Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shanghai Steve, a Jewish Boy Who Lived

A very moving post at Blog d’Elisson: Postcards from Camp.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lightening Up: A Story of My Aliya

In honor of the Nefesh b’Nefesh premiere JBloggers’ conference, here is a story from my own aliya, back at the end of 1991, before NBN was a gleam in anybody’s eye and when we new immigrants had to walk barefoot in freshly-fallen snow for ten miles, uphill both ways, to Misrad ha-Penim (the Ministry of the Interior), with a ton of paperwork strapped to our backs.

(Well, I arrived just before the big snowstorms of ’92, so that should count for a kernel of truth in all that, right?)

Like many olim (new immigrants to Israel), I had prepared what is known as a lift—a container of furniture, appliances and other personal property to be sent to Israel by ship. While I arrived in Israel at the tail end of December, the lift was to arrive sometime in the spring.

Just before Pessah, as I was cleaning my room in the ulpan, I came across the folder that contained the paperwork related to my lift. As I handled it, a chill went down my spine and I got a very bad feeling. Since I couldn’t figure out any reason for it, I ignored it and went on with my work.

On the first day of hol ha-moed Pessah (which was, incidentally, my birthday that year), I got a message to call the insurance company. I called just before lunchtime. “Your lift will not be arriving,” the agent told me with characteristic Israeli bluntness. “It was thrown off the ship during a severe storm in the North Atlantic. The ship was in danger of sinking and the captain gave orders to lighten it. Seventy-two lifts were thrown overboard. Fifteen of them belonged to new immigrants. One was yours.”

It took a moment for the information to sink in. Everything was gone. My books, including several autographed first editions. All my music. My clothing, some of which I had made myself. The stereo system I had saved up for and enjoyed so much. Photographs. Keepsakes. My entire past. Gone.

I stood at the ulpan’s payphone (this was before the widespread use of cellphones here, and I didn’t have one yet), in shock, unable to move, tears streaming down my face.

A fly was buzzing loudly against the windowpane on the landing just a few steps up from the phone. Going up the few stairs to the window, I opened it to let the fly escape. I closed the window and turned around to go back down the short flight of stairs. It’s only things, I told myself. Things can be replaced. Think of all the people who came here who suffered far greater loss....

It didn’t help. I was still in shock, still crying.

At that precise moment, several students walked by. They stopped cold when they saw my face. I made a split-second decision to tell them the truth—not because I was looking for sympathy, but because I couldn’t stand the thought of the whispers that would shortly be spreading throughout the dining hall. I saw Rahel crying at the payphone just a minute ago. Wonder what happened....

So I told them.

Within moments, the news was all over the ulpan. But I figured that was better than whispered rumors and gossip.

A few days later, I got a message to call the insurance company in order to arrange for my compensation and choose new appliances to replace the ones I had lost. As I spoke with the agent, I suddenly found myself asking: “What about the crew? Did they make it? Are they all right?”

Silence. Then: “You’re the first insured to ask that question.”

“My father is a former merchant sailor,” I told her. “After he got married he took a job on shore, and I grew up taking phone messages from sailors all over the world. Maybe some of them were on that ship. What happened to the crew? Are they all right?”

“Yes,” she said. “The ship is safe. They’re fine.”

Some time later, I was visiting with an old friend, a legendary group leader of the Sar-El program, where I had volunteered several times before making aliyah. We were outside walking when I told him what had happened, and he stopped in his tracks, his jaw agape.

He recovered in seconds. “So that means you’re really here,” he said. “No trace of your past life is left. It’s all gone. You’re here, a hundred percent.”

I won’t pretend that the loss of my lift didn’t affect me. It did, for a long time, and on some levels it probably still does—even though by this time, almost seventeen years later, I have more than enough stuff to make up for what I lost.

But my friend was and is right. I am here, a hundred percent.

(And yes—along the way there were some people who asked whether I was planning to try to salvage my possessions from the bottom of the North Atlantic.)

Cat in a Basket

Her Ladyship enjoys jumping into her companion’s market basket and making herself comfortable there. It’s her safe place.

(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Cat in a basket

She lets me skritch her while she’s there, though.

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Around Town

A corner of the Mahane Yehuda market. A chair hung on its side, a poster, cauliflowers, and so on...

In the market

A palm tree with dates:

Palm tree and dates

The Russian Compound downtown:

Russian Compound

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Look What They’ve Done to My Street, Ma

(with apologies to Melanie)

The Great Jaffa Street Dig in preparation for Jerusalem’s light rail system, which is already several years behind schedule. Looking in the direction of the main post office at one end...

Digging up Jaffa Street 2

... and toward the Clal Building and the Central Bus Station on the other:

Digging up Jaffa Street 1

Maybe, once the light rail is up and running, we’ll say it was worth it. For now, getting downtown is a challenge (read: nightmare). I’m very grateful for the new bus lines that go from the Central Bus Station area to southern Jerusalem without going there. (At the same time, I’m thinking of the owners of businesses on Jaffa Street. They have had it pretty tough for quite some time: first terrorists, and now, le-havdil, construction.)

Check out the map of the new traffic routes. Even though it’s in Hebrew, it should be pretty clear.

Here’s another map, from the Jerusalem Municipality, that includes bus routes.

(I looked for maps in English but didn’t find any. It’s pretty interesting that the English version of the municipality’s website links to a map in Hebrew....)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Some Pictures of Jerusalem, Just Because

Here, for no particular reason, are some pictures of Jerusalem. Click on each image to see a larger version.

The bridge going over the road leading to Mt. Zion, with the Old City walls in the background:

Modern bridge, old city 1

Glass ceiling panes at the Begin Heritage Center:

Glass panes

Three stages of fennel: blossom, seed-in-the-making, ripe seed:

Three stages of fennel

Shabbat shalom!

Some Thoughts on the JBloggers Conference

I enjoyed it for the most part, though if it had been up to me, I would have made it a little longer, if only to make more time for mingling. To me, that is the main purpose of such a conference, right up there with the sessions and panels: to talk with the other participants, especially with those whom we don’t usually get to see. We’re bloggers, after all. We talk. So we need more time to talk to each other face to face!

In my opinion, that is also why the Internet is such a miracle: it provides us with the opportunity to meet people whom we would not have met otherwise and to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. (Yes, today’s generation would probably roll their collective eyes at me for that and say “Duh.” But I remember when moving meant losing touch with your friends for good. Not so simple.)

Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at length. He seems to have a good grasp on Jewish history and, as we all know, he is an excellent speaker. His political performance aside, I lived in his building for a year some time ago... and let’s just say that you can learn a lot about some neighbors just by living in close proximity to them, even if you hardly ever see them. It was, however, the most secure place I’ve ever lived in. ’Nuff said.

The food was excellent, the speakers were interesting—and no, Gila, I don’t think you’re self-centered at all for wanting to keep your blog your own, rather than turning it into a public-relations effort for the country. What you said made perfect sense to me. (Regarding good PR for Israel by bloggers—did anyone mention Israel21c at the conference? I don’t remember, but if they didn’t, then they should have.)

I do hope that there will be another conference next year—maybe even a full-day one, since there were quite a few people I would have liked to hear. Plus, of course, more mingling. Lots of mingling.

One of the friends I met at the conference was Yehuda. I really got a kick out of his t-shirt. (Click on the images to read what is written on each side.)


Yehuda's t-shirt (front)


Yehuda's t-shirt (rear)

Of course, he’s just kidding. Tongue in cheek. Right, Yehuda? Right?

Friday Cats

Some tuxxie belly:

Tuxxie belly

A friendly, skritchable tabby and white (with tipped ear):

Tabby and white

Finally, if you need some help with your peripherals, Her Ladyship will be happy to pitch in.

Hi-tech kittycat

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fly on Leaf

A fly on a leaf. Note the upraised leg. (Click for larger version.)

Fly on leaf

For more pictures of local Jerusalem scenes, head on over here.

Shabbat shalom!

Prayers amid the Bustle

In the midst of the Mahane Yehuda shuk (open-air market) is a small synagogue known as Bet Zevul. If you happen to be doing your shopping and need to recite minha (the afternoon prayer), here’s your chance!

Prayer is an informal event here, a part of life rather than apart from it.

The synagogue in the shuk

The worshippers have reached the modim (thanksgiving) section of the afternoon service. The prayer leader is bowing, while the congregants are standing:

The synagogue in the shuk

Yes, the synagogue is right in the midst of the market, with all its activity:

The synagogue in the shuk: long view

The Skritch Monster Stalks Her Ladyship

The Skritch Monster is on the prowl, looking for a kitty to skritch.

Oh! What have we here?

Stalking the Siamese kittycat

Her Ladyship, I do believe. Carefully, carefully... ah, yes! Right into the trap. Gotcha!


The Skritch Monster is ready to move on. But what’s this? Her Ladyship has turned the tables and is lying down on her skirt. Oh noes! The Skritch Monster is trapped! What will she do?

Her Ladyship on my skirt

Guess she’ll just have to make the best of it.


The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Two of ’em! (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)


I do wish I could have gotten closer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. Woodpeckers are skittish critters. Try to get closer for a better picture and they take off.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Post for Tisha be-Av: The Western Wall Tunnels

Several weeks ago, I visited the Western Wall Tunnels. Here are some of the photos I took there, with explanations.

First, here is the view of the outside portion of the Western Wall (actually only a very small part of the entire wall, which runs the entire length of the Temple Mount). Notice that the women’s section is particularly crowded, while the men’s section seems sparsely populated. As we will see later on, this is because the men are taking advantage of the abundant indoor space available to them inside the Western Wall Tunnels.

Western Wall, crowded women's section

Here is the new women’s gallery located inside the tunnels. Years ago, it was completely open. Now it is enclosed in wooden paneling and one-way glass. (Since it is one-way glass, I don’t understand the need for curtains. Nevertheless, there they are.)

The women's gallery in the Western Wall Tunnels

Here is one view of the indoor men’s section from the women’s gallery, taken through the glass. Note the beautiful Ark for the Torah. There are quite a few of them in the men’s section, indoors and out, and hundreds of Torah scrolls for the men’s use.

View from women's gallery

Here is another view, from a slightly different angle.

View from women's gallery 2

Here is the gate to the women’s gallery, seen from the inside. It opens to the stairs that lead down into the men’s section. To the best of my knowledge, it is usually kept locked, as it was when I was there.

Gate to enclosed women's gallery, Western Wall Tunnels

Here is a view of the men’s section downstairs, taken through one of the squares in the top section of the wooden gate shown above. The rear of the small women’s gallery, with its wooden paneling and one-way glass, can be seen clearly in the photo.

View from women's gallery gate

Fortunately, this small, enclosed women’s gallery is not the only indoor space in the Western Wall complex where women may worship. There are at least two others. One is a small, well-appointed synagogue, known as the Rabbi Getz Synagogue, which is located at Warren’s Gate. The synagogue’s interior is shown in the photo below. When I was there, the only other people inside were two women. (Since the synagogue has no separate section for women, at least as far as I could tell, I assume that women are welcome there as long as no scheduled services are in progress. If any readers know differently, they are welcome to leave a message in the comments.)

Synagogue in the Western Wall tunnels

The place shown in the following photograph is opposite a sealed gate that, according to Jewish tradition, leads to the location of the Holy of Holies. As in the synagogue above, when I was there the only worshippers there were women. On my way there....

Approaching spot opposite the Holy of Holies

... and opposite the gate:

Opposite the Holy of Holies

On the Ninth of Av, we mourn the destruction of our Temples and the exile of our people. Yet I cannot help wondering—and I know other religiously observant women who are troubled by this question—whenever the Temple is rebuilt, what will be the place of women there? Who will decide? Will the unprecedented access to high-level religious study that Jewish women enjoy today have any effect on the decision? And, as some traditional teachings hint (Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 45, for example), could this high-level learning by women indicate that the time of the Redemption is near?

Throughout our history, we Jews—men and women alike, together and separately—have suffered various kinds of exile, which have yet to end. A thought to ponder this sad day of Tisha be-Av.

(See all the photos I took in the Western Wall Tunnels, with explanations, here.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Unfortunately, this photo is a bit blurry. My camera is not very fond of low light and I didn’t want to use my flash. Nevertheless, the mixture of tabby and Siamese on this cat can be seen clearly enough:

Siamese tabby

Here’s a cool tabby cat on a rock wall:

Tabby cat on rock wall

Finally, a story with no picture. One evening a few days ago, a friend of mine found her tabby cat lying on his side in the yard, looking like he didn’t want to move. On closer inspection, she saw the reason why: he had just eaten a hoopoe.

That’s right. His after-dinner snack was our national bird!

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.