Sunday, May 22, 2005

spring 2005

March 7th

A couple of weeks ago, about 30 locals met at a Tzfat hotel for the yearly lunchon of the English library volunteers. Each year, the librarys founder, coordinator, director, manager, volunteer coordinator, and head-purchaser, an 85-year-young lady named Edyth, invites all the people who volunteer during the year at the library to join her for a scrumptous lunchon at Tzfats only 5-star hotel. Edyths son, who lives in Florida, picks up the tab for the event, and the event is anticipated by many throughout the year.

This year was my first experience in joining the affair. Id been invited before, but always was unable to attend. This year, I left work early to give myself a treat.

As I have described in a previous blog, the local library is an institution not quite like anything else you may have probably ever seen. Edyth started the library when she arrived in Tzfat from Florida some 30 years ago, and until about 5 years ago, it functioned in her small apartment. She opened her home to the public several times a week, at set hours, and hundreds of people would traipse through her bedroom (humor and fiction), living room (suspense and mysteries) kitchen (cookbooks) and dining area (magazines and science fiction). Even in the bathroom, one could find the Readers Digests and Prevention magazines, and we all dreaded the holiday season, when Edyth would insist on closing up her home for a few weeks so that she could have it for her own use.

After the lunch, the annual “stockholders” meeting was held – a “what’s the state of the library” meeting obligated by the Library’s status as a non-profit organization. After the report was read (more people than ever using the library; many local english-teachers referring their students to the library for reading material; doubles are now sent out to over 20 kibbutz libraries and a couple of town libraries; over 200 children attend the bi-weekly stamp club which the Library runs), Edyth went around the room, introducing everyone and telling what they do.

Of the over 30 people present, the volunteer work that goes into making the library function is overwhelming. Several people check in and out books during opening hours. Others constantly review the shelves, culling doubles and sending them off to other libraries in other parts of the country. Some put cards and pockets on magazines (me). Some make phone calls to people who have overdue books at home. The library lends out videos and audio-tapes – those are catalogued. A couple of the less construction-challenged volunteers make new bookshelves, change light bulbs, fix broken water lines, etc. Edyth herself spends dozens of hours weekly on e-mail, begging, pleading, and soliciting donations for the library – books, stamps, videos, and, of course, money. (It helps that she used to work for the Miami Federation!)

The chairman of the board summed up the amazing project by telling us that the non-profit group was audited this year by Israel’s Authority for Non-Profits, and the auditors absolutely refused to believe that a project like the library could function without a single paid professional. They were stunned to discover that everything runs by volunteerism, and were so suspicious of this that they insisted that the board all sign affidavits swearing that this was true.

(Anyone who wishes to send any donation to the library, books, stamps, videos, childrens’ books, or money – please be in touch!)

As to other things going on in our lives…our eldest son, Avishai, is in his freshman year of…the army. In Israel, 18-year-olds are not found pledging fraternities or struggling over SATs. They are starting their 3-year army service (20 months for girls). We do read the papers which report on 12th graders who are refusing to serve because of their opposition to Israeli government policies, and also of soldiers who are discussing their refusal to participate in implementing a Gaza withdrawel…refusals on the left and the right. However, none of that is noticable from where we sit. All of the boys in Avishai’s class, and some of the girls (some girls do National Service instead of Army service) have volunteered for combat units, and most are training for tryouts into the elite units. And although the “disengagement” disturbs many of these kids, none are talking of refusing orders. So I am, as are many people, concerned over media reports of refusal by rightists AND leftists, but wonder how much these reports really describe what’s happening.

Avishai went into the army in November, and just completed his 3-month basic training – he now has 4 months of advanced basic training, and will then join his unit.
Avishai has joined the Golani infantry unit, which is considered an “elite” unit, and he enjoys the comraderie and physical challenge of his experience. His group consists of 13 young men whose origins include Russia, Ethopia, America, and Israelis of every ethic origin that Israel has to offer. His stories of some of the training exercises…long treks with heavy backpacks, night manuvers with no sleep for 48 hours, long hours of guard duty…have the rest of us wide-eyed, but he usually ends each story with a “oh, hafif (“it was nothing”). Afterward, we barbqued……”

My life, of course, has also undergone quite a change – I now anticipate weekly whether he’ll be home for Shabbat, and if so, what delicicies he might like to eat. We try to move around the house quietly when he’s sleeping, since he averages about 5 hours of sleep nightly during the week (not including “white nights” when they don’t sleep at all) and try to understand the new language that he and his friends throw around.

But in front of my eyes, my son is no longer a boy, and I pray that these next years will treat him well. Already, the soldiers are aware of the moral decisions that they must make, sometimes necessitating a life-or-death decision within a split second. I don’t hear Avishai or his friends ever slurring the Arabs as a people…after all, he has Bedouin and Druze soldiers in his own unit! He and his friends often speak of their beliefs that Arab families want a quiet and peaceful life as much as Jewish families. They are frustrated at what many see as a no-win situation – if the soldiers do what they need to do to protect their country, they risk being called “racists” and “occupiers”, but if they don’t, Israel will not survive. They take seriously their commitment to defend the country and its citizens, and are more aware than most 18-year-olds in most countries that many lives depend on what they do.

And finally, Purim came and went again this year. At this point, only Margalit, the youngest, really gets dressed up – Hagai and Margalit (aged 12 and 15 respectively) spray their hair in atrocious colors and put on some hats and other accessories, but Margalit, aged 8, still enjoys doing the whole thing….long billowy dress, hat, make-up, jewelry, etc. And I enjoy taking her to school on Purim morning…not just because of her own excitement, and not just to protect the dress for another possible year of use.

I like to drive Margalit to her school on the morning when the kids all come to school dressed up, and I like to gaze around while I’m driving. Every car seems to be full of queens, witches, spidermen and spiderwomen, “punks”, pandas, and other assorted creatures. The kids streaming into the schools are all bopping each other over the heads (AND the teachers) with little plastic hammers, and even the coolest 12th grader still looks kind of kid-like with a funny hat and some strange-looking clothes. The new Ethopian immigrants, some of whom have arrived within the past few weeks, stream out of their Absorption Centers with the kids in tow, all of whom are outfitted in nice new costumes, thanks to a dozen tzdekka organizations in town who insure that these kids are every bit as dressed up as their vetran Israeli schoolmates. Purim is not celebrated in Ethopia among the Jews there – the story of Purim came after the Beta Israel’s ancestors left Israel for the Land of the Queen of Sheba, close to 2500 years ago. But volunteers explain the new tradition to the newcomers in Amharic, and after the first half-hour of mayhem, one would never know that this was, for some, their first Purim in their new home.

And with Purim’s finale, spring seems to have arrived here, pre-Pesach preperations are in progression, and our friendly woodpecker has returned from his winter vacation somewhere in the South (I assume) to remind us that it’s time to get on.


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