Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Nuance in the Question

5 Kislev 5780.

A really great marriage has moments over the decades of falling in love again.

There are certain things about Israel that make me fall in love with her over and over again, even after 12 years.

I needed to travel via three buses covering many kilometers and a couple of hours to make a shiva visit yesterday. My friend was here from America saying her last goodbyes to her dear mother. Without a large community of friends and family around, all of us former Baltimoreans feared she might be alone. So we did our best to take shifts.

During my travel time there and back, I met several interesting women. My new tutor, Leah, will be so proud of me: most of my conversations were necessarily in Hebrew. I heard stories of Jewish refugees from Arab and African countries. A beautiful but deeply-scarred woman gave me a first-hand account of crossing the Sudan for ultimate rescue via Operation Moses in 1984. I heard another story about a family's struggle to get from Tripoli to Tunisia -- being in a concentration camp there, fed bread with cockroaches in it, and the rescue that came just as this Libyan camp was preparing to follow the crematorium practice of Germany. Another elderly lady gave me spontaneous brachot (blessings) for the health that she herself clearly felt was slipping away. Our five minutes together were made entirely of the acknowledgement that health is everything, and mutual blessings for each other and for all our families, and of course, lots of "Amen." A young Sephardi woman spent several seconds giving me brachot and calling me "neshama," then gave up her seat to an elderly passenger. The older woman declined. "Shvi, Mahmee, shvi!" (Sit, dearie, sit!) The young woman wasn't having any of that, so they both stood for a while before the older lady finally gave in.

Once we got past the "where are you from?" part of the discussions, every one of them asked me: "Mi yesh lach po?" (Literally, "Who have you here?")

First, some background. In America in the Olden Days -- young people: "the Olden Days" refers to all time before humans were plugged into their individual cell phone worlds, sort of a pre-Matrix existence -- you could have some fascinating conversations with complete strangers on buses, trains and airplanes. Travelers might share their itineraries, and locals would politely ask things like, "So, what brings you to town?" Or perhaps, more abruptly, "Why are you here?" (They meant it in the nicest possible way, bless their hearts.)

In Israel, the fellow travelers (who dispense brachot like Tic Tac mints) most often ask, "Who is here that brings you all this way?"

I love people and I have loved traveling in different countries, immersing in other cultural styles of communication.

But my favorite, the love of my life, is this Israeli family-centric culture. Even after 12 years of living here, I never tire of the "who" of Israel that supersedes the "what."

Who brings you here, neshama? I give you brachot for health and long life and much joy from your families, those you've built or those you've adopted.

Photo credit: Elana Dressler

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mixology for the Heart and Soul

26 Av 5779.

Jonathan Friedlander is a genius. And he knows how to help others bring their particular genius to the surface, and set it to music.

I love the vacuum cleaner microphone.
The Eastman clan has enjoyed playing music together for as long as the lads could hold instruments (or even faux instruments).

We've jammed together for weddings (sometimes to the chagrin of the in-laws, as they had to become accustomed to the "Irish set," which has no Jewish lyrics. At all. But it has a lot of loud, joyful music "fer dancin'," as Aryeh likes to say.

Over the years, as the boys have grown and begun lives away from the family mansion flat, opportunities to play together naturally have diminished. Fortunately, our young men have married understanding ladies; so usually once a month, Aryeh and David drive to Neve Daniel to practice with the old parents.

This year, I asked for the guys to help me with a tikkun. My dear mother had a wonderful nightclub singing voice when she was young; and even as she aged, her lullabies added sweetness to our world. But I never recorded her. I miss her, and I miss her voice.

About six months ago, the guys agreed to submit to a professional recording session. The trouble was finding an affordable and agreeable studio. After all, we were not going after a gold album. We just wanted to have fun together, and to trap that fun for our grandchildren.

Our success started with Drumbite, my personal favorite music store in all the world. This is because unlike at other music stores that focus on guitars and pianos, owner Assaf Kraus is a drummer -- so drums are not an afterthought. He has knowledge to share, along with drums and cymbals and percussion toys of all kinds. He also is wise enough to treat other instruments with reverence as well. You can find gorgeous guitars, wind and brass instruments and keyboards at good prices at Drumbite. The service is exceptional and friendly, and their English and Hebrew are superb.

Assaf works closely at his establishment with a couple of sound engineers, each of whom has studio space and access to the instruments in Assaf's store. With Assaf's guidance, we made the acquaintance of our newest best friend, Jonathan Friedlander of Mixedbyjon.com. Jonathan is American by birth, so English is no problem. Neither is understanding American music of all kinds, as well as what his clients want. It didn't hurt our session any that Jonathan is also one of a family of brothers. He understood completely the raucous banter and humor between our sons, laughed at the right places, and even joined in. He even gave us our impromptu name, after several jokes including the word "intonation." He said we should call ourselves "Eastonation." Jonathan is nothing if not full service.

Throughout the day, Jonathan did his mixing and mastering magic to make sure that levels were compatible and that what we presented sounded if not Grammy Award worthy, it was at least pretty darn good. The end result was as professional as it could be (given the silly characters he had to deal with). The Dearly Beloved and I are proud and happy. Mission accomplished!

On one end of the spectrum, Jonathan has earned at least one gold record for his recording and mastering craftsmanship for a famous hip-hop artist. And on the other end, he made the Eastmans shine, and kept the entire 32-song, eight-hour enterprise within budget. We had such a good time, the boys said that this was our new "white water rafting" family adventure, which I think means we'll be doing this again. And again.

Both Drumbite and Jonathan can be found at HaHavatselet St 6, Jerusalem. We heartily recommend both Assaf's store and Jonathan's expertise. If you play music, why not get a beautiful recording of it?

Do it for your kids and grandkids.

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Month of Vacation in a Week

5 Tamuz 5779.

Last week was one for the books -- a whole summer vacation in just a few days, Israeli-style.

Yom rishon (Sunday) was lit and colored by the Jerusalem Light Festival.

After an enjoyable meal with friends at a restaurant in Mahane Yehuda called Ishtabach serving fascinating Syrian meat dishes inside delicious pastry, we walked through the holy City to join the "blue route" of the tour. (There are also a green and red route, which may be interesting if we ever attend more than one evening.)

Each year, this well-attended event seems to get better and more creative. This year there were people dressed in mosaics of mirrors, fairy princesses and unicorns laced with lights raised above the crowd on stilts, explosions of light in the sky above, groups of young musicians playing jazz that would make their grandparents proud, and the trademark stories projected on Old City stones.

You say APC, we say Warrior Taxi.
On yom sheni (Monday), the Dearly Beloved and I enjoyed the IDF Tour at First Station in Jerusalem. We didn't expect much. A few tanks, maybe; a little history about the military's contributions to building and protecting Medinat Yisrael.

We were quite surprised by the hour-long interactive program aimed, we were sure, at persuading young people that their future required military service might be more fun than burdensome. There were stations with computer consoles beckoning young competitors to polish off enemy ships, opportunities to virtually see and feel flight and parachuting and undersea combat. The room was filled with budding heroes proving to their parents that time on video games such as Armored Brigade and Warhammer is not entirely wasted.

I was surprised by how deeply moved I was by the short film about the IDF's role in the creation of the State, as well as its many necessary wars and operations to defend our home. Even though I know the history, the video was well-made, eliciting all my emotional support for the job our boys and girls must continue to do.

After the show, we had an excellent meal at Lehem Basar (aka Meet and Eat, illustrating once again that literal translations often miss the mark). We have found that the secret to dining out on our budget is to always choose the business lunch special, and sometimes to take advantage of the only-in-Israel option to split a meal. (I say "only" without knowing if this is allowed in other countries. My experience is that in the US and Germany, we were not allowed this privilege.)

Over yom shlishi and yom revi'i (Tuesday and Wednesday), I had the last-minute pleasure of going to the Galil with gal-pals and staying at a cabin in Yavniel.

What a beautiful and inspiring adventure! We hiked along Nahal Amud -- something my body reminded me for a full five days after the one-day outing it hadn't done in decades! -- and enjoyed the cabin, pool and lovely catered breakfast like wealthy college girls. Every few years, a girl's gotta experience a little luxury...

Enough already, right? Not a bit of it.

We met our dear mehutanim on yom chamishi (Thursday) for lunch at Pat Bamelach Bakery and Restaurant in Efrat to catch up on our summer travels and adventures, and to share stories about and photos of our kids and grandkids. The food was excellent, the company, as always, divine.

We capped the evening and the week with a trip to Tekoa for the annual Beer Festival. Being aware of the need to conserve funds, the Dearly Beloved and I were satisfied to "spend" only the complimentary first beer chits that came with the exorbitant entrance fee (and we split the free beer our hostess/driver chose not to drink). It was a fun evening with music surprisingly not-ear-splitting, due to the layout, and a very Woodstock feel, with huge mats spread on the ground for sitting, and booths pitching homemade crafts and food.

There were families everywhere, many young people and older folk communing together -- exactly what we've come to love about the atmosphere of Tekoa. A special bonus was meeting friends who have been only virtual for a few years. Though I love the access to the world the internet provides, it is always special to meet "old friends" for the first time in real life. As entertaining as the festival was, the best part of the adventure was visiting our hosts in their home, shmoozing over their kitchen counter. A reminder that one needn't go far from home to participate in what matters most.

We had a quiet at-home yom shishi (Friday) and Shabbat to recuperate from our adventures, even though our "at-home" on Shabbat included an excellent English-language shiur across the street and an open-house visit to share the joy of friends in their new home. May they enjoy their time in this new apartment in good health, surrounded by people who love them, for as long as it suits them!

Of course, we spent our entire monthly allowance (and then some!) for entertainment in one week. Let's call it this year's summer vacation. Time to settle down, and get some work done, and shepherd the shkalim.

Besides -- I enjoyed the Yavniel adventure so much that the Dearly Beloved was prompted to say, "Feel like going to the cabin for your birthday?"

Well -- YESH.

Medinat Yisrael - the State of Israel / Lehem Basar - literally "bread meat" / Nahal - stream / mehutanim - the other set of parents of our married children / shiur - Torah lecture or class / shkalim - shekels / YESH - Israeli slang for the American slang expression, "heck, YEAH!"

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Where You Can Let Your Hair Down

Last night, I went on a "Women's Night Only" date with a gal pal. We were promised cocktails, wisdom about creative hair-styling, and a play billed as "the funniest play ever to make you cry."

I fell in love with Steel Magnolias thirty years ago, when Robert Harling's movie inspired by his beloved sister came out with a cast including Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. The movie was funny, witty, a little bit raunchy, and sad enough to make an armadillo cry crocodile tears. Having lost my dear Mama to diabetes back in 2002, I have always felt a keen affection for the tenderness of this play and its handling of this disease, and how it affects all of those around the sweet, suffering soul.

When I heard auditions were coming up for a local production of this marvelous story, I was tempted, for the first time in my adult life, to give it a try. Happily for me (and for the audience), being a Mrs. Coach of American football kept me too busy to even think about all the back-breaking rehearsals necessary for a play. (Indeed, during intermission, I heard more than one audience member wondering how the performers could remember so many lines!) So I looked forward to attending the production from a first-row center seat instead.

A couple of asides, before I speak about last night's performance. Remember the TV show Cheers? Remember what made it such a hit? It wasn't just that it was funny and witty and sometimes sad. It was that we all wanted to find a pub just like that, "where everybody knows your name." Where when you walk in, just a regular "Norm," everyone greets you, and is happy you showed up. I think that is part of the allure of Steel Magnolias: during much of the movie (and through this entire production of the play), the action takes place in a local hair salon, where everyone knows everyone, and is invested in each other's lives. Where all the ladies can "let their hair down," and be absolutely real with one another.

One thing that matters a lot to me in any story is that I like the characters. Not all of them -- bad guys are bad guys -- but at least some of the characters must be likable, and all of them must be believable. I can't watch or read a story unless the characters matter to me.

I purposely avoided watching the movie again before seeing the AACI J-Town Playhouse Theater Project version of Steel Magnolias. Just to give the local talent a fair chance.

These ladies came through, with flying (pink! Did I say pink??? Yes, PINK!!!) colors. I liked them. I believed them. They made me cry, and laugh, and guffaw... and cry. I wanted to hang out in Truvy's beauty parlor, and swap stories and barbs with these lovable and sometimes contrary women.

Thank you to Sorah Grotsky, Abigail Ellis, Tova Rubenstein, Talya Bem, Miriam Metzinger, and Andrea Katz, for a lovable, endearing onstage presence. Thank you to Shiri Berzack & Co. for everything backstage that made this sweet and sad and funny little story work.

There are still tickets available for remaining performances, but they're going fast. And lest you think this is "chick flick" material, let me tell you that Mr. Harling's witty, daring, funny, and touching material will appeal to women and to men.

May Robert Harling find comfort in having touched so many hearts in his effort to honor his dear sister Susan.

One way to get ticket information for remaining performances (March 23, 27 and 28)! Click here! https://www.facebook.com/events/207038796918030/

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Israel: Where We All Have Something to Give

6 Adar I 5779.

There I was, enjoying my very rich and busy retirement – publishing books, babysitting delightful grandchildren, playing “Mrs. Coach” to an adult American football team, participating in classes in Torah, Hebrew, painting, yoga and music – when Andy Armon’s letter appeared in the Neve Daniel chat list. She was seeking volunteers for a new program to help young ladies at the Orot Etzion Girls’ School to improve their English conversation skills.

I am very shy where public speaking is concerned. I have never been trained as a teacher. I am only a “boy mom,” meaning I’m learning about dealing with the personalities of girls fairly late in life, through my granddaughters. And I’m happily busy, meaning I’m not looking for more to do.

But I like Andy, and I respect her efforts at helping the community. And a little tzedakah b’guf seemed like a good idea – and it happened that Thursday mornings were free. I couldn’t talk myself out of it.

I am so glad I couldn’t. I’m having the time of my life!

The program doesn’t require the structure that scares people away from “teaching.” It’s more like mentoring. I volunteer for two sessions: I work with one 5th grade girl who has very good English that just needs a bit of polishing; and I have a group of six 6th grade girls who have very little English but lots of enthusiasm. My job is to get them to speak English with increasing confidence. No one is expecting me to make them fluent. I just have to help them to get rid of the fear of looking foolish, and to simply be willing to try.

Much like what I went through in ulpan. In fact, my Hebrew ulpan experience helps me to understand and to help these girls. I know exactly what they are feeling. They listen to my poor Hebrew as I try to explain difficult concepts; and they are receptive to my lesson that just as they don’t laugh at me, I won’t laugh at them. Week by week, they are gaining courage, and even some proficiency. (They are very proud of knowing when to add “s” to the end of a verb, and when not to, something that often stumps even adults.)

We have fun together playing word games, singing songs, playing “grocery store,” reading easy stories. For this exercise, I am permitted by the program either to use the book provided, or to come up with my own plan. I’m rather proud of this: I have taken an easy Hebrew children’s book and translated it to English for them. First, we read the Hebrew version. It is full of moral lessons, and the girls happily debate where they stand on the issues. Then, we painstakingly make our way through the English version. As I remind them that they already understand the story, they gain faith in themselves, and struggle on. Last week, I said that I look forward to when we can debate this story in English. Unexpectedly, my initially most reticent student led a discussion in very simple English, wherein each girl stated her case! I am so proud of my girls!

After our classes (which are currently 30 minutes and 50 minutes in length), we volunteers meet, each week, to share concerns and ideas. I have gained so much wisdom from these fellow volunteers. Very often, next week’s plan starts with something learned during this meeting. Best of all, the girls, the English program teachers, and especially Andy and Yael Ben-Pazi, the principal, are so supportive of our efforts.

I love this program. It is very rewarding to give back to a community that patiently helps me with my Hebrew. It feels good to be respected for something that is part of the definition of who I am: an English-language-proficient Anglo with a lot to give the next generation in Israel.

Glossary - tzedakah b'guf: charity through deeds rather than money; ulpan: intensive Hebrew language class