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      Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.

      Links to the Author's blogs:

      Nissan 20, 5771, 4/24/2011

      Rachel is Crying Still

      In 2003, Palestinians attacked and destroyed the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus (Shechem). In their rampage, they murdered an Israeli soldier. The destruction was a violation on so many fronts. It was a violation of the dead, of Joseph, son of Yaakov, our forefather, son of Abraham. It was a violation of a promise made by the Palestinian Authority to Israel, when Israel withdrew from the area after a promise to protect the religious site.

      It was a violation of an agreement which placed the grave under our jurisdiction - and still we surrendered it rather than risk the very violence that resulted. For years, the tomb lay in ruins, Jews forced to sneak into the area with army escort a few times a year in order to pay tribute. 

      Early this morning, several young men tried to go there to pray - Palestinians (currently it looks like Palestinian police) opened fire on the unarmed worshipers and murdered one - a 24-year-old father of four. How old are his babies that will now grow up without a father? How will a young wife cope? None of that is of interest to those who murdered Yosef Ben-Livnat this sunny morning in Israel. Yosef - Joseph. Could the message of today's murder be any more clear? Rachel cries today - for her Yosef who was buried long ago...and for the Yosef that will be buried today

      In 2003, when I saw the violence, when I realized we had allowed an IDF soldier to bleed to death rather than storm our way in to save him, I wrote an article called "Rachel is Crying." 

      At this moment, Arabs are again rioting in Nablus - attempting to get to the newly refurbished Tomb of Joseph to again burn it and destroy it. Today I know, Rachel is crying still.

      There is a pain felt deep in a mother’s heart. The anguish only another mother can imagine. It transcends all, even death. It is a bond created and nurtured that never, ever weakens. She’s crying for her son yet she is too far to offer comfort. She lies as isolated as he was but the desecration of his burial place is even worse to her than if they had desecrated her own grave. I can hear Rachel crying.

      She is bewildered by her people, the children of the children of her children. It doesn’t matter how many generations separate her from the current generation. We are all her children, but we have betrayed Joseph, her son, our brother. It isn’t the first time that he was betrayed by his brothers, but it is the final time, the final desecration, the breaking of a vow. 

      Out of the ashes of the concentration camps, many argue, the foundations of the modern Jewish State of Israel was born. Certainly, there was great sadness, overwhelming grief and shock. There was a sense of desperation and a knowledge that we had reached the lowest point in the collective memory of the Jewish people. But even more than all this, there was rage. An anger born in Auschwitz, flamed in Bergen Belsen, and fed in camp after camp throughout Europe. I believe it was the rage that won us a state. Enough was enough and we would have what was rightfully ours back. We had never abandoned Israel. Always there were Jews here, dead and alive. 
      The graves of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the matriarchs that rested beside them. And there is the lonely grave of Rachel in Bethlehem, buried beside the road to weep for the Jewish people as they were sent into exile and as they returned. There was the Tomb of Joseph, a monument to the keeping of a vow, the fulfillment of a promise that his bones would not be left in Egypt. 

      Rocket after rocket is slamming into our country, into Jewish homes and cities. Where is the rage? Tell me another country that would allow this to happen. Yesterday and today, Netzarim, Dugit and Sderot. Jews running for cover, hiding under their beds and in bomb shelters. Where is the rage? Mothers and fathers murdered in front of their children, in their own homes. How is it possible that the rage is failing us? 

      And now the heartbreaking news, the irreversible pain of desecration. In the last few weeks, the Palestinians have vandalized the gravesite of Joseph, son of Jacob. Rachel is crying, her son’s resting place in ruins. Where, where is the rage? The tomb was abandoned for a promise that there would be no desecration and yet within hours the building above the grave was ransacked, burned, smashed. Little consolation, but the grave was untouched. Joseph rested. Rachel watched over her son and her people. 

      Does Joseph lie beneath the rubble? The Arabs claim it is the tomb of Sheikh Yussif. What better proof is there that this is yet another attempt at denying the Jewishness of this land and the very history that permeates every layer of earth here? Clearly, if it were indeed the revered grave of Sheikh Yussif, what justification would there be in destroying it? By their own actions, they have confirmed what we have believed all along. It is Joseph that lies there. 
      Joseph’s role in saving the Jewish people from famine is often overshadowed by the roles of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Yet it is his death that closes the book of Genesis, and his words that remained in the collective Jewish memory of the Israelites. With supreme faith, he foretells the Exodus from Egypt and makes the people swear that when they leave “you must bring my bones up out of here.” And so they did. Centuries later, on the eve of the Exodus, Moses remembers the promise and took Joseph’s bones as they left. For forty years, they carried those bones with them through the desert until they finally were interred in Shechem, in the place from which he was exiled, in Nablus. 

      When Yusuf Madhat, an IDF soldier, slowly bled to death defending Joseph’s Tomb from Palestinian rioters, I wondered why the simplest of solutions wasn’t followed. Why didn’t the IDF send a tank to ram its way into the city and evacuate him? Why was he left to die? Now I believe the twisted political outrage that began so many years ago has led to this inevitable conclusion. As a realist, I know that we will never return to Nablus. The world and the army won’t allow it and I can accept that because there are some mistakes that cannot be fixed, errors that are too costly to repair. 

      But before we surrender our last right to the city of Joseph, there is one thing that Ariel Sharon must do. He must send in the tanks and some troops and with the respect and dignity due to Joseph, they must take his bones and bury him in a safe place, beside one of his parents. Bring him to his mother. Bury him in Bethlehem beside Rachel. Bury him beside his father and grandfather in Hebron. Bury him on Mt. Herzl as a warrior of his people, one of the first Zionists who longed for his homeland. Just don’t abandon his bones. 

      The Jews are commanded to believe that collectively as a people, we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Collectively, we left Egypt and so collectively we carried Joseph through the desert. We have given up too much already, but if the world would force us to give up Shechem, they must not be allowed to force us to break the vow we made to Joseph. 

      As a mother, I beg you to bring Joseph home. Don’t abandon him as you abandoned his tomb. His grave is destroyed. Desecrated. Ruined. Rachel is crying.

      There is an understanding in Jewish tradition that a grave should not be left in danger. Bodies have been exhumed and relocated to protect the grave. Joseph's grave is in danger - if we do not have the courage and the strength to protect his resting place; if our government lacks the nerve, it is time to go in and remove the grave. I said this in 2003 and I repeat it now. I am not in favor of surrender but a young man was killed today, babies left fatherless because our army is crippled by a government that allows rioting mobs and enemy security forces to be victorious in our land.

      Defend Joseph's tomb, Bibi Netanyahu - so that all Jews have free access to it; or move him to rest beside his mother. Listen to Rachel's tears as she cries for her son, all her sons.

      Nissan 6, 5771, 4/10/2011

      WHAT do you expect Israel to do?

      Over our peaceful Shabbat - when Israelis shut down for the weekend and pull into their families and communities, we were hit by over 50 mortar and rocket attacks. On Thursday, a Palestinian "fighter" - what anyone else should call a terrorist - picked up an advanced anti-tank RPG with special abilities to track and destroy. Elie knows this weapon, "it doesn't miss what it is aimed at," he said. 

      What it was aimed at - was a school bus. By the grace of God, almost all the children on the bus had just gotten off minutes before the attack. Daniel Aryeh, son of Tamar, was still on the bus and is now fighting for his life. Daniel Aryeh is only 16-years-old. He went to visit his grandmother, decided to have some fun with a family friend who is the bus driver and ride along.

      France is being "even-handed" - they are urging both sides to calm down, to stop fighting. When did we start? We have responded to the attacks. Doesn't it make sense, up until now, to understand that you only have to tell Hamas to stop the rocket attacks? If they stop, we have nothing to respond to...but no, Obama and France, the United Nations and others, want to be balanced and so they spout nonsense about cycles of violence. This feeds Hamas, encourages them.

      From a crowded neighborhood, Hamas fires rockets while their leaders crouch in bunkers like the cowards they are. From cemeteries that should be sacred ground, they launch their missiles of hatred and Israel is urged to show restraint.

      No country in the world would allow itself, day after endless day, to be struck by 50 rockets. No country except Israel is expected to allow a 3-month old baby to be slaughtered with her parents and young brothers. 

      In each attack, there are miracles - in Itamar, another family made plans to go away and three other young couples who would have stayed in the house of the family changed their plans and were saved when the terrorists first broke into that house to murder innocents. The massacre in Itamar, as horrible as it was, had that element of a miracle in it.

      A bomb was left by a busy bus station. A man saw the object, thought it looked suspicious, and called it in, even as he moved people away. One woman was killed; but still, a miracle because it could easily have been so much worse.

      A terrorist shot an anti-tank missile at a bus - not an armored one, not one containing soldiers, but children. One boy is fighting for his life and yet here too, a miracle. Just moments before, the bus had been full of children.

      We live on miracles, here in Israel - David Ben Gurion once said to be a realist in Israel, you must believe in miracles. They happen almost daily here and still, it is not fair for us to live by depending on these miracles. We should not have to withstand 50 rockets in a single day.

      And we won't. Within days, if this continues, Israel will act. Hamas knows this and so plays the game of firing dozens of rockets, and then asking for a ceasefire. Hamas knows this and so their sorry leaders hide in bunkers, leaving their women and children to protect them. 

      The world will likely condemn us - France and Obama, Ban of the United Nations, and others. I do not care. I even laugh a bit at being the fortune-teller. It is so obvious that this is what will happen - again.

      The only question is whether our own leadership will have the nerve to do what must be done, to withstand international pressure and the sobbing pleas of the poor Palestinians who protect the rocket launchers with their lives and those of their children.

      Maybe this time, as the army moves in, they will carry the picture of little Hadass Fogel with them, of Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar, who needs our prayers. Maybe this time, we will have the courage to ask, "why do you expect more of us than you yourselves would suffer?"

      No, this time, if we move into Gaza - it must be to obliterate all that is Hamas...and all that stands in front of them. We can pray that this time, Hamas leaders will protect their people, but they won't. This time, we can hope that they will not fire from civilian areas, but they will.

      This time, let no mosque be safe - if it shelters weapons used against our children. This time, even a hospital must be considered a target, if Hamas allows terrorists to fire from within.

      If the UN doesn't like what is to come, they have had days and days in which to stop it; to demand that Hamas stop. Obama, France, the UN - all are responsible because the one great truth here is that Israel cannot stop the rockets, but we can, and we will, respond to them.

      And we must do this with as little mercy as was shown by the terrorist who slit a three-month-old infant's throat, who stabbed a three-year-old child in the heart, who aimed and shot at a school bus.

      This time...Israel must not do what is expected...but what these other nations would do. If that means attacking every launch site, every building used against us, let it be.

      Adar Bet 21, 5771, 3/27/2011

      You Can't Retaliate First!

      When I was little, my sister went to my father and told him that I'd hit her. He punished me. I didn't think it was fair and I told him that she had hit me. He went back to her and asked her if that was true. My sister's response was, "Yes, but she hit me back!"

      I remembered that ridiculous, child's response tonight as I heard that Hamas was threatening to retaliate for today's misguided tank shell. What we know is that Hamas has been firing dozens of rockets and mortars at Israel for the last few days. Rumor has it, this is a command of Iran to help divert attention back to Gaza and away from them, the recent ship filled with armaments we intercepted, and perhaps an element of taking away the attention Libya is getting.

      Today, Israel fired back into Gaza towards a rocket launcher. It seems the tank shell missed the target (or perhaps hit the target without realizing there were also civilians nearby). There is no argument that this was fired in response to Hamas' targeting Israeli citizens today and in recent days.

      But in a classic move to spread their propaganda, Hamas is now threatening to "retaliate." And somewhere in this insanity must be the simple response - you can't retaliate first!

      If you fire rockets and missiles - this is called terrorism and this is called attacking. If Israel responds and targets the rocket launchers as we have been doing - THIS is called a response. It isn't called retaliation because within the concept of retaliation there seems to be an element of revenge, of getting back.

      We aren't trying to get back at Gaza or Hamas. We are trying to stop the endless, daily rocket fire.

      No, Hamas, just no. You cannot call this retaliation - but you can call it by its most obvious terminology - aggression, violent, acts of war, targeting civilians, and most of all - terrorism.

      Adar Bet 14, 5771, 3/20/2011

      The Meaning of Purim - A Reminder

      Years ago, there was a terrible attack a few hours before Purim began. We were invited to a Purim party at friends after hearing the Megillah and putting the kids to sleep. As Purim entered and we walked to the synagogue, they were still counting the bodies in Tel Aviv. 

      I called our friend in tears, waiting to hear his confirmation that the party had been canceled. He told me that it was not canceled. I told him I could not come...I could not laugh...I just did not want to celebrate and be happy. I needed to mourn. He listened to everything I said...and then completely ignored it. "Paula," he said, "you will come and you will be happy." 

      I figured on a compromise - I would go, but I would NOT be happy. We went to the party - driving through the Arab village to get there. This was years ago when these areas were not closed to Israeli traffic as they are today. Years ago, when the Arabs understood that if they wanted Jews to buy in their stores, they couldn't expect to be allowed to stone the cars, throw firebombs at them, etc.

      I'd been in the village many times. On a normal evening, the men would be sitting outside the stores, smoking or drinking coffee. If you drove by, they ignored you; if you stopped to shop, they would get up, welcome you to the stores, even offer you Turkish coffee (which I've never tasted in my life).

      But that night, it was different. The village was deserted - all the Arabs were inside their homes. Not because there was any closure, but because they understood, I believe, the incredible and justifiable fury we felt. No one driving through the village attacked anything. No one shouted in anger but it was best for all sides if there was no contact. We knew this as we looked at their homes and thought of our dead laying in the streets of Tel Aviv, and they knew this too.

      They gave us time for our anger and for our pain. Of course, back then, they knew it was Arabs who had set the bomb and there was no attempt to pretend or claim others had done it. How different, I thought, that now again they attack us around Purim, but this time pretend. Though initially Fatah claimed responsibility and indeed is likely to be found responsible, they and others stepped back from this claim. Palestinian news source, Maan, even had the audacity to suggest that Thai workers were to blame, despite the fact that there are no Thai workers on Itamar. 

      Purim is supposed to be a time of triumph, of celebration. Why do the Arabs attack close to Purim? They want to take this from us, my friend told me, that night. He was right. That was part of why the Fogel family was attacked and murdered, part of why yesterday sixty mortars and rockets were fired at Israel. And as they attack, it is our responsibility to remind them of the essence of Purim, the victory we claim as ours year after year. So, I baked for Purim as I always do. I laughed and enjoyed the holiday with my family, as I always do.

      The more we mourn, the greater will be our joy. The more we cry, the more we will laugh. 

      We will reach deep inside ourselves. We will never forget Rav Udi and Ruthie. We will always mourn for Yoav, Elad, and for baby Hadas and we will watch over Tamar, Roei and Yishai. But, we will celebrate the miracle that is Purim. We will celebrate our triumph over the evil that was Haman, that was Hitler, and that is Fatah and Hamas.

      Purim is an incredible story - from promised destruction to watching as our enemies die the very death they would have given to us. It is what happened then, what has happened again and again in our history. So today, we cooked a special meal and ate out on our balcony surrounded by our neighbors. There was singing and laughter. A neighbor called to my son-in-law and offered him a drink. My son-in-law held up a bottle of wine to show we had our own drinks here.

      The neighbor's guest said it was a silly drink and my son-in-law should come over and share with them. Men dressed in costumes, children laughed and played in the yards, the balconies, the streets.

      An explosion was heard in the southern region - 10,000 people attended a parade. My two older sons have gone into Jerusalem; my youngest son will leave shortly. We made packages of cakes and food and delivered them to our friends, and got bags and bags delivered to us.

      There's a gentle breeze blowing; I can still hear the music. Purim for most of Israel is just beginning to fade away but the sense of blessing and triumph remain. We have outlasted them all. We watched the Ancient Egyptians fade into history, watched as Greece and Rome fell. Haman fell before us, as Amalek had before him. We watched the Cossacks and the Crusaders come and go. We watched as Haman was hanged on the very tree he would have used for Mordechai. 

      Nation after nation has fallen, time and time again. Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein - all that vowed our destruction are no more. This isn't pride or arrogance, but faith. The moon circles the earth; the earth circles the sun and each day, the Jewish nation does what it must to survive.

      Last Shabbat was one trial, one horrible, agonizing pain but here we are a week later, remembering that we will survive it. Tamar Fogel, just 12-years-old, and already smarter than most of our government - we will build, we will settle, we will survive and we will triumph. As the day fades away, we remember all that came before, knowing it strengthens us for all that will come in the future.

      Happy Purim - may its blessing light the way for the year to come until we are again granted this wonderful, triumphant reminder that we are the children of Israel and we are home.

      Adar Bet 11, 5771, 3/17/2011

      A Letter to Obama from an American Jew

      This is a letter written by a young woman. I don't know her personally - and yet I do. She is 20 years old, she lives in America. She is Jewish. In her letter, she tells you a bit about herself. She shares a first name with my youngest daughter - but so much more, she shares a collective memory, something that binds her to us, and us to her. She lives far from the tragedies of the Fogel family. This message shows that through the distances of miles and time, this horrible terrorist attack should touch us all.

      A Letter to President Obama from a Young American Jewish Woman:

      Dear President Obama,

      I am writing to you about the unspeakable and horrific acts of terror that took place in the settlement of Itamar in Shomron on the West Bank of Jersualem on Friday night, March 11, 2011. Udi, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months, were all stabbed to death in their homes. I am sure you are well aware of the attacks and the terrifying details of that sadistic massacre. I am writing to ask you what America, our brave and beautiful country, plans to do about it.

      I am a Jewish American, born and raised in the United States. I love my country with all my heart and am a very patriotic citizen. However, I love Israel with all my heart as well, as the Jewish people are my brothers and sisters. This innocent family was murdered in their own homes, slit by the throat and in the heart, some while asleep and some while awake, witnessing their own extermination. This is the type of horror that one cannot even bear to imagine. Three children, who G-d chose to carry on their family’s legacy, survive them. The type of horror these young children now live with is also something one cannot even bear to imagine. Although bombs and chemicals are atrocious, the personal nature of this attack makes it indescribable and abominable.

      I have been in Israel twice in my life, on a vacation and a ten-month deferment when I studied abroad two years ago. I have seen the landscape of the country and seen the heartbeat of this illustrious and indestructible nation. I have lived in America my entire life. I have seen the greatness and strength of this country, and the unyielding power we hold in the world. It is time for America to step up and take a stand. It is time for the media to condemn these actions. It is time for the world to take note and pay attention to the fear and terror that is occurring in homes and cities far away from theirs. It is time to start publicizing heinous crimes and report the truth. When will enough be enough?

      To stand and watch is to align yourself with terror.

      To quote Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

      First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for me—and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

      I am speaking out now in the hopes that my voice can be heard. I stand behind my people, as I hope my President does for his.

      Aliza Falick, 20

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