Saturday, December 28, 2013

Guest Tsunami

I have guestroom renters downstairs for Shabbat....a nice young couple and the girl's mother. I offered to take them for a tour of Tzfat this afternoon but in the end only the mother came with me and we had a great time. I know enough about Tzfat history to be considered "knowledgeable" but would love to learn more. Another project for my retirement years......

I've been pleased, however, to see that the number of visitors to my website has been steadily growing. In 2005 I put up a simple webpage for my guestroom and whenever it was already booked, or didn't meet someone's needs, found myself sitting for a significant amount of time on the phone trying to help people find a guestroom that would work for them. In the end, my one-page website expanded as I first created a list of other guestrooms/hotels in the city and then, moved on to "where to eat?," "where to go?," "what to do?," etc. Once I collected the material and organized it (which was the hard part) I put it up and have just been having a good time keeping it going.

I get approximately one or two inquiries every week....mostly from people who are doing genealogical research and want to trace their family, but sometimes other issues. A few weeks ago I got an inquiry from a woman who was looking for a tour guide so, as I always do, I gave her several options of local guides. A few days ago someone came up to me to thank me for the referral...turns out that I'd given the family of the American ambassador to Israel a referral for a tour guide for his tour in Tzfat!

In addition to my renters this Shabbat my nephew, who's living in Jerusalem for the year, asked if he could come up with three of his friends. We only have 2 bedrooms upstairs but my daughter had already told me that she'd be away for Shabbat so I planned to pack the four of them in her room. In the end there were five boys but we managed nicely and I bunked in with my son.

The boys brought along a crock pot with ready-to-cook cholent! Evidently they're used to having a Friday night snack before they go to bed at midnight so they prepared the ingredients before they traveled, put it all in the pot and then plugged it in on Friday morning on my counter.

I was pretty surprised...never had guests bring their own cholent! Much less their own pot to cook it in. But they were happy and all I had to supply was a bit of electricity, so...glad to help. 

I have plenty of work to do but I've been watching the 1960 movie Exodus on YouTube. I first read Leon Uris's Exodus when I was 14 and that started me on my Zionist journey. I loved that book -- must have read it at least 6 times. The movie isn't as good as the book (in my opinion) but it brought back some great memories and I've been enjoying it. Should really get down to business but after cleaning up after the boys, 2 loads of laundry and other sundry tasks I figure that I deserve an hour of two of fun. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Israel Moment

I was waiting in line at the post office this morning when one of the Wednesday-guys came in. These guys are mostly Arabs who come to town on shuk (market) days and walk around the city with their "shop" hanging in boxes strung from their shoulders. They sell all sorts of sundry items -- flashlights, hats, gloves, watches, decks of cards, shaving kits and other knick-knacks.

So as the entire line-up of customers were waiting, the guy goes up to the counter to see if the clerks want anything. And while we all waited, both clerks reviewed the merchandise, checked the colors of the hats that he's carrying this week and did their shopping. Three hats per clerk.

Don't forget though....this whole exchange involves a lot of bartering as well. Back-and-forth....Arabs don't sell or buy anything without a good session of bartering and would be insulted if someone met their original price. It's an art that, if you come in contact with Arab merchants, you'd better be well-versed in -- they expect it.

And all the while the post office customers were waiting in line. No one said a word because -- well, it just wouldn't have been polite to deny this guy the chance to make a sale. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What IS it about us Jews?

The Jewish Priest that Repented
Former Anti-Semetic Hungarian Leader Now Keeps Shabbat
Secret Jewish Heritage Converts Neo-Nazi
Spainards are Reclaiming their Jewish Heritage
Suddenly Jewish
Return: My 50-year Search for my Jewish Self, Identify and Heritage 
An Unexpected Discovery

By now you might get the gist of what this post is all about.

I may be ethnocentric but I don't recall ever seeing articles about people who found out that their ancestors were Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or Pagan....and feeling the pull to explore their heritage and return to their roots.

But i see articles such as the ones above least several times a year. And there are so many more stories that, perhaps, aren't as astounding as a neo-nazi who discovered that his family was secretly Jewish, but still speak to the Jewish soul's desire to reconnect with its birthright.

So, just thinkin' out loud here.....why? Why just the Jews? Have I missed something? Does this happen in other religions/nations/peoples? It doesn't, does it?

Food for thought.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Addressing PEW through Jewish Education

From what I can determine my extended family is similar to about 90% of American Jewish families as cousins progressed from committed Jews to relatively affluent, fairly assimilated and Jewishly-uninformed.

When I was in my teens my own family, which had been on the right-wing of the Conservative  movement, moved to a religious neighborhood where my brothers, and then my mother, took to Orthodoxy like a fish to water. My father was an easy-going person and didn't mind one way or another and I had found zionism and was planning my life in Israel.

Most of my cousins however went the way of the majority of America's Jews. Once-a-week synagogue attendance and a general nod to kashruth and holidays gave way to twice-a-year synagogue attendance and fond memories of chicken soup with knadalich. Today my extended family is a model for the latest PEW report which reported that 70% of non-Orthodox American Jews marry non-Jews.

Additional research does demonstrate that Jewish children who attend a Jewish day school through the 12th grade are more likely to remain connected to the Jewish community, marry a Jewish partner and raise their own children as Jewish.

So why aren't more resources being allocated to day school educations for Jewish kids? Without even looking at the statistics, I can state with absolute certainty that many families who would otherwise send their children to a day school don't because they can't afford the day school tuition. But there are other things going on there as well.

My cousin, a nice, bright 13-year-old was turned down for her city's Jewish high school. No reason given, though her mother thinks that it's because she got a "D" on her report card and the school, which promotes itself by advertising how many of its students got into the best universities, didn't want to take a chance with the girl.

So that's one of the biggest issues with the non-Ultra-Orthodox schools. They're preparing the kids for Ivy League colleges from the first grade which triples the tuition costs and creates a non-welcoming atmosphere for anyone who isn't going to measure up to their standards.

I also wonder what's going on with the rabbis and cantors. Why aren't they inspiring their congregants to set aside the Hawaii vacation or the new 4-wheel drive and use it to send their kids to the local day school? Are they unable to influence their congregations? Unwilling? Uninterested? Does the subject ever come up?

Having griped enough, I do have to point out the amazing initiatives that are, in fact, being put into action in the American Jewish community.

Increasing numbers of Jewish Federations are supporting their community's day schools. This support isn't across the board -- they support Boards of Jewish Education-affiliated schools, which generally don't include the Haredi schools. Still, it's something.

Jewish day schools are collaborating, rather than competing (not always, but more and more) to bolster each other, share ideas and increase everyone's piece of the pie. One informal collaborative tool that I use for my online teaching activities is the JedLab group in which teachers of different types of schools and streams of Judaism work together and advance Jewish education for everyone's common good.

A number of philanthropists are supporting their local day schools, either through the Federation or directly. These donors have determined that their visions of a strong Jewish community can be best served by a Jewish day school education and they're prepared to put their money on strengthening the schools in any way possible. In addition to the cash flow (always welcome) the support speaks volumes about how many of America's biggest Jewish philanthropists see their community's future.

Several organizations, including the Steinhardt and Grinspoon foundations, the Helen Dillar Foundation and the Milken Family Foundation have created Jewish educator awards. These awards are meant to inspire highly effective Jewish educators and the teachers who work with them to continue to serve as examples for their students, the students' families and their communities. Milken Jewish Educator Award recipients receive $15,000, Grinspoon-Steinhardt awardees receive $1000 and Helen Dillar awards carry a prize of $10,000 for the educator and $2,500 for the educator’s institution.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Storms Before the Age of Facebook

How DID we manage to have storms before Facebook? (maybe Twitter too...don't know...don't like it much or use it very frequently).


For those of us who have not lost our electricity, everything is organized by FB. Who needs extra challah for Shabbat, who needs a heater, who needs some help shoveling snow....usually someone will pop up within a few minutes to say "I can bring you some/help out/donate/etc. Basic information too, like what's happening with the roads (they're still closed into and out of Safed, 2 days after the storm), what's happening with the schools, etc. Our Mayor's main form of communication with the town's residents is via FB. Kind of cool -- I remember our last storms, 21 years ago.....everyone was huddled in their little house (kind of like Little House on the Prairie, but without the well-behaved kids) and no one knew anything.

It's scary how dependent we are on electricity. Once I can move around a bit more freely (walking on the snow and slush-covered streets is still dicey) I'm going to get a few items that will help keep us warm if we ever loose electricity. Will start with some basic heating supplies and a metal cover for the gas stove for Shabbat food, etc. None of this, of course, will help if the electricity goes out ON Shabbat but it should help. 

I also bought a huge bag of food for the neighborhood stray cats. I can't take in another animal from the shelters -- the shelters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv flooded during the storm and they were asking people to foster animals -- but at least I can make sure that the local cats aren't hungry. There's just one that comes to feed now, but when I was speaking to my neighbor yesterday, I think that I know why....she also feeds cats, and she buys the 300 shekel bags while I bought the 150 shekel bag. Now if you were a cat, where would you go for your meals?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oliving for Chanukah

Technically, my olive-picking morning wasn't for Chanukah -- I just joined with a few neighbors to pick olives because it's fun and I could. But Chanukah begins in 2 weeks and it's the season of olive oil (we often light it, in place of candles) so, if people can get into the Xmas spirit with tinsel and shopping, I can get into the Chanukah spirit with some exercise.

The four of us, 50ish and 60ish ladies, were not equipped for the kind of professional olive-picking that people do when they know what they're doing, but we did manage to find some sticks to beat the trees, and tarps to put under the trees to catch the olives, and all in all, did OK. The trees themselves haven't been pruned properly for a long time so they're high and many of the olives eluded us, but I took home a couple of kilos, about half green and half black (interestingly enough, the same trees had both green and black olives).

Now it's time to cure them. The black ones are the easiest. You just put them in a pillow case or something with salt and let them sit for several weeks. You have to hang the pillow case somewhere where the olives can drip as the salt cures them.

The green ones need a little more attention. For several weeks you soak them in salt water to draw out the bitter taste, changing the water daily.

After about 2 weeks of this you put them in the brine which generally involves salt water, lemons, garlic, bay leaves and any other kind of herb that you want to add (I have fresh rosemary growing right next to my house). It takes about another month until they're ready.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Safed Metzuda

I've lived in Safed for 28 years and have climbed to the Metzuda more times than I can count, but today I saw it from a new angle and caught a glimpse of what it must have looked like to travelers who were criss-crossing the region hundreds of years ago along their trade routes.

The Metzuda is a Crusader Castle -- according to historians, it's the largest Crusader fortress built anywhere in the Middle East. The Crusaders secured their hold on the Upper Galilee with this fortress (there's another one, Nimrod's Castle, in Golan Heights and at least one that I know of in Lebanon, in addition to the massive complex in Akko/Acre). It's so high that, when the Mamlukes captured it from the Crusaders in 1266, they built a 60-meter tower that would allow them to see as far as Akko -- and would, as one historian pointed out, enable the Crusaders who were still in Akko to see the Mamlukes and mull over what was coming.)

The Metzuda is a favorite walking spot for me when I take the dogs for a walk -- it's quiet, has a bit of nature and best of all, is fairly unpopulated by people who would be scared by the dogs. The dogs amble along and I get a bit of exercise as well.

Today I happened to be on a different side of the city and looked up (wasn't I just talking about the need to keep my eyes open?) and saw the metzuda from a whole new perspective. The trees block it a bit in the photos but if you look closely you can see the original walls of the Crusader's fortress (and if you can't, you'll just have to come to Tzfat to see it). 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Menchelech -- Little Men -- On My Street

This story is a reminder that we should keep our eyes and ears open. At least a bit. You never know what may pop out.

I live in Safed's Artist Quarter, a section of Safed's Old City. It's not as old as the Old Jewish Quarter nor does it have the religious and -- for Jews -- historical significance of the Old Jewish Section (a five-minute walk away). But it's still a charming old-world area with old stone buildings that date back several hundred years, arched doors and windows and rooms with old domed ceilings that characterized the construction of the era over the past several hundred years.

Every Friday night (and oftentimes during the week) a local tour guide, David Amiel, leads a tour down our street. He begins his tour at the nearby Rimonim Hotel and provides a lively monologue as he makes his way through the lanes of the Artist Quarter towards the Old Jewish Quarter, relating historical events and points of interest that I've never heard from other tour guides. (David is, in addition to his work as a tour guide, an accomplished historian and has done extensive research into Safed history and has even written a book -- I keep telling him that when it comes out in English, I'll read it).

One of David's first stops is in front of our house. I often catch some of his discussion but I don't hear everything. I know that he points out that this is the area where some Arab families who then went on to a certain degree of infamy (i.e. Marwan Barghouti's clan, etc) lived. I've also heard him talking about the "menchelech" of the area and never had the slightest idea of what that was all about.

Several weeks ago David invited my daughter and her fiancee, who is presently studying to become a licensed tour guide,  to join him for a tour. They came back quite enthused about the tour -- David is an expert and goes above and beyond the standard Safed tour in providing information about many little-known aspects of the city.

After the tour my daughter and her fiancee finally told me what the deal is about the menchelech -- little men. Menchelech are, evidently, tiny metal figurines of little men. They were popular in Germany and could be found on homes in the local Templer farming community of Alonei Abba. (Alonei Abba was founded in  by German-Christians who belonged to the Temple Society. They migrated to Palestine from Germany during the 1860s and established several communities including Alonei Abba). 

These people placed menchelech on the shutters of their homes. If a menchelech figurine was pointing upward, it was a sign that the man of the house was home, and if the menchelech figuring was pointing downwards, it indicated that the man of the house was out. 

There are a couple of these charming  menchelech figurines on the shutters of the home across the street from me. (During the British mandatory period in Palestine, a British officer lived in that house and, from what I understand, obtained a few menchelech which he placed on the shutters of the house).  I had to search hard to identify them -- I've lived in this house for 24 years and never even noticed them before -- but now that I finally understand their meaning, it's kind of cool. 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Ah, I'm Getting Old.....

My Shabbat was lively, to say the least. My youngest son completed his army service on Thursday so he's now back home, along with my middle daughter and her fiancee. Youngest daughter was, of course, at home. Plus, my niece and her husband and three young kids (aged 4, almost 2 and 5 months) and another niece and nephew.

Over the last few years our home has taken on the atmosphere of a staid home for adults and almost-adults so it was kind of fun to have the action of the kids and the interactions between all of the cousins for the day. I must say, when everyone went home, it was so quiet that I almost didn't know what to do with myself.

After Shabbat I taught the four-year-old how to use "Paint" on the computer and he "painted" a few canvases. At some point I noticed that my browser's tabs had all migrated to the top of the page, which freaked me out a bit, but it turns out that the child didn't actually do anything -- Mozilla decided, on their own, to put the tabs at the top because "it makes more sense. I'm not wild about it -- I don't like change. But after trying to return them to their original spot a few times (the 'help' said that you could) I figured that i'd just get used to the new system.

I made so-so meat patties for Saturday lunch but my Friday night chicken was a hit. Didn't do a whole lot -- just coated it with spiced flour and sauteed it a bit before baking it the process seals in the juices and it was well-received. I also made a sweet-and-sour sauce to pour over it so that was also a bit special.

I made lentil soup as well -- my daughter likes it....the red lentils made with sweet potatos and pumpkin (seasoned with cumin and cinnamon, kind of like an Indian dahl). After I'd made it I realized that it was a. the day after Halloween and b. parshat Toldot, when Esav sells his birthright to Ya'akov for a bowl of lentil soup. So I announced that it was "in honor of..." and didn't mention that these links had only occurred to me half an hour before I served the soup.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Saga of the Dogs, Part VIIII

I've kvetched before about my neighbor and his dogs. I have a direct line to the city vet (and he has me on his speed soon as I call, he says "hi Laurie"), have had 3 meetings with the mayor/his representatives about the problem, have written two letters (considering the effort that it takes me to write in Hebrew, it's significant) and have made numerous calls to various police and city workers, all of whom promise me that "they'll do something." Today's activities, however, reminded me how important it is to know people the right people. 

First of all, let it be said that I like both our mayor and our city vet (who runs one of the country's only municipal no-kill shelters). I believe that they're good people and that they have the best interests of the residents (and, in the case of the vet, of the animals) at heart.

The problem here is that everyone's afraid to break into this guy's yard to take the dogs. The vet, the police the city workers....he intimidates them all because legally there's not a lot of recourse to take a non-abused animal out of its home.

One of his neighbors, however, is a fairly well-known artist (Raphael Abacasis -- if I ever make a lot of money, I'd love to get some of his artwork....he's really great) and the other raises money for the poor of the city every Pesach and is friendly with the mayor. So today's meeting at the mayor's office, with these two gentlemen, seemed to move things along.   I don't know if we have a solution, but the mayor called in one of his assistants who is supposed to "stay on top of the situation" and his city manager who is supposed to push things along.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taking Things for Granted

This month is, for Americans, Thanksgiving. While I haven't paid much attention to Thanksgiving in the past (don't like football and don't want to cook a turkey) I do appreciate the concept of stopping to give thanks every once in awhile.

This evening I attended a meeting of the Committee for Ethiopian Jews in Safed. It's headed by a long-time Tzfat resident, Dr. Sivan, who established the committee in the '80s when he realized that the new immigrants were struggling with many financial challenges that most of us never consider. 

The vast majority of Ethiopian olim came to Israel with the clothes on their backs and little else. Although their rent and living expenses are subsidized by the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry for their first 2 years, they're expected to start self-supporting after those first two years. With minimal skills and, often, limited Hebrew, that leaves them with, if they're lucky, minimum wage jobs.

I don't know about anyone else but I would find it very hard to survive on minimum wage. I don't buy new clothes (second-hand only), don't travel or take vacations and buy basic food -- nothing fancy, though i do try to pack in a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But I'm lucky. I'm proficient in English -- a valued skill -- and have enough clients for my writing/marketing work that allows me to stay busy. Even with all of that, I barely meet my living expenses every month. What do people do who don't expect anything other than minimum-wage work, often physical, tiring and depressing?

I know that this situation isn't limited to Ethiopians but, as a community, they're probably the most vulnerable community in Israel. There are no family members around to give them a hand because their family members are generally just getting by week by week as well. When my son tutored Ethiopian kids as part of his volunteer work for his university studies he told me that the kids seem to have no hope. They're bright, but they look around and see no future.  

I'm a committee member for the Committee for Ethiopian Jews in Safed. I try to donate whenever I can but, listening to Dr. Sivan speaking about the need of so many families, it just feels like a drop in a bucket.

For instance, he mentioned the case of a mother who's studying at the Safed nursing school -- she lives about half an hour from Safed, so she has travel time and expenses and is working several nights a week, in addition to her studies, to bring some income into her household. when does that poor woman sleep? She obviously wants to build a better life for her family, but how is she going to do that with all of her responsibilities?

Those are the kinds of situations that exist within a 10-minute walk of my house. I feel horrible that I can't help more. It's true, I don't throw money around but I do have a roof over my head and food on my table. My bills get paid on time and if we need something, we buy it.

So maybe I will pay a little attention this year to Thanksgiving, even from 7000 miles away.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Out on My Own

This week marks my one-year anniversary of working from home as a freelancer. I have been trying to think of the pros and cons of my move, but to be honest, the only con that I can think of is that it was nice to work with nice people. I enjoyed working with a genuinely nice bunch of co-workers and bosses and I do miss that interaction.

Having said that, there is nothing like getting up in the morning, pouring myself a nice hot cuppa chico (like Postum -- coffee substitute, since i'm still on homeopathy and off coffee) and settling down for the day.

I enjoy the challenge. I have several permanent clients so i know that I have a steady income and I have enough leeway that I can take small jobs in-between for some interesting variation.

I enjoy the freedom. Two years ago my doctor advised that I take vitamin D supplements because I had, in her words, almost no vitamin D in my body. These days, after a mandatory morning walk in the sun, my vitamin D level is just fine. And I love the walks (as do my dogs who have also benefited from the new arrangement). .

I take total responsibility for everything that I do. If I screw up, it's me, myself and I to blame. On the other hand, no one blames me for something that I didn't do.

I like writing, which is what I mainly do. And as I do more, I get better (I think, anyway).

I can have some fun, like with this blog. I always tell people that it's therapy, and that's true (cheaper than a therapist) but it's also fun to share my thoughts and hear people say "I like what you have to say."

I can dream a bit. My dream job would be to have someone subsidize my living expenses for a year while I write a book about the people who end up in my little town. It's an eclectic group of -- as my son calls them, "alternative people"  -- but they make for a life that's never boring.

And now, off for my morning walk in the sun........

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Leaves and Tzfat

I do miss my Michigan autumn leaves but I guess that this is as good as it's going to get for Israel. Thought that it was pretty. Next to our city hall.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Only in Israel

Had something for the Only in Israel FB page

Think about it....where else but Israel would there be a FB page called "Only in....wherever?"   Only in Michigan? Well, maybe the weather, but that's about it. Only in Holland? Really? Only in ...where?

One of my favorite stories (this is a little off the subject, but there's some connection, so bear with me) is told by a friend who just celebrated her 50th anniversary in Israel. She came in 1961, back in the days when there was no Nefesh B'Nefesh organizing pilot trips and group flights and waiting to direct olim to their new apartments, ulpans and jobs. I don't think that the Jewish Agency was even involved in aliyah at that time, except if you were running for your life from the Iraqi or Libyan rioters.

Anyway, this lady, who was 18 at the time, lived in Washington DC, so she went to the Israeli Embassy and told them that she wanted to make aliyah. The secretary, who was processing her forms, said to her "why do you want to go live in Israel? It's dirty, the politicians are crazy, it's hot, everyone is always on edge, there's not enough food (this was in the days of tzena-- rationing), the people are rude....."

And then the secretary started to cry. My friend asked her "why are you crying" and the secretary sniffed "I miss it so much."


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Only in Israel

Ever since I first came to Israel, I've always heard the phrase "only in Israel." Never by Israelis, you understand, who take these idiocincricies of our country for granted, but by olim who never fail to be amazed at the ways that this country is so special.

I've lived in Israel for 30 years and I still get choked up when I think of the unique ways that the people in Israel express their Judaism, their love of Israel and their relationships with each other.

Evidently I'm not the only person....I just came across a Facebook group today with that exact title, "Only in Israel." And there are multiple posts every day.

I come from America and Americans are generally thought of as a friendly and easy-going group, but there's no way that any of these things would ever happen in America. We have a unique place here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cats and Mayors

'Nuff said. I used to think that it was a big joke, calling the fire department to get a cat out of a tree, but when it's YOUR cat, it's a different story.

We got this cat when she was a kitten in the dead of winter -- someone plopped a box with her inside right next to our gate. She was tiny and I kept her inside for the next few months, but I guess that a certain self-preservation instinct disappeared because she keeps running up trees and getting stuck. My daughter has, up until now, been the designated tree-climber to save her skin (fur) but this time she was so far up the tree that I didn't know what to do.

I also didn't want to call the fire dept since I thought "that's silly, they don't do that any more." But a neighbor had pity (I kept thinking "naw, she'll come down one way or another) and it turns out that, at least in Tzfat and at least when it's a slow day, they do.

So, kudos to the Tzfat fire department! I don't know how they are at putting out fires, but when it comes to acts of lovingkindness, they're great.
Post trauma lunch

In other local news, today the municipal elections are being held. As my cousin noted (he's a new immigrant and these are their first elections), he expected a somber New Zealand-style election process and, instead, he fell into a carnival atmosphere.

It is kind of a carnival. Hundreds of adults revert to their adolescence. they plaster their cars with stickers and posters, honk as they drive around town and generally create a complete zoo-like atmosphere.

I don't know what it's like in the big cities, but Tzfat elections are very personal....each party personally calls every voter that they think might be voting for them, at least once. They like social media and Internet campaigning in theory, but in practice, they want to do it the way that their grandfathers did it.....person to person.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Election Time

The city elections have arrived and everyone seems to be either completely involved with their chosen candidate/party list or apathetic. I'm too American to leave the voting to others...civic duty is deeply embedded in me....but I understand those who have opted out. One sometimes feels as though nothing's going to change anyway, so why bother.

Case in point. I live along a small, narrow lane. One car can drive in at a time and reverse out, but there's no room to turn around and there's no through exit. For some reason, the GPS tells people that it's a through street and it's the way to exit to the southern part of the city. So we often have people driving down the street, assuming that they're on a one-way street that has an exit at the end.

The last little jaunt of the street is curvy and by that time, when it's clear that there's no exit, it's extremely difficult for people to back out, especially those with a large car or van. I've called the city hotline numerous times to ask them to put in some kind of warning so that drivers won't go too far but it's like talking to a wall. They say "we have your call from last time" and, to them, that's the end of the story. They've passed it on to the appropriate city department and they don't need to worry about it any more.

This time I'm vaguely involved with one of the parties that's running -- at least, I showed up for an info meeting and they assumed that i'm going to support them, so much so that i've received numerous calls to ask me to remind my friends to vote, to ask for names of potential supporters that they can call and to ask me to pass on their message. all of which I've done (I figured, since I'll vote for them, I might as well help them out a bit) so after the elections, if they actually get in, I will have a live body that I can talk to.

In the meantime, one of the major candidates seems to have disappeared and the others have supporters standing outside of their headquarters, passing out fliers, to the sound of the songs that they've recorded with their candidate's name. I kid you not -- several of the candidates have created little jingles that say "xxxx is the one. He's going to put Tzfat on the map. He's going to make Tzfat something special......"

Do people REALLY vote based on these jingles? Or based on the candidate who has the most posters plastered around the city? Or whose fliers are the jazziest? Or who smears the other candidates the best? If there's one thing that says to me that, at least, our present mayor has a little bit of class, it's that he hasn't created a jingle for himself.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Hardim, Elections, Jewish Unity and Tzfat

If I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say "the Haredim (Ultra Orthodox) are taking over" I'd have a nice little savings account. Ditto for the comments about the high Orthodox birth rate.

What most people don't seem to understand is that The Haredim are no more of a block than any other Jewish group. Less, it seems.

Just read an article yesterday in the media about two groups of Lithuanian Haredim who are supporting different candidates in the upcoming Jerusalem elections. One faction has been extremely outspoken in their disapproval of the other faction, going as far as to say  that anyone who votes for the opposing candidates “is supporting criminals and, whether deliberately or by accident, is desecrating God’s name.”

So now, not only are the Litai'im (Lithuanian, non-Hassidic Haredim) and Hassidim not in agreement, and not only are the Ashkanazim and Sepharadim not in agreement, even within their own block, there are problems.

I don't think that the people who are concerned about "The Haredim" taking over have much to worry about.   The Jewish people, however, should be a bit worried.

Elections were on my mind when I walked through town today. I noticed, several days ago, that one of the biggest pro-candidate shops had switched and was not displaying the banners of one of the rival mayoral candidates. I approached the shopowner, who I know, who told me that he switched alliances because his first choice didn't have as many supporters as the candidate had indicated (mostly referring to how many rabbis are standing behind him) so the shopowner switched to the second candidate.

He then proceeded to tell me that he couldn't support the present mayor because of "all sorts of reasons that he didn't want to go into here." He did tell me that the mayor had given 22 million shekels to one particular religious group in return for that group's support -- I find that rather difficult to believe. I must say, the whole conversation didn't put this particular shopkeeper in a very good light, no matter how much of an insider he may be. (Someone told me that, before coming to Tzfat to open his shop, he'd been a high level operative in the Mossad and had been involved in spiriting Jews out of dangerous countries).

I live in a crazy place.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Talented Dog

Some people who have dogs who are quite beautiful and win prizes (and money) at dog shows.

Others have dogs who are unusually fast, or perform tricks, or service people or save lives.

I have a dog who stops in her tracks every few months and has an epileptic attack. Does it attract attention? You bet.

 Generally Mica is kind enough to have these attacks in the privacy of our home where I don't have to explain to every person who walks by that, no, i haven't been beating her, she is just "funny." But today on our morning walk Mica was kind enough to have not one, but two attacks, the second right on the side of a main road.

Nothing seems to trigger the attacks, which begin (when I'm around) with her coming up to me and gluing herself to me (this time she actually walked under my legs and stood there) and after they pass (usually 5 minutes) she's right as rain. But even though they've been going on since she was a pup, I always have a moment of panic....maybe this is the end?

We're back home now and she's blissfully shedding her summer coat of fur all over the house. It's hard to live with a talented dog.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


As mentioned previously I'm doing a course of homeopathy. Homeopathy involves taking remedies that include trace substances that are similar to what ails you. The theory behind homeopathy is, basically, "like treats like."

To find the right remedy and dose the homeopathist does a whole intake which involves learning about your entire medical history as well as your emotional state of mind. In my case, my homeopathist, after much digging, told me that she thinks that my problem (I have a benign growth, called a mycrogynomia, on my brain which is pressing on my optic nerve, causing me to see double) is caused by repressing certain feelings and emotions. (Maybe that's the reason that I let loose on my daughter last night, after, for the umpteenth time, she left her dirty dishes in the sink?)

Anyway, there are a number of side "effects" of homeopathy. For one, homeopathists believe that if you don' least once a day, you're "constipated." So the remedies are designed to help you move things along. Which can make it quite difficult to take a long walk.

Another side effect is dreams...homeopathic remedies often cause you to have vivid dreams. I don't know if that's the reason but last night I had a VERY long and vivid dream which involved a woman who I knew 30 years ago (so she's in her late 50s now) having a baby, and then they all came for Shabbat and I didn't have anything ready.

There was more, and other people from my life were around as well, making it a crowded Shabbat table (or it would have been if there had been anything to eat).


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The World of Gluten-Free

I was speaking to a homeopathist recently who told me that my difficulty in losing weight was likely due to the presence of several triggers in my diet -- wheat, dairy, corn, soy and sugar.

I don't have the time or budget to create a diet for myself that doesn't have any of these elements, but I decided that I'm going to try to reduce all of them and eliminate gluten for awhile and see what happens.

Since store-bought gluten-free products are so expensive, I'm going to try doing some home-baking. I bought a bag of "gluten free flour" at the store, all ready to get moving on this project, but once I was home I saw that it's basically corn flour. That didn't seem to be very healthy, even if I wasn't trying to avoid corn.

Spelt flour seems to be the most accessible, so we'll start with that. I found an interesting website, Breadtopia , that gave an overview of spelt flour, and then a recipe that looks pretty good. So as soon as I can find some spelt flour, I'll get started.

The recipe that I found is made with yeast, but there's another one that I saw that is made with some sourdough starter, so perhaps in the meantime I'll put some starter out and try another batch in a week or two.

In the meantime, I'm Weight Watchering it. Bummer. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Be Persistent

Several months ago I received a call from Netvision, my internet server. The guy convinced me to sign up for their land-line phone service. He'd give it to me for 10 shekels/month for the first 3 months so that I could test it while I kept my Bezeq line, and then it would cost something like 60 shekels/month.

Part of the procedure involves getting one of their netboxes, which is a router through which the phone works.

The router turned out to be a disaster and I've had numerous calls to the server and to Bezeq for my troubles, as well as several visits from Netvision's technicians who keep coming out to see what's happening. Seems that Netvision is VERY interested in making sure that they don't lose clients.

Finally, when I had just about had it, one of the support guys at netvision told me that
1. he would reduce my landline to 10 shekels/month forever
2. I should just unplug my router for a few seconds every time the internet cuts out, and then plug it back in.

His advice worked and, although it's annoying, it works. In the meantime, on my last bill, my landline payment hadn't been reduced, so I was back on the phone with a Netvision rep yesterday.

Now, here's the interesting part. She re-reduced my payment to 10 shekels/month (I hope -- will check on the next bill) AND, "for my troubles" reduced my internet payment to 60 shekels a month (from something like 100 shekels/month).

The lessons that I learned from this are:
1. be persistent
2. check your bills (actually, something similar happened with Bezeq, and when I called them, they offered to put me on a cheaper plan)
3. These companies are making money hand-over-fist and they can easily reduce your payment plan if you find the right way to approach it.

In local news, this post takes Shabat Avidah -- the mitzvah of returning lost items to its owner -- to a whole new level.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Two by Two

In case you've been hiding under a chair for the past few days, the PEW report about the status of the American Jewish community was released last week. The report, titled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" (not, as one might note, "American Jews," which is what they would have probably written even 20 years ago) was not wildly encouraging for anyone who would like to see Jewish identity thrive in America.

Almost every American Jewish family that I know of has the same story. The grandparents/great-grandparents came to America in the late 1800s/early 1900s as committed, religious Jews. Their children, who attended American public schools, maintained their identity as Jews, with varied amounts of religious observance thrown in. They strove, however, to attain the American dream of education, professions, good work and economic stability and that became their goal.

The following generation built on that foundation. More education, better jobs and moves out to farther-flung communities in which families were physically and psychologically removed from the core Jewish community.

Well, the years have gone by and, to no one's great surprise today's generation of American Jews (Jewish Americans -- potato, potatto) is less connected to their heritage than ever. All the programs, stop-gap measures and money that's been thrown at the situation hasn't made much difference. Six out of ten people surveyed believe that being Jewish is mainly a matter of culture or ancestry. With that kind of belief, why in the world would they search out a Jewish partner and raise their own children as Jews? It's like being an American Indian (with all due respect to Native Americans) defines where you come from, not where you're going.

Over the last several months I've been collecting Linked-In friends to connect them with the online Jewish education program that I work with. I can assure you that there are literally tens of thousands of Jewish professionals, lay leaders and teachers out there. All of whom make their living by, in one way or another, transmitting Judaism.  So what's happened?

I want to start my own program. Guess what -- it won't cost the Jewish community a dime. It's called "Two by Two" in honor of this week's Torah portion, Parshat Noach.

Noach couldn't save all of mankind from the flood, or even all of the animal kingdom, so he (at God's command) brought two of every kind of animal on the ark. From those pairs the world was renewed and repopulated.

So let's all aim towards "Two by Two." Each one of us who knows something about Judaism and wants to share that passion can do one thing every week to strengthen the next person. No matter how little you know, you probably know more than someone else. (and if you don't, its your responsibility to find a partner and explore together).

If you "do" Shabbat, invite a friend to share it -- someone who otherwise may not have access to a Shabbat meal.  

If you read something meaningful that expresses Judaism, pass it on.

If you hear about a good class or project (yes, there are some great projects out there) take a friend, or at least share the information.

If you're not satisfied with your local Jewish congregation or Hebrew school, get involved. Submit your own ideas. Form a "chevre" -- a group -- that will advocate for the type of Jewish interaction that you want to see in your community.  If you can't do it, find others.

Don't judge. Don't assume that your way is the best's a lot better to let someone go on their own way than to turn them off completely from Judaism by your insistence that God wants us all to do things in a certain way. God will probably be a lot more impressed by your openness and outreach than your adherence to a certain style of Judaism.

Keep your friends and family members in mind when you hear about a program or opportunity that might be of interest to them -- a subsidized trip to Israel, an online Hebrew School program, an article. You never know when a penny will drop.

Each one of us has the ability to make a difference in the life of an individual. Let's do this, two by two.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Proposal: Yearly Elections

Our mayoral elections are scheduled for October 22nd, in another 3 weeks.

Is it coincidence that the street cleaners are out every day, from early morning to late at night?

Is it coincidence that the city workers are like busy bumble bees, cutting down overgrown branches, replacing old trash dumpsters and generally keeping things hopping?

Actually, I like our present mayor and intend to vote for him. But really, does he actually think that no one in town has figured this out? This is, I believe, my fifth municipal elections in Tzfat and every single election, it's the same charade. Oh well, it's a town rooted in tradition.....

In other local news, I finally got the city vet to agree to come over last night and listen to the dogs who bark all night at the top of the stairs. He promised that as soon as they start barking (which they do intermittently throughout the night) he'd call the police and they'd cart them away.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I mean no harm to any animal, but I don't think that it's right that the neighbors should be terrorized like this. The dogs' owner is a jerk who once told me "I prefer to hear dogs bark than people" as he justified leaving his dogs outside throughout the night.

Anyway, by 11:00p.m. I noticed that it was unusually quiet so I walked up the stairs and, for the first time in years, the house light was on and the dog's owner (or crony...there's some young guy who lives there part-time) was telling the dogs to be quiet. Coincidence huh? I'm sure that someone tipped the owner off, but I have no idea who. (Actually, I do, but it's not nice to speculate).

Now what? At least I notified the vet not to come before he showed up and stood around while I looked like a fool. 


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Only in Israel, Only in Tzfat

I started this list last week to mark my 30th anniversary in Israel. I see that it's endless, so I'm going to publish it and invite anyone to add any "only in Israel" or "only in Tzfat" additions.

Only in Israel:
  • does your cupboard fill up with little honey pots in september as everyone and their mother gives you a "shai l'chag" (holiday gift)
  • does the mailman commiserate with you when a letter arrives from army reserves
  • does the municipality do its yearly tree-pruning right before the Succot holiday
  • does the clerk at the Interior Ministry greet you by name and call you "sweetie" when she finishes processing your documents and wishes you a good new year
  • do you take your dogs for a walk along the road below your house and come across some archaeologists in the middle of a dig -- before the next apt building is dug they want to make sure that there's nothing of archaeological interest (as per the law of Israel). The head archaeologist notes that they've found Mameluke-era artifacts from the 14th and 15th centuries, "but that's all." Subsequent walk found the site covered over and builders ready to start building. Guess that they don't have to worry about foundations.
  •  do perfect strangers stop you on the street to ask directions and ask you about your life story
  • does the army send a soldier home for a day to help his mother put up her succa
  • do unit commanders of the army provide their personal cell phone numbers to their soldiers' parents (my third soldier-child is about to finish his service and I've never used this service, but it's good to know that I can)
  • does a tattooed, mini-skirted woman standing stop you in the street to ask in a conspirable whisper "where's the mikve?" (or, for that matter, any woman)
  • does the bank teller ask you if you'd like him to set you up on a date
  • does wine go on sale before Purim, cleaning supplies go on sale before Pesach, dairy good go on sale before Shavouth, wine (again) before Rosh Hashana and candy before hanukah
  • (speaking of which....) do donuts appear for two months before Hanukah (and then disappear again for the next 10 months)
  • do Jews use tinsel for decorations in their Succas
  • would you not blink an eye when your 20-year-old brings his M16 home "for Shabbat" (ammo clips and all)
  • can your kids speak comfortably about the various characteristics of Jews from around the world -- Persian Jews have a reputation for being "tight,"  Moroccan Jews have a reputation for being loud, German Jews have a reputation for being obsessively neat and clean -- with no hint of prejudice, since they're friends (and, often, spouses) of Jews from all these different backgrounds
  • will you be blessed when you get in a cab, blessed when you get out of the cab, blessed when you buy something from a stall owner, blessed when you accidently dial the wrong phone number......
Only in Tzfat
  • does the librarian pull out a book that she's been keeping aside "just for you", even though you didn't put in a request for the book. She just thought that you'd like the book. 
  • does the mayor invite you to a private meeting in his office (with 6 other Anglos) to review his successes, hear your complaints and press his case for re-election.
  • will you find yourself waiting an extra few minutes to pay for your bakery goods while the store clerk puts on tefillin with the local Chabad guy during his morning rounds of the shopkeepers
  • do the kids roaming the streets at night wear Breslev Hassidic kippas
  • do the local candidates for election include more rabbis than not (or so it seems)
  • do the local candidates for election include NOT ONE WOMAN (that I've seen, anyway)
  • do absolutely all commercial enterprises close down between Friday afternoon and Saturday night
  • do the local Friday night services (in some shuls) include secular Jews, modern Orthodox Jews, traditional Jews, Hassidic Jews, soldiers and new Ethiopian immigrants who have just arrived in Israel within the week
  •  can you be 80% sure that if you are short on cash, or forget your wallet, the storeowner will tell you to "take it and bring me the money tomorrow"

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Berashit -- Beginnings

I always wondered why we read Parshat Bereshit -- the portion of Genesis -- after Simchat Torah. After all, wouldn't Rosh Hashana be a more logical choice for the parsha that talks about the creation of the world.

This week at shul the rabbi gave a short dvar Torah on Friday night. He pointed out that, while spiritually, Rosh HaShana is the beginning of the New Year, practically, it's now, after "the chaggim" when we really embark on our new year.

It's a joke amongst Israelis.....from about a month before Rosh Hashana, very little actual work gets done. Everyone says "I'll do it after the chaggim (holidays)."  No one starts a new project or embarks on a new program because "i'll do it after the chaggim."  I laughed as much as anyone when I first noticed it, but now, sure enough, it's part of my life too (twice a year, since the whole process repeats itself before and during Pesach).

So today, the Sunday after the chaggim is the time that I've promised myself to start on a diet, be more diligent about my work habits, set limits.....everything. It wouldn't have worked after Rosh Hashana because I would have still been involved with the rest of the holidays, but now, i'm Bereshit -- in the beginning.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

One, Two, Three....Let's Concentrate! Tips for a Successful Work Life for ADDers

This month marks my one-year anniversary of having left my full-time employment and striking out on my own. I've been lucky in a number of ways. For one thing, I was already doing some independent work before I made the move so I had a base on which to start my new work life. For another thing, the people that I've been working with are, by and large, quite nice and generous in terms of allowing me leeway to juggle my different clients.

I do get a little wired after sitting for so many hours at the computer every day but the writing assignments are varied and I enjoy the challenges.

One of my biggest challenges however is keeping myself focused. I think that I've mentioned before....I can easily "just check" my FB page and then spend 10 minutes scrolling down to find out who's kid has done something cute, who needs a ride to Jerusalem, who is off on a political tangent or jump from task to task a dozen times within an hour, getting absolutely nothing done. 

Yesterday someone told me that MATI, the Israeli small business administration, which runs courses (I've already taken two with them this year) gives a special course called "Running Your Business with ADD (Attention-deficit disorder)."

I'd love to take the course but I think that my time and money budget for courses has run out. I have, however, collected some tips  that I intend to start implementing.

1. Write out your list of daily tasks and follow the list. Every day.  Well, I've already bought myself a new notebook and it's propped up here next to my computer, so here we go.
2. Start your day slowly and move into your tasks. I'd like to pay more attention to this blog, so I'm planning to start each day with a blogpost and then move into emails and onward.
3. Get rid of your Facebook/Twitter/anything else that distracts you. Well, I'm not about to do that, if for no other reason than 4 of my 5 kids have allowed me to "friend" them, so that's how I get to see their photos and get an idea of what they're up to. Also, I can keep an ear out as to what's happening in my community, in real time. However, I do intend to limit myself much more strictly.
4. Set up a daily schedule. I've had a general schedule floating around for awhile but I intend to be more proactive in sticking to the schedule. For instance, i will complete 2 hours of work every morning before I head out for the dogs' morning walk (easier in the fall/winter/spring, when the weather is nicer, than in the summer when, by 9:00a.m., you don't want to move outside, but we'll reevaluate next spring.
5. Learn to say "no." I'm not very good at this but this past year I've gotten caught up with a number of outside tasks that have sapped my time and energy. They were all worthy causes and I'm not sorry that I did them, but there are plenty of people in this area who aren't the sole support of their families and can more easily step into the void, as long as I have the strength to decline my own assistance.
6. Take care of dreaded tasks first so you can look forward to the rest of your day. I don't really have "dreaded tasks" but I do have some projects that are more monotonous and draining than others and I tend to put those off. It's not a great idea to hold those off till 11:00p.m. -- they're going to be waiting there for you, regardless.
7. Treat yourself for a job well done. Ah well, this one would have been more helpful if I wouldn't have just embarked on Weight Watchers (next post) but it's still a good idea.

By the way, when I started to write this, I did some google searches for "Attention-deficit disorder business, attention-deficit disorder work, etc. The results were, shall we say, not very useful -- things like "find a cheerleader to keep you on track and help you meet your goals, don't try to do it all yourself, start small and learn your limitations and follow your interests. I mean, isn't that true for anything that you do? Keeping focused on the job at hand (especially when you know that you won't eat the next month if you don't succeed) goes beyond the platitudes of "find a cheerleader" and "start small."

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Slob Squad

I have 2 sons and 3 daughters.

My sons have always been relatively consistent in terms of tidiness -- their room was usually fairly clean and, with the exception of a few stray pieces of clothing strewn around, generally pretty neat.

My middle daughter is a neat freak. However, as kids, and then teens, the other two were slobs. This was especially difficult during the years that the three of them shared a room (as you can well imagine) but even after they separated, I found it very difficult to manage the discrepancy in styles.

When the oldest of the two messies (both, by the way, ADHD) moved away she became consumed with cleanliness and neatness, to the point that she drove me nuts when she returned for visits.

I was pretty sure that that wouldn't be the case with the youngest whose disordered room is in a class all by itself. She can go for weeks without putting away any clothes, drop her worn clothes right on the floor where she's standing (and since she changes clothes about 7 times a day, that's a lot of clothes), and basically walk all over the magazines, appliances and other items that are strewn across the floor.

Well, Ms. 17-year-old now has a boyfriend who comes over to visit a few times a week. And guess what? Her room is spotless (at least when a visit is planned). Not only that but she's begun to take over the rest of the house in her efforts to impress Mr. Right, putting away all the dishes and silverware from the drying rack in the kitchen, hiding the cat's food and now, generally driving me crazy in the other direction. I can't even leave a hand-towel out in the kitchen -- she whisks it away....this is the same girl who,  just a few short weeks ago, could leave her dirty dishes in her room for days.

I'm really too old for this.

Getting Down to Business

This month marks my first year as an "atzmai'i" -- a freelancer. I've been lucky that I've had enough work, and the work is varied enough that I don't get bored. I write for  gaming websites, an online Jewish educational company (and I do a bit of teaching for them as well), a tourist site and some other bits and pieces.

I've also been in contact with two other potential clients over the past few weeks and their projects sound intriguing so I think that I'll be doing some work for them as well.

Which brings me to my, I understand, that many people who work on the Internet face. I sit down to work and find myself wandering off into cyberspace for significant periods of time, instead of doing the work that I need to do.

I'll be getting ready to write a piece about mortgages (not one of my most exciting projects, but I do know more about mortgages than I did 3 years ago) and will find myself checking the news, scrolling down my Facebook feed,  reviewing some friends' blogposts....whatever, but I find that i'm taking twice as much time to write each piece as I should.

If I take on these new projects, which both sound exciting and, more to the point, interesting (which motivates me) I'm going to have to start being more strict with myself -- more organized in my work-from-home situation. I'm presently trying to figure out how to do that.

One thing that I should work on is making lists (and sticking to them). I've always been a great list-maker but I can see now that I'm going to have to apply that to my work situation.

Another change that I should make would involve putting myself on a strict schedule. For instance, telling myself that I have to get an hour's work done in the morning before I head out for my morning walk-the-dogs excursion, complete another 2 hours before I do the shopping....etc.

A benefit of working from home (and my relative lack of home responsibilities, since I don't have small children at home) is that I can work until late at night and take a nap in the middle of the day. I don't want to give that up....I should be able to enjoy some fun!

Still looking for more ideas of how to get myself scheduled. Of course, where am I looking? Surfing on the blogs -- where else!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hummos Dreams

A few months ago I read that prepared hummos, the ever-present Israeli garbanzo-bean spread, is -- surprisingly -- not healthy. I glanced at the article but didn't follow it up because it seemed ridiculous -- humos, made from garbanzo beans, garlic, tehina and salt, is about the healthiest food imaginable.

Well, a few days ago I happened to glance at the ingredients on my hummos container and sure enough, they add vegetable oil and a liberal dose of  other goodies (corn syrup? Really? and sodium bicarbonate? for what?) to bulk up an otherwise healthy recipe.

So I decided to give homemade hummos a try again. I've made it before, in my food processor, but it always came out grainy. this time I used the blender and it came out great. I believe that we'll be having more homemade hummos in the future.

Laurie's Healthy Hummos
garbanzo beans -- soaked overnight and boiled till soft
tehina (I use the whole sesame seed tehina for a bit of added iron)
some of the reserved liquid from the cooked garbanzo beans

Boil the garbanzo beans. Stick in the blender with tehina, lemon juice, salt and some of the reserved water from the garbanzo beans. Blend and then add more tehina, salt, lemon juice or water, depending on the taste and texture that you want to achieve.

By the way, I'm trying to buy a camera so that I can add more images to my blogposts (full disclosure...these pics here are from google images), so we're going to try one of these fundsourcing campaigns...anyone who wants to donate to Laurie's Campaign to Buy a Camera (of the last 3 cameras that I've had, my daughter broke two and my son lost one on his army base), feel free to make a contribution to on paypal.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's a New World Out There

A few weeks ago a neighbor called to ask if I could host his brother and brother's partner in my guesthouse. They were evidently unsure whether anyone would feel comfortable having two gay guys stay over, but I really don't care...don't consider it any of my business, so they're here for two nights.

My daughter (aged 17) asked me this evening whether the guys were gay. When I said "yes" (they weren't hiding it) her friend asked her how she knew and she said "because they dress so well."  Then the girls went on to dissect the guys' wardrobe.

That was it. No snickering, no rude comments, no nothing. Just a review of their clothes.

It's a new world out there.

Friday, September 20, 2013

30 Years and Counting

On September 20st 1983 I made aliyah to Israel. Although it seems like yesterday -- I'll even give myself one year -- this means that today is my 30th anniversary as an Israeli citizen.

Sometimes it feels like yesterday. It WAS yesterday, wasn't it? I arrived as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealistic zionist, ready to start a new kibbutz (yes, I was, in fact, actually part of a garin -- a group that set out to conquer the land and establish a new bastion of socialist living) and fulfill my ambitions of living in the Land of Israel.

It's 30 years later and, as for many of my original group, my original plans detoured, but I am actually still pretty idealistic and still thrilled to be living in the Jewish homeland. I got married, moved to a small northern town, taught English (don't all Anglos teach English at one point or another?), ran courses for day care center workers, improved my Hebrew a bit, had five kids, got divorced and learned to thrive as a single mother.

I'm well aware that, while if I would have stayed in America I may have acquired more material things and may enjoyed had a more comfortable lifestyle, I would be lacking a something that has become a part of me -- my identity.

Some of the lessons that I've learned over the last 30 years are things that I probably would have learned anywhere but I hope that there are some things that I've learned that will be helpful to new olim -- immigrants -- who continue to arrive with the same smiles, tears and feelings of exhilaration that I felt 30 years ago.
  •  You're not in Kansas anymore. Or Manchester. Or Minneapolis. Or Sydney. (or, in my case, Detroit). Stop comparing and just live the moment. Almost everyone that I know who didn't "make it" and headed back to their country of origin (and over 30 years I've seen so many people who struggled and just couldn't hang on here) are the ones who couldn't stop saying "but in New Jersey, we used to....." or "in Omaha, they....."
  • Learn the word "protectzia." It's one of the five most important Hebrew words/phrases, along with "kama zeh oleh" (how much does this cost?)  and "ein ba'ayah" (no problem). Protectzia means "protection" or, in local parlance, who do you know? It took a few years for me to break through my natural American reticence of asking a complete stranger for a favor, but the first time we had a problem that involved the municipality, and I realized that my next-door-neighbor's cousin worked in the appropriate department at city hall and that I could activate my protectzia, I knew that I'd made it as an Israel. 
  • Challenge your taste buds.  By the time I arrived in '83 the rationing of Israel's early years had long ended (my neighbor told me how her family of 8 used to get a few eggs every week -- and that was ALL, egg-wise) and there was plenty of food of varying tastes and textures. A cordon bleu chef might have cringed, but for most of us, it was fine. Over the years new food items began to be imported as well so my mother didn't have to send me cans of tuna fish and chocolate chips with travelers from her synagogue (we once drove down to Tiberias to pick up some chocolate chips that my aunt's friend had brought with her -- unfortunately the chocolate melted in the August heat and for all our efforts we were left with a block of mushy chocolate).  
         Today you can get everything here but it's worthwhile to forget hamburgers and pizza
         and try some of the local traditional food. Israeli cuisine goes beyond the standard
         schwarma and falaffel to a variety of different salads (eggplant is a big one here as is
         avocado -- you can buy them in the store or make them yourself with 1/100th of the   
         oil content (Israelis haven't quite made the connection between excess oil and health
         problems) and ethnic dishes.

         Don't be afraid of chili peppers. A little zing won't hurt you. This is a lesson that I just
         learned this year -- I bought my first chili pepper when my son suggested that my
         matboucha -- a traditional Moroccan tomato dish -- could use a bit of upgrade. So now
         I buy a chili pepper or two ever month (even though at the supermarket I see the
         Sepharadi ladies stocking up on the chili peppers like there's no tomorrow.....what can
         I say? I'm still a non-"harif" kind of girl).
  • Don't assume that you don't have anything to teach Israelis. They DO want to know about soyburgers, wooden floors, non-Israeli "sponga" mopping techniques and what else tinsel can be used for besides succa decorations. 
  • Don't ever say "they" when you're talking about any specific group. "They" the haredim, "they" the Sepharadim/Askhanazim, "they" the leftists.....this is true in any society, but even more so in Israel where the society is fragmented into a million groups. In any group you'll find a certain percentage of snotty, obnoxious, self-centered people, but in any group you'll find that the majority just want to get along and live their lives quietly and honorably. 
  • Stick to your guns about environmentalism. Israel is about 20 years behind America in terms of environmental responsibility, but they're catching up, in due, I believe, greatly to the nudniking of Anglo olim. Refuse plastic bags whenever possible and tote around your own bags...the shopowners appreciate the savings (to them) and it does impact on their behavior with other clients. 
  • Don't get too discouraged with your Hebrew. Some of us will never be proficient. Make the effort because if you don't, your circle of friends will be limited to English-speakers, but forgive yourself your mistakes and the Israelis will too.   

Even with all of the challenges, I wouldn't want to leave.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disclaimer -- I'm Laurie from Safed!

I connected with a blogger this week and we got into a discussion about "doing" the holidays as single parents.

My experience is a bit different from most single parents that I know because I don't share Shabbats or ex assumed, from the time that he left, that I'd be responsible for all Shabbats and holidays and that's just the way that it's played out all these years (almost 9).

I did share some of my experiences and advice with Devora and she created a blogpost about it. She put her own spin on my suggestions and I hope that some of what I've learned can be helpful to other single parents.

Here's what I wrote (in my own words):

Laurie Rappeport lives in Safed. She has five kids who range in age from 17 - 27. She's been doing the holidays on her own since her separation (and subsequent divorce) 9 years ago. Laurie finds that Safed is a welcoming community for single parents but holiday time is still a challenge. Through trial and error Laurie has developed some strategies that create a good holiday atmosphere in her home (so her kids tell her).  

·         KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. When I first separated I tried to do everything that we'd done when my kids' father was in the house, including shul. It quickly became apparent that my expectation that the kids would head off to synagogue by themselves was causing a lot of anger. Once I dropped the issue and concentrated on making the holiday a simple, pleasurable one in which everyone could celebrate as s/he wanted, the tension level immediately dropped and we began to enjoy the holidays much more.
·         Develop new family traditions. We usually do one holiday barbeque for each chag (when you can transfer fire from an already-lit candle to start the bonfire) and we all enjoy that. We also have created new culinary traditions, such as chili the first night of Succot. Three of my five kids are vegetarian/vegan  so, whereas we once only at meat meals for the holidays, about half of our meals are now vegetarian and everyone enjoys the change. I feel as though the new traditions help my kids (and I) bond as our own nuclear family.

A friend has developed the tradition of taking her kids on a hike every chag before the mid-day meal. They head down to a spring below the Old Cemetery of Safed and each child gives a dvar Torah that connects to the holiday. It's true, they don't get to shul, but they connect to the holiday and to each other which seems to me to be much more important.
·         Connect with other families with whom your kids are comfortable and share meals. We have one specific family that includes several kids who are close in age to my kids and the families are very friendly. I try to make sure that we do at least one chag meal together. Even though I'm now comfortable and confident as a single mother , I also appreciate the opportunity for my kids to spend time with a traditional family unit (because I hope that, when they grow older, that's what they'll build for themselves)

·         Invite guests. This suggestion actually causes a lot of strife in my family because my kids, who are all in their teens or 20s at this point, don't like to have guests, at least not many as I'd prefer, and not as frequently. But it makes me feel that I'm a part of the community, and that I'm also a giver, even though I'm a single mother. That's important to me and, I believe, ultimately an important lesson for my kids. 

Other suggestions will be appreciated. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Who's Afraid of Yom Kippur?

So, it turns out that there's such a thing as a "blog carnival." Who knew? Not only that, but it turns out that there's such a thing as a "Jewish blog carnival." (of course). Something to explore.

I'm still on a bit of a spiritual high from Yom Kippur. I dread it like everyone but it's really not as bad as it's made out to be, especially if the service is a bit interactive.

That's a word that I use alot lately as I become more involved in the world of online learning. I teach and do other types of PR and marketing for a company named Jerusalem EdTech Solutions. The possibilities that are presented by educational technology make it hard to not be engaged by your classes, both for the teacher and the students.

However, the word really applies to this year's Yom Kippur davening that we had in our neighborhood. It's a Carlebach minyan so there's plenty of singing in any event, but really, the whole service was singing -- and not listening to the cantor sing either, but everyone sang the prayers together. I've never spent so much time in a service in my life.

Unfortunately, my experience with Yom Kippur services was basically formed in my youth with the Conservative congregational services in which, for the most part, the rabbi or cantor led the service and everyone else sat and followed (or, when things got really exciting, we did "responsive reading."). Who could possibly enjoy such a scenario?

Now we're on to succot. menu:
Wed night:                                                                           Thursday lunch
Chili                                                                                       Spinach quiche (vegan)
baked squash (shades of thanksgiving?)                              roasted mushrooms (Yum!)
mashed potato                                                                       ?
salads                                                                                     ?

Question marks are thanks to my daughter who promised to take over the kitchen tomorrow and do some of the cooking. I'm meant to sit quietly and find something else to do. No problem.

This month there has been a definite lack of client-work so I have the chance to do something non-computer related...I'm making sushi for some people in the area. I am a sushi fan and enjoy the "zen" of sitting quietly and rolling up the sushi rolls. Fun.