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.

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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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here we go again for the first time

A year has passed with us here in the center of Tzfat. It is time for some peace and quiet. But to get to there, we have to pass through another rite of passage, and we are again living with boxes. Again, we are weighing our possessingness. Again, we are self-judging why we have this stuff. Does it bring us such pleasure? Comfort? Right now, of course, since we are boxing up what we haven’t necessarily used in a year, to add to the boxes of stuff in our storage space that we definitely haven’t used in a year or even thought of, the answer should be “no.”

The question is in the should be.  But as I started this blog to figure out what possesses us more than what we possess, it’s the value that we inherit and also place upon things that matters.

I could continue playing with language about things and stuff and being possessed, but I’m finished. For the moment, at least. After all, I wrote about my battle with things already here  and  here and here (basically all of last August when we were first unpacking our life lift). What have I learned in the year? In the past 64 years, to be exact?

I am a person who thrives on order; place. I don’t like thinking about where things are; I like/need, really need, to know that I can reach into a particular drawer, and on the right side of that drawer, I will find that certain spoon I require to stir that certain dish. I like having specific things to be used as often as possible for specific tasks, not multi-tasking. Yes, it’s a level of comfort that I want. I was tired of grinding my fingers along with the cabbage, so we purchased a food processor, even though I had said we wouldn’t buy anything before moving into our new and bigger place. Thankfully, it’s also fun to use, so I’m feeling more productive with my cooking. We purchased fans to work with the air conditioners here. It’s hot and stickier than it should be.

I’ve worn heels I think twice this year, both times to weddings, and not to all the weddings we’ve gone to. Again, comfort wins. But I’m not getting rid of the heels so quickly. I’ve gotten rid of the shoes I don’t like already. I like what I have.

I didn’t need to pull out the big guns of my heavy down coat last winter, but I definitely won’t give that away. It gets cold here in Tzfat, and it does snow every eleven years or so with some significant accumulation. The last storm was three years ago, so we’re due soon enough. We brought one snow shovel for then, and I’d rather be over-prepared than desperate.

I am so looking forward to having a place for my things, with a sense of purpose for all of them, even if they are only for nostalgia.

I’m looking forward to knowing where all the tools are, or at least where they should be returned after their use. I want to know where the toys are, again, at least in potential. Same with the broom, and the flour, and the machzorim, the special prayer books that are used only once a year.

I am looking forward to pulling out all the books we did bring and then figuring out what books we can now buy. Yes, the big birds of Israel book, once we are settled. That will be around the time of the next bird migration. We will be waiting for them at our new place.

I’m looking forward to all the musical instruments being in one room. Not sure which one yet, but we’ll figure that out.

I’m looking forward to figuring out where guests should stay, where they will enjoy the peace and quiet that we hope to gain there.

I am looking forward to guests having space, so we can all enjoy each other in ease.

Having guests, having adventures, enjoying nature. Space for our technology, the computer and camera accoutrements.

And still hanging our clothes to dry in the breeze.

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the view across our street; yes, that’s Mt. Hermon in the distance

 

 

the year of living wackily

In Tzfat. Where you can always expect the unexpected. And we are so normal it’s not normal.

זה לא נורמלי!

It’s not normal! Is the normal thing to say.

I am thinking of our year here as Act I in the play about our move to Israel, our aliyah to the Land. I don’t know what Act II will be like yet. It hasn’t yet been written. But this year has been something [via Google Translate]

בֶּאֱמֶת
really, truly, in sooth, straight up
מַמָשׁ
really, very

not normal.

What has been normal for me, of course, is not normal for most people in the world. I have to go with my experiences. I also realize that one part of moving to Israel was my desire to be normal; to live in a place where you are not the exception; you don’t have to explain yourself to people about why you dress a certain way, why you eat certain foods, why you don’t travel on these days, why you wouldn’t go out to certain places, why so many things that seem normal are not my normal. It is a great deal to belong, to fit in, to not have to think about what other people are thinking.

לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ          To be a free people in our Land

is what it says in the national anthem Hatikvah.

So, do I feel free yet? Do I feel free to walk about?

As I write this, tons of people are passing by my window. Well, busloads.

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Tours of Birthright kids coming to find out what their birthright is to this land. It’s curious, if not outright humorous to hear what they are told about Tzfat. We can hear them from the comfort of our dining room when they give their pitch about art, or Tzfat, or what is Kabbalah, or what does holy even mean? Everyone has their story, and it’s not necessarily what I would say. But let them come and hear! When I get a chance, I tell them mine.

We are grateful to live here in the middle of the chaos so we can show our visitors around; so we can give them our version of the truth. We can show them our amazement at the stones, the places with so much history that they can hardly stand up, but most of all, the people.

But when it comes down to it, we will be quite happy to do this from a little bit of distance. We hope to move to a suburb of Tzfat in August. I can know that I belong and yet be happy to be on the other side of the hill, looking to figure out what Act II is all about.

I’m looking forward to smelling the roses there.

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knowing your place

They say that in Jerusalem, those who think they are the Messiah suffer from the Jerusalem syndrome. Here in Tzfat, there is a similar syndrome named for the city. But here, those who suffer from it believe that their rebbe is Mashiach.

So true! We have met many sweetly deluded people, who among the many things that delude them is a willingness to suspend all thought, and therefore, simply believe. There is a simplicity to this, but also a deep humility. And, of course, it is easy to take advantage of. But somehow they manage, and they are happy.

We have also heard recently from the man who wanted to sell us some appliances that Tzfat is a city that has learned to be humble. That was the lesson I heard from him, at least. He said that the earthquake of 1837 led people to realize that one should not embarrass Jerusalem; Tzfat could not be thriving while Jerusalem laid desolate. The survivors of the earthquake fled to an early version of Rosh Pina, to Hebron, and to one other city that perhaps I will remember. We in Tzfat know to keep things in perspective, to honor the greatness of Jerusalem, he was indicating. All of the other cities know, even as they grow, to remember their place.

I honor the city that I have chosen to live in. There is a quieter, more gentle vibe. Yes, apparently we have our crazies, and now who act out against the establishment. We are not happy that this attitude is coming here. We were happier when we could see people mixing broadly without passing judgment, and we hope to be happier when they realize they would be happier being miserable elsewhere. One only hopes.

We chose a different store to buy from, though. We’re not total freiers.

This past week, we paid a shiva call to a family in Jerusalem. We had spent the night in Netanya, on our way back from a wedding further south, so we had thought to be wise and not do so much traveling back and forth in one day. Instead, on Monday, we ended up going from sea to sea to sea.

Here is a view of the Mediterranean from one of the promenades in Netanya.

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We continued to Jerusalem, where we were focussed on people and not photos. I snapped a few on my cellphone, but they look pretty snapped, so I will use my words instead.

As we were finally leaving the city, it was rush hour, but instead of staying put another hour or two, we braved the roads to get out of town. Waze directed us to use Route 1 East and then north along Route 90 all the way up the easternmost part of Israel, past the Sea of Galilee and Tiveria, to Tzfat. ISHI wasn’t thrilled about this road, since the last time we had traveled along this road, we were in a rental car with headlights pointing too far down, and this road at night requires as MUCH light as possible. But should we be afraid to travel on our land? Okay, it was Nakba Day, but I was sure everyone was tired by then. And what was the choice, at that point? So we proceeded.

And we found ourselves back in time. We were retracing the words of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.

We passed by Ammunition Hill, where fierce battles were fought 50 years ago to free Jerusalem. We continued on the Dead Sea road, past Jericho.

Within the caverns in the mountains
A thousand suns will glow,
We’ll take the Dead Sea road together,
That runs through Jericho.

And with great thanks to G-d and to headlights that work, we arrived home.

But as I sing to you, my city,
And you with crowns adorn,
I am the least of all your children,
Of all the poets born.

Your name will scorch my lips for ever,
Like a seraph’s kiss, I’m told,
If I forget thee, golden city,
Jerusalem of gold.

Oh, Jerusalem of gold,
and of light and of bronze,
I am the lute for all your songs.

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