Archive for April 28th, 2012

Independence Day

On Independence Day, vehicles throughout the country are festooned with Israeli flags

Family legend has it that my husband was the first Jewish baby to be born in the newly rededicated Jewish hospital in Berlin, on May 8, 1948. His father was extremely relieved that he was born on Shabbos, because it meant that he would not need to provide the customary cigarettes for attendees at the bris, which in post-war Germany could be obtained only at a very high price on the black market. Because of the extreme food shortages, the usual fare consisted of a little kichel (cake or cookies) with black market cigarettes and shnapps.  Now he only had to worry about the kichel and the shnapps.

But besides the incredible awe and miracle of celebrating the birth of a Jewish child amidst the ashes of the Holocaust, it was especially meaningful that my husband’s bris was celebrated on the day announcing the creation of the State of Israel, Israel’s very first Independence Day.

So when my daughter pulled out a surprise birthday cake decorated with 64 tiny Israeli flags (instead of candles) at our Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day) picnic at the beautiful park in the town of Modi’in, my husband was quite touched. As we started to sing “Happy Birthday,” suddenly all the nearby Israeli picnickers – – Sephardi, Ashkenazi, religious and secular – – joined in the singing, and then repeated the Hebrew version of the song. Everyone shouted “Mazal tov!” and came over to my husband to shake his hand or caress his shoulder. Someone handed him a giant Israeli flag and insisted we take a family picture.

Happy Birthday! And to my spouse: yes, I will still love you, and I'll still need you, when you're 64 . . .

After my husband stopped blushing from all the unexpected attention, there was only this thought: how special it was to be surrounded by family – – not only our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, but the family of klal Yisrael.

Hinei mah tov umah na’im, shevet achim gam yachad.  How wonderful it is to sit together with our brethren!

And now for some photos of the huge,  gorgeous new planned city of Modi’in, with its man-made lake, one of it many playgrounds, and a small portion of the impressive housing.  Construction began in what was a desolate area in 1994.  In 2009 there were 46,000 residents; in 2010 there were 74,000 residents, and there are plans for a total of 240,000 residents, which is not at all unrealistic based on the town’s popularity.  Conveniently located approximately halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with many new shortcut bypass roads that dramatically cut commute times, plus a new train line under construction, it is one of Israel’s cleanest cities, too. There are free wi-fi connections throughout the city.   Real estate prices have increased dramatically in the past few years.

Lake and boat concession

One of the many playgrounds throughout Modi'in

This is only one of many hills, residential, and shopping-filled areas of the city of Modi'in.

The map of Modi'in's largest city park, which was immaculate even on one of the busiest days of the year

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Memorial Day

When I booked our tickets, I hadn’t realized that our plane would land on Israel’s Memorial Day and the eve of  Israeli Independence Day. That means that everything would be shutting down in honor of the holiday, and that included buses and trains. So our son-in-law was kind enough to rent a car and pick us up at the airport and bring us back to their home in Be’er Sheva. On the way home we discussed Memorial Day.

Tragically, there is practically not a single person in Israel that has not lost a father, uncle, grandfather, brother, cousin or nephew to war or terrorism, and it’s a very solemn day.  At 11:00 a.m., an air raid siren sounds throughout the country. At that moment, everyone and everything comes to a grinding halt. Even people in cars pull over to the side of the road, get out of their car, and stand at silent attention for one full minute in remembrance of those who gave their lives for Israel. Our son-in-law, who is a medical student at Ben Gurion University at the Medical School for International Health, happened to be on surgical rotation when the siren went off. He described how moved he was to see patients in pre- and post-op struggle out of their beds to stand at attention, and those who were bedridden and  lay prone attempt to sit up in their beds as a sign of respect.

At 11 a.m. my daughter was at the supermarket, with its usual commotion, crowded with shoppers. Due to the noise within the supermarket, not everyone heard the siren at first, and slowly people began to realize what was happening, and then the market grew silent as people stopped what they were doing and stood quietly next to their shopping carts. Only moments before the venue had been a bustling scene  of commerce, and now, during the siren, a surreal picture of silence and stillness. Then the siren ended, and it was back to noisy shoppers pushing their carts and haggling over merchandise once again, almost as if nothing had happened only seconds ago.

People gathering outside the "Kipa Shul" on Rehov Tzvi in the Shechuna Hey neighborhood on in Beer Sheva, at the onset of Independence Day.

As we arrived in Be’er Sheva, Independence Day festivities were beginning. Men dressed in white shirts and dark pants walked to evening davening, where special prayers, including Hallel, prayers on behalf of the Israeli government and its soldiers, and Psalm 126 were recited; and like Yom Kippur, they said “HaShem Hu HaElokim” three times and then blew shofar. Afterwards was a simple but delicious catered meal for the shul families which included grilled chicken, shnitzel, and many types of Israeli salads, followed by a children’s hour of dramatically told stories about Memorial Day and the fight for Independence  and recognition of the State of Israel, along with  singing that left the children mesmerized and excited.

At the "Kipa Shul," Rav Yoram speaks to the children and their parents about the significance of Memorial and Independence Days with stories and songs

As we made our way home, we suddenly heard “Boom! Boom!” but since there was no air raid siren, we realized it was not a missile attack but instead it was a fireworks display coming from the direction of the University.

Tomorrow we will go to a “mangal” at a park – – Hebrew slang for bbq – – which is the typical mode of celebration throughout Israel in honor of its Independence Day.

So now the part that makes me sound like a sentimental old lady: when I looked around the shul and saw all ages participating in the festivities, it brought tears to my eyes. It was a very sentimental and beautiful celebration that really brought forth an awareness of just how miraculous is Israel’s existence, and how clearly HaShem has bestowed His blessings and grace upon the Jewish people. We do belong here. How dare we reject this amazing gift from Above?