Monday, October 26, 2009

Orthodox In-Joke

I was just poking around my old files, and came across a little poem I wrote years ago. Remember when Stella D'Oro tried to make their Swiss Fudge Cookies dairy? And sales plummeted, because who really buys Swiss Fudge Cookies except Orthodox Jews, who eat them on Friday nights and Shabbat afternoons? But who can only eat them if they are pareve (dairy-free), because (traditionally, anyway - I'm not talking about the vegetarians here) most people have meat at their Shabbat dinner? And who, in fact, ate them so much that the cookies became known for their resemblance to certain Hassidic hats?

Anyhow, the pareve status has since been reinstated, so this poem reflects a fleeting moment in history. Enjoy it.

Ode to Swiss Fudge Cookies

Upon their redesignation as “OU-DE”

Chocolatey, round, and lactose-free,

Stacked up high or spread on plate,

Oft on Shabbos you’d call to me.

Your chewy center was the bait.

Crumbly edges eaten first,

So the middle slow to savor;

Yet, alas, your fate is cursed

Despite your rich and sensuous flavor.

Stella D’Oro, ‘til now our friend

Comes between us, our affair to end.

From fleishik tables you must play hooky.

Farewell, my pareve shtreimel cookie.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Becoming That Which I Said I Would Never Be

For years I wanted a pet. A dog. There were many reasons I wanted a dog and not a cat, chief among which was that I did not want to be a "single woman with a cat."

Then my roommate finally relented and said we could get a pet, but it had to be a cat. No dogs. I figured a cat is better than nothing. I could settle for a cat.


When we left Artemis alone for Yom Kippur, I hung toys and bells all over the salon so she wouldn't get bored.


When I turn off the light and get into bed for the night, Artemis jumps in and curls up in the crook of my arm. In the morning she lays down on my abdomen while I pet her and she purrs. Neither of us likes to wake up. It's nice to wake up with another live thing who is happy to be there, together.


Artemis has a new friend. Every day she goes up the block and hangs out with a street cat who lives in the garden next door. They touch noses and take naps next to each other.


Artemis was spayed last week, and though at first she was healing beautifully, she now has an infection. I have to give her antibiotic pills twice a day. She responds like the fourth cat in this video (starting at 2:05), except more violent.


Conversation recently held in my apartment:

Sarah: Artemis is looking at us like "I can't believe I tolerate these people."

Liza: It's so funny, the range of thoughts you ascribe to the cat.

Sarah: Well, look at her.

Liza: She'll be walking around with a look that says "Hi, I'm a cat." And you'll make up some complicated set of emotions for her.

Sarah: Well.

Liza: As far as I'm concerned, she has four emotions: happy, pissed, hungry, and tired.

Sarah: Don't forget bored. Also, there are two kinds of happy. There is "Yay, I'm playing with a toy" happy, and "Mmmm, I'm purring because someone is petting me happy."

Liza: Whatever.


A few nights ago, I wanted to go to sleep and realized that Artemis was still outside. I need her to be inside so that she won't wake me up later to let her in. It was about 1 am and soon I was walking up the block in my silk bathrobe and slippers, whispering "here, kitty kitty" to the night air, and I realized that not only am I a single woman with a cat, I am A CRAZY CAT LADY.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Secret of Hummus

A guest post by Sarah's sister, Rivka.

So my husband, Luiz, went to Israel on a business trip with a group of co-workers. One day, before lunchtime, one of the co-workers -- an Israeli man who works full-time in the company's Israeli office -- asks my husband if he and the rest of the group want to try a new place for lunch. "It's pretty far away," the co-worker says, "but it's worth it." My husband thinks, "sure, why not," and he and the rest of the group hop in the car.

On the way, this Israeli co-worker tells my husband the story about the place they're going to: It's run by a guy named Gingi. Years ago, Gingi was unhappy with his life. He decided that what he really wanted to do was make Hummus. So he traveled Israel for many years, working in different restaurants, trying to discover the secret of good Hummus. After he decided that he had found the secret to Hummus, he opened up a restaurant that sold nothing but Hummus, and things that went with Hummus (like pita, pickles, things like that).

The restaurant was very successful. But after a few years, Gingi became unhappy again. He was still not living the life he wanted. So he decided that if he can make good Hummus, people will come to him for the Hummus. The Hummus does not have to go to the people. So he found a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere that agreed that he could live on the kibbutz and open his "restaurant." They gave him a small building (more like a shed) to make his food, and everyday people came and ordered Hummus plates.

The thing is, the co-worker explained, Gingi only makes his Hummus until 1:30 pm precisely. At 1:30 on the dot, Gingi is out the door, and he leaves it for his helpers to serve any remaining Hummus and clean up.

At this point, my husband and his co-workers had arrived at Gingi's "restaurant." It was now a few minutes after one o'clock. They ordered their Hummus plates, and sat down to eat.

(Was it really good? I asked my husband at this point. It was Hummus, he replied. With pita. And beans.)

At 1:30, Gingi comes out of the kitchen.

"Gingi!" my husband's Israeli co-worker yells. "Come say hello! I want you to meet my friends from America!"

Gingi looks at his watch, walks past them, and heads to his little motor-bike parked outside.


Gingi looks at his watch again, looks at the co-worker, and without saying a word, rides away.

The thing is, we have told this story to many people. The Americans always think the story is hysterical. The Israelis, on the other hand, find Gingi to be a very wise man, and don't understand why the story is so funny.
The Red Bull Soapbox Derby

So, it seems that Red Bull sponsors soapbox derbies in capital cities around the world. Yesterday, for the first time, the event came to Jerusalem, and I was there with my friend Batya. In a city so often wracked with tension, it was a relief to attend an event whose raison d'etre was to inject some silliness (and promote Red Bull energy drinks).

It was cloudy but very hot in Sacher Park, where the smell of hot dogs wafted through the air and thousands of Israeli adults and children watched 50 teams push whimsically-decorated soapboxes on wheels off a ramp, while one or two riders waved to the crowds as they slid down the street at about 5-10 miles per hour.

Before taking off, each team gave a 30-second presentation explaining their "concept." Teams were judged on the basis of creativity, showmanship, and speed down the track.

I didn't stay long, because of the heat and lack of visibility to the track (though they were showing everything on jumbotron screens around the park). The first soapbox, a giant carrot, took over 4 minutes to make it to the finish line. You could see the driver's feet under the vehicle, pedaling it along Flinstones-style. After that, contestants went more quickly, though some of them repeatedly crashed into the hay bales on the sides. The entries I saw included a pirate ship coasting along while the Love Boat theme played and the driver threw money at the crowds; a collection of three falafels in pitas; and Noah's Ark with the animals (built by a team of co-workers at the Jerusalem Zoological Center). My favorite was Jonah in the Whale: Just before takeoff, the team ripped apart the whale exterior so that Jonah, in long beard, white robe, and turban, coasted down the track in a little rowboat.

Batya said this event reminds her of the community-wide sing-a-longs popular with Jerusalemites. "Israelis appreciate good clean fun," she said.

What I appreciated most was that the whimsy was imbued with a distinctly Jewish-Israeli flavor: the Jonah entry, Noah's Ark, falafel, the fact that the hot dogs I smelled were kosher.

All in all a great way to spend a Sukkot afternoon! Video of the event is here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Catching Up

So, I spent 3 weeks at the end of August and beginning of September in the States. It was a fantastic trip: 2 nights staying with my cousin Aaron and his wife, Alli, on the Upper East Side, celebrating my birthday together; a week at my sister's house in northern California, hangin' with her and my nephews (to whom I introduced the game Twister, which they loved. Unfortunately their dog, Mishmish, decided to French kiss me while I was playing and was bent over, and that was the end of me playing Twister. Ew!); several days with my parents in Cleveland -- my father took a day off from work and we went to Amish country together; and then back to New York for several days, where I stayed with my friend Lisa and did a LOT of shopping. For the first time, I was sad to be coming back to Israel, but I reminded myself that of COURSE I was having fun, fun, fun in New York: I was SHOPPING ALL THE TIME, for crying out loud. That is not real life in New York, it is vacation. Indeed when my plane landed in Tel Aviv I was glad to be home.

That may have had to do with the fact that my flight landed TWELVE HOURS LATE. Yup. Delta flight 86 from JFK to Tel Aviv was supposed to leave at 7:55 pm on a Wednesday night, but due to mechanical problems did not actually take off until after 10:30 the next day. Along with dozens of other passengers I was put up in a hotel and given food vouchers which were only semi-useful for people who keep kosher. I got maybe 3 hours of sleep, and then of course lost more sleep because of the flight. The whole thing was awful. You know what Delta gave each of us by way of apology? A $100 travel voucher. Gee, thanks Delta. I've faxed in a complaint asking for another $300 of vouchers but doubt that I'll ever see it -- or fly Delta again.

Artemis had spent the 3 weeks in Maale Adumim, at the home of Shpeetz. Remember Shpeetz, the cat I babysat last year? Anyway, Artemis had been terrorizing poor Shpeetz for three weeks. Shpeetz only came inside to eat and there was a real fear she might run away. I didn't raise Artemis to be so rude!

Now that I'm back, I've started studying at Pardes again. I bit the bullet and registered for a Talmud class which meets 4 mornings a week, even though I really don't have time for this. The class is at a high level and the teacher is marvelous, so I love going, but have no idea how I'm going to juggle this with my work. I guess I just will, because I have to. When I'm not learning Talmud I really miss it.

I spent Rosh Hashanah as I always do, at the home of my dear friends Ari and Sarah Beth. Ari led the services in synaoguge and did a beautiful job. It was as spiritually uplifting a holiday as possible, given how not-spiritually-uplifted I've been feeling lately.

I went back to the same community for Yom Kippur. It's not their fault, but it was the lowest Yom Kippur I've ever had. I did not feel connected to the day at all. I made it for Shacharit, decided to skip part of Mussaf, fell asleep for hours, and went back for Mincha. By the time Mincha was over I was sick of praying, sick of pretending that I was sorry for my sins, sick of being afraid that my fate for the whole next year is being sealed at this very moment and I'd better shape up, sick of standing, sick of being hungry, etc, and I went home and sort of vegged in my friends' backyard, enjoying the view and the quiet and just sticking things out until nightfall. :-(

I spent the first day of Sukkot at home. Friday night I had a bizarre experience. I went out to a meal where I hardly knew anyone -- and was delighted to discover several other singles my age who were really nice and normal -- except for one woman who said really crazy and abusive things to me every time we were alone (such as in the kitchen, when I went in to help). I tried to make friendly conversation, but out of nowhere, she called me "buttinsky" and said "don't ever speak to me again, and don't think I don't know what you are trying to do." She clearly was, as I like to say, "off her meds." I tried not to take it personally, but I was shaken. As the meal went on, she started making public complaints about me at the table, about how awful I am. She seemed to have some paranoia around the fact that I'm a journalist, fearing that I was trying to find things out about her and invade her privacy. It got really creepy, and at one point when she left the table --leaning down to whisper "having a good time, Sarah?" in my ear -- I just burst into tears. It was so embarrassing. Meanwhile the host had left to "lay some church on her," and the other guests tried to comfort me, saying she always gets like this when she drinks too much (turns out she'd been doing whiskey shots in the kitchen all night), and that each of them had at one point or another been a victim of her verbal abuse. I'm guessing the host feels sorry for her or feels some sort of responsibility to make sure she's not alone on holidays or something, and that's why he keeps inviting her. But seriously, this woman needs an intervention. It was horrible!

Workwise, I'm doing OK. I've got a new-old client (I worked for them a few years ago, covering for a writer on maternity leave, and now they've got a new project and hired me to do it) for whom I'm writing a children's magazine which will be distributed in Jewish day schools in the States. I'm also writing an article for the Jewish Week and am taking a Travel Writing course online, with mediabistro. So I'm keeping busy, but would really love some lucrative long-term projects right now. (Wouldn't we all?)

Please pray for the health of Nechah Davina bat Chava, an acquaintance of mine in the States who is single and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into the hospital on Friday for a double mastectomy. This news has hit me hard.

In other news, my friend Leah asked me to babysit her kitten, Shachar, so for a few days we've got two cats in the house. Wouldn't you know that little Shachar, who is half the size of Artmis, is terrible to her? She hisses and growls. Otherwise she's a sweety. When Artemis is out, Shachar is cuteness itself. Shachar is actually up for adoption (her owner's son is allergic to cats), so if you know anyone who would like a 3-month-old kitten who was rescued from the street at the age of 1 month, and is extremely cute (when not with other cats), let me know. FYI Shachar has been living with 2 dogs and is fine with them.

Also, I got a call from the woman who owns Artemis' mother, telling me that Artemis' brother is also up for adoption, because the neighbors are complaining about how many cats they have. Artemis' brother is 5 1/2 months old and is friendly, sleek, and pretty. I almost adopted him myself before I chose Artemis. I can provide contact information for that, too.

You know that couch I bought, before I left for the States? Boy has it been in use. My roommate has had so many friends sleeping over lately, it's been like Grand Central Station around her. I'm happy to be hospitable, but eventually told her that I'm starting to miss my privacy, so we agreed not to have company for a while.

Among other guests was Liz. Remember Liz, our not-Jewish friend who speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic and has friends on both sides of the "divide"? Well, she had to leave the country on short notice. She'd been working in the Palestinian territories at an institute for higher education, but because Israel controls visas into and out of the West Bank, and doesn't seem to care whether Palestinians have professional people working at their institutes for higher education (which seems silly to me, since wouldn't it be better for Israel if more Palestinians were studying to do useful things?) she couldn't get a work visa. She had a tourist visa, and was leaving the country every three months and then coming back in to get it renewed (many non-Jews who want to live or work in Israel or the PA do this. It's illegal but very common. They just go to Jordan or Cypress or Egypt every three months and then come back.) Well, the last time she re-entered from Jordan, border patrol caught her and told her that she can't renew her visa again, and she has 3 weeks to leave the country. So last night Liza escorted Liz to the airport, and she's gone back to New York to live with her parents until she figures out her next step. (If anyone out there can offer Liz a job that would make use of her language skills and Master's in Middle Eastern Studies, please contact me.)

I think that pretty much catches us up. Have a happy Sukkot.