Sunday, June 29, 2003

Preaching to the Choir

“I have some bad news,” Merav announced with great solemnity as she came home from school the other day.

I braced myself for what I knew she imagined as an utter disaster, but which was, in all likelihood, just a minor inconvenience for anyone over the age of nine.

“I forgot to tell you about something,” she continued. “We have a special program in school. The choir is singing.”

Merav is very dedicated to her school's singing group. She never misses a practice or a performance.

“OK…when is it?” I asked.


Ah ha…this was going to be a problem.

“Oh sweetie, we can’t make it tonight. Imma is teaching her class tonight. And I need to take care of Aviv during that time.”

Jody and I had arranged that I would be “on” the kids downstairs whenever she is teaching her students the finer points of Household Financial Management in the living room upstairs.

But the next act in this proto-Maccabean tragedy was already underway. Merav’s eyes had seemingly grown bigger and browner than ever, making the tears that now began to drizzle down all the more impossible to ignore. An overreaction, perhaps. But then it’s been a long time since I was nine.

And I was never a girl.

“When is it tonight, exactly?” I asked.

“6:15,” she said, now sobbing.

Thinking on my feet (which was no easy feat, so to speak, given that this was during the time when I was still in my toe-to-knee cast after breaking my ankle), I proposed a compromise.

“Listen, I can come for an hour. Then I have to get back to Aviv. Is that OK?”

Merav threw herself into my arms.

I guess it was.

I arrived promptly at 6:15. Mistake. Nothing in Israel starts on time. Half an hour later, the program began. Now only 30 minutes until I had to leave.

Just as the program finally began, my cellphone rang. It was a work call. I whispered into the phone so as not to disturb the show.

I should never have taken the call.

Apparently the hyperlinks in an email I had prepared had gotten all messed up. The email had already been sent out, the panicked department secretary explained. Under the boss’s name.

Should we send out a clarification? Did I think anyone would notice? What were we going to do?

The choir had taken the stage but now all I could think about was work. Was this one of those trivialities that tend to get blown entirely out of proportion in an office environment? Was I going to get hauled into the VP’s office for a dressing down?

“Come on, Abba, let’s go. We need to go to my classroom now. We have another activity there.”

Merav was standing right in front of me and I had barely noticed, so absorbed was I in my unnecessary thoughts.

And right then and there, I stopped myself. How, I’m really not sure. Something just clicked. Something that said: get your priorities right, man. You are here for your daughter. Focus.

How many times are we confronted, every day, with choices we’d rather not make? You know what I’m talking about.

Finishing up a work project that no one will care about in a year or a month or even a week vs. attending a parent-teacher meeting with a beaming and proud child.

Participating in a 10:00 PM conference call instead of tucking the kids into bed. Or worse, canceling a late night “date” with your wife.

Doing just “one more thing” when dinner’s hot and waiting.

It’s not our fault. Not entirely at least. Workaholism has long been an identifiable "disease." and Israel holds the dubious distinction of being third place in the world, following the U.S. and Japan.

According to a survey by the University of Haifa’s Center for the Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management, 8.1% of the Israeli workforce can be described as workaholics, compared with 12.7% of Americans and 9.3% of Japanese. (Belgium and Holland follow Israel with 6.75% and 6.5% respectively).

But blaming it all on workaholism wouldn’t be fair. Or correct.

The truth is many of us never learned the fine art of balance. It’s not like it’s taught in school. Actually, the opposite is drilled into our Western heads from a young age: work hard and you will achieve all that you dream of. Not a bad motto. But at what price?

I certainly don’t want to be seen making a case for slacking off. On the contrary. But I’m increasingly aware of the need for balance. To move beyond the old joke about the old man on his deathbed, who upon reviewing his life exclaims to his family: “darn, if only I’d filed just one more report.”

On this occasion I was aided by my temporary disability. Frankly, it was a real schlep getting to Merav’s school, swinging my injured foot between two wooden crutches, avoiding the potholes and hidden curbs that had caused the ankle break in the first place.

But I think it was that added effort that, in the end, helped drive home the realization. As long as I had worked so hard to get there, I might as well put my all into it.

And I did.

7:15 crept up before I even knew it. But Merav and I had our half an hour of quality time. Before I hobbled out, I grabbed a piece of blueberry pie – what good school activity in Israel doesn’t end with sweets?

“Abba?” Merav said.


“Thank you for coming.”

“No problem. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

And I smiled with the satisfaction of knowing that I really meant it.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Bar Mitzvah at Hogwarts

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix hit bookstores around the world this weekend. And with an estimated 5 million copies already sold and the media hype flying as fast as broomsticks, I got to thinking: somewhere in the course of the first three books, someone should have gotten bar or bat mitzvahed at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But as you may have noticed, Jews are conspicuously absent from Hogwarts.

Now you're probably thinking - come on, none of the characters are identified in a religious context of any sorts in the Harry Potter books. That's true. But you do hear about Christmas, big time, in all four books so far. Yet, is there any mention of Hanukah or Kwanza or Ramadan?

It seems to me that it's high time for J.K. Rowling to stage a magical but tasteful bar or bat mitzvah at Hogwarts. The only question is: who's the best candidate to be the world's first Jewish 13-year-old? We have to rule out the main characters, they're already too old. And the goblins who run Gringots Bank...well that's just too obvious and inappropriate a stereotype.

The only reasonable choice, then: it's Dobby the House Elf.

Yes, Dobby. We don't really know how old he is, now do we? And, in any case, he could get religion late in life or have one of those adult coming-of-age bar mitzvah ceremonies.

And what about that name. Dobby? Come's Dov-y, a good Hebrew moniker meaning bear. See, he's already half way there!

I'm imagining the grand hall in Hogwarts turned into a makeshift synagogue with all the students, teachers and administrators in attendance. A magical bima floats in the air, high above the crowd, with an ancient and highly elaborate Torah scroll placed carefully at center stage.

Dobby picks up a wand and moves it along the page to read from his bar mitzva portion. As he does, the letters fly off the page, swirl around the room and burst into flames before diving back to the page as fast as a Jewish snitch.

At Dobby's side, another elf provides simultaneous translation into Elvish, just as in traditional Yemenite shuls there is a running translation into Aramaic. Never mind the fact that Elvish is more commonly identified with the "Lord of the Rings" and not Harry Potter. Dobby has to have some sort of mamaloschen, doesn't he?.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Dobby is lifted up on a chair (not hard for a school full of wizards) and Nearly Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle lead the first dance with him, the infamous Hogwarts' Horrible Hora. The bar mitzvah meal is naturally every bit as extravagant as the traditional Hogwarts December dinner, minus the Christmas pudding of course.

But as Dobby rises to give his bar mitzvah speech, the room descends into dramatic darkness and a thick mist envelopes Dobby. When it clears, Dobby has been transformed...into none other than He Who Must Not Be Named - the evil Voldemort!

The students are too stunned to shriek at this shocking development, right in the heart of Jewish Hogwarts. Dumbledore and Snape raise their wands to the ready. Harry's scar is aching. Ron is re-running chess moves in his head. Dobby/Voldermort opens his mouth to speak.

"Today," he begins, "I am a man."

"I wish to thank my teachers, my parents, and most of all, the students at Hogwarts for this humbling experience. I have seen the evil in my ways and I stand before you as a true penitent. I am a real hozer b'tshuva."

Magically, a black hat and tallit appear, and then he bellows in a voice Too Loud To Be Repeated: "Now who ordered the shrimp at my bar mitzvah!!"

J.K. Rowling - are you listening?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Land of the Bullies

If there is indeed a God, why did she have to make bullies?

I’m not talking about megalomaniacal corporations, rogue states and other metaphorical bullies. No, just your plain garden-variety secretly-insecure-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet-so-acting-out bully. The kind who made our own lives so miserable when we were young.

And who is doing it again.

To my kid.

Amir came home in a bad mood the other day. It was beyond the usual pre-teen emotions we already know he is prone to these days.

Cartoon smoke was coming out of his ears, exclamation marks dancing above his head. He growled at his sister, scowled at his parents, refused to clear the table and, in general, snapped at any comment made within a 30 foot radius, whether directed at him or not.

Finally we confronted him.

“What’s wrong?” we asked in as gentle way as we could.

“Oded,” he said, not holding anything back. “He calls me names in class. And he gets all the other kids to join in.” He used the Hebrew term for it: lachatz hevrati - peer pressure.

“Nu, what’s so bad about a few names,” Merav butted in, deliberately baiting him in that manner she has perfected over the years.

“Shut up!” he screamed. “You’re so stupid. I hate you!”

“Amir!” we screamed back. And then there were several more colorful exchanges, which I have promised not to repeat here, before Amir wound up cooling his heels for awhile in his room.

It has oft been said that the only constants in life are death and taxes. To that should be added bullies.

I suffered terribly at the hands of these monsters. As a chubby, brainy kid, I was an easy target. There was Rick L., who used to hang around my bus stop in high school, waiting for his chance to pummel me in the stomach. And Tony G., who in the fourth grade whacked me in the face and broke my glasses.

Beyond the physical pain, they introduced fear into my life at an age far too young. But that’s the way it is with bullies. They don’t work around your personal development schedule.

And now they’ve come after my son.

We never thought Israel would be bully-free. But a little investigation turned up some horrifying statistics.

A study conducted in 2000 by researchers at the University of Michigan and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that nearly 80% of students Amir’s age in elementary schools in Israel report that they had been cursed, mocked, insulted or humiliated in the month before the survey.

58% said they had been grabbed or pushed by another student, and 48% had been kicked or punched. In contrast, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, only 14% of sixth graders in the U.S. reported being bullied in 2001. But back in Israel, that many alone – a full 16% - said they missed at least one day of school a month due to fears of violence in class or on their route to and from school.

A slightly older research from 1999, conducted in conjunction with the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), revealed this startling and disturbing fact: only 18% of Israeli eighth-graders feel that suffering an inuury from physical violences rates as a "serious problem."

We clearly didn’t choose to move to Israel because the schools were safer...

When confronted with such staggering statistics, I feel I must do something. Rip out their bullying bones before they mature into full-blown serial killers. How can any parent stand to see their child in pain?

But that would be cheating. Except for the most serious of incidents, kids have to go through it on their own.

That doesn’t mean they must respond with violence. And it doesn’t mean we must blindly accept a school system that enables violence to flow freely.

But at the same time, our children can’t expect a parent to come to their rescue. All that new age pscho-babble about bullying building character is sadly, in some ways, true.

I remember once getting clobbered by a kid who lived right on our street. Since I wasn’t any good at fighting back, I took it. But for once I didn’t cry. I walked back to my house with dignity. Then I saw my mother, and I broke down.

And she ran out and told that kid off, spoke with his parents, I don’t know exactly what. And instead of feeling relieved, I was mortified. She had stripped away my one shining moment of defiance. Of self-respect.

Eventually we grow up. The bullies become less overt and less a daily menace. But we internalize our experiences.

The Jewish people in the Diaspora have had to contend with thousands of years of being bullied. As a result, the last 50 years of nation building in Israel has included a large element of working through our victimization. So now we have our own Jewish playground bullies, not to mention full-fledged Jewish gangsters, prostitutes, corrupt politicians, and an army that, sadly, is not immune to bullying either.

Does this make us a normal country, a nation like all others?

If so, then I think we blew it. But the good news is that it’s not too late. There are organizations working diligently to stem the violent tide. Starting with our kids. Amir’s school, ironically, has been a pioneer in developing a non-violence curriculum that has over the years included conflict mediation and yoga.

And so, as Amir came out of his time-out, we did what any parents, and in particular what one particular parent who knows from bullying far too well, would do: we reached out and embraced our son.

We can’t fight his battles for him. But we can strive in our own small way to make the world at large – and if not that, at least his more immediate world at home – a safer, move loving place.

There are a few positive notes on violence in Israel. Israeli children suffer less verbal abuse from their teachers than in other countries. According to the TIMSS study, we rank only fourth in this category, behind Holland, Australia and New Zealand. We're also fourth when it comes to theft committed on school grounds, this time following Australia, Holland and South Africa.

What is it about the Aussies and the Dutch anyway?

Finally, believe it or not, Israeli kids interrupt their teachers less frequently than their counterparts in Australia, Holland and even the good old United States. Decorum in the classroom? Not quite. But it could be worse.

Monday, June 16, 2003

The Waiting

The hardest part is the waiting.

After last Wednesday’s suicide bomb attack on the 14 bus in Jerusalem, we went into waiting mode. Waiting for news. Waiting for names.

The 14 is a particularly emotional bus line for us. It travels from the center of town to the center of Southern Jerusalem via Emek Refaim Street, continuing on into the Talpiot Industrial Zone. Amir would have taken the 14 to junior high in the fall if he had continued on at the school where he is now (as you may recall, he was accepted to Hartman which is within walking distance from home).

As the news filtered in, I tried to imagine who I knew who might have been riding home to our neighborhood at 5:30 PM, the hour chosen by the bomber and his handlers to be the most destructive. Did any of our friends work downtown? Go shopping in the Mahane Yehuda market specifically on Wednesdays?

By now, of course, we’ve perfected the ritual: the ambulances arrive within minutes. So do the Zaka volunteers who begin searching for body parts in accordance with Jewish law. Within hours the families will be notified and the funeral times announced on the radio news.

The morning paper will already have prepared a small passport photo of each of the dead, along with one or two paragraphs trying in vain to sum up an entire life. Just waiting for all the names to be officially released.

The radio stations play their own waiting game. After any attack, they switch to their “sad songs” playlist, which consists of old Pioneer songs, vintage Shlomo Artzi and Sting. At some point, a judgment call is made that says it’s now OK to go back to the usual raucous rock and rap. The waiting period seems to have gotten shorter and shorter. Have we become insensitive after so much pain? Or just that much more resilient?

Waiting used to have such different meanings.

We'd wait to hear test results: Did I pass or not? Is it a boy or a girl? Benign or malignant?

We'd wait for a response: Did I get the job? Will she marry me? How long will the flight be delayed?

Waiting is what I remember most when Marla died.

I had just returned from a month in the States and a few days stopover in Amsterdam. After my redeye flight landed and I had collected my luggage at Ben Gurion, my cell phone rang. It was my father-in-law.

Marla, he said, was missing.

Missing, why?

Hadn’t I heard? There was a terror attack at Hebrew University the day before.

No, I hadn’t heard. I had been frolicking in the sweltering humidity and decadent haze of the Netherland’s wickedest city.

“The State Department called asking for her dental records. It doesn’t look good,” he said.

That had already been hours ago and Marla’s family had been waiting, living with the uncertainty since the day before.

It was 6:00 AM when I arrived home. I had carefully scripted a plan to sleep a few hours before heading back to work after a long absence.


I tossed and turned, hoping, praying. And waiting.

When I got out of bed, less refreshed than when I climbed in, I mounted the stairs to my home office, sat at my computer and logged on. There was her name. In the scrolling updates bar at the top of the Haaretz website. Just like that.

The wait was over.

But it never ends. Not really. This country is so small, so close-knit, that no matter if the next attack (and there always seems to be a “next” attack) is in Jerusalem, Netanya, Mombassa or Mumbai, there is always the heavy potential for personal connection.

Ironically, it’s one off the things we love the most about this place.

When I go on a plane out of Israel, I always know a few people. It’s uncanny: six million Israelis and I invariably bump into someone I know at the airport or two rows ahead.

When an Israeli driver passes you on the highway, he’ll always turn his head to look at you, to check you out. I used to think it was intrusive, the kind of invasion of privacy you’d never imagine from North Americans, where the etiquette is the polar opposite: always stare straight ahead.

Now I know the Israeli is just looking to see if he knows you. And the chances are pretty good.

Up until fairly recently, I used to take the kids out for pizza every Friday. We'd hold court at our regular table on the sidewalk and greet what seemed to be an endless stream of friends and acquaintances.

Marla was almost always among the passers-by. We waited for her, and I'm sure she just as eagerly looked forward to our weekly high-five.

The notification this time came early Wednesday evening. Via the Internet, just like with Marla. An email arrived informing us that one the members of our synagogue, Alan Beer, a recent immigrant from Cleveland, was among those killed on the 14 bus. Now our community had been hit twice directly. And many times more indirectly.

It has always been one of my most sanctified beliefs, my most clinged-to defense mechanism, that lightning never strikes twice. That once you’ve lost someone close, it can’t happen to you again. Or to your community of friends and worshippers.

But that, apparently, is not the way it works.

Two days later, as I was busily slathering the lachmaniyot with margarine and tuna (not together) for the kids' lunches, the 7:00 AM news carried a report that the army spokesman was warning the coming week would be a “very difficult one” due to the sheer number of terror warnings.

And so we continue to wait. For the next time.

And pray. For the last time.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Hole in One

I am standing with my landlord and we’re looking at a big hole in the wall. A hole that I was responsible for making. And the landlord is not happy.

Not happy at all.

It all started the day before. We had a leak in one of our pipes. It seemed simple enough to fix and we hate bothering the landlord with the little things. So we called our own plumber to have it fixed. Chick-chack we thought.

Well, the plumber got to the ailing pipe all right. But while he was fixing the pipe, another sprung a leak.

“Happens all the time,” he said. “The pipes are old. You can never tell.”

“OK,” I muttered. “What choice do we have? Go ahead and fix the second pipe too.”

Before I got even half way up the stairs, I heard loud banging. I raced back down and found that he was knocking a hole in the wall in order to get his equipment positioned properly to twist the stubborn second pipe out of its socket.

Now you have to understand a little about Israeli construction. Many internal walls are made of a substance known in Hebrew as geves and in English as some-flimsy-plaster-that-would-never-see-the-light-of-day-in-North American-housing-construction. It’s thin and easy to put up. Even easier to knock down. As far as the plumber was concerned, what he'd done was par for the course. He’d made plenty of holes in his time.

But in his enthusiasm, the plumber had also broken clean through to the other side of the wall which was the guest bathroom. The landlord had put some very lovely tiles there, and now four of these were lying crumbled on the floor in sad little pieces.

“Stop,“ I yelled at the plumber. Then calming for a moment: “I think we’d better call the landlord and see what he says.”

Which brings us up to the present.

Now, our landlord is a very straight guy. He prides himself on his honesty and disposition which is always calm, always measured. But as we stood there, I could sense him trying with all his might to contain an uncharacteristic rage. He just kept shaking his head and muttering “This is a problem. I don’t know what we’re going to do. The insurance... This is a problem. Yes, this is a big problem.”

We sat down at the kitchen table and I offered him a glass of Mei Eden mineral water while we proceeded to work through what was going to happen next. I was already imagining the worst: a large bill we couldn’t afford. Or even eviction. “On account of being too much trouble” the documents would somberly read.

Before we dived in, he mentioned something about what he was doing work-wise these days. And it just so happened that there was an intersection between his work and what Jody is doing with her financial household management courses. I thought there might be a potential shidduch here - a match.

So I indulged him. I asked him questions about his work. And he began to talk. And as he talked, his face lightened up. His shoulders relaxed. He became more animated and free.

He went on for a long time and I didn’t try to stop him. I nodded and smiled and asked pertinent questions at the right times.

After awhile, he said “OK, let’s get back to business.”

I braced myself.

“Look,” he began. “This could have happened to anyone. If I had done it myself, I probably would have broken through the wall too. It’s no big deal really. The insurance will cover it.”

Was this the same man I was standing with a half an hour ago? Apparently, a little active listening had worked wonders. But it was no trick. I truly was interested in what he had to say. Not to mention helping Jody by making the match.

Still I wondered: was this experience somehow indicative of the inner workings of the average Israeli? A real-time version of the old cliche about the sabra – the cactus plant that’s all prickles on the outside yet tender on the inside if you just know how to get in?

Maybe the rapid transformation had something to do with the bus bombing in downtown Jerusalem the day before? A sense of perspective washing over him as the personal connection between us increased.

Or would the same thing have happened anywhere, with anyone, in similar circumstances?

The question was certainly interesting on a theoretical level. But tachlis –the practical benefit: we had just turned what could have been a very ugly and expensive situation into an unexpected win/win. And maybe even a friendship.

“Listen,” I added, almost nonchalantly at this point, “At least let us pay the insurance company’s deductible. After all, it was our fault. We broke through the wall in the first place.’

“Nahhh...” he replied, shrugging off my magnanimousness. “We’ll split it.”

Monday, June 09, 2003

Aviv and Ayah

One of the many ways cultures manifest their differences is through the curses and expressions used to register pain or discomfort.

Growing up in America, I employed any number of choice terms, ranging from invoking the names of leading religious figures, to various colorful expletives I accost you with here.

In Israel, one of the expressions uttered by children, in particular upon stubbing a toe or any other mild frustration, is “Ayah.” It doesn’t mean anything. Just sounds kind of like “ow” or “ouch” or “oy.” Five-year-old Aviv and many of his kindergarten classmates can be heard uttering “Ayah” at regular intervals.

Now, every night I make up a “‘pon a time” story for Aviv. The tales invariably feature a fanciful cast of fairies, giants and magic carpets. The thing is, I never know what story I’m going to tell until I sit down on Aviv’s bed – they’re all made up on the spot. I’ll look around the room for some inspiration.

Smoke from a barbeque outside one night led to a story about aliens that talked by spewing fire at each other. Another time it was the boy with the smelliest shoes in the world (you can guess where the idea for that one came from).

One night, just as Aviv was climbing into bed, he knocked his head into the side of his dresser.

“Ayah!” he cried out.

That’s all I needed.

“Once upon a time," I began, "there was a little boy named Aviv. He was about five years old and sometimes, like all five year old boys, he would get hurt. Whenever he bonked into something or stepped on a toy, he’d cry out ‘Ayah.’ And when he did, Ayah would come.

“Ayah was Aviv’s special angel. Her job was to make the ow-ee feel better. As soon as she came, the pain would always start to go away.”

“Ayah's not real,” Aviv interrupted."There's no such person."

“Of course there is,” I responded. “But she’s invisible. You can't see her. No one can. But you always know when she's there. You can feel her tickles on your neck."

I returned to the story.

"So, Aviv called Ayah a lot and there was never a time when she didn't come. If Aviv got a particular painful ow-ee, Ayah would bring her friends Raya and Shmaya."

“Raya and Shmaya?” Aviv giggled.

“What, she should call Yogi and Boo Boo?”


“So I was saying. Over time, Aviv fell in love with Ayah, and she with him. They whispered to each other that someday they would marry.

“But as Aviv got older, he stopped calling out when he got hurt. He learned to keep his feelings inside. To be a big strong man who didn’t cry. A real gever. And he forgot about Ayah.

“Ayah was very sad. She missed Aviv terribly. But what could she do? She was only allowed to come if she was called. Those were the rules. She spent her days waiting with Tinkerbell and the other fairies whose masters had forsaken them too.

“Eventually, Aviv grew up. He married someone other than Ayah. They had three little children of their own. One day, when Aviv’s littlest boy was just about five years old, he was in the kitchen getting an apple out of the fridge when it dropped on his foot. And for the first time cried out ‘Ayah!’

“And do you know who came?”


“Of course it was Ayah! Even though she didn’t come for Aviv this time, he knew she was there. He felt her tickles on the back of his neck. And right then and there, He remembered their special times and right then and there he promised never to forget her again.

“And today, if that big man Aviv gets an ow-ee, you know what he does? That’s right. He calls for his Ayah. And she always comes. And they lived happily ever after.

"OK Aviv. Time to say Shema.


But as I looked over to him, I saw that he was already fast asleep. He can do that, just fall asleep on a dime, without uttering a word or a even a sigh. I don’t even know if he heard the ending.

But no matter. He already knows this story by heart.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Dancing with the Snakefish

Ben and Marla died.

Let’s dance.

As incongruous and inappropriate as the sentiment sounds, that was exactly the inspiration behind a free concert attended by thousands of Jerusalemites last Wednesday night: a concert to honor the memory of Marla Bennett and Ben Blutstein, two very special individuals who were killed almost a year ago now in the terrorist bombing at Hebrew University .

But much more than that, this was a concert to celebrate life.

Their lives.

And ours.

If there is one thing that has impressed me over the nearly twelve years I've been here, it's the astounding ability the people of this country have to bounce back, to keep on going, despite it all. It never ceases to amaze me.

Last Passover, we were paralyzed. After a spate of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Netanya and Tel Aviv, sometimes at a rate of several every day, most people we know basically stopped going out. We ordered in pizza and videos. We went from home to work and back and that was it.

We were afraid.

But then it was like we all woke up unison and said to ourselves: this is crazy. We’re not going to let our fear stop us from doing what we love. What we need.

And so we flocked back to the cafes and the discos and the theaters. The streets filled up again. Color returned to the rhythm of life.

And now a year later, 3,000 people (the police said that was a conservative estimate) crowded the Jerusalem Tayelet, the outdoor promenade that overlooks the Old City from the direction of the Southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, to hear the bands Sheva and Hadag Nachash (in English: Snakefish) play their hearts out on a warm Jerusalem night.

The choice of musicians was not accidental. Marla loved Sheva. Their blend of new age rhythms and Middle Eastern vocalizations represented for Marla all that was unique and positive about this part of the world.

Ben was a bridge-builder in the best sense of the word: by day he studied Jewish texts at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies with Marla; come nightfall, he spun disks and played the latest hip hop, rap and jungle in clubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with his tzitzit (ritual fringes) twirling like 45s. Snakefish is one of Israel’s top rap bands and was a favorite of Ben’s. Both groups donated their time.

To those who knew and loved Marla and Ben, a concert seemed more fitting than a night of speeches and sadness.

And a whole lot more inclusive.

The audience for the show was as varied and multi-cultural as I have ever seen in Israel. Gathered together in one relatively compact space, you had everything from completely secular teenagers in the most revealing of clothes out for a good time; modern religious families dressed more conservatively in button down shirts, knitted kippot and berets; black bearded, black hatted Yeshiva students from I don’t know where; and three busloads of North American college kids visiting Israel on the birthright program.

And they were all grooving together. It was a sight to be seen. No: to be experienced. I felt privileged to be there.

Still, the event was confusing. As much as I believe in celebrating life, I felt that on an evening to remember, I should be grieving more. Marla was, after all, our cousin, a dear and close part of our family. The heavy security presence guarding every entrance served as a reminder that all was not as it should be. It seemed somehow wrong to be enjoying myself as much as I was. Meeting up with old friends (the atmosphere was like a college reunion). Letting the music take me wherever it would.

Perhaps the best way to make sense of the evening would be to compare it to a wedding. According to Jewish tradition, the reason we break a glass under the chupah (the wedding canopy) is to remind us that at even the most joyous of moments, there is always a little sadness. Two people find their life partners, marry, plan a life full of adventure, but still take a moment at the height of their happiness to remember the many, many innocents who have died in wars of injustice and man’s inhumanity to man.

I thought about Michael who had been planning just such a life together with his girlfriend Marla. His world is inverted now: a great big broken glass with only a little joy in the center.

During the break between Sheva and Snakefish, Amanda Pogany (Marla’s best friend), spoke to the crowd about Marla.

I was standing at the time near a group of Israeli teens. Tank tops, belly shirts, pierced everything, tattoos. During the speeches, they just wouldn’t shut up.

Maybe it was the English - clearly not their native tongue. Maybe it was the age: do teenagers anywhere have respect for speechmakers?

A battle of sorts ensued. Some of the educators from Pardes, who were standing nearby, started shushing the teens who just laughed. Shush. Laugh. Even louder talk. Louder shushing. It might even have been amusing if I hadn’t wanted to hear what Amanda was saying.

And then, Amanda and others who had joined her on stage began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. And a hush fell over the crowd. Even the teens. They knew what this was. They knew all the words. They said them along with Amanda, with Michael, with my wife Jody and me. They knew exactly when to say Amen.

Before this moment, I wondered, did they know that this was a memorial event and not just a free outdoor rap concert? Even at this point, they probably hadn't copped the full reason, but they also knew something was different. That there was a glass that needed to be broken.

And then Snakefish roared onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Gyrating and sweating in the warm night air.

The juxtaposition and the message: Don’t stop dancing, don’t stop having fun, don’t stop living.

And never forget.

Aaron Bisman who organized the event has just posted pictures on his JDubRecords website. Click here to view them.