haifa Connection Young Leaders is working to change in Haifa and promotes culture and opportunities for young adults to stay in Haifa past graduation from the University of Haifa or the Technion.

Jerusalem, for all its wonders, faces many challenges and divisions - between Jewish and Arab, Haredi and non-Haredi, and the haves and the have-nots, among others. Our capital city has gone through some tough times in recent years - with all-too-frequent suicide bombings during the Second Palestinian Intifada/Terror War of 2000-04, coupled with divisive city politics. However, Yerushalmim, or Jerusalemites, are proud of their city and the past few years have given rise to several grassroots organizations that are determined to create space for young adults to thrive and prosper in a pluralistic and open city.

Last night, I attended the opening meeting in a series called "Mifgashim B'Yerushalayim/Meetings in Jerusalem", organized by The Jerusalem Challenge, a think tank that seeks to connect the various young adult groups to see where they intersect, and how to continue developing this kind of social activism.

The event was a panel discussion featuring two social entrepreneurs who have done quite a lot in this regard, Kobi Frig, the creator of the Balabasta Festival in the Shuk; and Elyashev Ish-Shalom, owner of the Salon Shabazi, a local pub/cafe in Nachlaot that got its name because the couches on the inside are supposed to make up for the fact that apartments in Nachlaot are so small many people don't even have living rooms to put their couches. They discussed some of the challenges they faced getting their initiatives off the ground, while noting how much more lively the city feels today than it did just three or four years ago. Far too often people lament that Jerusalem is boring or that the conflicts weight too heavy, but the truth is that inspiring people like the two that spoke last.
After the event, I went with a couple of others to Salon Shabazi where we chatted with Ish-Shalom a little more and enjoyed a beer at the outside tables.

The Municipality has seized on this cultural renaissance, using the tagline "Jerusalem: Something Good Is Happening Here"(I've also seen "Something Special Happens Here"), and it's true. Just last week, I went to a music festival held outdoors in the Old City. Over the course of three nights, the city hosted dozens of musicians who performed for free on stages throughout the Old City, from the open plaza just inside Jaffa Gate to the Open and Closed Cardo. It was one of those "Only in Jerusalem" events that gets me excited to be part of the action now.

And a bit belatedly, I am posting a portion of a blog entry I wrote for the Boston-Haifa Connection about the recent Jerusalem Marathon. Follow the link at the bottom for the rest of the article.

More Than A Marathon

As we turn the calendar from March to April, welcoming Spring by preparing for Pesach, it’s also an indication that one of Massachusetts’ greatest traditions is only weeks away, the 116th running of the Boston Marathon. While Boston is the oldest and most elite marathon in the world, a city whose history dwarfs even Boston’s attracted attention – and runners – for its recent competition.
created at: 2012-03-26The 2nd Annual Jerusalem Marathon brought thousands of runners, Israelis and tourists alike, to Israel’s capital city on March 15th. And following the Boston-Haifa Connection Steering Committee meetings, which OTZMAnik Billie Hirsch blogged so beautifully about, several past and present BHC members connected to Israel in a new way by participating in different parts of the Jerusalem Marathon: Continue reading the full post here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

After multiple predictions of snow in Jerusalem that didn't quite pan out, I was delighted to wake up this morning to a layer of snow covering our capital city. While snow in the States over the past couple of years usually elicited an obstinate reaction from me (boy was I in a tizzy when the October snow almost derailed our Halloween Party at Paddington Bear Road), I couldn't have been happier to see snow not only on the ground, but still falling from the sky at a decent rate.

Jerusalem gets a "storm" of an inch or two once every three years, so I didn't want to miss my opportunity to see it first-hand. I had my morning coffee, checked the headlines, put on my winter gear and headed out in a hurry. After all, with constantly changing weather conditions I had no idea how much longer the snow would continue to fall. When I got outside, I could hear kids nearby playing in the snow and all the other people I passed on the street had huge smiles on their faces.

I set out towards the Old City, as I hoped to see its walls and of course The Temple Mount and Kotel layered with snow. But just as I hit the middle of Mamilla Mall, the sun started to peak through, and by the time I hit Jaffa gate, it had completely stopped snowing. About 10 minutes later, as I approached the Kotel Plaza, it was bright and sunny as if it hadn't been snowing less than a mile away.

So naturally I was that much happier that I had left my apartment in a hurry after waking up and getting to enjoy the snow.

For more pics of the storm that was, here's a link to the album I posted on Facebook:

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Once Upon a Shabbat in Jerusalem

This past Shabbat, I had the opportunity to take in and enjoy the beginning of the day of rest unlike anywhere else in the world.

I headed out from my apartment about 20 minutes before candle lighting time towards the Old City. In the middle of the Mamilla outdoor pavilion, I heard the Shabbat siren ring out. For some reason, despite this being the third Shabbat I'd spent in Jerusalem since arriving last month, it was the first that I was able to hear the siren wail announcing the entrance of Shabbat and the ushering in of a day of holiness, of rest, and of peace. Back in the States, one of my favorite times of the week was the walk from home to shul for Kabbalat Shabbat, when I could feel all the stress and worry of the past week fall off my shoulders and a calm come over me.

I walked through Jaffa Gate into the Old City and crossed into the Jewish Quarter to head to the Kotel. It was still light out when I got there, and the plaza was filling up. Shortly after I entered the men's section and contemplated which service to join, a group of 40-50 Israeli Defense Forces soldiers entered, singing and dancing in unison. Fully in uniform, they, too, were stopping their routine, as this particular group was approaching its final days before becoming officers.

They invited everyone to join them and to celebrate the moment, and so I joined the officers-to-be, their commanders, along with tourists from around the world and fellow Israeli Jews. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but it was truly amazing to look around this circle that had expanded throughout the entire men's area of the Kotel and see Jews of all different backgrounds and colors, levels of religious observance, and abilities to speak Hebrew. But singing "Am Yisrael Chai", we reaffirmed the very reason I decided to move here.


On an entirely unrelated note, I finally bought a drip coffee maker last week and was walking around on Wednesday or Thursday to buy some coffee to take home with me when I came across the following storefront. Needless to say, I stopped in, but didn't wind up buying coffee from them...maybe next time!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Some #Obstinate Reactions to Close Out My First Month

As my first month as an Israeli citizen draws to a close, I felt it was only appropriate to share what was quite an #obstinate reaction to a situation that was unnecessarily annoying.

Way back on the day after I landed, one of my relatives took me to Rami Levy get a cell phone plan for my iPhone. As they described over the phone and again in store, it's a pay-as-you-go plan with very good rates per minute and per SMS and unlimited internet access. The only hitch was that since I hadn't opened an Israeli bank account yet, they needed my cousin to use her credit card for the account and we would switch payment options when I got my bank set up (apparently international Visa and MasterCards weren't acceptable).

Flash forward to last week, I have my bank's debit card, which has the "IsraCard" logo, Israel's internal credit card company, and we go back to the store to get the payment switched over. They look at my card and tell me, "Well we can't use this for payment because it's not a credit card, it's a debit card". So I said, "Exactly. The money comes directly from my bank account without an intermediary" and they told me, the only method of payment they accept is an Israeli credit card. I asked about other options - a direct debit plan from my bank account, my international Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, whatever.

When they still said no I got a bit #obstinate. I noted that were I to get an Israeli credit card, I would have to pay a monthly fee for it (as there are always hidden charges to anything bank related in this country) and that in every single other situation, my CapitalOne Visa, which doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, would be golden, including, as I mentioned, at the Rami Levy supermarket that was attached to the store. Since Israeli law prohibits cell phone companies from signing you to a contract you can't get out of, I told them I would go to the other three major cell phone companies, pick whichever deal they had that was best, and switch the next day, and that's exactly what I did and am now happily an Orange subscriber! Oh and I also congratulated them for creating unnecessary obstacles for new immigrants...all in Hebrew so it's probably a good thing I don't really know too many curse words!

That moment of obstinance aside, things here are good, although it will be weird not being in Boston for the Super Bowl Sunday night/even later Sunday night here. This past week has brought some change into my apartment and I now have a new roommate. As I mentioned in my last post, my friend Sarah, who was my madricha on when I was here on OTZMA two years ago, has now moved in and we've been hard at work over the past three days cleaning, rearranging and reorganizing the apartment. I now have a new bed and a little shelving unti for all my DVDs which is great, and things feel more orderly and a bit less haphazard.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom wherever you are!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Three Weeks In

So much to tell and yet I haven't found time until now to post a second update. Tomorrow marks the beginning of my 4th week in Israel, and yet there are still 3432324 things to do slash errands to run when my Hebrew classes end at 12:45pm every day!

I'm now in my second week of classes in Ulpan, and I've been really enjoying it so far. This particular program is designed for young adults approximately 23-33 so I'm pretty much smack dab in the middle. The directors have said there are about 150 students from 20 countries. In my class alone, we have other people from the States, but also Canada, the UK, France, Australia and Argentina, so it's a really nice mix. I can tell already that these five months will really do wonders for my vocabulary, not to mention my desire to be able to read and write at an academic level.

I've started to get to know some of the other students both in my class and the other classes, and one of them, a guy from LA named Jaymes was my bartender the other night at Mike's Place when I went to watch the AFC Championship game. Certainly in our class, we already have good rapport with each other, so the coming weeks and months should be enjoyable.

Starting next week, I'll be getting a new roommate, and while she might not respond to calls of "Issssberrrrrrttt!??!" the way Alex did, I'm very much looking forward to her moving in. It's a funny story (and for all of you who were on OTZMA with me, you'll find this particularly funny). because Sarah Cohen, while not related to me, was my former madricha or participant coordinator, when I was on OTZMA. She made aliyah several years ago, so she knows the country and the neighborhood better than I do, so once she moves in, we'll re-arrange some of the furniture, put some things up on the walls and the apartment will feel a little more settled.

What else? I'm in the process of finding a gym to join (one where I can rock out with my do rag and sweatbands) so I'm actually heading out for a test workout at a gym in town. And in case anyone is looking to call or wants to look me up on iMessage or What's App, my phone number is +972-50-70-20-552, or from inside Israel, 050-70-20-552.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ani Oleh Chadash - I am a new immigrant

A few days into my journey as an oleh chadash, a new Israeli immigrant, the only word that comes to mind is "overwhelming." But as hectic and chaotic as a move like this is, it's landscapes like the one above that make it worth it.

Having mixed up the hours the Ministry of the Interior was open yesterday in order to get my teudat zehut, or national ID card, I decided to take a walk into the Old City for the first time since I landed. After all, how could I be in Israel for longer than three days and not go to the Kotel. I walked in through Jaffa Gate and continued into the Jewish Quarter. Weaving through the different alley ways and streets, I turned a corner and all of the sudden in front of me was the Mount of Olives, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Temple Mount, and the Kotel or the Western Wall. Tears immediately welled in my eyes and I understood all over again why I came here. I walked down to the Kotel Plaza and joined people from all over the world marveling at this wonder that somehow has withstood multiple destructions as if it were the first time I had been there.

Thankfully, I have family and friends on both sides of the ocean who are incredibly helpful and supportive as I make this transition. I haven't spoken to a single Israeli family member or friend who has not said "let me know how I can help you" or "Come over for a meal or Shabbat" or "our house is always open." This past Shabbat, my relatives in Efrat greeted me with pints of Ben & Jerry's (four of them!) and lots of love, and I've gotten similar open arms embraces, both literally and figuratively, from every other person I've reunited with here.

And today, I tackled the next round of the famed Israeli bureaucracy, obtaining my teudat zehut, setting up an appointment with the local Ministry of Absorption to go over my rights as a new citizen, and opening up a new bank account. I may not be fully settled yet, but I'm on my way.

Something my aunt June reminded me of the other day, and that I thought about as well when I was packing my suitcases in Boston, was how fortunate we are to be living at the present moment in time with so many ways for global communication. Just over a hundred years ago, all eight of my great grandparents packed maybe one suitcase and boarded a ship bound for the United States, knowing they would likely never see the family they were leaving behind or visit their places of birth, nor might they find the family who had already come to the US. Meanwhile, I can call, Skype, Gchat and iMessage anyone anywhere and anytime, and I had the luxury of bringing four suitcases packed to the brim with clothes and other personal items, along with two additional carry-ons.

I can also share some of my experiences in this space, which I hope will be at least sometimes interesting, possibly humorous, and at the very least, a way to keep tabs on how I'm doing even when I can't see you all when I'd like to. Yalla balagan!