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The Mother Brigade

The Mother Brigade

My mother led a one-woman solidarity mission to Israel to prop up the nation's economy and flagging spirits.


My mother stands all of 5'2 but, sometimes, she seems like a giant.

The same week that the largest movement in American Judaism cancelled its summer youth trips to Israel, my mom showed up at Ben Gurion airport ready to make up the difference.

My mother is a very cute little woman who, at 56, has retained something of a wide-eyed cheerleader air. Yet, when she gets a hold of an idea, she just won't let go. Although it happened to coincide with the painful canceling announcement, her trip was hastily planned a few weeks ago, squeezed in between major projects at work. Sure, she wanted to check up on her only daughter. But she really wanted to do whatever she could to stand in solidarity with the people of Israel.


At first, I found this quite funny.

As the e-mails flew back and forth hatching the details of her trip, I'd snort to friends about my mom's Mission: she wants to spend as much money here as she can. Understand, much as I might wish otherwise, my mom is no Michael Steinhardt. She's a generous woman, but the thought of her disposable income making any serious dent in the shortfall left by the tourism drought seemed laughable.

Yet when I chuckled affectionately about the one-woman-solidarity-mission, I was met not with grins, but with pauses, long moments in which indecipherable emotions crossed my Israeli friends' faces.

"Wow," they'd say, after the pause. "That's great."

The emotion behind the pause, I came to realize, was gratitude.

In normal years, Jerusalem overflows with tourists - Jewish tourists - during the summer months. There are entire swaths of downtown I customarily avoid, lest I be crushed by hordes of baseball-cap wearing kids from NFTY teen tours. At the Western Wall, synagogue after synagogue trips pose for group pictures. Tour buses clog the already-crowded streets and we Americans-by-birth cringe listening to our visiting countrymen try to bargain down shopkeepers' set prices.

Not so this year. We practically had Ben Yehuda, the pedestrian mall in the center of Jerusalem, to ourselves. The square in the middle of the Jewish quarter of the Old City, ringed by stores, stood empty.

The economic effects are devastating. Tourism is down by 46 percent compared to last year, according to the ministry of tourism. The ministry estimates the loss for the last quarter of 2000 alone at $1 billion. Even if the situation improved dramatically tomorrow, it would take 12 to 18 months for the tourist trade to begin to recover. Groups book that far in advance, so filling up the hotels and empty tour guide schedules won't happen overnight.

Hotels and restaurants have laid off staff, closed wings or branches, or even shut down altogether. Tour operators and tour guides are almost completely without work. In the hotel industry alone, a minimum of 15,000 to 20,000 jobs have already been eliminated or furloughed.


As devastating as the economic impact is, the absence of tourists hits deeper. Israelis feel abandoned.

We are going about our daily lives, expectantly listening to the news every hour, hoping and praying that the latest cease-fire violation won't take anyone's life along with it. We're losing sleep when our husbands, sons, boyfriends and brothers are called for reserve duty in greater frequency and trying to squeeze out the sensation that, no matter what we do, the whole world is going to condemn us.

And then comes the news that our American brothers and sisters are staying home.

My mother mortified me time and again as she whipped out her camera to take pictures of the lines of people at the newly opened IKEA in Netanya. Yes, there's a crisis going on here, but that doesn't stop the entire country from massing on the reasonably priced Scandinavian furniture store.

Nor did it stop people from filling Jerusalem's Shopping mall in Malcha. There, my mother snapped shots of two cherubic-looking soldiers, telling them sternly to "BE SAFE" as she walked away.

"I want people to know that life is going on here, that life is normal," she would explain to shopkeepers and passersby as she documented their comings and goings, as I stood, face burning, in the corner.

"I want people to know that it's safe here!" she would declare, insisting that she feels less safe on the streets of Phoenix than she does on the streets of Jerusalem. She would explain to them how I walk my dog around my neighborhood in the middle of the night without a second thought.

"I'd want an armed guard for her to do that in the States!" she'd exclaim.

She told everyone who would listen that she is angry with her fellow American Jews for staying home, for leaving hotels empty, beaches abandoned, tourist sites barren, and an economy devastated. She is angry at them for staying home at the very time Israelis need to feel that someone in the world stands with them.

And, like every good daughter, I rolled my eyes when she said all this, until I realized something: I may have thought that was she was saying was silly and overdramatic and maybe even condescending to the tough Israelis. But the Israelis didn't.


Hearing her speech, a cab driver tried to refuse her money for a ride. He was overwhelmed and she had to force him to accept payment. Storekeepers, instead of taking advantage of a willing customer, gave her incredibly fair prices. The $15 or $150 she spent in each store isn't going to make up the huge losses businesses have been suffering, but her attitude - I saw slowly in the faces of the storekeepers - made a huge impact.

At some point, it occurred to me that the Torah portion being read the Shabbat she was here told of the spies who scoped out the land of Israel and can back bearing tales of a foreboding and dangerous land. The Jews cried and lost faith in the land that God had promised to them. For this sin, God punished us severely.

It dawned on me: my spunky little mother was enacting a modern-day tikkun, repair, of what the spies did. They came to Israel and scared people off, as some do today, whether it's talking about terrorism or inflation. But my mother came here to document the vitality and beauty and energy that is Israel. She came to scope out the land and go back and tell her fellow Jews how wonderful a land it is that God gave us, and how excited we should be that we can enter it.

In every store we passed, she marched in and bought some sort of trinket, big or small. "I am here to show solidarity with the Israelis!" she'd chirp.

She'd proudly explain to the storekeeper how her daughter lives here and she came to make a difference.

The thing is this: she did.

Show solidarity with Israel and join women from across North America on Aish's Women's Leadership Mission 2001, July 22-31, led by author and lecturer, Lori Palatnik.

It's a complete body and soul experience, which will inspire you in every way. Learn from the greatest minds in the Jewish world today, just steps from The Western Wall. Spend Shabbat together in The Old City of Jerusalem. Hear first hand from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert just what is really going on there. What is the Palestinian claim to the land? Are they really using their children as human shields in battle? What can we do to support Israel at this time?

Stay in the luxurious Dan Perl Hotel overlooking the walls of The Old City. Enjoy tours, banquet breakfasts, cafe lunches, and shopping in the outdoor malls. And meet women just like you-- thinking, growing, questioning...make friendships that will last a lifetime.

There is still space available, but call today! Toll free, 1-877-613-0613, ask for Sheryl. She'll answer all of your questions and take care of all your needs.

June 23, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 28

(28) Anonymous, July 1, 2005 12:00 AM


My husband and I went to Israel in the summer of 2004 with a study group and spent time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv shopping on our own when not with the group. We took $2,000 with us an vowed that although it was not much in the large scheme of a nation's economy and all our budget could afford, we would spend it all and in some small way do our small part to boost at least a few Israeli's monthly income. We vowed to spend it all. We did spend it all and more via the American way ---- charge it! We walked all over Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities feeling safer than we do in some of the neighborhoods in this country. When we returned we told anyone who would listen how wonderful our first trip to Israel was and that there is no reason not to go ---- fear being the least. We are planning another trip in 2006 and still encouraging anyone who will listen that they should go. I hope whoever reads this will commit to experience the same joy and security we felt on our 2004 trip to Israel. Thank you.

(27) Anonymous, June 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Message from Liba's mom Thx for reprinting

Would you guess...I am exceedingly proud of my daughter's writing. This 2001 article she wrote was overwhelming for me.... and quite humbling! I'm now 61 (and 1/2 inch shorter!) but have been to Israel every year since 2001 always with the same message to my Phoenix community: Join me; shop Israel. I ask family and friends who can't (or won't) go, to be "virtual tourists" with me. They send me checks from $10 to $300. I pay and tip as though there are 3 or 4 or 5 with me.

I just returned from an Honest Israel Advocacy training mission in Jerusalem. If you care about Israel and want to work to correct Israel's image in your community, please look for their next mission and GO, GO, GO! It is an invaluable experience ... but go early so you can do alot of shopping for exquisite Israeli made products from grateful shopkeepers.

Am Yisrael Chai! Liba's proud Mom

(26) sisi, June 24, 2005 12:00 AM

UJF conference

THe UJF is planning the 2006 Young Leadership conference in Israel instead of the usual Washington DC. A generous group of donors in my area has lowered the total cost including hotels and flights to about 500. If you are Jewish and 20-40 contact your local UJF to see if they are sending a delegation to Israel in March of 2006.

(25) raye, June 23, 2005 12:00 AM

I'm here, I'm here at 85

Joyce Kilmer would be up a tree
If he could only live to see
The lovely foliage that do abound
As in Jerusalem I walk around.
Each area has its special bloom
And yet there is the threat of doom.
Each morning, a new lease on life,
Despite the threat, despite the strife.
The wonderful people one can meet
Makes daily meandering a treat.
You pay your money, you take your choice
After all, it could be worse.

(24) Andrew in Jerusalem, June 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Nice, but very dated

Thank G-d, things are much better here (re: tourism) four years later. I am told that all the big hotels in town are sold out this summer. But that shouldn't stop our American brothers from visiting. Better yet, enough with the excuses and make aliyah already!

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