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Archive for February, 2010

Merry Purim

Check out the Purim costumes on this haredi family.  Suppose they know who they’re dressed as?  (Thanks, Shelly Bloom!)

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Kids in shul

Purim’s coming, and it will be one of the few times per year that I actually set foot in shul.

I used to attend shul all the time.  In fact, before the Cap’n and I were married, we used to walk a mile and a half and got to shul half an hour early to attend the rabbi’s pre-Shacharit shiur every Shabbat morning.  Marriage gave us a little less incentive to get up so early for shul, and children made it nearly impossible.  Even if we were to have gotten up, gotten ourselves and the kids dressed, the kids breakfasted, snacks packed, stroller loaded, and the .9 mile walked to shul, the three-hour service with the stern, disapproving looks from some of the older congregants would have driven us away.

This last thing is something that has irritated me for years about shul-going.  When I first began to attend shul in Israel, I was frequently annoyed by the sound (and sometimes the body-slam) of children running and playing in and just outside the shul.  Their parents seemed oblivious of them, only stopping praying to attend to whatever need the child had burst in to convey, and then going back to their davening.  I was put off by their lack of courtesy to other daveners, but kept my mouth shut.  During the many services I sat through with the sound of kid-play in my ears, I realized that the tone the parents (and by extension, the uncomplaining congregants) were setting for the kids was one in which they felt welcome and accepted for what they were—children.  I also learned to tune out the noise and focus on the words in front of me, relegating the laughter and shrieks to a dull background roar.

I haven’t forgotten those lessons, and now that I’m the one with the kids (who usually whisper rather than shriek), I appreciate even more when fellow congregants withhold their scorn and indignation.  Today’s boisterous kids are tomorrow’s docile shul-goers.  (And the doted-upon grandchildren of the scowling sestogenarians.)  This is why the Cap’n and I don’t let it bother us when every fall someone on the shul committee puts out a reminder to the parents of young children to keep them out of shul, please.  I deal with this by choosing a seat in the shul’s plywood extension that goes up just before Rosh Hashana, right near the door.  That way, when I go hear shofar, the kids can come in and stand with me, and when it’s over we can all leave without disturbing the others.  And the Cap’n deals with it by ignoring it completely, putting Bill in his backpack carrier and wearing him to services, with one or more of the Crunch girls standing beside him.  (That said, the Cap’n does remove Bill when his chanting gets louder than the shatz’s.)

A friend of mine took her toddler with her to services last fall (at a different shul) and sat next to one of the shul’s senior members.  She apologized for bringing the child, saying she really wanted to hear some of the High Holiday davening, and acknowledged that the senior member in the past had not approved of bringing young children to shul.  The senior member (now a grandmother) smiled and said, “I made a mistake.”

Amen to that.

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One thing I dislike about not having grown up with Judaism is that here I am, in my 40s, still scouting for good recipes for the holidays.  My Rosh Hashanah honey cake sticks to the bottom of the bundt pan (my food guru Ilana suggests putting bread crumbs at the bottom), my digestion just can’t take latkes anymore, I haven’t seen the coconut macaroons here in Israel that friends use to make their kosher-for-Passover cheesecakes (probably just as well–that’s about a year’s worth of saturated fat), and I don’t have a hamantashen recipe I really love.

Until yesterday.

I enjoy following the discussions and advice on the Israel Food chat list, and at holiday time it is a great resource for new recipes.  Yesterday I decided to try a recipe someone named Nita posted on the chat list.  This cookie calls for oil instead of margarine (not something I feel terribly strongly about, but in theory I know it’s better) and is flavored with orange zest.  After processing a batch of prune and apricot filling (plus a couple of dates and figs), I got going with the dough.  It was too soft to handle so I added a cup more of flour than the recipe called for, and rolled it out onto a well-floured surface.  When cut, transferred, filled, and wrapped, I popped them into the oven.  The smell was fabulous, and when they came out, they looked perfect.  The orange rind complemented the fruit filling beautifully.  I’m sold.  And best yet, they’ll make a delicious cookie for Shabbat when we have margarine-hating guests, or to send in a tray of several dozen in my monthly contribution to Pina Chama (a free coffee shop for soldiers run at the nearby Gush Junction).

Here’s the recipe.

Sharon’s Hamentaschen

(Can substitute lemon rind instead of the orange.  For Purim, fill with chocolate or apricot jam; the combination with the orange rind is delicious.)

1 cup oil
1¼ cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange rind
5 cups flour (or as needed, depending on the weather)
Pinch salt
2½ tsp baking powder

Mix oil and sugar together.  Add eggs, vanilla, and orange rind.  Add flour, salt, and baking powder.  Bake hamentaschen 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).  They should still be white on the top, but slightly cracked. They get too hard if overbaked. Recipe makes about 40-50, depending on the size.

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Send in the clowns

I have discovered lots of cool things about living in Israel.  While people here are notorious for being rude, small shop owners have sold me stuff on credit (“Just pay me next time you come in”), or even loaned me their own personal knitting needles for a project.  I have never once been catcalled by a construction worker here.  (In the US, I don’t think I passed a single construction site without someone rating my appearance.)  And I just discovered that clowns, which I never found funny, but always thought bizarre and pitiful looking, have been transformed into valuable members of medical teams in hospitals.  Check out this video:

The US has also worked at integrating specially trained clowns into its medical programs.  I’m impressed by what this video shows: how the clowns interact with patients from newborns to tweens, their level of training, and their acceptance–nay, the demand for them–by hospital staff.  For the medical field to take the leap to seeing medical treatment through a very young patient’s eyes, and to work to make the experience of hospitalization and treatment more comfortable for that population, is commendable.

I often despair that life is not a progression from barbarism toward greater civilization.  And then I see videos like this, and hope is restored.

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Early hyacinth

Among my many fond memories of living in New England is seeing the snowdrops push their way up through the dirt, wet leaves, and slush in February.  They were the first harbinger of spring, and I planted them deliberately to have something blooming before the crocuses came up in March.

My garden in Israel has been a disappointment thus far.  Most of the plants in it are spindly or diseased, and the soil (of the worst possible quality) is packed so hard that it took hours of hacking away last year for the girls and me to put in a few bulbs.  (I have requested that the Cap’n start a fund toward which we put the money for a total overhaul of the garden in another year or two.)  Last spring we had a couple of crocuses, a few narcissus, and two hyacinths.  This year only one hyacinth has appeared in the great confusion of warm weather before winter’s final exit.  (The other hyacinth and most of the crocuses appear to have been dug up in the course of the local feral felines using my garden as a public loo.)  Beans came in breathless this afternoon having taken a turn about the garden and spotted the Lone Survivor:

Ahhh, a spot of beauty in a garden of mediocrity.

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Post-Rapture pet care

I don’t read Bloomberg Business Week online, and I’m obviously missing out.

Yesterday the Cap’n read me an article about one Bart Centre, an entrepreneur who has decided there is a market niche for a post-Rapture pet care coordinator.  It seems that those who believe they will be Taken Up during the Rapture are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they are gathered to Paradise.  “Pets don’t have souls, so they’ll remain on Earth. I don’t see how they can be taken with you,” [one of the Faithful] says. “A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don’t know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them.”

That’s right.  If all the Righteous are gathered and their pets are left behind, who is left to take care of them?  It seems other God-believers are not entirely reliable because they might–just MIGHT–be given a share in the World To Come.  That leaves the atheists.  According to the article, “Rescuers must sign an affidavit to affirm their disbelief in God—and they must also clear a criminal background check.”

So listen up, atheists!  If you want to be a pet rescuer, this is the chance of a lifetime.  (But probably not.)  And if you’re in the business world and were looking for a new way to part people from their money, it looks like Bart Centre beat you to it.

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Israeli Arabs

David J. Forman, who writes an opinion column for The Jerusalem Post, has completed a two-part series in which he describes the dream of aliyah he cherished growing up in the United States, and the disappointment he has experienced upon coming here (nearly 40 years ago) and finding that the Zionist Paradise is not all he had imagined.

I disagree with most of what Forman writes, and often abandon reading him at all after seeing the headlines of his pieces.  But I not only read this series but kept my mouth shut and my computer idle after the incredibly silly first piece was published, in which he makes the claim that he, like most Westerners, is disappointed with the reality of Israel.

Part II of his piece, in which he sets out to cover in greater depth the things about Israel which disappoint him, could have been about anything—it could have been about the very hot topic these days of sex-segregated buses, about political corruption, about the awful way the government is set up with almost no check and balances, or about the travesty of coalition politics.  It could have been about the incompetent handling of the water crisis, the shameless littering and pollution of the Holy Land, or the unconscionable death toll on Israel’s roads.  But Forman chose perhaps the most complicated topic for his brief discussion: Israeli Arabs.  And the objections he raises to the treatment of Israeli Arabs include loyalty oaths required by certain communities in order to secure building permits, and the fact that some Jews have received building permits in East Jerusalem while an unspecified number of Arabs have not.

Forman has limited space in which to write, so the breadth of his discussion is naturally limited.  He acknowledges that Israeli Arabs have the right to vote and attend Israel’s universities.  He mentions that President Shimon Peres is actively encouraging the business sector to invest in the Arab labor force to help economically disadvantaged communities.

But that is the extent of his discussion of Israeli Arabs.  This is a shame, because they have been a complicated fact of Israeli life on nearly every front since Israel became a state.  Israeli Arabs, unlike Druze and Beduin, do not serve in the IDF.  I think everyone is in agreement about why: they don’t want to, and we’re not sure we want them to either.  The government even offered young Arabs the opportunity to participate in a program similar to National Service, where they could be posted in positions benefiting the Israeli Arab community, and their response was angry and indignant.  (That they should take anything offered by the government was anathema to their young, farbrennter ideals.)  They live in the Jewish State as non-Jews, and therefore are naturally limited in the enthusiasm they can have for singing HaTikva, learning the history of Zionism, or watching their government take on Arab enemies from within and from without.  Arab Israelis have been called a fifth column of late, fueled by the murders of eight yeshiva boys two years ago at the Mercaz HaRav, by three bulldozer attacks on pedestrians and street traffic in downtown Jerusalem by Israeli Arab drivers, and by the fact that during the terror war in the early 2000s, Israeli Arabs were often found to have helped Hamas and Fatah terrorists carry out attacks on innocent civilians.  While Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (whom Forman reviles in his column) denies that Israeli Arabs are a fifth column, it is difficult to convince many people of this in light of some of the more egregious acts of violence perpetrated by Israeli Arabs who, far from acting out of insanity or principles offensive to the Israeli Arab community, are hailed publicly as martyrs by their fellow Arabs.

I sometimes look at Israeli Arabs and wonder how they manage.  Recent newspaper articles about young, educated Arabs struggling against the negative image of Arabs in the media while competing for high-tech jobs show how complicated their existence is.  And I imagine that when Israeli Arabs identify with the Palestinian Arabs (those living in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria), they are doing so for the same reasons Beduins identify with Palestinian Arabs and the Druze often identify with Syrians: Their future has a degree of uncertainty, and if someday they find their homes and land part of a Palestinian State, or part of Syria, they know it would behoove them to have made clear their loyalty in advance.  They do this in the full knowledge that Israel allows them the freedom of conscience and speech to believe and say this that they would never be allowed in an Arab state.

And yet most Israeli Arabs, when polled, say they prefer to live in Israel than anywhere else.  This is a remarkable statement given the awkwardness of their existence, and the impression many Westerners have of them and their perceived misery here.  (I once debated another commenter about the status of Israeli Arabs, and that person could not accept that Arabs would want to live outside of a state of their own, or that they might be better off doing so.)  If it’s true, it means that despite the many marks against Israel’s treatment of them, there must be something that keeps them here.  Economic prosperity?  They are far better off than most other Arabs in the Arab world.  The presence of culture?  There is little in the way of cultural development in the Palestinian sector of society.  Freedom?  There is certainly much more of that here than anywhere else in the Arab world.  Representative government?  There are far more parties to choose from here than in the PA- or Hamas-controlled territory.  An independent press?  Despite the horror and embarrassment of Israelis at having their government ministers exposed as having committed crimes including fraud, embezzlement, and rape, Arabs have been on record as saying they admire Israel’s system of exposing corruption and holding government officials accountable for their actions—something many Arabs wish they themselves had in their societies.  A connection to the land, and belief that they are living where their ancestors lived?  A handful probably have ancestry that goes back more than 100 years from this land, and others may believe they are here to help in eventually tipping the population balance between Jews and Arabs.

Forman’s columns usually disappoint me.  Like the dream of the Jewish State, they set out to tackle great issues, and like the reality of the Jewish State, they seem to fall short.  Alas.  But what separates my disappointment from Forman’s is that he expected more, and I’ve learned to expect very little.

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