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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hebrew, The Language

There is an entire discussion in Allison's wonderful blog, about "Anglos" (English speaking immigrants--that's us, folks!) who arrive in Israel with their arriviste attitude towards The Land and their people.(See An Unsealed Room, http://allisonkaplansommer.blogmosis.com/)

Much of the discussion boiled down to this: Anglos arrive in Israel and think everyone should speak English. What, learn Hebrew? Moi? The chief gripe was that even those who survived ulpan to speak some basic everyday Hebrew never bothered to become fluent in speaking, reading or writing. This apparent disdain for communication in our ancient tongue is also apparently accompanied by an attitude of "I'm here--and that's enough."

I don't recall any of the Patriarchs adding the last phrase to their response to The Almighty. I think the proper answer is "Hineini" with the implied, humble, 'what-would-You-like-me-to-do-next?'

This is only funny because in the States, Yanks have very little patience with people who immigrate in and fail to learn the local patois perfectly. Much American nativist sentiment focuses quite unfairly on the inability of immigrants to pick up unaccented, fluent English. Woe-betide the poor old mother who still speaks only Chinese, Spanish, Albanian, etc and hasn't learned "American" (otherwise known as 'English' after the people who invented it). Coming from a nation with such high expectations of immigrant assimilation and mastery of the native tongue, I should think that American olim would certainly hold themselves to the same high standards their birthplace has always held the American immigrant to....

So, to my fellow American olim, let me add my two agarot worth: LEARN the language! Learn to speak it, to read it, to write it. DON'T speak English in front of a mixed-lingual crowd where not everyone understands -- that's unspeakably rude. Speak the Lingua Franca of the Land -- Hebrew. Practice, practice, practice and get out there and practice.

Frankly, I'm terrified of being quasi-illiterate in Hebrew. I'm making aliyah with grown and almost grown children, so I'm not some spring chicken with a student's open mind. My mind is old, decrepit, burned out and sometimes a bit foggy--but I want to rise to the challenge, even though I'm afraid it will make me cry when I flail about in frustration. But I WANT to be Israeli, and being Israeli means ani medaberet Ivrit.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Grocery Shopping Truisms

There is a rule ancient when I was a teen -- no matter how many socks you put in the dryer, you will never get the same number back. Sometimes you get an extra; sometimes you're missing half of a pair, or several halves of several pairs. But you never get back from the dryer exactly what you put into the dryer.

I've noticed over the last couple of years that grocery shopping has its own truisms. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I cut out of the week's shopping, no matter how often I skip Safeway and use Costco or Smart & Final, the grocery bill is always $200 plus or minus a few bucks.

I haven't been able to solve this mystery. The number of people doesn't matter--when Yona left for Israel, I expected the grocery bill to go down. Now, granted the woman can live on a box of Cheerios for a month, so its not like she's a major part of the grocery consumption, especially when compared with two large males, one of which is in adolescent growing spurts. The question heard most often from the Teen is "Is there anything to eat?"

This must be rhetorical because there is ALWAYS something to eat--both in the two freezers and the 'fridge. I think it is a question that should be translated as "Is there anything really good like cake in here that I am allowed to eat before dinner?" My standard answer to the post-school question "Is there anything to eat?" is "Yes--have an apple (or orange or banana or left over bok choy salad etc.) None of these things are cake or cookies, and provoke a pained sign or snort of disgust--but he does eat the orange/apple/salad etc.

I did the Erev Shabbat shopping today---and the bill was still right in the $200 neighborhood. We bought much less than last week. I don't get it.....it's bad enough that the price of gas is rising in its annual ascent to Memorial Day and the Summer Vacation rates (just like we know fall by the change of colors in the trees, we also know summer by the annual rising of the gasoline prices). How do families with 5, 6 8 or 9 kids survive the weekly grocery bill? We don't eat steak and other expensive meat--the Shabbat dinner is almost always a chicken. We make salads to fill out the menus all week. We don't buy expensive prepackaged stuff; we don't eat caviar; several meals a week are vegetarian....like the socks in the dryer, it doesn't seem to matter how many people we're feeding, or how many meals we prepare, or how much we cut back on purchases.....the grocery bill always hits just about the same mark every week.

Shabbat shalom to all those on PDT and Shavua Tov to the rest of you!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Aliyah -- Sacred and Profane Dimensions

Aliyah literally means ascent, in the sense that one ascends to a higher plane spiritually--so one has an aliyah to the bima to read from the Torah; one makes an aliyah to Jerusalem from the Sharon plain; and one makes aliyah to Israel, elevating one's life to a (hopefully) more spiritual level in Israel than in the Diaspora.

It's not automatic--it will take some work to make this ascent, both physically and spiritually.

But I feel the winds of change already. We have an aliyah date; we have a packing date; I have a date on which I will leave work. The latter was really a turning point.

Even if one does not define one's self by the work one does, decades in the same field and a certain level of expertise, a certain level of adrenaline addiction, a certain slinging of code words used in the field, a certain way of carrying one's confidence, like armor, in court and outside of it, leave their marks. I found, when I selected a quitting date, the coils of those habits of being began to loose themselves from my soul. I felt a sense of gladness, a sense of looking forward to the future, and yes, a sense of relief that I am about to be released from the Wheel of Labor -- in its mandatory form, anyway. I am free now to choose to study, to choose to volunteer, to choose to work.

I feel I am free finally to seek something besides just the daily bread.

My realtor put it best: "It's time for you to detox," she said, laughing nonetheless at our funny/bittersweet memories of our Law & Order days. Crime and punishment will always be with us. The tides of justice will continue to roll regardless of whether I am there or not. I have made my contribution to that form of tikkun olam--now it is time for repair of the soul, and for attention to my son's complex needs and to return my husband's steadfastness and care for a change.

The challenge will be ordering my life in such a way to do all of these things without losing myself in all this free time I've never had before. There has never been time to study--time in the last 26 years has been devoted to career, to children's needs, but rarely did my husband and I have the luxury of studying Torah. Aliyah isn't ONLY for us -- it is for my son's future; I do it because I believe I have something to contribute to Israel; I do it because my husband could not wait to return home to the Land he loves; I do it because a still small voice within me tells me this is where I am supposed to be.

I'm not sure I can wait until the NBN flights. Even July 5th seems too far away. I can handle a three week separation from my husband in order for my son to finish school and for us to vacate the house. I don't think I want to live out of a suitcase for 3 additional weeks, even assuming we get on the first flight. I wonder if we can't just get an earlier, non-NBN flight? I'd miss the Kurtzers, and I'd miss Emma S and others who will be on that flight, but I've waited so long for this, we tried for so many years to make this happen---I think I want to go sooner than later.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Aliyah Means Never Having To Make Eruv Tavshilin

Jews who live outside of Israel have always celebrated two days of any chag (holiday) because the start of every month of the Jewish calendar was decreed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem based on the testimony of witnesses....so in Israel everyone could be fairly sure that they were celebrating Passover or Sukkot on the correct date, but this was problematic outside of Israel. Communication to the far-flung Jewish communities of the Diaspora relied on bonfires, and by the time the message got to Babylon or Toledo, who knew if the calendar date was exactly correct or a day off? So began the custom of two-day holidays outside of Israel. The Diaspora communities reasoned that if they celebrated BOTH dates then they were more likely to be celebrating the correct date.

In Israel, the chag is one day -- so there is ONE Passover seder on the chag at the beginning of the week, then another at the end of the intermediate days, for a total seven days of Passover holiday.

What this is leading up to is this: in Israel, we won't have the three day marathons we have here: a two-day Pesach chag with TWO seders followed by Shabbat---a total of three days of prayers, of observance of the mitzvot, of hand washing the dishes and pots because the dishwasher isn't kosher l'pesach, of late, late nights, of tired children.......and no eruv tavshilin.

Eruv tavshilin is the blessing over two cooked items of food which allows us to prepare food for Shabbat on the second day of the holiday, when cooking would normally not be permitted. Because the chagim never fall on Erev Shabbat in Israel, there is no need for an eruv tavshilin.

There are those who insist that one should keep this Diaspora custom because it is wrong to 'decrease' the joy of the holiday by reverting to the Israeli custom of one day of Pesach. Two days are better! Two days of observance, two days of shul, two days of prayer and minyan, two days of festive meals with many friends and family gathered around....

Those who say this are men.

I've never met a woman who thought that three non-stop days of entertaining, stretching food, soothing tired children, washing dishes by hand, staggering to shul late and tired because she was washing the pots at 1:30 am, was restful or necessary....exactly who do you think is cleaning up the kitchen when the seder ends at midnight, gentlemen?

I am blessed with a husband who is right there, washing the pots and dishes alongside me. It just means we're BOTH exhausted the next day. I slept late on the Second Day this year, believed I might make it to shul in time for the Torah reading and fell asleep on the couch and missed it all! I was up in time to prepare for Shabbat.

This isn't my idea of celebrating the chagim.

Don't misunderstand--I and my women friends love the seder, the warmth of friends and family around, the long walk home under the full moon if one is a guest, the songs, Hallel at shul in harmony.....but after two days of Pesach and a day of Shabbat, we're all dragging....those of us who actually made it to shul this morning all looked wiped out. It's difficult to find the joy of the holiday, the wisdom of the commentaries, when one is suffering from sleep deprivation, and your back hurts from being on your feet nonstop for days.

One day is enough--I can cram all that joy and song and prayer into one day, and if I want more, then I have 6 more days in which I have the option to celebrate and have meals---but OPTION is the operative word. AND I can turn on my stove and my microwave on the chol ha-moed, which makes it easier.

So, following my Israeli husband's custom, I will celebrate the chagim to the fullest--for seven days.

And dispense with eruv tavshilin....

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Last Pesach

This will be (G-d willing) our last Pesach in Golus.....I should be cleaning.

I realized yesterday, as friends stopped by to join us for kiddush and some after-kiddush song and drinks, that we won't be here next year for the annual round of visits, meals, friendly rejoiners, shared sorrows and joys of this small yishuv nestled in our valley.

I should be cleaning.....

Among the many things I will miss is our small community. That sounds so trite, but it is true. We've belonged to larger shuls in our non-frum past; this humble little shul with its disparate personalities has been home and spiritual haven and moral support for the last nine years.

I should be cleaning....

We've seen fellow congregants marry, move away, start new families; we've seen our peers bury their parents in grief; we've shared the tribulations of child-raising; we sat in each other's sukkot and around each other's Shabbat tables. We've been a chavura of about 15-20 regulars, and always happy to welcome newcomers.

I should be cleaning....

Jerusalem will be different. A big city, full of shuls, overflowing with Yidden. How will we navigate our way? How will we find a spiritual home in Baka?

I should be cleaning....

H"S has made the way smooth for us, so I need to set aside my worries and accept that He will provide what we need when we get there.....so I'm going to go clean. I'll take care of the chametz, and He will take care of us.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Esther's Grandma

My best friend is a grandma for the first time.

We met as young professionals in opposition, but something sparked -- I admired her strength of will, her honesty, her emotional courage and straightforwardness. There was something about her that told me I would never get anything but the truth from her, even if it was hard to hear at times. This is a rare gift that only a few people have, and I was privileged to become her friend.

She is also the person who taught me everything I know, everything good, everything necessary about parenting. A single parent who has had to raise two boys without an involved father while also holding an extremely high pressured career position, she did a better job than many stay-at-home moms I've known. The same strength and honesty she brought to her friendships and collegial relationships she also brought to her home life. Whatever pain or bitterness or disappointment her Ex brought her, she never put it on display in front of her kids --- and she refused to allow her women friends to do so either. The rules were: (1) my children are always included or I'm not available; (2) no bad words or facial grimaces will ever appear in my house to make my sons feel badly about Dad.

She taught her sons self-reliance, respect for others including respect for women, honesty, compassion and fairness. She taught them integrity and the importance of love and of family. She taught it by example as well as by words: it is the way she has lived her life.

I once asked her how to explain something to a group of people. I've never forgotten her answer: Speak from the heart.

She holds her reward for those long, painful and sometimes lonely years in her hands today -- her first grandchild. The reward that parents who really love their children receive finally for all the years of teething, scraped knees, sibling fights, up-all-night ear infections, tears over not making the team, anguish over a best friend's betrayal, heart break from the first girlfriend, adolescent rebellion, all of the pains of being a responsible parent in an irresponsible world.

Welcome, Esther. Mazel tov, Virginia! (You finally got a girl!)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

It's Just A House

Well, the house is on the market. It's just a house. The realtor and the Husband have made it look better than it has ever looked before. It is staged nicely, sparkling clean, no clutter (WOW!), crystal clear windows....it looks so nice that I don't want to leave it.

I love the light in this house. It is one of those modern Eichler constructions which purists loathe for their cheap construction and slab floors...but which I love for its minimalist lines, open floor plan and great light. The house faces, windowless, west, so the front door can be opened to take the offshore breeze in nice weather, and closed to the brunt of the storm in bad weather. The rear of the house faces east across open space studded with oak trees, so I look out of the floor-to-ceiling windows to the dawn sweeping up from the horizen, painting the sky in reds and pinks and golds, the oaks stark against the morning. From the couch next to the windows I have sat and watched G-d's light show, the rare thunderstorm's lighting bolts, dance across the eastern sky.

The yard itself lies to the east, right outside our windows. It is comprised of patio and lawn, shaded by a giant and now old native California maple. The maple is the kind of tree everyone loves to look at--big, leafy, drenching the yard in shade during the summer, providing tree-tracks for the squirrels to run across, a perch for the local barn owl eyeing the adjacent field for dinner, the high branches the gossip center for our birds who gather there in dozens, chattering madly. The yard outside the back window is mostly lawn and the tree, with roses and azalea tucked under the lee of the fence in the realm of full sunshine. There are roses that bloom this time of year before all the other roses--a climbing cacophony of small yellow wild-looking roses that arch into the sky on their untamed branches. I'm afraid the rain has washed them away. They were just starting to bloom when the March deluge began.

I will miss the maple. The maple is why I wanted this house and none of the others. We've tended it with care and love, and it has provided our son's bar mitvah reception with shade, our friends' visit with shade, ourselves with beauty and birdsong through the seasons.

But I finally hired a gardner because it drops about a million leaves in November and we couldn't keep up with it. I can remember weekends where the Husband and I labored in our yard to clear it of fallen brown maple leaves, only to retire to the house and watch another million leaves drift down on the lawn by nightfall.

When we moved here, we planted a maple in the front yard also. A tree so small it was barely a sapling. It was a small sprig we received one Tu B'Shevat from the local JCC, which was giving away sprigs to people and encouraging them to plant them. Well, we planted it in a tub, first. Then it grew and was put into a bigger tub. Then a deer ate most of the leaves and I thought it was a goner. But no, trees are designed to be eaten by herbivores, I found! The tree came back with fuller, lusher leaves and more branches. Finally, when we moved into this house, we decided it was time to plant it and gave it the place of honor in the front yard. It is now almost a full-blown tree, still young but no longer frail against the western winds; reaching over 7 feet high, but still gangly like the adolescent it is. I wonder if the new owners will take care of it, or decide to rip it out? Our Tu B'Shvat tree....

On the north is a fence between us and our neighbors. They are great neighbors, and appreciate the bounty of our lemon tree hanging over the top of the wooden boundery as well as the beauty of the roses which have launched themselves in a cascade of blooms into their backyard. The little lime tree which was a struggling bush when we came now produces a bushel of limes every season and seems to be a survivor. Beyond the fence and the houses the grassy hills rise up and up into the sky, emerald green with all the rain and lushly spotted with oak trees in the crinkles of each hill. A mountain lion wanders there, once seen walking the trails in search of our wild turkeys who flock on the hillsides. These are the higher hills of our valley, and on warm, moonlit nights we have walked home from shul and heard the coyotes singing to the stars.

On the south are windows that open up the country kitchen to a view across the valley and to the tree-covered slopes of the abrupt hills. Yet just outside the south windows is an intimate patio of flagstone bordered in dichondra, a planter box beyond it with the wild Iris Yona planted years ago thriving in the corner. The fence itself appears mundane because if you aren't here in April, you would never know that the ordinary vine shrouding the wood bursts into purple blooms.

Outside the south windows, the Husband hung a hummingbird feeder. We tell ourselves that it is 'television for the cats' who gather indoors to stare fixedly at the hummingbirds, but I have noticed over the years that we watch the birds just as avidly, noting their markings and commenting on who is back each season. I wonder if the new owners will feed the hummingbirds?

The house is all cream and blue and wood. The country kitchen and office are wood floored; the rest carpeted in pale blue with cream walls and wood trim; the closets and doors are natural wood; the kitchen full of Hickory cabinets, white appliances and blue accents. Even the white tile has a blue cast in its depths that is so subtle it is hard to define. The main bathroom off the hall is blue-walled, beige-tiled with white fixtures. The master bath is cream with a blue sink but tiles silk-screened to look like marble with warm veins of brown/gold shooting through it. We didn't plan the color scheme consciously. The house was a wreck when we bought it and we did one project at a time, and over time, things just seemed to fit together.

We love the house. Now, more than ever, since we are releasing it to the next family that comes to this neighborhood. I hope they love the roses, the lemon and lime trees, the maple, the hummingbirds and the house as much as we've come to love it. I think I will never come back here because it would break my heart to find the maple gone, replaced by a swimming pool, or the Tu B'Shevat tree uprooted for a basketball court.

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