Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Truffula Tree in Poland

It was just a month ago that we went to Poland. I find it interesting that people's reactions to our few days there is so different.

Our rabbi is fairly adamant about not wanting to go there again EVER. In terms of support and philanthropy, he will give money to Israel and Israelis any day of the week, but he's not so sure about support for Poland.

I came away with a deep sadness for what had happened there during the war. I was angry with the Poles who had not fought against the Nazi atrocities. I was uncomprehending of any remaining Polish anti-Semitism.

But I had seen and heard some positive things. I heard the story of the elderly Gentile woman whose family had hidden a Jewish family for two years. I met a young man whose sole purpose in life is supporting dialog between and among Poles, Israelis, and all Jewish people. I saw the above wall-size poster advertising a yearly festival of Jewish music in Krakow, despite the fact there are so few Jews there. Apparently the Poles fill the square for this celebration. I heard about young Poles who upon learning their families were once Jewish are choosing to reclaim their religion.

Although one cannot say that Judaism is alive and well in Poland, there are seeds which have sprouted and are now growing.

I couldn't help but think of Sr. Seuss's book The Lorax, which I recently read to the younger kids at the homeless shelter. It struck me that what is happening in Poland today is much like the resurgence of the beautiful truffula trees, which were completely wiped out until a single seed was found and planted.

Let's hope the seeds of Judaism in Poland will flourish. I would very much like to go back some day to dance and sing during that summer festival. The millions who died are lost forever, but maybe they left a heritage after all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Last Tribute to Passover

One last Passover post before I leave it behind for another year. This one prompted by a very meaningful service I attended at Temple Micah on Monday morning. Our rabbi Esther opened the service with this poem from Marge Piercy’s “The Art of Blessing the Day”:

Zeroah: Lamb shank

It grosses out many of my friends.
They don’t eat meat, let alone
place it on a ritual platter.
I am not so particular, or more so.

Made of flesh and bone, liver
and sinew, salty blood and brain,
I know they weren’t ghosts who trekked
out of baked mud huts into the desert.

Blood was spilled, red and real:
first ours, then theirs. Blood
splashed on the doorposts proclaimed
in danger the rebellion within.

We are pack and herd animals.
One Jew is not a Jew, but we are
a people together, plural, joined.
We were made flesh and we bled.

And we fled, under the sign
of the slaughtered lamb to live
and die for each other. We are
meat that thinks and sings.

The last line in particular painted such an interesting image for me. Isn’t that a great way to describe humankind?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Duct tape, anyone?

Growing up I remember many theater episodes where the movie was interrupted because the film had broken and had to be spliced. Occasionally you could actually see the burned hole in the film projected on the screen. The audience would boo and hiss and eventually the film would start up again.

I just presumed those days were in the long past and today’s movies had progressed from those big reels in cans to a digital format. But apparently not so.

We sat in the Ballston Regal Cinema tonight (all 6 of us) and after the pre-movie program we waited and waited and waited for the feature film to start. Someone left the theater to find a technician. The guy finally showed up and preceded to repair the reel of film so the movie could start.

It’s interesting that there has been so much progress in the world or audio-video, but at least some theaters still seem to be stuck in the 1950’s.

(The above photo was taken with my husband’s iPhone. The technician looked a little surprised as the flash went off!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Home Holiday

Passover is the ultimate in Jewish home holidays. Traditionally we celebrate it with a large Seder on the first night at our house or at someone else's house, as we did this year.

But today we opted for a very small family Seder since our daughter couldn't make it down for the first day. There was no need to decorate a long table or to ponder the logistics of many courses of food. It was just us and we could choose to be totally unconventional as we did.

One thing we did choose to do was to haul out my antique meat grinder and put it to work grinding fish for another round of gefilte fish. This was the way my husband's grandmother did it when she made enough for all the guests at his bar mitzvah long before the advent of food processors.

Since the traditional fish -- whitefish, pike , and carp -- were no longer available, we tried a mixture of halibut, cod, and red snapper. Surprisingly, this might have been the best batch ever.

I made a big pan of roasted vegetables. My husband made charoset (apples, walnuts, honey, sweet wine). My daughter made superb matzo ball soup. Those along with the fish were our dinner.

We spent much of the Seder talking about things like freedom, the plight of the stranger, modern day plagues, and signs of hope. We ended with songs of freedom, like "If I Had a Hammer."

It was a family affair, working to co-create a Seder that my husband's grandmother would probably have enjoyed. I think she would definitely have approved of the fish.

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Location:Dawes Ave,Alexandria,United States

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Quest

Several months ago my husband and I started a book club for older kids at the homeless shelter where I have been reading to little kids for several years.  It seemed so easy in concept:  We would supply the books for the 7 kids (ages 10-14) and then we would meet with them after several weeks with plenty of snacks.  Everyone would have a chance to talk and we would maybe take home some new ideas.
The first book was The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a graphic novel that hooks you from the first page.  It worked exactly as planned.  We elicited their ideas for successive books.
But by the third meeting, it was clear that my husband and I were the only ones who had read the book.  Eating pizza together was no substitute for a good book discussion.  We went around the table reading paragraphs of the book they should have read.  Then it became clear that several of the kids had trouble pronouncing the words and even more had trouble understanding what they meant.  No wonder they had trouble reading a book that was on maybe a 5th grade reading level.
So we backed off to short stories for a couple of sessions.  Some of them were flash fiction, only a page long.  This was a big improvement in terms of getting them to read.
But we are still searching for the perfect book that is easily read and understood without being too juvenile.  It seems difficult to satisfy all these requirements.  I’m heading over to Arlington’s Central Library today to talk to people in Youth Services who probably have dealt with similar kids.  Maybe they will be able to make some good suggestions.
We intended the book club to be purely fun, not another assignment that required too much work.  I’m hoping to get them hooked on reading to the point where they will turn to books instead of electronics at least sometimes for entertainment!
Feel free to offer your suggestions of books that might appeal to our kids.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Passover Food

Passover is fast approaching. This year I get to make the things I most enjoy preparing and leave everything else to my neighbor who is hosting the seder.
The secret to good gefilte fish is using the heads, bones, and skin to make a rich stock that the fish patties cook in. Good fish also means a stinky house, but fortunately the smell quickly fades.
Good gefilte fish must also be accompanied by good horseradish. That starts with a root that looks like it could be a club. Red beets give it the bright color. I always have to remind myself to hold my breath when I open the food processor because the fumes can be overwhelming.
One of the best side-products of fish-making is the rich broth that can be turned into bouillabaisse at a later date.

Chag sameach (happy holiday) to those who celebrate any of the upcoming spring holidays. They offer a good excuse to share food with friends and family with or without a dose of religious ritual!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Day Worth Remembering

Where did it come from? This picture perfect day that replaced the cold and wet with warm and dry. Without knowing what the weather would be like, weeks ago I had scheduled for today my favorite spring outing with one of my best friends. The change in weather was a welcome surprise.

For as long as I can remember I have loved paddling around on the Tidal Basin in those little boats. Especially on a week day when hardly anyone else is around. There were probably half a dozen boats out on the slightly rippled water, but each of us had plenty of room.

After paddling almost all the way across, we rewarded ourselves with a picnic lunch. I traded half a lox and avocado sandwich for half a turkey and Swiss. There were carrots, cookies, a banana, and chocolate. We certainly ate well.

Today was especially nice because the slight breeze kept us cool and gave the water a more interesting surface. Although the cherry trees were slightly past their prime, remnants of pink petals still lingered in the bright green foliage.

As if our boat trip wasn’t enough, we want back to my friend’s house to start on the second movement of a Bach sonata. That was like icing on an already delicious cake!

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Tie That Binds

I am intrigued by the Hebrew language, by the fact that a seemingly dead language is once again the language of a modern people. Hebrew, unlike Latin, had been used continuously for religious purposes, but for centuries the vocabulary was limited to the words in the Hebrew Bible.

Hebrew was the one thing that tied together our recent experience in Israel and Poland with our life back here in the US. The week before we departed we had a Shabbat service, which was filled with Hebrew prayers set to music. The next Friday night in Poland, we heard familiar melodies with those same words. Our last Friday in Israel, yet again the traditional Hebrew prayers. The language was indeed a strong tie binding these three Shabbat experiences.

Interestingly, the early Reform movement of Judaism of which we are a part almost eliminated the use of Hebrew in the prayerbook, choosing instead to use the vernacular languages. But today this pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

The trip caused me to ask lots of questions about Hebrew and its history as a spoken language. I wanted to know how and when it came into common usage. I wanted to know how new words were added. I found this article answering many of those questions.

But most of all, I realized how much I wanted to master this language that is so integrally a part of my religion. I have a very limited Hebrew vocabulary, consisting mainly of words I encounter reading the Torah and the prayerbook.

Israelis are masters of teaching their language to new immigrants since Israel is such a melting pot. They use the Ulpan method, which involves complete immersion with accelerated instruction over a short period of time. I’m giving serious thought to committing to such study.

But for now I will sing the Shabbat prayers with the knowledge that people literally around the globe are singing the same words each week. This knowledge reminds me of a song title from my previous religious life “Blessed be the tie that binds.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Last Day

In the morning we wandered around the little town of Maskeret Batia, drinking coffee and eating a delicious piece of chocolate cheese cake.

Then we were off to the Eretz Israel Museum near Tel Aviv University, where we split out time between an exhibit of amazing contemporary Israeli art and ethnography, which displayed Jewish ritual objects dating back centuries. It was interesting to see things from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where virtually no Jews live today.

The day's real adventure took us north of Tel Aviv to Herzliyya to visit Genieo, a software start-up that at no cost to the user builds a newspaper-style page based on the user's Internet interests. The 12-person company is doing some very impressive work using its $4 million in seed money.

Getting back to Maskeret Batia required 3 cab rides, a train, and a bus. We are getting good at Israeli public transportation.

After a final dinner with our gracious hosts, we are now sitting in Ben Gurion Airport waiting for our 5 am flight. Once again we marveled at just how efficient the Israelis are at security and how easy they make it.

We have tossed around the idea of coming back and spending a month in intensive Hebrew some day. But first there are a few more places we would like to see.

It was a good trip, but it's time to get home!

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Real Life in Israel

We are spending a couple of days in a small town south of Tel Aviv with people we have know for decades. They live quite well by Israeli standards. Their back yard is like a garden of Eden, with every type of fruit tree you can imagine. Our breakfast included fresh oranges and passion fruit just off the tree.

Everyone in this family is quite artistic. They paint, draw, do ceramics, and make jewelry. The house is like an art museum.

We actually met the parents of this family on our first trip in1978. They now live in a home for seniors, where they are still quite active as they approach 90. The woman emigrated from Canada and helped start a kibbutz with her husband, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. We spent the afternoon with them, hearing first-hand stories about what those years were really like. He has written a book, which includes the names of everyone in his small town and those surrounding it in rural Poland. Of 192 people, only 20 survived including the man and his two brothers.

At dusk we walked down the street in Maskeret Batia. Some of the houses are quite old, giving a quaint feeling to the place. Below is a remnant of the British presence here.

And what do you suppose this is? A home for pigeons, but of course. It stands in someone's front yard.

A beautiful synagogue stands at the circle just down the street.

Everywhere there is greenery and flowers. It really is hard to believe just 100 years ago this land was a desert. The Israelis are masters at making the desert bloom.

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Location:Maskeret Batia

Sunday, April 03, 2011

More Tel Aviv

Today we visited Independence Hall, the place where David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel, making the dream of Theodore Herzl a reality long after his death. It sent a chill down my spine to sing Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, at the end of Ben Gurion's speech. This was 1948. Immediately thereafter the 6 neighboring Arab states declared war on Israel, vowing to push the Jews into the sea.

We then visited Ben Gurion's house, containing his library of 20,000 books, all of which he allegedly had read. He was a statesman like no other.

This afternoon we went to a unique mall built around the old Turkish train station in Tel Aviv. My favorite store was Ahava, which sells products from the Dead Sea.

It was nice to have free time to spend in the central courtyard using the free Wi-Fi and drinking coffee. Tonight is our final dinner with the group. We are staying behind for another two days to visit with friends. It will be interesting to see how real Israelis live.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Winding Down

Ten days into any trip, I tend to need a break. This morning we decided to forego the walking tour of the earliest neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and join the group later in the morning for a visit to art galleries guided by a young Israeli artist. The photo above is of a tee shirt I bought at the Gutman Gallery. His work tends to be very optimistic and colorful.

As we walked to our second gallery, I suddenly found myself in the Confederacy. I didn't even want to know why in the world this person was flying such a flag.

We returned to our hotel to find a lively scene on the beach. There was beach volleyball, sailing, and even line-dancing. It was sunny and breezy and an absolutely perfect day to enjoy the beach.

Tonight we took a cab down to Old Jaffa, a city mentioned in the Bible. I had the best grilled fish I had ever eaten -- a Mediterranean fish called Denise. Back on the street for a mango gelato before going home to pack once again.

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Location:Tel Aviv

Friday, April 01, 2011

On to Tel Aviv

Yesterday we arrived in modern Israel -- in Tel Aviv, a city that never sleeps. This is the view of the Mediterranean from our hotel window. We walked a long way down the board walk to have a delicious fish dinner right on the beach.

This morning we learned about efforts to promote Arab-Israeli dialog at all ages. We visited Givat Haviva, a beautiful space dedicated to that purpose. The tree above was an ancient cypress which fell over in a storm. A team of Jewish and Arab teenagers was tasked with designing a memorial to peace from the fallen wood. Here is their plan, which was followed quite well.

We talked a lot about the Green Line and the recently constructed wall, which in some cases deviate, leaving a no-man's land between. One of the most difficult outcomes of these attempts to create new borders is the town of Barta, where East Barta is under the control of the Palestinian Authority and West Barta is part of Israel. Families are split and at this point it is unclear whether the two pieces will ever be reunited. We had to go through this checkpoint to visit West Barta.

The green foliage in the photo below marks the Green Line as it runs through the middle of this small town.

Here are three Arab boys who came to welcome us. It is hard to imagine any of them becoming a suicide bomber. But life for them is terribly difficult and complicated because of the partitioning of their town.

We moved on to Atlit, a spot where thousands of post-war refugees were imprisoned by the British as they sought to enter Palestine, not yet the state of Israel. Can you even imagine the fear of these people, who in many cases had been liberated from the death camps, only to be placed behind barbed wire once again and told they had to take showers to become decontaminated? They came mostly on rickety old ships, like the one in Exodus.

Here is one of the barracks where women and children slept, while they waited to be repatriated. As it turns out, if they were able to make land and not be turned back, they were allowed to stay and were released from their imprisonment usually within 6 months.

We stopped in Zichron Jacob (remembering the father of Baron von Rothschild) for a coffee break. It's a charming little town from which people can easily commute to either Tel Aviv or Haifa.

We are finally on our way back to Tel Aviv after celebrating Shabbat with our sister congregation Or Chadash in Haifa.

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