Wednesday, September 12, 2018

This Time of Year, I Hear Your Voice

(When I was thirteen, a boy from my synagogue, a friend of mine, passed away from complications from hemophilia.)


This time of year, I hear your voice. It is high and sweet. It is the voice of a young boy whose voice never changed to that of a man.

I remember you, sitting next to me, praying next to me, singing liturgy I did not know, melodies whose beauty did not come from the cantor on the bima, but from my friend, singing beside me.

There must have been others our age. I know there were young children. You and I led their service, you playing cantor to my rabbi. The two of us worked in unrehearsed harmony, my knowledge coming from having watched my father, yours from years of prayer.

I remember other times with you, of course. I remember talking on the phone, laughing when your mother decided to "clean the phone" during one of our conversations. I remember dancing with you at a party for Israel's Independence day.

But mostly, I remember your voice on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, praying for forgiveness for sins you did not commit and for mercy you did not receive.

In memory of Stephen Orne

Friday, August 17, 2018

Kosher in the Azores - Self-Catering for a Family Abroad

I hope you haven't come to this post hoping to find out that there's a nice, big Chabad house in Sao Miguel. I'm sorry to disappoint. There's basically nothing kosher.

Why did we go to the Azores?
The European Juggling Convention takes place in a different European country each summer. This year was Azores! Next year is Britain, but it's during the nine days, so we'll be giving it a miss, sadly.

If you're used to European products, then you know which things are ok throughout Europe. Unless you're careful about Chalav Yisrael, the milk, cottage cheese, yogurts (the ones which don't contain grape or gelatin) are all fine, and some ice creams - there's a Portugal list, but it's pretty bare.

As far as I know, there's no bread commonly available in the Azores which is ok (if you're Portuguese and know better, feel free to comment.)

OUR SETUP

Well, first I'll tell you what our set-up was. We're a family of five with some picky eaters and some very picky eaters. We rented a really cute bungalow with a fully-equipped kitchen. We used the fridge, microwave, kettle, and stovetop. There was an oven, but we did not use it, partly because of logistics of kashering, and partly because we're on vacation and didn't want to be baking.



DISHES/POTS/PANS/ETC



So we had a complication, because we flew a low-cost airline BACK to Lisbon from the Azores (we flew from Israel via Moscow, but that's another story) and decided to only pay for two suitcases for that leg of the flight. As a result, we were somewhat limited in what we could bring back with us - which obviously affected what we took.

Fortunately, I had a pot and pan that were on their way out - I'd already bought their replacements, so we took those and threw them out at the end of the trip. I also bought a collapsible pot, more because I was in love with the idea than because I needed it.

I brought along small, cheap cutting boards for milk and meat, and bought knives with covers for both (because otherwise, you end up slicing your luggage, your fingers, etc)

I don't love eating off of disposables, and while they are readily available in supermarkets, they're not cheap and come in tiny packs. For dairy, we brought our IKEA Kalas bowls, cups, and plates:



We didn't bring along the plastic silverware because it's unusable. We actually separate the colors for meat and dairy, - meat is anything that includes red - pink, purple, and orange - and dairy is the rest - yellow, blue, and green - so it took two sets to bring service for 6. We're only 5, but you always need extras. We had old ones in meh shape. A friend recommended stainless steel, but these are light and cheap, and we ended up leaving them behind, which we wouldn't have done with metal.

I bought silverware at Max Stock - by buying the pieces separately (6 forks, 6 big spoons, 6 small spoons, and 2 packs of 3 knives at 5 shekels each), I was able to get usable silverware for 25 shekels. (we'll keep it for future travel.)

Can Opener (cheap, junky one)
Peeler (Good one)

For meat, we planned to have four meat meals - 2 each of the two Shabbatot we were away. So I bought 10 hard plastic disposable plates, and we washed 5 between meals each of the two weeks. I brought a little bit of disposable silverware, and we kept the extras from the airline meal.

I bought cheap wooden spoons/spatulas so that if we didn't have room to bring them back, we would just leave them.

What I didn't bring that I should have, so I ended up paying more because in Israel I know where to buy it cheaper - sponges for washing dishes and plastic boxes to use both as a mixing bowl and for storing leftovers.

Plastic zip-loc type bags could have been helpful, We bought them locally.

I had bought two packs of sour candy that came in little plastic boxes and they got some use.

(We ate most of the candy on our flights)

Should have brought a tablecloth. I ended up using a clean sheet as a tablecloth, but I felt like it was risking leaving stains that don't belong on a sheet, which would be rude to the owners of the place we rented. I was able to find disposables, but didn't think about it until it was too late for the first Shabbat.


What Food We Brought With Us

Foodwise - we brought some of the wrong things. If I were doing it over, here's what I would bring:

Cheese - we brought 2.4 kg of Emek cheese, and ate all of it. We froze it before we traveled and put it in an insulated bag, and it was still cold when we got to Sao Miguel about 36 hours later. (we'd expected to have a fridge in Lisbon, but that didn't happen)

Meat - 4 salamis and 4 packs of kabanos. That was just about the right amount. 1 salami and 1 pack of kabanos per shabbat meal.

Tuna - One of the Israeli companies just started packing their tuna in foil bags - It's called Tuna to-go. I brought 4 packs. My son loves pasta with just tuna (in oil), so each pack made two servings of that.

Bread - We took whole wheat bread, pitas, rolls, and wraps. If I could do it over again, I would have brought just wraps - probably around 8 packs. The kids ate them with nutella, with cheese and tomato sauce, with salami, etc. They're compact and you don't have to worry about them going bad.

Mana chama (noodles) My husband brought a bunch of them. In bowls. The bowls mostly got smushed and were unusable. If I'd done the shopping, I would have bought the ones in packets instead (and put them in the plastic containers I forgot to bring). They were really useful for the days when my husband and daughter were out a lot of the day, because they were able to get hot water easily at the juggling convention, and that's a pretty quick hot meal.

Majadera - my daughter loves it, and the premade mix is really good. We only made 2 packs, but I brought 4. Oops,

Wacky Mac - I only brought the cheese pack from a box of Wacky mac. We bought pasta locally, and I added a lot of butter to stretch it to be enough for most of a lb of pasta.

Spices - I brought garlic and salt in small containers. Oregano and onion powder could have been nice, too.

Tea Bags - My husband likes a particular type of tea. It makes more sense to pack 14 tea bags than to go searching once we're there.

Cookies and Snacks - because it's a tiyul, and tiyulim need snacks. (Tiyul is the general term for trip, but also more specifically used to refer to school hiking trips, where kids spend half the time hiking, 1/8 of the time learning about the place, 1/8 of the time hearing silly stories that are tangentially related to the place, and 1/4 of the time eating snacks. That may not be a great break-up because I think there's overlap) I bought a few types of cookies. If I were a better mom, I would have baked the cookies in advance, and packed them in one of those plastic boxes... but I digress.

Grape Juice for Kiddush and havdala - 4 little bottles.


What We Bought There

The main supermarket we went to was Continente, which was well-stocked.
Milk (there was no fresh milk, only UHT milk, on Sao Miguel, but it was really good. Apparently the thing about grass-fed cows is real)
Butter
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Eggs - but they were brown and speckled, so not candled, and we ended up not really eating them because we found too many blood spots - I managed to find one clean one and ate it - all the others went to the trash :(
Rice
Pasta
Sugar
Kellog's cereals (UK Kashrut Certification)
Coffee (nescafe)
Sugar
Olives (in a jar)
Tomato Sauce (the kind that was just tomatoes and salt)
Soy Sauce (OU)
Ketchup
Mustard
Potato chips (plain potato chips are ok)
Betty Crocker pancake mix (OU)
Spray vegetable oil (OU)
Iced Tea, Coke, Fanta (watch out, some of the flavors have grape juice)
Nutella
Peanut butter (skippy!)
Nuts
Fresh Fruit (selection was so-so. there were excellent fresh pineapples grown on the Island, but I was the only one who was willing to eat it)
Vegetables - tomatoes were ok, avocado was fine, and cucumbers were American-style, barely edible.
Onions
Lots and lots of water bottles (the water where we stayed smelled bad - we used it for cooking and even for making coffee/tea, but we didn't drink it)
Napkins, toothpaste, shampoo, stuff like that.

In theory, we could have bought frozen salmon, but the seafood section had so many "interesting" things (eels, for example) that I couldn't bring myself to look through it. There are canned tunas and sardines that can be bought there, but again, it was a lot to look through, and most of it exceptionally unappealing. I was glad we'd brought our own tuna.

There are shops called Liberty that stock American products. We mostly bought cookies and candies there (flavored Oreos, Peanut Butter Cups, Chips Ahoy) but also canned salmon and Vlasic pickles.


What We Actually Ate:
Breakfast - cereal or pancakes
Lunch - sandwiches - either cheese or nutella on bread, pita, wrap, whatever.
Dinner - Pasta and sauce with or without cheese, pasta with wacky mac sauce, pasta with tuna, pasta with cream cheese;
majadera, rice with soy sauce,
Fried onions - the onions were great, we ate some just fried and salted.

Snacks - fruit, apples with peanut butter, way way too many potato chips, cookies,

I hope that this list helps other people trying to find their own food. At the very least, I've got a packing list for next time we go away. :)

Little improvised thing I liked -  I cut up plastic water bottles to hold my sponges so they wouldn't be in direct contact with any of the kitchen surfaces.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wearing My Grandmother's Ring

Dear Savta,

Today I wore your ring for the first time. It's not the first thing of yours that I've had. I've had your name my whole life. I've shared your son, too. He is my father.

I knew your husband. I know your daughter-in-law, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren.

I share your love of Israel, of Yiddishkeit. I don't know if you dreamed of living in Israel, but here I am, living in Israel.
I know you valued education, you had a Master's degree at a time when few women did. I also went for a Master's degree (even if I didn't finish it).

I know you valued Jewish life - my father reminds us that you went without a new winter coat to help pay for summer camp for him. 
But I don't know you. Yet I wear your ring. The one my grandfather had made for you. 

And I hold close the things I know were dear to you.
And I hope that I'm worthy of your name.

Love Leah G. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reflections at Forty


First, as I type, I immediately increase the font size so that I can see better.

My glasses now have an additional bit of “extra help” for reading, and I see an occasional strand of gray on my head.

I don’t feel old, not exactly. The fibromyalgia makes my body feel old and decrepit at times, but I am still me underneath it all. I’m full of wonder, I love to laugh, to play games, to learn, to read. Still the same as I was thirty years ago at ten – a child who liked climbing trees, fencing, going to the library and bringing home a stack of books.  

On my tenth birthday, I got my military ID card, a rite of passage for Army brats. With it, I could shop at the PX (Post Exchange) on my own. I remember the day I got it, running back to my house across a green field, so happy that when a car stopped to let me cross the road, I felt myself throwing happiness at the driver.

My twentieth birthday was more subdued. At twenty, my thyroid was no longer working right, and my dreams seemed to be slipping away from me. I was no longer strong enough to be feel invincible. I had thought of joining the (Israeli) Army, but I couldn’t stay awake and on my feet full days anymore. Thyroid medicine helped, but it couldn’t fix the underlying changes in my body.

I felt fears – fear that I wouldn’t marry, would never write a novel, would never have good friends. I became depressed, and my sister (best sister in the world!) took me in for a few days. She took me to a garden nursery to see beautiful flowers. She bought me some new clothes. And she took me to watch her daughter dance with all of the preschoolers and kindergarteners in the new amphitheater in the new city of Modiin, for the Israel’s Yovel –Jubilee.

On Yom Haatzmaut night, my mother and I watched the show in the amphitheater. It was a showing of only local talent, and it laughed about leaving Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and finally finding parking. There was joking about the chugim – the extra-curricular activities that are so plentiful here. There was so much hope for Modiin. My spirits rose.

Years pass. At thirty, I’d realized my dream of being a wife and mother.

And now, forty. I have a loving husband, three children, two cats who will never replace the dog who spent my twenties and most of my thirties with me, an extended family I love, and friends and a community I couldn’t have imagined, certainly twenty years ago, but probably not ten years ago either.

And Modiin – it has grown. Now on Yom Haatzmaut, we have top names at our celebration. We have fireworks three times that night. The amphitheater is full to capacity, and people mill around beyond its borders.  The small town I saw in 1998 is now a city; we too have parking problems, but we also have green grass, large parks, and plenty of chugim for our children.

I look back at how much has changed in the last twenty years. Yaakov and I spent my fortieth birthday with friends, watching my children play with Lego, talking about art and juggling and cats and life in general. We grilled meat, and enjoyed the fresh air and the incredible weather.
We came home and put our beautiful children to bed. I think forty is going to be ok.


Friday, February 03, 2017

My Very Long-Winded Political Post

I am all over the place politically, and I find myself running afoul of absolutely everyone... so I'm going to tell y'all how I feel and then get the popcorn and see what you think. This is a whole bunch of stuff, picked based on what popped up in my head. Note: this is my blog. If you want to respond or debate, I'm good with that. Anything that reads like a personal attack or one on groups of people (and yes, I understand that some of what I wrote will be read as an attack on groups of people, my blog, my rules) won't be allowed.

Healthcare

I think the ACA is a mess, and would advocate making Medicaid buy-in (for those over the threshold), at say 6% of taxable income... up to a cap that makes forces regular insurers to compete with Medicaid. (I'm not an actuary/accountant, so whatever percentage I throw out is for entertainment purposes only...) Then mandate that states meet a certain standard of care for Medicaid, (meaning that no insurer would be able to provide care below that standard, because people would leave)

Syria

I think America should worry less about the Syrian refugees and worry more about the Syrian war, and that Obama (and the UN) is (are) culpable for the deaths of 400,000 Syrians, by their inaction.
And I'm outraged that only when it comes to a handful of refugees being stuck in the airports, does anyone notice.
There is no way to rehome all of Syria's citizens. We have to re-establish order in Syria. I'm glad to see that Trump is looking for ways to help Syrians without moving them to the US. It's too bad no one took this Egyptian Billionaire seriously two years ago.

Muslim Immigration

I think that while most Muslims are not interested in being terrorists, the concept of holy war is so ingrained into their religion that it is terrifying to allow large groups of Muslims in, even if they don't have terrorist ties - and I know that's racist of me, but it's also pragmatic. I think that America needs to be watching what is said in the mosques, because in some of them, maybe only 1%, maybe only .5%, they're saying that American Christians are infidels who need to be converted or killed. Some of them are saying that if a girl is not a virgin when she gets married, she has dishonored her family and they have a right to kill her.
And Orthodox Judaism isn't perfect in this respect, but stoning to death isn't a thing in any Jewish enclave, as far as I know.
Those who are still stoning are in the minority, but they're also the loudest in their selective implementation of the religion. For them -- whether it's the Taliban or Daesh (also known as ISIS) -- the only way to gain power is to claim it from a very particular part of religion, and only in the areas they deem necessary. And to these groups, women are the lowest denominator, used to prove their masculinity and their claim to power -- to themselves and to the world.

Marriage Equality

I believe in marriage equality in the sense that I think that if two adults determine themselves to be a household unit, all laws should apply to them in the same ways, regardless of whether or not they are married, same-sex, opposite-sex, etc.
To the extent that if two siblings or platonic friends choose to operate a household together, they should be entitled to all the benefits afforded a "regular" family.
I think that marriage shouldn't be a legal institution at all; it's a religious institution which is a contract where the woman promises not to sleep around and the man promises to provide for her and any offspring, because once the woman has promised to be monogamous, the man believes that all offspring are his. (if you look at any religious texts on marriage, it's clear that this is the primary intent)

PCism

I'm annoyed by PC'ism that says that it's ok to call someone an asshat but not an idiot or a /racial slur/ because ableism and racism are horrible, but being nasty to people is just fine

I'm annoyed by people who think it's ok to tell someone to 'check their privilege' or that they're 'mansplaining' instead I'm of addressing the actual issue.
I'm annoyed by people who claim that something is cultural appropriation without questioning whether people from that culture actually care.
I'm annoyed that anything I say can be taken to be a 'microaggression' even if my intent is completely benign. And that that term can be used to shut me up.


Rape Culture

I believe that rape culture is a problem, but I don't believe it's possible to change all men (or dominants of any gender) by education alone.
I believe women (and men) should be taught to say no, yell no, and then break the nose. This has the twofold advantage of 1. preventing sexual assault at the time it is occurring, 2. providing other would-be attackers with concrete reasons to not to go down that path.
I serve my children alcohol at home so that they will understand how it affects them in a safe environment, and I will remind them that drinking (beyond a very small amount) in an uncontrolled environment is unsafe, not only because men can't be trusted just because they seem nice, but also because being sloppy drunk in public will probably be posted on social media and may prevent them getting a job down the line.

Legalization of Cannabis

I would like to see MJ decriminalized and regulated like alcohol currently is, and medical MJ given as easily as (if not more easily than) other pain medications with much worse side effects. I will also be educating my children that using it regularly while your brain is still growing can mess up your brain, and that if they feel they need a joint or a shot of alcohol to get themselves together regularly, they need to get help.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

How I Didn't Go to Disney World (a story)

Told to me by Yisrael from Ofakim*:


Last summer, I wanted to go visit Disney World in Orlando, but all the flights from Israel to Miami were so expensive. I started looking at other options, flying into Newark, JFK, then finally I found amazingly cheap flights to St. Petersburg.

Now, I'd never heard of POCCNR airlines, but their flight was not only cheaper, but actually FASTER than anything else I could find. So I bought our tickets.

I learned English in school, and I was pretty good at it. I did 5 yechidot on my bagrut, but I tell you, the way those people in St. Petersburg speak, I couldn't understand ANYTHING. I mean, I watch a lot of US television, even series like CSI Miami and Dexter that happen in Florida, so I thought I could understand how they talk. Crazy!

I now understand why Donald Trump is so scared of foreigners invading the United States. Just look at this weird mosque!





I couldn't even read the signs there. So many foreigners that the signs aren't even in English. Even Waze could not help me figure out how to get on the I4 to go up to Orlando. There was no Mickey Mouse. It was tragic.

This year, I've got it figured out, though. We're going through Georgia. I wonder how far Tbilisi is from Atlanta.


*not his real name. or story. or whatever.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sometimes it Takes 288₪ to Appreciate Someone

In my first year of high school, my spoken Hebrew far outstripped my written Hebrew since I'd spoken (albeit imperfect) Hebrew my whole life, but had relatively little formal education. Likewise, my knowledge was uneven in Judiac studies. I knew entire brachot (blessings) and tfillot (prayers) by heart, and had read through most of ברשאית (Genesis) myself, but again, I lacked formal education.

9th grade me did not
see the value of pristine books.
Since the test they gave us for placement was multiple choice, my extremely poor spelling slipped through unnoticed. Since they were testing children from a number of different schools, general knowledge of prayers and rituals got me through the test with a relatively high score despite a weak background. In short, I was initially placed in a class where I was out of my depth. On further reflection, I realize that my barely passing grades probably meant I was exactly where I belonged for maximum learning potential, but a thirteen-year-old who fails a test isn't always the best judge of where they belong.

So there I was - I was in this class where the teacher was really strict, and (I felt) mean. She had a harsh manner to her,and she gave a test that I thought I did well on, and I FAILED! So I did the most logical thing I could think of and switched into another class where I managed to scrape by with minimal effort.

I remember only one thing this teacher taught me. On the first day of school, someone asked if we could write in our books, and she said "They belong to you. You won't have to pay for them if you write in them, but I don't like it. In the war, they destroyed our books. Keep your books clean. Please."

In high school, I did write in my books. I won't say the lesson got through that day... Fast forward to this year.

I bought absolutely huge, gigantic, gargantuan piles of books for my kids. And put a sticker with their name on the plastic outer cover of each. Even though these are workbooks, and my children will write in them, the idea of keeping them pristine remains. And then it turned out that a whole bunch of the books were the wrong ones. That is, the teacher prefers an older version and didn't bother to put that detail into the list. Or the teacher decided to use something entirely different and didn't notify us until after I'd bought everything and organized everything.

At any rate, today I took back 288worth of pristine school books. And got my money back. 

Thank you for teaching me something valuable. And I'm not talking about the money.