Younger and prettier

I have just returned from the Shivah of one of my mother’s nicest friends, Miriam, a graceful lady in her eighties, who recently died after fighting to live and to continue breathing, a process lasting several weeks, the last three spent in hospital. The last two times I spoke with her on the phone and asked how she was, she laughingly said, “I’m younger and prettier,” her typical humor shining through. Having planned to visit her but procrastinating, not penciling it into my schedule, by now it is too late.

But I have discovered a multitude of people in her life, including her two sons and one lovely grand daughter, whose friendly smile reminds me of her grandmother and allows me to imagine what she might have looked like as a young girl.

While Miriam was very definitely missing from her living room, where we gathered this Saturday afternoon, there was a warmth and friendliness emanating from her family, which I can trace directly to her.

The Shivah is an important Jewish ritual, instrumental in allowing people to mourn their dead. Following the funeral, and till the end of the seventh day (interrupted only by the Sabbath or Jewish holidays in the case of traditional or observing families), neighbors and friends congregate in the deceased’s home to pay their respects to both the living and the dead, and to hear the accounts by surviving family members and close friends, of the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one, and reminiscences about their shared life. Often photograph albums are leafed through, anecdotes remembered.

While exhausting for the family left behind, this coming together, a constant stream of people providing a kaleidoscopic picture of the life of the departed one, somehow eases the acute pain associated with the sudden rupture of death (sudden even when expected, as in the case of chronic illness). Of course the void remains, and throbs with each situation or context evoking the absence of the loved one, often taking one by surprise as years later, one sees one’s father or grandfather in people one chances by on the street, strangers who fleetingly remind us of them.

Regarding the unexpected “I” and “Thou” encounters that may emerge among relative strangers during the Shivah, I’m reminded of my days as a staff psychologist in Oncology, when the family members and often the patients themselves gave me the courage and the strength to continue my “work” amidst this never-ending train of arrival and departure.

People often die as they have lived. Let us live well and as fully as we can, while there is still time. Let us make the most of every moment we can savor. Let us be kind to ourselves and unto others.




Checkpoints: Area C

I recently had the occasion of venturing into the West Bank’s Area C (with a dip into Area B). While Areas C, B and A are behind the so-called Green Line [1], Area C is under full Israeli control, whereas Areas A and B are either under full Palestinian control or joint Palestinian-Israeli jurisdiction, respectively.

Since I had hitherto studiously avoided crossing the Green Line into the West Bank, and had observed and/or read of events that made the news from the comfort of my Tel Aviv home, this Machsom Watch tour was a real eye opener.

It made things that much more palpable. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an in vivo experience is worth a million, and I strongly recommend going on a tour if you possibly can: all it takes is an open mind, a few hours, and a small donation to cover transportation.

Machsom Watch [2], a voluntary organization created by Israeli women who stand for human rights and concomitantly oppose the Occupation of the Western Bank, performs various functions and activities. Among them, daily visits to numerous internal checkpoints or “machsomim” between Area C (and by implication, Israel, once the final checkpoint before Israel is passed) and Areas A and B—in order to peacefully observe the interactions among the young Israeli soldiers who upon graduating from high school, are tasked with manning these checkpoints, the Palestinian farmers needing to work their land (which is often on the wrong i.e., Israeli side of the security fence or “Gader”), and others, of necessity equipped with permits of various shapes and forms.

The mere presence of these dedicated women, who take turns on early morning, noon and evening “shifts” at the checkpoints, appears to have a quasi-magical, calming effect on the tense and often terse encounters between peoples and cultures, between oppressed men, women and children and the representatives (and symbols) of their oppression, teenagers and adults tasked with upholding the security of their fellow citizens, Jewish, Christian and Arab Israelis living in Israel, and the international community visiting or based in Israel.

Across the world and over the centuries, oppression has never boded well for those involved, whether oppressed or oppressor. Isn’t this a strong “clue” that oppression should be eradicated from the repertoire of human behavior? Or at least from ours? Don’t we, as Isaiah would have us, consider ourselves a “Light Unto the Nations,” an Or LaGoyim? Mentors of spiritual and moral guidance for the world at large? Can we learn from our own experience?

Neither the prolonged Occupation nor Israel’s abnegation of responsibility for implementing a clear and humane policy with respect to who is or isn’t a bone fide asylum seeker and refugee, suggest that little has been internalized or learned since the exodus from Biblical Egypt and the fate of the Jewish people at critical eras, such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms and the Second World War with its Shoah atrocities.


One of numerous agricultural barriers and checkpoints surrounding Palestinian lands and villages in the West Bank’s Area C, under full Israeli control. We learn that it is only recently that someone has bothered to put up a timetable specifying when it is manned. Being late means you cannot leave your village or return to it, and are forced to remain in Area C or Israel, albeit illegally more often than not.


Farmers entering the checkpoint.

[1] Named in reference to the green ink used in the 1949 UN-mediated Armistice Agreement to demarcate Israel from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Since 1967 and the Six Day War, the Green Line also delineates Israel from the occupied West Bank, home to Palestinians and Jewish settlers of various persuasions, originally sent there by the government to enhance security prior to the signing of peace treaties with neighboring countries.

[2] See their website ( One of the Tel Aviv chapter’s founding members is Dalia, the daughter of Eliyahu Golomb, a founding member of the Haganah (1920) and later the Palmach, both of which are considered the precursors of the Israel Defense Forces, formally established in 1948 upon the founding of the State of Israel.