Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Difference: Christians, Muslims, and Jews

I posted this to Facebook and it was well received, so ...
Something interesting that my dad pointed out to me.

Christians are more than happy to kill other Christians who don't practice the faith the way that they do. (Look at Ireland.) 
Muslims are definitely more than happy to kill other Muslims who don't practice the faith the way they do. (Sunnis vs. Shi'ites, Hamas's religious leanings vs. moderate Muslims, etc.) 
And Jews? Well, when it comes to Jews and other Jews who don't practice or live the way they do, they complain a lot, they treat each other poorly a lot of the time, they tell them they're "not Jewish" or that they're "too Jewish." But you know what they don't do? They don't kill each other en masse.

It just. Doesn't. Happen.


Jews value life, above all. The life that we live in this world is the most important for Jews. We don't worry about the afterlife, what's coming, what's not coming. We live in the here and now, so we cherish life more than anything.

And that's the difference.

Note: My dad was raised in a Christian household. Not a crazy bible-thumping one, but a moderate one, and he raised us with one rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That helped guide me to Judaism.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

This is My Narrow Bridge: What's Been Going On

The world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is to not be afraid. 

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא להתפחד כלל

I've been so very mum the past few weeks here on the blog while so many things in my life tumble around. The utterly disgusting reality of what's happening in Israel paired with our own familial issues with my father being in the hospital, dealing with the small tree's worth of paperwork for Mr. T's immigration paperwork, preparing for iBoy to come visit, and the money being hemorrhaged for everything has my mind in a bit of a flutter, my body exhausted, and the concept of decent sleep off in the faraway distance somewhere.

Mr. T and I speak frequently about the guilt that we feel about being in the U.S. with everything going on in Israel. Part of me feels blessed to have experienced the "raining rockets" lifestyle after making aliyah a few years ago, because I now know what the fear feels like. I know what the desperation feels like. And I know what the "life as normal" necessity feels like. We're happy we're here in the U.S. and safe, but all of our friends -- who are so much our family -- are still there, and it horrifies us minute to minute. The deaths of the three teenage boys that seems to have set this all off has me more afraid than ever of raising a child in Israel. Reality smacked me in the face.

Yes, I know that children are kidnapped and murdered everywhere in the world. But it's different. At least in the U.S. it's different.

Here, a random psycho -- even if it's someone familiar with your family -- could cause you and your children harm. It's a fluke, an imbalance, a direct attack.

In Israel, it's a bunch of random psychos who have it in their mind that all Jews, all Israelis, are worthless and unnecessary. It's the continuation of so many episodes of marginalization, murder, and massacre. It's personal. It's different. Those three teens weren't kidnapped and murdered because of a random psycho. They were kidnapped and murdered because they were Jews. Their existence stood in the way of a world that's Judenrein.

It's hard being here. Having iBoy with us for two weeks very soon will be bittersweet. He'll be safe in our home. He'll be loved and cared for and not at risk. No red alerts, no rockets. But then he'll rejoin his mother and go back to Israel and be in danger again. B'ezrat haShem (thank God) the conflict will be over by then, but if it isn't? We'll continue to be on edge.

My father's health is up and down, left and right, and the brain is proving itself elusive and a formidable, frustrating foe that won't reveal why its doing what it's doing. It's scary. I feel the reality of growing up, getting older, even more than when he was diagnosed with lymphoma or had bypass surgery. I feel older than I should with the fear that my dad is mortal, that he's outlived his own parents by dozens of years, and that not knowing what's going on is scary. Very scary. In the moments you should feel like an adult you're sent back to the scary days of being a child and not knowing or understanding.

Mr. T's immigration paperwork has been sent off at last. I have quickly become a pro at filing the i-130, the i-485, the i-131, the i-765, and the dozens of supporting documents required. I've also become a pro at writing checks for thousands of dollars. Become an American is stupid expensive. It's prohibitive. I now understand why there are so many illegal immigrants.

America is not the melting pot it once was. It's a place where they want to make sure you won't leach off the government. Oddly enough, it's the people born here who seem to do that more than the immigrants. They just want to work. Mr. T is desperate to work. It makes me sad that I know people who can work and won't because they're lazy and ungrateful and my husband is desperate to work and pay taxes but can't.

It's stupid.

But small victories in the past few days over people who talk a big game but ultimately have zero clue what they're doing have shown me that HaShem truly does run the universe. The plan is there. It's big. HaShem is big. And although I fall -- constantly -- HaShem gives me the nudges I need to remember that it's all bigger than me.

All I have to do is remember that.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chabad and a Review of Turning Judaism Outward

It's late after Shabbat and I'm pretty tired, but if I don't write this now, my head will explode and my heart will melt. The intense need to write? I finished reading Turning Judaism Outward today, which is the biography about the seventh Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson written by friend and colleague Rabbi Chaim Miller (I worked with him on his chumash project several years back).

I was well into the book when I went into synagogue today to discuss this week's parsha (Torah portion) with my women's learning group. Luckily, I'd landed the third aliyah, which was the bit about the people kvetching after Miriam dies because the water dries up, there's a brief mention of her death and burial, followed by Moshe and Aharon approaching HaShem with what to do. HaShem says to go, speak to the rock, and water will pour forth. Moshe doesn't bother asking what to say, but goes forth to the people, calls them a band of rebels, and smacks the rock with his staff. The result of this incident is that Moshe is destined to never enter Eretz Yisrael.

As we talked about the parsha, I realized the significance of being the unwilling leader. Moshe was devastated by the death of his sister Miriam and the peoples' lack of realization that the water was because of Miriam's merit. Frustrated and at his absolute wit's end, he broke. HaShem knew the narrative, HaShem knew that Moshe wouldn't enter the land and needed an "out" in this narrative. It was at this point, where Moshe became truly human that it was possible to build the "exit strategy."

It only made sense to me to tie in the "unwilling leader" to the Rebbe.

I knew it before, but reading Turning Judaism Outward just reinforced the fact that the Rebbe never sought out leadership. Until he set foot in the U.S. and it was evident that his father-in-law (the sixth rebbe) had plans for him, he evaded leadership at every turn. I read this book awaiting the magical explanation for how he ended up in the role of the Rebbe and how the "Rebbe is messiah" movement, but there was never a firm point that either of these aspects of Rabbi Schneerson's life manifested. They were organic.

There are several things I did learn for certain in this book that have provided me with a heightened respect and love for a rabbi I never knew.

  • The Rebbe was a savant. He devoured literature and had a complete memory of the Torah, both Talmuds, and gobs of commentary. From childhood through the end of his life, he was able to give hour-long talks without even opening a book. The way that he processed information and relayed it make me wonder if the Rebbe had a touch of Asperger's, actually. As a savant who evaded public life and communal leadership, it would seem that he had these classic social trappings. I also found it frustrating that he was so well versed in the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), because so many Chabadniks these days don't bother learning it or teaching it. The Rebbe clearly saw the value in knowing it, quoting it, and discussing it. 
  • The Rebbe was an engineering and mathematical genius. The stories that Rabbi Miller relates about his skill with understanding mechanics, machines, military plans, and so much more really blew my mind. I had no idea that he spent years in university getting an engineering degree and applied his skills and talents throughout his life to both relate to experts and to make suggestions to world leaders. 
  • Although he never stepped foot in Israel, the Rebbe had a deep love, appreciation, and passion for both Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel). The amount of political and religious leaders he had deep and emotional ties with, not to mention the amount of times he wrote about the actions of Israeli leadership and the mistake they made show me that he was a man deeply in love with Israel. You also need to read the book to see a few of the moments when the Rebbe predicted something that happened and Israeli military leadership were kicking themselves. His foresight was mind-blowing. 
  • The Rebbe very clearly had a vision for Chabad after he died, and that was to look locally, to your local rabbis for guidance and answers. He was creating leaders to lead. He didn't need to name a successor because he believed in the Jewish people to lead themselves. 
  • He was a man who loved his wife in a deep and unwavering way that I cannot even begin to fathom. They met daily for a half-hour over tea. That was their moment to connect, reconnect, to be one. Although they never had children (and this is something I wish I knew more about, but it's still not covered in the book -- were there fertility issues? Her sister also had trouble conceiving, but I also know that this is a very, very, very private issue), they were deeply in love. 
  • The Rebbe did amazing things for education in America. He truly believed in reaching out to Jews and non-Jews, because he believed that everyone is capable of so much. 
  • The Rebbe was horribly frustrated with Chasidim viewing him as the mashiach (messiah). He never condoned it, in fact he spoke against it and the problems it would cause. He was very abrupt and to the point about this. I think it's chaval (not a great translation, but it kind of means "a pity") that he spent the last 10 years of his life battling the mashiachists who tried to peg him as the messiah when it was something he so did not want, condone, or endorse. 
My own personal conclusion after reading this book and experiencing my eyes well up with tears as I spoke to Mr. T about what I was reading have shown me that I so feel for the Rebbe and everything he fought for and fought against in his life. He was a passionate, educated, wise Jewish man who believed in the Jewish people -- religious or not. 

The truth is that had I been alive in the 1960s or 70s and come to Judaism during those eras, chances are good I would have ended up Chabad. Nowadays, with the prevalence of the vision in Chabad as the Rebbe as messiah, I simply can't wrap my head around that. It's not something I'd ever be able to stand by and endorse as part of a collective entity. 

That being said, I understand that not all Chabadniks believe the Rebbe was the messiah, but when there are congregations that give an aliyah to the Rebbe on Shabbat, I just ... it isn't something that's for me. I have, however, written for, worked on many projects with Chabad, and spoken on many panels with my very close Chabad friends. (Is this kind of like saying, "Some of my best friends are Chabad!!! ...?) 

But I view it as dishonoring the Rebbe as opposed to honoring him to perpetuate the mashiach angle. I'd rather stand from the outside and share with the world the beautiful mind and heart and soul of the Rebbe than stand within and perpetuate something he stood so firmly against. 

The Rebbe is a man unlike any the modern world has seen. I compared his unwilling leadership to Moshe, after all. I wish I had been able to meet him, to be a Jew during the period of his life when something so special was happening. When the potential for greatness in the Jewish community was so palpable. 

At this point, all I can do is hope to honor the Rebbe through my own observance, through my own outreach, through my own storytelling. I can only hope he would have been proud of this Jewish woman had he known her. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ask Chaviva Anything: Advice Before Making Aliyah

Here's a doozy, but one that's shockingly simple for me to answer at this point in my life. I know my answers probably sound grumpy and jaded, but less than two years in Israel made me more of a realist than I was before.
What are your top 5 pieces of advice for someone considering making aliyah?
1. Save money. Save lots of money. Make sure you have enough money on hand to live for at least a year (that means rent, childcare expenses, grocery expenses, healthcare incidentals, buying a car, insurance, you name it). My biggest mistake in going to Israel as a single woman in her late 20s was that I didn't have a dime saved. I went with a nice income, but that income disappeared almost instantly. Not having anything saved put me into a nice amount of debt, which is no fun. 

2. Buy lots of clothes in the U.S. before you move. Why? Because if there's one thing Israel doesn't have, it's any kind of clothing that will withstand more than a few washes in Israel's harsh water. Also? It's crazy expensive to buy something that will last. I know it seems superficial, but it's a good idea. I don't know many people in Israel that buy their shoes, electronics, or clothing in Israel. 

3. Make sure you understand the impact of your U.S. bank accounts, especially if you're going to be transferring money back and forth. It can cost quite a bit of money to make transfers (e.g. Chase charges $40 for international transfers), and it adds up. If you have a U.S.-based income, have a plan in place for regular transfers. 

4. Decide whether you really want to pay all that money for a lift. Moving stuff to Israel can be crazy expensive, especially when there's a readily available market for used furniture and appliances in Israel with all of the olim (immigrants) moving back to the U.S. and selling their entire property. If you can't live without it, take it with you, but make sure you really can't live without it. 

5. Believe in the mission. If you make aliyah based on a dream or with expectations that life will not change much except that you'll be living in Eretz Yisrael, then you're going to be sorely disappointed and experience a huge shock. Make aliyah because you believe Israel is going to be the best home for you and your family, make aliyah because you believe in the nation and its principles and the understanding that Israel is home for the Jewish people. Don't make aliyah because it's going to solve all of your problems or provide you with a "better" life or fix things. Be realistic, but be passionate. 

Will I be financially prepared when we return to Israel? Probably not. But it's not the reason we're back in the U.S. I'm not here to make my fortune so I can return to Israel sitting pretty by any means. It would be nice, but, like I said, I'm a realist. 

Ready to ask a question? Be nice and ask away!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ask Chaviva Anything: Moving to the U.S., iBoy, and Mr. T

Because of the barrage of Mr. T, iBoy, U.S. questions, here's a catch-all installment of

Why did you move back to the US?
I thought I addressed this question in a previous post, but in case you missed it: bikur cholim.
How are you liking life back in the US? Are there things you missed here? Are there things you miss now? How is your British/Israeli husband doing with living in the US?
Life back here is interesting. There are aspects of Israel I miss desperately (the Jewish community and feeling of Shabbat), but there are things here that I find super comforting (knowing the language, finding what I need in the store, farmer's markets, the superficial things). As for Mr. T, I think he's baffled by the customer service, kindness, and options available here in the U.S. It's the land of everyTHING, so it's easy to find what you need anywhere at any price. In a way, we're being very spoiled right now.
How does Mr. T feel about being in the US? What is happening with iBoy? Is it hard being so far away from your stepson/Mr. T's son?
Mr. T is having a hard time, and really why wouldn't he? He left his almost 11 year old in the care of his mother to move to the U.S. with his wife and infant son to take care of family things. The truth is, he's viewing it as a lesson for iBoy, to see the lengths to which he would go for family. If we had to leave Israel to be with family in the UK it would be the same story, just a bit closer (a two hour time change rather than a nine hour time change). But we're working with iBoy's mother to make sure that iBoy has plenty of opportunities to spend time with us in the U.S. In fact, he'll be visiting in a few more weeks for two whole weeks! Considering the most we got to see iBoy was a few days a week back in Israel, it will be a blessing to have him around consistently for so long. But remember: iBoy's mother has full custody of him, so bringing him with us wasn't even an option, unfortunately. That choice is up to iBoy now that he's older than 10.
How is your husband handling juggling fatherhood with a son on each side of the world?
Considering he stays home three to four days a week while I go into the office to work, he's doing marvelously. He's an extremely extroverted person, so having a non-speaking infant who is teething around 24/7 hasn't driven him mad -- yet. Ash and Mr. T speak to iBoy on Skype (when his mother's computer is working) almost daily if they can manage it. But time differences, dinner plans, and other things often get in the way and make it difficult for Mr. T to speak with his son, which is incredibly hard on him. But as Ash gets older and more interactive, not to mention when Mr. T is able to work in the U.S., things will become a bit easier on everyone, I think. 

I know you said you do plan to head back to Israel at some point, but honestly, reading your blog over the past few years, the place you've always seemed unambiguously the happiest is in Colorado, while you've expressed a lot of ambivalence about life in Israel. Do you really want to go back to Israel?
It's true that I'm very happy in Colorado. The weather here does something to my emotions and psyche. I feel confident and happy and proud here. When I lived in Colorado in 2005, I was going through a bit of an awkward breakup and I found my confidence and self worth while here. When I came here after my divorce in 2011, I did the same thing. I found my happy place, I realized I was worth so much more than I ever thought I was. Now, being back, I wake up and see the sunshine and mountains and I feel like HaShem is really here. Is this the place everyone should be? Nah. It's just a place that makes sense for me. But that being said, Israel will always be the place we're meant to be. I wasn't always happy there, and I was frustrated with the language, the politics, the state of war, but you get to be Jewish in a unique way there. A way you can't be anywhere else. And that's something that is very important to me. 

On the other hand, what's going on right now in Israel makes me scared. Teenage boys being kidnapped by terrorists makes me scared. That could be my boy, my little Ash, in so many years. It could be iBoy. It could be the sons of friends of mine. That reality is horrifying. 

Yes, the U.S. is riddled with school shootings and kidnappings and horrible things, but here it's one psycho in one act of selfish psychosis. In Israel? It's a group of people with the unwavering desire to kill all Jews and destroy an entire nation. That's so much bigger, so much scarier. 

So, with all of that, I am ambivalent about life in Israel right now. Here I'm closer to my family, closer to comfort, closer to the "easy" life. But is that the kind of life I want to instill in my children and the future generations? I'm not sure. Only time will tell. 

Have questions? Ask away!