Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adding Insult to Injury

I was catching up on the news today.  I often do that on Shabbat.  As the week goes on, I get busy, and the newspaper goes unread.  Shabbat is the day I get to sit with 2, 3, 6 days worth of papers, and see what catches my eye.

Today it was a short new item at the bottom corner of page 7, not in a important spot, but important to me.  Canada has changed the language proficiency requirements for those who wish to be citizens.  After going through the ridiculous language test, which was in no way geared for me, I figured it made sense that Canada would make it's citizenship process more stringent.

So here it is: those wishing to become Canadian citizens must prove proficiency in English or French by

1) passing the IELTS language exam- check; done.  This was required to become a permanent resident.
2) reaching language proficiency in a government class here in Canada, which I didn't need since I am a native English speaker, or
3) completing a degree at an English or French speaking post-secondary or graduate university- been there; done that.

Wow, you mean the multiple degrees from Brandeis University and Jewish Theological Seminary, which were not good enough to become a permanent resident, are good enough for me to become a citizen.  Amazing!  I'm so glad to know my years at top American institutions can be trusted.

What a relief to know that when I do apply for citizenship I won't have to prove I speak English.  Three degrees (or even one) are good enough for Canada.  Too bad they weren't good enough to move here.

Haazinu- Letting the Chicks Fly

Ki mineged tir’eh et ha’aretz v’shama lo tavo el ha’aretz asher ani notein livnei Yisrael
Since from a distance you will see the land, and you will not go to the land that I give to the children of Israel. (Devarim 32:52)

This is the last verse of parashat Haazinu.  Moshe has completed his final speech to the children of Israel, and it is time for them to move out and move on without him. In next week’s parasha, the Torah teaches, V’lo kam navi od b’Yisrael k’Moshe asher y’da’o Adonai panim el panim; there has not risen a prophet since in Israel like Moshe whom Hashem knew face to face. (Devarim 34:10). Moshe was the type of leader who threw himself fully into his role.  He did not simply lead through words, but by example and deed. At times the children of Israel were a burden. They complained. They didn’t listen. They dissembled. To the Torah student, the moments of joy seem to be fewer than the times of stress and frustration. But in the end, Moshe was more than a mere leader to the people. He was parent. He was teacher. He was dugma (role model). He was more to the people Israel than any one person could be ever again.
In each of our lives we have special people who resemble this. They are teachers, youth leaders, friends, or relatives. These special people teach us through their actions. They teach us by giving us challenges and boundaries. They force us to look inside ourselves, to think, and to examine. Eventually, however, a time comes when we must mature.  We grow up, and must move out of the illumination of these dugmaot to shine on our own. These moments are often as difficult for those wonderful people as they are for us. The moment of parting is bittersweet.
As dugmaot, whether as teachers, leaders, parents, or friends, we look longingly at the future.  We peer off into the distance, looking from afar at the wonders and the perils waiting for the next generation. It is a time for wonder and a time for personal frustration. It is also a time for pride. To look back at our own accomplishments, and to know that the lessons we have imparted will serve those who follow well.
As we begin this new year, may we all have the courage both to step out on our own and to help those who look to us to take their first steps.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vayelech- Sing, Sing A Song

V’atah kitvu lachem et hashirah hazot v’lamdah et b’nei Yisrael simah b’fihem…
And now, you all write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel; put it in their mouths… (D’varim 31:19)
In 1973 a series appeared on American television. Created by David McCall, one half of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, after noticing one of his children had trouble memorizing multiplication tables, but knew the lyrics to many a rock song. The original “Schoolhouse Rock” series ran twelve years, reappeared for six more years in the 1990’s, a new series in 2009, and is available on video. As a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I can still sing my multiplication tables to “Three is a Magic Number” and “Four Legged Zoo.”  We have the series on DVD, and Jesse, Gavi, and Keren have learned math, science, history, and grammar from “Schoolhouse Rock.”
While David McCall and his team take the credit for linking learning to music in the modern age, God and Moshe knew this about 3500 years ago. At the end of Moshe’s life, God commands us all to write “this song.” It must be taught to our children. It must be forever in our mouths and on the tips of our tongues. Like a good jingle, it should stick in our minds, but also be beloved in our hearts.
Throughout the years this verse has been interpreted to say that each of us should write a Sefer Torah. This is a wonderful mitzvah, and can be fulfilled by participating in the writing of a scroll. But even more significant to physical writing is to write these words on our hearts and in our minds, to create from them the mind worm that stays repeating on our lips.  Like the songs from “Schoolhouse Rock” that I can never forget, so too the words of Shema, the melodies of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the words of the Hagaddah, and more are placed in our minds, sealed in our hearts, and forever on our lips, needing just a little nudge, maybe a few notes, a word, or even a scent, to have us singing them together again.
May it be a year of joyous songs of shared love for Judaism, of community, and of peace.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tilting at Windmills

I was sitting in our living room this afternoon reading a book when I heard singing coming from our porch.  Listening for a moment, I could make out the voices of my two younger children, ages 10 and 12.

Were they singing "Call Me Maybe" or another pop hit?  No.  The lyrics I heard were "My Destiny Calls and I go..."  I listened longer.  On they went...

From where are those lyrics?  They come from the show "Man of La Mancha", the song- "I, Don Quixote".

What else do they enjoy, have I mentioned Shakespeare?  They debate the pros and cons of the plays and which stagings they prefer.

While "Call Me Maybe" may appear in our home once and a while, I much prefer tilting at windmills with my children to hearing the latest pop.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Maybe I Should Get A Cow, Part 2

On Tuesday I bought 6 litres of milk.  Today I bought six more.  I expect that I may need six more before Rosh Hashanah.  While Gavi & Keren do consume some, most of that milk went into Jesse.

Tuesday night, about 2 AM, something woke me.  I listened for a moment, and not hearing anything untoward, I went back to sleep.  Wednesday morning we awoke to a sink full of dishes.  The sink had been empty when we went to bed. 

Jesse, our constantly growing son, had been up at 2 AM eating.  What was he eating?  Gone from the refrigerator- a pile of cheese sticks, a large yogurt (750 g), and a lot of fruit and milk.  What woke me?  Jesse had taken the blender down to the laundry room to make himself a smoothie. 

Lucky for him he washed the blender.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Table of Eight Revisited

My most often read entry was posted on June 28, 2011, "My Table of Eight Seats Ten."  It was a thank you to the special women in my life.  I am blessed with an abundance of people on whom I can count, and who hold a piece of my heart.  These people hold my heart because they offered me a piece of theirs.

There is a flip side to this.  In Pirkei Avot (1:15) Shammai teaches, "Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little, and do much, and greet everyone with a happy face."  This was the quote I used upon graduation from Seminary. The last piece, in Hebrew is "havei m'kabeil et kol ha'adam bsever panim yafot." 

Havei m'kabeil- not just a greeting, but to receive, to take someone into your life, into your heart, to be open to him/her.

Sever panim yafot- this is much harder to translate.  Is it cheerful or happy, as it is usually translated?  Yafot, from the root Y-F-H, meaning pretty.  It can also mean joyous, happy, friendly, and more.  Google translate (I was curious) gave me "with open arms," an excellent translation.

It follows so beautifully after "say little and do much."  How should we do this, by opening our arms, our hearts, and our minds to receive others.  Combined with study, it is a way of living.  Have an open door and an open heart.  I try to smile as often as possible, and always greet others this way.  A smile costs nothing, but offers everything.  It makes you open to others, and in turns helps them to be open to you.  You can hear a smile on the phone.  It is also contagious.

Sukkot is known as zman simchateinu, the time of rejoicing.  How do we do this?  Just read Shammai's teaching- a little study, a little action, and being open to people.

If there's room in your heart, there's room at the table.  My table of eight seats ten, and so many more.

Here's to a year of peace and understanding among all people.

Ow, Ow, Ow, OWOWOWOW... Wow

It's been a month since I have been to my kickboxing class.  It could not be helped.  We were at Camp Ramah, then with my parents and aunt and uncle in New Jersey.  We returned last week to a night at Shakespeare in the Park (excellent!), the long weekend, and meetings.  I tried desperately to get there on Friday, but was busy with last minute details for Slichot, and it was not meant to be.  So today, I finally went back.

I did not use my time away as an opportunity to eat bonbons and watch tv.  At Camp Ramah we were schlepping, lifting, bending, climbing, and generally working very hard, plus we walked the track, and everywhere we wanted to go.  Visiting parents we still walked a lot, and tried to keep active.  Still, I should have kept up with my crunches and maybe practice some kicks, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I moved quickly down it.

Tonight I returned to the class.  It started out well.  I was a bit stiff, but naturally limber, it wasn't too bad.  Class started off well.  I felt good, and pushed myself hard.  While I missed a month, the class kept progressing.  About 4/5 through my left rotator began to hurt.  My legs felt like I was wading through jello.  My feet stung when I did a sidekick.  My left knee, which I strained in December, but thought was better, ached.

This is how I know I am old now.  I pulled something in my rotator 4 years ago.  I took two full years to get to pain free, and that's still not totally free.  When I push myself the pain reappears.

There were a few times I wanted to curse Sensei Gabriel, but my mind quickly countered that I didn't really hate Sensei Gabriel.  I hated myself for not keeping up with what I could.

When I came home, I quickly showered; grabbed two aspirin, then dressed to go pick up Jesse.  Aching slightly, I pulled on a pair of jeans that haven't fit me in two years.  Not only do they fit, they fit comfortably.  Ow, ow, ow, ow, wow.

Rosh Hashanah Eats

Each year I sit with some of our many, many, many, many cookbooks (Did I mention we have a lot?); digging through recipes, and pouring over menus as I try to plan for the Hagim.  It gets a little crazy.  Let me tell you why.  Here are just a few of the people at our holiday meals:

Me- slightly lactose intolerant, which can be handled with pills
Three children- a teen that inhales everything, a tween who loves spicy food, and one slightly younger who is a carnivore at heart, and has decided she doesn't like fish.

Add in my in-laws who are vegetarian, with my mom-in-law a Weight Watchers devotee, and my dad-in-law who must limit rich foods.  Sometimes we also get my father, a diabetic who eats a lot of meat or chicken, takes coumadin, so must limit vegetables with vitamin K (most of them), and is allergic to almost all spices, most herbs, and vinegar, and my mother, who is best with low acid and not too spicy.

The most fun is when they all come for Passover.

But for now, Rosh Hashanah is coming, Sunday night to e exact, and we are at least a week behind in menu planning.

The guest list this year are my in-laws (my parents may come for Sukkot, but I have time to puzzle that one out).  So, with 2 lactose intolerant, 1 carnivore, 2 vegetarians, plus 2 others whose eating habits I cannot predict, if you were coming to my house for a meal, what would you like to eat?  Sean suggested I ask you, and so I am.

This is what we have so far...  There are four meals and 2 half meals (supper on day one to tide us over, and supper on day two because we need to eat something).

1- Baked fish & lasagna, sauteed brussel sprouts, green beans roasted with garlic, apples & 4-5 kinds of honey.

2- Maybe a meals of mezes (appetizers), although the details are still to be worked out, and suggestions will be appreciated.

3- Looking for any and all suggestions.

4- See meal three.

For the 2 1/2 meals we usually survive on leftovers.

And if you need a place to eat for Yom Tov, call Rabbi Sean Gorman at Pride of Israel.  He'll set you up.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nitzavim- Not Yet, But Soon

Ki hamitzvah hazot asher Anokhi m’tzav’cha hayom lo niflei’t hi mimcha v’lo r’chokah hi.
For this commandment that I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  (Dvarim 30:11)
One of the problems rabbis and teachers of Judaism often has is a misunderstanding of what halakhah requires of us.  This is especially true in the world of Conservative/Masorti Judaism.  All too often I hear the movements described in this way: “The Orthodox do everything; the Reform nothing, and the Conservative are somewhere in the middle.”  This description does a disservice to all involved.  The ideology of the movements is not about whether we do all or nothing, but how we view the mitzvot that God has commanded us.
Conservative/Masorti Judaism is not merely the one in the middle.  Conservative ideology believes the Torah shebichtav was given at Sinai.  The Torah she’b’al peh are the words of the Hachamim and Rabbis in the Mishneh and Talmud, taught by those in whose name we learn, with an additional eye beyond towards history.  The mitzvot as given in the Torah are divine and required.  Mitzvah means commandment.  How we observe them changes due to culture and history. 
Torah tells us that the mitzvot are meant to be easy for us to observe.  They should not be a hardship.  They should not be so far from our life in this world that we have to separate ourselves from the world to observe them.  Nevertheless, the mitzvot are binding.  They are commandments.  Whether kashrut, Shabbat observance, or t’fillah, daily prayer, these mitzvot are required of each of us as Jews.  If we have not been observing them in the past, we should strive to do so in the future.  Franz Rosenzweig was once asked if he wore tefillin.  Rosenzweig answered, “Not yet.”  We may not yet observe all 613 mitzvot, but let us remember they are not too hard, nor far off.  Let 5773 be the year you add a mitzvah to your observance, drawing them ever closer.

Maybe I Should Have My Head Examined

On Friday I spoke with my mom.  Saturday was her (and Dad's of course) 50th wedding anniversary. Kudos to them for reaching this milestone.  However, that has nothing to do with this post.

I spoke with Mom on Friday because I wouldn't be home after Shabbat due to Slichot.  Immediately after Maariv we were having a melave malka at our shul followed by honouring our teen volunteers and new members, a memorial plaque dedication, and finally Slichot.  Sounds great, huh?  It was.  We only have 35 Slichot books, never needing more.  Turns out almost 100 people attended.

That's not why I should have my head examined.  It starts with joining the programming committee during my busiest summer ever.  Yes, really, ever.  Okay, so I joined a committee.  No problem.

Then I suggested a program for pre-Slichot.

Then I said I'd chair the program.

Then, I put together the ceremony for honouring our teens and new members, changing Torah mantles to white for the Yamim Noraim also.

Then, not liking the plaque dedication ceremony, I put together a different ceremony.

Then I put together a playlist on my ipod for the melave malka.

Then I cut and pasted (the old fashioned way, because it really was faster!).

Oh, and after I said I'd chair the program (see above), I volunteered to run a High Holiday family learning service.

And I suggested an idea for Simchat Torah, and said I'd create the certificates for our cookie decorating contest, and the timeline for the evening, and a floor plan.

And today I practiced Yonah, since I am reading for Yom Kippur afternoon, and an aliyah for Breishit, and created a sheet for the hakafot, with the Hebrew verses in Hebrew, transliteration, and English, so anyone who wants to can participate.

Oh, and I decided to put windows in my sukkah (which I did with my handy jigsaw), and so I can't hang the fabric on the walls the way we usually do to cover the pressed wood, so...

today I also painted my sukkah.

And this is why, when I called to wish my mother (and father, but he was taking a nap) a happy anniversary because I wouldn't be able to speak to them on Shabbat or after due to Slichot, my mother said to me, "I think you need to have your head examined."

Thanks Mom.  I love you.


Okay, so here's why our deck is also known as Manitoba.  In our house not every family meal is a peaceful affair.  We regularly eat dinner as a family, trying to share the events of the day, and talk with our children, but sometimes things get a bit out of hand.  It use to start most often with "But I want to sit next to Eema."Nowadays it may be an obnoxious comment made by one child about or to another.  Usually Jesse is the protagonist in this story.

When we first built the deck, most arguments were about seating.  As the kids would yell, but I want to sit there, Sean would say, "I'm sitting in Manitoba."  His point was that he was sitting far, far away from the noise and the fighting.  After a few of these comments, one of the children pointed out that it was Shabbat, and Sean could not get to Manitoba with out a vehicle of some sort.  I said that of course he could, Manitoba was just outside the door.  Thus the deck was named.  Now, anyone who visits can also go to Manitoba in minutes.

The sukkah is going up on Manitoba.  We're having an open sukkah on Hol HaMoed Shabbat.  Come around back and join us in Manitoba.  As long as the weather holds, it'll be lovely.

Maybe I Should Get A Cow

Sometimes as parents we do silly things.  Sometimes they are the right things, but we still wish we hadn't said them.  In our home this often surrounds introducing our teenager to new foods.  Jesse, at age 15, seems to think the extra large container of yogurt, which could feed me for two weeks of breakfasts, is a single serving container.

Recently, in a quest to eat healthier, Sean has become a fan of smoothies.  Sean's smoothies contain fruit, almonds, and soy or almond milk.  A few weeks ago, Sean suggested to Jesse he should try one of the smoothies.  An immediate convert was born.  Jesse uses milk.  Thank God he is back in school, because with him home the blender was getting constant use, and I couldn't keep enough milk in the house.  "Why?  Why would you suggest that to him?" I asked.

On Shabbat afternoons, when the blender is off limits, Jesse has figured out how to make smoothies sans blender.  Today, while Sean and I sat on our deck, aka Manitoba (but that's for another entry), Jesse kept poking his head out the door to ask about ingredients, I suggested he use ice cream.  I was thinking that if he had the ice cream idea he might leave us alone.  Even as the words were leaving me mouth I thought to myself, "Why?  Why would you suggest that to him?" Furthermore, it didn't work.  He kept appearing.  "Yes, you can use a soft plum.  No, you may not use the cheese.  No, really!  You may NOT use the cheese!"

I came into the kitchen later to find he had used two large bowls, our four-cup glass measuring cup, 3 spoons, the ice cream scoop, the garlic press, the lemon juicer, a whisk, a potato masher, the hand chopper, a knife, a pitcher, and four glasses, even though I thought he was making smoothies for himself and a friend.  Included in the smoothie, a full bag of milk, I don't know how much vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, frozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, and only God knows what else.  No, he did not use the cheese, but they did eat a large number of cheese sticks.  (By the way, Jesse did put most of the dishes in the sink.  He'll be washing them tomorrow.)

May years ago, when Sean & I were first married, we spent our year in Israel.  During the year we learned a lot about Israeli society and the different types of communities that make Israel the special place it is.  One day a representative from a kibbutz came to speak to us.  He spoke about the different industries the kibbutz had tried until, finally, they bought a cow.  From there, financial success.  Sean turned to me, and to our class, and said, "Maybe I should get a cow."  It's a line repeated often throughout our marriage.

Today, standing in the mess of the kitchen, looking at how much milk, ice cream, and cheese had been consumed, Sean said again, "Maybe I should get a cow."  Anyone know where we can get one cheap?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ki Tavo- The Evil That Men Do and Divine Retribution

V’nish’artem bimtei m’at tachat asher hayitem k’khokhvei hashamayim larov ki lo shama’ta bkol Hashem Eh-lohecha.
And you will be left few in number whereas you were like the many stars of the heavens since you did not heed the voice of Hashem your God.

The text of the Torah speaks in glorious terms.  Blessings and curses are absolute.  Because of this, throughout our history tragedy has often been taken as a divine sign instead of the evil that men do.
Following the Holocaust, many Jews had one of two reactions.  Some lost their belief in God.  After all, how could God allow such a horror to be perpetrated?  Others moved in the opposite direction.  As Jews of ancient times, they saw the destruction of such a large percentage of Jews as a sign these curses had come to pass.  They reacted by turning inward, attempting to increase their piety, and cutting themselves off from the rest of the world.  Both groups continue to have an effect on our people today.  They are the two extremes, and interestingly, they often come full circle to connect with each other. 
Using the traditional terms of left and right, on the left we have the secular world of Jews.  These are the Jews who embrace only the social action aspects of Judaism, rejecting God and religious tradition.  These are the Jews who, in the name of “doing right,” too often lose their way, and find themselves standing with the enemies of Jews and Israel.  On the right are the haredim.  These groups move ever rightward in an attempt to “heed the voice of God.”  In their extremes, such as the Neturei Karta, they have aligned themselves with those who would propagate another Holocaust in order to protect Judaism from Jews.  In both cases the circle comes together with Jews situating themselves with their own enemies.
Interestingly, the beginning of the verse speaks to us in the plural, “and you (plural) will be left few in number whereas you (plural) were like the many stars of the heavens.”  The end of the verse is in the singular, “since you (singular) did not heed the voice of Hashem your God.”  Throughout the Torah we are told to care for others, especially within our own community.  We are reminded that we came out of Egypt a mixed multitude, and we are commanded to follow God’s mitzvot.  We are also taught not to add or take away from these mitzvot.  When we, as individuals (singular), act in ways contrary to this, we, as a community, suffer. 
The evil that men do is not a sign of divine retribution, but it should serve as a reminder to build our community, to strengthen it, and to support it, and with a strong Jewry and a strong Israel we can stand together to be the or lagoyim, the light to the nations, that we were called to be.

Swiss Cheese

There was a time in my life when I could stay up for days on end without any ill effect.  I am now old.  I have lacked a few hours of sleep over the past week, and my mind is now swiss cheese.  I cannot count the typing errors I have made in these few sentences, and I cannot remember the names of people I've known for years.

Oh well, sleep is for the weak.

By the way the person's name is Lisa.

Yes, I Speak English Very Goodly

Sean recently posted The Final Insult.  It is about the ups and downs of our trying to become official permanent residents of Canada.  Sometimes I wonder how it is that we are not yet official permanent residents.  We've been here for the better part of a decade.  Keren and Gavi have lived here longer than in the US.  We own a home.  But it's still not official.  This is through no fault of ours.

I used the phrase "ups and downs."  Mostly it's been downs.  Canada lost our application; there went nine months.  We had to start over.  Canada lost our medical reports.  By the way, I live here already.  If I have some illness I caught it here.  Canada closed offices dealing with our application.  In this time, my residency started over, due to Canada's losses and a necessary trip back to the US.  I lived in my own home as an official tourist for four months.

The best part, in entertainment value anyway, was the English Proficiency Test.  I am proud to say that I did better than Sean on the written part of the exam.  We tied for the oral.

The oral exam is administered from a book.  The examiner must ask the questions from the book, and may not deviate.  Clearly this book was not written for Americans.  My question was "Please tell me about your national food."I spoke of hot dogs and apple pie, although I believe cherry pie is a strong contender due to the story of George Washington and his father's cherry tree.  I spoke of going to ball parks where our national food could be combined with our national pastime, baseball.  I spoke of regional differences in toppings, from mustard to ketchup, sauerkraut, fried onions, relish, or, as in Chicago, everything but the kitchen sink.  By the end the examiner was laughing so hard he was crying.  He couldn't figure out why I was there.

Sean followed me.  The (same) examiner asked, "Tell me about your national costume..."  I hope we made his day.

Did I mention that after 4 years of working on this Canada has streamlined the process for those already living here?  It should take a maximum of 14 months.

Was That Really Necessary?

It is 7:55 AM.  Kids have just left for school.  (Thank you Lindy, who drives them every day!)  I am taking a moment trying not to fall asleep after a little over five hours of sleep while my breakfast cooks.

Why only five hours of sleep?  Thank you for asking.  Last night at 11:45 (scheduled) I had an MRI.  Is everything okay?  Yes.  It's really minor.  I have an inflamed nerve in my left foot, aka neuroma.  The nerve tissue becomes inflamed, and can become fibrous.  At it's best the toes (if it's in your foot) become numb, at worst, extremely painful.  I had the same problem in my right foot when Jesse was a year old.  I was unable to wear a shoe by the time I realized the problem.  It was treated over a few months.  It did not respond to the treatment, and so it was removed.  Not a problem since.

This time, I realized early on what was going on, and requested a referral to a podiatrist.  (Only much later did I discover that podiatry is not the same practice here as in the US.)  I saw a podiatrist, who did agree that I had the start of a neuroma.  He prescribed insoles.  They worked for a time, but a year later... OW.  Another podiatrist.  I didn't really like the bedside manner of the first.  This time custom orthotics.  These too worked for a period of time.  Then we added a toe spacer.  This was great when I was wearing shoes, but as I placed my foot on the floor most mornings the pain was growing. 

Who knew that a foot doctor was not the doctor to see for a foot problem.  My podiatrist does not do surgery.  Finally I was sent to an orthopedist.  It only took five years.  Within a minute or two of examination it was clear to him, and the resident, and an observer, that I have a neuroma.  Great.  We all agree, as do the two podiatrists.  When can we get it out?  Oh no, while we all know it's there, we must first do an MRI to confirm.  That was last night.

Sean drove me down.  I was a bit nervous and very tired.  We arrived early, and I was thankfully seen early.  The place was empty, so I don't fully understand why the 11:45 PM appointment.  We arrived about 11:30.  We were back in the car by 12:27.  The techs were professional and efficient.  They explained everything, and answered questions. 

Still, was this really necessary?  A very expensive test, very late at night, to confirm what 2 podiatrists, 2 orthopedists, an I all know.  I have a neuroma.  In the words of my uncle, a retired podiatrist who treated hundreds and hundreds of neuroma over the years.  (My first was removed in his office in NYC.)  An MRI for a neuroma.  That's stupid.

Have a great and restful day.  I'll be sleeping on my desk.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Construction & Jews

Sukkot is coming.

At this time of year, most Rabbis and Cantors are focused on the High Holidays and sermons.  Jews around the world are planning menus for the the guests that will descend for those same holidays.  For me, I look towards Sukkot.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know I love sukkot.  I have written of my parents' sukkah, with walls of clear plastic to let in light and view my father's gardens, of our sukkot in Hawaii, North Carolina, and New York, and of our current sukkah.  You may even know we are about to go outside and put up this year's sukkah, if I ever stop typing.

I am dressed for sukkah construction.  I am an old pro, having built a sukkah most years since I was ten.  I have also been involved in other construction projects. When I was in grade six, community parents built a playground at my school from donated tires and railroad ties.  As an adult I have done a number of Habitat for Humanity builds.  There is much that is similar among all these construction projects, from tools, to reasons, but there are also differences.

Beyond the most obvious differences is the absence of the required steel-toed shoes and hard hats.  My clothes are similar, but I will be wearing a ball cap to shield me from the sun, and most likely my crocs.  They are bright blue and, most definitely, do not have steel toes.

However, even as I plan to put on my crocs, I wonder if I should go find some steel-toed shoes.  We build a serious sukkah.

I am not a sukkah snob.  I feel that everyone should find the sukkah that is right for her/him.  I love that Sukkah Depot advertises "klutz-proof sukkot" and pop-up sukkot.  The mitzvah is to dwell in a sukkah, not to design and build one from supplies at the local big box store.  But I, I love to build.  I love taking out the power tools.  I love the creative act of planning architectural changes.  I love the engineering (I guess Gavi gets that from me).

If you say to yourself, yes, but it's only a sukkah, I should tell you that one year  before we could secure a wall, the wind blew it over.  As the wall fell, it broke our deck table, causing the aluminum legs to buckle.  I'm glad that wasn't one of our heads.  We'd forgotten our hard hats that year too.

Out of the Mouths of Babes, and Tossed From Their Arms...

All three of my children are creative, but the difference in their creativity is baffling.

Jesse, a master of information and lists, has begun to compose music.
Keren, an artist at heart, has written songs and designs clothes from scarves.
And, while I could write a blog entry on each of them, then there is Gavi.  

Gavi is my engineer.  He is a comedian.  He is also an artist.  He builds multi-colored sky scrapers cities of Lego.  He once became a piece of "dough chicken," and he also designed the mural on his wall, painted by my mother.  It is a rolling hill, with tree and animals.  A rainbow spreads over the scene.  His favorite color is rainbow.  I cannot find his floor for the myriad of pens, pencils, markers, nuts, bolts, screws, rubber bands, and detritus spread about.  He makes the most amazing figures out of pipe cleaners, and was working to challenge China's terracotta warriors in number and detail.  He is also the one most likely to ask for a hug and a kiss, and I am greeted by this request most days.  He is my enigma, although Sean calls him the stealth child.  He will be rough and tumble with Sean one moment, then come to kiss me gently on the cheek and receive a hug in the next.

Gavi likes a puzzle and a challenge.  My brother refitted an electric experiment box he had as a child for Gavi.  Gavi managed to start a fire.  This year, Russell bought him an electric paper airplane launcher.  Russel, also an engineer, understands Gavi.

There is also an art when it comes to thinking through one of his challenges.  Yesterday was Shabbat.  We do not use electricity on Shabbat.  Lights are on timers.  The oven is on or off.  Gavi wanted to ride his bicycle.  It was inside the garage.  The side door does not work.  The only way in and out is through the electric garage door.  Gavi conspired to get it open without pushing the button himself.  He tried placing the opener where Nora would jump.  It took a long time before she jumped to the spot, and then she was too light to have an effect.  Not to be hampered, Gavi took Gandlaf and the opener into the backyard.  He tried maneuvering Gandalf into walking across the opener.  It did not work.  Finally, in frustration, Gavi threw the opener across the yard.  Thinking it was a game, Gandalf chased the opener; pouncing.  As he pounced and played, he stepped on the correct button, and voila!  Bike ride!

Of course there was the problem of leaving the garage open.  "Should I try to get him to step on it again?"  "No, Gavi, just leave it."

Sleep is for the Weak...

After a night of blogging, I am still lying in bed.  I woke to Gandalf snoring.  He seems to have a squeak.  I wonder if it's not a snore, but instead he is squeaking out "oil can."  Should I go find one?  Maybe he just needs more sleep.  But how do you know with a cat?

Sean, of course was up bright and early.  I am a night owl.  He is an early bird.  It balances, usually.  Unfortunately, when life gets busy, as it has this week, and will likely continue next week, we end up burning the candle at both ends, I even more than Sean.  Sean says, "Sleep is for the weak, and I had mine last week."  But what do I do next week, when I didn't have the sleep last week?

Oh to be a cat-
To startle awake, then not care.
To put one's head upon one's paws and sleep in a moment.
To find comfort in the oddest position, and to be able to curl in the tightest ball.
To sleep, perchance to dream, whenever the opportunity opportunity presents, with purr and with sigh, and naught a care in the world.

Gandalf likes his people.  Nora does too, but on her own terms.  Gandalf likes to be in your space.  Last night, as I tried to lie down, Gandalf lay beside me.  He is coming up on the size of a small beagle, and takes up more space than he should for a cat.  He prevented me from settling in my normal spot.  As I was typing, he began to dream, twitching, his feet clearly chasing something.  Was it the squirrel or the butterfly that got away?  Was he successful in his dream?  Did I mention he has claws, and he was twitching beside my leg?

Current;y both Nora and Gandalf are asleep on the other side of the bed.  Peaceful sleep reigns.  I, even without enough sleep last night, nor restful sleep thanks to the large cat in my life, am awake, with a mind running with the plans of the day.  Oh well, sleep is for the week, I mean weak...

Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha

We are building our sukkah tomorrow, no today.  Wow, I really should go to sleep.  But, there's so little time to write.

We are building our sukkah in the morning.  There are just a few halachot about building a sukkah.  The walls must be at least ten t'fachim high.  One tefach is about the width of an adult's hand (across the knuckles, no thumb).  It may not be more than 20 amot.  An ama runs from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.  It must have 2.5 walls, and a roof made of cut, natural materials.  It must be temporary, and actually be taken down, and put back up.  A possible temporary structure you never take down doesn't count.  The roof must cast more shade than sun, but you must be able to look through to the stars.

Most people build their sukkah between Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  In fact, there's a tradition of putting in the first nail (if your sukkah uses nails, ours doesn't) after break fast.  There's never enough time tough, so we're putting ours up his long weekend.  I plan on putting in a window.

I love Sukkot, and I love sitting in my sukkah.  I want time to decorate and enjoy the sukkah.  The Hag is not enough.  I think about Sukkot and our sukkah regularly.  Whenever we travel we buy a souvenir for the places we go to hang in our sukkah.  We have a scavenger hunt to find the interesting objects among the decorations.  Thank you to Aliza Spiro and family for both those ideas.  This year there will be an iguana from Guantanamo Bay.  Come and see it.

As if the year-round shopping weren't enough to keep Sukkot in my mind, I think about it every night.  When we recite Hashkiveinu at Maariv, I read the words, "ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha..."

Hashkineinu Hashem Ehloheinu l'shalom, v'ha'amideinu Malkeinu l'shalom, ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha.  Lay us down Hashem, our God to peace, and stand us up, our Ruler, to peace, and spread over us sukkat shlomecha, the shelter of Your peace.

Sukkot is z'man simchateinu, the time for rejoicing or happiness.  I love the idea that we have a designated time to be outside.  Yes we have walls and a makeshift roof, but we are exposed.  We cannot forget that nature is around us.  We have some protection, but our true protection is God's peace.

I cannot read the words sukkat shlomecha without thinking of our sukkah.  It is a place of peace.  The house, especially around Yom Tov, gets chaotic.  It is noisy.  It feels full and sometimes crowded.  The sukkah, though small, is an island in the chaos.  Shaded by the skakh dripping with memories, our childrens' hand prints on the wall, it seems cosy rather than crowded, joyous rather than noisy.

Ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha; I look forward to my time spent with you.

Lech l'shalom, v'laila tov.

So Be Bitter...

Hello everyone.  If you are not a reader of my husband's blog, let me explain.  Sean wrote an entry called, "But I am not Bitter..."  This is my side of the story.

Sean & I have been married just over 19 years.  We have known each other for 21 years, and have been a couple for 20 of those years.  We met in August 1991.  I was in a relationship, which lasted until February of 1992.  Whenever I was having problems in my relationship, Sean made sure he was there to support me, always telling me everything would work out fine.  Little did I know he meant with him.  When my relationship ended, Sean was there for me, and just three months later we were engaged.  When it's right, it's right.

Fast forward 20 years.  It's still right, but no river, however strong, always runs straight.  We have our bumps in the road.  Interestingly our bumps after 20 years as a couple are generally the same a our bumps after 2 years as a couple.  People grow and evolve, but they don't change.

Sean is bitter about two events on our marriage.  Two!  I say, as I did at Shabbat lunch, it's been over 19 years, get over it!

#1- Wedding cake.  Yes, I was wrong.  We had a delicious cake.  We had two bites.  The next morning I did take the cake from my new husband's hands and make him put it back.  It was to be romantically shared on our first anniversary.  Unfortunately, we weren't available to get it for our first anniversary, as we were at Camp Ramah in the Poconos.  They cake was eventually lost to the god of freezer burn.

Anyone who knows me knows I love romance.  Give me a good chick book, movie, or play.  Sappy?  Great!  I love a good cry!  I wanted to relive the great evening that was our wedding day.  It didn't happen, but my heart was in the right place.

By the way, I ordered Sean a special cake for our 15th anniversary, and put our cake topper on top.  It wasn't enough.  He's still bitter.

#2- Turkey.  No, not the food, the country.  We spent most of our first married year in Israel.  For intersession Sean wanted to go to Turkey.  To be affordable, he'd found that we could take a cruise.  An affordable cruise?  Well, sort of.  It was a two day boat ride from Haifa to Izmir.  We could reserve two deck chairs.  On these deck chairs we could sleep in the open air, during the rainy season.  We'd have to bring all our own food, and make sure to sleep ON our belongings since we'd be, as I mentioned, in the open air.  I said no.  I needed a roof, walls, and a door that locked.  Instead of Turkey, we went to Tzfat with friends.  It was lovely.  As a wedding gift, Sean's brother, Jeff, had given us an all-inclusive weekend at a hotel in Jerusalem.  While using it, we wandered into an art gallery with a lot of work by one of my favorite artists at that time, Avraham Ebgi.  Since we had not gone to Turkey, we had a little extra money to spend, and we bought a magnificent Artist's Print by Ebgi of a wedding.  It hangs prominently in our dining room, and reminds Sean to be bitter.

I have learned to laugh over the things that make me bitter.  Of course my issues tend to repeat themselves.  The biggest is Sean's inability to put things back where and how they belong.  While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is if those things are canned goods, pots, or the bread machine, and things fall on your head or toes when you open cabinet doors.  Over 19 years I have learned to duck quickly.  It keeps me agile.  That's much better than being bitter.

Great Companies- Crayola, I love you best of all

Sean and I have just returned from a trip to the US.  We visited family, as we do on most of our vacations.  We also visited the Crayola Experience, one of the coolest companies in the world.

First you must know, I am a crayon snob.  I have tried cheap crayons. I have tried expensive crayons.  Crayola tops all, and at a good price.  They take pride in what they do.  They do it inexpensively.  They also look beyond the product and the profit to the world.

My love of Crayola began early in life.  It has only increased.  Everyone loves crayons; the feel and smell (excepting scented crayons- yuck.  I am a purist.) have not changed in the 100 years of the company.  Little has changed, with the exception of a few name changes.  The most famous of these was the change from "flesh" to peach, but, as Robert Fulghum wrote, this was an improvement.  I bought a set of flesh toned pencils for sketching at the gift shop.  With them, alone or blended, I can draw the world.

In 1996, Crayola made its 100 billionth crayon.  It was called blue ribbon, a periwinkle blue hue.  Periwinkle is my favourite Crayola color.   Mr. Rogers was invited to mold the actual crayon.  It seemed appropriate.  With this Crayola issued 96 count special boxes.  They had gold, silver, and red foil wrappers to be found for prizes.  The actual 100 billionth crayon was included with a special wrapper.  It makes me think of the golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl.  Instead of Charlie, Ms. Darlene Martin found the crayon, and "sold" it back to Crayola for a $100,000 bond.  It is now in the Crayola hall of fame.    

Crayola uses solar power.  Their materials come from renewable sources.  For the wood in the coloured pencils, for every tree crayola cuts down, the same breed of tree is planted.  Crayola shops locally, and saves on shipping costs and gasoline.  They recycle.  They are a positive place at which to work, and they care enough to pass their own savings onto their customers.  If it is possible for my love of all things Crayola to have grown, then my love has increased tenfold.  

Before we stopped I told the kids not to expect that we'd buy anything in the gift shop.  All too often, company gift shops are more expensive than stores because everyone wants something from the gift shop.  Not so Crayola.  The prices and selection were excellent.

You can no longer tour the Crayola Factory.  Like Willy Wonka, Crayola had to close its factory to the public due, not to liability, but to corporate espionage.  Everyone wants to be Crayola!  And why not?  The uniform for those working at the Crayola Experience is tie-dye.  They give out free samples to happy, smiling people. The exhibits are fun and interactive.  I love my free crayons, with special box, and my purple marker.  The kids and I made art.  I wrote on walls and floors.  Jesse said he felt like he was five as he walked through the exhibits with a huge smile on his face.  Looking around not a single person had anything but a smile on his/her face.

By the way, I've asked Sean to plan my birthday party there.  Hope you'll come.