Days of Remembrance. Days of Celebration. Days of Awe.

 

When we think of the term “Days of Awe” we usually associate it with the High Holy Days,

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The week between Yom Hashoa and Yom Kippur are days ofreflection, remembrance and renewal. This got me thinking that in Israel, the days betweenYom Hashoa, when Israel stops to remember the 6 million heroes and martyrs slaughtered during the Holocaust and including Yom Hazikaron when we remember our fallen soldiers and victims of terror, culminating in Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day are also days of awe.

 

The passing of time reminds us that we have precious little left to hear and gather the stories of Holocaust survivors. Every Yom Hashoa I am not only heartbroken by the magnitude of what we lost but also what could have been. The numbers are too much to bear. It is very hard to comprehend 6 million, including 1 500 000 children. Our families, our future. The pain is still insurmountable so many years later. And as time continues to march on it has become more important than ever to remember and to share their stories with the generations to come. Stories about heroism, individual and organised, personal stories, stories of the great houses of Torah learning, stories of our children whose lives were snuffed out. Stories of bravery and righteous gentiles, stories of those whose lives were saved. Stories of those who made their mark on history and stories of the potential of what could have been. Stories of our families, stories of our history. Stories of the once vibrant

 communities who contributed to their host countries. And the stories of how they ceased to 

exist. May their memories forever be blessed.

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 And the story of the creation of the modern state of Israel. Even though Jews have had a 

continuous presence in our holy land for thousands of years, we only became a modern state in 1948. On the backs of the brave pioneers, Holocaust survivors who in their frail state became warriors, our fledgling state rose out of the ashes of war to become the miracle it is today.

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There have been far too many wars. A week after Yom Hashoa we commemorate Yom Hazikaron, a day of remembrance for our fallen warriors and victims of terror who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom in our beloved land.

 

These days of awe create an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Soldiers are no longer

 uniformed strangers who serve but the children or spouses or lovers of people we know. And they are people we love. Yom Hazikaron is not only a day of remembrance for me but one of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful I am for those who protect us on land, sea and air. Those we see in uniform and those whose identities are secret. These warriors, these lions of Zion who are attacked and denigrated all over the world and threatened with war crimes trials are our guardians and protectors, following an honour code that is their backbone. We are proud of them, we embrace them and we love them. Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility. We hold the victims of terror attacks and their families in our collective hearts. Their suffering is our suffering and we remember that their lives were cut short because they represented what our enemies tolerate – life.

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And as the sun sets on a day of mourning, the mood of the country changes to one of celebration. This year we celebrate Israel’s 65th year of independence. And she has never looked better! Relatively young in the international family of nations, this petite but plucky lady has survived insurmountable hatred aimed at her, UN resolutions detracting her character and her fair share of war not to mention two Intifadas. Yet, she continues to blossom with barely a wrinkle. She has extended her arms to gather in millions of exiled Jews, sent her greatest humanitarian help to the four corners of the earth to help those in need, including countries that plot her demise. She has bloomed the desert, changed the way we practice medicine, received a disproportionate amount of Nobel prizes to her size for science, medicine, literature and peace. She is a hi-tech wonder and is leading the family of nations in contributing to the world. She has and continues to punch above her weight and  never takes her eyes of the prize – a lasting peace.

 

Happy Birthday Israel – long may you grow, achieve and welcome all who seek refuge in your arms.

 These are the days of miracles and wonders. These are the days of awe.

אם ישראל חיי

Surviving Aliyah – A-musings from an Olah-not-so-Chadesha

They say that time flies when you are having fun. This is so evident when one makes Aliyah and seeing that today is my second “Aliyahversary” I thought it right to mark the occasion by sharing some of my observations or a-musings….with a little advice sprinkled on top!

When one decides to make Aliyah, apart from the reams of research you should do and questions you should ask, you need to bring along your most important asset – a sense of humour. This will serve you well when navigating the challenges and sometimes riotously funny scenarios that Israel presents. Israel is highly entertaining and as a new immigrant you can make one of two choices – complain a lot about the cultural differences or jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride! So without any ado…and in no particular order, here are some of Roro’s a-musings and advice:

1) There are no subtitles – even though people say that you can get around with English, it is really advisable to learn Hebrew. Apart from being the lingua franca of the country, it is a necessary survival skill in order to integrate properly, find those really good jobs and understand what people are saying about you. Do an ulpan! Hebrew is a language that is constantly evolving and living in Israel is an introduction to some wonderful hybrid languages – Hebrish, Hebrench, Hebranish, Hebrussioan to name but a few. Okay, so nobody understands Hebrussian. And when in doubt, no curse word is as effective as a passionate invective…in Arabic!

2) And on the subject of cursing, those of us from slightly more conservative countries are a bit taken by surprise that there seems to be no censorship on radio or TV. The F bomb is not really considered a curse word in hebrew and one can tune in for their morning news and traffic report and musical choice, complete with a liberal dose of f-bombs. Kanye West, 50 Cent – rest assured your music is safe and uncensored here. Only on The Voice Israel can a judge voice (pardon the pun) his admiration by saying “Go mother$%&#*@^! S’True!

3) Jewish geography – how many times have you been at a party/shouk/work/pretending to mind your own business when someone hears a) your accent b) your surname c) something you shouldn’t have been saying but dafka the person who heard it is related to the person you are gossiping about? Yup, happens often in Israel. And then you connect the dots and realise you are a) related b) know the person they are talking about. This makes gossiping about people quite difficult. Somewhere along the line, we are all connected. Oy vey!

4) Toss away your dignity – when you are new to a country and don’t know the systems or the language, sometimes you have to forego your dignity in order to make your point. This is a phenomenon I have tried and tested! And the Oscar for Best Performance of a demented-chicken-desperately-flapping-its-wings goes to….Rolene Marks for her award winning role of customer-who-wants-chicken-breasts-but-has-no-idea-how-to-order-them-at-supermarket-counter. Insert curtsy here.

5) Talking about food, you can tell what season it is by the food on sale at the time. If it is spring, then Oznei Haman (Haman’s Ears) just in time for Purim. As we approach summer, it is Matzah and then a little later, cheesecake as we mark Pesach and Shavuout. Oh who am I kidding, it is always time for cheesecake! If it is Fall/Autumn, then it is Crembo, delicious chocolate covered squish and if it is winter, sufganiyot (donuts) for Chanukah. Yes, our seasons revolve around our history living up to the tenet they tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat!

6) A land of many contradictions – Israel is a country that has absorbed immigrants from over 80 countries. On any given day, you may engage with several different cultures, each as bewildering as the next. Now where else in the world can you walk in a shouk (market) and have the guy who is reading Al Quds newspaper and the latest Hamas drivel sell you a t-shirt that says “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you!”. You gotta love the irony!
7) Driving me crazy – the most trying experience any new immigrant will have is driving in Israel. This is guaranteed to turn any seemingly rational person into a raging lunatic. Myself included. Just know that driving here is like fight club – and we don’t talk about fight club! Just do what the rest of us do – simply fling yourself and your vehicle into the craziness and hope for the best. Good luck!
8) Every Israeli a Prime Minister – ever heard the joke about Israeli Prime Ministers? No? Okay so here goes, the President of the US and the Israeli PM are chatting. Israeli PM says,”you are the President of 300 million Americans, I am the Prime Minister of 7 million Prime Ministers!” Never a more true word said in jest. Debating, arguing and sorting out the issues of the country is our national sport and with an election next month with more party swapping than a game of musical chairs, it is bound to be a blast. Arm yourself with your ID and a healthy dose of idealism and make your mark on your new society.

9) We truly are a special people – all jokes aside, nothing demonstrates how special this country is than in a time of crisis. Last month, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense to stop Hamas’incessant rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Strangers opened hearts and homes to fellow countrymen. In a time of crisis, Israelis really do stand together, strong and united. Afterwards, we resume the bickering that is a sign that we really do regards each other as family.

10) Just do something – as Olim we often wonder what we can do to give back to our new country. If you are not at an age where you can serve in the IDF then I highly recommend joining a volunteer orgamisation. Not only will this help you integrate and make friends but you will be doing something positive for a country that gives its immigrants so much. My organisation of choice is WIZO – what is yours?
Everyone has a different story to tell about their Aliyah experience. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Jump in with open (but informed!) mind and make the most of this wonderful, sometimes hard, always fulfilling experience.

To sum up my Aliyah…Israel tries to challenge me, I survive…..gonna eat!

Shaken, Stirred but NOT Deterred!

By the time you have finished reading this sentence, 15 seconds would have passed. In these fifteen seconds millions of Israeli citizens may have had to run for cover in their bomb shelters as they are pounded by rockets fired tirelessly at them from Gaza-based terrorists. This has been the story of their lives for the several years now.

It may have taken you a minute to read the above paragraph. This is how long I have to get to my shelter should a rocket fired from Gaza reaches my home in Modiin, in the centre of the country. We thought it could never happen here. Our hearts have broken a thousand times as rockets pound our fellow citizens. We have stood in solidarity. And we have heaved secret sighs of relief – thank goodness we are safe.

Until now.

Last week, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defence in response to the incessant barrage of rockets. From the air and from the sea, our airforce and navy have taken out tunnels, terrorist rocket launchers, Hamas leadership and their allotted targets with pinpoint accuracy. If there have been mistakes, rest assured, inquiries are immediate. Unlike our adversary Hamas who commit a double war crime by firing at our civilian population from within the confines of their own. But don’t take my word for it – you can hear them boast about on numerous YouTube clips appearing on a social media platform near you!

Hamas have fired rockets that can strike deep into the heart of the country putting 45% of us under threat. Rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War and at our nations capital, Jerusalem. Not only our eternal capital, Jerusalem is home to many Arab citizens and Christianity, Islam and Judaism’s holiest sites.

Nearly all of us are on alert at all times should we hear the alarm that signals an incoming rockets and tells us to scramble for safety. I have heard and felt the booms as they reach their targets. I can only imagine what those under constant attack must feel.

As I write this post, footage from a terror attack on a bus in Tel Aviv is streaming in on my computer and television. It has been years since we saw a terror attack of this nature strike at the heart of Israel’s commercial capital. Once again our telephones beep with messages from concerned family and friends and social media platforms are a-buzz with our posts to worried loved ones that we are okay.
Next month I will celebrate the second anniversary of my aliyah. Many have asked me if I regret my decision to make Aliyah. Hell no! This is my home and there is nowhere else I would rather be than right here in her time of need. Am I scared? A little. Am I angry? You betcha! I am fuming that Hamas use our citizens for target practice. I am fuming that the world sees our right to defend ourselves as “disproportionate” or worth less than a 5 second sound bite. Would they prefer we remove our shelters, Army and Iron Dome so we can rack up numbers of dead Israelis? This is not a zero sum game. I am angry at the cowards who stalk our citizens with terror by planting explosive devices on our buses. I am angry at Hamas who instead of using the exorbitant funding they receive to build a nation, prefer to advocate genocide on their neighbour. Educating your children to become martyrs and not ballerinas, doctors, teachers, nation builders is not resistance – it is child abuse!

I am angry that our children sing songs about what to do when they hear the siren. I am angry that they play games of “siren and rocket” and not plain hide and seek.

And while the rockets rain down and the sirens wail, I look at my fellow citizens and take pride in our resolve and resilience, our strength and our unity.

I may be shaken, stirred but I will not be deterred! Am Yisrael Chai!

Gideon Levy and the dangers of the Apartheid Canard

As a young child growing up in Apartheid South Africa I witnessed the daily humiliation and persecution of my fellow citizens who were denied their basic human rights. I cannot forget the ominous visuals of armoured vehicles or “Caspirs” as they patrolled through the city streets enforcing “law and order” during the state of emergency years. Neither can I forget asking my mother why “nannies” (as we called our domestic workers) liked to sit on the grass, never park benches. I often wondered if they just didn’t like benches. My mother’s uncomfortable response was that they were not allowed by law to sit on park benches. My child-like brain just couldn’t comprehend this.

I grew up in blissful ignorance of the reality that surrounded me. Black children were a fascination as they never attended my school or ballet classes or played in the park with me. Yes, childhood in South Africa was seemingly idyllic until I grew into a curious teenager and my Zionist youth movement, along with many other organisations both Jewish and non-Jewish started to question and rebel against the system of law in our country. Many of South Africa’s Jews left the country in protest.

Read the complete article as it appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/gideon-levy-and-the-dangers-of-the-apartheid-canard/

Guiding the Perplexed…

Israel is a wonderful hodge-podge or mosaic of different cultures and a hotbed of innovative ideas. Hey, we have become the people of the book. Not just the Facebook (thanks Mr. President for that comment) or the bible (we have some of its prime real estate over here) but that fantastic best-seller, The Start Up Nation. We innovate! We Create! We Debate! We Ate?

When you make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) you hear all sorts of anecdotes about Israeli culture. You are told again and again that you will be moving to a country with a completely different culture but nobody prepares you for just how downright entertaining living in Israel can be. Yes, there are days that are frustrating and perplexing and there are days when you question your decision to come but there are also days when living here is just so funny, some TV network should option a sitcom. So here are some observations made by this Olah Chadesha (new immigrant) that you just have to take with a pinch of salt. Or a large cocktail.

Read the complete article as it appears in The Times of Israel

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/guiding-the-perplexed/

 

Just do…….something

 

The Gals and I volunteering ....

Wends, Gina, Sue and I get into the spirit of volunteering....

 

As Olim Chadashim (new immigrants) we are faced with many challenges on a daily basis. One of the greatest, is how we try to integrate into a society that is extremely diverse, fast paced and at times, intimidating! We try to master the language and if you are anything like me, you are prone to many mistakes, have days when you can speak and others when brain and mouth just will not engage! Attempting to utter a coherent sentence in Hebrew, often results in an indulgent but perplexed facial expression from the people you are speaking to. I am still convinced I will be extradited back to South Africa for “crimes against the language”. Just navigating the various systems here feels like it may be easier to broker peace in the Middle East than understand how things work! When you are new to a country, sometimes just surviving the day is an achievement. And here, subtitles and United Nations culture handbooks are not included.

 

One of the greatest tips that I can give Olim, especially those that are not of the age when they can serve in the Army, is get involved with some kind of volunteer organisation. Those of us who do not serve for whatever reason, really miss out on an important facet of Israeli life. It is not just about serving the country but also about getting to understand the culture. I strongly advocate joining a volunteer organisation. You will be wonderfully surprised at how quickly this becomes an unexpected support system and helps with the integration process. You also get to make new friends which in a new country can be quite difficult.  For me, the organisation of choice is WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation). I was a member in South Africa and have been afforded many opportunities through the organisation and have proudly continued this in Israel. From this, I am privileged to include some superb women as my friends, role models and I have at least three Israeli mommy’s or “shalosh ima’ot Israeli’ot, clucking around me like mother hens, dispensing with much needed hugs, concerned phone calls and advice. Being Jewish, naturally there is no shortage of food! Mama Jay, Tova and Tricia this one is for you!

 

So where am I going with all of this? The point I am trying to make is that when you are new (or relatively new like me) you look for ways to integrate and hopefully give back to the country.  Immigration to Israel does have its perks and the country is unique in that it was established to welcome and absorb Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The systems are in place to make your landing a little softer. For me, it is important that I give back to the country that has given me so much, not just as an Olah, but also as a person. A wise person once said that you make a living by what you earn but you make a life by what you give. There are so many opportunities in Israel to get involved in helping and giving back. Whether you want to help new Olim , or like me, volunteer for WIZO whose credo is working for an improved Israeli society and women’s rights. Do something special for the men and women in defense of the country or Holocaust survivors. If going green turns you on, or you want to work with animals, go on, just do something!! There is no shortage of way to get involved and doing. You will be amazed at not how much pleasure you get from giving but your growth as a person and realizing things about yourself that you never knew is astounding.

 

Come on, just do…….something!

 

A Happy Aliyaversary – reflections from an Olah Vatika?

Dedicatedto my family and friends.

I cannot believe that today is the anniversary of my aliyah! They say that time flies when you are having fun but sometimes this past year seems to be just a blur. The 20th December 2010 marked the end of my time in South Africa and the start of my Israeli journey. To mark my aliyahversary I thought that I would share some musings and observations – and a few tips for those wanting to commit aliyah. Yup, committing Aliyah is the right turn of phrase because a) you have to be committed to all facets of change it brings with it  b) some days you feel like you should be committed to some kind of institution!

 

It is no great secret that I made Aliyah for Zionist reasons. Having said this, one of the best pieces of advice I can give potential Olim is sometimes you need to separate ideology from the reality of day to day living.  In order to navigate your day to day challenges you need to realise that no amount of Zionist fervour is going to help you – a cool head and sense of humour might. Especially when attempting to park (or rather shuffling) your car into a tiny space or trying to understand why all trolleys seem to roll sideways. Or just trying to have a coherent conversation in Hebrew. Israel is different to your country of origin. Keep repeating that mantra!! This is a country that has absorbed immigrants from over 80 different countries – we are not going to see eye to eye on everything and you may encounter several different cultures a day. I still amuse the baker at my supermarket and my colleagues everytime I say “banana” in my thick South African accent. While you are accepting that Israel and certainly Israelis are different, embrace those differences! They are what makes this country unique – not to mention extremely funny. This is Israel. People will sing at the top of their voices for no reason, have passionate opinions about all kinds of issues and forget about lines and queues – we Israelis have perfected the ticket system. We can find cures for obscure diseases and invent all kinds of ground breaking technologies but we will not be herded into orderly lines. Forget it!

 

 

This has been a great year to be in Israel. In the past year I have stood in silence to remember the 6 million, visited the cemetery to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can live in freedom as Jew in our country. Everytime I see members of our armed forces and especially those close to me who serve, I pray for their safety – and I thank G-d for their existence. I have rejoiced in our Independence as a State and my flag still proudly graces the balcony. I observed with great interest the “Cottage Revolution” of the summer. I took pride in the peaceful and democratic way my fellow citizens demanded change. And their contribution to tent sales! I am particularly grateful that as a citizen, I  have the right to criticise my government if I wish. Even though controversial legislation is discussed about the future of our democracy, I am confident sense will prevail. Hey, this is Israel! What good is having issues if you cannot debate them! Preferably over coffee and a game of sheshbesh (backgammon). Arguing is our national sport! Without doubt the highlight of the year was joining my fellow citizens when we welcomed Gilad Shalit home. Free after almost 6 years of captivity. This is what I love about Israel. Like most families, we argue between ourselves but ultimately it is our show of strength and solidarity that makes this country special.

 

And I have discovered another national treasure.  Crembo. You can tell when  the season’s are changing. Not by the leaves on trees changing colour but by boxes of Crembo lining the shelves of supermarkets. What is Crembo? Delicious chocolate covered squishy marshmallow type stuff. For the South Africans, it is very similar to a Sweetie Pie but much more delicious! Food is a great part of Israeli culture and Olim Chadashim, if you learn to do one thing fluently in Hebrew, learn to order your coffee and pastry. Mmmmm pastries. It is Erev Chanukah (Eve of Chanukah) and as someone so rightly said, perhaps our greatest threat to national security is not Hizbullah, Hamas or even Iran, perhaps it is all the bakeries we have – especially now when every conceivable doughnut flavour is available. Halva, vodka filled, mousse filled – you name it! Bakeries are on constant standby ready to launch their weapons of mass consumption to a nation that is ruled by its appetite! This really IS the promised land!

 

It has not always been an easy journey. Separation from family and friends is very difficult. Nothing prepares you for the paralysing sorrow you feel when a loved one experiences a loss or when family gathers for a simcha (celebration) and you cannot be there. Whoever invented Skype – I am eternally grateful for your efforts.

 

Tonight is the start of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Traditionally, it is the time of year to express thanks. I am thankful for a multitude of blessings – for a year blessed with achievement beyond expectation, for family and friends who provide stalwart support and for many other things to numerous to mention. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Israel Centre in South Africa who set me on my aliyah journey.

 

No blog post about surviving Aliyah would be complete without mentioning Israel’s most famous feline olah – yes people, Miss Weave is doing just great – she really had a purrrrrrrrfect homecoming.

 

Wishing you all Chag Chanuka Sameach and for those celebrating Christmas, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

 

Roro’s Top Ten Tips for Potential Olim/Olim Chadashim

 

These are some of my personal tips for surviving aliyah. Olim Vatikim! If you have any other tips, please add them in the comments section.

 

1)      Yes you HAVE to know Hebrew. As someone who has embarrassed herself on a magnificent level and still perseveres, it really is worth it to master the language. English will get you by – but you will never truly fit in unless you learn to speak Hebrew. You wouldn’t live in France without learning French, so when in Israel….Ivri, daber Ivrit!

2)      Own your Aliyah experience – your personal achievements and challenges are different to anybody else’s. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Know that what you are experiencing is your own – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to talk to someone to get perspective, go for it!

3)      Be involved! One of my regrets is not making aliyah at an age when I could serve my country in the army. So I volunteer! I was very proud to be involved with WIZO (Women’s Zionist Organisation) in South Africa and even more proud to serve in their army of volunteers for my fellow countrymen. Volunteering is also an excellent way to make friends and find your own voice. And I have to give special kavod to the Media Team Israel – consider me your Israeli satellite office…

4)      Have a sense of humour. You are going to need it.  A lot.

5)      Leave your country of origin behind – be proud of your roots and background but you have embarked on the ultimate journey of change. Understand that Israel is different and the processes that you are used to may not work the same here. Embrace the change and don’t compare. It will just frustrate you.

6)      Build your support system – I am most grateful for my family and  friends (near and far and you know who you are!) who have been with me every step of my journey . Pay it forward to those who need help and support.

7)      Befriend technology. During those moments when you really miss family and friends, there is nothing like the bleeping of an incoming Skype call or Facebook message or sms to make you feel better.

8)      When in doubt, remember why you are here.

9)      Attitude is everything – shut out the negative naysayers and concentrate on the road ahead. It is your journey.

10)   ENJOY! ENJOY! ENJOY! This is without a doubt, a most special country to live in. Tough but rewarding.  Well worth the commitment.