The sky is falling, said many

It all comes together now, slowly, slowly.

Why wait until after the winter to look at real estate?

Why paint before Pesach?

Why worry about allergies outside when you have mold in the house?

What work that the city did?

Oh, yeah, there is a spring under the house. And the city closed it off last year, so it has to go somewhere.

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See the wet below? The engineers didn’t do the best job of closing things off.

And so that’s why things went bump in the night,  which turned into pieces of plaster falling off the outside wall, taking down the tsotchkes that they had hanging on the walls.

And that’s why the floor in the study (which we don’t really use because the overhead light is broken, and it’s really really dark in there) was wet. Not the whole thing; just one square.

So, putting it all together, yes, we knew there was a mold problem in Israel in old houses, especially the old stone ones. It turns out that the house we are renting is over 200 years old, with some later additions. The owner who grew up in the house told us how all his family members would take turns bathing in the kitchen in some kind of tub, heating up water and then pouring it over themselves. Apparently, there were no doors, either.

But that was then; this is now. We knew to keep spraying the mold that appeared, but didn’t think that there would be a piece of the ceiling that could fall on our heads.

Now, in terms of the painting, I had heard from our Hebrew instructor back in the states that her mother used to paint their house every year before Pesach, along with making everything else by herself (and raise a large family!), but it wasn’t until I saw this photo that it made sense.
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This was in last week’s copy of Shabbaton, a very nice compendium of Torah articles from a Zionist Religious perspective. But here it is; paint your house before Pesach!
Rough translation: using the four cups of the Seder and the textual inspiration for each as a model, they list four words describing the painting process.
  1. והגנתי I protected (against mold and fungi)

    And if this weren’t enough (dayenu, anyone?), they do continue with three more

  2. והידרתי and I decorated
  3. וניקיתי and I cleaned (fascinating it didn’t start there)
  4. וחסחתי and I saved (brilliant!)

So, there you go. As we move into the OMG it’s almost Pesach mode, we can enjoy the renewal of our people in our Land in all ways possible.

And look forward to our new home outside of the land of mold!

לְשָׁנָה הַבָאָה בִּירוּשָלַיִם הַבְּנוּיָה

 

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my atonement

The other night, on our way into meeting with the couple in the house that we want to buy, my skirt got caught on the thorns of a rose bush and ripped a bit. It’s the same skirt that got ripped a few years ago on the way back from Israel. I don’t remember exactly how it happened then, but I do know that I put the skirt away for a few years until I decided to try my best to darn it. And darn it, I did.

(See what I did there?)

And now it sits waiting to be darned again, but in the meantime, I had to wonder if it was a sign of some sort. Not that I believe in signs, but when something so big is happening, and something goes off-kilter, it is bound to make some people pause. And there’s nobody that’s somebody other than me.

I wanted to take a photo of the rose on the bush, one gosh beautiful rose in winter, but I didn’t dawdle anymore than the time it took to take my skirt off of the thorn. Priorities. So here’s a photo from last winter in Israel, because beauty should never be taken for granted.

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I did wonder why it had to happen just then, so I did continue the question with ISHI maybe even the next day, of why did it happen. He said,

“Take it as a kapparah.”

Hmmm.

“What should that mean? How should I take it?”

I know what kapparah means. כפּרה; It’s what we seek on Yom Kippur, to be cleansed/atoned/forgiven for any and all sins/mistakes that we have accrued over the previous year. But how to take it here?

Like this?

  • [the relatively minor mishap should be] an Atonement [for my/our/your sins, rather than something more serious]

EXAMPLE SENTENCES

  • We “were set upon by a swarm of angry bees on the last afternoon of the hike. We were each stung multiple times… his first reaction after we outran them was ‘kapparah.’ It was a few weeks before Rosh Ashanah and I told him his words were doubly appropriate.”…

  • NOTES

    Different usage from the Yiddish kapore ‘scapegoat’. The most common scenario when this is used is at a family meal or communal affair when dishes or trays fall with a loud crash. Everyone says Kapparah! And it is usually followed by a laugh as people are reminded that this is something Sephardic Jews say.

So do I take it as a minor payment towards something I may have done, or more accurately, may not be aware of having done? Is that enough to say let’s move on? Or let’s move?

Or this, which we have heard often enough now:

But the word is also used as a term of endearment by and for men and women alike, usually by Israelis of Middle Eastern or North African (Mizrahi) descent, in much the same way as words like “motek” (“sweetie”) and ”neshama” (“soul”). When that happens, the emphasis switches (as it does for “neshama”) from the last syllable to the middle one. Thus, you can ask God for ka-pa-RA, but if your taxi driver uses the word when he addresses you, with an affected affection rendered meaningless by indiscriminate use and repetition, he’ll be pronouncing it ka-PA-ra.
Use of the word in this context, or an extended version that literally means “atonement be upon you” (“kapara alekha,” for a man,or “alayikh,” for a woman), comes from a phrase in the Jewish dialect of Moroccan Arabic that means “I’ll be a kapara for you,” according to Hebrew language maven Rubik Rosenthal.
In other words, like the chicken to which one’s sins are symbolically transferred during kaparot, the traditional pre-Yom Kippur ceremony that involves a fowl being waved in circles around the head, those who use the term “kapara” or “kapara alekha” are, in theory at least, saying they are essentially ready to die for the other person. In the case of humans, though, the scapegoat (scapechicken?) is presumed to be acting out of love, not because he or she is being gripped forcefully around the neck, blissfully unaware that a certain soup that goes well with matzah balls is on the menu.

And since I work in symbols, does the thorn of a rose mean more than a rose?

And now, should I laugh?

Status qvo

Or, if you prefer,

סְטָטוּס קְווֹ

Boy, that Wikipedia is wicked smaht:

Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues.[1] In the sociological sense, it generally applies to maintain or change existing social structure and values.[2] With regards to policy debate, the status quo refers to how conditions are at the time and how the affirmative team can solve these conditions.

It is the nominal form of the prepositional Latin phrase “in statu quo” – literally “in the state in which”, which itself is a shortening of the original phrase in statu quo res erant ante bellum, meaning “in the state in which things were before the war”. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are. The related phrase status quo ante, literally “the state in which before”,[3] means “the state of affairs that existed previously”.[3]

Someone who I don’t see that often saw me last Friday evening. “You’ve lost weight, haven’t you?”

Um, “no.”

“But your face, it looks much thinner.”

How to answer this? Sorry I didn’t know how fat I looked/or/Did you really think I looked that bad that now I look better, even though, for sure, I haven’t lost an ounce, nor do I even bother; just keep on truckin’?/or/Thank you and leave it at that.

I said thank you and left it at that.

I realize that she does it to get the upper hand in a conversation, to disarm someone, so to speak. I didn’t want to play along, so I tried not to engage there. I had tried to wish her a mazal tov on her new granddaughter, putting us on the same level. She would have none of that. But it begs the question of what level do I want to be on?

We have entered into the second half of our first year in Israel full steam ahead, working hard on checking off the things on the to-do list.

  • learning Hebrew–our Ulpan actually ends at the end of February, so now we have to use the street studio method of learning (although yesterday, in class, we learned that parasite is basically the same in English, Hebrew, and Russian!)
  • converting our drivers’ licenses (it sounds weird, but it actually is weirdly accurate, going through the paces and getting rejected, as one is supposed to have done when trying to convert to Judaism)
  • and looking for a place to live, longer-term

Each step is necessary in making things work here. The way we have scheduled our lives, we do have to do a bit of driving around the country, pretty much as itinerant preachers/teachers, so we require flexibility in that respect. And flexibility is perhaps the overriding theme here. Once again, we are learning about ourselves to know what is important, what is essential, and what would just be nice.

Speaking to people and understanding people (maybe even more than speaking!) is essential. So, when we were at a meeting yesterday with someone with American parents, we stuck to Hebrew. He needs to practice his English, but he can do it with someone else. And when we don’t know something, we ask.

That is a good quality to keep.

Now, in terms of the housing, we are asking ourselves many questions.

  • Do we value quiet over busyness?
  • Do we want light, space, room, views, over convenience?
  • How important is it to stay with the community we have started to get to know?
  • Will we feel comfortable in the synagogue that will pretty much be just a place to pray and not a community? Will I be able to say kaddish for my mother there, for example?
  • Should we be smart and cautious, thinking of when our knees won’t want to do steps, or should we take the chance to have breathtaking views every day?
  • And of course, how much money should we sink into a house, or should we be smart and save?

Now, we can’t go back to how it was before the war. What is our new normal and how do we embrace it, with our broken Hebrew and all?

what the hashtag is it all about

what the hashtag is it all about

I started an Instagram account because I wanted to follow some photographers who had been mentioned in a few places. Or maybe it was a contest for travel that I wanted to enter. Or some combination. And I started also because it was a distraction from my lost and broken camera. For whatever reason, you can only post via smartphone, so I would take my photos and post them along.

Only a few people saw them at first, which made sense, slow learning curve and all. Part of which consisted of me applying hashtags to my photos. I don’t know what draws people to different sites. Me? It’s when a general site features a photographer who I admire, so then I follow that photographer as well. But the hashtags turn out to be fun, especially doing them in English and Hebrew. After all, I found this photo of the outside of my house by searching for #tzfat, or was it #צפת?

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Looking back at my work, I think I have improved. But, as here, what is appreciated by the public is not what I value the most. That’s okay, since I do know that the game on Instagram is to “follow” someone in order to draw them to follow in return.

I am following the advice given freely by who knows who to do something artistic every day.

Wait a sec–

Oooh, I like this one:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep
Scott Adams

The next step is that I sometimes have chosen to showcase some of the Instagram photos on Facebook. And that’s where the title of this post comes in.

This is the response to a photo of us with our Israel kiddies that I sent my father:

Very good photo and a very good print.
I forgot to ask.  In your last letter, Why did you need so many #   #   #  ?  Take care . Love, Dad
I will mention here that my father is (poo-poo, kanna hara) 91 years young.
He gets overwhelmed with computers and technology on a regular basis. He also has more confidence that I will know how to fix things than I do, especially since he is working on a 9 year-old Mac, and I do PC. I wouldn’t even start to tell him how I downloaded it from a WhatsApp group photo. I guess I’m somewhat amazed that I can figure these things out, to a point.
My father also claims that every single ad in the LA Times is about hearing aids, which frustrates him to no end because his doesn’t work effectively, and his doctor says there’s nothing to be done about it. I cannot effectively prove to him that the reason he is noticing the various ads is due to his frustration, not the reality. So I understand that what is salient to him is what he cannot control. So we look for things he can control; being with people, enjoying people.
We ran into our neighbor Ima Esther yesterday on our way to a meeting. You don’t tell Ima Esther that you are late; you stand patiently while she tells you about her daughter who finally got permission to move away (not really sure what was the delay and where she went, but I didn’t want to start asking questions that would make us later than we already were), and a few other things. Her often-repeated phrase is ?מה לעשות; What can you do? in the most existential Camus (North African, after all) manner.
Que peut-on faire?
But here, of course, is the point:

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Because the 84 year-olds and the assorted under-the-attachment to technology kiddies will show you in a heartbeat what really matters. But you need them both.

On my way back home today, I was stopped by an older man who was whistling. He asked me,

“Is it okay for me to ask you a question?”

“Of course,” I answered, just a bit skeptically.

“What happened to your smile? Did you lose it?”

Of course, I smiled in return. It was a lovely way to get me to react, as opposed to how others have tried to impose a smile on my face in the past…

I told him I would be very happy to let my father know what he said.

He added, “After all, it says

Serve G-d in happiness; come before Him in singing.

 “עִבְדוּ אֶת-ה בְּשִׂמְחָה;    בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה

And he went whistling along the path.

sitting on the balcony this year. now.

One of the things that I bought before we came to Israel was outdoor furniture. We had been negotiating for a place that had magnificent views with an extensive patio. Even though the place didn’t work out, it became clear to me that this was important for me/us to have a place with that kind of feature; to be outdoors and be home.

What I didn’t know was that we were going to have this experience of being in front of this plaza, with all the comings and goings that come and go in Tzfat. We rented here as a placeholder, literally, and we are taking advantage, even as we look for the next place to go. But while we are here…

My cousin came to visit us for the end of the holidays. I took her up to the top patio on Monday afternoon, and we sat. Of course, we talked, but moreso, we sat and enjoyed. Watching the passersby, watching the children playing below on the plaza, not having to pay attention to anyone or thing but to enjoy it all. Watching the colors gather in the sky, as sunset approached. Taking it all in. Now.

I started singing

עוד תראה,עוד תראה, כמה טוב יהיה בשנה בשנה הבאה

Just you see, just you see, how good it will be, next year, in the next year.

but in my head only. And really, the song started singing to me; I didn’t purposely bring it to mind.

This is one of the old Israeli classics I feel I’ve known forever, and that’s pretty much because it’s pretty old, from 1968.  Here’s a video from somewhere back then, sung by the duo Ilan veIlanit, who popularized it.

And while I was looking for the best video, I also found a bit about why and how it was written:

Early in his career, Manor often wrote about peace and tranquility and, in 1968, he penned “Next Year” to express the joy of expectation following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. Joy turned to sorrow, however, when he lost a brother in the War of Attrition, prompting Manor to write“My Younger Brother Yehuda” in his memory.

One of Manor’s most famous songs was“I Have No Other Country” (Ein Li Eretz Aheret), which expressed the bitter divisions that emerged in Israel during the Lebanon War. “I have no other country/ if even my land is ablaze,” he wrote. “Only a Hebrew word penetrates my soul/ in an aching body/ in a hungry heart – here is my home.” Manor wrote in liner notes to a greatest hits anthology that the song “was adopted by everyone as a song of pain.”

This is Israel; holding joy and pain simultaneously. But here I am, holding the joy now. I have certainly felt the pain; it’s time for the joy.

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Next year

We’ll sit on the porch

And count migrating birds

Children on vacation

Will play tag

Between the house and the fields.

You will yet see, you will yet see

How good it will be

Next year.

things that might be going bump in the night

Or in the day

Two strange occurrences.

The first:

ISHI and I were sitting on our porch/Sukkah one morning last week, and one of us (I already don’t remember which one was paying attention first. I could make a good case for either of us.) noticed an odd thing on the little roof above the stairwell. Yes, I took photos, but let me explain it first.

Backing up just a wee bit for those not familiar with my title:

From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

There was this odd cone-shaped item, with some kind of pictures and writing on it. Not English; not Hebrew. Bottom line–very suspicious. The kind of thing that if you saw it on the street, you would call over some security people.

חפץ חשוד Suspicious item

That’s one of the first terms you learn in Ulpan, Hebrew lessons, what you need to get along for living in Israel, real reality check.

We thought seriously about what to do. Was it something sent over to our porch that could blow up? Was it a drone? Could it be a spy camera? We were quite uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do.

I went downstairs to my kitchen, I think. ISHI started looking at Google. He found one word in English that he could look up. It was some kind of tea.

I was not sure that it made me more comfortable, because, after all, what was it doing there? Where did it come from? And don’t judge a bomb by its cover!

Until ISHI got a call from a friend…

“I have a strange question: did you see an odd paper package in your Sukkah?”

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He had been given this package by mutual friends who had been in India, brought back this package of tea that is smoked as cigarettes to remind him of the smells of India…

Oh.

Mystery solved. Gratitude!

Our friend just picked it up and we all enjoyed a cup of tea while telling our stories. He also told us a story about finding a drone in the Sea of Galilee while looking for branches for a friend’s sukkah.

My second story: while I was making challah the next day, there was a knock on the door. It was our next-door neighbor. He was holding a balloon.

“Is this yours?” I thought it looked like the statue outside our house; the ugliest statue in Tzfat and probably the whole world, the frightened lama. One “l”, you will note.

“It was caught between the trees in our yard. My wife thought it was a spirit; she saw it move back and forth and we couldn’t sleep.”

I did not tell him at that point that I had been told his wife had put a curse on the house across from us and she clearly knew from spirits.

But no; it was not ours.

He left it tied up in the courtyard for anyone to claim.

This remained a mystery that probably fizzled out on its own.

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An additional mystery: why  does the balloon look like this Marimekko print that I bought in Cambridge when I was a too young student that we hang in our Sukkah from forever?

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למה?

Why indeed…

Since למה means why.

Why does the Marimekko print look like the odd lama outside our house, which looks like the balloon?

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This, in a nutshell, is Tzfat. We are learning to enjoy the mysteries as they come.

another myth bites the dust

We are getting our sukkah space ready to put up our sukkah this year, our first in Israel. My self-appointed job was to cut back the growth from the tree which hangs over our porch as much as possible, even if the tree can’t possibly be cut back as much as needed. Part of the laws of building a sukkah requires it not to be under shade of any other kind. You have to make your own shade, independent of your environment, in order to see the stars through the makeshift roof. The rabbis never talked about nightlight pollution, but back to our story:

I cut back quite a bit, trying hard to keep it on our rooftop, but of course, one large branch and a number of other smaller ones, fell over into our neighbors’ yard.

“Oh, shoot”, I heard myself say.

I heard my neighbor shuffling below.

“I’ll come and clean it up right away. Sorry about the mess. I really tried to keep it up here.”

So I went downstairs, went outside, over to their house, and rang the bell.

No one. Rien, absolument rien. (She’s French Moroccan and they usually speak French together. Or English.)

After a while, she comes down her stairs and opens the front gate for me. I explain what we were doing and apologize for the mess. Of course, she has already cleaned up the branches that I dropped, but she clearly appreciates my efforts. She then proceeds to give me the full story about the tree.

It’s a carob tree that grew with kids of the neighborhood eating carobs and spitting out the seeds on the ground. They never planted it at all.

When did this happen? She said fifteen years ago. Even if she had said 50, I was still surprised. After all, I thought that carobs took 70 years to grow!

Yes, I know how most fruits take a while to grow, even after the tree has established firm roots and all, but the reality is that I have no idea how long that really is. That’s how far removed I am from living on the land.

Or at least having fruit trees.

But why I was dumbfounded was because of the story of Honi HaMe’agel, Honi the Circle-Maker. It’s a fascinating story that is found in the Talmud (Ta’anit 19 and 23) about a man who was asked to call for rain (why would he not have done it without being asked, I wonder), which he does in a pretty chutzpahdik way. And then he goes off on his merry way, coming upon someone planting a carob tree. When asked why he is bothering, since it won’t bear fruit for 70 years, he is told that his grandparents did it for him, so he is doing it for his grandchildren.

So it must be a fact that it takes 70 years for the carob tree to bear fruit, right?

It turns out that the idea of 70 years is symbolic of the years of the exile after  I the destruction of the First Holy Temple. (Read more here, if you wish.)

It is tied into a question that Honi asks before our story begins;

Said Rabbi Yochanan, “All the days of that righteous one, he was troubled about this verse (Psalm 126:1), ‘A Song of Ascents: With the Lord’s return of the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. ‘He said, ‘Is there someone who can fall asleep for seventy years in a dream?’ One day, he was walking on the road and saw a certain man that was planting a carob tree…

The commentator Rashi says right there, “‘like a dream’ the 70 years of Babylonian exile will seem.”

Here’s the whole Psalm, again for context:

Psalms Chapter 126 תְּהִלִּים

א  שִׁיר, הַמַּעֲלוֹת:
בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה, אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן–    הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים.
1 A Song of Ascents. {N}
When the LORD brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
ב  אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק, פִּינוּ–    וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה:
אָז, יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם–    הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם-אֵלֶּה.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; {N}
then said they among the nations: ‘The LORD hath done great things with these.’
ג  הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ–    הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים. 3 The LORD hath done great things with us; we are rejoiced.
ד  שׁוּבָה יְהוָה, אֶת-שבותנו (שְׁבִיתֵנוּ)–    כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב. 4 Turn our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the dry land.
ה  הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה–    בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ. 5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
ו  הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ, וּבָכֹה–    נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ-הַזָּרַע:
בֹּא-יָבֹא בְרִנָּה–    נֹשֵׂא, אֲלֻמֹּתָיו.
6 Though he goeth on his way weeping that beareth the measure of seed, {N}
he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves. {P}

It’s all about context.

The carob tree of our neighbors is a symbol of the strength of our people in our Land.

True joy of belonging.

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