Category Archives: Israel

Posts related to my trip to Israel summer of 2011

An Amazing Tisha B’Av


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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.

Mixed Emotions


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Jerusalem, for that matter all of Israel, is not a place of half measures. The past week has been full of highs and lows and more amazing experiences. It’s now been over two weeks since I got here and, while I am having an amazing time on so many levels, I really miss home and my husband. I am also beginning to fully realize how much I need to have in place for the new school year and how hard getting that done from here is going to be. Today was not a great day – it began with Steve finding a bill on my desk that is due tomorrow which led to an unpleasant exchange and moved on towards panic about being ready for the school year and then moved into realizing that all my new friends at Pardes will be leaving in two days and I will have a week stretched out in front of me between the Curriculum Workshop ending and my husband arriving. Needless to say, not my best day here. Busying myself with laundry and then with booking tours and rooms for when Steve is here got me through the evening and allowed some mental space to actually contemplate the past week.

My week at Pardes was very busy with working on my curriculum unit and attending a variety of workshops. I have so enjoyed getting to know a variety of the other teachers at the Workshop and really hope to stay in touch with them. Pardes does an excellent job educating them and I find myself envious of their time studying there and wishing I had a couple of years to come and learn in their Educator’s Program. I had a meeting with a second mentor midweek and came up with some fabulous texts for my unit and was able to have a couple of really productive days Wednesday and Thursday. I also did a “sharing” presentation on my Inquiry unit on Rites of Passage from this past year which was well received. We also went on a tiyul (field trip) to the Israel Museum where we went through the archeology section with a guide. I also then went to see the Shrine of the Book and the model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.

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In addition to the learning at Pardes, I also went to a shi’ur (lesson) at the Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo led by Shlomo Katz. This was “giving over” of a lesson by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach about Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av – a day of fasting and mourning of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as well as a host of other tragedies in Jewish history which all conveniently seem to happen on this same day). It was a beautiful teaching and one of the main points – which I was able to figure out from the very esoteric teaching – is that there are two ways to sin and one is easily forgiven and one is largely unforgiveable. The first way is through the breaking of a commandment – like the building of the Golden Calf. The Israelites sin, they plead for forgiveness (well, Moses pleads for them), they are punished and God forgives them and life goes on. This is like a servant who works for a king and makes a mistake. The second way is a breaking of a trust or a betrayal of faith or love and this is much harder to forgive for the damage is much more serious. Rabbi Carlebach says we actually shouldn’t even ask for forgiveness but rather approach the person and kiss them – acknowledging both that we have hurt them and that we have no right to ask for forgiveness. This is likened to the sin of the spies who go to see the Promised Land and come back and scare the people into believing that there is no way, even with God’s help, that they will be able to conquer the land. This sin is a betrayal of faith in God and is not forgiven. The punishment is wandering for 40 years until all the adults responsible for this betrayal have died. This is likened to the relationship between a parent and a child. Another part of this teaching was about how we, 2000 years removed from the destruction of the Temple are supposed to connect to this tragedy and mourn it. Carlebach brings down (teaches) that what we are mourning is that God is homeless and has been for 2000 years. The Temple was God’s dwelling place on Earth and without it, God has no fixed place to reside. The message is that it isn’t about us and what have lost but rather about what God lost. A fascinating way to frame this most serious and somber day in the Jewish year.

Shabbat was again an amazing adventure. Friday night we returned to Mayanot in Nahalot for another rousing Kabbalat Shabbat. I still wish I was on the other side of the mechiza but am encouraged by other women singing,clapping, stomping and swaying to give way to my own impulses while the men are pounding tables and dancing. Yiscah again arranged for dinner for us both – giving up an invite on her own with friends to instead venture out to a potluck meal recommended by a friend. What an experience it was. It is amazing to me that people here open their homes so readily to huge groups of people – some of whom they barely or not all know. This meal is a regular weekly potluck and most of the people knew each other. We recognized a couple of people from other large group meals we have been at as well as from Mayanot. The host was newly living with a new roommate who was the unofficial host of the meal and a bit of a celebrity as I was to discover. The meal was wonderful, the food plentiful and the company varied and fascinating. I am torn about what to say about the unofficial host out of respect and appreciation for the hospitality that I received. Suffice it to say that he was larger than life and quite entertaining. It is strange the “table fellows” that one can encounter when one is willing to venture out and be a guest in people’s homes. I have to say it is a most unique Jerusalem experience and continues to push my boundaries and comfort zone. The growth will do me good.

Shabbat morning we went to Shira Hadasha which is a “halachically inclusive minyan” that I had been to when I was last in Jerusalem. This minyan was founded by a group of people who were interesting in finding what were the true limits of what women could and could not do in a worship service based on Jewish law rather than customs. It has inspired similar synagogues in the US, including one in Seattle. I was honored to be asked to open the Ark for the Torah service and it was a very meaningful experience – especially after so many services where women can’t do such things. For lunch we came back to my apartment and Yiscah, Elena (from my Pardes group) and I had a delicious lunch which was followed by a long nap. In the evening we went back to Yeshivat Simcha Shlomo for Seudah Shlishi (the third Shabbat meal). There must have been 30+ people crammed into the charming house – they were down the hall and into the kitchen. There was delicious food, wonderful singing and a lovely teaching based on a teaching by Rav Soleivetchik. The evening was marred by one young woman passing out from heat exhaustion and needing an ambulance. It was particularly hot here Friday and Saturday and I felt quite awful myself on Friday after being out and about in the Old City in the heat of the day.

Tomorrow I will present on the unit of curriculum which I have been developing over the past two weeks and on Tuesday we will have a farewell lunch and my time at Pardes will end. I do look forward to returning there on Tisha B’Av for a fantastic day of learning and also to now being an alum of Pardes with all that entails. I will be meeting in person on Wednesday a “virtual” friend of a few years which will be fun. I am worried about filling the time and remaining busy between Pardes ending and Steve arriving. I am sure Yiscah will have ideas – though she is leaving me on my own this Shabbat!! There is so much to see and explore here and if all else fails I could do some of that work that I was freaking out about for school!



My first week in Israel



Shavuah tov! A good new week to you all. It has been a whirlwind for me here in Jerusalem. I have had two amazing Shabbatot, met such amazing and beautiful people and learned so much already – not just in my program, but from those I have met, from what I have seen and all that goes on in this unique and holy place.

The first couple of days of the Summer Curriculum Workshop have been great and I have made good progress on my unit. Thursday there were sharing sessions where other participants shared units of study or other programs that they use and feel might be of use to others. I learned about a great Pesah unit based in Mishnah that would be good in 6th grade and also about how to use catchy posters all around the room to engage students and enhance your curriculum. We also had a workshop on classroom management that was scheduled because so many of the participants listed help with classroom management as the number one thing that they wanted to have help with during their time at Pardes. The most interesting thing that I learned – not that I didn’t at some level know it already but really “got” – is that one “problem” can manifest itself or look 10 ways and have 15 different reasons for its existence. For example – a student who is off task can be a number of different things other than their work, and could be off task because the work it too easy, too hard, boring or they’re tired or hyped up or just feeling ornery. Maybe they had a fight with a friend or are upset about something at home. One behavior – 10 ways to look – 15 reasons – you can’t fix it just one way!!! You have to know all three parts and then figure out what is going to fix it.

Thursday evening I went out with Elena, who is another Fellow in the Workshop with me. We went to Ben Yehuda street and had fun window – and actual – shopping and had a lovely dinner. I was able to find a pair of Naot’s in a pattern that I had seen on Tuesday evening. The pair on Tuesday were in a style that I can’t wear and Khalifa Shoes on Jaffa Road had the style that I can! Aren’t they cute?


Friday was a free day – the weekend is Friday and Saturday here – and Yischa and I went to the shuk (market) at Mahane Yehuda and shopping nearby and then to lunch. We had a fun time wandering around the market looking at all the fabulous produce and dried fruits, nuts, spices and such.


It really is amazing to see it all. The people watching is also amazing. Friday morning half of Jerusalem seems to be there as everyone is shopping for their Shabbat meals and preparing for the stores to be closed from mid-afternoon Friday through Saturday evening.  After making some purchases in the shuk we went to Bat Ayin, which is a Laura Ashleyesque women’s store here in Jerusalem. Dressing modestly is a mitzvah and doing it with style and class a challenge. Women in Jerusalem really do an amazing job with layering and mixing and matching. I bought a beautiful dress that could be just a cute short summer dress, or with layering…well, you can see the picture.

hipfrum     tichel1

As many of you know, I am in the habit of covering my head when teaching or praying and usually wear a knitted kippah. Here in Jerusalem it is fashionable to wrap your head in a tichel or scarf. I decided to give this a try on Friday and was so happy with the look I wore a different one Friday night and another on Saturday! It is a bit cooler than the knitted kippah and they are quite versatile. Oh – and at lunch we met a St. Bernard who speaks Yiddish!

Friday evening we went to the Kotel – Western Wall – to greet Shabbat. We were there quite early and did some people watching as well as praying. It was so moving being up near the wall and being able to say my private prayers with my forehead against it. It is so amazing how just being in that place is so moving and seeing women from many countries and faiths there communing with the Divine was quite amazing. Seeing all of the various Jews gathering to welcome Shabbat in this most Holy place was also fascinating. From scantily dressed young girls, to overly dressed up families (Who wears 5 inch heels to walk through the Old City and pray at the Kotel?), to modestly dressed Orthodox girls and women, to the Kabbalists all in white to the more frum all in black and a group of African women in brightly colored traditional clothing – the variety was mind boggling.  I felt bad for the one guard whose job it is to offer a wrap to those who aren’t appropriately attired as there were far more people in need of covering up than she could possibly monitor! Really, it is inconceivable to me what some people feel is appropriate to wear to a holy site where people are praying. I don’t expect everyone to be covered from head to toe – but barely there leggings, stomaching baring shirts and micro-minis seem an odd option – and this wasn’t all on teenage girls.

We had brought candles along with us to light when it was time. We had hoped that there would be a place near the Wall where we would be able to light but were informed that it wasn’t safe and had been outlawed. We were told to check over near the restrooms (really) as there was a ledge there where the guard thought you could light. There was and we were debating whether to light or wait till it was actually time – about another 10 minutes. We had just decided to light when a group of young women came up and asked if we knew where they could get some candles to light. We said that we didn’t but that they could join us in blessing the candles that we had brought. They all circled around us and as a group, Yischa and I and 8 young Brazilian Jewish women, we all brought in Shabbat. We then hugged and kissed and wished each other a Shabbat of Peace. Yiscah and I were so glad that we had not decided to wait as we would have missed this opportunity to share in that moment with these young ladies. It was such a blessing to be able to provide them with an opportunity to light candles – particularly in such a special place (the Kotel, not the restrooms)

Trying to do the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Wall on the women’s side of the mechitza (divider) is a real challenge. There were many groups of young men who were doing the service but started very early. The young women, on the other hand, seemed to want to sing and dance in a circle and celebrate being in Jerusalem and at the Kotel, but not actually daven Kabbalat Shabbat. I eventually gave up hoping for a group of women with whom to daven and got to the business of praying on my own. There was so much going on around me – the voices from the men’s section praying, the groups of girls singing “David, Melech Yisroel” or “Avinu Shalom Aleichem” over and over and the voices of other women nearby saying their own prayers. I am not sure that I would go back again for Friday evening as it was really my earlier praying that was most moving and I would have preferred to have been in a shul for Kabbalat Shabbat itself. This is one of those times where the realities of having one’s Jewish practice controlled by the Orthodox is really most upsetting. How beautiful might the davening had been if those young people – male and female – could have combined their energy and had a Kabbalat Shabbat service together in one place where others could join rather than the boys praying while the girls sing camp songs? I so wanted to wade into the men’s section and join in their prayers and give in to their energy and spirit. I kept hoping one of the groups of women would channel their enthusiasm into Yedid Nefesh, the first song in Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than another round of “Od yavo Shalom Aleinu”. Sadly, it was not to be.

Shabbat dinner in the Old City was at a wonderful home tucked into the rabbit warren that is the Jewish Quarter. Down a narrow alley, through a door in the walls, across an enclosed and hidden courtyard and into an adorable home built literally into the walls of the Old City. The sense of being in a medieval castle or keep kept coming over me and it was amazing to be in a place so steeped in history. The company was again fascinating and diverse – foremost female Kabbalistic scholar, three young adults from Rockville MD who are there studying and were the sweetest set of siblings in their 20’s I have seen, a lesbian couple, an Iraqi Jew who fled there at the age of 3 and other interesting and unique individuals. The conversation and learning was also fascinating and enlightening and the food delicious. Yischa and I walked home at 1 am and made our plans for Saturday day. Today was a bit lower key though still lovely. Met more interesting and inspiring Jews – including one who grew up at Beth Shalom in Seattle – here living and learning and trying to bring the Messiah.

I will close now – both because this is long and because it is late and Sunday is a “school” day here in Israel. I look forward to another life altering and enlightening week. I will be working hard on my unit of curriculum and look forward to getting to learn from many scholars as well as colleagues. Wishing you a week of peace, plenty and blessings.


Link to Photos on FaceBook


This link (below) can be used by anyone – whether you are on FaceBook or not – to access the album that I have posted there of additional photos from my trip. I will continue to add to this album and it will be the place to see all my photos and not just the select few that make it into a blog post.  Please let me know, through a comment here or an email, if there is an issue with the link. Thank  you and enjoy!


Photos of my trip to Israel

First visit to the Kotel



Today marked the minor fast day the 17th of Tammuz. I went with Yischa to the Kotel – the Western or Wailing Wall. We took a leisurely walk through the new (since I was last here four years ago) Mamilla Mall. For a moment we both thought we were in LA rather than Jerusalem. I was thrilled to see that there is now a MAC (the only brand of make-up I wear) store here in Jerusalem so, Baruch Ha-Shem (Thank God) I can know make Aliyah (move to Israel).


Apparently you can get anything you might need at this mall as they appear to have the Ark of the Covenant for sale as well.

ark in mamilla

We then entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gates and decided to walk through the Arab Shuk. There was not a lot of selling going on. We then stopped and visited the rebuilt Ramban Synagogue. The interior and the exterior are both beautiful.

ramban shul1

There was a bit of a traffic jam caused by a group of Orthodox boys watching workmen drill a huge hole through the stone wall of a storefront. They were totally fascinated by the large drill and the workmen’s frustration when it got stuck and they had to bang it out from the other side. It made for good picture taking.

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The Kotel plaza was fairly busy since it was towards the end of the fast. Yischa knew about a “secret” place for us to go daven (pray) that is inside the walls rather than along the front of them. We asked to be allowed in through the entrance of the “Western Wall Heritage Foundation” and walked through the tunnels to an area where women can daven. Of course, there was an area in front and below where the men were davening and could touch the wall. The sound of the men’s davening was a bit hypnotic and made for a great background for my own prayers. As the 17th of Tammuz marks, among other tragedies, the day that the walls of the Temple were breached by the Romans, davening from within those walls was quite powerful.


We returned to the city on a bus on which we were instructed, by a kid with a megaphone sitting in the bus stop area, that women were to sit in the back of the bus. Most of the people getting on the bus were Ultra-Orthodox. I said to Yischa, “Didn’t the Israeli Supreme Court decide that they couldn’t make you do this?” I also said “Who am, Rosa Parks?” Yischa laughed and said that she had expected I might bristle at being sent to the back. I did notice a few women, Orthodox even, did sit toward the front.

We broke our fast at a lovely restaurant on Emek Refa’im where I ordered the Salad Nicioise (no idea how to spell that and spell check isn’t helping!). I had seen in the description that rather than regular tuna (from a can) that they served it with a seared tuna fillet. This sounded delightful. When I ordered it the waitress said, “Have you had this before?” “Yes.” “Have you had it here?” “No.” She then went on to explain and, it seemed, apologize for the fact that rather than serving it with canned tuna they used a lovely tuna steak that was served medium rare. I told her that was perfect. I laughed at the fact that people would be upset to get fabulous tuna steak properly cooked rather than Chicken of the Sea!

In other news, I had my first orientation meeting at Pardes today and met with my assigned mentor – Evan. It is a perfect match! He loved the piece of curriculum which I brought to work on during the workshop. He loved the creativity of it and was also really jazzed about the idea for framing all of middle school Judaics that Rabbi Light and I had been working on creating. I showed him pictures of the bulletin board I made in my room and he was just thrilled with it. Very excited to have him as a sounding board – even if he promised to be demanding and difficult – for my unit.

Off to bed as tomorrow is a long day and I didn’t sleep well last night – mostly because apparently my neighbor couldn’t sleep either and kept making noise that woke me up! So, I guess I really hope that he sleeps more soundly so that I can!

B’vrachot – with blessings,


Vignettes from my first outings


At Café Hillel I see the woman in front of me purchase an iced latte, so I ask for an iced latte. I am told they don’t have an iced latte but that I can get iced coffee with milk. I watch the barista make what is essentially an iced latte – a shot of espresso, ice and milk! Wouldn’t it be easier to just call it an iced latte? And, from a second coffee run to a different café – apparently there is no such thing as a hot latte either – it’s a “cappuccino”. They do have a chai latte however. What is a Seattleite to do with these coffee heathens?

At the Supersol “Deal” (a grocery store on steroids) I try to get a cart. They are chained together. I ask how I get one and am told that I need to pay five shekels. That seems a steep price for a  cart and I don’t need much, so I proceed without one. Balancing vegetables, milk, oatmeal, paper towels and a six pack of water I make my way around the store. I hear two women speaking English, so I ask them about the carts. So, it turns out that you get your five shekels back when you return the cart! Why don’t they do that in America? That would solve the problem of people taking the carts with them. Probably because we don’t have any coins worth enough to make it work. Glad to know next time I can get a cart. (Ok – according to my husband, they do this in LA. but it doesn’t seem like a quarter is going to prevent theft if someone really feels the need for a shopping cart.)

Apparently it is not only legal but perhaps even encouraged that vehicles drive and park on the sidewalks here in Israel. A motorcycle – not a moped or a scooter but davka (specifically) a motorcycle – drove up the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the one way street that it was alongside. Huge chunks of sidewalk are marked as parking!

Had a whole conversation in Hebrew with the clerk in the bookstore but yet she recommended to me “My first Hebrew words” because the map I bought was all in English! Did I sound that bad or did she figure I had kids and they were learning?

Met my landlord today. I am wearing a pendant that says “Shalom, Peace and Salaam” (each in their language). He says to me “I like your necklace. I don’t believe it, but I like it.” Wow! What a statement. I told him that it is hard to believe in but worth it – but what do I know? I don’t live here.

It is a good thing that I brought multiple pairs of shoes so that I can keep rotating what part of my foot gets irritated! Walking multiple miles a day on dusty sidewalks in heat that causes swelling in my feet, does not make for happy feet. Tomorrow there will be little walking and what there is will be in sneakers with socks on. Hopefully that will allow the blisters from the last three days to heal a bit!

Am relieved that the sight of a young person in street clothes with an AK-47 does not cause the same gut reaction it did on my last visit. Not sure I should be relieved but at least it will make things less jarring since they are omnipresent here. Young people in their Zahal (Israeli Army) uniforms are also seen frequently. I wish neither of these things had to be but have learned to be grateful that they are there. Would prefer to be visiting Jerusalem of Peace in a world where there was peace between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the rest of the Arab world. Which brings me back to my landlord’s comment.

Photos from Friday


A Magical First Shabbat in Jerusalem


Shavuah tov! A good new week to everyone. I have been in Jerusalem only 32 hours and I have already had enough amazing experiences and met enough amazing people to fill a whole trip! My friend Yiscah, who is also here learning as well as teaching, had asked what she could do to help me with my arrival and I had said that having plans for Shabbat dinner would be lovely. When I asked this, I had no expectation of what would await my arrival in Jerusalem yesterday…which,of course, begs a digression about my trip over.

Both flights went well. I sat next to a very helpful gentleman on the flight from Philly to Israel who even pretend to be my husband (for about 3 seconds) so I could join him in the shorter passport line in the Tel Aviv Airport and let me go ahead of him because he knew I was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem before Shabbat. I was able to sleep for a few hours and arrived in Jerusalem feeling surprisingly energetic. The sherut (shared van) ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reminded me quickly that I was in Israel. The driver spent the entire trip on the radio kvetching to a coworker about having seven people to drop off hither and yon and how was HE going to get home in time for Shabbat. This was all in Hebrew but since most of us on the van understood Hebrew, it wasn’t exactly a private conversation!

I was finally dropped in front of the building that matched the address for where I was renting a flat. I had expected to landlord to be there, but there was no one in sight. I called him and he said that he had left the key and confirmed I was in the right place. I then saw that my room was down a flight of stairs and then back up an even longer and steeper flight of stairs – not a thrilling prospect with three heavy suitcases! I successfully wrangled them to the room and called Yiscah to let her know that I had arrived. She told me that she had gotten food for dinner and planned that we would eat at  my place after going to services. This sounded nice and quiet and low key for the end of a very long day. Little did I know that was far from what would be.

After a bit of freshening up and Yiscah coming by with the food we set off for a walk to the shul where she wanted to take me. It was quite a schlep – not sure of the distance but would guess over a mile. The shul is the minyan for Mayanot which is a Chabad organization that runs learning programs as well as having services. Yiscah promised me that it would be amazing davening (praying) and it was. Now, Chabad is not my usual thing and there is a mikitza (divider) between the men and the women’s sections, which is also not my preference. But, the Rabbi was very warm and friendly and, as promised, the women were engaged and singing along with the men. The men’s singing was really uplifting – the table banging and rousing and extended versions of Kabbalat Shabbat melodies were really gorgeous and touched my soul. Such ruah (spirit) and kavanah (intention) – it really was lovely. I was moved to tears more than once.

During the services we were asked if we had a place for dinner. Yiscah had already said this might be a possibility and that she was fine with us accepting an invitation and eating the food she had purchased later. So, we accepted an invitation and joined Aliza and her beautiful family for a warm and delicious Shabbat dinner in their gorgeous home. Again, it was an amazing experience. Aliza and Ami and their children and niece and nephew welcomed two total strangers into their home as “holy guests” and thanked us for coming. We were there several hours talking and eating and enjoying getting to know each other. They had the most amazing art work in their home and it was a truly gorgeous apartment – I can’t imagine what it costs considering real estate prices in Israel – and with beautiful art and heirlooms all around. The children were charming and delightful and the family so loving. It really was a blessing to be at their table. My one regret was that it was Shabbat and so we couldn’t exchange information but we discussed how we would find each other again. This morning when we returned to Mayanot for services, I saw the children, who all smiled and waved at us, but not Aliza and Ami.

Today was jam packed and we didn’t even make it to all our scheduled gatherings. Services at Mayanot were again lovely. There was a young lady whose family had come from South Africa for her bat mitzvah and the Rabbi spoke about her longer than the boy who was having bar mitzvah and read all the Torah! Yiscah – who has far more Chabad experience than I – was so moved and said she had never seen a Chabad Rabbi congratulate a girl on her bat mitzvah and commented on what a special place this minyan is. After services we had been invited to join the Shabbat table of Asher. Asher is a very interesting man who combines “Polish peasant food” with Japanese macrobiotic philosophy and cooking and holds a Shabbat lunch and “salon” each week. He also gives classes and has other events. Around the table were Jews from Australia, England and the US ( many who have made Aliyah and live in Israel now) as well as a young woman from Brazil who is here studying to convert. Each of us was asked to share something from our past week or a bit of Torah and the range of learning and insight around the table was as wide as the corners of the world represented. Again a magical experience and I hadn’t even made it to the 24 hour mark yet.

After lunch we scurried to another neighborhood to listen to a shi’ur (lesson) being given at the home of BatSheva – The Lady in Yellow. BatSheva is quite famous in Jerusalem, and beyond judging by the newspaper articles on her walls, for hosting these shi’urim each Shabbat as well as other acts of charity. The speaker was a 22 year old young man who is the grandson of a famous rabbi and already an impressive speaker and teacher at such a young age. At this point either jet lag or all the l’chaims at Asher’s had caught up with me and I was starting to fade fast. We had another invite for seudat shlishi (the third Shabbat meal) but decided instead to head back to our respective rooms for a much needed shluff (sleep) and to meet at my place later to eat the food from Friday instead.

In a fitting ending to this amazing and unforgettable Shabbat, we had a unique Havdalah. I did not think to bring my traveling Havdalah set and arrived after all the stores were closed Friday for Shabbat so I had not juice or wine or even milk in the house to use for the blessing. All I had was water and it is the one liquid over which you cannot make the blessing of Havdalah! We also did not have a multi-wicked candle or spices – pretty much everything you needed, we didn’t have. So, one cup of instant coffee, one packet of spiced tea and one modified tea light later, we were ready to say farewell to a blessed and holy Shabbat and look forward to a week that should, God willing, be half as full of new learning, new people and blessings. As I bid Yiscah farewell, I thanked her for such a blessed and amazing welcome to Jerusalem and told her that if I had to go home tomorrow, it would have been enough already.

Tomorrow will be much more mundane and filled with such trivialities as picking up my cell phone, getting some shekels and going shopping. Even these mundane things will feel less so done here where one can meet such beautiful people and feel so welcomed because it is Home. Perhaps after the glow of the holiness of this Shabbat wears off, I will share my thoughts about the young woman who was studying to convert – because even when one is home, or perhaps particularly when one is home, one gets to bask in the comforts as well as confront difficulties and differences of opinion.

It is now past midnight and I should get some sleep so I am ready to face whatever miracles tomorrow may bring here in Ir HaKodesh – the Holy City of Jerusalem.

B’vrachot – with blessings,


Pardes Summer Curriculum Workshop


So, I thought that people might wonder why I was going to Israel this summer. I was fortunate to be selected as one of five “exceptional” “novice” Jewish day school teachers to participate as Fellows in the Summer Curriculum Workshop at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. This is for teachers who are in their fourth or lower year of classroom teaching at a day school. The idea of being both exceptional and novice kinda cracked me up and also made writing my application essay a bit difficult. How to make myself sound exceptional but still like I needed their help and would be a worthwhile investment of their time and money? Do I mention that I won a teaching prize (the answer was no)? Do I mention I have had an article published about a curriculum for teaching the Shoah (Holocaust) in fifth grade? Again the answer was no, but it turns out that the editor of the journal that published said article is on the panel of mentors – so they might know that fact without me telling them.

The fellowship comes with fully covered tuition for the workshop, a $1400.00 stipend for travel and living expenses and some really great support in developing new curriculum and dealing with the challenges of teaching Jewish Studies. I have wanted to study at Pardes for a number of years and am excited to get to do so in this setting – though I will miss the learning for the sake of learning (lishmah) that I could have done during their regular summer program – which was plan B if I didn’t get the fellowship.

In addition to this program, I will be doing some relaxing and sightseeing on my own for five days and then will be joined by my husband. This will be Steve’s first trip to Israel and we have a jam packed itinerary already. We will be visiting his second cousin, Max, who lives in the Northern Galil (Galilee) on a kibbutz as well as trips to the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Tz’fat and a few days in Jerusalem. At the end of the trip, we will be heading south of Be’er Sheva to Kibbutz Mashabei Sade where I will be officiating at the bat mitzvah of a student of mine. This will be the exciting culmination of our studying together for two years and I am really excited to be part of her celebration. She chose to have her ceremony in the desert as that is where b’nei Israel (the Children of Israel) came into the land after their 40 years in the wilderness.

Well, back to last minute items. Much less panicked than yesterday as I am mostly packed and have all my “chores” done that were hanging out there making me crazy!

Next post in Jerusalem!

B’vrachot – with blessings,