Kelev Gadol Get His Wheels . . .

But first, let’s back up a little.

 

Thursday Ellin and I went to Jerusalem. No, we didn’t go to see JillfromJerusalem. She’s in South Africa. Don’t you remember me telling you that? No, Ellin went to Jerusalem so she could buy me a car! Don’t you just love that girl? She knows how much I miss sticking my head out of a car window. She can see it in my eyes, every time a car goes whizzing by. Actually, I don’t see too many dogs in cars around here. They’re mostly digging in the dirt for chicken bones and smelling cat pee. What can I say? You can take the dog out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the dog. Oh well.

Anyway, we took the bus and I had to wear that ridiculous fashion statement that they call a muzzle around my nose. Yes, it’s black and matches my coat, but still. Having to put on my “going on the bus” outfit is really getting old. But I love Ellin so much that I humor her,so I  put it on, and then did that maddening thing I always do to her when we get on the bus—I get in with my rear facing the back. That’s right.  That means she has to coax me back to my seat as I walk backward!!! If she could only see me smiling as I frustrate the hell out of her. But wait! She can’t! Because I’m wearing that stupid muzzle!

Long story short, we passed the beautiful fields of cotton, melons, grapes, and all kinds of other beautiful food (the kind that Emma would have eaten, but I won’t touch!) as we made our way down toward Jerusalem. At one point, it was so beautiful that I thought we had gone for a drive through the hills of southern New York State, but I must have been cat napping. Where was I? Oh yes. The bus. My favorite. We arrive, Ellin coaxes a cab driver to take us to Rafi and Lea’s house (she’s getting very good at advocating for herself. I must tell her how proud I am), and we’re off to another fun-fill day in Jerusalem.

I love to go to RafiandLea’s house. It’s beautiful, the sidewalks and curbs smell like no place else on earth. And there is a little orange cat that Lea calls “Gingie” that Lea cares for in her garden. Oh! The fun I had taunting that cat through the downstairs windows. We had staring contests to beat the band. Really, I don’t know what’s so funny about that, but the humans whooped it up watching me watch Gingie. I don’t laugh when they stare at each other, so I really don’t get what the big deal is.

At some point, Ellin and RafiandLea left to go to the wall. But not the Kotel where all the prayers are and Jewish humans stick their shopping lists in cracks in the wall and ask God to do their wish shopping. From what Ellin said, it was a wall that separates part one part of the people in Israel from another. They went because the cleaning lady who has worked for Lea and her friends for 20 years is very sick and because of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, all the ladies are worried that she won’t get the money she needs from their government to benefit her. So Lea took up a collection and Ellin told me that they drove to the border where the wall was, met the son of this sick lady, and gave him lots and lots of shekels. She said that wall looked to be almost 40 feet tall when you stand by it and it’s topped with barbed wire. There are gates that all the Israeli Arabs go through when they come home from work. I imagine that Ellin and RafiandLea looked a little out of place while they waited to give this man money for his mother. And they do this once a month. Ellin says that was funny. Because you never read about things like that in the newspaper.

“. . . Just taking it out for a test drive, Mom. I was going to fill up the tank! Honest!”

The next morning, Ellin went with Rafi to the post office  located in Israel’s largest shopping mall, Rafi signed his old car over to Ellin. Then they made some other phone calls like for insurance, road-side-assistance, and the Israeli version of an EZPass, and whoosh! We were on our way driving back home in my new car. I love it! It just fits me so beautifully! The seats are so comfortable, and I can sit on my seat without hitting my head. It drives like a dream, and even has a mazgan (air conditioner) in it. Ellin was pretty happy, too. She sang the whole way home. But I have to say that at one point I felt she was a bit nervous driving in Israel. I mean, she just sat down, wrote a check, made a few phone calls, and Boom Baby! She had a car! She made it into such a nothing! But she was a bit apprehensive about the drive home. There were so many new things to learn about this car. First, there’s no key. There’s a card you put in, put your foot on the brake, and press “GO.” Isn’t that hysterical? But before you do that, you have to enter a code into a little keypad on the side to unlock the motor. What do they think is inside this car????  A truckload of Eukenuba Dog Biscuits? Really!!!!  So I sat Ellin down (I told her to “sit!), and looked at her with my big eyes covered by my bangs (she loves that look). And I said to her, “Hey! What’s the big deal? You love to drive in New York City. And if you can sell your house, leave your kids, and move to a country where you don’t speak the language and where there is always the possibility of war, what on EARTH is the big deal about driving for 2 hours????????” I think she got it. She took a deep breath, grabbed an apple and some water, and said, “Get in the car.” Those are the four sweetest words on earth.  GET. IN. THE. CAR. Ahhhh. I drooled all the way home.

We made it home in 2 hours. Straight road and it was great, except Ellin wouldn’t let me stick my head out the window. She said it was still too hot to open the windows (and yes, she did sleep out on the terrace that night because it’s still so darned hot here!!!). She went to park in her parking spot (how exciting!) except there was this big hut placed right where she is supposed to park. I do not get humans at all! They pay all this money to live in a nice apartment, and what to do they do? They sleep on the floor outside on the terrace and put up flimsy huts with bed sheets for walls and palm leaves for a ceiling! Once again, I must remind you . . . who is the dumb dog? But Ellin was OK about it. She said it was actually kind of sweet.

And finally, I must confide in you that I think Ellin finally went around the bend. That’s right. She’s certifiable. She took the car for a spin (without asking me!!!!) and when she came back she was saying this Shehechiyanu thing and dancing because there were raindrops on the car window. Hasn’t she ever seen rain before? Is Israeli rain so special? She told me that I needed to say the prayer with her. So here it goes . . . “Baruff atah . . . . .”

 

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A First Yom Kippur

I want to write this all down before I forget any of it.  This was my first Yom Kippur in Israel, as in Israeli, and living on my own. Within each of those categories lies legions of emotions and past experiences, many of which I neither wish nor am able to access.
I approached this holiday season with a bit of trepidation to be honest. Last year in Fairfield I already felt that there would be changes within the ensuing year, but of course I could never have imagined the depth. I remember my prayers last year very clearly, although I still admit to whom they were addressed was and is an enigma to me. I do believe that must be something incomprehensibly vast and powerful out there, even if I believe that we will always remain incapable of understanding the recipient of our prayers, as this power/being/recipient/spirit . . . must be beyond our puny comprehension. Yet, to this unknown, invisible force, I did direct specific prayers. They always begin the same—please protect my children, my family, my friends, their family, peace of this earth . . . .  And then I get into the nitty gritty of my deepest prayers. Please help me have patience. Please help me have vision and clarity so that when faced with an opportunity to get my family out of the difficulties we were facing,  I will know it when it presented itself. Patience, Vision, Clarity. Those three words I would repeat with great sincerity, over and over. They became my mantra. And a year later, I’m writing to you from Israel. Frankly, I do not think I will ever fully comprehend how I came to be here. Now that I’m here, I can tell you all that I made this decision and life change with a tremendous leap of faith. And faith in what, I still can’t pin down. Just faith. Something’s bigger than me and you out there. Has to be. Not an organized religion, although I do love being a Jew. Not a division or sect within Judaism. Just faith. I am very much directed by the heart, not by the head in these matters.

And so I spent my first Yom Kippur without my children, without my brother and his family, without my dear, close friends. I chose not to think about it too much. It is only a day (and a night) I told myself. And now that it’s over, I want to tell you something . . . it was a good experience.

Last night I went with a friend to the local Sephardi schul. We were both curious what the Kol Nidre service would be like, and I wanted to hear Kol Nidre sung. I was expecting a much more tuneful version of Congregation Beth El’s service (Arthur, I love the way you sing it). What I went to instead was a trip to another stream of Judaism that was completely foreign except for the tenuous visual symbols that I know to be Jewish. Of course, the women sit upstairs in the heat, while the men below us enjoyed the air conditioner. Upstairs we were Ethiopian, Russian, Moroccan, and everyone else you could imagine. Fancy clothes were not really all the rage. Just white. White shirts and blue jeans. White shirts and white skirts, white gauze sari-like garments covering the older Ethiopian women. A toothless old woman with a big babushkah and bedroom slippers came and took each of us by the hand and kissed us. It was actually sort of liberating to accept a kiss from a stranger who wasn’t asking for anything, who wasn’t just released from a mental home . . . .just someone who was the same as everyone else that night . . . standing in the shul and praying that their name finds its way to the Book  of Life.

Downstairs, in the men’s section and lining the wall was an arcade of 5 archways, behind which hung a blue velvet curtain. The reader’s desk (centrally located) was filled with rows and rows of rimmonim. I was instantly curious about this custom. Did it mean that on Yom Kippur the Torahs had no adornment? I looked up to see a different colored square post-it hanging from each of the archways. That should have been a clue. And so it began. In a lively marketplace atmosphere, the rabbi, or whoever was leading this service, began to auction off the rimmonim. The prices grew as people vied to have the kuvet of putting the rimmonim back on the Torahs, which in this case were very colorful tiks, once the curtains were opened. The bidding took about a half hour. There was a milling around, talking, whispering. And then, the rabbi made some kind of statement and everyone who had “won” the bidding moved to their appropriate, color-coded archway. At a given sign, they pulled open the curtains to reveal a set of wooden doors. Behind that was a scissor-like metal grill that probably locks away the precious Torahs and their 24-carat gold or sterling silver rimmonim. Behind the grates were two or three Torahs, protected by their mighty, highly decorated tik cases. Flowing from each of the staves were colorful silk scarves. Are these used instead of yadaim? I’m sure one of you will let me know. The rimmonim were handed out and placed on the Torah. Then the chanting of Kol Nidre began. But not chanting. Reading. Three times. Three different people. No songs sung at all. Purely business with God.

Upon leaving the schul, the streets of Afula were exactly as had been described to me by Lina Golub, the young girl from Afula who lived with us as an emissary in 2006. I am still very close to Lina and we see each other about twice a month. She told me that everyone would be dressed in white, walking the streets of Afula that would be totally devoid of cars, chatting, kids playing, riding on bikes . . . until the wee hours of the morning. And then everyone goes home to sleep the day away while fasting. And that was exactly what happened.

I awoke late this morning, a little sad in the knowledge that I was missing my birthday with Zoe (also her birthday). But she called me soon enough as we giggled, talked about what we’d done the last night (a family that she babysits for made her a fabulous surprise party, replete with sushi, matzah balls, and carrot cake—all her favorites!). As she put on her makeup to leave to NYC to spend the day with her brother, we felt as if we were back in Fairfield, where we often stand side-by-side in the bathroom mirror and get ready together to go out somewhere. It was via SKYPE this time, but it was actually quite do-able. A few short hours later, I got another Skype call from Max and Zoe, as they giggled together in Max’s dorm room. I could see they were happy together. Max played some new music he’d just written for me and made funny faces so that I wouldn’t get sad and cry. Who was the parent, I wonder? But the visit was good. I kissed them both goodbye, laughing at how big their puckered-lips look when brought so close to the screen, and they were off.

As sunset approached, I sat outside on my terrace waiting to break the fast. The quiet was soothing., the breeze was enticing, and the temperature had finally dropped to a  civilized degree.  As the moon rose, the rays of the sun turned that steely-pink that they take on just before they sink below the horizon. I finished reading the last few words of The Source by Mitchner and as I looked up, I  saw flocks of white birds—not doves, not pigeons, not storks, but some other beautiful mid-size white bird—fly northward. The timing of everything was so beautifully synchronized that I felt as if it was a profound scene, created just for me. This was my private birthday present, presented in Patient choreography, with Visions of my good fortune, Clearly laid out for me.

I am a very lucky woman.

Gmar Chatima Tova!

In just a few minutes, I’ll be going downstairs to begin the holiday with my friend Becky and her four children. It will be my first Yom Kippur in Israel. The first as an Israeli. I know that I always state them as separate events. I guess it shows that I’m still in a sense of disbelief that I’m actually an Israeli. It’s good. I don’t regret making this decision, but it is hard, especially at holiday times. Still, I am constantly made aware of how fortunate I am with my family and friends. Becky and I moved into this building a day apart. Both our heads turned when we heard the other speaking English in passing, even if hers is British English and mine American. And finding out that we have both raised our children as single mothers sealed the deal. One of the  things I’m realizing about the people that come to Israel (as opposed to those who are born here or who marry Israelis and therefore come here to live) is that it is a society of those grabbing the chance to restart. No different than me.  And that brings us together in an unspoken sort of way.

Like yesterday in Ulpan. I adore this class and I wish I could bottle Osnati, my teacher, and share her with you. She’s passionate about teaching and caring for her students. As I mentioned before, this class is predominantly Russian doctors who are all living on Kibbutz Merhavia and who are going through this experience together. Many of them have children or parents in Israel which although difficult, does bring them a sense of comfort. And so when we were doing our conversations (about an hour a day we all have to take turns speaking) and Osnati asked me if I was going to fast (all in Hebrew of course), I answered, “Yes, but it’s my birthday!” (Zoe and I will each celebrate our birthday on Yom Kippur. She’s going to be 18. I’m going to be 29, in case you were wondering). Of course, that elicited a few laughs. We broke into groups, and I went into another classroom to write out my conjugations as many times as I could. Learning another language requires total dedication. You can’t do it half way and expect it to come to you. For me, I have to write out every possible conjugation with I, You, He, She, We, Them, and all the gender changes a million times so I can begin to “own” the words. So when Osnat told me it was  break time, I didn’t want to stop what I was doing, as I was in a good “zone.” But she uncharacteristically insisted and physically pulled me out of the other room. I dropped all my flash cards that I made, my pencil, erasers, and glasses, and felt like a dumb geeky kid in middle school. But when I picked up everything, she spun me around so that I could see all my classmates standing with a beautiful flowering plant as they began to sing Happy Birthday in English and then in Hebrew. I grew terrified that I would burst into tears and so I just kept looking down, pinching myself as hard as I could so I wouldn’t cry and embarrass myself more. When they were done, I realized that everyone had been watching me as Osnat pulled me from the room, as I dropped and then picked up everything, and then saw my surprised face when I was spun around to see their smiling, conspiratorial faces. Once again, I realize my good fortune. We are spending 5 months together during one of the most difficult periods in our lives. If that doesn’t spur new friendships, nothing will.

A product of the nursery from Kibbutz Merhavia, and a very special gift from my new friend to me. I can’t even count my good fortune.

So in a few minutes I will go downstairs to Becky. We’ll all eat together and then make our way over to whichever shul is closest so we can hear the chanting of Kol Nidre. I will miss being with all of you in CT for this. It’s the first time in 22 years I’m without my friends and family but it is a new part of my life and so I keep all cherished memories in one side of my heart and make room for new ones. Tonight, I understand that people walk all through the streets in Afula, all in white, all with a sense of joy, regardless of whether or not they are secular. I want to experience that as well. And tomorrow at sunset, I will go to hear the shofar being blown. I’ll probably cry, but what the heck. I think I’m entitled for a few confused tears making their way down my cheek.

To my friends, I wish you gmar chatima tova. This year, I actually understand what it translates to. To my children who will be together in NYC to celebrate Zoe’s 18th birthday, I wish you peace, health, and contentment. Don’t wait until you’re my age to press the reset button.  You can do it any year you like, and this is as good a time as any. Pay it forward.

The pair of rimmonim that are growing on my terrace (“Max” and “Zoe”). They continue to grow big and strong.

Much love to you all,

Ellin

 

Hold Your Horses (Literally!)

I thought I was dreaming. I was taking a good Shabbas schnooze on my terrace when I heard what sounded like the clip-clopping of horses. Now, I know that Afula is in the country and we are surrounded by kibbutzim and farms, but even with all of this nature, the sound of horses whinnying is something a little out of the ordinary. I got up to find two men trying to catch their errant horses. Neither horse had a saddle and reins, so I’m assuming that they got loose from a nearby farm. The game of “catch me if you can” that ensued was wonderful and I had a front-row seat on my balcony! Eventually, one of the horses was caught by a rope around it’s head, but the other one decided to play it for all it was worth. There was no question that horse #2 was enjoying the freedom and was going to milk it for every second he could. The fellow with the horse on the rope (kind of like soap-on-a-rope but not really), tried to sneak behind the other horse. He tried to call it to come over (fat chance). He tried to run after that (even I could tell from my perch up high that that was a really stupid move, allowing the free horse to show the puny bi-ped who was the superior creature here). What I couldn’t understand was  why the guy with the horse didn’t tie the one horse up and then be free to try to get the other horse. But I’m no horse-whisperer (only a poodle-whisperer) so I really shouldn’t make suggestions. I did gasp a few times when the lose horse galloped across the highway, making the Israeli drivers even crazier than they already are. But in the end, I saw the group re-united, walking down the field in front of my home to wherever their final destination was.
This brought to mind the time when Vanda Paoli, the woman with whom I had lived when I was a student in Florence, came to visit me in Fairfield (Vanda and I continued a rare and cherished friendship for more than 33 years, and until the day she passed at the age of 93, I called her every Sunday at 10:30 in the morning to check in). I was renting a little cottage on Hillside Road, and Vanda and I went for a drive all the way up Congress. At some point, as we were slowly driving, enjoying the beautiful architecture that makes Greenfield Hill so special, when we had to stop the car. Next to us, just out for a stroll, was a little donkey. He probably got out of his pen (not sure where donkeys live, so I’ll call it a pen for now), and there he was, walking next to us, smiling at Vanda, who was such a nature lover that she made Grizzly Adams seem like a hand at the Chicago stock yards. She looked over at me, smiled, and said, “You arranged this, right?” Not wanting to absolve her of the illusion that  I could do anything, I just quipped, “Well, let’s just say I made it possible.” After all. If I hadn’t taken the car up Congress that day at that hour, it’s possible we would have never seen the donkey. And I certainly didn’t want to be a jackass in this situation.

As the sun sets,ending another lovely Shabbat (I spent the day studying, ,reading —The Source by Mitchner—cooking, and schnoozing), I reflect on how quickly time is going by as I am here almost three months. I am impatient with myself for not being able to soak in the Hebrew language faster. I know that at this point I must just drill, drill, drill with the flashcards I’ve been making. But honestly, I’m so tired at the end of the day that I just want to wash up and go to sleep. But I do feel that I understand more when it is spoken and hope that eventually the speaking will come. Reading is another thing. While I can read slowly, too much is overload. And so when Rocco and I made the papers in Afula (our 15 minutes of fame!) I had to have someone read it for me. We were featured on the front cover and then again here in this article. I have to chuckle. And yes, that IS my Hebrew handwriting, wishing the readers a good New Year. The publisher wrote it out for me and asked me to write in my own handwriting. And as he’s the publisher as well as the vice director of the Emunah Center, I could hardly refuse!

Not sure that could see it all here, but for those intrepid Hebrew readers, I think you can click on the image and it will become larger. Regardless, it’s still all good fun.

 

I’m hoping that tonight the temperature will drop and allow me to sleep in my own bed. Last night I gave up and camped out on the terrace again. I did get a full night’s sleep (first in many weeks), but I would so much like to sleep in my nice, soft, clean, white sheets!

As this new week breaks, I’m happy to say that we’re in for an easy week, work-wise. We’ll have 2 days of work, then more holidays. As much as I adore my Ulpan class (sincerely and truly . . .my teacher is beyond excellent and I have fun with my classmates), I will be so thrilled to have from the 25th of Sept. until Oct. 5th off. If I don’t catch up with my studying then, I never will! I feel like I’m channeling Max and Zoe when they have a school vacation. It is really a guilty pleasure!

To my friends and family who are kind enough to read this blog, I send my sincerest wishes for productive days of reflection ahead, for a feeling of a fresh start for all of us. You don’t have to pack up and move to Israel like some people I know (who shall remain nameless) to take advantage of new starts. You can do it from within the confines of your own soul and family. Take the opportunity seriously. Hit your own restart button.  It’s actually quite freeing.

 

 

A First New Year

I’m in Jerusalem where I am staying at my friend Jill’s  (you know, “JillfromJerusalem”) apartment for a few days. I felt that my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel should be experienced here. And I’m glad that I made that choice.

Friday morning, I took a very early bus with two of the Sherut Leumi girls (the girls that do community service instead of serving in the army). They waited for me to take the bus together, and I brought chocolate croissants for us all, in case they hadn’t had time to eat breakfast. (You’re right. You can’t take the Jewish mother out of me). Rocco was a veteran of bus-riding at this point, and so we had no problem getting on the bus and finding seats. There were many soldiers on the buss as well, going home for the holidays.  Of course, the men are never without their general-issue rifles.  It’s not even strange any more to see a young man in blue jeans, a T-shirt and Crocs sleeping with a gun slung across his lap.

To my great and ebullient delight, upon arrival in Jerusalem  a taxi driver saw me get out of the bus and asked me if I wanted him to take me to my destination. (You’ll recall that last time I came to Jerusalem with Rocco, I couldn’t get a taxi to take us at all!). So when he said the dog would be no problem, we hopped into the car and started to drive.
I suppose I was too quiet, because the driver looked at me and said, “You want to say something?” I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but I realized that he was inviting me to have a conversation with him. I guess he doesn’t pick up too many women with wild white curls and a huge black poodle. So I gulped, said “rega” (wait), and then began the conversation drill that I’ve been learning in Ulpan. “Hello, what is your name? My name is . . . .” You remember when you started to take a language in 7th grade?  Well, much hasn’t changed since then. The driver was very patient. When I was able to tell him that I live in Afula, he almost jammed on the brake. “Why Afula?” he asked. I explained why I came to Afula, the wonderful work that goes on at the Center, and explained that I was actually quite content there. I’m not sure he was convinced. But at least, I had a chance to practice my Hebrew. Osnati, my Ulpan teacher, would be proud.

I arrived at Jill’s after an easy trip, dropped off Rocco, and then went out to buy some basic food to last me through the days that I’m here. Jill is in South Africa with her family, so I have the apartment to myself. That evening I spent a delightful dinner with my cousins Rafi and Lea, and it was just wonderful to sit in their home, share a meal, and laugh. I hadn’t seen them in about 2 years and it was good to be reunited. I think it would be really hard for me to live in another country without ANY family.

Saturday was a particularly quiet Shabbat in Jerusalem. Stores are closed, but the atmosphere wasn’t one of a dead city. Rather one that was resting as people had been doing double duty getting ready for Shabbas and the coming of Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight. I spent the rest of the day sleeping, noshing, reading, sleeping, and noshing again. I always wanted to come to Jerusalem and not feel bound to sight see and be on the move. I wondered what it would be like to just “be” . I’m glad I’m having that opportunity. It’s wonderful.

I wish you could smell what I’ve been smelling for two days. It’s a mixture of hibiscus, rosemary, and other sweet plants that grow wild all over the streets. Add to that the smell of pot roast, bay leaves, and spices. The city smells of holiday. There is no other way to say it. Even Rocco noticed the difference. He is in absolute overload when we go out walking, and I’m concerned he’ll  break my hand when he pulls as if he were the lead dog in the Iditerod.

Tonight was Erev Rosh Hashanah and I spent it with Jill’s friends Flavia and Linda, who live downstairs. I had no idea what the evening would be like, other than it would surely be wonderful. I arrived to find a most beautiful and festive table, with a little gift and piece of chocolate at each person’s place setting to wish them a sweet and special new year. The table was scattered with metallic confetti of Jewish stars, and there was a laminated fish head on the table (reminding us that we should be the head of the fish in the New Year, not it’s tail). Flavia is from Argentina. Linda is from South Jersey via Pittsburgh. More friends came and when we were done we were a group consisting of a 91-year-young woman who came from Odessa when she was 40 (and who speaks 7 languages, most of which she needed this evening), Flavia’s mother, brother, and sister-in-law, a friend from New Zealand, and myself. Needless to say, the conversations were in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish, but not necessarily in that order. And no one was at a loss for words or an ability to participate in the conversation.

It was a perfect evening. We said a few prayers, but ones that were very meaningful, and sweet for the New Year. Any prayers that seemed to be severe, Flavia decided to leave out. It was a very interesting editing of tradition. I rather liked it. We had the most delicious meal, and then we sang. And sang. Song sheets were handed out, and Flavia had some with transliterations to make things easier for me. I couldn’t get over how kind that was. I needed to be included and she made sure that there were no obstacles in my way. We went from psalms to Russian songs (Moscow Nights, Ochi Chernye, and even the Communist Union song) to beautiful Hebrew songs that I actually knew from the Israeli nights at Beth El, to the Beatles, Carol King, Bob Dylan, and a selection from the Sound of Music. Then as the wine flowed more liberally, we went to beautiful Argentinian songs, of which I knew nothing, but was lost in the joy and happiness of people just kicking back and singing. Oh. It was wonderful.  I cannot adequately express the warmth around that table. I entered a stranger, but left as a new friend. As my first New Year in Israel begins, I realize that it is different in so many ways from being in Connecticut. I actually don’t have any desire to go to schul here, although I might do so tomorrow just for the experience.  Every shop has a sign on it wishing its neighbors a Shana Tova. Young kids walk around with plates of apples and honey (and the hopes that you’ll give a few shekels to the charity that they are supporting). The beggars are also out in full force, and one would be wrong not to part with spare change on this of all days. It is “spare” change.

And to my dear friend Jill, you’ll surely come back and yell at me because the Arab woman who sells her hand-made purses saw me coming miles away when I went for a stroll on Emek Rafayim. I seemed to remember you paying only a few shekels each, but I wound up buying from her twice—once when I went in to the supermarket, and then again when I came out. I’m sure she was waiting for me. She cried, hugged and kissed me, told me about her four children and that she has breast cancer. What was I going to do? I’d surely have spent the money that went to her on a chocolate roll or something. Better to give. And so Jill, I now have 5 little bags from her which cost me about 150 shekels. Anyone need souvenirs?

As I get ready to go to sleep with a smile on my face, marred only by the fact that I couldn’t physically share this experience with my children and brother, I will let you know that there is the sound of the shofar heard all over the city. Practicing, playing, having fun. It comes out of the windows atop the waves of aromas from the holiday kitchens. Different sounds, different tones, different deliveries, but you can’t but realize that these same sounds waves have bounced about this city for several millennia,  harkening back to the time when the different series of blasts delivered  specific meaning to those who heard them. The call is contextual and ancient. It resonates in a way that seems sweet. Hearing the shofar in Connecticut always made me tear up. I really don’t know why, but it was as if I were missing something inexplicable and its absence was a physical pain. And here, I just smile. It doesn’t make me feel sad or lonely. It just makes me almost giggle, realizing that I’m actually in Jerusalem during the holidays as an Israeli citizen, with my friends, in my new life, with Kelev Gadol.

It’s funny how being somewhere that you never consciously wanted to be feels so right.
Shanah Tovah to all my dear friends. And to my children, I can only say that this is something we need to experience together. Like my mother used to say when I was studying American history and she sensed that I was missing something major in the lesson. “What?” She’d say. “Get in the car!” And I’d find myself in Trenton or Morristown New Jersey. “Boots on the ground” was her way of bringing context to the lesson. And so to Max and Zoe, all I can say is, “What? Get in the plane . . . “

September 11. A Day for Thought.

I don’t think we’ll ever stop pausing to think about September 11th on its anniversaries. At least I hope not. This year, I’m looking at it with very different eyes and listening with different ears. I have to say that I’m glad I never participated in generalizations about Israel and its politics. Or whether or not the settlements should go or stay. Or if there could be peace. I always said I didn’t know enough about the situation to offer an intelligent opinion. And now that I’m living here, I think I know even less. Or at least, so much of what I thought I knew tends not to be quite true.

Much of what I’m learning comes from the hours I spend in my Ulpan class. I joke about the bike ride there and back, and how I’m able to understand the explanations of the lessons when they’re given in Russian. That’s only because there are many cognates, not because I’m particularly brilliant. And basic is basic is basic.
But when we were learning about the parts of the body, and how to say “I’m sick” or explain what’s bothering someone (in a medical sense), I quipped with the teacher (who is remarkable—could you stand in front of a room full of medical professionals and teach/entertain them for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week? However much this woman gets paid, it’s not enough.) that perhaps I should say a meshaberach. She looked at me as if I’d crawled out under that very famous rock. “A what?” she asked? Of course, I though my accent was causing the problem, so I repeated, “a mesh-a-ber-ach.” She thought for a minute, and asked me what I thought that was. I said it was a prayer for someone’s health. “Well,” she said with that oh-so-sly-Israeli smile. “I don’t know any prayers, but there is no word ‘meshaberach.’ There are two words: ‘מי שברך’ (meaning “May the One who blessed . . .”). But it isn’t a noun! Such an American thing! If you’re using a Hebrew word, you should know what it means.”

I didn’t take this as a scolding. I took this as a lesson in that I shouldn’t even be too comfortable with what I thought was familiar. Part of what I learn in Ulpan is the simplicity of the words in Hebrew: those root letters that form the basis of tangential nouns. I know I mentioned that once before, but it’s worth repeating. There is an interesting and mathematical cadence to the words. The only problem there is that while I’m pretty good at languages, I’m lousy at math. I suppose that explains the yin and yang of my Hebrew-language experience.

Getting back to what I said earlier, I am finding that I read into news on both the US and Israeli news sites with a different level of interest. That might be because there is a noticeable increase in the number of  military planes leaving from the nearby air base at night. When I first arrived here, I was aware of the dearth of overhead noise. No planes. No helicopters. Well, maybe one a night. Two months later, I’ve actually stopped counting. But now I’m reading . . . one of the planes was so low to my apartment that I could read the numbers on the fuselage. And when I see emails from AIPAC whose headlines read “Crisis in Israel . . .” or when I see different photos of the Iranian nuclear plants on the cover of the Jerusalem Post (I don’t think I see the same ones on the cover of the NYTimes . . . ), well. I just have to pause and think. And really, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea in the long run.

And then, you go into the supermarket, get totally overwhelmed as to which is a stain remover and which is a drain cleaner, that you look like you’re about to cry and an Arab woman comes to your rescue and through elegant pantomime walks you over to the correct section in the store and even tries to tell you which is the best product.  It’s just life here. But I guess it’s Life with a capital “L”.
Before I head off to crash into the wished-for oblivion of sleep (I’m actually too tired to sleep if that makes any sense), I thought I’d just share a few photos of life here at the Center.

There are “after-school” kids who don’t live here (they’re not as “at risk” as the ones who do), but still need a safe place to meet, do homework, and engage in positive activities. The teenagers from this group are a favorite of mine. They’re quick, smart, clever, artistic, friendly, and willing to work. What you see here are a few of them pausing while they paint the inside of the trailer that is their activity center. From the outside, it’s a rather sad looking building, harkening back to the Center’s infancy. But the inside is freshly painted (as are the kids who have been busy with rollers and brushes), and they are about to decorate it with some fun murals on the wall. They’ve got a pool table, complete with torn felt, an old TV, and lots and lots of imagination. It’s actually one of my favorite places to stop by and visit. I always get a huge, “Eyyyyyyllllllliiiiiiiiinnnnnn!!!!!!” (Kind of like being Norm on the set of Cheers, but different.)

I have also finally moved into my office. Not too large (about the size of an elevator in a big New York office building), but it’s mine. Well, 1/2 of it is mine. There’s a desk for the accountant who I still haven’t met, the office’s main fax machine, and many of the files that once completely lined the room. But it’s fine. I’m right near the coffee machine and the restroom. And we all know that that’s where all the action is!

A “casual” photo of the after-school kids at Emunah.

And of course, we couldn’t finish without a word about our canine ambassador, Rocco (aka Yaakov). Here he poses with me for the shot that will accompany my interview in the local Afula newspaper. It’s not every day that a woman and dog from Fairfield, Connecticut make Aliyah to Afula!

My office at the Emunah Center. Max and Zoe please note: your photos hand directly to the right of my desk.

Next post will probably be from Jerusalem, where Rocco and I will be spending our first Rosh Hashanah as Israelis. It will be difficult not to be with my children, brother and family, and all my friends. But I am grateful for SKYPE and for the opportunity to spend this New Year in a way that brings new meaning to the term “New Year.”

Rocco and Ellin. Two tired, hot, but happy campers, pose for the camera. (I’m the one in the lavender shirt.)

Kelev Gadol Speaks (Shopping is Great Fun!)

Ellin is napping, so I’m taking the opportunity to sneak into her office and write down some things. I think this must have been a very intense week for her, because I got more hugs than usual (and she is ALWAYS hugging me!). But this week was her first full week of Ulpan and I can see  the way she furrows her brow that there is a lot going on in her head. I’ve heard he tell some friends that it’s a Tower of Babel in her mind. She showed me her notebook where by lesson 4 the class was learning the 5 basic root verbs. For some reason, she is always showing me what she learns in class and her homework, as if she thinks I can understand it. Doesn’t she realize I’m a FRENCH Poodle? No matter. I love her anyway.

So sometime, Ellin talks to herself. She says she is trying to put some context to the language (as she explains to me when I look at her as if she’s gone completely off her rocker!), and that she freezes when she has to speak in class, but if she “narrates” what she’s doing in the present tense, she gets to practice in a “safer” environment. (Have you ever known Ellin to be at a losss for words??? I really got to see that!).  But a few times I think I heard her mutter, “I get it now . . . .” or “Ah!” She says that there are 3 root letters in each verb and that these letters make up related words, just with different sounds. So if you can remember one verb, you probably know more nouns than you realize. But the amount she is trying to remember each day keeps growing, and she’s just too pooped at the end of the night to spend hours going over everything. And then on Thursday, she didn’t even go to class, because she went to a special fundraising conference in Jaffa. I was so proud of her. She got up at 5:30 to take me out for a walk, then told me she was going to run (I think she meant it for real!) to the bus station to catch a 6:20 bus for Tel Aviv so she’d get to the conference on time. I looked over her shoulder at the timetable for the buses, and it seems like it was a 2 1/2 hour trip each way! I really wish she could have taken me with her. At least she’d have someone to talk to during the trip, but she is so darned stubborn.

Right now, she’s napping because she invited some people (Russian doctors) from her Ulpan class over for dinner. That way they can go over what she missed on Thursday, practice their Hebrew together (and her Russian!), and just relax and have some fun. For some reason, she is always happy in the kitchen. Better her than me! I’m just all paws when it comes to cooking!

And speaking of paws, Ellin took me back to the vet again. My tummy has just not been at its peak (I think it’s the heat!), and Ellin was worried. So we went to work on Friday together (no Ulpan those days), and then walked over to FabiantheVet (you humans have such loooooooong names!). He is really sweet. He didn’t know what the word “poop” meant! Really? I even know what that means!. Did you know that the Hebrew word for poop is “caca?” So FabiantheVet told Ellin to put some medicine powder in a bit of yogurt for me, and gave me special food. Ellin must have expected that, since she went to the FabiantheVet with her little shopping cart. That way, she could carry everything back home. But you know what? I’m feeling so much better! I don’t know what was in this stuff, but I’m feeling like a new dog again!  It was 160 NIS (that’s Hebrew for “New Israeli Shekels.” I think that’s about $40 dollars for the visit and the medicine). She laughed as we left, because she said back in the US, this would have cost $160, not NIS 160. HA!

But I want to tell you about the shopping! Ellin found this really great store in Afula that she keeps saying belongs in New York, not Afula. Anyway, in typical Ellin style, she made friends with the owner. She was in there last week and bought Zoe an earring for her birthday. I was allowed to go in to the store and the owner, Ronit, fell in love with me (how could she not!). She said she’d never had a dog in her store before, but that I was special. She kept taking pictures of me and giving me kisses. Isn’t that so funny? So when we left FabiantheVet’s office, we walked up a few blocks to Ronit’s shop and I decided to take a bit of a nap on her couch.

I really think I fit in quite beautifully in this shop, don’t you?

I just made myself at home because she did kiss me last time I was there and that has to mean something! Ellin spent about an hour trying on earrings that Ronit had designed and finally bought a pair and a new case to put her new business cards in. I heard her mumble something about retail therapy. I don’t know what it is, but is sounds like fun! (She and Zoe are always talking about it!)

I think there’s something wrong with the printer who made these cards! I can’t understand a WORD of what’s written here!! (and Ellin said that YASSKY doesn’t have an “aleph” in it, whatever the heck THAT is!!!). But she is happy to have these. She says it helps make things more real. Not sure what she means by that!

Ooops! I think I hear Ellin getting up now. Oh boy oh boy oh boy! I hope hope HOPE she drops something on the floor so I can snap it up before she grabs it! Everything smells to gooooood!!!!!
Oh yeah . . . . please say hi to my American doggie friends. The dogs here are just so aggressive!!! Not sure if they’re SABRA dogs, or what, but they are not content to just sniff you, if you know what I mean! I miss Eeyore Gershberg!!
Woof for now,

RRRRRRRRRRRRocco.

That’s Life!

Life is good here. Hot, but good.

Saturday night, I threw a small party to say “thank you” to everyone who had (and has) been so kind to me, to welcome me to Afula and to my new life as an Israeli (I still find that odd to write). Would you believe it, I had 18 people here! Seems like a fitting number, if you ask me (you know my superstition about “18” being “chai” (“LIFE” in Hebrew) and it’s my special number for all sorts of things. And if you know me at all, you know nothing makes me happier than having people crammed into my kitchen, eating, drinking, and laughing. And that’s just what I had Saturday night. It was a beautiful night, and even though I put on the A/C to make sure everyone was comfortable, there was still a nice gathering outside on the terrace, where you could see the lights of the distant hills twinkling in the distance. It was  magical.

Shlomo makes sure that the mezuzah is firmly placed on my door, high enough to reach (if I step on my tip toes!). It sure feels good to have it up and done in the presence of so many friends.

Another reason for the gathering was that I needed to put up the mezuzah on the entrance-way and I wanted Shlomo to do it. I felt that the kuvet should be his, since he is the instigator of this adventure in my life. And even though Shlomo is a person who demurs from any special attention, he was more than happy to make a special blessing for the house, which was echoed by everyone inside. I tell you, it was a beautiful, beautiful moment. I hope you can feel the energy through this posting.
People left after midnight, and of course, I had my first day of Ulpan the next morning. It’s at Kibbutz Merhavia, a very old kibbutz that is a few miles away from here. One of its more famous members was Golda Meir! There are some incredible trees there that look to be so ancient that they take my breath away. And it must be a place of very good soil, because it has a lovely little nursery attached to it. For 3 shekels, you can buy gorgeous plants and planters. It’s so cheap, that it’s worth you booking a trip here just to buy the plants!

I don’t know what kind of tree this is, but I’ve never seen such a large, squat, massive tree trunk. I bet it can tell some very interesting tales!

Ulpan is 5 hours a day (8-1:00), 5 days a week, 5 months. I’m on day 3 now, and today I was so exhausted after biking home in the midday sun of 1:00 (it was 100′) that I fell asleep on my couch until just a few moments ago (it’s past 6:00 pm here!). I think it wasn’t just the heat. I’m in a class filled with Russian doctors who live at Merhavia. They will take this ulpan class for 10 months. The first 5 are for speaking. The second 5 are for medical/technical information. Can you imagine the U.S. doing something like this? Much of the class is explained in Russian, and if you can believe it, I’m actually able to follow it. While the class IS in Hebrew, explanations are often given in Russian with a  translation just for me in English. This usually confirms what I understood in Russian. And of course, when I’m asked to speak (I HATE this part of the class), I have to first translate from English to Italian to Hebrew. Don’t ask me why. I get totally blocked. I know what I want to say, but it just won’t find its way out. It’s just that there are so many languages going around in my head and I haven’t yet figured out to file them into separate boxes. If you could visualize it, think of me with the phrase or word I’m looking for floating above my head in some other language, and I have to knock it out of the way to remember what the word is in Hebrew. It’s not like there is a Latin root, or something that is at all familiar. It’s all new. And let’s not forget those fancy Hebrew letters that everything is written in. The “G” and “Z” sound are written the same, just reversed. Not easy. And the TZ has a few different forms, depending upon where in the word they fall. The letters are actually quite beautiful, in a calligraphic sense, but boy! Are they hard to remember how to write! I’m much more comfortable writing than speaking, but have a feeling that at a certain point, the wall will break, and I’ll be able to just push through. It will be OK. I hope.

So let’s all laugh at something very “Oriental” together. You know Za’tar? It’s that wonderful mixture of hyssop, sesame seeds, and other spices? Well, I bought a box of it in the shuk in Jerusalem, and I had to copy the explanation as it appears on the side of the box. All misspellings and errant capitalizations are [sic]:

Iz Eddin Abdel

Men’em El-shaikh

Qasem&Sons.com

Hyssop is a famous plant and  it’s called mountain of Gladdened because of it’s nice smell. Hyssop cleans the stomach and the intestines and it gets the gasses and the schizomycetes out of them. Hyssop also got some materials that strengthen human Immunity system scientists say it’s important for children to eat some Hyssop with olive oil in the morning because it awakes the memory and help students to Recall information fast and it makes the absorbation easier. Finally Hyssop protects the teath From many Diseases especially if it’s eaten fresh and green.

. . . NOW they tell me!