Trying to keep things in perspective, be the best Jew I can be, and say things that need to be said.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I've got two articles in the "Israel Travel" supplement of The Jewish Week this week.
For some reason they are formatted badly online. Don't worry, in the print edition there are actually paragraph breaks.
Tips on what to do in Tiberias here. (Please excuse the repetition of the first paragraph - that's NOT the way I handed in the story!)
Chocolate-and-Charity Tour story here.
I was so proud of myself, ages ago, when I introduced Treppenwitz to the Pe'air bakery. It's nice to have little insider secrets about what's good in one's city, which one only finds out after living there a while.
Last week, my brother-in-law was in Israel for business meetings, and we spent an afternoon together, shopping for gifts for my sister and eating out, catching up on news at home, etc. It was up to me to choose where to eat; his only criteria were "not dairy, and must be inside and air conditioned."
My first thought was Cafe Rimon, but when we got there, we looked at the menu they've set up outside, and it didn't look appealing. They don't have a business lunch, and spending 50+ shekels on food that I wasn't in the mood for just didn't do it for me.
So I led my brother-in-law through the labyrinth which is the Ben Yehuda pedestrian square and Yaffo Street, and then suddenly made a right through a gate in the street, down a dark alley.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Luiz asked.
And suddenly, the dark alley became a quaint, old-fashioned courtyard, with restaurants lining each side.
We ate at Eldad VeZehoo, which I'd heard from others is one of the best restaurants in Jerusalem - and they were right. The service was good, the decor was great, and the food - YUM! (And yes, they have a business lunch deal.)
"I never would have found this place on my own," Luiz said. "For some things, you really need a native."
After five years, it's nice for someone to think of me as a native!
For those who want to share in the secret: The alley is at 31 Yaffo Street.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
My roommate has been having a hard time the last few days, physically and emotionally. Among other things, she spent several hours in the emergency room recently because she's had debilitating back pain.
And now, this.
Before you read it, I just want to add that the guy she's talking about drove in from Holon . . .
(In my news: I spent Tuesday with my brother-in-law, who was in Israel for business meetings, and yesterday I spent with Sparky. I also picked up my new, frameless (more invisible/less funky than the old ones) glasses. This afternoon I'm trying to get some work done so I can, you know, earn money.)
Monday, September 22, 2008
My friend Chava went into the emergency room on Thursday at the suggestion of her doctor: tests had shown that she might have diabetes. Her husband, Marc, called me and asked for help. He had to go home to be with their little daughter, but Chava needed company overnight. Could I come?
Of course I could. Chava is one of my best friends AND when I'm sick, she comes to my aid all the time.
So I spent Thursday night at Hadassah Har Tzofim (Mount Scopus), first in the ER and then in the Intermediate Care unit. (She indeed has diabetes. Type I. Utter surprise for her and necessitating major lifestyle changes. A shock and a big adjustment . . . )
Then, on Friday, I came home and took a nap and showered and packed some more stuff, and went back to Har Tzofim to spend Shabbat there. Chava and Marc very generously booked a room for me and our other friend Gila at the nearby Regency hotel, so that we could sleep comfortably and still have a short walk to the hospital (since Orthodox Jews don't use cars on Shabbat).
Now, this is the second time I've spent Shabbat in a hospital. The first time was when my mother was hospitalized in Boston for over a week, and I flew back to the States to be with her because no one else in my family could do it at the time (long story).
Let me tell you, the difference between being a hospital guest in the States vs. Israel, if you are an observant Jew, is like night and day.
Let me preface this further by saying that Har Tzofim is not a particularly "Jewish" hospital. From what I could see, most of the patients and half the staff are Arab. In my 2.5 days there, I didn't see so many Jews, considering that it's Jerusalem.
However. In the States, since I couldn't leave the hospital during Shabbat, I slept on a couch rolled up in a sheet in the visitor's lounge in the hallway, underneath a blaring television which I couldn't turn off. I was on a high floor, so I didn't go outside at all because getting back up to the room would have been a royal pain. On Friday, the Young Israel of Brookline sent over catered, boxed Kosher meals for me, but finding a place to refrigerate them was an adventure. It was boring, and lonely, and incredibly depressing. (To be fair, I was alone, and my mother was unconscious most of the time, and in pain when she was awake, so the boredom was worse -- this time, Chava was awake and talkative most of the time, and Gila was there too.)
At Har Tzofim, visitors who are Sabbath observant are provided with mattresses and sheets, and allowed to sleep overnight on Friday night in doctors' offices, where one has a sink and a door one can lock. I was privileged that Chava and Marc could afford to put us up at the hotel, but what a relief to know that those without the means for the Hyatt can still sleep in a quiet, dark, private room on a real mattress.
Shabbat meals with singing, divrei Torah, and traditional (Ashkenazi) foods are served for dinner on Friday, lunch on Saturday, and seudat Shlishit, with Edah Charedit kashrut so that anyone can join. And indeed, everyone did: Men in shtreimels, men in blue-and-white kippot, and men who put on a kippah just for Shabbat. At my table there was a be-sheiteled woman from Mea Shearim whose father had had a stroke, a settler-looking labor coach spending Shabbat in the hospital because a client was in labor, a dati-leumi doctor from the pediatric ER; and two elderly patients in wheelchairs who were clearly haredi.
On Friday afternoon, patients and visitors may light their Shabbat candles at the nurses' stations. Someone comes around to say kiddush on each floor for anyone who wants to hear it -- same with Havdala on Saturday night. Traditional prayer services are conducted on the second floor. And there are "Shabbat elevators," which stop automatically on every floor.
Additionally, for Gila and me, there was the fact that the Regency is gorgeous, serves kosher food in the dining room, and also has Shabbat elevators. And the electric main door is "neutralized" for Shabbat.
Though I feel bad for Chava, and of course spending time in the hospital is stressful even for us guests, in an odd way it was all sort of fun, like some sort of twisted, but successful, Shabbaton. Gila, Chava and I had a great time indulging in "girl talk," there was lots of good, hot, kosher food easily available, the Regency was gorgeous . . . it was almost like camp.
Except that my friend is sick and was on an insulin drip.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Nothing dramatically new to report. Just a quick update for the benefit of my friends and family:
1- Liza and I spent Shabbat at the home of Trilcat, whom neither of us had met before. She reads our blogs and invited us for Shabbat. A good time was had by all. The baby is adorable, and I became very good friends with Poofy the dog. Thanks, Trilcat and Trilcat's husband!
2- I signed up to go to a Shabbat meal this coming Friday night, for singles aged 30-45. I was so proud of myself for doing something proactive. Now the meal has been cancelled because not enough people signed up. :-( So I'm planning to go to Beth and Simcha instead.
3- Last night, Sarah Beth, Liza and I went to the Malcha Mall to see "Mama Mia!: The Movie." It was so much fun! I was dancing in my seat.
4- I just finished a few articles and am looking for new projects. Meanwhile, I'm busy re-organizing my closet.
5- My washing machine is broken! For real this time! It stopped in the middle of a cycle and now won't turn on at all. The repairman is in my bathroom at this very moment, working on it.
So you see, life is all thrills and chills in the Middle East.
P.S. The comments over at this post have become very interesting. Check it out!
P.P.S. Washing machine is fixed! The on/off button had burned out and is now replaced. Thrills and chills, people!
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Liz is one of my new favorite people.
She is a friend of my roommate, and now she is my friend too (I hope!)
Liz is an American. She is not Jewish. Her studies in linguistics in college led to an interest in Semitic languages, and she became impressively fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic. Then she decided to get an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies, and got into Hebrew University, which is how she ended up in our neck of the woods.
To help with necessities like, oh, a place to live, Liz also became a part-time "professional volunteer" for a non-profit organization that runs a playground and rock-climbing facility for Palestinian children in the tiny, mostly Christian, Bethlehem suburb of Beit Sahour (otherwise known as "the middle of nowhere"). The job came with a cheap place to live and something interesting to put on her resume.
As a secular American living in PA-controlled territory and studying and hanging out in Israeli Jerusalem, speaking both Hebrew and Arabic, Liz has a unique -- and frankly, hysterically funny-- perspective on Arabs, Jews, and Arab-Israeli relations. I keep telling her she's got to start a blog, but she's too shy.
This is Liz, sitting in our kitchen:
Yes, she is well aware that she dresses like a mitnachelet (an Israeli settler). She has been told as much by many, many people. The scarf she has wrapped around her head in this photo, to protect herself against the sun at the Israeli folk festival she attended, completes the look. She doesn't mind being told she looks like a religious Jewish settler. She just says "Well, these are my clothes" and moves on with her day.
Liz sometimes sleeps over at our apartment, because traveling between Western Jerusalem and Beit Sahour is quite a trek. What with all the time she has spent at check-points, Liz now knows lots of useful Arabic phrases, which she has picked up from Israeli soldiers. Our favorite is "take your sheep and go home."
Anyhow, Liz sleeps over and uses the opportunity to read my Kitzur Shulchan Aruch on the laws of kashrut, which confuse her and which she wants to understand better. And then she regales us with tales of life on the other side.
Liz's visa ran out, and her volunteer job came to an end, and she's finished with her classes, so it looked like she'd have to go back to America for good. She spent a long time looking for a job which would allow her to get another visa (which she did, eventually). I asked her why, if she was pretty much done with her Master's, it was so important to her to come back.
She said "I didn't realize, when I signed up to come here, how much the people would come to mean to me. It didn't occur to me that I would love it here, and that I would feel so connected to this place and to the people."
What I love about Liz is that she meant this, completely and sincerely, both about her Christian and Muslim friends in Beit Sahour and about her Jewish friends in Jerusalem.
Liz is smart, entertaining, laid-back, and has a unique perspective, and I'm so happy she is coming back!
Can we please convince her to keep a blog?
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Kudos to Rahel!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Via Mom in Israel, a new video promoting tourism to Jerusalem, brought to us by the ever-out-of-touch folks at the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
The first 49 seconds are fine. After that . . . well, you'll see . . .
How is this video silly, misogynist, and fat-phobic? Let me count the ways . . .
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
An open letter to the municipal governments of Modiin Illit, Kiryat Sefer, Lapid, Matityahu, and Chashmonaim (and cc’ed to the Superbus company):
[If any of my readers would help me out by translating this letter into Hebrew and formatting it onto a Word document, ready to mail, I'd really appreciate it!]
I’m writing to complain about an aspect of service on the Superbus 310, 320, and 330 lines, which serve your area, and to urge you to either pressure Superbus to improve or to establish bus service with a different company
I take Superbus often on Fridays to visit friends in Chashmonaim for Shabbat. I have no choice but to take Superbus because there is no other affordable way to get from
Time after time, the bus schedule posted at superbus.co.il is outrageously inaccurate.
Sometimes it posts that the last bus is at one hour when in fact there are several buses afterward.
But more often, and more problematically, the website will say that the last bus leaves
This past Friday, for example, I checked the Superbus website, which said that several buses would leave
Meanwhile, a crowd of people – I counted 23 at this bus stop alone – were discussing the fact that they needed to get to Kiryat Sefer, Matityahu, and Chashmonaim for Shabbat, while about a dozen Egged buses headed for other destinations passed by us. It is only because another would-be passenger went to the trouble of arranging a 15-seat private sherut at the last moment that I was able to get to my destination. However, there were still 8-9 people at the bus stop when I left, most of whom needed to get to Matityahu; I have no idea how, or if, they got where they needed to go.
In short, it has been my experience over the last few years that Superbus is far from “super,” and I urge you to exert pressure on them to:
a) update their website weekly with accurate scheduling information.
b) be available by telephone throughout the day to their customers, including on Fridays.
c) run buses on Fridays until 2 hours before Shabbat, as other bus companies do.
If they do not make accurate information more easily available, especially regarding the Friday schedule, I encourage you to give contracts to competing bus companies to provide service to your area.
Thank you for your attention.
Monday, September 08, 2008
My nephew David is about 2 years old. I love talking to him on the phone.
Sarah (on the phone with her sister, Rivka): So then I . . .
Rivka: David! What are you doing?
David, in background: babble, babble
Rivka: What do you mean, you have yoghurt in your pocket? How did it get there?
David: I don’t know! babble babble
Rivka: Did you put it there on purpose? Did you put yoghurt in the pockets of your shorts?
Rivka: Why would you do that?
David: I don’t know! And babble babble babble
Rivka: What do you mean, you put yoghurt in your diaper? Do I have to change your diaper now?
[Sarah starts to laugh.]
Rivka: I have a sister working in a café like a grownup halfway around the world, and she’s laughing at my life.
Sarah: No, I’m laughing at David.
Rivka: Here, David, tell Doda what you did.
David, getting on phone: Doda!
Sarah: Hi, David!
David: babble babble yoghurt babble pocket babble diapah
Sarah: You put yoghurt in your pocket?
Sarah: And in your diaper?
Sarah: How does that feel?
David: Um . . . um . . . babble babble on poopose
Sarah: Does the yoghurt in your diaper feel good, or bad?
David: Bad! And babble babble Ima change diapah
Sarah: Now your Ima will give you a new diaper?
David: Yeah! Bye!
It occurs to me that cell phones and VOIP have completely changed the nature of knowledge one continues to have about one's family after one moves abroad.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Last week, as part of a reporting assignment, I went on a visit to Ein Tzurim, where many families who were expelled from Gush Katif have (very temporarily) resettled, while they wait to finish getting through all the governmental red tape they need to cut in order to establish permanent new communities somewhere else.
We met with Anita Tucker, an American immigrant who lived in
I supported the pullout from
During the visit, I felt the following conflicting emotions:
1- Deep sympathy for these poor people whose lives were turned upside down, and who, at best, are living with the unsettled feeling of not knowing where one will live a year from now, or where to register one’s kids for school, or whether it’s worth it to unpack. And it’s by far not “at best” – many families are dealing with unemployment, heart attacks, divorce, pediatric psychological problems, etc because of all the stress.
2- Deep anger at the government for not doing whatever it takes to help them turn their lives right side up again, as quickly as possible.
3- Anger at Jewish media abroad, who are not adequately publicizing the ongoing struggles of the
4- Anger and frustration at two other people in our group (not settlers, visitors), who compared the Israeli government to the Nazis and the
5- Frustration with Anita Tucker for suggesting that newspaper editors the world over are essentially being bribed by PR companies to bury the story of the
6- Frustration at not feeling free to voice some of my opinions about the settler movement because I felt outnumbered and because I was there to observe, not as much to participate. And because, given the lack of time I would have had to explain my thoughts properly, they would have been misunderstood. Just as many people on the Left assume erroneously that if you support the settler movement, you must hate Arabs, so too many people on the Right assume erroneously that if you have a nuanced and challenging stance on the settler movement, you must hate settlers, or be a self-hating Jew, or be naïve about what Arabs really want. ::sigh:: Usually, it’s not worth it to get into it. I let people talk and don’t say much when I think they are wrong (either way), because I’m just so tired of it.
Do you see how different numbers 1, 2, and 3 are from 4-6?
It was a tiring day.
Caring about Israel is just so exhausting, sometimes.
*** UPDATE: The comments to this post are fascinating and enlightening on many levels. After 77 comments, I'm asking (in comment 78) that we close this thread. Please do not add any more comments to this post. Thank you.***
Thursday, September 04, 2008
My roommate was in the States for three weeks, enjoying a family vacation in the British Virgin Islands, poor thing.
I enjoyed having the use of her room for guests (just as she had the use of mine when I was away), but must admit that it was lonely here without her. If I'd wanted to live alone, I could have stayed in my old studio apartment. Besides, there was no one else here to make me hot cereal and coffee in the mornings. :-(
But now she's back, and so once again I have someone to talk to, and there are beads and sewing pins 'n' things all over the dining room table, and I ate breakfast this morning.
I made a sign for the front door before she came. It says "Welcome back, Liza" on it and I glued lots of red, white and blue stars all over it (her dad is a general in the American military, and Liza used to be in ROTC, and her brother recently returned from Iraq). Unfortunately, the only magnets I had with which to stick the sign to our (metal) door were the ones I brought back from London last spring, with Shakespearean insults on them. So the sign says "Welcome back, Liza" but the magnets say "Thou cream-faced loon," and "I was searching for a fool when I found you," etc. Oh, well. Luckily Liza has a good sense of humor.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Someone in my quiet but definitely city-ish (with apartment buildings everywhere, and close to the Emek Refaim Street business center) bought a . . .
Guess how I know?
Did you know that roosters crow at all hours of the day and night?
Reasons not to support Sarah Palin's VP candidacy, which are sound reasons or at least consistent:
- You disagree with her policies on issues that are important to you.
- You think she's way too inexperienced to perform the job of American VP effectively.
- You have some criterion, personal to yourself, that is important to you and that you apply consistently to all candidates for high political offices (for example, "I don't vote for any candidate of any party who has small kids at home. People with small kids should be available to be at home for their families, and the VP job is too much for someone to be a good VP and a good parent.")
Reasons not to support Sarah Palin's VP candidacy, which are unsound reasons:
You think she should be home with her small kids, and you don't apply that criterion evenly. Can you imagine this article being written about a male candidate? The fact is, being a successful politician requires a high level of ambition, and people who are ambitious and powerful and hold high political offices such as a governorship do things like go to work three days after their baby is born and entrust the care of their children to others -- usually to some combination of the children's other parent, nannies, or both. How many of the fathers in governor's seats or in Washington spend much time with their kids? Not too many, I'd wager. If normally that isn't an issue for you, when the candidate is man, it shouldn't be an issue for you when it concerns Sarah Palin.
Her unmarried, teenage daughter is pregnant. Perhaps you think this proves she's an inattentive mom who should be home (see above). Or perhaps it gets you thinking that her abstinence-education-only policy isn't really so effective (duh! You needed Bristol Palin to prove that?). Or perhaps you think it just goes to show that Sarah Palin isn't as religious as she claims, or doesn't have a firm hand at home, or or or . . . to which I respond: there are thousands -- hundreds of thousands -- of loving, firm, attentive, rule-laying, warm, inspiring parents all over America whose 17-year-old kids do stupid, life-altering (or endangering) things. Bristol is not the first 17-year-old child of (we hope) stable, loving people to get pregant, and she won't be the last.
Look, I'm not a fan of Sarah Palin. I disagree with most of her policies and her skimpy resume makes me really nervous. But let's stick to the issues, folks. There's no reason to dump on the woman, just because she's a . . . woman.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
A while ago -- five months ago, to be exact -- I gathered up my courage and contacted a gentleman whose profile on Dosidate I'd been admiring. Let's call him Jonathan, because that is not his name. He's my age, is a native Israeli, lives north of me, and, from various things he wrote in his profile which I won't share here to protect his identity, I could tell (as far as one can tell these things from an internet profile) that he's relatively sincere and non-game playing. He also writes really well (in Hebrew), which gives me a warm feeling inside because, you know, I'm a writer!
To keep a long story short, we ended up exchanging several emails over the course of a week or two, and the more he wrote to me, the more impressed I became with his sincerity, values, and -- be still my beating heart -- beautiful writing.
The ironic problem was that in his sincere, non-game-playing way, he told me straight out, up front -- before I kept writing to him to try to change his mind -- that there is no way he's going to date someone who lives in Jerusalem at this point in his life. Turns out that one of his parents had died just a few months before, and before the death, Jonathan had spent almost a year driving long distances to visit this parent in the hospital every single day. He was sick of driving and was hoping to meet a woman who lived closer to his city. And he didn't want a phone relationship, or to put the onus of traveling on the woman; the first situation isn't conducive to building something genuine, he feels, and the latter isn't fair to the woman.
There was no way I could argue with that. I knew better than to take it personally -- we'd never even spoken on the phone, so it's not like he was rejecting me - on the contrary, he had plenty of wonderful things to say about me -- and I believed him when he said that as soon as he feels up to doing the driving thing again, he would definitely contact me. We put our emailing on hold very amicably, with the understanding that we were mutually impressed with each other and we'd meet when the time was right.
Everything had been put on the table, I knew where I stood . . . and I proceeded to think about him every day for the next five months . . . probably because there wasn't anyone else in my dating life to think about instead. In the absence of anyone else who came remotely close to giving me any warm, fuzzy, feelings, Jonathan filled the "fantasy boyfriend" role quite nicely, indeed. It's not like I was sitting around waiting for him; I went on dates with other people, but nothing was working out.
Anyhow, because of something he'd said in an email back then, I knew that in the fall Jonathan would be starting a new phase of his career (again, details withheld to protect the innocent), so, in as non-pushy a way as I could, I recently decided to remind him that I'm alive. I sent him a breezy email wishing him luck and a meaningful month of Elul.
He wrote back almost immediately. Translation below:
"Sarah, it's so nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind wishes. Much has transpired in the months since we corresponded, and a month ago I got married (yes, it was very quick; we got married within 4 months of meeting, thank God). I really appreciate that you wrote to me, and wish you all the best. I hope that you soon find a beloved partner, who I'm sure will be a special person. Sincerely, Jonathan."
To say that I was surprised and somewhat perplexed as to the appropriate reaction would be an understatement. To say I was disappointed would be a bigger understatement. What I did was send back an email wishing him "Mazal tov and all the best." What I have been thinking ever since, what has been running through my mind on a loop, is this scene from Sixteen Candles:
I feel . . . stymied.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Heard recently at
Heard recently atthe weekly crafts fair at the Bet Adam School on Emek Refaim Street:
Friend of Chayyei Sarah: I just love looking at all this jewelry. Isn’t this gorgeous? Ooooh, look at this table over here!
CS [slightly bored]: mmmm hm. Very nice.
FOCS: Are you going to buy anything?
CS: I don’t think so. I don’t need any more new clothes or jewelry. I just did a lot of shopping when I was in the States . . . Oh! Look! The used books table! They’ve always got lots of English books! Meet me over there, OK?
--20 minutes later—
FOCS: So, did you find anything, Sarah?
CS: Yes! Look! I’ve been needing a copy of
CS: What, ew?
FOCS: Those are hard books! I like easy books.
CS: What, you mean, like, Danielle Steel?!?
FOCS: I don’t know how we are friends, Sarah.
CS: You are so
FOCS: I’m going back to the jewelry. Find me when you’re done, OK?
We both left the fair happy with our purchases: She with a beaded necklace in a trillion colors, and me with my books by Emily Bronte and Tracy Chevalier. And we’re still friends.
* A few years ago, in the now-defunct “Metropolitan Diary” section of the New York Times, was a little vignette about a woman who was moving from the
“Lady, you ain’t gonna like it on the
Appalled, she asked how he could possibly predict such a thing without knowing her.
“I move a lot of people,” the mover said. “People on the
A year later, the woman wrote, she was back on the