Q&A with Random Strangers on the Internet, Pt. 3!

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s time for yet another Q&A with Random Strangers on the Internet!

Every so often I like to collect some interesting, funny, or strange search terms that led people to my blog and respond to them in a post. In case you missed them, here is Part I, and here’s Part II. Enjoy!

“what are the jewish people with the furry circle hats called”

Those would be the Hassidim. The furry hats are called “streimels,” and are usually only worn on Shabbat and holidays. More about Hassidism here, and more about stuff Jews put on their heads here.

“why is jerusalem most treasured”

Well, I see you found my post called Why Jerusalem Matters, which answers that question pretty well–at least, why Jerusalem is so treasured by the Jewish people. The short answer is that it was home to our Holy Temple, which was the focal point of our religion in Biblical times.

Jerusalem bears significance for Christians in the context of Jesus’s life, death, and (according to their beliefs) resurrection. It is important to Muslims because of the Dome of the Rock, where, they believe, Mohammed ascended to Heaven.

“facts about zionism odd practises” / “weird zionist jewish traditions”

Well, Zionism doesn’t really have “practices” or “traditions” because it’s not a religion or culture, it’s a form of nationalism. These days it is often used by antisemites when what they really mean is Judaism. Because apparently these days it is frowned upon to hate someone for their religion, but it is totally A-okay to hate someone for their politics. (…???)

So let me make this clear: Zionism is nothing more than the belief that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination in its ancestral homeland. You can be Jewish without being a Zionist, and you can be Zionist without being Jewish.

There are some Israeli national traditions, but I don’t think any of them are particularly weird. I mean, there’s the fact that they like to have ceremonies for everything, and the thing about reading bad poetry at every event, but that’s for another time.

“what do you say in hebrew against haman and hitler”

Oh I know I know! Jews often add “yimach shmo,” which literally means “may his name be obliterated,” after saying the name of an evil person. As a kid I thought you weren’t even allowed to mention Hitler’s name without adding yimach shmo.

“can religious people be good at sex”

*cough*

Yes.

Better than secular people, according to research.

Next!

“jewish sexuality sheet”

OH DON’T GET ME STARTED.

Okay, you got me started.

As I explain here, there is a prevalent myth that Jewish couples have sex through a hole in the sheet, and it is absolutely, 100% false.

Jewish tradition views sex as a powerful force that can be either incredibly positive and sacred or incredibly destructive, depending on how it is used. The positive aspect isn’t just about childbearing, either. In the proper context, sex creates intimacy and enhances the sacred bond between a man and his wife. It’s not that different from the way we enjoy delicious feasts during the Sabbath and the holidays. We believe that the pleasures of this world, channeled for holiness, themselves become holy.

“things jews like”

Piña coladas and getting caught in the rain?

Okay, seriously though: Jews are people (contrary to what certain headlines on CNN may imply) and as such we have as wide-ranging tastes as any other group of people.

Still, if one must generalize, we do appear to have these loves in common:

  • Arguing
  • Eating
  • Complaining
  • Trying to save the world
  • Dark humor

“jewish custom open book random”

So there is a kabbalistic thing about opening the Tanakh to a random page to help make decisions or determine things. It’s called “Goral HaGra,” the “Lot of the Gaon of Vilna.” The method involves opening the Tanakh to a random page and following the last verse on the page; or, if it doesn’t answer the question, taking the last letter of the verse, and looking for another verse that begins with that letter on the same page.

The story goes that Rabbi Aryeh Levine used this method to identify the remains of 12 soldiers who were killed during the War of Independence. They were 12 of the 35 soldiers who were sent to reinforce Gush Etzion, and were astronomically outnumbered and massacred by the Arab army. They were buried hurriedly because of the conditions of the war, and later, when they were exhumed and moved to a more respectable gravesite, some of them were impossible to identify. (This was before the days of DNA identification!) The families asked the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, what to do, and he recommended Goral HaGra. Rabbi Ariyeh Levine, a well-known and beloved rabbi in Jerusalem, was assigned the task.

I wouldn’t exactly rely on it when deciding, like, what stocks to invest in, or something. But all things being equal, I guess it beats asking an 8 ball?

There is also the following Chabad custom: to “ask the Rebbe a question” by writing him a letter, folding it up, giving to charity, and sticking the letter randomly into a book of his letters. They then open the book and read the letter on the page where their letter landed.

“most weird ritual in jews”

I have to choose one?

Hmmm.

I mean… this is a very subjective question. I was raised with all these rituals, so there are things that seem totally normal to me that are really weird for other people. I guess if I had to choose one, I’d point to taking the Four Species during Succot. That one is pretty weird.

“how to wrap a pashmina on head jewish”

Well, all right.

(Here’s the post I tried and failed to link to in the video: A Blessing on Your Head: Jewish Headgear)

“hourly miracles that are keeping israel safe”

I don’t know about revealed ones, but hundreds of hidden miracles are keeping Israel safe every minute of every day! Nothing else explains why we’re still here!

“i love shmita”

Oh. That’s cool. Honestly I have mixed feelings about shmita. Like, there are aspects to it that are awesome and all, but some that are a pain in the butt or downright scary.

“im not ok letter”

Oy. I hope you’re okay now.

“how to indotruce topic o holocaust to children”

I do indeed have a post that answers this question! Here it is. I hope you found it useful.

“blessings from hair judaism”

Blessings… from… hair.

…Nope. I got nothin’. Sorry.

“basically anyone israel doesn’t like is an amalekite”

Mmmmmno. There are people who toss around the word “Amalek” the way people toss around the word “Nazi” to describe anyone they don’t like, and I think this is a very dangerous and destructive overuse of both terms.
Amalek, as a nation, is extinct. But we believe that the spiritual heirs of Amalek live on. These are not just anyone we don’t like; they are people who subscribe to the worldview that is the antithesis of everything Judaism stands for: equality, justice, and compassion. I go into more detail in this post.

“rrurh pitorri de morais”

What language is that even?

When I Googled “Rrurh” I found an entry from a Google book that had mistakenly digitized the word “truth” as “rrurh.” There’s a river in Germany called Ruhr?

Perhaps it’s supposed to be a Spanish name? The “de Morais” part sounds right, “Pitorri” sounds a bit Italian maybe?

Maybe Rrurh is the German child of an Italian immigrant who married a Spanish woman?

I’m gonna write a whole novel about this.

“israeli soldiers get book of psalms”

Actually they get a whole Tanakh (which includes the book of Psalms).

When Jewish soldiers are sworn in to the IDF, they receive a Tanakh as a gift from the state. Non-Jewish soldiers receive a holy book of their choosing (usually a Qur’an for Muslims and a Christian Bible for Christians; Druze soldiers receive a medallion, because their holy book is secret!).

At least when I was a sixth-grader, we received a Tanakh as a gift from the state for graduating elementary school. I guess they expect us to lose it in the six years between?

Any other questions?! Do feel free to ask!

photo of olive tree silhouette

Read My Short Story & Interview on Reckoning

Hey Josep!

Just a quick  note that my short story, The Olive Harvest, published in Reckoning in December, is now available to read online here. The editor described it as “a parable about otherness and coming together, as told by an olive tree.” It’s a quick read, only 900 words, and I expect a full literary analysis from you by next Thursday.

I kid, I kid.

The editor interviewed me about the story, and I think a lot of what I wrote there is highly relevant to this blog. (Which is why this is an “on-blog” rather than an “off-blog” note!) We covered the Biblical references in the story; writing about the Middle East conflict; environmentalism in Israel; the symbolism of the slow growth of the olive tree; and my childhood tree-hugging habits. 🙂

An excerpt:

Michael: I want to ask what sources you were drawing from. I think immediately of Genesis 1:26, where God grants us dominion over all the earth, that phrase so hotly contested between capitalists and conservationists. But I come from an American Catholic background, and I feel like my grasp of the religious lore is very limited. Are there other references you’re making I’m not getting? What about more recent influences on your style and voice?

Daniella: Yes, this story actually draws on quite a number of sources.

The most recent one, the one that really influenced the rhythm and cadence of the story, is a famous folktale of unknown origin, about a pair of brothers who work on a field together and split the portions evenly at the end of every workday. Each brother is concerned that his brother needs more than he does, so in the middle of the night, each of them takes from his own portion and transfers it to the other’s. Every morning they are both mystified as to how the piles are even again. This goes on day after day, until one night, their paths meet in the field, and they understand what has been happening, and they embrace and weep together. Jewish legend teaches that the Holy Temple was built on the spot where those two brothers embraced.

Obviously, there is reference to the story of the Noah and the Ark in chapter 8 of Genesis. It’s a story about a global disaster brought about by human cruelty, and the image of the dove with the olive branch, signaling to Noah that the Flood is receding and that they will soon come upon dry land, has become a universal symbol of peace.

“Between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal” is a direct reference to a mysterious ceremony mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy (chapters 11 and 27) and the book of Joshua (chapter 8). It took place just after the Israelites entered the Holy Land, on these two mountains, which rise up around the Biblical city of Shekhem, known now as Nablus in Arabic–a hotly contested area in our times.

The purpose of the ceremony was to demonstrate that if the Israelites followed God’s word and carried out His commandments, they would inherit the land and prosper, but if they ignored His commandments, they would experience famine and hardship, and may eventually be expelled from the land. “I call upon the heaven and the earth today as witnesses: I put before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) Every time I read those words I get a tingle down my spine.

Finally, there is a less obvious, but more fundamental reference to Deuteronomy 20:19. At the end of a chapter about the rules of waging holy war, a rather peculiar, out-of-place commandment pops up. God forbids the Israelites to destroy trees that bear fruit in the process of laying siege upon an enemy city. “For you may eat from it,” He explains. “Is a tree of the field a man, to go into siege before you?”

In Jewish tradition, we believe that the Torah (the Jewish Bible) is centered around the experiences and actions of man. That is its focus. But I see this passage as a little peek into God’s relationship with the rest of His creation. “You go ahead and wage your wars and cleanse the world of human evil as necessary,” He seems to be saying. “Just… leave My trees out of it, okay?”

You can read the full interview here.

Shabbat shalom and Happy Purim! (It’s on Saturday night, and I still have no idea what my costume is going to be. :-/ )

Much love,

Daniella

A Jewish synagogue in Munich

Guest Letter from Naomi: An American Jew in Munich

When I posted about my recent experience in Frankfurt, I got a response from an online friend of mine who is an American Jew living in Germany. She was sorry to hear about my impressions of Europe, because they didn’t reflect her own experiences. I was delighted when she offered to write a guest letter about it, because I have been focusing a lot on antisemitism in Europe and I’d like to provide a different, more optimistic perspective.

I met Naomi on an interfaith group on Facebook. As you will see in her letter, she and I share many interests! The rest, I will let her tell you. This letter, like the last few, is in the form of an interview. Enjoy!


Dear Josep,

I’m Naomi, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently living in Munich, Germany (with some time spent in between in New York, Prague, and Jerusalem). Over the years I studied creative writing, history, dance, and social work–I currently have a master’s degree in social work–and my passions and interests largely lie in the arts, working with people, culinary adventures, and being outdoors.

My cultural and religious background is somewhat multifaceted, as I was initially raised as a Reform/liberal Ashkenazi Jew, then my parents became more Jewishly observant and joined a Modern Orthodox synagogue. From preschool through high school, I attended Jewish day schools (and was in the first graduating class of two brand new ones) where I learned Hebrew, some Aramaic and a ton about Judaism.

Though I’d consider myself “just Jewish” these days, I feel quite well-versed in my religion. And growing up in the Bay Area I’d probably describe my cultural leanings as “liberal, curious and open.” I ended up in Germany as my husband was getting his PhD here. I initially worked as an au pair for a year prior to grad school, then returned after I finished my degree right before our weddings. (Yes, we had two weddings!1) I spent a lot of time here in between as well.

I [Daniella] posted recently about a negative experience I had in Germany and the discomfort I feel as a Jew in Europe. (Josep also shared, in the comments, about a negative experience he had in Berlin.) We also had a guest letter from a French Jew who loves France dearly, but feels very uncomfortable there as a Jew. Your experience, in contrast, has been largely positive. Can you tell us about that?

My experience as a Jew in Europe has been somewhat unique, particularly in the context of most German Jewry; I have some knowledge and experience of Jewish life in the Czech Republic as well. So I have to preface this by saying that I can’t really speak for all of Europe as a continent, as it’s very heterogenous and Jewish communities vary wildly throughout the region.

By “unique” I mean the fact that I am neither German nor from a former Soviet Republic, the two communities that make up the majority of Germany’s Jewry, so I’m a bit of an outsider in that regard being an American.

My husband, son, and I belong to the liberal Jewish synagogue in Munich, which in and of itself has been a positive experience. It’s a very warm and welcoming community with a diverse membership; we have Brazilian, Israeli, and Australian members, to name a few countries. I started becoming involved in an organization called Rent a Jew2, where Jewish community members go to schools and workplaces to put a human face on the Jewish community and share personal anecdotes and experiences about Judaism.

As one might imagine, Jews are rather a minority in Germany (there are quite a few in urban areas such as Munich, but don’t make up a significant part of the country’s population), so being Jewish is a different experience than in a place like New York City or London, where one can often assume that people have heard of holidays like Hanukkah or know that there is such a thing as kosher food. You really can’t assume any kind of basic knowledge, so people often have questions for me if they find out about my background–or, very interestingly, people will often mention that they themselves have some Jewish heritage–particularly in Prague, where the vast majority of our friends have at least one direct Jewish ancestor.

Despite this, I have never personally encountered any direct anti-Semitism or prejudice, just occasional curiosity. Sometimes there is a sense of being left out during the holidays, but this is honestly a similar experience anywhere outside of Israel. I think being Jewish here in Europe has strengthened my Judaism, as we have to make more of a conscious effort to be involved, unlike somewhere like New York City where you’re basically Jewish by default just living there (kidding, kidding). I imagine that for the few observant Jews living in Munich, you have to be particularly strong, as there is only one kosher restaurant and grocery store, and no eiruv around the community to allow for things like pushing a stroller on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.3

I also find, on a personal level, something emotionally significant about pursuing Jewish life in Europe after World War Two. I feel strongly that it’s important for Judaism to continue to thrive here. It’s almost like a full circle, as my ancestors had to flee from persecution and now I can come back and, in a way, help “rebuild” within the community.

Also, unlike back in the US, there are hundreds of years of Jewish history here4, and as someone passionate about history, that’s been a fascinating exploration since I’ve been living in Munich.

You are married to a non-Jewish Czech. How have you acculturated to each other’s different backgrounds?

I would say pretty well. My husband probably knows more about Judaism than many Jews! He has learned quite a bit of Torah, is currently studying biblical Hebrew and Yiddish. One of our weddings was also Jewish. So in terms of acclimating to my family’s Jewish background, I’d say he’s very well integrated and very involved.

Culturally speaking, Americans and Czechs have a few differences (from my perspective)–Americans are often perceived as overly effusive and sometimes insincerely friendly, and Czechs are often perceived as being withdrawn and sarcastic. However, these are stereotypes that one side often has of the other, an issue with every country’s culture. My husband has spent quite a lot of time in the US, including two stays as a student, so I think we are each in the position that we have had a lot of time and opportunity to integrate into one another’s communities. Sometimes there are funny differences, like my American family’s bewilderment that most Czechs–and Germans as well–don’t have a dryer. Apparently living without a dryer is very un-American!

When your son was born it was important to you to have him circumcised according to Jewish tradition. Can you tell us about that experience? How did your husband feel about it?

Both my husband and I did feel it was important to have a Brit Milah for our son, to have him connected to the Jewish community through a very tangible and powerful experience. It really is very powerful, as it’s obviously not easy to have such a tiny baby go through that, and as a mom you are just recovering yourself from childbirth and are totally out of it–so it’s an intense day for everyone involved. It felt especially significant to have him have his Brit Milah in a country where the ritual is extremely rare and occasionally under threat (one of the few things that unites Jews and Muslims on a regular basis in Europe). To be completely honest, if it wasn’t such an important facet of Judaism, I’m not sure I would do it of my own volition. But in the end, I am happy he is part of such a lineage, and I’m proud every day of my Jewish-American-Czech-Bavarian little guy (or however else he may choose to describe himself in the future). He is a part of so many cultures, naturally from birth, that I’m almost a bit jealous.

Naomi


Daniella’s notes:

1. That’s nothing! My grandparents had three! …Never mind. Carry on.

2. I gotta say, I hadn’t heard of this organization, and when I saw their name I laughed out loud. Can’t decide whether I find it more funny or disturbing…..

3. An “eiruv” is a sort of legal fiction that helps us get around the prohibition to carry objects in public areas during the Sabbath. It’s a string connected through a bunch of poles, that acts as a “gate,” which makes the area technically a private area in halakhic terms. Most Jewish neighborhoods and cities have an eiruv. Barcelona does not, Josep, which is why I found myself walking to the synagogue on Friday evening with no passport, key card, or wallet. In retrospect, that was not a very smart thing to do. But I was hungry and hoping to be invited for a meal, and it never occurred to me that anyone else would be interested in tagging along. I guess I didn’t know you well enough at that point! I could have been your ticket in!!! 😉 

4. Just to be precise–as I’m sure Naomi knows–there are hundreds of years of Jewish history in the USA, but obviously, far fewer than in Europe. The first American Jews were Sephardim fleeing Spanish persecution in the 16th century.


Are you a Jew living in an unusual place? Or any other person with something interesting to share? Please consider sending us a guest letter!

To view previous guest letters, click here.

Screenshot from the movie "Denial"

Responding to Antisemites: Was the Holocaust a Uniquely Jewish Catastrophe?

Dear Josep,

Now that I’m back from my trip and have more or less adjusted to being home, we shall hopefully return to our regularly scheduled program. 😉

On my flight from Denver to Orlando about two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch a movie I’d been really wanting to see. (This is quite a rarity, as I hardly ever watch movies these days. Who has time?!) The movie is called Denial, and it’s a dramatization of the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt. Here’s the trailer:

The truth is, I was fairly disappointed with the movie. I found Rachel Weisz’s performance as Deborah Lipstadt unconvincing, the script clumsy and stilted, and the drama somewhat forced. And I felt that its exploration of the very complex questions it raised was too superficial.

Still, I’m glad I saw it, and had the opportunity to think those questions:

  • How do we strike a balance between free speech and our responsibility to stop the spread of hateful and dangerous lies?
  • Is it better not to dignify the opinions of Holocaust deniers and antisemites with a response? Or should we engage with them openly, to keep the public informed and inoculated against the lies?
  • Should this kind of discussion be allowed to take place in a court of law?
  • What if making it a discussion at all gives the impression that the existence of the Holocaust is a “two-sided issue” and not indisputable historical fact?
  • Should Holocaust survivors be given the chance to testify in a trial like this, even if they might be re-traumatized by the prosecution and ultimately harm the defense?

All very good questions, and the answers aren’t simple.

One of them came up again last week when I discovered the following comment (on my previous post) awaiting my moderation:


Tell me something.

Nazis killed over 10 million people.
 
Why is it that only the Jewish are remembered?
 
What makes you so special?
 
How are you better than say, Polish people?
 
I’m not a Polish, not a nazi, not a holocaust denier. But I am an European, and Im pretty tired of Jewish bankers controlling the world. Do you understand, that without the banker mafia there would not have been the 2008, and without 2008, there wouldnt be Trump?
 
The world domination of the “chosen people” is crumbling the whole world.

Well. That escalated quickly.

Nothing good is ever going to follow the words, “I’m not a Nazi, but…”

When I informed you about the comment, I considered asking you whether you think, in your vast experience :-/ it’s worth engaging with such people. Can they be reasoned with? Is this kind of antisemitic drivel the result of ignorance, and if so, can it be corrected with information? But I decided that there is no way to reason someone out of the belief that Jewish bankers control the world. It’s like trying to tell an anti-vaxxer that vaccines don’t cause autism, a climate change denier that global warming exists, or a flat-earther that the world is round. No amount of evidence will sway these people from their opinion.

You agreed with my unspoken conclusion in your e-mail the next day: “As someone said long ago: Do not argue with fools. They’ll drag you to their turf and beat you with experience.”

So then I asked myself: if it’s not worth engaging this particular person, maybe it’s worth discussing the comment publicly and responding to some of the points.

Which brings me back to Denial. Ignore, or engage?

Each option has costs.

The cost of ignoring comments like these is that we (the targets) feel silenced and helpless, and the perpetrators get away with doing or saying whatever they want. It feels unjust, a betrayal of the truth. And there’s always the risk that your remaining silent will empower them, making them think you’re not responding because you can’t.

The cost of engaging with antisemites, however, is that in so doing, we grant them a platform. Treating their ideas as something worth discussing may seem to legitimize them in a way. At very least, it shows that their words had an impact. This can empower them, too.

…Well &$#^.

So, the last part of the comment is not worth discussing. It’s just pure, classic antisemitic myth, and I already elaborated on that in my Great Post of Jewish Conspiracies.

The first part, though, I decided to address, because in isolation, it’s a pretty fair question.

Why Is the Holocaust Considered a Uniquely Jewish Catastrophe when Millions of Non-Jews Were Also Killed by the Nazis?

I think this question stems from a basic lack of knowledge regarding the Nazi regime and its ideology.

Yes, the Nazis were racists. Yes, they believed that homosexuals, Romanies, Slavs, and blacks were inferior to them and therefore unworthy of any rights.

Jews, on the other hand, were not just believed to be inferior. We were believed to be evil.

This was a central tenet of Nazi ideology. Jews–not gays, Gypsies, or Poles–were held uniquely responsible for all the world’s ills. Therefore, “solving the Jewish problem” meant annihilating every last Jew.

They did not believe this about other groups. According to their beliefs, their purpose in the world as a “supreme race” was to dominate other races, not destroy them. They saw “lesser” races and other “defective” humans as undesirable, and killed them when they were a nuisance. There was never any organized plan to seek out people from those groups and exterminate them.

The Poles and Ukrainians, for example, were sitting on fertile land that the Nazis wanted, so they killed them to get them out of the way. Their plan was to enslave the rest. Individuals who caused trouble were sent to the death camps–but those camps were built with the express purpose of exterminating Jews.

In other words: the Nazis were horrible, inhumane, and murderous towards all other people who they defined as being inferior to them. But the genocide, the efforts and resources poured into the systematic and complete annihilation of every man, woman, and child–that was specifically directed towards Jews. We were, by an order of magnitude, their primary and most important target.

Look; this isn’t the Victimhood Olympics. No one wins a gold medal for having suffered the most. The fact that Jews were the primary target of the Nazi genocide does not and should not minimize or marginalize the devastating losses sustained by other groups. But when you claim that there is no difference between the treatment of the Jews and that of the Poles, you are denying history.

And as Deborah Lipstadt’s lawyers ultimately showed in court, when you deliberately deny history with the intention of glossing over Jewish suffering… you are an antisemite.

…Which our friend here promptly proved at the end of his comment.

Here’s hoping I will be able to go back to writing about things OTHER than Nazis and antisemites soon. *grumblegrumble*

Love,

Daniella

Uncanny Overtones at the Frankfurt Airport

Dear Josep,

So, speaking of antisemitic a-holes…..

*sigh*

As you know, I’m in Denver visiting family now. We flew Lufthansa this time, with a connection through Frankfurt. I hate going through customs in NY and was glad to be able to skip that part of the procedure this time, and, well, I thought it would be nice to fly through Europe. I got to show my kids the Alps through the window of the plane. The last–and only–time I’d seen them myself was from the window of a plane from Barcelona to Zurich. We also happened to find ourselves on a plane with activist-turned-MK Yehuda Glick, an absolutely fascinating character and fellow stereotype-smasher who I greatly admire. He was on his way to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. We exchanged a few pleasant words with him.

Our few hours in Germany, though, proved a little more harrowing than I had anticipated.

Listen… I’m not hysterical about antisemitism and Holocaust associations. I know, intellectually, that the Holocaust was a long time ago, and that most Germans are perfectly decent people, and that Germany actually has one of the lowest rates of antisemitism in the world right now.

But… memory of the Holocaust is so deeply ingrained in my national and religious identity, it’s a trauma the reverberates through my subconscious. I’ve been to Poland, as you know, but I was going there for the express purpose of learning about the Holocaust, and I was surrounded by a warm, supportive cocoon of educators and friends.

Here, we were just passing through, a very “visibly Jewish” family. And there was no way around it. I couldn’t shake the associations. I imagine you’ve been in the airport in Frankfurt and know what I mean when I say that the decor didn’t help. The place has a gray, industrial, austere air to it that was less than comforting.

Let’s just say I was a little on edge.

It was with this unease that I approached the security checkpoint. The man behind the X-ray conveyor belt rattled off instructions in an eerie robot-like, monotonous voice. He wasn’t talking to us like we were humans. “Everything in a box,” he repeated over and over before we understood that he meant our bags needed to go into boxes too. Flustered with his strangely hostile manner (and its uncanny historical overtones), I remembered to remove my laptop from my carry-on, but forgot about the kids’ tablets in their bags. We went through the full-body scanner–an apparatus that makes me profoundly uncomfortable–and both Eitan and R1 got a pat-down. When we went to collect our bags and coats, we found that some of them had been set aside, and the robot-voices man asked Eitan to open them.

At this point H was getting pretty upset. We’d been through a similar (less rigid) security procedure at Ben-Gurion, and no matter how I tried to explain to him that they were just being extra careful to keep everyone safe, he just got more and more upset. I took him aside and tried to calm him.

Then the robot guy called a couple of police officers over to look at one of the bags with Eitan, apparently concerned about the fact that we’d left a tablet in there.

I can’t help it, Josep. Watching a pair of German policeman approach my husband when I knew we’d done nothing wrong… I have nothing else to call it but “triggering.” I was starting to freak out a little myself. I breathed and tried to focus on calming H down. The policeman were much nicer than the robot guy and seemed pretty bewildered as to why he’d called them over.

Eitan and I were both harboring a niggling suspicion at this point.

The policemen left and we started trying to collect all our stuff. And then, out of the blue, the robot guy threw out the following comment: “You know, 25 years ago, we had a wall here, too.”

“Seriously?” I blurted.

Let me stop here and explain the context of that comment for the sake of any blog readers who need it.

The robot guy was making an inappropriate and ignorant reference to the security barrier in the West Bank. It was built during the Second Intifada as a deterrent to keep out the suicide bombers blowing up Israelis every other week–and it was very effective. It’s controversial for reasons I won’t get into here, but comparing it to the Berlin Wall (as the comment implied) is nothing short of idiotic. As I’m sure you are aware, it’s a common tactic among anti-Israel morons to throw around emotionally manipulative, wildly irrelevant historical comparisons. (Palestinians like to refer to it as the “racial segregation” or “apartheid” wall. Comparing the situation in Israel to apartheid is utterly ridiculous, and an insult to South Africans who suffered under actual apartheid.)

It was not an antisemitic comment. It was a stupid anti-Israel comment. But as Eitan pointed out to me later, only Israelis get those kinds of remarks. If we’d been from Iran, would he have said, “Hey, nice centrifuges you’ve got there”? If we’d been from Russia, would he have said something about the Crimea, or the slaughter in Aleppo? If we’d have been from China, or Turkey, or any number of other countries committing severe human rights abuses on a regular basis, would be have made a snide political remark? Of course not. Residents of those countries are seen as victims. Only Israelis are held in contempt for the actions of our government. Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of other Jews is a classic manifestation of antisemitism. The content of the remark wasn’t antisemitic, but there’s a good argument that its context was.

Eitan was livid. He told the man to keep his political opinions to himself.

“I didn’t state a political opinion,” was the breezy response.

All I wanted to do right then was get the hell out of there. Out of the room, out of the airport, and out of the country.

Of course, the perfect, equally below-the-belt comeback hit me a few minutes later, and I posted it bitterly on Facebook using the airport wifi:

Every other German employee we encountered was somewhere along the spectrum from “pleasant” to “wonderfully helpful and sweet.” The Lufthansa stewardesses especially were really lovely to our kids. But sadly, it’s the little incident at the security checkpoint that will remain burned into our memories from our few hours in Germany.

When I visited Paris as a teenager, I wandered along the Champs-Élysées with a group of friends, one of whom was a French speaker (having lived in France until she was eight years old). She got into conversation with a friendly vendor, and when he asked us where we were from, there was this long, tense pause. We had been specifically warned not to tell anyone where we’re from. So I stepped forward and took advantage of my American accent to say we were from America. The rest of the group stayed very silent as my friend made up an elaborate story about why she spoke French and lived in the US while looking Moroccan.

Every time I’ve been abroad, I’ve had a moment like that where one of the locals asks me where I’m from, and I pause, wondering what kind of a turn the conversation is going to take when I tell them the truth. I actually had that moment with you, in the first conversation we ever had. It’s scarier when I’m in Europe.

If you’ve ever wondered why I sound less than enthusiastic about traveling to Europe with my family… this is a major factor. It’s not much of a vacation when you feel on guard all the time, worried that someone might be cruel or unfriendly to you just because of where you’re from.

Love,

Daniella

A Self-Defense Instructor’s Guide to Responding to Hate Speech

Dear Josep,

*ahem* So. As you know, the other day someone posted a garden-variety antisemitic and misogynist rant on a YouTube video of mine (the one of me teaching a Mishna, which they only could have found through this page). Not that I hadn’t seen this kind of sludge before, but it was the first time I had comments like that directed at me. I took screenshots of it (without the user name of the perpetrator) and posted it on LtJ’s Facebook page with a mocking comment of my own.

screenshot of Facebook post
My post with one of these lovely comments.

Some people suggested that I shouldn’t be giving the perpetrator a platform by perpetuating his message of hate and sharing it. I decided to write this post as a result.

I’m a self-defense instructor. Responding to violence is one of my areas of expertise. Hate speech is a form of violence, and I responded the way I would have taught my students to respond.

Given the general post-Brexit-post-USA-elections atmosphere these days, knowing what to do when you’re targeted by hate speech is sadly more relevant than ever.

Please note that I am going to use the feminine to refer to the person who is defending herself and the masculine to refer to the perpetrator for convenience only. Both could be of any gender.

“How Do I Feel?”

The first thing I teach a self-defense student to do when she finds herself in an uncomfortable situation is to ask herself: What is happening to me right now? How do I feel about what’s going on? 

Sometimes, she may not be sure. I teach women to listen to their bodies: is your heart beating fast? Are your breaths quick and shallow? Are your palms sweaty? Are you shaking? These are all signs that your body is responding to a perceived threat.

Do I feel threatened?

In the case of our Internet troll, I didn’t feel threatened. It was just an anonymous comment on the Internet. Research shows that Internet trolls are literally losers. The comments did contain threats of violence, but how seriously am I going to take that when the dude is using the easiest, most cowardly form of verbal abuse to try and hurt me?

What I felt was angry. And exasperated. What kind of a loser has enough time on his hands to seek out videos made by Jewish women and write out long antisemitic rants? Don’t people have better things to do with their time?

“What Do I Want to Happen?”

The next question to ask is, What do I want to happen right now? What do I need to feel safe?

Some possible examples: I want this person to go away. I want him to stop touching me. I want to disappear. I want to get out of here. I want a friend to hug me and tell me everything’s going to be okay. I want to kick this guy’s @$$.

“How Can I Make It Happen?”

The next question is, What can I do to help myself feel safe?

There are a number of options. At El Halev, we believe that the goal of a self-defense course is to expand our students’ options, giving them greater freedom to choose how to respond. (That’s why one of the courses is called, “The Freedom to Choose.”)

Some options we don’t need to teach anybody:

Ignore the Abuse

This can be a good option if you think that engaging with the perpetrator may escalate or perpetuate the situation, and you aren’t concerned that ignoring him will make it worse. Sometimes ignoring it takes the wind out of their sails and will make the abuse stop. As kids, we are told to do this with bullies. It can work sometimes, but not always.

Get Away

You have the right to remove yourself from any situation that makes you uncomfortable without any excuse or explanation. This is usually the safest option, too. The problem is, sometimes you can’t get away, or turning your back may be dangerous. In those situations, it’s best to choose a different response.

The skills we usually work on in a self-defense class include:

Use Your Voice

This can mean anything from trying to engage the person in a disarmingly friendly dialogue, to shouting “GO AWAY NOW!!!”

It’s up to you. Sometimes starting a friendly conversation with a person hurling hate speech at you can be productive and change their views. Sometimes not. You should only try to do this if you feel up to it. You don’t have a responsibility to educate this person on human decency. Your first responsibility is to yourself.

In self-defense, we teach women how to set firm boundaries using strong, confident voices, direct eye contact, and assertive body language. You have every right to look at this person straight in the eye and say: “Do not speak to me like that. Leave me alone.” You don’t owe this person an explanation of what he is doing wrong or why you want him to stop. Just tell him what you want him to do, and repeat it over and over if you have to.

In self-defense, we find in many cases that setting a firm verbal boundary can put an end to the vast majority of situations of threat. This is because bullies and abusers pick on easy victims, people who will not stand up for themselves or fight back. If you show a willingness to stand up for yourself, chances are, the perpetrator will back down.

Defend Yourself

We teach physical techniques in self-defense classes, but only as a last resort: when you feel threatened with physical violence and you see no other safe way out of the situation. Obviously, this isn’t something I can teach you in a blog post! Which is why everyone should go take a local self-defense class. 😉 Knowing some physical techniques boosts your confidence and makes you feel safer. Non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray can help, but they have some downsides too: what if they malfunction, or you can’t grab them when you need them? Your body is something that will always be at your disposal, and there are easy, strong techniques that you can learn to use effectively in just a few classes.

Though I did not feel threatened by my Internet troll, it does put an amused smirk on my face to know that even if he did have the guts to physically threaten me in person, he might find himself on the business end of this knee.

(Yes, this is me. Don’t worry about my fellow IMPACT instructor, he’s well protected!)

Recruit the Bystanders

If you’re in a public place and someone is speaking abusively to you, the people around you might not respond at all. This is not necessarily because they don’t want to; it may be that they’re afraid, or that they’re stuck in Bystander Syndrome–a phenomenon where witnesses of an attack do nothing to stop it because they think someone else will do something.

So how do you get help?

Simple: address one person directly, and even better–give them a concrete instruction. “Excuse me sir. Can you tell this man not to speak to me this way?” “Excuse me ma’am. Will you call the police, please?” Even just saying, “I need your help,” addressing one person directly, can jerk them out of denial.

Get Support

After the situation has passed, it’s important to recognize that being threatened–no matter how the situation ended–can be traumatic. You deserve support, and you don’t have to be alone with it. Tell someone you trust who will support you and believe your story without judgment.

We strongly encourage students to file a report if they have been attacked or harassed. Whether you choose to do this can depend on a lot of factors, but we encourage it because it can help you feel empowered, that you have done something, and it can help keep other people safe if the perpetrator is caught and dealt with appropriately.

So, back to my Internet troll:

What I wanted was support.

I reported the comments to YouTube, removed them, and blocked the user from commenting on my channel. Then I shared my story, because I didn’t want to be alone with it. And, of course, I wanted to use that most Jewish of coping mechanisms–dark humor–to distance myself from the abuse and help myself feel more empowered.

I know that as an author who is growing her platform, and especially as a Jewish woman and an Israeli, this is not going to be the last time I’m going to get comments like this. Sometimes I may choose to ignore it and shut it down so the abuser doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing the effects of their words. Whatever it is–it’s up to me. He threw his words at me; they’re mine now, and I’ll do whatever I like with them!

Love,

Daniella


Blog readers looking for recommendations for self-defense classes: if you’re in Israel, contact El Halev. They’re amazing! Otherwise, find your local chapter of IMPACT International. IMPACT is the best of the best. And I’m not biased at all. Okay, maybe a little.

Hebrew name word cloud

What’s In a Jewish Name?… A Lot, That’s What

Dear Josep,

Long time no write! Hahahahaha just kidding. But our readers don’t know that I’ve been pestering you off-blog on a regular basis the past few weeks. Or is it months? 😛

I haven’t posted anything on here for almost a month. As you know very well, I’ve been busy–busy with various events and projects, one of which is the final revisions for my novel, which is scheduled for publication this coming fall (and is the main reason for the aforementioned pestering).

In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed your holidays and had the opportunity to rest. January 1st was not “my” new year, but having another point in time to reflect on the past year is nice. Especially since, contrary to John Oliver’s experience of 2016, I had an absolutely amazing year.

Seriously. I went to update my personal website and remembered the feeling I had when I first wrote the content for it: “I have no publishing credits. I have no experience. I have no academic degree. I am a generally inferior human being.” Well, I still don’t have a degree, but screw that. I realized my lifelong dream of walking into a bookstore, seeing a book on the shelf, picking it up, and being able to say, “I wrote this.” And that was only the beginning! After 15 years of trying to publish fiction, not only did I get two short stories published and another accepted, I found a publisher for my novel. Several pieces of mine were published on well-known websites like Kveller and Aish.com. I even had a little piece accepted for publication in the print version of Writer’s Digest (to be published in the March/April issue).

I am proud of what I have accomplished this year. I know you don’t feel you deserve any of the credit, but obviously, your presence in my life inspired some or most of content in several of these projects. So, thanks for existing. 😉 And even you can’t deny that you’ve helped me a great deal with both books, so thank you for that, too!

Another exciting thing that happened recently, as you know, is that my sister welcomed a new baby into her family. And the rest of this post is in her honor.

Back towards the beginning of my sister’s pregnancy, she consulted me on name ideas. Recently, when we were discussing it again before the birth, she told me I should write a blog post about it. So, here I am. 😉

Now, I have teased you plenty about the naming customs in your culture, from your *cough* unoriginal first names to your inordinately complicated surnames. No sir, I am never going to let you forget that time I remembered your own grandmother’s name better than you did. 😛

But thinking about it in this context–I get it. Your culture is very Catholic. Catholics name children after saints, I assume with the hope that the child will emulate the fine qualities of that saint. And there are only so many saints to name kids after. Especially when your ancestors have been paranoid about using Jewish-sounding names for the last five centuries. 😉

In Judaism, first names have great significance. We believe that names capture the essence of the person. Some believe that they can alter that person’s destiny. I mentioned before that it is said that parents receive a certain level of prophecy when choosing a name for their child. It’s serious business.

So we want to choose names that contain most or all of the following:

  1. A deep and positive meaning
  2. A positive family connection (e.g. naming after a beloved relative)
  3. A connection to the Jewish context of the child’s birth (a particular holiday, that week’s Torah portion, etc.)
  4. A pleasing sound (and is reasonably pronouncable by most people who will be using it)

Historical Jewish Names

Jews have traditionally named their children either after Biblical figures (Judah, Sarah, Jacob, Esther) or sages from the Talmud (Hillel, Akiva). We have also borrowed names from the cultures and languages around us. I am far from an expert on the matter, but from the little research I’ve done, it appears that foreign-language names were more frequently given to women. (Such as: Preciosa or Dolça in medieval Spain, Aysha (=”life”) or Mas’uda (=”joyful”) in Morocco, and Frieda (=”joy) or Gittel (=”good”) in Eastern Europe.)

It has always been seen as proper and beneficial to name children after relatives or important figures in the community. We hope that by having their names, our children will emulate their fine qualities.

In Ashkenazi and some Sephardi cultures, there is superstition around naming children after living relatives. So we usually only name kids after deceased relatives. In some Sephardi cultures, it’s the opposite–it is a great honor to have a child in the family named after you while you are still alive.

In ultra-Orthodox/haredi communities, these naming customs remain virtually unchanged. The most common names are Biblical names and/or Yiddish names, often after deceased relatives or great community leaders.

Modern American Jewish Names

Some modernized American Jews, mostly of the older generation, gave their kids both an “English name” (which they generally go by in day-to-day life and use on their legal documents) and a “Hebrew name” (used in Jewish ritual contexts, such as prayer). Americans also often have middle names that are not used day-to-day, so between the English name they use, the middle English name, and all the Hebrew names, they can end up with a lot of extra names!

For example: my husband’s English name is Ethan Gabriel, and his Hebrew name is Yitzchak. He was named after his grandfather Egon, whose Hebrew name was Yitzchak, too. My husband went by Ethan for the first two decades of his life. When he became religious, he changed it to the original Hebrew version of Ethan (Eitan), and added that to the beginning of his Hebrew name. But then his mother told him they’d actually named him after all three of his deceased great-grandfathers, giving him three Hebrew names at his circumcision ceremony: Yitzchak Avraham Haim! So now his Hebrew name is Eitan Yitzchak Avraham Haim. Quite a mouthful!

My parents also have two English names and three Hebrew/Yiddish names each (!). I think they decided to simplify matters with their own kids. So I “only” have two names, that work in both languages: Daniella Naomi.

Israeli Names

During the early years of the Zionist movement, pioneers were eager to shed their Diaspora identity. They preferred to name their children distinctly Hebrew names rather than Yiddish ones. They continued to use the classical Biblical names like David, Sarah, Yosef, and Tamar (all of which are still on the top 10 list of given Jewish names in Israel), but they also started giving modern Hebrew names like Rotem (a kind of flower), Shira (“song”), and Tal (“dew”). In the religious community, modern Hebrew names have a more religious bent, such as Shirel (“song of God”) or Benaya (“God has built”).

As you may remember, all my kids’ names are in the latter category. They are modern names, but heavily anchored in Biblical texts. Their names were all inspired by those of a deceased person we wanted to honor.

My sister wanted to name my niece after our grandmother. But the English name has a negative Hebrew meaning, and the Hebrew name was kind of antiquated. So we tossed around ideas for names with similar sounds and meanings, fretting over spellings and pronunciation, until she eventually chose one. The name she settled on also happens to associated with the holiday of Chanukah. My niece was born on the fifth night.

This amount of thought going into a name is totally 100% normal to me, and it only occurred to me recently that it might be very strange to other people. Just as it is completely bizarre to me that names like “Jayden” that don’t mean anything are so popular in the USA. Why would someone give their kid a name that’s just a bunch of sounds put together?!

To each his own, I guess…

Love,

Daniella

I Made Aliyah 20 Years Ago as a Child. This Is My Story

Dear Josep,

So… I’ve got a few “something-versaries” either recently past or coming up. You and I had our tenth “friendversary” two months ago; next week is LtJ’s 2nd “blogiversary” (frankly I can’t believe it’s only been two years!!! So much has happened!!!); and tomorrow is my 20th “aliyaversery.”

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve done anything for 20 years, except be alive. Maybe. 😛

But it’s true: on December 16th, 1996, I stepped out of a plane and descended a mobile staircase onto the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport. Some people around me knelt and kissed the ground. I did not feel like kissing anything.

I was nine years old at the time and had just left behind the only life I’d known to immigrate to Israel with my parents, older sister, and two younger brothers. “Aliyah” literally means “rising up,” referring to the elevated spiritual status we achieve by being in the Holy Land. But I think you already know that. 🙂

It’s a story I usually only refer to in passing. I don’t talk about it much. I mean… it was a long time ago. I’ve spent 2/3rds of my life in this country, and if you were to ask me if I feel more American or more Israeli, I’d say I feel more Israeli.

The truth is, though, that the experience of immigrating from the USA to Israel was the formative event of my life. The story of my aliyah is basically the story of how I became who I am today.

I don’t regret a thing, and I am very grateful to my parents for bringing me here. I don’t think I ever would have had the courage and stamina to make this choice as a parent. We had a comfortable life in Pittsburgh. My parents owned a two-story house with a big basement and a huge front and back yard. We were part of a close-knit community of religious Jews in Squirrel Hill; we had a religious Jewish day school, Hillel Academy, just a ten-minute walk away. My dad was a physiatrist (rehabilitative medicine physician) making a very comfortable living, and my mom taught karate to women and children in the community. There was no reason in the world to leave–except Zionism. My parents believed all Jews should live in Israel and planned to make aliyah long before I was born. So I grew up knowing that it was something that would probably happen in the distant future, and when it finally started to materialize, it didn’t come as a shock.

I remember our first few months in Israel in kind of a haze. I had been taught to read and pray in Hebrew at my school in Pittsburgh, and some extremely basic conversational skills, but it was not enough to understand what was going on in the classroom or to have meaningful conversations with my peers.

Even harder than the language barrier was the culture shock. Introversion is… not tolerated very well in Israeli culture. It’s a very social culture, everybody all up in each other’s business. And my classmates interpreted my shyness as snobbery. I made a few English-speaking friends, but most of my classmates either ignored or actively teased me in the first few years. I remember feeling “other,” and intensely lonely. I went from easily the top of my class in Pittsburgh to doing literally nothing in the classroom. Most days I brought along a book in English and read instead of even trying to understand what the teacher was saying.

It was really, really tough. I cried often. I missed my friends and my old life terribly. I fought with my parents and siblings regularly. There was a period I spent 15 minutes every morning throwing a tantrum and screaming at my mother that there was no point in going to school and I didn’t want to go.

This is why I don’t talk about it much. It makes me very emotional to remember how hard it was. (I neither confirm nor deny that I cried several times while putting together this post.)

It didn’t help that I’m highly sensitive, which meant that relative to other children my age, I experienced emotions and relationships very intensely… and that I had already had a history of depression and anxiety. I was seeing a psychotherapist regularly from second grade up until I made aliyah. About a year after aliyah, my family went to a “family therapist” for a few sessions, but other than that, I didn’t have professional emotional support. When I look back on that period, I see that I developed some creative coping mechanisms, using fantasy and creativity as an outlet for my loneliness and sense of helplessness.

Me, age 10, about six months after aliyah

As you’ve probably guessed, one coping mechanism I developed was writing. I kept a daily journal of my thoughts and experiences, starting a few weeks before the aliyah and ending in the summer of 1997. Six months later, I started another diary, which I wrote in every day all through 1998. I also received a hardcover notebook for my birthday that year which I started to use as a poetry book. I still have all three of these, and they are among my most treasured possessions.

Photo of books
Left to right: the poetry book, the aliyah journal, and the diary
Journal entry that reads: Dec. 16th, 1996. Dear Journal, Today I landed in Israel. We got a warm welcome from a society at the Ben Gurion Airport. Our temporary apartment is okay. I was very tired today. Instead of going out to someone's house for dinner, I stayed home with Ima.
Not sure what I crossed out there, but my mixed feelings definitely come across!
Journal excerpt that reads: Dec. 22, 1996. Dear Journal, Today was the first day of school (for me). Everyone kept on staring at me. It was terrible. I hope tomorrow will be better. I EVEN HAD HOMEWORK!!!!!"
Journal entry from my first day at an Israeli school

At age ten, just a few months after making aliyah, I wrote my first chapter book. It was called “To Keep the Peace” and recounted the adventures of yours truly and my real-life British friend Shareen, who, upon learning that the USA and the UK were about to go to war with each other, flew to London and Washington D.C. to convince the Queen of England and then-President Clinton not to fight. It was ridiculous and beyond adorable. And looking at it from a psychological perspective–how awesome was I? I gave myself agency and freedom and the power to cross oceans and change the world through fantasy and creative expression. What a wonderful coping skill!

After writing that book, I had a definitive answer when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up: an author.

Diary entry that reads: April 3rd, 1998. "Dear Teddy, Oooh I - I'm just at a loss for words. Why - how?! No, nothing horrible happened, no one died. Well, my old self sort of did. I am an author and poetess, no doubt about it. But I - I am an *Israeli*. I am going to fall in love with *Israeli men*. I am going to live in Israel. I'm going to have *Israeli children*. But - most of all - I am eleven years old. My sister is thirteen. My life is changing. Too quickly. I can't keep up with myself. I just - can't. Yours, Daniella"
11-year-old Daniella philosophizing about the passage of time and what her future holds.

With the gift money I received for my bat mitzvah, I purchased a computer, which was a pretty standard thing to do with bat mitzvah gift money, but the thing I was looking forward to most about it was fairly non-standard: I wanted to start writing my first novel. And that’s exactly what I did. At age 14 I completed it, and a few months later, completed another novel I had started writing in the meantime. When you and I met four years later, I had already penned five full-length novels. An Ancient Whisper is my sixth.

Over time, my grasp of Hebrew improved, and I learned to find my place within Israeli society.

…Usually off in a corner, having deep philosophical conversations or geeking out over books with my little group of friends while everybody else giggled about movie stars and boys. (Somehow I suspect you will relate, Hamlet. 😛 😛 😛 )

I was in eighth grade when the Second Intifada broke out, and was volunteering for OneFamily, an organization that assists terror victims, as it was tapering off. So my entire experience of high school was on the backdrop of some very grim and scary things going on. For my part, it had the effect of strengthening my connection to Israel. That sense of solidarity I write about, the way Israelis cope with terror, helped me feel a part of something, and helped me understand very deeply why my parents had brought me here. This is my people, this is our land, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

By ninth grade I was fully functional in school, and did very well on my matriculation exams despite the fact that I received no accommodations whatsoever on account of my status as an immigrant. (Back then we were expected to be completely functional in Hebrew 5 years after making aliyah. The law has since changed–had I come just a few years later, I would have been eligible for all kinds of accommodations–and I am super pissed off about it. 😛 ) (It makes literally no difference to my life. My scores were excellent and I never needed them anyhow. BUT IT’S NOT FAIR!!!) (Okay I’m done)

Basically… I grew up with one foot in each world, struggling to make the transition to the new one while clinging nostalgically to the old one. Reading my writings from that period is kind of heartwrenching: there’s this girl, on the seamline between childhood and adolescence, facing an upheaval in her life that was too big for her to fully comprehend, simultaneously finding relief in her rich imagination and criticizing herself for having her head in the clouds.

Me at a restaurant in Israel, age 10-11, with my paternal grandmother

Story of my life in a nutshell.

Love,

Daniella


A couple quick announcements before I go:

1) Today is the last day you can download Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism for free! Don’t miss out!

2) *ahem* Speaking of my novels… if you’re subscribed to my newsletter or you follow my other blog, you already know this, but I haven’t announced it here yet: my debut novel, An Ancient Whisper, is scheduled for publication by Kasva Press this coming fall! It’s about an American Jew of Sephardic-Moroccan descent and a Catholic Spaniard who team up to research their families’ respective histories… only to discover that their pasts are inextricably linked. Woven into their narrative is the story of their ancestors in late 15th-century Spain: a Jewish family that runs into trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, and the Christian family that comes to their aid. For more information and updates, make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter.

Letters to Josep Available for FREE–Limited Time Only!

Chanukah and Christmas are both coming up, and they coincide this year! And you know what might make an excellent gift for friends or family members celebrating one, the other, or both? 😉

If you’ve been thinking about buying a copy of Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism as a gift, but want to read it yourself first to see if it’s your speed–this is a perfect opportunity. The Kindle version of LtJ is NOW available for FREE download here on the book’s Kindle page. It will only be free through Thursday (December 15th), so don’t wait–download it now, and spread the word!

If you’ve already read the book–please consider leaving a review! Even Josep left one! I MEAN, um, some random, completely unrelated individual who appears to feel a strange sense of kinship with Josep. Yes. (If you leave a review, you can check it out.) Just click here, give the book as many stars as you think appropriate, and write a few words on what you enjoyed about it. You will have my eternal gratitude! (Seriously. Getting people to leave reviews is like pulling teeth!)

That is all. Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, etc. etc. etc.!

Blessed Be the True Judge

Dear Josep,

*sigh*

So, first of all, I don’t know if you heard about the crazy wildfire/arson thing last week, but if you did, you probably calculated correctly that there isn’t a whole lot to burn out here and that I was probably okay. Eitan was out hiking with a group on Monday, and one of the foreign firefighting aircraft flew low overhead; it was red and yellow, and he eventually figured out was probably from Spain. Thanks! 😉

Last night, though, a terrible tragedy struck our community. A 10-year-old boy was killed in an accident at the traffic circle down the street. We don’t know the family personally, but in a community like ours, we have multiple connections. Eitan and I attended the funeral this morning.

What can I say? How can I begin to describe what it’s like to watch a family say goodbye to their child?

The mother said that this was God demonstrating to her that it’s impossible to protect our children. He’d been wearing a helmet, crossing at the crosswalk. This is what is so rattling about things like these. We move through our lives thinking we have control and that if we just do everything right, everything will be fine. But it’s not true. That’s not the world God made.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t protect you,” the mother said.

Daggers in the heart.

I started writing the following poem before I left for the funeral, and finished it when I came back. It is a kind of exploration of a phrase Jews say when we hear bad news: barukh dayan haemet, “blessed is the True Judge.”


“Blessed is the True Judge”
We push it out disbelieving lips
We force it past our clenched jaws
“The Lord gave, the Lord took away
May the name of the Lord be blessed”
We say.
We lay
A child to rest.
Why did You give
Only to take?
Why did You nurture
Only to break
Our hearts into a thousand pieces,
Shattered like the vessels that broke
Because the world You made was too small
To contain You?
Blessed
Increased, expanded
Be the True Judge
Perhaps it is not praise
Perhaps it is an accusation
Perhaps it is
A demand:
Expand!
Judge of Truth
Who takes a child in the height of his youth
Who forces a mother to bury her son.
Expand Yourself, O Holy One!
Magnify and sanctify Your own great name
In a world doused in tears and engulfed in flame.
Whisper in our ears
That You’re still here
That the pain has a purpose
That will one day be clear
That You do not hide Your face in vain.
Embrace us. Comfort us.
Heal our pain.
Lord full of mercy
Hear our prayer.
Please.
Don’t make us carry this.
It’s too much to bear.


Love,

Daniella