Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bread is the staff of life

Life is like a loaf of bread. Various ingredients - some development, maturation, even fermentation and then on a good aromatic crusty loaf of bread. We have a new breadmaker and suddenly I've discovered the joys of making bread. I hear some of the purists groan. Yes, it is not hard to bake bread. Yes, I could do it all by hand. But that is not the point. What is nice about the breadmaker is that one dumps in their ingredients and pushes a few buttons and a few hours later, you have bread. Truth is, I often use the dough cycle which means that about 90 minutes later, one removes said proofed and partly risen dough, give it a quick punch and fold, set it up in a nice loaf pan for a short rise and then bake it conventionally for a much nicer crust and shape. As well, now that I've been using Iris Katzner's famous sourdough starter - specially imported in for me - I let the dough have a loooong and slow rise, sometimes overnight and then bake it for a richly flavored, sour and crusty loaf. So, that's not so terrible really.

But you all know me well. Would I, Beth Steinberg be happy with just bread? Of course not. I am only happy with experimentation, fiddling, replacing ingredients, introducing new and different ingredients. You get the picture. In short, the breadmaker has just enabled the experience and made it more fun and demystified the process just a bit. And for Gabe and Natan and Ira, it's quite pleasurable to just dump in the ingredients and make bread. I asked my friend Miriam for her basic bread recipe and was shocked to discover that she uses the same recipe over and over and just adds in different flavoring agents - herbs and whatnot. Don't get me wrong, she makes good bread, I just couldn't wrap my head around one recipe. Then again, that's the secret of bread of course, simple ingredients, a few hours and magic, a loaf of bread.

Back to my original point though. Breadmaking is life distilled through the simple veil of flour, water and salt. You don't even need the yeast as you can make a naturally risen bread from those ingredients. Things like oil, eggs, sweetener, herbs and other fun addins are beside the point and quite unecessary, perhaps even muck up what makes bread perfect.

I figure that Gabe and Natan are midway through their fermentation and Akiva hasn't quite finished with his 'sponge' stage. As for Ira and I, we're well into the 'sourdough' moment, which hopefully will continue to bubble along quite nicely.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Natan and the IDF

I don't even need to report on Natan as he's begun to do his own reporting. Check out his blog at As would be expected, he's long-winded like his mother, dryly acerbic like his father (nobody can be as sarcastic and nasty as Ira) and anally attentive to detail which is a particular quirk of Natan's.

He looks to have been taken into a unit with the interest in using him for his English skills. This would be a smart move but remains to be seen if the army will act smartly. We've been warmed by the range of interviews they've sent him on and the sense that they've gotten that they should use him for more than stamping papers but we just don't know yet and there's a definite sense that he's gotten from his various interviews that if his Hebrew was just a bit stronger it would all be easier. This is not a surprise of course and Natan had been fairly unwilling to work on his Hebrew the past year for sure so maybe now he'll see the worth in improving not just his spoken but his written and reading skills.

It's bizarre to see him trot off in green the past 2 weeks. Each morning he gets up when he should, gets himself ready and leaves for whatever the day's adventure holds - mostly waiting, waiting and waiting. He comes home in a fairly good mood, although understandably bored and cranky at times. But he changes into civilian garb, has a good meal, yakks on the phone, writes notes on the computer, goes out if he can to Yoeman rehearsal, and seems fairly well-adjusted despite the uncertainty. Who would have thunk it?

I've told him for some time that I thought that the army would help him define his place here in Israel. I continue to think that's true although he could still end up in the US for school and work - I would almost anticipate that happening but then again, who knows? School is a lot cheaper here and much of the textbook work is in English so many Anglos do manage school here. But we don't have to worry about that for some time, no?

After Mumbai, Natan and I discussed the whole futility of man, the world, violence against each other, etc. I wondered how I can continue to feel like a pacifist when I know that most people feel that armies and fighting are worthwhile and important. All I know is when I read the newspaper - yes, when I read Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz - whether or not the story is stretched or troubled or problematic, every time I read about some soldier who did the 'wrong thing' or the non-ethical thing, or the thing that we know that they shouldn't do, I'm reminded that they're most likely some 18-20 year old guy who's not enjoying himself and is likely to feel scared and inclined to shoot first and ask questions later. Is that what we want to teach our kids to do? I'm deeply relieved that it's not Natan out there by Hebron, or in Gaza but that doesn't change the fact that some other kid is there doing that work that I'm glad he's not doing. I'm rambling here but you get the existential picture.

Mumbai reverberation

Last week, Melina, Akiva's wonderful sitter/friend as well as Shutaf's educational supervisor came in the house without her usual sunny expression. Melina is always happy - she has the sunniest disposition and really understands how to spread that feeling to people around her. It doesn't hurt that she's just lovely to look at as well and has that joie de vivre/warm blooded nature of someone who grew up in a sunny climate ( Buenos Aires - despite economic collapse and anti-semitism).

This was right after the Mumbai event - I'm thinking of the Hebrew word used for event, אירוע, which is used for anything from an evening wedding to a bombing. Sort of strange, no? We all were feeling somewhat blindsided by what had happened, even though I often feel that I'm inured to bombings in that part of the world - I feel pained but not surprised when I read of them in the newspaper. Melina told me that where she works - a home/school for kids with significant disabilities, many whom will not survive childhood - housed the Holtzberg children, sons of Rivki and Rabbi Gabi, killed in the Chabad house last week. Their older son, died of Taysachs a couple of years ago and they have another child who's at the end of his life, also Taysachs, and now there's little Moishe, not to mention that Rivki was 6 mos pregnant when she was murdered. Melina said she had met both of them - they usually traveled in on their own to visit their son and she'd played with Moishe on a recent visit with his mother to the school. Melina said that both parents were lovely - young, of course, 'younger than me,' Melina mused, and that the school staff enjoyed spoiling Moishe on his visits - he was of course, healthy and both parents must have enjoyed that in ways that none of us can imagine.

And now, they're dead. It's just so depressing and sad. And as always in this small country, as Yehuda Amichai put it best of all, the 'diameter of the bomb' is very small, unexpectedly close, unbearably so.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Just read this on Janglo - local listserv that sells, tells and connects Eng speaking locals. Sort of gives you an eye in to the thoughts of those 'tzivos hashem' or messengers of g-d as the Rebbe liked to call his followers. I know that I read in the paper that the post held by the young couple murdered a few days ago, has already been filled by another Chabadnik shaliach. I like this Rabbi's message who reminds us to honor the memory of the Holzberg's with an act of kindness as they were known for in Mumbai to the Jewish travelers, old and young, together and messed up, who ended up at their center and knew they'd be helped - without question, without judgement. Gotta admire that kind of teaching.
May their memories be a blessing.

Posted by: ""

Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:11 pm (PST)

Dear Friends,

We once again find ourselves facing a terrible tragedy.

Our hearts go out to the families of all those people, created in G-d's image, who were murdered and wounded by those who have rejected all semblance of humanity and descended far below the level of the most vicious beast.

Within our own extended Chabad family, after three days of dread and tension, waiting for news, we learned of the fate of the many hostages killed in the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

The young couple Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg o.b.m. travelled far from their parents’ homes in Israel and Crown Heights. They journeyed to Mumbai not for themselves, but for the sake of others. They came to create a home and center of Jewish life for those Jews who live in, or travel to this corner of the world.

Running a Chabad House anywhere is a difficult task for any young rabbi and wife, but especially so in a place like India, far from every Jewish community. It is difficult to find kosher food, basic necessities of Jewish life, essentials that a young Chassidic couple needs. Nevertheless, they went to India, and managed to build a center and a community for Jewish life there.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's words, relentlessly positive vision, and his personal example of leadership expressed in a selfless 24/7 dedication to the needs of the Jewish people's and the needs of many beyond the Jewish community - is what inspired these young people and gave them the strength to undertake the demanding task they devoted their lives to.

When events like this happen, we have no way of understanding G-d's thinking or plan. One thing we do need to learn from this is to fight evil, darkness and hatred with good, light and love

On this forum, there are good friends of mine from many backgrounds. To all whom I know: please do an extra act of goodness and kindness to help replace the myriad acts of good and that the Holtzbergs would have done had their lives not been cut so short.

To my fellow Jews on this forum, let us please strengthen our observance of the three pillars of Judaism - Torah, prayer and acts of kindness such as charity.

Suggestions: Each Friday before sundown, all women and girls should make an effort to light Shabbat candles. The power of those candles will light up our lives and hopes and our future.

Men should make an effort to accept the mitzvah of Tefillin. The Talmud teaches us that one of the special qualities of Tefillin is that it creates an awe of us in our enemies by demonstrating that G-d's power rests upon us.

At a time like this, we should also make sure that we have kosher mezuzot on all our doors, both at home and in our workplace. To have your mezuzot checked or to purchase new mezuzot you can be in contact with me.

When G-d sees the Jewish people and indeed - all decent, caring human beings, of all backgrounds translating this tragedy into an increase in spirituality, holiness and observance, we pray He will grant us protection, health, happiness and the era of ultimate redemption, when in the holy words of the Prophets Isaiah and Micah: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more".

May we only share good news from now on.

Shavuah tov,

Rabbi Aaron Hurwitz
052 564 6633

PS In the news I heard just after Shabbos from Mumbai, it appears that the levayas will take place Monday. I will post info as I get it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notes from the Front

Natan has been inducted into the IDF. Actually, he's in basic training, I'm not sure the induction is official until after they've mustered him into shape for a few weeks.

Day One - Oct 22nd. We deliver Natan to Givat Hatachmoshet/Ammunition Hill in French Hill. After checking in and shouldering heavy backpack laden with all sorts of things from freshly baked cookies from local female friend to toiletries and stuff that seems critical to sustain life (i.e. copy of Anne of Avonlea, retainer - thank you Joy Hudecz, notebook to note experiences), we're told that Natan is missing some of his 'mismachim rifu'im'/doctor related papers. We know this because the holidays made it hard to get this kind of stuff done. Nobody was around, nobody was covering. Do not get sick during the holidays if at all possible.

We take Natan to the Induction Office in J'lem. He waits inside while we wait outside wondering what's next. He sees the Head Doctor. She shuffles through his papers, musing over his most recent asthma test which wasn't as great as the one's previously. She doesn't know what to do and the doctor who saw him (this was the 3rd doctor but who's counting) is away until the end of the month. She comments that it's not his fault that nobody's been around and after a few more head-scratching moments, says, 'okay, we'll lower the profile.' It's been a long haul of trying to work this all out and have Natan be at the 64 level based on vision and asthma issues. Now, he's a 'jobnik' with no 'kravi'/combat status. More jobs that might be of interest to him and that would offer better ways for the army to use Natan (in my opinion) are now open to him. Question is, can he get to them this late in the game? Don't know. May not know until after basic training. One huge step for us though.

Texts from Natan
1. Processing...bounced around some offices. Waiting to hear what I have to do. Told them that doctor is away, etc. Seems like I'm seeing head doctor, where are you?

We hug him again and leave him there for the next part of his journey, the trip to Tel Ha'shomer and 'Bakum'/בסיס קליטה ומיון. Natan later reported that he was escorted by an army guy, along with some other strays such as himself to Bakum and I'll leave him to one day tell the story of his walk through the various stations - you stop here, go there, get x-rayed here, sized up there. Arlo Guthrie puts it best...'you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.'

Some text messages from the day:
1. Moving through. At vaccinations. (Yes, yes, they shot him up. Let's not talk about it).
2. Ok, so I think I have 3 weeks in some course for olim and THEN basic training. I'll be in touch, phone off. (This order ended up being changed by the next 'קצין מיון'/Interview Officer that Natan saw who decided that his Hebrew was fine enough for him to go straight on to basic training.)
3. Done being processed. Wearing uniform. Waiting for something. I think a bus to a base. (In the end, he came home that night - the 2 lower indoor pics of him - and went back and finished processing on Thursday, came home again and hung around the house through Shabbat and went officially back in on Sunday.)
From Thursday, Day #2 at Bakum.
1. Been waiting all day, ugh.
2. Waiting for bus.
3. Still waiting for **** bus. (The life of a soldier.)

Sunday AM, he hauled himself out of bed early and nervously left the house. He met up with this nice Argentinean guy whom he had met the previous week at Bakum and they traveled together back to Bakum. Natan would otherwise still be lost looking for where he's going. He joined a group of guys at Bakum - 'פלוגת ממתינים,' translation, 'waiting group' and waited for some hourse (we're told this is normal for Bakum) until being put on a bus to his new base, Nitzanim, down near Ashkelon, right near the beach - one of our favorites, site of a lovely campfire and potato roast that Akiva still speaks of fondly, last fall.

Text Message.
1. Yes, but I won't need it. (In response to Ira's query if he had $. You ride for free in green in these parts.)
2. Haven't gone anywhere yet. Waiting.
3. Done waiting. On bus to Nitzanim. Phone off. Love you.

We continued to hear from him in bits and pieces over the week when he had a minute and permission to use the phone. He was kvetchy at the beginning of the week - the weather had turned cold and rainy and life in the tent was somewhat damp, to say the least. Natan is not in the 'asthmatics tent' as he said that it's too close to the smoking area and that wouldn't be fun. He does have a 'פטור/exemption from certain physical activities. He can be made to run around stupidly but not too quickly. They all stand very long periods of time in various formations, the favorite being in the shape of the letter 'ח'/U shape. He received his gun - no, Robert Henoch told us it's not a gun, it's a weapon or an M16. Regardless, it's just too big and too much 'gun' for me. He's had some firing practice which remarkably he's been good at. Thank you to Iris and Steve and target practice up in the country.

We find out he's not coming home for his first Shabbat. A blow. Friday at 10:40AM, he calls. He's allowed visitors today. Not sure when. He thinks in the afternoon. 'Natan,' we say gently, 'Shabbat starts in the afteroon.' He'll find out. He calls back and tells us that he's allowed visitors on Friday because we can't come on Shabbat - never mind the 1.25 hours it takes to drive back and forth and making Shabbat. The army isn't so mindful of these matters. Then it turns out he has guard duty from 12-2pm. That means about 30 minutes with him after 2. We run out and do our errands in record time. Buy food for the soldier - bagels (we are Americans after all, can't just buy bourekas), spreads, fruit, cookies (no time to home bake something). Cancel my Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat davening gig at Shira Hadasha. Leave Gabe in charge of Friday afternoon prep, Akiva and setting up shul (his week to do so). Drive to Ashkelon with Ira. A lovely drive starting with the West Bank Tunnels and out through Beitar Ilit but then back through the roadblock and past Tzur Hadassah and down through the Lachish valley, past the Beit Guvrin Caves and further, heading towards Kiryat Gat. We call Michael and get the most up-to-date directions - the fastest and most direct method. We cross over various roads and eventually approach the beach, passing a new community for evacuees from Gush Katif communities in 2007 - many still living in temporary communities. We find the base and park. Inquire how to enter - we can't. Must wait for our guy to come and get us. Our guy doesn't answer his phone. We wait in the shockingly delightful non-Jerusalem heat. We drink our water, chew our fingernails and read The New Yorker. Finally, he calls. He was delayed. We're escorted in to the 'פינת ביקור'/visiting area. We wait. Suddenly, we see him trotting towards us. Huzzah!
We hug - ah....sit and eat, laugh, take a few pics (the images outside) as he regales us with stories and tells us what the yells that we hear in the background are essentially all variations on Yessir/כן, המפקד!

Much like visiting someone in camp, within a short amount of time the visitee is done - ready to return to their life on the inside and you the outsider go wistfully away. In our case, we rushed home at a breakneak pace, making it home...barely.

As for observance in the army. It's a good thing. Allowed 45 min davening time in the AM, which all say is good for charging your phone in the shul building - no plugs in tent - and dozing off during ישתבח. Then there's the moments you get pulled into מנחה - Natan said everyone was a higher rank than he.

Natan's report on Shabbat.
5. Shabbat was nice. Going up north tomorrow. Will be in touch. (Gosh, we think, a trip. You always see recruits out and about, especially on Sundays which appears to be travel day. A little treat after being on the base during the weekend, Benjy tell us. Also, they do try to make Shabbat restful, with more pleasant meals, time for shul and a bit of rest time in between guard duties. No standing in formation.)
6. So, after being a guy who couldn't move his legs, I'm not lying on a stretcher in the middle of a hospital tent. Some targil/exercise up here. (Turns out Natan is part of a huge military exercise and being the raw newbie that he is, as well as being a good size, he's immediately useful as faux injured person. He claims that Gabe Ashkenazi, the רמתכ"ל/head of the army is there but hasn't seen him yet. He asks around for his coz Adam, as he sees lots of Tzanchanim/Paratroopers but nobody knows Adam. Then he remembers that if they're in basic training like him, they may not know the name of their מפקד - 'he who must not be named.')
7. Was just taken in helicopter. Really cool. ttyl. (Wow! Definitely fun.)

Haven't heard from him since but texted him about the election. He at least had moved on from his initial Libertarian stance and support of Ron Paul.

There you have it. Natan in the army. He'll be home this week. Let the cooking and laundry begin.

A New President

It's unbelievable. It's really unbelievable. Whether or not you're sure about your vote, sure about the world, sure about the economy or the war, or the future of the world in general, it was a thilling election. Even if your guy didn't win, there was something infectious going on - a feeling that everyone was excited to vote, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Ira and I watched the early return reports until some time after 12AM, with Gabe snoring next to us and then we woke up again at 3AM to check in (this with FOX News as our cable network doesn't currently have CNN) and as narcolepsy took over, waited until the alarm went off at 6AM to watch again.

I've never experienced an election from afar but then again, I've never campaigned or done anything to connect into the candidate during the course of the campaign. My first election was 1980 - Reagan, Carter, Anderson and I was so disheartened, I ended up not voting. That wasn't the answer though and I promised myself that I would never miss an election again. That I would cast my vote regardless of whether or not I loved the candidate or not - I would choose and exercise my right to vote, something that not everybody in the world enjoys. This time, despite the fear that absentee ballots wouldn't be counted or that the votes wouldn't get to the right place, I voted. Ira actually dropped off our ballots (Natan's first election!) at the OU the other night. They were having an election event where you could bring your ballots in and know they'd be shipped back to the US together - that seemed a good idea from a place where the mails aren't always perfect.

For me, 2000 and 2004 were not happy elections. That feeling that we, the voters, had been 'had,' wasn't an easy one. That sense that the president had no real feeling for many of the 'rank and file,' wasn't an easy one to shake. He (he should live and be well) seemed to live in some kind of bubble of financial security, emotional distance, family protection and governing doctrine that I never could connect to or understand and appreciate. Maybe there was no way to win in the age of 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan and the current climate of economic uncertainty. I'm not even sure that our new president will be able to govern as well as he'd like and move forward with new ideas that he set forth during his campaign when he is inheriting so many issues that will not go away easily. Indeed, we need to see his resolve with these basics - Iraq, Afghanistan, the deficit - before we can watch him move forward and set his goals on the Middle East, the US's relationship with the world at large, Universal health care and other important domestic issues.

But here's the thing. It's a great thing to have the US's first African American president. It's a great thing to feel that he's won with good numbers, a large turnout and a wave of emotion and good feelings that will surely help in this early period of adjusting to what's happened (for those who feel disenfranchised and disappointed by his win). Barack HUSSEIN Obama - I love saying that as here, in Israel, that makes people squirm...our new president. Mazal tov to us all. People are downright strange and scary about his election here. There is such fear that he represents an end of the good relationship and the good will of the US to Israel. Here's a good example of some of the rhetoric on this side of the pond and note, I will not quote from resident crazy, Caroline Glick of the J'lem Post who surely must not sleep at night for fear of Iran nukes. One local friend essentially agreed with her recent article that Iran will look to test Obama right away via some action against Israel. I don't know if it's useful to think this way - maybe I'm stupid, maybe I'm naive, I just can't live my life this way, certainly not here, in Israel.

Another piece that got my attention printed via a Facebook Friend who voted for the other guy. It's actually an interesting piece in terms of the writer's history but the conclusions he draws are, at least I think so, unfortunate.

Barack H. Obama and Fidel Castro. What is the difference between the two?
Want Change? (From Richmond Times-Dispatch, Monday, July 7, 2008)

Dear Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Each year I get to celebrate Independence Day twice. On June 30, I celebrate MY independence day and on July 4th, I celebrate America's.

This year is special, because it marks the 40th anniversary of my independence. On June 30, 1968, I escaped Communist Cuba and a few months later, I was in the U.S. to stay. That I happened to arrive in Richmond on Thanksgiving Day is just part of the story, but I digress.

I've thought a lot about the anniversary this year. The election year rhetoric has made me think a lot about Cuba and what transpired there.

In the late 1950s most Cubans thought Cuba needed a change, and they were right. So when a young leader came along, every Cuban was at least receptive.

When the young leader spoke eloquently and passionately and denounced the old system, the press fell in love with him. They never questioned who his friends were or what he really believed in..

When he said he would help the farmers and the poor and bring free medical care and education to all, everyone followed.

When he said he would bring justice and equality to all, everyone said, 'Praise the Lord!' And when the young leader said, "I will be for change and I'll bring you change," everyone yelled, "Viva Fidel!"

But nobody asked about the change, so by the time the executioner's guns went silent the people's guns had been taken away. By the time everyone was equal, they were equally poor, hungry, and oppressed.

By the time the press noticed, it was too late, because they were now working for him. By the time the change was finally implemented, Cuba had been knocked down a couple of notches to Third-World status.

By the time the change was over, more than a million people had taken to boats, rafts and inner tubes. You can call those who made it ashore anywhere else in the world the most fortunate Cubans. And now I'm back to the beginning of my story.

Luckily, we would never in America fall for a young leader who promised change without asking, WHAT change? How will you carry it out? What will it cost America? Would we?

Manuel Alvarez, Jr.


All I wish to express, as a former Cuban exile, is that Barack Obama and Fidel Castro share many personality traits, ie:

Both were abandoned by their fathers at an early age.

Both are charming, eloquent lawyers that say exactly what people want to hear at the right time and place.

One never led the nation to suspect he was a communist at heart, the other doesn't mention the word socialism when in reality this is exactly what his agenda stands for.

Both were virtually unknown until they began to use the word 'change' as their main political motto.

Both have egos as tall as the twin towers, yet they manage to present themselves humbly, one in soiled military fatigues and the other sweating and with an undone tie.

Both have the unique ability to distort truth and lies as if they were the same.

Both have the ability to hypnotize the ignorant and fool the wishful thinker and to divide a nation in classes, (divide and you shall win) In Fidel's case he divided the rich against the poor, the illiterate against the educated and the black against the white. In Obama's case even if by omission, he's de-facto dividing the races already.

And lastly I'll use the words of Jorge Santayana to finish my case in point: 'Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

And in the words of Sir Winston Churchill: 'The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal distribution of blessings, the inherent vice of Socialism is the equal distribution of misery.'


Signed: Andrew J. Rodriguez, Author of 'Adios, Havana,' a memoir

By comparison, read this good piece by Donniel Hartman, son of Rabbi David Hartman and co-Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Perhaps this, with less fear and loathing, explains the hopes and fears for the next president.

Enough for now.
I'm happy. Hopefully some of you out there are too.
Here's to a new and different tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And baby makes?

The babies are born as most of you know. Jess had her twins Erev Sukkot - 34.5 weeks, by section, because of concern over the smaller one. Bigger guy, who we're convinced will be eclipsed in size by Littler guy, who's being fattened up in the NICU like a goose (he's fed every 2 hours, mostly thru a GTube/'zonda' with a hookup for attaching a syringe with milk) came home after 10 days and the 'settle in' continues. It's not easy to have preemies - they don't really know what to do, or as Ellen Shaw put it, 'they're barely sentient at 40 weeks, let alone at 34 weeks.' So, there you have it.

I'm reminded that Akiva was himself quite 'par-boiled' at 40 weeks. Jessica is working hard at getting Bigger guy to nurse and settle in at home while getting milk up to Little guy in the hospital. I stop in, hold him and offer nursing advice, and try to promise her that life will improve - I remember what Mickey Green said to us after Akiva was born. Ira asked Mickey and Rob, 'when will we be normal?' This after finding out that Akiva had Down Syndrome - who knew what it would mean, how our lives would be, etc - and they said, 'you'll be'll be better than normal.'

And they have been right. Sometimes we think we're too normal. So too for Jess and Daniel who will surely struggle over the next year or so until they adapt to this enormous change. So too for Amira and Aiden, Daniel's girls, aged 17 and 11, who while excited will have to get used to having these small people around who will demand time and attention. But it's good and exciting and it will be a good adventure for all of them.

Ira and I've have been up to the hospital a few times now to hold Little guy in the evening. We both enjoy it tremendously. He's very alert and despite his smallness (currently weighing in at 1.55k) he seems feisty to us and determined to make it here in this world, crazy as it is. He should be home within another 2 weeks. While it's almost painful to think of him alone in the hospital for 3 weeks now, after having been next to his brother for 34.5, there is that other side of technology and it's seems almost certain that without it we might not be able to continue to enjoy him and watch him grow. Complicated for sure.

The two pictures of Little guy are from Sunday evening at the hospital and the pic of Akiva and Ira from Sunday afternoon - Akiva was home sick with a stomach bug and we all took an afternoon walk late in the day, Akiva leading the way. I apologize for no pic of Bigger guy but don't have a current one. Will remedy that. He's quite sweet and they look very much alike but it's amazing what another 2lbs does for you. Big guy weighs about 2.3k at the moment - not big but certainly more 'babylike' and his cry has gotten quite lusty. Little guy peeps more when he cries but that will change too.

Twins - sheesh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Night Before

Well, here I am at the computer. Yomtov has been over about 2.5 hours already, and you guys over there in the Diaspora are just sitting down to lunch and you still have another day and endless hours in shul left. Boggles the mind. I should add that I barely survived this final day, so tired I was of shul, cooking and eating. The good thing is that courtesy of our new grill, we grilled (Gabe grilled actually) a fast and easy meal last night of veggies and tofu which we ate in the sukkah, along with spreads and bread (ate the spreads out of the containers!). Today, lunch was courtesy of Bourekas Ima - lasagna and quiches and salad which were enjoyed along with Don & Judy, Michael and Miriam and Gabe's posse of Adin Ner-David and friend Hallel, visiting from Kibbutz Ketura for hag.

Akiva's in bed. Gabe's at the movies with the friends. Ira's at the pharmacy agonizing over the long list of toiletries, etc (but he wanted to go out) and Natan is out with the cousins. Natan is having the equivalent of a bachelor party, I'd say. He's having the pre-army sendoff, where the coz's will tell him what to do say, do, how to handle this, that and the other thing, in addition to advising him as to what he needs to pack - not very much, we're told, as they give you just about everything. Yes, tomorrow, we ship the boy off at 7:30am from Givat Ha'tachmoshet/Ammunition Hill. I'm told it's an organized and chilled sendoff and that the mood will be pleasant and not frenetic. I'm also told that it's a bit like sending a kid off to camp for the first time. I recall that first year at Ramah Berkshires and sitting on the bus nervously until Saul Finkelstein, bless him, took pity and befriended me. Of course, it was in English. I think that we're all ready for this - that is, we've known the date is coming and while we had hoped for a bit of a deferrment, we knew that it might be Oct 22nd. Part of me says, better off get it started then keep waiting for something so huge and unknown that waiting for so long would have been an agony. It's hard to know. I don't know if we were really prepared for this aspect of moving to Israel but is anyone? I guess it will be a seminal moment for all of us in terms of the experience of living here. Hopefully, it will be positive, even with the negatives, for Natan. He's still such a kid - every 18 year old is, right? He's a good boy, though, a very good boy and hopefully, they'll see his worth and he'll meet nice people and do worthwhile things.

On a lighter note, big boy comes home from the hospital tomorrow. He looks great, sort of like a glow-worm doll - little head with bright eyes and small 'swee pea' like body. Pip is doing nicely as well - weighted 1.25 today which is a nice jump for him and his color is good and overall he seems more chilled and no more lights for jaundice. Progress for all. Jess is recovering nicely and has ankles and toes again.

Wish us luck tomorrow!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Ridiculous the amounts of list it takes to manage life this time of year. There's the To-do list for everyday life, the To-do list for Shutaf life, the To-do list for Akiva - doctor visits, toileting followup and the To-do list for Natan - army doctor appts, letters to write, hands to wring. Add to this the Shopping List for constant food replenishment for holiday/shabbat cooking. Just finished Shabbat and already have to think/plan lists for Monday night/Tuesday. Then, there's the visits to the Sukkah which mean meals with sister Sarah on Thursday night - we're thinking of finally firing up the new grill, and that's followed by Shabbat again, and then there's Sunday night with Jess & Daniel and my parents and then it's get ready for Simhat Torah!

This morning, after our usual wakeup call with Akiva at 5AM (he tends to wake up even earlier on Shabbat and days off), we laid in bed attempting to ignore him. At 7AM, I got up and went out for a run because I couldn't lay in bed anymore thinking about my lists. Then, I got dressed and went to shul on the early shift to Sharon and Nathan Laufer's son, Motti's BarM. Motti, is the charming youngest son of their brood of 4, the olders being triplets. It was a lovely service and everyone enjoyed hearing Motti leyn/read Torah and teach a new song to the crowd (in lieu of a speech). Even better, were the ice cream cones for Kiddush - Akiva and I shared one. It was crowded but we managed but I can't wait to get back to the ICCY, Shira Hadasha's roomier permanent home.

So, what are you guys eating over Yomtov? Any new ideas for me? Have to look at my cookbooks. Need some new inspiration. Have honored guests, Don and Judy arriving, in addition to local faces. Need to show off my new pressure cooker and my new stove. Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gemara Class and Yom Kippur Thoughts

Since I'm on a roll, might as well go with it especially when I have things to say/write. You, my friends, know I always have something to say but making time to blog is a separate affair.

I take an excellent Gemara class on Tuesday mornings with Gilla Rosen, wife of Mickey Rosen, founder of the Yakar Center in J'lem (as well as London and more recently, Tel Aviv). Gilla is a known and respected scholar in her own right, one of a generation of women making waves in Orthodo circles - that is to say, unafraid to demand their right to learn and share that learning with others, mainly women. She's originally from the US - brother Jon traveled through Europe with her brother Charlie a billion years ago - but lived for many years in London before moving to Israel. Yakar was at the forefront of the spiritual, what many might call, Carlebach style approach to tefilla/prayer and well before Shira Hadasha was ever founded, provided a place where one could sing, daven and take their time with tefilla. I remember that when I would visit Israel, I would accompany Jess and even my father sometimes on a Friday night for Kabbalat Shabbat. My mother would groan because she knew Shabbat dinner would be a late affair on such evenings.

One of my favorite Gemara teachers of all time is Debra Reed Blank, who led a group of faithful followers in various study of Mishna and some other texts, many years ago at Kane Street. Debra (here's an article of hers about liturgy) had this great way of bringing the ancient texts to life with her straightforward approach to the translation and understanding of whatever it was the Rabbi's were discussing. It had been some years since I have had the chance to delve back in but I was recommended the class by local, Linda Gradstein and I started during a quiet time, when I even had chance to prepare each week, which I needed given that it had been years since I had engaged in such a serious class, taught in Hebrew, with experienced classmates. It's a nice group of women - all quite focused and some quite talented at Gemara study as well. I confess that I don't think I'm one of the talented ones but nonetheless, enjoy the 'pilpul.' Last year, we worked on the sixth chapter of B'rachot, studying all sorts of things related to tefilla/prayer. I even gave a little presentation (we all did) at the end of the year. It's been a good thing. This year, we're moving on to the 7th chaper, which we'll start addressing after the holidays. Up until then, we're looking at some stuff in Yomah related to Yom Kippur - fasting, making t'shuva/repentence, stuff like that.

We were discussing the call to saying prayers of Vidui - things like the 'Al Cheyt/I have sinned' or Ashamnu/that long list of all those things we've done/said/thought. Why are we called to say these thing - historical references like the sin of the golden calf. We looked at source material in the Torah - Vayikra - Acharei Mot - that refer to Vidui as something important, in addition to making the appropriate sacrifices for wrongdoing. I liked one section that discussed that your issues with G-d and repentence and forgiveness are different then what you need to do to be forgiven by friends for wrongdoing. I hereby ask forgiveness at the juncture from all my friends and family, near and far, for anything I may have done (and I'm sure I did) that upset or offended or hurt you in some way this past year. I hope to do better in the year(s) to come.

I got to thinking about Akiva and Ira and I this past year. We struggle these days, trying not to feel resentment at the daily drudgery - the endless trips to the bathroom to attempt to learn toileting, the cleanup and the laundry, the morning wakeups (now at 5:15AM since when you change the clocks, it just means an hour earlier), the endless pieces of bread to toast and lunches and 'elevenses' (10:00 break meal here) to prepare, and the knowledge that it ain't changing or ending anytime soon. I talked with my mother about this very topic today with regard to my father - the drudgery is different but the fatigue, petty humiliations and grief that feels is quite real with regard to his dementia. It's hard to make your peace and not get angry and yet, you always have to remind yourself, as we do with regard to Akiva, 'what's so bad about being retarded?' It's not his fault, indeed it's how the Creator determined whom he would be. It's not our fault that we get tired but we do him a disservice in needing/wanting him to be different and yet, how can we not? No good answer here but acceptence is the overall theme that we work at on a regular basis. But - I found it hard at 5:15 this morning, when he came downstairs all bright eyed and chipper and then again at 6:00 when he arrived again for a cuddle and then eventually, prepared him french toast at 7:15 (he's off today for erev YK). He's so easy to please - I'm the harder one to please, I guess, caught up more in the existential nature of life. So, on this erev YK, I ask Akiva's slicha u'mechila/forgiveness or as Barbara said to me on the phone today as only a Boro Pk/Flatbush girl could, 'do you mochel me?'

צום קל - An easy fast to all those fasting.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Duchening at the Wall

Since I've been so remiss in blogging, I neglected to report about my seminal davening moment since arriving here. Our friends, Haviva and Jacob Ner-David, celebrated their 2nd child, Adin's BarM in late August. The Ner-David's are an idiosyncratic clan - they daven in many different places of varying practice and religious style. Haviva, who has an Orthodox ordination that is controversial to some, is also the author of a great book on women's issues, feminism and Orthodoxy. Jacob, a successful business guy and local venture capitalist, went to high school with Jessica (of course, there is the Jessica connection) back in the old country. They have 6 great kids and Gabe goes to school with many of them at the Democratic School. What makes both Jacob and Haviva even more interesting is their absolute devotion to the environment, co-existence projects locally and generally, things that are good for the world, both from a Jewish and non-religious perspective.

The BarM was at the Southern Wall, right by Robinson's Arch. For those of you who haven't been, think of it as the Kotel, extended. It's a great site, with wonderful historical high points, from the staircase that the Kohanim ascended to reach the Temple Mount to the ancient grafitti near the arch, which essentially says, 'we'll be back.' The area has been designated for the 'non-Orthodox' to have services without offending anyone. The BarM was called for 8am and as we arrived, we were pleased to note the varying areas of men and women. There was the men's area (loosely defined by an obvious group of guys but this grew to later include a mixed group nearby as well), the women's area, and in the middle mixed seating. Davening was led in an a somewhat central area - I should add that davening took a long time, as Haviva and Jacob are afficianados of the Leeder Minyan, which is known for it's looooong and spiritual services. It was Rosh Hodesh as well, meaning lots more to do before eating brunch.

I had been asked to lead Mussaf Rosh Hodesh and I was uptight. What would it be like to get up and lead Mussaf in this very mixed crowd? I worried about this for a while and then reminded myself that Haviva wouldn't have asked me without thinking through this matter and moreover, anybody who knows Jacob and Haviva and came today, might expect that leadership could be either men or women. Then, I realized that I'd be leading duchening/Kohanic blessing as well. This was a wild concept as I'd be doing it in Jerusalem, in mixed company, at the Wall! I must admit that even I, the cynical, 'oh it's just the kotel' was somewhat pleased. I had to rush my repetition as time was short, which was fine with me, but as I got to the blessings, I enjoyed the moment and the rush.

Pretty cool.

Shana Tova

Fall came suddenly to these parts and there I found myself, deep in a pile of menus, recipe books, shopping lists and general 'things to do' before Rosh Hashana stuff. I determined to get myself in the mood and did - we shopped, cooked together (Moroccan veg stew with saffron, salads, spreads, desserts (these amazing, spicy, think Jacques Torres's spicy hot chocolate, Brownies), I really can't remember anymore, and ultimately enjoyed the 2 days of holidaying. We davened at Mayanot after weeks of agonizing over where to go. We actually agonized for so long over where to go - Beit Boyer (boring but delightfully Ashkenazic and great shofar blower), Shira Hadasha (long but spiritual but lousy shofar blower), or, Mayanot (small, not enthusiastic enough at times but egal, some decent shofar blowing and nice davening...most of the time). But I'm being unkind because Mayanot was nice - crowd was pleasantly filled out by 65 Nativnikim (one-year post HS USY program), and other locals. Davening was pleasant - Ira the first night, Daniel for Musaf day one, I read Torah day 2, Natan haftorah day 2, and other locals filling in the other parts doing a nice and spirited job of making the Tefila enjoyable.

Ira and I split Akiva duties, each of us coming late one day - in time for shofar blowing during Mussaf and some of Akiva's favorite local tunes. A funny moment Day 2 was had during Mussaf when the Ba'al Tefila, Aryeh, sang thru two choral pieces (Lewandowski, of course) and the community sang along in all parts. Laurie Yorr would have laughed, we all smiled, chuckled and did our part, albeit with imperfect timing but lots of gusto.

Ate meals with a nice mix of family - Jess and Daniel (he was home this year for the first time in forever - usually he has a high holiday pulpit job but with Jess due soon, he didn't go) and the girls, homeschooling family with lots of lovely boys, Mona and Robert, Blass family and 2 Nativnikim.

I missed Ray and I missed Rena and all the rest of youz.
Shana Tova.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Camp Report

I have barely caught my breath after a very busy 6 weeks or so this summer. Finally dipped the toes back into the waters of teen theater with a workshop that ran for 3 weeks. It was satisfying but exhausting as I was pretty much the only one running the show although I had wonderful local visitors - actors, costume and makeup people, local directors and production people as well as local musical theater people. The kids got a real education, I think, except for Natan who is perhaps too much of a theater snob at this point. In truth, for him, the level wasn't quite there - after 5 years with the NYCHEA players, he's fairly comfortable with whatever you throw at him and can read it fluently (even if he doesn't know what it's about) and will jump into anything and at least try it. This crowd however, didn't have the reading fluency, even if they have the speaking fluency. That's the interesting complication. As well, in conservative Jerusalem, to read Beckett is odd to the kids and I found that there ability to take in more modern pieces was limited. David Ives worked for everyone, thankfully, and we had a lot of fun with our 2-day Stage Combat workshop which was given by two local people - one the director of a new and young Shakespearian company. All in all, an experience.  We finished up with a quick and dirty presentation that was also problematic for some of my actors who like a fully finished piece with costumes, set, etc. I kept pointing out that  staged reading is still and effective way to present new material that has not been fully learned and that it's an okay method - everyone knows that it's not a 'finished piece,' but that was still a hard sell.

Segued from STW to Shutaf right after Tisha'a Ba'av. Camp had started already on 8/11 but I didn't finish STW until the 18th so Miriam, my partner, was doing yoeman's work and it was work this season as we had 40 kids, 7 young adults with special needs (and some were quite involved in terms of needing facilitating) and lots of staff. Our staff felt overwhelmed at first at the multitude of issues - emotional and behavioral - as well as just adjusting in to the program, the heat and the day. We worked on the fly to solve problems and educate the staff as best as possible but it wasn't a slam dunk. Funny how having 34 kids for 6 days before Pesach was complicated but doable but once you have 40 kids and 3 weeks of camp, you're in that game of camp with all of it's warts and stuff and day to day support of staff even more than the kids in order to get the through the experience.  We learned alot for the next camp which is fine.

There were many best things but one of the best things were our volunteers. There is nothing quite like the NRG of a 14/15 year old boy and we had a few teens, (one girl too) who came and worked hard and really enjoyed the challenge and look forward to returning to Shutaf for our next camp. That's pretty cool. We also had some other younger staffers this year as well as one retiree who joined us as a volunteer - all added to that feeling that we're building a community and not just a camp. Good karma.

Now, we move on to planning the fall. Once again, sweating the funds, trying to plan a fall fundraiser and trying to figure out how to make it happen for the next year. It's exhausting and very multi-dimensional work and I'd really just like a vacation.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Went to a movie premiere tonight - a benefit and the opening of a new short film about the comedy of Yisrael Campbell. A member of Shira Hadasha, I know him through Jess, of course, and often see him about the neighborhood. Check out his videos - make sure to catch the famous Hannukah candle riff. The good news for some of you is that he'll be in the US next year and I hereby recommend that Kane St book the film and Yisrael for the Film Festival next year. You won't regret it. What's cool is the way he talks about his life and his Jewish journey (he was born Chris Campbell in suburban Philly) and Israel.

I had been a long hard day that had started with the difficult read through of the newspaper following yesterday's 'drive by bulldozing' on Yaffo. Sarah called my mother today from camp - she'd heard in camp but in camp news feels a billion miles away and she just wasn't sure that she'd heard right, 'a bulldozer?' Ira's co-worker, Dave, said that actually the machine in question is a 'loader.' His expertise comes after years of study with his 2 young kids. The papers were filled with all the lurid details - the baby saved from the car. The young mother, unable to be rescued...crushed. Her baby, after years of IVF treatment, will grow up motherless. The 2 others, killed, the people on the bus and street who were injured. No names jumped for me but I'm still new here but when I went to the movie tonight, I was chatting with friend Esther Abramowitz (Jess's longtime buddy) and turns out she was at the funeral today of the gentleman killed - the father of a co-worker. She said it was intensely sad. The young mother? From a well-known local family and a few people had a connection to a cousin through Shira Hadasha. At moments like this, Jerusalem is a small town.

After the movie, we strolled down Emek Refaim - it was hopping with USY'ers and other kids, Israeli and American, engaging in mating rituals. We got a sorbet and walked back to the car, enjoying the cool night breeze. Life - continuing as it should.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I remember that Mrs. Reimer or was it Mrs. Dinner who taught me that 'dessert' has 2 'ess's' like strawberry shortcake and desert has one.' I'll have to check with Karyn to see if she remembers. Went to the desert for a few days. It was my idea and Sarah had liked it for a family gig together for Shavuot. It fell out on a Sunday evening, which meant an easy day, much like Sunday in the US with time for a drive down and time to play before showing up where we were staying for the beginning of chag. I chose Kibbutz Ketura, which we enjoyed back in December during Hannukah time. Neither one of us worried too much that returning to the Arava in June might be a bit of an adventure in terms of the heat index - we figured it would be hot but didn't know how hot.

We were, according to one of the 'youngun's, a 'hamoula' or Bedouin clan. Reps from four families, in-laws as well, it was an impressive grouping.

'The Bedouins live in tribes, Qabila in Arabic, who are subdivided in half-tribes and further down till the economical viable unit of an extended family, called Hamoula. Although it does not seem so to many, in order to survive in this unforgiving environment, a lot of work needs to be done.'

Sister Sarah and co, minus Benjy who's in the US, brother Jon and co, minus Adam in the army but plus Itzik, Dena's fiance, sister Jess and co, parents (my father's 80th was Friday so the time together was to continue his birthday celebrations), Daniel's mother Rita, sister Miriam and co, minus one of their kids, and us, minus Natan (enjoying cheesecake chez Charlie and Jo in Merrick). 25 of us for the duration.

We beached together in Eilat on Sunday - bit of scuba diving off the shore and exciting fishies swimming around. We hung together in the brutal heat - 43c on Monday or about 110f although that sounds too ridiculous to even type. Suffice to say it was really hot. By 9am it was like an oven. Later in the day it was like you were walking with the oven door open in your face and a hot wind blowing back - Sarah said it was like the oven was on turbo. Then, a wind started to blow - a bit of a sandstorm - we retreated to the pool and sat there for some hours before going back to our mercifully a/c'd rooms.

I was reminded of a favorite book by Cynthia Rylant, 'The Relatives Came.' The book tells of the visit of the relatives - they come in their old station wagon, visit for weeks, hug, talk and eat. The best part is the arrival with the hugging that went on for hours and the sleeping the first night - wherever you could find a spot and that there was a lot of breathing in the house that was unfamiliar. I read it to Akiva tonight when we got home and I think he enjoyed looking at the pics and thinking about all those relatives at Ketura the past few days.

Today, on the way home, went with Sarah and Michael and kids along with Talia (J&B's youngest) and Adin Ner-David (Jacob and Haviva were also at Ketura for Shavuot) to Ein Bokek for a dip in the Dead Sea. It's such a wild place. Akiva was not too keen on the salt in his eyes but got in willingly at first. We bobbed around and compared areas of stinging pain and the weird sensation of the almost oily feeling water. Drove a bit further and took another dip and a walk in Ein Fescha - fresh water pools, oasis, huge cattails. It was hot but fun. A good day with Akiva as it included walking with the focus on water to keep him going.

Got home. A bit salty, a bit grubby, a bit tired but pleased with our journey.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Akiva and I had a funny walk to shul today. Leaving was not quite as painful as it sometimes can be. I gathered the important bits - change of clothing, critical books (Little Red Lighthouse, Frances, George), New Kane (his wrestling guy), water cup, tissues (the nose had been very runny) and an extra water bottle for me as it was a hot day. Hats on and Akiva with is glasses somewhat precariously perched on his nose, we set off for shul.

Akiva walked behind me most pleasantly much of the time. He sang his way through his repertoire of children's Hebrew songs that is building with each holiday period - courtesy of school and helped by his assorted holiday tapes which he listens to at home. In this country, there are an astounding assortment of songs specific to every holiday and everyone knows them since they grow up singing them in 'gan'/kindergarten. We newcomers are at a distinct disadvantage but such is life. He worked Lag Ba'omer, then Yom Yerushalayim which is this coming week, and then segued back into Pesach as we bumped into to a few local people whom we know on our walk. We rested on a bench at one point - Akiva likes benches - then continued on our way. It should be mentioned that the whole walk is about 10 minutes I think and is a real straightaway except for the occasional dodge around a building or up a bit of stairs in standard J'lem style. With Akiva the walk takes longer, especially the way home when one generally has to 'sing' him home. Ira took care of those duties today - I did not have the patience.

Shul was quite crowded today. A Shabbat Kalah - bride's Shabbat after the wedding. A Francophilic celebration, it was filled with French people yapping away in French, Hebrew and whatever other languages entered the conversation. A fleishig kiddush! The salads were pleasant and it was marked by a distinct lack of sweets on the table - a welcome change from the usual fare of bissli and other simple crunchy snacks with humus and veggies and store bought cookies. We ate minimalistically and enjoyed our own lunch at home once we had cooled off. Wondering what Natan is doing right now in Bklyn?
Shavua Tov to all.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lag Ba'omer

I always have blog thoughts. Usually, they are prompted by a story of Ira's, the kids, or something that happens to me during the course of the day/week here. Of course, without writing these profundities immediately down, they slip from my memory and I'm left yet again without a major topic about which to blog.

Thing is, I recognize that life has settled down in its way and aside from funny Israeli moments, of which there continue to be many - and always will, I imagine - things seem surprisingly normal. Natan continues to muscle his way through his adjustment here, coping with his developing life here - theater work, looking for a choir, piano, Japanese studies, friendships that are more comfortable this year...he even went willingly to a Lag Ba'omer bonfire this year. Lag Ba'omer is sort of like Guy Fawkes day, Israeli style, without the effigy. I'll let you read up on both on your own, except for this note on the celebrations.

"The most well-known custom of Lag Ba'Omer is the lighting of bonfires. Some say that as bar Yohai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. It is also Jewish custom to light a candle in honour of the deceased on the day of the Yahrzeit. As his passing left such a 'light' behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit. The Bnei Yissoschor cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said "Now, it's my desire to reveal secrets...The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and passed away. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, an particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light."

What this means is that bonfires are lit up all over town - many are unsupervised, many are built (towering effigies of wood stuffs found all over town) w/o a lot of knowledge of fire maintenance skills and many are not properly put out. The night of LagB, one goes to bed with the acrid smell of smoke filtering through the house - this year, we were lucky that a brisk breeze was blowing that night and into the next morning which helped dissipate the smoke.

Gabe wanted to go off to a friend's house. He was pleased to have his own plans and such plans are indicative of how nicely he's doing this year - he likes the Democratic School, has made some nice friends (haven't met them all yet) and spends much of his time practicing his skateboard techniques. At first, he tells me that his friend lives in Nataf (in the J'lem Hills), that it will be a 'bayit reyk' (no parents around) and boys and girls together. After informing him that I wasn't comfortable with the unsupervised bonfire as well as the opposite sex, it turned out that it was just a private party of 4 guys and a fire. He had fun but later told me that next year he wants a bigger, mixed local gig like Natan's. Natan's is down the block a bit in a vacant lot that is reserved some hours in advance by those expecting to use the space. It's a group of girls and guys and some younger sibs and the occasional parent as well. Foodstuffs are roasted and eaten, songs are sung and much chatting occurs. Ira walked Akiva over for the festivities and they sat and ate a hot dog (Ira, that is) and enjoyed themselves. Akiva must have been prepped at school because on the way, Ira mentioned going to a campfire - Akiva answered 'מדורה, אסור להתקרב, מאוד חם.'
'Campfire, you're forbidden to get close, very hot.' So, there we have it.

Natan had a further adventure though that night. He went off to his second event at around midnight - remember when you had second events or even first events beginning at around 11 or so? He met up with friends near a park area behind the German Colorny and for those in the know, the Hartman Institute. There, for the next 4-5 hours, they put out unattended bonfires. Natan said they'd come upon a group of people with a large fire and inquire as to their water source for minding such a blaze - they'd be shown a coke bottle, or worse, nothing. They put out a fire that the fire-makers had stoked with styrofoam and they put out fires that had burned down and the fire-makers had gone but nobody had made sure that the embers were totally out. Natan related arguing with fire-makers who'd left the area and upon returning and finding their fire out argued - 'we were coming right back...' He returned home at about 8:00am, smelly, wet and tired. Gabe we didn't see until much later Friday afternoon as he went straight from his friends house to a baseball game. He's pitching these days and very pleased about it. As for Akiva, he went to school and talked about his campfire, the marshmallows (he never had any) and whom he saw there.

Ira's comment about his campfire experience - 'it was clean, old-fashioned fun (aside from the smoke and mess) in an Israeli style that you just don't ever see in America.' Lisa Smith described her campfire the same way - very lovely, about 150 people or so who came through at different times according to the ages of their kids (she was at a joint Moreshet Avraham/Mayanot campfire).

I remember Lag Ba'omer from my childhood - a scheduled school picnic in Hempstead Lake State Park (in later years Woodmere Park). Usually, we were rained out and rescheduled. We'd run around - in pants, no less, in those early years - make a fire and roast marshmallows and have a grand time.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


One other note from tonight. Bedtime will be late because all I hear from my house are the sounds of fireworks all over the city. The Grucci brothers would love it.
Shul was fun. I sat with Jess, Sarah and my mother, who also came for the experience. As we forded the passage between remembering those who've died and celebrating the country, regardless of the complications implicit, the place just started to rock - singing, dancing, bouncing and jumping (Shira Hadasha has a couple of jumpers). 400 people perhaps, singing, ready to move on the happy part. Ready to sing - they're always ready to sing there. To celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut - do hallel with musical instruments, pray the other elements of the Yom Ha'atz service - Shma and the other line from the end of Yom Kippur/Nielah, Shofar blowing and all. Pretty cool. I felt the feeling that I sometimes have here - that nobody had to be told how to do it, nobody needed to be given the page number, everyone was 'on the same page.' I know that seems unkind but it's how I felt. I felt that there was parity.
I never felt enough parity in Bklyn. I loved Bklyn and love my community but we were all so different in our viewpoints, religious desires and lives. Believe you me, there are plenty of differences in my views and my neighbors here but at least people know what to do and how to do it. I find that comforting - more than I would have expected.
Enough rambling. More to report tomorrow after we hopefully get to the flyby in Tel Aviv tomorrow. Boys claim to be excited. We'll see how it goes.

60th Bday

Almost hard to believe and yet, sitting here in my house - complete with elements of comfort unheard of in the early years of the State (read kitchen with real stove, walk-in closet which I didn't even have in Bklyn, etc) it isn't hard to believe. Israel often feels like other places in the world - a place of consumerism, of navel-gazism, of divides of wealth, of gated-communitiesm, and other 'isms that I'd hope to leave behind in the USofA. Still, it is a small place and when the country mourns, it's surprisingly together and when they celebrate, you feel the mood change as if you're all sitting in the same stadium.
I can't say that it's an easy celebration. Regardless of how you look a the founding of Israel, ashes of the Holocaust, yadda yadda and I don't take the post war period lightly, the fact remains that it ain't 1945 tomorrow and that the ideals that were present in that period are different. Israel remains a country entrenched - at least for some - in the post-war period but there are many to whom that doesn't resonate. Where do they think the state appeared from I'm not sure but certainly not out of the remnants who were not gassed in Auschwitz. For Jews from Sephardic countries their Israel is a Messianic one - which they preyed and hoped for all those years in the Diaspora. Not that Ashkenazic Jews didn't think that way either but it was different and WWII gave a different shading to everything that came after.
How do you celebrate when so much seems screwed up and weird. When your country is either enmeshed in political scandals, one right after the other, or an existential fight for emotional survival. Ahmedinajad aside - whatever he's going to do, he'll do - Israel's survival seems much more an issue of people's emotions and their desire for a different kind of life. One where people's children don't have to go off to be trained as soldiers and one where the country could focus on peace and normal life. To me I wonder why we can't just turn this thing around - learn how to make peace, how to develop a new paradigm, a new way of doing the 'peace business' and maybe find a way to show our neighbors that we mean it. I'm so tired of reading of our soldiers misbehaving on guard - of being obnoxious and abusive of their power - of our citizens showing contempt for fellow citizens - Gabe had that experience waiting for felafel recently where the Arab guy was kept waiting and waiting and waiting...I'm not naive, I just don't like the facts on the table and feel that new tables and new facts are needed.
Happy 60th.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Family report

You may wonder why my blogging has really dropped off. Fun gone out of my life? Israel no longer so fresh and new? Certainly, these are good possibilities. That is, we've settled in a bit here, much to our surprise, people are busy - Natan's in play #3 of this year, Tick, Tick, Boom!, where he plays Michael, aged 30, HIV positive (actually he announces it more like AIDS, but I informed Natan that he's probably alive today, unlike the protagonist, Jonathan Larson, the playwright, who while straight, died of an aortic aneurysm the night before Rent officially opened) and struggling to make his peace with having left the world of acting for the business world and ultimately financial success. The play isn't a perfect one, and the production is a simply produced one and not perfectly directed (it's a teen direction team) but the principals all work hard and in particular, the girlfriend has a great voice. For Natan, it's a real departure - a role of some maturity, with modern, pop music which he has worked hard to learn to sing as his general style is more classical, and real choreography done by a young, hip hip dancer named Marvin. This play is definitely more fun than Korzcak's Children, where he plays a Nazi lieutenant, albeit it a sympathetic one. That play, is not a bad one, and the guy who plays Janusz Korzcak is really great.

Then of course, there was the family participation in the recent Wizard of Oz - Ira as Wizard, Natan as Tree, Winkie and Emerald Citizen. That was fun for many reasons mostly having to do with Ira's return to the stage after 30 years, in what was a brilliant and somewhat typecast role (at least to his family). Imagine if you will, Ira in vest and tailcoat, pate shining in the spotlights pontificating about brains 'Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity.'
How about fear, 'Frightened? Child, you're talking to a man who's laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe... I was petrified.' And as his balloon floats away without Dorothy - 'I don't know how it works...' It should be added that Gabe and Natan also worked liked trojans backstage - it was a big production.

Gabe, the Hebrew speaking expert of the house, plays football on Sundays, baseball on Mondays, ping pong on Tuesdays (he's retiring from that, he tells me) and TURNS 15 on TUESDAY!!! This is too much for me to dwell on really and we're canceling his birthday this year. He's really enjoying the Democratic School although I assure you that not much educational is allowed to penetrate past his teenage brain. I hope that we'll have a breakthrough and I'm looking forward to sitting on his head when he 'homeschools' this summer. We'll see.

Akiva and I are just 'floating here in the pool.' Akiva continues to enjoy school and his afternoons of horseback riding, occasional trips to the pool (this will increase with the warmer weather) and park (right now it's perfect park season) and his animal chug/activity at Ramat Rachel, playing with the bunnies, feeding the ducks and the goat and sheep and other animals who live there. He's much taller for those of you who haven't seen him in a while and his Hebrew continues come along nicely. His horseback riding is fabulous - he's posting ('kum-shev') and he's raising his hands with the reins and turning the horse. This is truly exciting to watch and I think that Fran in Brooklyn at Kensington Stables would be delighted to hear about it. His teacher Netanela is great with him and really skilled too. We're still struggling with toilet training but I imagine that as in all things Akiva related, it will take it's time and we need to be patient and accepting.

Shutaf (to see pics, look at our old website) Pre-Pesach camp will, to use a Hebrew turn of phrase, get on it's way/'yotzeh la'derekh' next Sunday. We're very excited - 30 kids (we're waiting on the final few), 4 young adults, 14 staffers, and 2 very tired founders, myself and my lovely partner, Miriam Avraham. I can't believe that I'm a camp administrator and I can't believe that we've come this far in less than a year! We raised close to 15k to make this camp happen and it would not have happened without the dedication and support of friends near and far. Pretty much all I do these days, is Shutaf, which has been both wonderful and exhausting. We hope over the next few months to be able to find funding that will let us breathe a bit more and focus on the summer program as well as getting our weekly youth movement program going next fall. All good things for kids with special needs and their friends here in Israel.

Beth says, 'Get involved, tell your community, email me about how you can visit us, volunteer, be part of the Shutaf community of friends.' But seriously, this is a good and important project and even from afar you can make a difference. Readers, if you know of anyone to whom this would resonate, please help me be in touch with them. If you have contacts in Israel as well, I'd be delighted to follow up on them. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a a country to raise awareness and change ideas about acceptance and inclusion and build real equality and understanding between all people - whether they have a disability or not.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I davened at Shira Hadahsa

Yes, finally, I summoned up the uumph and led services at Shira Hadasha. It was really rather tame. Except for the one moment that I couldn't remember the currently sung melody of Mizmor L'david (meaning, I could remember the old favorite) and I looked over at Jessica and Tova and Tova started humming but I couldn't remember it again 2 seconds later. Of course, once I finished the paragraph before hand, singing with everyone, it flowed right in but for a moment...panic (or should I say, 'panica').

I was reminded of all the davening that I've done - from Shabbat evening (including Ma'ariv) to Shabbat mornings, to Yom Tov mornings to Rosh Hashanah morning (a big thrill) - but this was big crowd of singers and it's interesting trying to harness that big crowd to do what you want to do. I stuck to the standards and figured I 'll try something new another time. Got some nice comments which felt good.

Acoustics unfortunately are terrible at Hartman, so I was convinced that nobody was singing along, just like at Kane Street, except no Noah singing loudly in the back.

I'm reading Torah there in 2 Shabbatot - Metzora. Not too hard, should be a good intro for me. Working my way in slowly.

Akiva's Tune-up

There may be many things that are hard to get used to here, but this, I could grow accustomed to easily. That is, once I know to pack for a 'three-day tour.' Akiva went in for a tune up the other day - brakes, new tires, whole new getup. All except for a paint job - they don't do exteriors. (Sorry, that's a joke for those with a kid with special needs - hahaha.)

We made an appointment at Hadassah/Har Hatzofim for Tuesday. We had a made an appt at the clinic for kids with Down Syndrome (Tues is DS day and Monday is CF day, etc) in Feb but it was cancelled due to the inch of snow that fell that day. We rescheduled and went last week. We were told that it would be a long day and we packed what we felt was a respectable amount of provisions for Akiva - 2 small yogurts, sandwich, some fruit and a drink. For ourselves, we assumed that coffee or a bite of his sandwich would sustain us until we finished and dropped him off of school later that morning. BOY, WERE WE WRONG.

We arrived at 8:30am and staggered out at about 3:30pm. And here's the kicker, didn't pay anything - at least nothing extra for our pains, except for the few prescriptions the next day for his ear gunk (nis35, or about $10).

Akiva visited with (in addition to paperwork filled out and handled with the guy at the front desk, the nurse in charge of seeing that we went to the right stations, the nurse at the eye area....):
1. Ear Doctor - wax buildup (see, it's like a car) and some redness. Lots of drops for each ear and nose too and tomorrow he goes for a clean out.
2. Eye Doctor and optometrist - this was interesting because optho and opto don't get along but in this case, they conferred, discussed and Akiva will go back for followup once he gets his new glasses (tomorrow we'll order) and once we figure out what's next (maybe more surgery), etc, as he is very nearsighted.
3. Physical therapist. He could use more therapy - duh - and maybe new orthotics too - double duh - and otherwise looks good. Akiva meanwhile had begun to descend into that sort of deep quiet that he can do, accompanied by chewing on his fingers for enjoyment and making a loud noise to tune out all other noise. I was beginning to wish I could do the same.
4. Dietician. This was a bit of a hoot for me. In typical Israeli fashion, she informed me that he needs more dairy calcium. Why does he drink rice milk? Why would I do that? I told her that he is congested much of the year and that we're careful with calcium and there are other ways of getting your calcium than just in milk and dairy stuff. She told me a yogurt a day and what about hard cheese, etc, etc. I felt like saying, 'honey, you're preaching to the food choir here,' 'I know my stuff...' but Ira glared at me that I should be quiet and let her finish her lecture. I did.
5. Social worker. This was great. A nice religious, former American which helped in terms of language and talking. We chatted freely and openly about life with Akiva and the things we could use help with - life with Akiva and feelings of fatigue, finding after-school activities, help in the house, handicapped parking permit.....

In between, Akiva shuttled back and forth for his eye drops, eye exam and arm wrestles with Picado and his father, who's name I can't remember but it was something like Kussinum, which is thank you in Hungarian, a lovely Ethiopian duo. We talked about languages that we know and don't know - I know English better than Hebrew and he knows Hebrew better than Amharic.

6. The doctor. At the end of the day, we met with Dr. Tannenbaum, a lovely guy, who helped us summarize everything up and also talked with us about side issues, from toileting problems (still a work in progress) to other developmental matters. He ultimately drew blood on Akiva for a host of minor things to be checked and then.....we were done.

Yes, we had work to do and things to follow up on but we had handled everything....except the dentist. We still have to find out about that.
And because it was Hadassah, which is a Maccabi (our HMO), we didn't pay anything extra. Meaning, other than what we pay quarterly.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Blood? Delayed Post - Sorry

Note to my readers: This post was obviously delayed and I really struggled over writing it and thinking through what really was on my mind. Suffice to say that I am conflicted. This post was finished today, March 31st.

March 1.
The newspaper was really fun to read this weekend, although at least we had a few days to digest the events of Thursday night at Merkaz Harav Kook before seeing the pictures of the fresh-faced kids, the youngest 14, who were killed/murdered/gunned down while studying.

We were on our way to eat dinner out for Ira's b-day. Heard a billion sirens and saw a local ambulance whiz down our street. Alan confirmed what had happened the first. We drove downtown, listening to the news and Daniel working his 2 phones. Daniel's TRY-Ramah High School kids are here for 6 months of learning, enjoying the country, and events like this try the composure of all the parents. He likes to send out an email right away to reassure them but in this case, the kids were actually out having a free evening (with supervision of course - it's funny when I think of how free kids used to be on their trips - ask Ira about Ramah Seminar in 1978) and over the next hour, he spoke to staff, rounded up the kids who were either downtown, at the mall or at the Hartman Center (they all were sent them home in a taxi), drafted the email (after hearing from one parent) and breathed a sigh of relief when they were all back at the Havat Ha'noar, where they live when they're here. We stood and watched the TV in a few places and eventually went and had our dinner - Alan stayed home though (Lisa was with us and Jessica and Daniel) and Natan met up with 2 friends after his rehearsal and went home with them. His friends were downtown at the bus station, which is quite close to Merkaz Harav when they heard what had happened and decided not to hang around that area. They slept at our house on Thursday night, which they sometimes do anyway, as they live in a moshav in the Jerusalem hills. I was glad when they were all home.

We spill blood and call it a military action - collateral damage, to borrow a term I learned during the Iraq war (the bombing period). They spill blood and we are shocked and horrified - but is the Jewish country, the Jewish way? Are we fighting for our survival the way we did in '48? I don't think so. We have our survival to think of and we face the threat of universal hatred and muslim extremacy but we're not the few anymore or the weak. We have a powerful army - well-trained, impressive, with the ability to wreak havoc, especially in densely populated places like refugee camps and Gaza City. I'm glad that we have an army, a country, bad politics, good and bad Jews, etc, but I worry about the direction of people's thoughts, the level of their distrust, hatred and general belief that most Arabs are only capable of the most minimal kind of modern thinking towards others. I argued about this with my mother the other day. First we argued politics and the state of the upcoming election in the US. I'm proud to report that she called me a Communist (I'm not, but hey, it was my first time) because of the depth of my distrust of how big $$$ operates in the US and my feeling that there's too much collusion of the rich - they run the show an the rest of us just spin around in their orbit hoping for the best. And let's not talk about socialized medicine, etc.

Once we finished the election - trust me she won't vote for Obama, and that has a lot to do with his last name and possible Muslim connections - Israeli's are very jittery about this, regardless of how many articles have been written and I don't suggest that you speak to my sister Sarah about this as her views are fairly poisonous and she lives in the center of the country so my hypothesis may be shot to hell - we moved onto Israel. Needless to say, my mother feels that I am too free and easy and not willing to face the facts that are on the table - they hate us and we hate them and there really isn't anyone to talk to and never will be.

I wonder if this is the Jerusalem thing as I now know what a bizarre bubble I live in. Jerusalem, much as it pains me to admit, is not a normal place. Populated by the ultra-religious, Arabs, regular religious types and others, it is not a place of regular thinking. It is both alternative and conservative, hippyish and straightlaced. People are fairly bigoted here which always bothers me and yet capable of enormous kindnesses to each other, regardless of social group and ethnic background. They live here and never go elsewhere in the country - except to their home countries (if they're from the West) and maybe a bit to Europe. Israelis love to travel, mind you, but J'lemites are again, a different breed which yields a strange insularity not found in Petach Tikva or Ra'anana (forget about comparisons to Tel Aviv), for example.

I lectured Lisa Smith about this when we were in Rome together. Thing is, when you live in J'lem you can forget that problem and it's not a good thing.

A few weeks removed from the events of that night, I can still say that I shudder when I read the newspaper and think of how lousy it all seems lately. Those boy soldiers were kidnapped in 2006 and we're no closer to working out a deal? Sderoters are still getting bombed? Palestinians are still getting harassed by soldiers on their way to the hospital, or coming home from the store with new purchases (the dreaded washing machine story from Ha'aretz - I can't find the link to the story but it was a tale of abuse of power on the part of young soldiers - and this on a day that Natan had to go off to the Enlistment offices) and Gaza'ans have no freedoms. Doesn't anyone want to live differently in this part of the world?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Security Alert - Orange?

Received in my email box today.

"Warden Message -- Americans Reminded to be Security Conscious In Light
of Violence In the Gaza Strip
In light of the recent escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip,
American citizens are reminded to practice vigilant security awareness.
This includes maintaining a low profile, varying daily schedules and
routines, avoiding crowds and demonstrations and remaining alert for
people and objects that appear suspicious or out of place. While there
is no specific information indicating a threat to Americans or American
interests, there is the potential for heightened tensions. Random
checkpoints and closures of crossings from the West Bank into Israel
can be expected. In addition, planned and spontaneous demonstrations may
occur in Jerusalem, in the vicinity of the Old City and outlying areas.
American citizens are reminded of the current Travel Warning for Israel,
the West Bank and Gaza available at The
Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to carefully
consider the risks of travel to Israel, to defer unnecessary travel to
the West Bank and to avoid all travel to Gaza."

Yesterday, I had a meeting in Tzur Baher, a small Arab village right down the road from us (click link for map view) here in South Jerusalem. When I drive to Ramat Rahel to work out (almost daily), I turn right at RR and the cars heading to Tzur Baher turn left. My camp project, Shutaf, has been heating up as we attempt to come up with funds for the pre-Pesach camp and this summer as well. (I'm glad to report that we've had some lovely gifts from friends in Brooklyn and some in other places as well - for more information on how to get involved - you and your community, just pop me an email at We would like to involve the local Arab community - bring kids with special needs and their friends from local villages in our area and there are a few. Resources and needs are just as high there and as we all know, working together for our kids is not a bad thing. We've been chatting with a lovely social worker in Tzur Baher, Amahl and had planned a day visiting the school where she works - seeing the programming ideas she's implemented, and talking about feasibility of bringing in a group of kids to Shutaf. Unfortunately, she called to cancel, telling us that the mood of the kids at school was not a calm one given the IDF's incursion into Gaza and that we shouldn't come, it wouldn't be safe.

While I was happy that she had been thoughtful, and we will reschedule for next week to meet somewhere on our side of town - coffee, etc - I was disappointed. I guess I hoped that I would be able to make my small bit of difference, regardless of politics, emotions and ill will. I still think it's the work of ordinary people that will one day force their will on the government - somehow and someway - I was reminded of the facts on the ground and they're not easy ones. I can barely stomach reading the newspaper lately. I have my choice of anxiety, fear, destruction and death in Sderot and Ashkelone (where thankfully, the numbers aren't that bad) and complete and utter mayhem in Gaza. I know that negotiations probably continue on in secret but in truth, wonder what are we negotiating for? To continue to kill each other and make each other's lives miserable?

Natan received an invitation/order to go to an army meeting at the end of the month. It's a job connected with munitions - techie job having to do with modern military stuff. Might be interesting, he said 'if it wasn't the army.' While I am realistic about armies defending their civilians and countries defending their turf, I am reminded as always of Golda Meir's famous quote - 'We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours," but even a heart-rending quote like that becomes almost simplistic and naive in today's charged atmosphere of Hamas/Fatah/Israel and nobody seems to have an answer. What's with that?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Sylvester

It's 2008. Who can believe it? Don't you remember how you'd think about the year 2000. How old you'd be, what you might be doing, etc...Of course, the first big year like that was 1984 but that's really a long time ago and who remembers where I was that New Years (probably Beth Mann's house).

Was remembering the ghost of New Years past with some visitors currently in town - longtime camp buddy, Howie Feiwus and his wife, Michelle. We both remembered a New Year's of our youth at Avi Havivi's house with the requisite 'barfer' in the back room (all over the coats, yech) and sleeping on the floor in Avi's living room and waking up the next morning really early and getting the heck out of there, fast. Later years were more sedate...there was the New Year's dinner at Danny and Annemaureen for the Millenium, marked by altogether too much food, many courses, many hours of eating, resting, walking and eating again - galette des rois, my chestnut layer cake, Danny's campari and grapefuit sorbet (sorry, Lisa, can't remember what you made but I'm sure it was good). There was the New Year's that Ira and went to bed before midnight - not a tragedy really. Then, there was last night, our second New Year's event that we've thrown here in Jerusalem.

New Year's is sort of the 'bastard child' here. Many don't celebrate at all, especially in religious and conservative Jerusalem. As well, we live in a world where increasingly, the secular and seemingly benign holidays of our youth are not celebrated at all - Thanksgiving barely registers on the religious Jew's calendar and Xmas break is no longer an established tradition for all. Most kids at religous day schools in the Ortho world are off for their mid-winter break during the end of January. New Year's with it's associated St. Sylvester, although I assure you I had no idea of this connection until coming to Israel after college and heard people refer to New Year's as Sylvester (and even then, I think it was some years before I heard about St. Sylvester) puts people off as they are not comfortable with the connection. As well, it's not a holiday at all despite the fact that people do go out and certainly in Tel Aviv, that 'den of iniquity', it's a happening event. But let's be honest, knowing you have to get up the next day and put the kids on the bus, show up at work and generally function does put a damper on the festivities. A few of our guests have NEVER been to New Year's festivities. One friend, daughter of a prominent Orthodox Rabbi, who's a real modernist, said that her father felt very strongly that one should not celebrate the secular New Year's at all. She decided that at the age of 50 she could come to the party, enjoy and not worry about 'falling off the path.' She wasn't going to tell Mom and Dad about it though. Another friend, who grew up mostly here, has just never had the opportunity to do the 'New Year's thing.' But we all agreed that it was nice to party not on Shabbat. There is a dearth of non-Shabbat and holiday leisure time in this country and it gets boring to only entertain on Shabbat but with a busy 6 day work week, when can one make a party?

Last year, we had a few friends over and it was nice. This year, we went more for the gusto with an expanded guest list and had about 25 people last night for a really lovely party. One local wag commented that when she heard the noise of the party as she approached, she realized that it was from our house, a far cry from last year's more sedate party when, as she put it, 'we didn't know anybody!'

We had fun dips (Natan had a heavy hand on the chilies this year so the feta cheese and peppers was almost uneatable). We made Howard Solomon's Muhamara which is based on Paula Wolfert's recipe, and various munchies (thanks Miriam L for the spinach/cheese pie), accompanied by decent drinkables and good music d jay'ed by Natan. The desserts were quite exciting - as I had promised - Jess made a fab trifle (Nigella's recipe, watch her demo it here), Sheryl Abbey made apple pie (excellent crust) Debbie Perla made chocolate cheesecake, Natan and I, truffles, and Ira and I, passion fruit mousse parfaits - these were really great and if you want the recipe, we'll be blogging (give us a day or two) about it shortly. A couple of glasses of champagne and one really good bottle that was drunk on the sly - thanks Linda G - made it a really fun night.

Join us - Next year in J'lem.