Monthly Archives: August 2011

More Cousins Met and a Frenzied Farewell



One of the last things we had left to do in Israel was meet some cousins of Steve’s from his mother’s father’s side of the family. We had been working on getting together for a couple of weeks and were able to make time at the very end of our visit when everyone would be available. The Veniks live near the airport so this also made good sense. They live on Moshav Mazor near Petach Tikvah. After our final visit to Jerusalem we made our way there. As we were leaving Jerusalem, highway 1 coming into town was backed up for miles. At the beginning of this back up was an Egged bus that was stopped and all the passengers were getting off and standing alongside the road.  We assumed that the bus had broken down and that this was the problem. Steve read in the paper this morning when we were in Philly at the airport that there was a terrorist threat and they were doing searches. SO glad we missed that balagan. We would have never made it into Jerusalem and then back to Tel Aviv if we had had to sit through a road block.

Moshav Mazor is a lovely little settlement with cute houses and lots of trees and gardens. We were greeted by Steve’s second cousin once removed (again not clear on how these titles work but I think that is right) Dan and then by Dan’s parents including Irving who is the son of Steve’s grandfather’s sister. It is amazing how much Dan and his brother Tzevik look like Steve’s cousins in Seattle! There was a bit of language challenge as Dan’s English is minimal (though better than he gives himself credit) and Irving and his wife speak almost no English. Steve decided to break out his German from high school and some progress in the conversation was made there. I got to work on my Hebrew and we managed to do pretty well. Tzevik is the other son and he soon showed up driving his tour bus which he parks behind his parent’s house when he is home. His wife, Etty, and their children also showed up and we were able to have a better conversation as Etty’s English is quite good.

We then moved a few blocks away to Etty and Tzevik’s house. Irving helped to settle the moshav and has lived there for about 60 years and was give land to build two additional houses so both Dan and Tzevik have homes in the moshav on this land. Their home is beautiful and has quite the zoo in the back yard as well. They have three donkeys – they got three for the price of two when the female they purchased turned out to be pregnant. They also have chickens, ducks, a rooster, a dog and a gerbil. There are plans to add goats and sheep. Their children Noa and Re’em were excited to meet us, even if they were shy and said very little. Noa is very excited that Steve’s sister Deb and her family will be coming to visit and has already cleaned her room in preparation for them! She wanted me to see her room and take pictures (which I did) so Eliana and Jasmine would know what her room looked like.

Despite Etty and I have a long discussion on Facebook about what Steve and I can eat and what she should make, her husband and his family were convinced since we are Americans that we would want BBQ and so he had stopped and purchased charcoal and chicken to grill. We tried to assure him that the fish and veggies that Etty made were totally what we wanted but the “mangel” was still fired up and the chicken cooked – and enjoyed by everyone else. Steve and I enjoyed the fish cooked in fresh zatar from Etty’s garden as well as all the salads she had made.  It is clear from our eating here that there will be lots more salads and slaws on our menu in the future. A typical Israeli dinner begins with a whole salad course with lots of cold salads of many varieties – carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and the like all figure prominently. There may also be warm vegetable dishes served with the main course. Lots of yummy and healthy things upon which to nosh!

As it was getting close to time for us to leave so that we could return our rental car and get to the airport the suggested three hours early, it was suggested that Tzevik could accompany us to the airport and help assure that we didn’t have any problems. This sounded like a good idea and we said our good byes to Dan, Irving and his wife and I was ready to say good bye to Etty and the kids when it became obvious they were all coming with us! I was a bit concerned about our luggage and all of us fitting in their car once we had dropped off the rental, but off we all went. In the end, Etty and one suitcase ended up on the shuttle but it left right behind our car and we all arrived at the airport at the same time. We said good bye with invites for them to come to Seattle and stay with us.

Leaving Israel is  no easy task. There are multiple levels of security to go through and thankfully we were easily passed through them all – despite or perhaps because of Steve’s passport photo that looks nothing like him. The young woman who did our interview wanted to see another ID and then I showed her the photo of him wearing his old pants when he reached his goal. She was quite impressed. The interview to even get to check in is a uniquely Israeli thing and something the US could learn from. We were asked why we were there, then those facts were checked and then rechecked. I was there learning. Where? Why? Why did Steve come? To meet family. What family? Where do they live? What are their names? It is all to test  your nerves and see if you are being truthful and reveal nervous or unusual behavior. After this your luggage is then scanned while still in your possession. We were deemed safe and ours was just wanded for bomb making residue and then tagged as passed inspection without being scanned. Probably a good things as I was quite nervous that the multiple packets of Dead Sea Mud might look suspicious and warrant a search!

After that there is the usual check in and then we needed to return my cell phone. This was also making me nervous as last trip I forgot to return the phone and had to mail it from Seattle for an extra (hefty) fee. We found the post office and sent it on its way after a couple quick calls to let people know that we were on our way home. Then it is through security, again, with your carry on bags and then to immigration. By the time you get to the gate you are exhausted! We had planned to stop and try to get some VAT tax money back but those plans fell by the wayside in the craziness of what was required and the fact that the line at the desk for doing this was quite long. We will just happily support Israel’s economy instead. And of course, once we got to Philly there were most of these steps to repeat again. The immigration officer was quite nice and quickly stamped our documents and sent us on our way after telling me, when I said I was a teacher,  about his 9th grade daughter who is testing his patience as a parent and how he would be a middle school teacher if he taught. Bags claimed and then rechecked and a two plus hour wait for our flight completed that leg of the journey. I did get coffee this time at the Philly Airport and I have to say, I was better off without it. Toasted Almond Lite Latte at Dunkin Donuts – had to be the worst coffee I have ever had! After all my complaining about figuring out Israeli coffee, I was wishing for a delicious Aroma Café Afooch (upside down coffee or a latte).

We are almost home – about another 90 or so minutes in the air before we land in Seattle and, of course, if you are reading this then we are home and I have been able to upload it to the internet. It has been an incredible trip and I am so glad that Steve had a great time as well, despite having all his clothes stolen and air raid sirens, and seems eager to return again sometime soon. If I could promise him a booth at the shuk, I think he would go back next week! We met a woman while waiting to go through immigration in Philly whose brother just moved there and is working at the shuk. She said he loves it but that it is crazy, so I guess it can be done.  I hope that we will be able to return soon and retain our connection to our newly met cousins as well as all the friends I made in Jerusalem. I feel that I truly have a home in Israel and can’t wait to visit it again. Thank you for sharing my journey.


Final Days–Simcha and Sadness


sandn bat mitzvah       elana bm

I am sitting on my flight getting near to Philadelphia as I am writing this post. The time since Friday afternoon when I wrote my last post has just flown by all too quickly. The bat mitzvah began with Kabbalat Shabbat as the sun was going down Friday evening. Kabbalat Shabbat is not a service that I have led often but I have spent the past five Fridays at beautiful services and I put my trust in that experience to get me through the service in a moving way. The tunes that I have loved singing along to came to me and Steve made sure that there was dancing when it was appropriate. Despite a lack of siddurim for every person and the fading light made even less when the power went out during the service eliminating even the minimum electric light which we were using. People were singing along, clapping and dancing and I was so thankful for being able to be a vessel to pass along the beautiful davening I have experienced so that those gathered for this event could also welcome Shabbat in a moving way.  We finished with Shalom Aleichem and the blessing of the children.

We then went as a group to the Cheder Ochel – Dining Hall – of the kibbutz where there were other guests already eating dinner. We gathered as a group around the end of our tables for Kiddush. As we all stood singing this prayer that sanctifies Shabbat and marks the beginning of Shabbat dinner, one of our group noticed that some of the other guests, older tourists from Italy, had stood up and were joining in our prayers. This was really moving and reminded me that Jews everywhere say the same prayers. As the kibbutz is not religious, there probably had not been an opportunity for them to say Kiddush and it was so beautiful to have them join us in our recitation of the prayer. Shabbat dinner was delicious – the first of many tasty meals of the weekend.

After dinner many of us sat talking late into the night and it was after midnight when I went into bed. You can imagine then how doubly unhappy I was to be awoken at 4:00 am by an air raid siren. We had not been briefed on what to do if this had happened and, in fact, the one person who had asked about it had been practically scolded for being worried about such things so far out in the middle of nowhere. Steve was also awake and we gathered passports and phones and headed out side. There was no sign of anyone else from our group and since we weren’t sure what to do, I wasn’t sure if we should wake them up. As we were discussing what to do, we felt the impact of the rockets. They were clearly far off, but it was still quite unsettling. We heard voices and walked in that direction. There were a number of Israeli visitors to the kibbutz milling around trying to decide what to do as well. No one knew where the bomb shelter was and there weren’t any kibbutz members around. We finally all decided to just go back to bed since there didn’t seem to be anything else to do. In the morning the rest of the group was surprised/concerned that they hadn’t heard the alarm and I got a fair share of razing for not waking them all up. I explained that there wasn’t really anything to do if they had been up so I hadn’t seen the need to alarm them. When one of the group asked about shelters, the kibbutz member said that they had not used them since 1991 and they weren’t even sure where the keys were. They said that the siren had gone off because they are hooked up to the system in another area and that it didn’t really reflect a threat to us directly. They were, again, amazingly blasé and unconcerned about the whole situation. We were told that if they did determine that there was a threat, there would be a training that afternoon so that we would know what to do. There was no training so I guess there was no threat.

Shabbat afternoon was spent swimming, napping and preparing for the bat mitzvah that evening. It was quite hot so taking it easy and soaking in a cold pool made good sense. Shabbat lunch was served at 2 and then most everyone went for a long nap. Elana, her mother and conferred about the service that evening and her father went off to find a suitable “desert” setting within the safe confines of the kibbutz border fence. Spice bags were made using spices collecting by Elana’s uncle during their trip around Israel the week before and contained Lavender, Rosemary and Myrtle.

At around 7pm we began the bat mitzvah with the Ma’ariv service. Since there were not enough siddurim for everyone I led along with Elana so that I could do the whole of the Amidah out loud for those without a prayer book to hear and respond “amen” so that they got credit for saying it. Elena did a great job leading. Her brother, Jacob, and her father helped lead Aleinu and her cousins came up and sang Adon Olam with Jacob. I introduced the singing of Adon Olam by giving over Rabbi Ed Feinstein’s story of how he imagines this beautiful prayer came to be written. It was written in medieval Spain and we do not know the name of the writer. Rabbi Ed pictures a man laying in a field trying to fall asleep under the stars. The prayer begins with God distant and great – Creator and Eternal – and R. Ed’s medieval Spanish Jew is looking at the stars thinking of God as that far away and awesome. The poem and the poet then move closer and more personal and the prayer ends with God as personal protector and R. Ed’s Jew is able to fall asleep.

At this point Elana gave her d’var and as the light faded away and we were able to count the three stars that we needed to know that Shabbat was over, I gave Elana my charge. Elana spoke beautifully about the separations of the Havdalah service (holy and profane, Jews and other nations, light and dark, the six days of work and Shabbat) and then about the commandment for B’nei Israel to separate themselves from the natives in Canaan as they enter the land which is given in parasha Re’eh.  Afterwards I sent Elana to her parent for blessing and we all sang “Siman tov and mazal tov” and danced. A charge is a speech given to the bar/bat mitzvah by their Rabbi or a teacher. It is meant to reflect upon their learning and accomplishments so far in life and “charge” them with continuing to learn and grow as a Jewish person and a mensch. This was my first charge and it was so lovely to see how important my words were to both Elana and her parents. I have enjoyed our time learning together, and look forward to it continuing and speaking about it was easy to do.

We then gatherer things for Havdalah and headed off to the secret location picked earlier in the day by Joel. It was very dark and lighting up the night with many homemade beeswax candles was a bit of a challenge. Yoel and Jacob made the candles from wax from their own bees and it was very special to use them for this ceremony. There were enough for us all to take one as a souvenir afterwards. This was a beautiful ceremony and after it several people shared additional blessings for Elana. Both her grandmother and brother spoke beautifully about Elana’s kindness and thoughtfulness. Then, using my IPhone as a flashlight, we made our way back towards the kibbutz proper to find the location of the party.

The kibbutz staff had set up a beautiful area outside for dinner, dancing and freilach (fun). There was more great food, wine and beer, music and good friends and family to enjoy this special moment. I have been to big fancy b’nei mitzvah parties and to smaller more intimate parties and this one was definitely one of the most sincere and enjoyable ones. Songs were song about and to Elana, dances and cheers were done and just about everyone got lifted up in a chair. I was lifted up by a group of children  which was quite a thrill – in more than one way!

Seeing and hearing the pride of Elana’s family in her accomplishments and also their satisfaction in the ceremony/Shabbat as a whole made me very happy. This was my first bat mitzvah and I feel that it went well and was a good reflection of Elana and allowed her to show off her strengths and enjoy becoming a Jewish adult in a relaxed and supportive setting. Her family seemed very happy and she was beaming and that was really all I needed!

No air raid sirens Saturday night though there were more rockets fired into Israel and Sunday morning was a bit tense as we all discussed the need to drive north and the safety of that undertaking. Steve and I decided to make a brief stop back in Jerusalem and arranged to leave our luggage at the apartment of a friend’s parents. We headed off and did not, thank God, encounter any difficulty or see any signs of trouble during our trip. We did not go through Be’er Sheva but rather to the east of it. We had a fast paced last two hours in Jerusalem with, of course, a stop at the Mahane Yehuda shuk for more fruit and nuts and lunch at Aroma. I was able to replace one of the shawls that I had bought and then was stolen. We then headed off to Tel Aviv to meet some more cousins of Steve’s. I will do a separate blog for that.

I am glad to be going back to Seattle after all most six weeks away but those last two hours in Jerusalem reminded me of what I was leaving behind. The air and energy of J’lem let me forget the theft just a week ago and the air raid sirens two nights before. I love being in Jerusalem and cannot wait for the next time that I am able to return and live there again for a  good stretch of time. There is no other place in the world like it. Seeing the rest of Israel and, in particular the out of the way places that we drove through on our trip, was amazing and made me feel like I knew the whole country better instead of just one city of it. The Dead Sea and Masada were wondrous, meeting cousin Max was lovely and just what was needed at that moment and, despite being robbed while there, Caesarea was also pretty cool. Finishing my trip with the feeling of accomplishment after seeing the joy and satisfaction in Elana and her parent’s faces was also incredible. I have so enjoyed my time in Israel this summer and am thankful to all who made it possible. I can’t wait to return.



Great Beauty and Reminders of Ugliness


Yesterday we went to a second beach on the Dead Sea to soak again. This time we went to Ein Gedi. The beach looked quite promising from the parking lot with umbrellas and a covered walkway. This was all, however, up a very rocky hill from the actual “beach”. You literally had to scurry down the rocky hillside to the rocky shore to wade in. The water was much deeper and cooler than in Ein Bokek and it was lots of fun floating there. We spoke to a group of German tourists and a couple of Birthright guys as well. The sensation of floating weightlessly in the water and actually being forced out of the water practically was amazing. It really was a wonder of nature.

Later in the evening when we returned to our outpost at Aroma in Ein Bokek. On the way in we were a bit puzzled by the overly zealous guard as usually they just waved us through. This time the guard was checking the trunk of every vehicle before opening the gate. When we got inside and online we discovered the reason – there had been an attack near Eilat by terrorists. Several people had been killed and there continued to be violence throughout the evening and into today with rockets coming from Gaza into Israel and the IDF firing into Gaza to destroy the tunnel through which these tourists had come into Gaza from Egypt.

This morning we headed back to Ein Bokek to get online and check on the current situation. Things looked quiet so we headed off on our drive through the desert to Mashbeh Sa’de. We took a back route where we only saw about 20 cars from Ein Bokek to our destination. The scenery was gorgeous. Very much a mix of the Bad Lands, Monument Valley and, according to Steve, Sierra Nevada. Can’t wait to get the pictures up. At one point we were on a two way road through winding hills that was really only one lane wide. Steve was laughing at me honking before going around all the blind curves. There were many signs for camels alongside the road and I was getting quite upset that there were so many signs and NO camels. We finally did see some “free range” camels wandering along the side of the road and up on the hills near the road. We also saw a donkey and its foal crossing the road in a little town in the cross walk. Lots of pictures of that to come as well.

We are now at the peaceful kibbutz of Mashabeh Sade which is south of Be’er Sheva. We had no problems getting here and saw no sign of trouble. The kibbutz is lovely and laid back. Steve and I got here around noon and need some lunch. Around five minutes before 1:00 we wandered over to the office to see where we could go. There is a store on the kibbutz but it was closing in 5 minutes. Steve and I were walking as fast as we could and an old woman came along in a golf cart. She told us that the store would be closed already. We said we were told we had a couple minutes. She told me to “get on” and drove me at “break-neck” speed to the store. It was quite exciting and we literally made it there as they were closing up the store. With hummus, Bulgari cheese and crackers as well as some nuts and dried fruit, we headed back to the room to eat lunch. We have now met up with the Lessings and are getting ready for a beautiful Shabbat and celebration of Elana’s bat mitzvah. Wishing everyone a restful and lovely weekend and Sabbath. Praying for peace here in Israel and everywhere.



Sunrise on Masada


sunrise masada

So it is not even noon and Steve and I have put in a full day already! Our alarm rang at 4:30 am – quite early considering all those noisy American and Israeli teens never quit making noise till probably close to 1am. We dressed, packed lots of water and the camera and headed off in the dark to climb Mount Masada in time to see the sun rise at the top. There were other groups streaming towards the entrance as well and people already on their way up. The guard at the bottom kept signaling to a guide part way up so we could see where the lead group was occasionally. It quickly got light making our flashlights unnecessary. I tried to take pictures every few minutes of the horizon to monitor the progress of the dawn.

The climb was quite arduous and even at 5 am and before the sun was above the horizon, it was quite hot. I cannot imagine trying to climb it even a couple of hours later in the day let alone at mid-day. The views on the way up were amazing and gave a good excuse to stop and rest. Steve decided that this was his “workout of the day” and that gave him good focus to get up the mountain quickly.

We got to the top about 5 minutes before the sun came over the horizon. It was amazing how quickly it came up over the mountains in Jordan. After enjoying that event, we headed off to see the ruins. We were both amazed at how much there was to see. It is a huge complex up on top of the mountain and we kept coming around a corner or over a rise to find more ruins spread out before us. We did not even get to see them all as there was just too much to take in. It was all very impressive and the thought of building all that at the top of that mountain was pretty mind boggling. There were lots of groups of young people – Israeli and otherwise – and it was fun watching what they were doing. The Israeli groups were the best as they were really getting an education and having fun. They were doing Masada Jeopardy at one spot and acting out the history in another. In other places there were just typical teenage meltdowns as young relationships were coming apart in the heat.

Another group that was interesting to watch was a group of yeshiva bochers (students) who came up and then took over the shaded area by the water. They decided that this would make a good place to have their morning service. I hope that they didn’t mind too much that I still went and filled my water bottle. I figured it was a public spot not the shul. They call came up schlepping tallis and tefillin for morning prayers and dressed in typical black pants and long black coat. I can’t imagine hiking dressed like that but they seemed to do fine.

After our tour of the ruins we hiked back down – much easier though harder on the knees. It was also hotter and sunnier on the way down. We were surrounded by Birthright Israel kids who kvetched their way down the mountain. It was amazing how out of shape and whiny these young Americans on a free trip to Israel could be!! The staff person said it was pretty much non-stop. Steve told them that they were ungrateful and should stop their bitching. I told them I was twice their age and to quit whining. They were not making a good impression on their Israeli guides of how Americans act.

After a less than exciting breakfast at the Youth Hostel we headed back to Ein Bokek to float in the Dead Sea and visit Aroma. The sea was great other than when I got water in my eye. That really hurt and required getting out and rinsing off. It is very cool being able to float but it is also a real balancing act as the water tries to flip you over and it is hard to remain upright and keep your head out of the water. Took some fabulous pictures of the salt formations on the rocks.

Our coffee is gone and it is time to move on to Ein Gedi where we hope to find some mud to play in and do some more floating. Have a great day.



From Peaceful K’far Nasi to the Other Worldly Dead Sea Valley


max's place   nance kibbutz pool

I am typing this post sitting under the beautiful starry sky above Masada. We are staying at the Youth Hostel at the foot of Masada along the Dead Sea. More on that later…

Steve and I spent two delightful days with his cousin (second or second once removed – not sure which) Max on Kibbutz K’far Nasi. It was exactly what we needed after the total balagan (chaos/disaster) of Sunday’s break in and theft from our rental car. Arriving with our new luggage and Steve’s new mini wardrobe, we were made to feel totally welcome and all of our needs were catered to by Max. On Monday we took a driving tour to the northern corners of the Galil and along the border with Lebanon. We stopped by several viewpoints and visited the cemetery Tel Khai where Joseph Trumpledor is buried along with those who fought with him – the Shomrim. Max is a wealth of knowledge about the history of Israel and particularly his little corner of it and made an excellent tour guide. Pictures will be forthcoming of the fantastic views of the Hula Valley from far atop the Galil.

Our tiyul (tour) was followed with a very Israeli lunch of hummus, tahini, salad, cheeses and crackers. This was followed by a strictly enforced nap time – which with all the recent stress, we all needed. After our nap we chatted while Max got dinner prepared and then went for a short visit to the Kibbutz’s new pool. I was the only one who went swimming and it was very refreshing. Interestingly the water in the pool was salt not chlorine. Max joked that I was being marinated to be cooked for dinner and that I needed to be sure to stay in for at least half an hour. Dinner was delightful as was the after dinner discussion. Max is a wonderful conversationalist and had fun challenging me on many topics. He is quite amusing and witty in a dry and sarcastic way. I really enjoyed getting to know him and hope that this is not our only visit together. We talked about him coming to Seattle to visit us. Steve’s sister’s family will be visiting him next spring and then hopefully he will be able to come to see us all in Seattle. This morning we had another enjoyable meal together and a last conversation before Steve and I headed out to continue our discovery of Israel.

One topic we talked about a lot with Max was Steve’s family as Max is working on a family history. He shared his work so far with Steve on Monday night and then last night shared with me a real find! He had, from among his mother’s things, a copy of an article from the San Francisco Jewish Newspaper July 1947 about the arrival of Steve’s mother’s family from Shanghai.  We had never seen this article before and it was a fascinating read. He also was able to provided copies of photos that Steve had never seen before of his mother as a baby and of other relatives. Max’s family went to England from Germany during the Shoah while Steve’s mother’s parents went to Shanghai along with another aunt and her  husband. Putting all of the pieces back together and meeting up finally has been really rewarding.

Today we had a lot of fun driving from K’far Nasi to Masada. We started out by actually heading north to Kibbutz Ne’ot Mordechai which is where Naot/Teva shoes are manufactured. I was disappointed that they did not have a pair of the sandals that were stolen but did find two pairs for great prices and Steve found sandals and belts to replace items of his that were taken. We are saving up all the receipts as we have, thank God, found out that our homeowner’s insurance will cover our losses after a deductible.

After this stop we headed south along 90. We drove through Tiberias where there are many famous rabbis buried but it was too hectic to stop and we are a bit gun shy at parking anywhere with all our stuff in the car. We did stop at Kibbutz Kinneret which is apparently famous for its dates and its many date related products. We tasted many sauces and spreads and four or five types of dates. We bought chocolate date honey sauce, halvah date honey sauce, date syrup, date honey and honey sauce and some spices. We then continued south on 90 stopping for coffee, salad and wifi at an Aroma along the way. Soon we entered the West Bank and were waved through a check point without any questions or even looking at our passports. Steve was taken aback when he realized that there was a soldier with a rather large gun pointed at “us” (read everybody who comes through). The drive south was uneventful and we did not go through any other checkpoints. It was very barren and there were many abandoned buildings dotting the highway. There were also huge date tree “farms” and other agriculture alternating with huge barren stretches of rock and sand. We also went through a couple of nice little towns. As we got to the top of the Dead Sea there was a sign for an Ahava shop and a hotel and we turned off. We drove down this road that was lined with abandoned and partially demolished buildings but lined with new signs advertising a beach, a hotel, restaurants and other services. We got a bit nervous and turned back but as we were driving out a tour bus turned is so I guess if we drove far enough we might eventually have found the advertised amenities.

The Dead Sea valley is really unlike anything I have seen – somewhere between the surface of the moon and certain places in the US west though made of sand rather than rock. The surface of the water is reflective because of the salt content and the fact that the bottom of the sea is coated in salt. I really wanted to pull over and take pictures but Steve was nervous about this. I finally saw a place and just as I pulled over so did another car. We heralded each other and then talked about the need for more pullouts along the road. My fellow photographer was from Italy. I can’t wait to post the pictures next week so you can all see how amazingly beautiful and strange it all is. I also took some amazing pictures up close later when we drove to Ein Bodek and stopped right along the shore. Can’t wait to get in it tomorrow.

It is quite loud here at the Youth Hostel as there are at least two large groups of teens – one American and one Israeli – staying here. The Cheder Ochel (dining room) was total chaos when they showed up – particularly when they started singing happy birthday to one of their number. Steve was having a great time people watching but the manager of the dining room was not pleased with their behavior. He told us that the Israeli kids were crazy but the American ones were fine. We are hoping to not be climbing Masada in the morning with their rowdy company – though they might be considerably less noisy at 5 am!

Tomorrow, as just hinted at, we plan to climb Masada in time to be at the top for sunrise. We need to leave around 5 am for that to happen. It is about an hour hike at most according to the hostel worker to whom we spoke. We will return in time for breakfast – which will hopefully be tastier than dinner – and then head out to swim and play in the Dead Sea mud. I am sure that we will be back at Aroma in the early afternoon – which is when this will go live on the web. I think we should get Aroma sponsorship for our trip considering all the mentions they have gotten from us on Facebook and here. Between the good coffee – once you know how to order what you want – the huge salads that feed more than the two of us and the free Wi-Fi, I think Steve could stay there forever. Especially the one that is in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk – his other favorite place here in Jerusalem!

Signing off for now and hoping to upload this tomorrow. I so wish I could be posting pictures with this but will not be able to do that until I get home and B&H Photo delivers my new memory card reader. It should hopefully be there waiting for me on Monday.



Blessed last Shabbat in Jerusalem and blasted first day on the road


This past Friday night and Saturday were Steve’s first Shabbat in Israel and Jerusalem, my last in Jerusalem and Yiscah’s last in Jerusalem and Israel (this time). We began by finally visiting the tiny shul of Rabbi Raz Hartman in Nachlaot. This tiny room – barely 10 x 10 contained more joy at the welcoming of Shabbat then many shuls many times its size. The singing was uplifting and FINALLY there was dancing even in the women’s section during L’cha Dodi! The men were dancing wildly and Steve got pulled into it. On clear clue to the enthusiasm and kavanah (intention) with which Raz greets each Shabbat was that the pages of his siddur were ripped and worn from him pounding his hands while praying.

From there we went to dinner at Nati and Michelle Cohen’s home on the other end of Nachlaot. Nati works as a tour guide and they open their home on Shabbat to visitors who want to learn about Shabbat. We were not there for that purpose but they did have a lovely family from Toronto as guest who Nati was guiding through the city. They also didn’t need to know about Shabbat as they are Chabad. They were on a three month tour in celebration of their son’s bar mitzvah. They were very nice and we had a lovely dinner. Michelle is a splendid cook and we had foods from around the world and Nati is a great story teller.

Shabbat morning we davened at a Masorti (Conservative) minyan – Mayanot – in Talpiot. This was also a small congregation but the service was lovely and Steve and I both had an aliyah (blessing) at the Torah. Afterwards we met Yiscah at my flat for Shabbat lunch. After a long Shabbat shluff (nap) we met up with Yiscah to go to Rabbi Brodt’s holy home for Seudat Shlishi – the third Shabbat meal. It was such an amazing experience. The singing after the meal just about blew the roof off of the house. There were about 30 people packed into the room and everyone was singing with a full heart. It really was transcendent. Rabbi Brodt and his son-in-law both gave teachings and then we marked Havdalah – also filled with singing. I can not imagine a better ending to my last Shabbat in Jerusalem – other than it so made me want to be there for many many more Shabbatot. To be in a place filled with people so in love with being actively Jewish and so in touch with their Jewish souls is inspiring and beautiful.

Sunday morning dawned on the work week and a separation from my month in Jerusalem and immersion in being surrounded by holy learning. What a shocking break it would prove to be! Our first stop was the Thrifty Car Rental office where the female manager was being yelled out and badgered by a man who clearly wasn’t happy to hear that he couldn’t walk in and get whatever car he wanted. It was really intense and he made the young woman helping him cry. After they left, Steve told the employees that we was really impressed with how they had handled it and the manager’s response was “Welcome to Israel.” We got our car and headed to the apartment to pack it up. I had rented the smallest car since there are only two of us but it was almost too small for all our luggage. I guess that concern got out into the universe as three of our bags were stolen from the car while we were parked in the lot at the National Park in Caesaria. Someone smashed the back passenger side window and they took one suitcase with all of Steve’s clothing and what I was planning to wear this coming week, a carry on with a number of items such as my camera battery charger and some knitting stuff and my backpack which had all our flight information, my charge for Elana’s bat mitzvah and other papers. Thank God they didn’t take the bag with the computers – that really was God watching over us as it was sitting on the floor of the car and was clearly the next thing that they would have taken. I assume that they must have been interrupted. They did get my jewelry and Kindle and Steve’s small digital camera. The clothing is a really inconvenience and we spent today in Haifa shopping at the mall rather than sight seeing. Not sure about other sight seeing as we are a bit burnt on parking the car anywhere with our stuff in it. We are grateful that our documents and credit cards were all on us. There was a little cash in the suitcase but not much. The jewelry is upsetting as there were many favorite pieces. But all told, it is only things that can be replaced and we are safe. Thrifty finally brought us a new car at about midnight and we were back on the road this morning.

This does mean that there will be no more pictures till I get home and replace the memory card reader which was taken. I pray that my mobile phone and camera batteries last the next week as those chargers are both gone as well. Inconvenient but not irreplaceable. I keep telling myself that. It has been very upsetting and filing a police report was a total nightmare as the only officer on duty spoke no English. Thank God a military policeman showed up who did and he was pressed into service as a translator. He was very kind and spent 30 minutes or more helping out. The police never looked at the car, though someone did call and let me know that they wouldn’t be fingerprinting but did help me find our way to the hotel we were trying to find. The MP and this officer made up for the difficulty I had at first with the non-English speaking one. Even he became much friendlier once there was a translator and I quit freaking out and yelling at him in confused Hebrew (my mental state destroyed whatever command of the language I had). The people at Nachsholim – where we stayed last night – were very kind as well as were people at the mall today when they heard our story.

We are now with Steve’s second cousin Max on Kibbutz K’far Nasi in northern Israel in the Galil. It is peaceful and beautiful here and lovely to be in a home. Speaking of which, it is time for dinner.



An Amazing Tisha B’Av


tisha bav2     

Tisha B’Av, (the 9th of the month of Av) for those who aren’t Jewish, is the ultimate day of mourning in Jewish tradition. It is the day that, traditionally, many bad things have happened to the Jews. It all started with the spies who returned from touring Canaan coming back and saying that there was no way that the Children of Israel could win the land. Since God had promised to help them in this endeavor, their doubt and spreading of fear was unforgiveable. Trust in God had been betrayed and the people are punished by God declaring that they will wander in the desert until all those over 20 are dead – or 40 years. The destruction of the First Temple by the Assyrians and the Second by the Romans also happened on this day and it is this destruction and loss of the central place of Jewish worship and God’s “home” on Earth that is really being mourned on this day. There is still no Third Temple and, even though there is now a Jewish state in Israel, the Jewish people still are distance from God due to it’s absence. I have already shared some of the learning I have done in preparation for this day, but even all that wonderful learning did not prepare me for how meaningful last night and today were.

Yiscah and I had our last meal – a boiled egg dipped in ashes – and proceeded to the Old City. We had learned on Sunday night at the shi’ur with Shlomo Katz that he would be leading services Monday evening at a private home with a terrace overlooking the Temple Mount. We had been unsure of where to go and at this news both looked at each other and knew that this was where we needed to be. Shlomo has been so central to the learning we have been doing and has given over(from R. Shlomo Carlebach) such deep learning about Tisha B’Av, we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. The house was unbelievably beautiful with stunning views – I will post pictures on Facebook of the views. By the time we started services there were probably 70 people sitting on the ground on the terrace. It was a cool evening with a breeze and all around us were the sounds of other Jews marking Tisha B’Av as well as Muslims marking Ramadan and the celebrating that comes each evening at dark. Their celebrating made an interesting backdrop to our mourning – their party music and fireworks punctuating our songs of mourning and reading of Lamentations.

Shlomo and his father each read part of Eicha (Lamentations) and I have to say, with all respect to those I have previously heard chant Eicha – that this was the most beautiful reading of it I have ever been privileged to hear. Such emotion and deep kavanah (intention) in the reading and such musicality as well. If it wasn’t clear that this was not just a “recitation” already, it became clear when Shlomo stopped mid verse at one point. I couldn’t believe he had lost his place and then I looked at the line that he was reading and knew why he had stopped. Shlomo has two young daughters who he talks about frequently in his teachings and clearly loves more than life. The line was about the daughters of Zion boiling and eating their children during the siege on Jerusalem. He could simply not bear to read the line and when he did continue it was with tears in his eyes and breaking in his voice. This broke my heart as well. After Eicha was finished, Shlomo continued for another hour or more alternating beautiful teaching with niggunim (songs, usually wordless). He really opened his heart and poured it out for those who were blessed to be in attendance. When he was done, the hostess, Pamela Claman, asked if she could share part of a teaching he had apparently given at dinner prior to the fast. She shared about the difference between a prayer and a blessing and that a blessing is more holy because it involves two people (or more). In prayer it is us and God and we are usually asking for something, probably for us. But when you give a blessing – you are giving and you are involving at least one other person. It is this giving and bringing together that makes the blessing so holy. I thought that this was really beautiful, and as someone who signs all her correspondence with “with blessings”, it really spoke to me. On Sunday I had met a friend of Yiscah’s who upon our separating had given each of us, and even my husband who she hadn’t met, a long and beautiful personal blessing. I had found this so moving and was so impressed with how comfortable she was in doing this. I aspire to such ability to share holiness and blessing.

Today I spent most of the day at Pardes where they had a day of learning for Tisha B’Av. This is no easy feat to arrange as Torah learning is actually forbidden on this day as it brings joy. There are a list of things you can learn about – mourning, destruction, loss and such happy topics. I attended a number of great sessions on the laws of mourning and grief in Judaism and their role in helping us to process our grief “appropriately”. I have always thought that the Jewish customs of mourning are a brilliant part of Jewish ritual and, though, thank God, I have not been a mourner myself, find myself grateful for them when comforting mourners and helping them through their loss. The second session was a bit more “touchy feely” and had us think about the destructions in our own lives and then what good or change had come out of them. She referred to this process as “composting”. It was a good exercise as it is always good to remember that good can come out of bad. I personally am forever grateful to a person who caused me great heart break because without them I wouldn’t have the life I have now and this exercise was a good opportunity to remember that . All of the wonderful things I have, my job, my husband, my community, being here in Israel this summer are worth the pain suffered in the creation of who I am today. The afternoon sessions were with Danny Gordis and Natan Sharansky and were both fabulous and memorable. R. Gordis spoke about what has been lost due to the history of the Jewish people and how we aren’t a “real” people because we have had to move around so much and because of the existential threat that we have historically (and continue to) live with. As he said, “It isn’t normal for a People to constantly live with the knowledge that other people want to kill them.” Natan Sharansky spoke beautifully about the power of identity and the centrality of Jerusalem and Israel to his work for human rights and freedom.

It has been a great week on other fronts and I will try to share about them later. I was in the middle of the historical protests here on Saturday, August 6th and also had fun meeting two formerly “virtual” friends in person and spent Shabbat with the family from Seattle whose daughter’s bat mitzvah I will be doing on the 20th. For now it is bed time! My husband arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait for him to be here!! The apartment is cleaned, I have cleared him a shelf or two and a drawer and I can only hope that he actually fits in the bed (I am not sure it is long enough!).

I wish you all the blessings of happiness, health and plenty.


My D’var for the Farewell Lunch


On Sunday a request was made for someone to give a short d’var – talk based on a Jewish text usually – on Tuesday at the farewell lunch. I had a lot I had been thinking about as a result of all the learning I have been privileged to share in here in Jerusalem and so offered to speak. My d’var is below. I hope that you will find it meaningful. I have added some definitions and explanations in parentheses.

Pardes SCW

D’var for last day of Summer Curriculum Workshop 5771/2011

In addition to the great learning that I have been privileged to partake in here at Pardes, I have had the zichut (merit/honor) to share the Shabbat table and to learn with some amazing people since I have been here in Jerusalem. At every table and at every learning the theme that seems to run through and connect what is being brought down is a need for ahavat Israel (love of Israel (the Jewish People). The fact that all of this learning has taken place during the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av might have something to do with this. The Rabbis teach that the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed because of sinat chinam – baseless hatred. To counter this baseless hatred and to work toward a time when we would merit the rebuilding of the Temple – we need to practice baseless love – a love of all Jews – no matter how different and far apart we might seem to be. As we traverse the nine days until Tisha B’Av, let us all bear in mind that while we may not be able to connect to the idea of mourning something we never had, we can all connect to the idea of mourning a feeling of disconnection, frustration or alienation and perhaps work to heal that divide through the practice of ahavat chinam – baseless love – and ahavat Israel. Here are Pardes, we have heard that we need to build relationships with each of our students and that, to manage behavior and be effective as teachers, we need to convince every child that we care about them – this can, at times seem to be ahavat chinam when the child in question regularly makes our jobs difficult. Finding the spark of the Divine – the tzelem Elohim (image of God) – in each child allows us to see them as they are and to search out a way to reach them as an individual rather than just seeing them as another student in the room. Reaching out to that student “where they are”, rather than where we would like them to be, will allow them to see that we care and truly want them to be successful. In Proverbs 22:5 we are told חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לו יסור מימנה – “teach to the child according to his way so that even when he grows old, he will not stray from it. This line from Mishli (Proverbs) is telling us to individualize our teaching so that we truly reach each child. Seeing the humanity and the Divinity in each and every student – or each and every Jew – and honoring what we share rather than emphasizing what separates us, makes ahavat chinam much easier to accomplish. And while we may not merit the rebuilding of the Temple for finding something to love in each and every student – we will create a space where every student can grow and learn and feel safe – perhaps, for some, the only such space. By spreading a love of all Israel – the country and the people – in how we teach and live, we will also help to grow a world where Jews are able to see more clearly, not that which separates us, but rather that which holds us together.