Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Garden

This past Shabbat, as the sun gently set over the hills of the Negev, I sat with my husband on the patio behind our house, gazing at the view and singing the 23rd psalm together. The blessing which thanks G-d for the fruit trees was recently said in its season, just before Pesach when the flowers have bloomed before giving way to their fruit.
"The fig tree is huge," I observed after the song ended. "What fig tree?" said my husband. He had not noticed it, hiding behind the blossoming honeysuckle against the fence. "The fig tree," I repeated patiently. "It's full of fruit." He went over to take a look. "So it is," he agreed. "We have to figure out a way to prevent the worms from getting in there. They come up from the ground and invade the fruit. It's gross."
The thought made me squirm. I had seen those little things last year at our previous residence. They looked like maggots.
"And the olive tree too," I reminded him. Last year's olives were gorgeous, but when I soaked them prior to pickling, hundreds of little white worms emerged. Gross. We have a very large olive tree in our yard across from Adam's first pair of underwear, and I could not bear the thought of another year of wasted olives.
"What is that bush?," I asked him, peering at a beautiful leafy little tree with bright orange-red flowers nearby. I had almost uprooted it a couple of months ago, thinking it was a dead shrub. When I saw the flowers, I had decided it might be honeysuckle, but the color was wrong.
"Pomegranates," he answered. I could not believe that I had missed that. Such a beautiful fruit, and sure enough when I went to look, the little tree was bursting with small green globes just starting the hint of a blush.
"The lemons are coming out," I commented. There were three of those, marching along the side of the house between our front and back yards. They were short but full, having somehow been cut down almost to destruction before we had moved in, and their leaves were curled, some with the scars of past disease. Careful nurturing has brought them back slowly, and I was surprised last week to see those tiny little green balls at the ends of some of the branches.
"Really?" Disbelief appeared in my husband's eyes. He knew the condition of those trees.
This beautiful garden, a real paradise, looked like real hell just three months ago, and I had been tempted to cut everything down and start over again.
And so it is with Israel.
There have been 500 anti-semitic incidents here in this country, the homeland of the Jewish people, within the past two years according to statistics gathered by Yad Vashem. In Arad, our own little town, there were ten such cases in the past year alone.
The State of Israel leads the world in annual incidence of anti-semitism, NOT BY ARABS, but rather by gentile immigrants claiming one Jewish grandparent in order to come in under the Law of Return. The last wave of Russians, in fact, included more such gentiles than Jews -- and many of them are outright anti-semites.
The representative of Misrad HaKlita (the Ministry of Absorption) here in Arad is herself a Russian Jew, one who looks like a "shikseh" as she describes her appearance. She has blond hair and beautiful blue eyes, the warmest manner you could possibly imagine and the sharpest glance I have ever seen. Several months ago, she warned my husband that many of the new Russian immigrants here in Arad were rabid anti-semites. How did she know?
It seems that she hears all kinds of interesting things from the new immigrants who come to her office for help with the benefits they are entitled to under the Law of Return. Like how they hate the Jews, how they managed to get out of Russia by faking the one Jewish grandparent that was their ticket to freedom in the Holy Land. Their eventual goal? A visa for entry to the United States of America, where they will live and work and spread their poison in Brooklyn, Queens and all the other meccas of Russian immigration.
Be warned, she said. This town is 45% Russian; of those, literally half do not meet halachic criteria to be defined as Jews -- nor do they want to be. This was their ticket out, and our naive Israeli government used Hitler's definition of who is a Jew to import this cancer into our midst.
The thought that Jewish tzedaka, Jewish taxes and Jewish blood has gone to support and protect the lives of this scum sickens my soul. In the one place a Jew should expect to be surrounded -- at least within our own borders -- by Jews and Gentiles who acknowledge our right to this Land and our existence, we have somehow managed to surround ourself with enemies from within. Not from Arabs, fighting for their own right to be here, having lived here themselves for hundreds of years -- from foreign anti-semites, goyim who would love nothing more than to see us dead while sucking our country dry of its scarce and precious resources.
"Should we leave?" asked my husband in despair. "It is so hard here; the salaries are slave wages and the expenses double what they were in the States. The bureacracy is a nightmare. The red tape is indescribable. Our kids are having such a hard time adjusting to school -- maybe this was a mistake. Maybe it's time to go."
"Go where?" I know from my own experiences as a child that there IS nowhere to go. You can't run from this. There is nowhere to hide. We brought this scourge upon ourselves -- not me, not my husband, but other Jews who were stupid and desperate to prove their righteousness to the world by its own vicious criteria. But it exists everywhere, and I was not raised by my parents to run. I was taught to stand my ground and fight for what is right.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, was the only Jew in Crown Heights to stay during the "white flight" of the sixties that followed a huge influx of African-American and Carribean-American tenement dwellers. Six other Brooklyn neighborhoods had already fallen, four Jewish and two Italian. But the Rebbe would not run, nor would he allow his Chassidim to either. And Crown Heights today has been regentrified, with houses that sell at astronomical, ridiculous prices -- and they barely make it to the market, usually snatched up through word of mouth within days.
So too will it be with our beautiful garden here in Arad and in the Land of Israel. Stupid Jews, willing to cut their own throats to please those who will never be pleased with us, no matter what we do simply because we are Jews, have led their own people down the path of self-destruction. It was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe screamed about more than ten years ago, when the Who Is A Jew issue was raised in the discussion of the Law of Return. It was what the Satmar Rebbe, of blessed memory, predicted when he ordered his Chassidim never to acknowledge the establishment of this State, predicated as it was and is on goyische standards of living, and goyische threats as a result.
Some say the Jewish state does not exist. I sometimes wonder as well. But it has in fact been born, although it is still in the neonatal intensive care unit and needs all the prayers and fight it can muster.
Like my garden in the winter.
G-d willing, Israel will bloom once more in the spring.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Flowers, Felines and Dogs

I cannot find even one street in Arad that does not have flowers. My entire neighborhood is named for flowers, every street. And every yard has flowers too. It is incredible. Every traffic circle, every public place -- hundreds of them, in every possible color and shape combination. The air is intoxicating, in fact. I walk by and breathe in lavendar, rosemary, honeysuckle, dark red roses.... you name, it is there. The entire town is one big fragrant bouquet.
And then there are the dogs.
They are present, too. In every neighborhood, some more than others. Even I, a stalwart supporter of the feline experience (we have four to our credit), finally had to give in and get one, when as a little puppy covered in ticks my kids brought her home half dead. So of course I couldn't just let her die. A vet bill of over $500 later, tick free and spayed, Sussie joined the family. That was less than a year ago and she is now the size of a minature pony, one that my seven year son could easily ride.
Our youngest cat, Pippin, himself a maturing kitten almost the same age, is her best friend. They sleep together and she washes that cat every day, whether or not he needs it. It is too weird for words, but awfully cute to see.
At first, she did not realize that as a dog, she has certain responsibilities -- to be in our yard, to protect hearth and home, and bark like crazy when strangers appear. The other dogs in the neighborhood have tutored her assiduously, however. Today she is an official protector-in-training, barking like a maniac when anyone has the audacity to walk down our street, let alone near the house. The alarm goes out and every single dog in every yard (and on my street every yard but two has a dog) joins the chorus regardless of hour of day. It is amazing. And no one gets bitten, and no one cares about the noise. They see it as an inexpensive and much nicer burglar alarm.
Sussie is all bark and almost no bite. She does bite, however, when she plays with you, and also knocks you down in her enthusiasm. She scared the life out of the 5 year old spoiled brat across the street. The brat's older brother, on the other hand, loves Sussie and plays with her all the time. That is, when he is not throwing rocks at her or at my son, one of his best friends. (He has a problem with impulsivity and anger control.)
The dog has been impossible to train until lately, because it took this long to figure out what would entice her to listen. I finally found out, by accident, in the desert one day. I had brought a sandwich and some dry bread for the birds. I scattered the bread and she carefully picked it all up and trotted home with it, and proceed to bury every last piece in the yard. And now all I have to do to get her to come home with me is brandish a little bread. Amazing, given the money I have spent on "treats" which she ignored. Go figure.
Our cat Boo Boo is also a bread fanatic. I have to hide the bread I buy for the kids; if not, she will rip the bag to pieces to get to it. She was the one who came home as a kitten with my 14 year old, who felt bad because her thigh bone was broken and she looked so forlorn. Well, after $450 and a hospital stay, one month in my bedroom to convalesce from surgery and countless cuddles, she is here too.
Tuli, our oldest cat (12 until 120) is a gourmet; she prefers green olives in paprika hot sauce. For real.
Pippin eats chocolate cake.
Lucky, so named for having survived nine attempts on his life by the Fates thus far, will not eat cottage cheese but will eat almost anything else.
Thank G-d for the dog, who is not nearly as picky.
Flowers and animals and fruit trees and desert breezes, dust and moonlight -- Arad is a place of contradictions, of mavericks and sculpture, which can be seen at any major intersection or other busy area. Unreal. An artist's paradise.
A city person would die here.
For the rest of us, it is where we were meant to be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Do Two Negatives Make One Positive?

The Jewish calendar has never been one for the faint of heart, and in true Jewish fashion, the schedule of Israeli holidays isn't much different.
In the past eight days, we marked the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Veterans Memorial Day and tonight, Independence Day.
When one considers the fact that the number eight in Jewish numerology (refer to the Cabala) signifies eternity, this comes as no surprise. From death in Europe, to death in the Middle East, ultimately came new life to a Jewish state, one that has taken more than two thousand years to bring forth anew in the Holy Land.
Yes, it is a lousy state in many ways. The legendary bureaucracy here puts a new spin on the word "insanity". The lack of compassion expressed in the inadequate social support system for the weak and infirm is stunningly cruel. Those who deal with families who are forced to rely on the government system can be cold and uncaring to the point of sadistic at times. Saddest of all, the laws that were established to ensure safety for Jews the world over have been twisted to allow vicious anti-semites to come and suck precious economic and other resources from a system barely able to handle the burden of feeding those it was really created for.
But when the siren sounded at 11:00 am this morning, to commemorate those who have fallen in the line of duty, I stood in silence together with the entire nation.
I heard later from another of my taxi driver buddies (I am beginning to realize that really I know quite a few) that in Jerusalem, many did NOT stand. Certain Chassidic groups, Arabs, far left-wingers.... who knows. It was a sad sign of the times; the unity with which this country won the Six Day War has long since passed as a shadow in the wind. Everything changes, however -- even that disrespect.
My daughters informed me this afternoon that in their classes, only half of the girls did not stand. The others (my daughters included, of course) stood proudly, quietly, giving honor to those who died protecting their right to live here. Perhaps it is a sign of new times coming.
Today, Independence Day, is the culmination of the tears that marked the flames of Europe and their journey to the battlefields of Israel. So many have died for our right to live.
Isn't it time for us to put the family feud aside for a while?
After all, we have the rest of eternity to beat our plowshares back into swords if we really have to.....

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hate in Arad

Anti-semitic hate crime, once found only in the Diaspora, has come to Arad.

Staff members at the Or Menachem Chabad Elementary School were horrified to discover this past Sunday night that the small school had been severely damaged by anti-semitic vandals over the Pesach holiday.

According to eye witnesses, huge swathes of "gosh" paint covered walls, desks, and equipment, drenching "everything in sight". Files and other papers were ripped to pieces and thrown all over the classrooms and offices. Tables and chairs were broken, windows smashed and siddurim ripped up and strewn on the ground.

The scene was discovered when teachers arrived to prepare their classrooms for the resumption of lessons on Monday.

The graffiti was the most disturbing, said teachers, hatred spewing with every word spray-painted all over the walls. Epithets attacking the teachers and Jews in general were coupled with crosses and swastikas on the walls of the school and in the classrooms.

Huge swathes of different colored paints were flung at the walls and floors of the offices and classrooms. Tables and chairs were broken and scattered around the school which houses classrooms for girls in grades 1 through 8. Equipment was completely painted over so as to destroy it. The school's new computer was stolen, as was all the money from the tzedaka pushkas. Files, papers and siddurim were ripped to pieces and strewn on the floors of the classrooms and on the ground outside, according to eye witnesses.

Arad Mayor Moti Brill was called to the scene by police investigating the case, "because the scene was just that horrific. Almost every police officer was called out for this one," noted one source. However, neither police officials nor the Mayor could be reached for comment on the investigation.

Teachers and other staff spent most of the night and all day Monday trying to clean up the mess; the graffiti was so vicious and the damage so bad that school officials did not allow the children to approach the school for fear of further traumatizing them. Instead they were redirected to the nearby Community Center for the day. Several older boys from the yeshiva were also asked to paint over the obscenities, insults and filth "to prevent the children from being exposed to such language" as one teacher said.

The school, Or Menachem Chabad, is a small girls' elementary school located in the Halamish neighborhood, close to the center of town where many of the Russian immigrants have begun new lives in recent years. Some 45% of the total population in Arad is comprised of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of those, say Jewish community members, at least half are not halachically Jewish. One long-term resident complained that "many came here using loopholes created by the Law of Return, claiming one Jewish grandparent, simply to escape the economic hardships in the former Soviet Union."

"Anti-semitism is alive and well in Arad," he noted. "Many of my Russian Jewish friends have warned me – and others -- about the hate-filled time bomb ticking away in our midst".

A new immigrant from North America commented, "My children have never been exposed to anti-semitism before. We had to come to Israel for them to learn what we believed we left in the Diaspora."

The school has been the scene of several such attacks in the past year, most recently a few weeks before Pesach, in addition to a number of break-ins and robberies. The language of the graffiti has changed, noted one staff member. "First it was in Russian. This time, everything was scrawled in Hebrew." Each time, the police were called and an investigation was promised.

No progress has been made to date and all sources for this story asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.