original therapy

One of the things that I’ve taken on as a volunteer position rather than a paid one is work with young people visiting Israel/Tzfat and helping them write a dvar Torah, literally a “word of Torah”. This becomes a short discussion about some topic that interests them dealing with some aspect of Torah. Or ethics. Or Jewish identity. Or pretty much whatever interests them, my job being to help them connect to some Jewish sources. It’s quite fascinating, as you see the ones who think they already know a lot are unable to get past the [actually pretty little] information that they supposedly know, and the ones who are truly open because they have cleared their egos for knowledge and authority can really learn a lot. And when they learn a lot, guess who does, too?

I learn because I have to state things that make sense, but not because they are well-trotted out lines. Things that make sense for the moment, for the situation, for the person I am speaking to. So great truths emerge, or at least for me!

Sort of like writing a blog.

This past week, I made some connections about sacrifices, lying, and peace.

The young woman I spoke to who was open and clear in her lack of pretense wanted to develop something about how to be authentic, speaking truth [to power?], but also working with people in a genuine way. The model who came to mind was Aharon the High Priest.

Be of the students of Aaron:

Love peace, pursue peace, love people and bring them closer to Torah.

Hillel (Avot 1:12)

היו מתלמידיו של אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה

הלל, משנה, מסכת אבות א:י”ב

Aharon was a fascinating character. He was the older brother, but he did not exhibit any jealousy about the younger brother getting the limelight. He was able to be the interpreter for Moshe and Pharaoh due to whatever kind of speech impediment that Moshe had; he was able to be the go-between there which led to a greater role of interpretation later. For whatever reason also here, G-d chose to divide the governing of the people between the brothers. Moshe became the legislator; Aharon became the judiciary, of sorts. What was the priesthood? What was the purpose of the sacrifices?

What became clear to me was that Aharon’s pursuit of peace was an essential role of his priesthood; bringing people close to Torah, which in its essence is bringing people to their true selves. There is a midrash/fable from Avot de-Rabbi Natan how he acted to bring peace:

It is also told of two people who had a quarrel that Aaron went and sat with one of them and said, “My son, see what your fellow is doing, for he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying:  How can I look my friend in the eye? I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong.”

He would sit with him until he removed all jealousy from his heart.  Afterwards he would go to his fellow and say to him, “My son, see what your fellow is doing.  For he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying:  How can I look my friend in the eye?  I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong to him.”

He would sit there until he removed all jealousy from his heart.  When the two met, they embraced and kissed each other.  Therefore it is written, “all the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days” (Num. 20:29).

Yes, it is tied into this week’s Torah portion as well; why Bnei Yisrael mourned for Aharon for a full month with full appreciation of his sacrifices for them. But what about truth? So, did he really lie? What did he know about what the other thought? And this was when I realized what Aharon was doing; he was being a therapist, helping the patient understand his emotions and the person he thought was in conflict with him. He was helping the person get past his stuck point-of-view.

This is what the sacrifices were about, as well, and why Aharon was the perfect person to take this role. We get stuck with our actions so often and can’t figure out a way to get past ourselves. The sacrifices were a vehicle of getting past; getting rid of our guilt; getting out of our rut. So it is only fitting that the priest who was connected to this process of moving on would be the one who was able to pursue peace between people and between us and G-d.

And that Hillel, who was known for his path of peacemaking, would offer Aharon as a role model? That becomes a lesson in itself about always looking to connect past yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously, but take the other at his true word.

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The box of matzot held at the Ari Synagogue in Tzfat, characterizing the collective nature of community
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In a synagogue in Efrat, where our grandson celebrated learning the whole Torah

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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practically creative

Somewhere I read that one should do one creative thing a day.

Okay, probably first here. And also here, but that was today.

But what happens after 13 days? That was all that was followed in the study. And why should that be that the goal is happiness? Haven’t we debunked the pursuit of happiness enough yet?

So, if I were to write my own study, I would look for a deeper connection of creativity with a sense of purpose in life. Simply put: making your imprint on life.

I also realize that what I get to call creative is what others before me called living. Figuring out what to cook with the ingredients at hand or in season.

Growing green onions from the cut-off ends. Reusing containers.

Sewing. Singing.

Writing.

Learning to do what everyone else has done for a long time (okay, writing is more recent than other activities, but oh still) with one’s own energies? Now that’s creative.

Or, if one is stuck, really stuck, then at least be a curious reporter of the world.

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(I’ll leave it to you to figure out what these are, or at least, what you think they are, which could be more true than what I was told!)

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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when independence is more than a day off

Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, is celebrated on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. This year, that should fall out tonight. But in order to commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, the day before, but not to desecrate Shabbat, it’s all pushed off one day. In a way, it’s similar to celebrating the American holidays on Monday, whether the historical day meets it or not, but here’s all the difference in the world. In the states, it’s for convenience. Here in Israel, it’s for holiness.

So that brings me to my list of things that I love here in Israel and vive la différence! Although many are making lists of 69 things that they love about living in Israel, I am happy to present my top ten.

Here in Israel:

  1. stores offer sales for items at ₪69 (to match the age of the country), or even renting a car for the day for ₪69
  2. everyone starts displaying Israeli flags, blooming like the beautiful wildflowers in all areas of the country

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    Yes, our car is Tzfat blue
  3. people post ideas of what they are doing to celebrate the holiday, not just ask for suggestions from others
  4. multiple Whatsapp groups display poignant poems, photos, and videos about the country
  5. such as this https://youtu.be/RzbDIH_lp7I 
  6. and in that regard, you don’t mind tearing up constantly, going back and forth between tears of sadness about the sacrifice of so many to pride of our country
  7. and you remember to buy lots of tissues to tide you over,and you are willing to cry in public
  8. like for this one https://youtu.be/h6N6hLIfiac  
  9. or this one https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F1054481034666933%2Fvideos%2F1299000880214946%2F&show_text=0&width=400
  10. that Rabbanit Henkin of Nishmat has been invited to light a torch for the official Yom HaAtzma’ut ceremony as a trailblazer in teaching women Torah, but also as a bereaved mother
  11. and you think back to the last time you were in Israel for Yom HaAtzma’ut in 1976, a different century, and realize that even though that was such a different world, as much as things change, they are the same
  12. that even though I don’t know any soldiers or families of soldiers who have died, there is a family around the corner from us who is related to a girl who was killed in a terrorist act,
  13. and I do know one of the mothers of the boys who were kidnapped and killed in the summer of 2014
  14. and I do have my student who is included in the remembrance DSC_0089
  15. And even as I said I would write ten, the need to include more is essential, I am looking for more to move from the sadness to celebration, so I will include my gratitude that we can go walking into town Tuesday morning to watch some hometown hokie-ish celebration,
  16. and then go picnic with friends in the afternoon
  17. and look for many more things to post about in reflection for years and years to come
  18. in peace that should come speedily in our days

instead of that, i’m doing this this year

This year in Israel, if not in a rebuilt Jerusalem…

Instead of cooking (and cleaning and planning and shopping, in no particular order ever), I got to play with kids and enjoy the beautiful weather, even if it wasn’t necessarily beautiful. Yes, we were surprised that it did rain last Wednesday, even if just briefly!

Instead of doing a second seder, we got to travel and see friends. And water my plant at home, if just for a short visit before returning to be at our kids’.

Instead of savoring the taste of matzah, we went to a Gymboree in Efrat to attend a mini-Mimouna, a North African Jewish celebration of returning to eating bread.

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Blessings and props for the children to make their muffleta pancakes
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Blessing the children of all ages; like the new wheat grows, so we should also grow

Instead of worrying about everyone getting along, I knew they wouldn’t, and then they would for when it mattered. And then we could go home when we had enough.

Instead of sitting around the eighth day of Pesach, overeating, we went into Jerusalem to the Old City. We met different people we hadn’t seen in eight months; two years, and forty years. Instead of synagogue, we had synchronicity.

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Capturing people enjoying their Hametz after Pesach in the Old City

Instead of worrying about the community and who needs what, we got to think about ourselves and what we need. And worry about the whole world.

Instead of going to hear a speaker for Yom HaShoah, we’re meeting with the couple from whom we are buying our home and seeing what we want to buy from them. He is from Libya; she is also from a Mizrachi family; they have their own families’ experiences of hate and expulsion, which we will hear about.

Instead of looking at videos of the moment of silence on Monday morning in memory of the six million Jews who were killed, we will stand silent ourselves.

Here.

In Israel.

Our Homeland.

kilometerstones

Or is it meterstones? Passing what I would have called “milestones” with tongue in cheek here in Israel,or I guess it could also be called rites of passage.

I just had a haircut. That was not a difficult thing in and of itself,  of course, but finding someone who could and would cut my hair, plus did a good job, for a reasonable price to boot was a large marker. It has been a long time since I had a good haircut; since before we left the states. (Yes, I had one when we went back for a visit, but it was not a good one.) I wasn’t sure of who to ask for suggestions here, so this was a big thing to find someone good.

A woman we know here who has not had the easiest time let’s say in Life In General had said she was happy to have people now after years of not having anyone; people who would slip her extra slices of cheese or meat in her order after it was weighed; people who would nod to her and motion to her to come closer; people who took care of her. We know people, but I’m not sure we have people yet. So finding someone who can cut my hair is a big step. Rite of passage.

It is the first day of spring today. On my phone, the following question came up from my daily language reminder from Morfix:

מילת היום באנגלית
The answer is:
vernal
אֲבִיבִי
דוגמאות שימוש עבור vernal adjective; trees and flowers in vernal bloom
I never knew what vernal actually meant! I thought spring was also an adjective; spring flowers; spring weather. Of course it is. But it is good to learn new things.
I am working hard to pay attention to the signs of awakening around me.
We had to get a post office box.  It’s hard enough for the postman to find our house now, but since we hope to be moving by the end of the summer (I hope before the end; we’ll see what ensues), we needed to print up business receipts with an address that will last longer than a few months; thus the PO box. So I took a walk just now to go see if there was any mail. But in truth, it was to look for signs of spring; vernal awakening.
img_20170320_155957.jpgimg_20170320_155850.jpgimg_20170320_155610.jpg Maybe I don’t have people yet, but I have flowers. And that, for now, is enough.