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?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Farm Visit

On Wednesday the first and second graders took a field trip to Green Meadows Farm. It was a special treat for many reasons, one was that since I teach Second and Naomi is in First, it was a rare opportunity to take a trip with her. So yesterday I attended as a parent more than as a teacher.

It had a very big impact on me. The Farm is basically a giant petting zoo and the kids were allowed to not only pet, but even pick up animals like goats, rabbits and full-grown chickens. Even growing up in Corvallis, Oregon and bringing in the eggs from our chickens, I never had held one before. (In fact, I don't think I held one yesterday either, but I did pet a few.) We also petted pigs, emus, horses, cows, puppies and kittens.

It was stunning to watch the reactions both of the children and the adults. Many of the children were a little afraid, although by the end of the day most were willing to go into the pens and touch everything. Some of the adults are terrified to go near anything which made me very very sad. The idea that the connection to animals had never existed or had been severed over time is heart-breaking to me.

Further, I realize that everyone that was with us that day readily eats meat without making the connection. In fact, a child asked as we were actually milking a cow, "Is this Kosher?" On one hand that made me sad, that anyone would want to eat this creature with whom we were interacting. On the other, isn't that exactly how it used to be here and is in other places? Children knew the animals they would eat some day. They excepted the cycle of life and then participated.

I think that the older I get, the more sensitive I become, and so even if it's natural, I am hesitant to participate in this cycle. However, what hurts the most when I consider meat eating, is the thought people do so without connection to where the animals come from and without any idea or acceptance that there may be a sadness involved. In fact, people revel in how much they can choose not to care about animals. ("Oh no, I only avoid red meat for health reasons.") Why this can be attractive stuns me. Don't we want to be around others who have compassion?

I realize this all, ironically, makes me difficult to be around, and it's not an easy way to feel either. I want to just revel in the joy of what I saw without thinking about how lovely those animals were and what will happen to them in a matter of a few short months or years.