What assumptions do you make about your country?

This past week I caught myself making a dramatic assumption about my country, Israel.

I was watching the news about Hurricane Matthew with Tal, Lenny’s eldest son (18 years old). We saw images from the US, mostly of flooding. Pity for the people whose homes were damaged welled up inside me. As difficult as that situation was, it was the images from Haiti that took my breath away, giving new meaning to the word “devastation”. It looked like the winds had peeled the homes from the ground, spun them around in the air and flung the pieces in every direction.

Quietly Tal asked, “We sent them aid, right?”

“We must have” I answered. “If we haven’t done so yet, we’ll send help soon.”

What an assumption! We both recognized people in desperate need and automatically assumed that our country, tiny Israel, would send Haiti help from half way around the world.

It doesn’t matter that we are far away.

It doesn’t matter that the people of Haiti aren’t Jewish. Our nation doesn’t have much of a connection to theirs. It’s not a location Israelis tend to frequent. Israel doesn’t even have a resident embassy in Haiti.

It doesn’t matter that other countries are bigger and richer than we are and would find it easier to cope with the unexpected expense.

Or that we have too many of our own problems: threats on our borders, threats of terrorism, diplomatic terrorism (like that of the recent UNESCO resolution denying the connection between the Temple Mount and the Jewish people) and all of the internal social issues Israel struggles with every day. The issues Israel must handle would overwhelm most nations but that doesn’t matter.

The people of Haiti are in worse condition than we are and they need help.

Tal and I knew that Israel went to help the people of Haiti in 2010, following the earthquake that reduced much of their country to rubble.

For us it was automatic to assume Israel would go again. It is the right thing to do. That’s what we always do. Of course that is what would happen.

Following the news in the next few days I didn’t hear anything about Israel sending aid. There was nothing on tv, I didn’t hear anything on the radio. The lack of news seemed so strange, I decided to look it up on the internet. There, I found the answer –

Israel had never left Haiti. We didn’t need to send aid because we were already there.

“As soon as the rain stopped, we came out and started contacting people we work with to understand the scale and the needs. We started arranging supplies and distributions, as many people have left without a shelter reported Natalie Revesz, IsraAID’s country director based in Port-Au-Prince. The aid provided includes emergency supplies, food, clean water, and basic hygiene items.

Only two months ago, MASHAV, the Israel Foreign Ministry’s agency for international development cooperation, sent a new shipment of medical supplies to re-equip the trauma unit it established in one of Haiti’s main government hospitals three years ago.

That made more sense.

There was no fuss on the news because it was obvious. Why make a fuss? Of course we would help.

That is my Israel, a country I can assume the best of and be correct.



Jerusalem of Gold

by Naomi Shemer

Mountain air, clear as wine
And the scent of pines
Is carried on the twilight breeze
With the sound of bells.

And the tree and stone lie comatose
Captive in her dream,
The city that sits alone
And in her heart, a wall.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
I am a violin for all your songs.

How the cisterns have dried
The market-place is empty
And no one attends the Temple Mount,
In the Old City.

And in the caves that are in the rock
Winds are howling
And no one descends to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
I am a violin for all your songs.

But as I come to sing to you today,
And to adorn you with crowns
I am smaller than the youngest of your children
And from the least amongst the poets.

For your name scorches the lips
Like the kiss of a seraph
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
She that is all gold…

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
I am a violin for all your songs.

We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the market-place
A shofar calls out [for prayers] on the Temple Mount
In the Old City.

And in the caves that are in the rock
Thousands of suns shine
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho!

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze and of light
I am a violin for all your songs.

The world has officially gone insane.

In a post-factual world, it seems lies shouted long enough, loud enough can win wars that were lost with weapons.

The enemies of Israel have gone to war to destroy Israel, to destroy Jerusalem, to destroy our Temple – all in attempt to erase the Jewish connection to this land and eventually cause the disintegration of the Jewish people. They even tried to change the name of this land in order to create a new reality.

It didn’t work.

The Jewish people didn’t need the physical Temple to remember where their heart belongs, from whence the Spirit beats.

2000 years of exile were not enough to make the Jewish people forget.

The Holocaust did not make the Jewish people forget or give up.

Every year Jews around the world prayed to return to the rebuilt Jerusalem. We still do.
Every prayer is said with the face turned towards Jerusalem.
Every Jewish couple is only officially married AFTER they publicly announce that Jerusalem comes above all other joys. On the happiest day of their lives, Jerusalem and the Temple that once stood in its heart comes FIRST.

The world was astounded when the tiny remnant of a people revived regained Jerusalem, regained the Temple Mount. Then the world applauded the achievement, rejoiced for our joy.

And our enemies continued to work to disconnect the Jewish people from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. They tried with wars. They tried with bombings, knifings, stones.

It didn’t work.

Their ideas are unacceptable. Their actions deplorable.

So now they try with lies. Where facts don’t matter maybe lies will work.

UNESCO is supposed to preserve and promote education, science and culture.

But educating about the truth about Israel doesn’t matter.

The science of the carbon dating, the archaeology, the linguistics, the art that proves Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount doesn’t matter.

Thousands of years of culture can be swept away with one little lie.

Or so they think.


SHAME on all the countries who support them, who vote for lies instead of truth.

Now it is up to us to prove them wrong.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days. They are more holy days, than holidays, a time for introspection more than a time of celebration.

The Jewish tradition says that every year God reviews the lives of all of humanity and decides what will happen in each life in the year to come. God decrees life or death for each person, inscribing all who will live in the Book of Life.

On Rosh Hashanah Jews wish each other a happy holiday and good year to come. It is a commandment to be happy during the holiday, a must. It would be highly presumptuous to even suggest the possibility of a happy year. Happiness for the whole year?! That’s too far-fetched and very possibly not what would be the best for you. God’s plan for an individual can even be painful so you couldn’t call the experience “happy” but it still can be “good”.

In the time between the New Year and Yom Kippur the traditional blessing is “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” The exact translation of the Hebrew reflects Jewish cynicism (and negative experiences throughout our history) saying “May your name be well written, all the way, in the Book of Life” and basically expresses the sentiment: “I hope you don’t die next year.”

It’s kinda funny and terrible at the same time.

Cultures around the world have different New Year traditions, ways to celebrate and times of the year that are considered “New Year.” I don’t think there is any culture that marks the New Year with the same level of introspection about the year that passed and the upcoming year, in the same way Jews do. How many people do you know who truly reflect on the quality of their lives, what they have contributed to their fellow man and the possibility of dying in the upcoming year?

Jewish tradition says that before being right with God people have to be right with each other. During the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur individuals reflect on their actions during the past year and ask forgiveness from people they may have hurt during the previous year. People ask God to forgive their sins AFTER humans forgive each other for hurting each other. This is a very different emphasis than that of other religions and cultures. Religious figures, God or prayers do not have the power to absolve Jews from their sins. Healing can occur only when the individual takes personal responsibility for previous wrong actions and asking forgiveness from the person that was wronged.

Jews don’t need to be good just to other Jews; we believe that it is crucial to be good to all people, everywhere, to provide help where it is needed, to right wrongs wherever possible, to make life better.

I am proud that Israel upholds these ideals throughout the year, providing humanitarian aid around the world as well as innovations that affect the lives of people everywhere – everything from agricultural inventions that provide food and clean water in third world countries to the modern day conveniences people in the western world no longer know how to live without. One of the most disparaged nations on earth, we probably provide the most to people worldwide (this is absolutely true when Israeli & Jewish contributions to humanity are calculated per capita).

Our country is not perfect. No one is perfect. But we try damn hard. We argue all year long about the right way to do things and about how to be better. We demand compassion for our elderly, for the sick, for the strangers amongst us, for our enemies and the people of other countries. Each year we take note of our nation’s accomplishments and find that we have fallen short. As long as there are those amongst us that are suffering, that are not being taken care of properly, we have not done enough.

Each year we consider what is wrong and in the next year we try to do better.

Surrounded by enemies who openly declare their desire to see our destruction, weighed down by “friends” who use a lot of the same terminology and slogans as our enemies, it is difficult to know what will be in the year to come.

Who amongst us will die, simply because we are Jews?

Friends and family, colleagues and strangers will die from old age, disease and accidents. Others will die because we are who we are.

Happy thoughts for the new year, right?

Realistic ones.

On Sunday two Israelis were murdered simply because they were  Jews. The family of the terrorist had a huge celebration, happy that he died killing Jews. People from abroad wrote me saying that it is our fault, Israelis deserve to be attacked and why can’t we all just work things out with a nice discussion? Nice.

This is our reality and yet we refuse to be other than what we are. We do our best to do the right thing for each other, for our nation and for the world. We will continue to do so, whether others recognize this or not, whether this is appreciated or not.

This year I pray that my friends and family, people I know and people I do not know will be inscribed in the Book of Life. May the people around the world not have to experience the suffering we have experienced.

A happy year would be wonderful but a good year, one we learn from, grow and become better as a result… that would suffice.

Gmar hatima tova! May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!


The only time I ever saw my grandfather cry was when we were watching the signing of the Oslo Accords.

At 15 I wasn’t really aware of what was happening but his reaction shocked me so much that the scene is forever seared in to my memory…

My grandmother was sitting in stony silence in her chair in the living room, watching tv. As I came in to the room I saw my grandfather standing, leaning over the back of the other chair. I stood next to him and we watched the ceremony. My grandfather, wiping the tears from his face, saw me staring at him. He was pale. My undemonstrative grandfather, a man who (unlike my grandmother) rarely expressed any thoughts on politics said: “He just signed away Israel.”

My heart skipped a beat.

His were not tears of joy. At the time while most Israelis were overcome with a feeling of euphoria, truly believing (or at least wanting to believe) that this event would reign in a new area of peace, his reaction was highly unusual.

Both my grandparents were extremely concerned and it wasn’t long before I began to see how correct they were…

Lesson 1: People are complicated

The death of Shimon Peres has triggered a slew of articles and segments about him (including this one). Some lauded Peres, practically deifying him. Others demonized him. In Israel, between his death and his funeral, the media focused on nothing else, as if the world had stopped because the man who seemed like he would live forever stopped.

The media coverage has bothered me enormously, largely because it has been horribly one dimensional. People are complicated and Shimon Peres was a prime example of this. He deserves better than being flattened in to a character that is “the good guy” or “the bad guy,” depending on who is writing the story.

The influence of my grandparents could have put me in the demonization camp but it was those same grandparents who taught me to look deeper than that.

Like his wife, Sonia Peres, who loved the man but hated the visibility of political life, like Prime Minister Netanyahu who utterly rejected the politics of the man but, at the same time, loved his personality, I too differentiate between Shimon the man and Peres the politician.

It is fascinating that one person can encapsulate such complexity…

Shimon Peres was a diaspora Jew in a time when it was cool to become a sabra, a new Jew. He had a heavy accent and he was an administrator, not a fighter. In many ways he was exactly the opposite of the image the new Israelis wanted for themselves – and yet he was no less revolutionary. It was his vision that helped actualize much of the security platforms Israel has today (including a very important “textile factory”). Things others declared impossible, Peres made happen. He was a politician but he was also a poet.

Lesson 2: Determination

One of the most outstanding characteristics of Shimon Peres was his determination. Many called him an incorrigible optimist, assigning to him extreme, almost unexplainable naiveté. These qualities would seemingly suggest a failing in intelligence however, considering that Peres was a highly educated, intelligent man, I believe that these are a mistaken perception of his almost superhuman determination.

Contrary to what it might seem following the infatuated media coverage, Peres spent most of his political life disparaged and reviled, even by his own party. He wasn’t looked at as a visionary statesman, he was considered a wheeling and dealing politician. It was Rabin who called Peres: “A tireless underminer.” Time and again Peres lost to political rivals and yet he never gave up. He had a vision and faith and was willing to do whatever it takes to see that become reality.

Differences of opinion regarding the correctness of his vision or actions are irrelevant in the consideration of his extraordinary determination. How many people can you think of with such a strong sense of conviction? What could you achieve in your own life if you dealt with your challenges in the way Peres dealt with his?

Lesson 3: Maybe I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one

I’ve been laughed at for being a dreamer, an idealist. Shimon Peres was a dreamer too. His dreams of peace in the Middle East were both beautiful and dangerous but those were not his only dreams.

He dreamt of tomorrow with a passion associated only to the greatest inventors in history, people like Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla who envisioned things way before their time. Peres read while others were sleeping. He thought that resting was a waste of time. He taught himself about the latest developments in science and technology and was able to hold deep conversations on an astonishing breadth of subjects. Peres was a true futurist and he was proud that his nation, Israel, is instrumental in inventing and developing a better tomorrow.

Peres was widely embraced around the world for his vision of peace but it was his enthusiasm for the future that endeared him to many at home and abroad.

Perhaps the most important dream Peres had for himself was the desire to be loved. He served the public most of his life but only received widespread admiration in his final public role, as President of Israel. His tireless determination finally paid off. His controversial political past was largely set aside and, for the most part, he was warmly embraced by the nation he loved.

I’m certain knowing that tribute to his vision and personality brought so many world leaders together, brought them to Israel, would have given him great satisfaction.

Lesson 4: Age is an attitude

It seemed like Shimon Peres would live forever. He had an air of timelessness about him. While most people remain in the timeframe of what was contemporary in their youth, Peres kept his mind flexible, changing with the times, always focused on the future. As he grew chronologically older, his attitude remained contemporary. He kept up with the swiftly changing technology, adopted the use of social media and participated in the creation of viral videos. For those of us who were born into the technological age it is difficult to comprehend the enormous flexibility it takes to change with the times.  My grandmother was born before electricity was common in homes and she lived to see the invention of television, a man on the moon, cell phones and the internet. Peres not only saw all those changes, he made use of them.

Peres proved that age is a mindset, an attitude. He was always excited to see what tomorrow would bring and that made it seem like there would always be a tomorrow for him. This attitude made the epitaph he requested for himself seems so apt: “Died before his time.”

Lesson 5: Narrative appropriated

Watching the media response to the death of Shimon Peres left me wondering about the validity of the narrative we are taught about other historical figures. The Israeli media, like most media around the world, aligns mostly with the political left. Our artists, musicians and other celebrities tend to identify with the left as well. Peres was the spokesperson of the Israeli left, he gave dignity to their ideas, presenting them in world forums, gaining acceptance abroad which, in turn, reinforced the perception of his colleagues that their way was the right way. Even following the utter failure of the Oslo Accords, additional land-for-peace and prisoners-for-peace deals, the left still upheld Peres as their symbol of Israel’s undying hope for peace. His death created a vacuum for the Israeli left. They have no more representatives for their ideas. While the general public still wants peace and would willingly make enormous sacrifices for peace, Israelis, in general, no longer hold the belief that the next deal signed will bring peace. With no leader to look to, the left has done everything in their power to transform Shimon Peres the man, with all his complexities, in to a symbol with which they can justify themselves. Considering that the people who set the tone for the culture are the ones redefining the man and deciding what his legacy is, there is very little room for anyone with a different perspective. This, combined with a rigid taboo on speaking poorly of the deceased, makes an honest discussion of his peace initiatives (or the people hurt by them) almost impossible.

Watching this unfold raises so many questions….

Is it so difficult to discuss someone or something we don’t like without being disrespectful? Or being accused of being a “hater”/”racist”/whatever other shut-you-up label is currently popular?

Is it so difficult to differentiate between a man and his actions? What in the world makes it so easy to convince people that any person is one dimensional? Only good or only bad? Who says we have to completely agree or completely disagree with anyone? Why do we have to choose “teams”? Isn’t it possible that we may have the same goals while still disagreeing about how to achieve them?

Last but not least, I am left to wonder – if the narrative of a man’s life can be appropriated so swiftly, so close to his death, how much of what we know about historical figures is true?

I remain with more questions than answers. Possibly the historical facts matter less than the principles we choose to remember and uphold. I know others will define Peres as the symbol for peace and teach that his methodology is the correct way to attain peace. To me it seems disrespectful to turn someone so complex in to a one-dimensional tool to use to further a political agenda…

Personally, I choose to remember the lessons I’ve learned from Shimon, the man, the poet, not the politician. To me his legacy isn’t about politics, it’s about a way of being in the world, an attitude towards life:

People are complicated. No one is a saint, no one is a devil.

Determination pays off in the end. Never give up.

Focus on the future.

Age is an attitude.

History is taught according to the narrative convenient to the people in power. This is a very disturbing realization however I still hold on to the belief that it is the principles we choose to uphold that will determine our future.

Maybe I’m a dreamer but, at least, I’m not the only one.


“I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman’s got nothing on me
I’m only one call away”

This is Israel.

When a terror attack occurs many feel the effects, including people outside the first circle of the directly involved, beyond the relatives and friends, the friends of friends… the ripples spread and it is impossible to remain untouched.

Even when there is no direct involvement, some attacks hurt more than others. Sometimes it’s because of their gruesomeness, sometimes because of the heroism of those involved or those left behind. “It could have been me,” the knowledge that you or a loved one was at the scene of the attack a moment before, that someone else was hurt instead of you, is very disturbing. An attack on someone with very similar traits enhances the feeling as well (“she was the same age as my daughter”). Sometimes the reason a specific attack bothers you more, stays in your memory more than others, is inexplicable. That’s just the way it is.

People who live in other, calmer, countries don’t think of these things.

It’s easier to see terror attacks as statistics or human interest stories that change when the news cycle changes. It’s easier to forget.

When the article about Nava Applebaum came up in my Facebook feed I couldn’t remember if she had been murdered at Café Hillel or Café Moment. I didn’t remember what year it happened. I remembered her smiling image, hugging her father. I remembered the wedding she was supposed to have the next day.

Her father had taken her out to have some special time together before her wedding. Dr. Applebaum, a specialist in emergency medicine, who had saved the lives of so many other victims of terror attacks, was murdered alongside his precious daughter.

These thoughts flooded my mind before I even opened the link to the article.


There was the image I remembered. nava-and-dr-applebaum

The article said the attack occurred 13 years ago. So much time has gone by?

I went to my article archive and looked at the titles to see which was about the Applebaums. I didn’t remember the title but I knew which one it was before I opened it: “Their Wedding Day.”

This is what wrote at the time:

Dear All,

The following is about events in Israel on September 9 2003. Today our hearts are with America’s 9/11 victims.

On September 9, the day of the attacks in Tzrifin and Hillel Café, a total of 15 people were killed and over 80 wounded. [My God]

I woke up in an unexplained panic from an afternoon nap. I turned on the tv and saw that just a few minutes ago a suicide bomber had blown himself up at a bus stop. Panic explained.

Later on in the day another suicide bomber blew himself up in Café Hillel killing 7, among them Nava and Dr Appelbaum.

Both bombers were members of Hamas from the village of Rantis in the West Bank. Both studied together at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. Both had been released from Israeli prison 6 months ago as a “confidence building gesture” to the ‘Palestinians’. [Will we ever learn that the confidence we build with these gestures is the confidence that the path of terrorism is helping them attain their goals?!]

It was their wedding day.

It was love at first sight. They met when they were 16 and 17 years old and they were together ever since. The more time they spent together the happier they were. Everyone knew they were going to get married. Chanan bought an apartment and furnished it for his wife to be. He even thought to put plants in it, writing a note and placing it in the pot for his beloved Nava to find. The note said: “This plant is like you. It grows when it’s watered and becomes more beautiful with each passing day”. Chanan also bought special jewelry to give Nava on their wedding day.

Nava never saw the note, she never got the jewelry and she didn’t get married. Chanan never got to watch his bride walk down the aisle towards him, surrounded by their friends and family.

Friends and family came, a sea of people. They parted to create an aisle for Chanan and Nava’s family to walk down but Chanan couldn’t do it. He had to be supported, half carried to the grave of his beloved.

Instead of getting married Chanan found himself attending a double funeral, that of his 20 year old wife-to-be and her father, Dr. David Appelbaum an expert in emergency medicine. Both had been killed in a terrorist attack the night before.  

Chanan was told that Dr. Appelbaum died first. When he was told about Nava he collapsed on the spot. After he revived he told relatives that he could never be married to anyone else. Nava was his soul mate, his other half and without her he would always be half a person. A day later he was still unable to function. He wrote a eulogy to his beloved but was unable to bring himself to read it at her funeral.  

The terrorist who killed Nava and Dr Appelbaum killed something in Chanan too. He also killed the thousands of people Dr Appelbaum would have saved had he continued living, working in emergency medicine. Thousands already owe their lives to Dr Appelbaum. Truly, when you kill one person you kill the world.

It’s interesting to read these words now. On a horrific day in Israel, of all the people hurt, it was Nava’s story that stood out the most to me. The story of the bride-to-be who would never dance on her wedding day, never create the family she dreamed of, her fiancé, heartbroken… that was gut wrenching. The loss of Dr. David Applebaum and, with him, all the people he could have saved in the future, was a disaster on a national scale.

At the same time, for some reason, I was thinking of the effect of 9/11 in America.

So many things have happened since, so many other attacks, new horrors, I haven’t followed up on what happened to the Applebaum family – but I never forgot them.

The article added details I didn’t know and filled in the gaps created by the years that have passed.

It is a relief to know that Chanan married in 2010. I wish him and his new family joy, free from trauma and hardships. Nava and her father are being honored in numerous ways that keep their memories alive and help continue their legacy of positively influencing new lives.

This picture, to me, is the most beautiful tribute. All these sweet girls are either Nava’s nieces or her first cousins’ daughters and they all were named after her. From left to right- Talia Nava Silberman, Nava Tiferet Applebaum, Nava Bat-Ami Applebaum, Nava Shani Maresky, Nava Tehila Kramer, Nava Rachel Abramson, Nava Yehudit Kasnett, Nava Noam Kalker. Credit: Yael Applebaum


“Time heals all wounds” is an empty platitude often thrown out by awkward people who do not know how to comfort the bereaved. Those who have had their loved ones ripped from them in particularly horrible ways probably hear these empty, useless, promises the most often.

Time heals nothing. It’s what you do with that time that makes the difference.

In good times and in tragedy the Applebaum family is a shining example for us all.

When you use your life to bring joy to others nothing can truly break you. Even death cannot kill your memory or legacy when it is used to make the world a better place. This is worth remembering should tragedy hit your family or that of someone you know.

If the Applebaums can do it, you can too.


Read more about Nava, Dr. David Applebaum and what is being done to preserve their legacy here.

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