Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Light of Family

I wrote most of this in my mind a few days before Gramps passed away. It was a Monday evening, and I had just finished a conversation with Gramps. I caught him just before he would make his way to the hospital one final time. He was in tremendous agony – and it was difficult for me to talk to him. I tried to hide my ‘pain’ as he asked about my wife and my children, his great grandchildren. He winced and breathed heavily, and I gritted my teeth. I knew he was going … “I love you my boy,” he said. “I love you too Gramps,” and the call ended. I cried. I knew this would be it …

Nonna Lea (my father’s maternal grandmother) passed away on the eve of Rosh Ha’Shana, 1992. At the time, I was in Leicester with Granny, Gramps, my aunt, my uncle and my cousins. I was extremely upset, but I also remember feeling tremendous regret. Nonna Lea passed away at the age of 84, and I can’t remember ever making much of an effort to communicate with her. I was always friendly and warm, but that just didn’t do much to lessen the regret I still feel to this day. Who was she? Looking back, I’m sure something changed in me that day.

Gramps was always a quiet figure, a gentleman in every sense of the word who was quite happy to let others talk while he listened. On our many vacations in Cape Town, I remember bonding mostly over our shared passion for sports. That was really it though – and when Granny passed away in ’96, it felt like a lot of the life and passion of our fun in their apartment went with her. The postcards and letters stopped, and much of the communication – bar birthday wishes and time spent together during the yearly vacations – stopped too.

Things changed for the better when I started University. With a cheap dialing plan available to South Africa, I was speaking to my grandparents almost every weekend. The relationship with Gramps finally began to develop as we talked about my life and obviously … sports. One conversation will always stand out for me. After a heavy snowfall in Binghamton, I went out tray boarding (snowboarding minus the board and with a plastic dining room tray) with some friends. I hadn’t dressed very warmly, and after coming home, I began feeling unwell. Shortly thereafter, I called Gramps – a doctor – and started asking for his medical opinion and advice. The doctor was there to help … it was nice to know he was always there for me with all my questions.

After making Aliyah in 2003, it was tough again to stay in touch. However, as Gramps became more comfortable with the Internet (in his early 80s!), we started corresponding via e-mail. When I began working for IDT, a Telecoms company, the privilege of calling Gramps every week was back on. Hearing his voice every week – even just for a few minutes – was a necessary part of life.

Gramps would visit Israel a few times in the coming years, including coming for my wedding and to spend some time with his first great grandchild. The relationship had come a long way from when I was a kid. I admired the many wonderful traits of the man – his honesty and the way he respected people through actions and words standing out - and I just looked up to him as a mensch.

Gramps’ condition began to rapidly deteriorate after the Monday night call. I called again on Tuesday. He couldn’t talk by then, so the phone was put to his ear. “I love you Gramps” one final time, and his thumb came up. It was Thursday night and I wanted Nissim to speak to Gramps. Nissim wasn’t keen, but when I asked him to do it for me, he said “Hi” to Gramps, and then “I love you.” An hour later, Gramps passed away.

Gramps died on the 1st day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. Family is one of the major sources of light in our lives. One needs to nurture and dedicate time to 'it', and the light can then hopefully provide the warmth and endless memories which are the reason for life itself. I feel extremely blessed that I was able to develop such a close relationship with Gramps, and feel the warmth of his humble light.

May his dear soul rest in peace – ke repose en Gan Eden

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Jewish Identity: A Conversation (via Ariel Sharon)

Ariel Sharon is perhaps an unlikely commentator on Jewish identity, but this excerpt from his autobiography, Warrior, reveals a clear discomfort at the serious estrangement from the Jewish religion of his generation of Zionist pioneers. His concerns are decidedly relevant in today’s discussions on the nature of religion and state in Israel, and what it means to be a Jewish democracy.
What follows is an exchange between me and Avram Piha, who brought this text to my attention. Both of us have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue.

 For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Musings of an ex-Shasnik

That was the last time I voted for Shas … in any election format. As I started to explore more about how they functioned, I realized that Shas was part of the problem. Their political strength was maintained by people like me – non-Haredi Sefardi (Jews who trace their roots back to the Iberian Peninsula) and Mizrachi Jews – who vote for them because of whom they claim to represent. In retrospect, they do little to find solutions to improve the situation, constantly stoke the fires of the ethnic divides in the country, and promote a brand of Judaism that is very foreign to Sefardi and Mizrachi Jewry. I guess we all make mistakes, but year after year, I wonder if their power will lessen? What will it take to make people see the party for what it really is?

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yoni on "Special Aging of the Young"

נכנסה בי מין עצבות שאינה מרפה ממני. לא שהיא משתלטת עלי או מנחה את פעולותי, אלא שהיא בתוכי, היא קיימת, שקועה עמוק בפנים, בתוך חלל חבוי היטב. זה אינו חלל של ריקנות, אלא משהו בעל משקע כבד יותר - חלל כבד. אולי הרגשה זו אינה קיימת רק בי. לפעמים אני מרגיש בעמקותו ובזעקתו של אותו חלל גם אצל אחרים, אצל כל אותם החברים, שיצאו מן המלחמה בריאים בגופם. נדמה לי, שכולנו יצאנו פצועים, שונים, רגישים יותר, 'איכפתיים' יותר, והרבה יותר זקנים. אותה הרמוניה, שהיא אפיינית לעולמו של בחור צעיר,שוב אינה מצויה בי. אמנם אני צעיר, עדיין חזק ובוטח בעצמי וביכלתי, אלא שעם זה איני יכול להתעלם מן העובדה, שהשתלטה עלי איזו הרגשת-זקנה. לא הייתי זקן מעולם, לא במנין השנים, ולכן איני יודע אם הרגשה זו היא כאותה שבאה מחמת הגיל. אך זוהי זקנה, בכל אופן – זקנה מיוחדת של צעירים.

כשאני מנסה להסביר לעצמי מדוע זה כך, מפני-מה צמחה בי ההרגשה הזאת, אני מגיע למסקנה, שלא רק המלחמה או ההרג, או המות, והפציעות והמומים הם האשמים בדבר
על אלה אפשר להתגבר. אם אלה, יתכן, שהזמן יטשטש. הסיבה נעוצה בהרגשת חוסר אונים, שבאה בעקבות מלחמה שאין לה קץ. כי המלחמה לא נגמרה ונראה לי, שתמשך עוד ועוד. מלחמת יוני היתה רק מערכה. היא נמשכת כעת, היום, אתמול, ומחר. היא נמשכת עם כל מוקש, הריגה ורצח, עם כל פצצה שמתפטצצת בירושלים ועם כל יריה בצפון ובדרום. זהו ה"שקט" שלפני הסערה הבאה. אין לי ספק, שהמלחמה תבוא. גם אין לי ספק, שננצח בה. אבל עד מתי? להשמיד את העם הערבי לא נוכל: הם רבים מדי ובעלי תמיכה חזקה מדי. כמובן, שנמשיך להכות בהם, שוב ושוב ושוב, ותהיה לנו הצדקה מלאה להכות אותם כל פעם מכה חזקה יותר. הכרה זו נוסכת בנו שמחה, אבל זוהי שמחה מהולה בעצב. אנו צעירים, ולא נוצרנו רק למלחמות. אני מתעתד להמשיך את לימודי, ואני רוצה ומעונין בכך. אבל שוב איני יכול לראות את זה כיעוד עיקרי. אפילו יהיה זה הדבר הנכון - נכון לעצמי ונכון לישראל, לא זה הדבר החשוב- את זה אני מרגיש בתוך תוכי.  מכאן העצבות שעליה דיברתי למעלה - העצבות של אנשים צעירים, שנועדו למחלמה שאין לה קץ.

Taken from מכתבי יוני.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Name

When I was in reserve duty a few years ago, one of my friends told me he wanted to change his last name. His last name, he told me, was Yemenite and he wanted something more Israeli. I told him that although I could understand why many Jews did it when they arrived in new countries or why the early Zionists did it on arrival to the Ottoman Empire/Mandate, I didn't think there was a need to do it then and definitely not now. If your family has committed to live on this land, then you're already as Israeli as it gets. Changing your last name won't change that. On a personal level, I feel it's insulting to your family's lineage to do so.

Yesterday, I found another perspective to this in an article remembering the late R' David Sabato:

When the family made aliyah (immigration to Israel) from Egypt, one of the sons asked Saba (grandfather in Hebrew, referring to R' David) if they can change their last name to something more Israeli. Saba answered, "Know this my son - the name does not make the man, however, the opposite is true. You and your brothers will ensure that the name Sabato will be positively mentioned in every place.

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story

Sharing a quite excellent documentary about Yoni Netanyahu, the sole IDF casualty in the raid on Entebbe on July 4th, 1976.  The documentary is really well done, and using Yoni's friends and family, as well as his letters, goes through the major stages of his life. A must watch really.

Five things that stuck out to me:

1) It's the first time I've seen a video of him speaking.
2) The conflict Yoni had between wanting be an active part of defending Israel and devoting time to his other interests (education, family etc).
3) The extreme difficulty he had killing people.
4) This quote from Bibi: "My mother let out a terrible scream. I'll never forget that. It was actually worse than hearing about Yoni's death."
5) One of the Sayeret Matakl soldiers commented, "And then all of a sudden the guy who led the other team pulled to the left and stopped near the corner of the terminal." Then another soldier continues, "... and Yoni, he shouts 'move, move, move, move, don't stop.'" 'The guy who led the other team' is Muki Betser, the man who supposedly was important to the planning of Entebbe and integral during the raid itself.  For more on the man, click here.

Part I:

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story Part 1 from Israel Muse on Vimeo.

Part II:

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story Part 2 from Israel Muse on Vimeo.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'Ordinary Hero'

I had a few minutes to browse the web during lunch today. While on Facebook, I scrolled down the page of one friend and saw a tribute to a fallen soldier from the Second Lebanon War. I was curious - and clicked play. After a minute, I noticed a face. A few minutes later, I saw it again. This soldier's commander is a friend of mine, a friend I play footy with every week. We laugh and joke, and yet, behind this happy, normal person was a man who led boys to war, and had to say goodbye to one of them.

Before I saw this video, he was already a guy I respected. He just always came off as a good person, a guy who's head and heart were in the right place.

Now, I'll look at him with even more respect. When you've led boys through hell - or in his words, 'a young guy in the wrong place' - and you can still hold yourself the way he does, you are a person deserving of my respect.

I'm proud to live in a country where I feel this is the norm.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

From Baghdad with Love

I spent Sunday morning with my landlord ensuring we were leaving his apartment in good shape. When he confirmed all was ok, I handed over the keys and asked him if he had time to tell me a little bit about his life. Eli had on numerous occasions mentioned his childhood memories of Iraq, and the difficulty of being a refugee in Israel in the 1950s, but we had never had the chance to sit down and really talk about it. We both decided there was no better time than the present, so we sat down on a bench and got to it.

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.