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Life in Greece with a Jewish twist

Remembering Levi

2 years have passed since the tragic car accident which cost the life of 13 year old Levi z”l Hendel, my husband’s brother. Levi was spending the holiday of Chanukah in Eilat, visiting army bases of Tzahal, to bring to the soldiers the light and joy of Chanukah along with some tasty doughnuts. But, on the fourth day of Chanukah, the van carrying 9 boys on the way to an army base never reached its destination: after a curve, the driver lost control of the car and Levi was killed, along with 16 year old Moishe Golan and Yonatan Bitton z”l. The shock was immense and the pain unbearable: why did G-d choose to take away these precious souls, who were on the way to disseminate light? Why did sweet Levi, whose smile was irresistible, who chose to spend his vacation giving to others rather than relax, have to be taken from us in such a brutal way?

We question G-d, but we still have faith. We know that G-d is good, but we ask G-d to show us only revealed good, good that we mortals can recognize as good. We ask Him not to try our faith, but when we are confronted with such a tragic loss, we say, our voice choked with tears: “Baruch Dayan Haemet” “Blessed be He, the true Judge”.

And now 2 years have passed… Difficult to realize, difficult to believe… It seemed that it would be impossible to wake up again in the morning, to smile, to look at the sun, to eat, to sleep…  One part of us just wanted to mourn forever, while the other knew that the best way to pay tribute to Levi was to continue our life and to cherish his memory… We had to learn that we could laugh again even though we never forget the hole in our heart… We had to learn to go on with the everyday work, with the children, the activities even though we just wanted to sit down and cry…

And now, 2 years have passed, and Oh Levi, how we miss you …

Even though he was young in age, Levi was very responsible and loved to take care of his nieces and nephews. He was always ready to organize a game, tell a story and the children absolutely adored him. In summer 2006, during the second Lebanon war, my children were staying by their grandparents in Northern Israel, in the area where missiles were falling and all the citizens had to stay in shelters. The shelter in their house (cheder bitachon) was also Levi’s room. During the alerts, he put mattresses for the kids on the floor, played games and gave treats to entertain them and calm them down during the alerts. They even slept in his room during this week, so they would not need to be woken up if there was an alert during the night.

 Levi was creative, liked to play music and to write: he produced a musical tape with one of his friend and wrote a few short stories. Most of all, he enjoyed reading. He already had his personal library and used this Bar Mitzvah money to buy more books. This is why we created here in Athens a multimedia library in his memory.

All the stories will still not be able to describe and capture his wonderful smile, which spread from ear to ear and illuminated his whole face.  It will not do justice to his cheerful presence, to the pleasant way he engaged with everyone. His friends said that whenever they were visiting an army base, they would send him to the most harsh and grumpy soldiers, because no one could resist Levi’s smile.

Levi had spent the last holiday of Sukkot in our home in Athens. He helped with whatever was needed, never lazy or complaining. He helped build the Sukka on the roof, accompanied Mendel on diverse visits, and helped him also at the event in the old age home. He liked to bake, and prepared by himself small bread rolls, of which he was very proud. He played with the children, did arts and crafts with them, and taught them about the holiday. Once he was reading, and Mendel asked him what he was doing: right away, he put his book on a side and jumped with a grin: “what would you like me to be doing?”

That was Levi, always smiling, always eager to help….

Levi, we will never forget you, and we will continue in your smiling way to bring more light and goodness to the world, until darkness vanishes completely and we enter the Era of Peace and Redemption.

Pictures from the day before the accident: Levi lighting candles, bringing doughnuts to the soldiers, and putting on Tefilin with them.

“Stuck” in Greece for 16 hours

It seems that Olympic airways has a great deal on airplane tickets from the States to Israel, with a stopover in Greece. That’s why there are many travelers, this week of Chanukah, who find themselves “stuck” in Greece for the 16 hour stopover. We get many emails and phone calls from them, asking about a place to light the Chanukiya, availability of kosher food, safety due to the intermittent riots, etc.

So here is the guide for the traveler on a stopover:

1)      Ask for a hotel

For stopovers over 12 hours, Olympic airways provides travelers with a free hotel. You have to request it at the Olympic airways desk, upon arrival in Athens. If you are like me and have difficulty sleeping on airplanes, you will welcome the possibility to rest a little and freshen up after the overnight flight. Olympic airways will provide you with a free shuttle service to and from the hotel. (The hotels they offer are located in the southern suburb of the city).

2)      How to get to the city center?

All the tourist attractions, as well as the synagogue and the Chabad house are located in the city center. It is about 45 minutes drive from the airport. A taxi should cost you about 35 – 40 Euros. You can also take the bus E95 right outside of the arrivals or the metro line 3 (blue) which will both bring you to Syntagma Square (Constitution Square).

3)      What should we do during the day?

I suggest first to visit the Jewish Museum of Greece, which will give you a nice idea about the history of the Jewish community and their customs. It is open until 14:30, and is located very close to Syntagma Square, on Nikis 39. More info on their website:

From there, I would take a walk in the Plaka historic area of Athens (and buy some little cheesy souvenirs for my relatives), and then, climb to the Acropolis. After all, this is the highlight of Athens, you cannot leave without seeing it, at least from below.

Last, I would recommend seeing the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament, on Syntagma square. It takes place every hour, and makes up for great pictures. If you have more time, you can take a walk in the National Gardens, right next to the Parliament, it's an oasis of calm and freshness in middle on the crazy traffic and noise of the city.

4)      How about kosher food?

For the moment, there is no kosher restaurant or store in Athens, but we have a kosher catering service. If you want to order, please do so in advance.

5)      Where can I light the Chanukiya?

There is a public Menorah lighting every evening outside from the synagogue, at 19:00. Travelers can then join us in our home to light their own candles and for dinner.

6)      Is Athens safe?

Yes. There are still intermittent riots, but they are happening in very specific locations. The rioters do not target civilians or travelers, they are more interested in fighting with the police, and occasionally destroying property. If you keep away from eventual demonstrations, you will not encounter any problem.

Enjoy your stay in Athens!!!!

Miracles then and now

Happy Chanukah, everybody!

Chanukah, the festival of lights, started on Sunday evening, and we lit the first light of the Chanukiya, commemorating 2 miracles: first, the victory of the Maccabees against the armies of Syrian king Antiochus, who tried to force the Jewish people to abandon their faith and their customs to adopt the Hellenistic culture. Second, the miracle of the oil: the small jug of pure olive oil, which was only enough to light the Menorah in the Jerusalem Temple for one day, lasted for 8 days, until new olive oil could be prepared. (more on the history here). That’s why we light candles on the 8 days of Chanukah.

There are miracles, even in our times. If we only open our eyes, we can witness incredible “coincidences” and appreciate things that we take for granted: This video helped me appreciate the miracles that surround us.

A Chanukah Film
A morning sun rises in fiery splendor; a newborn baby enters the world. We witness miracles everyday and may sometimes take them for granted.
Discuss 37 Watch (9:01)

The revolution will take place tomorrow

The following is a graffiti in the Exarchia neighborhood, famous as an anarchist center (where the riots started): “The revolution will take place tomorrow. If it rains, it will take place the day after” J

I don’t know if it’s the bad weather or just the movement losing its momentum, but tonight, the situation is very calm. There are still isolated incidents, but it really seems that the chaotic situation of the last days is coming to an end.

I will certainly welcome some nights of quiet sleep, while my children will appreciate the return to calm. They were somehow frightened by all the noise and explosions, and disturbed by the smell of the smoke. School was canceled for 2 days (today, it was back to normal), and the turmoil must have effected them. My daughter (8 years old) commented: “I don’t agree with the policeman that killed the boy, but I also don’t agree with the people who burn the shops!!!”

From the mouth of babes....

Out of control

The riots are continuing for the fifth continuous night. We are located very close to the Polytechnic school, which is a bastion of the anarchist movement. This means that we do not need to open the TV to watch the riots, but just go out on our porch to see the fighting between youth and policemen. (Sometimes, it looks like they are playing cat and mouse). We hear the explosions of Molotov cocktails, we can see the youngsters throwing stones and other items on the MAT (the special police forces), setting ablaze garbage cans and wooden boards. The horrible smell of the tearing gas penetrates inside the buildings.

(It is important to note that the “asylum law” forbids police to enter university grounds, which then often become the center of action for anarchists and their refuge after their fights with the police.)

The situation is clearly out of hand, the police have completely lost control of the anarchists, joined by diverse hooligans and plain vandals who exploit the situation to break in and steal whatever they can from the stores.

I saw from our porch a bunch of hooded youngsters  (koukouloforoi as they are called here) breaking into a mobile phone store, raising the steel curtain with little effort, then breaking the window glass, and leaving the place their hands and pockets full of stolen goods. The police was nowhere to be seen, and arrived a good 20 minutes later. By then, the store was empty, 400 mobile phones had disappeared.  (Since Saturday, close to 500 stores have been damaged or destroyed).

While, as I said in the previous post, there were always incidents between anarchists and police, especially around demonstrations and on the celebration of the students insurrection of November 17, 1973, we have not witnessed something of this magnitude in the last 7 years that we have lived here. Our neighbors agree with us: this is something exceptional, the outburst of rage, and the total lack of control from the state are striking. It seems that the youngsters were waiting for an occasion to express their anger at the corrupt political powers, who are stricken every so often by a new scandal, (the last in date: the Vatopedi land swap), as well as their frustration from the economic state of the country.

Nevertheless, we are still safe, because the rioters are not targeting civilians, and we just have to pray that they do not try to set ablaze nearby stores. (Actually when some of them wanted to throw a Molotov into a nearby building, the neighbors downstairs told them to stop, and they actually did!) So do not worry (too much J) for us… The government is watching: Enjoy this cartoon from the newspaper “kathimerini

The good side of the riots




















Many people contact us to know if we are safe, because we are right in the middle of the area where riots are taking place: anarchist youngsters are fighting with the police, burning cars and destroying stores to express their anger after the death of 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos, who was shot by a policeman.

We ARE safe, thank G-d, and do not try to get out when the riots are in full swing. But the truth is that outside of the main points of friction between police and youth, things are pretty quiet. One street can be on fire while the next ones are empty and “safe”. The smell of tear gas and charred items (garbage bins, cars) is still lingering around though.

Anarchists youth are known for rioting in Greece and clashing every so often with the police forces. (But never to that degree in the last 7 years that we have lived here).  While I totally disagree with their behavior, I think we can learn something from their energy and their quest for meaning, their willingness to fight for ideals.

Young people look for a meaningful cause, their energy and the tension that inhabits them has the tremendous power of fire: Channeled in the right direction, it can change the world for the better. Left to its own device, it can destroy everything in its path.

Young people have the refreshing quality of rebellion: they don’t not accept the problematic world that adults are showing them, they revolt against injustice, against oppression, they do not resign themselves to the situation as it is. Youth still believe in changing and improving the world, something that has been lost by many adults who have raised their hands and got caught with the trials of their everyday life.

A youngster that was hanging out with the wrong friends and engaging in all kind of inappropriate behaviors was sent in once to see Rabbi Shneor Zalman from Liadi, the author of the Tanya, and founder of the Chabad Movement. This teenager loved horseback riding and this is the subject that the rabbi stared to chat about:

"What are the differences between an old horse and a young horse?" asked the Rebbe.

"A good young horse runs fast. You gallop away and you reach your destination so much quicker," said the young man enthusiastically.

"That is all very well if you are on the right road," countered the Rebbe, "but what if you are on the wrong road?"

"Even so," insisted the young man, "the horse could help you quickly get back to the right road, if you catch yourself and see that you are on the wrong road. . . ."

"If you catch yourself and see that you are on the wrong road," the Rebbe repeated slowly and emphatically. "Yes, my son, if you catch yourself before it is too late, and realize that you have strayed from the right path; then you can quickly return. . . ."

This is the advantage of youthful energy: it has tremendous power but it needs to be channeled towards good actions, towards creative expression. Youth should be engaged in study, in volunteering for worthwhile causes. Their rebellion should not be crushed, but redirected.

And us adults can learn from them not to accept the Status Quo, not to resign ourselves to the current state of the world but to continue to fight for improving it, one good action at the time.

(based in part on "Toward a meaningful life - the wisdom of the Rebbe, by Simon Jacobson)

No words

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