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.


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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Letter from Home

That’s a joke.

Home is an ongoing, changing environment. After 11 ½ months in one apartment on Feivel in Tel Aviv, we are moving to another apartment three blocks away on Be’eri, named after Berl Katzenelson. This will be my seventh move since 1998. For a sense of stability, I imagine the ghosts of these Zionist thinkers and writers watching over me. Fortunately, the apartment on Be’eri sits on the corner of Henrietta Szold, so the mother of all mothers, who was never a biological mother, will be spreading her wings over my fate, as well.

Two weeks after the move to Be’eri I’m going to visit another Home, the original one–Cleveland, LeBron James, Ohio. Apparently, for short, LeBron calls the city we share The Land.  I will be leaving one The Land to go to the other The Land.

“Wherever I go, I am going to The Land of Israel (Jerusalem),” said Rebbe Nachman.


The latest image that comforts me in times of stress is a turtle. Like a turtle, I am slow. For example, my last five baby teeth had to be pulled out when I was fourteen, because they had no intention of falling out on their own. Menstruation began at fifteen. Married two months before 27, which back  in the ‘60’s with Shaker Heights values, felt late. First child at thirty, also latish in those days in Jerusalem. Started a small business late. Found my calling as a teacher and mentor late. Made peace with myself at 70. Published a book late – maybe by 80, if at all. Found stability and love late. Learned how to express my love for my children late.

My mantra is from the children’s story The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow and steady wins the race. I don’t know which race I’m in, or who the competitors are, but I know I am slow and not necessarily steady, but persistent. These traits I inherited from my late father, who at 87 described himself as a Late Bloomer. He married at 38, had his last child when he was 48,  started making money in his 70’s and moved to Florida at 87.

On the eve of my 71st birthday, I’m looking ahead to a blooming great decade . . . or four, with at least five more moves, the first four vertical.

Like a turtle, not only am I slow, but I carry Home on my back.  I have learned to lessen the load by getting rid of casserole dishes, Norton anthologies and uncomfortable shoes. Each successive move is easier. No joke. I’m always moving closer to Home.


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The Place Is What Will Happen

Last night I dreamt of a stone house. Yes, the house had a door and I walked in, startled by the stark emptiness, neither a table for clutter, nor a chair for sitting, just thick stone walls, stone floor and stone ceiling. “How important is place/ setting?” Ron Carlson asks in Ron Carlson Writes A Story. “It is essential.  As we know, nothing happens nowhere. The place many times is what will happen.”


This empty place in my dream was like a blank piece of paper, ready for story, but I, the dreamer, was not yet ready. I walked into one room in the house where learning was going on, but I did not know who these people were and what I wanted to learn.

The house reminded me of those I photographed on the renovated 1908 founder’s street at Kvutzat Kinneret, several weeks ago. In a space with little clutter at the southern tip of the Kinneret, pioneers in their twenties founded the beginnings of the organizations that would grow into the State of Israel.


What was this house with one open door from last night’s dream? I expected closure from age seventy, but instead I am open and wandering, empty and wondering. The house is waiting for something to happen, or maybe this is what will happen. I will enter an old/ new space and learn something old/ new.


Going to the alternative memorial service on Erev Yom Hazikaron was also like falling into a dream. The event was organized by Combatants for Peace—an NGO of former IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants who realized that peace will not come through the barrels of guns—and the Forum-Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace—an NGO made up of Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians who realized that the conflict between us will not end until we talk to each other ( זה לא יגמר עד שנדבר   Zeh lo yigamer ad sh’nedaber.).  The event took place at Heicahl Kvutzot Shlomo, a new sports stadium in north Tel Aviv that seats 3,600 spectators.

To a packed house bereaved mothers and sisters, brothers and fathers shared their stories of grief and renewal. The silence was intense, the pain palpable. Song and poetry, dance and rap followed each personal story. There were no ideological pronouncements or nationalistic slogans, no flags and no anthems. There were only true stories of love and loss, and the recognition that tears are tears, blood is blood and pain is pain.

Being in that stadium where Hebrew and Arabic were spoken and sung and translated simultaneously was such a relief after so many years of national bullying and empty slogans (i.e. One People, One Nation). There was no blame and nobody argued about who shot first. There was only compassion for our shared fate that does not necessarily have to be our fate, perhaps, if more of us learn to listen and talk to each other. For the first time in years, I felt hope.

Hope is empowering, so much so that even the right wing screamers outside the stadium after the event yelling You should be ashamed of yourselves seemed totally inappropriate. They were the ones missing the point. They should be ashamed for not listening to their neighbors and for using always the same word to describe them: Enemy. They should be ashamed for demonizing.

Worse than Israel’s Separation Fence, and maybe a result of it, are the separation walls inside us all.  Most of us have allowed these inner walls to cut us off from our neighbors and thus, from ourselves. Even when the concrete Separation Fence comes down—for it will and it must—years will pass before our inner separation walls disappear.

The bereaved parents and siblings who shared their personal stories on Erev Yom Hazikaron in the alternative ceremony are our reconnaissance mission.  Over the years their walls of hatred have fallen. They persisted in talking to each other, because they knew there was no other way to go on living. Now, ten and twenty years later, Jews and Arabs stand side by side to share their message and their stories.

These are the people who inspire me.  They teach that when we share our personal stories, rather than spout the frozen national narratives, something melts within. The voice of compassion and pain can be heard, chipping away at inner walls. A door opens.  A space reveals itself, waiting and ready for new life. This is the place that will happen.

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I’ve joined a co-housing group and through a democratic process was elected Chair of the Site & Design Committee. This position forces me to talk to real estate agents, architects, developers, and lawyers as we search for a site to create the first co-housing in Israel.  A retired architect-developer told me that, before you settle on a particular site,  it’s important to ask yourself what your goal is for the next ten or twenty years. “Then you have to position yourself in a place,” he explained, “so that you can achieve your goal.” My head knew this made sense, but the rest of my body rebelled against the G word  like a Pavlovian dog.

“Goal” gained prominence in the ’70’s beyond the meaning of a pair of posts.  Therapists started using the word in the ’80’s and ’90’s, but I never went to those kinds of therapists. I preferred the kind that just let me talk and interrupted only once to tell me the hour was up. My new partner David introduced the G word early in our courtship, but he is an organizational consultant, so I forgave him.

The word was never part of my vocabulary, probably because I never set goals, unless wanting to leave the United States during the Viet Nam War and after the Six Day War for Israel  was a goal or leaving my husband after twenty-seven  years of marriage and moving to my own apartment was a goal or leaving Beit Zayit after ten years of country living and moving to Tel Aviv was a goal. These transitions sprung from strong desires, their roots mainly unconscious. What they all have in common was that I never knew what I was going towards.  Sure, I knew the name of the place where I would land, but I had no idea of the nature of that place. Each one could have been called The Great Unknown. The moves felt more like inner necessities, obsessions, rather than  goals.

(Becoming a writer was never a goal. It was simply a way of being that came naturally to me.)

But now this architect-developer’s  question which I shunned during the conversation keeps haunting me. Now that I am 70 and work independently, it makes sense to ask  what my goals are for my 70’s and 80’s, beyond staying healthy and fit. Do I want to relearn Canasta in Ra’anana or join a mixed-income community in Lod? Do I want to take cruises to Sardinia or cut hair in the women’s prison in Ramla? Do I want to jog along the Yarkon  or hang out in South Tel Aviv with the refugees? Do I want to turn my back on the world or throw myself into it?

I’m treading water, because I can’t decide and the writing that used to come naturally is not coming at all.  Meanwhile, I love riding my two wheeler bike on the level paths in Tel Aviv. Could this be a goal for the next ten years, or until I fall and break a wrist? I love playing with my grandchildren, but will they want to play hide ‘n seek  when I’m eighty-five?

I think of the first Jewish fisherman on the Sea of Galilee since the time of Jesus. I met him in 1966 when he was working as a guard on the shores of Kibbutz Ginosar and I was a volunteer (Sex, Sun and Zionist Dreams). I wanted to find out what it was like being the first Jewish fisherman on the Sea of Galilee since Jesus, but all this lanky, sun-tanned seventy-year-old man talked about and all he dreamed about was his father’s shoe repair shop on a little street in Pinsk.

My little street in Pinsk is close to Shaker Square in Cleveland, Ohio. As I age I too think about it often. One of my dreams is to go back there, ride my two wheeler to the Colony Drug Store and buy an Archie Comic Book for a quarter.  If this is a goal, I may be exploring co-housing options in the wrong country.

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Behind “The Chair,” or Why I Am Learning Hairdressing

In mid-June 2015 after thirty years of grieving and mourning and completing the latest version of a grief memoir, I wanted to do something superficial and light, so I signed up for a course in hairdressing. During the last four years of writing, I had roamed the depths of my kishkes, alone, searching old dark caves of memory and emotion. Now I was ready for light. Hair seemed to be the connecting tissue between my inner world and the present, where others roamed in light, uncluttered by the past.

Tomer Reshef is a well-known stylist in Tel Aviv who outgrew her hair salon on Rothschild Blvd. eight years ago and founded the cool and Feng shui-designed Tomer v’Sheli salon on Levontin Street, off Allenby. There I learn the basic Tomer Reshef techniques of cutting hair with Tomer herself. On Mondays from nine to five I join a class with five other “girls,” a term Tomer uses when she wants to get our attention—Banot! Banot!—despite my telling her I am no longer a girl.

Who is in the class? Three women in their twenties who work at the salon washing hair and managing the reception desk. (Two of these women roll their own cigarettes.); a woman in her 30’s who has her own private salon at home; a woman in her 40’s who has already taken one course in hairdressing; and me, aged 70 with no cutting experience other than trimming David’s hair and that of  my three-year-old granddaughter.

Tomer sings and teaches

Tomer sings  teaches and cuts

Why have I put myself in this ridiculous situation? Everyone speaks a rapid Hebrew full of hip slang. Instead of saying Hi, for instance, they say Hi-oosh. I do not get their jokes. I do not smoke with Tomer and her girls out on the porch of our classroom. I do not know any of the celebs whose hair styles my cohorts adore. I do not go to the beach, run into the sea and dry my hair in the sun. (Skin cancer! Skin cancer!) For an assignment on a celeb whose LOOK  we like, I googled “short hair celeb” and brought a piece of black and white printed paper with photos from the internet. I felt like a dinosaur next to my cohorts’  easy use of accessing color photos on their cellphones. I do not sing along to the songs on Tomer’s endless playlists. In fact, I ask her to turn down the music because I can’t hear my “clients.”

Jamie Lee Curtis - celeb with short hair

Jamie Lee Curtis – short hair celeb

Having never adjusted to multi-focals, I don’t know which of my three pairs of glasses to use when I cut hair. Those for long distance, office, or reading? None seem to be just right. I’ll be damned if I have to learn how to switch between all three pairs, in addition to grasping the comb with my left thumb while my right hand maneuvers the scissors into perfect artistic snips. Trying to relax, I curse the natural sunlight and the Feng shui lighting that are always changing angles and blinding either me, the client, or the mirror.

How can I be a hairdresser if I can’t hear or see? Is this the world I sought after writing a grief memoir? Have I always dreamt of being a hairdresser the way some little girls dream of becoming a princess?

No. I had no such dreams, but I do like holding scissors and cutting hair.  And I like playing the role of the hairdresser, even though I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I can bullshit my way through asking the client sitting in The Chair, Well, what are you looking for today? How can I change your life–obliterate your depression,  defeat your alcoholism, fix your unhappy marriage, assuage state-of-the nation angst, kill your boss, ignite the sex drive, give you new life?

I can open the discussion and listen. Then I can move my fingers, all ten of them that are still pre-arthritic, up the client’s head from the back of the upper neck and lift his or her hair away from the head, making the slightest change by pressing here or pulling there. I can play with the client’s hair and Voila! suddenly she is a new woman, he a new man.

It’s fun to play with hair and after the comedy of errors of my haircuts,  Tomer stands by my side, holding my scissors to cut and shape and make sure the customer leaves happy. From Tomer I learn how complex and not at all superficial  it is to cut  hair in a particular style that brings out the beauty in each person.

For certainly there is beauty in each person, at least in each person who comes up to the third floor for Tomer v’Sheli.   I have positioned myself behind The Chair in an effort to help them find that beauty—not in a 6-year psychotherapy ride or a 10-week writing course or a week-end breathing retreat in the woods, but in an hour or 3 at the beauty salon, the place where you sit and look in the mirror as much as you want and talk about your hair while someone massages your scalp and looks at your head from all sides and may dare to sigh, Wow, you are really beautiful.

Maybe I’m doing the course to learn how to see  beauty in every person, not only those who sit in The Chair.

Or maybe I’m doing it because hairdressing demands standing, unlike writing that demands sitting.

–because hairdressing  demands working with my hands on hair, unlike writing that demands working with my hands on a plastic keyboard.

–because hairdressing is interactive and is full of fun, while writing a grief memoir is lonely and full of pain.

Or maybe I’m doing it because I’m losing my vocabulary and I foresee needing a new profession in the near future . But here I go again, diving deep, searching for why’s.

The Why doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is that after decades of leaping into the unknown past in my head, I am now finding the courage to leap into the unknown present on the heads of others. Over the next few months  I expect to  discover if  I am a late bloomer, a natural born hairdresser, who discovers her calling at seventy, or if–it hurts me to say it–just a regular old bullshit artist taking a break from writing.


This is Ro’i, after his haircut.  He can’t believe how fabulous he looks  and how much fun he had sitting for 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you like his haircut, go tell him at  Anastasia Vegan Restaurant,  54  Frishman St. in Tel Aviv.  Don’t be shy.  Ask him, nonchalantly, of course, “Who cut your hair? It’s . . .  .”

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To Be Terrorized

The bike was lightweight, low, one speed, no gears, one foot brake, one hand brake, nothing to master except balance and fear. It was love at first site. I had wanted a simple bike that would keep me upright, close to the ground and here it was, a “city” bike for a price lower than that of used bikes. The salesman in the store in south Tel Aviv let me take it for a spin on the sidewalk, but it being Levinsky Street, I reached the corner and quickly turned around.


“The handle bars shake,” I told the guy, disappointed the bike wasn’t perfect.

He took it for a spin and said the handlebars were fine, meaning I was the one who was shaky. I owned up to my fear, bought the bike, a lock and rode it to a store on Shalma that sold blades for old Braun food choppers. “Rode” isn’t quite the right verb, because the sidewalks in commercial Tel Aviv are obstacle courses. I got off the bike at intersections along Har Zion Ave. and often, after a few cycles of the wheels on the crowded sidewalks, I slowed down, kept one foot on the right pedal and pushed with the left, as if my new bike were a kick scooter.

These precautions did not prevent me from rubbing against a school girl walking towards me. Panicked, I stopped, placed both feet solidly on the sidewalk and asked if she was OK. She continued walking in the opposite direction, seemingly unscathed, looking back over her shoulder to get another look at this crazy old woman who didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Tikuni Dani didn’t have the blade I needed, so I walked my bike down Shalma back to Mount Zion. It was teeming with people of all colors, speaking as many languages as there were spokes in my wheels. Young men raced by on one, two and three-wheeled vehicles. I pedaled to the first cross street where I was happy to stand next to my bike and escort it across the street.

My goal was Feivel, off Arlozorov, which I reached fifty minutes later, stupidly taking Begin, which is one elongated building site. I got off the bike, shaking mildly, but cogent enough to remember to lock the bike to the bike rack with my new super duper Cryptonite lock. The lock did not cooperate. We got into a fight. I lost my temper, swore, cried, and attacked the lock. The lock won, only after I realized I had been trying to open and close the damn thing with my mailbox key.

Isn’t it odd that the State of Israel tests drivers of cars, trucks and buses, but has no tests or minimal requirements for bike riders? Any idiot can go out and buy a bike and cause havoc.

All this happened during the week that racism and hatred stretched their ugly elongated arms, strangling the country’s streets, a week of bloodshed, death, grief and fear. The enemy Anarchy knocked at every door. Some people opened it, driven by fear.

After so many years in Israel, I refused to be terrorized, or so I thought. On the day I bought my new bike, I was busy with other fears. What I feared most was my losing control and because of that, seriously hurting someone else and knowing that that pain would inevitably hurt me for years to come.

But I couldn’t help wondering, too, if this fear was just another version or expression of the same fear others felt when they walked down the street and imagined a crazy kid rushing towards them, waving a knife above his head like a medieval sword and proclaiming the greatness of God. I wondered if there was any qualitative difference between one fear and the other or if the object of the fear was secondary and fear itself was enough to paralyze an entire nation.

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Thoughts in Honor of Berthold Feivel’s 140th

Greetings to all my loyal readers from the city that never sleeps, the white city, the crowded city, the rectangular city, the hot city – Tel Aviv. More specifically, greetings from one-way Rehov Feivel. That’s Baruch, (Berthold) Feivel, writer, poet, editor, translator, lawyer, banker and early Zionist, a friend to Herzl, Buber and Weitzman and first director of the Keren Hayesod. (Not to be confused with Feivel Mousekewitz from An American Tail.)

I wanted to move into our new rental on Feivel to celebrate Bertie’s birthday on August 15th, so arrived on the 14th.    Nobody was celebrating due to the severe heat wave.

David, my city-challenged partner, is grateful our apartment is a mere five minute walk to the Arlozorov bus station, which means only a five minute walk to an air conditioned bus that goes to Jerusalem every ten minutes. Jerusalem may be hot, but it is rarely humid. Living in Tel Aviv only ten days, I have discovered my sweat glands. They are getting a good workout, which I assume is healthy for my skin. I haven’t fainted yet and remain upbeat.

Our fabulous locale is also a five minute walk to the train station, so I visited my three grandchildren in Haifa, did the Haifa tayelet and returned to my own bed on Feivel by 10:45 PM. During my visit my nine-year old granddaughter gave me a tattoo of a peacock on my arm. With my new short haircut and my tattoo, I fit right into the city on the sea.

Before I moved here I saw TA  women from the point of view of a hill person who respects modesty. In a day I too wanted to shed all my clothes, wear short shorts and did not give a hoot if my bra strap showed. It took a mere two days to feel only pity for women who wear long sleeved acetate blouses and nylon stockings all because some men can’t deal with their urges when they see a bare elbow or kneecap.

It’s interesting that in a hilly region, such as Jerusalem, houses have arches and convex rooms, whereas in a flat city, you have square and rectangular buildings and square and rectangular rooms. The only arch on Feivel is made by the gardener who shapes the shrubs. I am sure this difference in architecture, round versus straight, has far-reaching ramifications in other areas, but it’s too hot to think about it just now.

Squares, rectangles and a shaved date palm on Feivel

Squares, rectangles and a shaved date palm on Feivel

We live on the third floor – sixty stairs, bordered by a strong wooden hand rail. Sometimes I wish I lived on the 2nd floor, but there are times, even in the heat, when I have reached the door to our apartment and I want to keep climbing. Climbing stairs will keep us young and agile, which is why I wanted to move to Tel Aviv in the first place. Also interacting with people, as opposed to trees and spiders, will keep me on my toes. I exaggerate. On the moshav, I interacted with Colette, the cashier in the local makolet, a few good friends and my upstairs neighbor. Too often I took walks on empty streets overlooking Hadassah Hospital or the new Highway One to Jerusalem. Occasionally I passed the Philippine worker accompanying his ward suffering from Alzheimer and we all exchanged hellos. If I wanted more than a broom and a stuffed grape leaf, I had to get in my car and drive to the mall in Mevasseret. I felt isolated on the moshav and over dependent on Henry Ford.

In Tel Aviv I don’t feel isolated. I can walk everywhere or take a bus that stops three houses away. People of all ages and ideological persuasions walk on the streets or ride their bikes. My daughter and her family are a fifteen minute walk away. I saw them four times the first week. My Tel Aviv granddaughter learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The wonderful Yarkon Park is twenty minutes away and even Jerusalem, the city I am forbidden to forget, lest my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, is a mere sixty-minutes from Feivel.

Although there was no celebration on this unknown Zionist’s birthday, I have been blessed with a neighbor who knew someone who knew him. She is a woman after my own heart, who, after she tells me that he was a womanizer, recalls the military parade she watched from the roof of “our” building, new in 1961. “Everything north of here was a field,” she explains. “The road to our east was called Derech Haifa,” she says pointing, “not Namir. I saw shepherds and their herds of sheep and goats in the distance,” she says with a hint of sadness, the sadness and longing of a woman born in the small, familiar city of Tel Aviv, before it became home to start-ups and gays, electric bikes and hi-rises. Then she reprimands herself for becoming nostalgic.

I don’t tell her that I too miss the shepherd from the corner on Derech Beit Lechem and  Reuven. Rather, I tell her that Feivel left Europe for Jerusalem in 1933 and died four years later at the age of sixty-two in the holy city.

It’s easier—and maybe healthier—being a Zionist abroad,  I think to myself, or in this unholy city.





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Into the Land of Flip Flops and Tank Tops

I’ve finished the memoir I’ve been working on intensively over the past three years and less intensively over the past thirty-three, but I’m still playing  with titles. I’m up to thirty-three possible titles, one for each year. My goal is to reach fifty and if the book does not find an agent and/or publisher by then, I will write a short piece about the fifty titles. That, surely, will find a home. Stringing along with titles is my way of dragging out the process of letting go of the memoir, which is about—no surprise here—letting go.

My friend Susan descending Wadi Daraja

I could have written a doctoral thesis during the past thirty-three years, reviewing all the literature about LG. I could have become a neuro-surgeon or a computer engineer or a painter or an Egged bus driver. Instead, I climbed down ladders into my psyche and described scenes along the way, as one might document the descent at Wadi Daraja overlooking the Dead Sea.

Sometimes you fall into a pool of refreshing water. More often you scale the edge of a cliff, going down, breathless, towards the Dead Sea. Each time you complete the descent and walk out of the wadi in one piece, you feel emboldened. That’s how I felt after I completed each chapter of my memoir:  strengthened, secure, accomplished, my self-esteem rising to several centimeters above the Dead Sea.

Another metaphor for finishing the memoir is having turned myself inside out. In this writerly acrobatic act, what gets dropped onto the page are tears, sweat, blood and guts. No wonder I’m thinking about a vacation.

So much has happened since I finished my memoir. I’m relearning the vowels with Imri, my newest grandson, who is almost three months old and lives in Tel Aviv. I have decided to move to that city so that I will see this grandson and his older sister more than twice  a week and so that my trip to Haifa to visit my three grandchildren there will only be 90 minutes instead of three hours.

Moving to Tel Aviv might be as scary as writing a memoir or descending Wadi Daraja, but I am up for the challenge. Why? Because I’m turning seventy (!?!) next week and my own mother, may she rest in peace now that the eleven months of mourning are over, moved from Cleveland to Sarasota when she was seventy. If she could make a move from cold Cleveland to hot sticky weather at seventy, I can leave the Judean hills for the damp coast. I can’t wait to live my life using my legs as the sole means of transportation, plus the occasional train or bus. Good-bye car; hello bike.

I can’t wait to watch the ocean open up into the sky in all its glory and at the same time open up something inside me. I want to fly into the sunset. In Beit Zayit I do not have a sunset, only stars, vineyards, trees, birds, jackals, hills, and an annoying cemetery beckoning opposite my living room window. Its persistent whisper Nu? Nu?  make me want to run away into the land of flip-flops and tank tops before those whispers morph into demands.

In Tel Aviv I will recreate The Writing Pad, which has become a necessary venue on the Anglo Israeli writing scene for so many grateful writers and teachers. I’m looking forward to this challenge and to hosting my Jerusalem writer friends in the flat city of  Bauhaus and cockroaches.

Meanwhile, the whole world is changing: gay marriages are in, the Confederate flag is out and ISIS is salivating on our borders.  Change is in the air and I am joining the fray.  In Tel Aviv I will complete my next three books, which, at my pace, should be ready for publication in 2048, just in time for Israel’s centennial and my own 103rd!


Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

An Open Letter to The Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Nir Barkat, Concerning the Establishment of Sabbath Peace in the City of Peace

Dear Mr. Mayor,

On the lovely spring afternoon of Shabbat Tazriya-Mezora, April 25, 2015, at exactly 5:30 PM, I desecrated the Holy Sabbath by entering my partner’s car in Moshav Beit Zayit, where we live, and drove to the corner of Street of the Prophets and HaRav Kook Street in downtown Jerusalem. As you probably know, this is the only corner in the city on the Day of Rest where you can find a cab to Tel Aviv, on the Sabbath.

Until I reached Street of the Prophets, the idea that I was desecrating the Sabbath was a low-grade thought simmering on the back burner of my consciousness. Anyone who has lived in Jerusalem for thirty-eight years, as I did until 2005, cannot help but be conscious of the Holy Sabbath. But my personal desecration morphed into a full-fledged public affair when I reached the cab, for surrounding the yellow ten-seater van were fifteen middle-aged men in long coats, their high furry hats miraculously balanced on their heads as they stretched their vocal chords to the extreme roaring, like lions, SHABBES, SHABBES.

Roaring Lion

Fear spurred me to counter their unpleasant screaming, so I belted out a song I learned at my Reform Sunday school in Cleveland, Ohio, where the love of Zion first took root.

Shabbat Shalom, hey, Shabbat Shalom, hey, Shabbat Shabbat shalom, Shabbat Shalom.

When I saw this had no effect, I raised my voice to a roar.


A police officer stood nearby and smiled. Behind him a police woman adjusted the rifle strapped over her shoulder. Several cadets standing around gave each other confused looks, wondering, no doubt, what this crazy old woman was doing. It was not clear to me what these men and woman of the law were doing there. Were they there to protect the screaming ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, the passengers trying to get into the van headed for Tel Aviv, or the unfortunate drivers.

Once I was seated inside the van, the men with fur hats inched up to the window next to my seat and repeated their cries SHABBES, SHABBES. I did not want to look at their ugly, hateful faces, so I slid the curtain on the window closed. This did not prevent their Hebrew words from registering, however: “The punishment for desecrating Shabbes is Death.”

I am sure you will agree with me, Mr. Mayor, that those are strong words, especially when screamed into your ear with only a glass window separating you from the screamer. Fortunately, half the passengers in the now full van did not understand them. They were tourists, foreign workers and African refugees, but we Hebrew-speaking, Sabbath-desecrating Jews, we understood.

I had left home with love and joy in my heart, with great expectations for seeing my new grandson whose brit was the next day. Yes, in less than twenty-four hours my grandson would enter the covenant. Now it was with a heavy heart that I sat in the van that drove to Tel Aviv, not fast enough, I might add. As the van climbed the Castel, I thought of that Friday afternoon in August 1966 when I first wandered the narrow streets of Mea Shearim. Such holiness I saw in their filth. Men in long coats carried plastic bags under their arms, their damp towels sticking out. They were running home from the mikvah to greet the Holy Sabbath Queen. The smell of cooked chicken emanated from each apartment, or so I imagined. I was moved to tears by a world filled with meaning and beauty. Now, in 2015, that feeling was dead.

Sure, I rationalized, these men have a right to protest. After all, they live in a democratic state. It is important for them to get their message out, because they believe that if every Jew keeps the laws of the Sabbath, the Messiah will come. I defend their right to protest, but why can’t they do it from the other side of Street of the Prophets, standing behind a police barricade? Do I not have a right to enjoy a peaceful Shabbat on the streets of Jerusalem? Must I be harassed by a crowd of what the tourists termed “lunatics?” All I wanted, Mr. Mayor, was to see my grandson in the profane city of Tel Aviv. For this my punishment is death?

By the time we passed Ben-Gurion Airport, I had calmed down enough to weigh my options. My first instinct was to sue the Municipality of Jerusalem for not keeping the City of Peace peaceful on the Day of Peace. Granted, no stone was thrown and no spit was fired. No rubber bullets were released towards the lower half of anyone’s body. I endured no physical harm. But the soul, Mr. Mayor, the soul. My own was ripped, torn, wounded, like the small penis that would be cut in less than twenty-four hours in Tel Aviv. Does the soul have no value in Jerusalem? Are there no bylaws that define the distance between protestor and object of protest? This was not a one-time incident, I learned from the driver. “It happens every week,” he said with disgust and resignation.

I refuse to be resigned. I do not care if these men belonged to a small group from some minority sect, as some of the Jews in the van claimed. They were disturbing the peace and physically intimidating. Did they have a permit to protest? Do they have a weekly permit to protest? If not, why doesn’t the Jerusalem police force tell them to go home and copulate with their wives, a mitzvah on Shabbes, or study, rather than degrade Torah.

It hurts me to blemish the name of Jerusalem in public, Mr. Mayor, but it hurts me even more to see how screaming hooligans can ruin the quiet atmosphere in Jerusalem on the Holy Sabbath and threaten the tenuous status quo.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I took a cab to my destination. On Shderot Chen the atmosphere was peaceful. Young parents played with their children in the shaded parks along the boulevard. Old people sat on the benches with their foreign caregivers. Middle-aged couples strolled in the shade of the enormous sycomore trees and couples, both gay and heterosexual, kissed in public. Peace and quiet reigned, undisturbed by the few cars that drove by.

As the sun set and the holy light of Shabbat faded, I walked along King George Street. Groups of twenty and thirty-year-olds gathered in outdoor cafes and restaurants. They talked softly, looking cheerful and happy to be spending time  with friends at the end of their day of rest in their beloved Tel Aviv. Many were desecrating the Sabbath in more ways than one, but nobody screamed that they deserved Death. In fact, nobody screamed anything. All was peaceful.

Need I describe my confusion, Mr. Mayor? I felt a strong desire to forget Jerusalem. I know my tongue will cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget her and my right hand will wither. This is a steep price, but after what happened on the corner of Street of the Prophets and HaRav Kook Street, forgetting Jerusalem was exactly what I wanted to do.

I look forward to your reply and advice. I need to know how the city can help me stay within its realm. How can I strengthen my attachment to a city I once loved, when Sabbath peace beckons only forty-five minutes away in a saner place?

Yours sincerely,

Judy Labensohn

Citizen of Jerusalem, 1967-2005

Posted in Jerusalem, Protest | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

How Blogging 101 Heightened the Boycotting Issue

Yesterday was the final day of Blogging 101, a free course offered by the happiness team at WordPressU. I think it’s fair to say I failed. The course is wonderful if you have four-six hours/day for blogging business. That includes reading lots of other peoples’ blogs, responding politely to the blogs of fellow students in Blogging 101, managing widgets, writing your own blog posts that inspire conversations and attending at least one blogging event.

After my initial enthusiasm for Blogging 101, I began to cringe whenever I saw an email from Professor Michelle in my inbox, knowing it would nudge me towards another task and assignment that would take me deeper into the blogosphere, that colorful universe of hard workers, over-crowded like an ant hill. By day five my signs of resistance emerged: I read the assignments, but didn’t do them. By the second week, I didn’t even open the emails. This was ironic, because when I signed up for the course, my first thought was that the group might boycott me: I’m Judy over here in sunny Israel!


Sunny Israel


Instead, I boycotted the group.

I’ve adjusted too well to my isolation in sunny Israel to relate to thousands of bloggers from all the ten corners of the known world. Blogging 101 tired me out. If I’m not asleep by 10:30 PM, my next day has fewer hours of sunshine and I get depressed. Staying online  until 12:30 AM, kindly suggesting to other bloggers that they learn English before writing a blog post, caused severe exhaustion. If I learned anything in Blogging 101, it’s the same lesson I learn each time I try something new: Moderation in all things. Seek Balance.

An isolationist does not a successful blogger make. Try a Vipassana retreat. The blogosphere, where everyone is equal, demands your full attention and involvement. You must link to others (Sue over there at FoundMyFork dot com thinks green beans and onions are the cat’s pajamas!), respond to others (Great post, Chris, but why do you spell tribute with a y?), roll (whatever that means) and link yet again (Tanya in Prague YouCanDoIt dot com has overcome anorexia and she wants to help you now!)

A Carmelite convent might be more appropriate if you are a simple lover of sentences and voice, persona and punctuation.

Maybe I’m a cynic at heart, or I use cynicism to defend myself against the myriad active claws of the blogosphere. I’m certainly not upbeat enough for this busy new digital space. I prefer black and white TV from 1952, where it’s just me sprawled on the living room floor, thumb in my mouth, and I Remember Mama.

Maybe I became more edgy during the  last days of Blogging 101 due to the election results over here in sunny Israel, where a Bibi manipulated his return to the prime minister’s office. He used racial fear tactics: The Arabs (read Other, read Terrorists, read Enemy) are flocking to the ballot box. By appealing to mythic tribal affiliations (Them against Us), he blasted us back to the Stone Age.

This Bibi scares me deeply. He is a brilliant manipulator and therefore dangerous. He will bring ruin to Israel. Need I qualify that sentence?

Occupation Kills Us All

The Occupation Kills Us All

I may have to leave my monthly blogging here at WriteInIsrael dot com to become politically active, in order to remain living here. Maybe I will start a new blog and name it “The Fall of Hava Nagila” or “Armageddon Lunch.”

Maybe I’ll use the new blog as a vehicle to topple the Bibi. Do you think that’s a good idea?

We Have Not Yet Lost Our Hope

We Have Not Yet Lost Our Hope


Have you ever toppled anyone? And while I’m asking questions to further this conversation, do you think my own personal choice of isolation, symbolized by boycotting Blogging 101, is a by-product of the cultural milieu in which I live over here in sunny Israel? Or does my own isolationist temperament contribute to creating this cultural milieu?

I look forward to hearing your response, as Professor Michelle, might say.


Posted in Blogroll, Identity, Israel | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments