Monday, October 16, 2006
It was actually rather of striking that the last few days had been a searing sharav, also known as a hamsin, fiercely dry hot weather, characterised by overcast, hazy skies and hot dry winds which bring choking sand and dust in from the southern and eastern deserts. That kind of weather is enough to stir anyone to pray fervently for rain...
As I was walking to synagogue in the early morning that thick heat was still in the air. It was incredibly hot, the dusty air caught in everyone's throats, I couldn't talk or sing without breaking into a coughing fit.
By around midday though, just as the prayers for rain were about to begin a refreshing breeze began to blow and fluffy little white clouds began to drift in, replacing the smokelike stratus clouds of the sharav.
It was quite uncanny, as the prayers for rain got underway the sky clouded over more with each solemn hymn the shaliah tzibur (cantor) intoned, beseeching God for water "Cause the winds to blow and the rain to fall!"
By the time we were walking home you could almost smell the impending rain in the air. As soon as the festival ended that night my husband went and took down our sukkah.
By the early hours of the morning, when I got up to give my baby her next feed I could hear the pitter patter of rain against the windows.This morning (Sunday) we already had some puddles to splash in during a morning walk, squeezed between a medium rain shower and a massively heavy downpour, complete with thunder. On the news this evening the meteorological office announced that the yoreh, the first autumnal rains of the wet season, have officially arrived. Yippee! This is what "Singing in the Rain" was really written about.
In the language of the prayer I would like to wish all the peoples of this region a good rainy season:
For a blessing and not for a curse
For life and not for death
For sustenance and satisfaction and not for starvation and scarcity.
לברכה ולא לקללה
לחיים ולא למוות
לשובע ולא לרזון
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Nothing stands still here even if it seems as though nothing changes.
The writing has been on the wall for some time now, any pocket of instability in the region from Iraq to Somalia, is going to attract Al-Qaeda and Co, and the chaos, porous borders and feuding factions that have characterised Gaza since Israel pulled out last summer are an ideal recruiting ground for the worst kinds of bloodthirsty extremism.
There is no vacum in the Mid East, either the Israeli government tries to initiate some kind of negotiations with the Hamas led government or someone else will intervene with some new hairbrained scheme that will destablise the region even further.
Meanwhile Kassam rockets still fly over the border from Gaza into Israel, and Israel sort of tries to fight terror from Gaza with a government that is scared of further escalation and an army treading on egg shells to avoid civilian casualties in densely populated areas while fighting an enemy who revels in them.
In other words, same old, same old, and if we're really lucky Olmert will go ahead with unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank too, ignoring the chaos that ensued from the Gaza withdrawal and us folks in central Israel will get kassam rockets coming our way as well.
Sometimes you just got to love being an Israeli civilian.
Did I mention how highly I regard our political leadership? If I wasn't caring for my baby girl I would have spent this summer with the demonstrators camped outside the government in Jerusalem's hot sun demanding that someone take responsibility for this summer's Lebanon debacle before they race on to the next snafu.
Friday, August 11, 2006
I continue to get worried phone calls and e-mails from friends and family overseas wondering what it’s like to have a war going on a few hours drive from home.
Some seemed to have the impression that something must be happening where I live, after all a war couldn’t be going on near Haifa and life be going on almost as normal a few dozen miles south of there. I apologise to those whom I tersely told to get a map, I wasn’t being rude, just making the point that to date the southernmost Katyusha struck Hadera, about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, and I live south of Tel Aviv. There is no telling what tomorrow may bring – ceasefire or missile – but I can of course only comment on what is going on today.
However far away one is from
You can usually tell them apart from the regular army, the long hair and extra scruffy uniforms are usually a clear give away. These men are not young boys fresh out of school doing their national service, but mostly married, late twenty, thirty and even forty somethings, with families and jobs, putting their ordinary lives on hold to defend their country.
In normal times these men do a few weeks reserve duty a year, right now they’ve been whipped away for who knows how long – sometimes the draft notice has arrived in the middle of the night, leaving little time for contingency plans at work or home.
The huge number of reservists currently serving up north is reflected in almost every aspect of daily life, from casual conversations with shop assistants to finding out that your doctor or plumber has been called up to empty desks at the office and mounting backlogs as other workers are left to take up the slack.
Today for example I was working on an article about native animals. Calling a local zoologist I was surprised that as he answered his cellphone I could hear the radio chatter of an army patrol in the background. I had reached him on reserve duty.
My neighbour had planned renovations this summer. A couple of days after the builders began work her husband was whisked away by the army, leaving her home alone with a bunch of kids on school vacation to look after, a house being torn apart by workmen and no idea when her husband would be back.
A few of the women I met at my daughter’s jamboree playgroup told similar stories – suddenly alone, some pregnant, others “just” with a bunch of young children, trying to hold their lives together while their husbands go off to war.
Several people from my husband’s workplace have been drafted, including some he works with on a daily basis.
One of them, a 36-year-old father of two, was among the fifteen soldiers killed during Wednesday’s fighting.
The office chartered a bus to take everyone to the funeral. The driver himself felt as though he was on reserve duty. He spent much of the week ferrying firemen around the north, part of the effort to control the forest and brush fires sparked by Hizballah rockets and mortars. The other day as he drove around the corner a Katyusha flew over and landed only metres in front of him, gouging a deep hole in the ground as it planted itself in the pavement.
This evening, after putting the baby to bed I finally caught up with the day’s news. Yet another soldier lost from my town, and a few more from villages in the surrounding area.
Maps aside, the war certainly does touch us all however physically distant we think we are from it.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
This week instead of their usual recommendations for northern Israel, they sent a video showing some of the forest fires and destruction caused by Hizballah rockets in northern Israel.
I thought that this video gives some perspectives on the scale of the damage up north. Every time there is a report that a rocket "fell in an open area", this is what it means - in a forest or someone's field or orchard, still causing massive damage. Katyushas fulling in "open areas" have proved lethal to anyone unlucky enough to be caught outdoors when the rockets struck.
This is one of the most scenic parts of Israel, with tourism and agriculture two of the main sources of income, so every forest, field and nature reserve burnt is someone's livelihood gone.
The interviews and commentary are only in Hebrew, but I figured some of the footage might be of interest even to those who don't understand:
Also see this article in the Jerusalem Post:
Sunday, August 06, 2006
My sister answered the phone Tuesday night with Tisha B’Av in her voice. She just got word that a friend was critically hurt in the fighting in
I had heard the news that night and they were reporting soldiers lightly wounded and moderately wounded, no one critically wounded. Sometimes they say critically wounded to break it to the family gently. Sometimes it means critically wounded, sometimes it means dead. My instincts told me it was the latter. With a deep sense of foreboding I prayed that it was the former.
When I SMSed her a few hours later to see how she was doing, her reply was a curt, chilling two words: hu neherag – he was killed.
Taking in the newspaper Wednesday morning, the glaring headline mentioned the name of only one of Tuesday’s three casualties, an uncommon name from a moshav close to Modi’in. With a sinking heart I realized without a doubt we knew this family too.
The phone rang again. This time it was my husband with Tisha B’Av in his voice. “Have you heard the news? Did you hear the names of the soldiers?”
One of the fallen, Yehonatan Einhorn, was the son of a man my husband sings with in a local hazzanut choir.
Wednesday found us packed in among hundreds of mourners pouring into
We arrived just as the military hearse did.
To the chanting of a Psalm, a group of young paratroopers lifted the coffin draped in the Israeli flag and made their way up the stone stairs, followed by an honour guard and more soldiers, many straight from the front. The throng of mourners fell in behind while a posse of media cameramen pursued the best shots of raw grief.
The area around the open grave was cordoned off to provide the immediate family and honour guard room to breathe. Nearby wreath and pebble covered mounds marked the fresh graves of other soldiers killed during the current
People continued to file in as the earth was filled in over the coffin and the bereaved father uttered the Mourner’s Kaddish in a voice cracking with emotion.
My husband was visibly shaken. “It’s hard to see such a cheerful man so broken,” he said to me through tear-bleared eyes, “he always has a ready smile, an optimistic word, it’s agony to see this happen to such a man.”
It was disconcerting, especially in
The birds too were silent, despite the ample trees. Only the sporadic wail of ambulance sirens from the nearby Sha’arei Tzedek hospital broke the stillness.
The scattered trees were insufficient to shade the multitude from the harsh mid-afternoon sun. An intermittent
A few soldiers handed out bottles of iced mineral water from an industrial sized cooler, but the supply was woefully inadequate, and people passed each bottle around, taking a sip, briefly placing it on their forehead and passing it on to whoever looked like they needed it most.
Eulogies were given by family members, by his commander, by rabbis who taught him and by people from his village. The pervading theme was Yehonatan's great humility, piety and devotion to
Many of the speakers pleaded with the government to make sure that this time the army is allowed to do their job, that Israel fight Hezballah until it is no longer a threat, rather leaving it strong enough to regroup and start this whole terrible war all over again in another few months or years. Our soldiers must not have died in vain.
The parents remain fixed in my mind. Two sweet, humble, religious Jews bravely meeting the most terrible of all with acceptance, faith and understanding. They spoke with such warmth and such love, and no bitterness, only determination that their son died doing what was right to defend his country fighting for its life, doing what he believed in.
The father spoke last of all, with words of such power and courage that I cannot even try to convey them. Yehonatan literally means “God gave”; he thanked God for giving him his son for 22 joyous years. He ended with a plea: Dai – enough, God, please end the constant attacks on our country.
The next afternoon, Tisha B’Av itself, I was back at Mt Herzl, this time to pay respects to my sister’s friend, Michael Levin, an American oleh killed in the same battle.
As on Wednesday the mourners included soldiers wounded in
There were also groups of English-speaking youth visiting
As I was leaving, a counsellor was addressing a British group, trying to convey to his charges all that this young soldier embodied in his life and death – self-sacrifice, devotion to his cause, idealism and the courage to pay the ultimate price if that is what the defence of
Some of these wide eyed kids from abroad were clearly overwhelmed by the whole experience. Others brushed off the heavy emotion of the occasion with glib jokes and bravado.
The eulogies were briefer, simpler than at yesterday’s funeral, but they were no less moving or heartbreaking. They painted the portrait of yet another special, dedicated young man whose abundant promise had been cruelly and abruptly cut short, a man who crossed thousands of miles to fulfil his childhood dream of living in
His commanders spoke movingly, one reciting a poem he had written in beautiful literary Hebrew in memory of the fallen soldier. Several of the Israeli speakers did their best to say a few words in English, for the benefit of family and friends unable to understand Hebrew. Their heavily accented, mistake-riddled English did nothing to diminish the obvious sincerity and love in their words.
Long after the huge crowds had left, a knot of close friends, family and comrades-in-arms clustered around the fresh grave, weeping, talking, singing mournful Carlebach songs and remembering.
The press with their intrusive telephoto lenses stayed too, hoping for a good snap of the bereaved, the fresh pain, sorrow and shock on their youthful faces, bright eyes glazed with tears and disbelief.
One girl commented to her friend about how shocked some of the American family had been to see the media at the funeral. “Mike would have liked it, though,” she responded. “He would have loved all the cool cameras.”
Hard to believe that only about 10 years separate me from them, though they seemed so young, so innocent.
As I hugged my sister at the graveside I had no words of comfort for her, all I could do was to be there. I was about her age when one of my classmates was killed in the previous
Standing beside Michael Levin’s friends, the memories of that terrible day seemed as fresh now as they did all those years ago. Time may bury the ache, but it is always just beneath the surface.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Junior and I went to a little playgroup meeting this morning in a nearby moshav. In between the chatter about toys, food and general kids’ stuff we couldn’t quite escape the news.
One of the kids got hold of the TV remote and turned on the box, her mother flipping the stations to find the children’s channel. On the way she couldn’t help passing a couple of news broadcasts. One of the little girls called out, “Zikukim!” – fireworks – as a brief image of explosions came on the screen.
“So that’s how you explain it to her, fireworks?”, one of the other mothers asked.
“What else am I going to say? She is too young to be told what those pictures really show, and in times like these I need to see the TV news but I don’t want them to know what’s going on. This is my way of shielding them.”
“We do the same,” concurred a third mother. “My older ones know that the broken buildings are ‘under construction’, pictures of ‘building sites’.”
Talk turned to family and friends up north.
“You know that’s why I was late this morning. We have a full house at the moment,” said M. Her sister and family live in one of the kibbutzim close the Lebanese border and had come to stay with her to escape the war.
M herself had only just left the border in time. She and her children had been spending a family holiday with her sister, enjoying the gorgeous location and kibbutz swimming pool.
Then one day they heard some very loud booms.
Her sister called from work and told her to stay indoors, not to take the kids to the pool and to seek cover, she would be right home. They had just heard the first wave of Hizballah’s new offensive – shelling and rocketing
M packed up her young children and baby and got on the first bus going south. Shortly afterwards the first Katyusha rockets slammed into the grounds of the kibbutz.
Another mother mentioned that her neighbour was also hosting a northern family. Like many Israeli towns, the municipality has organized a hospitality programme for people from front-line communities.
H noted that many families up north might want to travel south but don’t have the cash at the moment. In a recent phone call northern relatives told her that local people are running short of cash because the banks are closed due to the situation and no one is refilling the cash machines.
Her family are originally from Tzfat (Safed) and many still live there. So far the city has suffered more rocket strikes than any other but her relatives are determinedly staying put. Like many crisis-seasoned Israelis, the first thing they did after their town was hit by Katyushas was to rush to the supermarket and stock up on water, dry goods and batteries. Cash or no cash, they were well stocked for the duration.
As I arrived home my mobile rang. It was Tzohar, an umbrella organisation for religious Zionist rabbis. Since the crisis began they have set up a hotline to help the northern communities. They were looking for families to host people from the north, could we accommodate a family of three and their dog from Karmiel?
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
The Israeli border town of Metulla in better times.Visiting there a few years ago you could see the Hizballah flags and positions right up near the border fence. For the last few years, ever since Israel pulled out of Lebanon, farmers from the town have risked Hizballah attack every time they tend to their orchards which with the redrawing of the border by the UN are now right up against the border.
Monday, July 17, 2006
It's been quite an eye opener reading the foreign press. The game is how far do I have to read until I realise that
A few friends who e-mailed me from overseas mentioned that while they hope Im safe, they really must protest
How do you negotiate with someone whose stated goal is your destruction? Someone who regularly swears his allegiance to your annihilation and rejoices at the death of every Israeli man, woman and child?
As for proportionality, Im tempted to reply, well, do you want us to randomly mount a border raid and kill 8 Hizballah guerillas and kidnap two more, or in response to rockets fired at Israeli cities should we willfully target residential areas in
Watching the news footage from
Whoever said war is hell knew what he was talking about, but standing by and letting Hizballah pick off Israeli soldiers and civilians at their leisure is more hellish still.
During the Oslo War of 2000-2003 about 70% of Israeli casualties were civilians, willfully and intentionally targetted by assorted terror groups -
The Lebanese government seems to think that they can let Hizballah attack
Israelis were hoping that the pullout of
Dear family and friends,
Having a super active high need baby does make it difficult to sit down for long enough to actually write something coherent, but under the circumstances considering the deluge of e-mails and phone calls we’ve had I thought it might be prudent to at least try.
Everyone wants to know how we are doing, how we are “bearing up”. I admit it’s a little strange being asked that question. Small as
After several phone conversations I realize how hard the whole situation is to convey to folks abroad who watch their television sets and don’t understand how where I live in central Israel, life goes on pretty much as normal and an hour and a half drive away to the north people are in their shelters under rocket bombardment.
Shabbat afternoon in the park the lady pushing her child on the swing next to my daughter's had just received a call from her family up north.
They live in Carmiel, a town in north-west
That afternoon Hizballah fired rockets at Tiberias. This family were unharmed, but when they called friends in Carmiel to check in, they found out that one of the rockets fired at Carmiel that day scored a direct hit on their house there.
We know people in Sderot,
We pray and hope for better news, and for God to keep them safe, and for God to keep us all safe.
Those of us living in so far unaffected areas are well aware of Hizballah’s threats to get us too.
Only yesterday the Israeli Air Force hit a missile launcher carrying an Iranian made Zilzal missile – a weapon with the range to hit the greater Tel Aviv area. The strike on the launcher caused the missile to misfire, sending it careening into a junk yard of old tires where it started a massive fire.
The funny part, if one can find the humour in all this, that Hizballah’s Al Manar TV and other Arabic stations saw this thing falling from the sky and reported that an Israeli aircraft (God forbid) had been shot down, even claiming to have captured two pilots – thank God both reports turned out to be untrue. You could say they had egg on their faces when it turned out that the “Israeli plane” was actually the very missile Hizballah was planning to launch at Tel Aviv.
Just in case there are more of these though we have cleaned out our shelter, set up a tv with
I guess that answers your questions about whether we have a shelter. Pretty much everyone in
For those who say I’m too calm, most everyone I know is, even some people I spoke to in their shelters up north.
It’s kind of scary, but we've been through worse and God willing we will get through this.