Thursday, August 21, 2014

Unusual Talent / Unexpected Dance

It's good to know that even in the midst of the War, normal things still happen every day in Israel. Life goes on. It must.

The other night I was running some errands in the normally busy German Colony (Hamoshava Germanit) - which I must admit has been abnormally quiet during this long summer War. That night however, it was bustling. Israeli families with exuberant "on-summer-holiday-from-school" kids, along with a few tourists, made the street an alive and happy place - like it used to be.  It was nice to see!!

So, rather than a War story, I want to share a little vignette about normal Israeli life and how it works here. But first let me digress a moment to share a necessary personal part of this tale.

All my life I have had this unusual "ability" or "talent" (smile) to unconsciously take on whatever the person I am walking with, is doing.  By that I mean, if the person is limping, pretty soon I find myself limping. Or if they list to one side, I may find myself tipping in that same direction.  You get the picture.

As you might guess, it's been the source of both amusement and embarrassment. Mostly it's been humorous, and an opportunity to show, well, I guess, empathy. It doesn't happen all the time, just once in awhile.

Nu, that night I was walking on the sidewalk and passed an older woman who was struggling with some very heavy bags. Pre-occupied in thought as I passed her, I suddenly realized she really was struggling. Quickly turning around to see if I could help, I saw her stop and drop her bags but before I could even start out, an older man rushed up, took her bags, asked where she was going, and took off down the street in the direction of the bus stop, heavy bags in hand.

I watched her for a moment to make sure she was ok, and I saw she was not. The man was half way down the street, but she was leaning up against the wall, trying to walk...but just couldn't.  So I ran to her and offered her my arm to help her get to her destination.  She silently took my arm and I could see she was in a lot of pain, too much pain to even talk.

Immediately however, there was a real problem. Heavy in the legs, with feet that turned inward, she simply could hardly walk. Not only that, when she did try, her gait was very disconnected, unstable, and unpredictable. We started to fall all over each other and I wondered how on earth would we get down the street to the bus stop.

Suddenly I remembered my "skill" !! Quickly I willed myself to fall in line with her gait, and I was able to match it immediately. This time it was done consciously but it kind of felt like magic! Ha!

So there we were, making our way down the sidewalk like in a slow motion dance - a dance whose steps I certainly did not know on my own. I had to concentrate, but only once did we lose rhythm - she had to stop and rest and upon starting up again it took me 2-3 seconds to match her gait once more.

Truthfully, it was wonderful, and I laughed. Who would have thought this odd skill/talent/whatever could ever be used for good!  When we arrived at the bus stop I turned to look into her face, and instead of the contortion of pain, she was radiant. Her face was glowing as she planted a huge kiss on my cheek and thanked me and  asked about the bus route. Perhaps no one had ever walked with her quite like that before, and for a couple of moments, maybe she didn't feel alone in her pain.

I am not sharing this to say that I did something good. Not at all. I am sharing this to say this is just what life is like in Israel. While Israelis can be rude and pushy and blunt, if someone is hurting, instantly another will come to's part of the fabric of Israeli life.  We want to help, maybe because we all share in the hurting here in Israel..and we know what it feels like to be in pain of some kind.

But I am also telling the story, because .. IF you have some "unusual" talent, you just never know when it might make a difference in someone else's life. Maybe all that is needed is the right moment in lift the spirits of someone, to make life momentarily easier, to help them to know they are not alone. Even a two minute uneven, awkward - but definitely choreographed - dance down the street can perhaps change a feeling of helplessness to one of momentary triumph.  I hope that happened to this sweet lady.. after all we were the cat's meow on that sidewalk in Jerusalem! I hope she laughed and the rest of her evening was happier, and she knew people cared about her struggle.

A few hours later I was huddled with my neighbors in the stairwell of our building, waiting out the rocket our jammies, getting to know one another.  I sure hope the old lady had a safe room and didn't have to go into a stairwell.

Life in Israel. It's good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on the funeral of a soldier

Dor Dery

Barkai Yishai Shor   
Moshe Davino

The graves lie side by side on Mt. Herzl and I am devastated.  I just returned from the funeral of Barkai Yishai Shor, one of the soldiers who was killed in Operation Protective Edge. There were 3 funerals at Mt. Herzl this afternoon and 3 others before it. One after the other, funerals for boys who died protecting our nation, who gave everything...for us.

My intention was to attend the funeral of Moshe Davino, whose father is an acquaintance, but due to a mix up in times, I missed his and ended up at Barkai Shor's. In between Moshe's and Barkai's funeral was Dor Dery's, who, it turned out, was the nephew of other acquaintances, through a friend. That's the way it is in Israel. We so often have some connection to every soldier's death, somehow we knew the family, or their best friend, or some other connection.

In Israel, the grief is completely personal as well as national, as if the child were our own...because really, he or she is. These boys and girls are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. There is no army like the IDF. All of Israel mourns them as family. I didn't know Barkai before the funeral but I knew him afterwards.

This was the first military funeral i have been to here. The tears began, when suddenly, in the stillness of the total silence of thousands of people who came to show their respect and bid farewell, there was ever so soft a cadence of the soldiers bringing in Barkai's body, punctuated by the grieving sobs of his mother, and now the sobs of the rest of us.

With the cadence of the soldiers began my tears, and they haven't ended til now. Tears mingled with thoughts of my own children, intertwined with the timelessness and comfort of the kaddish. I felt like I was listening to the kaddish said over every Jew who had ever died.  It was then i realised the eternal nature of Am Yisrael and how truly this boy Barkai was also my own child, as was Moshe, Dor and the rest.

One by one family members and friends spoke of the fineness, the generous spirit, the love this boy Barkai had for others, for helping others.  Broken hearts were not afraid to weep publicly...soldiers sobbing next to me, comforting one another as their achi was eulogised and laid to rest.

Perhaps some of the tears were the release of all the emotions held in check until now. I now understand the importance of joining the public mourning for our fallen. We are all together.

In spite of the sadness I felt much peace in our unity. At the same time, I began to think about the funerals of the terrorists... men and women filled with rage and hatred, glorifying in death, violent, teaching their children that murder and death are the wondrous goals of Islam.

The intensity of the contrast, and the knowledge that the world prefers the likes of Hamas and an army of murderers, whose goal is death and destruction, to the kindness and goodness of our people who love life and are filled with goodness, tore at my heart.

The unjustness of it reverberated throughout my soul. It wasn't that it was unfair. This is war, and there is neither fairness nor unfairness in war.  We are grateful, not bitter, for the sacrifice willingly made, and we honor their memory. But that we who are good and kind and desire to better the world and help others are despised, and the monsters who perpetrate horrors and love death are admired by the world - this is unjust !

When the eulogies finished, there I was at the burial site of all 3 boys, physically laid to rest side by side.  These are the beautiful sons of all of us, Am Yisrael, because in Israel, we are one family.

As i laid fresh sand and touched a farewell to Moshe, Dor and Barkai, there was one final reminder. A boom was heard overhead as Iron Dome took out another missile above us, punctuating what this was all about, reminding us of the unfinished business at hand.

May we finish the job for the sake of these three and all the rest, that they did not die in vain.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Haimaot - The Mothers : EyalGiladNaftali

It's been two weeks. I haven't written about it yet...until now. I guess the shock was still there ... waiting for good news.

Haimaot (the mothers) broke through their shock, refusing to wait for the good news, instead taking matters into their own hands. Boldly speaking out - first on the media, then to the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva, then to the Knesset - they have been an inspiration to all Israel.  Not only is their strength apparent in the midst of their terrible ordeal, but also their courage.

Traveling to the UN, a den of iniquity filled with snakes and vipers, who but a mother would have the strength to sit through the vilest of accusations against Israel, and still speak out for the truth, still plead to the world for the right of her child to come home from school - the right of any child -and still to leave no stone un-turned in the quest to save her/their children.

Racheli Frenkel, the mother of Naftali, spoke from her broken heart with simplicity and courage. She had no agenda but the cry of a mother for her child.  I heard her voice crack once. I think I would have completely lost my composure, but she paused one second to steady herself, and then continued on. I was amazed at her courage.

How could these mothers not have heard the terrible things said both before and after their plea. I heard them. I boiled with anger. I cried at the unjust lies being hurled at Israel and for their humiliate and mock them.  I had to turn off the computer twice while waiting for the boys' mothers.

Not only was there the vilest of lies before, but the audacity of mockery after they spoke. "What kidnapping?" it was said. "I never heard of it".  Outright lies about thousands of Palestinians kidnapped and killed by Israel. The outrageousness of it all is hard to take. I have been appalled that some would suggest we have fabricated the story.

Yet, these three mothers persist, seemingly impervious to the abhorrent things that were and are being said, kept, and continue to keep right on going, not stopping until their boys are home, safe in their beds at night.

After the UN they took on the Knesset. Bat-Galim Sha'ar, mother of Gilad, spoke forthrightly about the responsibility of the government to do the right thing. Shocked that the operation was being scaled back, shocked that the government had made a "deal" with the hunger - striking prisoners, Sha'ar challenged them to do the the right thing, and to do everything. She told them the families would not accept "irresponsible" government decisions.  Full text of her speech, which was very moving, can be found here.

It can be said that any and all mothers would do the same. Mothers of other kidnapped sons have cried out and pleaded with the government and with the world. We must respect any effort of any parent to find their lost child...and our hearts have always been broken.

What is different, what is unique with the mothers of these boys, and their families, is that they are not asking the government to appease the enemy, to make deals to bring the boys home (all of which can nevertheless be understood and never judged), but these families are asking for the IDF, for the government to be bold, to stand strong and do the right thing. NO to the terrorists, no to "deals".

I was a supporter of the deal for Gilad Shalit, for a lot of reasons, but never for the release of prisoners for some insane "piece" negotiations with those who want to kill us.  The truth be told, Israel has always traded prisoners for our soldiers or their bodies, if they did not survive. This is no different....except for that one thing. This time it is being demanded that they be returned for the right reasons, and NOT for the deal of released terrorists. These mothers are demanding that our government, and even the world, stand up finally for what is right and just, and expect it to happen.

They have encouraged us, we who should be encouraging them.

It is time we stand strong as a nation. These are all our boys, our sons, our brothers, our friends. As it is said, the other Rachel, who wept for her children she did not have, because of her tears and her righteousness, merited the return of Klal Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael.

Please G-d, for the sake of these mothers, and for the same reason, bring Eyal, Gilad and Naftali home, alive and well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yom HaZikaron, Mishpacha Echad

photo from 
Last night when the 8pm sirens began the 24 hours of Yom HaZikaron, our memorial day for remembering our soldiers who gave their lives for this country, I walked down the street seeking a neighborhood tekes (ceremony) and so that I could be outside when the sirens sounded.

In Israel when the sirens go off on Yom HaZikaron, (at 8pm for one minute, then again the next morning at 11am for two minutes) everything comes to a halt. People go out to the street, pedestrians halt, all cars and vehicles stop, even on highways, including buses, and everyone stands for the one minute or the two minutes of the siren. Drivers and passengers get out of their cars and stand beside their vehicles as we remember the fallen. It is a profoundly moving experience.

As the 8pm time approached, I saw many people gathering in the kikar (traffic circle) ahead, and others gathering in the circle around the kikar itself, all of us joining one another in this public expression of sadness and heartfelt mourning. I had never seen this gathering at the kikar, and it was very much an expression of all of us together and especially meaningful.

It was what happened next however that made this one of the most moving of Yom HaZikaron evenings. I found myself a moment later, at the One Family Fund building, where a tekes was beginning. One Family Fund is an organization that brings together all the resources of people, services and monies to support families of victims of terror.  It is dedicated to a lifetime of assistance if needed to those who have suffered such a loss, and there are so many, like the soldiers, who have given their lives for this country.

This night, on Yom HaZikaron, when we remember the soldiers, we also remembered another kind of soldier - those who died, not in uniform, but defenders of our Land just the same.  One by one on the screen, names and faces of those so familiar to us brought us close. Soldiers lost in battle and those lost in terror attacks were remembered together. Family members, sons, daughters, brothers or sisters, stood at the microphone and gave moving and uplifting testimony to their loved ones and to their struggles to move ahead and regain their own lives. It was indescribable...heartbreaking and healing at the same time.

The audience was filled with family members, friends, young soldiers, and as we all know, each of us is a friend and has a personal connection to each one who has died. Not just in thought or spirit, but truly, because we are really a family, it IS someone that we know, or the friend of someone we know. There is always a personal connection. No one is untouched, we are part of one another, we are, Am Yisrael, One Family, Mishpacha Echad.

It was then I realized, like I do every year, that we cannot - not only cannot, we don't have the right, to celebrate the happiness of Yom HaAtzmaut, without sharing with one another, the pain of Yom HaZikaron.

Photo from

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 tries tries to come. 
Flirting carelessly.. if it would happen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Our Jerusalem streets abound with artists, musicians, actors - performers of every shape and talent - delighting... or annoying... passersby. Any and every corner can suddenly become a stage, and since Jerusalem is known for it's ..emm, unusual affect on many visitors or even residents, one can expect almost anything. The gig is usually for passersby to throw in coins of appreciation, sometimes to advertise an event..sometimes just for the sheer joy of performing in this supernatural City.

Because there are so many, so often, as a Jerusalemite, one rarely pays much attention, occasionally nodding or noting an appreciation if especially entertaining. Sometimes though, even the most blase among us get caught up in the beat, in the moment, and you might see people breaking into spontaneous dance just walking down the street, should they happen upon someone really good.

Visitors of course are another matter.  Enthralled with anything and everything about this City, they often stand in awe, drawn in, clapping, and of course, snapping picture after picture with their cell phones held high.  As a resident, sometimes it is a little embarrassing...i mean we really are normal, most of us. (I think)

But this fall, I too was fascinated and drawn to two remarkable fiddlers, fiddling, not on the rooftops, but very close, as they stood on a wall near the entrance to the Old City, at the Jaffa Gate. Walking past this spot one or two times a week, as I work in the Old City, I first spotted the dark outline of the fiddlers against the Jerusalem sky, and it was pretty startling. I felt a bit like Tevye, going about my business, and there he was, the familiar tune and the fiddler silhouetted against the sky. I really wished my daughter could have been with me, she would love it !

It was rather remarkable actually.  I mean life is very intense in Israel at all times and while we fake it a lot, there is a shadow of uncertainty hovering over us constantly.  But here was the fiddler, buoying us up, giving us a thumbs up, helping us to get through.  When the fiddler is at the Gates of the Old City, there is a little spring and lightness in my step as I bound up the time to his music of course.

The fiddler and his music is a symbol of hope and survival for many Jews...through our history and times of trouble and uncertainty, the fiddler is there. If you remember from the play, as the drama ends and they are all leaving Anatevka, the very last scene is the fiddler, beginning to play, and, at Tevye's beckoning nod, he follows them out of the village. Kol beseder.

In our case, there are actually two fiddlers. Erik Fleshler and Vladimir Bob (Yourochkin) and they go by the musical moniker, Tip Top.Jerusalem. They call themselves The Eccentric Duo, and that they are.

A bit obscure, funky, and funny, Erik and Vladimir Bob are entertainers for free or for hire, here in Jerusalem, in Moscow, or perhaps wherever you need them, if they are available.You can find their page on Facebook, or contact them at  I think they have other tricks up their sleeve, because they made me a balloon snow bird? while talking with them.  :)

To be honest, I didn't ask a lot about them because I want to keep them in that somewhat esoteric place - Fiddlers on the Roofs of Jerusalem - where the music and the image speak louder than words, where the supernatural and the natural blend as one, and we don't have to ask questions.