Living in Community, Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion, Terrorism

Safehouse

It’s 9:30 am on the day of the supposed Rapture.

If you’re a good friend of mine IRL, you’ll know that since 9/11 I have been minorly obsessed with and concerned about things like cataclysm, apocolypse, and your basic run of the mill doomsday scenario. Truthfully, my obsession goes back even farther: I remember sitting in my parents bedroom in front of their color TV and watching The Day After with intent, alone. From that day on, from time to time, I imagined myself in disaster scenarios. How would I make it? Would I even want to make it? What’s the benefit to being one of the survivors in a new world that sucks? Where you have to eat rodents and pull your own teeth out when they rot?

When my book club read The Road, I had nightmares, but I also took mental notes.  I want to be prepared, truly I do. But it’s an expensive proposition to have a fully-stocked underground bunker. Since 9/11, however, I have had a medium-sized tupperware container stocked in my basement with a week or two supply of food and some basic disaster kit items like matches and flashlights. Truth is, though, what I really want is a stronghold out in the woods seriously stocked for survival, but when I asked my husband for this for my birthday, he got me a pretty purple scarf instead.

He’s practical.

Now that I live in Israel, you’d think that I would be even more frightened. You’d think that the Middle East is certainly the part of the world that will “end” first.

Maybe.

Or maybe it will be the place where most people survive and start anew.

I jokingly told this to my friend Jami before I left in December. She knows that I partially believe December 21, 2012 might indeed be TEOTWAWKI. I said to her, “If the shit hits the fan in 2012, Israel is either the first to go or the only place standing.” (Ha ha ha, I laughed. But I really meant it. I mean it still.)

So, now that my Facebook friends are jokingly posting REM videos on their status updates and news media outlets are trying to maintain serious tones while reporting on the beliefs of Family Radio, I sit and breathe deep, hoping that we can all laugh about this tomorrow.

What? you ask. Are you actually worried about this Rapture thing?

I can’t say that I’m actively worried, but The Rapture is just another impetus for me to start thinking about the things I have been anxious over since 9/11 and even moreso in recent years in which we’ve been witness to the world, at the very least, “having a really hard time.”

War, economic crises, tsunamis, tornadoes. I can see how the folks who take the Bible literally can get on board with Harold Camping’s prediction. It really does seem like end times in many ways, if you believe in that sorta thing.

But getting back to why I think Israel is the place to be if TSHTF. Most survivalists — the guys and gals who have cabins up in the mountains of West Virginia stocked full of food, electric generators, and guns — tell you that living off the beaten path is much better than living in the city. You’ll want to be near a natural water source (I have a reservoir less than 1/2 a mile away.) You’ll want land to grow your own food — we have orchards of olive and grapefruit trees here, not to mention a dairy farm.

In addition, because of years of war and conflict in Israel, we do have bunkers stocked with weapons right here on the kibbutz. Furthermore, as every Israeli citizen is required to serve 2-3 years in the army, I have friends and neighbors who know how to use said weapons. They’ve been paratroopers and medics. They know which herbs are safe to eat and which can be used to soothe burns.

I have gas masks stocked in my office. We have a national warning system. Not to mention ancient caves and waterways to hide in. And don’t forget about Masada.

Israel, if anywhere, is ready for shit to hit the fan.

Now, none of this will help me too much if the Earth opens up and swallows me as some Rapturists believe.  And it certainly won’t help me if an asteroid hits the Mediterranean and a huge tsunami sweeps us away into Syria.

But, I kinda think my odds of surviving cataclysm have increased just by making Aliyah.

Not an advantage you are necessarily going to advertise on the brochure. But useful nonetheless.

Food, Kibbutz, Living in Community, Religion

I’ve got that Shabbat feeling…

For the first time in my life, I’ve got that Shabbat feeling.

Well, to be more precise, I’m basking in the afterglow of that Shabbat feeling. This past Friday, my in-laws invited my three children to their home (which is on a moshav about 30 minutes drive from us) to spend the afternoon, and sleep over. Since we arrived in Israel, my in-laws have been enormously generous and helpful. They’ve had one or both of my boys to sleep over; they’ve helped us out with childcare; they’ve hosted us for Shabbat dinner; they’ve helped us ease into this new culture and lifestyle with love and support.

But this weekend they granted us the wish my husband and I have been salivating over since we made Aliyah: They took all three kids off our hands for Shabbat.

And by Shabbat, I mean the weekend.

Here in Israel, Shabbat is the weekend and the weekend is Shabbat. In the States, Shabbat was something other Jewish people observed. The ones who wore kippot all the time and went to the grown up services, not just the occasional Tot Shabbat. Shabbat was for rabbis or rabbinical students or “real Jews.” More Jewishy Jews. People who kept kosher in the house and knew the entire Birkat HaMazon. People who weren’t us.

We were Jews with one foot in and one foot out the door. To be fair, I always liked the “idea” of Shabbat, but never could fully commit. And my husband, a Solomon Schechter graduate and therefore a much more learned Jew than I, would accompany me to the occasional Family Friday Shabbat Dinner at our synagogue kicking and screaming. As for Saturday, there was always too much to do. Birthday parties, laundry, errands, and soccer games. Saturday required too much attention. 

Not so here: I learned very quickly that keeping Shabbat is much less a challenge in Israel. For the simple reason that there is nothing to do on Saturday.

There’s nothing to do on Friday night either. Sure, there are a few bars open here or there, a few Arab restaurants or markets. But, pretty much from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, the entire country is observing Shabbat by default.  Most stores and restaurants are closed. No birthday parties are scheduled. Weddings and other big events take place on Thursday nights.  By Friday afternoon, the country shuts down.

Which means that while not every Israeli is at home lighting candlesticks or eating roasted chicken on Friday nights, they’re certainly not at Target either. The observant Jews are doing what observant Jews do in America: They’re praying, eating dinner with family or friends, and resting.

The secular Jews, though, don’t have much choice but to honor Shabbat, as well. They just do it a little differently. Some have Friday night dinner as a family, either minus the prayers or with a token kiddush. Others spend Saturdays hiking or playing together as a family. A lot of the secular folks I know use Saturday to go on walks, picnics, jeep trips or bike rides. They travel to see family and friends in other cities. Or go to the beach. No one I know is spending Saturday divvying up errands or soccer games. 

At first it felt really strange for me. Saturday felt empty. Almost boring. Sometimes I got a little agitated, even. But soon enough I started to get into the routine. And I started to enjoy it.

On Friday mornings, we bring the little ones to Gan and often spend the morning tidying the house or doing some last minute food shopping. In the afternoons, we relax, the kids nap or play quietly until the early evening when we clean up and put on our “handsome clothes.” As the sun starts to set, we leave the house together as a family and walk the path up to the Beit Knesset, the small synagoague on Hannaton. My kids look and smell of summer camp. We all do — the kibbutz dirt wiped clean off our bodies; our fragrant wet hair parted to the side. The sun slowly falls over the lake behind our home and we hear the crickets chirp.

It’s Shabbat.

It’s an essence I only read about it books before I moved to Israel.

We sit down for Kabbalat Shabbat services. For a few minutes, our littlest ones even join in the sing-songy prayer. Before long, they’ll be joining their friends outside to run around like maniacs, but for a few minutes they’re little angels.

Our big kids sit on their hands waiting for the end of Lechah Dodi, when they will be allowed to exit and meet up on the playground. At the end of services, we exchange “Shabbat Shaloms” with the friends we’ve seen all week running in and out of drop off. Many Friday nights we share a meal with those same friends. Or with extended family. Each Friday night, though, we’re together, the five of us, at a table sharing a meal.

Which is a funny, yet lovely surprise for this “Jew in Progress.”

Me: The American Jewish girl who went to Hebrew school, but still feels awkward at services because she can’t recite the Amidah by heart with her eyes closed. Me: The girl who grew up in a Jewish suburb, among Jewish kids, but only went to Shabbat services when it was someone’s bar mitzvah. Me: The girl who didn’t eat ham sandwiches, but certainly ate bacon at home. Me: The girl who swore she would marry for love, not for religion. Me: The girl who still isn’t sure she believes in God, and if she does, she’s not sure he’s a Jewish kinda God.

I never in a million years thought Shabbat would be something I would be able to commit to on any level, let alone enjoy. And yet, I do. I am. I am not only at peace with the idea of keeping Shabbat, but I am finding peace because I keep Shabbat.

So much so that when my in-laws took our kids off our hands for a night, my husband and I didn’t take in a movie. We took in Shabbat.

And it was perfect. We sat through the hour-long service without interruption. We walked down from the Beit Knesset hand-in-hand. We made a late dinner, which we enjoyed over candlelight and wine. We slept in. We had a lazy morning at home. We drove to a nearby national forest and went for a scenic drive and hike.

By the time we picked up our kids, I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the week ahead of me.

If that’s not the Shabbat feeling, I don’t know what is.

Sure, it’s not going to be that awesome every weekend.  (I think my in-laws will need a few weeks/months before they’re rejuvenated enough to take on my little monsters again.) But, keeping Shabbat, at least on some level, is a shift that’s been healthy for me. I can sense it. I crave it now. I look forward to it.

It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Education, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Living in Community, Middle East Conflict, Politics

Independence

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written a new blog post, and not because i’ve been empty of ideas or lacking in inspiration.  In fact, in the past two weeks I’ve been flooded with potential subject matter — from parenting sick kids to navigating workplace politics to acclimating to the onslaught of Israel’s national holidays–but I’ve had no time to breathe, let alone open my laptop.

It’s a funny switch for me. I used to live by my laptop, and when my laptop wasn’t in front of me, my Blackberry was. I wasn’t one of these high-powered career women whose fingertips seemed biologically bound to her smartphone, but I definitely felt the need to constantly information gather and share.

Perhaps, my head is so full from absorbing and processing both the cultural changes, and the foreign language, that I have no time or energy left to scour message boards for pertinent information related to the health and wellness of our children, or hop onto Facebook to spread the word to my minions. Getting used to life in a new country is a full time job, and on top of that, I now have an actual, real-life full time job.

Since we moved here my children have been tasting freedom — and it’s a taste they like, along with chocolate spread and mitz-petel. Since I started a full time job in April, they’re depending even less on me and in fact, are often belligerent about doing things by themselves: from dressing to preparing food to walking to school on their own.

Which makes the anecdote I’m about to share even more interesting.

Over the past few weeks, we in Israel have moved through a series of three national holidays: Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (known colloquially as Yom HaShoah), “Holocaust Rememberance Day;” Yom HaZikaron, “Memorial Day;” and Yom HaAtzmaut, “Israel Independence Day.”  These holidays, for Israelis, are serious business. 

In addition to sirens sounding for moments of silence causing cars to stop in the middle of the highway; in addition to ceremonies in your communities and schools; and in addition to the endless television programming memorializing the fallen and honoring the heroes, our schoolchildren are really taught the real deal.

There’s no sugar-coating. There’s no vanilla version of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust or what Israeli soldiers faced during Israel’s various wars. It seems as if Israeli children are indoctrinated (and I mean that in a good way) from a very early age with an understanding of what has been required to safeguard this country we live in.

The day before the Yom HaZikaron/YomHaatzmaut school and work holiday, my oldest son, who is eight and a half and in Second Grade in a public school came home with an interesting report of his day. He shared with me the news as if it was ordinary, but to me, it was a story you’d only hear in Israel. Or, at the very least, it was a story that would only be acceptable in Israel.

A game my son often plays with his friends is called “Ganav V’Shoter,” which is pretty much “Cops and Robbers.” That day at school, however, they came up with a twist on the original. They called it “Yehudim v’Nazim.”

Jews and Nazis.

Half the kids were the Jews and the other half were the Nazis, he told me. (The Nazis were the “bad guys.”) My kid and his classmates were creative. Some of the Jews got to be “partisans” and had more freedom to wander to various areas of the playground and were also granted the ability to free the Jews who were captured: They weren’t in jail, though, those captured Jews. They were locked  in the Ghetto.

Yes, a timely twist on an age-old game. But not unexpected considering the history lessons they were receiving that week in school and at home.

Can you imagine a game of “Jews vs. Nazi” in the States? Only in Oklahoma or Arkansas, or some other white supremicist stronghold. Some place where the school psychologist wouldn’t be called in immediately or the ADL had any influence. I can’t be 100% sure it wouldn’t happen, but I think Holocaust education is only briefly glossed over in the States, if at all, and then only in older grades. It’s deemed inappropriate subject matter for young children. Right or wrong, I don’t know. But this is how it is. Not in Israel, though. Kids here, even during more peaceful times, need to understand the price and the impact of war.

My oldest son is fascinated with history and a rough and tumble kind of kid. The stories he heard at school or saw on the roll out movie screens behind the presenters at the various ceremonies didn’t haunt his dreams or leave a trail of fear. But, I do think he understands a little better the difference between living here in Israel and living in New Jersey; what it means for him as a boy, and as a Jew.

It haunted me, though, as the mother of three children who one day may be required to fight battles that take place far away from the playground.

Yes, this month has so far been a busy month for us, from dealing with various viral infections to a new job to a change in season to the normal balagan of being new immigrants.  But it was also a practice in being Israeli citizens. In contributing to the economy. In remembering our fallen. In honoring our heroes. In crying over the losses of others. In celebrating the strength and beauty of a nation in which we now live.

And for my family, it was a practice in being independent in ways we’ve never been before.