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.


silver linings of polio and other travel tidbits

While searching for some travel items on Amazon, look what I found! I typed in “travel accessories”, in case you want to try it. I’d be curious to see if you come up with similar items.

Product Details

Simran SM-60 Universal Power Strip 3 Outlets for 110V-250V Worldwide Travel with Surge/Overload Protection by Simran

(Okay, that makes sense, but not for my needs. Let’s continue.)

Rick Steves Travel Gear Clothesline by Rick Steves

(Again, okay. I’m skipping the photos, since you get the picture:). It’s a rope.)

iPad Mini 5-in-1 Accessories Bundle Rotating Case for Business and Travel, Green by Gearonic

Product Details

Classic Accessories Fairway Travel 4-sided Golf Car Enclosure (Fits most two-person golf cars) by Classic Accessories (Jan 12, 2009)

(Hmmm. What else is there?)

CTA Digital PS Vita Travel EVA Protective Case with 4x Game Storage Pockets by CTA Digital (Mar 5, 2012)


humangear Gotoob Travel Bottles 3-Pack Medium 2 Ounce by humangear

(Boooring. Wait–I need that.)

Product Details

Pinterest by Pinterest, Inc (Aug 15, 2012)

  • $0.00
  • Available instantly on your connected Android device
  • Get inspiration from DIY, Travel, Food and other categories.
  • Apps for Android: See all 5 items

I think I’ll stop here. I’m not pinterested. (Sorry.)

I did order a few things for myself in preparation for my travels next week.

I made the reservations back in August, but it’s really hard to wrap my head around it that I’m actually taking off. Now, how to pack for over 2 months with one suitcase and lots of different weather possibilities? Australia was a breeze compared to this.

Israel is a complex country, in case you hadn’t heard. (I’m not going to discuss politics now. Enough people are doing an awful job of it without me joining in.)

Even the weather is complex. It can be gorgeous in the winter; it can also snow. We pray for rain in the winter. I will be there for long enough to have to really mean it. So I have my waterproof boots and shoes (yes, the 7 1/2 in the Land’s End actually is the right size, thankfully). I have layers. Enough to make an archaeological dig.

But I think I’ll skip the golf cart enclosure, although perhaps, if it rains enough, I may regret my decision.

Oh–the title?

Of course, you may have read about a polio outbreak in Syria and in Israel last month. I did, too, but I didn’t actually process that it may refer to me. Even though the Israeli healthcare system (the US should really take better notes) has taken care of it pretty well, it still could be lingering in certain areas. And should I take a risk or not?

I called my doctor and asked should I get a booster shot for polio? Does my blood work show if I am immune? Do you have on record that I had polio as a child? Please make sure to tell the doctor that fact–am I more susceptible because of it, like chickenpox/shingles, or does it create immunity?

Well, in the realm of the added unexpected, the nurse called back to say that the doctor said I was immune because of having it as a child.


Who ever thought that would come in handy some day?

i’m no proust

But I have my own madeleine now and it’s a cherry.

I also wanted to find a photo of the experience that led me to this, but alas, my memory of having taken one of the time does not match up with reality.

So what is this?

A bag of dried cherries started all of this.

D#2 and family had brought up a bag of dried cherries on their last trip up to her hometown a month ago. And they did not take it back with them, even though they had every intention of doing so.

So I took it back with us when we went to see them two weeks ago.

And then again, a week ago.

Both times I forgot to say, “Remember to take the cherries!”

Or maybe I did. Again, the faultline of memory is pretty large.

So I have the bag sitting on my countertop. Should I ask people who are going to Israel to take it with them? Should I save it to take with me when I go in December?

What is the reference point that makes this need to return the cherries so strong?

The package says:

Reminds you of home.

When we were in Israel, when they were still there, in the summer of 2007, I took the two little ones cherry picking. There were a slew of cherry trees full of their fruit right next to their apartment, and no one was picking them. So we spent a delicious amount of time picking them. Then we tasted them (once my SIL took the appropriate tithes, which is so cool) and realized why no one else was picking them. They were sour.

No worries–I took them and made lemonade. Add sugar and cook them and make a great sauce.

I also spent a bit of time right now looking for the Gush Etzion cherry festival. I found lots of references to the one in 2012. So what’s going on now? Here’s the thing.

השנה לא יהיה קטיף דובדבנים עקב מיעוט פרות על העצים.

This year there will not be a cherry-picking festival due to the lack of fruit on the trees.

Oh. Pity.

Clearly things don’t necessarily turn out how we anticipate.

But I did find a photo of our little big girl doing rudimentary gymnastics at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo from that time.

This is the same one who is now doing cartwheels. (See previous post.)


is kugel the secret sauce?

First, I saw this:

Braun Food Processor

  • Kugel Blade
  • Stainless steel blades offer efficiency and durability
  • 600 Watts of power for a wide range of tasks around the kitchen

This is on a site for a company that sells 220v appliances, the kind you need for Israel. I was looking at it for my daughter and family. Granted, it’s a company that’s selling for this particular niche, not for other ethnic groups.

But still, an odd description, wouldn’t you say so?

And then I saw this article from the Jewish Week about a young woman who traveled from being raised as a Neturei Karta-nik to becoming an artist:

“Since I can remember,” she says, “I always felt like I was born into the wrong place, the wrong family. I always knew I wanted to be different. I wasn’t sure I could do it. It was my dream.”

Frequently, she thought about running away, but didn’t think it was possible.

“If you leave, you have to give up so much: your family, your community. It’s really scary; you’re born again. But you’re not a baby, and no one is taking care of you.”

Asked what she misses, she says, “Kugel, food. A sense of community is nice. Other than that, I don’t miss anything. Nothing about that part of my life was good.”

And then there was this thing about:

An Indian-American boy won a national spelling contest after correctly spelling a Yiddish-derived word.

Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., won the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by spelling the word “knaidel,” a traditional Jewish dumpling.

The NY Times says this here:

But the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which created the standard Yiddish transliteration now used in libraries around the world, holds that the correct spelling is “kneydl.”

Kugel, knaidel, kneydl.

Has our mamaloshen become so ubiquitous? But who is telling our story and do we want Yiddish so sold out?

Dara Horn, in the NY Times piece, ends with this:

A famous Yiddish song, “Oyfn Pripetshik” (“On the Hearth”), describes children sitting in a schoolroom learning how to spell. Toward the end, the lyrics say: “When you become older, children / You yourselves will understand / How many tears lie in the letters / And how much weeping.”

And then I got an email from a marketing expert, John Haydon, in his newsletter Inbound Zombie, about some ways to maximize your non-profit’s Facebook presence:

 …let’s talk about storytelling.
Telling an emotional story that truly moves people is no easy task. We both know that. But what’s ironic is that we are emotional animals first, and logical animals second. Our very existence depends on our ability to feel another person’s pain! In fact, scientists believe that storytelling is part of our evolution as a species.
But judging by the most recent fundraising emails I’ve received, sounding witty is far more important then telling simple stories that move people.
Is it that we’re afraid to feel deeply when we communicate with our community? I mean, they’re people – just like you and me – who feel sadness, joy, anger and hope. Plus, feelings are precisely what drove them to begin a relationship with our nonprofit in the first place!
  • Are we afraid to cross “the line” with words that have tears behind them?
  • Are we afraid that coworkers will judge us if we put colossal passion into our work?
  • Are we afraid that the cause is much more personal to us then we’d like to admit?
  • And are we afraid to lose our identity by investing our entire heart in the work we do?
Finally, are we afraid to realize the power we truly have?

Granted, he’s talking about a community of donors. But of course you can extrapolate from here to anywhere you want.

Or dare.

I am not at a loss for words about what should be a good community, but at what makes one work. I know that people judge us/me, even if we do nothing, so you might as well do something that you are passionate about and make it meaningful. We are definitely more afraid of not living up to our potential, so we’d rather do nothing.

That way, we haven’t failed; we just haven’t given it our best shot.

I’m not talking about others, by the way.

My daughter is getting ready, as I mentioned, to move to Israel. They (perhaps) have mixed feelings about leaving the states, but I won’t talk for them. She also doesn’t understand how people can blog, and I won’t write for others. I do it because I find something valuable stating what I can’t say in other settings. I’ve written about this plenty, so I’ll just continue writing that I do feel that if I left my community now, I would not be missed (okay except for just a few people). The jobs that I do in the community could be done by others without a problem; they have before and they can be again. Do I bring more passion to what I do than others? I hope so.

Is this necessary?

Clearly not.

Should we be encouraging people to feel more connected?


But maybe someone else should be doing it, since I just don’t know if I have the right recipe.

Last week on Memorial Day, we took the kiddies to the neighborhood parade. It was quaintly nostalgic of what Americana should be–the people lined up with their lawn chairs to watch; the politicians waving bravely; the marching bands; the strange assortment of others, always with people you would not expect. I was touched by the purity of the simple. It’s what community should be, the coming together and celebrating the collection. To the outsider that I was, that was enough. My daughter didn’t come. She stayed home to finish planting the flowers we had bought.

That was also community.

I’m still thinking of what it all means, but hey, I did take some photos that I’ll share now.

DSC_0242 DSC_0256 DSC_0258 DSC_0261 DSC_0264 DSC_0267 DSC_0270 DSC_0275 DSC_0277 DSC_0286 DSC_0289

unhounding from the media

We are planning a little getaway this weekend. ISHi is speaking at another synagogue  a few hours drive, so we’ll go there for Shabbat and stay on for  a few more days nearby. It’s been an intense couple of months since we’ve been back from our big trip down under. The holidays are enough stress (in all the ways stress is good and sometimes not so good, if you’re not careful about how you handle it) without the extras of the last couple of weeks living in New England.

So going away is good.

But as we made the plans of the place to stay and the people to see, we both, without saying it, realized that we are already away.

We live in a beautiful town. No one else is here in the house. We can choose whether or not to answer the phone,

the email,

the cellphone,

the door.

We can choose our outfits and our shoes at last minute

and change them afterwards, if we choose. And we don’t have to worry about luggage limits or security or lines or worrying about how much to tip the bellhop, the chambermaid, the waiter.

And we don’t have to worry about what to eat or where to eat or what to bring. And we can change our minds about that, too.

We can walk 15 minutes from our doorstep to this.



And when we go away, we’re still hounded by the media.

Many years ago, when we were in Israel up north at the Banias waterfall, ISHI’s phone went off. The roar of the waterfall made it hard to hear, but the call was quite clear. A congregant had died and we couldn’t do anything about it. Well, he could arrange for someone else to officiate at the funeral, but he felt awful.

That wasn’t the last time we were away when someone died. It happens.

That can’t be what holds you back from going away, the what-if.

But really, why go away?

Because you go away from yourself.

Your patterns, your habits, your same ol’ same ol’.

You take a different perspective.

Shabbat should do that. And it does, to a point. But not so much for a working stiff like ISHI.

So we will be grateful we can leave a beautiful place to go to somewhere differently beautiful

and be a bit refreshed.

But if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish packing. Now where are my brown heels and where are my hiking boots?

squirrels among us

As I was walking into our synagogue parking lot yesterday in order to enter the building, I saw a group of boys (I was going to write pre-teen, but I think that mostly describes girls, for some reason), jumping up and down, over-animated (how apt that would turn out to be) next to one of the tens of minvans in the lot.

They were scurrying around as I approached them, shrieking with delighted horror: “There’s a squirrel on the driving wheel!”

I couldn’t even get close enough to the van to verify their story, but I asked them what they were going to do about it.

Delight turned into blank.

“Seriously, what are you going to do?”

Nothing, clearly. They were on their way home, having gone to the earlier service.

“You found it. You have to do something. That squirrel is in trouble. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim. You have to worry about the pain of this animal. What are you going to do?”

Nothing. No reaction.

“Someone has to go get the janitor (not Jewish) to see if he can open the car to let him out.”

One boy volunteered and ran into the building. The others fled home.

I followed to make sure it happened. I will shorten the story from here. It took a long time to find the owner, get the keys, and open the car. In the meantime, it was definitely a curious break to the heaviness we adults were all feeling.

I had not even found out what happened with the second suspect, since it was still unfolding as we went into our blessed Shabbat media silence. Of course, I was quickly updated by those who have access to newspapers in the morning. So squirrels? Helping helpless creatures? Blessed respite.

When ISHI and I walked back to shul that afternoon, however, we peaked into the van and, you guessed it. The squirrel was sitting on top of the steering wheel!

Yes, another missed photo op.

So, did he like being there? Had he brought in friends for reinforcement? Was he taking over the van? Would our car be next?

And, who would clean up the mess he was leaving behind?

And would it be safe now to open the door?

This squirrel was not cute. It was, after all, a rodent.

Was it humorous at all?

And now, was the squirrel standing in for something else going on?

Sorry, this squirrel could not be just a cigar.

So now the title.

Reflecting on the past week’s events, seeing how people are so eager to put it all behind them, get back to normal, I am not so quick. I wondered about how Israelis made the shift from being so very depressed from the incessant random bombings from the second intifada. I found a very thorough discussion of this topic, Living with terror, not Living in Terror, in the journal Perspectives on Terrorism:

One of the key objectives of terrorism, then, is to demoralize the targeted society—to induce a widespread sense of helplessness and hopelessness and feeling of despair among members of the society.  If the targeted society does not become demoralized, terrorism fails in this respect.

By this criterion, Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada was ineffective because it did not succeed in demoralizing the Israeli-Jewish public.  While Israelis were certainly fearful of terrorist attacks, they did become despondent and dispirited.[138]  Rather, Israelis demonstrated resolve and steadfastness in the face of relentless terrorism.  Indeed, any visitor to Israel during the second Intifada could not help but be struck by the seemingly nonchalant manner with which Israelis lived with the constant threat of terrorism.  Instead of panic and public hysteria, there was stoicism and fortitude.[139]  Israelis did not allow the threat of terrorism to dominate their lives.  Although they experienced high levels of stress and fear, they went on with their lives.

So we in Boston/USA want to say that this loathsome attack will not affect how we act. But won’t you be more ADD about checking all around you in public? Won’t you be paying more attention to stray items? Don’t you think you should be changing your behavior in some way?

Oh, I guess you want to know what happened to the squirrel. At the end of Shabbat, the owner was trying to figure out how to get into his car. The squirrel had never left, even when they had opened the car earlier. And now, the squirrel was dying in his glove compartment.

what is the only response but keep on sprouting


Yes, the crunchy granola recipe is there purposefully.

In the aftermath of crazy, I feel more inclined to be purposeful. But this is something that I had started beforehand.

When we were in Australia, I was very taken with the device that my DIL had for sprouting. It was a jar with a built-in tilt. So I was inspired to restart my sprouting, as I had done many years ago. I had my old top to screw onto a wide-mouth jar, but I had no jar. After searching at Whole Food (you’d think they’d have something and not just barbecuing equipment, yes?) and Amazon, I came up with this. As you can see in the photo, it’s got 4 levels, but I’m starting with just 2; one alfalfa and one mung bean.

And so why am I inclined to write about this?

  1. to show that American ingenuity can bring good into the world (it’s a great system–I just started it on Monday and they’re really growing nicely!
  2. to say that yes, we will prevail. And we will grow. But it will take work and commitment.

I love Boston. I don’t have to go there that often so I can enjoy the city. It’s a city on a nice scale. For my birthday last year, we went in for dinner and to walk around. Guess where?

I don’t have any photos from Boylston St., even though that’s where we parked. I did take a few others, though, on Newbury, including this one.


Continue reading

reactions to powerlessness

There are at least three cases of the aftermath of abused women that ISHI is dealing with right now. They’re not married anymore, but the damage that their ex-husbands cause does not end. I’m not even getting into the damage they’ve done to the children right now. Much of the time, one of the outcomes of this abuse is that the women cannot control their own destinies. They’ve been broken, for sure. Even without all the financial problems, they are so often incapable of seeing their way out of their dilemma.

Actually, I just realized there are four cases. One of them is not as obvious, but it shows up, now that I take a moment to think about it.

Yes, scary.

What happens in cases like these are two usual behavior patterns, with variations, of course, in each one.

The first is allowing themselves to become victims.

The second is to never allow themselves to be victimized.

The first’s variations are withdrawal; inability to stand up for oneself, ever; falling into a pattern of finding their victimization in every corner of their universe. Some women fall into all of these. That becomes, in a matter of speaking, a state of hysteria. Nothing can go right; they are incapable of fighting back. But believe me, nastiness can still ensue. It’s not pretty.

The second’s are angry fighting at everyone; thinking that everyone is against them but not letting anyone have a chance at making them hurt, even if it means hurting other people instead; lashing out without hearing what is going on; thinking the worst of everyone.

Us against them.

Or me against everyone.

And the truth? That gets absolutely lost.

Now, the story of Purim is one you might say (at least partially) is a case of abuse against women. And it is definitely a case where this one woman has to figure out a plan to act in the face of powerlessness, against impending doom of her people. But Esther rises up and figures out how to do it; how to work the system, how to gain the upper-hand, to a point. Once she points out to her besotted king that this bad guy wants to have her killed, and he is killed instead, she still has to beg for the king to cancel the edict against the Jews. That can’t be done; they still have to fight. It doesn’t go smoothly at all. Prayer isn’t enough. They have to go to fight and stand up for themselves, since no one else will guarantee their safety.

So what should we learn from Esther? How should women learn to stand up for themselves?

I told the mother of one of these women who is fighting for her children in a series of arenas (too sad for words, really) that she/the daughter has to learn to present herself as if she is representing herself. In other words, she has to pretend she’s talking about herself, but she’s someone else. She has to be professional; separated from herself, when talking to the outside. She can’t afford to be emotional.

But that’s not exactly what Esther did. She figure out how to spread the emotion at the right time. She rose to her power, but knew the limits.

Can I throw in politics, for a moment? Playing the victim is draining, ugly, and usually, bottom-line, counter-productive. Politics local and far and wide. So when the Palestinians play victims and don’t take responsibility for their own [everything], then why is it that the world listens?


i should be unpacking, but

instead I’ll unpack here.

Definition of UNPACK

transitive verb
a: to remove the contents of <unpack a suitcase>b:unburdenreveal <must…unpack my heart with words — Shakespeare>
: to remove or undo from packing or a container <unpackedhis gear>
: to analyze the nature of by examining in detail :explicate<unpack a concept>

I have been thankfully too busy, or preoccupied, at least, to hyperfocus on the tragedy of Newtown. Passing by the area on the way home today made it hard to avoid thinking about it. Seeing any of the millions of articles online/on air made it harder yet.

We want to be able to do something; wave our magic wand and make it all better. Make it so that it never happens again. Wave our children, or at least ourselves, into a false sense of security, re-patch the bubble of pretense.

Jonathan Tobin said it well about this impulse to respond in Commentary:

But what we don’t think about in these days of shock and grief is whether the proposals floated during such times have more to do with our need to feel in control of events than a rational plan of action. The “don’t just stand there, do something” impulse is natural in politicians who always wish to be seen as having the answers. But the notion that we can legislate or preach such insane acts out of existence may reflect our unwillingness to appear helpless in the face of evil or madness more than anything else.

The idea that we can’t do something about incidents such as Newtown makes us feel small and helpless and is rejected out of hand. At such times as these, those who preach sensible caution about legislation rather than knee-jerk action are dismissed as naysayers and defenders of an indefensible status quo. Americans are a people who like solutions, not philosophical discourses about terrible events. We crave leaders who will tell us they have answers.

Perhaps anger about Newtown and other incidents will be enough to help pass far-reaching restrictions on gun ownership or influence the entertainment industry to change its ways. But the only likely outcome is that schools will be transformed into fortresses even more than they already were. The rhetoric we hear after Newtown, as it is after all senseless crimes, will make many of us feel better and allow politicians to pretend that they are doing something. But the impulse to respond will be about our desire to have the illusion of control over uncontrollable events.

I shudder to think of how I would have responded, if it happened while I was still teaching–would I be as quick-minded and brave as those teachers? I know I won’t pass any judgment on that  mother, even if I cannot fathom the need for such guns in anyone’s house. There are quite a few articles about Israel and its gun salience, but, from what I can tell (see Ezra Klein learning this here), the truth seems to be that Israel limits its guns more and more, making it less likely that this kind of tragedy will occur.

So I’ll just post two photos I took with my new smartphone from when I took the big kiddies to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusion about the power of play.





I know it’s not enough, clearly. But let’s play with it a bit before we proffer any ideas that just won’t work.