of mice and me

This is a combination of things, as most things truly are. We are just a few days before the holiday of Pesach, when the typical Jewish woman has a hard time distinguishing between dirt and the forbidden leavened chametz. I, of course, am not that. I know very well that I am doing spring cleaning. I removed the heavy quilt from our bed and washed the heavy linens. We opened our windows today, removing the bubble wrap that we had as insulation. And that was where we enter this post:

If you remove the wrap from your bedroom window, you might see the glass shelf above it leaning precariously.

If you see it leaning, you might realize that the window shifting probably was the unexplained noise you both heard the other night, but were too tired to investigate.

If you try to fix the glass shelf, you might have to find some wood to prop up the shelf, since it won’t come down, either, but you can’t take a chance of leaving it there.

If you start cutting some wood, you might as well make a platform for the computer that is on the floor of the study that has mysterious wet tiles there.

If you start looking more closely at the floor, you might think about taking the box of printing paper off the floor.

If you open that box once it’s off the floor, you might notice that it’s oddly packed and already opened.

If you remove the top of that box, you will discover that it’s not paper at all, but many many many more CD’s that you of course did not know were missing.

And if you think about things that you can’t possibly track, you think about learning the laws of getting ready for Pesach in a class 42 years ago, discussing the physical limits of searching for chametz, considering the limits of where one should search for chametz, whether a small rat or mouse might bring the forbidden food into some hidden area of the  house.

And when you think about what you learned, you remember your teacher saying, “I have two little mice who bring things everywhere”, referring, with love, to her children.

And when you think about mice and children, you might think about how mice are a convenient symbol for so many things, like well, yes, me, the country mouse (see? I wrote about it here and here and in detail here).

And when you realize that it’s all connected, you remember this post you wrote  also about giving a virtual mouse a cookie, of sorts, and you can write another tale about your adventures here in Israel, today, that all of this is not old but new for me, and perhaps I should be reciting a blessing of newness for all of this renewal, for the ability to experience limits and setbacks here in this Land, so I can be a country mouse in my country.

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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.

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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what we think we leave behind

Oh not things; but experiences. And really, not experiences, but the images of the experiences. The representation of the flower. (I wrote about that here 4 1/2 years ago, if you wish to read about what I mean. No pressure.) Me, the shy one (‘way more than introvert), who won’t stick a camera in someone’s face because I don’t want to be that person. Today, while I was hanging laundry upstairs, third level up, I noticed two people who had gathered around two musicians who were practicing right below us. One of them had a camera and he swung around to take a photo of me looking down at them! I swerved quickly out of his line of fire and hopefully ruined the photo op. So why do I think I have the right to do it to others?

A few weeks ago, while walking around Tzfat, we saw a man and a kid and a baby stroller and I don’t even remember what it was about them that caught my interest. I tried ever so cleverly to take a photo of them, but felt shy and embarrassed enough that by the time I snapped one, even only with my cellphone, this is what I got:

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I did have my camera at ready today watching this woman enter the house below us. I heard her calling for someone for a while before pulling the key out of a no longer secret hiding place. I won’t reveal her secret to you here, though.

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See the woman below? She doesn’t see us.

But I wish I had my camera to take a photo of the two young girls with their older sister? Babysitter? who helped them climb over a fence of the closed-off spring below our place. But I can only describe their faces, as they looked around to see that no one was watching. But someone was.

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See the arch in the photo? That’s what they climbed down to see, or actually across from there out of your sight. Ma’ayan HaRadum, the Sleeping Spring, here in Tzfat.

This is also the spot where I was hanging laundry this morning; the guy who tried to take my photo was standing down by the blue fence on the opposite side.

Maybe all he wanted was a photo of our fish. Our neighbor told me that she likes our fish very much, but so does the cat they take care of. He thinks it’s his dinner.

Here he is, after I chased him away.

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The cat doesn’t have to try to hide away; he gets to be himself. That’s what cats do.

We can learn a lot from cats, of course.


חָתוּל אוֹמֵר. אֶרְדּוֹף אוֹיְבַי וְאַשִֹּיגֵם וְלֹא אָשׁוּב עַד כַּלּוֹתָם׃ (תהלים יח לח)
The Cat is saying, “If you rise up like a vulture, and place your nest among the stars, from there I shall bring you down, says God.”88

fragility and חָזָק חָזָק

After I dropped and broke my camera, it got lost on the way back to America to get fixed. So much for extended warranties…

My Kindle is not working. Part of the screen doesn’t show up clearly. Amazon offered me some money off a new one. Should I feel guilty that it lasted four years or feel glad that it served me well?

My phone charger is missing somewhere in the canyons of boxes at our house; my phone still has a crack in it that I’ve learned to live with.

I’ve long been attracted to the Japanese embrace of simplicity and beyond; the broken, the irregular (Wabi-Sabi!), and the Japanese art of honoring the brokenness with

the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

In the Vimeo video below, directed by Daniel Evans, we hear a first-hand account of the importance of kintsugi in Japanese culture. At 27 years old, Kyoto, Japan-based Muneaki Shimode is the youngest professional kintsugi craftsman. He explains that in Japanese culture, “it’s very important that we understand the spiritual backgrounds or the history behind… the material.” This is interwoven with the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which means “to find beauties in broken things or old things,” Shimode explains.

The kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history. Shimode points out that “The importance in kintsugi is not the physical appearance, it is… the beauty and the importance [that] stays in the one who is looking at the dish.”

Things break. That is their nature. We break. That is ours. We are experiencing so many broken people this week, so many who worked too hard holding together their fragility that it took all their strength until they could not pretend any longer.

Then there are the people who showed their strength by not pretending at all, until their bodies gave way to the universe. They teach us so much about how to be strong; those of us who have met them should know how blessed we are by their presence and by their loss. This is the חָזָק חָזָק part of the story here.

Our 3 year-old granddaughter, who is as comfortable in Hebrew as in English, is also quite comfortable using mixed codes in her everyday speech. Since certain words are always associated with certain activities, she uses whatever language she is surrounded with for those activities. So, blowing her nose is “clearing her נוזלת” (which seems to be her way of saying “making it clear”, even though it means”clearing the drip”), most likely because she is asked to do that while in nursery school. One other phrase that she uses often is when she asks you to fix her shoes חָזָק חָזָק; really hard and tight, also probably because she does it for herself in school. חָזָק usually means strong. The doubling of the word shows doubled intention; really really tight. Interesting to me is that it’s also the beginning of the phrase used in Ashkenazi synagogues when completing the reading of one of the Five Books of Moses, as will be done this Shabbat with the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar. The whole phrase said is חֲזַק חֲזַק ונתחזק, chazak chazak v’nitchazek, a combination of texts from the Book of Joshua “לֹא יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ… הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ” (א’, ח-ט),and from Samuel 2 10:12 חֲזַק וְנִתְחַזַּק בְּעַד עַמֵּנוּ וּבְעַד עָרֵי אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ”.  Be really strong and we will strengthen ourselves, so we can strengthen ourselves. We will gain strength from each other, as we recognize and acknowledge our fragility.

Those from Sephardic or Mizrachi communities say a similar phrase after one finishes his turn reading from the Torah, חזק וברוך, Hazak uBarukh. Be strong and be blessed.

We should all be strong and blessed indeed.