Friday, August 22, 2014

Not out of tears yet

So this was a week of a lot of tears.

Miki Young, a beloved woman in our community passed away. Her funeral was held at the synagogue and was filled to the rafter as a tribute to a loving woman who lived with God and helped others do so too. "She kicked my ass," a rabbi said, of how Miki helped him be honest to the core. Joie a thirty year old young mother, once my student, sat next to me at the funeral, hugged me and just balled. Her mother died this past year too. She said, "Miki came to the shiva, I hardly knew her but she knew how to talk to me about death in a way no one else could" Joie cried for Miki and for her mother. I cried too.

Today we sat in the same synagogue space for the funeral of Faye, the mother of our good friend. Faye's brother told us their parents came to America without an education, worked hard  to become a lawyer and a nurse. They lived simply. And the money they did earn was left in trust for their grandchildren to be connected to Yiddish culture and to be used to help cousins who were still in the Soviet Union.  Faye's  three children and her six grandchildren were there. D'or l' dor her daughter repeated.  From generation to generation. From 1900-2014 this was a story of values and family. My friend sitting near me in the shul, who lost her father this year cried too. She cried for her father and for Faye.

We all cried for the souls that hovered over the coffins and for the souls who hover over us.

This week we cried for Fergueson and Foley. For Eshdod and for Gaza. I cry for the teen who was punched in the face and called Kike at Temple University.

I admit I'm exhausted. I feel I'm in a world gone mad mad and madder. I cry for the death of the myth that civilization has evolved since 1060 or 1943. A human will cut your head off, punch you in the face, and blow you to bits without hesitation. The word civilization seems erroneous.

My colleague and friend Shelly and I led two webinars this week for educators on how to begin the year. "This year is different than all others" we said. We were going to offer a teaching on "Flipping Self Worth on its head." But that self absorption -all about me--seems the wrong note in our world that has flipped. The core teaching of our webinar...don't pretend you have the answers. This is a moment like none other. We begin the year humbly and bravely with conversation to uncover new truths and actions in this time of conflict and turmoil. This is a time when core assumptions are being challenged and so our teaching has to too.

And now before I start cleaning up for Shabbat, to say one more week Shabbat Shalom with emphasis on a Shalom that is so broken I'm reading on YNet news about the four-year old Daniel Turgerman who was killed by mortar fire in Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council.

When I light Shabbat candles I often say, "cause the world needs a little extra light. " Can I say that tonight when I have a suspicious thought that humanity is critically wounded. I'm drained and yet not out of tears..because I know there is more coming that will bring more tears.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Men On A Leg

On the last leg of my trip to Los Angeles I spoke with three very different men. Each revealed  stories of a world that is out of sync with the perfectly hedged condos on Wiltshire Boulevard that reach for clear blue sunny skies.

This is Andre. Before heading out to the airport, I thought I could steal 30 minutes by the pool. With his exquisite French accent, accented by exquisite sunglasses with metal trim, he told me he loves America, sells Toyotas in Provence, is working on a deal to start retirement "castles,"  has traveled the world and more. Ok, Andre I hear the details of your life. Twenty minutes of his details. Enough. "Can I ask you a hard question?" I said.

"Tell me about anti-semitism in France. I am Jewish." (the first thing I had told him about my self.) I took a leap because I wasn't really interested in his knee surgery or how America's health care isn't as good as France's. I wanted to know if there was red meat behind the talk of anti-semitism.

"We see what is going on the television over there. Israel and the Jews, you know.
 And there are more Jews in France than any place in the world."

"I don't think so," I interjected.

 "No this is true.  They make most of the movies and TV shows so it impacts what we see. Mostly in Paris they stay to themselves." (note all is being said in that dreamy French accent). And a guy I know who is Jewish he told me that all you have to do if you are Jewish is go up to a Jew who has a business and say I'm Jewish and you get a job. I know some Jews." Andre's girlfriend walked over a minute later. Our pleasant pool side conversation was over.

On the next leg of the trip, I spoke to my cab driver. I couldn't resist. Another accent. "Where are you originally from?"

 "Armenia and then we went to Syria."

 "Did you leave Armenia after the genocide?"
"Yes."
 We talked about a crazy world where genocide is still happening. And then I made a passing comment. After that comment he drove mostly with his eyes  in the rear view mirror looking at me while he told me a story that made him cry.

My passing comment: Where are the mothers of the terrorists in Iraq who are slaughtering people?

Taxi Driver: I'll tell you a story. A terrorist in Lebanon back in the 1970's was being trained to kill Christians and Jews. (This time I hadn't revealed my orientation).

The terrorist told his best friend who was a Christian, 'we can't be friends any more'  But his friend stayed with him and helped him learn the ways of Christianity. One night the man who was a terrorist, had a dream that Jesus had visited him and he told his friend he was afraid.

 Knowing his family and the people training him would kill him if he said he wanted to be baptized he escaped to France and then to the US.

'I'll tell you why I'm sharing this story in a minute, its about the mothers," the cab driver said.

Twenty years went by and he wanted so badly to see his mother. He returned to Lebanon. His mother wept when she saw him, hugged him and said, "Dear, tell me what food you missed that I make with my own hands."

"Dolah" he said. The next day she made him the eggplant stuffed rice and meat. And the man died. She had poisoned him, his own mother, because he had converted. This is where the mothers are."

I wondered, was this story about someone he knew well? The cab driver had told the story with great detail. "I saw it on youtube. His brother who also converted tells the story."

We arrived at the airport and I wished him peace. Was the story true? I don't know. What was clear that he carried the story as part of his truth.

Third man on the last  leg of the trip. Rollin. Named for his father who drank to cope with all the bodies he had buried in Viet Nam. This thirty-two year old, sitting next to me on the US Air flight, father of Nile, expecting another baby, was going to visit his girlfriend who is not the mother of his boys. "I named my son Nile," he started the conversation with me after seeing the map in the book. I'm reading about the Arab and Israeli conflict.

"Yes I'm Jewish."

"Oh are you a Zionist?" I asked, "What is a Zionist? Do you mean someone who thinks Israel should exist, if that is the definition, yes I'm a Zionist."

 Later he asked, "Are you a Hebrew?"

Later he asked, "You read the Kabbalah right? I don't really know what Hebrews believe."

And we spoke about the killing in St. Louis. He grew up there.His friend still lives around the corner from the shooting.

"There are no jobs there. I was lucky. My dad died and he left me enough money to go to private Catholic school. All through high school I wore a uniform and learned discipline. Even when I was homeless, and slept in a car, I got up and went to school. You see those kids in Missouri, there is nothing for them. No jobs, no school, no family.  People forget Missouri was the last slave state and all that oppression mentality is still left there. I'm working on my college degree. I want to work with children and help them."

Rollin spoke about how he had fasted for Ramadan although he is not Muslim. He reads the occult. He gave me a few suggestions of books I should read. He believes in taking something from everywhere.

"You seem like a very spiritual person," I commented.

"You have to look up," he said "when you are in the ruins, and there is nothing around, I learned to look up."

These were the stories of three men who in the normal course of the day I wouldn't have met. Their stories are potent. In a short amount of time, each one was quickly willing to share a piece of themselves that is making up the collective feeling that the world is standing on one leg. Are we primed for one thing to come by and kick out that leg? I'm anxious about what happens, if you have one leg and it gets kicked out from under you.

What are you hearing in the stories under clear blue skies?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mara Made Aliyah Now she Writes About the day

Cousin Mara fell in love with Israel and Tom and made aliyah.
Last week she and I had dinner in a cafe in Jerusalem. I made sure the restaurant was, as instructed, 90 seconds from a shelter. 

This is her most recent note home. She said I could share.

Hi All - 

The first thing I did this morning was roll over and check the news to see if the names of the 13 Israeli soldiers killed yesterday were published.  I nervously skimmed the names hoping not to see my friend's brother, who was in the same unit.  And it was a strange reality because while I sighed for relief that he was not listed, I knew those names were brothers to someone else, sons to grieving mothers, someone else's father, loving husband.  

On my drive to work, only sad songs played on the radio, still interrupted by announcements of falling rockets.  Everyone in my office, along with the rest of Israel, has the news up on their computers and nervously click "refresh" in case there is something new, more soldiers down, perhaps a cease fire, terrorists found, tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel discovered.  

This is life now.  Automatic away messages reply to our emails from people called to reserve duty, not sure whey they will be back.  The 8 o'clock news is filled with heart-wrenching eulogies from 10 year-old sons saying goodbye to their fathers and clips of soldiers, now of blessed memory, playing their guitar and making their friends smile.  There was even a post on Facebook asking people to do a mitzvah and come to the funeral of a "lone" soldier from Texas who made aliyah without his family, so his parents don't fly in from America to arrive at an empty funeral.  The message went viral and there will probably be 10,000 people in attendance.  

There is always an empty pause after you ask anyone how they are doing, unsure if you give the truth.  And the woman at the grocery stores not only says "have a good evening", but she throws in, "and I hope it's a quiet one too".  The only way I can explain the atmosphere is, it just feels heavy here.  Everything.  

In the meantime, there will continue to be anti-Israel riots in France, Denmark, Chile and England, a "die-in" staged in Boston, and perhaps the scariest of all, anti-Semitic marches springing up all over Germany - the largest one planned for this Friday in Berlin.  

Oy...I wish I could send a happier note, but I suppose I'm a bit bummed out today.  I just wanted to share the atmosphere, thoughts and feelings here.  John Kerry and Ban Ki Moon came for a visit, but the Backstreet Boys and Neil Young canceled their concerts this week.  

If anyone is looking for a good website in English, to get updates, you can check out Times of Israel or YNet   

Sending lots of love from over here, 
Mara

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

War: A Time for Parents and Educators to Listen

Minutes after coming out of the bomb shelter last week, I saw a father and his twin toddler daughters  finish a meal and quietly chat in a Tel Aviv restaurant.  On the streets of Jerusalem a mother told me that her 7 year old son was managing the incoming rockets just fine. "Can we do it again" (go in the shelter), he asked? "I want to hear the boom, like the video game."




How can parents, and educators speak to children about the violence going on now? Can we pretend it is just like a game? The answer is obvious. Yet with our own uncertainties Israel seems a topic easy to ignore.

 As a Jew, Israel is the place where our cousins and friends live. It is the place our ancient mothers and fathers lived. Regardless of politics, regardless of what we might think, the world does see us, as Jews, connected to Israel. I have to wonder if it is harder to talk to children about Israel, or sex? Not sure. We need to try and here are a few suggestions from experts. 

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri, Educators for Social Responsibility, the first thing to do is  listen.  Children as young as four or five are exposed to what's happening either from their own experience, from the media, or from the chatter of adults. Simply, ask a child,  "Have you heard news about what's happening in Israel?" 

When you hear their responses you can help them put things in order. A young child's mind tends to meld information into a jumbled scenario. For example, a few facts might end up "If missiles are hidden in schools in Gaza, then there are missiles in my school." Talking about what children are hearing or fearing, with a trusted adult doesn't stir, but rather calms. No matter how frightening some feelings are, it is far more frightening to think that no one is willing to talk about them.

Young children-early elementary school--need to know parents and adults are there for them to provide protection. We have a Jewish vocabulary of Shema to help. We can exhibit sacred listening.  Our children need loving adults who are there to hear their questions, and feelings and the stories they are creating when making sense of events. Young children can know that God is listening. Shema says, you are not alone, all of Israel is listening too. 

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri older children, in middle elementary school and early middle school will be concerned when faced with violence with issues of fairness and care for others. Again, Judaism gives us a vocabulary to listen to, and engage our children. 

We can tell children that our work as Jews is to balance virtues, even sometimes when they are in conflict with one another. For example, we are obligated to care for others and  to care for self.

Care for others:
"It has been told to you, O Human, What is good, and God seeks of you: only to practice justice, To love compassion, and to walk humbly before your God." (Micha 6:8) 

 Take action care for self:
"When injury is likely, one should not rely on a miracle." (Kiddushin 39b)

Educators and parents can act as exemplars, sharing how they manage balancing the virtues of self care and care of others. Share what you do when these virtues are in conflict. Make your inner dialogue visible to them.  Children also need you to be  explorers. Explorers are adults who help children find their own views on what it means to care for self and to care for others. This is a conflict that we as individuals work to manage. This is also a challenge for countries and this is what Israel is struggling to do.

Educators and parents should be both exemplar, sharing their own story and explorer, helping children ask questions and search out their own answers.  (Wertheimer, Pomson, 2014) 

Adolescents have many of the same needs as younger children. They too need to share their emotions, be heard and be supported by caring peers and adults. Developmentally they will be drawn  to the ethical dilemmas that arise from the conflict.



Our job is not to give them the answer, not to shut their questions down, but to make accessible the rich resources of our tradition so they can grapple with the opinions they explore and express. They need rich content in their conversation. Facts trump newspaper headlines. Giving teens a chance to let their hands follow their hearts and move to action is also work that is in our power as parents and educators.

The times require us to do one thing with our children regardless of age, Engage. This is not, as the innocent child said, a game.  Our children, growing in a volatile world, need us not to shy away from the conversation. Let's put our arms around our children and bravely start the conversation.



Rich resources include:
JECC's "Responding to Crisis"
        http://jeccrespondingtocrisis.weebly.com/

"Parents Talking to Children about Violence"
http://www.isacs.org/uploads/file/Monographs/Parents/Talking%20with%20Children%20about%20Violence.pdf

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Protect Your Ass Judaism

I am a liberal. My Jewish values are proudly expressed in "care for the needy, mend the world and work for equality regardless of our differences." These  core values , I label as Jewish, have made me a loyal Democrat. In 2008, 78% of my fellow Jews also voted Democratic. Since Roosevelt, the majority of Jews have  voted for the Democratic party even when groups of similar financial and social status have switched to Republican. Do we stay Democratic because we vote the way our parents did, or as I suspect, do we vote left because the value of helping those in need trumps self interest. Help those in Need, is an honorable brand of American Jewry. And today,  I wonder if our brand is getting in the way of another honorable brand of Judaism?

Protect Your Ass Judaism (PYAJ). We need to --without apology--yet with responsibility, protect our own asses.

Rockets are coming  into Beer Sheva, Netivot, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem from the south to the center and to the north of Israel. The sound of a siren starts like an innocent cat or a motorcycle but grows as a life alert "you have 90 seconds to find a bomb shelter." Less discerning as an American, my heart skipped with the sound of each cat and real siren.




Within a minute we heard BOOM BOOM. The Iron Dome works. Again, BOOM BOOM.  Prayer: please keep working.

To put an end to this, to HELP THOSE IN NEED, we ask: "Who is coming to the table to discuss 'How do we live in Peace?'" Israel said yes. Egypt is ready. Abbas is ready, and the leaders launching the rockets say no.

Hamas leadership says no to cease fire
I've been reading Righteous Victims, A history of the Zionist Arab Conflict 1881-2001, by Benny Morris. The history I'm reading is clear in my mind. It rubs against CNN headlines (YNET NEWS much better to follow events).

One vivid image I have from the historical reading comes from the years of the late 1930's and 40s.  In the same decades when European Jews were dying in gas chambers,  Jews in Palestine were gathering weapons, growing the Palmah and the Haganah to protect themselves. Could Ben Gurion and Weitzman have sat down with the Nazis and negotiated a settlement? Don't murder our people and we'll take them off your hands to live in the desert. The answer is obvious.

Jews learned how to fight and farm with a PYAJ policy.  They hid guns from the British under floor boards and built a social infrastructure so Jews could live as opposed to be pushed into gas chambers.

While in Israel this week I spoke with Jews from France-6,000 French are making Aliyah this year because of heated anti-semitism. I spoke to Jews from Spain--who said they are afraid to admit to being Jewish on the street and hide their identities. Jews from Argentina spoke about increased security because they fear bombings.

Awake from the bubble, I thought. History is here again. Oh this bubble bursting goes against my liberal 'we are all one leanings.'

In the fog of who is right and wrong Israel and the Jewish people are not saints. Mistakes are being made along the way. Like when right wing Israeli extremist brutally killed the Arab teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Their cruelty was out of  hate and sickness, not protection.

With our core values as American Jews we can ask how to help innocent Palestinians who are caught in the crossfire? The poor are pawns. We should do all that is possible to help them (e.g. knock on the roof missiles, leaflets and calls to leave, humanitarian aide). I don't think for one minute Israel intends to, or benefits, from the killing of innocents.  Can they do better? I'm sure, and anticipate they will learn to do that.

And with as loud of a voice, with a determination that our survival, the survival of our cousins and friends, our people, I say, Israel can and should put an end to relentless rocket attacks coming in to Israel on children who are trying to play in summer camp, parents driving to work and families eating a meal in their kitchens.

The role of diaspora Jews matters. It has since the 1880's and continues today. Heart strings get tugged when Ben Widerman on CNN says, "look at this home that has been destroyed in Gaza because the Cease fire has fallen apart. He doesn't say, "The cease fire that Israel accepted and that Hamas rejected."

Before I went to Israel,  I wrote
"I hate to talk about Israel because it becomes a yelling match of right and wrong." And so I demur.

 Yesterday, my son said, "Mom if people were speaking out against the rights of homosexuals, and even if there were screaming, wouldn't you speak up?"

"Yes."

My other son just said, "Can you write about politics on your blog?"

"I don't know, but it feels chicken not to."

So I'm speaking up.

I'm saying as clearly as I can I'm proud of my ability to be part of a HELP THOSE IN NEED JUDAISM.  And I'm as clearly saying, now is a time to express that Israel has the right to protect and prevent continued bombardment. If it is productive to think of ways to make a better peace, let's engage in that. Let's sit at a table and ask these questions and work together for action to protect all innocents.

PROTECT YOUR ASS JUDAISM is not contradictory to Help those in Need Judaism. It is an existential necessity that we shouldn't shy away from when we sit comfortably and safely in our homes. Your thoughts?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Code Red sirens: the counting

We are safe.

The news, I understand, creates a heightened sense of anxiety. Repeated images of explosions in the air and people dying rightfully cause worry. Let me share the counting I've experienced so far around air raids.

My first air raid happened in the Tel Aviv restaurant Suzannah Dalal. Shellie, Evie, Evie's friend and I were seated in an outdoor restaurant. We had ordered delicious drinks with flavors of fruit and cucumber
.
A loud siren, that could only mean, rockets blared.  I saw our young waitress, an Israeli who had gone to school at Lower Merion, run. I had bread in my head and took it with me in a crazy thoughtless way. Evie and her friend ran one way. Her friend, an Israeli, knew were to go. Shellie and I followed our waitress into a parking garage.

With bread in hand, we ran with another 30 people into the garage. Tova, an Israeli on the trip, assured everyone it would be fine. She explained the times in her life that this kind of warning would be sounded a few times a day for months. As the week has gone on, I've heard repeated stories fro Israelis about how this is something they experienced so many times before and seem, at least outwardly to take it in stride. "When I was a child," said a waiter who also tracks military action in the evenings, "the war was my favorite time," he told me. "We were moved to kibbutzim in the center of the country. So instead of going to school, we played and swam." I've learned it is common practice for kibbutzim to house one another, depending in the threat is in the south or north or..

In less than ten minutes (now they are saying Stay put for a full time minutes after the sirens) we returned to the outdoor restaurant and were served our dinner. Humus and salad and fish were the menu under the night sky with a cool breeze. I thought of the World War II air raids in London (everyone knows I watch a lot of old movies).

We then went to hear a concert. Just like that. A rocket overhead intercepted by the Iron dome and then we return to listen to music. One woman started to tear. "It isn't for us, it is for my Israeli friends whose children are going to fight."

On the bus back to Jerusalem came the second air raid siren, but we didn't hear it. When we arrived at the hotel a guard told us to "hurry hurry into the hotel." The lobby was filled with high school students on a trip. They had just arrived in Jerusalem from Spain. A wonderful trip was planned. Now they would stay in the hotel all day.

My hotel room was on the 17th floor. The calculation of imagination didn't seem to add up. I'm not experienced in how to manage this state of being but the thought of walking down 17 flights didn't sound great. "You don't need to go the shelter, just stay in the stairwell." (not sure about that) So I moved into a smaller room with my friend Lynnda. The best luxury we could have would be a night without sounds. Tova had told me to "leave your shoes and most important belongings by your side. We used to sleep in our sweat suits, so if you have to run, you've got what you need." Every floor has a stairwell, go to the stairwell if the sirens go off.

90 seconds from a shelter was the advice the next day. Make sure you can get to a shelter in that aount of time. And if not? A woman from the south of Israel told us "you lay down on the ground flat. Put your hands behind your head with your elbows out. It has something to do with physics."

Thursday, I think, the days are melding, Evie and I were walking on Emek Refayim, a a street with lots of restaurants and tourists. Another siren. First I looked at the sidewalk. Do we lay down with our hands behind our heads? I saw a woman running ahead and we followed her. We running along the sidewalk. It didn't make sense to me for a split second where are we running. The woman turned into a building. Ok, she must know. We followed her down the steps and down. Down I think was a good place to go. We walked into an avant guard theatre that unbelievably was putting on a one man show, called "Shelter."

Again the chat, where are you from, and what do you do?
The author of the play, an Iraqi Jew, explained he'd like to bring the play to the US. The woman we had run after was from England. And there is the basement was a young girl who had come from Westchester New York.

"Three I heard three" said Evie. She heard three booms. The iron dome had hit them. The news said there were five rockets over Jerusalem.

I try not to check Ynet news too often. But there is the real accounting. How many dead. How many injured. How many rockets. How much damage. How many days.

I appreciate the kind notes from folks wondering how we are doing. As you can see we go to the cafe, walk on the street and now know where to go when the siren blares.
I've never been good at math.
And now just writing I can see I can't add this up. I'm able to order cafe afuch and there are sirens.
I barely believe this....

I've just washed my feet off. We heard the sirens now, no time for shoes, 90 seconds to the shelter, down five flights of stairs, Evie, me and three young people, three booms, wait ten minutes, up the steps. Till next time.



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jewish mothers' amulets-not enough

Today we are one in sadness. I heard people on the right, left and even the “I don’t even give a damn”  express sadness for the murder of three teenage boys hitchhiking home from school.  A friend who almost never discusses Israel texted: “A silent prayer for Gilad, Naftali and Eyal.” At work we were told no posting on social media. When laughter was heard at work, it was followed by the awkward, “no laughter today please,” pause. No one spoke politics. Today we were all parents and sisters and cousins of three murdered Jewish teens.

In our ears we can hear the teens’ mothers’ voices the morning they left for school the last time: “Did you take your coat? Be careful, have a good day, love you.” These are the cadences of Jewish mothers.

Rabbi Henry Cohen taught that Jewish mothers back in the day would say things like, “button up your coat,” or “eat another bowl of soup” as regularly as “good morning” because daily their children were sent into an unsafe world. Past the front door, a mother had no control of hoodlums, pogroms or conscriptions. So the extra dose was protection, an amulet, for a world cultured in seeking out Jews, the different ones, as targets for hatred.

In times of quiet, in times when Jews think they are just like their neighbors, a mother’s learned amulet, passed down from generation to generation, doesn’t go away.  

Mothers call out:

“Don’t you think you need a sweater?”

“Don’t go with strangers.”

“Call me when you get there.”

Children hear these amulets with rolled eyes. 
“Don’t you think I know when I need a sweater without you telling me?”


Today's headlines are a reminder that the world we live in is not so quiet and it is not always so safe to be a Jew. Today we remember that we are all Jews, regardless of our political hankerings. Today we stand together in loss.

As my friend texted: a silent prayer for three teenagers who loved basketball, singing and baking, who walked out from their homes into an unsafe world and now have left this world.

And let me ask for a not so silent prayer: this feeling of oneness shared today will hover a little longer so we can work together to make the path beyond our children's front door a little safer and a little more peaceful.

Hear together, today and tomorrow Rachelli Frankel as she spoke her last amulet to her son
 at his funeral, "Rest in peace, my child."