Friday, November 26, 2010


We were blessed to have my husband's entire immediate family at our home for Thanksgiving. Those of us who were so moved said what we were grateful for, but I always feel at those moments that whatever I say comes out trite- you know, "I am thankful we are all here together."

Well, that was pretty much what I said, but at that moment I didn't feel so trite. My mother in law has had a very difficult year health-wise, and I truly am grateful for the gift of having her with us. To get my husband's entire family in the same house at the same time requires skills rivaled by those in charge of corralling shoppers on Black Friday at the Mall of America, so another thing to be grateful for. I just returned safely from a glorious three weeks in Israel (half of which were spent with the JWRP Transform and Grow trip and half with Cheese Guy and a spectacular cast of characters including family and friends). And those are the big things. To even get started on the little things would take forever.

But I guess that's the point, isn't it? Take forever and be grateful for the little things. You'll never run out of things to be thankful for once you start thinking small.

1. that Julia Child is finally getting recognition from an entirely new generation of young adults (I'm sitting on the couch watching old "Julia Child with Master Chefs" with Cheese Guy).
2. That I don't have to worry about how to stay warm when it's 26 degrees outside.
3. That I don't have to shop at any stores on Black Friday because I can't afford to buy presents otherwise (not that that's why all people shop on Black Friday, obviously, but that's the only reason I could ever be dragged out on such a day).


Friday, November 19, 2010

First Shabbos back home

Jet lag can be crazy, but it certainly lets you get an early start on the day. Here it is before 10 am, and I have challah ready to go into the oven (final proof going on as we speak, so to speak). This morning was a powerful experience. I made a commitment one of the first days in Israel with the JWRP that I would take on the mitzvah of challah (thanks again, Sara Simpser, for all your assistance in Tsfat that led up to my taking on this mitzvah. I pray for your success in all your endeavors as a merit for the mitzvah you performed that day). G-d helped me to arrange it so that I have had the opportunity to make challah every week since then.

This week was the first one on my own. Let me tell you, it was spectacular.

When I recited the paragraph after saying the bracha, I felt this charge go through me. Usually I struggle in the Hebrew, because I don't really knonw what the words mean, but I can read the Hebrew so I do After this week, I am sticking to the English words. I felt every one of them as they came out of my mouth. Until I can feel the Hebrew words as fully as I can feel the English, I will always say the English words as well. Many people have told me that G-d speaks all languages, and I thought I knew that, but this felt like the first time that I prayed someone else's words with my whole heart.

I have a feeling this week's challah will taste special.


Monday, November 15, 2010


We drove from Petah Tikva to Eilat today, stopping off at Mitzpe Ramon, the largest crater in the Negev desert- Israel's version of the Grand Canyon. It was stunning. Unfortunately, the Visitor's Center was closed, so we didn't get the "full experience."

I saw plenty- much closer than my uncomfortable-with-open-heights husband would have liked, but when faced with an incredible view of a huge canyon, what's a girl to do??

Dinner tonight was a delicious grilled Labrak (a type of sea bass), while Patch had the grouper. Both caught fresh locally that day.

If my mother could see me eating whole fish, her eyes would pop out. I have incredibly vivid memories of her reaction to passing by whole fish at a market, screaming, "They're looking at me!!!"
Tomorrow, a lazy day in Eilat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Uff-Da, Israeli style

It's been a wonderful yet exhausting time in Petah Tikva. Last night we stayed up late talking with my cousin Aviyam (who will eternally be Yami to me, much to his chagrin I am sure) and his girlfriend Ifat. Fun time, but didn't get to sleep until midnight. I thought it was going to be an easy day with my other cousin Galit and her family. A "nature walk" in the Kelah-Gallim nature reserve, then a late lunch at a restaurant in Haifa. Sounds lovely, right? It certainly started out that way. Weather was lovely. The walk was in the valley, down hill mostly. That was what began to give me a weird feeling... if you go down, you have to go up! The walk ended up taking about five hours, and the last 25 % was brutal. I can't even come up with a word that seems appropriate for how punishing it was- "torturous" even minimizes the experience. There were times when I thought literally I couldn't go on. Rock climbing (both up and down, although the down parts weren't so bad), heat, sun, twisted ankles and knees, and muscles that had never seen activity like this, all combined to leave me praying (literally!) that I didn't end up like one of those marathoners that collapses and soils themselves, completely unable to go on.

Looking back at the trail, I'm pretty sure we walked the entire valley!

This look of glee on my face is because I don't have to move my legs for at leat twenty minutes. My cousin's husband went to get our car and drive it back to us.

Afterwards we went to dinner at Douzan, an Arab restaurant in Haifa. I immediately ordered a coffee, because I thought I was gonna pass out in my fattoush (that's a salad with toasted pita for you with the funny minds). Food has rarely tasted this good- maybe because I was so glad I didn't have to be airlifted out of the valley.

We drove back amid the classic Saturday night Israeli traffic, and because we were SO late we didn't even get a chance to shower before we went to Yaffa's house. Yaffa is my uncle Ilan's sister, so even though we're only related by marriage, I see her every time I come to Israel (well, we missed her last time, and I really regret it). So I haven't seen her in about twenty years, and the first thing she says to me upon opening the door, is how much I look like my mother. Wow, right to the heart, that one.

It was a wonderful visit. A great ending to a really hard day. The only pain that remained was the one in my right ankle- it's remarkable how emotional high can heal physical low.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Two nights ago I sent all my Minnesota women home and met the Cheese Guy at the airport. Happy happy joy joy-- he was not detained or bothered in the least. The only thing that did happen was an electrical malfunction that led to a two hour delay (hopefully he'll get some FF miles out of them for the trouble). It was so wonderful to see him again. My uncle Ilan and the two of us stayed up talking until about midnight- it was a good night's sleep even with a cup of late-night coffee in me.

Yesterday we drove up to Yavne'el, in the north, near Tiberias. My rebbitzen's parents have a place here that has three rental apartments, called tzimmers in Hebrew. We're staying in a lovely one-bedroom that has a great kitchenette, nice bathroom, a sitting room, besides the jacuzzi in the bedroom. We had a drink up on their patio with a stunning view of the Galilee and then had a wonderful dinner with them. It was so unbelievably relaxing, which I really needed after all the go-go-go of the JWRP trip.

This morning I woke up early and had breakfast with Chana before Patch woke up- I was actually in the middle of making challah when he walked in. I am so happy I had a chance to make challah this week. Coming up soon I will blog more about why- but I don't have time right now to explain.

Today we went to the Kfar Tavor winery- honestly, their 2009 Shiraz is the best kosher wine I've ever had. We are going to hopefully ship some home, but of course we had to buy a bottle to drink while we are here. We also got a bottle of Sauvignon BLanc- really good on such a warm Israeli day.

We tried to go to the Tnuva factory, but their tours are all in Hebrew and consist mostly of looking at the machine that puts the plastic over the cheese-- it'd be like visiting the Kraft factory in the States. When they found out we didn't speak Hebrew, they pretty much dissuaded us from going in. Oh well-- we just found a local Supersol and bought a few kinds of Tnuva to taste on our own.

Back at the tzimmer resting, before we go to Decks for dinner tonight. I can't wait to share my favorite restaurant with Patch. I hope he enjoys it as nuch as I do!

Pictures hopefully later tonight--


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wonderful Shabbat

I haven't posted for a couple of days- first, because I spent so much time setting up my photo album on Facebook, and then because it was Shabbat. I kept Shabbat here, and it was beautiful. For those who don't know, we abstain from creating (it may also be thought of as "work" but it's easier for me to remember this way, since as someone said, 'We can move around every piece of furniture in our home, but we can't strike a match, and which one is more work?') on Shabbat to remember that there is a Creator, and as Rabbi Marcus taught us today, to "thin the mask" between us and Him. This is a great concept. For six days G-d created the world, which serves as a mask between us and Him. He does that so that we have the free will to choose to have a relationship with Him. If He didn't, if he revealed Himself to us, then we'd be so overwhelmed with the pleasure of His company, we'd try to attach ourselves to Him and never let go-- but that's not free will. So for six days G-d created, and the seventh day, G-d rested. Rested from creating the mask, so on Shabbat, the mask thins. Every thing we do to keep Shabbat thins the mask and allows us to connect to Him. Every thing we do that doesn't keep Shabbat thickens the mask and makes that connection more difficult. Awesome class.

I was blessed to spend Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem. When you're not carrying anything you can almost imagine yourself living there, just running around the corner to your neighbor's house- and I've walked the same streets enough times to almost know my way! I just think for Shabbat it's the most magical place on earth. I guess it's not magical, because magic isn't real.... it's just very, very special. Holy. Praying at the Kotel, seeing every style of Jew come to welcome the Sabbath- even a group of secular Israeli teens shared their song book with T and I and we sang songs with them for a while. We don't speak Hebrew, they didn't speak English, but we were all Jews and that was the only language needed.

I hope I merit to spend another Shabbat in the Old City someday soon. We could all use a little more holiness in our lives.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happiness, the Old City, and the Kotel Tunnel Tours

We started off the morning with a class on Happiness Principles. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin is an amazing and successful author and teacher who has written MANY books on the topics of gratitude and happiness, and the moment you lay eyes on him, you can see why. The man radiates. His face was made to smile. So full of joy. You can't help but feel happy in his presence and feel like his principles make sense, since they so obviously work for him. I will do my best to blog at another time about this class in more detail (after I return, I mean), because I think it deserves more attention.

I then took a participant to the Terem, the stand-alone emergency room I wrote about last year. Once again, I was privileged to see the fruits of the labor of Dr. David Applebaum of blessed memory (go ahead and Google his name, since I'm guessing few outside of Israel know who he is and his stunning story). I'm beginning to think- "What's a trip to Israel without bringing someone to the ER?" I was sad to miss handing out the siddurim (prayer books) to the women on the trip- I remember receiving mine last year, and was really looking forward to giving them.

I did get back in time to rush a group of women to Mea Sha'arim and back in a couple of hours. It was a bit like herding cats, but only slightly less difficult. My instructions were as thus: "This is not a browsing trip, ladies, this is a power shopping trip. Decisiveness is key. If the item doesn't sing heavenly songs to you as you pass, keep going! Dawdle and you WILL be left behind!" With G-d's help, we made it back with two minutes to spare. I could not believe it. However, I must say, it was a delightful time.

Last stop of the night was the Old City and Kotel tunnel tour. The only downside was that our tour began so close to sunset that we missed a lot of beautiful sights of the Old City. Our tour guide, David Sussman, was amazing. I am hoping to book him for a half day tour of the Old City when Patrick comes to join me. His command of history and how the different civilizations interweaved was so interesting-- too many facts to really file away, they were coming so fast. I think Patrick would really enjoy it.

The Kotel tunnel tour was perhaps the coolest part of the night. There is a part of the Western Wall they have excavated that is directly across from the place where the Holy of Holies (the ark, where G-d's Divine Presence dwelled when the Temple was standing) was located. I put my hand on it to pray and immediately burst into tears. Not completely sure why, and a little freaked out, I just went with it. It was great. The Talmud says the gates of tears are always open in Heaven. I certainly hope so.

We were so exhausted when we finished, we stumbled back to the Mamilla Mall and had a really excellent meal at Herzl (meat restaurant). If you ever get to Jerusalem, I'd recommend it. After that, I'm falling into bed, but it's still after midnight. Up at 6 am for Masada and camel rides tomorrow!! I wish at home I could get by on this little sleep.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Photo Blog for Day 2 in Israel

It is past midnight, so tonight I'm mostly doing some photos. Tsfat was great, but we visited the same amazing spots as last year so I am not going to write about them again. We arrived in Jerusalem at 8 pm, and Joy, Ellen and I walked to Mamilla Mall and had a light dinner and a wonderful chat at Cafe Cafe.

Glorious view of Lake Kinneret from our window at the King Solomon Hotel in Tiberias.

The fabulous Esti Herskovitz, our tour guide in Tsfat and the Kinneret, speaking to us outside the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue

Stained glass window in the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue

Singers after lunch at the Red Khan (the Red Mosque)

JWRP women dancing at the Red Khan

Tomorrow, we tour the new Aish Building! Last I saw it, it was covered in tarps and concrete dust. I can't wait!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome back!

Such overwhelming feelings being back in Israel, even more so because it was a very eventful trip. Easy flight to New York, lulling me into a false sense of security. Then it went haywire. First, the ticket agent gave my passport away. I had to redistribute some contents between my bags because of the weight limit, and while I was doing that he checked in the woman behind me. When I was done, I asked for my passport back, and he replied that he already gave it to me. I said he didn't, he said he did. This went on for a disturbing length of time, all while I was going through both bags looking for it. Finally, I thought about the woman he checked in- thank G-d (really!) that she was a member of my group. She was a bit confused, but checked in her purse and "lo and behold"- there it was! Clearly the careless check-in agent was not Israeli El-Al, because they NEVER would have given away my passport.

Now the most eventful part of the trip. I loaned my phone to someone so she could take care of some business with her phone, and ........ She lost it in New York.

I didn't find out about this until I was on the plane- I went to get my phone from her so I could turn off the data roaming and the data push and ..... she looked at me helplessly and with tears said she didn't have it. Didn't know what happened to it. Didn't know where it was.

I really don't have words for what went through my mind. I know I should not be too attached to a thing, but my first thoughts went to all that I had on the phone. Final pictures of my beloved pet Lilah, photos of my travels with the Cheese Guy, food shots. Email. Google Maps. Bejeweled Blitz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oy.

I went to the Lost and Found at Ben-Gurion, and waited for a very long time while, in classic Israeli fashion, the people behind the desk sat there looking everywhere but at me. Finally one guy helped me- mostly in disbelief that someone somehow lost my phone instead of giving it back to me. He kept asking me, "Why didn't she just give it back to you?" I wanted to tell him, "That's what happens when someone loses something!" He took my info, but I need to call back with a contact number so they can get in touch with me. The flight attendants sent a couple of messages back to the gate in NY, but I really hold out no hope of ever seeing Gus again. This way, if I do, it will be pure jubilation. And yes, I did name my iPhone Gus, but that shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me- our cars are named Zelda and Martha, and my first computer was named Chester. I'm a namer. Get over it.

So, now. I'm in Israel, with a (thank G-d!) working computer and modem that has me connected. I've seen my Uncle Ilan, who came and met me at the airport, just so he could give me a hug and a kiss and shlep my luggage cart to the bus. It's 7:25 pm, a little after noon at home. My poor devoted Cheese Guy is left with the task of cancelling my iPhone (I so wish I had the iPhone tracker app right about now) and I get to go back to the amazing JWRP experience. Our bus is on the way to Tiberias, where we will dine at Decks, this phenomenal open-air grill restaurant, and then get to the hotel, where our luggage will be waiting for us. Delicious food, dancing, and a wonderful view of Lake Kinneret (in the dark, as it gets dark at around 5 pm these days) awaits. Love to you all.