Who are we?

My wife left this week to visit her mother in Green Valley Arizona. My wife and her mother do not believe in taking time off. They think that a good vacation is one where you are doing things every day. My mother-in-law told the local synagogue that my wife would be happy to give a talk about Israel. She assumed correctly that my wife could not refuse.

So, I wrote her a speech. This is my version of the speech. Its been edited for the blog. I don't think she will present it in this form. If this doesn't engender comments to our blog, then nothing will!


Hi, my name is Leiah Jaffe. My husband and I moved to Israel from Pittsburgh 14 years ago. I have six boys ranging in age from 9 to 19.

I would like to tell you a little bit about my family and my community.

I was born in Coon Rapids Minn.. My family moved around some, to St. Paul, Pierre South Dakota, and finally Harrisburg. I lived in Harrisburg during the 3 Mile Island scare and I remember my father putting us in the car to go visit my uncle in D.C. because they were afraid of the nuclear residue in the air. I became actively Jewish in Harrisburg and joined the Pittsburgh Jewish community when I went there for college. I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh and my graduate degree in Physical Organic Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon. My husband grew up as an orthodox jew in Cleveland, Ohio received his undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon. In 1993, we had three boys under the age of 5 and my husband decided to change jobs.

We had always talked about moving to Israel, but were not so sure that we could make a living over there. In 1993, we asked the local representative of the Jewish Agency about moving to Israel. They told us that we were crazy. Why would we want to leave the United States? We had very good job prospects and a high quality of living. In Israel we would have to live in a small apartment and hold multiple low paying jobs just to make ends meet? Oh and don't forget that its dangerous living in the Middle East.

Does that match your opinion of live in Israel? Would you move under those circumstances?

We decided to check it out before we made the final decision. In fact, we decided not to move unless my husband could find a job there that would support us. Guess what? The Israel representative was totally wrong in every aspect! They told us that he would be lucky to get one or two interviews during his two week pilot trip and that even if he got a job offer, it would be a verbal commitment contingent on our arriving in Israel. Wrong again!

My husband had a firm job offer even before the pilot trip. He had twelve interviews and had to turn away other companies. He had a signed offer to start working for the Israeli company even before we left the states.

We thought that everyone in Israel lived in a small apartment. My husband's cousin rented us a duplex sight unseen before we arrived. It was about twice the size of our duplex in Pittsburgh. Our new community welcomed us in with open arms and helped us settle in from day one. Everyone in our bedroom community lives in a single family home or a duplex.

Let's skip forward 14 years. I have six boys ages 19, 17, 15, 13, 11 and 10. Five of the boys attend school in our community. The elementary school has 370 students. The high school has about 330. My oldest is spending two years at a post-high school program before starting his mandatory army service. The national sports are soccer and basketball. My boys play little league baseball and flag football. Our team won the high school flag football league two seasons in a row.

Does this sound like the Israel you hear about on the news? Where are the rockets, the suicide bombers, the terrorists? What about the evil Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands?

First, I think I forgot to mention that we live just outside of the 1967 Israeli borders in what was once Jordanian territory. That makes me and my family settlers. Our hilltop was purchased legally in 1980 for one million dollars from a Palestinian family. There are 500 families in our community. Most of them work in either Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv or New York. Yes, we have a large number of commuters who fly back and forth every other week, doctors, lawyers, diamond merchants and others who made their living in the US. We have our share of entrepreneurs, managers and high tech employees. About %50 of our community are native English speakers, the other %50 speak Hebrew as their mother tongue. The huge majority of our families are interested in raising their kids in a safe, friendly community.

There has never been a terrorist attack in our community. We do have all the typical problems; some robberies, vandalism, a little drug use. But, nothing unusual, nothing that would suggest that we live in a dangerous place.

Israel is not the United States. The culture is different as are the cultural norms. Have you seen an M16 recently? Are any of your carrying a gun? Israel has a problem with our enemies who want to kill innocent men, women and children. To blow themselves up in crowded places carrying explosives packed with ball bearing to increase their lethality. We have responded by putting armed guards in front of every super market, restaurant or night club.

Our family was in the states are few years ago and my second youngest went with me to the super market. We just walked right in. He said: "Ima (Mommy), where is the guard? Anyone could walk in a blow himself up here". That's our cultural baggage. We take steps to keep ourselves safe. On the road, we wear seat belts. In public places, we place guards who check every bag and every person who tries to enter. It works.

My sons will serve in the army. I'm scared for them. They are going to war. Its not an option, its not something they volunteer to do. Our army and my sons will keep our people and our nation safe. If they don't serve, who will? We cared enough to move to Israel for the quality of life, for its culture and for our culture. We have to be prepared to defend it, otherwise, we might as well pack up and leave. The Arab nations are not suing for peace. They are suing for the destruction of Israel.

The head of Iran recently called for the destruction of the United States. Its a pretty wild claim. The United States is a very large first-world country. How real is that threat. Iran might hurt the US, but the US is not in mortal danger.

He called for the destruction of Israel also. Israel is a tiny country about the size of Rhode Island. A single nuke would pretty much make the place un-inhabitable. We don't have the luxury of laughing at Iran's taunts. We must take them seriously and to do that, we have an army that can fight and defend us. Its not fun, its not nice, its what we need to survive. It would be paradise if our neighbors sued for peace. Many Israelis would give them more than half of our tiny country to make peace. Maybe one day, there will be a sea change in the Arab world and talk of Jihad and destruction will be replaced with talk of gross national products and high-tech industry. When that happens, my boys can stay home and focus on finding nice girls and a good job. Until then, we need to be ready for any eventuality. We don't have anywhere else to go.

With that said, lets move on to other, more pleasant topics. I love my community. Would you let your 4 year old grandchild go by herself to a friends? By us, it happens all the time. When I went into labor with my sixth, I didn't worry about who was going to take care of my kids. I called a neighbor, told them I was leaving and left. My neighbors made sure that someone got my kids packed up to school, fed lunch and dinner and put them to bed. They made us meals for the first week after we got home. We do not live as anonymous residents. We know personally about %70 of our neighbors. That's about 300 families, with their kids.

My husband and I were married on Thanksgiving day in 1986. We decided to leave an open invitation to our family to thanksgiving dinner at our house every year. We got very few takers. It was hard living in a different city. We used to have 7 people for Thanksgiving dinner. When we moved to Israel, we kept trying. My husband has lots of relatives in Israel. The first year, we have 45 people for Thanksgiving dinner. 70 the second year, 100 the third year. Last year, we hosted about 300 people for Thanksgiving dinner. We invite our "close" friends from the community without their kids. Thats about 150 couples who share our anniversary with us each year. It is a pot-luck dinner where everyone brings something. There is no program, no speeches and no agenda. Its just a chance to sit for a few hours and spend some time with friends. They are our friends and its our way of giving back to the wonderful place where we live.

I've talked long enough. At this point, why don't you ask the questions?


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