Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Parashat D'varim- Pre-Tisha B'Av- Yearning

Libi bamizrach va’anokhi bsof ma’arav.
Eich etamah eit asher ochal v’ein ye’erav?
Eikhah ashaleim n’darai ve’esarai, b’od Tzion bchevel Edom va’ni b’khevel Arav?
Yeikal b’einai azov kol tuv s’farad, k’mo yeikar b’einai r’ot afrot d’vir ne’chrav.

My heart is in the east, and I at the end of the west.
How can I even taste what I eat; how can it be sweet to me?
How shall I fulfill my vows and my bonds,
while Zion is under the domain of Edom and I am chained to Arabia?
It would be easy in my eyes to leave all the best of Spain,
As it is precious for me even to glimpse the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

Yehuda Halevi wrote these words from Moorish Spain during the late 11th century. His yearning for even a glimpse of Israel pours out through the words. On Monday evening, we will sit in the sanctuary, amidst candlelight, and read the book of Eikha, Lamentations. Halevi’s use of the word “Eikha,” “How,” in the third verse calls of the words of this book, which begins, “Eikha yashva badad…” “How she sits alone…”
The book of Eikha tells the story of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and its aftermath. This year, I expect the reading to be particularly poignant following these past weeks. Watching and reading the news day after day, we can feel Halevi’s longing to be with his country. There is both a feeling of achdut, of unity, and of loneliness in reading and watching the news. There is a pain that effects us all when we hear of each missile, of each anti-Semitic statement. If you attended the Rally With The people of Israel, you will remember the room rising as Rabbi Frydman-Kohl called upon groups to rise in succession-
            All those who have a son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a parent in Israel
            All those who have cousins or other family in Israel
            All those who have friends or acquaintances in Israel
It did not take long before the entire room was standing. To be a Jew is to be connected around the world. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It is unique in this world, and a thing to be treasured. Nonetheless, it is also, at times, a painful thing for it connects us in a real and tangible way to the pains suffered by all Jews everywhere.
On Monday night we will sit, and we will mourn. This year we will mourn not only the loss of the ancient Temple. We will mourn the loss of life. We will mourn the lives forever changed by the need to go to battle. We will mourn the childhoods lost to sirens.
And then, we will go on. We will go on because that is what we do. Beyond all our people are survivors. We will defend each other. We will fight for our freedom, and we will look towards the coming year with hope.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Parashat Ma'sei- Oh The Places We Will Go

Eileh mas’ei B’nei Yisrael asher yatz’u mei’eretz Mitzraiyim l’tziv’otam b’yad Moshe v’Aharon. Vayichtov Moshe et motza’eihem l’mas’eihem al pi A’donai v’eileh mas’eihem l’motzaeihem.
…ki atem ba’im el-ha’aretz K’na’an zot ha’aretz asher tipol lakhem b’nachala...
These are the stages of the Children of Israel by which they went out from the land of Egypt as their congregations under the hand of Moshe and Aharon. And Moshe wrote their goings out in stages according to the word of A’donai, and these are the stages of their goings forth. (B’midbar 33:1-2)
…when you come into the land of Canaan, this will be the land that will fall to you as an inheritance… (B’midbar 34:2)
In school we learn about many places. We study maps and the stories of people from those places, and we think we know them. In life, we experience places. We walk the land; we talk to strangers, and, for better or for worse, we actually know them. Not only do we know them, but they become part of us. There’s a fun Facebook app that figures out your accent based on a series of questions about how you pronounce words. Unfortunately, it’s a US based app, so we have to guess about Canada. Rav Sean got a mix between New Jersey with a tad of southern thrown in. Facebook places my accent solidly in the northeast. However, my vocabulary has shifted. No longer do I say bathroom unless there is actually a bath or shower. I differentiate between university and college, and I waiver on the word pop. Most people are hard-pressed to figure out whence I hail based on my accent. Between Long Island (Yes, L.I. has it’s own distinct accent.), Boston, California, New York, Israel, Hawaii and North California, it’s a smooth blend. Although I toss in an occasional y’all, I’m told I use it incorrectly. Still, each place we have lived is a part of us.
As you all know, we began our summer in Israel. These are the stages of the Gorman family by which they went across the land of Israel. And they wrote their goings out in stages, and these are the stages of their goings forth.
We arrived in Israel Thursday, June 26. Lucking out, we were on the customs line with the person who had a problem, add in a long wait at the car rental counter to jet lag, and it was not a remarkable arrival. With exhausted children, we made our way to Kfar Adumim for showers and sleep. Once refreshed, we introduced the kids to… No, not the Kotel. No, not Ein Gedi. No, not Machane Yehuda. We introduced the kids to the mall at Maaleh Adumim. Once filled with water and ice cream, crankiness subsided. We checked out a few stores looking for sandals, and the kids discovered Steimetsky’s bookstore.
Friday was better. After a late start (a theme that would continue through the trip), we headed to the Kotel. Riding the new LRT to the Damascus Gate, we got a taste of the new and the old that is Israel. We wandered through the Arab Shuk to the Kotel (both the older space and the Masorti Kotel), then from the Old City to the new, and the kids learned that everything in Jerusalem is uphill. Sandal shopping! Rav Sean, Jesse and I bought Nimrod Retro, while Keren opted for a newer style of Naot. Gavi’s sandals would take a few more days. Olives, pickles, hummus and techina from Machane Yehuda accompanied us home. Shabbat meant sleep and a final end to jet lag, although that didn’t help us get out any earlier.
Sunday we were finally off and running. Hezekiah’s tunnel, another trip to Machane Yehuda (one of 3), Yemin Moshe, Moshiko (the best falafel & shwarma place in town), Yad Vashem, Har Herzl, Emek Refaim, Katamon to see our old apartment, the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Ir David, bumping into people we know, Tower of David, the Rova and Cardo, the Biblical Zoo, back to the Maaleh Adumim mall, Knesset, the beach in Tel Aviv, Ayalon Institute and Ammunition Museum, Masorti Kehillah Ramot Zion, visiting with friends, Latrun, Hezekiah’s tunnel again, Moshiko again, Steve’s Pack’s, Ben Yehuda Street and Yoel Solomon, techelet factory, the Burnt House, Yad Lakashish, Machane Yehuda again, Teddy Park, a bomb shelter, the Bible Lands Museum, and walking, walking, walking the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.
Three years ago, when we first began planning this trip, Jesse said to us, “You know, my love for Israel is really theoretical.” New York was real. Hawaii, North Carolina, Virginia, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, all these were real to him. But Israel was a place that existed only in pictures. His love of Israel existed purely in his mind. But now Israel is real to him. He drank the water, ate the food, and breathed the air. It’s inside of him, and it will never leave.
The Thursday before we left we were sitting in Teddy Park. Keren and Gavi were debating the merits of staying there another hour. Rav Sean asked me my opinion as I lay on the grass. “I am lying here, in the shadow of the Old City of Jerusalem at a brand new park breathing the air of Israel. For me, this is perfect.
Israel is not the matzav. It is our inheritance, and it is part of us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God is Everywhere... Are You Sure? (Not a Theological Commentary)

Today I read an article on  It was entitled "God is Everywhere, Even in Your Food-- Literally."

The article is about images that appear in food. Sean & I looked at the pictures. I have a few questions. Why, when we see an image in a strange place, do people assume these are images of God?

I'll let the word GOD spelled out in eggplant seeds pass.  However, what's up with the others? One looked like Alice Cooper. We also saw George Harrison, a cartoon Obama, the creature from the black lagoon, Yoda (or maybe Jerry Garcia), a cocker spaniel, Bob Marley, Moses (Sean saw this. I didn't.), Gobo Fraggle, and Cyndi Lauper (although I see Jane Russell).

Why doesn't anyone saw, "Oh my God! That looks exactly like Great-uncle Sid?"

Anyway, you can check it out here-


Monday, July 21, 2014

"My Heart is in the East"

Three times I restarted this blog. It's amazing to me how long ago Israel seems already. Our younger kids left for camp today. Jesse is not yet home. Blog posts posed last week came from the holy land. It was only nine days ago that we arrived home, and yet it already seems too long. I find myself staring at pictures, craving the hummus and pickles we ate on our last day. 

Yehuda Halevi, a Spanish poet from the early 12th century, wrote these lines-

My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west-
How can I find savour in food? How shall it be sweet to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?
A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain-
Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

Though Israel is bombarded daily, the longing fills my chest. In my mind I am sitting on a bench looking out at the Judean Desert. Deer scamper in the brush, almost fully blending into the colors of the sand beneath. 

I hear a comment from my fellow watchers"Toronto sounds calm and safe."

"Yes," I reply, gesturing to the view, "but you miss this."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parashat Mattot- Zionism in the Diaspora

Vayomru im matza’nu chein b’einekha yutan et-ha’aretz hazot la’avadekha la’achuzah, al ta’avireinu et haYardein.
Va’anachnu neichaleitz chushim lifnei b’nei Yisrael ad asher im-havi’onum el-m’komot v’yashav tapeinu b’arei hamivtzar mopnei yoshvei ha’aretz. Lo nashuv el-bateinu ad hitnacheil b’nei Yisrael ish nachlato.
And they said, “If we have found favour in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as an inheritance; do not bring us across the Jordan.” (B’midbar 32:5)
We will arm ourselves swiftly before the children of Israel until we will bring them into their place, and the will settle in the fortified cities in the face of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our houses until the children of Israel have inherited, each man his inheritance. (B’midbar 32:17-18)
Anyone who has studied with me, even for a short time, knows that I teach interpretation of Torah through personal perspective. Our understanding of Torah at age 15 is different than our understanding at age 30, age 62, or age 97. It is different when we are single or married, without children, parents of young children, or empty nesters. It is different depending on our geography. Therefore it will not be a surprise that, having just returned from Israel, as I write this, my mind’s eye is still there.
At the end of Mattot, the tribes of Reuven, of Gad, and part of Manasseh choose the land on which they stand, rather than their portion on the western side of the Yarden. For personal, familial and economic reasons, they choose not to settle across the Jordan. Yet, they are no less connected to the land, its protection and defense.
Those of us who choose to live outside Israel live in much the same way. Our support for Israel, the land and the state is unwavering, our desire to walk upon its soil no less strong. However, in order to maintain this, we must also maintain a physical connection to the land. It’s not enough to desire the land. It’s not enough to support Israel financially and through rallies and speech. We must walk the land. We must bring our children into it.
Three weeks ago, we began our trip to Israel jet-lagged and in a heat wave (even for Israel in July). Unbearably hot and exhausted, our daughter was not impressed with our first day. She missed our cats and our air conditioning. She wanted to go home. Fast forward two weeks- she said this to me, “Eema, I don’t want to leave. I want to bring the cats, and Camp Ramah, and my friends here, but I don’t want to leave.” What began as a foreign, if beloved from afar, land became home. What changed? Sleep was good. Adjusting to the heat helped. But primarily, it was walking the land, experiencing our history, hearing Hebrew, and living, even if only for a few weeks, in a Jewish land.

Our first Shabbat I had a fascinating discussion about Zionism. Yehoshua, a neighbour, made the point that Israelis view the rest of us in Galut, Exile, whereas Jews outside Israel generally see themselves in the Diaspora. When reading parashat Mattot, this thought immediately returned to me. We are the children of Reuven, of Gad, and of Manasseh. We have made our homes in the place that is right for the moment, our chosen Diaspora. Still, our homeland, our inheritance, and our future remain the land of our ancestors, the land of Israel.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pinchas- Trading Places

V’sheim ish Yisrael hamukeh asher hukah et-haMidyanit Zimri ben-Salu n’si veit-av laShim’oni. V’sheim ha’isha hamukah haMidyanit Kozbi vat-Tzur rosh umot beit-av b’Midyan hu.
And the name of the Israelite man who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri ben Salu, a prince of a father’s house [from the tribe of] Shimeon. And the name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Kozbi bat Tzur, head of the people of a father’s house in Midian. (B’midbar 25:14-15)
Zimri and Kozbi are killed in the previous parasha for committing a public idolatrous sexual act. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) when Bilam was so impressed by Israel’s moral purity, it was realized the only way to defeat them would be to seduce them to the dark side. B’midbar 31:16 tells us that, “on the word of Bilam,” the Midianite women “lured Israelites to transgress against God in the matter of Peor,” the sexually charged Midianite cult. Rashi points out the extremes to which the Midianites would go illustrated by their willingness to send their daughters and even princesses to seduce the Israelites.
The Talmud says when a pious man marries a wicked woman, the man becomes wicked, but when a wicked man marries a pious woman, the man becomes pious. Of course it is not so easy as that. People do not change their nature, and a wicked person does not become good by association. However, when we look beyond the black and white, at the grays in which people live, we see that acts and nature are not always the same. One who is involved in wicked action can be redirected through influence and environment. How much nature and how much nurture affects who we are.
“Trading Places,” a 1983 movie examines this. Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) has everything. Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) has nothing. Each is affected by his environment for better and for worse. However, when influenced by opportunity, friendship and love (in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis), both men turn towards the light, and strive to be better. In the movie, it is not merely the actions that make the individuals good or wicked. It is the intentions in their hearts. As such, they can be led towards or away from good or wicked acts. Nonetheless, in the end, the true nature of each individual comes through nurtured by those around them.
We never learn if Zimri and Kozbi are wicked in their hearts. Their acts are enough to condemn them. Unfortunately, this is often true. However, teshuvah offers us an opportunity to turn inward and examine our nature while also turning outward to nuture others. We are in the beginning period leading to the Yamim Noraim. Beginning with Tammuz, moving into Av, then Elul, and finally Tishrei, we, as a people and then as individuals, take this time to examine our actions and weigh them against the essence of our hearts.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Vacating and Coming Home

Preparing for 5 people to go away is something of an art.  Add in multiple countries, the length of time, and the fact that Jesse is staying behind, and it becomes something for which I need magic.  You see, I am the planner and the packer.  Sean will do things that lead up to the trip.  He was on top of the reservations and figuring out whether we need a GPS.  However, itinerary and packing has generally been my area of expertise.  Packing I'm on.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately this time), I left itinerary undone.  The result is we had a plan for our first day, and little planned after.

There was little incentive to plan a detailed itinerary.  Although we're American, and we live in Canada, Israel to us is also home.  How much planning does it take to go home?  As long as the right clothes, etcetera get into the suitcases we're good to go.

Fast forward 16 days. It's our last touring day. Tonight is Shabbat. After Shabbat we head to the airport (provided it's open.  Sean is hoping for a closure, but since Ben Gurion has never closed, it would have to be very bad.) Already 3 out of 4 suitcases are packed. Thursday's expedition to Yad LaKashish brought a number of items than need to be packed in a fuller suitcase. I probably need an hour.

Why am I so much more organized to leave than to come? In our last few days I wanted every possible second to savour my time here. Packing was to be ruthlessly efficient so as not to get in my way. It also helps that Jesse is already packed and with USY. Somehow, even with a packing list, we're bringing home 5 pairs of his socks, a t-shirt, long pants, underwear, and shorts. With all the craziness of fitting everything, I don't know how he smuggled in extra clothing.

Coming home is always interesting. Jesse referred to Kfar Adumim as "home." He realized that in doing so he was making a statement. Home is Toronto. Home is where grandparents live. Home is Israel. Home is wherever we are as a family. Tomorrow we'll leave home to go home. It's the home where the laundry and the cats await. It's back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We just got into the pace here, just in time to leave.

My Land

I wrote this the other day after the missiles began.
"I'm sitting in my cousin's living room in Kfar Adumim, just outside Jerusalem, looking out over Jordan (We really can see the Jordanian horizon from the living room window.) It seems so peaceful, but we know it's not. Yesterday we were at Latrun. Due to Sean's questions and friendliness, we ended up beyond the museum in the offices talking to the person in charge there. He told us to "Please don't go to Akko. Even if someone tells you it's okay, it's not." which was today's plan, and said to Jesse, "Someday you may be able to tell your children you were here when a war began." Jesse is now with USY. We got to hear them go over the procedures for getting to the safe rooms. They're up north now. It's such a difference from the first half of our trip.

Still, we are having a wonderful time. Sean is making plans for our aliyah in a dozen years, and the kids seem nonplussed about the matzav. We've discovered a few new places worth visiting, and the thought of leaving brings tears to my eyes. We're really not ready to leave, although we miss you all."

So we stayed around Jerusalem. On the plus side we'll be able to get through our list of things to do here. Today we went to Yad Lakashish, Lifeline for the Old. It's such a wonderful place.  We had a tour and spent lots of money. After we took the LRT to Machane Yehuda to pick up lunch- hot pitot, hummus, techina, tomatoes, celery, and pickles. Back on the LRT, we picniced in Teddy Park, a new park outside the Jaffa Gate. We sat on a grassy hill overlooking a new municipal fountain. Beautiful and modern, there was a Roman era house excavated and restored just below and the walls of the Old City above.  AMAZING! A walk through Yemim Moshe and then back to the Kfar. Before we left, we lay on the grass. Keren wanted to wait an hour for the fountain to start up again. Sean and Gavi were ready to head back. Me- I said to Sean, "I don't care. I'm here in a beautiful park in Jerusalem. I happy just to breathe the air."

Back at the Kfar, Wayne, my cousin, and I sat in the entrance to the mirpeset (porch/deck) watching his tortoise eat some of our leftover celery. We were interrupted by the azakah (sirens announcing the missiles). In the Kfar we have 2 full minutes to get to the miklat. Here, the miklat is inhabited by a tortoise and a turtle in a pond. We, Wayne, Lilach, Gavi, Keren, Sean, the tortoise, the turtle, and I listened to the news as we stood/sat among the hay. (Most don't have hay. Our miklat is special.) We heard Iron Dome deployed; waited our time, and headed back out, merely inconvenienced, for dinner and ice cream. For us this is just one small moment in time. For others this has become life. 

The kids are great. The sound of Iron Dome startled them, as did us all, but they let the experience roll off their backs. Even with all that's going on they feel safe in their nation.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Balak- Tunnel Vision

Vayomer Bilam la’aton ki hit’a’lalt bi lu yesh-cherev b’yadi ki atah harag’tikh.
And Bilam said to the donkey, “Because you mocked me. Had there been a sword in my hand, thus I would have killed you.” (B’midbar 22:29)
We all know the story of the prophet Bilam. Sent by Balak and other princes of Moab to curse the Israelites, he is visited by God in a dream, and told to say only what God tells him to. Bilam still goes with the princes of Moab. God is angered, and an angel comes to kill Bilam. Bilam’s donkey, more perceptive than Bilam, sees the angel, and saves Bilam’s life. For this act, but without knowing the reason for it, Bilam beats her. When questioned why, he claims she mocked him, and for that he would have killed her.
Bilam is a prophet, but he cannot see something directly in front of him. He cannot see a thing that even his donkey has the sense to avoid. Not personally involved in the disagreement, to her, the angel of God is clearly visible. She sees its form. She sees its weapon. She sees its intent, and, caring about Bilam, she seeks to save him. At first she merely tries to turn him aside, but is thanked with a blow. The second time she thrusts herself into a wall, trying to force her way away from the danger. Again the thanks come as a punishment. The third time she merely sits down, refusing to be part of this charade any longer. And once again Bilam strikes her. Even when God opens her mouth, Bilam is not struck by the miraculous nature of the experience. Only when forced to confront the truth of the situation does he finally acknowledge the strangeness of her behaviour and suddenly recognize the danger before him. Only when God opens Bilam’s eyes, does he realize that she saved his life. Bilam overreacts to the help offered by his donkey. So focused on his goal, he neglects to see even that which is obvious to a donkey. Instead, he was ready to yell, to beat, and even to kill her.
How often do we spurn help offered to us by others? How often are we so involved in a project or a process that we are unable to realize what frustrates us is actually an attempt to help us succeed? It’s a common occurrence. Human beings are notoriously bad at taking criticism. Even if we are able to listen to the criticism, we often discount it rather than using it to better our actions and ourselves. Often it is the outside source that can read a situation for us to see beyond our own tunnel vision and glimpse the wonders and details of the greater world.