About Me

I'm the Rabbi of B'nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield, MI, a highly-participatory, traditional, egalitarian synagogue.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Milestone and the End of the Beginning

We’re coming to the end of the beginning of the journey, and I’m ready for it.

Later today, the kids finish the last day of their first year of school in Israel. Unbelievable, that a year has gone by so fast. Unbelievable, that my kids have done a full year of school, in Hebrew, in Israel. I am amazed by them, and have accessed yet an deeper level of respect for them.

And what we, their parents, have put them through, by placing them in this foreign-speaking, foreign-cultured environment – oy! But we’re thankful we did it….

The kids are now vatikim, veterans, of the school system. They talk excitedly about the chofesh hagadol, “big vacation,” as do all kids right now. They chatter about the Israeli-style kaytanot, camps, that they’ll be going to in July. And they talk about the ones they want to go to next summer, particularly an insane camp called Al Hagalgalim, “On the Wheels,” which takes kids to a different amusement park/pool/field trip every other day of the camp – and leaves the kids grumpy and dead tired at the end of half a day… But it’s the rage, and they want it.

Thankfully, in the past couple of days, I’ve accessed my own memories of finishing the school year when I was little, and can identify with our kids’ excitement. I can get past the newness of this first year to realize that this would be new to the kids wherever they were. Things are getting normal. Baruch hashem. Blessed be you-know-who.

I’m also coming around in my own life – seeing the light of normalcy appear at the end of a year of upend, downend, and every end. I’ve been a rookie at everything – aliyah, full-time fatherhood, working out of the house – and I’m ready to be done with the hazing. Things are beginning to move with my service recording and writing people’s life stories – please look at jewishlifestory.com -- and I also see the possibilities for a patchwork career that is the norm for so many Israelis.

I crave normalcy. Crave a slowdown in the breakneck pace of the first year of aliyah. Crave the opportunity to raise a cold beer and make a toast to making it through this first step. August 4th was the day of our arrival. But maybe we’ll toast early – at the bbq we will be going to, at the home of other olim, on July 4th, that day of days. How ironic.


I’ll be winding down virtual aliyah and taking it into a different gear – still blogging about Israel but changing the focus a bit. After all, now I live here. I want to focus on the comfortable for a change.

I’m hoping to take these blog posts, some accompanying pictures, and create a literary memento to peruse on our coffee table. Writing about aliyah has helped me immensely, and I hope it’s been meaningful for you too.

If you have appreciated the blog posts, let me know, and let me know “what you want” as I continue to post from Israel. Will you miss the posts? How have they impacted you and your relationship with Israel? Are you that much closer to at least getting on the plane for a vacation here? Or even a step closer – you can still be far – to getting on the plane for good? What topics did you like the most on the blog?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts.

Reporting from Modi’in, as we conclude our first year.

Unusally unedited and straight from the heart.

-- Mark

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Flotilla Sails Away

Every once in a while, on our American Jewish journeys, we regard a teetering calm abroad as if it lives here at home. Invariably, it falls and breaks. Bad news from Israel.

We stop at the edge of the debris. Our hearts are pierced. We cringe, cry, whimper. We are angry, flabbergasted, befuddled.

The emotions dull as the news fades, as we remove to a safer place along our narratives. We hear and see little more. Until the next time.

We are witnessing such an episode now, the Mavi Marmara, and debris is everywhere. A decidedly non-humanitarian humanitarian boat. People ready for battle. Israel, to our shock, not. The stench of bloodshed. The larger context – the blockade of Gaza, Israel’s security needs, relations between Israel and Turkey, Israel’s dangerously diminishing standing in the world, the occupation of the West Bank, our relationship with the Palestinians – trembling in the foreground.

This episode may not recede as quickly as the others, and maybe that’s appropriate. In the eyes of the world, and many Jews too (this one included), Israel crossed a line – of brazenness, incompetence, sheer stupidity, depending on one’s perspective. As did the IHH, with its bare-faced abuse of the humanitarian flag.

Still, it will recede, ever so surely, to the “back pages” of the American media. Our attention, our concern – as well.

In contrast, the attention of Israelis began to shift from the minute we woke up that morning of May 31. Daily life in Israel – all the way down to its incessant car honking – is a reality check that reminds us that the sky is not falling. It quells the existential angst. It stabilizes the queasy ride into the moral realm. It gives flesh to Israel’s existence and diversity.

Consciousness of our country, it goes without saying, is not dependent on the news or the media. That’s a refreshing change for me as an oleh chadash, new immigrant, to Israel – one year removed from America.

Each day, I take my kids to a school where they speak Hebrew. We spend Shabbat on a kibbutz with a breathtaking view of the Jezreel Valley. With imagination, I can see King Ahab chasing Elijah through it. I watch quizzically as a whole nation gears up for a soccer tournament where they’ll celebrate a 0-0 tie.

True, I cannot get far from the debris of the Mavi Marmara. I hear it churn every time I turn on the radio. The din is audible in most conversations that I have, as if it’s inappropriate not to be with the nation at all moments.

And I can’t escape the moral challenge of the larger context, particularly our distorted relationship with the Palestinians. Every day, I see the corrosive power imbalance at work. Palestinian construction workers build and beautify my city, not their own. The ubiquitous walls, fences and checkpoints along the road from here to Jerusalem keep us safe but imprison Palestinians in their own local nightmares. Construction in the settlements digs us even deeper into places we can’t be if we are going to survive as a Jewish state.

But, yes, we Israelis live on, with the undercurrent of conflict, almost immediately. In a way that’s so difficult for American Jews – in their brief acute moments of paralytic shock -- to understand.

The flotilla is here. At the same time, it sails away. Depending on your perspective.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Celtic "Truth," at 3:30 am

(published in the Providence Journal (Rhode Island, USA) on June 3) -- (http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/CT_celtics3_06-03-10_5VINAN5_v16.1d64776.html)

3:30 in the morning.

That’s when I prove my mettle this Celtic playoff run.

I moved to Israel last year and brought my Boston sports triad with me (Sorry, Bruins. You lost me sometime between Terry O’Reilly’s last lumber off the ice and your perpetual playoff oblivion.)

This, of course, has been the case ever since I left New England 21 years ago. The nation, the legion, the fighting minutemen of Boston sports – we continue to spill our guts for our hometown teams wherever we are.

I established my personal record in 1986, in the NBA Finals. I hitchhiked 4 hours 3 separate times over land, bears, and ever other possible natural and man-made obstacle in TV-less Yellowstone National Park, to watch the first “Big 3” (and DJ and Danny) defeat Houston and slinking “center” Ralph Sampson in 6 games. Ah, youth.

I’m a lot older now, but still foolish.

I’s the graveyard shift for me now. Do or die. I’m a medical resident in my own personal insane asylum. One night on, one night off. 36-hour no-sleep stretches. Awakened when I don’t want to be – lest I miss an “emergency” when Doc Rivers needs me.

It’s not like watching the endless Red Sox-Yankees thrillers of ’04. At least I could get five hours of sleep in before work. But 3:30 am, start time? I can’t say I’m getting up early in the morning to watch the game, because it’s the middle of the night. So the pressure builds at 10 pm to go to sleep, but I’m a night bird. I haven’t gone to sleep before 10 pm since Hill Street Blues took to the air. So, what’s the point?? Let’s just stay up till game time, and let the next day be damned….

I can still appreciate Rajon Rondo’s dive-scoop-and layup at 3:30 am, but a Paul Pierce isolation, when Ray Allen and everyone else are wide open on the wing? I’m more agitated than I’d be in reasonable time and am reminded of the dark Antoine Walker days. My cereal gets soggy as I silently scream at “the Truth.” “Pass the ball!” And, Kendrick, don’t waste my waning energy complaining about another foul call….

With overtime comes the sunrise, a reminder of where I am and that soccer is truly king. If the incessant non-commercial World Cup commercials fed to us by ESPN International haven’t already drained that reality down my hoop. Oh well.

From this side of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, it’s even worse when the Celtics lose, as they did in game 4 against Orlando. I was the 13th man, played well more than the full 48 minutes, in the middle of the night, and had children wanting to know what clothes to put on a half-hour later. And I had no one to commiserate with over my morning Coke Zero. A game “last night”? Maccabi Tel Aviv?

So, Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots (the 8 pm, Israel-time starts are delicious…), thank you very much for all that you make me – make us -- do for you.

Just beat the Lakers, please. We’ve got to stay at least 2 championships ahead.

I’ll be watching you.