Thursday, September 20, 2018

Goodness Graciousness

Life is measured in love and positive contributions and moments of grace
-Carly Fiorina

If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?
– Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely
-Ogden Nash

One of the more lovely aspects of living in Israel, besides having only one Pesach seder, is the ability to celebrate one's birthday, not only twice (once by the Hebrew calendar, and once by the Gregorian calendar) but throughout the entire stretch of time between  the two days.
This period has aptly been named the Birthday Chol HaMoed, and can range in time from zero days (every 19 years the two calendars match up again) to up to three weeks.
Birthday greetings, balloons, presents, and, most importantly, Birthday Cake can be enjoyed every day of the Birthday Chol HaMoed without guilt (or calories), and with much glee.


Because my birthday (both Hebrew and Gregorian) falls sometime within the Chagim period, it often got overlooked when I was growing up. Sometimes birthday cake was served at the adjacent holiday dinner, sometimes on the birthday itself, and sometimes, not at all. It depended on how stressed my mother was. To be honest, I never cared. There was always a lot of cake in my house, whether it was for a birthday or not.

And so I grew up with little regard for birthdays. It was only as an adult that I understood how important they were to some other people, and how hurt someone would get if you didn't make a Very Big Deal out of their birthday. It amused me, as if the birthday person had done ANYTHING, besides, of course, cause his or her mother a great deal of pain, to deserve being made a big deal of.

But so it is; birthdays, it turns out, can be a Big Deal.

This year, I have a relatively long Birthday Chol HaMoed, almost two weeks. And I've decided to turn it into a Big Deal.

I decided this because of gematriya.
Gematriya is the practice of giving numerical value to Hebrew letters, and thereby giving meaning to certain numbers, or to words with the same gematriya.

A prime example of how gematriya is used in the Jewish world (without anyone even realizing it) is the word 'chai' (חי). In gematriya, chai, which means life, has the numerical value of  18 . It is standard practice in Jewish households, especially in North America - less so in Israel and Europe - to give gifts in multiples of 18, i.e., 18, 36 or 52 dollars. This symbolizes that the recipient should be blessed with life - chai.

I looked up my age in gematriya, i.e., what words, in Hebrew, add up to the numerical value of my age.
The first word to come up was  madig (מדאיג), which means worrisome.
Hmmm. I don't need reminders to worry, thank you.

Another word with the same numerical value is halevai!! (and yes, with exclamation marks, it can only be said with exclamation marks). Halevai!! means 'if only', as in:
Neighbor: "Are you going to Hawaii this year for the Chagim?
Me: Halevai!!!  But I have to host 267 people and stay home and wash dishes.
or
Friend: "Let's go out for coffee".
Me: "Halevai!!! But I have to wash dishes."

I don't think I want my year to be a Halevai!!!! year.

Then it came to me that this year is my 'chen' (חן) birthday. The letters of the word chen, in gematriya, have the numerical value of my age, as of this week.

A direct translation of  chen from Hebrew into English would be grace, or charm, or graciousness but, in fact, chen, like so many other Hebrew words, has no real English equivalent.

In the book of Proverbs we find:
Grace (chen) is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears God, she shall be praised.  
שֶׁקֶר הַחֵן, וְהֶבֶל הַיֹּפִי: אִשָּׁה יִרְאַת-ה', הִיא תִתְהַלָּל.  (Proverbs 31;30)

It seems from this that chen is not necessarily something positive.

On the other hand, the book of Genesis tells us that
Noah found grace (chen) in the eyes of God.
 'וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי ה (Genesis 6:8)

Here, Noah clearly has some je ne s'ais quoi that God saw, which allows him to be saved. 

The Kabbalah defines chen as kindness, gentleness, pleasantness, and beauty—qualities that are not only attractive, but desirable.

So it seems that Proverbs is taking the grace/charm definition, while Genesis is taking the Kabbalistic definition.

Even on my best days, I decidedly do not possess grace or charm or graciousness, and, unfortunately, am often not kind or gentle or pleasant, and certainly not when I have to wash 267 dishes.

But a girl can try.


Over the years, as Hebrew has evolved, chen has come to mean both a physical beauty and an inner beauty, one that is not so easily recognized. It also means the ability to recognize another's inner beauty, and the beauty in all situations even, or especially, when that beauty is not so discernable.

Here's another thing about a birthday in Israel. The birthday person has the ability to bless others with good wishes. (Of course, everyone has this ability every day, but it's more, shall we say, potent on one's birthday.)

So, yes, in this coming year, I'm going to make a decided effort to be more pleasant (smiles don't cost money), more gentle (we never know what people are going through - it's always best to speak and behave with gentleness), and kinder (the world can only be improved through random acts of kindness).  Please remind me of this.

In addition – this is where the Big Deal comes in, because I usually don't do things like this – I am going to use my birthday Chol HaMoed to bless/pray/wish/hope that we all encounter only beauty, and kindness, and graciousness – that all of Am Yisrael should all have a year of Chen.

And birthday cake. Let's not forget birthday cake.












Friday, September 14, 2018

Much To Do About Nothing

Don't worry...the world won't end today.
I've put it on my 'To Do' list for tomorrow.
― Anthony T. Hincks

Every day, I begin my workday by checking my emails.  And, every workday, after I have checked them, I ignore them until I have checked my Facebook page, my private emails, how many likes I received on previous blogposts, read my horoscope, messaged my kids, chatted to everyone in the office, and drank a couple of pots of coffee. (In fact, I have a whole list of things to do at work before I actually do any work.)
The other day, having just returned from the long weekend of Rosh HaShana, and even though there were five days worth of emails, there was nothing pressing, so after I checked everything I needed to check and drank three pots of coffee, I began writing out my TO-DO list for the coming days.

This is where it all falls apart.

When there is a great deal of work to do around the house, as there is during the 'Chagim' (the Jewish holidays that fall, one after another, during the early autumn) the only way I can cope is by writing out lists. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off the daily to-do lists.
Therefore, I write separate lists for everything: things to clean (divided into rooms); food to buy (by groupings - fruits, vegetables, dry goods, spices, drinks, meat, cocktails), tasks to complete (listed in order of dislike - ironing is always last).

But despite all these lists, somehow, I always forget something.

I go to the supermarket with a list as long as a Stephen King novel (but scarier), and conscientiously tick things off the list as I take items off the shelves. But when I get home, I find I forgot to list mayonnaise. Or paprika. Or a can of mini corn. Or fabric softener. (Which would make 3,467 days in a row that I forgot to buy fabric softener.)
I send a kid to the local corner store, where prices are, on average, 6.8 times higher than the supermarket I just left, to buy the missing item.
The kid asks "What else do you need?" I answer, "Just steak spice, I have everything else I need." The kid comes back with the steak spice just as the next kid is leaving to go buy the vanilla pudding I need to put in the gluten-free cookies that I put on my What to Bake list, but forgot to put on the Gluten-Free Ingredients I Need to Buy' list.
By coincidence, just as the second kid has left,  the out-of-town kid  phones to ask what she should bring. I tell her "oh I have everything I need!! But if you happen to come across, in your travels, some fresh oregano, I would be grateful."

I begin a new list: Things I've Forgotten To Buy. This list can sometimes get quite lengthy, but usually, I forget exactly what it is I've forgotten.

In the midst of all the shopping and meal planning, the house has to be cleaned. This area of housework does not faze me. I write out - usually on the backs of printed recipes of dishes I will never make (what was I thinking??? Also, I forgot to buy pesto) - lengthy, detailed lists of tasks to be done. Then I leave the lists in public places around the house where other people will find them.

Back in the kitchen, after all the ingredients have been sorted, next comes the task of baking/cooking. I first have to put things in order; which pots are needed for what dish, which baking pans I will need, in what order to cook each dish. I glance through my lists: What to Bake, Which Chicken/Schnitzel/Meat is the Easiest to Make, Vegetables Kids Like and Vegetables Kids Don't Like (the second part of that list took me quite a chunk of my workday to complete), Desserts (a surprisingly short list consisting of ice cream [bought - I must remember to put that on the Things I've Forgotten To Buy list] and canned fruit salad [which I, in fact, remembered ticking off my list with great satisfaction]).
But all my plans come to a screeching halt as I left my What Pots and Pans I Have list at work.
Which is good. Because I forgot to buy balsamic vinegar.

And I've run out of kids.


Monday, August 27, 2018

How Do You Like It So Far?

And the Lord said to Abram," Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the Land that I will show you; 
And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and you shall be a blessing; 
and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you." 
-Genesis 12:1-3

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart, 
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost;
To be a free people in our Land,
The Land of Zion and Jerusalem
- HaTikva (The Hope) National Anthem of Israel

Once again, over the past 4 months, it looked like Israel was facing another summer war. It's now late in the summer, so we seemed to have staved it off for now, and are facing, instead another winter war...

I would like to say that this would have been my 3rd war, or 4th war, or 10th war since I came to live in Israel, but the truth is, I've lost count. It's also very hard to define an Israeli war.

I've been in Israel a long time.
I was just thinking about it - how long I've been here. I wrote a blog post a while ago about the last March for Israel I attended in the Old Country. It was a long time ago.

Forty years to be exact.

I am celebrating my 40-year aliyahversary.
Aliyahversary was not even a word when I made Aliyah.
I didn't even make Aliyah. I just came.

Also, because I still act like I'm 17 (or 12 - depending on the day), it couldn't possibly be so many years.

Some say that 40 years isn't really a long time. 
That's true, if you're a tree.

14,610 days.
350,640 hours (more or less, let's not be OCD).

I honestly don't know where the time has gone. I can, however, clearly recall that first plane ride (which, in itself, seemed 40 years long).

Our sages tell us that the Children of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years until they reached the Land of Israel partly so that the transition from slavery to freedom could be made. The old generation needed to die off so the younger - born into freedom - could take over. I can relate. My kids are Israeli (though they can, if they want, pass), my grandkids even more so. I still haven't quite finished making that transition.
Sorry aboot that.

When I think about it, my aliyah has been a dismal failure. I get lost on buses. I don't know how to pay for a train ride. I'm sent home from government offices because I don't have the correct paperwork. And EVERYONE tries to speak to me in English the minute I open my mouth to speak. (I also still practice what I'm going to say before I say it - but so do a lot of people I know. I think it's a  thing.) In a crowd of Israelis, I sometimes still feel like an outsider.

I still get annoyed when I'm pushed aside by a man or a teenager or a woman to get on the bus first. Or when someone takes up two or even three parking spots, or worse, doubles and triple parks so they don't have to walk the extra 23 centimetres; I'm even more annoyed when someone leaves their shopping trolley on the diagonal in the middle of an aisle, making it impossible to get by without pushing aside their trolley. And when I do, they get annoyed. It aggravates me no end when people talk out loud to each other in the movie theatre; shout to each other across streets; play loud music on the bus; refuse to turn the music down in a store. I still don't understand how store owners can advertise items for sale that are not actually available.

Most of these 40 years have been spent simply living my life; floundering my way; making friends; making mistakes; having and raising my kids; making more mistakes; making dinner; having fun; not having fun; learning; doing laundry; playing in the park; spending money; saving money; reading books; reading newspapers; watching movies; watching the news; making more mistakes; complaining about the heat; complaining about the cold; complaining about the neighbors; complaining about the other drivers; complaining about the kids; worrying about the kids; celebrating simchas; crying in the bathroom; watching fireworks; attending siddur parties, chumash parties, graduations, swearing-in ceremonies; baking cake; eating cake; going on vacation; recovering from going on vacation; laughing; praying.

40 years =
Several hundred planted trees and flowers (all in the first year)
1 degree from a real university
1 husband
5 kids
2 daughters-in-law
2 grandkids
4 cars
2 refrigerators
3 stove tops
7 washing machines(!!!)
2 apartments
2 houses
a dozen or so addresses
several jobs
scores of wars and elections
countless friends
several (but not enough!!) family members who have  made aliyah or, at least, come to visit

I wish I had made a greater contribution to society, made my presence felt more.

I do have one daily goal. I try, at least once a day, to get one person to smile. Then I feel my day has not been wasted. And if, every once in a while, I get someone to pee their pants a little - that's a bonus. 

I always remember that nothing in Israel is simple, or straightforward. For every shove on the bus, there are five kids who will give up their seat for me. For every bad parking spot there were dozens of offered lifts.
For each diagonally placed supermarket trolley, I could see 10 people who would give up their place in line to someone with kids or to the handicapped or elderly.
For every missed movie line due to someone talking at full volume, there are hundreds of people reciting psalms for the ill, the injured, the poor, the childless, the unmarried.

There might be what would be perceived by these Old Country-born eyes as universal rudeness, but there is also universal concern and universal joy.
What some might call nosiness is really a strong sense of community.
I have been the recipient of and observed inumerable acts of kindness - to loved ones, to friends, to complete strangers.
But nobody is a stranger, because we're all family, despite it all.
I've witnessed bravery, courage, kindness, loyalty, faith, great joy - and all in my own living room.
I've been blessed to witness miracles.

40 years =
Saying goodbye
but welcoming the new.
Endless problems and worries
but constant laughter and joy.
Incessant fear, and worry, and dread,
Everlasting pride and honor and delight.

I am profoundly grateful, Every. Single. Day. that I was born, after so many generations, into a world where Israel existed and that I have been able to live my life here.
I still wonder at the miracle that is Israel.
And I still cry when I sing HaTikva.

Please take a moment, and thank G-d for the State of Israel, diagonal trolleys and all.



אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ,
בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ,
וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.
חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה
וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץוְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ.
וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּקָד־נָאבְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם,
וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ
 וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ,
כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךָ:
”אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ.
וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָוִירִשְׁתָּהּ,
וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ.“(דברים ל:ד-ה)
וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ, וְלִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתֶךָ.
וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּות מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.
הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיֹאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ:
יהוה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ,”וּ֝מַלְכוּת֗וֹ בַּכֹּ֥ל מָשָֽׁלָה.“(תהלים קג:יט)
אָמֵן סֶלָה.
Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel,
bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance.
Shield it beneath the wings of Your love;
spread over it Your canopy of peace;
send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.
Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land;
grant them, our God, salvation and crown them with victory.
Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.
Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the  of Your servant Moses:
“Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and God will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.”
Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah.
Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David, to redeem those waiting for Your salvation.
Shine forth in Your glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Your world.
Let everything that breathes proclaim: “The Lord God of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.”
Amen. Selah.








Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pay it Forward

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. 
- John Bunyan
Be kind whenever possible. It's always possible
- the Dalai Lama

Today started like any other day. I woke up early, threw some laundry into the machine, drank some coffee, played soduka while drinking coffee, and then got into my car to go to work at the local University. The earlier I get to work, the earlier I can leave, so I like to get there nice and early.

It's about a twelve minute drive. Three minutes in, I noticed that the side mirror on the passenger side of the car was pushed in, and I couldn't see behind me. At the next traffic light, I pulled up the handbrakes, undid my seatbelt, rolled down the passenger window, leaned over, and fixed the mirror. All before the light changed back to green. Yay me! But (there's always a but, isn't there....) before I could get my seatbelt back on, and get the handbrakes down, the light changed to green, and within a nanosecond the hooting began. It's possible that the hooting began even before the light changed.

This is Israel, the land of prophecy, and it's entirely possible that the guy behind me knew in advance that the light was about to change.
But I digress.

Ignoring the hooting, seatbelt secured, I grabbed the handbrakes and pulled.
And pulled.
And pulled.

And the handbrakes wouldn't budge.

I was stuck, the guy behind me furiously hooting away until he eventually wised up and scooted around me.
The light changed back to red, and the handbrakes wouldn't move.
When the light turned back green, handbrakes up, I drove slowly, with much screeching, across the street and managed to pull over. There, out of traffic, I wrestled with the stupid handbrakes for several minutes until I finally got them down.

Swearing, sweating from the exertion (I mean, I wrestled!!!), I drove to work, not arriving particularly early.

I figured that, while at the traffic light,  I had pulled up the handbrakes too fast, and something caught wrong, and it was stuck. So when I parked in the parking lot at work, I  mostly out of habit  pulled up the handbrakes again. I looked at that black piece of T-shaped plastic, and decided not to think it until I finished my six hours of duty. 
Which, of course, came none too quickly and I all but forgot about the early morning's episode.

Until, of course, I started the car, and couldn't get the handbrakes down. At least I wasn't in traffic, and nobody was hooting me.
Still, I had to get home.
I struggled for about fifteen minutes. It was hot, I was out of breath, and I had long run out of swear words.

Nothing.

I took a breath and tried again.

Nada.

I finally broke down, and called my son, who studies at the University. Maybe he was there and could come and help me.
He wasn't.
But he did offer to come and get me. I said no, I would try a few minutes longer and then take a bus. I really didn't want to leave the car at work, so I struggled, in vain, a while longer.
I felt helpless.

My son called me back.
"Are you still there? I asked my friend to come and help you. He'll be there in a minute".

Indeed, a few minutes later, a tall, blonde young man waved at me.
"I don't know what I can do," said the mechanical engineering student to me. "I don't know anything about cars."

The first hurdle was pushing the seat back because Yaniv is about twice my height. That accomplished, he got in and began fighting with the handbrakes.

Zip.

I told the kid to forget it, I'd manage. He just looked at me, and said "It's no big deal, I have nothing better to do. Hold on, I'll call my dad. He knows everything."

I just stared. This was getting ridiculous. I hadn't wanted to bother my son, let alone this stranger's dad.

"Hi Dad!! What's up? Everything ok? Listen, there's this lady here who can't get her handbrakes down. Do you know what to do?"

Dad advised him to try and move the car a bit forward (with the brakes on), maybe there was something catching them. Or perhaps rocking the car a bit. Or try... The two chatted a few minutes.

We started the car, and Yaniv tried driving back and forth a few centimeters in the hope of releasing the brakes.

Zilch.

He got out of the car, slipped his sandals off, and lay down on his stomach first in front of the car, and then on the side to see if there was something stuck underneath.

Diddly.

Still barefoot, he got back in the car and tried again.

This is Israel and miracles do indeed happen.

Yaniv released the handbrakes.

Wide grin on his face, he got out of the car, put his sandals back on and told me I don't need to use the handbrakes at all. Beer Sheva is pretty flat.

"Are you here tomorrow? Ice cream on me, " I told him.

"It's a date," he laughed. "But really, it was nothing."
"Nothing for you, a whole weekend of headaches for me".

I got in the car, careful not to touch the handbrakes, and called my son to thank him.
"All's good," I said.

And then, I burst into tears.

Random Kindness from strangers and family does that to me.
It's how the world will be saved.








Thursday, May 24, 2018

Lamrot HaKol - Despite it all

and here you are living despite it all
-Rupi Kaur

 למרות הכל נשארנו פה, למרות כל מה שהם עשו כדי שניפול 
-נתן גושן
(Despite it all, we stayed here, depite all they did to make us fall
- Natan Goshen)

When I was young and in school back in the Old Country, about a week after Chanuka and until Tu B’Shvat, the teachers would hang a small JNF poster in the classroom. It was a bit bigger than a piece of A4 paper, and it had a picture of a tree with spaces on the branches to put stickers of leaves.

A sticker of a leaf cost five cents. There were 20 spots for leaves, so a whole tree cost one dollar (!!!). But 7-year-olds didn’t have dollars, so we would bring our nickels in whenever we had one. Sometimes, we had ten cents to spend, so we could buy two leaves. What excitment!! It was quite a ceremony giving the teacher the money, receiving the sticker and sticking it on the poster. Sometimes, but rarely, a parent would send in a whole dollar to buy a whole tree. Cheers of joy could be heard up and down the halls of the school!! There was a mini-contest between the classes to see which class would buy the most trees.
It was in this way that we learned, very effectively, about the Zionist enterprise, and understood the importance of buying lands and planting trees to hold down the ground. We learned the history of the Land, how it had been undeveloped for so many years, and how the Nation of Israel was coming back to repair the damage done by centuries of neglect. We were so proud that, even in this small way, with our nickels and dimes, we could contribute to the building of the Land, even from so far away.



 We kids joked that one day, when we went to visit Israel, we would go to visit our trees.

Yesterday, my department at work went on a trip to the hills surrounding Jerusalem. For personal reasons (aka laziness), I did not go on the walk down to the Sorek River with the group. Instead, I stayed, with a few others, near the top of a mountain, next to a comforting source of coffee. However, I did take a walk around the area (making sure I first had a good supply of coffee). The view was lovely, and I sat, half in shade, for quite a while staring out at the mountains and valleys. The air was very hot, but it was very quiet, just me and the butterflies. 

And the view from that spot was exactly what I needed. 



It had been a long time since I have visited any of my trees.

Despite the fact that when I came back from my walk into nature and beauty, all my co-workers who had stayed at the coffee shop were on their phones,

And despite the fact that the coffee shop didn’t serve lemon meringue pie,

And despite the fact that when we met up with the rest of the group, they too were all on their phones,

And despite the cinnamon (!!) in the kebbabs we ate at the restaurant where we had lunch,

And despite the endless, oppressive heat, 

And despite the air conditioning  not working,

And despite the occasional rockets, and the awful brown envelopes I keep receiving at home, and the flies and mosquitoes who have set up permanent residence in my bedroom, 

And despite all the tensions, and the bad publicity, and the heartbreak,

Despite it all, למרות הכל*

I was reminded how much I love this country, 

The end.

*Sometimes, Hebrew sounds better than English. למרות הכל (Lamrot HaKol) means despite, or in spite of, but has a more melancholy connotation than the English. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Kapara Aleinu!

Kapara Aleichem!
-Netta Barzilai - upon winning the Eurovision Song Contest
Kapara Aleich!
-Binyamin Netanyahu to Netta Barzilai

According to Jewish law, Judaism is a matriarchal religion/nationality/ethnicity/whatevertheheckitis. If the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish; if the mother is not Jewish, her children are not Jewish. Observance, belief, and emotion play no part in passing down being Jewish.

That said, the customs of Judaism are passed down through the father. It doesn't matter how much better the mother's customs are, the kids do what their father and his father before him have done.

Let me explain.

Judaism and Jews have been around for a long time. Jews have lived, and Judaism has been practiced, in just about every country and a great many cities around the world. Jews have moved from place to place also; when they were thrown out of one place, they went to another.

Over the centuries and millennia, while Jewish Law (aka Halacha) has remained the same, many interpretations and customs surrounding those laws have evolved in different ways in different places at different times.
In some areas, customs have taken on the seriousness of actual law, and followers are required to keep the custom in the same manner as keeping the Law itself. How one keeps these serious customs is patriarchal-it goes by how the father and his father and his father kept the customs. (Examples are eating kitniyot on Pesach, and the wording of prayers.)

But in other areas, the customs are rather happy-go-lucky, and one can pick and choose whatever one wants to do!!

I have been aware of many of the differences in customs stemming from different  Old Counties. While Eastern Europeans Jews eat more boiled vegetables and lots of potatoes, North African Jews eat foods fried in honey.
The Ashkenazi Torah scroll is covered in cloth, and read by lying it on a table, while the Sephardic Torah Scroll is housed in a large box-like container made of wood or metal, and read by standing it up on a table. The words, however, are identical.

Ashkenazi Torah scroll

Sephardic Torah Scrolls.

Even our speech is different. Non-European Jews never say 'shmata' or 'gevalt' (though I have heard them say 'oy'), and I, personally, have never used the expression "kapara" (made famous by our Israeli Eurovision winner this week).



There were some customs that I knew were customs - and not laws - but had assumed that they were across the board customs, not limited to a particular ancestry.
For example, I thought everyone used salt water at the Passover Seder, but, no. Apparently, some communities use lemon juice or vinegar.

All this came to light when a close family member married someone whose family was originally from a very very different Old Country than my own family. (Spoiler - it was my son.)

The first time I was taken aback was when my then daughter-in-law-to-be came for Shabbat for the first time. "Why do you light so many candles?" she asked, looking at my seven lit candles.
Now, I'm not stupid or naive, and I knew that lighting a candle for each child was a relatively newly made-up custom, but I thought people did it because it was cute and cool, not because we came from a certain place.  But apparently, I was wrong.

I was completely unable to hide my surprise when I was asked "I suppose you're going to want the bride to walk around the groom seven times," by the bride's mother.
I'm sorry, what? Doesn't everybody do this? But again, no, not everybody.
(For the record, I answered that the couple could decide to do whatever they want, it wasn't up to me. [and they decided she would circle seven times.])

And I was utterly dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and flummoxed when my new daughter-in-law's mother actually lit the Sabbath candles completely differently than I did. I first light the candles, then say the blessing with my eyes covered. She first said the blessing with her eyes opened, then lit the candles. I had to bite my lips to prevent myself from exclaiming "BUT THAT'S WRONG!

It wasn't wrong. It was just different.

So many of us are separated by differences in opinions, in language, in food, in sense of humour, in appearance, in education, in ambitions, in age, in beliefs, in customs, in driving skills. It's so easy to separate, so hard to unite, most especially when they take up two parking spots in a crowded lot.

The Holy State of Israel is made up of a great many different kinds of people.

We recently attended a wedding of a member of our new extended family (my son's in-laws). We sat at a table with the other in-laws, i.e., the parents-in-law of the bride's married sisters. 

Did you know that Hebrew is the only language that has a word for the relationship between the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom ? Mechutanim (or machatunim in Yiddish - same word, different accent) comes from the same root as chatuna (wedding), chatan (groom) and le'hitchaten (to wed), and are the parents of the spouse(s) of your child(ren). It's a very serious relationship - a lifetime commitment. Because there is no such thing as too much family.

Jews, at the end of the day, no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak, and no matter what foods they eat on Rosh HaShana or Passover, or whether or not they eat chicken soup on Friday night (did you know there are Jews who do not!! Imagine!) are one family, with a shared history and a shared destiny.

We sat at this table with people we had only met a few short weeks before, at our son's wedding. We had no common background, no common friends, our food preferences were very very different. What we did have in common - as we hugged and kissed in true Israeli fashion, one kiss on each cheek, and then a third for good luck - was that we were all mechutanim.

And all our future grandchildren are going to be first cousins.

Kapara Aleihem.







Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Starts and Fresh Beginnings

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.
-Alan Alda

A few short years ago, I graduated from high school. I don’t remember the exact date, but the graduation ceremony was somewhere in the two weeks between Passover and Israel's Independence Day (Yom HaAzmaut). I went to a Jewish High School, back in the Old Country, where we learned Bible, Jewish Law, Jewish History, a smattering of Hebrew, and a great deal of Zionism. We graduated in the early spring (there was probably still snow on the ground) so that my class could travel to Israel and spend five months working on a Kibbutz and travel the country.

I don’t remember all the details of that graduation. I do remember that I was the first in the line of graduates to march into the school synagogue – where the ceremony took place – because I was the shortest one (though I was led to believe it was because I was the cutest and smartest...). I remember who the valedictorian was (today, if I’m not mistaken, he’s a professor in a prestigious Old Country University). I remember the guest speaker, a Rabbi I much admired and respected, and who, several years later, as life would have it, became my cousin’s father-in-law. (By then, I was already living in Israel, and was not privileged to get to know him better.) I even remember the really awful dress that my mother had made for me for the event. It was truly hideous.

The Old Country School with Snow
What I remember most clearly, however, was my apprehension.

Well, it wasn’t quite apprehension. More like disquiet. Worry. Dread. Terror.


Because, not only had I finished high school and my future now lay before me without an iota of an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but, to make matter worse, I had opted out of going on the Israel program with my class. I had decided that if I was going to spend time in Israel, I was going to go by myself, and not with 20 people I had known all my life. A new country and a new experience required a new start, a fresh beginning, and independence.

Therefore, I, at the ripe old age of 17, made my first adult decision of NOT going to Israel with my class, and instead, to go by myself the following autumn.

All through that graduation, and for months after, I wondered and worried whether I had made the right decision. I was leaving the extreme comfort of the life well-known and the road well-traveled (and not doing what was expected of a good Jewish girl), and leaping into an abyss of the completely and utterly unfamiliar, unexplored, unknown.

My parents (may their memories be blessed) were NOT happy with this decision, to put it mildly.

That graduation ceremony was the last time I saw many of my classmates, who had been classmates, friends, and family just about all my life. I honestly didn't know anyone or anything else.

Shortly after graduation, and the departure of the participants of the Israel program, the Jewish community of my hometown organized its annual ‘Yom HaAzmaut March for Israel', something I had participated in every year for many years. That year was a significant anniversary (as it is this year). I made my way to the center of town to take part, as I had done many times before. Israeli flags were flying, Hebrew songs were being sung.  I walked with the rest of the crowd, but without my friends, who were, for the most part, in Israel. There were a few other classmates who had not gone with the class, but I don’t remember seeing them at the March.

I left the March for Israel early, before the end.

And have not been back since.

I remember going home on the bus from that March, tears in my eyes, lonely, afraid, unsure of the future. Was the first decision I had made as an adult a wrong one? Fresh beginnings and independence weren't looking so appealing at that point.

I spent most of that summer alone.

I did come to Israel that autumn after my spring graduation as planned. I traveled alone, though I met an acquaintance on the plane. We parted in Tel Aviv, and I saw her again about 5 years later. She had left Israel after a few months. It hadn’t worked out for her.

Since that Old Country March for Israel, I have been blessed to celebrate every Yom HaAzmaut but one, here, in Israel, marking it in the traditional Israeli way: hanging flags on our car, eating falafel, watching fireworks, hiking, barbecuing, pretending I know an answer from the Bible Contest, and spending the day with family and friends. For me, it seems to have worked out.


Every day is a new beginning, a fresh start.
Every day is a challenge.
Every day is a wonder and a miracle.

And here I am now, these few years, one husband, five children, two grandchildren, four cars, and seven washing machines later.

Still marching for Israel.
(and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.)

That first decision as an adult turned out to be the right decision. I was not so lucky in all my subsequent decisions – sometimes yes, and sometimes no – but I have never regreted that first one, even when missiles, or the shekel, were falling.

And certainly not when there are fireworks.





אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ,
בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ,
וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.
חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה
וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץוְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ.
וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּקָד־נָאבְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם,
וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ
 וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ,
כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךָ:
”אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ.
וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָוִירִשְׁתָּהּ,
וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ.“(דברים ל:ד-ה)
וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ, וְלִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתֶךָ.
וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּות מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.
הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיֹאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ:
יהוה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ,”וּ֝מַלְכוּת֗וֹ בַּכֹּ֥ל מָשָֽׁלָה.“(תהלים קג:יט)
אָמֵן סֶלָה.
Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel,
bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance.
Shield it beneath the wings of Your love;
spread over it Your canopy of peace;
send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.
Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land;
grant them, our God, salvation and crown them with victory.
Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.
Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the  of Your servant Moses:
“Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and God will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.”
Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah.
Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David, to redeem those waiting for Your salvation.
Shine forth in Your glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Your world.
Let everything that breathes proclaim: “The Lord God of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.”
Amen. Selah.