Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Never been so worried

... for as long as I can remember. All the while, though life is undoubtedly at one of its busiest periods around here, I have been thinking up a long, insightful, eloquent post to put out. Now, however, I feel I just have to say it like it is: I have never been so worried in my life. 

Not during the withdrawal from Gush Katif (though I was doubtless both enraged and incensed). Not during Operation Cast Lead. Not during any attack on Israel that happened since. But what John Kerry is trying to do is giving me the creeps, a thousand times over. We have so very little land as it is, and the smaller our country is, and the more jagged our borders are, the more difficult it will be to protect. And besides, who gave our government the authority to do such a thing? The land of Israel is not theirs to give away. It was promised to us by G-d. As for Kerry, I honestly believe that he's either evil, or deluded by a vision of himself "making history", at the expense of Israel's safety. 

So I've been worried sick, and not just because the place where we live had been cut off in John Kerry's "peace proposal" (which will never bring peace). Our personal possible relocation is nothing compared to what might happen to Israel. I'm a sane person (or at least, I claim to be), but I've spent much of my time lately reading about the Gog and Magog war, and wondering whether it has begun already. 

I, who have lived in Israel all my life and never contemplated living anywhere else, began checking out the immigration laws of New Zealand. However, I calmed down somewhat after listening to several lectures by famous rabbis. It appears that, paradoxically, though the center of the Gog and Magog war will be in Israel, Israel will also be the safest place in the world for Jews. I have no logical explanation for this, but then, neither can I explain all the obvious miracles that happened in recent years (thousands of missiles directed at Israel and almost all falling in empty areas, or hitting empty houses, etc). 

All of this is another layer of our lives, which can seem so very mundane (doing chores, taking care of children, doing the shopping, etc). We are always aware of the fact that we live in a place which is, if not geographically, spiritually the center of the world. 

So, here is what I have to say to anyone who might be reading: keep Israel in your thoughts. Keep Israel in your prayers. Stand by Israel, and G-d will reward you as He had promised to Abraham ("and I shall bless those who bless you"). 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

He knows what He is doing!

I've been so overwhelmingly busy lately, with my husband at home much more than he usually is, that now I've got a few minutes to myself, I can't help but think G-d knew exactly what He was doing when He gave us the day of Shabbat. He knew that, although there are people who will never work unless they are made to, there are also those who will never rest until they are made to. Even worse, there are people who are very ready to rest themselves, but aren't prepared to grant the same right to their inferiors (slaves/servants/employees). 

In Jewish homes, the Shabbat is probably the strongest adhesive glue that pulls the family together. I will be honest with you, during the week we very seldom eat together as a family. I eat together with the girls, but my husband either walks out early and comes back late, or is busy working in the office, or doing errands, etc. On Shabbat, there is a set sequence of meals, and we are all together in a cheerful yet orderly atmosphere.

Some Jews who are not religiously observant claim that the Shabbat limitations are too strict and irrelevant to modern life, but I believe those laws fit right in with human nature. 

Driving isn't allowed, so we can only walk. This restricts our activity to leisurely strolls, and prevents us from wasting the day in driving out and about. We stay put just where we are, and interact with our neighbours, which helps build up the community. There is no buying and selling, no business negotiations, even to think and plan for the week is prohibited, so the mind is also at rest. Computers and phones aren't used, so there are no urgent calls, no emails, no distractions in the form of movies or music. The air is filled with Shabbat songs, and because there's nothing to keep us up at night, we go to bed earlier than usual. 

Again, some find this restrictive, but I find it perfect, and more relevant to today's hectic pace of life than ever before. Today, if people weren't made to do so, they would hardly put down their cell phones and allow themselves this much-needed spell of undisturbed rest. They might even feel guilty for taking a day off modern technology, right out of the blue. Shabbat brings wonderful balance into our lives.


Illustration from torahtots.com

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's fuzz season again

Another of our hens went broody. She actually had no eggs under her, but this didn't bother her in the least; she gathered some white rounded stones and sat on them.

Thankfully, we were able to get some soon-to-hatch eggs from a friend of ours.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not so coherent thoughts

This week, we received the saddest news one can possibly imagine. A couple we know well have lost their baby, just a few days before the due date. The contractions have started unexpectedly at home and labor progressed very rapidly, but she felt something was wrong. The umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby's neck; it wasn't something that could have been prevented. She was later told by the medical staff that examined her that the baby had died a while before she went into labor. 

I kept thinking about our poor friend all day long. She is healthy; she took care of herself; the pregnancy was coming along fine; she has four healthy children who were all born with no complications. Why, then? A search of the web told that it's quite common for the umbilical cord to be wrapped around the baby's neck with no problems caused by it. It can, however, cause sudden death of the baby, and while it happens very rarely, it is no consolation for the bereaved parents.

Then I began thinking desperate thoughts. Is there truly no way to prevent such tragedies? What if all expectant mothers were sent to hospital from the start of third trimester? What if they were all constantly hooked to monitors, so they could be rushed to an emergency C-section at the first sign of fetal distress? Sure, it would be a nuisance for most healthy women, but wouldn't it be worthwhile, if it could save the life of even one baby? After thinking it through I was forced, of course, to conclude that such practice would not only disrupt the normal course of life, it would probably cause an array of other complications such as depression in mothers and false alarms which lead to early C-sections, premature births, and all the problems related to that. It's just that it's so, so hard to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, out of the blue, babies die and the whole family suffers a tragic blow.

The day after that, we received a phone call from my brother-in-law. He called to tell us his wife had just delivered a healthy baby girl, their fifth child. We were stunned because, as strange as it may sound, we didn't even know my sister-in-law was pregnant. Last time we saw her in person was several months ago, when the pregnancy didn't show yet (or perhaps we just didn't look close enough!), and then the subject just didn't come up in conversation. So, we offered our heartfelt congratulations and hung up, still hardly believing what we heard.

In other circumstances, I would probably have felt a slight pang in my heart. I never meant to be envious, but if you think about it, it's quite natural. I live in a society where, it seems, everyone is pregnant all the time. Families all around are constantly growing, while I'm not sure whether I will ever have another child. But at that moment, all I could think of was my friend, the one who lost her baby. It was her fifth one, too. Just a week ago I looked at her big pregnant belly wistfully, wishing I could trade places with her. I did not know what I was asking for.

All of a sudden, I experienced an overwhelming sensation of wanting nothing. Not a bigger house, not a more comfortable life, not even more children. I grieved with those who grieved, and rejoiced in the joy of others, and was content with my lot. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Women in the army: a necessary measure or a dangerous ideology?

I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that Israel is the only country in the world which practices a collective draft for women. Women can serve, by choice, in many countries, but only in Israel do 16-year-old highschool girls get a letter from the army that sets the cogs in motion for their tests and paperwork and subsequent entry into the ranks of the army at the age of 18. 

Granted, only a few of the girls end up in combat units. Nobody can be forced into a combat unit, not even men. After learning to use a gun and crawl in the mud, most of the women who serve are shipped off to peaceful, often boring, and sometimes even borderline useless jobs. Thus they spend (or should I say squander?) two years. All for the sake of equality. 

(Side note: a girl who wants to wriggle out of the army can do it easily enough, if she knows the right way. Girls who come from religious homes are safe. But everyone get the letter from the army. The default is that everyone must serve. If you didn't serve, you had better have an adequate explanation for it later, when applying for a job, or in social situations.). 

Many foreigners assume that since (a) Israeli women are required to go to the army, and (b) the IDF is an efficient, modern, well-adapted army, then it is a matter of course that (a) causes (b). I have actually read in several foreign forums an outcry that goes, "the Israeli army is one of the best in the world, and it drafts women - this means we, too, should have more women in the army!" - this logic is faulty. The few women who push themselves into combat units, the air forces, etc, are celebrated by the liberal-minded, but the overall quality of the unit is not improved by them. Where physical power still plays an advantage, standards are inevitably lowered to enable women to enter. And the girls who are basically sent out of the way to boring office jobs "because Israel's army is the people's army and everyone must serve their country" create a hugely inflated, ineffective, costly bureaucratic mechanism. 

I have been saying this for years to anyone who would listen, and so I rejoiced to read the words of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, published in his weekly column last weekend (abridged translation from Hebrew is, as usual, mine): "According to high-ranking military officials, it would be possible to give up around 30% of soldiers who hold office jobs, without their absence being felt, but in order to enforce the "people's army" model, superfluous jobs are invented especially for them.

The problem really is a serious one; it is a pity none of the experts dealing with it proposed a simple solution to a great part of it - doing away with the collective draft for women. As strange as it may sound, Israel is the only country in the world where women serve in the army by default. It appears the only reason Israeli women must serve in the army is the firm belief in equality of sexes. [emphasis mine]

The present situation costs the government a lot of money, both because many of the women in the army are in a position of hidden unemployment, and because these two years of service cause a delay in education, work and marriage. Of course, there are women who hold important positions in the army, but they can do paid service, without all the women serving along with them. 

My note: I believe (and so, I conclude from his other articles, does Rabbi Melamed) that the army isn't really a place for women. However, I am far from imposing my beliefs on anyone. I only hope (and that is much to hope for, I know) that the leaders of our country do the sensible thing and stop summoning 18-year-old girls to a mostly useless service meant to promote a twisted ideology, which was set up by the same people who believed the ideal way for children to be raised is in communal "children's homes" in kibbutzim.

Rabbi Melamed also fleetingly mentions the lack of modest behavior in the army, and the sexual harrassment that is so prevalent there. I won't even get started on this because I will then keep writing all night, and I can't do that!

One last thing: there is a myth often dragged out to justify drafting Israeli women into the army. It is said we must do this because our country's safety is often in such a precarious position. This is a very emotional argument, and very effective in silencing objections to women serving in the army, but it doesn't stand the test of reason. Many girls who serve in the army spend two years goofing off. In the case of emergency, it's not those girls who will be handed guns, but reserve soldiers. Women in the Israeli army are entirely dispensable and the collective draft law is nothing but a relic of the communist ideology this country's founders brought into the Middle East.