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.