Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Building-Blocks Made of Kindness

Yom revi'i, 7 Av 5775.

This Tisha b'Av, it will be ten years since Gush Katif. I still remember the spiritual-high hopefulness followed by the excruciating, sucking-chest-wound pain when we heard that the Jewish communities of Gush Katif would not get a stay of execution after all. It took the breath out of us -- and we didn't even live in Israel yet.

One of the many, many reasons I as an Israeli love my former kehilla back in the Old Country is that they, lead by their Rav and Rebbetzin Menachem and Bracha Goldberger, have never given up on Israel, on the dream for as many of us as possible to make aliyah, and on supporting us emotionally and spiritually here at HOME. Now they are doing what they can (as they have many times in the past) to help out financially as well.

Thank you, Holy Kehilla. Thank you, dear Rabbi and Rebbetzin. In the merit of these kindnesses, may this at last be the year of the Geula shelaima.

Dear Kehilla Hakedosha,
This Tisha B’Av marks the 10th anniversary of the expulsion from Gush Katif.   
For years, the residents of Gush Katif were known for their generosity to the poor of Israel and their extraordinary productivity.  A self-contained bloc of settlements, they were responsible for 15% of the entire country’s agricultural exports. Fully 97% were employed.  The day after the expulsion 85% were instantaneously unemployed.
Sadly, while there was a plan for removing them from their homes, there was no plan for the day after. Overnight, these productive individuals had no jobs and no businesses. Depression, trauma and other emotional, psychological and even health issues ensued.
JobKatif was founded by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon to help the evacuees become independent, self-supporting individuals once again. To date, JobKatif has helped 2,650 people re-enter the work force.
A worldwide Achdut campaign is now underway to assist many of the remaining unemployed Gush Katif evacuees re-enter the work force.    
While we cannot solve the injustice that was committed to these people, nor right the wrongs of the past, we can unite together during the Three Weeks.
Our shul, along with many others, is trying to take responsibility for just one Gush Katif evacuee. By doing so we can help repair one of the most the painful chapters in modern Jewish history. 
A total of $2,200 will help ensure that a single Gush Katif evacuee currently unemployed can once again enjoy independence, self-pride and dignity.  There remain 330 who still need our help.
This is an historic moment for Klal Yisrael.  Before Tisha B'Av, when we petition Hashem for rachamim for ourselves in the face of imminent danger to Israel's existence, it is imperative that we demonstrate our care and concern for each person from Gush Katif.  We cannot be callous to their pain any longer.  Let us pray that the dignity we pledge to accord them will be a zechut for us all in these perilous times.  
Please take a few moments to listen to Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon.
We would appreciate whatever you can to do help.  You can send your donation with "Job Katif" in the memo line to Shomrei Emunah Israel Fund, 6221 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209. Mention that the donation came from Congregation Tiferes Yisroel.

If you will be traveling in America for some reason and need a warm and welcoming kehilla in Baltimore, may I recommend Congregation Tiferes Yisroel? The Rabbi and Rebbetzin and the entire kehilla never heard of judging a Jew by his or her head covering, or lack thereof. They understand better than any people I know the sentiments expressed by Rabbi Refael Rubin of Netanya. (This brief video is well worth the less than five minutes of your time. Let me know what you think -- and feel free to share!)

And what are we capable of building with our building-blocks of kindness? May we finally get our act together so that we can share joyful news of the Complete and Total Redemption, speedily and in our days!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Where everybody knows your name" #5: La Boca!

Yom shlishi, 15 Sivan 5775, 30th wedding anniversary to the Dearly Beloved!

8 Shlomzion Hamalka 02-5635577
Regular readers of this blog know that it's not enough for the food to be good -- though that is certainly a factor in making the WEKYN column. At least as important as good food and decent prices is amazing service. All of the above are available at this wonderful restaurant in the South American style.

After he got out of the army, Guy Kimhi did what most Israeli youth do: he traveled to another country before planning to settle down. Guy's choice was to follow family roots going back generations, and explore South America. He was fascinated with the food; and to make a long story short, he brought back recipes and skills, and opened his own restaurant. When Guy begins to speak about the subject, it is clear that he is still in love with South American food and culture, and strives to present both as beautifully as possible.

The Dearly Beloved and I have been frequenting La Boca for some time, always happy with the delicious and subtle dance of flavors, the generous portions, and the over-the-top excellent service. Indeed, even though we are not big spenders, Guy treats us as if we are. I am certain that our first meeting with a pair of our mechutanim was successful in large part due to Guy's and his wait staff's courteous treatment of us and our guests.

La Boca recently moved from its old home on Emek Refaim to a new location on Shlomzion Hamalka in downtown Jerusalem. It is an easy walk from the light rail, in an increasingly interesting neighborhood (as more and more fine dining establishments make it their home).

We always enjoy the business lunch, which includes tapas (small and very tasty salads) and bread, an appetizer and a main dish. The delicious food is always beautifully plated, truly works of art as well as a symphony for the tastebuds!

I tend toward the spicy and pickled flavors, and the Dearly Beloved enjoys interesting mixtures of milder flavors. There is always something for both of us in the choice of tapas salads, meant for dipping, but quite tasty even if you're avoiding bread.

I tried something different recently, the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. It was delicate and interesting, really delicious.

The Dearly Beloved preferred to stick with our favorite, the Chicken Enchilada, stuffed with chicken and vegetables, and served in an elegant deep-fried wrap. The peanut topping and salad of market-fresh lettuces and sprouts make this a meal by itself -- and this is only an appetizer!

Our main-dish choices were also very satisfying and beautiful. The Dearly Beloved, again sticking to our usual tradition, chose the Spring Chicken prepared with coconut milk and Brazilian salsa. He often substitutes the mashed potatoes with his favorite roasted potatoes, but found that he also enjoyed the mashed potatoes, as they were clearly fresh and full-flavored, with a lovely texture. Always eager to make his guests comfortable, Guy never seems troubled by such substitutions. The accompanying roasted vegetables are always different, interesting and delicious.

I decided to try the Fajita La Boca. I usually avoid bread; but this time I enjoyed the wraps. (You have to splurge once in a while!) They were delicate and soft, yet strong enough to hold the tasty and sophisticated filling of tender chicken and sauteed vegetables seasoned with coriander. The pesto and chunky tehina were perfect accompaniments.

There are so many choices at La Boca to satisfy every palate! From steak to at least a couple of choices for vegetarians, it is possible to satisfy a variety of preferences. There is also a well-stocked bar and wine list -- and while we almost never have room for dessert, there are a number of varied choices to satisfy the sweet-tooth as well.

The new location at Shlomzion Hamalka 8 is on the ground floor (as opposed to the former location, up a long flight of stairs), so is wheelchair-accessible. The kashrut is Rabbanut Yerushalayim.

There is a room upstairs for parties of up to 120 guests.

La Boca is the place, in our opinion, to celebrate a joyful occasion, whether your celebrants include a large party or only a couple.

In fact, we'll be going later today to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary -- and we can't imagine a better place to spend such an important event!

"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 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miracles that Follow from Making Nice

Yom sheni, 8 Iyar 5775.
[Originally written in August 2014.]

An ID card that actually fits in the wallet
I wrote long ago about our first appointment at Misrad HaPnim (the Ministry of the Interior) to get our very first teudat zehut (ID card). Details: Anat, our Israeli p'kida (clerk) was not going to let us become citizens, because after the grueling question and answer session she put us through, she couldn't find the raised stamp on the Dearly Beloved's birth certificate. Finally, miraculously, she was able to feel it. (Okay, we're also old and faded...) Too much suspense. But at last, we became citizens.

While my son Soldier Boy was here for his brother's wedding, we returned to Misrad HaPnim to replace his expired teudat ma'avar (temporary travel document), and to get my very first darkon (passport). (The teudat ma'avar works just fine for the first several years; and one is permitted to renew it three times.)

First we stood for a very long time in the sun, waiting for the misrad to open, in a long line of other hopefuls. To his eternal credit, Soldier Boy did not complain, even finding ways to look at the situation in the most positive light. (I love getting to know my children as adults!) Finally, finally we went inside. I typically carry a small Swiss Army knife with me. After years of experience, I now carry the smallest, least-scary knife possible, assuming that no security guard in his right mind could possibly see this as a weapon. Today, however -- perhaps due to heightened tensions? -- the security guard removed my immature little knife from my possession, had me fill out a form to reclaim it later, wrapped it in his copy of said form, securely taped it, and locked it into a safe. Shaking my head and chuckling, I followed the ever circumspect Soldier Boy to the next line, where we were told that his document would cost 560 shekels (nearly $160 at today's rate, and more than I had on me) to replace, due to loss. That pretty well nixed the idea of both of us walking out with documents. But his was critical. I would pay for part of it, and charge the rest, if they would let me. We took our number and sat down.

I fretted for a while, and he reassured me. "What's the worst? They'll tell us we have to come back tomorrow." Okay. He was right...

After a not-too-long wait, our number appeared on the LCD display with instructions to go to Window Number 7. Having the superstitious instincts of any sports fan (or gematria maven, for that matter), we were heartened by the fact that this is the Dearly Beloved's favorite number. Who should be our p'kida? The lovely Anat! Nearly seven years later, and we got the same clerk! And I remembered her, and her name, which almost never happens for me. "Ha-shem shelach 'Anat'?" I asked, a little warily (due to my usually terrible memory). She was awed that I remembered her after all these years. I told her that we had been very grateful that she was the person who approved our citizenship, and that we had had a nice conversation about her children's artwork (no longer posted). I didn't see any need to remind her of the less-positive aspects of our first meeting.

To cut the long story short -- Anat smiled through giving Soldier Boy a lecture (or six) about no longer living in Israel, and telling us that his teudat ma'avar would cost us only 140 shekels!!! We both gratefully signed papers for his documents and mine -- all of which cost less than the original quote for his single document.

My first Israeli passport, making me 37% more Israeli
No one loves bureaucracy or bureaucrats. But sometimes if you treat them like people with lives and children and stories outside their little cubicles and annoying rules, they can surprise you by returning the favor.

My embarrassingly tiny Swiss Army knife
Post script: As we were leaving (jubilant, because it had ended very well), we stopped at the security desk to retrieve my pocket knife. The guard finally located the very tiny package, but insisted on checking the signature on the paper wrapped around it. The knife fell out of it's paper cocoon as the guard struggled to remove the tape.

"You can use the knife to cut the tape if you want to," said Soldier Boy. The guard was offended at the suggestion. Soldier Boy -- every helpful -- opened the tiny knife and offered it to the guard. "Really. It will make it easier." The guard (rather than arresting Soldier Boy for pulling a tiny knife on him, which is what I was anticipating) made some Israeli noises that equated to "Back off, buddy. I'm in charge here," and went back to tape wrestling.

He was finally successful. But I couldn't help but think that my son needs to return very soon to Israel. We need a little good old-fashioned American ingenuity to get us through the coming years in the Middle East.

"Hey, Shai! Use the tiny knife to cut the tape!" "Ah, chabibi! What a concept!"

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Special Birthday Party

Yom shishi, 5 Iyar 5775.

I just don't remember this kind of enthusiasm for the significance of the Fourth of July! Perhaps that is because we Americans are generations-removed from gaining our freedom as a nation. Perhaps it is because Memorial Day is a couple of months before Independence Day, so the meaning of the one is not tied so intimately to the meaning of the other.

It cannot be denied that having Yom HaZikaron blending into Yom HaAtzma'ut has a special power: these sacrificed their lives, these precious lives were stolen too young... and we have this country, fought for and fiercely defended, on the soil given to our people thousands of years ago by God. We feel the anguish of the loss of 23,320 members of our family. And immediately after that, we feel the fierce triumph and joy in holding and building this Jewish country.

What I love here in Israel in general, and in Neve Daniel in particular, is that adults and children, Bnei Akiva students and little kids, soldiers and civilians -- whether native-born or immigrant -- seem to be caught up in the drama and joy of the day. Yes, there will be barbecues and other celebratory gestures. But there is also a lot of work that goes into the patriotic ceremonies that cannot help but bring tears of pride.

Little stars, performing for their loved ones.

Every parental heart danced right along with the little ones.

I can imagine how beautiful this was supposed to be: Adam singing a lovely song with his strong voice, doves released to fly free overhead... Unfortunately, in the unseasonable cold, the poor birds really wanted to stay in their warm huddle in their crates. Ah, well. Man plans, and God laughs.

The Bnei Akiva "daglanut." For more information about this beautiful tradition, see my friend Romi's post here: In addition to the well-choreographed moves, let's not overlook that these tough (and slightly crazy) kids were in tee shirts, while many of the rest of us were in winter coats!
The Dearly Beloved awaiting the start of the ceremony. As usual, he is trying to disappear discreetly into the crowd. But it's very, very cold -- so he had to wear a hoodie under his usual holiday attire.

May she long wave free and proud.

Even in the cold, fireworks warm the soul!

"You're grown, but still a little kid inside, right?" My Hebrew must have been "good enough," because I got a very sweet smile from this soldier, followed by "B'vadai!" -- "Of course!" Only in Neve Daniel, with strong "winter" winds blowing, would the young people still make cotton candy and popcorn.

Thank you to Amit and Tamar and Hadas and all of the other people who worked so hard to make this ceremony such a beautiful event!

Happy 67th birthday, Israel! L'tiferet Medinat Yisrael!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bless the Trees!

Yom sheni, 17 Nisan 5775, Chol HaMoed Pesach.

Every year, I think I'm going to fulfill the very simple mitzvah of saying the "Birkat HaIlanot," the blessing said on flowering trees that do not yet bear fruit. It's just a simple matter of walking to one of the houses in the community that has identified its trees correctly and has posted instructions and the blessing for the ease of passersby. Not a big deal, right?

But this mitzvah is done only in Nissan... and three guesses what I and all of my fellow Jewish homemakers are up to our eyeballs doing. Invariably, the month passes, and I simply didn't get around to it.

This year, as I was doing some errands in the Ben Yehuda area of Jerusalem -- yes, I do my banking in the holiest city on the planet! -- I happened to walk a slightly different route, and discovered something very precious. Just off of Rav Kook street is a pleasant little alley where the blessing was posted near a couple of flowering trees!

After I got home, feeling very self-satisfied indeed, I discovered that our landlord had also posted the blessing near the flowering trees in our very own yard.

When it rains mitzvah opportunities, it pours.

If you're dropping by to visit for any reason and have not yet said the bracha, it's right outside! Couldn't be easier.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Yet Another "Only In Israel" Moment

Yom shishi, 24 Shevat 5775.

Several books have been written of "Only In Israel" moments... and yet we never run out of examples of the wonder of living here.

Today, a delivery man called to say that he was coming with our replacement computer. (I highly recommend Lenovo. The broken computer was picked up, weeks before the warranty expired. Apparently, it could not be repaired; so the company replaced it with a newer model. They stayed in touch with us via email and phone and SMS. And the computer was delivered a week before it was promised.)

I attempted my questionable Hebrew. In short order, the delivery man said, "Don't worry. I speak good English. I'll be there in half an hour -- but only if you tell me you're a Republican and not a Democrat." Though unsure how he would have glibly gotten himself out of it had I been a liberal, I assured him that Republicans wish they could be as Republican as I am. (Disclaimer: I'm sure that Lenovo has no partisan affiliation whatsoever, if you are worried about such things. This was a case of an Israeli who was paying attention to recent Congressional votes regarding Israel in the news. In Israel, delivery men feel perfectly comfortable sharing their politics with their customers' clients.)

So besides being a funny and friendly delivery guy who showed up a week earlier than he was scheduled, he also had a neighbor's computer with him. "Do you know the Ploni family?" he asked me. "Sure, of course I do." Well, we're a pretty small town; so even if I don't hang out with them, I can find them. "Will you give them this computer? They'll be calling you." He handed me a repaired laptop.

A few hours later, I handed the computer to its rightful owner. We both agreed that this would only happen in Israel. But then again, why not leave things with family, where you know they'll be safe?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Potatoes in bread is as funny as it sounds.

Yom rishon, 5 Shevat 5775.

A pleasant and informed voice from the West breezed through Neve Daniel last night.

Herb Keinon hasn't lived in Denver for at least 30 years, and has made Maale Adummim in Israel his home. But when someone interjects certain kinds of expressions into his talk, I feel very nostalgic for my upbringing in the western United States.

"When someone comes up to me and says 'Can I ask you a question?', I know I'm in for a shellacking." He says it with that slightly sheepish behind-the-woodshed look that suggests he came from a time and part of the US where such an expression was common. Made me feel right at home, as did his total approach of easy-going, self-effacing humor, surrounding confidence in his knowledge of his subjects.

I've been reading Herb Keinon's political posts and life commentaries in the Jerusalem Post since our Baltimore rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, first told us about him. Apparently, the two go back to childhood. In fact, It was Rabbi Goldberger the elder, zt"l, who gave Herb his Hebrew name of Chizkiyahu, which he never got used to using, even in Israel. "I tried going by 'Chezky' for a while, but the Israelis thought that meant my name was 'Yechezkiel.' I should have just gone by 'Yahoo.' That was back in the days before Google..." His voice trails off in our laughter.

Keinon's stories are a pleasure to read. With the style and skill he has honed after years of writing professionally, he writes about his family with humor and tenderness, but never with meanness. He spoke about why he calls his wife "The Wife" unashamedly, despite frequent shellackings from well-meaning street corner critics who assume he hasn't checked with The Wife to see if it would bother her. (This resonated with me, as I am often asked if my sons and daughters-in-law are bothered by their nicknames in my blog, and about what I write about them. It's hard not to respond with a little gentle sarcasm. "Oh, wow! Maybe I should ask them! Thank you for the tip!")

Another favorite topic in Keinon's writing is the evolution of the oleh (new immigrant) in Israel. Many of us were nodding our heads in recognition as he spoke about the attitudes with which we arrive in Israel -- our impressions of the Israelis as loud and rude and a little stupid ("Why do they leave the windows open in the winter???") -- and how we "grow up" and realize that these Israelis are the way they are for a reason, and they really aren't that dumb. ("Ohhhhhh! If you leave the windows open a little each day in the winter, you reduce the retivut, the mold, on the walls!")

Keinon spoke at some length about what a fretful people we Jews are, especially here in Israel. If there is something going on at a border, we're sure it's war. We're constantly fearing earthquakes, disease, price explosions or catastrophic drops... "If there's a silver lining, we'll look for the cloud." It was easy to laugh with him at ourselves.

After speaking a little about politics and a lot about the aliyah experience -- the main subject of his delightful new book French Fries in Pita -- Keinon shared a few impressions of some of the leaders he covered over his fifteen years on the diplomacy beat. He was surprised that the most generous interviewee was Ariel Sharon, a"h, who gave him a very long interview just after the death of Sharon's wife Lily, a"h. Sharon surprised Keinon by asking about his life. But Binyamin Netanyahu is "all business," apart from one joke about his name. When Keinon arrived for the interview, Netanyahu said, "Come in, Herbal Tea." Keinon thought for a moment, and returned, "With all due respect, Mr. Prime Minister, they call you 'Bibi,' and you're making fun of my name?" I can't remember if he said that he actually said those words, or only thought them. It would have been a great response.

During the Q & A, participants had lots of ideas about how to improve the government. In his answers, Keinon proved his point about the need to be in Israel long enough to understand the subtleties of how the political system works, even when it doesn't, and why overlays from other countries' systems simply cannot work in this very odd little country. I'm not sure all of the participants were convinced -- well, that wouldn't be Jewish, would it? -- but my sense was that his main point is very well taken. Israel is not like any other country in the world; and no other political system would be able to take all of the citizens and ideologies into account. But I suspect we'll be debating this for a long time -- at least as long as Israel keeps going to elections every two years, and as long as there are olim with opinions.

Another point brought up by a member of the audience was that hasbara -- the Israeli word for PR -- doesn't seem to be working out there in the larger world. Keinon pointed out that we are getting the message across to the United States and Canada because the people there whose support we need are more receptive than they are in other countries. Europe simply isn't interested in hearing what we have to say, at this point. While there are individuals in Europe who are very pro-Israel, the majority of the continent is currently only interested in accepting the Palestinian narrative. Dabbling in the field of hasbara myself, I am in total agreement with this point.

If you haven't been reading Herb Keinon's posts in the Jerusalem Post, give yourself a treat and start reading them. "There is no such thing as objectivity in journalism; but I try to be fair." Indeed. He is as fair as one can be (in my opinion). And entertaining, concise, and very readable.

French Fries in Pita is available at Amazon (in a Kindle edition), and at Book Depository (which delivers free to Israel) and in M. Pomeranz Bookseller, my personal favorite, because it's in Jerusalem and is my favorite book store on the planet.

Thank you to Chaim and Ruth Sherman for hosting this enjoyable talk! "What's said in Neve Daniel stays in Neve Daniel." Okay... maybe not so much. We are Har HaBloggerim, after all!