Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ezra's Aliyah - a children's book review

Yom shlishi, 16 Adar II

Aliyah is not easy for adults. For children, it can be bewildering. Sometimes parents make the mistake -- in life in general -- of forgetting to see change through the eyes of their children. And even those for whom their children's perceptions are paramount can use a little reassurance that they are covering all the bases.

Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod's newest book, Ezra's Aliyah, tries very hard to anticipate the questions and concerns of her young character; and she doesn't sugar-coat or dismiss his objections or his worries. She states truth with simplicity.

One example: there will come a time when Ezra will speak Hebrew better than his parents. Her simple statement of the fact has wisdom, for it can prepare children and parents, and take away any negativity associated with this eventuality. She also drops excellent hints about how to make the transition to life in Israel less painful (for example, packing unnecessary but comforting cake mix for Ezra's upcoming birthday).

I liked Ezra, his sense of humor, and his honesty. His parents' honest answers to his questions were appreciated. The illustrations were a pleasing combination of cheerful cartoons and photographs.

I was sometimes confused by the order of the illustrations: there is a photo of grandparents without any comment about grandparents where I would have expected it; and when Ezra's grandmother at last appears, she doesn't look like this grandmother. (The other grandparents? Random elderly Israelis? I don't know. Will a child reader notice or care?)

Back to my favorite part of this sweet little book. I can feel Ezra's worry, hesitation and hope as I read. Here is one passage, in which he tries to imagine his future through past associations:

"A couple of years ago, a new kid came to our class.
He didn't speak much English. Nobody talked to
him, but then it turned out he was a great basketball
player, and everybody wanted to be his friend.

"Will the kids in Israel talk to me? I hope so. I'm not
so good at basketball, but I know a ton about planets
and about astronomy."

Someone once said of aliyah: "Don't make your dream your children's nightmare." This lovely little book is a step in the direction of preparing children for aliyah by taking into account that their aliyah experience matters, too.

About the Author: 

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod is a proud mother of four (two big and two little), who recently made aliyah to the north of Israel. A freelance writer for magazines and newspapers, she also loves writing stories for her kids and their friends.

Follow her own aliyah adventures at: http://aliyahland.blogspot.com

While her book can be purchased at Amazon, the author has a special going on right now: her two newest books (Ezra's Aliyah; and Zoom! A Trip to the Moon) for $9 plus shipping. To take advantage of this sale, go to her website Write Kids' Books! Tell 'em Ruti sent you. It won't get you a bigger discount; but it will make Tzivia smile.

All illustrations used with permission of the author

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dames of the World: Unite, and DANCE!

Yom revi'i, 25 Shevat 5774.

I live in a remarkable part of the world, in a remarkable country, in a remarkable community, surrounded by remarkable women. And some of the most fun I've had with these dedicated, generous (in time and money), totally joy-filled and life-embracing women has been around a wonderful project called "Dames of the Dance."

To quote my friend Varda Epstein, who wrote about Dames of the Dance for the Times of Israel last year, "Dames of the Dance was born in 2007, as a remedy to local poverty. As Sharon Katz, founder ... and producer of Dames put it, 'We give women a safe environment in which they can try their wings, expand their creativity and express themselves freely.'

"Katz had learned that contrary to the stereotyped image of Efrat and Gush Etzion as wealthy communities, there were some 360 resident families living below the poverty line. It was unacceptable to Sharon that people in her neighborhood would go without while she did nothing. She thought about all the talented women in her regular dance class and knew that her 'sistahs' would be glad for the chance to do a good deed."

Dames of the Dance programs are always entertaining and lively, with varied styles of dance, beautifully choreographed and danced by talented women and girls of all ages. The emcees balance humor gracefully with message. I have rarely missed the yearly adventure, as it is a highlight of my year -- and I look forward to seeing dear friends on stage, and in attendance.

Here's the info on "DAMES of the DANCE 7 - CELEBRATION", an evening dedicated to TZEDAKAH and filled with fantastic dance troupes. See you there!

** Tickets - http://tinyurl.com/buyDames7Tickets 
Checks should be made out to the Gush Etzion Foundation

** Thursday, February 27, 27 Adar A, 8:15 PM, Matnas Gush Etzion
** Monday, March 3, 1 Adar B, MATINEE, 5:00 PM, Matnas Efrat
** Thursday, March 6, 4 Adar B, 8:15 PM, Matnas Gush Etzion

** For fun, here's a DAMES parody I think you will enjoy. Dames of the world -- UNITE and DANCE!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Where everybody knows your name: a delightful bed and breakfast in Tzfat!

Yom sheni, 19 Shevat 5774.

The Dearly Beloved and I rarely get a chance to travel, even in Israel. Work, the costs involved, not wanting to miss the soldiers when they're home, our intense affection for our own beds. You know the drill.

We had the opportunity to spend just one night and a few daytime hours in Tzfat, at the bed and breakfast of our newly-married friends Miri and Dave. Simcha Leah's Bed and Breakfast is everything the Dearly Beloved and I want it to be: affordable; quaint and charming; centrally-located; clean and quiet; well-appointed with what we consider necessities (meaning decent beds, lots of blankets in the winter, our own fridge and microwave and kum-kum so we can hide from the world, wifi for when I get tired of hiding from the world). Miri and Dave have made Simcha Leah's all of these things, and so much more! They clearly asked themselves, "What would make us comfortable, if we were away from home?" Then, they proceeded to make it so.

Warmth of every kind: an urn, kosher lamp and plata for Shabbat; a microwave and kum-kum; cozy blankets

Varied reading material; control of the temperature; plenty of hanging space for clothes

Next time, we'll stay long enough to try out some of those board games!

A full-size fridge!

Fruit, nosh, tea and coffee

Wonderfully comfy beds and thick comforters

Even the bathroom is charming and homey.

Just like fancy spas, they even thought of shower slippers.

While the building itself is 300 years old, the room is spacious, with lots of light and color, and with comfy twin beds (long enough for the Dearly Beloved's over-six-foot frame). One can request additional bed options. The fridge is full-sized; and the microwave and kum-kum are in great working order. The water for bath or shower is nice and hot. All the basics are there. The mazgan kept the room nice and cozy, and we ended up not needing the extra blankets. The fluffy down comforters were more than enough.

The walls are decorated with some of Dave's beautiful photographs. We encourage him to add discreet price tags to the photographs, as tourists who know fine photography may be interested in purchasing some of his work (one of our favorites of which you can see here).

We wandered around town in the fog and rain, enjoying Tzfat in its misty, mystical glory even when wet. Miri's son Adam took us on a brief tour, and dropped us off at a very affordable sushi place. When we returned, the too-long skirt I'd worn was soaked for the bottom 10 inches... and Miri tossed it in the dryer. Talk about full service!

After a cold breakfast of yogurt, granola and different kinds of fruit, we headed home... but we plan to return to Simcha Leah's many times, to check out Tzfat in even better weather. Miri and Dave make Simcha Leah's feel like a home away from home.

Below, the Dearly Beloved tests out his new birthday present to show you some of the other lovely features of the room.

For prices and other details, or to make reservations, click on the link here: http://www.simchaleahsbedandbreakfast.com/

"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came..."  
-- from the "Cheers" theme, by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy

Tzfat: Safed
Kum-kum: In my humble opinion, the first purchase an oleh (new immigrant to Israel) should make after landing: a super-fast electric water-heating kettle for tea and coffee. Don't they have these in America yet???
Plata: an electric warmer for food on the Sabbath
Mazgan: An electrical wall unit used for both heating and cooling

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Post: Living, Breathing Snow Angels

Yom revi'i, 15 Tevet 5774.

It has been an unusual week in Israel. For the second time in the six years we have lived here, enough snow has fallen to keep us all locked up most of the time, if not in our houses and apartments, at least on our mountain. There were many acts of kindness during this period. Julie Arnowitz writes a poetic acknowledgment to her image of snow angels.

The snow angels of my childhood were made on fresh snow by lying on the back and creating angel wings by moving one’s arms up and down on the snow. There was a competition of who could make a more perfect angel impression in the snow.

The “snow angels” of the December 2013 snowstorm in my mountaintop community are non-competitive and spiritual in nature.

In a snowstorm that closed roads, prevented schools from opening for five school days, and left inhabitants stranded without electricity or water at times, the acts of snow angels were revealed on the community's internal email list and via SMS on mobile phones.

There are officially designated volunteer angels, such as members of the mazkirut (community governing board) and the community emergency committee, whose members never seem to sleep. (I know because I received a SMS close to midnight one night asking for people without electricity to contact them.)

The paid transformative worker angels go way beyond the call of duty and job description by providing essential services and repairs. They open the supermarket, plow the roads, repair local electricity problems, and cheerfully fix the plumbing problems caused by the storm. This includes the electric company employees who finally restored electric power.

The spontaneous generation angels initiate essential volunteer tasks. The subdivision includes:
  • the pharmacy angel, who collects prescriptions and drives over the snow-covered roads to a nearby town to obtain the much needed emergency and chronic medications 
  • the radio angels, who monitor news bulletins and the regional council updates on current road conditions, road closings, and school openings
  •  the tremp angels (also known as the hitchhikers’ saviors), who offer rides to essential places and to and from Jerusalem as they patiently wait to fill up the car with cold and wet residents 
The spiritual angels can be classified according to their function.
  • The prayer enabler angels open their homes to prayer services as the synagogues were too far away. It is not easy to care for small children and to welcome at least nine snow-covered men twice a day.
  • The teacher angels give lectures, teach, and provide children with educational activities.
The members of the cadet angel youth corps earn their gold-tipped angel wings during the snowstorm and its aftermath. They run errands, deliver groceries, shovel snow, and repeatedly request to be called upon by residents to utilize their volunteer services.

Not everyone earned the title of angel. The men who quickly responded to a mother's plea for help when part of the family's roof collapsed were given the title of "rescue commandos" by the grateful family.

The taxonomy is incomplete because there are too many examples to enumerate and I do not know about every act of kindness; but the real thanks goes to the invisible angels who help and nobody knows about their assistance. I merited to catch a glimpse of one. My neighbor was hacking away at clear, smooth ice that was in front of my car. Had I driven off I would have surely skidded downhill. If I was not on my balcony clearing off the snow, I would have not seen him nor known about his unsolicited and potentially life-saving good deed. Many communities are likewise filled with such angels who one cannot  be identified; they look like ordinary people.

Like the snow angels of my childhood the snow angels of Neve Daniel are ephemeral. The snow melts. These services are no longer needed; and the snow angles once more become ordinary neighbors with their good cheer and human foibles. But unlike the snow angels of my childhood which disappeared without leaving a trace, the snow angels of Neve Daniel live on in everyone's heart.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Survival, Snow Heroes

Yom rishon, 12 Tevet 5774.

If you live in Baltimore, New York, Idaho, Washington State... this is a typical winter day. But if you live in Israel, this is a once-in-several-years occurrence.

People have been without power for days, at least intermittently. Cars are buried in snow. Schools are closed. The roads have been virtually impassable for the better part of the last few days.

Families are spending quality time together. Kids are thrilled, or are showing signs of cabin fever. I've even seen a soldier or two giving a hearty fist-pump at being stranded on the mountain. We had a special birthday Shabbat planned for the Dearly Beloved. That, as readers of this blog may remember, does not mean birthday cake. The Friday night menu included a cheesy lasagna, fluffy, home-baked challah, and cinnamon rolls. But with no electricity on Friday, the plans changed to a complete stove-top menu (so I could get by on gas): a hearty chicken soup with lots of vegetables, cauliflower rice, baby peas, barely warmed, and paratha, an Indian pan-fried bread. The pot roast which is usually prepared in a crock pot was instead prepared on the stove top as well; and everything was kept warm on an old-fashioned copper blech.

Stunt Man had planned to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem with Molly McMolly's family. Of course, that was illogical, impossible, etc., etc.

So he walked down to the highway to see if he could possibly catch a tremp. A security vehicle came along, and the driver -- after questioning his sanity -- gave him a lift. They traveled down a completely vehicle-free highway, stopping along the way to assist stranded drivers. "There were abandoned cars all over the place. I felt like we were traveling through some surreal post-zombie-apocalypse scene," was how he described his adventure. The driver dropped him off two minutes from his destination.

I don't raise normal people. I raise heroes. Or crazy people. Or both.

Building a snowman under the trees

The Dearly Beloved, going after provisions

Getting ready for some serious sledding
We have a very special community here in Neve Daniel. People have helped each other, by digging out paths from door to street. People have shopped for those for whom getting out is a hardship. After pulling his stint as the shliach tzibur for a local shul, Yoram went to open the makolet... and was joined by store owner Moshe Torjman. Moshe left his cozy home in Gilo on foot (on his birthday), planning to walk to the makolet if he couldn't get a ride. A policeman gave him a ride to the bottom of Neve Daniel's formidable hill, where he walked up to open the store.
Kol hakavod, Yoram!

Happy birthday, Moshe; and happy day after your birthday, Coach!

Moshe fired up the oven, so people could have nice, warm pita bread.

Eli, friend and fellow shopper, duded-up for the weather

Nobody who doesn't own a helicopter is surprised that the makolet doesn't have fresh milk.

But as a public service announcement, I'll offer some alternatives, to get folks by until the milk truck can make it up the hill.

The makolet has shelf milk, soy and rice, in various flavors.

There's fresh soy milk...

...and shoko, strawberry-flavored and mocha-flavored milk...

...and yogurts of various styles and flavors...

...and if all else fails, there are chemicals.

If I still had young kids at home, I'd probably melt their favorite ice cream, and say, "Hey, boys! Guess what? When we have a snow day, even the milk is special!"
Everyone has his priorities. People with small children came to the makolet, hoping to make a milk run. Without young children at home, we made a B - double E - double R - U - N, as the country song goes.

Finally! A home we may be able to afford on the yishuv. As soon as we find out who is the builder, we plan to make a bid. Hopefully before the house turns to liquid assets...

And before a rival buyer makes his bid.
Stay warm. Enjoy each other. Let your neighbors know if you need help. One thing about snowy weather in Israel: in a few days, it will be a memory for a few years.
This jacket, like its wearer, is now officially an antique. Both of us are pretty hearty in cold weather, b"H!
A few snow-survival tips from a former Washington State gal:

  1. Do not follow my son's example. Follow the rules, and don't travel when you're not supposed to.
  2. Stay off your roof. (Sad story in the news, about a guy who fell off while trying to fix a leak that could have waited.)
  3. Walk on snow when you can, rather than ice.
  4. When you have no choice, bend your knees a bit, and walk duck-toed (as opposed to straight-toed or pigeon-toed).
  5. When going down steps, use the hand rail or a wall, if available, and put your weight on your heels. Falling on your face or tailbone is zero fun.
  6. Think out of the box, and try to have fun. Attitude is nearly everything.
  7. Get out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
  8. Have as much fun as you can!

Blech: Flat metal pan used to cover stove burners on Shabbat, to warm food without direct contact with the flame
Tremp: ride, hitch (as in hitch-hiking)
Shliach tzibur - cantor and leader of prayer
Shul - synagogue
Makolet - corner grocery store (although we are calling ours this affectionately and out of habit these days, as Moshe has made it into a supermarket!)
Yishuv - community, sometimes called a settlement (sometimes disparagingly -- but we ignore those people)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

American Football in Israel: Rockin' the Midot

Yom shlishi, 7 Tevet 5774.

Mrs. Coach has a confession to make. I don't know anything about football. I never watched it when I was growing up in America. I don't understand it, and I don't didn't even particularly like the sport. I'm a baseball kinda gal -- which my sons tell me "doesn't actually qualify as an actual sport." George Carlin sums the differences up in a five-minute comedy bit that ends with this:

"In Football, the object is for the quarterback -- otherwise known as the field general -- to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies’ defensive line. In Baseball, the object is to go home, and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home, safe at home."

(It's really worth hearing it in Carlin's own unique style. Don't worry: for this one, he resisted the impulse to use any of the seven words you can never say on television.)

I was never a fan of American football.

But I love American football in Israel.

I love it for several very good reasons.

My son Sports Guy is truly good at the game. Hashem gave him the gifts that he can play several positions well, and still behave like a mensch. (His mother gives him the bracha that he will be able to continue both activities in equal measure.)

Take six minutes, and watch Number 20. Even if, like me, you don't understand the game, you will enjoy watching this kid move. It's okay -- I'll wait for you.

Video credit: Pavel Arshavsky

Another of my sons, Yeshiva Bochur, is just beginning to play as Number 22. (He picked that number because it's the gematria of his wife's name. Yes, they are that adorable, bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh.)
Yeshiva Bochur as linebacker with his father, "Coach" - photo credit: Alex Gandler

The Dearly Beloved, sporting his high school center number

The Dearly Beloved is the head coach of the Judean Rebels men's football team and the Ravens high school team. He is a good coach. He doesn't care about "winning at all costs." He cares that his players have fun, put their own families and the families in the stands first, and play fairly and with grace and sportsmanship.

"I don't want to hear any swearing. There are children and grandmothers in the stands. And I don't want to see dancing in the end zone, or hear trash talk. If you're losing, you don't have anything to trash talk about. If you're winning, let the scoreboard do your trash talking for you. When you make a touchdown, you calmly hand the ref the ball, because you just did your job. Let 'em know that you do this every day."

 After coaching his guys this way for several years, I have seen that they take pride in leading the league in examples of sportsmanship. Recently, one of our Israeli players was being harassed by a member of an opposing team, who was trying to goad him into losing his temper. "Shhhh," said our player, pressing his finger to his lips, and with his other hand, pointing at the scoreboard. Situation diffused.

And here is perhaps what I love best about football in Israel: I love it because it is Israeli. It is predominantly Jewish, meaning imbued with Jewish values, to the extent that a gridiron battle can be. (The players are Jewish, both observant and secular, and from various other religious backgrounds as well. That fact doesn't seem to keep them from playing well together.) The league is beginning to crack down on swearing on the field and in the stands. It's not official. It's just that more and more players are having increased fun and decreased anger. Parents and even young people are reminding other young people in the stands that "we don't talk that way." And unlike fans in other countries, most of the chastised listen, and try to "clean it up." We have a lot to do still. But we're making progress.

The teams have taken it upon themselves to do charitable projects, to shine a positive light on American football. The Rebels have gone a few times to Nefesh B'Nefesh events, coordinating with them and with Ben Gurion airport personnel to unload and sort luggage for exhausted and bewildered new olim.

A few Tel Aviv Pioneers even show up occasionally to help out, thereby promoting brotherhood and camaraderie among the teams. (Coach Eastman: "Leave the rivalry on the field, where it belongs.")

And the Rebels recently were permitted the privilege of participating in a project taken on by the Jerusalem Lions, reported at the IFL site by Commissioner Betzalel Friedman. Warning: tissue alert. Though you may be laughing through the tears at how easily those big orange Rebels got knocked out of the way...

Video by Midabrim Communications

Pro- and semi-pro sports is getting a really bad name. From the fields to the stands, in countries all over the world, sport is getting to be a place NOT to bring your kids. Which is a real shame. We're trying to change that, one player, one team at a time.

So do me a favor. If you like what you've seen here, please help spread the word. Pass on this blog post to your friends who love football, but don't even know Israel has it, or to people who need to hear good things about our little country. Let's help Uriel Wang's moment of glory to go viral. It's good for football. And it will make Uriel and his mother smile. Refua shelaima, little man.

Midot (also midos) - good character traits
Mensch - someone who exhibits good midot
Bracha - blessing
Gematria - a Kabbalistic method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by computing the numerical value of words, based on those of their constituent letters
Bli ayin hara, puh-puh-puh - an expression little old Jewish ladies say to "ward off the evil eye" -- used by this little old Jewish lady to remind readers that I am not trying to incite their jealously when I write about good things in my life, but rather am giving them blessings for every happiness in theirs
Olim - immigrants to Israel
Refua shelaima - traditional Hebrew wish that one who is ill should have a complete recovery