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.