June 24, 2013

The Art of Stirring

Day 4
Qi Kong with the sleeping dog. The shake was green and we stirred away in a type of rotation meditation. Still not so hungry and pretty energized. The body is amazing. More seminars on nutrition and natural medicine, followed by, yes, you guessed it, stirring and sipping a juice or two.

The wonderful cook, Adriana, an Argentinian woman with more energy than everyone in the room put together, ushered us into a cooking demo room. There she passed around a bowl of dehydrator-roasted almonds, a nutty date and seed snack, plus crackers.

Hey, what about the juice fast? Can we eat this? Should I eat this? By the way people were inhaling the stuff, I realized it was not an issue; the bowls would be empty before they reached poor me. But they were not empty and yes, I grabbed. What a feeling to crunch on a nut. It may have been the best almond I ever tasted! 

She made us the most divine food imaginable, preparing cookie dough that was sugar free, egg free and flour free in under five minutes. It was so good, you could eat it raw; or wait 24 hours for it to cook in the dehydrator.

We also learned about sprouting lentils, seeds, wheat, and almost anything that can be grown in the ground. The sunflower sprouts were inhaled by our enthusiastic crowd as if they were potato chips. Ditto the broccoli sprouts. She had a tray of kale sprouts still in the earth and I was just waiting for the woman in the front row to start pulling it from its roots then dangle it down her throat.

Arrived ready for juice only to see that we were having steaming hot soup! Guess the juice fast is officially over-this time round. I really could have done with more juice but happily downed three bowls of vegetable soup. We did it!

This has been a life-changing experience. My husband didn’t kill me…but my kids will when I get home. And if I do decide to buy that dehydrator, there will be repercussions on my poor family.

I am glad I went and feel stronger and more capable of adding new, healthful changes as well as subtracting some nasty habits.  Just got to get my buffet-loving biking friends to come along next time.

Thank you to Mitzpe Alumot's inspiring staff and to our well-intentioned, supportive fellow juicers.  There are many more activities and workshops as well as spa treatments that I did not mention as one just can’t do it all and must save time to relax in the hammock (and blog).

The Israelis who, just a few days ago were crunching sprouts with their eyes nervously glued to lettuce leaves are now the best of best friends, hugging and giggling with each other, sharing photos of of their kids and running from room to room, as if they were at sleepover camp. 

As for me, Paris and Barcelona and Prague will have to wait; I am on a different sort of journey.

Read more: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Meditating, Israeli style

Day 3
Qi Gong this morning. Under a large tree on a grassy lawn, we moved our arms in slow circles and stretched. A kibbutz dog was inspired by us and lay on his back, paws reaching to the sky smack in the middle of our circle.

We left Qi Gong and gathered in the wheat juice grass room. The engine churned, the emerald green juice dripped down and our noses turned up. We were a motley crowd. Many grandparents and one great grandma. There was a Temani grandma who walked around with a big purse on her shoulder as if she were on a shopping trip. Inside, her phone rang non-stop and she brazenly answered it non-stop.

One woman would sip her smoothie then go outside for a smoke. Another guy would walk around with a mysterious sandwich bag filled with an apple and two dates. Boy did heads turn when we all first saw this baggie. He once put it down to get a tea and I almost swiped it.

Many are here to lose weight, learn about a new lifestyle and many are return visitors, one man here for his 12th time. Like in all groups, there is the joker, the know-it-all best of the class and then us slouches. There are kibbutzniks, big city folk and people of all shapes, sizes and colors.

We are the only Anglos save for one other woman, and this is my first experience being surrounded by a group of Israelis for longer than it takes to unload the grocery cart. I am finding this experience slightly fascinating and extremely unnerving.

One prime example of this was the day we arrived for meditation a few minutes late. The whole group sat with their eyes closed. We dared not enter the room, fearful of disturbing the concentration and upsetting the man who was leading the group. So we sat outside only to see a woman burst into the room schlepping a chair behind her as if she were making a furniture delivery. We sat in shock. Five minutes later, two more latecomers arrived.

“They are not going inside,” my husband said.

“Yes,” I assured him. “They are. They are Israelis. Just you watch.”

And yep, they barged into the room and even stepped across people to find a spot.

This was our group. Ma laasot? I cringed as I did the wheat grass shot, then entered the dining room. A set of tall glasses awaited us. This morning the juice was green. Clicking and clacking, we stirred and stirred as if this motion would magically produce something of substance, like an omelette.

Bored of my green drink, I ventured over to the buffet for a sprinkle of cinnamon, a tad of paprika, hoping it my juice may now smack of French Toast or a cinnamon roll.

I stirred and I stirred and no, it still tasted the same. I  liked the taste and was actually feeling kind of, well, full. More seminars on nutrition, a meditation and then another juice were followed by more seminars on nutrition, food addictions and yep, another juice.

We had a musical evening of flutes that transported me to another realm. I was feeling energized, had clarity and felt like unresolved emotions were percolating to the surface. This detox was taking me into new territory. 

I returned to our room excited, then looked at the photo of the day. My friends were mountain biking in the desert. Now this photo really hit me hard. What was I doing here?

Read more: day1, day 2, day 4.

June 19, 2013

Wheat Grass Has Its Own Room

Day 2
I awoke at 5:30 and looked out the window. The sun was just rising in the east, peeking over the Golan Heights. I ran outside to drink in this moment and sit with the birds that had already started home renovations, peering at me goofily with tufts of grass hanging from their beaks. A hummingbird had found a snack and was daintily flitting from blossom to blossom. The stem and even the florets of this plant easily held the weight of this bird, a lovely reminder of how perfectly constructed nature is.

At 6 a.m., those who wanted some exercise were invited to walk. We did warm-up exercises under a large tree with sweeping views across the Kinneret, then followed a road to the fields. Every field was planted with herbs, creating a fresh pot pourri of sage, lavender and rosemary that lightened our step.

We arrived for breakfast to see the long table set with tall glass cups filled with juice.  We had a long spoon, a napkin and before long, the room filled with the sound of spoons tinkling against glass. We wistfully stirred. And we sipped. Today the buffet offered us an extra vitamin and healing boost to our smoothies; we could add bright yellow turmeric, fiery red paprika, sweet cinnamon, lemon juice or freshly squeezed ginger to our drinks. 

We then had lectures on alternative medicine, and visited the wheat grass juice room, where everyone could and should squeeze their own fresh wheat grass then down it i Tequila style in a shot glass followed by a wedge of lemon.

We had a meditation session in a room overlooking the Kinneret before we made another circle, held hands and sat down to plates filled with crunchy salad.

More lectures were followed by more crunchy salad, this time with sprouted lentils, raw organic corn and a multitude of sprouted veggies. We chewed and chewed. I was feeling a bit like a cow and started to wonder if my ever so patient husband was, well, losing patience. He likes a salad, maybe once a day, but with all these sprouts and leaves, he could be going into panic mode. He smiled as he took another forkful of kale sprouts. And then everything changed.

Our happy leader announced that tomorrow, we would be starting the two-day juice fast. I looked over at my husband nervously and he didn’t flinch. When I booked this ‘holiday,’ I was looking for a detox, yet I did not bother to read the fine print, especially since it was in Hebrew.

Back in our room, my husband said, “I can do this.” I nodded in agreement. And then we opened the next pictures, generously forwarded by our friends: a sparkling blue swimming pool. We gulped and rubbed our bellies.

Read more: Day 1Day 3, Day 4

A Vacation With a Difference?

We wanted to take a few days off.

“Where do you want to go?” my husband asked me. “Prague? Paris? Barcelona?”

“No, and no, and no,” I answered. Why go tour an exotic,  foreign city and dine in fine restaurants when you could detox? I knew I wanted a life-changing experience and I was sure this was it. 

For many years, I attempted detox at home and failed hopelessly. Now was the time. I felt it inside. Our friends, meanwhile, were toying with the idea of joining us, but then decided on a five-star, breathtakingly elegant, gourmet resort. I stoically booked us in at a health farm called  Mitzpe Alumot and on Sunday, with trepidation, we drove up to the kibbutz.

Day 1
We checked in and were met by a young guy zipping around in a golf cart. I notice he had a tall glass of green juice sitting in the front seat. No Coke or can of Sprite. My first sign that yes, I must be in Oz. He savored a long sip, smiled blissfully and asked us to throw our bags in the back. We jumped in beside him and he whisked us to our room.

The sweeping view of the Kinneret, the Golan Heights and the fertile farms below was so staggering I felt breathless. Our room was at the very edge of the slope, where verdant green meets large boulders and untamed land. There was nothing below but incredible panorama.; and silence except for birds that swooped and flittered amongst the flowers. I felt serene already.
Our neighbors next door.

Time for our indoctrination. We went to the reception area where a group of people were milling, their eyes shifting nervously. We all looked uptight, uncomfortable, unsure.  A tad restless. We were given a tour of the place, told a few rules including a plea not to use our cell phones. We settled down for a chat with the group leader, Izohar. Young and dynamic, he was wearing a large knit kippa and had a black beard. He was not the type I was expecting to see here. I imagined one of those JewBhus with long Rastafarian locks and tie-dye pants. Yet I was so moved to hear Izohar so beautifully weave health and cleansing with spirituality and Torah. He introduced the concept by quoting Rambam and ended his talk with a poignant teaching by Rav Ashlag.

Dinner time! Before we ate, we had to all join hands and form a circle, while hearing beautiful teachings. We sat down at one long table, still feeling very uncomfortable. Most people sat starting at their plates and ate in silence. Two dehydrated falafel balls stood at attention on our plate, robed in green tehina and accompanied by salad. On the buffet was a huge salad bar with bowls of sprouts, plates of chopped vegetables, grated vegetables and spiraled vegetables. Like kindergarten paints, three jars of sauces waited for us at the end; one glow-in-the-dark green, one pumpkin orange and one sunny yellow. Oil free, a bit watery but tasty.

We sat in silence and we crunched. It took time to eat all of these vegetables. And in case of hunger, we took more, then munched until we were tired of munching. We could not drink during meals for 20 minutes after, something I found very challenging.

We then had a lecture on internal cleansing, a very squeamish subject, and something to think about another time.

Back in our room, our tummies a little exasperated with us, we opened our phones only to see our friends’ lavish five-star hotel dinner staring at us on Whats App. We studied the photo very carefully, looking at each item on the cornucopian buffet table, especially eying the trays of kebabs and mountains of rice. We blinked hard in silence.

Read more: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 

June 7, 2013

What’s in a parking ticket?

If you are ever in the city of Tsfat and you get one of those official looking papers tucked under your windshield wiper, run!  Sell your car and go live off the grid, because that’s probably easier than figuring out how to pay a parking ticket.

Having received my fair share of parking tickets in Israel, I do have experience with this.  Take, for example, Tel Aviv. I begrudgingly paid my ticket right away using a convenient phone service.  To help facilitate any issues, there’s a website in English with a Tel Aviv parking violation page. 

In Ra’anana, where they love to take one’s money, it’s the same. But beware of bringing a car anywhere near Ra’anana, as menacing pkachim will stealthily hunt you down. Those “Men in Black” with their dark shades sneak around on their silent electric motorbikes handing out tickets even before you pull the keys from the ignition.

A Tsfat parking ticket is, well, artistic in an abstract sense. Look at the ticket upside down, sideways, front and back; you will see words, but gather no concrete information. There is no place on the ticket that tells you how to pay it. You may make out something about the Doar, the place Israelis line up all day long and perform the most bizarre, un-post office related activities imaginable. Lining up to pay bills seems like a very backward activity for such a high-tech country, but that itself may be another blog entry and I’ve already had enough post-office related breakdown (see Burnt Quinoa and A Stamp).

I could not handle visiting the post office and spied a phone number way up in the corner of the ticket. This was a start; it was Monday at 1:00 p.m., regular office hours. The phone rang and rang. No one answered and there was no message. 

I then emailed a friend who knows everything and everyone in Tsfat. She has no car so has never had the opportunity to pay a parking ticket, but she dug up a phone number for a company in charge of parking tickets.

I called and explained the problem. They gave me another number and I called. The woman who answered the phone said this was the right place, but I needed to talk to Dina.

“She’s sitting shiva so call back in two days,” she said and hung up.

Where else in the world would you call an office and get such an answer? Outside  of Israel, a clerk would say, “She’s away from the office. Please call back in two days.”

This is a sweet reminder that Israel is an informal place and a tiny country where people talk to strangers like they are family, be it with kind, gruff or rude words. It reminded me of the time I was stopped at a red light and the driver in the car beside me signaled to me to pull down the window. I did and he asked me how much I paid for my car. When I told him, he screamed back, “Hah! You paid too much,” and took off.