Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Haredim, the Army and Sherut Le'umi...

I was rather appalled when I came across an article in the Jerusalem Post titled: "Hasidic leadership preparing for 'historic' journey to US to protest Haredi draft".  There are so many things wrong with that headline that I honestly don't know where to begin.  So putting the army issue aside - just for now - I'll tell you a story that happened to me a few years ago.  

My fashion-conscious daughter came to me one day expressing her desire to learn how to sew.  She had - still has - dreams of designing and sewing her own clothing, so I made a few phone calls searching for someone who might be able to teach her.  I finally got the name of a young woman in Kiryat Sefer who could teach her the ins and outs of sewing on a one-on-one basis.  I called her, made a schedule, bought all the equipment my daughter needed to get started and began chauffeuring her back and forth once a week for her private lessons.  This young woman had two toddlers and a newborn and was originally from Florida and she had taken to teaching private sewing classes to support her husband who was sitting and learning.  Soft spoken, she was lovely, clearly talented and she proceeded to teach my daughter how to make patterns, how to cut the material and how to operate a sewing machine.  Over time, we got to talking every time I picked my daughter up and one day she called me out of the blue to ask me a question.  She said that her brother, being much more modern than she, was twenty-five years old and was desperately looking for a shidduch (a mate).  Since I was one of the only people she knew that was "more modern" she asked if I knew anyone that might be right for him.

Being an amateur matchmaker, I proceeded to ask her a few basic questions like: where did he go to school, what exactly was his religious level, what he was looking for in a mate, and of course, did he do the army?

Her answers, in order, were this:  he's sitting and learning part time in yeshiva and had no intention whatsoever of going to university or college, that he was looking for a girl who had a profession so he could dabble in his hobby of music and still sit and learn half a day.  The army question completely stumped her.  "Of course he didn't do the army!" she said rather vehemently, as if my question was preposterous to begin with.  I asked her straight out why she thought to ask me, of all people, to find her brother a mate.  She said that she thought that the single girls in my yishuv might be looking for a guy like her brother.  (Until today, it makes me wonder if our neighbors know what kind of people live in our yishuv and if they understand what it means to be 'Dati Le'umi'.)  I answered as patiently as I could, that I knew for a fact that the girls in my yishuv were (with very few exception) looking for a boy who did go to yeshiva, but also served in the army and had future plans for college or university, with plans on working full time so they could support their families.  I told her that no girl I knew would agree to go out with someone who refused to serve in the IDF and had no intention or working.  I told her that every girl and guy in our yishuv served their country in one way or the other, be it the army or Sherut Le'umi (national service).

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a few seconds and then she said - now wait for it....and I quote: "What is Sherut Le'umi?"

My jaw actually hit the floor.  I remember having to sit down at my kitchen table and asking her to repeat her question.  She seriously had never heard of Sherut Le'umi.  It boggled my mind.  How can you live in this country and NOT know about serving it?  On some level I realized that most of these girls are married off by the time they're 17 or 18 and thus become exempt from service, but not every girl - even in their community - is married at such an early age.  There has to be plenty of young single women who don't get married until their early twenties.  I explained to her exactly what Sherut Le'umi was and then I decided to go for broke.  Putting on my most diplomatic voice, I told her that it has always bothered me that the Haredi girls don't do national service.  I preempted her response by saying that while I know that their leaders are terrified of their girls becoming 'exposed' to the 'evils of the outside world', there were so many organizations within the Haredi community that were in desperate need of help.  When she asked me to clarify, I asked her if her community housed special need schools, or orphanages, or old age homes.  Obviously, she responded with a yes, and I asked her why their young women did not help their own communities? Why they sent (and continue to send) so many of their men out to neighboring communities every night to knock on doors and ask for charity when they could be tapping into their own valuable source of able-bodied volunteers.  I didn't even bother to get into the whole army issue with her because I had overwhelmed her enough with my conversation.  

About two weeks later, my daughter finished her sewing course and I never spoke to her again, but every once in a while, when I recall our conversation, I wonder if I had left any impression whatsoever on this young woman.  Did she forget about everything I said within minutes of hanging up the phone, or did it weigh on her mind throughout the day, enough so that she later engaged her husband in a conversation about what we had talked about?  Her children were still quite small - barely toddlers - so it will be years before her kids get to the age where the question of  national service or the army becomes revelent.  And I wonder, in the next decade, will things change enough within the Haredi community, that serving their country becomes an acceptable - and even positively looked upon - choice?  

Back to this reported US protest - which is a chutzpah, an embarrassment and completely shocking, among other things - it's turned me into a distrustful person.  Whereas, I'm loathe to turn anyone away who asks me for money, I've become rather suspicious now and can't help but quietly question whether my hard-earned money is being turned into actual food for someone's needy table, or whether it's going towards a 'fund' in order to buy an expensive ticket for someone's ill-advised trip to the US to protest the very same organization that protects their families and loved ones from our very dangerous Arab neighbors.  The very same organization that my daughter (and your daughter, and your son, and your nephew etc) is proudly serving.

“The purpose of all of this (the Haredi draft) is to take haredi youth into an evil culture,” Yisrael Eichler (MK from Agudat Yisrael) said.  

Our army is compassionate, peace-loving as much as an army can be, and operates with a strong moral code.  It started a special unit called Nachal Charedi specifically for the needs of the Ultra-Orthodox soldier. The purpose of the unit is to allow these men to serve in the IDF in an atmosphere conducive to their religious convictions, within a framework that is strictly halachically (according to Jewish law) observant.  My daughter, being one of the few religious girls in her unit, is given the opportunity to daven (pray) three times a day.  She is not given these times begrudgingly, but with respect and understanding.  With all the amazing things that our Israeli army does - for its soldiers and for its citizens, the last turn of phrase I would use is 'evil culture'.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Coincidence or Fate?

Synchronicity:  the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung
Definition according to Merriam-Webster dictionary

There is an age-old debate regarding coincidences...is there such a thing as a coincidence or is it the work of fate or destiny?  Personally, I've experienced these odd, seemingly random moments in my life that have completely taken me by surprise and while a part of me has always known - since I was a young girl - that there are no such things as coincidences, it's only now, as an adult that I can fully appreciate how intricately woven our world is and the unique space that we take up in this short stretch of time that we call 'life'.  Whatever happens, it's all part of G-d's plan.

I can't tell you how many times the name of someone I know, but haven't seen in more than a decade, pops into my head for no apparent reason and then I suddenly hear from them a few days later.  Completely out of the blue.  And it happens to my husband all the time.  Most of the time, when these events happen, it doesn't really affect my life. It's like a, "wow, that was weird," moment that might have had my jaw drop for a few minutes, but once it's over, it's over.  But every once in a while, I experience a more significant occurrence that stays with me for a long time.

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, we had a young art teacher who not only taught art but was responsible for all the art displayed in the school hallways.  She was lovely, in her mid-to-late twenties and not yet married.  Bothered by the fact that she had yet to find her soulmate, she decided to take time off from teaching and went to Israel for forty days.  She had heard about a "segulah" (a spiritual remedy) for finding a mate that involved going to the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) for forty days in a row and praying to G-d for help in finding a loving partner and husband.  She returned to school after her 40-day trip and a few months went by, but nothing happened.  Most of you would not be surprised by this as you're thinking that this 'forty-day-Kotel-hopping-mumbo-jumbo' is nothing but an old wives tale.  Anyways, within six months, she met someone and the two fell head over heels in love with each other.  One night, shortly after their engagement, she was showing her fiancée her photo albums.  In one of the albums were the pictures that she had taken during her trip to Israel.  On her fortieth and final "segulah" trip to the Kotel, she had asked her friend to take a picture of her so she would remember this journey of faith that she had embarked on.  She told her fiancée that she was so annoyed because once she got back to Toronto and had her film developed (no digital cameras back them...) she noticed that some random guy had walked behind her just as her friend snapped her picture.  It bothered her, she said, that this meaningful picture was ruined.  Her fiancée leaned in closer to the album and then looked at her in complete wonder.  "That's me," he said...

This story spread around our school like wildfire.  I remember standing with a bunch of friends and saying, "wow, what a coincidence!"  Our teacher overheard our conversation and she said something that stuck with me forever.  "That's not a coincidence.  That's G-d's way of telling us that He's listening."

There are not always clear answers or neat explanations to why these occurrences happen to us. But it makes you sit up straight and wonder whether one day it will all become clear.  When I visited Poland last June, I was amazed to discover that I had two ancestors buried in the same cemetery in Krakov.  What was amazing was not just that they both lived around 1640 but that they were from completely different sides of my father's family.  My great-great-great (etc.) grandfather on my grandfather's side is buried not far from my great-great-great (etc.) grandfather on my grandmother's side.  How cool is it that more than 375 years later, their two descendants married each other?  You could call it a coincidence, but I know that it's fate.  I don't know how this knowledge affects my life any differently had I not known this, but maybe it's enough that I can see G-d's hand in it.  Maybe that's the whole point.

And while I thought that was super cool, my husband and I experienced another "wow" moment just last week.  When we took our daughter to be inducted into the army, I knew there'd be no chance I'd know any of the girls going in with her.  There was a relatively small group - maybe 30 girls total - and after looking around, I knew I was right.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.  There was a family standing with their daughter and both my husband and I noticed that they were speaking English.  Once we went into the hall, I noticed the mother looking our way several times, as if she knew us.  She finally came over to us and called my husband by his name.  It took us a minute or two, but we realized that not only did we know one another, but we both had quite a history with her.  She had been on Shlichut (emissary sabbatical year) with her parents in our fair city of Toronto back when I was about 11 years old.  She, stuck in a strange city unable to speak a word of English, struck up a warm and meaningful friendship with my husband who was about 14 at the time, and while she helped him learn Hebrew, he eased her transition into the city and the community.  And if that wasn't enough, it turned out that her family were distant cousins of mine from my grandmother's side.  I actually remember having them over for dinner.  What's funny is that they now live in Modiin - just a skip and a jump from Chashmonaim - and that their daughter was inducted into the army the same exact day as my daughter.  When I spoke to my daughter the first night after she got to her base, she told me that she was in a tent with ten other girls and that this distant cousin of hers is one of her tent-mates.  These two 19 year old girls share the same great-great-great grandfather and just happen to be serving at exactly the same time, in the same base, in the same tent.  It stuns me to think about what their mutual great-great-great grandfather - Nachum Lipa Channaniah - might be thinking as he looks down on his two descendants who have bravely chosen to (unwittingly) stand side by side to protect the Jewish people and the land of Israel.  I'm not sure what this all means - for now or for the future - or whether it supposed to mean anything except what it is, but if there's one thing I do know it's this:

Coincidence?  I think not....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My father-in-law, Yitz Feldman z"l (of blessed memory)

This coming weekend is the 13th yartzheit of my father-in-law's passing.  He died at the relatively young age of 68 in a much older and unwell body.  Those of you who knew him don't need me to tell you about all that he accomplished in his life.  Yes, he was a community leader who was deeply involved in a multitude of Jewish organizations, from Jewish schools, yeshivot, Canadian Jewish Congress and kashrut.  If you attended a Jewish school in Toronto, ate kosher food in our city's restaurants and benefited from any funding for Jewish programming, you had Yitz Feldman to thank.  But more than that, he was a man who didn't bow to peer pressure and politics.  Instead of towing the line and siding with "popular" opinion, he followed what was right, even if it meant standing alone in the minority.  He dreamed of a unified Jewish Toronto, insisted on one kashrut organization so that the many groups of Toronto's Jews (reform, conservative, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox) would come together as one instead of splintering into even more separate groups.  He viewed his job in the Jewish community as a responsibility to the future of Jewish Toronto, a duty.  All of the leadership positions he took were volunteer - he wasn't seeking to benefit financially from lending a much-needed helping hand.  He was principled, steadfast, modest about his role as a community leader and unwaveringly loyal to the Jews of his city; this entire Jewish world needs more men like him stepping up to the plate.  But you could find all that information about him by googling him.  http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/328200

What's not readily known about him is who the private man was behind the public 'Yitz Feldman'.
The polio epidemic hit Toronto in the early 1930's.  Poliomyelitis, also known as Infantile Paralysis, is an infectious disease that has been around since ancient times. The polio virus thrives in polluted water. 
In the past when poor sanitation and open sewage systems were the norm, constant exposure to this pollution meant people developed a natural immunity to polio. Ironically, when sanitation conditions improved, the virus became more lethal.  It quietly preyed on thousands of young Canadians. The disease caused paralysis, deformed limbs and in the most severe cases, death by asphyxiation. The fear of polio spreading was so rampant that as recently as the 1950s, Toronto closed its schools, emptied streets and banned children under 16 from entering public gathering places like churches and theaters.  It wasn't until 1955, that a vaccine became available.  Unfortunately, it was too late for Yitz and his brother Meyer; they contracted polio in the late 1930's.  While Meyer weathered through the disease with minor lasting effects, Yitz was struck with severe polio.  Paralyzed in both legs, he was hospitalized at the tender age of 5 and spent the next decade or so in the hospital, some of it in an iron lung.  The iron lung is a medieval-looking contraption that helped victims breathe.  Yitz's entire body, except his head, was sealed inside these "metal monsters," sometimes for months at a time.  

I remember Yitz telling me that back then, the hospital had visiting hours once a week, for about an hour.  And of course, that one hour a week had to be on Shabbat.  His stubborn mother found a way around that, but being a mother myself, I couldn't fathom Yitz at the age of 5 lying alone in a hospital and only seeing his mother once a week for an hour.  It was impossible to imagine.  Bubby Feldman might have been shorter than me, slight and slim as a whip, but she was a powerhouse of a woman and while most doctors in the 1930s and 40s, suffering from a God-complex, would administer treatment without bothering to consult with the patients or their parents, Bubby Feldman stuck her nose right in there and demanded to be kept up to date.  She rallied and supported and stood by her son's side until he, disabled and only able to stand with the aid of crutches, was able to leave the hospital and move back home.  After losing years of schooling, Bubby Feldman fought the city to keep him in a regular classroom instead of an institution for physically and mentally disabled children and eventually, he graduated with the rest of his class from Harbord Collegiate.  He told me that each teacher would let him out of class a few minutes early so he could make his way up and down the stairs to whatever classroom he needed to get to while carrying his books and holding his crutches.  I could see the determination on his face when he told me this story, his desire to be viewed as a normal teenager and not as a crippled kid who needed to be pitied.  He overcame every obstacle in his path and was called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall in 1959, founded the law firm Feldman and Weisbrot, married my mother-in-law Bella, had three children and was appointed a QC (Queen's Councel) in 1979.

The weekly reading in the Torah this weekend is Parshat Va'era.  It mostly talks about Moshe and the task that G-d has given him: to save his people from the hands of the Pharoah of Egypt.  In the beginning, Moshe questions G-d's decision in choosing him as a leader.  We know that Moshe had a bad stutter and was embarrassed by it.  This physical disability made it difficult for him to speak clearly and Moshe obviously thought that G-d could find a better spokesperson than someone with a bad stutter.  But G-d told him to overcome his nerves, to believe in his abilities and to get ready to lead his people out of Egypt.  I find it rather appropriate that this parsha falls out on my father-in-law's yartzheit.  Clearly, he must have learned from Moshe that regardless of the fact that he might have been seen by others as not the most agile man for the job, he was determined not to let his disabilities stand in his way.

I remember the first Shabbat I spent with them.  I was already engaged to their son and I had gotten to know both his parents fairly well, but this was the first time I was spending the entire weekend with them.  I dumped my bags at my grandparents, who lived a few blocks away and walked over before candle lighting.  When I walked in, Yitz was setting the Shabbat table.  I know that when I set my table, it takes me maybe five quick trips back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room until I'm done.  But Yitz needed to hold his crutches and he was only able to bring in one plate, one glass, and one set of cutlery at a time.  I immediately went into the kitchen and grabbed the stack of plates.  He stopped me with a look.  "You go sit down," he said quietly but seriously, "this is my job."  Taken aback and not quite sure how to respond, I carefully set down the stack of plates and left the kitchen.  I sat in the living room and we talked about everything and anything while he painstakingly set the table, plate by plate, glass by glass.  I had to grip the cushions to keep from jumping up and insisting on helping but the resolute look on his face kept me in my place.  He probably knew that even if he wasn't on crutches, I would have still automatically helped him set the table, but he needed this to be his job and didn't want to accept help from anyone, even his future daughter-in-law.  Only once I brought my firstborn daughter over for Shabbat, did he acquiesce and sit on the couch holding her and playing with her while I set the table.  

At the shiva, my husband told me that he couldn't believe the amount of people that came from all over Israel to pay their respects.  Each of them had many different stories to tell, but most of them were about their dealings with my father-in-law as his role as a community leader.  But I, along with his immediate family and my sister-in-law Nechama and a few other close family friends saw him a little differently, and have different stories to tell.  I thought of him as a second father, and often turned to him for advice.  He was a great storyteller and I enjoyed all the stories he told me over the years, whether it be about work, about the people he encountered in the Jewish community or about his childhood in Toronto.  One of my favorite memories is when he introduced me to someone as "his daughter, Chavi."  I immediately corrected him, reminding him that I was his daughter-in-law, but then he smiled and said, "I always forget that part..."  I don't think a daughter-in-law could have asked for a better compliment than that.  

His mother, Bubby Feldman, who my third child is named after, should be credited - at least partially - for her son's fierce determination and independence.  She clearly imparted to him from the moment he was struck with polio that he could do anything he wanted to, and that a "simple thing" like use of his legs, should not define him as a person or be the deciding factor in his ability to accomplish anything he dreamed of doing.  

One of his dreams was to make Aliyah.  With all his children and grandchildren having already made their home in Israel, he and my mother-in-law finally decided to make the big move.  For most people in their late 60's moving across the country is a big enough ordeal.  Doing it while you're wheelchair-bound after having survived a bad stroke and suffering from post-polio syndrome, having to deal with an entirely new health-care system (which was of utmost importance for the both of them) while simultaneously struggling with a new language is enough to make anyone stop in their tracks and seriously reconsider.  But not them.  Israel was their dream and they were determined to make it come true.  Once they announced their plans to move to Israel, the entire Jewish community came together -yeshivot, Mizrachi Toronto, the COR (kashrut) and the Jewish Federation - and made a good-bye dinner in honor of the great work they did for Toronto Jewry.  They made Aliyah, and unfortunately, exactly one year later, my father-in-law passed away.

We've all read that classic children's story about perseverance and dogged determination, "The Little Engine That Could" to our children.  We carefully taught them that all-important lesson of believing in ourselves and not in what others may believe about us; that if we want something badly enough, we have the power within ourselves to give it our best shot.  The alternative - quitting before we even give ourselves a chance - only guarantees a negative outcome.  That story always makes me think of my father-in-law.  That polio-stricken five year old child had overcome the impossible odds that were stacked against him and became not just a great man, but a remarkable one.  Yitz was not little in either physical stature or presence, I never once heard him say, "I can't."  He always could, and he did.  His legacy as a father, grandfather and leader of Jewish Toronto will be with us forever.

Yitz at age five before he was struck with polio

Yitz at his graduation from Osgoode Hall Law School 1959

With Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir in 1985

With Dr. Henry Kissinger in 1984

At our wedding 1992

In his law firm, holding his only Toronto-born grandchild, my daughter Nava.  We drove straight from the hospital to his office - she was 3 days old.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood....

I am about to join an illustrious group of women that can be found in every city, town and yishuv all over Israel.  I am about to become a mother of a soldier - by the end of this week, my daughter will be inducted into the IDF - The Israeli Defence Force of Israel.  Since my husband and I were on the two-year plan when it came to having kids, my son, who is turning 18 shortly, will finish twelfth grade this year, spend one more year in a yeshiva/army prep program and then, he too will be entering the army.  Actually, it is more than likely that I will have at least two children overlapping in the army at the same time within the next 5 years - or longer if my youngest chooses the army over national service.

I was in Toronto recently and I always find the myriad of reactions that my Toronto friends and acquaintances have regarding my children and the army rather fascinating.  For those of you who are not familiar with Israeli culture and way of life, religious girls can choose to be exempt from army service and can opt to do national service instead.  National service - or 'sherut leumi' is an amazing program geared for girls who feel that military service is not for them, and for boys as well, who for legitimate reasons, are exempt from army service.  Basically, these young men and women give 1-2 years (post high school) to their country, voluntarily serving in the many organizations that desperately need extra help.  They range from working in hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, special needs programs for the physically and/or mentally challenged, tour guides in Israel's national parks and historical ruins, and youth leaders.  And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

The most-asked question I got was: "why are you letting her do the army when she can do national service?"
So... First and foremost, there is something fundamentally wrong with this question.  For one thing, there is no "letting" when it comes to an Israeli 18 year old girl/boy.  From the time these kids turn 16 1/2 years old, their lives are filled with army interviews, auditions and tests.  As soon as they get their 'tzav rishon' - which is like their official 'registration' for the army, this next phase of their lives becomes part of their daily conversation over the next few years.  Those who've chosen the army will already start exercising a little bit more, getting into better shape, some even put on weight (especially for the girls) so they don't come in 'underweight' and lose a point in their profile.  The profile number they get is based on physical, mental and psychological tests and is something they carry with pride - the higher their profile number, the better opportunities they have in the military.  Those who've chosen national service discuss the many options they have and the various parts of the country they'd like to do their national service.  When you sit around a Shabbat table and the kids are all talking about their interviews and the units that they are interested in, they don't talk about their upcoming service with dread, but rather with anticipation and excitement.  At this point, it's not a matter of our "letting" them.  It's a very personal choice that they all must make for themselves.

As to the second part of the question regarding the choice she made between national service vs. the army, this is the response she gave when she was once asked that very same question at our Shabbat table.  Her answer was succinct and extremely mature, not to mention patriotic - she said that since she lives off this land and benefits from all that it has to offer, she has to give back to her country, and she has to give back in the best way she can - in essence, she's asked to serve her country in a way where the country can best use her strengths.  She said that she strongly considered doing national service, but if she was being honest with herself, she knew the best way SHE can serve is through the military.  I was struck speechless and incredibly proud of the depth of thought that she put into her decision.  She has many friends who do national service and make our country proud, but ultimately it wasn't the right choice for her.  How my Toronto friends can think that I have any right to make that decision for her is beyond me.  This decision she made was not made lightly; rather it was made with a lot of introspection and consideration.  It was a decision she agonized over because she knew it would set a course for the rest of her life.  And ultimately this is HER life.  

But if one reason wasn't enough, she had yet another.  A little while ago, a friend of mine gave my daughter a lift home from the Modiin junction and she shared with me snippets of the conversation they'd had in the car.  My daughter said that thinking about her great grandparents who had survived the Holocaust had weighed a lot in her decision to choose the army over national service.  She said that her Bubbie and Zaida Good lived in a country that was not their own - a country that persecuted them, tore them from their home, separated them from their family, sent them to concentration camps and tortured them for the simple reason that they were Jewish.  And scarily, for the longest time, no one stood up for them and fought for their rights and their religious freedom.  Now that she lives in a Jewish country, and she has both the opportunity and the honor to protect her people's rights and defend their religious freedom, how could she NOT step up and join the military?
Enough said.

The second question I got was: "but won't she be pushing off university by so many years?  She'll be so old when she graduates!"
Since most of the 18-19 year old men and women of this country serve for a minimum of 1, more likely 2 and up to 4 or even 5 years, most universities do not have students aged 18 or 19 like American or Canadian universities/colleges.  My daughter will not be entering university as a 22 year old among a sea of 18 years old kids.  She will not be an anomaly.  She'll be of average age, like everyone else in her university classes.  Truth is, when you have university classes filled with first year students aged 22, you have a very mature body of students, an impressive group of men and women who have already learned things that cannot be taught in a classroom, and more importantly, they have discovered things about themselves during their service - be it either military or national - that they might not have discovered elsewhere.  They've discovered both their strengths and weaknesses and it's likely helped steer them into a career they might not have considered otherwise.  As such, they come into university with a clarity and a deeper understanding about what they want to do professionally.  And furthermore, unlike other countries where your university education is imperative to your future success and ability to get a lucrative job, there are many Israeli men and women who - while perhaps not fairing well academically - thrive in the military, thus choosing to make it a lifelong career that is not just highly respected but brings financial security as well.
The third question I was asked was: "aren't you worried about her being a religious girl in a military (and thus more secular) environment?"  
That argument doesn't hold water anymore like it might have at one time.  The army options for religious girls have expanded and now there are many more religious girls serving in the military than ever before.  In fact, last year, a religious girl who had already done national service and then decided to do the army as well, graduated from the Israeli Air Force, which is one of the most difficult military units to get into.  The Israeli army has always been respectful to those who choose to be religious by offering prayer services on Shabbat, a rabbi on every base and Shabbat meals every weekend for those who don't get to go home for the weekend.  My daughter has tons of friends who have chosen to serve in the army and they are all religious girls.

At my nephew's bar mitzvah, someone I've known for over 20 years asked me what my kids were up to.  When I told her of my daughter's upcoming army service, she shook her head in exasperation and said, "I don't understand you.  Why you let her do this."  I told her very simply that this was her decision and that I am not alone - that every mother in this country has children in the army, so why should I be exempt?  When she responded, "but who's the mother here, you or her?"  I didn't really bother answering because I knew that no matter what I said, she would never understand.  But now that I've had a little time and space to think about it and our conversation, I think I've found the right answer.  I would have told her this:  Yes, while I am the mother and she is my daughter, I often have to remind myself that I did not birth her so she can live the life I might want her to live.  I gave birth to her so she can become the person she was meant to be.  And that starts with her making her own decisions.  Do I fear for her?  Do I sometimes wish she chose to do national service and work with kids instead of guns?  Certainly.  But my pride overrides my fear and in the end, I pray that G-d will keep a close eye on her and all her friends in the IDF and help them protect our country and bring each and every one of them home safely.

In the end, what it boils down to is that my daughter DID have a choice.  She had the option to do one year of national service instead of a minimum of two years military service which is unarguably the safer choice, the easier choice.  It would have been a choice that would have had me sleeping better at night and would have delayed the onset of gray in my hair.  But she made the more difficult choice, the one that will demand much more of her, physically, mentally and definitely more emotionally.  It brings Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken" to mind.  It was my favorite poem while growing up and has remained my favorite until today and while it's applied to so many moments in my life, it now applies to the decision my daughter made.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference. 

wish my daughter and all her friends who are currently serving their country - be it national service or military - much 'hatzlacha' (luck and success) and I pray that G-d keep you safe and return all of you home safely to your families.  We are so proud of you.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My grandfather, Sidney Woolf z"l (of beloved memory)

Yesterday afternoon, my grandfather passed away at the age of 92.  As he passed away in Toronto on Shabbat, we (the Israeli-contingency of the Feldman/Woolf family) were not aware of it until 12:30 AM early this morning.  Which means that at the moment he passed away, my husband and I were mingling at an engagement party and then came home to watch an old Mission Impossible movie before turning in.  Then the phone rang.  Such is life when you make Aliyah and move to Israel - the time zone differences sometimes gets in the way....

I was in Toronto just a week and three days ago - I had booked the ticket almost eleven months earlier and centered my trip around my nephew's bar mitzvah, not knowing until I got there that my grandfather would be admitted into the hospital shortly after I landed and that this visit would be the last time I'd see him.  Although I'm terribly sad that I'm missing the funeral and that I won't be able to be there for my dad, my aunt and uncle and my grandmother during the shiva, I'm grateful for two weeks I was there, of which much of my time was spent sitting and talking with him in Sunnybrook hospital.  By the end of my visit, the car was pretty much driving itself down Bathurst to Lawrence and then over to Don Mills, and my brother, Yitzi and I had become regulars at the Second Cup in the hospital lobby and experts at navigating the labyrinth of halls that make up the vast hospital.

My grandfather was a vibrant and vital man - until just before Rosh Hashana, he was still working full time at his business.  He went to minyan every morning, made the daf yomi shiur before heading off to work.  Then he came home, went to mincha before heading home to my grandmother and dinner.  He ran his life like a well-oiled machine, a rigid schedule that he rarely strayed from.  Except for the little hiccup of a pacemaker put in a couple of years ago which caused him to miss work for about a month, he was never really sick.

My memories of him are vast; a lifetime of memories.  After all, I am over 40 and completely realize how lucky I am to be a woman this age with grandparents.  In fact, I still had 4 grandparents when I was 34, having lost two - now three - just in the last 8 years.

I remember staying over for many a Shabbat when my parents went on vacation, sleeping in the blue room at the end of the hall from their bedroom.  And how I would sit with him Shabbat morning as he took out all the layered cream cakes that he bought before Shabbat - no Kellogg's for me on Shabbat morning.  It was chocolate and cream cakes or nothing at all...  He was married to my grandmother for over 70 years which is staggering when you think about it.  But more amazing was how still devoted and loving they were to one another even after all these years.  While I'd be munching on my cream cake slathered in chocolate, he'd be preparing my Bubbie a cup of tea.  Every morning of their marriage, before leaving for shul, he would bring her a cup of tea - no mug, mind you, but a bonafide delicate china teacup along with its matching saucer - and a peeled orange on a separate china plate.  On a tray.  Every morning without fail.  I think about most marriages where couples have disagreements or arguments and just generally get sick of one another every once in a while, and I have to assume that they were a couple like anyone else.  And yet, no matter what they were feeling, what disagreement they might have been having at the time, he STILL brought her that cup of tea and that orange.  How you can stay mad at someone who makes you the FIRST thing he thinks about everyday is impossible.
He was a dapper man, and when he was younger he was movie-star handsome, a dead-ringer for Douglas Fairbanks, with perfectly pressed shirts and pants, a full head of hair combed just so and his trademark mustache, always trimmed and neat.   But he didn't think twice about getting down on the floor to play with us.  I personally loved the ancient, antique (and probably worth a small fortune) original Barbie set circa 1959.  Oh how I loved to play with those dolls and their clothes.  No polyester flimsy crap with Velcro fasteners for these dolls.  The Barbie wedding gown was real satin with snaps in the back, and her going-away suit real tweed with a pillbox hat, a la Jackie Kennedy... 

One of the things I admired most about him was his ability to talk to just about anyone.  Anyone visiting Clanton Park shul would undoubtedly meet my grandfather - he had a sort of innate radar aimed at anyone he didn't recognize and he'd make a beeline over to them and introduce himself.  When he came here for the last few Pesach holidays, he made some local friends from shul and he really enjoyed getting to know my community.  He made such an impression on a good friend of mine, Ely Katz, that every time my Zaida would come for Pesach, Ely would take time out of his day and stop by for a visit and I know that they both enjoyed those visits.  He was a real conversationalist and enjoyed telling stories and jokes and he loved laughing which was glaringly obvious considering the amount of laugh lines around his twinkling eyes...

He also had a generous heart - I remember a Pesach Seder we had ages ago - I must have been 11 or 12 and besides having my grandparents, we also hosted a girl from my class and her single mother - they were new to the community and not very religious and didn't have a lot of money.  When it came time for the afikoman, my grandfather asked us all what we wanted and we all told him what we were wishing for.  He then turned to the girl in my class and asked her what she wanted.  She said she wanted a watch.  He didn't forget.  He bought us all what we wanted and then bought her a Mickey Mouse watch - I remember the look on her face, the shock that he actually came through for her when she wasn't even his grandchild.  He was the greatest candyman that Clanton Park shul ever had (and ever will have).  He didn't just hand out candy from a bag or his pocket.  He'd make a weekly trip to the kosher candy store, buying pounds of every kind of candy you can imagine: lollipops, gum, chocolate, gummies, mints etc. and then he and my grandmother would spend Thursday night bagging and tying them into individual HUGE candy bags.  I think his Tallis bag weighed more than anyone else's, weighted down with all that candy.  He knew each and every kid in the shul and they knew him.

Every time I called, he always asked me about my kids - how they were and what they were up to.  And then he asked about my husband.  "Give everyone our love," is what he always said.  He took a genuine interest in our lives and my kids really loved him.  The fact that they came for Pesach for three years in a row strengthened their relationship and my kids loved listening to his stories about being in the British army in WWII, about how he met my grandmother, about his earlier businesses.  And despite being decades older than when he sat down on the floor to play with me when I was just a little girl, when we went to Leket one afternoon (a volunteer organization that picks fruit and vegetables for the poor) he didn't just stand by and watch, but he got knee deep in those fields with my kids and my nieces and nephews and picked beets just like everyone else.  He hadn't changed one bit in all those years. He, 90 at the time, stood next to my youngest niece Abby who was maybe all of 3 and picked alongside her.

I have so many more memories - how he bought me my very first hardcover Nancy Drew and then took me with him to buy the rest each time another book came into print; how he took me to my first movie, Snow White; how he loved chocolate and always gave me Chocolate Charm truffles and chocolate covered cherries; how he framed any artwork I had given him when I was younger and that they are still hanging in his house....they go on and on.
I am lucky to have known him for so long and even luckier that my kids had the chance to know him, as well.
He will not be forgotten...
ברוך דיין אמת