Sunday, July 22, 2018

From the Fruits of Our Deeds

Night:

Flames. We are marched from our homes, still in our Shabbat clothing. Stupefied, not yet aware that this is real, we gather in the shul
We pray
How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How she is become like a widow!
Kinot. Tears.
Crying, not greeting one another, we slink to our homes to not eat, not drink, not be entertained, not laugh, not make love

Morning:

We mourn.
Not just destruction of a building, but of an ideal
We have built our own jail with angry hands, raised as fists against one another
Because we still speak ill of one another
Because we still cheat one another
We look for hurt caused against us by a brother or a sister to justify our rage
We cause each other to fear saying anything, lest it be judged negatively
We burn our shuls down with chatter between the pages, during the prayers, over the words
And we justify and rationalize everything:
“I don’t want to speak lashon hora, but…”
“Sheltering money is an investment. It’s not actually theft. It’s my money, after all!”
Once sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden, we hurry past the beggar without as much as a smile of apology.
We destroy our own Holy Temple again. And again. And again. Year after year. Word after word. Deed after deed undone.

Chatzot:

We are wrung out, sad beyond words, beyond tears. Our contumely, our culpability in the destruction of others and of ourselves, disgusts us at last. We are ready for the chair.

Afternoon:

So tired. Hungry. Thirsty. Contrite.
Finally, we feel what we have lost.
A sliver of silvery light seeps sweetly into our souls…
We begin to yearn
And the yearning repairs us
Repairs the rent fabric of the universe
Slowly, slowly, we remember
Ancient history, when 600,000 people packed into a holy space
Worshipping together
Dancing
Singing
Not one complaining –
Not one!
That there is not enough space for ME, for MY worship, for MY experience.
It was all about each other.

Night:

May it once again, today and forever, be about each other.
Together, we will rebuild, with these freshly-washed hands.
Together.

RE – 10 Av 5778.

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Fly and a Cockroach Shake Hands

I love the way my friend Rachael Welt sees the world, and the way she tells stories.

We learn together once a week, and our conversations always weave our Torah learning through the text of our life stories. Today’s stories illustrate one of my favorite principles.

"This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another; and that you have awe and reverence for one another." -- Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu Rabba, 26:6

Rachael recounts a recent trip to the Mahane Yehuda shuk.

“I have never seen at one time so many people using walkers, walking on crutches, walking with canes,” she said. “And the shuk was packed with people. And of course, walking behind all these people with walkers and so on made it very slow going. Still, not one person started screaming ‘Why are you moving so slowly? Why did you come to the shuk? Don’t you know you could fall down? Why don’t you move out of the way?’

“This is the shuk I’m talking about, where people regularly yell and scream at each other – and not one person rushed these people. Not even the shuk workers with the heavy pallets they carry everywhere. Those guys never have any patience! But that day, they did. Everyone waited patiently for the old and infirm to make their way through the shuk. It was amazing!”

Rachael’s face glows when she tells stories about the good in her fellow humans.

She tells another “only in Israel” story.

“I was in Jerusalem, getting the car repaired. I was feeling a little faint, because I hadn’t eaten enough before leaving the house; so I decided to go to a nearby supermarket. As I started in the door, the guard, a man in his sixties, put up a hand and stopped me. ‘We don’t open until ten,’ he said to me. I checked my watch and saw there would be a bit of a wait. And then I saw the line of people with shopping carts. I’m thinking, I don’t need a big shopping cart. I only need a few items.” Nonetheless, she joined the line, prepared to wait with everyone else until the guard allowed entry.

“People started to say to the guard, ‘Nu? It’s ten minutes to ten. Let us in already! It’s five minutes till. C’mon, let us in! See my watch? Let us in!’ But the guard had his orders, and he was used to this. He held his ground. ‘Ten o’clock,’ he insisted calmly.

“This one guy ahead of me, but still pretty far back in the line, decided he’d had enough. He pulled out of the line, pushed to the front, and tried to get by the guard. The guard stopped him, and the guy started yelling at him.

“The guard, still calm, said to the guy, ‘You know what? You’re a zvoov,’ a fly. And the guy yells at him, really angry now, ‘And you’re a juke!’ a cockroach.”

As Rachael tells the story, I am laughing a little, because I am convinced that these conversations, with this much invective, could never happen in America. People might yell at each other, but it is never this colorful. The two men went at this for several seconds, the guard speaking calmly, the enraged customer getting so upset, and louder and louder, to the point that Rachael was praying he didn’t have a knife. She could just see herself being witness to a terrible incident.

“The man kept yelling, and saying he was going to complain about the guard, and not only complain about him, he was going to write a letter, and he went on and on, getting more and more excited.

"The guard told him, without raising his voice, to step back. The man stepped back only a step or two. ‘Only this far,’ he said. ‘No further. I’m staying right here.’

“Suddenly, the guard walked over to the man, and stuck out his hand, and the other fellow took it. ‘Please forgive me, my friend. It will all be okay. I ask forgiveness.’ And the other guy calmed down. A moment later, at ten o’clock on the dot, the guard allowed the stream of people with their carts into the store.

“But that’s not the end of the story,” says Rachael, with her patented Rachael smile.

“Later, as I was going through the aisles, the guy came up to me. ‘You see?’ he said, ‘He apologized to me. He admitted he was wrong, and I was right.’ I said to him, ‘I think you were both a little bit wrong, and a little bit right.’ (After all, calling someone a fly was not a nice thing to do, and certainly calling someone a cockroach and threatening him is wrong.) ‘The main thing is, you made peace.’ I don’t think he really understood me, because he really thought he was right and the guard was wrong. But I saw that the guard kept calm, offered his hand, and the man took it! And the guard asked for forgiveness. What an amazing People!”

I believe that Hashem teaches us to see Him as a Parent so that we can know how to behave toward each other. As a mother, nothing makes me more distressed – dare I say enraged? – than when my kids are unkind to each other. Conversely, nothing causes me to feel more overjoyed and elated than when they get along and speak well of each other.

Rachael and I learned a lot today. But I am convinced that the holiest moments of our learning were when Rachael spoke aloud words of validation about the behavior of God’s children toward one another. If our learning together doesn’t bring Mashiach closer by itself, surely the stories of Jews rising above their pettiness to respect one another inches the Geula just a bit closer.


15 Iyar 2018.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ten Years!

20 Tishrei 5778.
A celebratory gift of 2007 wine
It’s that time again: our “aliyahversary” is today (and tonight, Hoshana Raba, on the Jewish calendar). After a decade, I can tell you that we are happier than ever, missing nothing of America except the people we love.

We came to Israel with very American teenangels; and now we have men who are husbands, fathers, part of the national brocade called the work force, and the equally important tapestry of the IDF reserves. We don't see them as much as we'd like  think "Cat's in the Cradle but when we do get together, we admire the lives they are building, and the women with whom they have chosen to build.

Ten years in Israel. Two shemita cycles. The first one was filled with our errors of confusion, after which I studied with a friend Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon's Shemita: From the Sources to Practical Halacha, which measurably enhanced my understanding of this special every-seven-year commitment to the Land.

We arrived with a rusty set of skills... and discovered new talents that blossomed into ways to make a little money and to enjoy our new lives. I remember saying to my beloved Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger that all we had left to do in Baltimore was to grow old and die. But in Israel, even walking to the store, even doing laundry, would be holy and meaningful.

My favorite "Coach" photo, courtesy of Walla
Little did I know how much we might have to contribute to this wild, wild east. My husband is known to players and fans around the country as "Coach Eastman." I have blogged and written for various English-language sites, and with God's help, my first book will come out this month. Israeli young people and small children learn what we have to offer of music and art, English language, and snippets of grandparent philosophy. In Israel, we have become most fully ourselves.

One of the grands prepares to coach the old folks.
We came with limited Hebrew... and now have somewhat less-limited Hebrew. But the boys are fluent, so we're not complaining. We try to sort out our bills or long letters from Bituach Leumi (national insurance); and when we can't, our sons or their wives help us out. Next chapter: the grandchildren will translate for us. It's already a delight to hear the two-year-old moving facilely between little-girl English and Hebrew.

There are cultural nuances that we get that were mysterious when we arrived. I'm no longer unnerved by people yelling at me when I've made a mistake, understanding that the Israeli way is to ratchet up the vocal chords from zero to 60 in ten seconds, but to drop the tone just as quickly once appeased. The how and why and when of traveling is no longer a mystery. Buses and taxis are my friends. I know when to avoid the roads entirely, based on the fact that at certain times, the entire country is traveling. I understand that when the bus doesn't come, the driver is not being capricious. He probably has a full load of soldiers; and trying to climb our mountain just to tell us he doesn't have room for us is not good for the bus. (Someone will improve the electronic bus signs someday to pass on such messages.)

I have learned the best places to eat and shop for my needs and tastes, preferring excellent service and a good story, as long as these are within my budget. (Sometimes, the trick is to make the budget work, rather than finding the cheapest option.) I can argue with a bus driver in Hebrew, and occasionally win. I can give in Hebrew compliments to waitresses and shop clerks, and gratitude to soldiers, and receive the most beautiful smiles in return. I even have philosophical conversations with Israeli friends, though these are carried on in a chulent of Hebrew and English, with a soupçon of French or a Teelöffel of German for spice.

It's moving to see quotes from the Psalms in the grocery store.
My husband teases me that I will hunt down and photograph lizards and signs in Hebrew. True enough. There are so many varieties of lizards here, and much to learn from the signs, more and more of which I can understand. There is often humor in the simple phrasing that is worth understanding, as well as deep meaning and philosophy peculiar to Israel. The Dearly Beloved also has fun at my expense as I go around Jerusalem seven weeks after Yom Kippur and joyfully say "Melakam Sigd" to as many Ethiopians as possible. More smiles. (Truly, is there anything more delicious in this world than bringing smiles out of human faces?)

We have embraced the rhythm of Jewish holidays that make so much more sense here in the Land of their birth. And having the whole country more-or-less on the same holiday page at the same time is such a blessing, after years of being an afterthought in a tiny kosher section of Safeway and Wal-Mart. It rains most of the time when it's supposed to  even God doesn't like to be too predictable, I imagine  and there's no snow in the sukkah. Nearly everyone, nearly every car, stops for two minutes of silence to remember our fallen. Chanukah lights and Pesach decorations and children dressed as Queen Esther and Mordechai are prevalent throughout the country. There are hand-washing stations at the majority of restaurants; and even the less obviously religious don't bat an eye when seeing a fellow traveler reading prayers or Tehillim, or saying a blessing when leaving a restroom. "Homeness" surrounds and embraces.

Things that used to bewilder us now delight at best, or are quaintly annoying at worst. Why does every food package come in one-kilo bags, instead of in five-kilo bags? (No worries. It very seldom costs more in the smaller package.) Why can you get good service throughout the meal, but have to hunt down the waitress for the check? (Now that I think about it, what's bad about more time over the coffee and conversation at the end of the meal?) Why can't you walk anywhere in the country without meeting a beggar with his or her hand out? (It's a good reminder that I'm very blessed to have enough to eat.) Why do office supply stores and furniture stores also sell wine and other food products as special sales? (See what I mean? Quaint. Even adorable.)

I could go on for far too long... but you have things to do. I guess I'll close these thoughts with gratitude to Hashem. We miss our friends and family back in the States, and look forward to greeting you here whenever you can come. We are blessed to have electronic means of communication unheard of a decade ago, and these will surely only get more advanced. (Think a Princess Leia hologram visit, right in the comfort of your own dwelling.) And we have been blessed with friends here in Israel who are from many different countries and who speak many different languages. Their main common feature is that they fill up the extended family spaces for which our hearts have yearned.

Looking forward to the next decade and more, here at HOME!




Photo credits: really cute granddaughter, Nisan Jaffee; Avi and Ruti, Chanie Barami




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.