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.


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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now and then; a review of how things are never the same

I will show you some photos from August and some from yesterday taken at another nearby museum. First, from August:

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Now here are some from yesterday.

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Now, did you notice that some of the photos were the same and some were completely different? Actually, none were the same. That’s the main point. Even though we went to the same place, the place had changed, our focus had changed, and yes, we had changed. The weather was hot so we were happy to go under the trees, especially that amazing beech tree. I was very curious to see how that fared in autumn, so I took the opportunity to check that out. And some other photos that I show here are because I thought the colors or textures were most fascinating. Did you notice how the woman matched her sweater to her dog?

But then there was the one piece of art that we really didn’t look carefully at last time. It’s by Jim Dine, who claims that it (as most of his work) is autobiographical, and this one is in honor/memory of his grandfather and his hardware store.

But do you see the mezuzah?

We can’t really be sure. I can’t find anything specifically about it online.

I did find this article, though:

A Really Special Gift Bag from May 10, 2001

The American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art named JIM DINE its artist of the year; commissioned the artist ARMAN to design an award, a mezuza with Mr. Dine’s name on the base; arranged for ARNE GLIMCHER, chairman of the PaceWildenstein Gallery, to hand it to him; invited a Rainbow Room-filling crowd that included SIMON DE PURY, the new chairman of the Phillips auction house, and RONALD S. LAUDER, the cosmetics heir.

Then, the big moment. And no one could find the mezuza.

It had been in a plastic sack when last seen, prompting suspicion among the organizers that a guest who left early assumed it was a gift bag like the ones often handed out to guests leaving such events.

And that, the organizers said yesterday, was exactly what happened.

”We found out when this person called and said, ‘What a lovely evening, what a lovely mezuza,’ ” a spokeswoman said yesterday. She would not identify the caller.

But I think it was here all the time.

winter approaches slowly slowly

We went back to the museum yesterday, this time with my father and sister. How quickly things change.

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Today, we went for another walk and it felt positively balmy. Yes, gratitude is here, too.

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We just finished eating dinner. The men went off to the synagogue for evening prayer time. Before dinner, I lit two yahrzeit candles on behalf of my father, one for his mother and one for his older cousin, who was like a brother to him. They share the date of their death, convenient for my father not to mourn more than he wants for both of them. While I was making dinner, and on the subject at hand, I gave him a book to read, and opened it up to the chapter that I had written about my mother and my reciting kaddish for her. I figured it was the best time to bring it up. 

But of course, as I was washing my veggies for salad, I thought maybe I had written something not to complimentary about him in there and maybe I should have reviewed it beforehand. After all, it had been a few months already since I had re-read it. And so much has happened since then.

I needn’t have worried. He was very moved by the chapter. But I still wonder if it was because he was open to the experience or if it was what I had written. A bit of melancholy will stay with me for a while, I think.

So I have to search for the gratitude forcefully.




can you guess what this is and where i found it?

To be honest, I’m not really sure of what it is, either. I just know that I was very surprised when I found it today.

You can probably figure out where I found it from the clues in the photos, but the real question is why I didn’t find it sooner!

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Oh, and the moral of the story is always carry an extra bag, if you have forgotten to bring tissues!