Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tisha be'Av - A historical mourning day

Another year, another war.

It has been awhile, but once again we find ourselves in another war. The IDF (Israel Defence Force) and Israeli nation are standing strong but it is still a sad time here in the holy land. Not only are we vilified in the international press for protecting ourselves, but too many young soldiers are dying defending us.

Sorrow of course is sadly not uncommon to the Jews. There is even a date, Tisha be'Av, that runs like a disastrous thread throughtout the Jewish history.

Tisha be'Av means the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av and here is a list of some of the bad things that happened to the Jews on this date:

 * In 586 BCE the First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. One hundred thousand  Jews were killed and the majority of the population was exiled.
 * In the year 70 CE the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans under the leadership of Titus. This  time two million Jews were killed and one million were exiled.
 * In 135 CE the Bar Kochva revolt was ruthlessly crushed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. More than one  hundred thousand Jews were killed.
 * The Roman general Turnus Rufus leveled the Temple area and rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city. It was  called Aelia Capitolina and Jews were forbidden from entering.
 * The first crusade officially began in 1096, 10, 000 Jews were killed.

1290 - The Jews were expelled from England 
* 1306 - The Jews were expelled from France
 * After many Jews have been tortured throughout the Spanish Inquisition, they were finally exiled from  Spain on Tish B'Av in 1492.
 * In 1914, on the eve of Tisha B'Av World War One broke out. 
 * In 1942, Jews were being mass deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka.
If you look at all these dates throughout the years, it seems as if the date of Tisha B'Av is some sort of magnet for misfortune. One wonders what the cause can be for so many bad things to happen on the same date.
The answer lies even further back into the Jewish history. All the way back to when the Hebrews were crossing the desert.  Ten spies were sent  into the land of Israel to give a report about what awaited the Jews in the Promised Land. It is taught in the Talmud that the first Tisha B'Av was the seed for all the future tragedies that happened in the history of the Jews.
It was on Tisha B'Av when the spies told the people that ""We cannot go up to the people... They are too strong for us" (Numbers 13:31). When they heard the report of the spies, the Jewish people wailed a collective cry and decided not to enter their promised land.
That first collective cry was to be echoed for generations to come. God said that since ‘You cry a cry for naught, I will establish a cry for generations’.”  (Taanis 29a)
But why was the sin of the spies dealt with so harshly?
The spies slandered the promised land and the Jews showed a big lack of faith. Instead of placing their trust in God, they wrongfully asked to spy it out. God told them that they would succeed in conquering all opposition but they believed the spies' reports that the giants in Israel were invincible.

For their punishment, these Jews had to continue to wander the desert. Only their children and grandchildren were deemed worthy to enter the holy land.

Today Tisha be'Av is mourning day. Jews refrain from 'fun' activities such as going to a restaurant, going to the beach or swimmingpool. They do not start a new venture or business deal, many also fast and pray the entire day.

I believe that everyone can learn something from the sin of the spies, non-Jews included.
This date reminds us that life is not easy. A lot of bad stuff happened to the Jews, but you know what - they are still here. There is war now in Israel, but I also know that there will also be peace again.
To achieve greatness, you have to take risks in life. Do not settle for an easy complacent life, God wants us to excel and achieve greatness. Don't keep on hanging around in the desert when know it is time to enter your own personal promised land.

And have a bit of faith!

Israel, 5 August 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Cry and Pray together

The three mothers of the kidnapped teenagers comforting each other.

Living in Israel is just waiting for for an argument to erupt.

Not only are the Israelis VERY vocal in sharing their opinions, they also never seem to agree about anything.

An innocent question to a person at a bus stop about whether the bus will drop me at the train station suddenly involves a five-person crowd, all with conflicting advice. They all gave me their unasked and non usefull opinions and they also argued between themselves.

I have seen family members yell each other about which olive oil is the best to use. Israelis argue about parking spots, the queue order at doctors' offices and whether or not they are allowed to swim with regular clothes in a swimming pool (they are not, only proper swimming clothes are allowed ).

And I have not even started to mention politics. There are a lot of political parties in this small country, all with a very different view of how things should be done.

The saying of "two Jews and three different opinions" is really true. It is actually amazing that anything gets done in the country because hardly anybody agrees with anybody else!


Until something bad happens.

In times of war, bombings, terror attacks and kidnappings, Israelis stand together in the most amazing way.

Basically the entire country walked a few kilometers from north to south in the country in support for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

When the city of Ashkelon in the south was attacked by missiles from Gaza, people from the center and north hosted families who they have never met. Pizza delivery men decided to work so that people who were sitting in their bomb shelters could treat their children to a pizza.

A mobile phone company handed out free cellphones to the survivors of an exploded bus to that they could phone their loved and tell them that they are okay.

On every Remembrance day, held just before Independence day, every single fallen soldier and every person killed in a terror attack is remembered and cried over again.

And now once again, the entire country are thinking of, praying and comforting the three families whose teenage sons have been kidnapped. All the small differences that can lead to such heated arguments are now put aside and everyone is doing their tiny bit to support these families.

Nearly 30, 000 Israeli Jews gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray for the save return of the kidnapped boys. Many Jewish women and girls lit candles at the start of yesterday's Shabbat and also prayed for the boys' return.

The saying "Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, but cry and you cry alone." is so not true in Israel. If just one Israeli is hurt, kidnapped or killed, everyone is crying.

The sense of community and unity in these bad times is amazing and hard to describe to anyone who is not experiencing it.

But you know what, I prefer the argumentative Israelis any day.

It is so much better to hear that you are an idiot because you do not have eyebrows done at the best cosmetician in town than being asked by a stranger if there are any news and to know exactly what she is talking about.

It is so much better to have a parking spot stolen than seeing the sadness in your eyes reflected in the eyes of those around.

It is so much better to live in an irritated and argumentative Israel than in a sad and unified Israel.

Please pray for the safe return of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

Update: The bodies of the three teenagers were found three weeks later, buried in shallow graves. They were murdered not far from where they were kidnapped.

Marina Shemesh
Israel, June 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ode to the Israeli bus drivers and other lessons from the Universe

"Coming home" -  an Israeli Egged bus
Coming from South Africa, a country with a very dismal public transportation system, I was happy to discover the wonderful public busses here in Israel. As Au Pairs, none or my friends nor I owned a car but we managed to criss-cross the country by bus. 

We went to Jerusalem, Masada, Tiberias and Haifa for the weekend. We even traveled to Eilat and Tsfat. Sometimes we would wait in the most obscure, in-the-middle-of nowhere bus stops for a bus that would always, eventually, come. One just needs a LOT of patience  :)

Often people complain about the rude bus drivers who can drive as if the highways belong to them. But for me they were, and still are, amazing people. In my first year here in Israel, one very helpful bus driver literally stopped the bus at the station where I needed to get off,  got off himself and walked with me to show me the bus stop where I had to catch my next bus.

Coming back late on a Saturday night on the last bus from Tel-Aviv, our bus driver would drive around my home town and drop the last few passengers in front of their homes. 

In my book, the Israeli bus drivers are good people.

And brave too.

Bus drivers also got killed and injured in the spate of suicide bombers we had here in Israel in the 1990's. One driver literally kicked a suicide bomber out of the bus and raced his passengers off to safety. In 2002 another bus driver helped to grab the hands of a suicide bomber so that he could not detonate the bomb strapped to him as the passengers fled the bus.

And in 2012, yet another Israeli bus driver saved lives when he heard the warning sirens of an incoming missile and told his passengers to vacate the bus immediately. Seconds later the bus was shredded into bits of metal and glass.

Hope they pay them some kind of danger pay!

I could not help but to compare the Israeli bus drivers to those of other countries I have visited. 

In Prague I shivered with other passengers at a bus stop as it started to snow while the bus driver sat cozy inside the bus. We were not allowed inside the bus until it was time. 

Here in Israel the bus drivers often leave the air conditioning on for the early boarders while they are stretching their legs outside. (Though when they leave the bus, it is locked up tight.)

In England, I could not buy a bus ticket if I did not had the EXACT right change. Here in Israel the bus drivers make change, chat to the passengers and drive the bus in crazy traffic.
Once a city bus driver even checked his map for me at every red traffic light until he helped me find the bus stop where I needed to get off.

And if you just missed the bus and start running after it, the Israeli bus driver will stop the bus, open the doors and let you in. A friend from Germany once commented that it will never 
happen in her country. If you miss the bus, you miss the bus.

But I have to add that you have to make some kind of real effort or the Israeli bus driver will not stop for you. You either have to sprint, holler real hard or wave  your arms like in the air like a crazy person. A combination of all three is the best. A half-hearted jog is NOT going to get the driver to step on the brakes for you.

So this is what I think the Universe teaches us via the bus drivers

1. Be kind and helpful
2. Be brave in the face of danger
3. Always be a human being 
4. It is okay to miss the bus sometimes (i.e. shit happens)
5. If you really want something, go for it with all of your might.

I really hope you might one day experience the kindness of Israeli bus drivers!

Marina Shemesh
Israel, June 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Counting the Omer


 The period right after Pesach (Passover) and just before the height of the summer is lovely in Israel. The days are nice and sunny though the evenings can be quite cool and one can still snuggle under a duvet at night.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten tips for photographing wild flowers in Israel

Israel may be a tiny country but you would not guess it by the amazing large range of wild flowers found here in the Holy Land.

The wild flowers bloom in the short period of time between the winter rains and the heat of the summer, or the short-lived spring time. Depending on the winter rain and the weather, this can be anytime from mid- February to April.
The shy Cyclamen usual opens the wild flower season

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Amazing Metal Work found in Israel

The architecture found in Israel is pretty amazing.

People have been building here in the Holy land since ancient times. And they left some pretty amazing buildings from the times that they lived here in Israel.

From the Western wall in Jerusalem, churches,synagogues, museums to apartment blocks build in the Bauhaus style - there is some pretty interesting buildings to see. And while you look around you a bit and try and figure who and when these buildings were build, have a look at the amazing metal work found here in Israel.

Modern balcony railing

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sukkot - The Holiday of Little Huts

A very patriotic sukkah

All the Jewish holidays have special customs and traditions that make then quite distinctive from each other.

So if you are eating doughnuts and lighting a menora, you know that is is Hanukka. In the Jewish New year, Rosh haShana, one eats pomegranates and listen to a shofar. At Yom Kippur you fast and in Sukkot you sit in a little hut.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What is the connection between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year?

Another year and another Jewish New Year, or rather Rosh haShana (the head of the year).
And again we see pomegranates ALL over the place! I mean like...EveryWhere!
  • There are pomegranates on the greeting cards we send each other for Rosh haShana
  • There are heaps of pomegranates in the supermarkets
  • There are pomegranate recipes in every single newspaper and magazine
  • There are pomegranates, real and decorative ones, on the table during the Rosh haShana meals. As a matter of fact, pomegranate seeds are one of food stuffs that have a special blessing.
  • The juice guys on the street corners are selling more pomegranate juice than ever
  • The are even pomegranates growing like crazy all over Israel. They are practically 'dripping' from their trees.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The new Moshava park in Zichron Yaakov

The light water fountain that changed colors at opening night.
A new park opened this summer in Zichron Yaakov with the usual pose and ceremony due to a major in an election year. But it was still easy enough to block out all the self-congratulating speeches and just enjoy the entire spectacle.
  • We had people standing in long ques vying for the right to buy an expensive hamburger or a small slice of pizza (yes, me too)
  • Young children had various kids TV-personalities entertaining them from a temporary stage
  • The light water fountain changed colors and magicked all of us
  • We had the very popular Israeli band דג נחש (Fish Snake) playing their hits songs ( I am also a fan)
  • It felt as if every young child in Zichron were climbing about on the spanking-new jungle gyms and monkey bars

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Jerusalem Pine of Israel - a hate/love story

I have always taken offense at the Jerusalem pine trees that one sees dotted all over the landscape here in Israel.

They are just too scraggy, skinny and needle-ly and let's be honest: UGLY. I mean just look at it...