Through the orchid garden

We had a lovely shabbat. We took a walk up Ham Rong mountain, passing the orchid garden and climbing to about 17.000 meters above sea level. We are only a few miles from China, up in the mountains- home to the Black Hmong, Red Zhou, and many other of the 53 Vietnamese minorities. The people here are very beautiful and very friendly. The landscape is breathtaking. Today there were some orchids in blossom, the small yellow-brown ones- but in addition the mountain had beautifully landscaped gardens. It was a perfect day, sunny, not too warm and not too cool. Tomorrow we go on to the market in BacHa.

A fish story

We had a most beautiful day on Halong Bay. No kidding. The weather was perfect- sunny and warm. Had an adventure…

When we (the French speaking guide and I) got to the kitchen with all of our stuff they showed us the fish. Very nice… fins and scales… everything very nice except they were cooked… in *their* wok. “No no no,” we both said- “we must cook in OUR pots!” We explained that we need new fish. After all, we were on the open bay… there were fish… So we walk away and after maybe 10 minutes, they show us some other fish that they had cooked in foil. Can we see them? We went and looked. It was clearly the very same fish that we had earlier rejected. They had wrapped it up and tried to pass it off as baked in foil. So we proceeded on. Soon the boat stopped at a platform. Some of us got off the boat and saw that in the platform, a wooden floating floor, there were several square holes, cribs for fish. They took a net and fished out two lovely fish, however, they had no scales. Again they took out fish, this time of the 3, one had fins and scales. When we indicated it was OK, they proceeded to take out another 7 or so.. all of the time the fish were flipping around, moving the bucket to and fro. In short (or long) we had really really fresh fish for lunch.

Off to Vietnam

It’s hard to believe the day has finally come and aside from worrying about transporting everything I have, I am ready and anxious to leave for Vietnam. Almost everything is packed. I am waiting to pick up the challot and then I will pack them and the cheeses and the beer bread (yes, beer bread) that I have made – into the last spaces I have left and I am hoping they will fit. We may need warm jackets for transfers in Tashkent and perhaps for northern Vietnam in the mountains, so I would like to find room inside my suitcases for my jacket rather than to carry it as another item (I already will be getting on the plane with my magic vest, my rolling carry-on, and a knapsack). The good thing is that from here on in, my luggage gets lighter and lighter as we consume the products I am carrying. I don’t know when or where I will have internet access nor how much time I would want to spend on the computer, so I may be while until I post again. Meanwhile, let’s hope the weather in Hanoi and Sapa will be excellent for my travelers this week! Tạm biệt

Moving along

So much going on at the same time!

The renovations will begin while I am away, but I will be lucky enough to return well before the biggest, messiest part. I am sorry I turned in my gas mask.

Meanwhile, the trip is really shaping up well. I am pretty certain that all of the major and most of the minor points are taken care of. We have some logistics still to work out on the spot, but everything we could do from here is done. “We”, from here on means Rita and I, Rita being the French speaking guide who will be guiding a French speakers’ group that will be staying at our hotels, flying with us, and eating with us, but we will be touring on separate buses and seeing the sights separately. One of the challenges we face is having our suitcases transferred at the Bangkok Airport from Uzbek Airlines to Vietnam Airlines without having to go through baggage claim. Last year, the guide was successful in getting that done, but it is not their usual procedure. Rita and I will tag team on that one. I think that the two of us together are a force to be reckoned with…

Tomorrow we have friends coming to visit and spend shabbat. I will be great having them here, I am sure, and a welcome break from all of the planning and rushing around of the past week.

Nerves

Last night we did a walk through with the man who will be doing our renovations. It’s funny that when you think of doing renovations, you think of how nice it will be when it’s finished. If you’re like me, you don’t think of all of the mess and confusion involved with the process. But last night, as we began to talk more concretely, it became apparent that this will be a major inconvenience. At present (just to make things even more complicated) it seems that the renovations will begin while I am away in Vietnam and Cambodia. Then the contractor will be on vacation (in the middle of the work) for about 10 days. And… my sister will be visiting. And… we have two grandchildren due during this time.

Today we will be ordering the staircase that we will be putting in to replace the very heavy concrete (with stone risers and treads) one that the house had when we moved in. Because one enters the house and is immediately in a hallway that contains the staircase facing in the opposite direction of the door, the entry to the house was dark and cave-like. We’re hoping that the open metal and wood stairs will give a feeling of openness and light. We also are going to be increasing the size of our kitchen window also to increase the amount of light coming into the house and allowing us to enjoy the garden outside.

But it all makes me nervous.

Kosher traveling

Since you asked…

The company that my husband and I guide for is Shai Bar Ilan Geographical tours– website: www.shaibarilan.com/eng

This company has been doing kosher tours all over the world for about 30 years and has developed all sorts of clever ways of dealing with our kosher food needs. Our travelers are served freshly prepared, strictly kosher meals everywhere we take them. I won’t go into details, but what I will say is that all food is prepared by professional chefs and by us (the guides) in and with utensils that belong to us and there is always a guide supervising and assisting the cooking. When we travel to places like China and Vietnam, our people are able to eat food prepared in the manner that local food is prepared. In China, we have wonderful vegetables not commonly eaten in other places. Ask my granddaughter about the lotus we had one evening in Beijing! In Vietnam and Cambodia, in addition to all of the delicious food we have for our main courses, we are able to eat the most delicious pineapple I have ever tasted. Bananas too are plentiful. So in addition to see, hearing, and experiencing a different culture and landscape, we actually eat well too!

Sunny days

Lately the weather has been beautiful. Yes, even those couple of days of rain were beautiful. The heat of the summer is gone and it’s still warm enough to go out without a sweater. If it were only like this all year round!

As my non-stop cough finally left me (after being a part of my life for about 2 months) I realized how “down” I had been during that time. Since I am usually on the manic side, I don’t think anyone noticed, but I started feeling sunnier inside as soon as I stopped coughing my guts out.

Preparations for the trip continue. Amazing how a trip of 18 days can take weeks of preparation. I keep telling myself that next time I do this trip it will be a cinch. I remember preparing for the first trip to China. It seemed daunting as well even though the logistics were a lot easier, the company having done China trips for close to 20 years. In Vietnam, much of the logistics are still newly developing and so there are fewer “school” answers for our special food and shabbat needs- so we spend a lot of time thinking of every aspect that could be problematic and troubleshooting.

Still up in the air is what will become of our traditional family Thanksgiving dinner since I will be in Hanoi for Thanksgiving (OK, how many of you ever even thought of uttering that sentence?) One of the children has recommended advancing it a week. Hmmm.

This shabbat promises to be relaxing with the added treat of being able to watch Kinneret during shabbat morning services, something that is immensely enjoyable and enables me to really appreciate my shabbat nap.

Elections

Yesterday I had the privilege of being an observer at one of the polling places in our city for the local municipal elections. After all of the voter fraud stories coming from the US, I took special note of all of the safeguards that are in place to prevent it here in Israel.

Each citizen has an ID number (roughly equivalent in the US to one’s social security number.) Each person above the age of 16 carries an identity card with his/her picture. This identity card is supplied by the Interior Ministry which also keeps on file every person’s legal address. Before each election, every citizen gets in the mail a voting card that tells him/her where his/her polling place is. Except for soldiers, there are no absentee ballots. No one votes early and everyone must vote at his/her polling place which has a list of all of those permitted to vote in that district. There are at least three other people in the room when the voting is taking place. One takes the identity card, calls out the person’s name and voting number on their list, and marks through the name. A second, with a duplicate list may do the same. A third has stickers with each voting number on them and removes the corresponding sticker from the sheet where they were printed and places it on another sheet that has the numbers in order of people’s appearance at the polls. Another person checks off the number of the voter on a chart to ensure that the same number is not used more than once. Voting is done one at a time behind a carton that is set up at a distance form the observers. Behind the cardboard partition, there are a number of white papers– one for each party with the party letters written on them. One is placed in the white envelope. In addition, there are a number of yellow papers, each with the name of a mayoral candidate, and one is placed in the yellow envelope. When finished, the voter places both envelopes (in full view of those working and observing in the room) into a slot in a cardboard box. Observers, appointed by the parties running for city council, are able to check periodically to make sure that all of the printed ballot materials are arranged properly and that there are sufficient notes with each party and candidate’s name.

As I watched the people come in to vote, one by one, I was struck with how seriously Israelis take elections and how it was a very orderly process. We may be the homeland of people from all over the globe who speak different languages and have different customs, but come election day, we all are Israelis. And we should be very proud of this process. This is something that our country knows how to do right!

Prayers for the chief

Having been through the US election process here in Israel– having been overloaded with information from the internet, I am finally recovering. Like everyone else, I am praying that the next administration will be one that helps the US recover economically, maintains the values that made it a great country, and keeps the US and all of its citizens safe.

I worry that this administration may be like others who have forced upon Israel “agreements” that from the outset everyone understood would be binding on Israel, but not on our still sworn enemies. Every “agreement” had the Israelis ceding land and control and had the Arabs being responsible to stop terrorism. We all know how that has worked out. Since September 2000, over 1,000 Israelis have been murdered in terror attacks and a countless number have been seriously injured with the result being amputations, blindness, and paralysis. Children have been orphaned, parents bereft, and whole families destroyed. Our dear friend Chana, injured at Sbarros in 2001 has still not regained consciousness and her daughter, then 2.5, knows her mother only as someone who lies in bed connected to tubes and machines. More about her: here

Our separation from Gaza, involving the destruction of 21 communities and the removal of all of their inhabitants could not have been more ill-advised. Now, over three years later, there are thousands of displaced people, still living in trailers, still paying the mortgages on homes destroyed by Israeli tanks, still unemployed. The profitable greenhouses that were left in Gaza so that Gaza farmers could grow vegetables for their own people have been destroyed or abandoned. Israelis had exported millions of dollars of produce raised in those greenhouses. On the security front, Hamas came into power and has lobbed thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel from the area where the communities had been.

I pray the the next administration will understand better that it’s not a matter of sitting down and making nice- it’s a matter of our seeing a real willingness to put aside hatred and violence-inducing rhetoric both in English AND in Arabic. We need to see a real commitment to stop the teaching of hate in the schools. As long as the curriculum in Palestinian schools prescribes that children be encouraged to be martyrs and kill the Jews for the greater good, we really have nothing to talk about.

And I sincerely hope that the new president will understand that Iran is a threat not just to Israel who he may think of as expendable in a first strike, but also to Europe and to the US itself. Israel *is* the canary in the mine. When terror against Israel began, everyone else believed that terror was an Israeli problem. Now it has become a worldwide epidemic. If Iran successfully strikes Israel, the West will not be safe.

So yes, I worry and I pray.

On obligations

My husband and I have had the same discussion for the last two weeks as we got within a block or two of our house on shabbat morning as we were returning from services. It started as we were talking about a problem that we have here in Modi’in.

It is not unusual to hear teens in the parks, on the streets, talking loudly at 12, 1, 2, 3, and even 4 a.m. These same teens have burnt a wooden bridge in one of the parks several times, destroyed park benches, broken beer bottles, and torn up play equipment. The answer many if not most people have to the problem is more teen clubs, more sports halls open because the poor little children are bored and have nothing to do other than wreak havoc on our city leaving wailing babies they have woken in their wake.

To me it seems clear that the problem is not boredom (I don’t yell, scream, and destroy public property when I am bored). Neither is it the lack of places to congregate (as kids when we wanted to be with our friends, we usually would go to the house of one of the group where we coincidentally had chaperones, their parents). The problem, it seems to me, is that their parents have abdicated their responsibilities. Where do the parents think their children are night after night? These are children between the ages of 14 and 18. They have school in the morning. They need sleep so that they won’t be irritable and so that they are able to concentrate and learn.

Parents counter “everybody’s doing it.” Wrong answer. For a lot of reasons, we had to raise our children as different from the norm. And we did. We felt it was our job to give the children our values. We thought it was our job to keep our children safe. What we didn’t think was that other parents or kids on the neighborhood should have veto power over the decisions that we made to educate and protect our children.

We think that our commitment to standing for what we think is important came from the obligation we feel toward generations past and their values, wishes, and dreams for us. After all, we are standing on the shoulders of giants– people who lived difficult lives and sacrificed for their children’s well being, for their education… and we both have felt the obligation to raise our children and to live our lives in the way that would please those who came before us.

So we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions and for trying to educate and protect our children and grandchildren– and we hope that others will do the same.