Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rockin' the Old Folks at Home

Yom chamishi, 16 Elul 5770.

The Dearly Beloved in his new "Tulsa Time" shirt.

The Jewish month of Elul is a time for serious introspection, and focus on improving our observance of the 613 mitzvot (commandments).

Seems like a lot of stuff to get right, doesn't it?

It is impossible for any one person to fulfill all 613 commandments.  After all, some mitzvot can only be done by women.  Others, only by men.  Some can only be done by kohanim (priests).  Some commandments can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel.

There are a few comforting explanations offered for this.  We are reminded that we are a team -- united we stand, divided we fall.  In order to make one successful Jew, all Jews have to participate in the process.  It's nice to know we all count.

Another interpretation is that G-d loves us so much that He gives us 613 mitzvot so that we can each get at least one right.

The Dearly Beloved has several mitzvot that he fulfills well, in my humble opinion.  One of his best is kibbud av v'aim, the commandment to respect one's parents, specifically, and one's elders, in general.

The irony of this is that he lost his parents when they were very young.  That didn't stop him, though.  He spent thirteen years giving shelter and love and respect to my mother, before she, too, left this world.

You would think that fulfilling the mitzvah of kibbud av v'aim is a little difficult without parents, and especially difficult when you reach the age that people in their forties politely offer you their seats in the bus.  Not so -- at least where my husband is concerned.

I have learned so much from him, watching the great respect he has for elderly people.  Whenever he meets a WWII vet -- they're easy to spot, because they are proudly wearing WWII ball caps on their hoary old heads -- he will stop what he is doing, and converse with them about The Great War for as long as they care to speak.  His obvious love for them, and his gratitude for what they did, always pulls at my heartstrings.
We met this sweet couple as we waited for a bus in Jerusalem.  They're getting married soon.
Yesterday, half of the "Strung-Out Quartet" (our five-member garage band -- I'll tell you more about the band another time) accepted an offer to play a few tunes at the Nofei Yerushalayim Nursing Facility in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood.  The Dearly Beloved and our fiddle player, Uzi, spent a couple of hours playing country tunes and Jewish melodies for the residents of the home.

Uzi, fiddling around at rehearsal

Uzi lost his own dear father very recently, and is therefore not permitted to play music for a year -- except when he is doing it for parnassa (payment).  Jewish law demands respect for the dear departed -- but the Torah approach is not to endanger life or livelihood in the process of fulfilling the law.  But to Uzi and to my husband, the greatest part of their "paycheck" was the opportunity to make their parents' peers smile, tap their toes, and sing along.

As usual, the Dearly Beloved said that the best moments of the day were conversations he had with a few of the residents and volunteers.  The fact that some of them were Israelis made conversations about American country music quirky, but even more entertaining.  And the pancakes were also great!

Next time, you'd better have "Cotton-Eyed Joe" in your repertoire, boys.
May our careful attention to the fulfillment of the mitzvot hasten the Redemption, speedily and in our days.

Thanks for the cool new shirt, Rabbi Adler.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"It must be similar to the color of the sea..."

Yom shlishi, 6 Elul 5770.

The Dearly Beloved and I enjoy living in Israel so much that we don't really need to take vacations.  (Irony: In Chu"l, we needed vacations desperately, but couldn't afford them.)

So when we go out to "spy out the Land," it is really just to find out what else there is to love, outside our own back yard.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful adventure.  It started with our effort to get to our destination without a car.  We took a bus to Jerusalem, another bus to Tel Aviv, a train to Binyamina, another bus to Zichron Yaakov -- and then a taxi to Nachsholim on the Mediterranean Sea.  Our goal: to learn how tekhelet, the blue dye for tzitzit, is made.

We had been instructed to meet Rabbi Mois Navon at Beit Mizgaga, the museum where we would learn about the underwater archeological history of the area, and about the science and history of tekhelet.
The building housing the museum had once been a glass factory, but was abandoned in 1896.  The artifacts displayed in the museum span 4,000 years of history!

I tended to photograph those periods that had some Jewish reference -- good or bad.

Storage jars of the 13th-12th centuries BCE, found near Tafat Island in the south bay of Dor.

After a half-hour of milling around the museum, we were gathered into the viewing hall for a short film.  I strongly recommend the film The Mystery of Tekhelet, which can be viewed at The Ptil Tekhelet Organization ( site.  It clears up some of the historical mystery about the tekhelet controversy, introduces the scientific concepts, and shows the hunt for the little hillazon snails.  (Tiferes Yisroel crowd:  Rabbi Avraham Twerski makes a short instructional cameo appearance.)
The kids were getting all the shpilkes you would expect after an hour indoors on a sunny day by the beach -- so now it was time to don our snorkels and masks, and move on to the hands-on portion of the event.  The Dearly Beloved and I were as excited as the little kids.

To Rabbi Navon's credit, Torah was woven throughout his lectures.  He started by reminding us that everyone needed to wear tee shirts for the sake of modesty.  This added to the family-friendly atmosphere.  Then he explained to us what the snails looked like, what might fool us (hermit crabs; similar snails; algae-covered rocks), and that we would be throwing all of our catch back after our swim.  "If the fact that it's illegal doesn't stop you from taking them, remember that it's tzar balei chayim (giving pain to animals) to take them away from their habitat.  Within half an hour or an hour, they would be dead."  Jews don't do that for no reason.

We felt exactly six years old after this wonderful and fun experience.

Yes, I know.  Too cool to move, right?  They call me The Snorkel Fox, down by the beach.
In spite of the fact that I looked cooler in my gear than did the Dearly Beloved, he still was the more successful hillazon hunter.  (Go figure.)
The Great Snail Hunter
 I had a terrific time finding hermit crabs and chasing fish -- and the Dearly Beloved found the biggest hillazon snail of anyone.  Rabbi Navon pointed out that it seemed reasonable that the biggest guy would find the biggest snail.  "They look for him, Rabbi," I explained.
Sure I'm bragging.  MY man found the biggest snail of the day. 

Rabbi Navon made the scientific explanations interesting to kids -- and old people -- with similar lack of patience for boring stuff that takes too long.  His tee shirt has the chemical formula for the dye that is tekhelet.
Back to the hands-on part, our personal favorite!  It was time to take a pre-packaged version of what would have come from our snails, and mix it with water, and three other "secret ingredients."

We had the coolest table, since all of us happened to come from Gush Etzion.

The Dearly Beloved adding the second ingredient -- a base compound.

Time for Ingredient Number Three.  Don't ask me: I can't remember what it was.

"It's about the science, Lady.  It's not about the photo op."

When we added the fourth ingredient, Rabbi Navon asked why we would be adding an acid, now that we'd added a base.  Young Mr. Gillis (at the Gush Etzion table, natch) had the right answer: acid added to the base neutralizes the compound, so the fabric won't be eaten.  I don't need to understand.  I sit with smart people for a reason.

"High five!  YAY!"
After all of the "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" part was complete, the best was yet to come.
It was time to dip our wool into the mixture.  But first, Rabbi Navon reminded us that a Jew cannot live thoughtlessly.  If we just dunked the wool in the chemicals, the resulting dyed wool would be just colored wool.  Any tzitzit strings that would be made from it would be pasul (invalid).  A holy object must -- from start to finish -- have Heaven in mind. 
"All together now: '...l'sheim mitzvat tzitit!'  For the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzit...

Just chemicals and wool and dunking are not the final step.  The rest is left to sun and clear water.  Incidentally, without exposure to the sun, the wool would come out with another holy mission.  It would be argamon, the Biblical purple mentioned in the construction of the mishkan.
Somehow, preparing tekhelet on an ancient Roman ruin delights me.
While the sun was doing its job, Rabbi Navon gave us more details about where the hillazon snail could be found, and more scientific facts about the tekhelet dye.

And now, the transformation.  Yellow wool... and nothing up my sleeve but this bottle of clear water...
Raptly attentive, the whole crowd waited for the dénouement of our great adventure.

Below is a short film of the miracle taking place, right at our own little Gush Etzion table.  If you can't see it here, you can watch it at YouTube here:

It was a great adventure, something fun for several generations to do at once.  And The Dearly Beloved and I have gotten a little more fuel for our fire for tekhelet.  Because it was the Romans who began the end of our use of this holy color, we feel a national pride in helping to restore it in our days.

"Our" tekhelet.
Chu"l: Chutz la-Aretz, outside the Land of Israel
Tekhelet: blue dye for making ritual threads
Tzitzit: strings attached to garments worn by Orthodox Jewish men - the threads remind him of  The Infinite
Ptil Tekhelet: thread of blue
Shpilkes: "ants in one's pants," antsiness
Mishkan: the movable Temple of the desert generation of the Jewish people

Haveil Havalim #280 is posted by Soccer Dad, the originator of this particular online journal of Jewish blogs.  This is a great way to get to know a sampling of the J-Blogosphere; so if you've always wondered about Jewish blogs and where to start, start here!   BTW, Soccer Dad's bride and I were old friends back in The Old Country...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pomeranz Booksellers "...where everybody knows your name..." #3

Yom chamishi, 2 Elul 5770.

When we visit a foreign country for more than a few days, most of us need to find a touchstone, a base, where we can feel at home. Someplace safe, where for a few minutes each week, we are in command of ourselves and our environment.

I started visiting Israel "on my own" in the mid-1990s. The trips were related to my work. I am not a person who craves wild new adventures. So I always marveled at my courage, as I would attempt these three-week trips without that excellent navigator and portable touchstone, The Dearly Beloved. (Somebody had to stay with the kids. Someday I'll write about those bachelor parties. Now that was true adventure!)

Michael Pomeranz
I stumbled upon a wonderful book store, when it was just a crowded "hole in the wall." This book store had more than just zillions of English-language Jewish books and seforim. It had Michael Pomeranz.

The fact that we were both born in North Hollywood California was a good start for conversation, and created something of a bond. But it was the American "service with a smile" that gave me that anchor in the stormy sea of foreign travel.

After several years of visiting, I remember saying to Michael how much I wanted to make aliyah, and how this would be "my book store" whenever I came to visit, and eventually when I would live here, please God. He pointed to one of the old, comfy reading chairs scattered around the small room. "Just remember that your chair will be waiting here for you when you make aliyah." His belief in my future aliyah meant as much to me as his extensive collection of "must have" titles and the "take as much time as you need" browsing policy.

Eventually, M. Pomeranz Booksellers moved down the street to a bigger, more beautiful store. (When we saw it, we wondered how the old store ever housed all those great books!)


Known simply as "Pomeranz" by regular customers, this excellent shop not only has books, but recorded music, various religious articles, and even Jewish gifts for the kids.

But with all the comfortable book-lined and air-conditioned space, and the excellent art (by Baruch Nachshon!), the real product of M. Pomeranz Bookseller is still the service, and the smiles.

Shira is the power behind Michael's smile.
A favorite employee: Michael's and Shira's handsome, hard-working son, Avraham Moshe

  Great sales outside the store tempt you before you even get inside.

Alon Freiberger finishes up his time in Israel with a larger purchase than he had expected. Don't worry, lad, it happens to all of us.  And -- you'll be back!
Don't tell us where the biggest bargains are. The Dearly Beloved and I will always prefer to shop at the places that treat you like a mensch. If the prices are decent, which they are at Pomeranz, that's just a bonus.

If you are visiting in Israel and want to find titles at good prices -- sometimes even before they hit the stores back in the Old Country -- drop by  Rechov Be'eri 5 in Jerusalem. You can also order books you are looking for by shopping online at

"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

Seforim: books, often referring to holy books
Aliyah: Jewish immigration to Israel
Mensch: a human being -- here meaning "a person, not a number"
Rechov: street