Crete

We returned in the early hours of the morning on Thursday from 4 days in Crete. We had visited Crete twice before for only a few hours while docked there and we had wanted to return. So, with the help of my older daughter who is excellent at finding bargains, we were able to go for a seriously decent price.

What can I say? The island is simply beautiful. It is lush. It is underpopulated. There are vast areas that just stretch out that are filled with trees and brush. There are olive trees everywhere. The sea is clear and clean near the shoreline, varying in color from aquamarine to ink blue. There are majestic mountains with picturesque villages.

We visited Knossos and Zakros, two of the three Minoan palaces. We saw Minoan relics at the archaeological museum in Heraklion. We saw Spinalonga, the Venetian built fortress that later was used as a leper colony. We strolled through Agio Nikolaus and Sitia. We enjoyed Chania, one of the most beautiful Venetian ports and the home of the only existing synagogue in Crete.

Some of the 300 pictures I took are available here

We enjoyed being in a lovely place with friendly people and beautiful music. A welcome change of pace!

Yes, the chickenpox as a non sequitur

As Sandy (comment on last posting) has pointed out, this is not my first noteworthy experience with chickenpox. In 1978 as I was giving birth to my baby in Wiesbaden, Germany, my oldest son was on a school trip to Strasbourg, France breaking out in chickenpox. This was 2 days before Passover (the baby was born Wednesday evening and Friday evening was the first seder.)

The baby and I returned home on Friday morning to a home filled with 4 very excited children, one of whom was very pocked. That evening, as my husband conducted the community seder at the Hainerberg Chapel, I conducted a very fast seder for my oldest son, my youngest son (six years old) and my nursing baby.

About two to three weeks later, roughly corresponding to the end of a visit from my parents (not always a tension-free time), the other 3 older children all broke out in chickenpox. But wait, there’s more… The weather in Wiesbaden was, as usual, cold and rainy– so cold and rainy that for the entire duration of the children’s chickenpox (17 years– or so it felt) none of them were able to go outside to play or just get some fresh air. So there we sat, three itchy, bored children (whose only recreation was fighting with each other), my only colicky baby (and the only one I nursed), and one very tired mom (me.)

When finally I could take no more, I sent the children back to school. I got a call from the school nurse telling me that they were not yet ready to come back to school. I told her that if they couldn’t go back to school tomorrow, I would need someone from child protective services over to my house. She told me that tomorrow they would be ready.

The baby didn’t get chickenpox– or at least not that I ever could tell. However, when she was 3 she developed a case of shingles that was so unusual that she was photographed for a medical journal.

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Quoting http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000858.htm
Herpes zoster, or shingles, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an episode of chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant in the body. Herpes zoster occurs as a result of the virus re-emerging after many years.

The cause of the re-activation is usually unknown, but seems to be linked to aging, stress, or an impaired immune system. Often only one attack occurs, without recurrence.
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Many years??? Since we know that her immune system was fine- was it caused by aging? stress? (“oh that too too tough sandbox toy; how much sand will fit in it?”)

and that is the whole story. I swear by Kinneret’s pocks.

A sewer, a tree, a laptop, and me — to say nothing of the beer bread

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…. oh wait… that’s not my story to tell…

It’s been a busy week here. It all started about 9 years ago when I hired a highly recommended gardener to design our garden. When he finished, it was spectacular. It was only a few months later that I heard that ficus trees are noteworthy for sending out roots to enter one’s plumbing system. But the three he had planted (one very close to the house) were attractive and flourishing, and so we did nothing.

Once or twice, our pipes had to be cleaned and the sewer cleaned out to remove roots. However on Passover this year, we had a complete blockage of our plumbing in our master bathroom. It took three plumbers (or 4, if you count the one who went running away in fear) to get things working again (they fixed the toilet and then the shower didn’t drain properly- they fixed the shower and the floor drain rose…) so we decided to get a contractor to get the roots out of the system, see where the blockage was, and replace/reposition pipes. As the work proceeded, more and more of our patio needed to be dug up and then some of the Jerusalem stone at the front of the house had to be removed. The pipes, it turns out, were not joined properly and were placed at odd angles that didn’t help the flow…

Of course, while still in the middle of this, we decided to pull out the guilty tree which aside from shading our bedroom, shaded the front of the building and our patio and took up a good deal of the front garden. So we called a tree remover since the tree had grown well past the second story and was very full and lush. In just a few minutes, we had a lot of beautiful branches spread over the sidewalk.

So now the front of the house is not only bare, but it has a gaping wound (where they are fixing the pipes) and to say I feel somewhat exposed woud be an understatement.

And finally, the Dell laptop with the fabulous celeron processor finally got on my last nerve (among other cute baby tricks, every once in a while it decides that there is no internet connection over our LAN when the other two computers are just charging along with no trouble. Usually it takes at least three cold boots to get it back.) So yesterday we went and got a new laptop. Fortunately with the assistance of one of my fabulous genius sons-in-law (of which I am blessed with exactly 2), I was able to set it up with relatively little sweat (although I am a strange type of technophobe.) Now I just need to figure out how to prepare my travelogues for our trip to the States…

And speaking of trips… my husband (no, I am NOT implying that he is a trip) came up with an idea that I was wary of for the trips we lead. Kosher bread is not easy to get in some of the locations we visit and so he went trawling the internet and came up with an idea of making “beer bread” which looked easy to make because it had almost no ingredients, required no time to rise, and could be made in one bowl. I told him that I thought it complicated things, but this morning he baked two loaves and to tell the truth, it tasted pretty good.

How do I tie together a sewer, a tree, a computer, and beer bread? Only via non sequitur: Tomorrow I will be babysitting Princess Kinneret Kangaroo who has the chickenpox. It was a busy week.

Please join my cult

It has come to my attention that there are a number of cults here in Israel that are run by “rebbetzins” (rabbis’ wives). It seems that their followers believe that these women have a direct connection with the Creator of the universe and that by being part of their group, they will reap some benefits. For example, these leaders know what G-d is thinking, and that’s pretty important knowledge. In return for being a member of these cults, men have left their wives, mothers and fathers have been willing to beat and torture their children, and women have been willing to dress up in layers and layers of scarves and clothing that not only cover their whole body, but also their faces including their eyes.

So I got to thinking. My husband is a rabbi. In some weird way, that means that technically I am a rebbitzen. I certainly have as much access to the Creator of the universe as anyone else (who knows? maybe more….) So I have decided to start a cult.

Here’s what my loyal followers must do to show their devotion. I think it will be a bit easier in some ways than some of the other cults.

1. Respect the people around you. Treat them with kindness. Be patient.
2. Love the people in your family. Really love them. Smile when they enter a room, hug them when they are feeling sad, listen when they need to talk.
3. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, get some exercise. Find time for some pleasurable activity. Don’t judge yourself or be too hard on yourself. You are human.

As to the contributions usually required to hear the prophecies, please give them to meaningful charities.

If you join my cult, I cannot promise you a trouble-free life, but I can promise you one that is meaningful and worth living.

Jewish blogging

For those of you who don’t know, there’s a roundup each week of articles by Jewish bloggers — a Jewish and Israeli Blog Carnival called haveil havalim. One of my posts is included this week. You can see it on this page

Out of step

I know that it is SO au courant to hate President Bush. After all, very intelligent people of the broadcast and print media have been telling me that “he ruined the country” and “no one likes or respects the US anymore.” But I have to tell you… I think that George Bush is one of the few political leaders who actually “gets it.”

And the “it” is the fact that there really are bad people out there who want to kill people and destroy countries and who cannot be talked out of it. And it seems so unbelievable. In the US, in most of western society, we were taught that people only wanted to attack others if the others were in someway oppressing them or threatening them. All the intended victim had to do was to give up power and apologize for their wrongs. Then, we would all live together in peace.

“All we are asking is give peace a chance.”

But is Ahmadinejad asking for peace? Is Hezbollah? Is Hamas? If I recall correctly, they are asking for the death of the Jewish people and the eradication of Israel. Hmmm… Shall we go and negotiate? What would the discussion consist of: “OK, do you want to nuke us, or shall we all just take cyanide?” “Shall we kill our children or do you want to do it?” Just how do you compromise with someone who wants you dead?

So Bush called it. He said, “Folks, it’s an illusion to think we can talk to them.” And Obama said,
something to the effect of Bush’s having pulled some sort of political maneuver…

Disgusting

So all of you really clever people who are not in the sights of Iranian weapons, you can think about how bad Bush was for saying that we can’t negotiate with people who want us dead.

But I say, “Well said, Mr. President!”

China

Natural disasters seem to affect all of us, if not directly, then as we think that it could have been us that it happened to. So I am in pain when I see the devastation in the US that was caused by the recent storms and tornadoes. I imagine how difficult it must be to lose everything and to have to start all over again.

I also feel pain when I see the pictures and hear the reports from China. We have been to Chengdu a number of times. We go there to see the panda breeding grounds where the Chinese have been highly successful in breeding pandas and keeping them alive and healthy– and recently, they have begun to work on releasing some into the wild. Chengdu is a booming metropolis with modern hotels, an old “Chinatown,” colorful markets, beautiful parks and temples, and a fabulous folklore show that includes the changing masks and shadow puppets.

The Chinese people have a long history that they compare to that of the Jews– two ancient civilizations surviving until modern times. They feel a kinship with us, and we with them. Both civilizations value children, education, hard work, and respect. We Israeli/Jewish groups are always greeted with smiles and kindness. My thoughts are with the Chinese people at this very difficult time.

People talking without thinking*

The other night my husband and I went to see a play in Tel Aviv at the Cameri Theater. The plays are always in Hebrew because that is the language of the country, but some evenings they have a superscript in English- a short very-wide sign above the top of the curtain on which is projected the English translation as the dialogue progresses. That night we were surprised to see the play would be superscripted in English.

Not long after we sat down, a group of American tourists filed in and sat down. The woman to my husband’s right started to talk to him and to me and in the course of our conversation, she talked about the fact that they were having a total experience of Israel from museums to theater to lectures and places of interest. We mentioned that we are very careful to give the people who travel with us as rich an experience as possible. When we mentioned that we led tours to China, she said she was “boycotting China because they oppress their people and things are getting worse and worse.”

When we told her that although we think that a different form of government is desirable, the Chinese government has been taking very good care of its people and there is a sense of excitement and freedom in the country. The people everywhere we travel are smiling and happy– and we travel to numerous cities, some of them VERY far off the beaten path (one city we went to can only be reached by road- no airport, no train- and the ride to the next city takes 12 hours! Two cities we went to were ONLY 8 hours from the nearest city.)

And then I mentioned that in one village where we frequently take our groups, we used to take them to see how the village people lived. We took them to a place where we walked into an alley and to our left was the pig sty. It was also the bathroom (no plumbing). Further on, we entered a main room that was where people were born and where they were laid out when they died. There were 6 rooms that opened into the main room. Each room contained one family. In the back of the house there were two small, very primitive kitchens (water brought by bucket, cooking over fire.) This past October when I took my group to that village, the house had been razed and the people were living in brand new apartments that had been built in the few months since my last visit. Our local guide told us that no one in that village was living without indoor plumbing anymore.

The woman tourist we were talking to said, “But did the people have a CHOICE as to whether they wanted to move?”

On Hebrew we would say, “Nu- b’emet!!!” In English I said, “You have GOT to be kidding!”

My mistake. I shouldn’t have confronted her preconceived notions with the truth.

*Thanks to Simon and Garfunkle– I miss you guys!

Happy 60th Birthday

This is an important day– the State of Israel is turning 60 years old– the ancient land of an ancient people is celebrating just 60 years of independence. Others much better informed than I have noted all Israel has accomplished in these 60 years– the ingathering of Jews from all over the world, the literary treasures, the music, the scientific achievements, the technological expertise, the advances in medical care, the agricultural innovations and yes, the survival. Because despite the desire of our neighbors to drive us from the neighborhood, making their displeasure known with unending attacks on homes and schools and hospitals and women and children and old folks, we continue to live and thrive. The spirit of the Jewish people here in our homeland is unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. There is a joy in our lives. We are a passionate people– passionate in our love of sports teams, in our maniacal driving, in our help for others in need, in our celebrating and in our grieving. Israelis do not hide their emotions. Sometimes they may be hard to take, but you usually know what’s going on with them. We live and we thrive and we welcome Jews from all over to the world to come and join us.

But the best thing about Israel’s 60th birthday is that everyone is mentioning how young the country is at 60. Young indeed! May it continue to flourish and may our enemies come to realize that they have more to gain from peace with us than from this endless war.

Check out my daughter Rachel’s blog for a couple of fabulous pictures of her family here

Coming to the US

The news is that if all goes well, we will be coming to the US in June and July and will be traveling to communities to do travelogues on China (including Tibet) and Vietnam/Cambodia. We will be presenting these free of charge to groups for the purpose of letting people know that there is a fantastic tour company that provides the highest quality kosher tours (Shai Bar Ilan Geographical Tours). It will be a travelogue, not a sales pitch and we are happy to have one and all there whether or not they ever plan to travel. We understand that people have friends and relatives and we want our name to be the one associated with travel! We have all sorts of stories and anecdotes and we promise no one will be bored… we even are bringing some gifts. If you are interested in having us visit your community, you can write me at shai.bar.ilan.tours@gmail.com