Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Obligatory Slide Show

I didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked. But this may be the most memorable trip ever--for good and bad.


L'hitraot Israel. I am sure I will see you again soon.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Red Alert Jerusalem

Did you know there's an app for that?  Yes, there is a real app on the iphone called "Red Alert" that sounds an alarm on your iphone and warns you when a bomb is on its way and in what locale. From there, you have somewhere between 15 and 25 seconds to take cover, preferably in a bomb shelter. If not a bomb shelter, you are instructed to move anywhere indoors that you can. If you don''t have time to get indoors, take shelter beside a parked car. If you still don't have time for that, hit the ground and cover your head with your hands. After that, well, I suppose you can continue to pray.

  All day long, as Hamas, the Al Aksa Martyr's Brigade, and other Palestinian terror groups reigned over 100 bombs on Israeli civilian targets, the app kept ringing. Most of the alerts were for the cities in the South--Sderot, Ashdod, Asheklon, Moatza Ezorit, and others. The fact that bombs were not falling close to where I was staying in Jerusalem riddled me with guilt. After all, these are still the people of Israel, people I think of as nothing less than my extended family.  Am I so self centered that my first reaction is not "how terrible for the people of the South," but "thank God that my family and I are safe?" I also can't really begin to imagine what it must be like having to worry every single moment that a rocket may be on its way in about 15 seconds.

But around 6 PM, as we were sitting in our apartment, the alert suddenly read "Jerusalem." Now I had my family's moment of worry. We quickly put on shoes and headed for the bomb shelter in our building. Why didn't we hear the siren? The other people in the shelter told us that it was quite loud. Why didn't we hear it? It's nice to be staying in a quiet apartment, but sound proof? Can we pay less for an apartment that's not completely sound proof?

The all clear came about 2 minutes later. Four bombs actually made their way to the Jerusalem area, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome, while the other two landed in open fields just outide of the city. Debris from one of them fell onto the roofs of some houses in a religious community of Jerusalem. 
Heading down into the bomb shelter or "miklat" in our apartment building.

What to do now? Do we hunker down in the apartment for the next two days or do we try to "not let the terrorists win" by returning to normalcy as quickly as possible? And is this the time for making statements with my actions or making sure my children are safe? The guilt has taken a new form now.

Well, we decided to go out to dinner anyway. Restaurants have bomb shelters too, right, and at least there we could be sure we would hear the sirens. We expected to see nobody out on the streets, and while it wasn't as crowded as usual on a Thursday night on Ben Yehuda Street, there were definitely plenty of folks out and about sitting in the restaurants and cafes.

BBYO Regional Presidents Then
And Now
We met my long-time friend Brenda and her husband at our favorite place, Rimon Bistro. Brenda and I were the Regional Presidents of BBYO in the Bay Area back in the early 80's, and it's like we never stopped, both of us still working in the Jewish community on different sides of the world. Fortunately, there were no bombs in Jerusalem during dinner, though Red Alert reminded me that at least 14 more fell in the rest of the country during our leisurely meal.

But now, having the illusion of it "not being in our yard" shattered, every sound on the walk there made us just a little bit jumpy-- a truck running over a metal grate, a chair falling down, a siren from a police car with an extremely loud announcement from a loud speaker, which turned out to be just a police officer pulling someone over for speeding. The strangest sound of all, though, came from a car blasting a radio. The drum beat, in our state of mind, sounded like an explosion. It was just music, though.
Then again, it wasn't "just" music. After we decided it wasn't a bomb, we thought that maybe it was a rap song. But no, the car was blasting the song from the morning service. "V'ha-er eineinu b'toratecha, v'dabek libeinu b'mitzvotecha," enlighten our eyes with your Torah, and let our hearts cleave to your commandments."
And there was our sign. In this time of fear and uncertainty and red alerts, I pray O God, for the people of Israel, for the peace of Jerusalem, and that none of us of any religion or nation should live in fear. Instead, let us cleave to You, O God, and elighten our eyes to Your Torah, to peace, and to hope.
And now, a few pictures of our friends who are here weathering the storm along with us and beyond.
With our former Office Manager, Aliza Schechter, at a Cafe in Tel Aviv

With former Bat Mitzvah student and future entrepeneur Eva Sasson in Jerusalem

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Safe and Sound Yet Concerned and Confused

Dear Friends,

The short version is the title above. All the rest is commentary, as Rabbi Hillel might say.

Warning: Political opinions ahead.

Today is probably the first time I have had to think about my personal safety in Israel since at least the second Intifada in the early 2000's and possibly even the Gulf War in 1990/91. My brain understands that I am much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in Oakland than a bomb in Israel, but my heart and stomach are still tied up in knots.

We were actually out to dinner with our friends from the congregation, Gary Sherne and Sandy Frucht, in Tel Aviv tonight, when the wait staff calmly told us to follow them to the "miklat," the bomb shelter nearby. We followed the wait staff to the center of the building where the restaurant was located, away from glass. After about 5 minutes, the all clear was sounded and we went back to the table. After dinner, we drove back to Jerusalem, wondering what we would do if a siren sounded. Would we even hear it?  We decided we would do whatever the other cars on the road were doing. The drive was uneventful, except that every time the GPS would act up, we were just a bit more nervous than usual that we might get lost.

What is most unusual about this particular time is that bombs have never really reached Jerusalem or Tel Aviv before. When Hamas bombs Sderot or Ashkelon, it hardly makes the news. But Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are different. As thankful as we are for the quiet times of the last two years, Hamas has used that very quiet to arm themselves with more sophisticated weaponry. The very same calm that gives us hope creates conditions that make the conflict that much worse when tensions inevitably resume. Thankfully, the Iron Dome is interecepting nearly all of these bombs and not a single Israeli has been killed as of this writing. But again, there goes the brain. Logic only takes us so far when there is a rock in the pit of your stomach.

On the emotional side, I feel a tremendous solidarity with the people of Eretz Yisrael. We are getting a small taste of what it is like for them every day, living with the reality that their civilian population can be deliberately targeted at any time.

It is important for me to add that the retaliatory crime of the Israeli teenagers who murdered Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir was a heinous and horrific crime. It makes me sick to my stomach. My heart goes out to his family. Actually hearing that one of the families of the three Israeli teenagers who was murdered and kidnapped reached out to them was unbelievably heart-warming. I was also proud to hear that Israel had found the suspects and arrested them immediately. There was and is no denial.  And yet, the anger I feel that Hamas' reaction was to bomb the heck out of as many Israeli cities as possible is real and raw. And the Israelis are my family. When my brother is attacked, my first reaction is to defend him. Only later can I begin to deal with the more difficult questions that might follow.

For now, I leave us with two prayers.

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha'olam, she'g'malani kol tov.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has delivered me from danger in order to do good.

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha'olam, haporeis sukkat shalom aleinu v'al kol amo Yisrael.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, may God spread over us a Sukkah of peace and over all the people Israel.


Rabbi Mark Bloom

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Exploding Soccer Balls and Broken Door Handles

Our traveling companions the Morris' and the Zangwill's
This was probably the strangest Shabbat I have ever spent in Jerusalem. While the tension continues over kidnappings and murders, there are bombs being sent from Gaza to Sderot and what they are calling a Jewish "terrorist cell" kidnapped and murdered a Palestinian youth in retaliation for the three Israelis who were murdered, it feels odd to be writing about such seemingly trivial problems, but here we go...

Exploding Soccer Balls
In anticipation of visiting playgrounds on Shabbat, we bought a very cheap soccer ball for my boys to play with. The store owner actually warned us that this was not a good ball and that we shouldn't buy it, but since we only needed it to last 10 days, we went ahead and did so anyway. Well, before Shabbat even began, my boys were walking across the street with Micah carrying the ball in his drawstring backpack, when they heard an explosion that sounded like a gunshot right next to them. They, along with several other people they tell me, immediately ducked down on the ground in utter fear and panic. When you hear something that sounds like a gunshot or a bomb in a place like Israel (or Oakland, for that matter), it's a frightening prospect. Fortunately, the source of the explosion was the soccer ball. It literally exploded in Micah's backpack, tearing a hole in it. Quite a scare, so we knew it was going to be a strange Shabbat.

Broken Door Handles

The locksmith receipt
Just before Shabbat began, we noticed one of the handles on the door of our apartment was loose. We called the landlord and they said they would try to send someone to fix it, but it was almost 6 PM on Friday. We hoped it would make it through Shabbat.... Well, it didn't. We arrived home at 10 PM from synagogue (the very spirited Modern Orthodox synagogue Yakar), andwe had trouble getting in. The handle then fell off the door completely. We were locked out on Shabbat!  I don't like to carry my phone on Shabbat, but I had this feeling. So we called the landlord--no answer.  We called the landlord 5 minutes later and 5 minutes later after that--no answer. The neighbors tried in vain to help us, but tweezers and screwdrives and paper clips could not get us inside.

So, time to call the locksmith. But wait, what locksmith is open on Shabbat?  Ths smartphone gave us several numbers, most of which said "24-6."  A few said 24-7, and I called them. But all I could do was leave messages in my very broken Hebrew. Finally, one of our traveling companions, Stuart Zangwill, found one on the 4th page of google. Whoever gets to the 4th page!?  But he reached one. He was secular and was only annoyed to be taken away from the World Cup.  So by 11:15, we were in.  Whew!

And, at least we got to have the greatest challa in the world from Ugat Chen in Machane Yehuda!

We are having a wonderful time as we always do in Israel, spending a delightful Shabbat, running into Beth Abraham members on the street (hello Golub family, Werthan family, Berrol family, Edelstein family, Hebrew school teacher Ariella) and many other people I know in this "small world," eating incredible food, and visiting and revisiting favorite sights (tunnel tours under the Western Wall, the City of David, old City Scavenger Hunt, Yad Vashem, and much more).

The former Gan Avraham Justice League wrapping tefilin
Blooms and Zangwills on Edlestein Balcony in Yemin Moshe

Western Wall Tunnel Tours

Shavua Tov from Jerusalem!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Always an Interesting Time to Be in Israel

Dear Friends,

It is always an interesting time to be in Israel. You never know what crisis of the moment will be happening when you book your trip months in advance. Right now, as I'm sure most of you have read about already, the crisis is responding to the tragic murder of the three Israeli teens, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah.

First of all, my family and the other TBA families with us are all very safe. For the most part, we are touring the sights of Jerusalem--the Old City, Western Wall, Bible Lands Museum, the Jerusalem Time Elevator, Yehuda Street, Emek Refaim are the ones we have hit in our first two days here. Generally speaking, people are going about their every day lives, and it doesn't feel any different than it ever has when I have visited in the past.

Bloom, Zangwill, and Morris Clans in the Jewish Quarter of Old City
So most of the tension that is in the air is felt by reading or listening to the news here, and there is, of course, much more attention devoted to it here. During our stopover in Toronto, for instance, there were only 10 seconds devoted to the story. Here in Israel, it seems as if it is the only subject discussed.

However, we did run into a counter protest today.

The sign in the background reads: "an eye for an eye makes everyone blind. Revenge will not bring back our boys." While the situation obviously calls for response--more security, efforts aimed at finding the killers, a continuing discussion about whether nations should be dealing with a unity government which includes Hamas, there are also calls for vengeance from extremists on the Israeli side. Tragically, a Palestinian teenager was found dead in a forest today, and it is quite possible that this was an act of vengeance. It doesn't take much fuel to light a tinderbox, and the next few weeks will be critical. So the Israeli police and military are left working overtime trying to control violence on all sides.

My guess is that you will read about the calls for vengeance. I am guessing that you will not get to read about the peaceful protests led by young Israelis like the one we saw today. But that's part of Israel's democratic process at work. It's a fascinating and moving thing to watch.

In the meantime, please don't worry about our personal safety. We are safe.

Please do pray for the peace of Jerusalem and Israel. All our prayers are needed.

And let us say mazel tov to David Morris, who will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah tomorrow overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. 


Rabbi Mark Bloom