Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Divine

One might ask why I am awake at 11:30pm. when
1. I'm tired
2. I need to wake up at 7:00a.m.

I decided to "get ahead" a little bit by cooking the Shabbat chicken early (Tuesday) and freezing it. I do that whenever I am organized enough to think about starting Shabbat preparations early in the week so that I'm not frazzled on Thursday -- especially when I know that I'm having company.

I haven't cooked a whole chicken in a long time -- the kids don't like chicken, and if I buy chicken, I usually buy the breasts. But this time I bought 2 chickens (guests this week) and, being little Suzie Homemaker, covered the pan with tin foil to "keep in the juices" while it was cooking(all right, a secret....I usually just shove the pan into the oven, and when the chicken gets a bit dry, try to disguise it with more gravy).

So, when I went to take out the pan at 10:00p.m., figuring that 1/2 an hour of cooling would bring me to my bedtime, I saw that somehow, covering the pan prevented the chicken from baking as quickly as it usually does. It was half raw. So back in the oven it went, and here i am.

These last few weeks I've been noticing something interesting in my little neck of the woods. It's nothing new, but I never really thought about it before. It's about some oft-used phrases that one hears a lot around here.

Religious Jews often use the phrase "Baruch HaShem", "thank God" when talking.

How are you? Baruch HaShem. How's work? Baruch HaShem. What's the exchange rate today? Baruch HaShem.

Also, there's a lot of "B'Ezrat Hashem", if God wants.

Will you be at the library this afternoon? B'Ezrat HaShem.


Well, all of a sudden, I started noticing that EVERYONE is using these expressions. One expects it of the Holy Rollers, but I started noticing that it's a phrase that people whom I wouldn't expect to give much thought to The Heavens use too. Women in clothes that you'd expect to see on a beach, men with earrings and tattoos.....everyone seems to be invoking His name when planning for the future or noticing that things in the present are OK.

It could be something new -- a new feeling of spirituality. But I suspect that all along, the very people whom are sometimes dismissed as being far from tradition are those who are quite close, and less likely than some others to take their spirituality for granted.

Chicken's cooled. I'm gone.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Return visitors

I hadn't had guests for a Shabbat lunch for quite a while, but today we had a full table. Margalit invited several of her friends, and there were some grown-ups too for old friend who came with his daughter and lady-friend, 2 people who are presently doing a Livnot-volunteer program, and a Tzfat neighbor.

In the afternoon, I took the dogs out for a long walk around town. When I'm feeling energetic, we walk up to Biriya, a forest just to the north of Tzfat. The roads are fairly empty at that time, so I don't have to worry too much about people being frightened of the dogs....who happen to be two of the most pathetically scardi-cat-canines in the city. But there are always people who act as though the mere presence of a four-legged creature is going to give them a heart attack, so I try to walk them at times and places when we won't meet too many of these folks.

While walking, even along empty streets, I kept meeting people who I know. And, of course, each meeting demands a bit of "stop-and-talk" the time I'd finished with my one-hour walk, almost two hours had elapsed.

Living in a small town has its ups and downs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dog Days, Dog Nights

Shortly after we moved to the Artists Quarter, we got a dog. Sparky was a little terrier that I found wandering outside the city, and I brought her home. We became the only people in the neighborhood with a dog, and our reputation was "the family with a dog".

Fast forward 20 years, when there are more people around here with dogs than not. Aside from our two (Sparky and her sidekick Angora are no longer with us, but after a number of strays passed through our doors, we are now settled with two new ones, Jenny and Mica) there are about half a dozen other hounds on the block, most mutts like ours. There are still plenty of neighbors who look at dogs with horror, but most are, if not happy, accepting.

Every evening, one of my neighbors and I meet out at the local public square to let the dogs have their last fling before settling down for the night. We're often joined by other neighbors, both with dogs and without, and it's a nice way to end the day. The dogs roll around with each other while the kids play on the side and the grownups drink their coffee and review the day.

There are plenty of evenings that I have to drag myself out there -- after going non-stop for 12 hours or so, I have little energy. But after a hot day and plenty of work, it's a good way to unwind and I look forward to those last 15 minutes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Swine Flu

Sometimes, I can't believe what a baby I am.

Yesterday I felt lousy, and the lousy feeling increased as the day wore on. Fluey, you know. Feverish, stomach churning, no energy, short, I had the flu.

Which, when you read it, sounds like "ho hum". Except that when you're used to feeling fairly good and energetic, like I am, is kind of a sign that the world is ending. By the evening, I'd convinced myself that I had swine flu and I was counting my accumulated vacation and sick days. What a baby.

Of course, by the time I had woken up this morning after a good night's sleep, all was, thank goodness, behind me, and I was ready for my morning cuppa. But once again, I'm reminded of how important it is to say "thank you" every once in awhile for our good health. Even something as mundane as the flu (swine or otherwise) can really stop a person in their much more so a chronic illness, or a serious disability. We just don't appreciate good health when God gives it to us.

The last week has been very busy. My 6th grader is finishing elementary school this year, and there are all the ceremonies and plans that accompany that event.

Last week, we sat in the school's courtyard for the final party. The kids had been practicing a play, based on the story of Shmuel-the-Prophet, for many weeks, and we were treated to a real theatrical performance of about an hour, complete with dancing, singing, dialogue, and even "special effects" (goats grazing during a pastoral scene, a pony which was walked through the stage when a king arrived, etc).

This kind of performance is quite a regular occurence in Israeli schools. Israeli kids learn to perform from kindergarten, and the ability to organize these performances is a major requirement of Israeli educational staff. I've never seen a stage-frightened Israeli kid....they all take these performances for granted, and will get up in front of an audience at the drop of a hat. I've often thought that it's one reason that Israelis, in general, are so "in-your-face" -- it's a learned behavior that stems from these school experiences.

I saw in the audience of parents with my soon-to-be mechatunim, the parents of my son's fiancee, whose son is graduating this year as well. In addition, I chatted with parents whose older kids had gone to school with my older kids, and with teachers who had taught all my kids, and with whom I'd taught english as part of the school staff a dozen years ago. (Discussing the experience of teaching in an Israeli school is one that would take, not only it's own blog, but it's own encyclopedia!). A true small-town evening.

One thing that I was particularly grateful for was the existence of digital cameras. I filmed a good bit of Gal's performance, and she was thrilled to review the clip on the camera afterward. But as soon as she headed off on her class trip, she was just as happy to erase that clip and replace it with new pictures, and I was pleased that I hadn't wasted too much money paying for film development.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wednesday Wednesdays

I suppose that everyone has certain rituals that they get stuck with.

I shower in the evenings, never the morning. I look forward to my main meal of the day in the evening, rather than the afternoon -- that's how it was when i was growing up.

And every Wednesday morning, when i wake up, my first thought is 'shuk day'.

A 'shuk' is an open-air market, and Safed's shuk runs every Wednesday, rain or shine. If a holiday gets in the way, the local paper makes sure that everyone knows which day is the alternate day, though shuks on alternate days are much smaller....people want to come on Wednesdays, or not at all.

The shuk is an experience. True, you can buy all your fruits and vegetables there, fresh and tasty. One can also find clothes, shoes, disposable items, canned goods, nuts and dried fruits, materials, pots and pans, dishes, pickled items, and just about everything that doesn't need to be plugged into a socket in order to work.

All of these items can be purchased in stores however, and the price difference isn't so great.

We go to the shuk because the atmosphere can't be replicated anywhere else. Vendors yell to the shoppers -- the women, never to the men...I don't know why, but it's always 'Geveret, Lady, come and see my bananas', never 'Adoni, Mister... -- and at each other, but 2 seconds after a vendor has given his competitor a tongue-lashing, he'll be pouring him a cup of coffee and asking him for change.

The vendors are either Israeli or Arabs, but most have learned rudimentary Russian and Amharic in order to speak to the Russian and Ethiopian immigrants who populate the shuk. Shoppers often leave their bulging bags behind a vendor's stall, saying 'Yehuda, I'll be back soon' and as far as I know, no one has ever had their bags removed, even though 'coming back soon' might mean in two hours time.

The vendors are some of the softest-hearted people around. At the day's end, most vendors will 'employ' some of the young Ethiopian boys who hang around, allowing them to help pack up. The amount of produce that these boys are allowed to take home in return for their services is way out of proportion to the actual work that they do, yet each vendor checks to make sure that he has a couple of these kids around to help him at the day's end.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Wednesday.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

City of Kabbalah

The three most common questions that I'm asked, as coordinator of the Tourist Center of Tzfat, are:
1. Where are the bathrooms
2. What is there to see here?
3. Are you a Kabbalist?

The first 2 are pretty straightforward. The bathrooms are down the street, up the stairs, and to the left. Sites to see are noted on the map.

And "am I a Kabbalist?" Well, no, not at all, really. I understand almost nothing about Jewish mysticism -- no matter how many times I hear about the Sephirot, I still don't quite get it, nor, frankly, do I care.

But there is something magical about the town that I live in, and my appreciation for some of the other-worldly aspects of Tzfat do have a certain mystical quality.

For me, the magic is the interactions between people, and the general appreciation and acceptance that people seem to have for each other. Right outside the door of my office is a network of galleries and other tourist shops with the widest variety of shopowners imaginable. Today, as I walked down the street, I saw one of the street vendors who usually looks like one of the gang members from West Side Story sitting quietly by his "basta" (stall) reading a book of Psalms.

The street is also a favorite spots for panhandlers, and they know that almost all the shop owners, no matter what business is like, will give them some coins. The two scruffy guys who own the shops at the beginning of the street and who are known as the ones to avoid because of their pushiness -- they actually growl at the people who don't buy from them -- they're the ones who can always be seen bringing bags of leftover fish and meat to the neighborhood stray cats, and watch over the cats while they eat as well.

Tzfat is the place where the drug addicts who wander the streets say "thank God" when someone gives them some food, and even (sometimes) say the proper blessings over the food before they eat.

Tzfat is the town which is often compared to the mythical town of Chelm in old Yiddish stories, where everything seems upside-down, but somehow comes out all right -- centuries of mountain air seem to have made people rather light-headed here, but in a good way.

It's not for everyone, I have said millions of times, but Kabbalah or not, there's something about Tzfat that draws people, and one doesn't have to have a degree in Kabbalah study to feel it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Puppy Mill

Tzfat seems to have a different sort of puppy least in my neighborhood, where the proliferation of formerly-abandoned dogs who now have homes has skyrocketed over the past year.

At one time, we were the only family on the street with a dog, Sparky (z"l), who we found while driving out near the Ein Zeitim park one afternoon. Sparky was rather a curiosity, a lively terrier-type who followed me around endlessly and never seemed to want or need anything except a pat and some nourishment.

Next came Angora, who I found rumaging near a trash dumpster one day. A more-or-less daushaund puppy,I brought her home convinced that I'd have no trouble finding a home for her. She lived with us for about 10 years, by which time there were other pooches in the neighborhood.

These dogs were followed by Lena (we took her to a shelter near Tzfat which promises to find the animals homes), Lola (now "Nala", living in Modi'in), Lucy (my daughter's dog, a crazy German Shepard who certainly has several of a cat's 9 lives -- a lady near the police station asked for her), Joey (now happily settled in Shorshim) and a host of others who I can't even remember (even though I paid to have them spayed and one, Nachman, to have his tooth fixed)

I figure that if I kick off and there's a question about whether I get in Up Above, any acts of kindness towards the abandoned animals might help the pendulum swing in my direction.

Of course, the fact that I'm a total sucker might help explain it too.