Monthly Archives: October 2012

Don’t mail us any checks

My grandmother recently visited as part of a tour, and said she’d sent us a copy of her itinerary some weeks ago. We didn’t get it, and figured she must’ve thought she’d included us in an email when she hadn’t. But it turns out she’d mailed a hard copy, which finally showed up a couple of days ago, in one of those “sorry we damaged your mail” clear plastic envelopes. The funny thing was, it didn’t seem to have been chewed on by a sorting machine or anything. Instead, it looked like it had been opened.

A neighbor filled us in, saying it was probably a postal worker looking for checks. Apparently, mail to the Rova is routed through the East Jerusalem post office, which is infamous for this sort of thing.

So, if you were considering mailing us a check – and who isn’t? – maybe it isn’t the best idea. Just let me know, and I’ll pass along our wire transfer info.


Many folks have been asking me about daily life, and tonight I am inspired to expand upon grocery shopping. This is not a simple feat for a girl used to hopping in the old minivan and  hauling groceries about. First, we have no car.  Secondly, the Old City is truly separated from the rest of Jerusalem. There is one narrow road that snakes around the Armenian and Jewish Quarters for cars, cabs, scooters, small buses and trucks.

Makolets. As mentioned previously there are a handful of makolets (convenience type stores) that have most of the basics: dairy, eggs, bread, snacks, noodles, grains, canned goods. They also have a decent amount of American style foods (e.g. canned cranberry sauce) due to the large number of Americans here. Some of them deliver large orders otherwise you have to shlepp the groceries over the cobblestoned steps and hills of the Old City.

At first, the clerks at the makolets we frequent barely looked at me and certainly did not go out of their way to help me. Sometime in the last month, they have figured out that I am a regular and life has changed. I am “in”. While this has not led to cheaper groceries, it has made shopping more enjoyable. They greet me when I come in, quickly help me when I am stuck, and I trust them to keep an eye on the baby if the stroller doesn’t fit down the aisle I want to go on. One manager is always quick to tell me what is on sale that week and will help me carry my purchases to the cash register.

I have not quite figured out lines in Israel. Rather, the lack of lines. Everyone sort of bunches by the registers. If they are only buying one or two things they will wave it at the cashiers hoping to be bumped up or noticed so that they can just leave the money on the counter and leave. For all the disorder, people are actually pretty patient about waiting; people rarely yell or complain. Then again Israelis have to spend alot of time waiting: at the store, the post office, the bus, the bank…

Meat. Most people I know have their meat delivered to them from one of the main butchers outside the Old City. What could be more awesome than home delivered meat? If only I could figure out the cuts of meat. They are numbered and not quite the same as the U.S.. Also, they add water to a lot of the meat which is definitely to be avoided.

Produce. Israelis are known for loving fresh produce and we try to take advantage of it. Again, not so simple in the Old City. Some folks make a weekly trip to the main shuk/market at Mahane Yehuda. With the baby in tow, this is not the easiest or most pleasurable way for me.

There is a produce store in the Jewish Quarter run by an Arab man. At first he barely spoke to me and I felt like an obnoxiously loud American. Now that he knows I am a regular he will say hello and point out riper fruit or veggies. His quiet demeanor is so beautiful to me. I have never heard him raise his voice above a low mummur, and I often have to ask him to repeat himself. So peaceful compared to the chaos and hubub of the Jewish Quarter. On my walk to the store I am likely to encounter: loud drums and singing from at least on bar mitzvah procession, the call of a tour guide, a motor scooter zipping along the pedestrian walkways, and/or a car honking in the parking lot to alert the guard to raise the gate. Whew!

I have also been dipping my toe into the real “scene” when it comes to produce in the Jewish Quarter. A local family has a home business organizing a weekly produce delivery. Orders are accepted Sunday and Monday. The form is all in Hebrew, so I feel so proud every time I fill it out. But then comes Wednesday night. Starting at 7:30pm, people come to pick up their food and it is a madhouse. The boxes of food line the street and everyone grabs bags and races around in a crowd grabbing their produce. It’s first come first serve and once something runs out, tough luck. I have yet to totally fill my order. I am too slow trying to figure out what I ordered, where it is, and how to get through the crowd. Larger families work together and divide and conquer. Some lucky parents send their older children out to do it for them.

I have to say I like the craziness of it. I never depend on it for all of my produce, or else I would get frustrated. It is a great snapshot of real life here. For all the intensity of the crowd everyone is respectful and often even helpful. Nobody really pushes, and I have yet to see a fight over the last bag of lettuce. And the prices are right!

After collecting your produce you then line up to have your order weighed and added up. This is a whole different process of jockeying and turn taking. Finally after this line comes the line to pay. Again, notice all the lines and waiting involved. I generally think of Americans as more patient than Israelis, but maybe we just funnel our impatience into avoiding lines as much as possible.

Baked goods. This is really Dan’s turf. There are two main bakeries in the Jewish Quarter and Dan goes out every Friday morning to buy challah and treats for Shabbat. They have so many yummy pastries we have a hard time resisting. The boys have not taken to the pastries as quickly as we have. The one sweet they can resist!

Figuring out daily life here is such a work in progress. Someone just shared a link to a distributor that delivers grocery items in bulk (e.g. a case of tomato sauce). It has been hard to adjust to not being able to buy things in bulk (oh, Sam’s Club who knew how I would miss you!). So I am excited to test this out.




The thing about being in Israel — particularly Jerusalem — for holidays is the universality. Instead of a small pocket of observance in the larger world of non-Jews and non-observant Jews, virtually everyone here is at least generally on the same page. For Succos, this means succahs sprouting on virtually every marpeset (porch) and roof, piles of schach all over, and arba minim for sale everywhere.

In reality, I should’ve been more blown away by the phenomenon than I was. This is actually kind of a theme for our trip here. I think it has to do with feeling more like participants than spectators. A tourist oohs and aahs over the spectacle, but a resident is focused on how to get the succah up and where to get his arba minim.

Hold your comments, halacha police – my Dad is left-handed.

My Dad joined us for the chag (holiday). He was a very good sport, and happily took on everything. If that had only meant full observance of Succos (and Shabbos) — eating and sleeping in the succah, abstaining from melacha (prohibited “work”) on the Yom Tov days and Shabbos, spending more time in services than he’s used to — it would have been impressive enough. But he also kept the second day of Yom Tov, when we were only keeping one day. That meant he had to make kiddush and havdalah for himself, and abstain from lots of activities he would’ve liked to do — such as take pictures — even as we and most of the city were treating the day as chol hamoed (or, for the last day, entirely chol (non-holy)).

Our own succah construction turned out to be more of an adventure than I’d anticipated. I was expecting it to be very easy. Our marpeset is really a chatzir (courtyard), with four stone walls. There’s a wooden frame bolted into the stone overhead, ready to be covered with schach. Not only that, but there were schach mats, rolled up in covers up on the bracket, ready to be rolled out. The only apparent complication was that the frame is pretty high up, about 15 feet, which would require a seriously high ladder. Locating such a ladder turned out to be a real issue. At best, I was able to borrow a ladder that would lean against the wall from which the frame could be reached if you stood on a high rung. But there was no hope of a v-shaped ladder high enough to reach the frame from the middle of the succah, greatly complicating the job of rolling out the mats.

A confusing shot of Moshe from below, working up on the frame.

After much hand-wringing, and some good advice, I decided on an American-style solution: hire somebody to do it for me. Moshe, a younger guy from the yeshiva was offering his services, so I called him up. I warned him about the difficult height, etc. But he’s an Israeli, and so was typically sanguine about the whole thing (national slogan: “ayn bayah” (“no problem”)). He came over, and decided that the easiest way to deal with the situation was to pull himself up onto the frame and work from up there. We were joined by my neighbor and also fellow Bircas learner, Kobe Eshet, who — as another Israeli — similarly saw no problem trusting the frame with Moshe’s weight. Because the mats were in terrible shape (water damaged, infested with bugs), we had to go buy some palm fronds, and Moshe put them up there.

As an aside, I find it really lame that, when they translate things like sports team names into Hebrew, for t-shirts and the like, they just transliterate them. For example, “Chicago Bulls” becomes “שיקגו בולס” instead of “שיקגו שוורים.” Perhaps the lamest example, though, is Spiderman (“ספיידרמן“), because translation would yield the utterly awesome “איש עכביש” (eesh akaveesh“).

Palm frond schach in place – thanks איש עכביש!

We had just been discussing איש עכביש that very evening (including my attempt to translate the Spiderman theme song into Hebrew). So, amazed by Moshe’s climbing dexterity and fearlessness, I promptly bestowed the name on him. The next morning, I told the boys about it:

“Guess who put up our schach!”

“Who, Abba?”

“איש עכביש!”

“Nooooooo, Abba — Spiderman’s not real!”

“Well, then, how do you explain how our schach got put up?”

[Stunned silence]

Decorated and ready for action.

In the end, our succah felt a lot different from what I’m used to. It was wonderful and spacious but, with its relatively high ceiling and permanent walls, it didn’t have quite that same temporary (and shaky) feel that I get at home. There’s also the fact that there were no October Chicago winds howling against it. Due to the stone walls, to which no tape will stick, I strung up a clothesline around the sides, and we pinned up decorations. We added blinking lights this year, which the boys loved. I did find myself, as I was trying to sleep through the Times Square Effect, wishing that I’d set the timer to turn them off earlier. It was also a novelty to have it be too warm in the succah for comfortable sleeping. I hadn’t thought to set up a fan — a fact that had my neighbors tsk-tsking at me when I mentioned it.

Although I’d picked up my Dad’s and my lulavim and esrogim from someone at the yeshiva, I purposely held off getting them for the boys, because I wanted to go see the massive arba minim shuk (market) in Geula. Yitzi, my Dad, and I went there motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) to get the boys’ arba minim sets and to get decorations for our succah. The shuk was really cool, with so many people hawking their stuff, and men carefully inspecting the wares. It was full of a wide variety of Jews – chassidim, Yerushalmis, yeshiva bochrim (mostly from the nearby Mir yeshiva) – who were all having a good time. My Dad took some nice pics:

Checking out a lulav.

Looking at esrogim.

Yitzi looks for an esrog.

Pretending like I know what I’m talking about (as usual).

Yitzi is respectful enough to pretend he believes I know what I’m talking about.

Learning what makes kosher hadassim.

Picking out decorations for the succah.

Every store in Geula/Meah Shearim seemed to have been converted to selling either arba minim or succah decorations.

By the way, I now understand why my friends who have lived in Israel bemoan every year the quality of the arba minim we get in Chicago. The quality here was so ridiculously good that I just kept laughing. The lulavim I got for the boys — chinuch (educational) sets that are only need to be barely kosher for a bracha — were easily better than those I’ve gotten for myself the last couple of years. And I’ve never seen ones in Chicago as nice as those I got for myself and my father this year.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the entire holiday is that this did NOT turn into a sword fight.

This was Shalom’s first year with his own set. He’s actually still pretty young for it, but I wanted to surprise him with a special treat for our Succos in Israel. He was so delighted to have his very own lulav and esrog.

The thing that was just like home was that it actually rained — complete with lightning and thunder — the first night. Fortunately, it was well after we’d made kiddush and hamotze, so we got in our mitzvos of the evening. Locals said this was an extremely rare event, and no one could remember more than a sprinkling (and certainly not lightning & thunder) on Succos. The Talmud (mishna on Succah 28b) says that, if it rains (on the first night of Succos), forcing you to leave the succah, it is comparable to a servant who comes to fill the cup of his master, and the master pours it in his face. Nearly every year in Chicago, it either rains or threatens rain on Succos, so Rabbi Gross is perennially reminding us of the halacha in such a case, and mentioning that mishna. He always points out that it really only applies in Eretz Yisrael (Israel) — which was a great comfort… until this year.

Chol hamoed deserves its own posts — and I’ve already done a couple, including our trip to Nahariya and Bircas Cohanim. I’ll try to add something quick about the Western Wall Tunnels, which I highly recommend. And maybe our dinner at Entrecote, which I also highly recommend.

For all that we missed from home this Succos (including, probably more than anything, spending it with our cousins, the Presbergs), I already know that next year (assuming that we’re not all here — l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim habenuyah!) we’ll be feeling the loss of the magic of Succos in Yerushalayim.

Kavod hameis

I’ve been working for some time on a lengthy post about Succos, though it’s been hard to find the time to finish it. Then, the other day, a technical snafu erased my evening’s work. I’ll get around to finishing it, but I’m a bit demoralized.

Here’s a pic of the Churva from a few weeks ago, with its succah in front.

In the meantime, I wanted to share something that happened here over Shabbos. It seems that an elderly gentleman (92 or 93) was davening (praying) at the vasikin minyan (morning service that starts before sunrise) this morning at the Churva, when he passed away. They cleared the building, canceled the remaining services for the day (there are many other options here in the Rova, obviously), and set up a succession of shomrim so that someone would be there with him in the synagogue constantly.

The reason they did this was that, under Jewish law, on Shabbos, a dead body falls into the category of muktzeh, which cannot be moved until after Shabbos. There is an exception for kavod hameis — the honor of the dead — if the body were to be somewhere disgraceful to it. But, here,kavod mameis certainly was for him to remain in the synagogue. So, there he remained.

One of the things that struck me when I heard the account this afternoon was everyone’s attitude. No one was horrified by the circumstances, or bemoaned the inconvenience, etc. Instead, everyone remarked on the Divine chesed (kindness) in (a) allowing this man’s last words to be the tefillos (prayers) of Shabbos kodesh (the holy Sabbath); and (b) having him pass away in the Churva — which is not only a magnificent and holy place, but is also well-air-conditioned — instead of (alone?) in his own, non-air-conditioned apartment. It also gave the community the opportunity to give an extra measure of kavod (honor) by freely turning over the Churva for this use.

A  situation that could have been macabre instead was an amazing example of the values and dignity of the community. Mi k’amcha Yisrael…

A sweet sign of adjustment

Krembo – a treat with creamy marshmallow perched on a cookie wafer coated in chocolate – is an Israeli childhood rite. Every winter they appear to the glee of young and old. They may also be a sign of my boys’ settling in to Israeli life.

When we were here in December, we tried them at the earnest and delighted urging of our good friends, the Burstyns. The boys were less than excited by the treat – a possible first experience when it comes to candy. But now that we are living here, they are singing a different tune. I caught Yitzi giving Shalom a big brotherly explanation about the importance of the cookie base as he longingly watched his little brother wolf down a Krembo treat from a birthday party at school.

I really tried to post a photo of this delectable treat, but had too many technical difficulties. If you are curious about Krembo check out this wikipedia entry:


The view from the Claymans’ porch.

We took an overnight trip to see our friends, the Claymans, who live in Nahariya. Nahariya is way up north, almost to Lebanon. It’s essentially a resort town, and the Claymans live across the street from the beach.

“What’s all that blue stuff, Abba?”

It was such a change from the Rova. Here, we’re in a very urban environment, surrounded by stone. There’s not a whole lot of greenery — even the surrounding hills are pretty much brown — and there’s no open water to be found (see my note on tashlich). Nahariya is open and lush, adorned with festive lights over the streets and full of outdoor cafes and nightlife. And then there’s the beach, with a carnival-like promenade.

It was a major effort to get out of town. During Succos, there is no bus service or cab access to the Rova. We had to hike (with our bags) down to the Hertz office, near the King David Hotel. Once there, we had to overcome the obstacles that (1) I’d forgotten to bring my passport (solved when I was able to forward an email copy with my iPhone – technology!), and (2) our car was not there, and had to be sent from another location. After about an hour, we finally had our car and were underway, with my Dad following (he rented his own car to go visit relatives). Traffic was bad getting out of Jerusalem, and again close to Nahariya, but most of the middle part on Route 6 was pretty clear.

When we were near Haifa, the brakes in my father’s car started making a terrible noise, so we had to pull off to figure out what to do (he detoured to Haifa, got there just before they closed, in time to trade for another junky car). The rest stop featured a restaurant with a sad abandoned playground in the back. Is there anything more depressing than an abandoned playground? Yes — an abandoned playground with trash heaps in the background, and populated by half-starving kittens.

Taken on the run-of-the-mill playground, on the way to the awesome playground.

In part because we got such a late start, and because we had to get back to Jerusalem by 5:45 p.m. (a deadline we missed badly), we spent far too short a time in Nahariya. The Claymans have a really nice apartment, with a big porch and a great view of the promenade. The boys got to go to the beach, but got pulled away before they were ready to go. There’s also an amazing playground there, which they also didn’t get to spend enough time in (Yitzi was inconsolable). It was really nice to see the ocean, enjoy the open space, and to have a bit of a break from the intensity of the Rova. G-d willing, we’ll be back.



Not pictured: the dude who came through periodically with chocolate milk, causing boys and men alike to follow him like the pied piper.

Another great thing was that the sephardic synagogue where we davened shacharis (they’re virtually all sephardim in Nahariya) served an amazing breakfast in the succah afterwards.

Where the boys are.


Bircas Cohanim

Twice a year, there is a mass bircas cohanim at the Kotel. This time, we were there. It was pretty moving, though there were not as many cohanim as I was expecting.


Walking down into the plaza.


Here’s a bit of video I took of the last bracha:


Leaving the plaza… right past the “No Exit” sign.


Although we left, a few people apparently elected to stay for the second bircas cohanim of mussaf.