Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Green Almonds, Fresh Cherries, Cabernet Hevron

Yom revi'i, 9 Iyar 5768/14 May 2008, Wednesday.

America is brimming with so much, that it is sometimes hard to realize that we are a bit cloistered. We can get any fruit or vegetable anywhere in the country, at any time. Okay -- it may not be ripe, since it had to be harvested too early, in order for it to travel thousands of miles without risk of spoilage. So we get slightly tasteless star fruit and mangoes in Baltimore. We get cherries just before they are ripe in California, when they would taste great, just off the tree. My kids never tasted a truly flavorful ripe apricot. (I grew up near an apricot tree. How I wish they could taste that amazing flavor! But it never arrived in the Baltimore stores.)

Today I purchased some fresh cherries, that fairly burst with sunny, rosy sweetness. They shared time on my palate with a delicacy of which I had never heard: green almonds. Take a sharp knife, a little caution, and split the fuzzy green teardrop along its seam. Extract the pale, creamy infant nut. Dip it into a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Accompany with sweet red cherries and Cabernet Hevron 2005. Lovely Middle Eastern nosh!


There is a lot about Europe that is wrong.

But I remember enjoying about it all that was quaintly different from America. In those days, there were many villages that had never heard of MacDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. There were little bistros and pubs, where old men in hounds' tooth jackets (and young people in rock tee shirts) played chess and gossiped. There were open-air markets with old ladies in scarves, carrying baskets with fresh herbs and flowers, paper cones filled with steaming chestnuts in the winter. There were gates which opened onto yards filled with straw and chickens. People sat in upstairs windows, with window boxes filled with glorious red Begonias, gazing at the passersby as a break from television, conversing with neighbors similarly entertained. It just wasn't suburbia. And that filled a hungry space created by all the novels and poetry I had read as a girl.

But Europe is not a place to raise Jewish children. Neither is affluent America, even with all of its Torah learning. It still belongs to Esav; and we are there on his sufferance.


There are so many attributes Israel offers me personally, that may not have any particular magic for someone else. That is one of Hashem's miracles: many individual facets to the same diamond. Sometimes it seems as if He writes the play and sets the scene for each of us, individually. Besides all the kedusha, Israel has restaurants with old-world European charm, where old men in hounds' tooth jackets (and young people, in bright Breslover cottons) play shesh-besh, and discuss the day's events. There are open-air markets, with women of all ages, some in scarves, pulling plaid cloth-covered agalot filled with fresh herbs and fruit and vegetables. There are villages with chickens and turkeys and cows and goats, not far from the houses; and there are herds of sheep being driven by on the highways alternating with donkeys laden with twigs or plastic jugs. And neighbors sit on mirpesets or in windows, over boxes of bright geraniums, watching the passersby as a break from the internet, sharing a friendly chat.

And then there are these green almonds. I think a small chunk of Parmesan would make this snack just about perfect.

The sun is setting on the Mediterranean just now. Time to fix food boys can eat: Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, baked in the oven; corn in butter; garlic bread. A fresh green salad, with lots and lots of kedushat shvi'it lettuces, to round out the vitamins.

I am closer to myself here. Thank you, Hashem, for that. Hamon toda!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Family Together

Yom shlishi, 8 Iyar 5768/13 May 2008, Tuesday.

I haven't written in a while. Too busy living, b"H.

What's news? We had the best Pesach of our lives. One Seder definitely rocks, as the kids say. I used a gimmick suggested by a close friend, in order to bring home the feeling of really getting out of Mitzrayim. When we reached the part of the Hagaddah which begins "Avadim hayinu..." (We were slaves...), I invited the family into a darkened room, lit by candlelight. Each person was asked to tell over his day under our slavemasters, the Egyptians. I started, and spoke of helping another midwife to secretly help a mother bring a new boy child into the world, and then to hide him. Abba told of a recent beating from one of the Mitzri. Aryeh, whom I expected to make a joke of the whole thing, instead spoke very eloquently about finding a toddler who had wandered from the "safe house," and helping him to find his way back. Dovid spoke of learning a Mishna, b'al peh, with three young slaves and a rabbi/slave, and how they had to be very secretive about their learning. And Dani lamented that a Mitzri had taken away the ball he had made of straw and mud, and how poor rocks were for secret moments of soccer. We have no clue whether or not there was any historic accuracy to our fantasies. But when we left our little stage set, and returned to the Seder, we shared a feeling of escaping from slavery.

Dovid, our yeshiva bochur, was visiting us from the States. As a visitor to Israel, he had to make a second Seder. It was to be his very first, without Abba or another adult at the helm. Several people in Neve Daniel had out-of-country guests, and asked if Dovid would let them attend his Seder. I was proud to hear that he was excited at the prospect. For one reason and another, only one guest was able to attend... and he ended up being an old friend of Dovid's from one of his yeshivot! They had a really wonderful time together, with lots of ruach and divrei Torah. I took a few photos (because I could), and monitored the brothers, so they wouldn't crash the party more often than was cute.

We spent the extra-long Chol Ha-Moed traveling to Meron, Tzfat, and to Avnei Eitan in the Golan. We spent time with old friends; and the boys hiked to the Black Falls. It was Dovid's first time in the north; and it meant a lot to him and to the rest of us to include him. There was much beauty, and many moments to experience the holiness of sacred places. In reality, it should have been an awful trip. It was very hot; the car overheated about a dozen times; we ran out of drinking water for a time. But, due to the amazing attitudes of three teenagers, it was our best vacation ever! They laughed at every hardship, rather than complaining. Dovid sang Breslov songs, with his arms upraised, in his Na Nach Nachman kipa (which he had purchased for the sole purpose of "freaking out" his beloved Rosh Yeshiva, for the fun of it). Aryeh made a documentary of "nearly dying of thirst" on the road. Because it was an Aryeh Eastman Production, it was extremely funny. We took lots of photos of Abba pouring bottles of water into the radiator. We played music together, and enjoyed ourselves, our friends, and each other.

In our last week with Dovid, we visited Ma'arat HaMachpela. This was also a first for Dovid. As with all spiritual experiences we have shared, the moments were made even more precious because he was there. Dovid always finds the deeper meaning, and shares it very articulately.

Yom Ha-Atzma'ut was spent with friends, participating in the holy Israeli ritual known of as "mangal." While I do remember barbecues as part of Fourth of July celebrations in the States, the nearly frantic urgency of the mangal makes it unique. Also, perhaps because beef seems to be less available in Israel (at least of the quality and variety one finds easily in the US), there seems to be an almost religious fervor surrounding the grilling and consumption of mass quantities of hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks. In an attempt to be "true Israelis," Dani and Aryeh ate approximately one cow each. Our host wondered how we feed them the rest of the year...

Josh is now in Golani Brigade, and engaged to be married! It was good to have the brothers together again, after nine months. Although their lives and directions seem to be very different, Avi and I are honored by the way they love and respect each other. Avi has always told them that achdut (unity) starts at the Eastman table; and when the Jewish people truly have achdut among ourselves, the world will have true peace.

So now we are planning the big trip back to Baltimore, in July. Soldier Boy will get a few days off from his IDF responsibilities to get married, and then will return to training. (We try to be his cheerleaders, and completely close our minds to what he is training for, and where he will probably be sent.) He and his bride will live in Israel; but as of yet, it is a mystery exactly where in Israel. May Hashem bless them with finding the right apartment, at the right price, in the right location. In the meantime, we have reminded them that family is about being there for each other, and that the spare room can be made into something resembling "comfortable," at least for a short time.

Enough catching up for now.