Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The IAF Version of Indian Summer

Indian summer is the term used to describe a day or two of summer weather after the first cold snap has arrived. Today we are experiencing this in Israel - both literally by the actual temperatures, and figuratively by the Israel Air Force.

We've had two stormy periods of weather with a lot of rain - something unusual for this early in our winter season. Usually the rains don't come until November. Noone is complaining, though, because we live in a country where there is only one fresh water source, the Kinerret, and we depend on the rain to fill it up. Today the weather is warm and dry, a perfect example of Indian summer.

The Israel Air Force is also reminding us of this past summer. Today they flew over Lebanon, and buzzed the southern neighborhood in Beirut known to be a Hizballah stronghold. Those Israeli jets are reminding the terrorists that we know where they live, and although they didn't drop any bombs today, the possibility is still there.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Very Sweet Haveil-Havalim

Haveil-Havalim #91 is being hosted this week at Sweetrose. Go on over and "smell the roses".

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Following the Letter of the Law

I've written before about what started me on my journey to observant Judaism, and I've been thinking lately of another incident (pothole?) on this long road of mine.

My brother decided to become observant also, and we both attended Yeshiva University. At some point in our learning of the various halachot (Jewish laws) we realized that the upcoming holiday of Pesach (Passover) might be problematic. The laws of kashrut (what foods are permissable to eat) are very strict when it comes to Pesach, and we both knew that what we thought was acceptable to eat in past years in my parent's house wasn't going to be acceptable for us anymore. We also knew that refusing to come home for the Pesach seder wasn't an option - it would hurt my parents too much.

The issue of Kibbud Av V'Em (honoring your father and mother) is very complex, and is an extremely sensitive issue among Baalei Teshuva (those who aren't born in religious homes but become observant later on). My brother and I became observant through NCSY (an Orthodox youth group involved in outreach), and we had some excellent Rabbis and counselors give us advice. They told us that except in cases where your parents ask you to do something which explicitly demands you break Jewish law, then you should listen to them. (Like most issues of this sort, it is important to ask a Rabbi if you have a specific case in mind and need an answer. I am just giving the outline here).

This complex situation touches on an issue that unfortunately is misconstrued by many who are not intimately familiar with observant Judaism. Most people know that there are myriad laws governing the "ritual" aspects (laws between man and G-d) of Orthodox Judaism - what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath, how you dress, how you pray, etc. At the same time there are just as many laws concerning the "ethical" aspects - how one treats other people (laws between man and man). The second type of laws are just as binding on Orthodox Jews as the first. There is no concept of the "letter" of the law referring to the first type, and the "spirit" of the law referring to the second.

In most cases there isn't a problem following both the first and second types of laws. In the case of Baalei Teshuva, though, there are many instances where there seems to be a conflict between the two when it comes to how to deal with their families. There is a huge responsibility carried by those of us who are new to observant Judaism to constantly balance following the laws as we learn them, with being sensitive to the feelings of others - especially parents. In some ways it is like walking a tightrope - always trying to make sure that we walk that fine line.

My brother and I were relatively lucky - our parents had their "sore spots" as is natural with parents whose children choose a very different path in life, but they weren't anti-religious. We knew that with some tact on both sides we could work things out.

Which is what we did. I can honestly say that in this situation we did sweat the small stuff. My brother and I brought the meat and the handmade Shmura matza from New York City. We had the local Lubavitch shaliach come in to kasher what was possible to kasher, we bought new dishes (my mother actually enjoyed feeling like a young bride who picks out new things!) and we used paper and plastic where we could. We thought long and hard about how to organize the seder. At that point my family was using English Haggadot (remember the Maxwell House Coffee edition?) and we decided that we would all take turns reading aloud, and here and there my brother and I would "casually" jump in with "Oh, I heard something interesting about this", or "I learned about this just the other week....". In order to not make too much of a "production" out of the amounts of matza and maror (bitter herbs) we had to eat, my brother measured them out ahead of time, and I knew that I needed to eat the amount on the plate he would put right next to me. He decided that he would be official wine pourer, and while he was taking care of everyone else I would pour for him. (These things relate to some of the finer details about the Pesach seder).

Soon enough all of the preparations were done - the food cooked, the table set, and all of us dressed in our finest clothes. A Pesach seder wouldn't be a Pesach seder without invited guests, and this was taken care of by inviting my aunt and uncle, who wouldn't have a seder to go to if it weren't for ours. At the appropriate time we heard the knock at the door, and I went to answer it. My aunt and uncle came in, and my aunt gave me a big smile and, handing me a foil-wrapped package, said "This is for you".

A number of things happened in the next few seconds - although thinking back on it it seemed to take much longer. My brain processed the information coming to me both from my nose and my hands, and I gradually realized to my horror that the hostess gift warming the palm of my hand was a freshly baked loaf of bread.

Those of you who are observant Jews will not need an explanation as to the drama of this moment. For those of you who aren't - a short summary. Most of the laws of Passover relate to the injunction that we remove all chametz - leavened substances (bread, cookies, pretzels, etc. and anything containing even a minute amount of leavening) from our homes. We spend weeks before the holiday cleaning out every corner, and we use a completely different set of dishes and cooking utensils for the entire week. We only buy food that is certified not to contain chametz, and many people follow very strict traditions during this time. So bringing a loaf of bread to the Passover seder is probably the equivalent of bringing an expensive bottle of whisky to an Alcoholics Annonymous meeting - saying that this was a faux pas would be a gross underestimation.

My first thought was "oh, no, I really hope biur covers this" ("biur" is the spoken declaration said the morning before the Passover seder which states that all chametz found accidentally is like the dust of the earth - without value).

My next reaction was 100% due to my parents' good upbringing. There is a saying that "Derech Eretz kadma l'Torah" - which loosely translated means that treating other people well is a pre-requisite to Torah learning. In my specific case this was literally true. Long before I became an observant Jew, my parents taught me Jewish values - one of them being that you treat other people, especially older people, with respect NO MATTER WHAT. So although part of me wanted to shriek and throw the bread out of the window, my "good breeding" kicked in and I smiled at my aunt and said thank you. I "casually" put the bread down on a coffee table explaining that "there just isn't an inch of room left on the dining table" and we proceeded to sit down and start the seder. The rest of the evening went smoothly, although I couldn't help being tense. I don't know what I thought - that the bread would suddenly sprout legs and jump onto my newly kosher dishes? - but this gift seemed like the elephant in the room, to me at least.

It seems that my brother felt the same way. As soon as my aunt and uncle were out of sight (we checked by peeking through the curtains) my brother grabbed the foil package and slam-dunked that sucker into my neighbor's garbage can with a satisfying clang.

That night I had a little chat with G-d. Well, a more accurate description would be to say that westbankmama's younger self had a hissyfit - along the lines of "Ok, G-d, what exactly was THAT about?!? Here we were, walking that tightrope and doing just fine, and you send a gale force wind to knock us off!". Needless to say, G-d was silent.

After my initial anger wore off, then the really dangerous emotions took over. I started to sing what I call the "Ba'al Teshuva Blues". Evey one of us who has decided to become an observant Jew has probably felt this way once or twice - and some experience this every day! It usually comes after an embarrassment, or when all of the details of a new law seem overwhelming, or after you are disillusioned by the behavior of another Orthodox Jew (but, but, they aren't supposed to do that..) It goes something like this: "This is never going to work. I will never fit in. Who was I kidding anyway? Is it really worth all of this effort? G-d will love me if I am a good person, do I really have to go the whole nine yards..."

A lot of these feelings come from feeling isolated. Similar to a 16 year old girl who has had her heart broken for the first time, you think that there is noone else in the universe who knows exactly how you feel.

Until you meet others who do know. The first time happens when you meet someone who is dressed in full Ultra-Orthodox regalia, and looks like he can trace his religious ancestors all the way back to Moses. Then you get to know him and he tells you his story - and it turns out that in the sixties he was a hippy who partook of every illegal substance known to man. That really blows your mind - until you meet someone else just like him. Then you start meeting others who may look like they have been religious for a long time, but they have also shared a similar journey to yours. Then, when you mature some more, you do meet people who have been Orthodox from birth, and can trace their religious ancestors a long way back. But you realize that they too have challenges to face, and that Hashem puts obstacles in their way - just different ones than the ones you have experienced. G-d is always forcing us to grow in one way or another - and that our own personal problems are as individually designed as our fingerprints.

So you keep going, and you put these feelings into perspective. Because all in all, the journey is worth it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Didn't Happen This Past Month

The Jewish people have recently finished the month of Tishrei, which is the most holiday dense month of the year. Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah filled our days with prayer, feasting and trips. Here in Israel that meant quite a lot of people traveling to relatives and doing day trips on the intermediate days of the holidays. The crowds were so huge in Jerusalem that the police closed off places to private cars, and almost everywhere in Israel there were traffic jams.

This in addition to the month of Ramadan celebrated by the Muslims throughout Israel.

So, what didn't happen - thank G-d?

Suicide bombings and kidnappings (except for an AP reporter yesterday for a few hours). Why didn't these things happen? Well, the main reason of course is because G-d didn't want them to happen. But a secondary reason is because Hashem had a lot of "helpers". There are men out there, both in green uniforms and in civilian clothes, who worked day and night (and do so 24/7 throughout the year, not just this past month) to gather the information about the terrorists and find them before they accomplished their goal. You only hear about these activities months after the fact, in a short article in the paper, which many people don't notice.

I notice. And I try on this blog to thank these annonymous "shlichim" (G-d's messengers) whenever I can. I can't name you - but I know that you are out there keeping my family safe, and I want to say thank you again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Anniversary Coming Up

Yes, it is almost that time. No, not my wedding anniversary. No, not my aliyah anniversary. Have you guessed yet?

You are right! November 21st (which is Rosh Chodesh Kislev this year) will mark one year of blogging. To celebrate, I decided to put out a call for posts - this time about "only in Israel stories". Everyone who has either lived, studied, or taken a tour in Israel probably has at least one story - so send them to me! They don't need to be unbelievably moving (although those are of course welcome!). They can be little things that make you smile and happy to either live here, or make you wish you did.

Deadline is November 19th. Please send them to: westbankmama@fastmail.fm.

To start everyone off, read a great post by none other than Jameel, about Jewish practical innovations. Did you know that there are jeeps designed especially so that the driver can keep the Sabbath while driving them? We have one of those in our settlement, and pappa can attest that it takes a little getting used to...Check it out here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Carnivals and Such....

Batya has posted the 11th edition of the Kosher Cooking Carnival here. There is some mouthwatering stuff there - definitely worth a look.

Soccerdad hosts Havel-Havelim this week - despite his cute little daughter's attempts to distract him. I really have to add some more blogs to my favorites list....

Over at Serandez a guest poster, MordyS writes about how important those "only in Israel" stories are to him. Reminder to self - write some more posts on this topic!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Moon, New Beginnings, and a Reason to Celebrate

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, and tonight we see the new moon appear. The Jewish calendar is mainly a lunar one, although we do add a month every few years in order to coordinate with the solar calendar so that our holidays always come out at roughly the same time of year (in contrast to the Muslims whose calendar is just lunar, and Ramadan comes out at a different time every year.)

There is symbolic significance of following the lunar calendar, as this article in Aish.com explains. The moon waxes and wanes, and when it looks like it has completely disappeared, it then appears again and grows. The Jewish people have gone through many periods in its history where it looked like we were going to be wiped out, but we always came back. G-d is watching over us at all times, even when things look bad. There is a special connection between women and the mini-holiday of Rosh Chodesh, because of our special ability to believe that things will get better, if we just hang on a bit. As the article states about the women, "When things seemed dark and hopeless, they knew that light was just around the corner. Patience and trust in G-d would be all that would be needed to get through the "bad" times and into the good ones."

So to celebrate this mini holiday, my kids dressed in blue pants and white shirts as is customary, and will probably have music and dancing for part of their school day. I also made it a little special this morning by packing them chocolate spread sandwiches for lunch (a very rare treat in this American mother's household).

I should really come up with something special for dinner too. (Chocolate spread sandwiches won't do it for the adults, I'm afraid). Any ideas out there?

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Different Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving happens at the end of November in America, but in our settlement a different kind of thanksgiving feast happened last night.

Twenty-five men from our yishuv serving in the IDF, in the regular forces and in the reserves, received a Tzav 8 (call-up) during the Lebanon war this summer. Some went down to Gaza, some served in Judea and Samaria, but the majority went up north and crossed the border in order to defend the citizens of Israel against the Hizballah terrorists.

Wives, parents, siblings, and friends all prayed very hard for their safety and spent some very anxious weeks. Thank G-d, at the end of the war, every single one of these men came back safe and sound.

It is a tradition that when a miracle happens, the person that experiences it makes a public Seudat Hodaya (Thanksgiving meal). This way G-d's miracles can be publicized to as many people as possible, and it gives the person a concrete way to express his feelings of gratitude. Multiply this by twenty-five, and you can imagine the happiness at this meal.

A well respected Rabbi was asked to give a Torah lesson first. He spoke about the Jewish sources for the importance of morale when fighting a war. He said that not only is it important to know that you can win a war, but that you have the right to do so. This knowledge is sorely lacking in some sectors of our our society.

The Rabbi or our yishuv spoke also. He explored the topic of acknowledging G-d's involvement in every aspect of our lives. When a miracle happens it is easy to see this, and the desire to make a Seudat Hodaya is natural, but on a regular basis we won't see it if we don't actively look for it.

May we all merit to see both miracles, and Hashem's everyday help in our lives.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Restore Joseph's Tomb

Michael Freund wrote an excellent piece in the Jerusalem Post called "Restore Joseph's Tomb". In it he details the history of how the tomb was destroyed by the Arabs in October 2000, and how a Druse soldier was left to bleed to death there a few days earlier when the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak trusted the Palestinian authority to go in and evacuate him. The army repeatedly asked permission to rescue their own soldier, but were refused.

Freund points out the reasons why it would be a positive step to restore the tomb. I agree with him 100% - and I think it should have been done immediately after it was destroyed! From a practical point of view it is not so farfetched an idea.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, Joseph's Tomb is located in the southeastern corner of the city of Schem (Nablus). Schem is a city roughly shaped like a bone - with the thin central part lying between the mountains of Grizim and Eval (see the Biblical reference here, which shows the ancient Jewish connection to this area). On the eastern part the city expands north and southwards, and the tomb is located almost at the edge of the southernmost part. There is a north/south road which separates Schem from the Balata refugee camp, and leads to the turnoff to the Jewish settlements which dot the hills overlooking Schem. From this road it is a matter of a few blocks to the tomb.

Of course the Jews would have to worry about the surrounding buildings - because of the danger of snipers. This could be taken care of easily by buying up the surrounding buildings - although the Arabs selling those buildings would probably be killed by other Arabs objecting. So another scenario would be to buy the buildings, and pay for the owners to leave the country to a safer place. (Does anyone else sense how mindboggling this is? We have to worry about being killed going to a religious shrine, and in order to ensure our safety we have to not only pay to raze the surrounding buildings but we have to pay for the safety of the Arab owners!) Unfortunately this is par for the course for Jews in most places in the world - only in America is it a given that the Jews are (relatively) safe.

All of this effort would be worth it, to assert our natural right to visit the tomb of one of our ancestors, and to send the very important message that the Arabs can't get away with stopping us with the threat of violence.

I visited Joseph's tomb once. G-d willing I'll be able to take my kids there someday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Elections on the Other Side of the Pond

Carl at Israelmatzav has a great roundup of how the mid-term elections in America are affecting (or being affected by) the Jewish community.

I've been keeping up a bit by reading Pajamas Media. I think the balance of power in Congress definitely affects Israel, and if you care about Israel it should affect how you vote for your congressman.

I am also a bit nostalgic - because I never would have discovered blogs if it weren't for the controversy over the "smoking memo" story. I would read the news on the internet, but never touched the blogs (westbankpappa did and I was always puzzled by it. What could possibly be so interesting about other people's diaries?) Then my husband told me about a blog called Littlegreenfootballs. I remember saying to him, what kind of a crazy name is that? I opened it, read all about the controversial memo, and was pleasantly shocked to see how pro-Israel Charles Johnson was. Wow, I thought, this non-Jew really gets it. I then started finding right-wing conservative blogs. It took me awhile to discover the Jewish blogoshere, but now I am hooked on both.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Once Upon A Time....

David (aka Treppenwitz) wrote recently about how he and Zahava met, and I mentioned in the comments section that westbankpappa and I had a somewhat similar story. He then e-mailed me and suggested that I start a "how we met meme". So here goes, for those of you who like this kind of thing (I know I do).

Westbankpappa almost met me once, when we were both studying in Israel and he went out with one of my apartment mates (there were 8 of us at the time). She really liked him - but the feeling wasn't mutual. The next time we "met" (I put this into quotation marks because I remember him, he didn't remember me) was at the huge Sheva Brachot celebration of mutual friends. Even though they were going to live in America for a year before making aliyah officially, they married in Jerusalem. Their families decided to make a huge catered affair for the Sheva Brachot, which included separate tables for the single guys and girls. At one point a few guys came over to the girls' table to introduce themselves. I took one look at westbankpappa and said to myself "this guy is way too goodlooking for me, he won't look at me twice".

About a year later, we both attended a CAT Shabbaton (Chevrat Aliyah Toranit - a social organization that doesn't exist anymore, which was meant to get singles together who were religious and wanted to make aliyah) in the same community where our mutual friends lived. This wasn't the first singles event that I had attended, and I usually didn't enjoy them at all. I am a naturally introspective person, and am a bit of a wallflower. But I knew that in these situations you have to push yourself a bit to be a bit more "out there". For most of the Shabbat I forced myself to be "on", but at the third meal, (late Saturday afternoon) I had had enough. I sat down at one of the tables with a girlfriend in a grumpy mood. This of course, was the time that westbankpappa decided to sit next to me! My girlfriend knew his sister, so they spent most of the time talking about her and other mutual friends, and I was happy to just sit quietly and listen to the conversation. At one point pappa made himself an open faced tuna sandwich, and decided to put potatoe chips on top. (Are there other people in the world that do this?) I had never seen this before, and said to him "That is the wierdest thing I have ever seen!" (I know, I had the "hard to get" part down pat, the charming part was a bit rusty).

After Shabbat was over, (I wasn't there, I only heard about this later) our mutual friends made a joke and told pappa that they wouldn't feel comfortable making aliyah without setting up their friends first, and suggested that he take a phone number. He then asked for the phone number of the "skinny one with the glasses". (At least he didn't ask for the girl who insulted him!) He then kept the phone number and didn't call right away.

My younger brother got married two weeks later, and although I was thrilled for him, I had to "run the guantlet" that every single Jewish girl has to in these situations, hearing the sincere blessings from all of the older ladies "im yirtza Hashem by you" which means "G-d willing, it will be your turn soon". The groom cuts a huge challah at the wedding meal and gives out pieces to the single people as a "good luck" sign for them to get married. My brother made sure to cut me a HUGE piece and put in on my plate with a wink and a smile. Someone's good wishes must have done the trick because the next day pappa decided to call.

He called me, and we had a very comfortable conversation. As a matter of fact, I glanced at my watch and noticed to my shock that an hour and a half had passed without me noticing. He asked me out for the Thursday, which was July 4th. I decided that I had better make an effort at the "girl stuff" so I borrowed a blouse from one friend, earrings from another, I put makeup on and changed my glasses for my contacts. When I opened the door for pappa his eyes widened, and I looked behind me to see what he was looking at. It didn't occur to me at the time that he was actually looking at me!

We had a very good time, the conversation never had those awkward pauses that sometimes happens, and we discovered that our family backgrounds and our goals in life were very similar. Pappa tells the joke (that I've heard at least four thousand times) that we saw fireworks at our first date. It is a cliche, but the honest truth is that I came home and couldn't sleep all night, because I knew that he was the one for me.

We have been married almost twenty years now - and there have been many times where I've said the equivalent of "that is the wierdest thing I have ever seen", but there have been just as many times that we've seen the equivalent of fireworks. Added to that is the accomplishment of our dream of having beautiful children (which didn't come easily to us) and making aliyah. Not bad huh?

I'm passing the baton to Abbagav - who I hope won't mind being tagged.
Batya Was a Busy Lady Over Sukkot

Batya was busy putting together Havel-Havalim #89 while we were enjoying Sukkot. Now we can catch up on a bunch of great things to read. Go on over and visit.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Out of the Loop

There were quite a few interesting things in this week's Makor Rishon (the only conservative newspaper in Israel), but I wanted to comment on one particularly.

Michal Vosner writes a regular column called "A Woman's Eye" and this week she wrote about her feelings about Simchat Torah (the Jewish holiday marking the end and beginning of the cycle of Torah readings every week). She wrote that she feels somewhat "out of the loop" as a woman watching from the sidelines as the men dance joyously on the other side of the mechitza (the physical separation between the men's and women's side of an Orthodox synagogue). She said that there are women who dance, but not as much or as intensely as the men, and she came to some conclusions as to why this is so.

Vosner claims that the reason that she feels out of the loop is because she has never been called up to the Torah herself, or held the Torah in the front of the synagogue as part of the Sabbath services, which is only done by men in Orthodox synagogues. She reported that when she once took part in a woman's service and she heard women called up to the Torah, it was so moving that it made her cry.

I wouldn't presume to argue with someone else's feelings, which everyone has a right to have. But I read the article with a huge inward sigh, and felt the need to comment on it, because I fear that it props up the old and worn stereotype that Orthodox Jewish women are somehow marginalized in their own religion.

Vosner accurately depicts what happens in a lot of synagogues - many women dance a bit (although the teenage girls in my yishuv dance as much as the men do) and watch the men and children from the sides. There is something to the fact that the joy is somewhat more intense on the men's side - but it is not because of the reasons that she enumerates. I thought about what she said about physically holding the Torah, and being called up for an aliyah (yes, the same word we use to describe moving "up" to Israel is used for going "up" to read the Torah in the synagogue). It is customary for a person who is called up to make a donation to the synagogue afterwards. Since this non-feminist, like my mother and grandmother before me, is the one who is in charge of the finances in the house - I know exactly how many times a year my husband is called up (because I make sure they get our check). In our settlement of a bit less than two hundred families, it comes out to maybe three or four times a year. My husband may take out the Torah from the ark perhaps once a year. This "physical closeness" to the Torah scroll of maybe once every three months is not what gives my husband the edge in his joy on this holiday.

What makes the difference in his feelings about the holiday is the actual learning of the Torah that he does. The closest thing that I can compare it to is the difference in joy when you dance at your sibling's wedding, and when you dance at the wedding of your co-worker's child - the feelings are stronger in the first case than in the second because your relationship is much closer. The feelings that men have about the Torah itself are stronger than some women's feelings, because they have a closer relationship to it intellectually - they learn it on a daily basis (ideally). Some learn full time, some get up while it is dark and learn for an hour before praying the morning service and dashing off to work, and some make time at the end of a busy day. All of this doesn't mean that a woman is kept back, though. The real kicker is, is that in this day and age, a woman has the choice to do exactly the same thing.

It is true that before the time of the Beis Yaakov movement, a woman's access to Torah learning was limited. But for almost a hundred years a woman's ability to learn the Tanach (Bible) in an organized setting is a given. In the last twenty years or so, a woman's ability to learn the other Jewish texts usually studied excluslively by men - namely the Talmud - has also expanded considerably. In America many high schools teach women Talmud, and in Israel there are places (MaTan is one example) where women learn Talmud full time.

So it is true that Orthodox Jewish women do not partake in some of the public rituals in the synagogue. But you know what? Some men are excluded from some public rituals too. Men whose fathers are Kohanim (Jewish "priests", who at one time performed the ritual sacrifices in the Temple) can go up to the front of the synagogue and bless the congregation. Men whose fathers are not Kohanim cannot do this. I am sure that there are a lot of men who think that it would be cool to put a tallit (prayer robe) over their heads and do a Spock number with their fingers - but if they weren't born into the right family they don't have the privilege. This doesn't ruin their feelings about praying, because they know that this specific ritual is not the main event.

Orthodox women are not marginalized in Judaism. We partake, if we choose to, in the intellectual sphere of Torah learning. If we are serious about our religion then we also work on our personal character traits, and we pray seriously and develop our relationship to G-d. The few public ritual practices that we are excluded from are just minor "walk ons". The juicy roles are ours to perform - if we so desire.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An Open Question About Guest Blogging

I don't plan on posting this week (except for this one) because of the Sukkot holiday. But I would like to ask an open question about guest blogging to see if my opinion is shared by others.

How do you feel when clicking on a blog and finding a guest blogger there? Are you happy to read someone new while your regular blogger is away for awhile, or is it annoying?

See you next week.

Update - Sunday, October 15th. Thank you to everyone who gave their opinion. It seems about evenly split between people who enjoy guest bloggers and those who are annoyed by them. Mad Zionist gets the prize for expressing my feelings perfectly: A blog is a personal journal for your thoughts and opinions and should be exclusive property of the host.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The One Thing I Miss About America

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths) is the one holiday in the Jewish calendar that is very different for me living in Israel versus how it was in America.

We have to build a small hut, according to religious specifications, and spend most of our time for a week in it. Since this holiday always comes out at the end of September/start of October, the differences in climate are very pronounced.

Sukkot for me in America meant heavy wooden walls, and pine branches complete with sticky sap as materials for the schach (thatch-like natural roofing for the hut). It meant sharply cold evenings - I more than once had to sit at the holiday meal in my winter coat. It meant the heavenly smell of wood smoke if a neighbor had a fire going in their fireplace. And most of all, it meant the glorious view of the changing leaves all around. I grew up in Upstate New York, and the beginning of October was my favorite time of year. For those of you who have never seen it, the colors of the trees in the northeast of America in the fall are spectacular. It is honestly the only thing I dearly miss about not living in America (except for a few dear friends, of course). In short, Sukkot meant autumn for me in America.

Sukkot here in Israel means cloth walls, bamboo schach, and the heat. Occasionally we get rain on Sukkot here, but more often we get the sharav winds (hot, eastern winds with the dust of the desert). Sometimes the evenings are beautifully cool, with the need of just a light sweater. But the overall feeling is still of summer. There really is no autumn in Israel. There is spring with wildflowers, summer, and then bam! the winter rains come.

Despite my nostalgia for the "old country" I do enjoy the time with my family during this week. I wish everyone a great holiday!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I'd Really Like to Comment But.....

I am a conservative person. I don't like to make changes quickly, and my slogan could very well be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I realize though, that in this age of technological advances I am the proverbial stick in the mud. But every once in a while I get proof that my careful ways are the correct ones.

In the past few weeks I have come across a number of blogs that have changed over to the Beta version. I can't see any real difference in the blogs themselves - except when I want to comment. Then I get all kinds of pop-ups, and it takes SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO LOOOOOOOOOONG to comment that I give up (I know people who are engaged for less time than it takes to comment on these blogs.....)

Is there a secret password that I am unaware of that will enable me to share my erudite addition to the blog discussion, or is it just one of those annoying things that will fade when the geeks figure out how to fix it? (I say geek with a huge amount of affection, of course, I think pocket protectors are JUST the thing for a man's image...)

Until this mystery is solved I'll just say that I am not ignoring you, and some of you have written meaningful and/or very funny posts (and you of course know who you are without me naming names).
Abbagav Has New Digs....

Abbagav has moved to a new blog address, and he is throwing a "blogwarming" by hosting Haveil-Havalim this week.

There are lots of good stuff to read - Irina's post here points out a topic close to my heart lately. Go on over and take a look.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Prayers: My fast went pretty well this year. I usually start to get lightheaded about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and spend the last few hours of Yom Kippur in bed. This year I was able to sit on the couch and read a bit, and the last hour of the fast I sat outside in my front yard and enjoyed watching the sun go down (I can't concentrate enough to pray, but I do reflect). My settlement, like most in the Shomron (Samaria) is on a hilltop. Sound carries pretty well, so at the exact minute that the sun set I heard the Muslim muezzin in not one, but two nearby Arab villages, call out his call to Muslims to pray. I would guess that this prayer marks the end of the daily Ramadan fast this month. The prayer call lasted about ten or fifteen minutes, and as it ended, I was able to hear the prayers from our nearby synagogue. The last Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) is usually belted out loud enough to shake the rafters, and I was able to hear it clearly from my front yard. I thought this set of events was pretty cool - another reason why I love living where I do.

Palestinians: So after being away from the news for a few days, I turn on the radio this morning and I heard about the violence between the Palestinians over the weekend. The Jerusalem Post has a report about it here.
Any minute now we will hear some Arab leader or other admonish them to focus on the real goal during Ramadan, jihad (in other words, killing Jews.) I just hope our guys are as vigilant as they have been in order to foil these plans.

Politicians: Another little bit from the news this morning is that Amir Peretz (Labor leader) is now making overtures to Ehud Barak to join him politically. It seems that the "mordim" (rebels) in his party are giving him a hard time and he wants some reinforcements. I can't understand how the man responsible for running away from Lebanon with our tail between our legs can be a political asset, but then again, I am a right wing fanatic, what do I know?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Is There A Cosmic Reason....

Is there a cosmic reason for my blog getting its 20,000th visitor on Yom Kippur? I can't figure it out, but according to my sitemeter that is what will happen tomorrow.

Speaking of sitemeters, wouldn't it be great if we had a sin sitemeter? We could check it once a day, and know which areas to work on. We could get a report on our behavior for the week, month, and year, and know if we are going in the right direction or not. The referral section could point to which areas are causing us to go off the path, and which areas help us improve. Since everything is written down, we wouldn't have the excuse of not remembering when Yom Kippur rolls around (do you remember if you did something wrong last November?).

With these strange thoughts, I wish all of my readers a Gmar Chatima Tova (loosely translated as "you should be sealed in the Book of Life") and an easy fast.