Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Happy Chanuka - "Weather" or Not

After about two months of being in different halachic seasonal zones, I'm glad to be back in sync (as of this past Sunday) with my Israeli brethren as they and we, here in chu"l (outside the Land), all pray for "tal u'matar livracha" (blessed dew and rainfall). The technical details are beyond the scope of this blog post but weather is important when it comes to remembering Jerusalem.

Every morning, I check the weather app on my phone for my local forecast - and Jerusalem's. Occasionally, they're the same and that starts my day with a great big "Woo Hoo!". I walk out the door, close my eyes and imagine myself in the sun, rain or snow of the holy city. Having Israel's weather info at my fingertips makes me feel connected, whether or not our temps are in tune. And at this time of year, a dry report for Jerusalem reminds me to say a prayer for Israel's much-needed rainfall.

Several months ago, a friend in Israel told me that she was preparing a lecture for a group of young adults who would soon be returning to the States after their extended stays as foreign students. They were sad to be leaving and wanted some advice on how to keep Israel in the forefront of their minds from so far away.

Aside from the weather app, I suggested the following:
- Leave a personal item behind. (Not my idea but I don't remember who to credit.) Knowing that something of yours is still back Home - and will be there for you when you return - is a great way to feel connected. You can do that on your next visit, too. I still "own" the cellphone number that was ours when we lived in Israel. I could probably save some shekels by giving it up but the "connection" is worth more than shekels can buy. So I'll keep the number for now, whether or not I'll actually use it the next time I'm in Israel.

- Have a designated makome tefillah (prayer spot) in your house and "decorate" it to remind you of Home. Here's mine:
It's in the most Eastern corner of our house and when I stand there - flanked by the map of Israel to my right and the skyline of Jerusalem to my left - I cross the expanse of ocean, land and sea that are spread between me and Jerusalem. And voila, I'm there - whether I'll be boarding a plane anytime soon or not.

- Celebrate a special day or Jewish holiday "Israeli-style". Chumus, dips, soft drinks, chocolate, crackers, wines.... There are so many Israeli products on the shelves of your local supermarket. Look for them, buy them, eat and enjoy them - especially those produced by companies in the "settlements", whether the package says so or not.

- Sign up online for Arutz-7, the Jerusalem Post, even Ha'Aretz! You're just not going to get the whole story on anything "Israel" from the mainstream U.S. media, whether they call themselves liberal, conservative or something else entirely.

Still feeling far away? Me, too. But tonight and every night of these eight days of Chanuka, I'll be keeping my pey-dreidel* close,
reminding me that "a great miracle happened 'here' ". Think "here" and you'll be "here" - whether the sufganiyot (Chanuka donuts) are as good or not. Bill and I were hoping to be here (that is, there) next month but then our dear Yoel became engaged to Yael ;-)....
Their wedding plans preclude our travels plans but I can't think of a better reason to postpone our trip as I gratefully await another opportunity to Remember Jerusalem above my greatest joy.

Meanwhile, Happy Chanuka wishes from our house to yours. Whether your weather is wonderful or not, may the Chanuka flames warm your heart and your soul, brighten every dampened spirit and lighten every load.

* For the full pey-dreidel story, go to "blog archives" on the right, click on 2009 and read "The Land of Po - Revisted".

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Real Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal is not the subject I would have chosen for my end-of-year blog post but alas, it is the topic of the moment - and its timing is far from coincidental. Frankly, I'm a bit confused about the process - vote, no vote, veto, filibuster...but as I type, the agreement with Iran seems to be a pretty done deal. History has been made. Or has it?

Last week, some 1,600 Jewish Baltimoreans gathered to hear what is at stake. I was proud to count myself among them.
That rally was not in vain. Nor was the barrage of phone calls, letters, emails, etc. to our Congressmen and Senators across the country. We took advantage of every opportunity to voice our opinion - be it pro or con - to our local, regional and national leaders.

But what about the timing here? We are just a few days away from a far more decisive "vote" which will be taking place in the heavenly "congress", presided over by the ultimate Leader, on Rosh Hashanah and through Yom Kippur. That is when history will really be made!

It occurred to me that all the PR materials that were distributed for the recent rally in Baltimore apply to the real vote as well.
Our actions in the days ahead will make all the difference in how G-d chooses to let this Iran deal play out. The musaf service of Rosh Hashanah clearly states that "regarding countries, it is determined on this day, which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance..." and our actions can tip the scales.
Our prayers are crucial any time of year but during the High Holidays, all the more so. We can't afford to let these days pass without making that extra effort. When we pray on Rosh Hashanah "regarding countries", we will have America, Israel and the entire civilized (and not-yet-civilized) world in mind. When we ask G-d to remember us at this time of year, we are asking Him to Remember Jerusalem as well. Whether our concern is about Iran or about the friend who is battling cancer or our child's success in the new school year (or all of the above)
now is the time to let our voices be heard by the Almighty and to respectfully remind Him that:

May all our prayers be answered with revealed good and sweetness. Or, as my dear friend Shoshana so aptly put it: May the sweetness of the new year be abundant and apparent.

To conclude on a lighter note, let us "take action" to thank Hashem for all His kindness in the past year. Everyone has something to be very grateful for. In our humble household, the most obvious blessing of the year was the addition of the lovely Rachel to our family and, thus, to our annual family photo. Our warmest wishes to you and yours for a Shabbat Shalom followed by every blessing in the new year and beyond.
Simcha, Yoel, Yours Truly, Rachel, Berel, Bill, Shani and Z'ev

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Above My Greatest Joy

Yikes. Exactly four months since my last post.

About three months since a very snowy Purim.

Eight weeks since we threw out the chametz (leavened bread);
seven since we re-stocked.

Just over a month since Bill and I finally had our 3-day vacation in Florida.

And somewhere in the middle
of it all, our son announced his engagement to the lovely Rachel.
Wedding plans are in full swing so I'm going to keep this short but before I walk my son down the aisle to his chuppah I must share the following with you:

On the night that they announced their engagement, we threw together a "l'chaim" (lit. "to life" - basically, a spontaneous engagement party) that didn't end until midnight and didn't get cleaned up until 1:00 a.m. With my adrenaline rushing, sleep was clearly not an option. So at 2:00 a.m. I went to my computer to send the good news out to a sleeping world that would read all about it in the morning. And then the most wonderful unexpected thing happened. Replies to my email blast starting pouring in - each one heaped with happiness and bursting with blessings. And all of them...from Israel! Well, sure - it was 9:00 a.m. there. Everyone was either at his/her office or relaxing with a cup of coffee at their home computer after sending the kids off to school.

I responded to every email that night - feeling so connected; so close to Home - as I thought about a verse that is traditionally recited or sung at many Jewish weddings: "...if I do not elevate Jerusalem above my greatest joy" (Psalms 137:6). King David's words were said in a more solemn context but the sentiments are similar. Even as I was exulting in the very personal excitement of the first of my children to be engaged, I was reminded by my dear friends in the holy Land to Remember Jerusalem. What a special gift that was!

As their wedding date nears, I wish our new couple everything a mother can possibly wish for her children - from the tangible to the spiritual and everything in between.
Please join me in my blessings for them and
may you be granted endless opportunities to elevate Jerusalem above your greatest joy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Savoring the Bounty

Blossoming Almond Tree
Happy Tu b'Shevat! You just knew I'd post something today, didn't you? But you don't know how much I've been thinking about what to post. There are so many ways to go with this wonderful, mystical, meaningful day - the 15th of Shevat; the New Year for Trees...

Should I reminisce about last Tu b'Shevat - indeed, the entire month of Shevat - which Bill and I merited to spend in Israel last year or shall I tell you about the
Tu b'Shevat Seder in which I participated this year with the lovely ladies of my recent JWRP trip? The Tu b'Shevat Seder has its ancient mystical origins in the holy city of Tzefat where Bill and I enjoyed such a special Shabbos right after Tu b'Shevat last year. For a detailed explanation of the Tu b'Shevat Seder, presented by the "Women of the Waters" of Tzefat, click here.

I could blog about each of the Seven Species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates) for which the Land of Israel is praised or try to offer some Kabbalistic concepts about peels, shells and pits of all fruits and nuts. But maybe I'll just show you the spread that I prepared for the Tu b'Shevat seudah (festive meal) we enjoyed right here in our humble home this evening.
Click on the photo to enlarge it and try to find all seven species as well as the almonds which remind us of the shkeydiah porachat, the almond trees that are blossoming all over Israel right now. (I can't resist including this Tu b'Shevat "theme song". I never knew it had more than one stanza! Click here for Hebrew lyrics and English translation.) The fact that this is a Shemittah (Sabbatical) year gives an added dimension to this Tu b'Shevat but I'll save that for another post.

Actually, most of this can be summed up with a short quote from an article I read this morning: "...The custom (on Tu b'Shevat) is to eat fruit specifically of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel)...to cause us to think about Eretz Yisrael and have more chavivus (love) for it." That's enough for me right there. Eat the fruits in order to Remember Israel - and Jerusalem, of course. As we ask G-d in the blessing we recite after eating any of the seven species: "Bring us up into (Jerusalem), gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness..." AMEN!

And now I will share some photos that I took last Shevat at the Machane Yehuda shuk (market). I hope I am correctly quoting Rabbi Sholom Gold when I suggest that "If you want to hear G-d, read the Torah; if you want to see G-d, go to the Machane Yehuda shuk."

Savor the bounty, remember the Land and...

...Have a Very Happy Tu b'Shevat!