A Little Geography Lesson

My husband and I have been driving down to Ramat Gan/Kiryat-Ono, suburbs just Southeast of Tel Aviv, every day for the last few weeks. It’s about a two hour drive from where we live in the North, and has afforded us the opportunity to see quite a bit of the country and gain a broader perspective on where we live.

Most people have heard that Israel is a tiny country. But, just how tiny is it? And exactly where is Israel located? What about the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza? Driving through the country gives a unique view, and clarity even more than looking at maps, but today we’ll do both.

Israel is situated on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This little sliver of land is only 420 km/261mi long. Putting it another way, it’s about a seven hour drive from Metulla, the most Northern town on the Lebanese border to Eilat, the Southernmost city on the Red Sea. At its widest point, Israel stretches 115km/71 mi from The Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. About an hour and a half drive.

That little orange slice on the map above will show just how small the country is, especially when viewed in comparison with the surrounding neighbors.

The trip we take is beautiful in the late spring with all the flowers blooming and the olive orchards of the North and myriad vineyards lining the hillsides. The golden sheaves of wheat and barley are just being harvested. Along the newly developed superhighway, Route 6, we pass little Jewish hilltop villages, most looking like pristine Southern California towns.

About an hour into our trip, Route 6 runs parallel to the border wall separating Israel from the West Bank. The wall is a necessity against the terror attacks from the Palestinian Territory. When I’ve asked people back in the States how big they think the West Bank is, the typical answer is that it is a very small, densely packed area the size of Manhattan in NewYork or the Conejo Valley in Southern California. In actuality, it occupies about 30% of Israel’s landmass. See the map below:

From the city of Beersheva, South, it’s all desert. There are small farms cropping up throughout the desert region, with irrigation and hydroponic farms dotting the sand, but for the most part, the South is inhabited by Bedouins. The area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is the most heavily built-up and populated area, where the high tech sector is, and the largest cities and their sprawling suburbs.

By passing through checkpoints guarded by the IDF, one can drive through the West Bank in some areas. Route 90 winds it’s way through Samaria and Judea roughly paralleling the Jordan River from the North to the Dead Sea – about a four hour drive by car. There are a few Jewish settlements there, neat homes and well-irrigated farmland have turned these areas from sparsely-used wilderness to thriving agricultural communities. But most of the West Bank is a “no-go zone” to Israelis. Not patrolled by the IDF, much to popular thought. Controlled exclusively by the Palestinian Authority (Abbas/Abu Mazen). Signs reading “Enter at Risk to Your Life.”

So much for “Occupation.” We are NOT ALLOWED to go beyond the sign. Israel has no place in these territories. Israel is not an occupying force in the West Bank Area A, which is most of the area. It’s a jumbled up jigsaw of who owns what. Area B is under dual control and the tiny scattered areas of Area C is opened to, settled and owned by mostly Jews.

A couple things really amazed us. First, from the West Bank border on Route 6, it is possible to see the Mediterranean Sea and coastal cities on Israel’s western border. It’s a mere 7 miles from Qalqaliyya or Tulkarm across Israel at its narrowest. Think of it…. 7 miles is all it takes to cross/ divide the country! It seems to me that this could be a threat to national security, but….

The tall buildings in the background make up the lovely, upscale coastal community of Netanya. This photo was snapped from the car looking into Israel proper from the highway. Tel Aviv is 12 miles from “Palestine.” Traveling on the Route 6 toll road, we see their cities, the Palestinian flag, the many mosques. The Arab cities have no/few trees, parks or recreational areas by their own design, unlike the Jewish towns. Their homes are mostly flat-roofed, boxy structures of multiple stories, mostly of unfinished architecture.

And across the highway, as we approach the area between Ra’anana and Petakh Tikvah, outside Tel Aviv, there are more Arab villages, mixed Muslim and Christian.

Driving West off the 6, we enter into the TelAviv suburbs, which are packed with the new construction of high rise apartments. The difference between the rolling mountains and rural feel of the North lies in direct contrast to the big city life of the central coastal plain.

In my next blogs, we’ll travel to some of these cities and explore a few of the sights there. We are trying to take a bit of time to discover other parts of the country we’ve not frequented and get a feel for what the Merkaz, Central Israel, has to offer. I hope you’ll join us!

A Tale of Two Countries: The Changing Face of Nationalism

As a young girl, growing up in the United States in the 1960s, we were all still quite patriotic. Sure, we were an imperfect people; there were raging global conflicts; and America was, at the time, a melting pot of diverse cultures. But being American, with a common e pluribus unum (from many, one) and liberty for all mentality, we were mostly united in pride and nationalism. We took pride in our history, sometimes overlooking flaws, and reveled in the intrinsic goodness of what we stood for. The people of the United States had made mistakes along the way, but we were always seeking improvement.

We were a patriotic people. Every Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, the flags flew high from our porches. When I was a girl, our entire town, Blacks and Whites, Christians and Jews, would come together for parades, games, races and picnics in the parks lasting until dark when sparklers would be lit by the children and fireworks displays would illuminate the sky.

We were the children of pioneers, former slaves, immigrants escaping famine or religious persecution. We were farmers, factory workers, ranchers, suburbanites, city dwellers, Republicans and Democrats. We were vastly different, but always American, with a pride in our nation – not always seeing eye-to-eye, but united in the possibility of being able to achieve a dream with hard work and faith and shared community. Nothing was impossible.

It deeply saddens me to watch what is happening in the United States from a world away. Today patriotism is equated with elitism. Nationalism has been skewed to mean chauvinism. There is a deep and growing rift between various groups, and what is acceptable today is all-too-quickly and easily tossed aside or branded as hateful and unacceptable by small, but vocal minorities seeking to change everything we once held valuable: among those the great constructs of freedom of speech, assembly, religion.

Living in Israel today reminds my husband and me of what life was like in the States in the 1950’s-1980’s. We are a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children- a diverse mix of people from every nation, culture and language. We are farmers, ranchers, factory workers, techies, suburbanites and city dwellers. We each have our own cultures and traditions, yet we are proud to be Israelis living in the only Democracy in the MidEast. We have vast differences politically. We love to argue. We are sometimes stiffnecked in our opinions and religious traditions. We rarely admit we are wrong. Yet we are mostly united. A motley band of brothers.

For the past few weeks, Israel has been getting ready to celebrate our 71st Independence Day. Israeli flags are hung from posts over every highway, overpass and bridge. People are not ashamed of hanging the flag from their porch or balcony. Flags on cars, city buses. Blue and white string lights on homes and city intersections.

You can see the national pride everywhere. And it is not a bad thing. It is not a display of superiority or power. It’s a pride of residence, of having come this far in 71 short years. Of togetherness… despite our differences. We live in a bad neighborhood where many of the neighboring countries want this tiny nation obliterated. The last week was a testament to this fact. Yet we emerged stronger than ever this week, resolved to exist, determined to succeed.

Wednesday Israel remembered the cost of living in this bad neighborhood. It was a national day of mourning and remembrance of all those killed defending this land and all those murdered in acts of terrorism. We mourned the cost of freedom. Then, as the sun set on Wednesday evening the mourning turned to joy at our Independence. Fireworks displays from every city, town and yishuv took the place of missiles. Concerts featuring headline acts in most cities took place.

I attended our local concert with music by Moshe Perez, Static and Yael Dayan. The amphitheater was packed with families: there were religious and secular Jews; neighboring Arab villagers; young and old all celebrating our country’s freedom. Vendors selling all sorts of ethnic foods mixed with those selling flags, the ubiquitous inflatable hammers, light-up and glow-in-the-dark accessories. The town squares were all lit up and revelries we’re taking place on porches and balconies. One apartment complex opened up their common space as a thank you to all servicemen and women.

Thursday the parks and beaches were packed with picnickers. The smell of the barbecue was pervasive. Many towns held local parades with bands and floats. And everywhere the flags. It reminded me of the July 4th celebrations of my childhood. A celebration of patriotism, of accomplishment, of our existence and national pride. Without reserve. And it was glorious!!!

This week Israel hosts the Eurovision International Songfest & Competition. It’s a source of great national pride. We will also be hosting several international sporting events this summer. To be able to root “for the home team” is still a big deal here as is standing for the National Anthem. As is waving a flag. As is being a proud citizen of a nation despite its flaws. Nationalism. Identity. Patriotism. These are all good things. They define who we are and look to what we can become.

War!

The many blogposts I intend to write- and I have many wonderful sights, people and culture- seemed to get pre-emoted with other more serious stories these days.

This week we were supposed to be celebrating. Eurovision, the international song fest similar to a global “American Idol” of sorts starts in Tel Aviv tonight. Hosting this gala been quite a source of pride for this tiny country and has been the talk of Israel for the past several months. Already, contestants and event goers have started arriving. It is scheduled to last until May 18.

This week we celebrate Memorial Day, an entire day of national mourning over the lives lost in wars and to terror attacks. The remembrance of cost of freedom that turns at sunset to jubilation over our independence in 1948. I was going to write about nationalism of the good kind, where it doesn’t matter where you came from, but who you are now.

This week marked the start of Ramadan. Yesterday morning at 10:00 am, a time when most Israelis are in synagogue or are enjoying what is supposed to be a lazy, relaxed Shabbat, the Gazans began their shelling. Hamas. It actually translates to ‘violence.’ Hamas. The past 36 hours has developed into an incessant barrage of rockets from Gaza. The Red Alert buzzer on my App has not stopped for longer than about 40 minutes. Then it resumes. Incoming missiles in the center of the country. Listing each community effected.

Thank G-d, we are all safe up here in the North. So far there have been 5 Israelis killed with hundreds of injuries, some critical, some light shrapnel wounds, on the Israeli side. Hundreds have been treated for shock. Thank G-d for Iron Dome which has intercepted a vast majority of the missiles. Many have fallen in open spaces. But still, far too many structures have incurred direct hits. Homes. Kindergartens. Workplaces. A gas station. A hospital lightly hit. Schools have been canceled as well as any public gatherings and open air markets. All emergency shelters are open. In some communities, there is only a 15 second warning to take shelter. And the arc of shelling has swept wider and further into the Areas South, East and North of Gaza.

Can you imagine any other country having to deal with this and what their response would be???? Yes. The IDF is doing surgical strikes taking out weapons production sites; Hamas military headquarters; terrorist strongholds; terror tunnel shafts. Hamas targets civilians. Israel targets terror. Over 700 missiles have been launched so far by Gaza.

It seems Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are both responsible for the escalating violence. Israeli reinforcements and artillery are being moved into position as this develops into a war of attrition, according to Debka.com. It’s apparent that the fragile truce brokered in March by Egypt has collapsed and Netanyahu is not interested in accepting another false cease-fire. Of course, many news stations are saying it’s the fault of Israel for cutting funding from Gaza.

As I’m writing this, I have been checking international news outlets. ABC is not reporting anything at all. CBS has picked up the story, but it’s well down on their list of news. BBC has remained completely silent. The Guardian has it listed as a top headliner, but distorts facts and makes Israel the aggressor. HuffPo is in lockstep with a verbatim article from NBC. CNN and NBC include it in their top news stories. However, NBC is giving it a biased slant in favor of the terrorists. The story leads with a picture of a young Gaza’s girl sitting amid rubble. They report a pregnant Muslim woman and her young toddler were killed, but make it sound like it was due to IDF retaliation. In fact, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, IDF, on reviewing the video footage, one of the hundreds of missiles launched by Gaza fell short, wiping out an apartment building on the Gaza side. The mother and two children were killed. Fox News has listed it way down the story line All Israeli news outlets are giving detailed regular updates.

From recent news reports: “We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work. HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed”, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit tweeted. Also leading terrorist operative, Hamid Ahmed Abdul Khudri has been killed in Gaza.

We pray for the safety of all the citizens of Israel. For protection and wisdom and courage for our young soldiers, male and female. We pray for wisdom for Netanyahu and the administration that they act in HaShem’s timing and intensity. We pray for a deescalation of violence. And that it does not spread to include multiple fronts. We pray for safety for us as we travel down to Tel Aviv tomorrow. We pray for peace.

Aliyahversary: 4 Years!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been Israelis for exactly four years now. We arrived the week before Passover to a most amazing welcome from our real estate agent, Tal Shtekler; our landlady, Rachel Ronen; various neighbors and an assortment of people I had connected with on my Pilot Trip. We arrived to find our fridge laden with meals for the week; flowers, wine and challah for our first Shabbat; and generous offers from Rachel and “Ms. Karmi’el,” the Grande Dame of information and hospitality, Sylvia Walters, to show us all around our new city. And dear Gwen White to help us on that first overwhelming grocery store trip where everything was in Hebrew and nothing was the same as we were used to.

A couple days before the Passover Seder, John, Max and I made the 4 hour bus trip to Jerusalem. It was before we had a car, and the train line to Karmi’el had not yet been built. My friend from CA, generously lent us her apartment while she was visiting family for the week. And our realtor, Tal, had made all the arrangements for us to be hosted at Pesach Seder with the Eisenberg family….plus we met people in Jerusalem and had to turn down three other offers. When we told shopkeepers and cabbies we had only made Aliyah one week prior, we received instant invitations for Passover meals. People who didn’t even know us!

That Seder with the Eisenberg’s was absolutely the best, most meaningful and entertaining Passover meal of our lives. Not only did we feel welcomed, but their seven children were amazingly bright, well-mannered and totally engaged. The food was to die for, and we’ll never forget going outside to sing Hallelujahs at 2am. Instead of opening the door for Elijah, we opened the door to Jerusalem police asking us to keep the festive noise down… and then they came in for dessert! Incredible!!

Over the past four years, we’ve grown a lot in so many ways. We’ve learned that even though there are a ton of problems here… no country is perfect…. Israelis tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and can be very, very opinionated (and NEVER wrong!!!) and loud- once you get to know them, they are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. We’ve learned a ton about hospitality and opening your home and heart to others. It was quite uncomfortable at first, coming from the very private Los Angeles, where the common phrase “We’ll have to do coffee or lunch soon,” is just a nice way of blowing people off. The coffee and lunch dates rarely happen.

Two years ago, we enjoyed hosting my son’s IDF soldier friends, some serving from other countries- the US, Switzerland, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa- to our home for Seder. And by making pre-packaged individual Seder Bento boxes filled with food and Haggadot (prayer books recounting the story of the Exodus) to take to soldiers guarding the country at the extreme Northern outposts…we had to leave the meals at the gate). Still, it was an outpouring of gratitude for their service.

Last year, I found myself back in Los Angeles, with two children in the hospital. Sending out 23 emails to request an invitation for this wandering Jew to attend the Pesach celebration, I received 11 answers. 10 were no’s: “we’re full up; we’re only having family; check Chabad”… yes, I found a lovely Seder at my old Rabbi’s home. It was wonderful. But still, I couldn’t help thinking of how the opening line in the Haggada, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat” was just that. An opening line in a Hollywood movie. And yes, I also got a couple “We’ll have to meet for lunch one day” responses… It’s really quite sad.

Fast forward to this year. My husband has been diagnosed with cancer. I had knee surgery two weeks ago and my own tests for cancer this past week. My son, still serving in the army is suffering from Crohns and is working out his own time to have an upper and lower GI. We have been accompanied to hospitals by kindhearted Israelis who have been our drivers and translators, taking time off their own busy work schedules and Pesach preparations. We received eight invitations to celebrate the Seder with other families. When I said this year my husband and I want to remember the passing over of death from the Jewish homes and the march to freedom and victory, what happened? We received so much food from others, it was incredible!

We had such an abundance, that on Sunday afternoon, we drove up to Max’s base with deviled eggs, roasted carrots, fresh avocados, matzah balls, orange soup…. things that would rest gently on his stomach, but lots to share. We were “snuck” onto base by his mefakedim to hang out for a couple hours with the “kids” in their lounge. And to our surprise: Ido’s mom had sent up brisket, roasted potatoes, Passover cake. Shoshanna brought back roast chicken and veggies and lots of macaroons; there were other treats as well brought up by the surrounding ranchers and neighbors. Such joy! Such feasting!

In four years here, I’ve learned that Israel is one big family. We help each other. We depend on each other. It’s a mitzvah and a way to bring light to a dark world.

Starting tomorrow, we will be making the two hour drive each way, 5-6 times a week for six weeks for chemo and radiation. We’ve had offers to watch our little doggie while we are gone. We’ve had offers from people to drive us down to Ramat Gan. Friends of friends have offered their places down near Tel Aviv, or to find us less expensive hotels. Karen has given us the list of hotels in the area. Tal is looking for short-term rentals just in case. Amiad and Elisheva have graciously offered to house us. We don’t even know them… and I’m still unsure exactly how Amiad got our number! My friends, this is Israel!!!

The incredible Paula Stern has been working to find help for Max in the army. Does he need emergency leave or transfer to be with us? Can she expedite paperwork so he can get prompt medical care? Do we need people to stay with US in the hospital? How are WE set for meals? Extra care? What are our most immediate needs and how can she help? Paula, who has her own family and tremendously busy schedule, has been there for us at the ring of a phone. G-d bless this woman, a friend who I have yet to meet face to face.

We have met a few Arabic Christians and Druze in our area that have also become friends. It’s not just limited to Jews. These Israelis are also warm and generous with their time and offers to help, translate medical documents, make hospital calls…

This is Israel! We are all family here. We are a diverse people: Anglos, Moroccans, Russians, French, Brazilians, Jewish, Christians, Druzim. Yet we are mostly united. Ready to open our hearts and our homes. And it’s why I we so love it here. Happy Passover! Blessed Easter! Joyous spring! Here’s to friendship,

to new life, to hope! To our new country!

Walking THROUGH the Valley of the SHADOW of Death at Passover

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                                       -a note hanging on my bathroom mirror-

So…. please bear with me as this has got to be the hardest blogpost I’ve ever had to write. The past month has been like a fast-moving cyclone, enough to make one’s head spin. But in many ways, we are doing great and standing strong in our faith in the Lord to see us through to the other side. The road has been rocky, but there have been so many gemstones on our path.

Early this past January, I took a rather nasty fall and totally messed up my knee, tearing the meniscus in a couple places and other nasty little bits. After several weeks, I managed to get scheduled for surgery with a great doctor who was the head of the arthroscopic surgery department at Nahariyya Hospital. Before the scheduled operation, I had to undergo a few routine preliminary pre-op tests. My blood markers were a tad elevated and I had been having some other minor symptoms, so was scheduled for an upper and lower GI late last month. My husband, John, and son, Max, also were having some gastro problems that seemed to be worsening, but more on that later. The morning before I was set to start prep for my GI procedure, we received some pretty devastating news from a close relative and we were wondering whether a trip to the States would be necessary. Before any decisions could be made on that matter, I was taken by ambulance to Ziv Hospital in Tsfat in terrible pain. It felt like something had exploded on my right side. Stress???? No. Turned out I had a nice case of kidney stones, with a rather large one nestled snugly in my right ureter. Naturally, the scheduled GI was out of the question for the time being, so we decided to switch appointments John would take my appointment and I would take his later in the month. No problem. Those kidney stones turned out to be a gift from G-d!!! They are yet unresolved and I am on alpha blockers and other meds to dissolve the stones and widen the ureter. But that’s the least of our worries at this point.

Here’s where it gets “interesting.” Three weeks ago Friday, John, who took my appointment,  was diagnosed with a colorectal tumor that turned out to be malignant. By Sunday morning we were at Bnei Tzion Hospital in Haifa talking to the head surgeon, who proceeded to admit him for a week of further testing. We told our Ulpan (Hebrew) teacher, Efrat, who came with us and spent the day with us at the hospital to help with translation. In the meantime, we had already been doing lots and lots of research on the top hospitals and treatment options.

Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv is the #1 medical center in the MidEast and #10 in the world. It ranks 4th best for treating colorectal cancers. We had tried calling, but getting an “in” would be a long, slow process. Efrat’s sister’s friend (here you have to know people. They call it ‘proteczia’) worked at Sheba and was able to get us an appointment with a gastroenterologist the next week. That was a major miracle, and I owe a debt of thanks to Efrat and G-d.

John has been incredibly strong and upbeat, and as usual, has managed to charm all the nurses and staff on the floor at Bnei Tzion with his humor and wit. He was showing them pictures of California hospital rooms (you know, private rooms with sofas, room-service, wide screen plasma TVs), wink. wink:

This is most definitely NOT the case in Israeli hospitals, which have wards of 4-6 beds, little privacy, no TVs or phones, and are much more “basic,” shall we say. The bring your own towels, pillow and blanket basic… so it was with great fanfare that the nurses gave my dear husband a gift: his own private room with a view of Haifa Bay!! Actually, it was pretty darned awesome!

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In the meantime, making my way home from Haifa that Monday in the pouring rain, my car completely died – all the lights going off with heavy drag on the car. I pulled over to the side and worked on getting a tow to the garage and a ride back home. Yikes. The tow guy would be there within four hours! I was to leave the keys in the glove box in the unlocked car on the side of the road, lights flashing. Only in Israel. Turned out to be fine. I got a call at 9:30 pm that the car was safely at the mechanic’s. The next morning, I went with our dear friend, Hanan (Efrat’s husband) to the garage to find out it was the gear box in the transmission and would cost about 10,000 shekels to fix. Thats about $3650 USD!!!! But the car had to be towed to Akko, 15 miles away. So Hanan suggested he drive it to the side of the road as the towing company would not pick it up at the garage. The car seemed just fine. So he drove it for 40 minutes, and all was great. Major miracle there and answer to prayer. We think water from the storm had splashed onto something in the engine and shorted the system temporarily. In any event, we’ll take all the blessings we can get.

That Tuesday afternoon(April 2), I went with my friend to the hospital for my pre-op as my knee surgery was scheduled for that Thursday. I desperately needed a translator, because in Nahariyya, the only languages spoken are Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. The English translating apps were not much help either. This is what google translate did with my diagnosis. You just have to laugh!!!!

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It’s a surreal semi-erotic nightmare. But really, really funny!!!! I needed a translator…. all the while seeing if Max could be allowed home on special leave from the army to get me home after I’d be discharged. So glad my friend, Julie was able to come with me. The intern who did my pre-op (Yvgeny) was about as old as Max and spoke Russian and Hebrew only. Really nice guy, but his Hebrew was quite difficult to understand. Thank you, Julie for taking the whole day off to be with me at admitting and handle the paperwork!!!

In the meantime, John was in Bnei Tzion having CTs, MRIs, bloodwork, and the like. Also, I couldn’t have done it without my amazingly awesome friend, Gali, who took me to the hospital the morning of the surgery and stayed with me until late at night. Translating, praying with me, telling stories, fetching the nurse, helping me in every way imaginable. She was there waiting through the surgery and met me in recovery. She brought me food and drink. And lots and lots of comfort. How can I even begin to thank you for taking a whole day off work to be with me?

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My friend, Paula, who is the liaison for Anglo parents with kids in the IDF has been a tremendous blessing. She has been working nonstop behind the scenes to arrange Max time off to pick me up from the hospital that Friday morning, and then to pick up John later that same morning. We were in separate hospitals 40 miles apart. Paula has also been working to arrange meals and places to stay when we trek down to Tel Aviv, as well as working to coordinate Max’s leave for his upper and lower GI, further testing for highly suspected Crohn’s Disease (which runs in the family), and other support for when we need it.

Great news: my knee surgery was a tremendous success!! All the bone shards removed, the knee cleaned out, the meniscus repaired. Hallelujah! We spent last Saturday melting in the much needed rest of Shabbat. Then it was a two hour drive first thing Sunday morning to meet the doctor at Sheba outside Tel Aviv. Baruch HaShem, Praise the Lord, Dr. Shmueli turned out to be not just a gastroenterologist, but the head of gastro oncology at Sheba. To put it mildly, she’s the best!!! Another unexpected miracle. She was able to answer many of our questions and started to assemble her team of the best radiologists, surgeons, dietitians, alternative therapy doctors, social workers. All paperwork would be processed immediately. That’s another miracle for Israel. Most things take weeks and months to process here.

After spending all last week running from one clinic, hospital, and lab to another for all three of us – Max is having his preliminary tests run on his days off – John and I are headed to Sheba tomorrow. From the looks of it, not 100% sure of the exact timeline, but John will begin six weeks of chemo and radiation on an outpatient basis. After a rest of a few weeks, and the tumor has shrunk, he will have surgery, followed by more chemo and radiation.

We are also looking into alternative therapies in conjunction with the above protocol. We have begun a strict juicing regimen for all of us of organic, raw veggies: beets, carrots, celery, chard, ginger, lemongrass, etc. to feed the mitochondria and keep the body nourished and nutrient-rich. Never before have I imagined this, but Israel is the leading country for cannabis research for cancer. I have contacted the head of the department at Technion University in Haifa and am consulting with him on a regimen that juices the raw plant to extract turpines, a chemical found to have great success in shrinking these nasty tumors.

But above all, and most importantly, we have a profound faith. In the Bible G-d says, “Put me in remembrance of My Word that I might perform it.” So we are doing just that. We are soaking in Scripture, davening or praying, and standing in faith for a complete miracle, nothing less. And what better place to be but here in the Holy Land? He said He would be with us in the midst of our troubles to deliver, rescue and heal us. We believe Him. He said to call on Him in the day of our distress and he would deliver us. We forget none of his mercies: he rescues our life from destruction; heals all our diseases, ransoms our life from the pit. We believe Him. He says in Exodus 15:26 “I am HaSham, your healer.” Tehillim, the Psalms, are absolutely wonderful. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I will not falter.  Also, he asked life of You and You gave it to him; life and length of days. Trust in the Lord and the mercy of the Most High and he shall not falter. (Psalm 21). G-d is a refuge, a strength for us, a help in distress, very accessible.Therefore we shall not be afraid. I take refuge in Him until desolation PASSES. The passages just go on and on. He sets before us blessings and curses, good and evil, life and death. Therefore, CHOOSE LIFE that you and your seed shall live!!!!! And of course, yea, though we walk THROUGH (we’re not staying we’re just walking through … a bunch of crap, but we’re getting through) the valley of the SHADOW (shadows are not real, just shadows) of death, we fear no evil for G-d is with us. Yishayahu (Isaiah) 58 proclaims, “My light shall break forth as the morning and your health shall spring forth speedily. My righteousness shall go before you. The glory of Ad-nai will gather you in.” We are already gathered in, just waiting on the rest to be fulfilled.

We are in a good place. We have the best of care and a lifeline of great friends to support us at this time. The outpouring of generosity and kindness of people has been nothing short of mind-blowing. The Milzmans have agreed to care for our little doggie without asking questions. They’ve been helping in countless other ways without our having to give tons of details. So far, we’ve only told a tiny handful of people, because we wanted to share the news with our families first before wild rumors started springing up on social media.

John and are are totally united in every way. We are learning the importance of living in the moment, savoring each moment together. Of seeing the little miracles along the way – and there are lots! Of being thankful for EVERYTHING!!!

At this time, I ask for prayer. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE. Emails are okay, but our time is more than limited. We will be making the two hour travel each way, five-six days a week for therapy, so most likely, we will be more than exhausted. But we will come out of this trial stronger, and shining gloriously. And please REFRAIN FROM COMMENTS AT THE END. JUST JOIN WITH US IN PRAYER. I’ll keep you posted… Thank you so much!

Time for Some Humor

We knew from the beginning that making Aliyah would be challenging at best, and in order to cope with everything (bills in Hebrew, no vowels; dealing with a phone representative who cannot speak English; cultural differences; navigating health care in a foreign country; you get the idea); we decided early on to find the humor in every situation. It’s a great survival tool.

So, today I thought I’d share some of the “funny” with you to lighten your day as well.

First of all – English translations and Englishisms in a country where English is a foreign language and much is transliterated. Just gotta wonder:

Is it a saloon? After all there’s a Coke bottle on the marquis. Nope. Just your everyday Beauty Salon/Bar.

Misspellings are particularly funny for us. Like “Elbow” instead of “Elmo.” He is good friend, haha. The grocery store is another place we see all kinds of mix-ups and just plain weird (to us) flavors. What WERE they thinking????

I think they spelled carp wrong. Or just from the looks of it, maybe they’re telling us to stay away. Really far away. Oh well, at least I finally found some f-ing cotton balls.

So is the yogurt from sheep or goat milk? Or a combo? Guess will never know…

I bought what I thought was salad mix or salad herbs a few weeks ago. Got home, opened the box, THEN looked at the writing. It was a box of salad WEEDS. Gourmet weeds for salads!!!! Not joking! But it was hysterical.

Being in the Holy Land, tourist items are a bit weird. Here’s a take home pack of incense for all those guys named Frank who want to do home liturgies. But only if your name is Frank! If it’s not, you’re outta luck….

Even finding a bathroom can be cause to laugh. Here’s one from a kibbutz, the others just great. Completely assesses my situation.

Going to the hospital is always a fun experience…NOT!!! But in the North of Israel it can be a bit surreal. Very recently I had a bout of kidney stones. One of the better hospitals is in Haifa, about 40 minutes away. Assuta is located- wait for it- on the third floor of a large shopping mall. Yup. You read right. Cinemas and restaurants at one end; stores on floors 1 & 2; full service hospital on floor 3. Love it when they gave me an IV drip and told me to walk the mall for 90 minutes so they could do a CT (pronounced ‘city’ here… just to add to the confusion).

As if things aren’t crazy enough, guess who shows up during check in? No help at all… she was a mime. Translator please???

As I mentioned in another post, Israeli drivers are notoriously bad. Here are some great examples of parking jobs that just leave you head scratching… better to shoot a picture than to shoot a driver.

Yes. We were behind a kid on a mini ATV and behind a tour bus trying to navigate narrow, serpentine streets in an Arab village. It’s not uncommon to get stuck by a tractor slowly buzzing down Main Street in a village or to see pensioners driving their golf cart on the highway. And no, there is no golf course within 100 miles.

People shop like they drive. Cue up your shopping cart at the checkout and leave an empty basket while you finish your shopping. Or – how many people will jockey to cue up? Line? What line? Rules? What rules???

Reading menus, especially those great translations are the best!!! I’ll have a medium rear please. Note the inside of the meat is served worm temperature. READ THE DESCRIPTIONS!!

So, despite the situation, we are always reminded. At those most difficult moments, don’t forget to smaile…. 😉

Election Season:The Political Post

It’s that time in Israel again: election season. It will be the first time we will have voted in a national election here. Several of my daughters and friends in the States have asked us if we will be voting for Netanyahu on April 9. I am not posting my political leanings, but must say that the election system is decidedly different than in the United States. And perhaps as, shall I say, entertaining?

For one thing: we do not vote directly for the Prime Minister or President. We vote for a political party. Israel is a true Democracy. All citizens have a vote. And any citizen (male, female, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, straight, gay, trans, purple with bright yellow polka dots) can form their own political party. All that is required is to submit the party name, registration fee, and petition garnering 5000 signatures. At the last count, 47 different parties have qualified to run in this upcoming election!!! A minimum number of votes is needed for two seats in the Knesset or Parliament. There are 120 seats. All government officials chosen for ministry positions must come from within the elected seats in Knesset. In theory, we vote for the party, not the man.

Here’s where it gets interesting. To establish a working government, a majority of 61 seats is necessary.  No one party has ever received close to this majority.  The highest to date have received 38 and 41 votes. So, the President, elected by Knesset,  will appoint the greatest probable winner with the best chance of forming a coalition with other parties to bring the seat count to 61. The declared winner of the election then has 30 days after the election has been decided to form his government. And the race is on. There are deals to be made. All the focus is on reaching those 61 seats. No deals are allowed to be made behind closed doors for the parties to cooperatively come together. The parties must sit down with legal representatives and draft their contracts. All platforms are listed out in detail in writing. It’s quite a transparent process.

In Israel, the majority of the population (about 65%) is Centrist. There is right of center and left of center, but the extreme parties  never receive more than 10% of the vote.  The more Knesset seats a party receives in the elections, the more power they wield  to negotiate later. There are portfolios to consider (Ministry positions – Defense, Finance, Education, Culture, etc.) – which person from which party will receive the portfolio, causing them to join the coalition. There are clauses, all legally binding, written in. For example, “If we join your party, you will not be able to give up territories,” or “You must promise not to ally with Russia for us to join your party,” or “In order for us to merge with you, ultra-religious Jews will be forced to serve in the army.” All made up examples, but these are the types of promises that go into forming the new government.

The last few weeks, many new political parties have sprung up. Others have dropped out. A few leading contenders have merged, forming new parties right before the ballot deadline. There are 14 Arab parties in contention. The Joint List, consisting of four united anti-Israel groups, won 13 Knesset seats in the last election four years ago. As of this week, some of them have merged into a mere 5 parties. There are Christian parties, Muslim parties, Communist, and Socialist groups represented in the Arab makeup in Israel. Those living within the Palestinian controlled areas have their own, independent government and elections.

The Shas party (extreme Right) is made up of ultra-religious Haredi Jews who believe that the government should be run on extreme Biblical interpretation. The Meretz party is extreme Left, believing in extreme intersectionality and the removal of the Jewish identity in all official capacity. Giving up land is part of the game.

Some of the more familiar players are the Labor party, who are running on the strengthening of the labor unions. United Torah Judaism is made up of a group of Torah scholars. The party Yisrael Beitenu has former Defense Minister, Liberman at the helm. If you like what he did as Defense Minister, are Russian, or into Olim (immigrant) rights, this might be your party. There is Zehut, a newly formed party that is most closely aligned with the U.S. style Libertarian way of thinking. Naftali Benett, current Minister of Education and Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, both formerly Bait Yehudi, are now the New Right (HaYamin HeHadash,) merging both religious and secular Zionists who are strong on defense. In the last couple weeks, two popular frontrunners, Yesh Atid (led by the “model-looking” former Finance Minister, Yair Lapid), and Israel Resilience (led by former Chief of General Staff of the IDF, Benny Gantz) have combined forces into the just-left-of-center Blue & White Party. They seem to be poised to take a slight lead at this point.

And of course, there is Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, which is right of center. And that is the reason we are having these elections. A few months ago, the Knesset parties passed a vote of no-confidence in the present government, forcing a new election. Despite forging new, positive relations with many different foreign countries (India, Russia, China, Brazil, Columbia, Australia, Czech Republic, Hungary,  several Arabic and African nations); despite a burgeoning economy; despite getting the recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s official capital by the U.S. and other countries; despite unveiling the plans of the evil Iranian regime, Netanyahu has been plagued by corruption and bribery scandals, as of yet, unproven. These issues, combined with the ongoing Gaza and Palestinian problems and ridiculously expensive cost-of-living here, is making for a tight race. Many native Israelis feel that “Bibi” has created a dynasty for himself, has served long enough, and they have become the party of “Anyone but Bibi.”

As if this was all not confusing enough, there are lesser contenders like the Pensioner’s Party (no true leader, just more benefits for the elderly); the Human Dignity party (no information found on internet, but excellent name); the Equals party, representing those ‘second class citizens’….whatever); the Second Class Citizens group (beginning to sound a bit Monty Pythonish, but I kid you not!); Abrahamics United; Simply Love: Tailwind for Education: All Israel Are Brothers (focused on justice for Jewish refugees from Islamic nations); Remember Our Voices (focusing on equal labor protection for the police and security services, not IDF-related); Justice For All (gay and animal rights groups combined with a spattering of environmentalism); Me & You (let’s just end the whole party system and vote for people directly); Hope For Change (United Zionist Arabs); Social Justice Party; the Pirate Party (YES!!!!!! for those who believe in anarchy….aarrrggghhhh, Matey! Can you BELIEVE this????); the Na-Nachs (think tie-dyed wearing, ganja smoking, dancing Ultra Orthodox Jews who dance around to Reggae music and spray paint their logo on everything in sight….for reals… this is Israel); and The End (a combined Jewish and Evangelical Christian unity party) – but it’s not really the end of all the mishegass (craziness) or of the myriad other outliers.

Election Day is a national holiday of sorts. All schools and government offices are closed the entire day. Soldiers vote from their home bases. Each party has as their symbol a letter or group of letters of the Hebrew alphabet representing their group. When you go to your polling place to vote, you present your national ID card (used for EVERYTHING here) three separate times: as you go in; as you register and receive your ballot ticket; and before you put your ticket into the voting box. When you receive your little envelope, you go behind a screen and pick up the ticket with the letter representing your preferred party and place it in your envelope and seal it. Place it in the box in the middle of the room, and you’re done. It’s just that easy! 5C77037E-9E9C-48F7-9964-54E811DA89CF.jpg

(The above picture was of our regional city council elections. Just imagine 47 tickets in place of the 10 shown above.)