Monday, September 29, 2008

Shana Tova

I would like to wish everyone a Shana Tova u-Metuka—a good and sweet year.


See you after the holiday!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It’s Raining!

It rained last night and today, and it’s raining again now. It’s too dark for pictures, unfortunately, or I’d post some. Maybe tomorrow, if this continues tomorrow. Here’s hoping!

The first rain makes us very happy here. We go out on our balconies and smile at each other, like we did this afternoon at my neighbor’s place, where we had Shabbat lunch.

May we have lots more rain this season, in good and healthy measure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fuzzy Tummy

Her Ladyship shows us some:

Her Ladyship shows off some tummy

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Two Photos from Downtown

First, the Zohorei Hamah Synagogue in downtown Jerusalem, opposite the Mahane Yehuda shuk. The clocks feature Jerusalem local time and halakhic time (divisions of day and night based on sunrise and sunset times). The sundial is pretty accurate from what I could tell.

(Click on the images for larger versions.)

Zohorei Hamah Synagogue

Next, an election poster for Meir Porush, a Haredi politician who is running for mayor of Jerusalem. The top legend reads (in my free translation): “A good attitude toward [or for] everyone: Meir Porush!” It shows all kinds of people from all walks of life and levels of observance who have one thing in common: they support Meir Porush’s bid to become mayor of Jerusalem.

Election poster

Yes, it’s quite plainly an attempt to depict Porush as “everyman’s candidate”—literally. Look closely—eighteen photos, and not a woman in the lot.

A Visit to Rachel’s Tomb

Last week, when my friend was here visiting from abroad, we went to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. When I told the friend who had offered to drive us there that it had been fourteen years since my last trip, she warned me: “It’s changed a lot. You won’t recognize it at all.”

She was right.

The entire place is an indoor compound—or, as a friend of mine who is a tour guide put it, a fortress.

The sign stating “Kever Rahel” that was once outside the simple structure over the tomb is now inside the compound, just outside the hall that leads to the men’s section:

The old sign, Rachel's Tomb

More photos and explanations below the fold.

The entrance to Rachel’s Tomb as it looks now:

Entrance to Rachel's Tomb

Sandbags in a niche in the front wall:

Window niche and sandbags, Rachel's Tomb

A long hallway leads to the worship area.

Hall leading to Rachel's Tomb

The view from the women’s prayer area, into the anteroom:

View from the women's prayer area, Rachel's Tomb

The cenotaph, from the women’s side:

Cenotaph, Rachel's Tomb

A niche for books—usually Psalms, though there is a special prayer to be recited at Rachel’s Tomb that was composed in the nineteenth century.

Book niche

A well and a plaque honoring the donors—in this case, I believe, the Jewish community of Bombay:

Well and stone plaque

A peek into the men’s section:

Looking into the men's section at Rachel's Tomb

In the past, it used to be a custom for married women to use part of the material of their wedding dresses to fashion a curtain for the Holy Ark—called a parokhet in Hebrew—where the Torah scrolls are kept. This particular parokhet is made from the wedding dress of Nava Appelbaum, who was murdered together with her father, Dr. David Appelbaum, on the night before she was to be married.

The top of the inscription reads: “A bride forever.” It broke my heart.

Heartbreaking Ark curtain, Rachel's Tomb

On the way out, near the entrance to the building, is a ladder built into the wall with a trapdoor in the ceiling leading to the roof.

Ceiling exit

May the day soon come when we will be able to visit all our holy sites freely and without fear.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cats and Jews

Two of my favorite things!

Haveil Havalim #183 is up at Jack’s.

The 63rd edition of the Bad Kittycats Festival of Chaos is up at Mind of Mog.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where’s the Kitty?

Can you find Missy?

Missy camouflaged by greenery

Here she is, front and center:

Missy on the Wall

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Citizen Activism, Part 2

I didn’t do it this time. It was my friend. (Well, I did have some part in it—I convinced her to complain.)

My friend—whom I called Zahava in a post several years ago because she has a heart of gold—arrived in the country recently for a visit. She rode from the airport in a popular taxi service that charges a flat rate for the trip.

Except that this time was a little different. The driver made everyone pay double because, as he claimed, the van was only approximately half full. He said that if they didn’t pay the extra amount, they would all have to wait a half hour for the next plane to come in so that the empty seats would be filled.

My friend, together with the other passengers, ended up paying more than twice the stated price for the ride from the airport to Jerusalem.

When she got here, she told me the story. I convinced her to complain, and the next day, she went to the company’s office downtown and did just that.

The company people told her that the ride costs a flat rate no matter how many people are in the van. They spoke with the driver, whose only defense was: “But she agreed to pay!” The people in the office weren’t having any of that. They gave my friend her money back and promised to deal with the driver.

Yes! Citizen activism rides again!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Haveil Havalim #182 Is Up

You can catch the current edition of Haveil Havalim in two places this week: Me-Ander and Shiloh Musings.

Thank you, Batya, for a great carnival!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Missy Discovers Bellyrubs

My friend’s black and white cat, Missy, has just discovered how nice bellyrubs can be. Here she commands: “Rub my belly!”

Missy sez: Rub my belly

Missy, I hear and obey.

I hear and obey

By the way, Missy, you're so beautiful.

“Aw, shucks.”

Aw, shucks

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cool Stuff

A dear friend of mine is coming to visit next week. When she lived here about a decade ago, we used to go to the beach together a few times a year. At that time, I knew of a reasonably-priced kosher Chinese restaurant that was located on a street near the beach. On one of our trips I suggested going there. We went and enjoyed it very much.

When I spoke with my friend a few days ago, we made a date to go to the beach like old times, and she said that she would like to go to that restaurant again. But it had been so long since we had been there that I no longer remembered its name or where it was. I looked on a well-known directory of kosher restaurants in Israel, but it wasn’t listed there. Finally I tried typing the words “kosher Chinese restaurant” and the name of the street where I thought it had been into a search engine—and found it! It’s moved from its previous location, but it still has the specific dish that I enjoyed and the reasonable prices that I remember.

Still more reasons to love the Internet: this week, two friends from high school contacted me. One was a particularly good friend back then, and in all the years that have passed I have never forgotten her kindness and sweetness, offered so naturally at a time when I needed them very much. I wasn’t all that close with the second, but we were in choir together for years and I admired his singing voice a lot. I was surprised—and flattered—that he even remembered me!

The next cool thing combines two activities that are close to my heart, music and translation. Recently I translated some liner notes for a composer who is about to release a CD of some of his earlier work. (Sorry, but I can’t give any names or identifying details at this point. When the CD is out, I’ll mention it here.) As part of the job, the composer gave me a copy of the CD so that I could listen to the music described in the liner notes and provide a more accurate translation.

I had already listened to quite a few songs when I suddenly heard an upbeat introduction that sounded familiar. Suddenly I felt a jolt inside my mind, for a fraction of a moment it felt as though I could hear nothing at all—and then, within seconds, the entire song came flooding back to me, even as the recording playing through my speakers was still on its first several bars. This song had been on one of my tapes of Israeli music back when I was still living in the States, but with no attribution, so I had no idea who had composed it. It was one of my favorite songs at the time and I listened to it over and over, but when my lift was jettisoned from the cargo ship during my move here, the cassette went with it. Now, nearly twenty years later, I was listening to it on a CD that its very composer had given to me—and as if that weren’t enough, I was playing a small part in its re-release.

Cool, no?

Seven Years Later

We remember.

Never forget.

The Accidental Activist

It’s only been relatively recently that Israel has passed stronger laws prohibiting smoking in public places and begun to enforce them. When I first visited this country in 1983, smoking was widespread just about everywhere. In fact, when I first moved here, some of the older buses still carried yellowing signs restricting smoking to the rear seats, even though smoking on buses was no longer legal by then.

Although these days there are better laws and more awareness of the issue, there are still plenty of places where people break the law. However, thanks to a shift in the law—it now assigns direct responsibility and issues fines for violations—the ordinary citizen can now do something about it.

(Before I go any further, let me say that I will not engage in a discussion of the pros and cons of anti-tobacco laws on my blog or in the comments section. Full disclosure: I have had asthma all my life, was forced to breathe second-hand smoke throughout much of my childhood and suffered terribly as a result. It is a tremendous relief to me that by law, I no longer have to depend on the goodwill of others in this matter, and I insist, without apology, on my right to smoke-free air wherever the law mandates it.)

Several months ago, I went to a local government office on an errand. Just before the entrance to the waiting room was a stairwell with two ashtrays on either side. One employee who stood there smoking informed me that this was the employees’ smoking area. As I walked through the cloud of smoke into the waiting room, I informed him that it was illegal.

Things were even worse inside. A senior clerk whose office door opened directly onto the public waiting area smoked in his office and allowed other clerks to smoke there as well. I found this out when the waiting area started to fill up with smoke. I followed my nose to the source and asked the clerks—more like told them—to put it out. Now, if you please. They glowered, but complied.

At that point, I saw a familiar expression on the faces of some of the other clerks. I know that look well, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, or heard people put into words the sentiments that it expresses. “It bothers me, too,” they say with sad resignation, “but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

The expression on their faces was the last straw. Maybe they couldn’t do anything about it—at least not without risking trouble on the job—but I could.

So I did.

The next time I went to that particular office, I followed the advice of the Israeli anti-tobacco organization, Avir Naki. (The site, whose name means “clean air,” is in Hebrew. I regret that they have no English-language section as yet, at least not that I could find.) I took a film camera with me (not a digital one; apparently, only film photos that are stamped with the date and time are acceptable for this purpose) and, when no one was looking, I took pictures of the ashtrays in the stairwell. I also got the name of the senior clerk who had turned his office into a smoking lounge—no problem there; it was on a plaque right next to the door. I filled out the complaint form on the Avir Naki website, got the film developed and headed to the Supervisory Division of the Jerusalem Municipality.

I had dates, times, locations and photographs, all nice and legal. I put them in an envelope, handed them to the uniformed police officer behind the desk and got a receipt.

Several weeks later, I received a letter from the municipality saying that they’d contacted the office in order to discuss the issue with the people in charge there, and that the problem was now solved. All right, I thought. I guess I’ll see for myself the next time I’m there.

The next time turned out to be this morning. When I got out of the elevator, I was met—wonderful to relate!—by clean air and the complete absence of ashtrays.

The clerk who dealt with me went out of his way to be particularly nice. After I left his cubicle and went on to the next thing I had to do, another clerk, the one whom I’d seen smoking in the senior clerk’s office, passed by. Recognizing me immediately, he asked me in a ringing, cheerful voice: “Does the smoke still bother you?”

I smiled at him, ignored the question and stuck to the business at hand. He, too, was very helpful.

Did they know that I was the one who had submitted the complaint? Maybe, maybe not. I hadn’t given a hint of my intentions, and the police say that they’re not allowed to give out the names of people who make complaints.

At any rate, it was good to see that in this case, a bit of citizen activism worked.

Oh, and I did the same thing at the building where one of my workplaces is located. I won’t say that it has worked perfectly, but the situation there is much better than it used to be. The ugly, smelly, hip-high sand-filled ashtrays that used to litter the halls, which the building management insisted were trash receptacles, have been replaced by real wastebaskets. Clean ones. With covers. And people now go outside to smoke.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Israel’s Most Wanted

Getting Tough: Israel’s Most Wanted, over at Jameel’s, tells what the Israeli rabbinate is doing about men who have fled their wives rather than give them a get (a Jewish divorce), without which they cannot remarry.

Maybe the Jblogosphere can help with this one.

Which is why I’m linking to it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Resurrection among the Ruins

I was a guest at a bar mitzvah recently. The prayer service took place at the Western Wall, though not at the well-known plaza that was created after the Six Day War. (The Western Wall itself, a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, extends far beyond the plaza in both directions and several meters downward as well.) It took place at the archaeological site of Robinson’s Arch, where more and more families, including religious ones, are choosing to hold their celebrations because of its relative privacy, quiet, and lack of restrictions imposed from outside.

I personally find it difficult to pray there. As I wrote in my Tisha be-Av post two years ago, to me it is the site of Jewry’s 9/11, with the stones that the Roman soldiers hurled from the Temple, still black from the fire, piled beside the broken street. (The Roman soldiers smashed the paving stones of the street so that they could descend to the drainage channels beneath, which the Jewish fighters used in guerrilla battles and through which they later tried to flee.)

Some of the children at the bar mitzvah played among the piled stones, over their parents’ worried protests. One boy is more careful, and even a bit reflective. (Zechariah 8:5 comes to mind: “The streets of the city shall be filled with boys and girls playing....”) Behind him is the Western Wall.

Children will yet play...

A worshipper, wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl), prepares for the service as a Torah scroll, also wrapped in a tallit, waits to be read in the shadow of the Western Wall:

Before the bar mitzvah

The Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. Note the sealed gate at the top of the stairs.

Southern wall of the Temple Mount

A long view of the ruined street just beneath the Western Wall, with the family and friends of the bar mitzvah boy in the distance. (Note the construction at the Mugrabi Gate at the top of the photo. The familiar plaza of the Western Wall is just beyond it.)

Bar mitzvah, long view

New life sprouts near the ancient curbstones of the ruined street:

Life sprouts among the ruins

Yet even as I look at the ruins, I feel like shouting back two thousand years to the Emperor Titus: Nice try, fella. We’re back, we’re not going anywhere, and we show in our museums the rusty, crumbling stuff that you guys left behind.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Holy Cats!

A kitty at the Kotel, evidently coming back from prayers:

Kitty at the Kotel

Missy in the window:

Kitty in the window

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.