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Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Tonight is the start of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers. Last year, I was in Israel at this time. While there are memorial services in Canada, at Jewish Community Centres and synagogues, it doesn’t feel the same, obviously. I feel cut off, especially with J in Israel right now.

Last year, we went to a memorial service conducted by a group of students on erev Yom Hazikaron. They were kids who had graduated high school already and should have been in the army, but had deferred it while they were taking a special year-long course. I can’t remember the exact name of it, but it was basically a leadership course, where they learned to be better volunteers and future leaders. These weren’t kids who were avoiding service. They were kids who were so devoted to the future of their country that they were spending extra time learning how to be of service.

After the service, we broke up into groups and meet with several of them, to learn more about them. They were all still teenagers, of course. They looked no different than the children of friends. In fact, one girl in our group was tall, thin and blonde and looked very young and very much like Maya. I was struck by the similarity and the fact that this girl was heading into the army soon, and that most of her friends were already there.

They told us how they felt about going into the army, how afraid they were for their friends and themselves. Everybody cried. We Canadians cried at the sacrifice these children make for not only their country, but for us, the Jews in the diaspora who rely on them to keep Israel safe for us. They cried not only from their own fear, but at the realization that people half-way across the world cared this much about them and what they do. They were shocked as we thanked them, and one girl asked, “Do your children really know about us? Care about this country they’ve never seen?” I told her my kids sing Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) along with Oh Canada every day at school.

The next day, our group made its way to the memorial for fallen border guards. Eleven o’clock approached and we rushed up to the top, where you can overlook the country for miles around. We made it up and barely had a chance to absorb the breathtaking view before the air raid sirens went off. Even though I expected it, it gave me a moment of sheer terror, knowing how many people had been forced to run for cover at the very same sound, and how it could really happen again, at any moment.

The thing about Israel is that it is all so immediate. Remembrance Day in Canada is mostly about the past, honouring ancient veterans who remember wars decades old. (Sadly, Afghanistan is changing that, but not anywhere near on the scale of Israel.) As the siren goes off, people stop their cars at the side of the road, get out and stand there until it is over, a remarkable sight.

As we read the names of the fallen border soldiers at the monument, the list continued unbroken, up to the present. Those kids we talked to the evening before all knew someone who had died in service – if only a friend’s older brother or the cute boy in a grade ahead in school. No one is untouched.
My wish for Israel is that Yom Hazikaron become like Canada’s Remembrance Day, a holiday in which the the majority of people who have personal memories of war are old, and their numbers growing smaller each year.

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(Soldiers at the memorial for fallen border guards.)

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These were our season firsts for today:

Open windows.
Sandals.
The first flower poked out from under the dead leaves.
No need to wipe slush or mud of the dog’s paws after a walk.
Bought popsicles and, two seconds after handing them to my kids, 5 other kids showed up at the door.
Gardened.
Ate dinner outside.
Ending the day with kids with dirty faces, hands and feet.

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The nice weather takes a bit of the sting of the fact that J is off to Israel for 10 days without me. I went with him last year at this time and decided there is no place I’d rather be than Israel in the spring. It was so beautiful and lush. Everything smelled so good. It just added a whole new dimension to a country I already love for so many other reasons, and it kills me there he gets to be there and I don’t. I actually feel a yearning in my chest to be there. I miss it, possibly in a way only Jew who doesn’t live there can.

(this is me at the Southern Wall with my rabbi, reading from the Torah for the first time)

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I am looking forward to a lovely weekend, though. Maya is at a friend’s cottage for the weekend and I always find that when you take one child out of the equation, the other two are much easier to deal with. It isn’t just that I find it less difficult, but they are actually better behaved. Less fighting. It doesn’t matter which kid you remove, the effect is the same. I totally don’t get that. I am sure in families with only two siblings those children fight as much as my kids do, but reduce mine to two and they don’t fight.

So it was a very peaceful evening, except for Asher’s nightly tears over the loss of his best friend. When he was four years old and in junior kindergarten, a little boy arrived from Israel with his family. Of course, he didn’t speak a word of English and worse, he had a very difficult time learning. He is just one of those people to whom languages do not come easily, because even now, four years later, he has a wicked Hebrew accent and his English isn’t great.

Anyway, we only heard a little about him from Asher, who said told us about the kid and that he was making friends with him despite the language barrier. Only at parent-teacher interviews did I get the whole story, which was that other kids were ignoring and sometimes teasing this little guy, but Asher decided to take a different route and set out to make friends, communicating in sign language, determinedly teaching the boy English and quickly learning useful Hebrew phrases (“Don’t go there,” “Come here,” “Take this,”) to communicate with him.

Their Hebrew teacher told me at the time, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t think Asher stood out much at the beginning of the year. He was just an average little boy, part of the crowd, but I want you to know that the way your son has treated T has been remarkable. He is a kind and gentle soul, and mature beyond his years.” I practically burst with pride.

T’s family clearly felt the same way, embarrassing us with the extravagance of the gifts they give Asher each year at his birthday and Hanukkah. They credit him with teaching their son English, which seems extreme, but they do.

The truth is, the kid is annoying as all get-out. He’s wild and out-of-control. He is utterly undisciplined, destructive and irritating. But he listens to my son. At Hanukkah that first year, we had his family over for a party and he rampaged through our house, driving the other kids nuts until Asher barked out a command in Hebrew, then he’d stop whatever he was doing and run right over.

Now their time here has come to an end and they are returning home. And my son is heartbroken. Not only is he losing his best friend but, he admitted to me, T is the only boy in the class who he feels is as ‘dumb’ as he is. Clearly also ADD, as well as hyperactive, T sits at the teacher’s other side during class work and while he is way worse off than Asher, Asher sees a kindred spirit and is now being left with a group of high achievers and no one like him. He is fine during the day, but he cries himself to sleep every night.

They are leaving in a month. It is going to be a long month.

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