Endings and Beginnings

This has been quite a week and as the title of this entry infers, I have witnessed some  note-worthy endings and new beginnings. The first involved me in something that I thought I was prepared for—a funeral. The latter marked the beginning of the new school year in Israel with a few very sweet notes.

At this point I must tell you that I have just finished writing about the vast and unexpected differences between any Asheknazic funeral that I had previously attended and this one (Sephardic). I described the rather surprising procedures and rituals that reminded me that I am still an alien here in Israel, even if I have proof of citizenship. But then I deleted the description. All of it. I don’t think I would want someone to describe my mother’s funeral with a sense of detachment or as an intellectual/religious curiosity. This family had just come all the way from the United States to bury their mother. Not some place nearby where they could come before the high holidays to pay respects or to just visit on a day when they felt the need to be close to her. They were fulfilling their mother’s wish to be buried in Israel. I will tell you that this same family made the exact same trip here just two months ago to bury their younger sister. I will tell you that the entire experience will stay with me for a very long time, as I think about the endless singular, private stories that occur all over this big blue orb even as I write these words. We sometime forget that all the unnamed and uncounted beings out there are just as involved in their own lives as we are in ours.

On to Beginnings.

A new school year began in Israel this week. It was preceded in the very same way that I have always been aware of—children getting new school clothes (hopefully), backpacks, empty notebooks filled with nothing but the promise of the knowledge to come; new shoes, and worries about who their classmates will be, if they’ll like their teachers, and a host of other scenarios that are comfortably familiar to us. I watched as the religious girls walked to school in their black skirts, stockings, sensible shoes, and long-sleeved T-shirts (it actually has gotten a bit cooler here—now in the 80’s rather than 90’s at night) as they filed into their school buildings. The boys dressed sensibly and respectfully as well, but walked into a different school. Secular kids wore skin-tight jeans and tank tops and anything BUT sensible schools. Style über alles. But you want to know something sweet? I love the sound of the school bells. No anxiety-provoking ringing as a metal hammer trills against a metal bell, signaling to  the kids that they’d better book it to the next class lest they be late. No feeling that you had just heard the starting bell at The Preakness. Nope. This is more like the sweet, electronic sound that the ice cream truck makes as it winds its way through your neighborhood on a long, lazy summer day. And the song? A combination of some old French children’s song, and then . . . “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.”
When you figure that one out,  tell me.
An now, just to give you a treat, here are two photos taken this morning at the local shuk. The fellow on the left is holding bunches of dates that have just been chopped down from the date palms. Someone told me today that these are female dates, as opposed to those that are dried and that we eat. Not sure. Don’t quote me on this.

The Afula shuk and fresh (“raw”) dates for sale.

And the  photo  on the right shows  you one of the many fruit and vegetable vendors there. Monday and Thursday mornings, you’ll find me at the shuk, buying way too much food (I still think I’m cooking for a family), and finding myself getting lost in the variety of colors, smells, shapes, and sizes.

Theme and variation.

And those are just the people.

It’s Good to Sing on Shabbas

I believe I’ve mentioned in past postings that Shabbas is different here. Well, of course. That makes sense and is rather intuitive. But I don’t think I was prepared for how pervasive the difference is.  Back in Fairfield, Shabbas meant lighting candles with friends and family, having a special meal, and going to schul on Friday night or Saturday morning.  Shabbas felt different to me, but always a bit foreign. I went through all the steps, even trying to keep the amount of work load down on Saturday and taking a nap without any guilt attached to it.   I loved singing the prayers and psalms and in the last few years,I’ve really tried to think about the English translations and try to put them in context of Judaism, history, and what it took for them to have become incorporated into the international liturgy of the 21st century.

I’ve been here almost two months. I’ve spent Shabbas at the Emunah Center, at my own home with new and old friends, and last night and this afternoon with new friends who live on the first floor of my apartment building.  It was the most unexpected Shabbas, and probably one that will remain in the forefront of those new experiences that will take me a while for me to decipher.
There is a very warm and lovely couple who just moved into an apartment on the first floor (to us, it’s really the 2nd floor, but here you start counting one up from the ground floor). I was invited to come for “Kiddush,” To me, that always meant the prayer over the wine on Friday nights or the meal after schul on Saturday, but obviously it means coming for the Shabbas meal. I arrived at about 7:30 and saw that the Shabbas candles had already been lit. There was an entire tray filled with them, even though we were just five people. They represented both Eva and Chaim’s family, their grandparents, a few specific Sephardi Rabbis (Eva’s heritage is Tunisian), and a host of other relations that I just couldn’t follow.  The table was set and prayers began. Water was added to the wine used for the blessings (I’m sure someone will explain that to me), hands were washed (with the blessing), two challahs were blessed, delicious food was eaten, and then the singing began.

I’m not sure how to explain it, but it was  singing that was filled with such joy, such basic, unbridled, sincere and delightful joy. Watching Eva and her sister singing with their eyes closed, bearing huge smiles as they sang the words and added their rhythmic beat by banging on the table, clapping, and raising their hands and moving them front to back. Their hands danced. They harmonized with each other the way sisters do when they have sung together their entire lives.  I realize I’m failing miserably to explain why this seemed so different. It’s just that no matter how long I will live here, how much I share and enjoy different Shabbats with friends and family, how much I will come to love the theme and variation of these special hours, I doubt I will ever be able to own it with the same joy, understanding, comfort, or lack of artifice. I don’t mean to say that I felt less Jewish than my hosts. In fact, when I was actually able to join them in some of the songs, they were thrilled, and I edged into a deeper level of comfort with myself and my own embrace of the evening.  But the only way I can explain it is this: You see someone else’s child after a long separation— you reach out and give them a hug and tell them just how terrific it is to see them again. Then you have the same experience but this time not with someone else’s children. With your own. Your grip is stronger. Your heart races more. You feel the love in a deeper, more atavistic way. There is a connection that can be perceived by others, but whose personal and private intensity can only felt by you.  This was what I was experiencing. The natural embrace. The way Eva was trying to tell me how much she loves Shabbas, she loves the opportunity to give thanks for the strength she receives all week, and for her own love of God. She spends each Shabbas re-reading the psalms of David, finding continual beauty in their poetry and their meaning to her. Each week, this is her sanctuary. It’s not found in the observance of synagogue-centered ceremonies, the utterance of prayers of which perhaps one understand sonly a small portion of the translation. It just comes from the other side of the coin, so to speak.
What I am left with is the realization that the Shabbat experience, while so universal to Jews the world over, is so individualized. So personal. So intimate. I’m more than 50 years old, and I’ve never really understood that until today. It’s a communication that is totally wrapped up in each person who experiences it. It isn’t the communal gathering for prayers or the reading of the Torah. It wasn’t even about ritual. It is completely and entirely personal. Perhaps you’re shaking your head as you read this and saying, “it’s the same here (America).” But it’s not, or at least it wasn’t to me.  A childhood spent going to schul on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Of Shabbas candlesticks and matzah ball soup. A childhood spent forced to go to Hebrew school to learn to read and write a language that has taken half a century to have any real context in my life. A lifetime of repeating and singing prayers with such a shackled understanding of them that I might as well have learned them in Chinese.

And last night, sitting around the table with Eva, Chaim, and Eva’s sister Odeya, I felt as if I had gone to spend Shabbas on the moon. And you know what? I rather liked it.

Just in time for Shabbas, my rimmon (pomegranate) tree gave me two new blossoms, which I’ve named Max and Zoe. From these, perhaps my first two pomegranates will grow, just in time for my first Rosh Hashanah here.


Kelev Gadol Speaks (I’ve lost count of the number . . . )

I’m a genius, and so is Ellin.  We have both made startling discoveries today that will, no doubt, change our lives.

I have discovered plate glass doors. I have to tell you . . . .this is  quite a revelation to me. I’m sure you’re wondering how I came upon this discovery. Well, I came upon it physically. Full-frontal contact.  You see, in the lobby of our building there is a large glass window, which is easy to see because there is still a big white, painted “X” on it. I’m sure that’s so no pigeons will want to fly through it. But to the right, there is an opening that allows us to come and go as we please. That is, until someone decided to put this big, plate glass door there! Can you imagine?

Well, the other day, I was taking Ellin for a walk, and I was very excited to get outside and count how many cats were hiding under the cars. Usually there is one per car, which in Afula is quite a lot. Anyway, my mind was elsewhere, and I was in a hurry to go outside. And would you believe it? Whack! I walked right into the big, plate glass door. I’m so glad that there were none of those snobby Israeli cats around to see. I’d just never hear the end of it. They would be whispering all over town every time I went out. I can just hear them purring to each other . . . .”there’s that stupid American dog who things he can walk through walls!”  Whew! So glad I did it first so that I could protect Ellin. Can you imagine if Ellin had done that? She’d never let me hear the end of it!
So why is Ellin a genius you might ask? Well, of course it’s because she decided to bring me with her, but actually it’s more than that. Today, she discovered hot water. Can you believe it? Since Ellin came she has been taking cold showers (except the first week when she was living at the Kessel’s home). The kindergarten room where she stayed on campus didn’t have hot water at all. And once we moved, she was told that there had to be 9 families living in the building before they’d turn on the solar heating (and Ellin doesn’t want to blow her extra shekels on the electricity!). But today, she realized that there was hot water coming out of the kitchen faucet. So she went into the first bathroom and tried the faucet. After a minute, there was hot water there. The same with the sink in her bathroom! But she was stymied. Why was the water in the shower still coming through cold? She walked around the apartment for a few minutes. Puffed a few pillows, washed a few dishes, and then, she got that look in her eye. You know, the one when she’s figured something out? Well, there is was! The genius discovery! She figured that since everything is written backwards here (or so she tells me . . . it all looks pretty much the same to me), that maybe she needed to turn the handle on the shower faucet in the OTHER direction. Wow! I got so scared when I heard her yelling “WooHoo!!!!” She discovered Hot Water! I’m just so proud that she’s my human.

Maybe now she’ll be able to figure out why the damned printer and monitor don’t work anymore on her computer. That will just be toooo much for a dog to ask for.

I’m pooped from all this excitement. Time to lay out on the porch and feel the wind blowing through my hair.

It’s good to be a dog. . .


Kibbutz Israel

A few days ago, I accepted an invitation to visit Kibbutz Israel. It is a beautiful Kibbutz located only about 5 minutes by car ride from Afula. I believe it is also the home to two very lovely guest houses where people who belong to the Bridgeport Federation can stay when visiting the area. The invitation came form a lovely woman, Natalie, who is South African. The Kibbutz is home to many “Anglos,” and it was really a pleasure to walk around the lovely grounds and see generations of families together in the dining hall and then enjoying some respite form the heat in their beautiful swimming pool! This isn’t your savta’s kibbutz! It is also home to Dolphin, a successful company that makes robotic swimming pool cleaners.

A swimming pool with a canopy! Quite clever!

The kibbutz system has changed quite a bit from what most of us envision. There are generous stipends for the families, dependent upon the number of people, and also many give dividends when the kibbutz is successful. So it’s strange for me to see rather luxurious homes on the kibbutz and large, American-made cars in the driveways.

The kibbutz looks north, toward Afula. The view seen here through the lush trees is so beautiful. If you look closely enough, squinting so that you can see the first line of apartment blocks, you’ll see my apartment building (which still, amazingly has electricity and air conditioning!).

Looking north toward Afula. Can you see the line of apartment blocks? Mine is right in there!

I think this is the first time in years that I deigned to put on a bathing suit. Getting in the water was a delight (the pool was obviously very clean!), and families played water soccer under the protection of a blue canopy (even in the water, the heat is terrible). But I must admit that I found myself giggling at the delight of being totally immersed in clean, cool water. And if I’m not mistaken, there was a bit of a salty taste to the water. I’ll have to ask Natalie about where the water comes from.
What I must take a photo of next time are the gold carts. Brilliant. They ferry the seniors back and forth through the grounds. Some of them, a bit more road-hardy, even have thick plastic “sides” and “windshields.” Frankly, I don’t understand why they don’t use these on the streets of the town, since Afula is so small, you hardly need a real car to get around! But I was able to stop and take a photo of one of my favorite sites in Israel—a pomegranate tree. I still don’t know why, but they make me smile.

Pomegranate trees herald the coming of Rosh Hasahanah. These, from Kibbutz Israel, are getting larger and red. That must mean that the holidays are nearing!

I came home from a lovely day to find my neighbor looking for me (the one that asked to use my credit card). I don’t know why, but I invited  her in, or rather she followed me in, and then pressured me to give her some money, saying that there wasn’t any food or pampers for the baby. Was it really for me to try to ask her where her husband was? When I said I really wasn’t comfortable giving her money, she pressured asking me why. Hard to come back with an answer, at least hard for me. So finally I told her that if she gave me her telephone number, I’d put her in contact with Afula’s social services. Surely there is some organization in town that provides food to families. And to quell my guilt, I gave her a little money (hearing my landlord’s voice in my ears warning me not to give her even an “agorot!”).  I must say that I am very quiet as I enter and leave my apartment for fear of being “touched” again. I hope that social services will help her and that the food won’t go to booze and cigarettes, where I fear it is presently being spent. I suppose some things in life are universal.


Next week, at the Emunah Center, we will be welcoming Rabbi Hammerman from Congregation Beth El in Stamford, CT. It will be lovely to see them again. The Emunotes performed at his schul during their last visit and the families of Beth El were warm and welcoming. Many of the children who were with the Emunotes are away during these last days of summer “vacation,” but I’m sure that the congregation will be able to see where all their support and Tikun Olam energies are nurtured. I realize I’m looking forward to seeing the kids from the Center all come back. It is a rhythm that comforts me, as I think of Zoe preparing for her senior year in high school, and Max moving in his junior year at NYU. New opportunities, new things to learn, one step closer to the next level of maturity and the situations that come with it. Bittersweet. I still remember my kindergarten years with Sara Topper (for whom Zoe takes her middle name—Zoe Sara).  I can still smell the heavy aroma that would come from the opened bottles of brightly colored yellow, deep purple, blue-blue, and dirt-brown tempera bottles that had thick, but scraggly-bristled brushes shoved in them. They stood, like little soldiers, in the  shelf of the easels with their newsprint sheets of drawing paper clothes-pinned to the tops. I can even remember the joy of having someone button on an old white, long-sleeved shirt on me, backwards of course, signaling that I was properly protected and ready to pain. From what I remember, those moments, smelling the paint, seeing the clean sheet of paper filled with potential, and donning the white shirt were more exciting to me than the actual painting. I suppose that even then, I was often more excited by the process than the product. I don’t remember the paintings I did. But I can still smell and feel those preparatory moments.

So we come nearer to the close of August. I imagine the stillness of the streets surrounding my home will soon be filled with school kids running into their classrooms in the morning, then out on the playgrounds in the afternoon. There are so, so many children in Afula, and enough colorful playgrounds to entertain them all. While they are deserted in the day (the thought of a little one on the hard plastic slides in the heat is just an awful concept), come dusk they become  meccas for laughter, barking dogs, grandparents chatting in Russian, and the daily rebirth of life that is, only momentarily, halted by the heat in this little city.




This is How We Do It . . . .

. . . One life at a time. Read on.

A moving story from Afula

Shlomo Kessel has been Director of the Emunah Center in Afula for 9 years, and as such, he has seen many happy ends and can tell endless success stories. Many of you have met our children both in Israel and overseas, and some have even had the special and moving experience of meeting a few of our graduates and hearing about the lives and how they’ve made it. However some outcomes are sweeter than others – particularly since in reality there are children who seem to not quite make it, despite all of the support and loving care. Then when things work out, one suddenly realizes what a difference we’re making.

He shares a very gratifying experience…

Standing in the sweltering 35 degree (95 degrees Fahrenheit) heat together with colleagues and friends from the Center, I participated in the wedding of Sapir (Sapphire in Hebrew) one of the special children who lived at the Emunah Center. Sapir was only 9 when she was removed by the court from the home of her schizophrenic mother to Emunah’s Emergency Crisis Center in the nearby town of Pardes Hanna. Following a year of intensive intervention, Sapir was transferred to the Emunah Center in Afula, where she lived for more than 7 years. From the outset, Sapir showed severe emotional and psychological difficulties, displaying outrageous acting out and aggressive behavior compounded by serious learning disabilities and school phobia. Gradually, we got to know Sapir and her family better and found that she was the youngest of 5 siblings and had been a very small child just at the time when her parents underwent a deteriorating violent and abusive relationship that had just ended in a bitter divorce. Sapir, as a young girl, was the only one of her siblings sent to live with her psychiatrically challenged mother and since during the divorce she had “sided” with her mother, her father disowned her. Quite some baggage to overcome!!

Unlike many of the children in our care who, with the intensive support and therapy, seem to be able to move forward, Sapir’s anger only became more heightened and her behavior more disruptive and rebellious. There were only brief periods of improvement, none of which seemed to last. Early in her stay at the Center, Sapir cooperated to some degree and underwent art therapy, but as she become a teenager, her defensive shell became more rigid and she became more and more distant. By the end of 11th grade, Sapir was no longer prepared to attend school and had a negative influence on other girls. Finally, she had to leave the Center and return to her home town of Beit Shean. We were not optimistic. However, a year later, Sapir surprised us all. After months of not visiting the Emunah Center, she arrived one day and told us how she missed the Center and had realized that she had not taken advantage of the opportunities she had been offered. She wanted us to know that she was in a community-based program that would help her to receive a high school completion certificate and had signed up for National Service. We were so proud of Sapir.

The miracle makers that I am proud to work with do make a difference.  We can only do it with your support and prayers.

You can imagine our excitement when Sapir recently visited us once again, told us that she had successfully completed her National Service working with challenged infants in a kindergarten near Tel Aviv, and that she was getting engaged. Last night we stood with tears in our eyes as Sapir, a beautiful bride, walked up the aisle to the chuppah and married Shai, a computer engineer. With her mother on her right and her father near her under the chappah, we could not but be amazed at how far she’d come.

It’s Official. . .

Today was a very busy day at the Emunah Children’s Center. First, a bus-load of young, dedicated, excited British teenagers, who had spent the last two sweltering weeks with the children here, boarded the bus en route back to London and/or other destinations. The Emunah kids who are here during these weeks were fortunate indeed, as these are the kids who have no one to go home to at all. No parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent who can let them have a little respite from being at the Center all summer long (many other kids are able to spend a week with other family members; some are not as “fortunate”).  During the past two weeks, there was some very special bonding going on here as the outpouring of hugs, conversations, music, activities and just plain “hanging out” with the Emunah kids filled the schedule. It was hard for both the British teenagers and our kids (who seem to be more used to people coming, sharing, then going), as it was time to move on.


New friends all mug for a good photo!

Everyone gathers for a group portrait before getting on the bus.












And then we had visitors from Congregation Beth El in Fairfield! Denise and Rob Teicher came to visit with Shlomi, the child that they have been sponsoring here for years. For Shlomi, it meant that someone traveled all the way from the U.S. just to see him and let him know that in their heart, he was special. (And he is a wonderful kid). It was odd, yet not, to see the Teichers. I had seen them just a few weeks ago in Fairfield, and here they were, in my new world.  I should have felt strange, yet I just felt content. It just seemed right and good. The work that goes on here at the Center is remarkable. Despite the heat, the lack of enough funding, the stretching of the limits of the staff who are as tired and hot as everyone else, it’s all about the children. First and foremost.

But what is this about “it’s official”? Well, I guess just one more step in my realization about being an Israeli. And if this doesn’t break through any lingering feelings of denying about actually being here and being a citizen, this one ought to do the trick.  While standing near the buses this morning to see the British kids off, someone was trying to explain something to me via our usual game of Hebrew Charades. Usually I’m more able to get the gist of the conversation, but the gesticulations of wrapping something around one’s head, and the words “Iran” and Ahmadinejad” just didn’t make it! Finally, someone took pity on my utter and desperate confusion and explained, “Your gas mask was delivered this morning.”
All Israelis get a gas mask. Here’s mine. You keep it in the box unless needed. It also comes with a handy EpiPen in case of a real G-d-forbid. I’ll keep mine handy in the safe room in my apartment. Which finally has hahshmahl (electricity) and a masgahn (A/C).  See? All things come to he who waits.

I think this gives “open only in case of emergency” a new meaning.


Ahhhhhhhhh. (Kelev Gadol Speaks III)

I don’t know what I love more. Air conditioning or watermelon.
It’s been just a little over a week, but I think Ellin has finally gotten everything set. And the house was a whirlwind of activity today. The electricians were here (one of them was terrified of me!! Can you imagine anything so silly???), we got a screen put in the safe room so that Ellin can open the window in there, and JillfromJerusalem made sure that Ellin got the right storage shelving that she needed.

Did I mention that JillfromJerusalem was here this weekend? It was heaven! She is the best in the world and spoils me terribly. Even thought it was our first Shabbat here in the house where Ellin cooked (it smelled

I just LOVE watermelon (אבטיח‎). It’s the best. (Silly Israeli’s eat it with salty feta! What do they know???).

and tasted amazing, even if it was vegetarian), Ellin is very stingy about the number of doggie biscuits that she gives me at a time. I think she only gives me two, since there is one for each of my front paws. But JillfromJerusalem doesn’t know how to count (I wonder if Ellin knows this!), and she just keeps on giving them to me! I do hope that JillfromJerusalem never decides to take up a math class. I’ll starve!

Anyway, this weekend we took a bit of a tour. There was a winery not far away (not much fun for me because they don’t allow dogs inside!), but then we went to Haifa so Ellin could see the Mediterranean (she says she wants to retire near a small, quiet part of the sea), and I got to eat pita and watermelon!  The only thing that would have made this day more perfect would have been if Max and Zoe were there to walk me around and maybe throw my squeaky ball with me.

I have a feeling that there is a lot going on in Ellin’s mind, since this is the second time in a row she didn’t yell at me when she saw I was at her computer. I see her write her “to do” list, and it seems to get larger rather than smaller. I heard her tell JillfromJerusalem that she can’t wait to start her Ulpan in September. It was listed on her “to do” scroll (“Reminder: make sure it’s really going to start and fine out where!”). I also heard her say she would be biking there, which means that I’m not going with her and that’s just not OK with me. I want to learn what people are saying to me when I pass them and they say all these funny words between the “ooohs” and “aaahs” (which I think are the same in all languages). She’s still also got stuff to do with Bank Leumi, since she figured out that she really HAD taken the money out of the bank that they gave her in Euros. Now she’ll have to figure out how to get the bank to give it back to her! Oh know. That means she has to go back to the bank. That’s not good. She always comes home a little stressed after she goes there, even if she does try to make a joke of it!)

Being the only black poodle Kelev Gadol around here is great. But one thing that really gets my curls up is that the dogs here are very aggressive. The boy dogs still have all their parts (sigh) and I think that just makes them more territorial. Frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that. I just have to think about going for a walk, eating, sleeping, and doing the other necessary doggie things. But canine relationships are just too difficult for me, especially with the language barrier.

Ooooops! Here comes Ellin. I know she’s got to do work now, because she’s got that “serious face” on. Maybe she’ll go out on the terrace and bring the computer with her. We can look up at the sky and hope to see some of the meteor shower (humans don’t realize how much dogs look up to the sky and are really into all this space stuff. I mean, come one! They did name the robot that’s walking all over the moon “Rover.”

Here I am, happy as can be, on the Tayelet in Haifa with JillfromJerusalem. She’s just the best (and doesn’t tell Ellin that she spoils me!).

Kelev Gadol SPeaks (II)

I love my human. That’s why I’m sneaking on to her computer to give you an update while she is on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. Funny, I don’t remember her doing that in the US. I just had my paws done, so if I make a spelling mistake or two, you’ll have to forgive me.

Anyway, I have much more energy than she does, because yesterday she took me to “Puppies” where they must have cut about 15 pounds of hair off me. I look and feel so much better now. Ellin also bought me some special treats that look like little pigs in a blanket. Why a pig would sleep in a blanket in this weather I have know idea, but I do love them, even if they do make a mess all over the floor and I have to lick it clean. Maybe that’s why Ellin is on her hands and knees. And I do believe that while I was at Puppies, she walked about a mile in this heat (what a dumb Human) to the Home Center so she could buy the right kind of surge protectors that she needs to run all the crap she brought from the US. The joke was really on HER! She thought she was so organized before she came and purchased about 6 surge protectors that run the right kind of current. But they have round indentations where the plug goes in and the adapters she has are square. I seem to remember hearing her once saying something about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. She must have known this would be a problem, but being a forgetful Human, she forgot. I wish she would have asked me. I’d have reminded her!

So here’s an update. One week into moving, and we still don’t have air conditioning. Normally, that would be livable, but I have to say, that this humidity is making my already curly hair even more curly. Can a poodle have a Jew-Fro? I think Ellin is far too patient with her landlord, whom she refers to as Moshe Ufnick (Oscar the Grouch on Israeli Sesame Street). Every day she waits at home for someone to come and look at the Mazgan (AC) and declare something else wrong with it. I’m just a dumb dog, but I can tell you the darned thing doesn’t work. I mean, it’s as annoying as those little drop-kick dogs that always bark at me when we go for a walk. What gives??!!!

And yesterday, Ellin really went too far. She finished unpacking her office, which meant dragging everything out so she could lay down the carpet padding and the carpet. Then she pushed everything back in. She did the same thing in our bomb shelter, which she has dubbed the Mish Mash room, since it now houses her gorgeous armoire that was made in the mid-1800s in France, and Max’s futon (Max! I miss you and Zoe!!!!).  Oh well. Ellin calls it eclectic,  but I think she’s got hashmahl-on-the-brain and she really means electric. And speaking of which, we still don’t have a tuchas arba and the lights go on and off several times a day. I might be wrong, but this is the same country that boasts of the Technion, am I not right?

So picture this (in color if you can, because being a dog, I only saw it in shades of black and white). Ellin was exhausted and so hot she was near tears. She tried to cool off by accepting a cup of coffee from her neighbor across the hall. They have a working mazgan. I wasn’t thrilled to go there because there is a little boy there who screams all the time and tries to pull my ears. I actually growled at him the other day! But Ellin was desperate, and so was I.  We should have known it was a set-up. The neighbor is pretty odd. She’d got lots of kids and she’s got piercings and tattoos all over her body. She was trying to get Ellin to let her use her credit card or bank card to help pay for her cable service. Poor Ellin! What she really wanted to say to this woman is, “Do you think I’m stupid?” But since she has to live across the hall from her, and since her 5 or 6 kids are always pushing our doorbell so they can pet me (yuck! I can’t stand it anymore!), she made up some story about all her cards being messed up because she can’t speak Hebrew and so nothing works. I could see Ellin was really uncomfortable. If it were me, I would have just bit the woman or peed on her couch. That way we’d never be invited back in again. Maybe I’ll have to have a talk with Ellin once she gets up off the hard floor.

After an unbelievable day (I think Ellin is really competing in her own version of the Olympics), she tried to sleep, but it was like an oven (which we have but is still not plugged in). She tossed and turned on top of the bed, which really was pissing me off, because I couldn’t sleep with her doing that. So she got up and went onto the porch and tried to sleep on the chaise. I went with her, of course, just to make sure she was OK. She kept falling off the chaise, and that wasn’t too good. Finally, she crashed on the love seat in the “salon” right in front of the terrace (good breeze!) and I fell asleep on the pink club chair next to her, keeping a watchful eye out for her as I always do. In the morning, I looked at Ellin sprawled out on the sofa, totally exhausted, and I was lying on the pink club chair the same way. I think you Humans call it a “Kodak Moment.”
So here we are.. Ellin Is trying to get things squared away (it’s her way of working through things when her life is a little in disorder) plus our friend Jill who lives in Jerusalem ( her full name is “JillfromJerusalem”) is coming tomorrow. That will be fun for Ellin. She’ll probably cook with JillfromJerusalem and have a special Shabbas dinner. Boy oh Boy! That means challah! My favorite thing on earth.

Well, gotta go. Ellin’s up and fiddling with something else. I’d better go and look like I’m as busy as she is.  I think I’m going to suggest she put  the sleeping bag out on the terrace so we can both cuddle up there tonight. We can light the little lantern she bought from Pierce One and enjoy the scene of the field across the street. Who knew we’d be doing so much camping over here?

Gotta run. Don’t want Ellin to see me typing. She has so much fun telling everyone who dumb I am and that works for me. If she knew how smart I really was, I’d have to start giving her my paw every time she asked, or do other really stupid pet tricks. This way, I just give her that “lost” look and she lets me alone.
Not a bad setup, eh?

You’re loving poodle pen pal,



Picture this . . .

It’s Friday evening (last). I’m in the car with Rotem Perog, one of the emissaries from Afula who was living in Fairfield last year. We’re on our way up to spend Shabbas with her parents at their kibbutz (Ein Herod). The view of the mountain (Gilboa) is spectacular. It’s the sight of activity between Jonathan and Saul and I believe David (someone out there is hopefully going to tell me the story). Their kibbutz is a secular one, and there were a good handful of Lone Soldiers who were return there on Shabbas. There were 3 generations of Rotem’s family there and I had the pleasure of seeing photos of the Kibbutz when it was first settled. Tents like tee pees dotted the land. And today, there is this thriving community of about 800 people. It was absolutely wonderful. Thank you, Rotem!!! And thank you to Partnership 2000, and the incredible program that brings these amazing young Israeli kids into our homes, our schools, and our hearts. If you haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to get to know these kids when they’re here, you are missing a most important opportunity. These kids are the best of the best.

Now it’s Monday, 9:30 in the evening. There is a cool breeze blowing in from the fields across the way and although I can hear a few cars driving back and forth on Rehov Menachem Begin (the street where my apartment is), I can’t see anything. It’s just too dark outside. I do see the lights on the Gilboa and I can just make out a few lights in the in “Industrial Area” on the outskirts of Afula (that’s the area where I’m living). I realize that it’s been a few days since I’ve sat down to write, but frankly, it’s been a few days since I’ve sat down! But tonight, I’m out on my wicker chaise (originally bought at  Ikea for Max’s room, but now on my terrace). The big, thick candle in it’s hurricane-like house is burning brightly on the small table next to me. It was one of the last things I bought before I came here. I knew that I’d have to find an apartment with a terrace, and had pictured spending evenings, just like this one, out here. Rocco is curled up on his dog bed, hugging all his little toys (his babies). He’s very, very happy and will probably be happier tomorrow after  I bring him in for a bath and hair cut. The heat is awful for him.
Inside, most of my boxes are unpacked, except for 2 wardrobes of winter clothes (what could I possibly have been thinking???), and two last boxes of books. The empty cartons filled with padding and bubble wrap that have been piling up on my terrace are finally all outside in the dump. It actually looks like a real apartment. This is good, although I do need to say aloud that it would be made better by the presence of my kids here, but that will come soon enough. Max and Zoe: You MUST let me know when the school vacations are. Air line tickets are probably getting ridiculously priced!

I haven’t even been in my apartment a week, and I’ve already had two visitors: The Feldmans on Saturday, and Label and Andy Waldman today. Next weekend, there will be another Beth El family coming and I can’t wait to see them as well! I really can’t explain the feeling: It is odd, yet natural. Six months ago, coming to Afula was barely an idea planted in my brain. Tonight, I’m out on my terrace after  three non-stop days of unpacking, cleaning, organizing, etc.  I can’t remember being this exhausted/elated since my children were born. I expect to crash in a minute and better get Rocco out for his evening walk first!

I’m sorry that I don’t have anything clever to include in this update. But if I never see another packing box again, it will be just fine with me.
And can anyone please tell me why in these past few days I’ve been looking for a non-existent landline in the apartment with which to call my Mom? (She died in 1989). I keep wanting to tell her how good her mother’s bowls and her Shabbas candlesticks look here. I guess Skype doesn’t make really really long-distant calls.




Brain Freeze

No, I didn’t just eat my ice cream too quickly, although with a 99′ day like today, I could easily have downed a few big sundaes. No, I’m thinking about things that have been weighing in and weighing on my mind lately. Mind if I share?
I joke about the long lines and exasperating rigmarole of getting electricity (it’s actually “hahshmahl” not “heshmole.” Maybe that’s the reason I haven’t got any. And I sure hope that “heshmole” doesn’t translate to something awful like “blistering pustules” or something like that . . .I’ve been complaining for a week that I don’t have any “heshmole.” Would serve me right!)  But today, I was graced with the incredible patience of the sweetest young girl, Michal, who helped me make decisions on which cell phone plan to buy, and then tried to help me cut through the red tape of paying with my Israeli credit card, which wouldn’t work because Bank Leumi linked it to my American passport number, rather than my Israeli I.D. Yes. You guessed it. This means I have to go back to the bank and explain the error and wait while they redo all the paperwork. I can already see the crooked smile on the face of the guard at the bank’s front door, and the little blonde girl who helps you take your “number” (for waiting your turn). If anyone ever says anything about the brusk nature of Israelis, or how difficult their young people are, I am going to send them straight to Michal. We spent two long hours trying to figure out how to pay for what was the most cost effective and service-providing plan for me. And she never, ever lost her patience. She joked, she smiled, she showed me pictures of her boyfriend (I showed her pictures of Max and Zoe) and at the end, she told me I was a real Yiddishe Mamma, which she explained was a huge compliment.

And then, there is sweet Abed, the Arab man who is in charge of making all the fixes and finishes (bits and bobs as my friend Charles Ziga says) to the apartment. He smiled when he saw the fig tree that I had ordered for my terrace, and promised that if I would meet him at about 10:00 this morning, he’d bring me some things from his own trees. And so, at 10:10, Abed presented me with a huge bag of fresh figs and sabra fruit from his very own trees. He even taught me how to open a sabra fruit, and I ate it with great relish. Of course, he followed the presentation to me by sharing a small cup of the aromatic coffee that he brings with him. And later, he showed me the picture of his four beautiful little girls.  It’s really hard to get exasperated over little things when someone goes out of their way to be so kind to  you. And I think that when you start sharing photos of your kids, it opens yet another door. In a way, I’ll be sad when everything is fixed in my apartment. I’ll miss Abed. Maybe I’ll have to “break” something.
And even Moshe Ufnick (“Oscar the Grouch”s” Hebrew name), the name I’ve given to my new landlord (I SWEAR they could be brothers!), has softened. I spent a great deal of the day with him yesterday, and as I was trying to leave the electricians (5 of them) scratching their heads over “lo hahshmahl,” I ran into my landlord who had come to check on the progress. It was his first meeting with Rocco. A stunned, quiet silence ensued. I pictured him popping back into his garbage can and slamming the lid, followed by a loud “harumph!” But it turns out he’s a pussy cat when it comes to dogs. He even created a small business for dogs that help handicapped people open the refrigerators, etc. So they got along, although he told me Rocco was rather stupid for not understanding the commands he barked at him in Hebrew (now who’s the stupid one?). So, is all things will be equal, tomorrow my furniture will be delivered  to an apartment that may or may not benefit from Ben Franklin’s fabled discovery (Perhaps I’ll hang the apartment keys from a kite and see if it helps the guys to find it). And whether or not the moving company is going to try to stuff all my furniture (copious amounts, I assure you) into the tiny elevator, I know not. I’m just going to smile and wave. Smile and wave.
But I digress. What I really want to point out is another segment of the local population, one that is so much more visible than it is in the United States: men (of all ages) who are handicapped in a way that I can only surmise is a result of having been in the army.

When we come to Israel, we all ooh and aah over the handsome and beautiful soldiers. The way they sling their guns over their shoulders as they pray at the wall. The way they ride the buses when our children come for an organized synagogue trip. The way they seem to gather in groups and throw their heads back in deep, raucous laughter. These are beautiful young people. Emphasis on young. It hits me that my own children could be soldiers. And the vast majority of the Israeli youth are very lucky with their experience in the army; learning to strongly bond with your fellow soldiers, making life-long friends, participating in something that they’ve known all their lives would be part of their growth, like for the boys their bar mitzvah and first beard, and for all their first lover, first breakup. How can we even relate to this when our own children join the military as a choice, not as a must. It’s just a very very different mindset on the part of both the child and the parent.

And I don’t know why, but I’m just not used to seeing men who have obvious physical “alternations” from their army experience. Wheelchairs and crutches are one thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many men with just one hand or arm. While out walking Rocco one evening, and having taken to the very pleasant and common custom of a slight wave and saying “Erev Tov” to people whom you pass while out walking  in the cool(er) night air, I saw a man walking toward me. Very handsome and distinguished, and with such a gentle smile on his face, obviously enjoying the walk  in a suitable temperature. I swung my hand up and said good evening, which was echoed by the same movement from him. Except he didn’t have a hand. Being me, I immediately thought that I had inadvertently made him show off his handicap, as he wanted to return my greeting so as not to seem rude. I felt awful. Had I embarrassed him? Had I made him think, “Well, now someone else is going to notice that I don’t have a right hand.” I didn’t know what to do. So I just kept smiling, kept eye contact, and nodded sweetly as we walked past each other. For all I know, he didn’t think a thing of it. But I thought lots of things. And it brought home again that I am living in a very, very different place. Where there is an absolute and constant need to send our youth into potential harm.

I am absolutely not trying to be morose. I’m just trying to convey that in the span of just a few weeks, you can glean so much about a people that we, as a group, have applied such monikers as “stubborn, rude, loud, and impatient.”
To tell you the truth, I’ve seen ruder, louder people at the checkout line in the Stop & Shop complaining that the check-out girl is just moving  too slow and that they’ll be late for their kid’s soccer game.
Yup. Brain Freeze. Too much to process at once. Once again, I’ll just blame it on the heat.