Please, Can Someone Tell Me Why This Keeps Happening to Me?

The joke between my brother and my kids goes something like this . . . Ellin walks into a room or into a huge railway station, or into another country and in five minutes she’s met someone she knows . . . or someone who knows someone she knows. While this is actually true, we’ve all gotten used to it. I remember that when I was still living in Connecticut, I had a series of meetings in NYC that made it necessary for me to take a  subway at Grand Central. Within the span of two weeks, while waiting for that same train, I repeatedly spotted a college roommate, with whom I had had no contact since 1974, exiting the subway car while I was pushed forward with the flow of traffic into it.  At first I thought I had mistaken her. After all, I hadn’t seen Robin Wheeler since 1974 and was quite amazed that I even remembered her name (I’m terrible at remembering anything about my years in college). By the second time, I was sure it was Robin, but could not push my way back out of the car to approach her.  But on the third try, I decided to seize the moment and forced my way back onto the platform, whereupon I called after her. Indeed, it was Robin, and we made plans to meet the following week for coffee and to catch up (that was actually much more anti-climactic than finally spotting her, unfortunately!). What were the chances of such a meeting? And why should I be so surprised?

But in the past two weeks I’ve had two very profound “coincidences” and I must admit feeling a bit unsettled.

The first of these recent encounters happened the night before Pesach began. I was in Jerusalem to meet with my dear friends, Bambe and Joel, who were in Israel to celebrate a friend’s wedding. We decided to meet on that particular day at the Kind David Hotel. After hugs and more hugs, we made our way to the Israel Museum, to spend a lazy afternoon enjoying their renowned archaeology collection. It was lunch time and we were all getting pretty hungry. We figured we’d be able to get a nice bite at the museum, but forgetting that it was the day before Pesach, we hadn’t counted on all the museum’s restaurants closing early so they could change over for the holiday. We were left to make do with a cafe hafuk (Cappuccino) and a hot pretzel—a rather interesting combination. After walking around the museum for a few hours and really regretting our failed lunch, we took off to Emek Refaim in the Germany Colony. Don’t worry, I said. There are plenty of restaurants on this street. We’ll find something. But after arriving there, we were confronted by the same story. Each restaurant had its chairs piled  atop the tables, a sure sign, even to those fuzzy with hunger, that they were closed. We marched toward an open Aroma Coffee Shop (Israel’s better answer to Starbucks) and found that it was, indeed, open. But we decided to see if we could find something a little more exciting for our much-awaited and needed luncheon. Finally, we found a bagel store, and after waiting about half an hour, then moving from one table to another (the first was too small), we finally planted ourselves down at a small, but sufficiently ample table, right next to the window. In due time the waitress came over and gave us a list of everything that wasn’t on the menu, a list that far exceeded what was. Accepting our fate, we ordered whatever we could and waited for our food to arrive.

What is her point? you ask. Precisely. The point is that I could have been anywhere in Israel on that day and that time, but I was in Jerusalem at that spot, that table, that chair that looked out the window. Who was on the other side of the window? you are now asking yourself. None other than the one person who had been on my mind for more than a week—Dr. Arthur Turetsky. Dr. T had been my puliminologist for 20 years and who had absolutely saved my life a few years ago when I had a trifecta of ailments: sepsis, pneumonia, and pleurisy.  Dr. T had been on my mind a great deal as of late. I had wanted to contact him and let him know that I was settled here, I was fine and actually thriving for the first time in more than a decade. And there he was. Staring at me, face to face at this very same time and place. At first I was stunned, but then I found myself almost overturning the table as I ran through the hungry, growing crowds who also wanted a last pre-Pesach meal, to give him a hug. Dr. T! Dr. T! I yelled. I could see that he clearly knew me, but was trying to put my face to a name. I hadn’t seen him or been in contact for almost three years and seeing me at this moment and place was completely out of context. After it was clear that he recognized me, his wife turned to me and said, “You must be the Afula lady!” My gratitude at seeing  him was immense but I must admit that seeing him was a bit of a stretch of belief, even for me. We quickly said our hellos and goodbyes, as the seats at the restaurant were precious and he was there with a large party. With a light heart, I returned to my dinner with my friends who were greatly amused by this coincidence. Joel even went back over to Dr. T as we were on our way out, thanking him for saving my life so that they could have the opportunity to get to know me. I think it was, for both of us, a gratifying piece of serendipity.

But that almost pales when I consider what happened today.

New friends in Haifa had invited me over for Shabbas luncheon to celebrate the last day of Pesach. Judy and Mike are lovely and very interesting people and I have come to really enjoy getting to know them. Rocco and I were the first to arrive, and shortly afterward, another couple arrived. We began chatting and in literally three minutes we realized we had friends in common at Kibbutz Mizra. Ok. Big deal. Not such a stretch. Israel is a small country. People are always running into someone they know or to whom they are related. But what happened next still has me reeling.

Eldad, the husband, told me that his father had written a very important book about the Jews of Bratislava. I asked what his father’s name was, and he said the last name was “ben Asher.” Oh! I said. I only know one person with that name, and he was the principal of my Hebrew School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. (The kicker is that only two days prior, my brother, Charles, and I were having a very philosophical conversation about “What’s the point?” What’s the point for those people to have made it through the Holocaust, only to be neglected and forgotten? What was their life-long struggle about? Why? We talked about how perhaps the answer didn’t lay in the present generation, but in the contributions of their children, or their grandchildren. Perhaps we weren’t meant to know, but there must be some reason, I answered. Somehow, Charles and I got on to the topic of Henry Asher.

Look at Henry Asher, I offered. Mr. Asher dedicated his lives to the children in his Hebrew school. His involvement in our lives, in running the “Junior Congregation” at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, defined our understanding of our Judaism on a level that far exceeded that of our parents. He was our Jewish educator. And educate he did, especially when it came to showing you his joy at being around all the children. Henry Asher was famous for his cheek grab and twists, the way he would grab your cheek in the crook of his fingers and give it a little zetz to let you that he loved you. You knew they were coming. They hurt a bit. And you loved him for it.

So, Charles, I said. Think about Henry Asher. He came here from Germany through England as a child. He survived. He had a purpose. He had a point to make. Look at us. It’s more than 50 years later and we’re still talking about him and his influence on our lives. Yeah, Charles answered. I guess you’re right.

And there I was. Realizing that I was having Shabbas lunch with Henry Asher’s nephew—Eldad’s father’s oldest brother.  What were the chances? And how did I react when I realized we were talking about the same person? I started to cry. I filled up instantly and couldn’t help myself. It was like a relief at being able to tell someone who’s been important in your life, yet absent for decades, just what a difference they made. The relief. The joy. The confusion. The questions . . .Why? Why?

If I wrote here about all the other convoluted encounters I’ve had, you’d cry too. From boredom. It is a constant theme in my life. If it happened only once in a while, I wouldn’t take much notice of it. But it seems to be coming in such frequency, and with such a sense of magnitude, that I can’t help but ask these questions.

So if you’ve got any insight, feel free to share. I just don’t buy the tired old dog, “It’s Israel! It’s a small country!” There has to be something more to it. I want to believe there’s something more to it.

NIMBY vs. OK-IYBY – the Movie

I spent 22 years living in Connecticut. It was a beautiful state to raise my children in with easy proximity to the coast, excellent schools, country trails, farms, and the MetroNY railroad to get you into Grand Central Station in 110 minutes. It may not have been a totally halcyon existence, but it was pretty damned nice. But the one watchword that has stuck with me is, NIMBY, an acronym for Not In My Backyard. This was a buzzword used to castigate neighborhood organizations that didn’t want the construction of a new sports field in their neighborhood (backyard) because it might bring too many cars, lawn chairs, and loud shouts of “Goal!!!!” spoiling their quiet weekend mornings. From where I sit today with the reality, not the fear of “perhaps,” but the reality of tunnels opening up into sleeping children’s bedrooms in the kibbutzim near Gaza, the construction and ballagan of a green pasture filled with happy, healthy, and safe children in my backyard sounds pretty good.

OK. So we don’t have sports NIMBY here in Israel. But we sure are feeling as if the greater world view is not one of NIMBY, but OK-IYBY, or “OK In Your BackYard.” Where is there any place on this massive globe known as Mother Earth that would be complacent to the reality of tunnels coming anywhere near their homes . . .even harmless little gofer tunnels. But for some reason, it’s OK-IYBY, or in our case, our back yard.

Maybe I should write a screen play for a new action movie starring Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, Jason Stathon, and Dwayne Johnson (a dream team of heroes). [WARNING – this will be an R-rated, action packed movie]. The team is called upon to stop a heinous, meticulously coordinated terror attack upon scores of unsuspecting communities filled with young families, farmers, and many, many children.  The plot includes the undetected construction of numerous tunnels, patiently clawed out over the past few years without benefit of backhoes, cranes, and other heavy equipment . . . but shovel by shovel, propelled by a fervent and unflagging sense of zealotry. The tunnels spread out like the myriad terrorists cells who labor away to maximize the terror of their event. Unbelievably, and as only possible in a Hollywood movie, the tunnels openings are only inches beneath the crib of a newborn, behind the stacks of rice in the local supermarket, a basement in a house of worship. We see both sides of the story play out, drawn into the tunnelers’ unremitting patience and dogged perseverance toward their cause transposed against the communities’ life in their chosen community.

Cut to a  New Year’s eve celebration, with families gathered in a festive mood and filled with hope for a good year to come.  Children laugh, mothers smile and reflect on how much they’ve grown since last year and wonder how they’ll change in the next. New couples hold hands, glad for the excuse to be with friends and family for a happy occasion.  The camera switches to the tunnelers who, at the appointed hour, and in a perfectly coordinated maneuver, smash through the last inches of dirt and wall that separates them from their targets.

The tension mounts, the music starts to vibrate with a deep base thump, thump, thump that makes your heart start to race. Then . . . silence. You hold your breath, knowing that in the next moments, something unimaginable is going to happen. You know it’s going to happen, but you can’t stop it.

In the next instant, rifle muzzles vomit endless sprays of bullets, flashes, and death. Freeze frame to the faces of the surprised families caught in the carnage and screams of their families. Children run, hide, lovers catch last glances of each other as they fall. The scene repeats itself over and over and over as scores of terrorists mow down the revelers in a carnage-laden barrage of  fire that only Hollywood can aptly capture..

But where are our heroes? In the last scene we have seen them covertly working on a counterattack based on intelligence from their underground and contacts, but lamenting their frustration over their inability to prevent each and every rampage that is now playing out across the screen. The viewer finds themselves inching forward in their seats, their mouths agape, their fists clenched in their boxes of popcorn. No! No! No! they shout.

Silence reigns once again through the theater as the viewers have a pause to digest what they have just seen on the screen. You can almost hear their hearts thumping against their chests . . .

Then some wiseguys in the balcony break the spell as they yell down to those viewers in the front line of frozen like statues in disbelief. “It’s OK guys because it’s NIMBY.  . .It’s IYBY.

———————–

 

I Went to Visit the Witch of Endor . . .

. . . but I didn’t realize it at the time. Typical Ellin.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the nearby kibbutz of Ein Dor to meet up with a ceramic artist that I know. I wanted to commission something special for a dear friend of mine and so we decided to meet at the artist’s kibbutz. I asked my friend, Ephraim, if he’d like to join me. Ephraim is also a recent oleh to Afula and we both share a penchant for exploring our new country without any real set plans. Just put a few places on a list and head out . . .and if something else captures your fancy, then just turn into a different road and explore that one.  Serendipity rarely disappoints.

The road to the kibbutz took us up north, past Mount Tabor and through some winding ways through fields of olive trees and vineyards. Part of the road was lined with tall cypresses, other parts with rows of Eucalyptus trees whose long leaf-filled branches swayed in the air, dancing with the hill-top breezes. Had the fields been just a bit greener, you could almost convince yourself that you were in Provence (minus the Eucalyptus trees). It is one of the most beautiful, pastoral vistas in Northern Israel, made more intense by the fact that this beauty just appears as you come around a bend in the road. For just a few seconds you’re free of any external concerns — there are no political, economic, or religious hot buttons. The land is just there. Pure, simple, and welcoming on a hot summer’s afternoon.

As we turned into the kibbutz, I saw a sign bearing Israel’s ubiquitous symbol for an archaeological site: a stylized face of a Roman temple with it’s pediment atop a row of fat columns. That’s all I need to get excited. A dig! A museum! We’re walking through history!

Wow! I said to Ephraim. I didn’t realize there was a tell here. “Sure,” he replied. “This is where King Saul went the night before his final, epic battle on nearby Mt. Gilboa” [where all was lost and he fell on his sword in shame and sorrow at the loss of his army and his sons to the Philistines]. He continued, “He came here to meet the witch of Ein Dor, and for her to summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. Saul, abandoned by any signs from God pleaded to know how he would fare in the next day’s battle. Samuel wasn’t too thrilled to have been pulled from his eternal rest and chastised Saul for dragging him into the realm of the living. When Saul pleaded for Samuel to tell him what the outcome of the next’s day’s battle would be, Samuel retorted, ‘I will not meet with you, but you will meet with me!’ “

There it was. The moment where I realized the connection between Ein Dor and Endor. The Witch of Endor. “Really?” I shouted at myself, more in annoyance at my own delayed ability to make the connection rather than the realization of the connection itself. The Witch of Endor! For some reason, I had thought she was a fiction of Old English tales, that she dwelt in a dark, enchanted forest in an ancient England lost in time and necromancy. Or was she Roman, living in a small temple high atop an inaccessible mountain, sniffing noxious, psychotropic gases emitted from a crack in the precipice’s rock face? But legend puts her here in the Jezreel Valley, only 15 minutes away from my home? Couldn’t be.

And how had I not made the connection between Ein Dor and Endor. Much like Beit Lechem and Bethlehem (the “House of Bread,” or area where grew fields of grain, life’s sustenance), there it was . . . just waiting for me to put the two halves together and wait for that glorious, “ah HA!” feeling. To be honest, that’s one of the best things about getting lost in Israel. You never know when you’ll run smack into the bridge between past and present.

As for visiting the Witch herself, they say that if you walk around the fields, you just might find her. So I’ll have to return again and visit the tell. Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I just might run into her. The problem is, I  have no idea what to ask her. I’m not so sure I’d like someone to tell me my future. I’m having too much fun discovering it for myself.

Moments to reflect

At 8:00 pm last night I found myself standing stock still, along with a hundred other people on the grassy slope outside the hadar ochel (dining hall) at Kibbutz Mizra. The siren that heralds the beginning of Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) began its minute-long wail heard all across the country. Every town and village is equipped with the warning siren, used in past years to alert the residents to take cover. Last night, it was to alert everyone to stop.  Everything. Everything froze. If you were driving on the road, you would have stopped you car and gotten out. If you were in the middle of a conversation, you would have just stopped mid sentence. There were no sounds at all. No cars, radios, conversation. Even the ubiquitous and always annoying telephone, WhatsApp, and texting notifications  and rings were strangely silent. A country the size of the state of New Jersey entered into a country-wide moment of silence (with a different meaning for those who are Jewish as opposed to those who are not). I tried to imagine New Jersey standing still for a moment. Just a moment. A moment composed of sixty long seconds, where the entire country stands still in remembrance of those who have fallen. Those sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandchildren, friends, all of whom have been lost in the wars, intifadas, and terrorist attacks of this country.  As the siren began to wind down and fade, I could hear those in the neighboring areas likewise lose their wail, a diminishing sequence like a cry that echoed from soul to soul to soul.

I had two distinct thoughts as I looked around—one, that every person over the age of 17 who stood there on the green, grateful for its cool night air after our first day of 95 degree heat, had probably served in the army. Or at least, someone in their immediate family. Young men and women who had just finished their army tour stood with their arms wrapped around their loved ones. Old people stood, lost in thought of those they had lost during the earlier days of this country, their own experiences, or the wonder of what was and what now is. This thought was like an awakening for me. I don’t think I had ever been in a situation such as this. After taking this in, my thoughts naturally morphed into a comparison with my own memories of Memorial Day celebrations in the US: Parades with floats with men wearing silly fez hats as they sat with their bodies crammed  into absurd little cars that scooted around each other as they took their place in the lineup of many such inanities of a Memorial Day parade. Little boys who march as cub or boy scouts. High school bands wearing garish, itchy, woolen uniforms and painful white bucks as they played some Sousa march and looked for welcome landmarks that would tell them how closer they were to finishing this agony. Of course, some soldiers who fought in previous wars either marched or  sat in slow moving cars to wave at the (rarely) applauding crowds. Even though they should be the focus of the day, they always seemed like interlopers into the holiday festivities.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of all the much-advertised sales in every single store (showing their pride to be Americans). And finally, let’s not forget the  BBQs. Memorial Day marks the official opening day of summer and the due date by which you had to have your beach parking pass. I cringe even thinking about the chasm between the two celebrations. But truth to tell, even as a child I felt something was wrong, misplaced. Either that, or the day was misnamed. Perhaps the biggest difference is really in semantics. Is it a celebration or a commemoration?

We leave the ceremony, brief, yet touching, after the singing of the Hatikvah. Sung quietly and gently, like a lullaby perhaps  for those who sleep a different sleep than the living. I look through the crowd to a permanent memorial constructed on the kibbutz that commemorates those from the kibbutz family who had fallen, to a young man and woman dressed in white T-shirts and blue jeans, standing at full attention as they flank the tall memorial flame. They will be relieved by others guards at hourly shifts, all throughout the night and the next day, in a personal and almost intimate gesture of understanding and respect.

The crowd moves silently into the chadar ochel, not to eat, but to stop and gaze thoughtfully at the photographs of all the members of the kibbutz who have been lost. And then we enter the beautiful little theater to watch a short documentary, brilliantly conceived and executed,  that has family and friends retell the stories of those who have been lost. Not in a maudlin way, but in a matter of fact, sometimes tearful, retelling. I see many of the people from the documentary sitting in the audience. This makes it much more personal. I’m beginning to know these people. I’m beginning to realize what they’ve encountered in their lives. I’m moving deeper into my understanding of the sacrifices that people before me, whether young like my children, or older like myself, have made so that I can have this second chance at life here in Israel. It puts me in my place, reminds me that my own sacrifices, those that sapped me of my strength years before, are not in the same league as those made by the people sitting around me. It reinforces priorities. It’s a mental triage.

The ceremony ends with a loving song performed by two members of the kibbutz. A gift of music to soften the reality, ever so slightly.

I return home and light a yahrzeit candle as I look out in the darkness of my apartment. The lights on the horizon are those of Mt. Gilboa, where King Saul had his final battle with the Philistines and where David wept at the loss of friends, and in the distance, those of Jenin. I think of Israel’s ancient past and immediate future, and of my new life here in Israel.

Oddly, I don’t feel as if I’m a stranger here, just someone who has a great deal of learning and understanding ahead of me.

Rocco’s Scared of Ghosts (and other updates)

It’s a bit hard to concentrate right now because I’ve got this big, black, curly-haired dog camped out on my feet. Well actually, he’s shivering on my feet. It’s a blustery day outside, which means that there’s a breeze in the apartment and the doors creak and slam if I don’t shut them properly. And obviously Rocco doesn’t like that one bit. His usual gentle paw upon my arm has grown ursine, as he almost drags me down to his level with each pleading attempt to stop the scary noises. “It’s only the wind, silly,” I tell him. That does little to reassure him that all is OK. I’m sure he’ll be fine soon.

 

Rocco and a St. Patrick's Day hangover (that was his Purim costume!).

Rocco and a St. Patrick’s Day hangover (that was his Purim costume!).

So, OK. You can say it. “Where the hell have you been, Ellin?” Well, frankly, I’ve been right here. Except after almost two years, I suppose everything new doesn’t seem so remarkable anymore. Not that I don’t still love it here, but I’ve grown rather used to things and therefore don’t “remark” about them. But here’s a cute one — Today, on my walk with Rocco I passed four strong, healthy guys all decked out in rock climbing gear. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing standing around the Bank Hapoalim building (4 stories tall). But then I looked up, saw the ropes, and down, saw the pail and squeegees, and it all became clear. They were there to wash the outside windows. But of course! We have so many well-trained athletes in Israel, we might as well put them to good use. And who said you can’t have fun cleaning for Pesach?

Speaking of Pesach, I hope you are all well and for those who do celebrate that you are not totally exhausted from the Pesach preparations. Here in Israel, all the windows shine, old couches and mattresses have been tossed outside for the garbage collectors, and the rubbish bins are filled to capacity with cardboard boxes from new sets of dishes and pots and pans. The restaurants will soon close for an overnight metamorphosis into “Kosher for Passover” (even the bakeries and coffee shops!). Big heaps of bread are dumped outside, giving “manna from Heaven” a different meaning for all the feral cats and dogs in the area, of which there are many.

But for those of us at 47/14 Rehov Gilboa in Afula (where I live), things are all good. Want an update? Sure! Why not:

– Zoe has now cut her hair rather short and is beyond gorgeous. I’ve heard people stop her on the street to tell her so. I’m not surprised one bit! She’s presently working in a Five-Star Hotel in J’lem as the receptionist. She works full days (odd hours) and 6 days a week. She also found herself a great apartment share until the Fall, at which time she will either be going into the Army or beginning her school studies. Still not sure which, but she has gone for her first army call-up. I would like to add, however, that Zoe did all her training and apartment search in Hebrew. Wish everyone in Ezra Academy could see her now!!! I can’t even keep up with her when she speaks . . . its so quick, fluent, and I understand her accent is dead-on. She’s doing fabulously and I’m beyond proud of her accomplishments. As my mother used to say to me, “The sky’s the limit, kiddo!”

I know you can't see the short hair, but the smile says it all.

I know you can’t see the short hair, but the smile says it all.

Max is about to graduate (I know that this isn’t directly Israel-related, but since it relates to me and I’m in Israel, it’s fair game.). Yankee Stadium is the venue and I’m very excited. I’ll be there! Just as soon as I can find a cheap flight (and maybe one that will let me stop in Paris for a few days????). Max is working really hard at his music and will have a recital in early May that I will miss. But the Max Yassky Fan Club will be there to support him. Max, I know you’re reading this— You’re amazing, brilliant, and strong. I know I’ll hear great reports of your music and could hear it myself if you’d only fix your G-D SKYPE and turn it on during the 45-minute recital! Bam! How’s that for Jew Guilt sent all the way from your Jewish Mama in Israel? But I LLLLLOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEEEE you!!!

Back in Afulaland, things are good. Shlomo, my boss, and one of the 36 tzadiks on Earth, will be stepping down from the Emunah Center this summer. He’ll still be working with the Emunah Center, but with Emunah as one of his clients, when he steps out on his own and opens his own fundraising company. I’m excited for this opportunity for him and so grateful that I’ll still be able to work with him, because finding something to laugh about with him each day, plus his incredible insight into how to handle new challenges, is something I greatly look forward to and cherish. But, that means there will still be some changes for me, and hopefully I’ll find this new challenge as something new to embrace and grow from. (That’s shorthand for getting my rear in gear and ramping up my Hebrew!).

This is my next big challenge! Memorizing this chart and learning where and when to use them!

This is my next big challenge! Memorizing this chart and learning where and when to use these words!

 

Otherwise, life is good. I participated with some friends in a 13 K walk in the Gilboa the other day. I make it more like 14K, since you had to walk to and from your car somewhere out in the fields. Frankly, that last 1/2 K was the hardest part. But I did it! Ta da!!!!! And now I’m leaving my car at home and walking to work everyday. I’ll do that as long as the incoming heat doesn’t reduce either me or Rocco to a puddle. I’m even thinking about joining the “country club,” which is what they they call the town gym. In all sincerity, even within the confines of Fairfield County, I don’t think there’s something as updated, big, and beautiful!!! So for about NIS2200 a year, I can swim in one of the 2 pools, work out, take classes, and do something with my evenings, rather than plop on the couch with Rocco and flip through the TV’s channels. It would be good for me.

 

How's THAT for a view! And it's only 10 minutes from my home!

How’s THAT for a view! And it’s only 10 minutes from my home!

I have also been spending time with new family that I didn’t know I had here (Yassky side). Iris and Benny have become good friends and I love being with them, their children, and David, the new grandson, who is BEYOND gorgeous!  Next Thursday I’m going to Tel Aviv to meet with Kobi Yasky, the son of Avraham Yaski (note the intended different spellings of the name), who was the architect of the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv. Leave it to cousin Evan Yassky to reach out to Kobi after learning of Avraham’s passing . . . so now I get to meet Kobi and his aunt (Avraham’s sister) next Thursday. I’m very excited.

And finally, as for Pesach, I want to wish you all much happiness and hope that you’ll all be surrounded by loved ones and copious amounts of delicious and traditional food. For those of you who often graced my Seder tables, I do miss making 60 matzah balls in advance, giggling through the storm of mini-marshmallows that we’d whip at each other when we’d read the “Hail” portion of the 10 plagues, and the giggles that would come from 4 cups of wine. Although truth to tell, I was always gone by the end of the 1st cup —a cheap drunk for sure!. Does anyone remember about 11 years ago when Rocco ate the entire 10-pound brisket that I had prepared for Seder? That was the night when you only got chicken, instead of chicken AND beef.  I just can’t look at brisket without laughing.

I’ll be spending Seder this year at Kibbutz Mizra, one of the most beautiful kibbutzes up North, which specializes in processing pork. The irony is NOT lost on me. I am looking forward to spending it with my new and dear friends here. And did you realize that Israelis laugh when they learn that we do two Seders and basically have an extra day of Pesach? They think that’s the most ridiculous thing they’ve every heard of.

I’m sorry for the long lapse in writing and hope you’ll forgive me. I’m hoping that I’ll jump back in to sending out my missives. I’m still happy here, I still miss my family back in the US and my dear friends, but this is a good place for me. Come visit! Come share!

 

Much love, and have a Ziessen Pesach!!

 

Ellin (and, of course, Rocco.

KG Reports: “I guess some people are just lazy!”

Yup. You heard it here first. Ellin is lazy. I’ve been telling her to get off her butt and write something because she might lose her fan base. And do you know what she said?  She said, “I can’t believe anyone is still really interested in what’s happening here. I mean, I’ve been through every ‘first,’ so what’s the big deal?” Really? I thought she was so much more clever than that.

And then it happened. Ellin had some “action” last week and learned how to navigate the Israeli health system on a more personal level. . .  At least when it comes to learning the ins and outs of the local hospital’s ER. Now don’t go getting your knickers in a twist. Everything’s cool and she told me that it was actually a rather interesting experience.

Really no biggie, but it turned out that a virus kind of lodged itself into her breathing and she thought (and her doc) thought it was pneumonia. But of course, it was really wasn’t anything like that . . . just some “Israeliasthma” is what I think she called it. Not sure what that means., though.  What could it mean?  It was loud? Hmmm. Maybe. She was sounding like a Great Dane rather than a Schnoodle or a YappyTerrior. Insistent? Well, that could be. It didn’t seem to let up for a minute. Heavy-handed? Well, she said it did feel like a one-ton gorilla had taken up residence on her chest, and we can assume their mitts are pretty heavy. In the end, I’m not sure what she meant. Could it be something as simple as her body finally getting acclimated to all the new pollens and spores that are endlessly spewed from the fields across from her house as they combine with the winter’s rain and coat everything in a brown, earthy film?  JillfromJerusalem told me that it seems to take new Olim about a year until new allergies and irritants strike them and that would be just about right as far as timing. You think that actually makes sense? Naaaahhhhhhh. Neither do I.

Anyway, from what I could sniff out after her adventure, Zoe and Ellin went to Ellin’s doctor (who has the most adorable, little weinerdogpuppy). Dr. Kazur decided Ellin was a nut for even driving to the office and called for an ambulance to take her to the ER. That kind of pissed off Ellin, who kept insisting between wild gasps for air that she was perfectly fine to drive herself. No surprise that the doctor prevailed and, according to Ellin, the two cutest guys from MagenDavidAdom came and put her on a stretcher that sat up like a chair. Her momentary enjoyment was cut short, however, when the stretcher failed to fit into the elevator if both of the medics tried to accompany her. Good thing that Ellin’s claustrophobia didn’t kick in or she would have pushed the “down” button, jumped out, and made her way down the stairs to meet the stretcher on the main floor. It is a testament to how doggone crappy she must have felt that she didn’t even blink. Eventually they got her to the ER and the rest of the day went as follows (or so I’ve been told) . . . . intravenous, cute male nurse. Tylenol. Another cute male nurse. Ride to the X ray room (accompanied by a  really cute male radiography nurse), a few more pills,  being the subject of the afternoon’s rounds (where Ellin met one of her former Russian/Hebrew Ulpan mates!), visits by several very cute doctors, an inhalation therapy (she doesn’t remember who gave that one to her) followed by a prompt discharge after 4 hours. Caveat emptor: You do not get a ride out of the hospital in a wheelchair in Israel. Once you sign the papers it’s up to you to find your way outta there!

Later that day, as I snuggled next to Ellin (she smelled like the Vet’s office, so I simply used my poodle noodle to extrapolate where she had been), I gazed at her with those endless ebony pools of mush, aka known as my eyeballs, and asked her what it was like. She said, without hesitation, that the hospital has the cutest male nurses  (sense a pattern????) and that it made no difference to anyone if the patients, doctors, nurses, visitors, etc. were Israeli Jews, Arabs, Christians, or whatevers. The ER is just a great equalizer. Her biggest comment, however, was on how amazing Zoe was. Zoe translated and advocated for her, rubbed her back, and made sure she had enough to drink. A little role reversal, I believe.

Meanwhile, back at the poodlepad, not having any idea what was going on, but rather perplexed, perturbed, and pissed that I was so unceremoniously left alone all day, I decided to redocorate. When stuck for ideas, I find that turning to the garbage bag for inspiration  makes for excellent decorating ideas. So, to better make use of the copious time I had alone in the apartment, I decided to try my hand at imitating Jackson Pollock. You can only imagine Ellin and Zoe’s delight at my creativeness upon their return home. As for the artistic merit of my work, Ellin says the jury is still out.

Guess you just can’t please some people.

Happy Tu B’Shvat (Happy birthday to the trees!).

 

KG Out.

Aren't I regal?

Aren’t I regal?

 

The Sleep of the Innocent

Before, when I was just an American Citizen (rather than someone with dual citizenship), people would ask me what my thoughts were on Israeli politics, the legitimacy of the settlements, tensions between Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, and Jewish Israelis. My answer was always the same: “I don’t live there. How could I possibly make a statement about what’s right or wrong?” So now I’m here for a year and a half. And if you asked me the same question I’d give you the same answer, but with different reasons. Now that I’m here, I feel as if I understand even less about what goes on. Because I now know that I need to understand the history, the psychology, the culture—and mixtures of cultures. It will take some time until I feel that I know enough to even take a stab at answering that question.

But there’s one thing I am certain of. And that’s last week’s murder of Eden Atias, the 19-year-old soldier who was brutally stabbed as he dozed on the bus in the Afula bus station, is a tragedy beyond understanding.

Eden Atias, a 19-year-old soldier, was brutally stabbed by his seat-mate last week.

Eden Atias, a 19-year-old soldier, was brutally stabbed by his seat-mate last week.

Eden is (I suppose I must now say, “was”)  the same age as my daughter, who will be drafted for the army in a few months. And that, most unfortunately, makes this savagery even more personal. Look at this child’s face. He is so young. What was his crime? He was taking a nap on the bus, having succumbed to the exhaustion of the rigors of his first two weeks in basic training.  He was just at the beginning of everything.

There was an excellent editorial about this in today’s The Times of Israel. I recommend that you read what David Horovitz, the author, has to say. It’s not about knee-jerk reactions. It’s not about hyperbole. It’s about a global lack of understanding of tangential, yet oh-so-vital understandings of what fuels and fills the minds of youth in today’s Middle East.  http://bit.ly/17dsM4H

I can’t get the face of Eden’s mother out of my mind. I don’t even know what she looks like, although I’ve seen photos of the grieving family. I can’t make out who is mother, grandmother, friend. Does it matter?

How could anyone think that you can drive home a positive, political point by murdering an innocent youth while he/she dozed in the next seat? What could it possible prove? What could it change, except the lives of scores of people on both sides of this travesty.

There have been many, many tragedies in this country. And I must pause to consider that this event went not just to the top of the News at 6, but was remarked upon by the country’s prime minister. I don’t see that happening in any other country. Forgive me for quoting Stalin, who said, When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it’s statistics.

I just don’t understand. And I hope I never will.

KG: Love is in the Air!!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on my Afulian antics. But that’s been because I’ve just been so doggone busy! And yes, I’ll come out with it— I’m in love! Eeyore Gershberg, I’m still in love with you as well, so don’t go howling at the moon or anything. It’s just that you’re so far away, and I’ve been pining for someone else to play with. So I’d like to introduce you to my new love, Snoopy.

"Ebony and Ivory." Don't we make beautiful music together???

“Ebony and Ivory.” Don’t we make beautiful music together???

Snoopy came to the Emunah Center as an abandoned mess, full of flees and underfed, yet full of the joie de vivre that makes him just so lovable. He’s got spunk and energy, and although when we first met he was too afraid of me to play (I must have seemed like a giant to him), he is now about 5 months old and big enough to give what he gets in terms of doggie play, and it’s just fabulous. We spend hours chase each others’ tails (as opposed to our own) and create little circular ditches as a result of our actions! But I must admit that sometime I get dizzy and need to paws a few seconds to catch my breath.

Every day when I come to the Center, I try to pull Ellin over toward the petting zoo where Snoopy lives. Sometime it’s really difficult for us, because if the door to the zoo is closed because a kid is having a therapy session, Snoopy and I can only nuzzle together in the one small spot where the bamboo gate is open a little. But nothing stops us from getting in some good sniffs and licks. Oh, what delight to finally be able to romp, bite, sniff, and roll after almost a year and a half of being tethered to Ellin via my now raggedy red leash. This is just heaven on earth for me (and Snoopy!).

That’s not to say that I haven’t been having fun with other friends here. I’m also in love with Lilly, the Russian music teacher here at Emunah. She’s a real looker and speaks to me with that incredible Russian accent that I’d do anything for her.

A "touching" moment between Lilly and me.

A “touching” moment between Lilly and me.

I’m also not beneath having fun with some of the girls here as well and occasionally get pretty silly with them.

Oh . . . . . the things I have to do for these kids!!!

Oh . . . . . the things I have to do for these kids!!!

But I must admit that after a full day of Snoopy, Lilly, Stav, and Hodaya, I’m a little bleary-eyed.

Think I should audition for a spot on the "Walking Dead" show?

Think I should audition for a spot on the “Walking Dead” show?

But it’s worth it. At the end of the day, I’m a happy pup. Lots of love, sniffs, and love bites. I feel like a new dog!!!

Now I’ve got to convince Ellin to get out there and have some fun. Maybe she should hang out with the rest of us animals at the petting zoo.  I saw Iggy the big green iguana giving her the look the other day. Who knows what could happen???

This is KG, signing off. Until next time,

Rocco signature

 

 

. . . But Who’s Counting?

I’ve just returned from walking Rocco and realized that in about the 18 minute walk, just as many jets flew overhead leaving from Nir Dawid, the nearby airbase (halfway between where I live and the kibbutz where Zoe is).  But who’s counting? What’s so interesting, or a bit jarring, actually, is that it’s 9:30 in the evening. There’s not an exceptionally  bright moon and only a few stars managing to break the dark evening haze. As we walked, I could hear and then feel the trembling sound and  fading whistle of the jet engines, amplified in the still, night air. The are unmistakably heading east, and if you know your geography of the Middle East, you can posit any number of scenarios as to where their destinations are.

There go another two, seemingly right above my apartment.

The situation was the same last night, except I was too engrossed in watching re-runs of American Horror Story Asylum as I lay in bed with my computer propped up on my lap. I’ve always enjoyed a good horror movie (not the “slash-and-gore” variety, but something that gives me a good start), like the monster that you know just has to be lurking around the corner as you shout at the movie’s protagonist, “Don’t go down that dark hall way! Don’t go! You just gotta KNOW there’s a monster there!”

Oops! There go another two.

As these planes fly overhead, I look up to see if I can figure out just where they are. There are always far past me by the time I can find the plane’s blinking red tail lights. But as the flight path is pretty much the same, I can spot them when they’re already past me. I can barely make out the outline of the plane (during the day these “training exercises” as they have been called in the newspapers were also active, just not as active as they seem to be in the night sky). I  look up at the plane. And I imagine the face of the young pilot, sitting in his flight suit and helmet, calmly, with practiced assurance of his duty, speaking into his helmet’s microphone, making course corrections or following orders for the set of scenarios that necessitate today’s practice. In my mind’s eye I see the handsome, intelligent, young pilot, his cockiness put on hold while he focuses all his energy and attention to his role in the tiny cockpit of his plane. His build is slight and lean. Hair cropped closely to his head, his sharp eyes and chiseled face look even more handsome as they are set off by his regulation uniform. Yet he is a kid, flying a million dollar gadget, replete with dials, switches, buttons, levers, and colorful computer screens. He’s been playing computer games on his laptop or smart phone since he was old enough to hold them. He is so used to holding a joy stick that his thumbs seem to move even before his brain tells them what do to. Who knows how this feels to him? Like when he would play a war game with his friends, only a little bouncier?

Another two.

I picture his mother, also looking up at the night sky. I can even picture her face. Passive, yet a certain tightness around her eyes and mouth. Wondering if her son is in one of those planes. Keeping her emotions, the tangle of pride, fear, resignation, and faith playing out their own tug of war within her mind. Does she read the myriad of newspapers on-line every day trying to forecast the future or does she avoid the temptation?

And what am I feeling right now? It’s been more than a year since I’ve made Aliyah. For the first few months, every time there were fireworks in the sky, the culmination of a wedding celebration, I would jump, trying to hide my embarrassment as I looked at the faces of everyone else in the room or on the street who seemed totally unphased by the noise. Now I don’t jump. I don’t make up scenarios in my head. I know they are just the sounds of celebration. And I realize that if there were a God-forbid I would have heard the Iron Dome warning sirens first. But they are absent. No sirens. No worries. Just drills.

And another two.

Like today at the Center. At 4:30 p.m. we had a drill on campus. A young man with a megaphone and a button that, when pressed, emitted a piercing siren, alerting the kids to head to the shelters. They were told about the drill in advance and by 4:30 they were all gathered near the doors of the various shelters. Of course 4:30 was scheduled on purpose. It was just when afternoon prayers were over, allowing the boys to finish,  put away their prayer books, and walk out of our little schul, laughing and joking as they headed off toward the doors of the shelters. In an instant, I was back in Roosevelt Grammar School on Hopper Avenue in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I was eight years old and standing in my little dress with its starched crinoline and big bow tied neatly in the back as I quietly walked outside to the clang, clang, clang of the fire bell, a drill that surprised no one. It was, after all, a beautiful day outside. No principal ever scheduled a fire drill on a rainy day. It occurred to me that the faces on the children today were the same as those of my classmates 49 years ago. Boredom at yet another “safety” drill, yet a hint of pleasure in having their daily routine put on hold for a few minutes.

Another one. Followed by its mate.

I wish to God that I didn’t think of Janusz Korszak every time a plane flew over head. Korszak, the Polish  pediatrician and educator who ran a small orphanage in Warsaw during the Shoah, and who refused to be parted from the 196 children in his charge when they were shipped off execution at Treblinka. I don’t have a pessimist’s mentality. I’m not frightened. I don’t think the worst will happen, although somewhere, locked in my gut is the knowledge that eventually something will happen. But it will not be doomsday. It will just be shared by every person who walks around this tiny country with their Teudat Zehut (identification card) tucked in their pocket.  Every mother living here, whether Jew, Arab, Christian, or Druze, will be a “Jewish mother” and worry for the safety of their child and family. We would all have to step into the nearest shelter and everyone would just be “people” caught in the jagged results of fanatics and their plots to bring anyone not like themselves to heel.

Ah. Quiet. No more rumblings except for the sound of the planes returning from the east back to the tarmac of Nir Dawid. To cool down, get their bolts checked, and their tanks refueled. Ready for the next “training” mission so that, should the drill become a reality, the mental, psychological, and physical repetition will drive the body to its height of concentration and efficiency.

Yup. I think it’s time for me to return to thrills and chills of American Horror Story. There’s nothing like a good scare to make you glad to be alive.

An American in Afula—I Wish You Could Have Been There.

Yesterday I spent 2 1/2 hours in the waiting room of an ENT (that’s the doctor who specializes in problems of the ear, nose, and throat —not the ancient, forest-dwelling walking tree that lives in Tolkien’s Middle Earth). That in and of itself was interesting, because I’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for an appointment at the doctor’s office. Usually you make an appointment, go to the office, check that your name is on the list outside the doctor’s door, ask who has the appointment 15 minutes before yours (so you can spot them when they walk into the doctor’s office) and then wait for them to exit so you can pounce at the door before someone tries to cut in front of you.). I suppose I had to wait so long because he was a specialist and regular appointments weren’t available until more than a month from now. I’ve been dealing with the flu and sinusitis for over a month now, and finally my regular doctor agreed it was time to see someone else (3 doses of antibiotics and I’m still sick).

But that’s not the point. The point is that during the 2 1/2 hours, I had the opportunity to have several discussions with many different people who came and went while I waited. Those 2 1/2 hours represented a microcosm of Israeli society, and I wish I could have filmed and shared them with you. But this blog is the best I can do.

I had conversations with the woman who spoke Russian (but she spoke Hebrew to me). She asked if I was the English teacher with the big black dog. I guess I have a bit of a reputation here in Afula. She and I had the same appointment (6:30). I had been there since 5:30 in case there were any earlier openings. No such luck. Anyway, we had a lovely conversation, that was soon joined by the Hebrew-speaking Parisian who was sitting across from me. He was sitting in between an old Arab gentleman (who I had seen earlier at my primary care physician’s office) and another Arab couple with 3 little boys. A handsome Ethiopian man, who turned out to be a policeman in Afula, completed the group.

Of course, the ever-present question: “What made you leave the US and come to Afula,” is the first on the list. More interesting questions ensue. Isn’t life better in the US? What do you think of Obama? Is he good? Is he better than Bush? Obama doesn’t want war, right? It’s cheaper to live in the US, isn’t it? Are you happier here in Israel? Did you come alone? Where do you work? Do they pay you?  (I love this last question.) But perhaps the best question came from the mother of the 3 little boys. When we discussed that the economy in the US is having trouble now, she asked, wisely, “What does the US give so much money to other countries when there are still problems with its own people?” I had to think before I answered that. Not just because of the lack of sufficient words. But because I needed to find the right answer in my head first. I could only think to answer that the situation is like a scale that is trying to find its balance. But try saying that with limited Hebrew! I attempted to mime a scale with my hands as I spoke. If you would have tied my hands during this conversation, it would have been totally impossible to communicate, regardless of how many languages we were all trying to use.

What I want to stress is that it wasn’t just the atmosphere in the waiting room. It was the sense of community. The Russian woman was religious, as was the elder Arab man and the wife of the three little boys. The rest were secular.  We cobbled together words in French, Hebrew, Russian (and sometimes the Arabs talked within themselves to see if they could come up with the word in Hebrew, then translate to English), and other than the fact that it was such a long wait, I rather enjoyed the conversations. All that was missing was some tea and cookies.

This is really what goes on in Israel. At least in Afula and the area around it. It’s just daily life. It’s mothers and fathers being indulgent with their kids while they make too much noise in a crowded waiting room. It’s letting you kids lay on the dirty floor and pile upon each other, occasionally coming to me and grabbing my foot to see if I’d smile at them. It’s being hot so you turn on the A/C and then having another come in and shiver from the cold so you shut it off and swelter for a few minutes before someone gets up and begins the routine all over again. Within that 5 x 8-foot space, crowded with chairs and mangled newspapers, posters of smiling white-haired, European-looking male doctors reminding you to get your free flu shot, that a slice of Israeli life was acted out. And it was probably one of the most interesting 2 1/2 hours I’ve spent in quite a while.

Oh, and the doctor? Dr. Mushkovitz (how’s that for a name?)” He tried to create an atmosphere of calm in his over-crowded little office—a big candle burning in the corner, classical music playing on his CD player, and a warm smile and strong handshake at the ready. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow again as we Xray and delve into the space (or lack of) that defines my sinuses and is most probably the cause of a month-long distress. If I may borrow from Gene Rodenberry, I hope that this will be the “final frontier” and we will discover which alien community is wrecking havoc. At its conclusion, I hope to “boldly go” back to my lovely, quiet life here in Afula, where people get along together, regardless, or in spite of, their obvious differences.

Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of my mom’s chicken soup and kneidlach, regardless of the fact that I’m a vegetarian. That’s really the medicine I crave.