Monday, June 29, 2009

One of those days. No! I mean the GOOD kind.

Yom sheni, 7 Tamuz 5769.

It was a people day.

I met my friend Leslie, visiting from Pittsburgh.  Like me, she is married to an exceptional person, who understands her need to be in the Land for "just one more week."

Leslie and I first met last year at a Pittsburgh simcha of people we mutually love.  She struck me as bright and articulate, with a slightly hidden sense of humor that was all the more delightful for not being on the surface.  So when she called and said she was in Israel for a brief stay, I looked forward to deepening our friendship.

Approaching the recommended restaurant, we passed a musician whom I am accustomed to patronizing with a small tip.  As I dropped the shekel into his tray, he gave me his usual nod of greeting, smiling behind the ever-present sunglasses.  Leslie tipped him, too, and promised an explanation of why she never passed up this particular tzedakah.

As we dined together on quinoa salad and a nearly-sufficient amount of coffee at Café Hillel, she told me her captivating story.

On the day of the Sbarro pizzaria bombing in 2000, Leslie and her husband were a few blocks away in Yerushalayim.  Like Jews everywhere, they were stunned and deeply affected.  Suddenly, both of them thought of the musician who always sat in front of Sbarro, who had nodded to them with his customary smile when they dropped change into the small box he displayed for the purpose.  "I wonder if he is okay?!" they frantically asked each other.  Like all of us, they dealt with the pain and horror of the situation by thinking of someone they knew.  The enormity of the loss is too great for us to be willing to see the whole picture -- it is easier to fear and grieve in the concrete rather than the abstract.  Later they learned, to their amazement and relief, that he had not been at his usual location that day.

To Leslie and her husband, this fellow and his music represent life continued.

I did not speak of it, nor did I give it much thought until later.  But a photo tag line nibbled at the back of my mind as we left the restaurant. 

The terrorist attack at Café Hillel in Jerusalem, which killed seven Israeli civilians and wounded more than 70, September 9, 2003.

When I bid Leslie a warm farewell, I dropped back by "our musician," and asked him if I could take his photograph.  He rewarded my second shekel of the day with his usual cheerful smile and nod.

Seems I also needed to celebrate life continued.

After our visit, I was at loose ends.  Sunday sojourns are supposed to be with the Dearly Beloved; and he was still busy moving Soldier Boy from one apartment to another.  Still seeking the elusive Gush Katif kipah, I wandered into a "new" kipah store.

How surprised I was to see my old friend Maya from Michael's Kipot on Yafo Street --  in an airy, new establishment -- right across from Soldier Boy's very first apartment in Nahalat Shiv'a!

Maya asked her daughter to forgive her for ending their call abruptly.  A "favorite customer" had entered the store.  (Maya used this expression generously.  We chat more than I buy.)

We shared much happy news:  I had not been able to see her since I became a new grandmother; and she had the same wonderful news to share, as well as an upcoming wedding for another child.  Maya is good for me, because only the first two or three sentences of her conversation are in English.  Then she reverts to excited Hebrew, of which I get about a third.  But she is so expressive  -- whether we are sharing our children's joys or their sorrows -- I can "understand" her, without knowing all of the words.

When we had exhuasted our wealth of family information and exchanged brachot for health and happiness and grandchildren and long life and success in business, I left, much happier than when I'd walked in.

Afterwards, I dropped in to the Gush Katif Museum, to see if maybe they had a kipah or two.  No such luck.  But the young woman at the desk, Chedva, patiently listened to my broken Hebrew (illustrated with photos I was carrying of my kids), as I explained the kipah quest to her.

What a nice young lady!  She put my phone number and name into her cell phone -- "Ruti Kipah," she called me -- and promised to let me know if she could find a kipah for Sports Guy.  (Stay tuned for a followup post on the amazing people who have been trying to help solve this little problem.)

It seemed like a good time to go back to our mountain.

At the tachana merkazit, I met another friend, formerly of Baltimore.  She shared an interesting and stressful day, which we both ended up rolling our eyes and smiling over.  Then she pulled a lighter out of her bag.  "Before I put my daughter on the bus, she saw me purchase this lighter from the Five Shekel Vendor you introduced me to."  My friend got a twinkle in her eye, as she related her daughter's response.  "Ema, you don't smoke!"  She took great pleasure in explaining to her daughter the importance of supporting this "businessman," who sells arguably useless wares that break almost immediately inexpensive items, rather than simply begging.  We had a lovely few minutes, before it was time to say goodbye for the day, and catch our respective buses home.

Just before my bus arrived, I saw an interesting sight.  In one of the nearby garbage cans was a pair of very large Crocs.  They seemed to me to be in good condition.

Across the room, I watched one of the old fellows who pokes around in trash cans for plastic bottles to turn in for agarot.

It occurred to me that there are many ways to give tzedakah.  Sometimes it's done with a coin.  Sometimes with some item, bought and sold or simply left.  And sometimes it's done with kind words, and a listening heart.

By the way, Pittsburghers...  Leslie has a "modest women's clothing" store.  Get in touch with her when she gets back, and see if you can up her bank balance for another trip to Israel soon.  I miss her already -- and you'll like the clothes!

Simcha:  a joyous (usually family, life cycle) event
Tzedakah:  charity
Tachana merkazit:  central bus station
Agarot:  extremely small change -- it takes ten 10-agarot pieces to equal one shekel...  and a shekel is only worth about a quarter (American) right now

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Was you ever bit by a dead bee?"*

Yom rishon, 6 Tamuz 5769.

A few nights before our friend Baruch returned to the Old Country to finish packing for his family's aliyah, we treated him to the only "drive-in" movie that we know about it Israel.  Our kids never experienced drive-in movies; so we had to explain the concept.  We also had to explain how you can have a drive-in movie without a car.

Anyway, for The Dearly Beloved and Baruch and me, the experience was as authentic as possible -- but with an "only in Israel" feel.  We set up the laptop on a folding table on the mirpeset.  After dark, of course.  We used little portable speakers which simulated the sound-quality of those little rinky-tink speaker boxes one used to hang over the driver's window in the olden days.  We had popcorn.  We had water instead of soda pop (because we are conscious at this age of wanting to live longer).

We had wanted to show the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still; but the projectionist couldn't find the DVD.  So we were stuck with To Have and Have Not, which would have been a stupid film -- due to poorly written dialogue that could only have been penned by Ernest Hemingway, and badly re-written by William Faulkner (who used to throw away bags and bags of mail when he was a postman, by the way) -- if it weren't for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the sweetly helpless and hapless Walter Brennan.  (Okay, and I'm a little partial to the Hoagy Carmichael "Cricket" character, too...)

There was a baby crying in a car behind us.  (Well, actually it was crying in its bedroom next door...)  There were young people congregating and shmoozing.  (They were shmoozing in Hebrew, which I don't remember happening back in my old home town.)   There were cell phone interruptions, which also didn't happen back in the olden days -- and the pièce de résistance:  the IAF decided to have a particularly vigorous exercise overhead during one of the quieter scenes.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, in spite of falling asleep one by one.  (I don't know if it is old age, or if one really begins to expect better writing when one gets older and frummer.)

The last man standing thanked the projectionist when he turned in the little speaker box, and drove us all home.

I hope they're showing a better picture next time.

Tzetchem l'shalom, Baruch.  We'll be happy to greet your family when you arrive on eagle's wings, in a little more than seven weeks...  Hmmmmm...  Something "Jubilee-esque" about that...


*One of the few really good lines in an otherwise disappointing classic.  The other one is "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow." 

If you want to enjoy a great movie, go back to 1951, and catch The Day the Earth Stood Still.  One of my all-time favorite pieces of dialogue is from that film:

Bobby Benson: [indicating grave marker during a visit to Arlington] That's my father. He was killed at Anzio.
Klaatu: Did all those people die in wars?
Bobby Benson: Most of 'em. Didn't you ever hear of the Arlington Cemetery?
Klaatu: No, I'm afraid not.
Bobby Benson: You don't seem to know much about anything, do you, Mr. Carpenter?
Klaatu: Well, I'll tell you, Bobby, I've been away a long time. Very far away.
Bobby Benson: Is it different where you've been? Don't they have places like this?
Klaatu: Well, they have cemeteries, but not like this one. You see, they don't have any wars.
Bobby Benson: Gee, that's a good idea.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cherries! Like little hearts bursting wth love for this Land...

Yom chamishi, 3 Tamuz 5769.

I did not pick these cherries at the currently ongoing Gush Etzion Cherry Festival. A sensitive anesthesiologist-cum-blogger nicknamed QuietusLeo (aka "The Sandman") took the shot on a recent trip with family and friends.  I easily convinced The Sandman to share his excellent photograph of the cherries with the promise of a story...

The Dearly Beloved brought me to Israel for my first visit in 1991.  This little vacation of nine days (from July 4 until July 13 -- it was so special that I still have the dates locked in memory!) was to replace the honeymoon the US Army didn't schedule into its plans six years earlier.  By now, we had two little kids.  We could not have made this trip without the loving and competent help of my dear Mama, a"h, who kept the kids fed and entertained while we were away.

My dear husband wanted to show me the exciting tourist vistas of Israel that he had seen on his two previous visits.  He wanted to show me Masada and the Dead Sea, and the locale of The Good Fence.  His memories there in the Eighties were very powerful.  With the knowledge he possessed as a US Army officer, he argued with the old fellow in the kibbutz about the sounds he had heard the night before.  "Why were track vehicles [Army lashon for 'tanks'] moving late last night?  And where are all your young men?" the Dearly Beloved asked his host.  "Ehhhhhh...  those weren't track vehicles you heard.  And our young men are... you know... just out and about."  But my husband knows his stuff.  Only later did he learn that he was an aural witness to the beginning of the 1982 war in Lebanon.

But that was history.  I wanted the "now" of Israel.  I was already imagining living here.  (I promised I would visit the tourist places with him after our aliyah.)  I wanted the "thrill" of visiting the kupat cholim clinic with my friend, as she took her child for a checkup.  I wanted to wait in line at the bank, just to see if  I could cope with Israeli bureaucracy.  (Fortunately, US Army bureaucracy, with its "hurry up and wait" regimen, had prepared me to survive here.  Insider's tip:  bring a thermos of coffee, a good book, and a positive attitude.  You will meet nice people, and actually have time to get time to know them.  Don't expect to accomplish anything in less than two visits; and don't try to cross more than one bureaucratic hurdle per day.)

I shlepped my long-suffering husband around with me and our friend, Naomi, as we visited the makolet, the health clinic, the bank, and the shuk.

The shuk is why this story is all about cherries.

Our Israel-savvy, holy-but-worldly hostess showed us from which stalls in the shuk to buy.  She picked up vegetables at one stall, fruit at another...  With her guidance, we bought grapefruit that was so perfectly ripe, it seemed to fall open in our hands; and the sweetness made it taste closer to its cousin the orange than to its sour brothers we had encountered in the States.  But it was the cherries that made Naomi cry.  When she watched The Dearly Beloved -- no longer a lad at 43 -- turn into a small, delighted boy when he tasted those cherries...

You have to know that my friend Naomi doesn't cry easily.  She isn't one of those folks who sees a Hallmark card commercial and gets all misty-eyed.  But when she saw forty years drop from my husband's face at the remarkable sweetness and holy perfection of a cherry at its peak of red, ripe lusciousness, as if he'd never tasted anything so unbelievable, a tear came to her eye.

To this day, nearly twenty years later, Naomi gets a bit emotional when she buys cherries.

And she and her love of this Land and what G-d causes it to produce get a big chelek in our success here.  She taught us that what makes a successful aliyah isn't how well you can transplant your little chunk of America in Israeli soil.  What matters is how much you respect what Hashem gives to His Land, and His people in the Land, just as it is.

What if the meraglim had said, "Hey, Moshe!  See these really big grapes?  We can make really BIG wine..."

Kupat Cholim:  health care provider
Makolet:  neighborhood grocery store, a "mini-mart"
Shuk:  open-air marketplace
Chelek:  portion
Meraglim:  the Spies who came back from Canaan with an evil report about the land, planting doubts about their people's ability to wrest the land from the indigenous peoples  -- forgetting that G-d had told them to do it, and that He was on their side 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Driver's Ed, Yishuv-Style

Yom rishon, 29 Sivan 5769.

Driver's education starts very young in Neve Daniel.  There is so much to learn, waiting until a person is 15 or 16 is just too much of a gamble.  What with all those signs in Hebrew -- we expect them to learn this language so young! -- and dealing with drivers who clearly grew up with a culturally different set of rules of the road -- Arabs think nothing of driving on the highway using a method that would have been considered "playing chicken" in my day -- driver's training really must begin right alongside toilet training.

As always, Israeli inventiveness keeps us ahead of the game.  Since teaching one's teenager to drive using the security road is frowned upon (you haven't experienced the Gush until you've had Yoel pull you aside for unauthorized security-road driving, or been arrested for climbing the water tower... but that's another post) -- we'll have to check with the local gan to see if they have a car big enough for Stunt Man.

                   Drive responsibly, kids.  And remember that famous slogan from the Old Country:  "Friends don't let friends drive junk."

The latest edition of Haveil Havelim, #222: The The The The The Edition, is available at The Real Shliach's blog.  It is a great way to get a sampling of the Jewish Blogosphere -- and for my money, the first place to go for "what is really happening" in Israel and on the Jewish scene in general (along with IMRA: Middle East News & Analysis).  Speaking of not driving junk -- there is no excuse anymore to rely on the MSM for your Jewish news.

Yoel:  Neve Daniel's long-suffering head of security
Gan:  kindergarten
Closing Baltimore-insider joke:  Great slogan used by Maven Motors.  Second in coolness only to the Brody Brothers' extermination company slogan:  "Nice Jewish boys, licensed to kill." 

Friday, June 19, 2009

A heartfelt plea from an exhausted mother

Yom shishi, 27 Sivan 5769.

Okay, gang.

I'm calling in any markers I have.  This is serious.

The Sports Guy (pictured below with his beloved Rav from the Old Country) is down to his very last Gush Katif kipah.

As the mother of any teenangel knows, when they get an idée fixe, nothing will get them off of it.  (Maybe they'll outgrow it; but I wouldn't bank a good night's sleep in the near future on that.)

As you can see, the kid is cute, but the kipah is looking just a little bit ratty.  It's time for a change.

"Let's go shopping for a few different kipot!"  I said cheerfully.

"No thanks, Ema.  I like this one."  This response is delivered sweetly.  No teen "'tude."  Who can complain?

The truth is that I started scouring all of the kipah shops in the country as soon as he was down to only one left, because I remember how he was about giving up certain "comfort toys" as a little kid.  But I have not been able to find a single Gush Katif kipah  (large size, not the little knit doilies -- he doesn't like those either) anywhere in Israel.

"Here, Honey.  Here is a kipah your brother gave you, from the IDF.  Won't that be a nice occasional substitute, just so I can wash the other one now and then?"

"Sure, Ema.  But just until you're done washing it.  Thanks!"  No soap, pardon the pun.

Now I get a little Ema-'tude on.  "Okay, young man.  It is very nice that you are comfortable with your 'look.'  I've always been proud of you that you kept your peyot when some of the kids your age were making fun of you, and trying to get you to cut them.  I like that you wear the kipah you like, even if it isn't like everyone else's.  (Besides, I can always find you in a crowd.)  But it's getting beat-looking.  Couldn't we shop for another nice, big, orange kipah?"

Now he looks a little thoughtful.  And my fourteen-year-old gives me a lesson in purpose, and in dedication.

"Ema, it's not about the orange, or that it's kipah serugah.  I don't want to stop wearing it until we get it back."

So here's my request:  Somewhere in Israel, or in America, there is a Gush Katif kipah not unlike the one my young hero currently wears.  I really need a replacement, folks.  If you happen to have a spare one lying about, let me know.

The future peace at Chez Mizrachi may depend on it.

Thanks for listening.  And may Sports Guy's determination pay off.  May we share the good news of the rebuilt Gush Katif, speedily and in our days.

Gush Katif:  a group of Jewish communities begun over 40 years ago on the empty sand dunes of Gaza.   In those days, the Arabs welcomed the Jews there, wondering why they would want to build homes on such "godforsaken land."  Four years ago, these beautiful communities were destroyed, and the land upon which they were built was made Judenrein.
Peyot:  the long (or short) sidelocks worn by many Torah-observant Jews
Kipah serugah:  a knitted kipah -- in Israel, very symbolic politically

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's not about the Holocaust, Mr. President.

Yom chamishi, 26 Sivan 5769.

The following poem is reprinted with permission from the author, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.  Please see more of his very thoughtful and uplifting essays at his website, The David Cardozo Academy: Jewish Education for a Complex WorldIn a world I could affect, I would ask President Obama to sit quietly with his Secretary of State and listen deeply to a reading of this poem, read with all the feeling it engenders by one of my many dear Baltimore friends whose hearts weep with a desire to live in the Jewish homeland.  Would the message be heard?  I cannot know.  But I know that you, dear reader, will hear it.

To President Barack Obama

I am a Jew.
I stand at the Western Wall.

How long do I stand here?
Nearly 4000 years,
since the days of my grandfather Abraham
when he nearly sacrificed his son
at Mount Moriah.

I see the Wall with its frozen tears,
and passing clouds with many sighs.
I read millions of names:
in Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Poland,
Spain, Hungary, America and South Africa.

But that was only in a dream.
In reality
we Jews were all born in Israel, and then exiled by Titus.
Although most of us began our childhoods
in foreign countries,
we merely camped in these places, but never dwelled in them.

And at the end of our lives,
Though our tombstones may stand in Exile,
our bodies are buried in the dust of Israel.


The return to Zion is unprecedented.
It is sui generis.
The State of Israel is a surprise,
a shock,
for it is the story of a nation in exile
which never had to return because it never left.
It lifted its Holy Land from its native soil,
transformed it into a portable homeland,
carrying it to all corners
of the earth,
only to replant it again in its native land
when the students of Titus can no longer prevent it from doing so.

Mr. President,

Israel was not built on the ashes of Auschwitz.
It is founded on the Bible,
a divine text rooted in the Jewish experience of nearly 4000 years.
A Heilsgeschichte, a Redemptive History
for all of mankind.

Israel was not created because of the Holocaust,
but rather despite the Holocaust.



Only the Jews, for thousands of years, prayed and continue to pray for its rebuilding.

No other people.

Only the Jews mourn its destruction of nearly two thousand years ago.

No other nation.

It is only they who weep, sitting on the floor on the date of the Temple's desecration
in the month of Av, year after year.

No other people.

It is only they who for two thousand years break a glass under the marriage canopy, an expression of sorrow for Jerusalem.
(How many millions of glasses were broken throughout exile?)

No other nation.

It is only the Jews who for thousands of years build their houses but leave a part of the wall unplastered because of the loss of their Temple.

No other people.

It is only Jewish women who do not wear all their jewelry at once, in deference to the destruction of the House of God.

No other women.

And it is only the Jews who cover their dead with the dust of the land of Israel even when they bring their dear ones to their final resting place outside the land of Israel.

No other burial society.

Neither Titus' offspring,
nor Saladin's descendants,
nor Godfrey of Bouillon, the crusader, nor his children,
ever mourned, prayed or buried their dead in the Earth of the Holy Land.

This, dear President, you must learn.

For without this knowledge,
there will be no way to make peace.


Thank you, Rabbi, for making it as clear as it can be.  May the Borei Olam cause that these words be heard by all Jewish hearts -- for, at the end of the day, these are the only hearts that matter.  Once we know that these concepts are true, then Hashem will turn the hearts of our enemies, and even the hearts of our friends.

Two Bees or Not Two Bees?

Yom revi'i, 25 Sivan 5769.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Colorful Street People

Yom sheni, 9 Sivan 5769.

It's true that a really nice post could be written about the colorful street people you thought this post was going to be about.  One of these days, I'll be worthy of writing it.  The fact is that I am firmly convinced that the prayers and brachot of some of Yerushalayim's street people have kept my kids healthy, out of serious trouble, and on a Torah path.  (There is one holy lady in Meah Sha'arim whose prayers -- said with my children's names tucked between the pages of her Tehillim for over a decade -- have felt to me like the prayers of a beloved grandmother.  I believe that Hashem surely has counted them as pure love from a pure heart.)

But this post isn't about Leah and her holy ilk.

It is about the joyful metal artwork on Ha-Zehavit Street.  We are privileged to travel this street any time we drive or ride the bus from the Gush into Yerushalayim, via Gilo.  Delightful, colorful and playful characters people the grass strip between the lanes of traffic on this well-traveled road, reminding drivers that there's more to do in life than rush to the office.
Avi and I reminisced about the Alte Heimland.  How might such statuary fare in Baltimore, Maryland, or in Lusk, Wyoming?  In Baltimore, these colorful cutouts wouldn't have lasted a month before they were covered with crude graffiti and -- uh -- anatomically-correct Magic Marker appendages.  In Wyoming, the temptation to shoot the cast iron critters full of holes would have been irresistible.  But in Yerushalayim, at least thus far, the only additional artwork has been provided by an errant fowl.

Not bad for one of the most controversial cities on the face of the Earth.

Haveil Havalim #219, the Kakol Hevel Edition is up at DovBear's place.  Give it a read.  Some of my favorite writers pop by to share their opinions on politics in Israel and the US, and on Jewish life.