Friday, June 28, 2013

Ice Ages

My husband and I visited Israel in 1978. 
Before we came, he warned me about ice.  Yes, ice.  He knows me very well (even then, and we'd only been married for 4 years).

I looooooove ice-cold drinks.  I cannot tolerate warm drinks, or anything less than brain-freeze-inducing beverages.  Israelis, he told me don't use ice.  Be forewarned.  He explained that having ice means using freezer-type electricity which is expensive. 


I mean the refrigerators are working already, and have freezers, it's not like they are installing special ice freezers.  But I shrugged and dealt with it.

So for two weeks I tolerated life without ice.

Our next trip to Israel was in 1997
Somehow the country had figured out that Americans like ice and had secured a good recipe and started having it, although not actually offering it. 

Fast forward to 2013
I am sorry to tell you that Israelis have not joined the Ice Age. I am sorry not for them but for me, because my visits to restaurants always require me to specifically ask for ice. Note the following experiences:

- My husband gets orange juice from a street vendor and asks for ice.  The woman says, "You don't need ice, the oranges are cold.  Here, feel one."

- I get a smoothie (which they call smoozie here, I have no idea why) and it is served room temperature.

- I ask for ice with my soda and I receive two - count 'em two - pieces.  I have to actually ask for more and get scowled at when I do.

- Drinks are NEVER offered with ice, you have to specifically ask for it.

So I cannot say that with all of the wonderful things Israel has accomplished, it has achieved a real understanding of the need for cold drinks.  You'd think that in a country that is about 90 degrees from April through October, SOMEONE would have thought, "Huh, I wonder if a cold drink would be refreshing right about now."

So maybe it is that Americans and Israelis have different definitions of cold.  Or maybe that old yishuv-type thinking is still so entrenched in Israeli culture (like closing all of the stores mid-day even though they are all air-conditioned) that it will take another generation, and lots of American olim, to change it.

Whatever.  For now, I am considering taking my own ice to the restaurants with me - what do you think?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Relax! Hurry Up!

I just had a very Israeli experience.  I was driving to the salon to get my hair cut.  On the way no less than five people honked at me because I was not driving as they wanted me to.

That is, I was waiting at least until the red/yellow was on for a second before pulling out (of course NO ONE waits for the green to actually appear, that's just ridiculous).  Then I was driving along happily and a bunch of workers were crossing the street to get to the construction site.  They did not look "right and left" like we were always taught.  They just went.  Perfectly relaxed, slow, laughing and talking.  The cars slowed down and waited.  [Note: they were not walking across a marked crosswalk.  Just saying] No one honked. So I guess we honk at other drivers, but not at pedestrians.

What's amazing about Israel is that as crazy as they are when driving, when it comes to pedestrians, they are literally fanatics, obsessed about waiting.  If anyone is crossing a crosswalk, they absolutely have the right of way and all traffic must stop.  Israelis take this very seriously.   I once crossed in the middle of the street and a driver got out of his car and yelled at me.  I am not making this up.

So, back to my story.  I got to the salon and the hairdresser was clearly 4 people behind in her schedule.  The hairdresser, the friendly and lovely Ilana, welcomed me and did not apologize for the long line.  That was my first hint that to her, this was not a problem.  Just sit and relax!

My daughter and granddaughter were two of those people waiting. It was already about 15 minutes after our first appointment was scheduled.  My daughter and I had a discussion about how to handle this, and as usual she was smart and reminded me how flexible my schedule was.  So I decided to leave.

When I stood up to leave, Ilana was a bit horrified - "What?  You can't wait?"  She was not apologetic, just a bit surprised that I was not willing to wait. The fact that there were 3 people ahead of me and that meant at least 45 minutes of waiting, if not more, did not seem to be an issue.

So you see, I have to learn that there is a time to rush (driving) and a time to wait (hair salon).

Israelis are intense - intensely happy and intensely angry (but maybe that's just being Jewish).  Either way, living here means you are getting used to both but realizing something even more important - under everything, there is  love.

I've never seen a more loving country - the way the big gruff guys melt and start cooing in squeaky voices a the sight of a baby, the way the harsh looking women with dyed red hair and TOO MUCH makeup who have clearly been smoking since they were about 6 come up to you and put a hand on your shoulder and call you sweetie if they want to ask you something.

However harsh and hectic things seem here, underneath it all is an intense love and caring that can bring tears to your eyes. 

After that kind of day, we went to a concert last night - a salute to the Chassidic Music Festival of years ago - and of course at the end we sang Hatikvah.  Before we sang, the MC spoke a bit about hope, and about knowing that Hashem is with us and that we are strong and courageous because of Him.  It was not a religious crowd by any means, just so you know.

Then all several hundred of us stood and sang - it was an older crowd and I loved the fact that the men (most were Israelis) stood at attention just as they did when they were in the army.  I don't even think I can express correctly how standing there with hundreds of people singing Hatikvah made me feel.

So I'll take the "hurry up" and I'll take the "relax!".  It's ok. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Books and Covers

I remember, lo those many years ago, when  I was very active at Shomrei Emunah, and worked on a project with someone who (heavens to Betsy!) didn't cover her hair, wore pants, etc.  We had a great time and ran a successful program, although it beats me if I can remember what it was.  I remember thinking afterward how stupid I'd been even thinking about what she wore on her head or body because (say it with me people) - you absolutely do not know anyone until you know them.

This person, whom I would certainly have judged (I know, so sue me) as "less religious" than me, turned out to be so much more religious than me in more important ways than what she wore on her body.  She davened 3 times a day, she was extremely careful about kashrus (as in "more careful than me"), and she forswore all lashon hara.    Whoa, I thought, hitting myself upside the head.  Remember!  No Judging!

So let's be honest.  Most of us look at other people and decide how religious they are.  Come on, don't give me that "Oh no!  I would NEVER do that!"  We all do it.  We see someone in pants and figure, "Hmmmm, less religious" and see someone in a black hat (man) and figure "Hmmmm, religious."  It's more of a gut reaction than anything else, based on our upbringing, culture, society, etc.  I'm not saying we're all baaaaaaad to the bone, it's just being human.

Then I made aliyah.  Whoa.  Definitely book and cover time on a deeper level.

For the first few months I was amused at the dress code of Israelis - none.  I mean in general, the fashion rules here rival those on the boardwalk in Ocean City - only much less classy.

But after about a year,  after observing people in all kinds of places we've been here, I began to look at religious Israelis differently.  You can't figure anyone out by what they wear, and that's one of the most beautiful and refreshing lessons I've learned.

Here, there is a massive variety of hair coverings, skirts, skirts and pants, kipot sizes, shapes, and fabrics, the length of payot, the in/out tzitzit (I am definitely not in Park Heights anymore.)

Religious life here has hundreds more strata than it does in the US (feel free to argue with me here, by the way).  You can't figure anyone out by what they look like.  In Baltimore it was rather easy - for me, anyway.

Here, you can see a man with a white shirt, big beard, tzitzit out, and his wife is in pants with her hair completely covered.  Huh?  Or you can see a man with a teeny tiny kippa, with the typical Israeli man shaved-head hairdo, and his wife has a long skirt and is wearing a hairband.  I see women in leggings and halter tops (Israeli women's haute couture, it seems) saying a bracha at a restaurant.

Or, like the other day, in the mall, a man without a kippa kissing a mezuzah on his way into a store with such feeling that I had to look away.

You just have no idea what people are about, and that's very freeing somehow.  Maybe it's because in Israel, people are indeed different.  Yes, it's the holiness of living here but it's also the fact that you are living in, and defending, your home every single day and you take less for granted. Once you realize that, you also realize that you don't know what people have been through, and that you should not judge anyone.

So you stop judging. Know what that does?  It frees you - and allows your heart the energy it needs to start loving people more.

So I feel like there is a brighter rainbow here, and that makes me feel happy.  It feels less confined, less "this way or that way" and somehow more in love with the country and with our people. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dizzy from the Women

All this talk about women of, by, and for the Wall has me dizzy.  I truly do not get it. I have been religious all of my life, but did not attend a yeshiva or day school.  I received an outstanding education in Jewish studies at the Baltimore Hebrew College, and everything else I picked up along the way, via NCSY, from my husband, etc. 

So I ain't no scholar.

But I do consider myself a deeply religious person. 

I believe that the Torah was given to us as a way of life and that God knew what He was doing when he gave it to us. 
I believe that it offers us a way to live that works in every generation, forever, and is not time-bound.
I believe that God watches us and waits for us to ask Him for help. 
I believe that the Torah he gave us offers us a fulfilling, meaningful, and rich way of life.

So...that said....I believe that as a woman I have a vital role - to show the world that living a Torah way of life makes one charitable, kind, wise, resourceful and courageous and gives us a firm and secure place in the world.

See, I believe that Hashem has carved out incredibly rich roles for men and for women.  Because they are (here's a shocker) different, have different skill sets, different bodies, and different approaches to the world.

So not only do I not WANT to have a man's role, I believe that I'm not supposed to, that God does not want me to, and that if I can't figure out how to make my life meaningful with the role that I have, and if I keep looking over the mechitza and wondering why I can't be more like the men, well, then, that's MY problem, not the Torah's problem.

So when I see a woman in a tallis and tefillin, I feel like saying to her, "What are you really looking for?  There isn't enough in Torah for you to feel fulfilled?  You have to wear a tallis to feel better about yourself?" 

So on  the one side I look at these women and feel frustrated.  And on the other side, I look at the women in the Chumash and feel small - they are heroic, they are brave, they protect their loved ones, and they speak out.  They are not quiet, by any means.  I mean, Sara even laughed at God, sheesh that took nerve.

And what are we?  Are we even close to being as courageous as they were?  The men and women in Chumash were true partners, even more so than some couples today, I'll bet.  And those women at the Kotel - do they think they are being brave?  To me they are just confused and totally missing the point.

So that's where I stand.  I'm sure that some of you will disagree and say I'm old fashioned.  The thing is, the typical religious woman today is so NOT old fashioned that it is hard to explain - we are educated, we work, we raise families, we take care of homes, we help out our friends and family, we help the community.  We make the world what it is.  I don't think there is a husband/father out there who won't agree that the women in his life hold his life together.

We have a role that is so "meta" that people might somehow miss it - we are providing the balance, the caring, the love, and the warmth that keeps the world going.

Go women! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I am a Yentah

My name is Susan and I am a yentah.

I find people and the things they do, and why they do them, extremely interesting.  I don't like to gossip - that's different and not nice. I just like to know what people are doing - I guess I'm a social type of person, very aware of what people around me are doing. 

Because I am a yentah, I spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.

See, those two go together.  Especially when one moves away from the place she has lived for over 50 years. 

It' s like this.  I love hearing about what people are doing.  My family, other people's families, celebrities, friends of celebrities, etc. etc.  Facebook is made for yentahs. 

I know, I know, it can be a colossal waste of time.  I mean, you can start FB'ing at 10 am and all of a sudden it's lunchtime and you're deep into your sister's husband's cousin's roommate's vacation pictures and where did the time go?

But, can I tell you something?  Shhh, it's just between us.  I love Facebook.  I'll tell you why.  Because it makes me feel connected, especially after we made aliyah.  I can keep in touch with everyone, see pictures of them and their families, comment, wish a mazel tov, refuah shelayma, get important updates - all in one place.

You have to use Facebook to appreciate it - I know people vilify it, but for me it brings me closer together with the people I love and also connects me with people I would never otherwise have had any connection with.

Here are a few examples of what I get to do with Facebook:

1. I get to find long lost family (this happened before aliyah) by remembering only part of their last name - these are family members who were sent away from Ellis Island in the 1920s because of immigration quotas and ended up in Argentina.  And I found them on Facebook, we "friended" each other, and now we send each other pictures of our grandkids.

2. I get to find school friends: we found each other and caught up on the many decades of each others' lives, and discovered that we had a lot in common - now we keep up with each other weekly.

3. I keep in touch with my extended family: I have a wonderful family with many cousins (first, second, third, etc.) - we communicate via Facebook, share family news, pictures, and gossip.

4. I get news!  Once you "friend" the news sites, you get instant news feeds. 

5.  I get to be part of interesting "threads" - sometimes people post controversial articles or posts and the discussions ensue - it's always interesting.

6. I get to laugh - with all the bad news around, it's great to click on a stupid video and watch something which makes you laugh.  It's refreshing and it feels good.

7. I get to help - people post names for refuah shelayma, they post requests for meals and help for people who are in need, and they just plain ask for help - and my response can be instantaneous, as can the responses of all of their friends.

8. I get advice - if I want to purchase something major, like a car,  or am looking for a new recipe, I can post my question and ask for help from my friends - this is called crowdsourcing - and people do this every day. What better way to get advice than to ask all of your friends by putting up one simple post?

I happen to work on my computer all day, so Facebook is my answer to stopping by someone's office and chatting for a few minutes, and I love it.

Also, as per above, I am a professional yentah.