Remembering and Living

As the sun set tonight, we came out of Holocaust Remembrance Day where Israel remembers the horrors that were done to our people in the holocaust. We  remember the 6 million individuals who were murdered in the midst of this gruesome attempt to wipe our people off the face of the earth.

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Every year anew we hear new stories from the ones who survived this killing-machine, and you look at them and try to fathom how they have been able to keep on living after what they have gone through.

The children have been learning about this for the last couple of days at school. They come home and retell the stories they have been told, and I look at their eyes and see what an impact these experiences, this knowledge, this common memory as a people, is having on them.

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Every year they are told stories that are age-appropriate. Already in preschool and kindergarten they learn to stand in silence for the two minutes we hear the siren wail over our whole country, and everyone wherever they are stop what they are doing and stand still and remember.

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Little ones standing in silence and taking part in remembering. (Photo: Stand With Us.)

As three year olds I remember our children learnt stories of little children who were hidden by kind people, and made it our alive at the end. Now that they are 11 and 13 they hear more difficult stories. This evening, I was told a story that had been told at school today, of a kind family who had hidden Jews, and the nazis found them and shot first the Jews, and then starting from the youngest they shot each member of the family. This all happened in front of the other people in the village. The next morning 24 dead Jewish bodies were found in the fields. The other families were not willing to take the risk any longer…

I kind of wish our children did not have to be exposed to this part of our history. Yet others had to experience it. And we want to respect them by remembering them. I hope the stories are told also outside of Israel, – because I believe that the more they are remembered, the more we can ensure that this will NEVER happen again.

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We always watch the ceremony from Yad Vashem that marks the beginning of the eve of the Day of Remembrance. There are six survivors lighting the six big torches in memory of the six million Jews that were killed. Six million individuals.

One of the survivors’ story made an especially deep impression on us. He told of how he had been there as a child, with his father and other Jews, all of them stripped naked and lined up next to a mass grave ready to fall into it once they were shot. The moment before he would have been shot, his father pushed him into the grave and then fell on top of him himself. Many hours later, after the nazis were done shooting on moving bodies in the grave, Max was able to dig his way up and climb out from among the dead. He was 11 years old at the time. He went back to the ghetto, where he watched his baby brother be killed and ripped to pieces, and then his mother being hanged in front of his eyes. He himself became a very young soldier and spy, and worked for the freedom of his people, and this he has kept on doing.  As he came to light this torch, he wore a uniform fully covered with medals! His father had told him; – if you come out of this alive, tell people what they did to us just because we are Jews. This he has done. And he has kept on living, and like many other survivors, established a new family, and named his children after the family he had lost way too early.

In Israel we remember the holocaust on a different day than the rest of the world. There is a date in the end of January that is the international day for remembering the holocaust. This spring-date, the 27th of Nissan, which is the Israeli remembrance day, is during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. We remember both the horrors and the ones who were killed, and we remember the heroic acts of those who stood up and fought against this evilness. In the case of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, they were able to hold their stand for four weeks, which is nothing short of miraculous!

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Yesterday our son and I had an errand downtown, and on our way there he was telling me about what he had learnt about the holocaust that day at school, specifically about the Crystal Night. And as we walked on Jaffa road, he shared how encouraging it was to be there and see the flourishing life our people has today! There are successful Jewish shops and businesses, and nobody is stopping us! I smiled and said, yes, “Am Yisrael Chai.” (The People of Israel Lives.) He looked back at me and said with excitement “Am Yisrael Chai Kol Kach!!!” (The People of Israel Lives So Very Much!!!) 

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It truly is good to be here in Israel at this time, and be a part of the answer to the hatred of Jews then and now. Our answer is to keep on living. We are here. We are thriving. And we are here to stay.

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Singing of His Faithfulness

It was been another blessed and wonderful Pesach. In certain ways the week-long holiday flies by, but in other ways it feels like it has been a relatively long season, as we spend several weeks preparing for the holiday. I find that the preparations add real depth and meaning to the holiday. We prepare both ourselves and our homes to the best of our abilities, so that we are ready for the holiday when it comes.

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One of the evening during Pesach we went to an exhibition of some very special Hagadot, and this is an illustration from one of them.

I have come to the conclusion that for the time being my favorite holiday is Pesach. Like, – what would all the other holidays be if we did not have Pesach?! Pesach builds the base for everything else! We became a People! Our God brought us out of slavery, – to freedom! He delivered us, so that we can live for Him, the lives He meant for us to live when He created us! He has good plans for us, and He brings them about! He is faithful, and we can trust Him as we walk in His ways for us!

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Getting ready for another holiday meal. This one is for the night of the seventh day of Pesach. Fitting with the Psagot-wine from the seventh (Shmita/Sabbsatical) year, don’t you think? 😉

Some of the definite highlights for me from the celebrations have been moments of singing. I absolutely LOVE the Halel part from the hagada and the services during Pesach. It connects with my heart! And as I join in these songs, my soul connects with those of Jews all over the world singing those same songs at this time, and with generations and generations that have sung them before us! We are part of a great chain, and we get to join in building the part that is for our generation to build, – and what a time to be alive!! And what a privilege to live in Jerusalem at this time!

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On one of the days of Pesach we made a trip to Psagot in the Binyamin region. This is text from Amos 9: “Behold the days are coming… And I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; They shall build cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up…”

There certainly are many gems among the halel and the various prayers that we sing and pray during the holidays, but the ones that I connect with the very most at this time, I think are these:

Eli ata ve odecha! Elokai, aromemecha!

Hodu le Hashem ki tov! Ki le olam chasdo!

You are my God and I will thank you! My God, I will exalt You!

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His loving-kindness is forever!

The way the melody helps build up these words, adds a lot to the depth of meaning, and it is just wonderful to lift your voice together with those around you and proclaim these truths!

I find that whatever I am going through, good or bad, somehow these words fit the situation. They bring stability and perspective when times are challenging, and they add joyful thankfulness to times of celebration. I find these words to be great reminders of God’s faithfulness! We belong to Him! He has brought us this far, and He has good plans for us! Whatever the future holds, He will be there with us! We can trust in Him and do not have to worry.

I have read and heard a lot of interesting teachings during this season, and the one I want to share here is part of one that I heard at the synagogue on the last day of Pesach. We celebrated that God brought us through the Reed Sea on that day, and the one who taught on this pointed out that on the one side of the sea we were crying to God to save us. We were desperate. On the other side of the sea, we were singing to Him! This can also be a picture of a maturing faith. On the one side we believed in God, in His existence. On the other side, we had experienced His faithfulness. When our belief is in God’s faithfulness, we can trust Him fully. We know who He is, so we can sing to Him from the depth of our hearts!

Reflections from my morning run.

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This morning my husband and I went for an absolutely beautiful early morning run. I decided to not listen to anything through my earphones, and even though we did have a bit of conversation here and there, the hour and a half out there did leave plenty of time for thoughts and reflections too.

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I thought of the Torah Portion we are learning this week, where God told Abraham to leave his country and go. The main thing in the beginning of Genesis 12 seems to be the leaving, the going, the obedience, – and then God took him to the Land that he had promised him.

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I cannot tell you how privileged I feel who gets to live my life here in the Land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants. I get to be a part of the building of this modern miracle that is taking place here in our days!

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And then, – who lets their thoughts wonder this week, and they don’t touch on the US election?! Well, here is what I thought: All of your Jewish people over there who are freaked out about the result of this election, – maybe it is time you come home??

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I am telling you, – I am so thankful for the leaders we have over here! I trust them and I am proud of them! (And as recent history has shown, if they don’t behave they are kept accountable for it!)

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So, friends, – consider it, pray about it! We could use you over here! The nation is small enough, the state is young enough, – each one really counts! Come help us build! Come influence and make a difference! Come set your footprint over here during this life that we are given here on earth!

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Blessed greetings

Yesterday I got a chance to take a walk on the beach in Ashkelon after a work-related trip to that coastal city about an hour away from Jerusalem. I miss the sea, so I totally loved the air, the sight, the feel, the smell, – everything about that little visit to the beach.

As I was leaving, I noticed this sign:

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The literal translation of the Hebrew would be something like: “May you go out to peace”. Not quite like “See you again”, huh? But it is cultural! If you were to say in English “May you go out to peace” or “Leave in peace” or something like that, you would think that you were leaving some type of religious institution and not the beach!?!

This is part of what I love about living in Israel, – the way we greet each other. You know, whenever you say “Welcome” in Hebrew, you are actually saying “Blessed are those who come”. Blessing each other is part of the culture and the way the language is built up.

And at this time of the year, in addition to wishing each other a happy and sweet new year, we wish each other “Gmar chatima tova”, basically meaning “May you have your name written in the book of life”. Now, – where else in the world does one go around saying that type of thing to parents at the school, supermarket clerks, neighbors, – anyone?! Only in Israel.

I love the blessings of Israel.

Rosh Hashanah Prayer

We have just celebrated yet another Rosh Hashanah, and as we have just entered a new year, I thought I would take the opportunity to start blogging again! 🙂 I had some of those high and inspired moments during the prayer in the synagogue on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah, and I remember thinking afterwards that I should share this on my blog, – so here we go!

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Our Rosh Hashanah table this year

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish fall high holidays, and it comes after a month of spiritual preparation, where we as a people and as individuals draw closer to God. We hear the Shofar-blows as wake-up-calls to remember why we are here, who we belong to, where we came from and where we are headed.

Then we get to Rosh Hashanah, to the feast of Trumpets. This is a two day holiday which is largely spent in prayer at the synagogues. And there is something so special about liturgical prayers, – it links us all together in such an amazing way! The depth of these prayers, these scriptures and songs, fills my heart and gets me to feel so excited about being alive and being a part of THIS!

At our synagogue we had several services going on simultaneously. Such a large part of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, come out for this, that we need to expand. So as we came in, some people who had started earlier, were praying downstairs, and we heard their shofar-blows and singing. Later, those of us upstairs split up into two groups, and we went downstairs to continue with the second half of the service there, but we could still hear the prayer going on upstairs.

And then to think of the fact that all over Jerusalem, all over Israel, people are praying these same prayers at this holy, set apart time! And in different time zones in different locations, Jews all over the world are praying these exact same prayers, in the same language on this special holiday! Wow! I am thankful to be alive, and to get to spend my life taking part in these types of experiences!

Just listen to some of these prayers:

Remember us for life, O King who desires life, and write us in the book of life – for your sake, o God of life! King, Helper, Savior, Shield: Blessed are You, LORD, Shield of Abraham!

And so may Your name be sanctified, LORD our God, through Israel Your nation and Jerusalem Your city, and Zion, the dwelling place of Your honor…

In the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity, and good decrees, salvations and consolations may we and all Your people the house of Israel be remembered and written before You for a good life, and for peace. Blessed are You, LORD, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

AND YOU ARE KING -THE LIVING, EVERLASTING GOD!

Oh, how our voices went upwards together as we cried out:

This day, may You strengthen us…

This day, may You bless us…

To join ones voices together with the ones in the same room, hearing the people above, below, the people in the neighboring synagogue, hearing Shofar-blows all over Jerusalem, – it is a quite heavenly experience! When all these houses of prayer are filled to the brim, with hardly any standing room left even! What a privilege to get to take part in it! To actually have a seat in the midst of it!

And then we prayed together:

As is written: I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall have them rejoice in My house of prayer; their offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted, desired on My altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples…

How exciting it is to be alive! And the year we have just entered is 5777. So many sevens! A number symbolizing perfection. And the letter for the number 5 in Hebrew, is Hey, which is often used for HaShem, the God of Israel. He is Perfect, – over and over again! Always! May that be proclaimed wide and far this year!

I find myself having high expectations for this year. May we all faithfully take our parts in the great things that are happening in our time!

 

 

Sanctified time

Have you thought of the fact that God may have intended for there to be different kinds of time? The longer I am blessed to live, the more I believe this is the case. I believe God in His deep wisdom knew that we would need different kinds of times, so He blessed us with “Set apart times” – “Appointed times”. These are the Holy Days that He gave us through Moshe on Har Sinai, and each week there is Shabbat.

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Just like God sanctified certain people and certain places in special ways, I believe He sanctified certain times.

And I think it is a blessing for us to take advantage of these blessed, set apart and sanctified times! On the last two Shabbats I have noticed that the conversations in our home have gone to a depth that almost surprised me. But then again, – it is only natural for these deep conversations to take place during such special hours of the week. The connection between us human beings and with God above comes more easily during this set apart time, I think.

Then again, – you cannot really plan for this type of connection to happen, you just have to be ready and open for it.

We have quite traditional Shabbats. Everything is prepared ahead of time, the house is clean, the clothes are ready, the food is cooked, the guests are invited. And then we just enjoy the blessing that Shabbat is, for all the 25 hours that it lasts. The deep prayers at the synagogue, the beautiful songs, the meals, the blessings, the time together, the wonderful restfulness of it all.

More and more I love being at the synagogue on Shabbat morning and joining in the singing of these familiar prayers in these beautiful familiar melodies. It really feels like you get a bit of a taste of the heavenly Jerusalem. I feel a strong connection with God above, and it is a reminder of who we are and what we are here for.

For the Shabbat a week ago, both of our children had sleep-over-guests who of course stayed for the entire Shabbat. There were lively meals and lots of games. And then on Shabbat afternoon, when we just sat around on the couches, all of a sudden our son and his friend came with all these deep questions and thoughts that they were dealing with at this early teenage stage of their lives. Nobody planned for it, it was just there, – this depth, this connection. A similar thing happened on the afternoon of this last Shabbat. It must be that we are all calmed down and peaceful enough to deal with the real issues in life at that time!

Oh, I cannot express in words how thankful I am for Shabbat! This foretaste of Gan Eden! No wonder it is the highlight of my week, – and then again of my life, I guess! Because as we know, – The way we live our days, is the way we live our lives!

 

 

Holocaust Memorial Day

It is hard to even begin to describe Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. As someone who has joint on to the Jewish people myself, I do not have the same family history with this tragedy, but I feel that whoever I spoke with the last few days, all had a story connected to the holocaust; – Yes, both my parents were holocaust survivors. My mother was in Auschwitz and my father escaped and was able to get false identification papers. Or, – my grandmother was in Auschwitz. Or, – my father was the only survivor of his family. Or, – I was named after my father’s mother, who was killed in the holocaust. There are SO many stories! This gets SO real here! And of course, it WAS way too real for way too many people.

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At the children’s school, each of the children were given the name of a person murdered in the holocaust. They searched and found out some information about the person, and then on Holocaust Memorial Day they lit a candle in memory of this person. Each candle had the name of a person written on it. This was done at very many schools in Israel this year. Sadly there are plenty of names to go around, – 6000000 of them…

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One of the candles at the school had the name our daughter’s friend’s father. We know him and everything, and it was kind of strange to see his name on a memorial candle. The explanation is that he is named after his uncle whom he never met. His father survived alone, after losing his father, mother and brother in the holocaust. He himself came very close to dying, but survived and made it to Israel, where he married and had three children whom he named after his brother, father and mother. What a way to keep on living, to choose life!

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The horrors we are remembering on a day like today are so awful, there are no words to fully describe them. Being at the ceremony at the school this morning, I looked out at the crowd of children, and felt my heart aching that they have to learn about this reality already. Our children are big, 10 and 12 years old, and I still feel bad for them, but here were first graders, – six year olds! It wasn’t like people were telling all the worst stories, but even in the traditional “remembering-prayer” there are enough horrific details to make me sick (maybe especially the “being buried alive”-part…).

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Our 12 year old son is a very sensitive boy, and he takes days like these very heavily. Couple the sensitivity with curiosity, and you have someone who is looking up details of the holocaust, and afterwards loosing his appetite and just feeling deeply sad that something like that ever happened for real.

And it leaves me feeling sad that he has to already be marred by this tragic part of our history. Yet again, – it is part of who we are. People had to live through it (or die through it…), the least we can do is learn about it and remember them and what they had to go through.

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All of the holocaust ceremonies end in the same way. We stand and sing the “Tikvah”. And how fitting it is! We have hope! We are living that hope! Hope of being a free people in the Land of Zion and in Jerusalem!