Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not as bad as I thought

You've heard me complain about "dirty old men" 20 years my senior who write to me on the internet dating sites. We've discussed this before. The whole "what does age matter/ don't be superficial thing" vs "if paying attention to age is superficial, would you date a WOMAN 20 years your senior? I'll take your silence as a 'no' thing."

Anyway, I did a very non-scientific study last night, which showed -- I humbly admit -- that the problem is not as widespread as I thought. At least, according to this oh-so-not-scientific study.

On Dosidate, you can see who has viewed your profile. So I checked the last 60 men who have looked at my page -- men who, presumably, were doing a search for women in an age range that included the age of 33, my age. Not all of these men have written to me, of course. Of these 60 men who saw my profile, I've had written correspondence with five, and dates with three. But this list of 60 shows what age range of men considers a 33-year-old woman to be a "possibility," and therefore include that age in their search criteria.

I'm happy to report that out of 60 men, a full 47 who saw my profile are between the ages of 32-46.

Now, 46 may be a bit on the "old" side from my perspective, but I wouldn't necessarily consider a 46-year-old man who is searching for a woman in her thirties to be a dirty old man. Of course, it all depends on what age range he told the computer to search for. If I've been coming up on men's searches because they seek a woman aged 31-41, then I understand. It brings up images of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. And that is the first and last time I'm ever comparing myself to Angelina.

But if they are searching for someone aged 23-33, something is wrong, and that is just gross.

But let's assume for now that these 47 men were searching for an age range in which I fell in the middle or lower end. That's not bad! That's really normal!

So, I stand corrected. It seems that there are -- or at least, might be -- a lot of men out there who are pretty realistic in the age range they'll accept.

FYI, there were five men who saw my profile between the ages of 26-30 (could be cool), and four between the ages of 48-50 (um, whatever. Not my style, but there are women who wouldn't mind.).

But what is up with the 23-year-old man who was looking for 33-year-old women? Dudi, whereever you are, you either have some very interesting sexual fantasies, or you just need a wake-up call. I've had three careers and lived in three cities since college. You've been allowed to drink beer for only a few years. I could have been your babysitter twice over. Ew.

And to the two men who are 55, and the man who is 60 (who has written to me asking for a date!) . . . ewwwww . . . . Sugar Daddies . . . ewwwww . . . .

What does this post really tell you?

Just that I have waaaaaay too much time on my hands.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Wedding . . .

in Haifa was beautiful. Jenn was such a gorgeous bride! And, in case you were wondering, Kibbutz Hachotrim has a beautiful, but beautiful, wedding hall. Lit-up swimming pool, gardens, the works. Wow. And it's kosher. Yay! I could eat the food! And it was good, let me tell you.

As soon as Jenn saw me, I got a hug, and she said "Sarah, I didn't want to pressure you to come, but I'm glad you did, because I feel you were meant to be here for some reason. It is too weird that you contacted me just days ago. God wanted you here! I don't know why, but he did!"

I, too, felt very strongly for most of the wedding that I had some sort of role . . . that I didn't know what it was, but for some reason God had meant for Chayyei Sarah to be at the wedding of Jennifer Paul, and arranged for it to be so . . .

Can't be sure, but it might have something to do with the fact that none of Jenn's other friends were able to make it from the US. So I was the only friend there on the bride's side. (She did have family members with her, don't worry.)

Or it could have something to do with my being the only Orthodox person at the wedding. I did a lot of linguistic and cultural translations for some of the family members, so they would know what was going on at the ceremony.

Or maybe it was something else, and we'll never know.

In any case, I'm very glad I attended. I still can't really believe I was there, but I'm happy I was.
Two Great Posts that Taste Great Together

Treppenwitz gives us something to chew on, and then something to sip.

(I humbly request that the commenter "Defoe" from my last post click on the first link, and remember that Treppenwitz is . . . gasp . . . Public Enemy Number 1 . . . . a settler who . . . get this . . . cares about the Palestinians' welfare. The world ain't so black and white, now is it?)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Thank you, IDF

You know, right now in Nablus are a lot of people whose lives have been highly inconvenienced the last few days, due to increased Israeli roadblocks, closures, and searches. A part of me feels bad. Really.

But mostly, I'm relieved the IDF were doing their jobs. Because the life they saved today could have been mine.
US Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day for those who died serving the United States of America.

Now that I live in a country that "celebrates" its Memorial Day with tear-jerking television all day, visits to graves of soldiers one has never met, ubiquitous newspaper articles about dead servicemen and the families they left behind, and somber educational programs -- a country in which being happy or frivolous on Memorial Day bespeaks a deep moral failing-- I realize just how much I took Memorial Day for granted in the U.S.

The wonderful thing about being an American in America is that one's freedom and culture is so deeply established, one's lifestyle is so well-protected, that a person can even take Memorial Day for granted. The wars and deaths are so far away, and such a small percentage of the population serves in the military, that even on a day specifically set aside to appreciate the sacrifices made to protect that freedom, we can still forget all about it. The freedom is so constant, that we forget it is there. Being free in America is like breathing -- and we haven't set aside a day to commemorate those who keep the air clean, treat asthma, etc.

And so Memorial Day in America is all about barbecues and changing one's closet over from winter darks to summer whites. Oh, and shopping.

I didn't realize the selfishness of all of this when I actually lived there. It is only now that I live abroad, in a country that fights daily for its very existence, that I understand how terrible it is to "celebrate" Memorial Day. And also, I now see the irony: Americans having the luxury to treat Memorial Day as a joyous day off just goes to show what a privilege it really is to be an American.

And so today I'm taking some time to really think about what it means to give up one's life for the United States. All those young men (and, increasingly, women) who died to establish my home country's independence . . . . the ones who died to keep it whole . . . the ones who died to protect America's interests abroad . . . the ones who died to protect other people's freedoms . . . all those people who said goodbye to their families one day, and never came home. The children who were never born, because an 18-year-old boy was shot on a European beach . . . The parents who cry every day, because their son gave up his life so that the neighbors could have a barbecue . . .

Americans are entitled not to believe that all of our country's wars were necessary or just. One is entitled to think that it was outright against American interests to enter certain wars, or that America should mind its own business, or that America is an international bully, or that instead of devoting so many resources to its military, America should be leading the world in finding peaceful ways to resolve international conflicts. All of those opinions have at least some legitimacy. Many of them, I agree with completely.

But no matter what one believes about any particular American war, the fact remains that we, as Americans, enjoy (or, in cases like mine, have enjoyed in the past), fantastic, unbelievable privileges that almost no one on Earth, now or in history, can even dream of. And so, America has done something right, for its own citizens if for no one else (and to think it has done nothing good for other countries is just beyond laughable). The country has made mistakes, but that doesn't change its identity as the one place on the globe where people are the freest and, arguably, the most secure.

Those who fought, or are fighting, in a particular war that maybe you don't agree should have happened, did or do so because, if nothing else, they believe that doing so would help people like you and me, and maybe people in other places too, to be free to shop and grill . . . and to forget all about them after they are gone.

That is really something. To fight and die for a belief like that.

I wish I'd appreciated it more before I made aliyah. But . . . we don't appreciate breathing until, all of a sudden, we can't.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another Hebrew Celebrity Baby Name

And, lo, she has come to pass, the most celebrated of celebrity babies: Shiloh Nouvel Pitt-Jolie.

Angelina Jolie gave birth to Shiloh, a girl, Saturday night in Namibia, a statement from Brad Pitt's publicist said.

And, once again, the meaning of the word to actual Jews has completely escaped the media:

Shiloh is a name of Hebrew origin meaning, "His gift," per It also associated with an 1862 Civil War battle, and a Neil Diamond song about a desperately lonely childhood. (Diamond's imaginary friend, however, spelled his name "Shilo.")

Just weeks ago, most media outlets failed to do enough research, at least at first, to find out that while Suri Cruise's first name may technically be a diminutive for "princess" in Hebrew, no one uses the word that way anymore. The modern Hebrew word for princess is niseecha, and "Suri" is considered an Old-World Yiddishized nickname for girls named Sarah. I should know.

So, here's a head's up for all the celebrity watchers back in the US: I have been an Orthodox Jew for all of my 33 years, and have what most would consider a very strong Jewish educational background, and I have never, ever, heard the word "Shiloh" used in connection with "His gift," though it may be that that is the literal translation of the word. (I don't claim to be an expert in the Hebrew language, by far.)

Rather, the first, knee-jerk response, by most "engaged" Jews, to the word "Shiloh" is "Oh, yeah, the place where the Tabernacle resided for hundreds of years."

# Joshua set up the tent of meeting at Shiloh in the early days of the Conquest (Josh 18:1). It continued as the center of worship during the period of the Judges (Judg 18:31). By the time of Eli and his sons, the tent of Joshua’s day had been replaced by a more permanent structure, a kind of "temple" (Hebrew hekal), with a door and doorposts (1 Sam 1:9).

# It was to Shiloh that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, came to worship and to pray for a child. God answered her prayer and some three years later, she brought her son to Shiloh to give him to God. Here he grew up in the conflicting environment of Israel’s worship and the avarice and immorality of Eli’s sons.

# The ark resided at Shiloh. When Israel had lost the first battle with the Philistines at Aphek on the International Coastal Highway, they sent messengers to take the ark down the Wadi Shiloh to Ebenezer, near Aphek. They believed that this "presence of God" would ensure victory. They were defeated, however, by an enemy invigorated by fear of being annihilated by the powerful God of Israel, whom they assumed was in "the box." Israel lost the ark to the Philistines, who took it to three of their cities before returning it to Israel at Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 4).

# Apparently the Philistines destroyed Shiloh because the ark was not returned there and Shiloh was never again regarded as a center of worship (Ps 78:60).

It is so frustrating when people discussing a matter related to religion don't know their Bible.

OK, here's an almost unrelated story I'm inspired to share.

At Barnard, I was required to take a course called "First-Year Seminar." It was a well-intentioned requirement, to make sure that all first-year students (they aren't called "FreshMEN" at Barnard College) have at least one seminar-style class, in which up to 12 students sit around a table with a professor and discuss Great Thoughts.

I was placed in a seminar called The Modern Idea of Freedom. I resented that I'd been placed in this class when I could have been taking something more immediately interesting to me. Now I would find the class fascinating. But then, I couldn't care less and hardly did any of the readings (and I got a B+ anyway).

The class was permanently shot for me during a discussion of William Godwin's Caleb Williams. I had not read the book. I had no idea what connection this book might have to The Modern Idea of Freedom. But when the class started talking about why Godwin chose to name the main character "Caleb," with references to famous Calebs of the world, I raised my hand and asked the professor, a member of the Spanish department, "I'm curious to know what your thoughts are about the connection of this character to the Biblical Caleb."

The professor looked at me blankly, and said "There's a character named Caleb in the Bible? Tell us about it."

So I patiently explained that Caleb was, along with Joshua, one of the two "spies" sent by Moses from the desert to scope out the land of Canaan before the Jews would enter it. The other 10 gave a scathing report, leading to the Jews' wandering in the desert for 40 years; but Caleb and Joshua tried to pursuade the people that Canaan was worth going to.

Now, having never read the book to this day, I still don't know whether Caleb Williams has anything in common with Caleb-from-the-Bible, though any self-respecting English major should be able to make up something.

But, really, a Barnard professor teaching Caleb Williams who didn't know that there was a Caleb in the Bible? Sheesh.

I knew this man knows a LOT more Spanish than I do, but after that . . . I just couldn't bring myself to respect him or the course.

It's too bad. We were assigned some great literature in that class. Maybe it's time for me to find that 14-year-old copy of Caleb Williams and see for myself what the Bible connection is.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Crazy "Coincidence"- Now with Update

A couple of days ago, I happened to be thinking about an old friend of mine from my NCSY days, Jennifer Paul. Jenn lived several towns away and went to a different school, but I met and/or hung out with her at pretty much every NCSY Shabbaton (weekend retreat) through most of my high school years, and I liked her a lot. One time when we were about 16 or 17, she came to my house to visit, and I had the pleasure of having her play my family's piano and sing for us -- including a beautiful song she herself had composed. Her voice was incredible, and she could play piano by ear. She had recently recorded a demo song in a studio, and gave me a copy. I haven't seen or spoken with Jenn since I graduated from high school, but I still have that tape.

Anyway, every so often I think of her, and wonder what ever had become of her. This time, I put her name into Google, and lo and behold, I found her website. As you can see, she has been working as a singer/entertainer. No surprise there. She's very talented. Wanting to know more, I sent her an email through her site, asking if she remembers me, and how is she doing?

About an hour later she wrote back, saying "Sarah! Of course I remember you! And, you'll never believe this, I happen to be in Israel right now, and I'm getting married next week! Do you want to come to the wedding?"

So, this week I'm going to Haifa to see Jenn for the first time in over 15 years and watch her get married. Since she's understandably a little too busy these days to send me detailed emails, I still don't know much more about her life these past 15 years . . . I don't even know who she's marrying, or why they chose to get married in Israel, where they plan to live afterward (though I gather they are going back to the US after the wedding) . . . but I suppose this means she's happy!

What a crazy thing, that I happened to go to the trouble of Googling her just a few days before her wedding in Israel. I feel like this is min hashamayim (destiny), and that for some reason I'm meant to be there.

One small glitch is the fact that public transportation from Haifa to Jerusalem stops at 8 pm, and there is no way the wedding will be close to over at that point. So I'm looking for lodging in Haifa, and would rather not spend the $150-plus prices at the hotels that come up in my Google searches. Anyone know of a good Bed and Breakfast in Haifa? I tried Googling that also, but came up with only two options: One is an establishment just for "Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus" (uh, thanks but no thanks), and the other looks very nice but is all the way in Binyamina -- doable, but a bit inconvenient. Any tips for where to stay at an affordable price would be great.

This whole thing is quite surreal.

This blog totally came through for me. Susan read my post, contacted friends of hers in Haifa, and now I've got home hospitality with people who sound really nice. Thanks, Susan!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Thank God My Landlord Installed Window Screens

Most people in this country do not have screens in their windows. You've got the glass, and you have shutters called "trissim," which have the advantage of blocking out every bit of light, if you want them to. But they are no good for letting in light and keeping out bugs. Screens are a luxury you have to install yourself if you want them. So, I'm one of the lucky ones.

I was just on the phone with a potential client, and couldn't stop myself . . . from exclaiming . . . "Oh my God! There is a LIZARD on my window screen!!!"

Now that is something that I never experienced in New York.

Thank goodness it had no way to get into the apartment. I would have freaked.

PS Two seconds after writing this, I realized my kitchen window was open . . . no screen there . . . so I went to close it against any possible loitering lizards, and . . . two bees had gotten in! Aargh! I jumped around the kitchen, cursing a little, and finally opened the window wider so they could find their way out. Gaaaaaah!
Post-Yom Yerushalayim Thoughts

Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), celebrating the anniversary of the reunification of the city during the Six Day War of 1967. I always love taking some time, on Yom Yerushalayim, to appreciate the privilege I have of living in what many (including me) consider to be the holiest place on earth, and the fact that the Old City, including the Temple Mount (Judaism's holiest site - so holy that most Orthodox Jews consider ourselves too impure to set foot on it) is once again under Jewish (sort of) sovereignty. It's truly a miracle, and I am so incredibly grateful that I can literally walk to the Wailing Wall any time I please.

But . . . I have some questions for some of my readers. This question is NOT (I repeat, NOT) coming out of a desire to "split" Jerusalem, but rather out of an abhorrence of intellectual dishonesty . . . and out of curiosity as to how people think about these matters . . . (so please don't jump down my throat (Rivka), and keep the discourse civil. Thank you.)

Let's say that you are, at the very least, uncomfortable about giving any part of the Land of Israel to PA control. (I think most Israelis fit that category, and most Jews worldwide, including myself.) At the least, uncomfortable, and at most, vehemently opposed to the depths of your soul. And let's say, also, that however opposed you are to giving up control over any other part of the Land, you are more opposed to giving up parts of Jerusalem, because . . . it's Jerusalem. No explanation required. That is, on a scale of one to ten (with ten being "most opposed" you are at, say, a 7 when it comes to other parts of the West Bank, but at a 10 when it comes to Jerusalem, or something like that).

Now, I have a few questions for you:

1- Are you more opposed when it comes to any part of the municipality of Jerusalem, or just more opposed when it comes to the Old City and/or Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem such as Talpiot and Ramat Eshkol? That is, would giving up sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem upset you just as much as giving up the Old City? Would it upset you MORE than giving up areas outside Jerusalem? Or is it really just the Old City and Jewish neighborhoods that hold an even more important place in your heart?

I guess we could re-word it thusly:
On a scale of one to ten, how opposed are you to giving up Arab villages in the West Bank? Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem? Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem? The Old City?

2- Have you ever been to any Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem? Do you know the names of any of those neighborhoods? (I'm asking my Jewish readers, especially the ones who live in, or often visit, Israel's capital.)

3- What makes a neighborhood part of Jerusalem? Because the residents there feel that they are? Because the Jerusalem City Hall has jurisdiction over the garbage collection and parking tickets there? Because of some inherent increase of holiness in certain areas? Because it was part of Jerusalem when King Hezekiah lived in it? (According to that last, none of West Jerusalem is part of Jerusalem, either.) In other words, what's in a name?

In case you were wondering where I stand on this right now . . . I vehemently oppose giving up sovereignty over any part of the Old City and other places that hold hugely prominent places in the hearts of most Jews, under any circumstances. Regarding now-Jewish neighborhoods such as French Hill and Talpiot, I see no reason for Israel to give them up- why should we? Yes, I hear the arguments from the other side . . . but frankly, those arguments are weak, and don't make me care. The city is NOT occupied, it is annexed. As for Arab neighborhoods . . . . at least I'm honest enough to admit that I've hardly ever been in them, and since obviously most residents there don't want to be Israelis (since it was annexed, Arabs in East Jerusalem may accept Israeli citizenship, but most have opted not to take advantage of the offer), then I have no more problem with giving it up than I have about giving up most other pieces of land, at least from an ideological perspective. However, there are logistical problems. It is very difficult to split up a city without destroying vital infrastructure such as travel. It would make a mess of things - for everyone.

(Notice that I'm not saying "fine with me, split up Jerusalem." I'm talking about how much splitting Jerusalem would bother me in relation to how much any other land-for-more-war concessions would bother me.)

Bottom line: This whole issue sucks. I wish the world would accept the fact that Jerusalem was annexed, with citizenship offered to its Arab residents, and if they don't want to take it, then that's their prerogative, not our problem. I wish the city I live in wasn't under a microscope, and that we were free to get on with the business of improving the economy here and quality of life for everyone. I wish people would stop calling East Jerusalem "occupied," when it is not. The Palestinians don't have to like that Israel annexed East Jerusalem, but they can stop lying about it.

I used to live in the Big Apple . . . now I live in a place so fractured, it's applesauce.

Here is an exerpt from the poem "Jerusalem 1967" by Yehudah Amichai (translated):

I've come back to this city where they have given
names to distances as if to human beings
and the numbers are not of bus-routes
but rather: 70 After, 1917, 500
B.C., Forty-Eight. These are the lines
we really travel on.

And already the ghosts of the past are meeting
with the ghosts of the future and negotiating about me from above,
giving and taking, not taking and not giving,
in the high arches of shell-orbits above my head.

A person who comes back to Jerusalem feels that the places
that used to hurt do not hurt anymore.
But a faint warning remains in everything,
like the movement of a light veil: warning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This is my herb "garden." In the foreground: fresh rosemary for roasting with vegetables or baking with chicken. Mmmm. In the background, from left to right: basil for making pesto, mint for my tea, parsley, oregano, dill for my vegetable soups, cinnamon basil (basil with a touch of cinnamon scent- mmm!), and tarragon behind the window screen.

BTW, I asked my rabbi, and it turns out I have to take terumot and maasrot from the herbs when I use them, even though they are not technically planted in the ground itself. (If you don't know what that is, uh . . . try Googling it. Or maybe a nice commenter can explain it in English better than I could . . . ) How cool is that? I haven't done that since I made aliyah, since all the stores where I buy my fruits and vegetables have already taken care of it.

Anyone have ideas for what I can do with fresh oregano, basil that smells a little like cinnamon, or fresh tarragon? I have no idea . . . Posted by Picasa

Pink, violet, and white geraniums facing the street. Posted by Picasa
Congrats to Susan

The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania has granted two Golden Quill Awards to Susan, who happens to be my former roommate and a dear friend, in addition to being a kick-*ss reporter. (Bet you never thought you'd see that on my blog, especially not in the same sentence as "Susan," didja? I hope Susan will forgive me . . . )

One award was in Investigative/Enterprise reporting, and the other is for Spot News.

Good going, Susan! Kain yirbu!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

English for the Hebrews

I acquired a new client today.

I'm so glad that Israel requires companies to provide generous terms for maternity leave . . . this is my second job covering for a woman who just had a baby . . .

I'll be providing almost all the written content for several children's magazines, at different levels of complexity. The publications are geared to Israeli children and teenagers who are learning English as a foreign language.

So, over the next few months, I'll be looking for amazing trivia facts; fun stories about food, animals, sports, and celebrities; interesting cultural notes about Israel and other countries; short works of fiction (that we can publish for free and without worrying about copyright issues); games and activities; and odd news from around the world. Should be fun.

This is a part-time job, so I'll still be working on other projects. But it feels good to have a large assignment that I can really sink my teeth into.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Taking Responsibility for Oneself

The following letter from the dean of Pardes was included in the school's latest monthly newsletter, and I found it quite moving on several levels. Thought I'd share it with you . . .

Dear Friends,


I would like to share a “Pardes moment” with you. Last week at Pardes, we celebrated a “Pidyon ha-Ben.” This ceremony involves a Cohen, and an exchange of coins, by which a first-born son is redeemed on the 31st day of his life, assuming both his parents were not of Cohen or Levi descent, that there were no previous miscarriages, etc.

It’s actually pretty rare -- I’ve only been to a couple in my life. Some say that it is a redemption marking the fact that eldest sons need not serve in the Temple, which became the task of Cohanim and Levi’im (hence, they do not require this ceremony); others see it as reminding us that our eldest sons are not to be offered up as human sacrifices, as Canaanite idolators were wont to do; some say it hearkens back to the saving of the Jewish first-born sons during the last plague in Egypt.

But this “Pidyon ha-Ben” was not performed, as you might have thought, to redeem the first-born male child of an Israelite teacher at Pardes. As they were learning in Talmud class, Masechet Kiddushin 29a, which describes the obligations of a father to his son (and also vice-versa), one of the Pardes classes began discussing this mitzvah of “Pidyon ha-Ben.” A student realized that he fit the description, and when checking with his mother, learned that the ceremony had never been performed.

Last week, a good number of Pardes students attended a Pidyon ha-Ben ceremony for this student, for many the first time they attended a Pidyon ha-Ben ritual. Unusual as the ceremony is, it is even rarer to find it performed for a 27-year old! As in the case of ritual circumcision, the Halacha teaches us that if the parents do not fulfill the mitzvah on the child, it devolves to the child (when reaching adulthood) to assume responsibility for the performance of the mitzvah. (In fact, earlier this year, two other Pardes students realized that their parents had them circumcised in a hospital immediately after birth, and not as part of a ritual Jewish ceremony with a mohel, bracha (blessing), etc. They initiated a “hatafat dam brit” for themselves -- a quick, painless procedure performed by a mohel. The students showed up to learn minutes later, and didn’t look the worse for it!)

Faculty member Rabbi David Levin-Kruss explained to those present that there is an important lesson to learn from this Halacha – while our parents might not provide us with everything we would want them to, we cannot simply complain about it; we must take responsibility for ourselves at a certain point in life, and give ourselves those things we need which we never received from our parents.

Both he and I saw another parallel case in the room – the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, learning Torah. In the same Talmudic sugya (passage), it is stated that a father must provide a Torah education to his sons, something that today has thankfully been extended to daughters. Sitting (and standing) in the room at that moment were Pardes students, many of whom felt that the Jewish education they received as children was not complete. While there was much their parents did provide them, learning the classical texts of our tradition in the original was not one of those things.

And here they all were, nearing the end of an academic year of Torah learning at Pardes, not complaining about what they were not given; instead, they had taken the initiative (sometimes with the support of their parents, sometimes without) to stop their life and come to Jerusalem to study those texts, and their Jewish heritage, for a year.

At least for the faculty present, I know it was a moving moment, seeing the dozens of students in the room. They are all graduates of fine universities, and some are in the early stages of very successful careers; and yet many of them chose the hard road of “infantilizing” themselves, putting themselves in the position of semi-literates, in order to engage in serious study of Jewish texts. It is no wonder, I told them, that most Jews their age do not do this, as it is so hard.

Our students are truly a remarkable group of young men and women, and we have much to be thankful for.


David I. Bernstein, Ph.D.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

If ever there was a plug for the mitzvah of returning lost objects . . .

This is it.

Poor Todd.

I laughed out loud at the end of this story. Read the whole thing.
Appreciation Wednesday on Sunday: More Flowers

In my neighborhood are several traffic circles (also known as roundabouts, or rotaries, depending on where you are from), and every one of them is covered with gorgeous, blooming flowers. And in each one, someone clearly put thought into making a design with the different types and colors of plants.

It's really nice to live in a neighborhood beautified in such a way. So, I appreciate the gardeners who planted and tend to the traffic circle mini-landscapes, and the municipal decision-makers who decided to allocate funds for such a thing. There's nothing like passing by a traffic circle exploding in red and yellow tulips to brighten one's day.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Roommates

I'm so excited! After three years of dreaming about it, I went tonight with Yael to a beautiful plant nursery in Abu Gosh, and she helped me pick out window boxes and plants to go into them (and the necessary supplies)! I don't know ANYTHING about gardening, so Yael's expertise was badly needed. Without her, I would have gotten overwhelmed by all my choices, and would have been afraid to touch a flower for fear I'd kill it, the way some people are afraid of touching a computer. Yael is in charge of the garden of her building, and she's even taken a course in gardening, so when she talks about plants, I listen.

Anyway, we came home and made a big mess transferring dirt, fertilizer, and young plants into long window boxes and setting them in place.

Facing the street I have geraniums in various shades of pink, purple, and white, plus one other (taller) plant with little purple flowers.

On the windowsill on the other side of my apartment I now have an herb garden! We're talking fresh rosemary, mint, dill, tarragon, oregano, parsley, and basil! Smells AMAZING.

Pictures to come!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Last night I made the mistake of reading some of the comments posted by members of the public to an article in one of Israel's online newspapers. There sure are a lot of mean-spirited, ignorant, hysterical, and/or simply dumb people out there.

Today I called an office in America to arrange to speak with someone I need to ask about something, and when the secretary heard I'm in Jerusalem, she started asking me many, many questions about life here, and the "situation." I answered as carefully and honestly as I could, trying to be fair to Israel without being completely one-sided.

It turned out that she subscribes to the "moral equivalency" population of people who believe that since more Palestinians have died, it must mean Israel is the bad guy. Some Palestinians have had their olive groves destroyed, so Israel must be making a land grab, settlers are taking land without caring about other people's livelihoods, etc.

I did the best I could to educate her about the subtleties of the situation. Of course I couldn't say that Israel is always "right" -- I don't think it always is myself, and even if I did think it, it wouldn't be diplomatic to say in this case -- but she clearly was in desperate need of some shades-of-gray.

When I hung up, I realized that I'd been holding my breath a lot. I felt very tired.

I'm so tired of caring what other people think, of knowing that just about everyone in the world hates me and everything I stand for at worst and finds my country mildly irritating at best. I'm tired of worrying about a nuclear bomb falling on my head, tired of being on the defensive, tired of thinking constantly about whether there is a solution, tired of feeling helpless when other people do something dumb, tired of being held to a double standard, tired of holding myself to a double standard. I'm tired of caring so much. I guess I'm tired of caring so much about being a Jew.

I could disengage from the whole thing (pun not intended, I think), and simply decide not to get emotionally involved, and certainly not to write about the "situation" any more. I could, in theory, stop reading the news entirely.

But that last is tough, given that news is my job. And also, if I don't stay abreast of what's going on and form opinions and make them heard, then I can't complain about the decisions that other people make on my behalf. I only have the right to an opinion if I throw myself into the argument and become part of the process of making things better, if that is possible. If I don't make this whole thing my business then, well, it will be none of my business.

Besides, it's a little late for me to pretend I don't care. I made aliyah. The jig is up.

So I'll keep reading the news, and annoying blogs, and stupid comments on news sites; and I'll keep blogging my opinions sometimes and taking the heat from (sometimes obnoxious) commenters; and I'll keep talking to secretaries who are missing important information. I'll keep worrying and thinking and wallowing in confusion until my head threatens to split open.

But I'm so tired.
Eye yai yai

About eleven, maybe twelve, years ago, I went to see an opthamologist for some problem I was having with my eye/s (I don't remember what it was). All I remember from that visit was that he put this stuff in my eyes that hurt like hell, and then used this machine to hold them open so he could look at them, and I practically freaked out I hated it so much, and he was very condescending to me, and then he said "you have a slight astigmatism in your left eye. There's no point in doing anything about it now, but in about ten years you'll probably need glasses."

Jump ahead about 9 years. I'm applying for my driver's license in Israel, and I go to have my eyes examined. I look into the little machine, read off the first two lines, I've passed, I go home. No problem.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I've dragged my heels completing the Israeli driver's license procedure, and by the time I get around to taking and passing the driver's test, it's been more than a year since my eye exam. The exam has expired, so I have to take it again. I go back to the same place, read off the first two lines, I've passed, I go home.

But this time there is a problem. Because though the Ministry of Transportation only cares about the first two lines, I could see all the lines that come after that. And this time, I was shocked at how blurry those next lines were from my left eye.

I went around for a while, every so often testing myself, squinting at street signs far away with one eye, then the other, and thinking "yup, definitely not doing well on the left." But I did nothing, because I'm lazy and vain and cheap, and those things together don't go well when one must get a prescription for one's first pair of glasses.

Last week, I went with an opthamologist and an optometrist to an Absorption Center, where they tested new Ethiopian immigrants' eyesight and gave medical referrals to those who need further attention. It's part of a study to see how the "system" can be changed to bridge the gap between Israel's excellent doctors and the Ethiopian immigrants, who don't know how to take advantage of the medical care available to them. They might, for example, struggle with learning Hebrew and take for granted that they are too old to learn a new language, when the real problem is that they can't see the letters properly - and they just take for granted that that's how it is, and never complain.

Anyhow, they had this nifty machine that can test someone's eyesight without them having to talk. They don't have to identify colors or letters or what direction something is facing -- which would be impossible for new immigrants who speak neither Hebrew nor English. I saw that each exam took less than a minute, so when all the immigrants were done, I asked if they could test me too.

I put my chin in the face-rest, looked into the machine, and 2 seconds later both the optometrist and the opthamologist were like "whoa! check out that left eye! You don't wear corrective lenses? Did you know you have a problem? You really need to see your doctor."

Well, so, today I overcame my laziness and my vanity and my miserliness and saw my doctor, who told me I don't even need a referral to an optometrist. So . . . it looks like next week I'm going to have my eyes checked again, and this time, I'm putting in an order for new eyewear . . . A couple of friends will come with me, to make sure I don't choose something that will make me look like a freak.

Part of me acknowledges that my friends with glasses have very cool styles and colors, and that the glasses, if chosen wisely, can be very attractive indeed. But . . . I hate to admit that I'm upset about it. Upset that those ten years flew by so fast, upset that now I'll have another expense and a new thing to have to worry and think about (not scratching them, not losing them, not crushing them . . . ), and, frankly, upset because my eyes are one of the only features I have that I really like, and I don't want to cover them up. I'm trying to remind myself that the right glasses could accentuate the good features while drawing attention away from the bad . . . but . . . well, this is a new thing for me.

Yes, yes, there are contact lenses . . . but there is no way in hell that I am sticking something in my eyes! No way! OK, bli neder, but no way!

A friend recommended I look into laser eye surgery, and my first reaction was there is no way in hell I'm letting someone burn a laser at my eye! No freakin' way! Bli neder, but no way.

So, that's that with that. More updates to come, I'm sure.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Appreciation Wednesday (on Monday): Thank you to my teachers

Sorry it's been a while since my last installment of this series. I had a draft for this post all set up, with serious background research and everything, and then discovered that I'd deleted all the text by mistake! Argh! But, of course, there are so many people and phenomena in the world to appreciate, so I'll write about something else this week while I reconstruct the other one . . .

I'm blessed to have had many amazing teachers in the course of my life. I'm grateful to my parents for having paid all the tuition money to send me to a K-12 school that I loved (most of the time) and in which I got a first-rate education. They also sent me on a year of religious studies in Israel, which I also loved, and to college (which I helped pay for, a little, and which I loved), and, with my grandmother, helped me significantly to attend graduate school, which I loved. (For that last, I also appreciate the folks at NYU who decided to give me a substantial scholarship, without which I would have had a much harder time finishing the program, and probably would not have enjoyed myself half as much.)

Today I'm taking some time to appreciate the English/writing teachers who helped me get to where I am today: a relatively successful freelance journalist, who is managing to pay my bills (usually) just by freelancing. There are not many people in the world who manage that -- the average freelance writer in America earns only $5,000 per year -- and there is no way I could have gotten here by myself.

Looking back, I realize that what made a difference for me was a combination of teachers who taught well, were personally encouraging to me, and/or helped me get my "foot in the door" of the business.

I appreciate my kindergarten teachers, whoever they were, for teaching me the letters of the alphabet.

I appreciate Mrs. Geracht, my first grade teacher, and Miss Simansky, my second grade teacher, for instructing me how to read and write, and creating an enjoyable and safe school atmosphere for me. I distinctly remember loving school very much right through second grade, and am grateful to have gotten off to a happy start.

I appreciate Mrs. Silver, my fourth grade teacher, for not only assigning fascinating projects, especially in reading, writing, and science, but also putting me in the highest spelling group, which was great for my self-esteem (and allowed me to learn to spell words like pneumonia when I was nine years old).

I appreciate Mrs. Onie, my sixth grade teacher, for teaching me how to write an outline (which I hated at the time) and giving me lots of writing opportunities. I also appreciate her for recommending that I be put in Honors English in junior high school. I had never seen myself as "honors" material, and it felt so amazing when she told me that my writing was excellent and that she thought I'd do well in the higher track.

I appreciate Miss Steiff, z"l, who taught me to analyze literature and, more importantly, to love, appreciate, and enjoy English grammar in grades seven and eight. She also taught a special extra-curricular course in tenth grade, to prepare us to take the Test of Standard Written English along with the SAT. The fact that an editor told me once "we like your work because it requires almost no copy editing" is due entirely to Miss Steiff, who taught me all about subject-verb agreement, and dangling participles. She was a special person and an excellent teacher, and I miss her very much.

I appreciate my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Charney, for reading one of my writing assignments out loud to the class as a model of good writing. I never forgot that.

I appreciate Mr. Youmans, my 11th-grade English teacher, for being fun and intellectually stimulating, and taking me seriously.

I appreciate the folks at Barnard College who chose my admissions essay, along with those of four others, to read out loud to all new students at orientation. I never forgot that. What a wonderful way to start college, with my fears about being able to do the work assuaged!

I appreciate Constance Brown, registrar at Barnard College and the instructor of my required Critical Writing class, who once told me during a one-on-one conference about a paper I'd written, "Sarah, you are a really good writer." To her, it may have been a throw-away comment, but to me . . . well, I never forgot it.

I appreciate Professor Patricia Denison (my wonderful academic advisor) and Professor Timea Szell (my independent research advisor) at Barnard for agreeing to write recommendations for me to Journalism school, rather than throwing up their hands and say "what? again?" . . . You see, they had already written recommendations for me to attend an M.A. program in English Education . . . and then had written different recommendations for me to get a degree in Guidance Education . . . and I kept changing my mind about what I want to do . . . So, I'm sorry I drove them crazy, but appreciate their diligence!

I appreciate Professor Richard Blood, formerly of the New York Daily News and Columbia Journalism School, and now of NYU, for teaching me to be a reporter and a deadline writer, for encouraging me and praising my work, and for getting me my first gig as a reporter, covering community board meetings for the New York Observer.

I appreciate Professor Brooke Kroeger of NYU for insisting on the highest standards of comprehensiveness in Feature Writing class, for getting me my gig as New York Correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle of London, and for hiring me to help with research on one of her books and to redesign the syllabus for her Journalistic Tradition course. I learned a lot by watching her, and thank her for her trust and support.

I appreciate Gary Belsky, deputy editor at ESPN Magazine and instructor of Magazine Article Writing in my graduate program, for teaching me the real skills necessary for freelancing: how to come up with story ideas, how to pitch them and to whom, how to write a freelancing contract and present the stories in a professional-looking way, how to repackage and resell stories to different publications, etc. I also appreciate that he got me my gig as a researcher at VH1.

I appreciate the folks at Writer's Digest for producing many inspiring books that help to keep me "fresh" and excited. I especially appreciate their production of Writer's Digest magazine and of the freelancer's bible, Writer's Market.

I appreciate my many clients. Almost without exception, they are a pleasure to work for, and they pay me on time. I especially appreciate the editors who call me to offer assignments, rather than wait for me to come to them with story ideas . . . you know who you are . . .

I appreciate the family members and friends who understand that "freelance writer" is what I want to be, not something I call myself in between "real" jobs, and who tell me that they think it's cool. That gets me through the rough patches when I'm bored or don't have enough work. Thanks, guys!

I appreciate the family members who have helped me out financially when things got a little rough . . . you know who you are . . . thank you.

I appreciate the employment advisors at Nefesh B'Nefesh, who often send out my resume on my behalf; I've gotten a few new clients and even job offers through them, and thank them for all they do to help North American immigrants.

And I thank Hashem for making it all come together.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two of my stories up on the web

Here's one about an interesting little Israeli company.

And here's my travel piece about Tzippori.

I had such a great time in Tzippori (this was a couple weeks ago already). Peter was a fabulous tour guide, and it was amazing to get out of the city and into the fresh air, and just do something different.

At Kfar Kedem, I did, yes, don the costume they give out. It included a large white cotton square of material, folded into a triangle, wrapped around my head a couple of times, and in the end very protective of both my head and neck against the sun. I realize now why so many Orthodox women cover their hair with a mitpachat -- a kercheif wound around the head, often with fancy twists and knots. It is soooo comfortable. Peter put on the costume too - he's a good sport.

I milked a goat! I'd never milked an animal before. It was really strange, holding the breast of another animal. Is it just me, or is that really weird?

But in any case, we took milk fresh from the goat (and boiled, to pasteurize it), and Menachem, the Kfar Kedem owner, did something really cool.

He prefaced by saying "there is a discussion in the Talmud about the circumstances under which a Jew may buy cheese which has been made by a non-Jew. It says that if the cheese was made in a cow's udder, it is prohibited, because the udder may have been traif. If it was made using figs (?!?), it is prohibited, because the figs may have been orla [if you don't know what that means, don't worry about it]. But if it was made from the stem of the fig leaves, it is permissible.

"So, how do we make cheese out of the stems of fig leaves?"

Menachem took a couple of leaves down from the fig tree on his property, and from the stems, he squeezed a few drops of white liquid into the fresh goat milk. He started stirring, and before our very eyes, the milk started to curdle.

We drained the cheese in cheesecloth, hung it up to dry, and 20 minutes later, it was cheese! And it tasted pretty good! (I later realized that it tasted good at the time because I was starving and we were outside, so it fit into the "back to nature" feeling. When I got it home, it was tolerable but not good.)

And guess what? I didn't get sick from the cheese! Even though I'm lactose intolerant! Turns out that goat's milk has far, far less lactose than cow's milk.

I went home with two big tubs of spiced goat cheese, and have been loving it. Loving it. And, last week, I found goat milk yogurt in the health food store. I'm in heaven. I can have yogurt for breakfast again! Haven't done that for years!

So, it was a happy day.

PS. It took our homing pigeon about three hours to fly from Efrat, where Peter released it with his grandchildren, to Hoshaya. That's just a little longer than it takes to go by car.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Via Manolo Posted by Picasa


I love those sandals.

I love them.

And they would look sooooo good on me.

I posted the photo, and then my sister called, asking if that was my foot in the picture.

I'm flattered that she thought it could be my foot. In fact, it does look mostly like my foot, except that I never have such a great pedicure.

Those sandals. On my feet. Oh, the ecstasy.

And, they can be all mine, for $378.95.

Talk about unrequited love.

Skipping Tomorrow, Abandoning Yesterday

I almost laughed wryly when I read this.

I don't know how much say Ramon really has about how the government prioritizes.

But I must point out how ridiculous it is to talk about delaying compensation to settlers who voluntarily leave the West Bank, ahead of some shadowy future pullout, when, as far as I know, there are still Gaza settlers who have not yet received their full compensation, and whose promised homes have not yet been built.

You all know that I supported the Gaza pullout, at least in theory. But I have to say, regardless of whether I ideologically agree with a West Bank pullout or not, if I were an Israeli in the West Bank, and the government offered me some kind of deal to leave, my response right now would be "show me the money."

These people should be compensated. Most of them moved to Gaza and the West Bank under perfectly legal (from Israel's standpoint, at the very least) circumstances. They are not criminals. Despite the few crackpots you see on the news, the vast majority of "settlers" are decent people who have invested time and money into their homes, and there is no reason that they shouldn't recoup some of their losses. And the government should be timely in giving them what they need to set up somewhere else.

But, this is Israel, where the motto is "coulda, shoulda, woulda."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Conflicting Feelings, Missing Information

I've got LOTS of stuff to write about, and will try to catch up over the next few days.

Let's start with this article in today's New York Times:

With a sudden shortage of everything from disposable needles and adhesive tape to vital drugs, Gaza's once impressive public health system is running down fast under the dual pressure of aid cutoffs and the closing of the Karni crossing point with Israel.

Already, says Al Shifa's general director, Dr. Ibrahim al-Habbash, the hospital can no longer provide chemotherapy for many forms of cancer, has only a few days' supply of important surgical drugs like atropine, adrenaline, heparin and lidocaine, and has used up its strategic three-month cache normally kept for a health crisis.


. . . his anger is a sign of the mounting frustration over the gaps in health care here, which are a result of a double crisis: the budget deficit in the Palestinian Authority — which has worsened significantly since Israel stopped transferring tax collections, and the United States and the European Union cut off aid after the Hamas government took over — and the inability to get goods into Gaza through the main crossing point at Karni, which the Israelis keep closing whenever there is a security alert.


The Palestinian Authority is in part the author of these problems, for failing to stop attempted attacks on Karni, though Israel has been criticized by Mr. Wolfensohn and the European Union, and more quietly by the United States, for keeping the crossing closed.

Alright, let's look at Chayyei Sarah's conflicted thoughts as she reads this article:

1. "This is really terrible. It's so sad that people are unable to get crucial, life-saving healthcare because of the stupid politics around here. I feel so bad for these people who can't get basic treatments like dialysis and chemotherapy."

2. "The idiots. This is not so hard to fix. Read my lips: Stop attacking Israel, and Israel will open the Karni crossing. Which part of 'terrorists are bad' do you not understand? You vote in Hamas, you get what you deserve. You made your bed, now lie in it."

3. "I'm sure not all of the sick people who are suffering the consequences voted for Hamas, or hate Israel, or whatever. I bet a lot of them would be more than happy to recognize Israel and leave Israel alone, if it means a chance at a normal economy and a decent life. It's really awful that there are innocent folks who are being punished along with their idiotic comrades."

4. "Hm. Here's an interesting question: If someone did vote for Hamas, does that mean I believe they deserve to die of kidney failure or cancer? Maybe. Does that make me evil? I guess I'd rather that they just face the reality that Israel is here to stay, and start acting constructive about it. I don't need them to die. I would rather that they change. But in the absence of change . . . I'd rather shed my tears over people suffering in, say, Africa, than over people next door who don't care whether I die. Still, not all of them voted for Hamas, anyway. Lord, this is a complex situation."

5. "Why should Israel hand over any tax money to the Palestinian government, even if it is their own money? The government is headed by Hamas. Which part of 'terrorists are bad' do you not understand? I read an article recently that the Israeli government is thinking about using the money to pay off the Palestinians' debts to the Israeli electricity companies. Which means that Israel is sitting on the money, trying to figure out what to do with it. I'm sure most Israelis would be more than happy to provide the money in the form of heparin and medical bandages, but organizing such a thing, while making sure the money is actually going where it's supposed to go, takes some organizing."

6. "I wish that organizing would go faster on the parts of Israel, the US, and the European Union. These people need help now, and, as Queen Amidala said in Star Wars Episode I, it is not right for 'people to suffer and die while you discuss it in a committee.'"

7. "Why doesn't the army open up Karni more often? I keep reading, in articles, like this one, that Israel closes the crossing 'whenever there is a security alert.' What does that mean? That if there is an alert in the Shomron, they shut down everything, everywhere? That they close Karni when they have an alert that someone is specifically trying to infiltrate Israel through the Karni crossing? We need more information, some 'hasbara' from Israel, to understand whether these Karni shut-downs are actually saving Israeli lives, or just making things hard for the Palestinians. If shutting down Karni for so long is actually saving Israeli lives -- perhaps my life -- then I say, frankly, if the Palestinians are giving me such a choice, that I'd rather save innocent Israeli lives than innocent Palestinian lives. But is that the choice? Couldn't there be a better way?"

8. "How might I feel differently about the situation if I knew for sure that Israel was keeping Karni closed unneccesarily, or under very ambiguous situations? How much responsibility do I feel for what my government does? How much would I be willing to fight for Palestinians to get their medical supplies, when there are people who don't hate my guts just because I'm a Jew all over the world for whose rights I could spend my time fighting instead? Given that it is the Palestinians who are locked with Israel in this interminable, deadly wrestling match, do they deserve more or less of my consideration?"

9. "Why is it always Israel's job to find the better way? Is it because we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Or because that really is our job, given that at the moment we are more in control of this situation than the Palestinians are, since we're the ones with enough military power to control Karni?"

10. "What does it mean to be 'in control'? In a way, Israel is 'in control' because we have the tanks and the jet fighters, etc. But the Palestinians also have control, in the sense that it is up to them whether or not to end this crazy situation. They have choices, just as much as Israel does. It may not seem that way, given how downtrodden their masses are. But there is a choice. They can choose to continue fighting, and they will continue to be beaten, and Israel will not go away, and they will suffer for their choice. Or they can choose to accept the fact that Israel exists, and that they may as well make peace with us, and improve their situation accordingly. They seem not to like this second choice, because to them it means admitting defeat, admitting that Israel has more physical power than they do, and that they will never achieve their aim of a Judenrein Middle East. They see it as losing. But sometimes, choosing to compromise is power. It's the power to take whatever control you can of your future, and make the best with what you have. It is the power to choose that enough people have died, and it's time to go about the business of living. The Palestinians do not have the choice that they want. They cannot choose to destroy us, because we Jews don't go down so easily anymore. The Palestinians have been handed a lemon. They have the power to drown in the juice, or to make lemonade. That, too, is power."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Exciting Development!

On Thursday, there was a much-anticipated envelope in my mailbox, with the Hebrew words for "Ministry of Transportation" written in the corner. It was my Israeli driver's license! The real one, the plastic one, that doesn't expire until 2015!

Sure, my picture makes me look like a zombie who was kept in deep freeze for 6 months and then warmed over on a hot plate, but hey, I can now rent a car and hit the road with no problem! Except worrying about the crazy road conditions here!

The truth is, the chances of my renting a car anytime soon are slim. Most places I need to go in this country, it is much cheaper to take a bus, since I'm just one person. But now I have the option of putting together a group of friends, renting a "zimmer" in the Galil, and going on a proper vacation. Having options feels great, even if you don't use them.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Independence Day

So, yesterday (Wednesday) was Israel's birthday, celebrating 58 years of Jewish autonomy, falafel, and vacations abroad. The traditional, nay, almost the required activity on Yom Ha'atzmaut is a mangal (barbecue). The Independence Day barbecue is so entrenched that someone once sent me a revamped version of the National Anthem, Hatikva, in which the lines "we have not lost our hope/ the hope of 2,000 years" was replaced with "we have not lost our grills/ the grills of 2,000 years." It brought to my mind an image of generations of wandering Jews, travelling from Spain to Tunisia, from Amsterdam to New York, carrying huge bags of Match Light charcoal on their backs, waiting for the miraculous day when every city-dwelling Jew could stake his claim to whatever bit of grassy spot he could find -- including, I should note, the landscaped roundabouts at major intersections -- and cook up kabobs to his heart's content and blast Shlomo Artzi music at full volume.

This year, my friends Beth and Simcha invited me to attend their family barbecue at Park Canada, a camping grounds near Bet Shemesh, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Simcha's parents are here from America to visit, so they gave me a lift from Jerusalem.

The place was packed. As in, hardly anywhere to park, and hardly anywhere to set up our gear. We located the group of American and Canadian immigrants with whom we'd planned to meet up, but discovered that a) we didn't know anyone in the group and b) they were not only sitting in the sun, they were sitting on the ground.

I should explain here that when Israelis make barbecues, they bring, as Beth says, "their entire kitchen and dining room." The Israelis were spread out all over the park, each family with a long folding table, plastic chairs, a tablecloth, real silverware, pots and pans, and a rope to cordon off their own private space among the trees. Several families had brought long cushions to sit on, or pergolas to create shade, and one had set up a huge hammock. In addition to the grills, they'd brought boom boxes, playing cards, kites, and all other manner of entertainment.

The American immigrants, by contrast, were sitting in a pathetic group on blankets, looking ill-prepared compared to the clearly professional barbecuers who are the natives.

Since Beth is very pregnant and really wanted to sit up normally, we found a spot next to a low wall just the right height for sitting on. Next to the wall was a tree for shade, under which we set up our blankets (having not yet assimilated to the folding-table level). The weather was gorgeous, the park was full of people relaxing and happy, and the kabobs were amazing.

We stayed for a few hours, grilling and eating and talking. The kids, ages 4, 3, and 1, enjoyed watching the fire, taking in all the kites and people and bugs, and running around on the grass. We bought them popsicles and tried to teach Sophie, the one-year-old, that you hold onto the stick and put the ice in your mouth, not the other way around. Simple pleasures.

That was it. That was the day. And you know what? It was a great day. You don't need amusement parks or professional entertainment or other flashy, packaged fun-in-a-can they try to sell these days. Just a nice day, a park, a blanket, and a grill, the grill of 2,000 years.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Memorial Day

In America, Memorial Day felt more . . . remote.

I didn't know anyone in the military. No one. I think I once met a guy at a Shabbat meal who was serving in the American army. Other than that, no one. None of my Irish-Catholic neighbors served, none of my Jewish friends. I didn't know anyone in college or in any of my many jobs whom I knew to be a vet. America is huge, and though its military is also huge beyond imagination, it is still possible to live there for 30 years and never know a soldier personally.

On Memorial Day we'd enjoy our day off, maybe watch a wreath-laying ceremony on television, and cluck-cluck over how sad it is, seeing the parents of fallen soldiers, isn't that terrible, the poor people, and then we'd go back to reading the paper, studying for AP exams, or going on a picnic. Memorial Day was something nice we did to give people who had lost family members a chance to visit the cemetary and feel they'd been honored, but it didn't touch me. It was something for other people, the people whose kids are soldiers, or were.

It didn't help that the wars were far away. At least, until 9/11, the military seemed like something we needed in order to help out other countries or just our own interests. It had nothing to do, really, with protecting us. Even now, for all the genuine concern that most Americans have about what is going on in Iraq, Iraq is just so far. It's another world, an alien world, and most Americans think of it as just a war zone, not a place where people have a culture and lives and take their kids to school every day and wonder when the grocer's next shipment of garlic powder will come in.

Today is Memorial Day in Israel, and I have to admit that I have no special plans. I'm swamped with work, so I'm staying home to write. But . . . it's not exactly like the days of yore when I spent Memorial Day studying for AP exams. Here, the war is in the air. It's in our backyard. It's in the fact that yesterday, when I saw and heard military planes overhead, I was worried enough about my safety that I called a friend to see if anything unusual was going on. It's immediate.

Here, almost everyone I know has served in the army, or will, or has a child who did, or will. My grocer, my hairstylist, my second cousins, my ex-boyfriend, my second cousin's girlfriend, my downstairs neighbor, the mashgiach ruchani of the school where I take classes, my friend's husband . . . all have given at least three years of their lives (most of them more) to protecting this country. To protecting me. My American friends with the 16-year-old son . . . in two years he'll be in an olive uniform. And someday, if I ever have a son, he'll most likely serve in the army as well.

So here, when I read about this year's wreath-laying ceremony in the news, I don't just cluck-cluck. I stop and really feel for these people. Their pain could have been the pain of anyone I know. And it could yet be my pain or the pain of a friend. The Goodmans, an American immigrant family whose son Yosef died in a tragic parachuting accident last February, could, God forbid, be me in 20 years. It is not out of the question. I honor their grief, because someday I might, God forbid, need to know that someone is honoring mine.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Something Going On?

Last night I heard a helicopter flying overhead, and realized it's a sound I have never heard here in my neighborhood. I wondered what it was; it's unlikely to be surveying, say, traffic, since I live nowhere near a highway, and it was late at night, long past rush hour.

Then, just now, I twice heard military planes flying over my head. The second time I rushed to the window and saw four planes in formation swinging upward together. It was pretty, but again, a little weird seeing it here. I live nowhere near an air base and can't remember this happening before, where I live.

Is this some sort of pre-Memorial Day practice for the military, or is something (even more unusual than "normal" here) going on? It's giving me the creeps.

I'll assume for now it's pre-Memorial Day practice, for tomorrow's commemorations of fallen soldiers. That's the story I'm sticking to, until I hear otherwise!

PS. I just spoke with someone more "in the know" about these things (whom I'll name if he tells me it's OK; I didn't ask), who said that the planes today are mostly likely a rehearsal for tomorrow, and the helicopter last night was probably a signifier of the increased security in the country right now, due to the attractive nature, to our enemies, of attacking us on Memorial Day or Independence Day.