Wednesday, October 25, 2006


duvdevan, meaning cherry, also refers to an elite special forces unit in the idf ( while we unfortunately did not get to spend the day with those duvdevanim, we at least enjoyed an afternoon of cherry-picking.

friday afternoon... a short drive from jerusalem and we are in a beautiful cherry orchard stuffing our bellies with delicious ripe cherries!

(these pictures are from this summer, during the month-long cherry season in israel)

Monday, October 09, 2006

The People You Meet

Last night I was invited to join my friend's family, the Robinson's, on a night hike not far from the Dead Sea. I jumped at the opportunity. I enjoy hiking under any circumstances, but the darkness of night adds an element of excitement which I couldn't pass up.

We left Jerusalem around 7:30pm and headed in the direction of the Dead Sea. About twenty minutes outside of the city limits, we stopped in the yishuv of Mitzpe Yericho( There we met up with our guide, Moomie, and several other local Mitzpe Yericho inhabitants who would join us.

After departing Mitzpe Yericho, we traveled about five more minutes before reaching the beginning of our hike. All told we were about 25 people. A few of our fellow hikers carried glow-sticks or flashlights, but for the most part, we were guided by the shining full-moon above us.

At night, the Judean desert has an altogether different feel. We felt like we had landed on another planet. There was a delightful breeze and the expanse was simply striking. It was silent, beautiful and awe-inspiring. The hills and rock formations gave off a pale, silvery hue in the moonlight. The land beneath our feet was both firm and sandy at once.

Moomie, our guide, looked and sounded like he had hiked this trail (and probably most of Israel) many times. He stopped us at various junctions to point out something interesting, give us a brief geology lesson, or caution us with safety tips. As our hike continued, I gathered that Moomie, who looked like he was in his mid-forties, is a fireman in the district stretching from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. Additionally, he is in charge of search and rescue operations for the area. At more than one location he told us a frightening story of a rescue attempt he had made in the region during flash floods.

The hike started off as a medium-to-rigorous walk. After about twenty minutes, however, it became a serious hike as we descended into the canyon. "Descending" into the canyon involves steep inclines, metal rungs bolted into the side of the cliffs and lots of sliding. What was most amazing was watching how stealthily and fearlessly the children who were in our group navigated their way down the steep precipices.

At one point, there was a bit of traffic as we waited for each person to make their way down a narrow and rocky incline. While waiting my turn, I struck up a conversation with Moomie's wife, Efrat. I asked her how many of the children on the hike belonged to her and Moomie. She showed me five of her six boys who were with us on the hike. The three older sons all looked alike and like their parents. The younger two, however, stood out. She explained that she and her husband had "adopted" the younger two.

The younger two boys had come from an abusive home and were taken from their parents because they had been abused by their parents. Efrat continued by telling me that the two boys, who are natural brothers, had joined her family a year ago at the ages of 3 and 5. The boys' father is in jail and the mother cannot, or does not want to, care for them. I heard grueling stories about how difficult the boys were at first. These stories were shocking in light of how gentle and loving the boys were toward their "adopted" brothers and parents. It was not without much effort, love and care, Efrat shared, that the boys had come to view themselves as part of her family.

The efforts of the past year, unfortunately, may come undone soon. The courts are considering returning the boys to their father, who is now claiming he wants to raise them. She is distressed at the thought of having to give up the boys, especially knowing what kind of home they will return to.

I was impressed with the sincere love and generous dedication that Moomie and Efrat and their older sons showed toward these adorable little boys. I asked Efrat what had inspired her and Moomie to adopt the boys. She told me that both she and her husband, Moomie, had grown up in homes in which their parents had also taken in children from foster or abusive homes! I found this incredibly inspiring.

Here I was on a night hike in the Judean desert with what seemed like a group of "regular" Israelis. Instead, I was marching through the desert with utterly selfless, generous and unique people. Just another night and hike in Israel....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh La'Zeh

"All Jews are responsible one to the other"

I witnessed a subtle, yet powerful, scene today on the #18 bus as I traveled from Emek Refaim toward Machane Yehuda (the largest outdoor marketplace in Jerusalem). What I saw reminded me that every Jew is part of an organic nation that is Am Yisrael (the people of Israel).

I sat in the first row behind the back door of the bus. The bus trudged along in heavy traffic, stopping and starting abruptly at random intervals. At one point, a young woman boarded the bus with a stroller and her baby. Because the bus was so crowded, it was easier for her to alight with her full load through the back door of the bus. I was sitting on the inside seat in my row and had been engrossed in the book I was reading, so I didn't notice her until she had put her purse down on the seat across the aisle from me.

Her clothes and head-covering betrayed her religious affiliation. The long, flowy dress, with white pants peaking out at the bottom, coupled with the colorful scarf that hid every last strand of hair, immediately (albeit unfairly) labeled her as a "dati leumi" (national religious) woman.

With her purse resting on her seat, the young woman now needed to fold up her stroller and make her way to the front of the bus to pay for her fare, all while balancing her baby. Without hesitating, she asked the man sitting next to me, a complete stranger to her, to hold her baby.

My neighbor, whom I had heretofore not taken note of, was a handsome Israeli "sabra"-looking man in his sixties. He did not wear a kippa (yarmulke) and he dressed casually. Without missing a beat, he cradled the baby in his arms in the most delicate and natural manner. The woman smiled and made her way to the front of the bus, paid the bus driver and returned to retrieve her baby.

She was gone for under one minute and yet the moment, the whole scene froze in time for me. The utter trust that this woman assigned to this complete stranger was simply breathtaking. One can imagine that there is nothing more precious to a woman than her own child and yet it was so clear to this woman, that this man would care for her baby for those few moments. He held the baby so firmly, yet gently in a way that made even me feel secure.

The woman returned and thanked her "babysitter" graciously. I was left feeling something so special. While some might view the woman as naive, I couldn't help thinking that I had just witnessed the fulfilment of the Talmudic dictum that instructs us to look out for and take care of one another. The notion of accountability toward a complete stranger is something difficult to grasp, and yet it is part of the fabric of the Jewish people.

It did not matter to the woman that the man appeared to come from a different neighborhood, religious background, and political affiliation. Likewise, the man did not hesitate for even a moment because of the gap that stood between him and the woman making the request. When all is said and done, we are all Jews. And we must be "responsible one to another."

May this small moment in my day inspire us all to be united together as Am Yisrael.