Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Swearing in the Rain

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
-Burt Bacharach / Hal David 

...grant us abundant water.
For You Lord, our God, are Causer of the wind to blow and of the rain to fall
For a blessing and not for a curse. Amen
For life and not for death. Amen
For plenty and not for scarcity. 
-Jewish prayer for rain

For as long as I can remember, I have been a staunch and unwavering Zionist. I firmly believe in the Jewish right of self-determination, to settle, develop, and protect the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.

Growing up, my heroes were Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. 
And, of course, Ari Ben-Canaan. In fact, in was Ari who convinced me to make my life in Israel, and live among heroes. 

I've remained a Zionist throughout all the wars and terrorist attacks, and despite the filthy politics, the overcrowded hospitals, and the packed buses. 
I've been undeterred by the rudeness of government clerks, by the difficulties in language, or by noisy neighbors. 
Strikes, double parking, talking in movie theatres, and watching shoppers squeeze challah and open the cottage cheese container to sniff its freshness before purchasing has not shaken my support or made me regret my decision to raise my children in the Holy Land. 

The other day, my Israeli-born and raised daughter burst out of her room (quite a rare occurrence in itself) shouting 'it's raining!!', shoved shoes on her feet, a mask over her face, and ran outside, where she stood, face up, reveling in the coolness and novelty of rain in the desert. 

And this is where my Zionism comes crashing down. 

I hate rain. 

As a youngster in the Old Country, I experienced a lot of rain. It didn't really bother me then. Having wet hair freeze was a far bigger and more common problem then just having wet hair. 

That changed when I came to Israel. In my first winter as a volunteer on a kibbutz, I worked primarily outside. I don't remember the rain - lots of sun and wind, but not much rain. I guess I was still too thankful there was no snow to hate the rain. 
My, shall we say, distaste for rain seems to have begun when I was in University, in the center of the country. There, I remember, it rained a lot. 
Quite a lot. 
I think there was a full week where I didn't attend any classes at all because it was raining. Nobody expected me to go out in the rain, did they?  In the wet?? My shoes would get soggy. Luckily for me, my classmates did not hold by the same philosophy and would bemusedly hand over notes for lectures I missed (in exchange for either coffee or a bed to nap in for those who didn't live on campus). 

My roommates were not very happy I didn't take my turn to clean our dorm room because "it's raining!!! How can anyone wash the floor when it was raining? That's preposterous!!" 
I was serious then, though when I say it out loud today, I am beginning to understand their annoyance....

One time, one miserable rainy evening, I had to meet a friend in a place I was unfamiliar with. This was, obviously, long before cell phones and whatsapp, and sending 'locations'.  The bus driver left me in the middle of nowhere with vague directions ('it's over there' and waved his hand), and off I went in search of the right address. 

It was pouring. 
Coming down in buckets.
Raining the proverbial cats and dogs. 
Arks were sailing by. 
And I was walking alone in an unfamiliar area looking for a house that did not exist. 
Did I mention it was nighttime? and there were no streetlights. 

I wandered for about an hour looking for the house. I even knocked on doors asking for directions. Nobody knew anything. People did feel sorry for me and told me to go home. But I persevered. 
For naught. 
I never found the house.
It was then that my life-long aversion to rain was cemented firmly in place.  

But with this aversion comes immense guilt. 

Jewish prayers are filled with requests for rain because our Land is dependent on it. 
If rain doesn't fall in a timely manner, our rabbis will decree three fasts to pray for rain, and if it still doesn't fall, three more fasts. A drought is widely regarded as punishment for actions (or lack of actions).
We have little natural water supplies; a small lake or two, a few underwater aquifers, all of which are reliant on rainfall to be replenished. 
A popular national winter pastime is watching the level of the Kinneret rise (or fall). 
Israeli technology has made enormous strides in water usage, in desalination, in the treatment of brackish or grey water. Our knowhow is used around the world, battling desertification, water shortages, and agricultural challenges. We have deep respect for water sources - all of which are dependent on rainfall. In Israel, rain is, in essence, a matter of life or death. 
One can hardly be a passionate Zionist and, at the same time, dislike rain. 

I dislike rain. 

If I'm at work and it begins to rain, I frantically think of the laundry I left outside to dry now getting soaked and I will have to rewash it. If I'm at home, I have to GO OUTSIDE in the rain to bring in the laundry before it gets soaked and I have to rewash it. If I don't have any laundry drying then I think how I can't do laundry now until the rain stops. And why don't I simply use the dryer, you ask? Because it's raining. Don't bother me with your foolishness while it's raining.  

I think of the broom I left outside getting all wet. I imagine to myself that I will bring it into the house, forget it's wet, and try to sweep the living room where the grandkids ate cookies. I will get mud and leaves all over the floor. I imagine how much I will swear. I leave the broom outside to get wet. 
I swear anyway. 

I think of elderly people who are outside getting wet and I think of our holy soldiers standing in the rain guarding our Nation and our Land. Tears well up.  
I think of the feral cats and the homeless dogs who are searching for shelter and hope they aren't trying to get into my house. 
I think of the window I left open to air out the bedroom and dash to close it and find out it's too late. 
I think of all the chores that need to get done both inside and outside that aren't going to get done because it's raining for heaven sakes!!!
I think of new swear words. 

I feel treasonous, hypocritical, a traitor to the cause.
I tell myself that I will go and plant a tree to prove that I'm a good Zionist. 

It rains, my daughter skips happily along, splashing in puddles, face upturned, while I stay inside using up all my swear words and very glad that I live in a desert. 
Of course, I'm going to have to go out and plant a whole forest of trees to make up for this. 
But after it rains. 


Thursday, December 10, 2020

I Have a Little Family

There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of tears. We can curse the darkness or we can light a light, and as the Chassidim say, a little light drives out much darkness. May we all help light up the world.
—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l

Got no checkbooks, got no banks, still I’d like to express my thanks. I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night. 
—Irving Berlin

The candle of G-d is the soul of man  
—Proverbs 20:27

Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah. So much funukah. 
—Adam Sandler

For many years, I, like many olim (aka immigrants) in Israel, didn't have much extended family nearby. Over the years, the family has grown - either through aliya, marriage, or birth - at first slowly, but then seemingly by leaps and bounds. I, passionately and gratefully, welcome each new soul into the family.

Two years ago, I thought it was time to try and get all the family members together. By then, we were about 35 people of all ages and sizes, and locations throughout the Land, and together, we made a lot of noise.

The next year, we were about 39 people, with babies and significant others having been added to the mix.

This year, of course, has been different. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, our small family, like millions of other families across the globe, has not been able to get together.

Purim 2020 was celebrated in the shadow of the virus, but we didn't know then that it would be the last holiday ofthe year without restrictions and so we all celebrated in our own way, apart.
By Passover 2020, Israel was under strict lockdown with instructions to celebrate only with our own household.
There were no family summer vacations, Rosh HaShana and Sukkot were spent in a second lockdown, and we even had family weddings without the family.

It has not been a family-oriented year.

Tonight begins the last Jewish holiday of 2020. Chanukah (aka Ḥanukka, aka the Feast of Dedication, aka the Festival of Lights, aka the Feast of the Maccabees, aka the Feast of Fried Foods) is an eight-day holiday commemorating the (temporary) victory of the Maccabees over the Hellenist rulers of the Land of Israel over 2500 years ago. Its central symbol is the Chanukiya (aka [erroneously] the Menorah, aka a 9-branched candelabra), which we light each night, adding a candle each time.                                                                                                                                                     
I think they missed the point with this one

We also eat fried foods (which beats Matzah hands down).

A week or so ago, I began what I always do a week (or a month, or six months) before any holiday. I began to collect recipes and make shopping lists.

I have about 7435 different recipes for latkes (aka livivot, aka pancakes, aka fried bits of vegetables); I considered, once again, that this year, I would try to make my own sufganiyot (aka jam busters, aka jelly donuts, aka fried bits of dough with an astronomical amount of calories), or that, alternatively, we would splurge, and buy some really decadent little beauties. 

I planned to take down and dust off our collection of dreidels (aka sivivonim, aka spinning tops, aka bits of plastic that make holes in your feet when you tread on them); 

I even looked up games to play and decorations to make, and bought some shiny chocolate money (aka a way to bribe little children). 

I had so hoped that, after the second lockdown, we would be able to have a family Chanuka celebration, at least outdoors. This is Israel, not the Old Country, and the weather in December can be glorious.

But it is not to be. After a partial opening of the restrictions in late October, numbers immediately began going up again, and today, the 25th day of the month of Kislev, we are, once again, facing closures, curfews, and other limitations.

We can, of course, zoom the annual get-together. That would solve parking problems, food logistics, and prevent cake crumbs in the bedrooms. But zooming isn't great for babies, and the little ones aren't going to get to know each other via computer. Zooming with my own grownup kids (aka teatime), or with another group of adults (aka a meeting without cake) is one thing, zooming with 14 children under the age of 8 (aka the little ones, aka the future, aka chaos) is quite another. 

Many of my colleagues at work have been discussing how to get together with grandparents, cousins, brothers-in-law. Latkes don't taste the same if not shared widely.

Knowing I'm not the only one in this situation hasn't made it much easier.

It's all a bit disheartening (aka distressing, aka, depressing, aka dismal, etc. etc.). Why is this happening? When will it be over? How will we get through it?

Sleeping less and less, feeling more and more anxious and sad, I've done what I always do. I've turned to those wiser and stronger than I (aka our sages, [aka just about everyone]).

This week's Parsha VaYeshev (Torah portion) tells the story of the sale of Joseph by his brothers. It's a well-known story, and the drama leads, eventually, to Joseph's rise to power in Egypt, his family coming to live with him and multiplying, until, finally, the Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moshe and the creation of the People of Israel living in the Land of Israel. None of that would have happened if Joseph hadn't been sold by his brothers. It was all a plan, carefully crafted by God, to bring us to where we are today. 

How do we know it wasn't just a string of lucky coincidences leading to a random ending, which in turn, led to more random coincidences, and other random occurrences? The Torah answers this exact question: 
And a certain man found him, and, behold, he (Joseph) was wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying: 'What are you seeking?'
And he said: 'I seek my brethren. Tell me, I pray thee, where they are feeding the flock.'
And the man said: 'They are departed hence; for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.' And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
(Genesis. 37:15-17)

The Man is unnamed, yet takes up three verses. While Ibn Ezra tells us the man was a passer-by, Rashi tells us that he was an angel. Ramban says that “the Holy One, blessed be He, sent him a guide without his knowledge.”
In any case, our sages tell us, the man/angel was put there to ensure that Joseph would get to where he needed to be to secure God's ultimate plan to create His Nation. He wasn't a random stranger who happened to be there. 

We don't know why what is happening today is happening. We don't know when it's going to end. We don't know what the world will look like afterwards.

These are the things we do know:
1. According to our Holy Torah, there are no coincidences. 
2. Gam zu l'tova. This too is for the good, Rav Nachum Ish Gamzu tells us in the Talmud (Taanit 21a)
3. Whoever does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere (Kotzker Rebbe)
4. The salvation of God is like the blink of an eye. (Esther 4:17). 
5. God doesn't make mistakes.
6. If we put our trust in God, and know that this is not a mistake; that, in the end, this is also for the good; if we are grateful to be part of this story, and if we are able to alleviate even a small part of the darkness, then we will be living Godly, rich, and good lives.

This year, our small extended Israeli family has grown to 42 souls, having added three more members: 
a granddaughter, a great niece, and a niece-in-law.

I am beyond grateful. 

Happy Chanuka!!! (aka Chanuka Sameach!! aka חנוכה שמח!!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Pandemic Love

It was the time when they loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity. Life would still present them with other mortal trials, of course, but that no longer mattered: they were on the other shore. 
―Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

When they met, about a year and a half ago, the universe was acting as normally as it ever does. They flirted, they smiled, they hemmed and they hawed, they walked and they talked, and then it all clicked, just like every movie anyone had ever seen.

That’s not to say that there were never any problems; she liked huge parties, he worked late. He watched football games, she liked sitcoms and Monty Python. She was born in Israel, and he was a new immigrant. She liked shwarma and hamburgers, and, well, so did he. At least that.

But it clicked, and they were happy.

Within a short time, they made the decision, that, yes, this was it.

“But first”, she said, “I have to meet your family.”

A trip abroad was quickly arranged, and for six semi-rainy lovely days, the happy couple strolled the streets and parks and homes of Manchester, meeting with friends and family, eating mushy peas, and even taking in a football game.

They returned home on March 2, 2020 – election day in Israel, the third in 18 months.

They managed to get home in time to vote. (wasn’t THAT a waste of time.)

That weekend, she came to Beer Sheva to see her own family.

“The family in England”, she said, “is super nice. Yes, we’re going to get engaged, after the hoopla of Purim.

Unfortunately, by Purim, the universe was beginning to misbehave. There were more than 50 cases of Coronavirus in Israel, and the festivities were somewhat muted. She was able, however, to attend a few parties, drink a few drinks, see a few friends, and altogether enjoy the holiday.

On the Friday after Purim, on March 13, they went off to buy an engagement ring – all the way to the Diamond District in Ramat Gan. They found what they were looking for, but the proper salespeople were not available and they were told to come back in a week to try it on and make any adjustments necessary.

Five days later, on March 18, she (like hundreds of others across the country) was put into quarantine after attending a Purim party with an infected person.

Two days after that, on March 20, Israel entered its first lockdown. Schools, synagogues, most businesses, gyms, restaurants, cultural centers, national parks and forests, the airport, and more were shuttered. All shops (except essential services) were closed. The population was kept within 100 meters of their homes with instructions not to visit family or friends.

There was to be no more shopping for anything for quite a while.

The lockdown lifted only after Israel’s Independence Day, and by the first week of May, things began to get back to normal (which was to prove to be our downfall, but that is getting ahead of the story).

They took the first opportunity, and went with a friend to Ramat Gan, to pick up the ring, two months after choosing it.

A week later, on May 14, with the help of a couple of friends to set the scene, the question was officially popped, and she officially accepted. While nobody else was surprised at the question, she was. Ah! Romance.

Now that lockdown was over, and the pandemic contained – or so it was believed – things began to move quickly. Many couples who had delayed their weddings because of restrictions began to re-plan, and wedding halls and venues began to quickly fill up.

The first part of June was spent looking for a place for the wedding They saw five different venues in four days. Some were out in the desert, some were too small. Some they didn’t know what they looked like because the only time they could see them was at night, in the dark. They were all very expensive. Corona expensive.

Finally, a hall in a National Park, right outside of Jerusalem, was agreed upon. They decided to set the date for after the High Holidays, in the autumn. That way, the situation, vis-à-vis coronavirus, would definitely be under control, visitors from abroad would be able to enter the country without problems, and the weather would have cooled off from its summer heat, but it would still be too early for rain. Hopefully.

A contract was signed, and the date was set: October 21, for 250 people.

Shortly after, a photographer was lined up, a band was found, and she began dress fittings with a wedding dress designer she had located. They even arranged to have a wedding planner in case of last-minute changes, ‘because you never know, what with corona and all’. All was going according to plan.

Except for all the things that weren’t.

From July 9 until August 2, there were almost no Jewish weddings throughout Israel because of the ‘three weeks’ between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. During this period, the numbers of Covid-19 cases began to rise, slowly at first. When weddings recommenced, in early August, they were supposed to be held in ‘capsules’ (what other countries would call ‘bubbles’.) One was allowed to invite up to 300 people to a wedding (or any gathering), but the participants were required to be kept apart in capsules of twenty for eating and dancing. They were not to mix at all.

Hundreds of weddings and other events took place during the month of August in this way, and the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketed from a few hundred a day to a few thousand a day. More than 500 people died in the two summer months from Coronavirus, more than in the first four months of the pandemic.

Apparently, the capsules were not working.

Some restrictions began to be enforced.

By this time, it was obvious that a wedding of 250 people was not happening, and neither was a wedding of 100 people. There would be almost no guests from abroad, as Israel had never re-opened its borders, and there were few flights going in or out.

A guest list of 50 people was finalized.

By mid-September, cases had spiked to almost 10,000 a day. On Friday, September 11, the government of Israel proclaimed a second lockdown; it would begin on September 18 – erev Rosh HaShana – and last until after Sukkot—at the earliest. October 11 was the target date to re-open.

The couple moved into action. With one week to get all the tasks done before the shutdown, he went out on September 16, more than a month before wedding, and bought what he needed; shirts, a tie, a kittel, shoes, socks, a waistcoat (hey, he’s still British), and a spare ring, ‘just in case’ (his parents had the intended one, a family heirloom, back in England).

She spent the time packing up and moving boxes into the new apartment the couple had rented. She would not be allowed to move freely once lockdown came into effect, so her family came from Beer Sheva to help her move the heavier things.

It would be the last time they would see her before the wedding.

The second lockdown was to prove harsher than the first. Again, schools and synagogues were shuttered, shops closed up, restaurants could only provide delivery service, and most business were not operating. Movement would be limited to one kilometer from home. Gatherings of any kind were allowed for up to 20 people outside and 10 people inside. There were to be no exceptions.

Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot – the most important days of the Jewish calendar – were spent in Lockdown. Families were kept apart, prayer services were shortened and muted and limited to 20 participants, even in outside minyanim. There were no tourists visiting. The economy was taking a terrible beating. Movement was restricted, and there were only a few acceptable reasons to travel: shopping for essential goods that were not available within 1 km, medical treatments, assisting parents or other elderly or handicapped people, and attending a demonstration (which is apparently a god-given right in a democratic state). Roadblocks were set up by the police to stop people from traveling between cities.

Citizens across the country, tired, frustrated, scared, and angry, looked for ways to break the government decrees. Some simply ignored them and carried on as if there were no pandemic, holding enormous prayer services, mass meals, and huge noisy demonstrations. Others simply broke the law, getting sick and infecting others along the way. These people included members of the Knesset, government ministers, the Chief of Staff, and the head of the Israel Security Agency. By this time, there were over 2000 dead from Coronavirus in the State of Israel. 

Our couple knew that breaking the law wasn’t an option.  

Somewhere during this lockdown, it became apparent that traveling to a wedding was NOT on the list of reasons to travel; not for the parents, or the rabbi, or for the bride and groom. In practice, holding a wedding in the Land of Israel was illegal.

On October 1, two days after Yom Kippur, and halfway through the lockdown, the government announced that it was extending it for an additional four days, until the evening of October 14. In the meantime, it would be intensified; raising fines for not wearing a mask, putting up more roadblocks to stop travel, and sealing the airport to prevent Israelis from leaving (and coming back to) the country.

Airlines began cancelling their few flights.

With three weeks to go, it became more and more uncertain whether the original date for the wedding, October 21, could be met. Travel both within and to the country was prohibited. Gatherings of more than 20 people were illegal. Everything was sealed shut.

Sukkot passed quietly, and along with it, the date of the flight his parents were supposed to be on. With all the uncertainty, they had decided not to risk being stranded in the HolyLand and unable to leave.

On Sunday, October 11, the government made two announcements: a) They would be meeting on Tuesday, the 13th, to discuss exit strategies from the lockdown so as not to make the same mistakes they had made the first time, and b) the lockdown would be extended for another week, until Sunday, October 18.

At this point, everything was put on hold.

Until that moment, there had been hopes for a 50-person wedding. But, a week before the event, even that was acknowledged as not happening.

Suddenly, the first ray of hope shone through. On October 14, the day after the government met to decide on strategy, it was announced that traveling more than 1 km for a wedding was permitted.

His parents were immediately instructed to make arrangements, asap, to find a flight and get to Israel. However, as all non-citizens of Israel needed approval to enter the country, and as their original approval had lapsed along with their original flight, there were concerns that it would take more than a week to get the necessary paperwork done. The wedding was scheduled to be in exactly one week.

Plans began to be made for a postponement. Vendors were notified, emails were sent out, phone calls were made. The new provisional date was October 28, seven days late.

The second ray of hope shone. By the evening of that October 14, approval to enter the country had been received (an hour after the request had been made, with the help of friends and a member of Knesset), travel insurance had been procured, and flights for Monday, October 19 had been booked.

The wedding on October 21 was back on.

The final 20-person guest list was begun. There were to be no work colleagues, no high-school friends, no cousins, no aunts or uncles, no nieces or nephews. Her two sisters-in-law were put on the ‘we’ll see what we can do’ list. And then, the wedding planner, who had been advising and helping all along, made a suggestion.

“Have the chupa part of the wedding late in the afternoon, before sundown, with your family”, she advised. “Then, after dinner and a bit of dancing and sheva brachot, your families can leave. Invite another 20 people to come and take their place. That way, though there will never be more than 20 people at once, you will be able to have 40 people with you that evening.” Two guest lists were drawn up.

They also decided to LiveStream the wedding. That way all the people who couldn’t be invited could at least watch it in real time.

The vendors were all notified, emails were sent out, and phone calls were made. It might actually happen.

A few months previously, Israel had divided the world into Green and Red countries. The borders were closed to all non-citizens from any country with a few exceptions (such as attending a child’s wedding), and Israelis coming in from abroad were required to self-quarantine for 14 days if returning from a Red country (where the incidence of coronavirus was high), but were not required to if returning from a Green country (where it was low).

England was a Green country.

Be that as it may, on Thursday, October 15, the Facebook group ‘Brits in Israel’ had large capital letter announcements that FROM NOW ON, TRAVELERS FROM THE UK WOULD NEED TO ENTER A TWO-WEEK QUARANTINE.

They had one of two options: a) postpone the wedding for two weeks while the British family was in quarantine or b) forget it and let them miss the wedding altogether. Neither, however, were real options. Nobody was prepared to allow his parents not to attend the wedding and there was no point in postponing the wedding because the family, for various reasons, would not be able to go into quarantine.

This was a bit of a pickle.

A great deal of fancy language was heard.

However, by the afternoon of that day, the third ray of hope shone bright. It was ascertained, through the good offices of Israel’s ambassador to England, that while, yes, the UK had become a red country, the quarantine laws would not take effect for another week. The parents would be able to just squeak into the country.

Finally, path cleared, on Thursday evening, the young couple began to make plans for the Shabbat before the wedding; traditionally the groom has an aliya to the Torah, and the bride spends her last weekend of freedom with her friends.

That weekend was spent apart – he, quietly, with family friends, and she, much less quietly, with her roommate and others on the rooftop of her apartment.

On Sunday, October 18, three days before Wedding Day, they, along with their superstar wedding planner, swung into action. They toured various wedding venues including an Airbnb place in Mamilla, a Villa in Ramot that wasn’t actually available, a winery in the middle of nowhere overlooking a highway (the chupa being in the middle of the vineyard), and the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel in the center of the city. Having both an amazing view, and available parking, the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel was booked.

The 1000-meter limitation had officially expired that morning, as the first stage of lifting the lockdown came into effect, so that afternoon, she traveled from Jerusalem to Hod HaSharon (about an hour’s drive) for an experimental make-up session. On the way back, on the bus, she researched what kind of chupa and flowers and decorations she wanted on that rooftop. Late that evening, they discussed catering the meal with the hotel management. But it was too expensive, and they decided to look elsewhere for food.

On October 19, with two days to go, she picked up her dress (which had been finished a few weeks previously) and the customized zmirot books, finalized the flower arrangements and her own bouquet, and ordered food from a local restaurant, which agreed to deliver on the day at the required time. He ordered drinks for the party and went to work. That evening, she went to the Mikva, hopped over to the new apartment to find the things she would need for the next two days, and went home. He went to see his parents, who had, finally and successfully, arrived from England. By now, it was Monday, October 20, at 2:30 AM.

On October 20, the day before the wedding, she got her nails done, picked up the ketuba, went with the wedding planner to finalize details at the hotel, and then went back to the new apartment to pick up key rings (gifts for the guests), lighted bottles, zmirot books, and the drinks needed for the wedding, and load everything into the car.

And with that final task done, all preparations for the wedding were finished. All details were finalized, all the T’s crossed, and the I’s dotted.

Except for the problem with the ketuba. It had the wrong date on it because it had been decided to have the wedding before sunset instead of after. A few phone calls between the Rabbi and Tzohar fixed that.

And then it rained. Blessed rain fell for an hour on the city, including on the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel.

That evening, they had nothing to do.

She watched an old movie on her phone because her computer was in the new apartment, and he watched Manchester United play against PSG in the Champions League, because why not.

On Wednesday, the third day of the Month of MarCheshvan (October 21), at about 5 PM, overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem, in the presence of four parents, six siblings and two sisters-in-law, one rabbi, two witnesses and two of her oldest friends, two musicians, and two photographers, and watched on Live Stream by several hundred people around the world, they got married.

It was worth it. 


Monday, October 5, 2020

Man Plans

But little Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often awry, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy
—To a Mouse by Robert Burns (Standard English Translation) 

 מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט
Man plans and God laughs
Yiddish saying

Inherently, I am an organized person. Sometimes, it's difficult to see that by the state of my closets and email inbox, but hey. 

I'm all about lists, and timetables, and plans. I plan out my week on Saturday night, and know what day I'm going to wash the whites, and what day I'm going to iron. I know which child has to be where and when.  I'm not one of those who forgets to buy dishwashing liquid, or ground nuts. I might, occasionally, forget that I did buy more paprika and now have 14 bags of the stuff in my cupboard. I also might not remember the name of any child offhand. But hey. 

I like to be prepared. For just about anything. 15 people coming for Shabbat? No problem, I will always have enough flour and chocolate chips to make cookies. Kid suddenly remembers he needs clean socks for reserve duty? I will have enough detergent and fabric softener handy for the entire IDF. 

That's all small on me, as they say in Hebrew. 

Therefore, the first COVID-based Lockdown in March threw me for a loop. I was NOT prepared. I was also torn between the primeval instinct to stock up on cookies and macaroni and the need to get rid of all the chametz before Pesach. It was soul-wrenching.

Somehow, I survived. With my soul only slightly damaged, after the lockdown ended in May, I swore, in the words of Scarlet O'Hara, that as God is my witness, I will never go unprepared again!

I spent the summer preparing. For any eventuality. 

Here, in the Holy Land, at the end of May 2020, our numbers vis-a-vis COVID were very low, and there was lots of room for optimism. We thought that by the autumn holidays we would be almost back to normal. We even had hopes that we would have guests from abroad. 

Quickly looking at a calendar, I saw that from Rosh HaShana on, we were going to have six special weekends in a row - either holiday weekends, or private happy occasion weekends. Six Shabbatot in a row were marked off. 

I began my preparations for those Six Shabbatot by opening up an excel file.
I began to make my lists.
So far, so good.
I began to shop.

I decided that I would buy enough over the summer, while stocks were plentiful and I was healthy, to last for the Six Shabbatot that were coming. That way, if there were any last minute shortages of say, soy sauce, I would have enough to tide us over*. And if I had to go into quarantine or, God forbid, I became sick, my kids would not have to worry about going without corn flour or baking powder.

(*Over Pesach, there were severe shortages of eggs. Afterwards, there were shortages of brown sugar. And there has been an intermittent shortage of butter for over a year. )

I scoured for sales. I made numerous lists of pantry ingredients that were mandatory to have; Canned pineapple and tomato sauce, crushed almonds and pickles. 

I bought two large bags of cocoa. 

Barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, tabasco sauce, and silan. Rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, and regular vinegar to clean vegetables. Bread flour, whole wheat flour, pizza flour, and cake flour. 

It was with the oil that things began to go awry. Canola oil was on sale, so I bought three bottles. And then three more. I used up one bottle, so I bought three more. And ten kilo of flour. And six more bottles of soy sauce. And fifteen bags of pasta (hey! they were five bags for ten shekels!). My cupboards were full of cans of mushrooms (three cans for 9.5 shekel - I bought 12 cans) and mini corn, my freezer full of frozen broccoli and artichoke bottoms. I have no idea what to do with artichoke bottoms but hey. They were on sale. 

In the meantime, I was creating menus for the Six happy Shabbatot that were rapidly approaching. I jotted down recipes that I had never tried because I had bought a bag of lima beans. I had nine bags of rice - Persian, basmati, and jasmine, just in case I decided to make rice for each of the Six Shabbatot, (not nine of EACH - that would be ridiculous). I also had three bags of bulgur, four bags of oatmeal, one bag each of barley and buckwheat, and three bags of quinoa for the guest with celiac. 

By the end of summer and seven bags of dark brown sugar, three of light brown sugar, five of icing sugar, and ten of white sugar (I used one white sugar, so I bought six more) later, I began to realize that those Six Shabbatot in a row might not work out exactly as planned. It had long been evident that there would be no guests coming from abroad any time soon, and a week before Rosh HaShana, we discovered that we weren't going to have any guests from Israel either, as we headed into a second lockdown. 

We are now exactly half way through those magical special Six Shabbatot. 

I would like to state that my planning and preparations have allowed me to enjoy these times. I would like it to be known that I am under no stress, no anxiety, no self-recriminations.

I would also like to declare that I used up all eight jars of chicken seasoning and sixteen rolls of paper towels, and that all my kitchen cupboards open without sacks of walnuts falling on my head and close again without having to rearrange the bottles of juice concentrate and bags of bread crumbs. 

I would also like to think that I have not utterly lost my mind. 

But hey. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

What's left?

I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.
—Erma Bombeck

Acts of kindness are greater than charity since they can be done for both the rich and poor
Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon [Maimonides])

Rosh HaShana - the Jewish New Year - is arguably the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It's packed with ritual, symbolism, community, family, and more. 

Yet Rosh HaShana has different meaning for different people. 

For some people the most important part of the day is the prayer services. Not prayer, per se, but the services: How long each part takes; who sings in key and who doesn't; what tune is used for which Psalm, and why that one?? Nobody knows that one! Why don't they use the tune I learned in Grade 4?; Who takes too long and who hurries along too fast and nobody can keep up; which shul has the best Shofar blower, maybe we should go there. 

For other people, new clothes are what makes the holiday. The entire family is kitted out in brand new apparel, from shoes to hats. It's important to them to have something new for the holiday, and they go to shul walking tall (if stiffly in the new shoes). I understand that, in some parts of Old Countries, new clothes were very important for the Tashlich service of the holiday, when friends gathered together to walk to the nearest source of fresh water. It was a see and be seen sort of situation, where new alliances were made, and therefore, looking one's best was paramount. Here, in the Holy Land, where fresh sources of water are not exactly abundant and we usually complete tashlich in the nearest available sink, this custom is somewhat less social and more ritual. 

What we do have here in Israel, and what is perhaps the most important aspect of the holiday to many families, is gift giving. Most employers give gifts to their employees prior to the holiday, which can range from a bottle of wine and a box of chocolate to an expensive set of pots or a slide set for the kids. Over the years, we've received such items as a bread maker and an air fryer, sheets, a slow cooker, a set of carving knives, and bottles of whiskey. There's even a hammock somewhere in our house. This year, I got a steam iron (I hate ironing) and a boom box. My son received a gas grill. 

Some people choose their place of employment by what they receive on Rosh HaShana. Why work for someone who is going to give you a set of books on gardening, when you can work for someone who is going to give you a necklace, bracelet, and earring set? 

In addition, for the entire month before the holiday, stores are full to bursting with merchandise to purchase as gifts for your nearest and dearest. There is even a gift fair where I work, where craftsmen of various kinds set up booths to sell name plaques, wooden toys, handbags, flavored coffee and tea, halva, embroidered bibs, and crazy socks.  Gifts for your mother, gifts for your father-in-law, gifts for your cousin's neighbor who once said good morning to you. To everyone's credit, the emphasis really is on giving rather than receiving. 

Family is very important on any holiday. My co-workers report on family dinners of 50, 75, even 100 people. Sometimes, they gather in a restaurant, but more often, they gather in Grandma's 56 meter apartment, everyone bringing their signature dish and their own chairs. They share gossip, laughter, fights, 'why aren't you married yet', 'why are you still married to that good-for-nothing', 'have some (fill in the name of some cultural delicacy the ingredients of which comprise a dead animal, an onion, flour, and a drop of lemon juice that makes all the difference) you-know-mine-is-better-than-your-mother's-don't-tell-her-I-said-that'. There are cute babies, and your cousin's horrid 11-year-old kicking you under the table, and Uncle Yankele who always falls asleep at the table despite Aunt Yenta's best efforts at keeping him awake (NU YANKELE, WAKE UP, DON'T BE RUDE. AS IF YOU DIDN'T SLEEP TWO HOURS THIS AFTERNOON WHILE I MADE THIS STUFFED KISHKE YOU DON'T GET ANYTHING LIKE THIS IN ANY FANCY RESTAURANT.) 

For me, personally, Rosh HaShana has always been about the food. 

I grew up with a mother, of blessed memory, who would spend weeks preparing gefilte fish, blintzes and knishes, chopped liver, four different kinds of chicken, a turkey, and honey cake(s).  She would bring more and more food out to guests from her bottomless kitchen until at least two belt buckles burst open. Only then would she be satisfied that she had enough food. She herself never ate anything until the last guest had gone, holding a bag of leftovers in one hand and their pants up with the other.  

While, I do not have exactly the same experiences as my mother did, I still can't fathom friends' Facebook posts I see a day before the holiday asking for a honey cake recipe, or saying they will begin to cook that evening so they will be off Facebook for a few hours, or (astonishingly) that Rosh HaShana is tomorrow and they haven't even gone shopping yet!!! 

In a disorganized year, I begin my Rosh HaShana Excel file the day after Tisha b'Av (six weeks before). In a good year, it's the day after Pesach. I have separate pages for ingredients to buy, recipes to try (and alternate recipes when I fail), meal plans, guest lists, a list of 'simanim', seating arrangements, and napkin folding options. 

Shopping takes numerous trips and various stores. Ingredients crowd my kitchen cupboards so the doors don't close, and my freezer is full of frozen meats by the end of summer. 

While I might have as many people in my house as my mother, none of them are knish eaters, which is for the best, as I am not a knish maker. But I don't feel comfortable unless there are four kinds of cake, three kinds of cookies, seven different salads, fourteen different vegetable side dishes, and soup. and pickles. and humous and tehina, because, hey, this is Israel.  

I get a bit of flak on the amount of food I prepare and serve. But, to me, it's the food that makes the holiday, and I honestly can't help myself. Also, my mother, along with how to make chicken soup, taught me the art of freezing. I don't have to cook again for weeks. 

Rosh HaShana 5781 was a very special event. Israel, being in lockdown, looked drastically different. Many shuls were closed, and those that were open had a much smaller attendance (our own shul struggled with a minyan, having asked people to make up their own in members' yards). How long the services lasted and who sang which tunes in or out of key became irrelevant. Same with showing off new clothes; nobody was around to see them. Many people didn't even leave the house. As for large family gatherings, most people are being cautious and not meeting in groups. Gifts from work were still forthcoming, but if you weren't seeing your mother-in-law for chag, there was no need for extensive gift giving. And while I still made a massive amount of food, our small family didn't make a dent in it. 

After all this, what's left of the holiday? 

Once communal prayer, gifts, family, and food have been eliminated, what remains? 

After we brush away the non-essentials, we can see what endures. 

Faith and Hope in a new beginning remain.

Generosity remains. 

Tolerance remains.

Kindness remains. 

Forgiveness remains. 

Let's make this year count. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

This Extraordinary Year

When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.
-Alexander Graham Bell

Our future depends on our ability to see beyond ourselves and to deal responsibly and with tolerance for those around us in a true sense of mutual responsibility.
-Reuven (Ruvy) Rivlin, President of the State of Israel

These days, my blood pressure is a little bit higher, my anxiety a bit greater, my nights are a bit more sleepless, and my level of tolerance is a bit lower (hahahahaha, really much MUCH lower, but hey).
This past year has not gone exactly as anyone expected (except maybe, as has been stated repeatedly, Stephen King). 

Some of the more ridiculous things that happened this year, and that perhaps have been forgotten, include killer hornetsdoped up Italian pigs, (almost) crashing meteors, Megxit, missing stars, and the death of Mr. Planters Peanut.

And there are still almost four more months left of 2020, which, so far, has been 32 years long.

The Holy Land is going through a tumultuous time, right now. 
With weekly protests getting out of hand, our ginormous government - established for the sole purpose of combating the coronavirus - is utterly dysfunctional; Israel has highest daily rate in world, per capita, of new corona infections,

In addition, local temperatures just hit the highest they've been in a 100 years.  

What can I say - we have always prided ourselves on setting world records. 

The good news is that there is less than a week left of the Jewish year 5780. In just a few more days, Rosh HaShana will mark a new year, a new beginning.  

Of course, it is still unclear how we will be celebrating the Holiday itself. A lockdown is set to go into effect just before the holiday. However, nobody is sure exactly how severe it will be. Will the kids be allowed to come home, and return to their own place again?  Will we be allowed to go to shul? How many will be allowed to gather inside? outside? In any case, do I want to take the chance?

And most important, as I don't know how many people I will be feeding, will I need more humus?

But hardest of all is trying to come to terms with what the Holidays - those momentous, grave, solemn, intense, extraordinary, Days of Awe - will look like this year. 
Where is the meaning in community prayers when synagogues across the globe are shuttered or, at least, limited in number? 
What does community even mean, now, when all those events that brought friends and family together have been curtailed, curbed, contained. 
No more massive bar/bat mitzvah parties or weddings for 600 people; no baby britot for 350 of the baby's nearest and dearest.  No more shared laughter and joy and celebration. On the other side, there is no support at funerals or shivas, when numbers are limited. 

How do I ask or find forgiveness from people I haven't even seen in 7 months? 

Worse, how do I give to friends when I can't even see them? 

How do I find sense in a senseless situation? 

A year ago, during the Jewish month of Elul, I signed up to a whatsapp group for a daily lesson about repentance, forgiveness, spirituality, moving forward, and what it really means to be Jewish (spoiler - it's not just refraining from eating bacon). 
I listened to the talk every day for the 40 days (not including Shabbat or chag) from the first of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur. 
The talks were inspiring, meaningful, even - to a certain extent - helpful. 
Last year, I found forgiveness by forgiving myself, and then, instead of concentrating on developing characteristics I do not have, I decided to concentrate on improving the ones I do. (It's an ongoing process - at times more successful and at times less.) 

Perhaps if I apply the same principle to my dilemma this year, I'll find meaning. 
Instead of concentrating on what has been taken from me, maybe I should be concentrating on what I do have - both the things that I have never paid attention to, and the things that have been uncovered since the facade of normal life has been stripped away.

There's what to work on, because I am, admittedly and ashamedly, a complainer. 
I complain when it's too hot (nine months of the year); when it's too cold (2.5 months of the year); when the dishes are left on the side of the sink and not in the sink; when cupboards are left open; and when a huge container is put back into the fridge with 3.2 noodles and a dab of cheese sauce in it. I complain both when it rains, and when it's dry and dusty. I complain when I can't sleep, and then I complain that I've run out of coffee. I complain that the kids are driving me crazy and I complain when I don't see them. I complain when they don't eat and also when they finish all the food, and I have to go out shopping again and I hate shopping. 
I also complain when there is a lock down, and the stores are closed. But, hey. 

More than 20 years ago, I read the book The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, which tells the autobiographical story of the ten Booms, a Dutch family of watchmakers, during World War Two. At one point in the book, Corrie and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Devout Christians, Betsie began each day in the camp in prayer, with a list of things to be grateful for. When she added 'fleas' to the list, Corrie protested. "How can we be grateful for fleas?" she grumbled. But she dutifully bent her head and thanked God for the fleas.  

This philosophy of giving thanks even for fleas is actually a Jewish concept. Rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzu -  one of the teachers  of the famed Rabbi Akiva - is credited with having coined the phrase גם זו לטובה -  This, too, is for the best. 
Everything happens, says Rav Gamzu, for a reason, both the good and the seemingly bad. Sometimes we can understand that reason, and sometimes we cannot. Our task is to acknowledge that everything that God does is, ultimately, for the good. 

It was only after the war that Corrie ten Boom discovered  that, because of the fleas, and a deep-seated fear of disease, the Nazi guards would leave the groups of women alone, giving them the opportunities they needed, not only to pray and laugh and plan together, but to steal food and smuggle provisions into the camp. The fleas ultimately helped save Corrie's life. (Not so Betsie - she tragically died in the camp, but only after giving Corrie her life's mission.)

If we're lucky, the reason for certain events might eventually become clear. If we're REALLY lucky, it might even be immediate.  Bummed is the person who has missed his bus, but being late causes him to meet his future spouse.  Not getting the job you were after, sometimes allows you to get an even better, more glamorous, and well-paid one. We've all seen the movies.
Mostly , however, it's impossible to understand the suffering and the pain that sometimes - now - surrounds us. Frequently, only the passage of time, sometimes millennia, allows us to understand.

This is where faith steps in.    

A door closes, a window opens. The trick is to notice the window, and stop trying to open the closed door. 

So let's remember the good news that is also happening all around us. 
Cannabis is falling from the sky, Yotvata dairy has introduced Bazooka flavored milk (!) and peace in the Middle East might actually be possible. 
Today, the temperatures are somewhat cooler than yesterday. 
All the noodles got eaten and the large bowl is in the sink. 
We are heading into one of the two weeks of beautiful weather.

A new, undamaged, year is in sight. 

Lets open all the windows. It's a whole new world out there. 

May civilization be merited to have a good and sweet year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Instead of heading for a big mental breakdown, I decided to have a small breakdown every Tuesday evening.
― Graham Parke

We are more than halfway through 2020, if this makes anyone feel better. 
Every morning, when I arrive at work, people - nice people, caring people, bored people - ask me how I am. 
I always answer 'good good, all is good'. 
Because really, all is fine. I have a job, there's food in the fridge, cookies in the cupboard, my office is air conditioned, and we have unlimited internet at home, so I can watch all the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural I want. 
Oh, and I and my family are all, thank God, healthy. 

So all is GOOD. 
Until I saw this meme. 

It was like, 'oh right, that stuff'. 

Five months into it, this world-wide pandemic has taken its toll. 

It's fashionable to blame Covid-19, but the truth is, there is always something that causes me to be on the verge of a mental breakdown and drink too much coffee. Sometimes, it's a toddler who poops on the floor, and sometimes it's rockets falling on my house. Occasionally, it's something as serious as being told that a new, time-consuming recipe I tried out is 'interesting'. 

These days, however, I feel my mental health slipping every time I go into a supermarket. There, I'm confronted by people - both employees and shoppers - who think they are living in 2019, but the latest fashions, instead of being bucket hats and over-sized clothing, are chin guards, and dangling cloth earrings. 

There are others who are too hip, too cool, too fashioned-oriented, too beautiful, to wear even a chin guard, even on their wrist. After all, a tiny Coronavirus couldn't possibly stand a chance against the hipness, coolness, and fashionableness of the young lady who stood next to me in line, breathing down my neck - and who was horrified when I asked her to please stand back as she's not wearing a mask. She was wearing skinny jeans and tiny little shirt; a mask just wouldn't suit the look. What was I thinking?

There was one dude who entered the supermarket, masked and gloved. He took advantage of the disinfectant wipes the store provides and wiped down every inch of his trolley. Each rod - front, back and sides - the handle bar, and even the small extra bit at the bottom where you put the toilet paper was carefully and scrupulously wiped down. I watched it all, mostly because he was blocking the entry aisle and I couldn't pass. But hey.
He finally finished sanitizing his shopping trolley. It probably hadn't been so clean since it was a wee wagon back in the Old Country. He began his journey into the store. 
And then, the dude suddenly stopped, 
tugged his mask off, 
and sneezed. 
On his shopping trolley. 
But hey.

At work, I sit in a sort of semi Adolf Eichmann glass booth, with plexiglass on two sides of me, and a wall on the third. Behind me is empty space where colleagues sneak up on me to ask for coffee cups and paper clips. 

In theory, due to the 'situation', there is no reception, i.e., no outsiders are supposed to come into the office. That is largely the case (outside communication is done via whatsapp, email, fax, and [gasp] phone calls - depending on the communicators' ages), but there are instances when people come in - the postman, the computer guy, the supermarket delivery kids. Each time someone enters, I eye them, safe inside my Eichmann cubbyhole, to see if they are suitably masked. Sometimes they are;  usually they are not. And plexiglass or not, my mental health slips another notch. 

"Please put a mask on," I frequently request - depending on the size of the person and how long they intend on staying.
Sometimes they do. Sometimes they look annoyed. They never look embarrassed. They always, always, look surprised. 
But hey. 

I'm at a loss. My social media feed, the newspapers I read, the news I watch are all filled with articles and stories and videos of the importance of wearing a mask. Coronavirus is airborne. We breathe it in. The cells multiply in our noses. When we exhale - or worse, cough or (heaven help us) sneeze - the virus is flung into the air where it is inhaled by the next person. 
THE MASKS, if worn correctly on mouth and nose, STOP THIS CHAIN OF EVENTS. 
It really isn't rocket science. And I know what rocket science is. I work in a University. 

In all the wars and uprisings and terrorist attacks I've lived through, I always experienced substantial fear and uncertainty. I have been distressed and anxious and utterly heartbroken far too many times.  I have suffered from more than my share of sleepless nights over the years. 
But I always had trust and faith in the Israeli army to defend us; in my fellow citizens and the Jewish nation as a whole to support and help each other; and complete belief that God was overseeing us all. 

We are now in the middle of the 'nine days' - the days from the First of the Jewish month of Av until the 9th of the month. These days are traditionally set aside as 'days of mourning', when we grieve the destruction of our Holy Temples and the exile from our Holy Land. We mourn the millions who have been murdered, throughout the millennia, martyred sanctifying God's name. 

Our sages tell us that the Temples were destroyed due to discord between the people. 

Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.

Our sages further tell us:
"There are four Midot (levels) among people: one who says "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" that's an average Midah. Some say that is the Midah of Sodom. "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is an am ha'arets (ignoramus). "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a pious person. "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine" is a wicked person."  Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 5:10

Because people were not kind, or thoughtful, or generous to one another, the Temple was destroyed and the Land ravaged. The nation was scattered to the four corners of the earth. We are only now, 2000 years later, beginning our miraculous return to our Land. 

Most of us, good, caring, bored people, are at the level of "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours." This, according to our sages, was the level of Sodom - and we all know what happened to Sodom. 
Our goal, we are told, is to put others before ourselves. "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours." 

Maybe what we are going through is a test. Today's situation puts not only my mental health, but my very life - even from the inside of my Eichmann glass booth - and the lives of my family, to whom I go home, at, to borrow a phrase, the mercy of strangers (and even friends); people who 'can't be bothered', 'who have had enough', who find it 'too difficult', who insist that 'life must go on'. 

In these days of political unrest, of inept and corrupt leaders, of economic meltdown, of disease and famine and death, maybe now the time has come, finally, to think of others before ourselves; to put our friends' and neighbours' concerns ahead of our own comfort; to be kind and generous and compassionate. 

It really is in our hands.