Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sukkot in Jerusalem: Hot and cold

The first day of Sukkot was very nice-- I just love that I live in Jerusalem and it's one of the "shalosh regalim"-- but very hot. It was even hot last night, so hot that I could hardly bear to sit in the sukkah (and this was at night). I realized that one of the reasons I've always loved sukkot is that I always celebrated it in New England, where generally there is crisp fall weather at this time of year, and the leaves are changing colors, and the woods behind my house give off a wonderful earthy smell. We put on our jackets and feel a little chilly, but we can hear the crickets chirping at night, and during the day we can see the different-colored leaves that have blown onto the top of the sukkah.

Here, sukkot is "hamsin" season -- that is, there are blasts of hot air making their way through the region. Today at lunch, I felt rivulets of sweat running down my neck, and that was in a shady sukkah with the bamboo rugs for schach.

I complained about this to someone in my synagogue, who is also from Boston, and he pointed out that part of the meaning of the holiday is to remember that God protected the Jews while we were wandering in the desert, so in fact this blazing heat is "more authentic." I see his point, but still . . .

On my way to dinner last night I thought about New England, and the leaves changing color, and how my parents are selling the house that I lived in from the age of four because they are moving to Cleveland, and how next week (when I go to America) might be my last sukkot in my house, my last sukkot listening to the crickets and having orange and purple leaves fall onto the table . . . and tears came to my eyes, and I got a lump in my throat. Like I have right now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

To all my Jewish friends in the United States:

Have a very happy three-day Yom Tov. On Friday, when I am showering in hot water, and shopping, and doing my exercise video, and making phone calls, and generally getting things done in the world, I will think of you. I will think of you, and will once again thank God in Heaven that I am here and not there. Especially when I'm showering. In hot water. With all my lovely creamy soaps. And blowing my hair dry.

Not to rub it in, or anything . . . .


Happy holiday!


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Beautiful, sad, and thought-provoking post by Lisa.
Singles' Soundtrack

So I'm going through my piles of papers that were filed under "to file," and I'm filing them. I found a piece of paper left over from a project I was thinking about doing many years ago: a tape mix (now it would be a CD) called "West Side Scene," with music whose lyrics give an idea of what it's like to be a Jewish single in the New York meat market. I never got farther than simply listings the songs on this piece of paper. Before I throw it away, I will share the list with you. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section!

Songs that I'd suggested (as you can see, I have a penchant for 80's music):

Looking for a new love -- Jody Watley
Tell it to my heart -- Taylor Dayne
Cold Hearted-- Paula Abdul
I'm too sexy-- R*S*F
Total Eclipse of the Heart-- Nicki French
Hazy Shade of Winter --the Bangles version
Hungry Like the Wolf-- Duran Duran
Do you really want to hurt me--Culture Club
Girls just want to have fun--Cyndi Lauper
Smooth Operator-- Sade
Material Girl-- Madonna
Sleeping Single-- Roxette
Pretender-- Madonna
Prima Donna-- Chicago
What about love-- Heart
Only in my dreams--Debbie Gibson
Like a Virgin-- Madonna
You're the Inspiration-- Chicago (that would be the last song, to end on a positive note)

Songs suggested by others (I don't know all these songs so can't vouch for their relevancy):

White wedding-- Billy Idol
Here I go again on my own-- White Snake
In and out of love-- Bon Jovi
I need a love and it won't drive me crazy-- J.C. Mellencamp
Uptown Girl-- Billy Joel
I want to know what love it--Foreigner
Flashdance (What a feelin')-- ?
You give love a bad name-- Bon Jovi
This ain't your mama's rebbetzin

She's trading kugel for Russell Crowe and spilling the beans about shule politics.

Via Bloghead, welcome to a fabulous new j-blog, the Renegade Rebbetzin. I highly recommend reading her first few posts, where she introduces herself. Fascinating and highy entertaining.

Welcome to the blogosphere, RenReb!
Funny how a day can turn from dreadful to amazing with these 5 little words: "We certainly owe you money."

I've been noticing that the paper I've been working for for 5 months has been overtaxing me. Meaning, waaaaay too much of my paycheck has been going to the government. I had the feeling that I'd probably filled out my tax form -- the Israeli equivalent of the I-9 -- incorrectly, but never had time to get the paperwork together and trek to the . . . foreboding drumroll . . . INCOME TAX OFFICE.

No, that's a lie. The real reason I never went is that I'm afraid of personal finances, OK? I'm a writer, not an accountant, OK? And I was doubly afraid of having to talk about personal finances in Hebrew, OK?

Well, now two things happened: I ran out of money, and I got the freedom (read: unemployed status) to go to whatever government offices I need. So I got together all the paystubs from the paper, as well as from the billing company that has been handling my freelance stuff. I went to the INCOME TAX OFFICE and sweated buckets during the hour that I waited for my number to come up. I was thinking: I'm sure I'm missing paperwork. I'll have to come back tomorrow with more paperwork, I just know it. What is that form that everyone is filling out? Where did they get that? Do I need one too? Better fill it out. Oh, it's the I-9 thing, sort of. But if I filled it out wrong the first time, what are the chances I'll do it correctly now? If I leave spaces blank because I'm unsure, will the clerk get impatient? God, I feel so self-conscious. I bet everyone can see that I'm a stupid American. Can I request to speak with an English-speaker? What if no one speaks English? I bet all the clerks are Russian immigrants. I'm sunk. I'd better practice telling my story in Hebrew in my head. Hm, what's that sign say? I need copies of my National Identity Card? Oh, man, how was I supposed to know that? Is there a copy machine here? Yes, on floors 1 and 3. Will I miss my turn? What do those other signs say? I don't understand any of them. Oh, man . . . "

In the end I did not get copies of my identity card because both machines were broken (figures), and the clerk in fact did not speak English. But it's OK because I spoke in Hebrew, and I (mostly) understood her Hebrew! Turns out that the billing company for my freelancing had listed me as being in a much higher tax bracket than I really am, and so the paper taxed me as if I'm a bajillionaire. The clerk looked at my paystubs and called up my file in her computer, and said "you've been waaaay overtaxed, it's ridiculous. We certainly owe you money. A lot of money. Given your salary and the fact that you get hefty tax breaks for being a new immigrant, it's possible you've owed no taxes at all, and will get it all back."

So, basically, I do have to go back with more paperwork, but it's worth it because I stand to get back up to 17,000 shekels. Yes, that is seventeen thousand New Israeli Shekels. That's around, oh, 4 thousand dollars.

I'll see you in Bermuda!!!!

Anyhow, after that it was all sunny and uphill from there. In the afternoon my new cleaning girl came over! I've been without cleaning help ever since my first helper left a few months ago for summer vacation. Now I've hired one of the students at the girls' seminary around the corner, and she is great. My apartment is soooooo clean. No dust! All surfaces sparkling! Dream come true! For only 20 NIS per hour! Don't tell the INCOME TAX OFFICE!

And, to top it all off, I had a good date.

Excellent start to the new year: Money coming to me, managing in Hebrew, household help, and a good date. It doesn't get any better than that!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Woo hoo! I'm the featured letter of the day at! Woo hoo!

To those of you who found me through Odd Todd, welcome! I'm a 32-year-old Jewish journalist who moved from New York to Jerusalem 14 months ago. My blog is a trail mix of personal observations about living as an American in Israel, complaints about dating, links to articles and other blogs, and a smattering of political commentary. Please feel free to introduce yourself in the comments. I'd love to know that you stopped by. And please come again, anytime!

And thanks to Odd Todd for picking my letter!

PS Do I need to start translating the Hebrew words I use? Tell me in the comments if you'd find this helpful.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I just want to say that I feel a little bad that my first Yom Kippur post, below, was about dating complaining instead of, oh, repentance. It just turned out that way. I really did have a meaningful Yom Kippur, thought about lots of self-improvement-related things, enjoyed my new shule tremendously . . . . overall, a good experience, for a fast day in which we talk constantly about our nothingness in comparison to God's omnipotence. Very much looking forward to Sukkot, my favoritest holiday! I bought my own lulav and etrog this year, for the first time. I might not have a porch on which to build a sukkah, but by golly, I'm not going to scrounge around for my friend's-sister's-husband's-friend's-brother's lulav and etrog. Chayyei Sarah deserves to perform the mitzva of lulav and etrog every day of the holiday if she wants, husband or no husband. I'm gonna start racking up those heavenly brownie points now, in preparation for next Yom Kippur. :-)
Lord, my load is heavy

A few things I can tolerate in a date, though I do not prefer them:

  • Physical disability (depending on various factors)
  • baldness
  • hairy back
  • bad dresser
  • a little too serious, not much sense of humor
  • a little too geeky
  • skinny to the point of puniness
  • can't spell (if his math skills make up for it) :-)
  • wears a little too much cologne (if it's a good cologne) :-)

A few things I cannot tolerate in a date:

  • having a female roommate
  • making up one's own kulot and heterim
  • talking for 2 hours and 45 minutes of a 3-hour date
  • having absolutely nothing positive to say, about anything
  • trying to kiss me on a first date, before knowing whether I'm shomer negiah
  • scary driver
  • no neck
  • says "oh, you went to the Barnyard, heh heh heh"
  • overpowered by a bad cologne that makes me want to puke
Feel free to share your own lists (be you male or female) in the comments section. Just please, nothing that would identify specific people. Thanks.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Last articles submitted . . .

I'm free! I'm free!

Unemployed, but FREE!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ups and Downs

Today I happened to be in East Jerusalem for the first time in my life, interviewing some people for a story. The story is about a certain peace program going on, in which Israelis and Palestinians are working together on a certain project. The Palestinians and Israelis I interviewed were talking about the importance of the people on both sides not losing hope, remembering that there are people on the other side who want to work together, and respecting each other's suffering. Lately I've done a few stories about Israelis and Palestinians working toward peace, and it's always a positive experience for me. It does give one some hope that there is a tiny spark of light at the end of the long tunnel.

Anyhow, the interview took place in a building near Jerusalem's police headquarters. Afterward, at around 3:40, I waited at a bus stop in front of the police building, thinking that this must be a noisy place to work, given that every 30 seconds, another police car leaves the police lot with its siren blaring. I was also blandly noticing that it was a very ugly neighborhood, very industrial, but that being there made me curious to learn more about Jerusalem's East side. To me it had always seemed like this sort of mythical place where the "other" lived, and now there I was, albeit just on the border with West Jerusalem, and it was just a place, with sidewalks and cars and some trees and lots of police cars with their sirens going. I was also thinking that it was very hot outside.

The bus came and I hopped on. I should mention here that while I am completely blase about eating in Jerusalem's cafes, I happen to be very afraid of the buses (interestingly, I know many people who feel the opposite. I guess my food is just more important to me . . . ) So I got on and immediately scanned all my fellow passengers, looking for anyone suspicious.

I settled into a seat (in the back. To be further from the suicide bomber I'm petrified will get on) and started daydreaming. After a few blocks, we were stopped at a red light, and I noticed two things. One, that there sure were lots of police cars, sirens blaring, all going in the same direction. And the other was that one of them was towing a platform with a collection of police barriers-- those gates used for blocking off the site of an event or a crime.

Not a good sign.

Somehow, someone on the bus found out that there had just been a terrorist attack in French Hill, the very neighborhood into which my bus had just passed (French Hill is on the border between East and West Jerusalem). The light turned green, and the bus pulled forward, and then I saw a policewoman directing traffic into a detour, and the woman in front of me tsk-tsked and said "tut, tut, that must have been where it was." We all looked -- I searched for a bombed bus-- but all I could see was a big traffic jam. My bus continued on its way and I went home.

Here's some information about what had happened.

My compartmentalization skills must be very good, because the knowledge that I'd been blocks away from a suicide bombing hardly affected me at all, at least outwardly. It was sobering, but after all, I don't think I know anyone in French Hill, and I was OK, and getting upset wouldn't change anything.

Shortly after I got home, the air-conditioner repairman came over to fix my unit, and, oddly, it turns out that he, too, was in French Hill, at the scene of the attack, about one minute after it happened, before the police came and starting rerouting traffic. He saw the remains of the bomber and the victims . . . I told him I would have understood if he'd cancelled our appointment, and he said "I've seen worse," but I could tell he was shaken up.

Then he proceeded to try to set me up with one of his other customers, whose washing machine he'd repaired that morning. American, 29, religiously observant, lives around the corner from me . . . tell me, in America, how many people get set up on blind dates by the air-conditioner repairman? In Israel, it somehow seems so normal. Everyone is watching out for each other.

In the end, I think the bombing upset me more than I care to admit, because it's only 9 pm and I'm exhausted. Too many ups and downs and ironies today. Talking about peace with some lovely Palestinian women, while another was blowing herself up and taking some Israelis with her; finding out that my air-conditioner repairman was there, too, just a couple hours before his appointment at my house; getting set up on a blind date by the same repairman . . . What does it all mean? It makes my head spin. I need to go to sleep.
Things My Shaliach Never Told Me

Like most American Orthodox Jews, I've always preferred sweet wines to dry ones. Whenever I brought wine to a Shabbat meal, I'd pick Moscato D'Asti or something similar, some light, fruity wine that made everyone say "Ah, fruit juice with some alcohol in it!" And when I'm the host, the kiddush wine is always sweet.

Aye, there's the rub. When I get invited out --which, thank goodness, is often-- I have no control over the type of wine used for kiddush. And so, almost invariably, I'd end up taking my requisite sip of something dry, my lips would pucker, and I'd politely refuse any offers to drink more.

It's not a nice thing to happen every Shabbat, to have to drink something that makes your mouth pucker. So a couple of weeks ago, when I went to Beth's house for Shabbat, I borrowed their copy of Wine For Dummies. I figured that as long as I had to drink something vile every week, I should at least be able to describe in words the nature of the vileness. And besides, this way I'd have a language for figuring out which dry wines were worse than others.

A few days later, I was walking down Emek Refaim street, and one of the wine shops was having a tasting on the street of two Recanti Reserve wines: A merlot and a cabernet sauvignon. Yes, I now knew the difference between those two things! Here was an opportunity to try two different wine varieties, for free, at the same time, so I could compare the taste (and maybe put into intelligent words which I hated more). I was able to do this because the wines were kosher. The lady took out two wine glasses (real glasses - what kosher shop in the States would bother?) and poured me a quarter glass of merlot and a quarter glass of the cabernet sauvignon.

I held the glasses up to look at the color. I swirled. I sniffed. I sipped, gazing into the distance so I could concentrate on the tastes and the feeling of the wines in my mouth. I determined that I did not like either one, but I liked the cabernet sauvignon better because it was lighter (yes, that means something to me now!) and because the merlot had some sort of chocolate or tobacco tones that I didn't like (that part might be hot air).

Later, I went into my local supermarket, which carries an entire aisle of kosher wines, and determined two things:
1) I could purchase the same Recanti wines that I'd just tasted in the supermarket, if I'd wanted to, for about 15 shekels less per bottle than in the wine shop.
2) Israeli winemakers seem to be really into merlots, sauvignon blancs, and cabernet sauvignons. I hardly saw anything else. But maybe that's just the selection at this store.

Over Rosh Hashanah, I made a point of dwelling over the various wines served to me. It really is more fun to drink something dry if at least you are educated about it! I had great fun with it.

On Friday night came the big moment. Before the holiday, my paper had given me a beautiful gift basket, which came with a bottle of a Binyamina mixture of merlot and cabernet sauvignon from 2003. (How many secular publications in America would give a Rosh Hashanah basket to all employees, containing kosher wine and sweets?) I brought it to one of my hosts, someone who I had the feeling knew something about wines, who at first was tempted to save it for another year or two, but his wife convinced him to open it then. And I discovered that . . . it was good! I mean, it wasn't terrible! I could appreciate why this wine was better, at least to me, than the others I'd tasted!

So now I'm hooked on wine tasting, and live in a country where nice kosher wines are plentiful and easily attained. And, as even I knew, and as I knew even before making aliyah, Israeli winemaking has much improved in the last few years. Before reading Wine For Dummies, I'd given my cousin Meir a copy of the "2005 guide to Israeli wines" by Daniel Rogov. I might have to borrow that back. :-)

Anyhow, that's it. Gotta go get some work done.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Oh, man . . . .
Crucial correction to the recent post about Saw You At Sinai.

Please read the update if you read the original post. Also, if you know of others who have linked to the original post, please ask them to link again, to draw attention to the update.

Thank you.
Stuck at Phase II

So, according to Jewish tradition, teshuva (repentance) has 3 parts: Acknowledging your wrongdoing; feeling regret for it; and committing to never doing it again.

What do you do if the third part is . . . elusive?

I'm right now, at this very moment, contemplating something I did wrong quite recently, something which had the potential to hurt another person (though thank God, this particular time it did not). At the time I wasn't "thinking." But now it's done, and I realize it was rash and not a good judgement call. I know I did something wrong and acknowledge it. I certainly feel regret for it.

But how can I possibly know that I'll never do such a thing again? The human failing, the character flaw, that led me to do it the first time (or, as the case may be, the 5th or 10th or 50th time I've done something similar over the last 32 years) is still there. How can I know that I've erased the possibility of doing this particular transgression ever again?

Part of me feels that it's impossible. There's no way I can know. I can try to avoid it. But deep down I have to admit that the time will come when I'll probably do something similar, without thinking.

And yet, the other part of me realizes that the very reason teshuva is so hard is that I have to stop being "stuck" at this "never again" stage. I have to become a different person, the type of person who would never dream of doing this particular thing. I have to change my very character, so that it no longer has this particular flaw. Then, my teshuva will be complete.

I know that for most of my readers, this is old news. I have not really said anything new about teshuva here. But these profound ideas always feel new, when they are being internalized.

Well . . . 3 days left to overturn my character before Yom Kippur. In 3 days, Hashem managed to create the sky, the sea, the land, and celestial bodies. Compared to that, becoming a different person seems like nothing. And yet, it is everything.

Of Blogs and Books

Introducing a new J-blog by my friend, fan, and frequent commenter, Judah

Sarah Smile explains where babies come from.

David calls for donations of disposable coffee carriers so he can bring hot drinks to the soldiers at isolated checkpoints.

Lisa’s description of the Rosh Hashanah goings-on over in Tel Aviv just show how different Israel's two largest cities are. From where I stood in Jerusalem, everything was so quiet you could hear a pin drop on the street, because everyone was either in a synagogue or at home, eating. I must admit, though, that I can speak only for my own neighborhood – and that for all I know there were areas in Tel Aviv that were similarly serene. Still, it’s an indication of why I find it hard to believe that one tiny country can have two cities that are as dissimilar as J-lem and TA. The whole thing never fails to amuse and trouble me (both feelings simultaneously, and on many levels). I’m glad to know that Lisa had a nice holiday, though. Shana tova, Lisa!

Don't forget to vote for the Watership Down character with whom you most identify.

You have read Watership Down, haven't you? Come on! Next you'll be telling me that you've never read A Separate Peace, or The Moonstone, or The Chosen (FYI some of my Latino students in the Bronx read The Chosen for my class - they picked it from a list I provided- and they adored it. One girl told me that parts of it made her cry. So it really is a univerally-appreciated novel, not just a Jewish thing.) These were all books I chose for summer reading in high school and never forgot. (Each summer we were given a list of about 20 books and had to choose 3 or 4 from the list -- a very good system-- much better than forcing everyone to read the same books, and certainly better than what usually happens during the school year: Everyone reading the same book at the same pace. As a former high school student and a former high school English teacher, I say that the surest way to kill a book is to teach it in school . . . Sigh.)

And please don't tell me that you've never read any of the mysteries by Agatha Christie, particularly Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None. No? Get thee to a library or bookstore, my poor, deprived reader.

And now I'm off to work on my last four articles for the week, before rejoining the world of freelance journalists. Onward and upward!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Apples, Honey, Fiver, Bigwig

So, it's a new year here at Chayyei Sarah! Shana tova to one and all!

Rosh Hashanah was very nice. Last year at this time I had to ask a local shule's hospitality committee to arrange meals for me, since I didn't know anyone. This year, I got more than enough invitations! What a nice feeling! I had a few meals with families I've come to know, one with an Israeli family I'd never met before (spoke Hebrew the whole evening!), one with singles, and one at my shule. I joined a different congregation from the one I was a member of last year; the people at the new one are friendlier. The shule also had a singles' program at the rabbi's house for seudat shelishit on the last day of the 3-day holiday. It was all a great community feeling, I met new people throughout the holiday, did some teshuva . . . it was all very nice! (and, yes! I made it to shule all three days! Sort of on time! I'm so proud of myself!)

As you can probably tell, I'm feeling better than I did in the last post. Having three days to do nothing but pray and eat and see friends and meet new people did wonders for me.

In other news, my beloved copy of Watership Down has officially fallen apart, due to overuse. I read it for, let's see, the eleventh (twelfth? thirteenth?) time over the last few days. The front cover was already off, and now the book has split in two. I suppose I should buy a new copy, but this one has all my notes in the margins, and my favorite passages marked up, and all the foreshadowing cross-referenced . . . I read the book for the first time as required "summer reading" when I was 15, and each time I go back I discover something new (including this time, when I discovered something super-cool! Well, cool if you are an English-major nerdy former-English-teacher literary type! Maybe I'll divulge it next time)

For any other Watership Down fans out there, here's a site with photos of the real Watership down in England.

OK, pop quiz: With which Watership Down character do you most identify, and why? After some people comment, I'll tell you which one I most identify with. Actually, that's a good extra credit question for those of you who know me in person: With which Watership Down character do you most identify me?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

No friend like an old friend

(this is a little rambly because I'm rushing to write it before Yom Tov starts)

Last night, Yael, who has been my friend since we were around 6 years old, called me and asked if I want to go for coffee.

I said "Yael, I just had a horrible, stressful day. So stressful, that now that the stress has ended, and my adrenaline level is going down, I feel sick to my stomache. It's awful."

Twenty minutes later, Yael was at my door. I'd left my door open for her because I needed to lie down and nurse my stomache pains. She found my apartment in a state of disarray, because the fix-it guy had been there and I'd had to move furniture so he could get to things in the walls. My bed was covered with books that I'd taken down so I could move my bookshelf. And since I couldn't lie on the bed, Yael found me on the floor, on a blanket, miserable.

She then proceeded to put my books away for me, and then sat on the dusty (because of the fix-it guy) floor so I could tell her what happened. I'd made a list of all the stressful things that happened. There were 16 items on the list, but here are just some of them:

1. I had to hand in all my work for the week 2 days early, because of Rosh Hashanah. Same work, half the time. And you may recall that I've been burned out -- and my boss delayed giving me an answer about taking a vacation for so long that it became moot, since my job ends after next week anyway. I've been running on empty. So, basically, for the last week or so I've been doing a really bad job. Oh, nothing journalistically bad; everything I've written is accurate and comprehensive. I mean things like handing work in late, sending emails but forgetting to attach documents, stuff like that. Flaky, ditzy stuff. I hate it when I do a bad job (which is why that rarely happens). Anyhow, the short work week and my current state of ditziness culminated in my handing in an article so late yesterday that 2 people had to stay at work late, waiting for me to get it in, because without it there was a hole in the page. My editor, who is normally the most reasonable, even-tempered boss one could hope for, actually raised his voice to me, which never happens. It's one thing for me to be burned-out-flaky, another to be inconveniencing other people. And right before Rosh Hashanah!

2. One of the articles I submitted was deemed so unclear that it was unusable. I can't explain here why that happened without discussing the topic of the article, but basically, I'd actually worked really hard on it, but the editors were coming from a different place. That happens, I know. Ultimately, it's their decision, which I accept. I also know that not everyone can produce consistently amazing work all the time; everyone has their Achilles heel. But it was a bad day for this to happen.

3. Another article I wrote, I felt bad about because of loshon hara issues. This is always a tough aspect of being Orthodox and a journalist. Obviously I take care that what I write is true, an accurate portrayal of reality. But a thing's being true is what makes it loshon hara. Sometimes I feel no conflict at all -- such as if I'm saying loshon hara against a government ministry. But when I have to write bad things about a basically decent individual who may have done something stupid, but who generally is an upstanding citizen, I do feel bad. And right before Rosh Hashanah!

4. I went clothes shopping in Israel for the first time. You have to understand that I hate shopping. I despise the entire experience. I've been putting this off all year because I'd been warned that the clothes here have no sizes listed on the labels, and the store is likely to have only a couple of each item. So you have to go around holding shirts and dresses up to see if maybe, if you squint hard enough, they might fit you. Anyway, I walked into a store that had been recommended by some friends. My shopping philosophy is: "Pick a store that is likely to have clothes that fit and look nice, buy a few things, and then wait a full year. Repeat." It was 2 days before Rosh Hashanah and I had to buy something, or I'd be going to shule in a t-shirt and sweatpants.

The ladies in the store gave me several blouses and skirts to try. Everything hung on me like it's 4 sizes too big (also, I'm short, so all the skirts were about 6 inches too long. There is no such thing as "petite" sizes here.) But the thing was, everyone in the store, including other customers, were ooing and ahing and saying "wow, that blouse looks great on you" and "wow, that's such a nice outfit for Yom Tov." And I realized that here in the Middle East, "loose and flowy" is the style. It's OK to wear something too big on you, because it's not too big, it's just flowy. I looked in the mirror and assessed what I was wearing. The skirts needed to be shortened, and the clothes were not my style, but I'd seen women all over Jerusalem wearing clothes just like this and knew that to Israelis, I really did look great, and not at all like a little girl swimming in her mommy's too-big clothes. So I chalked it up to "being absorbed" and bought two very flowy blouses, one very flowy skirt (which they shortened for me), and two very flowy shells to wear under the blouses.

Later, I showed Yael the clothes and she said "It looks like it's 4 sizes too big for you." But when I showed it to my Israeli neighbor, she just said "wow, what beautiful, flowy material." So there you go. I've gone native. But the whole thing was really stressful for me while it was happening. Thank God I won't be doing that again for another year. :-)

5. I was supposed to go to the OU Center to meet with the staff and discuss getting a "Little Sister," but because of my work stuff (see above), had to cancel it. And right before Rosh Hashanah!

6. So I had the fix-it guy over to take care of things in my apartment that had been building up. Again, afterward it was worth it but while it was happening (in the middle of my writing an article) it was just a mess. Moving furniture, running to the hardware store for a part I needed to supply, etc.

7. I hadn't had anything to drink all day, and hadn't eaten anything healthy. I was running on empty, literally.

Anyhow, the real point of all this is that Yael, having found me on the floor and put my books away, said "get up. We are going out for some healthy food." And so we got take-out, and came back to my place, and watched a video of "Anne of Green Gables," which she and I used to watch together when we were about 12.

And the fresh air felt so good, and the real food, and the water, and knowing that I have a dear friend nearby who knows me well and who I feel so comfortable with that I feel OK letting her see me on the floor, moaning and miserable. And who understands why I love "Anne of Green Gables," with the passion that only a 12-year-old can feel for it.

One of the hardest things about making aliyah was leaving my close friends behind in the US. I'm so happy that one of my oldest, best friends made aliyah before I did, and was waiting for me. When I was on the verge of nervous collapse, she saved me, and for that I am so grateful!

I gotta run; yom tov is in half an hour. Shanah tova to one and all!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Get in while the going is good


I ran into an old college acquaintance of mine, who now lives in Israel and is a matchmaker for

For those who need background, SawYouAtSinai is an internet dating service which sort of combines qualities of both internet dating and traditional matchmaking. You post a profile of yourself with a photo, stats, and essays, but they are not viewable by the public. The only ones who see them are the matchmakers who work for the site. If they think another member is appropriate for you, they send you an email and then you can see the other person's profile. This way, it's not a public free-for-all like Jdate, Frumster, or Dosidate (so people who are shy or discreet feel more comfortable), but you do get to see what the person wrote about themselves and their photo. Personally I think it's a nice complement to the other sites.

Anyhow, this acquaintance of mine pulled me aside and whispered "I saw your profile on SawYouAtSinai, and I just want to tell you not to feel bad."

I said "Why? Is there a problem with my profile? Did I say something wrong?"

She said "no, your profile is fine. I'm just saying, don't take it personally if you haven't gotten any responses from the matchmakers. If they aren't setting you up, it doesn't reflect on you."

I said "What? What are you talking about?"

She said "You have to understand, in all of Israel, there are over 300 women signed up for the service [she may have said closer to 400, but I don't remember] and only 30 men."

I said "You mean to tell me that in the entire country, there are 30 men signed up, and more than 10 times that number of women?"

She said "Yes. And when you factor in that those 30 men are in different age ranges and different hashkafot, the chances of any one woman having a man on the site who is remotely for her dims considerably."

No wonder they tried to set me up with a divorced man in the US who has 6 children! Though I have to say, given what she told me, I'm pleased to report that they did offer to set me up with a few guys who were, like, normal! Actually within the realm of marriage imagination!*

Now, granted, SawYouAtSinai caters more to an American crowd. It's not well-advertised in Israel. I checked on Dosidate, an Israeli site, to compare, and by making my search terms as broad as possible (but excluding men who do not currently live in Israel), I discovered 6,157 men of all ages, shades of Orthodoxy, etc.

I'd be interested if any of my male readers who are on Dosidate could do an identical search for women, and tell me what numbers came up.

Anyhow, the point is, if you are a single male homo sapien Jew living in Israel, and you want to get dates, and you have a pulse, SawYouAtSinai is, like, the most amazing supply-and-demand situation you could ever dream up! It's a freakin' candy store! Go crazy! Get 'em while they're hot! Buy low, sell high!

* Here's my SawYouAtSinai breakdown:

10 matches offered (4 in Israel, 6 in United States)

  • 3 didn't happen because the male declined the offer
  • 2 didn't happen because I declined the offer (one had 6 kids -- excuse me for not being able to handle that--and the other was, hashkafically and age-wise, soooooooooooo out of my radar)
  • 3 didn't happen because I had already dated the guys (though, 2 I offered to date again, since many years had passed and people change; but they said no)
  • 1 resulted in a date that was very nice, but the guy never called again.
  • 1 resulted in a date with a guy who was completely bizarre, a little scary actually, and I couldn't wait to get out of there.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I just got a call from the matchmaker involved in this story, who said that either she'd mis-spoken or I'd misunderstood (either could be the case, since the original conversation happened under hurried circumstances), but the ratio of men to women is NOT as bad as 1:10. First of all, there are many people whose profiles are "hidden," seen only by the matchmakers they choose as "their" matchmakers, and therefore my friend wouldn't know about them. Plus, she said now, the true ratio of men to women, among the "public" profiles seen by all the matchmakers, is more like 1:2. Still bad, she acknowledged, but not as bad as 1:10. The number "30" had come up -- or was meant to come up-- more in connection with the number of men in Israel on the site who are within my age/hashkafa range (though, keep in mind, I'm competing with many, many other women for those 30 guys.) Basically, she said that the situation is bad, but not 1:10 bad.

Also, my own note: women should not refrain from signing up from Saw You At Sinai just because of the ratio problem. The guy you are supposed to meet just might be on the site. Signing up takes minutes, it's free, and it's discreet; you really have nothing to lose. If you don't like the people they suggest to you, you do not have to accept the matches. And, you might be one of the lucky ones for whom the site really works.

I apologize to Saw You At Sinai, and to my readers, for the error.

If you know of sites that have linked to this post, please ask them to make their readers aware of this update.
Things My Shaliach Never Told Me

Usually, when leaving the company of someone like a store clerk, one would say "yom naim" (have a nice day).

These days, everyone is saying "Shana Tova" (have a good year). Everyone. The security guard at the bank, the waiters and waitresses, the receptionist at the newspaper office, the guy who came to fix my air conditioner, the mailman, taxi drivers . . . all are wishing me a happy new year these days. Because they know what Rosh Hashanah is.

Today I stopped for a late lunch at a coffee bar. When I went to pay, I saw that next to the cash register was a platter of apple slices, honey cake, and a bowl of honey, free for the taking. I pointed to it and told the (secular) waiters behind the counter "This platter is why I made aliyah. Because here you can walk into any coffee bar, and the people know what Rosh Hashanah is." They sort of blinked for a second, and then smiled broadly. And wished me a Shana Tova.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Various shades of wonderful

For those of you who were appalled by my previous plug for Kerry, on the basis that "Kerry is bad for Israel" or "Bush is so much better for Israel" blah blah blah . . .

Here's what the other side has to say about it: An article to the effect that Palestinian-Americans are largely indifferent about this election, because when it comes to issues important to them, there's not a big enough difference between the two candidates.

(The comments to the first link seem to be missing. I'm not sure why. I think that post went up after I changed templates. These technical things are beyond me.)


Overseas citizens: You can register online by going here.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Deja vu all over again

Is it just me, or has this article about J-blogs in tomorrow's Jewish Week appeared before? I could swear I've seen it already, or most of it, if not in the Jewish Week then elsewhere.

If the Jewish Week is going to reprint or republish articles, they should at least correct outdated information, such as this sentence:

Weiss was hired recently as a staff writer at The Forward and now keeps a blog there (

As we all know, Weiss no longer works at The Forward, and he no longer maintains the Fiddish blog.

Another article on their site for tomorrow's paper is clearly old news. It's an article about the lawsuit by some Israeli-American victims of terror against the Arab Bank. The article says the lawsuit was filed "last week," but I can tell you it was filed weeks ago; it was covered in the Israeli press.

What's up with the JW? Are these articles truly in tomorrow's paper or is it a glitch on the website?

Welcome to a new J-blog out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by rising journalism star Susan Jacobs.
Are you a capitalist?

Judah, the author of Am Ehad urges you to make aliyah.

If you come, then after you are finished revamping the economic policies here, I'll take you out for falafel.
Proof that my sister and brother-in-law are meant for each other.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Learn the Force, Luke

David over at IsraellyCool has this story about a new Jedi Academy opening in Romania.

I can't figure out how to leave comments for David, but the following must be said:

The foods listed in the article are never seen in the films. They are simply recipes whose titles are puns on various aspects of the movie. You can find recipes for "Wookiee Cookies" and "Twin Sun Toast" etc in a hokey (but fun) cookbook (which I happen to own) called The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and other Galactic Recipes by Robin Davis. Again, it's all normal foods, like chocolate chip cookies, that have pun-ny names like "Tusken Raider Taters" and "Boba Fett-uccine."

At my last Star Wars party, I served many of these pun-ny foods. But one of my guests, Moshe, brought the fixin's for a real Star Wars food. Check it out: You know how in Episode IV, when Luke sits down for dinner with his aunt and uncle, you see a bluish liquid in his glass? Moshe said that according to mesorah, that beverage is Bantha milk. So Moshe mixed up a concoction of milk, vanilla, sugar, and blue food coloring. I couldn't try it because of my lactose intolerance, but the other guests said it was delicious. Go Moshe! Go Banthas! Go, Star Wars nerds!
Burning out

The problems of the world are weighing heavily on me today. I'm feeling pretty down. I think it's because I'm suffering from burn-out. I haven't had a proper day off since I started my current job 5 months ago. Oh, I was sick a few times, and there was the day I played hooky all morning and went swimming with Beth, but basically, the whole summer has gone by and I haven't done anything fun that I wasn't covering for the paper. I'm hoping to take off a couple of days in the next few weeks to go to Tiberias/Lake Kinneret, and see a bit of the Galil. Other than 3 hours in Tzfat to interview someone, I haven't been to the Galil since I was 18 years old. I love my job, but it's prevented me from enjoying Israel very much. It seems silly to take off two days when my (temporary-from-the-beginning) job is ending in a couple of weeks anyhow, but I've earned the vacation days and I need to use them now.

Today I took out my little box of index cards that I use to file my freelancing ideas (very low tech but it works for me). I've hardly looked at it since last April. I weeded out the stories that are old, or which I'm not interested in anymore, or which I now realize are simply weak ideas that won't sell. I also added in a few new ideas, or jotted down better angles to old ones. I was happy to see that many of the ideas in there are still good, and after I finish my current position I'll have plenty of pitch letters to develop. So, no need to worry about starving to death. Not yet!

Part of me is looking forward to returning to the freelancing lifestyle. It's so much more free, and since I'll be working for myself again, I'll be able to go to the Kinneret or to my favorite beach spot in Netanya any time I darn well feel like it. But, I'll miss the excitement of having a staff position. I've interviewed so many fascinating people: diplomats, hippies, government officials, religious leaders, athletes, and all sorts of quirky characters. I've exposed a couple of gross governmental inefficiencies. I'll miss that.

But I won't miss my weekly Wednesday-night-letdown, when I have several stories to write, all due the following morning, and I'm trapped in my house with a bunch of computer files and notebooks and somehow have to form it all into something that won't embarrass me or my editor. See, when I'm not burned out, I see it as a "creative process" or whatever, not a chore. I don't mind the writing part, just the fact that it comes up relentlessly, every Wednesday, without variation.

I've got a lot of deep thoughts running around in my head about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and settlements, and right-wing and left-wing people, and angry people, but I'm too tired and blah to write about them. I seriously need a vacation from everything. From my house, from Jerusalem, from my work, from my head. I . . . need . . . the . . . beach . . . .

water . . . water . . .

Monday, September 06, 2004

To the person who found me by searching for these terms:

hip hurts when I cough

I hope you feel better soon.
Introducing a new Anglo-Israeli blog! Welcome!
So I took this online quiz, called "Which America-hating minority are you?" thinking it would be interesting to see what comes up, given that I happen to feel quite a lot of affection for America, along with some healthy skepticism and criticism for some of its policies.

I suppose the quiz caught onto the "Americans are loud, ill-mannered, uneducated, and uncosmopolitan" attitude which I absorbed from my European mother, because here is my quiz result:

I am European

Which America Hating Minority Are You?

Take More Robert & Tim Quizzes
Watch Robert & Tim Cartoons

Ah, well, you can take the girl away from her Hungarian chandelier and "this isn't apple strudel, it's apple cake" home, but you can't take the European snootiness out of the girl.

Of course, the American part of me thinks that Europeans should just get over themselves.

Welcome to two of my personalities. No wonder I never get any work done.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

It's a special day at Chayyei Sarah!

Sometime last night, someone, somewhere, made the ten-thousandth hit to this blog.

Lately I've been getting 60-100 unique visitors a day, making around 150 hits. Good enough for me!

Thanks to all my readers.

My God.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The blogger bash last night was terrific. At least 16 blogs were represented. For me, the most gratifying part of the experience was simply being in a place where a variety of people -- men and women, all ages, religious and secular, left-wing and right-wing -- were gathered in one place and being warm and welcoming to each other. I always love it when that happens, when people transcend their differences to have a good time. The atmosphere was as beautiful as the weather in the outdoor cafe where we met. Bloggers sure are a friendly bunch.

The other thing I enjoyed was the moment I looked around at the group and realized that most of the people look, well, ordinary. Meaning, they look just like the people I encounter every day walking down the street. And yet, I know for a fact how extraordinary they are, because I read about their opinions and experiences all the time. It got me thinking that when you're out in the world encountering people, each one of those people has a story. Each one of those ordinary people is extraordinary, it's just that you don't know how.

There's a saying in Hebrew that "every blade of grass has it's own song." I say: Every single person has their own blog, whether they are actually writing it or not.


Also: one of the bloggers introduced me to She had a bunch of books she was giving away, and each had a sticker on it that said this:

Howdy! Hola! Bonjour! Guten Tag!
I'm a very special book. You see, I'm traveling around the world making new friends. I hope I've met another friend in you. Please go to and enter by BCID number (shown below). You'll discover where I've been and who has read me, and can let them know I'm safe here in your hands. Then . . . . READ and RELEASE me!

I took home her copy of Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy, which I've never read, believe it or not. And I checked out the site. There are all these books floating around with these stickers -- people leaving books in random places, hoping they'll be picked up by interested new caretakers for the books-- and you can check online to see who got your book and what they thought of it and where they left it afterward. What a cool concept! Uniting the world through foundling books!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Beginning Again

There is a saying in Hebrew that "kol hatchalot kashot"-- all beginnings are difficult. When I first made Aliyah, a representative of AACI ( the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) came to my ulpan to address the North Americans, and told us something that stuck with me. He said "you will never finish being a new immigrant. When my wife and I made aliyah, we learned Hebrew and bought a house and got settled, and we thought then that we were done being new. But then we had kids and had to learn all about the school system, and we were new again. And then the kids got older and had to take their bagruyot (matriculation exams) which we knew nothing about, and we were new again. And then our oldest went into the army, and we had no idea how to help him get into the unit he wanted to join, or even what the different units were, and we were new again."

When it comes to fencing, I am new again, and it is humbling. Tonight I went for the second time. It was easier than the last time: I knew to come early and got to work out with the kids a bit before the bouting. But . . . I didn't understand any of the coach's instructions, and had to watch everyone else and try to catch on. They don't teach you phrases like "advance-jump-lunge" in ulpan. But I learned the words, so next time I won't be so new when it comes to the vocabulary.

Then there is the issue that my fencing sucks. You need to understand that I was never really very good. But now, in addition to that, I'm out of practice and fencing a different weapon. It's just awful. I lost repeatedly against a kid who was fencing for the first time in his life. Contemplate that for a moment. Think about how embarrassed I was. It felt horrible.

There was another kid at the club, visiting from California. Apparently he comes every summer, I suppose to visit his grandparents. Guess what? Samuil gave him a lesson. Note that he will not give me a lesson because "we don't get paid extra for lessons, so we only give them to the kids who might make it onto the national team." But . . . a kid visiting from California gets a lesson. And no, this is not a kid who is thinking about making Aliyah. He's already got a spot on the Stanford University fencing team for next year.

This time, Pasha (the other coach) was back, and I spoke with him about how passionate I am about the sport, and how I need to fence whether I'm good or not, but it's not so fun when I lose, and I'll do whatever it takes to get private lessons. But he, too, said "we only give lessons to the kids who want to try for the national team." He did tell me, however, that they are trying to put together an evening session just for adults (like me), and that my chances for getting private time with a coach under those circumstances would increase dramatically.

I guess I'll have to wait a little while before I get more explicit with my offer for black-market lessons . . . .

Anyhow, there were some nice things that happened. First of all, the teens were really pretty nice to me, considering that they are all 14 and 15 years old. The girls I met last time smiled warmly and greeted me enthusiastically when they saw me come in, and a Russian boy I'd never even seen before was quite solicitous and went out of his way to make sure I got fencing time with other kids. The language barrier and age difference made it all a little strange, but to the extent that they spoke to me they were nice kids. I sure do miss all the grown-ups at my club in New York, though.

Second, even when I was feeling really, really down about my abysmal performance, even when I had a lump in my throat and wanted to cry because I was fencing so badly and was not having fun, even when I wanted nothing more than to go home right now, I went back for more. I caught the eye of another kid and gave the "you wanna fence?" motion, and we fenced. And I got creamed. And then I fenced some more. And got creamed. And you know what? I went back for more. Come to think of it, it's starting to sound like dating . . . food for thought . . . though, in sports, going back for more instead of quitting is usually a good thing.

And finally, as I was putting my gear back into my fencing bag, two 14-year-old boys -- a native Israeli and a Russian-- came over to admire my epee. I've noticed that everyone wants to examine my epee (insert inappropriate joke here). Finally I asked them why. Turns out that they are riveted by the pommel. They've never seen anything like it. It's an ergonomic handle that I ordered in the smallest size, because my hands are so small. So between being of a design they've never seen and being tiny, my epee handle is the hot new thing. These boys wanted to know which parts of the epee were German, and which were Russian, and which were American, and does everyone in America use a handle like this? And they all think the blade itself is very pretty, until I point out how easily it bends the wrong way . . . and the Russian kid went out to ask the coach if he can fix it (he can't).

I know they were oohing and aahing over my equipment, not over me, but it made me realize that none of them cared that I'm easily creamed. It's a little high-schoolish, but my cool equipment made me cool to them. Well, to the kids at least. They hadn't been paying attention to whether I actually fence well.

As I left, Samuil said "so we'll see you in another couple of weeks?" and I said "no, I'm coming back tomorrow."

He looked surprised . . . and impressed.

Maybe the universal language of fencing isn't about "step," "jump," and "lunge." Maybe it's about showing up, keeping your eyes open, and letting the kids admire your ergonomic pommel. Maybe if I keep going I'll get lessons, and eventually I'll get better. Maybe even a bunch of Russian and Israeli teenagers will let me into their group. Maybe I've learned a few things since high school.

Rabbi Kosman always says "never underestimate the power of your presence." I need to come to terms with the idea that every step of my life -- every new "present"-- will be that much harder than it would have been in the US, because although my soul is at home the rest of me will take a lifetime to adjust. I need to learn to live in the moment and be OK with whatever comes. And I need to keep showing up.


A little later: I called Zivkovic, the company that sold me the bends-the-wrong-way blade, and the owner was nice about it. We worked it out that the next time I come to America (which is relatively soon), I'll bring it over and he'll replace the blade part. He also said I can exchange my (brand new, but too-small) glove for a bigger one, no questions asked. I wish I'd gotten a better blade to begin with, but at least he's being reasonable about fixing the problem. After all, for all he knows I could've been lying when I said that I only started using the blade last week -- I bought it last April.

So now I feel better! (about that, at least . . . )

I'm feeling a little better today. There's only so long a person can wallow in self-pity, when the feeling was triggered by a man she's met only twice. Besides, I woke up to the uplifting, cheery sound of radio interviews with terror-attack survivors in Be'er Sheva . . . so now I just feel sort of beaten and worn, not actively depressed. It's hard to stay depressed about dating when some kids were killed and hurt on their way home from school-supply shopping.

Also, two of my favorite blogs have been on a sort of anti-complaining kick lately. And I want you all to know that despite my self-pity over being single and 32 and lonely and dejected, I really do know that I have a fabulous life. I have a generally healthy body, a great apartment, an income that meets all my important needs plus some luxuries, parents who have been together for 33 years, a great sister and brother-in-law and two terrific nephews, and fantastic amazing friends, and smarts, and some talent, and some social skills. I'm better off than 99 percent of the world's population. I have only lived in democracies. I've been to Disneyland and to Acadia National Park. I have a washing machine in my apartment, and all the (clean!) water I could want, and a fridge that always has food in it. There are people in my life I can count on to be there for me when I need them. I've gotten a very high-level education and didn't have to work three jobs to earn it. I'm part of a fantastic religion and religious community. I have the tools to make ethically sophisticated decisions. My neighborhood is clean and has lots of flowers, and someone has painted all the recycling bins -- different pictures and designs on each one.

Bli ayin hara, it's a good life!

(But men sure do suck for not wanting to share it.)