Friday, March 20, 2015

Israel 2015, part 4 -- Rehovot

6 AM and a horrible beeping woke us up. At first we thought it a raid siren, but then I remembered the sign that had explained a siren like that would have a rising and falling sound. We pulled on shoes and jackets over our pajamas and went outside. No one was in the front office. The alarm stopped in our building then started in another. Then it did it again. Gradually we came to understand it was a malfunction and that no one really cared much about it. So much for sleeping in.

Our one reservation that day was for Leket. Leket is a nonprofit that used to be called table to table and was begun by a Bergen County ex-pat. The organization rescues unused food from restaurants, catering services etc., as well as from farms, and delivers them to Israel's hungry population. ND and I have both heard the founders speak at different venues and were eager to come glean for them.

Before we would go there though, we decided to hit one more destination in Ein Gedi, Wadi David. In fact, we didn't realize it until now, but the hostel where we were staying was actually next door to the park filled with trails. I wish we had had more time to explore, but even the easiest trail was a bit precarious in spots. Advertised as one of the easier family hikes, it climbs up to a lovely water fall. However, along the way there are a whole lot of rocks, a warning about potential falling rocks pushed down by ibexes and a few single file slippery spots where water washed over the rocky path. This was actually just about the level of adventure I like... do-able, but at least with a little feeling of risk. Signage for other trails warned to stay away unless you were a very fit hiker. So we were in and out in the hour we had budgeted and on our way to the fields in Rehovot.

There isn't a ton to tell about picking with Leket, except that we really really enjoyed it. Our volunteer coordinator was from Denver originally and had an excellent memory for people. Through a quick game of Jewish Geography we quickly identified that she was friends with our formerly Vancouver friends in Modi'in. In addition, at the end of our time, when she asked us what was next, we told how we would be staying with friends in Jerusalem. How did we know these friends? Because they had lived for about 3 years near us in Tenafly and we were looking forward to meeting their new baby who had been born since their return to Israel. Right away our guide said, "oh, I think I met her when she was very very pregnant. She came and, well, sat, while the family she was with picked. I think there was an archaeologist with them." Yep... Those friends were friends of ours too from our shul back home. Small small Jewish world.

So Leket, itself, in one word:
We picked enough beets to feed 100 families (who I hope would be eating other things too.) There was a Teaneck family there too who helped at first but ended up leaving early as the day was hot and the beets were staining. So the 100 beets were our work alone. What a proud way to end the day.

Israel 2015, part 3 -- Ein Gedi

Tuesday was, for better or worse, another very long afternoon of driving. Along the way we made a quick stop in the neighborhood where U.’s mother had been raised and found a couple of family landmarks. However, time was short and we had to keep moving. The last hour or so of our drive came during a beautiful sunset, but then we had to drive on narrows roads around hills in a black night. We couldn’t even see The Dead Sea on our left because buildings or street lights of any kind were few and far between.

At last we arrived at a hostel which, honestly, was not the friendliest place we had ever stayed, but we were relieved to have two whole nights in the place. In addition, we were grateful to find a full buffet dining hall awaiting us. 
While in the dining hall we spotted an interesting group sitting at another table. There were two women. One had dark hair like mine and a little girl with curly hair. The second woman had long red hair, a young daughter and a baby boy in a high chair. The group reminded ND and me both of ourselves and our camping friend emarcy who has a little girl and was (at the time of this encounter) very very pregnant. The group we saw was disheveled too, so like us when we go camping each summer.

We emailed emarcy about the little party and she responded that we very well may have seen our camping “doubles.” We couldn’t know for sure yet as they had not yet learned the gender of the baby, but we might know very soon because her contractions seemed to be starting!

(Sure enough, a day and a half later we finally got the announcement that she had had a baby boy!)

I had been looking forward for some time to the day we would wake up in Ein Gedi. We had an open schedule until 4:00 PM. I had planned this deliberately because I knew that 1. Visiting the Dead Sea was a top priority for ND and 2. We had been told that children often lose interest in the Dead Sea once the salts seeped into unknown cuts and made it too annoying to stay. So I had collected some other options as well. Still, it became another fully packed and exhausting day.

We realized when we looked at the map just how close Masada was. I had not originally planned to share its history with ND yet. The angst-ridden story of mass suicide seems more engaging and romantic to teenage sensibilities. I know that as a teen I had been very moved by the story and do remember the morning ascent I did during the Israel half of my March of the Living experience in 1994. However, here we were again, so close to Masada. It would be a shame to miss it.
Down the snake path

We took the tram up to save time and right away began searching for artifacts that just maybe the archaeologists had missed. Alas, finding nothing more than our imaginations, we had to depend instead on the diagrams showing how the buildings used to look to give us a vague sense of what was what. Later, when discussing our favorites of Masada we each named a bathhouse that was still filled with ancient Roman mosaic tiles. 

Not wanting to miss out on the experience of The Snake Path we took the long walk down and found the day was getting hotter. Walking down was more exhausting than expected. We made it though and hit the road for Ein Bokek.

In our family, U. was the only one who had ever been to the Dead Sea. His memory of it had been entirely about how hot and uncomfortable it was. So he was surprised to see the enormous hotels and the nice beach we found. The walk from the parking lot to beach was shorter than I have ever experienced in any beach and had little changing booths right on the beach. It was about 70 degrees Farenheit, a little chilly for a day at the beach but we certainly weren't the only ones that day. As in any beach or swimming pool it took some time to brave up to the cold. No option of dunking your head to acclimate as it's dangerous to get the Dead Sea water on your face (and tastes horrible)! U. was the first one to be brave enough to completely sit down on the water and we were all delighted when he said the water wouldn't let him touch the ground underneath. Soon I too had the nerve to lay back and let the water scoot me around and we discovered ND could sit on me like a raft.

It was sad when the time came to leave, but we were freezing cold. Shivering in the car on our way to the next adventure U. marveled,

"Wow, we've actually done it. We're driving through the desert with the heat on."

Like the night before, we took a long and winding road to Kfar Hanokdim. This is a Bedouin tourist attraction which we'd learned about when searching for camel rides. In retrospect I realize we planned it for rather an odd time as our reservation was at 4 and was meant to include a camel ride and "Bedouin Hospitality." When reserving we had chosen against the overnight stay as we didn't think we'd quite be comfortable sleeping in tents in such a new environment. (The video on the site was not available when we booked so you'll get more information from watching it than we had before we went!)
I'd really been looking forward to this activity but, since we came at an odd time, felt really anxious about how few others were there. We were in the middle of the desert with nothing much in sight except this Bedouin camp, were unclear exact what to expect, whether Bedouin kashrut was the same as our kashrut, and afraid to say or ask the wrong things to offend. I was also nervous about driving back yet again on winding mountain roads in the dark.

In any case, we started with the camel ride -- ND with me and U on his own. This mode of travel certainly felt steady but slow. Going up and down hills was a challenge as the "saddle" or whatever we sat in, became quite steep. I thought of the early matriarchs and patriarchs depending on camels for travel, especially Rachel and how uncomfortable it must have been if "the way of women" really was upon her and she wasn't just hiding Laban's idols.

After a half hour ride up and down a sand dune, we returned and were escorted to a tent where we were offered tea and coffee that had been cooked over a fire. Here a Bedouin man spoke to us about Bedouin life, the migratory existence, arranged marriages, food and so on. We were once again the only ones present so I thought hard for questions I could ask to show our interest and to be polite. We had been told that dinner would be reserved too but all I saw was tea and coffee. The silence that came after some time in the tent was awkward, so I excused us, saying we needed to leave before the sun went down completely.

We bade Salaam and headed for the car only to be followed by the woman who had made our reservation.

"We have more for you," she said, insisting we stay, and led us to an enormous tent we hadn't seen before. This tent held tables in a dining hall and we were seated in the back where the tent flap had been lifted to reveal the sunset that was dropping at that moment.

"Even if we leave now we won't be back before dark" U. said and we resolved to enjoy ourselves.

Course after course... first vegetables, then meat in beautiful arrangements. There was enough food to feed 8 comfortably and have them groan from overindulging. Clearly they prepare for larger groups most of the time and didn't downsize just because we were a smaller reservation.

ND who like me aspires to vegetarianism looked to me.

"We don't turn down hospitality like this," I said as I served myself some of the smaller and more appetizing pieces of meat.

A cat made itself at home on the floor between us and cried so pitifully that we gave in and shared with it. (Since she was so good at begging, ND named her "Beggy.")
Our waiter never asked us not to feed her.

That night we came home exhausted.

"Tomorrow" I said, "we don't have to be anywhere until 2. We're sleeping in."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Israel 2015, Part 2 -- Safed

Monday morning we awoke in our hotel and had our first delicious hotel breakfast including shakshuka (love saying that word), potatoes, salads, pastries, yogurt, cereal... yum. So much delicious Kosher food to choose from.

Then, grateful at last to not have a deadline to meet, we took a quick walk to the Artists' Colony where saw some puzzle piece shabbat/Channukah candlesticks I was really tempted to buy. Then we hit the road to Safed.

Our drive North was very very slow due to construction and we were caught behind a series of trucks carrying tanks. Funny to be a tourist and not quite know what those tanks are up to, but have that all be normal routine in a country and small and with a military as active as that in Israel.

As a result we didn’t get there until close to nightfall and gave up the opportunity to "swing by" the Kinneret which beckoned temptingly on the map.

With so many reservations in so many places, I had failed to read the details on some of the confirmation emails. So we were a little nervous when Waze took us to an alleyway. We parked the car on the street and called the Guesthouse where a very warm, American voice answered and gave us lengthy details of how to walk to the Guesthouse. “You don’t have a ton of luggage, do you?” Not knowing how to respond I just left most of my stuff in the car and we dragged a few essentials single file down a narrow curb of a sidewalk, then down a flight of steps to a garbage-ridden alleyway.
Fortunately, we were hopeful that we were in the right place and had better to look forward to with the beautiful signs that pointed our way.
Our room's domed ceiling
Sure enough, at the end of the alleyway was a richly painted blue door which opened into a beautiful courtyard with geodes, crystals, an olive tree and herb garden. Several rooms looked out into the courtyard and we found our way to the hosts’ door. The hostess, Joy, came out to greet us, hugged me as if we were old friends and said she’d been waiting for us.
Guest House courtyard, daytime

She showed us our room which was dome-shaped and very homey, explained how everything worked, walked us through a map of the area, and then left us to go see if we could fit in anything that night. Our goals for Safed were to see a few of the shuls and to see and maybe purchase some art. By this time of evening, though, it was also to find some food. Alas, almost everything was closed including a Yemenite vegetarian restaurant where we could have sat on cushions and tried new foods.

There were a few galleries still open at least. ND and U. came really close to buying a few paintings, but I was too distracted by looking at all the tree shaped necklaces and finally bargaining down for one I really liked. (I’m saving it for a shechechiyanu at Pesach.) We also gave into having pizza, not for the first time at all on this trip, but enjoyed eating it in a little hole in the wall with lovely decorations, and Safed right outside.

I started off the next morning with Joy giving me a glorious massage. Then rejoined my family in the room where we ate breakfast together in our room with enormous pancakes and a plate full of fruit.

Mezuzah made by the glass blower who is making my yad
Back to the artist quarter then where I had a beautiful and moving experience of ordering a glass yad to be made for me for reading Torah. Hopefully it will be ready before Purim in time for the the women’s megillah reading that I organize. (Stayed tuned. Later I'll be posting an article about that. Below in this blog see a video of the glassblower.)

We also bought Kiddush cups, admired paintings, ran into Naomi’s first grade teacher who was also touring Israel, visited a few of the shuls and walked up the tall staircase back to our car and on our way to the next adventure.
Glass door to our room

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Israel 2015, Part 1 -- Modi'in and Jerusalem

For Yeshiva Break this year we went to Israel. This was my first time since 1994, U.'s first time since about then and ND's first time PERIOD. Why did we go now? It was time to do so. ND felt (though not quite accurately) that she was the only one in her class who had never been. Likewise, we just wanted to go and to have a nice trip there together. Why during such a short vacation? The summer is hot and more expensive, so this is what we've been planning since last summer when we realized we just couldn't pull off a last-minute summer trip.

The last day of school was Wednesday, January 14. We left school at lunchtime. At the airport we saw two Noam families whose children I'd taught, all of us heading out on the same flight. In stereotypical Israeli fashion, instead of just calmly waiting in seats as I usually do on a flight out, we had extra security and then all crammed forwards in a mob as if it we didn't fight to the front we wouldn't get onto the plane at all.

The flight was mostly uneventful. ND and I watched Bears and then tried to go to sleep as it was already nighttime in Israel. Alas, very little luck. It was just too early to sleep. So we pretended to sleep, tried to sleep and dozed about an hour or two before arriving after 10 hours of flying at 9:25 AM on the 15th in Tel Aviv.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome, 2015!

So it's the secular New Year, a time when lots of people make resolutions. I don't have any new resolutions to share right now. Rather, I find myself checking in with my intentions as of Rosh Hashanah/2014-2015 school year.

This year has been designated as a scaling-back year. The biggest part of that was taking a hiatus from my writing group and, hence, my novel as well. I've done very little volunteering and am taking stock of some questions about my work.

Instead, what I find is I'm settling into inhabiting my life. This has become a major phrase for me. It means

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

11th Remission Anniversary

A very special one this has been so far.

I didn't know how to mark it really. Last year I sort of gave myself permission to stop finding enormous meaning in it. The chagim have just finished so I barely have had time to prepare in any way, and then I got this horrendous cold Friday night, right after Simchat Torah. I thought at first it was from all of the singing, but I was short of breath during some of the dancing in a way that meant more than just overexertion. ND and I were both up much of the night. As much as I rested through the weekend, I had fever Sunday night which is so odd for me! So I missed Monday and Tuesday of work.

Here's where this starts to turn. I spoke to my meditation teacher on Tuesday at 11:30 and as we spoke I went deep deep deep into my vulnerability again. I haven't touched this place much recently as I've been trying to be calmer about feeling illness. I remembered too that I often get sick at this time. I cried a lot. We had a very special conversation that I'm going to keep mostly to myself now.

But beautifully, when I got off the phone, I felt so much more energy! So good that today when I returned to work one of my other dearest friends said I just didn't look sick and said, "Your body always remembers, doesn't it? Now you know though that you can heal."

I got so much today. So many well-wishes, sometimes in the midst of little frustrations. To have someone sincerely wish me "from strength to strength" while I'm wrestling with a copy machine makes me zoom out in perspective rapidly and forcefully.

11 years I saw the ending of a renegade part of me -- a tumor -- tried to grow so fast that it could have killed me. I loved it out of existence (I know that sounds weird, but it was a part of me) and walked into life again. And here I am.

I don't feel fear or sadness or illness, guilt or shame today. Just love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Throwing In The Towel

Sorry, but I'm just not up for it anymore.

Every year at Hoshanah Rabbah the rabbis tell us that it is a much forgotten holiday, that it has significance, that please please please they'd like us to come to shul.

On days like that what you see in shul is a group of men looking very awkward as they go through this very odd ritual of walking in circles carrying lulav and etrog, then flogging the ground with willow branches. It's supposed to be very very important and must be or else why would they do something that looks so odd.

I try to do what I'm asked to do. I try to listen to my rabbis. I try, especially so soon after the days of awe, to participate as fully as possible.

Our rabbi said once that part of what feels so good about Yom Kippur is that you know exactly what you have to do that day.

The last time I went to Hoshanah Rabbah, though, I was the only woman standing on my side, with no stage directions, no camaraderie. The awkwardness already present in the room was magnified for me by my having no one else to join me. So I didn't know what to do. You tell me one thing when you ask everyone to come to shul. You tell me something else when I'm left all alone.

I "lean in" frequently. I make myself feel simultaneously vulnerable, brave and pushy every time I go to kiss the Torah at shul and no other women do.

Many women have given up. They sometimes might say they just aren't interested, but I have never lacked interest in participating and I suppose many of them haven't either. They feel their presence is not wanted or they can't take the pain of isolation. I refuse to give up in most things. But in this way, forget it. It's just not worth that pain again. So this morning I davened at home and I'm trying not to feel as if I missed something.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

More About Men and Women and Eicha

I wrote last year about the stark contrast between men's and women's expressions on Tisha B'Av in formal readings of Eicha and Kinnot.

This year I found textual proof to back up my impressions. In this morning's Haftorah it says:
…summon the dirge-women and let them come, and send for the wise women and let them come…. Hearken, O women to the word of Hashem and let your ears absorb the word of his mouth, and teach a lament to your daughters, and each woman a dirge to her friend. For death has ascended through our windows, it has come into our palaces to cut down infants from the marketplace, young men from the streets.
And later the text ends:
'Let not the wise man laud himself with his wisdom, and let not the strong man laud himself with his strength, and let not the rich man laud himself with his wealth. Only with this may one laud himself -- discerning in knowing Me, for I am Hashem Who does kindness, justice, and righteousness in the land, for in these is my desire,' the words of Hashem.
 In the shul in which I listened to Kinnot this morning, the rabbi went on to explain that even though this year with concerns in Israel we feel the emotions of Tisha B'Av more acutely, we still need help. He went on to say that even in the time of Yirmiyahu they needed help and that women had the job of leading people towards that says of mourning.

So my simple question is, why don't we do that now? Why was a male rabbi explaining this instead of a woman singing it?

The women's eicha that I attended was by women and for women, but what if all Tisha B'Av prayer was led by women, and was done so for women and men? What if those closest to life and death and those who some claim "are more spiritual" were the ones taking us on that path? Wouldn't it evoke a very real connection to the day, to mourning, to Hashem even? Not the wise man, the strong man, not the rich man, but the dirges of the women be the transmitter of knowledge that we must know Hashem.

Further, what if every culture opened up the voices of women? If all women around the world had a day to dirge and drown out all other sound with mourning for loss of life, for kidnappings, for rapes, for murders, for slavery, for injustice, for pain and for war?

What if authentic women's voices speaking for humanity were the clearest voices all year round? Not the kinds of women's voices that try to sound like men in order to be accepted, but the kinds of voices that come from true binah? What if?