Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pesach 5770

Yom revi'i, 16 Nisan 5770, Chol HaMo'ed Pesach.

In Neve Daniel, Erev Pesach was especially enjoyable for me this year.  The boys no longer eat in their rooms, and they help to clean for Pesach.  So I had a little time to walk around with my camera to see how other folks were preparing for the chag.

As there are no non-Jews on our yishuv, there is no need to perform the mitzvah of biur chometz with fire trucks and writs from the city government at one public gathering.  So there are little fires all over, with holy families quietly focusing on the words in their machzorim, rather than on the curiosity or curses of complaining neighbors.

While I always appreciated those thoughtful organizations that put together matza-baking events in Baltimore or in New York, there is something special about a neighbor on our street baking matzot in his garage.

 In every generation one is obligated to show how he himself came out of slavery in Egypt.

When our sons were little boys, telling the story of our exodus from Egypt consisted of Kool-Aid "blood," plastic frogs and wild animals and rubber bugs all over the Seder table, and the yearly appearance of "Guidetta."  I got such cathartic pleasure out of dressing up in a snap-brim Fedora and sunglasses, "shooting" my kids with my over-sized Nerf machine gun.  This was our substitute for barad, the miraculous hail made of fire and ice that rained down as G-d's sixth plague on the wicked Mitzri.  The Death of the First Born was reenacted by each of our family members -- and some of our more extroverted guests -- as if the movie cameras were rolling.  (I invariably won the unannounced contest with my heartfelt portrayal of Toshiro Mifune in one of his longer and better samurai death scenes.)   I had a blast -- and so did the kids and the Dearly Beloved.  Some guests claimed it changed their view of Yiddishkeit entirely -- and we can only pray that this was change for the good.

As the boys have grown and matured, the Seder necessarily has evolved with them.

Gone are the blood and the plastic menagerie.   Gone the brilliantly-acted death scenes.  Alas, gone the Fedora and the Tommy-gun.  As we sit down for our one-and-only Seder this year in Israel, my sons say most of the Hagadah in beautiful Hebrew.  As their parents still require a translation, each person at the table recites a passage in English.  As my children are all 100% kosher Jewish hams, they recite each passage in heavily-accented English.  We had Irish, Scottish, British, Russian, French, Jamaican, amorphous Southern USofA, and Baltimore black.  We heard "The Four Questions" in Hebrew, Italian, Gaelic and Klingon.  (Penina, we kept the copies your children brought to our table many years ago...)

We had FUN.

We also had moments of great and weighty seriousness.

Yeshiva Bochur helped me to prepare the maror this year according to an old family recipe acquired from a masochistic Mexican chef in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

The boys -- being men now -- decided to super-size their portions of white vinegar-laced horseradish -- and promptly ended up under the table, over the trash can, in the bathroom -- volubly ejecting their taste of slavery's bitterness.  Afterward, with damp eyes and flushed faces, we talked of our recent losses of Golani soldiers, deputy battalion commander Maj. Eliraz Peretz, and St.-Sgt. Ilan Sviatkovsky.  Eliraz had eulogized his brother who died in Lebanon twelve years ago.  We thought of his wife and four children, and of his mother.  Ilan was only twenty-one years old, nearing the end of his army duty, with all the plans and dreams of youth.  We began to sing "Acheinu" with full hearts.  I don't think my sons have ever connected to the reality of national loss in quite this way before.

We also had an unusual guest this year.

Like many Jews all over the world, we had an empty chair behind a Seder plate set for our precious missing soldiers and for Jonathan Pollard, in prison now for more than a quarter of a century.

We chose a very un-elegant chair -- as we wanted to imagine them sitting in the nicest chair any of them might actually have nearby at this moment.

Our sons really got the story of Pesach this year (which is good, as they are not so very many years from telling the tale to their very own precious children, bs"d).  Yeshiva Bochur shared how he feels that this is a personal exodus for him, as he is spending his first year in Israel as a one-Seder citizen.  And all of the boys shared that being in Israel adds to the significance of the Seder for them, and to the ongoing saga of our people toward the great Geula -- may Hashem hasten it, so that all of our people will taste freedom in our own Land, bimhera ve'ameinu.
Erev Pesach: the preparatory day before Passover
Chag: holiday
Yishuv: small community; settlement
Mitzvah: G-d-given commandment
Biur Chometz: the mitzvah of burning the leaven, to rid ourselves of any trace before the holiday begins
Machzorim: special books for each holiday, with rituals and prayers
Matzot: unleavened bread
Mitzri: Egyptians in the time of the Israelites' exodus from slavery
Yiddishkeit: Judaism
Maror: bitter herbs served at the Seder to remind us of slavery and great national sorrow -- usually horseradish or romaine
Acheinu: "Our Brothers" -- a prayer requesting that G-d ease the suffering of all Jews, no matter where they are in the world
BS"D: with the help of Heaven
Geula: the great Redemption, the End of Days, when there will be peace in the whole world
Bimheira v'ameinu: speedily and in our days

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Welcome to the club!

Yom rishon, 6 Nisan 5770.

I have to get over to Ramat Shlomo to visit friends who have lived there for many years, not realizing that they were living in "East Jerusalem."  (Thank G-d that President Obama and Ban Ki-moon have clarified matters for them; otherwise they might have thought forever that they were living in a Northeastern Hareidi Jewish community for the last 15 years.  Or maybe there has been some kind of tectonic shift over time?  Perhaps with all of the global warming, the community has actually shifted eastward???)

Anyway, I have to drop by and give the Mommy of the family her Settler/Obstacle to Peace Kit, to induct her into the club.  We spoke about it on the phone today.

"Me?  An 'Obstacle to Peace'?  I can't believe it!  I've always wanted to be a settler," she fairly sang.

"Well, sometimes we can't move to the settlements -- so the settlements move to us," I said, paraphrasing Bacon.  (She's a literary type; and I thought she would like it if I tried to sound well-read.  After all, not just anybody should go about conferring prestigious awards.)

My friend is very fair-minded.  "You really should be giving them out to the people in Tel Aviv," she said.

"Don't worry.  They will get theirs.  Right now, the Tel Avivians are in denial, and don't realize they are settlers."

"Eventually, an American President and a UN Secretary-General will come to their rescue, too, and clear things up for them," she said, ever mindful of the future of all of our holy people.

"We can only pray," I said.  (Remember, I told you she is Hareidi.)  Then we chatted about the imminence of Moshiach, in these extremely hafuch times, when right is wrong, up is down, and the good guys wear the black hats.  (Or the kipot serugot, as the case may be...)

The Official Settler/Obstacle to Peace Kit

The bracelet says: "The Land of Israel for the Nation of Israel."
 This is the kit I will be presenting to my dear friend, Jewish sister, and now fellow settler.  The authentic Gush Etzion parsley -- just as in fancy restaurants -- is only for show.

May we experience together the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days, when things that just don't make any sense finally do.

Haveil Havalim #261 -- the best of the Israeli/Jewish blogosphere -- is live at Jack's place.  By the way, Jack seems to get stuck hosting this a lot.  Even if you are a budding blogger, take my word for it:  it's not as difficult as it seems to be a host; Jack will help you; and lots of people who never would have seen your blog drop by for a visit.  FEAR NOT.

Obstacle to Peace: what the media constantly call people who live in Biblical Israel
Settler: a term that used to be something the world was proud of, referring to people who risked malaria to drain swamps to turn completely empty, neglected land in Israel into thriving farm collectives; recently used by the media to refer pejoratively to people who now live in those precise areas
Moshiach: Messiah
Hafuch: upside-down
Kipot serugot: knitted skull caps, usually indicating a fierce love of G-d, His Nation, and His Land

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chez Mizrachi Cleans for Pesach -- Recruits Youth

Yom shishi, 4 Nisan 5770.

I have so much to do.  There is no time to write.  But I really miss this blog -- and I miss talking to you!

So, this will be brief, and to the point.  (Let's face it:  you don't have any more excess time than I do, right?)

How could I possibly get the place cleaned for Pesach without the assistance of my dear sons?

And a short reminder of what is really sababa about living in Israel (because you expect this of me):

This holy book store / music store is in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.  The sign says "Great joy, great joy, Spring has arrived, Pesach is coming."  The part of me that enjoys a sense of family, that likes belonging to a large club of like-minded people, is very happy.

Let's take a brief stroll through Yerushalayim together.  There are a few sights I want to share with you.

I know they make caffè latte elsewhere in the world.  But in Israel, "Hafuch" rates as the national beverage -- and as a comment on the national character.  Life may be a little "upside-down" here.  Yihiyeh besder...

Yerushalyaim is The City of Fundraising, to put it gently.  Eventually, everyone has favorite tzedaka collectors.  One of mine is David Hamevorach.  David has a great story.  He used to be an architect in Zurich, Switzerland.  He even helped to make some buildings grow in Tel Aviv.  One day, according to David, he discovered that while he was fabulously successful, he was "soul-less."  He left the slam-bang world of architectural success, moved to Jerusalem, and started to sell his paintings in a small art gallery near the Central Bus Station.

In the Holy City, David was moderately successful as a painter -- but more importantly, he was finding his soul.  He discovered that those buildings hadn't gone up "by my might, and the strength of my hand."  Rather, they were miracles of Hashem.

One Purim, he decided to put his works on display in Ben Yehuda, spicing up the event with a washing cup to collect coins, a child's tambourine, and his own joyful Moshiach-oriented songs, electronically amplified.  People not only forked over some reasonable cash -- he was also repeatedly asked for blessings "by people who thought the gray beard made me look wise.  I'm not a rabbi," he told them.  But that didn't matter.  They wanted his brachot (blessings).  So, why not?  He dispensed brachot, and felt very good about himself and what he was doing with his time.  He kept up this gig.  After a while, grateful "clients" would come back, telling him that his brachot had been successful.

David gave me directions to the gallery to see his art.  "We will come," I said, "but only if it will not be 'ganeivat da'at.'  We don't have money to buy paintings."

"Chas v'shalom!" cried David.  "I don't want you to buy my paintings!  I just want you to see them.  These days," he said, looking Heavenward, "Hashem clearly takes care of all of my needs."  Then he closed our conversation as he always does:  "When you smile for Hashem, you will always be happy."

Enjoy the spirituality of your Pesach preparations.  Enjoy Pesach.  I heard once that if you do nothing else, try to connect to gratitude at the culmination of the Seder.  According to Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, this act can transport you to higher madreigot than you have ever reached spiritually.

When you smile for Hashem, you will always be happy.

This is my bracha for you.

Pesach:  Passover
Sababa: great, cool
Hafuch: literally "upside down" -- the Israeli name for caffè latte
Yihiyeh beseder: It will be okay.  This is THE Israeli slogan.  It probably keeps us from going insane.
Tzedaka: charity
Moshiach: Messiah
Brachot: blessings
Ganeivat da'at: literally "stealing the mind" -- a Jewish law prohibiting one from leading a merchant to believe one is interested in buying his wares, if he is in fact totally disinterested
Chas v'shalom!: Heaven forbid!
Madreigot: steps, levels, a really great Jewish spiritual rock band