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