Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Larger Footprint - Guest Post by Varda Epstein

Yom shlishi, 9 Adar 5773.

My friend and Times of Israel blogger Varda Epstein writes movingly of another side of Aliyah that must be taken into account, and the good attitude that can make it work, nonetheless.

Mom, dancing at my wedding, couldn't dance at my daughter's...
Making Aliyah, the act of picking up and moving to Israel, changes the meaning of family forever.

For one thing, there’s the physical distance that cannot be bridged no matter how wonderful the notion and reality of Aliyah, because they (your family) are there and you are here, in the Holy Land.

It can mean giving up one mitzvah for another: leaving elderly parents to fend for themselves for the sake of your Aliyah. You can end up feeling, well, a little selfish, like you've abandoned them. That’s true even in the best-case scenario, in which the parents are supportive of your move to the Holy Land.

That physical distance means that when you’re feeling under the weather and finding it hard to cope with parenting or other demands, there’s no one to pinch hit for you. You can’t call your mother to come and rescue you. She’s too far away to bring you chicken soup and do your laundry.

Skype isn't quite like being there...
The miles (or kilometers, now that you’re an Israeli) mean that sometimes the family will miss out on your milestones, Skype notwithstanding. Your child’s first tooth, first word, and first step are just a few of the important occasions your family may miss. And your child will miss out on experiencing the unconditional love that only grandparents can give.

Having family far away also means that during the worst of times, for instance during mourning, there will be no extended family to grieve alongside you. Tradition dictates that only family members visit the Shiva house during the early days of the Jewish mourning period. Yet you may be the only person at Shiva who knew your loved one. That can tend to grow the ache that much larger and lonelier.

Out of necessity, however, the meaning of family undergoes a necessary and very beautiful evolution for those who make Aliyah. Friends metamorphose into something more than friends, if something less than family. They stand in for our families as we stand in for their own.

The bonds we create with our new friends in Israel are so much stronger than those we had with the friends we left behind, because they must fill a much larger footprint. They must be both friends and family or rather a wholly new species that is a merger of the two without being quite one or the other. It’s a tall order, yet one that is filled with the purest of intentions.

It’s an obligation that is a pleasure to fill. It means, for example, that if I have an important business meeting, my friend Leora, a makeup artist, will do my makeup for free so I’ll look spiffy and professional, while I will spend hours creating a many-tiered, decorated cake, for her daughter’s bat mitzvah, in girly-girl colors, free of charge, out of the deepest love and affection. Whatever we have, we give freely. It is a give and take that binds us despite the lack of blood ties or shared history, but binds us no less surely.

Baked with love, even though it couldn't be baked by her "real" aunt

This obligation is not an obligation, but rather something that is volunteered out of great desire. It means that my friend Rachel, who babysat my infant son when I was unwell, was there at his wedding to shed a tear instead of my mother, who could not be there.  It means that when we dance together in the middle of the circle, a kind of holy energy surrounds and caresses us, something indescribable that comes perhaps from the heavens -- something that can neither be described nor uttered. It is simply there: born out of Aliyah, a holy and wholly beautiful byproduct of our sojourn in the Land.




Varda Epstein is a mother of 12 children, blogger, and communications writer at Kars4Kids
http://www.kars4kids.org

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"You’re Somebody’s Type"

Yom shlishi, 2 Adar 5773.
The "carry with you everywhere" blood donor's certificate
Donating blood was not part of my upbringing.  I don't know why.  And had the idea come into my brain, it would have been dispelled quickly by my disproportionate fear of needles.

That fear was cured in half an hour, as I awaited my turn with other female US Army recruits for the shot in the arm.  I had time consider as the line shifted forward.  "Don't move," we were warned by the army nurse, "or this gun will make six nice little 'Zorro' tattoos in your lovely young arms."  It was a very scary looking piece of equipment, designed to shoot six shots of pressurized air-propelled serum into the arm, thereby inoculating us efficiently without needles.  The fact that I was a little older than the other girls, having enlisted at 24, stiffened my resolve to not let these babies see my cry -- or even flinch.  Thus ended my fear of vaccinations.

By the time I got out of the army, I appreciated the mitzvah of giving blood, especially since I was from the "universal donor" blood type group.  Naturally, I wanted to do my part -- only to be told that the United States Red Cross didn't want my blood:  I had been stationed in Germany during years that concerned them.  Mad Cow Disease, or something like that.  I was really disappointed.

So imagine my surprise when I came to Israel, and tried again to donate blood.  "Were you ever in England, Ireland or Portugal?" the young Magen David Adom nurse asked me.  No, I hadn't managed to make time to travel that extensively.  No mention of Germany.  I was in!  For the first time in my life.




It is interesting to see who shows up to donate blood at the MDA station on the top floor of the Central Bus Station.  Young mechina guys.   A lot of soldiers, both male and female.  Young mothers.  Middle-aged people like me.

Not everyone wanted his or her picture taken -- but everyone asked me to please write about giving blood, to let people know that it's easy, doesn't take much time, and makes a difference.
As the mother of three IDF soldiers (and one about to be drafted), I want so much to do my part.  They should never need a drop of their mother's blood, please G-d.  But we are all a family here.  That mother's son is my nephew, as is that soldier standing and waiting his turn to donate.   I can't offer to give my new country what they are willing to give.

But if any of them ever needs this kind of help, I want to be there for him.

For those of us in Israel, the process is simple.  If you are in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, for instance, and have forty minutes to spare, go to the top floor (the floor above the bus platforms).  I am pretty sure the Maden David Adom workers are there every day.  They guide you through the process, gently and lovingly.  They're good at what they do.  (No Zorro marks; very little discomfort.)  They'll give you juice or water, and pamper you for a half-hour, to be sure you're not too light-headed to go about your business, before they let you go.





This post was "in the works" for some time.  It was finally dusted off and completed today, thanks to a video my friend and fellow writer Varda Epstein sent to me on Facebook.  Take a few moments to listen to a grateful young man whose life was saved by 70 people!



I give you the bracha that you will always be a giver and never need to be a receiver.  But if Hashem has other plans -- I give you the bracha that there will be good people around you, with the willingness to give up a pint of blood to save another human being's life.  Kol areivim zeh lazeh.  We are all responsible for one another.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shabbat on a Budget

Yom sheni, 1 Adar 5773, Rosh Chodesh.

Some of my favorite Shabbat meals have resulted from the following logical premise:  "We had a helluva great party last month [Ed. note: See a future blog post for wedding details]; so we had better tighten our belts, or we're going to still have month at the end of the money."

There were a lot of quality leftovers after the wedding, two sheva brachot, and a Shabbat here and there.  I have enough Scot in me to abhor waste -- so the food had to be used -- but Shabbat also must be given the honor it is due.

I had been stashing in the freezer leftovers of really nice Shabbat pot roasts, because the leftovers from the Number 8 (chuck) roast slow-cooked in olive oil, wine and spices is not the sort of thing one throws out or even eats during the week.  The same could be said of the leftover homemade shwarma of pargiot (boneless chicken thighs).  Neither of these dishes could be served again in their original forms.  Cooking them again could dry them out, and would surely cause the meat to shred.

So I decided to make a meat pie and a chicken pie for my expanding/contracting/expanding guest list.

The first step was to sauté onions and garlic in olive oil.  While the onions were browning, I cubed potatoes and carrots, and boiled them gently until they were just cooked.  Next, I separated the onions into two pans.  Into one, I added shredded leftover beef roast (which was already flavored with salt, pepper, thyme and baharat) and into the other, shredded chicken (already spiced with curry powder and garam masala).  While these mixtures were heating, I lined a couple of aluminum pans (56mm x 190mm x 260 mm) with prepared pastry dough that comes in rolls, and which I cut to size.  I pierced the bottoms and sides of the pastry shells with a fork.

     I filled the lined pastry shells with the meat mixtures, and then covered them with rectangles of dough, crimping and and sealing the edges, and decorating the tops with fork tracks.  I baked the meat pies at 177 degrees Centigrade (around 350 degrees Fahrenheit), until they were golden brown on top.

So far, I'd spent 25 shekels over what was already in the house (about 7 bucks).

I had a little of the meat mixture left over; so I made a small two-person shepherd's pie for the newlyweds.  I wanted a little bottom crust; so I used a leftover flour tortilla, warmed slightly in a frying pan so that it would be soft enough to shape into the bottom of a round pan.  I added the meat and onion mixture, and put some freshly-made mashed potatoes on top.  A little paprika added color to the top, lightly sprayed with Pam Olive Oil spray.  Again, I baked this dish at 177 degrees until it was heated through.
Chicken broth, strained and ready for the slow-cooker.  In the upper-right corner, you can see dough strips leftover from the meat and chicken pies.  They'll come into play later...

A soup seemed like a nice and filling addition.  Usually, my chicken soup is a big deal, with lots of vegetables and pieces of chicken and turkey necks, for added richness.  But this week was about saving money; so I bought a package of chicken bones (less than 9 shekels, about $2.50).  I used some tired carrots, leeks, and celery (actually better and more flavorful for soup than very fresh vegetables), an onion and some fresh garlic.  Once the soup had boiled sufficiently, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a bit of hawaij spice.  This went into the slow-cooker, and cooked slowly, becoming very brown and rich by Shabbat lunch.
There is such a beauty to a good chicken broth!

There were leftover strips of pastry dough.  I decided to make a quick dessert of fried dough.  I melted coconut oil in a frying pan, fried the dough strips on both sides until golden brown, and then sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon.  Nope, not even a tiny bit healthy.  But tasty, and quite a hit.

And of course, I balanced all of this non-health-food with lots of fresh, green and red and orange and yellow salad.  Also not expensive... and a great way to buy off my conscience for feeding them food they loved, that wasn't particularly healthy.


  There are times to pull out all the stops to put together a real feast, knowing that Hashem will always reimburse us for the money we spend on Shabbat and the chagim (holidays).

And there are other times when He seems to say, "I'm not sending any extra money just now.  Be creative.  Don't worry.  I made you.  I know you've got it in you."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Family Shabbat -- or Not!

Yom shishi, 28 Shevat 5773.


Our Sages teach that our souls are sent to this world to work on our eventually perfect selves, to correct some problem in the fabric of the universe, or both.  My sons are always teaching me, which is why G-d blessed this particular mother with these particular sons.

Over time, I have shared and hope to continue to share some of the lessons they have taught me.  Now we are in the Empty Nest stage; and in order to perfect my midah of spontaneity-with-patience, my boys -- who no longer live at home -- appear at random times, with random guests, for Shabbat.

Back story:  I am a Yekke by nature.  This means that I need to be on time for everything, need to have plans, need to have things follow a pattern.  Living with other human beings, this attitude can have certain drawbacks, as you might imagine.

In order to be the best mom I can be, given my nature, I always asked my kids to give me a few days' notice before a friend came to spend the night, or for Shabbat.  I can see some of my fellow moms' faces, reading this with utter incomprehension.  Just know how special you are, ladies, to have already mastered (or been granted the gift of) spontaneity!  It is not one of my natural strengths, to be able to warmly greet drop-in guests.

But life has changed, and with it, G-d's plan for this year's Ruti improvements.  My boys live away from home -- with their wives, in their barracks in the IDF, at their yeshiva dorms.  Other people or institutions help them to decide where they are spending Shabbat, and how soon they will arrive at my door.  In the case of soldiers, these plans remain mysteries until hours before candle-lighting.  So I can sit around and kvetch that I don't get the warning I prefer.  Or I can leap outside my comfort zone, and learn to "roll with it."

This Shabbat, like so many others, I didn't know until the day before Shabbat who would be home.  Buy a roast?  Big or small?  A big pan of shwarma?  Or a couple of pargiot, with a nice sauce?  Sodas?  Or just seltzer?  Ice cream and cookies and chips for seudat shlishit?  Or lox and crackers, with maybe a boiled egg or two?

Sports Guy:  "Looks like it's an in-Shabbat, Ema.  I will probably just stop by on Thursday night with some laundry, if that's okay, and then see you on Sunday for a few hours.  Okay?"
Ema:  "Sure, Baby.  See you when we see you."

(No pretzels.  Maybe three kilos less beef.)

Stunt Man:  "Ema, I'd like to come and bring a friend, but it depends on whether [Yeshiva Bochur] will be home."  (The brothers are close; and one's plans are often contingent on the other's.)  "And is [Sports Guy] having an in-Shabbat, or will he be home?"
Ema: "Well, I still don't know for sure about Yeshiva Bochur... and Sports Guy says he won't be coming this time."
Stunt Man:  "Oh.  Okay -- I'll get back to you... by Thursday, I promise."

(Sushi.  Seltzer.  Beer.  Shwarma, for sure.  Some of that horrible hazelnut-filled chocolate square cereal stuff.)

Yeshiva Bochur:  "Yesh!  Home for Shabbat!"
Ema:  "YAY!!!  Champagne Girl will be so happy!  Will we see you?"
Yeshiva Bochur:  "Hmmmm.  Maybe for seudat shlishit."
Ema:  "No worries."

(Beer.  Ice cream and junk for the third meal.  Did I say beer?  Garanim.  Scratch the lox.)

Sports Guy:  "It looks like I may be able to be home for Shabbat.  Any brothers home?"
Ema:  "I think we may have a 'full Shabbat,' with all three brothers!"
Sports Guy:  "Cool!"

(Mass quantities of beef.  Pretzels.  Sushi.  Don't forget the sushi.)

Stunt Man:  "Ehhhhh... looks like my friend and I will probably not be there for Shabbat, but I'm not a hundred per cent sure.  Can I tell you tomorrow?"
Ema:  "No problem.  Whatever works for you is fine."

(Cut the beer in half.  Make the same amount of sushi.  Sports Guy won't have to hold back, then.  Buy the awful chocolate cereal squares, and stash in the chukalukim closet until next time.  Never hurts to be ahead.)

Champagne Girl:  "SOOOOOOO exciting!  Everyone will be together for the first Shabbat in a long time!"
Ema:  "Well, I'm not so sure about Stunt Man."
Champagne Girl:  "Oh, don't worry.  Sports Guy and Yeshiva Bochur will be there; so you know that Stunt Man won't miss it."
Ema:  "Wait, Motek.  I'm getting another call..."

(Get some chocolate syrup for the ice cream, and whipped cream...)

Stunt Man:  "Hi Ema --"
Ema:  "Hi, Sweetie.  I hear you're joining us for Shabbat."
Stunt Man:  "Yeah, it's not too late, is it?  Wait -- how did you hear?  We just decided..."
Ema:  "Yeah, I know.  It's going to be great, having a 'full Shabbat.'"
Stunt Man:  "Yeah, it sure is.  See you then, Ema.  Thanks!"

(Buy everything.  What's the worst?  Somebody won't show -- and I'll have some in the cupboard and freezer for next time.)

I have become amazingly adaptable.  Score one for the Big Guy and His Soul Perfection Training Plan.

Thank you to my husband and sons and daughters-in-law for helping me to learn to go with the flow... and for flowing with me.

Wedding photos by Yehuda Botshauser & Co.

Glossary:
Midah: character trait
Yekke: A Jew of German descent.  In this instance, it refers to the character traits of punctuality and precision.  Not always heart-warming to be around -- but we get the job done.  On time, and under budget.
Kvetch: complain
Shwarma: THE best fast-food in Israel.  Closely rivaled by falafel, which is good if you have less money that day.
Pargiot: boneless chicken thighs.  The steak of Israel.
Seudat Shlishit: the third meal of Shabbat, considered to be the holiest meal, the "Yom Kippur" of the Shabbat
Garanim: seeds, specifically sunflower seeds, for liberal spitting all over Ema's freshly washed floor, the patio, the bedrooms, the steps leading to the Cave...
Chukalukim: what IDF soldiers call "junk food for the road"
Motek: Sweetheart