Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur, the morning after

Yom shlishi, 11 Tishrei 5770.

Baruch Hashem, it was a very meaningful Yom Kippur at Chez Mizrachi.  And, thanks to learning physically sensible preparations over the years, the fasting was not difficult.

Following Yom Kippur, the minhag is to show Hashem how determined we are to change our natures by starting the morning prayers a bit earlier, and to be scrupulous about keeping other mitzvot and "new year's resolutions."  Walking off the weight is, as ever (sigh), high on the list of physical corrections we are working on.  In keeping with this custom, I arose at 5:30, davened, and then accompanied the Dearly Beloved on his earlier-than-usual walk to the Beit Knesset.  After dropping him off, I continued our usual walking route, stopping at the makolet to pick up sufficient milk and cereal to feed the starving hordes.

Please join me for a bit of our very lovely morning walk.

We are sweetly conscious of the fact that there are only a few days left to say the bracha "Morid HaTal," thanking Hashem for bringing the dew.

A fork in the road.  Shall I take the road less traveled?

Not today.  I think I'll take the path that allows for more steps on the trusty pedometer.

(Part of the fitness plan, to be followed by a healthy breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruit, and that cup of coffee I've resisted for over a week!)

Passing Jews on their way to Shachrit, I share in the warm greeting which may not be unique to Neve Daniel (though I have yet to hear it anywhere else):

"Boker tov!"  (Good morning!)

"Boker ohr!"  (Loosely translated as "Morning light!"  Quite the nicest exchange I've heard.)

And then the final ha'na'ah of the morning walk:  seeing the brothers on their way to morning prayers.

Thank you, Hashem.  Around all of my doubts and questions -- most of them about myself -- life is good.

!ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד
 Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever!

Minhag:  custom
Mitzvot:  commandments
Davened:  prayed
Beit Knesset:  synagogue
Makolet:  "corner grocery"
Starving Hordes:  your brothers, Sam
Shachrit:  morning prayers
Ha'na'ah:  pleasure

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Age-Perspectives on the Mitzvot

Yom rishon, 9 Tishrei 5770, Erev Yom Kippur.

Remember that it's a mitzvah to eat the day before Yom Kippur.

Hand-made by boys.

Ah, to be fifteen and sixteen, when the most glorious of the mitzvot was the feast before the fast!

Later, they'll be consumed by the need to ask mechila (forgiveness) from those they've wronged, focused on reconnecting with Hashem, conscious of the need to make sure that they and their wives and each of their beautiful children experiences the brachot of kaparot.

But right now, they take joy in this most visceral of mitzvot.  It is a teenangel's step toward perfection.  How wise is our Father in Heaven, to make His mitzvot accessible to us throughout our lives!

Hodu Lashem, Ki Tov, Ki L'Olam Chasdo!

On the previous Erev Shabbat, the older boys work in some time for a little shteiging...

...balanced by basketball.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not:  This mitzvah was completed by only two boys, in under an hour.

Mitzvah:  commandment
Brachot:  blessings
Kaparot:  atonements (a ritual removing harsh decrees from oneself and one's children by substituting an object -- many people use chickens, which are then given to the poor; many use money, which is also given to charity)
Hodu Lashem, Ki Tov, Ki L'Olam Chasdo!:  Thanks be to Hashem, because He is Good, forever is His kindness!
Shteiging:  poring over Torah/Talmud texts in deep study and discussion

Haveil Havalim:  Pre-Yom Kippur Edition is up over at Benji's extremely silly and heartwarming place (aka "What War Zone???"), with a warm and fuzzy welcome mat at the front door for new olim.  As someone in my family recently pointed out:  "He's as funny as Brian Regan -- and we don't get embarrassed listening to him with you, Ema, because he's not, you know, like, gross."  Yom huledet sameach, Moshe Shmuel.  Till a hundred and twenty, in good health.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Haveil Havalim #235 Preaches to the Choir!

Yom shlishi, 4 Tishrei 5770.

I have no clue what is the source of this amazing photo.  It was sent to me by a friend; and until I know who did it, I just have to give credit to the Ribono shel Olam for making such beautiful scenes without the benefit of PhotoShop.  (Hat tip to JudyGoforth.  Thanks for the beauty, Girlfriend.)

Haveil Havalim Edition #235, "Bloggers Unite!  The Post-JBlog Convention (aka "The Slow Fast Edition")
is up at Batya's places, both at Me-Ander and at Shiloh Musings.  (The lady is prolific.  What can I tell you?) In deference to "Talk like a pirate day, September 19," pick yer poison.   Aarrgghhhh...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reflections on the Life and Death of Gedalia

Yom sheni, 3 Tishrei 5770.

Usually on the minor Jewish fasts, the boys are at school, where the responsibility of explaining the significance of the fast falls to their long-suffering rebbeim.  This year, Sports Guy's rebbeim were overcome by a bout of common sense, and allowed the young hopefuls to fast at home.

A growing teenager often lifts the fridge up with his bare hands, empties its contents into his mouth, and then declares that he is starving to death.  So fourteen hours without a crumb of food or a drop of water can be challenging for the teenangel, and for those subjected to his presence.  So I don't begrudge the rabbis their decision to deal with only their own kids, instead of twenty or so surly uncomfortable sons of other people.

But that leaves it up to me to prevent Tzom Gedalia from being just the Day of the Empty Tummy to sleep through -- not the most spiritual state.

Before his several-hours nap, Sports Guy and I talked about the history of this fast.  What's the big deal about a governor being killed?  Unfortunately throughout history there have been far too many murdered righteous Jews.  Okay, so he was the last Jewish leader -- really our last hope for self-government -- that the Babylonian ruler allowed, after the Destruction of the Holy Temple.  But what makes his assassination worthy of being counted among the four fasts that commemorate that Destruction?

After the Temple was destroyed, Nevuchadnezzar appointed a righteous commoner, Gedalia ben Achikam, as a "governor" over the tiny remnant of Jews that remained in the Holy Land.  This heartened Jews who had fled or been exiled to surrounding countries; and they began to stream back into their ancestral homeland.  But the king of neighboring Ammon didn't want the Jews to have any success.  One of his loyal citizens was a Jew of royal blood named Yismael ben Netanya.  The king convinced Yismael that it was unjust for a mere commoner to be appointed governor, instead of someone like Yismael.  Through his jealousy, Yismael was persuaded to assassinate Gedalia.

Even though Gedalia had been warned that Yismael was coming to kill him, he failed to take the warning seriously, assuming it to be lashon hara (slander).

When Yismael and his followers arrived in Mitzpe on the third day after Rosh Hashana, they were greeted warmly and respectfully by Gedalia.  Yismael and his men murdered Gedalia, as well as many other Jews, and several Babylonians that Nevuchadnezzar had charged with "keeping an eye on" Gedalia.  The remaining Jews, fearing reprisals from the Babylonian king, fled to Egypt -- leaving holy Israel Judenrein.

Various of our sages point to the combination of the murder of a righteous Jew with the desertion of Israel as the reason for this fast.  Others point out the terrible spiritual weight upon which we Jews must reflect.  Here it was, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Surely, Yismael ben Netanya would have been asking for Hashem's mercy, along with his fellow Jews.  Why did he not repent for the terrible and destructive mida of jealousy, at least at this holy, introspective time of the year?

There are other concepts we can learn from the historic events of Tzom Gedalia.  While we are enjoined not to believe lashon hara, we are not free from thinking rationally, from weighing warnings about potentially dangerous liaisons or situations.  Judaism is not a religion of assuming sweetness and light; rather, it is a religion that demands careful thought rather than careless reaction.

Sports Guy and I thought of another lesson which we learned from this tragedy -- perhaps brought to our imaginations by current events.  One of the most sordid aspects of the murder of Gedalia ben Achikam is that he was murdered at the hands of a fellow Jew.  We Jews are reminded again and again that we do not merely share a nation and a religion.  We are brothers, and we are expected to be loyal to one another.

Whether one's name is Mazeroff or Madoff, Goldberg or Goldstone, it might be important for every one of us to reflect on the potential tragedy wrought by disloyalty -- especially when we are being scrutinized by Hashem for our adherence to His values.  The consequences of every choice may be bigger than we think.

Gmar chatima tova!

Sources:  Tzom Gedaliah, OU.org; A Second Opinion, by Rabbi Pinchas Frankel; Tzom Gedalya, by Rabbi Yosef Prero, at Torah.org.

What a country!

Yom sheni, 3 Tishrei 5770.

Rosh Hashana is all about reminding ourselves that Hashem is our King, and reminding Him that we would prefer that He look over our deeds of the past year through His attribute of mercy, rather than through His attribute of justice.  (As a principle of a girls' school intoned in a sepulchral voice years ago, when fielding her students' questions about justice, "You think life isn't fair, ladies?  You want fair?  I don't think you really want fair..."  The ladies in question had no trouble rethinking their position, when it was put to them like that.)  

Needless to say, this pursuit of mercy calls for a lot of prayer.

While the heavier aspects of the New Year are somewhat ameliorated by lots of great food and time with friends and family, one of the most interesting customs is the simanim, explained by Artscroll as "significant omens."  We eat symbolic foods at the evening meals, saying blessings that play with the Hebrew or Yiddish names for the foods.  There is much talk of increasing our merits and asking Hashem to get rid of our enemies.  As time has gone by, we have enjoyed additions to these portentous little word games, sometimes in English.

We had more fun with our simanim this year than I can remember, mostly because we took ideas from everyone.  It didn't hurt that the traditional fish head was as big as a football.  Of course, for some of my manly men, I had to offer an alternative.  Usually, I manage to find "gummi fish" to get the squeamish past the quite important blessing about being more like the head than the tail.  But this year, I just couldn't find our traditional substitute.  Well, not one to make the boys suffer, I came up with a home-made version:

I served it with the following gentle reminder:  "Anyone who doesn't clearly see that this is a fish head will be dining on Charlie the Tuna with me."   The relevant players suddenly became great fans of jelly bean art.

Some of our favorite simanim at this year's celebration were:

...that we may enjoy peace!

...that our enemies' anti-Semitic propaganda be squashed!

...that we all live in harmony!
 courtesy of the Hurwitz family

...that we kin stay pumped about fulfilling the mitzvot(This one was from our own Sports Guy -- who else?  Next year, I'll have to season it with cinnamon and sugar.  Sports Guy almost invented a new event:  "pumpkin hurling.")      

...sheyichamsu et oyveinu! (from the brilliant and talented Gottlieb kids)


...that we "gezer togezer" to celebrate what we all hope and pray will be a very, VERY good year -- for our families, our neighbourhood, and our land.  AMEN!  (Brachot and Canadian spelling brought to you buy Harvey Poch.)

For a nice explanation and description of the symbolic foods, see Rabbi Moshe Lazurus' ABCs of Rosh Hashana.

Oh, and another thing:
"Cola Wars" are an entirely different story here.  It's all about which company can give the best matanot (presents).

I love living in a place where even the cola companies pay attention to my holidays for a change.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shana Tova!

Yom chamishi, 28 Elul 5769.

While we are busy cleaning and shopping and cooking, there is some other work to be done.  I don't know about you -- but I keep waking up in the middle of the night with the guilty feeling that I am not really getting anywhere spiritually.  Maybe it was glancing at last year's list of midot I was so determined to change...  and seeing that I could pretty much make the same list again this year.


The guys at aish.com are getting better and better at making short films that get to the heart of the matter.  Please enjoy this one.  Let it help you to get closer and higher in that climb we each are trying to make toward a perfect relationship with our Creator.

May you be inscribed and sealed for Good!  May we share the imminent Geula.  (Let's see now...  where did I put that tamborine?

Hat tip to Elka.  Thanks, dear friend.

What is in a name, anyway?

Yom revi'i, 27 Elul 5769.

Recently, a friend and writing mentor publicly announced subtly pointed out that the name of this blog is a bit hard to say, and even harder to remember.  Both of these things are true.  He said people shouldn't have to read the fine print to know what one's name means.  He also suggested that more people might read the darn thing if it had an easy and catchy name.

I have to admit that I wish I'd come up with one of those great names in the blogosphere, like Ima On and Off the Bima, The Elder of Ziyon, or West Bank Mama.

Never one to weep openly reject helpful criticism out of hand (and especially just before Rosh Hashana!), I have decided to poll my readers, to see if Change is Good.  (I love when I sound Presidential!)

So here are the options.  Please help me out by voting.  Feel free to just designate your response by letter(s) of the alphabet -- but elaboration will be funnier, and therefore more amusing to me.

A.  Leave it the way it is, Ruti.  No one Googles it, anyway.  We just wait for the email.

B.  Change it to English.  "Because we surely can!"

C.  "Because we surely can!" sounds TOO Presidential.      

D.  Call it "RutiMizrachi."  That's all I can remember, anyway.

E.  Call it "RutiMizrahi," to be linguistically accurate.  (That one is for Ben-Yehudah.)

F.  Try this idea instead.  I made it up; so I like it better! 
(fill in the blank with your suggestion)

G.  Awww...  stop being paranoid, Ruti!  He wasn't even referring to your blog.  He was talking about Esser Agaroth, Hirhurim, The Mookata Muquata Muqata, and Treppenwitz!

Thanks, gang!  We aim to please!  (Our aim may be a bit off...)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Second Annual J-Blogger Fest

Yom shlishi, 26 Elul 5769.

I had the most wonderful birthday day-before-yesterday! 

My favorite non-Yom Tov annual event is the J-Bloggers' Convention; and the Dearly Beloved was kind enough to let me spend my birthday hanging out with a whole bunch of virtual people, instead of with my family.  (I said that just for you, Baila.  Say along with me:  "Bloggers ARE real people!  Bloggers ARE real people...)

Hosted by Nefesh B'Nefesh and powered by WebAds, the Second Annual J-Bloggers' Convention took place in a lovely venue -- Beit Avi Chai, near the Grand Synagogue.  There were wonderful photographs on the walls, which stirred controversy.  ("Ah, more photographic evidence that there are no women in the Ultra-Orthdox world."  -- name withheld for snarkiness.)  My favorite photograph was of a Chareidi guy sitting on the ground in the snow, because I love when people get in touch with their inner little kid.

There was one sad occurrence, that we would not have heard about until after the party, if four-fifths of the attendees had not been news junkies:  astronaut Ilan Ramon, a"h, has now been joined by his dear son, IAF pilot Assaf Ramon, a"h.  May Rona Ramon and her other children be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim...
I attended workshops on "Defending Israel through Social Media Tools" and "Being a Better Blogger."   Treppenwitz and Jameel of the Muqata are my favorites, as they gave me the most useful advice; but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ashley Perry, and to Carl of Israel Matzav as well.  Yishai Fleisher moderated with great professionalism.  (Did Malkah choose that suit and tie, Yish?  Very nice.  Very "corporate," as Yeshiva Bochur would say.)

Moshe Shmuel Benji Lovitt was very funny, as always -- except that he has given up on having any hair at all, and is doing the fashionable but annoying cue-ball thing, and he needs to eat more food.  (Nu?  You're killing me, here.  Eat your chumous.  Take two pitot.  Eat!  Eat!)  Some people just bring out the Jewish mother in us.

There were a couple of panel discussions on various topics.  Three things struck me during these events:  1)  The presenters put a lot of work into trying to provide an incredibly varied group of bloggers with interesting content, and they will get better and better each year; 2) Half of the people in the auditorium are Twittering, I-Phoning, and Blogging.  We never would have gotten away with this in college lectures!; and 3)  If my mama hadn't raised me to sit politely and listen, I would be out in the halls, grabbing extra time with my peeps.

Because the best part of the event was the opportunity to "chill" with lots and lots of my favorite writers.  In the olden olden days, when print was still alive, writers used to meet in the salons of elegant dowagers.  Not necessarily writers themselves, these wealthy ladies became famous for hosting gatherings; and their salons became almost as talked about as the people who met there.

We may not be George Sand or Dorothy Parker, and NBN isn't creaking with age and dripping with emeralds -- but the opportunity to hang out with thinkers and writers of like mind totally diverse opinions is truly a pinnacle of my year.

I got the special treat of seeing my friend Rivkah practicing to be an Israeli (very soon, please G-d).  And there were people who blog in Israel, but I missed seeing -- either because they did not make the event, or there simply wasn't time to look for them around all of the programming.

I look forward to RivkA's budding plan to have a picnic with no programming, just so that I can chatter (not tweet) for hours with the likes of RivkA, Baila, Safra-Knit, Risa, A Soldier's Mother, One Tired Ema, Rahel, West Bank Mama, Penina, Muse, and the spousal units of QuietusLeo, Jameel and Treppenwitz, if their schedules allow.  We could try to get Moshe Shmuel fixed up with someone who would feed him.  Really.  I'm serious here.  Bring on the beer and barbecue!

Haveil Havalim, The Ruti's Birthday Edition, is up at The Reform Shuckle.  Have an extra slice, on the house!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"I will sing and chant praises to Hashem."

Yom rishon, 24 Elul 5769.

This seems to have been a Shabbat of hoda'ah (gratitude).

Friday night, there was a very lovely gathering in a home in my community for the best possible reason:  a terrible tragedy was averted, and a family continues to be whole, with no one missing at the Shabbat table.

A lovely young woman who is well known for her giving nature put her tiny body in the way of a vehicle as it rolled downhill with her small children inside.  Instead of careening out of control down the steep grade and into who-knows-what tragic ending, the car's encounter with 40 kilos of mere woman caused it to be deflected into a nearby boulder, which stopped it, and saved the children.

Her husband immediately made a seuda hoda'ah -- a feast of thanksgiving -- inviting the community to share dessert and an opportunity for a communal sigh of relief.  He spoke beautifully of his gratitude to the community that came together to volunteer assistance; to his wife for her courage and grace throughout the pain; to his teenager for being wise enough to see how fortunate we all are; to Hashem, for allowing his family to remain whole.  He suggested to the friends that overflowed his home that we should not put off our gratitude, but should express it while the emotions are still palpable.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb wrote an important d'var Torah on the week's parsha.  He reminds us that "thank you" are "the most important two words in our language...The world would be a much better place if we each could cultivate an 'attitude of gratitude'."

With that in mind, I want to add my thanks.  Thank You, Hashem, for saving my friend's life, and the lives of her children.  Please give a refua shelaima to Elana Michal Bat Tamar Chana.
And while I'm at it --  Thank You for allowing my family to live in this remarkable community, in this very beautiful and special, holy country.  The many things I have to thank You for would take more than one blog post; but at least I can offer a few words of thanks before I sleep tonight.

Thank You for giving me vision to appreciate the very tiny beauty around me.               

Thank You for giving me the time to watch life unfold in this amazing Land.

Thank You for letting me live in a country where there are peaceful, tranquil waterfalls and walkways, even in the center of the holiest city on Earth!

Thank You for letting me live in a country with a tallit for a flag.

Thank You for allowing me to live in a land whose ancient history is all around us, and proves that the Tanach You gave to us is a living, factual document.
Thank You for letting my family live in a land where it is easy to keep things in perspective -- if we just remember what it is we're looking at.
Thank You for the fact that the guys in our skies are the good guys...
...and the bureacrats take the time to become one's friends.

Oh, another thing, Hashem.  Remember that time we were walking in Givat Sha'ul, and the Dearly Beloved and I were really missing our Rav from the old country?  And suddenly, out of nowhere, You sent us that little hug?  We really appreciated that, Hashem.  Thank You!

P.S.  Thanks for another year of life.  My bracha is that everyone who reads these words is blessed to develop an increased attitude of gratitude this year.  May we finally say the words and do the actions that will bring the Geula.  May all of Hashem's Am Segula finally come Home.
P.P.S.  And thank You for making me a woman!  (The guys are leaving for slichot in about two hours.  I'll try not to snore too loudly.)