Monday, January 30, 2006

The Onion on Iran's Holocaust Conference

This is grimly amusing. I laughed.

(For those not in the know, The Onion is a satirical newspaper.)
No More Creepy Old Guys!

Well this was an email I was happy to receive, and which I trust Esther Kustanowitz will treat at more length once she gets wind of it:

Dear DosiDate member,

Chodesh tov! I am pleased to announce a new feature on DosiDate, available only to female members:

You can now set an age range, which will allow only men whose age falls within that range to initiate contact with you.

The reason we added this feature is that some women on the site have expressed discomfort when contacted by men who are many years older than they.
This new feature directly addresses that problem, and will hopefully make DosiDate more pleasant to use for those who take advantage of it.

N.B. This feature will not affect your current communications. That is, if you have already been in contact with a man who falls outside of the age range you set, he will be able to continue communicating with you.


Lisa and Grayson Levy

Given how many men in their 50's have "initiated contact" with me through the various dating websites on which I'm a member, you can bet I went into my Dosidate account right away to set up an acceptable age range. (By the way, Dosidate is also one of the only dating websites that allows you to read your messages without being a paid member.) Don't worry, I was extremely liberal, in both directions, when setting the boundaries. I won't quibble over whether a man is 39 or 40, or even a couple of years after that, though once a man is well into his 40's (that is, more than 8-10 years older than I), we're starting to get into my "I'm willing to meet him, but . . . " range. My policy has long been that if a man is closer to my father's age than he is to mine, he's just out of luck. My father was 24 when I was born. You do the math.

I'm sure I'll get comments -- most likely from men in their 50's -- saying "that is so closed-minded, all that matters is that you are soulmates, what if a man is otherwise compatible, older men are more financially secure, blah blah blah." To which I ask: Let's say you are 53. That is, 20 years older than I am. Would you date a woman who is 20 years older than you are -- ie, 73 years old? If not, don't you think that's closed-minded?

Case closed. Soooooo closed.


I think I need to clarify a few matters, so here it goes:

1. I definitely think both women and men should be open-minded in who they are willing to meet on a date, especially about something like a large age difference. That is why I said that when setting my "acceptable age range" on Dosidate, I was very liberal in both directions. But there is "liberal" and then there is "dirty creepy men who are trolling for trophy wives," and I refuse to cross that line.

2. I don't think I know any woman who is past her late 20's who wouldn't meet a man within 10 years older than she is. A lot of women would be willing to meet a man who is within 15 years of her. Notice the important phrase here, "willing to meet." Most women, in my experience, would prefer to meet someone closer to her own age (and, I admit to a certain affection for men who are within a few years younger than I am). However, I and just about every single woman I know would at least meet a man within a normal age range, and give it a chance. And not uncommonly, those "chances" turn into something beautiful.

3. The much more prevalent problem than that of women who won't date older men is that of men who will not even meet -- or aren't "initiating contact with" -- women of their own age. The men in their 30's want women in their 20's . . . the men in their 40's want women in their 20's or early 30's . . . the men in their 50's want women in their 30's . . . because, you understand, they want a woman who can still bear lots of children for them, and aren't thinking about how absolutely creepy they are being. So, we women in our early thirties are getting contacted by men in their late 40's, 50's, even 60's (I kids you not) . . . when those guys would have much better chances with women in their later 30's, 40's, 50's, etc. You catch my drift.

What ends up happening is that, once you've gotten into the late 30's and 40's, the men stay single because (often) they are completely unrealistic about their dating and reproductive prospects, and the women stay single because the men are completely unrealistic (among other reasons, I'm sure, but right now we're talking about this reason). So everyone ends up lonely and unhappy, in addition to being without the 5 kids that the men covet so badly, even when they are already 55 years old and maybe for them it's just too late. But they'd rather keep trolling for a much younger wife than find a partner who will bring joy to their lives, but maybe not kids, or not so many kids.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

20 Years Since Challenger

Where were you when you found out the Challenger had blown up?

The Challenger left an indelible impression on kids of the 80's. It is to my generation what "where were you when JFK was shot?" was to my parents'.

So, where were you?

I was being driven home from school by my mother. We were pulling out of the school driveway when she told me.

Come to think of it, I wonder why they didn't tell us in school. Strange.
Just a thought to throw out there . . .

I've been reading the newspaper articles (see today's NY Times), op-eds, and blog posts about how, now that the Palestinians have put their cards on the table, and their gov't is saying nice and loud they want Israel dead and in the water, well, now we can move ahead knowing what we are dealing with. And that might be a good thing, much better than dealing with people like Arafat and his cronies who say "we want peace" out of their butts, and "we won't stop until Israel is gone" out of their mouths when they think no one important is listening.

Hamas being in charge -- regardless of whether they were put in charge because most Palestinians really want Israel dead, or because they were protesting Fatah and don't really care whether Israel gets blown up -- could mean that now, when Israel defends herself, the Western world will get it. (I doubt that though; the West forgets these things really fast.) Maybe Europe, for example, will stop harassing Israel over stuff like the security barrier/fence/wall. Or it could mean that Hamas will become more moderate, because they'll have to if they want any money from anywhere. Or maybe something else will happen that's tolerable from Israel's point of view -- at least, more tolerable than what we've had for the last 5 years.

I've been reading all those opinions, and I hear it, and I hope it's true. I hope that in the long run, we'll see the silver lining in this cloud, and everything will be OK.

But, to tell you the truth, I've been feeling sort of creepy and scared the last few days. Couldn't figure it out for a while. But today I spent Shabbat by myself, eating in my apartment, reading, and taking long walks in the cool air, and I realized what it is. I'm scared of the next war. I'm scared that the PA will simply launch a war against Israel. I've never been here for a straight-out war before. The closest I came was in 1991, when I was studying here for a year, and my parents insisted I come back to America before the missiles started flying over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I returned to Israel the day after the war ended.

That episode, by the way, was a watershed moment in my decision to make aliyah. I remember the exact moment, actually, when I started considering moving here. It was in the El Al office in Jerusalem's City Center, where I'd gone to try to get a better ticket. The floor was wall-to-wall American students trying to leave the country. I felt really ashamed to be a wimpy rich American student, when there were so many Israelis -- such as the thousands of Ethiopians who had recently arrived -- who had no other place to go. The missiles would come, and they'd be under them, and they'd just have to be strong and deal with it, because they have no choice. Next time, I said to myself, I'll be here, and I'm not going to leave. I'm staying with my people through thick and thin.

But anyway . . .

It is really creepy having neighbors next door who aren't even pretending to want to negotiate with us, who are saying straight out they want my country destroyed and me in the sea. You realize that now that they are the government, they aren't terrorists anymore? Weird, huh? If you are the government, you aren't a terrorist, you're a hostile government.

You could well ask why I should be any more frightened of a straight-out war than I was of the situation we've had up until now, of terrorists blowing up buses and cafes, and the PA looking the other way.

Well, I certainly can't explain that in any logical way, except to remind you that by the time I moved here, the suicide bombings were just on the verge of starting to slow down. I wasn't here, for example, in 2002, during the worst of the intifada. Israel has gone through a lot during my lifetime, but I haven't been here for most of it; I've been over there, watching and worrying but not being directly affected.

And second, there is often no logic of what makes some people afraid and others not. When I moved here in 2003, I decided almost immediately that I will eat in whatever cafe looks good to me, regardless of what kind of security it has, or not. But riding on buses gave me the heebie-jeebies. Conversely, I have friends who rode the buses every day without thinking about it, but wouldn't set foot in a restaurant. Who knows why we compartmentalize things the way we do? I sure don't know. But for some reason, I feel I can take my chances with terrorists, but not with a war.

Though, if the war happens, I'll just have to take my chances. Because now I'm here. And I'm not going to leave.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Spirit of the JIBs

Here's my take on the Jewish-Israeli Blog awards: It's fun to run, and it's fun to win, but ultimately there are many, many much more important things in life. So, whether I win or lose, it was fun to play, and it's nice to be introduced to new blogs and maybe get some more readers myself. That's it. So, when I post about the JIBs, it's with the same light-heartedness with which I post about Hoops and Yoyo: it's fun, I enjoy it, and I enjoy sharing about it on the blog. But it's not a big deal.

But in a post about "the spirit of the JIBs," my personal "take" is irrelevant, because it is Dave who invented the JIBs, Dave who runs them, and Dave who sets the tone for them. So, in light of the comments left here lately by a troll, and similar unpleasantness happening at other blogs, I'd like to share Dave's own words about the spirit of the awards. First, an email I sent to him yesterday (snipped parts do not affect the meaning of the email one iota):

. . . . I've been talking to other bloggers about the JIBs. Most accept the JIBs for what they are- a fun, harmless way to bring attention to a wide range of blogs. My own view of the JIBs is that sure, it hurts to lose, but winning a JIB is not a statement of literary quality, and losing is not a statement of lack of quality. It is, indeed, mostly a popularity contest, with the blogs who have the most readers getting the most votes. Still, in the process of voting, a lot of people check out a variety of nominees. And certainly many of the nominees (like me, for example), post links to the competition. If this were a contest of literary quality, there would be an independent panel of judges. In some ways, having an independent panel would be better . . . but then again, it wouldn't be the JIBs. It would be something more "high-falutin'," and surely the composition of the judging panel, and their criteria for bestowing awards, would open up a whole new can of worms! So, personally, I enjoy getting votes, but in categories where I'm not -- such as in Best Series-- I shrug and say "oh, well, my career doesn't ride on the JIBs" and go on with my day . . . .

However, I've gotten comments on my blog to the effect that telling my readers I've been nominated and "hinting" that I want votes is an evil, horrible, no-good, very bad thing to do. I even got this to my post a week or two ago, which included LINKS AND KUDOS TO MY OWN COMPETITION! And just now I checked my last post, in which I told my readers which categories I'm still in the running for -- AND ASKING THEM TO VOTE FOR WHOMEVER THEY THINK IS BEST -- and got the following comment:

"You should be disqualified from the competition for the above post. You are an embarrassment to the blogging community. Could you be any less shameless?"

So my question is: Is, in fact, telling one's readers that one is up for a JIB, and asking for votes in a light-hearted manner, while also reminding readers that the point is to read new blogs, and urging them to do so,against the spirit of the JIBs?

Here is the response which Dave sent to me personally (posted here in full with his permission):

I am sorry you have had to endure such snarkiness, and I fully agree with you. I have been saying all along (check out my JIBS posts) that the awards MEAN NOTHING! That is coming from me! :)

The whole point of the JIBs is the exposure, and from that point of view it has been really successful. Actually, the "fun" of it is also a part, and I am sorry you and others have to suffer from fools.

There is nothing wrong with getting into the spirit of competition. I would draw the line at putting down other competitors (as one overzealous competitor did last year).

So to answer your question: you have done nothing against the spirit, and in fact, have acted entirely in the spirit. It is the commenter who is acting contrary to the purpose.

I hope this addresses your comment/question.

Dave has also addressed the issue of what kind of behavior is or is not in the spirit of the JIB awards on his blog, here. This is what he has to say:

For the second year in a row, I find myself having to write a JIB-related post that I wish was not necessary.
You see, it seems that there are plenty of people out there who take the competition aspect too far. There are blog readers who leave snarky comments at blogs who have been requesting votes in the JIBs (and even those not really requesting votes). And there are bloggers who have seen it necessary to either disparage other competing blogs, or send their readers to skew the results by voting for selected blogs that conform to their ideology.
Of course, there have also been those who have tried to taint the entire awards with their baseless accusation and petty jealousies, but I have already devoted wasted enough time on them.
Well I'll be damned if these ninkenpoops are going to spoil the months of hard work the Jerusalem Post and I have invested in this endeavour.
The JIB awards were conceived as a fun way to bring attention to the plethora of Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel blogs out there, which I consider absolutely necessary in light of the mainstream media bias against Israel (and, to some extent, Jews). The voting aspect is a means to an end, the end being to attract readers to the web pages listing the participating blogs, clicking on the links, and visiting them. This is why the voting is left to the readers, and not a panel of judges as some people (who have entirely missed the point) have suggested.
Now pay attention to what I am saying. The results themselves are irrelevant. They may not necessarily be indicative of the quality or worth of the blog. They may very well only be indicative of the blogger's readership, or their ability to garner support.
I have been asked for my opinion on the tactics of some bloggers who have been very competitive. As far as I am concerned, it is not against the spirit of the awards to ask for votes, even when it involves emailing your family, friends, and acquaintances. What I ask though, is that you encourage them to not just visit the site and vote for you, but to visit the site, look at the wide range of blogs in all categories, visit the ones that seem appealing - and then vote for you. This is a great way to bring more readership to the blogs. Think about it. If most of the participant blogs sent such an email to only 10 of their friends, then this could result in thousands more visitors to the site, and potentially increase the traffic of many participating blogs.
This is also the reason why many of you need to be rejoicing at the inclusion of certain "big name" blogs, rather than lamenting this fact. When they promote the JIBs on their sites, they are sending thousands of readers to the voting pages. I won't pretend that in many - if not most - cases, their readers are merely voting for them and leaving immediately, but I am sure, in some cases, there are readers taking the time to check out the other participating blogs.
Some of you have to think outside the box and see that you can all be winners in this competition. And that has absolutely nothing to do with receiving one of the logos for top three placegetter.
You can quote me on that.

So, to all you trolls who think I'm a jerk for directing people to the JIBs; posting links to my own competition - even competition with very different opinions and lifestyles from my own; asking people to vote - and especially if they will vote for me; and otherwise acting in the spirit of the awards:

Go away!
That was fast

When talking about politics, especially Middle East politics, you've got a lot of people of all sorts saying "if Israel does XYZ, then horrible thing ABC will happen," or "no, Israel should do 123, because otherwise 9,10, 11" will happen. Usually both are right, or could be right, and Israel is just stuck between a rock and hard place. If Israel often seems to be making it up as she goes along, it's because we're stuck in a dark wood with no clear path. Go this way, you might be eaten by wolves; go that way, you might disappear into quicksand. So you've got people saying "no! Don't turn left! Yonder lies the wolves!" and others saying "Stop! I think people have sunk over there." So we're just picking our way through the brush and branches, hoping we don't step someplace very bad.

Last summer, Israel decided that this picking through the woods is exhausting, and it's time to try to find a place to rest, and that she'd better turn somewhere or she'll collapse from exhaustion. So she turned left, and there were people who said "No! Wolves! Bad!" and she said "It's a risk we'll have to take, because we have to get out of this situation one way or another. If the wolves are there, we'll just have to deal with it then, and maybe that will be better than this endless wandering around and fatigue. If there are no wolves, great. If the wolves are there, maybe we'll find another way around them."

Well, it turns out the wolves are there after all.

They'd said "if we leave Gaza, it will turn into Hamastan."

What amazes me is not that they were right, but that they were right so quickly. It's like . . . magic. Say "Hamastan," and it appears before your very eyes. Amazing.

I still think that the decision to leave the woods was a reasonable one, and could very well yet turn out to be a healthy one, in the long run. The wolves are there but they have not sprung. And if they do spring, well, we're well-armed and determined, and some would even say we have God on our side, and so the story might have a happy ending after all. And anyway they may have sprung on us even if we hadn't left the path, if they were hungry enough.

But I give credit where credit is due. It doesn't make those who foresaw Hamastan right about everything. But they were definitely right about this. And how! Wow.

PS Notice that I never said the wolves wouldn't be there. . . Jack.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas Wins

Oh . . . crud . . .


I like the Haaretz headline saying that the Italian PM called the election results "very, very, very bad."



'twill be interesting to see what happens next . . . and after that . . .

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hearty Mazal Tov

My long-time readers may recall that a male friend of mine from high school, Rabbi Seth Binus, passed away a few years ago after suffering for many months from a brain tumor. He had been a pulpit rabbi in Calgary, and had a beautiful and gracious wife, Deena, and 2 adorable little girls, Sarah and Shuli. The whole thing was very sad. (Don't worry, the good news is coming up. Bear with me, here.)

Since visiting them a couple of times when Seth was sick (in New York, where he was getting medical treatment and they were living with Deena's parents), I've kept in touch a little bit with Deena. She's done a great job of picking up her life again. She and the girls moved to Queens, she got an apartment and a job, registered her kids in new schools. A few months ago, Seth's mom and stepdad were in Jerusalem, and told me that it's incredible how well the two girls have adjusted. Deena is obviously a very strong, intelligent, and capable person. I admire her very much.

A few days ago, she sent out an email announcing her engagement! She is marrying Howie Mammon, who also has two daughters. So they will be a blended family with four girls, ages 5, 6, 7, and 8! Deena said that it's all very noisy, but the girls are thrilled.

I'm so happy for Deena and Sarah and Shuli! And even happier for Howie, who is getting a really fantastic woman! Mazal tov all around. I'd say "may you build a bayit ne'eman b'yisrael," but I already know you will!
Appreciation Wednesday

Every Friday, an elderly Russian man stands outside the Super HaMoshava supermarket on Emek Refaim street, and plays European waltzes on his violin. Busy shoppers come and go, and every so often someone puts some coins into the open violin case at his feet. When I have time, I like to stop and listen to him. The music is beautiful, and the Mozart and Strauss and Beethoven and Pachelbel take me out of my pre-Shabbat frenzy and encourage me to take a moment to enjoy something heavenly. I believe that beautiful music is, indeed, Godly in certain ways, since it is something created from nothing.

I don't know who this man is, or how long he's lived here, or what he does the rest of the week, or how much money he's really making on Fridays. But I appreciate that God gave him a special talent, and that, in using it, he's lifting me out of myself every Friday morning.
JIB Award update

Thank you so much to everyone who voted for Chayyei Sarah in the preliminary rounds of the Jewish-Israeli Blog Awards.

Thanks to you, my blog has advanced to the final round in the following categories:
  • Best Life in Israel Blog
  • Best Personal Blog
  • Best Series

I really appreciate that so many people enjoy my blog and voted for it. It will be cool if I can add to my collection of JIB banners on the side of my blog!

I urge you to check out all the nominees in all the categories. The purpose of the JIBs is to introduce people to blogs they may never have seen otherwise, and spread the "wealth." I've been checking out my competition and am really enjoying a lot of their work. So go here, check out the nominees, and vote for whichever blogs you think deserve it. (But remember: A Vote for Chayyei Sarah is a Vote for World Peace.)

You are entitled to vote every three days. Have fun!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Doing that which I said I would never do . . .

Guess what I just did?

Guess what I just signed up for?

Because I am, apparently, a glutton for punishment?

Guess what kind of event I'm going to? And I don't know anyone else going?

Guess who is sticking her neck out, AGAIN, and praying that it doesn't get slit, AGAIN?

Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God

If anyone says I don't do enough hishtadlut, I will personally tie them to a tree with duct tape, deep in the woods where no one will find them for days or maybe weeks, and put a CD of Alvin and the Chipmunks on just a few feet away, playing on a loop.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Just a Few Things

1. Mazal tov to my chavruta, Nili Chernikoff, on her recent engagement to Ezra Auerbach.

2. Mazal tov to Chava and Marc Neustadter on the recent (while I was in America) birth of their first child, a girl, Rina Bracha.

3. How come I haven't seen anything about this in the American media? (Have you? Where?) This is important and interesting. I wonder if it's true. Though, a friend of mine recently pointed out . . . Rivka, close your ears . . . that if Hamas were to gain control over the PA, they might by necessity mellow out a tad. Terrorists who become bureaucrats usually have a hard time maintaining the same passions and ideologies that helped them get into power to begin with. Look what happened to Fatah when they became an actual government. Who ever would have envisioned them working on things like municipal budgets and democratic elections? Corrupt and two-faced, yes, but at least pretending to be real leaders who will do something constructive for their people like, say, work on peace negotiations with Israel and stick to their word. The fact that this is a farce doesn't mean that Hamas would be any worse for Israel than Fatah. It could end up being the same farce, with a different name. In theory. It's up to the Palestinians to decide whether we'll have to find out . . . . Speaking of which, I just want to point out the fact that there are election campaigns going on in an Arab, eh, governmental entity, is just a step short of a miracle. Let's not fail to look on the bright side of things. The fact that we really don't know whether Hamas or Fatah will win means that there is some measure of honesty in these elections. I don't know how much, but some democracy is much better than none at all. It might take another 3,000 years for the Jews and Arabs here to sort themselves out, but at least having an election, in which people are voting (including women!), is a step in the right direction . . . I hope . . . Maybe.

4. I finally caved and bought myself a blender. It crushes ice, it can handle hot soups, and it's pretty easy to wash, all things considered. I've been wanting a blender for years, as you know if you've been following my birthday and chanukah wish-lists, so for me this is a milestone.

5. Yesterday I got a kitchen burn on my arm, when I lifted the cover off a pot and the hot water vapor had an unfortunate and too-close run-in with my skin. I ran cold water over it for five minutes like a good girl and waited to see if any blisters or dark spots showed up. It was swollen and painful and red but otherwise looked OK. Today the red patch was much smaller and there was one blister - on a doctor's advice I put anti-bacterial ointment on it and a band-aid. It's not a big deal, but it hurt a lot yesterday. Thank God, skin is a wonderful thing that heals quickly. I'm just mentioning it because it was a bummer, spending time last night in pain and wondering how bad the burn has to look before I go to the doctor.

6. A friend here revealed to me today that she is a huge fan of Hoops & Yoyo (how come I never knew this? Is it like a secret society?), and she will loan me her Hoops and Yoyo plush toys. :-) Let the games begin.

7. I understood the entire manual for the blender, even though it was in Hebrew! Everything!

8. Yesterday I finished reading, for the first time, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and got started on the next book in the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian. I decided to read them in the order in which they were originally published, rather than the story's chronological order. Of course now I see how it is that Lion is a Christian allegory . . . but I'm sure that, had I read the book as a child, I would never have put the two together. And even now, I enjoyed it simply as an imaginative and exciting story. Question: would those who have seen the movie recommend it?

9. Part of the deal with my reading The Chronicles of Narnia was that Miriam B. agreed to read Watership Down if I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. You're on now, Miriam! Get back to us when you're done, OK?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gnome Matter

I've got some serious posts cooking in my brain about Religious Zionism and East Jerusalem (two separate posts) . . . if I dare to post them. If I do, my sister, who makes Bibi Netanyahu look like a hippie flower-child at last year's Sulha, just might never invite me over again. I have to decide which is more important, blogging or ever seeing my nephews again. I don't know, which would you pick?

Anyhow, I love this news story. It reminds me of those hysterical garden gnome scenes in Amelie. (Whaaaaat?!? You've never seen Amelie??? Get thee to thy local Blockbuster and rent that movie now.)

Which reminds me, I've very much been enjoying the cartoons at this site, home of Hallmark's "Hoops & Yoyo." (You'll just have to go there, the next time you have some time to waste, to see what I mean.) This site was quite clearly created by someone who is acquainted with 8-year-old boys, such as my nephew. I especially recommend "What to do on a nice day Part 2" (you can skip Part 1); "The Sound Parts 1 and 2"; and "Campfire Stories: The Runaway Marshmallow Parts 1, 2, and 3." Definitely skip the home movies though; they are really dumb (I mean, dumber than the funny-dumb movies I just recommended).

What do Hoops and Yoyo have to do with stolen garden gnomes and Amelie, you ask? Well, I will tell you. You see, if someone were to, say, buy me these plush Hoops and Yoyo toys (just $6.95 plus delivery! And its not too late for belated Chanukah presents!), I would take them to the Western Wall and other famous sites in the Holy Land, snap their pictures, and create free positive publicity for Israel tourism in the Hoops and Yoyo newsletter and photo gallery. See, I'm all about reaching the masses. Imagine all the Hoops and Yoyo fans who will fill up Israel's hotels after seeing these toys having the time of their lives at Mini Israel and the Dead Sea Scrolls. This could be my next photo series at Chayyei Sarah! "Hoops and Yoyo Do Israel"! (And for those of you who don't know me well: Yes, I know this is silly. And yes, I really will do it. Because it's fun. Nothing wrong with that.)

OK, back to Earth. Several stories to write re: my trip to Be'er Sheva, a closet to re-organize, and a floor to mop. The journalist's life is tres glamourous, no?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Appreciation Wednesday (on Saturday): Customers First!

Israel has an often-deserved reputation for, ah, less-than-wonderful customer service. The situation is getting better as businesses (and the government) get computerized, resulting in shorter lines and wait times, and as Israelis get more connected to the "outside world," resulting in more "service with a smile" rather than the desultory "what do you want?" attitude that sometimes passes for service here. Most notably, the wait times at government ministries are far shorter than they used to be. The days of immigrants complaining that they waited all day for an appointment only to be told to get different paperwork and to the back of the line again are pretty much over.

[I should interject that Americans' complaints about bad customer service are often, I suspect, simply a matter of cultural differences, not really of the service. Israelis are extremely direct, and Americans (who are much more direct than Europeans, but not nearly as direct as Israelis) often confuse directness for rudeness. For example, going back to my paragraph above . . . in the USA, the polite way for a bank clerk to indicate that she is ready to help you is to say "how can I help you?" In Israel, I've noticed that the clerks sometimes say "What do you want?" which of course to me sounds really bad. Once I called someone on it, asking a bank clerk "why the bad mood?" and she said, completely innocently, "What do you mean?" and I said "well, asking 'what do you want' doesn't sound like you are in a good mood to me. It sounds like you aren't in the mood for another customer." And she said, totally seriously, "I don't understand. I asked what you want. Why would I ask that if I didn't really want to know what you want, so I can give you what you want?" And I realized that to me, "what do you want" sounds like "what do you want," whereas she'd really been asking "what do you want."]

Anyhow, I really appreciate it when a business does provide good customer service. It makes my day even in America to be treated like a Queen by people who are charging me money for something, and even moreso in Israel, since I'm not used to it. So I want to acknowledge not one but two instances of exemplary customer service I've encountered here in the past week:

1. I spent Tuesday night in Be'er Sheva, about a 2 hours' bus-ride south of Jerusalem, for business. The people I was going to be meeting with told me that staying anywhere other than the Paradise Hotel would be pointless: the hotel was the nicest place to stay in Be'er Sheva, within walking distance of all our meetings, and kosher to boot. It was a little pricier than I'd wanted, but since staying anywhere else would have involved paying for taxis and more food, I figured I'd splurge. Boy, was it worth it. The breakfast buffet was great, it is seriously within walking distance of just about anything you'd want to see in Be'er Sheva (the malls, the old Ben Gurion University campus, lots and lots of offices, etc), and my room was gorgeous, with marble counters in the bathroom, really tasteful decor, and a little nook with a desk/internet access and extra chairs for business meetings (I was on the business floor). Plus, I noticed that they sent someone to my room to make sure the TV was working before I got there. And they have a Shabbat elevator, and there was a hair dryer in my room, and a working refrigerator (none of this "fridge is extra" or "take anything from the mini-bar and you are dead" stuff), and an extra sink and counter space for things like preparing drinks (that business floor is awesome).

But the best part -- the part which earns them a mention in Appreciation Wednesday -- is that five minutes after I checked in, there was a knock at my door, and two very smiling women gave me a plate of delicious cookies, a bottle of water, and a warm welcome to Be'er Sheva. Yay! Cookies! Now that is customer service.

Go, Paradise Hotel in Be'er Sheva!

2. When I got back from Be'er Sheva, there was a surprise waiting in my mailbox. You'll recall that I recently came back from a trip to the States. Well, while waiting for my suitcases to come 'round, I took the time to fill out a customer questionnaire about the new terminal at Ben Gurion Airport. I truthfully wrote that I love the new terminal, that it is clean and bright and pretty and makes a very nice impression for Israel, but that the walk from the gates to baggage claim, and from check-in to the gates, is way too long -- people are tired and have a lot of stuff with them and it's just too far.

Believe it or not, the Israel Airports Authority wrote a personal letter in reply. I don't mean a generic "thank you for your input" letter with my name attached. I mean a letter that had been written specifically to me. Here is what it said:

Dear Mrs. ________, [small demerit for assuming I'm married . . . ]

RE: Your letter dated 09/01/2006

Thank you so much for your kind words and I hope you had a safe return to Israel.

Indeed we are proud of this new terminal (already over a year old) and still do everything in our power on one hand to preserve its beauty and cleanliness and on the other - to improve the services rendered to the passengers. There is not a dull moment around here.

Yes, it is a long walk to the aircraft, but the architects who planned this terminal, together with the IAA Management, had in mind a concept of a large extended airport in comparison with Terminal 1, in order to be able to contain and to serve an increased number of passengers. Unfortunately, the Management of this airport has decided against providing trolleys after Passport Control, in order to preserve a "clean and clear" space for passengers to move in on their way to the duty free area and also in it. I must also draw your attention to the danger in pushing trolleys along the steep walk to the duty free area and back.

Mrs. ______, I appreciate the time you took to bring your impressions to my attention and look forward to serving you at this airport again in the future to your satisfaction.

Sincerely yours,
Thalma Shamir
Manager Public Affairs

Wow! Someone at Ben Gurion Airport took the time to answer my specific complaint! Yeah, I know, there is still a long walk from the gates to everything else, and probably always will be . . . but kudos to Thalma and the Israel Airports Authority for writing a personal letter, especially considering that Ben Gurion airport has no competition; it's the only international airport in Israel, except maybe for short flights to Egypt or something. That is customer service.

And I appreciate it!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Reminder to self:

When you are upset over everything having to do with everything (see last post), do not attend a panel discussion called "Aspects of the Disengagement."

Watching Rabbi Michael Melchior, religious left-wing member of Knesset, arguing (however respectfully) with Eran Sternberg, former spokesperson for the settlements of Gush Katif, was mighty interesting but very sad. I felt a little sorry for Yaakov Katz, a senior reporter for the Jerusalem Post, who was sitting between them, and Anat Sarel, the educational pyschologist (who has been working with the many families still living in hotels) who got to speak for maybe five minutes at most.

I've been attending a whole lot of post-disengagement panels lately. Collecting fodder for a couple of articles I'm pitching around. Once I know what I'll need for publication and what I'm free(er) to blog, I'll post what I can.

OK, it is 1:40 in the morning, and I have spent the last one hour and 40 minutes tossing and turning in bed, trying to sleep, and unable to. You know why? Because after a week back in Israel I still have horrible, horrible jetlag. And you know why else? Because the same stupid, stressful thoughts keep running through my head, raising my adrenaline levels and keeping me awake.

You know what is makin' me mad? Anyone and everything that has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is makin' me mad. That includes Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians . . .oh, fine, the entire Middle East . . . the cocky-headed United Nations, the EU, Canada, the United States, Britain, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, the right wing, the left wing, The Big Bad Media, and all the idiots who think that if everyone would just sing John Lennon's "Imagine," the world would be a better place.

I have a bit of patience for Micronesia and Palau, and at the moment the Eskimos are not bothering me.

R., the cockyhead, is makin' me mad!
He Who Must Not Be Named . . . the cockyhead! Makin' me mad!
The fact that I'm even thinking about He Who Must Not Be Named at all . . . makin' me mad!
The dating world . . . so unfair . . . it makes me so mad.

A particular pro-Palestinian blogger with whom I entered into a polite debate on her blog, and now I promised to write a response to her position about the Palestinian desire for a "right of return" . . . which could take me three thousand years . . . so why did I promise to do that? I do not want to do that. I have no time to do that. And just thinkin' about it makes me mad! Feeling like I have any sort of responsibility to defend Israel or explain to other people why they are being cockyheaded . . . makes me mad!

People who blame all their problems on Israel make me mad. People who can not bring themselves to see Israel's point of view make me mad! And cocky-headed American Jews and Israelis who can't see the Palestinians' point of view even one iota make me mad! . . . But not as mad as people who don't spend three seconds considering Israel's point of view.

Stupid, pig-headed commenters to a certain blog, who have been writing nasty things about Nice Jewish Girl, which necessitated my having to spend precious time writing out my opinion in small words so that everyone can understand, make me mad.

Idiotic defenders of Israel who go to pro-Palestinian blogs and think they are doing Israel a favor by writing idiotic comments that make no sense, say nothing of substance, are just there for the sake of being nasty, and are rife with grammatical errors, make me mad. Ugh! Who are these people, and why don't they have IQ's higher than 6?

People with no sense of humor make me mad. People who take the JIBs too seriously, and berate me for asking my readers to vote for me, make me mad.

George Bush makes me really mad. Americans who voted for him in the last election . . . mad!

People who put soda in their babies' bottles . . . makin' me mad!

The "system," or lack thereof, makes me mad. Garbage landfills. Dependence on oil. Slave trafficking. Female circumcision. Poverty. People with curable diseases but no access to health care or medication. Girls who don't get educations. Racism . . . racism is so stupid. People who don't put their kids in seat belts. Government corruption. Child molestation. The New York City public school system . . . don't even get me started. Drunk drivers. Sexists. Glass ceilings. Everyone who is more religious than I am. Everyone who is less religious than I am. Meshichists. Lead paint. Socialism. Capitalism. Communism. Makin' me mad!

[pant, pant]

And don't forget being mad at myself, because I have insufficient funds, and not enough work, and most of the work that I have is boring, and it's all my fault. Dishes not done? My fault. Still haven't taken care of a favor that I promised to do for a friend months ago, and they are relying on me, and I can't get my act together to spend two frikin' hours just to do it? Me bad.

Not doing enough to change all the above things that are making me mad, or even one of them . . . making me mad.

Why can't everyone just see the world the way I do? Or at least listen to everything I say and do everything I tell them without question? The world would be a much better place, let me tell you, if everyone would just listen to me.


Saving the world is not my job.
Saving the world is not my job!
Saving the world is NOT MY JOB!!!

OK . . . I feel better . . . maybe I can sleep now . . .

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"Wow, I'm so happy for you!"

Shabi, the oh-so-hot, 33-year-old, local grocer's son, is engaged.

The chutzpah! Who am I going to lust after from afar now?

Aaaaaargh! I'll never get married! Never! ::BLAM:: [sound of my forehead hitting a piano keyboard, like that frustrated composer on Sesame Street]

Nothing to see here, really. Move along, move along.

Don Music Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Attention English-speakers who are eligible to vote in the upcoming Israeli elections and are totally confused by who all these parties are and what they stand for:

I got this email from AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, but you knew that already):

Israel Elections 2006: Meet the Parties

January 28th at 7:30 p.m. at the Great Synagogue
56 King George Street, Jerusalem

In conjunction with The Jerusalem Post, AACI is producing a candidates'
night with representatives of the major parties. This major Jerusalem
event will take place on Saturday night, January 28th, at the Great
Synagogue. Parties will present their platforms and answer questions
from the audience. David Horowitz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem
Post, will moderate.

All discussions will be in English. Mixed seating. Free and open to
the public.

With the additional support of Telfed, UJIA, ZFA, and hosted by the
Great Synagogue.

Our thanks to Reuven Grossman for additional expertise and assistance.

For further information, please contact AACI at 02 561-7151
Attention Graduates of Ulpan Etzion

I just checked some emails I neglected while I was away, and saw this invitation (which I'll translate since I can't do Hebrew on this computer):

We hope you are well and that your absorption into Israel is continuing to be good and successful.

Shlomit, the menahelet of the ulpan, is retiring after 40 years in the Jewish Agency and 15 years at Ulpan Etzion.

We are organizing a goodbye party for her on Wednesday, February 15, at 9 pm, at the auditorium at Ulpan Etzion.

We'd be happy to see you, and we'd be happy if you could help us with the arrangements . . .

Anyone who has a story, experience, or special picture with Shlomit or in the Ulpan in general - we'd be happy if you would send it to us.

Handwritten letters are of course preferred in Hebrew, but English is also OK.

You can send it through the mail, or also through email. Our address is:
6 Gad Street
Jerusalem 93467
Tel: 02 673 2568
ronitm at jazo dot org dot il

Please send this letter to all your friends from Ulpan Etzion, etc etc.
I can't believe I missed it

In my previous (two posts down) list of recommendations for the JIBs, I inadvertantly left out this link, which is nominated for Best Post of 2005. It is an AWESOME post. It includes so many themes about Jews, Judaism AND Israel, is well-written (well, I could do without some of the four-letter words, but we'll overlook that), and has an overall feel-good quality about Judaism. Gets my vote! Check it out . . . maybe it will get yours, too.

(Thanks to Ezzie at SerandEz for reminding me about it . . . He's gone to the trouble of reading every single nominated post and grouping them into "good," "better," and "best" - in his humble opinion, of course. Worth checking out.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When You're Jetlagged, This Passes for Deep Personal Introspection

The Meme of Fours (inspired by Beth)

Four jobs I have had
Camp counselor for pre-kindergarteners
Office temp
College admissions counselor
Researcher at Vh1

Four films I would watch over and over again
Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI

Four films I have walked out on
I have walked out on two films: Flatliners and Duplex.

Four most recent places I have lived
My parents' house in Boston (for a month)
Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York
Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

Four TV shows I love to watch
I don't have TV service, so I'll list the shows I love to watch at my sister's house when I visit her:
CSI: New York
CSI: Crime Scene Investigators
South Park
Whose Line Is It?

Four most recent vacation destinations
Are we counting visits to family? If so:
New York
Northern California

If not:
Um . . . um . . . I really need a vacation!

Four places I would like to visit
Maine and Vermont in October, in an RV
The Galil, with a car

Four places I would rather be
In bed with a good book
On the beach
In a two-bedroom apartment with a living/dining room, a balcony, and a dryer.

Four websites I visit daily

Four books I really like
Watership Down
Almost anything by Agatha Christie
The Little Ballerina (A Little Golden Book)

Four books I never want to read again
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
Cry the Beloved Country
Black Boy
(Obviously, my Jewish Day School's attempts at introducing me to the literature and plights of other cultures failed miserably. But really, you can't expect a 6th grader to enjoy One Day in the Life, or a 9th grader who knows zero about South Africa to understand what is going on in Cry the Beloved Country. As a former English teacher, I often say that the surest way to ruin a book is to assign it in high school.)
Ubu Roi

Four of my favorite foods
french toast
macaroni and cheese

Four things about the fantastic four
Um, they are fictional. They are comic strip characters. There is a movie out about them. I'd much rather be the fire guy than the ugly Incredible Hulk guy.

Voting is now open for the 2005 Jewish-Israeli Blog (JIB) Awards. Each person is entitled to vote once every 3 days. I'm honored to have been nominated in three categories: Best Personal Blog, Best Life-in-Israel Blog, and Best Series (for my photos of Jerusalem's Recycling Bins). Thanks to the people who nominated me! And thanks to all those who have already voted for me! Remember, as I said last year: A vote for Chayyei Sarah is a vote for world peace!

The main point of the awards is to bring attention to the vast array of high-quality Jewish blogs out there. So, I'm going to provide links to my own favorites. Obviously I would love to see my favorites win the award in their respective categories, but please do NOT vote for a blog just on my say-so. The idea is to check them out and decide for yourself whether you think they are worthy! (I hope you will agree that they are).

In all categories, I'm going to recommend only those blogs with which I am personally familiar and feel that they fit the particular category. In other words, those for which I can "vouch." If you don't like my choices, then a) assume that I am unfamiliar with the other blogs in the category or b) create a blog and give your own recommendations!

OK, here goes nothin':

Best Life in Israel Blogs

Best Series
  • Chayyei Sarah! That's me! I posted all those pictures of Jerusalem's Recycling Bins! But now blogger took them down! That sucks! But they were good pictures! I put a lot of effort into walking around and taking them, and posting them. Vote for meeeeeeeee.
  • On the Face - Lisa wrote an absolutely riveting account of the events and misadventures that led to her decision to move to Israel. An absolute must-read. Part one is here. I guess you'll have to go to her archives to see the rest.
  • Orthomom- She has a regular series called "Jewish Heroine of the Day" in which she writes about little-known Jewish women from throughout history and their contributions to society. Very educational and inspiring. Here is one of my favorites, and the full list is on the side of the page.
  • There are other blogs I recognize on the nomination list, but I am not familiar with the series for which they were nominated, so I can't vouch for them in this category.
Best Personal Blogs
  • Chayyei Sarah! That's me!
  • A Whispering Soul- Some of you might recognize the author of this blog as a regular commenter of mine, "MCAryeh." His blog is deep, sensitive, gorgeously written, and often funny. Highly recommended.
  • Five Years Later- Although it would mean losing the category, I almost hope that Five Years Later wins this award, since this is the last year of her blog. You see, the author, who recently "outted" herself as Sara Avitzour of Jerusalem (a former co-worker of mine, btw), structured the blog around the "updates" she emailed to her friends and shule colleagues five years ago, when her daughter was dying. Over the last year and a half, Sara would take the "update" she'd written on a corresponding date five years before, post it on the blog, and then write reflections about her life now. The new post would contain themes that jumped off on the five-year-old update. Well, her daughter's fifth yahrzeit recently passed, and so the blog is closing. Her posts are searing. Definitely have tissues nearby when reading.
  • Nice Jewish Girl- Otherwise known as "the Shomer Negiah blog," this nominee writes about her feelings and experiences as a 35-year-old Orthodox woman who, until recently, had never been kissed or otherwise touched in any romantic way. Unfortunately she does not post often, but when she does it is always heart-felt and thought-provoking. Her sincerity and commitment to Jewish law are inspiring and heartbreaking all at once.
  • On The Face- Lisa is just so smart and funny. Always one of my favorites.
  • Orthomom- Smart and sassy in the Five Towns. Love her!
  • Renegade Rebbetzin- Just like the name says. She's a Rebbetzin. She's Renegade. And she's not gonna take it anymore! She's the RenReb.

Best Overall Blogs
  • On the Face
  • Jewlicious
  • Bloghead
  • A Whispering Soul-For the quality of the writing, this one is my category favorite.
  • Hirhurim - I don't think I've ever mentioned Hirhurim before. This is an excellent (albeit highly technical) blog which explores various contemporary questions in Jewish law and custom. Although I prefer personal blogs, I think it would be neat for a blog that is all about Jewish theology to win the "Best Overall" category. The blog assumes a high level of Jewish knowledge, but I think anyone would find it instructive on some level.
Best Posts
  • Treppenwitz- Daddy Syndrome (about staying home with his toddler one day. Not a particularly Jewish post, but hysterical. Do not drink anything while reading this post.)
  • A Whispering Soul -The Date-Getter (about his feelings about his black hat)
  • Nice Jewish Girl- Physical Necessities (searing post which raises important questions about the extent to which human touch is a physical need or just a nice thing to have)
  • I'm not familiar with the other specific posts nominated for this category, even in blogs that I read regularly, so I can't comment on the others in any way.
Best Jewish Culture Blogs

Best New Blogs
Best Jewish Religion Blogs
  • Hirhurim- In my opinion, this is the Jewish Religion Blog.
  • Renegade Rebbetzin
  • Nice Jewish Girl- focuses on only one area of the Jewish religion, but covers its personal-religious interplay very comprehensively.
  • Dov Bear - I don't always agree with what he says or the way he says it, but I often find out new things from Dovie. I don't know where he gets the time!
  • Bloghead- Very informative.
Best Humor Blogs
Best Politics and Current Affairs Blogs (I'm listing the ones from which I learn the most, or the most interesting, news, not ones with which I necessarily always agree)

Best of the Rest
  • House of Joy - Written by Beth Shapiro, a friend of mine and a very cool lady. I don't know why her blog wasn't nominated for Best Personal. I should have done it myself. She writes a lot of very deep posts about the inner workings from her marriage. If I ever get married, I want to be Beth when I grow up.
  • Jack's Shack- I don't check it often, but am always glad when I do!
Here is where you can vote in the other categories. Sorry, I don't know enough about the nominees to make recommendations, other than Jewlicious, which was nominated for Best Israel Advocacy, Best Designed, and Best Group Blog.
Best Israel Advocacy Blog
Best Student Life Blog
Best Podcast
Best Mega Blog
Best Designed Blog

Good luck to all nominees, and thanks to the good folks of Israellycool and the Jerusalem Post for setting up these awards.

***A vote for Chayyei Sarah is a vote for world peace.***

Monday, January 09, 2006

That flight from Newark to Tel Aviv is long, people. And I am very tired.

But I'm back now in my cozy little apartment, from which nothing has been stolen (thanks, R.W.), and tonight I will do that for which I have been longing: sleep in my own bed.

Sleep . . . perchance to dream . . . ay, there's the . . . zzzzzzzzz . . . .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Goodbye to Omi

[I'm posting this now because I want to wrap up the posts about my grandmother's death before I head back to the Holy Land. I think it's important that once I get there, I immediately get back into my normal routine and not dwell too much on my grief. Below is the speech I gave at her funeral, pretty much exactly the way I said it . . . except that you'll have to insert for yourself all the sniffling and tears and blowing of my nose. As you'll see, some of it was inspired by my own blog posts . . . . All part of the writing process . . . .]

According to Jewish law, when a person is buried on Chanukah, eulogies are not given at the funeral. The happiness of the holiday, and our remembrance of the many miracles of Chanukah, supersede the sorrow we feel at losing Omi. Rather than talk about Omi’s life, we are instructed to focus on the lessons we learned from her, the legacies she left to us in the form of our characters. I actually think this is very appropriate for Omi, because although her life was filled with tragedies, she herself always focused on the miracles – her own personal Chanukah-like miracles-- that saved her and helped her to go on. She herself opted for years not to talk about her experiences in the Holocaust, because she did not want my mother and uncle to grow up with anger against non-Jews. Yes, much of her life was determined by personal, military, and social upheavals, but when she was spending time with us, none of those things mattered. They did not define her, for Omi was determined always to define herself, and let no one and nothing else define her life for her. The events of her life were not her soul. And so today we will remember not the events of her life, but the beautiful, sweet neshama that was our Omi.

I’ve dreaded this moment ever since I was a little girl. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the feeling, that probably every child has about his or her grandparent, that Omi was very, very old. The truth is that she was livelier and younger, for longer, than most people, but I’ve long been acutely aware that Omi would not live forever, and so for as long as I can remember, whenever Omi and I took leave of each other, I was always careful to kiss her and tell her I loved her. I memorized the feeling of her cheek on mine, and the smell of her clothes that somehow always reminded me of kneidlach. I was afraid every time that this would be the last time I would ever see her. After I moved to Israel, I called about once a week, and after each conversation I’d say “I love you, Omi,” and she would answer, in her thick Polish accent and sweet voice, “I LOVE you too, sveethart. Kisses. Kisses. Bye bye.”

Part of the reason that Omi was an important figure to us was her connection to our family history in Poland. Her stories about her father and the five siblings she lost in the Holocaust always evoked for me an ethereal but lovely sense of the world that time and the Nazis erased. Without consciously doing it, Omi helped us remember that we are part of a chain, and that even though our lives in America and Israel in the 21st century may be very different from her childhood in the small, vanished village of Opatuf, the hundreds of years that our ancestors spent in Poland are still a part of us. They lived on through Omi, and because of Omi, they will live on through us.

I therefore wish to acknowledge – and I hope I’m not violating the prohibition against eulogies by saying this – that today we are paying tribute not only to the legacy of Omi, but also those of her father, Rabbi Yitzchak Natan Pomeranzblum, and five of her six siblings: Salme, Shprintze, Machke, Vivcha, and Mottel, and their children as well. Having perished in Treblinka, they were never eulogized either, but their memories were important to Omi and I think she would have appreciated our mentioning them now.

No discussion of Omi’s character would be completely honest without admitting that she was often difficult. In particular, she was stubborn as a mule.

But her stubbornness had several positive flip-sides, and it is those flip sides that I always admired in Omi and try to emulate myself. Yes, she was stubborn, but she especially had a stubborn faith in God and in tomorrow. I don’t think Omi ever had to CONVINCE herself that she would make it another day, that she would survive all the hardships that her life included. I think she just ASSUMED that she would. Surviving, focusing on today and tomorrow instead of yesterday, came as naturally to Omi as breathing. She was a go-getter, not just because she had to be, but because that’s just the way she was. She was so determined to make the most she could out of what she had, that whenever people tell me that I’m persistent or resourceful, I sometimes answer “Thank you. I get that from my grandmother.”

Very little could stop Omi, not even her lack of English and living in a series of different countries and cultures. I remember Omi calling to tell us about the wonderful things to do in Rockport, on Cape Anne, and my mother telling me that Omi had discovered Rockport by getting onto a random Amtrak train and taking it to a random stop. She’d wanted to explore, so she did. Take driving lessons when she was in her 50’s? Why not? Perhaps what helped Omi survive the Holocaust was that in her bones she had an outlook of “never say die.” How much time my mother had to spend stopping Omi from doing things like applying for a new job when she was 80 years old, or buying a ticket to Germany when she could hardly get around! I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few months, Omi looks around her in Heaven and says “You know, I think I will go to Germany. I think I will do it.” And if anyone tries to stop her, she’ll go to the Heavenly travel agent anyhow, just like when she was a small girl, around 6 years old or so, she walked across town by herself to sign herself up for school, because she wanted to get an education.

Perhaps the most stubborn thing about Omi was that no matter what God threw at her, she never lost her faith in Him. She often told me “God has been very good to me. Everyone else was killed, but he gave me beautiful children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Thank God, thank God.” She had a simple, childlike trust in Him. One of her treasured memories was of her father waking her up every morning, washing her hands over a basin, and saying Modeh Ani with her. I don’t know how many of you know this, but about 10 years ago, Omi had me give her weekly lessons in reading Hebrew, because she wanted to learn to read and say the blessing over Shabbat candles. Jewishly, she was not technically observant, or educated, but her belief in God’s watchful care was an inspiration. She told me several times that she thinks she survived the dangers of her life because her mother was looking out for her, like a guardian angel. Now Omi is with her mother and father again, and she is our angel.

It’s true that Omi suffered from certain emotional difficulties due to her history, but at the same time, in part of her heart, she managed to maintain a certain naivete which I hope that I have inherited. I often noticed in Omi the ability, when she was happy, to be PURELY happy, to bubble over with a pure, unadulterated delight. Usually this was expressed when one of us would come to visit her at her little condominium or at the Hebrew Rehab. When I visited, as soon as she saw me her face lit up, and she would shuffle over to me, in a beeline, not looking at or thinking about anything else, and for a moment it was like I was the adult and she was the child, running to me in spirit although her legs could not keep up, so happy and excited. The last time I saw Omi, she was in the urgent care unit of the nursing home, with an infection in her foot. Every time the nurses brought her a drink, I noticed that while she was drinking, Omi’s other foot would wiggle, like her body couldn’t contain her delight in the refreshing drink. In a certain part of her heart Omi was always a little girl, in such a charming and infectiously happy way. Perhaps that is why she was able always to forge ahead. She didn’t simply not let the turkeys get her down; a certain part of her blocked out the fact that there ARE turkeys.

(As an aside, I know most of you won’t get this except for the family, but . . . who is thinking about turkeys when there is a nice frozen goose that she could carry on her lap from Europe?)

I think it is telling that perhaps the happiest time in Omi’s life was when she got older. About ten years ago I was having dinner with her at her apartment, and she said “This is the best time of my life. I can relax, I can watch television. No one is bothering me. I take a walk when I want and I sleep when I want. Other people are afraid of getting old, but for me it is good. I have nothing to worry about.” Yes it is a sad statement about the stresses she endured for so many years. But it also taught me much about not being bitter, about looking on the bright side.

Omi mellowed as she aged, especially in her later years with the help of her doctors at Hebrew Rehab. I think this was when her true personality, her true neshama, started showing, unencumbered by all the fears and terrible memories from the past. Most people give up a little on life when they go into a nursing home. But often Omi told me “It is OK here. They are nice to me. I play Bingo. I am making friends. It is OK. I have everything I need.” Truly, Omi lived up to the Talmudic teaching: Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.

I do not wish to dwell on all the hardships I’ve been alluding to, in Omi’s life. I’d rather focus on how she overcame them. Omi was my hero. Yes, she was Polish and little and severely lacked formal education, but Omi could teach American feminists a thing or two about doing what you need or want to do, when you need or want to do it, and never doubting yourself. She survived a typhoid outbreak in Opatuf by acquiring medicine through clandestine means. She eluded the Nazis for a little while because, so determined was she to catch a bus out of town, that she broke out of her uncle’s window, after he locked her in the house to keep her with the family. She found love in a concentration camp. She immigrated to new countries not once but twice, and as an immigrant myself I appreciate just how much being an immigrant tests one’s strength. She opened her own business in Vienna and later lived alone and took care of herself right through her 70’s. She taught me more than a thing or two about being independent, and going for your goals. When it came to doing whatever you wanted, no matter what anyone else said, Gloria Steinem has nothing on our Omi.

Omi, I will never forget you. I’ll never forget the family dinners at your house with Uncle Norbert and Auntie Hannah and Danny and Aaron and Jeremy, and our regular trips to Rubins, and how even the waiter there called you Omi. I’ll never forget sitting with you on your beloved balcony. I’ll never forget the apple cake you used to bring to us on a black-and-white china plate, piled high and covered in aluminum foil every time. I’ll never forget you teaching me how to make blintzes, or the way you used to sing me to sleep with a German song about Reizele, or the way you played hopa hopa raitcha with Nathan. I’ll never forget watching The Young and the Restless with you at your house, or the way you used to pick me up from kindergarten in your little brown Honda. I’ll never forget your presence at our Pesach seder every year. I’ll never forget the way all your shoes had a bump where your bunions were, or the way you proudly bought a new suit and came to New York to watch me graduate from college. I’ll never forget how surprised you were to learn that it’s pronounced “hundred” instead of “hundert,” or how you called my father your “sonny law.” Above all, I’ll always remember how much you loved us, because no one loved us the way Omi loved her family.

I’ll be eternally grateful that when it was Omi’s turn to go, she had the privilege of dying with grace and dignity in a comfortable bed, with her children by her side, in a world-renowned nursing home whose staff had taken such excellent care of her in the past years. We should all be so lucky. Her life was hard, but it was a good life, and she was a good person, and I’m grateful that she had a peaceful death.

But it means that now the moment has come, the one I’ve feared for as long as I can remember. It’s time to say goodbye to our beloved Omi, and this time, it really is the last time. The last time to say I love you, Omi.

And I know that if she could, Omi would say “I love you too. Kisses. Kisses. Bye bye.”


It's very strange to be in America when something major happens in Israel, like Ariel Sharon having a major stroke and languishing in a hospital. It is odd to read about how Israelis are responding to it, when I'm an Israeli and I'm not there. Had I been there, I would have discussed it with everyone I met at Shabbat meals. I would have talked about it with my makolet (grocery-store) owner and my next-door neighbor. Instead I had a nice Shabbat in Passaic, New Jersey, where it didn't come up at all.

But, as of tomorrow, I'll be on my way home.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Checking In

Greetings from stormy California.

The last week and a half have been a worlwind. (Whorlwind? Where's a dictionary when I need one?) The process of getting my ticket to America, packing, arranging for someone to watch my apartment and take in my mail while I'm away (thanks, R.W.!), cancelling or postponing my work assignments, and running errands in the last minute (thanks for driving me around, Beth!) was insane.

But, thank God, I got to Boston well in time for my grandmother's funeral. Omi had actually planned and paid for her funeral years ago, and it went just the way she wanted. She would have been pleased. A lot of people showed up, especially friends of my parents, and it was very dignified and went smoothly. We buried her with a little American flag on top of her coffin, just as she'd asked.

I wrote a eulogy for her on the plane to Boston, crying the whole time, and forgetting that on Chanukah we don't give eulogies. However, the officiating rabbi told me that if I turn it into divrei mussar -- lessons we can learn from Omi's life-- then that would be OK. It was a hard speech to give, but I was so happy to be able to honor her. I loved her so much. Perhaps soon I'll post the speech to the blog.

It is often said that the Jewish traditions surrounding death are very psychologically intelligent and cathartic. One thing that I appreciated was the custom to stay at the grave until it is completely covered, and for members of the family to help fill the grave (helping to bury a person is considered a very great mitzva, since you are doing a kindness for the deceased -- giving them a dignified burial-- which they can never return to you). I stood there in my Shabbat coat, shoveling dirt over my grandmother's coffin, and although it was morbid, it also helped me internalize the finality of her death. It gave me a sense of peace, knowing that she was being given a proper burial -- something denied to most of her family, who were killed in Treblinka -- and that she was being buried by people who love her, rather than by anonymous grave diggers. All the grandchildren took turns filling her grave. It is a tremendous merit, that, being buried lovingly by one's grandchildren.

After the funeral my parents and I went to Cleveland, where my mother sat shiva. The community there was wonderful. Even though my parents have lived there only a year, they got visitors every day, and many neighbors and a shule committee made sure we had delicious hot food delivered to our door every day.

Now I'm on a brief visit in Cali to see my nephews, and will be returning to Israel shortly.

It's too bad I came for such a sad reason, but all things considered it's been a nice visit. I'm happy that I was free to honor my grandmother, help out my parents, and play with my nephews. Can't ask for much more than that.