Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Men's Club, Movies and Mega

Men's Club
Picture the jacuzzi room at Ramat Rachel at 5:30pm on an average day. 5:30pm is achar ha'tza'ha'ra'yim/the afternoon, which means after 4:00pm. Many older men show up, in their teensy, weensy bikinis, young and old, short and tall. They meet, they greet, they gossip, they play sheshbesh/backgammon, they eat snacks and drink coffee - in short, they hang out, primarily, in the jacuzzi. So, Jess and I finish swimming and we enter the jacuzzi area and there are guys everywhere. We sit in the 'shvitz' and yap with 2 older guys about how to play with the thermostat and make the steam hotter. We sit in the jacuzzi and listen to the chatter about pensions, wives and children, work, and other scintillating matters. It's surprising relaxing, once you get over the initial shock.

We went to the movies last night. First time since we got here. Went with Jess, friend Esther and Ira. Actually, the first time I've seen a movie since I don't know when - can't remember the last one. Saw The Queen. Excellent. First, we went (yes, don't be surprised) to Burgers Bar and ate eh burgers and greasy fries. Burger was flat and bun thick but components - lettuce, pickles, garlic mayo (opt), chimichuri sauce (opt and not bad at all), ketchup and tomato, made a decent presentation. And hey, it was kosher, too. Jess says the burgers are better at another local place.

I had forgotten that movies in Israel are a particular kind of experience. Reserved seats on your ticket. This means you can nurse your coffee until the last minute and walk in and still find a seat. It also means that if you reserve late, you run the risk of sitting in the front row and there's nothing you can do about it. Of course, there was the guy who walked in when it was dark and the previews had just started. He called out for his wife who responded "Avi, we're in the 4th row." My memories of movies in this country date back to 1970. We lived in our summer rental in Kiryat Ha'yovel. There was Cinema 1, up the block. We saw "Gone With the Wind" - burning of Atlanta, Tara and Scarlett O'Hara, in living color. People used to yap alot during movies, since they were reading subtitles anyway. They'd drink their cokes and roll their bottles down the uncarpeted aisles. They eat sunflower seeds and make piles of shells on the side of their seats. Every theater had a sign in Hebrew - don't crack sunflower seeds. I remember seeing Quo Vadis in Tzfat a billion years ago - quite the experience. Then there was History of the World, Part 1, the Mel Brooks movie - they didn't get that one, either.

This time, behavior was better. Perhaps it was Helen Mirren's example as Queen Elizabeth. There's also the time honored intermission, usually during a love scene or cliff hanger. It's a Jewish country, maybe someone's hungry or needs to go to the bathroom (I always do). No one should be uncomfortable.

Did a really fast shop in Mega today. It's indicative of how much better we are at maneuvering in the grocery store. Knew where to go, didn't spend too much time over label reading and deciphering, didn't get dazzled by new products and the specials of the week. Just picked up the bare essentials and ran out. Mega isn't my favorite store but it was fine for the usual bread, humous, fruit, and such.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Torah, Torah, Torah

Was present at the dedication of a Torah scroll at Shira Hadasha - you know, that's the shul with all the singing, that makes Ira crazy but makes me happy. Anyway, in honor of their 5th Anniversary, there was a Torah being dedicated in memory of a member's mother, who died a year ago. I went along for the ride with Jess and courtesy of her, had cadged myself a bit part for the night. More on that later.

We met up at a house where the final letters of the scroll were being finished. Interestingly enough, anyone was welcome if they were male and right handed. Something about left handedness being a problem, unless I guess, the whole scroll was written by a left handed sofer/scribe. As I arrived, amid noshing children and adults, Daniel (Jess's) was sitting and filling in a letter, which he said, was quite a thrill. The sofer had the usual bearded look but was wearing outrageous magnifying glasses while he worked and supervised the "filler inners." When all was finished, he produced, of all things, a blow dryer and dried the scroll off. The Torah was dressed, in a lovely velvet, embroidered cover and carried off for it's walk to Shira Hadasha (about 5-7 minutes away). Btw, the Torah is a small one, designed to be portable and to bed used for happy occasions like B'nei Mitzva and sad occasions, being brought to a shiva home.

We exited outside and were greeted by noise and excitement. A van had arrived, pulled by a car in the front. The van was lit up with colored lights and decorated with a large, lit up crown on top. It sparkled and twinkled and frumy, hassidishe music was playing. I'm not sure why you have to listen to Hassidic music at such an occasion but it seemed appropriate to all. There was a huppa/canopy in back, and the Torah traveled under the huppa along with singing and dancing to the shul building.

Jess and I ran off to Shira Hadasha, to pick up the Torah's that are already there and bring them to the entrance gate to "meet" the new Torah. That was my special job. We came to the gate, Torah's in our arms and were met by kids with torches - shades of "I'll get you my pretty," but everyone assured me no problem, not to worry about little kids with fire (typical Israel). The van arrived, the new Torah arrived and we made our way into the building, up the stairs and into the main space with song and dance. It was fun and relaxed in its way and I enjoyed it very much. The family that had dedicated the Torah spoke - the wife did, about her mother and about her feelings toward the community and the support that they had offered here when her mother died. After 1 other speech from the community thanking the family, the 3 grandchildren got up and read from the Torah. That was fun as the youngest was a girl of about 8 or 9 and the next child about 11 and the oldest was probably of Bar Mitzvah age. Shira Hadasha has it's problems - too crowded, too much yuh'buh'buh'ing, the mechitza - but it's resolutely an egalitarian, orthodox model and it works and it makes for a community where the women really feel that they matter. They do as a matter of fact and that makes it a good place. As well, there is no other place that I have ever been to that has singers that take their singing as lustily. I say this, as I was there this week on Fri night and Sat and sometimes you wish they'd move on to the next prayer but there's an attention to prayer, a love of prayer and a sheer enjoyment of the whole thing that is infectious. I am fortunate that the women are a friendly bunch - open, warm and welcoming - especially after they see you return on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the guys are not that friendly and the only thing that we've been able to figure out by now is that it's a guy thing - guys have to daven and that's that and there's a suspicion of being friendly to a tourist when they won't be around next week. I say, what's wrong with being friendly with tourists. Anyway, enough of that. It was a good 5th Anniv celebration and it continues to be a place that calls to me.

Shavua Tov. A good week to all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Belleayre Day

I came home smiling, after driving about 8 hours today (well, brother Jon drove about an hour or so for me at one point) so that I could have the Belleayre experience, or rather, the Jiminy Peak experience. That is, I went skiing for the day. The big boys and I, sans Ira and Akiva, and accompanied by niece Helaina who is here for 2nd semester at Hebrew U, drove up to the Hermon.

It was a true of act of skiing faith that we actually went, and a stroke of good fortune that we managed to ski. We had planned the day trip with my brother Jon and 2 of his four, Adam (18) and Talya (11). After Shabbat, we spoke on the phone. It was stormy in J'lem - howling winds and strong rains and the Hermon was receiving snow and nobody know how this wuold effect the opening. I asked, "When it snow, doesn't the mountain stay open? That's how it works in the States" I was told, "Nothing works here the way it does back in the States." In the States, as any good skier knows, upon hearing of a snowstorm, you pile into the car and drive north, hoping your tires and forebearance will hold out until you reach the mountain and make fresh tracks in the snow. The Hermon, by comparison, closed down in bad weather on Saturday and had to take 1000 skiers off the mountain. I remember a day at Belleayre last year, where we skied, essentially, in the fog. The next time we went back, we were amazed at what we had skied down because in clear conditions we had to stare down the headwall of a steep run, always a daunting sight, as opposed to ski it blind because we couldn't see it in the fog. I did feel that I should have gotten a refund from Bellearye that day but chalked it up to win some lose some.

When we spoke to Jon on Sat night, he was pessemistic. He said that when the snow is heavy, visibility is lousy up there and the fog descends and they close the mountain. He himself was caught on a lift that lost electricity during a storm a few years ago. Jonathan recommended that we should pack our bathing suits and the worst case scenario, go to the hot springs at Hamat Gader, near Tiberias. Ok, that sounded good to me and to Helaina as well. We packed up, after searching through the machsan/storage room downstairs for our skis and accessories, and made many sandwiches and headed for bed, a 5:00am wakeup call planned. Note: Ira wasn't going. In his continued efforts to pull up lame at all times, he had wrenched his back and wasn't skiworthy. He'd get Akiva off to school and receive him and also make time for a trip to the chiropractor.

I went to sleep feeling anticpicatory. I didn't sleep well, sleeping on what I call the "local," waking up every hour or so to go to the bathroom and listen to the wind whistle through the trissim/shutters and the rain beat against the window. At 5:00, I checked the Israel Weather Service report and we learned that the it had snowed and was still snowing but should be letting up, with weather improving up north during the day. Jon called at 5:20am and thought we should bag the whole plan but he'd go with my decision. We discussed and called him back and told him we were on. We decided to drive until 8:00am, when we'd be able to check with the Hermon and find out if they were opening or not. At 5:45am, we were on our way.

Jonathan had prevailed upon me to drive towards him and continue up Route 6, cutting through the middle of the country. I had planned to drive through the Jordan Valley, on the Beka'a road, which would have saved me some time but agreed with him as it's a narrow road and likely to flood in bad weather and the rain was still heavy at times when we left. We met up on Route 6, after a necessary gas, coffee and potty stop at about 6:45ish. I'm finally getting better at pumping gas but they ask for way too much information - first you swipe your card, then enter your TZ/identity card #, then your license # (I always have to look) and then you can fill your tank.

We headed up Route 6, toward Yok'neam and then turning into Wadi Ara, eventually running parallel with the Kinneret/Sea of Gallilee, which we could catch the occasional glimpse of. The weather had improved and we noted a patch of sun through the clouds over to the East and felt sure that that was the direction to which we were heading. At 8:00am, I listened to the news which was about choosing the new commander of the Israeli army, who'd been blown up in Baghdad, including the terrible information about the large number of American soldiers who'd been killed over the weekend, and the Kassam that had landed in an open field and caused no injuries down south. The report ended with the weather and the important words, "the Hermon will be open today," which everyone in the car, down to Helaina, understood. Jonathan, called the mountain and had that information confirmed. Cheers. We continued driving, passing Rosh Pina, and heading toward Kiryat Shimona which we drove through and continued East toward the Hermon. At some point, probably around Rosh Pina, we saw the Hermon, large, imposing and snow-capped in the distance. That's when we all realized that we really would go skiing at some point.

We arrived at about 9:45am, paying the entrance fee (per person!) to get in. We headed up to the lodge, shlepping our stuff (Jonathan insisted on putting on his ski pants in the car, even tho I assured him that he could do it in the lodge but like any good Israeli, he is used to car changes for anything from bathing suits to ski pants) in. It looked, like any basic ski lodge - nothing fancy and basic in it's amenities. Bathrooms, cafe with sandwiches and coffee, shop with hats and gloves for all those unsuspecting Israelis who'll show up to admire the snow and realize that they're cold and ski shop with ski related stuff. We rented equipment and proceded to get ready for our day on the slopes. Skiing at the Hermon is pricey, certainly by Israeli standards and definitely by Skop/Steinberg "skiing on the cheap" standards. Lift tix were 200nis each, or about $50, regardless of age (no discounts for kids and no free skiing for 70+) and rentals were about 135nis or $30. We were lucky, we had hit a special and rented for 70nis or $15. Good savings for us. In the States, we rented for the boys each season, figuring that we'd invest in permanent equipment when they finished growing. We're thinking that Natan may be ready for boots and skis - maybe we'll wait another year. We also had a ski rack in NYC but left in the basement of 409 Pacific as we didn't know if it would make sense to shlep it here for the handful of times we're likely to get up to the Hermon. As well, we didn't know if it would fit on our car here (it wouldn't), so we couldn't take my skis with us but at least I brought my boots, but STILL had to pay the full fee just to rent skis - sigh. When we go back again, we're going to look into staying overnight as we're told that the lodging deals include lift tix and are generally worth it.

We got ourselves ready and out on the slopes, excited and anticipatory. A few facts on the Hermon from Wikipedia, but I will tell you that Gabe knew the elevation, which he learned in Ulpan in his Hebrew geography class. Mount Hermon (33°24′N 35°51′E; Hebrew: הר חרמון‎, Har Hermon; Arabic: جبل الشيخ‎, Jabal el-Shaiykh, Djabl a-Shekh, "mountain of the chief" and "snowy mountain") is a mountain in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Its highest point is 2,814 m (9,230 feet) above sea level. This summit is on the border between Syria and Lebanon, and is under Syrian control. The southern and western slopes of Mount Hermon came under the control of Israel as a result of the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Israeli sector of the mountain is heavily patrolled by the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police, and the Israeli Security Forces maintain a strategic observation post for monitoring Syrian and Lebanese military activity near Mitzpe Shelagim ("Snow Lookout"), which is at an elevation of about 2,224 m (7300 feet). Its adjacent peak, at 2,236 m, is the highest elevation under Israeli control.

Happily, it looked very much like a ski resort, albeit an underdeveloped one. The resort is managed by Majdal Shams, a Druze village right at the base of the mountain, and Neve Ativ, a moshav a few kilometers south of the mountain. It's absolutely beautiful up there and topographically, it reminded me alot of the look of the Little Cottonwood Canyon, where we skiied last March, in Utah. Scrubby, rocky looking mountains, that you snake through on switchbacks, gradually seeing patches of snow that eventually turn into a light frosting and then, suddenly, heavy coverage. The mountain is big and craggy, and above the treeline, and it stares down upon the visitor with imposing demeanor. There are not alot of runs, although I'm told it's alot better than it was 15 years ago, and there are beautiful, untouched areas of virgin snow, that just beg for a brave skier to venture into. Thing is, the snow is heavy and moist, not light fluffy powder and one wonders if a skier would get stuck in the wetter stuff, beneath the upper crust of snow. I saw a few off piste skiers, but felt that without fatter skis and without a knowledgeable guide, it was not going to work. Anyway, we had our work cut out for us, with 3 beginner skiers to take down the mountain. Talya was the most experienced, with Helaina a close second and Adam a rank beginner. They were all game and worked hard all day. Gabe took Talya under his wing and she followed him down, much like the rows of little ones in ski school filing after their instructor like ducks in a line and Natan handled Adam for a good portion of the time, especially after Adam admitted to Natan that he needed a crash course in turning. Helaine was slow and steady but made good headway in getting herself down the runs successfully. After a while we switched and I bothered Adam much in the same way Rebecca Schiffman used to bother him - "pick up your butt, keep your poles in front of you, look down the mountain," and then, when he tired, went back to basic ski kid talk, "pizza/snowplow and french fries/parallel." He did well. We stopped for lunch as Jon had insisted we keep our sandwiches in a backpack with us. We ate voraciously of our smushed but tasty sandwiches and headed back for more. As warned, fog had descended earlier in the day which had made skiing the upper mountain hard, esp with our new skiers but we managed. At about 2:00pm, the fog lifted and Jon and I headed for the other side of the mountain. Natan and Gabe were tiring and stayed with Helaina (Talya and Adam had traded their skis for sleds), eventually going into the lodge and returning their skis. Jonathan and I headed over to the Siyon side, taking a rope tow up to another spot. We got off the rope tow and there we were at the top of a beautiful canyon, complete with a snow crusted cliff to our right. We skied along the upper rim - I had to sightsee and stop along the way, agog at the beauty and grandeur of the mountain, which we had, virtually to ourselves. We skied down into a valley, towards the base of the Western face of the other peak that we had been skiing on earlier. The snow cover was thick, the quite was absolute, except for the soft schuss of the skis. We reached the bottom, by the lift, alongside the lift house and watched a few soldiers joking with the workers, smoking cigarettes, their rifles hanging alongside their sides, their green uniforms at odds with the pristine beauty surrounding them. We had seen other soldiers during the day, wearing white coveralls, skiing with us, some on some of the oldest equipment I'd ever seen. These were members of a unit that patrols the Hermon and I'm told they train in Norway. Got to find out more, maybe they're interested in one of mine for such a posting. They didn't look like hotshot skiers but I only saw a few of them out on training runs. I don't think there's an Israeli ski team but skiing in the army, there's an idea...

We headed up the lift - all the lifts were slow 2-chairs but the weather at this point was warmer than it had been all day and we were tired. It was too late for another run down the valley so we headed over to the other peak and skiied down - answering the phone on the way, it was Helaina, wondering where we were - and headed for the lodge and the gift of every ski day, taking off your ski boots. The kids were already in their street shoes. We gathered our stuff and changed and got ready to leave.

A note about the skiers. Most of them were newbies and most, rank newbies. Normally, when one goes skiing, there's always a few impressive skiers, who zip past the likes of the rest, carving beautiful arcs into the snow. I would say that there were none of those but lots of happy beginners with a bunch of intermediates thrown in for good measure. What we saw alot of were new skiers. New skiers, complete with tzitzit and kippot flying in the wind, new skiers with skirts over ski pants (and sometime not), new skiers with jeans and sweat pants, wet on their behinds, skiing or trying to ski and generally getting in the way and falling all over the place and mucking about in areas they shouldn't have been finding themselves in. I was glad I had my helmet but it was fun to see such happy newbies enjoying the snow. Maybe they just put out their cigarettes and hang up their phones (I stopped when I answered mine, unlike another guy I saw skiing and talking) and they'll be less of a threat to everyone on the mountain.

We were ready to leave at about 4:15pm with a minor complication. I was to deliver Natan to his play rehearsal at 8:00pm in J'lem. It was starting at 7 but I had dispensation to bring him late. What to do. There was no way that we could get home and have sahlab, which Jonathan had been planning all afternoon. We'd have to drive the Jordan Valley way on our own and it was getting dark and I was thinking I didn't want to. I called the director and said, "W're fine, had a good day and just wondering how much you need Natan." Leah had given us her blessing to go but had exhorted Natan not to come back with a broken jaw as the last actor had done during the play period. She said, "Well, I'd like to have him." I said, "No problem, I'll get in the car and get him to you." She said, "I don't want you driving like a maniac." Excellent. I had invoked Jewish mother guilt. I said, "No, we'll be fine but, I'll tell you, this has been a good day for Natan. He's been working hard and under alot of strain and it's a special day for him. BUT...if you need him, I'll get him back to you." I should add, that as expected, Natan is an excellent and responsible cast member and knows his lines and his blocking and I'll tell you more about the play another time. Leah thought and said, "Don't hurry back, it's ok." I asked her again if she was sure and she said she was. Natan was overjoyed.

We headed down the mountain and made our first stops at a group of small shacks right as you exit the entrance to the area. We stopped, according to Jonathan's scientific analysis, not at the first or the last but the middle person. We were greeted by hot cups of sweet and spicy tea. She told us that it had sage and cinnamon in it. Lovely and restorative. Then, we ordered large druzi pita sandwiches. I tasted, saving myself for the sahlab. They looked like crepes almost - quite flat and large. She folded one in half and laid it across an overturned pan, shaped much like an upside down wok, and warmed the pita. Then she slathered it with either chocolate spread (for Gabe and Talya) or labne (soft yogurt cheese), sprinkled with a hot, spicy herb mix and a drizzle of olive oil and folded the whole thing up for eating. She offered tastes of homemade cherry preserves (not too sweet, complete with pits) and something she called, grape honey, which was sweet and syrupy, perhaps a cooked down syrup from grape juice. We tasted her olives, which were crunchy and good and some sort of salted bean - perhaps a relative to ful beans but smaller. We got a few cups of sahlab. Hers was quite unusual with an almost sagelike taste or maybe it was lavender - not my favorite, and it lacked what Jon and I consider essential, chopped nuts, but we drank anyway, some of us dumping midway, or giving to Natan to finish. We headed off, extra pittot and jam in tow, and Jonathan decided to stop at the last shack, veering from his scientific hypothesis of the past, and we sampled another sahlab which Helaina liked more but which I thought was lacking completely. After a quick stop 10 minutes later to view a waterfall, we got on the road, driving to Rosh Pina, where we stopped for a quick potty stop and a driver change (Jonathan took over for me). We considered eating humus but of course, everyone was full, not surprisingly.

Jonathan drove the next leg back down to Route 6 and we switched again, when we neared Kochav Ya'ir and I took us back up the hill to Jerusalem, listening to the soft snuffle of Natan's snoring in the back seat. We arrived home at about 9:15pm - really not a bad trip overall and I think, under the projected 4 hours each way but didn't clock it of course, much to Ira's chagrin, and we'll analyze it further the next time we go, hopefully, in a few weeks (assuming there's still snow).

I went to bed exhausted but content. It had been hard to leave NY, knowing that skiing here would be complicated and different. This wasn't bad at all, and it was a good realization for the big boys as well. Maybe next year, we'll manage a real ski trip somewhere exciting, assuming global warming hasn't totally destroyed the glaciars in the Alps, but meantime, we've got the Hermon, right here in Israel.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Red Letter Day

Last Thurs, Jan 11 was a Red Letter Day. It was my birthday and I was reared in a home where birthdays were respected. This means that a few days, or if you were younger, a few months, you began planning. You planned your party, if you were still of that mind, you thought over your presents and let the interested parties know, and most importantly, you planned your birthday dinner.

Presents were complicated since I am a January baby, which means that if my mother didn't look into my present in advance of my birthday, it would mean no present or not the right present, as in the case of the year that I wanted, really wanted, really, really wanted Dawn's Beauty Pageant and received, instead, Dawn Dance Party because they Beauty Pageants had all been bought out at Xmastime. Dawn Beauty Pageant looked just like a beauty pageant stage, albeith with Bert Parks, complete with runway with moveable device that you could set the doll on and move her up and down the runway. There was a Dawn doll that came, with a beautiful evening gown on, pink with spangles and such and she was a blonde, I recall, and certain to win the contest. It was Miss America, scaled down for the average girl. Dawn Dance Party was fun, but it wasn't the same. It was smaller and Dawn stood on this stand and you rotated her around in pseudo dance mode. It did come with Dale, who was this hip, Black, Dawn doll, complete with groovy orange mini. I still have Dale. Jess and I divided up the Dawn spoils a few years ago, most of it going to niece Elisheva, when she was smaller. I think Jess kept the blonde doll. In later years, I ceded the collection to Jessica, who was into minatures and I helped her build a lovely domicile for the dolls, complete with furnishing, wallpaper and other built-in design features that were my specialty as older sister. The house was built into the lower shelves of the bookshelves in the family room in Malverne. Sometime in the 3rd grade or so, the doll condo was laid to waste by Jess's friend Mindy Elfenbein who was bored one Friday night and said, "Let's stage a robbery!" Needless to say, there was quite the controversy after this but I recall that the house was rebuilt.

This past Thursday, a b-day dinner was planned in the most relaxed of ways, to be held at Jess and Daniel's place. We've gone to dinner at their house on the occasional Thurs as they have pizza night every Thurs with Daniel's mother, Rita and other friends of theirs who live in Mod'iin (it's a rotating cast depending on the Thurs). I was feeling at loose ends about my birthday as Thursday, Jan 11th, was also the day that my father was having a repeat CAT scan and having it read by his oncologist. It wasn't going to feel that celebratory or certainly had that capability. For the many of my readers who've asked continuously about his health, he's been doing well, continuing with his chemo - every other week - and has been alot stronger than he'd been when all this started in late August. That said, the thought of another CAT scan made us all, especially my mother and father, quite nervous. I was feeling relatively postive - that is, my father was stronger, he looked better, he was eating well and had regained all weight lost - but you never know. I hoped for at least no further growth in the tumor on his pancreas. So, if the news was good, my birthday dinner would be easier to celebrate and if not, at least we'd all be together. So as not to keep you on edge, I can tell you that the news was/is good. His tumor shrank by a centimeter which is quite significant - an overall 25% shrink. This was unbelievable news, to which Jess and I and my parents were the first one to be privy. The oncologist was delighted and we couldn't believe it. The chemo was, at best, only likely to be successful in 10% of cases in terms of shrinking tumors. More likely would have been no shrinkage, a 20% chance. Given those odds, we didn't no what to expect. The upshot, another round of chemo and we'll see how he does this time. If things stay good or even stable, perhaps a break from chemo in the spring. We got a good look at his CAT scan - quite fascinating, really, in an odd way. Saw the tumor and saw his stent, sitting pretty since August. I feel quite the expert on stents and livers, so it was just a continuation of my liver education that started with Liat and Don's livers last years. We all drove home together - my mother dropping me and Jess off at our respective homes - in a state of stunned happiness and agreed that we should have a bit of champagne later, at the now to be sure celebratory birthday get together.

A bit about the birthday dinner. This meant that you could choose. My mother was not one for discussion when it came to dinner growing up. She cooked, we ate. There wasn't much talk or kvetching about what we didn't like or not. Maybe she was lucky and we weren't picky. Maybe she was a good cook, unlike the mother's of some of my friends who were challenged in the kitchen - she was/is a good cook. All I know is that she prepared a respectable meal every night for a billion years. Meat - this included London broil (which I never liked), meat loaf and it's cousins, including hamburger and sloppy Joe's and such (some of which I liked and didn't like), minute steaks (which I didn't like) and chicken (this was always fine with us but I never met chicken breasts until later in life, we dined on dark meat, which my parents preferred or learned to prefer in feeding 4 hungry children). Fish was a once a week occurrence - Thursday nights, and always teemed with chocolate pudding or we never would have eaten it. It was also frozen, as was the style of the time and therefore, somewhat lacking in taste, altho I did love my mother's fish chowder and probably at least once, requested it for a birthday dinner. One could easily eat it and look past the bits of fish for the potatoes and tomatoes. There was always a sensible salad to open with, or, a half of grapefruit, which we children would carefully cut and segment using the grapefruit knife. Sister Sarah, used to eat her entire grapefruit, down to the pith, which always seemed horrible to me in earlier years. A starch to round out the meal and here's where the trouble came in. My mother, to stave off cooks' boredom (and I know of what I speak), would try different things from baked potatoes (always good) to brown rice with mushrooms (bordering on questionnable) to kasha (absolutely horrible). My father, who actually liked kasha, would smash his kasha down into a nice flat mash and then tunnel into it, creating windows and doors and tell us (ostensibly to amuse us but it was horrifying, really) how tasty it was while eating his creation. I mean, had she made kasha varnishkes, we might have coped but she was a purist and probably looking for the easy methodology but really, what kid is going to eat a pile of kasha?

My mother had wonderful specialty dishes, mainly for Shabbat - veal ribs with sweet and sour sauce (definitely requested if your birthday fell on Shabbat), stuffed veal breast (this, I actually requested one special birthday), and a range of kugels, sweet and savory, particular favorites being her potato kugel (she makes the best one) and sweet, dairy, noodle kugel, each piece being at least 2000 calories and probably 15 grams of fat, but hey, she only made it for break fast and for Shavuot. Lasagna entered into our repertoire when I was in HS, I think, and her recipe used cottage cheese (who knew of ricotta) and had tuna in the sauce, which Sarah's Italian friends at college thought was really wierd. It did have mozzarella and I remember that my mother wrote to Polly O asking about their cheese manufactoring methods because it didn't have a hechsher/kosher marking, and she had never used such a cheese before. They must have responded the right way as she started making lasagna regularly. My favorite pre-lasagna, pasta dish, that really, was the only dish she made with pasta besides spaghetti and meatballs ("it's a favorite with everyone," said Father), was tuna casserole. That perfect blend of pasta with tuna and, you guessed it, cream of mushroom soup, topped with a few slices of american cheese (which isn't a cheese but who knew), and baked to perfection. I definitely used to request that for a birthday dinner, and in later years, when my mother tried out new pasta thems, used to ask and then make myself, her spinach noodle casserole with salmon and poppyseeds - Umm good. I will tell you that when Daniel came home from his last trip to the States, he brought home, in addition to cranberries for all of us (which are in my freezer), 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup. I said, "Mom, you can make a white sauce. It's easy and healthier than canned soup, which has all sorts of nasty things in it." My mother replied, "It's easier to open a can and besides, I like it that way. How often do I make it, anyway?"

Back to my birthday dinner. Nobody asked me what I wanted. The menu on Thursday never changes. It is always, pancakes (made by Rita and they're quite good and a perfect appetizer, esp when Jess is making pizza which takes time), pizza (homemade by Jess on special occasions. like my birthday) with opt toppings (olives, onions, peppers, mushrooms) and salad (we must have some salad to round it out. Dessert - ice cream of course but not mandatory. I was concerned about birthday cake and prevailed on Ira and Gabe to bake a cake that I wanted to eat and they made an excellent apple cake but like all things baked in our oven here, it burned. My parents were coming too and that was good, and Sarah and Noam were going to drive up and get there a bit late. Miriam, Daniel's sister came along for the fun and to see Sarah. Missing were Natan (rehearsal), Amira (Daniel's oldest, had a field trip at school and got home late), and the rest of Sarah's crew (Michael in Belgium, Benjy busy and Elisheva in training in the army). Jon, et al, were busy and that was fine. I wasn't looking for a 21 gun salute.

We had a good time. We laughed, drank scotch, ate pizza, pancakes and salad and felt happy. It was the first time in my adult memory that I sat around and had dinner with family members, other than the immediate, to share my birthday. I even got presents, which was so nice and it made the whole day great. Meaning, had I not gotten presents it still would have been nice but everyone likes to be remembered once in a while with a little something. The pizza was dandy, Sarah baked an excellent apple cake (she knows what I like and this way we saved our burned but still tasty cake for Shabbat) and the company was perfect. My first birthday in Israel, (actually my second but that was 24 years ago), not bad at all.

Monday, January 08, 2007


You may wonder where I've been the last week and a half. I've been managing sick bay here at Rabenu Politi #3. Ira, as many of his readers know, has been down and out - a bit of pneumonia the doctor said (altho it did take 2 doctors to arrive at this diagnosis), a horrible cough that grew out of a dust attack - that's what happens when you don't vaccum for a well - from our living room carpet, a few nights without sleep for the both of us and then, the piece de resistance, smacking his head, amid a coughing fit, onto the bathroom doorpost, which being a steel frame, was ill advised to say the least. This resulted in a trip to the local emergency clinic, which went surprisingly well and was filled with fluey adults and sniffly kids and Ira with his luch in kup/hole in head. It is an impressive wound and it's healing nicely, glued up into a nice, 2" scabby looking wound (and will no doubt leave a lovely scar), which when combined with the now unearthly sound of Ira's voice - he's lost it entirely - makes him seem a little like He Who Must Not Be Named (for all you Harry Potter fans).

In the midst of all this misadventure, Akiva got sick - light virus and congestion but it passed reasonably well and only required one night of sleeping on the foof nearby in case of 3am barfing and Gabe continues to hack - yes, we'll take him to the doctor this week. Natan and I are both lightly sinusy and I've got a cough but have held up well under the strain of cups of tea and honey brewed and pots of soup prepared. By Shabbat, we were all beat though, and it was rainy and nasty and we all stayed home and worked on a puzzle, which was nice.

As to the reunion of my title. When I was in Israel in 1982, I lived with Barbara Hurwitz. Barb and I were both doing Sherut La'am, a sort of Peace Corps progam here in Israel. We shared an apt in Z'fat up north and later that year lived together in Jerusalem. The idea was that you lived in a Development Town and did some sort of worthy work. I worked with 2 women who had created an inovative drama/arts program for the local schools and Barbara did something else but I can no longer remember what. It was a great year. That December, we went on a tiyul/trip with Sherut La'am during Chanukah, hiking in the Negev, the south. It was a chance for all of the Sherut La'am'niks to meet and greet and have fun. We had a ball. On day 2, I believe, Barbara met Jay Shofet, her husband of 21 years or so. Actually, I met him first...but anyway, it was all moot once they laid eyes on each other. The three of us had alot of fun together that year and returned home to NYC after the year. Jay and I discovered a few interesting connections that year. One, that he was from Millerton, not far from Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and had actually gone to Webatuck High School, which amazed me, having driven past it on numerous occasions and two, that his mother, Shirley Abrahamson Shoifet, had grown up in New Brittain, Ct, where my father hails from. When we were Stateside that June, our respective parents chatted on the phone and enjoyed reconnecting - they had known each other as kids (it was a small Jewish community) - but it didn't go beyond that.

Flash to 2006 and Jay and Barb were marking their younger son, Nadav's Bar Mitzvah. All the grandparents and family came in from the US. There were Jay's parents, whom I haven't seen in sometime. They brought with them a picture of the Hebrew School of New Brittain, Ct, circa 1942/3. There was my father, Jay's mom and various other names from my father's past. As well, Jay's Cousin Judy was at the BarM and she and her husband, Irving (what else), are bosom buddies of my cousin Joe Brodie, also from New Brittain. Shirley took one look at Natan and pronounced him the spitting image of Teddy Steinberg. He does look alot like my Dad, esp when you look at pics from his teenage years. So...after some delays, a meeting was arranged and I met up with Shirley and her husband, Jake along with Jay, at my parents house this afternoon.

It was really nice for my Dad. Essentially, he left New Brittain at around 14 to attend a Mesivta on East Broadway. After he finished there, he went on to Yeshiva University for College and Rabbinical School. Although he frequently went home for Shabbatot and holidays, he didn't keep up his ties with all of the buddies of his youth - the guys that he played baseball with and, according to Shirley, "cut up around town with." As well, it gave him a chance to talk about all the names of peoples and streets and locations of New Brittain of the 1930's and 40's. His parents eventually left New Brittain along with some of the family, and ended up in Norwich, Ct (some went to Hartford), so my Dad would drive thru on occasion to visit the cemetery or go see a friend who was local pharmacist but those trips were few and far between. He's been nostalgic lately and this was the perfect opportunity to indulge those feelings. Shirley was great, she remembers everything and everyone and was a font of information about who had married whom and where they had gone.

We took some pictures and I'll have to see if I can download them from my phone and send them around to the 2 families. I was reminded of this great kid's book that everyone should read and it's called, "Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge" and it's about people and their memories. It's written by Julie Vivas and beautifully illustrated by Mem Fox. Read it.

"Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be I have a photograph
Preserve your memoriesThey're all that's left you"
Paul Simon/Bookends