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.


open eyes

On the last evening of our little getaway last week, we went to visit an old friend in North Adams. Before we went to her loft, where she does her art, we went to Williamstown to walk around a bit. Here’s a photo in front of the art museum connected to the university; we had just missed seeing the inside, but seeing this would actually be more meaningful, after the fact.


When I opened my eyes.

DSC_0410 DSC_0411

When we met up with my old friend, who I haven’t seen in 37 years (!), I was listening to her, but thinking very loudly in my head about our choices that we’ve made. She had never wanted to have children; she thought that bringing children into this broken world was cruel and unjust. She never married, either, although she has had significant partners over the years. She was born Jewish, but embraced the study of yoga and has followed teachers around. She has done well in terms of being an artist/artisan, enough to have bought properties in different cities with the flexibility of travelling a lot to see friends all over and study in different locales.

Me? It’s pretty much all about the family, the community, the heritage. Pretty tame, pretty boring. At least I was thinking it was to her.

Maybe it came down to the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

I do really really hope she is happy and content.

But for me? I was feeling very very grateful.

And so

I’m re-posting from last year a bit about counting blessings, where I translate the prayer supplication following the lighting of the Shabbat candles:

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, to be gracious to me (and to ISHImy sons, my daughters, my father, and my mother) and to all my family; grant us and all Israel good and long life; remember us for good and blessing; consider us for salvation and compassion; bless us with great blessings; make our household complete, and may You cause Your Divine Presence to dwell among us. Make me worthy to raise learned children and grandchildren, who are wise and understanding, who love and fear God, people of truth, holy and attached to God, enlightening the world with Torah and goodness and service of our Creator. Please hear our prayers, in the merit of our matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and ensure that the glow of our lives will never be dimmed. Shine Your face upon us and we will be redeemed. Amen.

So this past Friday night, as I was lighting the candles once again, I once again was startled by the phrase

ותברכנו ברכות גדולות 

You can see that I highlighted the phrase inside.

What in the world are great blessings?

In Hebrew, I think it should read  רבות, many blessings.

So again, what are we asking?

And even more, when we wish each other a good new year, and we add all kinds of phrases, what are we asking and what are we doing?

We’re going off now to help our son and DIL move into their new apartment.

And after that, we’re going to the last wedding of the season.

That is enough of  blessing for now.

I’ll continue with this soon and tell you the punch line.

how to get rid of a rat

ISHI thought I was thinking the same thing he was, and I was.

He’s been dealing with trying to help someone get a Jewish divorce from her extremely-no-good husband. I cannot tell you how horrible this person is; I can tell you he should not be called a man.

Or a person.

A rat is probably about right, except that it’s insulting to rats.

So ISHI’s been on the phone (since the woman lives in a  very distant community), going from cell phone to home line and numerous emails, texts, etc., trying to get the situation understood by all the parties, trying to get across the urgency of the situation, to not allow the rat to get away, but to take care of him appropriately.

In fact, we had been out of town for the past 2 days on a lovely attempt to get away (I’ll post some photos separately), and we had basically just returned home for him to spend another hour and a half on the phone with 2 different people, when he points a flashlight near me in the kitchen (I was cooking freshly-picked corn) and then shines it onto the floor of our study

pointing out a real creature of our own that we had to now get rid of.

Okay, ours was a mouse. A sick mouse. I had seen it the other day rambling in our kitchen. Thank G0d I was sitting down at the time. I’m not the stand-on-chairs kind of gal, but I don’t like sharing my kitchen with any not human. We knew that this was not a healthy mouse, since it was moving slow enough for me to see it clearly. We have a lot of traps around the house, and it mostly likely had already ingested some poison, so it just a matter of time before it showed up again.

And so it was not surprising that ISHI saw it this time in the study, which is one door away from the kitchen, again, taking its time.  He was on the phone talking about how to get rid of the rat and now we had to figure out how to get rid of the mouse.

Irony not missed.

Getting rid of the mouse was much easier and cleaner than getting rid of this sick rat. There are some people who just don’t get the threat of rats in our midst.


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.

breaking which walls?

Yesterday, a little rascal who is too young to know the reference ran from his mother on one side of the women’s section in our synagogue over to the other and waited for a half a millisecond with this rascally look on his face, then proceeded to push open the emergency door in our mechitzah (separation between the women’s and men’s sections) to escape to his father.

I knew it was going to happen. I could have walked over and stopped him.

I didn’t.

A few seconds later, he returned to return to his mother via the door, but she was standing guard at this point and showed him the way to expected behavior. In this case.

I was amused because of the timing.

We are finishing the first of three weeks of  Bein haMetzarim, “Between the Straits”, which started last Tuesday with the commemoration of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, leading up to Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the Holy Temple. I mentioned it to the mom and she was too busy feeling embarrassed and being on the job to react.

She would have gotten it. I also told her how I enjoyed watching him breach the wall.

So I think you get the irony.

There’s no emergency here. And that movie about the zombies, World War Z. I’m not going to see this one. It’s not my taste, to put it mildly. I am curious about the mythology (what Bruce Lincoln defines as “ideology in narrative form ) that the screenwriter used, with [SPOILER ALERT!] the idea of the 10th man saving Israel for a while, but how the zombies breach the wall that was protecting it.

And so I’m not going to use that as my metaphor for what Judaism has to do–maintain walls and divisions. I’ve written before about how there is much to change and much to work on; I try try try to be honest in my assessment.

Divisions always are there, but they change. Different things need bolstering at different times. You can think about it like the items we women choose to wear to fight gravity. They weren’t necessary before, but oh yes they are now.

So am I saying that Judaism is an aging female?

Or a young rascal?


the 40 year-old borscht

A wonderful woman passed away last night. She was the mother of a very good friend. The funeral is in LA, so I won’t be going, but I was thinking about how we met while I was washing my beets just before.

My friend and I first met each other 41 years ago in Israel while we were both attending Hebrew University. That’s an astounding thought in and of itself. But at the end of the year, so it would be 40 years ago sometime this summer, I went to meet her when back in LA visiting my parents. My friend was staying in Israel and would be going on to learn in yeshiva (where he met ISHI and so became our shadchan, matchmaker, but that’s another story), so I went by myself to see her.

She lived in the Valley, which was not an area that I was familiar with, but that made sense, since I didn’t really know LA very well. She had asked me to join her for lunch. How could I refuse? Oh the kosher thing. She wasn’t really aware of the minutiae of keeping kosher; her son had just started going down that path on his own. But salad? Fine. Canned salmon? Fine. What about borscht?

I never really liked borscht. It was one of those products that we always had, in a jar, that made us Jewish in the ethnic kind of way. But–how can I put it nicely? It was not to my taste.

I bought it every year at Pesach time to have for my father who still enjoys a good bowl of borscht.

(Cue up the music.)

It was like our own developing sense of wine. I never knew from good wine when I was young. We had the proverbial (that only became such in America when they couldn’t get anything else but bitter Concord grapes, so what could they do?) sweet wine for the holidays and Shabbat. But I knew it wasn’t good. As we became slightly more aware of choices, we started our own great adventures with snobbery oenophilia. So why not borscht?

But this is like the clock in Julius Caesar–I’m getting ahead of myself.

Of course I could not decline. After all, she went to all that trouble! And so I figured with the sour cream, it wouldn’t be half-bad.

And it was also cold on a hot day. So it wasn’t half-bad. But the bigger thing was how important it was for me to put myself out that very little bit for her sake, for her son’s sake, for my sake.

And I saw that she was indeed a wonderful person, who put herself aside just enough to get past a husband who had breached her trust to raise two wonderful sons on her own. And because I knew how wonderful at least one of them was, I knew she had instilled in them the greatest value of them all–to see people for what they can be, for all that they can be, and not be held down by past limitations. And so my friend has this amazing ability to make you feel that you are the most talented, quickest, brightest person in the world, along with everyone else. And you just have to rise to the occasion.

At least when you’re with him.

So, as my beets are baking, and my gazillion other things are being prepared, I will think of how I have been able to raise the borscht to my highest level.

And if I find another recipe that is more intriguing, I will try that and bring out the best that I can.

And hope that the people I serve it to as as open to the experience as I have been shown to be.

what i did and did not see on our walk today

Purple said I should write about it.

So I will.

It was so lovely out today and we enjoyed the walk and the talk. What I gain from friends, knowing I can say anything  (but won’t, but I can) is not to be taken for granted. 

And enjoying the weather, knowing it will change at any time. Spring is glorious.


So I took this with my phone. Do you see the twins? 

I asked the mother here in the photo below if I could take a picture of her little girl looking at the tulips, but I was too slow or too polite. The little girl turned away. I still am very taken with the colors of their clothes. They matched the tulips. Do you think that was her fascination? More likely, the flowers were at her eye-level, so she could really examine their insides and outs. Budding scientist, perhaps? I loved that the mother was so patient with her.


This photo below is blurry. I know. Can you see the man in the full Scottish regalia, including bagpipe? As we passed the church, we noted there must be a funeral. They wouldn’t have a wedding on a Wednesday morning, would they? But everyone gathered outside didn’t seem to be sad. Just business-like. 



After we were that far away, I thought it wouldn’t be as tacky to take his photo–thus, the blur. It was just about then that he started playing.

I just looked to find some information about why they play. Here’s one account of the obvious:

Many people associate bagpipes with funerals and this is because they powerfully touch our deepest emotions; the haunting voice of the bagpipe express feelings that words alone may fail to convey.


Purple thought it was (how did you put it, exactly?) maudlin. I thought it was very moving, quite dignified. And she agreed that it was, in and of itself, but the whole death thing is so difficult.

This was quite a while after our discussion about the ethics of where the Boston bomber should be buried.

What do we owe someone we love?

What about someone we cannot?

And is it time to pay the piper?

tied to expectations

Just yesterday, one of our younger members of our congregation asked if she could ask me a question.

Of course.

“Does your husband only wear white shirts?”

After I stopped laughing, I said how I had just told him (at home) I was really tired of his white shirts. I had just washed and hung up the five million from the previous week, and it had just gotten to me.

I didn’t add that second part.

But I did add that our spouse is not a reflection of us.

I had also just commented how amazing it was that her dress matched her husband’s tie. Perfectly. But I had absolutely no recall of what tie ISHI was wearing.

I did tell her that second part.

I also told her that his response to me was that he was thinking about getting some other colors, but couldn’t find one that he liked. He wasn’t going to go with the purple or the pink.

What about blue, both of us asked at the separate times.

He hemmed and hawed when I asked.

Oh what can I do?

After 37 years of marriage, you think I’d have given up by now, trying to dress him in my image.

She also said “What about black?”  Yeah, so he’s not going to go for this. He likes the Lands’ End shirts, but in black?

Men's Long Sleeve Straight Collar Broadcloth Shirt

There’s only so much you can do.

I do know many women who dress their husbands. I complimented one man a few weeks ago on his put-together look and he was pleased to admit that his wife put him together. It’s a fascinating process. I can suggest things that I think will be more fitting (in all senses of the word) and he’ll do something of the sort, but then he’ll end up with what’s comfortable.  For him. When we’re on vacation, he will “please” me by wearing a non-button down shirt. But I can see that he’s not really himself.

At least he runs in running wear and not in his shirt and tie.

My father on his last visit got on his peeved face (that he does so well) and told me that he was not going to give ISHI any more ties for his birthday. He noticed that ISHI does not wear any of the ties that he has given him, so even though he thinks it’s very important for rabbis to look sharp, he basically was announcing that he’s giving up. He then went on about how much he thinks well of certain rabbis with their French cuffs, neat handkerchiefs, and well-executed Windsor knotted ties. At least ISHI is thin, or I think he would not be stomach  him as his SIL.

The day before, I had asked D#1 if she thought her husband would wear the tie that ISHI was ready to give away, since it was not “him.” She replied that he was not choosy and would be very happy to accept it. He had never been given any tie. And he’s a grateful kind of guy. Even if he didn’t like it, he’d still wear it happily.

My father had not mentioned that he saw him wearing it; after all, he could have bought or been given the same one.

Our other SIL also receives ties from my father. He is also a rabbi.

My father is out to make sure these rabbis look according to his image.

Clothes make the man.

Of course, we could go back to the Talmud for an idea of how a rabbi should dress:

The personal appearance of the rabbi should command respect. R. Johanan said, “The rabbi should appear as clean and pure as an angel.” He quoted, “They shall seek the law at his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord Sebaoth” (Mal. ii. 6, Hebr.; Mak. 17a). The Rabbis generally dressed in long, flowing white robes, and sometimes wore gold-trimmed official cloaks (Giṭ. 73a).

Okay, white shirts it is.

what makes a village work?

During the holiday, our littlest one was showing signs of unease, not really able to calm down, over-nursing and then returning it too soon. And we checked the back of the neck for fever, asked about the diapers (I for sure thought it was too much matzah on the part of our daughter, but she claimed that she wasn’t eating that much to make her have a problem), was she pulling on her ears, and you know, the usual things you do to try to figure out why a baby isn’t happy. But it wasn’t getting better and we were all getting worried, so we dispatched ISHI to the neighbor’s. In the past, we’ve had to trek out to neighbors who live at least a half-hour away, when the kiddies were here and someone got sick over Shabbat or a Jewish holiday. But these neighbors have moved in recently and the wife is a pediatrician! Three houses away!!! Sure enough, the wife would be home soon and would be happy [the husband was sure] to come over to check the baby out.

And she did, stepping over the thousands of Legos and game pieces and food boxes and people and chairs. And she ever so calmly checked her out, ruling out basically everything. They retired to a quiet room and she (well, actually both she’s) eventually fell asleep and calmed down.

The neighbor doctor came back, a little while later, bringing a thermometer. We mentioned that we didn’t have one, so…

I never used a thermometer when my kids were little. I could tell hot from normal with my hand. Today, everything is digital. I understand.

Today, I went over to their house, bringing a plant and returning the thermometer. The husband had just pulled into the driveway (I actually tried to bring it over the other day, but no one was home), so it was good timing. He was happy to get the plant–he’s into gardening–and it’s around her birthday time, so definitely welcome. But please, keep the thermometer–they’re always getting free samples.

He was happy to volunteer his wife to come over, because that’s what community is. We help each other. And he was happy we thought of them and of course, she was happy to be useful, although she’d prefer that it not be for emergencies.

Do you hear the wistfulness in my words?

Before I walked over there, I had spent a little while raking the front yard of the leaves that had escaped in the fall. There was a young woman who walked by with her baby in the stroller and she marveled at the leaf scoops I was using. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before. We did not exchange names, just suggestions for where to buy the scoops.

Before that, I said hi to my neighbor, who had just come back from a bike ride. We exchanged pleasantries about how nice it is to have our homes back to ourselves, now that our kids have gone back to their homes after the holiday, and we both knew we were lying.

Before that, I had been raking and thinking how much I will not miss this, when we move to Israel. I also thought about the Skype conversation we had with our daughter and her little one in Israel, the same little one who we had been worried about just a week earlier, who seemed to be finding the right mixture of good elements for their upcoming move there this summer. Housing, schools, jobs–hopefully, and with G-d and the villages’ help, they will be successful.

Because yesterday, I had seen (via Facebook) an article in the Los Angeles Times about the Kvetch Circle.

The rules of kvetching

(Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times)

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

I know I’m combining themes here, but not really.

How do we effectively take care of people? How do we create a caring society? How do we let people have a clue? How I am grateful for a community where we do try to work this out.

But on the other hand, when people refuse to let themselves be truly cared for, that village is in trouble. When the inner circle is so tightly wound, you just might not be able to have real support.

Now what do we do about that?