Tuesday, December 12, 2017

An Anniversary Trip to Tiveria: A Photoblog With Commentary

One of the things I love about living in Israel is that, even when we have just a few days to get away, every place in Israel is close enough.

For our wedding anniversary, my husband and I always pick someplace in Israel we want to explore. This year, it was Tiveria (Tiberias).

Along with Jerusalem, Tzfat and Hevron, Tiveria is considered one of Israel's Four Holy Cities.

We started at the tomb of Yitro (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moses. The site is a Druze holy site and we had a lot to learn about how to behave in such a place. The Druzim call him Nabi Shueib - the Prophet Shueib.
The rules are strictly enforced. DH was wearing a kippah and a short-sleeve shirt. He was told he'd have to cover his arms and his head.  We were also required to remove our shoes which, as Jews, was a little weird.

This might be the first time he ever wore a garment with Arabic writing on it.
This is my husband in his borrowed long-sleeve shirt and cap.
I, on the other hand, was deemed to be dressed "b'seder". What a turnabout! The man was asked to cover up, not the woman.
The plaza area was beautifully tiled and very clean. Does anyone know what this flag represents?
We weren't allowed to take any pictures of the inside room where the tomb was (and there was a guard to make sure we didn't. But while at the tomb, one of the things I prayed for was that we should again experience peaceful relations between Jews and the Nations, like there was between Moshe and Yitro.
We didn't pick the best day to visit Kever Rambam. There were Arab workers doing renovations all over the site.

Walking up to the tomb, the steps are flanked with 14 pillars, representing the 14 sections of Rambam's Mishneh Torah
The renovations night have hurt business for the gift shop owner. But if you want a giant portrait of Maimonides, this is the place to be.
Shockingly, there is no mechitza (partition) separating the men and the women at the Tomb of Maimonides. It may be the last holy place in Israel where men and women are in the same room.

The holy woman sitting on the bench gave out Books of Psalms to other women, most of whom were secular-looking. I got the impression she spent hours at the site, saying Tehillim herself and also being helpful to others.

I'm not sure what this cage structure is.  There's a prayer here that is intended to be said at Rambam's grave.
My husband jokes that Rambam lived from 1135 to 1204 - and what he did with those 29 minutes was truly exceptional!
There were Arab workers all over the site today. It wasn't so conducive to prayerful intentionality.
This is probably an Only in Israel sign. It asks people not to light candles because they are a fire hazard (rough translation).
There are a few other graves nearby. This one says it contains a collection of bones.
When you leave the area of Rambam's tomb, there's this hand washing station that reminds me of the one at the Kotel.
The grave of the Tanna Yochanan ben Zakkai who was a major contributor to the Mishnah
The grave of  the SheLah Hakadosh, best known for his prayer that parents recite on behalf of their children.
We didn't just pray. We also ate amazing Chinese food (okay, three times in 48 hours) at Pagoda, on the bank of the Kinneret.
This was the view from our table at Pagoda. Imagine looking at this sky over the Kinneret while munching on the best egg rolls in Israel.
Another view of the Kinneret, this time from the road.
We've passed this sign for the tomb of Rachel, wife of Rabbi Akiva, a bunch of times, but never stopped until today.
This is the building that houses the grave of Rachel, daughter of Kalba Savoua and wife of Rabbi Akiva. She sacrificed so much to support her husband becoming THE Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Akiva famously said to his students who didn't understand Rachel's contribution "Sheli v'shelachem, shelah - What's mine and what's yours (meaning their merit for Torah study) is hers."
More of Rabbi Akiva's praise for his wife.
When I stepped into the women's side, I could see that the place was in disrepair.
The kever of Rachel itself, from the women's side.
Tefillat Rachel (Rachel's prayer) for salvation from all manner of problems.
The building that houses her tomb overlooks the Kinneret.

I was both very touched by the holiness of this site and also really saddened by the state of disrepair of the building so I was moved to make a donation. The caretaker was so grateful, he bestowed this stash on us, even though we hadn't intended to buy anything.
On the way home, we drove through Kibbutz Degania, which I always, mistakenly, think of as Kibbutz Gan Dafna from the movie Exodus. Along the road are hundreds of banana trees. We've never been this close to a banana tree and we wondered about the purple flower that hangs upside down, exactly opposite the way the bananas grow.

And there you have it. The highlights of our 48 anniversary hours, spent in Tiveria.

There was also a pool. And a very nice hotel. But truly, if you're still reading this, you got the highlights.

Trust me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

We Are Surely Being Tested

This is much bigger than any one issue. But here is a small sampling of recent issues in which this dynamic is playing out.

A yeshiva school bus in Williamsburg, NY that has covered windows so the students shouldn't see anything happening on the street on their way to school. 

An elementary school in Lakewood that requires girls to line up to have the length of their hair measured to ensure it fits the arbitrary rule someone made up. 

Jewish women and girls wearing burkas, completely covering their entire bodies, including hands and faces, on the streets of Israel.

Photo Credit: www.rationalistjudaism.com
 An IKEA catalog with absolutely no pictures of women. By design.

Every single time a new development appears, the arguments are the same.

Some people are horrified by what new rules/practices/restrictions are being imposed in the name of tzniut*.

"This is not Judaism! This is not Torah!" they decry. "This is exactly the sort of thing that drives young people away from Judaism!"

And the counter reaction, totally predictable, is always "Who are we to judge!?" or "It's not your community. Why do you care?" and my personal favorite, "How dare you cause a chillul Hashem** by judging them?"

Every. Single. Time.

Personally, I fall on the side of being horrified by what is being sold as an attempt to increase holiness. But this is not really about my personal opinion. I'm trying to make a larger point here.

Clearly, the Orthodox Jewish community is working something out. And it isn't pretty to watch.

is a fundamental split between outlooks. Are these new stringencies good for the Jews? Do they make us more pious and closer to God? Do they show how much we value holiness and what we're willing to sacrifice for it?

Or are these new stringencies not good for the Jews? Do they take us away from the essence of Torah? Are they merely a reflection of an obsession with men separating themselves from women?

Further, do we have a right to rebuke other Jews when we feel they have lost their way? Are we obligated
to speak up when we think a core Torah value is being perverted?

Or is it a higher value to live and let live, especially when one is not being required to comply?

One thing is certain. We are surely being tested.

And frankly, I don't think we're earning such a good grade.

*generally translated as modesty, but actually more nuanced than that. Tzniut, in its fuller sense, is related to the spiritual practice of not calling attention to oneself and not being overly concerned with externality.

** a desecration of God's name

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The 24 Hour Clock

There are plenty of things that take getting used to when you move. Especially when you move to a new country. Especially when you're an American moving to Israel.

Making aliyah is definitely easier if you're coming from anywhere else in the world where the metric system is already in use. But when you're an American, used to pounds and ounces and feet and miles and dollars and writing MM/DD/YY and AM/PM, it's disorienting.

My smoothest adjustment was buying food in kilos instead of in pounds. It wasn't that hard. A kilo is 2.2 pounds, so it was pretty easy to do the conversions in my head.

I would like to say that, once I started earning shekels, I stopped thinking in dollars, but that's not really true. I just learned to stop doing it all the time. And I learned that sometimes, it's best not to attempt a conversion. Like when ordering a bowl of soup in a restaurant in Israel.

A life lesson for new olim: DO NOT convert the shekel price of a bowl of soup in an Israeli restaurant to dollars. Just don't do it.

For awhile, I had my iPhone's weather app set to Celcius.

And I used this little ditty that I learned from an old friend and fellow blogger as a guide:

30 is HOT
20 is NICE
10 is COLD
0 is ICE

But I switched back.

Because Fahrenheit is so much more precise.

And familiar.

And doesn't require me to do any conversions in my head.

I have to be honest. I really resisted giving up the AM/PM thing. I hated that I couldn't find an AM/PM digital clock to buy. And it annoyed me when people would schedule an appointment for 16:00. Why can't they just say 4 in the afternoon? I didn't like the way 16:00 taxed my brain.

Does it sound like I'm whining? I don't mean to. It's just that there are so many things you have to relearn when you make aliyah. I kind of resented having to relearn how to tell time.

Recently though, the time thing began to make sense.

Once, when flying internationally, my husband and I confused AM and PM on the itinerary and ended up with a 14-hour overnight layover instead of the 2-hour late morning layover we were expecting.

The 24-hour clock makes sense because there's only one 14:05 and only one 8:22 per day. So there's much less room for confusion.

So let's do lunch Cafe Greg at 13:00. And we'll catch a movie at Yes Planet at 21:30.

Hey! I think I'm getting the hang of this living in Israel thing.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Buying Frozen Spinach in Israel

I really am going to teach you a trick about buying frozen spinach in Israel. But first I want to tell you why I think it's important, even if you don't like spinach. ¹

In 1991, Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein published this little guidebook to help people make the transition to everyday living in Israel. It was full of useful information.

When she published her guidebook, most olim from America lived in a mercaz klita (absorption center) when they first arrived in Israel. Phone calls were made on public phones using asimonim (telephone tokens).

Asimonim. Photo credit: jr.co.il
We're talking a decade before Nefesh b'Nefesh was even founded.

I'm working on an updated guidebook, chock full of helpful hints for today's olim. Because as soon as olim arrive in Israel, we have to learn tons of new things. Sometimes, a neighbor will give us a useful tip. Other times, we have to learn the hard way. 

My goal is reduce the amount of trial and error by equipping olim with practical, useful information.

Like this.

I knew that the Hebrew word for spinach is תרד- tered. But it took me years to figure out that there are (at least) two different kinds of frozen spinach sold in Israel. 

I definitely noticed that the frozen spinach pellets I was using came in two sizes. I just thought it had to do with differences in the factory that produced them.

I was wrong.

Turns out, the larger pellets are called עלי תרד (spinach leaves) and are frozen spinach leaves. They take longer to defrost and always end up wrapped around the blade of my immersion blender.

Spinach leaves
The smaller pellets are called מדליוני תרד (spinach medallions) and are minced or chopped spinach.
chopped spinach medallions - much better for my green smoothies
I think you can see why I got confused. I just looked for the word תרד. Unless you see them side-by-side, the bags are virtually identical.

While we're on the subject, notice the red oval at the top of the bags pictured above. That's the Sunfrost logo. They are the most widely available brand in Israel. Sunfrost offers lots of varieties of frozen vegetables, beans and rice and the quality is very good. They also tend to be more expensive than other brands.

Now that I've shared my spinach tip, I want to hear from you. I know that if you've been living in Israel for more than an hour, you've got at least one.

So, what have you figured out about life in Israel that you'd like to pass on to new olim?

Or what small mistake did you make that you'd like to warn others about?

Here are some topic areas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • food shopping
  • celebrating chagim in Israel
  • public transportation
  • dealing with government offices
  • crucial Hebrew vocabulary
  • running a household, utilities
  • money and banking
  • education
  • shopping in general
Feel free to respond in the comments below, or email TipsForOlim@gmail.com. That's also the email address to use if you'd like to be updated when the guidebook is ready for purchase.

¹ The reason spinach is so awesome in green smoothies is because you can't really taste it. All those nutrients and, despite its reputation, there is absolutely no bitter taste. Spinach for the win!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Stories and Tips to Ease Your Transition to Israel

As my own aliyah journey unfolds, and as I continue to learn new things about how daily life works in the Holy Land, I've published lots of practical tips for managing our new lives in Israel, both on this blog and in Facebook posts.

After almost seven years in Israel, I'm ready to take these random tips, add tons more, and put them all together in a neatly-organized, practical guidebook for olim.

I'm envisioning a book full of tips and stories about the kinds of things olim learn from neighbors and from one another. 

Or from trial and error.  

Or just from error. 

Things like:
  • Finding trash bags that actually fit your kitchen trash can 
  • Surviving your first asifat horim (parents' meeting)
  • Figuring out which item near the sign is actually on sale
  • Cooking a vegetable you've never seen before
  • Knowing which Facebook groups are best to turn to when you need specific advice
  • Mastering the Hebrew slang that is really critical for olim
  • Learning what time of year strawberries and fresh garlic are in season
  • Adjusting to Sunday being, ahem... Israel's Monday 
  • Cleaning your floors without an American mop
My goal is to produce an encouraging guidebook, full of concrete tips as well as amusing stories. I want it to be both fun to read and truly practical.

To make this happen, I'm going to need lots of input from olim of every vintage, whether you got off your aliyah flight yesterday or have been here since before the Six Day War.

Please feel free to comment on any or all of these.

1) Do you have a funny/cute/embarrassing story of a mistake you made as a new olah/oleh? For example, did you wash your clothes in fabric softener for a year because you didn't yet know the word for detergent?

2) Do you have a serious story of a mistake you made as a new olah/oleh from which others can learn? For example, did you fail to respond to a piece of Hebrew-language mail that you really should not have ignored?

3) What's your #1 tip for living successfully in Israel, even if you've been here for years? Can be something practical or maybe a motto you've adopted.

4) What did it take you awhile to figure out that you wish someone would have explained to you from the beginning? For example, it took me almost seven years to notice that there's a difference between frozen chopped spinach and frozen spinach leaves.

what small thing have you figured out about life in Israel that you'd like to pass on to newer olim?

Or what small mistake did you make that you'd like to warn others about?

Feel free to respond in the comments below, or email TipsForOlim@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

They Ruined the Kotel for Me

Photo credit: attractions-in-israel.com
Like so many other people, visiting the Kotel was an important part of my first-ever trip to Israel. To be honest, I pushed off going until the end of the trip. The Kotel! I understood it had potent, concentrated spiritual power. And I was a little afraid of it.

When I finally built up the courage to experience it for the first time, my husband and I walked to the Kotel Plaza. He went to the left and I went to the right. We agreed to meet back at a certain point in 20 minutes.

Once under the spell of the Kotel, I started weeping. I cried for so long that I was still crying when it was time to meet my husband in the plaza area. Unable to explain why I was crying, we went into the Rova and sat at a restaurant. And I was still crying. 

I couldn’t understand what had come over me. And I certainly had no words to explain it to him.
You would think that such a powerful emotional experience would knit me to the Kotel forever.

But you’d be wrong.

Let me state for the record that I am an Orthodox woman, married to a rabbi, now living in Israel. The Kotel ought to be a spiritual sanctuary for me. It is not. I hardly ever go to the Kotel anymore.

The purity of my first experience has been ruined - by politics, by power games and by overt sexism.

There is a 26-second video currently circulating on Facebook of a Japanese man at the Kotel. He is pictured hugging the Kotel, crying out. I don’t understand Japanese, but it would be clear to anyone that he is praying and crying with great feeling. At the end of the video, he falls into a bowing, prostrating posture.

I don’t know what religion, if any, this Kotel visitor follows, but I do know that Shinto and Buddhism are the two main religions in Japan. Chances are pretty excellent that he’s not a Jew. Despite that fact, he is permitted to worship in his own distinctive way at the Kotel. No one harasses him. No one arrests him. No one attempts to kick him out of the Kotel area.

And yet, actual Jewish women who wish to worship in their own distinctive way at the Kotel, with tallit and tefillin and Torah scrolls, are routinely harassed and have been arrested.

Men routinely sing, dance, shout and pray out loud on their side. Bar mitzvah boys are frequently accompanied by small groups of musicians who drum and sing.

Photo credit: Herschel Gutman Photography
However, when Jewish women gather in a group to pray, they are accused of being disruptive. They are maligned for compromising the purity of the Kotel. They are called an array of unspeakable names. They are routinely slandered.

I personally don’t pray with tallit, tefillin and rarely get near a sefer Torah.  But it’s hypocritical, at the very least, to say that a non-Jewish man can prostrate himself at the Kotel, praying to his god(s). Visitors of all the world’s religions can pray there to the gods they worship.

But Jewish women are obligated to behave as if the Kotel is an Orthodox shul?

Either the Kotel is a spiritual home for all of humanity or it’s an Orthodox shul whose visitors must abide by halacha.

You can’t have it both ways.

Here are a few other ways the Kotel has been ruined for me.

Women, even elderly women, have no alternative but to stand on plastic chairs in order to watch a Bar Mitzvah taking place on the men’s side of the mechitza. It’s a breach of derech eretz to not have found a safer, more dignified solution in all these years. If men had to stand on plastic chairs to watch a family simcha, you can bet this situation would have been addressed a long time ago.

It took me awhile to understand why, whenever we went to the Kotel, my husband reported having no problem getting a space right at the Wall. Women would be standing three deep, waiting for a space directly at the Wall. Then I realized that the women’s section is a fraction of the size of the men’s section. I suspect it’s gotten smaller over time.

Look at the first image, above. You can clearly see the disparity.

I grant that there are times, like Birkat Cohanim, when men really need more space. So build a moveable mechitza for those times if you must. But why are women disadvantaged with significantly less access to the Wall 100% of the time?

Besides having the lion’s share of space, the men’s side also has tables and umbrellas.

Since I’ve been in Israel, I’ve learned that the Kotel isn’t anywhere near as important, or as holy, as Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). So the Kotel itself, despite its significant reputation, is simply not an important part of my Jewish life.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for this:

The Third Temple according to the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel)