Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A New Dawn - Post U.S. Election 2016

 "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."
                                                                            -Andy Dufresne Shawshank Redemption


It's been awhile since I last blogged, and I suppose there's no time like the present in light of yesterday's election. I went to bed last night and woke this morning to despair. Despair in most of my Facebook feed, despair in many of the faces of my students, despair in the faces of many of my colleagues. And I guess, in light of the results of the U.S. election and the anointing of Donald Trump as president -elect, I fully understand.

But I woke up this morning with a different mindset, one I've seen slowly evolving on social media, one that I knew some of my friends who are our brightest spiritual & intellectual guides (you know who you are) would take: The real work begins now. This is the message that I discussed with my 9th and 10th grade classes this morning, and this is the message that I'd like to remember this year, next year, and into the next election cycle. The REAL work begins now.

As many know, this election cycle has been ugly, and maybe that's an understatement. I've tried to cope with it by joking about it in my own sarcastic way because in full disclosure, I found faults in both major party candidates - faults that made it hard for me to support or vote for either. But that election is over; it's water under the bridge at this point. And now we look in the mirror and ask ourselves: how did we get here?  And the answer is that this is bigger than Trump or Clinton. No matter who came out on top yesterday, the issues would remain. This is about our country's morals and values, it's about uncovering serious issues that have been festering in our country for centuries, for decades, for years. It is about thinking critically about the last year, and yesterday, and getting to work to make this place a better tomorrow for ourselves, for our children, and for their children.

To me, this is not scary; this is exciting and empowering. To me, this election brought serious issues to the forefront and we can no longer ignore them. To me, this gave me an opportunity to stress the morals and values we explore in my classroom - and encourage the kids to examine the past year and think about how they are going to effect positive change in the world. We looked at the electoral map for a bit and thought critically about what it told us (civic/digital literacy anyone??). We made a list, and we talked about action. We are bigger than one man or woman in the White House.

What are the issues we identified together in our brief time? Economic disparity, racism, sexism, educational equity, compassion, immigration, education on diversity for folks outside major city populations, etc. And coincidentally, we are going to follow up today's conversation with reading The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, and using the book as a Call to Action - what does our world need and what are we going to do about it?

I get it. People are upset. I hear you. Please know, it is okay to lament and to grieve in your own way; however,
when you are done, please join me in spreading the empowering message that this election is a Call to Action. Let's work together to make this country and world even better than the place it already is by examining our issues and developing compassion and understanding. This is the message I will teach to my children. This is the message I discussed with my students. And this is the message I share with you.
all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you. Richard Bach
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/richardbac149556.html
all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/richardbac149556.html

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” 

"All the events in your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you"
                                                                                   -from Illusions by Richard Bach

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Letter to Our Son, Alon Emet

Hi blogosphere...it's been awhile!

On January 17th, our 3rd son was born. As we have done for each of our boys, my wife and I wrote a letter to him welcoming him to the world and explaining his name for his bris on the 8th day of his life. Even though Alon was unable to get a traditional bris due to a minor medical issue, we still held a baby naming for him. Since some have asked us about the meaning of his name and why we chose it, I am posting excerpts of the letter we wrote for him explaining our choice & because we hope that his name will be an honor and inspiration for us all.


Dear Alon Emet:

Just a little over one week ago on January 17th, 2016 at 3:30am, you came into this world and changed our lives forever. As soon as we recovered our sleep a bit from your desire to arrive in the middle of the night, we have spent all of our waking hours getting to know you and watching closely as you grow, change, and develop your itty bitty personality. Even though this isn’t a traditional bris, we still felt it important to share this special occasion, giving you your name and telling its story, with our family and friends. After all, the people here today, physically and in spirit around the country and world, are among the most important people in our family’s lives, and we cannot wait for you to join this community...

The love for the Illini and Israel first brought your mother and me together. And these 2 things remain central in our lives, so much so, that they have influenced your name as they influenced your brothers’ names before you. Many people in this room know how much we struggled with finding your name. In our Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, babies are named after relatives or someone important that has died. And while your brothers are named after great grandparents who we know watch down on us to this day, we are blessed that our family has not experienced any recent losses to provide guidance for your name. So with freedom to literally name you anything, we struggled...for over 9 months. There’s a lot of pressure to pick a child’s name - it actually says in the spiritual Kabbalah that a person’s soul has a deep connection to their name, and like your brothers names means so much, we wanted to find a deep meaning and connection for you.  

Not only did our name search involve a ton of time scouring the Internet, but we asked so many people for ideas and advice. Pretty soon we had a list of well over 30 ideas. One idea, that didn’t make the final cut was Katom or Tapuz (Meaning Orange). If trendy folks can name their kids Rain or River or Apple, why couldn’t we name you Katomi or Tapuzi? After all, Orange is Hot! Even though we decided not to go with these names, don’t be surprised if they end up being one of your nicknames!

A couple of months ago we asked Ami and Nadav, your brothers, for naming help.  Some of their ideas were: Porkchop, Steak, Ben Ami, and Big Belly.  We are sure you’ll be happy that we didn’t choose any of those.  However, your oldest brother, Ami, told us one day that he liked the name Emet.  We loved the idea of having your brother as part of the naming process, and it felt right to have Emet as your middle name. Emet means truth. The concept of truth has been explored and debated since the days of the earliest philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle - and we hope that you embody the ideals of logic, wisdom, justice, and truth as you journey through life. So by choosing your meaningful middle name, Ami has ensured that you are deeply connected to our family tree.

And finally, we want to share with you the deep truth behind our choice for your first name - Alon.
The literal meaning of Alon in Hebrew is an oak tree.  Oaks are big and strong, and so some associate those characteristics with the name Alon. Also, a tree represents life, and we hope you grow up to have deep roots in your community and family; we hope you grow to have strong branches to lend a helping hand and give of yourself; and we hope that you grow fruitful and provide for your own family one day.

All of those characteristics of Oak and Tree are important, and Alon was already on our possible name list, but the idea of the name, Alon, became even more meaningful to us in early January. As you will learn, Israel and Judaism are important to us and your family. Unfortunately, since this past summer, Israel has been facing an unprecedented string of months with near daily terror attacks. On January 1st, a terrorist opened fire in the streets of Tel-Aviv, where we were just this past summer as a family, taking the lives of two people. One of those young men, a former Golani Soldier, was 26 year-old Alon Bakal. But we didn’t choose the name Alon to dwell on the negative. Instead, we were inspired to choose the name after reading a piece in The Times of Israel by David Eastman who encouraged us to learn from this event that life is precious and life should be cherished every day. Borrowing Eastman’s idea in honor of Alon Bakal, we chose the name Alon for you to remind us, and hopefully inspire all those here that are celebrating with us and all those that get to know you, that every day we should:
  • Appreciate all of the events in our lives
  • Tell every member of our family how much we love and cherish them
  • Relish every moment and opportunity we share with our friends
  • Be kind to everyone, even the strangers we meet on the street
  • Remember to never go to bed angry
  • Love nature and its beauty
  • Be willing to try new things
  • Work towards a better world for all races, religions, and colors
And finally, we hope that you, Alon Emet, will live a beautiful life and remind us all to embrace and live the mantra inspired by Alon Bakal’s final text to his father: “I am having a good time. I love life.”

In all of these ways, through your name you are connected to your family, to our love of the Illini, to our love for Israel, and to our love for life. We hope that your name is inspirational to you and a light among our community.

Welcome to our world and family!

With love,
Ema v’ Abba

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Israel - July 2015 Post #4: Time to Get Political

Today, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the now (should be) disbanded Palestinian Authority, declared to a standing ovation at the United Nations General Assembly that the PA will no longer abide by the 1993 Oslo Accords - the same accords that essentially led to the legitimacy of the PA. Those that read Abbas' speech and/or articles about it will likely have strong opinions on the finger-pointing and content. My guess is that we will see more finger-pointing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow when he speaks to the UNGA. However, surprising to some (all?), I will leave the analysis and opinions about the content to others right now.

The hard truth is that it takes two to make peace, and it takes two to engage in violence. The harder truth is that both sides in this conflict are accountable and need to step up and accept that accountability. Maybe the hardest truth at this point is that after decades of conflict, it is pretty clear that the Israelis and Palestinians do not like each, cannot get along, and will likely not close that gap anytime soon. And so the political process as we know it, including the now officially canceled Oslo Accords and understandings created since 1993, should be considered a dead end.

In 1987, as a junior in high school, I wrote my big high school research paper arguing the fact that the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict would never end. But Oslo, at the time, even gave me hope. But now, the thought that the process Rabin started over two decades ago, the process that so many held with such hope and promise, is dead is a sad reality Israelis, Palestinians, and the world must face. We probably should have faced it long ago (and some did), but Abbas' speech today and I am assuming, Netanyahu's speech tomorrow, will put the proverbial nails in the coffin.

That's not to say that there is no hope. There HAS to be hope. Despite how both sides may feel about the extreme elements within the other, the fact is that the majority of the common, decent people are suffering. Make no mistake, human-beings are caught in the cross-fire, and the humanitarianism in us all must reawaken and recommit to finding a way out of the mess.

This past summer, sitting on a rooftop in Jaffa, listening to the rush of the waters and the sleeping city, I discussed an idea that should be looked at as a potential seedling, a potential starting point. As was explained to me, to this point over all of these years, the world has expected two sworn enemies to eventually become peaceful neighbors.
The peace process has been predicated on Reconciliation followed by Resolution. Since 1993, the world assumed that Oslo would spark such reconciliation. The handshake on the lawn between Prime Minister Rabin and Yassir Arafat gave us hope that such reconciliation would one day occur. But again, today that dream has died.

It is time to try again. And maybe this time, we have to look at the process in reverse. Maybe this time, instead of Reconciliation leading to Resolution, the equation should be flipped. What would happen if the world mediated a reasonable compromise and imposed Resolution, hoping that one day, maybe after decades of disengagement, Reconciliation would come.

Yes. I realize that that is easier said than done. In order to come to an equitable Resolution, both sides would have to compromise on elements never compromised before - land, resources, Right of Return, border security (especially along the Jordanian border), and others. I also realize that to achieve such a Resolution, there will be many angered on both sides of the conflict. Then again, when we look closer - who will really be angry at a reasonable, equitable resolution? A. The Settlers; B. The Terrorists. Yes, that is simplifying things, but those are the majorities that would be seriously angered. Others may pissed, but they would likely adapt.

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of others imposing their will on Israel. In fact, I have never been a huge proponent of giving up parts of Judea/Samaria and Jerusalem. Those that know me, know that I am staunchly pro-Israel, but even I can evolve. Even folks like me must take a step back and consider that the old way just is not working. That being said, maybe it is time to concede and think outside the box. Maybe it is time to appoint a Peace Commission tasked with arbitrating an equitable solution that is binding. And maybe, that resolution will lead to reconciliation decades down the road.

Gotta have hope...

Thanks, Didi.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Israel - July 2015 Post #3: Shorashim

After spending most of July in Israel, first leading a Birthright group of 22-26 year-olds and then 2+ weeks with my wife and two boys, I am filled with thoughts. The thoughts range from personal to political - and honestly, I'm not sure exactly how to organize them...so I figured that I'd start blogging to keep track of the different topics, and one day, maybe, I will revisit them and organize them in some coherent form. Until then, over the next few days (weeks?) I will type some stream of conscious thoughts about my July in Israel. The thoughts are in no particular order. Read on or not, up to you...


“Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”
― Richard Bach

This is not a paid advertisement...

It's hard to believe that after 16 trips to Israel, 15 with Shorashim (the Chicago-based trip organizer that I've been a part of since 1987) that 28 years ago, I had no interest in traveling to Israel. None. My Jewish center was with my childhood camp in Wisconsin. To me, that was all the Judaism I felt I needed in my life. I mean, I learned about Israel and knew about it, but I never thought I'd be able to afford going there, so I probably rationalized it away as a place I didn't need.

So, how did my life change so drastically? The fact is that I decided to go to Israel for the first time in 1987 out of spite. True Story. After my final year as a camper in 1986, my friends and I had to apply for the first summer on staff - the summer of '87. We all went for our interviews; they were all accepted. I, on the other hand, was told that because I was a rambunctious camper, no more so than some of my other friends that were accepted mind you, that the director had to think about hiring me and that I'd need a second interview. I was embarrassed...and pissed. After 7 summers as an overnight camper, after being on the major board of the Chicago regional youth group, I felt like I was being jerked around needlessly.

Meanwhile, one of the youth group advisers I was close with, the founder of Shorashim, had been asking me to go to Israel on her program for a couple of years. I had always told her no, but this time, she told me that she would find me the scholarship money I needed to make it happen...and out of spite, I figured, screw the camp director, I wasn't playing his game - I was going to Israel. When I went for my second interview and the director slid my contract across the table, I politely slid it back and told him that I was going to Israel instead. I will say, I still get some pleasure out of the look on his face when I told him. His jaw dropped. Not many folks had the stones to call his bluff. And I was on my way to a life changing experience.

Israel changed me that summer. I believe it was meant to be and from that moment on, I fed on that experience. I was drawn to Israel. And from that summer on, I was dedicated to teaching about it. Of course, the land itself is amazing, but to me, Israel was about the people - it was about my brothers and sisters in Judaism - and those people were the defenders of my religion. The trip, in 1987, began with 5 days in Poland, tracing our Jewish roots from the ashes of the Holocaust. Rising from those ashes and then spending 5 weeks in Israel with Israelis taught me how important it was for us Jews to bond together and rise up from those ashes into a blooming flower in the Middle Eastern desert. I drank up that experience and it became my lifeblood.

Since then, Shorashim has given me my roots and a significant family in Israel. I already wrote about my friend of 28 years, Didi in the first Israel post. And since that summer, my roots and family in Israel and America have grown by the hundreds. I no longer feel like a stranger in the land of Israel. Whenever I am there, I run into people that are my family on a regular basis. (Spoiler alert: More on some of those folks from this past summer in the next blog).

Don't get me wrong, there are many good Israel programs out there, but Shorashim is different. The reason for that, in one word, is Mifgash. Mifgash is essentially the connecting of Americans and Israelis with the goal of creating a shared community - a bond with the Jewish homeland like none other. Shorashim's main thrust is Mifgash, and through those connections, participants not only learn about Israel, directly from Israeli peers, but are ultimately connected to Israel on a personal level. While other programs teach about Israel, from a touring/educational perspective, they are also built, in large part, to further their own community goals back in the states - to connect participants to a particular religious movement (Reform, Conservative, etc.) or cause. Shorashim is about being in Israel with Israelis. Those bonds create a permanent link to our homeland, and for me, create a home away from home.

Do other programs do Mifgash in some form? Sometimes. But when they create their Mifgash program, they attempt to emulate Shorashim. For example, I know of a participant on another program that tried to match the participants with an Israeli family for a Shabbat experience in Israel this past summer. That person did not feel connected to that experience on an interpersonal level because they had no real connection to that family; they didn't spend the whole trip traveling with those people and experiencing Israel with them. Likewise, some Birthright trips (10 day trips for 18-26 year olds) have Israeli participants for a few days. They become a novelty on those trips, there for a partial experience. Meanwhile, when I meet my groups in the states, the first thing I tell them is that we are not a group yet. We are not a group until we exit customs at Ben-Gurion Airport and meet with our Israel Achim (brothers) in a brief airport ceremony that only Shorashim does in public, at the airport.

Shorashim High School 2015
Need more proof? This past summer, at Birthright's Mega Event, an evening that Birthright organizes to bring all of the current Birthright groups together for a concert and program, the presenters spoke about Mifgash as a cornerstone of Birthright. Mind you, most of these groups only have partial Israeli participants. It wasn't the first time I heard this speech at a Mega Event. Clearly, Birthright values the Mifgash experience - and Shorashim is the organization, a small, Chicago and Jerusalem-based organization, that originated and perfected the concept. Birthright tries to emulate us!

And finally, during one program this past summer, one of the Birthright head educators joined us to observe. After the program, this man spoke to our group and bestowed upon us the ultimate compliment in my eyes. He said that after being with us for the better part of 2 hours, he could not distinguish between the Israelis and the Americans in our group. Essentially, we had achieved Shorashim's greatest purpose - creating a united community of Jews that spans oceans - bonded by a common religion, culture, and experience.

Where would I be without the gift of Shoarshim that was given to me? Honestly, I'm not sure. I do know that I wouldn't be who I am today. I do know that I wouldn't have the deep love of Israel that I have today. And I do know that I would not feel that what I am meant to do with this amazing experience is to pass on my love of Israel to others. I am so grateful for that chance, and I am so grateful for the amazing experiences I have had with all of my Shorashim groups, including bus #536 this past summer. To share Shorashim with such an exemplary group of young adults is a gift, an honor, and a privilege. For that and for Shorashim, I am eternally grateful.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Israel - July 2015 Post #2: Friends Part 2

After spending most of July in Israel, first leading a Birthright group of 22-26 year-olds and then 2+ weeks with my wife and two boys, I am filled with thoughts. The thoughts range from personal to political - and honestly, I'm not sure exactly how to organize them...so I figured that I'd start blogging to keep track of the different topics, and one day, maybe, I will revisit them and organize them in some coherent form. Until then, over the next few days (weeks?) I will type some stream of conscious thoughts about my July in Israel. The thoughts are in no particular order. Read on or not, up to you...

“Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.”
― Richard Bach

Can you tell with the Richard Bach that I'm feeling quite nostalgic lately?

Two regular topics in our educational community deal with the length and timing of the school year - so I am often asked if I support year-round schooling and/or moving up the start of the school year to have finals before winter break. My answer is always an emphatic, "No!" I suppose that shouldn't surprise those that know me - after all, I am a child of summer programming having spent exactly 2 summers at home between 1979 and 2000. Those 19 summers, and the subsequent summers I have spent leading Taglit-Birthright Israel programs, have had a profound effect on who I am and who I choose to be, and I seriously worry about future generations that are robbed of the opportunities provided by independent summer experiences. But I am not here to argue educational pedagogy with the 2 or 3 of you reading this, I am here to reflect on our Israel trip and share my thoughts with anyone that is interested.

The reason I bring up the summer experiences is because two significant gifts my summer experiences have given me are many friends and a connection to Israel/Jewish culture. In terms of friends, don't get me wrong, I have many good friends from growing up, from college, from work, etc. But the sheer intensity of summer relationships creates such bonds. Part of this, I think, is because at camps and on traveling programs, people are thrown into extreme, intense situations that cause the bonding experience to be expedited. When your ties to home are cut off, people have no choice but to cling to their new relationships (and let's face it, if a person is going to camp or traveling, they are usually craving those relationships anyhow - who wants to be alone at camp?). Because of close proximity, independence, and shortened nature of summer, these relationships are accelerated - so that often, these friends seem to know you better in the first moments you meet than many of our acquaintances know you over many years. We let our guard down easier at camp and we let people in quicker - and thus, so many important relationships, my close friends that are family, were formed in this manner. I won't list them all here at once, but I did have the chance to meet up with several of these friends, who are like family, this past summer. In my first Israel post, I wrote about the awesome experience with the Remez family.

Another one of my favorite parts of this summer was the time spent with my friend Rick and his wife and son. Rick is an old camp friend who made aliyah (moved to Israel) years ago. Over the past years, when I have been in Israel leading trips, Rick and I have made plans to meet up. Even if we had to stay up late, even if we were really busy - we made time to chat, to talk politics, to talk family life. But this year, not only did Rick and I have a wonderful breakfast, but our families had the chance to spend a Shabbat evening together.
Our families on Shabbat - 7.17.15
Shabbat is a cornerstone of Judaism. Most folks that have attended an Israel program and/or a Jewish summer camp will also tell you that Shabbat is among the most spiritual and special experiences. To share the first Shabbat Brandi, Ami, Nadav, and I ever spent together in Israel with Rick's family definitely ranks up there in lifetime moments. We live in different countries, we live miles apart, and yet our kids said Sabbath prayers together and played together as if there was not even a mile that separated our lives. After welcoming in Shabbat, we walked down to the beach and watched the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea while eating dinner. Magic.

In addition to Shabbat, sitting with Rick the following Friday eating breakfast, was again one of my regularly scheduled Israel events. I love Rick's passion for Israel, I learn from Rick's thoughts and passion, and I just enjoy connecting with someone that knows me, even though we have spent less time together than many of my other acquaintances. At times, I live vicariously through Rick's experiences because there's a large part of me that wishes I had the guts and a job that could support my family to live in Israel. Not that I am uncomfortable about my place in the USA, but there may always be some unfulfilled space down inside because I did not take advantage of studying in Israel or living in Israel long-term (more on that in a later post).

Rick and his family are wonderful people. His wife is friendly and kind, and his son is bright-eyed and mischievous. Again, not only friends, but people that I will consider part of my family. Those that spent years at summer camp, waiting through the year to be united with camp friends, you will understand the longing I am already feeling to spend more time with Rick, his family, and other friends. Luckily, I know I won't have to wait too long.

Memories like these remind me of how small our Jewish world is...and how similar we are as Jews around the world. I know my friend Udi would agree with the sentiment that there is no such thing as an Israel and the Diaspora (Jews outside of Israel) - rather, there are just Jews that live in different places. One of the things that bonds us is the ability to go anywhere and share culture and religiosity. Like above, even though our families had never spent Shabbat together, we fit like a glove, knew the same prayers, and shared the same customs. As Jews, those things create an unbreakable bond and make us more similar than different. I like that.

So, if we as a society, cut off future generations from such experiences because of concepts like year-round school and/or moving the school year to interfere with the summer, we may be robbing them of meaningful experiences that will affect them for the rest of their lives. I could also give you pedagogical reasons for giving kids a break from school for the summer...but if you're still reading at this point, I don't want to scare you away from future posts :)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Israel - July 2015 Post #1: Friends Part 1

After spending most of July in Israel, first leading a Birthright group of 22-26 year-olds and then 2+ weeks with my wife and two boys, I am filled with thoughts. The thoughts range from personal to political - and honestly, I'm not sure exactly how to organize them...so I figured that I'd start blogging to keep track of the different topics, and one day, maybe, I will revisit them and organize them in some coherent form. Until then, over the next few days (weeks?) I will type some stream of conscious thoughts about my July in Israel. The thoughts are in no particular order. Read on or not, up to you...

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah  

When I look back upon my month in Israel, I am sure that the people will stand out prominently. I would say that 90% of the places I visited and 90% of the activities I did, I had done before...so after leading 15 trips over the years, Israel, to me today, is more or less defined by the people in my eyes. So many of the people that I've traveled with in Israel over the past 3 decades have become a family to me. Like Bach's quote above, they are family of shared experience and love - even though we are not blood related nor did we grow up under the same roof.

With that being said, looking back on this July, it is about family to me - my wife, kids, and Israeli family. And one of the prominent memories I will have, centers on the number 28. You may or may not know that my first trip to Israel was in 1987, 28 years ago. Among the many awesome friends and events from that summer long ago, one of the most important relationships that has been an integral part of my life is the friendship with my "achi," my brother - Didi Remez.

During the summer of 1987, Didi and I became fast friends. The summer ended with him giving me the keys to his apartment, in a symbolic gesture signifying the hope that I would return and our friendship would live on. In 1995, after Didi was out of the army and I was done with college, that dream was fulfilled - I brought the keys back to Israel and to Didi and we worked as staff on a Shorashim trip. Over the past 20 years, Didi and I have kept in touch and our friendship has remained steadfast.  We have supported each other through ups and downs, visited and stayed at each others' houses, and celebrated together. In fact, Didi was a groomsman at my wedding, and though I was unable to attend Didi's wedding due to work, I have grown quite close to his amazing wife, Lilach.

My wife, Didi, and Lilach have spent time over the years as Brandi and I have visited Israel to lead various Birthright trips and for our honeymoon in 2003. During those times, we not only hung out with Didi, but grew to love his wife Lilach, like a sister of our own. She is an amazingly kind person, a superb cook, and an excellent judge of wine! The times with Didi and Lilach have always been special for us; however, this past July the four of us had the pleasure, for the first time, of introducing our 4 children to each other. After 28 years, it was amazing to spend several days with Didi, Lilach, and their children Aharon (8) and Avigail (6). In almost no time, my boys, Ami and Nadav (born within 3 days of Avigail), played together like they were long time friends.
Aharon and Ami (2015) & Me and Didi (1987)
It was amazing to see the older boys try to bridge the language gap, to see Ami try and speak Hebrew to Aharon, and to see that kids all over the world are quite similar - and engaged with technology. We spent time eating, building sand forts, playing soccer, swimming, laughing, and enjoying each others' company.

No doubt, watching the kids play and having our families together was awesome, but one of my favorite things to do in all of Israel, is to sit on a rooftop in Jaffa with my friend Didi and just talk. We had that opportunity a few weeks ago, and as always, I learned from Didi and felt the brotherhood we share across the oceans and miles between us.

In 1987, Didi and I vowed to each other that we would remain friends and that our doors were always open to each other. We have kept that vow and added families to the equation - I know that my life is the better for it.

I am so grateful to have amazing 'family' in Israel. Didi, Lilach, Aharon, and Avigail are part of my Shorashim - part of my Jewish roots - and every bit a part of my family. I am so thankful for the times we have spent together over the past 28 years and I look forward to the day when all 8 of us can once again be together - be it in Israel or Chicago.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Shoes" - Yom HaShoah 2015

There is nothing more depressing
Than lost
Shoes.
Abandoned without theirsouls.

Their screaming within camps like
Auschwitz
and
Majdanek
Crushes the soul.

Their souls cry out to us
And tell a story.
Each sole weaving stitches
Of a life discarded.

And 70 years later,
The decaying leather remains
Row
After
Row
After
Row
They stare out through wire cages,
With acrid stench
Burning nostrils
Of those walking the quiet barracks.
Their soles beg us to
Never Forget.

Nightly
I wander amongst the rows.
I hear their cries.
I gasp for air.
Though it has been 28 years since
I walked in their shoes,
The smell of their abandonment haunts me.
I cannot escape.

I remember.



For Aron and Lisa and some 6 Million Others