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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Living With Hobbits

If you don't know what a Hobbit is, please go read Lord of the Rings or rent the movie. It's a classic in every sense of the word.

I live with a Hobbit. He doesn't exactly fit the description in that he does wear shoes, and he's a bit too tall, even were he a Took or Brandybuck, but he is incurably curious and always hungry.

"Is there anything to eat?" is the most frequent, and useless, inquiry made around here. This is a Jewish home, stocked by a Jewish Mother. OF COURSE there's something to eat. Many different varieties of somethings. We could sit out the Six Day War without going to the store. If we defrosted the freezer, we'd probably outlast Hezbollah.

But nonetheless, we hear often and frequently, "Is there anything to eat?"

The Husband retorted somewhat testily to this most recent question, "Didn't you just eat?"

"Well, yeah, but that was breakfast...it's almost 11:00 o'clock," the Boy said hopefully.

"I never knew!" the Husband exclaimed, "We live with a Hobbit! Breakfast was really Second Breakfast because I made him a bowl of cereal when he first got up! And now it's Elevenses! My gosh, make the kid something to eat before he wastes away to nothing!"

So I made Elevenses amidst some degree of household hilarity. And sure enough, 90 minutes later there was a timid inquiry about "lunch" (not to be confused with "snack" which seems to correspond to Second Breakfast and which any normal human being would consider a multi-course meal).

Lunch is followed by Afternoon-Snack which is followed by the Pre-dinner Nosh. Dinner is more of a sit-down-with-the-family-and-use-cutlery affair, but it is invariably followed by dessert. Sometimes two. And now and then there is a pre-bedtime traipse through the refrigerator with some grumbling about "still being hungry" but since Ima subscribes to the old-fashioned idea that its not healthy to go to bed on a full stomach, this usually elicits "Get OUT of the refrigerator and NO you CAN'T have that now!"

I'm going to look closer and see if he's growing hair on his feet.....

Photo credit to http://www.lordoftherings.net/

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Jerusalem International Book Fair

I talked the Husband into attending the Jerusalem International Book Fair today instead of trying to go to the gym. It wasn't hard -- he too is a book lover and as he's still recovering from bronchitis from the Jerusalem Crud we've all had, strolling around the Book Fair seemed preferable to doing something painfully aerobic at the gym.

So after walking the Boy to his ulpan and downing cafe hafook at Kalo's, we called the Best Cab Driver in Jerusalem and got a lift over to Binyanei Ha'Uma, the big convention center near the central bus station where the Fair is going on this week.

I learn something every time I ride with Yossi, the cab driver, who now insists that we speak Hebrew all the time. He knows the Husband's Hebrew is pretty darned fluent, but that mine is still pre-gan level: I might be able to limp through a conversation with a three year old, assuming you could find a three year old patient enough to put up with it. "You must speak Hebrew, Sarah," he tells me. "If you don't use what you learn in ulpan, you will never speak Hebrew and you will always use English." So every time we're in the cab, it's not just a ride, it's a tutorial. Yossi very patiently corrects the same mistakes I make over and over, and tells me not to worry, the language will come in time. Of course, Yossi speaks Hebrew, French, English and two dialects of Arabic fluently, so I always feel like an idiot trying to keep up with him.

The day was beautiful. Today was one of those warm, balmy spring days where all the blossoms have opened on the trees, the sunlight caresses you and the breeze is just a kiss of relief from the heat. So of course, we spent most of our time indoors. Go figure.

The Convention Center had stall after stall of book sellers throughout its many halls on the first floor. A surprising number of these stalls sold books in English. Titles were also available in French and Russian. There may have been books in other languages as well which I missed seeing, but that's because I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed at the sheer amount of books. I've been in public libraries with fewer choices.

Steimatsky's, the chain of English and other foreign language books in Israel, had a huge stall with great prices (25% off); there were books for bibliophiles; the latest edition of Encyclopedia Judaica which I lust for but cannot afford unless I want to forego having a kitchen in the new house; there were beautifully written and illustrated Haggadot at two different stalls, as well as books for every blessing for every holiday and kiddush in Jewish tradition.

There was even a stall containing books on the history and traditions of the Druze. Unfortunately for me, there was only one book in English, although several in Hebrew and many in Arabic. The rep, who spoke fluent English and Hebrew, asked me if I spoke Arabic. I got a grin and words of approval for my answer: "Not yet."

There was a stall for Carta with every conceivable map of Israel's regions as well as illustrated 'coffee-table' atlases and historical books. Not to be outdone, Michelin had a stall also, stuffed with maps and books for the travelers amongst us.

There were lectures being given in two separate locations but by the time we stumbled across them, we were overladen with too many books, the Husband complaing that we should have brought the agulah (shopping cart) to carry them home. We took Yossi's cab home (another Hebrew lesson for me although the two guys also just gabbed a bit), unloaded our loot and as soon as I finish this blog entry, I'm going to go curl up with a good book.

Go check it out. The Jerusalem International Book Fair is only here every other year. Take advantage of the stupendous choices and good prices. Hit the link in the title above to find out about the lectures, schedules and events.

Enjoy!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Better Than Steimatsky's

Okay, this is a plug for today's discovery. For all you vatikim who already knew about this spot, mazel tov! But for me, it's new and exciting!

Thanks to my classmate Elizabeth, another devoted book-lover like myself, I was introduced to the joys of Sefer V'Sefel. I'm told that it literally means "Book and (Coffee) Cup," since it supplies both. However, the online reviews state that coffee is NOT (alas!) served. I did not see a coffee bar, but I saw such a trove of English titles (religious, fiction, biography, history, archeology, etc.) that the experience more than made up for the lack of caffeine on the premises.

The beauty of this shop is that it is full of such a variety of English-language books, both used and new, and if you purchase a book there, new or used, you can return it and get a partial credit towards the price of the next book you purchase. So the three books I bought today that are new will be returned to the store when we're done, and we'll receive 50% of the purchase price towards the cost of another book or books.

The store itself is up a staircase off of a narrow street that runs between Yafo and the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. I've been on this alleyway before--I purchased all of my skirts at the shop just down from the staircase--but I never knew there was a bookstore of such wonderful choices up those stairs.

This is from Ha'aretz's review of used book stores:

The landmark Jerusalem used bookstore, Sefer Ve Sefel, is probably the city's best known - and with good reason: Spread over two stories, its selection is wide and neatly laid out, with helpful service and moderate prices. The books on the outside are highly discounted, with some real bargains for just NIS 10. Sefer Ve Sefel sells some new books, but the vast majority is used - and all are in English.

"'The Lonely Planet' guide calls Sefer Ve Sefel the best used English-language book shop in the Middle East and I would agree," says long-time owner Uri Ruchan, who has managed the store for 22 years. "We have a huge selection of new used books because many of our customers buy books on the Internet or bring them to us from abroad."


According to the Internet, this scenic little alleyway has a name, and the address of this wonderful bookstore is 2 Yavetz Street (02-524-8237 if you want to call about a title).

photo credit to glimpseabroad

Friday, February 16, 2007

Musings: Aliyah With Special Needs

It occured to me the other day, as I sat in the lobby at Hadassah Mount Scopus, that other parents live different lives. I've had this thought before, but it struck me again with more force because I found myself (again) waiting in a hospital for a specialist.

My son has mild CP. One thing he needs, besides a pediatrician and lots of love, is a neurologist. Now, neurologists come in all flavors: we've had the cold-blooded expert who is absolutely brilliant but can't communicate with the patient or parents; we've had the smart but highly overbooked expert who has no more than 10 minutes to give us every 6 months; we've had the warm, bright, caring neurologist who went the extra mile and we've had the idiot who told us to insitutionalize our kid because he'd never walk, talk, or go to school.

The best neurologist was the one we had most recently in California. But our aliyah made it impossible to keep her as our doctor, of course. However, the Boy's pediatrician came to the rescue here in Israel. We had already met the neurologist in our medical clinic. Didn't like him. Rushed, hurried, wanted to know why I was bothering him. When I later met with the pediatrician, I told her I needed a better neurologist. She said she could give me names of the best neurologists in Jerusalem but the top three aren't in my kupah. I don't care, I told her. She gave me three names. I looked at the list, and asked, "Which one would you take your kid to?"

Now I know the professional reference rules. I always knew as a lawyer that I could not recommend any particular lawyer to people, but needed to give them a list of at least three people they could call. The doctors have similar rules, hence the pediatrician's list of three names. To her credit, without batting an eye, she named one of the three as her choice if it were her kid.

We made the appointment to see the neurologist, who works at Hadassah Mt. Scopus. We actually got in to see him within four months, which is pretty extraordinary--the current wait is 6-9 months to see him.

I was pleased with myself that I was able to actually navigate the Information booth, the payment office and the directions in Hebrew. The neurologist I had to do in English--fortunately, he spoke Hebrew, English and French fluently. He reviewed the documents and reports I brought with me, asked for copies of the ones he found pertinent, reviewed the CD of the Boy's most recent MRI, and came up with a plan for further tests and follow-up. He was clearly interested in my son, and that's one of the best qualifications of a doctor IMHO--not rushed, not too busy, not disinterested, not bored or tired. This is a doctor who likes his work, and finds his patients interesting.

However, I had to pull the Boy out of one of his favorite classes to make this appointment and as we sat in the lobby I realized that despite the Hebrew, the setting was oddly familiar. Yet another hospital in my child's life, another doctor, another medical appointment and more tests and evaluations. Don't get me wrong -- I'm very grateful that the medical infrastructure of the modern world is as advanced as it is, and my child benefits from all this. But other children miss class for dentist appointments. Other children leave school and go to football practice. Other parents take the afternoon off to go to the track meet and root for their child. Other 16-year-olds can go over to Avi's place to go swimming without parental supervision because their parents haven't been told that their kid might have a seizure and drown. Other 16-year-olds can walk to school alone because their vision isn't so poor that they're likely to step in front of a speeding taxi without seeing it.

So even though the signs are in Hebrew, the conversation is in Hebrew, sitting in the Hadassah lobby had an oddly familiar feel to it. I wondered if the Boy ever felt like he was "missing" something in that he didn't go to football practice, or enter a swim meet or do the things that most adolescent boys take for granted.

How do you answer you son when he asks you, "Why did G-d make me this way?"

What comfort can I offer him when he realizes, as he did this year, that his condition was not something that he would "grow out of" as he told us he thought would happen if he just kept trying harder.

I know what it has meant to me. To me, it meant that I have a child who is one of the most generous and affectionate kids in the world. It means that I have a child who I value for himself and not because of the bragging rights of reflected glory so many parents seek ("MY son is a doctor" and "MY daughter just made partner at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro"). I'll never go to a football practice, but then I wouldn't trade the football practice or track meet for what I have: I have a child who loves me unconditionally and acts in ways that show me his love every day.

Photo in front of high school last year by Ima--hence the frown. "Not another picture! I hate having my picture taken! And I'm late for class!"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

OT: Un-aliyah-related Meme, just for fun...

I owe this meme to Basya:
----------------------------


Things you may not have known about me........



Four jobs I have had in my life:

Everyone knows I was a prosecutor, but besides that:

1) volunteer at Suicide Prevention following a friend's suicide;

2) layout and national news editor for newspaper;

3) worked for CBS News in their scheduling department (wanted to be in News);

4) international credit and collections for Silicon Valley hi-tech company



Four movies I would watch over and over and over (In no particular order):

1) A Man For All Seasons

2) Legends of the Fall

3) It's A Wonderful Life

4) LOTR




Four places you have lived:

Besides Israel--

1) San Francisco and the surrounding region

2) New England (Boston, Middletown RI)

3) Japan

4) Virginia



Four TV shows you love to watch:

1) Star Trek TNG

2) Law and Order

3) Hill Street Blues

4) As Time Goes By (BBC)



Four places you have been on vacation:

1) Hong Kong/Macao

2) British Columbia

3) car camping all over the West (hey, Judy!)

4) the Berkshires



Four of my favorite foods:


1) sushi

2) Thai

3) Hunan/Szechuan

4) Morrocan



Four places I would rather be right now:

Nowhere, really....

but four places I'd like to see again or for the first time:

1) Taos (hey, Judy!) and the Four Corners region

2) the Gaspe Peninsula in the fall (hey, Judy!)

3) the Canadian Rockies (again) and Vancouver Island (hey, Judy!)

4) Scotland (the Dunnett Tour...)



Four people I wish I could talk to again:

1) My grandparents

2) my mother-in-law (okay, that's five)



Four things you would like to do before time runs out:

1) develop a thicker skin and not get hurt by others' drama;

2) see as much of the world as possible;

3) enjoy every day G-d gives me and make the most of it;

4) make a positive difference in the world;

Monday, February 12, 2007

Haveil Havelim Here!

Don't miss the newest Haveil Havelim (#106) over at Jack's.

There's loads of good reading--enough to keep you busy for the rest of the month!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Taking The Back Road

Today the Boy went back to school -- and we went to Modi'in. We are in the process of buying a home in Modi'in, and home-buying in Israel is quite a bit different from in the States. First, it takes forever. No 30-45 day close. Second, it's cheaper to buy the home before it's built. And as it's being built you, the buyer, can and must make certain selections: standard kitchen, or upgraded kitchen; tiles for the bathroom (a choice of 4 styles); which interior doors (choice of many); what kind of cabinets and countertops in the kitchen? In the baths? Showers or baths or combo? How many electrical points in the kitchen? the living room? the upstairs office/study? And so on...

Nor is this done in one trip. This is done through multiple visits to many places, including the Builder's office. But we have already visited the countertop place, the kitchen place and the interior door place, and made choices at all of these places. For some people, this may be exciting. I know remodeling our former home in California was both frustrating but rewarding. Buying a new home in Modi'in that we are "new-modeling" as we go is not rewarding -- it's a pain in the tush.

The Husband hates to shop. Until a couple of weeks ago, we didn't have a car. This meant getting anywhere was a major challenge. This takes all the fun out of shopping for tile, believe me! What we want is "standard" everything as much as possible just to cut down on the trips to the Builder and the subcontractors and materialmen's showrooms. We are upgrading the kitchen, but that's it for now. If I decide the baths are not luxurious enough after I live there for a year, I'll change them -- and may even have the language skill to do so.

Our English-speaking architect who worked on the plans with us is away on maternity leave for a few months. We are supposed to be working with her substitute, a dour guy who speaks Hebrew and French. I speak a little of both badly. Most of what I can say in French should not be repeated in polite company. So I called the French Connection last week because despite having a contract which explicitly states that the Builder will notify us in advance of any selections or changes we need to make, we haven't heard a thing from the Builder. This worries me. I call. I get the French Connection who bluntly tells me he doesn't speak English.

"This is Israel, you need to speak Hebrew," he tells me in Hebrew.

"I'm an olah chadashah in kita aleph--I'm trying to speak Hebrew," I say as politely as I can muster.

He then rattles off a lengthy sentence in Hebrew that is far to fast for me to comprehend.

"Rak rega (just a moment)," I murmured politely, while grabbing the Husband by the arm and forcing the cell phone into his reluctant hand. The two guys talk. My husband tells him that HIS Hebrew isn't good enough to comprehend the French Connection and could he please connect him to someone who speaks English.

That's just to make the appointment to come down to Modi'in today.

I call again this morning to confirm the appointment only to have the French Connection say, in tones of sheer disbelief, "Don't you speak Hebrew? I don't speak English."

That's it! "Yes, I speak a LITTLE Hebrew," I say through clenched teeth, "but not fast and not enough to understand everything you say. I'm an olah chadashah and I've only been here a few months. YOU are working with Anglos on these houses so why don't you speak English?"

"Rak rega," he says, and transfers me to Yisrael, who speaks fluent English and handles the entire morning's transaction. So we ambled down by car to Modi'in, looked at the items we were required to look at, signed for what we agreed to, and headed back to Jerusalem.

After weeks of rain, cloud and gloomy weather for the most part, today was spectacular. The last thing I wanted to do was deal with crawling bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway One. "Let's go the back way!" I suggested, expecting to be overruled.

"Okay," the Husband agreed, surprising me. "Which way?"

We headed for Eshtaol and took 395, a road I've wanted to take for just about forever. It's a country road, narrow and winding and as the winter ebbs and the sun comes out, the new grass coats the hills with pristine green and the almond trees splash the hillsides with their pale blossoms. Looking south from the ridge we can see Bet Shemesh and the hills to the south, but after we reach the crest, our view is northward, where we can see the folds and ridges of the ancient landscape disappear northward in purple haze. The road follows the crest past moshavim founded in this century and the last, many of which are sprouting new housing. The views are breathtaking, especially overlooking forested valleys which a century ago were nothing more than rock.

Along the way, we came across a car stalled in the road for lack of gasoline. We gave the driver a ride to Moshav Zova, home of the closest gas station where she purchased a liter for her car. We were prepared to drive her back to her car but somehow her two friends persuaded someone to either tow her car or give them enough gas to drive it to the moshav. Having been pedestrians dependent upon the kindness of other drivers not so long ago ourselves, helping out with a lift was the least we could do.

After that we headed into Jerusalem, coming into Ein Kerem from the west, a first for me. The village was looking a little tired, a little worn after the winter but the surrounding hillsides blazed with green pines and cypress, new grass and blossoming almond trees. Nature didn't look tired at all, and nature is what makes Ein Kerem beautiful.

Ending today's errand to Modi'in by coming back along the back road was perfect -- it got us out into the open country for the first time in months, allowed us to see a valleys and hills we wouldn't normally see from Highway One, and gave us a taste of the first bloom of spring in the hills around Jerusalem. And along that ridge road, just briefly, as we made drove eastward and upward, we passed a meadow framed by trees and I caught sight of the first calanit of the season--a sure sign that spring is arriving, and certainly one of my favorite flowers in Israel.

photo of calanit amid oak trees by Tal Israel; ridgeline by the Israel Agency

Friday, February 09, 2007

Arab Incitement?


The Arabs justly take a lot of blame for "Arab incitement" but today's MSM feeds from Jerusalem make clear WHO is doing the incitement -- BBC and CNN.

Arab commentators on today's mini-riot were fairly even-handed except for the slightly hysterical couple who were so clearly fact-challenged as to present no credibility. But BBC's commentators were almost drooling at the idea of a "Third Intifada" which they relentlessly suggested was about to explode. Every question directed to every commentator of any political or religious stripe emphasized ad nauseum that "these pictures are going to be broadcast all over the world and cause Further Unrest," and often ended with either "this could be the start of a Third Intifada," or a reminder (erroneously) that "this is how the last Intifada started--right here on the platform of Al Aqsa, the third holiest shrine of Islam!"

PULEEEEZE!

First, I'm going to puke if I hear "the third holiest shrine of Islam," one more time. It's the FIRST holiest place of Judaism which somehow never gets mentioned by any of the BBC/CNN twits, and it was basically an unimportant backwater of every Islamic empire from the Ummayyids through the Turks that got absolutely NO attention from its Moslem masters. Religious pilgrimages were (and are) to Mecca; trade bypassed Jerusalem completely; the great learning centers were Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad and Isfahan; government was run from those cities as well as Istanbul. Jerusalem was the place the Crusaders stole for a while, was lousy with Jews, and was only good for the tourist trade.

Second, Ariel Sharon's walk around the Temple Mount walls did not cause the Second Intifada, a Palestinian-crafted myth which the Left refuses to abandon. Arafat gave orders days earlier to stock the Haram al Sharif with rocks, and to bus the school children there to throw them along with their enthusiastic elders. Sharon arrived at the Mount with Waqf and Palestinian Authority permission to do his walk-about -- which he had done annually, likewise with permission from the Arab authorities, on prior years without incident. So why an Intifada that year? Arafat had turned down Ehud Barak's Clinton-brokered offer of a Palestinian state, and in typical Arafat fashion, decided that if this is what the west was offering him without violence, then how much more he would get if he again resorted to violence! Typical airplane-hijacking-terrorist mind-set.

Third, this area is sensitive because of competing religious and nationalist claims, but I'm sick to death of hearing the tendentious mantra that Old City is "occupied Palestinian land," as BBC relentlessly drummed. It is NOT occupied Palestinian land -- the Palestinians NEVER held this land. Any basic fact check will show that up until the Jordanian Army conquered the East Jerusalem and the Old City, the majority of the population was Jewish; the Jordanian Army ethnically cleansed the Old City (as well as every other Jewish town, village and suburb), expelling all Jews and dynamiting the Jewish Quarter. The Jordanians then held the Old City and surrounding conquered areas which under the U.N. Resolution were supposed to be an International Compound -- NOT "Palestinian." The Jordanians held this land, used it as sniper posts and artillery platforms against the Jewish population across the cease-fire line for years, then lost it when they launched their attack against Israel in 1967. Then the Israelis annexed the land which had NEVER been, by treaty, UN Resolution, or any other agreement, "Palestinian" -- and so it is now Israeli land, or if the BBC/CNN twits want to argue, disputed "international land" but it is not, and has never been, "Palestinian land."

Fourth, the whole dispute is manufactured. This is just another Palestinian fabricated justification for attacking the Jews. What the Palestinians have not told their pet media is that the Israel Antiquities Authority coordinated this digging by the Mughrabi Gate with the Islamic Waqf, the Jordanian government (which sees itself still as holding the guardianship of the Haram al Sharif) as well as the Palestinian Authority. The repairs to the Mughrabi Gate walkway have been needed for years; the temporary walkway is both an eyesore and a danger.

Fifth, a similar dig, much closer to the walls of the Haram al Sharif, has been going on quietly for months. Like the Mughrabi Gate excavation, this too was coordinated with all the relevant Arab authorities. No protests have gathered around this other dig. No rock-throwing, terrorist-beragged youths have assembled to stop this other dig. No mainstream media coverage by breathless announcers equipped with dubious credentials has emanated from this other dig. Why not? Because this other dig started months ago and couldn't be used as an excuse to unite the warring factions of Fatah and Hamas against Israel. However, as the civil war death toll mounted in the Palestinian-controlled areas, as the population grew restive under the guns of competing militias, the leadership of both sides saw power slipping from their grasp, the possibility of popular uprising or uncontrolled warlording, and sought not a "Unity Government" in Mecca, but a pragmatic power-sharing that at least allowed them to keep a grip on their positions and the foreign aid that funds them. But Hamas and Fatah need to draw their people's attention away from their bloodletting and internecine struggle -- and what better way to unite their warring, hating halves than by fabricating a Jewish desecration against Al Aqas Mosque?

And who is there, front and center, to cover it all in living color and breathless anticipation of more bloodshed but BBC and CNN, who can hardly contain their glee that once again, they can pontificate about the evil Israelis and applaud the brave little suicide-bombers who slaughter them. Back to the Pre-9/11 World where Left was "right" and no one dared to question it!

If there isn't a Third Intifada, it won't be because the MSM didn't try to incite one.

Photo by Elad Sherman, Jerusalem Shots--entrance to the Temple Wall Plaza with the temporary ramp up to the Mughrabi Gate.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Music Lesson

One of the best blogs on the internet in the "Life in Israel" category is that of David Bogner who writes Treppenwitz . . This story is one he posted today, and its so good I'm cutting and pasting to this page instead of just recommending the link:

The rental cello... an Israeli story
[Some stories just have to be shared... this is one of those.]

My company recently finished a long and complex project in which we had partnered with a German company. This project required several engineers and specialists from the German company to spend extended periods of time here in Israel.

On one such scheduled visit that was to last three weeks, one of the German engineers decided he wanted to bring his 13-year-old daughter along with him. It would be a mini-vacation for her, and he figured she would keep him company in this strange desert city of Beer Sheva.

However, as this German engineer was preparing for the trip, a problem arose. It seems his daughter is an accomplished cellist and was scheduled to perform at a festival two weeks after they returned to Europe... so she would need to practice daily while she was in Israel. The problem was that her instrument was extremely valuable and their insurance company wouldn't cover it in a 'war zone'.

The German engineer contacted my coworker and explained the situation... and asked if there was anywhere in Beer Sheva to rent a cello for three weeks.

My coworker did some asking around and quickly discovered that finding a rental cello in Beer Sheva would be only slightly less likely than finding a lake... so he expanded his search. After umpteen phone calls to friends and associates he finally received a lead... the phone number of a place in Jerusalem that repairs violins.

He called the repair shop and spoke with a pleasant individual who owned and managed the place. The problem was presented and the question asked: 'Did he have a cello that could be rented to the young visiting musician for three weeks?'

Without missing a beat, the repair shop owner replied that it shouldn't be a problem, and gave directions to his shop. My coworker promptly relayed the news to Germany via email and the plans for the father-and-daughter trip went forward.

Fast-forward a few weeks.

The day the German engineer and his daughter arrived in Israel my coworker and his family hosted the two visitors at their home for dinner. Over the meal it was agreed that they would drive to the Jerusalem workshop the next day to pick up the rental cello.

The hour-and-a-half drive to Israel's capitol went smoothly and by late morning they were all standing in the 'violin repair shop' chatting with the owner... a mid-thirty-ish Israeli with a ponytail.

In truth the place was far more than a violin repair shop. It was a workshop filled with violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Repair was only a tiny portion of what went on in this shop as the owner was the third or fourth generation in his family who had been crafting and repairing classical string instruments by hand.

Every wall, nook and cranny was filled with stringed instruments of every type and vintage...the smell of wood and lacquer were heavy in the air... wood shavings littered the floor... and several work tables were strewn with components of unfinished instruments.

The owner of the shop brought my coworker and the two German guests tea and asked how he could be of assistance. My coworker reminded him of their phone conversation and all attention turned to the young woman in need of a practice cello.

The owner sized her up with his eyes and grabbed a cello that had been standing in an open case near his workbench. "Try this one to see if it's a fit" he said in a mishmash of English and German, handing her the instrument.

The young German girl sat down and began to expertly tune the cello and rosin the offered bow. After making a small adjustment to the height of the bottom peg she began to play one of the Bach Cello Suites. The instrument sang beautifully in her hands and the owner looked on appreciatively... clearly surprised at the young musician's skill.

After a few minutes he stopped her and had her try two other cellos... one which was slightly larger and finally a third that seemed older than the first two.

When she began to play the third cello the room was suddenly filled to overflowing with the sound coming from the instrument. The first two cellos had sounded nice to my coworker's untrained ears, but the third seemed to make everything in the room vibrate and resonate with each note played.

The girl stopped abruptly and stared in disbelief at the instrument. A few rushed words in German were translated to English by the engineer and then into Hebrew by my coworker for the shop owner:

"What kind of cello is this? I've never heard or felt music like this in all my years of playing!"

The owner of the shop beamed with pride and replied that it was nearly 300 years old and was one of his favorites. In fact, it was normally kept locked away and the only reason it was out on the shop floor was that he liked to make sure all the instruments were inspected and played regularly. He explained that he had just finished making a small adjustment to the placement of the bridge under the strings and was preparing to put it away when they had arrived.

In a very business-like manner the owner said with finality that this was the instrument she must use while she was visiting Israel. The father hesitated a bit and began to politely protest at the idea of taking responsibility for such an old and valuable instrument... and clearly he was worried about what kind of rental fee such an instrument would command.

The owner waved off the objections and told him to take the instrument for his daughter. "After all", he reasoned, "she has a festival to perform in, so she needs to practice on an instrument worthy of her skills."

All attempts by the German engineer to fix a price for the rental were waved off by the owner. The only thing he would say was "We can talk about money when you come back in three weeks".

Being unused to the informality of Israeli business practices, the German really wanted to sign something or at least leave his credit card information, but the shop owner waved all this off and simply ushered the group - including the beaming young cellist now holding the instrument in its case - to the door and wished them a good day.

The three week visit passed quickly and on the day before they were scheduled to leave, the German engineer asked my coworker if he would take them to Jerusalem again and act as translator/adviser when they returned the cello.

When the three of them walked into the Jerusalem workshop together the owner greeted them like family and asked how the practicing had gone. The young cellist gushed in a combination of German and English over how much she had enjoyed playing the instrument. Again - as when she had first complimented the cello - the owner of the shop beamed like a proud father.

After a little small talk over tea, the German engineer whispered nervously to my coworker that it was really time to set the price for the rental and be on their way. My coworker dutifully asked the shop owner several different ways in Hebrew about the cost of the cello rental... but after each attempt, the conversation wandered off track leaving the question unanswered.

Finally, in frustration, my coworker turned to the German engineer and whispered "I can't seem to get him to set a price. I don't know if it's because hasn't decided on a price or if he is simply waiting for us to suggest one. What do you think?"

The German shrugged helplessly having no idea what to make of these crazy Israeli business arrangements... much less the present impasse.

Suddenly, the shop owner stood and picked up the cello case that had been sitting next to one of the chairs like an extra member of the group. He opened the case and took the instrument out. But instead of looking it over for scratches or damage as one would expect him to do, he handed it to the young woman and said "Play something... let me hear what you've been practicing for the festival."

The young cellist moved her chair back a bit to give herself some room and quickly checked the tuning. Once settled, she closed her eyes and launched into a passionate classical piece (my coworker was so taken by the beauty of the playing that he forgot to ask what piece it was as he had after their first visit to the shop).

Her playing was spectacular! My coworker described the sound of the soaring high notes making his face feel warm and the sonorous low tones making his chest ache (in a good way). When she was finished they all applauded loudly and the young German girl smiled shyly... clearly pleased with her performance.

As she put the venerable instrument back in its case, the German engineer made one last attempt to raise the issue of the rental price with the shop owner. The owner smiled and said "But your daughter just paid the rental fee! There is nothing more to talk about... have a good trip back to Germany."

The German engineer couldn't believe his ears but he didn't have a chance to even thank the shop owner as the pony-tailed craftsman had turned away and was busy addressing the young musician:

"I'm so glad that this old cello had someone worthy to play it. I hope you'll come back to Israel and visit... the cello will be waiting. Good luck with your festival!"

Most of the car ride back to Beer Sheva was spent discussing this odd transaction. The German engineer asked over and over if this kind of thing was typical in Israel... and my coworker tried to explain that while he wasn't terribly surprised by the outcome, there really was no such thing as 'typical' in this country.

In other words, if he was asking if Israeli's always conducted business this way... the answer was 'no'. But if he was asking if most Israelis were nice and more than a little bit sentimental... the answer was 'yes'. The Engineer and his daughter just shook their heads and smiled.

Only in Israel can a priceless cello be rented for a song.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Friendships

This is the first day I've had a chance to blog.....last week was EXTREMELY busy and I kept putting off blogging until the end of the week....but by the end of the week, the entire household had come down with the flu.

Don't ask me what kind of flu. We've started calling it the "Jerusalem Crud" because almost everyone we know in Jerusalem has had it or currently has it. Silly us -- we thought because we'd made it to Tu B'Shvat without serious illness, we were going to make it through the winter without catching it. Typical flu stuff -- sneezing, fever, chills, aches and pains, cough. The Rx: sleep, herbal tea, cranberry juice, more tea, diet Coke (okay, that's my poison and not for everyone) more sleep and in the Husband's case, antibiotics since his skipped the flu stage and went straight into bronchitis.

The nicest thing about being sick, though, was the discovery that even as newcomers here in Israel, we have friends. Our neighbors next door, about our age and previously stricken the The Crud, came over with treats and offers to run to the store if we need anything....the women in my ulpan have emailed and called to see how I'm doing. As an olah chadasha in Israel, this is reassuring. One of the hardest things to do, I think, is care for yourself and/or your family when everyone is sick. The "good old days" of extended family, where sisters and brothers and parents and in-laws all lived near-by and could scoot over and help out, isn't the norm any more. Those folks who do have family near by should count their blessings. In this day and age of extreme mobility and people moving all over the globe, having your aunt, sister, mother-in-law next door isn't always an option.

I've often felt that "family is where you find it" and that DNA isn't necessarily a good indication of "family." "Family" and "blood" were these semi-tribal words that are invoked more out of habit than out of reality. IF your family are also your friends, then you're rich on both counts, but all too often there are adversarial relationships in families that make them toxic. If I were (bli ayn hara) stricken with serious illness, I would call a number of very close girl friends for advice and support. One is a college roommate friend, one is a friend from my law days, one is a "parent"-friend (you know--we became friends because our kids were friends), a couple are neighbors past and present, and two especially are DNA-family: my sister-in-law and my cousins, who are the best relatives-by-DNA that I have. And my best friend, now and for many years, is my husband.

We were a shidduch of sorts. Our matchmaker was a young Italian Catholic police officer who I had known through work for a number of years. The Husband was divorced and after three years of dating, was seeking a Jewish wife. Rob, the Italian-Catholic happily-married father of two, pointed me out to the Husband and said, "Why don't you ask her? She's single."

So he did--after 9 months of dating which followed a month of overcoming strong resistance on my part. You see, he wasn't "my type." Of course, I now realize that the reason our marriage works so well is because of the qualities he brings to it, and had I continued to date "my type" I wouldn't be happy today. He is straightforward, honest, has a fabulous sense of humor, is a great cook and helps me in every way around the house.

I often wonder if we were meant to meet earlier. I almost dropped out of college to come to Israel and instead opted to apply for the Year Abroad Program. My parents nixed that plan because "there's going to be a war!" Sure. Right. But they wouldn't sign the consent form, so, in the fall of 1973, I didn't get to go to Israel. But in 1974, my husband and his first wife made aliyah with Yona. My next step was to apply to law school after a few years of working and saving for tuition, but I hesitated--I wanted to spend some time in Israel and looked into the kibbutz volunteer program. "Ah," I thought, not too intelligently, "I can always go AFTER law school." That was in 1979, when one of the kibbutzim I looked at was Yotvata, where my now-husband was working in the dairy.

I went to law school instead. No one goes anywhere after law school except to work unless (1) you've won the lottery or (2) you're independently wealthy. Those loans have to be repaid immediately.

The Husband returned to California at the behest of the first wife, who hated kibbutz, hated Yotvata, hated living in Israel and announced, "If you don't take me home, I'll divorce you." So he reluctantly uprooted the girls and himself and returned to California with her, where she promptly divorced him.

There isn't a big demand for dairy farmers in the San Francisco area, so he went back into police work and ended up in the same county I was working in as a prosecutor.

H"S works in mysterious ways. Everywhere I wanted to go, the Husband was there waiting for me....and finally we came together, thanks to our Italian-American matchmaker. And thankfully, we're here now in Israel where we've always wanted to be, and together.

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