Monday, May 30, 2005

"The Weekend That Changed My Life Forever"

Well, here it is, thanks to my good friend AnotherNYJew, a link to the article I once published about the course I'm "importing" to Jerusalem at the end of July. This article appeared in Figure magazine, and explains how the course works (or at least, gives a taste), the theories behind it, and information about its history and availability.

This is by far the most personal article I've ever published. In fact, I've been a bit apprehensive about putting it on the internet. When Figure first asked me to write it, I thought "well, no one I know reads that magazine anyway, so who cares how personal it is?" But now, you see, here we are; I'm importing the program to Israel, and I want all you wonderful blog readers to understand what it is that I'm doing (so that you will either attend, or donate money to help me do it). So there you go. I'm exposing myself in hopes that doing so will lead to more people being able to come to the class, because I believe it's very important.

Please note, regarding the "negiah" inherent in some of the activities described in the article, that

a) I will not comment on whether I'm "shomer negiah" outside of UYO. The course is a very specific environment, and I'm not addressing what happens in the rest of my personal life, one way or the other. That's my beezwax! :-) and

b) The course in Jerusalem will be run in such a way that people who are shomer Shabbos, kashrut, negiah, etc will be able to keep all their halachic requirements without any pressure, to whatever extent they/we like. Certain exercises will be modified to allow for a wide array of religious practices.

Oh, and no, that is not my photo at the beginning of the article. It's a stock image found by the editor. I do think it goes perfectly with the feeling I'm trying to convey, though.

I'm interested in hearing what you all think about the story. UYO really has changed my life, very much for the better. I hope you'll agree that it can't hurt to spread a little love and compassion around these here parts. Let me know.

If you live in Israel and want to attend UYO in Jerusalem from July 27-29, please contact me at To help an Israeli attend "Understanding Yourself and Others," make out a (big) check to "American Friends of Holistic Healing." Write "for UYO" in the memo section and mail it to American Friends of Holistic Healing, 10 Harvard Street, Reading, MA 01867. Those who donate at least $100 will receive the official Hebrew-lettered t-shirt from the course. Thank you Thank you Thank you.
Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.

I'm posting to express gratitude to all the people who have died in order to create or protect the United States of America. I feel very privileged to have grown up in the free-est society in the history of the planet. I'm particularly grateful to have grown up in a country that protected my rights as a Jew, a woman, a journalist, and a person with intellectual, professional and financial goals.

To all the families who have lost someone they loved in service to the USA, I say: You can be proud of the sacrifice you have made. Thank you.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Revenge of the Sith (no spoilers, not if you've seen the original movies)

Last night I saw the new Star Wars movie, finally. Yes, I made it until after Lag Ba'Omer! I'm so proud of myself!

There were two kids there in full Jedi costume. The tunic with the wide shoulder straps and wrap-around sash, the lightsaber hanging from the waist, the long brown robe . . . I was practically salivating, and definitely turning green with envy. One of them is supposed to be emailing me with the name of the website where he bought them. If he does, there is no question what I'll be wearing next Purim.

The movie. Definitely better than the last 2, particularly in the second hour. I won't go into details here about what parts I liked and which parts bothered me, because I have no time right now. In general, I was happy with the way things got wrapped up, though I have a few picky-picky complaints. I do feel that the story of why Anakin turns to the Dark Side is plausible, but needed to be fleshed out more. It seemed a bit abrupt, as if there were scenes missing that would have made his descent into evil more gradual and realistic. But overall I thought the plot worked well and I was generally pleased. I give the movie an A-.

The thing that surprised me the most was how emotionally invested I'd become, by the second hour, in Anakin not turning to the Dark Side. It's a very good sign, in terms of the storytelling, that even though we all know that Anakin becomes Darth Vader, I was still sitting there internally pleading "no, Anakin, please, don't do this. Don't do this. Please. Save yourself." It was like watching a movie about the Titanic and thinking "please, God, don't let the ship sink." I got lost in the suspense of it, even though technically there was no suspense, since we all know what happens. So, that was pretty cool.

Still, it is very upsetting to watch a character in whom we've become invested devolve into a twisted, selfish, really messed-up guy. This is not a happy movie, not at all. (And no, I really don't think that little kids should see it.) Absorbing, yes (most of the time). Thought-provoking, yes. And very depressing.
Why do men do this?

In the last few weeks, I've gotten emails from three different men -- decent-seeming men! Around my age! Not from another planet men! --on various Jewish dating websites, asking if I'd like to be in touch, meet, etc. Well, technically, 2 of them contacted me out of the blue, and one of them was someone I had contacted months ago; he wasn't available back then, but now he recently wrote to say that now he is available and would like to meet.

In all three cases, we exchanged a few emails, and when they asked if they could call, I wrote back saying, basically, "that would be really nice. Here is my phone number. It will be great to hear from you."

In all three cases, they replied saying, basically, "great! And here is MY phone number. You can call me at that number any time. Looking forward." One of them wrote "in case I don't get around to calling you, you can call me at the following number . . . "

Needless to say, none of them has called me.

Now, we can go into all the psychology of this situation -- the control issues, the wimpiness, the desire to get close through a computer but only until it involves actually talking to a girl-- and the politics of it (why don't I call them?) -- but the bottom line is that they asked me for my number, and I think it's fair for me to think it's rude for them to then turn around and say "no, you, Sarah, should make the first call."

The message I'm getting here is that none of them is actually so interested. A man who is interested is a man who is calling. A man who is not picking up the phone to schedule a date is a man who is not so interested, for whatever reason. Am I right?

If I'm right, I'm not hurt, just annoyed. I realize that this absolutely has nothing to do with me. They don't even know me, so why should they reject me? The issue, really, is what should I do now? Try to prod them into becoming menschen by writing and saying "hi, call me old-fashioned, but I appreciate it when the man makes the first call"? Try to educate them in the hopes that perhaps one of them is, after all, a nice guy who just doesn't know what he is doing? Or just write them off and move on?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Beautiful Way to Help Israel

Dear Readers,

As I’ve mentioned several times before on my blog, before I made aliyah 2 years ago, my dear friend Shimmy and his family gave me a very special aliyah present: enrollment at a weekend course called “Understanding Yourself and Others,” run by Global Relationship Centers, Inc. This course helped me in more ways I can possibly describe in one post. It opened my eyes to so many negative (and untrue) messages I’d been telling myself, and ways that I was holding myself back from getting the things that would really make me happy. I left the weekend feeling (as I think most people deserve to feel) special, beautiful, and very, very happy. To this day, when I feel down, I use some of the tools I learned that weekend to figure out what is really going on with myself, and how I can overcome it. I’ve become more patient, compassionate, and generous. (Not perfectly, and not all the time, but a lot more than before.)

Since then, I’ve returned several times to assist at other “UYO” weekends, since once a person has gone through the course as a student, they can go back as a course assistant, any time, at any center where the course is given, for free. Every time I assisted, I learned even more. The UYO course is incredible at helping people overcome the limits they put on themselves, know and feel that they have something wonderful and unique to offer the world, and feel confidence in their abilities to reach their dreams.

Now, I’m bringing UYO to Israel, with the long-term goal of opening a Global Relationship Center here. The first course will be held from July 27-29 (Wednesday-Friday, so as not to overlap too much with Shabbat). Already I have people of all ages, religious outlooks, and countries of origin who would like to enroll. Israelis are thirsty for programs that provide an open, loving environment and tools for overcoming the many challenges here. The level of enthusiasm I’ve encountered has been phenomenal.

The most immediate challenge for most people, however, is how to pay for the class. Due to the costs of flying in the certified course instructors, renting a space for the course, etc, I have to charge $533 per student just to cover costs. That amount, for the average Israeli, is about half a month's salary. Were I more experienced at this, for example a trained instructor, I might have been able to coach each of the interested students in ways that they can use their talents to create new job opportunities for themselves, get raises at work, etc. Right now, though, I have offered them each what it is in my power to do, which is to raise enough scholarship money to allow anyone who wants to attend this course to attend, regardless of their financial situation.

I’m asking you, my incredible readers, to help an Israeli attend “Understanding Yourself and Others” in July (and meanwhile, support a beloved endeavor of Chayyei Sarah). By donating $20, or $200, or $2,000, you’ll be bringing – and I say this with the utmost sincerity – more hope and happiness to the life of someone who lives in the Jewish State. With all the worry that we all have about “the situation” in Israel, this is a tangible way that you can help an Israeli – perhaps a native, perhaps an immigrant -- see past the challenges that seem to constrict us, and make a path to realizing their fondest dreams.

Thanks to my partnership with the Holistic Healing Center of Jerusalem (founded by my Ulpan classmate!), your donation will be fully tax-deductible. Please make out checks to “American Friends of Holistic Healing,” noting that the donation is for UYO, and mail it to American Friends of Holistic Healing, 10 Harvard Street, Reading, MA 01867. (If the donation will be in a currency other than US dollars, please contact me at or for different mailing instructions).

If you live in Israel and would like to attend, or know someone who does, please write to me! I’ll be happy to send you information, including a copy of an article I wrote about the program, its methods, and the theories behind it (hey, can anyone out there put this article on the web for me . . . ?)

If you are a UYO graduate who will be in Israel at the end of July, you are more than welcome to attend as a course assistant. Just be in touch with me to let me know you are coming; your presence will be very valuable.

With all good wishes and thanks for your help!
Chayyei Sarah

PS Thanks to generous contributions by three donors, I've already raised over $1600 toward scholarships. My goal is to reach $10,000, with the extra money being earmarked toward training Hebrew-, Russian-, and Arabic- speaking Israelis to become instructors for this empowering and fulfilling course.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Oh, how I love modern technology.

Particularly my new laptop.

Yes, folks, I am sitting in The Coffee Shop, at the corner of Rachel Imeinu and Emek Refaim Streets in the holy city of Jerusalem, getting work done and noshing on a yogurt-and-muesli mix which was served to me by another person. When I finish my meal, that person will take the dishes away and I will not have to worry about them. There is soft music playing and I can totally focus because I am not at home.

This may not seem like a big deal to most other people, but remember that I only got my laptop a few weeks ago, and the city just provided free wireless internet all up and down Emek Refaim street very, very recently. Imagine being a professional freelance writer who just got her first laptop computer. Imagine, also, being a writer who all of a sudden, for some unexplicable reason, cannot focus at all while at home. Now imagine all the wonderful cafes, restaurants, burger joints, pizzerias, and bakeries where I can now work instead. I am in writer heaven.

All you folks in America: you should come visit Israel! And when you do, just walk up and down Emek to find me. I'll buy you a Chocolatta and you can admire my new laptop.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The sacrifices I make for God

I'm crying.

The new Star Wars movie debuts in one hour, and I am sitting at home, not planning to see it for another four whole days.

You know why? Because . . . sniff sniff . . . I have something I value even more than Star Wars . . . I know, it's so embarrassing and wrong but . . . well, it's just a movie and AAAAAAGH DID I REALLY JUST WRITE THAT and . . . and . . . well, it's the Omer, people. And my custom is not to see movies until Lag BaOmer.

Waaaah . . . .

Don't start telling me that it's a stupid custom that no one follows outside of New York and Baltimore. Let's not get into the fact that I lost count of the Omer on the second night, or that almost none of my friends care that much about this being a mourning period. Let's not talk about the fact that there are much, much more serious Jewish traditions that I have not been upholding lately.

The fact remains, if I see the movie tonight, I'll be doing a not-my-Jewish-custom thing, and I'd feel guilty.

WAAAAAAAAH!!!! Gilly is going to see the movie in one hour and wrote in my comments that he hopes he'll see me there, but he won't! I won't be there! All the serious fans will be there, if not tonight than tomorrow, and I'm missing it! For four days! I waited four days to see Episode I and by then I was the only one in costume! No one who is serious waits four days! Except us froomy-doomy people! The religious fanatics! I'm a fan and a fanatic! It's a horrible, horrible conflict.

This is terrible. Don't laugh. I'm really in pain here. It's killing me. I'm going to die. By Sunday, I'm going to positively bust from the anguish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Kudos to Me!

I just found out that the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association awarded me a second place 2004 award for Business/Economic reporting. The award was for my piece "Frequent Flyers," about former Baltimoreans who live in Israel, but maintain careers in the United States. It was commissioned by the Baltimore Jewish Times and ran in their February 20, 2004 issue. Granted, the story won in the category for "Non-Dailies [with a circulation of] 10,001-20,000," which I'm sure narrows the field of eligible publications, but still, this will look good on my resume.

My teeth hurt

Well, my trip back to Israel was uneventful, which is the way a plane trip should be. It proved, also, that everything is relative. After having flown from Tel Aviv to San Jose via a 5-hour layover in Paris and a 2-hour layover in Dallas, the New York-Tel Aviv flight seemed to go by in a jiffy. Seriously, we landed and I thought "wow, that was such a short trip"! Sort of like the guy who goes to the rabbi and says "rabbi, my home is so small and my family so big, we are so crowded, what should I do?" and the rabbi proceeds to tell him to move several animals in his house. The punchline, of course, is that when the rabbi finally tells him to get rid of the animals, the man says "wow, my home is so spacious!"


A few months ago, a friend of mine came back from a vacation in the US and was feeling guilty because she had not wanted to come back to Israel. I told her that the issue is not whether she's content and happy about having made aliyah, but rather that now, instead of Israel being the place she goes to on vacation, it's the location of her "real" life, with all its problems and pressures - the same problems and pressures she would have in the US, more or less. No one who goes on vacation is keen on going back to work, a home to keep clean, and whatever social or family issues they have. But if you live in Israel, that feeling of not wanting to go home gets wrapped up with a feeling of guilt, because how can a good Jew not be thrilled to be going back to our homeland?

Recently, that friend threw my own observations back in my face! Don't you hate it when you can't tell someone they are wrong, because they are repeating your very own words?

So I am going to say now: Screw the guilt! I had a great time in the States and I had mixed feelings about coming back! I love Israel but I still did not want to come back! Because Israel is now the home of me, the windows I need to wash, the tax office I still need to go to, and the dental appointment I made for this week! Who prefers having tartar scraped off their teeth over being wined and dined by friends in the US? Not me! Who prefers working to playing "lightsaber duel" with her nephews? Not me!


However, I must say that since I had to come back, I picked a good time. I flew on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and arrived just in time for Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day). Since it was Memorial Day, the flight attendants announced that El Al was playing only "appropriate" (read: sad) movies and playing only sad music. It helped me feel like I still deserved my blue Israeli Membership Card, even though I'd been away so long.

And Yom Haatzmaut was amazing. My Israeli neighbor, Nechama, brought me with her to celebrate the day in Moshav Ora with her entire Iraqi family and some of their friends. I spoke Hebrew! We had a mangal (barbecue)! Ah. A day with the natives. The sun was shining, the juices from the beef, chicken, and lamb were sizzling, the kids had a water fight, and I tried unsuccessfully to explain to Nechama's brother why an American would ever make aliyah.

Then Nechama and I headed to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rechavia, where they had a "living museum" about what the neighborhood was like in the 1930's and 40's, during the British Mandate period and the War for Independence. They had, for example, students from the renowned Hebrew Gymnasium high school (located in Rehavia and alma mater to several prominent Israeli authors) picketing in front of the school with signs like "Jews, speak Hebrew!" There were actors everywhere in period costumes; period music playing; British "soldiers" announcing that we were in Region B and therefore had to follow the rules of the British occupation; and several Egged buses from the 1940's and 50's, open for us to climb into (that was so cool).


Tonight I headed out for the appointment with the dental hygenist. Traffic was slow all over the city due to scattered protests against the disengagement from Gaza. A few blocks from my house, a bunch of teenage boys and one adult man were burning something that looked like it used to be a baby stroller. The kids were all wearing orange t-shirts (orange being the official "support Gaza" color), and there were huge posters strung up all along the intersection that said "Jews don't expel Jews."

This was the first time I ever saw something political happening this close to my house. I'm all for free speech, but that burning whatever-it-was was dangerously close to where cars were stopping for red lights. They could at least have burned it on the sidewalk. (I'm not commenting here on how I feel about the disengagment, just saying that flames and cars do not mix).

The taxi driver and I had been shmoozing until we got to that intersection, but when we saw the protesters we got quiet. I didn't know what to say. This is a bad situation. Those of you who read my blog know that I'm thinly in favor of the pullout, but that doesn't mean that I'm in love with the idea of it. It doesn't mean that I enjoy the idea of people losing their homes -- any people, but particularly fellow Jews.

I think it's amazing that those who are willing to stand up against the pullout may do so without, say, getting shot (though there were about 200 arrests today in Jerusalem, according to the NY Times). I believe in people's rights to protest. What makes me nervous is the idea of what will happen as July gets closer and closer. Today, it's traffic jams and some fires. What will be tomorrow? Next week? Next month? The whole thing is giving me the heeby jeebies. I'm still a soft American, I guess. I haven't been here yet during serious action. I'm getting nervous.


Guess what? Having your teeth cleaned is just as unpleasant in Jerusalem as it is in Boston and New York. Who would've thought?

The price tag is less painful though. :-) 70 NIS (about $15) for the visit. Ah, socialized medicine (Judah, I know what you want to say. You have already said it. I love socialized medicine. So there!)

And, the medical/dental clinic is next to the shuk (famous open-air market). 10 pitot for one shekel! A kilo of strawberries for 10 shekels! A bag of cookies for 4 shekels! Yum!


On the bus on the way home, I saw a female soldier who had an orange ribbon tied to her backpack. I thought that was strange. I mean, of course she's allowed her private opinions, but is a soldier allowed to display displeasure at government policy on an army-issued backpack?

Another woman on the bus approached the girl and asked her about it. If I understood correctly, the soldier replied something about the ribbon being just a ribbon, not a political statement.

Now, one of two things is happening here. Either the girl had tied the ribbon to her backpack ages ago, to make it easily distinguishable from other soldiers' khaki-colored backpacks, in which case she might want to switch it to a purple or yellow ribbon . . . or else she tied an orange ribbon to her backpack as a protest against the Gaza pullout. Again, if it's the latter, I don't begrudge her private opinions . . . but I would have thought there would be rules about this in the army. Are there? Anyone out there know the facts on this? David? Gil?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goodbye, New York. Hello, Jerusalem.

Well, this is it. My flight leaves from Kennedy airport at 9 pm. I have mixed feelings about going back. On one hand, I've had such a good time seeing people in America and soaking in the atmosophere of Manhattan, which I'd missed so much. And going back to Israel, I'll have to confront things like, oh, work.

On the other hand, all my plans for the UYO seminar I'm planning for July 27-29 in Jerusalem have been on the back-burner for two months, and now I can finally start implementing the final logistics. I'm so excited about this program- but that's for another post.

To all those who have been calling me on Craig's cell phone: I'm FedExing it back to him in an hour or two, so call now or forever hold your peace! (or at least wait until I get back to Israel and plug in my VOIP phone again)

Thanks to everyone who made time to see me during my trip, and my apologies to those I did not have a chance to see.

See you in the Holy Land.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It is so hard, coming to New York for a limited amount of time, and having about 3 gazillion people that I want to see. When I was last here, in October, I made myself insane running around for lunch dates and dinner dates so I could have "one-on-one" face time with each of my 300 nearest and dearest friends. This time, I decided to give up and not make myself insane, and simply schedule a time when everyone can come and see me. Meanwhile, I have seen a few friends, carefully chosen for various reasons, and it's been very nice. In particular, I have spent Shabbat with Formerly Lubavitch Friend, the one who made my trip to NY possible, and it's been so warm and beautiful. I love my friends!

Meanwhile, I'm getting a little nervous about going back to my "real life" in Israel. I've spent so much time in the USA recently, I hardly know whether I'm coming or going. The thought of going back for a huge stretch, not knowing when I'll see my family again, or any of my friends in the US, is very hard. I think it's easier to stay in Israel and not tease myself with these brief sojourns in chutz la'aretz . . .

Anyhow, back to Star Wars. Has anyone else noticed the smoking photo of Hayden Christensen on the cover of GQ? And the James Dean-like photos inside the magazine? Oh. My. Gahd. He is hot. Hot. HAAAAAAHHHHHT. The smile says "impish" but the eyes say "dark and intense." Someone turn on the air conditioner in here.

And yes, that is Natalie Portman on the cover of W. Lord, what did they do to her hair? Note her observations about life in Israel in the interview. Also note that she is 5'3" and wears a size ZERO. I now hate her. If everyone's darling wears a size zer0, there is no chance for me. I may as well quit and become a hermit.

Tomorrow, I go to the wedding of Doron Levin and Rachael Brickman. For the record: They met at my Shabbat table. Is this a segulah? Only time will tell.