Monday, June 30, 2014

We Are In Mourning

The three kidnapped teens, from left to right: Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Today was the last day of school for thousands of primary school and kindergarten pupils in Israel. Although the high schools broke up on the 20th June, today was the real start of the summer holiday. It's usually a wild night on the 30th June. The radio playing happy, beach and party music, children staying up late, watching movies and eating pizza, without the burden of homework hanging over them, and of course the parents laughing about all the excitement on fb - Hooray no packed lunches for two months! Help what am I going to do with them for two months at home? Thank Goodness, I HATE homework, Yoni, aged 37 1/2!

And so it was until about 8pm when there was suddenly a half hour news blackout. Of course we all have access to foreign news and rumours abounded. Then at about 8.30 it was announced that our three boys who were kidnapped by Hamas 18 days ago are dead. Their bodies were found in the early evening and their families were informed.

My facebook newsfeed suddenly overflowed with outpourings of grief from every quarter. Children were shuffled off to bed. The radio stations returned - all of them have switched to sad music. All of the radio stations. There is no happy music in Israel tonight. We have the kind we listen to on National Remembrance Day for our fallen soldiers, the kind of music we get on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I don't have tv but I know that there will be some major re-scheduling tonight. The security cabinet are meeting in emergency session at 9.30.

Baruch Dayan Emet. Rest in peace Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali, children of our nation, children of our hearts.

The three kidnapped teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)

Photos from The Times of Israel as are these news reports:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits 20: The Raw Truth

DD (bringing out the box of biscuits): How many can I have?
Me (joking): Oh as many as you like. Have all of them if you want to.
DD (getting the joke and laughing): Don't be silly. I can't eat all of them or I'll be as fat as a mummy!

I've not told DD about the kidnappings in Israel but some of the kids at kindergarten know about it. I'm not sure what she's heard or from whom and I don't want to get into it with her. However....
DD (crying in bed): Mummy I'm scared.
Me: What are you scared about?
DD: I don't want to tell you. You'll say it's silly.
Me: I won't, tell me.
DD: I'm scared someone will come and take me away when I'm asleep.
Me: I've locked the door, no one can get in and I'm here to keep you safe.
Half an hour later.
DD: Mummy, right that our door key only fits our door and everyone else's door key only fits their door?

DD (watching The Sound of Music): Right Maria had a problem with her parents so they made her go on holiday for a while?
Me: Not her parents, the nuns at the abbey.
DD: Yes her parents. She called her mother.

DD (still watching the film): Mummy can we live in a house like that one day, with lots of children?
Me: Yes one day, if I ever get a job in a boarding school.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Heavy Hearted Nation #Bringbackourboys

Two are mine, two are DD's, and three are for Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali
There used to be a joke in Israel that if two Israelis meet and they haven't found some connection between them within five minutes then one of them is a spy. We are a country of 8 million people, over 6 million of them Jewish, living on land the size of Wales. That's a hell of a big family.

Nine days ago three of our sons were kidnapped. The last time this happened it took five years to get Gilad Shallit back. The time before Nachshon Wachsman didn't make it. Every night there are prayer vigils reciting psalms around the country, some of them attended by thousands of people. The extended family of Jews around the world, another 7 million or so, are also praying, campaigning, doing whatever it takes to keep this in the international media.

There is a concept in Judaism known as segula. It means a charm and it is usually a bit of superstitious magic masquerading as religion. Examples are wearing red ribbon to ward off evil, eating from the challah bread broken by the bride and groom to help you find your betrothed, praying at a dead Rabbi's grave, reciting psalms for a change of fortune, and dabbing the blessed wine marking the end of Shabbat, behind your ears for good luck in the coming week.

So some people are calling for all Jewish women to light three extra Shabbat candles tonight as segula to bring back our boys. I'm not into segula as a practical solution for anything. I don't recite psalms or pray in any formal manner. However, tonight I will be lighting three extra candles in solidarity with my extended Jewish family throughout the world and mother-to-mother. I will be thinking of the three mothers going into a second Shabbat not knowing where their sons are and of course their three sons whom I hope are at least not suffering.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kidnapping, Hitchhiking, and Blaming Victims

We have a situation here in Israel. If you listen to Sky News it all started when Israel went looking for its boys.  Actually it all started when three teenagers were abducted whilst hitching lifts to get home from their schools after their week of studies. They have been missing for almost a week. The last contact was when one of the boys phoned the police and whispered, "they've kidnapped us, they've kidnapped us," before being cut off.

The whole country is in shock, it could have been any of our sons. There are ongoing prayers night and day, in Jewish communities around the world as well as in Israel. #Bringbackourboys is on everyone's lips and fb page.

You have to understand that Israel has a long (and romantic) history with hitchhiking. Transport to
outlying areas is sometimes sporadic and everyone does it. Well not me. And not the many people who realize that we are not living in the Israel of the 1970s. Back then we were all one big happy family all pulling together. Probably we weren't but it felt like we were. Now we are part of the global village that does not encourage hitchhiking anywhere. We have also grown up about the fact that there are also Jewish Israeli murderers same as anywhere else.

And still 'we' do it because having made the decision to live in the countryside where buses are few and far between, we have to live an acceptable quality of life. And if everyone in the village is doing it you'd be stupid not to, right? In defense of the people who actually live in outlying areas, they do know most of the drivers travelling in and out so they can usually hitch with an acquaintance at least.

However, due to the cheaper land and lack of jobs in these places, it is popular for schools, colleges, and other educational programmes to be located in outlying areas. Of course hitchhiking is the norm, the teachers' own families do it, their own kids do it. So while students may be encouraged to take the regular buses, which may not travel at convenient times for the school day, they are not forbidden from hitching lifts.

As you can imagine there is a lot of talk about this issue at the moment. No one is blaming the boys (the victims) for only doing what everyone else does and something their schools condone (or at least turn a blind eye to). This is an issue which needs addressing. The army banned soldiers from hitchhiking 20 years ago after Nachshon Wachsman was abducted and subsequently killed. So it's not safe for trained soldiers to hitchhike but ok for teenagers. You see the problem here?

Unfortunately anytime the H word is mentioned it is met with a barrage of indignation about blaming the victims. Ridiculous analogies are quoted about blaming scantily dressed, inebriated women out alone late at night in seedy areas for being raped rather than blaming the rapist. Well it doesn't stop me from wanting to educate young girls to dress appropriately and not wander alone in such places at such times. You can have compassion for the victim and encourage safe habits at the same time. In fact, it's essential to do so. I also support all the gun law reform campaigns in the US whenever there is a school shooting.

Other comments argue that this is not the time to deal with the hitchhiking issue as we should all be concentrating on bringing back our boys. Whilst I wouldn't take the army or the police off the case to campaign for a stop to the hitchhiking culture, for those of us who can only pray for a good outcome, it is not hindering the search to strike a blow against hitchhiking while the iron is hot.

The third argument is that us townies don't understand. It's perfectly safe if you are careful and follow certain guidelines. We have no choice. You are being simplistic. To them I say, you have a choice. I knew that if I chose the very inviting community lifestyle of a small town or village, I would have to own a car. When my daughter was born I had to weigh up the benefits of a small close-knit community out in the fresh air of the countryside and being her taxi driver when her social life kicked in versus life in the smoke, no car, smaller living space for our money, etc... but good transport.

I get it that if you've built your house and invested your life in such a place then you are going to be sensitive about this issue. You are sort of stuck with it unless you uproot the whole family and start a new life. I get it but it's still your choice and something to be decided within your family.

My beef is with the educational institutions who do not take responsibility for the safe passage of their students. School buses (the parents would have to pay if they chose that school) at convenient times is one solution. It would have to be accompanied by strict no-tolerance policies about hitchhiking. They won't do it of course unless parents start rejecting the programmes that run with inadequate transport solutions. If there were no students coming, the schools would be forced to find solutions or close.

The Government is already making a start by allocating funds for better bus services. We all need to get on this bandwagon before another tragedy like this occurs. While writing this post I have not stopped thinking about those boys and praying for their safe return. I ache for their parents and the suffering they are going through. It is precisely because of this that I want to promote a safer way to travel in this country.

These are the mothers of the three boys who met for the first time this morning. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Highlights of the Days

That was the week that was. The week we had our summer holiday, went to a wedding, and got caught in a Colour Red (Red Alert) with rockets firing in from Gaza (not for the first and second times or the third time I've experienced this). Sorry, I took the camera with but never got round to getting it out.

Tuesday 4th June - we traveled down to Kibbutz Alumim in the south of Israel. My highlight of the day was when my friend (who's daughter was getting married on Thursday)'s mother called to say that my friend was sending a car from the kibbutz to collect them and they had room for me and DD. That saved two hours of bus rides shlepping all our luggage and 3kg of frozen salmon. That night was the beginning of the festival of Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost) brought in with a festive meal.

Wednesday 5th - The festival day itself which involved more festive meals and my highlight of the day, a whisky tasting session after lunch. Three of the men had just returned from a distillery tour in Scotland so we got the full effect with instructions, history and interesting facts. After lunch DD and I spent an afternoon in the air-conditioned library and games building. It was 38 degrees outside so there was no chance of anything outdoors. DD made a couple of friends and was off with them leaving me to read my book in peace.

Thursday 6th - A day out and about on the kibbutz. We went to the playgrounds, visited the cows and watched the milking, ate lunch in the communal dining room, watched them setting up the chupa (wedding canopy) and arranging the flowers outside for the wedding later, and went to the petting zoo. The weather had broken so it was a mere 32 degrees outside. My highlight of the day was when we returned to our friends' house after being out in the heat all day and smelling of the cowsheds. I put DD in the bath and she stayed there and played for over an hour! Meanwhile I showered in the other bathroom, threw our clothes in the wash and..... wait for this..... read my book uninterrupted for almost two chapters!

Thursday evening - Big wedding on the kibbutz. The daughter of another good friend who lives there (the one who sent the car for her parents in Jerusalem) so many old friends converged for the occasion from all over the country. DD was sat at a different table with some of the children she knows so other than setting her up with food from the buffet, I hardly saw her all evening. The DJ played all our old favourites from the last century and we finally rolled home at half past midnight. A really great wedding.

Friday 7th - We went to the beach in Ashkelon. I nearly didn't go as I hate the beach, I never know what to do there. However, DD loved it and if she's happy I'm happy. The sea was rough and no one was allowed in past their knees but knee height is perfect for 5yos. DD (and all the other children) sat just shy of the water and were catapulted up the beach as the waves came in. A row of lifeguards stood as a buffer in case any little ones got carried too far out (and also to stop the older kids from going in despite the warnings) but actually they were all beached each time and had to come running back to sit on the sand and wait for the next wave. Honestly, it was better than any ride at a theme park. Definitely our highlight of the day. We sealed the perfection with an ice-lolly of course.

Friday night - We brought in Shabbat with yet another festive meal with the friends we were staying with. This is where the highlights idea comes from. This family have six children, a daughter-in-law, couple of daughters' boyfriends, and an adopted kibbutz volunteer. Their table is not unlike The Waltons of Walton's Mountain. On Friday night everyone has to say the highlight of their week. DD wanted to say the wedding and the beach but someone had already said the wedding so she couldn't have that one. Clever girl, she said: "OK, in that case I say everything that's happened since we came here."

Saturday 8th - Shabbat lunch in the communal dining room was suddenly interrupted by "COLOUR RED! COLOUR RED!" loudly announced from the speakers on the wall. Everyone jumped up and proceeded quickly to the inner parts of the building away from the windows. Well not everyone. There are those fatalists who choose to ignore it and stay where they are (not usually those with children). You only get 15 seconds and by the time I'd realised what was going on it was all over. I was about to return to my seat when my friend said, "don't sit down Rach, apparently there're more coming." DD had run to the safer room with the other children so I went and joined them. After the 'all clear' we returned to our seats and got on with our meal. Just another day in the life of Southern Israel. In the afternoon, after more whisky tasting, DD and I went for another session in the games building. They have an adult on duty there every shabbat and festival afternoon so that the parents can rest. Next year I expect (hope) she'll be old enough to go by herself but this year I went along with my book and read while she played with the children.

Saturday Night - We got a lift to Netivot and took the bus back to Jerusalem. It's always easier going home on the bus as you've dumped the gifts and you don't care if your clothes crease in the suitcase. I also left my finished book for them to read. Highlight of the day? Too tired to think about it as we crawled into bed at midnight after a lovely holiday.