Archives for 2007

Routers and other tools of the devil

In the olden days, our TRS-80 model 3, with two 5.25 floppy drives, 48 K, used to be able to access other people via bulletin boards. On our black screen the white letters and bit block graphics seemed like miracles to us. If something went wrong troubleshooting took a few minutes, maybe an hour, but it was clear that only a finite number of things could have gone wrong.

But now we literally have bells and whistles. We have colors and sounds and moives and flashing messages, even messages we don’t want to read and don’t pay attention to. We have the ability to instant message our familiy and frieds from around the world.

What we don’t have is the ability to use these wonderful things. Our wireless home network (two laptops, one desktop) is wonderful, acessible– it changed our life for the better, but at some point the router began to play tricks on us.

First the router would spontaneously stop working. We would unplug and replug it and after one or two or three times, it would work for a week or two, sometimes a month or two. After a while, it began to go out and reconnecting it involved plugging and unplugging it numerous times, running upstairs to redo the router, oming downstairs, starting to work, having the router shut off again, and then running back upstairs to unplug and replug and then the party began once again. The process would repeat more and more often and more and more times until finally we gave up and bought a new router.

Then we decided to set it up. I won’t bore you, but with my son Akiva and me working together, it still was a tedious job getting everything to work because there weren’t a finite number of things that could have gone wrong if, for reasons of sanity, I would define “finite” as a number less than 100. The problem could be with the router setup, the internet connection, the computer setup, the computer software, the interface between any of the above. Multiply it by three computers and add in three very very adorable but not so silent grandchildren and even though the process ended successfully, it still felt like some sort of ordeal.

As to the ending well…. we are now able to work on all of the computers, and best of all, I had an excuse to have pizza with Yehuda, Tamar, and Ayala, an unexpected treat. As we say in Hebrew, איזה ×›×£ What fun!!

I wonder

I just today read an article in the China Daily, a site I read daily to keep up with what’s going on in China and which, like China, fascinates me. (We will be doing two Kosher English speakers’ tours to China this spring for Shai Bar Ilan Geographical Tours– come join us). In the article, the problem of the panda population was once again addressed.

As you may know pandas are an endangered species and only in recent years has China been able to successfully breed pandas so that finally the panda population of the world is increasing. Even those pandas that are rented to other zoos for 10 years (at a million dollars a year!) must be bred and the resulting pandas too eventually become the property of the Chinese.

Having visited the breeding ground outside of Chengdu more than once, I was impressed with the care taken in providing a healthy environment for the pandas and the precautions taken to safeguard the panda babies. The tiny babies may be seen only on closed circuit TV and those in the toddler stage, only through the cage which is inside a heated building and where visitors must wear coverings on their shoes to prevent the spread of germs. The rest of the panda reserve is lush and verdant with bamboo everywhere. Pandas are fed a variety of food to help them muster their energies… In the wild, pandas spend more energy eating their bamboo than they replace with its nutrition!

The problem the Chinese are facing now is that the first panda they released into the wild Xiang Xiang was found dead with injuries that seem to attest to the fact that he was unable to defend himself. Now they are wondering how to teach these animals who are used to a controlled, safe environment, to defend themselves. The current plan has to do with having a dog live with them and that perhaps they will learn survival skills from the dog.

It set me to thinking about the current stream of pacifism that has been pervading and growing in Western thought. Since the end of WWII, Western Europe and the US have been spared from any direct and imminent threat to their homeland. Korea and Vietnam are not in the backyard, nor are Afghanistan and Iraq. People do not feel personally threatened and have not for years, generations. Is it no wonder that they are ready to say that just talking will solve problems; that all people when reasoned with want the same thing? In our protected environment, war and aggression are so much NOT the point. We don’t feel it; we don’t see it; we just want it to stop.

But maybe we are like those pandas who were born into a peaceful, nurturing environment. And maybe outside, there really are dangers that we are ill prepared to meet.

December 25 in Israel

Once again I am struck by the fact that except for the Christian citizens of Israel, this day is like any other day. When I lived in the US, I understood that the majority culture found meaning in this holiday. Those who were religious/spiritual looked to it as a time to celebrate something very special to them. Those who liked the feel of the season, the tinsel and the snowflakes and the warm fire and the decorations, looked forward to that holiday feeling. And when I was a child and didn’t understand the deeper meaning of the holiday, I too enjoyed the lights and the songs and the smells of pine and the sounds of bells.

As I became more aware of who I was and what my traditions were, I realized that these symbols beautiful as they were, these songs, melodic as they sounded, were not mine They were part of something bigger and something that had a great deal of meaning to others, but they were part of a tradition that was not mine and that did not have meaning beyond the aesthetic to me and my family and friends.

When our children were small, my husband was a US Army chaplain. We moved from post to post from the time our oldest was 5 until most of the children were out of high school. Often we were the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. Never were there more than a few families on base where both parents were Jewish. Most of the time, the families were not observant Jews. I can think of only two or three exceptions. So as Jews, we were isolated from a community.

Meanwhile, our children were attending the local schools and so every year around Xmas time, it was “and now Mrs. Michelson will tell us about Hanuka, the Jewish Xmas.” As the years went on I enjoyed this less and less. It served only to point out to all of the other children in the classs how out of step our children were with them. Granted, the classmates thought that Hanuka was “neat” as I brought along a menorah and lit candles for them and sang songs for them, sometimes teaching them a song and sometimes I even brought along latkes, and I did the best I could, but for me it was a tedious task each year educating several rooms full of children about what we celebrated and how Hanuka was NOT the Jewish Xmas.

My children and I would go shopping, and see and hear Xmas everywhere we were, and, indeed, there was beauty in it, but each year I became increasingly aware of how much I didn’t fit in that place. It simply wasn’t mine.

When I moved to Israel, it was suddenly an amazing thing to be part of the majority culture. I didn’t have to drive 100 or 200 miles to get kosher meat or to visit the mikvah (ritual bath). I did not have to explain why I had holidays that no one else had. Here, with each holiday, the country prepares with special displays, activities, and sale items, but these are for OUR holidays. And this year, once again, I am shocked that December 25 has come and I didn’t even notice it.

To all of my Christian friends, please accept my wishes for a very blessed Xmas and a wonderful new year.

The Thinking Stick

This morning I happened to notice a woman sitting on a park bench alone. Then I noticed a cigarette in her hand. I understood that she was sitting there alone to smoke, but she had a contemplative look on her face and it appeared to me that she was thinking and that her time with her cigarette gave her a break where she could sit and think.

I began to think about modern life and how everyone is running around trying to get things done. The more that life becomes interesting, the more there is to do. Most people don’t have the opportunity to just sit and think, and if they try, they get interrupted.

The cigarette is an interesting object. It allows a person time to sit and think and at the same time gives a signal that the person is not inviting conversation. It seemed to me that the cigarette was satisfying her need for companionship. She didn’t look lonely with it in her hand. I didn’t need to ask her if she was lost or needed help.

And then it occurred to me that what people really can use is a thinking stick. It would be roughly the size of a pencil or pen, but a bit thicker and brightly colored. Perhaps it would light up so that it could be visible from a distance. The thinking stick would have to be taken out and used at least once a day for at least 5 minutes. The person would have to use it in a place where he or she was not in close proximity to other people. Holding it would be a signal to others that thinking was going on and therefore human interaction was not desired at that time. And then the person could think. I am talking about real thinking– about how to accomplish goals, solve problems, repair relationships, improve oneself. The time could be used to compose poetry, think of a story plot, work on a musical theme, picture how a room would look if redecorated.

We race through life. We don’t stop to think about our spouses, our families, our good health, our plans for improving ourselves. What we all need are thinking sticks.

Decommissioning Bethlehem

After hearing about this on the news, I looked it up, and here it is, straight from the source, Catholic World News:

Vatican, Dec. 17, 2007 ( – In a break from tradition, the life-sized crèche in St. Peter’s Square will show Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their home at Nazareth rather than in a stable in Bethlehem, the Vatican has announced.

Instead of the familiar scene of the Baby Jesus laid in a manger, the Vatican’s Nativity scene this year will show the infant Jesus in a home that also includes his father’s workshop. No reason has been given for the change.

But I have a guess…

It was common for Christian pilgrims and tourists to visit Bethlehem, expecially at Christmas time. From 1967 when Israel returned to Bethlehem until 1995 when they handed the city over to the Arabs, Christian residents and visitors felt comfortable visiting the Church of the Nativity and gathering in Manger Square. But ever since the local Arabs launched their terror campaign in the year 2000, Bethlehem has not been a very safe place for Christians. As a matter of fact, by November 2006, the Christian population of Bethlehem had dwindled from the 80% it had been before the terror war to only 15% of the population. It has decreased since then. In addition, visiting Bethlehem has not been safe. Fewer and fewer Christian tourists feel comfortable entering Bethlehem.

So it doesn’t surprise me that Nazareth has been chosen by the Vatican for its Christmas display this year. Nazareth, a city with a large Christian and Moslem Arab population, lies within the “green line” and it is kept safe by Israeli police. People are able to move freely and they can feel safe there.

I wonder if anyone else understands….

For those before me

When I go to conferences I like to make good use of my time. I usually choose to go to conferences and presentations that I believe will be interesting. I realize, though, that sometimes people have a gift for making even interesting subjects boring. But I don’t like to waste time and in most cases it’s not really appropriate to bring knitting and crocheting or collage materials. So once I am in the room and realize that I can listen with half an ear, I usually will begin writing. In the old days, calligraphing my children’s names used to keep me busy. Now that there are grandchildren, that can take up a good part of the session as I carefully draw each letter of each name. Some of the grandchildren have two names, some of them are pretty long, and one has three names.

But sometimes instead of just using up the time idly, will write something that actually has to do with the subject of the lecture or presentation– which is how I came to write the following.

But first, let me create the atmosphere. I am sitting in a cavernous room in a hotel in Jerusalem. It is dimly lit (“oh my, I can barely see what I am writing!”) and someone is speaking about Jewish Genealogy, a subject that interests me. However, somehow, that person has made it so uninteresting that I have begun thinking about why I am there. I am there to connect to people I never knew, but to whom somehow I feel an obligation. So I decide to write a letter to them, collectively, hoping that maybe at the Heavenly maildrop they will find each other and perhaps share it with each other. And so I began:

Your names were Yaakov, Yitzchak, Ze’ev, Reuven, Raizel, Ada…
Some of your names, we don’t even know.
We have only the barest facts of your existence- a yahrtzeit, a census record, a ship’s manifest, a name on a tombstone.
We never saw you laugh, heard you cry.
We never knew your smile, your touch.
We know you left a land of want and went to a land of plenty– for your sons and daughters and their children.
We know you worked hard, you helped your “landsmen,” you laughed at Yiddish jokes, and you gave everything “fur de kinder.”
Each year at your seder table you looked forward to celebrating in Jerusalem.
And your children, my grandparents, heard and understood.
And your grandchildren, my parents, heard, but did not understand.
And by the time I was born, it was left to my grandparents to say, but for me to understand.
Because what better tribute can I pay you than keeping the faith?
What better gift than fulfilling your dreams?
What better deed that ensuring the devotion of future generations to the land and faith you held dear?

A person I don’t know

Over ten years ago, I joined a mailing list for people who were interested in making aliya to Israel. English speakers who already were living in Israel answered the questions of those who were contemplating aliya. I got to “know” many of the people on the list from their postings. There were the generous and kind ones (most of them), the intellectuals (some of them also falling into the first category), the “I know everything better than you do’s”, the “I may not know, but it doesn’t stop me from preaching’s,” “I made it in Israel, but you probably can’t’s” and other assorted people.

Some of the people were people I got to meet in real life and aside from having a very different physical appearance than what I had pictured, they were exactly who I thought they were. It is/was a very special group of people.

But not everyone on the list was an answerer… there were those who asked questions. One, in particular, had a a very winning way of asking questions. I read as he asked about aliya– where it would be good for him to live given his “black hat.” It seemed like only a few months before he was here and asking how to get a stain out of his shirt. In a fllash, he was asking about wedding halls, and in what seemed like no time at all, he was asking about maternity hospitals. Then he asked about pediatricians and recently asked for more information about where he could receive services appropriate to his daughter.

As I smiled at his latest posting, I realized that if I were standing behind him in a checkout line, I would not be able to identify him, yet, I have watched his life change over the years and find myself hoping that he will have the pleasure of seeing his family grow and that together he and I and my family and friends and millions more people I don’t know will enjoy living in a safe, secure Israel.

Remembering our first Hanuka

Our first Hanuka was a happy time. We had gotten married in July of 1966, honeymooned in Manhattan, seeing shows, enjoying the kosher restaurants, and then finally driving off to Kentucky where my husband was stationed. Once we found a home to rent, he went off each day to his job at Fort Knox and I drove in the opposite direction to finish my last year of college at the University of Louisville.

It was a happy life. I was twenty and the whole world was in front of me for the grabbing! I had survived my childhood with some of my ego intact, but this marriage was going to be something that I would help to create in a way that would nurture both of us.

We were, in a way, very alike. My husband had been the younger of two children. When he was 13, his 16 year old sister died of hepatitis. I had a sister who lived in Philadelphia. Aside from her, all we had were our parents. We were pretty much alone in the world.

Naturally, we wanted children. We wanted to fill our home with happy little voices. But I couldn’t believe that I would be lucky enough to be able to actually produce a child. My life hadn’t been charmed and I was kind of clumsy and awkward and never really trusted my body to know how to do the right thing. So, it was no surprise to me when one day in October I met my husband at the door with the two saddest words, “no baby.” It was only the first month we had tried, but it still hurt. I knew it would be the first of many many times.

So when my husband got the flu and then I did a few weeks later, I had no idea that there could be any good reason that my flu never really left. For days the nausea persisted and finally one Friday afternoon I went to a friend who was a doctor to ask him if he could give me some medication to get me through the weekend. He asked a lot of questions and responded that he thought I was probably pregnant. He told me that if nothing changed, I should go for a pregnancy test the following Wednesday.

This was in the olden days— before PCs, before cell phones, and worst of all, before home pregnancy tests. So early Wednesday morning, I took the specimen to the lab. I would have an answer after 3 in the afternoon.

At about 3:30 I was in my husband’s office and with a mix of excitement and apprehension I decided to call the clinic. The nurse looked for my results and said, “Your test was positive.” I said, “and that means?” and she said, “that you ARE!” and I said, “I am what?” Well, at this point she must have thought I was totally crazy, but it was good to hear from her the word “pregnant.”

My husband was teaching a Bar Mitzvah boy at the time, so it was only when he left that we had a chance to smile at our good news.

And then we drove home to light our first Hanuka candle together with hopes that next year we would be celebrating Hanuka with our much desired baby and from then on, we would never feel lonely again.


I am not a theologian. My belief in G-d changes with my circumstances. Sometimes, it feels as if G-d is very close and sometimes very far. I don’t conceive of G-d as a big puppetmaster controlling each and every thing that happens on earth. I think of G-d as bigger than all that- a macro kind of manager rather than micro. But sometimes…

Sometimes things happen that make me wonder. A number of years ago we sent two of our sons to a school in St. Louis, 800 miles from our home in Oklahoma. They were to board with two families who offered to take them in for the year. We had never met the principal of the school nor did we know anyone in the community. However, when our sons arrived, one gave us a call to tell us that the people he was living with were cousins of friends of ours from Boston and the boy he was rooming with was the nephew of an old friend from South Carolina.

Coincidences like that have happened to us over and over again and sometimes it feels like it couldn’t possibly be a chance occurrence.

The most recent one happened when I was returning from China and Hong Kong. I had changed a lot of money to Hong Kong dollars because I thought I would have to spend it on transporting some of my travelers by taxi from one area to another and perhaps buy them lunch. As it turned out, the program went well and everyone’s needs were met and I had a lot of money left over that I didn’t want to re-convert and that I didn’t want to take home. I was already carrying 4 currencies (sheqels, US dollars, euros, and Chinese RMB) and that was quite enough. So I went out and spent money on all sorts of fun things- placemats and “silk” sheets and a scarf and outfits for a couple of granddaughters and a maternity shirt for my older daughter, but still, at the airport, I had a little money left. I went to the bookstore and they had a very large selection of books in English. I looked through a lot of books and finally chose one, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.” After I got on the plane, I saw that the dedication was “to Abigail and Naomi” (my older daughter’s two younger girls’ names). Later in the book, the protagonist ends up “taking a group to China,” something I was just completing. And the icing on the cake was when I returned to Israel and told my younger daughter about it, she said she had just finished reading that very same book!

I understand, it is all happenstance. But I prefer to believe that G-d is peeking out from the curtains reminding me that He still is around.

I would love to hear about other people’s amazing coincidences. Please feel free to comment!

The small things

Sometimes it’s the small things that are the ones that bring you the most joy.

I am blessed that my two daughters both live within a 10 minute walk of my home. I am able to see them frequently, usually for a few minutes or an hour at a time, and that feels very comfortable to me.

I see my younger daughter usually a couple of times during the week and almost always at synagogue on shabbat. We have always been close. I see her baby enough to see the day by day changes as her awareness of the world grows. Now that she knows her name and consistently smiles when she sees me, I am working on teaching her to give a kiss. Just yesterday when I said the word “kiss” I saw her pucker up her lips!

I see my older daughter less. The busy working mother of 5, pregnant with her 6th, she barely has time for herself, let alone spare time to spend with me. We talk on the phone, I catch a few minutes here and there when I stop by to drop off or pick up something or someone, and I call to her as we pass her home on the way back from synagogue on shabbat. Usually she and her husband and at least the two little girls come out to their garden to greet us– her little girls with their happy smiling faces and their cheerful voices! Sometimes her older children come out too.

And there are, of course, the family events where all of my children gather. I really am blessed.

But yesterday I received a call from my older daughter and she had a morning free! We left Modi’in on a sunlit day and drove to Jerusalem and spent time walking together and looking in shop windows and having lunch. We talked about the past and the present and the future. How sweet it was! After all of the years of mothering and the years of worrying and seeing her through difficult times, yesterday was such a wonderful affirmation of our relationship. Beautiful (as she always has been), intelligent, accomplished, and possessing a grace and serenity, there was my daughter, there with me. We finished our meal and walked back to the car through the bustling Jerusalem streets.

It was a perfect day.

And when I got home, who was there but my younger daughter and her baby and our new “adopted” daughter! More happiness, more pleasant conversation, more exchanging of kindness and compassion.

Later, after they left, my husband said to me, “Would you like to go out to dinner?” And so we did. Again, it was lovely just sitting and talking and enjoying life.

It was a perfect day