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Middle East 12:13 AM 5/18/2013
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Gerald A. Honigman
Steve Apfel, South Africa
Jasen James Butler
Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
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:
Tishrei 5, 5773, 9/21/2012
Over the Rosh Hashana table, I shared a story with my parents that my husband had told me long ago. Even as I was telling the story, I thought that I should share it here on the blog. My mother agreed and so here it is...
In 1973, when the Egyptians went to war against Israel on Yom Kippur, a young Egyptian soldier was sent into Sinai. He was a Coptic Christian in a unit of Muslims. His mother sent him to war with a Bible and in it, she wrote, "May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob protect you."
Not long after they arrived and before they could confront the Israeli army in battle, other soldiers found the inscription and reported him. He was taken back to Cairo, suspected of being a spy for Israel. He explained that he was a loyal Egyptian soldier, had no contact with Israel, and his mother had written that because they are Christians.
He was cleared, as there was no evidence against him to support his having had any contact with Israel and yet, by the time he was able to return to his unit - it had been entirely wiped out by the Israeli army and so, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, had indeed protected him.
I've always loved that story...and so I share it with you. The lesson is that there are things happening everywhere, all part of God's plan. Whatever is meant to happen, will happen. The best thing we can do is simply have faith.
Elul 25, 5772, 9/12/2012
I've done this twice before - but really not. Twice in the 19 years that I have lived in Israel, my country has gone to war. The first was after an infiltration by Hezbollah that captured two soldiers - and a massive missile barrage on the north that endangered the lives of over one million Israels. The war was in the north, far from my home and while I agonized for all of those in the north, there was never a moment when my life or my home was in danger.
There were four days in which I could not breathe, four days in which I lived with the terror of those up north. Amira, my oldest, had decided to volunteer in Tsfat (Safed, in English). She would play with children and help families, often restricted to bomb shelters. Play with them, distract them, whatever it took to get through the day. It's an aside to what I wanted to write - but then again, that's my norm. So here's a little side story.
A relative didn't think Amira should go into the war zone, even to help. She said that it was too dangerous. Rockets were falling all over and she had a point but there is something inside of me that needs to give my children the freedom to be who they are and this need to help others is so much of what Amira is. Then, this relative invoked Jewish law, saying that one is not allowed to do something that would endanger one's life. This is true...and so I did what most Orthodox Jews do - I asked. Boy, did I ask. I called the Chief Rabbi of Maale Adumim and explained my problem.
"Is she going on vacation? Of course, she can go! What a wonderful thing she does." But, he warned me, "I can't promise she will be okay. I can't tell her to go. But if she goes, tell her she goes with the blessing of a Kohen." To this day, my eyes fill with tears when I think of those precious words. A Kohen is a direct descendant of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel. His blessing meant so much to me. I held on to that for all the time that she was there.
There were massive attacks in the north daily - including on Tsfat. There was a direct missile attack on Tsfat on the Sunday morning that Amira left. That didn't stop her. She agreed to my pleas to call me often, especially if something happened. She was there by mid-afternoon and stayed that night, the next day and the next. Finally, on Wednesday, she left that northern city and came home. As had happened while she was heading to Tsfat, a missile hit the city after she had boarded the bus and begun her journey home. But for the entire time she was there, nothing had hit - this was an amazingly long period of time for a city that had been hit practically every day and often more than once. Without doubt, I have always recognized this lull in attacks as the blessing of a Kohen.
The second war that occurred while I was living here was the Cast Lead Operation - what I often call the Gaza War. Again, it was not my life or my home that was endanger, but my son was on the front lines and it was a period of my life I will never forget, ever. There was no Kohen who blessed Elie as personally as this Chief Rabbi blessed Amira, but I know that there were blessings said every day - for Elie and for all the soldiers.
The stages of war include:
Rhetoric - that build up of threats and words that backs nations into corners. And during the rhetoric stage there are threats and sometimes more.
Preparation - at some point, the tide that this rhetoric brings to our land becomes overwhelming and you know, deep down, that war is really coming. This starts the stage of preparation - mentally and physically. We had this when we knew the US was going into Iraq and Israel was a likely target. I don't consider that a war I have lived through because other than tension and worry, there were, thankfully, no missiles, no physical damage to contend with. In the north, in the south - preparation was real, as was the war that came after it.
Explosion - that first moment when the planes fly, the soldiers march, the tanks move. In Lebanon, it came swiftly; in Gaza it was a build up that happened over days...weeks if you count the incessant rocket attacks that preceded Israel finally making its move.
I think we are somewhere between the rhetoric and the preparation stage in this "conflict" with Iran. We are passed the rhetoric and threats stage, into the belief that the tide is building. We are not really in the preparation stage - we in this case being the people of Israel. The army has long since been in the preparation stage. They know what they have to do; they know if they have a reasonable chance of doing it. The Prime Minister knows, as does the Secretary of Defense (the general, not the politician), as does the Chief of Staff and others in the army.
When we enter the real preparation stage, the Home Front will begin making it clear what we should do, what we should have on hand. A news website has already listed the things that we should have at home. The Home Front has not commanded this yet and I'm not ready to go out and stock up on water and tuna and other essentials but the thought has been planted.
If this war is to come, there is so much unknown. I don't know if my home, my family will be in danger. Certainly, large portions of Israel will be. I don't know if two of my sons will be called into the Reserves, though so many of our other sons will be. I can't start this thought now because it will cripple me.
If I stop to imagine a massive barrage of missiles hitting Israel, I can bring myself to panic. Not because of the missiles themselves - I want to believe our bomb shelters are strong enough to withstand them. But truthfully, it is the moments before the bomb shelter that terrify me more. The stage between preparation and explosion.
How will I gather my children to me fast enough? Three are married. They are adults - not to be gathered as one gathers small children and yet I have this urge inside of me to do just that. I have to force myself to be logical...I do.
Amira's bedroom is a converted bomb shelter - she and her small family would likely stay there comfortably - even with Haim's family sharing the space. Shmulik would come upstairs to our bomb shelter or go to his in-laws; I hope Elie will come fast to our house with Lauren - I've already mentioned it to them. Davidi goes to school in Jerusalem - will we have enough warning to get him home? The schools will have bomb shelters but his gas mask is home still and how will I know that he is okay? Where will Aliza be?
If it happens at night, she'll be home with me. I hold on to that thought. If you go much further, that is the path to madness, to crippling fear and so I stop. I breathe deeply and I look outside to the sunshine. The trees sway in the gentle breeze. Cars drive past; honk as they go. A truck stops to unload and the traffic cop argues with him - it's all normal. It's all natural. It's beautiful in Jerusalem today, still very hot but with the barest of hints that the summer heat is beginning to relent. The holidays are coming - family time, meals together, no work.
One inevitable fact I have learned after almost 20 years here is that tomorrow will come, as planned, as designed, no matter what I do. This war with Iran will come - or not - depending on forces greater than I can ever affect. What will be is what is intended to be - that is the cornerstone of faith.
And so, I'll put away my fears and worry about the stages of war for later. Maybe I'll buy a six-pack of water - but if I do, I'll tell myself to believe that it is for the holidays and not for war; for pleasure and not for fear.
And I'll get through today and tomorrow and the next...as I got through every day of five years being a soldier's mother. It is what we do here in Israel - we get through. We live. We choose life as no other people in the world ever does because we have tasted death and we know where our enemies will take us.
I'll write this document; I'll attend that meeting. I'll go home and throw in a load of laundry, plan the meals and the guests for the coming weekend. I'll change the sheets in the room where my parents will sleep and I will know that all around us - in the north and in the south, from the top of Israel to the southern most tip - we are protected. By our sons, by our army - and most of all, by God above.
Never does the Guardian of Israel slumber; never for a moment does He turn His eyes away. There are stages to all things - to live, to war, to this day and the next. May God forever know the love and gratitude of His people as we know His protection.
Elul 18, 5772, 9/5/2012
A few weeks ago, a court in Germany ruled against performing circumcisions. I wrote then that it was time for Jews to leave Germany. Last week, a rabbi was beaten by four Arabs. The beating was done in front of his 6-year-old daughter. Today, a rabbinic seminary told its students not to wear kippot (also known as a skullcap) in public. Yes, this call was rejected by others, but the fact that an organization felt it was necessary is extremely troubling.
Personally, I feel that this was a stupid announcement by the seminary. The announcement should have been that their students should go home and pack. The next plane to Israel would be leaving at whatever time planes leave Germany, and they recommend everyone be on it. I know it sounds extreme - even shocking. Good. I'm glad but I do not believe that Jews belong in Germany. It is time for the community to leave.
Now, before it is too late. Now, before anti-Semitism is justified, main-streamed, rationalized. You don't believe it could happen again? But you were wrong before, weren't you? Weren't we all? Then, we had an excuse. It was inconceivable that someone would round up Jews, put them in a ghetto, transport them by train, and then gas them to death by the millions. Then it was inconceivable - now is it not.
That is the eternal present that the Germans gave to the world and to the Jews. Yes, it was the Nazis - but don't you dare attempt to cleanse what they did by calling them Nazis and not Germans. Germans are what they were; Nazism is what they believed. They were not German Nazis - as if there were other Nazis in the world; they were Nazi Germans - because not all Germans were Nazis.
It is semantics, perhaps a play on words - it is also my legacy and that of my children. When I was in Poland, I met several Jews living there and each time I asked, "Why? Why do you live here?"
I have the same question for every Jew living in Germany today. Why are you there? How can you remain there? In Poland, they told me how hard it was to leave the land where they had been born, ignoring the fact that it was also the land in which their parents and grandparents had been murdered. Enough. I'm sorry.
When a Jew cannot live in peace; when a Jew cannot wear a kippah or circumcise his or her son according to Jewish law, it is time for the community to close down. Someone contacted me from Germany to tell me that hundreds today appeared in the streets walking with kippot as a sign of unity. That's a wonderful gesture. It really is...but my first thought was a question - why weren't there thousands?
Why didn't Germany itself stand up and scream against this horror. A Jew, a man in his 50s was beaten only because he was Jewish. They threatened to kill his 6-year-old daughter. Enough. They told him “I’ll f*** your daughter... your wife and I’ll f***... your God.” Enough. Someone said there was a flash mob in support of the Jews, showing people putting on a kippah.
That's all well and good. But, the bottom line for me remains - we cannot wait any longer to see if gas chambers and ghettos will follow. Been there, done that. Just no. The only answer is a one-way trip to the airport.
Now, before history repeats itself.
Tammuz 19, 5772, 7/9/2012
Did I ever mention that I am a country-music fan? Okay, that's actually less than I am, but I'll leave it at that. And yeah, Garth Brooks. And if you ask "who?" - I'll cry. He's got one song called, "Unanswered Prayers." The chorus goes like this:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers
I think we Jews have a different, though similar take on this. What we say is that all prayers are answered - every single one. Just sometimes, the answer is "no." I don't know which version I prefer. What started this...an email I have received a few times. I can hear the pain, the prayer, the desire just to know. There are a lot of prayers that went unanswered during and after the Holocaust. I'll tell you a story that I know to be true. I'm going to change a few details because the people are still alive. I won't identify the place where they came from. But here's the story.
A young man and a young woman were in love; engaged to be married. The Nazis came to their village and took them and their families. The woman survived and returned, but didn't find her fiancé. She had lost so much; she had hoped to find him there. She left the village - there was nothing there for her, and made her way with others to Palestine. She would live in a land where no one would attack her because she was Jewish. She married and had children and one day decided to go on the March of the Living - back to Poland where she'd been born.
The young man survived and returned to the village, but he didn't find his beloved. He had lost so much, parents and siblings and more; he had prayed to find her there. He left the village - there was nothing there for him, and made his way with others to the United States. He wanted to live far from Europe and only an ocean away would do. He married and had children and one day decided to go on the March of the Living - back to Poland where he was born.
They were there together, this man and woman, no longer young. They turned around and saw each other.
"What did you do?" I asked him as my eyes filled with tears. I had noticed him acting sadder than usual - something to be expected after visiting Poland and still more than I'd expected.
"What could I do?" he answered me. "I have a life here; she has a life there. I have a wife and daughters; she has a husband and children."
There were no words I could offer him - two lives...two people...branched away from each other; too late. Unanswered prayers.
Read the next post and you'll understand why I wrote this...
Tammuz 15, 5772, 7/5/2012
My older son spent a day in the Reserves. He dropped me off early in the morning so that he could take the car and save hours on a hot bus. Much later, he called to say he was on his way back to get me. When Elie arrived, he told me about the new facilities they had built on the base since the last time he was there - the comfortable chairs, and the air conditioning.
Most of the presentations involved PowerPoint with a speaker guiding them through the various topics. July in Israel - it's hot but the room was pleasantly air conditioned - if, like Elie, you sat right under the machine. The problem was, the power kept going out and so each time, the PowerPoint presentation was interrupted and they waited several minutes for the power to return. Finally, the last speaker came up and once again, the power went out again, "you're out of luck this time" the presenter told everyone, "my presentation doesn't need PowerPoint."
And the last thing Elie he told me about his day was, "you're going to like this one."
Without names or ranks...one of the officers told Elie that he (the officer) appeared on Turkey's list of Israeli officers recently published. These are names of men that would face prosecution for their actions on the Mavi Marmara flotilla fiasco. In a practical sense, all it really means is Turkey is just adding more reasons why these Israelis (and all Israelis) should not be going to Turkey any time soon (at very least not as tourists - try Greece, Cyrpus, Italy...it could be even Iran would be friendlier!).
Turkey believes they have a right to arrest and put these Israeli officers on trial. Of course, Turkey is ignoring the fact that their civilians attacked our soldiers but, anyway - there's a bigger problem...at least in this. The officer so named - wasn't on the Mavi Marmara. He's an artillery soldier. He wasn't even there...so much for Turkey's intelligence - military or otherwise.
One really has to wonder how many of the other names are inaccurate. Turkey's military intelligence - now there's a contradiction in terms.