Category Archives: Israel

Posts related to my trip to Israel summer of 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane…


Shalom. Tomorrow I leave for Vienna. It is the first stop on my four country, two continent summer of learning. I will be joining the Centropa Summer Academy ( in Vienna, Zagreb and Sarajevo to learn about the causes of World War I, the connection between WWI and WWII and the Holocaust and also to learn about the ethnic/religious strife in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s and its connection to WWII and Sephardic Jews. As a history major in college, I learned that centuries never begin or end neatly on years zero and 99, but rather their beginnings and endings are determined, after the fact, based on historical events that fit a pattern. The 20th century, according to this system, began in Sarajevo with the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 and ended there in 1992. This year is the 100th anniversary of the shooting – it was just over a week ago.

To prepare for the Summer Academy I have done a tremendous amount of reading – oh, but first a word from our sponsors! My participation in the Centropa Summer Academy is being funded by a Fellowship through Fund for Teachers ( This fabulous organization grants fellowships for thousands of teachers across the USA to do fascinating summer learning. I have perused the list of this year’s fellows and am, quite honestly, humbled to be included. These educators are doing amazing things and I hope their students appreciate the learning that will result.

Now, back to the reading. I have read, or am quickly trying to finish reading, eight or nine books to prepare for this trip. My favorites are The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon – one of my new favorite authors, The Hare with the Amber Eyes (which I read a couple of years ago and still love) by Edmund de Waal, Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard and Logavina Street by Barbara Demick. 1941: The Year that Keeps Returning by Slavko Goldstein was also an amazing read. These books, the ones related to Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia Herzegovinia in particular, have helped to prepare me for the learning we will do and the history we will encounter. I have also read The Trigger by Tim Butcher. This fascinating book is about Butcher’s journey, on foot, to follow the footsteps of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All of this reading has me so excited to visit Zagreb – where we will have dinner with Slavko Goldstein – and Sarajevo – where we will have a Skype session with Tim Butcher. I am working my way through The Vertigo Years – Europe 1900 –1914 by Philip Blom – who we will also have a chance to meet.

So much attention is given to World War II and the Holocaust – but the events in Europe leading up to and after World War I set the stage for WW II. I am excited to be filling in some of the deficit in my learning and understanding of this time and the connections between the two. I am also looking forward to meeting survivors of the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990’s and to learn about the cooperation then between Jews, Muslims and Christians to create a true community center in the Jewish Community Center. If you click on at the top of the Summer Academy site and then click on “films”, you can watch a short film about this entitled “Survival in Sarajevo”. It is quite moving and it will be an honor to meet these people who, in the face of ethnic/religious strife and killing, chose a different path. While you are on the film page you can also watch “El Otro Camino” (A Different Path) about how Jews got to Sarajevo in the first place. Heck, I recommend watching all the films there.

My second learning opportunity for this summer is as a Museum Teacher Fellow for 2014-15 at the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I will be flying from Sarajevo to Washington D.C. and will spend five days there being trained and planning a project for my Fellowship year. I am very honored and excited about this opportunity and the chance to bring some learning back to Seattle and the community here.  I look forward to keeping you up to date with my learning and experiences, as well as some photos even.

Thank you for reading!


D’var Torah – Parshat Eikev 5772


(This d’var Torah was given on August 11, 2012 at Beth Shalom, Seattle)


The last two summers, while in Jerusalem, I frequently went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Mayanot – a warm and welcoming little shul in Sha’arei Hesed. At first I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go as it has a mechitzah and is Orthodox, but I was assured that the davening was well worth being out of my comfort zone. Truer words have never been spoken. The davening at Mayanot is amazing. It has taken me a few visits and a lot of reflection to figure out what makes it so amazing – coming from Beth Shalom I am used to good davening.  So, what was it that set this place apart – even from other kehillot in Jerusalem where great davening was also happening? Was it the tunes – beautiful Carlebach tunes – nope, heard them other places as well. Was it the fact that the congregation was knowledgeable and could participate? Nope, people elsewhere, people here, know the davening and participate.  There certainly weren’t instruments – unless you count the tables being enthusiastically pounded, the feet stomping and the hands clapping. There was nothing concrete or tangible that was different here than other places – particularly those also in Jerusalem in the same neighborhood. So, what was the difference?  Let’s find out…

This week’s parsha – Eikev – begins with the words “And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that God made on oath with your fathers: God will favor you and bless you and multiply you…” המשפסים האלה – “these rules”. Moses and God have given a lot of rules by this point – 613 even. So, which rules are being referred to by this comment? All of them?  I will admit I wasn’t sure what I was going to say about this parsha and had even written most of a d’var on a very different subject than the one that you are hearing about today. Then, on Tuesday I received my weekly recording of R. Shlomo Katz giving over R. Shlomo Carlebach on the parsha. What follows is hugely indebted to both Shlomos – both Carlebach’s original d’var and Katz’s beautiful and insightful giving over of it.

Carlebach points out that Rashi comments that the mitzvoth being referred to by this phrase –  המשפסים האלה – are not the ones that have been carefully spelled out by God and Moses up to this point in the Torah, but rather those that have not been explicitly commanded but rather only implicitly. Carlebach points out that if God had to tell us these mitzvot specifically, it would lessen our real and close connection with God. If we are really connected to God and to Judaism and what true Yiddishkeit demands of us, according to Carlebach, we would know what this “extra” is that is being commanded here and would be doing it. But, sadly, too often we don’t know what this extra is and only focus on the explicit commands of Judaism and the careful observance of what we have been instructed that we are supposed to do.  But, as a result of just doing what is spelled out in the Torah, the Shulchan Aruch or other halachic guides, we end up with something missing in us and in our Judaism.  Katz says “If you do everything right and holy, you should be walking around with a smile on your face – but most of us aren’t because something is missing and we don’t even know what it is.”

Carlebach uses an example that reminds me of a lesson I used to teach in my fifth grade ethics class. Here is my example – Two men are approached by a homeless man who asks them for $100.00. One of the men makes a face, pulls out his wallet, takes out the requested amount, crumples it up into a ball, throws it at the man and says “Get a job, bum!” The second man smiles, takes out his wallet, only has $20.00 but hands it to the homeless man and says “Sorry. This is all I have today, but please feel free to ask me again.”  So, who has done the bigger mitzvah? The one who gave him the full amount might seem like the right answer and, judging only by the halacha of giving to the poor according to your means, he is in the right. But the second man, who gave b’simcha – with joy and a smile and in a humane and respectful manner, has gone beyond what is commanded to what isn’t commanded. Carlebach and Katz hold that it is this extra – being Jewish b’simcha – and I would add with ahava – love, hesed – lovingkindness and rachamim – compassion –that is really the core and soul of Judaism.  Looking at what a true understanding of all of Torah- what remains with us after we have experienced it – not just the 613 mitzvot – commands of us will bring us to this missing “extra” that Carlebach refers to in his d’var. He makes as strong statement “Friends, I want you to know that all of Yiddishkeit is basically things you don’t have to do. You can get away with everything.”  Or as Katz elaborates “It is what you don’t have to do that makes Torah beautiful.” It is when you know that you have to smile when you give charity that you really get Torah and are living as a Jew in the way God really wants. It’s when you celebrate Shabbat and the haggim b’simcha that you are adding that extra.

Carlebach gives a beautiful example of Jews doing what they understand to be right and being led into great sin as a result. When the spies return from Canaan they are told to tell the truth about what they saw and encountered in the land. They do. They tell the good – big fruit, milk and honey flowing – but they also tell the bad – big people, we felt like insects. They did not lie. Their sin is not lying. Their sin is not trusting that God would take care of the bad and just reporting the good. As Carlebach says “How could you, how could you?” Katz urges us to be machmeer – careful – in what we don’t have to do rather than so much in what we do have to do. We don’t have to tell the whole truth if it will be hurtful or damaging. Carlebach goes on to use examples of how we would talk about our children or spouses – do we really need to let others know their faults? What does love compel us to do?

Rabbi David Hartman addresses this issue was well in his book – “The God who Hates Lies”. He speaks of the intellectualization of halacha and the break from the experiential and communal nature that is essential for Judaism to be a living religion and culture. He states “One of the most important terms in the halachic lexicon describes a person’s status upon performing an obligatory act. Upon doing so, a person has yatza yeday chovatah: fulfilled = literally “exited from” – his or her duty. One effect of this reassuring and oft-repeated declaration is to affirm that, in performing a particular set of halachic requirements, we have done what is required of us. Halachic practice thus becomes to be seen as an end in itself, the fulfillment of a finite set of duties, without being contextualized within a deepening of the relationship with God. This mindset would not seem likely to nurture the kind of religious personality who strives for ever-increasing awareness of the Divine presence…When the relational feature of God-consciousness is present, how can a person ever truly feel that he or she has fulfilled his or her duty? When the currency animating the relationship is love, how can one ever have done enough?” 

Hartman goes on to quote Maimonides who holds up Abraham as an exemplar. “It is the level of Abraham, whom God called, “My lover,” because he worshipped only out of love. And it is the level that God commanded us through Moses, as it says:  “and you must love the Lord your God” And in the moment that a person will love God with the appropriate love – immediately he will perform all of the mitzvoth out of love.  For many modern Jews, it is difficult to connect to halacha based on s traditional Orthodox approach. Hartman, quoting Heschel, addresses this early on in his book – “His (the modern Jew) primary difficulty is not in his inability to comprehend the divine origin of the law; his essential difficulty is in his ability to sense the presence of the divine meaning in the fulfillment of the law.”  We are indifferent to halacha because it does not fit into our moral or ethical mindset. It offends our sense of what is right. It is missing something. It is missing the something extra that Carlebach alludes to and that Hartman states is “putting God consciousness back into our Jewish practice”.

Rabbi Hartman spends much of his book urging Orthodox and other observant Jews to “retool” their communities to this ideal – the performance of mitzvoth out of love not obligation.  He provides a tool for making this change by presenting the question “Which God are we worshipping?” I have used this idea quite a bit since reading his book and feel that it fits in well with the message of Carlebach. What is the true nature of God and what is it that God wants from us as a result of that nature?  If you believe that God is a God of love and that Judaism is founded on a few simple principles – rather than 613 things to do or not do – then getting to what it is that has been missing is easy.  Hartman gives this example “…what would it mean to take seriously the theological implications of this verse encapsulating the ethos of the God of Creation – “The Lord is good to all, and God’s mercy is upon all God’s works” (Ps. 145:9)…” He is discussing it related to the laws of marriage and divorce in an attempt to solve the problem of agunot – women who are “chained” to a husband who will not give them a get and therefore they cannot remarry.  Hartman goes on to say that if we believe God is good to all then we cannot allow gender based imbalances and, I would add, sexual identity or ability based imbalances. Carlebach states he would rather sit in Gehenom with those who break Torah than in Gan Eden with those who spank their children because the Shulchan Aruch says they can. He gets that God wants us to show love and treat others with hesed and rachamim – even when not doing this would be within the bounds of Torah. Hartman tells us to adjust our halacha to fit our moral understanding of what God really wants from us.  I would point out that this is not a new idea – our sages over two thousand years ago created a very high bar for considering a son to be a rebellious or a glutton and a drunkard. Why? Because they could not bring themselves to believe that a God of love really wanted parents to request that their children be stoned. Just because the Torah allows it, doesn’t mean we should do it.

Carlebach goes on to point out that only the first four books of Torah are Torah sh’bichtav – written Torah. Oral Torah begins with Sefer D’varim because it is Moses retelling what is in the previous four books. Moses does not give a faithful retelling – look at the Eseret Hadebrot – the Ten Commandments in Yitro versus Etchanan – they aren’t identical and some of the changes are huge – shamor versus zachor, as I outlined in a different d’var, for example. Carlebach states that D’varim is what was left in Moses after his experience of God and that it is this idea of what is left when you are by yourself or yontif is over that is really important. According to the Ishbitzer Rebbe “When G-d talks to me, the questions isn’t what I feel when God is talking to me, the question is what do I feel when it’s over? What do you feel when you are left by yourself?…what do you do when Yom Kippur is over…when Shabbos is over?”  We all clop our chests and repent on Yom Kippur because that is what we are supposed to do. Do we also do it the other days of the year when we don’t have to do it? We love Shabbat between candle lighting and havdalah. Do we miss it when it is gone? Do we long for it all week? Are we in touch with what God wants and with what we feel Judaism means AFTER our encounter with prayer or learning?  As Carlebach puts it “God wants to see do you know the letters of the Torah or do you know the inside of the Torah?…What is left inside you after you learn Torah?”

And this brings me back to Mayanot and their amazing davening.  The last Friday I was in Israel this summer, I turned to Yiscah during Mizmor l’David and said “How the hell am I supposed to go home after this?” The davening at Mayanot is so beautiful – it elevates my soul and makes me cry. Why? Because the members of this holy kehilla LOVE Shabbat. They are in true ecstasy at welcoming Shabbat. They are celebrating with their voices, their hands and their feet. Men, and women, dance and sing and stomp with pure unadulterated love of Shabbat. They love Shabbat, they love being Jewish and they are connected in a strong and meaningful way to God. They welcome strangers to their homes for meals and their love of Shabbat and Judaism shines there as well. Shabbat morning is equally spirited. They drag out the end of Shabbat with spirited seudat shlishi gatherings that linger through havdalah and into the new week. They aren’t there because they have to be there – because there are required bits of davening to be done in addition to Kabbalat Shabbat. They are there for that extra – for a true love and joy at being Jewish.  They aren’t concerned with the checklist of what needs to be done, but rather with the spiritually fulfilling task of what isn’t commanded but is really at the soul of Yiddishkeit.

Of course, how I come home is that here I have my husband, my friends, my communities at Beth Shalom and JDS and a job that I love. I see this idea of the power of this extra piece – what happens when we serve out of love rather than duty – most clearly in my work as a teacher. Despite the long, uncompensated, hours rewriting curriculum, dealing with hormonal teenagers and having to grade all that work I foolishly assign, I love my job. It is this love that makes all of the other – potentially negative – parts unimportant. When one loves what one is doing, it isn’t work. It is a calling. When one loves being Jewish and living Jewishly then that will reflect in how they live and what their Judaism looks like. They will walk around with a smile and will perform the required mitzvoth with joy. They will also not perform things that are technically allowed but not in keeping with the ideas of ahavah, hesed and rachamim. It will be the doing of what is not required that will set them apart.  May we all be moved to do what isn’t required and doing it b’simcha – with joy.


Traveling North and Heading Home


After a very hot and sweaty visit to the Kotel at high noon, I am back in the air conditioned comfort of Aroma in the Mamilla Mall. I was going to visit a different one, but it is just to blasted hot out there to walk any further than I have to do to anything. At some point I do need to walk back to where I am staying but I am not thinking about that right now. Right now, I am thinking about my yummy tuna salad, my icy “Iced Aroma Diet” and writing about my trip to the Galil and Tsfat.

On Sunday morning Yiscah and I picked up a rental car and headed out of town – well, after a drive the whole way around Jerusalem to end up back where we started to head out of town in the right direction – towards the Jordan Valley. At the edge of Jerusalem there is a tunnel and when you come out of it you are literally in the desert. It was a shocking transition. We were waved through a checkpoint (this was our experience at each one) and on our way. We passed “Sea Level” and headed down into the Jordan Valley and top of the Dead Sea.

After lunch, I wanted to at least dip my toes in the Dead Sea but not bad enough to pay 50 shekels at the “public” beach at the top of the Sea. Settling for a view and a couple of pictures, we headed north towards Tiberias. Steve and I drove south on this same road last year. It is partially in a Palestinian area and partially in an Israeli area. In both there are many greenhouses and farms along the road. We passed many places offering camel rides but I decided to save that experience to share with Steve – next summer perhaps.

We also did not get to dip our toes in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) as it also was not free. It was beautiful and looked very inviting but there was not time for an actual swim. We took a wrong turn in Tiberias and ended up far above the city at a fantastic viewpoint – from which we located the road that we were supposed to be on and also took many pictures of the whole Kinneret Valley. We head back down into Tiberias and back onto 90 and headed north again. We stopped at the Mount of Beatitudes – whose name in Hebrew is actually much nicer – Har HaOsher – Mount of Wealth or Happiness. The views here are also gorgeous. There is a very strong wind here in the afternoon as the air rises off the Kinneret and moves down the valley. I thought that we were going to blow away as we paused to daven in a quiet corner on the grounds.

Just a short drive further and we were at K’far HaNasi – home of Cousin Max. He was glad that I arrived with both my luggage and vehicle intact as the last two times Adlers have shown up at his house that hasn’t been true! Yiscah and Max hit it off great and made dinner together for us. Max asked us our plans for Monday and then proceeded to tell us what he thought we should actually do – which is what we, more or less, ended up doing! Monday we went to the pool on the kibbutz for a morning swim. Yiscah convinced Max to let her take him to lunch at Aroma in Kiryat Shmoni which meant he had to go along with us on our “ridiculous” outing to the Na’ot factory store. Despite his opinion of women and their obsession with shoes (this is after all a man who has lived on a kibbutz since 1948 and was wearing the same pair of shoes this visit that he had on last summer), Max had fun taking pictures of us shopping. He sent these pictures to me in an email with the subject line “Women in Ecstasy”. I wrote back and told him I was afraid to open it as I thought it contained porn! The shopping was a success and the outing for lunch was great fun. The highlight for Max was finding his favorite toothpaste at the SuperPharm next to the Aroma as no one near where he lives sells it. He also enjoyed seeing how much places had changed – he has lived in this area for 50 years but since retiring doesn’t get out much past the local market. It was fun helping him explore his own neighborhood.

We returned to Max’s for the non-optional afternoon nap and then back to the pool for the required afternoon swim. We had fun race-walking across the pool with Max – this appears to be the preferred excercise in the pool for the older set. We got to meet a few of Max’s friends and catch up on the Kibbutz gossip – which was the same as last year – deciding if/how long time haverim (members) can “own” their homes and pass them on to their children when they die. Max is strongly in favor of this being done but not interested in the details since he won’t be here to deal with them! We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Max who cared for us like the best Jewish mother – constantly offering us food, hoking our chinik (nagging) us about our use of electronics for useless things like Facebook and making sure that we had everything we needed. I love staying with Max as it is relaxing and fun and he is so dear.

Tuesday morning we left Max and headed to Tsfat – which is only a short drive from K’far HaNasi but most of it up a steep climb. The country side was stark but beautiful. Yiscah, who lived in Tsfat in the 1970s, was struck by how much Tsfat changed and I was struck by how difficult it was to navigate. We wound our way up and down hills and narrow one way roads until we were able to find the zimmer where we were staying. Last summer Yiscah and I met Lorelai at one of our more memorable Shabbat dinners in Jerusalem. She and her husband run a zimmer in Tsfat as well as teaching people to eat better and care for their health in a Jewishly informed food based manner. The zimmer was very cute and cool and comfortable. We left our luggage and headed out to find our way around the Artist Colony and Old City of Tsfat. There are many studios and shops with working artists in them in Tsfat and so much beautiful art, jewelry and Judaica to be admired and possibly purchased. I love microcalligraphy and so wandered into the first place displaying pieces. It turned out to be the studio of Leon Azoulay. I have a piece by him that friends gave Steve and I for our wedding. He has done beautiful pieces for the parshiot and books of Torah, for the Book of Ruth, the Pesah Haggadah and other Tanach related stories. They are amazingly beautiful and I was not sure how I was going to pick one to buy. I had narrowed it down and was helped in the process when it turned out that one of the ones I had narrowed it to was also Leon’s most recent work and his personal favorite. It is of Parshat Ethanan and contains the Sh’ma and the Ten Commandments. It is beautiful and I was able to get 2/195 in the series. We returned to his shop Wednesday morning to deliver greetings from a friend in Seattle and were invited in for coffee and had a great chat with him. He tours the US every year and if he comes to an art show near you, I highly recommend going. His work is unique and beautiful and he is a real mensch.

In addition to shops and studios, there are also many old synagogues where famous rabbis once taught. We visited the synagogue of Joseph Caro who wrote the Shulchan Aruch as well as a few others. In Caro’s shul there was a wall of ancient, crumbling sefrei kodesh (holy books). I can’t imagine you could even move them to find out what they are. I was also thrilled to see old Sephardic style Torah cases (tik) which are different than how Ashkenazic Jews wrap a Torah. Sephardic tikkim are like a box and the Torah is inside it. I wrote about them in a paper for graduate school. Another shul we went into was beautifully decorated with painting on the ceiling. We were able to find (on the second try) the house where Yiscah lived all those years ago.

In the evening we went with Lorelai to an event at the art gallery of Miriam Jaskierowitz Arman. Miriam is an amazingly multitalented woman – she is an artist, a poet, teaches master classes in vocal training and is a heck of a speaker. I won’t say she’s special because she taught – in her talk – that we are all special and none of us more special – but I will say that she is very impressive and has had an interesting, if challenging, life. She read two poems – one was a long tehilla (psalm) that she wrote in Argentina after visiting a ruined synagogue abandoned when most Jews left Argentina due to the financial situation. It was so moving and deep. She connected this idea of the ruined shul to the destruction of the Temple 2000 years ago which we will be marking on Tisha B’Av. She then held forth on what it will take to rebuild both this shul and the Temple. It was very moving and clearly deeply felt. She feels that we each have the Temple in us and that we need to build up our piece so that the actual Third Temple will be built by God in return. At the end she asked us each what was our Beit HaMigdash (Temple). I wasn’t sure what I was going to answer and then it came to me that it was my classroom. I spoke about it being the place where I build up my students to be knowledgeable Jews who know their responsibility to better the world and care for each other and all of humanity. I hope to keep this idea of what I am doing in mind as I move into and through the coming year. It certainly has/is always my goal but can get lost in the mundane details of day to day teaching and dealing with middle school students.

Wednesday morning we headed out with the goal of walking to the Old Cemetery to visit the graves of many famous rabbis. We headed down hill and at one point, looking at how much further down we had to go and, more importantly, how far up we would have to come on the way back, and thinking about the fact that it was supposed to be 100+ soon, we decided on a bit more shopping and then to drive to the cemetery on our way out of Tsfat. This proved to be quite easy and we visited the graves of Joseph Caro, the Ari (the founder of Kabbalism) and others. There were several tombs that you could go down into and these were very cool. At the more important graves there are separate sections for men and for women and, of course (sadly), the women get the back end of the tomb. This was quite frustrating and so, when all the men had left, Yiscah and I went into their section so we could see the front of the grave as well. I found this quite ironic since that morning I had read a comment on a friend’s post on FB about women only events from some male Orthodox Jew who was apparently feeling excluded! I asked him, quite politely, if perhaps there weren’t a few places he went in his Jewish life where women weren’t welcome and said that I was in favor of full inclusion at all events.

We then headed a bit further north to Meron where R. Shimon bar Yochai and his son are buried. Shimon bar Yochai is traditionally considered the author of the Zohar and was a real character. He and his son were so outraged at what Jews were doing that they hid in a cave for years where God caused a well and a carob tree to spring up to sustain them. At his grave I was struck, as I am at the Kotel, by women openly sobbing as they pray in a holy place. I can’t imagine the pain or grief in a person’s life as well as the deep faith that would bring about such a reaction/experience. Young girls weeping into their prayer books till the pages are damp and tearing, old women mumbling desperately and weeping – it is so moving to behold but so beyond my experience. I don’t know whether to be grateful that I don’t feel that broken or disappointed that I can’t be that open to the experience of connecting to God. It’s not like I wasn’t thinking about difficult or sad things – and I might even leak a tear or two – but open sobbing? For better or for worse, that has not been my experience.

One the drive between Tsfat and Meron we passed the burial places of many other rabbis including R. Tarfon. I would love on another trip to stop and hike into some of them. The countryside there is covered in grape vines and is green and lush. Really beautiful. The drive the rest of the way back to Jerusalem was not terribly exciting. We went back down the Jordan Valley the way we had come up. The most excitement was probably the two times trying to get gas, which is a real trial here. Each station has a different set up and wants different information. I thought, after last year, I knew what to do, but I was wrong. The first place wouldn’t let me use my credit card without prior approval and I had to tell them how much I was going to spend to get that. I had no idea how much gas I needed. The second place had a whole list of “operations” that you could try to do at what looked like a pay at the pump station like we have in the states. We just gave up and went inside. Thank God I had Yiscah with me so she could handle the advanced Hebrew necessary for these transactions.

I now have my final Shabbat in Jerusalem and then to Mazor to visit cousins before heading home on Sunday night. It has been a wonderful trip but much too short. I miss Steve, my bed, my home and Seattle, but I love Jerusalem and feel more and more at home here each day. Today I finally walked across the Bridge of String and through new areas of the city. I know living here every day is hard, hard, hard but I love being here and feel I come home a much better person and a much better Jew after each trip. Wednesday night I learned that we (Jews) all need to talk to each other -especially here in Jerusalem and Israel. That there is no point all being here if it just pushes us further apart. Shlomo Carlebach talked about being at the Kotel on Tisha B’Av in 1970 with 100,000 Jews and they didn’t talk to each other. So, I have been making a real effort to say “Shalom” or “Shabbat Shalom” or to strike up a conversation. As Shlomo Katz said Wednesday, if your learning drives you apart from other Jews – then it wasn’t real learning. Just as last summer – what I have learned is that we all need to love and accept and care for each other if we want the world to be a better place. Amen v’Amen.

A moment to think and reflect


Shalom for Aroma’s in the Mamilla Mall. Those who follow me on Facebook – or who remember last year’s trip – will know that Aroma is my favorite place in Israel. I just had a wonderful conversation with two women on a trip with their Reconstructionist congregation in Washington D.C. and was happy to be able to give them some tips about touring Yad Vashem as well as where they might eat lunch.

I have not blogged yet this trip for a number of reasons. My program at Yad Vashem was not really blog conducive. It was exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally on a daily basis for 10 days. I had no wifi in my room at the hotel for 10 days. I had little time to myself. And, really, did you want to read about what I was learning in a seminar for teaching the Holocaust? I will say – in reflection – that it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful. I am not thrilled about who allowed me to have this amazing experience at relatively no cost (airfare only) – Sheldon Adelson – but I am glad that some of his money is going somewhere of value rather to supporting Newt and Mitt. His name is literally everywhere at Yad Vashem and one of the other teachers in my cohort teaches at the Sheldon Adelson Campus school in Las Vegas which is nominally (well, not nominally since there is no Jewish in the name) Jewish.

The information and materials presented to us were all top notch and so intentional and well thought out. Every speaker – and we heard 20 or more different people over the course of 40-50 sessions – used the same terminology, followed the same philosophy and presented the latest and most up to date and modern approach to what we were doing. They have put much thought into their curricular materials and books. Their pedagogical approach is well thought out and was explained well and in the same terms no matter who you asked. It was very reassuring to see that much of what I included in my curriculum when I taught the Shoah (Holocaust) was supported by their approach – focusing on survivors – the time period I taught – the approach I took. That said, I still learned a tremendous amount and mostly got that teaching the Shoah as a historical event is really a very small part of the story. Of course, you, and your students, need to know the necessary historical information to understand what is going on, but the real focus is on the individuals and communities. The six million as a group are too overwhelming to really connect and feel empathy and we need to create empathy in our students. Focusing on individuals and communities allows this empathy and connection to develop. I also loved that they focus on the survivors and coming back to life after 1945 rather than dwell in the awfulness of 39-45. Every survivor testimony begins at the end so that the readers or viewers know that this person lived, found meaning in life and went on to have children, grandchildren, a career – a life. That way, no matter how much they suffered, you don’t have to wait till the end to know if they made it or not. This makes such sense to me.

In addition to great learning, I also met a great group of people. There were 19 of us – 18 women and one poor guy! Bryan took his role as lone man in the group very seriously – especially on our perilous Rampart Walk tour of the old city which was a constant up and down of narrow and very high staircases and walkways. Most of the women were in a group from Miami, there were four of us from Seattle and then a couple from LA, one from Vegas and one from Canada. We really bonded and had a great time. I have to say that the Seattle group was the loudest and most fun. It was particularly nice spending time with and getting to know better a couple of women who I have known in Seattle – one for 14 years. Our program director – Shani – was amazing and it was especially wonderful getting to go through the museum at Yad Vashem with her as our tour. She told amazing stories and really brought things to life and explained the thinking behind the way that the museum is organized and the various exhibits. She was an amazing person and teacher and I look forward to her visit to Seattle in November. At the end of the 10 days she charged us all to go foward as “shluchim” (messengers) for Yad Vashem and spread the word.

After finishing at Yad Vashem. I spent the next Shabbat at Bat Ayin on a Shabbaton sponsored by a tiny little kehilla (community) in Nahlaot – Ani Tefilati – which is led by R. Raz Hartmann. I went with Yiscah, Malika (who grew up in Seattle and lives in Nahlaot now with her husband), Tovah, Etta and Hillel (friends I have met here). Bat Ayin is about 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem but is in the “Settlements”. This was my first time going into this area and I was a bit torn and nervous. These are not “illegal” settlements but real towns and communities and there is a yeshiva at Bat Ayin where several people I know have studied. Bat Ayin has the reputation of being a bit of a hippie community and all the people with dreadlocks rather than peyus (those curly forelocks) doesn’t do a lot to refute that reputation. We were warmly welcomed and hosted by a lovely Chabad family who moved to Israel two years ago from Kansas via Chicago. The wife, Shoshana, is of Swedish descent and had the blondest (practically white) haired children who were so adorable and sweet. Their kitchen had four juicers, a food dehydrator and about 100 mason jars full of grains, beans and spices. Shoshana made us a delicious glass of ice cold fresh squeezed orange juice mixed with banana to help us cool down after the bus ride.

Friday night services were amazing as was the beautiful and delicious Shabbat meal eaten outside, sitting on cushions on the ground, in the Yeshiva’s Sukkah which serves as their “heder ochel” (dining room) most of the year. There were 60+ people there and it was like one big family table. Saturday morning I got up and went to services so early that I was the first woman there. The door was open and it was incredible to look out the door while I was praying and see the hills of Judea – little changed in 3000 years – rolling away into the distance. I think that might have been the best part of a really fantastic Shabbat for me. I learned at the kiddush that followed services, and then at lunch as well, that when an Israeli says “Yesh li camah millim” (I have a few words (to say)) that you better get comfortable! Many people had “camah millim” but there was lots of yummy food to eat so it was fine. It was all in Hebrew so I didn’t necessarily get all of it, but it was a good work out for my Hebrew and Yiscah helped to translate and sum up the main points. It was seriously hot and I took a long nap – I can’t believe people actually went on a hike and I am sure it was beautiful but I don’t think I would have survived it. I was shvitzing up a storm lying still on a bed with a fan blowing on me! Services in the afternoon were lovely and then we had the final meal – more lovely communal eating and shmoozing.

After Shabbat ended we rushed to make the first bus back to Jerusalem so we could unpack and repack to leave for the north the next morning. Our promptness was rewarded by the bus dying after going 100 yards. We waited 30 minutes for the next bus and then were on our way. It was an amazing weekend and I hope to be able to go back and visit Shoshana and her beautiful family again. They regularly host people (like every week) and invited us to return any time. It was so lovely being in community with Jews from so many places and in so many different places in their lives and Jewishness and to feel like one big happy family. This is one of my favorite things about Nahlaot and the people that I have met in this community in the various places I have either learned or davened.

I will write a separate blog about my trip to see Cousin Max and to Tsfat with Yiscah. I think I need to move Aromas and maybe get some lunch in the next one! It is getting very busy in this one as it is noon and I am sure they would love me to vacate this table!!

Be well. With blessings – b’vrachot

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.