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Watching the news about the devastating earthquake in Nepal I was struck by something small but very significant.

Although we have enough local problems to keep us occupied, Israel has been following the details of this disaster – because there were 2000 Israelis in Nepal when the earthquake hit and because, whenever possible, Israel reaches out to help. Over the years, the IDF’s humanitarian aid has served as a source of relief for people all over the world. From India and Turkey to Argentina, America, Haiti and most recently the Philippines, Israel has lent a helping hand to dozens of countries hit by natural disasters.

Tiny Israel.

We’ve all been following the stories from Nepal. The Israelis found and rescued. The on-going search for still missing Or Asraf, the only unaccounted for Israeli.

IDF search and rescue in Nepal

The search and rescue experts from Israel, equipped with everything including specially trained dogs looking for local survivors – we rejoice with the reports of the people they rescued, those that survived miraculously, after days of being trapped under rubble. The team of Israeli medical experts who flew to Kathmandu, set up a field hospital and in the first day of operation treated some 100 people. It was to the Israeli hospital that the Americans took the 15 year old boy they rescued today after he had been trapped 5 days under rubble.

We’ve heard these stories before. When there is an earthquake, tsunami or devastating terror attack, Israel volunteers to help. The cynical would say that Israel must do it for political gain however the practical will answer that there isn’t much gain from helping African countries, 3rd world nations… no one really cares about them and there really isn’t much to gain from assisting them – except the knowledge that we did everything we can to assuage suffering. And because we identify and empathize. Because life is precious and healing is holy.

This is an automatic response. These are the standards we set for ourselves and something that is pretty much taken for granted by the average Israeli. It’s what’s expected. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s fascinating how just a few words said by one Israeli woman in Nepal, waiting to be brought back to Israeli put everything in perspective.

The woman described seeing a man who was outside, waiting like she was. She was inside, with the other Israelis, sheltered and safe, waiting for the plane to come from Israel to bring them home. He was outside, in the cold, with nowhere to go. She approached the man and he told her he was from Switzerland. She asked, “What did your embassy tell you to do? What assistance did they give you?” His reply shocked her.

“Nothing,” he said, “They told me to figure it out on my own.”

The woman was horrified. It had never crossed her mind that there was a possibility of not getting help. She knew with absolute certainty that the Israeli embassy would bring help from Israel, half way around the world and she, along with all the other Israelis would be rescued.

And she was right.

The difference between yes and no, between help and no help make all the difference in the world.

Israel protects Israelis everywhere. But not just Israelis – Israelis demand more of this little country.

Some Israelis were attacked by local Nepalese who saw helicopters coming to rescue the Israelis and wanted to be rescued as well. What did the Israelis do in turn?

They demanded that the State of Israel send enough aide to rescue all of the trapped Israelis AND assist the Nepalese who had lost everything. The Israelis understood the desperation of people whose homes had been ruined, whose families were torn apart. Instead of being outraged at being attacked, they empathized and demanded assistance for their attackers.

They demanded Israel come to the rescue. Not Nepal. Not nearby India, the UN or America but little Israel.

Isn’t that striking?

Little country. Big difference.

Today is the eve of Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and victims of terrorism.

Written in big letters on the front page of today's newspaper, giving tribute and honor to Israel's fallen soldiers

Written in big letters on the front page of today’s newspaper, giving tribute and honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers

Tomorrow night Memorial Day becomes Independence Day. The contrast is harsh, painful and deliberate.

Because of them, thanks to them, the Nation of Israel has a State.

(23,320 soldiers killed from a nation of 7 million is a huge amount. No family can remain untouched…)

Memorial Day for Israel’s soldiers comes exactly one week after Holocaust Memorial Day which comes one week after Passover. The pattern is deliberate and purposeful, it is necessary to remember the past in order to appreciate the present and prepare for the future.

We must remember slavery to understand the true value of freedom.

We must remember that the most civilized nation on earth could create the living hell of the concentration camps. We must also remember that when the world went mad there were still those who did not go off the cliff. There were those that retained human decency and those that endangered themselves to save others.

We must remember the soldiers that died so that we might live.

Throughout the ages Jews have been murdered simply because they are Jews. The promise of the State of Israel is to provide safety and protection for the Jewish people. Even today Jews are not safe – not in Toulouse, London, Kansas or even Israel. The more than 2000 year old hope to be a nation, free in our country has not yet been realized…

Usually forgotten but important to recognize and honor are those that overcame. Their battle is no less heroic than that of the soldiers on the battlefield.

Those that survived, those that went on with grief in their hearts and horror in the memory, they are the ones that enable this nation to exist and even thrive. This is true for the Holocaust survivors as well as the survivors of the wars and all the terror attacks Israel has and is being subjected to…

I can only try to imagine the difficulty of creating a new family after witnessing the murder of your family and friends – each new child both a joyous victory and devastating reminder of the dead.

The ability to laugh and smile after being immersed in horror is the unsung heroism of the survivors.

The ability to continue living and create new life and reasons to celebrate is the ultimate triumph of the bereaved. The gaping wound of a beloved child, husband or friend killed never truly heals but other aspects of life can be strengthened.

Our vulnerability and our wounds prompt the building of unparalleled strength of spirit.

Because of them. Thanks to them.

Memory shapes personality – of people and of nations.

Recently I’ve been contemplating the significance of collective memory. In Passover the Jewish people are commanded to remember how God delivered us from slavery over 3000 years ago. Not how our ancestors were freed from slavery, rather how each and every one of us was personally delivered from slavery. This is a very different, very personal perspective and one of the major difference between the Jewish people and all other nations. Collective consciousness is purposely expanded to encompass our Jewish brothers and sisters in other countries, across generations and spanning centuries. What happens (happened) to them happens (happened) to us. This awareness shapes Jewish consciousness, teaches values and drives actions.

Today my thoughts are on the significance of personal memory. Sima Maschkowski (mother of my beloved Lenny), passed away this morningSima Maschkowski.

Sima was one of the kindest people I have ever met. The core of her being was kindness and love.

I know because Alzheimer’s disease stripped her of everything else.

What do you know when you can’t remember anything?

By the end Sima didn’t recognize the home she lived in for over fifty years. She had no idea where she was. A gregarious and lively person, Sima could no longer recognize her neighbors or long-time friends. Sima who loved pretty clothes didn’t remember how to get dressed on her own. She, who loved fresh fruit and spices forgot about food and didn’t remember how to eat on her own. She even forgot that she loved having hot coffee in the morning and in the afternoon.

Sima often confused the names of her son and grandchildren. She would call one by the other’s name. And when she couldn’t recall the name she’d say: “Hello my Prince!”

Even when she started forgetting how to talk Sima knew that she loved her family with a passion. She recognized the people that belonged to her and the only thing she cared about was their happiness. When she was unable to do anything else she sat for hours, looking at pictures of her family and saying to them: “Bless you, God bless you.”

Alzheimer strips away everything. Knowledge acquired throughout a life becomes inaccessible and inapplicable. Everything stays inside the brain but the person is unable to pull it out and put it to use in the appropriate time or way. Social skills and norms evaporate. Language disappears. Slowly it becomes harder and harder to connect with others.

Memory shapes so much of who we are. Like an onion stripped of its layers, less and less remains. When there are no more layers the onion leaves scent / flavor. Even without its layers, the essence remains.

Some people who have Alzheimer’s disease become violent and aggressive. When Sima had nothing left, she was kind. She was unable to demonstrate her kindness, she just was. That was her essence.

Born in India in 1928, aspired to be an educated, dignified lady, like the English ladies. Much of what she learned she taught herself by reading, practicing writing and emulating those she admired.

After the Second World War, Jews from Israel came to the Jewish community in India, bringing them news of the Holocaust and of the need to rebuild the Jewish nation in the land of Israel. As a result, Sima decided to leave her comfortable life in India and make Aliyah. Her mother was against the idea of her only daughter leaving to go so far away but Sima adamantly told her: “6 million Jews died. I have to go to help the people and build the Land.”

Today this is a dramatic and frightening move to make, the bravery it took then is difficult to comprehend.

In Israel Sima learned to be a nurse. Another way to help people. Remembering people she helped made her happy until she was no longer able to remember.

Sima loved children, especially babies. She used to bring toys to a poor family in the neighborhood and give them to the children when the parents weren’t around. She wanted to give without making the parents feel shame. She just wanted the children to be happy. Sima never looked for credit for the kind things she did. It is only because others saw her actions do we know about them today.

Sima married the love of her life and had one son who was the jewel of her eye – until her grandchildren were born. One jewel became three and everything centered on them. When they were happy she was happy.

Love and kindness is the essence of Sima. That was the connecting thread throughout her life and it is the memory she leaves behind for those who were blessed to know her.

What shapes your consciousness? Or mine? What is the essence we will leave behind?

Not to speak is to speak.

Thank you Senator Marco Rubio for speaking for Israel, American values and freedom.

Before the elections, I hope the people of Israel hear this message.

This is a campaign sign for one of Israel’s religious, ultra-orthodox Jewish political parties – Shas. The name of the party is in Hebrew, the face is that of the party leader and the text is in Arabic.

Election campaign sign

A Jewish, religious party reaching out to Arab voters? Yup.

It might be mind-bending to those who see the world in black and white, try to categorize and stigmatize entire populations however, in ADDITION to the Arab parties that run in Israeli elections, the secular parties that Arabs sometimes vote for; there is a segment of the Arab population that votes for Shas.

Why?

Because the Arab parties have traditionally been so wrapped up in anti-Israel politics that they forget to take action to better the lives of the Arab citizens of Israel that voted for them. Shas, the religious Jewish party that aims to better the lives of everyone, especially those of lower socio-economic standing, has earned the trust of some Arab voters.

I’ve heard so many foreign reporters talk about “the politics of the [Israeli-Arab] conflict”…

They really don’t have a clue.

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