wrinkled

One of the things that I love about living in Tzfat is the clean air. That means we (and by we, of course, I actually mean me) can hang our laundry outside to dry. The only thing that stands in our my way is that the winds are sometimes so strong that our hanging rack falls down.

Yes, that’s one of the things remaining on my original to-do list from when we were moving into the house is to put up a fixed clothesline.

Moving on…

But one of the results of this wonderfully eco-conscious financially-savvy way of drying clothes is that they get quite wrinkled. I don’t have enough Martha Stewart in me to figure out a way to hang them so they don’t. But mostly because another thing I love living in Tzfat is that it doesn’t matter. I can be wrinkled and no one would say a thing.

Oh, you thought perhaps I meant something else?

Now that you mention it, it did cross my mind, or in fact, my mirror. I had looked at myself this morning after putting on a particularly wrinkled shirt, adding a particularly not-flattering headscarf that matches the shirt’s color and was good enough for a day at home, and I did notice that my face matched the shirt (but not the scarf) pretty well.

And I thought to myself that yes, here in Tzfat, I can be wrinkled and no one would say a thing.

I do notice, though. I pay attention, sometimes in the back of my head, and sometimes more in the foreground, of the others around me. I am cognizant of how old everyone is or how old they act. But not how wrinkled their clothing is! I wonder often if I’m the oldest in the room, which happens often these days, or I wonder how old that old person next to me in yoga is older than me, even as she moves better than I do.

Yes, I am still touching my toes. But I’m trying harder to do more.

We tried out a class in watercolors at the senior center. There is one mother and daughter team, along with some verified seniors who are very talented. We are novices, although we have played at it some along the years. I appreciate how much work it takes to do it well, and how much there is to learn. We went yesterday to a shop in a nearby town that sells art supplies at a good price (for Israel). The store was recommended by one of the participants in the class, with the added suggestion that we ask the shop owner for advice. And so we did. He spent a long time with us, suggesting which paints to get, what brushes, paper, etc. He looked to save us money, which we certainly appreciated. When we were finally ready to pay for our multiple purchases, ISHI asked him if he works in watercolors. No, he answered. He used to be a photographer, but not anymore.

Now he helps people like us become better, stretching out our wrinkles.

And I will work on using my mirror to see farther.

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the last of the books

Well, hardly. We are down to one last box of books, but I was giving homage to a great book, The Last of the Just. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with my situation, although I am sure that a case could be made (badly) that living in Israel is an existential nod to the greater fragility of all mankind.

So let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s talk about books as a value. As something we should have; display; but most of all, use. The enjoyment of books is what is inside and then what can be brought out.

It is most ironic to me that there is a word in Japanese for having too many books. Tsundoku.  積ん読. A little of the history:

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

Ironic, of course, because of the whole Konmari movement stemming from Japanese minimalism.

I am not proposing that you should only have your books as a wish list. I am saying you should enjoy them in all ways possible. It has to be more than the thrill of the unknown, or the pursuit of happiness…

This is by no means a new insight for me (I wrote about it here); (oh and in March ’12! here); it’s just an essential one. The importance of books/anything should be for intrinsic and extrinsic value. I do get a good feeling seeing our books laid out properly, where they can be located easily, subjects somewhat related. And when need be, and that be a lot, shelved according to size. Large art books sit together sideways.

Here’s a fellow who takes his books to a new art form:

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How did you and your best friend meet? 📚 Liz (@elizabeth_sagan ) is back in one of my pics. Yeeey (actually, she made write that😂)! Seriously now though, for those of you who don't know, Liz is my official photographer (and I am her photographer) and, also, my best friend. We've been knowing each other for 11 years now (I think?) and oh boy, we've been through a lot. Answering what is still one of the most popular DMs I get – NO, we are not in a relationship. We have been sharing everything else though. Our love of reading (which is actually how we met – on a site that dealt with book reviews), of writing, of trekking and sport in general, of music, of drawing and photography. It is kinda like we are soul mates without the relationship part haha (like seriously, we even think of things at the same time and complete each others sentences😂; freaky really). #WHPbestfriends 📚 Anyway, how would you rate your week, guys? Mine was a 7-8. Not bad. 📑 📑 📑 #bookstagram #book #reader #sundayfunday #shelfiesunday #shelfie #bookshelf #bookshelves #art #bookish #readersofinstagram #poetrycommunity #wordporn #myartwork #artoninstagram #lifestyleblogger #czytamy #bedtimestories #friendshipgoals #euamolerh #theweekoninstagram #postitforaesthetic #norsemythology #aesthetic

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So, is it true with books as with clothes, that if you haven’t worn them in a year, just let them go?

No.

And yes. Some books you should grow out of. Some just aren’t worth a second or third look.

And oh yes, there are some found treasures in those last boxes. I am happy that we have the room to store them and hopefully the days to sit down and rediscover them.

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Our guests now have a little something to read

And yes, kudos to ISHI for finally putting up the shelves!! But yes, we still need one more bookcase for the last of the boxes.

Tsundoku of our Tzfat house.

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Yes, dusting is required. The plastic bit is from the plastic shelf that the other books were sitting on. That has been disassembled and taken to the yard where it belongs. Yay!

 

 

expanding normal

Here we are, back to normal. Laundry needs to get done, the neighbors are still arguing, the smells of the fields in the daytime are blocking out the nighttime jasmine fragrance. It’s the day after all the holidays, and really, this becomes what matters most. What do you do when it is not subscribed how exactly to act?

It is known as שגרה here, routine. But the word שגרה reminds me of שגור בפיו, fixed in one’s mouth, often used to refer to someone careful about praying consistently so that the words of the prayers are always fixed in one’s mouth. In a way, being so in tune with the words that you don’t require any metacognition to pray, but just in flow. So this is the possibility of moving this time into fulfilling all the promises we made to ourselves since Rosh Hashanah and before (and always) to change. Make the words flow fixed in our mouths. But so yes, we need a lot of help. How to actually make the change? How not to fall back into the old routine? Do you plan?

I have a list of new to-do’s.

Here are the items on my new list:

buy new indoor plants for bathroom
put up bookshelves
buy bookcases
buy some kind of machsan for outside chairs/cushions
display family pictures–install glass small shelves in living room

Yes. For sure, these will make all the difference.

These aren’t necessarily new things, either; just a new list. Many of them are on multiple lists. You might note, for example, that bookcases/shelves have been on to-do lists for a year now while I’ve been not writing. Most of the books have found homes, but there are still too many sitting in the upstairs storage on plastic shelves that should be holding plastic bins, which in turn are sitting on the basement floor…

Which makes me think I do need to restart the book about how we place importance on things that I had been thinking about for the past 5 years…

Which is how perhaps I can re-find my voice, which has been quiet for at least a year…

I had injured my hand last year in a stupid stupid self-inflicted accident. It took a lot out of me emotionally; cutting me down, so-to-speak. I tried to slough it off, but it didn’t work as well as perhaps I thought I could. One of the results was my shutting up. I didn’t feel I had anything to say that was worthwhile. Nothing was fixed in my mouth, in other words.

I continued to observe; I took a lot of photos. It’s not a bad thing to observe. I have been watching how to frame things; in photos, in life. How we see things is often a matter of setting the boundaries.

Thinking in the box, as it were. (so-to-speak)

Such as buying plants for our bathrooms. We have a moisture problem, but lots of light, so embrace the possibility! Wabi-sabi and embrace the brokenness.

This past year I spent a lot of time out of the country. Out of my box. It was good visiting people and places, but it gets hard to be away.

I prefer to be in my own space. I love people coming to visit me. We had some visitors, but I hope to have more. That is why we wanted to have a big space, or big enough for guests. I hope I can make people feel comfortable while they are here. I know how much it makes a difference for me.

I see that thinking out of the box is how Donna Strickland, one of today’s recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics, describes her success:

When asked this morning about the groundbreaking discovery, Strickland said, “It’s thinking outside the box to stretch first and then amplify. Most people were amplifying and trying just to compress whatever they had amplified.”

What else is different? I know more deeply how fragile we are. The veggies we put in for the summer got attacked by nematodes, a worm I knew existed but never realized how much damage they can do. Best laid plants…

I have so much sympathy for Yonah and his gourd; I watched my gourds dry up and there wasn’t anything I could do after the fact. I sat behind Ari Fuld’s zk”l wife in synagogue last Shabbat in Efrat when we had come back from Australia. She was in her box and that I imagine brought comfort.

How do we stretch first and then amplify?

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The charity box in the Abuhav Synagogue in Tzfat. Yes, that’s supposed to be a unicorn, which is the artist’s conception of the Tachash animal used in the Tabernacle, according to the Ari z”l, which represents the public’s need to donate in order to support the holy structures.

looking inwards

We’re here. It’s already been four weeks; that is, we have spent four Shabbatot here in our new home. It’s certainly feeling homey now. The boxes are banned to outer corners so we don’t have to bump into them all the time, nor even deal with them. I am not in a hurry to get to those boxes,  since they are basically ISHI’s books.

35 boxes of books.

I counted them in order to estimate how many bookshelves we need. You know you can Google that–how many books fit on a shelf. We need approximately 24 shelves. So now come the requests for handymen who can build us these shelves, and then comes the wait for the estimates.

Yes, we knew we would need to spend money on this side of the mountain. And realistically, there are always things that pop up that you would never have expected. Replacing our shower doors turned out to be much simpler (and less expensive) than we thought. Putting up fixtures is more complicated…wires that should be working are not; some are in the oddest places and makes access quite ridiculous. But the primary lists are getting whittled down, and other secondary things are taking their place.

And with all of this home improvement, we find ourselves also in the month of Ellul, when we are supposed to be getting ready for the New Year. Thus the title of this post; the need for some introspection. I can easily find many faults that I have to work on, really, much too easily. And there is a lot of negative in the world, as if I had to remind anyone…We have heard recently of too many people who are battling diseases of too many kinds, and the heart aches for each one.

With my tendency to go negative, though, I am working on looking at the positive. And I’m grateful that I’ve had a little nodding in this direction today from social media, no less.

The words “soul searching” or “confession” can be menacing. They usually remind us of that which is not OK, of that which we have to fix. But this week’s Portion, Ki Tavo, presents a different kind of confession: Vidui Ma’aser (confession upon tithing). After performing the instructions related to Ma’aser (tithing), one says a series of moving verses. Here is just part of this confession: “I have not turned aside from Your commandments nor have I forgotten any of them… I have obeyed the LORD my G-d; I have done everything You commanded me.” This is a positive kind of confession, in which one looks back on all the good things one did, and also talks about it.
Rabbi Kook writes about it wonderfully: “A person needs to sometimes rejoice by expressing with his lips the good things that he did… Therefore we need the confession over the Mitzvot from time to time, in order to strengthen our heart in the path of G-d, just as we need the confession over transgressions”.
Meaning, along with the confession over transgressions (“Ashamnu, Bagadnu… We have been guilty, we have dealt others treacherously…” and the entire confession of the Ten Days of Repentance) Rabbi Kook also talks about “confessing our Mitzvot”. One should sometimes confess one’s good deeds, because soul searching is not only about that which we need to fix. It is also a call to pay attention to everything that is good and beautiful, fixed and excellent – with us and with all those who surround us.

And then on Brainpickings, Maria Popova quotes Martin Seligman’s

“What-Went-Well Exercise,” also known as “Three Blessings” — based on the interventions he and his team at the Positive Psychology Center and the University of Pennsylvania have validated in the random-assignment, placebo-controlled experiments they have been conducting since 2001 to study changes in life-satisfaction and depression levels.

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well.”

So I will set down now to get into the habit, three blessings.

  1. Cats that can wander into our storage area because the door doesn’t close is a good thing, because they will take care of the mice. And the scorpions. And also the snakes. The guys who are fixing our doors let us know. And so did our gardener.
  2. Hiring one of our handymen, even though he is slower than others, is a good thing because we are helping pay for his wife’s acupuncture and alternative medicine for her cancer treatment. So I’m not looking at how he is putting in some of the things we asked.
  3. Our gardener is coming to lay down irrigation piping so we can plant things. Things will grow here. That is a blessing that is promising, but itself is enough.

And then reading about the importance of accepting negative thoughts? Icing on the Ellul cake.

looking forward!

I had started composing* a post last week that was all about what I won’t miss from the old neighborhood. I got to the end and realized I had to put in what I would miss. That made me realize I shouldn’t be focussed on the negative at all, and that wasn’t a good way to leave.

The best way to leave is to focus on the good. There were many good points about being here in the city for this past year, and I had to reframe my thinking. It should be all about gratitude for the past, and hope for the future. I then was able to see this year as an airlock between the states and our own home. So the airlock is not always the most comfortable, but it’s a process, and that’s what we are in, thank G-d.

And then I read an article I had been saving, How to Get Past Negativity Bias in Order to Hardwire Positive Experiences, so I had no excuses extra motivation!

I can truly pose all the negatives into positives, anyway…

Most of the complaints centered around the issue of privacy, so that is the top of the list right now. I am looking forward to our

own

space.

Privacy.

Country. I am simply a country mouse, and I accept that willingly.

Our own yard. I already bought a hose for watering what may come. And for our car.

Cleanliness. Of the air and the streets.

Quiet. Dogs run around, but don’t have the need to profess territoriality, so are happier, I presume.

Music of my choice, played quietly.

People who might be walking by and talking on their phones and walking by. Moving on.

Space, to put things, to have guests, to have space to do projects, to be creative in new ways. To expand and feel at home.

The stairs. Wide. Steady. Safe.

The views! The new views of the north and east. Our views from our porch were often wonderful, and that I admit that I will miss, but I can do that honestly and still look forward to the new views.

And since we’re not leaving Tzfat really, but moving to a different neighborhood, we will go back and visit the sunsets often enough. I can recognize what I want to see more of, and what is good to leave behind.

To smell the roses.

Yes, very much looking forward!

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*I chose that word carefully, having composed a song about our travails! I was inspired by our 4 year-old grandson, who wrote a letter I read as a song because why not?

gravity and revelation

Gravity means a few things. It can refer to importance; it also can refer to the physical property. Let’s use both, but start with the physical.

Last Shabbat, we had guests here, an old study partner of ISHI, from their days at YU, so that makes it 37 years ago. We had lost touch over the years, as this was before Facebook and even email. But with the help of a Google search, he did locate us and let us know he’d be here in Tzfat at this time with his recently-wed wife and his sister. We are in the middle of boxes, so we wouldn’t be able to house them, but they came for all the meals.

At some point at lunch, probably when I was pulling out serving trays, I dropped one of my favorite glass trays from Israel, and the decorative edge came off one side. It didn’t break, and we also realized it wasn’t fastened that well to begin with. And I sighed a large sigh of relief.

Later on that day, towards night, ISHI went to close the dining room window and hit a vase on the window sill. This time, we weren’t so lucky, and the shards took a while to clean up. Worse, of course, is that it wasn’t ours, but belonged to our landlords. The only good part of that was it was made in China, so not that expensive a piece. I had looked at that earlier this year.

After nightfall, when ISHI went into the living room to pray, he quickly came back into the kitchen to say something wasn’t right next door. He had heard some screams, and we should go quickly.

Earlier that day, I had seen our neighbors up on the porch of the other neighbor, working hard as the neighborhood watch. I had wanted to introduce our guests to them, because they all had a number of matching points of interest. And the sister and our neighbor were indeed happy to speak for a long time, in French, a little Moroccan Arabic with the other neighbor, too.

So I went with the sister, both of us quite concerned about what we might find. Our neighbor opened the door for us, and we saw his wife on the ground, having fallen. Had she fallen down the stairs? No, she just tripped and fell there, but she’s of a certain age where falls are not simple. The sister, who just happens to be a physician’s assistant, was able to speak with her in French in the most gentle way, softly diagnosing her vitals and the situation. Once our neighbors could remember the phone number, I was able to call Hatzalah, an  emergency company that arrives by motorcycle, or even this time, on bike, which is enormously helpful in old cities without easy car access. They came with crowds of helpers. I was quite impressed.

She was fine; she was able to wait to go the next day to get x-rays, which were fine. Bruised, embarrassed, but dignity basically intact.

Thanks to our old friend and his sister. And Google. And fate.

But it left me thinking about gravity, near misses and full encounters. And Gravity of gravitas, importance. Tisha B’Av, the fast day recalling the destruction of the Holy Temple over 2000 years ago. We are living in such grave times, with people not making personal connections, but allowing themselves to be used to further someone else’s objectives. We are taught that the Temple was destroyed due to Baseless Hatred שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, and the most direct remedy for that is the opposite,

observing the corresponding precept is the antidote that will lead to the restoration of the Temple. Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:17) expresses this concept when he states that by observing the commandment to “Love one’s neighbor,” we will return to our Land, because this mitzvah is the opposite of sinat chinam, which is what destroyed the Second Temple.

But what came to me today, in mourning the loss of the Holy Temple, was that we need to make the personal connections work because that’s what we are truly missing. The Temple was a place of connection, of continued revelation of G-d to us, but it got lost even before the actual building was destroyed. We turned things into the essence, rather than the connections with G-d, and with people. So our redemption will come when we reconnect, first with people, and then with G-d. That our revelation will flow from us back to our Source.

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Do you see how much we all want to connect?

 

 

the bars of thy gates

This is not new.

יב  שַׁבְּחִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, אֶת-ה;    הַלְלִי אֱ-לֹקיִךְ צִיּוֹן. 12 Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
יג  כִּי-חִזַּק, בְּרִיחֵי שְׁעָרָיִךְ;    בֵּרַךְ בָּנַיִךְ בְּקִרְבֵּךְ. 13 For He hath made strong the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee.

We are entering a period of mourning today, those of us from Ashkenazi backgrounds. The Nine Days preceding the Fast of Tisha B’Av are held to be the saddest days in the Jewish year.  We recall the destruction of the Holy Temple over 2000 years ago. There are those who say that we could dial back our mourning, since, after all, we are back in our city. We won, they say.

So what’s the problem, as our 9 year-old grandson would say.

Jerusalem is embattled. The Muslim world keeps upping the score. Those monsters thought they would bring guns, not “just” knives, into the holiest place in Jerusalem, which we Jews are not allowed to enter, protected by our people, keeping the agreement made uncaringly by Moshe Dayan in ’68, that we would let the Wakf take care of the Temple Mount, keeping the status quo, complicating things forever…but then they killed their people instead, or at least not Jews. So they had to riot when metal detectors were put in, to make sure no one else would have to get killed.

And this is not the only case. Their leaders, their “religious” leaders, lead them in incitement. The muftis are bringing out old myths to rile them up. But this is not new. They have been doing this forever, using the people to go on public tantrums.

We have always had to protect what we love. But we need so much help. The world is not going to do that, so we need to do it ourselves.

King David knew that the only One we could depend on was the only One.

Psalms Chapter 147 תְּהִלִּים

א  הַלְלוּ-קהּ:
כִּי-טוֹב, זַמְּרָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ–    כִּי-נָעִים, נָאוָה תְהִלָּה.
1 Hallelujah; {N}
for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely.
ב  בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלִַם ה;    נִדְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל יְכַנֵּס. 2 The LORD doth build up Jerusalem, He gathereth together the dispersed of Israel;
ג  הָרֹפֵא, לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב;    וּמְחַבֵּשׁ, לְעַצְּבוֹתָם. 3 Who healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
ד  מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר, לַכּוֹכָבִים;    לְכֻלָּם, שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא. 4 He counteth the number of the stars; He giveth them all their names.
ה  גָּדוֹל אֲדוֹנֵינוּ וְרַב-כֹּחַ;    לִתְבוּנָתוֹ, אֵין מִסְפָּר. 5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.
ו  מְעוֹדֵד עֲנָוִים ה;    מַשְׁפִּיל רְשָׁעִים עֲדֵי-אָרֶץ. 6 The LORD upholdeth the humble; He bringeth the wicked down to the ground.
ז  עֱנוּ לַה בְּתוֹדָה;    זַמְּרוּ לֵאלֹהֵינוּ בְכִנּוֹר. 7 Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving, sing praises upon the harp unto our God;
ח  הַמְכַסֶּה שָׁמַיִם, בְּעָבִים–    הַמֵּכִין לָאָרֶץ מָטָר;
הַמַּצְמִיחַ הָרִים    חָצִיר.
8 Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, {N}
who maketh the mountains to spring with grass.
ט  נוֹתֵן לִבְהֵמָה לַחְמָהּ;    לִבְנֵי עֹרֵב, אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאוּ. 9 He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
י  לֹא בִגְבוּרַת הַסּוּס יֶחְפָּץ;    לֹא-בְשׁוֹקֵי הָאִישׁ יִרְצֶה. 10 He delighteth not in the strength of the horse; He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man.
יא  רוֹצֶה ה, אֶת-יְרֵאָיו–    אֶת-הַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ. 11 The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that wait for His mercy.
יב  שַׁבְּחִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, אֶת-ה;    הַלְלִי אֱ-לֹקיִךְ צִיּוֹן. 12 Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
יג  כִּי-חִזַּק, בְּרִיחֵי שְׁעָרָיִךְ;    בֵּרַךְ בָּנַיִךְ בְּקִרְבֵּךְ. 13 For He hath made strong the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee.
יד  הַשָּׂם-גְּבוּלֵךְ שָׁלוֹם;    חֵלֶב חִטִּים, יַשְׂבִּיעֵךְ. 14 He maketh thy borders peace; He giveth thee in plenty the fat of wheat.
טו  הַשֹּׁלֵחַ אִמְרָתוֹ אָרֶץ;    עַד-מְהֵרָה, יָרוּץ דְּבָרוֹ. 15 He sendeth out His commandment upon earth; His word runneth very swiftly.
טז  הַנֹּתֵן שֶׁלֶג כַּצָּמֶר;    כְּפוֹר, כָּאֵפֶר יְפַזֵּר. 16 He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes.
יז  מַשְׁלִיךְ קַרְחוֹ כְפִתִּים;    לִפְנֵי קָרָתוֹ, מִי יַעֲמֹד. 17 He casteth forth His ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?
יח  יִשְׁלַח דְּבָרוֹ וְיַמְסֵם;    יַשֵּׁב רוּחוֹ, יִזְּלוּ-מָיִם. 18 He sendeth forth His word, and melteth them; He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow.
יט  מַגִּיד דְּבָרָו לְיַעֲקֹב;    חֻקָּיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו, לְיִשְׂרָאֵל. 19 He declareth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel.
כ  לֹא עָשָׂה כֵן, לְכָל-גּוֹי–    וּמִשְׁפָּטִים בַּל-יְדָעוּם:
הַלְלוּ-קהּ.
20 He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them. {N}
Hallelujah.

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