Sunday, December 30, 2007
In other words, Hasbara, is the local spin. There are many who feel that Israel is terrible at Hasbara. Our own Elisheva, Sarah's daughter, currently serving in the IDF in 'Doveyr Tzahal' (Spokesperson's Dept), feels that the army works hard to help journalists understand what's going on but could do better at certain times yet with security concerns being what they are it's often an unwinnable game.
We've realized over the last year and a half of living here that we have our own Hasbara methodology which perhaps if employed more would make for a happier world. We get a phone call or email from a friend, close or long lost. 'We're coming into town' they tell us. We respond with happiness and pleasure - sometimes tinged with exhaustion as certain times of the year are marked by continuous guests (holidays, Xmas/New Years, summertime). 'Want to go out to eat?' they often ask. 'Sure' we respond, 'but maybe you want to come over and have dinner by us...' 'Really?' they say, 'Ok, how about Shabbat?' And we host - dinner on a weeknight means soup and stir-fry or something not to fancy (ask Rena S, we've fed her nicely - then again, she shleps from Costco for us and deserves dessert and a good bottle of wine as well), or evening coffee and cake and we try not to yawn too much (we're not vacationing and wake up for Akiva's bus is 6:15 every day Sun-Fri). Shabbat really is best as even if we're tired on Friday night, we're happy, relaxed and glad to sit and hang out. And if we can get you to come to shul, even better and we'll always shlep the visitor to Shira Hadasha for their lengthy but spirited davening. We make it up to you with a good scotch and a good meal. Shabbat day means shul, lunch and even a game of grab scrabble or if Alan shows up, some bridge. Sometimes we can play during the week too - trips to Tel Aviv to shop are always fun, as well as the shuk in Jerusalem for our favorite coffee and 'croissanterie' and the occasional hike in the countryside if a day can be found. All in good fun and all to show you how we like to enjoy ourselves here.
We're happy to talk politics if you'd like, answer questions about our life here and generally field inquiries about whatever as best as possible. We ask that you not grill Natan too much about the army which he hates talking about but will try to be pleasant if he can.
Then, there's The Honey. Our Tel Aviv partner, Hadass Tesher, said in a conference call the other day that The Honey is her form of Hasbara and I thought, 'what a brilliant statement.' Indeed, people have said to me that what they like about The Honey is that it is completely non-political, although we do list occasional community happenings that may not be liked by all, our emphasis is on living a good life here, enjoying all that Israel has to offer, from the North to the South, from the mix of cultures and the mash of people from all over the world who arrive here to live and work here. If we could only sell our particular brand of Hasbara to the Ministry of Tourism or some big company that would like to sponsor us. ..we're working on it.
But the upshot is that if you come and visit us, like the 35 or so before you - no, make that 45 as we hosted a party of 10 this past Shabbat, we'll make you coffee, serve you cake and if you play your cards right, Shabbat dinner and a tiyul (trip out and about) could happen as well. We want to see you here in Israel, and want to show you our house, introduce you to some of our new friends, let Akiva get excited that you came on a plane to visit him - in short, give you a bit of a taste of how the locals (I guess that's what we are) live.
Give us a call. We're waiting to hear from you.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Then, there's Mindy, here from Montreal for the last 13 years or so. Her Hebrew is good but mercifully, she throws in a good bunch of English. From her we've learned the terminology for standing up straight, watching that our chest and heads don't sink down and adjusting the pressure to her notions of hard and easy, all delivered with her breezy smile, swinging ponytail and nary a droplet of sweat.
Aryeh is the most amusing from my perspective and the most Israeli - then again, he is Israeli. A retired army man, can't remember what he did but clearly it was not something that allowed him to get fat eating humus and yelling at recruits, he's in impressively good shape for a guy who I'm told has 2 grandchildren - you do the potential math, even if he married and had kids when he was young. His delivery style is 'early military', punctuated by the sounds he likes to make to keep time, 'tock tock' along with his head ticking right and left in time with the music. He takes no prisoners, gives you little idea of what to expect but as you get to know him, you begin to recognize when he's about to up the ante, pick up the pace, start peddling wildly fast and generally, leave the rest of us in the dust. Ira and I never understand much of what he yells out to us during class - he just doesn't say anything that I really recognize but we manage just fine and are always proud of ourselves for making it through.
Today, Aryeh asked me if I bike outside of class - not that much these days to be honest. A combination of a healthy fear of J'lem roads which are barely big enough for traffic, let alone bikes and an unfortunate lack of public awareness about sharing the road with bikes in the first place. I told Aryeh that I need a new bike - which is true. I have a lovely but ancient peugeot that's great for straightaways but not for the constant up and down of J'lem hills. Aryeh told me that I'm a great spinner. Pretty cool. Begins to make me think about doing that Hazon ride sponsored by the Arava Institute next May --- all about the environment and the Arava...hmm.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Haven't blogged about much lately, let alone our marvelous trip to Budapest - where we saw not only the city but our beloved Erzsi (now I really know how/why to spell her name after having had a crash course in Hungarian - well not really, too inscrutable for that, but you know what I mean). and enjoyed our endless, cold marches around town.
And it was cold, at least for us. As we packed and stood around scratching our heads at the weather reports (30's and 40's by day) we wondered at what combinations to bring along - fleece and shell, various sweaters, down jackets. I scoffed at down jackets - overkill, I said, and suggested fleeces and shells for all. Gotkes? Never even thought of it until sometime during that first day, when my thighs were freezing in my jeans but enough of my thighs. As Natan said, "Gee, after living in Israel, I guess I've lost my perspective on cold weather." Not that it isn't cold in J'lem and in our house which is far colder and draftier than 409 Pacific was but even on cold days, if the sun is out, it just isn't that bad.
Budapest, as I've reported to many, is many things. It's at first glance, grey and gloomy, with large, hulking buildings presiding over the huddled masses but as you walk the city you begin to appreciate the mix of architecture, the grand boulevards (at least they must have been grand at one time), the once imperial notions of splendor in the churches, museum facades and older structures, many of them pockmarked with bullet holes (Hungarian’s history of war and takeovers but many from the Turks to the Germans is never far from mind) mixed in with boxy, bulky communist affairs, that do nothing except remind one of the presence of the Soviets in Hungarian history.
The people seemed reserved and wait on line too politely, as if to remind you that waiting on lines is something they’ve done before and for many years. The young people looked like young people everywhere and the pedestrian mall, Uta Utca, is filled with stores familiar on the continent and beyond – Zara, Mango, H&M and something called New Yorker that from my elevated perch didn’t look so New Yorkish in it’s style but was clearly selling its own version of street style. As a matter of fact, the difference between the young and the older seemed marked, as if the younger crowd, born at the end of the Soviet era, or indeed, after, had grown up during a different time. They had of course. Erzsi said that life under Soviet rule wasn’t as harsh in Hugary as in other places. She said that they had enough food, if limited but that she, growing up in a more rural setting, had the advantage of a good kitchen garden which provided well for the family. She said that when she would travel as a teen and young adult into Russian areas – where one was allowed to travel – that young Russians wanted to buy their clothing and jeans, although they didn’t have anything special but it was much more than what was available in Russian.
Budapest, is 2 cities of course, Buda and Pest, united sometime ago, along with some of the surrounding area (Obuda, I think, but can't remember what else). Buda, is the old city, complete with low-rise buildings with an old style air (indeed may of them are quite old), a castle and an old church built and rebuilt on it's original medieval foundations many times over the centuries. We walked over the Sveczni Hind (bridge) to get there, and then up the Funicular, a funky little cable car (Akiva was quite pleased) to ge to the top of Castle Hill and then spent some time exploring, in the light rain unfortunately, the church and some of the old, cobblestoned streets, finding where the shul had been (there's always a place where the shul had been), finishing up our walking with an overpriced but pleasant lunch, where we ordered cold salads didn't have anything objectionable (there wasn't much), which thankfully left room for dessert - a specialty from Erzsi's childhood, which was a pile of soft chestnut puree with mounds of billowing whipped cream - and ice cream for Akiva.
That was they day that we traveled to what felt like Queens for a good piece of strudel. The first day, we had checked out the local indoor market to do our food shopping and came home reasonably happy - nice produce if limited, some decent strudel (especially the dill and cheese) and lovely mushrooms for a soup which we enjoyed for a few days. (We were staying in a great apartment that we found online - John Farrago, lives on the UESide, of Hungarian descent, discovered his love for Budapest some years ago with his wife and bought a set of apartments (they all adjoin each other and can be used individually or shared as needed for the group) which they redid with all the necessary travel comforts - from espresso maker to w/d, to ipod docks, cellphones at the ready for travelers to fill, to comfy mattresss with fluffy comforters and most importantly, good, feather pillows. Anyway, John had recommended an outlying area for truly, excellent strudel and we felt that we were deserving. As well, the public transport system is vast and varied - from subways to trams to busses to electric busses to commuter trains - so it seemed and excellent opportunity to avail ourselves of them.
The question was, how? Thankfully, we still had Erzsi with us but even she wasn’t sure. In short, one buys a booklet of tickets (most people seem to have unlimited passes), then passes the tickets through this machine that eats them in some partial way (no hanging chads), then one walks through until confronted by various, officious looking types who demand to examine your tickets. This, while holding an eager and excited Akiva back, who sees and hears the sounds of subway trains, and who is making noises that while scary to others merely indicate his overwhelming excitement and inability to find the necessary words at that moment. The ticket examiners seemed to be leftovers from the Soviet era, an example of everyone must work and have a job, even unnecessary ones. Other such examples, people ‘khopping and klopping’ wherever we went, old and young, digging up bits of sidewalk that seemed perfectly fine or manning seemingly innocuous entrances to places, just so that they could stop you and ask you questions in Hungarian. We made our way first onto a street tram – very nice, new train cars, longest in Europe at 53 meters – then, a subway train (we took old and new cars, even one train with narrow cars dating from the Soviet period) that reminded me of train cars from the IRT line in the 70’s in NYC and along with much map study and walking, arrived at our destination – a hole in the ground, nearby to some large, industrial looking furniture stores, in a grey and unattractive residential area north of Pest. The strudel store, for all of its size, had an impressive variety of flavors and we put in our order for 2-3 of every flavor and waited while they packed us up. We watched the strudel man rolling strudel, the dough stretched out over a kitchen table to infinitesmial thinness, then filled and rolled up and somehow, transferred to the oven without any mishaps. The strudel was truly impressive – thin dough, light and crisp although not terribly flavorful it had the right texture and feel, sort of the presenter to the fillings, fruity or cheesy or with nuts or some combinations thereof. We made our way back home with our aromatic loot, walking through the streets from Deak Ter, down past Vorszmarty Ter, to Szervita Ter (Ter is square and everything is a square, populated with the shadowy reminder of goosestepping soldiers, often with it’s own statue of sort or some sort of monument to some long forgotten figure or imperial time), to our apartment.
We checked out the flea markets – supposedly, Budapest is the repository of the detritus of the Soviet era – and the one market that Natan, Ira and I visitied (Gabe and Akiva stayed home) really gave you a sense of the marketable and the simply curious. Flotsam and jetsam from the insides of cellphones, bric a brac that could only be considered ugly and not really for resale, old clothes (vintage would not be a reliable term), LP’s of unknown singers, toys – many of them broken and some that looked like they’d been saved from some fast food restaurant kid meal, etc. The sellers themselves were curious – many of them without the normal array of teeth, and there were Gypsy’s as well among the mix and others from places unknown. It was unclear if anyone makes a living at the flea markets but there was a bonhomie typical of such places, people greeting each other, drinking coffee, admiring each others wares.
From there, we went back to the market, for ingredients for our mushroom goulazs for Shabbat dinner. We had heard that the back of the market was home to wild mushrooms, direct from the forest, presided over by the mushroom inspector who makes sure nobody will keel over from eating them. We investigated and found a table with a variety of choices, dark, wrinkly and mysterious looking. We asked for a price – our seller wrote it down on paper – we countered with our own offer (this is recommended when buying mushrooms), she counteroffered and we settled. Mushrooms in hand, we investigated the veggies, finding the ‘bio’ or organic stall, and bought some. Natan said, “let’s see what crone #2 has,” and we did, and she wasn’t such a crone but a sturdy, peasant looking woman of indeterminate years, selling honey and other things related to bees. We bought some honey, in addition to the aforementioned paprikas – regular and hot. We bought yogurt – pointing to the picture of the sheep and a sort of fresh cheese curds, flavored with paprikas (everything has paprikas it seems) and we would have bought milk just to feel like the locals, who arrived with their plastic jugs and soda bottles for refills from the milk can but had no receptacle of our own.
We checked out the Jewish part of town, home to one of the largest synagogues in all of Europe, the Dohanyi St Shul. The building, in a Moorish style, is vast and the sanctuary is quite impressive – darkly colorful and historic, the names of the congregants engraved on little plaques in front of their seats. There is a courtyard in the center, which essentially became a graveyard during WWII and there’s a modest but quite moving monument to the community’s families killed by the Nazis – a weeping willow tree in silver metal, every hanging leaf engraved with the name of a family. Too many family names engraved. We tried to go back for Fri night but couldn’t find where to enter but we did find the way in on Saturday morning and found ourselves in their sizeable chapel (it’s too expensive to heat the main sanctuary during the winter). Seating is separate but no mechitza. There’s an organ and choir and cantor singing, dressed in the old style with black robes and fancy cantorial toque. Nobody seems to sing along but then again, the average age was about 70 with a few younger faces, including the Rabbi who seemed to have ants in his pants the whole time and a few others. Ira and I, in particular, enjoyed the pronounciation – heavy on the ‘Galitzianer’ style, tough on my Ashkenazi ears but a balm to Ira’s senses, as he grew up with ‘kigel’ and ‘Pirim’ and my favorite, ‘Shiiviyis’ for the holiday of Shavuot. Again, nobody was that friendly to us, basically wishing us Gut Shabbes on their way out. We started chatting with an American couple who was also visiting and discovered during the course of their conversation that their daughter lives in Bklyn – at that point the bells went off. ‘What’s your last name?’ ‘Gutman…’ Elissa Gutman, who Jessica used to share an office with in J’lem when they both worked for the Forward and now writes for the NYTimes and goes to Kane Street (not a regular goer) and for those with long memories, is cousin to Hugh who used to run Boerum Hill Food Company, long before Restaurant Saul bought it! It’s a small world. Fortified by that bit of Jewish geography, we shared email addresses and went home for lunch.
We returned to Israel with a sense of satisfaction. Europe is close and within reach (I write this from the Brno, as a matter of fact, in the Czech Republic where I am for a long weekend with Jessica who had a last minute business opportunity and is here writing a story). Flights are not outrageously expensive and at least in Eastern Europe which is not fully ‘Euro’ized’ your dollar goes further (since of course the dollar goes nowhere lately) and you get a real taste of history along with the dumplings, strudel and some very good cups of coffee.
Akiva, for his part, got to go on a plane and that was just fine with him. And he got to revisit all of his favorite traditions with Erzsi – the books they enjoyed reading together, the songs they loved to sing in Hungarian, the hugs and kisses that they shared and the fun that they always had together. Lucky Akiva and lucky us.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The conversation went in many different directions - who would we vote for today if the US elections were being held. As expected, they don't trust Hillary, partially because she 'stood by her man,' and because she's perceived as being 'wishywashy' on things. Guiliani interests my Mother but she maintains that being Mayor of NY does not prepare you for the office of President. Lillian was curious to hear why I detest our present leadership and what I think could be different with a new leader. Then, we talked about current problems here. Lillian informed us that she had just recently written a letter to the editor of the Jerusalem Post to complain about coverage - you should be so good when you're 90, I thought to myself. Her beef? Too much talk about Anapolis and the usual diplomatic shenanigans when we're entering our 40th day or so of the teachers strike. She, along with my mother, detest Olmert (as do many) and feels the the current government is both corrupt and untrustworthy and absolutely cringes when she see Olmert in photo-ops with Abbas.
My mother reminds Lillian that she wanted to shoot Olmert a few months ago during another politcal discussion. She adds, my mother that is, the instigator, that one doesn't get such heavy sentencing in this country, look at Haim Ramon back in office already and in a few years, Katzav will find a way back in too. 'Lillian,' she adds, 'You're an older lady...if you assassinate him they won't put you in jail for a long time.' Lillian agrees with her. My mother says, 'I'll be your accomplice, we can get through security!' We all laugh at the thought of the Granny assassins but I tell them that they're terrible and misbehaving. My father naps in his chair in the lovely, warm sun that is so nice to us cold Jerusalemites, and when he wakes up will tell him the joke.
As we're leaving, Lillian tells my mother that she's on, but 'you get the gun!'
Monday, October 29, 2007
Natan and I have started a new blog, Cooking without a Parachute, which is still under construction. Natan has long wanted to 'have a cooking show together', as he used to say when he was younger and we watched too much of the Food Network. In those days, we'd cook together and pretend to be hosting a show, Natan providing color commentary to whatever we were making, while I chopped and described the dish and its method of preparation. Our idea with the blog is cooking by the seat of your pants. Looking into your refrigerator, pulling out whatever seems interesting and just making something. Even if you consult a cookbook, you let your ingredients and your mood guide you to adjust as necessary. Everyone can do this even though most will so, 'oh no, I need to follow a recipe.' There's nothing wrong with recipes except that they often prevent you from making a dish. You don't have carrots, or are missing mushrooms. Ok, so don't make mushroom soup if you don't have mushrooms but you can still make something else with whatever you do have in stock. As well, most of us have an excellent choice of condiments on our refrigerator doors. Condiments are our friends. From those bits of chutney, aging mustards, mystery sauces that you picked up or were gifted once, and salad dressings, come marinades for tofu, meats and fishes as well as quick toppings for simple grain and veg meals.
We see the blog as a way of engaging the boys in cooking as well, which they already do but which I'd like to see happen more, especially during the week. As a matter of fact, Gabe made dinner last night and you can read about it right now...
Other big news is that we're all going to Budapest to meet up with our beloved, Erszi. You too, can meet us in Europe one day, especially if Ira continues to be the master of frequent flyer miles. He schemed and plotted and now we're all flying frequent flyer. Ok, we're not all flying together but that's another matter. We still have to find a place to stay but we're working at it. If you have any ideas - need a short-term rental for 5 days.
Lastly, The Honey will be sending out a survey next week - if you're a Honey reader, please click and fill it out as we need to know more about our readers so that we can learn how to best serve them...and make money.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Meaning, it's raining (have I made that clear) and it's the first rain since last April, I guess, or early May - yes, I think there was a late drizzle in May. The air smells strange - kind of like every bit of dirt of the last many months is sort of being moved about before it gets tamped down by the dampness. We drove home carefully as when it rains here for the first time, people get into car accidents - they've literally forgotten how to drive in slipperly conditions. Crazy, huh?
Now it's a few hours later and it's positively autumnal feeling here - breezes blowing and I can even consider wearing warmer pj's tonight and using an extra blanket.
The first rain is called the 'yoreh' here and it's cause for celebration and I can see why as it's almost unbelievable that it finally rained again.
Natan, who just returned from Poland (more on that at another time) was less impressed, having experienced both rain and cold weather there but for the rest of us, waiting for that first drop of rain, it's just thrilling.
Let's hope for a rainy, rainy season.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Shul jobs are coming to call this fall. What to do?
Job Description: Working with someone else to coordinate hospital visits and 'what do you need' calls to families at Shira Hadasha.
Skills Needed: Hospital experiences (well, we all know I've done my share this year), ability not to get in people's faces (I always have to work on that one), desire to get to know people at Shira Hadasha (well it would be useful).
Who suggested me: Jess said it wasn't her. She said she was at a meeting with a few people with whom I dealt over the summer during Jess's hosptial incarceration. How much you want to bet she tipped her hand.
Job Description: 'Kef' Organizer. Within very small community, be involved to create fun activities together, from meals to picnics, to hikes to who knows what?
Skills Needed: People person (umm), good organizer (umm), desire to get involved (mum on this one as still sit on the fence alot of the time), good at planning things (sigh).
Who suggested me: Miriam Avraham, a Ma'yanot friend and mother of Adina, who has DS and has become a friend. She's taking on the role of Y"oR/Yoshev Rosh/Acting Head of the Kehillah/community, with her husband, Yehuda. I'm trying to talk her out of it as I think I'd much more enjoy community outreach and fundraising.
I have this idea of pairing Ma'yanot with an egalitarian community I know...
Great idea...doncha think?
Actually, went to the Ma'yanot meeting last night. Sat around in someone's living room, noshing and laughing and getting down the business of how to better organize ourselves, run ourselves, and perhaps build the community and find a semi-permanent home until the municipality deigns to finalize the plot of land that supposedly awaits us in this general neighborhood. Felt alot better about the community than normal as out of a very small group of members, almost everyone sent a representative, and in some cases, 2. That's cool.
So, imagine my pleasure the other night, after having driven an hour and a half (almost) in late day traffic, with a car full of boys eager to play baseball, to the one regulation baseball field in the country for a game against the K'far Saba team to arrive at Kfar Ha'baptist'im/Baptist Youth Village, one of the main places of play in the IBL and despite the simple setting, slightly rundown look of the buildings, the bathrooms were clean and pleasant to use.
Some info about the Baptist Youth Village (from jewishvirtual library.org, in case you were wondering..."Three Protestant communal agricultural settlements have been established in different parts of Israel in recent years. Kfar Habaptistim, north of Petah Tikvah, was founded in 1955, and besides farming provides conference and summer-camp facilities for the Baptist and other Protestant communities in the country." So, for those who will understand the reference, it's the Koynonia of Israel.
Gas stations have nice bathrooms, coffee places all have nice bathrooms, and even the grocery store bathrooms are passable in this country. Just carry your own toilet paper to be sure!
Note on the game: Gabe's team loss but not after 2 solid innings of hitting (the other team also had 2 rallies) and one heavily disputed call that was worked out - I won't tell you how but the suffice to say, the umpire was allowed to save face and Gabe's coach apologized for losing his cool but as he said, 'I had to, for the guys...it was only fair' or something along those lines. It was a loss but a loss with style and verve and heart. Sister Sarah and Michael showed up with Noam, late in the game, to cheer Gabe as he swung and missed at the plate. That was kind of fun as we were right near their house and they enjoyed being able to pop on by, bringing me a much needed cup of tea, and stay to heckle the players for a while. The field is really beautiful and that made the evening even more enjoyable. Kind of like sitting at a single A game somewhere in the middle of nowhere - before they built stadiums for those games and started charging money. Not that this was anywhere near single A ball but that feeling...if you get what I mean.
Friday, October 05, 2007
So, what's the big deal, you ask? The big deal is that while I was doing all of that, you guys were sleeping and now you're getting up for your 2nd day of holidaying and dancing, praying and singing, eating and eating and eating....
It's shocking, really, but I have to say really quite wonderful and it's enough of a reason to live here - especially on the good days.
Gotta to run and light candles.
Shabbat Shalom y'all.
Monday, September 17, 2007
I've been mulling over my feelings about this matter. What it means to leave a place, what it means to be a newcomer and what it means to trade one set of variable for another. Moving has exposed one truth of life. You give up one thing to get another thing. I gave up my community in Brooklyn for my family here. And I have them - we celebrate birthdays (the wallet is constantly open for gifts), we go on hikes, we plan ski trips (I hope this winter), we talk about family problems, we support each other, we laugh together.
In Bklyn I had one set of constants and they were not perfect but they were mine - the shul drove me crazy (yes, this is true), I missed my family and was lonely, I needed different support systems in my life. There were the good points too, the shul community, the homeschooling community, directing the theater group, friends, neighborhood, subway, Sahadi's (ok, I have the shuk here)...in short my life of 20 years in Bklyn. My new set of circumstances here continue to improve and develop but that doesn't change the fact that that which kept me moored in life, no longer exists for my everyday life. The shul experience most exposes that here - it's different here. You go to shul, it's not your social life, it's the place where you pray. Yes, you have friends, yes, you invite people for lunch but you have friends who daven elsewhere and maybe you too daven elsewhere so it's not pivotal to your life to make it work.
I've decided that the main issue is that I feel 'unmoored' in terms of synagogue matters. I've gotten used to anonymity this year and had felt more connected in to places slowly. We've invited and been invited a bit...but it's hard. I have barely read Torah anywhere - just Mayanot, too uptight to offer myself up at Shira Hadasha yet. Davened once I think at Mayanot the whole year. Have davened at a whole host of places but feel connected to none really, although I smile at people and can survive kiddush although at times it's tough. I prefer to sit on the side with Akiva as he munches on pretzels and chips. (Actually, did very well at kiddush at Shira Hadasha this past Shabbat, which pleased me as Ira and Natan were with me as well.) None of the shuls calls to me as my home. One aside here - it's interesting how many of my Bklyn compatriots are quite put off by davening in an Orthodox shul when they come to visit. Too me, while it's not a perfect solution (men and women sitting separately), it's not a deal breaker, it's just a readjustment to something that I used to know and do (friends while in school, etc and even in JTS in the old days) but haven't done in a long time. Moreover, I know so many cool Orthodox feminists here, who continually think of how important it is to be an Orthodox feminist and to teach their children accordingly, while the Conservative jewish women I meet, are still thinking through what they do or don't do in shul. Look beyond the mechitza - it's just a barrier and it's what they're used to. Don't let it stand in the way of understanding and t'filah/prayer.
Since 1983, I have felt a particular tug to this place. Actually, I started feeling the pull in 1982/3 when I was here for the year after college (forgetting the brainwashing towards Israel and living here that was a major part of my life). Then, Jonathan and Barbara moved and the rest is history. Tug, tug, tug. It was the line from Maurice Sendak's book, 'Where the wild things are,' that really brought me here - "And Max the king of all the wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all." That messy, unconditional love of parents and sibs. And even if it meant leaving so many dear to me on the other side of the pond.
So, here I am and I discover that now I have to feel a tug to what I left. I feel the tug to the familiar. To the mundane - brownstones and trees changing colors, the grit of Atlantic Ave (it's fast disappearing), the subway, the tall, tall buildings that block out the sky. To the less mundane - my friends, my reputation (I know it's shallow but it's true), my sense of belonging. Recently, 2 women (only women would say this to another woman) made some comment to me that 'I don't work,' and I thought, only someone who knows me for a very short time would actually say that to me - and then I realized, they only know me for a very short time. They know very little of what has driven me for many years, even if I didn't follow a tradional career trajectory that reads easily on a CV.
What to do about all this? Nothing, I realize. Thing about it, talk about it, but not dwell on it too much. Let this 2nd year here unfold, with whatever surprises good and bad will come our way. Maybe we'll find our moorings and fasten the tent posts to some community and maybe we'll continue in this peripatetic way - the 'wandering Jews,' in our homeland but not at home yet.
As Rosh Hashanah approached, though, I felt concerned about the whole shul issue. Where would we go, which place would satisfy our needs during the holiday period? High Holidays are different than regular Shabbatot. I, for one, as does Ira, have a desire to hear a certain kind of prayer/davening during the high holidays. I want to hear Ashkenazic litergy, I want to yah buh buh in the way that I have for many years. While I wasn't expecting to be back in Bklyn, and I knew that Kane Streeters weren't going to be hearing Ray this year - although having met and heard Boaz, I had a feeling that people would, for the most part, be pleased - but I was looking for something that would at least have a familiar feel.
My parents were coming to Jess's house (Daniel's in Toronto, doing a RH/YK gig). Ok, that meant that we were davening in part at Beit Boyer, sometimes called Beit Boring, an average Orthodox place of prayer. It has the sex appeal of an MK that davens there, Melchior, who also serves a 'Rabbi' of the community. This is a title of honor, but it does mean that he sets a certain tone and often speaks - but his tone is a friendly and open one. Beit Boyer is a friendly place, with a decent amount of Anglos, and we know people locally who daven there. Each day, my parents would be there, with a representative keeping them company. We bought our tickets and wondered what it would be like. Jess and I menu-planned. Boys baked. Akiva sang songs. Ira and I shopped and cooked.
The Friday before RH, we got the call from Mayanot - Conservative Egal. I was asked to read Torah on 2nd day and Ira to daven mincha on Day 1. We hemmed and hawed. Everything that Mayanot does, they do at the last minute. There's a certain beauty to their method as they always pull it off - just at the skin of their teeth. I had already sworn that I would say no to any last minute jobs, but gee, reading Torah 2nd day? Akedah story of Isaac? It's my favorite, literally sends chills down my spine to read it. We accepted. We were curious anyway to see how services would be for us this year, when we weren't as shell shocked as we were last year for the holidays. Setting up chairs on Tuesday night at Mayanot - rubbing the dust off with a damp towel, we wondered if last minute wasn't such a good idea but 'in for a penny, in for a pound.' Besides, the boys like the familiarity of Mayanot and it's very comfortable with Akiva. Anything goes at Mayanot - from the barefoot kids running around with their bags of bamba in tow, to the easy going friendliness of the constituents (a rarity in these parts we've found), to the interesting mix of Americans and Israelis (yes, real live Israelis) who come to daven there.
Shira Hadasha was out, at least for me, for RH. Jessica would get there on Day one though. Truth was, Ira and I had gone there last year and had been underwelmed. While the t'filah was, as always, delivered with meaning and thought, the style of song wasn't Ashkenazi enough for us. It was sort of 'Carlebach goes RH,' and it left us wanting more. Their shofar blower was nothing special, although Jessica assured me that they had someone new this year who was reputed to be quite good.
Natan and I went to Beit Boyer on Day 1. After feeling sort of unsettled for the first 1/2 hour or so - why was I in a shul that I never normally go to and how will I feel comfortable - I settled in and began to enjoy myself. I smiled at a few people (my good friend Karyn and her girls were behind me, and I know some other faces from the neighborhood, etc), chatted briefly with the nice South African lady next to me (she's been here 37 years), and began to enjoy myself. The davening was completely Ashkenazic and familiar. The shofar blower, while not approaching Rena's virtuosity, was good and his shofar had an interestingly mournful tone and his blowing style was quite assured. My mother and I liked the air-conditioning, which was its usual galactic temperature (in the Beit Boyer email, which arrives every Fri, they list what that week's temp will be so that everyone can come 'dressed for their comfort') and we liked the Ba'al Mussaf, who had a certain gravitas suited to the day. Turns out he's a Brit. Melchior gave a good drash, looking over at us ladies, as much as he looked at the guys.
Day 2, I went to Mayanot. Aside from the sound of the bouncing basketballs outside on the court, the tefillot were said with meaning and seriousness. The leadership suffered from a bit of 'atonality' but what can you do? The shofar blowing was marred by a problematic shofar with a small opening. No problem. By the end of the service, a runner had been dispatched to someone's home and returned with a better shofar and the final blasts were delivered with force and enjoyment - no more dying moose to serenade us with. We were hosting 'Nativnicks,' post High School kids here in Israel for the year with a program though the Conservative movement. Natan recognized 2 girls from his choir singing with Hazamir in NYC and happily trotted off to Alan and Lisa's for lunch - Gabe, too, so that they could sing/discuss their way through the repertoire.
So what was the problem? I don't know. Maybe it was too 'loosey goosey' for me. Maybe it was too small a minyan - Mayanot suffers from the Kane St problem of nobody around until Torah reading (shacharit is really the 'added service' not mussaf in the Conservative movement). Mayanot has plugged away at being a viable source of egalitarian Judaism for years and yet, they remain, unsung, without a permanent home, forever the forgotten minyan in the area. Sometimes, I think they like it that way - they like it smaller and more modest and with a definite emphasis on involvement within, otherwise they wouldn't be able to make it happen week after week. I feel that they deserve better, should want better, should demand better, from themselves, the movement, the local kehillah/community in general.
I hear you - get involved, Beth, you can do it, you can change things, shake things up a bit, etc. Somehow, I just can't yet. It seems scary and strange and I'm just not ready to expose myself like that yet. I would like to work to the development of the Cons egal community here - raise money, get us a perm home, etc. Ok, that's involvement but it's for a cause and a good one at that. More on this for my next post.
In short, Shana Tova to all of you. A year of health, fun, visits to Israel (if you can) or meeting in Europe (haven't explored this possib enough yet but am trying to work out a meet in Budapest idea with Erszi), and in general, life in all of it's complications.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Thankfully, it is also the land of excellent humous, fresh and squishy pita and tasty cucumbers and tomatoes. It is also the land of blue skies and sunny days, where the wind blows to freshen things up most evening (at least where we leave) and where a trip to the pool can be combined with a historical tour of the bunkers from 1948 and an ongoing archeological dig of stuff from 2000 years ago. It is a land where the sky extends out big and open in front of you (Natan feels it's too open, he prefers skyscrapers) and where at night you can see actual stars twinkle along with the lights of civilization.
It's a complicated place yet our lives feel somewhat less complicated. At least we've left our junk mail behind, not a bad thing. We've traded the business of 20 years in Bklyn - friends, shul, homeschooling community, theater group - for family matters. Both a blessing - birthday parties shared, holidays cooking together, trips to do errands big and small with Jess and other sibs - and complicating - my father's illness and aging, Sarah's surgery, Jess's adventures of the last 2 months. I still not used to my family's expectations that I should talk to them all the time. I'm surprised by this and yet, delighted to have it, for myself, as well as the kids and Ira. We miss the stuff and life of Bklyn and most of the week it seems okay, until Shabbat that is. We've met good people and as usual, Akiva has brought special people into our lives, like Melina, who told me today that I'm like an Aunt to her. I was glad to hear that and she is protective of Akiva as if he were her own. Doesn't make it easier to have left Erszi but it's good that we've met good friends for Akiva, or are working on it, here.\
Today, Ira and I and the big boys went to Beit Guvrin, a fabulous constellation of underground caves, dwelling places, cisterns, olive oil presses, pigeon guest homes, etc, hewn out of the local limestone of the area. We walked around marvelling at the the great condition of the antiquities and the 'oldness' of the place, the history, the sheer wonder of having your history laid out right at your feet.
We drove home, everyone tired, hot, dusty and sweaty. Ira went to work upstairs, boys to their corners, me to the computer. Akiva came home from the pool with Melina and I went off to my new discovery, Spinning class. Came home and the big boys were cooking for Shabbat. Penny and Sara Owen arrive tomorow. I joined in. Life is good.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Anyway, when the Russians came enmasse, it became apparant that driving laws/testing was even more problematic there than here where driving is quite the sport - people are killed more on the roads than in wars - and they tightened the rules so that every new immigrant has to at least take a lesson and a test in order to be licensed. Use to be, you just brought your American license down and got switched. My parents were the last to be able to do that. In typical Israeli fashion, you have to go for a very intense eye test (no standing and reading the letters at the DMV) and then, of course, to the doctor (such a bore), and then, down to the DMV type of office for your forms to be stamped and such many times and they make note of where your license came from, etc...then, you get to take your lesson and test.
We had been given the name of this guy, David, who is clearly making a killing helping nervous immigrants go through this process. He picks up your papers, gets them to the appropriate offices and then, calls you to schedule your lesson/test, drives you back and forth to the testing area and generally, holds your hand (he patted my head but at least he's over 70) and tells you it will all be fine - this for 400nis or about $100, which is alot of money considering that a regular lesson is about nis100. But we went with it because of all the horror stories - like Alan Salzberg failing the first time. Also, we had waited until the umpteenth moment to do this. You have 3 years to do the test but if you don't pass by the end of the first year, you can't drive until you pass. Some disagree with this, some say you'll just get ticketed if you get caught but there it is.
It was Tisha ba'av/fast day for commemorating the destruction of the 2nd Temple a loooong time ago (you know Jews and their long memories). Light traffic. Auspicious day. I had my lesson at 7:50 with Bob Carroll (went to Brandeis, knows Simcha boy back when he was Fred), and it should be added that Ira and I were making our lives marginally more difficult by doing the test in stick. We both drive stick and in this country, typically, you have to pass the test for stick in order to drive both types. If you pass just automatic then you can't drive a stick. Rediculous I know. Actually, maybe it's not so rediuclous but it's amazing to think that they're so stringent but nobody drives well anyway. One theory we have is that they make you drive so slowly and carefully, that nobody is ever trained to deal with normal road conditions. Also, I think that they are patriarchal to the women and make them nervous so many of the bad driving one sees is by women and then men drive as if they own the road and EVERYONE tailgates which is a major cause of accidents.
We each had our lessons. I, of course, had to go inside btw lessons bec of babysitter handoff since Akiva wasn't in school yesterday, and have my stomach be so upset and nervous that I ate a cracker and drank water (so much for fasting but I'm not a great TB faster to begin with) before I went back into the car for the rest of Ira's lesson (of course the teacher said nothing to Ira about anything - at least not the way he lectured me about road rules and of course, Ira was cool as a cucumber).
The tester entered the car. Nice guy. Ira started and drove, and I kid you not, maybe 4 minutes before being asked to pull over to the right (I thought he had done something wrong but nooo....) and then, I went (I told Bob, our new bff, that I had to go next or die of nervousness) and I drive for perhaps 3 minutes, and finally, Bob, who took us back the driving test offices. And that was it. We passed. For this I had to eat my kishkes out? And what a scam really. Thank goodness I'm not like my niece Elisheva, who's failed 4x and has put so much money into her lessons that it's just absurd. She can drive but they keep failing her on odd technicalities and just to keep getting the money - you have to take 28 lessons just to take the test the first time if you're a new driver and then each time you fail, you have to take a few more and then if you fail a certain amount of times you're really screwed. Natan says he'll never do it.
On to the next adventure.
Natan has arrived back in country. Oh happy day.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Our neighbor across the hall, actually is the proprietor with is brother, I believe, of the yarkan on Derekh Beit Lehem on the corner of Esther Ha'malka, but we really prefer to go to the yarkan across the street from him - also on DBL as well. He's a nice guy and it's a nice store and he always discounts me if he's there BUT they all smoke in the store, they wrap their veggies with saran in pkgs, which let's be honest is no way to buy your produce. They do have good arugula - almost always - and some nice homemade salads. The guy across the way, has more interesting berries and this week, pant, gasp, faint...LIMES.
I have waited a whole year for this moment. On Friday, as I browsed thinking of what else to buy to make sure that we wouldn't have to shop for a few days as life has been too busy (but that's another story), I saw a 'havila'/basket of green, round objects. I've been fooled by these before. They could be green lemons. I looked and sniffed - then, I asked...'ha'eem zeh limon...' I trailed off expected the answer, 'ken, limon,' and she looked and smiled and said, 'limes.' This was funny as it was immediately apparant that there's no real plural for limes in hebrew. Fine with me. I bought a whole basket and began considering my options - margaritas? mojitos? salsa? lime bars? I called Lisa Smith immediately and bought her 6, just as a taste. I came home and cut into the lime and it was a lime - I rubbed my nose in the lime, inhaled the smell and squeezed it on salad and in yogurt and on fruit but haven't done any drinking yet. Working up to it. Gili, the owner, said to expect them to be around for a while but I wasn't taking any chances and the cashier, his sister, approved. She said, people come in and say 'limes!' and then buy 3. What can you do with 3 she asked?' I agreed.
Let the party begin.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
This morning, I went back for more. I went, despite the 600 people (according to Ilan the guard), despite the overwhelmingly American feel with all of the visiting groups and groupies, and despite the crowding - as a member, at least I can call some of the front seats my own when I come in, a real blessing during the tour group season. I returned, for what I like to call, the 'wall of sound,' of the tefila/prayer there.
We all struggle with tefila - the good days and the bad days. The days that we should have stayed in bed and the days where it all just feels right. The good days definitely outnumber the bad days at Shira Hadasha. This again despite the at times annoying nusach/prayer melodies, or the overly long and yuh buh buh'ying tendencies to the tunes, or the feeling that there are a bunch of Welsh men singing over on the men's side on their way home from the mines. Thing is, there is nothing like the sound of so many people singing out - singing out their stress, their weeks' fatigue, their Shabbat happiness, their pleasure in the experience of the evening.
It's what I like to call, to use a coinage from the Phil Spector era of musical arrangments, the 'wall of sound.' As if we've all been crowded into a small room (we are considering the numbers), with a planned reverb or however these things are really done for our listening enjoyment. Everyone sings, hums, vocalizes, harmonizes and somehow, magically it almost seems, it all words. Invevitably, I feel 'farklempt.' It's sort of like being at a show and feeling weepy when everyone claps at the end - it's the swelling of emotion, all those good feelings and bonhommie that almost brings me to my knees. Sometimes I think, I'm just a shameless wimp, trained like Pavlov's dog to cry at AT&T commercials and other times I allow myself the feeling of emotion, so strange it seems after years of 'dry davening moments.' Maybe they're on to something here, this post-modern version of hasidism, this joyful take on the mundane and commonplace, this happy desire to sing their hearts out week in and week out, even if they need to come up with some new melodies.
My mother and my brother may scoff at it (don't be offended when you read this, Mom). It's too long, they get hungry, why do all this singing anyway? If we went to the local shul, we'd be home already. All of this may be true but once you open yourself up to the experience, it's quite enticing and the next thing you know you're, heaven forfend, clapping your hands and swaying in the aisles. Can closing your eyes and dancing ecstatically be far behind? Beer does lead to heroin at Shira Hadasha.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
But by comparison, where Sarah had her heart surgery was downright luxurious - little vases with flowers on your breakfast tray, 2 in a room with pleasant looking sheets although no designer hospital gowns. Sarah went the 'private route' for her surgery, an increasingly popular method for people with good agreements with her 'kupat holim'/medical plan. She had to cover various aspects of the surgery, like the cost of the valve but not the surgical fee (go figure) and decided that she wanted a quieter environment and what was ultimately, excellent care post-surgically. Jess, already a patient of this well-regarded fertility specialist at Hadassah Ein Karem, a leader in such care, ended up there because she was having an unexpected complication and it wasn't an 'elective' situation like Sarah. Not that Sarah wanted to have a valve replacement and double bypass but she had a minute to decide on where and when - within a range of a few days.
Hadassah did have a less, 'fah'kneytched'/very religious feeling then Sha'arei Tzedek, where I've also spend lots of time this year with my Father (from his hospitalization to his chemo Sundays). Demographic at both hospitals is everyone - religious, secular, Arab, Jew but Sha'arei Tzedek has a decidedly 'haredi/ultra relig' feel because it's more centrally located to downtown. Both hospitals (HadassahEK and ST) have shuls with minyanim at all hours of the day, kosher food, Jews walking around giving out sandwiches to family members spending hours at the hospital or offering meals on Shabbat to all who need - separate seating only or course - and the requisite rabbinical types appearing with a few words to the ailing person and his/her family.
I decided though, that the hospital took on a particular air over Shabbat. For those who have read Harry Potter, I was reminded of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Friday night, while Jessica was being tortured by a variety of well-meaning doctors, I noted the presence of full families - all haredi - for Shabbat at the hospital. As this was a women's floor, there were many women on bedrest due to pregnancy complications. In Jessica's room, earlier in the week, there were the 2 haredi women who yelled across the room to each other in Yiddush much of the day and didn't deign to speak to anyone else. One of those women had an older daughter with her on a different day, with baby in tow, stroller, stuff - this in the 5'er room - for the whole day! Hospitals are not places for babies but it's just the way it's done here. There was the guy in his full Shabbat regalia - long coat, fancy hat, and such, singing down the hallway, as well as the young, not more than 10, year old girl, clearly left in the hospital overnight to keep her mother company and assist in whatever way she could. She mostly walked around goggle eyed, especially near Jess's room as she was the hot ticket with the most action on Fri night that week. She also always caught me on the telephone, as I was most of the weekend with nervous family members checking in, as if to make sure that I knew that she had seen me speaking on the telephone on Shabbat. There was the guy who showed up to make kiddush on Fri night, and havdalah on Saturday night - albeit it a bit late for the rest of us who had already decided that Shabbat (probably the longest one in my life) was over. It was truly a bizarre place.
Today we walked out of there - Jess, a newly freed woman - and it was a good feeling and I'd like to hope that this is a pause, a breather, from the hospital gigs of late. My Dad is holding his own for the moment - back on chemo but looks alright despite being easily fatigued - so, we attempt to go back to normal over here.
I have the following items which i don't need:
1. 15" monitor: You can see something but it's not clear enough to use
for work. It can probably be fixed by a technician.
2. Plastic case for 3 x 5.25" floppies.
3. Stainless steel shoe horn
4. Dust covers for a keyboard. Other dust covers still in the bag. I
think they're for a computer, maybe screen as well.
5. Mini-LED torch, keyring size. Works but the plastic casing is ripped.
6. Cloth for cleaning galsses.
7. String that people attach to their glasses to hang them round their neck.
8. Men's watch. I can't remember if it works or not but the light
brown strap is in good condition.
9. Vanish stick. Pre-wash stain remover. Not much left.
10. Do people still use handkerchiefs? I have 7 or 8 (off-)white men's
handkerchiefs to give away.
11. Two self-adhesive suede heel grips.
Pick-up Rechavia-Katamon, preferably Friday morning.
E-mail for more info.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
I called the restaurant and in typical fashion, when I listened to the machine, got both the new phone number and Basson's cellphone number - which I called. I told him that I was a writer for an internet based e-newsletter and I was curious to talk with him about reopening, his new menu, what he's been doing, etc. He invited me to come to the restaurant with a 'ben zug'/partner at 7:30. I informed Ira that we had a gig for some tastes of this and that, shouldn't take long - he had a gig with Len Wasserman and a friend for a beer night downtown.
We arrived. Empty restaurant. Smiling staff. Nice space on Horkonos in the Russian Compound area. We sit, then move as we're told we'll need a bigger table for all the plates. Moshe, introduces himself to us shortly after we arrive and proceeds to wine, dine and educate us over the next 3 hours of eating. I haven't spent this long at dinner since a meal many years ago with Ralph and Lisa at the De Puys Canal House, where we ate and ate and ate and then staggered back to the Thunderbolt (or something like that) Motel to sleep off the excess of delicious food. We started with a big fresh laffa style pita with some assorted salads. Essentially fresher, more sophisticated versions of the regular stuff. Next, a trio of soups - a fab lemony red lentil, tomato with min (refreshing and good) and Moshe's specialty grain, 'geresh ha'carmel' in soup form - a young spring wheat, served in the spring as well as the following year, once it's been dried (then it has a slightly smokey taste). We punctuated our eating with lengthy discussions of different herbs and grains and Ira and I sniffed and tasted and nibbled at the many things that Moshe showed us. Moshe was suitably impressed at our ability to recognize certain plants and recognized us for the foodies that we are. The meal continued with some different salads which we only nibbled at, knowing there was more ahead - particularly liked his take on taboule and this very creamy, whipped kind of potato salad. Everything is always beautifully seasoned with lots of fresh herbs.
When Moshe, or his talented sous chef, Sofyan, cook, people talk about food, it's culinary and emotional history as well as the political history of this part of the wold. Moshe has cooked with Jews and Arabs alike and feels that knives should be used for chopping, not killing. That might sound simplistic but for a guy of his background (Iraqi), it's revolutionary. He has friends on both sides of the fence and they are people who care about the land and its future and want to preserve the plants, grains and foods of the people of this part of the world - proper stewardship even in the face of war. Moshe said that he has contacts who show up at his kitchen bearing their unusual offerings - ancient grains and plants cultivated all over the country that Moshe enjoys using in his cuisine.
We kept eating through a lamb course - lamb and vegetables topped with a pastry, Moshe's signature dish of figs stuffed with chicken in a tamarind (tamar hindi) sauce and some beef with eggplant that was meltingly tender and lovely. We tasted his Magluba - a one-dish casserole, served with great fanfare, of chicken, vegetables and rice. Sephardic hamin/cholent, but thankfully not as abused as the Ashkenazic variety. Eventually, too stuffed to take another bite, we finished with a simple semolina cake with tahini and honey decoratively arranged on the plate and Moshe's homemade liquors. It was all wonderful, including the moment where Moshe went across the street to the parking lot to show me local caper berries and how they grow everywhere - I've since found them on my way to shul.
We took Barat Ellman and Jay Golan back there last week and they as well enjoyed a meal and the attendant food education. We didn't eat as much but we let Sofyan (who was behind the stove that night), choose the menu and set the pace until we told him we'd had it and then finished with a sahlab pudding which was great and a bit of liqueur.
He's only been reopened a couple of months but if you're going to be in town, make time for Moshe and tell him that Beth sent you.
As seen on The Honey (just scroll down that issue a bit), we noted a cultural offering last week at Ha'maabada/The Lab, a local performing arts joint - actually, really not a joint. A cool space, lovely for smaller venues and a nice bar/cafe right outside with beer on tap and of course, espresso. We went to see, Amutat Kna'fay'im/Wings, a theatrical performance by disabled adults about their lives and their work - in a spoon factory. I don't know what we were expecting, really, but despite some last minute excitment (Jessica needed to be stitched and glued in 2 fingers because she spaced out while cutting watermelon but it should be added that she had 1/2 of Danie's TRY students at a barbecue at home. Of course, Daniel couldn't leave because of the TRY students so Ira, who loves blood, had to take her to the local emergency clinic - he said he didn't look), we managed to get there - me, Lisa Smith and Ira (who was a bit late).
Full house, included 2 other families that we know locally with children with special needs and Akiva's principal from Feuerstein, who really looks like a smurf. Stage was set, lighting came on and we were absolutely held in thrall for the next hour or so. About 18 adults - some with physical disablities, some with emotional and all appeared to be developmentally delayed in one way or the other. They spoke, they danced, they talked of their lives - their wishes, hopes and dreams. The good thing was that it wasn't sweet - in some cases, especially the women, it was downright angry. Two women spoke of being treated poorly on the street by others, especially men, and one spoke of being taken advantage sexually by men in her neighborhood. Most of the women spoke wistfully of wanting to have homes, families and their was a poignant but well staged section of most of the women, veiled, dressed in elements of bridal finery, pretending to be brides.
Everyone expressed some kind of thought, feeling or opinion - some actors were harder to understand than others but they all had something to say and it was cool to watch the actors work together, encourage each other and clearly show how they knew what they were doing. It was a well-rehearsed and well thought out piece and we were all impressed and excited with the evening.
We clapped and cheered and the actors bowed and smiled and cheered for themselves. The performance was free, which surprised us as we all thought it was good theater, better than alot of 'paid' theater that we've seen - it was not about "let's go see the retarded people and clap for them."
Monday, May 28, 2007
Natan should tell the story but I will relate some of his adventures. First he tried to figure out what the first soldier, who was a mumbler (never good when you're not fluent in the mumbled language) was saying. Eventually, the guy yelled at him that he should enter the first door on the left. Natan did so. He sat down upon seeing other guys and girls around. Then he figured out that he needed to show his teudat zehut (id card) to get the process moving. He did so and received the all important swipe card for the day. He swiped his way through the next few stations - the first interview station (a bit of social history). What does this mean 'you were homeschooled?' This took some time and bureaucratic confusion as Israel is a place that loves certificates and ratings. Natan eventually offered that he'd taken the SAT last year before we left - they liked this and we will send the scores although I'd rather he would have offered to take a GED and send them the scores since all they seemed to care about was something that would suggest that he can finish HS since he can't do a full set of bagruyot (the sort of matric exams that you do here at the end of high school - he's doing some but too hard to do all given language and newness). She tested out his hebrew which Natan said was relatively successful until they got to the dictation section.
Next, the physical exams. Height, weight - all that jazz. When Natan was explained the day by various cousins and extended cousins (Daniel's sisters kids), everyone quickly says, 'and then, you have to drop your pants for the doctor.' As promised, he survived the experience. There was some discussion about his eyesight but we don't really understand it all - just that he has some sort of rating because of his correction (can't be a pilot - oh well).
After that, some sort of test administered on the computer. Sort of a logic and spatial thinking test. Thankfully, one could choose which language to take it in. He took it in Eng and said that the first half was unpleasant but the second was better. He thinks that the Hebrew lang takers had a longer test.
Finally (I think this was the final thing), the big army interview. Natan said this was quite thorough. Your background, family life, sibs and such (Akiva and responsibilities to him - how do you feel about that?), school again (or lack thereof). Army 'what would you do in the army?' Natan, 'I don't really know as I don't know enough about what I can do. I would like to be able to use my English skills as they are good and I like computers and I like to sing (there is an army choir of course).' 'Do you want combat?' Natan, good boy, answered, 'no.' 'If you got combat, how would you feel?' Natan, 'I would make the best of it because it's 3 years and might as well make it work but would prefer not.' Army, 'overal any problems?' Natan, 'when my parents decided to move, I knew it would mean the army an didn't know how I felt about it. I wish that Israel didn't have to have an army but as it does, I am prepared to give service to the country - leet'rom shey'rut la'medinah.'
Here's the kicker. He did it all in Hebrew except for the doctor who spoke to him in Eng and Natan decided that if that's what he wanted...
Natan was supposed to have a soldier who's attached to his school (this, painstakingly arranged by his cousin, Leut. Dena, recently out of the army but this was her job in the army) accompany him and help him thru the day, especially language-wise but he didn't show and as Natan said, 'I would have called Yuval if I really needed him.'
I think that I'm most pleased about that. He was able to understand and be understood and advocate himself and answer pleasantly and honestly how he felt and hopefully they saw him for who he is - a good and responsible lad, who's unsure about the whole thing but reasonably open and positive. And don't think that's so unusual. Many kids feel unsure about the whole thing, even if they've grown up here. Natan was lucky that on Shabbat afternoon, he got some good advice from Eliav and Adin Laufer (Daniel's nephews), about how to handle the day. 'Be positive,' they said, 'don't give one word answers,' and 'tell them a bit about yourself, so they see you're normal, that's what they're looking to see.'
In the end, we don't know Natan's number - meaning, what his physical profile is which does affect where he might end up. Not sure if he was told it and missed it or if he'll find that out later. I guess we'll have to ask around.
That the whole thing is wierd and disturbing is a separate matter. That it might make sense to do something in your life between high achool and college is a good idea, I think. That it needs to be something like this? A different problem entirely. That the world is crazy, that the politics here are lunatic, that Gaza is imploding and nothing else seems that great - all true. Do I want my kid out in that mess? Not particularly. Don't want my kid to be fodder for the next incompetent war that the gov't decides to wage as they did last summer. Don't want my kid to be lost to a kidnapping in Lebanon or Gaza. That's a pain that I can't imagine.
I definitely have a more cynical attitude to the whole army thing then my father that is, but you can't deny the fact that these overgrown children are sacrificing alot in order to do this and that is something to think about. Will try not to think about it too much over the next year or so.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Lunch today was an 'Ashkenazic picnic,' or as Iris and Steve Katzner would put it, 'Jewish camping'. That is, first we decided to have a picnic. It was Jessica's idea and it was in order to remove the onus of more cooking and preparing after having just cooked and prepared for Shavuot. I agreed with alacrity. We'd all show up with some salads and stuff in tow and there we'd have it a meal. Ten minutes later, Jess called back. It will be too hot to picnic - the hunt for a suitably shady spot that wasn't too far a walking distance for all included - Jess and Daniel, Miriam and Peretz and kids (Daniel's sister and family), Elise Bernhardt (visiting dignitary from Bklyn) and Lisa and Alan and small children. We discuss various places to picnic and I suggest 'picnicking' on our mirpeset/porch, which is generally shady in the afternoon. This idea is immediately seized upon as the perfect idea. Noa, Miriam and Peretz's youngest, decides to actually have a picnic with friends on real grass and doesn't join us and the rest come to eat on plastic by us. Too many desserts but altogether a good meal.
Daniel told a good story today. He just finished the month or 'shloshim' - the 30 days of initial morning after the death of his father, Leo. He's been looking kind of 'bivak'sin,' or unkempt, that is, in need of a haircut and beard trim. He read that while he's allowed to get a cut after shloshim, he should wait until someone tells him that he should get a cut. He bumps into his regular haircutter in the neighborhood and proceeds to tell him this story. Eitan, the haircutter, said, "Daniel, you must get a haircut immediately." Daniel, wanting to make sure he hasn't too overstretched his bounds, responds that he really has to mean it. Eitan answers, "And I've made you an appointment for tomorrow at 8:30am." Daniel thanks Eitan and arrives the following day for his much anticipated haircut. Eitan cuts his hair and when Daniel goes to pay him, refuses him and said, "I invited you...we're a nation of customs." This from the secular hairdresser. One of those Israeli moments.
Watched Gabe play baseball on his team on Friday. Drove a bunch of boys out to Givat Zeev, a bit outside Jerusalem, sat in the blazing sun for 2, almost 3 hours, reading, watching, commenting (I did take on break to walk into town and get a cold drink and find a place to go the bathroom) and enjoying the chitchat in Hebrew and English between the boys as they alternately supported and occasionally berated each other, in good humored fashion, throughout the afternoon.
Friday, May 04, 2007
On Yom Ha'atzmaut, the country smells of mangal, on Lag Ba'omer, of smoke. Natan, much to his surprise, has been invited to a bonfire locally, with his group of lady friends (there are guys too). One girl asked him if he knew any hot guys and could he bring some along? Natan invited his friend, Natan from school but unclear if he's coming. Gabe will hang with cousin Noam and we'll check out some of the local action together and Elisheva, who's off for the evening will come to hang out and eat ice cream.
I'll give the full report when everyone wakes up on Sunday, which is of course a day off from school, except for Akiva.
Then it dries up in a minute, the earth takes a quick drink, and all returns to normal dry state - except you need to go to the car wash.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Rita, by the way, is one of Akiva's favorite people. They've bonded over Curious George, The Little Red Lighthouse and Shabbat dinners at Jessica and Daniel's. He went right over to her (he knows a Grandma when he sees one), sat on her lap and they became friends.
This was our first funeral in Israel. A few surprises. It's informal, of course. No suits, no black dresses, not alot of ceremony. It was held in the Sephardic hall as the family was told that they would be more comfortable with men and women standing (no seats except for a few around the side) together and with women speaking or even worse, gasp, helping to carry the body at the end.
Ah, the body. Wrapped in a tallit, lying on a stretcher of sorts. NO CASKET. Sort of drives home the fact that it is a body that is being buried. He looked so small and indeed he was never a big person while living (I only interacted with Leo Laufer when Jess and Daniel got married but he wasn't able to respond) but in death, he seemed even smaller.
People spoke. We stood. More people spoke. We stood some more. It was good even though it was sad. Daniel and his brother, Michael, spoke of a man that I don't know, even his grandchildren barely know (except for the oldest two who are 23 and 21 respectively) and most assembled knew through his family - through stories and memories. I was reminded of the children's book, written by Mem Fox with wonderful illstrations by Julie Vivas called, Wilfred Gordon Mcdonald Partridge which is a great book that tells of the friendship between the aforementioned WGMP and his neighbors at the Old Folks Home next to his house. He's friends with a few of the residents and in particular likes Miss Nancy because she has four names, just like him (I can't remember the names though). Miss Nancy is spoken about sadly because she has "lost her memories." WGMP collects some of his favorite things and brings them to Miss Nancy and she looks at them and remembers things from her childhood and is happy because WGMP helped her "find her memories."
Burial was down the hill. Won't discuss all the particulars except that there was a 21 gun salute of a sorts as nearby there were people doing some target practice for "mishmar ezrachi/civilian patrol."
It was a good funeral.
Monday, April 23, 2007
It's basically one 'tekes'/ceremony after another for about a week and a half. There are the official State ones, school ones, neighborhood ones and tonight, a program at Shira Hadasha. Minha services at 6:15, followed by a Yom Ha'zi'karon service - it was lovely. Poems and readings with musical accompaniment and most grueling, people stood and remembered names of people they knew (family and friend and extended) who had been killed in wars or terrorist activities and when they died. It was quite poignant to have people stand and remember a friend or cousin who was killed in '67 and '73 and even one woman who remembered a brother killed in '48. I thought about my friend Tzippi, who's fiance was killed in '82 in Lebanon, and Michael Levin, killed this past summer in Lebanon. Levin, was a Ramah Poconos boy, a friend of my nephew Benjy. He was featured in a DVD made by another Ramahnik, Sally Mitlas, and the DVD was shown on Israeli TV tonight. Levin was what's called a lone soldier as his parents and sibs are back in America and he was here on his own as a citizen and soldier. His mother, in Israel for the ceremony at Har Herzl - the military cemetary in J'lem, said that when they came in for his funeral last summer, they expected a small group, as they don't have alot of family here and when they pulled up at the cemetary they saw many people and wondered if there were alot of burials that day. All those people were there for Michael. They didn't know him but they wanted to pay their respects to this guy, here alone, without his family, giving everything to the country - his life.
What's interesting is that at the end of the service, we morphed into Yom Ha'atzmaut and did a festive Ma'ariv service, complete with Hallel and song and happiness and it felt good. It felt really good. I sang and was happy.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Following our truffle adventures - we had truffle omeltets and truffle toasts (first you clean them, peel them and slice thinly) and we enjoyed the notion of eating the truffles but they weren't the all encompassing experience that we had hoped for.
Last Tuesday, I had a meeting - yes me, a meeting - with Jess and Hadass (Honey partner in Tel Aviv) at the port in Tel Aviv, or in hebrew, the 'Namal.' Very cool area. Wooden boardwalk, laid out in curves, with inset sand circle, waves splashing over the side, cafes with pillowed chaises and chairs to while a way some time, nursing a drink. A cross between South St Seaport, but better, and Hudson River Park. Hadass claims that it's ok during the week but that on weekends, when the Israeli equivalent to the 'Bridge and Tunnel' crowd shows up, the 'khu'bat'im' (from Holon and Bat Yam) that it's no fun.
Jess was writing about the company, Comme Il Faut, owned by a woman, run by women, with a feminist drive and direction to the company. The have a space down at the Namal, called 'Bayit Ba'namal,' and it comprises stores, spa (no guys allowed) and cafe with an array of nice looking dishes, that thank goodness don't have the usual look of Israeli menus, at least not what's here in J'lem.
We sat, at a lovely wooden table, umbrella gently shading us from the Tel Aviv haze, and I ate the loveliest salad - it wasn't enouph for the price and the enjoyment factor but that's a separate matter. It was buckwheat (not my mother's buckwheat, otherwise known as kasha and not even served with bowties or browned onions) but a paler and larger, grained variety. It was perfectly cooked and served with wilted greens of some sort (that I have yet to find in this country - meaning interesting greens to cook with other than 'alei selek' which translates to beet greens, but which look alot like swiss chard but don't taste like chard) and a lovely array of wild mushrooms, simply seared and served on top of the grains, with a dollop of sour cream on the side. I pooh poohed the sour cream but it was a nice counterpoint to the salad, although not completely necessary. We finished the meal with an iced cappucino/caffe hafuch, really nicely done and creamy and almost like iced coffee as I know it.
I decided to recreate this meal with some additions for Friday night. We had visitors coming; Jeremy Slawin, 17 year old son of good frinds in Houston, Tx. Jeremy was coming on "March of the Living," and spending Shabbat with us. We also had a family of 6 coming as well - David and Robyn (both in Israel for many years) and their 4 kids (the 2 oldest are 17 year old twins and Natan is marginally friendly with them). Miryam W visiting with us, came with me to the shuk on Wednesday and we got some of the critical ingredients and I did a look-see of what I could get in order to make a reasonable do of the dish. After breakfast at my favorite cafe - she had brioche and I had a sandwich - we both had some excellent coffee - we took a walk around checking out the mushroom situation. I found buckwheat and here's what I learned (this, after I came home and read up on buckwheat). I learned that there's buckwheat and there's kasha. Kasha, is that brown stuff, essentially very toasted and slightly processed in terms of size of grain, buckwheat. Buckwheat, is lighter in color and larger in grain and the color of pearled barley. It cooks up fluffier and while retaining some of the earthiness of it's brother, kasha, has a lighter taste. I bought the light stuff on a hunch that it might be more of what I wanted. I hit real pay dirt with the mushrooms. We walked around and then stopped at a guy in the covered shuk, who was selling truffles and other interesting fungi. He had portobellos (we bought some of those), fresh oyster mushrooms (large and gorgeous, we bought those too) and fresh porcini mushrooms. I'd never eaten fresh porcini and they were a revelation - beautifully tinged with coral pink and quite lovely in size and shape. Quite different from their dried cousins. It was VERY expensive for one little package, but you only live once. The proprietor and I had a long chat about how to cook the 'shrooms, what order to cook them and what to add to them. He suggested lemon grass. I said how, I'd never seen any in Israel. He motioned me over to his fridge where he pulled out some lemon grass. I almost kissed him. Then, he suggested fresh garlic to chop on top. I hear you thinking to yourself, "well, garlic, that's nothing special." But, here in Israel, it's fresh garlic season. Meaning, fresh garlic, hard and juicy and garlicky and not dried and old. Fresh garlic everywhere and hanging and drying in the shuk on braided greens, perfuming the air with it's pungent aroma. I bought some. I already had some at home but didn't want to disappoint him. I also inquired after baby spinach and he again motioned to his fridge. I bought a nice pkge of greens. It wasn't baby spinach as I know it but it was better than the spinach that I tried to make wilted spinach salad with last week. I finished up my shopping trip with some other goodies - some excellent olives, fresh almonds (sort of like fiddlehead greens with a fuzzy exterior), a nice piece of cheese and came home pumped about my recipe.
Thursday we all cooked a bit. Assembled the buckwheat, made roasted sweet potatoes to satisfy those who might be scared off by buckwheat, cooked a white bean and tomato gratin that's really easy and tasty too and Natan made what turned out to be an excellent rice pudding cake. Essentially, arborio rice (what you use to make risotto), cooked with milk and combined with some sweetener, eggs, dried fruit and toasted nuts and baked into a lovely and light cake of a sorts. Ira and I and Natan (Gabe was playing baseball), sat down and ate some beans at about 10 and enjoyed the good smells coming out of the kitchen.
Friday, another trip to the shuk. Alan Salzberg called, "would we go out for breakfast?" He agreed to a shuk bkfast - Ira and Alan had a laffa feta (rolled toasted laffa sandwich with feta, olives, onions and tomatoes, Miryam had a brioche and I had a yoghurt with granola and fruit. Needless to say, we all had coffee. After bkfst, Alan gave us an hour. Picked up fresh salmon - this to satisfy all carnivores and besides, I thought that the salmon would complement the buckwheat, some herbs and teas - found a great herb guy who has his own real, powdered sahlab (orchid root). Next time. Bought greens, breads and some cookies and fruit. Stopped by the cheese guy and got goat sour cream (quite nice) and fresh farmer cheese (Ira says too sweet but I like it) and garlic butter (well, it looked so lovely and Gabe has been lapping it up) and a nice bottle of wine - look for red wines by Yatir Winery, quite good. We had drunk a bottle of Yatir on Wed night, when Miryam treated us to a fabbo dinner at "Tzachko" which is a great restaurant in the Iraqi section of the shuk and just happens to be owned by the same guy who runs the cafe that I love and who just happens to be the head of the shuk. You may not have known that the shuk has a director - 'yoshev rosh' but it does.
Went home and did final prep work. Poached the salmon in a light court bouillion (sp?), did a careful mushroom saute and in a sep pan, greens saute. Then, went to the pool and had a good swim and came home and went to shul at Shira Hadasha for some long-winded singing.
Great dinner. Good company. Great food.