September 20, 2007

Postcards from Israel – A Passion for Pomegranates

Shana Tova from Israel. Celebrating the Jewish new year in Israel is a feast for the senses and the soul. For me it all begins with that pomegranate tree outside my kitchen window. By August, which is Elul, the fruit is already deep red and full, its 613 seeds ready to burst forth. And as Elul ends, I see more rimonim (pomegranates) appearing.

In the china section of department stores, clay, glass and plastic serving plates, candy bowls and honey pots are proudly displayed, all crafted in the signature style of rimonim. On the sidewalk, gift shops sell baskets filled with rimonim and candies, already wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow. The corner store and the stationary store also get into the spirit, displaying their own gift baskets stuffed with chocolates, jars of honey and cookies. I see pots of honey and rimonim pop up on billboards and adorn flyers stuffed into my mail box. Accompanying them all are Shana Tova greetings.

As for shopping, the grocery stores are packed with people mulling over the produce section, filling their carts with fresh pomegranantes, red and green apples, plump dates and spindly branches dotted with date palms. And of course, oversized jars of honey are on special, proudly sitting at the entrance of the store. In the baking isle, I ran into a woman pushing a cart of Osem cakes. My daughter was crying because I would not let her push our overloaded cart (after it collided into a stack of pickle cans, I took away her 'agala' licence for the day). This lady, a perfect stranger, wiped Talya's tears away and said, "Ma kara, metuka? Have some honey cake." She then told me that if I buy two cakes, the third one is free and then continued down the aisle peddling her produce.

And so we celebrated the New Year. On Rosh Hashana afternoon, as I was sitting in my garden, I heard a shofar blowing in the distance. Tekiya, Teruah. The notes pierced the afternoon with clarity and resolve. My daughter then walked in and said she saw a man with his young son walking up and down the street blowing shofar to all who had not heard – and in our neighbourhood, that meant many. He stopped joggers in their tracks, people out for a stroll with their dogs. I bet he even found people in their cars, on their cell phones and listening to their ipods. But all took the time to stop, listen and reconnect with that deep resonant sound – a still small voice that was with us at Sinai and is, Baruch Hashem, with us today. Let it awaken our souls and inspire us for a meaningful, fulfilling, safe and healthy new year.

Postcards from Israel – Special Delivery

Special Delivery

I like the word 'postcard' because it connotes a picture of a foreign place and always contains a personal message. I would like to send out my own personal postcards to give a glimpse of life, a small peek into the wonders of living in this country.

A friend who was staying with us was due to return to return to Toronto last Wednesday night. The day before his departure, he saw an email asking if anyone flying to Toronto could bring back a sefer torah. I do not know how this message originated but if it was sent out to ten people, I imagine that within hours, it had circulated onto laptops and desks in Jewish homes and offices around the world and back again.

He called the phone number on the email and heard that the Torah was 'taken:' someone else had responded first. From this I learned that Torah deliveries must be a popular mission and all requests are snatched up fast. Our friend was despondent at not being able to fulfill this mitzvah and prepared his baggage to go to the airport.

The very evening of his flight, he received a call that the Torah was now available. Apparently, the original eager courier got the country right but the city wrong; he was going to Montreal and not Toronto. Was our friend still he interested? Of course! Addresses and phone numbers were exchanged.

At 1 am, a tiny rabbi with a long black coat and straggly white beard arrived at our home, a Sefer Torah in his arms. He had traveled in a cab from Jerusalem to our home for over an hour. We were all total strangers. He came into the house, took the Torah out of a duffle bug and laid it upon our dining room table. He then began to recite a few pasukim. He carefully rolled the torah back up, dressed it in a tallis and slipped it into a duffle bag, carefully marked with an arrow so that the Torah would not inadvertently be set upside down.

He then thanked my friend (gave us an invitation to come stay with him for a Shabbos) and slipped away into the night. My friend was left with a brand new sefer Torah probably worth about $30,000 and a long but meaningful flight ahead of him.

It is remarkable that a single email sent out into cyberspace can connect perfect strangers, enable a mitzvah and solidify the special trust that Jews have in one another. Even in these days of spiritual darkness, we trust strangers – and entrust them with something so valuable and a mission so important. .If my friend were to,
G-d forbid, drop that Torah, who knows how many Jews who would be fasting for 40 days.

And, as Jews, even in such a dog-eat-dog world, we are still very willing to (and in this case, literally) bend over backwards to help others. My friend had lots of luggage, a flight change in Munich with tortuous departure times – and yet he was thrilled to be able to put his personal needs aside and help out. We still are a very unique people.

I can just picture my friend – certainly not exhausted from a gruelling 14-hour voyage – to the contrary, elated…dancing through Canadian customs with an upright duffle bag!