Monday, December 19, 2011

"Cool it!"

Yom sheni, 23 Kislev 5772.

I am an Orthodox Jewess.

I use the word "Jewess" purposefully, because it is under-used and accurate.  As princess is to prince, it speaks of my unique role, which I find beautiful.  I don't want to be marginalized by being lumped in with Jews as a group.

I don't believe that I have the right, nor do I gain anything, by telling other Jews how to dress and where to sit.  (This excludes my own children, and certain young guests, who actually come to my table to hear me say "One more button, Shimon."  I kid you not.)

While I am not part of the Israeli Hareidi scene, I have respect for their culture.  I tend to dress just a little more modestly when I go into their neighborhoods, out of respect for their sensibilites.  I do not see a need to upset them.  While theirs is not my personal way of expressing my Orthodoxy, I do not find any value in offending them on their turf.

I find it offensive when I see a caption under a photo of shoppers willingly separated by a mechitza in a Hareidi store that intimates that they are extremists.  Men and women have chosen this way to express their interpretation of G-d's demand for modesty within their own community.  Having lived and visited in both the American and Israeli Hareidi communities, I know that most Hareidi women value this version of modesty as much as do the men.  And these are not oppressed women.  They are very strong proponents of their view of Orthodoxy.

That said, I am hurt and offended when non-adherents of these views are harassed, threatened, or even merely embarrassed.

Years ago, before I made aliyah, I experienced some of this maltreatment.

I boarded a bus for a neighborhood unfamiliar to me, on my way to request a blessing from a great Torah luminary.  A man in his thirties began to berate me loudly in Yiddish.  I had no clue what I had done wrong.  Eager to end this embarrassing situation, I explained to him that I could not understand what he was saying.  I tried in my meager Hebrew, and then resorted to English.  Finally, a woman a seat or two behind me explained that I was sitting too far toward the front of the bus.  As I looked around me, I acknowledged the separate nature of the bus.  I got up and sat behind the woman.  But before I left my seat, I explained to the man, in English, that his approach was terrible, and was surely more offensive to Torah than where I unintentionally sat.

I am not a woman who needs to make a point of sitting in the front of the bus to prove a point.  I have lived among normal, healthy Hareidim long enough to know that most Hareidi men don't think of woman as second-class citizens.  (You have only to be inside their homes to know this first-hand.)  So there is no reason to go all Rosa Parks.  She did have something to prove, as blacks in those days in America were indeed relegated to using separate facilities due to discrimination.

But I am highly offended when someone teaches through intimidation, rather than through patiently explaining.  Whether the young man was correct or not -- and since the bus was a public rather than private bus, and therefore he was not correct -- is beside the point.  The Torah forbids embarrassing a fellow Jew.  Had he given me the benefit of the doubt and assumed that I did not know this cultural convention, he could have said his words gently.  Or, better yet, he could have rolled his eyes to his male seatmate and endured my presence.

There is an old Japanese kōan about a couple of monks walking through the village, talking of philosophical concepts.  They approach a giant puddle in the road, before which is standing a geisha, who cannot cross without soiling her beautiful garments.  Without pausing in his dialogue, one of the monks breaks tradition, and picks up the geisha, carrying her across the puddle.  He sets her down, and continues speaking with his fellow monk.  After some time, he realizes that his companion has been silent since the puddle.  "What is going on in your mind, my friend?" he asks.

"I cannot believe that my friend and colleague broke our tradition by touching the woman," the second monk responded.

His friend looked at him, astonished.  "Oh -- are you still carrying her?"

For all of the avowed modesty of these loud, rude and sometimes violent Hareidi individuals, methinks they protest too much to be truly following the laws of modesty.

If Orthodox Jews feel a mission to bring our fellow Jews closer to our interpretation of a Torah life, we certainly do not bring them closer by berating them, by putting up offensive signs, by threatening those who do not keep whatever level of religiosity we deem appropriate.  (And, in fact, my friends in the Hareidi community also disagree with the intimidation approach.)

We are enjoined by most normal, healthy rabbis to set an example by how we live our lives.  And we still have a lot to do in the realm of exhibiting acceptable Torah behavior with our own bodies, minds and actions.  We should display the highest standards of ahavat Yisrael, honesty in business, politeness and purity of speech, among other character traits demanded by the Torah, rather than wasting our time and G-d's time by demanding that others live as we see fit.

Professor Alan Dershowitz and I have virtually nothing in common politically.  But I have to agree with a statement he made in a recent interview.  "The debates in Israel have become so extreme, with Israelis calling each other facists, and predicting that Israel will become a facist country, and will eliminate all democracy... My suggestion to Israelis is: cool it.  Calm down.  Stop calling each other names."

We will most successfully bring the harmony we seek by respecting rather than condemning each other.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"...where everybody knows your name..." #5 -- A Plea for Small-Town Israel

Yom rishon, 15 Kislev 5772.

Moshe with satisfied customer, famous all-night cyclist,  Mr. Stella Frankl.
For Mishpachat Mizrachi, one of the great benefits of moving to Israel has been the ability to live a Jewish life and to live in a small town.

That means most people know us, and are to one degree or another personally invested in our success and happiness.

It means that we know what's up with each other's kids, and can help each other to raise them.  "It takes a village" only works when people in that village know each other.  Small towns allow for that familiarity, more than do big cities.

It also means small-town service, where we can walk to the library and the post office, to the bakery and the hardware store and the local market, and where the people who run these places care about giving us the best service possible.  Not just because they want to beat their competitors -- but because they are able to form a relationship with us, to learn what we like, and to try their best to provide it.

But like any relationship, it's a two-way street.

Moshe, always ready to listen to his customers.
Gilo resident Moshe Torjman returned to Israel 30 years ago with his Chicago-born bride.  He brought with him from America a wonderful command of the English language, and a knowledge of some of the products and service concepts that matter to American olim.  He and his brother Avi have had other successful stores, in  Kiryat Yovel for three years, and in Bayit Vegan for twenty-one years.  Now they have decided to put all of their effort into the makolet in Neve Daniel.

Avi stops his usual hyperactivity for a quick photo.
We were apprehensive about the change in store ownership.  We were used to the makolet the way it was.  It was the nicest small-town market we had seen in our travels around Israel.  And we loved Shulamit.  How would we manage with change?

As it happens -- though how could we not still miss our dear Shulamit? -- the store is even better than before.  The service is excellent, as Moshe and Avi and their long-time employee Sasha, as well as the familiar face of Yoram, work very hard at keepin' the customer satisfied.

Yoram gives a lesson in chicken hechsherim and Hebrew.  No extra charge.
Sasha always has a kind word, and an eye out for that special product I was seeking.

They have enlarged the produce department, and have added a meat counter.  The store is always adapting and growing within its confines.  New displays are always popping up, giving a feeling of order and abundance, with an almost American feel.  Ask for a product, and they will do their very best to acquire it.  (And if there is something you don't care for -- such as the short-lived cigarette display -- the Torjmans are equally prepared to be responsive to comments.)

Who says you can't have it all?

They are trying very hard to keep their prices competitive, not an easy task when the competition is against big markets just a few kilometers down the road.

Rav Auerbach chicken, and Beit Yosef chalak beef.  Both excellent!

"We have good people who are anxious to serve the residents of Neve Daniel," Moshe says.  Implicit in that statement is that those good people and that good service can only remain in Neve Daniel if we support it.  If we just come in once in a while to buy a carton of milk, the store will not survive.

So this is a personal plea to my automobile-endowed neighbors.  I certainly don't mind you helping to support that other worthy gentleman in his huge store down the road.  But think about breaking up your shopping and doing a third or a half of it locally.  The Dearly Beloved and I are among your neighbors who will probably never have a car; so we do almost a hundred per cent of our shopping at our local "mom-and-pop" store.  As much as I know you would be willing to do the mitzvah of shlepping me to the store once or twice a week -- it would mean so much more to me if you could help to maintain my local makolet, just a short walk and lots of independence and warm, friendly service from my door.

"Aich at margisha hayom, Rabanit?"   A spiritual promotion, and genuine concern.

"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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Breakfast at Chez Mizrachi

Yom revi'i, 4 Kislev 5772.

This is a departure from the "I love Israel!" nature of this blog.  But my friend Batya has been asking me, gently but consistently, to involve myself in the Kosher Cooking Carnival.  And today I came up with a recipe that made me so happy, I had to share it.

Let's say you came up with half a kilo of Welt Family Freedom Farm organic kale (three lovely varieties, completely bug-free, b"H).  You've soaked and salted 'em; laid 'em out lovingly on towels to dry; divided the leaves into different piles for different purposes.

Now let's assume you've steamed some of your kale to eat with a plate of excellent beef, and the rest you've made into kale chips.  (Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade -- around 350 degrees Fahrenheit -- sprinkle washed and dried and chip-sized leaves of kale with olive oil and seasoned salt; bake for about ten minutes, until the edges are brown but not burned.  Delicious snack!)  Now you've got all these stems and tiny leaves left.  Not quite enough for -- anything.  But wait...

You're on this great low-carb, virtually no sugar (except for Shabbat) diet, which is working miraculously: you are never hungry; you are eating foods you enjoy; and you are consistently losing weight.  (Oh, how I wish they'd told me decades ago that meat and eggs and butter are health foods!)  Oh, yeah -- and the stomach problems you've had for years have vanished.

So...  you take some eggs and Parmesan, a little onion and garlic and those bits of kale, and you come up with

Kale, Garlic and Parmesan Omelet

1/2 T. butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup kale, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

Sauté onion, kale and garlic in butter at medium heat.  Remove vegetable mixture from pan.  Add eggs to pan; turn down heat to medium low.  When eggs are nearly set, season and add Parmesan.  Top with vegetable mixture.

Allow to set for a minute or two more; then, fold omelet gently before transferring to plate.  Sprinkle with a little of the slightly-too-brown kale that is the inevitable result of a phone call during the last batch of kale chips; add a few tiny cherry tomatoes for garnish.

Voilà!  A breakfast to kick-start your day.  Accompanied by an excellent cup of coffee, of course.

Check here at Batya's blog Me-Ander to see a collection of Kosher Cooking Carnival blog posts. And, if you have a kosher recipe or post about food you would care to share, please feel free to add your contribution here.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dawn of a New Day

Yom sheni, 17 Cheshvan 5772.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess whose people were from a far-away land.  She climbed mountains and crossed seas to marry her handsome prince.  At last, after scaling unbelievable heights and spanning unimaginable depths, they married and had children and were happy.  They moved to a mountain in a Wondrous Kingdom, and they were happier still.

One day, the princess got very, very sick.

And now it was the prince's turn to scale unbelievable heights and span unimaginable depths in order to fight against the terrible sickness, which seemed very much like a great, coiled dragon.  The prince put on his armor, and prepared to do battle with the forces of darkness.

The people of the village on the mountain gathered to see the prince off.

 Weavers and dyers made beautiful garments for the occasion.

The youth of the village adorned the trees and flowers with lavender balloons to remind the prince that he was not alone.  The village sage gave a speech of encouragement.  And then the prince departed.

He rode his trusty steed for hours and hours and hours, over hills and up mountains, covering miles and miles and miles in an attempt to slay the dragons that terrorized the nights, and to bring hope to himself and his princess and their children.

In the process, he brought hope to his community.  But not just to his community.  As the prince traveled those many miles, he brought hope to his people, those who were scattered across the globe, and those who were just around the corner.  There were knights with trusty steeds who joined the prince on his travels.  There were builders and bakers and memory stick makers.  There were minstrels and carriage drivers.  There were even court jesters.

As he rode, spreading his message of hope, the prince discovered time and again that he was not riding alone.  There were runners and riders.  There were people walking dogs, and dogs walking people.

There were those who traveled through space and time to share in the prince's struggle, among those longing for the dawn, longing for the dawn.  All along his route, the prince and the princess were reminded that many, many people had been longing to give a hand in the fight against the dragons and on behalf of goodness and kindness.

The people completed the ride together.  The prince and the princess and their children shared weary but joyful smiles.  The war was not over.  Not yet.  But they had won this battle.  And they knew that they would never, ever be alone.  Together, and with the help of the Mighty King, they knew that they could make it to the bright light of morning.

"Behold, how good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers in unity!...  May there be life forever!"

Please continue to daven for Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara, among the other precious cholim of Am Yisrael.

Additional photos borrowed (ehhhhhhhh...) from Laura Ben-David.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One small kindness. And another. And another...

Yom revi'i, 12 Cheshvan 5772.

I have often thought about the human need for acceptance, and our reticence to give acceptance to others.

Since we all need it, you would think we'd be sensitized to the same need in our fellow man.  Right?

Yet we gather in our little groups and decry other groups.  We let slip careless and hurtful remarks behind each other's backs.  We make assumptions that an accusation we hear is true, even without first-hand experience of the evidence.  We fail to acknowledge those around us, totally oblivious to cries for help or the simple need for a smile.

Anyone who risks rejection by saying "Good morning" to a neighbor ought to always be greeted in return -- because the object of his greeting would also hate to feel rejected.  Instead, day after day, he must exercise the muscle called Benefit of the Doubt, until it wears out, or until it is the strongest muscle in his body.  Of course, there are plenty of reasons Ploni didn't smile at our brave soul.  He may not have heard or seen him.  His mind may have been on his own troubles, as small as a missing key or as great as catastrophic loss.  But what if we all went out of our way, every day, to put out the smile welcome mat for people we pass on the street?  (And no, o ye single minded straw man attackers: Of course I don't mean that six-year-old girls should smile at scary mugger types.  Consider your cautious tone already acknowledged, and attend to my main point.)

I always told my boys:  "There is no pareve encounter with another human being possible.  You have the opportunity to do a kiddush Hashem or -- chas v'chalila -- a chilul Hashem."  Translation: No encounter with another human being is meaningless.  You can either advertise G-d in a positive way through your actions, or -- G-d forbid -- you indicate that people in skull caps and ritual fringes don't care about other people.

Please enjoy the following short video.  It is a celebration of the concept of "pay it forward," how one small kindness begets another small kindness, and another, and another...  (Hat tip to Mare Newcome-Beill.  This is my kind of movie, Mare.  Thank you!)

I don't care what my children and my grandchildren choose to do for a living.  But I will feel that  the Mizrachi Family Mission is accomplished if they string together lifetimes filled with small acts of kindness.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reason to Rejoice, Permission to Participate

Yom shlishi, 4 Cheshvan 5772.

To all of our excellent friends who have been davening with us over the months for the refua shelaima of Stella (Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sarah), please read Yarden's latest blog post, and share our hope and happiness.  (The short version: against all odds, Stella's situation has improved dramatically.  The Frankls thank you for your prayers, and say "Keep 'em comin'!")

Those who can attend this crazy all-night ride-a-thon, details are available in this post.  (The Dearly Beloved and I will be sitting in lawn chairs on the sidelines at some unspecified ridiculous hour of the morning to shake pompoms and yell "Go, Team Frankl!"  We will try to drink beer to rub in the fact that we are NOT exercising.  And we'll be there at the finish line at 6:15 AM to accept our share of the accolades.)

Those who cannot attend, due to being unfortunately delayed with business overseas, please join us in donating to the cause, which is bigger than all of us.  The need to "do something" is strong in all caring human beings...  and straddling a bike for 12 hours is more difficult for me than pushing a "donate" button.  And I'll feel just as involved as Yarden will, without the need for mass quantities of diaper rash ointment.  (Heh-heh, Yarden.  You go, boy.)

And finally, add Stella's dream to your prayers.  "B'ezrat Hashem, we will stay on track, and we'll surprise my doctor again after the next scan! I really want to be written up in a medical journal (egoist that I am) about the miraculous case of Stella Frankl!"

There is no limit to the number of people who can be on Team Frankl.  Dust off your bike.  Make a pledge.  Or just pray with all your heart that this fine young mother gets her dream.  May we share joyful news!

Refua shelaima: complete recovery

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

4 years. 22 years. 1,941 days.

"To all of the House of Israel: Happy Sukkot!"
Yom revi'i, 21 Tishrei 5772, Hoshana Raba.

In a few days, we will have lived in Israel for four years.

In a few days, we will have been Jewish for 22 years.

Yesterday, our nation welcomed home a native son who has been in captivity for more than five years.

Is it any wonder that life has not stood still long enough to be written about lately?

It's time for an "aliyaversary" retrospective.  I have more pictures than words -- but let me share them with you as they come to mind.  The bottom line:  We have made a place for ourselves here, a place that makes more sense for us than anywhere, of all the fine and interesting places we've ever been.   But we miss you -- and can't wait to see you here!

Our credit card company sends Rosh Hashana greetings.

So does the army!

A banker who has befriended us offers us something sweet for Rosh Hashana.

The ads on the buses advertise sukkah decorations.

My friend Ami got an automated message from Bezeq (the phone company) offering to give him free wake-up calls for Slichot.  I love this country!

Even Neve Daniel has a shuk for Sukkot.  All the quality, none of the travel.

Mishpachat Mizrachi adds a "Parents' Room" wing to the sukkah, decorated with flags from our States of origin.

Would anybody but my Dearly Beloved think of military guidons as sukkah decorations?  (Where's yours, Soldier Boy?  We looked for that Golani "Gdud 12" flag everywhere!)

The view through the "blue glass picture window" is still breathtaking.  (This one's for you, Bubbe.  Thanks for showing up every year, to help your son-in-law with those final construction details.)

History, politics, shellfish -- we've got it all.

Ahhhh...  my leichter.  The sense of home is complete.

I love the Sukkot table setting best of all.

I never liked honey.  But silan -- date honey -- ahhhhhhh!

A "Davening for Stella" excursion to the Kotel... delightfully augmented by a group of Chareidi school girls.  "Oiveenee Malkainee..."

With Standing Together, we visit a group of miliumnikim -- reservists.  I have two questions for them:  "Do you have kids?  Do you have pictures?"  You should have seen the joy with which the cell phone cameras came out!
The Strung-Out Quartet performed American blues and rock with other musicians at the Neve Daniel Jam Session during Chol Hamoed.  It ain't Hershey Park -- but it was a lot of fun nonetheless!

Yaakov and Leah Urso regaled us with an authentic Nashville sound.

Eliezer Barnet playing his homemade cigar box guitar.

We shared our fiddle player Uzi Volman to turn Eliezer into a bluegrass band.
One of the guests in the audience was a mother of a Neve Daniel resident.  Commenting on the concert, she said to her daughter-in-law:  "I love incongruous things and this is one hell of an example!"

Tzvi Zelevski added a sweet Russian soulfulness to his Hebrew tunes.

As the seasons change, we switch from iced coffee to cafe hafuch -- with artwork!
Finally learned the art of the braided round loaf!
Grilled veggies are so ON this time of year, am I right?
Fall and football, right?  Coach gets together for a chol hamoed strategy session with some of his prime gridiron warriors.

The Dearly Beloved took me out for a birthday meal or two, of course...

All of my boys are in uniform these days.
Stunt Man is in an elite Paratroopers unit; and Sports Guy is in an elite football team.

Yes, Doctors Leventhal -- they still leap backwards off of walls.  But thanks to your wisdom, I can mostly duct tape and superglue them back together...

When Robert Kraft's wife left this world, he asked the guys who play for Israel to wear her name on their uniforms as they played in the international competition.  It was their honor and privilege.

In the IDF, you are permitted to say "shehekhiyanu" when you receive your uniform and your weapon.  Why?  Because defending the Jewish people is holy work.
Far from giving up their Yiddishkeit due to army service, as we were so often warned, the boys find opportunities to talk about the beauty of faith in Hashem with fellow soldiers who ask GREAT questions, and show much interest.
Yeshiva Bochur earns the "soldier of the week" award.  And I thought those "My son is on the TA Honor Role" bumper stickers would make me proud...

Visiting Stunt Man outside his base late one chol hamoed evening.  Okay, I know I look a bit "ufgarecht."  I spent most of the visit plucking ants out of my clothing.  Now I fully understand the concept of "shpilkes."

Gilad Shalit returns to the arms of his parents after one thousand, nine hundred and forty-one days in captivity.  We tear our hair over the cost. We embrace him with our full hearts.  Huge emotional conflicts.  This is what it is to be an Israeli.  This is what it has always been to be a Jew.
Photo credit: Kalman Feldman, the talented mechutan

We miss our family in the Old Country, and cannot wait until they return Home!  (This includes ALL of you.)

Hoshana Raba: The seventh day of the holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).
Slichot: penitential prayers said during the time leading up to the High Holy Days
Leichter [Yiddish]: area let up for lighting the Sabbath and holy day candles
Davening: praying
"Oiveenee Malainee": the way the Chareidi Yiddish for the Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) prayers sounded to my ears
Chol Hamoed: the intermediate days of Jewish holidays -- spent by Israelis in wonderful fun family trips around the country, and musical festivals
Cafe Hafuch: the national drink of Israel, cappuccino -- "hafuch" means upside-down, and we certainly are!
Shehekhiyanu: a special prayer recited over any momentous event thanking G-d for bringing one to this place in time
Ufegerecht: discombobulated
Shpilkes: unable to sit still; ants in the pants -- Don't ask.