Monday, September 11, 2017

The Birth of a Book

21 Elul 5777.

I'm very excited about this project! BS"D, after long months of editing and reformatting, the blog will be coming out in October in book form. For photos, you'll have to check back to the online version; but hopefully the words will be fun to see in print -- especially with the remarkable and insightful cover art by Hanna Tova Glicksman, and the wise graphic design of Hanna Sara (Zeif) Katz. It pays to work with hometown talent, especially when they're related, and accustomed to getting along nicely. (Ms. Glicksman and Ms. Katz are cousins. Nice family, this.)

Since you have been a part of this project from the beginning, as you have read, encouraged, commented, sometimes corrected (and saved me embarrassment), I hope you will also get some pleasure from owning a copy. You'll let me know.

Keep watching here and on Facebook. I'll be very excited to let you know when the labor is over, and the book is born!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Introducing Jerusalem Moments

If you haven't yet discovered it, I want to share with you the new blog of my friend Rachel Sharansky Danziger. This true labor of love was born when Rachel wanted to find a special way to honor the 50th celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem, which we will observe this year on May 24. Like all Jewish holidays, the observance will begin the night before, and continue throughout the day. But for Rachel and her readers, Jerusalem Moments began to capture the spirit of the celebration of the miracle that is Jerusalem 50 days before, on April 5, as Rachel knew that there is so much about Jerusalem to celebrate. From the lofty achievements to the daily grind, from the holy to the incidental, from the tragic to the joyous, Jerusalem is truly the City at the heart of our people's love affair with Israel.

Each day, Rachel spends time formatting the prose or poetry or snippets of commentary and remarkable photographs she has solicited from contributors throughout Israel. Each day, there are new treats for the eyes and souls of those who choose to pop in for a visit. If you begin to peruse the archives of this beautiful blog, you may as well put off doing the dishes or writing that report for a later hour: there is so much of value here to anyone who wants to celebrate our precious and holy Jerusalem. From knitting soldiers to talking pipes, from the heartbreak of Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron to the boundless gladness of Yom HaAtzmaut, from even beneath the streets to the colorful mass of idiosyncrasies that is Mahane Yehuda shuk, you can get a taste of our Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Moments is about geography and history -- but it is mostly about the people that have made and continue to make up this most glorious of cities.

Rachel invites you to participate with your moments, your memories, your photographs of this grand City. Send your submissions to her at jerusalemmoments@gmail.com with a short bio and a headshot, and add your words and pictures to this delightfully diverse collection of viewpoints of Jerusalem's rebirth.

Jerusalem Moments can be viewed at http://www.jerusalem-moments.com/, and you can follow on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/JLMmoments/

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Second Meltdown in Nine Years

Yom rishon, 16 Shevat 5777.

Dear Lady in the Audience: Thank you for publicly reminding me how stupid I am. Love, Every Olah Chadasha in the Audience with You

When I arranged to attend the concert, I really didn't expect to understand anything. I was just looking forward to a night of good music by a really cute and talented duo.

Because there are a lot of Anglos in the community that hosted the event, the musicians asked if they should speak between songs in Hebrew or in English. An overwhelming segment of the audience requested English. Though I didn't vote, I was relieved. There was hope I would understand something, which would add to my appreciation of the performance. Perhaps they would say a little about each song, thereby giving me a "hook" upon which to hang my efforts at translation...

But halfway through her first statement, the delightful young artist was shouted down by the all-too-familiar refrain: "Rak b'Ivrit! Anachnu biYisrael!" (Only in Hebrew. We're in Israel.) The small but intimidating band of possibly Israelis from birth but more likely olim vatikim persuaded the young lady to switch back to Hebrew. I tried vainly through the evening to understand more than a word here and a word there -- but as usual, I didn't get the jokes, and didn't understand much of anything else, within the mostly Hebrew songs and their accompanying explanations.

I worked hard to get past this, to no avail. Of course, the shouter was correct. We live in Israel, we should speak Hebrew. God knows, I'm trying, with many ulpanim under my belt, and with four hours a week with study partners, as well as independent study throughout the week. I'm getting better, l'at, l'at, but enough fluency to understand people speaking faster than the Pimsleur lady is still an oasis shimmering far off on the desert sand. At nearly 60, I have to admit that the fact that my sons are all fluent and many of my grandchildren will be fully bilingual may be the most pride I will attain in this wonderful but oh-so-foreign tongue.

I listened to the songs, tried to interpret lyrics and sweetly-worded commentary, and finally tried to relax my jaw while I mentally penned a "love note" to the shouter.

Dear Israeli Lady or Olah Vatikah:

While you are of course correct, I am guessing that living in this town, you either have passable English, or are more likely a person who came from an English-speaking country when you were 30 or younger, and managed to immerse yourself in this beautiful language, and got it. Kol hakavod to you! I am duly impressed.

But would it have harmed you in any way to let those of us in the audience -- who struggle daily to understand our phone bills, arnona notices, bituach leumi reminders, even our grocery bills -- to have even a partial comprehension of what you probably could have understood in both languages? And even if you are Israeli, and struggle with English, couldn't we have split the difference -- you understanding the song lyrics, and me understanding the commentary in between?

Thanks for reminding me that I'm too stupid to accomplish what you so proudly did.

I have to say that I was so depressed by the ordeal, I thought briefly of calling my various chavrutot and saying "Let's give up. It's not working."

Briefly. Because even though it is still a struggle, even though I don't know if I'll ever "get" this language entirely -- I am getting better all the time. I can make myself understood, even though we have to often potchky together the conversation with bits of Hebrew and English and body language. If someone has something important to impart, I know how to ask them to slow down, to speak to me as if I were a child (meaning that they should leave out all the extra words, and cut to the chase). It delights me that as we try to communicate in Hebrew, many Israelis discover that their high-school English isn't as bad as they thought it was. We work it out, in two languages.

My mood was rescued near the end of the performance when one of the singers was thanking us. She ended by thanking in English those of us "who didn't understand anything we said tonight." I appreciated her acknowledgment. And then she did an even sweeter thing, by finishing with a song that said it all: a lovely and heartfelt rendition of a song by Jason Mraz with the line "We've got a lot to learn, but God knows we're worth it." I felt validated, and embraced. As if she were saying, "It's okay, Aunties and Uncles. I know you're trying. Don't give up. I hear you."

I bless all of us that we will have the brain cells and pertinacity to keep trying, and to have people around us who remind us that we are improving, slowly, slowly. I bless us further that we will always retain the humanity to remember with kindness and patience those who are struggling to climb whatever pinnacle we ourselves have managed to surmount.

Glossary:
Olah Chadasha: new (female) immigrant (male would be oleh chadash)
Anglos: English speakers
Olim vatikim: veteran immigrants; immigrants who've been here for a fairly long time
Ulpanim: Hebrew language classes, the best of which are Hebrew study in almost exclusively Hebrew
L'at, l'at: slowly, slowly -- what every comforting Israeli says about every immigrant's efforts at the language
Pimsleur: a very patient style of study that builds comprehension syllable by syllable
Arnona and Bituach Le'umi: Don't ask until you live here. Once you do, you'll understand. Taxes and insurance.
Chavrutot: One-on-one study sessions (chavrusas in America)
Potchky: probably Yiddish for sticking together haphazardly, hodgepodge
Mraz: I haven't a clue where that name comes from, or if it's an actual word -- but he writes pretty songs




Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sukkot Reflections, 5777

Yom revi'i, 17 Tishrei 5777/19 October 2016, Chol Hamoed Sukkot.

Sitting in the sukkah, sipping coffee, wishing for the first time this year for a sweater, and appreciating how "only in Israel" is that convergence of time and temperature.

Murmuring Hallel in the early morning light, before everyone around me is awake, feels sweeter than at any other time, especially wrapped in the loving embrace of my favorite holiday ever.

Whispering a "livri'ut" to a neighbor's sneeze, listening to another neighbor calming a crying child, hearing another singing to her children a morning niggun, smiling at a late hammer, as someone repairs or adds to an already completed sukkah...

The occasional car seems as if it is from another time, a time in the future or the past.

I imagine all of us, the several families around me I can hear as if they were just in the next tent, which in fact they are, as if we were traveling in the desert together.

An unwilling voyeur, I am offered a mashal of how little we say and do is really private. I don't listen but hear with acceptance and joy that I am surrounded by loving parents and children, talking and guiding and laughing together.

My sukkah, my portable yearly Clouds of Glory dwelling, surrounds me with memory.

The coffee mug, given by my dear children. The bentcher, a recent gift from Norm and Gail, who dug it out of their memories, because they heard that I love having photos to enhance my prayer, and because there are shared memories here. The wall hangings that used to be tablecloths; the flags of our places of birth and the place we met; the pretty sukkah enhancements picked up for various holidays past. The bracelets jangling softly on my wrist, a gift from Adele right here in this sukkah a few years ago. My hands smelling still of the lingering lotion that was a gift from Shulamis on one of her visits to the Holy Land, a lotion I choose not to afford, which makes the gift even sweeter. Nearby, the purse Marilyn gave to me along with all of "her girls," thus binding with silk and leather and love my place in her family.

Hovering outside of our patented Sukkot Force Field ©UNESCO and others are busy trying to make us vanish by using Orwellian New Speak. (If you must, see here and here -- but I'd wait until after Sukkot, if I were you.) "And the slanderers should be denied hope, all evil should be instantaneously obliterated..."

Friends drop by with enough warning for me to put out a bit of a spread, thus turning a day-without-plans into a feast of conversation, fun and sharing of their adventures, turning our sukkah briefly into a Tardis to take us with them to Ma'arat Hamachpela and to The Moshav, without having to fight traffic!

Tonight we will visit another couple's sukkah, to play music... with the sad silent echo of the yearly invitation that will not come, because that family is in aveilut, one of our cherished fellow musicians having lost a dear relative only weeks ago.

Soon, it will be Shabbat, a "full Shabbat," meaning all of the Israel-based family will crowd in with larger-than-life talking and squabbling, one-upping and teasing, and beer pong and feasting and bear-hug loving.

Each day in the sukkah brings new sounds and songs and stories. I wish it could last longer than a week. It is a precious island in time toward which I begin to look again, even before it fades into the coming winter.

Wishing one and all a 5777 full of love, good health, good news, clarity, and even more than usual joy from family and friends.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Then Must We Do?

Yom shishi, 25 Sivan 5776.



Sigh. I love Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) with all my heart. But I hate summer in Israel. And it's never Israel's fault that I hate summer in Israel. It's because the child-eating monsters come out in the summer, more than at any time.

For those somehow not in the know, a little 13-year-old Jewish girl named Hallel Ariel who just graduated 8th grade was murdered in her bed, stabbed repeatedly by a 17-year-old Muslim boy who somehow infiltrated her Kiryat Arba home, near the holy Jewish city of Hebron. Fueled no doubt by the need to fix some broken thing in his relationship with his parents -- I have heard that a lot of these kids take their lives this way because they are losers with no other way to make themselves important -- this evil child was subsequently praised and glorified by his people and his people's leadership. Voices of protest in the Muslim community globally are hard to find. And as usual, the murderer's dear mommy sees him as a hero of the resistance, and hopes that more children of her people will die stabbing little Jewish girls to death simply for being Jewish and living in the neighborhood without her approval.

"What then must we do?" Is there a rational, effective protest we can make as a body, one person with one heart? We cannot go around murdering people, killing mothers and grandparents and children, non-combatants. We cannot deify our children for murdering other people's children in their beds. We cannot become like our enemies. Whether you believe in living by God's laws or are simply a moral person, you cannot accept this.

Yes, people say all kinds of things in bouts of impotent rage -- but surely they must know that they cease to be moral beings if they act upon such rage. Apart from the crazy among us, I am sure that this is true of nearly all Jews, of nearly all Jewish Israelis. While we want murderers and even potential murderers to be punished, we do not believe in randomly going after the enemy's civilians.

When horrible Jewish children murdered an Arab boy, we protested loudly, and called for their punishment; and they were punished, not honored. No streets were named for them, to the best of my knowledge, no soccer fields. I happily cannot remember their names, nor would I wish to. Yet the world at large turns a blind eye to Muslim murderers of children being honored posthumously by their people.

Besides continuing to live proudly in our land, without apology, how do we fight this terrible war? I am not speaking of the government. I have little to no power over the government. I vote, always, for candidates who put the safety of Israeli citizens first. They do not become Prime Minister. They are considered "too radical," because they are not interested in capitulation for the sake of currying favor with the West. While they do not espouse murdering civilians in their beds, they do believe in standing our ground and protecting Israeli civilians. This seems to be too radical for those who would sell our souls and our lives for empty promises of peace...

What's the plan for a protest, people? Do we build tent cities like young people did over the price of housing and cottage cheese?

Do we stand like John Hersey's White Lotus on one leg, a great mass of us, refusing to move, refusing to work, until our leaders protect us?

Do we march on Jerusalem? In my memory, marches since Selma never garnered the necessary support to change much of anything.

And against whom do we mount our protest? Against the Israeli government, so used to obeisance to the West, it is gridlocked? Against the world that pretends friendship while aiding and abetting those who would destroy us? Against God Himself? How many times in the few years that I have lived in Israel have we filled the Kotel Plaza with crying, praying, beseeching souls, to no apparent avail? How many random acts of kindness do we need to catalog on High for our babies to stop being murdered in their beds?

I look forward to hearing of a leader emerging -- may he or she be the Mashiach, as we cannot bear much more of this, and retain our kedusha! -- a leader who will teach us how to join together in an effective form of protest against a world that will not be happy until we all die.

May we do finally whatever is required of us -- and I assume as I always have, this largely means working together as a family, forgetting our differences, speaking with respect to and with each other, even when we disagree. May Hashem finally be satisfied with our pleas.

Ad matai, Hashem? What do You want from us?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Repaint Your Own Reality

Yom shlishi, 24 Adar I 5776/1 March 2016.

"I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality." ~ Frida Kahlo


I feel like a new bride, who just moved into her new apartment!

That's what a fresh paint job will do for your spirits.

We have loved this apartment for the last eight years. It has been our friend and haven. We have wonderful landlords, interesting and delightful neighbors, a loving and accepting rabbi and community. But while the landlords, friends, neighbors, rabbi and community are still fresh and exciting, the apartment walls were showing their age. I'm not going to show you before-and-after pictures, because it had gotten a bit embarrassing. This winter's mold had gotten ahead of my yearly efforts with economica. (You have to be healthy to wash a ceiling with bleach; and we feel like we've suffered the ten plagues this year, thanks to seven truly blessed months of our grandchildren living with us: colds, strep, flu, chicken pox -- you should never see a 21-year-old who's caught his tiny nephew's chicken pox -- bronchitis, a stomach bug, pneumonia...)

We called Moshe Aaron Swartz, our friend and neighbor and owner of Primary Painter Moshe, for an estimate. He came by with his stack of paint color cards, looked over our apartment, and gave his recommendations. He knew we would want easy-to-wash paint here, mold-retardant paint there... It was obvious from the beginning that Moshe cares very much about doing a great job, and about making sure that his clients' individual needs are satisfied. When we were finished with the plan, the Dearly Beloved and I were excited about the color choices, ideas, and even the price, which seemed very reasonable.

New paint. Fresh, new beginnings. Color-crayon marks surrounded by chocolate finger prints, teenager shmutz haloing bathroom light switches, the pencil growth chart on the kitchen wall -- all obscured by "What an Inspiration" turquoise and "Perfume Powder" soft yellow Meshi ("easy to clean") paint. Eight years of history, embalmed but not forgotten.

Eli Tryfus, Moshe Aaron Swartz, Yedidya Fisch, after a job well done.
Moshe assured us that we wouldn't need to move anything ourselves, save for computers, and that the entire operation could be completed in one day. We were a bit skeptical, because the Eastmans have collected a lot of stuff over the years. And yes, like most semi-neurotic housewives, I made sure that a lot of life's detritus was out of the way before the agreed-upon hour.

Moshe showed up with his two young Jewish assistants. (Much to our comfort, Moshe only hires Jewish workers.) These fine young men are trained in the art of wall and ceiling painting by Shmuel of Just Now Painters. I got a chance to speak with our two young painters. Yedidya Fisch will be drafting into Golani in March 2016, and has been working with Moshe since last summer. Eli Tryfus is the cousin of one of our Judean Rebels football players. He is studying in Tel Aviv in the field of computer networking. Eli had been working with Moshe's father for something less that three years, and started working with Moshe last July. Both men enjoy the work, and it showed. They were careful, polite, and very gracious about accommodating the customer when at one point I confused them about which paint went on which wall.

Moshe and his delightful bride Chani have lived in Neve Daniel since August of 2012. Their son
Eitan was born in January of this year. Moshe learned his art at his father's side. He worked for many years with his father before going out on his own, and still consults with his father on various jobs, painting techniques and paint types.

As the trio worked, Moshe explained the process. Certain paint types were employed for their mold-inhibiting properties. A couple of spaces were painted with a metal-flake undercoating, invisible to the eye, but a magical wonderland for grandchildren who can now stick magnets directly to walls.

Moshe enjoyed smearing barbecue sauce on one nice, clean, dry, wall and rubbing it in, to show how easily the Meshi cleans up with a little dish soap and water, and no scrubbing, and no loss of paint.

We were very pleased and impressed that the team cleaned up after the job so well, sweeping the floor and wiping up messes, and making sure that I was satisfied with the result.


Moshe stopped by with paint and brush a day later to check on the work, and to touch up a few spots.

"So, how do I clean up any little drops of paint I find?" I asked. They'd done an excellent job of cleaning up, but my practiced mommy eye had seen a speck of blue on the hall floor.

"Just use Scotch and a little dish soap," Moshe said.

I looked at him with a wild surmise. He'd mentioned dish soap several times -- but scotch? My! These South Africans are extravagantly elegant people!

He read my expression. "Not scotch," he said.

Ah. I seem to remember a scrubbing pad with the brand name "Scotch." Apparently, these South Africans use "Scotch" like we Americans use "Kleenex." Like I said. Extravagant.


When you are tired of your walls and want brand-new, fresh and elegant surroundings, call Moshe at 0545320024 for an estimate.

Monday, August 24, 2015

All for the Gush Katif Brides: Elul Ushered in by Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi

Yom sheni, 9 Elul 5775.

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi, photo from her Facebook page
I have listened to and read Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi for many years, but last night at the Great Synagogue was my first opportunity to see and hear her in person. The occasion: to raise money for the still-struggling but happily still marrying brides of the former communities of Gush Katif.

The event was a veritable Who's Who of fascinating, inspiring, hard-working women, all gathered together to raise funds for Gush Katif brides. Let me drop just a few names: Anita Tucker, outspoken spokeswoman for the destroyed communities of Gush Katif. Sharon Katz, founder of the Raise Your Spirits acting troupe and producer of the Dames of the Dance collection of amazing dancers (and many more holy projects than I have time now to post!). Fayge Bedell, whom I only know as Sharon's comedic foil onstage for the aforementioned fund-raising projects. Rivkah Lambert Adler, fellow blogger, founder of the twice-yearly Book Swap in Ma'ale Adummim, and one of the driving forces back in the day behind Baltimore aliya to Israel. And many more amazing ladies, many of whose work on behalf of others is only done in secret...

You simply must watch her in action to see Torah as beauty.
To watch Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi speaking is to witness a human being making herself into a living shofar. She uses the techniques of the singer, the dancer, the stand-up comic, the mime, the painter, her body and arms and hands the brushes to color our hearts and minds with prayer, to educate us with her prodigious Torah knowledge with humor and sensitivity. Rabbanit Yemima embodies for me David HaMelech's remark: "I am prayer."

My foremost thought when I listen to Rabbanit Yemima is how much she makes me care, makes me empathize with the plight of my sisters: those struggling to find a parnassa; those who have not yet found a life partner; those who want children but have not yet or cannot have them; those who have both, but live in the special hell of broken dreams. I have yet to hear or read anything by this special teacher without being reminded of them -- not due to some heavy-handed lecture on her part; rather, due to the heart-plucking way her voice speaks to them, reassures them, pleads with God on their behalf. How can the heart not cry out with her for them? And in humble gratitude, if we are in the position to only empathize, rather than sympathize. Thank you, dear God, for what you have given me. Let me never, ever take it for granted. Let me not turn my blessings into complaints. How dare I, when my sister or brother is not so blessed?

The talk was focused, of course, on preparing ourselves this Elul for a meaningful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Can we drop our hurt feelings over some real-or-imagined slight? Can we stop saying "לא" (no) and replace it with "לו" (for him [or her, or Him, or anyone else besides ourselves])? Note that these two words together spell "אלול" -- the holy combination of letters for the month of Elul. Can we practice the many voices of prayer -- the shhhhhhhh, of silent, introspective, shutting-down-our-anger prayer; the kretz of a sigh that sends "to death" all of the negative things we want to empty from ourselves; the power of making our entire bodies into shofrot (ram's horns) to blast our prayers to the heavens...

Rabbanit Yemima told many stories, as she always does. One especially resonated for me. And of course, it made me cry.

The story was an illustration of the concept of "I'm sorry." With her trademark humor, Rabbanit Yemima reminded us that we Ashkenazim don't really get slichot, the penitential prayers said before and on the High Holy Days. Ashkenazim recite the slichot with varying intensity between ten days and a week prior to Rosh Hashana, before the morning prayers. That means getting up a bit earlier, and I don't envy my husband and sons this task. The Sephardim (I'm sure with the same struggles toward intensity) are asked by their tradition to get up to say these special prayers at midnight for a full month before Rosh Hashana. (This is the only thing on the "con" side of The Dearly Beloved's pro/con scale for why he does not want to switch to the Sephardi way of life.) Finally, the story, with another traditional (and heart-rending) Rabbanit Yemima device: she tells the story on herself.

I won't try to quote her full, beautiful telling of the tale. One of her special talmidot (students) was dying "of the terrible disease," and asked her to please visit. But -- to quote her painful words, spoken airily, but with excruciating pathos: "I am very important, and I am very busy..." It took the rabbanit a very long time to make the time -- but finally she did. The talmida said to her, "You didn't come for me. You came for you." And Yemima shares with us that she understood that she was only coming to the talmida finally, finally, so she could say that she checked the mitzva off her list, she had "visited the sick." And she could think well of herself... Oy! I choke now as I type the words! Which of us has not felt this? That we waited too long to do that special mitzva, but "knocked it out" finally so we could make a check-mark on our "Good Jew" list... The story ends with the sweetness that the girl became her special mitzva until she was sure that she was forgiven. In the phrase chozer b'teshuva -- one who returns to the practice of mitzvot -- the word "return" is the key. We can't just do it once. We can't just say "I love you" once, and have a marriage work. We can't just say "I'm sorry" once, and expect to be taken seriously.

There were more stories, more lessons, more patented RYM jokes. As this lecture was videotaped, I hope I can share it with you at some future date.

And when you are looking for that special mitzva, that special tzedaka, for the days of the holy month of Elul (or anytime!), consider learning with the ladies of L'ayla, under the auspices of the OU Center in Jerusalem and led by the extraordinary Rivki Segal (formerly of Baltimore, of course). And if Gush Katif still hurts your heart as it does mine, even a decade later, consider helping the children of the expellees as they marry and try to build batei ne'eman biYisrael -- donate directly or sponsor wedding gifts or sponsor community shabbat kalla events in your own homes.

Click on the photo of the document below to embiggen it, and to get the information you need.

Check out how you can help the Gush Katif Bridal Registry.

You can make a difference in the lives of people still suffering a decade after the worst crime a Jewish government perpetrated against its own citizens. And contact the devoted ladies below if you would like to sponsor a bridal shower in your community.

Lisa Goldenhersh - (050) 575-5436 or (773) 409-4091
Riki Freudenstein - (054) 432-0938 or (718) 874-2035

You can do this in any country in the world, or in any community in Israel! But if you're planning a party in Neve Daniel, check first with brand-new olot (immigrants) Shayna Levine-Hefetz and Eva Lynn Goldstein-Meola, who are planning a bridal shower here, as one of their many early Israel-based mitzvot. #OlimFromBaltimore

Let's pool the spiritual power of Jewish women to make this the last year without the Holy Temple. Oh -- and if you are not Jewish, nor a woman, but you want to help, you can also add to the wonder and beauty of the world and of this project. But you knew that... In the merit of this mitzva, may anyone you know and love who needs to find a match, who is praying for a child, whose life is far from blessed, hear good news.