Community, Middle East Conflict, Politics, Uncategorized

An understanding heart

Do you remember where you were during the September 11 attacks in the United States?

Do you remember where you were during the Holocaust?

Think now to how you relate to the victims of the 9/11 attacks compared to how you relate to the victims of the Holocaust.

If you are an American under the age of 60, it’s more likely that you knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, that was personally impacted by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 than someone who was personally impacted by the Holocaust.

If you didn’t know someone affected personally by 9/11 you’re lucky, but perhaps you used to work in the World Trade Center, or you interned one summer at the Pentagon. Maybe you visited New York on a field trip once. Or your boyfriend had a friend who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.

Or maybe you’re American and you watched the whole thing go down minute-by-minute on television.

Most likely, the tragedy of 9/11 is a lot more real to you than the Holocaust. And no matter how many times you see Schindler’s List or The Pianist; no matter how many times you try to wrap your mind around the horror of the Holocaust; and no matter how many times you try to imagine “what would I have done if that was me?”; it’s really challenging to personally connect to the tragedy.

Jewish or not.

It’s not a matter of compassion. It’s a matter of reality.

Philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and Zen masters  have spent their entire lives, their entire careers, debating what’s real. Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, the Dalai Lama.

But for those of us on the ground, what’s real is what we know.

The closer we get to knowing something or someone, the more real it becomes.

I became present to this very human phenomenon over the past few days as I processed two horrific tragedies — the terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the shooting of movie-goers in a theater in Aurora, Colorado.

I wrote soon after the attacks in Bulgaria that for the first time I felt personally frightened by an act of terror on Israelis. Whereas before, as a Jew living in the States (and as a human being), I had always felt sorrow and compassion when Israelis were killed in terror attacks, I never felt it in my gut the way I did on Wednesday.

Fellow olah, Marina Boykis, takes a little heat in the comments section of her post on the Times of Israel for expressing something similar. For her, the reality hit when she found out she knew personally a victim of the Bulgaria terror attack.

She writes:

When you personally know a terror victim, the icky feelings stay long after their story has been told. The thoughts don’t leave you because you quickly understand that it could have been a family member or close friend. That it could have even been you and your boyfriend on the way to a long-awaited vacation.

Rebounding after a tragedy is deeply rooted in our human instinct for survival. But the closer to home a tragedy hits, the harder it is to rebound.

I felt equal amounts of horror in response to the two attacks this week, and yet I was painfully aware — on Facebook and on Twitter — that the majority of the people I know (mostly Americans), expressed greater public empathy for the victims of Aurora.

I understand this.

I understand how it’s easier to feel complete and utter horror when you hear that an innocent American citizen was gunned down simply because she wanted to catch the premiere of a Batman movie.

I understand how disturbing it is to hear about a seemingly random attack on seemingly normal folks in a movie theater in a suburb of Denver, Colorado.

Aurora is a suburb just  like the one you live in. Those people were holding popcorn settling into a movie you saw the same night with your teenage son. The mourners look like you. They’re sobbing over their sister, their boyfriend, their wife: Alex, Matt, John, Jessica.

Not like the mourners in Israel crying over victims with foreign sounding names — Itzhik, Amir, Maor, Elior, Kochava. Names you can’t even pronounce.

Not like the victims of Israel’s tragedy — people who lived in towns a world away from where you live.  Who were visiting a country you’ve never heard of, let alone considered vacationing in.

I understand this.

And, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t judge this.

But as someone who now understands Israeli reality (though not yet as well as I understand American reality), I am that much closer to understanding how the Israeli victims of terror were just like the Aurora victims of terror. They weren’t victims of war. They were innocent victims, plain and simple.

The Israeli victims were also doing something regular people do: They were on their summer vacation. They were giggling with excitement imagining the hot steamy sex they were about to have on their couples only romantic getaway — the first one since the baby was born. They couldn’t stop thanking their lucky stars they snagged such a great package deal complete with fruity drinks on the beach.

That morning, they had checked off all the items from their packing list before they left the house. Did they have their passport, camera, heart medication? They had printed out the “While We’re Away” list for the doting grandparents taking care of the baby. They had turned on their “out of the office” notification in Microsoft Outlook.

They’re as close to being real to me as the folks in Aurora.

I understand how my American friends may more easily relate to shooting victims in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater than to the victims of the terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria

With my heart, I understand. And I pray that neither you nor I ever come close to experiencing the reality that is knowing someone who knows someone who has been the victim of a senseless attack on innocent victims.

With my heart, I pray neither ever becomes truly real.

Culture, Middle East Conflict

I’m Israeli

Hours ago I was at the computer giggling, putting the finishing touches on a post explaining why I want to be like comedienne Sarah Silverman.

I was feeling very bold and brave as I pressed “publish;” even daring with my mind anonymous internet lunatics to post crazy biblically-inspired apocalyptic remarks in the comments section.

This was going to be fun.

Agitated a bit by the screaming headlines on the Times of Israel home page about the unrest in Syria, I secretly hoped the news would drive more traffic to my latest post, featured as a “Top Op” a few scrolls down. I know that makes me sound like an insensitive bitch. I’m not. I suffer over how helpless I feel about the situation in Syria. But the headlines were about bad guys being killed. It allowed me to embrace the numb.

I’m numb still.

But for different reasons.

My “top op” seems so frivolous now in comparison to the tragic news coming from Bulgaria, where three Israeli tourist buses were apparently targeted in a terrorist attack this afternoon.

Hours ago I was feeling clever, confident… and now

I feel sick to my stomach.

If you had told me a year ago or two I would feel this way following a planned attack on Israelis travelling abroad, I’m not sure I would have believed you.

When I read the news an hour ago, I didn’t feel the same type of  composed sympathy I used to feel when I read about horrific terrorist attacks in Israel before I made Aliyah. Back then, when I worked at the Jewish newspaper for instance, and we would get word from JTA that something terrible happened to Israelis (like the 2002 Passover massacre in Netanya), I would sigh with sadness and I’d shudder over the list of names.

But I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have that sensation that I just barely missed something terrible happening to someone I love.

Or to me.

Now, I feel a tiny bit terrified.

The way you do when you narrowly miss the car accident on the highway. Like it could’ve been you.

In April, my husband and I purchased one of those package vacation deals. If you’ve been to Israel, you may know what I’m talking about. It’s really easy to get a great last minute deal to other Mediterranean countries — Greece, Cyprus, and formerly, Turkey. Since relations with Turkey have soured in recent months, Israelis have been going to Bulgaria instead. In fact, one of my coworkers was there last summer and another has a vacation planned for this summer.

To be honest, I don’t know if he was on that flight. I really don’t know. I didn’t see him at the office today.

When I saw the headline, I felt in my gut like I narrowly missed a personal tragedy.

And yet, that somehow the tragedy still belongs to me.

When I saw the headline, I felt Israeli.

Learning Hebrew, Work

Water cooler conversations

Trust me.

I want more than just small talk.

I’m a jokester at heart. Snide, sarcastic, internally begging for your laughter from the minute I open my mouth.

All I want to do is talk to you.

But I can’t. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I’ll say it wrong. I’m afraid I’ll say it right and you’ll respond.

I’m afraid you’ll want my answer.

I’m not so good at answering.

Unless I agree with you. L’gamrei. Or you’re looking for the bathroom.  Or the elevator. Or the way to Karmiel.

But like a devoted scholar of deception, I’ve mastered the art of small talk.

I can tell you how much I love your dress. I can even ask you where you got it and feign surprise.

But don’t ask me for my opinion on the latest political scandal.

I know. You won’t. You’re just as afraid to talk serious with me as I am with you.

But trust me.

I have so much more to offer you than unoriginal compliments and directions to the nearest facility.

I’m a story weaver. A speech giver. A pulpit preacher – desperate to shove my opinion down your throat.

And I am just as tired of telling the same story in the coffee room as you are of hearing it. The one where I justify my espresso addiction by relaying how I used to think café shachor was a quaint regional delicacy until I made Aliyah.  No one thinks this story is more old and tired than I do.

Trust me.

I’m quick and clever. The comeback I crafted in my head after your joke in that meeting the other day was three different shades of awesome until I tried to translate it word for word into Hebrew. I got as far as “Your mother is,” when I realized you were already half way out the door.

Trust me.

Back in the old country, folks thought I was cute because I’m short and blonde and snarky, not because I mixed up my feminine and masculine. Back where I come from, I never mistook masculine for feminine unless I was lost in Chelsea.

Trust me, that joke wasn’t my best.  And if I was able to make more than small talk with you, you would know that by now. You’d give me slack on that one because you would already know just how witty my typical ditty is.

By now, if we made more than small talk, I would have won you over with my charm, style, or my inexplicable ability to interpret your crazy dreams – a talent I exhibit best over espresso…in English.

Community, Culture, Family, Kibbutz, Letting Go


When I was a girl, I was a motor mouth.

How do I know this? Because Ms. Levin, my second grade teacher told me so. Seriously, my nickname in second grade was Motor Mouth, a moniker craftily created by my teacher at the time, who occasionally relented to my excessive hand-raising by saying, “Yes, M.M.?”

As borderline abusive as this practice was, there was some truth in the designation. I talked a lot. All the time, in fact. I talked to my neighbors at my table. I talked to my friends across the room. Often I would mutter to myself. I was a social creature. I still am.

My poor husband, not a social creature by nature, now carries the burden of Ms. Levin. But unfortunately for him, he has not only my incessant chatter to contend with, but also our oldest son’s and daughter’s. They inherited the Motor Mouth gene.

My chatter tends to run over into my writing. I’ve said often in the past that I “write in order to know what I think.” I didn’t make that up. Author Stephen King has said it. Historian Daniel Boorstin is claimed to have said a version of it. I wonder if those guys were motor mouths, too. Probably.

The best part about blogging is that it’s almost acceptable to be a motor mouth. Not so with traditional, published writing. In magazines, books, and newspapers — the kind of publications people still pay money to read on a regular basis — our motoring is required to be more thoughtful and refined. I respect this. I think it’s a sensible, if often boring, practice — carefully choosing your words and paying fastidious detail to grammar and punctuation.

Which is why, when I have a more thoughtful and potentially refined idea for a story, I don’t blog it. I save it.

I have one right now, in fact.

It’s been percolating inside of me for about two weeks, ever since I first started saving books from the recycling bin.

As you know, I live on a kibbutz in northern Israel. It’s a kibbutz that was established about 30 years ago by the Masorti movement in Israel; Masorti being the equivalent of Conservative Judaism in America. Many of the new residents of the kibbutz were from English speaking countries: the U.S., South Africa, England. When they came to Hannaton, they also brought with them their English language books, which presumably went into the communal library once they landed at Hannaton.

Recently, the library at Hannaton, like the kibbutz itself, underwent a huge renewal project. A volunteer committee sorted through the books to determine which ones would remain in the new library and which ones were either duplicates or in an unsuitable condition. There were thousands of books to sort — and since we’re in a Hebrew speaking country, there weren’t many nearby options for donating. The committee decided to put the unsuitable books in the recycling pile.

But, as we know, one person’s trash — or in this case, reusable waste — is another person’s treasure.

And this is how I came to spend a week and a half trash surfing for treasure; embarking on what I call the “Orphaned Book Project.”

When the books were finally hauled away by the recycling truck, I had saved about 30 books and 15 magazines, including Highlights from the 1980s with “Hidden Puzzles” left untouched for my 5 year old to explore; and a Cricket magazine from the year I was born, 1974. I saved a Scholastic paperback from 1981 written by Ann Reit, an author and editor I had the privilege of briefly working with, and who has since passed away from cancer.  I saved a much older Scholastic paperback whose jacket cover previews a young adult fiction story that centers on racial integration in the 1950s.  I saved a few ChildCraft How-to science books that are surprisingly still reasonably current, and a few history books that aren’t, but are still fun for my 9 year old to leaf through over a bowl of cereal in the morning.

There were Hebrew books, too, but I didn’t save any. The only Hebrew language publication I saved was a pamphlet printed by a professor in 1944 that documented all the agricultural settlements and their products up until that time.

On the title page, in English, are written the words:

Printed in Palestine.

First I saved a couple of original Nancy Drews, and hardcover Little House, and a classic K’Ton Ton, and a kitschy song book
I have no need for more dusty coffee table books, but couldn’t resist this vintage They All Are Jews, a gift to “David” in 1951, after his confirmation. Inside I found a newspaper clipping from when Miss Israel won Miss Universe.
It wasn’t until my final visit that I found the true personal treasure: Peggy Parish’s Key to the Treasure, the last in a middle grade trilogy I loved as a girl and had been collecting

Tweet-a-loo Virtual Community

I’ve taken a liking to Twitter.

It took me three years of pretending to like Twitter to finally like it. But I do.

And now I have fallen out of rank and file with the folks who spend all day commenting on friends’ kids’ photos on Facebook, but sneer and roll their eyes at Twitter thinking it’s still a social media application that sends 3,456 updates to your phone via SMS text all day. A platform reserved for pesky teenagers obsessed with Justin Bieber or smartasses talking in hipster jargon.

It’s not.

As a consumer of information and a lifelong community seeker, Twitter is a gift to me now that I know how to use it right. Rather than following 9,000 people with the words “wellness,” “green,” “eco,” or “holistic” in their handle like I did three years ago when I signed up as The Wellness Bitch and was looking to build my blog readership, I decided instead to thoughtfully observe for a while when I registered a new account following my move to Israel in early 2011. Also, I logged in as “me” this time, and not as my brand, so I wanted to be cautious while figuring out who exactly I wanted to be in this new medium, and who I hoped would pay attention.

A year later, I’ve almost figured it out.

I’m me.

Well, let’s say, the 80% version of me that I’ve deemed acceptable for public consumption.

At first, I started following people I know personally. After all, I was a new expat in Israel, and it was essential for me to keep ties to the folks back in the States, as a reminder that there are folks in real life who know me and kinda love me.

Then, I started following other English speaking olim: @onaliyah (who works for Nefesh B’Nefesh but also happens to be someone I know from the States), @LauraBenDavid (the social media guru for Nefesh B’Nefesh), and @carolw, (who I have never met in real life but who a friend of mine in New Jersey promised was really funny in an LOL sorta way).

For a while, I didn’t post a thing. I just eavesdropped on other people’s conversations. And, when friends of friends said something funny, or retweeted an article that piqued my interest, I clicked through to the profiles of strangers. Sometimes I followed them. And slowly but surely I stopped stalking and started speaking. And my list of followers slowly grew.

And while most of my new followers weren’t people I knew in real life — I never shook their hands hello; I never caught their gaze; heck, I had no idea what their real voices even sounded like — I began to make friends in the same way I make friends in real life.

If you’re really funny, but have enough social skills to know when your crude has crossed the line, you can be my friend.

If you retweet me when I am trying to be funny, but don’t say things like “THAT’s the best you can do,” you can be my friend. (If you’re super sweet, I even give you a second chance when you cut me down.)

If you are a science geek, but are well-rounded enough to follow both NASA and quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can be my friend. (NOTE: If you know the lyrics to every song in “Once More with Feeling,” and I am not following you, please Direct Message me immediately so we can be best friends.)

If you’re a blogger living in Israel, particularly the expat kind that knows “the trouble I’ve seen,” you can be my friend.

If you’re a celeb writer I wish I could be friends with in real life — someone I admire both for what you produce on the page and for how you engage with your readership — you can be my friend. (Good examples are @jenniferweiner, @margaretatwood, and @jaltucher).

Some of my imaginary friends don’t even live in Israel or the United States. Some live in their own little worlds. But as long as the law of the land in their worlds is fairly similar to mine — ie. rape is bad; rootbeer is good — I’m okay with  widening my circle.

Some of my imaginary friends are out of my demographic. They’re not women or moms or married. They’re not Jewish. They’re not writers. And yet, we’ve accidentally found each other through a shared interest in archaeology or space weather or time travel or a dream to one day be Sarah Silverman.

My imaginary friends are not a substitute for my real friends — and I use “real” both loosely and lovingly, because otherwise we’re getting into a conversation far deeper than I had intended.

My imaginary friends complement my real life friends. My imaginary friends helped me bridge the gap between the semi-social butterfly I was in New Jersey and the awkward recluse I was when I first moved to Hannaton. Unintentionally, because our conversations are always in English, they helped soften the frustration I felt when I couldn’t properly articulate my thoughts and feelings to many of my new “real life” friends in Israel. And without knowing it, they supported me in my quest to remain tied and connected to my American self, while still figuring out what my Israeli self looked like.

And while imaginary friends can’t give you the kind of in-person intimate huggy kissy love and attention your real life friends can, and hopefully do, your imaginary friends can make you feel smart when you feel stupid and heard when you feel ignored or overlooked.

So, thank you imaginary friends of @JenMaidenberg, for being my “virtual kehillah” here in Israel while I still eagerly but cautiously grow my real-life one. You, my imaginary friends,  with your double entendres and your <winks> are often accidentally my imaginary cheerleaders, too.