Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"...where everybody knows your name..." #2

Yom revi'i, 17 Shevat 5769.

I am a serious carnivore.

When the waiter asks me how I like my steak, I always say, "As rare as the halacha allows."  This means that "still mooing" being usser, I will accept my steak still dripping with very juicy.  (That euphemistic correction was for my vegetarian readers, and for those indulging in coffee and breakfast cereal while they are reading.)

I share this little culinary detail with you to underscore exactly how impressive it is that my favorite restaurant on the planet is Gavna.

Gavna specializes in dairy and fish dishes, excellent beer on tap (in the summer), herbal teas, and the best ambience the Dearly Beloved and I can remember in many years of dining out all over the world.

On our latest Sunday sojourn, my husband took me out to celebrate living in Israel another day.  Gavna is situated on a steep hillside, overlooking a huge and beautiful valley, just outside the fascinating community of Bat Ayin.  The winding, bumpy road to the restaurant has lost a little of its drama.  Since it has been graded and partially paved, one no longer completes his visit with the thrill of realigning the front end of the car, or replacing the axle.  Well, progress must necessarily remove some of the quaint charms of life.  The place was pretty quiet, which suited us just fine.  Gavna is owned and run by a couple of brothers from Bat Ayin, with whom we have developed a warm friendship.  As usual, there was excellent music playing on the sound system.  The proprietors' tastes run to old rock 'n' roll, jazz and folk from several countries and eras, and the occasional youthful techno weirdness, that thankfully doesn't pop up until we were leaving anyway.  
We asked Uria what he recommended today.  He was especially pleased with a rice and lentil side dish, served with tiny red currants, and his spinach and leek quiche.  When the very patient waitress, Tal, came to our table, we got further advice (and a little help with our Hebrew).  The sweetness and savlanut of these young people makes us feel very welcome and at home.

I started with the delicately-breaded and fried eggplant, topped with pesto and parmesan cheese.  It had been beautifully plated with a sweet-and-sour chili sauce, edged attractively with balsamic vinegar.  Lovely, and delicious!

Avi had a creamy orange soup, and some of the "fresh artisan-baked bread" for which Gavna is famous.
We really need to learn to stop at the appetizers, which are a meal unto themselves.  But, hey! -- it was a celebration, after all.  I decided to try Uria's quiche.  Again, it was very beautifully presented, with a delicious salad on the side.  Even the sprouts are lovingly produced at Gavna; and the lettuces are all clearly chosen for color, taste, and quality.

Wow!  The cheese was terrific; and the blend of the leeks and spinach was perfect.  But the best part was the delicate and flaky crust surrounding this excellent quiche.

The Greek olives and gently-roasted red pepper added to the color and taste, and made me feel like I was doing something very healthy for my body, while making my palate happy.

The herbal tea -- verbena, I think -- was a perfect complement.

Avi had his favorite Gavna dish, which was presented more attractively this time than ever before.  The teriaki sauce on the delicately-grilled salmon was just right; and the roasted vegetables were so appetizing, Avi found himself happily munching even the beets.  The peppers, sweet potatoes, and squash were up to Gavna's usual superior standards.  These were complemented with the rice and lentils (mostly polished off by yours truly) and a small green salad.
I have mentioned before that one of the ways that Israeli dining differs from American dining is in the pace.   Dining in the US is a business.  When you are finished, the waitstaff is instructed to hustle you out as quickly as possible, to make room for the next diners.  Consequently, your bill is on the table next to your coffee, before you have quite finished eating.
Israelis take their time over their meals; and this does not seem to disturb either the restaurant owners or the waiters.  If you want to leave the place, you may have to go and find your waitress, and suggest to her that a bill will be helpful.  (While her service may have been very attentive during your meal, paying is your problem!)  During the wait for our bill, we decided some movement might be a good idea, to begin the arduous process of working off way too many calories.  ("I told you to stop at the hors d'oeuvre!"  This is my brain talking to my taste buds, which are not listening, as they do not speak French.)
So we looked out the panoramic windows at the incredible view.  The second longest zip line in the world stretches across the valley near Gavna; and the Judean Hills and highways are a pleasure to observe, throughout the whole year.

When our bill came, we were reminded of how well one can live in Israel, even on a budget:  our sumptuous meal came to 130 shekel, which -- at the current exchange rate -- is just over 30 bucks.  A feast for two, at an affordable price!

Please come and celebrate with us, as soon as you can.  We have so much for which to be grateful, and such a wonderful gift from Hashem to share with each other.  We have our own country, filled with interesting, talented people with fine Jewish midot.

"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came..."  

-- from the "Cheers" theme, by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy

halacha:  Jewish law
usser:  forbidden
techno:  music that makes one want to run over small animals
savlanut:  patience
Jewish midot:  good character traits, particularly compassion, generosity, and embarrassment when faced by the inappropriate 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Vote for a Jewish Homeland

Yom rishon, 14 Shevat 5769.

Voting.  Our civil right.  One of the threads that keeps our "democratic" system of government intact.

Here is why I wasn't going to vote this time around.

It is no secret to my friends that I tend to be just to the Right of Attila the Hun politically.  I am a religious Jew, so halacha is important to me.  I am cautious about politically-imposed halacha without the guidance of Moshiach, as there seem to be too many interpretations out there to make me confident that we really know what is best for all the people.  But my Torah outlook tends to keep me on the conservative side of arguments.  I love this Land of Israel; and know that it must remain the home of the Jewish nation.  So I am not for giving it up for illusions of peace, or to try to convince the world to like us.  I am not even sure we are halachically allowed to give away any of it for any reason.

I believed in Binyamin Netanyahu years ago, even though his platform wasn't particularly religious.  He sounded intelligent enough to know that we can't give away the Land.  But after he gave away Hevron, I realized that I had been believing in ghosts.  I thought he would be as heroic as I imagined his brother, Yoni zt"l, to be.  And I fell for the ghost of good public speaking.  At the end of the day, Bibi let us down.  It would have been better had he remained an articulate spokesman for the Jewish people, perhaps with control of the economy.  Control of the country seemed more than he could bear.

I have waited to hear him say that Hevron was a mistake.  But I don't think he thinks it was.  This troubles me.

I believed in Ariel Sharon.  He was clearly a tough guy, who had fought for many of the kilometers of soil we now held, after successful defensive wars.  Surely I could trust him not to give away an inch of our holy Land.  I wonder what he is thinking about these days, in that deep, deep place in which he hovers.  Would he have done anything differently, with the wisdom he must now surely possess?

Moshe Feiglin is interesting.  But he and I handled the painful disaster of Gush Katif differently.  We were both angry and devastated by the theft of it from our people, by our people.  But after it was lost to us, I decided that it was Hashem who said no.  We have an opportunity to treat the dispossessed people of Gush Katif well, or not.  But for reasons of his own, Hashem did not bring the miracle that could have allowed a win for all of the people who marched and prayed and wept and spoke out -- for all of the holy Jews all over the world who cared.

Moshe and I were together in our thinking on many points.  But I have waited in vain to hear him come through for me on one point:  How will he bring the people of this nation together, post-Gush Katif?  He wrote something that made me quite nervous several months ago, about how we would have won at Gush Katif and Amona if we had fought harder.  I wrote to him to ask him what his end-game scenario would look like.  Is it okay with you, Moshe, if Jews begin to kill Jews, in an effort to hold onto the Land?  He was too busy to answer.

Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz is the founder of Arutz Sheva, aka Israel National News.  Also at Gush Katif, there was a major difference of opinion between the station policy and Rav Shlomo Aviner.  This was illustrated by the sudden absence of any Rav Aviner commentary. Apart from an occasional news reference, this lack has continued until today.  Does Ketzaleh believe that it is appropriate to "tear kriah" over someone with whom we disagree on one major issue?  This, again, gives me concern regarding another potential leader's ability to bring the people together.  If we cannot even make peace on the Right, how can we make peace among the Jewish nation?  It would make me more hopeful if I saw that rift healed, by a return of Rav Aviner's wisdom to the station I hold in high regard.

I realize that I am politically naive.  But if Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, Ichud Leumi, and United Torah Judaism got together, their combined ranking of 46 would send the other parties packing.

Of course, that would mean that they would have to put the good of the Land and the People ahead of their partisan differences...

There are only a few people I would really want to vote for, and they're not running.  Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.  Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo.  Professor Robert Yisrael Aumann.  Tzafrir Ronen, zt"l.

An Ashkenazic Rabbi, originally from France.  A Sephardic Rabbi, originally from Holland.  A Nobel Prize winning games theory scientist, who is also an Orthodox Jew.  And a recently-deceased self-described "irreligious" Jew.

They have at least one thing in common:  they put their love of the Jewish people above all earthly things.

Each of us must make a personal decision about our priorities; and I happen to agree with these men.  The Jewish people and our connection with each other is even more important than the fine points of holy, holy halacha, even more important than the holy, holy Land. The halacha and the land are Hashem's gifts to us, and are very precious.  But they cease to have meaning if we sacrifice each other in their honor.

Finally, Dr. Tziona Fleisher convinced me to vote.  In her commentary, "Get Out the Jewish Vote," this former Zionist refusenik from the USSR reminds me of one of my own "bottom lines."

As much doubt as I may have about Bibi's strength in the clutch, about Moshe's love of all of the Jewish people, about Ketzaleh's desire for unity with his ideological opponents...  these candidates are all Jewish people.  And Tziona points out the important demographic problem:  If fewer and fewer Jews vote for Jews, and more and more Arabs vote for Arabs...  Well, you do the math.

With all of our faults, I want this to remain a Jewish country.

halacha:  Jewish Torah-based law
tear kriah:  to treat as if dead, to disown
refusenik:  a Jew in the USSR who was refused permission to emigrate

News flash!  The latest edition of Haveil Havalim is out on the stands, expertly edited by the ever erudite Esser Agaroth!                                                                  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A response to a heart-sick friend (with a few postcard hugs)

Yom revi'i, 10 Shevat 5769.

My dear friend, "Bat Aliyah,"

You know I love your writing, and your nearly palpable longing for the move to Israel.  When I read your most recent post, "Not in Kansas Anymore OR Grieving for Leaving," I thought -- no, I remembered how hard it is to be you right now. 

How do you explain your love for Israel without sounding to those around you a little mawkish and silly?  After all, they are worried about the global financial crisis.  How will they afford tuition for their five kids, and the mortgage on that house they thought they could afford a few months ago?  Israel is a nice dream -- for after the kids grow up.  Unless they don't want to move with the grand-kids, of course...  Israel is something we pray for at Pesach, with all our hearts.  But as a day-to-day actual, physical longing?  Maybe after the Moshiach comes...

There is no way to write a big sigh of sympathy/empathy...  so you'll just have to hear it in your mind.

My heart hurts for you (and for my memories of exactly the feelings you describe, back in the day when I was walking around in your tennies).

My neshama is glad for one more island of proof for the Ribono shel Olam to see that there are those who love His gifts with all their souls.  (See, Tatte!  Don't You think THIS is the last of the cumulative mitzvot You have been waiting for?  Can we have the Geula now, please?)

My heart leaps with joy for you, because few people know the pleasure you will feel when you finally, finally get your wish.  Maybe people who have waited a decade or two to have their first child.  Maybe they can understand what it feels like, when Hashem finally says yes.


Can't fix it.  But I can hold your hand.    


neshama:  soul
Ribono shel Olam:  Master of the Universe
Tatte:  Papa
mitzvot:  commandments
Geula:  Final Redemption

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tikkun Leil Gridiron

Yom sheni, 8 Shevat 5769.

There are two quiet, holy mornings each year, that are really just for women.

The more kadosh of the two is Shavu'ot.  

In many communities, the men and older boys have spent the entire night learning Torah for Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot, a night of perfecting the world through the holiness of constant learning.  This custom derives, we are taught, from the need to "repair the damage done" by the Israelites sleeping the night before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  (The argument is that when one is about to receive the greatest gift mankind has ever received, he should sit up all night in anticipation.  An argument in response is that sleep is the first refuge of the utterly terrified...)  In any case, the men and boys learn until the wee small hours of the morning, in gatherings at people's homes, or at shul.  Then, the weary soldiers daven the early morning prayers, and drag their spiritual swords and shields home, where they indulge in a few hours of well-earned rest.

The town is absolutely quiet, filled with a special aura that exists only in a world free of adult testosterone.  Small children people the streets, giving the community a Lilliputian feel.  Soft voices of women fill the air, chatting quietly, singing, laughing softly.  It is a world inhabited only by women and children.

It is a few months' time until Shavu'ot, with its particular sweetness.

This morning I am enjoying the other, less-holy "women-and-little-ones day."  This morning is the quiet, man-free morning known of as "Super Bowl Monday."  Who would have thought that the American Super Bowl would follow us to Israel?  (The only difference is that, while in America, the kickoff is around 6:30 PM EST, in Israel, game time is at 1:30 in the morning.  Imagine spicy chicken wings and chili at 3 AM!)

As the last warrior came home, a huge smile on his face, as he anticipated hours of sleep, I remarked on the similarity between the two days.  "Feels like Shavu'ot, doesn't it?"  I asked him.  "Yeah," he answered, his six-foot-plus teenage frame stretching into a big, satisfied full-body yawn.  "Except less kadosh," I added.

"Whadaya mean?" he asked.  "I just got back from making a siyum with the guys I learn with.  We just finished our first perek in Brachot.  After I finished davening."

"Yasher koach!"  I responded, proud that he hadn't immersed himself only in the secular.

"Besides.  Ema.  It's the Super Bowl.  C'mon That's kedusha."  Fortunately, this profane comment was uttered tongue in cheek, as he wandered off to his bed.

Ahhhh.  Quiet.  Blessed femininity.  The birds even seem to be singing more sweetly.

Now if we could just train those Arab workmen on the roof next door to take up the holy study of American football...       

(Sexism disclaimer:  It may be that there are secret enclaves of female football fans out there, wearily making their way back to their beds after a night of popcorn, chips, and insult-hurling at Sling Box TV hookups.  I just didn't notice the ad in the online chat list.)

kadosh:  holy
Shavu'ot:  holiday observing the giving of the Torah
siyum:  completion of the study of a holy text
perek:  chapter
Brachot:  one of the books of the Talmud
Yasher koach!:  Way to go! 

***  Two important links:  Haveil Havalim, The "Did You Love Leah?" Edition, is out at Ima on (and off) the Bima.  And West Bank Mama has put together a roundup of commentary on the Gaza War by new immigrants to Israel.  ***