Monday, January 21, 2008

Gaza in the Dark

I rarely, but oh so rarely, agree with, well, anything political over at Seraphic Press. I have great, great respect for Robert Avrech, his intelligence, and his talent. But oh so rare is the day when I agree with his politics.

But I have to say, for those of you concerned about the fate of those Palestinians who now do not have electricity because Israel is no longer allowing in the fuel they need (though Israel continues to provide Gaza with 70% of its electricity), there is indeed another side to this story, and it is expressed clearly here. Go forth and read.

(Also here, but I like the way it's said at Seraphic Press (as quoted from Naomi Ragen's blog) better.)
Looking for Suggestions

So, ever since I've started recovering from my bronchitis+gastroenteritis health crisis, my life has been moving along. It consists of the same old routine: get work done, do the laundry, run errands, make Shabbat plans, blah blah blah.

One thing I'm learning about myself is that it helps me a lot to take a short but real vacation -- a going away and staying somewhere else and seeing new things or sitting by the beach or pool vacation-- every six months. Since I work for myself and don't have any kids, I can do that.

But money is an issue.

So, help me out here. I need to plan something fun for 3-5 days, something that will take me out of my normal routine, but which is very cheap.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I have decided that before I can get married, Hashem apparently wants me to go through a certain number of ridiculous, stupid, unwanted situations regarding my singleness. Therefore, when I encounter people who say stupid or insensitive things, I should thank them for getting me that much closer to a good relationship.

I was at a wedding yesterday. It was a wonderful wedding -- the story behind the bride and groom and how hard it has been for them, and how they met, etc is really beautiful -- and I had a wonderful time.

Except when we were milling around at the "kabalat panim," and a woman I'd never met before came over to chat, and we had the following conversation:

Her: So, how do you know the bride?

Me (smiling): We have mutual friends.

Her: Are you married?

Me (thinking "when did it become OK to ask me if I'm married before you ask me for my name?): Uhhhhhhh . . . no . . . . (starts turning to walk away before I blow a gasket)

Her: You know, the man who is taking photos is also single. Do you want to meet him?

Me (thinking "when did it become OK to offer to set me up with someone before you know my name . . . and to base the shidduch on both of us being single? But then again, who knows where one's Redemption might come from? Perhaps through this stupid woman. Who am I to say "no" out of hand? Besides, my mother warned me that if I tell people I don't want to be set up, they will think I'm a lesbian . . . thanks, Mom): Uh, I don't know. Can you tell me something about him?

Her: Here, I'll point him out to you and you can see if he looks good to you.

Me: Ummmmmmmm . . . . OK I guess . . . .

Her: Come, follow me . . . see, there he is -- the man in the blue shirt holding the camera.

Me (agape, and in an unnaturally high voice): Um . . . how old is he?

Her: I think he is about 58 or so.

Me (wondering whether I'm so prematurely aged that I appear 20 years older than I actually am, and feeling very insecure and unattractive): I'm 35.

Her: Oh, I guess it isn't a match then.

Me (breaking out in a sweat): No. But, uh, thanks. Have a good time at the wedding. Bye.

That woman probably went home and thought "I'm such a nice person, always on the lookout to make people happy by setting them up." Apparently no one has told her that offering to set people up on the basis of zero information does not make them happy. It makes them go in search of the ladies room, lock themselves in a stall, and spend several minutes shaking one's fists in the air and doing "silent primal screams" and basically having a fit and practically pulling a ligament, before pulling themselves together so they can have a good time at the wedding.


And then, today, I got an email from someone with whom I attended ulpan, a group email informing his friends that after 4 years, he has not been able to find a decently-paying job in his field (which is forestry . . . I could have told him, but he didn't ask me . . . . ), and that he and his wife and 2 kids are returning to Europe, and they hope that someday they can move back to Israel.

I spent a fairly significant amount of time writing a response with the story about how I came on a pilot trip in 1994, and realized that I couldn't earn a living here, but by 2003 the internet, combined with my having gone to journalism school, had created new job opportunities for me. I wrote that my hope for him is that he is very successful back in Europe, and that in the near future something will change in his industry, or in the world, or with him, which will allow him to return and earn a good living here. Please note that he himself had expressed this to be his wish, so essentially my email was saying "what you want for yourself, I want for you, and hopefully my own story will give you hope."

His reply: "Thank you Sarah. It's very unfortunate that I haven't been able to find a job that will feed my family . . . Hopefully we'll be back. May we dance soon at your wedding. Sincerely . . . . "

Um, thanks for that non-sequitor, the one that indicates to me that you can't even exchange emails with me about your making yeridah without thinking about the fact that I'm single. Oh, and thanks for reminding me that I'm single, because, you know, I'd been thinking and working on other things, like planning a sheva brachot for the bride who got married yesterday, and getting work assignments done, and finding a ride to an event I'm attending tonight, and God forbid that 5 minutes should pass without my remembering that all people seem to want from me, and for me, is to dance at my wedding -- something that is not entirely under my control to provide. I was feeling pretty adequate until you reminded me that I'm missing a wedding. Can't have that.


But still . . . must. maintain. one's. serenity . . . . reframing, I'm reframing . . . THANK GOD there are people like them in the world, for helping me fill my quota of pre-marriage stupidity.

So, thank you, well-meaning but stupid people! Thanks to you, maybe there will be a wedding for you to dance at someday after all! Woo hoo!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Things my Shaliach never told me

In the States I wasn't a big avocado eater. I liked them a lot, but rarely bought them myself. I considered avocados a delicacy to find in my salad when I went to other people's homes for Shabbat meals.

It is now avocado season, and they are just so yummy here. They are amazing. I have become an avocado fiend. I will do anything for an avocado. Luckily they are available, ripe and delicious, in the little grocery store around the corner.

I scoop out the green yumminess with a spoon and eat it with whole-wheat crackers.

Delicious and filling and oh so good. It makes me so happy.

Funny, that my shaliach never told me about the avocados.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Various Thoughts

1- In an article about Bush's current visit to Jerusalem, some Israeli official was quoted yesterday in the New York Times as saying that the government will not squash free speech (that is, the right to assembly, peaceful demonstrations, etc -- at least, that is my interpretation) while Bush is here, but that they are worried about "extremists." That immediately set off alarm bells for me. Who defines "extremist"? In my world, an "extremist" in this case would be someone who actually tries to physically harm President Bush or his entourage. I might also include protesters who chant something like "death to Bush." But in reality, the way the government here defines extremist is often as "anyone expressing opinions we are really, really uncomfortable with." And indeed, so it has come to be.

2- So, according to news reports, Bush is saying that we might have a peace treaty with the Palestinians within a year. Three comments on this:

a. A peace treaty with whom? Have we forgotten that Hamas is still the elected party in charge? Why isn't all of this being postponed until after the Palestinians have had new elections someday, so we could see what happens? Oh, right, Bush wants a legacy. Good luck with that.

b. Haven't we already reached an agreement in the form of the "roadmap"? Why are they trying to reinvent the wheel? The roadmap sucks but in principle both sides have agreed to it - or, well, Fatah agreed to it, anyway. Why are we now rehashing the same tired issues?

c. A friend of mine married a very intelligent man who has been living in Israel for many, many years, and he has this to say about Israeli newspapers: Never put too much stock in a headline whose verb is in the future tense. It's so true. Israeli media is full of stories on "Minister X predicts such-and-such" and "Action Y will lead to chaos, Minister Z says." And mostly none of these predictions come true, and all that is happening is that a lot of politicians are blowing hot air and creating a lot of tension, fear, possibly some hope -- over nothing.

3- The funeral for Rabbi Wohlgemuth was actually very nice. I know that sounds strange . . . but the atmosphere at a funeral is always a little different when the recently-deceased was very elderly and had been sick for many years. The sense is that the death is sad, but not tragic. I was happy to see that dozens of Maimonides alumni showed up for the burial; I counted about 80. There was a little bit of a reunion atmosphere, mixed with sadness. I saw people from classes ahead of me whom I hadn't seen for about 20 years. (And some of them have aged . . . does that mean that I've aged, also? Surely I have not aged the same 20 years that they have . . . ) A member of the Class of 1966 spoke of Rabbi Wohlgemuth's love for his students, and how three generations of day school students from Boston know how to translate ancient Aramaic because Rabbi Wohlgemuth introduced us to words like "Matnitin" and "aymahtai." He spoke about the Biur Tefillah class which was a required course for decades (though unfortunately, was not offered while I was at Maimo), and how hundreds of people pray with a little more "kavana" (focus/meaning) because Rabbi Wohlgemuth helped them look at the prayers, and at the act of praying, a different way. He reminded us that Rabbi Wohlgemuth never had a bad word to say about anyone, to the extent that parents often went to him last on parent-teacher night, because they knew that he would leave them with a good impression of their child. There was a lot of nodding-in-recognition from the audience. Then Shlomo Wohlgemuth, the rabbi's son, gave a beautiful dvar Torah, and we followed the body to the site where it now lies, next to grave of Mrs. Berta Wohlgemuth. Watching my fellow Maimonides alumni shovel the dirt back into Rabbi Wohlgemuth's fresh grave, I realized that we were all burying part of our adolescence. And as immigrants who all hail from the same city, we were also burying part of our community, part of what to us is "the Old Country."

4- Yesterday I went to Tel Aviv to see my brother-in-law, who was in Israel for business meetings. It was so nice to see a close member of my family! I'd had some grand plans of sightseeing we could do, to maximize his one free day, but in the end at his request we just went to Azrieli Center to shop for gifts for his kids. Do you know, in that entire huge mall, we did not find a single item of clothing that had Hebrew on it? We were looking for kids' tshirts with Hebrew slogans of some kind, and none were to be found in the entire mall. (Comments my friend Yael: The only people who want Hebrew on their t-shirts are the tourists.) We found almost no Judaica except for about 5 cheapy items in one of the department stores, and, other than Michal Negrin jewelry (which is not my sister's style) and the Hebrew books in the book store (which are too advanced for my nephews), or shoes (not good gifts), nothing which is unique to Israel - that is, nothing that my sister can't buy just as easily in America. About 90 percent of the stores' names are in English, and half the products are made in China. It was Little America. We left after 3 hours completely empty-handed and went to lunch, having decided that maybe he'd have better luck at the Central Bus Station, where the wares are more, ah, salt-of-the-earth. (Our search for a particular restaurant I'd heard about is a story in itself. Let's just say that if you want a nice kosher meal in Tel Aviv, you have to really know where to go, because they don't just pop out at you. In the end we went to a perfectly nice meat place on Rothchild Boulevard, called Petrozilia - and it was delicious indeed.) Later, Luiz told me that after he dropped me off at the train station, he went to Dizengoff Center and found a store there that sold "army surplus"-type things, so he got IDF t-shirts and kippot for his boys, and a "birkat habayit" for my parents, and a cute gift for my sister which I won't divulge here in case she is reading this.

Can I just say that I really love Jerusalem?

Oh, and he brought me, from the States, two new sets of sheets (which fit my American-sized mattress) and a copy of Real Simple magazine! Yay!

That's all for now.

Monday, January 07, 2008

End of an Era - Baruch Dayan Haemet

I just got this email from the Alumni Relations director at Maimonides School in Boston . . . about the passing of the teacher under whom I studied gemara every Shabbat for many years, my neighbor of many years, my ride to school for many years, my Chumash and Gemara teacher for two years, and one of the nicest, most caring teachers anyone could hope to have . . . Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth. The man taught Jewish texts to Jewish teenagers in Boston for well over 40 years. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

I'm looking for a ride to the burial tomorrow, in case anyone from Jerusalem is reading this . . .

January 7 2007

Dear Maimonides School graduate,

With profound sadness, I am writing to inform you of the passing late
Sunday of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, z"l, beloved teacher, scholar, advisor,
role model and friend of the Maimonides School Family for more than 50

The funeral is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at the Jewish Educational
Center, 330 Elmora Ave. (Route 439), corner of Livingston, in Elizabeth,
NJ. Burial will be at Eretz HaChaim Cemetery, Beit Shemesh, Israel,
Tuesday at 3 p.m.

The shiva period will be observed at the home of Rabbi Wohlgemuth's son
Shlomoh, 950 Magie Ave., Elizabeth (908-352-8870) Wednesday after the
family returns from Israel.

May the Wohlgemuth Family be comforted together with the mourners of Zion
and Jerusalem.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


So, I'm a big fan of the Manolo blog empire: Manolo's Shoe Blog, Manolo for the Brides, Manolo for the Men, Manolo for the Big Girl, Manolo for the Home, Manolo's Food blog, Ayyyy!, and Teeny Manolo.

Through the latter, I was introduced to the You Tube videos of countertenor Nick Pitera, who entered the "Little Mermaid Give Us Your Voice" contest (first prize: chance to perform in the Broadway production of "The Little Mermaid") not by singing one of Prince Eric's songs, but by singing one of Ariel's solos, "Part of Your World":

Now, I have no idea whether this guy is technically a good singer. Is he well-trained? Is he using his head voice or whatever? I don't even know what that means. All I know is that watching this guy sing in a woman's voice is entertaining, and that he sings Ariel a whole lot better than I do. And that he's so cute!

Here he sings the male-female duet "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, with himself. This video has been viewed over a million times:

Doesn't he look like a real-life, friendly, adorable Waldo? Don't you just want to adopt him? Wouldn't he make a fantastic totally-hot-gay-best-friend?

And here is Nick singing the Celine Dion version of the beautiful Christmas carol "O Holy Night":

What a cutie! Unfortunately he lost the Disney competition -- despite the fact that he's also an animation student -- is he a Disney dream child or what? -- but I totally hope this guy gets a record deal. I would definitely buy his album, just so I could stare at the jacket while listening to it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Moving Right Along

Yesterday and today I managed to get dressed, haul my computer to Tal Bagels, and get some work done. I also joined Facebook which means I'll probably never get any work done again. So far, what I've gained from joining Facebook is a few "hey, how are you" emails from people I'm glad to hear from, but who aren't giving any meaningful information about how they are doing, and I now have a loose connection with other random people, who apparently share my Eastern European roots, and who are proudly proclaiming their love for herring, kishka, and chopped liver. Someone "chomped" me and I'm now apparently a zombie, and I sent a virtual woolly hat to a friend in New York, who appreciates the thought.

I also discovered that there are several people in Israel and the US who think we are friends, but I have no idea who they are. Quite embarrassing.

In other news, in a few weeks I'll be picking up my Spring-season teaching job again, and I am really, really looking forward to it. This year the English curriculum is all Israeli literature, all the time (we dropped the Shakespeare). So I'm now reading works by Amos Oz, Savyon Liebrecht, and Etgar Keret to prepare, and will also be sprinkling their works with poetry and short stories by the likes of Bialik, AB Yehoshua, Rachel, Yehudah Amichai, etc.

Interestingly, the Israeli "canon" is largely devoid of literature by Sephardim, Arab-Israelis, or people with right-wing political views. If you know of any good novels/short stories/ poems that would help fill these gaps, please pass along the tips.

This year the course will meet four times a week, and I'm thinking that twice a week will be devoted to discussions about the readings, and twice a week we'll have workshops, with students working together according to one of three tracks they can choose: a creative writing track (in which they will produce poems, short stories, and diary entries related to their Israel experience and the readings); a Literature and Society track (in which they will write weekly responses to the course readings and do a research paper relating one or more of our readings to an issue in contemporary Israeli culture); and a Mechanics track (with weekly assignments to improve grammar skills and vocabulary). Lots of work for me, but more dynamic for the kids. I find that students of any age will be much more engaged in course material if they feel they've had some sort of choice in what or how they learn. At 15 my students are old enough to know what interests them, and young enough to be able to experiment in their coursework, without worrying about SATs or other standardized tests. I'm really excited!

Regarding my journalism work, I'm having a hard time right now because I have to catch up on several assignments that were pushed off while I was sick, but I can't do the interviews because I've almost completely lost my voice. I'm leaving people messages that sounds like "hi, this is Sarah static static static, I'm writing a static static for static static magazine. Please call me at zero five four static static static, static static, static static." Sucks.

Did you know that President Bush is coming to Israel? I'm sure the American and local media will make a big deal out of it, but you know what? Everyone I speak to knows the truth: He's coming to try to follow up on the Annapolis thing, so that the Annapolis thing won't be completely meaningless. But we all know that it is meaningless. So this visit is pointless, and is only going to serve to increase traffic congestion in Jerusalem while he's here. The prevailing attitude: He can come if he wants. It's his own time he's wasting. But if he wants to waste his time, kol hakavod (more power to him). We don't mind having him here, except for the blasted traffic. Whatever!

I've been having strange dreams lately, probably a result of being congested and not breathing properly when I sleep. :-(

All in all, we're moving along.