Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holidays

To my Jewish guests: Happy Chanukah!

To my Christian guests: Merry Christmas!

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

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

On my childhood

On an entire generation in my family tree

On Polish Jewry

On a sweet, strong woman.

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

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Blowing Kisses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart is breaking.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: Orthomom

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2005

Five Simple Pleasures

:: Sigh::

Another meme.

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

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

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

2. Hotel buffet, especially the free hot chocolate!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear and Annoyance in the City of Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two rolled-up newspapers, still in their packages.

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

"The Globes," the officer responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's start with the wonderful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday

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

OK. Appreciation Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS Blogging will be sparse the next few days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

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

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

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

Monday, December 05, 2005

Which sci-fi/fantasy character are YOU?

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

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 02, 2005

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

Act I

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

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

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

Act II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just then . . .


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

"Um, no."

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How I'm Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday: Dance Your Pants Off

Oh, I'm so glad today is Wednesday, because reading the comments to my last post, about Israeli politics, just puts me in a bad mood for the whole day (though it is a treat to have earned a link from My Obiter Dicta). I don't know why I bother. It just makes me want to reach for more chocolate. Every time I write about anything having to do with Palestinians, I gain 5 pounds.

Therefore, today's Appreciation Wednesday is dedicated to my favorite exercise-video guru, Richard Simmons. Yes, the little man with the Jewfro and the penchant for saying things like "Don't forget to breathe!" and "Shake that arm, and shake some of those fat cells right off!" The (formerly obese!) diet and fitness expert with the closet full of shorts and tank tops. The one who tells fat people -- because he knows what it is like-- that they are worthy, and wonderful, and deserve to appear in exercise videos.

I have never seen Richard Simmons on TV, nor have I ever followed his "Deal-a-Meal" weight-loss plan. However, I am the proud owner of several of his videos: Sweatin' to the Oldies, Sweatin' to the Oldies II, Sweatin' to the Oldies III, Disco Sweat, Broadway Sweat, Broadway Blastoff, and my personal favorite, Dance Your Pants Off. Each one features fantastic music, a great set, and people of all shapes and sizes following the moves and having a great time. And of course, Richard himself, who is so far away from those "Aerobic Teacher Barbies" who instruct most other videos. He jokes, he has trouble holding his ankle during the stretches, he gives personal messages to women out there ("Karen Miller, this one's for you," "Donna, I love you.") He is not a stud. He is not self-conscious. He's a formerly fat man who gets it. And they are all having so much fun!

So, for making my workouts so enjoyable and showing people everywhere that, regardless of how we look, we are all entitled to have some fun and dance our pants off, I hereby express deep appreciation to Richard Simmons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bogus Argument

In the Letters section of this week's New York Jewish Week, Raanan Elozory of Jerusalem writes in with the following complaint:

The article on Amir Peretz titled “The Man Behind The Mustache” (Nov. 18) refers to Peretz’s opposition to “the occupation.” Gaza is part of the Jewish biblical homeland. If a Jewish presence in Gaza is occupation, how is a Jewish presence in Jerusalem any different? Do Jews have a right to any place on the planet?

I've heard this argument so many times before, and it makes no more sense than the first time. "If Jews have to leave Samaria, who is to say we don't have to leave Tel Aviv?" they say. Or "any argument you make about disengaging from Gaza, the Palestinians could use to say we have to get out of Petach Tikva." Etc etc.

Now, it is true that there are a lot of people living in this here Middle East who would love nothing better than to force the Jews out of Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva, one way or another. And it is also true that in the minds of many of our enemies, there is, in fact, no difference at all between Gaza, Jerusalem, or Bet Shemesh.

However, this particular argument -- that once we waver on our right to be in Gaza, the next logical step is to deny our rights to areas in the pre-1967 borders-- is not a good one at all. There are plenty of good arguments about why we should have stayed in Gaza, why we should stay in the West Bank, why we need settlements, etc etc (not that I agree with all those arguments, but that's not the point) without using this argument.

And the reason this argument is bogus is that the State of Israel does not equate the occupied territories with Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. We never annexed the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem). We never annexed Gaza. And in fact, Gaza has always, since 1967, been "saved" as a bargaining chip by every single PM Israel has had. It was never even intended to be annexed.

Israel itself will tell you that different laws apply in Tel Aviv vs. Hebron (for example, according to Israel, the Geneva Convention does not apply in the West Bank, whereas it definitely applies in the pre-1967 borders). Israel itself will tell you that the occupied territories are occupied. A Jewish presence in Gaza is occupation because everyone calls it that, including Israel. But Israel does not call its presence in Jerusalem - not even in East Jerusalem - occupation, and most countries in the world are not calling Jews' presence in most of Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Petach Tikva, "occupation," and therefore there is no logical leap between the political reality of one area and the political reality of the other.

The fact that there are those who would make illogical and violent leaps does not mean that we have to succumb to stupid, intellectually dishonest arguments.

And we especially should not be saying that "Gaza equals Jerusalem" because then those on "the other side" will have a logical reason to put the two in the same category: Israelis like Raanan Elozory have done it themselves.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hey, my friend is in a video!

Some of you might remember my mentioning Roseanne, my old college buddy-turned actress-turned mom with whom I've recently become reacquainted. Well, now you can not only admire her beautiful head shots, you can also see her in action in a video for Congress of the Jewish People. Go, Roseanne!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday: Singing for My Supper

A lot of married people wonder why more Jewish singles don't host Shabbat meals, even meals for families. So I want to say right now that I do often host meals, and have even invited over families. It's hard to have families because my apartment is tiny (I have room for up to 5 guests at my table, tops) and not particularly child-proof, and some of the families I have invited live far away and said that their little ones just can't walk that far but thank you. However, I am very conscious of the fact that just because I am single does not mean I cannot cook, and it does not mean that I can't child-proof my apartment to some extent, or that I am absolved of the social responsibility to return invitations. So, you'll often find me on a Friday, stuffing zuchinnis, basting chicken, peeling potatos, and chopping vegetables, in anticipation of my honored guests - be they single or married. I usually enjoy the process.

Yet, hosting meals, when you live alone, takes some maneuvering. Since I do not live with (or near) family or even a roommate, I have three choices: invite people over, hope I get invited out, or eat alone. If I'm not invited out, I always try to invite friends -- who more often than not are in the same boat as I, and are grateful for the invitation -- but then you get into the matters of: Have I started extending invitations early enough in the week to get the people I want? Have they made other plans? If I start inviting people too early, then sometimes I get a precious invitation to a family afterward and must turn it down since I'm hosting. But, wait too long and everyone says "I have plans." Remember, if I'm not invited and no one comes over, then I'm by myself.

And of course, there is the matter of cost and cooking time, relative to what I'm doing anyway. People with families are usually buying food and cooking up something for Shabbat anyhow; having a guest or two doesn't significantly add to the cost or effort of the meal, especially an "easy" guest (like me) who is just so grateful for the company that she doesn't care at all how simple the food is, or how messy the house. It costs the same to buy two challahs, a bottle of grape juice, a gefilte fish loaf, etc whether one is cooking for 5 or for 6. But the difference between cooking for zero and cooking for 5 is very large, proportionately. A person cooking for his/her family will spend the same amount of time making a cholent whether the cholent is for 8 people or 9. But for me, it's a question of "do I invite people over and spend time and money making chicken and kugels, or do I not have to cook at all or spend anything?"

Often on Thursday night, after a busy week, I'll realize that I have no Shabbat plans. It's depressing, usually, to spend Shabbat alone (yes, there are times I enjoy the down time and the quiet, but usually Shabbat goes better as a community event). So, I'll call some of my closer friends, the ones I don't feel I have to "impress" with elaborate cooking, and see if we can get together for a small meal with good friends, deli, salad, and nice conversation.

But again, it often happens that those friends have plans, and then, unless I'm really up for an "alone" Shabbos, the begging begins. My friends might ask their hosts if I can come, or I'll call families I know "to say hi" and hope they ask me if I have plans for Shabbat. A couple of times I've resorted to asking my shule rabbi if he could set me up somewhere. I cannot tell you how degrading this all is. It's an awful feeling.

So, on this Wednesday, I am expressing my appreciation to those families everywhere who make a point of inviting singles to their homes for meals. I am referring specifically to those families who call the singles early in the week and ask them personally to come, rather than simply saying "call me whenever you need a meal." It is hard to put into words the relief and gratitude I, and many others, feel when someone calls and not only absolves me of the responsibility and cost of cooking, but also shows that they they like my company and went to effort to seek it out.

Those usually become the families that I do feel comfortable (mostly) calling "whenever I need a meal." I know that they really like it when I come, because they go out of their way to invite me.

In particular, I appreciate Ruth and Moshe Cohn of Old Katamon, who often call me not one but two weeks in advance, and are always incredibly gracious. And Sara and Rich Brownstein of Baka, who invited me enough times that I finally believed them when they said I really can call on Thursday night or Friday morning if I'm stuck - and their door is always open.

I appreciate Rachel Miskin, Gila Staum, and Esti Yaari - a set of roommates, and good friends to me, in San Simon - for not only having me over for meals often, but making me feel like "part of the family." I can't count how many times I ended up falling asleep on their couch after lunch and staying over until the end of Shabbat. Thanks, guys.

I appreciate my friends Sarah Beth and Ari Solomont in Chashmonaim, and Simcha and Beth Shapiro in Kochav Yaakov, for asking me about twice a week "when are you coming over for Shabbat?" and making it safe for me to call on Thursday night if I decide I have to get out of Jerusalem.

And I appreciate Yael Rockoff and Natalee Cohen, both of whom, when they are around and also stuck on Thursday night, make wonderful "Shabbat buddies." They are good enough friends that we can say to each other "I have no plans either, but come over and I'll, I don't know, buy a kugel and defrost a babka." Where there is babka and good friends, there is happiness.

And finally, I appreciate the "hospitality committees" at synagogues everywhere, especially the ones who work during the week to make sure everyone is "set up" for meals before Shabbat, so that fewer people have the stress of going to shule on Friday night not knowing whether they will be eating alone or not that night.

Tizku l'mitzvot.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Latest Stories

. . . appear in The Jewish Week's "Israel Travel" supplement.

Main story here.

Sidebar here.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Things my Shaliach Never Told Me, and Absorption into Israeli Society Step #3946

Tonight, for the first time, I tried sachlav, a middle-eastern drink (actually, it was more like a pudding) made out of milk and . . . orchid bulbs. I did not know about the orchids when I ordered. I found out about that when I got home and poked around on Google to figure out what the heck it was that I'd just consumed. At the time, I saw "warm sachlav" on the menu at The Coffee Shop, asked the waitress what that is, she mumbled something about flowers and shrugged, and I said "well, I'll try it!" I was feeling adventurous and thought "what the heck, let's go native." It's important always to try new things, shake things up, get into that Israeli spirit!

Sachlav is a little weird, but it was good. Sweet and, well, like flowers. They sprinkled coconut and hazelnuts on top. It was a nice warm puddingy-drink for a chilly Jerusalem night. A nice warm drink that I ate with a spoon.

Not soul food. Not like, say, hot chocolate. Not something familiar. But interesting. And sweet. And like flowers.
Introducing "Appreciation Wednesday"

Treppenwitz has "photo Friday." Orthomom has her "Jewish Heroine of the Day" series. And now, for your weekly reading pleasure, Chayyei Sarah introduces Appreciation Wednesday, for which I will choose, every (sort of) Wednesday (sort of) a person or group of people whose hard work on behalf of their community, my community, or the world at large goes largely unnoticed and unthanked. People who do stuff should get a "thank you" every once in a while, dagnabbit!

I do not promise to do this every week, and not always on Wednesday. But I'll try.

This week, I would like to thank Jeff Finger and Zev Stub, the moderators of the Janglo group on Yahoo.

Janglo (short for "Jerusalem Anglo") is an email list serving about 1500+ English-speaking residents of Jerusalem; that is, 1500 people who, for the most part, did not grow up in this city and therefore don't have all the "connections" and Hebrew-language abilities of the natives. It is a place to turn when you need a recommendation for a doctor, plumber, or furniture store. Selling your couch? List it on Janglo. Looking for a ride to Be'er Sheva? Ask on Janglo. Need tips on where to take the kids during the Sukkot holiday, or how to rid your apartment of ants, or for a good travel agent? Ask on Janglo. Planning an event? Advertise on Janglo.

No, it's not a place to exchange grand ideas (or jokes. Or real estate listings). But the existence of Janglo allows people like me to exchange information that makes life a little easier. And moderating such an active list is a huge job. Zev and Jeff read every incoming message and strictly enforce the posting policies (I know; I've had one of my own messages rejected! But Jeff was very polite in explaining why). They devote a lot of time to make sure that Janglo remains as useful as possible while overloading people's inboxes as little as possible.

For all the hours they spend maintaining Janglo as a fabulous resource for Anglo Jerusalemites, I hereby express appreciation to Zev and Jeff.

PS To nominate someone for Appreciation Wednesday, please write to me at chayyeisarah- at- yahoo- dot- com. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Woman of Many Talents

I'm not just a writer and reporter, but also an editor! See, you learn something new every day. Now and then I pick up an assignment to copy-edit a brochure, long article, or series of articles. I enjoy it because it gives me a feeling of self-righteousness to know that my knowledge of grammar and punctuation is so much better than most people's that some folks are willing to pay me for my expertise . . . . It sure is lonely up here at the top. Anyhow, here's a link to a piece I copy-edited for a journal put out by the Lookstein Center for Education at Bar Ilan University; it's basically a trade journal for teachers of Judaic Studies. This piece is from an issue they ran about teaching Hebrew as a second language.

Remember that I have absolutely nothing to do with the content, only the spelling, grammar, punctuation, flow, internal consistency, and clarity of ideas. :-) But I do think it is very cool that if you use the three middle fingers of each hand to indicate "three," and put them together, you have two letter shins - which form the Hebrew word for six . . . get it? Two times three is six? Shesh? Two shins? Pretty cool.

I also edited another story in that issue, the one by Professor Wohl, but it's not available online to those without a password. It's too bad because it was very interesting to see how his instructional methods converge with, and diverge from, bar-Lev's.

When you are a freelance journalist/writer/editor you get to learn so many interesting things.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What I'd write more about if I had more time to compose my thoughts

1. Ten years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin:

a. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard he'd been killed. It changed me forever, not because I'd been a particular fan or non-fan of Rabin himself, but because he had been killed by a Jew, and by a "religious" Jew no less (again, there's the "more like me than not like me" factor . . . though the fact that he is a vile murderer and I am definitely not would put us on different sides of the like-unlike divide, I suppose!) From then on, I myself became suspicious of the ideologies of those "like me," and certainly couldn't blame secular Israelis for being mad as hell. The aftermath in the religious-secular divide was horrible on many levels . . . and it's because of that that I mourn. I do not mourn Rabin himself as much as I miss the assumptions we -- and by "we" I mean all Israelis, and religious ones in particular-- allowed ourselves to live with before he was killed.

b. I read the media reports about Rabin and listen to the memorial services on the radio, and wonder, when they call him a "man of peace," are they referring only to the Oslo accords (which, regardless of whether you think they are a good idea, were certainly a bold thing for him to do), or to his entire career? My understanding is that Rabin was considered a "Labor hawk." So what are they talking about, exactly? And when Ariel Sharon says that he "loved" Rabin even when they were at odds, is he serious? Does he "love" Shimon Peres? Or would he just say he did after Peres was dead?

c. Regarding the media reports that run every year asking "what have we learned from Rabin's death?" and answering: "nothing," I say: Yes, we have. The specter of Rabin's assassination was present throughout all the rallies protesting the Gaza disengagement last spring and summer, and certainly throughout the disengagement himself. I do not know whether it is fair to say that events would have progressed more violently had Rabin never been assassinated by a right-wing Jew, but I do think it's fair to say that the assassination was one important factor in the fact that things went as non-violently as they did. The religious right-wing should get credit where credit is due.

2. A Palestinian boy who was shot by the IDF because they mistook his toy gun for a real one had his organs donated by his family to six Israelis. Other bloggers have written more beautifully than I have time to do right now about the beauty of the gesture, but what I would like to focus on at the moment is the idea of organ donation generally, and the fact that it is reprehensible that more Jews do not donate organs when it is possible to do so. The idea that organ donation is categorically against halacha is a myth, and because so many Jews believe that myth, hundreds of Israelis die, needlessly, every year, waiting for organs that could have come but didn't. Israel was even disqualified from an international organ-donation system, because Israelis were taking organs and not giving any. This is terrible.

I urge anyone reading this, and particularly anyone living in Israel, to go to the site of the Halachic Organ Donation Society, read up on the various rabbinical opinions about the conditions under which one may or may not donate organs, and consider signing up for a donor card. And, please tell your family about your wishes, as ultimately it will be up to them to decide whether other lives might be saved as the result of their tragedy. The presence of a donor card in your wallet makes no difference if your family doesn't know what you want.

I realize this is a morbid topic, but again, people die because of an idea in Jewish culture that organ donation is against Jewish law. It doesn't have to be this way. Read the site, and tell others about it. The life that is saved by creating more awareness could be yours, or mine.

3. Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of the matriarch Rachel (wife of Jacob, mother to Joseph and Benjamin). According to the Bible, Rachel weeps over her children being in exile, and waits sadly for us to return to the holy land.

I have always loved all the stories about Rachel, especially the one indicating that it is in her merit that God did not destroy the Jews, even in times that they were worshipping idolotry. According to that story, all the matriarchs and patriarchs (or, their souls, since they'd already passed on) argued with God, giving reasons that He should have mercy. But it was only Rachel who convinced Him, arguing that surely, if she were able to overcome her jealousy and allow her older sister, Leah, to marry Jacob first, the Almighty can overcome His jealousy when his children worship idols? Her meritorious action indeed calmed God down.

And so now she waits for us, crying bitterly because we have vanished into the diaspora, and the Bible says that Hashem comforts her with the promise that one day her children will return.

The location of Rachel's tomb, or what traditionally is her tomb (actually, my understanding is that we don't really know for sure where she is buried, but a shrine was set up in the approximate location), is in what is now a hostile area of the West Bank. Without getting into any of the politics of that, I wanted to point you to photos from a trip that was organized by Arutz 7 and Kumah, who brought dozens of Jewish Israelis to Rachel's tomb to commemorate the anniversary of her death. I would have liked to join the trip, since getting to Rachel's tomb is sort of tricky if you aren't in an organized group with a bullet-proof bus, but had to make the choice between the trip or my gemara class, and the class won.

The kumah website often annoys me no end. My political leanings, and those of the Kumah leaders, are very different. Sometimes I read their site and just want to pull my hair out! But I have to say, the pictures touched me (if not all of the captions). Again, I am not interested in getting into the politics of visiting Rachel's tomb right now. I am focusing on it purely from a religious perspective, and am happy that my co-religionists made an effort to honor the memory of a woman who, somewhere in our incomprehensible cosmos, is waiting desperately for us all to come home.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This is so dumb

One of the reasons my klitah (absorption into Israeli society) is going as well as it is, to the extent that it is going well, is that I arrived with enough Hebrew skills to basically get around and take care of my business, especially since in Jerusalem so many of the bank clerks, tech help, and salespeople speak English. Between my intermediate Hebrew, my ability to mime, and their English, I was able, from day one, to do things like open a bank account, rent an apartment, find items I need in the grocery store (at least basic staples like bread, fruit, and meat), tell taxi drivers where to take me, etc. It was often hard, and still is -- even though my Hebrew has advanced tremendously -- but I could usually manage, somehow.

If I couldn't manage, I would do without. I am only now, for example, starting to buy Hebrew magazines to enjoy on a lazy Shabbat afternoon. If I can't understand someone because they are speaking too quickly and refuse to slow down . . . well, I just hope whatever they were saying wasn't that important. Yes, there were times I incurred fees for things because I couldn't understand all my mail, but I just chalked that up to the cost of Aliyah and went on with my day. If one is going to move to Israel, it helps to be "zen."

It also helps to remember that one is now an immigrant, in a foreign country. Expecting Israelis to speak English, and getting angry when they do not, is, frankly, Amerocentric. Yes, most Israelis learn English in high school. But many never had a chance to use it and have forgotten it all, and many Israelis are also immigrants and never learned English in whatever country they are from. Even if they are fresh out of high school and therefore supposedly know the language . . . well, how well could you carry on a meaningful conversation with your high school-level French or Spanish? Sure, Israelis have the benefit of being drenched in American culture. They hear English at the movies, on cable TV, and on the radio. But still, Hebrew is the national language, and as immigrants it behooves us to remember that we're just not in Kansas anymore.

Every so often I will call a business or government office, and the telephone menu will offer choices for Hebrew, Russian, or Arabic. I have heard about American immigrants who get upset by this, wondering why they don't offer English as well, and to them I say: because there are a hell of a lot more Russian- and Arabic- speakers in this country than English speakers. We "Anglos" like to think we're so important, but in the grand scheme of Israeli society, we are but a drop in the bucket. One can't expect, say, the Ministry of Transportation to offer service in every language spoken by every immigrant in Israel. When 20,000 Americans are making aliyah every year instead of 2,000, we'll talk again. Meanwhile, I'm learning to understand those menu options in Hebrew.

On the other hand, there is the perspective of the Israeli business, and from that angle, offering English menu options is a good practice because English is understood by people from a wide variety of countries. It's true that there are very few native English-speakers here, but when you consider, also, the immigrants from France, Germany, Argentina, etc who often speak a little English, English offers more value for the money than, say, trying to offer menu options in French, German, Spanish, etc.

Still, my feeling is that most businesses and government agencies are capable of figuring out who their clientele are, deciding what services they can afford to offer that clientele, and offering language options accordingly.

Unless, of course, we are discussing the Ministry of Tourism.

The Ministry of Tourism, obviously, exists in order to increase tourism to Israel. The people at the Ministry of Tourism presumably know a whole lot about fun and interesting things to do in this country. And therefore, presumably, the Ministry of Tourism might -- just might-- be an office that would be called by a very great many tourists and potential tourists. And, presumably, most tourists to Israel do not speak Hebrew and wouldn't be expected to.

And therefore, presumably, it would be a good idea for the Ministry of Tourism to offer callers an immediate option to hear the telephone menu in different languages. In fact, of all the private and public establishments in Israel, one would presume that the Ministry of Tourism would be the one most likely to offer menu choices not just in English and Russian but also French, German, Spanish, and Japanese, if not a wide variety of other languages as well. At the very least, one would expect something like "click 7 for Spanish" and then, when you click the 7, to hear a message saying "for Spanish-language tourism information about Israel, go to the following website . . . to speak with a representative now in Hebrew, click pound-2" or something like that.

But, we are presuming wrong, because when one calls the Jerusalem office of the Ministry of Tourism, one gets a menu entirely in Hebrew. Big fat help that is for most tourists, eh?

And, I should also note, the Ministry not only closes at 4 pm but also does not allow an option, after that hour, to leave a message. Which means that anyone from North or South America who wants to call the Israeli Ministry of Tourism has to get up with the sunrise in order to catch a human being at the other end.

Yes, yes, the Ministry has a New York office. Spectacular! (I'm not being sarcastic. Having a New York office is clearly a smart idea.) And yet . . . if someone is a tourist in Israel, already here, and wants some last-minute information about what to do or how to get where they want to go. . . who are they supposed to call? Are we interested in attracting hoards of tourists, or not? What is up with this?

PS I hope no one from the Ministry reads this before tomorrow, because I need their press person to give me an interview for an article I'm writing. About tourism to Israel. Don't hold this against me, nice Ministry of Tourism press person!

(Oh, yeah . . . they are closed . . . and they don't speak English! I'm home free! . . . um, that was a joke, oh holy media spokesperson . . . )

PPS When I get around to it, I'll try calling the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and let you know what their stories are.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive

A couple of weeks ago, I got a notice that a package is waiting for me at the post office. Well, I finally made time to go get it. And guess what? It was a birthday present! From a reader whom I don't know! But now he's one of my favorite people!

So, thanks very very much to Aaron K. of San Francisco, for sending me "Billie Holiday: The Ultimate Collection"! I'm so excited! This is so great! I love presents!

And for those who are jealous of Aaron's personal mention on Chayyei Sarah: The Blog, remember, there are plenty of possible (belated) birthday gift ideas to go around. (wink wink)

In fact, now that I'm studying at Pardes, I will add a couple of other things I'm coveting, namely books I still need for my classes. If anyone can give or loan me any of these, I'd be extremely grateful, and of course you can consider yourself as having a share in any "merit" I earn from my Torah study:
  • Torat Chayyim on Sefer Shmot (A friend has offered to loan me a copy but I would like my own, eventually)
  • Frank -- Practical Talmud Dictionary(ditto)
  • Jastrow's Aramaic-English dictionary
  • Steinzalz reference guide to gemara (I think about this book and just drool)

And now a little personal update.

What the Chayyei is:
Learning in gemara class and enjoying very much
Reading (in Hebrew translation, very very slowly)
Writing about (link is just a hint; you'll have to wait for the article)
Trying to get an interview with on very short notice
Pitching a story to (if it succeeds you'll be the first to know)
Volunteering for a little
Thinking about
Not thinking about . . . definitely not thinking about . . .
Supposed to be learning but I haven't been practicing
Attempting to follow, with respectable success (this was actually inspired by an assignment, an example of life imitating art!)
Listening to later (thanks again, Aaron!)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It's a Mystery

Here's a point to ponder:

How is it that a man who has willingly thrown himself out of airplanes, and entered houses full of armed, hostile terrorists, cannot bring himself to call a woman and tell her he doesn't want to go out anymore?

Friday, November 04, 2005

My Latest Cover Feature

At long last, it's finally been published - my feature story about Meir "Magic Michael" Tulkoff, a "humor therapist" at various children's hospitals in Israel, and easily one of the nicest people I've ever met. Michael hails from Baltimore, and the story appears in his home-town Jewish magazine, the Baltimore Jewish Times (thus the rather "heimish" tone when discussing local Baltimore references). To see the photo that appears on the cover, click here and scroll down (will probably disappear in a week, so go now!).

One of the reasons I love working for the Baltimore Jewish Times (among many) is that they always give me plenty of room to cover a subject comprehensively. Sometimes I'm actually astonished at how much room they give me. Part of me feels like this story runs a little too long, but part of me is really glad that I got to fit in all the points about Michael, his work, and his life that I wanted to fit in. It always hurts a little when I have to cut out material that meant a lot to me.

So, thanks to the BJT for the assignment and the space, and to everyone at the hospitals who gave me access to their patient wards, and especially to Michael, whom I enjoyed meeting immensely. He's really a very special guy.

Here's what I think and hope is a permanent link.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Good News, and the Bittersweet

A tidbit I caught in today's Maariv: David Hatuel, the former resident of Gush Katif whose wife, Tali, and four daughters were all brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists (driven off the road and then shot at close range) a year and a half ago is engaged to be married! His new bride, Limor Shem-Tov, is 32 and lives in Jerusalem. She's never been married. They met through a matchmaking agency that specializes in helping people who were widowed in terrorist attacks find a new mate. The engagement was announced yesterday at a party in Jerusalem.

In the article, Hatuel was quoted as saying that the home he intends to found with Limor is not meant to replace his first family, but to build upon all the love that he'd experienced before to create something new. He said that his personal tragedy and the "national tragedy" (of the disengagement from Gaza) should not inspire people to lose hope and sink into despair, but to work harder to be positive and create new happiness and new life.

Tali Hatuel's parents have met Limor, and according to a family friend they are "embracing her as if she were their own daughter," though of course this is a bittersweet occasion for all involved. David Hatuel's friends were quoted as saying that in the last couple of months, Limor has "brought the smile back to David's face," something they had not seen for a long time.

I know I, for one, have thought of David Hatuel often, and hoped that he would find a good woman and build a new life. So I was so happy to read this article. But, along with that, is simply immense sadness about Tali and the four girls. What was lost can never be replaced.

After a while, a lot of the terrorist attacks in the latest intifada blended into each other. Another cafe? A bus? Was that a disco or a moviehouse? Which restaurant was that, again?

But the murder of Tali Hatuel and her kids was burned into my mind. Her name and her story remain clearly in my consciousness along with those of certain others: Nachshon Waxman, Kobi Mandell, Nava Applebaum, Baby Shalhevet.

I read the article in Maariv and looked at the photos of David and Limor, Tali and the girls, and wondered: Are these tears of joy or of pain I am crying? Sometimes it is hard to tell.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Seven Things I Learned from Dating R.

1) How to say "conscience" in Hebrew (mahtz-POON)

2) Confirmation of what I've been saying for years:

A man who is not calling, is a man who is not interested.

3) Confirmation of something I have often suspected, and now realize to be true:

If you are constantly making up excuses for a man, and giving him the "benefit of the doubt" . . . he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. No, he's not in a hospital somewhere, comatose, with worried neurosurgeons hovering over him, his cellphone lying useless on a chair next to him. No, he's not too stressed out at work to call you or be nice to you. No, the mean things that he says are not because of cultural differences. It is because the relationship is not working and he is being a jerk. Run away. Far away!

4) I really, really love being an Ashkenazi. Not because of feelings of cultural superiority (believe me, I'm the first to say that whatever cultural "superiority" we may claim to have is in very short supply), but because I really, truly, deeply love gefilte fish, tzimmes, and not taking everything the Rambam says literally. To me, gefilte fish, tzimmes, and not doing everything the Rambam says just . . . say . . . home.

I'd be perfectly happy to date a Sephardi Israeli again. Seriously. But when I mention that I love gefilte fish, the response must be, not a look of disgust, but the following words: Ah! Gefilte fish! A precious delicacy more valuable than rubies!

5) Sometimes, there is justice in the world, if only briefly. When I was 18 and studying in Jerusalem, I was completely befuddled by my many female peers who flirted shamelessly with Israeli soldiers and sometimes even snagged dates with chayalim. Remember, I am notoriously not cool that way, and so I wondered how in the world they did that. Now, 15 years later, my good fortune caught up with me and I dated . . . not the soldier, but the commander. The experience was brief and not, obviously, always pleasant. But a part of me feels that my teenage self has been vindicated.

6) I love speaking in English.

I'd be perfectly happy to date another Israeli who hardly speaks any English. Seriously. But you know what? I love speaking in English.

7) If I can ride a "roller coaster to nowhere" for a few months entirely in Hebrew, my Hebrew must be pretty good! Unless, of course, all this time, when I thought I was saying "R, I really like you. You are smart and funny. Thank you for dinner," I was really saying "R, it seems to me that your liver would taste great with Fava beans." Which, of course, would explain a few things about why I now know how to say "conscience" in Hebrew.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

On Why It's Not Worth it to Cry Until It's REALLY Over

For those who have not been following this blog, before the disengagement from Gaza, I dated a man named "R." for several weeks. Things were great. But then the disengagement happened and we went on hiatus (he's an army officer).

(I should mention here that no one in my life who knows R's real name has ever met him. And those who know R., even if they read this blog --which for various reasons is quite unlikely-- would not know that he is the R about whom I am talking. I have never been in the habit of writing about specific men I have dated, not in a way that the stories could be traced to them, and I have no intention of starting now.)

After the disengagement, lo and behold, R. actually called me again! Wow! A man who calls! It's a miracle!

For a few days, things were great.

Then they got bad. He was acting very strange, had mood swings, and finally, finally made the pretty much unforgivable mistake of not calling me for a week and a half. He had the gall to say that he'd been "busy." Right.

So, we broke up. I was disappointed and hurt, but chalked it all up to "post-traumatic stress" due to the disengagement, ate a pint of Ben & Jerry's, and tried to move on. I contacted 13 men on Dosidate (from which no dates have resulted), and cleaned my apartment, a lot. My apartment was so clean, I could have hosted the Queen of England. My apartment was so clean, my mother-in-law would have approved, if I had a mother-in-law, but then, of course, if I had a mother-in-law I wouldn't be worried about dating, now would I? Pass the Chunky Monkey.

Anyway, last Saturday night I got a call from R. He'd spent Shabbat in the Old City, and did I have time to meet? Because he wanted to talk. And, he was going to let me talk. About anything I wanted.

I was more than happy to try again. Because, you see, for all that R. had acted badly, I still really really liked him. He has a lot of qualities I've been searching for but rarely find. We had a great rapport. I felt connected.

So we met, and we talked. For four hours. We got a lot of "issues" on the table. It was a very productive, very positive and deep conversation. It included the words "You are so beautiful, and nice, and smart. It would be a shame to lose you." Hey, that's enough for me. I'm a sucker that way. I allowed myself to start to feel hopeful again.

For about three days, things were fine.

Then they got bad. Suddenly. One day we're having a normal conversation, the next day he does not call. Nor the next. Nor the next. Nor the next. Nor the next.

I can take a hint. Last night I was up until 2 am, weeping. I cried so hard that I went through half a box of tissues. I cried so hard I almost threw up. I cried so hard that at 8 am, when I was getting dressed to go to my first day of classes at Pardes, I couldn't get my mascara on correctly because my eyes were too swollen.

Today I left R. a message saying, basically, that the relationship is obviously over, and I wish you'd told me instead of ignoring me, and thank you for all the nice things you said to me, and goodbye. Then I crawled into bed and wept some more, convinced not only that there must be something horribly wrong with me, but that I'll never find a good relationship, never, ever, and what if R. was the best there would ever be? I thought about being 80 and alone, and my nephews having to care for me, their spinster aunt, and I soaked my pillow with tears and snot.

One hour later, R. called. The first thing he said was "I was surprised to get your message. I thought you were smart enough to know that if a man does not call you for five days, he's trying to tell you something."

Well, duh.

He then proceeded to tell me that in the three days after our long, deep, positive conversation, he came to the conclusion that I have a fundamental character flaw and that therefore he does not want to be in a relationship with me. To be specific, he concluded (based on what, I have no idea), that I "have no conscience."

. . .

. . .

What do you say to that? I said nothing. There was a silence for a few seconds, he wished me well, I said "you too," and we hung up.

No conscience?

Now, I'm sure that there are people reading this blog who have seen me in my worse moods, who could recount my not-so-fine moments. But no conscience? Hitler had no conscience. Me, Chayyei Sarah? Had R. ever spent more than five minutes with me, or was this his evil twin doing the talking?

It was so absurd that I'm no longer sad. I'm simply stunned. Stunned that anyone could be that thick.

I have a deep temptation to "bench gomel" this week (say the prayer in synagogue thanking God for helping me pass a dangerous situation safely).

My pillow might be full of tears, and I might be running out of tissues, but, thank God almighty, I am free at last of "Mister I-have-issues-that-I'll-deflect-upon-you . . . I can't hear you, la la la."


One day later: I feel a bit the way I felt after my last day as a teacher in a huge Bronx public high school. A bit wistful about the good parts, but knowing -- really knowing -- that I just got out of something that was very, very bad. Yael called me this morning to "check in on me," and after a minute she said "Sarah, you sound better than you've sounded in weeks."

Well, then. There you go. Nothing to mourn over. Nothing! Best break-up I've ever had. Anyone want to set me up on a date?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Daman/Wasserman Shiva Info

FYI, for those who are interested:

The family of Michelle (Daman) Wasserman, z'l, including her parents, brothers, and husband, are sitting shiva at her husband's home in Highland Park, NJ. Shiva will conclude on November 1. More details were left by a commenter, two posts down, under the post entitled "Bad News."

May we share happier occasions in the future.

[PS My yom tov was very nice. More about that, and perhaps some Israeli-Palestinian stuff, to come in later posts.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hey! No fair!

How come no ever made up a dance about my blog?

Perhaps because a blog by someone who sits at her computer all day trying to block out the sounds of the Piano Playing Kid does not lend itself to innovation in the performing arts?

Still, one can dream. I can see it now: "Coming up next on MTV: Paula Abdul and Justin Timberlake on the newest dance craze, The Chayyei Sarah. Don't go away."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bad News

My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.

--"Rabbit Proverb" [from Richard Adams' Watership Down]

Another one of my friends died this week.

Michelle (Daman) Wasserman z'l passed away on Monday due to complications from breast cancer which had metasticized to her liver. She died at home, just a few days after her 33rd birthday. She was wife to Ethan Wasserman and mother to Eliana and Leora, ages 3 and 5. The funeral will be held today (Thursday) in Highland Park, NJ.

Michelle and I met in 10th grade, at an NCSY shabbaton. I actually remember the very moment we met. It was a "Leadership Training Seminar" in Norwalk, Connecticut. I was hanging out in the huge social hall in Norwalk's Orthodox synagogue, when the contingent of chapter officers from West Hartford, including Michelle, arrived. I went over to the main entrance and welcomed them -- they were a newly revived chapter, and so they didn't know anyone else at the event. The West Hartford "crowd" and my group of friends from Maimonides soon became fast friends. For the rest of high school, Michelle was one of my best friends, and we exchanged letters, phone calls, and visits often. In particular I remember the great time we all had when a group of us from Boston went together for a weekend in West Hartford, and all stayed in Michelle's house, watching movies, listening to music, playing ping-pong and eating pizza in her basement, and just generally having a great time being kids. The Damans must have been very patient parents! Those were good times.

After we all finished high school, I visited Michelle a few times at Machon Gold and then at UPenn, but eventually we pretty much lost touch, especially once she started working toward her Ph.D. in psychology. I visited her once for Shabbat a few years ago, shortly before my aliyah, and was very proud of her professional accomplishments as a therapist, but once I moved to Israel we lost touch again. The only reason I even knew she was sick was that a mutual friend [actually, the wife of Efrex] kept me updated about her health. I knew the end might be coming, but I never called to say goodbye. . . .

So, it's not that Michelle and I were close, but that we used to be close. A piece of my past has disappeared. And she was so young.

I can only give my condolences to her parents, who hosted me so often for Shabbat when I was a teenager, to her brothers, and to Ethan and the girls. May they be "comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.