Have I mentioned…

that I love living in Israel? That I find the people here to be kind and friendly and open and helpful? When we were in Malta, meeting other Israelis on the street was like meeting old high school classmates. (OK, that’s especially true for me because as I’ve mentioned before, I somehow was invisible during high school and none of my classmates remember me, so that this is exactly the same– we have a lot in common although we don’t know each other at all!)

Here, in the gym, there is a woman who frequently swims when I swim. Because we swim at about the same pace, it is very comfortable for us to swim in the same lane. We only know each other by sight, and only recently have we begun talking with each other as we get ready to leave the changing rooms. Last week she asked about my Pesach preparations. She talked about what she was doing, how this year would be different since a new son-in-law had a custom in his family that for the bitter herb, they eat tart apples. While we were talking a third younger woman was listening and she said that in her family they also eat tart apples for the bitter herbs, but put chopped liver in top of it. As we talked others offered their traditions. These women were not women who by their dress or manner most people would identify as “religious.” They were typical Israeli women. The discussion ended with someone who was leaving saying שיהיה שקט “Sheh yihyeh shaket” — it should just be a quiet* holiday. We all nodded in agreement.

Tonight on the news, the feature was afikomen gifts for the children– what children wanted and how much parents would be spending on them… What a country!

Outside this evening, the streets were filled with busy people and the restaurants were hopping with people taking a break from the Pesach cleaning and preparations.

In our house tonight, we searched for chametz by candlelight. With the gefilte fish made, the roasts and the potato and apple kugels made, about 50 giant matza balls were born.

Have a wonderful Pesach and שיהיה שקט

*Here, by quiet, we mean with no terror.


We have an apartment that we rent out short term. It had been unoccupied for a week or two. Then we were contacted by someone who needed it for just a few days. A new baby has been born, a first child, a son. The new grandparents were flying in for the brit. Even thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

And so this morning at 6:30, I greeted two very happy, very excited (and probably very tired) people who had just flown in to see their new grandson. I am told that after their short stay here, they will return home and will be here again in another 3 weeks or so for the pidyon haben.

Mazal tov!

Fame in the era of plagiarism

This morning I received an email from my son. He had received an email from his brother-in-law in Los Angeles with this question:

“Isn’t that your father?”

accompanied by this photo:
Bar Mitzvah

Well, yes. It seems as if my husband is moonlighting in LA teaching Bar Mitzvah boys… and I never even noticed.

Or maybe it’s because someone saw this photo
Matan's Bar Mitzvah

in my blog in this posting about our grandson Matan’s Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem.

And yes, my husband did teach him.

So, thanks, sir, for making my husband famous, but I can guarantee that you can’t hold a candle to him when it comes to teaching boys for their Bar Mitzvah.

Oh, and one more thing, a request for permission to use the image would have been polite. There is no such thing as a secret in the modern world.

A word about Sukkot

I walk around my sparkling bright city of Modi’in and everywhere I see sukkot. I see them on balconies, in front of houses, in plazas next to apartment buildings, in front of restaurants, even at the health club. And you don’t have to be traditionally observant to have one. Lots of our non-traditional neighbors have built them too– some using the same materials we use, others draping sheets or cloth across wood or metal and placing decorations inside.

I find these sukkot to be captivating. I began to think about what it was that captivates me and I realized that for me it is analogous to seeing a very tiny baby. Who doesn’t feel love and compassion and especially protectiveness toward a little baby? And why? Because babies are so very vulnerable. They are completely and totally dependent on someone else to care for them.

The sukkot, to me, represent that same vulnerability. We are strong, we live in big stone buildings. We have indoor plumbing and washers and dryers and air conditioners– but one week a year, we are vulnerable. We represent ourselves out there on the street or balcony or shopping center as vulnerable. And as I looked at am yisrael, the people of Israel, putting ourselves out there, open and vulnerable, I thought of two things: how despite the fact that we live under a constant state of threat, we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable and how it is only because of a deep and abiding faith that we continue to do it.

I pray that our Protector will continue to protect us and that sukkot will be a holiday of pure joy when we can know that despite the frailness of our dwellings, we are safe.

Mount Grizim

Yesterday was Pesach sheni, one month after Passover when someone who had missed Passover could celebrate it. However, for the Samaritans, שומרונים it was Pesach!

The Samaritans believe in the Torah, but not in any of the other Biblical books, nor do they accept the Talmud or other rabbinic writings. Since modern Judaism is a product of rabbinic interpretation which they don’t accept, their religion differs in major ways from normative Judaism.

Yesterday a bus of Modi’in residents made its way to Mount Grizim to watch the Passover festivities nd to learn about the Samaritans.

All told, there are about 700 Samaritans in the world and all are living either in Holon, Israel, or on Mount Grizim which is located in Samaria (what some people call “the West Bank”). For the Passover observance, all Samaritans must come to Mount Grizim and participate. Busloads of curious Israelis and tourists arrived to watch the festivities.

On a fairly warm day, the mountain was cold and windy. As we walked toward the location of the ceremonies, we saw some sheep grazing. They looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but feel sad for what was to happen to them.

Sheep on Mount Grizim

Sheep on Mount Grizim

We went to the museum which was small, but well kept and we were lucky enough to have one of the Cohanim talk to us and tell us about their beliefs and observances. I found it fascinating that they take the same basic laws from the torah as we do and observe them differently. For example, on Yom Kippur, among the Samaritans, everyone fasts, even babies. The only exception is for those babies who are still nursing.

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

Yesterday, we were instructed not to bring with us anything that would be considered chametz, not kosher for Passover. We came to see the ritual slaughter of the paschal sacrifice, the lambs.

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Passing by us on the street

Passing by us on the street

In addition to the Samaritans, there were hundreds of people who had come to watch the ceremony as well as dignitaries from the Palestinian Authority with whom they also have cordial relations. There also were almost as many professional photographers as there were sheep.

People crowded around the enclosed area where only the participants, dignitaries, photographers and some very persuasive visitors were allowed to be. We occupied a grandstand, a hillside all of the areas around the fences, and areas overlooking the site including roofs of buildings. It was very difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph as the people in front of us kept swaying and blocking our views and never thought of saying “why don’t you take a couple of pictures standing in my place and then switch back with me.” It was cold and windy and pretty frustrating to be standing on my feet for about 2 hours and not seeing much.

What we did see were many men approaching the ceremony. Most were dressed in white, however it appeared that the men of higher stature wore green robes. All of the elders some robes and each had a staff that he walked with.

Approaching the ceremony

Approaching the ceremony

Lambs in the pen, unaware

Lambs in the pen, unaware

As we stood and watched, we heard chanting. The leader would begin the chanting and then all of the men would chant. The words were not intelligible to us because they speak a different dialect. The chanting was not unpleasant, but the noise and commotion of all of the onlookers and of the non-participants made it difficult to appreciate. We saw some dignitaries, cohanim/priests, I suppose, on the podium and then there were two long lines of men. also dressed in white, many of them wearing boots, facing each other on either side of a long trench. A glimpse of two of the men showed them each holding a lamb between their legs.

At a certain point, a word was shouted and then in a couple of seconds there was cheering and shouting and people kissing each other. Although we had seen nothing, we guessed that at that point, the lambs were slaughtered. We later found out that we were right. There was such joy and elation among the participants that I found it incomprehensible.

While we were not looking the animals were skinned and gutted and later we saw a few put on huge skewers being readied to be thrown into the deep, round pits that had been burning for hours.

We were told that at that point, the people would go home and only return around midnight to claim their lamb that would be eaten with the people they were close to.

A few commments:

1. I am glad that I went. It certainly was an experience unlike any other I have had. that said, I wish they could have kept their ceremony purer– with less noise and fuss and extraneous noises and people and bustle. It didn’t have a spiritual quality that I could grasp.

2. I am still feeling very sorry for all of the lambs, and especially so when I think of the joy that slaughtering them brought to the people who did it. I never imagined that animal sacrifice could be anything but deeply solemn and deeply moving.

3. I am pretty sure that I heard our neighbor’s cat praying this morning saying “…שלא עשני כבס”

(If you don’t know Hebrew, it probably isn’t worth explaining it…)

A Fictional Tale

Remember all those word problems we had to figure out in school? John is twice as old as his sister Mary will be when John’s younger brother, Christopher has his bar mitzvah- how old is his mother? OK, John and Mary are not likely to have a brother who is having a a bar mitzvah, much less “Christopher” but that’s beside the point. It’s also a lot easier than the word problem I’ve been trying to solve in the last 24 hours.

Let’s say a fictional woman has 5 fictional children. Two of them live within walking distance and the others live less than an hour’s drive away. (I’m giving you irrelevant information, akin to the names above, but you have to figure out which information *is* relevant– you will be tested on this.) Now let’s say that there’s a fictional holiday coming up at the beginning of next week (end of this week for John, Mary, and Christopher). For this fictional holiday, this fictional woman has been inviting all of her fictional children and her fictional grandchildren (an ever-increasing number) for the last, let’s see, maybe 10 years. At first, they would meet in the morning to hear the (fictional) megilla. Then, after a few years (maybe 7 or so), they would meet in the evening. Bagels and lox would have been a component of this fictional adventure. OK, so now you have the fictional history up to a couple of weeks ago.

At that time the fictional woman wrote an email to all five of the children suggesting they meet in the morning since the evening was after shabbat and therefore it would of necessity start late and the grandchildren would be tired etc. No one seemed to object. Let’s call the fictional children living close by the fictional woman A, B, & C (yes, I am aware I had said two lived close by; A, B, & C are the names of all three of the two of them, but that’s another story). A,B, & C all were fine with the plan. Let’s call the three who live within an hour’s driving distance X, Y, & Z (this fictional woman was not very creative at name-giving. Poor children… imagine the looks they got in school when they introduced themselves. I’ll bet though, no teacher asked them what they were called “for short.”)

The first sign of trouble was when X said, “Remember, we must leave by 9:30 a.m.” Not that it was trouble, but combined with the next statement, it presented problems. It was when Y said “It’s unrealistic to think that we can get there before 9:30 a.m.” What to do? One is arriving when the other is leaving and the whole point is for everyone to be there at the same time. It became a problem especially since the fictional woman does not want to upset or hurt any of her fictional children and pretty much is waiting with bated breath to see all of her totally adorable fictional grandchildren in their fabulous (fictional) costumes.

The fictional woman consulted with A,B,C, & Z. There were a number of suggestions including Skyping the X family in, meeting on Monday, buying Y a new alarm clock (threw that one in to fool you– no one actually (or fictionally) said that), etc. The fictional woman tried several different tactics from “Work it out yourselves” to “Let the disinterested parties work it out and we’ll abide by their decision” to “Let’s talk about interests rather than solutions.” At one point X suggested that X & Y work it out over a steak. The fictional woman was pretty sure who would be called upon to pay for the steaks.

No fewer than 32 emails were sent and several telephone calls were made. In the end, the X family sent its chief negotiator to settle the matter, more or less to everyone’s satisfaction.

Stay tuned for the fictional pictures sometime next week.

Yom Kippur

It seems a bit absurd to write about how Yom Kippur was for me this year, yet I cannot help but write.  As a child, I only remember this about Yom Kippur:  My parents would buy tickets for services.  In those years, the synagogue was still small and there was not enough room inside for everyone who wanted high holiday tickets, so they would erect a huge tent that seated maybe 200 people, maybe more, and my parents would attend good chunks of the service leaving us outside to our own devices.  I didn’t want to enter because I didn’t understand anything anyway and inside the tent, it was invariably boiling hot.

Late in the afternoon, my parents and I would ride about a half hour to my grandparents’ synagogue and arrive just in time for Neila, the last service of the day.  My mother would walk with us up the stairs of the synagogue into the women’s section.  The women’s section was populated with women of my grandmother’s age, all elderly (in their 50’s!) immigrant women who spoke with heavy Eastern European accents.  My grandmother was always really happy to see us when we showed up.  My cousins and their mothers too would arrive and always there was discussion as to which of the huge flower arrangements my mother and her siblings had bought for the synagogue in honor of their mother.

After the service, we would return to my grandparents’ home with the flowers.  They always consisted of  a large percentage of chrysanthemums and the smell of chrysanthemums usually reminds me of my grandmother.

I am now older than my grandmother ever was.

I am lucky enough to be living in Israel where on Yom Kippur, the entire country stops.  There are no Israeli television channels broadcasting and no radio.  Aside from one police car, I saw no cars on the roads.  In the evening, the park was filled with adults and children.  It is amazing!

This year, at services in our bursting-at-the-seams synagogue, I was privileged to have 16 of my grandchildren.  I pretty much was bursting with happiness seeing all of their beautiful faces.  The older ones, serious about their prayers, remained inside for large parts of the services and some, notably, for all of them.  The younger children, happily wandered in and out.  The youngest were held in their mothers’ or fathers’ or siblings’ arms.  The language we prayed in was the language they live.  The synagogue held familiar people.  The melodies were ones the older children had sung many times before.

And the service…  I don’t think it was my imagination.  Our congregation has been going  for about 13 years.  I think it has come of age.  The singing of large parts of the service was no less than inspiring.  Just as we repented in group fashion as one people, we sang in one voice and if the heavens were open, I can’t imagine more sincere petitions or more beautiful sounds of praise entering the holy gates.

The family, unretouched, missing three children

The family, unretouched, missing three children

Missing: Amiel Michelson, Elazar Michelson, Shlomo Goodman

May all of you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

Bratislava, Slovakia

I started the travel kosher blog to post information, anecdotes, and pictures of some of the places we visit on the Shai Bar Ilan tours to China and to Vietnam & Cambodia. One of my readers commented on one of my pictures and suggested I begin posting links to photos of my travels on some photo blogs and last week, the theme “mellow yellow” got me to thinking about any pictures I had that featured the color yellow. Well, there was one and it happened to be in Bratislava, Slovakia. I decided to post a short article with photos about Bratislava. But the more I looked at it on my China and Vietnam page, the less I liked it, so here, for your pleasure, is that post, moved over to here to yet further confuse anyone who wants to know what my blog is about. I think the answer to that question should be “whatever I’m thinking of at the moment.”

One of the most interesting memorials I have seen is the one they have in Bratislava where the image of the synagogue that was destroyed is etched into a granite wall- appearing and disappearing, there and not there at the same time.

The Bratislava synagogue

The Bratislava synagogue

Of course the city itself is very beautiful and has some fine architecture and points of interest. There is the Bratislava Castle which has a wonderful museum inside with works of art, visiting exhibits, and some wonderful furniture from the art nouveau/ art deco era.

Bratislava Castle

Bratislava Castle

and the Nový Most (New Bridge) across the Danube River

Nový Most

Nový Most

There are lovely walking areas in the old town.Walking area

Old Town, Bratislava

Old Town, Bratislava

At the time we visited, Bratislava was constructing a light rail line and we walked past the construction which I thought was the highlight of the trip. Here’s what it looked like:

Light rail construction

Light rail construction

and here is my favorite picture from Bratislava.



See other Mellow Yellow pictures here

Pre-Pesach Cleaning Disorder (PPCD)

New diagnostic category added to DSM-IV-R
PPCD: Pre-Pesach Cleaning Disorder

This is a recently discovered disorder, recognized as a seasonal disorder, usually coming in early spring. It is characterized by obsessive thinking about cleanliness, far out of normal proportions. It is distinguished from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 300.3 by several symptoms.

1. Obsessive focusing on small particles of food throughout the house to the extent of climbing onto bookshelves and behind toilets to ferret out particles smaller than the eye can see.

2. Compulsive washing of objects that are ostensibly clean (e.g., one patient was found putting her children’s Legos into a sock bag and washing them. This was discovered by a disturbed neighbor who couldn’t figure out what could possibly be banging so loudly and incessantly in the dryer. The patient, when confronted said, “Well, what did you expect– for me to put them in the toy box wet!”)

3. Incessant moving of common objects from their normal places (e.g., dishes, silverware, etc. are wrapped up and/or banished from their normal shelves and drawers.)

4. Talking with friends and acquaintances about topics formerly of no interest (e.g., effectiveness of different oven cleaners, location of most pungent horseradish.)

This disorder seems to occur in a social context. Frequently groups of women become pre-occupied with cleaning simultaneously.

Presumptive symptoms:
1. Spring time frame.
2. Patient is a woman.
3. Patient reports insomnia.
4. Patient has red hands.
5. Patient has a heavy odor of cleaning substances.
6. Patient does not have time to talk about it.

This disorder has a guarded prognosis. Although patients uniformly recover within several weeks, they tend to relapse around the same time each year.

There are reports of cessation of symptoms if they are taken away for a week to a hotel each year.