Sunday, December 27, 2009

Honor your father and mother

My husband teaches me every day to be a better person- I know it sounds corny, but it's true. His mom stopped by our house today on her way home. I had left some herbs at her house last week, and she decided to bring them by. We didn't know she was coming, but the moment she entered the house, he offered to take her coat, invited her in for a cup of tea, and welcomed her. She asked for an extra hug because we "had left on Friday without saying goodbye" to her. Instead of being sarcastic or dismissive (as sometimes I am towards my dad), he apologized sincerely, saying he never meant to overlook her. Such honor! Such tenderness. I really do love my hubby, and admire him as well.

My dad was here for several days recently, celebrating Chanukah with us. Itried to take this as an opportunity to practice the 5th commandment (thanks to Lori P for teaching them to me in order-- I have taught several people and now will never forget!). I brought him his coffee in the morning, made him hot cocoa at night, and when he asked me a question, instead of staying where I was and telling him where the milk was or how to turn on the camera, I got up and did it for him, each time listening to the little voice in my head that said, "This is your chance. This is your chance to honor him by taking care of him the way he always took care of you." Every time I put his dishes in the dishwasher, cleaned shmutz up off the floor or table, I thought of what a privilege it was to be able to take care of my family, and thanked Hashem for all my opportunities to do so.

It made all the difference in the world.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Adventures in Pareveland

Pareve, those foodstuffs that are neither milk, nor meat, have always for me been relegated to the realm of savory. Side dishes with veggies, salads, challah, when requested to bring a pareve dish I have always gone salty. When having to go to the sweet side, I stop by one of our grocery stores and pick up something my husband and I generally refer to as "kosher kryptonite." Those cakes and cookies that have a decidedly dense texture, sitting in your stomach like a lump of lead. Other alternatives are equally distasteful- fresh fruit (BORING...), sorbet, soy or rice ice cream... all those things that seem like such a compromise. Hubby also does not like cooked fruit, so all pies, tarts, etc are also out.

This Shabbat we are having Friday dinner with some friends, and I was requested to bring a pareve dessert. I initially thought, "I guess I'll pick up some cupcakes or brownies..." and then I thought, "No. I can do better. There has to be something out there. Observant Jewish women all around the world make Shabbos with meat, and they can't all have cr@ppy dessert. I have to at least try."

So I find myself this morning making "Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Terrine." Thanks to Susie Fishbein and Kosher Cooking by Design. My first foray into pareve whipping cream and margarine in the glaze. Please, Hashem, make this taste good, so my husband gets a reward for being willing to tolerate a dessert made pareve when he has no obligation to.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oy Vey!

Almost two months has passed since my last post? How can that be??!! It feels like the holidays just happened. This time-passage thing is a bit off-putting. I hope everyone's holidays were joyful and the new year is beginning with a renewed sense of what is important in life.

I guess I've been engrossed with house renovations, roof repairs, and fertility endeavors. Any one of which could make a person crazy. With all three-- maybe that's how 2 months passes without any blogging.

One of the biggest things that has happened in the meantime was our Jewish Women's Renaissance Project weekend with Lori Palatnik. We brought her in from DC for a Shabbat weekend of learning and community. It brought Israel back for all of us who were there. For those who were not, I hope it gave them the desire to continue learning and gain joy from their journey. We have decided to make the Women's Conference an annual project, and are in the process of blowing it up to (hopefully, with G-d's blessings) be a major event.

I'll be back blogging more about what I am learning. I think so many of the concepts transcend religious boundaries- concepts of how to be a giver, how to handle life's tests, how to not give in to the voice of negativity. I promise two months won't go by silently again.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kol Nidre

If you can't tell from all my posts, I am really enjoying learning at Aish here in Minneapolis. I learn something new practically every day. Tonight is Kol Nidre, and while I recognize the fact that I am not supposed to be writing on this holy day, I am so filled with joy and hope and possibility and renewal that I can't keep it all inside. I am almost 40 and I feel as if I have had my eyes closed this whole time. All I write below is new to me this year.

Kol Nidre means "all vows." It is the time that we prepare for the true atonement of Yom Kippur, by saying (with the permission of G-d) all the vows and oaths we took this past year, all the promises we made are now null and void. It cleans the slate so we can atone, so we can begin anew. The cantor says it three times, because to do a thing three times means you "own" it, you have internalized it, are invested in it. If you (according to Jewish law, not civil law obviously) live on land for three years and no one throws you off, you are seen as owning it. If you do a mitzvah three times in a row, it is as if you have made a commitment to keep that mitzvah.

I never knew what Kol Nidre meant. I can hear the tune in my head, I can probably even sing a lot of it, but I never knew the translation. I am so lucky to be involved with a community where not only are you invited to ask any question, but all questions are treated with equal value and a search for a meaningful answer.

I hope that all my friends and family, and all the Jews both in the land of Israel and without, have an easy and meaningful fast. G'mar Chatima Tovah (literally "a good and final sealing" in the Book of Life). May I be forgiven for all my wrongs, intended or accidental, and may I do better this year, may I have more opportunities to live the vision that G-d has for me.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Year, New Me

I sat in on an amazing interactive webcast last night. Lori Palatnik was talking about the High Holidays, and gave us a framework for prayer this year, when we hear the shofar (ram's horn) being blown.

When you hear the Shofar, pray:

1. G-d, You have an incredible vision for all of humanity and for me. I want my life to be aligned with Your vision.
2. I want to recognize the blessings in my life and see the totality of the life You gave me, the pain and the joy, as an expression of Your love.
3. I want to transcend my greatest obstacles [my yetzer hara, my negative inclinations] to fulfill Your vision for me.
4. I want to be a walking expression of the divine values You created me to bring to the world in order to fulfill Your vision.
5. I want all my resources from the coming year to be dedicated to fulfill your vision for me.
6. G-d, I want to trust that You will take care of me. Always.
7. G-d, I want the world to discover the truth and beauty of living according to Your vision.
8. I want to make You King by living myself more according to Your plan.
9. I resolve that I want to be connected to you, G-d, as the source of life.
10. I resolve that this moment is the dawn of a new era in my life for the good.

The shofar is the alarm clock for the Jewish soul. I feel like this year is going to be a year of HUGE change for me, with some clarity (and even more questions) created by my trip to Israel. I think these 10 steps are a great framework for me to pray during these next two weeks. Even if you're not Jewish, I hope you find some meaning in them.

To all my Jewish friends: May you and all you love be inscribed in the Book of Life for the upcoming year, and as a good friend told me yesterday, "May G-d see fit to grant you what your heart desires."


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The month of Elul

I always find myself re-evaluating at this time of year. I guess more so than at the Gregorian New Year, I do it at the time of Rosh Hashanah. Ever since college, I have this prayer/poem that I read and contemplate (thanks, Stuart, I still have it). The first line is "Now is the time to take an accounting of my life." Am I doing what I want to do? Am I being the best person I can be? Am I the best wife, daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend (last year was the first one where I didn't ask if I was the best granddaughter.... that was hard, and still is).

There is a new element this year, a new question I feel like asking myself. Is what I am doing showing my love for Hashem? Am I doing the best with the gifts He has given me? Am I moving forward on the tzaddik path? What aspects of myself should I be working on that will make me a better Jew, because from all I have been studying and learning, that makes me a better person.

We are in the Hebrew month of Elul, and some say that Elul (spelled with the Hebrew letters alef-lamed-vav-lamed) is an acronym for Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li (also alef-lamed-vav-lamed), which can translate to "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." This really resonates with me-- in this case, the beloved is not my beloved Patrick, but Hashem. This month is about looking at that relationship in preparation for the New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I find myself unsettled-- have I done enough to show my love? Have I accepted His love? I like the thought of having an entire month to contemplate this and prepare for the high holydays, because when the time comes to ask Hashem for forgiveness and blessings, I will have a more complete understanding of who I am right now, what I've been doing and who I want to be.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Making Challah

Braiding a 4-strand challah with Annette.

Patrick and I are at a cottage on Madeline Island (on the coast of Lake Superior) with our friends Annette and Chris. There is minimal intermittent internet service, no tv, and spotty cell service. This is as off-the-grid as I can stand. To reward myself, I decided to spend the day pretty much in the kitchen. I decided to make challah for Shabbat, and a huge mezze spread for dinner. The challah was from Sara Simpser's recipe, and it turned out a-mazing! I think it's a good step toward taking on the mitzvah of challah, which includes using at least 5 lbs of flour (now I know that there were huge Shabbat meals in ancient Israel, because using the minimum quantity to fulfill the mitzvah makes like 6-8 challahs!). I haven't decided when in the process to freeze the extra loaves (before baking but after braiding and the final rise, I am thinking), but I think sometime in the next few weeks I am going to do the full Monty.

The final product-- gorgeous!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Praying for Strength

Giving up pork is a really hard thing to do. Not for everyone, I am sure, but it is for me. Honestly, I've never been very good with self-denial when it comes to food. I always rationalized my eating pork as falling into the category of "Well, I won't make it in my house, but if there's bacon on a breakfast menu somewhere, that's okay...." Then when Patrick came into the picture, we occasionally made pork or bacon, but I always felt guilty afterwards.... sort of. Not so guilty that I didn't eat it, but guilty in that "Oh I know it's bad for me but it's soooooo tasty" kind of way.
Now after the JWRP trip to Israel, I'm trying to give up pork. I am not always successful, but I still try. I had no idea it would be this hard. Patrick and I went to dinner tonight at our favorite neighborhood place, Cafe Levain. They have a special Sunday night prix-fixe menu, but tonight I had to have the vegetarian version because the only animal protein offered on the regular version was pork! I was unbelievably bummed. The funny thing is that I was resentful because I was forced to restrict my selections even further than I wanted-- I only wanted to give up pork, not all meat!
That's why I am praying for strength. This is one of my tests as surely as Sara Yocheved Rigler talked about the day before we left Jerusalem. The issue of kashrus is more squarely in my choice box than ever before. I guess I should be grateful that I'm even working on it, when it used to be a harder choice than I was able to face.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Holding to a Higher Standard

Ever since I learned about this sting in New Jersey on Friday, I have been thinking about it. A lot. Rabbis from some orthodox congregations are caught up in a money laundering scheme, millions of dollars passing around, politicians involved (shocker). I feel sick about it.

I remember when I was a young woman, the rabbi at the conservative synagogue I attended growing up was accused of sexually improper behavior. I was devastated... and he wasn't even "my" rabbi. All I could think of was, "What??? Rabbis don't do that!" It wasn't that I didn't believe it, more that it shook my foundation of what a rabbi was supposed to be. Rabbis are put out there as higher on the spiritual ladder. I put them as higher on the spiritual ladder. Yes, I admit it, I hold them to a higher standard. And the orthodox rabbis? Even more so.

I should explain myself as saying that the reform and conservative (and reconstructionist and secular humanist and whatever nonorthodox branches you can come up with) rabbis seem more... human to me. I can see their foibles, their weaknesses and accept them easily. They live in the same world that I do, and I understand all the temptations therein. The orthodox rabbis? Somehow they seem not really living of this world. Their visual cues mark them as closer to G-d, as ones who follow the mitzvot far more than I do. In my opinion, when you put on all the trappings of an observant Jew and are a rabbi on top of it, then yes, you open yourself up to being held to a higher standard. Hillul Hashem, desecrating the name of G-d, is so much worse when you have the appearance of one who is religious. I wonder if that is why my feelings of shock and yes, even disgust, are deeper now than with the other fallen rabbi of my past.

I still feel like I'm struggling for clarity. I'm not done with this. Not by a long shot. Thoughts?


Monday, July 27, 2009

The amazing KOOZA

Last night Patrick and I went to KOOZA, the current traveling show of Cirque du Soleil. I can't believe I almost let them leave without seeing them. It was only because they extended their showings here for another two weeks that we got the chance. We've been out of town so much that I just felt too swamped, but as soon as I got the email about the extra shows, I got tickets.

I always seem to forget how magical Cirque is, but then the lights go down and I just find myself in this whimsical world where people can do things with their bodies, twist and turn and jump and balance, in ways that I never thought possible. The costumes are seductive-- not in a sexy way, but they draw me in with their colors and feathers and textures and swirls and I just want to touch them, run my fingers over the satin and velvet for hours. I am continually amazed by the feats these athletes perform, shaking my head at how they keep pushing the envelope of what the human form is capable of. Sometimes I forget to clap, because I am still awed by the juggler, the tumbler, the men traversing the giant metal circles, the man who balances on eleven chairs stacked upon each other, the couple who twirl and swirl and tumble over and around one another WHILE the man RIDES A UNICYCLE for G-d's sake!

I mean, come on! I have to clumsily navigate this world, stumbling around on my own two dreaded feet like an oaf, knocking into walls and groping about, while these people glide and bend and shift and slither through their world. Where's the fairness in that? I've decided I am just going to spend my days sitting in the audience, because when I am sitting still, I can at least let a part of me imagine that I could do that, I could be a part of their world. Then the lights come up, and I am jolted back to reality. Sigh.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recipe of the week- Tahini cookies

Recently I made these cookies, for which our culinary tour guide extraordinarie Abbie Rosner gave me the recipe (grammatical nod to my m-i-l). They were delicious. I was a bit skeptical as the dough seemed sort of crumbly, and the cookies turned out very short (as in crumbly), but my friend Dawn's kids devoured them (and Trinity told me they were her favorite part of the whole day, so who wouldn't love that??). Bonus-- they are great for kids who are peanut allergic.

Tahini Cookies

Mix together:
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup tahini (not seasoned!)
1 3/4 sticks of butter

Form into cookie-sized balls and cross-flatten with a fork (like peanut butter cookies). Bake at 350 degrees until light brown – about 15-20 minutes (my oven needed to be set at 375 degrees, so oven temps may vary) - watching carefully that they don't burn.

I actually added some Ghirardelli chocolate chips to the tops before baking, and they tasted yummy. Next time I'll experiment with add-ins to the dough itself.

Hope you try them! Thanks, Abbie!!!


Monday, July 13, 2009

Energize Me!

Last night we had our first Jewish Women's Renaissance Project reunion meeting. Wow, are we one scattered bunch. We have so much energy when we get together, and are so excited to see one another and share information, it's like we're one giant bunch of stuttering first-graders after our first day of school! I am very excited about our plan to bring Lori Palatnik back to the Twin Cities for a weekend in October. It will be a huge undertaking, committees and planning and work and the like, but it should be AMAZING. I want so many people to hear the classes I heard. She really is a fantastic speaker.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kahle Quest Interloper

I got an email from an old high school friend a few months back. She and her husband and their children had plans to travel to all 50 states in the new family RV before her older one (now 8) graduates from high school. They were landing briefly in Minnesota sometime this summer-- would I have time to meet??

Of course, assuming I am in town (not a good bet this summer at all). As luck would have it, Dawn, Dan, Kate, Barrett, and cousin Trinity were arriving this weekend, the one weekend this month we are actually here! We made arrangements to meet them at Minnehaha Falls, and lunch at Sea Salt.

What fun we had. Sea Salt was, thank G-d, devoid of the ever-present lines that stretch out the door.... at least it was until about ten minutes after we ordered. So lucky, because often the lines cause a wait of over an hour, and even though Dawn's children are amazingly well-behaved, I think a lunch wait of an hour would stretch even Mother Teresa.

Fried seafood all around (except for my crawfish roll, which was terrific). I loved the fried shrimp. Everyone enjoyed their food except for Barrett, who didn't like the fried catfish. I can't blame him, as I usually think catfish tastes kinda muddy.

The kids loved my tahini cookies that I brought for dessert (they taste an awful lot like peanut butter, but are safe for kids with nut allergies). In fact, Trinity said it was her favorite part of the day (who doesn't like a kid who sucks up like that?).

We walked to the falls..... and horror of horrors, they were dry!! I have never seen them that way! Patrick, who has grown up here and has seen the falls a dozen plus times, has never seen them that way. I was pretty stunned until I read the plaque that mentions President Johnson's visit, and how the falls were dry that day but the city opened up a series of fire hydrants upstream so they could get a photo op with actual gushing water. I am so sorry Dawn, if I'd known I'd have made a couple of fire hydrant stops before we met up!!

We had great fun, even riding one of those canopied six-person bike thingies (quite a workout, or it would have been had we stayed on it longer than eight minutes). They are awfully brave to navigate the country with three kids in an RV. I give them all the credit in the world. I need to start reading Dawn's blog, to follow their adventures.

I can't sign off without mentioning how incredibly well behaved these three kids are. I've retired Mean Mommy Doc for a while, but this afternoon really makes me want to resurrect it. None of them whined. None of them wheedled. She had them waiting to eat until our food arrived, and it was another eight or ten minutes. Not a word from one of them. Dawn, you are a true Mean Mommy, and I salute you!!


Friday, July 10, 2009

A week home

I can't believe it has been a week since I've been home. Have I been away from Israel that long already? In some ways I feel like it was just yesterday. In others it feels like it was eons ago. Outside of work I have continued to wear skirts, and cover my hair with a scarf. Is this something I can continue? I do seem to feel more... settled this way.

Shabbas dinner tonight at Aish, with women from the trip. A sort of mini reunion, allowing us to meet and mingle with our families. Should be a wonderful time.


Friday, July 3, 2009

First Shabbat Home

We got home this afternoon around 2 pm. Security in Israel went fine, although I think Patrick was waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was a moment when they pulled out one of our luggages and started to search it. I went up to see what was going on, and Patrick kept saying, "You need to not be here." I think he was afraid they would detain him, and he didn't want me to be associated with him. How sweet. There was no way I was going to let him be alone for a minute. It turned out that there was a book that they pulled out and examined, rubbed with their detector, then put right back and sent us on our way. Weird, I know. But that's El Al security.

The flight was 13 hours of cramped misery, bad food, and a seatmate on Patrick's other side who kept needing to go to the bathroom. I thought she was going to ask to sit in my aisle seat, but there was no way I was giving that up (another thing I have in common with my good friend Class-Factotum).

We arrived in Newark at 5:30 in the morning. We were done with everything and on our way to the next gate by 7:30, including the trip back through security that my sweet Patrick made so that we could check a third bag in order to save the Tishbi Winery jelly we bought for my Dad. We had it in our carry on from Tel Aviv, which was fine since we bought it in the duty free shop, but we got stopped in security in Newark. Our choices were to go back and check one of our carry ons, or to let it go. Since my Dad worked at the Tishbi winery as a teenager, I was very loath to let it go. We had like 4 hours before our flight, so Patrick my hero volunteered to go back through and check it (well, I sort of volunteered him since I had already checked my allotment of 2 free bags, but he went mostly willingly).

So we arrived home about 2 pm (Thanks, T, for picking us up!), and went to Tanya and Mike's house for Shabbat. Alina and her family were there, so it was a mini-reunion of our group. Tanya made the most delicious dishes spiced with the blends she picked up in Israel, so even the food was a continuation of the trip. Saying the blessings, lighting the candles, the spirit of Shabbat was felt so acutely. It was a beautiful reminder of how the trip inspired me, and a great way to mark my transition back to life here. I hope I can contnue to keep that connection.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting Ready to Head Home

We woke up with the sun... well, maybe a little later than that. I know the whole deal is "Sunrise on Masada," but the cable car doesn't begin until 8 am, and the only way up before sunrise is the snake path. I did the snake path once, when I was 17, so I unequivocally do not need to ever do it again. I saw a 14 year old who had gone up sitting, red-faced and huffing, as I strolled off the cable car. My thought? "It's good to be a grownup."

I think Patrick really enjoyed Masada (except for my broken record of "the heat, the heat"). I showed him some of the ruins, and we spent a half hour wandering around, reading the information and listening in on other guides' lectures. We went to visit the Masada Museum, which I would highly recommend. The audio guides operate on GPS technology, so as you walk from room to room, the guides automatically change. It's a very experiential exhibition, with lots of life-size statues combined with some of the excavated artifacts. Really nicely done. All my kudos to Yigael Yadin for excavating one of the most important sites in Jewish history, and preserving it for all of us to visit and appreciate and remember.

We drove on to Ein Bokek, where Patrick experienced for the first time the weirdness that is the Dead Sea. Ein Bokek is the southernmost beach, and supposedly had some nice sandy beachfront, but the part we were at had more rocks than the site I visited with the JWRP. I was a bit bummed, because I knew what it could have been, but Patrick seemed more fascinated by the water, and didn't seem to mind. The sea feels so oily from all the minerals, and the lovely aroma of sulfur lingers in the air, but it's all part of the experience. This time I gleefully rinsed off completely, not leaving one trace of the minerals behind. It may have not been as wonderful for my skin as leaving the stuff on, but this time I didn't care! Ha!

Driving back to Petah Tikva took longer than we planned, due to road construction and traffic. We had hoped to be able to visit Aviyam in Ramat Gan, but that was also before we had to visit the Dead Sea today instead of yesterday. We just ran out of time. I'm repacking as Patrick and Ilan go to return the car. All the fragile items in the carry on, some other stuff sandwiched between the clothes. We'll take Ilan to dinner before we head off to the airport.

I've put Patrick on alert that when we go through security, I am to answer all questions. I truly believe that if I shepherd us through, he won't be detained like he was on the way out. Anyone want to take bets? I think El Al profiles like crazy, looking for people who stand out, especially people who stand out and are not Jewish. Being the right-winger that I am when it comes to this issue, I'm okay with that. Unfortunately, Patrick traveling by himself, with almost no luggage, not being able to throw out phrases like "davening at the Kotel" or pronouncing "Petah Tikva, Givat Shmuel, and Ramat Gan" with the appropriate accent, stands out. My poor baby. I really think the travel back will not be a problem.

I'll let you know.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Final day in Jerusalem

Israel Time means something specific over here. I told Aviyam we wanted to meet him and Ifat at 9 am at our hotel, to get to Yad Vashem and have plenty of time, since they wanted to show us some other things in the area. I wanted to leave Jerusalem no later than 3 pm so we could get to the Dead Sea on our way to Masada.

Aviyam called at 9 am, said he and Ifat were about a half hour away, then showed up at a little before 10. I should have known. Israel Time strikes again.

We arrived at Yad Vashem by about 11, it taking us several missed turns to get there. A bit of a rant is in order here about the horrid signage on Israel's roads. No such thing as a "reassurance sign," you know, where they tell you what road you're on, just so you know you're going the right way? They only tell you what turnoff or junction is coming up on the highway about 500 meters in advance, and hardly ever ( <5%) tell you what road is coming up on a regular city street. That, combined with the fact that often the same road is named something new every few blocks, makes for very difficult navigation. Yad Vashem was no less powerful the second time, although I wish Patrick, Aviyam, and Ifat had been there to hear Esti's guiding through the emotional maze. I would definitely recommend going through it with a guide, as there is so much to take in. We visited several sites on the Yad Vashem campus, including one exhibition about the Holocaust survivors in Israel, and their contributions to the world (the creator of Gottex swimwear, and the author of Once Upon a Potty were my favorites). We were there until almost 2 pm, and I still think we could have spent another few hours (or days) there to see the rest.

We then drove on to Ein Kerem, an artist's colony outside of Jerusalem. Yami wanted to go to lunch there, and even walk around some maybe. He also wanted to show us Menachem Begin's house in Jerusalem, and a couple of other places. I love my cousin, but 1) there was no way we were going to be able to see all that starting on Israel Time as late as we did, and 2) If he wanted to show us all those places, it might have been a good idea to actually know how to get to them. We drove around for close to a half hour trying to find Ein Kerem. We had to stop three people to ask for directions. By the time we stopped I was almost completely crazy. We had lunch at Pundak Ein Kerem (Pundak translates to Cafe or Inn, as I found out when I saw several other Pundaks on our travels). My chicken salad was not so good, but Patrick's stuffed mushrooms were tasty. By the time we were finished, it was 3 pm, the time I wanted to leave for the Dead Sea. Drat. I was trying to get zen with the fact that my plans were shot, and I can only say I was a work in progress. We took Yami and Ifat back to their car, and headed out. By this time, it was about 4:30. The better free beaches close at 5 pm, and even the pay beaches close at 6. By the time we got close to Ein Gedi, it was almost 6, so we drove on to Masada. We decided we'll stop tomorrow at Ein Bokek on our way back to Tel Aviv. Brief dip in the Dead Sea before we leave.

So now we're at the Masada Guest House. It's one of Israel's nicer hostels. Our room is on the first level down (their floors are -1, -2, and -3), right near the pool.... which closed at 6! What swimming pool closes at 6 during the summer!?!?! I really wanted to swim somewhere today, but that wish is denied. It is hot, with one of the hottest winds I have ever experienced. Usually when the wind blows in the evening, it's gentle and cooling. Not so tonight. A true desert scirocco (not chinooks which Patrick called them earlier this week). The room does have a/c (by the Israeli definition, not mine... so like cooling to 78, rather than 70), but it has the toilet paper squares, rather than rolls. That is a phenomenon I only experience in Israel, and I am not a fan. I share with my friend Class-Factotum the fascination with foreign toilets, but for me it is as much about the toilet paper as the facility itself. As I age I realize that I need the roll. I actually brought with me two rolls of toilet paper to protect against this phenomenon. I am about halfway through the second roll, so I planned well.

Man, I am old.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Long Hot Day in Jerusalem

I cannot explain how hot Jerusalem was today. 44 degrees Celsius doesn't cover it. Oven-temp doesn't begin to explain. I guess the best way to describe today is "running from place to place in a desperate search for shade and/or a/c." We started out walking to the Old City. Going through the Arab side was a different experience for me, especially wearing modest clothing. The Jewish appearance of modesty and the Arab appeaerance are very distinctively different, and I felt quite uncomfortable.... until we went through the metal detector into the Jewish Quarter. then I felt right at home. I felt almost more visible than when I wore regular tourist clothing. It is difficult to explain.

We visited the Kotel, and it was close to 11 am when we arrived. Oddly enough, the men's side was almost empty. The women's side had many more attendees, and I enjoyed my final private moments. We were unable to get tickets to the Kotel Tunnel Tour, so that is definitely first on my list for next time (which I have decided will definitely be in the winter or spring. No more summer visits unless absolutely necessary). Also tops on my list is the Tower of David sound and light show-- the month of June they don't show it on Tuesdays... and what is today? Yep.

We did get to see the Southern Wall and the Jerusalem Archaeological Museum with a self-guided tour. We actually walked up the same steps that the Jewish pilgrims would walk when they would give their sacrifices to the high priests to make on their behalf. Crazy. Amazing. Unbelievable. The unearthed ruins are all outside (thus devilishly hot), so twice we sought respite in the blessed Davidson Center's air conditioned building that showed two movies alternating in English and Hebrew. The second time we sat there for like a half hour, just dreading having to leave. Finally we got up the courage.

We had some lunch in one of the cafes in the Old City, and then made our way through the Cardo where we picked up a few final gifts. On our way out of the Old City, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was an interesting thing to see people having the same experience that I have at the Kotel, but I felt nothing except as a respectful observer. I mean, there were people positively WAXING the table where Jesus was supposedly laid out for his burial preparations. They were rubbing the stone with cloths, and kissing the stone and the cloths. It was an interesting observation for me. I wondered if this is what the religious Christians feel when they come to visit the Kotel.

Spent a little time back at the hotel, and then I had an appointment. Afterwards, Patrick and I went to dinner at the American Colony Hotel across the street. We should have stayed there. It looked so nice. No lying website there, no five Presidential Suites that had icky toiletries and bare a/c. Next time. So many things to do differently in Jerusalem next time.

Tomorrow we visit Yad Vashem with my cousin, then off to Masada. Time is running out.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Jerusalem Redux

For me, coming back to Jerusalem is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. I love this place (despite the oppressive heat during the summer) and have had some really profound experiences this trip. Patrick has not been here before, and is not a fan of things overtly religious (although he is very supportive of the Jewish traditions and mitzvot I try to do at home). I know he won't love it in the same way that I do, but I want him to not be turned off by it, and enjoy it enough to want to come back.

We arrived at the Addar Hotel a little before 2 pm, and our room was ready after a brief wait. On, we reserved the Presidential Suite. It was not inexpensive, and was not in the neighborhood that I would have chosen (we walk through an Arab section to get to Herod's Gate), but the Presidential Suite is described on their website as on the top floor of the hotel, having two bedrooms and two bathrooms, wonderful views, etc, etc. We decided "Why not?" and paid in advance. I will not deal with for a hotel I do not know ever again. I have called, and hope we will either get moved to the real PS or get some money refunded. I am not, however, holding my breath

The room is a perfectly adequate hotel room with gentle a/c, but it is most certainly NOT a Presidential Suite, garnering the price we paid. The bathroom is pretty shabby, and the toiletries (two bottles, one filled with bright blue stuff and one with bright yellow stuff) look as if they have been refilled many times. Ick.

Neither nor the hotel itself are interested in making any changes. I told the hotel manager that I thought it was ridiculous that they did not hold themselves to the standard of their own website, but instead cowardly said, "We are only required to match what is on the Expedia website." Yes, I know I reserved on and they call it Expedia. I pointed it out many times but the man said they were the same thing, Whatever.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Mahane Yehuda, the city's open air market. I really love city markets. You get a great feel for what the people are really like. I could be there still if it weren't so hot. We also wandered up Ben Yehuda, the pedestrian shopping area, and had dinner at Darna, the Moroccan restaurant we ate at with the group. While it was nice, it was not the same experience with 2 that it was with 14. Not the same variety of different tastes, which I think was one of the best parts of the first visit.

Exhausted and hot, we are going to fall into bed. 'Night.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Take a day and not tour, not sightsee, not shop. It's definitely one of my favorite things to do in Israel in the summer. It is so hot here, during the heat of the day you can turn into an instant puddle when you walk outside.

We spent the entire day sitting around in Ilan's house, chatting, noshing occasionally, taking naps in the mid-afternoon heat. It was delightfully decadent. No schedule. No pressure.

Late tonight, Aviyam came and met us, and we drove to Tel Aviv's Neve Tzedek neighborhood. It felt like a combination of South Beach and Santa Barbara. Located right next to Tel Aviv's financial district with lots of bank buildings and skyscrapers, it is a neighborhood of single-story dwellings, boho-chic shops and cafes, and trendy restaurants. Almost every shop has a chandelier or some other sparkly adornments. I loved it. I could live there.... except that we saw a real-estate shop with prices in the window. 100 sq meters for 500,000$! 260 sq meters with 4 bedrooms for 7 million NIS ( divide by 4 for the number of US dollars.... I cannot bring myself to do it). A dream deferred.

Had a bit of sushi and some gelato, wandered around (Patrick found a mezuzah for the basement that he liked) and came back around 12:30. I liked hanging out with Yami. I wish I could get him to take a picture where he doesn't look like he's from Hamas, though. Just wait until I can post pics. You'll see.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rejoining family

We woke up late this morning, and didn't check out of the hotel until 10 am. It's nice to feel so lazy after being on such a strict schedule with the JWRP. We drove to Akko, where we stopped and took a few photos of us on the Seawall Promenade, right near the lighthouse. Patrick seems to think this means we "visited Akko," but I have to respecfully disagree. I say we stopped at Akko. I think to say we have visited, we need to either enter one of the well-known sites, stay the night, or spend money (like a meal or a souvenir). What do you think? (Please comment here on the blog, not on Facebook, so everyone can see your opinion).

We drove on back to Petach Tikva, stopping at Netanya for a gas fill and lunch (gas fill was 260 NIS, or 45$, can you believe it?!). On the way, I spent most of my time on the phone with various family members, trying to arrange for a change in schedules. Galit's kids had a bunch of different events tomorrow, so we changed seeing them tomorrow for seeing them tonight. We were going to have dinner at a restaurant on the beach, but the only time they had was 5 pm, so by the time we arrived in Petach Tikva at 4 pm, I hustled into the shower and we rushed to meet them at 4:45. I didn't even have time to wrap their presents like I wanted to. Patrick didn't care, but that is so like a guy. To a woman, presentation is everything.

We pulled off the side of the road to meet them about 5 minutes behind schedule, but they were not there yet. They pulled up shortly thereafter, and we followed them (at breakneck speed, I may add) to Manta Ray, this awesome restaurant on the beach between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. When we got a table outside, I was surprised to find it so comfortably cool and breezy. Easily the most enjoyable outdoor meal I can remember. The mezze here were way better. Avant garde ceviches, endive with camemberto (which tastes more like a mild feta than the camembert that we all know and love), spinach with couscous and diced shrimp, calamari, etc. Mmmmmmm. Even the kids (Kim and Tom, 13 year old boy twins, Ben who is 11, and Mia who is 7) ate the calamari. The boys of course teased their sister with the fact that she was eating Squidward (of Spongebob fame). They are very cute. I wish we spoke more Hebrew or they were willing to try out their English, as almost our entire interaction was with Galit and Harel.

We had dinner, followed by gelato and a walk through Jaffa's Old City. I was interested to see some places opened up after Shabbat ended, but not many. I really just enjoyed reconnecting with my cousin and her family. 15 years is much too long to go between visits. I am blessed with financial stability, and if you cannot use that to stay in touch with family, not much else matters.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Culinary Tour, Part 2

We woke up this morning and Abbie met us at 9:15 am. We drove about a half hour to Rosh Pina, one of the most western-appearing suburbs I've yet to see in Israel. Upon entering the town, we saw what appeared to be an American strip mall, with cafes and shops and PLENTY of parking (which if you ever come to Israel, and I hope you do, will mean something to you). The only difference was that the signs were in Hebrew. It was a bit disconcerting, actually. So un-Israeli. We drove up into the hills of Rosh Pina and stopped at a house where they hosted a Friday morning brunch. All Thursday evening and Friday morning they bake- savory pastries, sweet pastries, breads, quiches, etc. The whole time as you are eating, people are stopping by to pick up pastries and breads for their Shabbat and weekend. It was really a lovely atmosphere, eating in their garden. We started with fruit and a fresh cheese and a yogurt, cucumber and mint sauce, then they brought out this basket of savory breads and pastries. I really wanted nothing else. Seeded breads, cheese breads, cheese and mushroom and veggie stuffed pastries with crusts so flaky they actually melted in your mouth. Really melted! They also brought out a plate of their farmstead goat cheeses, maybe 5 or 6 in number. All different flavors, ages, and styles. It is hard to decide which place had better cheeses, yesterday or today. When I was stuffed, they brought out the quiches. I could barely move by the time we were done. I was lucky that the dessert pastries were only a few in selection, else I never would have made it out of there,

We were there until about 1:30 pm, and then we made the decision to drive to Sfat. By the time we got there, things were beginning to close down for Shabbat. Ari Ashkenazi synagogue was closed, but as we were looking in one man did stop and offer to teach Patrick how to put on tefillin... I thought that was cute. We did visit a couple of art galleries and one cheesemaker, Sfat Cheese (we bought three kinds of cheese, some excellent halvah and a few stuffed grape leaves). Hameiri cheese closed about 15 minutes before we got there. Too bad. We ended up leaving about 4 pm, and got back to Nazareth around 4:30 or so. Thanks so much to Abbie for an excellent tour, and a wonderful sense of the culinary offerings of the region. I would recommend you to anyone!

We did not have plans for Shabbat, and Nazareth is an Arab town mostly, so I decided to not make a big deal about it and we went out for dinner. We walked to Diana, a well-known Nazareth institution, and when we got there it appeared to be closed! What to do? I called the number, and a man answered, sounding as if there were a lot going on in the background. When I tried to explain where we were, he said there were actually two Dianas, and we were at the one only open during the day. He would come and get us, since we were not going to be able to find it on foot. I could not believe the hospitality!

He arrived in about 8-10 minutes, and drove us to the restaurant. We really never would have found it. Within 3 minutes of our sitting down, 17 small dishes had arrived at the table. All differing vegetable and herb salads, lots of different veggies in tahini sauce, eggplant several different ways, with the most amazing fresh pits bread. Pita bread in America will never be the same for me again. It's flat and dry, whereas the stuff here is fluffy and soft.

We saw the chef making kebabs and it was one of their most brilliant ideas to have him working before a huge glass window. This man can cook. Wow. Can't wait until I can post pictures.

When we were done, the same server brought us back in his car to the Old City, even closer to our hotel than where he picked us up. We asked for a taxi, but he would not hear of it. We gave him a nice tip, but it was still an unbelievably nice thing for him to do.

Not as fulfilling as a home Shabbat, but we are not at home, so for those rare times I will make an exception.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Switching Tracks

My trip with the Jewish Women's Renaissance Program has ended, and I reunited with my Patrick last night, spending the night with Uncle Ilan in Petah Tikva. Aviyam came over at about 11 pm, and we sat around talking until after midnight. I couldn't keep my eyes open. He pulled out an old family photo album and we screamed with laughter over how dorky we all looked.

Up at 8 am and off to Nazareth by 9:30. We arrived ahead of schedule, and after some fits and starts, parked the car and walked up the Old City to our hotel, the Fauzi Azar Inn. It's a hostel here in town, with some nice amenities. It would be great in the winter. In the summer, I think most people like us would prefer a place with A/ C. At least the towels and the TP are soft.

Abbie Rosner, our culinary tour guide met us at noon. We took a short walk through the souk, looking at all the wonderful local veg- grape leaves are in season, as are baby okra. We moved on to a bakery named Al Mukhtar for the local specialty for which they are best known- Knaffe. It's a fresh pressed cheese topped with a shredded phyllo-type pastry and simple syrup, sprinkled with pistachios. I really enjoyed it because it wasn't as sweet as baklava, which uses honey.

Our next stop was Al Babour, which translates to the bubbling sound made by the steam vapor machine that used to power the Nazareth Mill. Wheat used to be a huge commodity around these parts. Al Babour is now an amazing spice shop. Spices and delicacies I've never had before- we bought some sumac (I love to add it into zahtar), some shredded halvah, some black cumin, some freeke (it's this toasted wheat similar to but not the same as bulghur) and the spice mix that goes along with the freeke. The smell of the shop was out of this world. It brought me right back to Nayphe's, this middle eastern food store that used to be in OKC. We would go there all the time when I was growing up, and Violet Nayphe would give me little tastes of halvah and olives. I loved her because she was only about 4 feet tall. Seriously.

From Al Babour we drove to Yodfat, to a completely-off-the-grid goat farm called Halav Im Haruach. I cannot begin to describe this place. In the middle of nowhere, they have goats, sheep, and cows, and they make goat cheese. I thought we were going to have a late lunch and maybe sample some fresh goat cheese. Shows what I know.

We started with fresh labneh, a very thick and tangy yogurt cheese with olive oil drizzled over it. It was so creamy. Then they gave us some ricotta. It had an awesome nutty taste, which was explained when they told us it was goat's milk- I've never had goat's milk ricotta before. Then they started bringing out salads- cabbage and veg salad with sesame oil, roasted eggplant with mint, warmed cherry tomatoes marinated in garlic and oil. I thought it was all incredible. Then he brought out another cheese called Isabella, and he explained it had been made only last night. It tasted a lot like Halloumi. I thought that was all the cheese, but then he brought out a plate with 6 cheeses on it (of various ages, flavorings, and styles), and yet another plate with two cheeses called Sfat cheese, one plain and one with black cumin (that was my favorite). So now we're up to 11 cheeses. It was so much more than I expected. The setting was beautiful, the food was simple and delicious. I wished I could have sat there all day.

We did end up sitting there for most of the afternoon, but it was still very hot when we left... about 37 degrees C. Supposedly tomorrow will be cooler... but I have learned their idea of cooler and mine are two VERY different things.

We'll meet up again with Abbie tomorrow morning at 9 am. I am sure she has even more wonderful things in store.

I hope all my friends from Minneapolis (and Cleveland, Atlanta, and Ottowa) who traveled back today are home safe and sound, reunited with their families. I cannot wait to come home and begin our work together. We really can change ourselves and, I truly believe in doing so, change the world.

Note to all those reading this on Facebook- I encourage you to click on the hyperlink of my signature and travel over to the blog itself ( I hope you comment there, where others who aren't on Facebook can read what you say. Thanks!!!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Never Forget

Our day begins with a lecture by Rabbi Ken Spiro about "Why the Jews?" Fascinating talk where he takes the most common reasons given why people hate the Jews (economics, deicide, the outsider, etc) and pokes holes in the theories (if people hate outsiders, then assimilation should fix the problem, when it actually makes it worse). He goes on to explain that the real reason people hate the Jews is that we are committed to repairing the world, to elevating it and making it a better place, and they want to return the world to the ancient pagan values (power above all, etc). Basically, we stand in their way and so their plan is to rub us out. The solution is not to assimilate, but to stand even stronger. If you look at the list of peoples that have tried in the past to annhiliate us, the list is long (Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Nazis, etc) but they are all gone from the face of the earth. We, however, are still here.

From there we went on to Yad Vashem. I have not been there since 1987. They completed a renovation about 3 years ago. I was really interested to see it.

I am glad I brought a package of tissues.

Our bus got the tour guided by Esti Hershkowitz. She has been the guide for the other bus this entire time, while we have been blessed with rabbi Ken Spiro. This man is a font of knowledge, and as a guide to Masada and other historical sites he has been unbelievable. I have to say though, I am really glad we had Esti for this experience. She has this way of creating a mood. When we pulled up to the Old City on Friday late morning, her advice was, "Take a moment. Stop. Look around. Breathe in the smells, listen to the sounds. This is how Jerusalem prepares for Shabbat." That was one of the best pieces of advice I heard this entire time. It had nothing to do with the concreteness of the details of the history or the buildings. It was the mood, the emotion that made all the difference.

That's the way I feel about Yad Vashem. It has very little to do with cold hard facts. We know 6 million Jews died. We know the names of all the camps. We know the date of the Kristallnacht. That's not Yad Vashem. It's family photos, it's smuggled drawings, it's the cutoff pigtails of the little girl whose mother thought she had a better chance of surviving as a little boy. So many stories. Esti was wonderful because she picked and chose the ones to create the moods she wanted. I think it would have taken me three days to go through every single piece. I wonder what it's going to be like when I go with Patrick. Will he want to move fast or slow? Will I remember any of the stories Esti told? Will I do it justice?

The rest of the group had classes this afternoon, but I spent my afternoon in the emergency room at Terem (a stand-alone ER in Jerusalem) with two separate "patients." I won't go into the specifics of who or what, but I was privileged to see the fruits of the labors of Dr. David Applebaum. If you don't know his story, you should Google him.

I'll blog later about dinner, but I wanted to mention one thing. A couple of people at dinner mentioned that there were people actually reading this blog! Other than my friend, Class-Factotum and my husband, I don't believe it. If that's true, please let me know by posting a comment. You can do it anonymously if you like, but I have a bet going that the people who told me that were mistaken. Help me prove them wrong.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another exhausting day

It doesn't help that I went out after Shabbat with Ilan, Nili, Aviyam and Ifat (his girlfriend) until 12:30 this morning. It doesn'e help that Tanya and I stayed up talking until 3 am. It doesn't help that we had to get up at 7:45 am. I am exhausted. We spent the morning learning at the Aish building. I really enjoyed the classes. They even were able to turn the air conditioning on, which made it easy for me to concentrate.

After lunch, a drive to a moshav outside of Modi'in. A moshav is basically like a kibbutz (a collective cooperative farm) but the people can own things themselves, not have the collective own everything. I was a bit surprised this was not a kibbutz, because the people that started it were all ex-Berkeley-type hippies who followed a rabbi named Shlomo Carlebach. This man was amazing. Lots of songs with beautiful tunes, lots of spirit, lots of love, tune-in, turn-on, drop-out kind of stuff. It was like he rescued all these people on their way to "finding themselves" in the 70s nd gave them a purpose. Totally hippies, I loved it. What the moshav is now is an artist's colony. We saw silversmiths, ceramicists, painters, writers, illustrators. They make goat's milk cheese and spin yarn, and make pressed flower paper for sale. We got to participate in making some fresh cow's milk cheese, attempted to spin yarn and milked a goat (yes, I actually did milk this adorable goat, and it was not hard) . We took a tour and met some of the artists. I bought a beautiful ceramic pomegranate plate. We ate a delicious organic vegetarian dinner and heard a concert by two women from S'fat. Lovely, but unfortunately we were all exhausted and we just wanted to go. We got home at midnight, and this time went straight to bed.

Tomorrow is going to be the gut wrenching day. Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial) in the morning, and later a talk from a woman who lost her son in a terrorist attack. I think they're trying to completely drain us of all bodily moisture. Sweat and tears all day long.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shabbat in Jerusalem

For twenty four hours I did not turn on this computer. I did not turn on a light. I did not write a word. Why? It was Shabbat.

I don't normally keep Shabbat. I rationalize it by saying I have errands, or I have to get stuff done since I work out of town, or I just don't want to. But I have to say, this was a really interesting experience. I didn't keep Shabbat fully- I'm not going to get into the specifics of the 39 categories of work you cannot do on Shabbat, but I tore toilet paper, I rode in an elevator, I took a cab because walking 75 minutes in the Jerusalem heat was not something I felt I could do. However, I felt like I kept the spirit of Shabbat. I felt like it was a day separate in time from the rest, when I feverishly take notes in every class, spend tons of time on the computer, and fill my life with the mundane. This was very special, and I will not forget it.


Friday, June 19, 2009

My eyes have been opened

I thought I knew Challah. Braided egg bread for Shabbat. You take two, you say a blessing, you eat.

I knew nothing.

Today we had a class on "A Mitzvah of Body and Soul- A Challah Baking Class. I thought it was going to be on how to make challah, and I thought I was going to get to make some. When I heard we were not going to be able to make it ourselves, but rather watch this woman make it, I have to admit I was bummed. This was my chance to cook, to take advantage of my talent, to get into my groove thing. Now I was going to sit and LISTEN to someone? To WATCH someone else do it??

It was unbelievable.

This woman had the most amazing soul- you could see it when she opened up her mouth. She explained about the mitzvah of Challah, and what you need to do to fulfill it. There are all sorts of specifics about how much flour and what sort, but what it really is is this spiritual moment of connection with G-d while you are making it. You can pray while you're kneading, and those prayers are very special. You can even have communities of women that pray for you while they make challah, like a Jewish prayer phone tree.

I read this and I realize how I cannot do justice to how glowing this woman Raize Gutman is when she teaches us about this mitzvah. This Challah Lady has a real connection to the Divine. I have never wanted to make challah so badly as I did while she was teaching. She actually did show us several ways to braid the Challah that I'd never seen before. Honey, I'm going to make flower round Challahs, napkin ring Challahs, swan Challahs, four strand woven round Challahs, and six strand braided Challahs. The way I feel right now, I never want to buy a Challah again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Building us up

So I last left you (or we last left me) driving from Masada to Jerusalem, filthy and miserable. My GERD was acting up, and my medicine was in the bag below my feet, pretty much inaccessible.

We drove into Jerusalem and checked into the hotel (90 women checking in is a cluster, let me tell you), and I got up to the room as quickly as possible. I have never been so single-minded in my pursuit of a shower, and despite the fact that the shower head wouldn't move up its vertical pole and I had to bend backward to wet my hair, it was the best shower of my LIFE.

My Uncle Ilan picked me up at the hotel and we went to meet his girlfriend Nili. They took me to a Middle Eastern restaurant in Abu Ghosh, a suburb of Jerusalem, where I ate the best Middle Eastern food I have ever eaten. Ilan and Nili knew the owner quite well, and small plates of hummus (I feel like a broken record saying it was the best I've ever eaten), baba ghanoush, tabouli, two types of cabbage salad, moroccan cigars (pastry dough filled with meat), Iraqi cigars (another type of breading or maybe potato also filled with meat), falafel (again, best EVER), olives, and eggplant with vegetables, all came out at once. Holy moley. I ate until I thought I would bust. Then the second course came. Second course? Drat. If I'd known, I'd somehow have tried to hold back. Kebabs of lamb, chicken, beef, mejadarra (lentils with rice), small chopped veggie salad, and french fries. How much food could we eat?? Where was my finisher??? It was all so good!!

We were going to go to the sculpture garden at the Israeli Museum, but it was 4:30 and they closed at 5. So we ended up going to the Old City. We wandered the Arab Quarter, where Nili haggled me some excellent prices on zahtar and 3 velvet pillowcases. Not exactly the ones I wanted, but I don't know where to find those anymore (my Aunt Sarah of blessed memory was the one who knew the shop in Tel Aviv that had them) and these were a decent substitute for ones Lilah had defiled.

They took me back to the restaurant where I met up with the rest of the group, and we ate at Apple and Pear, an Italian restaurant. I didn't eat much, having pretty much just eaten a couple of hours before, but there were the requisite Israeli salads, some flatbreads, a little pasta and some fish (overcooked salmon, not my cuppa).

We walked to the Kotel afterwards (also known as the Western Wall) and prayed. It was a very powerful experience. Our leader Sara Simpser told us about a special prayer performed Thursdays at midnight at the Kotel, for people who had a special wish they wanted fulfilled. My group decided they wanted to come back with me at midnight, and so we went to Ben Yehuda Street and had some gelato (not Berthillon, but not bad at all) while we waited. We went back to the Kotel at midnight, and the place was as full as it was when we were there hours before. Crazy. Women of all ages, even young girls, all there praying their hearts out. It was awe-inspiring.

So here we are, back at the hotel and it's 2 am. I can't seem to get to bed at a decent hour. I don't care- the day started out horrid, and ended up amazing. Doesn't even seem like this was the same day.


Breaking us down

By noon today, I felt grosser than I have possibly ever felt in my entire life. We woke up with minimal sleep, thanks to some chatty people who would not hush despite (not kidding here) at least 20 shushings. We drove to Masada and reached it around 6 am. So much for sunrise atop Masada. We hit sunrise on the way. we climbed up the Roman ramp and began touring. I am only good for so much information absorption, and by the time we were still touring at 9 am, I was done. It was hot, it was sunny, all my water was warm, and I was trying hard to stay positive. Really, really hard. I have decided despite what ayhurveda says, I am only interested in drinking cold or at least cool water. Didn't get any food until close to 9:30 am, and most of you know how I get when I don't eat. We didn't leave Masada until 10:30, and by that time I was a broken woman. I have never felt more like I wanted to shed my skin.

Second part to come. It does get better (in a good way), I promise. I just have to go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Israeli Soldiers, the Dead Sea, and the Bedouins

Today was a little frustrating. I struggle with not judging people-- who doesn’t?- but when a group is supposed to be somewhere at a certain time, and people don’t show up, they hold up the entire group and derail the schedule.

We started out going to the army base this morning, and delivered our care packages. Initially, the soldiers were hesitant, and not necessarily because of the language barrier. We tried to say thank you, give them our packages and some soda and chat, but they were so shy, almost as if they didn’t want to take them… I wonder if they didn’t understand why we were there, or feared they would get in trouble, Slowly as we began to explain why we were there and how much we appreciate all they did for us, they opened up. They were really blown away by our coming and our generosity, which of course made me cry even harder… thank G-d for sunglasses. It really was fantastic. I tried to get a picture of the soldiers, but as I got them together, someone jumped into the shot. Sigh. Then different people kept jumping in, and I never got it. Ergh.

Well, we left and were supposed to go to Ein Gedi and a nature walk, see some waterfalls and have a picnic lunch. Because we stopped for a bathroom break and it took more than 30 minutes (some had to buy water, juice, snacks, gifts, whatever), we ended up not being able to go on the walk. All we did was stop and have lunch. Apparently, the hotel did not read yesterday’s blog entry and thus packed the same lunch. Well, almost. Iron Chef Ilene used the secret ingredient of unflavored yogurt as the mayonnaise to moisten the sparse quantity of tuna salad on the incredibly dry bread. I really think the question should be, “What else are you supposed to do with unflavored yogurt in a box lunch?”

Off to the Dead Sea. It was much smaller than the last time I was here in 1987. As we drove by one of the spas, we saw how it used to come right up to the hotel, but now the shore was almost a half mile away, and that happened in the last 25 years or so. The water was as salty as I remembered. We had been provided with Dead Sea mud which we slathered on each other, and then slowly walked into the water. It was so warm. My cuts and scrapes didn’t hurt at all, but that was really due to the shielding of the mud, a fact which took several minutes to make apparent. Then, I felt every cut, scrape, hangnail, nick and boo-boo. OUCH. The most amazing part of the Dead Sea is the buoyancy. It’s very difficult to stay upright, and a bit unnerving at first when you get lifted off your feet and cannot immediately right yourself.

After we finished, we drove to K’far Nokdim, a Bedouin-style encampment where we were to have camel rides and dinner, and then sleep like the Bedouins. I was to be part of the second round of rides, but then Susie and Alina got sick and I wanted to stay with them. Dinner was not bad, except they ran out of food. Unthinkable, right? How can a Jewish function run out of food? Apparently none of my friends were in charge. We make food for an army, even if only two people are coming.

Right now we are trying to go to sleep in the Bedouin tents. Cooler than I thought, but not nearly as cool as my bedroom. We have been told not to wash off the Dead Sea minerals and salt for the maximum skin benefit. I still have it on. I feel both exhilarated and disgusting at the same time, although right now it’s mostly just exhaustion and dread of getting up at 5 am to climb Masada.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kayafting and S'fat

Man, I love the Israeli breakfast. Lots of veggies, cheeses, Bourikas (cheese filled pastries). We started the day with a visit to the retired Israeli bunker, Har Ben Tal. It was the site of a battle with the Syrians. I of course, should be nicknamed Grace, so I slipped and fell, scraping my right wrist, right hip, and left knee. Brilliant.

After that, we spent the late morning and early afternoon rafting down the Jordan river. Initially I felt really nervous, because they called it kayaking. It really was rafting, similar to the rafting I did in Nepal, but much less strenuous. Part of why it was much less strenuous was because Susie, Tanya, Shelly, and Barb did most of the paddling. Alina and I did a little, but I was sitting in the middle on the same side as Susie (our rock star) so my paddling conflicted with hers. I took a couple of photos with a water camera leftover from our cruise a year and a half ago, and I tossed the camera to another raft to have them get a photo of us. When they tossed it back, it fell into the water, and Susie DOVE in to get it!! Amazing.

After a brief lunch (thank you to the hotel for packing, but a little more filling on the very, very dry bread next time, please) we bussed to Sfat. Sfat, Tzfat, Safed, whatever you call it, it was awesome. We stopped at two separate synagogues. First was the Josef Caro synagogue. It was incredibly old but still in use. My favorite part was the alcove stuffed full with manuscripts and papers, all with the name of G-d on them. Once something has G-d’s name on it, you shouldn’t throw it out. You bury it or you store it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Some of those papers had to be over a thousand years old. We also visited the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue (Ari stood f0r Avinu Rabeinu Yitzchak, or Our Master Isaac, meaning Rabbi Isaac Luria). This place was a HUGE center of the study of Kabbalah. I wish we could have learned a lot more about the basics of Kabbalah, but the energy of the place was amazing. There was a chair called Kisei Shel Eliahu, said to be good luck for those women who sit in it and pray to have a child. It was an incredibly moving moment, beyond words really, to have Tanya and Hani and Sara and Judy and so many other women praying for me and with me. May G-d bless all the women who sit in that chair.

A little shopping time… what’s a women’s trip without a little shopping time? I did not buy much (I know Patrick probably is reading this and not believing). We had dinner at Art CafĂ©, a lovely light dairy meal, lots of salads and again some fish- salmon and a fish called “musht” in Hebrew, which I looked up on the Crackberry and it was St Peter’s fish (remember Master Chef, Patrick?). Not nearly as good as Decks, but it was nice (especially since the food was provided for us). After dinner was a talk by Pamela Clayton, who is an amazing philanthropist who spends much of her time doing work for the Israeli soldiers. We get to visit an army base tomorrow and give the thank you packets we made to the soldiers there. I can’t wait.

Monday, June 15, 2009

First Day in Israel, Part 2

You all know I cannot go on vacation without blogging about the food. Dinner tonight was at Decks in Tiberias. The food was SO delicious. The setting was on the Kinneret (called the Sea of Galilee, but it’s fresh water) on this enormous deck (hence the name Decks), with a cool breeze blowing on a very warm evening.

We started with some appetizers. Bluefin tuna carpaccio with a vinaigrette and toasts with zahtar (G-d, how I missed zahtar!), onion loaf with barbecue sauce, and a mixed grill of salmon, dofi (local fish), small potatoes, portabellas, and sweet potatoes. The mixed grill was fabulous. Dofi wasn’t so much for me- I prefer a more oily fish like salmon, and the dofi was pretty mild. The veggies were perfectly smoky.

Then we moved onto more grill favorites. We had chicken with a curry spice rub and French fries, and duck breast in a honey lime sauce. Maybe it was the warm night, maybe it was the outdoor setting, but it was some of the best rustic food I’ve ever had. Maybe I can convince Patrick to come back with me when he arrives (which will not be soon enough).

I was almost too full for dessert, which was a cinnamon crepe with what was probably soy ice cream (it having been a meat meal). I had a couple of bites, and then some awesome Turkish coffee- definitely can’t wait to share that with Patrick. It was so strong, and yet ever so lightly sweet. Perfect end to the meal.

Here’s one for the encyclopedia of the weird…. One of the women from Canada is someone I knew from my Israel Pilgrimage trip in 1987! How unbelievable is that? I knew she looked familiar, since I had just shown Patrick my scrapbook from that trip the day before we left. If I hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have remembered her. It was so great to connect with her, and I look forward to seeing more of her and getting to know her again.


First Day in Israel, part 1

We’ve checked in to the Kinar Classic hotel on the shores of Lake Kinneret. Something like 90 women, from Minneapolis, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Ottowa. Long drive from the airport to the hotel, scenery narrated by Rabbi Ken Spiro. Very interesting, especially seeing the barrier we’ve heard so much about-- not so much a wall (except at one point), more like a chain link fence with electric sensors, but we are all so tired we can barely keep our eyes open. Several of the women are quite nauseated. Thank goodness I am not one of them. I don’t do nausea very well.

My Uncle Ilan was waiting to meet me at the airport- I burst into tears when he tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and saw it was him. He doesn’t live far, but still-- it was an amazingly thoughtful thing to do. He got mad at me that Patrick and I had booked a room at the Hilton Tel Aviv-- “What, my house is not good?” I didn’t want to inconvenience him, but I will be glad to save the points for another time and we will stay with him.

I had an email waiting for me from Patrick when I landed. I read it and also cried. Did I mention I cried when we touched down? Clapping and crying, crazy girl. My plane companion (I was in seat 27F, the middle of the middle of the row, blech) was this adorable old woman who kept up a pretty good conversation off and on the entire flight. I slept for about 4 hours over the course of the 10 hour flight, but in between we chatted. Turns out she lives in Bala Cynwyd, where I have been staying for the past 6 months while I worked in Philly. Too bad we’re not working there anymore, or I would have gotten her name and made sure to see her the next time I was there.
We arrived at the hotel and had a light lunch- classic Israeli food: cut up salad veggies and fruit, olives, tuna salad, egg salad, yogurts, and cheese. It’s now 1 pm (or 5 am the way my body feels) and we have until 3 pm. Tanya is at the beach/pool- which I have no desire to do. Me and sun, not so good friends. I really think I can feel my skin burning sometimes. I’m done blogging, now I’m going to read a bit and rest, but not sleep.

I miss you, honey. Keep the emails coming.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Food Coma

I am blessed with an embarassment of riches when it comes to friends. I am going to Israel (TOMORROW!!!) with one of my best friends, Tanya. The state of California just sucked away two more of my best friends, Rachel and Jordan (and their delicious Ellen). We were able to go to La Belle Vie one more time with them before they left. It was delicious-- the restaurant of James Beard award-winning chef Tim McKee.

Patch has friends from elementary school that he still sees. He still plays hockey in the winters on Monday nights with a group of guys that he went to high school with. I don't have that luxury, living 1200 miles from home. I do, however, have Carolyn and Travis, who went to college with me (some of the best times of my LIFE). They are partially responsible for my move here, so I owe them a lot.

C's favorite restaurant is D'Amico Cucina, one of the best fine dining restaurants in town. When I heard they were closing, my first thought was of her. Travis wrangled reservations for us for dinner last night, with their favorite waiter Alex as our guide for the evening. Fitting, that my first time at this place was with Caro, and my last time would be as well.

OMG. I am still in a food coma. Somehow, I ended up with truffles and brown butter in all three of my courses. I had scallops with a truffle and brown butter sauce (they were so perfectly seared and yet tender), an egg yolk and ricotta raviolo in black truffle and brown butter sauce, and veal tenderloin sous vide (talk about melting in my mouth!) with... you guessed it, black truffle and brown butter. There was wine with all the courses, prosecco to start with, and a tasting flight of dessert wines with the last course (almond and frangipane crepes, chocolate pastries, and five phenomenal cheeses). Holy cow-- this place is going out with a bang! Alex was one of the best servers I have ever had. Great food suggestions, he paired all the wines (and actually didn't charge us, as they were a gift in recognition of what good customers Travis and Carolyn are), and was that perfect combination of accomodating without being obsequious. Loved him. Plus we closed that place down. Literally. It was 12:15 when we left. The staff was so nice-- I told them we'd happily wash our own dishes.

I did find out last night that in August, a new restaurant is opening, Osteria D'Amico (in a local hotel space currently occupied by a restaurant that has a famous star chef who is rarely if ever in the kitchen). I will be there waiting for Alex with bells on. And a bib.

And tomorrow, I leave for ISRAEL!! I am up at 6:30 this morning having gone to bed at 1 am. Why? I'm too excited to sleep! Busy day. Run one more errand, finish my travel and expense report, pack, get my nails done, stop by a party for some good friends of mine, back home for an early night's sleep-- Tanya is coming over after the kids are in bed and she'll spend the night here so we can leave for our 7 am flight together tomorrow. I feel this low-level hum of excitement in my tummy. I keep thinking there must be something I've forgotten to do... I always get this way before a big trip. I'll keep going over things in my head. There's no room for sleep anymore.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Blog Launch

Well, I've blogged as MeanMommyDoc, I've blogged as cheeseguysgirl. Now I'm blogging as me. Not as a doc with a purpose, not as cheeseguy's better (?) half, but as my sometimes crazy, sometimes stubborn, sometimes ranting, sometimes joyful, sometimes obsessive self.

Here is where I don't have to filter. I can say what I want, and I will.

This is inspired by my upcoming trip to Israel. I wanted a forum where I could blog about the experience, post photos and thoughts. It is going to be a heavy trip, and I need a place to process it. MeanMommyDoc isn't it-- that's really where I talk about parenting. CheeseGuy isn't it-- that's all about food, not politics and spirituality.

This is it. My new frontier. I hope my friends and family will follow this and still be... well, my friends and family.