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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Winding Down

Wait...I have to cook again?

Tomorrow for lunch we'll have barbeque -- sons are both at home, so they'll take care of the details (cooking).

Since I couldn't stomach the thought of another piece of meat, I thought that I'd make a nice veggie lasagne for tonight, but after Friday night's (fish) dinner, my younger son mentioned that, while it was delicious (it was! -- Vedad's fish), "some of us need some more protein." (males, of course). So I'm off to the store to see what other type of fish I can add to the menu.

As usual, we have enough matza to take us through another Pesach. My family really doesn't like matza very much. No yummy matza brei for us. A friend actually taught me a great way to use up extra matza -- plop it under a chicken while it's roasting and, voila, an easy matza kugel (with all the chicken juices cooked in) made with no extra work!  So I leave my matza on the top of the fridge throughout the year, forget about it, and then following year, when I'm preparing for Pesach, end up throwing it all out anyway.

Right after Pesach I have an online class scheduled. I want to do something about the upcoming Holocaust Day, something that will be meaningful and will transmit something of the day to the students, 7000 miles away in Chicago.

On Pesach/Shabbat, for lunch, we had a guest from the Livnot program (there were 2 guests scheduled, but one got sick). This young woman is from Nebraska and noted that for most of her life, she hasn't felt very connected to Judaism. She expressed the sentiment (as I also remember clearly from my own afternoon Hebrew School Days) that Hebrew School was an alienating experience and that she hadn't been terribly inspired by the boring routine.

I feel a sense of obligation to somehow, in my half-hour every few weeks, create a lesson plan that will make Judaism into an engaging entity which will allow the students to relate to their heritage and inspire them to want to learn more.

I guess that something has to motivate me to wake up for the class at 2:30a.m.

Anyway, I made a nice vegetarian lasagne in my wonderpot with goat's cheese (for those with dairy issues), a yummy potato kugel and some nice salmon for the protein-searchers.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Red Box

Opened my FB page this evening to find bright red boxes with red lines staring out at me.

Since I hadn't yet checked the news, I didn't realize that today, evidently, the American Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the legality of delegitimizing same-sex marriages (does that make sense?) and people are using the red box symbol to show their support for same-sex marriages.

I have many thoughts about the issue, not the least of which is the absurdity of trying to adapt a Constitution that was written in the 18th century to present-day life. This isn't a God-given document that we're discussing here -- whether you agree with same-sex relationships/marriages or not, the fact of the matter is that the Founding Fathers couldn't have imagined the types of issues that are being faced in the 21st century, so why try to adapt the Constitution, which dealt with 18th century matters, to today's life? (I have a similar thought about the gun-control issue -- America's Constitution anticipated assault rifles?, but that's neither here nor there).

Anyway, the same-sex marriage issue is a big topic, and it's not going to go away any time soon.

What bothers me is that both sides seem to think that it's a clear-cut issue. The "rights" of gay people to marry as opposed to the "obligation" of society to maintain tradition.

Do any 2 people have the right to marry? Siblings? Other incestuous pairings? The Immigration authorities crack down on "marriages of convenience" which are undertaken when someone wants to obtain a Green Card. Should that be allowed? Who gets to decide which marriages are legal and which aren't?

Being a wishy-washy person anyway, I tend to see both sides of this issue. People should have the right to have any type of relationship that they want, as long as it's not harmful. But marriage? Not so sure.

Maybe it's time for America (we won't talk about Israel here, because it's even more complicated in Israel) to completely separate the concept of "marriage" as a religious institution and the concept of Civil Union as a state institution. Since the Constitution spells out "separation of Church and State" anyway, this could meet the expectations of the people who want to satisfy the Constitution while dealing with the realities of the 21st Century.

My suggestion:
Religious authorities of each religion could make up their own minds about how their particular religion regards gay marriages and then couples could affiliate with the religion that meets their needs.

Civil Unions would be available to all, along with the civil rights and responsibilities associated with the union. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pesach Preps and other Ramblings

I made aliyah at age 25 and never really "made" Pesach before I came to Israel, but I remember enough about the pre-Pesach preparations to note a few differences between preparing in America and preparing in Israel.

Some of them:
1. In America, 1% of the population is buying 3x (or more) the usual number of eggs for the following week. In Israel, 80% of the population is stocking up on eggs. The egg supply is...um...limited.

2. In America, you generally don't speak to the other people in the supermarket. In Israel, you're intimately involved with all of your fellow shoppers. I am asked to help older people open the plastic bags for their vegetables, help read the labels for non-native Hebrew speakers to ascertain whether something is Kosher for Pesach and, if so, if it's kosher for Ashkanazim/Sepharadim, and give halachic (Jewish law) rulings about the suitability of various questionable items -- are raisins OK? flavored teas? oat matza? (yes, yes and yes, as long as they've been packaged "kosher for Passover")

3. In America, everyone maintains a certain distance from other shoppers when shopping. In Israel, it's not only common, but quite usual to have several shoppers, waiting in several different check-out lines, comparing which other stores in the area have certain items that were missing at the store where they are presently shopping.

4. Kosher-for-Passover pet food in America? I don't remember such a thing (though maybe, 30 years later, it exists). Kosher-for-Passover food in Israel. No problem. In fact, the pet shop highlights it and will deliver.

5. Want to do hagalat kalim (heating utensils to make them kosher for Pesach?) in America? I don't know what you'd do, at least, outside of New York (where some communities may organize something). In Israel, the municipality has a roving crew that goes to different neighborhoods during the week before Pesach with a blowtorch (for oven grills and some kinds of pots) and a vat of boiling water so that people can bring their stuff, for free, to be kashered.

6. And, just for one last experience...
I had to go up to the main street on Sunday morning to take care of a bunch of errands, so I used the opportunity to stop at the Post Office to deposit a check.

After waiting in line for about 20 minutes, I got to the clerk, only to find that the check was dated for the next day, so I couldn't deposit it.

Just as I was kicking myself (the check had been left open, and I, actually, wrote in the date) the manager of the Post Office called me to come into the back room.

He took the check and my deposit slip and told me that he'd take care of it the next day -- I just needed to call him to remind him. "I know that you're busy getting ready for Pesach" he told me.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Military Moms

It has become clear to me why Israel does so well militarily. It's because of our soldiers' mothers.

Any group of soldiers who are offspring of mothers who can "make" Passover will have no trouble preparing and executing precision tactics for any mission.  Piece of cake.

Preparing for Passover
1. Start a month beforehand. Clean bedrooms, bathroom. Move into the living room, dining room, etc.
2. About 2 weeks before Pesach, move into the kitchen. Wash shelves that you're not going to be using and start storing stuff. Just the details of figuring out how to store 500% of what you usually store on those shelves is worthy of a medal.
3. Stove, oven and fridge. Total cleaning job. Nothing more to say.
4. Start moving stuff from the shelves that you will be using for Pesach into your closed-for-Pesach cabinates. As you empty each shelf, wipe it down and line it with lining paper (newspaper, in my case).
5. By a few days before Pesach, you should have completely emptied out your kitchen. All remaining chametz -- levened proejcts -- go on a table out on the porch (or, if it's a cold year/climate, on a table in your basement, living room, etc.
6. Shop. You will need to replace EVERYTHING. Spices, dried goods, nuts, dried fruits, oils, etc. EVERYTHING.  EVERYTHING must have been prepared for Pesach and have a "kosher for Pesach" label. If you're Ashkanazi......well, we'll talk about kitniyot -- pulses and legumes -- another time. Let's just say that if you follow the Ashkanazi tradition, we're talking Chief of Staff here.
7. Bring out Pesach dishes. Put out all dishes, pots and pans, making sure that the chametz stuff, which is still floating around, doesn't come in contact with your Pesach stuff.
8. Kasher (make kosher) your cutlery by boiling it in your hot water urn.
9. Cook.

So, my suggestion for all of our not-so-friendly neighbors is, make Pesach for a few generations and your soldiers will have the genes necessary to engage. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Pesach Production


Many years ago, when I was working at our town's Tourist Information Center, a group of Christian tourists came in to watch the History of Safed movie that we screened. Following the movie the group's pastor asked me to explain exactly what the group was seeing as they walked through the town during the days before Passover.

As I started to explain, with each element melding into the next, I kept thinking to myself "we're crazy. We are really crazy.

When preparing for Passover observant Jews need to remove every speck of chametz -- levened foodstuffs -- from their homes. This entails weeks of cleaning, scrubbing, searching, removing until the whole house sparkles. People who spring clean haven't a clue what true spring cleaning really is.

Some items which are used during the rest of the year can be made kosher by immersing them in boiling water, blowtorching them or, in the case of glassware, soaking them in a tub of water for 3 days. In general though, most observant Jews maintain separate sets of dishes, cookware, cutlery, etc, which is stored away during most of the year and brought out for Passover.  

When the whole house is clean (or, when the remaining chametz products are concentrated into a small area), the entire home has to be restocked with new, "Kosher for Passover" products. 
Meats, fish, poultry, dry goods....everything has to have a certification that it was prepared "kosher for Passover" and its production overseeing by an authority who could ensure that no chametz came anywhere near it. Things like vegetables, fruit and eggs are generally washed off and can be kept from pre-Pesach.

Interestingly enough, I never liked Pesach when I was growing up. The Seders were boring ("when do we eat?") and the food was.....bland. Plus, I'm not a big fan of matza to begin with.

But once I started "making Pesach" I began to enjoy the holiday much more. They say that cleaning your house of chametz is also a spiritual cleaning -- cleaning yourself from the things that enslave you, that keep you from growing and moving ahead. I don't know how successful I am at that...I still worry too much, am still too cautious and don't spread my wings as much as I might.

But the process does make me more aware, and that's important.

I guess that, it's like everything else. Coming out of "Mitzrayim" -- Egypt -- is a process of shaking off the things that enslave us and testing our abilities.

This year I left a "safe" job. It didn't demand much of me, but didn't allow me to push myself either. I'm now in a position where I can, and must, challenge myself to succeed and, it's happening. So we can all move out of our own personal Mitzrayim (in Hebrew, "mitzrayim" comes from the word "tzar" -- narrow -- so Mitzrayim was a narrow place, figuratively as well as physically) to expansion.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ups and Downs

Since starting out on my own almost half a year ago, one of the most engaging projects that I've tried has been online teaching.

I hadn't been in a classroom for many years so the modern technical details of teaching were lost to me, but I was given an easy class of Hebrew School kids in Chicago and every few weeks we "meet," virtually, and discuss different aspects of Judaism and Israel.

Once I got over the fear of using some of the online tools, like the video-conferencing management system, I started to have a good time. The kids are bright and interested in everything and it's been fun to create lesson plans that will be interesting and will perk their curiosity about Jewish issues and concepts.

Before Tu B'shevat we discussed Jewish ecology and the Jewish commitment to the environment, and before Purim we talked about miracles.

I was so excited about my pre-Pesach lessons and the opportunity to connect the, unfortunately, often-dull Seder to exciting ideas like "what is freedom really all about?" and "how do we break free of the things that hold us back?"

We had 2 lessons planned for this month. The first was cancelled because the teacher's mother passed away and she was sitting shiva.

So last night I was really hyped up to wake up at 2:15a.m. (which is when I have to teach, so that it's 6:15p.m. for the kids) and stuff as much into the lesson plan as possible.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten that, while America is on Daylight Savings Time, Israel is not, so the class had gathered an hour before I arrived and was long-gone.  End of The Great Lesson Plan.

Of course, as usual, I couldn't fall asleep right away, so there went my night's sleep as well.

Are we grumpy today?



Sunday, March 17, 2013

No more pencils, no more books....not

I recently signed up for a MATI class -- MATI is the Small Business Administration of Israel and they run courses around the country to prepare people who are thinking of opening a small business, or in the process of starting up something.

I finally put my hobby-website together in a way that I think will help people who want to come to visit Safed, and I'm getting a lot of good feedback about it. I'd like to figure out how to develop it into something money-making but, aside from my own guestroom, which is listed (#1, coincidently) I haven't had much success.

Other people may be able to find locals who will advertise on such a website but there aren't too many Tzfat businesses that will do that. But I'm sure that there's something out there, and as I try to figure it out, I've enrolled in the class.

The class is taught in English by a non-native-English-speaker, meaning that much of the class is taken up with helping her find the words that she's looking for. Also, she teaches business models, which is fine, but its a bit too theoretical -- although she relates it to the down-to-earth world of our businesses, it's not totally necessary, I believe. Though, frankly, what else would there be to teach about businesses?

But it is kind of fun to be sitting in a class again, interacting with material that's new and engaging. And maybe an idea will pop into my head. I'm not dependent on this business, but it would be interesting, and at my age, that's also important.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wildlife

Had a few unique encounters with wildlife today.

First, I woke up to find my cat, Juliette, who is as prissy as her name sounds, playing cat and mouse with a...rat. Ugg.

Even worse was that she actually killed it, to my utter astonishment. Unfortunately, that meant that I was left to dispose of the body, which is not my cup of tea. I'll touch absolutely anything that's alive, including snakes, lizards and all sorts of insects. But dead?

I did it though,after considering the ramifications of waiting until my son woke up -- I think that the teasing would have been worse than actually disposing of the body.

If I don't have to deal with it for another 23 years, which is the amount of time that I've lived here without seeing a rodent (besides Olga, our guinea pig), i'll be quite pleased.

Later on this morning, during my Friday morning walk thorough town, I saw a locust. They swarmed Egypt a few weeks ago and made their way to southern Israel. I had heard that a few hearty locusts arrived in the north, but this was my first indication that they did, in fact, arrive.

Seeing one was kind of ...um...interesting. I'm glad that I didn't have to have thousands jumping and flying all around me.

And, this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of the first group of migrating cranes circling above the house. The nearby Hula Nature Reserve is a resting area for migrating birds and during the spring and fall we often see storks and cranes flying above, though usually not so low and not right smack over my house. 

A little pre-Pesach excitement.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dog Hotel

One aspect of my guestroom that worries me involves my pets. I have 2 dogs who live upstairs with me, and, while they're generally quiet, every once in awhile, they let off a woof or two.

When we're here alone, I don't think about it, other than to shush them when it gets to be too much. But when there are guests downstairs, I don't think that they should have to be disturbed by my dogs' barking.

So whenever I have guests, I'm always super vigilant about maintaining quiet which does take a bit of energy.

A few weeks ago, someone contacted me about staying in my guestroom because he had heard that we're "dog-friendly" and he wanted to bring his dog. Again today, another person asked to book the room BECAUSE we're a dog-friendly place.

So maybe I should stop worrying so much and just market myself as a dog-friendly tzimmer.

Now, the only thing that I have to worry about is....why are their dogs so much better behaved than mine?


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Dilemmas (and Guilt)

I have a neighbor (who, luckily, does not read blogs). Every few weeks I get a call from her.

"Laurie, I'm sorry to bother you. I've been having some troubles (here she describes her troubles) and I need to buy XYZ and I'm a little short....would you be able to loan me 50 shekels? I promise, I'll pay you back in a couple of days. I just went out without my bank card/the bank took my ATM/without any cash....

The first few times, I loaned her the money, and never received it in return, even when I emphasized that I really needed the money back.

After that, I just put it on my tzdekka bill. I keep a running tab for tzdekka so I just figured that it was tzdekka and left it at that.

My dilemma is, what do I do when she calls? Am I obligated to take the tzdekka from other projects that I want to support and give it to her every time she's in difficulty? OK, not obligated, but should I? She lives very simply, as far as I can see without any luxuries or even a bit of pampering, so she probably needs the money. But can I support one person to the tune of 50 shekels every week or so? If it's part of my tzdekka, should I give it to one person who asks (begs) for it, rather than to another organization that I want to support?

I hate feeling guilty at 10:25a.m.


Monday, March 04, 2013

Homeopathy

About a year and a half ago I suddenly started noticing that I was seeing double.

It had happened to me before -- almost 20 years ago, to be exact, and it turned out to be an eye virus, but this time it was more persistent.

It took many visits to eye doctors, eye clinics, CT scans, MRIs and finally to a neurologist to determine that the problem was based in my head -- not psychosomatic but the result of a small encapsulated growth (non-cancerous) which is sitting on my brain, resting on my optic nerve.

First order of business involved buying a new pair of glasses which make me look like Mr. Magoo. These glasses have multiple prisms which straighten out the world -- when I'm looking straight ahead. Forget about peripheral vision.

The conventional doctors, including a neurosurgeon that I spoke with in Tel Aviv, suggest surgery, but only as a last resort, because, given the placement of the little growth, it could cause more problems than it solves.

So I finally got myself off my duff and have been investigating alternative treatments. I did some reflexology massages with one healer but they didn't make any difference. Chinese medicine, evidently, can't help with anything larger than a centimeter in diameter.

So now I'm on to homeopathy. My issue isn't life-threatening, so if the treatment doesn't work, it's annoying, but not dangerous. However, it would be nice to see properly again.

I found a homeopath and did the whole intake procedure -- it's very different from conventional medicine, relies on different kinds of criteria for treatment, such as other health issues, personality, how you deal with stress, etc.

And -- when you use homeopathy, you're limited to what you can eat and drink. No wheat, dairy, corn, soy, sugar or.....coffee!

All I can say is that, if I'm giving up coffee, this better work!

Mr. Magoo
I spent a ton of money last week on rye bread, honey, sulfate-less dried fruits and rice noodles. So, here we go.....

Lesson Learned

After hours on the phone with my bank and then with my credit card company, I remembered that, yes, the 600 shekel withdrawal was mine. Could I FEEL any more foolish?

But, as they say, everything happens for the good. The incident pushed me to register to track my bank statement online and it turned out that there had been some unnecessary monthly expenses that I had been paying that could be dumped. So I guess that everything happens for a reason.

I tend to ignore bank statements and credit card statements with the rationalization that, unless something jumps out at me (like a sudden drop of 600 shekels), it's just peanuts, even if it is a mistake. But when those peanuts add up to a bag of peanuts, it demands attention.

A few months ago, I wrote about my tendency to ignore financial statements. There's something about finances that turns me into a 5-year-old. (though I guess that I'm not alone, as evidenced by the fact that many millions of people besides myself file their tax statements at the absolute last minute).

But, as with my last encounter with the world of high finance (phone company), once I plopped the phone next to me and committed to following through on my statement, I was rewarded with, in this case, an extra 200 shekels a month in saved expenses.

Now, of course, we'll see whether this carries through to filing taxes in a timely manner. (Two batches as well -- Israeli and American). 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

One of Those Days

Almost 2 years ago I called my bank to check on my balance. I was pretty sure that I knew, within a few shekels, what I had, but it was a few days before the beginning of the next month (mortgage payment time) and i just wanted to be sure that we were all on the same page.

Good thing that I called....someone had hacked my account and charged several thousand shekels worth of merchandise all over the world.

It took several weeks to track down every last agora and make sure that I was back in the black. NEVER listen to the credit card people when they tell you "we've taken care of it" because that generally means that, if you don't check line by line, you're screwed.

Today I did the same thing -- i just deposited a check in my account this morning, but it takes 5 days to clear, so until then, I'm a bit stretched. I discovered that another mistake had occurred -- I made a withdrawal on Thursday evening and was debited again on Friday morning, even though I only withdrew once.

Now, however, I'm worried that it will be more difficult to prove that the withdrawal was not my doing. How do I prove such a thing? My card is still safely in my purse, so I didn't loose the ATM card.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode folks.

Friday, March 01, 2013

New Month

No, not Rosh Chodesh (the Hebrew month's beginning) but March 1st.

I always get a little bit excited at the beginning of a month (or a week), anticipating what the week may bring.

For one thing, I'll be starting a new course on Sunday. It's an 8-meeting course, offered by MATI, Israel's Small Business Administration-kind of group, partially government-funded, to encourage people to open new businesses. I don't know exactly what kind of business I want to open, or even can open, but for 200 shekels (discounted for those of us who are either new immigrants, unemployed or "of a certain age") I figured, why not?



I did think about marketing Safed-inspired items. Several years ago, a friend made up some great graphics and I had them made into t-shirts and sold them at the Tourist Information Center where I was working.

For various reasons, I had to stop selling them there, but the graphics are incredibly beautiful and I'd love to do something with them again. Unfortunately, the local merchants sell Coca-cola and IDF t-shirts for 25 shekels, so wouldn't be interested in selling my t-shirts for the 50 shekels that I'd need to make it worthwhile (as embedded graphics, my shirts are more expensive to produce).

I tried to create my own graphic for CafePress items, and, if nothing else, had fun doing it. What does everyone think? Would you buy a coffee cup (or a t-shirt) with this graphic?

Maybe I should be taking a graphics course.....