Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The War in Gaza

Since the war began in Gaza on Saturday morning here in Israel there have been constant news updates about the action taking place over there.  As one guy I know put it, it's not that the war's started, but that Israel finally has decided to join it.  That's about the way I feel about the situation.

It was reported yesterday that Beer Sheva has been hit by a rocket, and today another one.  That places the major towns/cities of Beer Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, besides of course the cities that have been under constant threat for the past three years.  The kibbutz I lived on seven years ago, Sa'ad was first hit by a Kassam while I lived there - twice. Two Kassams (they're the shorter range missles) was a big deal then, now not so much.

This map will help:

Let me take this opportunity to put this into perspective.  Beer Sheva has a population of 186,000; Ashdod 207,000; Ashkelon 109,000; plus another 25,000 in small communities surrounding the Strip; plus 25,000 in Netivot; plus 19,000 in Sderot itself. Lehavim, where my cousins Burt and Batya - who celebrated their son's Bar Mitzvah on Monday - live, is also within range has a population of 6,000 among other towns nearby.

If we do all the addition, we get at least 577,000 people who are now living under the constant threat of missle attack.  If they're lucky they'll have 45 seconds notice of an incoming missle, if not as lucky (depending on the distance from Gaza) they'll only have 15 seconds to find shelter.  

The population of Israel is about 7.28 million people.  That 577,000 is 8% of the population.  Let's put that in terms that mean something - the current popluation of the US is 306 million - 8% of which is 24,480,000.  If 24.5 million people in the US were living under those conditions, what do we expect the US would do?  I hope it wouldn't have taken them three years to get their act together like it took our government to.

One of my students yesterday was complaining about Israel's failure to effectively combat the media response to the Arab attack. He said, "When someone attacks Israel for disproportionate response, the answer the Israeli government should be giving is: of course, it's disproportionate! A proportionate response would be to send 10,000 missles into a crowded city without regard to where they hit." 

Update: I added the map, and forgot to add, Kiyrat Gat 47,8000, Yavne 32,000 and Gedera 16,700.  That brings it up to 673,000 at least living within range of rockets; making it 9.2% of the Israeli population and 28,152,000 Americans living under rocket fire.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chanukah Sameach!

I'll post some of what we've been up to in a day or two, some great pictures too. But before I do that, I wanted to answer a question I've received a few times. What is it that I do? Sure, I study, but what? Well that's a very complicated answer, but basically I study (for the most part) nearly 2,000 year-old Rabbinic texts attempting to understand how Jewish law is decided and why we come to said conclusions. These texts will be in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Well, I decided to give you an example, through a timely Dvar Torah:

There's a question in the Talmud: What is Chaunkah? What is the significance of Chanukah, and what does it celebrate? Typically there are tons of answers to this question and nearly every Rabbi in history has his own take on the answers, but I'd like to deal with it a bit.

When we're children we're taught about the miracle of the oil. When the Maccabees came into the Temple after the war they found a flask of still sealed, pure oil hidden in the Temple with enough oil to last one night. Through a miracle it lasted for eight, until new pure oil could be made. Fantastic, beautiful.

Except, um... that's not exactly what happened. Let's say that Chanukah does celebrate this event, well the miracle only lasted seven days - the days that oil shouldn't have lasted for, the first day wasn't a miracle at all! So then, where do we get eight from?

One of those popular answers is that the first night celebrates the victory over the Greeks and the last seven celebrate the oil - the
nes pach hashemen. The Netziv (mid-19th century Lithuania) gives us a different answer, combining the two ideas - the finding of the oil itself was a miracle and we celebrate two miracles on the first night - the military victory over the Greeks and the finding of the oil.

Ah, now we've got it. We've got the historical element and the religious one. Fantastic. However, should we really be celebrating the defeat and destruction of human beings? That doesn't seem to square with a Jewish view of
b'tzelem elokim (that all of mankind, regardless of religion, is made in the image of God). This is why, according to some, we celebrate the oil instead of the military victory though that is really the essential part.

Well if that's the case, that we celebrate the finding of the oil, then the Maharal's got a great question (Prague, 1500's): the paragraph of
Al HaNisim (that we insert in the prayers during this week) has no mention of the miracle surrounding the oil at all! How is it that our prayers don't mention such an important part of the Holiday? Why should we be celebrating the finding of oil anyway? It's just for the Menorah anyway.

He answers all these questions beautifully. In fact these two ideas are intrinsically connected. What were we fighting the war for anyway? Against the Greek oppression of our religion and the defilement of the Temple. The Greeks defiled the Temple and the only way to reconsecrate the Temple was through the relighting of the Menorah. Hence, according to the Maharal, the two miracles are actually only one. The finding of the oil flask and the relighting of the Temple is the culmination of the military victory, the final act that showed the victory and the miracle that happened. This should invoke a vision akin to the flag raising on Iwo Jima or at the Kotel in June of '67.

Hence, every year when we relight our Chanukiot, we are not just celebrating the finding of the oil in the Temple not just the military victory. But rather that we are celebrating and renewing the victory over those who seek to crush us through physical destruction and those who seek to destroy us through assimilation. No, we are still here, still here proclaiming year after year that we will not be defeated that we will continue to bring light to this world.
Chag Urim Sameach.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Get Sarah Palin's New Book for Free

You've got to read this, I haven't read anything as hysterical in quite a while.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jerusalem Elections

Well we didn't vote. Our first election and we didn't vote; I'm ashamed of myself - Naomi's not nearly as concerned. We were supposed to get something in the mail and we didn't, but even as the date came close I still didn't make the call to the hotline that I should have.

I can make excuses like: I left for the Golan that morning or that we haven't lived here long enough to actually know anything, etc. But neither is really true. I did go to the Golan that day, but the polls opened an hour and a half before we left. We've been in Israel for a year and a half now and that's long enough to know some of the issues.

Besides, I'm a strong believer that if you don't vote you forfeit your ability to complain. I like the Australian system of fining and then imprisoning people that don't vote. It's a different society there - in Israel and the US, voting is seen as a privilege - we get to vote, how lucky. In Australia, voting is a civic duty. That makes sense to me.

I guess you could say that the guy we both would have voted for won - Nir Barkat - but we voted absentee in Maryland for Obama even though we knew he'd win and that our absentee ballots would never be counted. It's a civic duty.

Jerusalem is a city that needs help. Rated the worst place to live in Israel (among the largest 15 cities); a public entertainment budget of 10 million shekels (compared to Tel Aviv's 80 million) and that's after last years 5 million raise!; for a country/city that proclaims it's love it's rather dirty. And I haven't even started talking about education or jobs here.

The current mayor, Uri Lipoliansky, has done a pretty good job; and he probably would have been re-elected had he run, but the new Haredi candidated is a hack and I can't stand him. He's so atrocious that he made a cariacture of himself to be noticed!

So, I'm happy that Nir Barkat won - I hope he can pull Jerusalem out of the gutter by it's bootstraps and make it the place it should be.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sukkot Fun (lots of Pictures)

Well Sukkot is over and we had a great time. We finally had the rest and relaxation that we needed, as well as the excitement that we had been missing as well. Currently we've restarted the semester - with the Yeshiva up and running and Naomi gearing up for her first University classes just over a week from now.

Anyway, unlike last year where we had to build our own Sukkah (which was a lot of fun); this year the Yeshiva provided a Sukkah right outside our front door. Though I had to build it twice (with help from the students) it was not the same. We had guests (also recent olim) for lunch but dinner was very special since we were able to have it to ourselves. Oh the joy of the quiet.

Thursday was probably the highlight of the festival, we went to the Kotel (Western Wall) for the annual Bircat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing). Here in Israel we have a Bircat Kohanim every day during services in the morning - whereas in the US it's only done on the festivals - but nonetheless the Bircat Kohanim done here during the festivals is quite speical; especially the one during Sukkot.

As you can see from the pictures below, the place was packed. I've never seen so many people at the Kotel. Every spare inch of the nearby rooftops was used by spectators to take part in the ceremony.
The Kohanim are the guys in the white Taleisim above.

While at the Kotel for this amazing experience, I took some pictures of Lulav and Etrog sets that I saw. Normally most look the same - the same 4 species Lulav, Etrog, Hadas, Aravah (Palm, Citron, Myrtle, Willow) - but sometimes people have different ideas of how they all fit together.

Here's a picture of what they normally look like:
Now for a couple that I found interesting:
That's our friend Elie with a Yeminite Etrog.
I don't really know what's going on with this one, but it's quite cool. This guy is not the guy who owned it, but one of the guys who was able to shake it (as was I). Here's another one of that same Lulav with the owner:

I wish I could have taken a better photo of this one, but alas I could not. Thursday night we went to Beit Shemesh which is a city about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem for a music festival. It's free and a good time, especially since a friend of mine was playing. It started at 6pm and there were tons of families there then and little by little as the bands came and went it turned over to a more teenager friendly place. We spent Shabbat back at Hamivtar (my Yeshiva from last year) visiting the friends that we made there. It was so refreshing to go back there. We spent our time talking to our friends and and instead of 48 18 year-olds we spent our time with their children.

Since Sukkot, we've been back at work. Naomi's started her Masters at Hebrew U and I've finally begun teaching and continuing my learning. With the Obama win, the Phillies World Series, and a stellar Steelers team it's looking to be a great fall all around.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why I voted for Obama

(A post of all of our Sukkot activites is forthcoming in the next few days).

Many people, especially among Orthodox Jews, here in Israel have asked my why I am voting (proudly for the most part) for Obama. My answer is this: I believe that a strong America is better for Israel's security than an America that will give a blanket statement of support to Israel. I believe that Obama will provide a better complete package for the future than McCain can.

This belief of mine has just been echoed by Edgar Bronfman. I do not agree with all of his points about Israel but the main point is perfect.

This was published today in the Huffington Post.

I am supporting Obama for president for two reasons: one is my disdain for the McCain-Palin ticket, and the other my respect and admiration for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Among Jewish voters, some feel the basic question is which candidate will act in the best interest of Israel. The answer is Barack Obama. As an American Jew who loves Israel, I cannot support John McCain. He cannot provide what Israel needs most--a respected, credible, morally strong America. To have the United States and Israel both regarded by the rest of the world as unreliable and in isolation is no way to solve the problems that plague both countries. This has been the effect of the Bush policies, and these are the policies that John McCain has promised to continue. Barack Obama is the candidate who can restore America's moral authority in the world and position our government to help negotiate peace.

The most vexing problem Israel faces is its relations with its neighbors. From the inception of the state until today, Israelis have felt besieged, surrounded by enemies who want to make them disappear. The constant security threat has made it very difficult for Israel to address the long list of problems that for the most part have been swept under the rug while awaiting peace. These include a disastrous educational system, a widening gap between rich and poor, and bitter division between secular and religious Jews. Israel desperately needs peace if it is to come anywhere close to being the "light unto nations" of Jewish dreams.

I quarrel with the oft-heard assumption that "George W. Bush is good for Israel." He gleaned many Jewish votes on that slogan, but I take a contrarian's position. Israel is further from peace than it was at the end of the Clinton administration. The smoldering hatred between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'a has burst into flames as a result of the American occupation. An emboldened Iran, with its Shi'a majority, has strengthened and armed Israel's enemies Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel's most immediate danger comes from a nuclear Iran. Under the Bush administration, conversations with the Iranians began only at the end of May 2007 and have been badly mishandled. The result of the Bush doctrine in the Middle East has been an America and an Israel that are regarded with hatred and fear.

The region requires an honest broker that will push both sides towards a workable solution and a two state outcome. I remember the scene at the White House when President Clinton helped Prime Minister Rabin to shake Arafat's hand. Whether an American president is prepared to preside over another handshake--one that could build lasting peace--should not be measured by his professed love for one side or the other, but by his judgment.

John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate is the towering example of his poor judgment. Palin's ignorance of public affairs is monumental. Especially disturbing to the Jewish voter should be her willing acceptance of the campaign assignment of demagogy, which has stirred up racism and hate. The prospect of our having a 72-year-old president in poor health raises the real possibility that Palin could be our president, a thoroughly frightening thought. (I am well aware, in my eightieth year, of the flagging energy of any 72-year-old.) McCain's choice of Palin was a bid to the extremists in the Republican party, not the considered choice of a man who puts his country first.

Barack Obama is the leader who can begin to undo some of the damage done by Bush's policies. His background as an American who has lived among diverse cultures makes him sensitive to the cultural and religious motives that shape conflicts. He is cerebral, measured, calm, and pragmatic. By his character, he will engage these issues with more than stonewalling and weapons. He is brilliant in his choices of advisors. He is a tough idealist who has the courage to imagine an America that may inspire hope, not fear, in the Middle East and around the world.

Voters who care about Israel's welfare should ask which candidate will help sustain the ties between Israel and American Jews. Those of us who were alive at the creation of Israel have a love for Israel that is tied to the Holocaust, to the displaced persons camps and to the early struggles for a Jewish homeland. We were all as generous as we could be in support of Israel, as donors and as advocates. Now there is a generation growing up that is more distant from Israel than I should like. Young Jews do not automatically support Israel, and many are rightly troubled by what they learn about the ill treatment of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. No longer motivated by fear of anti-Semitism, they seek to understand what Israel stands for, not to say "my Israel, right or wrong." Without strong support among the younger generation of American Jews, Israel may lose its vital relationship with the US government.

Obama can inspire much-needed support for Israel among this next generation of American Jews. He reflects their idealism and speaks in the language of hope they understand. His approach to international affairs shows a commitment to restoring America's reputation and to working with our allies to combat war, poverty, disease, and environmental destruction. He has articulated a vision for American society that does not ask us to ignore our differences--religious, racial, or economic--but to set aside divisive rhetoric and acknowledge that we all have a stake in building a more ethical society. Under his leadership a renewed America can help to foster a renewed Israel. Barack Obama is an inspiring American, willing and able to lead this nation and the world to new heights in very perilous times. I will vote for him with enthusiasm.

Edgar M. Bronfman is the former president of the World Jewish Congress. He is the author, with Beth Zasloff, of Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (St. Martin's Press, 2008).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chag Sameach! - It's Sukkot Again

Okay, so we've been a little lax in posting, but it's only due to the amount of hours we've been working. Now we're on break for all of Sukkot, so hopefully in the next few days I'll be able to post more than we've done in the past (okay, well since anything is good it'll hopefully be more than this post).

So, we're going to relax a little, get over our colds at the moment, and then post some more. Till then,
Chag Sameach!

Here's a fun Sukkot video to get you into the holiday mood:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back In Israel

So after a long and very exciting summer Nate and I have moved back to Israel. We made aliyah (officially became Israeli citizens) on Tuesday, August 26th. It was a short flight in comparison to the flights we had taken to Australia this summer, but yet still pretty long at 10 hours. We landed in the Ben Gurion airport and were straight away taken to the old terminal to have a small reception and have our first meeting with the Office of Immigration. We received our immigration i.d. and forms allowing us to sign up for a bank account and health insurance. We then were provided with a taxi ride back to Hamivtar where we had lunch and dinner with friends from last year and got a good, but short, night's sleep. The next morning at 8:30 am the movers showed up to move all of our belongings from Hamivtar, where we had stored them over the summer, to our new apartment in Jerusalem. They were done moving us in by 9:45am (a record of what I have heard), and they did a really good job. Our new physical address is 24 Shai Agnong, Jerusalem, in the Goldstein Youth Village. Our new mailing address however is:
P.O. Box 4180
Jerusalem 91041, ISRAEL.

Nate and I spent the day unpacking and then got a very good nights rest in our own bed in our new apartment. As the week went on we set up a bank account, received our permanent identity cards, met with the Office of Immigration to make sure we were in the system and receiving all of our benefits, set up our health insurance, and unpacked and set up our new apartment. We now have a brand new fridge, a washer and dryer of our own, and a carpeted and insulated apartment. We did all this while we started our new job as the Av and Em Bayit (dorm parents) at Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah. We helped prepare the school and the dormitory for the boys arrival, and created all necessary databases of the boys information. Basically it has been a very overwhelming, yet exciting, first week back in Israel.

Yesterday, however, the boys arrived. We have ourselves set up, with the exceptions of a few boxes left to unpack, but now we have to spend our time getting to know the boys and making sure they get what they need. Nate has spent most of today with them helping to run orientation, and I will get to spend meal times with them. I am organizing the events for this weeks shabbat, at which we will be having a kiddush (snack) with singing and words of Torah Friday night after dinner, and a small kiddush (snack) after prayers in the morning. Nate and two of the other Rabbaim will be speaking at each of the meals respectively and the boys will have their first downtime to just hang out with each other and us. Next Tuesday night we will also be having an open house for the boys, for which I will make some desserts, just to let them get to know us and let them stop by and see our apartment. It is our hope that they will feel comfortable coming over as often as they like.

There are 48 boys, and as our new boss put it, you guys just had 48 boys without the 9 months of being sick and the labor, but now the work really starts. We are excited for the job, and look forward to updating you more on what is going on!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Off to Oz

So we're sitting here in Los Angeles waiting for our plane to board for our flight to Melbourne. We've been in the US for over three weeks and now we're off again, two weeks in Australia. So far we've seen countless family and friends.

Since our departure from Israel we've spent :
19 hours and 30 minutes in the air
Flown almost 7,000 air miles
Driven over 1300 miles

And that does not include the upcoming flight to Melbourne via New Zealand and back.

It's already been one eventful trip and it's not even half over.

We'll post more when we can, but it's time to board our flight to Oz.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Packing and our Trip to the US/Australia

We've finished packing and moving to storage before we leave Israel. Naomi's put in many many hours of work while I've been finishing up at school; we're boxed up and we bought pizza to entice guys to help us carry our furniture and boxes to a few uninhabited caravans nearby.

I've managed to sprain my ankle rather well, and have since Saturday night been on crutches so Naomi's has had to do most of this without me.

Our wonderful tortoise moe. has been dropped off with friends of ours (Natan and Meg to be cared for by their daughter Ella).

We're now waiting for the driver to come pick us up to take us to the airport, our flight is at 4:50pm Israel time, we're expecting to arrive tonight around 10pm Eastern.

Our general schedule for the next two months is:
July 8th - Arrive in US, head to Philly
9th - To DC
21st - To Philly
27th - 29th - in Cincinnati
August 3rd - Fly to Australia, Melbourne
18th - From Melbourne to LA, then back to DC
26th - Fly back to Israel

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oh What a Crazy Life it is!

As many of you may have noticed Nate and I have not been posting very much lately. We apologize for this, but we promise we have a pretty good excuse. It all started about three weeks before Passover when we realized we had no idea what we were doing next year, had no where to live, and no income coming in, and we had to figure it out ASAP. As many of you know in about two weeks we managed to get answers to all those questions: we got a job at Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah, a post high school seminary for boys. We are now the new dorm parents for the school, our title being Av and Em Bayit (father and mother of the house). This job involves living in the dorm building the boys live in and being an emergency resource for them after hours, when the Yeshiva is closed, creating a positive environment in the building for the boys, and being the boys parents in their home away from home. The job also involves some teaching, Nate will be running what is called a Chaburah (a study group of 6-8 guys) for an hour and a half a day four days a week and he will be helping to coordinate the evening classes. Further on Thursday nights from 7:30-12:15 Nate will be helping to coordinate learning programs and one night a week Nate and I will have a few boys at a time over for dinner where I will lead a Torah (Bible) based discussion. I will also be the one who brings little treats, such as brownies and cookies, to the study hall for the boys to have a snack with, and I will be making sure, along with Nate, that at the Thursday night learning sessions they have a kiddush (large snack) prepared for them.
This job obviously provides us with an apartment to live in in the boys dorms, we get a salary, and it involves moving to Jerusalem to what is called the Goldstein Youth Village, a very quaint little village for youth programs.

In addition to this Nate and I, as many of you know, are making Aliyah (becoming citizens of Israel). Getting the paperwork together for this took a large amount of time, and we are just now finishing up on getting it all together so come August 26th when we land, we will officially be Israeli. Further I applied, was accepted, and am now in the process of accepting the invitation, to attend Hebrew University, Rothberg International School, for the next two years. I will be studying to get my masters in Community Leadership and Philanthropy Studies.

In addition to all of this Nate and I have had the amazing pleasure of having both sets of our parents, and my brother and grandfather, here to visit us. Nate's parents came first over Passover which was absolutely delightful. We had Passover Sedar to which I contributed a bit with my cooking, with the Fein Family's very very close friends, the Ben-Or's. It was very interesting for me to be at a seder other then that of my parents since I had not ever been to another, for as long as I can remember at least. Of course with this came the sadness of missing my own parents seder, but at the same time I very much enjoyed being where I was. We also did some traveling to Herzaliah, where I had never been before, to go boating and meet some of the Israeli scouts Mom and Dad know, and up north to visit the cousins. It was very nice and we were very happy to get to see everyone. Our favorite part though, we have to admit, was to have Mom and Dad Fein here in our home for the last day of the holiday, to give them a bit of insight as to how we live our lives. We know that they come often to Israel, but where we live and how we lives is very different then what they usually see when they are here, so we really appreciated them allowing us to share it with them. We really hope they enjoyed their stay as much as we enjoyed having them.

Exactly 44 days after Mom and Dad Fein left, during which time we were still finalizing details for next year, my Parents, Brother and Grandfather came for a visit. I have to say that as much as I enjoyed and loved having Mom and Dad Fein, having my Dad, brother and especially Grandfather here was the most absolutely amazing experience in Israel yet for me. This was their first time ever coming to Israel. (My mom, who I of course also had missed very much, had been to Israel previously) To watch the excitement in my dad's eyes as he just absorbed everything he saw, to see the amazement my grandfather expressed at the beauty of everything around him was truly a gift I felt G-d had made just for me. I loved showing them everything I could, although it was not nearly as much as I would have liked to show them due to the constraints of time, and I loved how after seeing each thing they would spend hours talking about after. After living here for a year I have started to take on the Israeli mentality of loving where I live, knowing I am surrounded by amazing things, but becoming numb to it; for these past two weeks, that was 100% impossible. I know they are all planning to return which makes me so much happier because I can not wait to show them more of the country.

I also saw a new side to my dad that I really loved, while he was here. My dad has always been the one who brings the discussion of Torah to the table, he is the one who starts it and the one who proctors the debates. I also always knew he went to the classes at their synagogue, but I never went with him to know how important these classes truly were to him. While he was here, I saw my dad stay up for a full night just learning Torah at Nate's school, I sat with my dad as he had discussions with people learning to be Rabbis and truly challenging them to think, and I really got to see the passion my dad has for Judaism and learning that I am sure deep down I knew existed, but until now would not have characterized him as. My dad tells many people that the reason he learns Torah and the reason he is so passionate about Judaism is because of me and my brother, but Dad, now it has become the reverse, I learned over these past two weeks a new level of passion for Judaism and Torah from you! Thank you for that!

Yesterday my parents left for America, which is why today I can sit down to right this post. I hope that you all accept my excuse for not writing for so long, and understand that our lives have been a bit overwhelming lately. We will try and be more on top of it now, but who knows what direction life will take us. We hope all of you are well and we hope to see many of you soon when we return for a visit to the states in three weeks.

Be Well!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Syrian-Israeli Peace?

Recently it was announced that Israel and Syria have been having diplomatic relations through our mutual friends Turkey. Most of the world hailed the developments has a break through, clearing the way for peace in the Middle East. I, however, am a little more pessimistic.

There a a few things that I'd like to show why I'm pessimistic.
1. What would we gain? The status quo with Syria is peace. We don't fear Syrian attacks like we do from Hezbollah or Hamas. At best this treaty would give us another number to chalk up on the board of countries with diplomatic relations although I do have to admit there is a possibility that Hezboallah/Hamas would lose Syrian support, but that isn't good enough to give up the Golan.

2. The Golan. While people like ex-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz say that we could live without the Golan Heights, since artillery is not as important as it once was (the threat coming more from rockets than anything else). It is abundantly clear to me that high ground is just as important as it once was and will continue to be. In the event that there is a war or terrorist bombardment from the Golan it would allow them to easily hit cities like Tiberias, Sfat, Afula, etc.

3. All this is a facade to remove the discussion of the indictment of our dear Prime Minister due to bribery and fraudulent election donations.

4. The Syrians said that Israel offered them the Golan in return for peace. The problem is is that most Israelis have actually been to the Golan (unlike Gush Katif) and like it. I can't imagine that the Israeli public would support giving up the Golan for relatively little in tangible results (see #1).

5. I find it interesting that the country that is moderating these peace discussions is Turkey. If we remember, back in September it came out that Israel bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor, the country to spill the beans was ... Turkey. Israel flew through Lebanon into Syria and out through Turkey without tripping any alarms and what happens? The spent fuel tanks land in Turkey and that's how the world found out. To me it seems that these two events are connected.

The Jerusalem Post recently reported "The diplomats said Syrian atomic energy chief Ibrahim Othman told the Arab delegates his country could not open secret military sites to outside perusal as long as Syria and Israel remained technically in a state of war." The IAEA wants to go into Syria to inspect, but now that Syria is limiting the inspections the world will start putting even more pressure on Israel to accept Syrian terms (give up the Golan so we can go check out more nuclear sites).

Guess we'll have to see how this plays out, but for all these reasons I really don't think that now it an appropriate time to make peace with Syria.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Our Plans for Next Year

Most of the plans for next year have been finalized, so I thought that I'd catch you all up on them.

We've decided, I suspect a lot of you know by now, to make aliyah. We're becoming Israeli citizens on August 25th when we return from the US to Israel. It's a big decision that we've made, one that will allow us to financially support ourselves while we're here in Israel and that binds us with the future of the State. Come what may, we're now (or will be) Israeli.

Secondly, I've taken a job - that will require both of us to function - as dorm parents to a post-high school Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Shvilei HaTorah. The Yeshiva is walking distance to Nishmat (Naomi's school this year) and Emek Refaim (where I lived when I was on Nativ 7 years ago) - which means that it'll be very different from where we live now. The Yeshiva has asked me to teach a little in the afternoons which will be great experience for the future.

Naomi has been accepted to a Masters program at Hebrew University in Community Development and Philanthropy Studies. Currently she's deciding between starting school or pushing it off another year so she can take time and work first.

Naomi's parents are arriving Monday night, and it's Yom Yerushalayim, the day when Jerusalem was recaptured (reunified) by Israeli forces during the 6 Day War - 41 years ago. It's another big holiday in the Israeli year so it should be pretty cool.

Due to the imminent arrival of the Oppenheim's I hope to fulfill my promise of Passover-Fein Family pictures very shortly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Oh the Places You'll Go

I don't have that much time right now, soon I'll post some pictures from Mom and Dad's visit during Passover, but for right now I wanted to tell you all our travel plans for the summer.

On July 8th we're flying to the US, we'll be there until August 3rd. Outside of a trip to Cincinnati at the end of July we are splitting the rest of our time between DC and Philly.

On August 3rd we're flying to Australia, spending a week in Melbourne, then three days in Sydney, and then five(?) days in Canberra to see Grandpa Sam.

We come back to the US on the 19th of August so we'll have a week before we fly back to Israel.

There's a lot more to talk about, Passover, Our Plans for Next Year, and that today is Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Day), but those are posts that are coming. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Trip to Hebron (lots of pictures)

Back in August, Naomi and I took a trip to Hebron in the middle of the night. It was awful for pictures, so when my school (finally) took a trip there I went wild with pictures.

This is my favorite:

It says "Hebron City of the Fathers". This is the city where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah are buried as well as the first place that King David was King over. It's a water tower though you can see an Arab neighborhood on the right hand side.

Hebron as a city has a mixed history, and we were able to tour parts of it. The city is divided greatly since the Oslo accords, Jews are only allowed in about 3% of the total city, which is strange due to that 80 years ago 10% of the population of the city was Jewish. In 1929 there were infamous and deadly Arab riots and due to them the British government forcibly removed all Jews from Hebron (60 people were killed in Hebron alone), and until 1967 no Jew lived there.

Now there is a growing community outside Hebron called Kiryat Arba (which is a name that comes directly from the Torah) and a very small community within Hebron itself. Kiryat Arba is a thriving city built on desolate mountain tops 30 years ago and now has about 6,000 residents.

Next to Kiryat Arba is the "Beit HaShalom" (House of Peace) which is a new Jewish apartment building in Hebron. The Beit HaShalom is very different from the beautiful houses within Kiryat Arba; as you can see from the pictures below it's a house that is still in the building stages, yet people are still living there.

We met with the mother (originally from Baltimore) of one of my Rabbis who actually lives there. She showed us around the apartment building.

Yes that is their stair-well (it's a work-in-progress).

We also toured other areas of Hebron, the Jewish community is spread out between four smaller communities. The areas we were in are old communities, most of which were hundreds of years old but had been destroyed in 1929 and were re-established in the 70's and 80's.

These are Torah Scrolls that are hundreds of years old, the one on the left being 500-years old rescued from Spain from the Inquisition, and were also rescued from the 1929 riots and are now replaced in the synagoge in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.

It was a great trip, Hebron is a very interesting place, at points it can feel like a whole other world. Due to the close proximity of the Jews and Arabs they live with this tangible fear of renewed violence, yet at the same time there are good relations between the communities. I guess it really depends who you're talking about. Hebron, unlike Gaza, is normally a relatively calm place despite the tension it is very rare that there is any serious activity.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Purim!!

Well Purim is here, the first holiday since Chanukah and and we wanted to share something with you.

Among the many traditions that are celebrated for the holiday, the custom of dressing up is taken to a whole other level in Israel. It seems that every Halloween store in the US sends extra stock in March to Israel, it's very strange watching Haredim in Mea Shearim shop for costumes for their children with Scream masks in the background.

Tonight was the first Magillah reading (the book of Ester), with a Purim shpeil to go with it prepared by the students of my Yeshiva. It was a riot, one of the students in my class is a budding-film maker and showed some of his films (His big film can be seen here

The three other major traditions of the holiday are:
1. Matanot L'evyonim (money/food for the poor)
2. Mishloach Manot (sending food to your friends for them to use in their Purim meal)
3. The Purim Seudah (festive meal, much like the other festival meals, but with Hamentashen)
Basically the idea is to remember other people while we are enjoying the holiday. That and the Megillah itself mentions these concepts.

Tomorrow morning is another recitation of the Megillah and then we are off to Ramat Beit Shemesh for the weekend. On Sunday, Jerusalem celebrates Purim, Shushan Purim, (actually it's all weekend long) so we are going to one of Naomi's Rabbi's house, to celebrate with his family. Jerusalem does it on the day after the rest of the world because it was/is a walled city.

It's a pretty special time in Israel, the whole country has been eagerly anticipating the holiday. I'm sure during our previous descriptions of the holidays, you've understood that there really is nothing like holidays in Israel, and Purim might be the most radically different of them all. It's a holiday that reaches across religious boundaries, it doesn't matter how observant one is, it seems that the whole country is celebrating together.

On an unfortunately sad note, today Naomi's great-uncle Billy (grandpa Julie's brother) passed away. Uncle Billy was a very special man to the entire Oppenheim family, having never married or had children, his nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews were a huge part of who he was. I (Naomi) have great memories of him laughing and making fun with us during all sorts of occasions. It seems very appropriate for Uncle Billy to pass away near Purim, despite that he was not religious, because Purim is a time of making fun and "turning things upside down" and in all my memories of him that is what he did. He always had the funniest smile on his face and always made what seemed straight, sound hysterically crooked. Uncle Billy was also a decorated WWII veteran who had lost much of his hearing as a result of an explosion going off too close to him, sometimes making conversations with him even funnier- and I promise you he would not have had it any other way. Uncle Billy we love you very much and we will miss you greatly. (His funeral will be this coming Monday in Virginia in our family plots.) Baruch Dayan Emet.

I hope to post again on Sunday catching up a few posts I've been meaning to write with some pictures of our adventures in the past month of so.
So till then, Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Great Israel site

I recently found a wonderful website that really shows some of the picturesque sights we see when touring the country.

Maybe I'll eventually learn how to take pictures like these:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Israel to Mass-Produce Electric Cars

I just saw an article on the Jerusalem Post website that Israel announced a plan to mass-produce electric cars, and hopes to be fully on electric cars by 2020. In a country that has no oil and imports 100% of it, I can't believe it's taken so long.

If you can watch the video on the website, you should. Go to and underneath the main picture should be a link to the article. If not, you can read about it here.

I'm very excited about it. We currently (not that we own a car) pay close to $6.00 a gallon (though since the Dollar's been dropping it's probably closer to $5.00/gallon.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Birthday Fun

Today was quite a day for me (Naomi), I turned 23 years old, and despite the fact that 23 is an odd number and not usually an exciting birthday, it turned out to be great!

For those of you who think I am crazy because I am saying it is my birthday, but you know it is February 19th, let me first explain. You see here, in Israel and in the schools Nate and I are in, we use Hebrew Dates, as apposed to the Gregorian Calender. The Hebrew Calender is a lunar calender that is influenced by solar. My birthday, on the Hebrew Calender is the 28th of Shevat, the date which started last night (since it is a lunar calender the day starts when the moon comes up) and ended about an hour and 10 minutes ago. Here we use the Hebrew Calender. We use it to date papers, date checks, even date contracts.

Because of all this, Nate and I have a tendency not to know what the English date is, so we decided this year, since it was difficult to keep track of the English dates, we would start celebrating birthdays, and anniversaries on the Hebrew dates. The truth is that this is how we will most likely always celebrate it, even when we go back to America, because the Hebrew Calender is the calender to which our lives revolve. We celebrate every holiday, every beginning of the month, and even every week based on this calender, so it makes sense to add birthdays, etc. to our celebrations as well.

Back to my great day! As I said the day started last night, when Nate made me dinner and even made birthday cake for desert. He did a great job, and I greatly appreciated the dinner because I know that he really has little time to cook, which is why I do most of the cooking, because he has class until 6 and then again at 8pm. Further, unfortunately, yesterday one of the Rabbi's at Nate's school lost his father, and the funeral was last night, yet Nate still fit in making me feel special.

The day continued this morning, when one of my friends, Janice, made cookies and brought them to my Gemara class, and had the entire class sing happy birthday to me in Hebrew. It was very cute! On Mondays we only have half days, to give each of us time to do volunteer work in the afternoons (I actually do mine on Wednesday night) so when I left and went home to do my usual babysitting jobs, I thought the celebrations were over. Right as I was about to finish babysitting, when the mom came to pick up her kids, all of the moms and kids in the neighborhood showed up, and Nate of course, at the door with cupcakes that were lit with candles, cards, and singing happy birthday in English. As soon as they finished singing the kids decided to all sing together in Hebrew (they are all between the ages of one and a half and three years old). The cupcakes were absolutely amazing, and the gesture was really very nice. Of course to finish off my day, I came home to find emails and cards from other family and friends sending their birthday wishes.

It was really quite a nice day for just another birthday. I really appreciate all the hard work all my friends put in, and especially Nate!

Sunday, February 3, 2008


We have officially reached our seven month mark of living in Israel, and oh boy is it different then when we first arrived. For starters, for those of you who did not know, we got over a foot of snow this week. It is very cold here (although you would not know it was cold if you walked into our caravan, which we have learned to heat very nicely) and well, it is quite white. Last week, starting on Monday there were reports that it would snow throughout most of Israel (even in Eilat). We were told that when there are reports like this that where we live usually gets one of the hardest hits. Tuesday night Naomi rushed home from school, to try and beat this "blizzard" we were getting, and she made it just as it started to snow in Jerusalem. It did not start to snow in Efrat until midnight, however once it started, it did not stop until Thursday afternoon. The snow was mixed at some points with sleet and hail, but most of it was just beautiful white snow.

The snow we got was perfect, it was beautifully white, firm enough for snow-balls, snow-men, and slaying, and soft enough that you did not have to worry about slipping on ice. We had a great time, as the pictures below will show you, with our snowball fights, and helping the kids build their first snow-men. Unfortunately we did not get to go sledding due to the lack in a sleigh, however Adam R. tried to go on a kitchen trey, but lets just say his bum has been doing a lot of complaining ever since.

Israel is so not used to having snow that when we get it, the country basically shuts down. The stores were closed, the busses did not run, and there was no school (well at least for Naomi, Nate had optional classes given by the people who lived on the campus).
As you can see we had a really great time, and it was quite beautiful. Maybe next time though we will prepare enough in advance and buy a sleigh (oh and we think a shovel would be nice to have too)! Happy winter everyone!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Birthday and a Trip to Jerusalem

Last Wednesday was my birthday and what a birthday it was. Naomi had just gotten home two days before but still managed to out do herself. I knew that we would be going out to a restaurant that night so it was basically just another day here, class, lunch, more class. During lunch someone made an announcement that it was my birthday - so everyone sung to me; it was nice.

After classes I was supposed to go down to our apartment and then we'd leave for dinner, well a few of our friends had come up with their kids so I - unsuspectingly - spent a few minutes playing with them; one of them, Chochava (her name means star in Hebrew), really likes it when we play football with her, using her as the ball.

When I finally went down to the apartment Naomi was waiting and after a while we decided that we'd leave for dinner, but that we had to go up to the Dinning Hall to get her jacket which she had left earlier that day. Well I walked into the Dinning Hall totally unsuspecting and there were 25 people there waiting in the dark for me to show up with cake and balloons. I've never had a surprise party before and I was totally blown away. She even made an Eagles cake for me.

After the party we went out to dinner at the nearby winery and had a very nice meal with some wine tasting. It's a great place, nice atmosphere, good wine, good food, and affordable. Did I mention you can see it from our window too? What could beat it?

I've got my work cut out for me come February.

Now on to the trip to Jerusalem. We go there all the time - Naomi every day, while I go probably once every two weeks - so they're not usually special; but this one was. Every month (on the lunar calendar) is a Rosh Chodesh the first of the month. Our good friend Yair asked if I'd be intersted in joining him for morning prayers at the Western Wall for vatikin. Vatikin is the aramaic word meaning the earliest time you can pray on any given day, in the winter because the days are short it happened to fall out at 6:37am. But since we have to drive there, I got up at 4:45 and we left at 5:15 to pick up his brother and students.

We got to the wall at 6:00 and it was pouring, but I did find some time between downpours to take some pictures.

This is how dark it was when we arrived.

If you've ever been to the Wall you know that on the left side of this picture is a cavern for when it's wet. It's a massive place and because today was a special day, despite the early hour, there were thousands of people there.

We prayed the first service with Rabbi Yaakov Yosef leading - the son of famed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - it was very interesting. On a few parts of the service which are sometimes sung in a happy way, he was literally crying; it forced me to view what we were saying in a different way. So many times you can read a sentence one way and if you'd only read that same sentence with a different idea you'd understand it so differently.

Since we wanted to do our own service for the Hallel (singing of certain psalms for the day) we tried to find a good place for it to happen. Just then, this is after sunrise, the skies cleared and the rain stopped. But since it was still wet, and quite cold, most people stayed inside. So the 15 of us were the only ones in the entire plaza, singing at the top of our lungs, we could hear our own echoes. Very nice.

Very few other people managed to brave the chill and the rain.

This picture is taken (the same flag from above) but looking the other way at the far side of the plaza, so you can see why Jerusalem is called the City of Gold.

After we finished, and Yair did a beautiful job of leading, it started to drizzle again so we went inside for Torah reading and the Musaf (additional) service.

Despite the rain, the fog (it felt like a blizzard without the snow), the traffic, and the time at the wall I still made it back in time to get breakfast before class.

A great but very long morning.