Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holidays

To my Jewish guests: Happy Chanukah!

To my Christian guests: Merry Christmas!

To one and all: Remember to add some ground cloves and cinammon to your hot chocolate this season. It is oh-so-wintery-good! Best enjoyed under warm blankets with a good book!

[The travel plans to America for my grandmother's funeral continue apace. It is not always so simple, this international travel.]
A Door Closed Today

On my childhood

On an entire generation in my family tree

On Polish Jewry

On a sweet, strong woman.

Rest in peace, Omi. I know your mother and father must be so glad to have you back.

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Blowing Kisses

According to her doctors, my beloved Omi, who is 88 and has always been the strongest person I knew, has up to a week to remain with us. Please pray for her: Rachel bat Gittl.

So much to do, if I want to go to America next week. Decision, decisions. Which day to go? How much work to do before I leave, and what to postpone until I come back? Who will guard my apartment for me? Who will take in my mail? Who can cover stories that I will miss, and which ones can I do from the States? Which editors can I reach today? Which travel agents can I reach today? Should I go to California as long as I'm there? How much money can I spend on this? Where is my winter coat? Who will take down my suitcases from my high-up storage places?

Thank God I am not hosting Shabbat meals this week and do not have to cook.

Last night I cried my eyes out until about 2 am. I am very close with my grandmother. While I was growing up, she lived about a seven minute drive away, and we visited each other often. After college, when I was living in Boston for a few years, I had dinner with her once a week. And now that I've made aliyah, I still call her about once a week or so. Ever since I was a little girl, I thought of my Omi as being old, and was always afraid she would die before I'd see her again. I have always been careful to tell her I love her every time I see her or talk to her, so I'd never regret a missed opportunity to tell her. And always, in her thick, thick Polish accent, she'd say "And I love you too. Kisses."

When my Omi's time comes to leave us, she'll be joining her mother, who died when my grandmother was 2 1/2, and her father and brothers and sisters, who were killed in the Holocaust. Omi always said that she thinks her mother has been her guardian angel, and that it's because her mother was looking out for her that she survived all the hardships she suffered in her little village in Poland, and the Holocaust, and living in post-WWII Vienna, and being widowed about 35 years ago. It's comforting to know that she'll be reunited with her mother after 85 years, and with her father, but also frightening for me. Do we really know what happens after we die? Can I really count on ever seeing Omi again, when my own time comes?

Whatever strength I have, I inherited from Omi. She went through so much, and never let the turkeys get her down. She was always ready for new adventures, never doubted her ability to make it to the next day, and always had a sweet, simple faith in God. Instead of saying "Why did God take away my family?" she always said "I am so lucky. God is so good to me. He helped me live."

About ten years ago, when she was spending her days in her little apartment watching soap operas and taking slow, daily walks to the grocery store or the butcher, she told me that this was the best time in her life. "Now, finally, when I am old, I am having a good life," she told me. "I have no responsibilities. I can take it easy. I can take a walk when I want to and rest when I want to. This is the best time in my life. I am very lucky."

My mother tells me that Omi is not in any pain, that she is peaceful and, though too weak to talk, is able to understand when people talk to her. Yesterday my mother put the phone to Omi's ear, and I told her that I love and miss her, and that I know she loves me too, even though she can't tell me so right now, because she always told me before. I said I'm sending her kisses.

After, my mother said that my Omi was smiling and blowing kisses to me.

My heart is breaking.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

As if we didn't know . . . User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.

This was fun. Indicative of . . . I don't know what . . . but fun!

What's interesting is this note I got after my results:

Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 70%
Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 55%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 44%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 10%

Notice that I mostly fit "Right Wing Modern Orthodox," but also got just about half the possible answers for both "Left Wing Modern Orthodox" on one hand and "Left Wing Yeshivish/Charedi" on the other.

Just goes to show how you never know about people. Or labels. Or these quizzes.

Then there was this, which I assume was written tongue-in-cheek:

Congratulations. You're Modern Orthodox all right, but wait! Just when you were ready to live an idyllic happily-labeled life they announce Left Wing and Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy. What the heck is up with that? Maybe you need to rethink and refine some of your positions, and then take the test again so I can put you in a little box.

No, thanks, NerdTest maker person, I'd rather not be put into an even smaller box. The dating pool is too small where I am, as it is.

Hat tip: Orthomom

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday: Carrying the Load so we can Carry the Loads

This week, I'm expressing my appreciation for those in Orthodox Jewish communities everywhere who spend their precious time every week checking their local eruvs.

For those not in the know yet, on the Sabbath, Jewish law prohibits carrying things around outside, or from inside to outside or outside to inside. More specifically, it's prohibited on the Sabbath to carry things from a "private domain" (eg, my house) to a "public domain" (eg, the street). I'm simplifying things, but basically it's OK for me to carry, say, my prayer book around within my house or within my synagogue, but not OK to carry it from my house to the synagogue. Therefore, under normal circumstances (that is, without an eruv), if I want my prayer book with me in synagogue to use on the Sabbath, I have to get it there before sundown on Friday. If I want to bring wine to a family who has invited me, I have to bring it before sundown and then come back again later.

In general, this prohibition against carrying stuff is a particular problem for families, since it includes a no-no against pushing strollers or carrying babies. People with little children have to coordinate their synagogue-going activities (often the mother ends up staying home and not praying in a synagogue for years, or else one parent goes to an ultra-early service so the other can go later, tag-team style). And people with little children also cannot usually "eat out" at the home of another family, since they have no way of transporting the babies.

Enter the magical loophole! I'm going to simplify this in a major, major way. If you want more details, there is plenty to be found at Google. Basically, the loophole is to make an entire neighborhood into one great big "private domain."

If I have a continuous fence around my house, then I can still carry things from my house to my yard, because the fence makes the yard part of my "private domain." So, some Orthodox communities have arranged with their local municipalities to create a "fence" around entire neighborhoods. Usually this "fence" consists of walls or natural phenomena that are there anyhow, combined with discreet ropes strung from telephone pole to telephone pole. This system of walls and ropes and other things that make a "fence" is called the "eruv" (ay-roov). And within the eruv, people can carry things and push baby strollers on Shabbat, making life easier for everyone.

The problem comes in when you consider that in order for people to use the eruv, the eruv has to be intact on Shabbat. That is, if any of the ropes have been taken down, or walls opened, or whatever, then it is not a continuous "fence" and that is not OK. American winters, in particular, can wreak havoc on eruvs, what with winds and falling trees, etc.

So, every Thursday and Friday, there are very kind and generous people in Jewish communities around the world, who travel the length and breadth of their local eruv and make sure it is all intact. If it is not intact, they either arrange to fix it quickly, or at least let their co-religionists know that the "eruv is down" and therefore this week they may not carry things around outdoors. Many communities have hotlines, where the eruv-checkers leave messages on Friday morning letting callers know the "status of the eruv." When an eruv is down, it is very disappointing for everyone, but it is so important for people who follow Jewish Law to know that the eruv has been checked and they can carry things without worrying about violating halacha.

So, to any eruv-checkers who are reading this, thank you very much for the time and effort you put in every week to help us observe Shabbat!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Five Simple Pleasures

:: Sigh::

Another meme.

Can't live with 'em, can't ignore them.

In order to humor The Artist Formerly Known as Purple Parrot, whom I had the pleasure of meeting (again) at my Eilat trip, here are five simple pleasures. To be specific, five simple Eilat pleasures:

1. Getting into a hotel bed that is much, much softer than my bed at home, with a good Agatha Christie mystery.

2. Hotel buffet, especially the free hot chocolate!

3. Lying at the beach, doing absolutely nothing, while the sun shines on me.

4. Gorgeous view of four countries at once. Those mountains are incredible!

5. Finding two great pairs of boots, free of sales tax.

Were I not limited to "Eilat pleasures," I would add:
  • Finishing a work assignment and handing it in
  • The smell of the smoke generated when you put out a havdala candle in the wine
  • The smell of freshly dried laundry
  • Being told by an Israeli that my Hebrew is very good
  • Putting on the perfect shade of lipstick

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday

I've been thinking, on and off, about what to write about this week. There are so many things in my life I appreciate: my sister, my parents, my grandmother, my friends, my relatively easy absorption into Israel, my education, having my own apartment, my teachers, my career, my straight white teeth, clean water, and so many organizations and institutions and entities and people who have made my life better over the years. I appreciate that I live in a free country. I appreciate the ocean. I appreciate scientists who research diseases and find new ways to treat them. I appreciate people who volunteer their time and expertise to help the poor and the sick and the uneducated and the downtrodden. And I really appreciate janitors.

But I don't really have time to focus on any one of those things right now. So much going on! So, I invite you to spend a moment, this Wednesday, thinking about the things YOU appreciate. Feel free to list some of them in the comments.
Jewish-Israeli Blog Awards, and Linky Love

It's the 2nd Annual JIB Awards! Nominate your favorite J-blogs here, with thanks to the good folk at Israellycool and the Jerusalem Post! Nominations close on the 18th, so get there in a hurry, and remember who sent you! Chayyei Sarah! Chayyei Sarah!

Here are some other blogs worth nominating, if they haven't been nominated already. If you don't read them, you should be!

A Whispering Soul
(excellent personal blog)
Five Years Later (a mother's reflection on the death of her daughter)
Hirhurim (assumes a fairly high level of Jewish knowledge)
Jewlicious (still Jewlicious, after all these years)
My Urban Kvetch (still Kvetching, after all these years)
Nice Jewish Girl (no longer Shomer Negiah, after all these years)
On the Face (my alter ego; single and secular in Tel Aviv)
Orthomom (proving you can be an Orthodox woman in the Five Towns and still have something sophisticated to say)
Renegade Rebbetzin (title is self-explanatory)
Treppenwitz (opinionated American dad living in Efrat)

And here's a blog I just discovered today, which looks really good.

Happy Reading.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear and Annoyance in the City of Gold

OK, so when I said that the next post would be about why Eilat is not a great place to spend Shabbat if you observe Shabbat, I was wrong. First I want to write about the crazy evening I had yesterday.

Last night I went to Yael's place for dinner. On the way home, while I was walking on Bustanai Street at 8:10 pm, I saw a car suddenly stop in front of a house. The driver stepped out of the car, threw something over the car and over the gate of the nearest house, got back into the car, and quickly sped off in reverse up the street.

The package he'd thrown into the garden looked just like a newspaper rolled up in the typical white plastic covering, but who'd be delivering a newspaper at 8:10 in the evening? Maybe it was a bomb? I've always had a feeling that the terrorists might start up with private homes in Jerusalem, rather than sticking to public and crowded places. They want nowhere to be safe, right? So why not target a house on quiet Bustanai Street?

Or maybe it was the mafia? Have I been watching too many movies, or could it really be a bomb?

Either way, I wasn't about to stick around, and I wasn't about to let that house blow up when I could've prevented it. So I walked to the end of the street and called the police from my cell phone. I told them what I saw, explained that it might be nothing but it sure looked strange to me, and tried to describe which house it was. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of street lamps on Bustanai, so I hadn't been able to see the house number.

So then of course I had to wait around for the police to show up. It took a surprisingly long time, about 15 minutes. The house could've blown up several times before they got there. But finally they came, and a police officer walked with me up Bustanai so I could show him what house it was. He shined his flashlight into the garden, where we saw . . .

Two rolled-up newspapers, still in their packages.

"What kind of newspaper comes at 8:10 at night?!?" I asked.

"The Globes," the officer responded.

Turns out everyone in Jerusalem knows about The Globes and how it's delivered at night, but did Chayyei Sarah, the new immigrant know? Of course not.

I apologized to the police officer for wasting their time, but he was really nice about it. He said "We are happy you called. We're glad the public is alert. Don't feel bad. This is our job." etc etc. and I went home.

By the way, if you live in 14 Bustanai Street, you should really bring in your newspapers.

Anyway, I got home and started tooling around on my computer. About half an hour later there was a knock at the door.

Someday I might write another post about the internal conflict I have in Israel about opening my door to strangers. Not everyone here is a good guy, you know. I'm not talking about terrorists. I'm talking about burglars, drug addicts, burglars, burglars, and burglars. Oh, and thieves. Yet, often the person at the door is legitimate, and often due to my lack of Hebrew I can't tell who it is until I open the door. So I'm often in a bind.

Last night I opted to open the door. It was a man in his late forties or so with a big black yarmulka, telling me a sob story about how he lives on my street, his newborn son needs a new liver, and here is the medical paperwork showing that the story is for real, and they have to fly to Boston tonight for emergency surgery (a transplant, maybe), and the Bostoner Rebbe is helping them, but they have to pay for the plane ticket, and he is asking the neighbors to help pay for the plane ticket.

I've met con artists before, and they are often just as convincing as this guy, so I knew not to give him any money unless and until I verify his story. The fact that he'd mentioned the Bostoner Rebbe gave me pause and made me believe that he might be telling the truth. The Bostoner Rebbe founded an incredible organization called Rofeh International, which provides kosher housing and medical referrals for Jews who come to Boston from all over the world for the world-class hospitals there. How do I know? Because I'm from Boston. I'm not just from Boston, I'm the daughter of people who were married by the Bostoner Rebbe. The Bostoner Rebbe kindly wrote me a recommendation for Michlalah when I was 17. But how many Israelis know about Rofeh? Maybe this guy was for real.

And if he was for real, it would be a real shame for me to shut the door in his face.

So I asked him all sorts of questions about who I could call to verify. He hemmed and hawed, but it was hard for me to tell whether it's because he's a con artist (most likely) or whether he's a stressed-out person speaking in Hebrew, and not terribly bright, either (possible). The paperwork he was holding proved nothing to me because I couldn't understand it. The fact that his National ID Card had the same name as the medical paperwork proved nothing other than that he had some connection to these (possibly phony) documents. He said that his son was no longer at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital because they were leaving for the airport (uh, huh), and the people at the Rebbe's wouldn't know his name, because it was his wife who'd been dealing with them.

Right, whatever. His ID card had the name of his wife, and certainly they'd know the name of the baby, correct? I got his address (which, even now, I think might actually be his real address - he's such an idiot), told him that I'm from Boston, that I'll call the Rebbe's, and that I'm a journalist, and I know how to check things out, and that if he's for real I will come over to his house in 15 minutes and give him a generous donation. He left, looking a little shocked -- maybe because he's stressed out or maybe because he hadn't banked on my being a journalist from Boston-- and I got on the phone.

I called Rofeh. The woman who answered asked how my parents are doing and then put another lady on the phone to help with my question. She also asked how my parents are doing, and is this Sarah or Rivka (my sister), and how is Rivka doing? After all the catching up, I explained the story, and Freydie told me that no, she's not aware of any baby with liver problems, in Boston or scheduled to come to Boston, connected with Rofeh.

Then I called Hadassah Ein Kerem's pediatric unit. They said they'd never heard of the family name in question, though perhaps the baby simply hadn't been in pediatrics, but in another unit. Still, there was only so much work I was willing to do to verify this story after Rofeh had already told me it's a scam as far as they know.

I thought about calling the police to tell them about this con artist trolling my neighborhood.

But if this American woman named Sarah suddenly calls the police twice in one night, the police would probably think I'm a wierdo, don't you think?
We interrupt this blog for the following special announcement:






Ok, details: You all may recall that a few months ago I took the test for the first time, and failed. I am a very very experienced driver -- remember, I drove NCSYers around in an RV for 11 days, for heaven's sake -- but I was extremely nervous and made a very stupid error during the test. Darn.

After that, I put off taking more lessons and doing the test again for a while, because I just did not want to deal with it. It was an especially dark raincloud over my head, because if I failed the second time, I'd be ineligible for the "switching from an American to an Israeli license" procedure and would have to go take the theory test and 30 lessons. Failing the test a second time would be a very expensive and time-consuming inconvenience.So I had to pass this time. It was a lot of pressure.

To reduce the pressure, I took five more driving lessons. My teacher kept saying "you're ready. You're fine. Just take the test," but I said "I am not taking the test until I'm perfectly relaxed." During the fifth lesson, I noticed that I was driving with one hand and leaning back in my seat. Good sign. I was also making comments like "I own Talpiot. This is my Talpiot" (Talpiot being the neighborhood in which the tests are conducted, and also the neighborhood with the worst traffic in the city.) So, I was ready, and I took the test yesterday.

During the test, I was so relaxed, it was like I'd taken a drug. Everyone should be that relaxed when they take a driving test! I own Talpiot!

By the way, here's a little interesting trivia about driving tests in Talpiot. As you may know, Talpiot is right next to what used to be the Jordanian border, but is now the "Green Line" between East and West Jerusalem. So, until 1967, there was not much goin' on in Talpiot. It was pretty empty, being that close to the border and all. So the Driving License Authority, or however you'd translate "Misrad HaRishui," put their HQ there so that the student drivers would be out of everyone else's way. People could take lessons and do their tests on relatively empty roads.

But after 1967, the neighborhood got built up. It is now an incredibly busy industrial area with lots of malls, shopping centers, offices, restaurants, etc etc. The traffic is awful. I'd put it in the same category as driving in mid-town Manhattan, no kidding. And God forbid that the Misrad Harishui should move.

So, basically, there's now an "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" attitude toward getting one's driver's license in Jerusalem. The lessons are nerve-wracking and the test is harder to pass, but having a J-lem license is a badge of driving honor. We are the Golani brigade of drivers. We are the creme de la creme. We own Talpiot and therefore we own Israel. We are the New Yorkers of the Israeli driving scene.

Look out highway 6! Here comes Chayyei Sarah!
So much to blog about, so little time

I'm back from my little hiatus! Man, I hope I can catch up on blogging all the wierd and wonderful things that have happened the last few days.

Let's start with the wonderful:

I was in Eilat for 2 nights! A local congregation, the Late Late Minyan (yes, that is really what it is called, because it starts at 9:30) organized a trip to Eilat from Thursday night until Saturday night. For 800 NIS (well under $200), we got 2 nights at the Isrotel Lagoona, all meals included, plus bus travel to and from Jerusalem. That is a most excellent deal (Eilat can be expensive: many Israelis go to Turkey rather than Eilat for vacation, to save money), and I hadn't taken a vacation all summer. I desperately needed the beach. I convinced a really nice acquaintance of mine, Mia, to go with me so we could share a hotel room. Turned out that several people I knew were also on the trip, including Aviva C. and Simona F. I also got to meet, once again, the wonderful Purple Parrot, and also a frequent commenter on my blog, Nushyworld!

For those not in the know, Eilat is the southernmost town in Israel. It sits right on the Gulf of Aqaba (or the Gulf of Eilat, depending on whose map you are going by), and affords views of Egypt, Jordan, and, way off in the distance, Saudi Arabi. The water is crystal blue, the sand is white, the mountain views are stunning, the weather is gorgeous pretty much all year, and there is no sales tax! The atmosphere is reminiscent of southern California with a tinge of Las Vegas thrown in for spice. It is very secular, very beautiful, and very fun.

Having been there before, I opted out of the tourist attractions. Others in the group went to the underwater observatory and then snorkeling. I simply hit the beach to soak up some rays. I asked the taxi driver to take me to a non-busy beach far away from the hotel, because though I am willing to go to a co-ed beach, I'm not interested in hanging out in my bathing suit with men who pray at my synagogue. You know what I mean? There is the line of halacha, and there is the line of pas nicht, and one does not have to cross both. Enough said.

Anyhow, I got a few hours of warm, glorious sun at the Dekel Beach in Eilat, and am a happy camper. I also hit the mall (remember, no sales tax! An instant savings of 17 percent!!!) and bought two pairs of boots toward an upcoming winter trip to America (and, also, cold Jerusalem days), and got good deals on various cosmetics, which, as any woman knows, can easily cost a small fortune. Click here to see one of my new pairs of boots, which I got in the camel color. Are they not super-fantastic?

Oh, and the food at the Lagoona is amazing! Three kosher buffet stations (two cold, one hot), open for hours. Everyone on the Late Minyan trip stuffed our faces. And did I mention the open bar that provides free drinks and cakes from 6-12 pm? Yes, Eilat=decadence in every way, I must say. I thought that all of you in America suffering in the cold and rain and snow would like to know that. :-P

PS I did not tan, but neither did I burn. I am a very careful beach-goer.

PPS Next up: Why Eilat is not a good place to spend Shabbat if you observe Shabbat. Weekdays: YES! Shabbat: No, not so much.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday

I have to write this quickly, because I have so much to do! It's been a very productive week and I'm "in a groove"! Can't stop! I have earned Shabbat this week!

OK. Appreciation Wednesday.

In my gemara class, we are studying the eighth chapter of Talmud Tractate Bava Kamma. The chapter talks about how the Biblical term "an eye for an eye" and "a burn for a burn" etc does not actually mean that you take out someone's eye if they poked out someone else's; rather, it means that the perpetrator has to pay the victim compensation for the loss of his eye (for the eye itself, lost wages, medical fees, pain, and loss of dignity, to be more specific). The gemara we've learned so far discusses 10 possible proofs for why we know that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally in this case (5 proofs are accepted, 5 are thrown out); who wrote the mishna and how do we know; and whether the damages for this type of case can be collected outside of Israel.

As you can imagine, we talk a lot about physical injuries. Eyes poked out, burns, eyes poked out, arms cut off, eyes poked out. In case you haven't noticed, I'm very squeamish about eyes. Oh, God, it is so gross sometimes!

Meanwhile, I'm reading Agatha Christie's The Clocks, and the murder takes place in the home of a blind woman. I'm still at the beginning, but the book has gotten me thinking about how difficult it would be for me to manage without my eyesight.

And now today, in my Navi class, we learned the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chapters of Samuel I, in which the High Priest, Eli, slowly goes blind (though whether that is a literal blindness, or a figurative one, or both is an interesting question).

So, this week I've been very much appreciating my ability to see. It's something we usually take for granted. But when I stop to think about it, it is only because I'm able to see that I'm able to do, or at least do easily, so many things that I love to do: drive; write articles for publication (possible to do without eyesight but harder); read any book or internet site I want; get around town easily; enjoy a nice view; see other people's facial expressions; go to a new city and explore; dive into a pool knowing there is noone underneath me; see what's going on in movies and television shows; walk through the park without worrying too much about stepping in dog poop; knowing that my lipstick exactly matches my outfit or my mood; stroll through a mall and be able to see what is for sale; check out the cute guys; etc etc etc.

So, in honor of today's Appreciation Wednesday, I hope everyone who can read this for themselves will take a moment to thank Hashem, or whatever higher power you believe in, for the gift of sight.

PS Blogging will be sparse the next few days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Check out my latest feature for the World Jewish Digest by clicking here.

After writing this article, I tried the diet and lost 5 pounds in 2 weeks! It really works!

I'm now pitching the topic to various women's magazines (but without the Israel angle, obviously). Wish me luck.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Which sci-fi/fantasy character are YOU?

I know this link has been circulating, but I only got around to taking the quiz now. And very pleased with my results am I:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

My quibble: I looked at the descriptions for the other possible results, and the differences between the various good guys are so finely shaded, I can't understand how this quiz really means much.

But that's just me, taking my sci-fi/fantasy just a tad too seriously.
A Thought About Ariel Sharon

Yesterday, after school, I headed up to Raanana to do an interview for an assignment I'm working on. (Note to Allison: Sorry, I would have called, but as it was I was running around like a chicken without a head.) I saw a lot of political posters/billboards I don't normally get to see in Jerusalem -- maybe because they are not there, or, more probably, because my travels within Jerusalem are often limited to the area between my house, Emek Refaim Street, and Pardes. In particular I noticed a series of billboards advertising the new Kadimah party. They each had a picture of Ariel Sharon looking skyward, in a very intense and "we're moving!" way, with slogans like "The Nation Wants Kadimah" and "A Strong Leader for Peace."

I thought about that last slogan, and how Ariel Sharon's image has changed over the years. Sneaky fellow, every time you think you know who he is and what he stands for, he morphs into something else! He is one step ahead of the tide, that rascally guy! Can't peg him, nosiree!

And then I realized that Ariel Sharon is just like . . . Madonna.

Friday, December 02, 2005

It Must Mean Something, but I Don't Know What: A Study in Hoshavat Aveida [the Jewish commandment to return lost objects] in Three Acts

Act I

One week ago, I was sitting in a coach bus in the Pardes parking lot, along with about 20 other students and a few faculty members, waiting to leave for our trip to Tzippori and Hoshaya. Miraculously, we were running only about 15 minutes late -- for a Jewish group tour that's punctual -- but alas, a fellow student named Laura discovered just as we were about to leave that she had lost her purse. She could have sworn she left it with the pile of suitcases we'd left on the first floor of the building over the last hour. But now it wasn't on her person, it wasn't in her suitcases, and it wasn't in the school building. We all searched the bus but the purse was gone.

Finally, someone suggested that Laura call her own cell phone, which had been in the purse. She did, and a man answered. "Hello, do you have my purse?" she asked. The man did, he'd found it on the street, and he was offering to give it back. So on the way to Tzippori, the bus stopped in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia so Laura could meet this man outside his building and get her purse. It was a beautiful green satin thing with a sparkly decoration on it. Her phone, her credit cards, her IDs, and all her cash were still in it.

And so, much relieved, we all went on our way and had a terrific weekend. We were all so happy for Laura.

Act II

A few days later, on Wednesday evening, I stopped by a little booth on Emek Refaim street in which sits a shoe-repair guy. I have this old pair of black pumps from Payless that I wear all the time, and so I wanted to get the insoles and the heels replaced. But the guy wasn't there! The light was on, clearly showing the many many photos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe postering the back wall, and the little booth was open -- there were boxes of little shoe-polish containers sitting out on the counter, for sale -- so I figured he'd be back soon. "He really must have stepped out for just a second," I thought, "because otherwise it wouldn't be smart to leave all this shoe polish here where all these people walking by could just take it." So I waited.

About 15 seconds later, a car stopped right behind me and a man in his 20's got out of it. He picked up a tin of shoe polish and said "Is the store owner here?" I answered "Well, I don't know. I just got here a minute ago myself. I'm sure he's coming back soon."

The man looked around behind the booth, shrugged, and then went back to his car. He threw the container of shoe polish through the open back-seat window and started walking around the car to get back behind the wheel. He was stealing the shoe polish! Right in front of me! Oh my God! What a $*!#@& jerk!

Just then the store owner returned, and I pointed to the car and said "that guy just took something from you." So the guy, instead of getting into his car, comes back to the sidewalk and starts accusing me of lying. I said "I saw you! You took something!" (Unfortunately, I do not know how to say "shoe polish" in Hebrew.) He raises his arms to the side and says to the store owner: "Go ahead and search me if you want. I'm innocent! You won't find anything!"

I said "You put it in your car!" He walks back to the car and says "What a liar you are!"

I wanted to yell back at him: You mother-effing jerk! Thief! Scumbag! Pilfering shoe polish from an innocent man! You are giving up your share of the World to Come for some stupid shoe polish! What the hell! I hope you burn in hell, scumbag!

But since I do not know how to say most of those things in Hebrew, I was very frustratingly left with just yelling "What a thief you are!" before he drove away. What a time for my Hebrew to fail me! Damn damn damn!!!

There was a pause for a moment, and then the owner asked quietly "what did he take?" I pointed to the little cans of shoe polish and said "one of those . . . I'm happy it wasn't something more."

"Yes, thank God," he answered. "Well, what can you do? . . . and to think he wears a kippah too. It's too bad."

The store owner just shook his head and asked what he can do for me. I felt so violated on his behalf, and sad that there are petty thiefs out there like that.

Just then . . .


Another man walked by, holding up a red wallet. "Is this yours?" he asked me.

"Um, no."

"I just found this in front of the bus stop here," he said. Turning to the shoe-repair man, he said "Is this yours? No? Well, can I leave it here? Maybe someone will come back for it."

So he left the red wallet. I looked inside while the shoe-repair man studied my shoes, to see if there was a phone number inside. Just a student ID belonging to a girl who looked to be around 16 in her picture, a health-insurance card, and about 20 NIS. I offered to call information to track down the owner, but the guy said "Nah, people are dropping things here all the time. I bet she'll come back for it."

And you, the next day, when I went to pick up my (now good-as-new) shoes, she really had! Yay, teenage student who uses Meuchedet health insurance!

Strange that all three of these things happened within a few days of each other, and two of them within 5 minutes of each other . . . I feel like this is really spooky and I should learn something from it, but I have no idea what!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How I'm Doing

Lately I've been writing a lot of posts about things that I'm thinking about, and some of my friends have been asking me to update them about how I'm doing.

The summary is that I'm doing great! A lot of things in my life have turned around for the better, lately. For the last year or so, until recently, I was struggling with the fact that for the first time I was only working as a freelance journalist. For the first time, I had no regular work gig, I wasn't taking or teaching classes anywhere, and I had no part-time job. So my days were just an endless stream of unstructured days in which I often had no reason to go outside or get dressed - and therefore didn't bother. I'd sit at home, trying to motivate myself to work, and often did not succeed. It was really depressing! I wanted to be freelancing, but the lifestyle that comes with that choice was not very healthy for me.

But two things in particular have come together to fix that situation right up! The first is that taking classes at Pardes has done wonders for me. I go there 5 mornings a week: twice just for one hour, and three times for about 5 hours. I get dressed, I get outside, I walk for 20 minutes there and back. I see people, I talk to them, I'm intellectually stimulated. I'm learning interesting things (Talmud tractate Bava Kamma Chapter 8, and all the books in "First Prophets"), improving my textual skills (particularly in Aramaic, which I've long wanted to improve), and making new friends. Pardes students also get to go on great trips, such as last weekend when we toured the archeological sites in Tzippori (in the lower Galilee; more about that later I hope) and then spent Shabbat in the neighboring village of Hoshaya. Every day when I come home from Pardes I feel happier, more energized, and more ready to get work done than before I left. Even though the classes take up much of my days, I'm getting more journalism work done in less time because my overall mood has improved. Getting sunlight and seeing people will do that!

The second thing is that I hired a "time management coach" named Hazel Brief. She's a social worker and "life coach" in Modiin who specializes in helping people with ADD manage their time. Now, I definitely do not have ADD, but obviously I needed help getting going and structuring my day. First she came to my house to see how I live, and then we spoke on the phone for an hour each week, discussing small changes I can make both to my daily schedule planning and to my attitudes that would help me get done most, if not all, of what I need to get done. And over the months, her tips have changed my life. I'm more productive, with less stress and anxiety. Thank you, Hazel! I wish I'd known you years ago!

All of this just came together, really, in the last couple of weeks. That is, before that, I was improving slowly in my productivity and mood, but still felt like I was "working on stuff." But I was just telling a friend the other day that in the last week or two, I finally finally feel not like "a freelancer who bums around at home," but like a normal and happy person. Of course there are still things I want to work on -- everyone has those -- but, thank God, I finally feel like this freelancing thing can really work for me, and that it doesn't mean giving up social and intellectual stimulation or my overall motivation and productivity.

Just to give you an idea of how great I've been feeling, the fact that I've had only one date since breaking up with R. hardly fazes me. It's OK. Dating does not have to be the biggest deal. Oh, my God, can you believe I just said that? Mashiach must be coming! Wait a second, was that a pig that just flew past my window?