Truman: Ambassador of Peace

In the month before Passover, I walked the hills of the Galilee.  The entire month of March they are filled with wildflowers, including red poppies called kalaniyot in Hebrew, as well as cyclamen, rakafot.


Once Pesach arrives, so do Israelis in droves on holiday, plus the beginning of tourist season, and – much to my dismay – the end of rain until November and the beginning of tortuously hot, hazy days in the seemingly never-ending summer that starts in April and ends at the end of October. Most of the streams and riverbeds dry out and lose their mojo.

Just outside the town of Yokneam, where my husband works in the hi-tech park (denizen of many Israeli start-ups and now big-name players who are at the forefront of  internationally acclaimed innovation – – this is just one of dozens of similar hi-tech parks popping up all over the country), is a beautiful nature spot called Nahal HaShofet.  It’s more stroll than hike, with its carefully graded boardwalks that descend along a stream-bed and cave amid the heavy vegetation.  I figured I’d spend a quick couple of hours there before returning to the relentless Spring Cleaning that was part of my Pesach preparations.

I thought I’d beat the Pesach rush.  Little did I know that the week before Pesach, when Israeli Jewish school children start their Spring vacation, all youth groups around Israel use this time to walk the Land on organized overnight backpack and trekking trips.   Throughout the Galilee, especially in Keren Kayemet/JNF forests where camping is permitted and generally free, backpackers’ tents spread like colorful umbrella tops dotted the landscape against the lush green  woodlands of pistachio, olive groves, cypress, carob, Aleppo pine trees and thorny grasses.


The night before it had rained, and as I approached my destination I stopped at a gully that was covered by rainwater runoff that was at least 6″ – 8″ deep.  I normally would have driven my Hyundai station wagon through without concern, but I was alone and was in no mood to get stranded without help in immediate sight.  So I parked the car at the bottom of this gully and walked the extra kilometer up a steep hillside to reach the starting point of Nahal HaShofet.

What a happy accident! Other than a few scraggly campers, the area was mostly empty and the vistas in wildflower-covered groves were among the most beautiful I have ever seen to date in the Galilee.  I was glued to the spot, soaking it all in, truly grateful to be there just then.  It was magical.


As I approached Nachal Shofet, I was alarmed to see at least 30 giant tour buses and an ice cream truck parked at the entrance.  There was Arab music blaring, and the voices of many excited schoolchildren.  Just how many excited children enjoying nature would become apparent as I made my way down Nachal HaShofet.

I had picked an Arab town’s school district’s annual field trip day.  At least 1000 (!) Arab Muslim kids and their teachers were there enjoying themselves.  Which would have been fine, except I had my Standard Poodle Truman with me, and generally, religious Muslims find dogs repugnant at best and are terrified of them at worst.  Every time I would turn a corner along the trail and meet up with yet another class of kids, I’d be greeted by 25 – 50 voices screaming with fear at the top of their very healthy lungs when they would see Truman.  My dog looked at me questioningly like a wizened Yoda.  “Seriously?” he seemed to say, because he is possibly the worlds most passive, quiet, non-aggressive and innocuous Standard Poodle that ever lived. And besides, he was on a leash.


As I waited silently along the side of the trail for yet the next group of children to pass us so we could continue on ahead, a young boy of about 8 asked me in Arabic if he could touch the dog.  I was surprised by his “courage” but was happy to have Truman oblige.  He immediately received the unspoken admiration of  his still-terrified classmates who were convinced there was little difference between petting a poodle and putting one’s head into the mouth of a lion.  They were even more amazed when Truman did not react (in truth, Truman was feeling rather bored).  And then, another boy found the courage to approach, and another, and another.  Soon I had a line of 100 excited, happy and nervous children waiting to pet Truman, and even more amazing – – their stern, grumpy chador-clad teacher wanted to be part of the action too.  Many of them called out “huruf!” (which means “sheep” in Arabic, and indeed, Truman’s coat resembles that of a lamb). Of course I had to photograph the event for posterity – – with the now-smiling teacher included. So now I call my dog “Truman, Ambassador of Peace.”








The Last Jew of Peki’in


Last Friday my husband and I visited the village of Peki’in, about 40 minutes from our home in the Galilee.  It was incredibly moving to meet Margalit Zinati, the 86-year-old lone surviving Jew of Peki’in, as well as visit the cave where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai hid from his Roman oppressors.  I love that every single corner of Israel not only has such a wealth of geopolitical and religious history, but that we feel a genuine spiritual connection and link to the Land we now call home.

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, there were a few families who survived the starvation and massacres; they managed to flee to other areas in Israel.  Twenty-four families of Kohanim (priests) thus settled in different parts of the Galilee, including three places near where I live, but these villages today (Kfar Yasif, Shraram, and Arrabe) are strictly Arab (Muslim, Christian or Druze).

Peki’in, high on a mountaintop in the Galilee, is another village settled by Jews from the time of the Second Temple.  Three now-unemployed families of Kohanim (without a Temple to serve, the Kohanim were without work) came to live there as well.  The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Haninah transmitted Torah in Peki’in, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (who was one of Rabbi Akiva’s greatest disciples)  would hide there.  The synagogue served as Rabbi ben Hanina’s house of study.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1837, but rebuilt in 1873.  Two stones in the synagogue are said to have been brought by the Kohanim from the destroyed Second Temple, and there they can be seen to this day.

Second Temple relics


There is a discussion in the Talmud with Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (also known as the “Rashbi”), who was a strong opponent of the Roman regime.  Rabbi Yehuda praised the Romans for their architecture and engineering.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai retorted that the Romans were self-serving, and brought immorality and hardship.  When the Romans got wind of the conversation, they sentenced the Rashbi to death for sedition.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai avoided capture and spent several months hiding with his son Rabbi Elazar in different places in the Galilee, finally settling in a cave in Peki’in where he hid for 13 years.  The cave  was close to a spring and a carob tree; both provided their sustenance.

The spring.   The statues are of Druze leaders.

To preserve their clothes, they buried themselves naked up to their necks in sand, only wearing their clothes on the Sabbath, and learned Torah all day, every day.  It was in this cave that he studied Kabbalah (Jewish mystical thought) and wrote the holy Zohar, the original book of Kabbalah. With the death of Emperor Hadrian, the decree against the Rashbi and Rabbi Elazar was nullified, and they finally, after 13 years, emerged from the cave that had served them so well.

The carob tree

Today considered a holy site, the cave and a huge carob tree (likely an offshoot of the original) are visited  by Jews and Arabs alike.  The Arabs refer to the place as “Bnei Yakov” (sons of Jacob). Candles, coins, oil and hastily written supplications are placed at the entrance to the cave by pilgrims and tourists.

Notes and candles left in the cave by pilgrims

The opening is narrow and the cavern mostly blocked off by boulders – – said to the be result of a major earthquake.

The narrow entry to the cave

Over time, much land was stolen from the Jews.  In modern times, things did not get any better.  Surrounded by Druze, Christian and Muslim neighbors, some years were, however, peaceful. The Jews assimilated, not in religion, but in adopting Arab dress and language and generally influenced by Arab culture.  These Jews were known as “Mustarabim.”

Unfortunately, Jewish homes and land continued to be misappropriated.  In the 1920s a Jewish school was built, and there were 50 families still in Peki’in.  In the1930s, several Arab pograms during the Great Arab Revolt resulted in Jews being terrorized and murdered, and many surviving Jews fled Peki’in in 1938 – 1940, never to return.  This was the only time in Peki’in’s history that the town was devoid of Jews since the days of the Destruction of the Temple.

Ironically, almost all of the remaining Jewish property was legally sold to Arabs in the 1940s by the Jewish Agency/Jewish National Fund.  Disregarding Peki’in’s important historical Jewish legacy, they  decided for the remaining Jews’ own safety, it was best for the them to settle elsewhere, and they used the money from the property sales to buy land to establish “Peki’in HaHadasha” – a “new” Peki’in  village located a few miles away.

Only a single determined, heroic Jewish Peki’in family returned in 1940: the Zinati Family, who were direct descendants of one of the 3 priestly families who came from the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem to Peki’in so many generations ago.  The patriarch Zinati had been rounded up by a gang of Arabs and taken to the town square.  The mob said he was a waste of a bullet and prepared a bonfire and kerosene to burn him alive.  It was only through the intervention of a Muslim neighbor that saved his life at the last possible moment that he survived.  Life became increasingly difficult, and when the school closed down, the Zinati children were sent to boarding school in Jerusalem, with only the parents remaining in Peki’in.  The son eventually married and left to raise a family elsewhere.  Only the Zinati daughter, Margalit (born in 1931) who by now had finished school, remained in Peki’in with her parents.  At that point, she decided her own fate:  she would never marry.  She felt obligated to care for her parents as they aged, and she knew that if she would get married, she would be forced to live with her husband outside of Peki’in.  She was determined to keep a Jewish presence in Peki’in alive, no matter what the cost.

Firebrand Margalit Zinati, age 86
Exterior of synagogue
The synagogue interior

Margalit Zinati, 86, the priestly daughter whose forefathers served in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, is the Last Jew of Peki’in.  She still receives visitors daily.  She wakes early and hobbles to the synagogue, greeting her neighbors in Arabic along the way.  There, she takes a broom and begins sweeping the synagogue interior, as well as the courtyard with its enormous mulberry tree.  She loves the tourists and Israelis who flock there to see a living testament to a nearly forgotten era.  She entertained us in her heavily-accented Hebrew, reminiscing about her childhood, her neighbors, and Jewish life in Peki’in.  She points out the artifacts in the synagogue that were brought by the displaced and exiled priests from the Holy Temple over 2000 years ago when they fled Jerusalem.  She explains that she is still getting over a bout of pneumonia, but she bends without much difficulty to pick up some fallen mulberries off the courtyard ground, walks to an outdoor sink and washes them off, offering us a handful of the fruit.  Her eyes twinkle and she beams with pride over her role as caretaker of such an important place.  She is an icon, and she knows it.  She shows us pictures from numerous awards ceremonies where she was honored, and brags that she was chosen to light the torch for Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebration earlier this year.

The synagogue courtyard.  Long ago, this mulberry tree’s silkworms provided material for a silk-making factory

She showers her visitors with blessings, and they repeatedly wish her “good health, until 120.”  Because she is Margalit Zinati, the last Last Jew of Peki’in, and she is not going anywhere.

As we get ready to leave, she escorts us from the courtyard.  “Of all the Jews, only we returned,” she says.  “The other families were too scared.  We’re not afraid of anyone.  We fear only G-d above.”

a typical narrow street in Peki’in



Job Hunting in Israel: Great Advice

Perhaps some of you are thinking about aliyah, and wonder about job prospects. I have much to say on this subject, but fortunately, a wonderful German olah (immigrant) by the name of Julia Noa Thanheiser eloquently beat me to the punch. She wrote this for a Facebook group called “Keep Olim in Israel” and that is a group well worth joining if aliyah is on your radar (caveat:  the Keep Olim group doesn’t always stick to platitudes; you will hear plenty of kvetches too; but overall the Keep Olim group gives a genuine picture of the joys and challenges of living in Israel). Julia Noa Thanheiser’s advice is SO true, SO relevant, and SO helpful – – it’s an absolute must-read if you are considering aliyah and will be looking for employment in Israel.

**Happy Monday post!! Successful Aliyah comes with good employment! But how to get there?**
My name is Julia and I am nearly 20 years in Israel. I would say my Aliyah is a success story overall although I had my share of ups and downs. Life isn’t always easy away from everything you know (people and culture), but I love this country, it’s my home and the only thing missing these days is a partner, but I believe when time is right he will come.
I would like to share with you my experience over the years in the hi-tech world. While I established myself in the hi-tech world, I had to change a few things from what I was used to. It wasn’t very easy at start (low salary and very many hours including evening and Fridays) but once you have one good company name on your resume, doors start to open. It doesn’t matter how much money you made in that first job. Just that you worked in a good company.
Then you up your salary job by job until you get to your career. Also note (and I only speak for the tech world) networking is everything. You keep meeting people at different companies. Israel is small. Everyone knows everyone. So even if you are laid off, be nice. You WILL meet them again. And keep in touch with people and network network network. There are a million events and meet-ups for that. One year ago I was made redundant at my company after 10 years of service.
At this point in life I had become a single mom. Being responsible not only for myself but for my adorable 6-year-old made the “fall” much harder. I was very stressed and scared. But I didn’t allow myself to fall. A day of a good cry and then back to what I know…. reach out to my network and search for a job. I sent 200 CVs out in only the first week of job search. I documented every single job I applied to, the contact person, who I knew in the company, and any other useful info. And it was through an old colleague who had moved on to another company, that I was invited to interview at the place I am working the past 12 months. I initially didn’t hear from them after I sent my CV. So I followed up with my friend. She went to talk to the hiring manager who said he wasn’t going to invite me for an interview cause I was lacking one of the skills/requirements. She asked him to meet me anyhow and it would be worth his time. Once they met me they heavily pursued me to come on board and we are very happy with each other.
I have a very high flexibility towards where I work from and when I do the hours to get the job done which allows me to be with my daughter daily at hours she is out of daycare and in return they get the full dedication from me that no matter on an evening or a Friday sometimes – I get the job done.
I am happy at work and happy with my life.

My suggestion for DOs and DONTs re job search:
1) Don’t get drawn into what’s wrong in Israel (there is lots but it will affect your mood and your attitude), refocus on what’s going well
2) Job search is a full-time job. Treat it with that seriousness and time investment
3) Network network network. Talk to everyone you know, post in respective groups (there are many) go to meet-ups (there are gazillions).
4) Always research your potential position. If you know someone in the company contact that person to discuss the position and ask them to send your CV internally. This will up your chances by a lot. Companies prefer to hire friends of employees.
4b) Always adjust your CV with keywords matching the requirements from the job ad. Often automatic algorithms will determine if your CV gets to a hiring manager or not.
5) ALWAYS but always follow up after you sent your CV and also after an interview. Call them and introduce yourself. It is a bit unpleasant/stressful at first but it has only worked in my favor. People were so nice, even scheduled interviews with me right away on the phone even though all I asked was if they had received my CV.
6) When you interview remember you interview them too, whether or not this is a company you wish to work for, whether the job is what you are looking for. This reduces stress and puts you as equals.
7) Accept jobs in great companies also if they are below your standard. I have been offered for example a promotion after only 1 month on a temporary job and spent 3 happy years there before I chose to move on.
8 ) Do your research to enable you to ask intelligent questions about the company and position, the market in question, etc.
9) Return the favor to people who helped you. Invite them for coffee or see how you can put a smile on their face. And pay it forward. Help other people find work. Trust me, they will always remember you. The difference between a well-connected person looking for work and someone without connections can be long months of unemployment.
10) Make use of your advantages. You speak English at mother tongue level, Spanish, German? You have other additional skills? Sell yourself with why this helps your potential employer and the company. What’s in it for them?
Last but not least:
11) Learn Hebrew! While being hired in hi-tech does not require fluent Hebrew, everyone prefers to hire at least basic Hebrew speakers so they don’t have to hold team meetings internally in English because of you.

Good luck!!

ed. note:  in Israel, the term “hi-tech” refers to jobs having to do with computer programming, software design, engineering and architecture, as well as start-ups

No Fear


“No Fear” is a popular clothing  and energy drink brand in the U.S. with an even more popular logo. I’ve seen its decal on surfboards and car windows.   I thought of it quite a bit this week.

Recently there has been ominous activity on the Syrian border with Israel by Iranian-funded troops.  Israeli intelligence sent alarming reports to expect troubles in the Golan Heights, and silently and with determination, despite getting on with our daily routine, we were alert to the possibility of war.  We were told to prepare our “safe rooms” – – emptying out any collected junk (many safe rooms and shelters are used as catch-alls in peacetime) and ensuring that we had flashlights, basic first aid, some food and water supplies, and diapers and toys for those who have kids.  We subscribed to the Home Front Command app on our smartphones, which calculates the amount of time we have to get to our shelters based on our location.  Here at Moreshet we have 30 – 60 seconds.

And then at 2:45 a.m in the pre-dawn of Thursday, I was awakened by the sound of fighter jets.  I can’t describe it, but it really felt and sounded very different than the usual blast of fighter jets practicing overhead, which is a common occurrence.

These jets weren’t circling.  They were headed in one direction:  North.  There were many of them; they were flying lower than usual, and they were loud.  There was a certain gravity; it felt ominous.  I didn’t feel in danger, or anxious, but I did feel very concerned for the safety of the young men entrusted to pilot them.  I had recently attended the graduation of the newest crop of pilots from the Air Force Academy, and the boy who graduated at the top of his  2018 class lives in a yishuv just up the road.  I thought how strange this young pilot must have felt, flying directly over his home on the way to bomb Iranian bases in Syria, and the euphoria and relief he must have experienced on his way back.

We were supposed to go on an organized hiking trip in the Golan less than 48 hours later.  I emailed the organizers of the trip and asked if it was still on.  The Home Front Command (the ultimate authority in these situations) said that any previous precautions were no longer active.  The trip was happening!


Ironically, just two days after Israeli jets bombed Syria following some dangerous and suspicious Iranian troop movement on the Israeli-Syrian border, we found ourselves at Kibbutz Al-Magor.  The name “Al-Magor” which is found in Jeremiah, Book of Prophets , translates to “No Fear.” At this spot, a horrific loss of life occurred in a battle between Jews and Syrians in 1951, with more than 40 Jewish soldiers killed. Ten years later at this site, a kibbutz by the name of Al-Magor was founded.  “No Fear.”

After visiting Al-Magor, which is on the Galilee-Golan border in Israel, we continued a few miles up the road into the Golan to a water hike.  A tributary of the Jordan River, this is part of Israel’s National Park system and it’s called Madjarsa. The water is very clean (it’s a runoff from Mt. Hermon and underground springs) and several spots are wider and deeper than the rest, making for perfect swimming holes.


There was a diverse group of people of all ages swimming there:  Israeli Jews, olim (recent immigrants to Israel), and Arabs.  Everyone was there to enjoy the refreshing waters on a beautiful warm Spring day before Shabbat.  No Fear.  Making the most of a moment. It was a snippet of everyday life in Israel, despite the headlines abroad.

And this is the Israeli way.  We cannot afford to cower.  The best revenge against our enemies is to keep on living life according to our regular routine, and to continually celebrate life – – something Israelis do with astounding success and with my greatest admiration and awe.  We are duty-bound to spread light throughout the world.

On Saturday night, with the end of Shabbat, the Eurovision finals contest was broadcast on TV.  The Israeli entry, Netta Barzilai, won.  Netta’s song “Toy” was completely outrageous; it was written in response to sexual harassment and bullying.  Netta herself is atypical of the other lithe entertainers that performed at the festival in Lisbon.  She is big.  She is bold.  She is not ashamed of her unusual looks or her size and she sends a message that we must feel beautiful despite imperfect body types, and that we must accept others for their differences.  During part of the song, she clucks like a chicken, to mock fear.

I have to say that despite the inner meaning and catchy tune, the song baffled me.  The presentation and showmanship is totally insane.  I am not sure I feel comfortable with it in its role as Israel’s representative song for the Eurovision contest.

Then I remembered.   As they say, G-d works in strange ways, with even stranger messengers, but at least He has a sense of humor.  In October 2014, an unnamed senior official in the Obama administration was reported to have called Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu a “chickensh**”, adding that Netanyahu “has got no guts”.

As a result of the win, Israel gets to host the contest next year, in Jerusalem.  Netta was warned by the producers not to mention “Jerusalem” when she accepted the award, lest she “offend” politically sensitive Europe.   Instead, her heart filled with love, she said,

Thank you so much for accepting differences between us. Thank you for celebrating diversity. Thank you. I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem.   

No Fear.

In the wake of the successful bombing to stop Iran; the dedication of the US Embassy in Jerusalem today, 51 years after its liberation in 1967; with Netta’s clucking response to win the Eurovision contest; and our trip to the Golan during tremulous times, there can be only one response.

No Fear.







Immigrant Blues

Our aliyah to Israel has been nothing short of spectacularly successful so far.  We’ve made friends, we love our community and its location, my husband loves his job, we’re healthy, and life is good.


My ego is hurting.

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person.  I love learning just about anything and everything.  I love to read, and I have a strong, curious nature that wants to know what makes things tick.  I also consider myself a great resource person, and love to help the constant stream of people who come to me for advice on where to buy whatever at a good price, how to build or design something, where to travel,  what remedy to use.

Perhaps the most challenging thing about our journey here is feeling stupid.

Our Hebrew is good – – we can mostly negotiate the day-to-day stuff.  It takes a painfully long time, but I can now read much of the daily news in Hebrew.  Conversational Hebrew is fine, too – – I have made Israeli friends and regularly host people at my home for meals.  Our Hebrew may be good, and yes, we can get by.  But will we ever attain a level of proficiency that enables us to sound truly intelligent, instead of like sixth graders?

It’s doubtful.

So no, we cannot contribute to a deep philosophical or academic conversation with our brilliant Israeli friends.  We just sit there absorbing the information, but looking kind of dumb as we nod furiously.  Our discussions rarely get past the superficial if they are going to be two-way conversations.

Recently I joined a committee in my village to help plan and execute cultural events.  I thought it would be a great way to meet people on a deeper level.  I know I’m a great resource person, and I’ve planned many major events.  But I found that as the “whatsapp” messages starting flying back and forth to the committee members about suggestions, and what needed to be done, I was overwhelmed and lost.  By the time I tediously and laboriously typed in my input in Hebrew on my smart phone, they were already 20 whatsapps ahead of me and onto a different topic entirely.  Meeting in person didn’t help either.  They thought my suggestions for events were dumb.  Probably some were dumb, but others, I can assure you, were not.  I had two things going against myself:  I was not young and cool, and I did not know where the cheapest/best/fastest etc could be found.  I admit it.  They intimidated me, and I retreated into silence.  I was irrelevant, and consequently unhelpful.  I tried, but I was invisible.  When I told them that the combination of my Hebrew difficulties and lack of input made it impossible for me to continue being on the committee, despite my sincere desire to assist, the response was the Hebrew equivalent of “don’t slam the door on your way out.”

These are not mean or evil people.  I simply didn’t make the grade.  And I don’t honestly know that five years from now, despite my striving to improve, it will be any better.

I know that every immigrant anywhere in the world will relate to this, especially those that are older (I’m 61 and my husband is 70).  I also know that we could have made life easier for ourselves by moving to a city in Israel that is more heavily populated with English speakers, so we wouldn’t have to struggle with language and culture.

But we chose to live in a very Israeli village, and I’m still truly glad we did.  We didn’t come to Israel to live in “little America.”  We chose to immerse ourselves in Israeli culture, all the while knowing that we will always be “the Americans” despite our Israeli citizenship.  And we have been accepted here with genuine love and friendship.  I love Israeli energy, optimism, and achievement.  I love the big hearts of Israelis, and their naturally giving – – and forgiving – – natures.  I love that every single Israeli is a “character”, and has a story and family history that is astounding.  I respect that every Israeli has been touched by tragedy, but that he looks to the future.  I am proud that every Israeli yearns not for the destruction of our enemies, but through doing good and doing it with love, Israelis hope that our enemies will recognize Truth, accept us and want to live in peace.

Israel is filled with immigrants who work at minimum wage because their age or language impedes them from moving forward.  (I once met a woman janitor who used to be a judge in Russia.)  It’s so humiliating to feel stupid, and so frustrating not to be able to express ourselves, or contribute in the way we might wish.  (My husband, who is blessed to have a great job in the hi-tech industry as a high-level programmer, can communicate and perform brilliantly in the international language of Java or C++.  He feels fine until he opens his mouth.)  Despite our outward confidence, who are we kidding?  We feel inadequate on a constant basis.

I think of my grandparents, who were smart yet limited by their immigrant burdens.  It’s ironic that I now find myself in a similar place, even if the country is different.

Many of us swallow our pride, because we are building a future and fulfilling a greater destiny in a bigger picture. We are not only experiencing history in Israel – – we are part of it.





Happy 70th Birthday, Israel!

My husband turned 70 this week.  I thought it would be appropriate to share the story of his birth, since it’s also the week of Israel’s birthday.   Here is his story, in his own words:

I was born in Germany after the War.  My mother and my grandmother had assumed false identities and were able to live in Berlin throughout the war.  They were considered “aliens” since my grandmother came from Russia to Germany after WWI to marry my grandfather, but my mother and grandmother were not known as Jews.  Every moment they lived in fear that they would be caught, and their true Jewish identities revealed. Even though they did not suffer in concentration and death camps like other Jews,  they experienced much physical and emotional abuse when they were taken as “foreign laborers” to work within Germany.  My mother was sent as slave labor to a farm where she was with other “alien” teenagers.  Unfortunately the other teenaged forced laborers were Polish boys who, even though they shared similar circumstances with my mother for not being German, nevertheless were cruel to her in ways I will not share here.

My grandmother was forced to plant trees in the dead of winter, a senseless task and impossible digging in the frozen ground, and she suffered from pain in her chest her entire life due to the frostbite she suffered then.

My grandfather had been murdered in 1934 just as the Nazis were coming to power.  He was a painter, and he painted a neighbor’s house who had recently joined the then-new Nazi party.  When my grandfather asked for payment, the Nazi laughed and went straight to the police, telling them that my grandfather had stolen from him which was a complete lie.  When he realized he was a wanted man, my grandfather fled illegally across the border, thinking it was temporary until things cooled down.

One day my grandmother got a knock on the door.  It was the police, and they held my grandfather’s picture in their hands.  They asked her if she knew this man.  What should she do?  If my grandmother  said she knew him, they might arrest her as well, or take away my mother, who was a young girl.  If she said no, she might not find out what happened to him. It was a terrible choice.  She decided to say she didn’t know him, and in fact she was an agunah for most of the rest of her life until decades later when she found out he had been shot while trying to cross back illegally into Germany at the border to return home.

My father was the only survivor of his very large family (it seems they were Belz chassidim – – ironically my father was also the only one who was not religiously observant).  He ran to the forest to become a partisan, and fought during the entire war, escaping death through many miracles, many times.  He had begged his family to escape to the forest from the ghetto, but they refused.  He lived with survivor’s guilt, however, and many nightmares. My childhood in America, where we came when I was six, was not easy.  There was tension in the house due to my parents’ experiences during the War and how it affected them and their relationship to their three sons, of which I’m the eldest.

My parents met after the war in Germany and started a new life there.  I don’t know if it’s accurate, but my mother told me I was the first Jewish baby to be born in the newly rededicated and restored Jewish hospital in post-war Berlin.  There were terrible shortages and hunger after the war, and the only way to survive was to be active in the black market. Since there was so little food, there was no expectation of a festive meal for the bris.  At that time, usually the only thing that was given to guests at a bris was shnapps and cigarettes, both highly prized and very expensive on the black market.  I was born on Shabbat, and my father was very excited about this because it meant he would only have to give out schnapps and not have to supply cigarettes for the brit mila (circumcision ceremony), since smoking is forbidden on Shabbat.

Amazingly, a week after I was born, my brit mila was on medinat Israel’s first birthday – when Israel became a State and the very first Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day) was celebrated.  It really was an incredible miracle – – a new life after so much destruction and loss, and now a new homeland for the Jews.    I feel very privileged to be able to celebrate my 70th birthday and Yom Haatzmaut in our Holy Land, and very blessed that as I celebrate the remaining 50 years of my life, G-d willing I will do so in my home in the Galil in Israel, since I made aliyah with my wife a year ago.  I feel it closes a very large and complicated circle.

The thought of turning 70 is something I did not want to think about: it means I’m old!  But truthfully I am so very grateful for the blessings which HaShem has bestowed upon me, for my children and grandchildren, my friends, my marriage, my life in Israel, and my work.  For both my wife and myself, we never grew up with a grandfather, and our fathers died when we were  teenagers.  The fact that my children are adults and we are expecting our 17th grandchild this week IY”H, is truly a miracle.   I can only say ‘hodu lashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo” and Baruch Atah Adon–, Elokaynu Melech HaOlam, Shehechiyanu, Vkiyamanu, vhigiyanu lazman hazeh ( We are thankful for God’s goodness, His kindness is ever-present.  Bless You G-d for giving us life, and bringing us to this day).



It’s considered a grave sin to say bad things about the Holy Land of Israel, even if they’re true, but sometimes, when there is at least the possibility of redemption, the story needs to be told.

Israel is not immune to the Human Condition — both its beauty and its ugliness.  It’s been my mission in my blog “Midlife in Israel” to promote its beauty because the Land of Israel gets enough bad-mouthing from the rest of the world, and most of the accusations are unjust.

But this story tore at my heartstrings.

It starts with a Jewish-but-not-religious grandmother who made aliyah with her 11 year old daughter from Romania.  The daughter grew up, married, and had a son.  I don’t know what their particular challenges were, but they returned to Romania when the boy was 2.  Ten years later, they decided that they wanted to raise the child in Israel, among Jews, so they came back to Israel a year ago and settled in Netanya, a coastal town north of Tel Aviv.  The mother knows Hebrew fluently; the rest of her family does not.

On his first day of school, the teacher asked 13-year-old Daniel to introduce himself.  He didn’t really know Hebrew yet, but he said his name, that he was from Romania, and that his “dream was to become an Israeli soldier,” a line he worked hard to memorize in Hebrew.

Unfortunately, the kids didn’t care about his dream; they only knew that he was different. His accent sounded funny; he dressed differently.  And so when the teacher wasn’t looking, a boy punched him in the shoulder.

This wasn’t a friendly punch.  Daniel was shocked.  Little did he know that he had enrolled in a school controlled by a small cluster of hoodlums that made the lives of many children difficult.  Instead of feeling pity, the other hoodlums’ victims felt relief – – maybe now the bullies would leave them alone and pick on someone else.  And indeed, the bullies had a field day with Daniel, punching him in the shoulder, back, and stomach throughout that first day.  It was just a single delivered punch, and it always came as a surprise when Daniel least expected it, by multiple assailants.

The bullying escalated throughout the year.  Daniel’s mother complained, but her complaints fell on deaf ears.  The teacher was having trouble coping with the large size of her rambunctious, difficult 7th grade class, and felt powerless.  The principal didn’t want trouble.  He scolded the boys but was wary of doing much else.  The bullies were sons of bullies who were known to police.  They came from a culture in which to “be a man” meant being cocky and domineering, intimidating, stubborn, and in control; where establishing one’s pecking order as king of the mountain and head of the pack was paramount, using any  means (including violence) to achieve that end.

These parents refused to take responsibility, and in fact felt proud of their sons’ bullying because it showed they were “tough.”  The principal did not take responsibility. Nor did the teacher.  It was only Daniel and his mom, and it would not be enough.

A few weeks ago, the Hebrew press reported the story of a 7th grade boy in Netanya, only 13 years old, who was bullied and beaten and brutalized by his classmates  – – 30 of them! – – so badly that he was hospitalized for three weeks.  Neither the principal nor the teacher stopped it, even though it took place on school property.  It was Daniel!  And even more than the physical wounds he suffered, the emotional trauma was severe.  He was afraid to go back to school and seriously contemplated suicide.  Not his teacher nor his principal could be bothered to visit him in the hospital even once.  His mother had to take much time off of work to care for him, and as a result her job is currently at risk.  They felt truly, absolutely alone.

The instigating ringleaders were 6 bullies, all very full of themselves and completely without remorse.  Daniel’s mother demanded something be done.  Nothing was.  And meanwhile, Daniel continued to receive threats.

Fortunately, the story got the attention of the director of a Facebook group and non-profit organization called “Keep Olim.”  The group was started to try to stem the tide of immigrants who come to Israel full of idealism, suffer a mountain of disappointments, feel life is too difficult here, and return to their countries of origin.  For some it may be the difficulty of learning Hebrew; for others the difficulty of finding a job or affordable housing; some haven’t been able to integrate into a community or Israeli culture – – there are as many reasons for failure as there are immigrants.  But Liami Lawrence, the American-born founder of the group (and someone who questions his sanity daily for staying in Israel with all its challenges, when life could be easier back in the US), decided that if immigrants united together, regardless of personal politics, country of origin,  or their level of Jewish observance, they could help one another, provide information and resources, and even – – dare he hope? – – change or improve the “System” to make life in Israel more navigable and manageable.

Relying solely on donations and going into severe personal debt, Liami and his cohort, sabra Tzvika Graiver, started getting things done.  They provided pro bono legal aid for immigrants struggling to understand complicated housing and employment contracts; they formed committees to visit and help immigrants who were hospitalized or needed care,  provide hosting with volunteer families for meals and a place to stay during Jewish holidays, and created a job bank, career counseling, and low-cost mental health services.  They also lobbied successfully to allow immigrants to circumvent the long, expensive and complicated Israeli driving license laws, enabling immigrants to immediately transfer their valid licenses from their countries of origin and receive valid Israeli driving licenses.

The Keep Olim facebook group and nonprofit organization has grown to nearly 40,000 members in two years.

And now Liami was calling upon its members to be witness advocates for Daniel.  He was going to court in Netanya with a pro bono lawyer and his mother, to try to get the six bullies permanently expelled from the school and get a restraining order against them, as he no longer felt safe due to the threats and the abuse he has already suffered and continued to experience.

Daniel was very scared to be in that courtroom.  Despite his large frame, he was pale and shaky and on the verge of tears.  Even there, the bullies and their parents heckled him.  The school’s recommendation was that Daniel go to a different school.  For the school, it was a lot easier to move one student than it was to move six.  And in the small picture, it would probably have been easier for Daniel to start anew.

But here is 13-year-old Daniel’s greatness:  he refused.  He knew that if he left the school, he might not get bullied, but someone else would.  And the cycle would continue unabated, and the school would not be forced to take responsibility or do anything about it.  So with great courage, he demanded that something be done, so that he could continue in the same school, and so that no other student in that school would have to suffer as he had.

Because Daniel’s Hebrew is so limited, it was his mother who did most of the talking.  She was a lioness, fighting for her only cub.  She refused to be intimidated, and she refused to back down. Yet she remained calm, polite, and spoke with both passion and grace on her son’s behalf.

In the end, the judge ruled that five of the six boys must be removed from the school, and were given restraining orders to not come anywhere near Daniel.  The sixth boy, it was felt, was simply a weakling who was controlled by the mob; he expressed remorse (the only boy to do so) and apologized to Daniel.  He was allowed to remain at the school and hopefully, will start a new chapter without his former friends’ influence.

Daniel was incredibly grateful for the support he received from the members of Keep Olim who spent the afternoon at the courthouse giving him moral fortitude and encouragement.  With great emotion and composure, he thanked everyone and told them that he hopes that someday, should his advocates require his help, that he will be there for them,”day or night.”

But despite his courage, he still suffers from PTSD.  He has panic attacks and often becomes both tearful and fearful.

I spoke with both Daniel and his mom.  “I know you may not be ready for this,” I ventured, “but I was wondering if you would both consider coming to my village to speak about your experience.  Bullying is not just a problem at your school – – it’s everywhere, whether in rich or poor neighborhoods, secular or religious, in cities or in kibbutzim.  Many people simply don’t realize how bullying can alter someone’s life forever, that you don’t necessarily just ‘get over it.’  If you could speak in front of a class of seventh graders like yourself, you could help kids really understand what it feels like to be bullied, and perhaps create empathy.  Maybe you could even help the bullies in other places take responsibility and feel some sense of remorse.”

And to his mother I added, “You should also speak!  Other parents need to hear about bullying from a parent’s perspective:  how to respond to your child, how to protect him, how to work with the school and if necessary, and how to deal with the legal system.

“When you are ready – – I’m not pressuring you, I want it to be when you feel you can do this – – I want you to come to us, to inform and educate.  It is awful what happened to you, but you can change the world, one kid and one parent at a time, one school at a time, one town at a time! I know it will be very difficult at first for you to recount and relive this trauma, but it will get easier each time you tell your story.  Will you consider it?”

Both Daniel and his mother said they would.  We exchanged phone numbers and the very next day I approached the administration of my village.  “Yes!” was the answer I received.  There was a lot of excitement about it.

So the while this chapter isn’t yet over, it is looking very positive.

Next week Liami is taking Daniel and his mom to a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game – – Adam Silk, the team’s chiropractor, personally donated the tickets, just in time for Daniel’s fourteenth birthday.  Members of Keep Olim are sending birthday greetings Daniel’s way – – we truly have his back, and he knows he is not alone.

And hopefully, in a few years, Daniel will reach his eventual goal: becoming an Israeli soldier.  Those of us who met him have no doubt he will use his difficult beginning in Israel to become a true leader that others will want to emulate.


for more information on bullying and what you can do to stop it, visit