We are still in a state of amazed wonderment over today's adventures. What we had can only be called a magical Irish day. We traveled to Linsmore to see where Rick's great grandmother was born. Linsmore isn't that large and has a small population and we found ourselves wondering if we might be able to find an actual connection. As we drove around the village we stopped a lovely woman walking her dog and asked if she had any ideas for us, perhaps the parish offices might be located in Linsmore. She thought a moment and suggested that we speak with Pat Ryan, the Funeral Director for the area. She felt sure he might be able to help us. She explained in great detail how we turn right then left and drive down the street and find the prettiest house on the block. Off we went.
As we knocked on the door it was apparent that no one was in (it was extraordinarily easy to find the building). While we were knocking another lady stopped to see if she could help. We asked for Pat Ryan and explained what we were trying to do. "We are hoping to find a connection to any families known as Heafy," informed my husband. "Oh I would certainly think so! There are many Heafys in the area!" Our lovely lady turned out to be Margaret O'Brien, born and raised in Lismore, who insisted that she take us to Pat Ryan's home. We convinced her to join us in our car and off we went.
Pat Ryan, himself, was home and after asking Margaret how she was doing said he could shed no light. "We only have records for the last 30 years or so." After musing for a bit with Margaret they both came up with the idea that we should go see Father Mike at the local Catholic Church but that first we should stop by and see John Sullivan as his very mother was a Heafy wasn't she.
So off we went to see if John Sullivan might be home. "He is such a lovely man, newly retired," noted Margaret, "but he is known to take a walk, so he may not be home." But home he was. John mused and expressed his doubt. "The family goes way back, it is doubtful that there is any connection. Besides, my mother's family isn't specifically from Lismore but more from Ballyheefy." Rick started- "But that is where many members of my family are from!" I was looking carefully to see if I could see any family resemblance. John agreed with Pat Ryan and said - "Go see Father Mike."
Off we went with Margaret to St. Carthage's Church to visit with Father Mike. Margaret insisting every step of the way that this was her pleasure and that we were not taking away from her day. We timed our visit with Father Mike with the end of Mass. Our hopes were pretty high at that point, we were hoping there might be Church or Funeral records.
Father Mike cut us off very quickly. "I am so sorry not to be able to help you. I do not assist with genealogical searches, I just don't have the time and you'd be surprised how many requests I receive. I am sorry but I don't even have time to visit with you today as I have many pressing matters." Of course we understood and appreciated the leads he gave us to explore our search further. He then proceeded to spend about 45 minutes with us showing us the Church and all the improvements that had been done. I was so struck by one thing that Father Mike stated, "Rigidity in religion doesn't work. It flows between faith and doubt and that is only natural. If you try to force faith you simply lose the connection in the relationship." Go Father Mike!
Margaret then insisted that we join her back at her lovely home for a cup of coffee. We then spent another hour with Margaret in her tiny kitchen. At one point she answered the phone where she learned that her friend Seanie was leaving town. She was very distressed as he was going to a place that was so dangerous and that he had to be sure that he came home as everyone needed him so much. I was thinking that her friend might be going to Afghanistan and was alarmed for her as well.. and then.. I heard her say - "But that place- Man-hattan can be so dangerous." Needless-to-say, we did our best to assure her that her 26 year old lawyer friend would do just fine in Manhattan - and yes, I, of course, promised that one of my Manhattan cousins would be welcoming him to New York.
We thought to have been in Lismore for perhaps two hours.. well - it was more like four hours with our new friends. It was special indeed, to think that we were walking the very streets that Rick's relatives walked as early as the mid-1700s. It was just a magical day, to be welcomed in, sharing thoughts and ideas and realizing that through spirit or blood we are all truly connected through the heart.
Ireland is as beautiful as we have always heard it is. The green is everywhere and so are ruins dating back for centuries. No matter where you drive you trip over a castle, keep or fortress. I love history, but no one loves an ancient military installation like my husband. I think it is amazing for about 15 minutes and then I'm ready to move on to the next activity. I think it has something to do with the lack of vibrant living- no people, no furniture, no artwork. Just a lot of stones and bricks- now mind you they are very cool stones and bricks, but my juices start running with people, art and culture.
So while Rick was exploring the Rock of Cashel - which was very impressive for my short attention span, I left to wander the upper streets of Cashel. I found a young man playing Irish tunes on a violin, a chatty shopkeep who found tourists fascinating, and the most joyous sculpture I've ever seen.
From there it was on to Waterford where as soon as we arrived we high tailed it to the Waterford Crystal factory. Watching how the crystal was made was extraordinary, each design cut with incredible precision. Of course, we had to make a purchase and when we heard that one of the designs was inspired from nearby Lismore, our decision was made, as it was where one of Rick's great great grandmothers was from. Wandering the streets afterward we found such interesting people- a tour guide who was able to confirm that most certainly Jews lived in Waterford during the Viking era as they were necessary for trade; a wonderful knit artist who makes gorgeous scarves in between waiting on customers and quite opinionated wait staff on the pros and cons of ordering bangers and mash or spotted dick.
On to Cobh tomorrow!
I love traveling. Even with the craziness of today's travel, I love it. I'm in awe that we can travel some 8,000 miles in a day and arrive safely.
The sites and sounds and history of each new place is like discovering a whole new world. And yet, meeting fellow travelers and expressing interest in local customs launches a shared experience and our world becomes a little smaller, a little more friendly and a little less overwhelming. I always find it funny that I am uncomfortable walking into a party or event and yet am happy to speak with people on street corners, in restaurants or on ferries wherever we happen to be in the world.
I've always wanted to travel to Ireland and Rick can trace his family back in Ireland to the early 1800's, so this is a dream come true for both of us. We've been planning the trip for about two years and are beyond excited. As always, when we travel I love to connect with Jewish history, so this will give us an opportunity to explore the small but vibrant Jewish history as well.
Of course our first foray was simply getting from the airport to the hotel driving on the left side of the street. We made it and celebrated with a touch of Jameson's.
When I first started working as a professional I was told whatever you do don't cry, It makes you look like such a girl and you won't be taken seriously.
I tried really hard and have never shed a tear in meetings or tense situations but I have to admit that with my job I cry all the time. I can't help it. I'm so moved by people's stories, their generosity and the programs we support.
Needless to say I went to Israel with a healthy supply of tissues. I started tearing up when we arrived at the airport when I saw the Mezuzah on the entrance to the terminal from the plane. Being in Israel for me is always overwhelming on so many levels. .I promise I'm not going to list every moment of being phaklempt but I do need to share one story.
We were in our partnership region (that I'll write about in another blog) and meet with one of JCFs grantees, a group called SAHI..
We met outside a park in a parking lot and sat on pillows and blankets around a bonfire. Young men in there 20s and 30s began telling us about the program which is aimed at at helping at risk youth who roam the streets after dark.
These young men set up the bonfire a few months ago and waited until the youth came to check them out. In a surprising twist the young men didn't start telling the kids about programs they could get involved with. .they asked for help.
The youth were surprised. ."How can we help you? "
"We are looking for families who need food..and we don't know who they are. .we are hoping you can help us. "
The kids were intrigued and started thinking. .and they started suggesting families that they knew needed help.
The young men took it one step further. . "Would you be willing to help us deliver the food? But it has to be secret so we need you to put the food in front of the door and then knock and run away so they don't know who is bringing the food. If they don't answer knock again and hide until you know they have their box. "
The kids were hooked. In just two months there are 15 youth who show up every week to help. They are starting to come up with more families that need food, so now the leaders are teaching the young volunteers how to talk to business owners about making donations.
The kids are opening up. One shared that he wants his life to be different and that he was scared about an upcoming court appointment. The organizers went to court with him and the judge gave him leniency because of his involvement with SAHI.
They give the kids dog tags that say "The greatest good is to do for others."
And the families who are receiving the food? They are overwhelmed. One youth reported that as he was running away after knocking on a door he heard a young boy through the doing say "Mommy, Mommy, it's the food angels!"
Oh damn, I need a tissue....
Our visit continues to inform and inspire. Just a few days ago an historic decision was made to create a space at the Western Wall that will be open to families, both men and women.
Women of the Wall have been working towards this moment for some 30 years.
In the United States we have the separation of church and state. In Israel religion and government are intertwined. This has resulted in certainly the protection of religious observance but it has caused tension between the ultra orthodox and non orthodox communities.
Anat Hoffman, the CEO of the Israel Religious Action Center, met with us to talk about the role of religion in Israel. Her enthusiasm was infectious and we joined in her excitement over the achievement of a space open to both men and women at the Wall.
Having worked in the Jewish Community on and off for over 30 years and watching both the evolution of Israel and the role of religion and society within the state has me raising an increasing number of questions.
I was always taught that we were to support Israel no matter what and that it was not up to we who live in the Diaspora to question what goes on within Israel's borders. We don't live with the threat of war and suicide bombers every day so therefore we need to just be supportive.
What I have watched evolve are customs and laws that we would never accept in the U.S. I am still conscious of living outside of Israel, but it is my homeland too and when we see things that threaten Israel's future we should raise questions and engage in a familial debate.
What happened last year over the Iran nuclear pact broke my heart, not because of the differing views but because of the fissions that occurred. What has made our community so amazing is that we can yell and scream and yet at the end of the day it is a hug and matzo ball soup.
I think this one sided approach to being supportive of Israel has hurt the American Jewish community.
One of the ways that we in the states can express our concern is through our funding. So for example, one of the issues that concerns our community is the the lack of core curriculum in Haredi (ultra orthodox) schools. This lack is going to result in an undereducated workforce in the future. Hence our funding of Hachmey Lev.
I mentioned it in a previous blog. What I didn't share is that the boys had a one day walk out last week to protest their poor, cramped and unacceptable accommodations. The local municipality is taking the concerns more seriously now.
I was barely able to contain my excitement. I think there was nervousness that Is be upset. Nothing could be further from the truth. These young men are taking charge of their lives and their future. I met with a group of young men who were warm and friendly, thoughtful and engaged. They are just as observant as they were before, they are just open to learning and hearing about different communities.
My time here is raising so many questions and thoughts and my love for this extraordinary country is ever increasing.
What is it about Israel?
Is it seeing a Mezuzah the moment you get off the plane? Is it being surrounded by the language of our people or the ancient stones that evoke the images of our history?
Or is it seeing young and cool Israelis walking aside Chassidic Jews as young orthodox kids skate by with tzitzit and kipahs flying?
Whatever it is, my heart is full and I've been tearing up since we landed.
In figuring out where to stay in Jerusalem I wanted to find a place that was "Mamash Yisraeli" (very Israeli). I wanted to be surrounded by Hebrew and every day Israelis. What I found was The Market Courtyard by the Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's open air market.
It is perfect. My memories harken back 40 years (yikes!) when as a college student I spent a year on kibbutz outside of Jerusalem. So many memories (including my Hebrew) have come bubbling to the surface.
I remember buying yarn to knit an afghan to beat the cold on the kibbutz (and yes I still have that gold, orange and green blanket-it was the 70's!). I remember trying real halva for the first time and realizing that it wasn't really sawdust.
We wandered through the market this morning haggling and buying food for the next few days. The people, colors, sights and smells making me grin from ear to ear.
Meetings start soon. .but for this first morning we are enjoying the hustle and bustle of Agrippas Street and being in Jerusalem.
Rick and I land in Israel on February 3rd and we are so excited! It's true that I cry at commercials and am easily moved, but I can truly say that nothing inspires me more than going to Israel. It's as if both my lungs and heart expand. I'm overwhelmed at what our people have created and the commitment to our Jewish future.
The dynamic tension between Israelis, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs is never far from my thoughts. Our lens however, is to honor each community and people and try to ascertain strategies and action steps that will move the communities forward together. It is beyond our capacity to lock up the extremists on both sides (though I'd like to). There are many inside Israel working together from each community and those programs are some of the most important programs that JCF supports.
Kids from Hand in Hand
We'll be traveling with the Weintraub Israel Center, but as before we'll be adding visits to some of our grantees and meeting with certain organizations with whom we hope we can develop strategic alliances.
During our last visit, my charge was - find out what are the biggest issues facing Israel from the Israeli perspective. I was stunned when regional peace came in third. The top issues of concern were the relationship and role of the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) to mainstream Israelis and the economy.
That visit had an amazing impact on our Jewish Community Foundation as it helped to shape our funding in Israel. When we identify our priorities we always look through two lenses- 1) What is most needed; and 2) What will see to the future security of the state. I'll be writing about this during the days ahead.
So pack your cyber bag and join us!
Having drinks at the Del Coronado Rick and I were struck by a large outburst by the party next to us.
Looking up we saw hugs, tears and joy. A member of the party turned to us to apologize for the disturbance. "Excuse us," he explained, "our family has not seen eaach other in 20 years. With the incursion in Iraq the whole family fled-- to Canada, Europe and the States. We are here for a wedding and there is so much joy in being united." He paused, then added, "We are Christian."
My heart broke just a little that he felt he needed to qualify lest we be fearful of the joyous, loving family sitting next to us.
Far from being fearful I wanted to join in. This family looks just like mine, they could be cousins and, of course, they are.
We watched as the family hugged, shared food, fed each other and tasted each other's drinks. So like my family. it's how we show our familial bonds. We feed each other and eat off each other's plates.
A woman my age wandered around offering cookies from a bag- clearly a treat she had made to remind everyone of the tastes of home. How funny as but just weeks before I had made my grandmother's recipe for Mandel Broit for my mother's 85th Birthday celebration. When I got a closer look I laughed when I realized that the cookies looked just like Rugeleh.
I was then startled when I heard one woman call out "Aba" (father in Hebrew) but they'd been speaking Arabic. So of course, I googled father in Arabic and "Baba" popped up.
So close. We are all so much alike.
A this family was fleeing their homeland, I was sitting with the Civil Rights Coalition of the Bay Area grappling with an anti-Semitic incident that had occurred, when someone asked, "I don't get it, why is their anti-Semitism?" I responded from the heart, "We don't get it either and have been asking the same question for centuries."
Flash forward 20 years and such minimal progress has been made in the Middle East. And yet here in the states is a family reunion of folks that looks just like mine.
Why can't we remember that when you go back far enough we come from the same family. Here's to looking forward -- away from hatred and mistrust and towards celebrating those who are much more interested in feeding each other and celebrating each other's joys.
After our group left, Rick and I had a few days in Jerusalem to meet with more folks and wander through the streets. We had the opportunity to visit with one of our grantees- Yad L'Yad, or Hand to Hand, a growing movement of Arab and Israeli schools. The campus in Jerusalem is their biggest, with about five campuses currently being operated. Their goal is to have a total of 15 campuses throughout the country.
The students study together, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English along with a broad range of academic subjects and have both Arab and Israeli teachers. The parents work through issues together - everything from curriculum review to holiday celebrations. They estimate that between the students and their families that about 20,000 individuals are growing and learning together. Talk about an impact!
Then it was off to meet with Offi Zisser with the Jewish Funders Network Israel to talk about the state of Israeli Philanthropy. One of the questions I was asked to explore while in Israel was whether those Israelis that can are contributing to support important local causes. The answer is a resounding yes. It is happening in a number of areas, in a number of ways. In the United States it is part of the culture of the wealthy to be involved philanthropically. There is a move to create the same culture in Israel. Currently there are over 1,500 Israeli contributing $25,000 or more annually, with an estimated 10,000 having the capacity.
At the same time, there are grassroots efforts emerging where community members are supporting local efforts. Historically, the country was so new that Israelis didn't have the capacity to develop Israeli philanthropy while there were some who felt their contribution was simply living in Israel on the front lines. As the country continues to develop and expand its capacity, so too are philanthropic efforts underway.
Rick and I then headed out to wander in Jerusalem, starting with the Mahane Yehuda - or the open air Jewish market. When I spent my year in Israel on Kibbutz, I remember being very cold and my father sending me money to buy yarn to make an afghan. I so remember going to the Mahane Yehuda and purchasing the yarn and how warm and toasty I was while I was making the blanket and after it was completed. And of course, since it was 1976, the afghan is green, gold and orange. We still have it, and it keeps us warm and cuddly up in Mendocino (we just don't let anyone see it!).
We then wandered down Ben Yehuda Street, admiring the vendors and shops and stopped to have lunch. We finished up the day with Rick following the stations of the cross while I shopped.
You Can Go Home Again
On Friday, I was able to step back in time by spending the day with my Kibbutz family. During my year on Kibbutz, each student was "adopted" by a Kibbutz family. The Sondak's "adopted" me and every day I would spend the afternoon studying, practicing my Hebrew and visiting my family. I was particularly close with my Kibbutz sister, Hagit and with my Kibbutz mother, Shifra. Hagit and her adorable husband, Yoni, picked us up and we spent the day driving around Jerusalem, visiting the Kibbutz and enjoying a meal together in Abu Gosh, a nearby Arab village. I remember always being told not to go beyond the Cow Shed as there was an unfriendly Arab village on the other side. As opposed to Abu Gosh, whose men came to help run the kibbutz during the War of Independence. Such a dichotomy of views and allegiances.
One of the amazing stories of Israel was that of the Bullet Factory. Right before the Israel declared its statehood, it realized that once the British left that they would be attacked. They needed guns and bullets for the war ahead. How to do it with the British watching their every step? They built a "storage facility" under the laundry of a local kibbutz and each day some 40 young folks would descend underneath the laundry and make bullets. Not only did the British not know what they were doing but they gave the Kibbutz all of their laundry to do! During their three years in operation they made over 2 million bullets. Such an amazing story.
Of course, also amazing was the fact that when we arrived at the factory, who do we run into but my cousins from Long Island and London.
It was then on to Mini Israel which has to be the tackiest tourist spot in the country. Saying that it was still fun!
Our last day in Israel was spent with Carol and Dan Karsch. Carol was the previous Executive Director of JCF. It was great to connect and share a few final visits together to the Reut Foundation; the Lod Development organization and the Save a Child's Heart Foundation of the Wolfson Hospital. My head is spinning and I hope to write a reflections piece on the whole experience. But in the meantime, this was truly a trip of a lifetime!
When I lived in Israel from 1976-77, I realized that the country was less than 30 years old, but I didn't realize just how young and new the state was. Coming in to Jerusalem is something just not to be believed. Jerusalem is a top notch, model, metropolitan city. It is just extraordinary.
Our group arrived in Jerusalem in time for the General Assembly (GA) of the Jewish Federations of North America's Annual Conference. This Conference takes place in Israel every five years and is hosted in the U.S. in between. The point is to bring issues and trends forward for the leadership and staff of Jewish Federations. There were 3,500 people in attendance which is the largest Israeli GA ever.
The Conference was fun, in that I ran into people who I have known for years. I went to sessions on the economic disparity in Israel which affirmed the fragile situation of Arab Israelis and Haredim (the religious). The focus of this was on education and that the most critical path to decreasing the poverty in the country was through education.
The second session I went to was on Shared Society. What used to be known as co-existence has been reshaped into a discourse on a Shared Society understanding that just co-existing is not really enough, that to really have a strong society there needs to be respectful interaction and joint efforts. I was able to connect with several people on programs that might be of interest to our Grants committee so it was particularly helpful.
By far, the most meaningful experience at the GA for me was the session with Israeli President Shimon Peres. I was so honored to be in his presence. At 90 he is spry and as sharp as a tack. He expressed his hopes and dreams for the country while reflecting on his personal experiences. His story mirrors that of the founding of the state. He is truly extraordinary. I was particularly moved by his statement, "Judaism is not a business, it is a moral vision.."
On Tuesday, we were taken on an incredible tour of Jerusalem. Starting at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, we proceeded then to the Western Wall in the Old City. The religious fervor of the women (and the men) was something to behold. It was very special to be there and to literally feel how the stones had been loved smooth over the years. Since I had been in Israel more archeological digging around the wall had been completed and we were able to walk under the wall to see the walls of the 2nd Temple. It was truly an archeological feat.
From the old tunnel it was on to the footsteps of the Via Dolorosa, or the Stations of the Cross, following the last steps of Jesus to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was so very proud of our group as each and every one of the Jewish members wanted to make sure that this experience was as meaningful as possible for the non-Jewish members of the group. It was really special for the group as a whole to experience both the Wall and this Church on the same day. As we left the church, the Muslims were being called to prayer. It brought home in a very special way how this amazing city is home to the three major religions.
The church is owned by a Muslim family who has owned it since the 1100's and who has passed it down from generation to generation. The Church has three parts to it, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian. They each pay the family to maintain their presence in the church.
The next day it was on the share the Israel Museum, the most spectacular exhibit being that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating back some 2,000 years, these scrolls were found by Bedoin inside caves in the West Bank around 1947. Seeing ancient scrolls that are identical to our torah scrolls just gives one chills.
While most of the group spent the afternoon packing and shopping, Rick and I joined our buddies Susan and Jordan for a trek to Bethlehem. It was a little hairy going through the checkpoints but once we were through, we felt totally safe and enjoyed viewing the city and environs.
After a morning visit to Yad L'Yad (Hand to Hand), an incredible Arab and Israeli public school, Rick and I did our best to invest in the local economy. We went from Mahane Yehuda, an open air market, down Ben Yehuda street and then back to the Old City. There were many highlights of the day- 1) Visiting places I remembered; 2) chatting with people in Hebrew; 3) seeing the variety of people and art and buildings; 4) Enjoying the humor of life; and 5) Rick being offered not just once, but twice, to buy me for 500 camels - as "She is in very good condition."