Wednesday, May 11, 2016

we live in the coolest country in the world

It's been awhile, huh? Missed y'all!

Today we remember. Yom HaZikaron, our extremely somber Memorial Day. Two sirens (by night and by day), during a total of three bone-chilling minutes. We remember all of our citizens murdered in terrorist attacks, all of our soldiers who fell in battle. Over 26,000 Jews killed by those who wish we weren't here.

We remember all of our brothers and sisters.
But so much of the world forgets, whether intentionally or not. They forget that where we leave (South Lebanon, Gaza), in return we receive tens of thousands of rockets. I don't wish it on anyone to have to hear a different kind of siren, giving you notice to run to shelter, because a terrorist fired a rocket in the direction of your town.

The closest it has hit home for us is our sister-in-law's brother, who fell in 1991 in Lebanon (here's Ronen's story, for Hebrew readers). Most Israelis are only one or two degrees of separation away from having lost a loved one in war or terrorist attacks.

Israel remembers her fallen.

And now we'll switch to party mode for Independence Day - Yom HaAtzmaut.

We live in the coolest country in the world.
Exhibit א: Omer Avital and his band of ridiculously cool cats (dare you to try not to smile/bop your head back at them) -

Exhibit ב: a dad (Hanan Ben Ari) says to his kvetchy daughter, "we can't complain, our life is Tutim" (strawberries).

Exhibit ג: Moroccan Woman, Beit Shemesh-based bluesman Lazer Lloyd's ode to his North African wife.

In what I consider one of the greatest traditions in Jewish musical history, we're hoping to catch ב and ג tonight in the Holy City of Jerusalem in our millenia-old, renewed homeland. Those are just 2 of hundreds of artists playing around the country tonight FOR FREE to toast a happy 68th to our amazing, diverse, crazy country.

I'll add to the list from Yom HaAtzmauts past:
2005: David Broza (with fireworks going off of the roof of the building where we lived!)
2010: Beit HaBubot, Monica Sex
2012: that time when I missed Mati Caspi
2013: Avraham Tal, Mati Caspi
2014: Udi Davidi
2015: Karolina

Thanks to Mom-in-law for watching D! Gotta run!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel Decides 2013

I received some serious inspiration from both this incredible diary entry from Israel's first election in 1949, and then a visit to the one-and-only Ester Golan (a dear friend from Jerusalem's Cafe Europa where I used to volunteer). Ester has now voted in all 19 of Israel's elections (!).

Here I am, aspiring to slowly catch up with Ester by voting for my second time. I took the lead of the author of the above journal entry and said the Shechiyanu prayer before placing my envelope into the old-school ballot box. What an incredible honor to take part in the Jewish state's election, to do so while wearing my grandpa's ring!

My first time around, I was both more confident in my vote and more public in even writing about it in the Chicago Jewish News (and of course my old blog). This time I'll answer with the "no comment" approach.

I once again immensely enjoyed taking part in this year's campaign. Without a doubt the most hilarious moment was this Eretz Nehederet parody of a disgustingly racist ad by the Sefardi Ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

On a more meaningful note, Ben-Gurion University organized a massive get out the vote program by bringing most of the major parties' leaders to campus for lectures and panel discussions. My two central takeaways were the Yesh Atid party's Yaakov Peri calling not to move towards a marriage with the West Bank leadership of the Palestinians, but rather a divorce. And a Tnuah representative urged the student body to vote:  "A political party isn't a pair of pants or a shirt--there's no such thing as a perfect fit." His plea to the students was to shy away from small parties. I'm all for the Israeli electorate settling into larger parties in order to ensure greater governmental stability.

Election Day is a national holiday, which made it easy to make my return trip to my old haunts of Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood to vote. My Jerusalem bus to make my way back to Beer Sheva took me right by the Knesset--I put up a little "G-dspeed" for my party and its representatives to do me proud in the 19th incarnation of the Knesset.

Now for a bit of commentary, 2013 elections style:  David Horovitz explaining the electorate's move to fresh, new candidates; here he is a week earlier, spelling out what's happening in these elections so very eloquently; and here's an unbelievably frank interview with President Shimon Peres.

And now I'll go back to 2012, which wrapped up with quite a bit of bad news for my family:
Albert Oscar Brotkin, 3/18/1948 - 12/25/2012. A pure, happy soul who spread a lot of laughter and smiles, who loved his family (especially his great-nephews Jake and Ben), blackjack, and his Cincinnati Reds. Mom and Amy were there to bury him in Dayton next to his parents. יהי זכרו ברוך- may his memory be a blessing.
And my sister Amy's eulogy:
Uncle Al, you were always a very positive force in my life. Growing up with you as my uncle was a very special experience. You taught me to appreciate the simple things in life. You were always kind, loving and silly--and gave the best hugs.

I hadn't seen you in several years, but the boys and I truly enjoyed our phone conversations with you. Hearing your voice on the other end of the line always lifted my spirits. I'm sorry you didn't get to see Jake again and meet Ben.

Then a few days later, we lost our cousin Toker, my "host father" during my year on OTZMA. I left his funeral at the family's Kibbutz Urim cemetery so grateful that I heard about and decided to come to Israel on OTZMA eight years ago. That lent me the opportunity to get to know the side of my family that came to Israel instead of America. Toker taught me a ton of Hebrew, even more "Israeli-ness," ragged on me in 2006 after my Mavs choked against the Heat (אתם לוזרים-atem luzerim - as it looks: "you're losers"), was such a proud tour guide of his kibbutz, had a huge heart (I sat next to him when he saw on the news that his friend's daughter was killed in a terrorist attack in Sinai during my OTZMA year--he squealed in pain for his friend's family), and was just a super cool, fun guy. He left a gaping hole in his family here, but we will always remember him fondly.

I've done plenty of catching up at too many celebratory events to count. But I'll take a step even farther back and now recount an important story from the time when Dad was sick:

Some things you just don't procrastinate
I flew to Dallas between grad school semesters almost two years ago to visit my very sick dad. The day I flew back to Israel, he lost vision in his eye. A few days later we learned the cancer had spread to his eye, and that he was no longer eligible to continue in his clinical trials. The doctor said he'd have two good months during which he could scratch some travel destinations off his to-do list. As such, I planned a return visit about a month later.

In what can only be called השגחה פרטית- hashgacha pratit: G-d becoming involved on a personal level in my life, I encountered Doron, a PhD student in my department, at his farewell party before traveling to Australia for his post-doc (we had previously enjoyed practicing our new languages on each other by the water cooler). We headed together to the bus stop to catch the bus to Jerusalem. There was a suspicious item on the bus we were supposed to catch and so it never left the central bus station, which led to a 45-minute wait for the next bus. With all that time to talk, I told him about my dad's situation.

Doron said immediately and adamantly:  "You're waiting too long. You need to move the ticket up and go see your dad. This will have a huge effect on your life; it'll even impact your relationship with your kids."
It sounded at first a bit over dramatic--I believed pretty blindly in modern medicine and Dad's doctor's prognosis and timeline. But when I got home to Jerusalem that night, I moved up my ticket by a week.

In the end, I was able to be there for and with my sweet dad, thanks to Doron, for the last full week when Dad was himself, including when he said, "I've had enough fun to last the entirety of the universe." The day of my original ticket was the beginning of a serious downhill slide.

So now I've finally fulfilled my promise to Doron to get this story out. You just can't procrastinate the essential things in life!

And now for some "link soup:"
Apropos loss, an insightful review of Judaism's structure for mourners, and beautiful advice on how to comfort Connecticut's mourners from an Israeli who sadly knows all too well.

Israel's life expectancy is fifth longest in the world (for males, second only to Switzerland). This year I was too busy at work to join the Asperger's Taglit group I staffed three previous winters, but they got some great press in the Times of Israel. Israel, which for many years has been parched by the Middle Eastern sun and suffered many winters of drought, went for a nice binge drink a couple weeks back. Here are some spectacular snow pictures, and this piece includes some more.

In bad elder care news, the already too small number of geriatricians training in the US has suffered a further decline.

Here's a fantastic Seinfeld NYT interview, and the accompanying Superman theme song.

On that note, I'll have to call it a note as the laptop battery is going fast. The voting booths will be locked up at the end of the hour, and then the fun will just begin.

Over and out,

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy holidays

Merry Christmas to all my friends and readers celebrating!
Here in Beer Sheva, we don't get this holiday off, so you'll find me tonight at a training session for new volunteers for Project La'ad at Ben-Gurion University, and tomorrow laying the groundwork to expand our program for the benefit of the Holocaust survivors in nearby Kiryat Malachi and recruiting new student volunteers at Achva College.

Last week, my program brought volunteers from across the country to Jerusalem for a tour of Yad Vashem. This was the second of my nine tours of Israel's national Holocaust museum led in Hebrew, and as always, I picked up some new vocab:
נצר / netzer = stem, shoot.
This is a special usage referring to the lone survivor of an entire family. Our tour guide told us that Yad Vashem knows of 114 such last stems of their family tree who fell in Israel's War of Independence.

Our tour guide also emphasized a list of numbers of Jews by country, compiled during the Wannsee Conference and its Final Solution, a.k.a. extermination of Europe's Jewish population. The list included Estonia, with its relatively insignificant population of a few thousand Jews. So now our job as part of Project La'ad is to reach as many of Israel's roughly 230,000 survivors as possible in clarifying their rights, documenting their life stories in Project LeDorot (a joint program with Yad VaShem), and through a friendly visiting program--all without missing a single town, no matter how small its population of survivors.

2012-12-18 12.19.41.jpg
At the end of the tour, where the main exhibit opens up to the spectacular rolling Jerusalem foothills, with a group of students from Ein Gedi who recently joined Project La'ad.

Speaking of powerful, Dov Lipman's piece here gives plenty of motivation to continue my dad's convivial attitude in greeting everyone he saw with a smile and a 100% genuine "how are you?".

Here's a really powerful Harvard Business Review piece about honesty and making day-to-day decisions with integrity (thanks to my co-aunt ('s term for my sister's sister-in-law) Jenny).

Dave Brubeck and sitar legend Ravi Shankar left the world in the same week. In addition to catching Brubeck with Dad, thanks to Michigan's University Musical Society, which brought Shankar to Hill Auditorium (and gave students a crazy discount for good measure), I ended that rough week for the music world feeling extremely grateful to have seen both those, among so many other, legends in concert.

Peace and love from the capital of the Negev!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back to normal

The war (עופרת עמוד ענן/Oferet Amud Anan- Operation Pillar of Defense) started as far as I was concerned when I got the following text from my boss:
חיסלו את מפקד החמאס אז תזהר.. בטח יהיו נפילןת [sic]
The Hamas commander was killed so watch out...there are gonna be rocket hits

From there I underwent the longest 17 hours of my life with 20 sirens, made it to Jerusalem (where I was interviewed on WGN), and all the way north to Carmiel, the bag I packed for a week and a half lasted me exactly the correct duration, and then a couple weeks ago I got back home to the South.
Everything, believe it or not, is back to normal. It certainly was odd to report on my timesheet for that "Rocket Thursday" I couldn't get to the office because of war. Anyone reading here ever had to report that on their timesheet???
But I am thrilled to be back in the Beer Sheva I love, that of the pool, the free concert series where I was thrilled to see Peter Rot, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, the weekend spectacular moonlight hike that the student association put together at Yerucham Lake to our south. And this week I've lit candles with some friends from the university. Life is good and I'm very busily back to work.

The incredibly Koby Mandell Foundation opened up its Comedy for Koby shows to Southern Israel residents--I made the trip to Jerusalem for my free show, but will certainly be a regular attendee and help fund raise for their future shows. A friend and former colleague from work at Masa reviewed the show as part of her job at the Jerusalem Post. As Rachel reported- Named for 13-year-old Koby Mandell who was killed by terrorists in 2001, its biannual shows help raise funds for activities benefiting Israelis who have lost loved ones to terrorism. Check out the Foundation's website--I especially enjoyed this list of Koby's favorite jokes.

חנוכה שמח/Chanuka sameach- Happy Chanuka! I enjoyed Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks' basic historical piece on Jewish celebration of this holiday.

Israel's nurses are on strike for the ninth day, sending shock waves throughout the country and the health care system. As the son of a nurse in her fourth decade in the field, it hurt to read the scathing picture this Israeli nurse painted of her work conditions (written very clearly for the layman, for the Hebrew readers among you).

One of Dad's all-time favorites, Dave Brubeck, joined Dad upstairs for a duet (that NPR piece is loaded with fantastic videos). This video of the Kennedy Center Honors performance for Brubeck three years ago is so heartwarming--check out the huge smile on Dave's face when his sons formed a quartet and jammed for his birthday!

Dad--you missed my performance of RSVP for your אזכרה/azkara - memorial last spring, but I'll keep learning your music and give you a nice show upstairs. The Jazz 101 course you taught me was front-loaded with Brubeck. Your enjoyment for his odd time-signatures and unique voice, which so clearly left its mark on yours, passed to me immediately when you got me into his stuff when I was in high school. And then we caught him live at Ravinia at their summer jazz festival, one of so many you came up to Chicago to enjoy with me.

Doctor Sekeres' New York Times blog post on cancer patients holding out for family visits or celebrations before succumbing to the disease hit home especially hard on a week when I received the heartbreaking news that another friend lost his mother to cancer.

Richard Behar, a financial journalist looking professionally from the outside in at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proved himself extremely adept at presenting background on the situation.

Stevie Wonder let me down big time by succumbing to pressure and backing out on his LA concert for the Friends of the IDF. Stevie--if you're reading my blog :), I met you back on Martin Luther King Day in 2003 after you spoke and played at the Northwestern University MLK Day event. Then you urged Bush to stop the war in the Middle East. While I disagree with your decision to cancel your performance, I see that an IDF-related event might not be the best match for you. But I sure would love to see you find an alternative cause in Israel to support. We love you and need you Stevie!

Peace and love,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Beautiful Israel

After working with my counterpart in the North from her Carmiel office yesterday, I found this beautiful Magen David monument to a fallen soldier during the second to last war, the Second Lebanon War on the way out of town today. Gilad fell at the age of 29. The Jewish star says it all--that conflict, just like the one that ended for now last night, was all about terror organizations aiming to kill Jews so that we could not live here in our historic (and also beautiful, huh?) homeland. I'll get back on here soon to read and translate some of the memorial plaque. For now, enjoy the view behind the monument, where you can see the rolling hills of the Galilee region.

David Horovitz (yes, he's my main man. Ok, I'm obsessed for good reason, as he spoke to my OTZMA group eight years ago while I was Editor in Chief of the Jerusalem Post; he was just the nicest guy) echoed my sentiments from my post last night, writing "Until the next time." And the onion hit Israel's mood today on the head.

Alright, that's enough of everything that's wrong with Israel, what with her all too precarious position surrounded by enemies.
So here's everything that's right about Israel. This song was the NBA on Sport 5's song for those magical 2011 playoffs. Somehow, until now, I had missed this actual video, featuring the stunning Michal Shapira (the land here is beautiful, and so are the women). Enjoy a beautiful Israeli making some sublime Israeli music:

Now it's time for turkey, Jerusalem style! Missing my amazing Dad and our Turkey Trot 8 mile runs so much! He'd usually wax nostalgic around mile 5. A couple times I mentioned frustrations with the ladies.
I remember him replying along the lines of, "You'll be fine, just stay patient and keep looking. You'll know when it's right."
Anyone have Michal Shapira's number?

This guy is super thankful for the lovely Thanksgiving visit with Mom on Skype! Good luck Amy and the boys in hosting their big dinner in Stamford! בתאבון לכולם / b'teavon l'kulam = bon appetit to all!

And I'm out,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Over" for now

I just watched my Prime Minister Netanyahu speak nicely, but with maybe 10% of his typical aplomb. He must have seen the survey showing that 70% of the country was against a ceasefire now. But he has the oh-so-undesirable job of leading this fine country, and it was so obvious that he reluctantly chose this to be the least-bad-option for the evening of November 21, 2012.

Now, I have to take a step back and appreciate how well I've, thank G-d, managed to integrate here. Four years ago during Operation Cast Lead, I had gotten my Hebrew up to speed, but in that gap between wars, I picked up more vocab; now I fully understood Netanyahu and used other words which I had picked up on the news or in the newspaper to be fully abreast of what's happening. And I'll continue to soak up new words--today's news further expanded my war-time vocab:

אוֹת קָלוֹן/ot kalon
stigma, mark of disgrace (used by Ben-Gurion University Med School administration staff to describe med students who didn't stay in town for their rotations)

hasty (used to describe the preparation of the Tel Aviv bus bomb)

התנסות ראשונה/hitnasut rishona
first time experience (used by Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi to describe those Beer Sheva residents, like me, who were not yet around the last time during Operation Cast Lead)

But after we ceased our fire per the agreement, the terrorists continue to send rockets toward Israeli civilians. I type, they continue trying to kill us...

It's always something
Two and a half years ago, I got news that Dad's cancer had come back after his first round of chemo, the night before my first exam in grad school. That ambush of exams was the hardest I had in one semester, including Pathophysiology, Budget Management and Planning, and Epidemiology (all in Hebrew, of course). I used Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream" one of my aliyah anthems, to help me survive that summer's exams.

Last night I had what I think was my first nightmare of sirens and running to shelter to avoid rocket fire. Now I can only hope and pray that Hamas and their compadres will wise up and finally stop terrorizing Israel with rockets (the ceasefire as of now clearly means zilch to them). And I will catch up on my work, keep one foot in front of the next, and make that dream happen each day despite so many useless, hateful anti-Semities who don't want me here.

More recommended reading:
Michael Oren, who revoked his US citizenship for this moment of serving Israel as Ambassador to the US, giving fantastic historical perspective to the conflict of Israel against its haters.
David Horovitz, wisely warning Israel to beware of Hamas's future attempts to outsmart the Iron Dome.
And a touching personal depiction of his son's response to rocket fire and sirens by big-time Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who also lectures at Ben-Gurion!

With that I'll wrap up my visit to the North and head back to Jerusalem tomorrow morning.
Happy trails to everyone getting back home to the South and the tens of thousands of reserve soldiers returning home. And a רפואה שלמה/refua slema - full healing to all the Israelis injured.
Huge thanks again to everyone who reached out to me or my Mom! It means the world to me.
And Happy Thanksgiving America! Love,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


So my ten minute interview with WGN turned into one sentence. And the mispronunciations of my name and especially Beer Sheva were pretty comical! But the version at this link includes both my photo and my name spelled correctly (I'm 1:40 in).
My impassioned plea for Chicagoans to look past the headlines and truly understand the Israeli perspective in fighting terror--not deemed TV-friendly. But I'm glad I was able to provide the voice of a former Chicagoan so that people can try to relate to Israelis under fire.

45 minutes after I was on the air in Chicago as a Beer Sheva refugee who relocated to Jerusalem (Nancy didn't mention, but the relocation is temporary), a second air raid siren was heard in Jerusalem. The rocket landed outside of town.

So I'll go ahead and abstain from publicizing the next city on my Israel tour--I scheduled a visit up north with my work counterpart there once things got out of hand in Beer Sheva. Getting there from Jerusalem is a much more manageable journey. Looking forward to the change of scenery...

Here's another piece by Khaled Abu Toameh, even further dampening hopes of reconciliation with moderate Palestinians.

Thanks for listening, and a huge thanks to everyone for expressing their concern and support! It means the world to me--I couldn't make it without you!
Peace and love,