Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Land of PO - Revisited

Perhaps you’ve revisited “the Land of PO” with me in the past with the POem that I wrote in 2003 as we prepared to celebrate our first Chanukah back in the States (see below). But this year, my “revisit” refers not only to the POem but to my actual return to the place where the miracle occurred and where Chanukah is celebrated like nowhere else. Yes, with thanks to the Almighty, Bill and I had the zechut (merit) to begin our Chanukah this year in the Old City of Jerusalem at the end of a short but oh so sweet week in the holy Land.

Oooo, I can just hear it now… “WHAT? You were in Israel and you didn’t call me?” So let’s clear this up right from the get go. We were there for a grand total of seven non-Shabbos days – days when I could perhaps have met you for a kos cafe (a cup of coffee), sufganiyot (Chanukah donuts – fried, filled and fattening)and some in-person catching up but this visit was devoted to quality time with our darling yeshiva boy who is in his second year of Torah study in Israel. I knew that a phone call would be a tease – for you and me both – if it wouldn’t be followed by a face-to-face. Am I forgiven? If not, please contact me offline and we’ll talk it out.

That settled, I’ll just say that it was wonderful to be Home for the holiday. Chanukah was EVERYWHERE - from the makolet (grocery) to the ma'afia (bakery); from the mall to the Wall.
The highlights of our visit are far too many to share in this space. I was actually hoping that my photos would do the talking for me but alas my camera was the kaparat avonot (atonement) of the week. Last I saw, it was dangling from my wrist as I said l’hitraot (see you soon) to the Wall on Saturday night. The next morning, Bill and I were back in Baltimore – but the camera wasn’t. I’ve called the car rental place and the airline and so far, klum (nothing) but I haven’t given up on a Chanukah miracle.

Meanwhile, close your eyes and imagine menorahs of every size, shape and style in every window, rising 20 stories high on the side of a building, attached to lamp posts lining the streets, and of course, at the Wall… (I do realize that if you close your eyes you won’t be able to read this post but you know what I mean.) Picture the glowing faces of Ahuva and Bracha, Netanel, Tzipora and Nitzan – all Israeli kids born to some of our Anglo friends who gave up “the good life” in chutz la’Aretz (outside the land of Israel) for the GREAT life in Eretz HaKodesh (the holy Land). Watch the Judean desert turn red in the sunset as Bill and I “jeep” our way up the ancient hills and through the not-yet-wet wadis. Pose with us in front of the stunning mural near Rachel’s Tomb, pray with the aged Ethiopian Jewess in her brightly colored turban, hands spread out on the Wall as she beseeches G-d for…whatever. And shep nachas (take pride) with me as my darling yeshiva boy cleans out the Castro outlet shop in Talpiot and lights the first Chanukah candle with us in the Ir Ha’atika (the Old City of Jerusalem). It was all picture-perfect and I’m working hard to etch each photo deep into the recesses of my mind, to be pulled up whenever I need a spiritual shot in the arm.

Of all the sights, sounds and scents we experienced that week, Shabbat Chanukah in the Rova HaYehudi (the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem) deserves special mention. To be anywhere in Israel during Chanukah is awesome but to be in the Rova, staying with friends in their 600 year old thoroughly modern Byzantine cave, was a rare treat. And of course, to be able to say “Nes Gadol Haya PO” – a great miracle happened HERE, right here, right over that Wall – is beyond words.

A friend of ours in L.A. sent out a Chanukah message suggesting that perhaps the miracle of Chanukah today is not so much the battle that was won nor the day’s-worth of pure oil that burned miraculously for eight days in the holy Temple but rather that in the year 2009 there are still any Chanukah lights at all. In fact, millions of candles are burning in every corner of the globe this week and most brightly in the Land of Israel. To quote Moshe Tzvi Berger, an octogenarian artist and student of kabbalah, who we had the pleasure to meet this past Shabbat, to celebrate Chanukah in Jerusalem today, indeed to observe Jewish life anywhere in Israel any day of the year, is to witness an “existing impossibility”. (You can read about Mr. Berger and admire his artwork at

Next year, please G-d, may we merit to light our menorahs on the other side of the Wall as well - in our Third and Eternal Bais Hamikdash. This is my hope and my prayer as I Remember every deLIGHTful detail of our Chanukah visit to Jerusalem.

Special thanks to my 14-year-old son for his camera and Photoshop expertise and to Jacob Richman for coming to the rescue with some last-minute pics for this post. Visit Jacob's website:

And now, my “Greetings From the Land of PO”:

Faithful readers of my mass mailings know that at Chanukah time, I loved being PO. PO, of course, means here, which I am but "here" is only POetic in our Holy Land.

In Israel, the dreidel knows just what to say: Nes Gadol Haya PO!*, which is spelled with a pey. But here, we say "there" which is so much less fun. Here, the pey on the dreidel's a shin as in shom. Here, everything is all lit up green and red, "seasonal" tunes are forced into my head. There, the streets are aglow with menorahs at night and the sufganiyot are a month-long delight...

But just when this all started getting to me and I cried
"what kind of Chanukah will this one be?!"
I suddenly thought of a man with a name
that is one of Baltimore's best claims to fame.

Edgar Allan, they called him. His last name was Poe. His works are still published, his raven well known. And I said "Look at that! I am here. Don't you see?" In the land of Poe, after all - with an "e"!

It's not quite the same but it will just have to do
'til we return to the Land where the real PO rings true.

Meanwhile, I'll say Merry Teves** to you
And Chag Urim Sameyach*** to ev-er-y Jew.

Thank G-d, we're ok and we hope you are, too. Adjusting to freezy-cold temps and the snew.**** Please drop us a line and tell us 'bout you. Are you well? Are you warm? Is there anything new?

Last, but not least, let us know when you'll be heading our way for a day, two or three. Meanwhile, best wishes for a choref bah'ree*****
from Bill and the kids and, of course, yours truly.

* A Great Miracle Happened HERE!
** the new Hebrew month
*** a joyous Festival of Lights
**** that's how real Baltimoreans say "snow"
***** a healthy winter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Of Kif Kefs, Mekupelets and Egosi Bars

Welcome to my blog. It was to have been launched on November 4, in honor of the twelfth (Gregorian) anniversary of our family’s aliyah (move to Israel). Sadly, my father passed away on November 2, which abruptly put this project on hold, turned my head upside down and my heart inside out. I had prepared a very upbeat, almost giddy, introduction to this endeavor but my new reality forced me to sober up this inaugural post. I hope my usual style will resurface slowly but surely.

Meanwhile, I decided that upbeat or not, “the show must go on” and that my father, z”l, would probably approve. It was he who gave me a flare for photography and a penchant for prose. He was well-known and admired for his precision in everything from decorating his succah to lighting his menorah; from mowing the lawn to trimming his moustache. He upheld the tenets of Torah and its mesorah (transmission) in that same punctilious way and loved to share his good sense of humor - and a good game of Rummikub - with just about anyone. Despite the distance it was to put between us, my father blessed our aliyah plans and enjoyed numerous visits to Israel with my mother, may she live and be well, while we lived there. All this considered, it seems only fitting that I dedicate my blog to his memory and pray that it will serve as a zechus (merit) for the departed neshama (soul) of Avraham Shalom ben Chaim Yoel, hareini kaporas mishkavo.

Getting back to our anniversary, there we are at the airport on November 3, 1997, leaving the Goldeneh Medina (the golden land of my immigrant grandparents’ hopes and dreams) for Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold). Yes, there had been a rash of bus bombings in the months before our move. True, the kids had never been to Israel and had no close relatives there. But we had done our research, asked our sh’ailos (halachic questions), weighed all the pros and cons and embarked on our biggest family trip ever.

Our every earthly possession had been packed onto a ship that was somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – except for the 20-something boxes we were taking on the plane with us. Bounty paper towels, cans of tuna, Ivory soap, Ziploc bags. “A little of everything”, I had explained to Bill, my husband and partner in this adventure, “until I learn how to read the labels in the stores.” As it turned out, most of the labels in the stores were bilingual and the adjustment to shopping in a foreign country wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I’d anticipated - thanks in part to wonderful places like Cheaperkol and Big Deal but also because this was no ordinary foreign country. We were Home. Every day for almost six years we thanked G-d for the innumerable joys, spiritual highs and not unexpected challenges of life b'Artzeynu HaKedosha (in our holy Land). And then - poof! - we were back in Baltimore. But I’ll save that for my end-of-July post, on the anniversary of our return. Generally, I will use this space to share my memories of and ga'aguim (longing) for Jerusalem. Please join me and perhaps our combined yearning will help bring us all back Home soon.

By the way, we celebrated our anniversasry this year with a falafel dinner – complete with s’chug (hot red pepper mix), Tapuzina soft drinks and a plate of Kif Kefs, Mekupelets and Egosi bars for dessert. As each of the kids walked in from school or work and eyed the spread, they cast me a glance and exclaimed (or muttered) “it must be daled (the fourth of) Cheshvan” (the Hebrew date of our aliyah). And I smiled to myself at having successfully drummed that date into their consciousness - the day on which they became legal citizens of the Land that has been spiritually theirs for more than 3,000 years.

As for the Kif Kefs, Mekupelets and Egosi bars, I’m glad they’re available at our local supermarket. Because along with the s’chug and Tapuzina, they are a few of the taste sensations that help me…Remember Jerusalem.