This Isn’t a Blog Post

It’s my using your interest in my writing to share with you an on-line discussion in which I took part that appears here in The Brooklyn Rail, because I think it’s a fascinating discussion and always timely.

Thank you to Catherine Parnell, Senior Associate Editor of Consequence, An International Literary Magazine Focusing on the Culture of War, who initiated and edited the discussion, based on writers who appeared in the Tenth Anniversary Spring 2018 Issue of Consequence.

Google Consequence and/or Catherine Parnell for more details. I’m just glad I was able to create a link with “here” on a blog post. First time!!  I am such a late bloomer.

Thank you all for being faithful readers of WriteInIsrael.com.  Upcoming posts will probably be about my adventures in dancing with Galit Liss in a group of women 50 and older, and/or studying music theory at BPM in a group of mixed gender 30 and younger, and/or the Tel Aviv municipal elections in which I may vote for a young man who, like me, wants to get rid of automobiles in the city, encourage public transportation, better relations between Tel Aviv and Yafo, and MORE diversity, not less.

How’s that for leaving you breathless?

PS – If you live in a university town in the US, see if you can find the latest issue of Harpur Palate, a bi-annual literary magazine published by Binghamton University. (not Birmingham, you stupid British word checker!)  I have a piece in there called “Side Effects.” It describes the initial barriers that make it so hard for women to come forward and speak openly about sexual assault. We’ve come a long way since the ’50s, but we still have a long way to go.

 

 

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Ready. Set. Let Go.

Over the past five years I have let go of things I’ve loved. The first thing was television. I grew up on American TV from 1948, but I could not stand watching Israeli news delivered by men and women who commented on each item with  squints. Moreover, TV watching demanded sitting and, as a writer, I had enough sitting.

I let go of my car, a machine I once imagined was my key to freedom. Whenever I turned on the ignition, I became a monster, fighting for space on the road, swearing at strangers. Walking, riding a bike and taking buses felt  healthier. Moreover, driving demanded sitting and I had enough sitting.

Recently I stopped wearing earrings because it took me too long to find the holes that have been in my ears since 1960. I do not enjoy feeling incompetent, so I gave up earrings. No biggie.

I’ve given up all subscriptions to concerts, lectures and gyms. For classes, I only do those I can enter randomly on a ticket with ten entrances. There are always exceptions: “Songwriting” demanded a commitment of fourteen sessions. I complied and didn’t miss one. Should I ever be accepted into a modern dance troupe or rock band, I will sign up for life.

Last week I unsubscribed to thirty-five lists and newsletters that flooded my inbox daily. These mailings once made me feel popular, connected and needed. Lately, they made me feel lost. Without this clutter of  upcoming events in Vancouver, Berlin and Hebron, my chances of remembering why I approach the computer in the first place are greatly increased.

I have let go of the belief that western-trained doctors know what is best for me. I go along with such doctors only for diagnostic purposes. Then I turn East. Thus, I stopped taking statins and aspirin. The stars on most of my blood tests fall within the healthy parenthesis. The rebellious, wandering stars get treated with needles, ginger and supplements, and then, only half of the recommended dosage.  Naturopaths and acupuncturists have greatly improved my quality of life

Decades ago I let go of whites– sugar, flour and rice. For the fourteen years during which my mother deteriorated from Alzheimer’s, I became, in chronological order macrobiotic, vegetarian, vegan and paleo. Since her death, I have regained balance by eating vegan at least four days a week and adding eggs, fish or cheese when necessary. Once a month I eat four kebabs and one hamburger when my son invites me to a cookout at his house. I will always take at least one bite of a pistachio cake, lemon meringue pie, or anything chocolate of 70% or higher

Coffee. I am on and off, but only before ten a.m.and only black with cardamom, ground in front of my eyes by Honi at 79 Jerusalem Blvd. in Jaffa.

I have let go of travel abroad because I have everything I need right here on the corner of Be’eri and Szold. Airplane travel seems like an assault on my healthy, aging, and only body. (A month of Jewish holidays may be the exceptional trigger, though, to get me to an airport.)

After letting go of so many things, I bought something that dramatically changed my life: a standing desk. This mechanical wonder also enables me to regress to the sitting position with a gentle clasp and clench of both still-functioning hands. My VARIDESK has become my Mercedes.

In a week, I plan to buy a simple keyboard so I can take up piano lessons where I left off in sixth grade. I want to advance to seventh grade, which was too hard at thirteen. Now I am motivated, because I want to create melodies for songs I write. If I can learn to harmonize too and all that complicated theory, which is like a new language, I will become very rich. Certainly, I will buy a sitting/standing base for the keyboard, so that I will be able to move my torso every thirty to forty-five minutes. I am confident that I will succeed because now I understand the value of practice. I learned it through Jeremiah (the prophet) when I celebrated by bat mitzvah at sixty-five. (After that, I pretty much let go of religion.)

Maybe my own letting go began not five or ten years ago, but twenty years ago, when I let go of a non-nourishing relationship. At that time I also gave up living in a house I owned. There’s another belief one can give up: private property.

For those of you not yet over seventy, know that getting old can be the best part of your life. Your fingers might hurt, your back buckle, and knees fail. Certain body parts will need an oil job, but if you nap and get 6-9 hours of sleep a night to renew your naturally fading resources, you can create your outer world to suit your inner needs.  Even in a world that is self-destructing, even in a democratic country turning into an autocratic one that makes you ashamed at least four days a week, well-being and renewal can be yours.

This wisdom is not new. It is only new when you discover it for yourself.

Letting go demands practice. Often I think I am preparing myself for the finish line, though I have no idea when or where that will be. When I get there, though, I know I will be ready. “…rich,” to quote Rebecca Solnit, “in loss.”

 

 

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Graduation Time

 

I sat at the bus stop waiting for the number 46, wavering if I would tell my hairdresser to give me a ‘hawk, given Tel Aviv’s rising humidity, when three teenage girls ran towards the station to grab shade. All three wore jean shorts that barely covered the tush. All three had long brown hair, one straight, one wavy and one curly. The straight-haired one sat next to me. The wavy one leaned against the glass wall of the bus station and the curly girl stood in front of us, grooming. With a brush she collected the layer of hair covering the top of her head, twisted it and wrapped it into a tight bun that sat on her head like a small crown. She held it in place with a brown band that she slipped from her wrist.

Come here, she commanded her leaning wavy friend. Let me look into your sunglasses. The friend stood up and positioned herself so the groomer could see her reflection in the friend’s sunglasses. It reminded me of another woman I had seen on the 239 bus last week. She was concentrating seriously on her cellphone screen and when I sat behind her I saw she was studying her face in real time on her phone’s camera.

After looking from all angles, the grooming girl undid the bun she had just made, lowered her head and flipped all her long curly gorgeous hair over her face with both arms. She succeeded in collecting the heavy mane into both hands, arranged it into a ponytail and proceeded to twist the mane into one large bun on top of her head like a ballerina. The band slipped off the wrist again to hold the hair and the girl asked her friend to position herself again for another look into her mirrored glasses.

She seemed satisfied, so pulled down the legs of her shorts, as if there was what to pull. Her crotch must have been most uncomfortable. Maybe she was trying to loosen the grip of the shorts. All three pairs of shorts were cut so that the inner lining of the back pockets were longer than the cut off line of the shorts. Did I mention that all three shorts were skin tight?  This girl with the ballerina hairdo had watery eyes that sparkled in the mid-afternoon sun. Her soft thick lips looked even thicker because she used a lip liner to outline them slightly above and below her natural lip line. A thin film of gloss covered both lips and they too shone in the sun. Even her pearly iridescent skin shone. A few freckles scattered recklessly on her cheeks must have caused this young girl endless anguish. She was a beautiful girl and she held herself as if she knew this and wanted others to know too.

The straight-haired girl sitting next to me, pretty too, seemed more personable.  I asked her what bus they were waiting for. She said the 111 to Modiin. Then they began or continued talking among themselves, as they had never really stopped talking from the moment they reached the bus station. The beauty confided that she often went to school without combing her hair. Sometimes she even appeared in her pajamas. The wavy-haired one said that she too went to school without combing her hair. The subject switched to driving and the one who did not yet have her license said ooof and bassa a few times.

 

The conversation glided naturally to the guys in the graduating class. When the girl sitting next to me  mentioned a particular guy, the one leaning against the wall, the smart one with narrow lips and intelligent eyes, the one who could read the bus schedule and seemed more in touch with the outside world and capable of navigating there, asked if the other girls had heard what had happened. No, said the beauty queen.

Hitnashaknu, she said nonchalantly, as if she were saying, the bus would be here soon.

As if nothing had happened, the girls started to sing the 12th graders’ graduation song from the all-school party and skits, held recently in honor of the graduating class of 2018.  It was the best class the school had ever had, they all agreed, and quoted teachers who thought so too.

I waited for more details about the kiss. A kiss with a graduating senior was the kind of revelation for which you would stay up all night on the phone in, say, 1958. Had that kind of excitement been erased during the last sixty years? Wasn’t it still the beginning of the story?

These girls swung back to the party and the ditty. They sang, smiled and laughed and those with free-flowing hair swung their tickets to sex all around the bus station. A rare tenderness pierced the hot afternoon air. Perhaps it stemmed from the girls’ uneasiness—Was it fear?—of their going into 12th grade.  In twelve months they would be wearing uniforms in the army, their hair always in a ponytail, or still wearing shorts in a gap-year leadership program, their hair flying in the wind. The underlying innocence they gave off, much like a rose gives off its fragrance, was due to the girls’ lack of self-consciousness of their age, their blindness to the fragility of that horrible wonderful age.

The girl standing against the wall assured the other two that they were at the right place at the right time. Soon their bus would come.

 

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Who Is the Author of My Memoir?

Forget the thirty-nine titles for the memoir I’m currently submitting to independent publishers, I can’t even settle on the author’s name.

Ahhhhrr. That’s me, dressed up as the MGM lion, saying I’m confused.

My father told the officiating rabbi thirty minutes before my chuppa that I was “christened” Judy Stonehill.

For twenty-six years Stonehill tailed my Judy. One of the reasons I came to Israel fifty-one years ago was to find a nice Jewish name.

Labensohn works in English, but Israeli clerks invariably turn me into a Levinsin or a Lavinson by inserting yuds in various syllables and deleting the dot from the bet.

After I divorced twenty years ago, I was free to change my name, but didn’t. There were enough changes to deal with and bureaucratic issues to settle.  I was not about to add another challenge. “It’s bad enough you abandoned us,” said my daughter. “At least keep the same name.”

Eventually,  she got married and changed her name.  Years later my first-born cut and Hebraicized his name to Lavi. National brit as rite of passage.

My first option for a pseudonym is Judy Steinberg. My father’s name was Steinberg until 1927, when he Americanized it to Stonehill.  But Steinberg was a name his own father had picked up  from some nice Jew in Hamburg who helped Joseph Gyshinsky board a trans-Atlantic boat.

Judy Gyshinsky, my second option. I’ve been rolling that around my tongue for several years, but it still feels too Ukranian for me.

When I’m in a heavily mother-loving mode I think about adapting my beautiful late-mother’s maiden name. Judy Grossman, option three. I could live with that Hungarian name, though I have too much antipathy towards Hungary lately.

Since I’ve been living in Israel for half a century, maybe it’s time to Hebraicize my name. (No, Word Check, not Herbicide).  Throw out Stonehill and Labensohn and become Har Evan. This is a Hebrew translation of Stonehill and Steinberg.  But then I am confronted with the contradiction in having an American first name and a Hebrew last name. “Judy?” Israelis say, looking at me as if I’ve made a mistake. “You mean Yehudit,” they declare, everyone a know-it-all.

It’s probably time to own that contradiction of identities and rename it. Plurality of identities. Wealth of identities. Acceptance of multiple and porous identities. Judy Har Evan. Or Judy Lev. I rather like that last option. It would look good in 16 pt. white Calibri print, boldly covering the bottom third of my memoir’s front cover.

Who’s she? Never heard of her, publicists will say. Not one item on Google. No Facebook. No platform.  Nada. Must be a new Israeli upstart.

No worries. I’m used to being an unknown entity. When I had my winning essay anthologized in In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (Norton, 2005) and two other college writing texts, I published under the pseudonym Judyth Har-Even (sic).  The publishing world has never heard from her since.

In small print on the back cover of In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, the publisher describes the book as “A cross section of the famous and those bound to become so . . .”

If you haven’t heard of me yet, wait and wonder if, when Yudit Buckeye’s memoir hits the bookstores, it’s not the same old confused Judy from writeinisrael.com, bound for glory and fame, wearing a new dress.

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Growth Spurt, Not Writer’s Block

I seem to be the kind of person who is open to adventures. Over Pesach my partner and I slept in a converted vegetable growing hut. I’m sure this structure has a name but I can barely describe it and don’t know where to begin to look for its name. Thousands of them are covered with plastic in agricultural fields. It is made from iron ribs that bend and it’s like walking into a cave, but this cave had white muslin walls and a few beds. The bathroom was 25 meters away, as was the kitchen. My inner camper liked this upscale camping experience offered by air b&b at Moshava Kinneret. The olive grove offered a canopy of gentle shade and the hammock connected to two trees wanted me to stay longer. I hear it still, calling my name.

But I am back at my screen in Tel Aviv  trying to remember who wrote what I read about not having everything you write be perfect. So I am allowing myself to write straight onto the blog page without setting myself up for five to ten drafts. I am going to let my inner imperfections shine through in all their normality. When I ask myself why I haven’t posted in so long, it could be because of my loss of memory. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some of my best friends can’t remember what they read an hour earlier. It comes with  age, so beware and eat lots of kale and Vitamin K. Those k’s may help you remember why you’re reading this right now instead of going outside to smell the jasmine.

So what I wanted to write about is my adventurous spirit. I am owning my need for adventure. I did a hair cutting course for ten months – big adventure. Now I am taking private singing lessons – another big adventure. This morning I inquired about taking a song-writing course at Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon that starts in two weeks. I think I’ll do it. It’s only once a week for fourteen weeks and the author of “Geula,” Hemi Rodner, teaches it. Ever since I heard the song again last week at the Tel Aviv demonstration at Kikar Rabin against the deportation of asylum seekers, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Maybe I’ll write a simple but glorious song based on one word, as well. What will that word be? Maybe the same word I don’t yet know to describe the housing option in Moshava Kinneret. Maybe Kinneret. Maybe MatzahBrie. Or possibly dogfood. Yesterday I wrote a song between my daughter’s apt. where I picked up her dog and my own apt. called “Gone Home”. It was a good song, the melody as well. The singer starts being depressed as she roams a  19th century cemetery in Quaker City, Ohio. She comes across a few tombstones that say Gone Home, thinks suicidal thoughts, but eventually goes home to her family in Cleveland. One of many songs probably that will never be written or sung. There should be a button to a cloud I could push to record all the songs I write as I walk.

I remember when cellular phones first came out. I saw a woman walking and talking along Lake Michigan.  I thought she was a crazy lady talking to herself, but she was talking on a phone outside in public, where others could hear and see. It was as strange as if she had been walking naked. Now I  walk down the street, fully clothed and  sometimes talk on the phone and other times sing to myself, but only loud enough for the dog to hear. Too bad the dog can’t sing back the words and the melody.

Adventure

I am holed up in my Tel Aviv apartment avoiding the crowded roads, enjoying not being in a traffic jam on a crowded bus heading north.  Happy Intermittent Days of Pesach to everyone. I didn’t wish anyone a Happy Pesach on any social media before the holiday for reasons unbeknownst to me, so consider this a personal blessing that affirms spring, sunshine, birdsong, love, peace and memory.  Yours forever, Judy

PS -I promise not to stay unwriting for such a long time, if you promise to accept imperfection for no more than 764 words.  Thank you to all my loyal readers who have asked me over the past months why I’m not writing. If the above does not answer your question, we will just assume that it’s because I’ve been in an adventurous growth spurt.

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Curb Your Kvetch

Curb Your Kvetch      parking lots for the short and sour

Home Page

Welcome! If you’re like me, sometimes something in Israel riles you. If we were activists, we would do something to right the wrong, change the wording, protest the incompetence. But as people prone to kvetching, we just get it off our chests.

At www.Curb Your Kvetch you can park your kvetch in a safe lot.

Submission Guidelines:  Email your 250-word kvetch in the body of an email to administrator@CurbYourKvetch.com Anything over 250 words (including title) will be deleted unread.  In the Subject line of your email, designate one of the following parking lots for your kvetch:  Business, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Governance, Religion or Relationships.

As Chief Administrator I will upload your kvetch to the appropriate lot where other kvetchers can commiserate. We at Curb Your Kvetch see both sides,  or all seven, of every incident, misspelled sign, undemocratic law, insensitive doctor, racist rabbi, sexist member of Knesset or corrupt prime minister.

Rules of ConductCYK is not a platform for lashon hara, which, according to our sages, is akin to murder. Posts on Curb Your Kvetch do not blaspheme any named individual. Rather, your posts should point out deficiencies, incongruities, incompetencies and stupidities.  We prefer writing to killing.

FAQs

What is a kvetch? A kvetch is a complainer and/or the complaint. A kvetch has more to do with the kvetcher than the kvetched or kvetchee. It cannot be used as evidence in legal proceedings. You cannot lose your citizenship due to a kvetch. Kvetch derives from the Yiddish kvetshn, which means to gripe or mutter, as the Israelites did in the Sinai during the forty-year trek. We are continuing this ancient tradition.    Antonym: praise, celebrate

Why Curb Your Kvetch?  I live with a noble man who hates complaining. His motto is, Don’t complain unless you plan to change the situation. For ten years I have been trying to curb my kvetch. Enough! No more. I now open the gates to legitimize kvetching for those who are not going to change the world.

Do you have to be short to submit?  No. Only the submission must be short.

Do you have to be sour to submit?  No. Only the submission has to express a passing or chronic sour thought.

Do you pay? No. Your reward will be in freeing yourself to go on to kvetch about other things.

Can people who don’t live in Israel submit? Yes, but the object of the kvetch must be Israel.

Can anyone comment on the kvetch: Yes, but the Rules of Conduct (see above) must be followed or the Chief Administrator will delete your comment, affording you something else about which to kvetch.

Do you have to sign your real name? Yes. No fake names.

Ideas for how to begin a post:

Start with an I statement, i.e. I can’t stand greasy shwarma . . .

Start with a question, i.e. Have you ever seen the stupid sign on Highway One that directs you to the airport?

Start with something positive, i.e. I love Tel Aviv, but . . .

Start with a fact, i.e. Horns are made for honking . . .

Start with history, i.e. During the Middle Ages a tradition grew up that King David was buried on Mount Zion.

Start with description, dialogue or setting. Be creative, but don’t make up the facts and don’t fabricate your kvetch. CYK only accepts real life gripes that can be corroborated.

At the beginning of this new year, the whole staff at Curb Your Kvetch wishes you a sweet and sour year of kvetching. If, during the coming months, you find yourself losing your spouse, friends, neighbors,  country . . . , know you will always find an enormous parking lot here at www.CurbYourKvetch.

With blessings,  

Judy L.

Chief Administrator, Curb Your Kvetch

 

(Ooof. This is not what I meant at all…)

 

 

 

 

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Stuck in May 1967

In May  1967 my American parents, together with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley led me to believe that the State of Israel might not exist by the summer.  On May 14th there were reports of Egyptian troop movements into Sinai. On May 16th Radio Cairo announced, “The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” On May 18th Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force to leave Sinai. On May 23rd he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.  Iraqi President Abdur Rahman Aref said, on May 31st, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified . . . Our goal is clear–to wipe Israel off the map.”

Another Holocaust was about to transpire, it seemed, but this time it would be easier. Close to two and a half million Jews lived in a narrow strip of land surrounded by Arab enemies, whose powerful armies vowed to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.

As a twenty-one year old Jew in Cleveland, I was horrified that such a disaster could befall my people again, so soon after the initial Holocaust. Had nobody learned anything from that epic trauma? As a recent college graduate planning to embark on a one-year study program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I was also scared that if the dot known as Israel disappeared from the map, I would have to stay in Cleveland with no Plan B. Suddenly my own insignificant, post-university life aligned with the survival of the Jewish State.

On the morning of June 5th, 1967 my mother entered my frilly suburban bedroom to let me know the war had begun. I cried into my pillow. They can’t destroy Israel, I sobbed to the sheets. My Jewish identity and study plan would be wrecked. It was too late to get accepted to graduate school. Granted, I was fed up with studying. My signing up for the one-year  program was actually a front to get to Israel in a legitimate way. What I really wanted to do was gather chicken eggs at Kibbutz Ginosar, where I had fallen in love with Israel during the summer of ’66.

Nasser was ruining my plans.  Would I have to waitress at Stouffer’s and live with my parents? I dropped out of bed, my face blotched with tears.

 

By the time I walked downstairs and sat in front of the TV, Israel was winning the war. Her air force had destroyed Egypt’s planes while still on the ground. I would not have to waitress in Cleveland. Even if the one-year program was cancelled, I could fly to Israel as a volunteer.

Israel’s stunning victory gave my father the pride of being a Jew that sixty-four years in America and nineteen years of the Jewish State had not instilled. Before June 1967 my father, raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa, among six other  Jewish families, was not a proud Jew. As a child he had been accused of killing Jesus. He didn’t defend the Jewish People when his classmates called him a kike. By the time he was in his twenties, he had changed his name from Steinberg to Stonehill. Selling butter and eggs was easier as a Stonehill. But after the Six Day War, my father sprinkled his corn-fed English with his latent Yiddish. He stood taller. Of course he would send his daughter to Jerusalem on August 1st, when the group  would leave for the one-year program.

Fifty years later I am still here, albeit in Tel Aviv. Often, I feel like May 1967 has never passed.  Our “leaders” still portray us as being vulnerable victims of a hateful neighborhood. They speak as if our stunning military victory never happened, as if we don’t have the power to occupy and oppress another people.  They deny that we are experts at mass oppression and that we export this expertise to police forces and armies throughout the world.

If you live in a country that wants to subdue a particular local population, Israel is your go-to country of expertise. We know how to limit freedom in legal ways, steal land legally and push people like cattle through iron tunnels.

Ours is a benign occupation, we were told in the first decades after 1967, but should you really want to see what the occupation looks like in 2017 or hear what the soldiers have to do to keep the local Arab population scared, you will be called a traitor, or worse, and you may not even be allowed to visit the country.

Yes, we won an astounding military victory in June of 1967, but we lost so much more that the heart breaks. It breaks to remember one’s adolescent innocence in the belief of the righteous Jewish State and it breaks at the entrenchment of the messianic Jews in the seat of power; it breaks reading of the pomposity and cruelty of Jews in Hebron and it breaks to realize the institutionalization of Jewish superiority; it breaks witnessing the dearth of humane and upright Jewish leaders, infused with prophetic wisdom, who could reach out to our Arab neighbors in brotherhood, humility and respect.

Today, in May 2017, Israel is an abnormal place. A certain dimension of time stands still. The nation’s clock is stuck in May 1967. Our “leaders” assume we are still victims. We are still  waiting for the war to begin. If not Egypt, then the bombs will come from Iran. If not Iran, then Hezbollah in Lebanon, or ISIS or BDS or the anti-semites in France, England, the US.  Though it is strong militarily, Israel acts like a scared bully.

Now, just as in May 1967, I am afraid. Fifty years after those months that brought a tectonic change, I fear that the state I loved will be destroyed from within.

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Ah Spring

One of the best ways to get back to writing is spending 2-6 hours roaming the internet reading stupid short articles about Melania and Baron and looking at pictures of Michelle O. when she was in high school and then going to bed feeling like you are wasting your life on what your ex-husband would call narashkeit. At 6 a.m. you have a dream that while you are walking down a calm street four men drive up to you in a car and ask for directions, but before you can give them, one man takes out a knife with a silver blade –maybe it is a letter opener – and just as he lifts his arm over your chest, aiming for your heart, you wake up and say to yourself, I better submit my book right away.

Ah Spring, when sicknesses vanish, at least for a month, and you have new energy to direct towards achieving goals you once set or re-set every season. Yes, I will write a new synopsis for the old-new memoir. Yes, I will write a 250-word query letter. Yes, I will sign up for a 2-day improv workshop at the home of Vertigo Dance Co. in beautiful Kibbutz HaLamed Hey, a place I’ve never been. Yes, I will carry my almost two-year old grandson down the stairs without pain. Yes, I will get back on my bike and dive into the treacherous streets of Tel Aviv, each car a dragon, each rider a shark.

Summer’s humidity is still a few months away. I have managed to forget how awful it is just as one forgets the pain of childbirth. Now the air, though full of dust, is comfortable, demanding layers of clothing that can be shed or added as the moment demands. My floors are clean, thanks to my vacuuming every day. What a difference cleanliness makes!

Geraniums bloom in other people’s flower boxes along Arlozorov and on Be’eri, my street, one purple iris is poking its crown through the dirt of a flower pot. Soon my son will be forty-two and my grandson two.

I am growing faith in growing old. As long as I don’t fall, slip, faint or get stabbed by the man in my dream; as long as the Prime Minister does not lock me up for boycotting eggs from Itamar and the Chief Rabbi does not de-Jew me for being born Reform and the Police Chief does not  imprison me for supporting Breaking the Silence and I do not become immobilized from guilt about how the IDF herds  Palestinians like cattle through the checkpoints and how Israel strangles and starves the people in Gaza, all legally, and how my country steals land, all legally, and empties the land of The Other, just like America emptied the land of what we called Indians, methodically, if I can overcome this guilt and figure out how to live with these facts, then all will be, as the Hebrew teachers say,  בסדר b’seder, in order.

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New Post, New Life

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post since  October 2016. What Happened? Where have I been? My writing mind was tied up getting used to a new apartment.  There were days when I contemplated stopping to write altogether. I had nothing to say. Though I did write a few  first drafts, none of them seemed urgent enough to make me want to share them,  especially when the world was falling apart in Europe, England and then America.

January and February came with their drafts and colds and continual phlegm and exhausting bouts of coughing and finally a flu, a fall and a minor operation. Now all that is behind me and I’m feeling my oats, which is to say I haven’t had a nap in two days and I want to start dancing lessons, so I must be getting better. Being over seventy, though, I have  succumbed to the tendency to be obsessed about bodily processes. I can discuss Trump, the Occupation, and Co-housing, but my speech usually reverts to my newly discovered dust allergy, my newly discovered vasovagal syncope, my excised infiltrating basal cell carcinoma, and my day at Ichilov Hospital when the skin on my nose was anesthetized into a brick and then cut and stretched, flapped and sewn.

Despite the world’s ills and woes, the most dramatic change in my own small life is due to  the dust allergy. I’ve always had a high tolerance for dirt. Obsessive cleaning was not a card dealt me at birth. But ever since I was diagnosed with a dust allergy three weeks ago I have been cleaning my floor with a new electric broom everyday. I also brought back my cleaning person after a six month hiatus, after realizing my own cleaning, or lack thereof, might kill me. I could collapse from coughing due to the excrement of dust motes.

I think my late mother is pleased that I am cleaning my house on a regular basis. When I told her that I have this allergy and I bought an electric broom and use it everyday, she smiled and I could tell she was thinking I told you so, but was too kind to say the words out loud.

Taking Root

Before the shit hit the fan in January-February, I planted an avocado pit in a glass of water. The root is showing. I take this as a sign that 2017 may yet become a year of growth,  as opposed to one of continual decay.

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Some Commentary from a Common Hairdresser

You can repeat a verse from the liturgy for years without understanding it. This was my relationship to  v’tahair libenu וטהר לבנו, purify our hearts. What does this mean, I asked myself in the sanctuary on the first day of Rosh Hashana?  What is purification of the heart? I  had a glimpse of open-heart surgery from the waiting room when David underwent a triple bypass, but purify our hearts?, as if God can do this without cardiologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and aides?

Having spent hours cleaning my own home, I immediately thought of clutter. Yes. Purifying the heart is our getting rid of clutter that surrounds and invades the heart. This is not dust or grease, old shoes or torn purses. Rather, it’s old selves, worn out beliefs, stale ideas, bad books and bad feelings. Clutter can be people we have outgrown and rubble, such as bad food that clogs arteries. We want our hearts to pump freely. Ker plunk, ker-plunk.  Ahhh, a pure heart, free of obsessions and other poisons, a strong heart, flexible as a reed.

The liturgy says we want pure hearts for a reason. That reason is to worship God truly or in truth. L’avdcha b’emet לעבדך באמת.  If we have a cluttered heart, we can’t truly worship God. We can go through the motions, sure, and mouth the words, but they won’t come from the deepest parts of our souls, that part which is beyond words.  Our hearts are so wound up in children and grandchildren, spouses and neighbors, friends and work associates, doctors and sales people, Face Book and Twitter, clerks, drivers, hairdressers and trainers, garbage collectors, bankers, lawyers and accountants, teachers, taxmen, waitresses and rabbis, writers, yogis and meditation teachers.

To get to that place beyond words we have to let go of all these. We must kick them all out of our heads, albeit gently, so we can worship God truly. Or even communicate with a human Other.

Which is why cleaning the floors, windows, toilets and sinks is a healthy thing to do before every holiday that demands a pure heart, even if all this work means you don’t have time to bake a honey cake.  You understand that all this physical cleaning is a metaphor for the inner purification of the heart. You know what it means to unclutter a space, a hallway, say, so that light shines into the darkness within and illuminates, truly, the whole day.

Every dust mote has meaning and is on its journey and you become so open and fragile and vulnerable at this season that even a small feather swept into the dust pan makes you feel guilty and brings you to tears and you stop and wonder about being part of a neighborhood much larger than the one on your map.

This vulnerability has been with you for days, even before Shimon Peres died, along with memories of  Zionist history that played such a pivotal role in your own peregrinations. It started at the beginning of  Elul and you wondered why you were always so close to tears, on the verge of falling.

Now it is clear. This fragility is the body’s way of adjusting to the Days of Remembrance, Judgement and Atonement. The universe is in an especially precarious place in Elul. From the fifteenth the days get shorter. Seasons are changing. Good-bye humidity, hello air. This brings great joy, but with it, the reminder that everything is fleeting. Nothing is stable and solid. Your friend is dying. Another friend’s father is dying. Your mother is not here to make chicken soup, your grandmother her fruit soup.

The earth is shifting and you’re losing balance – the eternal changing of the seasons from violent, fiery summer to blessed rain. Soon rain will pound the windows of your new apartment and you wonder which window will give in, which wall open its crack to the wind and you pray that your heating bills (you like to be warm) will not eat up your pension. Even one chill can send you to bed for two weeks. Call it flu or pneumonia. You don’t want to torture your body that way every year.  Your name is on the list and you want to be sure it stays at the bottom. You’re a sheep walking through a gate with a herd. You don’t want to fall or draw attention.

Hopefully, the vulnerability will vanish by Shmini Atzeret and you will be ready to face a new season with a new chair.

New Chair at Just Cuts

New Chair at Just Cuts

You love this season of a million holidays, depending what you count: meals, gifts, words, prayers, stories. Sara and Isaac. Hagar and Sara. Hagar and Ishmael. Avraham and Avimelech. Avraham and Yitschak. Hineni. Hineni. Angel and Ram. Chana and Elkana. Eli and Shmuel. Father God the winnower and shepherd and first son Ephraim and Rachel crying for her children and Compassion and Mercy. All these characters and stories at the changing of the seasons in Beersheba, Shilo and Mount Moriah and the grand promise of all the sons returning from afar to their land, to their borders. The end of tears. Jeremiah promises God will transform our sorrow to joy. Poof.

That which is beyond words comes to the sanctuary at 11:15 when the children pile in.  Seven people from sixtysomething to thirteen, men and women, equal in wearing the special prayer garments, stand on the bima holding their shofars, some horns modest and others with twists. They sound the one hundred blasts in memory of the one hundred gasps of Sisera’s mother when she heard that her son was killed. This too has meaning that I will read about later in a beautiful talk by Rabbi Yehuda Amital z”l (link below), but now I am blown away by the sound of the shofars.

Blown away, though cliché, is the right verb, because this is pure magnified breadth coming out of the wide end of the shofar.  The author of the Kuzari claimed that an over-abundance of words causes the truth to be covered.

That is another reason we listen to the shofar.  No words.  Tekiahh (x 17)     Pure breadth. Shevarim (x 6)      Pushed through an animal horn.   Teruah (x 6)        Pure heart.   Tekiah Gadola (1)

No clutter.

Straight to Heaven.

Silence.

The uncluttered, bald heart breaks. The body doesn’t know how to react, so it walks downstairs to the street, unlocks the bike and rides home to warm up the chicken soup for coming generations.

***

For a beautiful Rosh Hashana talk by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, z”l, in Hebrew, please click here.

Shana Tova u’Metuka to all my wonderful and loyal readers.

 

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