Monday, June 30, 2008

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Getting Used to Reality (ii)

I have written before of things that I do not want to get used to. I wrote there:
I am trying not to become insensitive to my reality, especially when my reality is a dream.
Along those lines, here are 10 more things I'd like not to get used to.....
  1. My wife's support in general and about our aliyah in particular (as I wrote before, she is in America now!)
  2. Taxi drivers who do not appear to be shomer Shabbat (though looks are deceiving) wishing me a "Shabbat Shalom" or "Shavua Tov."
  3. Doing shmira (guard duty) in shul and in the city/village where we live and remembering why there is a need in the first place to do shmira (guard duty) in shul and in the city/village where we live.
  4. Reading the Chumash or the Navi about cities in Israel and knowing where they are and/or having visited their recently.
  5. Old pictures or videos of the early chalutzim in their quest to build the Land of Israel while fighting off Arabs, Turks, and malaria.
  6. Seeing a Jewish soldier with Hebrew "Tza'hal" on the uniform. (I served in the I.D.F. when I was younger and will be called up to reserve duty early next year (they have not called me this year!) and I sometimes still get emotional when I see a soldier!)
  7. Seeing an Ethiopian soldier (what an incredible realization of kibbutz galiyot in one snapshot!).
  8. Learning Torah in Hebrew (Lashon Hakodesh!)
  9. Talking Hebrew (Lashon Hakodesh!)
  10. Being able to visit the Kotel (Western Wall) almost whenever I want.

More to follow in future posts.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Salute to Israel Parade – Responses ii

I have still been thinking a lot about my post and, specifically, maayan's reply about "fluff."

The short version of my response is this: "I agree. Point well taken."

Now for the longer version.....

I seem to remember a story - I think it's about David Brenner (Rabbi Fleischmann, is it in his autobiography, Soft Pretzels with Mustard which I think you quoted here....?). The story is about a protestor at a poorly-attended rally. Some passerby jeered him by saying, "Do you really think you're going to change the world??"

Brenner replied, "I'm not trying to change the world. I am just making sure that the world does not change me."

I am sure you remember the huge rally in support of Israel in Washington D.C. a few years back (was it in May or June of 2002?). Literally thousands and thousands of Jews from all over the world came to Washington to express support for Israel. Our school sent many busses and each faculty member was in charge of a different bus. Our bus got there a bit late and the kids didn't see or hear any of the speakers. We just stood there in the sun, not sure what to do. I remember telling them that the point of the rally, first and foremost, was to show support. Politicians and reporters count people and they don't really care if we heard Netanyahu speak. They care that we were there. In some respects, we went there just for that one aerial photograph or that one line in the papers that read, "250,000 people came out in support of...." Despite spending 10 times more time on the bus than we did at the rally, the kids felt that they accomplished something. And they did.

The truth of the matter is that no one has any way to know whether the rally changed the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. We hope it did, but it's hard to imagine that any one event or rally can changed thousands of years of animosity and unrest. But there is no question that the rally changed everyone there. The act of going, of giving up a day, of walking in the heat, of seeing the sea of busses, of standing shoulder to shoulder with Jews (and probably non-Jews) of all stripes focused on one goal.... that's not fluff. That's real change.

There is no question: going to rallies, participating in letter-writing campaigns, lobby trips to D.C., etc. changes the person/people involved. I said it in my post but perhaps not strongly enough (and the "Blah blah blah" didn't help clarify my point!): I know that people are changed by participating in the parade. I would go if I were there as I have for the past many years. My kids benefited, the people around me benefited... I benefited!

So I accept the point that you all made: much if not all of the parade is for the people who participated.

My post was from the other perspective, that is from the perspective of a new oleh going through a rough time of acclimation who didn't have the luxury to be inspired by the 100,000 or so marchers, banners, floats, etc. It was hard and it's still hard and that's where I was coming from.

On the other hand, we read Parshat Shlach this week in Israel; perhaps this is not the best time to talk about the hard stuff.

Thanks again to all.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Salute to Israel Parade – Responses

As expected, my last post drew some criticism. For a blog that is barely read and even less commented upon, 5 posts that ranged from critical to disapproving to supportive is a lot. I thank the people that read it and the people who commented. Even grovepark who was "offended by this post" responded and did so politely. Libby Bamizrach said "...your honesty was refreshing, your emotions totally understood..."

I know you're not happy with the content of the post, but I thank you all for understanding where it came from.

Remember, I was the one who said in the post that it would be "obnoxious" and a "vent" which would be "emotional" and "irrational."

Still, I wrote it so I should respond.

I think efrat hit it on the head: "I'm so sorry that you are having a difficult time of things right now. It sounds like you are very frustrated with your situation." As they say in Hebrew, "ein safek" (no doubt). It's tough to make aliyah. There are a lot of very, very difficult things to contend with. There is no question that my rant was due in large part to the difficulties I am experiencing now.

Grovepark wrote: "How long have you lived in Israel, M-D?" (Answer: Ten months.) Have you forgotten all of the difficulties of contemplating making aliyah?"

No. In my post, I wrote: "I know that not everyone who wants to make aliyah actually can. For more than 2 decades I participated in the parade with a little sour taste left in my mouth saying, “Maybe this is the year....” and I am certain that many people did the same this year. I know that I am blasting good, hard-working people who have hearts in the right place" It may not have sounded like it, but I know exactly what it feels like. I was the one, at our going-away party last summer no less, who told a couple who expressed feelings of guilt for not moving to Israel, the same point that efrat made, "Also, if the 10%, 20% or 30% of the crowd, that you suggest, moves to Israel and they do not have a way to support themselves once there, that would be hugely taxing on the system.."

There are a few things that I must accept and agree with in your comments:

1) Grovepark and Libby Bamizrach both talked about the effect the parade has on non-observant people too. That is a point very well taken; my parochial perspective got the best of me and I accept fully that critique.

2) Another fair critique is this: efrat wrote, " Maybe you could do something about getting the word out Israeli T.V. and radio. I would think that seeing 100,000 people gathering for the State of Israel would give many there happiness and strength!" Point well taken.

3) Libby Bamizrach and grovepark both wrote that part of the parade's value is on the kids and the community in general. I agree 100% and I even wrote it in the post:

"The marchers and viewers themselves should get recharged in their love and support for Israel. They may not all be able to move here, but it’s still nice to know they’re there."

But maybe I didn't write it strongly enough.

I thought a lot about Libby Bamizrach's question, "Just out of curiosity, if you came back for a visit would you go to the parade?" Let me answer a different question first. If I, for whatever reason, moved back to America, would I attend the parade? Definitely yes. For the reasons that you and I wrote: I would go for me, for my kids, for my school, for my community. I would go to remind myself that I should be in Israel. That I am proud of the people there. (I would also go for the reasons that hajew said, such as "reunion of old friends..." etc. But that's a different story.) I would go if I lived there. I would go if I visited.

But that doesn't make me regret my post. I wrote from me and for me. I wrote from the heart: I am where I am (both physically and emotionally) and I am who I am. What I wrote came from who I am. Hajew wrote that we're all entitled to an opinion and what's an opinion worth if it doesn't come from within even if we're not proud of it. I cannot apologize for that even if it offends.

So, the bottom line is this: I thank you for your comments (and prayers) and, as I said, I accept much of the critique. Still, I cannot apologize for my emotions. They most certainly come from the emotional state that I'm in now and it is probably not completely coherent, cogent or rational.

There is no question that my last post was an emotional, slightly immature look at the Parade. But I think that one of the beautiful aspects of a blog - and people in general who respect each other - is that you can write from the heart and the gut.

Thanks for letting me.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Salute to Israel Parade

[Note: If you are not from New York and/or you are not familiar with the Salute to Israel Parade, look here or here for some background.]

Another of the many advantages to writing an anonymous blog, is that I can be obnoxious and/or I can vent (often the two occur simultaneously!) without inhibitions or fear of repercussions..... even if I know I’m wrong.

So here goes.....

I have been marching or attending the Salute to Israel parade for many years. I did it single, I did it with my wife; I did it with my children. I’ve worn the t-shirts, and the buttons and the stickers and, yes, the blue and white makeup. I’ve cheered and yelled and had many, many great memories from it.

It’s an important event for a lot of reasons. Off the top of my head (and briefly):

1) the world should know that thousands and thousands of Jews and non-Jews support Israel.

2) The above sentence could also be said about politicians, other Jews, other non-Jews, Israelis, Israeli politicians, etc.: They all should know too that thousands and thousands of Jews and non-Jews support Israel.

3) The marchers and viewers themselves should get recharged in their love and support for Israel. They may not all be able to move here, but it’s still nice to know they’re there.

Having said all that - and I believe it all wholeheartedly - and knowing the importance of the parade and all of the hard work that went into it, I had a different take on the parade this year. In short, my feelings were: blah blah blah.

Yes. I said it. Blah blah blah.

No one besides my wife told me (without me mentioning it first) that the parade was going on. No Israeli that I know even knows that there is, was, or will be a parade! On page 3 of the Jerusalem Post there was a picture with no accompanying article with a blurb which said something about Mayor Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton and I can’t remember who else. That’s it. No more exposure that I know of.

Blah blah blah.

And here’s the obnoxious part which I’ll regret in the morning: if even 10% of the people participating in the parade made aliyah this summer, imagine the impact it would have on the economy, the demographics, on history! Maybe the schools would become better; maybe the roads would become safer; maybe our sons could serve less time in the army in general and less time patrolling dangerous zones in particular; maybe people who do make aliyah would be able to pay their bills easier; maybe politicians would respond more to the people who continue to inject this beautiful country with life and manpower and brainpower and, yes, with dollars.

And if 20% of the people made Aliyah!? Or 30%!? The parade website says that 100,000 people march in the parade! If 30,000 people moved to Israel (the math doesn't even include the spectators!)... wow! Maybe things could really be different here.

If even some of the money that was spent on t-shirts, transportation, secirity, sponsors, etc. came to Israel... imagine the impact!

I know that not everyone who wants to make aliyah actually can. For more than 2 decades I participated in the parade with a little sour taste left in my mouth saying, “Maybe this is the year....” and I am certain that many people did the same this year. I know that I am blasting good, hard-working people who have hearts in the right place. But still, I cannot help but feel that it was just a lot of fluff. Sorry.

Blah blah blah.

I got a call from a friend who was at the parade screaming on the phone because the background noise was so loud. His first question, “I’m at the parade. Is it on the news in Israel?”


(I don’t have a TV, but the answer was no anyway!).

My first reaction to his question was, “I don’t know, I am too busy helping my daughter with her algebra homework.... in Hebrew.... and navigating the phone system at the Office of Collections.... in Hebrew.... so I can pay our mortgage on time with funds we barely have. In short, I’m too busy living in Israel to watch people in America show support for us.”

But I didn’t say any of that. I just said, “No.” Short and to the point.

Maybe I should have been short and to the point on this post too.

It’s hard to deny emotions. Even if they’re irrational.

Oh well.

Blah blah blah.

When I have Time I'll...... (Avot 2:5)

I have been meaning to write about:

- my responses to some comments made about my Yom Yerushalayim post.

- more Yom Yerushalayim thoughts, experiences, etc.
- Shavuot in Israel

- the Salute to Israel Parade in New York this past Sunday (I think I'll still write about that one)

- a cab driver that taught me about the "have's" and the "have-nots"

Life happens fast. I have not had the time that I've wanted to think, reflect and write about the things that are going on.

A comment I made on Rabbi Neil Fleischmann's blog sums up my feelings about this time problem in a different way. See my comment here and Rabbi Fleishmann's response here (at the end).

Sorry. I'll try to get back in soon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yom Yerushalayim

In the circles that I travel, the world has begun to buzz with Yom Yerushalayim. We have begun showing the students videos about Yerushalayim, we've had a Yom Iyun about the city and its importance, and we are planning a tiyul on Thursday to Yerushalayim. (By the way, an excellent book on the topic is Six Days of War. Reads like a novel!)

I cannot say that our students are unfazed by it. They certainly view the city as important and they definitely understand the importance of the day and the war 39 years ago. Still, this is another example of getting used to something and therefore losing the ability to recognize its true value.

I've written before about getting used to things. This time, I quoted a story that I saw on Rabbi Neil Fleischmann's outstanding website. More specifically, I told them the story that he wrote on this post.

When we focus on the wrong thing, we miss the point.

The story worked very well and the kids got the message: the focus should not be on what we've lost, on what we don't have in Yerushalayim, on what we cannot do. Rather, the focus is on the wheelbarrow: look how far we've come! Look what Hashem gave us!

Ask someone who knows nothing about the Six Day War, "How long do you think it took Israel to become victorious against the Egyptian army?" His first answer would probably be, "You made a mistake. You meant to ask ''How long do you think it took Egypt to become victorious against the Israeli army? After all, they had more money, more tanks, more planes."

After telling him that, in fact, Israel won the war, he may do the following calculation: "The United States has been in Iraq with 130,000 troops for more than 3 years. I think it took Israel 10 years."

"Lower," you say.

"OK, 3 years."


"1 year, that's my final offer."

You say, "Throw in the Syrian Army. And the Jordanian army. And the financial, political, and military support of more than a dozen other nations."

If you said that Israel was victorious against these odds, your friend would think you're either drunk, joking, or stupid.......And you haven't even told him that it took 6 days.

Put in that perspective, it's hard not to recognize Hashem's hand in this most improbable victory. It's hard not to celebrate.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Role Modeling in Chinuch, Parenting, Politics, etc.

One of the most important things for a parent or a teacher to remember is that our students watch us. They scrutinize us. They study us. Whether we like it or not, it is so. Whether they know it or not, it is so.

They watch they way we speak, the way we daven, the way we interact with other teachers, with the secretary, etc. etc.

The Gemara recognizes this in a variety of places:

Students are told to learn only from a teacher who is pure (Moed Katan 17a)
Teachers must exercise care to refrain from a practice which others cannot correctly emulate. (Niddah 20a-b)
“Watching one's teacher increases one's sharpness” (Eruvin 13b)
By simply observing one’s teacher individual practices of the commandments can be learned. (Pesachim 100a)

We have a teacher in the school who does not own a car. He relies on carpools and hitchhikes (tremps) to get to school. Most of the time he comes to school late. Since his first responsibility is tefilla, most mornings he comes to tefilla late. He could explain to his students why he comes late and I think he has spoken to them about it. But the bottom line is this: if he comes late, why can’t they? Why us it so important to come on time to tefilla if my Rebbe comes late?

And they’re right.

In a somewhat-related issue, I saw this in the Jerusalem Post on May 18. It would be funny if it weren’t sad. Let’s not complain when our kids copy us!

Israel's pack-a-day smoking health minister, Ya'acov Ben-Yizri will present his Annual Report on Smoking - as required by law - to the public on May 31, the country's No-Smoking Day.
The event will not be marked by any special activities as it usually is, because of "cuts in the ministry's information budget," the ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The 78-year-old new minister said that he "is interested in the smoking cessation programs that the Health Ministry and the Israel Cancer Association offer. But at the same time, after decades of smoking, it is very difficult" for him to quit. Ben-Yizri's wife Hava said at the ceremony in which he was welcomed into office two weeks ago that she would be happy if he quit smoking.
Ben-Yizri, who has a nonagenarian mother, said he has been smoking a pack a day since he was 18. His only concession to good health is that, being a traditional Jew, he has never smoked on Shabbat. But he admitted that when Shabbat nears its conclusion, he feels the pangs of nicotine addiction.

The minister committed himself to avoid smoking when seen in public -although he has already been interviewed on TV while smoking in a car.

Ben-Yizri also said that since he works 15 or 16 hours a day as minister and is constantly in meetings where smoking is barred by
workplace laws, he has cut down his smoking by about half. Ben-Yizri said he "identifies" with the health message of the Health Ministry and the ICA that smoking is the world's primary preventible cause of death, "especially among young people."Fully 76 percent of the Israeli public do not smoke, but the ICA wants to minimize the smoking rate even further, as 10,000 Israelis die of smoking-related causes each year - about 2,000 of these are not smokers themselves but are exposed to second-hand smoke.

ICA spokeswoman Nava Inbar said that the association has received numerous complaints from citizens about the health minister's smoking. "I think that as a public figure and minister who recognizes the war against smoking as an integral part of health promotion, it's important that he serve as a personal example. No-Smoking Day is coming, and it would be a good time for him to quit," she suggested.
Health Ministry deputy director-general for information Yair Amikam said the minister promised "to seriously consider the possibility of quitting, and he will follow the existing techniques and may join one of them."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Traveling to America.... Spouseless

My wife just booked tickets to travel to America in June for a bat mitzvah of a niece. Very nice.

Aside from the general observation that it's a pain in the neck to be separated from my wife, and aside from the other general observation that it's hard being Mr. Mom and working, and aside from the general observation that I really, really appreciate my wife's hard work whenever she leaves..... there is a particular observation that I'd like to share.

It seems that a common part of living in Israel and of making Aliyah is the fact that, usually, part of the family stays behind. So the formula that seems to be an integral component of living here repeats itself in various permutations. Ours is this: We have the bat mitzvah of a niece coming up. We cannot all attend due to financial constraints, and due to our requirement to be at work and school. On the other hand, we have a brother to whom we feel close who is making a simcha. We have a sister-in-law to whom we feel close who is making a simcha. We have a niece to whom we feel close who is celebrating a simcha. We have our children's' cousin to whom they feel close who is celebrating a simcha. We have parents to whom we feel close who's granddaughter and children who are making a simcha.

So how can we not go?

So some representative travels for the simcha. The family here "suffers" (big word, slight exaggeration, but we will definitely be effected). The bank account "suffers" (big word, slight exaggeration, but we our bank account will definitely be effected).

There is the oft-repeated comment, "You'd go if it were not a simcha, chas v'shalom." True. Or we hear, "What is money for if not to be spent for family?" True.

Still, it's a pain to be separated from my wife. And it's a pain being Mr. Mom and working. And I really, really do appreciate my wife's hard work whenever she leaves.

And this is repeated in many homes of Olim throughout Israel.

It's part of kibbutz galuyot.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lag Ba'Omer (iii)

OK. Maybe I overdid it a bit.

Yes there were an incredible amount of fires (my daughter counted 47 separate bonfires when she drove with a friend around our neighborhood). And yes people did get hurt (I think I read that a student in Bnei Brak was severly injured and others around the country were injured too). And yes even in the few fires that I saw there were many unsupervised little kids (3rd graders??).

But I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the couple of bonfires that I went to with my family and students. There is something warm about being around a fire with nice singing, nice achdut, nice divrei Torah, nice food!

I still don't understand exactly what this fire thing is all about, but, if it's done safely, who am I to say that it's a bad thing!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lag Ba'Omer 5766 (ii)

I'm still ranting about the ridiculous bonfires around here. More than one person has told me that I need to close my windows in my house tonight so that the smoke from all the bonfires doesn't come in.

Local fire stations have made it their business these last few days to educate children about fire safety. Our local station decided that the best way to do that is by burning a car in front of the kids - yes, an entire car - and then put it out with a hose. I think, unfortunately, that it had the opposite effect!

This site claims that there is a 200% rise in burn accidents among children in Israel on and near Lag Ba'Omer. This site has some very good suggestions for preventing injuries..... but I think that it's pretty interesting to put a picture of a huge bonfire with a raging fire on a page trying to encourage kids to be careful of fires. This site also has the 200% statistic and a raging fire. The sites of injuries and preventions go on and on.

I'm all for fun but this is ridiculous.

(After reviewing this post, I am surprised at how old I sound. Oy.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Lag Ba’Omer 5766

Not a lengthy nor original post. But an observation nonetheless:

Lag Ba’Omer in Israel, (at least the part that I see as a teacher, a father, and a neighbor) is one big pyromaniac’s dream come true. For the last few weeks, it is a daily occurrence to see child after child shlepping, dragging, hauling, towing, pulling, pushing, lugging, tugging, carrying, carting, lifting, and anything else you can imagine anything that is both a) not bolted into the ground and b) anything that is flammable. You see piles of firewood, planks, sticks, boards, and whatever else on people’s porches, backyards, and driveways.

I don’t get it.

On four separate occasions I saw a number of kids trying to get some kind of tree (not a branch, not “firewood”... a tree) down the street. Twice I tried to stop and help them shlep it with my minivan (why not be an accomplice to minors burning something?) and the tree was too big! I wish I was exaggerating.

This whole thing reminds me of Purim and getting drunk. In other words, sure there is a nice idea of bonfires on Lag BaOmer (just as there are certain sources to getting tipsy in a controlled, supervised way). But this takes it to an entirely new level.

Am I getting old or is this crazy?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Worlds Contrasted

Gaps between Israeli's and Anglos are nothing new. Students in Israel learning for the year eat out in restaurants more than their Israeli counterparts, they dress differently than their Israeli counterparts and they travel (return to the US or wherever for Pesach, parents coming here, etc.) more than their Israeli counterparts.

In the high school where I am now, the gap seems to be even wider. I spoke to a native Israeli boy last week in the 9th grade who is flying to Eilat with his father for a conference. This is the first time in his life that he is both a) going to Eilat and b) flying on an airplane. Today I spoke to an Ethiopian boy who came to Israel only 5 years ago. In Ethiopia he was a shepherd. Full time. At the end of every day, he had bring water back for his family so they could cook and wash. His decision every day was whether he should buy water from the well (healthy and convenient but expensive) or to take for the lake (free but less convenient with uncertain health concerns). He never saw indoor plumbing or a cell phone (and he never spoke on any phone) until he came to Israel. When his teacher taught about the 39 Melachot of Shabbat, he spoke at length about baking bread - from cutting the wheat all the way to baking bread in a communal oven.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have a boy whose bar-mitzvah was at the King David Hotel and another boy who travels to America for every chag and for the summer.

Teaching kids from such different backgrounds is both exhilarating and incredibly difficult at the same time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Misrad Hachinuch Woes

(The title of this post is a bit misleading. The complaint I have applies, if I am not mistaken, to a number of educational institutions and networks.)

I just found out that I am being fired.

OK. That's very misleading too. I will be fired. Over the summer.

But that's misleading too. All of the teachers in my school (with the exception of one) are being fired too. I include the principal. He is being fired too.

But that's misleading too. I'm being a bit melodramatic. I knew I was getting fired and, in my letter, the principal (yes, the principal who is getting fired needs to fire himself!) said how much he loved working with me and how he intends to rehire me next year!

Many, many, many teachers in Israel are being fired this summer, only to be rehired in the Fall. That way, the year we worked does not count towards receiving k'viyut (tenure). In other words, if a teacher were to be hired all year round, after a few years (I have no idea how many) s/he receive tenure and impossible to really fire.

It happens everywhere: My friend's wife has taught in a major Israeli university for 10 years and only last summer wasn't fired!

A part of me understands the idea: if the teacher unions continue to insist on tenure – and continue to insist on an easy path to tenure – the schools have no choice but to take matters in their own hands to prevent people from attaining tenure unless they are really, really, really sure that they like them and NEVER want to fire them!

On the other hand, it is nuts and insulting and frustrating and demoralizing to be "laid off" every year.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Yom Haatzmaut 5766

There are so many thoughts running through my head from these last few days. Some random thoughts and observations:

- This first observation is nothing new, but important to state: I remember Rabbi G. and Rabbi P. and Mrs. L. in elementary school and Rabbi H. in high school always talking about moving to Israel. I remember thinking then, "If it's so great and important, why don't you move there?" As I got older, and began to feel the financial, professional and familial pressures, I understood that one could love Israel and really plan to move there without being there just yet. Still, I have to admit that I felt a bit of a hypocrite in America on Yom Haatzmaut. We weren't in Israel even though we could go if we wanted to. Singing on that day and saying Hallel on that day and eating falafel on that day and saying "Chag Sameach" on that day.... I did it all and felt a bit strange. Very strange.

And this year... here we are. The incredible feeling of "We made it" were palpable. I don't know if I could honestly say that they erased all the hard times we've had here, but it really was special. Singing shoulder to shoulder with other people that "made it" and looking at slides at a shul program of early settlers, soldiers, and statesman... I got goose bumps.

- A part of me feels a little bad for my children. Let me rephrase that: a part of me – the part that thinks about their language acclimation, distance from cousins and friends, and detachment from the house that they were born in - feels a lot bad for my children (of course that might just be projection!). But another part of me feels a little bad for them. For as long as I can remember, my family, friends and schools have focused me towards moving to Israel. When I began dating, I only dated women who were interested in moving to Israel. When our first child was born, we made the conscious decision to speak in English because we knew that we'd be in Israel and Hebrew would not be a problem. (A little contrarian no? There are other reasons, but that's for another time). To buy a car or lease? To buy a house or rent? To invest in long-term stocks? Whole life insurance or term? All these decisions and more were weighed against the possibility that perhaps this is the year that we move to Israel and the repercussions that that move would have on these kinds of things.

And now I feel that I may have "taken" that away from my kids. Sure I can do my best to help them appreciate Eretz Yisrael and how fortunate we are to live here etc. But that's very different than copnveying a life-long drive to give up the comforts of America (or wherever you come from) and coming to Israel. In some ways, I feel bad - and worried - for my kids that they will miss out on that experience and those feelings. On the other hand, I would rather have it this way than being in America with those feelings!

- Last week, I also felt an incredible connection to the people of Israel. That is, a feeling that "we are all in this together." We all live here - Ashkenazim, Sfaradim, Israelis, Anglos, Old, Young, etc. - and we're all in it together. I suppose we are supposed to feel that all the time and I try to. But Yom Haatzmaut really brought it out for me.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yom Hazikaron 5766 (i)

Yom Hazikaron is placed very very appropriately in the Jewish calendar: during the Omer – between Pesach and Shavuot, where the process of growing, building one day upon the next is highlighted.

Yom Hazikaron is on the day right before Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The American version of Memorial Day is punctuated by picnics, outings and mattress sales. For most of us - and we are extremely fortunate that this is so - the American version of Memorial Day is not a sad or somber day. We go about our business - happy to have a long weekend off from school and from work. It's not a sad day because - and again, we are very fortunate that this is so - most of us do not know someone who gave his or her life in the armed services. Most of us do not even know a family that lost a loved one in an American war.

It is perhaps for this reason that the American version of Memorial Day is separated from Independence Day by more than a month.

Israel - Israelis – Jews - do not have that luxury. First Yom Hazikaron, then Yom Haatzmaut. The festivity is predicated on retrospection: First we remember, reflect… then we celebrate, rejoice. Whatever we do, we remember that our lives are being spared because of the blood spilled before us.

Just before Yom Haatzmaut, we remember that though we rejoice and delight in the rebuilding of our country – our homeland – was built with the blood of our friends: sons and daughters who will never see their parents, the fathers and mothers who will never see their children.

Today, we grieve for our communal loss; we recognize what it took and what it takes to build our home; we appreciate the contributions that were made and that are continually made by the men and women of Tzahal.

And we think about the sacrifice that thousands – millions - have made for Eretz Yisrael. And we think about what sacrifice each of us can make in our daily lives to dedicate our lives to the ideals and ideas that these soldiers lived and died for.

And we think: for what would we be willing to die? For what do we live?

In many ways, it is just as important to live as a Jew, as it is to die as a Jew.

May Hashem comfort the families of the thousands of young men who died al kiddush Hashem. Min Hashamayim t’nachamu.

The Night After Visiting Day II

Libby Bamizrach: First of all, look at my comment to the last post about responding to readers' comments.

Secondly, you wrote, " the relative in chuz laaretz we feel just as badly if not worse when we leave Israel. We have the double heart-ache of leaving our loved ones AND the place that we know we belong. Maybe you can take some solace in that!"

I appreciate the fact that many of our relatives feel that way too. I could have guessed that they feel that way, but I guess we were so caught up in the way we feel, that I forgot how they felt saying goodbye to us!

I've written before about how we need "cheerleading." It's probably true to say that everyone - in all walks of life who live in any country in the world - need "cheerleading" at some point in their lives. We're not unique in that way. So, thanks for your cheerleading.

I would also add that I found this time of year - Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut - hard to be in America. In other words, to be here, with the Israeli flags on every car, speeches in every town, fireworks in the park, barbeques in backyards, parades in the streets, images in the papers (from 1948, 1967, 1973, and from othere iconic times and figures such as Golda Meir, Menbachem Begin, even Ilan Ramon and Gal Fridman) - all these things remind me why we're here. It was hard to be in the States and celebrating Israel. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it felt strange. All these things serve as "cheerleaders" for me too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yom Hashoah 5766

I have said before that I write on this blog primarily for me. You, the reader, are of course welcome to "overhear" my thoughts, but I write for me.

I start with that reminder because I don't think that there is anything new in this post. Oceans of ink have been spent on the holocaust from all angles and perspectives. No new angle and no new perspective are being offered here. Only my thoughts from today.

Food for thought: Someday in the not-too distant future there will be a small article in the New York Times page A-21 saying something like, "So-and-so, the last known survivor of the Holocaust, died yesterday in _________, at the age 102. No other survivors are known to be alive."

It is sobering to realize that it will be virtually impossible for these high school students to get married and have children who will be old enough and mature enough to hear from survivor who was old enough to have memories from the Holocaust but young and energetic enough to tell his/her story. It won't happen. This is the bridge-generation between the survivors and the future.

Having said that.... Yom Hashoah played prominently throughout the day in our school. Torah classes dealt with both the emotional and halachic components of the day. Other classes dealt with the day as well (a great display of an interdisciplinary curriculum). For example, The English classes read easy poems about the Holocaust as they learned grammar and vocabulary. Math classes worked on impressing upon the kids what the number 6 million means. History classes talked about the Holocaust and/or the creation of the State of Israel in context. Music classes learned about music from World War II. We had a moving ceremony with a survivor telling her story and some poems and songs.

Certainly the most moving part of the day happened at 10 AM: the siren sounded when the entire nation stood together. Traffic stopped on the streets, commerce stopped in the stores. All to think and reflect collectively. I was standing outside when the siren stopped. These 9th graders playing soccer stopped in their tracks and we all stood, listening to the siren wailing while a light wind and quiet birds chirped in the background. I felt – really felt – connected to the entire nation thinking with me at the same time about our recent nightmares and how the future is built on the past.

Kol Od Ba'leivav pnima.....

Ani maamin b'emunah shleimah.....

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Night After Visiting Day

[Advice to potential Olim: Skip this post.]

I don't have a lot of summer camp experience as a camper or as a staff member, but I seem to remember that one of the best night activities of the year was the night after visiting day. I also seem to remember that all staff members are on-duty that same night; no days-off are allowed. I seem to recall that the reason for both of these rules. On the night after visiting day, the campers are most homesick. Just when they were getting acclimated to life in camp, their parents and siblings came, brought snacks, a picnic, pictures, whatever, and then... they left. The campers are left crying and the counselors are left to pick up the pieces.

Some of my family and some of my wife's family came to visit us in Israel for Pesach from America. We had a wonderful time catching up and, with a beautiful seder and tiyulim, Pesach could not have been better.

And then they left.

I didn't expect to feel this way, but we're now in the night-after-visiting-day mode: some of my kids (many of their cousins spent two weeks with them here; they have no, close relatives here) were crying last night and saying, "Why are we in Israel?" It broke our hearts. My wife and I as well were "down" also. Today too.

It seems that life in Israel for people like us is a series of hello's and goodbyes. The following scene happened in our family – and I expect not a few other families in Israel – a few times this Pesach and throughout the year: we go to the airport (during school? dinnertime? bath time?), wait anxiously, the relatives come out, we scream, we laugh, we hug, the kids are a bit shy in the beginning (a little embarrassing, no? Shy with their own cousins?) , then they get used to each other, have a great time, then back to the airport to say goodbye, the kids are a bit shy to hug their cousin or their grandmother (a little embarrassing, no? Can't hug their own cousins? Their own grandmother?), and off they go and back we go to home to work to school to homework, to talking on the phone with close relatives who do not seem that close anymore.

I'm sure these strong, melancholy feelings will pass. They always do. But it's tough anyway.

Advice to potential Olim: I warned you to skip this post. If you didn't, at least do yourself the favor and read some of the positive posts on this blog too. Some recommendations from recent posts: here, here, here, or here.

Maybe I should read those posts again too.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Post Pesach (ii)

A Post-Pesach post pertaining to Pre-Pesach....

An interesting, not-often-discussed component about Pesach in Israel is the amount of vacation that students and teachers get before Pesach. This year, Pesach began on Wednesday night, April 12. All of the elementary and high schools that I know of gave their students off from school from the Monday before (April 3) or, at the latest, Tuesday, April 4. That means that students and teachers had more than a full week of school off before Pesach even began. Of course they had off all of Pesach and the day after pesach. Some schools did not have school on Friday, April 21 and only began today, Sunday, April 23, 2006. That’s almost 3 weeks off from school!

As a teacher, I can hardly complain about having a vacation. When I was in America, I became a meteorological expert on when, if, and how much snow would arrive. I became the safety expert (“If even one snow flake falls, that’s one too many; let’s call off school!”). I am the last one to call for more school.

Still, as a parent and as a teacher, I thought that having more than a week off of school before the seder - while indeed giving teachers a much-needed break - was a tad too much. By the time Purim was over, teachers barely had time to cover Pesach-topics let alone the other topics in the curriculum. And the students' vacation mindset may have detracted a bit from the seder itself and from Pesach in general.

I’m not sure there’s much I can do (or how much I want to do) about the situation. I just thought I’d voice my opinion.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Like everyone else, I was incredibly busy before and during Pesach so my blogging habit took a back seat. I still have family visiting from America and (like everyone else) I'm still pretty busy, but I'd like to try and return.

There is so much to talk about, but my thoughts now are turned to post-Pesach. It's hard to describe how I feel, but I seem to feel this way after the chagim and after Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, etc. etc. The best way to describe it is like this.....

I have a friend who is a partner in a law firm. Before he became partner, he said that there was a tradition on the anniversary of the day he was hired (or maybe it was on another, pre-appointed day?) when all of the would-be partners found out whether they would be partners. For a few years, he would get on that day a very nice bottle of Kosher wine (they knew he kept kosher) and flowers or whatever with a beautiful note written by the managing partner saying how happy they were to have him and how appreciative they were of all his hard work. He said that onthe one hand it was so special to be appreciated, to get a nice gift, to know that they value his work and his contributions to the firm. On the other hand, he said there was a knot in his stomach: another year of not becoming partner, another year of hard work without the "big prize" to show for it, another year of wondering will this be the year?

Pesach in Israel was, as one could imagine, spectacular. The sights, the sounds, the tiyulim, the time with family, the seder (one seder!), etc. etc. all amazing... better than expected.

On the other hand, I couldn't help but feel like my friend before he became a partner: another year not being able to be one of the millions of people to make aliyah la'regel to Har Habayit with the fixed-up roads, improved signs, and refurbished mikvaot and with all of the music and encouragement that the Mishna describes; another year of not becoming tahor with water that had been mixed with ashes from the Parah Adumah; another year of not hearing the Leviim singing and playing their instruments; another year of not being able to take off my shoes and bring my Korban onto Har Habayit where there were so many people that the Kohanim had to hand the cups with the blood (the mizrak) one to another all the way to the Mizbayach and where the Leviim had to - once in a while - close the doors leading up to Har Habayit because there were so many people...

Another year of wondering will this be the year?

Another year.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Getting Used to Reality

We tend to get used to our reality without realizing it and without being sensitive to it.

If Rashi or the Rambam saw a huge, multi-ton metal bird flying in the air, they would probably think they were dreaming. Today, if a two year-old child saw the same thing they would either say "Plane!" or ignore it because of all the other planes they had seen in their life.

If Rashi or the Rambam saw a soldier in uniform, they would run away in fear. If you stopped them and showed them Hebrew writing – Tzahal - on their uniforms, they would definitely think they were dreaming. Show them the gun, made by Jewish engineers or the plane made and flown by Jews and now the envy of the world, they would think you were crazy. Today, if a two year-old child saw the same thing they would say "Abba!"

If Rashi or the Rambam had the chance to vote in an election, they would probably wonder what an election was. Tell them that they had an opportunity to vote for their own leader and they would think they were dreaming. Tell them that they had an opportunity to vote for a Jewish leader in a Jewish State and they would think you were dreaming!

I had that opportunity last week. Rashi and the Rambam would never believe me, or would give all their money in the world to have the chance to do what I did: getting to the polling place, showing my ID, placing a piece of paper with a political party on it in an envelope, thanking the volunteers and leaving.... safely.

I was not necessarily happy with the results of the elections, but the fact that there were elections in the first place... I couldn't be happier.

I am trying not to become insensitive to my reality, especially when it my reality is a dream.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pre-Pesach Workshop

One of the R"aMim (I talked about this position before), developed an incredible Pre-Pesach workshop today.

Building on Devarim 26:6 and the way the Haggadah....
"The Egyptians treated us badly and they made us suffer, and they put hard work upon us.".....
"And they made us suffer," as it is said: "They set taskmasters over [the people of Israel] to make them suffer with their burdens, and they built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and Ramses."
"And they put hard work upon us," as it is said: "The Egyptians made the children of Israel work with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard work, with mortar and with bricks and all manner of service in the field, all their work which they made them work with rigor."

and the way the Rambam.... (In every generation one must show himself as if he personally has come out of Egypt...)

...understand it, this Rebbe took the opportunity to teach the texts and have the kids "turn it around" by contributing to the school. They built a handball court - complete with fixing up a cement wall and floor - in the field behind the school. The secretary and I got permission and permits from the village where our school is located, a couple of parents donated the supplies (not so much money all-in-all) and the teacher - with a lot of experience with building - oversaw every step of the process. It took two, 4-hour class periods to learn the texts, and another two periods to build it. Today was the final stage and, once the cement and paint dry, the class and the school will have a permanent memory of a great experiential learning experience!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Israeli Elections (ii)

I was talking with a 9th grade literature teacher here about the elections and what I felt (two posts ago) about kids' interests. He's not an American but he did feel, like I did, that Israelis listen to the news at a very early age. I gave him a summary of what I wrote in the post (without telling him about the blog).

He disagreed. He felt that the interest in politics and news comes from a different place: most people here, he said, feel that normal, day-to-day life is too boring, too trivial. It's an escape. Even the bad news is an escape and better than the routine.

Though we'll never know for sure, I hope he's wrong.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Teacher Salaries

This blog is supposed to be an honest look at my experiences in the Israeli eductaional system. To do that, I guess I could not go very long without talking about salaries.

But an introduction first: I approach this topic with a bit of fear. I'd like this blog to be a frank look at my experiences and, if at all possible, to be of assistance to future olim who are in chinuch. Because of these two goals, a post about salaries is liable to scare people away. Obviously, that is last thing I'd like to do. Still, I talk about it because a) I want to be honest, and b) I want future olim who are in chinuch to come here with their eyes wide open. Worse than a poor salary is a poor salary that you expected to be a high salary.

OK, here we go.....

After taxes, I take home 1/5 of what I used to take home in the U.S. That's a big pay cut, to say the least. (I wonder what the reduction is in other professions.) We really fel it.

We were never rich in America but we were able to pay our bills, put away some money, not worry so much when the washer broke. But, we also didn't take major vacations either. Since this is an anonymous blog, I can honestly say, that we were absoulutely very "rich" in the Pirkei Avot sense - we were happy with what we had. We really felt like we needed nothing: we drove newer cars, not fancy but reliable and safe. Our house was respectable and roomy but not huge. We visited Israel once every other year. All was really fine. Even perfect. Thank G-d.

In Israel, in truth, it has been hard. My wife and I have had to watch our expenses now more carefully than before. We've dipped into savings a bit. It's not easy. That's the straight truth. It has not been easy. Despite the lower tuition bills (cut by almost 75% from our American bills!), mostly everything else costs the same or more. And that's without mentioning trips to America that we can no longer afford. I do not want to scare off potential olim, but the truth is the truth.

But I will say this: we're in Israel. I am well aware of how hard it is to read gushy descriptions of what it's like to live in Israel. I never used to read them before we moved. So I will not start now. But I will say that that statement, "We are in Israel," really is something that my wife and I appreciate and value. It's not a motto or a slogan - we're really here!

We're here. And that really is worth a lot.

To be continued......

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Israeli Elections 2006

I know there are a number of American high school students who are involved in politics, but it seems to me that many, many more Israeli students care more about the upcoming elections than do Americans of the same age before their elections.

When I was in high school I knew a little about American politics. But the little I knew came from sterotypes and jokes (e.g. Jimmy Carter liked peanuts, Reagan liked jelly beans, etc.). Maybe it was just me: I didn't really care that much about politics.

But I am surrounded by students talking politics, "wearing" politics (t-shirts, ribbons), working politics (many hand out fliers or hold banners at intersections), joking politics... I'm not saying that there are incredible, well-thought-out, philosophical discussions filling the hallways. They're still kids and they still see the world, for the most part, in black and white. Politics to them are reduced to banners, mottos, personalities. Most could not talk about politics in deep, thoughtful ways.

But there does seem to be an interest among Israeli youth in politics in a way that far surpasses what I remember when I was their age. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they live politics more than Americans. They have to: they or their friends may have been displaced during the disengagement. They or their friends feel terrorism and its effects in a very real, tangible way. Finances are tight and every financial decision by the government is felt - and spoken about - at home. Their fathers and brothers serve in the army - they too will soon.

To many Israeli youth, the luxury to detach from politics is a luxury they cannot afford.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Purim Costumes

Near the high school where I teach is an elementary school for kids primarily from poorer families. Our school went there a few days before Purim to dance, sing, tell stories, give mishloach manot, etc. It was incredibly special. I noticed something interesting about their costumes: someone, or some wonderful organization must have distributed Purim costumes to poorer families in the area. In every class, there must have been 5-6 kids with the exact same policeman's uniform, 5-6 kids with the exact same paratrooper's uniform, 5-6 kids with the exact same queen's dress.

In the end, I did not see a single child in the entire school without a costume!

I felt a bit sorry for the kids: did they notice who had those costumes? Did they feel bad? I don't think they did. But even if they did notice, I think they would have felt worse if they had no costume at all.

In the end, I mostly felt tremendous warmth that someone, somewhere made sure that every single child - regardless of socioeconomic status - could enjoy Purim.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Purim 5766

It’s been almost a week since Purim and things have been so hectic that I haven’t had a chance to post in a while.

Purim in Israel (or at least the little part of Israel that I saw), was absolutely great. I suppose in some ways it was similar to Purim in a very-Jewish city outside of Israel (Brooklyn? Monsey? Teaneck?)... dressed-up kids (and many adults) everywhere you look, packed shuls, people driving and walking around delivering mishloach manot.... just a wonderful experience. Obviously, the fact that these kids and adults were in Israel was particularly spectacular. Spending the holiday celebrating the Jewish victory against yet another enemy bent on our destruction in Israel... it’s hard to describe.

When I had a moment to breath, I tried to do just that: to breath and take it all in.

In many other ways, though, I think Purim here was different than in the States. I refer specifically not to Purim day itself but to the weeks leading up to Purim. As I mentioned in previous posts, the spirit of Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha permeated schools, newspapers, community events, shul calendars. Almost every day of Adar leading up to Purim you could see a few people in costume, shiurim about Purim, carnivals, tzedakah opportunities, Shabbat programs, etc. etc. etc. It was so easy to feel the holiday coming and the simcha that accompanies it.

Again, when I had a moment to breath, (and who has time to breath on a day-to-day basis?) I tried to do just that: to breath and appreciate it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


During the Purim season, where wearing masks is the thing to do, I thought I'd talk about the mask I wear on this blog.

Only two people in the world (besides me) know who I am. That is, only two people know that I am the one who writes this blog. One is my wife. The other is a dear friend who is also a teacher, thinker and advisor to me for the last many years. (In a recent post to this blog, "hajew" claimed to know me. I don't know. Oh well, that may make 3).

This friend asked if I was interested in publicizing this blog. I thought to myself: it might be interesting to have 100, 1,000, 10,000 hits a day reading my words, learning from them, helping them in their classrooms, or in Israel, or both..... (who am I kidding....)?

But my answer for now is: The blog is for me. I like the fact that I can write anonymously and freely without people that I know reading it. I like using this blog as a diary, an almost private diary. To keep track of my goings on.... for me. I like the fact that I can refer to teachers or students and not worry that someone will know who I am talking about. That freedom allows me to observe and record in an almost limitless way.

So, my answer to my friend: "No thank you. I want it to be private."

He asked me, "If you want it to be private, why write a blog at all? Just keep a real diary!"

A good question.

I've never kept a diary in my life. I've tried twice that I can remember but neither of them lasted too long. I think the fact that some people read this blog - not too many, but a few... once in a while... sometimes... - is enough of an impetus for me to keep writing. It helps me that some people read it but it also helps me that not too many people read it. For now, I'm happy with the balance.

That's the answer for now.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Behind the Teachers' Room Door

Look here for a brilliant, succinct observation on one of the hidden parts of the "art and science" of teaching. Worth the read if you've ever been a teacher or a student or both.

Tiyul Shnati

I just came back from a 3-day tiyul with my school. A few initial observations (there's a lot to talk about and I'll try to do that in future posts):

As I mentioned before (here and here), it is simply wondrous to go on a tiyul where, on the list of items to bring, along with water, a hat, warm clothes for the evening, etc. is.... a Tanach. Our tiyul was to the Negev and, to talk about Avraham planting the "Eshel" (tamarisk) tree (Bereishit 21:33) while standing in front of one near there... simply amazing.

We also saw the Rotem tree (either juniper or the white broom) mentioned in Tehillim 120 and elsewhere. The Gemara (Erchin 15b) says that the passuk refers to speakers of Lashon Hara and the punishment they receive. (The Gemara in Chagiga 12b has other sins related to the rotem as well.) The beginning of the passuk, talking about the far-reaching damage caused by arrows is like lashon hara in that one can harm someone even from a distance. The effects of lashona hara, the passuk continues, are like rotem coals in that their deleterious effects are long-lasting, simmering like the coals themselves.

(Our tour guide said that many Bedouins make fires out of Rotem leaves then, after spreading them out and covering them with sand, they sleep on their long-lasting warmth all night.)

We heard all this, sitting in front of a rotem in the Negev Desert. Just one example of the richness of a tiyul..... in Israel.