A WORD OF WARNING: A Mushy Mother's Day Post

It is Mother's Day in the US today, and since Friday, we have been exchanging free E-cards, telephone calls, and emails, wishing our female family members in America a happy Mother's Day. Yes, Hallmark really lucked out with this holiday.

When my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law asked Josh and I what we would be doing together to celebrate Mother's Day, I was like, "Uh, I'm going to work?" As far as I know, there is no such thing as Mother's Day in Israel. Women are SO appreciated and valued in Israel by their families and society at large, that they do not need to be pampered and spoiled on one day of the year in order to know their worth. They are treated like queens every day of the year. Besides, as my husband likes to point out about Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, it is non-Jewish.

Josh was quick to tell his family that Mother's Day is not celebrated here, and that was the end of that. Since women have a tendency to be illogical creatures, I was slightly peeved. I mean, I don't care about "Mother's Day," I really don't, but since everyone else makes such a song and dance about it, it wouldn't have hurt for him to at least say this morning before I left for work, "Happy Mother's Day."

My husband has another annoying tendency - whenever I want to be upset with him, he goes ahead and does something very sweet, which throws me for a loop. Under the pretense of going shopping for errands, he came back half an hour later with a massive bouquet of red roses and some Max Brenner chocolates.
my roses
We've been married for almost five years, and he still surprises me:-)

Adulthood is overrated

Life right now is a little on the stressful side. We are trying to sell our apartment, and I can tell you that I now understand why it is they say that selling a property/moving homes is up there on the list of the three major causes of stress in one's life, followed by death and divorce. Some of the real-estate agents that we have chosen are not exactly...well, let's just say that I sometimes wonder how they fell into this career.

Instead of drawing attention to the positive qualities of our apartment, they use extremely negative language to describe what we have done to our place, and will make such ridiculous statements as: "Yes, the owners have STOLEN from the living room area in order to create a larger kitchen." I think most people will agree that perhaps a more positive word could have been used instead of "stolen." Off the top of my head, how about "MAXIMIZED THE SPACE," "MADE USE OF THE SPACE."  

And if the person who is looking at our apartment comments on a negative feature, the agent nods meekly, and quietly mumbles, "You are right." I stare at the agent, willing him to rebut the comment, and use the opportunity to show the client the plusses of such a feature, but no. Stone-faced silence. It gets to the point where Josh and I intervene and let the agent do what he wanted to do from the beginning - stand on the sidelines and watch us do his work for him.

As a result of our experience in trying to sell our apartment, I have discovered a new hobby amongst Israelis. Let's Go Looking at Apartments For the Fun of It Even If We Have No Intention of Buying. A ridiculous amount of people come traipsing through our apartment, entire families with cousins, friends, neighbors, you name it. (It very much reminds me of when I gave birth in Shaarei Tzedek hospital with my little girl, Tzofia. I shared a room in the post-natal ward with another woman, who ten minutes after being carted into the room after having given birth to twins, was visited by at least fifteen of her family members. Take note that this was midnight, and the woman had given birth to twins. A whole procession of Israelis marched into the ward, and just when I thought there possibly couldn't be any more family members, yet another, and another, would walk in. Only in Israel.) They make it abundantly clear both through their body language and their comments that they have about as much interest in buying our apartment as they do a museum.  

It is truly an emotional rollercoaster, but hey, at least our apartment is always clean. Josh and I have it down - when an agent calls up to say s/he is arriving in twenty minutes, we go into fast-forward mode. I take one part of the apartment, Josh takes another, and we go into automatic pilot and zoom through the apartment. (If you are English, imagine Supermarket Sweep, but not in a supermarket. If you are not English, don't worry about it. It was a stupid comparison.) When all this is over, perhaps Josh and I can hire ourselves out to people who are selling their properties, and need that quick finishing touch.  

It is times like these that I think back to my childhood days when my biggest problem was deciding which friend to invite over to play (which invited the larger problem of which board game to select - would Scrabble or Monopoly win the day?), or which sibling to torment in my quest for treats.

I wish I could convey in four-year-old terms to Eliana that adulthood is not all it is cracked out to be, but in her mind there is nothing she wants more than "to be big". On the way to gan this morning, she declared that she "wants to eat lots of chips so my tummy will get bigger and then I can have a baby in my tummy and the baby's name will be Daniella but not the Daniella from shul a different Daniella." (When Eliana speaks, there are no punctuation marks; she blurts out her sentences without any pauses or hesitations.) I told her that she will indeed get a larger stomach from eating chips, but that there is no direct connection between eating chips and getting pregnant. I guess that's a subject we will have to put on hold for another ten years.

Ray Bradbury

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

I came across this quote today from Ray Bradbury on my Google homepage, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school.  In general, I don't enjoy reading science fiction - although I have to confess that Josh has introduced to me the joys of Robert Heinlein - but I remember being very moved by this book in a similar way that I was moved by his quote above. It forces you to think out of the box, to confront the reality of our world, and to take a long, hard look at oneself in the mirror.

In Fahrenheit 451, a book-burning fireman goes through a crisis of conscience. In the world he occupies, the appearance of happiness is more important than the actual pursuit of it. His wife pressures him to work harder burning books so she can buy yet another TV for their home. Independent thought is discouraged in this world, and real emotion is to be avoided at all cost. (Sound familiar?) The fireman begins to see the error of his ways when his sixteen-year-old neighbor, who is enthralled by books and is curious about the world, mysteriously disappears. He begins to hide books in his home so as to avoid burning them, but he is discovered, and ends up joining an outlaw band of scholars who commit the contents of their books to memory, waiting for the time society will once again welcome the wisdom of literature.

He writes:

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.

In the day-to-day grind of our existence, we get so caught up in the here- and-now that we often lose sight of ourselves and the world around us. When we ask an acquaintance on the street a casual and breezy, "How are you?", how many of us really want to stick around to hear the answer? Our financial situation, our social status, our appearance - these are often the concerns that dominate our thoughts and hearts; not reading between the lines, looking behind our friend's plastered smile to see what is really going on beneath the surface.

We are so busy all the time that there is no time left in our chaotic lives to just "be." I don't think that people even know anymore what it is that makes them happy - they may provide a stock answer - like a good career or a comfortable lifestyle - but if you unravel the many layers, are we really happy?

 Do we have a duty to the world to care what is going on, or should we leave that burden to people who are actually paid to care? I recall last summer during the Lebanon war walking the streets of Modi'in, and thinking to myself, "You would never know, to look at people's faces, that there was a war going on." I remember one day feeling extremely depressed about the war, and someone I know came over to me, and seeing that I was visibly upset, asked me if everything was okay. I told her that I just couldn't get what was going on out of my head. She responded, "It can't be that bad, right? I mean, you'll be able to move into your new place soon, won't you?" She automatically presumed I was referring to the fact that we were waiting at that time to move into our new apartment, not the fact that people up north were being ousted from their homes, forced to uproot themselves, because of the horrors of war. I was in shock.

On a less somber note, it is my Hebrew birthday coming up in a few days - woohoo - and I have to think of a fun and exciting activity to celebrate with my hubby the last year of my twenties. If anyone has any suggestions for a fun night out - preferably either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - that doesn't involve eating out or bowling, let me know. My husband loves to eat out, so his suggestions always involve restaurants. We want to do something a bit different this year. Thanks!

Future history

Funky title for a blog, no? Well, it's my husband's blog, so head on over there and check it out. He wrote here on this site a month ago with a guest post that was, in my opinion, hysterical if not a little heretical. The title was "God is a mob boss."

I know I am probably not the most impartial person in the world, but I always love reading his writing because he writes exactly how he speaks. And if you were to listen to him speak, you would realize why that is  so amazing. Anyway, enough blarney. I guess that's what happens when your father is an Irishman.

Whoever is hungry, come and eat

Pesach of 2001 was a very special year for me. What distinguished this Seder night from all previous Sedarim (pl. Seder) was that the Shlomo Carlebach Haggadah that I was using was edited by none other than yours truly. I have since edited two other Haggadot, but this particular year stays fresh in my memory.

Before I began working on this project, I had been a big Shlomo Carlebach fan, and had even met "the singing rabbi" personally a couple of times in my childhood. I must have been about ten years old when he first stayed at our house during one of his trips to our colorless city (that would be Manchester, England). My father's close friend was responsible for organizing his performances in Manchester, and asked my father if he could stay overnight at our house - how could you possibly say no to Shlomo Carlebach? Well, anyway, that's my claim to fame. Shlomo Carlebach stayed at our house when I was a kid.

It's gotta be said that Shlomo Carlebach's singing voice is pretty dire - as those of you who are familiar with his music will be able to testify - but his tunes (niggunim) are so uplifting that they leave you soaring in the clouds. It's other-worldly. All the petty worries and fears that weigh you down on a daily basis are suddenly removed - at that moment, it's just you and G-d. To this day, I really feel that Carlebach music is therapy for the soul.

So you can imagine my excitement when the Carlebach Haggadah manuscript landed on my desk. Before I began reading it, I knew it would be a success. The idea of relating Rabbi Carlebach's teachings and stories to the Haggadah and Seder night was ingenious. His insights into the human condition and his profound lessons on the meaning of true freedom raised the Seder night to a whole new level.

A few weeks before the Haggadah went to print, I had to select an excerpt to appear on the back cover. Considering there were hundreds of stories and messages from which to choose, this was not an easy decision. Since food is perpetually on my mind, I eventually opted for Rabbi Carlebach's interpretation of the words in the Haggadah which translate as "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat." The words do have a Michael Jackson feel to them, but nonetheless I felt that this excerpt encapsulated Rabbi Carlebach's philosophy on life:

Friends, this is our generation. This is you and I, but most of all it's our children. There's such a hunger in the world for something beautiful, something holy - a hunger for one good word, one holy word, one message from God. People are hungry for something lofty, glorious. So this is my wish for all of us: Let the hungry people get together - everyone who's hungry for holiness, friendship, for love - with the people who are hungry to give their children one word from God. Let's get together! Let's you and I fix the world!

AidelMaidel is engaged!

Okay, perhaps there is something weird about me taking out some tissues when I read the news on AidelMaidel's blog that she said "yes" to "Mr. Sky High." I don't know the woman, for heaven's sake. Yet here I am crying with tears of joy for this ultra-Orthodox single mother of two.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about the phenomenon of blogging, and I told him that I read two or three blogs (or six or seven) everyday. The guy was gobsmacked. He thought it was very strange - almost voyeuristic - that I took such an interest in the lives of strangers. Well, the way I see it, it is better than shedding tears over some brainless soap opera that is 100% fiction.

AidelMaidel has, up until this point, suffered a lot in her life: she was the victim of child abuse, and was left virtually penniless after divorcing her husband just a few years ago. I admit to following religiously her trials and tribulations as she went on a series of blind dates with no-hopers, and I rooted for her when she finally met Mr. Sky High (all her dates have been given aliases on the blog). Theirs has not been a long courtship; they started dating less than three months ago (anyone who knows me will realize the irony of this statement, considering Josh and I only dated for six weeks before getting engaged), and today AidelMaidel announced on her site their engagement.

The funny part is that her readers have lately been expressing their concern about her relationship with Mr. Sky High, and the speed at which it was progressing. They feared that she was rushing in to the relationship, and after the debacle of her first marriage, she should be more cautious. I found AidelMaidel's response to her readers' expressions of concern very amusing:

I am surprised how many of you commented and emailed me in regards to the Baker's Dozen post about Mr. Sky-High.

I would like to remind all of you that you only get the information that I give you. What I don't share here means you don't know about it. Out of deference to Mr. Sky-High's right to privacy, and my great respect for him, I don't share all the gory details of our dates. After 14 dates that average 5 hours a piece, I think I know him significantly better than the readers of my blog, since you only get klalim in regards to him, and I actually know the person.

You also seem to forget that I am not going into this blindly. There were extensive reference checks on Mr. Sky-High before I even agreed to go out with him. There are rabbis, rebbetzins and a shadchan who are all consulted after every date. It's not like this is some guy I picked up in a bar two days ago and am agreeing to marry him. It's also not like my parents arranged this match, I meet him once, and BAM, we're married.

Is Mr. Sky-High perfect? Nope.
Is he everything that I said I wanted in a husband? Almost.
Can I live with the things that he isn't because he does have the things I truly need? Yes.

I've already been in one bad marriage. (Of which, you guys don't know the details either - you don't know why it went wrong and what I did to make it work over the years.) I'm not interested in repeating it. I'm going into this with my eyes WIDE open. I know what Mr. Sky-High's good points are and I know what areas he needs to improve upon. The question is, can I live with those areas that need improvement? Yes, I think I can.

That being all said, Mr. Sky-High is completely different from any man I've ever dated. I have always had terrible taste in men, and have always gone for men who were bad boys or simply bad for me. Mr. Sky-High is a boring, straight-forward, nice guy. That's why I didn't want to go out with him again after the first date. Thank G-d, my rebbetzin pushed me to go again, because there was simply no reason not to.

And as I've discovered, Mr. Sky-High while a boring, straight-forward, nice guy, is also probably the only man I've met with real, true passion. Because it's passion based on a love for another person instead of a passion based on narcissistic self-love. And it's something deep, profound, and not something easily put into words. I see he cares for me very deeply and cherishes me for me - for who I am, imperfections and all.

Do I know how much longer this is going to take, until we both feel ready? I have no clue. Only Hashem knows if and when. Until that time, feel free to give me your advice - just don't expect me to take it.

She's right. She definitely calls the shots in deciding which information to share with her readers, but - and I open up this question to all of you - on the other hand, if she is revealing the details of her personal life on a blog, is she not leaving herself open to people's comments, opinions (you know, two Jews - three opinions), and unwanted pieces of advice? If she was just blogging for cathartic purposes, why not keep a journal in a Word file, where it is safe from nosy individuals?

That being said, her engagement is really great news, and I wish her and her fiance many happy and healthy years together, whether shared on the blogosphere or not.


At a loss for words

A woman from my husband's community in America lost her mother last week, so we went to pay her a Shiva call (meaning "seven" in Hebrew, Shiva is a seven-day mourning period observed by Jews) .

I am not sure if there is anyone who actually enjoys paying Shiva visits - you would probably have to be quite a disturbed individual if you derived any pleasure from such a situation - but I particularly find the visits uncomfortable. The laws and customs of Shiva are such that comforting the bereaved is no mean feat.

To begin with, according to Jewish custom, you are not supposed to initiate conversation with the bereaved - you should wait until he/she has spoken to you. It is hard enough as it is to find the right words to express one's condolences - especially when you barely know the bereaved or the person who died - but when you have to wait for the person to speak... it can be extremely awkward.

Visitors are also supposed to recite the traditional words of consolation, HaMakom Yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei Tzion vi'Yerushlayim, which translates as May the omnipresent comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I have a good memory in general, and am able to memorize telephone numbers, car registration numbers (don't ask - as a kid, remembering car registration numbers was a quirky hobby of mine), and birthdays of people I barely know. My husband is constantly asking me to remind him about his family's birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Anyway, enough blowing my own trumpet. The point is that in the 28 years of my life, I have NEVER been able to remember, and correctly recite, the eight Hebrew words of consolation written above. I mumble the words quickly and quietly in the hope that the bereaved will just nod and move on to the next person. What makes the situation even more pathetic is the fact that in most Shiva houses, a paper is taped to the wall with the verse written on it, so there is very little excuse - save for illiteracy - for not being able to say the words.

I remember when I first started working for a publishing house in Jerusalem, one of my bosses, who wasn't religious, tragically lost his wife at the age of 33, and my other boss took me to the Shiva house to visit the family. I was a bundle of nerves throughout the visit as I silently tried to repeat the words in my head. The deceased woman's mother, who was very elderly, was hard of hearing, so my tactic of mumbling the words quickly and quietly didn't really work. Upon saying the words, she turned to me and, unsure of what I had said, asked me to repeat myself. It was one of those "I-wish-the-ground-would-swallow-me-up" moments.

Another equally embarrassing incident was when my aunt in London was sitting Shiva for her mother. When the time came at the end of the visit for me to recite the words of comfort, I recited instead the verse you say when you are scared of being attacked by a dog - "Lechol yisroel lo yecheratz kelev leshono" loosely translated as, "No dog's tongue should hurt any member of Israel." Given the fact that I have been petrified since childhood of both dogs and my Moroccan aunt, I guess there is some logic as to why at that particular moment, that verse left my lips. My aunt's expression of horror will stay with me forever. You can imagine how mortified I was.

So when we paid the Shiva visit today, I made my husband repeat the verse again and again in the car, and my eyes barely left the piece of paper in the room with the words on it, but alas I messed up again. Go figure.

Guilt baskets - an ingenious way to feed off armchair Zionists

There are some things in life that are constants. Some of them good, some of them not so good. Almost every chag (Jewish holiday), we are the unlucky recipients of the aforementioned Guilt Basket from a person we know in the States. If you peruse this website, the baskets contain items that can be purchased from our supermarkets for less than 50 shekel, but which costs the naive American over $50. Every chag, Josh and I keep telling ourselves that we should just phone her up and say, "Listen, it's really sweet 'n all, and I know you think that you are supporting the Israeli economy, but you are being ripped off good and proper, and the company is taking you for a ride with your guilt gift basket." But we don't have the heart.

Just a few days ago, this person told us that she wouldn't be sending us the guilt basket, and that she would give us money instead. Hallelujah!! But as we got off the phone, and had a good laugh about it, we realized that these companies who market their gift baskets to Americans are sitting on a goldmine. How many American Jews are there who do not want to make Aliyah and relinquish their creature comforts, but who want to make themselves feel good by supporting the Israeli economy?

In plain English, what these sites are really saying is the following:

For $50, give yourself a pat on the back, and send your loved ones who are sacrificing their lives in Israel on a daily basis some Telma date spread and some stale cookies. They will be eternally grateful.

For $100, you will go down in the books as nothing short of a hero. With some choice Cabernet Sauvignon wine and some Elite chocolates, no one will ever wonder again why you are over 10,000 miles away sitting in front of your plasma TV instead of making sacrifices for the future of the Jewish people.


93.6 RAM FM - Whatever is the world coming to?

Several months ago, I was very excited to come across a new independent English radio station which played non-stop music. 93.6 RAM FM started out as a demo radio station, so there was no talking or commentary - just amazing back-to-back hits from all decades, and the best part of this radio station was that you could almost forget that you lived in a country where the pop music is nothing short of appalling.

Israel may be at the cutting edge of medical innovations, and we may have the largest number of start-ups in the world per capita, but our music is AWFUL. Don't-give-up-your-day-job awful. Ayal Golan and Shlomo Artzi are conceivably the worst rock pop singers of all time, so it was a great relief when I finally found some music that could actually be classified as "music."

In fact, the first time I discovered 93.6 RAM FM, I was on my way to somebody's house for a meeting, and I was enjoying the music so much that I drove round the block three times once I arrived at the person's house just so I could listen to "one more song." (Wouldn't that make a great TV commercial? A person is about to get out of their car and head into the office, but enjoys the radio station so much that he just keeps driving.)

Anyway, before you get caught up in the positivity that is exuding from this post, let me tell you that this story does not have a happy ending. Cinderella did not go to the ball. A month ago, the demo period ended, and 93.6 RAM FM was officially launched, with presenters, the news, the works.

They call themselves the "Middle East Peace Radio" - yup, I should have known that trouble was brewing just from the name - and claim to provide objective reporting, avoiding such potentially inflammatory words as "terrorist," "suicide bomb" or "martyr" and instead will say, "A Palestinian blew himself up this morning."

In the words of Andrew Bolton, the station's news editor, "We are committed to telling both sides of the story. We are apolitical and will not toe any political line, other than peace." Riiiiiiiiiight. Is that why I have never heard the word "Israel" leave their mouths? If they ever do have to refer to Israel, they dance around the "I" word and will opt instead for, "the Middle East."

For a radio station that claims to be “objective,” they’re doing a “wonderful job” of hiding their bias. Not. They have yet to present the news from the perspective of the Israelis. In case you think I am bitter, I have no problem with a radio station that is pro-Arab, but do me a favor and don’t pretend to be impartial. It’s just annoying.

As for their South African radio talk show host, John Berks, known as the “Legendary 702 deejay,” I have yet to hear him string together a sentence that makes sense. His jokes are dirty, racist, and totally unfunny, and his tendency to repeat himself o-o-over and o-o-over again - “baby, baby”, “you teasy-tease, you” - makes you question what the nature of his “legendary” status was in South Africa. He has absolutely zero - nada - knowledge of the Middle East, and had to consult with the radio manager to find out what “RAM” stood for in response to a caller’s question.

If only they would have just stuck to the music.

Quite comical really....

This evening, as we sat down as a family to eat dinner, I tried to engage my three-year-old in conversation about Pesach. Purim was such an anti-climactic experience - Eliana was crying most of the day, she didn't quite get the concept of reciprocating when it came to Mishloach Manot - I thought it would be smart to get her in the Pesach spirit ahead of time. I asked her what she had learned in Gan about Pesach - it better be extremely profound for 2000 shekel a month, I thought to myself - and she replied, tilting her head to one side, "I don't know."

Not one to be deterred, I pressed her further. "Did they talk to you, sweetie, about what happened to the Yehudim (Jews) in Mitzrayim (Egypt)?" Bingo. I had used the correct targeted keywords. Her eyes widened and her expression became animated.

"Yes, Mummy, Tzvika [the ganenet's husband - don't ask - it's a really long story - if you really want to know why the ganenet's husband was doing his wife's job, send me an email and I will explain] told us that Haman HaRasha (Haman, the wicked one) was a really naughty man, and all the peoples were so scared!"

Josh responded, "No, honey, that's a different chag (festival)! On Pesach, the Jewish people are scared of Pharaoh!" That basically summed up in a nutshell our experience as the Jewish people. We go from one baddy to another!