The Sky Was Red Last Night.

Were I someone prone to superstition, I would have been extremely nervous last night.

It had been a lovely evening. I had spent Shabbat dinner with my upstairs neighbors, Roie and Sarit, and their two little boys, Nedav (4) and Nevo (4 months) and when the “witching hours” for tired children hit, I said my goodbye’s and went downstairs to the quiet of my apartment.

The past week had been one of tremendous stress for Sarit.  Roie had been called down to Gaza to serve in the reserves. He is a medic, which means his services are always at the top of the “we need him” list. Of course, during the week that Roie was down in Gaza, both of their small children  did tag-team time in the hospital, dealing with some sort of bronchial or viral infection. Sarit’s parents passed away and there are no other family members, save for Roie’s parents, to help. During this past week, with the news constantly blaring from the television and being the only real topic of discussion, Sarit had not slept or eaten much and it was beginning to take a toll on her. Getting stuck in our elevator for an hour, screaming in the darkness of that little cube as she waited for the Shindler repairmen to come (their contract states they have an hour to arrive, just like AAA), did her in. Fortunately, that day did bring some relief. Roie returned  from Gaza and the family could begin to heal a bit. Although it you talk with Roie, he’ll tell you that Sarit bore the worst of the experience. Just one of the endless “Israel stories” that you are bound to hear.

We all talked and decided that we needed to have  a pot-luck Shabbas supper. Without anyone to spot her for an extended period of time (although I did get to watch little Nevo while Sarit picked up Nadav from the gan (or “garden” as Sarit calls it), there was no time for her to do a major shopping before the stores closed for Shabbas. Thank heavens for eggs and pasta. Together we had a very secular Shabbas dinner of pasticha (like a frittata) and some ersatz lasagna, made with ziti and cottage cheese. Sliced bread on a plate was our challah. And a bottle of red wine made everything taste like gourmet food (even though we all knew it was just good old-fashioned comfort food), and a dark chocolate cake reminded our taste buds to simple pleasures. Say what you want about going out to a  restaurant, nothing tastes as good as dark red wine with dark chocolate.

This was a very different kind of Shabbas. No candles (I had lit mine before coming up), no blessings. Young Israelis who are totally secular and deeply patriotic. I like this balance between the spiritual, religious, and observant Shabbats spent with Eva and Chaim downstairs, and this simple Friday evening dinner with Sarit and Roie.

This past week, I, like all other Israelis, stayed glued to the TV. I flipped between every news channel in English, Russian, and Hebrew, trying to piece together any news would give me as complete a picture as possible. CNN, the NYTimes, JPost.com, and the Times of Israel, were all my written English-language lifelines. I never considered myself a news junkie before. But I never was as present in anything like this before. Everyone I knew either had a child or spouse in the army. My friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were running for bomb shelters. I thought of all my friends back at Congregation Beth El in Fairfield who have children spread throughout Israel and the anxiety they must have felt. I thought about what my own children were hearing and processing, although they have both spend enough time in Israel to understand the proximity of the areas sited on the news. I spent the week answering emails and SKYPE messages from my friends assuring them that Afula was quiet and fine, although how could I possible describe the heaviness of heart that we all felt here. How could I convey the volumes of unsaid messages between me and my Arab neighbors, passing one another on the street or in the supermarket. The look in their eyes that inferred, “I’ll have to run into the same shelter as you should something happen. This isn’t between you and me.” Maybe that’s what they were trying to say. I think so. I hope so. I hope I don’t have cause to one day write a different interpretation.

Do you see those two little ladders leading up to what look like two oven doors? Something tells me I’d look for those if I heard a siren.

But what about the red sky last night? Now, as I look outside the window of my study, as the bright light of early evening thrusts its last bright, harsh rays into my eyes, I find it hard to believe that just last night the atmosphere and sky looked as if it were right out of a David Cronenberg apocalyptic movie. By the time I made it down to my apartment after feasting on  eggs, pasta, and chocolate, an eerie fog had descended on our neighborhood. It was so thick that I could not even see the apartment across the way, let alone the fields that lay all around me. The day and  night before we were subjected to lightning storms of Biblical proportions. That is the only way I can describe them. Had I not actually seen the bolts of lightning constantly illuminating the afternoon and then night sky, I would have thought that the battle down south had moved up north. Jagged bolts that must have stretched for miles and with a color of such white, blazing intensity that I had to look away, incessantly bombarded the night sky. Once again, I could only imagine what the explanation for this atmospheric display would have been during the time of the prophets. Not being someone who by lightning, I enjoyed the display, but was less thrilled with the fog that graduated from a misty white to a rust-colored red. The moon, when I could see it, was 3/4 full, but yet it didn’t look like the moon over Connecticut. The moon here appears at a tilt, made more noticeable when it waxes and wanes. It’s bottom heavy. The crescent is at an odd tilt, and last night’s moon looked more like melting, oval ice-cube floating in a Bloody Mary than it did a 3/4 moon illuminating a November sky. Truth be told, it was a bit disturbing and my evening walk with Rocco was punctuated with my urgings for him to do his business as quickly as possible so I could return to the sanity of my apartment. For those of you who have read 1Q84 by Haruki Mirakami, you will understand my discomfort. In that book, the protagonist descends a spiral staircase exiting  a busy Tokyo highway only to enter into a parallel world that so closely resembles the one she left, that only the presence of two moons in the night sky to alert her to the different reality. I must admit, I looked for the other moon.

Rocco sensed it too. Last night, he slept rather more closely to me than usual, making sure that a paw or a nose made contact with my leg as we slept. Today, the quiet of Shabbat seems eerie, as a few large, grey horizontal clouds still stubbornly linger in the afternoon sky. I’ve spent the day reading, a pleasure that I have been only able to indulge since my move to Israel. I think I’ve read four books since July. I’m not sure I read four books in total last year.

Tomorrow starts the new work week and the stability of the “usual”— Ulpan at 8:00, Emunah at 2:00. Rocco’s nudges or more forceful jumps of joy when he sees me (sometimes only after the lapse of only a few minutes, but we all know he’s not the smartest of all canines, hence his nickname, “Einstein”). The passing of neighbors in the lobby, my morning circuit with Rocco and subsequent daily exchanges of “Shalom, ma nishma?” with a neighbor who sits outside his building each morning, or with the Ethiopian street sweeper who looks for me each morning (probably not that many people bother to acknowledge his presence) to exchange just a few pleasantries. Maybe he remembers what it was like to be a new immigrant and have to learn a new language. Maybe it’s just that not that many people bother to say good morning to him. Whatever, it’s part of my very comforting routine.

I think getting half-way through Ulpan is a good reason to celebrate! Here, several of my classmates (mostly Russian doctors) pause to gather in my kitchen to enjoy copious amounts of Vodka and other goodies! Ulpan may be there to teach you Hebrew, but it is also the place where you’ll make some of your lasting friends.

Funny how much I crave usual and boring. I find it safe and comforting. And you know, that’s not such a bad thing.

 

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Just a Few Words . . .

Just a few words. . .” Actually, that’s one of the most pregnant phrases I know. It can be read in so many ways.

“. . . Just a few words,” as in, “. . . There were just a few words to describe the situation” inferring that only a few were available, or that only a few were needed.

“. . . Just a few words, ” as in, ” . . . I’m going to tell this to you in just a few words,” inferring that you’d better listen up and get it the first time.

“. . . Just a few words,” as in,” . . . She speaks just a few words in Hebrew, but they are powerful and get her point across.”

and finally, “. . . Just a few words” to infer that you want to share some information as an update. I think that is the usage of the phrase that I’ll employ now. But I’m warning you now. I’m sharing more than “just a few” words.

Just a few words on what’s happening here in israel . . .To my friends who have sent emails and calls regarding the news that filters into the US newswaves about what is happening here is Israel, I can say that Afula is up north and in the northern middle of the country. But Tel Aviv is not far away (2 hours), and most of us have friends/family there who have had to run into their safety rooms after hearing the sirens. The question that most of the olim (new immigrants) ask is, “when you hear the sirens, we know we’ve got 60 seconds to run to our shelters, but how do we know when to come out???” Seems logical to me, and I’ve asked that same question to many Israelis many times. The answer is always about the same. “I’m not sure. Maybe about 10 minutes. You stick you head out and see if things have calmed down. If you need to go back in, there will be another siren.” That’s comforting. I think.

Here in Afula, we are all fine for now, but the ramifications are just like the proverbial ripples in the water after you toss a stone, or a Fajr-5 rocket, into the Mediterranean. Jewish Israelis who normally do business with Arab Israelis in the area are reluctant to travel to their towns, now. And I’m sure that those Arabs are just as worried as anyone else. I’m not sure what the talk is in nearby Nazareth, where Christians and Arabs live together in one part of the town, and Jews live up in Nazareth Elite. But I shall ask.

Naturally, you don’t need to be a political scientist with a Ph.D. to know that we will all have to worry if the Arab Spring in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt transform into strong fundamentalist Muslim governments in those countries. Were that to happen, Israel will be at the bottom of the boiling cauldron while all the surrounding countries stand at the ready to ladle up their own big helpings. Then we can worry (more). Fact is, Jordan is about 20 minutes from Afula and the other day I traveled up to the Golan (in the evening!!!) and could see Syria across the road. That is, I would have seen Syria if there would have been enough light for me to have seen across the road (I’ll never do THAT again!!!).

I admit to being naive regarding Israeli politics and contentious geography. What I’m clearer on is the fight that stems from those who feel they know what’s the right way to observe your religion And it’s always the bullies. It’s always “those people” who think they have the right to decide for everyone else. And that goes for the Jewish fundamentalists as well, those who in Jerusalem would spit on me if I were to walk through their neighborhood wearing pants, who would insist I sit in the back of the bus, and would throw stones at my car if I were stupid enough to drive through their neighborhood on Shabbat. Those are the same people who deny women the right to a divorce, leaving them stranded and often destitute for the rest of their lives should they have the courage to leave an abusive marriage. So there are bullies on all sides and it’s always in the name of religion and God. I just don’t get it.

Just a few words on other  realities here at Emunah. Yesterday the main door of the office was locked. I heard some incessant knocking and went out to find two young girls, Veronica and Eden, peering through the glass door, obviously in the hope that I was there. I unlocked the door and they handed me some envelopes with the word “LOVE” written on it. I wasn’t sure what it was, but they told me that they were for me. Of course, the conversation was in Hebrew, and I wanted to make sure I understood what they were saying. Through repetition of the simplest words and some hysterical pantomime, I was assured that, in fact, these cards were for me. I asked the girls if I could open them now and they smiled in the hopes that I would do so. Two cards, one in Hebrew, one in English, saying that they love me.  How can I express the multitudinous and conflicting emotions of that moment? I’ve been aware that these girls look for me on campus, coming up to me when I enter the hadar ochel (dining room), delivering random words in English in the hopes of eliciting just a few words of approval. It’s a constant reminder of the tragedies that have placed these young children here at Emunah. That a hunger ravishes them for just a few words of approval. For a smile. For a confirmation that they are wanted, needed, needy, important, present, not forgotten, worthy, and deserving of the basics that so many other children are assured with by their solid sense of entitlement. Of course, these girls came at the moment of the day when I was deep in thoughts about my own children (a state of mind that is rather omnipresent).

Back in the US, Max is emerging from his first recording session where he produced and recorded one song that he wrote, arranged, and played several instruments on. It was the culmination of months of preparation and so much of his own self-esteem was riding on it. The creative spirit in a child is a difficult and challenging part of their persona. For my son, I know that so much was riding on this recording session. Not things that the rest of us would necessarily agree with or understand. But they were his priorities. His needs, his hopes. And when he expressed that at times he just needed a hug from his mom, well . . .I don’t have just a few words to explain how I felt. Actually, I don’t have any.

And Zoe, who is two weeks away from college application deadline hell. She is trying to avoid the maelstrom that we have all experienced in our own lives, but then those were on a troglodyte level compared to the pressures the kids today are walking into.  Today’s teens feel that at 18 they have to make the decision that will direct the rest of their lives. If they chose the wrong school, if they don’t get out of the tedium of their high school lives and find the RIGHT place to make new inroads, then  their lives are over. At 18. Like all of us when we were 18, they are unable to grasp the concept of hindsight. I want to just reach out and make it better. Even with all the challenges that I face daily here, I wouldn’t be 18 again for anything.

And so these two little girls, Veronica and Eden, came into my office while I opened the cards they had so beautifully and carefully written, and I was overcome with emotion that I had to battle to keep in control. Their gesture belied their need for approval and thanks, which I was only too happy and eager to give them. But could they sense something in my smile or eyes the days we’d pass in the hadar ochel that belied a very private longing as well? Did they sense my need to hug a child, given my current inability to hug my own?

Veronica (left) and Eden (right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max and Zoe are due to come here in a tag-team visit in January. I’m counting the days. I check each new day off the calendar until I can hold them, poke them, smell their hair, laugh with them, hold their hands as we take a walk, play with Rocco together . . .all those things that I actually never took for granted when I had the chance to do them. Even then, I knew these were precious time. Now they are even more precious, made more pressing by the presence of so many needy children here at the Center. Children who’s need is no different than mine, except that I’m a bit older. And have the gift of hindsight. And that life can start again. Their fate is not fixed. It’s only a bit frozen. And our job here at Emunah is to direct it in a positive way while they’re waiting to thaw.
Like I warned you earlier, I guess I had more than “just a few words.
Shabbat Shalom.

KG Reporting from Chilly Afula!!!

Yes, you heard it here, direct from the poodle’s mouth! It’s actually chilly in Afula. I would tell you to ask for Ellin for confirmation, but she’s busy reading this book about the history and evolution of the Hebrew language. She thinks it will help her understand the language more easily. Good luck, kiddo is all I can say.

But getting back to reality . . .Yes, the winter is here in Afula. That doesn’t mean snow like you guys have back on the East Coast (and I really miss the snow . . .the way the flakes would tickle my nostrils, the slush would stick on my fur, the way I could pretend to be Rin Tin Tin (what a hear-throb that dog was!). Here winter means rain. And very illogical rain. Back in Connecticut, this pedigreed pooch was used to rain coming and staying for a day. I remember like it was yesterday when Ellin would have to pull me out in the rain to do my “business.” Here, the rain is like the way Ellin does the dishes—turn on the tap, turn off the tap, turn on the tap . . .  The winds blow up such a huge gale that it makes my curls go all higgledy-piggledy and for a second, I get confused . . . I think I am in the backseat of the car with my head hanging out, ears flapping in the wind, but then I realize I am only on the terrace of the apartment. Oh well. Can’t have everything.  So it goes like this:  Whoosh (big wind), blink blink (huge bolts of lightning but no sound) and then pluch (buckets of water drop on your head if you’re dumb enough not to realize what the first two things are signaling.  Buckets and buckets, enough to make the fields where I like to go and do my “business” into a muddy mess. Squish squish go my paws in the mud. Eeeech, Eeech says Ellin. But she’s a champ. She’ll follow me anywhere, just so long long as I poop.

Ellin was actually meaning to write to you all a few days ago, but all the classes and work kind of caught up to her, so she slept for about 2 1/2 days. I think she feels better now, because she’s cleaning. That’s always a good sign. I know that she wanted to tell you about her trip with JillfromJerusalem to a place called Rish L’Kish. It was the day that the two of them decided to go to Zippori and see the beautiful mosaics at this archaeological site and then go to find some just-pressed olive oil (this is olive oil pressing season, don’t you know!).

So, as Ellin would say, here’s your history lesson— Zippori was the capital of the Galilee. Like the other major cities, Zippori was perched high atop a hill overlooking the valleys below. In about 200 C.E., Rabbi Judah Hanasi moved to Zippori and the Sanhendrin came with him (kind of like the Supremes, but ancient Israel style). Anyway, he lived there for about 17 years and it was here that he gave the world the Mishnah. What’s the Mishnah? What do you want out of me? I’m just a dog!!!

One of the really special sites in the park was Rabbi Hanasi’s  house. Really! They had no problem letting this KG into the park, as long as I was on a leash (really???). We went to Rabbi Hanasi’s home and inside there are these unbelievable mosaic floors. There is an image of a woman there that is called the “Mona Lisa” of Zippori because she’s so beautiful and no one knows who she is. JillfromJerusalem and Ellin took turns going inside the house to see the mosaics because they knew that I was much more interested in all the trees and bushes than I was in some dusty old broken floor.

The “Mona Lisa” of Zippori. Ain’t she a doll???

Afterward, because I was such a good traveler, we went to the moshav that is right next door because JillfromJerusalem knows the owner of this great place that presses its own olives and makes incredible cheese and olive oil (of course). This place was so bucolic (how’s THAT for a big word out of the maul of a dog???) and I could see that Ellin was ready to just settle down for good. Little houses, small gardens, peace and quiet and a beautiful vista. I think it’s the first time I sensed a real feeling of peace come over Ellin. If she could have moved there in that moment, she would have. Anyway, the place where we went, Riche L’kish, was great. The family made the building themselves. You heard right. They MADE the building. Bales of hay tied together with wire, then covered with mud and straw, then painted over with oil or egg white. The walls are about 2 feet thick and it makes for this really neat “eco” building. “Green” is what they kept saying. I don’t know . . . I might be colorblind, but the walls looked brown and beige to me. I didn’t see any green. Regardless, Ellin and JillfromJerusalem were having a blast. Fresh made cheese, warm pita, and oil that was pressed that morning. You would have thought they were pouring diamonds on their bread, the way that those two girl giggled. They kept saying that they were in Heaven. And here I thought they were in Zippori.

The interior of Rich L’Kish. It was gorgeous inside. And YES, they allowed me to come in and sit on the floor. Shows you what a special establishment it is!!!

And then, wouldn’t you know it? Ellin had to play her stupid game of Jewish Geography. There she goes. Ruining a perfectly good day. She struck up a conversation with the owner of the “establishment.” If I remember correctly, the conversation went something like this . . .

“You just made Aliyah? Really? Where from?”

“Connecticut.”

“Oh really? Where in Connecticut?”

“Fairfield.”

“You’re kidding! Our closest friends are from Fairfield.”

“Really? Who?”

“Label and Andy Waldman. Do you know them?????”

Ellin and the proprietor of Rich L’Kish. And could someone please tell me why Ellin is always smiling?

Right.  How many million people in Israel? And Ellin runs into someone who knows someone she knows. She used to do this in New York City all the time (hardly ever came home without saying to me and the kids, “Hey! Guess who I bumped into today??”).  So I guess some people just have to schlep their bad habits with them, and here we go again. Ellin running into people that either she knows or who are only one degree of separation away.

All I can say is that I hope that Ellin and I never have to enter the Witness Protection Program. That would just be an epic fail if I ever saw one!

KG signing off now so Ellin and I can go slush in the mud. Squish squish!  What fun!

Been Too Long . . .

Sorry. It’s been too long since I’ve written. But it’s not as if you haven’t been busy. Hurricane Sandy has been epic and has touched almost everyone I know in the States. My children, my friends, my brother and his family. I feel rather silly writing a blog post knowing that many of you still don’t have the electricity with which to read it, that all the food you’d prepared in advance for Thanksgiving is now garbage, and that you would give your eye tooth just to have a good long hot shower. And for those who have lost personal property, it must be unimaginable. I keep thinking of the photo of all the cabs semi-submerged in water. The owner of the fleet has basically lost his entire business and can be assured of a prolonged battle with the insurance companies. I think of his counterpart, the shrimp boat man in New Orleans. And I wouldn’t want to work for an insurance company right now. It is just awful all around. I hope you are all safe, dry and warm. And I am thankful that these days will pass, leaving only heaps of stories rather about inconveniences rather than physical loss.

So perhaps I can bring a smile to your face, if only for a minute.
This past week has provided me with more house guests and more opportunities to explore the country in which I now live. My cousin Harry was here for a few days, which was a delight. He had intended on being in Israel only for a few days, but his trip was prolonged due to the hurricane. The upside of this was that I got Harry for an extra few days, over which we spent more time together than we have during the 25+ years that we know each other. Harry, I say it loud and I say it proud: You are one sweet, sweet guy. Thank you for staying with me. I had a blast.

For many years I had wanted to visit Tzfat or Safed, or however you chose to spell it. It is a magical place, sort of like a Jewish Shangri-La. Part of its magic is that if you don’t know how to spell it, you can’t find it on a GPS that was programmed in Korea. Harry was determined to use his new GPS so he drove while punching in different spellings (don’t ask) and I just opened my iPhone and opened WAZE, the Israeli GPS that is updated constantly by fellow travelers. We had a symphony of “turn right at the next roundabout” and “stay in the left lane” commands. Frankly, I was hoping they’d magically have Tylenol when I finally got there because the computer-generated dual babbling was giving me one major headache. But finally, we found our way there and even, dare I say it, found a parking space. Magic. Truly.

Harry descended from the rental car with his 35-pound backpack, filled with his camera and lenses. I must tell you that aside from being a brilliant engineer, Harry is also a fabulous photographer. He is passionate about taking pictures and the result is very clear! Long story short, we spent half a day exploring, realizing how much  more there was to see (we’ll leave that for another trip). Harry went to find a shul to daven, I went to explore the art galleries and the local population. At one point there was a gevalt of drums, trumpets, and other loud instruments announcing a small procession celebrating a brand-new bar mitzvah! The family was all dressed in white, the boy walked under a chuppah made of a tallit and held aloft by 4 sticks, and the family held trays and trays of sweets. They marched and danced through the winding streets, giving those who think that a bar mitzvah and chopped liver must go hand-in-hand something new to consider.

Just before leaving, I wanted to find the long stone staircase that had figured so prominently in the birth of the State of Israel and where a major battle in Tzfat was held in 1948.  I didn’t have to look far. It was right where we had parked the cars. If I’d bothered to really look at the wall in front of where we parked the car, I would have realized that there were scores of bullet holes pock-marking the facade. It was a rather chilling sight. Just a few feet away from the synagogue of Rabbi Joseph Caro, the 16th-century Jewish leader who made Jewish law available to the masses, stood this staircase and the wall. History without words. No need for them. In this case, just use your eyes.

The synagogue of Rabbi Joseph Caro, very much as it was in the 1600s.

The facade of a building adjacent to the large steps of Tzfat that had separated the Arab and  Jewish population of the city. As you can see, the bullet holes from the battle there in 1948 are still quite evident. They tell a story of  the city’s history and of the miracle that happened there in 1948 when  the outnumbered Jews (10 to 1 ) battled and  won the city.

Later that evening, after we had returned home, Harry had asked if we could go and see something of Afula that would really read as whatw my life is like there. So I took him to the shuk. And in true Harry form, he carried his camera with him. At 8:00 on a Thursday night, the fruit and vegetable vendors there are exhausted and are almost giving away the fruit, as they don’t want to have to pack it up again before Shabbas. And so you get your fruit almost 1/2 the price! And wouldn’t you know it,  the fruit and vegetable vendors love to pose for  pictures! Even after standing on their feet since early morning, even after dealing with the haggling, the schlepping, the handeling for prices, they still find a way to smile and dance at their work. That’s right! There might be only one dancing fruit vendor, but Harry Vine  captured him in full color, as he did his friend who decided that a nice bunch of parsley makes for a beautiful hat! I guess in the end, it just goes to show that you need to love what you do.

I wonder what song was going through his mind? Could it have been, “If I were a rich man??????”

Yes, that bunch of parsley DOES make a beautiful hat. Remind me not to buy that particular bunch, though!

And finally, Harry couldn’t resist getting a shot of me with the guard at the shuk, who just so happens to also work as the guard (shomer) at the Emunah Center! By the way. That is NOT the same bunch of parsley as the guy above is so elegantly wearing in his hair!

Ellin and her friendly guard at the shuk. Just in case someone wanted to steal that fetching hat of green parsley!!!