Thursday, December 28, 2006

Midnight Mass

So, on Xmas eve, DRB-Debra Reed Blank, said to me, "Do you want to go to midnight mass at Latrun?" Latrun, is a monastery on the road to Tel Aviv, established in the 1890's (and then rebuilt in the 1920's after they were expelled by the Turks, I think) by Trappists monks complete with monks chanting(quietly, I imagine, as these monks live with an oath of silence in their daily lives), a vineyard and supposedly lovely gardens. I thought, hmm, midnight mass, monks, could be interesting. The weather had been getting colder, though, and the thought of the drive back and forth and the lateness had me a little less than thrilled. Jessica suggested Abu Gosh, which is slightly closer and is a Christian Arab village to where I've only been to eat humous but which she said is a popular place for midnight mass on xmas eve.

I asked Ira what he thought - he wasn't sure about the whole thing, just didn't think he wanted to go. We thought about it over the next few hours and as the day progressed, I decided that I was curious to go somewhere. All those years in the Catholic Ward known as Carroll Gardens and I had never gone, while Ralph and Lisa and Debra and Arnie were regulars at St. Mary Star of the Sea and what's the name of the big church on Hoyt? We even lived on Summit St for the first 2 years of our marriage, home to St Stephens, and witnessed the Saint ( I thought Theresa but maybe Mary?) being carried about the neighborhood, knife to her heart, well dressed men in tuxedos walking behind her as she blessed the streets of the neighborhood - she came out 2x a year, Easter and ?, and one time of the year it was happy and the other time dirgelike (maybe on Easter) and people would gather (after the gun salute) and look as she was carried on her byre and say things like "she looks good this year."

DRB called back and said she had read that we could go to Eyn Karem, which is closer and at the edge of the Jerusalem Forest, just west of us. They had a choir which would sing at 11:30 but it didn't look like they did a mass. I called Lisa Smith to invite her and after a moment's thought, she said yes and then, "what should we wear?"

During the early evening, amid dinner preparations for all, I kindly making new food so that those who didn't want to eat Shabbat leftovers, like me, had new choices - quinoa with sauteed veggies and marinated tofu - we discussed when to leave, 10:30ish, should we reconsider driving down to Latrun, no, how cold would it be, cold, and did the kids want to come, especially Natan, yes but he had an early test the next day - prep for Eng bagruyot - so, no.

At 9:30ish, DRB called. She pronounced extreme fatigue. I'd like to say that both Ira and I had extreme doubts as to whether or not she'd make it to the alarmingly late, for her that is, hour of 11:30. DRB is known as an early to bed kind of girl and the fact that she'd suggested midnight mass was nothing short of amazing. Earlier in the day I'd asked her if she'd be awake and she assured me that she'd be fine. She was more concerned with me as the driver. I, who ordinarily go to bed hours after she does. As well, I had been suspicious that she wanted to go back to her room that evening - had invited her to dinner but she wanted to relax at her place. Fine, I thought, but I could imagine her room, cozily overheated with Jess's heater that we had lent her, her feet tucked under a blanket, all alone and quiet with the paper and a cup of tea and felt that the chances of her making it out awake were slim. I was right, as was Arnie (her husband who had cast his doubts by phone earlier that day) and Boaz (her friend who's here right now and since he doesn't read my blog may never find out that she didn't go - I told her to fool him and gave her all the info it the next day) and Ira, who also had doubted her ability to make it past 9:00pm.

Lisa Smith called. I told her we were down one, by our leader, the DRB, and she laughed but told me that she was still on. We agreed to a 10:40 pickup on the corner of Naftali and Yehuda and she hung up to go dig up her gotkes/long undies to wear for the occasion. Ira decided to go. We bundled up and left the house, not before I ran back in to get a hat, which was a good thing to do. After picking up Lisa, we headed for Eyn Karem. Our directions - it's been a while since I've been there and it's dark and all that - were a typically Israeli affair. Make a left at the monster slide (in Kiryat Ha'yovel), head to the gas station and make a right and then an immediate left onto a road that looks like nothing and head down the mountain until you reach the village. We arrived, parked the car and walked over to St John the Baptist. It's so lovely and old - you walk through a gate into a center courtyard, clearly built that way for security purposes of another time and it was quiet - no sense of xmas. We walked the stairs up to the church and I noticed my first sign of xmas, a wreathy bit of spangly stuff over the main doorway. Upon entering the church, there they were, 2 modest xmas trees all lit up and twinkling brightly. We took seats in one of the few remaining pews towards the back of the sanctuary, huddling close together for warmth in the space. I smiled at a few familiar faces - Jess's friend Daniel Schwartz, a favorite of Gabe's for his ability to play initial baseball, Tania with her non-Jewish boyfriend, James, both Brits, and a few other familiar looking faces, probably, as Ellen Shaw puts it, Jewish face #303 and #904. The crowd looks almost entirely Jewish. I can't see who's sitting up front but the chatter is a mix of languages and most do not seem to be members of the Church.

It's a lovely space with a pleasantly old and somewhat rundown feel and the traditional church architectural style. Sitting in the pews, it's easy to imagine being in Kane St and we discuss how Akiva would like it. Here's some historical info about the church,

"The Church of St. John the Baptist was rebuilt by the Crusaders, but after they left the Holy Land the sanctuary was either destroyed or fell into complete disrepair. A few centuries later, the Franciscan Order purchased the site and work began on its reconstruction. Most of the church was restored in 1674 with the aid of the Spanish royal family (their coat-of-arms is located above the entrance inside the sanctuary). Many of the paintings are originals, drawn by Spanish artists and donated by Spanish kings. Diverse blue-and-white tiles considered to be Spanish in style line the enormous square pillars and cover parts of the walls. Further work on the church was carried out in the nineteenth century, again with Spanish assistance. This included a new marble altar for the grotto, donated by Queen Isabella II of Spain."

We sat and chatted until about 11:45pm when the choir started singing. We looked up into the choir loft and I caught a hint of a nun passing through but ultimately we couldn't see the singers. DRB had said that it was to be an Israeli choir but they worked the traditional songs nicely, including one or two selections in Latin. I was reminded of how Ira's mother, Pearl, loved xmas carols. She grew up singing them in NYC public schools and she loved on xmas eve, to put on WPIX with the yule log program (Remember that? A constantly running loop of carols with the image of a burning yule log on your tv screen? For some years, it disappeared but was brought back by public outcry), and iron shirts, a specialty service of hers that has gone the way of most specialty services. At about 12:00am exactly, in paraded a group of worshippers, singing along with the choristers - a few nuns with candles, some younger looking men - perhaps priests in training, and then a 3 very fancily dressed priests in white and gold, the last one holding a fancy pillow upon which a very small baby doll rested.

They ascended to the altar area and began the service. The main priest, Father Fergus, began with welcoming remarks. He welcomed all of us, saying that each year he is overwhelmed and pleased by the numbers of Israelis who come to see the service. He commented that the rituals are not "yours" the service is not one that "you can understand," that "you sit quietly and respectfully," this is no small feat on the part of Israelis, "that he speaks to other colleagues about this every year, that basically, it amazes and pleases him. Ira and Lisa and I looked at each other and smiled when he was finished. It was just so lovely and so warm and so ecumenical. He told us that now he was about to do some things in Italian but that he would tell us when to get up and when to sit down. With that, he told us to rise and start the service. We stood quietly for a while and after a bit of back and forth of ritual activities, we sat down again for his homily, his xmas speech to us. DRB later commented that she's sure that he chose to do this early on in the service before to many of us left (people did leave quietly at different points during the beginning of the service) and I think that could make sense because his sermon was so geared to the crowd - he opened with a scientific discussion of the big bang theory which was so cool for a priest, I thought, and then discussed the fact that not everything can be explained by the big bang theory (remeniscent of all those who heard Ira's d'var torah of last year about the same topic), he went on to discuss the xmas story and then finished with some words of peace (never a bad idea in this part of the world). When he was done, I looked at my companions and said, "that was great, I don't need to hear anymore." It should be added that we were all a bit snoozy by that point - combination of the hour, sometime near 1:00am and the cold which makes you huddle and sit stiffly and is tiring as well.

We exited the church, heading back out into the cold night, the lights of the mountaintops of the Jerusalem hills winking in the distance. We couldn't get how welcoming the priest was. He wasn't proslytizing, he was encouraging us to feel comfortable in his church, to share his enjoyment of the holiday and its meaning BUT on a level that was comfortable for us. That is, we could watch from close, respectfully, and appreciate that we were all there to enjoy things that are meaningful to him on xmas - rebirth, peace, spirtuality and a real belief in ecumenicsm among peoples of all religions and beliefs. And you know, it really worked. I didn't want to convert, I didn't want to start celebrating xmas but I was glad that I taken the time to remember that this was a day celebrated by many all over the world and that what has always made J'lem a special place is it's importance to people of all religions. That's a good thing and it's too often forgotten in the more fundamentalist Jerusalem of today.

I'm a girl that grew up with a father who was a Rabbi on Long Island, NY, a bastion of Christian as well as conservative sensibilities and values. My father took part in inter-faith groups in the area, maintaining good relationships with local clergypeople in his area. I will never forget the Passover seder that we hosted a priest and a nun. It was grand fun and I couldn't believe that they both could read Hebrew! Who'd've thunk it. When I returned to my modern Orthodox day school and reported to my school mates and teacher about it, I was greeted with a certain amount of incredulousness and concern over whether or not I had let them pour/touch the wine at the seder. Most expressed interest but there were those few who didn't and I remember wondering why they didn't see how great it was to share customs, learn about what other's do and all that jazz. I was only in 7th grade but I never forgot the experience.

Being here during Dec was interesting. There was NO feeling of xmas, none, and this the country where Jesus is said to have been born. Truly, I wasn't disturbed by it, Israel is a Jewish country and the focus was on Hannukah and even that was a soft focus. The best part was the lack of commercial push during the weeks building up to Hannukah. We really didn't think of it at all. I would imagine that for those celebrating xmas here - and I did like the article in the paper which let Christians in the area know that free xmas trees were available for pickup courtesy of the municipality and that there would be free bus service to Bethlehem on xmas eve and day - that it's probably both frustrating and heartening to have their xmas uninterrupted by commercial exhortations to spend their money and focus on everything that the holiday is not about. As an American, I guess I missed some of the hullaballoo, the lights and action, the sense of bonhommie on the street so missing from daily NYC life. In the end, I'm glad that I chose to mark xmas, or at least investigate xmas, at the source, in a local church that made me feel very good about my choice to attend their celebration.

For anyone interested, I include an exerpt below from an article that the Jerusalem Post printed last week with a quote by Father Fergus about midnight mass at his church. DRB told me that she saw 2 interesting op eds about why Jews should go to midnight mass and why they shouldn't , but I scoured and and couldn't find them on either site. I told DRB all about mass the next day when we went to an excellent exhibit at the Israel Museum that was the perfect counterpoint to the previous night's excitement. It was called Bread: Daily and Divine, and it discussed at great length, bread - the importance of it and it's use it rituals all over the world. There was a great video at one point of bread and wine rituals in the Christian world - DRB was disappointed that we hadn't stayed to see how they did communion in this church - she and I both liked the Orthodox church methods, which meant spooning out a serving of wine and bread (pretty graphic really, when you think of it) into the mouths of the waiting supplicant. But it reminded me of the previous night and the good feeling that I had when I left the service.

From an article in the Jerusalem Post from last week, preceeding xmas.
"But in smaller parishes, quieter ceremonies occur on Christmas Eve. Franciscan Father Fergus Clarke is guardian of St. John in the Mountains Church, built at the traditional site of John the Baptist's birth, and on Christmas commemorates the Magnificat - the Virgin Mary's extended quote in Luke 1.
"Since we're a very small community," he says, "it's extraordinary that on Christmas Eve our church is full of mostly Jewish people. For example, last year I counted only eight Christians present. Since the church is very small, holding about 110 people seated, when I say it was 'full,' I mean standing room only.
"These Jewish people arrive as early as 11:15 for midnight mass. What is really so edifying is that the Jews, predominately young, stand in complete reverence and silence for almost an hour and half. If you compare it to other churches you wouldn't see such reverence and patience.
"Remember, the mass is celebrated in a foreign language for them, since we celebrate in Italian. The whole ritual is foreign to them, apart from the homily, which is given in English.
"But they come from as far away as Tel Aviv, and many call in advance to be sure they'll be here on time. They come because of some sense of mystery or awe of the divine that comes from the ritual, the music, their memories - transmitted from their parents, perhaps. For us it's a very uplifting ceremony because of their presence and attitude."
Fergus says the Israeli presence contributes to the "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" that Luke says the angels proclaimed at Jesus's birth.
"This year we are having an Israeli choir sing at midnight mass, and two years ago we had a Southern Baptist from Alabama sing a solo," he said."

Beth Steinberg, reporting from J'lem.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


It's a Nor'easter today. We woke up to swirling winds (remember Ira talked about those summer winds? Well picture them in winter form) and banging shutters, and the squealing sounds of a real winter storm. It had started to storm last night, somewhat putting a damper on my Kiki sale (I had a designer from Tel Aviv, who did Jess's wedding outfit, come in with her stuff to my house, people come to shop....I got great clothes, everyone goes home happy, much more fun than Tupperware), raining cats and dogs, thank goodness as everyone was really worried about drought this season, with temps dropping fast.

This morning, I almost expected to see the snow banked up on the windows. I could picture myself laying in my bed (now living in Phila) at 409 Pacific, looking out at the snow all worked up the screens of the windows, listening to the wind howl and watching the TV newscasters talk about the big blizzard. I even had Ira look outside as they have been forecasting snow here for today sometime and wondering if it had started. Snow forecasts here are somewhat riotous as like all weather forecasts they are laconic in the extreme but snow is a big deal so they get a bit excited and people go shopping because if 1cm of snow falls they may run out of eggs and milk and they forget that the snow lasts for about an hour if you're lucky. Driving goes to pot in the snow as well, nobody knows how to drive anyway, let alone in the slippery stuff.

Today it's cold, real cold, like 32 degree cold or something like that. It suggests that it will be -2c in the paper and that's really impressive sounding here, even though I know that it's in the high 20's but again in this land of no winter coats and boots, it's meaningful. When the hail started falling this morning (after having rained and thundered all night), I decided to be nice and take the boys to their respective programs. I popped by Debra Blank's place to return her cellphone - simple methodolgy, yelling to her thru the window since the door was locked. Mission accomplished, shlep thru traffic to Dave the haircutter - I miss Maggie but Dave is a Red Sox fan and I love listening to his "Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd" Boston accent. It's getting colder over the morning as I drive about town. We were all late this morning digging out our jackets, sweaters and warm shoes and such. Natan off with his big fuzzy fleece and Gabe wore his winter coat. Even though I have a meeting this morning and should dress to impress (this turns out not be true), I'm wearing jeans and boots and a nice sweater with my shell and a vest and I feel so impossibly American and apres ski that it's kind of a hoot but familiarly pleasant. Ira crawled back into bed this morning, deciding that Ulpan would both be cold and would take to long to get to - by bus would be a shlep and by foot would be a wet, rainy mess.

Home to eat some breakfast and arrange my papers. We're - myself, Jess and 2 others (Jen and Hadass) are off to meet with Jacob Nir-David about our business idea. Jacob is a venture capitalist and we're curious to bounce our business plan off of him and see how he'll react, let alone be interested in its viability. For those curious, let's say it's an internet based venture, targeting the Eng speaking world here - tourist and permanent resident. I step into the jalopy and it's gotten colder. We pick up Jen and head for the Malcha train station where Hadass is waiting for us (she trained it from TA for fear that the bus would be too bogged down because of rain). A quick, restorative cafe hafuch at Aroma in Malcha Mall right next door - we talk strategy and decide that we're naive and inexperienced but not stupid. We find Jacob's office and head in. I'm immediately struck by how nice it is, albeit overheated.

We talk, present our idea to Jacob and an associate who sticks his head in the door and joins the meeting. All goes well. We spend a long time there. On the way out brief chat with a friend of Jess's back in Israel after a long stint making money in the US. He's also interested in our idea.

We split up at this point, back out in the rain and wet and colder feeling day. A bit of sleet in the air. Jess and I head over to my mother and father's. My mom is desperate for new pants and we bring by the Lands End catalog because she's not an online kind of gal. After a lesson on faxing and printing, we head back to the house, with Aidan (Jess's younger stepdaughter) and after a pickup, Amira (stepdaughter #1) and a friend. By now, it's starting to snow and the girls are absolutely wild with excitement discussing all sorts of plans for the evening and next day, as if we're facing a blizzard with snow days to follow. We stop to pick up something for Amira and Aidan runs out of the car into the thick flakes, with her tongue sticking out, giggling happily. Ah, snow. I drop Jess and co off at her house. Things are cancelling right and left - Natan's music lesson, his rehearsal may be moved because usual location in a school is closed. Natan is still at school and it's dark now and cold and nasty. He calls me and tells me finally, that he's on his way home and with a friend, Natan Brodie, who's stuck in J'lem because he can no longer get home to Efrat. I put soup up for dinner and get started thinking of how else to feed hungry people. Gabe is over at Jess's and comes home all wet and snowy from a snowball fight of sorts with Aidan. The boys come in, wet and happy and I tell NatanS that rehearsal is officially cancelled - he is apopleptic with excitement. They snack and warm up on tea and crackers and spreads. The snow is admired on the mirpeset/porch. DVD's are examined for nightime watching and now everyone is upstairs jamming on the guitars and piano. How lovely.

Happy trails (and that's another matter as it's snowing up north on Mt Hermon and that means skiing! We hope for next week) from snowy J'lem.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Small Country

So, now I live near my mother and father. This is a wonderful thing. It's been great to talk to them daily, sometimes twice, to be reprimanded if I don't call every day or so (in a friendly way), to have my mother want to chat with me on chemo Sundays (my specialty), because, as she says, she's catching up on 13 years that we were apart. My father likes seeing the boys and talking to the big boys especially about all sorts of things of interest - from baseball to what their learning, if they admit to that. Both parents absolutely kvell when they hear any one of us speak hebrew. If Ira even opens his mouth to say something, and it can be a very simple something, they beam - as does sister Sarah and sisterinlaw Barbara. Ira finds this rather annoying of course - it's not as if he couldn't speak at all but still the pride is rather humorous to say the least.

The day we arrived, we walked up the stairs to our apartment, somewhat shellshocked and met the neighbors. My mother made the following pronouncement and I must add here that although her hebrew is not bad at all, her accent is appalling, "Heym olim chadashim, heym lo mi'dab'rim milah achat b'eev'reet" - "they're new immigrants, they don't speak one word of hebrew." This is/was patently absurd but we swallowed our guff and smiled gamely. Meanwhile, two of the neighbors tend to speak to us in Eng but their Eng is excellent and the rest, we manage just fine in Hebrew. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the other day, my phone rings. It's Friday afternoon, the day one's phone rings the most, at a time that one wishes it wouldn't, sometime in the hour or so before Shabbat. I answer.
"Is this Beth?" a voice asks, in badly accented English.
"Yes, who's this?" I answer in hebrew.
"This is _____(don't remember name), you mother gave me your number."
"My mother?" I say incredulously, knowing I have a mother but amazed at how things work here.
"Yes, your mother, Dorothy Steinberg?" answers functionary.

Suffice to say, it was an agent from the Jerusalem Post, calling to offer me a good deal for daily delivery of the paper - he didn't seem to mind that I already receive Ha'aretz/Herald Tribune daily, and generally, those who read Ha'aretz don't read the Post, altho the Post does have its virtues - better US sports reports, weekend reprints from the Times, overall a bit more to read, poorly written but Ha'aretz is poorly translated, and the most right wing views in town. The phoner goes on to inform me that he has a special deal and that both my mother and I will receive a special gift if I subscribe. He won't tell me what the gift is - darn. I tell him that I'm mildly tempted because I find Ha'aretz a bore for all sorts of reasons even tho I'm addicted to the Times crossword in HTribune and Gabe would love the Post sports and wouldn't it be nice to read the week in review in paper, as opposed to online form, once a week, but I decline. Functionary is distraught - I buy the Post once a week on Friday, don't I know that it wouldn't cost me that much more for weekly deliv and the for the first 4 mos it's only....

Truth is, we need to get a hebrew paper in daily and that's a real quandry. Which one?
I could get the Post anyway, though, because after all, Mom recommended it and she gave them my number. Small country.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Food Report

Since we know that my blog is just a thinly veiled excuse to discuss my food discoveries in a new country, I'd like to tell you of today's fun. We set out to sister Sarah's house today. The plan was to visit with our cousins at her house. They live in Haifa and would come about an hours journey to Sarah's house and we'd all meet up there. Leah is our cousin on my father's side of the family and she has 2 grown children, Sima, who lives in Haifa and Arye, who lives on Kibbutz Gezer which is down the hill from Jerusalem. We arrived late - it was the third day in a row that I was setting out on a driving adventure out of J'lem and the thrill was no longer there. We got up slowly - Akiva slept late, which was lovely and left the house at about 9:50, arriving at about 10:40. My parents were there, as well as Sarah and her youngest, Noam (Benjy and Elisheva both in the army, Elisheva went in last Thursday, and Michael working), and Leah with Sima and her husband, Yoki and their daughter Nomi. Aryeh popped in with his wife Irit which was really nice as we don't see them too often - just don't know them that well, they're a bit older than me and we haven't spent that much time together.

We talked, drank tea/coffee, ate some cake and other nibbles and covered the basics from Naomi's upcoming bat mitzvah in Haifa in Feb to how we're all doing to how Leah's health is and so forth. Then we covered humous in Acco - they feel they know the best place and said that we should come and check it out. Ira and I are planning a little trip on our own sometime in the next few months and since there is no snow in the "alp'im," we're thinking of staying in country and doing some hiking and eating humous and finding interesting "tzimmerim/b&b's" to stay in.

We left, all children in tow (Gabe had spent the night and petitioned for another night but was defeated) and headed on home. Inspiration hit that there was good sahleb on the way home that brother Jonathan had often spoken of. We called him and he told us where to generally look for the sahleb. He said, "look for a sign on the side of the road and then keep your eye out for a white van, sometimes he's there and sometimes not, you have to be lucky." We headed down the road and decided to stop at a different van that we had seen on the side of the road advertising "bourekas turki." Now, for those who don't know, bourekas turki are very special, oversized bourekas, sort of loopy in size and filled with all standard types of fillings. Ira went over to the van, practicing whatever he felt he needed to try out in order to make the order. Now picture that this van is a small, rundown sort of vehicle, on the side of a dusty road that is between Rosh Ha'ayin and Shoham (where Ariel Blumenthal lives). This road has some quarries on one side and for many years after Sarah and Michael first moved to their town, it was literally a back road that one would drive on the way to their house from J'lem, passing quarries, big trucks with big loads and these roadside vans selling lunch to the truckers. It's not the kind of place that one will find what Ira found, a proprieter who spoke perfect English to him. Turns out that he's always liked the Eng language, specifically American style and has studied Eng for a long time and looks for opportunities to speak and here was Ira, happy to speak to him. Anyway, he served up the boureka - potato filled, crusty, cut into pieces and with a blob of hot sauce on the side, a few olives and a hard boiled egg on top, liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. It was delish and much more digestible than most bourekas which are quite frankly too greasy and too heavy and definitely not as fresh. A tall glass of homemade lemonade to chase it, and for after, we all tasted malabi, which is a relative to sahleb but firmed up into pudding form and served with the usual chaser of sugar syrup poured on top and chopped nuts and something wildly fuschia colored on top. Fun for all.

We continued our drive home and actually noted Jonathan's sahleb van but decided that we'd leave that for the next time. And that's the food report for the day. About to eat a much simpler dinner of salad greens and some toast with avocado. Happy 7th day of Hannukah.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Panhandlers and Holy Men

There we were waiting at a red light, right off the Ayalon (the highway on the way to Tel Aviv) on D. Hashalom, when shock of shocks, someone started washing my windshield. I almost kissed the guy, who was young, perhaps in his teens, and really looked quite harmless even though I was ready to deck him after getting over my shock and delight at the experience. I resumed my usual NY expression of ennui and after he finished, shrugged my shoulders as Jess rolled the window down and said, "You didn't even ask if we wanted our window done."

Ah, the joys of city life. Acutally, the other day in Jerusalem on our way somewhere, we were down near Tzomet Pat, there was a panhandler looking for a handout. Religous Jew, handing out some sort of information, literature, hoping for a little tzedakah in return. That the difference between Tel Aviv and J'lem in a nutshell. In TA today, and I was only there for a short stint - quick park, short walk on upper Dizengoff, buy sandwich which took forever but was good, back in car, drive to Park Yarkon, find Gabe's baseball game, watch end of baseball game (Gabe hit a grounder for the final out), drive Gabe to sister Sarah's house in traffic, drive in traffic home to J'lem - but I saw and actual panhandler. This guy was authentic in a grubby outfit, walking in a manner that suggested physical handicap and looking for change.

As usual, the weather was positively balmy today in Tel Aviv and it was nice to take our jackets off and bask in the tropical air - at least for an hour or two in the middle of the afternoon. The Park was great, sort of Central Park for Tel Aviv and really reminded me of what's seriously missing in J'lem, green space for all. Here were baseball and soccer fields, hoops, bikers, boaters and scullers on the Yarkon River, kids riding Segways! (we said we had to return to do that) and the smell of green grass and fun. The panhandlers were nowhere in sight.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Decorations on Yaffo (main drag in town), the mall has hanging dreydels, menorot everywhere and I mean everywhere - whether they're Chabad supported or the municipality, which loves to spend money on menorot when they could spend money on finishing up the damned light rail project for the city of Jerusalem, they are everywhere.

Natan and I had about an hour together yesterday in the evening. We were coming from the Hannukah party at Akiva's school, which was, how can I say, disabled. Picture a pleasant auditorium filled with, for the most part, older retarded people all very excited about the party. Many came in with older, tired and grey looking parents - I pointed out one such pair to my mother, saying, see that mother with her son? That's me in another 20 years. My mother loves when I say such thing, I truthfully find it comforting in an odd way. Anyway, excited student body, Akiva, somewhat confused as to why he's in the school building at 4:30, who are all these people (until he sees 2 staffers and practically leaps into their arms - Sivan and Victoria, who are equally excited to see him) and seemingly confused (we people who live with disabled people are somewhat disabled too) adults setting up the menorah for lighting, the big kids who are supposed to help light, the mike (which never works at all the entire time and generally reverbs in a style remeniscent of The Who), and one guy who's playing Hannukah music on the accordion. Did that sound busy enough in a confused manner? Meanwhile, we have Grandma and Grandpa in tow and Aunt Jessica who are enjoying the pre-game show but G&G who are hungry and already discussing dinner - where should it be, which "khick" (meaning milchik/dairy or fleishig/meat - which is really all about dessert as you can't have ice cream after meat but during hannukah all you see are an endless parade of sufganiyot) they should eat, and kvetching that the show hasn't started yet and what's with the reverb of the mike and can't they turn it off? Eventually, things started and it was lovely, kids singing, kids playing on the electric piano, sort of, and kids yelling and making retarded noises - I felt right at home. There was a sound and light show of sorts that went on too long for the ordinary types, let alone the spec'l needs crowd and we eventually left in a hurry as G&G had had enough and nobody really wanted sufganiyot.
We split up - Ira and Akiva going off with G&G and Jess (who needed to drive my parents car once so that my father would approve her driving for tonight's trip out to my brother's for latkes, finally, and family, food of course, and fun). Ira would like me to add that what really happened is that when G&G got antsy, it was decided that he and Akiva would go home with them and with Jessica, instead of taking a cab home as we had originally decided. He also says that he had no problem with this plan, kvetchy in-laws notwithstanding, but felt that had we (Jess and I) warned him of this change, he would have been happy, instead he was lambasted for being confused and not going along with the plan. Gabe was off playing baseball in a special baseball tournament (they smashed their opponents), so it was just me and Natan. Thank goodness. Ira had to get some work done (after putting Akiva to bed) so that he and Gabe and Natan could stay up late and watch 24, their new obsession. Take deep breaths but it really wasn't so bad.

So there we were in the mall, with all of the other happy Hannukah frolicers. It was a madhouse. Sufganiyot piled high on tables, toys and games to buy on other tables, a group performing at one end of the mall - cute boy singing, wearing what looked like, to Natan and me, a Parks Dept T-shirt and jeans, surrounded by cute girls wearing short skirts (of course) and tanks, dancing in that post-Flashdance style that has permanently affected all teenage girls - animals to pet on the other end (in the mall? but what do I know, I hear that at the Mall of America there's a University and who knows what else) and various special games set up so that children can bother their parents to use their hard earned money to play.

Best moment was still to come. By this point, we had found a reasonably quiet spot on the 3rd floor and were enjoying a meal at Aroma - Iraq sandwich and choco for Natan and salad with rouquefort for me, although I assure you that anything that shreds as neatly as what was decorating my salad cannot possibly be roquefort but it was edible. Besides, I had espresso with which to wash it down. We hear singing and look to see 2 young religous guys who are lighting a Hannukah menorah in a nearby store and are lustily singing Maoz Tzur. Two minutes later, the same scene is being reenacted next door. By the time we finished and moved on to the arts and paper goods store to buy binders and "nylonim", we ourselves were treated to what was becoming a yawn. In they'd run, setting their candles up on the fly, singing, looking around to guage their crowd (ours was an eyebrow raised, "I'm looking at my oil paints and you're in my way, crowd"), and if it was good, sing a few Hannukah songs after the standard candle blessings. I tried to imagine how many times these guys would inflict their holiday bonhomie on the mall crowd that night - 25? 50? more? Natan and I paid and with relief left the mall, found the car and I took him to his rehearsal, sitting and chatting with his director, listening to him sing his ballad with his love interest, while he blushed and grinned a bit.
Happy to all.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hannukah Vacation

We went to the big mall tonight for about 90 shock inducing minutes. Crazy filled with people, kids on vacation and can stay up late tonight, religious and non-religious, Arabs and Jews, all there for some shopping, some chow (kosher food court, dairy on one side, meat on the other), maybe a movie and if you're young, to hang with your buddies. The scene was loud and frenetic and the decorations were all for Hannukah - large hanging dreydels and suchlike themes.

Friday morning, Ira and I made the shocking realization that we had done nothing for Hannukah except buy some candles. I confess that I had thought about Hannukah in an offhand way but I guess without all that Xmas reminding, I hadn't considered the whole present purchase thing.
Friday morning dawned at the early hour of 6:15 or so with getting Akiva off to school. That was followed by house tidy and prep for cleaning by a lovely Argentinian student who comes 2x a month. We stripped beds, started laundry and in between, did some cooking. Had done most of the cooking Thursday night but with Shabbat starting at 3:57pm, one has to make sure that as much is done early in the day as possible because it's just too stressful otherwise. I digress, big surprise.

Anway, I headed to the pool for my usual battle with all of the old people who don't understand lap swimming etiquette and arrived, horrors, in the middle of the water exercise class. This meant the lanes were even more crowded than usual. I got in and persevered. It's all about the jacuzzi anyway, the best thing about swimming at Ramat Rahel. Finished up, listened to the chitchat of the ladies next to me as I dressed - she's remarrying, someone non-jewish, I think, and will be getting married in Cyprus as she can't do it here in Israel.

Returned home, picked up Ira, picked up Debra Reed Blank, visiting here for a few weeks (teaching and such), and headed for the shuk. Did the usual, ate breakfast at favorite cafe (all out of brioche, DRB made do with croissant which she pronounced as good as Paris) after a bit of a wait for a table, a few pickups - recently discovered, courtesy of Alan Salzberg, incredible pastry with a sort of liquid chocolate interior or halva interior - and headed for shops in town. Managed a quick frenzied shop with all the other people thinking about simple stuff for gifts. Soccer shirt for Gabe, funny hat for Natan, some other clothing items, music and books for Akiva.

Sufganiyot/jelly donuts everywhere. New flavors this year - dulce de leche, chocolate cream and other interesting taste sensations to tempt those tastebuds jaded by basic jelly. People bellying up everywhere to buy them - large and pillowy with powdered sugar on top, hopefully filled with a good few bites of sweet filling. Both Ha'aretz and Jerusalem Post had articles recently rating local bakeries, Ha'aretz covering Tel Aviv and JPost handling the local bakeries. Intrepid reporters ate many donuts, ingesting goodness knows how many calories. It turns out that Akiva has a liking for sufganiyot, not seeming to care how high brow the flavor is. On Thursday night, we went to horseback riding and were told that there were sufganiyot to eat afterwards. I offered the treat to Akiva and Adina (with whom we go to riding) and Adina wasn't interested but Akiva sat right down and said, "sufganiyot, ok...sit on bench." He picked it up and took a bit bite through the center - meaning, powdered sugar on the nose, jelly coming out the sides - and proceeded to eat the whole thing. Today at lunch - he did it again.

Debra enjoyed watching the action of the city. It was high noon in the center of town, on the first day of Hannukah break (if you're lucky enough not to have school or work on Fridays). The sugar shock alone was enough to set everybody on a high for the day. I also introduced Debra to my favorite shuk person, the toothless man who sells pickled and preserved things. He knows me by now - I often stop to pick up his preserved lemons or pickled Persian garlic, as well as hilbeh (fenugreek sauce) and this week he has spicy carrots and eggplan with tahina (just made yesterday, he assures me). If only he made jams and jellies and pickled cukes, he'd be just like the toothless man in Becket, Ma, who ran off this year and was no longer pickling and making jams, when we stopped by this past summer. This guy is small and cute, though, always offering tastes and smiles along with his products, only available on Thurs and Fridays.

We finished up and headed back home. Did the last minute Shabbat prep and run for the finish line. Took Akiva and Natan and went to Shira Hadasha to meet up with Simkha Weintraub, next Bklyn visitor in line. Dinner with Simkha and some others, Akiva practically apopleptic at sitting next to Simkha, whom he as spoken about weekly, every Shabbat for the past 4 mos. Lovely to see Simkha and hear about his trip and work on developing Jewish chaplaincy work and the nature of Jewish spritual healing, mind and body, here in Israel. For those interested, I made couscous for the first time - you know, the couscous and then the broth and the veggies on the side. Excellent veg recipe and I honored the flesh eaters with some fish as well. Finished with a really good semolina cake - stayed in the middle eastern theme.

Today, usual synagogue split. Ira went with Daniel and Jess to Ma'yanot and the boys and I went to Moreshet Avraham. Had lunch plans with Rena Magun and David Ebstein (he once tried out for Kane St and was in Debra's, Josh Gutoff's and Debbie Cantor's graduating class at Reb school). Debra met up with Ira and then walked with him and Jess and Daniel to Rena and David's. Good meal, nice conversation - we all know each other a long time (Ramah, sister Sarah, yadda yadda), and it felt good to be with longtime friends. Headed home late, replete, tired and woozy but it was a good day. Cold tonight, supposed to be under 40. I actually put on my light, down jacket and it felt good but didn't need anything that serious during the day when the sun was out.

Hannukah festivities all week. Will report later in the week.
Hannukhah Sameach.


Went to Tel Aviv again this week. I really can't describe how I feel when I go to Tel Aviv. Yes, there are palm trees, yes, it's somewhat reminsicent of Los Angeles, yes, it's got trees and cafes on the tree lined median of Rothschild, but it's looks overwhelmingly like a real city. We drove in - Jess, Jen (friend and now, business associate - more on that later), and I, in my parents lovely jalopy that we're driving and as we approached the city, I felt that excitement of being there. It's really a great place and all those people who've naysayed Tel Aviv in the past - me being among them - I recommend rediscovering it on your next trip.

Ira and I were discussing this week that we are definitely edgier in our discourse then many that we meet here. We speak more quickly, talk more sharply and feel, how can I put it, just snappier than many of the Jerusalemites that we meet. Will we lose this sharpness, we wonder with a feeling of panic? Will we lose that essential New Yorkerness? It's a disturbing notion.

We were on our way to a meeting. A business meeting. I haven't had a business meeting in a billion years. That's not quite true but I'm not the conventional meeting type. And, this wasn't a conventional meeting. We went to Hadass's house (Jess's friend, who's a PR person and a writer). Hadass lives, with her husband, Dan, in an apartment building that looks initially like a dump but which they renovated before they got married, sometime over the last year. They live, right near the heart of the action on Shenkin, and they represent that other demographic - secular, left, city types, living and working in Tel Aviv - that other part of the country from Jerusalme. The four of us, met to discuss a project that Jessica and I hatched and are in the process of writing a business plan for. We talked about the plan and how to finetune it, and make it more professional over tea, excellent cake (this country is teeming with good baked goods but this was actually a cut above the ordinary) and fruit. I'm excited about this and looking forward to a project that could be successful, will keep me out of trouble and might even generate some income over the long term.

At 12:00pm, we decided that we needed a quick shopping trip as part of our research. Jen, never gets to TA, having recently had her third child, and we zipped over to a part of town to check out one store that Jess and Hadass like. Thirty minutes later brought success to some of our party - I window shopped. We hopped back in the car and returned back up to our hill hear in Jerusalem. But oh, the big city. We may get back there this week with the kids during the Hannukah break.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Had a trip to the wine country last week. Friends visiting from the old country. What to do? Let's drive into the Jerusalem hills, drink some wine, see some nof/scenery, and hopefully find some good food. We drove down the mountain towards Beit Shemesh - due west and slightly south. We headed first for the Ella Valley winery, one of the top boutique wineries in Israel. We arrived and noted a business meeting happening at a table - wine and business, what could be bad? The winery really had a California feel. Tables with large cafe umbrellas, terracotta tile and wood, and these big bird cage/houses. A cockatoo flying around named "Gever" or Guy, and 2 Toucans, and another birdhouse with little birds flying around chirpily.

The CEO of the winery took us around. We saw a little film with bucolic scenes of grapes growing, being picked, crushed and made into, you guessed it, wine! The winery prides itself on the fact that they grow all of their own grapes, pick them at night and also, hand pick them. They produce 200,000 bottles a year, which is not alot. We walked by the rooms where the grapes are pressed and the first stages of winemaking take place. Then, the best part, the tasting. We were good, we did spit a bit but mostly we tasted - a simple everyday red that not all liked (it was young and a bit raw but not undrinkable), a good Merlot, an excellent Cab select. We all bought a few bottles for the collection and considered our building hunger. The winery intends on opening a cafe with bread and cheese but alas, not yet. Where else to eat? Ah ha - I remembered passing a mean roadside stand as we turned towards the kibbutz where the winery is located. I asked the CEO for any recommendations. He had none. Depressing. Not even a local humous stand. I voted for the mean roadside stand. We headed there.

It was, a find, in a sense. The menu wasn't quite clear but there was a sign on the side of the road. Shakshuka, tuna, omelet sandwich, nocknickiya/hot dog or sausage , sh'nitzel. The proprieter, working out of a bus that was painted decoratively and permanently parked on a dusty shoulder of the road, was somewhat surprised to see 6 adults and 2 children descend on him. we ordered shakshuka (remember that this is the spicy eggs with sauce) sandwiches, omelet sandwiches and plated shakshuka. He commenced filling orders. It took forever. There was no hurrying the artist at work. I had opted for a 1/2 sandwich, assuming that more food opportunities might come my way later that day (not really but hey, worth a shot). Who knew I'd eat it long before Ira and Lisa would even get their shakshuka b'tza'la'chat - on the plate? The kids had omelets. The fixings were good, ranging from a creamy cabbage to a pickled cabbage to pickles to humous and fries all mixed into the eggy, saucy mixture on a crusty but unfortunately, too fluffy white bread roll. Sometime later, we finished. By the end of the experience, Lisa was standing in the kitchen (such as it was), holding the plates while our friend spooned in the salads and sides to the shakshuka.

We continued to our next winery, at Kibbutz Tzora. We checked out their wines, they also had nice cheeses and cookies and other gourmet jams and spreads and things of that variety. They also grow their own grapes and produce some whites along with the requisite reds. Their wines weren't bad, we bought a variety of a riesling that was good but Ella Valley was better. Noah and Carolyn went off with Moses for some serious sight seeing and Alan left for Jerusalem and Fayanne, Lisa, Ira and I were on our own. We drove along and veered off the road when we saw a sign for winery. We poked along on a simple track and came up on a building with some trucks and other loading trucks. I headed out and looked inside. Bingo, tasting room. I got someone to open up and offer us some tastes. We had a few varieties - not great but not bad, especially the bottles from a few years ago that were not kosher. That is, in later years, they got Rabbinical Supervision but in their first years, they didn't have. They did have excellent olive oil - their own, which we bought, and Taibe beer which is also excellent beer from the territories (Jess knew the owner back in the '90's when she was reporting on business people doing exciting things in Gaza and thereabouts) which we also bought.

On the way home, we stopped for coffee which we all needed. Unfortunately, we had to head into a local strip mall (such a comedown after wine and scenery) for our coffee at Aroma. It felt alot like Starbucks but we drank and headed back home up the hill, sipping our coffee and listening to Fayanne snuffle in the back seat contentedly.

We headed for our next

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hotel Bar Mitzvah - Making Connections

Had a swanky hotel Bar M this past weekend. My good friend, Karyn and her husband Asher, hosted a good crowd of their friends and family to their 3rd kid's BM. 3rd kid, is the typical 3rd kid, rolls with the punches, talks back, cracks jokes, is a nudnik not that disimilar from my own loveable nudnik, Gabe, and up until 6 mos ago was the sole male child of the family (in April, after a 9 year hiatus from baby making, little Dan was born). Ira and I were invited, along with Gabe who is friendly with Gad, to come. Natan and Akiva spent Shabbat at sister Sarah's house, being fed and taken care of in Goldbergian style.

The hotel was in Herzilya, a well-heeled town on the beach, north of Tel Aviv. The hotel was on a strip with other hotels and beachy like surf shops and such enterprises. The average Herzilyite has the look of a Tel Avivite with that suburban air - well fed, well dresed and generally, with a good tan as well. Karyn and Asher chose the hotel because of its proximity to Asher's shul of his teen years. His family made Aliyah from Queens - ask Lisa Kleinman, she knew them - to Herzilya, which was probably a sleepy beach town in the early '70's when they arrived. His father was an engineer who did something interesting for the military - can't remember what, and they essentially built the shul in Herzilya. Asher's father died some time ago, yet he is still remembered fondly, along with his wife and 5 kids (only 1 currently doesn't live in Israel), by the synagogue community. Asher was pleased to have his son be called to his first Aliyah in the same place where he himself marked the same moment in his life. As well, the portion read this week, talked of the births of Jacob's sons, of which 2 of them are named Asher and Gad, which was a nice touch for the Bar Mitzvah family.

Essentially, the weekend consisted of prayer, food, speeches, some singing, more prayer, more food, a few walks on the beach between prayer and food. I'm not ordinarily a hotel cuisine type but the food wasn't bad at all. Decent salads, unabused vegetables, some mighty fine non-dairy desserts, in and of themselves a miracle, really, some hunks of meat that many enjoyed and I will say that I partook of a piece of lamb as that is my favorite, and a pleasant selection of wines and liquors that made the whole experience much more palatable for all. Gabe spent the weekend playing ping pong when he wasn't eating, praying, sleeping or playing cards.

For us, the weekend was an excellent social opportunity that we mined to its fullest capacity. Karyn and Asher live about a 10 min walk from us in central Talpiyot, the next neighborhood over (as Miryam W as she grew up in Talpiyot until she was 7 or 8). They daven at Beit Boyer, a local community center that is a 5 min walk from out place. Beit Boyer is a very standard ortho minyan - meaning, separate seating for men and woman with a reasonable height but not very attractive divider between, men are responsible for all syn duties of a ritual nature and the style of prayer is standard "Land of Israel." Given that the synagogue is in Talpiyot, it is host to a large amount of Eng speakers, Brits and Americans and a decent amount of French speakers. It boasts an MK - member of Knesset (Israel's parliament) as de facto Rabbi of the community, which means he makes ritual decisions and occasional announcements or talks. He actually seems like an ordinary guy, but hey, I'm not reading his tax returns. The BarM crowd was a Beit Boyer crowd - everyone was from our gen'l neighborhood and they either go to Beit Boyer on occasion or every week. Again, in J'lem, it is not unusual to meet a couple that splits up synagogue, it's normal. As well, given that it's J'lem and Israel, we sat down at dinner and within a short time I was greeted with a comment from the woman on Ira's left - "You look familiar, do we know each other?" We reviewed the basics, name, age, place of birth, college,! Somehow I made the connection. We both worked at The Jewish Agency in NYC, in the old building on 60th and Park, in the late '80's. She moved to Israel, married, had kids, got more religious....blah, blah, blah. Then, I turn to my right side and realize I'm sitting next to Karyn's first cousin, who was in high school with brother Jonathan (they were good friends) and I haven't seen him in a billion years and he just got remarried - mazal tov to all and how's it going, I ask. We talk some more and then, someone, can't remember who, comes over to tell me that I've got to meet this couple that's at theBarM, they "know who you are..." It's a couple that we had emailed back and forth with from NYC. They know Karyn and Asher from Cambridge/Harvard Hillel days, and also know good friends of the Touger family (former Kane Streeters) in NJ and and old college buddy of Ira's (isn't this just a bore?) and we are very excited to meet them because....they have a 3 kids, one of whom, their youngest, a daughter, who is retarded, autistic and hearing impairmed. We bond - it's that retarded thing that does it every time. It's lovely to meet them and the wife is from Kentucky - who'd've thunk it? Our initial bonding moment over, we are greeted by an classmate of mine, Miriam Feldstein - we met in 2nd grade (when I met Karyn) and went to school together until 6th. Were we in HS too? Could be, can no longer remember. Her brother, Eric, went to Columbia with Ira, altho the only thing of worth that I remember of Eric is that went we were on the same school bus in JHS/HS, he "played" his books (like a drum) and did a great version of "Hawaii 5 O" - I can hear you all humming. Miriam and I stood and mused (we missed the soup course but I was already full from salad and fish) that at the weekend there was me, Karyn, Miriam and Abby Rick. We were all in the 2nd grade at H.A.N.C. - our school, in 1968 together. Pretty cool. Of course, Abby Rick's mother was the teacher but then they moved to Israel shortly after that year.

The Bar M itself was lovely the next morning. The weather was warm and lovely, it's always amazing how much warmer it is in the center of the country than in J'lem. It's been too warm lately, anyway, with no rain the past months and everyone is worrying about drought conditions for this winter. At least I don't get too depressed about no snow and no skiing, as I really haven't been cold yet. Of course, even if Ira and I wanted to ski in the Alps, we wouldn't be able to, as they're experiencing the warmest fall/winter in 1200 years, or something like that. No snow, no World Cup races.

The best "do I know you" moment was yet to come. Ira, who has been rediscovering old friends right and left recently (old girlfriend refound thru sister in law, Jo, on dress buying trip in Merrick - I'll let Ira tell), is standing at the salad table choosing from the dizzying selection at lunch. He's being introduced to a VERY tall woman, who's also choosing salads. "Marla, this is Ira...what's your last name?" "Skop," he says or I say. "Skop?" Marla says, musingly, "I once knew an Ira Skop in Queens. Ira and Charlie Skop." Ira, looks closely and says, "Marla? Marla Travis?" "Yes," Marla says. "Ohmigoodness!" exclaims Ira. They had last seen each other sometime in 1978, perhaps at a USY kinnus or shabbaton. She moved to Israel right after HS and they lost touch, and here she ends up at my friend Karyn's kid's BarM, AND, she lies around the corner from us. We're planning Shabbat lunch together. Ira had a pic that he searched around the house for after the weekend - Ira, my friend Beth Mann, Marla (looking tall and about 15 or so), and 2 other friends, at the Salute to Israel Parade, circa 1976.

Only in Israel.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's a big mitzvah

Last night, I received my first phone solicitation. It began innocently enough with the phone ringing, Gabe answering, and his handing the phone over with the information "speaking in Hebrew." I took the phone, expecting something, anything but what transpired. There was a nice person on the other end, asking me if I've ever heard of Akim. I told her that Akim was familiar to me, which was true - In my head, I tried to remember exactly what they do and was it connected to something having to do with the disabled community.

She told me that it's all about connecting and assisting the special needs community, particularly those with mental retardation. She quickly (it's always fast here) told me about the help given to families with newborn babies, and how that help grown to encompass home care, respite services, voactional training and independent living (just to new name a few of the things that Akim does). Would I like to give and of course, I can put in on my credit card. I hamma hee for a few moments (which is what Akiva says when he's not sure what else to say). It's a "mitzvah g'dola/big" to give of course, she tells me. I tell her that I'm the parent of a retarded person myself and I know how important it is to support organizations like these - yes, would you like to support the Akiva Skop fund. I ask for her to send me something and get the usual, it costs money to send and don't you want to give tonight, it's a "mitzvah g'dola." I put her on hold and tell Ira that I can't say no to this nice Jewish phone lady and that I'll make a modest donation. I return to the phone, give her our info and thank her for her work of the evening. I let her know that even though my gift might be modest, that we also give abroad to other organizations that do similiar things. I hang up the phone and remember my father telling stories of the various tzedakah men who would show up outside his office at the shul in Malverne. He had regulars who stopped in, often for coffee, some for lunch (in those days, I can recall a very religious man who would come back to our house, he had already vetted it for kashrut on a previous visit, and allow my mother to heat him up a can of Rokeach veg soup, which he would eat with a piece of challah. This would never happen these days) and all came for a little help, a little tzedakah. I don't think my father ever sent off anyone empty handed. He kept his discretionary funds for these kinds of purposes - small, localized giving and he enjoyed the giving and the receiving - the interaction with all kinds of jews and non-jews who knew that the chief rabbi of Malverne was a generous one.

Free At Last

Have officially retired from Ulpan. Was threatening retirement for some time already and really, continued during the month of November because October was a short month - holidays and all. Then, the classes were reformed and reorganized. Ira, who graduated from Gimel into Daled with a 97 on his test (or something like that) suddenly ended up in my Hey/Vav class with the Gimelites and the graduated Daledites and whomever else wanted to be in our class. For the first week or so, it was really a mess as things sorted themselves out and as people figured out if they were in the right place. Meanwhile, those remaining Hey/Vavites were feeling that their hardwon victories with their teacher - we had convinced Tzippi that we wanted to read literature and we had started to do different things that were fun - were all for naught, as the pace of the class slowed to accomodate everyone. Ira, and his Gimelites, were coping alright but there was stress over the speed of certain things and that wasn't fun for them. One of his compatriots tried the new Gimel class again, but it was overcrowded and not the answer and the head of the Ulpan was unsympathetic to her plight. We all felt annoyed - why wasn't the Ulpan answering the needs of all the students and why had they cut out the Daled Class, when there were students who needed that level? They claimed not enough students and so forth but in the end, the students needs were not being met.

Things settled down, though. My teacher, Tzippi, would teach Sun-Tues and her classes ran in a similar style and pace to what we, the hey/vavniks, were fairly used to. That means many discussions of personal experiences, feminism, life, the get the picture. We listened to the news, generally at a clip, but did parse out the topics and words. We read material - stories and plays and such, and worked it thru but again, at a fast pace. With Tzippi, it was all about her mood of the day and what she wanted to do and her reaction to the group. I'm pleased to report that she liked us, and in particular, I felt a strong connection to her. I'm trying to work up the oomph to call her and invite her over for coffee, as I feel that I could be friendly with her - lots in common and all that. Actually, I do have to call her up because we've planned a little get together at our place with a few graduates who've not been around and we'd all like to see and hear what they've been doing.

Wed-Thurs were taught by Ira's teacher, Ora. Ora is an excellent teacher - exacting, great for grammar and her hebrew is very clean and clear to listen to. Tzippi's was excellent as well but Ora is even clearer, perhaps because she more commonly teaches Gimel? I don't know. Ora is a dikduk/grammar wonk (just like Ira), in the best of ways, really, and she was going to take the class thru grammar exercises for two days each week. That meant no more movies on Thursdays, though, sigh. Tzippi did do the occasional movie on Tuesdays but it wasn't the same. By Thursday you need the movie more. Anyway, with Ora, we reviewed and reviewed Pee'el, Heef'eel, Hoof'al until it was coming out of my ears and you know what? I didn't care which one was Peh/Nun or Peh/Yud or Peh/Vav. Well, I appreciated what it meant and all that and I do care about using more sophisticated conjugations in my speech but ulimately, when you're standing in front of the mechanic or at the bank, you ain't thinking, now is it Peh/Van or Ka'fool? It wasn't Ora's fault, I was glad for review but we were just taking too much time with it and the exercises were excruciating. On the positive side, we did some excellent work with radio news and that was good. We had some good classroom discussions but it felt like the class had taken a different step. We would go to the listening room, always an exciting trip - I detested this. You sit with headphones and listen to some topic and answer questions. Now, we'd sit, with workbook and listen to an article/topic read so slowly, I could fall asleep in between words. What was the point of that? If the class was at different levels, why couldn't we listen to different levels? Ah well, it doesn't matter really, of course, just analyzing for your potential reading pleasure. When I went in to the Ulpan office to tell them I was finishing up, along with a whole bunch of my fellow hey/vavniks, I tried telling her that the Ulpan had done a disservice to us in combining all the classes and it was like it was revisionist history - she didn't understand, no longer remembered what she had done and why it might have been a problem.

So, I slogged on through Nov because ulimately, sitting in a classroom 5 days a week, using one's hebrew is valuable but I swear that once I get over my feeling of relief that I'm done (for the moment, at least. I have 2 months left coming to me by virtue of being a newbie), I will read the newspaper daily and I will listen to the news and I will read a book. Right now, I'm enjoying my freedom. Free at last. Free at last.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Daily Candy

Went to Tel Aviv today. Took cousin Karen and Jessica. Aim - walk, eat, shop and check out what's up in TA. Came down the hill and took off our jackets - the weather is just so much balmier. Got out in Neve Tzekek - a hip (of course), gentrified neighborhood that was, I believe, one of the first neighborhoods built outside Old Yaffo in the late '20's. It fell on hard times, then the artists moved in and then...of course, always follow the artists, it began to attract attention. Gradually buildings were restored, cafes appeared, artists married, babies were born, strollers on the streets, real estate prices throught the roof - you know the drill.

We sat in a cafe. Good bread, salads to dip and share - we dipped, we shared, we baked in the sun. Walked and investigated. Clothing is alot more interesting in TA where there is less of a desire to cater to the more provincial and conservative tastes of Jerusalemites. Good accessories, interesting fabrics, trendy cuts - fun was had by all. We sniffed out jewelry shops, walked thru the main plaza of the Suzanne Dalal Center -a local arts and performance place, and admired pottery, the local mishmash of architecture, ranging from what is generally called the "Eclectic Style," which accounts for much of TA architecture (that is to say, that which isn't Bauhaus and which isn't a takeoff on Bauhaus or what isn't just an ugly old concrete building), a mix of Europeanesque/Mediterannean looking buildings.

We got back into the car and went to a new, developing neighborhood that was vastly appealing called "Shechunat Khashmal" or something like that but it's late and I'm not going to check with Jess right now. Regardless, the name has the word khasmal in it from light as it was a neighborhood with lots of electricians - why? I don't remember but will let you know. It reminded me of Smith Street 10 years ago, when Refinery first appeared and Patois - when there were still rosary shops and old bodegas and the grit was still apparent. Sigh. We checked out some really great places - interesting costume jewelry, hip clothing, edgy accesories and finished up with some coffee. All good fodder for Jess and I and our in development business of apprising travelers and locals of where to shop and what to buy and most importantly, what to eat. We'll keep you posted.

We drove cousin Karen to my sister in law Barbara's office in Petach Tikva, hugged her and thanked her for coming and sent her to to the hands of my brother and sister for her final 30 hours of her trip. It was great to have her here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day

Thankgiving is, at it turns out, a two day yomtov here. Thursday is, a workday after all which means that any partying has to happen on the late side, as we will do tonight with Alan and Lisa at 7:00ish. Late because there's school tomorrow as well and dragging turkey laden children out of bed tomorrow won't be pretty. Then, there's Friday night, the perfect night to sit together and share Thanksgiving treats. We'll be doing that tomorrow night with my entire family who is converging on Jerusalem for a celebratory Shabbat in honor of my cousin Karen's arrival from NYC for Thanksgiving. You may wonder at someone choosing to celebrate here instead of the US but Karen and I have a long history of celebrating Thanksgivings together. From the time that my parents made Aliyah, in 1992, Ira and I and the boys, went to my Aunt Nora's house in Long Island and spent Thanksgiving day with my Aunt, my Uncle Meyer and my 3 cousins, of which Karen is one.

Aunt Nora and Uncle Meyer were fabulous hosts. Nothing was forgotten, all of one's needs were met and taken care of in the most caring and loving way. I always felt that it was the one day of the year where I thought about nothing. I did badger Aunt Nora into letting me bake a pie or something of that ilk but inevitably she'd hem and haw over what I should make and what her menu would be (as if it changed every year) and then, when I would bother her as Thanksgiving was coming closer, she'd inform me that she'd already baked and prepared most things and put them in the frezer. Her freezer was a treasure trove of special things. So, I'd come with a gift and maybe a baked treat and would content myself with washing dishes although even that was a fight as she and Meyer felt that dishes had to be handled with care - as if we weren't big enough to wash dishes.

We honored their memory with Aunt Nora's sweet potatoes this year. Gabe took control of the recipe and with my assistance on directions and flavoring agents, pureed the sweet potatoes until they were smooth as silk and when we served them, heated them until they would remove the roof of one's mouth, exactly as Aunt Nora served them. As for other dishes, it was a mixture of traditional and untradtional. Cranberries were specially imported in from America by Daniel, who brought a large bag for me, Jess and his sister, Miriam. Actually, you can find cranberries in Israel - frozen, with Russian labels, as they appear to be popular in the Russian community. Not sure if cranberries are grown in Russia or if they are like some other Russian fruit and therefore became a popular import.

But back to the two day holiday thing. Here we came to Israel to benefit from 1 day holidays on Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot and Thankgsgiving became 2 days (because now we live in the Israeli diaspora - does this make sense?) and that's without any vacation time. Also, almost everyone in the American community does something to mark the moment. My brother, Jonathan, likes to do something on that day, or, as his wife Barbara says, he gets depressed. It can just be a family gig but he needs to remember the day. Usually, he and some friends have a Chanunkah/Thanksgiving celebration. Sister Sarah has a traditional, on Thursday night, dinner with a group of ladies that she's been buddies with for a long time - American women married to Israel men. They get together, eat, yap and the men watch sports, just like in America. She often has a second celebration with another group as well. Jess has hosted for years, a large gathering of her nearest and dearest, usually on Thanksgiving night, but this year, took the year off and went with Daniel to friends of the family. We wondered what to do and then Alan and Lisa called and we planned a meal with them. I can report to you that it was lovely but it felt different and I did miss some of my familiar people but we all enjoyed ourselves. Friday night we did it again with the ganze mishpocha/the whole family and it was fun but way too much food and way too many people.

So, there we have it. Lots of turkey in the Holy Land.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sahlab Season

Ira and I went for a quick shuk shop this afternoon after Ulpan. I came into town by car to shop with him and shlep stuff home. Readers of this blog may note that I was not in Ulpan today. Wed and Thursdays are serious dikduk/grammar days, my least favorite subjects. While Ira enjoys the nitty gritty of hif'eel and hoof'al, I find it all a big yawn. That is, I started learning this stuff when in first grade and it's hard to go back to refiguring it all out at this point. I have learned some new finer points of conjugation and am happy about that but 2 days of it and they also spent time in the listening room, another "favorite" activity of mine. So, I left with Ira this morning but after he listened to me bitch and moan for 15 min on the way (we were walking), he encouraged me to go home and take the morning off and so I did. I napped, went for a swim and then came in to meet him.

Our mission - to figure out how to buy fresh fish and from which fish seller. Fresh fish is a big secret in this country. Some say you can only get fresh fish from certain places and only on Mondays and Tuesdays. Any other day, it's not fresh any longer and forget it. This flies in the face of reason. Israel has both fish farms and coastlines from which fish can be fished, not to mention flying in fish from other places. Also, there are good quality hotels and restaurants in this country that serve fish - surely they're getting fresh fish from somewhere.

Everyone agrees that David Dagim (dagim are fish) is the fishmonger of choice but still, I approached with care. We asked, what was fresh? He showed us salmon, butterfish (it looked like bass) and some smaller fish that looked like a flat sort of fish but fuller than trout. We said, really fresh? He said, yes. He said that they always have some fresh and some frozen. I've tried the frozen fish in this country and have not been happy. I miss Fishtales - even their prices. I asked him how fresh? He said, take a taste. I took a sniff and then a nibble. Fresh, delicious salmon and mind you, I am ordinarily a salmon snob in NY as all one ever eats and gets served is, salmon, as it seems the most innocuous to most. Anyway. We ordered 2 kilo of salmon for the princely sum of 100nis for a kilo. It is sitting in the fridge and awaiting its destiny tomorrow.

While our fish was being prepared, we ventured to some of our favorite stalls for a few things, too many things of course. Greens from the greens guy. Fruit from the fruit guy. Green beans are back in, so green beans. Boutique halvah from as my brother Jonathan calls it, the halvah guy. Fresh, squishy pitot and za'atar and paprika bread from the bread guy, altho I've been told that I have to seek out a different pita guy in the Iraqi section of the shuk for ultimate pitot. Next week. We stop to admire a little shul in the shuk - meaning, it was a stall but outfitted for khopping a quick daven. We notice the stall next door. Some mizrachi looking guys eating plates of ful/fava beans, sprinkled with what looks like cumin or hawaij (spice blend). We sniff and are offered a taste. We taste, which means that we picked beans off of this guy's plate (meaning a stranger) and are told to spit out the outer shell. Lovely but time consuming way of eating beans. We investigate what else they serve and notice a pot of steaming sahlab on the right. Sahlab season. Sahlab is a hot, milky drink, thickened with the ground bulb of the orchid, "Orchis mascula." It's also flavored with orange or rose flower water, which gives it it's particular taste, along with the orchid root. I looked it up and found out that it became a popular drink in 17th century England and was is said to be good for stomach irritations and gastrointestinal problems.

Here's a recipe found at the "Egyptian recipes page" of
1.5 tablespoons sahlab powder mix or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons rose or orange-blossom water (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
Ground cinnamon
Mix the powder or cornstarch with a few tablespoons of milk. Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Pour in the starch mixture, stirring vigorously, so that lumps do not form. Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until the milk thickens. This will take about 10 minutes. Then stir in the sugar and the rose water or orange blossom water. Serve in cups with the chopped pistachios and cinnamon as garnish. You can also sprinkle grated coconut on top.

Our server ladled it out for us and garnished it with cinnamon and coconut and we shared one cup while walking to the healthy bakery for some fresh bread and cookies. We headed back to the car and Ira said, "We didn't get any treats to eat for lunch," and I said, "No, but we had sahlab." Ah.

Meanwhile, did some Shabbat cooking - veggie, pot pies (new recipe but looks good), green beans, veg minestrone without the beans to make Gabe happy but what's the point really? We even have Shabbat day guests coming - young couple from Ulpan and Ira's cousin Eric with his wife, Liat and their twin 3 year old daughters and Jessica (Daniel is in the states traveling). Should be nice.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Politics Shmolitics

One could/can be driven crazy by the news here. One can also be driven to extremes to avoid the news, the sound of the news - the beep, beep, please pay attention to the news on the radio hourly, the talk of the news and of course, the news itself. There is too much news. There is too much news because of where we are in the world. That is to say, surrounded by our best buddies in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria, not to mention Iran and that doesn't minimize Jordan and Egypt and Iraq but suffice to say, not foremost on the list.

Then, there's the endless analysis of Israel's relationship with the US, the recent elections, the Bush White House, the new Senate and Congress, Condaleeza Rice and whomever else is topical Stateside. We also have Europe with which to busy ourselves - Tony Blair and the BBC's current invective on Israel's situation, our best buddies in France and now, with Olmert's recent trip to Russia, Putin weighing in on things. Every comment, every quote, must be considered, quoted, talked about and opined about.

This week marked the GA - General Assembly ( grand Jewish convention of all the big mucky mucks in US for those not familiar) in LA. I heard more about the GA then I have ever heard about in my life. Who was going from here, when they were speaking, what they would speak about, what they spoke about in great depth and finally, that their luggage had been lost and that they would have to arrive at the GA without their stuff for at least a day.

We have the constant moaning and groaning about the state of the government. I'm talking government officials - corruption, financial misconduct, sexual harrassment, abuse of power. I can't stand hearing any more about Ramon's kiss - did he use tongue, did he take her number first, was the wiretap illegal. Then, we have Katzav - whom didn't he harrass sexually over the years? His mother may not believe that he did anything and his wife is standing by him proudly, I've heard that before. Olmert is known to be a wheeler dealer and has a few questionable real estate deals that are being investigated - at least it appears, so far, that he's kept his pants zipped over the years. Now we have new ministers - Lieberman, a Russian, a bigot but maybe an equalizing influence for the more that million Russians who vote in this country and maybe Barak, returning to a ministry post. It's fascinating that new ministers can just come in, even if they are in a different party than orignally elected in by the public. Very different then what I have been accustomed.

And I've left out reading the papers. One can read the J'lem Post, which is like reading the New York Post - conservative, right wing, generally always sides on the right. Or, one can read Ha'aretz, for their unrelievedly liberal, left wing reading of the situation. One can also read Ma'ariv and Yed'i'yot for their more middle of the road views, althought generally to the right of Ha'aretz, not that that takes much. I find myself siding with Ha'aretz, because I'm not content with the way things are being conducted militarily of late but that's something I can describe at another time. Suffice to say that I don't feel that the current military and gov't leadership has been very smart in how they've been conducting themselves with our enemies and say what we will about having the right to defend ourselves, that doesn't give us some sort of higher moral ground to stand on when civilians lives, homes and livelihoods are destroyed. Ultimately, that's what people remember and that's all they really care about - home, food, family, safety. Oh well, we'll let that alone.

I know many people who avoid the news, don't listen to the radio and only read selections of the paper. I find myself reading the paper and trying to understand the currents that run through the country. Hard to say if I'll sustain that or find it too much as well. Certainly, it's interesting learning a new country's method of governance, what they like to talk and report about and how the regular Joe on the street responds. I miss the New York Times - just the feeling of it and the notion of holding it, folding it, sniffing that inky smell. I'm reminded of an essay by Tom Wolfe from his book, The Painted Word, about reading the New York Times.

"PEOPLE DON'T READ the morning newspaper, Marshall McLuhan once said, they slip into it like a warm bath. Too true, Marshall! Imagine being in New York City on the morning of Sunday, April 28, 1974, like I was, slipping into that great public bath, that vat, that spa, that regional physiotherapy tank, that White Sulphur Springs, that Marienbad, that Ganges, that River Jordan for a million souls which is the Sunday New York Times."

Isn't that a great quote? Well, reading the J'lem Post and Herald Tribune don't quite come close to that experience but hey, it's better than the Oregonian (with apologies to friends in Portland).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Middle Israel

This weekend we went to visit Israel, the real Israel that is. It's all well and good to live in Jerusalem and indeed it feels much like Israel, and certainly on most days, quite enough of Israel for me. But, driving up K'vish Shesh/Road 6, heading North, I looked around and noted the difference as soon as we descended the mountain.

First of all, the weather is immediately different. Jerusalem is hilly, and is surrounded by the other J'lem hills. It's rocky all around you (well, most of the country is rocky) and the weather while lovely, is cool, especially in the mornings and evenings. There is that much vaunted breeze that Ira so loves to talk about, especially in the summer. Indeed, today in Ulpan we read a great story by Shai Agnon (famous Israeli fiction writer of 20thC, who lived and wrote in Talpiyot, right near us and in fact, a shul that is named for him is right up the way) where he says, "there is nowhere in the land (of Israel) with a wind/breeze like in Talpiyot." A great story and a great writer, by the way, very humorous and very inventive use of language. Even in translation, I'm sure alot of his humour will come through. I digress.

You head down the mountain, down into the valley - we drive on the Begin Highway out of town and exit the city at at northern point as opposed to Route 1, the main entrance/exit which is at the western edge of the city (we live south). We head out from Begin onto 443, which cuts through the West Bank, passing various small Arab villages and eventually close to Ramallah. We pass the fence - modest in some locations and tall and imposing and unattractive in other spots. We reach 444 right arount Mod'iin, a cluster of towns on the busy J'lem-Tel Aviv corridor that are growing daily. I believe that there are presently 60k people in Mod'iin but they're planning for 200,000k people within the next 5-10 years and everywhere there is construction - roads, buildings, gas stations. Mod'iin is within easy commuting reach to Tel Aviv and to J'lem which partly explains in popularity. We have friends that live in Lapid, one of the yishuvim in the Mod'iin area and while they agree that it's a backwater for the moment, like the quiet, the commuting ease (he works in J'lem and she in Petach Tikva), the lovely Reform shul in their area and the decent schools they found for both of their kids. Ira's accountant is in Mod'iin and Ira finds Mod'iin scarily hard to figure out in the car - everything built in a hidden cul de sac it seams, no visible coffee shops and stores for a quick bite unless you know your way to the local mall.

We continue on our way to Route 6, which comes up shortly after our turn onto 444. It's a lovely road, wide and pleasant to drive on - Israel's first toll road. It came with major fights and it's hard to drive it and not reflect on the fact that it cuts through beautiful land that many environmental groups thought should not have been developed. Nonetheless, it quickly cuts through past sister Sarah's town of Rosh Ha'ayin and Petach Tikvah, and Shoham (where Arielle Blumenthal lives, I think). The land is flat, things smell agricultural through the windows. We see clementine trees, avocado trees as we gaze upon land sown by a few of the local kibbutzim that we pass by. Olive trees, my favorite tree - gnarly and nasty. We drive past the exits for Ra'a'nana and K'far Saba and then it's on to Kochav Yair, where my brother, Jonathan and sister-in-law, Barbara live.

We have arrived in Israel. Although, Kochav Yair has the requisite amount of English speakers, it is most definitely an Israeli town, a Hebrew speaking town. When you go to shul, people speak hebrew to each other. When you walk in the street, you hear hebrew. Shocking, really, for us townies from J'lem. The town feels different in so many ways from our life in J'lem. It's smaller, more provincial in style. Small town center - cafe, pizza, felafel, small grocery store with silly name, great swimming pool (ok, but it's a well to do town), school.

Still, we had our own english speaking shabbat with Barbara and Jonathan. Arrival heralded by Barbara standing by the stovetop as she is wont to do on Friday. She stands, barks orders as needed, cooks, talks, laughs and drinks beer. We all drink beer, taste the poppyseed cake that I found by chance at a bakery in J'lem. Very good. About 2 inches of poppyseeds with just a light bottom and top crust. Shul on Friday night and then home for a lovely meal with your basics of chicken and rice (Akiva has come to expect that when he sits at anyone's table other than his own of Friday night that he should receive chicken and rice), assorted pickled salads, lentil/potato stew, I can't remember what else and excellent biscotti with tea for dessert. Scotch. Bed, as soon as Akiva was settled down.

Morning in Middle Israel. Sunny, warm and lovely. It's dreadfully hot at their house in the summer but in the fall, it's downright great. We all wear summer clothing - why not when you still can but at least the weather allows for a light sweater as summer clothing gets boring after a while. Shul late for me and Akiva. Home by 11:00am, I think and kiddush time - herring, chips, nuts, humous, crackers, scotch with which to wash it down. Naptime/playtime for all. I sit outside, moving my chair around to catch the sun as it shifts. Akiva alternates between bothering people, playing pool on Uncle J's "special pool table," and reading his books. Lunch finally comes together around 3:00pm. We are all relaxed and actually hungry. More good things to eat and brownies for dessert. I made an excellent mushroom strudel for lunch. Everyone likes it. We nap a bit again - that is, those who didn't nap during the first naptime. Shabbat is over at 5:20 or so, yea! More food prep as the past weekend marked the 21st birthday of J&B's oldest, Dena. Rather shocking, really. Ira and I were first getting friendly in a boy/girl fashion around this time 21 years ago. I remember telling him that Dena was born and we both remember that in mid December that year, my parents and Jess, who was 16 I think, went off to Israel for a couple of weeks to see the new grandchild and I stayed at home - classes and work and my mother said to Ira, "Take care of Beth while we're gone." He did a good job.
Anyway, Sarah and Michael, Noam and Benjy and Michael's mom, Lillian, come on by at around 7:30pm. We attempt to eat once again - salad, jachnun (yemenite bread), rice pudding, cheesecake and upside down apple cake. We sing Happy Birthday and Akiva is pleased and Dena, all dressed up for a night out on the town with friends, prances around in an out suitable for a 21 year old. Ah, to be 21 again. Actually, don't want to be but enjoyed watching her.

We drive home and talk about how we're glad that we chose to live in J'lem, even if it's not Middle Israel. We climb the hill and look at the lights twinkling as we approach, glad to be home.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The news really is all encompassing here. We listen to the news in the morning, and often a few times during the day on the radio. You figure that if you listen to it enough times, it might begin to sink in. There are certain words that the radio newspeople like to use and you need to learn them, like the newspaper terminology commonly used. Problem is that the announcers are so fast that you just can't get it on one round. Thankfully, there are the headlines and then they're followed by the "full" report - you know, "you give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world." Actually, Israel makes no bones about the world. On your basic radio report, it's only about the news here. You need the TV show in the evening on the main channel to get a feeling for the world or by reading the newspaper. It's not the Israel is only focussed on itself but when it comes to regular news reports, it takes alot, like no news locally, to bring up the rest of the world and there are rare days of no local news. Remember, we have local unrest, the Gaza Strip, financial improprieties of various ministers and heads of state and currently, sexual improprieties of various ministers and heads of state, and if that weren't enough, we have the ongoing investigations of improprieties concerning the running of the recent war in Lebanon.

Today, I had myself a shock, as on Galei Tzahal, the army radio station, they talked about today's elections in the US and gave a sound bite of Dubya. I almost fell over. I haven't heard his loose, Texan drawl in months - I almost felt wistful and then remembered how I generally feel about Bush. Not to discuss politics but it was a funny moment. The other overdiscussed topic of the moment is the scheduling of the Gay Pride parade in J'lem. Religious people rioting in the streets, injuring policemen and reporters alike. As my teacher said, you have to wonder where all this violence or desire to resort to violence in order to protest their point of view comes from in the religious communities. I understand the need to discuss the issue - well, I might not totally understand the need but that's a sep matter, suffice to say that it's not an easy city to be gay and lesbian - but to create such a moment for rallies and fighting, that I don't understand. There are bigger problems in the country, in the world. Hale'vye/If only this was our biggest problem here. Anyway, it looks like the discussions have resulted in some agreement btw the religious community and the police and the gay community but the end result doesn't impress me that much - you can read up on it if you're interested and at least some semblance of democracy and free speach will prevail. Actually, we all think that all the commentary on the parade has at least given the public a breather from the nastiness of Katzav's potential indictment on sexual harassment and possibly rape.

There is alot of interest in the mid-term elections in the US today and I imagine there will be appropriate reports tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

Crembo Season

It's Crembo season. Ah, you say - what's a Crembo? A Crembo is sort of an Israeli take on a Charlotte-Russe. What's a Charlotte-Russe all those under 35 may ask? A Charlotte-Russe was a special bakery treat that my mother loved and if I'm not mistaken, the last bakery that I knew of that still sold the confection was Itzkowitz (I think that's the name) on Ave J and 12th (or maybe 13th - Barbara M, help me out on this one). Anyway, it was round, and wrapped in white cardboard (my mother says this was critical for maintaining shape) with a scalloped edge (it seemed such a cunning design to me) and had a base of sponge cake and then it was filled in with whipped cream and it had, in those pre red dye #40 days, a marischino cherry on top. It was real whipped cream I imagine, altho I'm sure that many modern day CR's are pareve whipped cream but what can you do. A Crembo has a soft cookie base that is nothing special really, and then the rest of it is a large, fluffy, mound of marshmallow like filling - the whole thing is coated in chocolate. In them thar days, Israelis didn't eat ice cream in the winter - meaning, no ice cream as in nada. I remember that sister Sarah once, while living on Kibbutz Eyn Tzurim, went down to the Kibbutz shop sometime after Sukkot was over to get herself an ice cream and was told, "K'far Ho'ref," or it's already winter. Over the last 25 years, Israelis have gotten into the habit of eating ice cream all year round but for many it is still a summer treat, regardless of the fact that the weather is still quite ice cream worthy for a good part of the fall/winter season.

My first Crembo of memory was with my sister-in-law, Barbara. She was deeply excited by them and still is, as is my mother, and she purchased the treat for the two of us and watched me unwrap and eat it with great pleasure. I remain unimpressed by Crembo's but like their seasonal nature. They're not available in the summer for the obvious reason - they'd melt too easily. I actually think I ate my first Crembo with Barbara when she was pregnant with Dina and that was a summer visit but I must be mistaken because they're not usually sold that time of the year. Maybe then, you could find the occasional hidden supply of them, even the summer. I'll have to ask Barbara if she remembers.

Before posting this, I'll have you know I checked with my mom to make sure I had all Charlotte Russe facts correct. But you never know...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ulpan Report

The other day, just to wake us up a bit in class, the teacher read from an op ed in Ha'aretz recently about the furor over the gay pride parade in J'lem which is scheduled for next Friday. The writer wrote with a slant towards having the parade - that there was no disrespect towards Jerusalem, that the parade would be conducted with decorum and respect for the city and for the large religious population that inhabits it. He added that the parade should be allowed out of respect for free speech and the fact that the courts have ordered it to be conducted in the past and that the marchers should receive the proper police support and protection necessary to make sure that no marchers get injured by religious demonstrators (I believe 4 marchers were stabbed by an ultra-religous protester the last time the march was held in 2004).

The teacher, Ora, then said, "what do you think about this?" First to speak was an religous, head covering Jewish woman who commented that she felt that gays in Israel could march wherever they wanted in the country, why did they have to march in Jerusalem?" She added at one point that even though the marchers only march thru non-religious neighborhoods, that in the end they end up near religious neighborhoods and that she herself was privy to the most recent march a year or so ago and that it was not decorous and respectful as the writer indicated it would be. Pandemonium in the class. There were the dissenters - mostly big city American types like myself and a couple on the other side who hail from Seattle and LA, respectively. There was the Russian guy, who wondered why it has to happen in J'lem - gays have the whole world, can't they just mind their own business and stay out of J'lem, the other Russian guy, who didn't at first catch on to the meaning of the title gay pride parade in hebrew. Once apprised of the topic, he felt everyone should take a deep breath and relax. I asked him where do gay people congregate in Russia? Moscow, he said. The other guy, as it turns out, is from St Petersburg which has a less openly gay population. What was the most interesting thing about the discussion was who didn't say anything, the fact that if anyone in class was gay now was not the time to announce it, and the fact that as Ira mentioned to me, this would never be brought up in this way in NY. I brought this up. I said that in NYC it would be absolutely politically incorrect to talk about, that a whiff of anti-homosexual thoughts would have you branded an unacceptable human being and that the fact that the hebrew word for a gays is "homo'eem," which is postively wierd for me to say. There were definitely other religious types in the class who didn't say anything and the one Arab guy wasn't there that day and he probably wouldn't have been comfortable with the discussion and I was ready to duke it out with the religious woman but ultimately, we all agreed that the furor seemed to be before the parade and that in the end, people would cope if there was a parade and that funniest result of all of the tumult was that all the local religious leaders came together - jew, arab and christian to protest the one thing that they could all agree about.

Friday Shopping

Boys went for a school Shabbaton - weekend together with classmates. This involved a Friday morning hike in trad'l Israeli fashion and then off to simple innlike place for togetherness and spirituality, both things that the boys were disinterested in. Nonetheless, the packed up their things and went. Given that they were both gone, we decided to indulge Akiva's carniverous inclinations, the fact that my new chirpractor said that I needed some more animal protein in my diet and the fact that Ira is always looking for an opportunity to eat a good meatball and we went off to try a new takeout place in Emek Refaim.

Coffee first at Aroma - read the paper, ate a good breakfast sandwich, listened idly to the coversation of the varous couples on either side and when the cigarette smoke got too strong for us, left to do our errands. Purchased the Jerusalem Post Friday Edition - it is critical to get both Ha'aretz/Herald Tribune and JPost on Fridays. Lots of sections to read and the all important In Jerusalem in the Post which details local events and has articles concerning J'lem. Not like "Talk of the Town" but we take what we can get. Monday's JPost is also important as it has good portions of the Times's Week in Review reprinted. Also bought Yedioyot Achronot, which is an absolute rag but at least is readable for us newbies who struggle with the newspaper. Both Ira and I notice that we're no longer so shocked by the fact that the newspapers are all in hebrew. This may sound stupid to some but you know, it's surprising. What's also interesting is that I can read the hebrew faster - my hebrew was always good but I find that I register the language faster in terms of street signs and advertisements and newspaper headlines. I may not know instantly what it means but I take in the language more automatically, like the way I do in english.

Back to Friday. Headed to Ma'a'da'nei Tzid'ki'yahu for some Shabbat specialties that we've grown to like - excellent veg liver that's zucchini based with lots of onions, great bread that comes from a local baker, pickled cabbage (we've been perfecting a new recipe at home based on their most delightful cabbage with dill), and excellent smoked salmon (not lox mind you but more like gravlax with a definitely smoky quality - I mean Iris's is better but one has to make do), and a good hunk of aged goat cheese. With these delicacies in hand, we next headed around to the takeout guy around the corner that had come well recommended. It immediately became apparent that we had made a huge mistake showing up with our Tzidkiyahu bags in tow. We walked around eyeing the choices - spiced fish dishes, chicken in various styles (roasted, sauteed with veggies in an obvious attempt to modernize their recipes), meat in all styes of chop, stewed and stuffed - when I mean stuffed, I mean stuffed. Stuffed cabbage, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers, stuffed get the picture. Then there are the fried things - fried veg cakes, kubbe (bulgar torpedos stuffed with meat), cigars and other filo pastries stuffed with meat, potatoe cakes stuffed with chopped, seasoned meat, and soup kubbed which is more like a soft dough stuffed with meat that's put in chicken soup. Then, there are the salads in the fridge case along with the soups - cabbage slaws, red salads including spicy turkish salad and more piquant matbucha salad, chopped and seasoned pepper salads and of course, humus, tuna salad (this is a specialty with all sorts of chopped veggies inc pickles that I happen to like) and veg and real, chopped chicken liver. There are kugelike things called pash'ti'dot which look like veg kugels but taste more like veg potato niks if you know what that is. Anway, there we are with our Tzidkiyahu bags and someone says - turns out it's the owner, "what, you went and bought salads there?" "don't you know they make their stuff in a factory?" "everything we sell, we make right here," "taste," he says, breaking a cauliflower pancake in half and handing it over to the two of us. "Good?" he says, "right?" I answer that this is our first time here and he came recommended and what can I say but now I know better. Unconvinced, he urges us to follow him into the kitchen in the back. Well, now you're talking I think to myself. We follow him. Biggish space by Israeli standards, big pots with piles of stuff being sauteed by cooks standing by. He shows us - filling for his different kubbes and other salads being made in the back. I think to myself, he must do this constantly. He takes up back into the store and demands to know WHAT we bought at Tzidkiyhu that could compare with his store. I venture to tell him that we bought some coleslaw - "coleslaw! mine is fresher and better." He reaches into the fridge and grabs a container of coleslaw - please understand that I find colesaw indigestible under most circumstances except for Tzidkiyahu pickled slaw and even then, I eat it gingerly - and then, grabs a plastic fork. He stabs in and forks up a big pile of mayo styled slaw and shoves it toward my mouth. I take the fork, open mouth and chew obediently, remarking that it's just fab, thinking it's ok but it's still slaw. He goes on about the fact that the mayo is at the bottom. Ira and I assume that this is either testifying to it's home madeness, it's lower fatness or something else perhaps. He then returns the container to the fridge, minus my bite and that was hilarious to me but that's Israel. We order a nice selection - some plain chicken for Akiva, rice and lentils, 2 pieces of stuffed cabbage for Ira, some meatballs and some sauteed chicken livers with onions for both of us and chickpeas nicely cooked in a paprika/tomato sauce. End result - it was good but so far, we like the place on DBL - Derekh Beit Lechem, near Jess's old place more but to be fair, the food was fresh and good and not heavily salted or oiled or overly seasoned and all tasting the same. We'd go back and try again, but needless to say, leave the Tzidkiyahu bags in the car. Tzidiyahu may have a factory and be a bigger operation but it's a small country and none of the food is traveling that far - it's fresh and good and they really know their neighborhood. I had a long chat with a guy at the Emek Refaim Tzidkiyahu about the diff in their food at that location and at their location in the shuk which I prefer more as the food is a bit more Sephardic/Mizrachi in style - spicier and peppier.

We toss everything in the car, head for home, pick up Akiva and make a run for the pool. Ahh...Fridays in J'lem.