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Sunday, November 20, 2016

What I Am. (a small poem)


I am gauze and ether, I am mist and veil

I am centuries of Torah, thousands of years of cracked Hebrew feet walking these sands

I am Abraham

A swirling twisting dust

A pillar of salt

I turn around and look backwards

Though it is forbidden

I see my family rising from the bitter ashes of Europe

I see my family spread like butter across the smooth green hills of Canada

I see my family sprinkled like dust in a new and old and holy land.

I turn one more time to straighten my scarf in the mirror

Then face forward – it’s off to the mall.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Things that are cool in Israel #10: Holy Sandwich Bar, Batgirl!


Since my last post about restaurants was kind of kvetchy, I figured I’d balance that with a quickie about something that was awesome the same evening we went to a place and they started giving me THE STORY (read that post and you’ll understand!)

Want to know what’s cool here???

You go to order your sandwiches, and they’re served up with a side of scripture.  That’s what.

Here you go, your typical Israeli deli takeout place, at the Kiryon, our local mall.  Notice anything?


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Eating Out: How Kosher is that Restaurant?


There's a story some restaurants will tell you here if you ask if they're kosher.
It's a long, long story.  If you don't speak Hebrew, it can be daunting to understand the gist of what they're saying.
They'll take a long time telling it.
They'll pull out all kinds of documentation.
They'll explain some more.
They'll point all around the place.
They may even raise their voice, which is scary for a nice Canadian like me.

You may even buy food there, just to shut them up.  After all, they sure wave around a lot and pull out letters that look like they're from rabbis.

See, the problem is that Israelis know about kashrus.  I remember the first time I was shooed out of a non-kosher restaurant because I was obviously religious, but it has happened a few times since. 

Even coffee, which I might have no qualms about buying in a non-kosher place in Canada, whereas here, they might practically refuse to serve me, which I see as a kind of respect for my practice - even if it's different from their practice - and I like it very much, except the one time, very early on, I had to pretty much beg a server for coffee and then decided it wasn't worth it and left.

In Toronto, if I stuck my head into a typical restaurant and asked if it was kosher, they'd probably say something like...
"Ummm, I dunno..."
"We do have vegetarian items..."
"Let me check with the chef..."
"I think so..."

One of the ways that you can tell, outside of Israel, if a place is kosher is to look at the clientele.  If people with kippahs are eating there, it's a pretty good sign.  In Israel, that doesn't always fly.  A totally-kosher mehadrin place may be full of people who look completely non-religious, and there may just be a few kippahs in the crowd at that local non-kosher McDonald's branch.

The other thing about Israelis is that they know how to talk.  Think the Irish have the gift of the gab?  Well, they may, but Israelis are super-good at pretending it’s theirs.

Here, we've also learned early on that you don't ask if a place is kosher.  You ask if there's a certificate, the teudah.  The teudah means everything, almost always.

If you ask if it's kosher, they may say yes.
Ahhh.... but if you ask to see the teudah, that's when you get the long, long story…

Monday, October 24, 2016

The road less settled: 8 reasons to consider living in the REST of Israel.


I love Israel – absolutely every inch of it.  But as you may have noticed, we’ve made the decision to live outside of the centre of the country.

Not that I’m knocking the centre of the country – it’s great.  I love it, and I travel there regularly.

But there is life for English-speaking olim beyond Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv, Raanana, Rechovot and Beit Shemesh.  With that in mind, here are eight great reasons why (whether you’re here already or thinking of aliyah) you really ought to consider the REST of the country…

1) It's ALL holy.

It says in Kesuvos 112 that “anyone who walks four Amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed a share in the world to come.”  Now, there is some dispute about the Biblical boundaries of the country, and so some bits of desert around Eilat may not count.  But the fact is that the mitzvah is to live here in the country itself, on the holy land Hashem gave to Avraham Avinu.  Not just one or two selected cities.

2) It's not THAT far away.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Things that are cool in Israel #9: Tripping over history


Are you a dummy about history?

Don’t know your Maccabees from your Hasmoneans?  Can’t tell Greeks, Romans and Babylonians apart?  Well, relax – there’s no way you could be dumber about Israeli history than I am.

And the great thing about living in Israel is you just kind of ABSORB history by living here.  It’s all over – so much so that at certain times and places, you’re actually tripping over it.  Like today, when we went and visited a whole bunch of graves.

Even if you find graves kind of creepy (who doesn’t?), even the gravest sites in Israel have been thoroughly sanitized by time and by the nice archaeology people who are in charge of removing the bones to Elsewhere for a proper burial before they swing the doors wide to tourists.

Sure, Israel has some big-name graves (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Maimonides being two of the biggies), but we decided to head a little off the beaten path today to celebrate one of Northern Israel’s cultural treasures – the grave of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Judah the Prince), otherwise known throughout the Talmud as “Rabbi.”  Why does this guy merit the one-name appellation, out of all the rabbis who have ever lived, throughout Jewish history?

Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi is better known as the REDACTOR of the Mishna.  He was the editor, the guy who pulled together all the oral traditions floating around and single-handedly, perhaps, saved Judaism as we were poised on the brink of a very long exile.

After Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nassi requested to be buried there around the year 217, the village of Beit She'arim in the Jezreel Valley became THE trendy burial site for Northern Israel.  Lots of famous and wealthy people hurried to follow his example.  So there are lots and lots and lots of long-ago relatives to visit, in a lovely park-like setting on a deliciously breezy hillside.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet


It’s way too early to be thinking about fall, but there you go – that’s what I’m thinking about.  I accidentally put on my “Elul Hebrew Songs” playlist before Shabbos and ended up listening to a whole bunch of pre-Rosh Hashanah songs and getting into THAT kind of mood.

And with all these songs comes a word that comes up all the time in the fall in Israel that I had never really even thought about before… שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet.

Morfix translates the word as “fall (of autumn leaves) ; (botany) exfoliation.”  Google, as “autumn, fall, or effoliation.”  But you’ll have to take my word for it – nobody says this in English the way Israelis do here, with its many heaped-on layers of meaning.

This is a lovely word that is a haiku unto itself.  It means, vaguely, “fallen leaves on sidewalks.”  But it also refers to the crunchiness of the leaves and the mood of the leaves and the ending-and-transitioning that is fall and even, kind of, winter in Israel, which isn’t really a season but more a dampness that descends for a while and then lifts.

It’s certainly not just “falling leaves” – because when people want to talk about falling leaves, they say עלי שלכת/alei shalechet, which would be redundant if shalechet was all about leaves.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Things that are cool in Israel #8: Barbie’s Book of Tehillim


You know what's cool about about Israel that I don't write about often enough?  Prayer.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, kindly overlook the fact that I haven't blogged here in over a year.)

Because I really want to talk about prayer for a second.
Prayer so cheap you take it for granted.
Specifically, books of Tehillim (Psalms).  Here in our local "stock" shop (Max Stock Kiryat Chaim), they sell bulk packages of keychain sifrei Tehillim, 7 for ₪10.  If you're in the U.S., that's less than $3. 

How awesome is this?