Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fire and Ice

On Monday morning (First Day Channukah) I walked into the arena to play hockey. Sitting next to our teams bench (technically the penalty box) was a large menorah. My first reaction was that it was really cool moment. The more I thought about it the more I realized that it would be weirder if they didn't have one.  After all this is the venue for Channah's Bat Mitzvah.


As the week has gone on, Channukah can be seen everywhere. Bakeries are filled with Sufganiyot (Jelly Donuts). We went to meet up for breakfast with some friends at a hotel. Complimentary sufganityot were spread throughout the various concierge places throughout the hotel. Individual businesses set up their own menorahs. Around here some businesses close either early or for a couple of hours to allow employees to come home and light their candles with their families. Channah has been complaining that she wishes that she had 9 days off for Channukah as opposed to the 7 days she gets. She was shocked to discover that her first cousins in Montreal have school over Channukah.

A few weeks ago a friend had received some media attention over a book they received from a Jewish book club that included references to Christmas. They were so upset that they lodged a complaint to one of the large Jewish organizations that funds the books. This resulted in a huge dialogue both in favor and against the book clubs decision. On the one hand, the book represented the reality that they experienced as they balance their Jewishness with the Holiday Season around them. On the other, were those who felt that Christmas has nothing to do with Judaism and the books didn't belong in the mainstream community. After watching the discussion for a few days, I asked Channah if she knew when Christmas is. Not only did she not know but she was confused by the question.

There is one very noticeable difference between Channukah in Israel and Chul (the rest of the world). That difference can be seen in the dreidel. Around the world they have the letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin, standing for a Great Miracle Happened There. In Israel the Shin is replaced with a Pey, changing the meaning to a Great Miracle Happened Here.

This year has really driven home the point of how different Channukah is here. That point is perfectly captured in the difference between the two letters. In Chul the battle of Channukah is still playing out to this very day. How to balance the needs of the Jewish Spirituality with the overwhelming surrounding culture. For those in Chul the lights of the candles represent the power of a little light and it's ability to burn longer then could ever be expected and persevere through the dark days of winter.

For us in Israel the Great Miracle already happened here. While we still have spiritual battles they are both internal or amongst our own nation. We no longer have to battle the forces of the culture around us. We are still involved in a physical battle for our very survival. At times the losses are great we just want them to stop. We still have the candles to give us strength in the darkest of days.

Being so far away from family and friends has been a struggle. There are times that I wonder if it is a struggle I can overcome.  I don't miss Canada. I miss my friends and family and the support they are able to provide.  Distance makes those challenges harder.  That Menorah in the hockey rink, reminded me just how much and why I love living here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

We're Not in Canada Anymore

This morning Peri and Shlomo decided to accompany me to my hockey game. Shlomo loves watching the puck and it is always more fun when your family is there to enjoy it with you. It also helps when you have a decent game.

Towards the end of the 80 minutes on the ice an young frum couple walks into the arena. They happen to be in the area and saw the arena with the sign 'Ice Peaks' and wanted to know what it was.

They walked up to Peri and had this conversation:

Israelis: What is that thing they are on? Is it plastic and why is it so cold?
Peri: It is ice and it is cold to keep it frozen.

They seemed confused by the concept.

Israelis: Why is everyone dressed so warmly?
Peri: They are wearing padding.

They couldn't understand what padding was or why it was needed.

Peri explained the concept of a puck and the importance of having protection.

They then couldn't understand why 'the guy in the net' was dressed so warmly.

Peri explained that it was a thin shirt with lots of padding and very important.

They asked if the game going on was the only activity the could be done on the ice or were there other things to do on this ice thing. Peri told them that skating was a fun activity.

When I got off the ice they asked me where to get the things on my feet, so that they could go on the ice now. The idea of playing hockey was way out there. They thought that since no one was going on the ice after us that they would be able to try it out immediately. They then started calling all their friends to join them in trying out this new weird activity.

I am not sure if this qualifies as an 'Only in Israel' moment. It definitely qualifies as never in Canada.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

We Danced Round and Round in Circles

I was really nervous going into Yom Kippur this year. The last time I had tried to fast was 17th of Tammuz. That fast ended mid-morning when I almost went down. The meds I take require me to have balanced food intake throughout the day to avoid side effects. On top of that the panic attacks had returned. The day before Yom Kippur, I had a panic attack that was so severe I collapsed on the ice before allowing myself to bounce back. At one point I had been scared that if that ever happened they would never allow me to play hockey again. Fortunately, that is not the case.

I couldn't get a heter to eat from either my doctor or my Rabbi. I just focused on doing what I could. In the end it was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful Yom Kippurs I have ever had. Unfortunately sometimes when you take a huge leap forward you quickly take a small step backwards intsead of being able to carry on the momentum. That is the best way to describe the week of Sukkot.

Then on Sunday night, Simchat Torah had come around. Our family had our eyes set on enjoying this particular Simchat Torah for a long time.

The auction had wrapped up and the tables and chairs were being moved to set up for a night of dancing. A friend brought Shlomo over to me. I immediately took him and sang quietly in his ear the same words I sang to Channah on her very first Simchat Torah and every year afterwards until she was too old to dance with me. 

We danced round and round in circles as if the world had done no wrong
From evening until morning, filling up the shul with song
Though we had no sifrei Torah to gather in our arms
In their place we held those children, the Jewish people would live on
Am yisrael chai
I have written and told the story many times of why this song and Simchat Torah is so important to me including here and here. Shlomo and I danced together. I finally had that moment with my long awaited Sefer Torah.

Last Simchat Torah, Peri promised me that this year I would have Kol Nearim while holding my son in my arms. She made sure that she won the auction and that I would be able to have that special moment.

For the 3rd time in 5 years, I was under the tallit surrounded by children for that special Aliyah. Shlomo was in my arms and Channah was standing beside. With Channah's Bat Mitzvah coming up it was a moment that can never be replicated.  This Aliyah has transformed for me from one of sadness and hope to one of joy and happiness. All 3 of my children were there, to mark the occasion that even in the darkest hours we find a way to rebuild and find the happiness again. Just as the month of Elul, Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur we work on personal growth, we follow it up with the Simcha of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

It happen to work out that over all of the Simchat Torah dancing I held two of our shuls 3 Sifrei Torah. I also held two of my three children. The day is about the death of Moshe and finishing the Torah and immediately transitioning to the very beginning with the creation of the world.

This year is one that is going to be filled with a lot of new beginnings. So far my family is off to a great start.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Watching the World Change

A trip to the cemetery on Erev Yom Kippor is a different way to experience and reflect on the upcoming day. There are the usual tables set up for people collecting money. Families with water bottles busy working on cleaning the kever of their loved ones. Just being surrounded by people who understand what it means to stay inside for Yizkor.

Then there are the changes that have taken place since the last visit. They are in the process of starting to build a new section in front of where Rachel is located. They also took a big chunk of the parking lot and turned it into a new section of the cemetery which already has a large percentage already full. I also noticed off to one side what looked like a kever for a baby. 

This year has been full of changes. My struggle for personal growth has been focused on life is different now. Challenges from the past remain in the past and although they may sometimes seem similar to ones I face now, I can handle them. Shlomo's birth has brought so much joy into my life. His bris was a reminder of just how much love is around me. Channah's entire class decided to surprise her by showing up to celebrate with her. Shlomo's daily 'Good Morning World' Facebook status have been constant reminders of how many people care about our day to day life. I had one friendship that was more than just burning a bridge. It was more like lighting the bridge on fire and then nuking the remainder to make sure it could never be repaired. This week the first steps were taken to rebuilding that friendship.

This summer we sent Channah to Canada for 6 weeks. It was a chance for her to spend time with all her different grandparents and build relationships with family that lives far away. It was an incredible experience for her and she grew up over the summer.

In the mean time over the summer we surprised Channah with a complete room makeover. The central focus on the changes was a bunk style bed with a desk underneath along with a super oversized brand new bean bag chair. Along with the new room we have given Channah a lot of responsibility to prepare her for the transition from Grade 6, to applying for schools for Grade 7 next year.

We have also been focused on putting together her Bat Mitzvah. In the end we have decided to do what is best for her by having a celebration in Israel for her friends and having something in Toronto over the summer for her family.

The biggest wake up call for me was friends making the decision to leave the neighbourhood. It was the one family that I really feel their absence.   Their absence is felt all the time. It really made me think about where my priorities should be for my family and the best way to attain them. With Channah needing to change schools and a lease coming to an end it is the perfect time to make the right transition.

Peri and I spent a good part of the summer looking at different communities. Evaluating the pluses and minuses of each community reflect where we see our future and what we would potentially have to give up to obtain them. It also confirmed what I already knew. This community has a lot of positives going for it, in spite of the local politics and incompetent administration. A decision has been made and we look forward to bringing it to fruition in the coming year.

During this time period there are 4 extra prayers into our 3 times daily Shmonei Esrei.  The first two ask for life. The third one is asking for a good life. Finally right at the end we ask for a good life with blessings, peace and prosperity. It is not that long ago that I went into Yom Kippor praying for 'time served'. All I wanted was life that just wasn't as much torture of it was up until that point. I have reached a stage where I don't just want life. I want a good life for my family that is filled with happiness where we can reach our potential. The fact that I can say that shows how much the broken pieces of my heart have healed.

Shannah Tova. Gmar Hatima Tova. Chag Kasher Sameach. May we not only be sealed in the book of life but sealed in the book of life for a good and prosperous year.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pesach Round Up

This is the first time that it really struck me that Pesach is a time for both remembering and creating memories. It has been a theme that has carried it's way throughout the entire week.

During Hallel on Seder night, each new tune brought back a different memory transporting my thoughts to different points in my life. It was like an EMDR session without having to keep score during the process. Aside from a beautiful davening those memories put the reflective spin on the week of Pesach.

We all had a great time at the seder which was 100% focused on keeping the kids involved. It is the first time I have ever seen a decoy Afikomen. Peri made macaroons for dessert. Our hosts described the experience as going back to their childhood when you first opened the tin can and ate that first 'fresh' macaroon. Considering how rare they are in Israel, it probably had been a long time since they had that experience.

The entire night reminded me of the Seder in Bnei Brak that is mentioned in the Haggadah. The Rabbi's were so involved that they stayed up all night and didn't even realize that it was already time for davening. Our Seder had to be pushed along when we realized that we were 2 hours away from chatzot and we were still in the middle of Magid.

The Maharal points to some hints in the Haggadah's accounting of the seder in Bnei Brak as clues to what time of night it was. The Rabbis were sitting at the seder and not simply learning in the beit medrash and they were reclining and relaxing indicating that they were there out of enjoyment and not coercion. Our Seder ended at 1:30 more as a result of the adults running out of steam (kids dropped off through out the night) then out of any desire to end the Seder.

Last year we ate out at a restaurant over Pesach more out of the fact that we could then anything else. To me it is one of the perks of living in Israel. Eating outside while our hometowns were digging out of snow just added to the appreciation of how great it is to live here. This year we even had a chance to compare the differences in menus of Cafe Cafe and Rimon. This is becoming an enjoyable tradition for our family.

I also tried the Charoset flavored ice cream this year. My opinion was a little more favourable then most of the others I have read. Then again my job forces me to wade into the debate of what should flavoured coffee taste like on a regular basis.

We also did two major tiyulim over the week. The first was a trip to the festival in Mavo Moddiim. It was a chance for family time to relax and enjoy the greenery and the music while checking out some of the unique vendors. Channah and I also caught the end of a juggling act, while we went to check out a part of the festival we had missed on our way in because it was tricky navigating the stroller. Unfortunately Channah has been exposed to too much good talent that she just isn't impressed by a kid juggling three swords or blowing fire. When Scott Seltzer is your base level for juggling skills, I guess that is bound to happen. It also doesn't help that Channah used to watch Britian's Got Talent with her Eema or that Peri had introduced her to America's Got Talent the day before.

For our second major tiyul we teamed up with Nefesh B'Nefesh on their trip to Neot Kedumim. I have been on a lot of guided tours but I still managed to learn a lot including why wine was the staple drink in biblical Israel and some practical insights to the story of choosing Rifka as a wife for Yitzchak. Channah had fun doing the arts and craft project before it was time to head home.

We also got to spend an evening with adopted family before heading into the last day of Yom Tov.

On Friday Yizkor was a few minutes to reflect on what was and is no more. With a Bat Mitvah less than a year away, Channah stayed in for it as well.

On Friday night we enjoyed having guests. We decided to not go the kitniyot route for Shabbat this year, although I really wanted to.

It has been almost 12 years since I said that I would never agree to do Kvater again. I was tired of being embarrassed and humiliated by the experience. On Shabbat morning I found myself carrying a little baby boy towards the same chair that Shlomo had been in only a few months earlier. It was a completely different experience. There was so much love and hakares hatov in the decision to give us such an honour. It was really an incredible experience.

It is an obligation on each individual person to see themselves as if they have come up out of Egypt. For me this was not only a clear lesson that kept reoccurring through the week but will hopefully be inspiration to keep me on track through the next stage of personal growth.

The Jews who left Egypt didn't just leave for the sake of getting out of Egypt. They left for a purpose with a destination to get to. Unfortunately they were not able to let go of the baggage that had accumulated through generations of slavery. This made them unable to reach their full potential living in the land of Israel. That didn't mean their lives were devoid of meaning. In the desert they lived under God's full protection with all of their nutritional needs met with food falling from the sky and a chance to be close to God. That spiritual existence didn't allow them to experience what it was like to obtain a spiritual connection to God through mundane activities. They couldn't reach their full spiritual growth. It only took one generation to transition as a nation to be able to take the huge spiritual step forward.

In many ways I can relate the idea of what life was like in the desert. I have pulled myself out of some really scary places. Life is pretty good. I also feel that I still have not reached the point of being able to take the next step forward to fully embrace and maximize the potential of where I have come. We are working on ways to remove the stigma from Channah as the kid who lost her mother. I still need to learn to let go of some of my own baggage. It took the Jews who left Egypt an entire generation to make the complete spiritual transformation. I am well on the path to achieving it for myself.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Election Conundrum

Israel will once again go to the polls next Tuesday in National Elections. I am finding my Facebook feed filled with friends trying to decide how to choose from the 26 party lists that are running this time around. This is my 3rd National Election since moving here and the first time I find myself in the same boat as my friends.

I have always taken politics very seriously from enjoying political satire as a kid to taking Political Science courses as my electives in University. In first year University I wrote a paper on the importance election spending limits and ended up writing a paper on how they favour the incumbent. I proctored in the last Ontario election before I made Aliyah and signed the nomination papers of someone who went on to become an MP. I used to read sections transcripts from question period, so that I could have a better understanding of some of the stories in the news. In the last couple of years, that intense focus on politics has fallen to the wayside and I am not as informed as I feel I should be on many of the important issues. This choosing how to cast my ballot even more difficult.

Standard political theory is that most people have political leanings somewhere towards the centre. Political parties try to focus their elections on appealing to the 'mushy middle' where the largest voter base is located. This makes the differences in political party platforms to be on relatively minor issues leading to stable Government policy.  Most voters don't see a huge difference in their everydays lives which is the reason why I personally believe there is so much voter apathy in Western Democratic Countries.

Under the broken Israeli system the focus is on sectorial parties that only cater to a very limited demographic. This leads to short sighted government policy designed to benefit individualized groups instead of what is best for the country. It is no wonder that the Government will pass laws to target an individual person.

The Conundrum:

Likud -- מחל
Bibi is an incredibly skilled politician with incredible survival instincts. He is capable of putting together a coalition to keep himself in power not matter what is needed to make it work. It is likely he will spend his time undoing the legislation that he passed in the current Government. He called an election calling for electoral reform aimed at at two party system. I think the American two party system is a terrible roll model. I also don't think he should be rewarded for calling an unneccesary election.

Zionist Union -- אמת
Tzipi Livni is the slimiest self serving politician in Israel. Her negotiating skills have proven to be a failure time and time again.  The merger of Labor and Hatnua is underscores what is wrong with the electoral system.  Splitting the Premiership gaurtenees more short sightedness in Government policy. The last time Livni took over from the Prime Minister as Party leader, she was not able to negotiate a coalition and we were forced to go to the polls.

Yisrael Beiteinu -- ל
Upon arriving in Israel I got involved in the party. A friend I trust for their political views got me involved. Through those connections, I met two other people who I have also come to trust for their political insight. Of the group of three my friend recently left the party. I assume it was for personal reasons. Another took a job where alignment with a political party would be a conflict of interest. The 3rd is running on their ticket. I met Former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Danny Ayalon who I have a lot of respect for in his roll as MK. He was dumped by the party before the last election. I also met Yair Shamir before the last election who really captured the mindset of what a politician should be focusing on. He has quit the party. In my mind something may be wrong in the party which is making me second guess voting for them a 3rd time.

Bayit Yehudi -- טב
My problem with them in the past is there identification as Zionist Religous Party. To me it represented the sectorial politics that is ruining the political system. This time around they have been buidling themselves up as a mainstream party with candidates outside of core support of their party. It may have allienated some of their more loyal supporters but it has caught my attention as possible voting option.

Yesh Atid -- פה
Dov Lipman is a local hero or villain depending on religious affiliation. I have just always felt that I couldn't relate to the party. From there projection of middle class as people able to only buy 2 apartments for their 3 children and unable to travel outside the country every single year, left me feeling allienated from the party. Wouldn't creating a formal market for rental housing be more effective for young families than offering a tax break if they are able to put the money together to buy an apartment?  Yesh Atid is also responsible for the end of the country wide water floridization program. I am in favour of making the draft law equal for all citizens. Yesh Atid went hard after the Haredi communtiy and came up with 'Much Ado About Nothing' legistlation with such a long implementation period that it will probably be overturned before it even goes into effect. The details of the law could leave things status quo even if it is not over turned.

Kulanu -- כ
I don't know much about Moshe Kahlon. I am not a fan of forming new political parties just before elections, especially with the intent of landing a specific ministirial job. They do have a vote sharing agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu. 

UTJ -- ג
I can't stand the Daas Torah approach to politics. UTJ demonstrated how much they only care about their narrow demographics, crying descrimination for not being included Government.

Shas -- שס
It is always a problem for a political party when they lose a charismatic leader who essentiallly is the party. Keeping Rav Ovadia alive is not a solution. I think people will see through the anti-poverty campaign as Shas has a terrible record in this area. Unless you are one of the people who consider Aryeh Deri a hero, for the rest his background would end most politcal careers.

Meretz -- מרצ
Aside from being the opposite of everything I believe in they tried to sign a vote sharing agreement with the United Arab List.

United Arab List -- ודעם
They include Balad with MK Zoabi. 

Yachad -- קץ
I feel bad for how Eli Yishai has been treated by Shas. Kudos to him for walking out on the party to try to make it on his own. I think this is going to turn into just another Haredi Party despite the fact they are claiming to reach into the DTL community as well. I was not a fan of Yishai when he was Interior Minister.

Pirates -- ף
Who doesn't like pirates?

Greens Don't Give A Fuck -- רק
Formerly known as the Green Party. I don't think the name change is going to make a difference.
Green Leaf Party -- קנ
If you want to vote for marijuana this is the party for you. 

U'Bizchutan -- נז
I love the idea of a female haredi party of breaking through the glass ceiling of haredi politics. Wishful thinking would have this leave to a break out of some of the extremism of the haredi community.  The little I have heard of their policies are just as limited in scope as the other haredi parties.

Kulanu Chaverim Na Nach -- ףץ
If the Breslov Party gets elected they would be the happiest most enthusiastic party in the Knesset. Plus you get to vote for a putz.

The parties I don't know enough about to comment:
Social Leadership -- יז
Protecting Our Children - Stop Feeding Them Porn -- יך
Flower -- נץ
Arab List -- ע
Economy Party -- ז
Or -- ני
Selected People -- זץ
Renters with Dignity -- י
Hope for Change -- יץ
Supporters of Democracy -- זך

With 26 parties to choose from I think I am leaning towards Bayit Yehudi with the slim possibility of returning to Yisrael Beiteinu. I consider Pirates as my go to protest vote but I don't see that happening. There is still plenty of time and I am willing to consider other voting options.