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July 18, 2017

Countdown

Over the past month, our family has been part of a ‘countdown’; we are counting the days our son Ariel has left until he’s a civilian.

After serving over four and a half years, he’s getting out of the army – today. Following his army adventures over these long years, I too can say this is a big deal. 

Moms in Israel cry when their sons go in, shedding tears of pride and of fear. At night, Israeli moms tend to leave their cell phones on, just in case.  After a leave, when our sons and daughters depart in uniform, we hug them goodbye, but our thoughts are never truly settled.

So Ariel has done his time, way more time than most soldiers who serve 32 months. Twice I have counted down his time left to serve and then ‘reset’ the marker after he signed on for additional months of service.

After being army property for over four years, what does ‘shichrur’ (army release mean?), especially for those who have never served?

We all take freedom for granted. And as an average free person, we can do the following without blinking:
- We can make our own schedules and arrange our own priorities;
- We dress according to our mood in the colors we like. (No worries of punishment if our shirt’s not tucked in just so);
- We press the snooze button just one more time if we’re tired;
- And if we can’t cope some days, or if it’s too rainy or snowy, we could decide to stay home for banana pancakes;
- Yes, we eat the foods we love and grab our go-to comfort food when we’re hungry;
- We hang out with people we like and if someone bugs us, we could tell them where to go or just leave;
- We can hop on a plane on a whim, go on vacation or sit and daydream about where the next one will be.

The average Israeli goes into the army at the age of 18 or 19 so there’s no option to discover the world after high school or go to college. In Israel, there are obligations and expectations and so, freedom is put aside for another cause – security and protection of the country.

So Ariel put freedom on hold to serve his country. He may already be tall, but in the army he ‘grew’ even more; he expanded as a person, matured and learned a lot about responsibility, obligations and teamwork.

I’ve written about Ariel’s army experiences over the years, starting with his giyus, or army draft, in November 2012. The army was new territory to us all and Ariel went in with a good attitude, having to navigate the waters all on his own. I’ve since learned that having immigrant parents who know nothing about the workings of the IDF is a real disadvantage. 

Nonetheless, he did very well and was promoted to a commander in October 2013. He took courses, moved to a different base, worked with new people under stressful conditions and took on more responsibility. He discovered a new strength called leadership.

He did so well, he moved onward to becoming an officer in January 2015. He faced more competitive training courses, was again moved to a new base, had even more difficult bosses plus added stress and responsibility. 

He hardly slept, came home exhausted and hoarse and could never leave his phone, even when he was off duty. And if a dangerous situation erupted during his precious time home (which it did), he would get into in a wet uniform straight from the laundry, wake up his soldiers, grab his gun and they’d all head back for duty.

He never complained about being tired or hungry or stressed. He simply did his job and gave all to the army and to the country.

His last advancement was to the rank of captain in September 2016. As captain, he was leader of the officers, the commanders and all the new recruits. He took on a very un-Israeli approach to leadership; he never raised his voice and was very approachable. 

Every evening, the espresso machine was on, his office door was open despite his workload and the soldiers were encouraged to drop in and talk. Many soldiers came to his office to chat. Ariel got to know them well and was able to advise them with their issues on a one-to-one basis. For both Ariel and the soldiers, this was invaluable time.


We once asked Ariel why he wanted to sign on to do extra years of army service with increased responsibilities. He did not flinch with his answer, replying, “These soldiers will one day be my children’s teachers and bus drivers, our bankers and our politicians. Here’s an opportunity to teach new recruits respect, develop selflessness, and give them a love of Israel and knowledge of responsibility to society and our country.” Over the years, Ariel was also able to inspire other recruits to follow the same path and take on army leadership roles.

There will be adjustments to be made as he enters civilian life.  It may be puzzling for him at first when he enters a room full of people and they don’t immediately leap to their feet.  But that’s OK, humility is one of the first and most lasting lessons that he’s learned in the army.

As of next week, he’ll pamper himself with a taste of freedom; a long backpacking trip where he’ll let go of time, abandon strict timetables and forsake worry. He’ll be in flip flops, cut offs and simply chill. He’ll decide to get on a bus or a plane or to just stay put. He will spend time with people without obeying orders or giving commands. He can try everything on the menu and order more food if he’s still hungry. He can be just like us.

Ariel, with our countdown over, you’ve cut your ID card and are finished your service. We’re so proud of you and of the huge commitment and sacrifice you’ve made for Eretz Israel.

Happy adventuring, happy freedom!

June 29, 2017

Chop and Drop


This year, I've been volunteering at a gardening club in an old age home called Beit Protea Village. This is not a standard club where people gather to talk about their begonias. This is a serious permaculture club. Under the guidance of the volunteer coach Ellen, who comes every Thursday morning, we've been learning about the wonderful world of permaculture.

Basically permaculture holds by these three tenets: make no waste; use renewable resources; and mulch, mulch, mulch! The beauty is that is it self sustaining.

The club gathers in a greenhouse tucked behind a popular coffee shop near the seniors’ residences. The members shuffle in each Thursday with walking sticks or zoom in with an electric cart. 

They then sit down for a short lesson about permaculture before setting out to work. They learn about soil and composting, butterflies and wild flowers. They make herbal teas, bake bread and go on field trips to food forests.

For me, this place is a quiet haven where every plant is given utmost respect. It smells of rich soil. The roof is covered by a pomegranate vine that offers a shaded canopy. The periphery is stacked with tables of vegetables and herbs. There are shelves of pots in all sizes, and a worm farm tended lovingly by one of the residents. 

Outside is a hillside of trees and plants. In the spring it is covered with white flowering beans and in the summer, it is a pumpkin patch. There is compost in various stages of decomposition. 

Pumpkin.

Here, nothing is thrown out. People bring their vegetable cuttings, egg cartons and old papers. The cafe brings its coffee grinds and they all offer this 'waste' to the heap that turns into a rick black soil within no time.
The hydroponics project - basil flourishing.


The latest and most ambitious project is a hydroponics garden. The more technical, handy members bought the tubing and pump and put it all together. They are learning about the pH of plants and nutrients such as alkaline electrolyte agents that must go in the water.  It is very impressive for people to take on this new technology with such excitement. Right now, it looks like basil is the hydroponics winner. 

There is a lovely sense of community in this small corner of the old age home. One member called in sick yesterday and the others quickly prepared him a large container of chives as a get well gift. 

Ellen also arranges for school groups to visit so they can learn how to respect the land. The seniors work in tandem with the school kids, showing them how sustainable gardening works. The students put down their smartphones and pick up hoes: this is an electronic device free zone.

The club is always searching for new members and often invites other residents to drop by, but many people who wander through don’t ‘get it,’ finding the place dirty. Guess that's because soil is, well, everywhere. It is the essence of the garden. 

One woman shuffled by as we were potting basil cuttings and said she would never want her hands to get dirty. We laughed and dug our hands into the rich soil with renewed vigor. 

The professional gardeners hired by  Beit Protea also do not ‘get it.’ They have been programmed to tidy the beds, pull out the weeds and leaf blow the smithereens out of the gardens. They know little else and have been told countless times to stay away from this little piece of permaculture paradise. 

Yet they can't help themselves and often barge onto the hillside and 'prettify' it. I was once given the task to remulch this hill after the 'gardeners’ had stripped the soil of its precious nutrients and much needed canopy of dead leaves with their leaf blowers.

Just yesterday we went out to the hill to chop-and-drop. This is a permaculture principle where you pull weeds and throw them back down. When they decompose, they enrich the soil and add much needed nitrogen to it. No fertilizer or pesticides are needed here as nature does the job.

Nature also dictates the order here. There are no straight, rigid rows and no clean borders. When plants flower, we take the dried seeds and ‘broadcast’ them across the beds.

This is a lovely oasis where people work in harmony with nature, the land and with each other. The big lesson learned is that the less we tamper with nature, the more it produces.

In Israel, permaculture is slowly taking off. In Ra’anana, a city that is bursting with colorful flowers all planted in neat rows, there are now areas with edible plants. There is even a community garden page on the Ra'anana city website. If only the city  gardeners would lay down their nasty leaf blowers!

People in Israel are starting to grow food forests, returning the land to its natural form.



Come for a visit. There's always a steaming lemon verbena tea waiting for you – straight from the garden!



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May 26, 2017

New home in our Jewish land

Her bedroom is empty. The bed is stripped, the shelves bare, the dresses that were once slumped on a chair are replaced by a single zipped bag hanging on a hook. It's her wedding dress: retired and out of service.

My daughter just had her one-month wedding anniversary. Some four weeks ago, this very room was buzzing, filled with her friends coming and going, my daughter sitting on her bed frantic with worry, anticipation, fear and excitement.

 We all believed in a simple wedding, still we became caught up in it, sucked into A Wedding Vortex. We spent hours and hours pouring over the details, lists, names. Our to-do list never seemed to diminish. How could this be? I reminded myself that we are here to celebrate a marriage, not merely a party.

And it all started with The Dress, the one that now limply hangs, shrouded in a plastic bag. As my daughter wanted to get married ‘differently,’ we began a search for The Dress that did not look like a wedding dress.  Not really, but kind of. Not frilly and puffy and tight, but soft and loose and natural.

Well, we trod the pavement and I helped her pull wedding dress after wedding dress over head. She would step into it, frown and move on. It was exhausting, yet, she finally found the one. From there, it all spiraled into many other big decisions.

The young couple decided on most things pertaining to their wedding. We smiled, watching them weigh their options, iron out their choices and manage their budget. These were the very first of many such discussions they would be having over a lifetime of marriage.

And again, whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would remember that the focus should be on celebrating a marriage - not an extravagant one-night party. It is not about napkin colours or centerpieces; rather it is about two people who are in love and who want to share their lives together.

Making their way to the chuppa.
As parents, our greatest pleasure was watching the couple grow together as they planned this wedding. They were on the phone constantly, debating, discussing. They had to divvy up the tasks and the phone calls. Then they would sit for hours over the computer, examining lists and names. And they did it all as a perfect unit.

They designed their own chuppa ceremony. We sat in amazement, growing with excitement hearing their thoughts and inspirations.

And finally, the big day came. During the wedding, we tried our best to stay present and aware throughout. It all happens with a flurry, months of planning evaporating in a few hours. As my own wedding was a blur, I wanted to capture my daughter’s wedding differently.

Yet when we stood under the chuppa, I felt present but in disbelief. Is this really happening? Has time passed so quickly that I am the now older generation marrying off the new? How does the time slip by? And how much time do we have left? These jarring thoughts signaled me to be aware, grateful and appreciative.

My father and my husband’s 95-year-old aunt were called up to the chuppa to honour the memory of those who were gone and dearly missed: my mother, my husband’s parents, the groom’s father whose tallit was draped atop the chuppa, and many other dear relatives.  We stood there remembering, pulling their memories down, accompanied by a beautiful haunting melody, first composed by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. 

video
This enchanting song bound the present moment to the past and embedded an awareness of moving forward with an awareness of the love of those who are gone.

My daughter decided to walk around her husband alone, not with the mothers. The marriage was her journey, her decision, and she wanted to do it on her own, in her own way.

We honoured every one of their choices. And so they created a wedding that was unique, spiritual and distinctly theirs. It was their first big project and creation together.

video

A true Israeli-style wedding, this event would not have been possible anywhere outside of this country. It was outdoors in an herb garden and set under the stars. Informal wear was a must. It was barefoot for some, sandalled for most and the evening filled with unbridled joy, shrieks, clapping, acrobatics and heartfelt dancing. 

It was their signature night, the moment when a young couple pledged their vows with the promise to set up a Jewish home in a Jewish land. 

Just like that now retired wedding dress hanging idly on a hook, life has returned to stillness.  We continue to observe our married couple as they set up a life together, in synch and in love. 

Wishing them a lifetime of joy as they take these first steps towards a meaningful life together.  




April 24, 2017

Bride to Be

Dresses are slumped over a chair, hangers dangling.

I sit with my coffee looking at these clothes. And then it hits me. My daughter is moving out, leaving home. And she’s not coming back.

Today, these clothes will be moved to a new home that my daughter will share with her new husband two days from now. And when I next see her wearing one of these dresses, she will be a married woman.

And so my daughter’s dresses sit in anticipation while I sit in disbelief. At times, I am so busy juggling the guest list, table settings, photography list, table decorations and place cards, I have little time to think about the depth of the remarkable change that is happening in front of me.

It hits me like a wave, crashing down. And tears fall. I then pick myself up and life goes on, the laundry pile looming, the shopping list growing, the place cards unfinished.

My daughter came into my room last night and cuddled on my bed, just like she always used to. As a toddler, she would run in to show me her latest drawings or share a story about her friends. Spent from the excitement of the day, she would curl up and fall asleep tightly beside me.

And where did the time go? Where is that rough and tumble energized little girl, the one with the dark curls and big brown eyes? My little Tom Boy who once scrambled up trees and somersaulted down hills is all grown up and will be a bride.

She is still beside me, curled up on my bed, a bit stressed from the wedding arrangements and in need of a cuddle.  Yet she is all grown up and is about to be a bride and a wife.

I, the mom of the bride, am able to experience the preparation of a Jewish wedding through her young Israeli, Orthodox eyes. And it is beautiful, meaningful, filled with sweetness.

On Thursday, her closest friends organized a dinner party for her where they baked challah together and sang.

She and her fiance do not see each other for a week before the wedding. Last week, she sat with bows, bags and wrapping paper and carefully made him a gift with a note for each day they would be apart.

Last night, when she was out, her fiance snuck over and delivered flowers for her, a note and a chocolate bar for added sweetness.

We are now two days away. My daughter’s bedroom is almost empty, save for some clothing and her wedding dress tucked safely inside the dressmaker’s bag.

Tomorrow night, we go to the mikvah for her ritual bath and then she is good to go. And go she shall. To her love. Towards a new tomorrow.

And how will I feel tomorrow and the next day? How will it be when I first see her as a married woman?

I love you Aviva and Shaarya. 

I cannot wait to see you both standing under the chuppah and watching you grow together.


Mazal Tov

March 31, 2017

Spotless and Sneezy

There are several signs that spring is in full bloom – a chorus of sneezing, a chamber of stuffed garbage bags and, hopefully, an empty pantry.

Here in Israel come late March, every plant that can bloom is announcing its presence. Even my lemon tree, still bearing the weight of fruit, is able to produce fragrant blooms.
 
Seeds are a flight in the wind, like little plankton being tossed about. The pollen is abundant. I know this as both my husband and daughter sneeze loudly from allergies, walking around with a box of Kleenex and scratching at reddened eyes.

And as they sneeze, I stuff. I throw everything out that has no use or little use, attacking the bedrooms and bathrooms before I sigh deeply and attack the kitchen. It is my pre-Pesach spring-cleaning and when the mood to minimize, hits, I strike hard.

Starting right after Purim, I make it a goal to clean out every cupboard and then, for dinner, eat everything sitting on the kitchen shelves. I unearth unlabelled items in the freezer and then put together something that looks like a meal.

“What’s this?” my kids ask.

“Guess,” I say, completely unsure about what we are eating.

They wake up in the morning and know that there will be no cereal for breakfast or bread for lunch. I could never bring myself to buy ‘chometz gamur’ with Pesach looming in my brain.

Today, scratching my head and wondering what to make for Shabbat, I took a look at my pantry. It was bare, except for a few lonely, unappetizing items. 

We are now at the last of our chometz, the grain products that I must dispose of before Passover sets in, which is 11 days from now. (I know, 11 days may seem like a decade for some, but since time flies, it’s around the corner.)

I eye the few bits of cannelloni that have been rattling around in my cupboard for months. And I glance at the few pieces of lasagna that did not make it into the last batch. 

Hmmm.  

 I googled ‘left over lasagna noodles’ and immediately found a recipe for lasagna muffins. I used the rest of my cardboard-like noodles for lasagna chips.



I then eye the graham crackers and the Quaker oats. What to do? I searched for a graham cracker recipe that excludes the traditional marshmallow and chocolate accompaniments  - we are ‘smores’d out after our many campfires this past winter.

And I quickly found a recipe that actually uses both my oats and crackers to create a cookie dough. What a find! Thrilled, I started to create, rolling out a most unusual dough.

Shabbat is almost here and my creations are now sitting on the dining room table.
 
“What’s this?” my kids ask.

“Ah choo,” my husband pipes in, blowing trombone-like into his Kleenex.

“Guess,” I reply.

Shabbat shalom from our spotless, sneezy home.