“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

“Mom, can I go visit with Mr. Rogers?”

Taking her 5-year-old’s request very seriously, she asked, “Well, how long will you be gone?”

“Oh, about a half an hour.”

“Ok. Have a good time.”

And I plunked myself down in front of the television and had an undisturbed visit with Mr. Rogers.

***

This Google Doodle is only in the United States and I know Mister Rogers is more or less an American phenomenon. I wish it was global.

There is only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you just because you’re you.”

A great message to give to children.

You are special and so is everyone else in this world.”

A reminder that we should not only value ourselves, but that each person has value.

“Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become.”

Our childhoods don’t have to be perfect, but if we are allowed to use the tools to learn and grow from our experiences, then we can make ourselves and the world around us better.

***

All of Mr. Rogers’ messages fit in with the Jewish value of choosing life.

And where there is life, there is hope.

Perhaps this Google Doodle will remind people, especially people in power, of a few simple truths:

“I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!”

“I’d like to be remembered for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”

So now, in the New Year, and a day before my birthday (my own new year), I wish you all a life of purpose and meaning, doing the things that you love that make you, your families, and the world around you better.

And if you need a little inspiration, go have a visit with Mr. Rogers. It is surely time well spent.

A Thought about Yom Kippur

When I worked at the University of Washington, I asked to take Yom Kippur off.

“Will you be going to synagogue?”

“No.”

“Will you be fasting?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Then why are you taking it off?”

**what?**

I hated that conversation. And I love the fact that I’ve never had to have that conversation in Israel.

I usually go to the Kotel (Western Wall) for Yom Kippur, but I live further away now and it’s probably going to be hot, even in the morning. I don’t know if I want to walk 2 hours round trip to have a few words with God. God is everywhere, right? So I should be able to stay home.

And that is the beauty of living in Israel. No one will question what I choose to do on Yom Kippur and no matter what I do, I don’t feel any less Jewish.

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In the US, there’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining a connection with Judaism. You have to plan ahead to coordinate holidays; if you want a community, you have to join a synagogue or community center (often paying dues and fees); if you want to be more religious, you have to shop at certain stores, live in certain neighborhoods, reorder your life slightly out of step with the surrounding community. It’s hard.

Here in Israel, I can effortlessly connect to my Jewish heritage. The nation functions on the Jewish calendar, I can walk into any synagogue at any time or never walk into any synagogue ever, I’m in-step with everyone and everything around me. I don’t have to try so hard.

I sound lazy, I’m sure. But it feels to me like my soul is planted in the fertile soil that it needs so that I can grow in other directions.

My dad had a pin that he liked a lot. He probably got it from Chabad. It said: “We never lost it.” I asked him what it meant and he said that we never lost the answers. I was about seven, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Now I can see that even if you never lost a thing, sometimes it doesn’t always fit properly. But once it’s in its rightful place, everything else seems to realign itself.

I never lost my Judaism, I just didn’t have a way to make it fit properly for me in the US. Now that I’m in Israel, I feel that everything is in its rightful place no matter what I do on Yom Kippur.

***

I’m sorry if my posts offended anyone. I’m sorry that some posts got a bit too long. I’m sorry if I misrepresented something or someone my writing. I hope you can forgive me. I will try to do better next year.

Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima Tova!
May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life!
May you have a meaningful fast (if you’re fasting)!

***

Traditional Yom Kippur posts: 2015 | 2016 | 2017

A Cultural Interlude – Happy New Year!

It’s the New Year and I need a new day planner!

Sounds weird in September, but the Jewish New Year comes in autumn. It’s early this year, which is why it snuck up on me and I suddenly had to get a new day planner.

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The shelves were pretty empty so I feel quite lucky that I managed to find this snazzy one.

Notice anything odd?

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How about now?

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No filters. No flipping. Everything indeed goes from right to left.

Hebrew is written from right to left, so office supplies cater to the right to left flow of language.

NOTE TO LEFT-HANDED PEOPLE: Come to Israel for your office supply needs! I have known left-handed Americans who stock up on notebooks when visiting Israel because it’s just so comfortable for them.

One feature of an Israeli calendar is that candle-lighting times are noted every week (20 minutes before sunset usually) and the Torah portion of the week is noted.

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The first line in bold is the Torah portion: Nitzavim. (The Torah – or the Five Books – is divided into weekly portions that are named after the first word of the reading.)

You can see on the second line Friday night candle lighting times for Jerusalem (18:21, yes that’s a 24-hour clock), then Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva.

The second line is when Shabbat ends. That’s about a half an hour after sunset. Then you can get back to your regularly scheduled activities.

A LITTLE HEBREW LESSON: The days of the week are not named, they’re numbered.

Sunday = Yom Rishon (First Day) | Monday = Yom Sheni (Second Day) | etc.

But Saturday is Shabbat or the Sabbath.

A LITTLE CULTURAL LESSON: A “day” starts in the evening because when God created the world, it was evening and then it was morning, the first day …

You might also note that holidays are colored blue in this calendar. Notice anything in this picture?

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January 1. Not a holiday. That’s what it means to have Jewish rhythms of life.

This week we are starting a month of holidays to start the new Jewish year 5779. More on this in future posts.

Let me take this opportunity to say Thank You to everyone who reads this blog!

Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

A year of much happiness, good health,

and great success!

(Did you think we’d get away from the Chinese theme? Not likely! A short video for the New Year about not giving up. May you all be inspired this year!)

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning at the Movies – The Bookshop

I confess. I went to the movies on a Monday morning.

The Jerusalem Cinemateque is the home of several film festivals and is a place for movie lovers to gather and enjoy film. One of the major differences between the Cinemateque and a regular movie theater is that you will be shushed and chastised if you don’t observe proper movie-watching etiquette (they only recently allowed food in the theaters!).

You can buy a yearly membership and go to as many movies as you like throughout the year and get discounts on festival entrance fees. They have lectures and special screenings. Once I saw a new John Turturro movie followed by a Q&A with John Turturro. They screened The Karate Kid on a big screen on the lawn. I sat through all three Matrix movies in one night (ok, that was a mistake on my part)

This summer, on Monday mornings, they are screening several different movies and this week was The Bookshop. It was 10 NIS and I had missed the last showings at other theaters. It just so happened that I could arrange my schedule that morning, so at 11am I was in the theater.

The Bookshop stars Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson, and is rather gray and melancholy. It’s well-cast, well-acted, and well-done. But if you are not in the right mood, you won’t appreciate the small village Britishness of it.

Short review: Cautious thumbs up. Be in the right mood.

Long review: Below the trailer. Some spoilers.

 

“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.”

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 2:21

A British movie in the middle of the day brought out many British people and a variety of other English-speakers. The theater was surprisingly full. I heard English from all corners. But the interesting thing was that after the movie, it was the Hebrew-speakers congregating in the foyer to discuss the film.

“Such courage!”

“How could she stand up against the whole town?”

The grande dame of the village was a horrible, petty woman. She decided that there would be no bookstore in that old house and that was it. A younger woman decides to stand up for her right to have a bookstore. And the widower on the hill who rarely steps out of his house is re-inspired.

All the makings of a Hollywood Hero’s Journey. And this movie is definitely not that.

And yet.

I was reminded of the line from Ethics of the Fathers. Emily Mortimer’s character begins the work. She decides to try to open the closed minds of the villagers. Cue Sisyphus.

And it is the child who carries on the work – I won’t give away the ending (you probably won’t guess the final act).

From there to here, we see a lot of the dirty underbelly of an English village: gossip, us versus you, the smile to your face while stabbing you in the back, and power plays.

Like the Hero’s Journey, this too is a universal story, except that it’s not one that we like to tell; it’s a little too close to real life, and frankly, it’s sad. But that’s why that last moment in the film reminds you that you have to start the task even if you don’t finish it in your lifetime. Someone else will continue it in the next generation.

I’m a huge Anglophile and I love all the actors. I’m glad I saw it. But this is not a movie for everyone.

Friday Night at the Movies – Crazy Rich Asians

Given my earlier post, nobody should have been surprised that I went to go see Crazy Rich Asians at my first opportunity.

I love to go to the movies in Jerusalem on Friday nights. The timing has to be just right in order to get as few people in the theater as possible. If the movie screens over sunset, all the people who keep Shabbat won’t be there. The secular people who wouldn’t miss Shabbat dinner with their families are also at home; they’ll head out around 10pm for evening entertainment. So I check to find the movie that’s been playing for a while and is playing right at sunset. Result: Nearly private screening! Crazy Rich Asians just came out, so there was a “crowd” of about 40 people in a 300-seat theater.

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Friday night at the movies in Jerusalem, 9pm

Short review: Two thumbs up! Go see it! Here’s the trailer.

Long review: Below the trailer. Spoilers abound!

As an avid Korean drama fan (let’s not go so far as to say addict; I never binge watch, I marathon watch, so I feel I’ve accomplished something…), I was ready for this film. Or at least I thought I was. So many of the deeper nuances were lost on me. Plus, Asia is a big place. These Crazy Rich Asians aren’t Korean.

If you want to dip your toe into the K-drama (or Chinese drama or Taiwan drama) world, this movie is a good place to start. This is a 16 to 20 episode rom-com crushed into a 2-hour movie. And it has a lot of the tropes.

  • Independent girl – succeeds on her own merits
  • Semi-clueless boy – master of industry probably, but has been in his isolated world
  • Future mother-in-law hates the girl
  • Catty girls trying to tear down the independent girl
  • Birth secrets
  • Pointless shower scenes to provide “fan service” for the ladies
  • Everything is over the top
  • Independent girl wins and brings everyone up with her (We are all Independent Girl!)

The future mother-in-law is brilliantly played, but in comparison to K-dramas, this lady is a marshmallow. She has one great scene and then they have to move on. If she had taken a note from a K-drama mama, the viciousness and intrigues to get rid of this girl would have gone on for a few episodes (may I suggest Secret Garden or Boys over Flowers? Or in Chinese, Meteor Garden 2018). But this is also a Hollywood movie, we wouldn’t see as much of the deeper conflict between getting what you want (love) and family loyalty and honoring elders. Our clueless guy has spent too much time in New York and is ready to give up his family in a second (so he says).

A huge gutted fish in someone’s bed does send a message, even if you don’t write nasty comments using fish blood on the windows. Yeah, I’d have to say the catty girls tormenting our heroine were K-drama level.

Think of the most over-the-top wedding you’ve ever been too. Did they flood the church to create a mermaid-themed wedding with everything glittering and each person waving a lit flower while standing in what appears to be tall reeds? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Had it been another genre, flooding the wedding would have been the start of the tsunami plot line.

It was fun to watch and I enjoyed every minute. But I missed stuff.

At the beginning of the movie, we see our heroine playing cards. Her opponent has 2 pair. Even if you are not a poker player per se, you might have enough cultural knowledge to know that this is a good hand. At the end, we have a mahjong scene between our heroine and the future mother-in-law. The point isn’t the game, but the symbols in the game are obviously important to the scene. We understand that our heroine thinks really hard and lays down a tile that’s good for the future mother-in-law’s hand and it seems that m-i-l wins, but then our heroine shows her tiles. She gets up from the table and leaves with her own mom. Future mother-in-law is left at the table with an expression of acknowledgement? Respect? But what are the symbols within the game? Think how much more interesting the scene would be if you have cultural context. Luckily, my friend SHC is an excellent resource and sent me a great article all about that scene!

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram (the algorithm seems to think I have an interest in Asia, I wonder why that is?) and I found a letter that the director of Crazy Rich Asians wrote to Coldplay for use of their song. When I was watching the movie, I heard the song and enjoyed the fact that it was a cover sung in Mandarin. The song, of course, is “Yellow.” That’s nice, I thought. But I didn’t understand until I read the post this morning that: The. Song. Is. Called. “Yel-low.” Wow. I can be so dense sometimes.

Not a translation of “Yellow,” but lovely nonetheless

On my path to global citizenship, there is one thing I know for sure: I know nothing. But acknowledging it is a fine place to start.

In the meantime, go see Crazy Rich Asians and watch a few K-dramas while you’re at it.

Hamlet in the Park

It all started with Richard III for me. I was mesmerized. My expectations for the show weren’t very high because it’s English-language theater in Jerusalem. It’s not like we have Broadway-caliber actors living here with nothing to do in August. But then there he was. It was as if there was a light shining on King Richard and nobody else in the play mattered.

I think the vernacular here is: Squee! Fangirling!

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Anyway, I haven’t seen that guy in any other play, but I think I’ve seen him around town and there’s a part of me that wants to point and scream “Richard III!!!” Thankfully, I’m able to stop myself in time.

So every August, I go back to the park to see whatever Shakespeare play is on hoping for the same experience.

Sometimes it’s a hit. Sometimes it’s a miss. This year Hamlet was a hit (I mean, it’s no Richard III, but it was good).

It’s a uniquely Jerusalem experience, I think. The majority of the audience tends to be religious Anglos (by which I mean any variety of English-speaker). Lots of kippas, lots of covered hair, many children, lots of older people. But you also get teens (of many language groups) looking for free entertainment.* Sometimes the audience is great; sometimes the audience leaves a lot to be desired.

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I sat down first, but this lady decided that she needed to be closer and block my view.

On the plus side, we get up and move around the park, so at the next stop, you know already who to avoid.

I have to admire the guy playing Hamlet. It’s beyond theater-in-the-round; he has to act unselfconsciously crazy in the middle of the audience.

IMG_20180816_181521    IMG_20180816_182737The featured players are always a lot of fun!

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This year, I got a very good performance and a good audience (mostly), and I finished up the evening at my favorite restaurant.

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*Free, with a suggested donation. I always buy a T-shirt because I like to support community theater.  http://theaterintherough.co.il/

 

Global Citizen

Lots of things have been happening in Israel and around the world, but to be honest, the only thing I paid attention to this week was my Chinese drama.

Meteor Garden 2018

I’ve been in the Korean drama world for about 4 years and I dabble in Taiwanese dramas. Once in a long while, if the Korean drama netizens are talking about a Chinese drama, I’ll watch that. But the whole drama world went bananas for this remake (I’ve seen fan sites in English, Chinese, Russian, Thai, and Spanish). The source material is a 1992 manga (serialized graphic novel) from Japan and several remakes have been done, most famously in Taiwan and Korea. This is the kind of drama that launches careers.

manga styleMe as a manga character

Living in Israel, I feel much more like a citizen of the world than I did in the US. But I started to wonder if that was really true. I’m an immigrant, my mom is an immigrant, a majority of the family friends when I was growing up are immigrants (from China, Croatia, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, just off the top of my head) or are at least well-traveled.

I remembered that one of my favorite childhood shows was Star Blazers. At the time, I didn’t know that it was originally a Japanese cartoon that had been dubbed. I was riveted every day and I just thought the long, lean, big-eyed, beautiful people were just part of the style of the cartoon and didn’t think much of the fact that it didn’t look like Super Friends or Scooby Doo.

Star Blazers intro – “Our Star Blazers!”

Long before I moved to Israel, I was aware of Asia; over the years, I’ve had an interest in Tai Chi, Thai food, and Chinese medicine. So when my Greek friend in Israel introduced me to Korean dramas, the cultural anthropologist that I secretly wanted to be took over and my interest in drama spilled into trying to understand the mysteries of Asian culture.

Is it because I live in Israel, hear multiple languages in the street and meet people of different ethnic backgrounds, and feel like I am at the crossroads of civilizations between Europe and Asia that I have recently found myself drawn to explore more and more about Asia?

Or would my love of subtitled movies, natural cultural curiosity, and the easy internet access to subtitled dramas have led me down this road eventually even if I lived in the US?

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A different view of the world

I think it’s because I live in Israel. This is a small country with many immigrants and a citizenry that values traveling and seeing the world. In Israel, my American-ness makes me foreign, and somehow more of a global citizen. In the US, I was foreign, but spent so much time and effort in being American, I didn’t value my foreignness and so by default rejected global citizenry. All the potential was there, but it was only in Israel where I could be myself – a person in the cultural margins – that I could plant my roots and grow in different cultural directions.

My deep roots are in the US and Israel, I have cultural sprouts in Russia and Ukraine, and I’m growing branches in Korea, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong. Yes, I’m a global citizen indeed.