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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘mother’

A Soldier’s Mother: A Terror Attack….Live

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Do you want to know, minute by minute, what a terror attack feels like? No, I don’t mean living it and I don’t even mean, seeing it (thankfully) but just living in those moments when you know it’s happened, but not where; and then finding out where, but not knowing what. And then finding out what, and simply watching others as they too understand. It’s happened again.

As I walked to the train in Jerusalem this morning, I heard a siren. Big city, not uncommon. Women go into labor, car accidents, someone falls. With over half a million people, ambulances in Jerusalem are constantly on the move. Another siren. Your mind begins to think; your heart goes a bit faster. Another. Oh God, you think. Please…


Three ambulances have gone past, including one that is an intensive care one. It is capable of treating a severely injured person; it is capable of being a station from which 10 people can be treated.

A police car. Another. A motorcycle police officer. The ‘Yasamnikim’ – special police unit on motorcycle – two men, heavily armed.  Please, please, please. No…but I know already it’s happening. I see the light rail guards. They are standing a bit different, looking around more, scanning, checking their phones.

I walk up to one, “what’s happened?”

He looks at me and in a voice that is half anger, half resignation, says, “Sha’ar Prachim” (Herod’s Gate of the Old City). That is the where and confirmation of an attack. It is a 10 minute walk away; three minutes on the train and then a 3 minute walk. “Two police officers stabbed.”

“How bad?” I ask. The Hebrew is really a request for their medical condition but the translation would simply be – tell me what happened.

“Both moderate, maybe one critical.”

I don’t know whether to continue walking to work or wait for the train. I wait; I check the news. One is a young woman…only 19 years old, doing her national service with the police. The other is a 45 year old man. She was stabbed in the neck and is on a respirator in very serious condition; he was stabbed in the chest and is in moderate condition.

On the train, we hear more sirens. Now it is police cars and motorcycles continuing to stream towards the attack. At the Damascus Gate, I see two train guards on alert. An Arab with a backpack walks towards them. They call out to him to stop; to hand them his identification. They tell him to hand them his backpack, and he does. He looks…resigned. The guards look…I don’t know what the word is. They are watching all around them.

The two policemen were attacked from behind. Stabbed multiple times before the terrorist was neutralized. The Arab is told to lean against the wall; they are going to search him. What is the option? This is the 7th attack in just a few days; there could be more. We are minutes from where the attack took place; where they are struggling to treat and then move two badly wounded people.

The train moves on and as it glides past the Old City walls, everyone is looking. Another gate that offers access to the Muslim Quarter…or maybe it is the Christian Quarter, I’m not sure, is jammed. A police car is in the middle. They are clearly checking everyone.

I get off a stop early. I can’t stand feeling closed in and I need to walk. Please God, let them be okay. Don’t let them die. Please.

As I walk through the center of Jerusalem. All over, I see police. I feel so bad for them – two of their own are fighting for their lives in a battle that cannot be fought by others. All they can do, is their job and so they are doing it. Everywhere, they are standing a bit more forward, a bit more alert.

But I sense the sadness inside of them…or perhaps it is the sadness in me. I get to the building where I work, and I see a man speaking with another. And then he pulls out a shofar, a ram’s horn. It is the month of Elul, which precedes the month of Tishrei. The holidays are coming – Rosh Hashana, the New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgment; Sukkot, a holiday in which we remember that all is transient, temporary, ordained.

Elul is the month in which we work on ourselves; ask forgiveness from those we have hurt, including ourselves. And we blow the Shofar, the ram’s horn, as a call to repent, a call to arms, a call to our very souls.

I saw the man blow the shofar and asked if I could take a quick video and he agreed. And then he leaned towards me and said, “it’s Elul and we need the shofar, especially this morning. Two police, did you hear?”

“Yes, I heard,” I answered sadly.

“They should have a complete recovery.”

“Amen,” I answered and watched as he blew the shofar. It was short and then he smiled at me. A reminder, that smile. A reminder that we live and God willing, the police officers will too.

Paula Stern

A Soldier’s Mother: Denial Doesn’t Work

Monday, September 19th, 2016

There seems to be a growing tendency in the world to deal with terrorism by denying it. Saturday night in Minnesota, a man with a knife attacked people at a mall. In at least one case, he asked the victim whether they were Muslim and “referenced Allah during the assault” (according to FoxNews).

Last night in New York City, a bomb exploded and another was found before it could injure more people. Twenty-nine people were injured when the first bomb did explode. Beyond the horror of the attack, is the lessons we learn from them.

An accident means looking for ways to avoid it happening again. Take a different road, slow down near that particular intersection, check to make sure something is held more securely, whatever. A terrorist attack is not an accident and denying its cause hands those who launched the attack a victory. Not only have they successfully delivered their message, they have even scared us so much, we can’t even admit it. All we are admitting in our denial is that we are too defeated to even fight back.

When the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center, I watched as newscasters discussed whether it was an accident. When a truck plowed into dozens of people in Nice, I heard them question how it happened.

Now, the Mayor of New York admits that a bomb exploding and another bomb being planted not far away are “intentional” but not necessarily terrorism. If you don’t have someone screaming “Allahu Akbar” and all you have is a bomb that has exploded, I can understand the very justifiable hesitation in announcing that Islamic terrorism has again targeted the streets of a western city. The motive remains unknown; the act is very clear.

Regardless of who stabbed those people in Minnesota, it was clearly terrorism. Regardless of who set those bombs in New York, it wasn’t a workplace accident, it wasn’t random, and it wasn’t mental illness. It was terrorism.

In Nice, in Paris, in London, in Jerusalem, in Efrat, in Tel Aviv. And yes, even in New York – it was terrorism.

Watch the explosion — this was not an accident. This is terrorism.

Paula Stern

A Soldier’s Mother: Why Should You Pray for Shimon Peres?

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

I was asked that question by someone who is, quite justifiably, angry and disgusted by many of the things that Shimon Peres did in his life.

I thought about the question, struggled with it for barely a second, and said the first thing that came to mind, “because he’s a Jew, because he’s a human being.”

That’s it. Really. He is someone’s father, someone’s grandfather, even someone’s great grandfather. I have never agreed with his politics. I thought he was a terrible politician, a decent president except when he broke the rules and flaunted his politics.

I’ll never think he is/was a great man. I’m glad he had such a strong record of losing elections. I think he did a lot of damage to Israel by apologizing for things long before blame could be determined (and never apologizing when the blame he readily accepted on our behalf was proven not to be ours at all).

I think he lived his life overshadowed by the memory of the Holocaust and the need of many Jews from Europe, to bow before the non-Jew, to appease the calm rather than fight. He was never much of a fighter.

But it doesn’t matter now because ultimately, God will decide. His future is in God’s hands and it isn’t my place to wish upon him some everlasting punishment. I will pray for his recovery; I will pray that God forgives him.

I believe in his way, he loves this land and spent a lifetime trying to serve it as best he could. He is part of a generation mostly lost to us. A generation that was taught to relate to the world and other peoples in a way that helped perpetuate our weakness.

Will I mourn for Shimon Peres? Honestly, probably not much. He helped bring us Oslo, which is responsible for so much of the problems we have today inside our country and in our relationship with the world. That it was doomed to fail, makes it all the more sad and unnecessary.

Shimon Peres is a gentleman, a man of culture. In his own way, I have heard he is a kind man. He was never much of a leader, not for a country like Israel, which is surrounded by our enemies, constantly at war, always on defense. He came from Europe. He was a product of Europe and the Western world, transplanted into the Middle East.

I will wish him well. I will wish him peace in the world to come. He deprived so many of peace in this world by running, always running down the wrong roads. So many failures on his part because he was never strong enough to insist that the right message be delivered. The strong message that we are here to stay and we will remain here by right and even by might, when needed.

I’ve heard Shimon Peres speak many times over the years. He is witty and smart. He can be charming. I can only hope that whatever tasks God offers to him in the world to come, are more suited to the man he wished he was, rather than the man we needed him to be.

Ultimately, in these sad hours, what it comes down to is no longer the political life he led, but the family he leaves behind. They deserve our prayers, our hopes that he will stay with them longer. At the end of the say, as his wife Sonia wanted him to remember, it really is about family. May God offer them comfort in these hours.

Paula Stern

A Soldier’s Mother: Wishing Away Terrorism

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

A friend posted an image to Facebook and right away, something struck me as wrong. How is it possible that only two Americans were killed annually by “Islamic jihadist immigrants” and a total of nine were murdered by “Islamic jihadist terrorists (including US citizens)? Something was wrong…until you read the fine print below the table. Then what was wrong is understandable, while at the same time, another problem becomes clear.

No, this table is not about the statistics of 2016, not even 2015, nor 2014 or 2013. What this image does is take into account ten years without considering that in the last few years, Islamic terrorism has shown a sharp rise.

To further encourage the reader to dismiss any concerns, it uses the tactic of hiding the trees in a forest of unrelated statistics. Note that armed toddlers have killed 21 people in the same period of time, lightning has killed 31, and lawnmowers have been involved in the deaths of 69. And by far, the worst seems to be “falling out of bed” (737), which is only beaten by “being shot by another American” with a grand total of 11,737.

What you are supposed to get from that is a sense of calm, unless you are related to the average of nine people killed yearly, and ignoring the 49 murdered in Orlando just this year and the 2,977 murdered on 9/11.

I’m sure they are totally comforted to know that their relatives were more likely to have been hit by lightning. Yeah, I can hear them being comforted…not.


It took me a few seconds to read the fine print at the bottom of this table/infographic, and when I did, I felt equal shares of anger and disgust, both stemming from the same place. Note the first little note. This is a 10 year average. So, it doesn’t include September 11, because that would scare Americans. And, by taking a 10 year average, rather than looking at just 2016, we can somehow blur over the 49 people murdered in Orlando.

Further, we’re only talking about dead, so we can ignore the four people slashed with a machete in Columbus Ohio in February and the police officer who was shot three times “in the name of Islam” in Philadelphia.

What the Huffington Post is attempting to do, almost successfully, is belittle the number of Americans attacked and murdered by Islamic terrorists because, after all, so many more are murdered by lightning and beds and lawnmowers and toddlers with weapons. This seems to be the goal of those who share it on Facebook as well.

I’ll ignore lightning as I doubt there is much anyone can do to avoid a lightning strike (other than staying in basements with no windows while sitting rubber mats during rain storms). What beds, buses, lawnmowers and toddlers have in common are that these are accidents that were not intentional. Hamas fires on a city in Israel, their target is the Israeli citizen; their goal, murder and terror. When they miss, they mourn and we celebrate. When Israel fires on Gaza, our target is a precise military target. Our goal is to stop further attacks. When we miss, we mourn and they celebrate. Our goal is to MISS civilians; their goal is to hit them.

The goal of a bus, a bed, a lawnmower and a toddler is not to murder innocent people. The goal of an “Islamic-jihadist immigrant” and/or “all Islamic-jihadist terrorists (including US citizens” is to murder, glorify Allah and Islam, and cause terror.

The reason that this table bothers me so much is that it is a symptom of what is wrong in America, the need to rationalize away the true dangers of terrorism and minimize and ignore the existential threat these dangers pose to the very fabric of American society. When I pointed out that rates are higher in the Western Europe, a friend quickly reminded me that this was about America. Yes, I guess that makes what is happening in Western Europe – in Brussels and London and Paris and Nice irrelevant, right? After all, it didn’t happen in the US…

Where you can’t change the statistics, apparently the best thing some Americans can do is manipulate the numbers. At least 49 Americans were murdered by Islamic terrorists this year; at least 100 were wounded. For a time, Wikipedia even removed the Orlando victims from this category despite the clear evidence that the attack was motivated by Islam (remember the terrorist yelling Allahu Akbar?). Over 200 people murdered in France, let’s not count them!

Some victims in the US have been viciously stabbed or slashed with knives – let’s not count them!

Almost 3,000 were murdered by terrorists on 9/11 – how does that number translate to an average of 2 per year? I guess it takes a lot of years and a lot of cowardice but apparently, it can be done.

Look at this graph below, but focus on the last four years presented. Clearly, over the last four years, there has been a marked increase in the number of terror attacks in the US.


Yes, more people apparently died over the last ten years because of lawnmowers – likely something really stupid that THEY did. On average, 21 toddlers were armed enough to kill themselves or someone else – again, utter irresponsibility and stupidity. A lot of people were hit by buses – does anyone think there is a conspiracy by bus drivers to murder people?

In the last few years, terror attacks in the US and Western Europe have clearly become more common. I question not the interpretation of the fact, but the almost-desperate need to deny it, to manipulate it into the world of innocuity (and yes, that’s a word). Why?

Why is it so important to put terror deaths “in perspective.” Where is the outrage that these deaths, these intentional murders were perpetrated against unarmed Americans in the streets of your country? How are these murderers mitigated by lightning strikes or people who fall out of bed and die?

Islamic, fundamentalist, extremist violence is on the rise. Even the life of one American is too much, never mind the nearly 50 lives destroyed this year. When American citizens are more upset by what they think Donald Trump said, than the stabbing and slashing and ramming and shooting of American citizens in the name of Islam, I am truly left wondering where the nation of my birth has gone.

Paula Stern

A Soldier’s Mother: A Quiet Unyielding Anger

Monday, September 12th, 2016

It’s been 15 years since one of my children called me to the television to tell me something had happened. There were bombing attacks in Israel on a regular basis; many brought to my attention when the cartoons they watched back when we had a television were interrupted.

First there was a map of a city somewhere in Israel with a voice explaining about early reports of an explosion. There was never a question that it was terrorism; never a thought of who had caused it. It was only really about what city was hit this time, how many were hurt, and how many funerals the next day would bring.

I walked to the top of the stairs after I was told about “something,” only this time, there was news from America, and an image of the World Trade Center. It took me a second to understand. It wasn’t Israel. It wasn’t a bomb. It wasn’t a bus. It was New York. It was a building. A building I knew, I’d seen, I’d been in. The World Trade Center. A Plane. They didn’t know the cause of the “accident”, they said, but I did. It wasn’t an accident. I knew. I knew it and I longed to reach across the ocean and tell them they had to stop pretending. They had to take it seriously. They had to understand.

That which has hated us, hates them too. That which reaches out to murder my people had crossed an ocean to murder theirs. Wake up, I cried inside. Say it. Say it already. Terrorism.

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.

And as I waited for them to admit what I knew without question was the truth, I discovered inside myself a tiny emotion that has filled me with shame for all of the last 15 years. My first reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center was horror, but the second was some small sense of…not happiness, never happy, but “good” – good only because now I thought America would finally understand what it was like to live with the agony of terror.

I listened with disappointment and almost pity as the news broadcasters bantered around about how a plane could have come to crash into one of the tallest building. “Silly man,” I almost shouted, “Terrorism. Come on, you can say it.”

And then, in horror, as I watched, the second plane hit. I started to cry as the shocked voices could be heard through the television; I started to pray, “Oh God, I didn’t mean for this. I didn’t want this. I just wanted them to understand, not this.” My children looked at me, trying to understand. I stopped crying and told them it was time for a snack. I bribed them with cookies and milk upstairs in the dining room; I brought them crayons to color and did everything I could to keep them away from what we loosely called the “TV room”. The television droned on and I would slip away, or sit on the steps and watch half-turned so I  could watch my children and keep them far from what was happening in the distant city where I had met their father, fallen in love, married, and brought three of them into this world.

Two towers on fire, rescue workers rushing in, people panicking in the streets as the Pentagon was hit next; all planes ordered to land. Suddenly, there was a loud sound and I watched in horror again, as the south tower crumbled into itself. And then the northern tower. The people, I thought. oh God, how many were inside? How many didn’t get out?

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America.

They kept saying “as many as 50,000 people” came to work each day. I remember them saying that another plane was missing and last tracking said it was heading towards Washington; the White House was evacuated. The count down was running as to when it would hit Washington and the potential targets. Then, reports of a plane crash in Pennsylvania…was it the fourth plane? No one knew and so they kept waiting for it to hit Washington.

Hours and hours of horror. I don’t remember it growing dark here in Israel or putting my children to bed that night; I do remember praying for the injured; even praying there would be injured and not just endless bodies to recover. I remember sitting and crying as I listened to George Bush.

Each year, like tens of thousands of people all over the world, I remember what I was doing on September 11. And I watch the videos. And I pray for the families. I light a candle in their memory – all of them, everywhere they died.

Last year, in shock, I listened as the United States approved the Iran Deal – what a joke, I thought. They are rewarding the very people who perpetrated 9/11. That’s how they commemorate the day?

This year, I am filled with sadness as never before. The United States stands on the edge of a more dangerous world than ever before. What Hitler did in 6 years of war, Iran could now do in minutes. The Soviet Union, the evil, repressive, totalitarian society which imprisoned its own people is no more; Russia today is weaker, divided, and still searching for ways to return to the glory that was their former incarnation.

And America, weaker as well. Divided, isolated and much ridiculed by the world. You play a dangerous game of denial; terrorism has been relegated to being less dangerous than lightning, getting hit by a bus, or meeting death at the “hands” of a lawnmower. This is what people post to Facebook…because terrorism is not their main concern, perhaps not even a concern at all. They laugh and joke about the bus and the lawnmower. Are they laughing today? Probably not, but they will laugh again tomorrow and deny the dangers, just as they did that mourning as the first tower burned.

The numbers are manipulated, 9/11 erased because by factoring it in, the numbers would be so much scarier, or perhaps not. Maybe 15 years later, the pain has lessened, the horror of watching those towers collapse somehow faded?

I don’t know. I can still cry each time I think of that day. The World Trade Centers were relatively new when I started college and we all made fun of them. How ugly we thought they were; how modern and without character. At Columbia University, the buildings were older and so dignified. Years later, I can confess that as a student living in New York, I never liked those towers. They represented a world dedicated to money and business when I was learning about things that seemed so much more important – life, history, humanity.

And then they came down and I have missed them terribly. For years, I missed the innocence I felt was stolen from America on that day. I mourned for the families, but for the nation as well.

I haven’t been to America in 18 years. The timing was wrong, my family was growing. Finances. Life. One son in the army and then another and another. From far away, I have watched in sadness. I hurt for what America has become. Racial intolerance still shocks me. The first best friend I ever had was a young black girl in my class (no, she wasn’t African American then, she was black) and someone called her a nasty name and she looked about to cry. I turned to her as we walked past those nasty children and I asked her if she was black. It had never occurred to me that she was, or that her parents and siblings were. It wasn’t in my vocabulary; not something I noticed. She said what she was. My friend. My neighbor. Sherry. She nodded in what I now think was a rather solemn way and said that she was black. I remember answering, “Oh.” And then remembered I wanted to tell her something about what happened in school. We never discussed her race again; we never discussed my religion. We were two little girls with a love of dolls and playing house. We walked home from school together that day, as we always did because she lived in an apartment on the other side of the open court where we played together. And the next morning, we walked back to school, and home and back and home and back. Until a year or two later, she and her family moved away.

I have always loved that I didn’t know that my best friend was black because it was completely and entirely irrelevant to who we were. Yesterday, I read a long story about “the Falling Man.” Over the last 15 years, the media has been obsessed with identifying this man who was captured falling to his death. Paragraphs and paragraphs of how reporters went from family to family, going through lists of names as if identifying him was some holy grail.

Ultimately, said the article, they think they know who he is. Yes, but what about the wives and children you harmed by invading their privacy and showing a picture of a man seconds away from his death before their eyes? All that 9/11 is about, is lost to people such as these. It isn’t about Sherry being black or the name of that man. It isn’t about each individual,

It was never about that little black girl or her best friend, the white girl who lived across the courtyard. It was never about that man falling. It was always about America.

I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us.

There are those that say 15 years on,  Al Qaida is weakened…other than a few massive terror attacks here and there. There are those that say they know how to make America great again…and those who ridicule that statement simply because of who made it.

There are black people dying in the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York – daily. Literally, every day. There are cops, police officers being murdered – murdered and their deaths considered a just response in a violent and racist society. Where have you gone, America?

I look at the images of the burning towers and I remember listening in shock, as President George Bush addressed a nation in pain. I had never liked him before…until that speech. Sometimes, when you make a wrong turn, all you can do is go back and correct your error. After 15 years, America, you need to go back.

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.

Listen to this speech. Read it. Look at the unity. Listen to the voice of a leader. It was the first time I thought that George W. Bush had really stepped up to meet the challenge. It was a speech like none we have heard since. Forget the economy, forget the politics. Listen to the speech of an American president – perhaps the last one who cared more for his country than his party.
Text of President George W. Bush’s speech, September 11, 2001.

Good evening.

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America. With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington D.C. to help with local rescue efforts. Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks. The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.

The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance. America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.

Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.
9/11 attack on Twin Towers: Will Obama use next week's anniversary as a platform to attack the Assad regime?

9/11 attack on Twin Towers: Will Obama use next week’s anniversary as a platform to attack the Assad regime?

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.

Paula Stern

Missing My Mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Friday, September 9th, 2016

 These are most difficult words for me to write. Today I got up from sitting shiva for my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. For seven days I opened my mother’s front door, waiting for her beautiful smile to greet me. I walked into my mother’s kitchen where photos of all her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren plastered the walls. I looked for her but her chair was empty. The pain is raw. Where is my beautiful Ema?

To the world she was The Rebbetzin. The Jewish soul on fire. Powerhouse, visionary, survivor of Bergen-Belsen, founder of Hineni, charismatic speaker who packed Madison Square Garden, trailblazer in the world of outreach, and a woman who fearlessly traveled the globe igniting the spark she believed lay dormant within every Jew.

While sitting shiva we met people who came from far to share their stories of connection. Some spoke of her blessings that brought children and healing; others of her Torah teachings that helped bring peace to their divided families. Couples who met through her matchmaking shared pictures of sons and daughters who bring joy to our people. Men and women recounted incredible tales of being inspired to discover Judaism and leave assimilation behind.

My tears joined with those who came to offer consolation. They tried hard to express their words but many simply could not speak. The grief was overwhelming. Over and over, I heard, “We lost our Bubby.” “We lost our Torah Ema.”

A great light has been extinguished. Our world has dimmed.

To me and my siblings the Rebbetzin was our Ema. She was my mother who was always there for me, loved me, guided me, and gave me life. After each baby I would return home where my mother rocked my newborns to sleep singing the Shema.

To our children and grandchildren, she was “Bubba.” Whenever we would visit, Bubba would insist on walking us to the door. We kissed Bubba and said goodbye. My mother placed her hands on our heads and gave us her blessing. She would always shed tears. Once outside she would call us back. “One more blessing,” she would say. “As long as I am alive, always come back for one more blessing.”

Down the driveway we would turn. Bubba was still standing there. Her lips were moving. She was whispering her blessings. She’d wave and we would wave back. A few more steps before her figure was just a dot. But we knew she had not budged. She was still watching us, not letting us out of her sight, constant prayer on her lips.

When my mother was a small child, before deportations to the concentration camps had begun, young Hungarian Jewish men were drafted for slave labor. Szeged, my mother’s hometown, was their stopover. Zaida, my grandfather, was the rabbi of the city so my grandparents’ home became their refuge. Soon after, they were shipped away.

These young men were forced to wear yellow armbands identifying them as hated Jews. But at my grandparents’ table they were transformed. They studied the holy books and were enveloped with love. Yellow badges of shame became badges of honor. When the hour would come for them to take leave, Zaida would place his hands on each young man’s head. He would cry and give his blessing. Then he would accompany them to the door and whisper blessings until they were out of sight.

Out of the ashes, my mother brought Zaida’s blessings home to us, the next generation.

My mother’s Book of Psalms is worn, the pages frayed, saturated with her tears. How many times we would call her with our burdens, asking my mother to shake the heavens above with her prayers. Each time a grandchild went into labor, it was Bubba whose number we dialed. “Ema, please daven,” we would ask, no matter the hour.

Who will pray for us now? Who will bless us? Who will see the hidden miracle that lies within each of us?

When my mother looked at you she saw beyond your body. She saw your soul, the pintele Yid. Though I was just a little girl I will forever remember sitting in Madison Square Garden with thousands of Jews from every walk of life. My mother passionately proclaimed, “within every Jew there lies is a spark, a flicker of a light, a tiny flame. And if you wish it that tiny flame can become a great fire from which the words ‘Hineni, here am I, my God,’ shall emerge. My children, shuvu banim, come home.”

My mother brought the Jewish nation home with her love and unwavering belief in God. The flames of the Holocaust that consumed our great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and infant cousins only strengthened her conviction.

As our children grew, all the cousins would sleep over my parents’ home for Shabbos. Friday night after the meal they would run down the stairs and quickly get into their pajamas. “Bubba, tell us a story from when you were a little girl.” My mother would share how she had stood in the freezing cold of Bergen-Belsen feeling frightened, eyes glued to the ground. She put her hand in her pocket and felt a crumpled piece of paper. Somehow her father had placed the words of the Shema in her pocket.

“It was only a piece of paper but it told me that I was not alone, that my God lived. Slowly, I lifted my eyes.”

My mother connected us to our roots. She made us understand that if we don’t know where we’ve come from, we cannot possibly know where we are going. She taught us how to live with hope. She created a legacy of emunah, pure faith. She embedded within me the understanding that no matter the darkness, we are a nation of miracles. God is watching over us. Never stop believing. Never be afraid. No matter how you have fallen there is no barrier between us and God.

Ema, my heart is full. I miss hearing your voice. Your seat at my Shabbos table is waiting for you. We ache for your blessings.

Thank you, Ema, for your footsteps. We will try to kindle your light and continue your mission.

And please, Ema, pray for us in the heavens above. Because we are all your children.

Slovie Jungreis Wolff

A Soldier’s Mother: A Really Important Secret about Israel (Sh! Don’t tell anyone…)

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

I have a secret to tell you about Israel. You may not know this…and you won’t know it if you read the news.

Today, a building collapsed – or, to be accurate, an underground, four-level parking lot in one of the center’s of Israel’s thriving hi-tech community. Within seconds, literally seconds, emergency calls were generated. The Home Front Command mobilized, the IDF sent their search and rescue division, including search dogs.

So far, no secret. This is what was the top news in Israel and is likely featured in media around the world.

Here is the secretAs Israeli rescue forces dug through the rubble, endangering their lives in the face of potentially further collapses, every one of those workers and most Israelis knew something that won’t appear in mainstream media. Those in desperate need, those screaming out from below the rubble begging Israelis to come help them, were definitely foreign workers or Palestinians. You see, very few Jews actually work in construction in Israel.

The area under question is a building. A single building site. We sent a 60-member national reserves search and rescue unit. We sent 45 specially trained crew members from three different battalions. We also sent another 33 rescue workers from the Home Front Command Central District.

It’s a very sad truth. The work is hard and the pay relatively low for those living in Israel. For Palestinians, the salary is worlds above what they could earn in their own areas and they are grateful for the conditions and the work.

What you saw was a wounded person being carried by seven or 8 rescue workers and medics. As they begin to move, the ground is not level and at least one person almost stumbles and several more rush in to grab the stretcher and assist.

Now, remember my secret. There’s a really good chance that the man lying on that stretcher, having just been pulled from the rubble, is a Palestinian. Do you see any hesitation among the Israelis?

Today, these human beings needed help and our highly trained emergency teams did not hesitate. There are emergency forces in the fire department. This was a civilian building. And yet, no one was fooling around. They called in the guys we send around the world. This is an area in which we excel and one that we share readily with others.

They rushed to the aid of the construction workers, knowing with a very high probability that they were helping Palestinians.

Will we be thanked? Nope, not once.

Will the UN pass a resolution praising our response? Nope.

Will President Obama congratulate us on our humanity, our compassion. Yeah…not.

But you see, it doesn’t matter because what we did, we did because we truly are a society that operates with a simple principle. When a human being is in danger and we have the ability to help, we do.

We have offered help to Turkey, to Syria, certainly to the Jordanians and the Egyptians. We provide constant assistance to the Palestinians – medical, financial, and more.

Today, we simply rushed in to save lives where lives needed to be saved. Nothing else mattered – not their religion, not the color of their skin, not their gender, their economic status. Nothing.

I am very proud of my country at this moment. The best of Israel came shining through today because that’s the kind of nation we have created. Surrounded by enemies, we remain true to a commitment to cherish lives, save lives.

Paula Stern

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/a-soldiers-mother/a-soldiers-mother-a-really-important-secret-about-israel-sh-dont-tell-anyone/2016/09/06/

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