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?