30 January 2011

Mazal Tov

It seemed like a regular Chassanah. There were the alta Bubbes and the Bubbes. Mothers of the couple gripping tissues to their noses right in front of me, and the young braided girls crying into their tehillim. The young children were pushing through the legs of everyone to get to where they wanted.

A white mesh mechitzah was between the women and the Chuppah. At the far end of the mechitzah someone lowered it so those ladies could see. But soon a white-knitted kippa-wearing chassid was tacking it back up.

I strained my eyes to peer through the mesh. There was the Kallah, a white mound of silk and satin draped over her. The Chussen was buried in a sea of black, difficult to distinguish through the mesh, one from another.

Omein! The women murmured. Ahmen I added. The next Brocha I actually heard and B"H could answer a true Omein. The glass shattered. But then there were more Brochos, the Ketubah reading, and then the grand
Mazel Tov. Soon the white mesh parted slightly and two women entered our side, beaming. Mazel Tovs, hugs, kisses and hand shakes all around me. Some women were greeting others, happy to see them.

I didn't know either family, it was a friend who invited me to see "something special" at this Chassanah.

Soon the women were entering the hall, through the kitchen door into a large room with many tables modestly set, no music. All the food was homemade. It looked ok, but I didn't want any. After all, I really wasn't invited and didn't feel right to partake. Children running all over, smiling, everyone was happy and full of joy. In place of music, some women were joyously reading with much animation a poem-like set of stanzas, some were bouncing for joy. I guess this was the feminine version of a badchan.

There was genuine joy for the Kallah and for the joining of two young people under the Chuppah and G-d.

This was not an ordinary affair, you see, because the women were covered from the tip of their toes to the top of their heads with layers of clothing, some with veils. Children were wearing the prettiest of capes, dark shades, lace, and maybe taffeta too.

Over on a couple tables you could see a few sheitels. These must be the ladies who lowered the mechitzah in order to actually see the Kedusha. But they knew women are not counted as aidem (witnesses). They were a definite minority. One had a camera and was sneaking pictures now and then. The other women got excited and annoyed, some screeched, and many pulled down their veils, not to be exposed to the flash. They were truly upset. This was a breach of their modesty.

These women were happy to be living according to the dinim (laws) given them by their Rabbis. If you asked, they could recite where it says to do "this" and "that", the Rambam, Chofetz Chaim, Chasam Sofer. I wonder why this is not taught in Beis Yaakov schools?

They genuinely felt they were helping to bring Moshiach. It is their way to counter the loss of modesty and tznius being breached by the outside world. They are very happy living in their inside world. Couldn't help notice that most of our conversation was precisely on this subject.

Who knows, maybe they are contributing to the elevation of Kedusha in the world.

However, I needed some fresh air, and bid my friend a
Mazel Tov, a congratulation, and headed for the door.

The night air was crisp under a sky of stars. Up there I envisioned Hashem looking down, watching his children, wishing them a Mazal Tov Meod, much good success in their endeavors.

Who Would Do Such a Crazy Thing?

Who would do such a crazy thing! Fly 1600 miles across an ocean to an empty apartment with no furniture?

Leave your home, family, friends, go to a new country, a new neighborhood, and especially a new apartment that you only saw pictures of on the internet? It had a fridge and stove but no furniture meant no beds.

The taxi was bringing us from the airport to the address in my Brownline. The driver started talking to us in Ivrit and I was answering him in Ivrit. I was shocked. It was over 27 years ago that I had gone to ulpan (Hebrew classes). I was atonished how my mind took control over my emotions. Or was it the other way?

When we arrived at the building on Abarbanel, waiting for us was the owner of our rental apartment. He was young, smiling and by default our second welcoming committee. My husband joined him dragging the suitcases up three flights of stairs into our empty apt.

However to my surprise, it wasn't so empty. It was full. Two men walking around, buckets, shmattas, brooms, ladders, and some toxic smelling fumes in the air.

My husband was zonked from the time differential, begging for a place to lay down. I was exclaiming my disappointment about the workers and the mess. After all, "you told me that you had two weeks to prepare for us, so why this?"

Just then, in walks a friend and her intended, she takes one look at everything and lets out a commanding appraisal that put it all into perspective. A brief back and forth and the whole thing got settled. Two days knocked off the lease and reduction in the first month's rent payment. So much for a powerful diminutive former real estate sales bargainer who knows how to get what Rachel wants. Out came the Lease. After weeks of emailing and reading and commenting, I was in no frame of mind to concentrate on all the details again. Getting my husband to hold the pen was another gargantuan task, but sign we did.

We left the owner watching our luggage and the workers while we all jumped into Avi's tiny car to transport one reluctant practically horizontal loudly kvetchy husband to a resting place before he flattened out on the ground.
The first and most important next stop was for a cell phone. Pay as you go was good enough for me. I didn't want to accumulate contracts and fees before my first good nights sleep.

From there we flew to the address in my Brownline to the one store I was told had American HiRise beds. I looked over the set and then pulled out the plastic. "Ok, when can this be delivered?" "Well, I have to check on where my guy is and what his schedule ..."

"I need these beds before nitefall, we just landed from the States, my husband and I are exhausted and we must have something to sleep on other than a dirty floor!"

My diminutive friend sized everything up, applied her persuasive dulcet tones, and the deal was done. Rachel to the rescue again.

We were promised the beds, installed and set up in the room of our choice by 7 pm. "Oh, thank you so much. You have no idea how happy you have made one exhausted husband, and his relieved wife." (Typical American polite and always thankful response.)

"You know, that's unheard of here. You could have waited a couple days." My gut feeling to Rachel's warning was that the owner is also American, and understands ... The person who told me about him said he was nice. And he sure was, because it took two weeks before the credit card arrangements finally took hold (tashlumim, or payment plan), and the whole time he accepted each of my explanations without a whimper. B"H for small things.

From there we bounced over to Rami Levi (suppposedly the cheapest food store around) for some essentials for the fridge that was stark naked. Again, my American plastic really was a life saver. Accepted in every store. Never appreciated it this way before.

All this B"H within a few hours after landing. Thank the Alm-ghty for things big and small.

Back to the apt. The workers were gone and Ari, the owner, was also ready to depart. Ari wished us a smoothe settling in and if there was anything we needed help with to feel free to call him.

Well, what now? as I looked at Rachel. "Oh my gosh, my husband!" We almost forgot about him. Again Rachel had it all planned. "Let's pick him up, come to my place and I'll make you a nice dinner." "But what about the delivery?" "Don't worry, I told them to call you when they're on the way, and Avi will drive you back in time, we're just a few streets away."

My husband didn't want to wake up, to put it mildly. After some gentle coaxing we got him into the car. "Where are we going, where are we, I want to sleep." Slowly we cajoled him up the 30 steps, promising a delicious salmon dinner, hot veggies and broiled potatoes, and a sweet dessert. B"H it worked, his hunger overcame his confusion. The hour long dinner was delicious and really made us feel warm and fuzzy, ready to fall asleep.

My pocket started vibrating then ringing. B"H it was the beds! "Yes, we'll be there in 20 minutes."

Shortly after that, back at our new (empty) home, the doorbell announced our first piece of furniture. I must say these guys were great, everything done in unison, quickly and efficiently.

"Where do you want them?" "Oh, just leave them here." (in the living room, the bedrooms didn't look like they could handle 2 beds.) It was already dark outside and everything did look kinda strange to us. I felt we should stay in the biggest room for our first nite. It was hot and steamy and I wasn't eager to sleep in what seemed like a closet.

The guys left. Rachel and Avi left. From the suitcases I pulled out a set of sheets and my pillow. We were all set. Quickly we dressed the beds and soon we were drifting. It was the middle of the summer, hot but with a cool breeze. I was already in heaven.

I can't explain how awkward we felt the next morning. A strange place, nothing that felt homey, although I heard birds singing. My husband was grouchy. He had to daven. We had an appointment. What to eat? How do we do this? I think I filed away the emotions of our first morning in that dark corner of one's inner recesses to be forgotten.

Coffee to the rescue. The aroma was soothing to my emotions. My husband however, did not find it so easy. Unfortunately he doesn't drink coffee. He began a very difficult phase of culture shock. It took several months of establishing a routine to be able to manage some type of comfort and acceptance. Finding a shul to pray 3 times every day was an adventure. Creating his appetite was insurmountable. Dialogue was painful. What was I to do? Nothing prepared me for this, even over 20 years of marriage.

I found a little natural take out, and then we were afloat in salads, brown rice, eggs and soups. The first couple months I wasn't even thinking about cooking yet. Hot water for coffee however was a must.

Slowly the summer moved into the Yom Tovim, I bought dishes, pots, silver, tablecloths and even invited a single girl and Rachel and Avi for Rosh HaShana meals. It was great fun. The days came and went, and my only solace was the sunshine that bathed me in warmth. My husband was still having those intermittent bouts of homesickness. I however felt at home and kept reminding myself that it was for really for real. Actually, that feeling immediately returned as soon as I saw the Tel Aviv landscape as El Al was descending for our landing. The joy was pouring out of me by the buckets full.

Thank the Alm-ghty, we are now here 6 months. A very difficult but immense milestone. During all this time, as new residents we needed to comply with certain legal requirements, fulfill some basic logistics, and only after that were we able to relax. I was operating in 'efficiency mode' making appointments, arriving at meetings, making lists, checking bank accounts, initializing utilities and setting our new life into motion. B"H we had divine assistance and things were falling into place.

But my husband is still so homesick for his hevra in the Lakewood Minyan on 16th Avenue, the 'always open' Shomer Shabbos minyan factory on 13th Avenue, our friends, and the familiarity and ease of shopping in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Nothing I could say or do seemed to phase him. Those are the emotions of a dedicated davener, one religious Jew attached to his way of life communing with Hashem in his corner of the world.

The sunshine continues to flood us with vitamins C and D, put color into our faces, strengthens our bones, and energizes us both, releasing a feeling of appreciation not experienced ever before. We realize that all beginnings are difficult, as they say, but we look for the positive in every day and the Hand of Hashem in what comes our way.

Today, now as February approaches, we continue to bless the bright skies and the skies covered with clouds, raining down the blessing of water to nourish the Land, feed the flowers, fruits and veggies. Hopefully filling the Kinneret, and bringing added strength to a weary nation.

We are now part of this regeneration on the stage of history's timeline. A Holy People, on a Holy Land, guided by our Holy Torah.

There's nothing crazy about any of this, it's part of a divine plan.

Bless the Holy One, forever and ever.

20 January 2011

Our Neighbors

In Jerusalem you are likely to find a lovey-dovey couple gracing your mirpeset (balcony) in the early hours. No, not some strangers in a stranglehold on your porch at 3am!

It's more apropos to find pinkish-brown doves coming to see who their new neighbors are. A little sunflower seeds is a great enticement. They snuggle together inside a flowerless flower box hanging over the railing. Peek at them from a safe distance and they immediately stare back, privacy broken, they fly to a nearby branch for seclusion. So tsnius those little doves are!

I put out sunflower seeds around 11:30 a.m. My husband comes home and curiously peers out on the mirpeset. The timing is good. My hungry fine feathered friends are nibbling away.

They must be the same twosome I see while heading for the bus. The vigilant guardians of Abarbanel Street. There they are, canvassing up and down on Ibn Ezra street, out in front of the shul, always within eyeshot of each other.

When you see one on your premises with twigs in beak, its a sure sign the male is searching for the perfect spot to construct his lovers nest. He'll fly back and forth with twigs all day long to create a cushion for his beloved to nestle. When the male takes off you can hear a musical sound from the air flowing thru it's wings. Once she's sitting, he will continue to bring her twigs to her cushion and protect their offspring.

Maybe I'll put out a basket to help the male find a spot for his lover. Or maybe they'll go for the flower pots? In any case, I'm awaiting the chirping of a couple tiny new neighbors.

Listen at the end of this video and you can hear the musical sound as he flies off.

12 January 2011

The Green Door

I felt an air of mystery with every step we took. We were about to experience a mostly unknown ancient remnant of the Kotel.

We turned the corner and I was suddenly shaken.
There was a Chayal, an Israeli soldier, weapon draped over his tall shoulders, eyes not focusing but taking everything in. He was guarding the small green door. It was open and inside I could see Arabs walking and some sitting and some folded over on the ground.

Quickly our guide led us into a small area to the left of the green door.

The air was very still, there was no sound, only the pounding of my heart. I felt the aura of holiness. I took my siddur (prayer book) and poured out my heart to the One Who was listening.

Our guide was explaining ... and here we were facing a remnant of the ancient Kotel that had been rebuilt by the wicked Herod. He then told us that this Wall "is even holier than the other Wall, because its location is practically opposite the actual site of the Holy of Holies" of our Holy Temple.

Twenty five years later I am now living in Eretz Yisrael with my husband and this memory returned as I read about the Israeli Antiquities Authority. They will be refurbishing this area, restoring some crumbling stones, a new floor plus more. Inch by inch, Israel is elevating and beautifying the stones of the Kotel with respectful renovations.

My hope is that the Green Door
will disappear and once again
our Leviim will be going to and fro
giving nachas to the One Above.

The Green Door pic from the mighty Elder of Ziyon blog

Old World Jew

11 January 2011


In the early morning cold, I peered out from my bedroom window. In a split second my eyes caught the silhouette of a man wrapped in black, both arms lovingly around tallis and tefillin bag as he passed between two houses on his way.

Dawn was on fire. A bright rich orange glow bursting onto the clouded sky captured me in awe.

This is the early morning that my husband entered on his way to converse with the Creator of earth and man!

05 January 2011

What Am I Doing Here?

What I first remember from being in Eretz Yisrael in the 80's was the sun embracing me in tremendous warmth penetrating my bones, and my Neshoma feeling "at peace and at home". That "Oooh this bed feels so good" homey feeling after being on a business trip, staying in hotels, eating someone else's idea of food.

I have always loved being outdoors in the sunshine, under leafy trees or in the blazing desert, under clear skies, or a sky filled with magnificent fluffy clouds playing havoc with the suns rays. The feel of the morning air, its water crystals capping blades of grass, or dangling off leaves bathed by the misty sun's rays ... A cool moistness carressing my face. This is a beautiful morning in Israel. But then every morning in Israel is beautiful!

Nearly six months my husband and I are living in Yerushalayim. It takes minutes, hours, days and weeks to slowly become familiar with very different and new surroundings, all the while giving conscious awareness of the hashgocha pratis (providence) in each new experience that one is brought into.

If one can be 'in love' with a place, then I am immensely in love with Yerushalayim and the whole of Eretz Yisrael.

World, I'm not going anywhere!