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Zen sandbox

It felt like a very long Tishrei. Everything was long: synagogue services, the kids’ vacation from school, periods of floundering while thinking about how much work/chores/tasks I had to do and how little time I actually had to complete them.

But I got through it.

This was the first time in about a gazillion years that I spent big blocks of time in synagogue. The kids can be trusted to play in a nearby park; they stopped in, hot and sweaty, for snacks and drinks and maybe 5 minutes of looking in a prayerbook (we take what we can get). Although I still–18 years in!–feel really unfamiliar with the “high holiday” liturgy, the baalei tefilah (what’s a good translation of this? prayer leaders?) at our shul are quite good. There is a lot of singing, people are generally relaxed. So while it was serious, it wasn’t stern. If that makes sense.

I fasted well on Yom Kippur, which made up for last year’s 18 hour migraine from hell. Amazing how that one little factor can improve your whole…outlook.

From there, it was kind of sloggy. A ton of errands and things to do for Sukkot, sleepover company (which was nice, just requires a lot of planning), and children who sometimes get along and sometimes don’t. I came down with a cold–not a terrible one that required oodles of Kleenex, just one that sat in my throat, sinuses, and chest for a while and made me feel like crap when I attempted to exert myself. So no big trips for us, just a lot of going to the pool.

Luckily, the hot weather justified the many trips to the pool.

(I am ready for winter! Any time now!)

I continued with my tradition of using Isru Chag (the day after Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) as a super-fun, out of the house day with the kids. Most people are back to work, leaving attractions that are packed during the holidays nearly empty. Yay for WAH-freelancing!

We joined forces with the big kids from Aliyah by Accident and went to the Clore Garden of Science (part of the Weizmann Institute). Lots of experiential things for the kids to touch and watch and play with.

Not sure how much they got in terms of the science, since nobody actually wanted to read or listen to the explanations, but it felt like we were contributing to their education. Good mothering, right there! Awesome!

Part two of the Day of Fun was the Palmachim Beach. I had been promising the beach for weeks, but it got subsumed by all the pre-chag/mid-chag tasks. Even our annual “Tashlich at the Beach” was reduced to, I kid you not, standing on the median across from the Tel Aviv boardwalk on Hoshana Rabba.

Once we finally got changed and down to the water (lunch first…I mean, priorities!), I felt like an idiot. I love the beach. The sound of the waves. The feel of the sand. Water temps were perfect; all that summer sun stored up!

Watching the kids be so happy by moving heaps of sand from one place to another place. Why hadn’t we come weeks before?

But I let it go. Bygones.

Live in the present. Sit in the sun. Make a castle. (Admittedly, I had forgotten a book. Also sand toys. Somehow this only bothered my kids for three seconds.)

(What I made. Actually, what I made was simpler; AM decided to, um, edit my work.)

I worried that a day in the sun and salt air wouldn’t have the same effect on my kids that it used to. They’re bigger now, so perhaps they wouldn’t collapse in a heap at the end of the day. (Which is partially the purpose of the Isru Chag Day of Fun–to correct the sleeping schedules back to school-appropriate ones.)

I shouldn’t have been concerned.

And now we’re back to regular life. I just really should go to the beach more often. It’s a tiny patch of paradise.

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Just add honey

 

May you be renewed for a good and sweet year…

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I didn’t grow up religious, but I’ve been living the life (as it were) for half my life. I often forget that people who met me ten or five or two years ago don’t know about my backstory. Not that it comes up that often, because there are usually more interesting things to talk about. Like the weather. Trust me, every single degree of change in a cooler direction is worth discussing. (Hi! Desert living! Love it! In…the winter.)

But there are a few topics that always make me feel unable to pass.

Non-kosher food

Always-religious people: Yuck! I can’t even imagine!

Me: WANT. Can’t have. In my next life I’m inventing kosher shellfish.

New Year’s

Always-religious people: Rosh Hashana

Me: Dec. 31-Jan 1.

Reaction to bad news (specifically, hearing that someone has died)

Always-religious people: ברוך דיין אמת (Blessed is the true judge, i.e., God.)

Me: Oh no! That’s terrible!

Last week I felt this divide again, when friends of ours (Taxman brought them to the marriage) lost their father, who was also a friend of Taxman’s.

I am going to skip right to the takeaway:

You never know whose life you’ll touch.

Were it not for the kindness, openness, generosity, and intellectual honesty of this man, his wife and his kids (and other families like theirs), Taxman and I probably would not have had a good shot at getting married.

We’re forever in debt; trying to pay it back (forward, really) one day at a time.

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For a while now, AM has been into games. He wavers between playing fairly and some rat-like cheating, depending on his opponent and his mood. Mancala, pickup sticks, Monopoly, rummy, Rummikub, war, checkers–the usual suspects.

But of late he’s fallen in with a group of older boys at our synagogue. (“Older” = older than Miss M…so 3rd grade?) They gather on a strip of grass outside the building, trying to flip cheap cards made from flimsy cardboard and doing some complicated hand gesture-y thing that reminds me of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

I find the whole thing odd. The game, his obsession with it, and especially the other boys’ willingness to include him, a kindergartener. He holds his own in the game–whatever that means–so he’s not being used as a patsy. Do they need a fourth player? Do they appreciate that he won’t cry if he loses (I mean, usually)? I am kind of afraid to ask–not that I could possibly come up with something to say to them, even if my Hebrew or their English were better.

At least he’s not running into the street, I tell myself. Not that I haven’t trusted him not to do that for a long time. But it makes me a little crazy that this is his motivation to go to synagogue now–to the exclusion of all regular synagogue activities, like, you know, praying. Of course, saying this out loud makes me sound like an uptight ass: he’s 6; he can barely read; there’s time to learn how to sit and to read the prayers and to get familiar with the tunes.

But I’d at least like the level of interest he had a month ago! (The children’s service on Saturday; the melodic parts of Friday night’s service.)

By now, though, I’m pretty comfortable with my role as the parent who is “strict” and demands a certain amount of age-appropriate participation in…whatever. Synagogue services, housekeeping, table manners, etc. It’s a long list. This is how you learn!

So now I have to figure out some sort of bribe-reward system for how much tefila is required before he is allowed to play craps in the alley. As it were.

As for the 3rd grade boys who dress for Shabbat but never actually cross the threshold of the synagogue? It’s totally not my business, other than to try to inspire my kindergartener to make room in his busy schedule for games and for prayers.

You mess with the bull, you get the horns–you know what I’m sayin’?

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Or: the pitfalls of a religious education

So my children have been known to worry over things that would never occur to me. I think this is because they don’t have worry about the practical things like money in the bank, food in the fridge, gas in the car, walking the dog, etc. Plus their heads are not full of 80’s lyrics (although AM has almost committed to memory his interpretations of Adele’s album 21). So they have, literally, the headspace for this stuff.

AM has been asking a lot of science-y type questions that I can’t answer…inevitably while in the car so I cannot Google and look like Supermom With All the Answers To Life’s Big Questions. Darn.

But. Sometimes? I JUST CAN’T EVEN.

Like this morning, in the car. (While I was experiencing a desperate problem OF MY OWN, thank you very much.)

Miss M: “Ema, some people think the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt this year!” (translation: Messiah comes; 3rd Temple gets up and running.)

Me: “Mmmm?”

Miss M: “But then won’t we have to move out of Modiin?”

Me: “What?”

Miss M: “We’ll have to live in Yerushayalim.”

Me: “Oh.”

Miss M: “Because how will AM and Abba get to work in the Beit HaMikdash?”

Me (feeling clever): “Um…they can take the bus? I think the 110 goes right to the Tachana Merkazit [Central Bus Station].”

Miss M: “But what about school?”

Me: “What about it?”

Miss M: “AM will already have started school!”

So then the kids proceed to hatch a plan whereby AM will go to school in the morning and instead of going to tzaharon (an afterschool program), he’ll serve in the Beit HaMikdash.

So IT’S ALL SETTLED, moms of baby kohanim–your sons will learn the 3 Rs in the morning and be holy in the afternoon.

Just wondering if we can put in for reimbursement of commuting costs. Although it’s still probably way less than buying a 5 room apartment in Jerusalem; that town is pricey!

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Half-Baked

I’m at that point in Passover preparations where everything is half done.

My kitchen is half chametz and half not. I still have pita in my fridge, but all the dairy products are kosher for Pesach. The silverware has been boiled, but there are dirty chametz plates in the dishwasher.

I’ve half shopped, half done the laundry, and half cleaned.

If you think I’m half crazy…you’re probably right.

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One of the most “tragic” things about living in Israel is that we are just so busy living. Work on Sundays. Kids in school six days a week. Errands, afterschool activities, laundry. Dog walking. Tuesday work dates.

So at least once a week during the winter and spring, if the weather cooperates, I try to take the kids on a mini-hike to see what’s blooming. I’m a visual person, so a reminder right before my eyes of Israel’s natural beauty helps to prod me into feeling amazed that we live here.

Of course, the wildflowers that grow here aren’t necessarily confined to our borders.

What we do have in Israel that is unique is layers upon layers of Jewish history. In a corner of Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the layers have been gently peeled back and exposed; sometimes iconic buildings have been reconstructed, sometimes purposely left in ruins.

Along with 11 other bloggers, I participated in one of Tali Tarlow’s Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts. (Disclosure: for free.) It was riotously fun, as well as edifying for me–someone whose grasp of Jewish history (outside of America, I mean–American Jewish History is kind of my wheelhouse) is spotty at best.

After almost a solid week of rain and grey skies, it was a welcome relief to bask in some sunshine on Friday morning. Even squint a little. As if I know where my sunglasses are. Ha!

Tali and Jeremy, our guides

The two-hour tour of the Jewish Quarter took us to both major thoroughfares and quiet alleys, zigzagging from the modern era to the Assyrian period, the Roman period to the Middle Ages. We “met” historical figures who ranged from the Ramban to the Rav of the Kotel to the youngest casualty of the  fight for the Old City in the War of Independence (he was 10). The scavenger hunt included tasks, none of them too strenuous.

The renovated Hurva synagogue, freshly scrubbed from oodles of rain.

My team of four came in a close second–luckily only a touch of pride was at stake–but I left with a profound sense of gratitude that I am living where centuries of Jewish history live too. I’ll be able to bring my kids to Jerusalem and tell them about 1948, about 1270, about the Romans and Assyrians and King David. It is literally spilled out before us.

The Romans were here. Of course.

The scavenger hunt itself had clear directions and the tasks at each stop could be divided among people of many different ages. We agreed that even a child as young as 5 or 6 could participate (with older kids and adults; a group of 5 or 6 year olds would be an entirely different kettle of fish). Although the route took a couple of hours, it was very self-contained–the Jewish Quarter is small to begin with, and the scavenger hunt was further circumscribed within that–and there were always walls or steps to sit on for a spell if necessary.

A tree grows in the Old City. An orange tree! O winter delights!

It was a lovely and entertaining morning spent with friends both new and not-as-new, and I enthusiastically recommend Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts as a great way to dig into the city.

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