holy mud

I spent a considerable amount of time Friday morning scraping mud off of our Israeli grandsons’ brand-new soccer shoes. They went right from the store into the house and out to their outside plot into the mud. It was made worse, of course, when the littler one suggested to the older one to bring them into the house and wash them off. “Wait, wait–don’t do that!!” I tried to stop them. By the time I got to the sink (2 seconds at the most), it was pretty seriously too late.

They did not say this. They said lots of things at the highest volume that they have, which has grown since I saw them last in July. Oh, Lovely Mud, indeed! So I showed them how to use the plastic garden tools that they have to clean off the shoes. It worked to a point. The tempers calmed down and I was able to convince them that:

  1. this was better than the time that he stepped in dog stuff at our house. (This didn’t make him feel better, though, because he remembered how angry everyone was when he did that.)
  2. they would eventually dry. and
  3. the mud was a good thing, because it meant that it had rained enough to make mud!

The previous day, we went to visit Rachel our mother, but it was hard to know if she was even home. DSC_0157 DSC_0155

The tomb of Rachel has become a huge tourist attraction, rather than a visit of religious devotion. I shouldn’t say that, because most of the women who were there were very busy praying. But OMG, Kever Rachel even has a Facebook page now.

It used to be a place of a more private devotion. I think that was the point–Rachel was buried on the way. Her death was unexpected and her husband had not prepared himself emotionally for that loss. I have a feeling he probably regretted not bringing her to Hevron, but she became the standard bearer for the unredeemed. Even Melville uses her in Moby Dick, at the end of Chapter 128:

She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’. This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants’ sufferings and exiles following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to the Midrash, Rachel spoke before God: “If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to humiliate my sister and was willing to take a rival into my home, how could You, the eternal, compassionate God, be jealous of idols, which have no true existence, that were brought into Your home (the Temple in Jerusalem)? Will You cause my children to be exiled on this account?” God accepted her plea and promised that, eventually, the exile would end and the Jews would return to their land.

But actually, what brings most women to the Kever is something different; it is G-d listening to Rachel’s prayers during her lifetime. Here is the sign that is posted.


This is the line that is boldened on the right in this prayer that was composed to say at the Tomb of Rachel:

כב  וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיִּשְׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ אֱלֹהִים, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ. 22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

So women are there to pray to be heard now; for the children to come, not the children who have passed.

Now why did I bring up Rachel’s Tomb and my grandchildren’s muddy shoes? After all, I could have referenced walking to the Old City my first day in Israel; or walking to the Promenade and noting the changes since I’ve been here; or tasting the sufganiyot that have gone so upscale.

But somehow it comes down to the real needs that matter. Getting mud off of new soccer shoes; getting dog poop off of the baby stroller; getting vomit out of the baby’s clothes; it’s the real that we need.

We can wax poetic later when the smell is a distant memory.


granola bar dilemma and other rebbitzin tales

Some of my biggest challenges happen in the supermarket. Will they have the fish that I want? Will the lines be unending? Will I have to see people I really don’t want to see? Will people who don’t want to see me have to endure the sight of me?


Yesterday, I was trying to get through the store aqap, but I was stymied in the granola bar aisle. I usually purchase some bars of some kind for travel. But I end up feeling all Goldilocksy–some are too soft, some are too hard, and, to be honest, I haven’t come across the just right ones, but I was looking to see if there were any new options.

I noticed someone who I know in the next aisle over on the phone and we waved. I figured that would be safe enough and I wouldn’t have to talk to him. But of course, a few minutes later (while I’m still Buridan-assing over the granola bars) he comes over. He says to me, “I’m sure you hear this a lot, but your husband is amazing.”

Actually I don’t really remember what he said exactly, because I don’t want him thinking I really know why he’s saying it, so I’m trying to feign ignorance. That’s not really hard for me. I don’t really know why he thinks that, but I also probably know enough, only because of the amount of phone calls back and forth between them. So I play along.

“Thanks. I just stand back and let him do his magic.”

Which is true. But yes, we all know that magicians need their assistants, so I guess sometimes I do assist behind the scenes. I’m so happy to let him be in the spotlight.

And then I shared my dilemma of the granola bars and he wished me good luck with my search.

A few minutes later, we caught up again in the next aisle.

“What did you decide?”

“To make my own.”

And so I did.

Banana Oat Bars from thekitchn.com

Makes one 9×9-inch pan

2 large, very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates
1/4 cup chopped nuts — such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans
Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Mash very thoroughly until no large chunks remain; the bananas should be essentially liquid. Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the salt, dates, and nuts.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up.

Place the baking pan on a rack to cool. When the pan is mostly cool, cut into bars and enjoy with a glass of milk or tea.

Shall I tell you now what I changed or do you want to guess?

memory brings us forward

I, like so many others, am remembering the assassination of JFK. I am reading various interviews of those who were there with him in Dallas, including heartbreaking details about why Jackie was reaching back on the car after the shots.

Here’s the last line from an article in the Washington Post that describes the 4 days of national trauma:

The United States would never stop telling this story, as a loss of innocence, as a time of unity, as a rote memory.

In our family, we thought the world of him. He was good to the Jews. He was one of the good guys in a world that was simply divided. We didn’t need to differentiate.

Of course I remember where I was when I heard that he had been shot. I was in fifth grade and I was sitting at my desk three-quarters’ back in the room. I retain this image of being very far away from the center. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that the president had been shot.

None of us knew what that meant. Death was kept far away from us, even when family members passed away. Nothing was explained, but this we knew was a change. I don’t know at what point you could place that marker of  the loss of innocence, but I know we all experienced the somberness of the veil being lifted–when we didn’t know if we could trust people who lived among us.

I also remember going over a friend’s house that Monday and watching the funeral procession on her black-and-white television while sculpting a menorah out of soap. I remember the quiet of the house, the quiet of the procession, except for the clip-clop of the horse.

Please take a moment to read this speech, “The Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy; Yeshiva University Charter Day Dinner, 1957.” It’s comparable to Washington’s speech at the Touro Synagogue, both appreciating the best of differences, welcoming religious and intellectual ideas that enrich the quality of our country, the standing of the world.

Oh what a loss! Oh how poor we are today.

I add some photos here of a recent visit to the JFK Library to mark the occasion.

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My sister told me that someone came over to visit her yesterday. She really wasn’t up for visitors, but they met them in the street while they were doing a little walk around the trees outside, just to get out a bit.

So this family came up and so they came into the house once the walk around was done. They couldn’t tell them not to.

They’re going to have to learn how.

Their teenager accompanied them. And something else accompanied said teenager.

My sister asked if they were tired. “No. I have a cold.”

So here’s another entry for the clueless.

Which, of course, is problematic, because they’re usually too clueless to figure out that these kinds of things are talking about them.

I was going to put in a GIF of Robert De Niro doing his “You talkin’ to me?” routine, but it’s not quite appropriate for a rabbi’s wife…you get the picture, I know.

Instead, I googled “etiquette for visiting the sick”.

I’ll wait while you do it.

Was that so very interesting?

Who knew that etiquette was so particularly other-cultured!

So now I started thinking like a Jew and wrote instead: “laws of visiting the sick.”

Go ahead and google that one, too.

I’ll wait.

A whole ‘nother ball of wax, right???

All good ideas, all around, for sure. And it’s clear that we have to be taught to have compassion.

I didn’t look on youtube yet and I’m not planning on it. That would be too depressing.

None of the sites covered there mentioned DON’T BE SICK when you go visit someone! I guess there’s no law about it.

Where is the common sense?

Well, here‘s one that does!

2. Do not visit if you are hacking, coughing or sniffling.

I’m sick enough already.

But since I did title this culture, and I don’t want to disappoint my fans, here are a few photos I snapped with my phone today at the museum. It was a great day for culture all around.

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you can probably see where this is going, but

You should still see it to the end.

I saw this link on Neatorama on Facebook, but actually took the time to watch it now via this link on TYWKIWDBI.

An achingly evocative video posted by Miss Cellania at Neatorama, where a commenter noted that the 792,000 thai bahts are equivalent to about 25,000 USD or 19,000 EUR or 16,000 GBP.

It’s also a reminder that the financial problems contingent on life support and major medical catastrophes are not limited to the United States.

An amazing example of what we can accomplish together.

the need to remember

Especially today.

This week.

I see that I do write a lot about remembering; memory. Is that because I’m getting old(er) and all I have is my memories? Or just that there’s more to remember?

Or that I know that it is valuable to take lessons from the past.

So let’s go with that.

But today, I hear and read so many people’s accounts of what they were doing 12 years ago. And also, this Saturday is Yom Kippur and the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.

Maybe I’ll talk about my memories of the day 40 years ago another time.

I remember both very well. I am trying to figure out a line of connections between them.

That’s perhaps too easy. They are both about people choosing violence as a way of expressing themselves, not about getting something they want. Or is expressing themselves what they want?

Is that enough?

Not through violence. Not through fear. Not through imposing your will upon others.

I remember being at school 12 years ago, hearing just bits of what was going on and trying to figure out what to do with the children. How do we keep the children safe? I remember that the director of my preschool was new that year and this was her first test.

She didn’t pass.

She didn’t deal with it well. I’m not even sure what she did, but I remember the extreme pain on her face, while gathering everyone together. I really don’t remember; did we dismiss early from school? Did we just go on? How could we?

I do remember dealing with ISHI and with D#1 who was pregnant and unable to contact her husband, who worked in the twin towers. He had been late that morning, not unusual for him, but no, he had not gotten a phone call telling him to be late. I think that’s one of the urban legends how the Jews knew to not come in that morning.

But he was trapped in the subway tunnels underground, unable to get cell service, unable to reach her. Somehow, slowly, he did, she did, and we did reach each other.

The anxiety of the morning was what I will never forget. The details are not as important.

The lessons of what we must remember?

Here is what one woman says about it, from the Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo News:

“My friends and I, days and years after, after the smoke cleared, and we would say to each other, that day made a hole,” says Anoopa Singh, a recent college grad now preparing to begin a graduate degree in neuroscience. “And we didn’t just mean in the skyline. There was a hole in all of us: There was like an innocence that was missing, there were buildings missing, there was iconography missing.”

We must remember that something is missing. We must remember that the world is broken; we need to work much harder to fix things. It’s a necessary reality (I won’t say evil; it just is) that we need such days to remember the holes.

from our trip to the Statue of Liberty last August 2012

from our trip to the Statue of Liberty, August 2012

But what are we going to do about it?

renewing ourselves, once again

I’m spending this week with grandchild #10. His parents have moved into town and left. (Just for the week.) I have custody during the days, and the other grandparents have him at night. I think this is a very fair deal. He’s napping now, so I get to write. Also a fair deal.

At the playground earlier, it came to me that this is a very good way to renew myself at this time of year, at this time of life. I wrote about this not so long ago here, of the ability of some to be ever amazed at the world, like a child. I was reminded of this while pushing our little one on the baby swing. He was so happy to go back and forth and back and forth…I tried to take him out after about 5 minutes, but he was visibly not ready to leave this. So I girded myself to push him for another 5 minutes or more. And he was agreeable when I tried the next time to take him out.

I realized at that moment that we make ourselves so complicated. And I thought about my still-full refrigerators with food prepared for the 2 days of Rosh Hashanah, followed by Shabbat. Of course, I try to re-purpose food, so that one food gets used in 3 different presentations.

The soup I made, for example, for Shabbat, was from the cold sweet potato-carrot-cauliflower soup from last week (un-frozen), mixed with the leftover tzimmis (carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions, but no meat for you!) from the first night, with red lentils cooked in. So that was a good way to repurpose things.


We had left our overhead fan on in the kitchen, even though, thankfully, it turned cool for the holidays, delightful, really. And when I set up the hot plate over my flame to keep it protected over Shabbat, I thought I was being smart in using my larger tray to protect the flame.

I was, but I was also outsmarting myself.

The soup turned.

The flame was not strong enough with the fan on. It didn’t keep the soup hot enough. I was worried about it and tested it before serving it to our guests.

What a waste of repurposing.

And the bigger thing that I knew?

No one missed the soup. They would have been miserable tasting it, but they didn’t miss it. I had too many other things going on, even in my no-meat house. Really, no one went hungry.

So something is wrong.

We’re too complicated for our own good.

Or maybe we’re too affluent? Insisting on having so many different things, or not wanting to take a chance of people not being happy?

I’m reading Daniel Akst’s book We Have Met the Enemy about the problem of “moderation in the face of freedom and affluence”. I got it out from the library, since I figured the book screams DON’T BUY SOMETHING YOU CAN BORROW! (although he may not have really considered that when writing the book).

He demonstrates how the one who shows us how to navigate through the world of wants is actually Odysseus, who had his sailors chain himself up to his mast to keep him from being lost to the sirens. He calls this precommitment. This, and many other useful facts and strategies, can be found in the book. I’m looking forward to trying them in my own life.

Am I ready to put this onto my guests, though?

What do you think?

the danger of narrowing vision

So. The new moon. One month until Rosh HaShanah, the new year. It’s very hard to wrap my head around it–I just finished my summer program, so I should be able to start. The days are beginning to get a little cooler; the nights are even a bit chilly; so I should be able to, right?

I asked the participants in my summer group to talk about how their experiences in the program will help them get ready for this new month and for Rosh HaShanah. The answers were as varied as they were, including one fellow who said point-blank, “Some people feel willing to talk about this to others; I feel it’s completely personal and private, so I will keep it that way.”


Next person, please!

So is this a time for introspection, or interspection?

Yes, I know it’s not a word. I mean, do we just do pupik-gazing or do we look outwards, from ourselves to our family to our community to our people to our country to our world?

What in particular brings this question?

We’re in the middle, mostly tangentially, of all of these cases of people out of control. Some of them it’s due to health reasons. Their bodies are under siege or their minds are attacking their bodies; either way, the “they” of them is not unified.

Others; well, I guess you could easily say they are out of their minds, also. But they are not in control of themselves while trying to control others around them.

Anger is a powerful motivator, apparently.


stemming from perceived lack of control in one’s own life?

(And another side question–is it really okay to let men get away with things because they are men? Can we put this to rest already? Can we evolve, please?)

Thus the narrowing vision thing.

We cannot afford to be caught in our own small space. We cannot afford to be caught by others who imprison us in their own small spaces.

So…while I cannot solve this problem for all of these people, just trying to stay safe and be vigilant for the crazies, But how do we release from them?

I can say that this is the image of the shofar.

This includes the visual even more than the sound. It’s the effort of watching someone picking it up, putting it to their lips, concentrating all their efforts at making it effortless, and pushing all the elements back out to the universe. In a primal scream.

But that’s for the person doing the action. What about all of us bystanders? After all, there’s a thing about having just one voice, just one shofar, for the sake of the mitzvah of listening to the sound of the shofar.

Maybe it’s about giving in.

Letting go.

Giving control over to someone else.

So I’ll quote from someone else (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed), who quotes from someone else.

The Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that the first shofar blast in every order of blasts expresses the souls natural goodness, it represents the newborn child, untainted by sin, clean and pure. When the child grows, he becomes exposed to the complications and the crooked ways of this world, he struggles and is tested, he also falls and sins. This is expressed through the teruah, through moaning and sobbing over the failures that taint our character and the transgressions we become entangled in. The order finishes with a final simple shofar blast, which again expresses man’s virtue and goodness, but this time after repentance, after requesting forgiveness.

Finally, at the conclusion of all of the blasts, we blow a single long blast that expresses the end of all struggles and hardships, the final rectification. The greatness of a penitent is that after sin and failure he achieves a state of consummation, as a person enriched by trials, and despite everything has succeeded in overcoming all obstacles to refine his soul. In this regard, the sages say, “In the place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand” (Berakhot 34b).

Did I just completely contradict myself, saying it’s people who demand control who are in trouble, but we should release control?

You tell me.

hello, you must be going

We were meeting up with the kiddies on Sunday; we were coming south; one kiddie was coming north, and 2 were in New Jersey, one poised to leave tomorrow. With the persistent threat of rain, D#1 did not want the kiddies to trek through the mud of a park, and we pretty much didn’t want to go indoors to a place where we would spend the time chasing after everyone.

So we went to a park near her house that has the softest interlocking tiles that were just perfect for kids of all ages.

And we would see that it was also perfect for sharing.


The babies are now interacting. It was quite entertaining to watch.

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Here’s where it got amazing. As our kiddie started showing us how she’s perfected her cartwheels even since last week, other kids joined in.

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This young lady told us she had been in church that morning and her pastor said that we are all the same, one big family. To be honest, it probably was something different, but this was definitely the message. We told her that her pastor is very smart. The fact is that she was the smart one. After all, she looked at us and knew we were different, but knew we were really the same.

She then showed us all the tricks she can do and we celebrated how strong we all are.


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Below is some art that my very talented niece created, which made us realize it was time to get outside already. This is on our grandson, BTW. Well, I guess he’s getting ready to go to Israel from his toes up to his head!

look closely

so many mixed messages about marriage

Two days ago, on Shabbat, we celebrated the upcoming wedding of one of our young men next week, along with that of the newly-married couple from the week before. (I KNOW! We actually had a week off on Sunday! We went back to NJ to visit with our kiddies, some of whom are taking off this week moving to Israel. And getting in a brit this morning for a baby who is also moving to Israel with his family this week.

Two days after a circumcision? Only the mohel knows for sure if this is a good idea. Everybody should be healthy. Really healthy.)

Babies and weddings.

Full of promise.

I hope that all the social media that we’re so beholden to now will help them hold onto the promise and love that they feel now. Keeping on message. You know, remember all the photos and the promises you’ve made. All the ahhs and the likes and the loves.

Because it all turns so easily.

A poignant reminder of this was the same morning in synagogue, when in walks a woman who is holding herself together with a little make-up and a lot of smiling. She managed to get out of what had turned into an extremely abusive relationship a few years ago. She’s still really in shock that it had happened to her; that she has lost so much; that he was and is such a bum.

And that’s a nice word for it.

Why are we raising such boys? Such entitled super-indulged self-indulged boys who will never be real men?

I must say how grateful I am that the boys from our community who are getting married now are not at all that way; they will be greatly attentive and thoughtful to others.

And yes, I am very grateful that our own boys are amazingly attentive and caring about their wives, their families, their friends, and their communities. That includes sons-in-laws, too, of course!

And yes, this should be clear from what we are taught and what we teach; that we are not here for ourselves; that we do not accomplish things alone; that we are part of a community; that you are nothing if not with others.

I am reading this excellent book that our friend had recommended (without Goodreads;) ) that I mentioned back in April, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”, by Adam Grant. I’m almost done reading it, but I’m not rushing. Every chapter is a gem. Bottom line; givers rise higher than takers and matchers, but not those who give without knowing what they want to get.

It’s the Giving Tree pushback, par excellence.

You can’t let yourself be used up or taken advantage of, even as you give of yourself without limit.

But chopped down? Not so much.

The best of the positive came today, after the bris of this new baby, when the grandmother, who is not Jewish, said “We were already related by family. Now we’re related by blood.”

She really gets it.

I wish everyone else did.