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Where will Gilad Shalit be this Passover?

An Open Letter to Jewish Mothers Across the Globe

March 29, 2009

Dear Sisters,

As the holiday of Passover approaches, many of us are busy planning for the holiday. Many of us will be hosting large Seders. For me, I eagerly count down the days, waiting for my married daughter and her wonderful husband to spend this joyous time with us. I am honored, too, that my parents will be joining our Seders, providing memories that I know my children will cherish for a lifetime.

As the pace of the many preparations for Passover becomes more frantic for us Jewish mothers, within our work we find joy. A joy in remembering the freedom we were given long ago. An appreciation for the freedom that we are experiencing in our free countries today. What better a time to celebrate than with our families, loved ones and extended guests!

And as I go about my busy preparations, I can't help but think of another Jewish mother, whose preparations cannot be full of joy.

A mother who is consumed daily with questions about when her son will be returned to her. A mother who cannot experience freedom while her son languishes in the cruel tentacles of his kidnappers. A mother who nightly, for the last 1,000 nights, has searched into the black night wondering how her child is faring.

My mind simply cannot comprehend what Aviva Shalit is experiencing. The haunted fear. The agony. The torturous existence. The all-consuming emptiness each morning as she passes by Gilad's empty bedroom and agonizes over his wellbeing.

As Jewish mothers, we all know we'd give our last slice of bread for our children. Our children's pain and challenges hurt us more than our own and become deeply etched in our hearts.

And so, as I joyously set my Passover Seder table, I imagine Aviva going through the same steps, but with such different emotions. A mother simply cannot sense freedom when her son is being held hostage.

In my mind's eye, I see an image of a broken mother suffused by an unquenchable emptiness in the pit of her soul, a sadness that does not diminish, and a longing that has been her constant companion for close to three long years.

As Aviva sets her own Seder table, she will undoubtedly leave an empty seat for her Gilad. She will be praying with only the faith that a Jewish mother can access, that her precious child will be returned and sit in his designated seat, right next to her at their Seder table.

Gilad's empty chair reminds me of how activists for Soviet Jewry throughout the 1960s and 1970s called for adding an empty chair and setting aside an extra matzah at the Seder table as a stark reminder of the 3 million Soviet Jews who were not free to attend a Seder.

The Rebbe, however, was not pleased with his suggestion. Aside from expressing his firm belief that the move was a tactical blunder that would only serve to further alienate the Soviets, he decried the notion as fundamentally wrong.

“So you have an empty chair,” he said in the days leading up to Passover 1970. “Go out into the street where you live, and find Jews who don’t know how to celebrate the Seder, or don’t even know what a Seder is, and sit them down at your Seder table!”

So, as these days quickly come closer, I think of Aviva's empty chair at her Seder, set up for her Gilad. And I think, dear sisters, that we cannot, must not, dare not, stand by and allow Gilad's chair to remain empty this Passover. We must not and cannot rest complacently until Gilad is reunited with his family.

What can we do? Honestly, I do not know. I turn to you, dear sisters, for a plan of action.

Each of us need not do the same thing, but each of us must act.

Whether it is to petition the Israeli government to close all the borders of Gaza and let its people feel the sting of a son who has been separated from his parents for far too long... We cannot, must not, dare not, stand by and allow Gilad's chair to remain empty this Passover. whether it is to write to the United States government to withhold all their humanitarian aid until the most humanitarian thing is accomplished—that a young boy who dutifully went out to guard his country's borders is freed from his cruel oppressors...whether it is to pray daily, say a chapter of Psalms for Gilad's release or take upon ourselves to do an extra act of kindness daily in his merit...or whether it is to encourage another Jewish woman to light Shabbat or holiday candles to fill our world with more spiritual light...I look to you for suggestions.

All I do know is that this Passover we must do whatever we can to ensure that the Shalits fully experience the festival of liberation.

And I know that we must not allow Gilad's Seder seat to remain empty. We must fill it with a smiling, reunited Gilad.

Aviva understands that her son was taken only because he is a Jew. Because he was protecting his homeland. Because he was living amongst those who hate our very presence, who abhor our heritage and the G‑dly gift of our Land.

Even thousands of years ago, before we received the Torah, we were a nation that was different. We kept to ourselves. We had our own names and our own language, and most of all, our own culture. We stood apart; we held on to a different value system. We had a different genealogy and ancestry. And because we did, we were hated.

We were hated by the Pharaohs that ruled the country. We were hated by his advisors and astrologers. We were hated by each and every one of our neighbors. Our very existence was a thorn in their eyes.

So they beat us; they kidnapped our children and threw them to their deaths in their Nile. And they worked us mercilessly. They tortured our bodies and our psyches. We became a frightened, downtrodden nation.

So we prayed to G‑d, and He liberated us.

He showed us an outpouring of love. A torrent of kindness in the midst of an overwhelming brutal callousness. He performed great miracles to restore a semblance of justice to our world.

He returned our humanity to us. What can we do? I turn to you for suggestions. From a beaten, oppressed nation, we became His beloved children, with whom He would make an eternal covenant articulating His everlasting love for us. He gave us hope and He gave us a future. And He bequeathed to us our own, holy home and Land as an everlasting present.

This Passover, May G‑d answer our prayers again.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Changing Lanes

March 22, 2009

I am driving along in my small silver sports car. The pace of the cars around me has suddenly become frenzied; the flow of traffic has thickened considerably; I have hit morning rush hour on Toronto's busy thoroughfares. I need to merge into traffic on a very busy main road. But I am stopped, stuck, as the cars whiz past me.

And yet, I have a destination. I NEED to get onto this road. Finally, I see a very small breather coming up. I will squeeze my way in.

But...the cars are racing past me. I hesitate. I lose my courage to forge forward, and in the process, my opportunity.

So, I am still stuck here, at this stop sign. Still lingering. Still waiting for an easy way to wedge my way into the constant, fast flow of the traffic. But it doesn't come.

I sit up taller, more confident. I take a deep breath.

I fix my eyes further down the road. Once again, there's my opportunity, just past the taupe mini van, I'll make my move.

I push down on the gas pedal. Hard. Faster. You must. Don't falter.

But for a split second, I almost feel paralyzed. So many cars approaching...so close to mine. I need to speed up to keep up with the flow of traffic, yet my instincts warn me, proceed gradually, cautiously. Slow down and keep an eye on the cars behind. But how can I edge into the traffic if I saunter? How can I keep track of what is behind me, if I am to focus on my progress up ahead?

Look forward. Not behind. Faster. Don't let fear or doubt overtake you, another voice instructs. Only once you are safely driving in your new direction, coasting along this roadway, can you safely reassess or redefine your position.

There are times in life when we realize the need to change lanes or turn onto a different roadway.

A part of us would like to proceed with caution, keeping an eye and a hold on what we're leaving behind while slowly introducing something new. But even while all of our instincts are advising slow paced prudence, at some point, we need to take that complete leap of faith, racing off the path of the past in order to embrace that of the future—with confidence, without hesitation, without distraction, and without looking back or around.

Maimonides instructs us to take the middle, golden path on life's journey. Proceed with deliberation, at a moderate pace, keeping an eye on all that's around us. But when making an instrumental change in our lives, when changing directions, or when working on uprooting an ingrained habit, tendency or addiction, Maimonides advises us to go to the opposite extreme. Jump right in, without looking back, at the fastest pace possible. Only once we're steadily on our way can we ease up on our tenacious hold.

You've already determined your destination. You've chosen your path. Now, push right down on the gas pedal, edge your way in, and enjoy your new journey.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Do You Live in a Fish Bowl?

March 15, 2009

Several months ago, at a children's rally, my ten year old son was the lucky winner of a raffle. His prize? A plump goldfish. It came in a plastic bag filled with water.

My son was ecstatic with his prize. I, on the other hand, was anxious. While I feigned excitement, inwardly I dreaded what I was sure was to come. Previous experience made me wonder how long we had before it died on us.

And so, we immediately drove to the closest fish store to purchase special food and a perfectly sized glass bowl that was to become our goldfish's new home. Despite all our efforts, though, by the next morning our prized goldfish was dead.

But my son's enthusiasm for a pet fish had been whetted. He begged us for another fish, a stronger one that he could care for long term. That is how Simcha, our blue Betta fish, reluctantly came into our home.

My son's hobby grew into somewhat of a passion, as he studied more and more about the different species of fish and the environments best suited for each to thrive. He learned of community fish tanks for the "friendly fish" as well as "aggressive fish" that needed their own space; he studied about fresh water tanks as opposed to tropical fish that needed salt water environments. He could enthusiastically recite which species were "top" swimmers, and which preferred to swim/crawl along the ocean's depths.

Little by little, my son's ambitions (and persuasive power) grew, as did his thorough knowledge of handling fish and their unique needs. After dutifully caring for Simcha for several months, he begged us to buy a real fish tank, fully equipped with its own heater, filter, gravel bottom, fish toys, etc., as well, of course, as a whole assortment of brightly colored fish.

So after several more trips to the fish store, we now have two fully equipped fish tanks, a smaller one for our aggressive, loner fish, Simcha, and one with a whole array of exotic sounding, friendly species like Clown Loaches, Neon Guppies, Panda Platies, Zebra Danios and more.

Even I have to admit that I've become enamored by this colorful new piece of decor. Daily as I pass our fish, I find myself hypnotically observing their graceful swim. And as I gaze at them, I wonder about their perceptions of their home:

Do our fish realize that this twenty gallon tank is just a tiny miniature replica of their authentic home, in some faraway lake or sea?

Do they understand that the pretty blue background gracing the back of their tank is just a cheap, printed backdrop?

Do they enjoy the food that we drop in twice daily—even though it is a freeze dried, preserved formula meant to mimic the native food that fish hunt?

Are the heater that keeps their waters warm and the filter that cleans it, properly simulating the environments of their real homes, hundreds of miles from here?

Do they discern that the plants that they play with are artificial—plastic replicas of lush, living greenery?

Of course they can't know any of this. They can't possibly understand how artificial their environment is, or how far from their real source they have come. This is what they've been born into and what they will bring their offspring into. To them this is home. This is comfortable. They simply cannot fathom a different, more authentic existence.

And then I thought about us.

Despite our material comforts, despite being born into our exiled circumstances, do we realize how foreign our environment is? That soon will come a time when we will be submerged in life giving waters, with a genuine perception of our divine source and purpose?

Life in our fish tanks might be a more or less comfortable simulation. But it's nothing like the real thing.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Twenty-five Wise Principles

March 8, 2009

[I found these 25 ideas, preciously wise principles in how to lead a happier life. I thought you'd enjoy them too.--Chana Weisberg]

1. Take a 10 - 30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile. It is the ultimate anti-depressant.

2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day. Talk to G‑d about what is going on in your life. Buy a lock if you have to.

3. When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, 'My purpose is to________________ today. I am thankful for_________________.

4. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.

5. Drink green tea and plenty of water. Eat blueberries, wild Alaskan salmon, broccoli, almonds & walnuts.

6. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

7. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

8. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.

9. Life isn't fair, but G‑d is good.

10. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

11. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

12. You are not so important that you have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

13. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.

14. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

15. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

16. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: 'In five years, will this really matter?'

17. Forgive everyone for everything.

18. What other people think of you is none of your business.

19. G‑d heals everything - but you have to ask Him.

20. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

21. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch!

22. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

23. Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements: I am thankful for_______________. Today I accomplished_______________.

24. Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.

25. When you are feeling down, start listing your many blessings. You'll be smiling before you know it.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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