Monday, August 2, 2010

Candles on the Cake

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of my aliyah to Israel. The children who still live home with me are a decidedly surly bunch, and when I suggested that, together, we do something special to mark the day, their suggestions included “Give me the car, so I can visit some neat friends I met on a beach up north!”; “Go away with your friends, Mom, since they’re also emotional types.”; “Give us the house for a party!”; and “Don’t you want to get married or something, Mom? You’re sounding kind of lonely.”

Still determined to celebrate this red-letter day with an activity that would, hopefully, provide perspective and meaning, I was drawn to a posted notice that made all the niggling comments dissipate. I called the offices of Nefesh B’Nefesh (Soul to Soul) in Jerusalem and said, “I’m a journalist. I’d like to cover the arrival of the next planeload of western immigrants.”

And as soon as you can say “Edmund R. Murrow,” I was assured that a press pass and information packet would be waiting for me at the arrival gate.

I arrived a few minutes after 8 a.m. and was whisked past the long and jovial queue of registered guests who were still passing through security. Entering a cavernous hall that once comprised the entire Ben Gurion Arrivals Building, I found myself taking a precious moment to compose some very bewildering memories and subsequent emotions.

Three large screens flanked the flag-draped stage, and we were treated to a slide show replete with breathtaking photographs of the hours before take-off. The departure terminal of Kennedy Airport proved to be a dramatic backdrop for the unfolding tale of these new immigrants. Fathers and mothers who were twelve feet tall hugged their departing children and grandchildren in majestic Technicolor.

It was astounding to behold, and the plane hadn’t even landed! Throngs of relatives and friends mingled about carrying “Welcome” signs and balloon arrangements; some wore corny T-Shirts saying things like “Watch Out, Israel! Mom is Here!” There was an unmistakable carnival air, and I was only sorry that I hadn’t insisted on bringing any of my crabby kids. And as with any good Jewish party, tables groaned beneath baskets of fruits and cakes and even an elegant espresso bar was pouring out steaming concoctions at an alarming rate.

Familiar and inspiring Israeli music blared out of every speaker, and the hallway was peppered with beautiful soldiers, men and women who appeared splendid in their khaki best.

It was a far cry from my 1995 arrival.

A brother-in-law had sent a limousine to ferry us away from our Long Island home, attempting to soften the shock of my family and friends, but it was to no avail. Despite my having been the one to put the stamp of approval on the “aliyah plan,” my condition was one of near grief on the morning of our departure. My mother displayed such heroism that, even as I write these words a decade and a half later, I am crying without restraint. She sat in the departure lounge with the granddaughters she adored and played game-upon-game of “Go Fish” and “War” as though it were a routine Shabbat afternoon. I cannot tell you what stoicism she wore on her face, because I didn’t dare look.

And when the time came to pass through the gates toward the waiting aircraft, we were not bolstered by cheering friends and fellow olim (Israeli-immigrants). I felt the pain and silent pleas of those I loved who were watching my departing back as they controlled their own anguish; passing through the security station with a toddler in my arms, I distinctly remember telling myself, “Stay standing, Andrea. Don’t collapse. It will all be all right. You can do this.” My husband displayed great sensitivity throughout the entire flight, entertaining the children, so they would not disturb my tormented reverie.

We landed and passed, silently, through Passport Control into an Israel that was hot, foreign, and filled with uncertainty. We had rented a house in Jerusalem that would not be ready for another week; I had no friends or family of my own and did not speak Hebrew. We hadn’t spoken with anyone about schools, and I wasn’t certain what synagogue was near the house. I didn’t understand the money. And for reasons that are too personal to explain at this time, I would not become a citizen until seven years after arriving, and, by the time that paperwork was completed, I had lost eligibility for any previous benefits that were available in the pre-Nefesh B’Nefesh days.

So did I feel any jealousy on that Wednesday morning as I stood to the side and “took in” the scene that was denied to me so long ago? A little, perhaps, but to belabor that which has passed would have meant losing out on the bubbling euphoria that was my privilege to observe. Because within minutes of the announced “landing time,” buses began to arrive at the bustling terminal, and I was swept out to the tarmac with hundreds of strangers who were, in fact, my brothers and sisters.

We beat drums, cheered, danced, sang, and threw confetti. Soldiers who spoke no English ran out to grab the youngsters and twirl them overhead in the delightful frenzy of bringing them home. Stepping into the harsh light of the morning sun, many appeared to be dazed. And we gave them no time to catch their communal breath; we were too crazed from the joy of bringing them home to The Promised Land.

Witnessing heroism is an all-too-rare phenomenon, especially when it is not wrapped in flowing capes or accompanied by the flash of blazing guns. The heroes who disembarked on that sunny Wednesday morning wore scraggly beards, denim skirts, tank tops, yarmulkes, and dreadlocks. They schlepped tote-bags and pushed strollers. These men and women made difficult decisions and, in many cases, broke the hearts of those they left behind. They dared to “come home,” because we have our own country, and it is good to live where you belong.

The challenges that lie ahead are many, and they will face many moments of doubt that are certain to confound the process. Nevertheless, what unites us is the memory of the moment that it was decided to not “let life happen,” but, rather, to define our personal destinies and let fate and/or Divine intervention handle the rest.

Reprinted with permission of
Orange County Jewish Life Magazine

Torah Defense of Vegetarianism* (Parashat Re'ah)

One of the benefits of living a spiritual life is that the Torah and mitzvoth enable us to elevate every action – no matter how seemingly materialistic and physical – into an act of pious significance. One prime example in which the Torah turns a mundane activity into a lofty deed is eating. On one level, the consumption of food is sanctified by the blessings that we make before and after eating, transforming the basic human need of satiety into an act that helps us serve God.

In Parashat Re’ah, the Torah introduces the concept of shechita (ritual slaughter) or certain animals for human consumption. The posuk states, “When HaShem your God shall enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say ‘I will eat meat,’ for your soul longs to eat meat, you may eat meat, whatever your soul desires. . . .” Until this command, Bnai Yisrael ate only the meat of korbanot (sacrifices). Once they entered the land of Israel, they were permitted to eat unconsecrated meat.

Rav Kook holds that human consumption of animals is not the ideal. It is merely a concession to human weakness. Nechama Leibowitz seems to support Rav Kook’s argument, emphasizing we were not given absolute dominion over the animal kingdom. Rather, we are permitted to slaughter certain kinds of animals for food, strictly following the rules of shechita that were commanded by God. The tone of the rabbis is only reluctantly permitting: “. . . . And you will say ‘I will eat meat,’ for your soul longs to eat meat, you may eat meat . . . .” The Torah is by no means encouraging that “meat of desire” be eaten.

The language of the sages suggests that this concession to man’s nature is only temporary. When will man be able to fight his “lust” and live at the same level of spirituality that he was held to before the time of the Flood? Rav Kook concludes that only when peace “bain adam l’chaveiro” (“between man and his fellow man”) exists will such controls become possible. When man does not lift up arms against his fellow man, when he can control himself to that extent, only then will the compassion that precludes the killing of animals be attainable.

* The author of this article (Andrea) is, alas, not a vegetarian.

Put Back Into the World!

The Gemara comments on the words, “aser t’aser” (“you shall surely tithe") by stating, “Tithe in order that you become wealthy.” If a person takes tithes from his income and distributes this part of his wealth to the poor and to additional worthy causes, he shows that he is a “reliable treasurer,” and God will entrust him with more. Similarly, regarding Torah studies and subsequent knowledge, if someone proves that he is a reliable “custodian” of his birthright and transmits this knowledge to others, God will bestow even greater wisdom! (Rabbi Shimon Shkop in Shaarey Yoshuv).

Just as one must give at least one-tenth of one’s income to the poor, surely one must give at least one-tenth of one’s time working with/for others.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Those of us who “make time count” or attempt to “leave a footprint in history” may have our admirers, but I can assure you that at the end of the day, we aren’t a giggle-chortle, laugh-riot crowd. At best, we are introspective, deep, humorless and usually in need of a cosmetic make-over. Don’t take my word for it; just look at the different appearances of hip-hop artists (sic) and folk-singers. Case closed.

Judy called me last week, asking if I wanted to hit the Cinematheque. I wanted to give an automatic “yes,” but, instead, waited to hear what social commentary was being explored in the film she chose. “None,” she said. “This is for fun. Pure escapism. We’re going to see Sex in the City II.” Since I hadn’t seen the original or any of the television shows, there just didn’t seem to be much point. I declined. After all, what good would come out of it?

Adding another dose of intensity to my already dour spirits was that – along with everyone else in the country – I was neck deep in “Flotilla Funk” and not in the mood to be seen smiling in public or, even worse, thinking about upgrading my wardrobe after 90 minutes of watching Sarah Jessica Parker don every size zero item in her obscenely huge closet.

The resulting numbness that came after several days of (yawn) sitting in the crosshairs of international media and being lambasted for doing what any self-respecting nation would do to protect her borders and citizenry was compounded by the fury of being judged AGAIN by a double standard and yardstick that has no historical precedence. I was sick, scared, aching for the families of the Israeli navy personnel who were systematically attacked and nearly butchered by the “peace-seeking activists,” and almost paralyzed from the rage I was experiencing. The idea of finding an outlet for this despondency was way out of my reach.

Having painted a drab-enough picture of my companion mind-set, it was with great trepidation and clearly an out-of-body drive that impelled me to order tickets for a four-man comedy show. Laughter for the sake of laughter? A night that I actually ventured out in public rather than fold laundry, scrub the kitchen, or plod away by attempting to write a going-nowhere novel? Yup. I saw the ad, pulled the credit card out from beneath the cobwebs, and, in a near-narcotic trance, dialed the ticket office. The happy upshot of this uncharacteristic behavior was that, in fact, the multi-city comedy tour was being staged for a fabulously worthy cause. With reason now to smile, I reasoned that at least I’d be “laughing for charity”!

For the past few years, Israeli-born American comic Avi Liberman has managed to convince three respective guffaw-meisters to join him on a noble trip to our neck of the woods in order to raise money for Camp Koby. Named after murdered teenager Koby Mandell, the camp provides summer fun for youngsters who are bereaved from the loss of a parent or sibling due to terrorism. At 100 shekels a pop, these were not cheap ‘yuks.’ Most of the visiting comics are non-Jews and this, alone, is pretty funny. Their objective observations about Israel usually make for loads of fun.
Mexican-American comic Johnny Sanchez had us rolling with his descriptions of the many almost-came-to-blows fights he saw in Tel Aviv that never materialized into one Israeli punching another. He saw loads of balled-fist threats but the parties always seem to walk away after a shoulder-push or two. What did he think? That we’re all Yuri Foreman or Dmitry Salita? “This would never happen with Mexicans!” (No one informed him that all Jews carry the mobile phone-numbers of their lawyers at all times. Just in case.)

Wayne Cotter – the only lanzman in the bunch – was embarrassed that he had never gotten here before even though he and his wife just celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of their son. “Did you notice that everyone here is Jewish???” he observed. Yeah, we’ve noticed. In fact, sometimes living here has a Twilight Zone quality to it, like being stuck at a perpetual Bar Mitzvah with the same nutty relatives, but you can never go home. The host is clearly Rod Serling, and wherever you turn, Aunt Ida and Cousin Murray are still there. . . . .)

Personally, I agonized that all in attendance showed these men – including very, very funny Bob Zany – the respect they deserved. After all, they arrived just as the proverbial Flotilla-flotsam hit the fan and didn’t flinch.

We Israelis – foreign born and not – are keenly aware of being poorly perceived outside of our little sliver of land. Thus said, we wanted the visiting funnymen to walk away with an accurate perception of who we are and (but?) still like us! To recognize that we are moral and loving and real and, sadly, frustrated from being denied the same considerations and courtesies as those who would wish to harm us.

While the world continued to condemn us for behaving responsibly and cautiously and not lying down to die in the process, I allowed myself a “night off,” so that tears of laughter might flow unrestrained. Sitting among strangers who were not so different from me, I was “permitted” 90 minutes of respite, joyously able to forget that not everybody wants for us that which we want for ourselves; to live free in our own land, at peace with our neighbors and in harmony with the rest of the world.
You know, on some days, it’s enough to make you cry.
* * * * *
(Reprinted with permission of Orange County Jewish Life)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Those 'Forever' Things - June 2010

(reprinted with permission of Orange County Jewish Life Magazine)

Those of us who saw the film, The Sixth Sense, in a movie theater will most certainly recall the moment that everyone seated gasped in unison. The little boy, Cole (played by a very young Haley Joel Osment), utters a terrifying whisper to child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis with hair):

“I see dead people.”

So the thing is, while others were choking on popcorn and grabbing their chests in horror, I stifled a yawn. A little boy seeing dead people seemed to be a fairly evolved version of my own connection with those who no longer walk among us, and the only thing I felt was, perhaps, a tinge of jealousy.

Lest you think that I’m losing (or have already lost) my mind, it is imperative that you understand that I do NOT see dead people nor do I TALK to dead people. How arrogant do you think I am?

Nevertheless, dead people talk to me. Not aloud, mind you, but rather via splendid recollections of times that were memorable and generally joyous. I feel their thoughts, accept frequent kudos for jobs well done, and listen to sage advice gleaned from lives well lived and reflected upon from a vantage point that I can only – at present – imagine.

That is why I cannot throw away letters. Perhaps there is something about my Jewish DNA that reveres the written word with such intensity that I’ve been known to grow dewy-eyed at the mere glimpse of someone’s discarded shopping list in the bottom of my cart. I cannot help thinking, “Is the woman who wrote this list making a welcome home party for her son who must be in the army?” “Did she buy the brisket, because it is her husband’s favorite dish, and she has serious things to discuss with him?” “Why is he purchasing skim milk? Did his doctor tell him to watch the cholesterol?”

I recently “heard” my father chortle when he saw me organizing a stack of decades-old correspondence and tying them up in a heavy-duty trash bag for storage in the patio shed. Never mind that Daddy passed away in October 2003. Clear as day I heard him ask through the laughter, “Remember when I moved you back to New York after your sophomore year in college?”

Without Daddy’s gentle prodding I may not have recalled what was then, for me, a mortifying but ultimately funny experience. It seems that because all of our student-abodes were infested with creepy-crawly things, it was suggested that I pack all of my clothing in heavy duty garbage bags, so that the Boston cockroaches would not breed back in my parent’s pristine Long Island colonial. Seventy-two hours was the recommended waiting period between closing the bags and opening them up again.
A very much alive Daddy methodically loaded the U-Haul while my sister and I ran up and down the four flights of the shabby Beacon Hill brownstone. We wanted to do this move within one day, and there was little chit chat. It was early afternoon when we piled into the sedan and exited the city via the Charles River Highway.
Arriving home quite late, we left the car and attached trailer in the circular driveway, everyone falling exhausted into bed. And although all of my worldly possessions would be unavailable to me for the next three days (fumigation!), I located an old pair of jeans and Grateful Dead t-shirt that belonged to my younger brother.

The truck was due back at the depot, so the next morning I arose early in order to toss the black plastic bags along one wall of the two-car garage. Swinging open the hinged metal doors, I almost passed out from the putrid stench that hit me in the face. Nostrils stinging, I fought the urge to vomit.

Apparently, all my father had seen outside of the building were the black trash bags that he innocently assumed contained clothing. Who could blame him for not discriminating and tossing in four additional bags of community garbage that had been sitting within a few feet of the van? The entire truckload had baked along the highway the day before and in the morning summer heat in order to stink up the entire beach front neighborhood in a manner that is nearly unimaginable.

For years we ribbed Daddy about this and would often point out bags of waiting rubbish for him to rescue.

Thirty five years have passed since the U-Haul incident, but it remains vividly available, nested between other allusions to incidents past. The collection inside the waterproof garbage bag contains precious writing from people who have made the greatest impact on my life. The representative forms differ: fading faxes, old greeting cards, funny notes scribbled on the backs of paper menus. So many of them are from my father who, thankfully, found that new-fangled e-mail craze cumbersome. His notes, in particular, are rife with irreplaceable observations, anecdotes, admonitions, and endless expressions of love and admiration for the woman I had become.

I dream that my children, too, will inherit the gift of “hearing” dead people. No joke: I sincerely believe that the spirit, love, and humor of those who remain closest do not require that they “be here” in physical form. Whenever I set a beautiful table, I hear Aunt Matty admire my style and wonder aloud just how I can manage so many guests! Morey stands behind my shoulder as I write each and every article, commenting on style and encouraging me to improve my craft. My father’s message rarely changes: The children should help around the house more, start saving and be a credit to the Jewish people.

This bag has traveled with me across state lines and, in recent decades, across several continents. It unfailingly serves as a major reminder of the project that I’ve vowed to complete in time for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. Because, even though my perception of time is distorted, I plan to copy over each and every page in that bag, resulting in a mega document designed to be fun, heartrending, illustrative, and rife with poignant glimpses into the hearts and spirits of special men and women whom I will forever hold dear.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Uh-Oh! I FORGOT to Put on Deodorant!!!


Your horoscope for June 21, 2010

"Are you single, Andrea? If so, you might meet someone new and exciting today, and you could get the impression that this is the perfect partner for you. Be cautious! This wonderful new person may have money problems, and could be very jealous and possessive. Move ahead if it feels right, but move ahead with caution, and don't let yourself be swept off your feet until you're certain that this person is OK - even if it's just for now."

How did they know my name? And if they know that much, why don't they know that I already went out with this guy?

Hummm. Something fishy is going on. . . .

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday morning. In the 'How Deep Can I Get' Department, I just want to state for the record that my hair still looks great. . . . .

Spent a small fortune yesterday afternoon at the Yaniv Levy Salon. And it was worth it. Because when I walked out, I didn't look like anyone I actually know but I did, indeed, like the woman who looked back at me in the mirror. She was confident, intelligent, athletic, and sported a wee twinkle in her eye. Downright adorable. No wonder Hollywood stars travel with their hairdressers, even when they don't look like Warren Beatty!

It was a long week with a lot of bumps, surprises, heart flips, and shared joy:

Awakened to the sad news that yesterday my last surviving uncle, my father's youngest brother, drowned in the pool of his Florida condominium. it is at times like this that the physical distance between me and my loved ones is something that cannot be 'explained away' at a Nefesh b'Nefesh seminar. It is the one thing - the ONLY thing in my opinion - that never, ever gets better after moving home to Israel.

Had the zchut of attending a magnificent wedding celebration last night in the beautiful setting of 'Sequoia,' in Maale HaHamisha. Elisheva Corn (daughter of Devorah & Ben) married Ezra Hahn of Toronto. Except for the drone of the muezzin from a nearby Arab village during the chupah, one almost would have believed that they were in America. Devorah (Phyllis) called me this morning before i could get to her and we 'hugged' over the phone. (No man would write a blog like this. 'Phone hugs'? Even I'm cringing . . . .) Everyone at the wedding looked beautiful: the wedding gown was breathtaking and worth every shekel. my daughter Talia looked – as she often does – weepingly beautiful. (I find it curious that she hasn't returned, yet, the diamond earrings she borrowed.)

Just learned that Werner Loval, husband of my friend Pamela (who I met several years ago in Jerusalem's Sam Orbaum Scrabble Club) has published he memoirs. the book launch was last week and on Sunday it will be on sale at Steimatzkys. Look for it: it's called We Were Europeans and shares the tale of growing up in the most tumultuous time and region of our modern history. That book had better be wonderful (as I'm pretty certain it will be) because that title is so filled with promise and beauty that I'm already crying.

Johannesburg grandson Shmuel Dovid Karpes lost his first tooth. This is actually 'a cheat' because he lost two others by falling off a South African security gate a little more than a year ago, but this was a legitimate 'rite of passage.' We talked a little bit this morning about the World Cup, flags from different countries, vuvezela horns (deafening symbols of an embarrassing non-culture), the weather in J'Burg (freezing), and what might possibly be wrong with Abba's car.

For those of you who faithfully listen to the show, you may have noticed a little blip in my usual smooth delivery during the show this past Wednesday. It seems that scheduled guest Sherri Miller and I misunderstood one another and she didn't realize that she was supposed to be in the studio at 1 that day. Instead, I reached her during the first musical break, muttering under my breath, "Where the hell are you???" and she answered, "I'm at a meeting in Tel Aviv. Why?" So what you were hearing in place of regular programming was almost an hour of 'winging it' with perspiration soaking through my clothing down to the waist and Adam Mallerman at the controls, yukking it up, having a grand ole time listening to my free-associations for the remainder of the program. Surprisingly (Not? Maybe?), 'Chana' wrote in with a thumbs-up: "Don't have any more guests. The show was great when it was just you!" My response? 'AARGHHHHH!" Stay tuned because Sherri is scheduled to actually HONOR HER COMMITMENT next week . . . . 

Enough for now. crazed for coffee. Planning an easy, cozy, relaxed Shabbos. Nate's away, Ariel's in school, Talia will eat with a friend tonight, and Tehilah and I will have an early dinner and spend any/all time studying for her history bagrut. I've been meaning to try the Rambam shul for a long time and now that I know my friends Naomi and Alex daven there, I may just get brave tomorrow a.m. and actually try something new. Was invited for a seudah shlishit in German Colony, tomorrow evening at 7:00. And – how personal are these blog things supposed to get? – I actually have a date with a male person on Saturday night, motzei shabbos. As with everything else, we'll see.

Shabbat Shalom. Spread the peace. . . . . .

Friday, June 18, 2010