Category Archives: Israel

Rain in Its Time

Dear Josep,

I awoke to the sound of a thunderclap this morning, followed shortly thereafter by the drumming of hail and the shouts of the neighbors frantically trying to bring their furniture back in from their succah so they wouldn’t get ruined by the rain. I couldn’t help but smile.

Yesterday was Shmini Atzeret, and one of the special things that happens on Shmini Atzeret is that we begin to mention rain in our daily prayers. We will continue to pray for rain until the second day of Passover, in the spring. You might be wondering, why bother changing the wording of the prayer twice a year? Why not just pray for rain all year? The answer has to do with the unique climate in Israel.

During the dry, brutal heat of a Middle Eastern August, many among us (especially those of us who grew up in cooler climates) begin to ask ourselves why God had to promise us this land of all places, and not, say, Switzerland.

"I shall bring them to a land flowing with cheese and chocolate..."
“I shall bring you to a land flowing with cheese and chocolate…”

Or if it’s gotta be in the middle of a godforsaken desert, couldn’t it be one with some oil?

Like these guys. Sorry, am I giving you nightmares?
Like these guys. (I hope this skyline doesn’t give you PTSD…)1

In all seriousness, though, the question of the location of the Promised Land is a good one, and has been discussed and debated by the Sages. One suggestion is that Israel is located right smack in the center of the map, on the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe.

I shall call them Israel, and they shall be Mine, and I shall put them riiiiiiiiight.... here.
“I shall call them Israel, and they shall be Mine, and I shall put them riiiiiiiiight…. here.”

One of the reasons it’s such a war-torn piece of real estate is that it’s an important point along all the trade routes between those continents.

Why is this important?

Because, the Sages say, God wanted us located somewhere where we would come in contact with all these civilizations, influencing them with our culture. We have discussed (including in my previous post) how Jews have impacted the world astronomically out of proportion to our numbers, and the central location of our land may have something to do with that.

Another reason given for God having chosen this spot, is that at least up until a very few years ago, the area was completely, 100% dependent on rainfall for successful agriculture. We don’t have major rivers like the Nile, the Tigris or the Euphrates, and the only major freshwater lake is the Sea of Galilee. “What about the Jordan River?” you may ask. You didn’t get a chance to see it when you were here, did you?

...It's not particularly impressive. "Yarden 034PAN2" by Original uploader was Beivushtang at en.wikipedia - http://www.pbase.com/beivushtang. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
…It’s not particularly impressive.
Yarden 034PAN2” by  Beivushtang [CC BY-SA 3.0]
We get most of our water from underground springs or from the Sea of Galilee. So droughts due to little rainfall were a constant concern for thousands of years. I remember observing a public fast day while I was in middle school because of a severe drought we were having, and growing up always fretting about saving water and “red lines” in the levels of the Sea of Galilee.

Why would God purposely give us a land where our survival, until only very recently, was so dependent on the whims of nature?

Well, it’s not really the “whims of nature” we are dependent on; it is Him, and His will. And being dependent on rain makes us turn to Him constantly for sustenance. It’s the difference between someone leaving a coffee machine on the counter so you can make yourself a cup, and someone you love bringing you a cup of coffee because you asked for it. It facilitates the kind of intimacy God wanted to have with us. “The Egyptians can have the Nile,” He said. “I want you to talk to Me about your needs.”

In recent years, the government finally solved the problem once and for all by building desalination plants along the Mediterranean and through wide-scale water recycling programs. We no longer live under the constant threat of water shortage. (Here is an article in the Times of Israel from February 2013 called “How Israel Beat the Drought.”) I am, of course, very happy and grateful about this, but there is something in me that laments the loss of that particular aspect of the relationship, and the sense of hope and blessing that would come with a year of good rainfall.

The climate in Israel is characterized by hot, dry summers with no rainfall at all–from around May until September–and cool, rainy winters (well, rainy by Middle Eastern standards…), from around December until March. The months in between are the transitional seasons, which are usually characterized by temperate weather interspersed with dramatic ups-and-downs–heat waves and sandstorms that last a few days and then “break,” often with a cool wind and some rainfall.

So the reason we only pray for rain from around September to around April is because, as we read in Ecclesiastes this past Shabbat, “for everything there is a season.” Rain in its time is a great blessing. Unusual weather–even rain in the summer–can damage crops and upset the delicate balance of Israel’s ecosystem. I should note that this does not only apply to Jewish prayers in Israel; Jews all over the world follow this same prayer pattern. We have been praying for the fertility of the Land of Israel for thousands of years, even on the rare occasion when not a single Jew lived in the Holy Land.

The lack of rain from May to September makes it that much more precious when it returns. There is nothing quite like the first rain of the season here in Israel, and Israelis celebrate it with the same childlike delight you see around the first snowfall in colder countries. I am no exception. 😉

I began to really appreciate rain around the time of the first rainfall in the year 2001. Yes, this was shortly after September 11th, and a particularly meaningful and “cleansing” Yom Kippur I experienced as a 14-year-old. It was around that time that I began to develop a close and personal relationship with God, and as I opened my window and breathed in the scent of the soil drinking in the rain for the first time in months, I looked up at the sky and felt that each raindrop was sent directly to me as a gift from Him. I would go outside barefoot, laughing in pure pleasure and welcoming the shower as I waded through the puddles. I would sit in my parents’ car outside, listening to the rain drum on the roof and watching it drip down the windows all around, feeling safe and warm and loved. Each raindrop felt like a kiss from God… and, well, I would kiss Him back. To this day, I instinctively kiss every raindrop that falls on my lips.

rain

I wrote in a previous entry that I have a habit of looking for God in the weather. I most often find Him in the rain.

I will leave you with a song I love by Yonatan Razel (brother of Aaron Razel, of Krembo Song fame, and the more celebrated of the two for his appeal to a general audience and not just a religious one). It’s the first song on his latest album, “Bein HaTzlilim” (“Between the Sounds”), called “Tikun HaGeshem,” the “Prayer for Rain.” It is adapted from the traditional prayer for rain recited in Sephardi synagogues on Shmini Atzeret. Something about what Razel does with the music really captures the magic of the beginning of the rainy season here.

This is my translation of the lyrics:

Prayer for Rain

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

With the rains of Your will, bless the nation
Trapped like a bird in the snares of despair
In the merit of the Father of Many, who prepared a feast
And said, “Please let a little water be taken”2

Remember Your mercy, Creator of the celestial lights
Command Your clouds to scatter light
In the merit of the Sweet Singer King
Who said, “Oh, if one would give me water to drink”3

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

With the rains of blessing, bless the earth
With the rains of song, prune the earth

With the rains of life
With the rains of blessing
With the rains of redemption…

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

Wishing us all a year of abundance and many, many God-kisses. 🙂

Love,

Daniella


1. That’s the skyline of Dubai, a city in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where Josep has spent more time than anyone should ever have to.

2. This is a reference to Genesis 18:4, when Abraham was visited by three “strangers” (who turned out to be angels), and offered them “a little water” and “a morsel of bread,” and when they agreed, prepared a whole feast for them. From this story, we learn about Abraham’s exemplary hospitality, and the principle of “say little, do much.”

3. A reference to Samuel II 23:15, the story about when King David was doing battle with the Philistines near Bethlehem, and expressed a desire to drink from the well of Bethlehem. Three “mighty men” went and broke through the Philistine camp to fetch the water for their king, but when they brought it, he refused to drink it and spilled it on the ground as an offering to God, in regret over having his men risk their lives to get it for him.

Cracks

Dear Josep,

You may recall that the drive from Jerusalem to my home in Judea involves driving past a number of Palestinian villages. A section of the road coming from the other direction goes directly through one of the villages.

Now, for the most part, this area of Judea is pretty quiet. Some of the storefronts along the roads of this village display signs in Hebrew alongside the Arabic, and it’s because there is a lot of commercial interaction between the Israelis and the Palestinians around here. A majority of the construction workers who build the homes in our town come from that area, and the contractors get a lot of their building material from Bethlehem and Hebron. Palestinians are employed alongside Israelis at local businesses and farms, with equal pay and benefits. Our local supermarket is an oasis of coexistence, where Israelis and Palestinians shop side by side; it is Israeli owned, but most of the employees are Christian Palestinians from the local villages. The guy at the cheese counter gives out Arabic lessons as he wishes a “Gutt Shabbos” (“good Sabbath” in Yiddish) to the American-Israeli settler. It’s a whole different Middle East than the one on the news.

Sometimes, however, especially during periods of general heightened tensions, there are problems. Problems in the form of rock or Molotov cocktail attacks on Israeli cars, for the most part. It generally comes from the teenagers and kids. The hour or so between noon and one o’clock in the afternoon becomes notorious in these periods for rock attacks, because that’s when the kids are walking up the sides of the street to get home, restless after a day of sitting around in school. On one such occasion, a couple years ago, a teenager threw a rock at me. It made contact with the windshield, cracking it on a direct path to my face. Mere minutes beforehand, I had stopped for one of his neighbors shepherding his sheep across the road. I had waved at him, and he had waved back.

Windshield-spiderweb

We live in such a paradoxical place.

At the time, I felt so helpless. They’re just kids, what are you going to do, run them over? Threaten them? On the other hand, rocks thrown at cars have killed Israelis on numerous occasions; it’s nothing to sneeze at. So I started thinking about creative ways to make myself a less obvious or desirable target. One idea I had was to keep an extra scarf in the glove compartment, and wrap it around my face like a hijab when driving through.

Okay, so on close inspection I could never pass for an Arab. But if they were close enough to be suspicious, I'd pass them before they could figure it out!
Okay, so on close inspection I could never pass for an Arab. But if they were close enough to inspect, I’d be gone before they could figure it out!

I entertained the idea of finding someone to write a message in Arabic to hang in the window, like “Hi there! Please don’t throw rocks at me!” 😛 Or maybe finding a way to inscribe the letters TV, or UN, on the car.

The hijab idea made me kind of uncomfortable–you know I have a thing about honesty on principle–and the others seemed fairly impractical. But then I had an idea that was so simple, it was almost ridiculous.

Maybe when driving past the villagers, I could wave hello to them.

I figured that it could “humanize” me, appealing to the better nature of a potential attacker and making him think twice about throwing a rock at my car; and even if not, at least it could confuse him long enough for me to drive past before he realizes that yes, that woman did just wave hello to him, and no, he doesn’t actually know her, and yes, she is Jewish.

But as I contemplated trying it out, every time I had an opportunity to initiate a friendly gesture, I found myself paralyzed with fear. What if I needlessly draw attention to myself? What if that makes me more of an inviting target? What if it makes them think I’m mocking them? I think on a deeper level, I was afraid because waving is reaching out to them; it’s making myself vulnerable, and even if their rejection did not come in the form of violence, it felt like taking some level of risk. A wave hello means, “I acknowledge you, you are a person, I respect your right to be here,” and though I certainly believe these things about my Palestinian neighbors… you know. It’s complicated.

So… a couple months ago I was driving home and realized that I was going to be driving through the village at a time when school was letting out. I thought to myself, this time I have to try it. But I was still scared. And as I drove up and saw a group of teenage boys–the most likely demographic for would-be terrorists–walking up the road, and felt my stomach clench, I thought, am I really going to have the guts to do it this time?

And then, out of the blue, something happened that had never happened to me before.

One of the teenage boys raised his hand, completely unprovoked–and waved at me.

Delighted, I waved back with a big smile, and then proceeded to wave at every single person I saw on the way down the hill. I got some waves, some smiles, some nods, and a few blank stares. But it felt amazing. That village has become a completely different place for me since that day.

And now when I’m driving along these roads, sometimes I’ll catch someone’s eye and feel paralyzed by fear. But sometimes, I’ll lift my hand and give a wave… and I’d say three out of five times, when I do that, they wave back.

A few friendly gestures are not going to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict or bring peace to the Middle East. But the only thing that will bring peace is for both societies to learn to acknowledge each other’s humanity. The Talmud teaches, “Who is respected? He who respects others.” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1) And I’d like to think that maybe someday, a wave of my hand might start to change the way somebody thinks about Jews or Israelis.

Well, in the meantime, I’ll settle for preventing cracks in my windshield.

Love,

Daniella

Two Jews, Three Opinions, One Heart

Dear Josep,

I was going to post Part II of “Different Kinds of Jews,” but it felt pretty ironic to be posting specifically about our differences and bitterest conflicts on the eve of the first annual Unity Day. The day was established in memory of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Naftali Frankel, who were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the 16th of Sivan (tonight/tomorrow’s Hebrew date) one year ago.

You and I were in touch around this time last year, and I included you on my e-mail update list, so you know about the events of last summer and how they affected me. Nonetheless, I want to write a little bit about it from the perspective of a year later.

Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali were three teenagers who studied in the Hebron area and lived in central Israel. They were waiting at a bus stop around a 25-minute drive from here. A car stopped for them, driven by two Palestinians, terrorists affiliated with Hamas. At this point I should explain that hitchhiking is extremely common and generally considered safe in this area, as a result of the strong sense of community and the abysmal public transportation.

We now know that the teens were shot and murdered by the terrorists, and then hastily buried in a field north of Hebron. But at the time all we knew was that they were missing, and the search for them led to a wide-scale operation in Hebron and the area, leading to clashes, Palestinian casualties, and heightened tensions. The bodies of the teens were found on June 30th, 2014.

A picture of the teens posted to the social media by the IDF. "שלושת-החטופים-2014" מאת דובר צה"ל - הפליקר של דובר צה"ל: https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/14433226962/. ברישיון CC BY-SA 3.0 דרך ויקיפדיה.
A picture of the teens posted to the social media by the IDF.
by the IDF by CC BY 2.0

In those 18 days, the entire country held its breath. We obsessively checked the news. Countless prayer groups were formed. I took my son to a Psalm-reading session that was organized for children. There was a very, very strong sense of unity and solidarity. 30,000 Jews gathered to pray at the Western Wall for the safe return of the teens. 75,000 people from all walks of life came to a solidarity rally and concert at Rabin Square. And when the teens’ bodies were found, the entire country fell into deep mourning. Vigils were held all over the country, lighting candles, singing sad songs.

Not only in Israel, either. This one was in Washington DC. "Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad" by Ted Eytan, under CC BY SA 2.0
Not only in Israel, either. This one was in Washington DC.
“Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad” by Ted Eytan, under CC BY SA 2.0

Walking outside that day, it felt like Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the Temple (post forthcoming). You could see the sadness in every eye in the street, feel the intense despair in the air. I saw my neighbor in the stairwell that day and didn’t say a word, just touched her shoulder.

Look. As you very well know, Jews argue with each other a lot. It is one of our best and worst characteristics. Heated debate is a national pastime, especially when it comes to politics. And sometimes things get ugly. But at the end of the day–we share a passionate loyalty to one another and care deeply about each other, and that comes through in times of crisis. You know how I’m always referencing the joke, “Two Jews, three opinions?” At the funeral of the teens, Rabbi Dov Zinger said, “Two Jews, three opinions, but one heart.”

This came through during the war, too. 90% of Israeli Jews supported the operation in Gaza. Getting 90% of Israeli Jews to agree on ANYTHING is nothing short of a miracle. And there were miracles. If not for the kidnapping and subsequent escalation, Hamas would have been able to carry out a massive surprise terror attack through that network of tunnels, which they had planned to do very shortly after the teens were kidnapped. I recently saw a video of an interview with an IDF commander who told how a catastrophic attack from the terror tunnels was thwarted by the actions of some oblivious Jews from Bnei Brak who had that field cleared because of a number of halakhic strictures.

And there was unity. In one of my updates, I sent the following list:

  • An acquaintance of mine from high school told the following story: she was driving on Highway 431 between Rehovot and Tel Aviv when the siren sounded. She didn’t know what to do, but she saw other drivers pulling over so she followed suit, got out of the car and got down. She has always been afraid of loud noises, and she heard huge explosions overhead and felt so vulnerable. Finally when it was over she walked back to her car and found herself starting to have an anxiety attack–crying hysterically and shaking like a leaf. A man who had pulled over beside her noticed her and walked over to ask if she was okay. She said “no”. The man just stood there with her, soothing her and telling her it would soon pass, and did not leave her side until she had calmed down and was ready to continue her drive.
  • Other stories and pictures have been circulating of perfect strangers rushing over to children taking cover on the street and protecting them with their bodies.
  • A million videos of the soldiers dancing and singing on the border–not to celebrate death, the way the terrorists do, but to celebrate life, singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and “the Eternal Nation does not fear a long journey”.
  • Solidarity with the south. Tons of goodies and volunteers streaming into the rocket-stricken cities and running activities for the kids. And all kinds of activities and “fun days” arranged for them in safer areas.
  • There has been a constant, constant flow of pizza, goodies, essentials, and letters from citizens to the soldiers. I don’t think I remember seeing anything of this scale in the previous wars I’ve been here for.
  • There is a picture circulating of a tank decorated with children’s drawings and letters sent to the soldiers. Unlike Hamas, they guard themselves not with our children’s lives, but with their love.
  • People making aliyah (immigrating to Israel). A few hundred French Jews arrived recently, saying that they feel safer in the bomb shelters in Israel than walking down the streets of Paris with a kippah on. (By the way, if you think the horrible anti-Semitic demonstrations are limited to Europe, think again; anti-Semitic activity has spiked around the world, including the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.) Someone I know just made aliyah with her family through Nefesh B’Nefesh; not a single person canceled or postponed plans because of the situation.

It is very difficult to convey what we went through last summer. Just today we had a national security drill with the air raid siren, and even though I was expecting it and knew it was a drill, that rising and falling wail never fails to make my heart pound and my skin crawl. During and after the war, we all joked with each other about “Phantom Siren Syndrome”–jumping out of our skin at any sound that resembled the beginning of the siren, like an ambulance or a motorcycle accelerating. Still, it was not my first experience with a grim security situation (the height of the Second Intifada in 2002 was MUCH worse), nor with ducking for cover at the wail of an air raid siren (Second Lebanon War, 2006, a few months before we met); nor with doing that as a mother (Operation Pillar of Defense, 2012). The thing that was extraordinary about this war was the incredible level of unity. And that is why Unity Day and the Unity Prize that were established in memory of the teens feels so appropriate. If there is one thing I hope I never forget, it’s that feeling of love from Jews all over the country and Israel supporters all over the world, that sense of oneness. Thank you, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, for showing us what we are capable of.

May we hear only good news.

Love,

Daniella

Counting Up: The Omer and Lag B’Omer

Dear Josep,

This part of the year is chock full of notable events on the Jewish calendar. The next one coming up is Lag B’Omer, which is pretty much the most obscure holiday we have. But before we get into that, let’s back up a minute and talk about the Omer.

What is the Omer? Well, the word itself refers to a certain offering that was brought to the Temple at this time of year (omer ha’tenufah, “the sheaf of waving”). But it also lent its name to something we call “the counting of the Omer” (sefirat ha’omer).

Remember how we mentioned that the Exodus was basically the birthday of the nation of Israel? Sometimes it is also compared to the “betrothal” between God and the Israelites. The betrothal, or engagement, is an initial commitment that takes place before the eternal commitment of a marriage, right? So if the Exodus was the “betrothal”, the giving of the Torah–the seal of the eternal bond between us and God–is the “wedding”.

When a bride and groom are looking forward to their wedding, they often count the days left until the big day. That’s exactly what counting the Omer is–only when we count the Omer, we count up, instead of down.

“And you shall count from the day after the day of rest, from they day that you bring the omer ha’tenufa, seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days”  — Leviticus 23:15-16

It just so happens that I got married on the 47th day of the Omer–the 3rd of Sivan, 3 days before Shavuot. So that year that feeling of counting up in anticipation was very tangible for me! (Not to mention that one of my sons was born on the 49th day and another on the 48th three years later. A lot to count up to each year! 😉 )

The “day of rest” referred to in the above passage is the first day of Passover. So we begin the night after. Since this is a mitzvah, we make a blessing first, and then count the first day: “Today is one day of the Omer.” “Today is two days of the Omer,” etc. Note that the passage says to count both seven weeks, and fifty days; so we mention both when we count. For instance, today is day 25, so last night the formula went as follows: “Today is twenty and five days, that are three weeks and four days of the Omer.”

So why are we counting up instead of down?

Good question. 😛

According to the Kabbalah, there 10 ways that God expresses Himself in the universe. These attributes or emanations are called sefirot. Does that word sound familiar? 😉 They are, from highest to lowest: Keter/Da’at (crown/knowledge), Binah (understanding), Chokhma (wisdom), Chesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (might, discipline), Tiferet (beauty, glory), Netzach (eternity or mastery), Hod (splendor), Yesod (foundation), and Malkhut (sovereignty). These sefirot are arranged in a certain order, from the lowest and most material, to the highest and most spiritual. The lower seven are the ones that are expressed in our world.

The "sefirot" tree according to the Kabbalah. If you think this is complicated, you ain't seen nothin'.
The “sefirot” tree according to the Kabbalah. This one has eleven because it separates “keter” and “da’at” which are usually thought of as one. If you think this is complicated, you ain’t seen nothin’.

This is not the time or place to expound upon each one of these attributes, how they are expressed in the world and how we can recognize God through them. Kabbalah is a whole world unto itself and I don’t know much about it.

Anyway, each day of the Omer is associated with a different combination of sefirot. The first week is Chesed, lovingkindness, so the first day is “the chesed within the chesed“, the second day is “the gevurah (might/discipline) within the chesed“, etc.

The point of this is that it is an opportunity to examine the way each of these attributes is expressed through us. So for instance, today is “the netzach within the netzach“. Netzach can be interpreted as “eternity”, or “mastery”, or “endurance”. So on this day we can think about our endurance, our consistency, our fortitude, and try to improve these qualities within ourselves.

So let’s return to the question: why are we counting up? Because the idea is that with each day that passes from Passover to Shavuot, from the Exodus to the Revelation at Sinai, we rise up a spiritual level. Today, we are on “level twenty-five”–halfway there! Tomorrow, we will be on “level twenty-six”. When we reach “level fifty”, we will be ready to re-accept the Torah. Using the “chart” of the sefirot is one way that we can help ourselves ascend the spiritual ladder that is the Omer.

Now. All this is very exciting and you’d think that this would be a joyous time of year. Right?

Well…

Around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, there was a rabbi called Rabbi Akiva. He is mentioned often in the Talmud as one of the greatest and most influential teachers of his time. He had thousands of students. And at one time, there was a terrible plague that killed of 24,000 of his students during the first 33 days of the Omer. The Gemara states that this plague was wrought upon the students “because they did not honor one another”. For this reason, during the first 33 days of the Omer, it is customary to be in a sort of symbolic public state of mourning. We don’t cut our hair, don’t shave beards, don’t buy new clothing and don’t have weddings.

Now… one might ask, why all the fuss and bother over a bunch of students who died two thousand years ago? Haven’t there been worse disasters in our history that might be more deserving of public displays of mourning? Heck, if we commemorated every major disaster in our history we’d be in mourning every single day of the year.

Well, it’s a good question. And you know how we Jews sometimes like a good question better than we like a good answer? 😉 The answer is not very neat and easy to explain. People can take it in all kinds of different directions. One article I read went through the historical details of exactly what happened with the hypothesis that these students had the potential to reverse the destruction of the Temple and bring on the era of the Messiah, but that because they didn’t honor one another, they failed to do so and created an extremely unfortunate turning point in our history. This is the best explanation I have heard, and it’s worth taking a look at the article; lengthy, but worth it. 😉

So what is Lag B’Omer then? “Lag” is simply the number 33. Hebrew letters are also used as numerals, so 33 is ל”ג, which, sounded out, says “lag”. The 33rd day commemorates three things:

1) The end of the aforementioned plague;

2) The death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, to whom the Zohar (the book of the Kabbalah) is traditionally attributed, so it’s a big day for Kabbalists;

3) The rebellion of Bar Kochva against the Romans (after the destruction of the Second Temple) began that day. (The rebellion eventually failed, but… the same way we feel pride about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which also eventually failed, we also feel pride about Bar Kochva’s uprising.) To communicate the beginning of the rebellion, Bar Kochva’s men lit bonfires to be seen by their colleagues…

And that is why Lag B’Omer is the most polluted day of the year in Israel.

Firing up Lag B'Omer in Tel Aviv. צילום: אורן פלס [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Firing up Lag B’Omer in Tel Aviv. These people are serious.
צילום: אורן פלס [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Because it has become a custom to light bonfires in honor of Bar Kochva that night. Now, Israelis love bonfires. It’s a big part of traditional kibbutz culture, and fits right in with the general Israeli love of being outside. (And didn’t I mention that Jews have a thing for fire? 😛 ) So this custom is a big hit even among totally secular Israelis.

Lag B’Omer is next week, so all the kids are hard at work collecting bonfire wood, hoarding it, and guarding it ferociously from other kids. When I was an older kid/young teen, I enjoyed going to bonfires with my friends, roasting meat and marshmallows in the flames and staying up late hanging around the fire.

But then I grew up, got sick of dealing with all the smoke, and became a curmudgeon along with my asthmatic husband 😛 so this is the only night of the year we keep all our windows closed and the air conditioner on all night. :-/

Love,

Daniella

Welcome to Israeli Emotional Roller Coaster Week!

Dear Josep,

Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the first day of the month of Iyar.

I saw an image on Facebook that I can’t share here because of copyright issues, but I can link to it and describe it. (And I’ll share it to the FB page. What, you didn’t know that Letters to Josep has an FB page? Well, now you know!)

It’s a cartoon by Shai Cherka that was printed in the Makor Rishon newspaper. It shows a steep roller coaster track with a man holding on for dear life, his kippah about to fly off his head. At the top of the hill he’s coasting down is a yellow Jewish star with “Jude” written on it; at the bottom of the drop is a torch propped up with rifles; and then the track shifts into the blue strips of the Israeli flag, with the blue Jewish star at the center, as it takes a sharp turn upwards.

This is a perfect visual representation of what the two weeks after Passover are like in Israel.

Towards the end of Passover, you start to notice some blue and white streamers popping up along the roads. Then, you start spotting teenagers at intersections, selling Israeli flags that fit onto your car window, usually around 15 NIS a pop. I can’t tell you how many of these we have lost by opening the window while driving at high speed. A couple years ago they started selling these cute sideview mirror covers that lack that disadvantage.

And the flags start appearing on windows and street lamps. By MathKnight and Zachi Evenor (Own work) [CC BY 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
And the flags start appearing on windows and street lamps.
By MathKnight and Zachi Evenor (Own work) [CC BY 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
At the top of the metaphorical roller coaster is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The importance of this to our national identity has already been described in that post.

A week later, we have Memorial Day, in honor of the fallen soldiers and terror victims. The very next day is Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzma’ut), the 5th of Iyar, which is the day Ben-Gurion declared independence. Now, remember–Jewish days begin and end at sundown. So Memorial Day begins at sundown this Tuesday, and at sundown on Wednesday, the whole country makes a sudden and very dramatic shift from solemn mourning to joyous celebration. This may seem kind of jarring, but to us it makes perfect sense. We cannot celebrate our independence without first expressing our gratitude to those who gave their lives for that freedom. Last week, we remembered the victims of the Holocaust, standing as a symbol of the culmination of all Jewish persecution and suffering over the centuries. Then, we acknowledge those who died for our country. Only then can we celebrate our national independence, the miraculous realization of a 2,000-year-old dream.

As a kid I remember being struck by how Israelis seemed to connect less to Holocaust Remembrance Day than to Memorial Day. To me, the Holocaust was a tragedy so much more awful in every possible way. What I didn’t quite understand at the time was that even grandchildren of Holocaust survivors tended to have much more up-close-and-personal experience with death in the context of wars and terrorism. There is not a single Israeli who didn’t have at least a casual connection with someone who was killed in a war or a terror attack. It’s a small country. Serving in the army is mandatory after graduating high school. It’s fairly impossible to avoid.

Memorial Day is observed similarly to Holocaust Remembrance Day. A one-minute siren sounds in the evening at 8pm, and another, for two minutes, at 10am the following morning. Flags are lowered, ceremonies are held, graves are visited, candles are lit.

Soldiers stand at attention during the memorial siren on Mt. Herzl, the main military cemetery in Jerusalem. By Israel Defense Forces from Israel (Remembering the Fallen) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Soldiers stand at attention during the memorial siren on Mt. Herzl, the main military cemetery in Jerusalem.
By Israel Defense Forces from Israel (Remembering the Fallen) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As you may remember, I did not serve in the army, but rather chose an alternative available to people who prefer not to serve for religious or moral reasons (usually religious women), known as national service (sherut leumi). You may recall that I worked in the northern office of OneFamily Fund, now called OneFamily Together, an organization that provides emotional, legal and financial support for victims of terror. I could probably write an entire book about what that year was like for me (…actually, I sort of did. 😛 But that’s another story.), but one thing that it helped me understand was how very, very close these tragedies were to all of us.

This year, unfortunately, over 70 names will be added to the list. Most of them are soldiers who were killed during Operation Protective Edge this summer. Some of them are people who were killed in the vehicular and stabbing attacks while those were “popular” back in the fall. (Actually, another man was just killed in a vehicular incident, but it has not been confirmed that it was a terror attack.)

There are a few people I will be keeping in mind when the memorial siren sounds.

One is a young lady named Karen Yemima Mosquera. She was from Ecuador, the daughter of a family with what appear to be crypto-Jewish roots, and she came to Israel to study and do a formal conversion to Judaism. She had completed her conversion process just a few months earlier, and had just begun her life as a fully observant, formally recognized Jew. She was killed when a terrorist veered his car into a crowded train stop, in the same attack that killed a 3-month-old baby. I did not know her personally, but somehow–probably because of my connection with Spanish crypto-Judaism–her story touched me deeply.

Another is a woman from my community. Just last week I was looking at an old Google spreadsheet that listed names and phone numbers of potential babysitters, and my stomach fell when I saw her name there.

And of course… three of those new names are the names that make every Israeli heave a deep sigh. The names we were posting on social media, chanting in rallies, hanging on signs, wearing on shirts… and then singing mournfully, spelling out using candles, and using to name new initiatives.

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali.

I will write more about them and the effect their kidnapping and deaths had on us when the one-year anniversary of that event approaches. The events of last summer deserve an entry of their own.

After these 24 hours of painful memories, on Wednesday night, we blow out the candles, raise our flags, and celebrate, with public ceremonies, parties, fireworks, and concerts. In the religious Zionist (dati leumi) communities, a special prayer is held after the usual evening prayers, singing various Psalms and verses of praise, and Psalm 126 to the tune of HaTikva1. For us, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is not only a national holiday, it is a religious holiday. We see the foundation of Israel as a miraculous historical event much like the events that we celebrate during Chanukah and Purim2. Older Israelis, secular and religious alike, like to hold “shira b’tzibur”, “public singing”, which is a sort of communist version of karaoke 😛 where the music is played and the words displayed on the screen but everybody sings together.

As a teenager I would walk to downtown Rehovot with my friends, where the main streets would be closed to traffic, and there were vendors selling candied apples and other treats, and various Israeli-flag-themed paraphernalia, usually including big blow-up plastic hammers with which kids bonk each other on the head. Don’t even ask me how this became a Thing, but kids also run around spraying each other with “snow foam” and colored spray streamers. Well, I guess it’s slightly better than the Venetian carnival scented-egg-throwing thing.

Anyway, during the day, it’s become something of a tradition to have a picnic, usually barbecue, probably because the weather tends to be just right for it and basically any excuse to eat a whole lot of meat sounds good to an Israeli. 😉 Many people dress in blue and white in honor of the holiday, and cakes, cupcakes and cookies are decorated with Israeli flag toothpicks or blue and white frosting or sprinkles. Special prayers are held again for the morning services. Museums, tourist sites, and public parks are open and often admittance is free. The IDF also opens some of its lots to the public, where people can come look at the equipment they use up close. In general, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a day to honor and celebrate the soldiers who protect us, so it’s also customary to give them gifts and have kids write them thank-you notes.

And then, we have a couple weeks’ break until the next minor and somewhat obscure holiday on the calendar: Lag B’Omer. 😉

It so happens that there is another interesting holiday this week, the same day as Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, actually, but it is not an Israeli or a Jewish one. You know what it is, but I’ll keep our blog readers in suspense for now. 😉

Love,

Daniella


1. “HaTikva”, “the Hope”, is the Israeli national anthem. Within the first twenty minutes of my very first conversation with Josep, he informed me that he knew all the words to this song, and took a deep breath as if to start singing, but thought better of it, seeing as we were standing in a little street corner print shop in Barcelona around a bunch of other young people who thought both of us were weird enough to begin with. It was at this point in our conversation that I started to wonder if maybe I was hallucinating.

2. If you’re wondering what happened to the post about Purim, it was causing some issue with the formatting so I had to delete it. I’ll repost it next year. 😉

In the Empty Synagogues of Poland

Dear Josep,

Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed in Israel starting this evening, on the 27th of Nisan, which is the day the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. The date was also selected for its proximity to Memorial Day (for the fallen soldiers and terror victims) and Independence Day next week. We see all these events as part of the same story.

We observe this day with ceremonies and stories, lowered flags and sad music on the radio; and one thing that is unique to Israel: a siren sounds throughout the country at 10 a.m., and everyone stops whatever they are doing, stands up, and observes two minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The entire country comes to a literal halt.

As you can imagine, remembering and teaching about the Holocaust (the Shoah in Hebrew) is a big deal in the world’s only Jewish country, and given that Israel was founded out of the ashes of the Holocaust and on the backs of its survivors, it is a major part of our national identity. Educating future generations about it is of utmost importance to us. To this end, many high schools arrange educational tours to the death camps in Poland.

There is some controversy about those trips; about the moral integrity of funding Poland’s “death camp tourism” industry, about whether those rowdy teenagers actually get anything meaningful out of the trip, and about whether the Holocaust should be something so deeply focused upon and ingrained into our national identity when we have 3,000 years of rich and diverse history to draw upon. After all, half of the country’s Jewish population is comprised of non-Ashkenazim–Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Ethiopia. They have other important stories to tell, stories that are not told as thoroughly and as publicly as the stories of the Ashkenazim. Furthermore, some argue, is it really so healthy for such a major part of our national identity to be built upon a sense of victimhood?

Well, I traveled to Poland with my fellow 11th graders in March 2004, and it was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences of my life. The kind of experience in which the depth of its impact is completely impossible to convey to those who weren’t there. But let me try.

We visited three camps–Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka–as well as the neighboring cities, Krakow and Warsaw, and a number of small towns where Jews once flourished, such as Lodz, home of the famous Hassidic sect, and the charming town of Tykocin… and the mass grave in the nearby Łopuchowo Forest where its entire Jewish community was murdered by the Nazis.

My friends walking to the mass grave and memorial site in the Łopuchowo Forest.
My friends walking to the mass grave and memorial site in the Łopuchowo Forest.

We had several guides, including an Israeli guide, a Polish guide, and a “witness”: a man who survived the camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz and whose family was murdered at Treblinka. We are especially lucky to have been the last generation that could travel with a witness and hear his personal story as we stood at the very places where the events happened. Our witness, Avraham, was a remarkable man with a vibrant spirit and a great sense of humor, and his contribution to the trip was immeasurable. Our teachers accompanied us and ran discussion groups. Our principal had brought his guitar and he played along with our singing.

And we sang everywhere. We filled every empty synagogue with song and dancing; we sang “Am Yisrael Chai”, “The Nation of Israel Lives”, and brought life and music to all these places where our ancestors had been silenced.

My classmates, teachers and I dancing and singing in the beautifully restored synagogue where the Jewish community of Lancut, Poland, once prayed.
My classmates, teachers and I dancing and singing in the beautifully restored synagogue where the Jewish community of Lancut, Poland, once prayed. (I’m the one with the dull pink coat, the white scarf and the hair all over the place. 😛 )

In the gas chambers of Majdanek, we sat on the floor and sang about faith and yearning for redemption through our tears. It may sound strange to do anything but observe a reverent silence in such a place; but for us, raising our voices in song is our way of honoring those who died there, giving them a voice, calling out to God from the depths of our despair.

We walked, grandchildren of survivors, free citizens of a sovereign Jewish state, and sisters of the Jewish soldiers protecting it, down the infamous train tracks, into the forests, and through the remnants of the ghettos. We carried our Israeli flags in heartbroken pride; our unspoken message to those who died there that their deaths were not in vain. My friend Menucha, whose grandmother survived Auschwitz, says: “I remember walking in Auschwitz with an Israeli flag on my back and thinking of how my grandmother had come in with nothing. I think it’s one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Walking to the barracks at Auschwitz.
Walking to the barracks at Auschwitz.

One evening in our hotel in Krakow, a woman came to speak to us and tell us how she and her family sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. After her talk, we got up, one by one, to thank her and hug and kiss her. That wordless exchange–the glowing warmth and gratitude, the firmness of her grip on my arms, the softness of her white cheeks against my lips–is burned forever into my memory.

There is no way to replace this kind of learning. As Menucha says, being there with a witness to share his story was like the difference between learning about the Shoah and being in Poland; the difference between knowing and feeling.

So did my trip, and the focus on the Shoah in my education, result in building my national identity on a sense of victimhood?

The answer is: absolutely not.

It built my national identity on a deep sense of purpose and triumph. Triumph, because we are the answer to the Holocaust. Every Jewish baby born, every Israeli soldier sworn in, every mitzvah observed, every holiday celebrated, every song, every laugh, every smile is another slap in the face of Hitler and all he stood for. Ultimately, we won; not with guns or bombs, but with our spirit, our faith, and our dedication to our identity and purpose.

“The Eternal Nation is not afraid of a long journey”, I sang with my friends in the empty synagogues of Poland.  The Jewish people is here to stay. We have something invaluable to give the world. We have been oppressed, persecuted, and massacred for carrying that message for thousands of years. But we’re still here, still carrying it. Learning the terrible extent of the sacrifice my brethren made to keep their identity and hold on to that message makes me all the more determined to do the same, and to pass it forward into what will hopefully be a brighter future for all of us.

Love,

Daniella

Stranger in a Familiar Land

Dear Josep,

So we are back in Israel as of yesterday afternoon, and still trying to get over the jet lag and exhaustion from around 36 hours of travel (I know, boo hoo. Try doing it with three restless kids!) and get our act together because Passover–the Jewish holiday requiring the most intense preparation–is next Friday night. (Ahhhhhh!)

Being in the States was many things for many different reasons, but one thing that I felt there this time was… strange. Back when I was a kid and still a new immigrant, going back to the USA was a huge relief. When surrounded by people speaking Hebrew, I didn’t even realize how much I was straining to understand even when I wasn’t trying. It was only when I was surrounded with English again that I realized how much easier that was. And as you mentioned, Americans are so nice and upbeat when interacting with strangers. This used to be so refreshing for me.

This time, though, it was kind of exhausting. Israelis have a pretty bad reputation when it comes to friendliness and politeness. They don’t mind if I walk around as my usual pensive, antisocial self. 😛 I have the unfortunate combination of being both extremely curious about people different from me, and extremely shy, if not somewhat socially anxious, so I usually end up wondering about them and making up stories about them instead of striking up conversations. (This is where Eitan comes in handy. He “interviews” people for me, and I listen. 😉 )

Moreover, I felt extremely self-conscious in my long skirts and covered hair, next to my boys with their kippot and payot. I am no longer used to being a Jew in a primarily non-Jewish place. This may sound strange, but it adds pressure, because it means I become a representative of the Jewish people to the world. We are supposed to be “a light unto the nations”. It makes it that much more important to me to present myself as being kind, respectful, and generally a good human being. This is pretty challenging when you have three energetic little boys who are not used to, uh, non-Israeli standards of behavior. 😛 By Israeli standards, my kids are pretty well-behaved, but by American standards–let alone European standards–they can be a nightmare. (…I don’t know what your standards are, that you think my kids are so great, but you’ve always been an odd bird. 😛 )

This is not just my own quirk, either. There’s a mitzvah known as kiddush Hashem, “sanctification of the Name”, that specifically involves presenting yourself as a positive example of the Jewish people to the world. Throughout history, the whole Jewish nation has always been judged by the actions of the few–usually for the worse :-/ and that can be dangerous to all of us.

Practically speaking, when in the US, I experience this “ambassadorship” fairly often. Most Americans have a vague idea of what Jews are and know to categorize us that way, and we had quite a few “Shalom”s and other friendly comments indicating recognition. Other Jews tend to feel an automatic kinship with strangers they recognize as Jews, so we had some of those approach us, too. At one supermarket checkout counter, an African-American lady asked what our religion was and when we told her we are Jewish, she said “I have so many questions for you”. We asked for her information and promised to be in touch. (My father-in-law took this upon himself and said he’s going to send her a link to this blog. If you’re reading, say hi!)

This made me want to wear Jewish symbols outwardly so people would know what they were looking at. I’ve been wearing that gold Chai necklace of my grandmother’s pretty much every day since she was diagnosed (there’s a picture of it in this entry about Jewish symbols), but not everyone recognizes the Chai. Of course, the USA is pretty much the only place in the Diaspora where I could even consider proudly displaying a Jewish symbol. (This is what happens when you do that in France. 🙁 )

I often feel the same way about being an Israeli. I sometimes get friend requests on Facebook from random people in all kinds of random countries, and when I ask them to what I owe the pleasure, often it’s because they love and support Israel.

I am willing and proud to take on this role, but especially during these tough political times, it can be a heavy responsibility. As soon as I set foot on Israeli soil, I felt it lift from my shoulders somewhat. Here, I still represent something–observant Jewish women, American olim (immigrants), settlers, what have you, but that’s less pressure than the entire Jewish people and the whole state of Israel. Sometimes I wish I could just blend into the crowd. But I’m always going to stand out… not only because of my religion, nationality, and personal choices, but also because of my unusually high sensitivity and empathy, and sometimes it can be a burden.

We thought of you as we flew over Barcelona on our way back to Israel. I told H we were flying over Spain, and he said, “So Josep might see the airplane!” I chuckled and said you probably wouldn’t, and even if you did, you wouldn’t know it was us 😉

Lots of love,

Daniella

***

Blog readers: Yes, I still have an announcement, but give me a little more time to get settled 😉 In the meantime, have you ever felt that you are representing something to the world? What did that feel like?

Little Gifts

Dear Josep,

I’ve been thinking about sharing this song with you since it came out, around a year ago. It really captures the character of a Friday in Israel.

As you know, I am in the USA now, spending time with family. It’s a wonderful and crazy trip, and also pretty difficult. I don’t get to see my grandparents very often, and especially since my maternal grandmother was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, the trip has felt like a neverending series of joyful reunions only to be followed up with extremely painful goodbyes. Rabbi Judah the Levi (an 11th century Sephardic poet) writes, “My heart is in the east, and I am in the uttermost west…” and while I do feel that way and miss Israel dearly, I’m realizing that my heart is actually scattered in pieces all over the globe, many of whom are here. And being reunited with those pieces does bring joy, but it also emphasizes how much those pieces are missing in day to day life.

So… this song really speaks to me today. The music and performance are by Rami Kleinstein, and the lyrics were written by Noam Horev. Below is my translation.

Little Gifts

It’s another Friday
I breathe in the air
The light and the shadow are playing tag again
The table is set
Pictures of childhood on the wall
White processions return from the synagogue

And that scent
That scratches at my heart
It creeps in
And opens doors
To a small joy,
To that old song
That’s been passed down to us through the generations

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

It’s another Friday
A porch and a newspaper
The sun, like our worry, is slowly erased
Simple melodies
Drift in through the window
And no storm could hide the quiet here

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

“For You have chosen us
And made us holy
Blessed are You, God
Who sanctifies the Sabbath”*

And that scent
That scratches at my heart
It creeps in
And opens doors
To small joy,
To that old song
That’s been passed down through the generations

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

Little gifts

*This is from the kiddush recited on the Sabbath.

Shabbat Shalom 🙂

Daniella

Even the Weather Is in on It

Dear Josep,

So remember how I was boasting all about Tu B’Shvat and spring and the almond trees and anemones blooming?

IMG_1019

And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

So…. we woke up to this this morning.

IMG_1173

IMG_1172-0

All I can say is, climate chaos. :-/

And also, the month of Adar! One of the themes of Adar and Purim is “v’nahafoch hu“; that everything that was turned on its head. I guess this is how the weather is choosing to celebrate the first day of Adar.

Crazy stuff!

Love,

Daniella

Trees, Jews, and Israel

Dear Josep,

I have always had a thing for trees.

When I was six years old, I learned about the rainforests and the importance of trees in the ecosystem, and became completely obsessed with these topics. When my parents and grandparents would take me to a bookstore, I always wanted something about rainforests or trees, the kind with the big, glossy pictures. I loved trees. I would hug them, and put my face right up to the bark and breathe in their scent. (…If it were socially acceptable, I would totally still do this. 😛 ) I saw them as my friends and enjoyed their “company”. I knew all about how they grew, and how the leaves used chlorophyll to convert light into energy, and how it was the loss of that chlorophyll that made them change color in the fall. In my childhood in northeastern America, I had a favorite tree: the maple tree. (The one with the signature leaf that appears on the Canadian flag.) I loved its broad, star-shaped leaves, its sturdy trunk, and most of all, the smell of its autumn leaves: the brilliant reds, oranges and golds that carpeted the ground. I think that scent is one of the things I miss most about America.

Very different types of trees grow in Israel. Olive, cypress, pine, oaks, palm trees, acacia, pistachio, eucalyptus… and they weren’t always so plentiful. Israel is one of two countries in the world that, at the turn of the millennium, had a net gain in trees; and the only country that has managed to actually reverse the process of desertification–by planting so many trees. When settling the land, the pioneers started an afforestation project to make the soil better… and it worked. The Jewish National Fund is known for its projects of planting entire forests in Israel. They initially used a lot of non-native pine trees, because they grow a lot faster than the kind of tree that grows here naturally. The problem is that they are a lot more flammable. :-/

This is the Yatir Forest, the largest planted forest in Israel. "Yatir Forest, Israel no.1". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
This is the Yatir Forest, the largest planted forest in Israel.
Yatir Forest, Israel no.1“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The trees that grow naturally in this region are less flammable because they grow more slowly and are much denser.

There’s an allegory in there somewhere.

In any case, planting and honoring trees is an ancient Jewish tradition. In Deuteronomy 20:19 there is a specific commandment not to destroy trees for no reason while besieging a city: “For is the tree of the field man, that you should besiege it?” This is a rhetorical question in the text, but removed from its context, this phrase: “כי האדם עץ השדה”, reads: “for man is the tree of the field”, and has been used thus allegorically. The Talmudic rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai taught that if the Messiah comes while a person is planting a tree, he should first finish planting the tree, and then go greet the Messiah.

I would probably say that my favorite trees are are now almond and olive. The almond tree for its beauty during flowering season, and the olive tree for its character. You have olive trees in Catalonia, so you must know what I mean. There’s something about its ancient, gnarled trunk, its characteristic elliptic leaves, and the deep symbolic significance it has acquired over the thousands of years of history so rich within this soil.

And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

So I guess it is not a big mystery that Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees (as explained here), has more significance in Jewish tradition than simply a technical beginning to an agriculture year. We love trees, and see them as a way to connect us to the land and to our privileges and responsibilities regarding it. This year, because of shmita, we can’t plant them, but we can still celebrate them.

And with that, allow your personal Jewish Calendar to wish you a Happy Tu B’Shvat. 😉

Lots of love,

Daniella