Seder at Kibbutz Ein Harod for 800? . . . Wonderous!!!

Is that possible? How could anyone enjoy themselves? Wasn’t it chaos? How impersonal!!!

If those are any of the thoughts that passed through your mind when reading the title of this blog, I must tell you that you will now have to eat your words! I admit that I didn’t think it would be possible either. And I thought there were only going to be 400 people there. Imagine my surprise.

I’ve been struggling with the best way to describe what this experience meant to me. And I think I finally have it. Imagine looking through a 35mm camera. You know that the only way you’re going to see what’s happening is by looking through the lens. But it’s out of focus. You only get the gist of what’s happening. You can feel the frustration as you struggle to make sense of it all. And then, you begin to twist the telephoto lens, bringing everything from a blur into sharp focus. You hear the click of the camera as it takes a photo of the moment, recording it with much improved clarity, into your heart. That is what happened yesterday. It was like someone twisted my lens into focus.

So since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m going to tell this story through photos taken by my iPhone’s camera. And sorry if it’s a bit grainy. Wish I had Zoe’s camera, but you’ll get the picture, so to speak. And speaking of pictures, I’m going to upload a few small videos to my Facebook page (can’t do it here) so please feel free and go see some “live action.”

This was the MOST personal Seder I’ve ever attended. The vast number of people only added to the experience. This was a grounding event that involved an entire community. It began in the fields, with the elders of the kibbutz coming out with scythes and cutting the first wheat (omer), swinging their blades in time to the music played by a small group of kibbutz musicians. Each swish, swish of the massive blade as it descended to slice a bundle of wheat from the ground was like a dance with a partner. It was the persona and the bounty of nature.  It evoked an unspoken relationship, one that doesn’t require words since it’s all about the essence of our lives. Wheat. Food. Sustenance.

While in the fields,  musicians from the kibbutz continued to play, and a performance of young dancers (from the kibbutz, of course)  told a story of joy and liberation through their fluid movements, their grace, their unspoken conversation with their dance-mates. A gentle swaying raised their arms and hands in joy, then scooping downwards toward the wheat field where all the dancing took place. It was as if to say, “Fom the earth to the heaven, we are thankful and joyous.” Yes, the dancing was well rehearsed, and the freedom of the dances and the look of pride and joy on the face of all the participants was anything but forced, contrived, or insincere. It was almost atavistic, primal, simple. direct.

Eight hundred people. Not 10 or 20 or 30 who cram into living rooms, seated at extended tables. Not that  there is anything wrong with that. Passover was always my favorite celebration. But, as in all my new experiences with my Judaism here in Israel, it was all about ceremony. That link to Passover, of really understanding our connection to the earth, was missing, and couldn’t possibly be located until I experienced that parallel journey last night. Eight hundred people, all watching the different age groups of kibbutznicks dancing in the field. Many of them who were members of the kibbutz before 1948. A truly joyous and communal celebration. A tangible connection to the millennium of community-based retelling of the Passover story. Eight hundred people. Experiencing a shared piece of history together in most humble and basic of settings—the wheat field.

So here are the photos and some explanations. If they relay even a fraction of the wonder of last night, then I did my job.

The best seat in the house!

The best seat in the house!

As it should begin, the youngest begin the ceremony. And that mountain in the back? That's the Gilboa. That's where Saul and Jonathan met their end while fighting with the Philistines. Where the future King David cried when he heard of their deaths, "Oh! How the mighty have fallen."

As it should begin, the youngest are first in the ceremony. And that mountain in the back? That’s the Gilboa. That’s where Saul and Jonathan met their end while fighting with the Philistines. Where the future King David cried when he heard of their deaths, “Oh! How the mighty have fallen.”

The kibbutz elders stand with their scythes after having ceremoniously cut  the first stalks of wheat. In the background, the Gilboa stands as it has for millennium, as sentinel to our history.

The kibbutz elders stand with their scythes after having ceremoniously cut the first stalks of wheat. In the background, the Gilboa stands as it has for millennium, as sentinel to our history.

Slicing away the wheat in time to the beautiful music played in the background.

Slicing away the wheat in time to the beautiful music played in the background.

Bringing back the wheat from the fields. A ballet that has changed little in our history.

Bringing back the wheat from the fields. A ballet that has changed little in our history.

Husbands and wives, daughters and father danced together, telling a story of thankfulness and joy.

Husbands and wives, daughters and fathers danced together, telling a story of thankfulness and joy.

800 chairs, plates, cups, and you name it. Te food was already on the table on little tea-light warmers. This was like a military operation. What you see here is one half of the dining room. The other goes past a stage set up in the middle for more dancing, for the retelling of the story, and for the musicians.

800 chairs, plates, cups, and you name it. The food was already on the tables, set on little tea-light warmers. This was like a military operation. What you see here is one half of the dining room. The other goes past a stage set up in the middle for more dancing (performances, not recreational), for the retelling of the story, and for the musicians.

 

Had Gadya as you've never heard it before. New tune, new animation." I don't think anyone was more pleased than the children who participated!

Had Gadya as you’ve never heard it before. New tune, new
animation.” I don’t think anyone was more pleased than the children who participated!

Set up like a chic sidewalk cafe, the promenade under the Hadar Ochel (dining hall) at the conclusion of the Seder. Just a place to sit and enjoy the night air.

Set up like a chic sidewalk cafe, the promenade under the Hadar Ochel (dining hall) at the conclusion of the Seder. Just a place to sit and enjoy the night air.

Walking back from the Seder on the great lawn of the kibbutz, filled with families, happy children, and a very, very appreciative woman who lives in Afula (?). Wonder who that could be!!

Walking back from the Seder on the great lawn of the kibbutz, filled with families, happy children, and a very, very appreciative woman who lives in Afula (?). Wonder who that could be!!

This bird knows it's a full-moon in the month of Nissan, which means it must be the beginning of Pesach.  Laila tov everyone.

This bird knows it’s a full-moon in the month of Nissan, which means it must be the beginning of Pesach.
Laila tov everyone.

 

Yup. Next year in Jerusalem. Or Afula, or Ein Harod.

Just come. It doesn’t matter where. For once in your life, give yourself this experience.

Hag Sameach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Where Has the Time Gone?

So many things happen and I make a point to remember to share them with you. And then I forget. And I get caught up in the next “adventure.” But that doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about you.

Like buying a new car (again). I am enjoying my “new” 2012 Peugot 207. It’s safe, it zips, it gets me from place to place, and even has a CD drive in it. I haven’t had a CD drive in a car for more than. . . . well, come to think of it, I don’t think any of my cars ever had one. So I’m spoiled now. I’ve got a hands-free  phone, the beep-beep back-up warning, and cool roll-down windows so Kelev Gadol can stick his massive head out the window and let the beautiful Israeli wind stream through his curls. The reactions of passing drivers are quite hysterical. You’d think they’d never seen a giant poodle riding in a car before. Wish I could freak them all out and let him drive on my lap like one of those little yappy, drop-kick dogs. Wouldn’t that be hysterical?

And of course, this comes on the heels of finally getting my Israeli driver’s license. I believe it’s actually an “international” license. Look out, world. I’m a coming for your highways!!!

Speaking of cars, I was able to finally make it out to Netanya and find my American/Israeli CPA, who has helped me file my taxes for the 1st half of last year. Lucky for me, I was in the US for 6 months before making aliyah, so I was eligible for some tax break. Beats me if I understand which one, or why. But who cares. The amazing thing is that usually in the weeks preceding my visit to the accountant, my stomach would be in a twist and I would a mess. This year I just went with my “stuff” and that was that. What a pleasure. Everything was entered into all the right columns, the papers came to me and then were sent via certified, stamped, registered, belts-and-suspenders air mail to the IRS in the US. Fingers crossed that they get it.

Next big news is that I officially passed my Ulpan. Well, at least it’s noted that I officially took it. Not sure if I passed or not, but that’s really just a question of semantics. I’m beginning to speak more and more. And when I SKYPE with Zoe, I can have Google Translate in front of me so I can practice with her (her Hebrew is actually quite good!!!). I know I will get it at some point. I’m just horribly impatient. I have my workbooks and 501 Hebrew Verb book at my work office and so I can study a little each day. I’m also putting file cards with info all over the place. Kind of looks like CSI has been here, leaving comments at the site of any forensic evidence.  The hopes are that if I look at these carads often enough, they’ll become ingrained in my head. Well, we can hope.

And speaking of languages, my new business, Go English Afula! has it’s first client! A mother and her two children have signed up for 5 lessons each. Very exciting. We’ll be launching our website soon and will have our brochures and cards ready to roll. Let’s hope we can get enough students for a good summer program. That would be great. But at least we’re moving ahead. This is, of course, in addition to the work I do here at the Center. You wouldn’t want me to get bored, would you?

Last weekend was the bar mitzvah of Eitan Kessel, the son of Shlomo, my boss. If ever there was a perfect “destination bar mitzvah,” this was it. All the children were away from the Emunah Centre and Shlomo and Rachel’s visiting family were able to stay right on the premises. The kids played on all the many playgrounds, the service was held in our small Beit Knesset on the campus (just perfect), and all the meals were served in the Hadar Ochel. I mean, what more could you want? It reminded of me when my parents brought their family to some hotel in the Borscht Belt for my brother, Charles’ bar mitzvah. Everyone and everything under one tent.

One extremely beautiful moment came during one of the aliyot (not sure which one . . . being on the women’s side of the mechitzah makes my mind wander a bit). Shlomo and three other men held up Shlomo’s large tallit over the reader’s desk and over Eitan as read from the Torah. This schul uses large tiks that stand upright on the reader’s desk, which is in the center of the room. The look of pride on Shlomo’s face was one that could only be described by the Yiddish word, nachas. In a sense, Eitan was “married” to the Torah under this chuppah. I’ve never seen this done before, but to be honest, I wish it was done more often. There was such a strong sense of belonging and attachment. While the experience lasted only a minute or so, it actually was one of the most profound moments in my life as a cognizant Jew.

And as Spring makes its very, very brief visit, I head out to the local flower nursery at Kibbutz Merhavia, which has a rather beautiful selection of trees and flowers. Yesterday I bought a “sweet” lemon tree. It had some of those tender, white  blossoms that appear for just a week or so and fill the air with their scent that stops you in your tracks so you can inhale deeply and try to ingrain the memory of its aroma in your mind. If you remember from my writings last summer, I sleep outside on the patio during the summer. This year it will be like sleeping in the midst of a garden. I’m so excited. I’ll climb into my hammock, drag my kindle in with me, wait while KG gets settled on his bed below me, and then it will be off to sleep! Actually, it’s not a bad way to spend a warm night.

My final thoughts for this post are on the upcoming days of Pesach. Up to now, I haven’t been too bothered about celebrating the holidays away from my friends and families. It’s all been part of the adventure. But Passover has always been special and my favorite. Passover is when I would cook 60+ matzah balls, plan a large and sumptuous dinner, get out all my best dishes, and have a wonderful time being with best family and friends.During the past few years, my kids were an integral part of the planning, cooking, and table setting. It was really a family affair. I’d use my mother’s best antique Limoge china, starched white cloths, and  old wine glasses. Flowers in the middle, and sometime even a flower vase that was made out of matzah!

Of course, at some point during the meal, all this elegance would dissolve into a momentary food fight as we would rip open our individual  little sacks of mini marshmallows that have come to symbolize HAIL during the reading of the plagues. For anyone who has been at my home for a Seder, they will (hopefully) fondly remember the moment when someone says, “Did you say, ‘hail’?” That would be the cue for all to rip open their bags and begin pitching marshmallows at anything that moved or tried to duck. For the dogs, it was like manna from Heaven,snatching up maul-fulls of what they thought would be solid tidbits, but would soon confound them as their jaws would snap shut around the soft pellets. Have you ever seen a look of total confusion on a dog’s face? Feed them a marshmallow. Or Jello for that matter.

For those who can’t get enough sugar, the bobs of tiny white pillows floating in their Maneschewitz Concord Grape promised a sugar rush to beat the band. This momentary madness would also promise future smiles when engaged in a  thorough cleaning of the couch including the moving of the  pillows, which would inevitably reveal a stale, errant marshmallow or two, evoking a smile of happy evenings past.

This year I have been flooded by requests to come and celebrate with new friends. It was actually a difficult choice!  I will be going to Kibbutz Ein Harod and celebrating with about 600 people. I’ve been told that the celebrations begin in the fields, where we “gather” items that will be used in the upcoming Seder. I cannot wait. I will take photos.

There is no second Seder, but there is still a big meal, and I will be going to Zippi and Moshe’s home. Zippi is the nurse here at the Centre, and she has invited me to come and join her and her family. I am thrilled. The last night of Passover will be spent with my good friends Nurit and Yankeleh,  I always have fun being with them and am looking forward to going. But I will be thinking a great deal about Pesachs in years past, and not being with my family and friends. I think I’ll allow myself a moment or two of reflection, but in the end, I am still very content and often happy here.

So more to come, I’m sure. I can hardly wait.

 

 

 

Worth the Look (Jordan River Village)

Many of you might have heard of Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall” camps. But in case you didn’t know, there is one located just past the Golani Junction in northern Israel (Lower Galilee) . Once there you’ll find about 60 acres of Heaven for chronically ill children. And the other day, I went to visit it.  I still can’t get it out of my mind, and I needed to write and share what I saw with you all.

I had heard about the plans and work for the JRV one evening a few years ago while having dinner at the home of my friends, Lisa Grant and Billy Weitzer. Lisa’s parents, Marilyn and Murray Grant,  had a  dream to create a haven for chronically ill children. If you look at the website’s mission statement, it will tell you, “it is all about the kids – giving them some of their childhood back, enhancing their sense of self-worth.” Today, the campus is the only one of its kind in the Middle East, and provides a place of “normalcy” for those kids who don’t know what it’s like to ” just be a kid.”  They’re children who suffer from cancer, diabetes, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, and other life-threatening diseases. It’s a place where for a week, the children attend a haven that has been specifically designed to give them as much fun as they can pack into the days. And all of this is without any charge to their parents.  It’s a gift. Truly.

Entrance to the JRV campus.

Entrance to the JRV campus.

289_938

The campus is still under construction (and the pictures just don’t give you any indication of the physical expanse or visual impact of this place), its state-of-the art facilities are overwhelming. Cabins for the kids are bright and color-coordinated (the entire campus is built on the colors of the rainbow). Accessibility for children in wheelchairs, even allowing them to be hoisted up for the climbing wall and zip line, is nothing less than an architectural tour-de-force. Passing through the entrance gates, you come to a circle where brightly colored kits perpetually dancing in the wind, in a way that says to the kids, “Here is magic. Here is freedom. Here is fun.”

I’ve pulled a few photos off their website (jrv.org.il), but I invite you all to go see this for yourselves. If you didn’t know that there was a specially designed, state-of-the-art hospital on site, you’d never know that the kids who attend lead anything but a charmed life.

Marilyn and Murray grant realized their dream last year and they attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. Murray Grant passed away shortly after the ceremony, but he lived to share the realization of his and his wife’s dream.

I don’t know how they did it, but I do know that it’s one more example of how miracles really can come true. Make sure you go and visit it when you make your next trip to Israel. Whether it’s on a small scale, such as the work done at the Emunah Children’s Centre in Afula, or on this new, grand, fantasy-come-to-life in the Jordan River Valley, you will be proud to be a Jew, proud to know how seriously we take our investment in our communal future—our children, and proud of people such as Marilyn and Murray Grant, even if you never had the pleasure to meet them.

Marilyn, I had goosebumps for days after visiting the JRV. Thank you for your vision and perseverance.

 

E

KG Reports: “I Think Ellin May Have Lost It This Time . . . .”

It’s a lovely, cool Wednesday morning, with a crisp bite in the air that makes you just so glad to be a dog. You do realize that the smells are so much cleaner and pungent when the air is clear and the breeze is just a little puff of air that twirls around your curls. Oh. Glorious! My walks are so much more enjoyable these days, first off, because there are so many more of them. Since we have been car-less, we have done so much more walking. I have a feeling that Ellin actually likes it better that way because she smiles and walks with her head tilted back a bit, as if she were trying to imagine what it would be like to be me, absorbing the myriad aromas in the air. She says she’s just trying to catch the odd orange blossom smell, since spring has brought all the different trees into flower. Even in Afula. There’s also mustard growing like there’s no tomorrow. Just the other day, in fact, when JillfromJerusalem and Ellin were walking, Jill told Ellin to eat the yellow flower that she had just plucked. Even though she was hesitant (Ellin will NEVER make a good dog), she ate it. We watched in wonder what face Ellin and would make and sure enough, she spat it out yelling, “Yuck! I just got a mouth full of mustard!” What did she expect? That each stem would come with a little tag identifying it as Grey Poop On? (Don’t you just love that name? “Poop On”! Someone must have loved their canine to give such expensive mustard such a wondrous name!!!

Anyway, speaking of poop, Ellin has been trying to help my slightly aching back legs by covering these humongous tablets of vitamins that are supposed to make my legs feel better in heaps of peanut butter. Really. . . who does she think she’s kidding? I refused to eat those big yucky smelling things so she smothered them in PB. No fair.  I can’t help it. I’d do almost anything for PB. So I ate them, but they just didn’t settle well in my delicate stomach. Ellin still gave them to me for a few more days, and to make the point to her that I really didn’t want them, I ate the last one then walked over to her favorite carpet and barfed all over it. Usually, I do her the favor of barfing outside, but she wasn’t taking the hint, so I had to be a little more obvious. And they say she’s smart? Sometime I’m not so sure.

But back to the title of this entry. . . .

This morning I heard Ellin talking to someone while she was hanging up her laundry. Strangely, Ellin actually enjoys putting the laundry on the line. She says it reminds her of when she was in school in Florence, and says there is something very soothing about taking things out of the laundry basket, shaking them to unfold them a bit, then sorting them out on the different  lines that hang outside the laundry room. Again, I question her intelligence, but she says I do some pretty disgusting things, so I’ll just let this pass.

As her conversation was quite animated, and it sounded as if she was making a “deal” with someone, . . . .”If you don’t do such-and-such then I won’t do such-and-such . . .”  I went out to investigate and there was Ellin having a rather animated conversation with two very large pigeons  sitting on the laundry lines directly across from ours. I’m not sure I ever saw such big pigeons, and they were totally absorbed in Ellin’s conversation. They were, unquestionably, looking directly at her. Then they’d look at each other as if to say, “What the ????” and then back at Ellin. I guess even the pigeons in Israel are a little bolder, a little louder, a little rougher around the edges.

So what was the gist of the conversation? Something about “if you don’t poop on my clothes I won’t push you off the ledge of my bathroom window. You can coo all you like and I won’t slam my hand against the window to scare you into moving on.” There’s something about this “live and let live” mentality that Ellin has, even with pigeons and the occasional caterpillar that crosses our paths during our morning walks. And then she added, “but the deal is off if you dare poop on my new car!!!!”  Perhaps the scariest part of the deal was that they seemed to move their heads up and down as if they were in total agreement with the deal.  Must be bi-lingual pigeons.

So now Ellin is talking to the birds and she thinks they are answering her back. Yup. I’m worried she may have finally lost it this time.

Where was I? Ah yes. The new car. Seems that Ellin decided that it wasn’t worthwhile putting just a new engine and new hoses and radiator into a 2006 Renault. She put her foot down when they told her the electric system AND the transmission were a little wonky. After that, she decided she just didn’t trust the car anymore, nor the mechanics, and so she opted to buy a new (used) car. Yes, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the great deal that new olim get on new cars, but it’s not as great as you think, because you have to buy a brand new car and only get 50% off of some of the tax. And so if you find a pretty good late model used car, you still save money. So that’s what Ellin did. She traded in her clunker for a 2012 Peugot 207 with about 8600 km on it. She had to buy something from the dealer where she had the Renault towed, because it was kind of “ransomed” there. But it’s all OK. She found a little black 4-door deal (they call it a “mini”) and it’s got no big bells and whistles, which actually makes Ellin rather happy! Less to break, is what she always says. Anyway, she made the deal the other day, thanks to the help of her boss (who listened as the entire deal was done in Italian), and then Yaniv, another great guy from Emunah, whom Ellin asked to help her test drive it since he’s a real car guy. She may not go down in history as being the best negotiator, but everyone seems to agree that it’s a decent deal. And so, today they’re putting in the “paws-free” phone system and the “beep-beep-backup” system to make sure that Ellin doesn’t put any unnecessary dents into the car. Guess that means she won’t wont be running over any cats either.

And lastly, did you know that in Israel you don’t get to keep the same license plate? Each new car gets its own plate. Damn! I had finally memorized the first of the seven digits of the old license plate! Now I’ll just have to start all over again.

Oh well. I guess I can’t have it all.

"The Black Beast"

KG signing off until next time.