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.