We Remember

Two years ago (April 23, 2016) I wrote a blog post on Yom ha Zikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day. Please read. America has a lot to learn from how Israel remembers its history and its fallen.

Tonight begins Memorial Day and Yom haAtzma’ut, Independence Day – this year Israel celebrates its 70th year as a nation recognized by the United Nations. Memorial Day begins the preceding evening with a two minute national siren calling the nation to attention for a day of mourning the fallen.

Throughout the day the music on the radio is soft and pensive. With many songs of prayers and sad songs of remembrances of national tragedy. The television stations broadcast ceremonies from the graveyards and stories of the lives of the victims and heroes. All day. Nothing else.

Israel also has another way of remembering its fallen sons and daughters, both of soldiers and victims of terror. Throughout the land, monuments are erected, both corporate and private. They can be found in city parks; along the ocean drive; in the middle of forests; standing solitary in the desert sands; and in larger cities.

A particularly beautiful memorial is the pair of angel wings at the foot of a soldier’s grave in Netanya.

In our city, I came across a large monument rather obscurely placed in a local park. It is pretty hidden from the road, in a place the soldier liked to frequent… in a lovely secluded park near a small hiking trail-

Others are incredibly thoughtful and meaningful. These are usually more private memorials set up by immediate family members and friends. Early this spring as I was walking home from a friend’s house, I discovered this tribute to a young man who had given his life for his country. It was in one of his favorite places, close to his home, with a beautiful view of the valley below. He has left this earth and has walked up the stairs and through the door to heaven- his dog can be seen at the door. It’s poignant, beautiful, thoughtful, and my favorite.

There are other ways Israel remembers her war dead and victims of terror on this day. People wear small bouquets of the red flowers, Blood of the Maccabees. The tiny blooms signifying drops of blood.

From the setting of the sun until an hour after sunset, IDF soldiers are selected to stand guard at the graves of fallen soldiers in the national cemeteries. This year, my son was one of those chosen for this high honor. Throughout the day, free transportation is offered to those wishing to visit the graves of their loved ones. It is one of the most solemn days of the year. Ceremonies are held, sirens blare through the country at 10 am. All cars stop on the roads. People get out and take a minute to say a prayer and remember. It is all quite surreal, something you never forget. The siren blares into your innermost soul…. and the world stands still.

It is the most incredibly moving experience!! The entire nation comes to a complete standstill for two minutes!

Israel will never forget the tremendous cost of its freedom- of being surrounded by enemies, of the victims of acts of terror, of what it means to be the only Democracy in the Middle East. And the evening it ends, she celebrates that independence – knowing full well it’s price.

Aliyahversary!

The whole story started in earnest 7 years ago, when John, Max and I made our first trip to Israel the week following Max’s Bar Mitzvah. As a youth, I had dreamed of moving to Israel, but after I got married and started having children, the raging fire inside me had died out completely-or so I thought.

Visiting this amazing country, we felt a connection to the land and the people. The spark inside leapt into a flame and I had a burning desire to return.

Three years later, after a lot of soul searching, research and planning we sold our beautiful Southern California home, packed up our belongings and the adventure truly began!

We arrived the week before Passover, a quasi reenactment of the Exodus experience. After touching down in our new rented home in Karmi’el in the North, we headed for a week in Jerusalem. How apropos and glorious. The spring festivals were upon us, and it was a time of visiting old friends, making new ones, and intense bonding between my husband and 16 year old son. We were invited to a Pesach Seder by the most welcoming family, the Eisenberg’s- the best Passover experience for us to date. We toured the Old City, experiencing the sights, smells, history and traditions of our new home.

Returning to our new home in Karmi’el the true adventure -and hard work- began. Our city was lovely, well-planned, with a tight Anglo community that was open and ready to make us newcomers feel at home and integrated into the new land. Our neighbors, all native Israelis were friendly, hospitable, and more than ready to help us make the adjustments to an entirely new culture and language. For the first six months, we never once were without an invitation to a Friday night Shabbat dinner!!!

The last three years has been a time of intense growth. We’ve had wonderful times exploring our new land from the mountain trails and archeological sites of the Galilee region. We,be strolled along romantic Mediterranean beaches. Discovered new cities. Rode camels in the desert and snorkeled among the tropical fish in the Red Sea. Floated in the Dead Sea and stood under the waterfalls at Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul.

It’s been fun eating different new foods from a wide variety of cultures. We’ve celebrated holidays and joyous celebrations- weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, IDF swearing-in services at the Kotel, national festivals; and days of remembrance, mourning and funerals.The sweet and the sad, both.

For the most part we’ve had wonderful experiences. I wondered if my teen son would acclimate. He’s made life long friends in his gap-year Mechinah program. He drafted into army service and surprised us his first Shabbat in the army in full uniform. An unforgettable memory.

None of us could have imagined the friends we’ve made from all cultures. True, caring, wonderful people we’d trust with our lives. Israel is a very, very connected place, we’ve found out. Hard to explain, but something I’ve never ever experienced before. Although rough on the outside at times, seemingly gruff at first, the Israeli will go out of his/her way to help his fellow Israeli. It is a true connectedness. A how can I help attitude? We’ve met the most remarkable people and made great friends.

In return, we’ve learned the art of hospitality. We’ve opened our home to visiting family, old friends and new ones. Sharing the beauty and history of our new home with pilgrims of different faiths, world adventurers, scholars, Lone Soldiers, or those needing a meal and a place to stay is new to us- but has been the most incredibly rewarding experience. I just wish people in America knew the true benefits and joys of hosting the way these people do. We’ve learned so much, have had so much unexpected fun, and have had our hearts enlarged.

It has not always been easy. In fact, this move has been the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. Leaving behind four daughters, friends, lifestyle and home was huge. Thank goodness for skype and other social media immediate connection with our loved ones is possible. We’ve made a lot of adjustments. Learning a new language at my age has been painful, but there were lots of resources from our five month Ulpan classes, ongoing survival Hebrew class, and all the people willing to help out. I learned that if you truly try with all your heart to integrate, people give you much more respect and kindness. And even though modern-day conversational Hebrew is very different than the Biblical/Liturgical Hebrew I grew up with- it’s added to my understanding of the latter.

Difficulties have included seemingly simple things now difficult like banking, understanding the utility bills and daily life…all in Hebrew(without the vowels!!) We’ve had to deal with the trauma of health issues, for me, hospitalization, surgery, treatments- everything in Hebrew! Conversion from the English to the metric system; the dollar to the shekel. But we’ve tried to have a sense of humor through the difficulties; a sense of adventure; and the attitude of “it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.”

An added benefit has been the ability to travel Europe…. airfares are much cheaper than flights from Los Angeles. And travel is something we always dreamed of!! Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Italy, France, Switzerland ,Scotland-

We’ve planted gardens, fed Israeli soldiers, volunteered with the army, and I started my own business. John has become a coach of several Little League baseball teams. All in all, it’s been a full life so far. We’re living the dream, as difficult and glorious as it’s been. And look forward to more to come! What a three years!!!

Galil Spring

In the weeks before my trip to the States, the long-awaited springtime was in full bloom in the North of Israel. We begin praying for much needed rain at the fall feast of Sukkot and continue with our daily petition for precipitation until Pesach.

G-d did not disappoint, as we had a series of ground drenching rains in March. The dried-out brown landscape, desolate for a season, sprang to life in the full splendor of nature. All of the Galilee was an Irish green, with flowers everywhere. We took full advantage of the mild weather, frequenting neighborhood parks and finding new trails to hike within a couple miles from our house.

Israel prides itself on well-marked well-kept nature trails. They are everywhere! And each neighborhood has a lovely park. We first moved to Israel three years ago- and the land was awash in fields of wildflowers as if to celebrate our arrival. I still love to pick big bouquets for a table and to put in cases all around the house.

Here, cyclamens I used to buy in California, grow wild in meadows and between rocks- beautiful reds, pinks, white and fuschia. The air is redolent with the scent of sages, wild broom, lavender and rosemary which grows everywhere. We have wild irises, daisies, lupine, Queen Anne’s lace, anemones, sweet peas, and countless other species.

It is not altogether uncommon to see whole families picnicking in an olive grove or citrus orchard. Couples share bottles of wine on blankets in the park. The gentle breezes and buzzing of the bees mix with chirping of birdsongs. Regional and national parks are full of hikers and this is the season to visit the country’s wildlife reserves and organic farms.

The Galil Spring is a time of mild temperatures and unsurpassed beauty. Despite the building frenzy prevalent up and down the coast and in the center of the country, our area is still widely open and uninhabited. It remains a favorite destination for those escaping the cities whether it’s hiking or rafting down the Jordan River, or just enjoying a meal alfresco in a local park. Nothing like Israel this time of year!

The Wait

Yet another unplanned post-

Living in Israel has been mostly positive. Of course everything has its ups and downs. Being separated from friends and families has been made tolerable due to modern technology: Skype, FaceTime, SMS, Email, the myriad social apps, and our favorites, Viber and WhatsApp that allow one to call or text anywhere in the world for free. We’ve also been host to a fair amount of pilgrims, adventurers and family wanting a home base as they tour our beautiful country. Keeping in touch has never been a problem.

The past week, though, we were thrown headfirst into a most dire and difficult situation that grew beyond our most distressing imaginations. I had bought my ticket back to California last December. With plenty of time before the birth of our first two grandchildren- one due late March, the other at the end of April. My husband was due to follow late April.

A week and a half ago, Tess messaged me photos she had taken of her legs, feet and hands. Swollen so large she could not wear shoes. Her blood pressure was elevated. She was feeling nauseous and dizzy. Despite my pleas to take off work, rest, hydrate, and go to the clinic, she went to work…. for most of the day until she could take it no longer.

That night, she and Michael made the trip to UCLA Medical Center, thank G-d, a top level hospital! As I had suspected, she had preeclampsia and her BP was sky high. After a small seizure, she was put on morphine, but her and the baby’s heartbeats and blood pressure plummeted so they gave her norepinephrine. They wanted to get the baby delivered, so pitocin was started along with a whole host of other meds. That’s when we got the phone call.

John and I were beside ourselves. Me, especially, since I was to be present at the delivery. We could only pray, wait, and give them our “attaboys.” The long night for us passed with no news. Finally, late morning, calls from older sister who was taking my place as L&D coach. Tessa was ready to push, but having a really hard time.

No word. We are on pins and needles, but praying. My strictness in observing the Sabbath without phone in hand had been thrown out the window hours ago. Three hours later. Finally!! There are problems. Baby stuck and they have to try to turn it manually. More pushing. We are praying now harder than ever, our pleas ascending to G-d from the Holy Land. Two more hours. No word.

At last, baby is born but not breathing. Rushed to NICU. Tessa in bad shape. They are working on both patients. So…. what can we do??? I’m dying that I’m so far away from my babies. I want to be there for my daughter, to comfort her, hold her. My dear husband reminds me that we can do the best for the both of them just by our prayers. So I text four really close friends to have them join me in intercession on Tessa and Quinn’s behalf.

For the next couple days, the news is not good. For either. We now have people davening and praying and fasting and offering up all over the world as the small group of four pass the intentions on to others. It is very comforting, but still… I have 2 days before my booked flight- and this is the first time I don’t want to be in Israel….

Finally news on our granddaughter- after blood transfusions, oxygen support and other numerous procedures- takes an upturn. We are praising HaShem and rejoicing for this miracle, for new life!!! We get pictures. Of the baby. Hooked up to machines. Various tubes and monitors. It takes me back to the days when I delivered my preemies without family support. But Mike and her three sisters have put their schedules asides and are taking turns round the clock staying with Tessa – and visiting the baby. I feel a little better.

Still, as I mother, I’m beside myself. John reminds me that if I were in another state, we’d be in the same boat. But I’m not!!! I’m a world away!!! Tess takes a huge turn for the worse and begins to hemorrhage. She receives several units packed red cells. We pray even harder. We pull out specific Scriptures reminding G-d of His promises. Tessa’s fever has spiked to 104.6F/40.5 C! More IV antibiotics. They can’t figure out the exact cause of the infection.

Her gallbladder goes. I’m scheduled to leave the next day. A 25 hour trip with layovers and travel times. She’s going into surgery. Surgery is delayed until they can control the bleeding… I contact a whole host of other friends for prayers. Please go straight to the Kotel. Put a petek in the wall and daven, daven, daven! I plead with my Jerusalem girlfriend.

Priests are praying at the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, throughout the Galilee and around the world. Rabbis in Los Angeles are praying. Torah classes are studied in merit of mother and child.

Tessa’s lungs are building up fluid and she’s having trouble breathing on her own. Unresponsive to antibiotics. Women’s groups are dedicating their Tanya studies to Tess & “Malkah bat Tessa.” I’m pacing the balcony, praying, glued to the phone. Possible sepsis? Clots removed. Heparin. Lasix. Blood. Morphine.Echocardiograms. MRI. Chest X-ray. CT scans. I’m floating in medical jargon.

John says to have faith. Look at all the good that’s already coming from this. We’ve told seven people and now there are prayers all over the US, Israel, Canada, the U.K., Europe, Australia and even Africa. People of all faiths are turning to G-d and doing goods deeds on her behalf. That G-d is faithful and merciful and compassionate even when we don’t get immediate results.

We are being purged emotionally, drained spiritually, but our faith is still unfaltering. Think of the many close calls, the many miracles we’ve already witnessed in our lives. John goes off to coach his baseball team when I get the news. Liver is going south. Heart and BP irregularities. I leave in four hours- not soon enough. I just want to hold my daughter. Tell her how much I love her.

I send encouraging texts to her sisters. We’re strong women. She’ll pull through. Keep up the faith. Don’t stop praying. I send them photos from my book, Talking to G-d by Rabbi Naomi Levy ( highly recommended!!!!!!). John comes home and I plead with him to come with me on the next flight. He reassures me that our G-d is faithful. That faith is believing without seeing. Hoping beyond all hope. When I get there in a few hours, if needed, he’ll change his flight-

This was the only time I’ve been in Israel that I really wanted to be elsewhere. By this time, we were being flooded with emails, calls & messages from concerned folk. Hundreds of them. I needed time to de-pressurize. To cry quietly. To breathe. The flight proved the perfect opportunity. 18 hours of blank space. Time to pull myself together. Hope I’d be there “in time” crossed my mind a few times, but I quickly pushed it aside and opted to focus on the saving power of a merciful Creator. He could do this. We could only pray for wisdom for the doctors. As my husband had reminded me, ” This is completely out of our hands. We can do nothing. G-d is in charge. What good will worry do?” Now you know why I love this awesome man so much!

By the time I arrived at Tessa’s bedside, the bleeding was under control and six antibiotics were down to four. She was sitting up and lucid. Mike and my three other daughters were there. They hadn’t left her side in almost a week. I could breathe a sigh of relief – and give these exhausted kids a much needed break. I was there.

By the next day, IV lines were pulled and oxygen was lowered. The baby, still in NICU, was allowed to be brought down to see Mama. The worst was over and all would be well in the long run.

Last night we were surprised when the evening rounds were made and discharge orders were written up for both. Shocked, but elated!

Yes. Sometimes we go through pure hell. Sometimes things happen in life that are simply beyond our control. But we have a most awesome G-d who listens and is merciful, and if we let Him, He can bring tremendous good to a broken world.

I’ll spend the next few days helping the new family get settled- cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands so they have time to bond. It will be a long, slow process for Tess- but she’s skied, parachuted out of airplanes, rapelled up the tallest mountain cliffs in Hawaii, New Zealand & the States. And more. She’s a strong, athletic woman. Then I’ll move on…

I’m eternally thankful to HaShem for His mercy towards us. How can I ever repay????? And to all those out there who prayed for us; who sent notes of encouragement….. see, our prayers were answered! Hallelujah! Thank you so much for your outpouring of love. Hugs and high fives to all.

I will be in Southern California through the end of May. My regularly scheduled posts on life in Israel will continue as usual, hopefully uninterrupted.

The Ubiquitous Cholent

For observant Jews, Shabbat is a day of complete rest. No work at all can be done. No physical work, no driving, no shopping, no writing or computer use, not even turning on or off electricity and NO COOKING! All work must be completed sundown Friday (through nightfall Saturday). Shabbat is a day for prayer, family, visiting neighboring friends, and relaxation. It’s a necessary unplugging from the frenetic pace of the week.

There is a traditional Sabbath dish in the Jewish culture. A mainstay. It’s ubiquitous here in Israel. Called cholent ( pronounced CHO lent, SHOW lent, or shoont), it is a hearty thick cross between stew and chili that is prepared on Friday and cooks in a crock pot or on a hot plate through Saturday. Especially great on a cold winter day, it has as many different variations as there are cooks. It was birthed from necessity over hundreds of years and encompasses all the different Jewish cultures of the world – made with different ingredients: meats, veggies ,spices, beans, grains – based on the tastes and availability of products in that part of the world. I’ve had the “typical” Ashkenaz cholent as well as the Sephardic, Yemenite, and North African versions, called chamin (kha MEEN), which translates to “hot” in Hebrew.

The basic ingredients for cholent are cubed stew meat, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, spices, whole eggs (really!!!), vegetables and sometimes grains like barley or cosemet (bulgar or buckwheat groats). The meat is seared first, the rest of the ingredients are added, brought to a boil, and then set on a slow simmer (crock pots are great for this) for the duration of Shabbat.

The hard boiled eggs can be fished out and eaten at breakfast; the stew makes a stick-to-the-ribs midday meal, and any leftovers are scooped up with bread; stuffed into pita; and served with accompanying cold salads, olives, pickles and other mezze.

The “guys” love cholent with the addition of a can of beer or a cup of whiskey, which cooks out leaving flavor. It can be dressed up with a dry red wine, but mostly it’s made alcohol free.

This is a very creative dish. Basically it uses the meat and red kidney beans or brown beans. The Spanish and Mexican style uses black beans. Middle Eastern versions use chickpeas and turkey or chicken thighs for the meat. For the Eastern European, white potato chunks are added. The Yemenite and South African style uses sweet potatoes. Always, lots of onion chunks and garlic cloves are thrown in. Some people put in cut up carrots, celery, turnips, tomatoes, even peas. And…. it can be made vegan without the meat.

So, without further ado here are some basic recipes:

Basic Ashkenazi Cholent. Serves 6

Ingredients:

1kg/2.2lbs Beef short ribs or stew meat. 1 onion cut into large chunks. 8 pieces garlic. 1/3 cup northern white beans. 1/3 cup red kidney beans. 1/2 kg/1lb. large chunks unpeeled red potatoes 3/4 cup pearl barley. 3/4 cups beef broth. 6 whole eggs. 2Tbsp honey. 2 tsp paprika. 1 tsp each salt & pepper

Sear meat on high heat in skillet. Add to bottom of crockpot and dump all the additional ingredients on top. Cover and bring to a boil on high setting 1-2 hours. Then set dial to low. Keep covered 12-18 hours. Can add more liquid ( can of chopped tomatoes with liquid) if it looks too thick or dry. Also, when in the US I added a frozen vegetarian kishke chub which, for us, puts the dish over the top! It’s something I can only find at Mehane Yehuda in Yerushalayim here in Israel.

Yemenite Chamin

Ingredients:

1 kg/2.2 lb chicken things, skin on. 1 red/purple onion cut in chunks. 6 cloves garlic. 3 large sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces. 3 carrots, cut up. 2 dates, pitted. 1/2 cup apricots. 1/4 cup raisins. 3 cups chickpeas. 6-12 eggs, whole. 2 tsp turmeric (curcum). 1/2 tsp allspice. 1/2 tsp cumin. 1/2 tsp cinnamon. 1 tsp salt. 1 quart/1liter chicken broth

Brown the salted and peppered chicken thighs in a skillet until golden. Transfer to crockpot and add all other ingredients. Stir well and cover. Heat on high 1-3 hours then set to low 12-18 hours.

MexiCholent

1/2 kg/1 lb ground meat, browned. 1 onion, chopped large. 6 garlic cloves. *optional 1-4 jalapeño, chopped 1 cup black beans or frijoles. 1 cup rice. 2 cans (425 ml) chopped tomatoes with sauce. 1 can corn with liquid. 1cup water. 6 whole eggs. 1 bunch chopped cilantro (cuzbara). 1 1/2 tsp cumin. 4 drops Tabasco. 1/2 tsp chili powder. 1 tsp each salt & pepper. 1/2 tsp. Sugar

Add all ingredients to crock pot. Set to high 2 hours, then turn to lowest setting for 12-18 hours. Can add water if needed, but try to keep covered

Veggiecholent

Ingredients:

2yellow onions, cubed. 1 red/purple onion, cubed. 6 garlic cloves. 3 large zucchini cut in very large chunks. 6 carrots cut in large pieces. 1 pack brown mushroom, sliced thickly. 3 stalks celery, cut large. 2 cans chopped tomatoes with juice. 2 cans white cannellini beans, Lima beans or northern whites. 1/2 kg/ 1 lb red potatoes, cubed. 1 cup grain (barley, couscous, brown rice) 6 eggs(omit if vegan). 2 tsp dried thyme. 1 large bay leaf. 1 bunch parsley, chopped. 1tsp each salt & pepper 1 1/2 cups water

Add all to large crockpot. Allow to come to boil on high heat 15 minutes, stirring well. Switch to lowest simmer 12-18 hours.

As stated previously, there are many variations. Start with the basics, then be creative. But most of all enjoy! B’tayamim!!

Truth & Lies

Once again, I’m writing a politically charged article that I had not planned to write. But what I have to say needs attention as history is repeating itself, albeit in a different arena.

One of the many reasons we moved to Israel (and there are many) was the fact that it provided us a much more affordable launching pad to travel to Europe. We always dreamed of traveling, and have been able to take advantage of low-cost airfare and shortened travel times.

John and I just returned from two glorious weeks in the Czech Republic. For our last day’s excursion, we arose very early to make the hour train ride from Prague to Terezinstadt, one of the 633 European Nazi concentration camps. We knew it would be a most difficult day.

In 1780, the Hapsburg emperor, Josef II had a fortified town built as a deterrent to Prussian attacks. Surrounded by high walls and moat, the lovely island of a village was continually inhabited until 1941, when a truly diabolical plan was hatched.

There needed to be a spin put on the Nazi’s true program of liquidating the Jewish population of Europe. A different face to show the world. A kinder, gentler, human face. A mask for what was truly happening. A concentration camp “showplace” so to speak, to prove to the International Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies that anything they might have heard about the unethical, inhumane treatment of “undesirables” was just rumor. Terezinstadt became the perfect place for their propaganda machine.

The town was emptied of its Bohemian residents, which once numbered about 5,000 people. Apartment buildings were turned into dormitories for over 500,000 Jews over the next three years. But this was no ordinary camp. For most, it was a sorting place on the way to the death camps in the East. For a select few of the most elite… artists, composers, writers, doctors, professors – and children – it served a different purpose. While most people suffered and died from malnutrition, disease, cruelty, a select few thousand were chosen to be the faces of Nazi propaganda.

Away from the crematoria, the fierce guard dogs, the machine-gunned sentries, the brick walls and iron bars, was a lovely village. Lush gardens filled with fresh vegetables tended by the Jews in their model village(which actually served the Gestapo…the Jews were forbidden to eat from the plots they tended upon threat of being shot if discovered). There were cafés, theaters, a symphony orchestra, choirs, and happy Jewish families, well-dressed, well-fed, well-cared-for. A large town square provided for ample fresh air, exercise, picnics and outdoor concerts. All a lie. The inmates were only allowed out of doors when visitors came. It was a cruel ruse. A mere facade. An act.

From this part of the town, propaganda films were made. Fake documentaries to hide the truth of atrocities being committed just a few hundred meters away. Films like “The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City” and”GhettoTheresienstadt. “For three all-too-short years, these chosen few (many were children) had a temporary reprieve as humanitarian agencies were paraded through this “typical” camp.

However, from within the walls of Terezin, something else amazing was happening. The children were organized and taught by artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. They wrote stories and poems and published their own little weekly newspaper. They created art. With the help of composers Viktor Ullman, Patel Haas and Hans Krasa, they staged magnificent plays. The most famous is an original children’s operetta, Brundibar, about a mean organ grinder(Hitler) persecuting helpless children in a dystopian land. With the help of brave woodland animals, they chase the organ grinder away. It was performed over 50 times for the Nazi officers and their special guests, although no one seemed to catch on to its symbolism. Still, the weekly artistic performances gave the Jews an outlet for their misery and proved a temporary diversion.

After the SS and Gestapo sat to have their portraits drawn by rather famous artists of the day, another type of art was being produced…. and hidden away for posterity. These were the true sights of what life was like within the camp. As under cover of darkness, trains of human cargo would come and go; more people added to the pre-existing crowded conditions; death ruled, and crematoria destroyed the reality of human life snuffed out prematurely, the truth was being painfully recorded.

After the Jewish inhabitants served their purpose, they were sent on to the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen. Thousands crowded into boxcars standing room only, deprived of water, food and bathroom facilities for days at a time. Many of whom died in transit. Soon, World War II would be over, only to be replaced by the Communist regime. Terezin would be reinhabited by local population.

Even though the camp serves as a memorial to the atrocities of man’s inhumanity to man, today there are stark and surreal inconsistencies. Local villagers now inhabit many of the town’s dormitories that once housed The Jewish population. Laced curtained windows look out across the street from old abandoned barracks once crammed with the suffering. Who in their right mind could live here? What could they think? How can you raise a healthy young family with reminders of torture, suffering and death directly across the street?

It’s an indescribable juxtaposition. The most inconceivable absurdity was the antique bazaar, set up in an unused, dilapidated dormitory building. Today it sells old furniture, housewares, vintage clothing – and leftover remnants from the Nazi and Communist regimes. For me, it was just too much to bear.

It was a bone-chilling winter day. Bleak. Strangely silent except for my muffled sobs as we walked the desolate streets haunted by memories of the past. The train ride back home was equally painful, punctuated by the deafening squeals of the metal wheels of the train as it pulled into Prague Station. John and I just needed time to decompress. To find something a bit more uplifting.

We returned to the comfort of our warm hotel room and turned on the television to watch the Winter Olympics from South Korea. We don’t have television in our home in Israel ( by choice), so this was a real treat. Or so we thought.

About fifteen minutes into the pageantry and festivities, the camera turned to a lovely young woman and a bevy of her smiling, clapping, red-outfitted entourage. This was none other than North Korean Kim Jung Un’s sister, second in command and Minister of Propaganda!!! This, a head of an absolutely evil, totalitarian regime, was being hailed by the commentators as a diplomat, an ambassador of peace and goodwill!!! After the day’s outing, we could hardly believe what we were seeing. “How radiant and happy they are! So cute! Look at her smile!” This was the same story being peddled to the ignorant masses around the world. The personification of an Evil Empire bent on the destruction of man disguised as innocence and congeniality. Obviously, the propaganda was having its desired effect. I could only think of the starving millions in North Korea, the defectors, the over 150,000 “political” prisoners – and of Otto Warmbier, the young Jewish student who made a class trip to North Korea. He was imprisoned for taking down a poster as a souvenir of his time there, brutally tortured, then shipped back to the States many months later, comatose. His last few days were spent in a US hospital, never regaining consciousness…. just one example of the cruelty of this regime. Were his parents watching this mockery- and what could they think? As the American reporters fawned over Kim Yo Jung and bashed Vice President Pence as a nefarious sort, we recalled a subtitle from the Terezin documentary:

We are, ironically, about a week away from the Jewish holiday of Purim. A time when we celebrate the bravery of Queen Esther and her heroic saving of the Jewish people from destruction. It was during the captivity of Israel in what is now present day Iraq/Iran. A decree had gone out under the evil Haman, the king’s vizier, for all the Jews to be killed. His plan was thwarted by a fearless and outspoken woman, who drew the king’s attention to the diabolical scheme ( which would mean her ultimate death as well). This was a favorite play of the Terezinstadt Jews, performed numerous times as a source of hope and reminder of eventual justice. We need more people today, willing to call attention to the TRUE injustices of the world – at what reality truly exists. We can no longer gloss over the twisted and evil and downplay the good. Or we will be doomed to replay the same tragedies.

If you have been touched by this article in any way, please share this post. The world needs to see the hidden truths.

Hidden Truths

I really had not planned to write a political post. Not at this time, anyway. But after this week’s events, I cannot keep silent.

Last Wednesday  I received a series of ‘interesting ‘ emails and calls from one of my daughters in Los Angeles. She had been out with a group of her young, hip, urbane, well-educated friends. It was a very diverse group racially, religiously, politically. They had begun discussing the Mid East. And they had begun discussing Israel: the colonialist, apartheid, unjust occupier of Palestinian land. Their talk led to the unfair treatment and persecution of all Arabs, most notably, Ahed Tamimi, Palestinian  poster child.

My daughter tried to refute the many assaults against Israel….after all, several family members have made Aliyah. She stated historical facts not only about the Jewish people returning to their ancient and promised homeland, but cited modern day treaties and declarations.  She explained that Israel was the only true democracy in the Middle East, a place where Arabs have rights, where Arab women do not have to wear burkas or hijabs- where Arab women drive freely, unescorted; where the university system is open to all; where not only Jews, but Christians & Muslims can and do serve as members of Knesset (Parliament), doctors, engineers, architects, actors.

The discussion then moved on to the current US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the rightful capital city of Israel. My daughter confronted one of the men as being anti-Semitic. His response to her was that he was by no means anti Jewish, but was anti Zionist (against Jewish people claiming Israel as their home). And then the Tamimi affair popped up.

Ahed Tamimi is the blond haired, blue eyed 17 year old Palestinian activist. She is often pictured wearing “love” and “peace” T shits and jeans. Very Western. She hails from a long line of Hamas supporters. Her  cousins include the first female plane hijacker and a female suicide bomber. The parents of Ahed have a long history of using their children, most notably, Ahed, in the front lines of protesters, rioters, and hecklers of IDF soldiers. In the latest video clip, two IDF soldiers have come to the Tamimi home. There were only two soldiers. It was not a raid. That December day, there had already been several outbreaks/riots in the village of Nebi Salih. There was a report to check  the Tamimi house, as that was a usual hotspot for terrorist activity.

In the clip, Ahed can be seen taunting the soldiers. She and her sister (filmed on cell phone by a friend), slap and punch the soldiers, spit on them, curse them, and punch them about the face and head. The soldiers show great restraint and eventually leave the premises. They do not engage or respond to the verbal or physical abuse. After the video is posted to Facebook and other social media as a resistance movement advert, Ahed is arrested. It has since become a propaganda piece for those who claim the injustice of the Israeli occupiers towards the Palestinians.

My daughter texted me and called to find out what we knew about it. She wanted factual information to rebut what she perceived as inaccurate reporting. I had been following the story for the past month in several of our media outlets. In fact, I bookmarked a couple of the stories.

My first surprise came when I went to retrieve the articles. They had been removed!!! So I googled Ahed Tamimi. I found plenty of articles from the mainstream American and European news outlets, Memri, Al Jezeera, NPR, the Guardian, the BBC, Newsweek. All slanted in Tamimi’s favor. It wasn’t until page 16/20 that I found an article published in The Tower which told the whole story. I copied it and sent it to my daughter. An hour later, I could no longer bring up that exact article in my google search. Also, all the other reports from our Israeli news outlets were not present. I finally reached the end of my search on page 20 to find this:

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The plain truth is that the real truth has been hidden. Obscured. Obfuscated. Obliterated.

I have recently been hearing about how Google, Facebook, YouTube and other outlets have been selectively removing facts with which they do not agree. But here it was up close and personal, so to speak. Revising facts. Absolute censorship. Selective reporting. Even fake news. I was seeing it all firsthand. How can one see both sides of complex issues when truth is hidden? How can this happen when there is supposed to be freedom of press and speech? Where is our world heading when basic up-to-date information is twisted, slanted, or in this case, altogether buried?

Much food for thought. In the meantime, we are trying to provide our daughter with both sides of this story, as well as with reports of the good that comes from this country. Operation Good Neighbor: the IDF work to provide food, clothing, and desperately needed medical care to Syrian War civilian casualties. The Search & Rescue teams Israel sent after the Nepalese and Mexican earthquakes. The well digging, water purification and reclamation projects by Israel to help draught-stricken African nations.

In conclusion, I refer you to an article written in November,2015 in The Tower Magazine(thetower.org). It is entitled “How a Family Became a Propaganda Machine.” I hope my next posts will resume a more pleasant tenor….