The in-between time

How do you go from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness in five minutes?  Is it a form of manic-depressive disorder?  Is there a switch that they install in your brain when you make aliyah?

Back in the early days of living in Israel, my emotions and grief on Soldiers and Victims of Terror Remembrance Day were dialed way past 11.  On my first Remembrance Day during my kibbutz experience, I cried all day – after having cried the whole day on Holocaust Remembrance Day the week before.  In fact, my Hebrew teacher asked me to leave class because my outpouring of unfiltered emotion was just too much for her to bear.  Later in the evening, we were all supposed to gather at the main field of the kibbutz to have a closing ceremony for this sad day.  More tears and choking back sobs.  Honestly, my love for Israel was quite dehydrating.  And then everyone was waiting, murmuring to each other in quiet conversation, but just standing there.

Five minutes passed.

And then the fireworks began and everyone was laughing and cheering and they headed off to the biggest, wildest party of the year for Independence Day.

What the hell!?!?!

Today, the switch is working better.  I get it.  Soldiers who fought to protect us and this land died so that we could live.  We honor them and then we not only should, but we are obligated to live and celebrate life.  And this week, I stood for the sirens and enjoyed the fireworks.

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Fireworks 2017 – it’s really hard to catch fireworks well with a phone camera

But what about those five minutes?  As I was thinking about it this week, it seems to me that we are always in those five minutes.  We just don’t notice because we are not switching between the depths of despair and the heights of happiness.  It’s pretty exhausting to be at either extreme, but day-to-day life in Israel is that in-between time.

When an Israeli athlete wins a medal and you hear HaTikvah, there’s a swell of emotion – and we are in those five minutes.

When the internet company representative works on your internet just before a holiday and says the Shechechiyanu prayer of thanksgiving (in a Russian accent) when it works – we are in those five minutes.

When you take pride in Israelis helping wounded Syrians or building mobile hospitals in Haiti – we are in those five minutes.

When the insurance representative says “Tfu, tfu, tfu, that you should always be healthy” – we are in those five minutes.

When you hear Hebrew in unexpected places around the world, and you feel suddenly at home – we are in those five minutes.

When the veterinarian who made a house call for your cat takes a few minutes to say afternoon prayers in your living room – we are in those five minutes.

There are no substitutes for Remembrance Days and Independence Day and they’re important, but we ought to remember to declare our Zionism and love of Israel in those in-between times.  We don’t need grand gestures and emotional extremes every day; it’s those ordinary everyday minutes that are the most special if we just take a moment to pay attention.

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Holocaust Remembrance Day (24 April 2017) – Yom HaShoah

I’m working from home today.  A few minutes before 10am, I step out onto my rooftop porch.  I pace a bit.  I look at traffic.  I look at the people walking in the street below.  It’s a sunny day with blue skies and a cold breeze.  Waiting in the sun I’m both hot and cold.

The siren begins.  Low at first and then filling the whole valley, echoing in remembrance.  Cars stop and drivers get out of their cars to stand.  Pedestrians stop as if someone pressed the pause button.  Two minutes – one hundred and twenty seconds – standing together we remember.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn day in Israel:  television stations air holocaust memorials, the radio plays quiet music, schools have special programming, workplaces gather for small memorials, people light candles.  It’s right to remember and there will never be a time when it will be correct to stop having the siren, to drive through the siren, to not stop everything we are doing for two minutes.

Defining Israel exclusively in the shadow of the Holocaust does a huge disservice to all of the positive Zionism that built, and continues to build, the State of Israel.

The Holocaust did not spark the wave of immigrants who built 28 communities in the ancestral homeland from 1882 to 1904.

The Holocaust did not inspire the building of Tel Aviv in 1909 and the establishment of Degania, a small community next to the Sea of Galilee, in 1909.

The Holocaust did not inspire Lord James Balfour in 1917 to write in the Balfour Declaration “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

It was not the Holocaust that facilitated 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries in the 1950s to be relocated and housed in Israel and a million Russian Jews in the 1990s to find their homes in Israel.

It was not the Holocaust that inspired 12 Israelis (so far) to win the Nobel Prize.

It was not the Holocaust that turned Israel into a “Start-Up Nation” with the highest number of startups per capita and second to the US in actual number of startups.

The Holocaust annihilated half of the Jewish population of the planet, but it does not have to be the defining moment of Israel’s history.  We are not victims with no other place to go.  Israel doesn’t exist only so that there will be a sanctuary in case another Holocaust comes. We want to live in our ancestral homeland – to be a free people in our land.  We want to be a nation like other nations.  And if we do it right, perhaps we can even be a light unto the nations.

The image of a phoenix rising from the ashes is beautiful and poetic, but next week when we’ll celebrate the State of Israel’s 69th birthday, we will know that we are so much more.

Beautiful Allergy Season

I don’t usually suffer from allergies, but this week I found that I was sneezing and snuffly.  As I walked to the office this week, I noticed several fragrant suspects and I decided that I didn’t mind so much after all.

There’s a hidden courtyard behind the Waldorf-Astoria in Jerusalem.  Each corner seems to have something special.

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Orange blossoms

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Wisteria with a background of grapes

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I think this is a type of sage

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A rose is a rose is a rose …

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I don’t know what this is, but it has a very strong, sweet fragrance

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I don’t know what these are either, but they smell nice too.

There’s a small rose garden next to the King David Hotel.  They aren’t the typical full-bodied roses that I remember from the US, but they are still lovely.

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On the last leg of my journey, I walk through Bloomfield Park.  Here were some smaller blooms, but mostly just the typical Jerusalem greenery – olive trees and various other shrubs.

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I don’t know what these are, but they are tiny and pretty

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And come in alternate colors

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Soft, delicate I-don’t-know-whats

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Jerusalem greenery

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And more Jerusalem greenery

And then I arrived at the office thinking that I would rather be outside (because maybe I’m actually allergic to work?).

Matza Brei

All gentile families eat leavened bread; all Jewish families have their own recipe for matza brei.
–Leo Tolstoy, opening line of Anna Karenina

That may not actually be a direct quote from Anna Karenina, but it is true that there are as many matza brei recipes as there are Jewish families with frying pans.  The basics are the same:  matza and eggs.  After that anything goes: savory or sweet, schmaltz or butter, salsa or cinnamon, onions or maple syrup.  Also, everyone says that their family’s is the best.

You too can join the Jewish people and make your own version of matza brei.  I’m not known as a great chef (so recipes will not be a regular feature here), but here’s my version.

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Ingredients:

1 Matza

2 Eggs

Some Butter

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Break two eggs into a bowl and whisk them with a fork.
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To save on bowls, wet the matza under running water in the sink.  Pretty wet, but don’t let it fall apart in your hand.  Break it into pieces in the eggs.  You can add the salt and pepper at this stage, but if you forget you can always add it later.

Let it soak for a couple of minutes.  In the meanwhile, you can make a lazy salad (see below).

Heat the butter in a pan.  Yeah, that’s right.  BUTTER!
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Elegantly dump the eggs in the pan

and cook them like scrambled eggs.  That means the matza brei shouldn’t get too dry.  It should still glisten a bit.

The second it looks done, get it off the heat and plate it.  Here you can see it served with my world famous lazy salad – cut up a cucumber and a tomato and sprinkle them with a little salt.  This one has a bonus ingredient of olives.  I also tried to make the whole thing “fancy” by adding chives.  While it wasn’t really a mistake, it was rather unnecessary.

Voila!  Not-so-terrible, perfectly edible matza brei!  B’tayavon and bon appetite!

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Festival of Freedom

One of the names of Passover is the Festival of Freedom (Chag Herut).  This is no surprise since the main story of Passover is how the Jews left slavery in Egypt.  But if you take the meaning a bit deeper, it can be

Political freedom

Personal freedom

Spiritual freedom

Emotional freedom

Freedom to choose

Freedom from fear

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our mind.
– Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

The list goes on and on.

The story of Passover ends with the crossing of the Red Sea, but that’s where the real story of freedom begins.  The Jews gather under Mt. Sinai and, after the golden cow incident, they agree to a covenant with God.  They go to the land God promised Abraham and send spies to report on the situation.  The spies lie and the former slaves get scared, start complaining, and start making plans to go back to Egypt – “it would have been better to die in Egypt!”  God gets annoyed – no surprise there – but Moses talks Him out of killing everyone as it would be really bad press to kill the people you promised the land to.  God agrees, but says that they have to wander for 40 years.

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In the Bible the explanation ends there.  However, if we analyze it a bit, we can see that 40 years is about 2 generations, so the people who will inherit the land will be the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the slaves.  This generation will have lived in freedom their whole lives with a faith in God who provided them manna every day.  They will have never known what it feels like to have a master and even the stories of their grandparents will be far removed from their experience.  This is the generation that will be strong enough and confident enough to have their own country in their own land.

Passover and Politics

A lot of crazy stuff is happening in the world.  Just this morning I woke up to news of US Tomahawk missiles fired on Syria after Syria attacked its own people with chemical weapons.  Syria has been in a civil war for the past 6 years with hundreds of thousands of dead and probably millions of refugees.

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I wonder if the story of the Festival of Freedom could inspire the people of Syria.  They need to continue to struggle to be free of tyranny and fear.  But it won’t be an instant change.  Like the Israelites, they will need practice living in freedom, making choices, and learning how to be responsible for their own nation.  It’s going to be tough, but ultimately it will be worthwhile.

There were those who saw the parallels of the breakup of the Soviet Union with the story of the Jews in the desert for 40 years.  A people who had known only a tzar with total authority moved to a system with a Politburo with total authority to a dictator with total authority.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were people who wished for the return of Stalin – and they were the ones who remembered Stalin! – at least they would know what to expect and how to maneuver around the system.  This is a perfect example of slave mentality.  So far it’s only been 26 years.  Let’s check back in 2031.

Pharrell Williams’ music video “Freedom” reminds us that all human beings deserve to be free.  Happy Passover!

 

Stop the Violins, Visualize Whirled Peas

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I always liked that bumper sticker.  It sounds right, but the definitions don’t fit – and sometimes that is exactly what the problem is.

So let’s talk about peace.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has a lot of definitions for peace including: a state of tranquility or quiet, harmony in personal relations, a state or period of mutual concord between governments, an agreement to end a war.  I think when English-speakers contemplate peace, they tend to think that all is well with the world and it is good.

Semitic languages work on a 3-or-4-letter root system.  When new immigrants learn Hebrew in Israel, we’re taught that words with the same roots may not exactly have the same meaning, but once we know the root we can figure out the meaning based on context.

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Pages from the Hebrew book of roots.

In Hebrew, peace is shalom based on the root Shin-Lamed-Mem (שלם).  Other words with שלם include: l’shalem to pay a bill, mushlam complete or perfect, hishtalmut advanced training, shalem whole.

So here’s a philosophical question:  Does the English definition of peace match any of the definitions in the family of meanings for Shin-Lamed-Mem?

Let me add another quote.  Israel has often been criticized for the “cold peace” with Egypt.  The common wisdom in Israel is “better a cold peace than a hot war.”

Harmony, tranquility, and agreement don’t pay bills, complete anything, or provide advanced training.  However, if you see peace as a state of balance, then it all fits together.  Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happily floating around on clouds playing harps, but it does mean that what you put in, you will get in return.  Everyone is at the same level.

And what about that advanced training?  When you learn more, you become more whole as a person.

To continue the philosophical conversation, let’s turn to Arabic, another Semitic language.  I should say at the outset that in several places I read that words with the same Arabic root are not meant to be understood as being part of the same family of meanings.  Also, being a Semitic language doesn’t mean that all words with similar roots have similar meanings.  However, I’m not a linguist; I’m just positing a few ideas about language in a philosophical way.

Peace in Arabic is salaam, with an S-L-M root.  Other words with a similar root include:

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Source: https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Islam

The article is careful to note that Islam – while appearing with the same root – is not to be equated with peace, but rather submission (to Allah).  But as I said above, this is a philosophical musing.

In the family of words with the S-L-M root, many of them relate to submission and surrender.  Merriam-Webster tells us that submission can be an act of humility and surrender can be to giving yourself over to the power of another.  Tanning leather could fit because the animal skin needs to be shaped into the form chosen by the tanner.  The other meaning is to be saved from danger.  And if you look from the point of view of the snake, it is saving itself from danger by attacking.

Now let’s bring our English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and Arabic speakers into the same room and talk about peace, shalom, and salaam.  Or perhaps we should try to be more accurate:  the English speakers are talking about harmony and agreement, the Hebrew speakers are talking about balance and equality, and the Arabic speakers are talking about submission and safety.

It’s really no wonder that all the talking and not understanding results in more violins and less whirled peas.